Title: isolate
Rating: M
Warnings: illness, sex, language, writerly pretentiousness.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Erika for the quick look-over, and to Hannah for her incisive comments, her uncanny ability to stimulate the best in me and my writing, and for general hand-holding and author-wrangling. I cannot thank you enough.
Notes: Happy First Day of Filming, Sherlockians! We're getting there, slowly but surely :)


"The central law of all organic life is that each organism is intrinsically isolate and single in itself. The moment its isolation breaks down and there comes an actual mixing and confusion, death sets in."

- Studies in Classic American Literature, D.H. Lawrence


One day Sherlock will come home and John will drop to his knees and tell him that Sherlock is not the only thing in his head anymore. Resting in the sulci, curling over his gyri - some awakened beast, some new militant scourge. Perhaps John's cells have finally identified Sherlock as a foreign body and risen up in an army to push him out. Perhaps this is his fault.

His lips itch. He knows they want to rest where he, it, rests temporal lobe emotion language memories as if he were John's entire past present (this will not be his future) and pretend it will all be fine.

He meets John's eyes and says nothing at all.

oOoOo

Tumor.

Tumor.

Tumor.
Tumor.tumomort
turmtrumortuum

oOoOo

"You've had a fever for days."

John grumbles at him, tufts of sweaty, wheat-colored hair poking out from the duvet as he twists away from Sherlock's hand. "I'll be fine," he thinks John says. I'll be fine.

"Paracetamol?" He doesn't even know where they keep it.

"Please." The voice is weak, makes Sherlock's knees go weak.

He searches medicine cabinets and first aid kits and after his third run of the flat he goes to tell John that they are out so he will go out and get some as soon as he can whenever he can, he thinks Tesco will have it and have it now so he just wanted to tell him - but John is already asleep. And he might sag against the door and watch the similar sag of John's wheezy chest, and contemplate the cliché that doctors make the worst patients. It does not stop him from trying, but neither does it work. John does not get better. And this is only the beginning.

oOoOo

You would have loved him beyond the frail gaskets of eternity, into the place of a thousand horizons where time disintegrates like ashes and smoke. When you were nothing but atoms hissed out into oblivion you would have drawn all of your empty spaces toward all of his and together your interlocked electrons would have danced until the world went dark. Ceaseless revolution.

oOoOo

"I really think you ought -"

"I don't care what you think, I'm fine."

"Of course you care what I think."

"Sherlock, just... just drop it, okay?"

oOoOo

"You alright there, John?" Lestrade's trained an eye on John over his raised coat collar.

Sherlock looks up from the corpse. Shivering against the wind, John takes his hand away from the bridge of his nose, grimaces. Guilt like a haze on his shoulders. "Fine. Just a bit of a headache, is all." He does not meet Sherlock's eyes.

oOoOo

Clinking of silverware on plates. Just that and Silence, present like a figure at the table next to them. It smiles and presses a bloodred finger to blue lips. John's lips moving saying nothing.

He is listening to John's heartbeat from across the room, jumping and irregular. He is listening in on John's organs as they rumble and shift with the motion of his crossing, uncrossing arms. He is listening to the groove in John's forehead and the deepening ones by his lips. Listening, he hears sentiment and worry and fear and -

"You yelled at me." He doesn't want to sound petulant. He isn't. He looks down. You were going to hit me.

John sighs. Lays his fork down. He eyes the food Sherlock's been pushing around on his plate, and, with a weary shake of his head, goes to put their things in the sink. "I didn't... mean to," he says with his back turned. "I've just been really - a bit - tired lately, I suppose." He looks back over at Sherlock and smiles.

It's not John's real smile. It's too small, his eyes don't wrinkle up at the corners and turn him old-young all at once, and at his mouth there's a thin line of tension. Sherlock smiles back anyway, but it feels like a fraud on his face.

oOoOo

A few days pass and Sherlock slackens his guard as John is health personified. He presses Sherlock against the door after a case and grinds his erection into Sherlock's thigh, makes him pant for it, makes him into some base, primitive thing of need and liquid heat like mercury, but he's long since reconciled what John does to him, what John does for him, what John is to him, with him, in him. Irrevocable and consuming, an exoskeleton, inhabitant of the rift between mind and brain, body and soul:

"'I am to see to it that I do not lose you.'"

He thinks John is asleep, but sometimes, he gets it wrong.

"Mm. Whitman." John shifts, nose poking into Sherlock's chest. "Witty man." He giggles.

"To wit," Sherlock says, and John snorts, the both of them sweating in the afterglow and laughing like fools. Like fools. Sherlock closes his eyes and pretends this is all they are, we two - how long we were fool'd.

oOoOo

He'd just been talking when John's arms flair out like a bird's wings. Just talking, his back turned, and as Sherlock comes back around John looks as if he's about to take flight from the living room window.

John crashes to the ground. Mug shatters, tea on the floor, dark brown like old blood while Sherlock slides through it to get to him, lifting John's head, watching the rapid blinking of his eyes as if he's still trying to flap away.

Sherlock's voice anchors him here. "John. John. Please." He forces John to focus, and it's the worst thing he's ever done. The eyes that open to his are a blue so depthless and black he imagines John is drowning, and Sherlock is diving in after him, and they will never see the sky again.

Was it like this for you, when I jumped? When you knew I would never come back?

"My legs, my... my hands, I couldn't... Sherlock..."

oOoOo

"I forgot," John says, curled in on his side after a nightmare, the jagged moonlight throwing his face into shadow.

Sherlock reaffirms his grip on John's shoulders, throat suddenly dry, everything about him nervous for what is sure to come. "What?"

John covers his face with his hands. "Everything." Sherlock waits. John inhales on a shudder. "I can't... his name, the name of the man I was operating on, when. When I got shot. My regiment. I... don't worry, it'll come back to me. It has to."

And it's then that Sherlock knows. He swallows, and nods, and dips his head forward to rest on the steady, solid surface of John's chest. Throb of his heart beneath thin grey cotton, thick flesh and muscle, butterfly expansion of his ribs. It's here he whispers his deductions until John slips back into sleep. No - he will not allow John to hear them until he is ready, but John's heart is keeper of secrets, Sherlock's most of all.

Something shakes itself up from the very foundations of what he is, marrow pulled from bone, soul ripped from body, Sherlock's mouth open on a silent scream of agony as he digs his fingers into the shared space of their bed and howls soundlessly into the night.

oOoOo

He pretends their life is a möbius strip. At night, when John is sleeping, he plays it forwards. Then he plays it backwards, all over again. It curls in his hands. It never ends.

oOoOo

You walk through the door and shake snowflakes from your hair. You can feel them melting down your skin when John turns to you, a whole wintry world in his grey face and his sad eyes. John on his knees like melting ice, spilling over you, into you, his words flooding your mouth and your tongue and drowning you, this freezing shock of knowing: Sherlock - it's a tumor. A tumor.

Bare trembling branches of his arms entwining around your waist like you are the sun, like you are spring.

oOoOo

"What are our options?"

And the doctor opens his mouth, and John twitches at the curtains and allows watery daylight to play down through the slats as the doctor speaks,

speaks,

speaks.

oOoOo

"Just to go in and see if it's - well, you know."
"If it helps, most brain tumors don't usually spread."
"It'll be over quick, and we'll have the results in no time. Then you can decide where you want to go from there."

"He's a doctor," Sherlock growls at last, and the magnetic pull of John's eyes on his back tugs him around. Unbidden, Sherlock's finger rises to trail over John's jaw. "He's a doctor, and often an idiot," for the first time in a while, John smiles, and it is real, "but not this time."

oOoOo

"Biopsy tomorrow."

When Sherlock does not respond, John steals the sweet chicken from his plate.

oOoOo

"Cancer."

Night takes the whisper and they do not mention who said it, or if it was said at all - if it was just growing there in the dark.

oOoOo

He pretends their life is like a palindrome. But sometimes staring at a word too long turns it to something foreign and unfamiliar, like visiting some place you used to live and finding it full of people you've never known and things you'd never had. Memories that you thought would wait to find you packed their things when you did, refusing to be left behind. You think on them now and they are changed in the thinking. Observer effect.

DNA sometimes reads the same forwards and backwards. These sections can be spliced out to make room for new sequences; biotechnology, genetic modification, pGLO gene of a jellyfish in the minutiae of Bluebell's rabbit cells, the crafting of better things as restriction enzymes come in to snip away what does not (will not ever) belong.

To insert a new piece of DNA, remove the palindrome. Remove what is extraneous. But to do so leaves endings of code behind, nucleotides waving in the hollow space. If nothing comes to fill it, they (their lives) unravel.

oOoOo

John looks tired, but he smiles as soon as he's wheeled back through the double doors. Sherlock stands, an awkward spire of raven-colored angles in the midst of this translucent, sterile prism. But John pulls him down, down, in for a kiss, and they still refract.

oOoOo

A crime scene finds them at the end of the line, waiting for the last of the trains. Pale John burrows into Sherlock's coat under the wan glow of the last streetlamp for what seems like miles. Sherlock looks up. No - even in the dark, they are amid the city, and the stars are hidden and write nothing for them in the sky.

"People once used the stars for direction," Sherlock says. His breath fans out in the cold, soft like moth wings as it rises. "Both literally and metaphorically. For ships, navigation - finding the way home, or to ports, or distant lands. For people - prophecies. Seers would divine the words of the gods from the patterns above them."

John coughs. "Look at you. 'The learn'd astronomer.' What changed?"

"Hmm?"

"I seem to recall something about the 'stuff that matters'."

"Oh, yes. Well. After that case I took a bit of an interest," he says, and John's curling smile at his casual tone warms him somewhere low and soft.

Silent, they stand, waiting for the train.

They're slumped together in their seats, pulling away from the station, when John finally speaks: "So tell me then."

Sherlock's puzzled, and though trying to resist, his body is willing him into sleep - the post-case crash, the adrenaline dissolution... "Tell you what?"

"How ludicrous all that is."

"Mmm. Not the sailing part - it was the only effective method, then. Once they learned to plot the changing skies you could always know where you were."

"And the other bit?"

Sherlock yawns and sinks lower, cheek resting against the rough scratch of John's coat. "Ludicrous. There are no stars in London."

John huffs a laugh, and Sherlock feels lips pressed to his hair. "Sleep, love. Sleep."

The rocking of the car, the warmth of John's proximity - they lull Sherlock down. His last thoughts are of dark nebulae, the opaque, shadow-spaces where stars are born, where some believe that time originates. He dreams of sailing through the stars with those clouds on his horizon.

oOoOo

A week is too long when it is cradled inside the smooth wells of an hourglass. The sand drips. The freefall of each grain tidal and cataclysmic as one lands, soft, among the others. Their time spiralling out and down the drain.

John sits on the edge of the bed and puts his face in his hands. He's a balloon losing air, a rollaway lilo no longer necessary once all the guests have left - some lost, deflated thing. Sherlock crawls up behind him, exhaling across the fine curve of his ear. Sighing out as his arms slip over John's chest. Just holding.

At night he kisses John and breathes across his tongue as they make love, as if there's enough love in his lungs to pour into him that when they tangle together like this, they might float away forever.

oOoOo

The phone rings.

John swallows.

oOoOo

You could have been Eliot or Longfellow or Frost; the Oxford dictionary or Webster's, the Library at Alexandria housing the works of Euripedes, Sophocles, Antony's 200,000 scrolls. You could have been the conception of language, ovum of vowels wincing at the intrusion of consonants, spirants, affricates; you could have been the black arms of cuneiform graphemes and glyphs carved on the primitive backs of stone. Mouldering newspaper clippings, old journals, half-written songs, forgotten stories - you could have been every word in every language, alive or dead or lost alike, but when he turns to you it doesn't matter (you forget that any of them had ever existed at all).

oOoOo

"Not cancer?"

John dares to smile, dares to hope. Sherlock can see it in the indigo slant of his eyes, as he giggles, giggles again, tangles his fingers in Sherlock's hair and nuzzles at his nose with an upwelling of unstoppable laughter. Ridiculous, beloved John. "No, not cancer."

oOoOo

He pretends their life is like the noble gasses. Stable. Complete.

And then he laughs, because it is the last thing either of them wants.

And am I bound to you, he thinks. Chemically, reactionary, constantly...

John prepares for this final surgery, adjusting himself on the bed, and glances up quizzically when Sherlock chuckles to himself. But Sherlock doesn't give an answer, instead seeking to give (and take) with the bare tendrils of this fragile human comfort: hands slotted one against the other, palms pressed close, shared and reassuring glances. John accepts.

And you to me.

oOoOo

One delicate finger along the side of John's wrist, the pale imitation a whole hand pressed to his forehead.

Then: "You've had a fever for days."

"I'll be fine."

"I'll be fine."

This one delicate finger on John's flesh, tracing veins like a train running up the tracks. John has the London Underground rumbling beneath his skin. Once, just once, the vibrations, the rocking of the compartment, had led Sherlock to fall asleep against John's shoulder. Breathe deeply. Inhale coal and sweat and the whispered, stale breath of drowsy words like

sleep, love

sleep.

oOoOo

This is a blip in the electrocardiogram, Sherlock thinks. This isolated event is the second half of a heartbeat before the return to that solid monotone, that one, unwavering line. Life in its ups and downs is a heart beating, beating, beating.

It's strange, to see John's heart written out like this. The entirety of man, spindled out into one thin green line. It says nothing of what John is. John is not a heart rate or a blood pressure or a the scratches of a brain scan on paper - those are results. The correlated data. Their cause... he looks back to the man at the bed, feeling it, the unscience of it all, draining out through their intertwined fingers, the synching of (their) breathing and (their) pulse.

John will wake and this will be over. Sherlock's heart (his head) will return to him at the first flutter of John's eyes. For now, he watches the life of it flit across the screen. Steady, and certain.

oOoOo

John jerks in his sleep. Sherlock just holds him.

Sherlock just holds [on].

oOoOo

"Make them stop. The seizures, the fits, the - whatever they are. Make them stop. You're doctors, you should know how."

"Mr. Holmes, we're doing every-"

"With medication? How will he ever wake up if you keep sedating him and pushing him back under? Any child would know-"

"That's not how it-"

"Yes, that is what you're doing and that is how it works and if you're not going to do your job then what is the point of you?"

He's missing something, the final piece of the puzzle, but he's too distraught to even think to question what it is. Distraught, distraught; once that word wasn't even part of his emotional vocabulary and now...

Sherlock rounds on the bed and drops to his knees, brushing back the hair from John's forehead and staring up into his face like all the answers are written there. "Wake up, John. Please. Wake up."

oOoOo

There are three jagged, red lines scored across the surgeon's face, and there is skin under Sherlock's fingernails and the taste of his own blood in his mouth as he snarls and bites his lip with his own teeth, struggling in vain against the arms of hospital security, lashing like some desperate, clawing animal as he reaches for John, reaches and fights, arms straining and violent as he kicks and unleashes a howl as ghostly and unliving as that of any demon. Incensed, manic, his faculties flee from the rage of instinct; primal, primitive, bloodlust oh, John, how could I be so careless?

For now why would you still be having seizures, why would you still be moaning in your sleep with pain, why would you still be burning up from within

if

this

was

over?

oOoOo

The red of Sherlock's rage dims - dull fire in a grate, setting suns over the desert sand. John sleeps like an ocean - still, blue, and deep. Sherlock watches him, unblinking, palms pressed beneath his chin.

The color of courage is red, reads the arbitrary definition. Sherlock knows better.

They are in Rome, in the oldest of church libraries with the painted priests and chaplains of old lording above their heads on marble ceilings, cast down from stained glass windows. John is thumbing through a Latin text with care, every so often breaking the sacred silence - "what's this word, then?" or "how do you say this one?" or "alright, smartarse, you translate the whole thing by yourself, then."

Sherlock interrupts the rustling of parchment with a frustrated noise. John looks up "Something wrong?" he asks.

Sherlock's eyebrows knit together above his nose. "I don't... know this word."

John whistles low. "That's a first. Let me see." Leaning over, peering down at the fading ink, he gives a quiet laugh. "Oh. Delectio. It means love."

Sometimes John does things that cause him to burn bright from somewhere within, illuminated by something entirely foreign to the dusty light falling from the windows high above; he is a quiet fire where Sherlock is a moth. Eyes hungry, he tilts his head. "How did you know that?" That his voice remains level is a miracle.

John rubs at the back of his neck, giving a little shrug. "I, ah. Mum raised us Catholic. It's a Catholic Latin word, not really your Classical Roman Lit type. Priest was always going on about it..." Sherlock urges him to continue, both for this new information and for the endearingly pink tinge that shades John's cheeks. John coughs. "Well. There's lots of words for love in Latin, but this one was special, used for, um, I think it was God's love for us. Yeah, God's love for us, because his love was unconditional - he loved us even when he knew it was going to cost him something. Sacrificial love."

He moves before he can think to stop himself, pressing John up and back against the shelves, stifling his protests with the hard slant of his mouth. He breaks off abruptly. "Cupiditas," he breathes, nosing up John's throat to his hammering pulse. He nips at the skin and spurs the beat faster. Quietly, Sherlock slides the two of them back into the shadows. His eyes glitter in the dark as he continues, lips centimeters from his lover's, "The language of desire. I want you."

"Sherlock, we can't - ahh. Sherl-" he tries, half-heartedly, to push him away. But Sherlock knows John desires, too; knows he could throw Sherlock off if it came to it, just as he knows that he will not, knows it as John's arms come up in a helpless embrace.

Ancient wood creaks against the small of John's back as Sherlock grinds up into his hip, white-knuckled on the shelf besides John's head. "Oh, fuck it, we're going to every hell, you mad bastard..." John groans, and presses a thigh between Sherlock's legs.

Sherlock's breath hisses out, a long protracted shudder. "Amor," he says, the word trembling on his mouth as John kisses it from him. "I love the way you make me feel." John snags Sherlock's bottom lip in his teeth and hums low in appreciation. Sherlock shushes him, and they move themselves further into the dark.

They kiss and rut against the library shelves, mouths open and softwet. The slide of fabric, croak of old wood, every sigh and aborted murmur - they echo in the lofty space, very nearly reverent, the hush that descends over their lovemaking a silent, soft worship.

Sacrilege. Blasphemy. This is forbidden in all the ways that cause their blood to boil. He tastes the thrill of it on John's tongue and knows that these are the only prayers - "Sherlock, oh Christ-" "God, John..." - they ever need utter.

One leg wrapped around Sherlock's waist, hands desperately clinging to his shoulders, John tips his head back as Sherlock rocks up against him, and his face is open agony. Sherlock, trembling, shifts forward to kiss the Adam's apple bared to him in John's ecstasy. "Amicitia," he says, John's sweat tingling on his lips. His eyes dart up to John's. "Friendship. I love you," he moans, hips thrusting fast before he remasters himself, voice broken as he says, "for your virtue. For who you are."

And it's never more clear than now, the grey light from above and shadows from below all at war over the planes of John's body, gone flush and alive with him against shelves of old books. The symbiosis of their bodies in motion echoes the melding of mind, of soul - every ounce of Sherlock's desire is borne from the reverberating space inside him that calls to be filled with John's roaring lion heart; to protect and preserve and worship the magnificence of this man. John could exist without it. But something in John must resonate at a similar frequency, their twin yearnings meshing like puzzle pieces, and it is this that drives them together like sea and shore.

Sherlock waits, the both of them suspended on the precipice. Waits, gasping and so, so still. John kisses a quavering trail down Sherlock's nose, lips, chin, bites at his jaw, before at last he murmurs, quietly, "Delectio." The fingers of one hand tremble across the bone of Sherlock's cheek, and then John's face contorts in terrible pain. "You will cost me everything. And I will let you. And I will love you."

The color of courage was the color of John's eyes as he looked at him, then.

It is the color of his own as he looks at John now, and the eyes that refuse to open.

John's lion heart continues to blip on the screen, every beat carved hollow into Sherlock's chest. Deeper. Deeper still.

oOoOo

3AM. Cheap yellow-brown coffee staring up at him from an old styrofoam cup under the glare of the fluorescents. Mycroft sits across from him at the white cafeteria table, and as it's only by Mycroft's magic that Sherlock's been allowed to stay in the hospital at all, Sherlock hunches over the terrible coffee and subjects himself to his brother's drivel. All the while his mind is with John, until Mycroft suddenly snaps it back:

"Sherlock, they might ask you to make a decision soon."

Sherlock's eyes lock onto his brother's, gunmetal blue and icy as his words when they finally come. "Why. Harry's his next-of, not me."

His brother smiles, and it's mostly sad. "No."

Sherlock is pushing back from his chair before Mycroft has finished, leaving his coffee and his brother behind in a swirl of coat and anger. Far down the corridor, he jerks it tight around himself, as the antiseptic walls close in on every side.

oOoOo

Love John. Lose John. He increases the study of one and the other must falter.

Except this is not science, but sentiment, and every last minute he does one he is doing the other.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Perhaps they are the same.

He will not bring himself to speak these things, not even here, in the dark, in the night, to the pulse in John's armpit that is so like the fragile fluttering of a bird (that is where nurses feel for the helpless heartbeat of infants, rapid taptaptap that shows up on the skin).

But he knows that John is not a quantity. John is a quality, John is a scent left behind on a faded jumper, is a crime scene on a Sunday morning, is a bird with its back clawed open and the taptaptap of its helpless heart visible for all the world to see. The uncertainty Sherlock feels is not a principle, but the helpless hands of the boy who holds the bird cupped inside them and thinks what can i do, when there is nothing to be done.

oOoOo

"Please. You. You have to wake up." Sherlock imagines his words falling into John's brain like rocks in a pond. Little ripples on the undisturbed surface of before, stretching out into the inky oblivion. But on some distant shore, a tidal wave.

"This shouldn't be my decision."

The force of it rockets through Sherlock's body, socks him in the chest and tumbles him through sand and mud and water, rises up to choke him in his throat as he drowns around the words. "This isn't my decision!" He reels to his feet, tsunamic, shouting and pointing and utterly, completely powerless. "This isn't my decision!"

And John's silence sweeps him back to his knees.

oOoOo

This new scan of John's brain is like a map of the sky. A sea of undulating black, punctured with stars. Slowly, Sherlock's finger traces the constellations of little, white dots. There. There. There.

"I'm sorry. Sometimes this happens."

The clammy paper of the X-ray clings to his skin. Sherlock closes his eyes and pretends their life is not this one.

oOoOo

You are not a god but you have been living like one from the moment you were born; gods were not born but made, so you spurned your mother and hated your father and for yourself, you crafted a universe. The machinations of your hands, of your mind, spun out and resolved themselves into your perfect world: intelligence without flaw, reason without emotion, life without death. Unconquered, unbeatable, you walked among the masses and lived high, high, so high above them, high up in your head, locked in a glass palace of your own design.

But you were not a god: you and all your towers crumbling now as if they'd been built on sand (sand, the detritus of crumbling glass, the products of your decimated past). You and all your power shattering into moonlight and rain. He touched you and brought you viciously to the world of the other, of them, of earth - sweat, blood, lust, love. He touched your skin and made your heart cry out, he touched your heart and and was the unmaking of your mind. If you were god of innovation then he was a god above you: one of creation, pure and undiluted. The beginning. The sweeping architecture of a new life, built for those who never think of dying in that the old need never have happened at all. You could not go back. You could only ascend. Like the silver staircases at the corners of your knowing.

You are not a god because you pray to a higher power now.

You are not a god and neither is he, but you made him yours.

oOoOo

The beast in the corner chews up carbon dioxide, growls, spits it back out as oxygen and crams it down John's throat and up his nose until he's so full of it that Sherlock thinks of balloons. If the oxygen were helium John would float away. If the oxygen were helium John would be dead.

John is not dead.

Sherlock would know how to breathe for John. He would lovingly remove the mask, seal his mouth over John's to the chorus of scandalized beeping, fingers stealing over his heart. Breathe out into his lungs. Let John's exhale warm his lips. And again, and again, over, and over...

Balloons die so quickly. But if you release them, sometimes they'll float up into the sky and find their way back down to earth by the end. First, though, they will shatter into thousands of tiny pieces as pressure destroys them from the inside out.

Sherlock watches the beast and John and folds his arms in his lap, as if this will keep his insides from leaking out, as if this will keep all his little pieces together. As if this will stop him from floating away.

oOoOo

"It was cancer. Y'know, with my dad." Molly bites her lip and nods. "I'm sorry."

They stare down at their hospital coffee. Gently, Molly reaches across the table and clasps his hand in her own. She's not John, they're not John's fingers slotting so neatly with his own, but for a moment, he pretends. When he opens his eyes, she looks back at him like she knows. Like she knows, and can't bring herself to care.

But then... caring is not an advantage. He doubts Mycroft meant it in this way. John is not around to tell him so. He does the best he can, as the alien notion that he might somehow have to manage like this from now on, from now on and forever Nonounthinkableno [/redact], worms its insidious way into his brain. A cancer.

"Thank you," he tries, though it feels wrong, because there are no thanks to be found in this. Molly smiles. He thinks John would be proud.

oOoOo

That night he walks the devastated corridors of his mind palace. A cathedralic hush descends within the dark as he observes the piles of debris rising up from the shadows of ruin. His broken things fled their rooms with the disintegration of his careful organization, and with nowhere to go, built up in these ancient marble halls. He stands among the rubble, feeling the brush of data, 19 the atomic number for potassium common fruit fly drosophilia melanogaster paint additives co-solvents defoamers surfactants uncorrelated and unconnected, hummingbirds have the biggest heart/body size ratio infinitive 'to -' the basic verb form the oldest violin charles IX 1564, science twisting with english, with sentiment and metaphor; history helixing with the writings of fiction and myth, John is the plasmidic palindrome a planet a poet love is chemical eruption mobius strip like a seer's stars like a cancer NO he pretends he pretends pretends pretends pretendspretendspretends like plaintive hands at the edges of his consciousness, pleading, reaching out, aching for just a semblance of order. No - this is the interconnected decay of being, a crumbling into the same rubble with the birth of the end, something monistic at the source. A tendency to entropy.

Thus, he leaves these things abandoned, all his careful work to grow heavy with dust.

His eyes have spotted the solitary, closed door at the end of this littered path. Arriving, his fingers brush the gilt letters - 221b. A fact evaporates from the surface: home.

In the quiet, Sherlock turns and picks his way back through the mounds of knowing, and walks out into emptiness. He descends through formlessness until his eyes open back on earth, 2am, figure in the hospital bed still asleep, the hum of the hospital at night finally louder than the hum of everything else in his head. For the first time, he stares at John and thinks of nothing.

oOoOo

Sherlock dreams that he's late to catch the train. Only, he's already on it, already swaying from side to side as it rockets across stars, fields, oceans. They go backwards in time, so that when Sherlock finally arrives he will be so late that everyone else on the train has turned from people into skeletons and from skeletons into dust. Sherlock soars through their history and stares out at the Van Buren supernova as it unfolds, reciting the chemical compounds for dying stars and dying men.

(they are the same)

oOoOo

You open your eyes and he is staring back.

oOoOo

"John. John. John."

"...Sherlock."

oOoOo

John is braver than most in discovering he'd been in a coma for more than two weeks. "I had to get back to you. Idiot," he says, a weak hand ruffling at Sherlock's hair (they'd shaved the rest of John's off a few days ago, but it's fine; he can feel the rasp of regrowth beneath his palm), and Sherlock knows what he really means.

More than that, he is entirely brave when Sherlock is the one to tell him that this new thing, this beast, this scourge, has metastasized. He nods, quietly, at his hands, and then pulls Sherlock in for a kiss that tastes too dry but is wholly, completely soft, in all the ways that matter.

"Okay," he says. Not I will be okay, because they both know the future holds a John atrophying into pain and weakness; not You will be okay, because they both know a future that does not hold John is not a future Sherlock is willing to travel; not It will be okay, because they both do and will not accept pretty lies in the face of terrible truths. But "Okay," is an affirmation, a sign of their mutual awareness of what is to come, for better or worse, a contract sealed with that warm press of lips to another.

Sherlock just holds him. This time, John just holds on.

Sherlock doesn't pretend there is anything out there better than this, better than what they have, what is here in his arms, in his heart, in his head, because there is not.

oOoOo

You go home. You rebuild. A lark flits through the bright new windows of your palace and your lionhearted king tells you this is the fragile span of the human life. But when you open the door the lark gentles itself into your cupped hands, small and warm, and though you do not, cannot grasp it, neither does it fly away. It stays awhile, where you can feel the beat of a heart under feathers and bone, and the beat is not a helpless one at all.

oOoOo

The doctors may protest, and something in Sherlock twinges when John groans too loudly in the mornings or takes one too many pills, but Sherlock runs him around London anyway. He prowls about crime scenes with the scent of blood still hanging in the air and bays for John to follow, the game on, the chase begun, and sometimes John will smile at him and they will run together and it is slowly, slowly okay. He runs them past the Thames, across Hampstead Heath, Trafalgar, St. Paul's, Westminster Abbey - after so long away they're like tourists in their own city, but they've walked these paths countless times; still more has Sherlock led them through back alleys unnamed and unknown, and it is easy to remember, easy to fall right into step where they belong. This time, though:

"I'll catch up," John pants, when he finally catches Sherlock at the elbow and they collide to a messy stop.

Sherlock jerks at his gloves. "He's getting away," he says flatly, still stuck in place.

"Then go the fuck after him, christ..."

He hesitates.

John doubles over coughing. "Fucking go, Sherlock," he manages between the awful gasps.

He goes.

Trafalgar, Thames, Westminster, St. Pauls - fast, alone, he runs [away], and he has never known a world so dark as the one where John is not right behind him. He trips, nearly falls - keeps running. It is all he knows how to do. The stars are hidden in London. He cannot see the way, and their felon has him cornered when Sherlock turns a foreign path, 20 stone of man and muscle looming dark over Sherlock's head.

But then from the unnamed unknown alley John rockets like an avenging angel, dropping from the window and taking him out from above. John plants a foot on the man's throat and looks to Sherlock with his lungs heaving and his eyes bright, radiant as if he had swallowed the entire universe, all the stars and suns shooting sparks from within. He is incandescent. He is alive.

He is not his cancer.

No, it's the one thing he is not. Sherlock can feel the inexorable draw of his gravity. He does not resist the only light that burns in the dark. He sets the sails. He is guided home.

oOoOo

The end does not come, not yet, but rarely when one wants them to do such things come.

(The end will be five tumors. Tu-mor, like a heartbeat, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum...da-dum... da-dum... Five tumors like five heartbeats like trochaic pentameter, the poetry of John's body in decay. You will listen until the end, until all the stars burn out, until all the words run dry.)

But it does not come yet.