Chapter 5: Friday
John was gone.
Sherlock still couldn’t read the clock, although the dying light told him it was sometime in the evening. He’d put down his violin (gently, as he still wasn’t sure where the case was) and asked John if he was hungry, and he simply wasn’t there.
“John?” The flat echoed slightly. Nothing. “John?” His own voice bounced uselessly back at him. John usually answered by the second call.
Do. Not. Panic.
He was just out for a stroll, that was all, just out enjoying the night or grabbing a beer or chasing some serial killer down back alleys except he wouldn’t do that without Sherlock, so it was useless to worry, of course he wasn’t worried, and if John got in trouble which he wouldn’t or got hurt which he couldn’t whoever he was with would phone Lestrade, who would take care of him until Sherlock could get there. He wasn’t going to get hurt, of course he wasn’t, he never got hurt except when he was with Sherlock and Sherlock was always there to pick up the pieces so it didn’t count and if he got hurt which he wouldn’t Sherlock would be there as always except how would Sherlock know because he wasn’t with John and why wasn’t he with John –
Do. Not. PANIC.
Phone. He had to find his phone. He sat back on the couch and started fluttering his fingers like a pianist over the coffee table, desperately searching for his mobile. His fingers, however, rebelled against him in not-panic and clumsily knocked the mobile from the table, sending it skittering across the carpet. He swore foully and dived to recover it, only to pull back swearing even more foully as his forehead smacked squarely into the corner of the table. Grumbling every expletive in every language he knew, he grabbed the table and crawled around it on all fours, ears burning with humiliation even though there was no one to witness it. His knee struck his phone and he snatched it up, curling into a kneel in the middle of the living room. Navigating from memory, he managed to pound the keyboard until a new message pulled up, his fingers not moving nearly fast enough.
Where are you
He’d already pushed SEND before realizing the fundamental problem with his reasoning: even if John did respond, there was no way to read it. He’d never bothered learning where the read-aloud setting was on his phone; he’d never imagined a situation where he’d need it. Stupid. Stupid.
He threw the phone. It bounced off something and landed God-knows-where. Pointless, but he was quickly discovering there was something supremely satisfying about sending things flying across the room when frustrated. Still, nothing else was in reach, and he was certain that if he kept kneeling in the living room like an invalid he would go mad. Or possibly madder.
So he got to his feet and strode across the room, uncaring of the half-dozen objects he stepped on in the process. He got as far as the kitchen before stopping dead. In all honesty, he hated his room; it was blank, cold, nearly untouched for lack of sleep. Too impersonal. Nothing in this flat felt personal.
His hand brushed the back of a chair and tangled in heavy fabric, almost knocking it to the floor. He scrambled to snatch it before it fell, and caught a whiff of tea and the musky earth he was starting to associate with John. John’s coat. Straightening abruptly, he held it out in front of him as though examining it, both fists clenched in its folds. The longer he held it, the more he could discern, if not properly deduce; the third button was missing and his cologne wafted from the folds of the material, and for the life of him he couldn’t seem to let go. In three rapid paces he was back on the couch, clutching the jacket underneath him, facedown in the rough fabric. It smelled amazing – petrichor, that was the word he was looking for, that lush earth-after-rain scent – and felt even better, one sleeve snagging on his cheek gently as a kiss. The panic was still there, of course, but ebbing, forced into the Mind Palace’s broom closet and locked away. The cotton filling it was still thick and heavy, however, and even though he didn’t remember so much as closing his eyes, soon enough he was jolting awake as the door opened.
“Sherlock, what are you doing?”
He sprang up, staggering as he tried to orient himself. John was at the door, smelling of Guinness and cigarette smoke and surprise. Knowing full well there was no logical explanation for this, Sherlock slowly reached down, hung the jacket over the back of the couch, and sat back down witch considerably more poise, as if by erasing the evidence he could ensure it had never happened. “Why . . . wait, is that mine?”
“You left,” he said quietly.
“You left me!”
“It’s Friday night, I was out with Teresa.”
“You left me for a date?”
“Well, what did you expect, you great prat? I can hardly wait around forever for you to –”
“For me to what?” Fuming silence. “John, for me to what?”
“That is not what you were going to say! I’m not an idiot!”
“I never said you were – God, Sherlock, when are you going to learn to leave well enough alone?”
There was real anger in that question, and something Sherlock couldn’t identify. The annoyance seeped out of him at that, because it wasn’t often John was unreadable to him and to be perfectly honest, it was enough to worry him a bit. “I’m sorry.” Silence. “John, I’m sorry.”
John sighed, and he could hear the tension escape with the sound. “I was coming back, you know. I always come back.” Something warm and calloused brushed his hairline – fingertips. His breath came back in a rush as if John had somehow handed it back to him, because in his panic he’d forgotten one of the most elementary principles of 221B: People left. John didn’t.
Suddenly needing something more than words, he reached out hesitantly, waving his fingers until they brushed the nappy wool of John’s collar. “Come here.”
A quiet snort. “I am here.”
“No,” he insisted, bringing his other hand up to hold him more securely, “come here.” And he dragged him onto the couch beside him.
Warm. That was his first impression. Good, gentle, comforting warmth, like sunlight through a window. Denim and wool, freshly laundered, and he was painfully aware of how long it had been since he’d changed his pyjamas. The second was that he’d been wrong, that long-ago day at Buckingham Palace: John wasn’t short, not exactly. Short implied being small, almost delicate, and John Watson wasn’t either of those. He was compact, strong and sure as a brick wall. That being said, it wasn’t a perfect fit by any means; the couch was narrow and they were not, so their heads knocked and their legs tangled together before they found the right angle. Then all at once Sherlock’s gangliness wrapped around John’s compactness and they snapped into place like pieces of a puzzle, John stretched out on the couch and Sherlock curled over him, catlike. John shifted, making a sound deep in his throat, and Sherlock realized his fingers were still tangled in his jumper; irrationally, they tightened every time he moved, as though by sheer will he could keep John exactly where he was.
And then those curiously comforting hands were there again, one pressed flat against the small of his back and the other curving at the place where his neck met his shoulder. “You can let go now,” he said gently. “I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”
Slowly, a bit painfully after clenching so tight, his fists unfurled, although now he was unsure what to do with them; the last time he’d been this close to someone he . . . he couldn’t remember. Of course John seemed to know exactly what he was thinking; the hand at his throat lifted and landed on his, guiding it down to John’s waist. “There. Keep me from falling off, would you?”
Sherlock let out a breath that might’ve passed for a laugh and nodded, his nose brushing John’s chin as his head bobbed. The hand disappeared from his own and reappeared in his hair, tracing glorious circles through the curls. “On second thought, sleep. You look like you need it.”
He really did intend to obey this time, but the second he closed his eyes John’s clever fingers swooped just over his ear, and something in his head shifted, like an engine turning over. Slowly but surely, the fragmented maze of his Mind Palace was pulling itself back together, the cotton dissolving so that he could focus on the reassembling rather than the wreckage. He almost felt like himself again. And God, it was good.
His lips curved. “John.”
“Yes?” John’s voice was fuzzy, as though he was the one supposed to be sleeping.
“I can think.”