AN - Done for a prompt on the BBC Sherlock meme. Rated for mild sexual situations.

As an aside, I finally broke down and started posting my Sherlock work around here. Gonna get the rest of it up in a few days. Thanks for reading!

He hates sleep.

It's a waste. Lie. It's essential, but he won't go into the science. He doesn't need it. Another lie. He's human, no matter what they say. It's boring. Still lying. That one's the most preposterous. It's not boring. Not at all. But he can't explain the real reason. Not because of social stigma. Not because of fear. He honestly can't. It's maddening.

It started when he was five and dreamed up his older brother.

Or perhaps it was the other way around. He's never been quite sure as to the inception. And by this he means that he can't tell whether the prior world is a prolonged dream from which he just wakes or the new world is a fresh dream into which he continues indefinitely. It doesn't really matter, but he'd like to know. He never will. It's profoundly frightening. He doesn't like to talk about it.

It was only little details up until then. Tiny things – the pattern of his wallpaper, the color of his pet canary, the way his violin tutor applied her lipstick. Nothing important. He barely made note of it. It was so forgettable. He assumed it happened to everyone. Later on he would learn not to make that kind of assumption. It's dangerous.

He drowsed one afternoon in a pool of sunlight. His head was pillowed on his mother's lap and her fingers were in his hair. He dreamt ideas, amorphous shapes and indefinite colors, nothing tangible. At some point the dreams broke into a rainy afternoon. An older boy was shaking him over and over. His face was fat and flushed and his wispy ginger hair was dark with rain. Frightened and confused, Sherlock acted on his first impulse. He bit mercilessly into the boy's hand. Blood flooded his mouth. He felt nauseous. The boy howled.

"Who are you?" screamed Sherlock. He wiped his mouth on the edge of his sleeve and spat a glob of bloody spit onto the grass. The older boy was crimson with pain and rage. He clutched at his hand but jewels of blood slipped between his fingers anyways.

"You little shit!" He slapped Sherlock with the clean hand. The sting and the taste of the blood were overwhelming. The rain bit into his cheek. Sherlock started to cry. The older boy sneered.

"Do shut up. You know full well that it only serves you right." He grimaced at his hand. "I really don't have the faintest notion of what you were thinking, but goodness, I can't wait to hear what mummy has to say when she gets a load of all this."

He began to stalk away across the lawn. Blood stained the silvery silk of his trousers. Sherlock stood in the rain and cried. In the end Mummy got a load of everything perfectly well and shouted herself hoarse. She smoked on the patio afterwards with a long ivory pipe balanced artfully between her fingers. Sherlock was confused and rejected and when he fled to the violin to distract himself the notes came out crooked and wrong. He threw the bow aside and crumbled onto his bed. He wept for hours. He would never cry like that again.

The boy was Mycroft Holmes. Fifteen years old. His brother. Before Sherlock fell asleep that day, he didn't exist. But he did for everyone else. And when Sherlock said otherwise, Mycroft sighed and Mummy glared and went out for a smoke, and his cheeks burned. So eventually he stopped saying otherwise. But he never stopped thinking. And that became a habit.

He had to protect himself. Thought was the only way he knew how. He hated to be humiliated. He didn't want anyone to know that the world changed when he slept. Sometimes, yes, just little things like the wallpaper or the color of his pet canary, but other times big things like a whole older brother, packaged complete with a personality and a web of memories that had ensnared everyone but Sherlock.

But it was always like that, everyone but Sherlock. He was an exception. Born to break the rules. He thought about this at night as he tried not to sleep. He didn't want to wake to another contorted reality. Maybe the brand of tea his mother liked would change. But maybe his father would be sitting beside her at the kitchen table alive and well. Maybe they wouldn't even recognize him. Maybe he wouldn't be their son any longer.

He stopped dreaming ideas. He stopped dreaming anything at all. He didn't sleep much. Still doesn't. It's a habit he won't break, no matter how much John tries.

Reality is fluid. It's a river of time and perception. Nobody sees that it's full of eddies and unexpected currents and drop-offs into cold pockets of water. It's a human invention. The construction is impeccable. The water is deep and dark and carefully layered with fluxes of time and space. It flows smoothly. For the rest of the world it's straightforward, an aesthetic miracle, continuous and trustworthy. But there's an aberration. A branch lodged in the mud of the river bottom. The water parts easily, but the branch trembles. It's about to snap beneath the force of the current.

Sherlock opens his eyes.

John smiles at him and his heartbeat slows. His shirt. It's faded like it's been worn for years. The sleeves are frayed and moths have eaten at the collar. But Sherlock's had it for only seventeen days. He exhales. Relief. That's the only change. John gets up from his armchair.

"Glad you've slept. It's been days." He's in the kitchen. The rush of water mingles with his voice. "Fancy a cup? Maybe even something to eat?"

Sherlock yawns. Afternoon sun slants into the sitting room. He stretches luxuriously.

"Just tea." He reaches for his phone. No new cases. Opens the laptop. Nothing. He tugs unhappily at his dressing gown and curls into his chair and waits. John crosses the sitting room. He's rolled up his sleeves and he smells like soap and his eyes are soft. Sherlock looks away.

He hates this. He sips petulantly from the teacup with the blue roses printed on the side (enamel roses that bloomed just two weeks ago; before, the cups were plain) as if being a child will chase it all away. He doesn't want to fall in love with John. It's too dangerous. He meant it when he said alone protects him; as long as he's alone, there's nobody there to be different when he wakes up.

Sally was prettier at uni. She used to smile and play with her hair. She was interesting, too, but she wasn't interested. She didn't look at men. Sherlock didn't look at women. She studied criminal law and he studied cocaine; the other subjects were dull, and it was nice to be able to control reality for an instant. They fell in love. People laughed approvingly. It became a great joke. Sherlock was so cold and Sally was so determined that their bed was popularly likened to a block of ice.

But that wasn't true. Not at all. It was only fear. The cruel twists and turns of reality had hardened Sherlock. His heart terrified him. It threatened to destroy him. Everything was so risky. His universe was so changeable. Dependence on another was not reliable. He had warned himself against love, admiration, attachment. But he met Sally and he forgot.

She wasn't truly cold then, either, just bottled away by ambition. It was hard to be an intelligent woman. She couldn't be respected and loved at the same time. Sherlock didn't know how to respect or love. But he did kiss her. And they did hold hands. And they were equals. And after they made love for the first time on the rigid mattress in her dormitory, Sherlock forgot himself and fell asleep with his head on her pillow and his heart lost between the sheets. It was a mistake and he was punished.

When Sherlock woke he was on a couch in the common room. The air reeked of beer and pot and his head spun. He blinked and saw Sally laughing with another man. Her skirt was hitched nearly to her hip. She was drunk. He staggered to his feet and tried to push the other man away. Sally screeched and spilled her drink. Her eyes were vacant. Sherlock began to understand.

The other man was up for a fight, but Sally put her hand on his arm. "He's not worth it," she slurred. "Let's get out of here, Anderson." She stood, wavering, and spared a glance at Sherlock over her shoulder. No recognition. He was humiliated.

"Freak," she spat.

The name stuck.

No. He can't fall in love with John. No matter how much he longs for it. He knows John loves him too - he's already said it in countless tiny ways – the loyalty, the quiet secret smiles, the tea - and sometimes it's tempting, the idea of having him for even just a little while. But Sherlock knows better. It would be a gift to love John honestly and wholly. But he can't. He would break if one day he woke and John was just another face. He can't be alone again.

She leaves a little girl behind. It's not elaborate, but there's blood between her legs, and her nails are broken. She fought. John closes his eyes and breathes through his nose for a long moment. He doesn't look at the girl in the corner. He doesn't look at Sherlock. He walks onto the balcony while they finish gathering evidence. Sherlock finds him there afterwards, staring out over the ashy lawn.

"It suits you." Sherlock joins him at the edge of the balcony. "The sun in your eyes. Makes you look young."

John has his arms crossed behind his back. "Thank you. I'm not."

"No," admits Sherlock. "Neither am I." Silence. The air is warm and grey."What's different about this one?"

In the other room, they're wrapping the girl in an orange blanket, turning her face from the world. It doesn't merit saying.

"If it makes you feel better," attempts Sherlock, "the father is on a business trip. He'll be back. She'll be safe."

John shakes his head. "It's so fleeting." His voice is scratchy. "Gone in an instant, before you can even think. It's strange. Cruel. I learned this from the war, but it's only just started to matter to me now. Now, here, with you, and…this." He sighs in frustration. "This. Whatever it is."

Sherlock doesn't know how to reply. John looks at him with the ghost of tears in his eyes.

"Our work is fatal, Sherlock. We'll die out here. You know it, and so do I. That's alright. It's preferable, in the end." He flexes his knuckles on the railing. "But I can't help but think that…oh, Sherlock. What if we never get the chance?"

Sherlock has no choice. He wants to take that chance so much that he could scream. But he doesn't. He never does. He can't. It's too much. He doesn't risk a look at John. He couldn't bear it.

"What chance?"

He grits his teeth. John looks at him for a long time. He doesn't look back. At some point John goes inside. Once he's gone Sherlock clings to the railing until his knuckles burn. Rain is brewing and the wind whips his face, brings tears to his eyes, dashes them away. He can't. It's selfish, but he won't. And in the end he doesn't deserve it.

His mother died in his second year of uni, long after Sally changed and cocaine lost its charm. They gave him a leave and he went to the countryside. Mycroft prepared the funeral. It was a fabulous affair. Rivers of black taffeta, silk flowers, eddies of guests swirling about with lace handkerchiefs. Sherlock was revolted. He had never warmed to his elder brother, and he spent the reception in his old room, drinking champagne that tasted like metal and staring at the acrylic stars on the ceiling, the skeletons of rats and mice on the desk. His things, but no longer his. He saw the work of the dreams. A mouse replaced by a vole, a new constellation at the western corner of the room. His childhood had changed. It no longer belonged to him.

Very little did.

He didn't mean to drink so much. He didn't mean to drowse. He woke to grimy sunlight and a sour taste in his mouth. Footsteps on the stairs. His mother in the doorway. They held each other's gaze until Sherlock threw his head back.

"You're dead." He dug his hands into his hair. He kept saying it. Dead. Dead. And he wouldn't stop saying it until they shut him away. He wasn't worth much, anyways. He was never on leave. He dropped out, addicted to heroin, not cocaine. He was insane. Delusional. Neurotic. A freak. A sociopath. He wouldn't sleep. He just wanted his violin but they wouldn't give it to him.

Therapy had him suspended like a fragile bridge between realities for a while, and that was alright. He even dreamt a bit. Mundane things: a trip to Tesco, a walk in the park with a faceless girl, sometimes a man, a cloudy sky, feeding the ducks. He got out of the ward and rented a flat. Then he woke up and the Soviet Union had been gone for fifteen years.

He stopped trying.

He got a detective job. He was good with details because they protected him. He was cold and abrasive and mechanical because when you're already strange, nobody thinks twice if you're extra strange one morning because you can't make sense of the world anymore. It was his life. It still is. He has to protect himself no matter what.

He can't love John.

Molly Hooper was a cruel child, even though nobody would believe it nowadays. But he knows her as the girl with the bulging brown eyes who vanished and reappeared. He would never quite forgive her for what she did, no matter how reality tilted beneath his feet. Some wounds run so deep that not even a new world can heal the scar.

They were four years old. She had translucent skin and bulging eyes and her upper lip jutted over the lower, lending her mouth a wicked quirk. They met as neighbors and became fast friends, explored the countryside, built forts, told stories, lied, skinned their knees, nicked sweets from the pantry, everything. Her ideas were never good, but they were always interesting. She was a strange girl and Sherlock was a strange boy. It fit.

They killed and dissected mice to see the skeletons. Molly had deft fingers and could name hundreds of bones. Her eyes shone as she worked. A convoluted blue vein cut through the sickly skin of her forehead. She was wickedly smart and told fabulous stories. But she wasn't a good girl. Perhaps Sherlock wasn't a good boy. But until sleep washed her away, Molly was the worst.

That afternoon the rain was a curtain, silent, indistinguishable from the air except for the faint ripple of light off the water. It had descended silently to soak though their clothes and now the roads were fluid, the color of the milky coffee his mother left out on the kitchen table for him on Sunday mornings. Mud clung to his trousers. He and Molly crested the lip of the hill that coursed down onto the countryside. The path was a flood of cloudy water and unhinged clods of earth. Molly stopped.

Sherlock was shivering. "Come on. We're almost home."

Raindrops clung to Molly's eyelashes. "Sherlock, what would you do if I pushed you down right now?"

He rubbed his arms for warmth. "Shout at you, I suppose." He tugged at her sleeve. "Let's go, Molly."

Molly turned to him. Her skin looked slippery and her eyes were filmed over. A forceful shiver coursed through Sherlock.

"So you wouldn't push back?" she asked dreamily. She shoved him. For an instant he saw only the sky. He was flying. Then the ground surged up to strike the breath from his lungs. He choked on a mouthful of muddy water. His nose pressed into the dirt. He tumbled until he felt the earth begin to give. He came to a stop in a groove of mud. Tasted iron. Fell unconscious.

He woke screaming. His mother put her hand on his forehead and told him to stop pretending. Molly wasn't real. His fixation had become abnormal. His cries died in his throat. Abnormal. That name stuck, too. He would believe his mother for twenty years, until he met Molly again in a morgue. How ironic that, years later, she would make him fall again. But that's far off yet. Now is what matters.

He learns that fear can be selfless. The case doesn't matter. Reputation, the game, the victory – none of it matters anymore. John. The bomb. The labored sound of breathing. The terror and resolve in eyes which reflect the quavering glow of the swimming pool. That matters. That's Sherlock's entire world. A narrow reality. No room for change.

John grabs Moriarty and wins another red dot for Sherlock's forehead. Relief. Now they both die. It's not ideal, but at least they won't be alone. He almost smiles in the face of death, but Moriarty exits the stage before the curtain drops. A breath of silence. So be it. He'll analyze it later. For now he's tearing at John, feeling all over to make sure he's real. John's gasping and shaking, but he's alive, warm, tangible.

But it was a false exit, of course, and Moriarty's back, and there's no choice. The face of death again. Another smile. John nods and Sherlock pulls the trigger. The universe goes up in flames. He clings to John until he falls unconscious. In the end it's always inevitable. Sleep, that is.

Sherlock wakes under hospital lights with the newborn understanding that conjecture is useless and fear is fallible. He doesn't care anymore. John is asleep in the other bed. Alive, but only luckily. Sherlock understands now, what he has to do. The idea of losing John to death inspires within him a fear so profound as to chase away his selfishness.

He wakes John and tells him that he's ready. He'll take the chance.

Sherlock wants to tell John why he forgot the solar system. He wants to explain that he can't be bothered to mind something so vast, that could be changed so minutely every morning. It's not worth it. He wants to confess that he doesn't sleep during cases because he can't wake up to a different set of details and have to start fresh. He's brilliant, but he can't handle that. He wants to explain that he performs the experiments, the ones with body parts and acid, because sometimes he wakes up and can't seeanything different and needs to know whether physics or chemistry has changed. But most of all he wants to explain that when everything else is unfamiliar John is the same, an anchor in the flow of reality, and for that he loves him, for that and a thousand other reasons which one day he'll scrawl across the entire apartment in permanent marker so that they're always known and never forgotten or mishandled by careless sleep.

He stops the bow. The music ceases. "I'm sorry." It's all he can say for now. It's the first day back from the hospital. It's the first day of reality, and he needs time to adjust. They both do, really; they're not sure how to be around each other yet.

John looks up from his laptop. "What for?"

Sherlock puts down the violin and meets his eyes. "For waiting so long. I hope you can forgive me. I was only afraid."

John clears his throat. Sherlock can tell he's pleased. Wary, too; he knows Sherlock very well, after all.

"Why would you be afraid?" He doesn't stop typing, but he's just pretending. Sherlock goes to the couch and sits down on the far cushion. He draws his knees to his chest.

"I can't tell you now."

John shuts his laptop. "You're brilliant and you feel things that I can't understand. But I wish you wouldn't keep secrets."

He looks sad. Sherlock wishes he wouldn't.

"I know. I'm sorry. I will one day, I promise." He pauses. "I suppose it's that I'm still afraid."

John looks at him for a while. He puts his laptop on the coffee table and clears his throat. Another glance. Hesitation. Sherlock understands. He climbs over the middle cushion. John reaches out. Sherlock leans into his palm and his thumb tests his cheek, the swell of his lower lip. He sighs. John takes his face in both hands. It's a meticulous exploration. At some point Sherlock closes his eyes. John drops his hands after an indefinite time and Sherlock gazes at him, sees that he's sheepish, rubbing at the back of his neck with one hand.

"I just wanted to see what it was like," he says. "I'm sorry."

Sherlock snorts. "Don't be. It's completely acceptable. Very masculine, even, wanting to thoroughly examine and object of affection. It's quite scientific, actually. I'd go so far as to say…"

He trails off, hearing himself. Silence. John snorts. Sherlock opens his mouth, wounded. But then John is laughing hard, smiling. The hurt vanishes. Sherlock tries to sound indignant.

"What? What's so funny?"

John grabs his shoulders, still chuckling, and kisses him. Just on the edge of the mouth. Hardly a kiss at all. But Sherlock reels away, bewildered. John beams.

"We're hopeless, you and I." He gives him a shake. "Absolutely hopeless."

Sherlock is dizzy. "My apologies."

John shakes his head. "Don't do that. It's my fault, too. We'll get the hang of it."

He smoothes the hair back from his forehead. A gesture heavy with affection. Sherlock doesn't know what to do. John's hand lingers at his cheek and Sherlock bends just a bit, into the bowl of his palm. John's still smiling, but it's softer. Hesitant. Sherlock chews on his lower lip. John drops his hand, takes his jaw.

"Don't move," he whispers, and kisses him. It's proper, solid but gentle. John isn't asking for anything. He's only sharing a bit of himself. Sherlock cautiously tilts his chin. It's short, not very passionate or wrenched with feeling, but it's important. It's everything, and they're both smiling when they part.

"Thank you," breathes Sherlock. He doesn't know what else to say. John chuckles, and looks away. He's happy. And that's worth it. Even if Sherlock wakes up the next morning and he's gone, it's worth it. John's happy, and it's all because of him. He doesn't understand it, but it's worth it. It's worth everything.

He hasn't seen her for a long time, and he hadn't really expected or hoped for anything. She had slipped so painlessly from his reality that he didn't give it a second thought; he grieved the loss for a while, but got distracted, forgot. But here's the lilt of her voice and the scarlet arc of her mouth, and it's all the same. Except they're only meeting for the first time, even though Sherlock remembers it all.

Irene Adler was another one, another one who felt things that not everyone understood, who knew things meant to be hidden, who watched the nuances of the world with such keenness that people would have called her unnatural, too, had she not been so pretty. She was a good teacher. She commanded respect, but enjoyed and nurtured her pupils. She liked to lead people along; Sherlock could tell by the angle of her hip, the gleam in her eye.

People like Sherlock and Irene – and Moriarty, too, but that's another story – have a way of finding each other, and the moment Sherlock walked into her classroom he found himself the subject of an interest that was as sharp as that of his psychiatrist but benevolent, perhaps even admiring. Irene called him over after class and smiled. He would never forget that, the quirk of her lips, crimson and suggestive. He wasn't imagining it.

"We'll be great friends," she murmured in his ear. And so it was.

Sherlock regarded teachers with disdain – he regarded most things with disdain – but Irene was clever. She analyzed every student to the bone and liked to tell secrets in a singsong whisper. Sherlock did love her, but detachedly. He never once entertained the notion of acting upon it. He was too brilliant for school, but Irene made it bearable. She was a challenge, and he didn't want to ruin that with something as frivolous and capricious as feeling.

That spring, Irene kissed his cheek, and he fell asleep on her shoulder, and when he woke a fat woman in a muddy blazer was striking his desk with a ruler. His classmates laughed and he was given detention for sleeping in class. He was idly sad. He didn't see Irene again. He didn't except to. But now he's confronted with that mouth, and the right measurements, and the brush of her fingers at his cheek. She jams something into his neck; he smiles as the ground surges up to meet him. She's unmistakable.

He wakes in the flat. John's at the foot of his bed. At a glance, the wallpaper is two tones lighter. Sherlock exhales and gazes at the ceiling. John glances at him; a shade of worry lifts from his brow. But he looks away. Sherlock sits up and the sheet pools at his waist.

"I'm alright, I think," he says, because John's not saying anything.

"You're just fine." John's eyes are unfocused. Silence. John shifts. He's fiddling with a corner of the sheet. He wants to say something. Sherlock waits.

"Did you…" John lets up on the sheet. "It's silly, but…had you met her before, Sherlock? Adler, I mean."

Sherlock swallows. "No. Why?"

John shrugs. "I don't know." A pause. "You seemed rather…well, awfully interested in her, actually. More than usual, I mean."

He looks down. Sherlock almost laughs. "Are you jealous?"

John flinches. "That was rather straightforward of you."

Sherlock climbs across the mattress to sit beside him. "I am nothing if not straightforward."

John admits that much is true. He's softened already. "It's that you were so fixated."

"I admire her very much," says Sherlock honestly. "But I love you."

It was an accident. He stares at his hands, wishing he could snatch back the words, which hang suspended in the air between them, to save for a better time, when he's not dizzy from tranquilizer, when he has a plan. He doesn't want to look at John, but eventually, in a voice that's soft and full, John says that he loves Sherlock, too.

Sherlock replies that it's good they're on the same page.

At some point they're kissing. It's gotten easier, and the room spins a bit. Effect of the tranquilizer, rationalizes Sherlock. Maybe that's not the whole story. He wants to sleep again. John is unbuttoning his shirt, innocently, like a parent to a child, and pulling him to his chest. He drowses, and for the first time in a while, he has the impression of a dream.

The curtains lie drawn to reveal the faint impression of autumn on the horizon. Gone are the summer sunsets, the prismatic wash of light, acrylic orange and red. The sunlight is clear, raw, and the sky is brittle with cold. His wrist dips. Tenuous strands of notes expand and contract. John is reading. He's got something on the stove; Sherlock doesn't want to eat. Night begins to bruise the horizon.

He puts down the violin. John shuts his book. A tacit invitation. Sherlock comes to the sofa. He draws his knees to his chest. Comfortable silence. He and John don't like words. Too clumsy, unreliable, easily misinterpreted. John gets up to mind the stove and set the table. Chicken, potatoes; Sherlock rolls it around on his plate. Digestion requires sleep, after all.

Night floods the sitting room, so they draw the curtains and turn on the telly so that the fuzzy artificial glow combats the darkness. It's some mindless program, but sitting beside John in that sort of confident silence that comes from long friendship and deep love, their fingers loosely intertwined, it's alright. It gets late. By midnight, they're sitting pressed together, twined together nearly to the ankle, just by coincidence, gravity, really.

"Terrible program," says John at some point.

"You laughed enough," replies Sherlock.

John snorts and presses his nose into his shoulder. Then they're kissing, idly at first, until John shuts off the telly and puts his hand in the hair at the nape of Sherlock's neck. It's gotten a bit more serious; John tastes of spice, tea leaves, a trace of mint toothpaste, and his other hand is on Sherlock's neck, close to his singing pulse. A while later he breaks away, drops a kiss at his jaw, and shifts so that Sherlock nestles in crook of his legs to extend luxuriously over his chest.

A quiet rain begins, hushed drumbeats on the roof. It mingles with their breathing and the creak of the couch. It's overwhelming, but Sherlock doesn't want to move. He likes the weight of John, the smell of his shirt, his skin, the murmur of his hands and lips. He likes the warmth in the pit of his own stomach. It's all brand new, and he likes it all very much, and he's a bit chagrined when John pushes him away.

He touches his cheek. "Let's go upstairs."

Sherlock's blood rushes. He nods. At first it's not easy, not romantic, not wrenched with passion. There's no falling upon each other, no tearing at clothes, no haze of desire. Instead there's a steady, timid pulse of hope, anticipation, trust. Again, John doesn't expect anything. He's only sharing another part of himself. Sherlock wraps his arms closely around his neck, hoping he might offer a bit in return.

The rain strengthens. John is breathing hard. He kisses Sherlock's cheek with startling tenderness, and asks if he's alright, if it's any good. Sherlock sighs. It's fine, it's perfect; he's ready. John hoists up his knees and cradles his back carefully in his palms, as though he were made of porcelain. Sherlock wants to mutter something smart, but he's out of air.

It's slow, painstaking, until they find a rhythm. Then it's a quiet symphony, the rain, the groan of the bed, breathing, sighing, the now-and-again bump of knees, fragments of words, lost forever between the sheets. It's awkward but it's good, and Sherlock arches from the mattress with a soft cry. John kisses the underside of his jaw, and then he's spent, too, lurching forwards into his chest.

"I love you," he mumbles in Sherlock's ear, and the air is so saturated with gold that Sherlock forgets himself and falls into the crook of his shoulder to meet with a sleep as indefinite and dreamless as a bolt of black velvet.

He wakes and the bed is empty. Terror seizes his heart. He tears through the flat. John is standing at the stove in socks and boxers, frying an egg. Sherlock sinks onto the stairs. He's forgotten that he's naked. He's forgotten everything but terror and relief and the sudden flood of love that threatens to wash him away. He springs to his feet, grabs John and kisses him fiercely, murmuring thank you, thank you, thank you, over and over again. Thank you for existing, existing for me to keep all to myself, for existing as you always have, when nothing else in my universe stays for very long at all.

For the first time ever, life develops a rhythm. Sherlock wakes, and at a glance finds the little change – the tear in the sheet, the pan missing from the cupboard, brown eggs replaced by white. He sometimes wanders the flat while John is still asleep, just to be alone with the dawn and his mind. In the end he remains solitary, a creature of habit despite the changeability of his world. He needs time, but later he's glad to return to John and nestle into the sheets with the morning sun smooth on their skin like gold leaf.

Cases come and go as always. Sherlock still fears that one day he will wake to an empty bed, but he tries not to concern himself. He wants to enjoy John, no matter how fleeting it may be. And John still doesn't know about the inconstant surface of reality. He trusts the flow, lets it carry him forwards. Sherlock is just glad to watch him glide past.

Between kisses and words whispered over pillowcases, wide palms and clumsy fingers, bars of sunlight through the blinds, Sherlock reconsiders an old matter: the inception of each reality, whether the prior is the dream prolonged or the dream cut away, or whether the new extends indefinitely. If only it were possible to bottle dreams in test tubes! Sherlock still can't make any sense of it, and that's still disarming, but it's not so bad, not anymore.

He can't bring himself to care that two Koreas have materialized on the map overnight, not when John opens his arms with a smile. He doesn't mind that the wallpaper has changed seven times in the last month, not when John is asleep on his chest. It doesn't matter if Mrs. Hudson has started to speak with a French accent; John's kissing him, and murmuring something silly about love, and nothing else seems very worthwhile. It's not so bad. Not at all.

One morning John suggests that they get married, and Sherlock says alright, and that's that. John says that he thinks spring is a very good time to be married, Sherlock laughs, and then they kiss, and make love right there on the sofa. Sherlock's sleepy afterwards, and dozes with John's lips in his hair. It's a predictable mistake. A bit disappointing, even. He should know better.

It's winter. The light is sharp, focused, illuminating the lattice patterns of frost on the windows. He's wrapped in a stiff wool coat. He's still on the couch, but he feels an enormous sense of hollowness. He hears footsteps on the stairs. The lock trembles. John walks into the sitting room and drops the groceries. A bag of apples spills across the floor. Sherlock doesn't know what to say, what world he's woken into, and neither does John, it seems.

At long last, John sinks to his knees, and puts his head in his hands.

"Three years. Three years and you have the…" His shoulders tense, and he's grabbing Sherlock's collar, screaming. "Three years and you have the goddamn audacityto show your face around here again? You son of a bitch!" He shakes him. "You son of a bitch…"

Sherlock clings feebly to his arms, bewildered. At some point John stops screaming, and loosens his hold, and then Sherlock's face is cradled in his hands, and his fingers skirt his cheek, his neck, the swell of his lower lip, smooth a lock of hair from his forehead.

"How dare you," he whispers. "You fell. I thought you were dead."

Sherlock gazes at him helplessly, because he doesn't know what else to do. A moment passes, and John recoils, mumbling an apology. Sherlock begins to understand. The cruel joke takes shape in his mind. John still loves him, and that's what really matters, but it's a secret. Fate has a wicked sense of humor.

Sherlock looks at John. He's trembling, furious, relieved, confused. It's legible in the color of his eyes, the jolting movement of his fingers, the new shadow on his brow. He's endured something terrible.

"Explain, Sherlock," he says in a low voice, tone steady but wrenched with desperation. "Please, Sherlock. You have to explain."

Silence. Sherlock sighs. No choice. He can't explain what John wants to hear. He doesn't know how. But he can explain one thing, and even if it's a thousand times more terrifying than this cold new reality in which he has fallen, he has to. He closes his eyes.

"Oh, John." He takes his hands. "This isn't how I wanted to tell you."

John listens quietly. He's always been good at that. Sherlock decides to start at the beginning, the very beginning – where else? – and it's impossibly hard. They're sitting across from each other in the old armchairs and the afternoon sun forms a lake of light between them.

"You have to understand, John." It's all he can say. "When I sleep, the world changes."

John's poured tea into cups printed with elegant violets whose green tendrils wind up the handle – a new addition that Sherlock dreamed up a few nights before – and he sips from time to time, pensively, or with no expression at all. Sherlock's only comfort is watching the emotions play across his face, his eyes, the fluxes of surprise, incredulity, at times sympathy or sadness, and a crumbling look akin to heartbreak.

He's astounded by Molly, quietly amused by Mycroft, openly intrigued by Irene. At first, he laughs at the idea of loving Sally, but at the end of the story he pales and mumbles something into his teacup, perhaps a broken apology. He grimaces at the psychiatric ward, and it's amazing. Sherlock is amazed. John still hasn't questioned a thing. Sherlock is tense, waiting for it – the scorn, the disbelief, the ticket to the hospital – but maybe John believes him that easily. It would be just like him.

He realizes that it's getting close, the part he most dreads. He'll have to tell John about their relationship at some point, but for the time being he darts away, hides, shelters himself with elaborate explanations of his behavior. Why he doesn't sleep, eat, why he's so strange and abrasive, why he's so cold. He's aloof and precise, a scientist explaining data, but John's face falls slack, and he puts down his cup, rests his forehead in one hand.

"I'm so sorry, Sherlock," he whispers. "If I had known…"

"It doesn't matter," interrupts Sherlock. He's touched, and that's dangerous. "It's alright; it's how I chose to be. It was selfish, really."

Silence for a moment. Sherlock miserably understands that the inevitable is at hand.

"Until a few months ago, that is."

He takes an unsteady sip of tea, shuts his eyes, and talks. Refuses to think about what he's saying. He stumbles through the beginning, but he says it all, even the parts that make John clear his throat, look away. His voice drops, grates; he can't disguise the bitterness.

"We were…" He exhales. "We were going to get married."

He doesn't give John time to react. With great effort he recovers his familiar icy composure. He sets down his teacup and looks at John over the crest of his nose. Now it's your turn. Three years after a fall, you said. Explain. John puts down his teacup, too, because his hands are trembling. Sherlock swallows.

"Moriarty," begins John, and then it's a blur. A complot, a reporter, fraud fraud fraud, honey you should see me in a crown, a cab on a rainy night, handcuffs, falling is just like flying, but really it's not, because you're not flying, you're dead and I'm alone, for three years I'm alone, and yet here you are, right here in front of me, and if it were anybody else I wouldn't believe it, but it's you, telling me that the world changes when you sleep, and I've said it before and I'll said it again: I will never believe you told me a lie.

Something is stuck in Sherlock's throat.

"You believe me?"

John gives a raw laugh.

"Of course I bloody believe you. I've got no choice."

Sherlock looks down.

"You're extraordinary."


"I'm sorry, John. Three years is a very long time."

The tea is cold.

"It's alright You're here now. That's all that matters to me."

The lake of sunlight is insubstantial; evening is at hand.

"You're too generous."

"Sherlock." John leans forwards. He looks like he wants to take his hands. Hesitation. Sherlock reaches out and takes his, instead. Palms callused, tired, warm. Familiar. John tenses, but doesn't draw away.

"It's not generosity. It's…oh, hell." He averts his gaze. "All that you said about...about us, what we were…I can't restore the past. It won't ever be the same between us. I'm sorry. It's not fair to you. But maybe…"

He bites down on his lower lip. Sherlock waits.

"If you're not opposed, that is…" He presses his palm. "Maybe we can start over."

"Did you know, Sherlock," says John at some point, "that people who don't dream are considered dangerously sociopathic? No emotions to project, no desires…it's funny, now, to think that people call you that."

Sherlock puts down the bow of the violin. "Why's that? I never dream. They're right."

John shakes his head. "It seems quite the opposite to me. Maybe you feel so much, Sherlock, and so deeply, that your dreams are so rich that they're…well, that they're reality. Maybe you're the strongest dreamer. Maybe you can meld the world with your feeling because you have so much. Maybe it's not reality that controls you, in the end."

He shrugs.

"But you shouldn't listen to me. I don't know what I'm talking about."

Sherlock picks up the bow and begins to play again. Rêverie; it was a pain to transpose to the violin, but it's lovely, soft, the impression of sound, little more. Suitable, all things considered. He imagines the notes flowing from the bow, through the window, winding through the night, sinuous and colorful, ribbons of sound. The soft clatter of John's keyboard rises into the air to join them, homey and plodding, unremarkable. It's a nice symphony.

It's the strangest thing. Sherlock dreams again. More concretely than ever – skylines, exact faces, memories for the first time in his life. And very little changes anymore. It's only tiny details, now, if anything at all. Maybe it's because there was truth in what John said. Maybe it's because Sherlock's arrived at a conclusion of his own.

Reality is continuous, and it is malleable, and yet it cannot truly be changed. Sherlock traces events, changes, faces. He thinks it over for hours and hours. He begins to understand it. There is no prior dream, no indefinite dream, no inception. It's all the same once you look past the details. People, things, hearts – it's just a web of symbolism. A story with the same characters every time, only in different scenarios.

Mycroft is the cold, the aloof, the angry, the inheritance. Molly is confusion, unhappiness, admiration. His mother is the bitterness, the indignance. Sally is the broken, the lost, the misunderstood. Irene is the unattainable, the incorrect, the sensuous. It falls into place. The pieces of his heart. He begins to understand that each represents a facet of himself, with one exception.

Oh, who else but John, who is everything that Sherlock is not. The concrete, the steady, the constant. The trust, the love, the generosity. The unthinking, the foolish, the susceptible. The brave and the good and the selfless. He is a compliment. He is an anchor in the flow. He is why things don't change anymore. He is everything.

John was right. The past can't be restored. Perhaps it never existed in the first place. But they started over. Sometimes they talk about a house in the countryside. A backyard, a big kitchen, windows for lots of sun. Bees, suggests Sherlock on a whim, and John laughs and kisses him. Alright. Bees. Whatever you like. But they're not quiet ready for peace and quiet, not yet. So for now, it's just a pleasant dream.