Rating: Maybe M/15?
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, and am making no profit from their use.
Warnings: Disturbing concepts, including suicidal ideation, lobotomy, gory experimentation and emotional manipulation.
Spoilers: For all of seasons 1 and 2. Disregards Season 3.
Summary: John is an empath. Which isn't nearly as much fun as it sounds. Most of the time, it’s not even useful.
1. to make healthy, whole; restore to health
2. to bring conflict or strife between people or groups to an end or conclusion
John woke up, feeling rather surprised that he could.
The last thing he remembered was choking on his own blood on a concrete floor. He was still lying on the concrete floor, and he could still taste blood in his mouth, but he wasn’t labouring to breathe anymore. He wasn’t in pain, and while his clothes were stained with blood it was stagnant and cooling instead of pumping and hot.
Sherlock was tucked against the wall, shaking and pale and watching John. His emotions were shrill and discordant – fear like knotted wire that tremored with hope and scraped along John’s nerves.
“Did it work?” Sherlock asked, his voice small.
John parted the tear in his jeans, and lifted his shirt and jumper to survey his wounds. Except they weren’t wounds, they were scars – pale pink, as if he’d been injured years ago rather than minutes.
“I’m alright,” he pronounced. “Some scars, but nothing hurts.”
“It hurt more than I expected,” Sherlock said quietly.
“It’s not just the pain of the injury, it’s how much it would have hurt as it healed as well.”
“That’s…how does that work?” Sherlock sounded personally offended at the sheer illogic of it all.
“I don’t know.”
“Emotions are, in essence, chemical and electrical signals within the brain – how can you pick up on that?”
“I told you, I don’t know. Now, do we need to do anything here, or can you just call Mycroft to come clean this up?”
Sherlock went still. “You know about Mycroft?”
“Empathy, Sherlock, remember? I know about Molly as well.”
Confusion crept through the bond like orange-hued mist, damp and obscuring. John wasn’t sure if it was because Sherlock was still confused about his empathy or if Sherlock just didn’t know how to proceed from here, so he did his best to ignore it. “Come on, Sherlock, what’s the plan?”
“It’s over,” Sherlock muttered, and his emotions were suddenly flavoured with creamy relief and a vague, yellow-lavender sense of wonder and ashy disbelief. Then he blinked, like he was coming back to himself, and went on in a much firmer voice, “Moran’s dead. Mycroft can deal with this.”
John nodded. It seemed pointless to stand up just to wait around, so he scooted over to the wall opposite Sherlock and leaned his back against it. Sherlock was beginning to bristle with worry like shards of silver tilting into the light, and his eyes were fixed on the blood that still stained John’s clothes.
“They don’t hurt,” John said, his voice flat and tired.
Sherlock must have read something in his tone, because the worry only sharpened into knives. “Does anything hurt?”
“Head,” John admitted – his headache was creeping back.
“Because of what you did?” The wonder was starting to creep back into Sherlock’s emotions.
John shrugged. He honestly had no idea.
But he did have a question. “Was Mycroft in on it from the beginning?”
John knew Sherlock wasn’t confused or surprised – he was just asking for clarification; which beginning did John mean?
“You planned this for a long time. Months. Was he in on it from the start?”
John sighed. “Not at the time – I told you, it’s not telepathy. But I was picking up on some weird emotions. Didn’t make sense at the time, but in hindsight…”
Sherlock nodded, like he was mentally noting that down somewhere in his mind palace, and responded to John’s question. “He knew. We planned it together.”
John laughed bitterly. “Of course you did.”
He supposed it had been foolish of him, to think that Mycroft would be stupid enough to spill information on Sherlock to a criminal and then let the criminal go. But that was nothing new – John had been aware for some time that he’d been played for a fool. He didn’t want to look at Sherlock, so he closed his eyes and tilted his head back to rest against the wall.
His headache was getting worse.
John got through Mycroft’s arrival with his cronies and his subsequent lecture to Sherlock by the ingenious method of simply not acknowledging them. He didn’t glance at Mycroft and he didn’t speak even though several pointed silences invited him to, even when Mycroft suggested that Sherlock should go home with him and attempt to keep a low profile.
Sherlock was still in his usual habit of stubborn silence and unnecessary biting remarks when his brother was around, and he didn’t address John at all. Though it didn’t stop him from darting glances at John every five seconds while his emotions whispered worry and fear and sun-dappled resentment.
At this point, John’s headache was getting to the point that he was really wishing for some painkillers. He wanted to close his eyes and rub his temples to see if it helped the discomfort, but he didn’t want to reveal weakness in front of Mycroft.
At least Sherlock was quiet for the car trip away from the warehouse. In fact, he didn’t say a word until they were back in John’s house, just when John was closing the door behind them and thinking he might actually get a quiet rest for whatever remained of the night.
“If they do DNA tests on the blood or pay any attention to the splatter, they’ll know you lied,”
One of the minions had made worried noises about the blood covering John’s clothes, but he’d just claimed it wasn’t his. Sherlock hadn’t said anything at the time, and John supposed he was an idiot for assuming he’d just let it go.
“They won’t be able to test my clothes, because I’m going to destroy them,” John said bluntly. “And if someone happens to have a paranoid streak and take a closer look at the blood I’ve left on the concrete, Mycroft will just assume I was being a stoic military man and that my wounds were minor enough that I could treat them myself.”
“Ah.” Sherlock looked like he thought he should have figured that out, and his embarrassment tasted like sour apples on John’s tongue.
“This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve had to come up with some good explanations over the years.”
“Pressure points!” Sherlock exclaimed.
“When I was strangled, back when we were dealing with the Black Lotus. I was wondering why I felt so healthy after you touched me, and you said it was pressure points.”
“Like I said, Sherlock, I’m a good actor.”
Sherlock’s emotions being complex and confusing were nothing new, but this time whatever was going on in his head only seemed to be making John’s headache worse, and his sigh was more pain than exhaustion. “Now I’m going to shower and get my clothes ready to…I don’t know, to be burned?”
The blood had long ago dried into a thin crust that crackled and flaked off John’s clothes as he shed them, scattering across the tiles like spots of rust. It was slightly tacky on his skin, moistened by sweat, and itched where it stuck to the hair on his chest and legs.
He was rather surprised he’d been allowed to go home – he was a walking biohazard.
There had been a large swathe of blood on the back of his jumper, and when he twisted in front of the mirror he could glimpse a pink, circular scar on his back. That was good news, because it meant the bullet had gone straight through him, and he wouldn’t have to worry about it drifting around his body and possibly causing problems later.
John turned on the shower and waited for it to warm up, then simply stepped in under the spray. The water began to dissolve the dried blood, streaking his skin pink for a few moments before he scrubbed with the cloth to wipe it away and get the last stubborn drops out.
He was tired, and his empathy seemed ‘louder’ than usual, the emotions of his neighbours grating on his nerves rather than being something that could slip past him without making much impression. His headache actually seemed to have diminished though, and John hoped it stayed that away. He’d prefer that it go away entirely, but he was trying to set realistic expectations.
He was disappointed anyway when he stepped out of the bathroom (dressed in a new shirt and loose pants) to find Sherlock lurking in the kitchen. As soon as he saw Sherlock, the headache hit him again like an axe between the eyes.
Sherlock seemed to take his groan as a sign of extreme exhaustion, and offered him a mug. “Coffee?”
“What have you done to it?” John was too tired to mask his suspicion.
“I prefer tea. I know that, you know that. The one and only time you made me coffee was to drug me.”
Hurt wavered from Sherlock, like heat shimmers off an asphalt road. “Your tea has been tampered with.”
Oh, right. John felt a little bad for his assumption, but admittedly not enough to give Sherlock an inch. “You wouldn’t be the first person to decide this…anomaly…meant I was now their experimental subject. Hell, it wouldn’t even be the first time you used me as an experimental subject.”
“You’ve been using yourself as an experimental subject!” Sherlock snapped, brandishing a piece of paper John recognised as being the record of his attempts to break the bond. “What is this?”
“I was trying to break the bond,” John said bluntly. He took a sip of the coffee, because he clearly wasn’t getting any sleep tonight.
He was a little surprised to realise Sherlock had made it just the way he liked it. John hadn’t known he paid attention to that.
“The bond?” Sherlock echoed. “What-?”
“I’m not sure how it works,” John said, yet again. “But I can form bonds with people. It means I can always feel what they’re feeling, I have a vague sense of where they are, and I can heal them from a distance.”
“You have a bond with me.” Sherlock’s tone made it a statement, not a question.
John nodded. “And with Harry.”
“That’s how you knew I wasn’t dead.”
“I can feel it when people die. It’s like all their emotions just…go out. Like a light turning off. Yours didn’t.” He thought of Thomas. “Though I did feel it once when someone didn’t actually die.”
Sherlock frowned, the way he did when an experiment did something he wasn’t expecting. “Who?”
John supposed he might as well air all his dirty laundry. “There was a man in my unit. He wasn’t my boyfriend, but we might have…I suppose it doesn’t matter now. He lost his leg, and I was trying to heal it when I was shot, and I made a mistake.”
Sherlock didn’t ask about the mistake, but there was a definite sense of eucalyptus-confusion coming from him. “You…you always say you’re not gay.”
“Because I’m not. I can’t have sex with someone if they don’t…feel nice, for lack of a better word.”
“Your empathy informs your perception that much?”
“It’s not something I activate, Sherlock, it’s like sight or hearing. In fact, it’s probably worse, because you can at least close your eyes or plug your ears, but my empathy doesn’t come with an off switch.”
“Have you ever been able to make it stop?” Sherlock asked, his voice and emotions strangely soft.
John could admit he hadn’t expected this question. But if anyone could relate to having a brain that just wouldn’t stop, he supposed it would be Sherlock. “I can’t. And believe me, I’ve tried. I can’t count how many times I wished I could turn it off, but nothing does the trick.”
“Of course you would ask that,” John sighed. “And no. The only drug that had any kind of effect was the Baskerville one. It amplified my empathy until I couldn’t…I couldn’t tell what was me and what was everyone else.”
“That’s why you seized.” It was a realisation, not a question.
“I’m still surprised I came out of that sane,” John said, still feeling strangely apathetic about the whole thing.
“But you did try drugs!” Sherlock exclaimed, gesturing with the piece of paper again like he’d just remembered it.
“I told you, I was trying to break my bond with you. No luck, as it turns out.”
Sherlock was silent for a moment, worry and fear weaving together like slippery silk and rough hemp rope. “Why do you have brain surgery as an option?”
“If I was somehow able to locate the part of my brain that dealt with empathy, damaging it might break the bond or kill my empathy entirely.”
Sherlock’s fear suddenly gained strength, flaring like a burst of sparks when you tossed something on a fire. “The risks-”
“There’s a reason it isn’t crossed out,” John interrupted. “That was definitely a last resort. The kind of last resort that you consider but never actually use.”
Sherlock looked and felt relieved, so John took another mouthful of coffee, and wondered if their discussion was over.
“You didn’t want to tell me,” Sherlock said quietly.
“I considered it,” John admitted. “But then you locked me in the lab in Baskerville and tried to drug me to confirm something you already suspected. I can’t deny I was worried that if I told you something this unusual you’d be vivisecting me before the day was out. That’s happened once before and I’m not keen to try it again.”
Sherlock didn’t flinch but his emotions did, swelling with hurt like a boil ready to burst.
John set his coffee down on the table as his headache spiked. “Look, I’ve got a headache, so I’m going to go to bed – do you need anything?”
Sherlock didn’t respond, and John took that as a negative. He turned away from Sherlock and walked the few feet that took him from the tiny kitchen into the cramped bedroom. He didn’t bother getting undressed – what he was wearing was comfortable enough – and just crawled beneath the covers.
As he closed his eyes, he reached out by reflex to touch his bonds. Harry was probably sleeping – there was a vague sense of her presence, drifting eddies of jasmine-scented contentment, so she was either asleep or so drunk she was practically comatose. He preferred to think she was asleep.
But the bond with Sherlock was…strange. John had been trying to ignore it, so it was only now that he realised it was only giving him a vague and muffled view of Sherlock’s emotions. It was still there, but it was dim and fleeting, a flickering candle next to Harry’s 100-watt bulb.
The bond was diminishing, and John suddenly wondered if his headache was the bond…tearing, for lack of a better word. Seeing Sherlock had brought to life all the feelings of betrayal and hurt that he’d been quietly stewing in – had the mental withdrawal he’d been attempting in Sherlock’s presence been the missing piece for destroying the bond?
He’d sort it out after he’d got some sleep.
When John woke up, Sherlock was still in the flat – he could feel it. He was trying very hard not to feel anything else from him, but he knew Sherlock was there.
John went through his morning routine on automatic; dressing and combing his hair and brushing his teeth and doing his shoulder exercises. It was strange to see new scars on his chest and leg – while his brain accepted that he’d been injured, some part of it was insisting that he should have stitches and bandages, that the injury couldn’t possibly have healed that quickly.
Sherlock was perched in John’s armchair, staring out the window into the street, wearing the same clothes but clearly having showered at some point. John was rather surprised – he’d been expecting to find Sherlock on his laptop, looking at John’s files and being his usual obnoxious, intrusive self.
John had forgotten how quiet Sherlock could be.
He made some coffee to wake himself up. He’d been making it for one person for so long that it didn’t even occur to him to ask if Sherlock wanted any until he’d taken the first sip. He pushed aside the impulse – if Sherlock wanted coffee, he could make it himself.
“So how does this work?” John asked, moving to stand beside Sherlock’s chair. “What kind of paperwork is involved in coming back from the dead? Without getting arrested for fraud, I mean.”
“I don’t know,” Sherlock scowled, and the bright burst of his anger felt painful. “Mycroft’s dealing with that.”
John didn’t think there was anything to say to that. He drank his coffee and tried to ignore the prickling of discomfort that told him his headache was coming back.
Sherlock was looking at him, and though the anger hadn’t left, there was now a hint of bitter confusion and resentment, hissing like a kettle just starting to boil. “Don’t you want to know what happened?”
John was in no mood to hear Sherlock boast about this. “I know what happened. You pretended to kill yourself. In front of me.”
John was trying very hard to be logical and unemotional, but even he could hear the fury in his voice. He couldn’t help it – just remembering that moment when he realised Sherlock had lied to him, had actually wanted him to grieve like that made anger and betrayal and the hurting keen of ‘how could you do that to me?’ howl across his thoughts.
John actually choked and clutched reflexively at his head, make sure it hadn’t actually split open, no matter how much it felt like it.
“Your head can’t still be hurting,” Sherlock snapped, in the voice that sounded like anger and frustration but had never fooled John, not when he could feel the still-water worry that undercut it.
“It’s the bond,” John sighed, keeping his eyes closed as the pain began to ease.
He nodded shortly, and was confused by the sudden wash of fear and pain from Sherlock, like the thundering roar and noxious fumes of a passing truck.
“I’m…it’s hurting you?” Sherlock’s voice sounded off somehow, and the hurt radiating from him didn’t ebb.
“It’s breaking,” John said honestly. “It’s painful.”
“Why? What are you doing?”
“Nothing, really. It’s just…all the feelings I had when you first did this…all the betrayal and fury are coming back, and I think, being faced with you and not wanting anything to do with the bond is finally making it disintegrate.”
After being wary of talking about his empathy for so long, it was nice to finally be honest about it, honest about everything. Well, maybe not ‘nice’, exactly…but it was a relief.
Sherlock’s fury flashed bright and sudden, like a red firework going off too soon and scorching the ground. “Betrayal? It wasn’t a betrayal, anymore than you grabbing Moriarty and telling me to run was a betrayal. You were going to die if I didn’t. You and Lestrade and Mrs Hudson, if you think I should have gambled with your own life.”
It said something that John’s first thought was to wonder if Sherlock was being honest, or if this was another lie – a manipulation to try and get back into John’s good graces. He didn’t think Sherlock was lying, but what did he know? His empathy wasn’t much use when it came to this.
And even if he was telling the truth, what difference did it really make? So Sherlock had much more noble motives for the ruse than John had assumed – it was never the motives he’d been so angry about. It was the fact that he hadn’t trusted John with it, and that hadn’t changed.
“And you couldn’t tell me.” John was dimly surprised at how calm his voice sounded.
“I couldn’t risk it,” Sherlock snapped, frustration swirling and eddying within him like bubbling kerosene.
John snorted quietly, but didn’t say anything.
Sherlock was still scowling. “You’re angry, aren’t you? I don’t see why – you know why I had to do it-”
“I’m hurt,” John said honestly. “It’s hard to trust someone and care for someone and know they didn’t feel the same.”
“I do! I’d think what I just told you-”
“No, you don’t,” John interrupted, still keeping his voice calm and steady. “Not to the same level.”
There, that should shut Sherlock up. And it did, for all of about twenty seconds in which Sherlock stared at John like he was trying to deduce something from him. Sherlock’s frustration thickened and clotted, turning into pitch-dense determination.
“I can prove it,” Sherlock said, in the voice he used when he’d just solved a case. “How did I heal you?”
“You said the healing only rarely works, and you refused to elaborate. You would have told me why if it was simple biology – you were practically telling me everything at that point – so that means whatever the reason is, it’s emotional and private.”
“Or maybe I just don’t know.”
“Again, you would have said so. So tell me, how does it work?”
Sherlock looked completely confident, but John could feel the doubt creeping in, like shadows cast by a guttering candle. John was half-tempted to prevaricate and misdirect, to leave Sherlock uncertain, but what was the point?
“Love,” he sighed. “You have to love them.”
“Ah.” Sherlock blinked, like he’d been expecting that answer but was still startled to get it.
“I just wanted you to not die,” Sherlock said, his voice soft as remembered fear licked at him like a sudden gust of snow. “I was willing to do anything, even if I died instead.”
John didn’t know how to feel about that. So he didn’t say anything, even though Sherlock was looking at him and his emotions were glittering with expectation.
Eventually, the expectation gave way to warm, frothing impatience, like Sherlock was sick of waiting for him. “So when you healed me…”
“You never said anything!” Sherlock was indignant, and John almost laughed.
“You’re married to your work, remember? No point in saying anything.”
Sherlock faltered, and John realised he’d just missed the perfect opportunity to claim that his affection was platonic.
Well, too late now. Sherlock would either deal with it, or he wouldn’t. John could admit he suspected Sherlock would just ignore his pronouncement, the way he’d ignored John’s entreaties to warn him before he left body parts in the fridge.
But Sherlock was staring at him with a strange expression on his face. His emotions were bitter-red regret and something that trembled and fluttered and felt suspiciously like happiness and…and…
“You love me,” John realised.
“You’re an empath!” Sherlock snapped, and John was surprised to see a blush creeping across his cheeks. “This can’t be news to you!”
John hoped he wasn’t flushing, but this was an embarrassing mistake to make, let alone admit to. “I told you, I know the emotions, but not the reason. I thought you were in love with Irene!”
“Irene?” Sherlock echoed, the way he did when he was honestly puzzled by something and trying to understand it.
“When you thought she was dead, you were…”
“I smoked a cigarette!” Sherlock felt gravel-crunch indignant, like he couldn’t believe John had made such a foolish assumption.
“And you sulked and composed-”
“If it had been you,” Sherlock hissed, anger streaming from him like a sudden jet of hot water in ice. “If Mycroft had called me into the morgue to identify your body, do you know what I’d have done? I’d have first determined if your death was anyone’s fault, and then I’d have dealt with them.”
Sherlock’s tone made it clear that ‘dealing with them’ would have been final and permanent.
“And then, I’d find enough cocaine or morphine to ensure I forgot you were dead, and then…” Sherlock trailed off. “And then…I don’t know what would have happened after that.”
“But you were quite happy to make me think you were dead,” John snapped, the feeling of hurt and betrayal boiling forth anew.
Sherlock loved him…but he’d still made John watch him die. That hadn’t changed.
His head ached.
Sherlock looked confused, as if he couldn’t understand why John was still angry. “But you know that I-”
“I discovered I could heal when I healed my dog,” John said. “It doesn’t have to be a love between equals.”
“I love you,” John interrupted, feeling nothing but weariness. “I do, but I don’t trust you. And I don’t know if I can, not after something like this.”
“I did it for you!” Sherlock all-but snarled. “I didn’t tell you because I knew they’d be watching for that! If you could just get over-”
“I’m not sure I want to,” John admitted, feeling a bitter smile curl his lips. “When you told me about the threat, my first impulse was to wonder if it was a lie, just another manipulation. And that…wasn’t a good thing to think. So maybe…” John hesitated, but charged onwards because this had to be said. “Maybe what we need is closure, for both of us to move on.”
Sherlock’s surprise and instant, visceral rejection felt like being slapped in the face with hot oil.
“You can’t-” he started, then stopped and switched tacks, perhaps sensing that John was in no mood to be told what he could and couldn’t do. “John, I can fix this.”
“Really?” John felt nothing but a dull amusement. “How?”
Sherlock didn’t seem to have expected that. John could see and feel him scrambling for answers, for an instant-fix where there was no instant-fix. John didn’t even know if it could be fixed.
“That’s what I thought,” John sighed, and rose to start getting ready for work.
“If you don’t forgive me, he wins.”
John stopped, but he didn’t turn around or even look over his shoulder. On some level, he understood what Sherlock was doing – appealing to John’s determination and his streak of compassion, hoping that he wouldn’t be able to stand the idea of letting Moriarty win anything and would just brush everything under the rug for the sake of returning to the status quo. He understood, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t pissed off at Sherlock for using it.
“No, he doesn’t win,” John said without looking at Sherlock. “But you lose. You lose…whatever you thought this would be. Whatever you thought would happen after you came back. So don’t try to hold that over me. You don’t have anything you can hold over me.” Then it occurred to John that Sherlock did, in fact, have something. “I suppose you can always threaten to tell Mycroft about my empathy and have me dragged to Baskerville or wherever I’d be taken, but I think I’ve proved that I’m more than capable of defending myself.”
“I’d never do that!” Sherlock actually felt sticky-rose offended, like John had insulted him.
John snorted. “You’d want to do the experiments yourself, right?”
Sherlock swallowed, and John could feel sharp-plastic shock and hurt shiver through him. “I wouldn’t experiment on you. Not like…not like that.”
Some part of John was still suspicious – Sherlock could be lying, after all – but it was a relief to hear him say that. Sherlock tended to prefer lying by omission, so he was unlikely to do something if he specifically denied it.
John nodded – still not turning around – and was just lifting his foot to continue out of the room when Sherlock spoke again.
“I was wrong, alright? I didn’t think you’d be so…affected. I knew they’d be watching you, and I didn’t know you were so good at pretending not to know things you did.”
Sherlock must have been very upset – John had never heard him explain something so incoherently before.
“But I’m not sorry,” Sherlock said, practically burning with self-righteousness and determination. “I’ll never be sorry that I saved your life.”
There really wasn’t anything John could say that he hadn’t said before, so he walked away.
At least his headache was feeling better.
John’s day was boring but steady. There had been a virus going around and most people just wanted a certificate to say that they hadn’t been disguising a hangover as an illness. Of course, a virus also meant he had to explain to about half a dozen patients that no, antibiotics wouldn’t help them because bacteria and viruses weren’t ‘basically the same’.
Sometimes John wished there was some way of making learning that as mandatory as basic literacy. Granted, it wasn’t nearly as important, but it would certainly save doctors hundreds of hours of work a year.
John had never been the type to watch television or read the newspaper while he was at work, so he only knew something was going on when Mary popped her head around his door and said some reporters wanted to see him.
John liked Mary – she was nice, and didn’t put up with stupidity, and once when John had forgotten both his lunch and his wallet she’d shared her own sandwich with him. If John had really thought Sherlock was dead and thus been able to move on, they might have started something. Mary had certainly flirted, but John had never been able to bring himself to take her up on it. After Sherlock’s lie, saying he had ‘trust issues’ didn’t even begin to cover it.
Though he couldn’t deny that sometimes he felt a little wistful, wondering what would have happened if he’d been just a little more stable, a little less…emotionally damaged.
If nothing else, there would have been something funny about falling in love with two Mary’s.
But now wasn’t the time to brood – reporters were asking for him?
“Reporters?” John echoed. “For me?”
“Apparently,” Mary shrugged. “Did you win the lottery?”
John shook his head, but he exhaled hard as a thought occurred to him. He waved Mary off, feeling her humming confusion and tingling anxiety move away as she did, like the sound of music fading into the distance.
Mary’s empathic signature made him think of an orchestra without a conductor. Lots of activity, all happening right in front of you but still catching you by surprise when the music swelled – little, crucial movements lost in the white noise.
When she was gone (probably to do some investigating of her own), John opened up a webpage on his computer and typed his own name into the search bar.
He really hoped he was wrong about this.
The top result was still his old blog, but the second was some hastily-written online article, proclaiming that a famous detective was back from the dead.
John took a moment to remind himself that he couldn’t actually kill Sherlock, no matter how tempted he was.
John didn’t go home. If the reporters had managed to find out where he worked, he was sure they knew where he lived as well. He snuck out the back and Mary gave him a lift to a hotel to save him taking the tube.
He hadn’t told her the whole story, but he’d sketched out enough details for her to shake her head in sympathy and mutter, “He’s a bit of an arsehole, isn’t he?”
Mary always had a gift for understatement.
John didn’t have anything with him except his wallet and the clothes on his back, but the room had those little complimentary soaps and even a toothbrush, so he’d worry about that later. For now, he washed his shirt, trousers and socks in the bathroom sink and hung them up to dry. It left him walking around in his underwear, but such were the advantages of being alone.
Not that he was alone for long. The bond told him Sherlock was getting closer, so he had some warning before the knock at his door.
He might have used the time to get dressed, but his only clothes were soaking wet, so John answered the door in his underwear. Some people might feel at a disadvantage, talking to someone fully unclothed while they were almost naked, but John honestly didn’t care.
Besides, the way Sherlock blinked and stared left John feeling like he was the one with the upper hand.
Sherlock’s stare had lingered on John’s hips and shoulders, but it was concentrated on his scars. On the white starburst at his shoulder where the first bullet had hit him all those years ago, and the line where it was later removed. He thought he actually heard Sherlock suck in a sharp breath as is eyes landed on the new pink circle in the middle of John’s chest, and the fresh line across his thigh.
“I’m looking good for a man who was dying less than twenty-four hours ago, aren’t I?” John snorted.
Sherlock twitched as though startled out of contemplation, and John stood aside to let him enter. He’s rather not have this conversation in the hallway of a hotel.
“Is there any point in asking how you found me?” he wondered, slumping down on the couch.
“You didn’t come home!” Sherlock snapped, prickly and rough with anger, like fur or velvet rubbed the wrong way.
“I didn’t come home because some inconsiderate bastard set the journalists of London on me without any warning!” John snapped.
The anger turned into wavering guilt, shimmering like a heat mirage with streaks of blue hope bleeding through. And just like that, John understood what Sherlock had been trying to do.
“You wanted them to take me by surprise and corner me,” he said flatly. “You were hoping for them to push me into making a statement about forgiving you, weren’t you?”
His headache was back.
The guilt felt stronger now, as if Sherlock knew that was an underhanded tactic to use but had done so all the same. “I thought if you just saw-”
“No,” John interrupted, feeling his weariness return.
He didn’t want to talk, or fight, or…whatever it was Sherlock expected them to do. There was nothing to say that hadn’t already been said, nothing that would somehow make this easier. Right now, John didn’t even want to look at Sherlock – he just wanted distance. Distance and quiet and something resembling peace.
“Sherlock, just go,” he sighed. “Please. If you ever cared for me beyond my usefulness with a gun or how I fed your ego…leave me alone.”
John closed his eyes, but the hurt Sherlock felt flashed in orange fire behind them, smouldering and gritty like clay just drawn from a kiln. He could feel it cool into a rigid anger, dark and smooth like a stone worn from handling, and then it abruptly collapsed into….was that resignation?
“Alright.” Sherlock’s voice was small and timid.
John tracked Sherlock’s progress to the door by the sound of his footsteps, but didn’t open his eyes until he heard the other man speak again.
Sherlock had paused in the doorway, one hand on the knob, but he didn’t look back at John. “I am sorry that I hurt you.”
John knew that, on some level. He just wasn’t sure how much he cared. “But you’re not sorry you did it, are you?”
Righteous anger snapped from Sherlock like the crack of a bullwhip – sharp and deafening. But it was soon lost in regret that tasted like burnt tuna, and the sad strains of something that felt like love.
“I can’t be sorry you’re alive,” Sherlock said quietly.
And then he was gone.
Getting through the next three weeks felt like the state John had sometimes fallen into in Afghanistan. When there’d been an ambush or a convoy drove into IEDs or whatever else that left dozens injured and he’d had to work for days at a time, he’d found himself falling into a state where he processed what was happening but felt no real emotional impact from it. It was remote and distant, like he was guiding a character through a video game rather than living it.
Ella had called it disassociation and had been worried about it. John should probably be worried about it too, but he’d never been able to explain to Ella that he thought his ‘disassociation’ came from being overwhelmed by his own emotions and coasting on other people’s to muffle them.
John let the media storm die down. He didn’t talk to Lestrade or Mrs Hudson or Molly and he ignored the black car that pulled up in front of the clinic until Mycroft took the hint and stopped sending it. He usually wasn’t one for ignoring problems until they went away (that tended to end badly when you were in a war zone), but right now he was willing to indulge himself.
The journalists might have still been hounding him if he hadn’t got sick of them trailing him into the clinic and made a comment that suggested he wasn’t talking to them because he was upset at how they’d defamed Sherlock’s character two years ago. No one wanted to print anything that was badmouthing them, so they left him alone and he didn’t have to comment on any of the stories proclaiming Sherlock a hero.
The bond was still there, and John had the vague thought he should do something about that. But every time he told himself he should go see Sherlock and complete whatever severing process had been started, he always managed to talk himself out of it. For all that he was still angry, John didn’t want to cut his connection with Sherlock. At least, not anymore.
It was quite a change. Nursing anger and hurt for so long and then thinking about moving past it…John didn’t know if he was relieved or angry at himself for being a pushover.
He didn’t forgive Sherlock. He didn’t know if he could forgive something like that. But he was starting to believe that Sherlock had really just made a mistake – a bad one, but with good intentions. He said he hadn’t contacted John because he was worried that people were still watching him and any move on Sherlock’s part would have ended with John dead, and John felt as if he was starting to accept that as the truth. He knew more than anyone how fear could paralyse you, how you could be so afraid of putting someone at risk that you did nothing, but he’d always had someone (a commanding officer, a supervising surgeon) to snap him out of it. Sherlock hadn’t had anyone to snap him out of it.
John couldn’t forgive him – not now, possibly not ever. But maybe he could let it be. Move past it.
He rang Sherlock that afternoon, before he could talk himself out of it.
He was expecting the phone to ring out and leave him to do this by text, but to his surprise Sherlock answered on the second ring.
“You answered the phone,” John blurted, caught off-guard. He wasn’t expecting Sherlock to answer it!
“Of course I did,” Sherlock snapped. “What’s wrong?”
John could feel Sherlock’s worry spreading through him like a bleach stain, and wondered why. But then, given how their last conversation had gone, Sherlock probably thought John had to be in serious trouble to call him.
Well, nothing to do but forge ahead. “It’s going to take time for me to trust you again.”
Anger and impatience swept along the bond like a wave, salty and gritty and stinging and cool all at the same time. Sherlock drew breath – probably to snap something about how John had said that before and Sherlock was leaving him alone like he’d asked – but then he seemed to realise what John had actually said. At least, the anger and impatience vanished to be replaced by cautious hope, like sunlight peeking through heavy clouds.
“But you’re going to try?” Sherlock asked, in the interrogative tone he used when he was nervous about something and trying not to let it show.
“Yeah, I’m going to try,” John said. “But I’m not moving in with you again, not for a while. We should probably…” Christ, he felt like a therapist just saying this, “…start over?”
“Start over?” Sherlock echoed. “Why?”
“I’m told it’s a legitimate form of rebuilding trust.”
John had read a few psychology books in his time – mainly in an effort to puzzle out why people’s emotions seemed to contradict what they were actually doing and saying half the time. Of course, the whole ‘starting over’ thing was usually used in romantic relationships when someone had cheated on the other person or otherwise crossed a huge line, but John didn’t see any reason to mention that.
“You know why I did it,” Sherlock muttered, sounding and feeling sulky.
“Trust issues, Sherlock – remember?”
“Do we have to?”
John was starting to feel annoyed – he was making an effort here, couldn’t Sherlock make one as well? “No, Sherlock, we don’t. We can say ‘it was fun while it lasted, goodbye, have a nice life’ and that’ll be it.”
“No!” Sherlock snapped, a quick lash of fear pricking at John’s senses, like he’d just stepped on a sharp rock. “We can go to Angelo’s.”
John was tempted to demand they go somewhere more neutral, but it would take a stronger man than he to resist the lure of free Italian. “Tomorrow at seven?”
Sherlock made a noise of affirmation, and John waited for the dial tone – Sherlock never prolonged phone calls. But it didn’t come, and it took him almost a whole minute to realise Sherlock was actually waiting for him to hang up.
“See you then,” he said lamely, and ended the call.
Sherlock had answered his phone, even though he usually only did that for the promise of a case. He’d waited for John to end the call instead of assuming he had all the information he needed and just hanging up. And – perhaps most important of all – Sherlock had actually respected John’s request to leave him alone.
Sherlock really did love him.
And John had no idea what to do with that.
John was surprised to find Sherlock waiting for him at the restaurant, especially since John had turned up ten minutes early.
Sherlock stared at him, and the bond fluttered with surprise – like he hadn’t really thought John would turn up, even though he’d been the one to suggest this – and tremulous hope. “John.”
“Hey,” John said. “Didn’t expect you to be early.”
“I’ve been here since six-thirty.”
John’s shock must have shown on his face, because Sherlock frowned and looked away, his emotions pulling into himself like a porcupine bristling defensively.
“I had to make sure there were no reporters,” he explained.
“I haven’t seen anything about you in the papers for a week,” John pointed out. “I’m pretty sure they’ve moved on.”
Sherlock scowled. “That’s what they want you to think.”
He sounded sulky and petulant, but he was leaning against the side of the restaurant in a tense way that told John it was make sure no one could sneak up behind him. His eyes were scanning every person on the street and his emotions were buzzing with nervous tension, like an irritated insect.
Those two years clearly hadn’t been easy on him. John had known that, on some level – how many times had he healed Sherlock’s injuries? – but he hadn’t wanted to accept it. He’d wanted to keep his resentment and crush every hint of sympathy that crept into his heart.
“Shall we go inside?” John offered.
Sherlock nodded, and preceded him into the restaurant.
Angelo actually waited until he was level with them to greet Sherlock personally, and John wondered if he’d had to deal with reporters too. Usually, the big man shouted out Sherlock’s name as if he wanted to inform everyone in the street.
“The table by the window, just as you asked,” Angelo enthused, shuttling them towards their seats. “I’ll get a candle.”
It was the same table they’d taken the first night, when they’d used it for surveillance. It even looked like Angelo had brought them the same candle.
John tried not to laugh, he really did, but he couldn’t help it. Trust Sherlock to take the ‘starting over’ thing seriously.
“What’s so funny?” The tangy citrus of Sherlock’s emotions was tilting dangerously close to ‘offended’.
“Just…this is a much more literal new beginning than I was thinking of,” John grinned. “Do I have to awkwardly ask you if you have a girlfriend or boyfriend again?”
Sherlock stared, and the sudden rush of nervous hope felt like the first breath after a resuscitation. But he didn’t reply.
John was just beginning to regret saying anything when Sherlock dropped his eyes to his hands and spoke.
“I don’t have a boyfriend. But, there’s someone…” his eyes darted to John for a moment before they flew away, and the fear felt like a sodden cloth choking him. “And I think maybe we could…”
Sherlock trailed off, swallowing sharply, and John blinked.
“You’re serious?” John was honestly surprised – he knew Sherlock loved him, but relationships were a lot of effort, and a lot of risk, and he’d thought that Sherlock would just decide it wasn’t worth it.
And maybe some part of him had hoped for just that; unrequited love was painful, but there was a kind of safety in it. Actually putting yourself on the line, opening yourself up to someone else…it was frightening.
“Only if you want to,” Sherlock said quietly.
Well, if Sherlock was being brave, John could too. He took Sherlock’s hand, just because he wanted to, and the bond opened like one of those high-speed films of flowers blooming.
“I’d like that,” John said, feeling a ridiculous smile stretch his face.
Happiness and relief burst like a meteor shower – illuminating the night without being blinding, throwing glittering sprays of colour – and John didn’t quite know where it came from. From him? From Sherlock? Both? Looking at Sherlock’s smile – small and private and wondering, as if he couldn’t quite believe this was happening – John thought it was probably both.
His head didn’t hurt anymore. John squeezed Sherlock’s hand and basked in the light of their healing bond.
It was a start.
AN: This is for themusecalliope, and I'm sorry it took so long! Also, this is unbetaed, so do let me know if you've spotted a mistake!