Inspiration song: Youth by Daughter

Still Breathing

Sherlock pulled the trigger and in that fraction of a second he felt John spear him into the water of the pool, shielding him from the brunt of the force of the explosion with his body. They hit the water, breath knocked out, the two entangled men floated to the bottom as debris showered into the pool above them. It took Sherlock nearly two minutes to pull his senses together and wrench his eyes open, ignoring the uncomfortable sting of chlorine in his eyes. He shoved himself up and broke the surface, wiping the water and hair from his eyes so that he could search the water for John. He saw him about ten feet away, floating face-down, arms limp by his sides. Sherlock thrashed through the water and bits of wreckage to lift John bodily from the water and heave him up onto the pool side. The doctor's eyes were closed, there was a cut that was bleeding profusely from his forehead, and Sherlock noted with a twist of his stomach that he wasn't breathing. He checked his pulse. Nothing. No, no, no. Sherlock pumped his hands on John's chest, one, two, three, four, five. Then pinched John's nose and exhaled a deep breath into his open mouth. One, two, three, four, five; breathe. He repeated, and repeated, and repeated.

"Breathe, John. I need you to start breathing," Sherlock chanted as he pressed John's chest.

"John Watson, you will start breathing. You cannot leave me." Breathe.

"Not now, you stubborn, normal, incredible man." Breathe.

"I've just figured out that I cannot be without you." Breathe.

"And you cannot go, I haven't even told you." Breathe.

"I haven't told you." Breathe.

"John Watson, you have to breathe because I have to tell you that I love you."

Sherlock feels something break inside of him, after nearly twenty minutes of administering CPR to the unconscious body of his flatmate, amongst the smoke and burning bits of scattered debris, the one thing that could ground him was lying flat on his back, smelling strongly of chlorine, and not breathing.

/

Sherlock wakes with a start. He shoots up and blinks through the darkness trying to assess where he is. He's in bed, his sheets, his pyjamas, his room. He looks over at his clock, nearly three in the morning. He can still smell the chlorine burning in his nose, a trail of acid right down into the center of his chest. He's sweating, the back of his thin cotton shirt is clinging to his back and his curls are sticking a bit to his forehead. His pulse is rapid, and he feels short of breath, on the verge of a panic attack. It takes him a moment to calm his erratic heartbeat. It was just a dream. He didn't shoot the vest, Moriarty left the pool, there was no explosion, John is safe.

John.

Sherlock logically knew that John was okay, it was just a dream, but there was a part of him, that part that had been whispering in the back of his mind, slowly taking up space in his Mind Palace, murmuring behind teacups, and sniffing between bedsheets, that needed to see John, to hear him, to touch him; to confirm that his heart was still beating, that he was breathing.

It only took seconds to make the decision, to gather up his duvet and pad softly down the hall and up the stairs to John's room. The door was slightly ajar, and Sherlock leaned into it, listening intently for the soft whispers of his sleeping flatmate's breaths. He heard him shift in his sleep and Sherlock sighed heavily, wrapping the duvet around his thin shoulders and sliding down against the wall to sit on the floor. His heart felt heavy with the words that weighed so deep in his dream, in his mouth, ever since their encounter at the Pool. Sherlock had never been inclined to sentiment, to caring, to love. John had twisted and changed and warped and set all of Sherlock's notions about attachments on fire.

Sherlock sat listening to John breathe for one hour and seventeen minutes and forty-seven seconds before he felt the restlessness settle into his limbs. He stood up, keeping the duvet firmly wrapped around him, and he set about to wander the flat. The feel of the cold wood against his bare feet, the brush of his worn sleep clothes against his skin, the comforting and full quietness of his, their, slumbering flat was somewhat medicinal to the detective. He couldn't get the image of John's glassy eyes, the sickening scent of chlorine from his nose, the acrid taste of smoke on his tongue, the burn of water in his lungs, smothering. He couldn't shake the empty feeling that buried itself deep into his bones, washing over him, serrating his spine like a knife; the feeling when he realized in his dream that John was not going to breathe again. That he was gone. It was a fear that Sherlock had not known for a very, very, very long time. Sherlock had no fears of his own death, which he imagined would happen prematurely, quick and like a bang or a supernova, he had no emotional attachments to other people, he didn't hold dear material attachments, he flew head-first into danger and did not fear. In the Pool, seeing John with that vest on, the dot on his forehead, Moriarty, in that moment Sherlock felt terror. In his dream with John's unconscious body, his unresponsiveness to resuscitation, the realization that he was dying Sherlock felt terror.

The detective didn't quite understand what was happening to him until it happened. Until he realized that he was feeling fear, and it was not fear for himself, but for someone else. Fear that that someone, someone he cared for, would be harmed.

Sherlock realized that he had meandered into the kitchen, he sat down at the table, cluttered with his chemistry set, petri dishes and vials, various notes and experiments, and he drew his legs up to his chest and rested his chin on top of his bony knees. He could see the sun rising through the window above their sink. He heard a stirring above him, a door opening and closing, soft padding down the stairs. Moments later, John, rumpled from sleep and eyes half-lidded, entered the kitchen, pausing and frowning a bit at Sherlock, who still sat curled in his chair at the table.

"Can't sleep?" John asked, crossing the kitchen to find the kettle and some mugs. Sherlock made a noncommittal noise, too engrossed in his intent evaluation of his flatmate. When John turned after putting the water on to boil, Sherlock dropped his eyes to the wood of the table. He heard John walk to sit down in the chair nearest Sherlock, him leaning back and stretching his shoulders, popping joints and sighing, before resting his gaze on the detective. Sherlock sensed that John knew something was wrong, for a normal person, John was quite perceptive when it came to Sherlock, something the detective wasn't quite sure if he was unnerved or flattered about.

"Do you want to talk about it?" John asked gently. Sherlock glanced up, the doctor was slumped forward a little, with his head tilted to the side a bit, his hair still undeniably bed-ruffled, the sides of his mouth pulled down ever so slightly at the corners, but his eyes were clear and focused intently on Sherlock. Sherlock furrowed his brow, still unsure as to how John knew that something was wrong, after all, it's not that unusual for Sherlock to be awake at all hours of the night. The good doctor's mouth pulled up in a half grin, as if catching Sherlock's thoughts in midair.

"I heard you outside my room. I was about to call you in, but you got up and went downstairs. When I came down, something seemed...off. So, I'm guessing something is wrong. Bad dream, perhaps...?" He let the sentence kind of dangle, before ducking his head and blushing slightly, as if he was embarrassed that he had actually attempted to make a deduction.

Sherlock was silent for a few more moments. The tea kettle whistled and John moved to set about making two cups. Sherlock unfolded himself and went to the sitting room to curl up on the couch. John soon joined him, carrying the tea with him. He handed one steaming cup to Sherlock before sitting down next to him. They sat in silence as they sipped their tea, the sun throwing patterns and beams of light across the room as it rose.

"I dreamt that I shot the vest," Sherlock said quietly. When John didn't respond, he continued. "I—I dreamt that I shot the vest and we fell into the pool. I pulled you out, but...but..." Sherlock's breath caught, resisting the urge to cough against water that wasn't in his lungs, against chlorine that wasn't burning his nose. He looked up when he felt a warm hand against his arm; John had leaned forward and was looking at him with an unfathomable look on his face. It was like he knew what Sherlock was saying, what he was feeling and fearing, but that was impossible. John couldn't possibly fear that Sherlock would die without knowing...without knowing that he...cared. Maybe he was just sympathetic to having nightmares, post-traumatic emotions and such. Yes, that must be it. John's hand didn't move, and Sherlock still continued.

"I couldn't revive you." He heard the sadness, thick and heavy in his own voice. He cursed himself for not being able to reign in his emotions. He met John's eyes, "I've never felt that kind of fear before."

"What were you afraid of?" John asked slowly, cautiously, pardoning the detective to open himself.

"That you would be gone, that I had lost...lost you...right when I realized—I realized that—" He stopped himself short, running a hand through his thick curls before screwing his eyes shut and pressing the heel of his hand against his forehead to try to stop the barrage of images that were parading about his hard-drive, unwelcome.

John's fingers tightened a little before lifting to pull Sherlock's hand from his face, he held onto it, "What did you realize, Sherlock?"

This was his moment, Sherlock knew. To tell John exactly what he had wanted to, what he had come to understand. He felt a new fear now, what if John didn't feel the same? What if he felt quite the opposite? What if he felt that he needed to leave Sherlock, that he was repulsed and that he couldn't...that he just couldn't. Ice ran its way down Sherlock's spine. John must have felt the change, because he removed Sherlock's cup from his hand and gathered his cold fingers into the hand that was holding Sherlock's other already. He brought his hand up to gently touch the detective's cheek, a feather on skin.

"Hey," he whispered "Hey it's okay. You can tell me, Sherlock." He smiled assuringly, "I promise that I'm not going anywhere, no matter what it is." Sherlock's eyes widened, round and large, childlike. He took a deep breath.

"I realized that...I loved—love you," he said in a very quiet voice.

John's face shifted, his eyebrows lifted, mouth fell open slightly, disbelief, surprise, and as his lips quirked up slightly, what was that? Relief? He looked like what he had heard was good news. Sherlock bit down on his lower lip, not wanting to let himself fall victim to the vicious demon of hope. John's features relaxed and his hand came to solidly cup Sherlock cheek, his grin growing more prominent by the second. The light as it flicked across John's smiling face made Sherlock's heart jump a little, his breath was stuck in his throat. With a little more confidence, he whispered, "I love you, John."

One moment Sherlock was staring into John's shining eyes and the next his eyes had fluttered shut as he felt a pair of warm lips pressed to his. John was kissing him. He realized this a bit belatedly before returning the beautiful pressure to the mouth connected to his. Heat was rushing and blurring the lines of Sherlock's body and mind, where John started and he ended and every nerve ending felt like it was on fire. His mind was wheeling and cataloguing and filing away every second of this moment as if it were a freeze frame in a film. A whole room, wing, a corridor in his mind palace could be dedicated to this one moment with John pressed up against him, their lips moving in sync, hearts beating erratically, fingers clutching and grasping at necks and wrapped up duvet and hands and shoulders and hair and anything they could reach.

Yet, just as quickly as it began it was over. John pulled back to stare into Sherlock's face, a dopy, uneven, overjoyed grin unabashedly displaying itself all over the good doctor's face. Oh if Sherlock could know what his flatmate was thinking at this very second. If he could just have the smallest inkling or insight into this wonderful man's mind, he would have the world in his pocket.

"I love you too," John said in a rush, which ripped Sherlock from his thinking and put the brakes on all possible coherent thought. He was dumbfounded, one glorious second of incredulity and cluelessness and damnable surprise. Sherlock felt a tingling sensation that started in his toes and moved up through his whole body, lighting him on fire with what he deduced to be a lovely, wonderful, intoxicating pleasure. His eyes were wide and he could not restrain the impulse to reach forward and mash his mouth against John's, kissing him deeply and reverently and thankfully, like a man who had been in a desert who finds water. "God, Sherlock. I love you," John gasped, pulling back to press his forehead against Sherlock's. Their pupils were blown wide, chests heaving, the detective was trembling. John cupped his cheek, running his thumb along Sherlock's jaw, and across his lips, which parted as his finger brushed over them.

"I didn't think you would feel the same," Sherlock admitted lowering his eyes, still not letting himself fully believe that this just wasn't another damn dream, another bloody game his unconscious mind played with him. John pulled his chin up, forcing Sherlock to meet his eyes.

"I have cared for you since the first day that I met you. I started falling after 'Could be dangerous.' I realized that I had been taken completely when I shot that insane cabbie, when I realized that I would give anything to keep you safe." John kissed Sherlock lightly, offering him a small smile. "It's you who I didn't think would feel the same. It was 'not your area' if you recall." Sherlock frowned, remembering the conversation at Angelo's.

"It wasn't really my area, then. You changed things, John. I started noticing my...attachment to you. I wanted you around, I craved your praise and your smiles, I didn't care that you made me eat and sleep because I liked giving you what you want. When I saw you at the Pool...I realized that I needed you. That I could not live without you. Without your tea and your jumpers and your smiling and your towel in the bathroom and—" he stopped himself before he just emptied the whole of his list of things that he loved about John. He thought for a moment, pondering over his previous admission, "That sounds rather selfish, doesn't it? I suppose that's in my nature, though." He huffed and glanced back to John. "It's just...people don't normally...enjoy my presence," he averted his eyes "for obvious reasons," he muttered.

John touched his cheek, bringing Sherlock's eyes to meet his. The detective's eyes were shining, wide, and vulnerable, an emotion that John hadn't ever seen before tonight. "Do not let anyone make you believe that you are anything less than extraordinary, Sherlock. You are brilliant. You're not an open person, you don't enjoy many people's company, and that's okay. You don't have to meet anyone's standards but your own. I love you for exactly what you are. Every wild night-chase, explosive experiment, refrigerated finger, hacked laptop password, tantrum, three AM violin concerto; every "Idiot," "Obviously," and "Must you be so dull?" Every bullet hole in the wall, text message, nicotine patch and stolen duvet—"

"—Borrowed—" John shot him a dark look before continuing.

"I love you for all of those things because those things make you, you. When you rant to me in French or set my jumpers on fire—though I wouldn't mind if you stopped that—sure, I may get frustrated or angry, but that doesn't mean that I would want you to ever change. I could not live without you, without you exactly as you are, I would never—could never—ask for anything else." John leaned in to kiss Sherlock softly before leaning his forehead against the detective's, brushing a few curls out of his eyes.

Sherlock didn't say anything, he didn't need to. John knew how thankful he was, how loved he felt, and how much he loved John. How he didn't really think himself to be that great, but his heart swelled almost painfully in his chest to know that someone as remarkable as John cared for him so. He very much did not think John to be dull.

Sherlock just kissed John, and kept kissing him, and kissing him, until the two of them had lost track of time and the world and anything that wasn't their lips and their tongues and their teeth and their hands and their beating hearts.

And they were very much alive.