Fandom: BBC Sherlock
Word count: 8050
A/N: Written for pennswoods in the December 2012 round of holmestice. She expressed an interest in magic realism, outsider POVs and lots of Johnlock. This is what I ended up with. First attempt at magic realism, hey! Originally posted here.
Summary: In which souls are deceptively easy to see and no one can quite figure out what the deal is with Sherlock and John. Magic realism.
Thirty two hours after they met, John Watson shot a man to save Sherlock Holmes' life.
Three hours after that, John Watson let Sherlock Holmes see his soul.
"Take them off," Sherlock said about halfway through dinner, in a tone of voice that expected to be obeyed. From what John could tell, demanding appeared to be Sherlock's default setting.
John paused with a piece of orange chicken halfway to his mouth. "What?"
Sherlock waved a hand at John's face. "Your reflectives. Take them off."
John blinked and his free hand came up automatically to push the wire rims further up his nose. "Why?"
Sherlock made a derisive sound low in his throat that John had most recently heard him use against Anderson. John couldn't help but feel a little insulted by the comparison. "I sincerely hope that you're being purposefully obtuse. So I can observe your soul, obviously."
"Actually, I was giving you the benefit of the doubt and not automatically assuming that you were being an insensitive prat." John thought about that. "Should have known better, really."
"Your sarcasm underwhelms me." Sherlock made an impatient gesture. "Well?"
"Did it ever occur to you that I wouldn't wear reflectives if I wanted you and the whole world looking at my soul?"
"Please," Sherlock scoffed. "You wear reflectives because it's mandatory procedure for both medical professionals and soldiers and you've grown accustomed to them. You also take comfort in the way they distance you from a world you feel displaced in. Which you would know if your therapist wasn't a blithering idiot," he added, as though it was John's fault.
John felt vaguely like he'd been punched in the chest. "Ta for the psychoanalysis," he managed after a moment. He pulled together a passable deadpan to add, "I do appreciate your efforts to make a good first impression."
"Oh yes, because building false expectations is such a sensible way to begin a relationship."
John arched an eyebrow. "Relationship? What happened to being married to your work?"
Sherlock sighed heavily. "You're arguing semantics to avoid the subject at hand. Are you going to take them off, or not?"
The silliest part, John thought, was that it was actually a perfectly reasonable request. Rude, certainly, but soul-gazing was a regular, ordinary fact of life, not some kind of social taboo. How could it be, when it was all but impossible to get through the day without making eye contact with at least one other person? A good two thirds of the population didn't bother wearing reflective lenses at all and most of those who did wore them for work, not casual interaction. If it hadn't been for John's own reflectives, he'd have seen Sherlock's soul as soon as he'd offered to let the man use his mobile while they were at Bart's.
Honestly, John couldn't decide whether he was more surprised that Sherlock had waited so long to ask or that he'd asked at all. For a man like Sherlock, who'd dissected John's entire life in a handful of heartbeats, a look into someone's eyes would have to be either the ultimate test of his skills or tantamount to cheating.
Sherlock was watching him intently, his gaze heavy even without the weight of his soul behind it. And, if John was honest with himself - which he tried to avoid, these days - he could admit that he'd been waiting for an excuse to get a proper look at Sherlock's eyes almost since 'Afghanistan or Iraq?'. It was impossible to know what form a person's soul would take, or even if it would ever appear the same way twice, but John knew that a man that brilliant would have an utterly singular soul.
At the same time, however, he shuddered to think how much Sherlock would be able to learn from even the briefest connection. He also had the distinct impression that surrendering to Sherlock's whims was something he was going to be doing far too much of in the future and he wasn't keen on setting that precedent so early on.
So he picked up his chopsticks again - fingers steady, if a little clumsy with the bloody awkward things - and gave Sherlock a bland look. "No," he said, and returned his attention deliberately to his plate. "You were right about the food here," he added nonchalantly. "It's excellent. I never would have looked twice at this place if you hadn't pointed it out."
"John," Sherlock said, almost a growl, and John had to bite back a grin at the furious sulk brewing on Sherlock's face. "Stop being difficult."
John ate a few more mouthfuls, just because he could, then put down his chopsticks. "Fine, fine," he said and reached up to remove his reflectives. There was the momentary head rush as his eyes adjusted to the change and he rubbed at them to ease the lingering strain.
Sherlock's chair creaked as he leaned forward, waiting.
John took a quick breath and opened his eyes, ready for the dizzying rush of looking directly into the millions of tiny details that made a person's soul uniquely theirs.
Instead, John found himself staring into a piercing blue so pale it was almost gray, ringed with cerulean and completely, utterly empty.
Sherlock's soul was missing.
Absolute shock rocketed through John for a heart stopping moment, until logic reasserted itself and told him that, of course Sherlock's soul wasn't missing. The soul was the very core of a person's being; it couldn't just not be there. Besides, everybody hid parts of themselves, deliberately or otherwise. It was sheer self-preservation. John couldn't see Sherlock's soul because Sherlock didn't want him to.
Still, John had never even heard of someone who could suppress everything. He couldn't help the jarring sense of wrongness that rattled through him at the sight of all that seamless blue and he looked harder, trying to find even the faintest hint of what Sherlock's soul looked/smelled/felt/tasted/sounded like.
"Stop that," Sherlock said irritably.
John gave a guilty little jerk. "Sorry, I didn't-"
"Not that," Sherlock said, waving a dismissive hand. "Yours is by far and away not the worst reaction I've observed. Stop hiding. It's annoying and pointless."
"You are," Sherlock said, steamrolling right over John's attempted protest.
John crossed his arms over his chest. "You're one to talk. Besides, I'd have thought you'd appreciate the challenge."
"Oh, I'd hardly call it a challenge, John. A tedious diversion, at best."
"Well, then, I suppose I'll have to settle for being tedious then, shall I?" John sat deliberately back, cutting off the soul-gaze.
Sherlock let him do it without protest, though his eyes never left John's face. John felt like he was being catalogued.
"I'll find out," Sherlock said.
John shrugged. "I know."
Finally, when it became clear that Sherlock wasn't going to say any more without prompting, John nodded at Sherlock's mostly-full plate. "You really should eat more than that," he said. "You've got to be at least a stone underweight."
"It doesn't bother you," Sherlock said.
"On the contrary," John said. "I haven't gone to all the trouble of finding a mad flatmate just to have him die of malnutrition on me."
Sherlock's mouth curled with a disgruntled little frown. "That's not what I meant and you know it."
"Sherlock, I told you. It's all fine." John flashed Sherlock his 'trust me, I'm a doctor' smile and slid his reflectives back on.
Sherlock observed John for a moment longer, then started monologuing about a case involving murderous cats, of all things. John left him to it, more than happy to eat the rest of his dinner and throw in occasional exclamation of amazement.
It was all so incredibly mad and John couldn't help but wonder if he was going round the twist himself because, bugger him, but he thought this was actually going to work out.
The first time Lestrade saw John's eyes, he couldn't help but be surprised at how ordinary the man's soul was.
"Are they always like that?" John asked, about a week after the debacle with the murderous cabbie. He inclined his chin towards where Sherlock and Anderson were busy exchanging vitriol across the body of a dead woman lying on the rumpled hotel bed. Sherlock's criticism revolved around Anderson's supposed inability to find his way out of a paper bag with a torch in hand, while Anderson was accusing Sherlock of being a soulless psychopath. Business as usual for Scotland Yard.
"I'm afraid so," Lestrade said. He sighed. "You learn to tune it out after a while."
The edge of John's frown flashed in the corner of Lestrade's eye.
"I'm not saying that Sherlock's not being a right pillock right now," John said. "But I can't believe you let Anderson get away with talking about Sherlock's eyes like that. Don't you have sensitivity seminars to prevent behaviour like that?"
Lestrade shrugged. "Unless Sherlock files a complaint, there's not a lot I can do besides tell them off for acting like children. And I think Sherlock actually considers it a compliment."
"Sounds like him." John glanced at Lestrade with a faint grin and their eyes locked. Held.
John's soul was made of sand. It stretched out wide and deep and carried a baking heat hot enough to bring a sweat to Lestrade's brow. The tawny gleam of it reminded Lestrade of John's hair - or maybe the bland clothing he tended to favour - and it was just the sort of calming, unremarkable sort of colour that a self-effacing man like John could have been expected to have.
"John!" Sherlock called then, and John looked over, breaking the contact. "Come here!"
"I'll go see what His Majesty wants, shall I?" John said dryly. "Be right back."
Lestrade nodded and watched him go absently, preoccupied with parsing what he'd just seen in John's eyes.
Now, Lestrade wasn't the type to judge a soul by its surface. He knew better than most just how much a person could hide under a guileless exterior and, if he'd assessed his witnesses and suspects based on what a quick look in their eyes exposed, he'd be as useless at his job as Sherlock always accused him of being. There was absolutely no way, he knew, that he'd seen all there was to see inside John Watson.
So, as the weeks went on and John became a more or less permanent fixture at Sherlock's side, Lestrade took the time to see what else he could find in the man's soul. The results were both more and less than what he'd been expecting.
There was a greater depth to John than his unassuming surface suggested, of course. Sand was mutable: it changed with the wind and the turn of the Earth; it could be a lazy day at the beach or a ruthless sandstorm in the desert. When Lestrade looked carefully, he could see the places where John's soul shifted and coiled, neatly concealing and revealing the different parts of him as needed: the doctor, the soldier, the peacemaker, the friend.
But even for all that, John's soul wasn't anywhere close to the most complex ones that Lestrade had encountered. Which made Lestrade wonder what about him Sherlock found so interesting.
There was no denying that John's apparent banality could be useful. Sherlock took an active delight in playing up his oddities; he went out of his way to unnerve people, both to give himself a better look at their souls while they were off balance and because he had a morbid sense of humour. But sand could be gentle just as easily as it could be merciless and John often ended up being the balm that soothed the inevitable abrasions left by Sherlock's personality. Which saved Sherlock from getting punched in the face on an impressively regular basis.
The dichotomy of a doctor who was also a soldier likely appealed to Sherlock as well, but Lestrade didn't think that that was a sufficient reason to explain why Sherlock, who took pride in being as anomalous as humanly possible, hadn't got bored of John yet.
Then came a day when Sherlock managed to get his fool self half-drowned in the Thames while chasing a suspect - without police backup, as usual, the prat - and Lestrade arrived on the scene in time to see a soaking wet John performing CPR on an unconscious and equally soaking wet Sherlock.
John was too much a doctor to waste his breath telling Sherlock to 'wake up, you massive tit' in between breaths, but Lestrade could hear the sentiment echoing loud and clear in every movement. He stayed steady and focused until Sherlock finally sucked in a ragged gasp, rocking weakly onto his side to expel the water from his lungs. The medical team immediately swarmed in and only then did John sit back on his heels, his chest heaving and his attention fixed on Sherlock like all his hopes and dreams were wrapped up in that brilliant, incredibly infuriating package.
Lestrade found John a blanket and then sat with him while the paramedics carted Sherlock off to the ambulance.
"He's lucky to have you, you know," Lestrade said eventually.
John made a sound that was almost a chuckle and brushed his damp hair off his face. "He's not the only one who's lucky, God help me."
One of Lestrade's men chose that moment to hail him and Lestrade shifted to stand just as John turned to look over at the ambulance. Their eyes grazed past each other and Lestrade rocked back on his heels, stunned silent by the realization of just how badly he'd underestimated John Watson.
John's soul was still sand, but this time Lestrade could feel adrenaline and fear running through his veins beneath the sweltering heat. He could hear the rattling of gunfire as it melted into a lion's roar and see the arcing lick of fire burning around the edges of tired blue. There was blood in his mouth and the sand underfoot was violently slick. It was terrifying. It was amazing.
Lestrade felt wonderfully, desperately alive.
Then, between one moment and the next, John blinked and everything sank quietly back into the sand again. The shift was seamless and smooth, speaking of long years of practice, but the mild expression on John's face made Lestrade wonder if John was even aware of how much of himself was hiding under that placid surface.
In that respect, Lestrade reflected, he was actually a lot like Sherlock.
The next day, Lestrade quietly withdrew his bet from the office pool about how long John would survive as Sherlock's flatmate before either moving out or committing homicide and then moving out. John Watson, it seemed, was more than a match for Sherlock Holmes.
When another pool started several months later about when the two of them would finally shag each other, however, Lestrade was more than happy to buy into that.
Sherlock never looked Molly in the eyes.
Or, well, that wasn't entirely true. He'd looked into her eyes the day he'd first bullied his way into the morgue, detailed her whole life story in mortifyingly explicit detail, then asked her to lend him some fingers. And he often locked eyes with her when he wanted something that Molly wasn't prepared to give, though it had taken her a distressingly long time to recognize the pattern. That tactic still usually got him what he wanted, though Molly tried not to think too hard about that.
The truth was that Sherlock tended to talk beyond people, somehow managing to keep his attention on their faces without ever making eye contact. With Molly, he hardly even bothered to do that much, half of the time; he just talked at the air while bent over a microscope or poking at a corpse and expected her to listen. It was distressing and, frankly, a little insulting, but that was just how Sherlock was. He never looked Molly in the eyes because he was busy working, that was all.
These days, though, he didn't look Molly in the eyes because he was usually busy looking at John instead.
"I don't care," John was saying, arms crossed mulishly over his chest. "You've been here for three days. You need food and rest, not necessarily in that order."
Sherlock sniffed, looking at John down the length of his nose. "I'm at a highly delicate stage of this experiment. Leaving now would invalidate the results."
"Did you not hear the 'I don't care' part of what I just said, Sherlock? This is not up for discussion."
John was wearing his reflectives, which meant that he must have come straight to Bart's from his job at the surgery. The sight of them made Molly absently glad that she worked with the dead instead of the living; wearing reflectives always gave her such a headache.
"I hardly think you're in a position to be delivering ultimatums, John. So unless you intend to stand there impotently for the next few hours instead of getting some rest yourself, I suggest you go home." Sherlock's attention turned back to the microscope he'd been using before John arrived. He waved a dismissive hand. "I'll text you if I require assistance."
John looked neither cowed nor impressed. "Sherlock," he said, with a snap to his tone that made Molly jolt in surprise. "I have the medical expertise to render you immobile in a half dozen non-fatal ways, the military training to overpower you long enough to do so and enough bloody stubbornness to keep you under house arrest for a month. You are coming home."
Slowly, Sherlock lifted his head and fixed John with the inscrutable look that meant he was trying to puzzle something out. John weathered the attention easily.
"This is hardly necessary, John. I'm perfectly fine."
"Bollocks." John glanced at his watch. "I am giving you one hour to finish up whatever you're doing and then we're leaving."
"Two," Sherlock said immediately.
"One. Because I've been working all day and I'm knackered." John half turned towards the door. "I'm going to grab a bite to eat from the caff. I'll bring you something back."
And you will be eating it, was so heavily implied that John might as well have said it aloud.
Sherlock folded into a sulk and, satisfied, John turned his attention to Molly.
"Hello," he said to her, with a polite, welcoming smile that seemed completely out of place on someone who could order Sherlock about. "Can I get you anything while I'm gone? Cup of coffee?"
"Oh!" Molly said, surprised. "No, that's fine. Thank you. I don't- I was just leaving, actually. Paperwork."
"In that case, I'll walk with you. Behave," John said to Sherlock over one shoulder as he held open the door for Molly.
Sherlock muttered something uncomplimentary about John's intelligence under his breath and John shook his head in what looked like resigned fondness.
"Sorry about him," John said to Molly as they walked down the corridor. "He shouldn't be cluttering up your work space like that."
Molly shrugged. "I don't mind, really. It's not the first time."
"It's still not right. I'll make sure he stays out of your hair for the rest of the week, at least."
"Why you?" Molly blurted and immediately flushed crimson.
John blinked. "Why me what?"
"Sorry! I, sorry, I didn't-"
"It's okay," John said, cutting off her flushed apologies. "Really. I share a flat with Sherlock; I don't think there's anything you could say that's worse than what I get from him on a daily basis." John grinned crookedly. "Half the time, I think he's honestly amazed that I'm smart enough to remember my own name."
"That's what I mean," Molly said, almost despite herself. "You're no better than the rest of us but Sherlock still listens to you. What makes you so different?"
The moment the words escaped, Molly wished she could stuff them back into her mouth, horrified.
John didn't seem bothered.
"I don't know," he said and, as much as Molly didn't want to believe him, he sounded completely genuine. The set of his shoulders was soft as he added, "But I'm glad he does." His mouth quirked, inviting Molly in on the joke. "Even if only to keep him from working himself to death without noticing."
"I'm going this way," Molly said, stopping quickly enough that John took another step forward before realizing that she wasn't beside him. "Thanks," she said. "For walking with me, I mean."
John smiled that unexpectedly gentle smile again. "It's my pleasure."
Molly smiled back awkwardly, then turned and walked away as quickly as she could without feeling like she was running. She fancied that she could feel John's eyes on her the entire way.
Molly's heart rate had returned to normal by the time she got back to her office, but she barely been at her desk for a minute before she realized that she'd left the report she'd been working on back in the morgue.
"Way to go, Molly," she muttered to herself. "Always making a bad impression." She took a quick look in her pocket mirror to make sure that she hadn't gone blotchy from all the blushing, then took a deep breath and headed back to the morgue.
"John," Sherlock said as she walked in, glancing up with a distracted frown. "I can't possibly be expected t-"
Their eyes locked, just for a moment, and Molly hardly even registered the way her breath caught.
She could see Sherlock's soul.
She felt the thrill of the chase, the slickness of wet pavement and the bite of fierce exultation, all wrapped up in an almost domestic calmness that felt like warm wool and quiet.
The contact lasted less than a second; Sherlock's eyes shuttered immediately, returning to their characteristic blankness so quickly that Molly would actually have doubted what she'd seen if it hadn't been so completely unprecedented.
"Sorry," Molly said into the awkward half-beat of silence that followed. Her mother had always chided her for apologizing for things that weren't her fault. "I forgot my clipboard. I- I'm sure John will be back soon."
Sherlock made a noncommittal sound and returned his attention to the chemical reaction he'd been observing. Molly didn't believe his nonchalance for a moment.
Because she knew what she'd seen and she didn't need to be a Holmes-level genius to know who had brought that flash of truth to the surface.
She thought she understood 'why John?' a little better now.
Have you ever shown him, Molly wanted to ask. Do you let any of those wonderful feelings out when he's actually got a chance of seeing them?
But she stayed silent and watched instead for the way Sherlock's expression lightened just a bit when John returned a handful of moments later bearing a sandwich and a cup of coffee. The food was consumed only slightly grudgingly and John let himself get caught up in the tail end of Sherlock's experiment with little more than a token resistance. Molly watched amusement crinkle the corners of John's eyes and wondered what secrets his soul was hiding behind those reflectives.
Molly turned away before they could catch her staring and busied herself near the sink to hide her smile. It was quite something to know something before the great Sherlock Holmes did. She was sure they'd figure it out eventually.
The Freak had changed since John Watson had shown up.
But not much.
Anderson stood to one side of the warehouse-come-crime scene he'd recently been ousted from, watching the mad swirl of flashing lights and police officers with thinly veiled impatience. He'd shed his blue coveralls a good half hour ago, but was no closer to being allowed to leave and go do some real work than he had been when this whole mess had started.
Forensics shouldn't even have been here at this stage in the proceedings. Anderson's job - which he was bloody good at and sod the Freak for suggesting otherwise - was to process crime scenes and gather evidence. He was not meant to be standing around while criminals got arrested and witnesses gave testimonies. It was a waste of time, a waste of resources and, especially, a waste of talent.
Trust the Freak to find a way to convince a murderer to go back to the scene of the crime while Forensics was busy processing it. The whole thing was a three-ring bloody circus.
The sound of raised voices echoed on his left, audible even over the din, and Anderson turned his attention to the pair of silhouettes that appeared in the doorway. Speak of the devil…
"Not now, Lestrade!" the Freak was shouting, striding out of the warehouse with that ridiculous coat snapping around his legs.
Lestrade followed him on his heels, looking harried. "If you'll recall," he said. "You weren't even invited in on this case."
Holmes sniffed dismissively. "Which is why you're so lucky that my client's case overlapped with your rather pedestrian murder. There's no telling how long it would have taken your useless little brains to sort things out without me."
"Sherlock," Lestrade said, ignoring the insult like he always did. Anderson hated how desperate that always made them look, willing to put up with any kind of abuse to get the Freak's disturbing version of help. "I told you, you're a witness. I need you to give a statement."
"And I said not now. Don't you have a murderer to arrest?"
The Freak swept off without listening to Lestrade's immediate protest. Lestrade ran a weary hand through his hair and let him go, his expression resigned as he looked down at the two patches of blood slowly turning rust brown on the pitted floor. The first one, Anderson had taken samples of and photographed before the Freak's arrival.
The second one, Anderson had watched get put there.
Holmes swept past like a black cloud and Anderson followed after him almost without thinking about it. It wasn't like he had anything better to do until everyone got their heads out of their collective arses and he didn't like letting the Freak wander around without supervision if he could help it.
There was a pair of ambulances parked just within the police perimeter and Holmes bee-lined for the closer of the two. As he drew closer, Anderson realized why.
Dr. Watson was sitting in the back of the ambulance, his right arm in a sling and the bloody sleeve of his shirt dangling empty at his side. His eyes were staring off absently into the distance, though they sharpened quickly enough when Holmes stopped in front of him.
"John," Holmes said, looming over him like a great bloody bat.
Dr. Watson grinned up at him, tired but cheerful, and Anderson should have known from the start that the man wasn't quite right in the head. How could someone smile so easily at a person who'd just got them stabbed? Especially when it was the Freak.
"Everything sorted?" Dr. Watson asked.
Holmes made a dismissive sound. "More or less. You really should stop getting in the way of knives."
Dr. Watson shrugged with the arm that wasn't in the sling. "It's only a flesh wound."
"You needed three stitches," Holmes snapped, missing the edge of amusement in Dr. Watson's voice entirely. "That's not a flesh wound and you know it. You're a doctor, for God's sake."
"Never mind," Dr. Watson said, with a shake of his head. "It's not worth my sanity to try and make you watch Monty Python. Did you give Lestrade your statement?"
"If he and his men weren't so tremendously incapable of doing their own jobs, they wouldn't need-"
Holmes huffed. "He was here, he shouldn't need it."
"You know perfectly well that he needs one whether he was here or not." Dr. Watson sighed heavily. "Guess we'd better get this over with. Budge over. You're in the way."
"No." The Freak's hand landed heavily on Dr. Watson's chest, just under his collarbone.
Anderson watched discomfort flicker across Dr. Watson's face at the pressure and nearly stepped forward to do something about it.
Dr. Watson's voice stopped him. "I'm perfectly capable of walking, Sherlock," he said, impossibly calm. "If I didn't have two left feet I could probably do a jig for you, even."
"Stop being so irresponsible," Holmes said sharply. "If you'd been two seconds slower bringing up your arm, you'd be dead right now."
"Worried about me, were you?"
"I simply don't have time to curb your suicidal tendencies," Holmes said, in a frosty tone. "You're no good to me if you're in pieces."
Christ, he was a miserable excuse for a human being. Anderson wondered if it was worth trying again to make Dr. Watson realize just how badly he was being abused by the Freak.
The worst part was that Dr. Watson's only reaction to the Freak's cruelty was to laugh. "Not to worry. It'll take more than a madman with a knife to do me in." His grin sharpened into something on the edge of dangerous. "Though you're welcome to try, if you like."
"Good," Holmes said. His head tilted deliberately and Anderson saw the exact moment when that shared look turned into a soul-gaze that neither of them seemed particularly inclined to break.
It went on for a heartbeat, two, three. What could have been a casual connection turned into something deeper as it stretched out, purposeful and intimate.
And Anderson absolutely didn't want to see this, was torn between the desire to leave and pretend this had never happened and the desire to go over and get into it with the Freak to stop this from happening, but something kept him right where he was.
Possibly it was the fact that, if he and his wife had ever soul-gazed like that, like there was nothing more important in the entire world than what was in each other's eyes, his marriage would have been a very different thing indeed.
So Anderson stayed silent as Holmes swayed ever closer, eyes locked on Dr. Watson's with an intensity that Anderson had never seen him show for anything less than a locked-door murder or cannibalistic serial killers.
For his part, Dr. Watson seemed content to sit there, posture relaxed, expression open and head tilted up just slightly as he returned the soul-gaze. Anderson honestly had no idea how he did it, looking into the Freak's eyes like that as though he wasn't four hundred kinds of wrong all rolled into one empty-eyed package. Even the faintest contact with the Freak's empty eyes made Anderson shudder, but Dr. Watson hardly seemed to notice.
Dr. Watson had always sworn up and down that they weren't shagging and, looking at them now, Anderson had to believe it. But only because they hadn't hit that tipping point to change them from freakishly codependent flatmates to freakishly codependent lovers.
Until now, apparently.
For a long moment they hovered there, inches apart in a frozen tableau of 'get on with it, already', then the Freak ducked in and pressed his mouth to Dr. Watson's. It was hardly a proper kiss, more a quick brush of lips that could almost have been accidental if not for the fact that the Freak didn't do accidents.
Anderson couldn't see how Dr. Watson reacted from this angle, but he sincerely doubted he was responsible for the way the Freak jerked back so quickly he nearly fell over. Holmes caught himself immediately against the side of the ambulance, then straightened. "I'm telling Lestrade we're leaving," he said, sounding completely composed. Anderson hoped for Dr. Watson's sake that he was faking. "He can have our statements tomorrow."
"Sherlock," Dr. Watson said and Holmes froze in the act of turning away.
Dr. Watson's smile was slow and heartfelt. "That thing you did? That was good."
Holmes nodded. "Of course it was," he said, without nearly the arrogance Anderson would have expected. "Don't bleed to death."
"Yes, sir," Dr. Watson said, throwing a jaunty salute with his wrong arm.
Holmes pivoted on his heel and took off towards the crime scene in what Anderson gleefully recognized as a strategic retreat. His path took him right past where Anderson was standing and the expression on his face made it clear that he knew what Anderson had just seen.
For a moment, Anderson thought about getting in the Freak's face about it, about denouncing him as a soulless, manipulative monster and finding some way to convince Dr. Watson to cut and run while he still could. It would have been the most logical response.
"Some genius you are," he muttered instead. "Have you ever pulled someone in your life, Freak?"
"Shut up, Anderson," the Freak said and all was back to being normal in the world.
Mycroft had been sitting in John's armchair for precisely 37 seconds when Sherlock whirled out of his bedroom like a churlish hurricane, hair achieving a truly spectacular state of disarray and pajamas yanked on haphazardly under his unbelted dressing gown.
"Good morning," Mycroft said to him. "Sleep well?"
"Piss off," Sherlock answered, pulling his bedroom door shut behind him with an extravagant gesture that might have been more impressive had Sherlock not been so obviously careful not to slam it.
Mycroft let his eyes linger meaningfully. "The good doctor is still sleeping, I gather?" he said, in an idle tone that was anything but.
The glare Sherlock sent him could have flayed the paint off walls. "Don't."
"Oh, come now. Surely I can congratulate my brother on his recent foray into," Mycroft paused and said, delicately, "Domestic bliss."
"No, you can't." Sherlock flung himself into his chair, falling into a tangle of limbs that wasn't nearly so haphazard as it looked. "Why are you here, Mycroft? If you were planning to try and stop me from 'acting rashly', or whatever other claptrap you've come to complain about, you're several weeks too late. Why so tardy, hmm? Minions not doing their jobs right? CCTV on the blink?"
"Quite the contrary, I assure you. I simply thought it would be appropriate to allow you some privacy during the honeymoon period, as it were, before we spoke."
"By which you mean that you were busy terrorizing the Ugandan government."
"That too," Mycroft allowed. "Regardless, the delay has given me valuable time to consider the implications of this new facet of your relationship with your estimable flatmate." He leveled an eyebrow at Sherlock. "I do hope you've done the same."
Sherlock slumped lower into the chair with an impatient huff. "Enough dissembling. Say what you want or get out."
"Very well." Mycroft straightened his cuffs. "You admit that this situation is unprecedented?"
"Of course it is," Sherlock snapped, his tone somewhere between petulant and furious. Really, it was amazing how little had changed from when Sherlock had been a too-precocious six year old. "I didn't have John then."
Mycroft hummed agreeably. "He certainly has his uses, your doctor. But was this really the best course of action? Much as I respect Dr. Watson-"
"John is not up for discussion," Sherlock cut in. "Ever."
Mycroft sighed. "Whether you choose to believe me or not, I do have your best interests in mind." Sherlock snorted derisively and Mycroft continued right over the interruption. "I just want to be certain that you know what you're doing. This has a high probability of going dreadfully wrong if it's not handled properly."
"So you say now. What will happen if you lose interest? That man is already dangerously beholden to you."
"I won't." It was said firmly, a fact rather than an opinion.
Mycroft held Sherlock's gaze steadily. "And how, pray tell, have you come to that conclusion?"
Sherlock glanced away, chin tilted stubbornly down, but not fast enough to hide the brief whiff of antiseptic and hot tea in his usually well-guarded eyes.
Mycroft allowed himself the dignity of an elegantly arched eyebrow and a quiet, "Ah."
Predictably, his muted reaction only served to ratchet up Sherlock's disgruntlement. Mycroft was neither surprised nor repentant.
He wasn't satisfied yet, though. "And what of John's feelings on the matter? I should hate to see you get your heart broken if he proves inconstant."
Sherlock snorted. "Sentimental."
"Observant," Mycroft corrected.
Sherlock's bedroom door chose that moment to open and Mycroft and Sherlock fell silent as John wandered into the room, as easy as you please in obviously borrowed pajamas and Sherlock's spare dressing gown. His hair stuck out in odd angles despite the fact that he'd clearly tried to flatten it down and there were crease marks on his right cheek from the pillowcase. His eyes were sleepy, but content.
"Morning, Sherlock," John said, around a yawn. "Mycroft. You staying for tea?"
"No," Sherlock said.
"Tea would be lovely, thank you, John," Mycroft said at the same time.
John nodded and continued his shuffle into the kitchen. Mycroft and Sherlock's conversation dissolved into the vaguely hostile silence that was characteristic of most of their interactions while John made the tea. Mycroft listened to the sound of the hems of John's pajamas dragging across the tiles and ignored the mutinous glare Sherlock was sending his way.
John returned several minutes later with a steaming mug in each hand.
"Have you got a case for us?" he asked as he walked over to Mycroft. "Or are you trying to fill your monthly quota of how many times you make Sherlock make that face?"
Sherlock turned his glare on John - which really only drove home the point - while Mycroft found his attention divided between the words and the slide of John's sleeve up his arm when he went to hand Mycroft his tea. The shift exposed a mottled collection of bruises snaking around John's wrists; some had the sharp, reddened look of recent damage, while the ones underneath were a variegated collection of fading purple smears that looked up to two weeks old. Mycroft read three different kinds of rope in those bruises, as well as the less uniform abrasion of cloth restraints.
John had last been kidnapped exactly twenty four days previous - far too long ago to account for this damage. Which left precisely one place it could have come from.
Mycroft absorbed all of this in an instant and glanced up to find John watching him easily, as though the marks of Sherlock's… interests weren't smudged into his skin or, more likely, that he didn't care who saw them. Deliberately, Mycroft caught John's eyes; John made no attempt to avoid him. Some of the gunmetal gray that John usually suppressed flashed across his eyes accompanied by the sharp bite of cordite. It was a challenge and a declaration rolled into one and Mycroft broke the contact with an acknowledging tilt of the head.
"Thank you," he said, accepting the proffered mug. John nodded, relaxing minutely.
Sherlock made an impatient sound and thrust out an arm towards John. "Tea."
John rolled his eyes and stepped away from Mycroft, letting his sleeve fall forward again. "How is it that you've managed to go through your entire life without learning any manners?"
"Thank you," Sherlock said promptly, not moving his hand.
John's put-upon sigh wasn't convincing in the slightest. He handed the other mug over to Sherlock with a reluctant little smile, then headed back into the kitchen to fetch his own.
Sherlock shot Mycroft a triumphant grin. Mycroft could admit that he had a point.
Mycroft had long grown resigned to the fact that he would spend the rest of his life worrying about Sherlock. But, in this case, the potential for disaster was gratifyingly low. Sherlock could certainly have chosen far worse than John.
In fact, Mycroft was inclined to think that he couldn't have chosen much better.
Because John Watson was perhaps the only man Mycroft had ever met who could make steel look fond. And if that didn't suit Sherlock right down to the ground, then Mycroft didn't know what did.
They were dear boys, Mrs. Hudson thought, but they weren't nearly as subtle as they thought they were.
The jangle of keys filtered through the air and Mrs. Hudson listened with half an ear as Sherlock and John let themselves into the building, giggling their heads off, the pair of them.
"-believe I did that," John was saying, his voice made even lighter by the laughter in it.
Even through the closed door of her flat, Mrs. Hudson could hear the subdued fondness in Sherlock's voice when he answered, "I'm almost tempted to ask Mycroft for the CCTV footage. The expression on their faces when you leapt off that forklift was quite memorable."
John burst into a fresh round of giggles and Mrs. Hudson had to smile. It was such a delight to see two souls find each other the way Sherlock and John had. Most people never got to experience that sort of completeness - the Lord knew her marriage hadn't even come close - and, for her, getting the chance to share in their lives was well worth the three o'clock violin sonatas, the slammed doors and shouted arguments, the bullet holes in the wall.
Well, maybe not that last one, but still. It was a wonderful thing, love.
Someone else might not have been so certain as she was, Mrs. Hudson knew; both of them played their emotions so close to the chest that it was often easier to find snow in the summertime than to catch any hint of love in their eyes. But Mrs. Hudson had been alive more than long enough to know that the soul-gaze wasn't the be all and end all of a person's feelings. Actions spoke louder than souls, sometimes, and it would take a blind man to miss the way Sherlock and John were around each other. Whether they were sitting around the flat, charging recklessly into danger, or anything in between, it was obvious what they meant to each other.
The laughter in the passage cut off abruptly, melting into a very quiet but entirely unmistakable hum of pleasure. That would be John; he always seemed to lean towards content while Sherlock went for smugly pleased. Mrs. Hudson sighed indulgently. She knew exactly what she'd see if she went to her door now.
Sherlock would have John crowed up against the wall as they kissed, because Sherlock had a fondness for looming and John had a fondness for letting Sherlock get away with far too much. Sherlock always stooped, just a little, to save John from overbalancing, though Mrs. Hudson suspected that John often ended up with a crick in his neck all the same. John's hands would be on Sherlock's waist, tucked neatly beneath the folds of his coat.
Mrs. Hudson glanced at the clock over the mantelpiece. She hoped that they moved upstairs soon; she'd been planning to pop round to the shops after she'd finished the next chapter in her book and it tended to be awkward all around - though it was admittedly difficult to fluster Sherlock - when she had to interrupt them without making it obvious that she knew she was interrupting.
Luckily, John, the sensible soul he was, appeared to have come to a similar decision himself.
"Sherlock," John murmured. "We have a flat for this."
"Don't care," Sherlock said, low and heavy, and Mrs. Hudson wasn't quite so old yet that the timbre of it didn't bring the faintest hint of a flush to her cheeks. That boy!
From the sound of John's slightly strangled curse, Mrs. Hudson got the impression that he was similarly affected.
Another few moments of silence, then the rustle of fabric.
"Sherlock," John said again. "Upstairs."
There was a short, sharp concussion.
"Ow!" Sherlock protested.
"Listen to me next time," John said. Another shift of fabric. "Come on."
Really, the hardest part of the whole situation was not letting them know how happy she was that they'd found each other. But they hadn't told her yet, and Mrs. Hudson wasn't about to spoil the surprise for them. Though she did wonder how either of them could honestly believe that she didn't know, what with displays like that going on right outside her door.
The stairs creaked under their weight as John and Sherlock climbed the stairs to their flat. Mrs. Hudson listened to the door open and close again, then waited for another few minutes to make sure they weren't leaving again. She marked her page in her book and stood up; she'd do the shopping first and finished reading later, when they were decent again.
Because, these old houses, they had thin walls. And couples tended to make… noise. Which gave Mrs. Hudson far more insight into their sex life than she really needed.
John would have been mortified to find out. Sherlock already knew, Mrs. Hudson had no doubt, but she still wasn't about to complain about the noise. See about getting someone to install some sound proofing in the floors, maybe, but not complain. Part of it, of course, was that she just wanted them to be happy and sex was a normal part of a relationship.
But mostly she didn't want to give Sherlock an excuse to start gagging poor John on any more regular a basis than he already did.
"Do you know what I see when I look at you, John?"
John's skin was dusky gold in the dim glow of Sherlock's bedside lamp, contrasting beautifully with the crisply white sheets Sherlock had him spread out on. The blindfold over his eyes was damp with sweat and he was panting open-mouthed, lips bruised and swollen with kisses.
John laughed, a dark, throaty sound that never failed to send a thrill down Sherlock's spine. Sherlock considered it one of his life goals to ensure that he heard it as often as possible. "An impatient lover who's waiting for you to shag him properly?"
Sherlock arched an eyebrow, regardless of the fact that John couldn't see it. "Properly?" he repeated and tilted his hips on the next thrust, making sure to stroke across John's prostate. John arched with a strangled curse and Sherlock knew that he was going have bruises on his arms in a few hours to match the iron grip of John's fingers. "Would you care to define 'properly'?"
"Arrogant tosser," John panted. "Couldn't sound even a little out of breath?"
"No." Sherlock curled one hand around John's straining prick, tightly enough to make John shout with pleasure but not enough to over stimulate. He worked John to a bucking, shaking mess, never giving him that final push to send him over.
"Sherlock…" John begged and, oh, it was such a beautiful sound.
"You didn't answer my question, John." Sherlock leaned down close, left hand planted on the mattress beside John's ribs and his mouth right up against John's ear. "Do you know what I see when I look at you? What I see in your soul?"
John's sweat-slicked chest brushed against Sherlock's with every thick, gasping breath. "W-what?"
Sherlock let go of John's prick - ignoring his groan of protest - and tore off the blindfold. John's eyelids fluttered in an instinctive attempt to adjust to the sudden brightness. Beautiful blue laid bare a story of fire and soft wool and corpses and John made no effort to suppress any of it, just let Sherlock see everything he wanted to. Love and violence, independence and loyalty, all wrapped up in the flash of a knife, the slick tang of blood on his hands, the smell of paper and tea and Sherlock's shampoo. Perfect.
"I," Sherlock gritted, "see," a sharp snap of his hips that made John groan and then the last word in a tone that was almost a hiss, "Myself."
John huffed out a breathless laugh. "Of course you do, you silly bugger." His hand hooked around Sherlock's neck and drew him even closer, until they were plastered together from hips to forehead. He pressed a kiss to Sherlock's temple and gave him a brilliant smile. "That's why I see me in your eyes, too."
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