A/N- I wrote this for a Tumblr competition ages ago and finally got around to doing something with it. Some parts of it are annoyingly similar to a Destiel AU I'm working on, but eh. That's going to be another few months at least, and it felt good to work on something in the Sherlock fandom again. I hope you like it- please review and let me know!
Sherlock doesn't dream; he never has. He assumes that it's because his brain is so busy during the day that it clings onto any rest time it can get. Most people fill their waking hours with dull little distractions, but he spends so much of his time using his mind that it's unsurprising it refuses to work twenty-four hours a day.
So when he awakes from the first dream he's ever had, he really doesn't know what to think or feel. A little disillusioned, perhaps. Sherlock had expected dreams to be surreal- unintelligible yet larger than life, a world with the brightness turned up too high. Maybe he just isn't creative enough for that, because he spent his night watching a man go about his day.
Just that. Nothing more. A relatively boring fictional character- certainly nothing like Sherlock himself. It had been like a film with very little plot. The man woke up, ate breakfast with a moderately attractive brunette and went off to a training program at a hospital- something military, most probably an army doctor. The man had travelled home, eaten dinner with the brunette and watched reality television shows of such low quality that Sherlock sincerely hopes he's made them up, because otherwise evolution's taken a seriously wrong turn at some stage.
He dismisses the dream quickly- he has a new client, and that means that nothing else matters. Sherlock Holmes isn't an name many people have heard, and clients are few and far between. The police in particular don't want to know. He scares them. Whilst that brings him near-endless enjoyment, he does long to finally get a chance to work with them. To finally get at the cases that his hands are currently slapped away from. Go and play with your toys, little one. His toys- missing persons, suspected affairs, minor break ins- are dull to say the least. He throws himself into them all the same, because what else does one do with one's time?
Today's case is as dull as usual- a woman suspecting her husband of cheating. He meets the man at his office (under the guise of a deliveryman), says hello, and goes outside to ring her and confirm it. She babbles on about 'proof' or 'evidence', and when he tries to explain how the positioning of his hands and the colour of his suit gave it away she's unconvinced. Sherlock spends his day tracking down her ever so beloved 'evidence', knowing that he's wasting his time but not having anything better to do.
When he goes to sleep at night, he dreams about the man again. Same brunette, same place, different tasks, different conversations. When he wakes up in the morning, he lies in bed for a few minutes longer than usual and wonders just what is going on in his brain.
And at the same time in an altogether different place, a trainee army doctor lies back with his latest girlfriend nestled, fast asleep, in the crook of his arm. He stares at the ceiling and wonders why, after more than thirty years of unfurnished nights, he is dreaming about a man with a strange name and intoxicating eyes.
At first, it's maddening. Sleeping is for replenishment, not for entertainment. He doesn't feel any more tired than usual when he wakes up, but his mind is preoccupied for the first few hours of the day, busy digesting the events ingested the night before. He can no longer give his cases his undivided attention, and that irritates him.
When the dreams don't stop, Sherlock begins to experiment. Yes, he can recall the main events of the fictional man's day. He can recall conversations but not always word for word. He remembers these non-existent days in as much detail as his own, and they even seem to proceed in a linear fashion. He muses that he's actually fabricating a plot; maybe he has some creativity buried deep in his logic-based being after all.
The man's name is John Watson (a boring name, Sherlock thinks. He wonders why his subconscious insists on being so boring). The hospital is named St. Barts, where he is indeed hoping to become an army doctor. The brunette's name is Julia. They've known each other for four months, and Sherlock doesn't have to be there in person to tell that John's already tiring of her.
Next, he tries playing around with his own sleeping patterns. He goes to bed at midnight, sets the alarm for three A.M and sleeps. He finds that, in a meagre three hours, he somehow still experiences the full eighteen hours of John's waking day. Dream time, he concludes, works differently to normal time.
In the real world, he's getting noticed. He starts a website: The Science Of Deduction. It turns the sporadic drip of clients into a slow but steady trickle. People are beginning to recommend him. Sherlock begins to look into moving somewhere more urban, more central.
With time, the annoyance gives way to fascination. It's Sherlock's own detailed case study of a human being: it's not disruption, it's practice. Sherlock is beginning to do something he has never done before- reassess somebody. He's the king of snap judgements. Well, he knows they aren't 'judgements', but 'snap well-thought-out-and-supported-conclusions-drawn-from-undoubtable-evidence' doesn't have the same ring to it.
He forgives himself for the rare error; maybe it's more difficult to work things out when asleep. It could even be that he was correct the first time around, and his subconscious has since changed things around to test him. All that he knows is that his initial set of deductions is no longer relevant, because John Watson is definitely not boring.
Sherlock can't even give clear reasons as to why. He simply finds that, as the months go on, watching John becomes almost comforting. His world is hectic and ever-changing and he loves it, but having a small piece of familiarity as an anchor comes in handy. Sherlock realises one day that he feels closer to the non-existent man in his head than he does to anybody in real life. This should probably distress him, but it makes sense. Nobody can keep up with Sherlock but Sherlock.
When he's having problems solving cases- or worst of all, there are no cases, and he's left alone with the silence and endless hours and a distinct lack of cocaine (rehab really was far too dull to do twice)- sleep serves as an excellent escape. Normal people dream about being brilliant and important. Sherlock- a brilliant and important person- dreams of normality.
(And normality is left-handed with excellent people skills and a smile that stays fixed in Sherlock's mind long after he wakes up.)
John is not sad to see Julia go.
She's pretty enough. And kind enough, and smart enough, and funny enough. The sum of all her parts, therefore, should equal 'enough'. Yet somehow the maths doesn't quite work out, and when she announces that she's leaving his entire reaction can be summarised in two words:
John's alone again, and it's rapidly becoming a default setting. Julia was his sixth girlfriend in two years. They all separated on friendly terms, with no cheating or shouting or anger. They just… fizzled out. His break-ups never occur because of who his lovers are, but because of who or what they are not. The relationships are never what he truly wants- not that he has any idea what that is.
Recently, however, he has a growing suspicion that 'it' almost certainly involves somebody male. The possibility doesn't make him happy: isn't that the kind of thing he should really have sorted out by now? He carries out his identity crisis in a quiet, repressed way. He goes on a few more dates. None are with men.
It's funny that it even matters, but he never told Julia about the dreams. He had meant to mention it as a one off, in passing: "I had a weird dream last night". But then one night became two, and two became five, and five become weeks and months and now, nearly a year down the line, he has his own private feed of another man's life. The whole thing would be distressingly voyeuristic if any of it was real.
He wonders if he could turn it into a book or something: Sherlock Holmes. He'd feel wrong calling himself an author, though- it wouldn't be writing so much as simply recording things going on in the detective's life. He can never predict what's going to happen next, and he soon stops trying to. It's more fun that way. At first the dreams make him uneasy, but in time that passes too. He usually wakes up smiling- sometimes laughing. For an imaginary construct, Sherlock really can be an arse.
One morning, however, John wakes up frowning. Sherlock hasn't had a client for several days, and John has been amazed by how much it had gotten to him. He's like an addict in withdrawal- unable to focus on anything, lurching between hyperactivity and overwhelming lethargy. John finds himself getting impatient to go to sleep so he can see if Sherlock's condition improves at all.
And so John lies in bed and frowns and frowns, because why is the fictional character in his head taking cocaine? John hates drugs, doesn't even drink that much. Is this some weird unconscious rebellion?
He doesn't know how to will it to stop. Tonight, he tells himself firmly, I will not dream about taking drugs. But he does. The man spends all day moping around, playing the violin (John can't remember ever hearing the songs in real life- they're beautiful, and he wishes he knew the names) and yes, snorting cocaine.
The next morning, when he wakes up as Sherlock finally goes to sleep, John acts straight away; it's so childish and pointless that he can't give his rational side the chance to object. He grabs a blank piece of paper and a black marker, and scrawls 'STOP TAKING COCAINE' in huge letters. He isn't really sure what to do with it. He hangs it on his bathroom mirror and hopes that nobody respectable visits and needs the loo.
When he goes to bed at night, he finds a very odd thing. He watches Sherlock wake up as he always does, but the man looks intensely confused. And then amused. And then bemused. As John watches, Sherlock goes and flushes his entire store of cocaine down the toilet. When he showers later on (and John can't look away even if he wanted to), the mirror fogs over and Sherlock uses his finger to write out 'IF YOU INSIST'.
John wonders if he has developed a way to converse directly with his subconscious. He picks a question he's long forgotten the answer to, and writes out 'what was the name of my teacher when I was eight?' on a sheet of lined paper at St Barts. The following night, he watches Sherlock scrawl out 'I neither know nor care', and decides that if he does have a link with a part of himself, it's a rubbish one.
They continue this dialogue for weeks. They comment on each other's days, their habits- they spend several days/nights trading snarky opinions on John's jumper collection. John likes his jumpers. Sherlock does not. When Sherlock is running through a shopping centre after a man one day- a long story but a pretty damn good one- he pauses for a moment to finger the fabric of a thick woollen jumper, lips twisting into an amused smile. When John wakes up, the first thing he does is announce 'yeah, not my colour' in response.
Being a mature student at St. Barts hasn't been fun, but he's nearly finished his training and he's proud. Army doctor sounds a good profession to him, though he wouldn't mind being a solider. A strange and sad part of him thinks it would be even better to be a consulting detective, or to at least know a real one if any exist. The fake one in John's head is currently making records as the only person to ever pick a place to live based on how high the crime rates are. Sherlock's job revolves around corruption and disorder, and his little town is hatefully pacifistic.
When John finishes his training, Sherlock murmurs 'well done' and gives the ceiling one of the most genuine smiles John's ever seen on the man's face. When John wakes up, he is hit all at once by the hideous knowledge that he is falling in love with a character of his own creation. It feels narcissistic and pathetic in equal parts.
So he isn't entirely sure what he feels when Sherlock draws a ring around an advertisement for a London apartment. The area of London in which John lives.
He thinks he might actually be excited, which makes him genuinely consider looking into local psychiatrists. It's like some days he almost forgets that Sherlock isn't real. John moves onto more sane deliberations, such as whether he'll actually dream of himself meeting the man. It's an interesting prospect, and one that makes his head hurt.
When John agrees to go to Afghanistan, Sherlock feels cheated out of what is rightfully his. He's already decided to rent the apartment, has booked a day to move. It's only a few weeks away, and he arrives the day after John leaves. He'll miss the other man by less than twenty-four hours.
Well, at least he would if John was real. John, of course, is not, but Sherlock had been most intrigued to see what would happen. He wonders if the streets he's seen are actually there- he's looked up St Barts hospital so he knows that exists if nothing else- but more than that, he wants to know what happens when he's in the same place as 'John'. It could make the dreams get stronger, or stop altogether, or cause some mad paradox and end the world: 'the universe has encountered an unexpected error and needs to close.'
And of course, the very sad little corner of Sherlock that still believes in fairy tales and the goodness of people wonders if he might actually find a John Watson living in London and training at St Barts. It's ludicrous, but so is receiving a handwritten message from your own mind urging you to quit your drug habit.
Sherlock spends the day after the Afghanistan revelation in something of a stupor. Focusing on other things, whilst not impossible, is difficult. The next day is similar. He's glad to not have a case for once, because he doesn't want to make a stupid error. Sherlock doesn't know why the news (concerning a man who does not exist) affects him so much. On the second night, the other man wakes up but doesn't get up.
"You were quiet yesterday," he says softly. "Or today. Or whenever it is I'm seeing. I don't know why. I don't know, maybe I'm more upset about it than I'd thought, because you were definitely quiet."
There's nobody else around, meaning John must be talking to him. So when Sherlock wakes up, he replies in a similar fashion: a one-sided conversation a day too late.
"I don't want you to go," he says stiltedly, fully aware of how absurd what he's doing is. "You may be a figment of my imagination, but you're also the closest thing to a friend I have, and you're placing yourself in danger."
The next morning. "Oh, 'cause it's not like I have to watch you put yourself in danger every day or anything. And excuse me? I'm pretty sure I know who's real and who's not. For the record: I'm real, you're not. I haven't lost it that much yet, thanks."
The next morning. "This is all very interesting; my subconscious appears to be rebelling against me. Interesting, but annoying. Listen to me: My name is Sherlock Holmes. I'm a consulting detective moving to London, whereas you are a man whose existence is confined completely within my head."
The next morning. "Yeah, and I'm John Watson, army doctor, about to be deployed to Afghanistan, and pretty sure I exist." It's at the end of the day and right before John goes to sleep that he seems to finally convince himself to say something.
"And by the way- real or not, you're the closest thing to an anything I have." He gives a brisk, 'so there'kind of nod, and goes to sleep before he can embarrass himself any further.
The next morning: "Look me up." That's all Sherlock says. Three words. Look me up. Sherlock isn't sure why he's said them- why is he asking himself to research himself? It's a kind of inception he's not sure should be permitted to happen.
And when John opens his eyes the following morning, he's equally confused. He's debated searching for Sherlock's blog before, but he knows he'd just find a '404 Error' page and a bit less magic in his world. He's reluctant to type the words in, but he does so anyway, feeling utterly ridiculous all the while.
. is barely used. It contains cryptic notes that he knows make no sense but they make sense to him, because he has watched Sherlock type them. He has watched Sherlock type out abusive comments to prospective clients, watched him delete spam and reply to messages. The website exists. Sherlock exists.
The day after he tells John to look him up is as normal as ever until mid-afternoon. He's clicking idly through his (mostly empty) website when the icon pops up. 1 New Message. It's something that's happened dozens of times before, but he finds himself hesitant to open it this time around.
When he finally does, he sees the phrase 'From: jhwatson .uk' and resists an alarmingly impractical urge to throw the laptop across the room. Because John isn't real. He can't be real. But he has messaged Sherlock, so he has to be, but he can't be, so just what is going on? Sherlock doesn't like that this thoughts refuse to mesh. He is an alien in his own logic.
Sherlock doesn't read the message. He closes it, resumes business as usual, and goes to sleep. And that night, he watches John stumble onto his website. Watches his mouth drop open, sees that he has to come away from the computer to try and collect his thoughts. He watches John type out a message- writing and deleting and writing and deleting until he finally hits send.
It's John, if that means anything at all.
Sherlock is out of bed as soon as he wakes up the following morning. Frustrated by how slowly his laptop is loading, he bounces in place. He clicks the message repeatedly and it finally loads. He stares at the words until they blur into one long black line.
It's John, if that means anything at all.
"Okay," John says. He is sat by himself, in his room. He leaves for Afghanistan in only five days. Sherlock moves to London in only six days. So close, yet always so very far. "So we both exist. And before you start, I know I can message you now, but this feels more… I'm used to it. I don't know. You say you've been having the same ridiculous dreams, but about me. I don't get it." John pauses. "I've never even had dreams. Why has this randomly started now?"
Neither of them will ever find this out, as there is no clear answer. A power somewhere in the universe simply picked up two halves of the same rope and tied them together in a neat knot. Maybe something slipped in translation and it only joined their minds and not their bodies. Maybe when it realised its mistake it urged a sweet family in Montague Street, London to move out so that one Sherlock Holmes could move in. Maybe it forgot that it had already pushed John Watson's playing piece to Afghanistan.
Even the universe makes mistakes.
"I don't know how to explain what's happening," Sherlock replies the next day, "and I can assure you that that's far from a common occurrence. At night I dream about what's happened to you, and you claim the same happens with regards to me. We live out our own days and then go to sleep and watch the other person's. It makes no sense."
"Knowing you can see this makes me self-conscious," John complains the next day. Several hours later, he says "I think I want to meet you. I don't know if it would help, but I'd like to. Just… once. You know?"
"I know," Sherlock says the next day. He doesn't seem to know what else to say. "I'd like… it would be good if I could meet you too. Perhaps when you come back from Afghanistan, we could…" Sherlock's sentence trails off, and he doesn't pick it up again for the rest of the day. John can appreciate that. This isn't a straightforward situation.
"If I come back," he corrects Sherlock when he wakes up. He is going to Afghanistan the following day. He's scared, though he won't admit it. "If. Not when."
John watches Sherlock's day that night. It was Sherlock's turn to wait for a reply, and so he didn't tell John anything new. He packed to move to London. He tied a few loose ends in a few cases- mostly typing them up on the blog. He didn't message John, because John hasn't messaged him, because whatever they have still feels like something very breakable. Like if they turn to electronics, they'll lose whatever it is that links their minds. Sherlock can no longer imagine closing his eyes at night and not seeing John.
It isn't that his life has doubled to include John so much as that he's become a half of something much bigger. It's not 'Sherlock' and 'John'- it's a continuous loop of John-Sherlock-John-Sherlock-, and as individuals they are just the parts of it, fragments waiting to be glued back together.
John isn't leaving for Afghanistan till late evening, for some reason. He thinks he would prefer to fly out earlier. To not have to wait around. He sits in his emptied out flat and wonders what to do with his time.
He doesn't leave for the airport until seven at night. He watches the world out the taxi window, watches the people stream by. He wonders if he'd even notice Sherlock if he saw him in the street. If there would be a tug of recognition, a feeling of being found. But this time tomorrow, Sherlock will be in his new London apartment and John will be at war and he simply can't shake the feeling that something very bad is going to happen to him.
He has something to come back for now, but John cannot imagine ever being able to claim it. He can't imagine his path and Sherlock's ever being allowed to converge. He sees himself bleeding out on the battlefield and it seems the only possibility that would make any sense.
The driver drops John a short distance from the airport. He thanks him, pays, and heads off. The night is dark and the wind is cold, and he wraps his coat around him tightly. He keeps his head down against the wind, so he does not see the shadowy figures lurking in the trees until they're on him.
Somebody hits him around the head with something blunt and heavy, and the world clicks off. When it flickers back the ground is hard against him and somebody is too close to his face, breathing over him. John is caught in the stagnant vapour- alcohol, smoke and deep-fry oil. Hardly smelling salts.
"Hello there, soldier boy," the man drawls. They've dragged him further into the trees, where they can't be seen from the path.
"We've been watching all the boys come up here- little groups and twos and threes," one of his friends comments. "You're the first one who's been alone."
"We wanted a solider," another chimes in- the one holding a baseball bat. Ah. A bat. Yes, that would explain the throbbing ache in his head. Replacing sentiment with sense is a skill he's learned from an expert.
"We don't like soldiers, us," the man pinning him down tells him and suddenly there's a knife. "Don't like policemen much either, but there ain't so many of them on their own." John lunges to get up, but then more shadows are pinning him to the ground. There are at least five men here. All are armed. A tiny red dot glows from one of them, silver smoke billowing out the end.
"Temper," the one in charge scowls. "I don't like it when my prey doesn't play nice." He reaches over and snatches the cigarette out of the shadow's mouth. Before John can react, the lit end is stabbed into his palm. He shouts out in pain, and finds an angry hand clamped over his mouth.
"So glad you showed up, solider boy," a shadow says, moving closer. "We've been waiting for some fun for way too fucking long."
John catches the glimpse of another knife and struggles desperately, but it's five against one and he's still woozy from the strike. The blade is sudden and cold against his wrist, hand, the tips of his fingers. It moves to the joint between his thumb and his palm and this is not going to be quick.
John closes his eyes. He does not want to see.
When he hears the gunshot, he waits for the bloom of pain, but there's nothing. Then another shot, and another. Screaming. Not his own. Shouting. Running. More gunshots. Cries of pain, crunches, thumps. Solid noises of fists connecting with bodies and of bodies connecting with ground. There is a loud clatter, and John opens his eyes. There are two figures left, locked in combat. The gun, whoever's it is, has been knocked out of their hands and it's skidded towards him. He closes a hand around it and looks up in time to see the man who had pinned him to the ground, the ringleader, lunging for the baseball bat by John's side. He grins madly at John and turns. He raises the bat to swing and the bullet stops him a millisecond before he brings it down.
The body falls out of the way, and John finds himself pointing a gun at a figment of his imagination.
"Are you alright?" Sherlock asks, moving forwards urgently and tearing the gun from John's hand. "John? Are you alright?"
"I- I'm fine," he says. "I- uh- you?"
"Of course." Sherlock is close enough for John to look at him properly and their eyes connect and oh. John's question is answered. He knows now, without a doubt, that he would recognise Sherlock anywhere: how could he not? The tug in his gut and his head and his heart is stronger than anything else he's ever felt before. The eyes he looks into are so much brighter in real life, but they are eyes that he knows.
They will never be able to decide who kissed who, or who broke off first, because in that instant there ceased to be separate segments. In the darkness the two figures melt into one as arms tighten around each other and mouths and hearts connect.
A power somewhere in the universe rests, its mistake corrected.
Afghanistan is okay. Now that he and Sherlock have met and nothing awful has happened, John's fear has dissolved. He had thought he would die to stop him ever meeting Sherlock, but he thinks it might actually have happened the other way around.
The toughest thing to deal with is that, for whatever reason, John no longer gets to see Sherlock at night. He supposes that now that they've met in person, the psychological tie has been deemed unneeded. At first, it frustrates him beyond reason, but after a few weeks he's glad it's gone. He doesn't want Sherlock to see what he's seeing.
Sherlock, for his part, is not at all impressed with this.
He had left his old home early for John. He had woken up- 'not when, if' still ringing through his ears- gotten dressed, and gotten a taxi. It had been that simple. Something about the phrase kept it bouncing around his skull. If. If. If.
It took time to travel and time to find John, and he had been minutes away when the gang attacked. He had felt it- a pain, a physical cry for help deep inside of him. If Sherlock believed in luck, he would consider himself a very lucky man. As it is, he instead congratulates himself on being so quick to understand and to act. He has not come this far to lose the one good thing he has.
John is slightly amused that Sherlock is writing a solider love letters beginning with the phrase 'Dear John'. This is lost on Sherlock, who hasn't sat through an entire film since he was nine years old.
Sherlock likes London. It suits him. A woman offered me a flat, he writes. I can't afford it alone, but when you return we could afford to rent it together. Sherlock refuses to deal in 'if's. John doesn't need to have watched him to know that it was a hard thing for Sherlock to ask. His reply is along the lines of 'oh God, yes', and Sherlock is glad John can't see the ridiculously large smile it puts on his face.
A new detective starts with the local police force- name begins with an L. Lewis? Lemon? It doesn't matter, he's not of much interest- and Sherlock wonders if it could be an opportunity to finally get into police work. It is. Sherlock refers to John as an idiot at least three times per letter, and John wonders if it's becoming something of a pet name. Life is going well, he thinks.
When Sherlock wakes up one night, twisting in agony, he knows why, he fucking knows why. He knows what is happening without knowing why and it's out of his control. He felt something similar on that night, many months ago, when he barely made it to London in time. This pain is much worse now, and there isn't a damn thing he can do about it.
It's so bad that it blinds his eyes, takes his thoughts. It's worst in his right hand side, radiating agony that can barely be contained beneath his skin. He bucks in place, arching his back, gasps for air but finds he can't hold onto it. He murmurs a 'thank you' to a deity he doesn't believe in when the sensation starts to trickle away, but the realisation of why turns his relief to ash and dust.
"No," he breathes. "No, no, no! Don't you dare!" The pain continues to dissipate, distancing itself from him. "I'm not joking!" he shouts, not caring if he wakes up the people in the other flats. They don't exist to him.
"John Watson," he hisses. "You complete and utter idiot- stop this."
Because it's like a cord slowly slipping away, a cord that had constricted too tightly around his middle and brought the pain with it. But the injury is John's- Sherlock is only feeling the effects of it. Thousands of miles away, John's nerves are firing in tandem with his. The pain leaving Sherlock means that it is leaving John, which means that John is leaving it. John is dying, but Sherlock's not about to let him go easily.
"I did not," he spits out between clenched teeth, "go through all of this for you to die now. I know you can hear me!" Because now he can hear what John can hear, can hear the gunfire echoing in corners of his head. This link works both ways, it always has. And if he has his way, it's going to continue. It will, it will.
"You… won't die…" a reply comes. It's mixed in with the gunfire, words made from and cut off by the rapid staccato of the bullets. Sherlock doesn't know if John is thinking the words or saying them out loud, but it doesn't matter.
He wonders how they know that Sherlock won't die just because John does. That doesn't matter either, though. John knows it in the same way that Sherlock knows it- deep in the marrow of their bones, in the coils of DNA. This connection is makes no sense, has no clear rules, and yet is theirs. They know it inside out, back-to-front, large and small and microscopic print learned by heart. They might be one, but one half can survive alone if it has to.
But Sherlock doesn't want to have to.
"I couldn't care less," Sherlock says. "You're not going anywhere. Is that clear?"
"It… hurts," the incoherent reply comes. "It'll… hurt… you."
"I can deal with that."
"No." The reply is firmer now, more fixed.
"John, I'm a very intelligent man with very little patience. Don't argue with me. Stay alive."
"Promise." There is an awful, so nearly infinite silence. But eventually, the reply comes.
"I… promise." The gunfire gets louder, blocking out the rest of the world. "I'm… sorry."
And then the pain begins again.
People are not designed to handle what has happened to John- they die. It's an escape route, a 'get out of jail free' card- the soul cannot take that much suffering and so it takes flight. But John's anchored, tied down to something very much alive, and Sherlock refuses to let go. He takes some of John's pain- and then more, and then more still until John can remain lucid long enough to crawl to help. When it's combined with the warning system built into Sherlock's nervous system- the inexplicable pain receptors that burn red-hot when John's in danger- it's very nearly too much to take.
Sherlock thinks he passes out at one point, but he can't be sure. He stuffs the balled up sheets into his mouth to stifle guttural screams. But it's better to feel something than nothing, better to hurt than to have nothing to hurt, better a presence than an irreversible absence. When the torture starts to edge away, at first Sherlock is afraid. But before it was sand trickling through fingers and slipping through cracks, and now it's different. Now it's slowly, steadily fading, being replaced by something much nicer. Sherlock would recognise the familiar glow of opiates anywhere.
The link shuts off then, abruptly. He doesn't panic; this happened last time too. Now that neither of them are in danger, they've been yanked firmly back into their own bodies. I would miss the fun part, he thinks bitterly. He can't even get high by proxy now.
John requires several weeks in hospital for the five bullet wounds, mostly on his right hand side- not to mention the chaos of shrapnel burrowing into his skin. The doctors say they have no idea how he survived. His mother smiles and smiles through her tears.
John gets a medal for his bravery. He thinks Sherlock should get one too. Sherlock solves a very complicated case in London- the first where he's been fully handed the reins- and the sense of achievement is worth more than any scrap of metal.
He finds himself happy, genuinely happy. He talks to Mrs Hudson, who is more than happy to rent him and John the flat (don't worry, we get all sorts round here). She even lets them move in early. Sherlock loves the flat, he loves his work, and he loves that as he sits reading in 221B, John is in a taxi headed for 221B.
He loves that he loves that. He loves that he has the capability to love.
The door opens, and his mind gives up trying to form rational responses because kissing seems to work just as well, actually.
And he loves that his thoughts don't always make sense now, because he's starting to believe that some of the things he doesn't understand might be the best things of all.
He thinks that love is almost certainly one of them.