Title & Link: Bedtime Stories
Pairings & Rating: Sherlock/John, Rating: General Audiences
Warnings/Content Notes: n/a
Title: Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
Pairings & Rating: Sherlock/John, Rating: Teen
Warnings/Content Notes: n/a
Summary: John has a problem. Sherlock, of course, has the perfect solution.
For the third night in a row, John woke up drenched in sweat and the remnants of a nightmare lingering at the edge of awareness. His pillow was clutched to his chest, fingers aching from the tight clench. He loosened his grip, deliberately exhaling as he released the breath he’d been holding. His throat was raw and sore, his lips dry. Most likely he had called out again in his sleep.
He glanced at his alarm clock: 3 a.m. Again.
He listened intently for any sound, however slight, that might drift up from the flat below. Sure enough, the telltale clink of glassware and the squeak of a tap gave evidence of a flatmate still up and about.
Which meant that Sherlock was aware of John’s distress. Why couldn’t Sherlock sleep at night like every normal person in London? Why did the world’s most observant man, not to mention the least empathetic person John knew, have to be privy to John’s most humiliating and private discomforts? Sherlock would never breathe a word about it, would never bring it up, but John would still know that Sherlock knew.
John closed his eyes in resignation. Maybe if he slept soundly for the rest of the night, he would forget that he had had a nightmare and so wouldn’t be embarrassed when he finally made his way downstairs in the morning for breakfast.
“Were you read to as a child? At bedtime?”
John blinked. That was not a question he was expecting first thing in the morning, before he even got his first cup of coffee. Yawning, John walked past the madman who was pipetting something into a vibrant green solution, completely ignoring him in lieu of finding a clean mug and unexpired milk. He never stopped hoping for miracles, apparently.
“Hmm?” John unscrewed the top to the milk he found buried behind the wilted lettuce and soggy cabbage, took a tentative whiff, and immediately regretted it.
“Christ. Why can’t you remember to bring home fresh milk, ever?”
“Boring. Now answer the question, it’s important. What was your favourite children’s story? Knowing you, it was something puerile like Winnie-the-Pooh.”
John sighed as he poured himself a boiling hot cup of bitterly strong coffee, resigned to the lack of milk to help dilute it. “That would be the point of a children’s story, Sherlock; they’re meant to be childish. And I never read Winnie-the-Pooh.”
One would think John had just said “I don’t wear pants when I go out in public” for the reaction he got. Well, if he had said that to a normal person, at any rate; Sherlock himself had been known to do just that.
Sherlock stared at him, mouth gaping like a goldfish. “How - what - how could you not - “
John shrugged. “Just didn’t”, he said, wincing as he took his first sip of what could accurately be called sludge. “Ask me anything about Harry Potter though. Ugh, how do you drink this swill?”
“Two sugars,” Sherlock said smugly, earning a grimace from his flatmate.
“How could you delete the entire solar system, and yet retain - “
“Oh not that again. Back to the point - what books were read to you at bedtime? To help you sleep? Alice in Wonderland? Peter Pan? There must have been something.”
“If you don’t answer my question, I’m not answering yours.”
“I see. Nobody read to you at bedtime. Did that scar you for life?”
“Pot, kettle,” John snapped.
“That is a non-sequitur. Unlike you, I was read to at bedtime. And look how I turned out.”
“My point exactly. Doesn’t seem like I missed out on much; in fact, it seems to have worked in my favour.”
“I don’t have nightmares,” Sherlock replied pointedly.
John scowled. Damn Sherlock for breaking their unspoken rule and - speaking about it. As cruel as Sherlock could sometimes be to other people, he was normally very solicitous of John (comparatively speaking). What was his problem this morning?
“Are we done here?” John asked. “I have to get ready for work. If you’re finished being a bastard by the time I get home, maybe I’ll call in to that new Chinese place that just opened up down the street for takeaway.”
This made the fifth night in a row. Excellent. Almost a week of what practically amounted to sleepless nights. John was getting thoroughly sick of it. Thoroughly.
Sherlock was most likely still awake. He always seemed to be, at this time of night. Fuck it. John could no longer be arsed to care. What was one more humiliation stacked against all the rest?
The only thing that might help now was a steaming cup of chamomile tea with just a splash of honey.
Gritting his teeth, John threw his covers off and stomped out of his room. Down the stairs he went, not bothering to quiet his footsteps. Mrs Hudson was visiting her sister, and the neighbours worked the graveyard shift. There was no one to worry about waking up, since his insomniac flatmate was probably still up and about. Even if he wasn’t, why should John give him undue consideration? Sherlock was just as likely to give a 3 a.m. screeching violin concerto as he was to be passed out on the sofa.
John stumbled into the kitchen, mindless of the bright light and the presence of one consulting detective. He went through the motions of turning on the kettle and groping around for his special blend. He knew that he must look a sight: hair standing up every which way, pillow crease on his cheek, sallow skin and bags under his eyes. He gave neither a flying fig nor a rat’s arse.
Then his left hand trembled as he reached for his mug, and he almost lost it then and there. Bone-deep despair threatened to choke the life out of him. Would this misery never end?
Behind him, Sherlock’s deep voice intoned like a life belt being cast, and the relief was just as bone deep.
“John. Go back to bed and wait for me.”
John didn’t know what he expected, but it wasn’t this. Sherlock showing up with a picture book and demanding that John make room for him in his bed. It wasn’t as if John hadn’t fantasized about this very thing, only the way it was happening was certainly surreal. John wished he was more awake, the better to appreciate the view.
“What’s this, then? Are you - are you planning on reading me back to sleep?”
“Worth a try, isn’t it? You fall asleep in front of the telly all the time to that Doctor’s voice droning on and on, and I happen to have an excellent voice. Should put you out in no time.”
John flushed, because it was true; his flatmate did have an excellent voice, but that wasn’t something a bloke admitted to another bloke. Generally speaking.
Sherlock’s gaze flicked over John, his eyes narrowing. “There’s something missing. Shouldn’t you have a stuffed animal or something?”
John immediately thought of the pillow clutched to his chest in the aftermath of his nightmare. He spluttered, “Stuffed - no, Sherlock, I don’t sleep with a - I’m a grown man, for god’s sake! Why would you even ask that?”
Sherlock shrugged. “I’m just trying to recreate conditions conducive to reading a bedtime story - so that you can experience it the way you should have as a child. Would you like to cuddle my dressing gown in lieu of - “
“Christ no, Sherlock, just - no cuddly toy required, okay?”
“As you wish.”
John shifted down until he was completely horizontal, folding his hands over his chest. He closed his eyes and tried to relax. Pages rustled and Sherlock cleared his throat.
“Chapter Five: In which...”
John’s eyes flew open. “Wait, what? What happened to the first four chapters?”
“They are markedly inferior. Now shut up and listen.”
John closed his eyes again and listened.
Sherlock’s voice was wonderful, his voice was glorious, and it definitely wasn’t helping John fall asleep. Quite the contrary. Sherlock did a different impression, tone and range for each character, and it was fucking hilarious. John had never laughed so much whilst in bed with another person. Especially when Rabbit started sounding eerily like Mycroft. When Sherlock showed him the illustration of Owl and started describing the similarities between him and his brother, John descended into an undignified giggle fit.
A hard flat object bopped him on the head.
“Oi!” John frowned as he rubbed the crown of his head. “What was that for?”
“You’re laughing like a gibbon. It’s annoying.”
Well, that was hardly fair. “You’re making me laugh.”
“I have a gift for voices. Now kindly shut up, and pay attention.”
Eventually the sound of Sherlock’s voice faded into the realm of comfort rather than entertainment. John’s eyes were closed, a low rumble in his ear as he felt himself slowly float away from the world of awareness into that indefinable realm we all collapse into when our brains become still enough. He was just about to let go of the last tether to consciousness when -
“Oh, the butterflies are flying,
Now the winter days are dying…”
John’s eyes snapped open. “Wait, wait, what?” John shot up from his supine position and grabbed Sherlock’s pyjama-clad knee. The feel of it under his palm was warm and smooth, as if the fabric had just come out of the dryer fresh and wrinkle-free. He found himself stroking the knobby protuberance in time with the tune before he recovered himself and snatched his hand away.
Sherlock’s eyes glittered at him. “Problem?”
“What the hell was that?”
“Song. This page contains Pooh singing a song. It’s supposed to be pleasantly relaxing. Do let me carry on, please.” Sherlock cleared his throat and carried on.
“And the primroses are trying to be seen.
And the turtle-doves are cooing,
And the woods are up and doing - “
“Christ on a stick! Stop, Sherlock. This - that is not putting me to sleep. I’m wide awake now. Let me see that.” John grabbed the book out of Sherlock’s hands and brought the page up to his eyes, squinting at the blurry words. He blinked twice trying to bring them into focus.
“‘Oh, the honey bees are gumming on their little wings’ - Christ - cows cooing and turtle doves mooing??” John thrust the book back at Sherlock and made a gagging sound with his throat.
Sherlock looked at him with extreme disdain. “Fine,” he growled, giving the word as much frost as he could manage. “You do realise that you have now ruined this session?”
“You could leave me to my own devices now. I could have a quiet wank to -” your chocolate curls, your alabaster skin, your stormcloud eyes, your excellent voice - “I’m joking. Sorry. No, no don’t be like that. You’re right.”
John reached out and touched Sherlock’s warm wrist. “Your voice is good. Nice. You can stop now if you’d like.”
Sherlock frowned, forehead creased. “But don’t you want to see how it comes out?”
John firmly thrust the first thought that came to his mind back down into the gutters from which it sprang. He grimaced and lay back down. He took three internal deep breaths, shut his eyes, and tried to calm his mind into sleep-worthy condition.
Surprisingly, it didn’t take long. Sherlock’s voice moved into the soothing cadence of a professional voice actor. Damn him. He was way too talented, his flatmate. Everything he tried he was good at, regardless of the amount of effort he put into it. It was hardly fair, but John was hardly going to complain. Not when he himself so often reaped the benefits of such talent. Like now.
John smiled to himself as Sherlock’s sonorous voice droned on. His breaths came out steady and true, in time with the cadence of speech. He was barely conscious but he could make out the change in pitch between Eeyore and Piglet - Sherlock’s voice tolling deep and sad, then piping timid and hopeful, and back again:
"What did Rabbit say it was?" he asked.
"An A," said Piglet.
"Did you tell him?"
"No, Eeyore, I didn't. I expect he just knew."
"He knew? You mean this A thing is a thing Rabbit knew?"
"Yes, Eeyore. He's clever, Rabbit is."
"Clever!" said Eeyore scornfully, putting a foot heavily on his three sticks. "Education!" said Eeyore bitterly, jumping on his six sticks. "What is Learning?" asked Eeyore as he kicked his twelve sticks into the air. "A thing Rabbit knows! Ha!"
"I think--" began Piglet nervously.
"Don't," said Eeyore.
"I think Violets are rather nice," said Piglet. And he laid his bunch in front of Eeyore and scampered off.
John yawned, smacked his lips, and rolled over onto his side. He buried his nose in Sherlock’s silky dressing gown. It smelled like honey and clover. The fabric slid across his skin in a pleasant fashion. A large hand settled on his hair and stroked, stroked, stroked. John nestled closer, sense and muscle memory from decades ago driving his movements. Mum may have never read to him, but she cuddled and snuggled like nobody’s business.
John drifted off to the image of a forlorn looking donkey with a pin in its tail, Sherlock’s mop of curls on its head and his mournful voice falling from its mouth. Piglet was more like Molly, John decided. So he pictured himself as Rabbit with a stethoscope hanging from his neck and wearing a white lab coat. He sighed happily.
There would be no further nightmares tonight.
A/N: The chapter Sherlock reads from here is from A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner
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