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It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn

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Sherlock is curled in the kitchen chair, knees pulled up to his chest, toes hanging over the wooden lip of the seat as he contemplates whether or not it's a good idea to open the plastic container of three-year-old cow tongues sitting before him at the table. On one hand, they've been refrigerated. On the other, refrigeration doesn't do jack shit for the smell after a few months, let alone years. Normally he wouldn't care about that sort of thing, but Mrs. Hudson made him biscuits this morning which he grudgingly will admit was kind, and she does hate to come up into a flat smelling of tomb, so maybe he'll put it off until he can get to the morgue—

There is a knock at his door.

Sherlock sits up straight, his feet landing on the floor with a very soft thud. (Cold beneath his toes. Must remember socks.) He stands, abandoning the tongues for a later time, and pads quietly over to the door. He grabs the knob and simply waits, considering.

It could be Lestrade, come with a case; only Lestrade always texts first even if Sherlock doesn't answer, and he's had his phone with him all day and hasn't gotten any notifications. It could be Mrs. Hudson—No. Of course not, Hudders never knocks. It can't be Mycroft because Sherlock doesn't smell cake and betrayal, and Molly and Irene don't even know where he lives. He doesn't really know anyone else who would have a) the want, b) the need, or c) the means to come to his flat except John—

(Heart surges up into his throat; tight and inconvenient.)

John.

Sherlock takes a deep breath through his nose and opens his door fast, like he's peeling off a plaster. Only after the door is open does he realize that his eyes are closed, and he keeps them that way, because he's scared and he doesn't want to be disappointed; if he can't see Not-John, then they don't exist, he reasons with toddler-like logic.

Not-John coughs lightly, and Sherlock can hear the smile in his voice. His eyes fly open.

It is. It's him. John. John Watson. Standing there on Sherlock's landing in a pair of ugly plaid pyjamas and worn-out trainers, his black jacket with the elbow patches slung over a grey t-shirt that is rumpled and wrinkled. John's hair is messy, sticking up in tufts in the back, and there is the crease of a pillow on one of his warm, rosy cheeks. His eyes are blue, blue, blue, dark like the ocean at night, and Sherlock wants to grab him, and pull him close, and—and consume him.

“It's four in the morning,” Sherlock says. His voice sounds hoarse and gritty and a bit nervous. (He thinks, wildly, of the cow tongues sitting on his kitchen table, and has a sudden idea: open them outside.) And then, “And you are here. Not sleeping in your bed.”

John's smile is so big and so wide that Sherlock is anxious; how did he put it there? He needs to know, because he wants to do it again, today, tomorrow, and every day after that. “Yeah,” John says. He steps into the flat without being invited and suddenly he is flush up against Sherlock's chest, and he smells of toothpaste, and it's cinnamon instead of the standard mint, and he would wouldn't he? “You're not sleeping in yours either, though. So.”

“I'm thinking about cow tongues,” Sherlock says breathlessly.

John shakes his head minutely. Wets his lips. “You don't look like you're thinking about cow tongues.”

“I'm not.”

“Neither am I.”

John kisses him.

And for a moment Sherlock is too stunned to move. Simply stands there, his eyes wide open, his arms gripped at his sides by John's strong hands, his closed mouth pressed right up against John's; and John's lips are so soft. Like velvet, and warm, too, and—

John pulls away (not good) (not good at all) just far enough to look Sherlock in the eyes. He's hesitant all of a sudden, and careful, like he thinks what he's doing isn't the most wonderful, the most fabulous, the most amazing-brilliant-fantastic thing ever to have happened to Sherlock Holmes in the whole course of his sorry life. John is going to back away. He's going to take his warm hands off of Sherlock's body, his warm (precious) (invaluable) (infinitely loved) presence out of Sherlock's flat, and he's going to go back to her, to Mary, and Sherlock is never going to see him again. This is (absolutely) (unmitigatedly) Sherlock's last chance; he needs to make it count.

“John,” he says, and hopes that that word conveys the millions of things he has to say to this man as he cups John's face in his hands, and seals their lips together again.

He closes his eyes this time. Slides his hands down from cheeks to neck to shoulders and grips for dear life as John expands the kiss, making it hot and wet and slippery and filthy. One of John's hands is full of Sherlock's curls, another of his arse; Sherlock moans into John's mouth as John walks him backwards, maneuvering him with an expert hand around various items of furniture until (somehow) (how did they get here) (he doesn't remember making that many turns) Sherlock's knees come up against the edge of the sofa and John bears down on him, landing on top of Sherlock in a position that should be uncomfortable, but instead only makes Sherlock more needy. More desperate.

“Oh my god,” John groans into his mouth. Sherlock inhales the words, swallows them. They taste of John. “Why the fuck didn't I have this idea sooner—god, Sherlock—”

John takes his talented mouth away and Sherlock moans, trying to recapture it with his own, but then—oh—then John kisses him once, hot and open-mouthed on the juncture where his collarbone meets the base of his neck, and Sherlock scrabbles with his fingers at John's sleeve, his hair, his shirt.

“John,” he pants. John licks a solid, steady stripe up the right side of Sherlock's neck, stopping to gnaw lightly at Sherlock's jaw; the action shoots sensation straight into Sherlock's groin. “John—please—do you think we need quite so much clothing—”

“Right,” John says, and sits back so that he is straddling Sherlock with his knees on either side of the other man's slim hips. His cheeks are flushed dark, his lips kiss-swollen, and he is the most beautiful thing that Sherlock has ever seen. “Half a moment,” he murmurs as he quickly strips of his jacket, tossing it onto the floor. His shoes come next (untied, they slip right off) and then, finally, with a teasing grin beamed down at Sherlock, John's grabs the neck of his t-shirt and, with one fluid moment that makes Sherlock dizzy, he pulls it off and over his head.

John surges back down towards Sherlock, but Sherlock stops him with a hand on his chest.

(His heart is beating very, very fast. Because of Sherlock. Sherlock did that to him.)

“Wait, John,” Sherlock breathes. “Just… please. Let me look at you.”

John pauses above him, then slowly sits back on his knees. He lets his hands come to rest lightly on Sherlock's stomach, his shoulders just a little bit stooped, and Sherlock drinks him in with his eyes.

He is broad and solid and compact, and it is obvious that he was a soldier; he's toned without being intimidating, just commanding enough to be devastatingly arousing. His skin is the color of the purest honey in this light, and Sherlock wants to lick every inch of him, taste every bit of John-taste until it is the only thing on his palate. It would be especially potent, this John-taste, in the hollows of his collar bones, and at the back of his neck where ash-colored hair grows in a silky inverted triangle; Sherlock would be insensate with it.

But none of this in any way compares to the absolute glory of John's scar.

It's a firework of red veins and pink indentations; a rose, blooming outward from a slightly shiny center on John's shoulder, it's petals unfurling in shades of angered flesh; a map, charting the life and times and trials of one John Watson, detailing the path that led him to one Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock lets the fingers of one hand trace gently at the marred skin, and he feels something like a sob in the back of his throat as he meets John's eyes. There's only one word to describe this man:

Beautiful.”

John shivers, his lips parted. “Sherlock,” he whispers, and catches himself on his elbows so that he hovers above Sherlock. He rains kisses down upon the man beneath him; on his nose, his chin, both cheeks, his eyelids, and finally, slowly and languidly and hungrily, his lips. Sherlock is making entirely undignified noises in the back of his throat. John is eating them up like they are made of sugar.

John sits back again, just far enough that Sherlock can't reach his mouth without sitting up. The expression on his face is half-dazed, half-reverent, and Sherlock thinks he might just come right now from the sight of it. “I…” John's hands lift the bottom of Sherlock's own t-shirt, slide underneath the fabric and knead at his stomach. Sherlock whines, long and high and entirely unstoppable in the back of his throat, and John groans. “Can I…” John begins, pulling at Sherlock's shirt until he sits up, and then helping him take it off with gentle hands. “Can I touch you?”

Sherlock falls back bonelessly against the arm of the sofa. “Please,” he begs.

John does.

And he takes his fucking time, too, lingering just above the waistband of Sherlock's pyjamas before letting one hand drift under and down—

—down—

—down—

When John touches him (warm, slightly calloused fingers, gentle and rough in all the right ways) Sherlock becomes aware of two things. That this, with John, is a form of dancing; and that now, in this moment, John is undoubtedly the one teaching.

Sherlock's lower back arches up off of the cushions beneath him as a cry escapes his lips. He is made of stardust, he is made of flames, he is standing on an empty stage in an empty theater with only John, and the music that surrounds them is transcendental and raw.

“John. Jo—god, yes, yes, John—”

“Yes, love, you're beautiful. You're bloody gorgeous, did I ever tell you that?”

John is guiding Sherlock's body and Sherlock's soul through these steps with a hand that is talented and steady and sure; he is showing Sherlock how to bound and how to balance and how to stretch and that is is ok to turn his mind off, to succumb to this performance of light and bliss that they are joined in.

Sherlock gasps, and his hands find John's hair, gripping and tugging and yanking. “John,” he gasps. “Yes.”

“Sherlock,” John answers. (Hand is steady and rhythmic even as the rocking of Sherlock's hips becomes erratic and uncontrolled.) “You are amazing.” Voice low. Hot. Panting. “Fantastic. Brilliant.”

John.”

A growl.“Mine.”

Sherlock's whole body moves, bends and arches and bows as white-hot bliss of a strength that he has never known floods through him. Someone is yelling and someone is sobbing and someone is murmuring his name over and over again, like a prayer, and John catches him as he collapses back down again, tucking him close to his bare chest so that they are flesh-to-flesh.

Sherlock is whole. Sherlock is empty. Sherlock is a thin layer of flesh, filled with liquid gold and euphoria, and John is holding him like he's made of precious metal, the warm dryness of his lips still chanting Sherlock, Sherlock against Sherlock's neck, and Sherlock is never, ever moving again.

But then John shifts atop Sherlock. It's a slight movement, not even a restless one, but it doesn't take a consulting detective to feel the evidence of John's need pressing into Sherlock's thigh with quiet insistence. Sherlock licks his lips, and nuzzles at the top of John's head lazily with his nose and he wraps his arms loosely around his waist.

“John,” he breathes softly. “Come here.”

John lifts his head. His eyes are fever-bright and wide, and there are teeth marks in his lips. He raises himself onto his elbows once more, looking down at Sherlock with such a look of total adoration that Sherlock nearly cannot breathe, and he can't help from sitting up a little and flicking his tongue along the sweaty line of a one collarbone, collecting the salty-sweet taste of John onto his tongue. John makes a keening noise in the back of his throat; his arms buckle, and it is Sherlock's turn to catch him, Sherlock's turn to roll both of them carefully so they do not topple off of the sofa and onto the floor, Sherlock's turn to touch John and taste John, all of John, to make John scream until he can't move or breathe or even think.

He wants to record the sound of John whimpering his name and dance to it until he dies.

*****

It is later, and they haven't moved. They are one unit on the sofa, a warm, sated, messy tangle of limbs that have melted and fused together. One breath, one body, one heart.

They are lying on their sides now, and Sherlock's face is pressed into the melty hollow of John's throat, held there by John's strong arms. Sherlock has never been more thankful for the fact that he has a wide sofa.

But there is something small and shriveled and ugly that has creeped into Sherlock's mind: it's a kernel of guilt.

It doesn't seem consistent with the image of John Watson that he would be unfaithful; that he would leave the woman he is engaged to for a man—his dance instructor, no less—and do… what they have just done. John is bored with Mary, yes, but he isn't without morals, he isn't cruel. Sherlock knows this as surely as he knows his own name. However John has been sleeping in her bed (the faint scent of rose laundry powder that had lingered on him when he first arrived and has now been thoroughly worn away) as recently as an hour and a half ago.

Sherlock's heart sinks. He doesn't know what to do. He loves this man—has done almost since the moment they laid eyes on each other—and he would do anything for him, but it will be hard to always be the second option. Be the side-piece, the colloquially labeled 'other woman.' It would… it would hurt.

“John,” Sherlock whispers. He tugs John a little bit closer to him, as if that will combat the unhappiness of what he's about to say. His throat feels dry, like all the sands of Afghanistan are sitting in a dune on his esophagus. In the end, he can only utter one word, and it sounds like defeat. “Mary.”

John goes still against him, and Sherlock mourns. This is the end, then. John is going to leave for good now, even though Sherlock tried—oh, how he tried. Sherlock feels firm, moist heat against his eyelids and he tries to sit up, tries to pull away, but—

“Mary,” John is saying softly, gently into the top of Sherlock's head as he strokes long strokes up and down Sherlock's spine, “is over. Done. I… I guess I didn't tell you.” John gives a brief chuff of laughter, and the curls on top of Sherlock's head ruffle with his sweet breath. “Sorry. I was a bit distracted, as you know. I just… I woke up tonight, and I just knew.

Sherlock squeezes his eyes shut tightly, and smiles into John's skin. “What did you know?” he asks John in a whisper.

“You, Sherlock.” There is a smile in John's voice, too, and it is precious and soft and infinite. “It's you or no one for me. Always will be, I think. I—hell, I probably shouldn't say this, but, well, we did just have mind boggling sex—I think I'm probably definitely in love with you. I mean, all of you. I'm in love with the way you dance. I'm in love with the way you smile at me. I'm in love with that look you give me when you think I'm being an idiot. I'm in love with that curl right there—” John tugs on one of Sherlock's curls gently— “I'm in love with the way you yell at people, I'm in love with how fucking brilliant you are, I'm in love with your recklessness, and the kindness you show me, and your choice in restaurants, and even your bloody hell-hole of a flat. I'm in love with you, and not her, not any of her. So I had to come here.” John's gone grows slightly hesitant. “I hope that's ok.”

Sherlock has never been good with words; often what he says is sharp and cutting, slicing people to the quick when he meant only to scold, scaring people away forever when all he wanted was friendship. He doesn't have that priceless talent of effortless communication, that gift of poetry that falls off of his tongue. But when he kisses John, kisses John with every last particle in his body, he knows that his words have been delivered as clearly as he if he had yelled them straight into John's ears.

I love you, too, John Watson. Every last bit of you.