@roadswewalk I wish I had any photoshop skills whatsoever! This is a lovely idea…I hope you won’t mind that I ran with it:
Home again. Sherlock is alone, or he’s supposed to be. John has placed him on twenty-four hour watch, and taken the first shift himself. He’s sat Sherlock down in his chair, and placed a mug of tea at his left elbow, but he won’t sit, won’t talk. He shuffles around in the kitchen, fussing about with a bag he picked up at Boots.
Sherlock’s whole body is a mass of aching withdrawal and bruises. He is a walking, breathing pang. He doesn’t want to take paracetamol, or whatever else John has arranged for him to have. He wants to crawl every inch of his recovery on his own. He can’t allow whatever help John is preparing to offer.
John clears his throat. He hovers in the kitchen doorway, his left hand clenching and releasing.
His right hand is coiled into a fist. No: his fingers are curled around something. A small bottle, a vial. Sherlock’s stomach flips, as his mind whispers sweet possibilities. What will he say, if John offers him a top-up, a little something to ease the pain?
No. The answer has to be no. Besides, John would never. John is here to watch him, to make sure he doesn’t use. What, then?
Sherlock shifts in his chair. The small movement sets his nerves to screaming, but he won’t complain. For John, he’ll breathe through each moment.
For John, he will speak, will try to break whatever stalemate this is. “Won’t you sit down?”
“Mm.” A non-answer.
Sherlock wills himself to continue through this moment, and the next. He picks up the mug, deliberately, lifts it to his mouth, and sips tea. He waits. He has no choice.
“I wonder–” John starts. He stares at the empty air behind Sherlock. Shakes his head. Rubs his eyes.
Sherlock wonders, not for the first time, how things became so strained between them. He knows. Of course he does: too much damage, too much heartache, too many words unspoken.
John shakes his head, walks stiffly to the desk, and pulls out the hardbacked chair. He places it inches away from Sherlock’s chair, and sits. So close, so quickly. Sherlock blinks at his tea, risks a glance at John’s face. John is looking down at his right hand. His fingers uncoil. Sherlock frowns at what he sees there.
Nail polish. Sea Blue.
When John speaks, his voice is gruff. “Hold out your hand.”
“John, I assure you, I am in need of many things, but a manicure is not one of them.”
John shakes his head. “No. We’re doing this.” He shakes the bottle, much more vigorously than necessary. He unscrews the cap, rests the bottle on the arm of the chair, and removes the brush, careful not to let it drip. He holds out his hand for Sherlock’s.
Sherlock places the mug carefully on the side table. His hands are inclined to shake. He tries to keep still as he offers his left hand, his palm resting on John’s. John paints a swath of nail polish over Sherlock’s thumbnail. Sherlock sighs. The sensation is pleasant. Cool, in contrast to the heat of John’s hand.
“Not that I mind, John, but are you going to tell me why?” He can’t help asking. The silence is too intense, too monumental. He shudders as John works on his index finger.
“Withdrawal. You’re going to start to itch soon,” John says. His voice is whisper soft. He follows the ritual he’s established for himself: dipping the brush, shifting his hand under Sherlock’s to hold him still, running the brush over the nail of Sherlock’s middle finger, then his ring finger.
“The nail polish is bright, and your nails will feel a bit different to you. I’m hoping it will serve as a reminder not to scratch. No good going through withdrawal if you come out on the other end with all your skin hanging off.”
Sherlock chuckles, his voice low. His skin already feels like it’s hanging off. It would make no difference to him, if he stripped it all raw, but he will try not to, for John.
John finishes with Sherlock’s left hand. He leans over it, his thumb running over Sherlock’s skin, and blows a light stream of air over the nails.
Sherlock closes his eyes, feeling John’s breath on him, and the warmth that builds in his belly, and the relief from the pain he holds inside him.
It’s temporary, but so very welcome.
“The other hand, then,” John says.
Sherlock shifts in the chair, his whole body turning toward John, so he can offer his right hand. John leans over this hand as well, and he is so close, inches away from Sherlock. Sherlock breathes John in: the scent of the pomade he’s taken to wearing, ever since he allowed his hair to grow longer. The faint scent of toothpaste. It’s all bathed in the much stronger scent of the nail polish: butyl acetate; ethyl acetate. Overripe banana and pear, mixing with the stench of toluene. Not nearly enough to get high on.
“Do you really think this will work?” Sherlock asks. He casts his eyes down to watch John work. John is hardly himself, hasn’t been himself for years, Sherlock knows, but at least he still has good, steady hands. It’s something. It’s a lot. Maybe, even, enough to start something new.
John finishes painting the nails of Sherlock’s right hand. He purses his lips and blows air across them as well. Sherlock shivers.
John frowns as he screws the lid back on the bottle. He puts it on the desk behind him. Sherlock holds up his hands to admire them.
“I hope you like the colour,” John says. “Matches your dressing gown.” Not answering Sherlock’s question. Evasive. John is still sitting in the chair, inches away. To Sherlock’s surprise, he shifts forward, and his knee presses into Sherlock’s thigh.
Sherlock sighs. “It’s…nice. It looks nice.” He wiggles his fingers. It does.
John sighs raggedly. He takes Sherlock’s hand in his again. This time, he turns it over. He leans in. He presses his cheek to Sherlock’s palm.
Sherlock is unable to move, unable to speak. John’s eyes are screwed shut. He rubs his cheek against Sherlock’s hand, the first hint of afternoon stubble scratching Sherlock’s skin, his fingertips. John presses his lips to Sherlock’s wrist, kisses his pulse point.
“Please remember,” John says. “Don’t hurt yourself. Please don’t hurt yourself any more.”
They hold there for a long moment. A tear escapes from the inside corner of John’s left eye, makes a track down his face. Sherlock is turning inside out, his whole world coalescing down into his hand, into John, into the shade of blue that adorns his nails.
“I won’t, John. I won’t.”