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Cooperative Principle

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“John, that’s wonderful!” Ella smiles as John enters, and John grits his teeth in the politest way he can before realising she means his lack of limp.

 

“It’s been gone for a week,” he reports and sits.

 

“What changed?” she asks, leaning forward over her notepad. “That’s amazing progress.”

 

“I, um. I needed to stand up, and I did.” With the intent to shoot or bludgeon someone, if pressed. “Broke through that block.” Though hardly on his own.

 

Ella is quiet, perhaps waiting for him to continue, but they both know from experience that John won’t speak again without prompting. Sitting in her office without his cane to occupy his hands is a strange and restless experience.

 

“You don’t seem optimistic,” Ella understates.

 

The corner of John’s mouth twitches. “No, I don’t.”

 

“Why not?”

 

Giving up all pretence of meeting her gaze, John closes his eyes.

 

Ella waits.

 

“Why not, John?” she repeats.

 

John swallows. “I was, um. My friend. We were... fine. Before my leg was, we were fine. I didn’t, I didn’t think we were, but we were.”

 

“And now?”

 

John shakes his head.

 

“Why didn’t you think you were fine?”

 

“Because he’s a prat,” John answers. “An absolute prat and he’s one hell of a reputation on top of it.”

 

“What did he do?” Ella asks.

 

John looks away.

 

Ella waits.

 

“Nothing,” John says. “He didn’t... He only wanted to help. And to show off, but he’s always showing off.”

 

“Did he help with your leg?”

 

John nods.

 

“How?”

 

A strangled laugh catches in John’s throat as he glances down. Not at his own crotch, at his foot, but the distinction is little help. “He, um. He’d distract me from it. That’s not the important part.”

 

Ella folds her hands.

 

John clears his throat. “This is usually the part where you write ‘still has trust issues’.”

 

“Are you acknowledging them as a problem?” Ella asks.

 

Just barely, John nods.

 

Ella writes down a note and then turns the pad around so John doesn’t have to read it upside-down.

 

Acknowledges trust issues, it reads.

 

John’s lips quirk. “So. What now?”

 

“What do you want to do about your friend?” Ella asks.

 

John’s stomach twists and tightens. “I don’t think he’s willing to talk with me.”

 

Ella shakes her head. “What do you want to do? Before you decide what to do, you need to know that.”

 

“Apologise? I don’t know, I apologise a lot.”

 

“What for?”

 

“Losing my temper, mostly.”

 

“You’re very controlled,” Ella states.

 

John looks away. “Not enough, apparently.”

 

“John.” Ella leans forward. “It’s not a matter of ‘enough’. The tighter you try to hold onto your temper, the harder it will fight to escape. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

 

The same as not trusting someone not to leave, it seems. He considers this.

 

“I’m not sure what else to do,” John says at last.

 

Ella has a few suggestions. More than a few. John listens with a strange sense of having heard all of it before without actually listening. The idea of calmly expressing his anger still sounds like a contradiction.

 

“When you apologise, what do you do?” Ella asks.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“What do you say? What do you talk about?”

 

John frowns. “I... apologise. I say I’m sorry and what for and then we move on.”

 

“When you say what for, what do you say?”

 

His frown deepens. “‘I’m sorry I lost my temper,’ that sort of thing.”

 

“Do you explain why?”

 

“It’s usually a bit obvious why I’m sorry.”

 

Ella shakes her head. “Why you’ve lost your temper, John.”

 

John’s eyes flick down to the floor.

 

“Can you explain why you lose your temper?”

 

John nods.

 

“Can you explain why you lose it to that degree?”

 

John hesitates, then nods.

 

“Do you explain?”

 

It takes John a long moment to shake his head.

 

“Do you think that might be why your friend won’t accept any more apologies?”

 

“I never said he wouldn’t,” John corrects. “I mean, I haven’t... Honestly, I haven’t tried. It was pretty final.”

 

“When was this?”

 

John swallows, but his voice still comes out odd. “Yesterday.”

 

Ella nods, making a note. “Do you want to apologise?”

 

John wants to grovel. He hates the feeling. He nods.

 

“Do you think you’ll explain your temper this time?”

 

“It, um. It wasn’t about my temper this time. I don’t think he minded the bits with my temper that much. The way he interacts with things, it’s just so... detached. It’s like he’s operating by remote control sometimes. You could punch him in the face and he wouldn’t even feel it, he’d just stand there and criticise your technique. I’d storm off and the prat wouldn’t even care--”

 

John cuts himself off. He closes his eyes. “No, sorry. That’s unfair, that’s wrong. It looked like he didn’t.” Except even that’s not true, not when put through a Sherlock filter.

 

“He knew not to take it personally,” Ella suggests.

 

John nods.

 

“What did he take personally?”

 

“I was an arse,” John says.

 

Ella waits.

 

John looks away.

 

They both wait.

 

“The trust issues are a problem,” John says.

 

Ella makes a note, then turns her pad around. It now reads: Acknowledges trust issues as problematic.

 

A tiny laugh bursts out of John’s mouth, surprising them both.

 

“How were they a problem?” Ella asks.

 

“How did the trust issues make trusting someone a problem.”

 

Ella gives John a look which informs him his daily allotment of understated sarcasm has been depleted.

 

“Well, I didn’t trust him,” John says more seriously.

 

“Why do you think that is?”

 

“The first time we met, he, um.” He’d lied about reception in order to swap mobile numbers. He’d offered to split a cab when John said he was tired and backed off when John said no. “Bad example. Um.” He’d offered coffee before actually providing it for a week. He’d kept asking John out to dinner even after shagging in the lecture hall, immediately after.

 

He’d walked John to the tube, which should still border on stalkerish in hindsight, except for the fact that it doesn’t. The first time had been in the rain, John remembers, and John had changed his own plans by walking with him. If Sherlock had never done that, they would have never progressed beyond takeaway in John’s office. After all of this, Sherlock had run out on him over dinner, but he’d taken obvious pains to explain why. That’s more than John’s ever done over his temper.

 

All of the panic attacks. All of the fights. Sherlock’s always known—almost always known—when to back off and when to return. It’s appalling for John to realise he has no idea how to duplicate that feat.

 

“I don’t know,” John says at last. “No, I do know. The man comes with one hell of a warning label. A police sergeant he works with called him a sociopath. Not as an insult, as a personality disorder. She says he calls himself that, but I’ve never heard him mention it.”

 

Ella’s eyes widen only slightly, but she does sit up straighter. “Do you think she was exaggerating?”

 

John shakes his head. “I don’t know. But I don’t think he is one. I didn’t ask. Not exactly a question you can bring up without ending things one way or the other. But I’m sure he isn’t. He does... um. Form attachments. Sociopaths don’t do that.”

 

“No,” Ella confirms. “Does he learn from mistakes or correct his behaviour?”

 

John thinks of his last panic attack and nods. “Sometimes, he’s the most emotionally immature person I know, but then there was medical school. The exceptional ones, the gifted kids, they could act a bit like that too. Easily frustrated. And Sherlock, Christ. If he’s not constantly going, he’s tearing up the walls.” Or tearing off John’s trousers, either one.

 

Ella nods along.

 

John keeps talking. Not about his feelings or any of that, but about Sherlock. How Sherlock is and the things he does, the research and the experiments, the way it’s entirely plausible Sherlock could have helped him out of curiosity alone.

 

It feels good. To talk about Sherlock, that is. To be relentless in his use of the present tense. Determination hurts, but an ache is better than agony. He complains as much as he praises.

 

“You sound very close,” Ella says.

 

“We were,” John says.

 

“You sound surprised.”

 

“I, um.” He shifts in his chair. “I hadn’t realised, actually. I mean, I... Not in those terms.”

 

“Are you sure you don’t want to try apologising?”

 

John shakes his head. “I don’t want to be that bloke.”

 

“Who do you mean, John?”

 

“The bloke who mucks everything up forty-eight times and then begs for a second chance.” John had been an idiot like that up until uni, at which point another boy was an idiot like that toward him. At which point: never again. It’s incredibly annoying. More to the point, Sherlock would tear him to shreds. John would probably let him.

 

“I didn’t say asking for a second chance,” Ella corrects. “I said apologising.”

 

John frowns. “You mean as closure.”

 

Ella nods.

 

John doesn’t want closure. He didn’t know that three seconds ago, but he knows that now.

 

Their time runs out soon after, and John still doesn’t know what to do.

 

 

 

 

John braces himself for more of the same the following day, but out of everyone he knows, it’s his physical therapist of all people who doesn’t comment on his limp. Jacqueline runs him through the usual stretches, and it’s a full twenty minutes before John realises her assumption.

 

“I haven’t forgotten the limp,” John says. “It’s actually gone now.”

 

“Oh, brilliant!” Jacqueline exclaims immediately. “Sorry, I was trying not to remind you.”

 

“No, it’s fine now.”

 

She gives him a steady look. “I’ll be the judge of that.” She proceeds to put John through more paces than he’d thought he’d had. It’s not quite exhausting, but it is numbing, and that’s good.

 

“You’ll still need to mind your shoulder,” she reminds him. “That said, there are a few more positions you could try now.”

 

John frowns. “For stretching?”

 

“No,” Jacqueline says. “I mean positions.”

 

John says, “Oh.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“We’re not together anymore,” John says.

 

“Oh,” Jacqueline says. “Okay. Are you planning on having sex ever again with anyone?”

 

The corners of John’s mouth twitch.

 

“Some people don’t,” Jacqueline says. “I just thought I’d ask.”

 

“It wasn’t that bad of a break-up.” Just bad enough to let him know he shouldn’t try dating anyone in the foreseeable future. Trust issues first, smashing his own heart against a brick wall later.

 

“Some people honestly don’t,” Jacqueline repeats, and it’s impossible to miss the way her tone shifts toward a professional timbre.

 

“Sorry?” John asks, honestly confused.

 

 “My little sister’s grey ace.”

 

John’s confusion only grows. “Ace at what?”

 

“Asexual,” Jacqueline corrects.

 

“I didn’t know they were colour-coded.”

 

Jacqueline’s lips quirk. “Only sometimes. About that shoulder, though? Stop overextending. I’m serious, don’t do it.”

 

“If I break myself, I won’t blame you,” John promises.

 

“That’s all I ask.”

 

 

 

 

 

John goes home and researches a bit. Then he calls Bill and confuses his friend by asking to talk to Jessica.

 

“Hello?” Jessica asks down the line.

 

“Hi,” John says. “This is going to sound a bit odd.” He forces himself to say it. “I need some advice.”

 

“Oh, fun. What?”

 

“How do you cope with a soldier who has PTSD?” John asks.

 

“You don’t mean Bill, do you?”

 

“I wasn’t sure he had PTSD, honestly.”

 

Jessica pauses, a tense silence where John can picture her checking her surroundings. “Yeah,” she says. “You know, it was really good to have you over. I do think it helped.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” she emphatically agrees.

 

John twitches a smile at the surface of his desk.  “If you two ever want to come up to London for a day.”

 

“That’d be lovely.”

 

“I’d offer to let you stay the night, but I’ve barely enough space for me.”

 

“No, just a day is fine. The train’s quick.”

 

John nods. The silence stretches a bit. “So about handling a soldier.”

 

“Is there someone I should be giving this advice to?”

 

“No one who’d take it at the moment.”

 

“Well,” Jessica says, “when he’s willing to take it, I can pass it along.”

 

John nods again. “Thanks.”

 

“One thing?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I know recovery is about the person who needs to recover,” Jessica says. “That’s pretty obvious. But it’s a lot easier to watch when you don’t only have to watch, you know?”

 

“That... makes a lot of sense, actually.”

 

“Mm. Do you want me to put Bill back on?”

 

“Yeah. Thanks.”

 

“Not a problem.”

 

She passes off the phone, and John and Bill talk about nothing important. It’s the best part of John’s weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

Exams begin in full, a flood of lab reports drowns John’s desk, and John starts to think he lost Mike in the divorce. They have lunch together at the canteen, but it’s stilted in a way things never are with Mike. It’s been proven Mike wouldn’t know an awkward moment if it began breathing heavily in his ear.

 

“Something the matter?” John finally asks mid-week.

 

Mike gives him the look of a man trying very hard to remain neutral.

 

“Ah,” John says.

 

“Mm,” Mike says.

 

“I’m an arse.”

 

Mike looks very uncomfortable. “I’m not taking sides.”

 

“Mike, even I’m not on my side.”

 

Mike looks very uncomfortable and a bit sad.

 

“Sorry, how much do you know?” John asks.

 

“I’d really rather not be in the middle of this,” Mike says.

 

John bites down his questions. Instead, he asks, “D’you want to go to the pub after work?” Because John needs one hell of a pint, and after life with Harry, he knows not to go after it on his own.

 

Mike smiles and says, “Yes.”

 

 

 

 

 

Even keeping an eye out for him, John doesn’t see Sherlock at Bart’s that week. He asks Molly if Sherlock’s stopped by and finds Sherlock must be avoiding Bart’s entirely. Sherlock’s website doesn’t update either, not even to reply to questions in his forum.

 

He and Mike have two nights out before it’s obvious even to John that the social substitution is no kind of effective replacement. He keeps from whinging to Mike, but only just.

 

The third night out, Mike surprises him with an apology.

 

“He confided in me,” Mike says. “Before he would even go near you, this was. I’d never seen him so nervous.”

 

“Are you serious?” John looks up from his pint. “You’re serious.”

 

“I thought you’d notice,” Mike laments.

 

“It’s not your fault.”

 

“If I’d told you, though.”

 

John sighs. “Not sure how much of a difference it would have made.”

 

They feel a bit sorry for themselves.

 

“What do you mean, before he’d go near me?” John asks after a bit.

 

 “He’s not the most well-liked,” Mike says. “I think you’ve noticed. So he worried.”

 

If the table weren’t so sticky, John would bury his face in his arms. As it is, he closes his eyes and says, “I get the idea, thanks.”

 

 

 

 

 

When Sherlock finally updates his blog, the entry is a treatise on the ability of an initial bias to overpower all subsequent evidence. He presents the matter of diagnosis bias from two sides: a scenario of undue suspicion and a scenario of unearned trust.

 

It takes four tries, a break for tea or even for the night in between, but John reads all of it. He tries to post a comment, merely something to say the message has been received, but he’s been blocked from the site.

 

 

 

 

 

Two and a bit weeks after the break-up, his things finally arrive in the post. Sherlock has kept Goldfinger.

 

You hated that film, John types into his mobile.

 

He stares at the message for long moments before sending it. He watches his mobile all night for a message that doesn’t come.

 

 

 

 

“Hello,” John greets when the other man finally picks up his phone.

 

“Doctor Watson, if you believe speaking with me will return you to my brother’s good graces, you are sorely mistaken,” Mycroft Holmes warns.

 

“Yeah, I got that, thanks.” Alone in his flat, John stands up a bit straighter. “You told me I couldn’t trust my instincts about Sherlock. Hell, you told me to leave him. Why?”

 

“To prevent this exact scenario,” Mycroft drawls. “Goodbye--”

 

“No, hold on! You told me not to trust him.”

 

“I told you not to trust your instinct to mistrust him. Goodbye, Doctor Watson.” The line goes dead. Absolutely dead: when John immediately calls again, the number is no longer in service.

 

 

 

 

 

The exam period finishes and the grading period stretches on, unending. John puts away his cardigans as the weather warms, and something in him threatens to give way without quite knowing how to. It’s nearly time for his next session with Ella, and the idea of closure won’t leave him be.

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs Hudson is too kind a woman to shut the door in John’s face, but the urge to do so is clear in her eyes. “No,” she says. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to leave.”

 

“I’m here to apologise,” John says. “Please.”

 

“I don’t think he wants an apology, dear. Maybe not for a long time.”

 

“Could you ask?” John presses his fisted hands down deeper into his pockets. He can hear Sherlock playing the violin above. “Please.”

 

Mrs Hudson looks at him, then looks back toward the stairs. “All right,” she says. “Stay here.”

 

John waits at the street door. The customers at Speedy’s watch him, and it’s all a bit uncomfortable. The violin music stops. It resumes. Mrs Hudson returns.

 

“You can go up,” she says, but she doesn’t look terribly certain.

 

“Thank you.”

 

Mrs Hudson stays behind as John climbs the stairs, something to be grateful for.

 

Upstairs, the kitchen is more of a disaster zone than ever, but that’s the only significant change. More experiments to fill Sherlock’s time. Distractions? Part of a case? The simple fact of his own ignorance makes John ache.

 

Sherlock is in the sitting room, because that’s where Sherlock plays his violin. He likes the windows. The instant John sees him, Sherlock stops playing. With Sherlock facing away, his back a forbidding line, the timing is an unlikely and dramatic feat: perfectly Sherlock.

 

It’s shirtsleeves today, off-white. The fabric is still too tight on a too-thin torso. It can’t be less so than the last time John saw him, but John realises he’s worried.

 

Not looking back at John, Sherlock sets the instrument on his armchair in an obvious message: Sherlock will not be sitting. John should not sit either.

 

“What?” Sherlock snaps.

 

“I’m sorry,” John says.

 

“Fine. Get out.”

 

“Can I have two minutes? Please.”

 

Sherlock sighs. John could ask to confirm this as permission, but he can already hear the clock ticking.

 

“Nothing good happens to me,” John says. “I spent all the time between my tours waiting to go back, and when I got there, I saw people die in ways I wasn’t ready for, because you can’t ever be ready for that. And then I was shot. I’ll never operate again, and I thought I’d never walk again. Not normally.

 

“I’m not, I’m not just complaining. It’s important you understand: nothing good happens to me.

 

“If something good happens, I don’t...” He fists his hands, addressing the floor. “It doesn’t make sense. It’s like when you’re little, and the good people get happy endings and the bad ones get what they deserve. If you’re useless, why the hell would you expect something good?

 

“It made more sense. It’s not that I thought—I didn’t think you were heartless. You’re not malicious. I’ve never thought that. But I’m a crap emotional investment, and I thought—I mean, you notice everything. So. I thought. It had to be something else. Because I honestly don’t know what you see—sorry, what you saw in me.

 

“And I’m not, I’m really not asking you back. I could, I want to, I could do a spot of begging even, but nothing’s fixed. So that would be shit. I’ve actually thought it out this time, and it would be. I’d be waiting for something else to go wrong. That’s a crap way to live, and I don’t want to do that to you. So this is just that, me apologizing and trying really hard not to be an arse.

 

“One more thing. Um. If you ever, you know. If you need back-up, I’m still your man. And if you just want me to fuck off, I’ll do that too,” John promises.

 

Sherlock still stands with his back turned, still faces the window. He hasn’t moved beyond to tilt his head slightly. His hands are fisted, shoulders tense.

 

“Right,” John says. “I’ll fuck off now.”

 

He doesn’t wait for Sherlock to say anything, simply turns and leaves. The music resumes where it left off, the sound of it neither sad nor angry, merely forceful.

 

Unapologetically waiting in the foyer, Mrs Hudson hesitates but ultimately hugs him.

 

John hugs her back for all he’s worth, and then they say goodbye.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s research and grading and enough paperwork to clog a black hole. There’s a minor Harry emergency that amounts to nothing, thank God. There are more nights out with Mike Stamford and the realisation that Molly is drooping a bit. There’s the approaching return of the new mother John was brought in to replace. There’s the offer to stay on in a reduced role. John thinks about it and has no reason not to accept.

 

It’s a long month.

 

Just when John thinks it can’t get any longer, he’s startled awake at nearly four in the morning by his mobile ringing. He’s on his feet before he registers moving, his mobile against one shoulder as he pulls yesterday’s trousers over his boxers. “Harry, please tell me you’re not in a car this time.”

 

“I am neither Harry nor in a car.”

 

John’s hands freeze on his fly. “Um, no. Hi.” He rushes to zip himself up the rest of the way.

 

“I see your alcoholic brother is taking poorly to his divorce from Clara. Curious, as he initiated it.”

 

“How the fuck.”

 

Sherlock doesn’t make a sound, but his smug flicker of a grin is clear down the line.

 

“You’re wrong on that one, actually. Harry’s butch, but she’s not a man.”

 

The sense of smugness lessens, and John immediately wants it back.

 

“Sorry, what’s going on?” John asks.

 

“Serial arsonist. I know which building she’s after next, but there are two entry points excellent for fire-setting.”

 

“Right,” John says. He grabs his keys and his coat, not actually sure when he put on his shoes. “What’s the address?”

 

A few hours later, sitting together on the back of an ambulance as the sun rises and the EMTs treat them for smoke inhalation, their knees touch. Sherlock’s eyes are largely blue, and he looks at once incredibly annoyed and wholly relieved at the oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. He goes a bit cross-eyed, glaring at it, and John starts to giggle under his own. The EMTs attempt to separate them and ultimately decide the fuss isn’t worth it. Their knees stay pressed throughout.

 

The DI who shows up isn’t Lestrade, but she is going grey and has a very similar way of riding out the storm that is Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock monologues at her, stopping only to inhale from the oxygen mask. He doesn’t need to nearly as often as he should.

 

John has to give his statement as well, and by the time DI Minaj lets them go, it’s already mid-morning.

 

“Breakfast?” John asks.

 

Sherlock stands with his hands in his coat pockets. He still smells of smoke and petrol. His hair is a bit greasy, and there’s a curving red mark on his face from the oxygen mask.  “Not hungry.”

 

John’s expression doesn’t change. It might have if he were surprised. “Okay,” he says. “See you.”

 

Sherlock doesn’t contradict, and John walks away grinning.

 

 

 

 

 

He passes Molly in the hall, not quite able to make eye contact due to the sheer number of books she’s carrying. That she sees him at all is surprising.

 

“Oh, John!” she exclaims once she’s passed him. Somehow, she manages to whirl around without dropping anything. “Were you looking for Sherlock?”

 

He hasn’t asked her that in months. “Sorry?”

 

“It’s just, he’s dropped by again.”

 

That explains the books. “Oh,” John says. “Are you okay with those?”

 

“It’s fine,” she says brightly. “I know it looks ridiculous, but I like helping. Most of the people I talk to are dead, so. It’s nice to help.”

 

“Do you want to go out for drinks?” The words pop out. Where from, John’s not sure. He thinks there might be some new part of him dedicated to sensing extreme loneliness.

 

Molly blinks over the book pile. “Uh.”

 

“Mike and I—Mike Stamford—we go to the pub most Thursdays. Do you, um?”

 

“Oh! Oh, um. Yes!” She turns a bit red around the edges. “Oh, that came out louder than I meant.”

 

“Could barely hear you around the books.”

 

Molly laughs a little. “Sorry, I need to—these are heavy.”

 

“Right. See you.”

 

“Bye!”

 

 

 

 

 

His research is going well, and he’s teaching a pair of summer modules. Pub night expands, mostly due to Molly. They switch to Saturdays for the pub quiz, and three months after the first proposed meeting, John finally meets Mike’s wife. Madhuri and Molly hit it off immediately, if in a vaguely disconcerting how-are-you-finishing-her-sentences kind of way. Mike thinks it’s the most endearing thing he’s ever seen, and John’s not about to judge.

 

One pub night in June, his mobile chimes with a text, and he excuses himself. He doesn’t have too far to go before he sees Sherlock through a restaurant window and ducks inside.

 

“What are we waiting for?” John asks, taking the inward facing seat.

 

“I am waiting for a jewel thief. You are waiting until I no longer need a second person to make me less conspicuous.”

 

“Okay,” John says, glad to have only finished his first pint. He has dinner. Sherlock does not.

 

“Harry must be improving,” Sherlock says apropos of nothing.

 

“She is, yeah.” John pushes the remains of his rice around with his fork. “Right, how did you know? Not just improving, all of it. I never mentioned Harry.”

 

“Your phone,” Sherlock says. Eyes fixed out the window, Sherlock explains what he’s known since the first day he entered John’s office and borrowed John’s phone. It’s remarkable, both brilliant and sobering. Sherlock’s mind and memory, they’re incredible, and if Sherlock hasn’t forgotten the minutiae of John’s phone in half a year, John knows his own behaviour won’t ever be overlooked.

 

“Stop that,” Sherlock tells him abruptly. “Your guilt is distracting.”

 

“Right, sorry.”

 

Sherlock’s focus immediately returns to the shop across the street. Stationary and silent, he can’t be mistaken for relaxed, but neither does he appear uncomfortable. He’s a cat about to pounce, and John is just the furniture concealing him from the mouse.

 

They stay long enough, just sitting, not talking, that the waitress brings the bill and occasionally comes round to pointedly ask if they need anything. Sherlock never seems to notice. Finally, Sherlock’s eyes widen.

 

“Now?” John asks in an unnecessary whisper.

 

Eyes still locked behind John, Sherlock nods slightly. They hurriedly stand, grabbing their coats, and John is glad to have paid half an hour ago. Sherlock drags him across the street, the night late enough that traffic is scarce. Sherlock drags him a bit farther still down an alley, and that’s how John gets into a fistfight with a man armed with a lockpick set.

 

This time, John sits on the back of the ambulance alone while Sherlock talks to the DI. He doesn’t need stitches, and it’s not a concussion.

 

“That was fun,” John says when Sherlock sits down beside him.

 

Sherlock’s eyes go to his forehead. “You need a new bandage already.”

 

“Yeah, I know.”

 

Sherlock immediately begins to make a fuss, but as he aims it at other people, John and the painkillers don’t mind. John holds steady for the change of bandage, and then drops the side of his head onto Sherlock’s shoulder. Bony, but the perfect height. Which it shouldn’t be, actually. It should be a bit too high, it’s usually a bit too high or he would have done this before.

 

“You’re slouching,” John realises without lifting his head.

 

“I’m tired,” Sherlock says.

 

“Oh.”

 

“Are you certain there’s no concussion?”

 

“Mm,” John hums. Sherlock’s coat isn’t exactly soft beneath his cheek, but it doesn’t scratch either. The night air is warm, nearly too warm for their coats, and John likes to remember that Sherlock is only wearing a shirt beneath, no jacket. The metal of the ambulance is hard, but the discomfort isn’t enough to bring John to move. “This is nice,” he murmurs.

 

Sherlock scoffs. The sound is oddly gentle, as if restrained to keep from dislodging John.

 

“We’re friends again,” John decides.

 

“Are we now.”

 

“You would have shoved me off, otherwise.”

 

Sherlock audibly grins. “Perhaps.”

 

“You would’ve shoved me onto the pavement,” John tells Sherlock’s shoulder.

 

Sherlock says nothing.

 

Confused, John lifts his head.

 

Lips twisted to keep down a smile, Sherlock promptly shoves him.

 

Staggering onto the pavement, John laughs until it hurts, and then Sherlock joins in.

 

 

 

 

 

Sherlock begins to call him when the cases come in. Not always to summon him, but always to speak. He rants and rambles. Deductions bounce, prompting theories to crawl, then stumble, then fly. Sometimes, John doesn’t say a word the entire time, but he never notices until afterward.

 

Once, John is vaguely in the area when Sherlock calls and spends ten minutes of humming agreement walking to Baker Street. He stops in front of Speedy’s, looking up. From the window above, Sherlock effortlessly establishes eye contact, gesturing as he speaks without interruption or surprise. It makes John think of Romeo and Juliet gone film noir.

 

Sherlock breaks off his monologue to demand, “What?

 

“Sorry?”

 

“You giggled.”

 

“It’s nothing,” John says. “Can I come up?”

 

“Obviously. What are you doing down there?”

 

“Waiting for someone to unlock the door?”

 

Even through a window and a storey removed, Sherlock’s disdain is clearly visible. “I did that five minutes ago.”

 

John’s inside without another thought, upstairs before Sherlock’s finished his next sentence. They hang up in unison and Sherlock keeps right on talking.

 

 

 

 

 

“Dinner?” Sherlock asks one night in August.

 

“Starving.”

 

 

 

 

 

When John begins to fall asleep in the middle of an all-night cipher cracking session, Sherlock checks his watch and says, “You haven’t slept in over thirty hours.”

 

“Noticed that, thanks.”

 

“Sleep.”

 

“I’m fine.”

 

“Your yawns are infectious. Sleep.”

 

John straightens up, cracking his back as he does so. “Fine.”

 

“No, not the sofa,” Sherlock interrupts before John is halfway there. “Don’t be distracting. Use the bed.”

 

John stares at him, at the hunched line of him bent over the table, at the hairs forever curling at his nape. “What, really?”

 

Without looking at John, Sherlock points to the ceiling with his pen. “Upstairs.”

 

John blinks but goes upstairs. The storage room now stores very little, and the bed is made up. The sleepless world is full of thick air and blurring images, so John takes care as he looks. Inside the closet, there is nothing at all. In the dresser, there is a single pair of socks that John recognises as his own. He rubs at his eyes, dry and burning from the hour. He goes to the desk and opens the second drawer. Sean Connery looks out at the ceiling from the DVD case inside.

 

John turns around and gets as far as the doorway before stopping. No distractions during a case. He closes the door, shucks his clothes down to his pants, and climbs into bed. The pillow still smells of Sherlock. John aches his way to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

In the morning, there is a manual toothbrush in the loo beside Sherlock’s electric one.  It appears to be brand new.

 

“Is this safe to use?” John calls.

 

“Don’t be a moron!”

 

“You do realise that sounds like a ‘no’ from you, right?”

 

Sherlock doesn’t respond, likely to make John writhe, so John errs on the side of caution and uses his finger instead.

 

 

 

 

 

Bored. Bring DVDs. SH

 

John brings all of them.

 

 

 

 

 

The A/C died again, John types into his phone. That’s what comes of buying a cheap, third-hand window unit. Can I spend the night at yours?

 

Move in. SH

 

John turns up with his overnight bag. “I don’t know if I can,” John tells him honestly, walking into the sitting room.

 

“You mean you want to have sex,” Sherlock presumes. Standing with shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows, it’s a safe assumption. His collarbones glisten with sweat between the soft-seeming lines of his shirt. “We can be friends, but we can’t be flatmates, because then you’d want to shag me more than you already do.”

 

“Do you want to have sex?” John asks.

 

“I’m sweating enough already, thank you.”

 

“I mean ever,” John says, and, Christ, why does he feel like he’s shaking?

 

Sherlock’s eyes drift from John’s face to focus in the middle distance. He’s too pensive for a yes, considers it too long for a no.

 

John waits, one hand fisted, the other clenched tight around the strap of his bag.

 

“I haven’t been physically attracted to you for the past three months,” Sherlock informs him. “It was an abrupt change, and I have no conscious control over it.”

 

“Are you sure?” John asks. Immediately, even before Sherlock’s eyebrows shoot up, John feels like a complete arse. “No, sorry, I’m not—I know you’d know.”

 

“I can check,” Sherlock says, stepping forward. He looms, abruptly close, and John’s hands reach for his hips as naturally as they would for the railing on the stairs. Sherlock’s hands are much slower to rise, and they settle on John’s shoulders as if expecting foreign terrain. He looks so stricken, so unsure, that John begins to say no, to tell him not to force this, but Sherlock’s mouth presses his shut. Sherlock’s lips are warm, and John immediately loses all power of self-sacrifice.

 

The kiss is as soft as Sherlock’s breath on his face. The hands on John’s shoulders are steady. John’s arms slip around his waist, encircle him, and Sherlock permits himself to be held. He is receptive, but not welcoming.

 

John is the one to ease back. Sherlock frowns and tugs him close, arms tight around John’s shoulders until John closes his eyes with a sigh. It’s much too hot for this, but when Sherlock tucks his chin against the top of John’s head, neither of them complains at the way hair sticks to damp skin.

 

“This still feels right,” Sherlock reports, observational tone entirely at odds with the sentimental position. The movement of his jaw scrapes John’s hair against his own forehead. “We can do this.”

 

“You want me to move in and cuddle you.”

 

“What’s wrong with that?”

 

“Well, the urge to hump your leg is a bit awkward.”

Sherlock laughs, but John’s not joking. He can’t seem to let go, either. He presses his face into the sweet curve of Sherlock’s neck and simply wants. He wants to have had this from the start, the certainty that is Sherlock Holmes in his life, if not in his bed.

 

“Will you?” Sherlock asks. “Move in.”

 

“Why do you want me to? No—not like that,” John hurries to say the instant Sherlock tenses. “I’m not... I’m not doubting. I’m just... gathering data.”

 

Sherlock’s jaw presses hard against the side of his head. “It annoys me when you leave,” he says at last.

 

“I think it might be a bit more annoying to have me sitting around the flat trying not to jump you,” John confesses. He’s not entirely sure Ella would be proud of his communication skills, but he’s getting better.

 

“No, I still like that,” Sherlock replies.

 

“You just don’t want me to act on it.”

 

Again, a pause for consideration. “I’d prefer you didn’t.”

 

“Ever?”

 

Sherlock groans and pushes him back. His hands are tight on John’s upper arms, his eyes piercing John’s face. “John, my libido is incredibly antisocial. I can’t make it come out to play if it doesn’t want to.”

 

John nods, managing eye contact and little more. His ego lies gasping on the floor, punched in the solar plexus.

 

“If that’s not enough,” Sherlock begins.

 

“It’s enough,” John promises. “This is about moving in, not dating, so. So I’ll move in.”

 

“Do you want to?”

 

“Yes. It’s a great location, and my landlord right now is shit.”

 

Sherlock’s eyes crinkle, and John’s pulse immediately leaps. “At the end of the month, then?” Sherlock suggests, biting his lip. He’s never looked so hopeful, not even for sex.

 

“Yeah,” John says, and it’s settled. They spend the night doing nothing in particular, and when John returns to his flat two afternoons later, his overnight bag is empty.

 

 

 

 

 

September comes round, and Mike is thrilled and confused at the news. John rather feels the same way. Sherlock, on the other hand, goes through cycles of demanding all of John’s attention and forgetting he exists. Back to normal, then.

 

Not entirely normal, not when John can’t help feeling as if he’s about to burst out from beneath his own skin. Never entirely normal, not when Sherlock’s experiments wind up in the fridge with a distinct lack of proper containment.

 

John loses his temper over that one, shouts long and hard, and Sherlock—the absolute bloody tosser—Sherlock starts laughing.

 

“What?” John demands. “What the hell is so funny?”

 

“You’re not going to back down, are you?” Sherlock asks, clearly rhetorical.

 

“Not over the fridge, Sherlock. That’s where the bloody food goes. Metaphorically bloody food, not, not this!” He jabs his finger at the mess, nowhere close to touching it. “Some of us actually eat in this flat.”

 

Sherlock only grins wider. His eyes scan John’s face, up and down, then dart to John’s hands and back to his mouth.

 

What?”

 

“You’re only angry.”

 

“No, I’m furious.”

 

“Yes, but you’re not worried,” Sherlock states.

 

“You’re not using proper containment, of course I’m worried.”

 

 “You’re not, actually. You’re yelling with no fear of consequence.”

 

“Because the only fucking consequence is a clean fridge,” John snaps.

 

Sherlock beams at him.

 

John crosses his arms, plants his feet, and lifts his chin.

 

Sherlock escalates from pleased to thrilled. It changes his face the way smiling always changes his face, but more so. He’s younger and brighter, absolutely shining, and it simply makes John all the more stubborn.  

 

“Out with it,” John says.

 

“I’m not sure,” Sherlock begins, more excited than hesitant, “but I think I want to kiss you.”

 

John stares at him.

 

Sherlock inches closer.

 

“Not until you’ve cleaned the fridge,” John says flatly. “We have a literally bloody fridge, Sherlock. That’s not good.”

 

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “Fine.”

 

John relocates to the sitting room before Sherlock can drag him into helping. That means sitting on the sofa, entirely out of sight of the kitchen, and never looking up from his book regardless of the sounds Sherlock makes. Sooner than expected, Sherlock emerges with bin bags, sulks down the stairs, and returns.

 

That done, Sherlock invades the sofa with a flop, sprawling into John’s lap and forcing his head under John’s arms like a nosy dog. John fluffs his hair to cement the comparison, and Sherlock glares up at him. John keeps his eyes steadfastly on his book.

 

“You’re not actually reading anymore,” Sherlock announces. “Your eyes are scanning, but in the same spots.” A pause, a smug one. “You’re letting me chase you. Are you? Are you letting me--”

 

Sherlock’s mobile rings.

 

The transition of phone from pocket to ear is nigh instantaneous, even without lifting his head from John’s lap. “Sherlock Holmes.”

 

John keeps his hand on Sherlock’s head, inwardly cursing. Maybe not so inwardly, the way Sherlock pets his arm.

 

“Who’s on forensics?” Sherlock asks. He promptly makes a face. “Anderson won’t work with me.” He looks up at John, eyes wide and blue and yellow and somehow not at all green. “Could I bring my own?”

 

There’s a slight pause down the line.

 

“If I had my own medical expert,” Sherlock says. His hand settles on John’s arm, proprietary. His eyes never leave John’s. “If I had one, could I bring him?”

 

Some sort of response.

 

“Brilliant,” Sherlock replies. “I’ll meet you there.”

 

He hangs up. Otherwise, he remains stationary. There’s no question in his eyes. It’s not even an assumption. Assumptions aren’t so stable, so unthinking.

 

“Where are we going?” John asks. “And don’t say ‘crime scene’.”

 

“Serial killer,” Sherlock replies, oddly sedate in John’s lap. Blissful, John wants to say. Would love to say.

 

“Right,” John says. He taps Sherlock on the forehead with his book. “Let me find my shoes.”

 

Sherlock sits up and immediately crowds back in. “Under your armchair,” he says, hands on John’s shoulders.

 

“Oh,” John says. He licks his lips, watching Sherlock watch him. “Thanks.”

 

Sherlock kisses him just the once, just for a moment before transforming into a flurry of motion, more movement than man. He’s away and down the stairs before John can do more than stand.

 

John grins, tugs on his shoes, and follows.