He is getting better at letting the words slide between his lips without touching his vocal cords at all.
You’re beautiful: the touch of his lips to Sherlock’s jugular notch.
I want you: the brush of his thumb over a flushed nipple.
Never leave me: the swirl of his tongue around Sherlock’s navel.
I love you: the scrape of his teeth over a too-prominent hipbone.
John cannot imagine he will ever tire of this, the arch of Sherlock’s body beneath his, bow-string taut and thrumming with need, the urgent press of flesh on flesh. Two months in and he is still struck by the intensity of his own responses. He’d known from the first moment that he was attracted to Sherlock, but this constant simmering heat is another matter entirely.
Not that such things are happening in their bed now, of course.
They're on a case, and while Sherlock can't actually turn off his libido at will, it's clear that he wishes he could. So John takes care of things himself, and if the deprivation adds that much more flavor to the days between cases, so much the better.
Still, it hadn’t made it any easier when, earlier in the evening, Sherlock had finally lost his patience with--what? John’s continued presence in the flat? the loudness of his breathing? his insistence on doing the crossword and getting the answers wrong?
"For the love of God, John,” he’d snapped, whirling away from his wall of clues to pace in front of the fireplace, tugging at his hair in frustration. “Can you please just go away?"
John had sighed. He’d been borderline-aroused all day, despite his best efforts to deal with it himself, or at least to ignore it. The situation hadn’t been made easier by Sherlock’s insistence on swanning around the flat in his clingiest dressing gown and pyjamas, and the obvious fact that he’d neglected to put on pants that morning. Everything about that ought to be illegal.
So John had retreated to the bedroom (their bedroom, and what a novelty that is) and shucked his trousers, slid a hand over the front of his pants.
Sherlock’s tone still stings, but John doesn’t mind, not really. He knows what it’s like, or thinks he does--Sherlock is nothing if not honest. If the man can’t be bothered to eat on cases, then sex is certainly too much to expect. And it’s fine. It’s all fine.
Right now, John can hear Sherlock thinking, as loudly as he ever has, pinning things to the sitting room wall, pacing, running his hands through his hair, but soon there will be a breakthrough, a rapid-fire deduction, a chase, an arrest. They will collapse against the wall in the foyer or on the steps or on the sofa, shoulder to shoulder, out of breath and laughing helplessly. They will get Chinese or Thai or Indian and Sherlock will eat like a starving man and just dare John to say anything about it.
And then one of them will catch the other’s eye. Raise an eyebrow, perhaps. And there will be skin on skin, hands and lips and tongues, his mouth on Sherlock’s cock, Sherlock’s fingers in his hair, and John will tell him that he is brilliant, he is astonishing, he is beautiful, and as the words tumble out he will both hope and fear that Sherlock can’t hear their real meanings.
John comes with a gasp, his orgasm pulling him back to reality, to the present. The air of their bedroom is suddenly chilly against his exposed skin, and he cleans himself off hurriedly, yanks his trousers back on. He doesn’t feel ashamed, not quite, but he doesn’t feel any desire to linger here, either. The post-orgasmic glow isn’t quite the same without another person in the bed, wrapped up in the same lassitude.
“Kettle’s just boiled,” Sherlock says when John re-enters the kitchen. It’s not a request, John realizes; there’s already a mug of tea steaming by Sherlock’s elbow. It’s… an apology, and even more surprising: an apology for something John doesn’t really consider a transgression.
“Thanks,” he says, trying not to let his surprise color his voice. Sherlock merely grunts in reply, not glancing up from the mass of papers and photos he is shuffling and reshuffling on the table. Both his laptop and John’s are open next to him, and he alternates between the computers, his phone, and the papers seemingly at random.
“Any progress?” John asks, though he suspects he knows the answer. He’s learning to read Sherlock’s levels of frustration by the state of his hair--the more frizzed-out it is, the more times he’s run his hands through it, as though he can shake the thoughts free with his fingers. Just now, it is floating around his head in a dark, gravity-defying halo.
Sherlock doesn’t even deign to grunt in response to that one, but John supposes that’s his just reward for venturing into the realm of pointless small talk. “Well, let me know if I can help,” John says after a moment, taking his tea and retreating to the sitting room.
Sherlock solves the case, of course. (It was the groomer, obviously, Lestrade, did you even look at the door mat?) There is no chase, but there is an eminently satisfying confrontation with the accidental murderer, filled with enough brilliant deductions and feats of logic to satisfy even Sherlock’s sense of drama. Afterwards, they fuck, and Sherlock is wild and bright above him. In the reflected glow, John feels younger, surer, as though all his scars have been made smooth again, and he slides his hands up Sherlock’s thighs to grip his narrow hips. Sherlock’s skin is already slick with sweat and John’s mouth waters with the urge to taste it, to chase it across the planes of Sherlock’s body. Sherlock grabs his hands instead, pushes them back against the mattress, holding John still as he lowers himself slowly down.
“Christ, Sherlock, you are--Christ,” John says, eyes fluttering closed as Sherlock begins to move. “You are a fucking miracle.”
Above him, Sherlock stops moving abruptly. “I know what people think about me,” he says. “I know they think I can’t-- that I don’t--” His hands, still pinning John’s wrists to the bed, tense just a little before he lets John go and sits up straighter. John gasps at the shift of Sherlock’s body around him, tries not to buck up his hips. He clenches his own fists in the sheets to ground himself.
“People are idiots, remember?” John says. “They see, but they do not observe.”
Sherlock smiles in response, tentative and a little sad, but he leans down to kiss John all the same, wringing gasps from him with every rock of his hips, swallowing them all down hungrily until his own overwhelm him. He straightens again, lets his head fall back, and John can pinpoint the precise moment he loses himself in the rolling of his hips, moving in counterpoint to John’s increasingly erratic thrusts. For his part, John tries harder than ever to give it all back to him: the hesitant tenderness, the focused attention, the strange Sherlockian intensity that John can’t help but bend towards like a plant seeking sunlight. Sherlock deserves all that and more, but if all John has to offer him right now is the twist of his hands in Sherlock’s, the steady stream of praise and encouragement that falls from his lips without conscious thought--well, perhaps that will suffice for just a little longer.
“I do love you, you know,” Sherlock says, very quietly. He is standing barefoot in the middle of their sitting room, his toes curling just slightly in the faded carpet. His arms hang by his sides. He has an empty beaker in one hand, gripped so tightly his knuckles have gone white.
John looks up. He hadn’t even heard Sherlock enter the room. He takes in Sherlock’s face, and knows that he has arranged every muscle just so, carefully blank, safely neutral. He licks his lips, draws a breath.
“I know,” John says, equally quiet. He rises and crosses to where Sherlock is still standing, shoulders squared like a man awaiting judgement. His fingers twitch around the neck of beaker. John runs a hand through Sherlock’s curls and waits until Sherlock meets his eyes. He smiles. “You’re not the only one who observes, you know.”
Sherlock lets out a long sigh; John can feel the tension leak from his muscles. He tips his head up and leans forward just enough to brush their lips together, leaving it to Sherlock deepen the kiss if he wants to.
Sherlock inhales sharply, and John barely has time to wince at the dull thud of the beaker hitting the carpet before Sherlock’s lips are on his, hot and dry and desperately eager, and Sherlock’s hands are curled in his jumper, pulling him in close. John suspects there is more he ought to say right now, but he also suspects Sherlock needs the reassurance of their bodies pressed together more than he needs whatever stumbling confessions John might wish to make. There is a reason, after all, that Sherlock waited so long to say anything. Words are just words, air passing over vocal cords, a series of audible vibrations in the arbitrary arrangement that is language. But actions are another matter. Shifting muscles and straining tendons, bruises and sweat--actions are concrete and deliberate. Actions leave marks.
So John bites back his words and kisses Sherlock with all he has. Walks him backwards to the sofa, drops to his knees and swallows him down, lets Sherlock curl long fingers in his short hair and gasp his pleasure to the ceiling until their world feels solid and familiar again. Words are just words, but this… this is the same place they’ve always lived; they are the same people who have always lived in it.
The words are becoming slippery again, threatening to slide out at the wrong moments. As a doctor and a soldier, John has always had a good filter, but now he finds himself conscious of his speech in a way he hasn’t been since early adolescence. He cannot declare himself at a crime scene, no matter how stunning Sherlock is with his mind moving at full tilt, Belstaff swirling around him. Not only would Sherlock resent the interruption, but there would be witnesses. John isn’t embarrassed about the way he feels, but--he doesn’t want to share it, either. Not this time. So he stays quieter than usual, stands further back while Sherlock shines, bites his tongue and bides his time.
Nor is he willing to say the words in bed--not during the act, and not after. It’s a stunning cliché, and one that John strongly suspects Sherlock has encountered before, and with no good outcome. Still, in the aftermath, with Sherlock’s body curled around his, the sweat cooling on their skin, it’s easy to see why it’s such a cliché. It would be so easy, just then, to whisper the words into his chest, right over his heart, and let them sink into the warm skin there.
But he refrains.
Sherlock is mercifully silent on the subject of John’s sudden awkwardness, but John is unsure whether that is obliviousness on Sherlock’s part or an unexpected fit of tact.
Sherlock himself hasn’t repeated the words, and indeed he seems perfectly happy to revert to their usual methods of displaying affection: cups of tea and nagging about food on John’s part, and on Sherlock’s, a single crisper drawer free of body parts, petulant endurance of televised rugby matches, and frequent demanding texts.
Sherlock’s seeming indifference should be comfortable, familiar--a relief, even--but John feels every moment of the imbalance, even if it’s an imbalance that only exists in his own head. (And does it, really? John cannot be entirely sure. Sherlock is Sherlock, yes, but John knows better than anyone what that really means, and how little of Sherlock’s public facade should be taken at face value.) Soon, he promises himself. Soon.
In the end, the words slip out in their own time, with very little input from John at all.
Sherlock has done something unspeakable to their microwave, something involving horse meat and tar, and John is determined to die without ever knowing the details of that particular experiment. Still, it’s the third ruined microwave in as many months, and they are not inexpensive appliances. Sherlock may have a trust fund, a credit card he liberated from Mycroft, and a blithe disregard for account balances, but John has spent his life working for his money, and the thought of spending even more of it on something Sherlock will destroy without a second’s hesitation galls him.
To his credit, Sherlock did take the microwave out to the bins in the back garden, although he ignored the trail of tar and horse blood he left in his wake. Said trail was now sticky and cold, and John had found it with his bare feet that morning as he stumbled into the kitchen for tea.
“You are dealing with this today, for the record,” he says, for the third or fourth time, after he’s had a chance to cool his temper with a shower and several more cups of tea. “I will hide all of your electronics and lock you in here if I have to, but I am not going to step in this again, and I’m certainly not going to be the one who figures out how to get coal tar out of the rug.”
Sherlock’s pout is so exaggerated, so obviously a sham that John has to hide his snort of laughter behind a cough, even as another wave of irritation washes over him. “But I took the microwave out,” Sherlock protests. “That’s all the really hard work done; surely you can handle the last little bit of scrubbing.”
John raises his eyebrows. “The last little bit? Sherlock, there is tar and horse blood ground into the carpet. I love you, but there are limits.”
It is all John can do, in the sudden silence that follows, not to clap his hand over his mouth.
“John,” Sherlock says finally, eyes gone wide, voice breathy.
“I--look, that’s not how I meant it to come out,” John says. “Can you--I mean, just--”
“Shut up,” Sherlock says, pushing his chair back with a clatter, moving towards John with intent clear in his eyes.
“I meant it,” John insists, afraid Sherlock will get the wrong idea. “I did, I just--I wanted--”
“Shut up,” Sherlock says again, finally reaching him. He cups John’s face in his hands, bends his head until they are breathing the same air. His hands are warm, almost hot, against John’s skin. He smells of tea and rubbing alcohol and illicit tobacco smoke. It is intoxicating, far more than John generally likes to admit, and he takes a long, shaky breath. His whole world has contracted into this tiny moment, these miniscule sensations: the soft drag of Sherlock’s thumb along the shell of his ear, the warm puff of Sherlock’s breath on his skin, the way the man seems to reduce his field of vision so he can fill it entirely.
“This won’t get you out of the scrubbing, you know,” John breathes, one last gasp before the waves crash over him.
“Shut up,” Sherlock says and finally, finally closes the final few centimeters between their lips. And then John really is drowning: the waters are rushing in over his head and roaring in his ears as he sinks and sinks and sinks. Into the kiss, into Sherlock, into the mad, wild, confounding, unexpected life in which he has found himself.