The hospital waiting room was not as antiseptic as it ought to be. The thin, lemon scent that signified massive over-application of antimicrobial agents was curiously absent and in its place were a number of stale bodily smells. On the other hand, hand washing stations were positioned every few meters and John could see the nurses using them quite regularly. Maybe the place was good on the whole, but the janitorial staff was just lazy? Not worth worrying about. Amputations were surprisingly straightforward procedures, especially when the rest of the body was relatively intact.
Sherlock was slowly turning the pages of a National Geographic, clearly paying it much attention. He spent just as much time on car advertisements as he did on nature photos.
"Sherlock," said John, "Lestrade said he heard you talking to Moran, talking about the deal you made."
"Doesn't matter now."
"He said it sounded like you agreed to put those magnets in your head to keep me alive."
"Two things." Sherlock stopped turning pages.
"Because Moran can't see his Moriarty and he's dead. That's two things. So I had to trade two things."
"Your intelligence, and getting to see me."
"But Moran's dead now, really dead. So do you want to stay the way you are or change back? Do you want to be Sherlock-1 or Sherlock-2?"
Sherlock began turning pages again. After a moment, he said, "You're in love with Sherlock-1."
"Well, don't decide on that. I'll be your friend either way."
"You miss Sherlock-1."
"It's not about me, Sherlock. You pick what you want. Are you happier like this? Is this what you want in life?"
"I don't understand the question."
John put his arm around Sherlock's shoulder. Sherlock had been leaning against him most of the time they had been sitting in the emergency room anyway. "You can be either Sherlock-1 or Sherlock-2." He tried again. "What do you want?"
"I want a pet dog."
Bryan Salander was a successful MP with a sham marriage. It was an open secret, at least among those working in government – he was never quite sure whether his constituents really missed the obvious signs or chose to let them pass with a wink and a nod. It helped that he genuinely loved his wife and his step-daughters. He really did love her, but as a sister, as a friend. Even his political opponents had somehow arrived at a gentleman's agreement that the matter was off limits.
The result of all of this was that he was able to have quite regular contact with his lover, his lover who had been so miserable, so distant since his brother's tragic death.
He was shocked when he received word from Anthea (she had been Dolores when Salander first met her) that Mycroft had been shot, and would survive, but would lose his right arm. He certainly wasn't shocked that such damage had occurred, though in reality he had no idea how rare comparable injuries were. No, he was shocked that Mycroft had been the one in the line of fire, knowing well his lover's preference to avoid center stage, to avoid anything active at all. He remembered the hour-long bargaining session that had been required to convince Mycroft to come fishing with him once, even though fishing was really just more sitting and more talking (two of Mycroft's favorite activities) that happened to occur in proximity to fish!
Anthea told him that Mycroft was expected to be well enough to travel within the week. She would contact him with the name and visiting hours of the rehabilitation center once Mycroft returned to England.
The message was clear: Don't come to America. Wait for me to come to you.
They met up with Mycroft again in the recovery room.
"You in much pain, mate?" asked Greg.
Mycroft shook his head. "I am apparently to be given regular and copious doses of analgesics for the next several days. I can't feel much."
Sherlock stood at Mycroft's right side, touching the space where his arm should have been.
"You're going back to Britain today," said Mycroft. "I've made all the arrangements. Your flight leaves in four hours."
John furrowed his brow, but held his tongue.
"You really ready to fly home?" asked Greg. "Don't they want to keep you for observation?"
"I have to meet with a few American contacts to ensure there are no…legal ramifications to our activities today. I'll return when both matters are settled." He yawned and his eyes fluttered, still clearly under the influence of the anesthesia. "It's easiest if I don't have to justify your presence."
"Arm," said Sherlock, still running his fingers over the hospital blanket. "Hand. Wasn't supposed to see."
"Lestrade," said Mycroft, "will you please take my brother into the hallway. I would like a moment with Dr. Watson."
"C'mon, Sherlock. Let's go see what kind of sodas they have in the machine." Greg beckoned, and Sherlock followed after, stopping briefly to look back at his brother and Watson. "Come on, you'll see John again in a minute."
Once they were gone, Mycroft spoke. "We still have not resolved the issue of how to handle my brother's newfound disability."
"Look," said John, "I'm grateful for what you did, I really am, but that doesn't mean I've forgiven-"
"Please, allow me to speak. I already know what you think of me. More importantly, I know what you think of Sherlock, of this Sherlock. You don't like him."
"That's not true, I-"
"Of course it's true. It's obvious to anyone remotely observant. You wince when he speaks. You look ill when he amuses himself with infantile pastimes. You don't actually like him, you simply believe it is your duty to do so. Even in his present state, he will eventually discern the difference between burden and devotion."
John opened his mouth as if to speak, but no words occurred to him. This was not what he had expected Mycroft to say. And it wasn't entirely false. Sherlock-2 was a different man and a constant reminder of everything John had lost. He opened his mouth again, but he still had nothing to say.
"Fix him, John."
"Why are you saying this? What's your secret plan this time?"
For a moment, Mycroft looked very distant. Then, he yawned and put on his most placid smile. "If I told you, it wouldn't be a secret."
Mrs. Hudson was delighted with the new Sherlock.
John had provided her with an abridged version of the events since Sherlock's fall from the hospital roof. She hardly seemed bothered by the deceit and the assassins, focusing instead on the opportunity to distribute homemade scones (for which Sherlock actually said thank you!) and to house a tenant who would not shoot holes into her walls.
Molly was pleasant enough, but standoffish. Before hurrying away, she explained to John, "It can't have been a secret that I rather fancied him. And now, it's…well, it's not appropriate, is it?"
It turned out that Lestrade had not been fired from his bartending position. Or rather, that he had been fired and quickly rehired, when his replacement was caught selling ecstasy during her shift. One Tuesday, he brought his guitar with him, hoping that one of the dishwashers could give him a few pointers when business was slow. Turned out, the combination of black turtlenecks, broody looks punctuated by friendly winks, and an untouched acoustic guitar merited more than just solid tipping; he began collecting phone numbers and hotel keys.
And he did actually get himself some new wheels, but no, he didn't waste all his money on a sports car, thank you very much. He got a motorbike. It was a very good deal because he got it from a police auction, and with petrol prices being so high, it really was a very sensible investment. Really.
There were still things to be unhappy about, of course. Even if Sherlock's being alive meant he could somehow be exonerated and even if that could somehow lead to Lestrade getting his job back, it was going to be a long process. And even if his marriage hadn't been perfect, breaking up still felt awful. That being said, he had a motorbike, a job that let him sleep until noon, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of anonymous sex partners. He would muddle through somehow.
John and Sherlock moved back into the flat at Baker Street and although John stored his clothes and his personal belongings upstairs, they made no pretense about sleeping separately. Sherlock wanted to be near him and John could hardly deny that the sentiment was mutual.
They got a dog. Not one of the ones from Pittsburgh, because it turned out that importing a dog, particularly a shelter mutt, was an unusually difficult and complicated business.
When John returned from the London animal shelter, Sherlock knelt on the floor and embraced their new pet with a cry of, "John-7!"
John smiled. "Well, the lady at the clinic said his name is Gladstone, but I guess you can call him whatever you like."
Gladstone lay between them when they watched telly, their hands sandwiched against his lumpy hide, Sherlock alternating absently between petting the dog and petting John.
It was when they were in bed together, lying close, touching arms and faces, that John admitted he was putting the surgery off. He had arranged for an operating theater, for machines and anesthesia, and nurses. He had tolerated interacting with Mycroft – god, it was bloody awkward owing your life to someone you hated! – long enough to ensure that the strange nature of the operation would never become a public matter. He had even discussed the idea with Sherlock, who agreed to it readily, though John suspected Sherlock would agree to most anything he suggested. But he hadn't set a date.
Every time he delayed the surgery, his reasons seemed perfectly valid. Mycroft's still in intensive care. Sherlock's just getting reacclimated to London. There was a retrospective about Sherlock in the paper; best to wait until he's out of the public eye again. It all seemed quite sensible on the surface, but in sum, he was obviously delaying. Was he just being oppositional? Mycroft said leave the magnets in, so John demanded to take them out, but then Mycroft said to remove the magnets, so John stubbornly left them in. Perhaps. Maybe he liked the contact, the earnestness, the closeness that he would never have from Sherlock-1, especially as John had come very, very slowly to the realization that he might one day want to have a romantic relationship with Sherlock.
"Do you mind if I turn the lights off, Sherlock?"
"They fix me tomorrow."
"No, you're not broken. It's just, it's Sherlock-1's turn."
"Can I kiss you now?" Sherlock had been studious about keeping his lips to himself since their return to England.
John sighed. He had been struck a few days ago with an idea, a very bad idea, but one he was considering nonetheless. When he had first heard of Sherlock's relationship with Victor Trevor, he had been pleased, oddly jealous but pleased, at the thought that Sherlock had gotten to enjoy sex at least once before he died. But then it had turned out that things hadn't been like that with Trevor, and that Sherlock's only sexual experience had been coercive and deviant. Whatever it was in Sherlock, whatever intensity or genius that kept him from being close to people, the TMS devices had clearly blocked it as well.
It would be a much simpler decision if John didn't feel so excited by the idea, if he wasn't left to wonder whether this was just the roundabout way his mind was justifying taking advantage of Sherlock-2. But John wasn't one for indecision. This was what Sherlock-2 wanted. This was what John wanted. There were no tricks. There was no dishonesty, no intimidation. And if it made things awkward with Sherlock-1, well, then…for fuck's sake, the man faked his own death! It wasn't exactly going to be straightforward regardless.
Sherlock interpreted John's sigh as frustration. "Sorry."
"No, don't." John shook his head. "Look, I want to do something for you." He licked his lips because his mouth had gone quite dry all of a sudden. "And for me," he added for honesty's sake. "If it bothers you, if you don't like it, just say 'stop' and that will be okay. I won't be angry."
"Just say 'stop'," repeated Sherlock, nodding.
John licked his lips again. Why was his mouth so dry? He leaned forward and he was suddenly very aware of his eyes. Should they be open or shut? What did he normally do? Should he look right at Sherlock, look him in the eye or-?
And then they were kissing. It was very much like kissing a woman, except Sherlock's chin and his cheeks weren't so smooth, but his lips were soft and the stubble felt, it felt good. It felt like Sherlock.
John broke off. Sherlock was grinning hugely, the same lucky smile he had worn when they were in Pittsburgh. John leaned in to kiss him again, this time bringing their bodies together and running his hands up and down Sherlock's back and his sides. When Sherlock made a pleased whimper, John reached down and felt his arse. It was different than he expected, though he couldn't say how. It stirred in John a feeling of possessiveness that often came over him during sex, a sense he wanted to keep and collect certain things, though he couldn't for the life of him explain exactly how that would work.
There was something pressing against John's thigh – Sherlock was quite erect. John was as well, almost blindingly so, but he tried to keep his body turned so his cock wasn't pressed against Sherlock. John moved his hand up from Sherlock's arse to the waistband of his pants and felt the skin underneath.
"Is this okay? Do you want to stop?"
"No, nope, very okay." Sherlock reached down and removed his underwear, kicking it to the foot of the bed.
John wriggled further down the bed. He had plenty of reasons to be nervous, not the least of which was the fact he had never gotten this close to a penis other than his own, excluding medically necessary examinations, and this situation felt quite different from that. Sherlock's cock was a bit shorter and thinner than John's, but the tip was wet and he wondered briefly if Sherlock had ever bothered to dye his pubic hair as well. Probably not.
This wasn't all that complicated, really. He had seen it done dozens of times, maybe hundreds. He knew the makings of a good blow job, knew what he liked. It stood to reason that at least some of those themes would be universal. He wrapped a hand around the base of Sherlock's cock. It was warm and firm and John felt that possessive urge again, like he wanted to own it. He ran his hand slowly up and down, using his thumb to massage the point where the head met the underside. It didn't really feel like wanking himself, and it didn't really feel like going down on a woman, but it was pleasant and it was exciting, and his own dick was making its needs known. John reached down with his other hand and ran his fingers over Sherlock's sac.
Sherlock purred. "I like this."
"Wait until you see what comes next," said John, surprised that he was able to sound relaxed and flirty. Now his mouth wasn't dry in the slightest and he found himself really wanting to be closer to Sherlock, to see what sorts of sounds he could draw out of the man. He flicked the tip of his tongue across the head of Sherlock's cock, satisfied and – yes – aroused when Sherlock moaned. And then it was as though sucking cock was the most natural thing in the world. Why shouldn't it be? He'd seen it done quite often enough.
He led with his tongue and brought his lips further and further down along the length, moving back and forth in time with his fist pumping along the base. Sherlock was making little whimpering noises and running his fingers through John's hair, his legs twitching and tightening. He came with a shout, unrestrainedly thrusting into John's mouth. John gagged a little, but he swallowed. The taste wasn't bad.
John crept back up the bed, and guided Sherlock to curl up next to him. He kissed Sherlock's forehead and thanked him, though he wasn't quite sure why.
"I feel good," said Sherlock, in a floating sort of voice, with emphasis on the last word.
"I'll bet you do." John was thankfully quite familiar with post-oral sex euphoria.
Sherlock rested his hand on the outline of John's erection through his boxer shorts. "I do you now."
"No." John took Sherlock's hand and held it in both of his. "You have your surgery tomorrow. If you really want to, you'll want to after that."
Sherlock yawned, another symptom of recent orgasm. "Okay," he said simply. "Good night, John."
"I brought you your post," said Bryan, having taken care to approach Mycroft on the left side.
"You just want me to open the letter from the German economic minister."
"Quite right, but you did also receive a letter from one 'Christopher Hauser'."
"Would you open it for me please?" It was possible to open a letter with one hand, but Mycroft hadn't yet mastered the technique and was embarrassed by the way he tore at the envelope.
"Another greeting card from your brother."
"More get-well-soon wishes, I suppose? Seems a rather inappropriate sentiment under the circumstances. Hardly his fault, though. Dr. Watson's been rather slow to restore him to his senses." Mycroft kept very few secrets from Bryan, a rule which applied to his brother's exploits as much as it did to anything else.
"No, it's a card for congratulating someone." Bryan sounded puzzled, then disappointed. "Oh," he said, "take a look at the inside."
Mycroft did, and he smiled. It appeared that John had restored his brother to his full capacities after all.
The interior of the card read, in Sherlock's spindly printing, "Congratulations on successfully losing eight pounds – SH."
Sherlock's cognitive state didn't return immediately to its former glory, but the shift was frighteningly quick. When he woke up after the surgery, he looked more alert, more intense than he had in weeks despite the lingering effects of the anesthesia. After four hours, he told one of the shift nurses that her son was obviously stealing money from her, and after four days, he was pacing around the apartment demanding a case and drawing increasingly improbable conclusions about passerby.
"What makes you so sure he used to be a veterinary dentist?" asked John.
"Isn't it obvious?"
John sighed affectionately. "Sure, whatever you say." He walked into the kitchen to put the kettle on to boil. "You want tea?"
"Do you remember being the other Sherlock?"
"Of course I remember. I remember what I perceived. Unfortunately, that idiot perceived very little."
"Sherlock, you can't call him an idiot."
"Why not? I was clearly trapped in a cage of unimaginable stupidity. Dumber, even, than Anderson. I don't know how I found the will to live."
"Okay, first of all, you can't call mentally retarded people stupid. It's just…you can't, okay? I don't care if it makes sense or not, it's the rule. And second of all, you seemed pretty happy the way you were."
"No, I wasn't."
"Right, well…whatever." John thought back to what had been worrying him. "So you don't remember much?" John stood again to get the tea.
"I remember the fellatio, if that's what you're asking."
John didn't drop the kettle, but it was a near thing. "Jesus, Sherlock, you can't just…" He sighed again. "For what it's worth, I'm glad you're not dead and I was real angry you made me think you were, but then I couldn't yell at you, because you were retarded, but you're not retarded now, so-"
They sipped their tea in silence, broken only when Gladstone let out a yip for attention. John absently scratched him behind the ears.
"For what it's worth, John," said Sherlock, "I'm also," he tipped his head to the side and for a brief moment looked directly at John, as if memorizing every detail, every feature, looking for all the world like a thirsty man staring at water. "I'm also glad you're not dead."