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Title: This Man's Heart - Chapter 19
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: None.
Pairing: Sherlock/John.
Word count: 2866
Summary: In the latter part of the 19th century, a peculiar solitary man and an ex-army doctor disfigured at war live in a small village, surrounded by breathtaking landscapes. When they first meet, they have no idea their lives are about to change forever and, over the months, they will form an unusual friendship, discover more about each other and themselves, and maybe fall a little in love along the way.
Disclaimer: See first chapter.

Back to the first chapter
Previous chapter

I want to than every single one of you who took the time to voice your opinion regarding the end of this story. The response was overwhelming; I knew some of you read it, but I had no idea so many of you did, and getting your responses throughout the week has been fantastic. I'm sorry I haven't been responding to comments individually recently, but I'm juggling three WIPs and it's taking a bit too much of my time. I'm extremely glad some of you gave this story a chance and decided to embark on that long adventure with me, I'm glad you're still here, thank you so much, you're all amazing.

Chapter 19
Sherlock ran out of the manor, ignoring Harry who called out after him to ask where he was going. The sun was higher than it had been when he had made his way over to West Birches Bay and the fog was starting to dissipate, but the air was still heavy and eerie. Sherlock didn’t waste any time; he ran to the beach, knelt in the water, and started digging up clams like he and John had done while taking care of the dying eiders. He filled his pockets and took as much as he could carry in his arms before returning to the manor.
Upon entering, he called for Harry Watson who appeared almost immediately.
“I’m taking care of him now,” Sherlock said domineeringly, “I expect you to do as I say without questions.”
Harry nodded, and Sherlock smirked in satisfaction. Harry and the best doctors of the region had tried healing John without success, but he didn’t doubt that what John needed right now was him.
“Good,” he said as he dropped the clams into Harry’s arm, “I need these opened and cooked in whichever way John likes best. I also need tea, fresh water, and cotton cloths. Meet me in the library.”
Without waiting for an answer, he stormed off towards the small library. John was still lying on his back; he hadn’t moved since Sherlock had left, and his eyes were closed. Sitting beside him, Sherlock cradled John’s head in his lap and started affectionately stroking his hair.
“You’re not dying, John. Not before I say you can.”
There was a knock, and the door opened to reveal Harry. She was carrying a tray with a big bowl of fresh water, several dry cloths, a steaming teapot, and a teacup. Standing in the doorway, she looked almost shy.
“The cook is working on the clams, but I brought you water and tea,” she said, and Sherlock gestured for her to leave the tray on the floor beside him.
“I want you to know that if there is anything you need, anything I can do, please call for me. There is a servant standing outside the door in case you need anything.”
Sherlock nodded, but he barely looked at her. He concentrated on dipping the cloth into the cool water and squeezing off the excess. Meanwhile, Harry quietly left the room, closing the door behind her before presumably heading back to the kitchen to see how the cook was doing with the clams. Sherlock pushed all thoughts of Harry out of his mind, and he pressed the wet cloth to John’s burning forehead. John flinched at the contrast in temperatures, and Sherlock tried to shush him comfortingly.
“I know it’s cold, but it’s good for you,” Sherlock said as he dabbed John’s face with the cloth.
He dipped it in water once more before moving on to his friend’s neck. John let out a moan, and Sherlock continued to murmur soothing words and encouragements until there was a knock on the door again. It was Harry with another tray.
“Clam chowder,” she announced, “he hasn’t eaten in days, so it will be a victory if you manage to make him take just a few mouthfuls. There is well enough for two, and there is some bread and butter in case you want some. It’s delicious with the chowder.”
Sherlock hummed in acknowledgment, and Harry set the tray down beside the other one before hastily leaving the room. Once he and John were alone again, Sherlock switched their positions. He sat down with his back against one of the book walls, and he dragged John up until he was half sitting and half leaning on his torso. He was so weak, moving him was as easy as moving a ragdoll.
“Now John, you’re going to eat, even if I have to force this chowder down your throat.”
Not knowing what to expect, Sherlock raised the spoon to John’s mouth, but his lips remained firmly closed.
“Come on, my little eider, you need to eat,” he said in a tone he had hoped would be playful, but that ended up sounding slightly distressed.
Unfortunately, his words had no effect. The chowder smelled very good, though, and Sherlock could feel his stomach rumbling, so he ate a few mouthfuls, and as predicted, it was delicious. John’s head rolled to the side, and he looked up at Sherlock with what almost looked like a smile on his lips. Sherlock looked at John and ran an uncommonly gentle hand on his cheek.
“Now you want some?” he murmured in John’s ear, and his chest filled with hope when he filled the spoon.
He raised the spoon to John’s lip again, and this time, John opened his mouth and ate a mouthful. Then another, and another. Sherlock stomach filled with butterflies, and he felt the sudden urge to laugh in relief. Instead, he kissed John’s right cheek while caressing his left one.
“I’m so proud of you, you’re doing so good,” Sherlock whispered, but when he lifted the full spoon again, John refused to eat.
Struck with an idea, Sherlock ate several mouthfuls, and when he presented the spoon to John again, he accepted the offered food. Thinking back about the eiders, Sherlock remembered how they had made the weak ducks drink some water, and, using one hand, he poured some tea into the cup. He drank the first sip to test the temperature, and he offered John the cup. When he drank a few sips, Sherlock was delighted.
“You’re wonderful,” Sherlock said, still stroking John’s cheek.
John was still limp against him, his eyes were closed, and his skin was still hot and covered in sweat, but his breathing wasn’t as laboured as it had been before, and Sherlock considered it a personal victory. In the following hour, he continued to feed tea and chowder to John who only accepted to drink and eat when Sherlock did so first. Sherlock only stopped once in a while to cool John’s skin with a damp cloth or to plant gentle kisses to his temple.
Soon after John had swallowed the last mouthful, Sherlock felt John’s breathing even out; he was asleep on his shoulder. Sherlock continued to cool his skin down while whispering loving, soothing words in his ear until Harry knocked on the door. When Sherlock invited her inside, her eyes immediately went to the empty bowl on the tray.
“Did he eat some of that?” she asked expectantly.
“Half of it,” Sherlock answered, and although he had promised himself not to be agreeable to Harry, he couldn’t help the small smile that pulled his lips upwards.
Harry closed her eyes for a few seconds, and she sighed in relief.
“Oh thank you, thank you so much,” she said.
“He still has a fever, but his breathing has improved. He fell asleep a few minutes ago, but I would like to move him to his bed so he will be more comfortable.”
“I can carry him,” she offered as she stepped inside the library.
“No, I’ll do it.”
Sherlock slid a hand under John’s arms and the other one under his knees, and he stood up carefully while keeping John close to his chest. With all the weight he had lost, John wasn’t that difficult to carry, and he didn’t even wake up when Sherlock stumbled a little. Sherlock shot one last glance around the room as John snuggled up against him while muttering incoherently, and he spotted his violin case.
“Bring my violin and my coat,” Sherlock told Harry, and he waited until she had gathered the two items before following her out of the room, into a few corridors, up the stairs, and finally, into John’s bedroom.
The room, like every room in the manor, was exceptionally spacious and had enormous windows. The bed was so large it could have comfortably fit five people, and it was covered with a very plush looking duvet. Harry put the violin and the coat on the bed before opening the covers. Delicately, Sherlock laid John down on the bed, pushing the duvet away as not to overheat him.
“I need more cold water,” he told Harry, and she nodded.
“Is it true, then? You love him?” she asked.
“I do,” Sherlock said defiantly.
He didn’t feel the need to add anything more; he felt better about John’s sister now that she wasn’t hysterically screaming at him, but he was still wary, and he was determined not to let her dictate his conduct anymore. Harry looked at him for a moment during which Sherlock refused to break eye contact, and it was Harry who finally looked away.
“I’ll send a servant with the water. He will stay in the corridor in case you need anything,” she said, and with one last awkward glance, she was gone.
After the servant had brought the fresh water bowl, Sherlock settled on the bed beside John. Slowly, very gently as not to wake him up, he started running the cold cloth all over John’s face and neck. Although John was sleeping and couldn’t hear him, Sherlock felt the urge to talk, and he did so while running a hand through John’s hair.
“You’ll come back, John. I know you will. Right now you need some sleep to fight the fever, but I’m waiting for you. I’m not going anywhere,” he whispered, and if his voice broke a little on the last syllable, there was no one to hear.
“I’m going to take your shirt off now, I need to cool your skin to help you fight the fever,” he said as he carefully manoeuvred John’s arms and head through his shirt’s holes.
Sherlock didn’t want to stare, he genuinely didn’t want to, but John’s skin was glistening with sweat and so close. With slightly trembling hands, Sherlock wet the cloth in cold water again, and he started rubbing it on John’s torso, often dipping it back in water when it became too warm.
Sherlock only stopped once John’s skin seemed a little colder to the touch. Then, he kissed John’s forehead, whispered, “I’m not going anywhere” in his ear, and he lay down beside him with a hand over his heart to feel its beating, feel that John was alive. He must have dozed off at some point, because the sound of someone knocking on the door startled him awake. It took him a few seconds to remember where he was, but when he did, he immediately concentrated on John’s steady heartbeat, and he sighed in relief when he felt it, strong and steady under his hand. Then, he hurriedly got off the bed and invited whoever was outside to enter. It was John’s sister.
“How is he doing?” she asked.
“He’s still sleeping, but I think his temperature has dropped a little bit.”
“That’s good news,” she said while looking at her brother’s sleeping form. “I know it’s none of my business, but I think you’re supposed to get married in less than two hours.”
Sherlock’s eyes widened; he had forgotten all about Molly Hooper and the wedding. It seemed ludicrous now that he was inches away from the man he loved. There wasn’t a hint of doubt in his mind; he couldn’t marry Molly, and he had no desire for numbness and boredom anymore. There was no way he could recite those vows, no way he could dance with Molly, and once the reception was over…the wedding night…. He almost shuddered in disgust; this had been his worst idea ever.
“I’m not getting married,” he told Harry, and it was the truth; he didn’t care about the consequences, didn’t care about the sadness and disappointment he would cause, he wasn’t getting married.
“I can’t…. I’m not leaving John,” he added, and Harry nodded.
“Stay with him, I’ll take care of it,” she said, and a moment later she was gone.
Sherlock quickly went back to bed, and he saw that John was awake and looking up at him questioningly. Sherlock pressed his hand to John’s forehead, cheeks, and neck to feel his temperature, and he was pleased to see that he wasn’t as hot as he had been earlier.
“Go to sleep, I love you,” Sherlock said, and John’s eyes fluttered shut.
A few minutes later, he was asleep again. This time, Sherlock didn’t let himself drift into a lazy slumber, he remained in a sitting position and listened to his friend’s breathing for a few hours, occasionally carding his fingers through John’s hair when he became agitated, and the gentle gesture was enough to calm him down.
For four days, John didn’t talk. His temperature kept rising and dropping in random cycles, and most of the time, he was asleep. When he wasn’t, he was looking at Sherlock with big, pleading eyes, and Sherlock, unsure of what John needed, kept whispering loving words while softly caressing his face. Sherlock very rarely left his side, only going out of the room when the nurse Harry had hired needed to tend to John’s needs. On one of those occasions, while he was pacing in the corridor outside John’s room, Harry came to see him.
“Did you…?” he trailed off while gesturing, but Harry knew exactly what he was talking about.
“I went to your aunt’s house and ran into Moran and Moriarty who were also on their way to see her. None of them seemed surprised when I said where you were and that you wouldn’t be getting married. They said they would handle everything.”
“Thank you,” he said.
“Your aunt wants to see you as soon as possible, but I said it was unlikely I would ever convince you to leave John’s bedside. She understood, and I told her I would keep her informed,” Harry said, looking almost embarrassed.
“Thank you,” Sherlock said once more, because there wasn’t anything else to say. Harry didn’t leave, though, she stayed in front of Sherlock and fidgeted; it was obvious there was something else she wanted to say.
“Maybe when John is better…if you want to…if John wants to…well, I was thinking, maybe you could ask her to visit.”
The last part was said extremely quickly, as if the whole sentence had only been composed of one long word. It was clear she wasn’t used to making that kind of invitation.
“We’ll see,” he said as the nurse came out of John’s bedroom.
Immediately, Sherlock excused himself and hurried inside the room. He sat on the bed to resume his watchful guard, and John once again looked at him with eyes so sad it almost hurt to look back. Sherlock ran a soothing hand through John’s tousled hair, and he tried to offer a reassuring smile.
“I wish I knew what’s making you so sad,” he said as John closed his eyes and fell asleep again, Sherlock watching over him.
Eventually, John woke up again, and when he tried to talk, only a croaking sound came out, so Sherlock hurried out of the room, and as always, a servant was waiting outside. He asked him for a pot of tea and a glass of water before going back to John. He ordered him not to talk, and John smiled weakly. When the servant came back, John was feebly lifting himself up on one elbow. Sherlock offered him the two beverages, and when John pointed at the glass of water, Sherlock held it up to his lips so he could take several large gulps. When he was done, John let himself fall back onto the pillows with a small groan. Sherlock crawled back into bed after putting the half-empty glass of water on the bedside table, and he sat down, facing John.
“Can you talk?” he asked softly.
“Yes,” John said, and something in his voice didn’t seem quite right, but at least he was talking. He must have realized something was wrong because he raised a hand to his face and frowned.
“My mask?” he asked, and there was a hint of panic in his voice.
Sherlock shushed him, grabbed his hand and pulled it away from his face.
“You don’t need it, not with me,” he said, and John shivered.
“Are you cold?” Sherlock asked, and John nodded.
Instead of pulling the duvet up, Sherlock grabbed his long coat that was still on the foot of the bed, and he covered John with it, tucking it in firmly under his sides. John smiled, but it was a sad smile.
“How are you feeling?” Sherlock inquired.
“Rotten and exhausted. But I don’t think I can go back to sleep, I have never slept that much in my entire life,” he answered while grimacing.
Sherlock kissed John’s forehead, got off the bed, and grabbed his violin. The instrument felt smooth and comfortable in his hands; it was pleasant to hold it again after those six long and painful months. After a few random strokes of the bow against the strings to get a feel of the instrument, he chose a piece by Chopin, and he let the slow, languorous notes lull John back to sleep.

Next chapter.

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Ellie L.

December 2012

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