Have I ever mentioned I am terrible with titles? I am. The worst. Obviously.
Reading "Pantomime" before this fic is recommended as it is a direct sequel. And reading "Time Signature" before that is also sort of necessary. Sorry~
People who have been waiting for this series to get slashy, I'm pleased to bring you "Nocturne". For everyone wanting an uncomplicated bromance, I am sorry. This is what I've been building up to.
On day one no less than five nurses were trading favors for the chance to inspect the dressings of and sponge down the gunshot victim in recovery room 312. By day three, they were doing everything they could to pass the buck. It was amazing what consciousness and a restriction on morphine could do to make a man less attractive. Biting the blond one probably hadn't helped. John wasn't sure if he was pleased his friend was doing well enough to be a bother or if his childishness was simply tiresome. It didn't matter. John was going to visit him either way.
All five nurses gave him a fascinated look as he walked past their cluttered center station towards the somewhat infamous 312, small bouquet of lilies and white roses in one hand and a bag of takeaway in the other. They whispered to each other, sharing pitying winces and sometimes the odd curious, lingering gaze though indi black frames. John was used to it; getting more so each day as cameras flashed and reporters wagged their chins and foam coated microphones. He saw ancient photos on the cover of one of the papers idly abandoned in a waiting room seat and made a point to walk faster. Celebrity was a nightmare he'd rather have left forever behind them along with the cringe-worthy headlines like "Return of the Sleuth" or "Hat-Man Returns" depending on the tide of their favor. John's inbox had never been fuller nor the blog counter been higher. Sherlock Holmes, absolved genius detective, back from the dead and at the center of a homicide investigation involving a young dead primary school teacher laughably being hailed as a criminal spy for the fabled Moriarty syndicate.
Welcome home, John thought. The world was still a harsh, judgmental place waiting to crucify and vilify for pleasure, profit and appeal. He nodded towards the clustered nurses, closed mouth smile on his pursed lips. "Afternoon," he said, trying to be just another regular guy coming to visit another normal, everyday man.
They forced smiles and nodded back, a few muttered replies returned as they became suddenly much more busy with their clip boards and computers.
John knocked once on the closed door to announce himself then let himself in to the patient's room, the takeaway pulling on his wrist as he freed his hand to enter. There was still a somewhat alarming amount of balloons tied to the backs of chairs and the bed itself. Molly's contribution. Though several were waning, their gases expired to allow them to sag just slightly on their strings, the ten or so bobbing smiley faces still plainly requested the patient to 'Get Well Soon!' with all sincerity. Sherlock's deadpan scowl as he sat up in his bed was anything but amused by his accompaniments. Nothing like being mocked by helium sycophants.
"The funeral was today, was it?" he asked, his wince mostly disguised as he shifted in the bed, gown practically falling off his shoulders with the back knot untied.
John wasn't about to ask how he knew. Even he had a pretty good idea what was the main give-away.
"So, which one kicked you out?"
"The best friend. Rachel." John set the takeaway bag on the dining trey and moved about to the table where Scotland Yard's bouquet of half-dead yellow blooms were slowly rotting in their vase. He turned them over into a bin and set his own handful of white blossoms inside instead, filling it up with water from the tap and the packet of mystery dust. "Nearly ended up in a fist fight with a co-worker of hers too. Reporters everywhere. Priest said it'd be best to leave, so... Didn't want to make a scene. Makes these yours now."
"You could go back later when no one else is there."
John nodded. "I'll buy new ones when I do. People don't normally walk around all day carrying flowers so these are just going to have to live here now." The humor in giving a recovering man flowers intended for the grave site of the woman who shot him wasn't lost on John. He just didn't find it funny.
Sherlock looked remarkably well all things considered. His posture and general appearance were reminiscent of lazy afternoons spent in his sleep clothes and dressing gown, slumped and sloth-like and removed entirely from the straight backed, suit wearing, persona of his more functional days. Well rested, forced fed nutrients in IV form-even the pallor of his face was rosier, the shadows of his contours not deep enough to hide the warm hue. He almost seemed flushed. John put his hand to his forehead just to check as he moved the dining trey closer, pleased to watch Sherlock unpack the bag himself to peek at the various warm containers sloshing about within.
He eyed the fresh naan in its foil wrappings and the brown-yellow soup-like sauce under its plastic lid. "Vindaloo?" he asked. "In hospital?"
"Mine," John took his hand away from his head, finding him warm but not feverish, as he plucked his lunch from his hands, placing it aside on the top of the bedside table. "You've got the Tika Masala. You are getting full fat, cream based curries until you put on at least a stone." He pulled up a chair, the balloons bumping against themselves with hollow thunks.
Sherlock tossed him the bread and a container of rice as he put his own food on the side, finally chucking the empty bag to the bin below. "Certainly better than that protein mess they keep bringing me," he said, popping open the lids. He poked at the curry with his fork, stabbing chunks of chicken with the prongs but letting it fall back into the sauce without ever taking a bite. He repeated the same pointless measure with the rice, his eyes darting from the containers to the still drip at his bedside. "If you're feeling inclined to disobey prescribed medicinal practices, how about adjusting my morphine dosage?"
John shook his head, spooning curry over his own rice. "Mycroft said no."
"It hurts, John."
"Yeah, well, your brother seems to think that until things are settled, you'll look for some new high to get off on and we really don't need you hooked on morphine. Certainly not with the whole bloody country trying to get in on the Sherlock Holmes story."
Sherlock breathed out an almost theatrical, whimpering sigh. His lashes fluttered as he looked down towards the IV nestled in his vein. He pushed the button to release more morphine only to find it still unresponsive, as they both knew it would be. It was his own fault for being overly eager with the button in the first place. Discomfort was far better than addiction, Mycroft had said. At least the older man seemed confident about there being a future to contend with. Sherlock breathed deeply, looking down at his friend with one of his more successful brands of manipulative frown. "John," he called deeply, hushed and slightly raw. "I'm in pain."
John sighed, not in the mood to be taken in. "Scale from one to ten?"
He stopped stirring his curry and paused for a moment, not daring to look up but rather inspecting his spoonful and its sauce/rice ratio. He put it down into its bowl and stood, overriding the controls on the beige machine until the drip released its static dosage into the awaiting tube. Sherlock's slightly surprised expression warmed over to delight.
If Sherlock was being reasonable enough to say seven instead of twelve, there was no reason to doubt what made him desire more. John returned to his seat, attention fixed again on lunch. "Not a word to your brother about that."
"... Thank you, John." Sherlock closed his eyes, a small smile on his lips as he breathed in deep, exhaling on a satisfied sigh.
He reclined for a moment, food untouched as he waited. Eventually he sat forward and dipped a torn piece of naan into the deep orange, fatty sauce of his meal, popping a mighty mouthful between his lips with the skill of a toddler. He repeated several times, shoveling chicken in as well. There was sauce on his chin and lips which his tongue was quick to lick up, followed by a suck of his fingertips. He was needlessly noisy in his epicurean regard. The little belch at the end as he flopped back against the pillows was a bench mark John did well to surpass with his own, the vindaloo gone the way of the dodo. Sherlock chuckled; John suppressed a smirk. Sherlock brought out the worst of the best in him.
"Should have saved that for the reporters," he half joked, cleaning off Sherlock's trey though the containers were still half full. He'd eaten more than he'd thought he would. There was no reason to force upon his already agreeable performance.
Sherlock was in a cooperative haze, mostly staring at the ceiling with a not altogether unintelligent look in his eyes. "I've got something else they can quote me on," he mused bitterly. He tapped his fingers restlessly against the covers. "How long until you finish that blog post?"
"Who said I was writing one?"
"Can't trust the media not to twist our words. The only report of events that's going to do justice to the truth is your own and your blog already has enough of a following and new garnered interest I'd imagine to be a viable platform for getting across what happened." Sherlock moved his hands to his abdomen, fingertips steepled low across his belly. "Scotland Yard can corroborate with their investigative reports when news media tries to discredit your account and as the only eye witness there is little that can be said to the contrary."
John rubbed his face. He'd already written most of it. "I didn't see the important part, though, Sherlock. I didn't see Ma-," his voice caught and he cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I didn't see what happened. And besides the whole being alive again thing, that'swhat they're going on about. Even the Yard'd like an explanation. And you're the only one who has one."
Sherlock nodded, eyes glancing towards the drip. "Perhaps this conversation would have been better held when I'm not... fuzzy."
"Fuzzy makes men like you honest, Sherlock." John leaned forward, elbows on the bed. "You want me to write this, you have to tell me everything I missed. And I mean everything. Leave the editing to me."
Sherlock gave the morphine button a few more pokes just to see what he could get out of it then sighed and frowned at nothing in particular. He was stalling and John was vaguely aware that while it might be in consideration of his own feelings, it was more likely there were things John was not going to like the sound of.
"It's not exactly a harrowing tale," the patient said, looking uncomfortable all the same. "She shot me, you shot her, and Moran shot you most thankfully in that bullet proof vest my brother was kind enough to grant you. While you lay unmoving, Mary crawled to you, loudly calling out to you. Any idiot could tell you were breathing and that there was no blood pooling on the concrete, however. At first Moran took aim at me to finish me off but then it seems he changed his mind. I saw the light move from my face even with my eyes closed and heard the shot that ended Mary's life. At first I wasn't sure what had happened but it would seem that she was compromised as an informant. She let her emotions get the better or her by putting you ahead of the game. It should have been her job to finish me off, not Moran's, and yet she abandoned her weapon to try to crawl to you."
John hung his head slightly, just enough to keep his face mostly unseen during the moment he needed to collect himself. His chin trembled with the effort not to cry. He wasn't going to do it, though. Such things were private affairs.
"I was in no condition to escape so it seemed Moran found it safe to come down from his perch and face me himself once more. He welcomed me home. Congratulated me on a job well done. Said Jim would have loved this. Most fun he'd had since the man died. Wasn't ready to end it so soon after all." The staccato of his sentences made each one sound like an afterthought, a piece forgotten and only just remembered. Sherlock sighed quietly, face just slightly contorted from its passive, crease-less frown. "If James Moriarty was a spider, Sebastian Moran is a parasite; he needsthe life of someone else to give his own meaning. Apparently I'm entertaining enough to qualify. Guess that makes me Mr. Sex now."
"Alright, I'm starting to actually hear the morphine. You think you can finish this story without getting.. loopy?"
Sherlock's eyes followed the bounce of the balloons, watching them dance with their merry smiles bobbing on their strings. "If I bore him, we die, John. If I become a problem for business, we die. There is a vary narrow margin where I am interesting and worth playing with and where we are both dead."
"Both?" John asked.
Sherlock's smile faded, eyes far too bare for a moment for John to meet. He was truly childlike without his inhibitions; one, large child who never learned to share or to keep nasty thoughts to himself rather than say the first thing that popped into his head. Innocent didn't mean guiltless, it meant too ignorant to know better. If Sherlock was anything, it was spectacularly ignorant of most of life's finer things. His was the innocent look of a boy pulling the wings off butterflies without any concept of life or death, mesmerized only by the colored scales on his fingertips. He breathed deep, eyes batting closed, the fingers on his right hand spreading out towards his friend. "I am sorry, John. I believe no matter what strides we take, I am going to be the death of you."
John nodded, his thoughts and fears confirmed. He took Sherlock's hand in his own, the long, elegant fingers curling against his palm. "If I'm lucky," he said, rubbing at his friend's cold digits. "And not to change the subject but you have the worst circulation." He reached across and pulled his other hand off his belly, wrapping his own hands about both of Sherlock's to rub and warm and hold. "But yeah. We're... in this together. Best friends through thick and thin and... well, you've both of those covered. Never met a man more thick headed than you."
"When you're scared or uncomfortable you try to make light of things. Make a joke. You divert to try and get past the initial shock which you then suppress and release later when you're alone."
John's hands spasmed tighter in their grip. "Shut up, Sherlock," he managed without the sting of defense.
Sherlock obeyed, lids heavy with the promise of dreams. He stared at their hands through his lashes, the strong, calloused, stumpy grip of a soldier encasing the larger, half-balled fists of a scientist. He moved his thumb to the outside of John's hand, gently pinning their palms to stay as they were.
John swallowed, pursing his lips as he sat perfectly still, ceasing in the gentle rubbing of his hands as he listened while Sherlock's breath became even with the tell-tale sighs of sleep. He hated the way the cold fingers in the heart of his own hands went slack and heavy. Too much like death. Too much like a hand he'd grasped at years before. The shock of it never truly fades. John resumed the warm squeezes and gentle massage of the soft, scarred pads of his hands, one heart warming two. It was better than being idle. It was kinder than leaving the moment he shut his eyes. It gave John time and a purpose for at least a few more minutes while his mind left him to his task and mercifully shut down.
The door opened without a knock. John stiffened but won against the urge to quickly release Sherlock's hands in a panic and instead gently put them to rest back against the covers. It looked less guilty. Mycroft only smiled when he saw him there, no curious look or knowing smirk as he usually shared when teasing or being a dick. John nodded slightly to him, standing up from his seat. Mycroft held a folded newspaper in one hand, his umbrella hanging from the crook of his elbow.
"I thought you had a funeral today."
"Did. They let me out early."
Mycroft caught a glance at the fresh white flowers and nodded, still managing to withhold his customary grin of self-congratulation. "I see." His eyes followed down Sherlock's prone body from head to toe, a wealth of information at the Holmes's disposal. He shook his head, at last a small twinge of amusement catching in the corner of his lips. "Guess I can't begrudge your giving in to him now and then but let's not make a habit of it. He's only as strong as his boredom allows."
"Yes, well, I'm his doctor. I've got this covered." One of the balloons gently bounced its smiling face off John's head as he walked around the bed, offering the now vacant seat to his friend's brother.
"Can't stay long," Mycroft said, holding out the paper as the doctor drew closer. "Just stopped by to show him this. Thought it might interest him."
It was a tabloid, same as many John had already seen. The bold title read "Boffin Holmes Baffles Britain" with the customary hat picture centered large across the front page and a smaller few from different photo-ops, different cases scattered around for color. John smirked, amazed at how fickle the world could be.
"Should have waited for the big news. Could have run with 'Boffin Bond' for some serious alliteration." He put the paper down at Sherlock's feet, taking a deep breath. "So, how much of a prat am I going to look when I publish that the British Government helped Sherlock go into hiding by employing him as a secret agent? Anyone going to back that up in any way or am I supposed to cross my fingers and hope people just accept that for face value? Because the last thing we need is people thinking I'm a liar if I'm the only person capable of speaking out on this right now."
Mycroft's face said it all. He mused his lips, brows shifting down over his eyes like weights. There was a long, drawn out breath, then "John-"
"Hold on. Let me tell you what I want to hear first." There was only so much bull shit he could take from the world with every sign screaming that they'd all been here before. "I want to hear that you're going to have your best PR representative not only verify these facts to the press but supply testimony on the declassified accomplishment Sherlock made as Sigerson. I want to hear that you're going to put the best goddamn spin on events that your people can do to make sure the public realizes Sherlock is not a murderer. I want to hear a continuing reiteration that Sherlock was acquitted and that James Moriarty was real. That's what I want; that's what he and I really need from you right now. How much of that can I expect to actually happen?"
Mycroft's long suffering sigh and aside gaze were everything John didn't want to see. "Even if I were to give you all that, deserved as it may be, you and Sherlock have at best five years left to live while this government will continue on after, supported by her secrets and public ignorance." He looked back at him, a 'but' hanging in the air between them on a string of hope much lighter than the balloons. "We will hold firm on our stance that James Moriarty did exist and that Sherlock is no criminal. We will not deny we helped Sherlock in his gap years but we will neither confirm nor deny how. And I will have my best men hunting for Sebastian Moran until he is dead either to protect or to avenge you both. That is the best I can offer."
It was more than he had hoped for even if it was far less than he felt they deserved. "If your people are going to be vague, I'll keep to that story too." John picked the paper back up and walked it to the side table. Sherlock probably would get a kick out of it. He scanned the article, glancing past a few theories, eyes tripping over his own name here and there.
"I'm glad my brother's better half is a reasonable man."
"He and I, we're not... You know we're not."
"Oh, I know. Wishful thinking, perhaps."
"Wishful thinking?" John waved the paper at him before plopping it down on the table beside Sherlock's leftovers. "Yeah, because the press really needs that kind of help right now."
"I couldn't care less what the press needs." His eyes lingered on the curry cartons, smile warming slightly from the ice-cold, calculating grin that seemed to feign humanity on most days. "When he leaves here, am I to understand he will be welcome back on Baker Street?"
John smirked, unable to help himself from falling into snark. "You see the evidence. Why don't you make a deduction?"
"At a lot of things right now," John admitted. Anger was never an emotion he shirked from sharing.
"But not him."
Why indeed. John took a deep breath, his mind weighing the honest answer against the convenient one. "Because it's not his fault. He's only responsible for the choices he's made and it's not his fault people are either scared or attracted to his brilliance." In the end, he wasn't sure which option he picked. Or if there was a difference. "And... because if I ever started blaming him, I'd never be able to stop."
Mycroft shrugged his brows, accepting it for whatever it was.
The thin hospital gown was still awkwardly draped over Sherlock's collar from the untied strings that should have pulled it across his shoulders. John pulled the thin cloth up like the dog-eared flap of a page and eased it back over his skin, setting the covers right as well as he prepared to leave with much work to be done; flowers to buy, graves to whisper to and words to write.
"If he wakes up while you're here, tell him I'll be back for dinner and to text me if he wants something other than döner kebab with chips."
"Is there anything healthyon this diet you've got him on?" the man asked, perhaps a bit of jealousy sneaking in to the sour tone.
John smirked with stony lips, tapping a balloon to purposefully dance in circles near Mycroft's head with its mocking smile and cheer. "Afternoon, Mycroft," he said, stepping around him to the door and out into the quiet hall of watchful stares and guarded curiosity.