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Bottled Lightning

Title: Bottled Lightning
Disclaimer: I own neither the characters nor the world
Rating: M
A/N: Beta'd by the wonderful team of caffienekitty,  sandrinnad  and lurkingwombat  I thank them for their fortitude and endless patience. Prompted by reading  [info]moony 's Kissing Meme.
Warnings: Mentions of mental health issues, references to child abuse.



Sherlock’s skin is crawling on his bones. Like biting a power cable and being burned from the inside out.

When he was five he stuck one of his lead soldiers into a socket. The feeling is similar, but magnified. His eyes burn more than blinking can relieve. There is something he needs, and it isn’t sleep. He can’t deduce the problem sufficiently in his sleep.

Sherlock walks around the block until the smell of concrete and gas fumes coats his tongue, but the people irritate him and interfere with his observations.  He stalks across the flat, attempts to play the violin, adds nicotine patches, catches a taxi to the yard just to test the effects of sedation on Anderson (who never inspects his coffee), none of it works. His fingernails itch with static.  Sherlock sits on the couch, drumming the melody to Paganini’s Tema con Variazioni: Quasi Presto in A minor on his thigh.


the cuts

John’s remembers sleep like another country. One he was permanently banned from visiting. When he woke in the middle of last night, everything was blood. He could smell it when he opened his eyes, re-learning to breathe. John realized his hands were his own and not a tool for holding arteries together. His pulse thrummed under his tongue, choking him in the dark. Then he heard the pacing footsteps downstairs, the violin, and everything slowed. He closed his eyes, fingers twitching as he drifted off.

His life is a series of static shots with nothing between them, John falls from one scene to another, with the illusion of movement. He misses the frenzy in the surgery tent, the constant pressure.

John boils his loose tea precisely three and a half minutes, as he did when he was a child. He can almost smell the perfect saturation point of the tannin leaves now, and the perfume of bergamot twines itself through his hair as he leans in to breathe the steam.

Sherlock is a storm, a constant stream of energy, even when still. From the kitchen John can feel Sherlock’s pulse where he is curled into the couch, silk gown trailing down the cushions behind him. John can practically see the equations being solved, floating like smoke around Sherlock’s head.

John was being pulled along, defying gravity as he ran behind Sherlock.  He watched Sherlock run backwards, making sure John followed. Sherlock’s skin flamed with the chase.

His life with Sherlock is a film; he can feel himself spinning with him, events blurring past him until he cannot feel the edges of the day, or night.


concern in 12/8 measures


Sherlock is aware of John. Most of the world is a distraction, and people are the worst offenders. John is not.  He looks at Sherlock, not as a novelty, a tool, or a freak. As if he is more.

Sherlock is always praised for his mind, his “potential.” He loathes that word. He cannot be compartmentalized, fractured into parts, leaving what is useless. He knows he is brilliant and that is…was...enough

Sherlock stands before the mantle, one finger slipping behind the skull and tracing the occipital bone. He has an open invitation to the British Museum to use any equipment he wishes provided he notifies them first—which he does, when he remembers to. The electron microscope is what he fancies most often.  The writing on the skull is invisible to the eye, but Sherlock knows what is inscribed inside and outside his skull. He doesn’t keep a diary (dull), but hard drives, even his, are not infallible. Every moment in his life that has left entropy in its wake is inscribed on the bone, and now there is a new section at the edge of the foramen magnum. Sherlock thinks it is fitting that John has a place near where the spinal cord enters the brain.

John brings silence with him. Not the white noise that passes for quiet in Sherlock’s brain, but the hum before thunderstorm and the rain.

He knows John doesn’t sleep. Sometimes Sherlock paces just to let John know he is here. Last night he focused on a constant rhythm, and picked up his violin, looping the melody and building on it, drawing John out of the dark. He wasn’t sure it had worked until the morning. The shadows under John’s eyes had lessened, and he seemed softer, as if the sleep had taken hold.

John had smiled slightly at Sherlock, glancing at the violin case on the sofa behind him. He knew. Sherlock stalked back to the sofa, taking John’s laptop as he passed the table.

He watches John make tea, noticing the crinkles in his shirt. Less than the previous night, so he was not thrashing about in his sleep. Sherlock knows that his pacing and playing has an effect then. Sherlock smiles down at the laptop, feeling energy skitter through his fingertips.


duels and desserts

Sherlock likes to think no one can read him, that his emotions don’t overrule his reason. John knows better. He could see it when Sherlock ripped the vest from him at the pool, barely able to string a sentence together, all that manic energy failing him. For a moment John had thought Sherlock would press his head into John’s chest, trying to find his heartbeat. Sherlock swayed toward him briefly, head down, then spun around, blinking away his moment of weakness. John knew it, and had cracked a joke to cover whatever precipice they were balanced on.

John watches Sherlock stares intensely at the skull on the mantle. Sometimes John wants to crawl inside that vast brain and pull up a chair.  Sherlock won’t tell him everything, but John wonders if he will allow him to ask. Sherlock’s cobalt silk nightgown seems too imprecise and flowing a piece of clothing for him to own. John wonders if he has it for comfort, or if Sherlock even thinks of mundane things like that. Sherlock’s fingers trail over the skull as if he is divining its secrets. John doesn’t have secrets enough for a man like Sherlock, all he can do is try to keep up.

John isn’t afraid of many things. Even the nightmares don’t affect him much anymore. Now he thinks more of Sherlock, and how alike they are. John dreams more of the chase now than Afghanistan. Sherlock dissects everything so well John looks forward to the next murder, more than he expected. John isn’t sure if it is about the work anymore.

John never makes anything for just himself. When he was younger he always made enough tea for Harry too. Enough eggs and toast for both of them, and always saved the last of the jelly for his sister. When their mother was lucid, John made something for her, but it wasn’t often. He doesn’t think Sherlock grasps why he never snaps at him for imperiously demanding tea, but given time he will probably sort it out.

John used to calculate the exact saturation point of black tea in an attempt to please his mother. Occasionally it worked. Sometimes she smiled at Harry when she brought mum wildflowers she had collected from an empty lot on the way home from school. The other times…

John came home from high school one day to find Harry had locked herself in the upstairs bathroom. He could see the scuff marks at the bottom of the door, and heard the vacuum downstairs. Mum was in a cleaning fit again. He knocked on the bathroom door.

“Harry?” He heard a sob of relief and the click of the lock. John pushed the door open, grabbed his sister’s damp palm and tugged her into his arms.

“Ice cream.” He whispered.

They both ran down the stairs and grabbed jackets on the way out the door.

There was a distant “Scarves!!” from the dining room, barely audible over the roar of the vacuum.

They didn’t stop.



Harry uses alcohol to dissolve her life, leaving great voids, hoping to punch through and become someone else. His sister has no sense of time, always late, expecting John to forgive her, relying on her charm and a smile. He forgives her, always. He knows he cannot help her weave her life back together when he is busy disintegrating his own.

Even the rush of London is not enough when he returns home after being discharged. He wakes up each morning missing the smell of blood. He has walked down alleys waiting for the rush of a gun barrel gouging his spine; expecting the fall and the dark once everything goes wrong. It’s the same day he meets Mike in the park, then Sherlock.

There is a tear in the arm of John’s chair.  If John didn’t know better he would think it was caused by a large knife or—a sword. John settles back against the seat with his tea, casting his eyes around the room, trying to catalogue all the damage with Sherlock’s name on it. Frankly he is surprised the flat is still standing most days. John wonders what scars are hidden under Sherlock’s sleek clothes, how much of his friend survives the fire.

John thought he had stopped waiting, but Sherlock ran back up the stairs to find him and asked if he had seen death. John tried to control his fissuring nerve endings and lets himself want. Just once more.


take this waltz

John knows precise timing is a lie. He welcomes the chaos of war, Sherlock’s lack of social niceties, and disregard for the world in general. He cannot categorize Sherlock, and that is as close to whole as John Watson has ever been.

John lets his arm drift to the floor, empty teacup clicking as he lets it go. His head drops back as he listens to the mournful tones Sherlock draws from his violin.  John feels like something inside him is being wrenched out, yet he feels heavier as it leaves.


fugues and blisters

Sherlock wonders why John doesn’t leave, when he has never kept a flatmate for more than a month before this. Sherlock is never aware of the chaos around him, but he knows John is, and yet there is no fire in his complaints. He almost seems pleased by it. He tested John by leaving the head in the fridge, to no discernible effect. Remembering this, Sherlock feels something in his lungs, as if an embolism is rupturing. Curious. He huffs at John and the feeling passes. He picks up the violin and proceeds to play Bartok and Ravel’s Tzigane until the tips of his fingers ache and he cannot feel his arm. There is a sigh from John’s chair. He ignores it for the moment, spinning around the question that is Dr. Watson.

There is another piece to John, and Sherlock is certain he can dig it out.  He hisses in pain as he lowers the violin, rising from the couch.

“Don’t move you great idiot! I am going to get the salve before you try to sleep and do yourself further damage.” John pushes Sherlock, who is wavering with exhaustion, back onto the couch.

Sherlock places his violin in the case and brushes his hand over the imprint of John’s finger on his burgundy silk shirt. John invades his space as much as Sherlock does John’s. Sherlock smirks to himself and taps a finger impatiently on his leg. Blisters, oh.



John became a doctor to help people, obviously. He realizes later that he is grasping for a blueprint, attempting to align the outside by mending the flesh. Personalities are too complicated, tending to the body is easy. Yet he keeps trying to sort the barrier between what people do, and how they bleed. As quickly as his fingers can--used to--he sutures. The faster he goes, the more he sees the workings surrounding him. If anyone might understand, it is the madman he shares a flat with.

He returns to the sitting room, and Sherlock is holding his hands out in front of him, sleeves rolled back, arms hovering above his thighs. There is a careful, tense look on his face.

“Coming back to you is it?” John snorts.

“I fail to see how amusing you relieves my discomfort.” Sherlock’s voice drops as he growls.

“Discomfort, huh?” John smirks and wonders how much further Sherlock’s voice can sink. He sits beside him on the sofa and drops the bag of supplies he brought onto the cushion. He holds his hand out until Sherlock sighs and gives John his arm. He pulls Sherlock’s forearm until it rests on his knee and reaches into the bag for a small tin. Faint tremors in Sherlock’s pale skin shift his arm against John’s knee. John remembers the regular rhythm of Sherlock pacing while he was lying awake the other night.

“Not the only one with a tremor in my hand now, am I?” John quips.

Sherlock raises an eyebrow, but smiles back. John turns the hand over, whispering a bit of the salve over Sherlock’s fingertips, then draws it into his palms, massaging as he goes. He can feel Sherlock’s pulse speed up when he brushes his wrist. John releases the arm, and Sherlock turns, giving him access to the other one.

“I expected you to protest more.” John says.

“If I don’t allow you to do this now, it will impede my ability to text later. I had no plans to sleep this week John.”

“I’m sure you didn’t. Micro-sleep perhaps, otherwise it won’t be just talking to the skull, it might answer you too.”

Sherlock laughs and John releases his other hand. John feels colder when he grabs the bag and returns to his chair.

“Thank you John. I will endeavor to remain lucid and keep the conversation with my skull one-sided.”

John tenses, and then picks up a cloth to wipe off the rest of the salve on his fingers. He tosses a pair of cotton gloves at Sherlock when he is done.

“Put those on so you don’t leave a trail of grease on everything.”

“Contrary to belief John, I do not leave muddy hand prints everywhere I go like a child.” Sherlock glares down at the gloves on his leg.”

“You’re the one who wants to text, Sherlock Do it” John commands.

Sherlock gives a long-suffering sigh and pulls on the gloves, hissing as he does.

John winces in sympathy, finding it difficult to breathe watching his friend struggle. He once worked for 36 hours straight after flechette bombs had destroyed a convoy near their camp in Afghanistan. John lost track of how many sutures he used, running out of painkillers, giving a soldier his belt to chew when there was no anesthetic. He doesn’t remember being pulled away from his last patient, and realized that all the other doctors had disappeared. He was benched for days after that, and had improvised a salve from crushing Paracetamol into petroleum jelly while he waited to be returned to surgery.

“You made this from petroleum jelly and Paramecetol didn’t you John? Desperate circumstances then I imagine. But why bother continuing to make it now?” Sherlock fusses with the gloves and glances at John sidelong.

“Because it’s mine. When there was nothing else I used it. No one else thought to try. You dredge what you can from chaotic situations...” John swallows the deranged grin stealing over his face as he picks up the tin and fiddles with the lid. He looks up to see Sherlock smiling back at him, foot tapping on the floor.

Being static is a yawning abyss to John. His mother was most often manic, but when she wasn’t it was like being sheared in two. Nothing would move her, and John needed to make a place for himself and Harry while they waited for it to break. At times John wrenched himself from bed in the morning, feeling like he had left something essential on the sheets behind him.

He knows both he and Harry cannot stand dessert now, after spending so much time at the little coffee shop near their flat. It was nothing like being whole, just the few hours they snatched for themselves. They would watch the customers around them, and spin stories of other people’s lives, layering impossible things, one over the other, until they collapsed laughing, ice cream forgotten. Now, John rips away the gears of the world, trying to rebuild something he can rely on. He doesn’t need his therapist (or Mycroft) to tell him that his obsession with danger is unhealthy, but the alternative is—

“We can hire someone John. I don’t fancy cleaning up either. I wouldn’t mind if you cooked though--I can’t be bothered.”

John comes back to himself, feeling a pressure on his arm. Sherlock is crouched, hovering beside him, one gloved hand pressed against him, the other twitching at his side, like he is unsure what to do with it.


embolisms in 4/4

Sherlock knows there is nothing reassuring about him. His life is sharp, frenetic; and the fractured way he deals with everything outside himself works for him, most of the time. He feels like he is in a sensory storm, and he races through it, just to keep pace. Even his clothes are fitted too close to him, to avoid snagging anything else in his sphere that isn’t relevant, that would interfere with compartmentalizing. Strata lurks under everything, everyone, and if he can take the details one at a time and bring them back together, there is some order to it. Mycroft is the only other person who understands that, or at least he was until John.

John follows Sherlock like he is compelled; he doesn’t think, just drops his cane and chases after him. Sherlock has never been chased by someone who wasn’t trying to kill him before. It is…he feels the pressure in his lungs again.

“You make me feel like there is an embolism trying to stop my breath. Then you make me laugh and I find the air again.” The words are pulled out of Sherlock; he is being strangled by them.

John stands up suddenly, he sounds like he is hyperventilating and his eyes are closed.

“No.” John grinds out. He crushes the tin lid in his palm, feels a trickle of blood. He wills his feet to move, but his body refuses. He stares fixedly as Sherlock’s hand opens John’s clenched fist, his blood soaking into Sherlock’s white cotton gloves.

John stitching Harry’s leg with blue cotton thread because they couldn’t go to the clinic and explain the broken glass mum pushing Harry falling screaming blood streaking the yellow ceramic tiles     Sherlock in the doorway of the flat, asking John to run trading fiendish smiles running leg forgotten

hands blistered from bleach scrubbing the tub for the fifth time mum standing over him knowing Harry is safe behind boxes in his wardrobe    safe for today  

 trading safe for chaos    for the edge of exhaustion working until he forgets where he is forgets the smell remembers the smile of the boy he traded comics with in exchange for spices near his camp failing to save the boy’s mother from a roadside bomb    dinner with Sherlock  hot peppers in his pasta wondering if his cheeks are flushed only from the spice or the stare of his flatmate...friend?

holding them all together begging mum to leave the bed staring at the orange paisley pattern on her quilt until it starts to move    slipping      nothing whole nothing safe nothing sacred        crack of his elbow joint against something warm heartbeat so fast going down waiting for the drop nothing left


to hold him here

John’s face is pressed into Sherlock’s chest. Sherlock’s heart. He felt its rhythm falling with him. He feels the floor under his knees, a splinter in his calf. Sherlock caught him.


He can hear the hitches in Sherlock’s breathing, his ear pressed to the silk over his friend’s chest.  “You smell like sandalwood and formaldehyde.”

Sherlock hums in response. John presses himself closer to the sound, tracing patterns with his finger over Sherlock’s ribs.

“I don’t know if flat mates are supposed to be this dependant on each other.” John tries.
Sherlock moves his hands from behind John’s back, considering.

John inhales one more time and lifts his head up to look at him. Sherlock’s predatory eyes flicker over his face, cataloguing every detail. John stares back, forcing Sherlock to focus.

“Have you ever found the reason, in all this sorting and deducing that you do?” John barely gets the words out, and turns his head away.

“If you want me to answer you need to look at me John.”

John turns back. The sound of his name has changed as Sherlock says it.

“I need to filter the data to survive. I cannot process everything at once, and that is how I see the world. I need to dissect the workings of it, and keep moving as I do it or I will be overwhelmed. I have never found…shared the way I see things with anyone. Except Mycroft, but he hardly counts since we need never speak. I run after criminals, experiment, and peel away the flesh of existence, and even as I do, and assemble them again—I need more.” Sherlock sounds out of breath.

John almost makes a joke, and then realizes he doesn’t need that now.

“There is just the next mystery, the next case, the next experiment, but all seems a bit boring with no one to talk to except the skull doesn’t it?” John says, and the prickles in his legs remind him to move. He moves away from Sherlock slightly, or tries to, and his hands are captured by Sherlock again.

“It is a good thing I don’t mind my personal space being invaded.” John smirks and stares at Sherlock. Something moves under Sherlock’s skin and he leans towards John.

Barely an inch separates them now, and John struggles to breathe. Sherlock’s air shivers against his face.

“Maybe it takes more than one person to find the pattern.” John whispers and leans his forehead against Sherlock’s. John turns his hands until his fingers drift up to circle Sherlock's `wrists.

They fall as one, John pressing Sherlock against the back of the chair as he tangles his hands in the blue-black curls, bringing their lips together. John leaves traces of blood on Sherlock’s cheek as he holds his face. He wipes the smear with a finger.

Sherlock smiles at him. “I can give you the gloves if you like.” His voice is unsteady as he runs his hands under John’s jumper and up his spine.

John’s body hums like he is holding lightning. John needs to be forged in fire, and Sherlock is molten enough to burnish both of them.




( 41 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 12th, 2011 09:46 am (UTC)
im a lazy sod and i never, ever, ever comment on fics read on my iPod, but i would like to say that this is truly beautiful. you play with language very tenderly and usually in an unorthodox manner, and every odd phrase or so i faintly experience the frankly amazing amount of thought you put into your writing. i like the way you express nuances without brandishing us over the head with them, especially how the sound of John's name being said by Sherlock changed when the occasion too changed. (forgive me if i cant c/p out every single bit i love, but honestly there are too many and its a real hassle on this thing) i cant write for shits, never have been able to, but this makes me want to keep on trying until one day i manage to squeeze out even one hundredth of the warmth you brought to me when i read this fic. thank you, you are honestly an inspiration to me.
Mar. 12th, 2011 07:33 pm (UTC)
I cannot even tell you how overwhelmed your comment has made me. I have never inspired anyone to write, and I am so grateful that you loved it this much. I constantly worry about anything I post, so thank you so much for commenting.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 12th, 2011 07:34 pm (UTC)
Oh my...*blushing* well thank you so much:)
Mar. 12th, 2011 01:07 pm (UTC)
Love your use of language, very deft and a bit lyrical.
Mar. 12th, 2011 07:37 pm (UTC)
I agonized over it for a long time, as my poor betas would tell you..lol Thank you so much:)
Mar. 12th, 2011 01:20 pm (UTC)
Your style is brilliant and quite the fantastic read. But my favorite line, the one that made my breath catch in my throat, was "John almost makes a joke, and then realizes he doesn’t need that now." I love it. Thanks for sharing :)
Mar. 12th, 2011 07:39 pm (UTC)
I am so thrilled you enjoyed it, I am feeling a tad overwhelmed right now, but thank you!
Mar. 12th, 2011 02:36 pm (UTC)
Love the electrical imagery.
Mar. 12th, 2011 07:39 pm (UTC)
Thanks, I was hoping that came across throughout it:)
Mar. 12th, 2011 11:39 pm (UTC)
This is wonderful. I love the imagery and words you used.
Mar. 13th, 2011 01:46 am (UTC)
Oh thank you! *blushes*
Mar. 12th, 2011 11:58 pm (UTC)
His life is a series of static shots with nothing between them, John falls from one scene to another, with the illusion of movement. He misses the frenzy in the surgery tent, the constant pressure.

So many lines to choose from, but these are too gorgeous to ignore. I really hope you keep writing these characters.
Mar. 13th, 2011 01:48 am (UTC)
I am struggling to find words--but thank you for commenting:) This is my first slash fic, but I do love writing for Sherlock and John, oh yes.
Mar. 13th, 2011 02:59 am (UTC)
So many people have praised this, and they are so right. I will add. Your writing is luminous. I can taste it.

Johns mother feels very real to me. John protecting Harry, so right in terms of who he becomes.

I love the image of the bergamot twining in his hair. And the blisters....
Mar. 13th, 2011 03:32 am (UTC)
Thank you so much, I cannot believe the comments, truly. I am glad their mother feels real, I was worried about that too, and as you said who John becomes later. I can't stop blushing honestly..lol
(no subject) - gayalondiel - Mar. 13th, 2011 06:09 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ciaranbochna - Mar. 13th, 2011 09:20 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 13th, 2011 10:46 am (UTC)
Mar. 13th, 2011 07:34 pm (UTC)
I am glad you liked it, thank you!
Mar. 14th, 2011 01:07 am (UTC)
In addition to what I've said previously, guess what! I'm reccing this in my recs post this week! And you can't stop me! Bwahahahah!
Mar. 14th, 2011 01:25 am (UTC)
Well then, I stand chastised..lol And err--thank you!!
Mar. 14th, 2011 01:58 am (UTC)
Wow, this is amazingly wonderful.
Mar. 14th, 2011 05:57 am (UTC)
*blushes and shuffles feet* Thanks:)
Mar. 14th, 2011 06:53 am (UTC)
I've said it before and will say it again: amazing :)
Mar. 14th, 2011 03:42 pm (UTC)
You guys are entirely too kind to me you know..lol Thanks.
Mar. 20th, 2011 03:20 pm (UTC)
I love the imperfections of these characters so much and the way you wove them together was beautiful. I am a fast reader, definitely not on purpose, so the stories go too quickly. But a story like yours is perfect for a Sunday morning. You have to savor each line and your words were beautiful. Thank you for writing!
Mar. 20th, 2011 06:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much, I had hoped that the interwoven nature of it worked:) Never considered it beautiful but thank you for thinking it and reading it enough to rec. *blushes*
Mar. 20th, 2011 05:16 pm (UTC)
The style of this was very interesting. Really good story!
Mar. 20th, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you!:)
Mar. 22nd, 2011 01:21 am (UTC)
Wow. That was just lovely. Really well done. Thanks so much!
Mar. 22nd, 2011 02:45 am (UTC)
I am thrilled you liked it:)Thank you.
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( 41 comments — Leave a comment )


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