"John, I can do it," Sherlock protested, leaning weakly against the tiled wall of the bathroom, head bowed and hair dripping under the spray of warm water from the shower.
"Stop me any time you're ready, then. I'd be delighted," John answered blandly from behind him. Sherlock felt the rough drag of a soapy flannel down one side of his back and then the other. He scowled and tried to reach back to put an end to John's ministrations, then scowled even more furiously when his treacherous body remained immobile. Lifting the slack weight of Sherlock's left arm, John began scrubbing at the oily, dark streaks that ran from his hand to his shoulder. He turned his face away and blew out a hard breath. "God, you smell like the backside of hell. What did you get into?"
"Skip," Sherlock muttered sullenly, swaying a little as he tried to look over his shoulder at John. "Messy one."
"You don't say. Turn around." John turned Sherlock by his shoulders so that his back rested against the tiles and continued scrubbing more vigorously at his arm. His hair was wet, too. He looked very determined, standing there in the bathtub in his vest and jeans and bare feet. Sherlock saw now that John was systematically examining him for injuries as he washed him, scanning his body with a sharp, professional gaze. His touch was gentle and rough at the same time. That's how John always was, though. Sherlock's shirt and trousers were in a heap in the corner of the bathroom where John had efficiently stripped him down to nothing but his pants. They'd need to be binned, or possibly burned. At least he hadn't needed his coat today. Sherlock wasn't sure whether leaving him in his pants was for the sake of his own modesty or for John's. Glancing down at himself, he hoped it was not for his modesty, as the wet grey cotton was not leaving much of his body to the imagination.
When John was apparently satisfied that Sherlock was both looking and smelling clean again, he herded him out of the tub and methodically toweled him dry, ignoring his own wet clothing. Sherlock could feel his fingertips through the fabric of the towel. He had felt them before beneath the flannel. He had felt them in his hair when John rinsed it clean. "This is absurd," Sherlock complained again, bending down to present his hair to John for drying.
Instead of putting his fingertips into Sherlock's hair as expected, John drew in a long breath and dropped the towel onto the floor. His jaw tightened and he gripped Sherlock by the shoulders and gave him a little shake, causing droplets of water to fly off the ends of his curls and trickle teasingly down his back. "It is absurd," he said in a low, tight voice, pressing into Sherlock's space. "It's fucking ridiculous. Sherlock. You can barely stand. When did you last eat? Or sleep? If I hadn't come back from Hamburg today—" He stopped and pressed his lips together in a white line. His thumbs stroked a small circle on Sherlock's shoulders, just once.
Sherlock shivered, even though he didn't feel cold. "I'd have been fine," he insisted. A drop of water rolled down the side of his face and clung to the bottom of his chin.
John huffed his little laugh, familiar, resigned. "I'm sure you would be." He moved one hand to brush away the droplet of water from Sherlock's face, and his eyes lit with some of their usual humor and warmth. Sherlock felt himself leaning toward that warmth, so maybe he was cold after all. "If you're not more careful, though," John said a little huskily, "I might get the idea you keep doing this sort of thing just to get me into the shower with you." His lips curled into a wry smile, but his thumb had started stroking Sherlock's shoulder again. Little circles, softly pressing. They were standing so very close together.
Sherlock's eyelids fluttered and he heard a sort of humming sound coming from low in his throat. "Keep doing what?" he asked hazily. Something not right about that. Did it matter? "I fell into a skip before?"
"Or…through a floor?" John put his other hand back on Sherlock's shoulder
"Yes." Sherlock looked at that hand. "What's that got to do with you?"
"Not much. Only I'm the one who dragged you home and spent four hours washing mud out of your hair and picking splinters out of your legs," John grinned, but it faded away when Sherlock didn't smile back. The movement of John's thumbs slowed and stopped. "You're not joking, are you?"
Joking? Sherlock frowned. He remembered his fall through the floor of the neglected terraced house in pursuit of a recalcitrant suspect. And the pain in his leg. And then…he was in his pyjamas in bed. The injuries were not severe enough to have rendered him unconscious. He swallowed carefully. If he didn't remember the rest of that night, there was one most likely reason, and it definitely wasn't one he wanted to tell John.
John searched Sherlock's eyes, worried. "You don't remember? Are you sure you're all right? How can you not remember?" Then his face changed again, shuttered, slammed closed. His hands dropped away from Sherlock's shoulders abruptly. "Oh. You—you deleted it?" He looked hurt. John's face was expressive. It was too expressive. John was rubbish at not being expressive, and Sherlock didn't like it at all when he could see the hurt, the disappointment, like he could now. John licked his lips and nodded. "You deleted that."
"John…" Sherlock began, but he wasn't sure what to say. As if he would ever delete anything about John. He wouldn't. Not ever. Not about John. But John didn't seem to know that.
"Ha, wait…if you've deleted it, how would you know what you've deleted?" He laughed, but it was hollow. "I suppose it wasn't really that important."
Sherlock may not have deleted information about John, but sometimes he had to move it. There were some things that he just couldn't look at right away. "John, no, I didn't—"
John took a step back and folded his arms across his chest. His shoulders hunched. "Can you get changed by yourself?" He'd dropped his gaze to the floor.
"Yes, of course I can," Sherlock snaps impatiently, because that's hardly important right now. "But—"
"Okay," John turned and walked out of the bathroom, his wet jeans leaving a trail of water behind him.
Sherlock stood shivering in his damp grey pants, definitely cold now. Something had just gone wrong. Much more wrong than falling through a floor or being dropped into a bin. Putting all his energy into making the movements happen, he managed to peel off his wet pants and drop them on the floor, then pick up the towel and dry his hair a little better. His own fingertips, not John's. He made his way into his bedroom and crawled between the sheets. God, why was he so tired? When did he last sleep? Treacherous body. He had to think. He had to fix this.
He had to go to the treasure room.
Propping himself up against the headboard with a sigh, Sherlock closed his eyes and called up the image of his mind palace. Freed from physical demands in that space, he moved with determination through the grand courtyard, heading not for the ornately carved wooden doors of the front entrance, but instead for a simple side door hidden away behind a tall hedge. It opened onto a bright but narrow gallery ending in a grey stone staircase. He quickly descended the staircase until he reached a heavy ebony wood door at the bottom. He lifted the wooden beam barring the door and entered the treasure room. Well, he called it a treasure room, but it was really more of a cabinet, as Sherlock didn't have a lot of real treasure to store there. A soft overhead light illuminated a bookshelf containing an assortment of papers, books, framed photographs, seashells, kaleidoscope tubes, polished stones, weapons, and ornamental boxes.
The rest of his mind palace was meticulously organized—that was the point, after all—but the treasure room was the exception to that rule. Everything in this room was moved here in a hurry—too dangerous, too distracting to have in his everyday thoughts, but too important not to keep. Sherlock examined the artifacts. He was only here to retrieve one, but he would have to search for it. He ran his fingers longingly across each object, whispering their memories as he touched them.
Most of the photographs were of John. You're by the window, the sun's in your hair, your eyelashes are golden, your eyes are the color of storms, and you're wonderful. You're stringing Christmas lights on the mantle, but you're looking at me in the mirror, you're smiling at me, like I'm wonderful too. You're listening to me play the violin, your eyes closed, smiling—I composed this piece for you, your melody, it's you. You don't know that. This is my other voice. And you like it…the way you're smiling….
Sherlock picked up several of the shells and held them to his ears. They echoed with John's voice. You say I'm amazing. You say it a lot, and I love it every time, and it scares me every time. And I love your laugh. I love it most when it's meant for me. And I love waking up to the sounds of you making tea in the kitchen. How many more mornings? Not enough.
The kaleidoscope tubes played little videos, mostly of John. Sherlock watched one. You're asleep on the sofa. In that awful striped jumper. You're snoring. I could touch your hair or your face or your hand and you wouldn't know, but I shouldn't do that. I'll just watch a little while longer. He picked up another kaleidoscope. The alley behind that horrible Armenian restaurant. The cook, you have him pinned against the wall. He's taller, outweighs you by three stone, he's a killer, and he's afraid of you. You look so fierce, you look so calm. How do you do that? Look at me like that. You're the one who's amazing. One more kaleidoscope. This is the one. Oh. Of course. The bathroom floor. You're curled around me, I feel you all around me. Your arm is around my waist. You're not just holding me up—you're holding me. My leg hurts, but I don't care, because I'm in your hands and it's all fine. Tweezers. Antiseptic pad. Stings. You blow on the skin, cool it. Your breath on my skin. Your hand at the side of my waist. Moving. Petting. It's never been like this, not ever. It feels like…I want to wrap around you, too. Me all around you. More than that. More. I want so much… I can't…
Sherlock shook himself out of the visualization with a groan, out of his mind palace, breathing too fast and cradling the little memory in his big hand. His chest ached. There was a reason these things were locked away. Too much. Too delicate to touch, too bright to look at.
John was standing beside Sherlock's bed in his t-shirt and pyjama bottoms, holding a precariously tilting mug of tea. His eyes were huge.
Sherlock showed John his cupped hand, feeling clumsy in his haste. What if it slipped through his fingers? He could fix this. "John? Do you see? I found it. I put it in the treasure room." He was so tired. He blinked at his hand stupidly, because of course there was nothing in it. Slipped away. Nothing to offer John after all. "You were tending my leg. You were...I do remember."
"Sherlock…" John breathed, and at the small motion a little of the tea spilled out onto the rug with a soft splatter. John startled at the sound and moved to place the mug on the bedside table, then sat down carefully on the side of Sherlock's bed. He licked his lips and settled his posture into a semblance of calmness which was belied by the widening of his pupils and the way he was fiddling with the seam of his pyjamas. "Sherlock, do you know you did that out loud?"
Sherlock's chest, already tight, constricted until he could barely draw in a breath. "What?" He never spoke aloud when he visited his mind palace. John knew that. So clearly John was wrong. "You're wrong. I don't do that."
John was blinking more than usual. He lifted a hand and brushed a curl from Sherlock's forehead, even though his hair wasn't in his eyes. "So you wrote that song for me?" he asked quietly, placing his hand lightly atop the almond-colored duvet Sherlock had pulled up almost to his throat.
Out loud. No. This was not good. Sherlock's gaze darted around the room, seeking escape or inspiration. Either one would do. Lie? Feign incomprehension? It was too late, wasn't it? He felt his cheeks flush with shame. Sherlock lifted his chin defiantly and glared. "As you apparently heard. Hardly significant. I do compose often. You were a convenient subject." Oh, God, what else had he said?
John nodded and cocked his head. "I don't snore."
Oh, God. Sherlock lifted his chin a degree higher, but when he spoke his voice cracked like crumpling paper. "Yes, you do."
John's gaze dropped from Sherlock's face to his own fingers on the duvet. He held them very still and stared at them. "Treasure room. You said 'treasure room.'"
Sherlock's voice had abandoned him entirely. He nodded numbly, miserably, and waited. Would it be pity? Scorn? Ridicule? No, John would be kind, because John was kind. He couldn't help it. And that would be the worst thing he could be.
It was forever before John spoke again. "Give me your hand." His doctor voice.
"What?" Sherlock croaked.
"Your hand," John repeated distinctly, holding out his own hand. Sherlock stared at him, then pulled one of his arms from underneath the duvet to hold out his hand, not touching John's. John rolled his eyes and muttered, not remotely under his breath, "Idiot."
He took Sherlock's hand and pressed a firm kiss to his palm, then picked up the mug of tea and curled Sherlock's fingers around it. Sherlock blinked at the amber liquid. The kissed spot on his palm tingled.
"You're going to drink that," John instructed. "It's chamomile. And then you're going to sleep. And it's too bad for you if I snore, because I'm going to be here with you all night."
Sherlock's heart fluttered, experimenting with hope. He bid it to wait as he asked, "And then?"
John stood and walked around the end of the bed. He lifted the corner of the duvet and crawled into the opposite side, scooting himself next to Sherlock. "You're naked," he observed.
"Yes." He felt the warmth of John's thigh, separated from his by only a layer of fabric.
"Your hair is still wet."
"Yes." John's hair smelled nice.
John sighed and twisted a little so he could poke his finger at a damp curl. It sprang obstinately back into place. John smiled to himself, momentarily distracted, and tried gently tugging at the curl. It danced and bounced into its original position again. John's eyes crinkled fondly. "And then tomorrow," he said slowly, tucking his shoulder back under Sherlock's arm, "You can listen to me make tea. And a decent breakfast, which you will eat."
Sherlock let his arm tighten around John.
"And then maybe you can play my song for me again?"
John wriggled slightly against him. "And I'm going to wear your favorite striped jumper all day," he assured Sherlock. Then his voice dropped to add, "Unless you want to take it off."
John Watson was by no account a sexually inexperienced man. He had climbed into Sherlock's bed and nestled against his side as if he did this sort of thing every night. He was, in fact, flirting with Sherlock Holmes. Yet the look on John's upturned face was shy. Sherlock smiled at him slowly and shivered, even though he definitely wasn't cold.
"Tea," John said sternly, with a slow smile of his own.
Sherlock bent his head and drank obediently, unconcerned that he was grinning madly into the mug like some kind of besotted lunatic. His toes curled into the soft fabric of the sheet. Maybe those things in the treasure room shouldn't be locked away after all. Maybe all of it should be in a gallery in the entrance hall. On pedestals. With enormous spotlights.
And silently, with John's hand resting lightly on his chest, he dispatched a thought to the upper floor of his mind palace, to the bed chamber at the far end of the south wing, to the door where a silver key had been sitting unturned in its lock for years. There might be something new to keep there soon.
Thank you for reading!