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Speaker for the Bees

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They were browsing through a rare book shop when John spotted her. He caught a glimpse of a powder-blue floral neckerchief out of the corner of one eye, precisely identical to the one she wore in the client's photo. Mrs. Meredith Crook strolled past the shop window arm-in-arm with a pretty dark-haired lady.  

"Sherlock." He looked over but the detective was turned away from him, examining a faded hardback with mildew damage up the spine. John tapped his shoulder to get his attention. Sherlock glanced up inquiringly.

I just saw her walk past with a young woman, John signed.

Sherlock frowned and glanced over John's shoulder toward the window. He returned the book to its shelf, freeing his hands for signing. Of course it happened right when I looked away. Where are they headed?

West, and quickly.

With a magnificent sweep of his coat, Sherlock immediately whirled toward the shop entrance, beckoning John as if it wasn't obvious it was time to follow. The bell above the door chimed as he pushed his way out. Sherlock looked every inch a bloodhound locked onto his quarry's trail.

Their client, Mr. Albert Crook, had mentioned his wife's penchant for antiquing on Thursday mornings, but it was Sherlock’s homeless network which supplied the exact location. It wasn't yet lunchtime, but the pavement bustled with bargain hunters trawling among the quaint Victorian shops on the row. Their pace, that of the retiree or those otherwise unburdened for time, felt positively glacial, and John could see the mounting irritation in Sherlock's body language as he tried to push past loiterers and lollygaggers loaded down with bags.

Several gave Sherlock sharp looks as he jostled them, and it was left to John to mutter apologies as he followed in the detective's wake. Sherlock tended to get tunnel vision on the chase and probably hadn't noticed their mouths moving, let alone that their messages were directed toward him. Even if he had, John would still be the one addressing the situation or, at worst, acting as translator for the offended party. Running across random people who understood sign language was a rarity.

A few shops down the lane, John again caught sight of Mrs. Crooks' blue neckerchief. She had stopped with her companion in front of a furniture dealer and they now stood deep in conversation. Sherlock saw them too, but rather than charge straight through the intervening crowd to confront the suspected adulterous couple, he abruptly turned and snagged John by the arm.

What with momentum being a law of physics and all, John's failed to magically disappear, which resulted in his colliding straight into Sherlock's custom-tailored frame. Sherlock rocked back on his heels but held his ground, steadying John a bit. John tried not to focus on the sound of their communal heavy breathing, which Sherlock couldn't hear anyway, or the fact of their closeness and how Sherlock's hand was still there on his arm even though John had quite assuredly stopped. Instead he averted his attention to the giant grin spread across Sherlock's face, the one that meant Sherlock had an idea John would find either contestable or borderline offensive. Sherlock motioned toward the open doorway of a nearby shop.  

John was used to not being told what was happening, mostly because it would take far more time for Sherlock to sign it or write it out than actually do it. So John found himself on jogging behind the detective through a historic cafe and not even blinking when they skirted into the restricted kitchen area.

“Oi! Gentlemen, you can’t be back here!” called one of the cooks as they dashed by. Other shouts rang after them but Sherlock sped on, dodging cooks and waiters and steaming pots. John cursed as he chased after him, shooting apologetic glances to the people roughly pushed out of Sherlock’s way.

It seemed all the shops in that particular row were connected in the back, because Sherlock led him through a door and they were suddenly in a vintage tea shop, and after that a milliner's, before emerging into the furniture shop outside of which they'd spotted Mrs. Crook. The shopkeeper behind the counter stared at them, bug-eyed, as they casually entered from the back room. Through the window, the blue neckerchief visibly bobbed as the ladies continued talking.

Sherlock's pale eyes flitted about as he assessed the situation. After a moment, he looked at John and raised his hands to sign. You know what to do. Give me five minutes.

Indeed, today's plan was borderline offensive. John pursed his mouth in disconcertment. Can’t we just talk to them like normal people?

Where’s the fun in that? Sherlock replied, playfully smirking.

"It's not fun," John admonished. His slip into verbal speech was reflexive, as was wont to happen when he truly got annoyed. "Think of all the other deaf people who have to deal with the repercussions of your nonsense."

That's not what you said the last time.

"Last time a man had been murdered!" John said, nearly laughing in his outrage. "This is totally different. No one's going to die if a man's wife cheats on him with a woman."

Sherlock's expression went outright snippy. Not yet, but we've seen lovers' spats turn homicidal. Time is of the essence.

"Since when are you so dedicated to Albert Crook's love life? This barely rates as a four, you said. If it weren't for the drought in cases you'd still be brooding on the sofa."

Sherlock looked out the window at Mrs. Crook again, the removal of eye contact as strong a dismissal as he could impart. You're a terrible actor, he signed, the bloody git pompous enough to assume John was still reading his hands, but you're all I've got for the moment. Just do it.

Sighing, John went to the shop door, Sherlock's footsteps right behind him.

The two ladies, who stood intimately close in John's opinion, were engrossed in their conversation and paid no attention as he sidled up with Sherlock in tow. Sherlock shot him a discreet glare to get on with it.

“Ah!" John said, overly loud, as he patted the pockets of his coat in mock confusion. "Oh, dear." He looked over at Mrs. Crook and her 'friend', who cut off their dialogue to see what was the matter. “Excuse me, ladies, sorry, but I think I’ve left my phone back in the shop. This is Sherlock and he’s— well, he’s deaf, you know. Doesn’t understand a thing, poor chap, and I can’t leave him by himself. Would you mind terribly keeping an eye on him for a few minutes while I pop back inside?”

They both glanced at Sherlock, whose expression had gone blandly pleasant, and going by their reactions neither one found his natural physical endowments off-putting in the slightest. Mrs. Crook, especially, eyed him with the sort of sordid interest that inescapably set John's blood curdling in his veins. He was tempted to step between them and tell her off right there, no matter how stroppy Sherlock might get afterward, but Sherlock hadn't made any attempt to respond to the leering. He appeared happily resident in his own little world, oblivious to everything else.

"Oh," Mrs. Crook's companion said sympathetically. "Yes, of course we'll watch him for you."

"Thank you," John said before turning to him. “Sherlock, I’ll be right back." He made an exaggerated show of the signs. “These nice ladies will stay with you.”

Sherlock blinked at John and nodded. He truly was a gifted play-actor, somehow veiling the fierce intelligence that normally shone through in his eyes.

“I'll be back in a tic," John said apologetically to the women, and strode back into the furniture shop.

He watched from inside as the ladies seemed to gather that Sherlock wouldn't be communicating with them anytime soon. They resumed their conversation as Sherlock craned his head around like a child, feigning enchantment with his environment while furtively reading the women's lips.

John was never entirely comfortable when Sherlock ‘played deaf’. Preying on the ignorant was one thing, but flouting assumptions that deaf people didn’t understand lip-reading, body language, or expressions was just plain regressive. In the minds of the uninformed, deafness somehow translated into idiocy, and once that leap was made it was incredible what people were willing to reveal in front of him. It baffled John, really. What sort of moron must you be to think Sherlock wasn’t just as capable and a hundred times more intelligent?

After the prescribed five minutes of thumb-twirling, John returned outside. A flash of a smile from Sherlock confirmed he'd got what he wanted, so John hastily thanked the ladies and guided Sherlock away by the small of his back.

So? John signed once they'd reached a reasonable distance.

It’s not an affair, Sherlock told him. I should have seen it. She’s her daughter.

John wasn’t sure he’d translated that last word correctly. “Her daughter? Mrs. Crook’s daughter?”

Sherlock nodded.

He glanced down the road after them. They were of a similar build and complexion, but their ages didn’t seem all that far apart.

That woman is far too old to be her daughter, John argued. She’d have been…

Around fifteen when she gave up the baby. Sherlock's face went pensive. Obviously, they’ve only just met and she’s not ready to tell her husband.

Well, that was a morning wasted. What do we tell the client?

We tell him his wife is not cheating, but if he wants to get to the truth of it he should ask her himself.

John gave Sherlock a withering look. Oh, so it’s all right for the husband to ask, but not us. Great. 

How was I supposed to know it wasn't something more sinister? Hence my strategy, Sherlock countered. Here’s a new word for you. Pay close attention.

He neatly signed it, slower than his usual jackrabbit pace, before fingerspelling the associated word.

John strung the letters together in his head. “Subterfuge?”

Sherlock nodded, so John tried the sign several times until he felt comfortable with the motions. Knowing Sherlock, he’d work the word back into the conversation in a few hours’ time to ensure John had learned it properly.

Sherlock suddenly twitched and plunged his hand into his suit pocket. His phone was still vibrating when he fished it out, the screen aglow with a text notification. John patiently looked on as Sherlock swiped to answer it.

When he was studying medicine in university, John had never imagined a deaf man with a phone, but Sherlock got more use out of his than most people John had ever met. He texted almost as quickly as he signed. Amazingly, the microprocessor hadn't yet combusted from the strain. 

Sherlock stuffed the phone back inside his coat, his grin returned. Finally, something interesting. Lestrade’s got a case.

 


 

The address John read off to the cabbie brought them into Islington. As they pulled up, John had barely touched the door handle before Sherlock was off like a rocket, bee-lining straight for the front porch of the house where Lestrade loitered with a few of his officers. John paid the cabbie and followed.

The architecture of the home suggested it had been built just after the war, although its white paint was chipped from neglect and the overgrown garden was in need of a good weeding. Sherlock and Lestrade were rapidly signing as John joined them, officers Donovan and Anderson having likely fled the moment they saw Sherlock coming. The detective was nearly bouncing on his heels in his eagerness. The conversation ended abruptly and Sherlock spun to go inside the house, his coat in full twirl, but Lestrade caught his sleeve.

Forgetting something? Lestrade signed.

That's what John is for, Sherlock replied, adroitly flippant, before vanishing inside.

John had learned to recognize his sign name long before he knew what it meant. In the early days, Sherlock would impatiently sign it over and over like some long-suffering pet owner trying to impart word association to an oblivious cat. John finally caught on, but even in his inexperience he knew the horizontal swiping motion across the heart wasn’t a literal fingerspelling of his name. He finally stumbled across its meaning while studying a visual British Sign Language dictionary on the internet – Sherlock had combined the word ‘soldier’ with a ‘J’ motion to create John’s sign name.

Sherlock’s sign name was harder to place. He introduced himself with the words ‘consultant’ and ‘detective’ mashed into one fluid sign, and Lestrade called him ‘consultant’ when referring to him, but John suspected the title was a moniker Sherlock had chosen rather than the one given to him at a young age, as would have been done. Mycroft never called Sherlock anything directly to his face, and since he spoke to John verbally there was never any need for him to sign Sherlock’s name.

Sherlock unapologetically used the sign for ‘go away’ when referring to Mycroft, but that was another matter entirely. Then there was Lestrade, who Sherlock simply called ‘wrong’, and the handful of other obnoxious names for the various detectives of Scotland Yard.

Lestrade, bless him, took it all in stride. He was far more fluent than John in BSL, having had over six years of practice. He often said his crash course was a nightmare compared to John's. Sherlock seemed to sign at speeds too fast for the human visual cortex to process when he was onto a promising deduction.

As they went inside the house, Lestrade looked at John with a rather amused expression. “He’s in a chipper mood, isn't he?”

John dug in his pocket for the spare keys to the special evidence locker at Scotland Yard. Lestrade could well get sacked for lending them out to civilians, and the fact that he'd done so spoke to his desperation on that last investigation. Sherlock had been like a child let loose in a sweet shop.

“There was bound to be a bad drop after the inside-out corpses," John told him, handing over the keys. "Nine days of scraps and he's finally got a proper case to occupy himself. Yesterday he was so bored he melted half the shelves in the refrigerator." John shook his head as he remembered the look on Mrs. Hudson's face. "Not on purpose, mind you, but I'd have been less concerned if it was."

Lestrade grimaced. "Acid?"

"An acetone compound he's studying. We're lucky the thing didn't explode."

When they reached the living room, Sherlock was already in the throes of ricocheting around with his collapsible magnifying glass in hand. Several Yarders stood off to the side packing up their equipment as they prepared to leave.

"So what've we got?" John asked as he watched Sherlock scratch curiously at a tabletop.

"Missing person," Lestrade said. He pulled a small notepad from inside his coat. "Christopher Stodge, aged twenty-four. Funny thing is, he's the one reported himself missing."

"How does one do that, exactly?"

"It came as an anonymous tip, but we looked over the CCTV footage. Two of his childhood friends and his own sister identified him."

Sherlock rapped sharply on a wooden bookcase, drawing John and Lestrade's attention. He signed something John didn’t recognize.

Lestrade frowned. Are you sure?

Sherlock nodded.

“What did he say?” John asked. Reading signs came easier to him than making them, but there were plenty he hadn’t yet learned. He and Sherlock had reached a point of relative comfort in their communication, with Sherlock largely aware of John’s vocabulary constraints, but he wasn’t afraid to delve into larger words when the work demanded it.

“He says Christopher Stodge is an anarchist,” Lestrade translated.

How do you know? John signed.

Rolling his eyes, Sherlock pointed at the books beside him. Library.

Sherlock moved on in his inspection of the room as John and Lestrade stared at the collection of books. Countless foreign names graced their spines, almost all of which John did not recognize, with titles likes The ABC of Communist Anarchism and No Gods No Masters. A number sported political and revolutionary themes, inspiring more concern.

John tilted out one book that seemed to advocate for a mass uprising of the people. "Do you think his political associations have got something to do with his disappearance?"

Flipping through a few pages of his notes, Lestrade did not look optimistic. "He's got a history of juvenile delinquency, a few ASBOs. Family says he's mostly kept to himself since university. Graduate engineer. Clever lad, but they’ve no idea what he gets up to or with whom."

"Which means he could be off somewhere preparing to violently dismantle the government," John supposed.

"Maybe," Lestrade said. "It's also possible he pissed off the wrong people."

A loud banging interrupted the conversation. Across the room, Sherlock's fist was on the wall, accompanied by a displeased frown that he hadn't their strictest attention.

Have there been any renovations to the building? Sherlock quickly signed.

Lestrade shook his head. Nothing on record, but the neighbors say they've heard noises come from the house.

Sherlock steepled his fingers and pressed them to his lips. He spent a long moment lost in consideration before suddenly reaching out to press both hands to the wall, moving his palms the way a doctor might use a stethoscope's chestpiece.

“We’d best pay attention before he decides to punch a hole through the wall,” Lestrade remarked in a low voice.

“He’s more likely to break a window,” John said. “Nothing more dramatic than razor-sharp glass flying through the air.”

"Maybe we should get him a bell," Lestrade suggested. "Or a whistle."

John turned toward him as he snorted a laugh. “He'd never use it, if only to be contrary. You should hear the racket he makes at home when he wants my attention. Utensils on a plate are a favorite right now. I’ll know I’m in trouble when he takes to carrying around a chalkboard for scratching.”

"I'm surprised the neighbors haven't filed a complaint."

"I think Mrs. Hudson keeps them in a shoebox by the fireplace," John reflected. "Makes for a steady supply of kindling."

Lestrade tucked away his notebook. "She's a saint, Mrs. Hudson, to put up with all that."

"She understands the necessity, and besides, her hearing isn't what it was. I'm all for auditory signals, but Sherlock doesn't like to be burdened with accessories. He wants to be self-sufficient. A soft whistle or a fingersnap is usually enough to alert me, but sometimes I'm distracted or—"

“JOHN!”

The voice was loud and deep, startlingly so, and John immediately spun around. Sherlock glared testily across the room, clearly irritated that John had turned his back and nullified most of Sherlock's means to get his attention.

Half the Yarders had also turned at the sound. Few, if any, had probably ever heard Sherlock use his voice; he rarely did it, and only then as a last resort. During the long gaps between its appearances John himself often forgot its resonant baritone timbre.

For having never heard words spoken aloud, Sherlock was an excellent mimic. The limited number of times John had heard him speak sounded no worse than a hearing person with a minor speech impediment. Still, when he spoke John’s name the consonants were a little too rounded, the ‘o’ off key, the volume too high. Collectively, it was enough to make his disability obvious.

"Sorry, be right back," John said to Lestrade, feeling a bit sheepish for his momentary insensitivity to Sherlock's needs.

A smug smirk emerged on Sherlock's face as John came to him. Do you hear it? he signed.

Hear what? John inquired. What are you on about?

I can feel it. Surely you can hear it.

John listened, but nothing stood out to his ears beyond the low scuffling sounds of the nearby Yarders. I don’t know what you mean, John told him.

Sherlock swept around behind John, pressing up to his back. A pleasant tingling sensation crawled up his spine at Sherlock's touch, not at all the first time it had happened, and John uselessly tried to tamp it down before his face grew red. This close, surrounded by Sherlock's wonderful scent, it was a tall order.

Sherlock’s height allowed him to lean his head comfortably over John's shoulder. He did that sort of thing on occasion – getting too close and staying there. John wavered back and forth about whether the teasing was intentional or simply a byproduct of how he interacted with his world. Sherlock relied tremendously on his remaining senses; John had seen him lick and sniff and touch all manner of strange objects in his quest for data.

Deciphering Sherlock's signals made for an aggravating endeavor. Sherlock signed all the time, of course, but never in the way John wanted.

Apparently John hadn't grasped the intended goal of this exercise, because Sherlock let out an impatient breath and nudged him toward the wall. His long fingers skirted up under John’s right arm, taking up his hand and pressing it to the cool surface.

John wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be feeling, but it probably wasn’t the steady pulse in the hand covering his, the brush of Sherlock’s coat against the back of his thighs, or the heat growing in his cheeks.

“I don’t—erm,” John said, clearing his throat.

Sherlock tapped him on the shoulder, indicating he’d felt John speak but hadn’t seen his mouth move. John tilted his head back so Sherlock could lip-read. “I don’t feel anything,” he said, clearer and stronger but thankful Sherlock was unaware of the embarrassing fluster in his voice.

Nodding slowly, Sherlock pondered a moment before crowding John yet again, maneuvering him until John realized Sherlock wanted him to press one ear to the wall. He did so and sure enough, the distinct sound of a water pipe gurgled on the other side.

John lifted his head away and looked at Sherlock in amazement. “You felt the vibrations from that?”

Sherlock vigorously nodded.

“It sounds like pipes."

Yes, it does, but the water's cut off. Puzzlement eclipsed Sherlock's expression as he finally backed away from John, providing him a much-needed berth to recover from the close encounter. Which means it’s an entirely separate system, but why would—

John never tired of Sherlock’s silent epiphanies. His mouth fell open and his eyes lit up as if the world had profoundly shifted beneath his feet. John held his gaze for one beautiful, fractious second before, in a sudden flare of dark coattail, he was sprinting out the front door.

“What in the bloody hell has got into him now?” Lestrade called.

“I don’t know,” John said helplessly.

Sherlock suddenly shot back into the room, spinning and staring up at the ceiling, ignoring Lestrade’s interrogatory signs before quickly disappearing outside once again.

“He’s insane,” declared Donovan, over near the kitchen. “He’s finally gone round the bend.”

“Did he find something?” Lestrade asked.

John nodded. “A pipe not connected to the main.”

Sherlock reappeared with an enormous grin plastered on his face. He signed at lightning speed to Lestrade, the same phrase over and over. It’s bigger on the outside!

“There’s a Doctor Who joke here somewhere,” Lestrade grumbled.

“Don’t bother,” John said. “He’s deleted it.”

Motioning fervently to the walls, Sherlock struggled to communicate his meaning. Lestrade stared at him, skepticism written in the furrow of his eyebrows, as John tried to make sense of his erratic signs. The house was bigger on the outside? What was he implying?

Evidently, they were too slow-witted to draw the correct conclusions from what Sherlock was telling them. Sherlock huffed loudly and threw up his hands, dismissing their questions and shooting them a resigned, I'll show you.

He was out the door again in a flash.

"Did you get any of that?" Lestrade asked John.

"No. I think his brain's about five steps ahead of his hands," John said.

As they reached the door, a visibly anxious forensics officer met them en route from the front garden. "Sir, you've got to get out here," he said to Lestrade. "He's on a rampage!"

Where Sherlock had discovered a wood axe, John could not fathom, but when they got outside he was brandishing it with enough enthusiasm to justify the man's nervousness. The other officers watched on in alarm as Sherlock scampered around the building, knocking against the siding every so often with the blunted end of the axe head.

"Christ, isn't this is a sight for the neighbors," Lestrade sighed. He chased after Sherlock, signing abuse, but Sherlock had resolutely decided to ignore him until his point was made.

Halfway round the back of the house, Sherlock got his opportunity. He knocked again with the metal head and this time something in the feel of it seemed to confirm what he was looking for, and before anyone could stop him Sherlock swung the axe and brought the blade down hard against the wood. The head of the blade disappeared entirely in the siding, as though it had met cheap particleboard instead of solid wood, and Sherlock looked up in triumph.

He yanked it out as John and the others cautiously approached. Bits of wood spilled into the weed-ridden flowerbed.

There was a dark hole, about the size of two fists, in which sat no wiring, no insulation, no construction materials of any sort. Someone produced a torch and directed the beam inside, revealing a wooden skeleton of a stair and just beyond it, a second wall of exterior siding.

"That's not supposed to be there," Lestrade said, an egregious understatement if John had ever heard one.

Sherlock dropped the axe and stepped back, dusting splinters off his sleeves with a self-satisfied smile. A false wall, he explained. There's a secret loft in this house.

As the astounded Yarders crowded around the hole to peer inside, John caught Sherlock's eye and shook his head in disbelief. You are completely mad, did you know?

Good mad or bad mad? Sherlock replied, beautifully aglow with the thrill of his accomplishment.

John couldn't suppress the adoration undoubtedly showing on his face. Brilliantly mad.

Spots of pink bloomed high on Sherlock's cheeks, and he quickly looked away to the hole he'd just made. It could inflate one's ego with power, knowing how to make Sherlock Holmes blush. John contentedly folded his arms and set to watching the Yarders puzzle over Sherlock's improbable wall.

 


 

They discovered the true entrance to the secret stair in the rear of the boiler cupboard, concealed by a series of latches and a sliding trap door. It was a clever device but required a fair bit of contortion to successfully navigate, so to gain entry the false outer wall was targeted for manual demolition.

With Lestrade busy overseeing the entire operation, John took up his role as intermediary while Sherlock flitted around and pestered the non-signing Yarders for information. Sherlock often chastised him for softening the tone of his words in translation. It was an ongoing battle, with Sherlock insisting his exact meaning was of paramount importance and John pointing out that insulting people wasn’t the best way to procure their cooperation.

John had been told that, prior to their partnership, Sherlock had been forced to smash out his rants on his phone’s tiny keyboard. Unfortunately, Sherlock's reliance on visual cues allowed the Yarders to effectively ignore him whenever they wished, which in turn led to nasty confrontations. Lestrade was the only one among them who had bothered to learn how to sign. Just imagining how frustrated Sherlock must have felt made John want to thrash the whole lot of them.

Of course, getting locked up for assaulting a police officer wasn't helpful to Sherlock, so as consolation John generally stuck to him like glue whenever they visited a crime scene. Besides speeding up communication, it enabled John to address the situation if anyone felt inclined to disrespect or ignore Sherlock. People tended to rethink their attitudes when the Captain Watson voice came out.

By the time the Met officers carved a big enough hole for a human to fit through, Sherlock was growing restless with inactivity. There wasn’t much to be done until the police had their go at the hidey hole, so Sherlock resigned himself to fiddling around with his phone.

As they waited on the outskirts of the back garden, John's own phone suddenly went off. He pulled it from his pocket and saw that the clinic was calling. He usually made a point of not answering unrelated calls during casework, but he glanced at Sherlock and received an indifferent nod. Nothing was happening. Might as well.

John took it around the front of the house, away from the noise, but by the time he'd resolved the scheduling mix-up and returned, Sherlock was nowhere to be seen.

Young officer Farley stood scratching out notes on his clipboard. He looked up as John came over.

"Sorry, do you know where Sherlock got to?" John asked.

Farley pointed at the hole in the wall with the tip of his pen. "Forensics just pulled out. I think he went up, Dr. Watson."

A touch of anxiety rippled up John's spine. "Without me?"

The young man blinked uncertainly. "He was eager, sir, and I-"

"Yes, it's all right, Farley. It's empty, then?"

"There's a room up top but no one's in. Found Stodge's fingerprints all over. It's definitely his hideout."

"Thank you," John quickly said before jogging toward the house.

John received a few begrudging looks as he hopped across the debris pile and into the building. Someone had obviously found the power switch, because light spilled into the narrow passage from a naked bulb screwed into a socket overhead. The stairs were unfinished but solid enough, and John took them two at a time as they twisted up around the original corner of the building. At the top, a full-sized door was cracked open.

Inside, John began to understand the reason for the separate power and water lines. It was the sort of over-the-top conspiracy bunker one might see in a film, complete with overhead light strips, long fitted worktables, and what appeared to be a small loo complete with sink and toilet. The walls themselves sported posters espousing revolutionary slogans and clippings highlighted in angry orange streaks, emphasizing the financial and social injustices perpetrated by the government. The worktops were covered in assorted computer components, including circuits, bits of wiring, metal casings, and few stained technical manuals. Spreadsheets filled with ridiculously tiny print were pinned to the wall surrounding a high-end computer with four monitors, all of them dark. In one corner, soldering equipment was piled on the floor.

Sherlock, hands folded contemplatively behind his back, stood in the middle of the room examining the detritus scattered over the worktop. John flicked the light switch on and off to catch his attention, and Sherlock turned around.

He had the gall to look exasperated that John had taken so long to arrive. He wasn’t missing, Sherlock signed excitedly. He was hiding up here as recently as this morning.

John studied the mess. He faked his disappearance? Why?

He's either a genius or a complete idiot, Sherlock decided. He swept around the room, peeking into the loo and taking it all in. He must have known this is the first place the police would check. They'd miss this room and move on, giving him time to enact his plan. I suspect he intended to go missing indefinitely and join up with a militant anarchist group.

John was leaning toward idiocy on Stodge's part, personally. He approached the work bench and glanced over the components, unsure what half of them were meant to do. The faint sound of clockwork emanated from somewhere in the pile. But why go to all the trouble?

Sherlock shrugged and frowned, indicating that they had moved into the realm of speculation. Presumably to preserve his good name in the event he needed to resurface. He could be trying to safeguard his family. Perhaps he cares about them after all. Either way, it will be simple enough to catch him now that we have control of his base.

He was no expert, but it looked as though several computers had been ritually sacrificed for their valuable innards. I wonder what he was planning to make with all this, John mused.             

What does any lonely, outcast young man wish to build? Sherlock signed.

John felt a grin coming on. Robot girlfriend?

Sherlock's laugh wasn't like other people's. He kept it contained in his chest, a great shaking of his diaphragm that spread up through his shoulders until his mouth split wide and his eyes sparkled with amusement. If John was particularly witty or lucky, it was strong enough to escape in short, audible bursts of air; not quite a vocal laugh, but the closest thing John was ever likely to hear.

I was going to say a more accepting society, Sherlock signed as his chuckles died down, but I suppose that's equally possible.  

By the time forensics handed over a crime scene to Sherlock, touching things was fair game. John picked up what appeared to be a palm-sized battery. The metal felt dense and cold to the touch.

The curious, repetitive sound from within the mess was still going. John looked up and caught Sherlock’s gaze. “What’s that noise?”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. Well, I can’t hear it, can I?

“It’s like a clock.”

He’s built a number of mechanical devices. Possibly he left something on.

John turned and examined the computer components again, a tense feeling twisting in his gut. He’d heard something like this before but was having trouble placing it. He’d—

A sudden memory erupted through his brain, vividly intense. Hot sun on sand and shifting the rifle in his arms, fear gripping him as he motioned for the other soldiers to back away from the dud IED until the disposal squad arrived. Turning to Murray and remarking on the unnervingly soft ticking coming from inside—

The present crashed back around John and the battery plummeted from his hand. A bomb. It was a bomb. Of course it was a bomb. John spun on his heel, but Sherlock was facing away from him now and inspecting the documents pinned to the wall. “Sherlock!” he barked out of instinct, never mind that Sherlock couldn’t possibly hear him, couldn’t know the danger they were in.

It was as if something else had removed John from his own body and taken control; in an instant he was lunging toward Sherlock, the impact of full-body contact a distant sensation as he tackled him to the floor. Panic mired all thought and brought time to standstill, each passing second stretching longer than an hour.

That was when the walls exploded in from every side.

Chapter Text

“Bilateral anacusis,” Mike Stamford said as they strode down the familiar corridors of St. Bart’s Hospital.

Cane in hand, John tried to suppress flashbacks to final examinations he’d once taken here. Mike was polite enough to slow his pace so John might keep up. “He’s completely deaf? No hearing aids?”

“None at all. Can you imagine living in a world of utter silence? Some days it doesn’t sound half bad.” Mike smiled guiltily. “He reads lips, though, so don’t say anything you wouldn’t want him to hear.”

“I imagine his condition was pre-lingual. Does he speak at all?”

“If he does, I’ve never heard him. We mostly keep to sign language.”

“I never knew you could sign,” John said.

“I’m conversational,” Mike told him with a shrug. “Got a deaf cousin back in Leicester. Few enough around here can properly communicate with Sherlock. He prefers talking to people who don’t need him to type out every bloody sentence.”

John furrowed his brow. “Then why hasn’t he sought out another deaf person to take the spare room? They generally run in their own social circles, don’t they?”

Something of an oddly-humored expression wafted across Mike’s face. “Not sure if Sherlock’s got a social circle, as it were."

As they walked, John wondered whether he'd be expected to learn sign language. It seemed advisable if the flatshare had any hope of working out. He couldn’t imagine not communicating with someone who shared his living space, deaf or otherwise. If John wanted isolation and anonymity, he need only return to his spartan bedsit.

As they reached the double doors of the lab, Mike stopped and offered John a non-judgmental look. “You sure you haven’t got a problem with a deaf flatmate?”

John self-consciously squeezed the handle of his cane. “Not if he hasn't got a problem with an ex-army cripple,” he muttered.

Smirking, Mike pulled at the swing door and held it open for John.

He was aware of a tall, dark-haired man stood at one of the work stations, but reentering the old haunt where John had spent so many caffeinated hours was like a shot of nostalgia. Most of the equipment had been updated in the time since John last set foot inside. "Well, bit different from my day," he observed in amazement.

Mike laughed and took a nearby stool. "You've no idea!"

The man – Sherlock – set down the pipette he was holding and glanced at Mike, making several movements with his hands that John took to be sign language. His fingers were quick and dexterous, and everything from his smartly-tailored suit to his intense eyes suggested a keen intelligence.

Mike signed back to him and they volleyed for a while, John utterly lost as to what they might be saying.

"Might he borrow your mobile?" Mike inquired.

"Er, of course," John said, fishing his phone from his pocket and wondering why a deaf man would want a phone. Sherlock came to take it from John and, as if in response to his question, immediately began texting.

"He likes to text," Mike intoned. "Thank God for smart phones, eh?"

Sending his message, Sherlock handed it back to John and started signing to Mike once more.

"John Watson," Mike said aloud, holding out his hands to make slower, more intentional shapes. John had seen the alphabet done in British Sign Language when he was in primary school and guessed Mike's signing might be his name fingerspelled letter by letter.

Sherlock nodded curiously before targeting John with a studious expression. He started chaining a long series of rapid signs. John looked to Mike, befuddled.

"Slow down, mate," Mike chuckled. He watched Sherlock finish his statement. “Christ, I'm rustier than I thought. He says you’re a soldier. And a doctor. Something about your brother drinking? He wants to know whether you served in Afghanistan or Iraq.”

John blinked as he met Sherlock's sharp gaze. “You can understand what I say?”

Sherlock nodded once.

“Afghanistan. But how did you-”

The man actually winked at him. He then whipped out a pen and a business card from one pocket and began furiously writing on it.

John glanced to Mike. "You told him about me."

"Not a word," Mike replied innocently.

Sherlock finished and handed the card over to John.

Sherlock Holmes |  Consulting Detective

www.thescienceofdeduction.co.uk

And scribbled just below:

221B Baker St,  7 o’clock

By the time John looked up again, Sherlock was slipping out the door with a departing nod and a final spate of signs to Mike.

"He's left something in the mortuary," Mike translated after Sherlock disappeared, "but he'll meet you tomorrow. And yeah, he's always like that."

John felt like he'd just been hit by a hurricane. Or perhaps he'd only reached the eye of the storm and was about to plunge head-first back into the fray. He studied the card in his hand, certain that whatever awaited him with Sherlock would definitely not be dull.

"If you've got a bit of time to spare, would you mind teaching me a few signs?" John asked as he slipped the card into his pocket.

Mike nodded congenially. "Sure. What do you want to learn?"

"Let's start with 'hello'."

 


 

The world had flipped entirely on its head. Sherlock groaned and shifted as his equilibrium spun toward gravity’s clutch, the acrid scent of drywall and combusted chemicals in his nose overlaid with something more familiar. He was on his back and being smothered by a warm, heavy weight. Scratchy fabric rubbed against the ridge of his cheek. The impact of the explosion had been completely unanticipated, but then Sherlock was used to alarming turn-ups from time to time. Went with the territory, really, when one lacked an important sensory input mechanism.

His face was pressed into a maroon cardigan, his nose nudging the rounded edge of one button. Sherlock tensed as he realized what was on him. John.

Only milliseconds before the walls erupted in a spectacular wave of concussive force, Sherlock had turned just enough to glimpse John rushing toward him with frightening speed, his arms outstretched. Evidently, John had shielded him from the worst of it.

Touching John was a fixed daily objective, but this wasn't what he usually had in mind. Sherlock pushed at him, one hand snaking to his waist, but John didn't respond. He pushed harder, until John's sheltering mass shifted off to one side.

Blinking in the hazy air, Sherlock elevated himself on his elbows and took in the shards of timber and plaster strewn around the room. Three walls were entirely demolished, their guts of electrical wiring and insulation exposed through the gaping holes. The toilet was spouting water and the small sink had cracked. Amazingly, the overhead lights glowed on from the relatively undisturbed ceiling. The explosion had been intentionally set, then, with the goal of inflicting maximum damage to anyone in the room.

Due to John's quick thinking, the debris had landed harmlessly on top of them instead of flying straight at their bodies. The sizable chunks of sharp wood would have had no trouble embedding themselves in unprotected flesh, and anyone positioned directly beside a wall would undoubtedly receive a face full of splinters and chemical burns.

Feeling a bit unnerved by the close call, Sherlock glanced down at John. He lay on his side, still unmoving, his eyes closed and body slack. Dust coated his back and hair, coloring it greyer than it ought to be.

Sherlock shook him. “John,” he said aloud.

John failed to move, and a terrible surge of fear fluttered through Sherlock's chest. Not John. Not John. Please, not John...

His heart was pounding and his brain refused to focus properly, but Sherlock attempted to scan John anyway. There were no detectable blood stains, no visible injuries. Placing a hand in front of John's mouth confirmed he was breathing, if shallowly.

“John," Sherlock said again, continuing to shake him for want of knowing what else to do. "John. JOHN. JOHN.”

It was difficult to gauge his volume. Sherlock kept forcing more and more air past his vocal cords, forming the syllables the way Mycroft had drilled into him so long ago. He had to be shouting. Shouting wasn’t good; people usually startled when he did that. He didn’t even care how strange he sounded. He’d talk until his throat bled if that’s what it took for John to—

John abruptly coughed and opened his eyes, and the tightness in Sherlock's chest instantly loosened with relief. Sherlock kept one hand pressed to John's back as he rode out a violent fit of coughing in the particulate-infused air. As it ended, John's deep blue irises squinted up at Sherlock, expressing confusion as to where he was and what had happened. “Was someone shouting just then?” John asked, the shape of his words muddled by disorientation.

“Me,” Sherlock said.

John's eyebrows drew together, his wits quickly returning. He pushed himself up and a cascade of dust dislodged from his hair. His worried eyes surveyed the decimated loft before returning to search Sherlock's face. John's hands rose to touch him. “Sherlock, are you hurt? Do you feel pain anywhere?”

Sherlock shook his head as he sat up. John started checking him regardless, sliding his hands up under Sherlock's coat in search of injuries. John was in doctor mode and probably not thinking of Sherlock as anything but a patient, but the competent brush of his fingers ignited a fizzling warmth in Sherlock's cheeks that spread through his skin like an electric current. One minute he'd thought John might be dead, and the next John was feeling him up. Sherlock tried to focus on further deducing the mess all around them, but the distraction was too much.

He had to push John's hands away before something untoward happened. He couldn't risk driving John away over a few unchecked impulses. I'm fine, Sherlock signed.

Are you sure? John replied.

Yes. He scrambled to avert and regroup. Are you all right? You took most of that one.

The glare of John's attention shifted as he glanced down at his dusty self. He looked as if he'd narrowly escaped from a tub of flour. I'm fine. What was it?

A bomb designed to destroy the hideout, its evidence, and any intruders. I suspect the intention was to set it off remotely. Either I tripped something or faulty wiring was the cause.

Wiping streaks of dust from his forehead, John examined the shattered remnants around them as if just now considering how close they had come to impalement. Sherlock watched him closely for any signs that he had suffered internal damage to his nervous or circulatory systems. He seemed all right for the moment. Ongoing observation and assessment would be required.

John perked his head up, catching a sound Sherlock couldn’t detect.

“I think that's the Yard,” John said, looking back at him. “Are you all right to move?”

Sherlock nodded and John stood before reaching out to pull him from the rubble.

 


 

Several hours later, after Lestrade finished lecturing them and the paramedics finally let them go (no apparent injuries beyond a bit of bruising, but John already knew that), they found themselves heading home at last. Nearly ravenous with hunger and daunted by the prospect of cooking after a long day of chases and explosions, John called ahead for a delivery of Indian takeaway.

It was surprising what a little brush with death did to one’s nerves. John spent most of the cab ride mentally combing through the events leading up to the eruption of the bomb. By his estimation, he’d spent less than ten minutes in the room with Sherlock before it went off and, embarrassingly, it had taken him nearly all of that time to recognize the situation.

As the cab bumped along the streets of London, John stole several glances at Sherlock. He, too, looked rather distracted, staring out the opposite window as he massaged his phone between gloved fingers, wrapped up in his thoughts and ignorant of John’s eyes on him. Sherlock wouldn’t have stood a chance if John hadn’t joined him when he did. Instead of sitting beside John right then, he’d be fighting for his life in the A&E, if not dead outright. 

The food arrived simultaneously with the cab, but a sickening ache had replaced John’s appetite on the ride over.

Upstairs, Sherlock lacked his usual post-case surge of energy. He retreated into the kitchen and set to checking on his experiments, but the unusual amount of clatter coming from the other room attested to his agitation.

John sat on the sofa, his food growing cold as he mechanically flipped through a newspaper without reading a single word. The longer he sat, the harder it became to fight the colossal need to march straight into the kitchen, wrap his arms tight around Sherlock, run his fingers through his blessedly unharmed curls, and thoroughly snog him until the anxious feeling in the pit of John’s stomach was only a memory.

John rubbed his face with both hands and silently cursed. God, he had to get out of the flat before he did precisely that.

And that was how he found himself stalking the aisles of the local Tesco, his basket piled high with things that may or may not have been in low supply back at 221B. The motions of walking and lifting and moving were all that mattered; John needed the soothing release of physical activity.

He shouldn't have been surprised when the long black sedan pulled up beside the curb as he walked home, but John had fallen so deeply into his own head that its appearance gave him a slight start.

The tinted rear window slid down to reveal Mycroft's shadowed face. "Get in," he said, popping open the door.

John shifted the bags in his hands, but otherwise didn't move. "I'd rather walk, thank you."

"We'll take you straight home," Mycroft pressed. "No dilly-dallying. If you'll allow me to speak with you along the way, I would be exceptionally appreciative."

Mycroft's tone implied the conversation could be fielded now or later, presumably in the sitting room back at Baker Street, but either way inevitable. The less troublesome version involved leaving Sherlock out of it, and so John sighed and climbed into the rear seat of the car with his shopping.

The driver pulled into traffic and the cityscape slipped into a silent blur around them. "You look vexed, John," Mycroft said.

"I can't stop thinking about—"

John clamped his mouth shut and reminded himself that this was Mycroft he was talking to. Normally that mattered. Normally he'd refuse to say anything at all, but perhaps this was the one person who understood his fear of losing Sherlock.

"I’ve let him out of my sights before when I shouldn’t have," John said, slower, shaking his head. "I told myself it wouldn’t happen again.”

Mycroft nodded solemnly. “You are, of course, referring to the incident with the deranged cabbie and the encounter with Jim Moriarty at the pool. I trust he emerged equally unscathed from today's excitement?”

"He's fine. He seems fine. Perhaps a little shaken."

Mycroft quirked an eyebrow. "Shaken?"

"I didn't give him much warning,” John explained. “Bit of a shock, I think. For both of us."

"My sources indicate that you were the only one with him at the time," Mycroft noted.

John frowned down at his hands. "The ticking was so soft. He didn't have a clue it was there. If I hadn't..."

He couldn’t say it aloud. If any event had been altered, even in the slightest, John might be going home to an empty flat.

He felt Mycroft intently watching him. John evenly met his gaze; there was no point in trying to hide anything. He wasn't afraid of his feelings for Sherlock. Even if Sherlock didn't feel that way for other people, at least Mycroft would know his brother was being looked after by someone who loved him. Mycroft, per usual, chose to stay silent about what he did or did not suspect.

That was when John finally noticed the miniature, child-sized violin laying beside Mycroft on the seat.

"What's that?" he asked.

Mycroft casually looked over at it. "A reminder."

He picked it up. The wood was burnished a beautiful rosy brown, the strings taut and tuned. John wasn't particularly knowledgeable about music, but the craft appeared exquisite.

Why on earth would Mycroft carry around a violin, of all things? John was quite certain he'd never heard mention that Mycroft played. Then again, any adult using such a small instrument would look utterly ridiculous. "Whose violin is it?"

Mycroft carefully set it on his lap before glancing up. "It’s Sherlock's."

John must have looked enormously perplexed, because Mycroft's face softened fractionally.

“Mummy's a passionate musician," Mycroft explained. "She might have been a concert violinist if she hadn’t chosen her research career. I was forced to learn the violin as a child, and while I naturally excelled at it, I didn’t much care for the instrument. Not in the way Mummy did. When I was told I was to have a brother, I convinced Mummy to purchase this violin, never mind that he wouldn’t be able to properly hold it for several years. I looked forward to teaching him, you see, and secretly I hoped he would be as passionate about the violin as Mummy.” Mycroft gazed down at the tiny instrument. “As you might imagine, the day Sherlock was born I switched my violin lessons for sign language.”

John stared at it. "I had no idea."

Mycroft's expression tightened. “Sherlock shows all the signs of musical talent. From a young age he was attracted to rhythmic vibrations. I used to play Tchaikovsky and Mozart at the stereo's maximum volume just so he could feel the notes. He’s surprisingly lyrical when he talks. He learns and approximates sounds easily. I like to think he would have played beautifully.”

John tried to picture a version of 221B with a violinist in residence: a music stand perched beside one windowpane, the table scattered with sheets of a composition inked in Sherlock's hurried hand, the sound of sweet string melodies wafting up and down the stairs. Perhaps, on some quiet evening, Sherlock might have played just for him. 

Setting the violin aside, Mycroft thoughtfully steepled his fingers. "The reason I’ve come is so that you might help me help him."

"I've heard that song and dance before," John said. "First night we met, remember?"

“This isn’t a game any longer," Mycroft stressed. "It’s become evident that his disability will get him killed sooner rather than later, despite our precautions. I’d prefer to postpone any funerals.”

John pursed his lips. “You want to correct his hearing.”

“Sherlock was tested extensively as a child. All the specialists agreed that his ears are perfectly functional. It’s the brain that’s the problem. It doesn't process sound as it should.” Mycroft removed a file from some hidden compartment in the arm of his seat. "There's a new surgical procedure in which an electrode is implanted directly into the auditory center of the cerebral cortex. Doctors in San Francisco have experienced remarkable success in restoring partial hearing to those similarly afflicted—"

John raised a hand to cut him off. "Sorry, I got hung up on the part about brain surgery. You’d really allow some surgeon to go poking around in your brother's head?"

“These aren’t crackpots with rusty saw blades, John. They’re the finest neurosurgeons in the world. If it meant restoring even a small portion of Sherlock’s hearing, I should let them do whatever they wished.”

Mycroft looked dangerously convinced as he handed John the file. John opened it and glanced over page after page of research, surgical reports, and clinical data. It was a lot of information to absorb. "Why are you telling me instead of Sherlock?"

"A recommendation from you carries more weight," said Mycroft. "For obvious reasons."

"Because I'm his GP?"

Mycroft’s eyes shifted ever so slightly. "You are many things to my brother," he delicately replied, "the least of which being his doctor."

Thoughts of conspiracy tended to arise whenever John spoke with Mycroft. Usually, it was best not to pry into the machinations of the British government. John closed the file. "I'll think about it."

"That's all I ask." Mycroft tilted his head to direct John's attention toward the window. Outside stood the door to 221B. How long had they been parked there?

John tucked the folder under one arm and took up his shopping. But as he scooted out the door and stood upright on the curb, a dark-coated figure suddenly manifested out of nowhere and caused John to nearly drop his bags. "Sherlock!"

Sherlock studied John suspiciously for a moment before glancing over his shoulder. Mycroft was exiting the car just behind him, and John abruptly felt as though he'd been caught red-handed.

We agreed on no more kidnappings, Sherlock signed to his brother.

Mycroft radiated the very image of innocence. It was just a friendly chat. It’s not as if you texted me to say you were all right.

Oh, please. Don’t pretend you didn’t have a full report before the paramedics even arrived. Sherlock's eyes darkened as they went to the file under John's arm. Is this about the surgery again?

Confused, John looked between them. "Wait, he already knows about the—"

Yanking the file from John, Sherlock flipped it open. His eyes went ablaze as he saw its contents and he threw it to the ground, spilling papers everywhere. Now you've got him plotting with you? he signed to Mycroft in outrage.

We only want what’s best for you, little bee, Mycroft placidly replied.

Sherlock then glared directly at John, utter betrayal written across his face. Subterfuge, he signed, before stomping back inside. John felt as though a lead weight had landed on his chest.

"How terribly overdramatic," Mycroft mused.

John shot him a withering look. "You know what? He’s right. Go away, Mycroft.”

He left the British government standing on the pavement, blinking in disdain and surrounded by the scattered pages of his schemes.

 


 

When John got upstairs, Sherlock had tossed his coat on his chair and stood brooding in the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil.

The kitchen retained the residual smell of chemically dissolved plastic, but it was airing out rather nicely. Sherlock wasn't looking at him, so John set to putting the shopping away until he was ready to talk.

It happened round about the time John was puzzling out why he'd thought pickled kippers were a good idea. He caught Sherlock’s pale, pouting eyes on him and paused to wait.

Had a nice chat, did you? Sherlock asked. His fingers moved curtly, as if flicking away invisible insects.

“Don’t pull that, Sherlock,” John sighed, setting down a package of lamb’s kidneys. “You know perfectly well Mycroft sought me out. He's concerned about your quality of life."

Sherlock straightened against the countertop, his eyes flashing and his mouth pressed thin. Quality of life? What does he know about my quality of life?

“Not a thing,” replied John. “That’s why this decision is up to you and not him.”

The kettle whistled sharply behind Sherlock, but he didn’t move from his spot.

Kettle’s boiled, John informed him.

I know, he signed, fingers gaining speed with each passing second. Do you know how I know? The rate of steam hitting my back has slowed down. The vibrations in the worktop stopped. The reflection of the light went out against the toaster. And your face reacted as it always does when you hear something.

His defensive tone took John aback. “I’m just trying to help, Sherlock.”

Sherlock came closer, imposing in on John’s space. You think I should get surgery.

John blinked. “I think you should give every option due consideration.”

But you think I should get it, he reiterated, and this time is was an accusation through and through.

"It's a difficult call,” John said. “I haven’t had time to look over the literature, but any sort of brain surgery is inherently dangerous. I wouldn't recommend it unless you felt it would substantially improve your life.”

You think it would.

“I think it might be worth considering,” he admitted. “Especially after today. Your independence would increase. You wouldn't need me around to watch out for you. I could go out without worrying you'll miss the sound of the carbon monoxide detector, or the fire alarm, or someone breaking into the flat."

An unreadable expression tightened across Sherlock's face. I wouldn't need you around, he echoed.

“That’s right.”

It all made a reasonable sort of sense, in John’s head. Sherlock thrived on his independence. Nothing aggravated him more than when boring, ordinary people slowed him down and made him wait.

Sherlock, however, didn’t seem to share in John’s logic. He stared at John for a long moment, as if settling some grand internal debate. An awful hurt surfaced in his eyes that quickly hardened into cold steel.

No guilt, is that it? Sherlock viciously signed. You’ll do your good deed for the poor pitiful deaf man and be free to go on your way. If you wanted out, you need only have said. I got along fine without you and I can do it again.

John watched speechlessly as Sherlock swept out of the kitchen, effectively taking all the air with him as he went. The enormous thud of his bedroom door slamming shut reverberated through the flat with terrifying finality. For a minute or two John gaped at the cooling kettle, trying to grasp how he’d managed such a spectacular cock-up.

 

Chapter Text

If anyone could turn sulking into an Olympic sport, it was Sherlock, so John finished up with the groceries to give them both time to decompress.

Was Sherlock truly afraid that John yearned to leave after all this time? The prospect hadn’t crossed John’s mind for some time. When he first moved in, there was always the abstract future and vague ideas about a home and wife, but the addictive reality of life with Sherlock had supplanted those whimsies. John had reached the greener pasture quite without knowing it and he’d be damned if he let it go to rot, even if what he currently had with Sherlock was all there ever was to be.

Eventually, John was ready to brave the journey down the hall toward Sherlock’s room. John pounded on his door, an incredibly rude thing to do if it were anyone else. Sherlock had assured him it was the proper volume to get his attention through vibration.

There was no answering thump to indicate John was welcome. It was possible Sherlock hadn’t caught the knock, but not very. John took a gamble and pressed one palm to the wood, turning the handle with the other before slipping in.

Inside, Sherlock was reclined on his bed. He’d changed into his pyjamas and dressing gown and held his phone in front of him, the glow of the screen lighting up the glower on his face. He didn’t need to sign for John to get the message.

John quietly shut the door and approached the bedside. Sherlock gave him a sidelong glance, his expression fading into something less readable.

"I spoke without thinking earlier and I'm sorry for that," John began, a little awkwardly. "I really am. It's not about me and what I find convenient. I know that. I didn't intend it that way. It's about you and what you want to do. What's best for you."

Sherlock just watched him, one eyebrow rising in skepticism, but he didn't look away and that was the important thing. If he refused to read John's lips or hands, it meant the conversation was over.

“I don’t want to leave," John continued. "That’s not it. I’m willing to be your ears, Sherlock, but I worry about the times I'm not there. What if I hadn’t walked in when I did? What if the bomb had gone off while you stood there, completely oblivious?”

Sherlock set to typing something out on his phone. He handed it to John for reading. Should I worry that I can't see toxic radiation in my visible spectrum of light? Should I worry that I can't feel deadly microbes on the surface of my skin? Both could kill me just as easily as a bomb I can't hear. 

John handed back the phone. "Well, yes, but you're far less likely to come across those dangers while working as a detective. You’re missing something that most people take for granted."

The point is, we all have limitations, Sherlock signed. I like to think my strengths make up for mine. Whatever the balance, I chose the risks. So did you.

“I know. You’re right.” John shook his head. He hated feeling so powerless. "It’s just difficult when…”

John stopped himself as he realized what was coming at the end of his sentence: It’s difficult when someone you deeply care about is in danger.

Difficult when? Sherlock prompted.

“Difficult when your limitation is something I can easily offset,” John finished.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. Now you know how I feel when I meet stupid people.

Aren't most people stupid, in your opinion?

That earned John a small smile. It's a constant struggle.

Sherlock’s defensive posture had loosened up considerably. He seemed reassured by John’s presence more than any specific thing he’d said. Had he thought John wouldn’t come to him? Sherlock should’ve known by now that John never retreated from a worthwhile fight.

John sat beside him on the edge of the bed. Little Bee? he signed with an inquisitive smirk.

Sherlock’s eyebrows all but disappeared into his fringe. Shut up.

The smirk grew into an infectious smile. Is Little Bee your sign name?

Sherlock petulantly glared at John and let out a long, dramatic sigh. It started as Little Brother, he explained with painful reluctance. Then it shortened to Little B. I had an interest in bees as a child, so it became Little Bee. Mycroft was Big Brother, so he’s Big Bee.

When did he become Go Away?

When I got wise to his tricks.

When was that?

Around the time I started primary school.

John chuckled at that. Even Sherlock grinned broadly. The two bees, so extraordinarily different and yet markedly similar. John much preferred his bee, of course, in every possible respect.

Why bees? John asked.

Bees are deaf. They sense vibrations in the environment rather than true sound. They communicate through scent and sight and movement, and it works perfectly well for them. Look at what they're able to accomplish.

John nodded in understanding. So why not you?

Sherlock’s face went softly contemplative. Yes. Why not me? What does it matter how I get the information as long as I get it? I cannot hear my own heart, but I know it's there because I can feel it.

You aren’t interested in surgery?

Never was. Why risk my only asset? Sherlock tapped his temple with two fingers. I’d rather be deaf and clever than hearing and impaired.

In a way, Sherlock’s answer made John a little sad. He’d never know the sound the wind made on a warm spring day, never hear a hearth fire crackle or the crash of waves upon an ocean shore. So much beauty in the world would never be his to experience. Worse, there was no way to convey to him the sheer joyous breadth of sound. Did he find any value in what was lost to him?

Curious, John cocked his head. “If you could have one sound, what would it be?”

Sherlock looked at him without responding for what felt like a dreadfully long time. Eventually, he lifted his fingers. Guess, he signed.

The most important sound to Sherlock had to be one which provided a real, practical benefit. “The sound a gun makes when it goes off,” John said immediately.

Sherlock shook his head. No. Think, John.

Something more personal, then? “Erm… the sound of London? Just the city itself. All the people and cars and everything.”

Going by the smile growing on Sherlock's face, he enjoyed making John work for an answer. Try again.

John rolled his eyes. “How about the ridiculous whooshing sound your coat makes when you chase criminals.”

Wrong.

"Okay, either that sign means the answer is Lestrade or I'm nowhere near—" John paused and thought about it. “Wait, would it be a— a voice?"

An edge of tension crept into his eyes. Yes. It’s a voice.

"Your mother’s voice?”

Sherlock made a scandalized face, as if wanting to hear your mother's voice was the most illogical thing in the world. And make it even more difficult to ignore her? She's insufferable as it is.

"All right, what about Mrs. Hudson?" Now she was a proper motherly figure in Sherlock's life.

Could be useful, Sherlock conceded, but no.

“Well, yours then," John declared, quite proud that he'd made the non-obvious leap. "You’ve got to be curious about how you sound.”

Sherlock’s expression went passive. How I sound doesn’t matter.

"But it's your voice,” John reasoned. “It's you."

It's not, Sherlock calmly signed. My voice is in my hands, my expressions, my actions. Speaking is a tool, but it is not me.

He was right, of course, although John had never thought of it that way. He sometimes made a fool of himself with his hearing-centric ways, but Sherlock never bore any ill will over it.

“Yeah, all right,” John said. “Just thought with you being you and all…” He narrowed his eyes after a moment. “It can’t be Mycroft, can it?”

Sherlock shook his head.

“Then who?”

He looked a little disappointed that John had given up. For a second John thought Sherlock meant to keep it from him as the price for his failure, but then his hands moved with deliberate care. If I could have one sound, Sherlock signed, I would choose your voice.

His fingers went quiet, but he didn't look away. Warmth sprang to life inside John's chest and his heart seemed to stutter in surprise. “Mine?” he said, not sure he'd read Sherlock's fingers correctly.

Sherlock's next sign was unmistakable. Yes.

John didn't quite know how to respond. Sherlock's eyes were locked onto him, taking in everything, trying to read every scrap of information from his face. Might Sherlock be signaling what John thought he was signaling? His pulse pounded so hard it threatened to jump out of his skin. God, he couldn't get this wrong, couldn’t misinterpret it to mean more than it did. John cleared his throat as casually as he could manage. “What would you have me say?”

Sherlock's mouth curved into the faintest of half-smiles. My name.

The simplicity of his wish was like a hot poker through John’s stomach. “Sherlock,” he said immediately, as if wanting it badly enough might make him hear it.

Sherlock’s eyes were at his mouth, the small smile still present. It was all just motion to him, wasn’t it? John might as well be mouthing the word for all its tangible effect.

Then John got an idea. Sherlock’s brow furrowed as John slid closer. He took up Sherlock’s hand and guided it to his throat, right over the vocal cords so that Sherlock might feel the vibrations. “Sherlock,” he said again.

Sherlock’s eyes widened with awe. It was the same look he got when his deductions fell into place, but this time it was due to something John had done. It stole John’s breath away, that he could make Sherlock look like that simply by speaking his name.

John no longer cared whether he was egregiously misreading things. He couldn’t allow the moment to pass without sharing what had been building inside him for all the months and days since they met. Sherlock deserved to know he was loved, just as he was. "Sherlock," he said again, infusing the name with everything that had gone unspoken, before leaning in to kiss Sherlock right on his astonished mouth.

The fingers at John’s throat released in surprise. John cradled Sherlock's face with both hands and kissed him deeply, not daring to think about how this might be the only time he'd ever feel the soft fullness of his lips, the heady closeness of intimate contact, the warmth of Sherlock pressed against him. A shudder rippled through Sherlock but there was no push of rejection to indicate that John was not welcome to keep on kissing him.

The first returned touch sent a thrill of adrenaline pulsing through John's body. Sherlock's broad palms spread gently over his waist, their warm insistent weight encouraging John closer. John pushed his hands upward to nest within the lush expanse of Sherlock's hair. The soft ringlets curled around his fingers and he lightly grabbed hold, drawing a sharp gasp from Sherlock where their mouths met.

John's brain tried to temper his excitement as he snogged Sherlock into the pillow but, Christ, he couldn't help himself; Sherlock was receptive and keen and all the mixed signals were finally clearing up.

Weren't they?

A flash of apprehension hit John and he abruptly broke the kiss. He had to know for sure before things got out of hand. Sometimes they were so far off the same page that John questioned whether they were even reading the same book.

When John pulled back, he saw that Sherlock's eyes were closed. They were both breathing hard and still within intimate reach, far closer that they'd ever come. Sherlock looked to be struggling to pull himself together; his chest shuddered with each shaky exhalation and a pink flush stained his cheekbones. His dark hair tangled loosely between John's fingers. God, he was beautiful.

He slowly opened his eyes. Translucent silver-blue gazed back at John, rimmed in dark lashes and overflowing with incredulous wonder. Sherlock just stared at him, his lips slightly apart as he regained his breath. He seemed to have forgotten how to blink.

John lovingly carded his fingers through Sherlock's hair. "All right?"

Sherlock managed to nod a little. His eyes sank to John's mouth and he tugged urgently at John's shirt. Clearly, he wanted more. He wanted John.

In all his previous relationships, whether pursued or merely potential, John had never experienced the intensity of affection that cascaded through him at that moment. Had he ever dreamt that he'd captured the interest of a brilliant, infuriating, intoxicating genius with eyes like celestial bodies and a mind like a supernova, not a day would have passed that John did not let him feel his utter adoration. Wild, exotic things did not belong to the common, but here Sherlock lay gazing at John as if he'd just given him the world entire.     

Impatient fingertips pried at John again, this time forceful enough to yank him forward within reach of Sherlock's mouth. Sherlock kissed him like a man desperate for air, his hands trailing up John's back and gripping hard at the nape of his neck to keep them pressed together.

John climbed fully onto the bed, fitting himself in the gap between Sherlock’s bent knees. As John guided him back, a soft moan slipped out between Sherlock’s parted lips, the noise so faint John might not have noticed if not for the warm rush of breath that accompanied it. The sound went straight to his groin, and he knew it was ridiculous to be turned on by something so small. John instinctively bucked his hips against Sherlock and was rewarded with an audible moan whined into his mouth.

And hell, everything became Sherlock. John's hands feverishly searched for more contact as legs squeezed around his hips, grinding them together in rhythmic sparks. Lips sucking, teething, tasting every inch of exposed skin, down Sherlock’s long pale neck and back up, lavishing him in all the ways he'd wanted to do for far too long. A few well-timed thrusts and John had Sherlock reciting desperate little groans into the crook of his neck. Sherlock's voice emerged in pieces, a series of fractured sounds pitched high with pleasure. John wished he'd had the foresight to remove the clothing between them, but every little reaction from Sherlock was so new and exhilarating that he couldn't bring himself to pause.

There was a slurred shout and at first, the strange tone convinced John he had accidentally hurt Sherlock, but one glimpse revealed his face was beautifully etched with the power of his climax. The image combined with his scent, his feel, the miracle that he wanted John to touch him at all, and suddenly John, too, was finishing with a cry. 

Their panting sounded identical, John noted with hazy interest as he rested against Sherlock's shoulder in the aftermath. A mess awaited him in his jeans, but it was more than worth it to feel Sherlock's racing heartbeat in the wake of orgasm.

After a time, gentle hands tentatively brushed John's back. He rolled aside, turning to get a proper look at Sherlock. 

Slumped against the pillow, Sherlock watched him with a sated, liquid expression that John had never seen. John reached out to sweep back his dampened fringe.

"Still all right?" John asked.

You made me ruin my pants, Sherlock lazily signed.

John chuckled aloud. "And you made me ruin mine, so we're even."

A fond smirk rose on Sherlock's face. He looked so extraordinarily happy. It was obvious, now, that this irrepressible thing had weighed on both of them for want of resolution. John basked in the pure gratification that he'd got it right, that he wasn't mad for wanting his best friend, and that any similar difficulties on Sherlock's part were over now, too.

John sighed contentedly and nudged closer. “You were making noise during, did you know?” he said.

Sudden horror flashed through Sherlock’s eyes and the color deepened in his cheeks. I didn’t mean to, he quickly signed.

John captured his hands and held them still, instantly regretful he'd said anything. “Hey, hey! It's fine. It’s all fine. I like your voice. You needn't worry about speaking around me, if you want.”

He let go of Sherlock's hands. The hesitancy slowly faded from Sherlock's eyes as they roamed over John's face, working out whatever it was he needed to know.

Eventually, Sherlock raised one careful hand and traced his fingertips down John's cheek. “John,” he said, a deep and lovely rumble.

John went wide-eyed as a heavy feeling settled in his throat. No matter what Sherlock thought, how he sounded absolutely mattered. It was his voice, no one else's, and John realized it was the one sound he'd choose, as well.

Sherlock's fingers slid under his chin, lifting it, and guided him closer, a hair's breadth away from another kiss. “Johnnnn,” Sherlock purred again, testing out the longer inflection. The rich tone sent a shiver up John's spine. Sherlock arched a brow and curiously analyzed the effect. If Sherlock figured out how to wield his voice, it was going to be the death of John.

Sherlock rewarded him with a long, indulgent kiss, less hurried than before and yet incomparably sweeter. He was already addicted to kissing Sherlock, just as he was addicted to every other part of him.

John brought his mouth to brush against the soft skin just below Sherlock’s ear. “I love you,” he said, ensuring every word fanned out over Sherlock’s skin for him to feel. “God, I love you.”

When he pulled back, Sherlock was frowning at him. What did you say?

That's between me and your ears, John signed impudently. He'd fill them with nothing but whispers of love for all the days to come.

Sherlock considered him for a long moment before a mischievous glint returned to his eyes. Maybe so, but don't underestimate my powers of deduction. With enough data, I can work anything out.

Exploratory hands snaked around John, and he realized with a smile that Sherlock had begun his rigorous procedure for collecting information, as he would with any new object of interest. Touch, sight, smell, and taste converged in his mental hard drive and were filed away for future reference. John was to be catalogued, but as he sank in for another kiss amidst the fingers picking apart the buttons of his shirt, he thought perhaps he’d run his own experiment to test the upper limits of Sherlock's concentration.

 


 

Dear Mr. Holmes, the email began. My brother says you've got a knack for working out weird happenings, and have I got a strange one for you. Every morning when I wake up, I've shrunk! Not by a lot, mind you, but when I sit down for breakfast, I can tell I've gone down an eighth of an inch or so. This morning, my feet barely touched the floor! Isn't that the oddest thing you've ever heard? My brother suggested I try standing on my head for an hour every night before bed, in hopes the condition is reversed, but nothing's worked and—

Tapping the screen of his phone, Sherlock deleted the email in a huff. Idiots who fell for inane practical jokes barely rated as a one, and out of the four messages this morning, none showed any promise above a three. John's inbox was probably full to bursting with even more uninteresting pleas for help.

Lestrade it was, then.

Anything good? SH

Sherlock sent off the text and leaned back against his pillow to wait. His back had decided to develop a bit of tenderness from yesterday; bruised from the explosion, most likely, and of predictable future interest for John once he noticed Sherlock wincing. What mattered was that his injuries did not pose a barrier to working, and could therefore be classified as unimportant. Still, the softness of the bed was welcome in light of the discomfort.

He got a response from Lestrade in under three minutes, which indicated a long night of paperwork at Scotland Yard and an intravenous drip of coffee.

Not unless you want to help with clean-up.

Sherlock twirled his phone in frustration. Were all the murderers off on holiday? For God's sake, what did it take to get a good homicide in a population of 13 million?

His phone vibrated with another incoming text from Lestrade.

You’re both all right?

Sherlock glanced to his left. John remained soundly asleep beside him, breathing gently against Sherlock's hip. His hair was a ruffled mess of greyish-blond tufts (softer to touch than Sherlock had hypothesized) and his collarbones bore the fading marks of Sherlock's attentions (doubtlessly a mirrored fraction of what John had left behind in turn), but the part of John that drew his eye was the starburst scar peeking out from under the duvet. It taunted Sherlock with its new availability, as if mocking all the hours he'd spent staring at John's clothed shoulder and trying to deduce its attributes. Sherlock had a museum-quality copy of the elusive scar, as well as every other part of John, now stored permanently in his mind palace.

John is fine. I examined him quite thoroughly last night. SH

Okay. Text if you need anything.

Sherlock smirked. He was going to enjoy this new game of innuendo if it regularly went over Lestrade’s head. Sherlock considered snapping a photo of John in his besmirched state and sending it to the DI, but quickly decided against it. As much as he wished to boast to every living person that the most spectacular human in existence had chosen him of all people, Sherlock preferred to keep some things for himself. His first morning waking up with a naked John Watson in his bed definitely belonged in that category.

And John looked good in his bed. Of course, John looked good most anywhere, but the subtle golden tones of his skin and hair contrasted wonderfully with the deep purple-blues of the sheets. It was as if the sun had fallen asleep wrapped up in the night sky.

The sun. Giver of light, bringer of warmth, and the fixed point by which honey bees navigated the world.

Perhaps that was a better sign name for him than ‘soldier’. As much as Sherlock liked reminding himself of John’s former occupation, it was far too formal for what they had become. He needed something more personal for the times they were alone.

My Sun, Sherlock signed at him, trying out the name. John slept on and Sherlock did it again, smoothing out the transition. It felt right. It felt like John.

He wouldn’t tell John about his decision to give him a new sign name. That wasn’t how it worked. Names were given by those who cared about you and were only learned once used in daily practice. Sherlock wondered how long it would take John to understand he had it in his power to give one right back.

When he first moved in, Sherlock had worried that John would insist he make concessions. Despite being trained to speak almost from birth, it was a form of communication Sherlock had come to despise since the ridicule of youth. But instead of asking him to talk, John had voluntarily entered Sherlock’s world: full-bodied, without hesitation, utterly unfazed.

Sherlock never asked him to learn BSL. He was perfectly used to lip-reading, but at their second meeting John had surprised him with a few awkwardly-formed signs of greeting. That night John had saved his life (the first of many times since), the second time that day Sherlock had been caught off guard by the unassuming soldier. His budding trust in John did not disappoint; within a week John had several basic words down, and after that his vocabulary steadily improved. Learning a new language did not come naturally to John and he was rubbish at it for a long time, but every day he persistently signed to Sherlock, adjusted for Sherlock’s inevitable corrections, and tried again.

John treated him like a person, not a disability. John assisted him without making him feel pitied or patronized. In the course of their acquaintance, John had grown indispensable. Sherlock's inevitable fall was hard, fast, and absolute.

Careful fingertips grazed Sherlock’s forearm, seeking his attention. Sherlock looked over to find John awake and sleepily gazing up at him. Sherlock wriggled back down under the sheets to face him, the dearth of interesting cases suddenly not quite so unbearable.

The morning glow from the window lit the river-deep blue of his eyes and painted him in soft buttery golds. John watched him for a time, silent, his gaze traveling down Sherlock's throat and across his chest to examine the aftermath of their evening.

Perhaps he was recalling peeling away Sherlock's soiled pyjamas, or his own jeans being shucked to the floor, or the moment it became simply them, bared and present and so profoundly together. Every second lived on in Sherlock's mind. If he were to die today, it would be with the memory John's touch irreversibly seared into his skin.

When John found his eyes again, he beamed with a bright approval that filled Sherlock with uncontrollable sentiment. Dangerous, that, but John had time and again proven himself a worthy custodian for matters of the heart. If he could not trust in John Watson, he could not trust in anyone.

John reached out to gently brush back the loose curls over Sherlock's ear. Fingers smoothed admiringly down his throat before John pulled him closer, wrapping his arms around Sherlock.

John kissed him deeply, intent and controlled, in marked contrast to his previous wild enthusiasm, as if to reassure Sherlock it wasn't all a fluke of momentary indiscretion. Sherlock resisted the urge to chuckle into his mouth and instead kissed him right back, confident. Of course he knew; the truth of it hadn't left John's eyes since his first impassioned kiss.    

The kisses strayed down Sherlock's jaw, until John was nuzzling into his neck and slowly stroking the stray curls at the nape of his neck. John said something against him, a rumble in his chest accompanied by warm air on Sherlock's cheek. Apparently, there were more things John wanted said but not heard.

Being prevented from understanding John would typically drive Sherlock to frustration, but the evidence from last night gave him reasonable confidence in his deductive conclusions. John was saying the same things Sherlock would if he knew John couldn't hear him.

So Sherlock closed his eyes and let John's vibrations wash through him, a tidal ebb of word and breath. The specifics didn't matter. He could happily spend hours just feeling John speak to him, touch him, hold on as if he never wanted to let go.

He opened his eyes again when he felt fingers brushing back his hair and the press of lips to his forehead. John smiled at him, saying nothing and everything at the same time.

They needed no words. They never would.