A/N Yet another fic from me inspired by a somewhat-prompt on Tumblr. I found the idea of disfigured!Sherlock utterly fascinating, of course; it's a very powerful image, for our gorgeous detective to be so physically torn apart. Also, I was originally going to keep this ambiguous shipping-wise, but Johnlock, being my OTP, always finds a way to stick itself into my supposedly gen fics.
Rated T for violent references
Disclaimer I don't own Sherlock or any associated characters, events, etc
No light, no light in your bright blue eyes
I never knew daylight could be so violent
A revelation in the light of day
You can't choose what stays and what fades away
Standing before John Watson is a dead man, and he looks the part.
Enough so, in fact, that it tricks his mind for a moment, fools him into believing that supernatural forces are at work, they're weaving around and inside the hollow bones of the broken body before him, fusing the burnt and torn flesh into macabre, ragdoll tapestries, stitched and woven together into some semblance of a stumbling zombie. A zombie whose chapped, discolored lips are parting, making way for a sound that's somehow just as low and soft and powerful as ever.
"John," Sherlock says.
"Sherlock," John replies, and wonders faintly how his voice can sound so calm when he's on fire. His mind loops endlessly, drawing infinite parallels between the beautiful detective he used to know and the grotesque creature who stands before him now. The face is the same, he acknowledges, underneath the twisting scars and cuts and burns and swellings. The figure is even thinner than before, emaciated ribs carefully detailed against the thin fabric clinging to his body. A ragged shirt and trousers; the impeccable suit and billowing coat are gone, even the signature navy blue scarf nowhere in sight.
"Come in." John's words are icicles in the autumn silence. Sherlock dips his chin, eyes flitting down in quiet gratitude. Unbefitting of the man whom John thought he knew.
Sherlock steps inside, and John imagines that there's a sound to his footsteps that no others make, layered somewhere in the subtle orchestra of creaks and groans played out by the worn floorboards. To hear it again sends a tingle of recollection from the base of John's spine all up to his neck and skull. Heat begins to threaten the frozen walls of his vague denial, and he hastens to shove it away. He's not ready to process anything yet. He has to take it at surface value, behave as if every rule of reality isn't being melted and shattered by the inconceivable presence standing before him.
The easiest thing to do is turn around, so he does, pretending that his bones don't tremble with the action as if they're ready to split down their middles and fall apart within the binding of his liquid muscles. He doesn't invite Sherlock to follow him, but the detective does anyways, ghosting silently behind him as he forces himself to move up, up the stairs, the railing dry and dusty under his numb fingertips. It strikes him how soundless everything is—all he can hear is his heartbeat, thrumming at his ears at such a rapid pace that he can't so much as distinguish the individual pounds from one another—it all runs into a single long roar, rising behind his consciousness, reminding him that none of this is right and he should probably be running right now, running away from the impossibility—like his legs would ever allow him to do something like that.
He remains wordless as he enters the sitting room of the flat, keeping one hand on the wall, feeling the roughness of the wallpaper and savoring the tangibility of each little ridge against his skin. It's a welcome relief from the strange, hazy fragmentation that everything seems to be taking on, breaking apart into a sea of vagueness. None of his thoughts are quite sharp—only a single image burns before his eyes, forcefully overlaying everything else.
Sherlock's face. Marred, torn, practically flayed open—no, no, the images are redefining themselves within his mind, darkening the scars and ripping them apart again, until the Sherlock that seems to be superimposed over his eyes must be endlessly different than the one standing behind him. And yet, still, he can't make himself turn around, just can't do it.
"Sit down," he says, and his voice is still steady, normal, like there's nothing absurd about the situation, nothing absolutely terrifying and unreal. He doesn't stop to see if Sherlock follows his instruction, but instead moves his feet into the kitchen, still keeping his hand on the wall, fingers slipping as he rounds a splintered corner of the smooth wood. He manages to focus his vision on the tea kettle, sitting innocently and normally on the counter, and then the texture under his fingers is switching from warm wood to cool tile as he transfers over to the countertop, groping for the teapot and pouring water into it, setting it to boil, letting his hands move through the actions without thinking. It's easy to do that, to follow the methodical movements that he's grown so used to, opening the cupboard, reaching for a mug—
No, two. Two mugs.
His hand begins to shake, trembling even as he fights to hold it still, and he bites down on his lower lip as a deep, hot sickness starts in his stomach, buzzing around the edges of his skull. Two mugs. Two. Sherlock, Sherlock is back, Sherlock is back, no—he's not doing this again, not going back to hoping and dreaming and all the rest, he's over this now, he has to be, or he won't be able to keep moving on, he—
His fingers move over one of the handles, not quite feeling it, and then he shudders a bit too hard and it tips over the edge of the shelf, coasting down to dash itself against the floor, like a body did off of a hospital roof and onto a sidewalk, and he quite suddenly can't breathe at all—desperation swells like a mushroom cloud inside his head, because this can't be healthy, no, something's wrong, he can't hold his head together, Sherlock Sherlock Sherlock—
The voice comes from behind him, raised in its concern, and this time he can turn around—so he does, his eyes wide, every muscle in his body trembling as he raises his voice and fires his next words as loud as he possibly can at the solemn, disfigured face before him. He can feel them burning and tearing through his throat, pushing his lungs too hard, hurting him, but they also ground him in reality, remind him that he has some control and he doesn't have to be completely swept away by the utter impossibility of it all.
"You were dead! You were fucking dead, Sherlock!" he bellows, savoring the sharp taste of the words in his mouth, the blank shock on the patchwork of a face across from him. "You were dead, and—and what the hell is this, what—are you—are…" His voice cracks then, and everything else seems to crack at once, too, so that he's tripping over nothing even in immobility, and he finds his hands on the floor as he holds himself up from colliding with it, staring at the dusty wood and forcing his lungs to move in and out. There's a rustle of fabric from above him, bizarrely magnified in the silence, and then Sherlock is on his knees in front of him, the long, cool hands are on his burning shoulders, gripping them, forcing him to look up into the face.
That face. It—he has no words. It used to be so beautiful, so utterly flawless in its sculpted pale perfection, and now there's not a centimeter of it that hasn't been run over by some sort of scar. They weave around each other like train tracks, some puckered and pale, others thin and dark, a few even pulled together with minute stitches that seem to burn like brands on John's aching eyes. Some of his dark, curled hair still remains, sleek and velveteen as always, but spotty, only clinging to his scalp in a few long stretches, surrounded by rough, damaged skin that hurts just to see.
For several long moments, John tries to speak, but his voice is gone entirely, he can barely so much as breathe. He feels like he's choking on something, though he can't imagine what, and Sherlock's hands stroke over his upper arms again and again, the parched, scabbed lips are moving and tracing words, words that must be repeated endless times before they begin to pierce into John's consciousness, genuinely register with him.
"I can explain everything. Give me the chance, and I will explain everything. I am sorry, John—I am so, so sorry…"
"What…" He can barely hear his own voice, but Sherlock can, from the sharpened intensity of his eyes—his eyes. They must be the only thing left unharmed, for they remain the same pale silver-green that John knows and remembers so well, slightly slanted, beautifully framed by delicate, soft lashes that are miraculously intact despite the scar tissue that weaves teasingly around them.
"What—what the hell happened?"
"There was much more to Moriarty than we ever could have expected… my death, of off St. Bart's, it was a fraud. It was all faked, it was to save you, John, he was threatening your life… unless I killed myself, but I found a way around it, and then I had to disappear, he still had backup watching you, even after he was dead. I wanted to tell you—you have… you have no idea how much it pained me to stay away, to let you believe in my death. I did not… think myself capable of that kind of agony, previously."
The words all swirl and reel in his mind, blending together, twisting about one another. He forces a cracked laugh, but it hurts his throat, and he stops, feeling nothing but the blaze of Sherlock's fingers on his shoulders. "You're a bloody idiot."
"Don't… don't… tell me… you're sorry," he gets out, and the words sound distant even to him. "I don't care if you're sorry, I—I want to know what happened… to you."
"…This?" Sherlock lifts a hand to the ruined remains of his once-smooth cheek. "An explosion, it was nothing. I… underestimated a few of Moriarty's assassins, and I paid the price for it. I never… I didn't expect you to be so disturbed."
"I'm not disturbed. I'm not disturbed. I'm not disturbed. I'm not—" His voice breaks into something that might be a sob if tears were involved, but his eyes have never felt drier—in fact, they're burning with the lack of moisture. "I… I'm… Sherlock—"
He thinks that Sherlock does move in towards him, at least slightly, but he's the one who really completes the action; he's the one to lift his own trembling hands and clasp one under the marred jawline, stretch the other behind the slim muscles of the back, drag Sherlock in as close as he can and force himself onto the shocked form of the damaged lips. It's not gentle, and he doesn't think it's even a kiss, really—just a desperate plea, a reach for help, a last resort. He doesn't consider the implications of his action, or what it could result in later on—all he does think about is how much he needs to be close to Sherlock again, needs to feel him and be reminded that he is here, that he does exist, that he's solid and real and—
I love you. I love you. You're beautiful and I love you and don't you ever leave me again, not ever, don't you dare—
"I won't," Sherlock whispers, drawing back slightly so that only their foreheads are touching, fingers brushing each other's collars and shoulders. Both can hear and feel each other's breathing, and the contrast of John's hasty gasps and Sherlock's shallow sighs is so natural, so real that it twists John's stomach, and he winds his fingers up in Sherlock's coat again. "I can't."
They remain in such a position, kneeling on the kitchen floor next to a shattered teacup, wound up in each other and letting to the uneven symphony lungs and hearts fill their ears, and they don't say anything else, choosing instead to remain silent and let their closeness communicate everything left unspoken.