Sacre Coeur, chapter 5
Chapter 5 was stuck until I did some rewriting in ch4. It got so long that I broke it into 2 parts. You don’t need to re-read ch4 to know what’s going on, it mostly got a spit-polish. Ch5 is the section with juicy new content, particularly starting when Sherlock enters his mind palace.
Thanks for bearing with me - I think it’s a much better scene now and sets John up to be stronger in ch6… which is well underway!!
Chapter one + chapter two + chapter three + chapter four
The flat is quiet. The paramedics have gone, the armed guards have become invisible somewhere on Baker Street. Mrs. Hudson has finally stopped fussing and retreated to her flat. Sherlock smells cinnamon and knows she is relieving her anxiety with her customary ritualistic baking. Molly fusses with the makeshift lab in the kitchen.
“You sure you don’t want me to stay? I could assist, let you focus on John, be on hand.”
“Thank you, Molly, no, I’ve already monopolized too much of your time. I’m sure the stiffs are backing up in the morgue.”
“Well, alright. But you text me if anything changes.” While Sherlock stares out the window, she sterilizes one more set of glassware, wraps back up in her coat and scarf, and gives his shoulder a squeeze as she passes. He catches her hand.
“Molly, truly, thank you. Without your help and clarity these last few days, I think I would have lost my mind.”
Molly grimaces a smile. “Take care of yourself, too. At least, try to.” She pads away quietly across the carpet, picks up Mycroft’s umbrella, and hurries down the stairs.
Sherlock stands in the sudden silence. He wrinkles his nose – the usual smells of the flat are swirled with the slightly medical pong of hospital antiseptic. He peeks in again on John, stationed in his room, looking more comfortable in the old pajamas Sherlock took from his house that morning. Detached from all the wires and monitors, he looks as if he’s just nodded off in Sherlock’s bed. Molly thought the sensation of it would be helpful, make him feel at home, no matter how many times Sherlock insisted nothing ever happened and what’s more, 221B hasn’t been home to John Watson for almost 3 years.
“Won’t matter,” she’d said with a wise smirk. “It’ll still feel like home to him.”
Sherlock snaps up his bow and rosins it while he paces the bedroom. “Well then, welcome home, John.” He pockets the rosin and picks up the violin, settles his chin, and begins to play.
Late afternoon light is pooling in the room when Sherlock finally puts the violin down on the bedside table. He stares at his immobile friend for a while, watches the steady rise and fall of his chest, then sighs. “Take a rest, John, I’ll just be in the kitchen.”
He’s halfway through the first experiment Molly had dictated when he gets up to check on John. Nothing has changed. He returns to the kitchen, moves a few petri dishes around. Checks on John again. After twenty minutes of this, he roughly pushes the kitchen table down the hall and through the bedroom door, clinking and rattling with the apparatus, and slides it under the window where he can work and look up at John as often as he needs.
“Sorry, couldn’t be free of me for long.”
An hour later he’s got John propped up on pillows, a towel draped over his chest, experimenting with the best ways to spoon in bone broth so it doesn’t dribble down John’s chin. The first time he reflexively swallows, Sherlock feels triumphant. But when John erupts into a fit of coughing, he nearly falls over with the shock, thinking he’s killed him for sure. It passes. Sherlock’s shaking. “Sorry about that, John, I’m afraid you’ll be getting the worst of all my on-the-job training today.”
After clearing away “lunch,” he pulls a worn paperback from the duffel he’d brought from John’s house. Perching gingerly at the foot of the bed, he begins to read aloud the first chapter of The Two Towers. It had been on John’s night table. After a few paragraphs, Molly’s voice rings in his head. Patients in coma have, on occasion, responded positively to familiar stimuli, reassuring touch and voice. Human contact, Sherlock. His brain patterns indicate he is mentally active. He’s reachable. Help him know he’s not alone in there. Sherlock looks up from the book, taps his lip as he considers, then slides to sit next to John in the bed. Leaving a few inches between them, he continues to read.
Two chapters in, the words begin to blur and he recalls that he never did sleep last night. He lets the book drop to the blanket, head falling back against the propped-up pillows with an extravagant sigh. He watches John for a long while. He should go back to the experiment, he thinks. He should text Molly to bring over spirulina powder. Maybe he should play again, Bach this time.
Instead, he lifts a tentative hand and, heart racing, places it lightly on John’s shoulder. He almost expects John to flinch at the touch, but he sleeps on. Would John mind? Sherlock slips into his mind palace, heads directly to John’s wing, and opens the sturdy steamer trunk where he’s stored all of the confusing deductions he’s made of John over the years, the collection growing larger of late. Certain looks, sentiments expressed, an unexpected touch. It had all been so mixed up with John’s justified anger at the false suicide, the ridiculous wedding planning, and the constant threat of Mary that Sherlock silently struggled to disarm, always playing John’s amiable best man. To be anything other than that would have meant immediate threat to John’s life. Mrs. Watson was very clear about that.
In the perfect, quiet safety of his mind palace, Sherlock briefly rests his forehead against the edge of the chest for several long moments, letting a bitter relief flood through him. He’s been holding it back for days. It wasn’t right to feel it when he should have been using is brain to save John. It’s alright to feel it now. Yes, things are still dire, it’s been fucking terrifying for months –years, really – he was so rarely in control. But now, at least, Mary is no longer the cuckoo in the nest with her fingers around John’s throat, playing Sherlock like a puppet. The cuckoo flown is something to chase, to trap. And he will find her. He has absolutely no doubt.
Rubbing his hands roughly over his face to focus his attention, he pulls out weathered maps and navigation charts from the chest, each one a key to some moment he saw something in John’s behavior and wondered, Does he? He studies the touches John had offered, freely, though always with qualifiers. In particular, the dancing lessons at the flat (educational purposes); the hand on his knee during stag night (inebriated), the hug during his best man’s speech (high emotion). None had made John perceptibly uncomfortable. He decides it’s at least appropriate for him to proceed with light touch.
But there is the… other evidence. Sherlock pauses, then reaches to the bottom of the steamer trunk, unlocks a hidden compartment in the false wooden floor, and takes out a small round object swaddled in soft velvet that’s the precise blue of John’s irises. Protected inside the folds is a smooth glass egg, shot through with wisps of silver-gold, the color of John’s hair in afternoon light. If he didn’t have the artifact, he wouldn’t believe it had happened at all.
Snapping open the egg on a hidden hinge, he unlocks the memory of John at his bedside when it was he lying in hospital, unreachable.
The memory of the shooting was fresh, hours old. Had John’s memory begun to degrade by then? It had been too difficult to observe, thanks to the anesthesia… And John had been in a state he’d not witnessed before that made it…difficult to read him.
John had been shattered that night. Sherlock had expected the grief. He had anticipated anger, it was an unavoidable necessity. But the sudden horror of the lie he’d been living coupled with the imminent death of his best friend…who had kept it all from him…Well, it was almost a relief when John had forgotten it all in the morning.
Sherlock had known it was going to be a bad night. That was rather the point. But he wasn’t supposed to get shot. He was supposed to be helping John through the pain, explaining everything, doing better this time, including him so they could finally face it together. He’d wanted to reach out so badly, hold his hand, hold him.
But Sherlock could not even push his eyes open. By some trick of his astounding, ridiculous brain, he could hear everything, watched as the scene was painstakingly recreated in his mind’s eye: John sitting by his head leaning close to him – his voice near, the scent of him strong, still in the same plaid shirt, rumpled now, sweaty, the coat removed – perhaps from exposure to blood. He perceived John’s face to be slick with tears – frequent sniffling and choked breathing – and often buried in his hands, his halting voice muffled. He would have looked exhausted and worn, the anger and worry creasing his face into an older version of himself.
As if afraid to touch him, John had only once lightly brushed his fingertips down the side of Sherlock’s arm where it had rested on the sheet. It had tickled, but he couldn’t even flinch. And his words, god those words… Despite the absolute shit-show the night had become, he is grateful to have been left with the artifact of his words. He will cherish them in the years of solitude that undoubtedly lie ahead.
“You should know, Sherlock. When I met you, I was given something
amazing. Something precious. Saved my life. But I ruined it. Fled from it. I
wanted it so badly, but I was terrified. Jesus, what did it say about me? And
you, one moment you were a heartless sociopathic prick and the next some brilliant,
benevolent creature who could read my mind with a look. I knew I had been given
something,., but I had no idea what to do with it. I figured I could live that
way, long as you were nearby, didn’t matter what it was.
“And then I lost you. I knew then that I’d wasted it. Utterly. I was broken. Worse than before I met you, because then I knew what I was missing. Tried moving on. God, what a bloody mess…couldn’t even do that properly. I thought she was (his voice cracks and the words are choked, almost silent) …thought she was safe.
“And when you returned. God, Sherlock, what that did to me… You watch what you wish for, you just might get it. So yea, I got you back. But too late. All wrong. I should never have gone on with the wedding, but I was angry, so terribly angry… How could I ever forgive you for putting me through those two years? I made myself believe it was better this way.
“It wasn’t. Even if this whole nightmare was what I’d actually thought it was. Marrying a nice woman, starting a family. I’d botched it. Knew it on my wedding day, bloody hell the things you said, your face…
“When you were away… I should have been helping you, should have been with you, Sherlock. (A long pause. He wipes his face, takes deep breaths as
he’s been taught in therapy, and when he speaks again there is iron in his
“Because it’s not the damn danger, Sherlock. It’s not, though we both know we love it We’re more than that, always have been. We’re like some equation that doesn’t make any sense in its parts, then you put it together and it’s… it’s beautiful. (Deep intake of breath) I realized, of course, much too late. It’s always been you, Sherlock. Only you. God, I love you.”
There had been noticeable changes on the monitors, but John had been too focused on his thoughts, too exhausted, too certain of Sherlock’s unconsciousness to notice.
“There. Said it. Case you hadn’t deduced it already. So. Please, will you do this for me? Another miracle. Wake up. Be okay. For me. So I can try to get the courage to say this to your face one day. I can’t make this mistake again, Sherlock. Christ, if you’ll even have me…”
Lestrade had come round the next morning for John’s statement and found him asleep in a chair by Sherlock’s bedside. John had woken confused, the details of the shooting blurring, jumbled, no memory of how he’d gotten to the hospital or what had occurred after. The nurse attending to Sherlock took pity on him and filled him in on Sherlock’s condition. Lestrade attributed it to shock. Sherlock knew better.
John had called Mary from Sherlock’s room, bewildered, apologizing profusely for not coming home - god, she must have been so worried - gushing his relief to her that Sherlock had lived through the night, had become stable. When he rang off, he’d said, ‘Love you, too.’
Sherlock snaps the egg closed, carefully re-wrapping the velvet and sealing it deep inside the chest. Then he slams the lid down hard.
Slipping out of his mind palace, he very carefully shifts across the bed, closing the gap between them, and eases himself against John’s side. He stays like that a moment, stiff and terrified. Gradually, the sound of John’s steady breathing lulls him, the warmth of him soothing. He drops his head to John’s chest and listens to his heartbeat. He is asleep in moments.
Sherlock wakes with a jolt. The room is dark. Sitting up carefully, he realizes he’s been asleep with his head on John for hours, drooled on his shirtfront a bit. He can tell from the pitch and frequency of the traffic on Baker Street that it’s about 2am.
“John,” his voice is gravelly from sleep, “I’ll trust you didn’t mind too much that I kipped on you instead of a pillow.” He scrubs the cobwebs from his eyes, pushes up from the bed and shuffles to the door. While he has woken marginally refreshed, the human contact does not appear to have changed John in the slightest.
Outside the bedroom door, he finds a tray on the floor holding a cold pot of tea and a covered dish that smells of curried chicken. He gives it a small smile. Though his stomach growls traitorously, he steps past it, returning minutes later from the bathroom with a basin of soapy warm water, a soft sponge, a clean towel, and a change of absorbent pants for John. He settles his nursing gear by the bed and considers John for several moments, fingers nervously tapping his thighs. This is clinical. “As I’ve had to use the loo, I’ll trust you’re in need of some… refreshment.” This is nursing. He pulls on fresh latex gloves and sighs. “I’m sorry, John, but you will need to suffer more of my trainee fumbling.”
221B, 3 days later
Sherlock is hunched over his microscope in the bedroom. He’s surrounded by petri dishes and slides, beakers of solutions, scraps of paper covered in his spidery writing and formulae, Mrs. Hudson’s empty dishes. He’s wearing his blue dressing gown tied over his oldest, softest pajamas, hair sticking out at odd angles from frequent tugging.
Suddenly he pushes back from the microscope and slams his fists on the table, the glass apparatus clinking in protest. Dressing gown swirling, he spins out of the chair, knocking it over with a clatter, and strides to the door. Just as he’s about to storm out, he notices John from the corner of his eye, lying ever-motionless in his bed. He freezes, hands pulling at his hair, and stares at him, trying to bring his breathing under control.
His mobile pings a pre-set alarm, jolting him out of his thoughts. Running his hands over his face, he scrubs at his eyes and sniffs loudly. It’s time to take care of John.
“Sorry, that one didn’t work, either. Time for a break, hm? I’ll get your lunch.” He ducks into a small, portable refrigerator that’s been moved next to his dresser, reaches past a rack with several stoppered vials of blood, and removes two jars. One is a container of the bone broth Mrs. Hudson simmered up for him, and another holds a thin, chlorophyll-green slurry he’d made of spirulina and pureed vegetables.
With the deft actions of an experienced care provider, he plucks up a short pipette from the lab table (the spoon was inefficient), balances all of his containers in the crook of his left arm, and scoops up the fallen chair as he walks past, settling it with a bang (no response). Sherlock deposits his jars on the bedside table, which also hold his violin and bow, and The Return of the King, which he began reading aloud that morning. Bending over, he gently slides his arm under John’s back and shifts him up onto several pillows, then scoots next to him on the bed, sitting closely so he can support John’s head. With several small feedings each day, he’s gotten quite good at this.
Though he has taken immaculate care of John, Sherlock hasn’t changed his own clothing, hasn’t slept since the first nap, hasn’t shaved, has hardly left this room and not once left the flat. Mrs. Hudson has been leaving baked goods and pots of tea outside his bedroom door. Despite his original plan to only eat what John is eating to better monitor his needs, he had noted the increasing protests of his transport, his caloric need obviously more demanding than one who is sleeping soundly all day. He takes a blueberry muffin from his dressing gown pocket and wolfs it down in three bites.
Propping the broth between his knees, Sherlock leans toward John and says firmly, “Alright John. It’s time to eat.” Delicately, he pipettes cool broth through John’s lips, waiting for the reflexive swallow before adding more. When he’s painstakingly fed him about a half-pint of the broth, he moves to his green drink. John grimaces in his sleep at the taste, which Sherlock finds incredibly endearing. “There now, see it as motivation. Wake up from this and I’ll order you tamarind duck as a reward.” He absently wipes John’s chin.
He wonders, for perhaps the thousandth time, at this utterly vulnerable version of John before him who would loathe to be the subject of such care, could barely stand it when Sherlock brought him mint tea for his colds. John would just as soon solve this problem with a hare-brained sprint across London, gun tucked out of sight. While Sherlock misses that, pines for that, the deep aches in his own recovering chest tell him how unlikely that’s going to be for the foreseeable future. If John wakes, when he wakes, he corrects himself, will he ever forgive Sherlock for seeing him so weak? Will he drift away if their days of danger together are subdued to accommodate an invalid? Doesn’t much matter. Once he understands everything, he won’t be staying.
He pushes the thoughts into a shadowy corner of his mind palace, stashes the jars back in the tiny fridge and pulls out a black vinyl case holding rudimentary physician’s tools. He takes John’s temperature, checks his blood pressure and pulse, studies his fluttering eyelids – evidence of REM sleep, interesting – taps reflexes, and notes everything in a small blue book. Then he rolls John onto his side to take the pressure off of his back and surreptitiously reaches for the IV. He hasn’t attempted it since the first day, absently rubs the bruise on his chin where John had lashed out. But signs of dehydration are becoming evident, even with the liquidy feedings. He has to risk another try.
“John, you’re a doctor, you know how important it is that I keep you hydrated. So just put up with this for a bag’s worth and I’ll take it away. Can you do that for me? Please?”
Snapping on turquoise latex gloves and dabbing at John’s wrist with an alcohol swab, he deftly inserts the IV and efficiently tapes it onto John’s skin. John frowns in his sleep and begins to roll roughly. Sherlock tenses. “Alright, let’s not have a repeat of last time, John, I don’t need you to wake up to me with a broken nose.”
John continues to struggle, as if wrestling something in a nightmare. Sherlock watches him, biting his lip, deliberating. With a quick nod, he quickly tosses the gloves onto the floor and slides onto the bed behind John, wrapping his arms around his chest and holding him tightly, speaking soothingly into his ear. John fights for only a moment more. As soon as Sherlock has pressed close to him, John gives a deep shudder and calms.
Heart racing, Sherlock marvels at this immediate effect, marvels that he is holding John. Though he was motivated by purely medical need, the warm contact sends bolts of electricity through his chest and his breath comes fast and shallow. Would he object? Be angry?
Show him he’s not alone.
It’s always been you, Sherlock. Only you.
God, I love you.
Sherlock thinks of those lazy afternoons they used to loll around the flat, reading through the papers over a long breakfast and mugs of tea, just saying whatever came to mind or nothing at all. He misses those days with a painful longing. He thinks John does, too. As the bag of saline empties into John’s body, Sherlock starts to talk. He tells him about old cases, about the 200 different kinds of ash and ways to discern them from one another, just to annoy him. He rambles about his childhood, his time at the university, a trip he took to the Alps, a dog he once loved.
The IV bag is empty. He hesitantly gets up, considers taking the opportunity to change it. John stirs and frowns in his sleep and Sherlock absently squeezes his shoulder as he stands. “It’s okay, John. I’m coming back.” He replaces the bag quickly – John is already starting to stir again – and curls back up with him on the warm spot on the blankets, this time less anxiously. Waiting for the second IV bag to empty, Sherlock settles his chin above John’s head and actually dozes off, wakes with a startle to find the second bag empty and John still perfectly calm. Lifting himself heavily out of the bed, he pulls on new gloves and removes the IV, rubs the skin with an alcohol swab, and covers the wound with a small plaster. John does not stir. Well, we cracked that one just in the nick of time.
Pushing the IV stand off to the side, Sherlock’s mobile pings an alarm again. He sighs. “John, as ever, I humbly ask your forgiveness for this encroachment of your personal space, but needs must.” Peeling back the covers, Sherlock finds the absorbent pants need changing and handles the cleaning and new application with minimal fumbling and only a few muttered curses at the adhesive tape. The first time, in his terror and haste, he’d put it on backwards and gotten a sodden mess of sheets for his trouble. He thinks gratefully of John’s Iranian nurse who did this so effortlessly. Perhaps the children were good training.
Sherlock’s hands freeze in mid-action as a realization bursts through his thoughts. The baby. What will become of it? Will Mary terminate the pregnancy? There’s still time. Or will she keep it as the spoils of her conquest? Retain it for future blackmail? He fumbles with the tapes, frowns. He can postulate all he likes about the child’s position in his game of chess with Mary, but the simple realization sits firmly in his mind, shocking him. I must find that child. For its sake. For John.
When everything seems to be correctly attached, he gently tugs a fresh pair of his own ancient pajamas onto John. They’re too big for him, but soft. This clinical familiarity with John’s skin feels natural now, though certain thoughts betray his professional demeanor. John’s skin is softer than it has any right being.
He should probably run another test on the blood samples, but exhaustion is prickling at the edges of his eyes and dulling his thoughts. It’s the middle of the afternoon on the third day. If John doesn’t wake, they’ll relocate him at midnight to the secure facility Mycroft has selected. At his own insistence, Sherlock will not be permitted to know its whereabouts until they apprehend Mary and determine the extent of her network, in case he is found and used again as a pressure point. He has no idea how long that could take and it galls him, how she keeps pushing them apart.
He turns away from John, arms crossed tightly, hands white-knuckled. Failure. Idiot. You couldn’t do it. Couldn’t find the pattern. What an absolute fool he’d been to believe that some pretty violin music and unrequested snuggling would bring him back. They’re smarter than you. Just accept that you’ve been well and truly beaten this time.
“I’m so sorry, John. I tried to keep you safe.” He can’t keep it at bay anymore. “I failed you.” The grief washes into his mind palace in a flood of thick black water.
Sherlock lets the tears fall, lets his chest shake with sobs. Serves me right, he berates himself, my turn to know what it’s like being left behind.
Gradually, the wave of crying subsides. He rubs his face on the sleeve of his dressing gown, and even though there is no IV-related distress to justify it, he slides next to John on the bed again. Might be the last time, he reasons, and while it still worries his heart to be holding John without his permission, he can’t stop himself. He is home. The smell of him, the firm curves of his chest and arms, the scratch of his cheek stubble against his own. If this is wrong of me, John, I’m so terribly sorry. But if I must send you off, let me do it this way.
John, as ever, has no reaction, though Sherlock imagines that if he were to try anything like this with a lucid John Watson, he’d likely flinch away and reaffirm his not-gayness while magnetically pulling toward him with his eyes. “Oh John, why don’t you just wake up so we can be idiots together and flounder through this mess.” Burrowing his head next to John’s on the pillow, he holds him tightly.
Though he’s bone-weary, sleep won’t come. “John, do you remember when we used to play Rock Paper Scissor? We would always tie, the variables were too simple for me not to anticipate. So I added ridiculous items like dynamite and earthquake. To make you laugh. I miss your laugh. My eldest brother… he was a chemist, too, I’ve never told you. Saw the aptitude in me before the others… he added Catalysts to the game, two-handed combinations…” he rambles on.
“Please,” he whispers into John’s ear, holding him tightly. “Fight this. Wake up. Come back to me.” His tears fall onto John’s skin as he plummets headlong into dark, overpowering sleep.
221B, the present
Sherlock finally stops talking. He’s been far away, living the memory again as he’s shared it with John, every bit of it, and comes back to himself now with a startle and a sharp breath. He ducks his head, afraid of what he will see when he deduces John’s expression.
But before he can even turn, John’s fingertips are at his stubbled chin, gently pivoting Sherlock’s face toward his own. Confused, Sherlock lets him, locking onto his eyes, ocean-blue irises eclipsed by wide pupils.
John has a pained expression, his eyes darting back and forth between Sherlock’s, reading… what? Is he about to tell him how Sherlock selfishly jeopardized his well-being? That he overstepped every boundary? That he has no memory of his confession? Sherlock can feel his heart beating in his throat, sees John’s pulse in his neck. Is there something wrong with him? Should he take his blood pressure?
Leaning toward him, cupping his jaw, John says very quietly,
“I remember everything.”
Sherlock freezes. All mental functions come to a crashing halt. He can feel a strong exhale across his cheek just before the stubble of their thin beards rasp together. And then John’s lips are on his own. Moth-wing soft.
Vesuvius erupts in Sherlock’s mind, sending molten lava cascading through his chest and into his limbs.
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