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Black and Blue

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Bloody buggering hell!"

John hadn't meant to swear quite so loud, given that Mrs. Hudson wouldn't appreciate such a rude awakening, but considering the force with which his buttocks had connected with about 7 steps, he thought he could be forgiven. 

He groaned, and tried to breathe through the pain, but it was difficult, considering his body was currently a giant, throbbing, man-shaped ball of agony. 

It had all happened so fast. His little stumble on the third step down, causing his foot to slide on a piece of paper he'd been meaning to move, then he was falling, or more like skidding down the steps on his arse and back. Hard. 

To top it all off, his head had shot forward and he'd banged his eyebrow on...the banister? The wall? He didn't know, but regardless, it hurt like the devil, and he could already feel it swelling. 

"Fucking fuck."

"Very eloquent, John, I'm sure the loyal readers of your blog would be riveted."

Sherlock's dig was a little less harsh than usual, possibly because he was sympathetic to John's plight, or because he'd been sleeping a few minutes previous. Most likely the latter. 

"Oh, shut it. Help me up, would you?"

Slowly, painfully, John used Sherlock's offered hand to lever himself to his feet. He could feel his blood pounding in the wounds on his back and thighs. Even his elbows ached, and he realized he'd probably banged them, as well. 

"What happened?" Sherlock asked, tentatively. John figured he must look pretty bad if his clueless flatmate was being nice. 

"What does it look like? I fell down the stairs." He hadn't meant to snap, but his face was throbbing and the rest of him was aching, and it certainly didn't help that his best friend was standing this close to him, wearing nothing but a thin t-shirt and pyjama bottoms, slung low on his hips. 

Averting his gaze from the strip of pale skin showing, John stumbled toward the bathroom, hissing in pain with nearly every step. He flicked on the light in the bathroom and blinked away the spots in his vision. 

His eye looked nearly as bad as it felt. A small goose egg had already started to form on his brow bone, so he couldn't open his eye fully. No bruises had started to form yet, but he figured it was only a matter of time. The good news was he didn't appear to have a concussion. Thank heaven for small mercies. 

He twisted around and tried to lift his vest to see the damage to his back, but the motion hurt too much, and he couldn't see anything in the tiny mirror anyway. 

Damn. He'd been hoping to avoid this, but..."Sherlock? Can you come here for a second?"

There was a rustling from the living room and then he heard Sherlock padding closer. 

"Did you need something?" The man looked pretty perky for just about 3 AM. 

"Yeah, it's my damn back, I can't see it at all. Could you take a look?"

Sherlock's eyebrows popped up, but he nodded and entered the bathroom. 

John turned around and braced one hand on the edge of the sink, hitching up the back of his shirt with the other. In the small space the bathroom gave them, he could feel Sherlock's body heat behind him, or maybe that was just his imagination. Either way, he was heating up. 

His tugging didn't get the cotton shirt very far, so Sherlock helped a bit, and one of his fingers brushed against John's skin. He held his breath and hopes that Sherlock didn't notice the slight shiver that ran through him, or the goosebumps that rose on his arms. 

Goddammit. It was this stupid crush he had on his flatmate that had brought him down the stairs in the first place. He'd woken up from one of his intense dreams about the two of them, thirsty, restless, and more than a little bit hard. He'd figured a short walk and a glass of water would settle him enough that he could go back to pretending the dream had never happened.

Now, with so little space in between them, it was all he could do not to turn around and kiss the living daylights out of Sherlock "Married to my work" Holmes. 

But he wouldn't. Not even when Sherlock's long fingers lightly trailed over the edge of his boxers, and John could see, in the mirror, his intense blue-green eyes roaming over John's exposed skin. Not even then, because he respected his friend, and the gentle rebuff he'd given John on their first night together. He wouldn't press, didn't want to ruin their friendship. 

Sherlock's voice close to his ear made him jump. 

"It seems okay. It’s pretty red, and you'll definitely have a bruise tomorrow, but the skin isn’t broken."

"Thanks, Sherlock, sorry to wake you." He quickly shoved his shirt down and turned around to leave the restroom. He started as he realized Sherlock had yet to move, and was now almost pressed up to John's front. 

"Oh, I wasn't asleep." He murmured, then finally left the bathroom. John released the breath he'd been holding and followed him out, gripping his hands to stop the very slight tremor. 

God, this was getting out of control. He needed sleep and physical distance from Sherlock, as soon as possible. He knew he should probably put a cold compress on his eye, but he really just wanted to go back to sleep.

"What were you doing then?" He asked, as casually as he could, while he got a glass from the cupboard. Sherlock replied while he filled it from the tap. 

"Thinking." The man was back on the sofa, reclining with his hands pressed together. 

"Of course you were." He did that for hours at night, stretching out like a beautiful corpse on display. Sometimes, John thought that the vision of Sherlock's long, lithe form was burned onto his eyelids, other times, he couldn't look long enough. John sighed; best put an end to his silly fawning for the night. “Well, goodnight, then.”

“Goodnight, John.” Sherlock's voice drifted into the semi-darkness of the flat, and gave John goosebumps again as he climbed the stairs (carefully) to his room. Once he firmly shut the door on Sherlock’s thinking pose, he took a deep breath and sank down the bed. He placed the cup of water on the floor while he rifled through the nightstand drawer for his paracetamol, then washed two down. By now the pain had settled to a dull pulse, but he knew it'd be worse tomorrow. Lying down gingerly on his front, he fell himself telling himself that he won't dream of Sherlock's long fingers, pale skin, glorious voice, he won't, he won't, he won't...

 *************************

The first thing that John noticed when he woke up next was that he was on his front, which was odd. He usually slept like a log, straight up and down, ready to get up at a moment's notice. The second thing he noticed was that his face hurt, and that was what reminded him of last night's tumble down the stairs.

Today was not going to be his best day, he realized quickly, as he eased himself out of the bed. The pain wasn't as bad as he'd thought it was going to be, honestly, but he was stiff and definite need of a few painkillers and some tea. As cautiously as he could, he changed from the boxers he was sleeping in to a new pair and pulled on some flannel pyjama bottoms.

On his way down to the kitchen, he held on to the banister tightly, and stooped down to pick up what had tripped him last night. It was an extra page of the blog post he'd printed off for a friend with no Internet, which he'd been meaning to grab for the past couple of days, but had kept forgetting. Swearing never to procrastinate again, he crumpled it viciously, and tossed it in the bin under the kitchen sink.

He set about making tea, and had almost turned the kettle on when he heard a loud gasp and a choking noise. He turned around, a bit too fast, and cringed a bit as he looked for who had made the sound. Sherlock was standing in his bedroom doorway, wearing the same pyjamas from last night, his blue dressing gown, and an expression of absolute shock, and possibly horror.

“Oh, it looks that bad, does it?” John remarked, and resumed his task. 

"I-I..." Sherlock let out a shaky breath, and didn't take his eyes off john's lower back as he stiffly moved farther into the room. "It is rather...livid."

"Yeah, it would be. I've always bruised like a peach. You should have seen me in my rugby days, I spent most of my school days black and blue."

John opened the fridge and bent forward to grab the milk that had been shoved to the back, and heard another sharp gasp. He whipped his head around in time to see Sherlock turning his back on him. 

The man's voice was strained, like someone's hand was squeezing his throat. "I hope it's not too painful."

John was about to tell him about how it wasn't the worst he'd ever had, but as soon as he opened his mouth, Sherlock's bedroom door slammed shut, with Sherlock behind it. 

John stood, mouth open, milk in hand for a few seconds until the shrieking of the teakettle shook him out of his stupor. He switched it off, and made his tea, the motions automatic. 

What the hell had that been about? John wondered as he mechanically fixed himself some toast, which he ate standing up. Sherlock was hardly sparkling fresh in the mornings, but he wasn't a bear either. They'd barely exchanged two words, surely not enough to get Sherlock in a strop. It didn't make a lot of sense.

But, really, what did he expect from Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective, part-time scientist, completely useless at social situations, unless he was putting on a character. 

Whatever it was, he'd probably forget about it the next time a case popped up, and John would follow him without question, like the sad, stray dog he was. 

Ugh. Breakfast time self-pity session over, he decided. John brushed the crumbs off his hands, rinsed off his plate and headed to the loo to assess the damage in the light of day. 

His eye was the colour of Mrs. Hudson's favourite violet dress, with a few smudges of red on the eyelid, making it look angrier than it felt. His brow was still swollen, but it was already going down, and it didn't obscure his vision. He'd had worse, would most likely have worse again, given the life he lived with Sherlock. Satisfied with the quick assessment, he turned his attention to the bigger problem of his back.

This time, calling Sherlock didn't seem like a viable option, so he stood on his tiptoes and used a small, chipped hand mirror to get an awkward view of his lower back. The sight made him cringe and he let out a low whistle.

He was literally black and blue. Well, almost black. The deep, deep purple spread out from his lower back like an ink spill, the centre far darker than the skin of his eye, with a blue-ish tinge. The mottled colour thinned out near the edges, and the shadow of the bruise next to his normal flesh made his skin look far paler than he knew it actually was. Interestingly, about half way through the whole thing, he could see a clear demarcation of where he'd hit the step on the way down, the colour different, redder.

This was the part of getting bruise that he actually didn't mind. Once you got past the pain part, it was like a badge of honour, letting you know you survived, and that your body had your back and was working to fix you up. He'd once spent two weeks in year twelve with a perfect imprint of his mate's rugby boot in his right thigh. That’d been his favourite over the years.

His feet were starting to cramp from holding himself at this angle, so he put the hand mirror back in the cluttered drawer and brushed his teeth. His morning shower took a little long than usual, as he moved slowly in the small space to avoid brushing the tender areas. 

He'd just finished pulling on his clothes and was buckling his watch when he heard a door burst open, and Sherlock's excited voice calling for him. 

"John, Lestrade just texted. We have a case!"

He was zipping up his coat and out the door before he recalled that Sherlock was supposedly miffed at him. 

Chapter Text

The taxi let them off at the end of the long, winding drive of a large, expensive-looking house. The guard at the gate, not one of Lestrade's, almost didn't let them in, and John had to pull his most convincing "we're just two regular blokes like you, I don't regularly carry an illegal weapon and he's not a super genius who could bring the world to it's knees" act. It certainly didn't help that his face looked like it had recently met a fist, and that Sherlock had not so subtly implied that the security guard's occupation was a poor substitute for his non-functional genitalia. Thankfully, one of Lestrade's officers came out to vouch for them, and spared John a matching shiner on the other side.

The young policeman led them through the mansion and up the marble stairs to an en suite bathroom. Sherlock hadn't bothered to explain what the case was about, but the dead woman next to the Jacuzzi sort of answered most of the questions he had.

It took a minute for John to figure out where all the blood was coming from. The woman was lying on her back, legs twisted up and to the side, and her face was turned away from the door and them. Once her frozen face came into view, John saw that the woman's nose had been completely severed, and her throat had been cut.

John remembered reading in the paper a few weeks ago about a woman who'd been found in her home, killed, and “disfigured". He recalled wondering which had come first, and had hoped the unidentified woman hadn't been alive for the mutilation part of her demise. It was clear that the person who lay dead in front of him now had still been living.

"How many has there been?" Sherlock's voice was muffled from his crouching position, but Lestrade had no difficulty hearing him.

"This is the third. There's obviously a connection, but we can't find a single thing in common besides moderate to extreme wealth and that they're all women. No overlap in friends, jobs, gym membership. You name it, we've checked it. No connection between the three victims that we’ve found."

Sherlock made a non-committal noise and pulled his magnifier out of one of the deep pockets of his coat. Slowly, and meticulously, he began to inspect every inch of the lady's face.

John gave him space to work, and moved to stand next to Lestrade in the doorway. The older man whistled and eyed John's bruised face.

"As a police officer, I can't really condone violence," He lowered his voice. "But, as a fellow man, I hope you gave as good as you got."

“Nah, I didn't stand a chance. The other guy was tall, dark, and entirely inanimate. Fell down the stairs last night.”

Lestrade snorted and turned his attention back to Sherlock, who was apparently finished his fastidious examination of the victim, at least for now.

“John, I want you to give me your opinion on these wounds.” Sherlock rose smoothly from his crouching position and backed up to give John room to come around the body and get closer to the floor.

He examined the gaping slit of her throat and the stub of her missing nose, and took in what he could about the cuts, which was probably only half of what Sherlock saw. “Cause of death is the throat wound. She bled out quickly. The nose was severed before she was killed, can't tell if that was before or during the throat slash.”

“Anything else?” Sherlock prompted behind him.

“These cuts are clean.” He dipped his head down, straining his eyes in the light of the bathroom. “Almost surgical. No hesitation marks or jagged edges. Just a couple of clean cuts.”

He leaned closer to get a better look at the victim's hands, but stopped when he heard a sharp intake of breath behind him. He whipped his head over and followed Sherlock's wide-eyed gaze to his lower back, where his shirt had ridden up, showing off the purple marks of his injury.

“Are you quite alright?” John asked as he tugged his jacket down. Sherlock blinked hard, seemed to tear his gaze from John and looked anywhere but down.

“Yes, fine. I'm fine. Yes.” He cleared his throat and drew himself up into his “About to deduce the hell out of this mother” stance, as John liked to call it. John got to his feet to enjoy the whirling dervish.

“John, you were quite right in your observations, well spotted.” John tried to stifle the warmth the flooded him at the praise. “But, Lestrade, you are, of course, wrong about there being no connection between the victims. Hardly your fault, given the caliber of your team.”

Lestrade huffed. “Of course, I am. Skip the insults, get straight to the connection. What is it?”

Sherlock didn't even look at him, was probably unaware he was even speaking. When Sherlock got like this, on fire with his deductions, brain sparking and churning, nothing short of a flesh wound could stop him. John had tried.

“But, really, it's almost understandable that you would miss the thing these women had in common, because they have all tried extremely hard to hide it.” Sherlock whipped around and pinned Lestrade with his icy stare. “Even if you had pored over every financial record of these women, you would not have been able to find the person they all saw before their death, because none of them, should you have asked would have admitted to knowing him. Too risky, quite embarrassing, as well as mostly illegal.”

Lestrade's frown was thunderous as he turned over Sherlock's words in his head. “Are you saying they were murdered by some sort of...rent boy? Drug dealer?”

“No, certainly not, weren't you listening earlier? The cuts, look at them.” Both John and Lestrade looked to where Sherlock pointed. “John told us that the cuts were surgical, no hesitation. Someone used to holding a blade then. This is no messy slash, luckily hitting an artery. He knew exactly where to slice and how deep. Also, the blade was no weapon of opportunity that he took with him. The killer used a scalpel, medical grade, not something an average person would just have on hand. I am almost positive it was part of a set, something that the killer uses frequently, and cares for.” He pointed to a fluffy white hand tower, stained with blood and tossed in the sink. “He wiped it off carefully, cleaned it meticulously with that peroxide there.”

John pieced together the information that Sherlock had given them, and came to his own conclusions. “So he's a doctor then? A surgeon?”

“We checked all their medical records.” Lestrade reminded them. “None of the same doctors, or even hospitals on their records.”

“Ah, there you have stumbled upon the most important part of this man's identity. 'On their records.' These women have no paper trail to connect them, because they deliberately didn't leave one. The man is a surgeon, you're correct, but not just any surgeon.” Sherlock paused for effect, the drama queen. “A plastic surgeon, one whose methods are effective, but experimental, potentially dangerous, and not yet legal.”

Sherlock pulled out his magnifier again and tilted it so that Lestrade could see the skin he revealed. “There are tiny scars on this woman's face and body. Eyes, chin, breasts, stomach. All popular areas for cosmetic alterations, especially in rich women with high social standing. The work they had done is excellent, clean, with very little scarring. You'd only see it if you were looking very hard for it.” He shut the magnifier with a snap and rose to his feet again.

“The surgeries were done very close together, much too close and excessive to be completely safe, but these women are busy and have no time to convalesce every few months. So they paid this man to perform his job with no records, no trail, just cash, and in one fell swoop.”

"Right, so they all went under knife of a shady doctor.” Lestrade sounded skeptical, despite Sherlock's track record. "That doesn't mean that he went bonkers and cut they're noses off for no reason."

"I didn't say he didn't have a reason." Sherlock reached for his phone and the clicking of buttons filled the room while he spoke. "I believe you'll find he'd been fired. It's the only thing that could have made someone so devoted to his work go off the rails. Someone discovered his after-hours experiments and turned him in. Perhaps he tried to plead his case, using these women as examples. Perhaps, I can't be sure, he killed them when they refused to help him, or maybe he merely killed them to undo the work he'd done, since it wasn’t a credit to him anymore."

Lestrade nodded, accepting the motive as plausible. He reached for his phone and gestured to someone in the connecting room.

"Right, thanks, Sherlock. We'll be in touch when we find a recently fired plastic surgeon."

They left the opulent bathroom and were escorted by another officer to the front gate, where the grumpy security guard and a taxi were waiting. Sherlock had apparently found the time to summon one while inside, and John was grateful. His back hurt, and it must have shown on his face or body language, because Sherlock slid across the seat first.

*********************************

Once back at 221B, John removed his jacket and threw some leftover Chinese in the microwave. As he watched it spin, he debated taking off his shirt as well, and asking Sherlock to take another look at his injuries. The cramped bathroom and tiny mirrors from this morning hadn't given him a very thorough look.

He knew it was fine, and that he probably didn't need a second opinion, but he wanted to know for sure how much he had to baby it this week.

Also, selfishly, he craved the brush of Sherlock's fingers as much as he dreaded it.

"Sherlock," he called as he removed the steaming food from the microwave. "Could you come in here for a minute?"

Sherlock didn't bother to answer, but appeared in the kitchen doorway nonetheless, with a put upon look on his face. He was probably still working over the case in his head, poring over the little details that may or may not be important. John hated to interrupt.

"I hate to ask again, but could you take another look at my bruises from last night? That bathroom mirror's useless, and I just want to check them out."

Sherlock's face turned blank, no longer mildly annoyed, but emotionless. This was odd, since usually, whenever John asked him to perform a chore, however menial, Sherlock made himself out to be a martyr, with heavy sighs and rolled eyes.

Instead, he paused so long John thought he might refuse, and was about ask him to forget he asked, but then he mumbled his assent, and strode over.

"It's the eye, mainly. It's for some red in the corner, but I can't see how much. Then my back too, if you wouldn't mind."

Preemptively, John drew his jumper and shirt over his head. Sherlock leaned closer in the small space between the table and the counter and peered into John's injured eye. John had to struggle to rip his gaze away from Sherlock's blue-green eyes, but one he managed it, he looked to the side to give Sherlock a better view of the damaged part.

"It's not too bad," Sherlock said, quietly, his warm breath gusting over John's cheek as he spoke. "A bit of red in the sclera, as you said, but nothing to be concerned about."

Sherlock's finger gently pressed into the corner of John's bruised eye, barely enough to pull at the skin, but enough to make his mouth water at the contact. Their faces were less than a foot apart. It would be so easy, should Sherlock give him a hint of a sign he wanted it, to close the distance between them.

John blinked hard and dislodged Sherlock's fingertip from this cheek. He stepped back firmly and turned his back to Sherlock, gripping the countertop in front of him tightly.

"If you could...?" He trailed off, as he figured Sherlock knew what to do. There were times that John was sure his flatmate could see right through him, knew exactly how he felt, but didn't mention it. Other times, when Sherlock invaded his personal space like it was nothing, he was certain he was in the clear, because Sherlock would never torture him like that, with the scent of his skin and brush of his violinist's hands.

Now, though, as Sherlock trailed those long, callused fingers across the flushed skin of his spine, he wasn't sure either way.

Inch by agonizing inch, Sherlock moved two fingers over the injured area, pressing gently every so often and skimming his thumb across the two dimples in his lower back. It seemed as if John's whole world had narrowed to just those digits and their meandering path, their effect far greater than they should have been.

John had just barely repressed a shiver when Sherlock's entire hand pressed against the bruise, hot and wide, and stroked upward.

It was too much, he couldn't hold himself still and pretend he was unaffected any longer.

"Stop. Please." God, he sounded so broken, his voice thick and rough. Sherlock retracted his hand immediately, and put about five feet of space between them.

John abandoned his food on the counter and took the stairs to his bedroom two at a time to escape the memory of the intimate few moments. If Sherlock had seen right through his attempt to keep his crush hidden (and, considering this was Sherlock, he probably did) he didn't mention it, or try to talk to John for the rest of the evening.

****************************

 

The next morning, after a cursory inspection of his back, (the blue was more obvious now, and some green hinted around the edges.) John accompanied Sherlock to Lestrade's office for a meeting.

That morning had been less tense than the one before, despite John's embarrassing outburst. John kept his shirt on and Sherlock avoided eye contact until they managed to mutually (and non-verbally) decide to ignore whatever had happened last night. They’d spent the morning so far debating whether it would be more fun to watch a Doctor Who marathon or bathe in a mild acid for the same measure of time. Sherlock had even managed to wait impatiently while John quickly ate some yoghurt that he was almost positive wasn’t radioactive.

By the time they arrived at NSY, it was midday and the place was bustling. They were instructed to head right into Lestrade's office where the Detective Inspector was looking through one of the many folders on his desk. Sherlock lurked in the far corner, as he always did and John slowly sank into the seat in front of the desk, wincing slightly in the stiff chair.

Greg grinned, and said cheekily, "At it a bit too hard last night, boys?"

John's temper flared. They were the butt of off-colour jokes all the time, the whole Yard did it, and John usually shrugged it off as good-natured ribbing. But, today, with all the tension building up between them, and John's close call last night, he couldn't just laugh it off and he snapped, "Give it a rest, will you? You know it's not like that, not that it's any of your business anyway."

Greg's shocked face made him sorry he'd snapped, as did his stammering apology. Sherlock was uncharacteristically silent during the exchange, his eagle eyes fixed on one of the newspaper articles framed on the wall.

"S'alright. What are we here for, exactly?"

Grateful for the distraction, Lestrade gestured to a pile of papers in front of him. "We used the parameters you gave us to narrow down the list of cosmetic surgeons that could be the killer. We called offices with no less than four doctors, located in East London, and asked if they'd recently fired any employees."

Lestrade handed Sherlock a slim folder that contained some pictures, papers and articles printed from the Internet. Sherlock scanned the information quickly.

"There were only five offices that had let go of employees within the last six months. One of them had fired two in one go, but that was because they were shagging in the office after hours, so I didn't include them."

"Did they tell you which ones were accused of malpractice?" Sherlock demanded, still poring over the files.

"Nah, most of them said they couldn't divulge that sort of info over the phone without a warrant or something. They were pretty cooperative, though. I figured we'd get a good start, narrow down the possibilities a bit and go back once we have a good-"

"It's this one."

Both John and Lestrade looked at him in surprise. That had been quick, even for Sherlock. This had been kind of a long shot, the first step in a long process of finding out who the killer was. To have Sherlock point to the man halfway down the short list with such absolute certainty was surprising, but not unappreciated. Perhaps they'd arrest him before he claimed another victim.

"Why do you say that?" Lestrade asked, excitement evident in his voice.

Sherlock heaved a sigh, the obvious unspoken, but plain in his tone. "This man, Marcus Van Deelan," he passed John a picture of the smiling man. "He's average in every way. Intelligence, wealth, looks, despite numerous procedures to improve himself. He lacks the charm and influence to get funding for research into new techniques."

He brandished an article with a bold headline from what looked to be a magazine for the plastic surgeon community. It read No Grant For Hollens, Despite Convincing Presentation.

"He's unmarried, lives alone, is completely obsessed with his work, and willing to break many rules to further his research."

"So, you're sure it's him?" Lestrade picked up his copy of the file on Marcus Van Deelan and started making notes in the margins. "There's no listed address on file, but we'll work on it. Thanks, Sherlock, we'll call you if we have trouble locating him."

"Very well. Coming, John?"

Sherlock crossed the room and had almost opened the door before Lestrade asked, "What, that's it? No 'I have to come with you because you're all incompetent'? Or how about, 'You'll find him living in a cave, due to a mustard stain on his sleeve'?"

Sherlock's glare could have frozen the most hardened of criminals in their tracks. "Glad to hear you hold my deductions in such high esteem, Inspector, but, no. I believe you can handle it from here."

John followed him out, taking two steps for every one of Sherlock's. Once they reached the exit, John asked, "Are you really going to let them handle it from here?"

The detective smirked and drawled, "Of course not, John. You think I'd leave something so important to those incompetent buffoons?"

*************************

The reception area of Hollens Cosmetic Surgeons was spotless, trendy, and sparsely furnished. The hard, cubic chairs and inexplicable glass sculptures made John twitchy, as did the perfectly groomed receptionist at the desk. He was glad to leave the place behind, and felt like he should shower in scalding water to get the feel of the lady's thin, manicured hand off his forearm.

They got what they came for, though. Johan's ham-handed flirting got the perky blonde away from the desk long enough for Sherlock to sneak a peek at the old-fashioned Rolodex. It was lucky for them that the older, day time secretary wanted everything on hard copy, or they would have had to be a lot more creative to get Van Deelan's address.

Now they were on their way to the Ritz-y flat, in an area that was, according to Sherlock, far above his salary from the private clinic. Under the table nose jobs paid well, apparently.

John had known a few plastic surgeon hopefuls in med school. The ones he'd known had tended to fall into two categories: there were those who wanted to use their skills for good, fixing harelips and burn victims to give people a normal life. These were the ones who were constantly trying to prove that they weren't the stereotypical pompous moneygrubbers people thought they were. The other category, however, was dead set on proving that stereotype right.

The idea had never appealed to John, despite his steady hands, but the elegant lobby of the posh building sure made a man wonder if the money was worth the trade-off of actually saving lives. Probably not, but a man could dream.

Sherlock had suspected the Met hadn't found their way to the suspect's home yet, as they were probably still waiting on that warrant. (Sherlock's deductions usually made a lot of sense once they were explained in detail, but try telling your superior that you want to arrest someone on the basis that their left index finger twitches five times quicker than the right.) John had managed to convince Sherlock to let him stop by the flat again for his gun, even though he’d complained the whole way that the murderer would most likely be easily over-powered by a man with John’s training.

The stark, powder blue hallway was silent as a tomb after the elevator dinged on the 26th floor. The correct door was easy to find and Sherlock rapped sharply on it.

Dr. Marcus Van Deelen's plain, unshaven face appeared around the edge of the mahogany panel and shot them an annoyed look.

"Yes?" He snapped. Apparently, serial killers had lots to do in their spare time.

"Hi!" Sherlock smiled brightly. "We're from the flat below, and we've noticed some staining on our ceiling. Would you mind terribly if we had a look at your pipes? Thanks so very much."

Without waiting for a response, he nudged his way past a spluttering Van Deelan and John followed after.

“Darling, where was it that we found those spots? I can't remember.” He swanned through the dimly lit living room and headed for one of the back rooms. It probably wouldn't take long for him to find the murder weapon, as long as it wasn't thrown away already.

“South East corner, dear.” John tried to keep his sarcasm in check. It wasn't the first time they'd pretended to be a couple to appear non-threatening, and it probably wouldn't be the last. He stuck his hand out for the doctor to shake. “Nice to meet you, I'm John.”

The man still looked extremely put out. “Um, Marcus, but wh-”

“Nice place you got here, very nice. Ours isn't quite as big, of course. You must pay a pretty penny for it.” He meandered to the wall where various degrees were tacked to the beige wall. “What do you do, then, Marcus? Must be pretty important, to live in a place like this.”

Lull him into thinking he's an impressive man, Sherlock had said. That, he could do. The man nearly preened.

“Actually, I work at a very accomplished clinic.” Worked, John corrected in his head. “I'm a doctor.”

"No kidding? That's great. Don't suppose you know anything about leaky pipes?" Hopefully not, since there wasn't one.

"Not really, sorry." Marcus shifted uncomfortably, and edged closer to the bedroom door. "What is he doing in there? I should-"

John moved as casually as he could and put his body in between the man and Sherlock's search efforts. "Nah, he's fine. Just looking at the floor above our bed. Damn ceiling looks like a rorschach test."

"Alright then," he said, still craning his neck with a thunderous frown. Once he realized he couldn't see anything more without pushing John out of the way, he settled back and studied John's face. He gestured to the purple bruise staining his eye.

"What happened there? Looks nasty."

Gingerly pressing on the slight swelling, John laughed it off. "No war story, unfortunately. Fell down the stairs." According to Sherlock, John still wasn't great at lying, and there wasn't really any point in it.

"Do you want me to take a look at it?" The man's eyes lit up, ecstatic at the prospect of putting his degree to use.

"I'm fine, really. It barely hurts, and the swelling's mostly gone down, so I'm pretty sure I won't be needing a plastic surgeon any time soon." John smiled brightly, trying to get in the doctor's good graces.

The change in Van Deelen's face was remarkable and sudden. The curiosity and hopefulness was replaced by suspicion and anger. "I never told you I was a plastic surgeon."

Shit. He hadn't, had he? Definitely time to go.

"Sherlock, you almost finished in there?" He called, without taking his eyes from Van Deelen's. His fingers itched to grab his gun from where it sat tucked into his waistband, but he didn't want to show his hand yet.

"Yes, be out in a moment, love." Sherlock's muffled voice pierced the tense standoff, and Van Deelen chose that moment to charge at John, arms outstretched and ready to shove him off his feet.

John was ready for him, so he dodged the clumsy effort, and reached for the Browning at his back. He'd just tugged it out of its place when a fist connected with his jaw. The force of it knocked him back, and he lost his balance and fell backward. He landed on his back, dazed and winded, barely missing the coffee table with his head. The gun skittered across the hardwood, out of his reach. Disoriented, he reached out for it, but another hand, long-fingered and slightly bloodstained, got there first.

"Dr. Van Deelan, I suggest you put your hands where I can see them."

John craned his neck around from his position flat on his back. Sherlock was standing, calm and collected, with the gun in one steady hand and a crumpled, bloody towel in the other. He didn't blink as his glasz eyes tracked the unsteady movements of Van Deelen's hands as he placed them behind his head.

"John, are you alright?" He heard Sherlock murmur as he pushed himself to his feet and wiggled his jaw a bit. He brushed his thumb his lip and it came away wet.

"Yeah, I'm fine. He packs quite the wallop for someone easily overpowered."

Sherlock's cheeks flushed a bit, to John's delight, as he recalled his dismissive attitude toward their suspect's abilities.
"I may have overlooked a few details about Van Deelen's extracurricular activities in university."

"You? You missed something? This'll have to go on the blog."

"How was I supposed to know he was a boxer in school? His nose has seen so many corrective procedures that the normal signs are absent, and the picture we saw didn't show his hands. Furthermore, I had no reason to believe he would be interested in sports—.”

"Relax, I'm kidding. It's not your fault I've got another bruise to add to my collection."

Sherlock started, and focused intently on the darkening skin, without moving the gun. "So you do."

John waited for him to elaborate, to make some remark about being more careful, but it was clear none was forthcoming; John took it upon himself to deal with the frozen and trembling Van Deelan.

"Throw me a curtain tie, will you?" John grabbed the velvet rope in mid-air and used it to secure the man to the chair he fetched from the kitchen. Sherlock had the gun trained on their captive the while time, his gaze unwavering, silent except to criticize john's knot tying technique.

Finishing to the last tie, he pulled out his mobile. "I'll text Lestrade, then?"

"Already sent, along with a photo of this." He gestured with the gruesome towel. "I decided this would be enough evidence to get him here without ruining his dinner with the bag of missing noses I also found."

"Christ, he'll thank you for that."

From his seat, Van Deelen let out a whimper of defeat and said, in a broken voice. "They didn't deserve them, or any of it. I was brilliant, but no one else could see it—."

"Shut up." Sherlock's sharp voice caused both of them to start. "You were a mediocre, unlikeable hack who couldn't stand to be second best. Now keep quiet, and let a real doctor tend to his own injuries."

Marcus's mouth snapped shut and John took that as his cue to find a mirror, and perhaps a first aid kit.

It wasn't so bad, he decided. There was a bit of blood drying from his split lip, and it'd be colorful in a few hours, but nothing a little peroxide nicked from the cupboard wouldn't fix, at least temporarily.

As he dabbed at the small cut, the sound of sirens grew louder. By the time he made it back out to the sitting room, Van Deelen was being handcuffed and Sherlock was getting yet another dressing down from Lestrade about acting on his own. Only Sherlock's theory about tonight being ideal for a repeat performance from the killer calmed the DI down enough to let them leave. John promised to bring Sherlock in to give their statements, and dragged them both out into the night to catch a cab.

Chapter Text

By the time they both sank into their armchairs it was just past nine in the evening. Not bad for having solved a murder that day, he thought as he stretched his legs out in front of him. He had most of an evening to relax and try not to bruise himself any further. With that thought, he heaved himself up and made his way to the bottle of paracetamol in the medicine cabinet. Sure enough, the side of his mouth and part of his chin were turning violet already. It was certainly prettier than the changing colours of his injured eyelid, which looked almost burgundy under the harsh fluorescent light of the loo. Grabbing two of the painkillers from the bottle, he went to the kitchen and downed them with water. Placing an ice pack on his lip he flopped back into his chair next to his flatmate.

"Did you see what that bastard did to my face?" He leaned on his knees and tilted his chin for Sherlock to see. "I think you can see where he had a ring on, do you believe that?"

Sherlock made a non-committal noise, and barely flicked his eyes in John's direction before pressing his hands into his post-case thinking pose. (That was odd, actually. Usually it took him a while to get all the adrenaline out of his system, then he settled down to file away all the details into that massive brain.)

John frowned, and stared at Sherlock's averted face. Leaning more heavily on his knees, he tried to get his face into Sherlock's vision, only to see him not-so-subtly spin his head to the other direction. Another awkward lean to the other side had Sherlock doing the same thing in the opposite direction. John craned his body a few more times to test his theory, then sat back with a disbelieving huff.

"Sherlock, I hope you don't mind me asking, but, what the hell is wrong with you recently?"

That got his attention, but only for a few moments before eyes slid away again. “How do you mean?”

John struggled to find the words. “Well, I don’t know. You’ve just been acting a little…weird, lately.” Before Sherlock could get a word out, John amended, “Yes, I know, weirder than you normally are, I mean.

Sherlock snorted, sarcasm bleeding from the short sound.

“I’m serious, Sherlock. It’s like, wherever we’re home you start ignoring me or you’re angry with me and now you won’t even look at me.” John made an exasperated gesture with his hand and used the other to prod at his bruised eyelid. “Ever since I got this stupid thing, you—.”

He almost missed it. Another half-second of ranting, and he would have completely missed Sherlock’s tiny flinch as he pressed the florid skin of his injury. That small, almost imperceptible flash of emotion clicked a gear into place “Sherlock.” He said, drawing out the familiar syllables. “You’re not bothered by my bruises, are you?”

Sherlock’s voice rose high above his usual deep timbre. "What? No, of course not.”

Any stranger who didn’t know Sherlock like John knew him might have let it go, but not John. “You are, aren’t you?”

He took advantage of Sherlock’s surprise and quickly pulled at the skin of his eye once more. Sherlock’s fidget and audible gulp were all John needed to confirm his theory.

“Oh my god, this is bloody fantastic.” John couldn’t hold back his giggle as he got to his feet clumsily. “Sherlock Holmes, grossed out by a harmless little bruise.

"John, you are being ridiculous. I have body parts in the fridge, why on earth would a bruise bother me?”

“You know as well as I do that phobias can be completely irrational. You don’t need a reason to hate seeing bruises like this.” He turned his back to Sherlock and drew up the side of his shirt, exposing the discoloured flesh to the chill air. Shoving his dignity to the back of his mind, he shook and moved his hips, trying to draw Sherlock’s attention and give him a few different angles to freak out about. It was, apparently, working, because the man gasped and let out a shaky breath.

“Knock it off, John. You are making a complete fool of yourself.”

Still gyrating, and crowding Sherlock in his chair, John scoffed. “No way. Not a chance I’m missing this. This is just payback for that time you chased me around the flat with a dead camel spider. Don’t think I’ve forgotten that.”

“You really have no idea what you’re talking about.” Sherlock’s voice was strained.

“Maybe not, but if this is what it takes to put you off your game for once, I’ll try it.”
John saw movement out of the corner of his eye, and assumed it was Sherlock trying to make an escape. He spun around and leaned on the arm of the plush chair, into Sherlock’s personal space. “Come on, mate, you’re not gonna deny me this, are you? The incredible Sherlock Holmes, cowering from his flatmate’s black eye.”

Since both his hands were busy supporting his weight on the chair arm, he used his tongue to prod at the darkening skin next to his mouth. It felt silly. So silly, in fact, that he gave it up and was just about to insincerely apologize for his childishness when Sherlock grabbed him by the shoulders and all but slammed their mouths together.

As first kisses go, it certainly wasn’t the best. John was leaning over awkwardly, his split lip smarted a bit at the unexpected contact and he was too surprised to do anything but stand, frozen, with his eyes wide open. The second and third kisses, however, when Sherlock pushed to his feet, barely breaking contact with their lips, were much better. Long, slow and fierce, and John hated to end it when he needed a breath.

As soon as they gasped for air, a rush of apologies left Sherlock’s mouth. “Oh god, I’m so sorry, John. I never—I shouldn’t have—.”

“Shut up,” John muttered as he closed the distance between them again. Sherlock moaned into his mouth and plunged his long fingered hands up under John’s partially hiked up shirt. His hands traversed the expanse of his overheated shin. Once he reached the tender spot just about the waist of John’s trousers, he paused not pressing, just lingering. Breaking apart again, Sherlock was uncharacteristically lost for words, although that didn’t stop him from trying.

“John, do you—I mean, can we?”

“God, yes.” He breathed.

His acquiescence seemed to banish any of the lingering uncertainty Sherlock had. He pulled his hands out from where they lay still under John’s shirt, and took his face in his hands. John let out a shaky breath as Sherlock sucked small kisses on his bottom lip that would have been fairly chaste, if their pulses hadn’t been hammering in their ears, and their breath coming hard from their earlier clashing of lips and teeth.

“My bedroom or yours?” Came Sherlock’s rumbling baritone in his ear, and the sound made him swallow and catch his breath as he cleared his head enough to answer the question.

“Condoms? Lube?” He panted, jerked his head toward Sherlock’s bedroom.

“None.” He replied, a scowl marring the perfection of his arousal-flushed face.

“Mine, then. Let’s go.” John tugged Sherlock’s hands from their place under his jaw and led him toward the stairs. The more steps he took, the louder his internal monologue became, the panicked litany of oh god, oh god, is this really happening? I am dreaming? Near screaming in his head. He was so concentrated on calming the private panic attack that halfway up the stairs, he missed a step and pitched forward, catching himself just before he fell flat on his face. Sherlock stumbled into him, thrown by the abrupt stop and suddenly they were both giggling like twelve-year-olds, kneeling on the chilly, hard steps.

Sherlock recovered first, and offered a hand. “Come on up. Quickly, before you hurt yourself again.”

John pulled himself to his feet and allowed Sherlock to tug him the rest of the way to the bedroom. Once the door was shut(Thank god one of them had the presence of mind to spare Mrs. Hudson the embarrassment) and Sherlock turned back to John, all traces of childish mirth were gone. They clasped each other close and kissed again, slower this time, but no less sizzling.

Sherlock’s hands were surprisingly cold as they trailed up his sides, the chilled digits leaving a burning trail along his ribs as Sherlock pulled his shirt up and over his head.

He let out a shaky breath when the cool hands continued to smooth their way across his newly exposed skin. He wanted Sherlock to kiss him again, but couldn’t summon the words when he felt the questing fingers slip lower to run across the edge of his jeans, just above his arse.

Instead, he let his head fall back and rose up slightly on the balls of his feet. Sherlock took the hint, and captured John’s mouth again. Pulling away again, Sherlock alternated wet kisses and soft bites across John’s jawline and down his neck to the tense muscle above his shoulder. John felt his hot, humid breath on his skin moments before Sherlock’s teeth sunk into the flushed skin of his muscle and he cried out at the blunt pain cutting through his haze of languorous arousal.

“God, I want to fuck you.” Sherlock purred in his ear. “Can I?”

“Yes.” His voice was mostly air, and he wasn’t sure Sherlock had heard him since he continued to mouth John’s neck. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Yes, Sherlock.”

Sherlock pulled his hands out from where they’d been inching under John’s waistband and hummed impatiently as he tried to work the button in the front of John’s jeans.

“I’ve got it.” John murmured, and pushed his hands away. “You get yours off. I don’t want to be the only one naked.”

Immediately, they both attacked their remaining clothes. After John had shucked his jeans and pants off in one go, he worked on Sherlock's buttons while he undid his flies. Finally they were both bare and John clambered into the middle of his double bed.

Settling on his back, he took his fill of the view as Sherlock rounded the bed to dig the lube out of the bedside drawer. As he climbed onto the bed to join him, John licked his lips and stared hungrily at Sherlock’s dark pink, bobbing erection.

Sherlock groaned as he parted John’s legs and kneeled between them. “Stop that. You’ll drive me mad.”

John paused with his tongue still between his teeth. “What, this?” he asked, innocently, and ran his tongue along his bottom lip again. He laughed when Sherlock moaned again and crawled up the bed to kiss John again. When they broke apart to breath, Sherlock fixed him with a stern look.

“I mean it. No more of that, or I’ll never get any further.”

“Oh, well, we can’t have that.” John panted. He heard the soft snap of the lube being flicked open, and he lost all desire to tease.

He watched as Sherlock coated two of his long, pale fingers and moved back down the bed to lean on his elbows between John’s thighs. He felt the cold press of one digit on his hole and gasped.

“Tell me if I’m going too fast.” Sherlock murmured as he slowly pressed his finger deeper into John’s warmth. John’s only response was a low hum of approval as Sherlock began to pump his lone finger in and out in tiny increments.

Slowly, torturously, Sherlock opened him, using first one, then two and briefly a third finger before John reached down to push at his shoulders.

“Enough. Now, Sherlock, I’m ready.”

Sherlock rose to his knees, and John made use of the extra room to roll onto his front and dig in the open bedside drawer for one of the condoms he’d stashed in the back of it. As he lay diagonally across the bed, searching for the expiry date on the plastic package, he felt Sherlock’s hands caressing his back again. Sherlock’s musician’s fingers dragged across the warm, sweat-damp skin of his sides and came to rest on the blood-hot smear of purple above his arse.

When he reached behind him to pass Sherlock the condom, the face that greeted him was rapturous. It was the same face Sherlock made when he’d just slotted in the last piece of a particularly challenging puzzle.

“Like that view, do you?” John teased.

Sherlock started out of his lustful reverie. “Hmm, yes. Can I have you like this?” He whispered, barely taking his eyes away from where his hands were still sweeping over John’s skin.

“Yes.” John hissed, and pushed up to his hands and knees. He took a deep breath and waited for Sherlock to deal with the condom. He patiently waited, listening to the crinkling plastic, then silence as he imagined Sherlock rolling it down his prick.

Finally, he felt the bed shift as Sherlock moved closer, and anticipated the hand bracing on his hip. He dropped his head down and relaxed as best he could when he felt Sherlock’s cock nudging against his entrance.

Goosebumps rose on his skin where Sherlock touched him. He heard Sherlock’s breath coming quicker as he worked himself into John inch by inch. Once he was fully seated, they both let out their breath in a rush.

Slowly, Sherlock’s thrusts began to pick up speed, and his other hand gripped John’s other hip. He could hear Sherlock panting above him as he drove his fists into the bedspread.

After a while, Sherlock’s hips slowed, and he pushed deep with every plunge, striking John’s prostate and making him cry out. Sherlock’s hand left his hip and reached around to fist John’s leaking cock. He pushed his hips into Sherlock’s grip as he stroked him unhurriedly.

“Are you close?” Sherlock gritted out.

“Fuck, yes, I’m close. Go on.”

Sherlock’s hips started to snap forward on every thrust. His hand sped up on John’s cock until he had to let go to move his hips faster and faster. John took over for Sherlock and stroked himself quickly until he felt his balls tightening in the familiar calling card.

With a groan, he spilled himself in his hand and moments later, felt Sherlock follow with a harsh cry.

John collapsed onto his stomach and let out a soft grunt when Sherlock pulled out and leaned across him to bin the condom.

Gathering what was left of his strength, he weaseled out from underneath Sherlock and fell back against his pillows. Sherlock pulled his long body alongside John’s and snuggled into John’s side. John’s eyes fell closed as he listen to the quiet sounds of their breathing returning to normal.

He might have dropped off to sleep if he hadn’t felt the barely-there touches of Sherlock exploring the topography of his face. His slender finger was tracing soft patterns on John’s skin, running over cheeks, forehead and jaw but always returning to skirt the edges of his eye.

John cracked open one eye and studied Sherlock’s intense face. “Never pegged you for a cuddler.” He teased.

“Well, of the two of us, you’re not the one known for your observational skills, are you?”

He chuckled. “That’s true enough.”

For a while, he was content to let Sherlock stroke every inch of his face while he basked in the afterglow, but eventually, his curiosity got the better of him. “So, are you going to tell me about the bruise thing?”

“What bruise thing?” he deadpanned.

“Sherlock, you’d probably have more luck denying it if you weren’t currently petting my black eye.”

Sherlock harrumphed, but paused his finger’s gentle prodding, now that he was caught out. He didn’t offer any explanation, so John pushed for an answer.

“Is it a dominance thing? Do you like pain?”

Sherlock’s eyes widened. “What? No, god no. I really have no use for that kind of discipline.”

“Ok. Good. That’s good. Me either.” An awkward silence settled between them, John waiting, not wanting to pressure him, and Sherlock apparently searching for the right words.

“It’s not about causing them. The bruises.”

“Oh?” John searched the familiar face as Sherlock

“It’s just about how they look. And how they change and lighten.” He used the blunt nail of his index finger to scape delicately over rough, blotchy patch under John’s mouth, avoiding where the skin had broken. “The patterns are so interesting; I could look at them for hours, trying to figure out how they happened and how long they’ll take to fade. It’s like art, but less predictable. And more real.”

“Huh.” He stared at the ceiling for a bit while he contemplated this.

Sherlock shot him a look, complete with a skeptically raised eyebrow. “Surely you didn’t expect I’d be completely normal in bed, considering how odd I am in other aspects.”

“No, no, I get it, mostly. Maybe not about why you react the way you do, but I definitely understand why you’d find them interesting. Ever the scientist, eh?” He tapped his chin, next to where Sherlock’s finger still lingered. “This one’s shaping up to be a real nice blue. I’ve grown a bit fond of it, actually.”

Sherlock huffed a laugh and buried his face into the curve of John’s neck.

“So, are we doing this then? The two of us? This isn’t just a one off, right?”

“Of course it isn’t, don’t be ridiculous.” His muffled voice tickled John’s neck, and it made him smile, relieved.

“Good. I’m glad.” He reached his arm around to rub the arm Sherlock had draped over his chest. “I’m surprised it took you this long to figure out I wanted this.”

“I was waiting for the right moment.” He drawled, the colour rising in his cheeks.

“Uh huh. Right.”

Sherlock raised his head indignantly. “I couldn’t be sure. The physical markers of attraction are unmistakable and you’re hardly difficult to read…” John poked his bare side in retaliation.

“But?”

“But, there’s a difference between physical attraction and an actual desire to be in a relationship. I couldn’t know if that was what you wanted, and I didn’t wish to jeopardize our friendship. So, there you have it.”

“Alright.” It made sense. John, too, had been scared of upsetting their delicate balance. Thank God one of us had the balls to make the first move, he thought as he reached to pull the discarded comforter over them, since their sweat was starting to cool.

“I hope you know I’m not going to get myself clocked in the face every time you want to have sex.” He remarked, as he spread the blanket over them both and tucked Sherlock back into his side.

“No, I wouldn’t expect you to.” He smirked. “Between the two of us, we get injured often enough through the cases to be constantly bruised anyway.”

John chuckled. “True enough. But, for the times when we’ve not been beaten up by criminals, or fallen down steps, there’s other, much more fun ways that we could keep me black and blue…”

**********************

The next morning, Lestrade called Sherlock and John in to get their account of what had happened in the murderer’s flat. The explanation was brief and to the point, surprisingly so, considering Sherlock’s usual lengthy descriptions of his own brilliance, combined with his vocal disdain for the necessity of making an official statement.

The whole appointment might have taken less than 10 minutes, if not for the fact that the Detective Inspector, as well as Sergeant Donovan, the Constable who’d briefly interrupted them, and the young lady at the reception desk, had each, more than once, been stunned and distracted into long silences.

The cause for these awkward, noiseless pauses wasn’t the rumpled and well-shagged appearance of both John and Sherlock, or the subtle intimacy with which John occasionally touched Sherlock on the hand, shoulder or lower back to steer him, or put him back on track.

No, the reason the Inspector, Sergeant, Constable and receptionist were shocked into silence was the four dark, vicious hickeys marching up the side of boring, sensible Dr. Watson’s exposed neck. Them, and the indecently self-satisfied look on Sherlock Holmes’ face.