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A Singular Friendship

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It's the kind of night that never ends, and never should. It's one a.m. and the restaurant looks dingy, but by God, the dim sum is good. The bottom third of the door handle. What do you know. John's mouth twists into a smile – it's so easy to smile tonight.

Tonight, his leg could carry him through another crazy chase through alleys, stairwells and rooftops. Tonight, his hands are hot and rock steady when he digs into his food.

John is living. The immediacy of it is grazing every inch of his skin. He can feel the vibrations from the gun still in his fingertips. He can feel the blood pumping through his limbs. He can breathe.

He is a soldier, and he can present a calm and collected exterior, seem like the down-to-earth one in the middle of a storm. Inside, though, the high rushes through him, tingling against his borders in a way no one can guess.

Well, maybe Sherlock Holmes can.

John looks up again, licking his lips clean, meeting Sherlock's gaze. The bright light in the man's eyes blinds John and makes it impossible to look away. Sherlock smiles knowingly; maybe he sees John's elated disbelief and is smug about it. John doesn't care. Sherlock gets to be smug. Sherlock is extraordinary. If he gets too insufferable, John will just call him an idiot again. He definitely is that, too.

Sherlock's clothing is impeccable despite the night's drama. The dark lines of his suit are perfect in the dim light, the crisp shirt strains over his fit chest. John wonders if he always dresses like that. He should; it suits him. And his curls, dramatic and tastefully tamed at the same time. The black hair and jacket make his skin look smooth and pale, disappearing under his unbuttoned collar. He looks like the smell of night air, dark and fresh and dangerous. The slice of his cheekbones is cold and the swell of his lips hot, like a wild run through a winter alley.

John doesn't notice how far he is leaning over the table until the waitress comes and puts a plate between them. Sherlock quickly leans back in his chair, giving the waitress a puzzled look. John smiles to himself; they're both forgetting where they are, then. Truth be told, John is surprised there are other people still existing, when every single important thing is contained at their table.

There are two fortune cookies on the plate. John tries not to laugh.

“Tell me your prediction, then”, he says, picking one up and turning it over in his hand.

The corners of Sherlock's mouth twitch downwards when he eyes the cookie between John's fingers, the same way he would an enemy. He waves his pale hand condescendingly and takes an ominous breath. “The business of fortune telling capitalises on taking advantage of people's feelings of confusion and desperation”, he starts, throwing himself into an analysis of the stupidity of fortune predictions. John watches him with amusement, enjoying the look of concentration on Sherlock's face even when he is talking nonsense.

“Are you finished?” John teases when there is a pause for breath. “However long you talk, it won't stop me from noticing you can't tell me what this cookie will say.”

“Not quite finished”, Sherlock sniffs, continuing at an even greater speed. How does he talk so fast? “The short excitement of interpreting a prediction as something that's written for you specifically, is a good enough reason for foolish people to spend their money on cookies that taste like paper”, he ends.

“Fine”, John chuckles. “You are clearly neither omniscient nor a fortune teller.” He opens the cookie and fishes out the paper stripe. “A thrilling time awaits you.

“Well”, Sherlock says, still in his haughty voice, “I certainly could have told you that.” He meets John's gaze from the corner of his eyes, the candlelight glistening in them and a meaningful smile playing on his lips.

John is a soldier, which is why he doesn't fold up at the happiness punching him in the gut. Instead he only smiles back at the man who might have saved his life tonight, even before John had time to save his in return.

“Your turn”, he says.

Sherlock opens his cookie, eyes the note inside it and scrunches his face up in horror. John immediately knows that if he's too slow, he will never get to read the gem of a note that put this comically adorable look on Sherlock's face. He leans over the table and reads it upside-down:

The greatest danger could be your stupidity.

And that's it; the ribbons of joy contained in his stomach and chest untangle themselves and he is laughing, throwing himself against the backrest of his chair, tears leaking out of his pressed-together eyelids.

“This one was supposed to be yours, obviously”, Sherlock says, and John laughs even harder, his stomach killing him but not giving him a break. When Sherlock laughs too, it starts with a slow chuckle, the tone deeper than John knew was humanly possible. John's laugh is embarrassingly high, but he doesn't care, not when Sherlock is letting go and laughing with him.

“I think I need to frame this for you”, John says, his voice weak when he's managed to stop laughing.

“John, you-”

“I think it would look lovely on our mantelpiece.” The word our rolls easily off his tongue to shimmer between them.

Sherlock presses his lips together. “You do realise that it is completely arbitrary who gets which cookie, don't you.”

“This will be a useful reminder for you”, John goes on, trying not to smile too widely.

“I'm sure your presence in the flat will be reminder enough of the shortcomings of the average mind.”

John bites his lip. “You calling me an idiot again?”

“Just stating the facts”, Sherlock says nonchalantly.

“I thought we'd just established you're an idiot too.”

“As you seem determined to keep reminding me, John.”

“I am. You can have me instead of the cookie.”

“You would look lovely on our mantelpiece.” Sherlock smiles drily.

“Think so?”

“Mm. If you took off your worn, old jumper.”

John looks down at his cosy oatmeal jumper. “This is my best jumper!”

“And I think you would look even better without it.” Sherlock blinks rapidly and hurries to continue: “I mean. It hides your fitness, I cannot fathom why you would- Never mind.”

John snorts. “It's warm and comfortable, genius.”

“As is my coat”, Sherlock points out. “Which quite ingeniously combines warmth, comfort and aesthetic.”

“Right.” John sits back and pops a bit of fortune cookie into his mouth. It really does taste like paper. “Well, we can't all be geniuses.”

“No”, Sherlock agrees. “Some of us need to be soldiers.”

There's something in the way his voice pours smooth and low into the word soldier, and the way his mouth shapes around it. There is a slight pause, and when they look at each other, the memory of two sets of windows with bullet holes hovers between them.

The conversation is gleaming. Jokes and teasing fall from John's lips and Sherlock's chuckles grow smoother. All the force of his striking, pale eyes is constantly focused on John alone.

John keeps his eyes fixed on Sherlock through the flickering firelight. The idea of looking away for more than a moment stirs a deep fear he can't explain. It's that relentless panic he felt when he realised Sherlock was about to swallow that pill; it's not just remnants of adrenalin, but a simmering fear that Sherlock will disappear. They have known each other for a day, yet the idea of losing him is so unthinkable that John is scared to examine what it's really about. He just keeps staring at Sherlock, making sure this madman isn't about to throw his life away again, making sure he eats at the very least.But somehow, he senses with his heart pulsing in his chest, he's just as afraid of having Sherlock as he is of losing him.

Sherlock does eat. Gracefully – now that's a word John has never before used to describe someone eating. Sherlock is all quiet movements, lifting his fork with a slender hand, leaning his head forward, taking the bite delicately into his mouth. His thumb sweeps across his lower lip, brushing some sauce away. John is fascinated by that mouth, how it's at the same time asymmetric and perfect. Sherlock's features have a strange pull about them, the candlelight bringing out his dramatic angles. Sherlock tilts his head, his pale neck long and smooth, a curl casting a sharp shadow by the hollow behind his ear. Somehow it all fits; the perfect curls, the sharp cheekbones, the elegant neck, the posh clothes with the straining buttons. It's all Sherlock, and John takes it in, and again, and again, wanting to keep it inside him somehow.

It's the kind of night where John can feel the hours burning with possibilities he knows nothing about. The kind of night where he ends up in the least expected place, and it's more right than anything he could ever have planned. The kind of night where every intent eye contact across the table is something he wants to hold on to and let it take him wherever it might. Sherlock is smiling, John's heart is thrumming, and the night is electric when John walks out by his side, his legs unhesitatingly carrying him home.

***

“There are ears in the fridge.” This kind of statement is met by an unconcerned humming sound from Sherlock. “Human ears”, John adds, raising his voice.

“I know”, Sherlock rolls his eyes, “I put them there.”

“On a plate!”

“Why do you keep stating the obvious?”

“Do you not see anything wrong with this?!”

Sherlock finally meets his eyes. “It's for science”, he says with the same voice that he uses with Anderson.

John holds his gaze sternly, until he has to look away before he accidentally starts laughing. That would be inappropriate. The normal reaction to severed ears on the plate he used for toast this morning would be anger.

The sparkle in Sherlock's eye, in the middle of his annoyed grimace, tells John that he sees the laughter John keeps in.

Sherlock sees that John isn't normal. He chose to let John into his magical world, to see the battlefield of London and to navigate all the secret pathways in the city with him. He looked at John, cracked one joke, dashed off and knew John would follow, because somehow he already knew John.

John's state of mind is a constant, confusing mix of annoyance, adrenalin highs and happiness. He complains loudly every time he finds a new disturbing experiment in their kitchen, but mostly because he doesn't know what to do with all that joy other than pick a fight and yell it out. Never before has John craved the presence of a person so badly, while also being quite so annoyed with him. His own version of domestic everyday life is a madman sitting next to him and arguing with him at every possible turn.

“What on earth are you watching?” Sherlock says disgustedly while making himself comfortable on the other end of the sofa.

“It's a dating programme”, John says, ignoring Sherlock's dramatic sigh.

“Is the process of 'dating' not humiliating enough as it is? Why would anyone in their right mind want to have a film crew following the proceedings and then show it to the entire British nation?”

“I don't know, I suppose it's a chance to try it in a new way. They probably have a lot of fun doing it.”

“You cannot be serious. The odds of anyone actually finding 'love' during these circumstances must be-”

John rolls his eyes at Sherlock's use of quotation marks around both “dating” and “love”, and he cuts Sherlock off. “You don't have a say in this, married to my work.”

Sherlock grunts, and John is pleased with getting the last word. He's often surprised by how uneven Sherlock's knowledge is; two-hundred-and-forty-three types of tobacco ash, no clue there's a solar system. Can predict people's reactions to manipulate them masterfully, has no idea what motivates people to seek out romance and sex. John is fairly sure Sherlock has zero experiences with that. He wonders about it sometimes, because knowing Sherlock, John would've thought he had at least experimented with it at some point. But then again, for an asexual person the price is perhaps too high.

John doesn't get the last word, after all. Sherlock spends the rest of the night yelling deductions at the telly, working himself up more and more over the idiocy of the programme, the participants, the camera crew, the adverts. John lets himself sink deeper into the sofa cushions and the sense of comfort.

Sherlock is mad. He plays the violin when he's thinking – which happens at all hours. Sometimes he doesn't talk for days on end, while sometimes he doesn't shut up. But when there's a case, he takes John with him every time. He keeps watching crap telly with John though he claims to hate it, and when they bicker over takeaway, the sparkling air from their first night together is back.

Those nights, John follows Sherlock's graceful movements with his eyes and wants to know everything, because every side of Sherlock Holmes that he has seen so far has been positively blazing. His genius and curiosity, his arrogance and sharp tongue, his boyish playfulness, his strange naivety; John wants to see it all.

Sherlock joins in when he laughs, and lets him.

The ease of their teasing talk, their shining eyes and wide smiles almost remind John of flirting. He has never been like that with a friend before. But Sherlock is such an intense person; everything about him is bound to be intense. Where ordinary friends ask about the workday and smile politely, Sherlock's every word is hypnotising and his smiles mesmerising. Sherlock is no ordinary man, and so their friendship is bound to be a singular one.

***

“Come on, John!”

John breathes a curse and follows Sherlock around a dark corner, a splash of dirty rainwater soaking his jeans when Sherlock runs through a puddle. The only things John is aware of are his legs working so hard he can't feel it any longer, his breath cutting through his lungs, his gun pressing into the small of his back, and Sherlock running in front of him.

Sherlock is the stormy London night personified. His coat is flaring out like a mantle, fusing with the darkness, and his hair is bounding as if in wild euphoria, messing up his styling but making him look irresistibly alive. His legs are criminally long, and it's a bloody good thing John happens to be a soldier and knows how to run.

“Come on!” Sherlock yells again. He speeds up and John swears again, pushing himself to run faster. He has no time to react when Sherlock suddenly stops and twirls around. John crashes into his open arms, and Sherlock uses his momentum to get them into a deep doorway.

John finds himself pressed up against the frame by Sherlock's body, both of them enveloped by his dark coat. Despite the surprise of the movement, it takes them no time to slot into place against each other and still completely. It's like a dance, and John is a terrible dancer really, but following Sherlock's lead is the easiest thing.

All John can hear is his own breathing, loud even in the storm. Sherlock grabs the back of his head, pulling him against his shoulder. John breathes in the damp wool of Sherlock's coat, the taste of rain filling his mouth. With his own breathing muffled, he can hear the footsteps of the killer. He feels Sherlock bend his neck, and then his face presses against John's crown, hot breath warming his scalp.

John's heart beats violently enough to shake Sherlock's body when the murderer jogs past their hiding spot. Sherlock moves his hand and John already knows what he's about to do, arching his spine from the wall to allow Sherlock's hand behind the small of his back. Sherlock lifts the hem of John's jacket, slides the gun out of his trousers and puts it in John's waiting hand. His fingers are ice, the cold touch lingering even after his fingers withdraw.

“Ready?” Sherlock asks, mouth still mashed into John's hair.

John nods once, and they move out of the doorway as one body, dashing through the street.

Things go downhill from there. When they catch up with the criminal, it turns out he has a partner. John's gun saves them, but not before Sherlock has run straight into the arms of an armed killer.

Sherlock's stream of deductions an hour ago were like cloud cover shifting to pour sunlight over the world. Then he throws himself at the blade of a knife, and John knows that if Sherlock disappears now, John will spin away into space like a planet that's lost its sun. He suspects that Sherlock doesn't realise he's gambling with his own life, but what he definitely doesn't know is that he's also gambling with John's.

Sherlock gives him a crazed smile, blood drenching half his face, and the residual fear twists John's stomach into anger. He stays quiet on their way home, setting his jaw, but Sherlock seems too dizzy to notice. John stays close behind him when they walk up the stairs to 221B.

When he turns the kitchen lights on to reveal Sherlock's face properly, he's almost amused by the way Sherlock gazes at him with triumph and pride, from a face soaked with crimson red.

“You're bleeding like hell.”

“That's not a very professional way to put it, Doctor Watson.”

“I'm not a doctor right now.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, right now I'm your exhausted flatmate and angry friend who needs you to stop taking risks like that.”

“You are always my doctor. Why are you angry?”

“Because you seem determined to contribute to your severed ears experiment with one of your own!”

“Not a bad idea, actually. You should have let him cut it off.”

“Yeah, but then you would lose your super hearing skills and no longer be the world's best consulting detective.”

“Yes, I would, I'm the only one there is.”

“Just… sit down and I'll go get my med kit.”

Sherlock is actually sitting down when John gets back into the kitchen. John sits on the other chair, the anger and fear dulling blessedly when his hands steady to get to work.

This is the only thing making it remotely acceptable that Sherlock is such a reckless idiot; that John knows how to take care of him after. Sherlock doesn't let anyone else do it, and sometimes John isn't sure he would either. He needs to do this for Sherlock after a fright like that.

John finishes by washing Sherlock's face with a cloth as best he can. Sherlock's eyes are closed and his hand is firmly grasping John's knee, warming up the wet fabric. John strokes Sherlock's still damp hair away to see his ear, angling Sherlock's head this way and that.

“It should heal well. You were lucky.”

Sherlock hums, sounding like he's about to fall asleep right there on the chair.

“Let's get you into bed”, John says, and the way Sherlock readily lets himself be led from the kitchen without protest, shows how knackered he is. He can't even be bothered to open his eyes, the git. “Hey, watch where you're putting your feet”, John says softly, guiding him with one hand on the small of his back and the other on his elbow. Sherlock's eyes open, blinking in adorable confusion, immediately seeking out John.

Sherlock doesn't seem prepared to do anything in order to get into bed, so John sets to work on his shirt buttons. When he slides the fabric off Sherlock's shoulders, it strikes him how vulnerable Sherlock is. He is barely conscious, and his miles of pale skin shine in the darkness of the bedroom.

John gently guides him to lie down, and Sherlock pliantly obeys. His breaths are even and deep when John takes off his shoes and socks. He hesitates for just a moment above Sherlock's fly, then tells himself he's ridiculous; he is Sherlock's doctor. When he tugs at the trousers, Sherlock helpfully lifts his hips without ever opening his eyes. The trust he gives John in this moment makes him feel humble, and he almost wants to stay here with him, just so he can protect him. From what, he barely knows. Anything and everything.

“Try to sleep on your left side tonight”, John says, and Sherlock complies at once, curling into a ball as tiny as he can with his long limbs. “Good night, idiot”, John whispers, sliding his hand through Sherlock's thick curls before leaving.

***

Frantic violin tunes from upstairs clutter the air when John opens the door. He sighs; angry strings weren't exactly what he hoped to listen to when unwinding after work. Maybe he can coax Sherlock into putting the violin down and having some tea with him.

Mrs Hudson sticks her head out from her flat and smiles. “John, dear.”

“One of those days, then?” John says pleasantly.

“Oh, there's been noises all day. I tried to offer him tea at noon but I don't think he noticed me.”

John chuckles. “Yeah, that doesn't only happen to you. Any idea what he's been doing?”

“Some sort of experiment, I imagine. Do you want to come in for a cuppa? Your flat will be in a state.”

“Thank you, but I need to go up with the groceries anyway.” John bounces the bags in his hand to show her. “Might as well deal with Sherlock while I'm at it.”

He walks up the stairs towards the erratic music, wondering if it's an actual tune Sherlock is playing. The grocery bags cut into his fingers and his legs ache after having been on his feet all day. He opens the door, and stops dead.

221B is more chaotic than he has ever seen it; it seems impossible that anyone could manage to mess it up this much in one day. Furniture is toppled over, shelves are emptied on the rug, sheets of paper are strewn over every inch of the floor, and Sherlock's hair stands out in every direction. It's outright unfair that someone can still look good after pulling their hair all day.

“Sherlock, what the hell?”

The music cuts off with a creak and Sherlock spins around, his blue silk dressing gown whirling dramatically.

“John! You will not believe what I have found. Remember the fourth component of the water sample from the Aqualand case?”

“Yeah…?” John sceptically tilts his head while Sherlock quickly puts his violin away.

“I have conducted some experiments on it-”

“How could that possibly involve more than a pipette and some petri dishes?” John cuts in.

Sherlock's arm, stretched at the beginning of some grand gesture, falls to his side. “What do you mean?” he frowns.

“I mean the state of this flat!” John's voice rises. His chair is one of the pieces of furniture that's no longer standing. He had so looked forward to slumping in that chair.

Sherlock looks around as if surprised to see the mess. “Oh. I had to dig up some research.” He waves his hand dismissively.

“Under my chair?!”

“John, forget about the chair. What I have discovered-”

John moves into the kitchen with the grocery bags while Sherlock starts spouting out what might or might not be separate sentences, and then John stops again.

“Sherlock, what the hell!” Sherlock doesn't even pause, not until John turns and puts a finger very close to his face. “Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock chokes on his next word.

“Do you know, Sherlock”, John says in a low voice, “what I enjoy doing when I get home from a long day at work?”

Sherlock frowns. “How is this relevant? I have made an important scientific discovery, it is a crucial piece of data for the future science of deduction, and you want to talk about your boring clinic work?”

“No, what I want is to sit down in my chair and have some bloody tea!”

Sherlock stares at him as if he's out of his mind. “The chair is not broken, John, it is merely upside-down!”

“But my mug is broken!” John barks.

“Oh.” Sherlock looks around in the kitchen, again surprised at the even bigger chaos there. On the floor lies a shattered tea mug, part of the RAMC logo visible on one of the shards. The corners of his mouth twitch downwards briefly. “You can use another mug.”

“But this one was my mug!”

“You can use one of my mugs!”

“It's not the same!”

“John, you are being irrational.”

“And you are being an arse!” John is yelling now. “You broke my mug and couldn't even be bothered to clean up the mess?!”

“No, because I prefer to spend my time on that which is important, but I don't expect a simpler mind to understand.”

John squares his shoulders and stares at him icily. A wary glint in Sherlock's eyes shines through his arrogance. “I am going to leave this flat”, John says calmly, suppressed rage jarring the edges of his voice. “And when I come back, the furniture will be back in place, the floors will be clean, the rubbish will be taken out, and the food will be in the fridge. Understood?”

Sherlock stares back, but John doesn't waver. “Yes”, Sherlock finally mutters.

When John knocks on Mrs Hudson's door, he isn't sure whether he's more annoyed with Sherlock for being such a lousy flatmate, or with himself for enjoying it enough to stay.

***

On top of it all, Sherlock has no concept of personal space. He moves around John as if he owns him, counting on John constantly being there. John doesn't know whether to be offended by being taken for granted, or flattered that Sherlock seems to enjoy him being there. In his own way.

He keeps loading John with stuff he needs out of his hands (and John stands there like an idiot, letting himself be cluttered). He constantly lets his hands fall onto John's body when he's close enough (and sometimes John looks in surprise at his own hands resting on Sherlock, realising he does it too). When he explains things to John, he stands inches from John's face, staring into his eyes as if that will make John see everything that Sherlock sees (and the weirdest thing is, when John looks into Sherlock's pale, shimmering eyes, he thinks it works).

Sometimes John looks at Sherlock and doesn't quite understand where he fits into it all. Sherlock is a dazzling genius in perfect suits, impossible to get a grasp on, his mind racing and his body switching between deadly stillness and frantic motion. John does the grocery shopping and cooking, making sure Sherlock eats, making sure Sherlock sleeps, asking questions during cases that have Sherlock scoff and call him an idiot. His function is to alternately praise Sherlock and put him down.

But there is something more than that. When Sherlock stands before him with his intense gaze, with loud deductions and even louder unspoken words passing between them, the world falls away. If someone speaks to them at those times, John starts, not sure how Sherlock got so close. He's even less sure why it is that he is the one Sherlock invites into his bright world.

Whatever the reason is, everyone knows that's John's place. So when Sherlock is darting around the crime scene, his speech blurring into one endless sentence of deductions too esoteric for anyone to understand, they all look to John. John tiredly rubs his eyes with one hand, wondering what to do with the phone Sherlock dropped in his other hand without so much as giving him a look.

“Sherlock”, he tries, “Sherlock, you git, no one can understand you” – but Sherlock doesn't hear.

“Hey John”, Greg says at his shoulder, “you think he'll be at this for some time?”

“Um, yeah, no signs of slowing down.”

Sherlock suddenly needs urgent access to the cabinet that Anderson is leaning on. Without pausing for breath, he weaves a string of biting insults into the middle of his deduction tirade. John quietly groans. Maybe he shouldn't have caved when Sherlock refused to finish his lunch.

Greg sympathetically pats his back. “Can I get you a cup of coffee while we wait?”

“God, yes”, John says gratefully, pretending not to hear Greg's amused snigger. He steps forward to Sherlock: “Hey, if you don't need me I'm going to get some coffee. Can I get you anything?” Sherlock just keeps sweeping his eyes over the skirting, going on about the dust pattern on it. “Right”, John nods to himself, joining Greg by the door.

Greg chuckles when John follows him out of the hotel room turned crime scene. “I don't know how you do it, John.”

“Believe me, I don't either.”

When they get to the lobby, a policewoman walks up to John to take the phone he's holding and put it in an evidence bag. He sighs resignedly when he complies, gratefully accepting Greg's offered paper cup of coffee.

“Sherlock will be furious.” John watches the evidence bag disappear in the forensics crowd.

“Well, if there's anyone who can survive that, it seems to be you”, Greg says lightly.

“Thank God for military training”, John says, taking another sip. The coffee is good.

“You know, it's good to have you here, John.”

John looks up in surprise. “Thank you”, he says and clears his throat.

“I can see why he likes working with you. You bring balance to the team.”

John smiles into his coffee. “Well, I like this job. You know. Doing something that matters again.”

Sometimes he's still surprised to find himself standing on both feet, away from that poor bedsit he'd thought he would die in. He didn't think he'd ever recognise himself as John Watson again. But it's as if Sherlock's eyes not only see everything, but also have the capacity to bring everything to life. John recognises himself, and when talking to Sherlock, he even likes himself. John had forgotten what it was like to enjoy being John Hamish Watson.

And that's why he keeps dealing with a pompous arse every day, and it's why he doesn't flinch when he hears his name shouted furiously through the lobby. He merely throws Sherlock a look where he strides towards them through the large room, coat swishing ominously.

“Uh-oh”, Greg says.

“Bastard's finally remembered I exist”, John remarks, drinking from his cup.

“Why are you here?” Sherlock bellows, drawing looks from the people parting to give way for him. “We are supposed to be investigating!”

John looks up at Sherlock when he arrives. “You obviously didn't need me”, he points out, “since I have been out here for the last fifteen minutes.”

“I was talking to you!” Sherlock spits. “It's rude to leave without saying.”

John raises his brows, trying to remember something in Sherlock's speech that indicated he was talking to John. “I did say. You didn't hear me. You were rambling deductions so fast no one could even understand you.”

“I do not ramble, John”, Sherlock sneers.

John asks himself for the hundredth time how it's possible for someone to be so brilliant that it makes up for Sherlock's level of rudeness. Frankly, John doesn't feel like posing as some shelf for Sherlock to put stuff on all day, every day.

“Well you didn't need me at the time, and Greg offered me coffee, so.”

“Who's Greg?” Sherlock says in horror. Before anyone can speak, Sherlock snatches John's hand into his own, and says in a tone not open for discussion: “I always need you, John!”

John is so stunned that he lets Sherlock drag him by his hand through the lobby and back to the crime scene without a word. Sherlock doesn't even seem to know he's said something nice.

“Look at the hem of that curtain.” Sherlock's face is still set in the hard angles of investigation. “What do you see?”

John blinks, trapped between Sherlock's words, voiced as if completely self-evident, and Sherlock's gloved hand gripping John's securely. The leather is smooth and cool, quickly warming beneath John's palm. Sherlock's face turns impatient, and John tries to shake himself and look at the curtain. Sherlock speaks coherently now, gesturing with his free hand to explain his observations, and John tries to play his part and ask questions and not think about the firm grip of Sherlock's hand.

Suddenly Sherlock freezes, his free hand raised in the air and his mouth forming a circle. “Ohh John, that's it”, he breathes, his eyes darting quickly back and forth without seeing anything except what's in his mind.

“What-”, John manages to say before Sherlock sucks in a breath, his speech coming out with new force to deliver the final deduction, while his hand tightens around John's. And that's when John decides to give up trying to understand any of this and just go with it. Sherlock springs into motion, and John secures his grip on his hand when they run off from the crime scene.

***

Sherlock doesn't realise how sweet he is. Some days it's all John can do not to accidentally point it out to him, because he's pretty sure that Sherlock would be mortally offended and stop taking John's hand. He's still a rude arsehole, sweeps in with his usual drama and makes demands, while he gently takes John's hand. The way he holds it is sure yet shy, and it almost breaks John's heart.

John finds that taking Sherlock's hand in return helps in many situations. It's like turning on a switch, making Sherlock suddenly compliant when he's in the middle of a fight with Anderson. After a while, John dares to take his hand just to reassure himself before they throw themselves into danger, knowing they're in it together. John likes to think that Sherlock gets injured less since they started doing this.

Sometimes Sherlock gets lost, his mind reeling after too many nights puzzling over a case, his body spinning with too much energy he doesn't have. Then John takes his hand and it grounds him, and though Sherlock mostly doesn't give John a single look at those times, he holds John's hand firmly for as long as he can.

With time, John stops noticing when it happens. Walking hand-in-hand is just the way they walk. Sherlock's hand never startles him now; it's always there through his day, kind of like his cups of tea. It's familiar, it's comforting, and it may be unconventional for friends – but that of course means nothing when it comes to Sherlock Holmes.

***

The case looks promising at first. Locked room, obscure cause of death. Sherlock's eyes are gleaming and John is quietly pleased. They've gone a few days without a case, so Sherlock's had time to sleep and eat after the last one, but still haven't gone long enough to start climbing the walls. He is concentrated and communicative – until suddenly, he's not.

John tries to think back at what could have happened that made Sherlock close off, practically snarling every time someone tries to talk to him. He has never seen Sherlock this distracted. He frowns when Sherlock hastily gives his last information to close the case; with deductions like those, he usually sets up a dramatic reveal.

It's still early in the evening when they take a cab home. John is on the verge of asking more than once, but Sherlock hasn't acknowledged him for a full hour, so instead he just shifts under the unusually uncomfortable silence.

When they get home, Sherlock lies stiffly on the sofa and John makes himself a cup of tea. Just when he has burrowed into his chair with a sigh, Sherlock springs up and grabs his coat.

“Where are you going?”

“Out”, Sherlock clips. He buttons his coat with his face turned away.

“Everything alright?”

“Yes.” In one swift motion he secures his blue scarf around his neck. The posh git wears his winter outfit like an armour, even in summer.

“Sherlock, has something happened-”

But Sherlock is already halfway down the stairs. The bang of the front door is loud in the empty house, and John's cup of tea feels oddly dismal.

It isn't until half an hour later that John remembers the second one of Mycroft's kidnappings, a few weeks after his move to Baker Street. A pang of worry ignites the fear in John, spreading through him like cold smoke. John has never seen a danger night so far, which is why he was stupid enough not to make the connection. But while Sherlock always takes off on his own during cases, he has never left like this after a case.

John tries to call him, but there's no answer. He paces in front of the windows, staring out like the idiot he clearly is. He makes another cup of tea but can't bring himself to drink it, and he watches it cool on the coffee table until he tells himself he's being silly. Overreacting without evidence. He switches on the telly in an attempt to distract himself, but he can't lose the unease in his stomach, not even with another cup of tea he doesn't drink.

When it's getting dark outside, he decides to worry actively instead.

He calls Sherlock over and over, even after he realises there will be no answer. After the third untouched cup of tea, he makes coffee instead. It's eleven p.m. and he drinks it far too fast.

After midnight he's getting tired, and at one point he almost falls asleep. He jerks himself awake for fear that he'll dream of a deserted house, Sherlock standing in it with a pill between his fingers, the two window panes too thick for John's scream to be heard.

Two hours and another two untouched cups of tea later, the front door opens and closes. John stumbles up from the sofa, hearing the familiar clicking of posh shoes on the steps to 221B. He throws the door open just when Sherlock reaches the top of the stairs.

John sees his own hands reach out, grabbing Sherlock's shoulders while he scans his face. Sherlock looks normal, he looks fine, and a bit puzzled. John draws him in, slipping his arms around his – far too thin! – frame, holding him firmly against his chest.

Sherlock's body pressing against him is familiar and new at the same time. The tall man ducks his head to tuck it by John's neck, letting himself be held. He fits in John's arms better than he should. Delicate hands slide lightly up to John's shoulder blades, and John feels the tension easing out of his shoulders.

“Where the hell have you been?” John asks, letting him go.

“Bart's. Experiment.”

“I called you a hundred times!”

“Eight.”

“What?”

“Got carried away. Sorry.”

John looks into Sherlock's familiar face, trying to erase half a night of concerns.

“I was worried.”

“There was no need”, Sherlock says softly, eyeing him curiously.

“You were acting… I don't know. Mycroft has told me- I thought maybe…”

Sherlock's face shifts and John knows he doesn't need to say more. He has a strange expression of incredulity and amusement that John doesn't know how to read.

Sherlock's face is just a few inches away in the half-dark stairwell, and he meets John's gaze intently. “John”, he says, his voice deep and quiet, yet loud in their intimate bubble. “I am quite all right.”

John looks into his serious eyes, and his heart beats harder when he hears what else it is Sherlock is saying.

John's face warms into a smile, and it must be open, and it must be fond, because he can see the same look mirror on Sherlock's face. The way he's glowing is soft and low, but it seems to involve every single cell of his being.

John reaches out to stroke his knuckles over the back of Sherlock's hand, and Sherlock catches his fingers. They stroke their thumbs over the back of the other's hand, smiling without breaking eye contact. John's breath catches with excitement and fear in a combination he enjoys too much to ponder.

***

After close calls, when Sherlock was inches from being ripped away from John, John can't help drawing him into a hug. When it's John coming too close, Sherlock does the same.

With the crazy life the two of them live, this happens often enough for hugging to soon feel natural. They start falling into it at other times too. Like when the adrenalin runs high and they work together flawlessly, and nothing matters except for the two of them and the night air in their lungs. Sherlock's shoulders heave with panting breaths, the back of his shirt is soaked with sweat, and his heart drums frantically against John's chest.

Sometimes he giggles in John's ear. John has a soft spot for those times.

Hugging when they part and when they see each other again might be a bit weird though.

John feels out of his depth. It's not that it's romantic or sexual, what they do. He's straight, and that settles that. But it does seem a bit much to hug every day. There's no reason why he should want to, and Sherlock will probably think it's annoying to be hugged all the time. Sentiment and all that. Over and over, John decides to stop.

He often watches Sherlock from across the room. It feels like gravity pulling John towards him, and he has to stay focused to refuse. He can stand like that for a long time, debating with himself whether it would be weird to hug Sherlock right now.

And then Sherlock's arms wrap around him out of the blue, reminding John that it really is fine. Sherlock wants this; he hugs John at any time, regardless of what John is currently doing. He's completely unselfconscious about it, doesn't seem to ponder the issue at all.

Which he shouldn't, since there's nothing wrong with it.

John never refuses him. And every time John does dare to hug Sherlock without a particular reason, Sherlock welcomes him. John's fears settle back where they belong, just a faint simmer low in his gut. Closed in Sherlock's arms is where John Watson is supposed to be, and though in a way it makes no sense, it's also the only way the universe makes any sense at all.

***

“What are you doing?”

“Just washing up, I'll be there in a sec.”

“Must we do this?”

“The washing up or the movie? Never mind, the answer is yes to both.”

“I do not understand your obsession with this piece of fiction, John.”

“Which is why you need to finally watch it.”

“Tedious.”

“Hey, I will not have you call James Bond tedious without seeing even one of the films.”

“I want a new case, John!”

“I know you do. But this'll be fun too, I promise. Just you and I, taking it easy, enjoying a good movie night.”

“What on earth makes you believe I will enjoy that? I could be on a crime scene. I could be hunting a serial killer.”

“But you aren't.”

“No, but you know, John, how those are the things I enjoy.”

“Yes, and now you have nothing better on, so instead of shooting the walls down, you're doing this with me.”

“Why?”

“It's what people do during autumn nights.”

Autumn nights?! It's the sixth of August!”

“Wow, how do you know that?”

“Piss off.”

John chuckles while he runs the tap. The sofa's leather creaks when Sherlock sits down on it, spewing insults about John's movie taste and his ignorance about what autumn means, and John smiles into the sink. Sherlock's dramatics are a common soundtrack to John's household chores. The thought makes him start humming absently while washing the foam off the plates.

“I'm bored already John”, Sherlock announces when John doesn't even blink at his loud complaining. “Come here so we can start.”

“You could help, you know.”

“Boring”, Sherlock says theatrically, then there's a loud thump when he throws himself on his back on the sofa.

John actually doesn't mind doing the housework himself. When he does the dishes, and Sherlock sits at the table by his microscope – or hovers and insults him – it may seem an unfair division of labour. But somehow it feels as though they're still doing it all together.

When the dishes are done and John walks into the living room, Sherlock is sprawled on his back over the entire sofa, an arm covering his eyes as if to show he's in deep agony. But he breathes quietly and deeply, his mouth relaxed and slightly parted. John allows himself a few short seconds of watching him with a fond smile. Sherlock hasn't slept since they started their last case three days ago, and he insists firmly that he doesn't need it. He has been on edge all day, and John had hoped a quiet night in might help – now he only has to hide how smug he is about the fact that he was right.

He walks over to the sofa and slides his hands into Sherlock's hair. “Up”, he says, and Sherlock obeys without moving his arm from his eyes, pretending that he didn't just wake up. John sits down on the cushion and Sherlock's head stays comically lifted. He glances at John over the crook of his elbow, and John chuckles at his adorable confusion.

“You can put your head down now.”

Sherlock takes his arm from his face and slowly lowers his head into John's lap, eyeing John suspiciously. John tries not to laugh again, and instead lets his right hand land in the middle of Sherlock's unruly curls.

“Ready to start?” he asks.

“If we must”, Sherlock says with a roll of his eyes that doesn't match his contented tone.

“You'll fall asleep”, John smiles.

“I don't just fall asleep, don't be stupid John.”

John giggles, catching the amused glint in Sherlock's eyes, and then he switches on the telly. Sherlock turns on his side, making his soft curls slide over John's hand on his crown. John puts his other hand on Sherlock's bony shoulder, feeling him slowly relax into the position.

John leans back into the pillows, concentrating on the screen. It's been a while since he watched this one. For some reason it feels like an important moment, sharing this with Sherlock. He watches the film with the edges of his attention on Sherlock in his lap, lying more still than John has seen him in at least a week. John is the only one who gets to have this side of Sherlock, and if he thinks about that too closely, it feels as though his chest might explode.

When Sherlock sighs audibly, John becomes aware that he's moving his hand slightly through Sherlock's hair. He glances down at Sherlock's closed eyes and not-quite-there smile, and squeezes his shoulder in a silent answer. I feel it too. He lets his fingertips slip deeper into the sea of curls, scratching lightly against Sherlock's scalp. Sherlock's lips part immediately, his whole face relaxes and he presses into John's hand.

Sherlock's slow breathing is loud, and John wants to burrow into the safety of that sound. And Sherlock's hair is amazing. John realises how much he's been wondering what it would feel like to do just this. When Sherlock falls asleep it feels intimate, and John watches the end of the movie with a silly smile in the corner of his lips, never pausing his hand's brushing through Sherlock's hair.

When the closing credits have rolled and John switches the telly off, the flat is completely silent except for Sherlock's calm breathing. John allows himself to watch Sherlock for a little while, drawn to the peace of his features. There's not a single crease on his face, his lips are parted again, and his hair is a messy tangle that makes him look boyish.

After a while, John starts to feel creepy. Staring at sleeping friends isn't something he normally does. He should go and sleep himself – only that would certainly wake Sherlock up. And then he'll probably refuse to go back to sleep, the stubborn git, and he will be all grumpy yet another day. John reaches out for a pillow, puts it against the wall behind his head and tries to get comfortable against it.

He can't make himself stop caressing Sherlock's head until he's half asleep himself.

***

He wakes slowly, reluctantly, when Sherlock pulls gently at his arm.

“John”, a deep voice mumbles into his palm, soft lips brushing the sensitive skin.

John moves slightly, groaning. His back is stiff, leaning awkwardly to the left. The room is too bright when he tries to blink his eyes open; it feels like the light is carving out circles under his eyes. The warm weight of Sherlock's head is still resting on his leg, and John slides his left hand down Sherlock's soft neck, feeling it vibrate when he speaks.

“You fell asleep.”

“So did you”, John tries to answer with his tongue thick from sleep. He yawns, and when he relaxes again, the position seems a little less uncomfortable. “At least I watched the ending first.”

“I deduced the ending during the first three minutes.”

“Well, you could have stayed awake to keep me company at least.”

“I was still here. Am I not company when I'm asleep?”

John smiles, peering at Sherlock through the tiny slits in his eyelids. “You are, actually. You talk in your sleep”, he lies.

Sherlock quickly turns his head back to face John properly, his eyes wide. “I do not.” His eyes narrow, and it's all John can do not to burst out laughing. “You're lying.”

“You'll never know, will you?”

“Yes, I will. I can tell when you're lying.”

“How sure are you?”

“This is ridiculous.”

John's laugh does get out then. He lets his eyes close, and his breathing is still slow and relaxed, making him feel at ease.

“You should have woken me”, Sherlock says. “We can't sleep here all night.”

“You needed it.”

“But your shoulder will hurt from sleeping in that position.”

John opens his eyes to watch his profile. High-functioning sociopath, all right.

“That's thoughtful of you”, John says softly.

“Piss off”, Sherlock mutters.

John has to giggle again.

***

“Thought we could have another Bond night tonight.”

“What? We already watched it.”

“We watched the first one. I've told you, there are more.”

“No you haven't.”

“Um, yeah I have. Could you maybe just, sometimes, pay attention to what I'm saying?”

“When you're talking about Jim Bond?”

“James!”

“Oh, John, John, you cannot possibly expect me to take an interest in this.”

“I don't care if you take an interest or not, but you will watch all the films with me.”

All the films? How many are there?”

“Twenty-two so far.”

Twenty-two?! You cannot possibly mean-”

“Yes, you need to watch them all. That's the point.”

“Oh God, John, what are you doing to my mind?! I can feel it rot, I can feel the decay in the very foundation of my mind palace when you force me to spend valuable time of my life witnessing these inane, predictable, unrealistic, unscientific, insipid, boring, pointless-”

Sherlock's outrage fades into the background when John takes another bite of his toast and gets back to reading the newspaper.

***

The emptiness of the sofa gapes in the corner of John's eye after dinner. No Sherlock yet. If John sits down now, he'll have plenty of room, unlike last time. But he should wash up first. Oh, and he should wipe down the sink and the table, as neither of them do it particularly often. And have a quick look through the fridge to see if there's anything that once was food and now needs to be binned.

When he's finished, Sherlock still hasn't appeared. John sets up the movie and then backs into the sofa. He happens to land almost in the middle. Well, it's a fairly long sofa.

Sherlock appears in the doorway seconds later, pausing for a brief second, eyeing John. Then he silently pads over, and John has to hide his smile. Not once has John had to insist that Sherlock shows up here tonight.

Wordlessly, Sherlock puts his feet up on the edge of the sofa, wrapping his arms around his shins and putting his chin on his knees. John's thumb rests on the play button of the remote, but he hesitates, looking at Sherlock. They haven't spoken for hours. John has seen this movie more times than he can count already; that's not what's important about this.

He tries to catch Sherlock's eye. “Ready?”

Sherlock's eyes gleam curiously when they meet his. “Yes.”

John smiles at him and presses play. Sherlock's eyes are still on him, creating an invisible connection between their bodies that lingers after Sherlock turns his attention to the screen.

Barely five minutes in, Sherlock draws a breath. “Oh”, he mutters disdainfully.

“What's that?”

“Someone in the crew had sex against that wall less than an hour before this was filmed.”

“What? How can you tell?”

Sherlock's deduction is brilliant as usual, and so are the rest of the deductions he keeps pouring out. Sometimes he leans into John to murmur a particularly saucy piece of actor gossip into John's ear, and after a while their arms are brushing where they sit in the middle of the sofa. John feels Sherlock's curls against his cheek.

At some point John thinks Sherlock must be making it all up, because John knows embarrassingly much about the filmings of James Bond and he hasn't heard anything about all this.

“Please, John, when have I ever needed to make up a deduction?” Sherlock sniffs and he has a point.

They are nearing the climax of the film when Sherlock suddenly moves closer to John. He leans against John's side, head resting carefully on his shoulder. Something settles in John's stomach and he brings his arm around Sherlock's shoulders, keeping him in place.

***

Sherlock is interlaced with every aspect of John's being.

During the days, their bodies move in constant sync. John knows how warm and soft Sherlock is even when he pretends he isn't, because sometimes John puts his hands on him or hugs him just to check. He knows the smell of Sherlock, the scent living on Sherlock's skin and clinging to John's.

During the evenings, their bodies end up pressed together on the sofa at Bond nights that Sherlock doesn't even pretend to hate any more. The smell of Sherlock wraps around John.

During the nights, when John is in bed, his room is dark and the air cool. He's never been a fan of classical music, and he's also never been a fan of noise in the middle of the night. But the way Sherlock's bow caresses strings of notes that John has never heard before, makes him feel like Sherlock's scent has followed him into bed.

And if one day, one of Sherlock's pillow cases ends up in John's room, it was an honest mistake when he was changing his sheets. And if that pillow case gets folded in between the mattress and the headboard, it's only because John can't be bothered to go down the stairs and give it back.

And if sometimes, John buries his nose in it before he falls asleep, well. Sherlock's hair products are expensive. It smells nice.

***

John shouldn't have eaten his whole pizza. And he shouldn't have let Sherlock fool him into “having a taste” of his pizza too. He sinks down onto the sofa, stretching out with a groan, closing his eyes for a few moments. After a power nap, he feels slightly better. His stomach doesn't hurt but his limbs are still heavy, sinking deep into the cushions.

Sherlock frowns when he walks into the living room for their Bond night. His eyes flicker over the sofa, then he walks the final distance and lies down beside him. John inches back into the cushions, welcoming Sherlock into his embrace. He slides his arm around Sherlock's chest to keep him from falling off, shifting until they find a good position.

While the film plays, their bodies melt together until there is no air between them. Sherlock is silent the whole movie. When John realises that he doesn't even scoff at the plot holes, he has to duck a smile into Sherlock's hair.

The telly quiets. Neither of them speaks. John's limbs are liquid with warmth and contentment. Sherlock is breathing in sync with him in the cocoon of his arms. John has never had Sherlock in his arms for this long before, and he doesn't want to end the moment. He wants to keep this quiet, content Sherlock.

John lets his eyelids slide shut and slowly lets go of the awareness of the room around him. The only thing he brings with him into sleep is the warm weight in his arms.

***

When he wakes up, his body feels slow and dense, not the sleepiness of a quick nap but the exhaustion of waking up in the middle of the night. He really doesn't want to move, but his shoulder hurts and his neck is stiff. Sherlock is lying with his back flush against John's torso, his breaths snuffing endearingly.

Grown men don't sleep like this.

John is trying to decide how to best extract himself from his position, when Sherlock's hand suddenly comes up to grab the arm John still has curled against his chest. Sherlock's annoyed groan vibrates against his stomach.

“We're not supposed to fall asleep here”, John says quietly.

“Let's move to a bed, then”, Sherlock slurs without missing a beat.

John goes very still. The word bed seems to get stuck in his airways, and he clears his throat to get rid of it. He's too stunned to think of an answer quickly enough – what's the appropriate answer? what's appropriate – and then Sherlock rolls out of his arms, standing up on wobbly legs.

“Come on”, he says and grabs John's hand demandingly. John makes sure to keep the hand entirely slack in Sherlock's grip.

It's one thing to cuddle during movie nights. It's one thing to accidentally fall asleep on a narrow sofa, forcing them close together. It's a whole other thing to purposely walk together into a bedroom, when there are two perfectly fine beds in the flat. Friends don't do that – people don't do that, unless for a very specific reason.

John looks up at Sherlock, searching his eyes. His arm hangs awkwardly from where Sherlock holds his hand, tugging impatiently. Sherlock looks sleepily confused, looking back at John with eyes narrowed from light sensitivity. He's completely oblivious to the implications of this, John realises. He's clueless about the rules, because he's never done any of it. No lovers, and no friends.

Without saying a word, John gets up from the sofa. Sherlock immediately walks towards his bedroom, dragging John behind him. When they enter, the intimacy of being invited into his friend's bedroom hits him somewhere in the stomach, but Sherlock doesn't seem to notice.

This is completely innocent. Sherlock doesn't feel things like that, and John has made it clear that he isn't gay. Not that it matters, but people are wrong if they think he has a thing for his male flatmate. He doesn't mind if they do, he just isn't gay. Or bisexual.

Sleeping together isn't what friends do, but Sherlock doesn't know that, and therefore it doesn't count. Still, it's less weird for an asexual person to invite someone to bed, than it is for a straight man to get into bed with another man, isn't it? Maybe John should refuse. He doesn't want Sherlock to get him wrong, because he just isn't bisexual.

Sherlock flops onto the mattress, his face mashed into a pillow. John stands awkwardly by the side of the bed, watching Sherlock's ungracefully angled limbs, resting where they landed.

He could just say goodnight now.

But then comes a muffled “John” from the pillow, and John's heart fills with tenderness. Sherlock is so sweet and childlike like this, and John can't deny him anything. He would follow him to the end of the world and beyond – surely he can follow him into a bed and spoon him if that's what he wants.

Sherlock lets out a deep sigh the moment John's arm curls around his chest again, and his closed-mouthed moan seeps into John's skin, warming him.

John puts his nose in the tumult of Sherlock's hair, breathing quietly. He can feel Sherlock's heart beating against his hand, and his own heart beating against Sherlock's back. At once, every trace of awkwardness and worry leaves him. Sherlock in his arms is all that matters, and he isn't about to throw away a night they both badly want, for some irrational feelings of guilt.

“Good night, Sherlock”, he whispers into the curls. Sherlock seems too sleepy to hear the depth of the affection lying in that name on John's tongue.

***

John hates cuddle sleeping. He needs space. In his youth there were some girlfriends insisting on falling asleep in his arms, and the few times he managed to fall asleep like that, he slept horribly. Eventually he learned to say no before it got to that. Sorry, he'd say, I need the space. They'd be disappointed, and he'd be well-rested and free.

So it's a mystery how he's been able to sleep a whole night with Sherlock in his arms.

The first thing he's aware of is the humid heat against his breastbone. It blooms across his chest, withdraws a tiny bit, then blooms again in a hypnotic rhythm. It matches the rise and fall of John's arms around the body he's holding. And that must be where the lovely smell comes from; it feels like waking up in a bloody soap factory, only a million times better. No soap producer could imitate this kind of scent, desperately though they're trying.

John draws a deep breath through his nose and tightens his arms. Sherlock has turned in his sleep, and John has drawn him in even closer. Their legs are a tight tangle under the sheet, and Sherlock's face is resting against John's chest.

Even in sleep, the annoying git defies every rule. Even in sleep, Sherlock slots into place beside John as if he was always meant to be there, demanding space in a way that's intrusive and welcome at the same time. Sherlock's body is so familiar to him, its weight, its heartbeats, its smell, and the presence of it only makes John feel peaceful. He has slept wonderfully.

Sherlock is slow in waking up. John keeps his eyes closed to savour the softness of it. Sherlock snuggles closer to John, his hands splaying on John's back, and John accommodates for him, tightening his legs on either side of Sherlock's thigh. His hand seems to slide into Sherlock's hair of its own accord.

“Good morning John”, Sherlock murmurs into John's chest. John is fascinated by how deep his voice is first thing in the morning.

Sherlock moves his head back, and John can feel his perceptive eyes on his face. Their noses accidentally bump together, and when Sherlock doesn't shift away, John pries one eye open. Sherlock's eyes are indeed open and awake, probably cataloguing something or other. John can't really bother to care – if he needs to know the exact number of eyelashes on John's left eye or something like that, it's likely for science. He closes his eye again.

Sherlock stays in place, the tip of his nose touching John's, and they breathe.

***

They never talk about it.

Even when John sleeps in Sherlock's bed every night. Neither of them ever says the word bed out loud.

Even when John doesn't miss the way Sherlock now sleeps every night, slotting his bedtime routine into John's.

Even when their hands reach for each other as soon as the lights are out. Even when Sherlock pulls John's hand to his face, pressing his nose into the back of John's hand, breathing in his skin.

Even when they wake up in each other's arms again and again.

Even when they cuddle every morning when they have enough time for it.

Words are as few as possible once John goes to brush his teeth, and the few words that are necessary feel loud and intruding, shattering the air and making it awkward. Even though they do the same routine every night, it feels fragile.

There are no implications of this. Nothing should be fragile here.

It's just that John is a man of few words and there's nothing to say, really.

He doesn't need to tell anyone how he's addicted to Sherlock's hair. How thick and smooth it is when it swallows his fingers, and the way Sherlock melts in his arms when John's fingertips brush his scalp. The way Sherlock's breath becomes just loud enough for it to feel as if he breathes for them both.

Nobody needs to know how soft Sherlock's neck is. That part where his skin is exposed between collars and curls, the part that everyone can see but that's still a secret to everyone but John. If anyone tried to touch him there, Sherlock would hiss and claw like a cat, but when John touches him, he purrs.

He doesn't feel the need to explain to anyone how his nose seeks out Sherlock's skin during those still mornings in bed. Sherlock is so sleepy and lovely, and John doesn't know what to do with the fondness he feels for his friend. So he presses his nose against Sherlock's forehead or his cheek, he nuzzles it against Sherlock's, and when he does that, there's a faint smile on Sherlock's face. He looks so blissful that John needs to do it again, breathe him in, stroke his face gently with his nose.

Sometimes it's all nearly overwhelming and John is afraid he'll say something by accident. Something that will make Sherlock dart away from his arms and disappear into the bathroom, coming back dressed in his suit armour and snapping at John to hurry. John wants to keep this soft Sherlock Holmes, the one that's his own, even though the privilege of it almost breaks his heart. At those times, he presses his lips to Sherlock's crown, carefully so Sherlock won't notice.

Sometimes the skin of Sherlock's cheek slides across his lips. He likes the feel of that, but he never does it on purpose, and he doesn't think Sherlock plans it either when he does the same to John.

Sometimes John is curious about what it would feel like if Sherlock's lips lingered. Sometimes he thinks he wants that to happen, because there are few parts of Sherlock's body that aren't his yet. He doesn't want all of it, of course, he doesn't want it sexually – this is on a level far deeper than sex. He has never experienced it before, he's not sure there are even words for it.

So, they don't talk about it.

***

This time, when Sherlock is in danger, John's heart all but stops in his chest, refusing to beat if Sherlock's doesn't. And this time, it was far too close.

“Hello, boys”, Mrs Hudson smiles, standing in the door which they were too frozen to be able to unlock. “I thought I heard you. Oh, you're soaked!” She glances out the door. “It's not raining. Where have you been?”

“Leave us alone”, Sherlock snaps, missing her offended gasp when he shoulders his way past her and stomps up the stairs.

“I'm sorry, Mrs Hudson”, John says and tries for a gentle smile. “It's been an intense case.”

“Oh, I understand. Oh, my goodness, you seem so cold, let me make you a cuppa each.”

John closes the door behind him and forces himself not to run up the stairs after Sherlock, instead bowing his head politely to Mrs Hudson. “Thanks, but I think we just need to go straight to bed. Don't even know when he slept last.”

“You boys take good care of each other, then.”

“Of course. I'm his doctor”, John says, his tired smile more genuine now.

“I know”, Mrs Hudson whispers conspiratorially, a hand on his arm, before she shuffles back into her flat.

John doesn't know what that's supposed to mean, but he doesn't care, fighting to get his legs to carry him up the stairs. As soon as he's up, Sherlock pulls at his arm and slams the door behind him, crushing him in his arms. John clutches him tightly, tries to hold on to Sherlock's coat, but the fabric is too thick and well-tailored and wet. Sherlock's thin body is shaking with cold, and he buries his face in John's neck, making himself smaller.

“You're shaking”, John says.

“So are you”, Sherlock slurs, his lips caught against John's skin.

“You need a hot shower, you're too cold.”

“So are you.”

John's patience snaps, giving way for the fear and fury at this man, having the audacity to refuse to take care of himself properly when John can't live without him. “Get into the shower, now.”

“No.”

“Doctor's orders.”

“No.”

“Damnit, Sherlock, you almost fucking died on me, don't be such a stubborn git!” John's voice cracks at the last word, and at that, Sherlock lifts his head. They stare at each other for a moment, noses almost touching. “I need you alive”, John says, fiercely quiet. “Now go take a hot shower.”

Sherlock doesn't move, staring into John's eyes as if they're the only thing in the world worth looking at. The air between them is scary in its intensity, and John finds that he holds his breath. He can't read the look on Sherlock's face, and suddenly he's not sure he really wants to.

“If you borrow Mrs Hudson's shower meanwhile”, Sherlock finally says.

“I'll meet you in bed”, John answers without thinking. He doesn't care that they aren't supposed to mention it, because he can't bloody live until he has Sherlock in his arms, for long enough that he can be absolutely sure they really did make it out of this case alive.

The brief conversation with Mrs Hudson is awkward, but John doesn't care about that either. “I just need to save us both from hypothermia”, he says, and he makes his shower as quick as possible. When he gets into Sherlock's bedroom, the water is still running in the bath.

Soon Sherlock enters the bedroom in his cosily worn pyjamas, hurries to the bed and throws the covers off John's still-trembling body. They never cuddle in the evenings – it always starts in their sleep, a claimed accident no one has to take responsibility for. The relief rushing through John when Sherlock lies down almost on top of him, holding him tight, is so great that he almost stops trembling.

John presses his forehead into Sherlock's bony shoulder, closing his eyes. It feels as though no time has passed since the river bank, his lungs still too tight to give him air, his heartbeat still too erratic, his hands still obsessively clutching at Sherlock's clothes.

Sherlock's leg slides in between John's thighs to yank his leg closer to Sherlock, and John changes his position a bit. When he feels Sherlock's body slowly give in against his, his own anxiety drains out of him, leaving him wrung out. Sherlock pulls his head back and John finally loosens his death grip on his shirt, putting his hand at the base of Sherlock's skull. His hair feels different when it's damp. Silky and cool.

John closes his eyes when Sherlock's nose touches his. No one can ever take this from him. He wants there to be nothing else in the world than Sherlock's nose nuzzling his. Sherlock's hands stroke his back so softly, and it feels as though every muscle of his body gives out at the same time.

And then it's Sherlock's lips, touching John's mouth and stilling. Not fearful, just staying in place without moving, without pressing, without demanding anything. John breathes Sherlock's air through his nose, thinking how this is as close as he's ever been to Sherlock, maybe as close as anyone's been. It's not a kiss, only the closest thing to a kiss two friends can come, the ultimate border of what friends can do. It's feeling, it's smelling, it's being.

Hell, John doesn't know what it is. He only knows that it means Sherlock is here, and Sherlock is his, and now that John knows the soft vulnerability of his mouth, he will never ever be able to let him go.

Chapter Text

“Sherlock, let's take a break.”

The conference table is cluttered with case files, photos and maps, and the clock on the wall ticks mockingly loudly. Greg has long ago left them for a break, Donovan sits at the end of the table with her arms crossed, and Sherlock sits at the middle, manically going over the same evidence over and over and over.

“There's something I'm missing”, he says without sparing John a glance. “What is it?”

John peeks over his shoulder at the bank statement in his hand. “I don't know. But you'll probably work it out when you've nourished that brain of yours with some food. Come on, we've been stuck at this for hours now. It won't just-”

And that's when it happens. John never tires of seeing this; the moment something in Sherlock's mind clicks. He sucks in air, his mouth falls open, he lets out a rough sound that's almost a moan, and when he whispers John's name, his voice rasps. “Oh, John… Stuck, he was stuck.”

This makes no sense to John whatsoever. “Who? Where?”

“The victim, of course. That's why the time frame doesn't make sense – John Watson, that's it!”

Sherlock's chair almost falls when he rises from it, attacking John, chests colliding, arms wrapping around his waist. John tries to brace himself on Sherlock's shoulders, unprepared for the hug, and Sherlock tightens his grip, lifting John up. John bends his knees so his feet leave the floor when Sherlock spins him around in circles, and someone gives an embarrassingly high giggle. John has no idea what he did to deserve being celebrated like this, but after spending hours in the sullen air of Sherlock's frustration, it's wonderful to be swept away by his happiness.

Sherlock puts him down again, drawing back for a beaming smile that nearly floors John. Then Sherlock whirls around with a flare of the coat he's too snobby to take off, and John tears his eyes off him to meet Donovan's gaze.

The smug smile on her face is resentful, her arms are still crossed and she's leaning far back in her chair.

“You know”, she sneers, “when I told you to stay away from him, I didn't realise you were the type to go for freaks.”

His happiness shatters under her hostile stare, turning into anger. He regrets letting her watch so delicate a thing as Sherlock's unguarded affection.

“We're not a couple”, he says, voice flat with anger. “And you need to stop calling him that.”

She scoffs. “He doesn't care what I call him, because he's a psychopath. Can't imagine what it would take for anyone to put up with that – he must be a good shag.”

“I am not gay!” The words tear loudly from his throat.

“Whatever”, Donovan says wryly before picking up her phone and starting to scroll the screen.

John inhales deeply, tamping down his anger, before doing a military turn and marching out of the room. Sherlock is standing near the exit, stock still, watching him approach.

“Are we leaving or what?” John says roughly when Sherlock stays frozen.

“Crime scene”, Sherlock clips and turns his back to John, striding out so fast that John nearly has to jog to keep up with him.

The rest of the day is horrible. John is acutely aware of the world around them, stark in its reality, and of all the people who are there all the time, seeing everything, judging everything. Every time John comes too close to Sherlock, his skin prickles and his lungs tighten. He steps back quietly, fighting the tremor in his hand.

For every time John would have taken Sherlock's hand but doesn't, his heart hardens painfully in his chest. For every time Sherlock doesn't meet his eyes, the worry in John's stomach spreads.

Everyone is pissed off with Sherlock. He doesn't let anyone in on what he's doing, even tries to shake John off. His sudden shift from the impulsive joy in the office to the snarling rudeness now, means that he must have heard John's conversation with Donovan. He must be embarrassed too; he was the one who hugged John.

He must think that John minds.

Sherlock is brilliant as usual. John wants to tell him, but doesn't find his voice to do it. Sherlock doesn't give him much space to talk anyway; they have barely caught the murderer before he hails a cab. Sherlock sits at the far window, leaning his forehead against the glass. John quietly gets in beside him, closing the door around a massive silence.

John glances at Sherlock's unmoving figure. Could it be that he's hurt? He doesn't normally let his guard down the way he does with John. Is that because of how it feels when he's rejected?

The car moves through London and their silence is getting ridiculous.

“Sherlock”, John says quietly. Sherlock doesn't move. “That truly was extraordinary.” He looks at him, but Sherlock never turns his head, pretending John isn't even there.

John wants to tell him that it's all fine. People don't get them, but they do. He wants to tell him that there's no harm done, that he isn't angry with Sherlock for the hug, that Donovan isn't going to scare him off. That he's always going to be Sherlock's friend.

He turns his eyes to his own window. He will never be able to say any of those things. He can't name what they are doing, when all he knows is what it isn't. His hand clenches on his thigh, the tremor refusing to go away. He won't let people like Donovan ruin the best friendship he's ever had, and he won't let people like his father decide what's okay and what's not.

He won't deny himself Sherlock's hand when he needs it like oxygen.

John reaches out and puts his hand on top of Sherlock's, curling his fingers around it. When he strokes his thumb across the back of Sherlock's hand, he finally sees a movement in the corner of his eye. He doesn't turn to look at Sherlock, and Sherlock doesn't say anything. But he does hold John's hand in return.

***

John is unsure how he ended up like this. He's a middle-aged, straight man – a normal guy. He's always thought that at one point he'll find a woman, someone to keep him company through his life. Get married. Have children. Buy a house. All that.

And now he finds himself living with a crazy flatmate and being so swept away with their adventures that he's practically forgotten that he should be looking for that a woman.

Three Continents Watson is good at picking up women. He loves sex. But instead he's sleeping in a man's bed every night, steadily approaching a one-year dry spell.

He's a guy who is and has always been unable to express his feelings, not in words, and not in displays of affection. And here he is, running around London hand in hand with his friend.

Those overly public displays are simply unnecessary. People will talk, when it doesn't concern them. John should have protected them both better; they should have been more private about it all along.

Yes, he can see himself fighting criminals with Sherlock for a long, long time. But it isn't the life he's imagined for himself; it isn't a life that makes sense to anyone else. Sherlock wouldn't understand, but John wants more.

The life he's living right now does nothing whatsoever to get him there.

He tries to stop touching Sherlock outside of 221B. It aches surprisingly much, and in the moments where he would have normally hugged him, the magnetic field of Sherlock Holmes tugs on him, almost making John fall into his arms without meaning to.

Sometimes he can't help it. Sherlock's hand hangs at his side, all soft and cool and beautiful, and John has to take it.

It fits so well in his hand. Sherlock makes sense in his arms in the mornings, in the evenings, within the four walls of their home. But Sherlock is male and it's not enough.

For a week, John eyes every woman he sees. When one of them looks back, a thrill goes through him. She's out of his league, tall and gingery with dark lashes and a small, perfectly shaped mouth. Her sister comes into the clinic with a sprained ankle, and John successfully navigates the line of how much a doctor can flirt with the relatives before it's inappropriate.

Her name is Tobi and she agrees to have dinner with him. On his way home from work he buys a new shirt for the evening, because if he can win this beauty over, nobody can say he's not a successful middle-aged, straight, normal guy.

***

“Who are you trying to impress?”

Sherlock is lying on the sofa, glancing at John over the top of his magazine. John sighs; no compliments here, of course.

“I have a date.”

“A date?” Sherlock lowers the magazine to frown at him.

John smiles faintly. “It's where two people who like each other go out and have fun?”

The silence following is slightly too long and awkward, and John feels bad for joking about Sherlock's lack of experience.

Sherlock puts the magazine back up. “You don't like anyone you know.”

“I like you”, John counters, and then blushes. “Er, I didn't mean…” His voice sounds strangled. “I just… well, you know you're my best friend.”

Sherlock isn't even listening any more. John nods once. Sentiment. Right.

John goes to the bathroom, checks his hair one last time, spends a few frustrating minutes searching for his wallet until he finds it in the cutlery tray (he knew he'd seen it somewhere). Before he leaves, he almost walks over to the sofa to hug Sherlock goodbye.

John's new shirt smells unfamiliar and his old date-suit clings stiffly to him. Sherlock is still absorbed in his magazine, lying there in his pyjamas. It doesn't fit together.

He leaves in silence.

***

The date goes well.

Tobi is totally out of his league, yet clearly interested.

He brags about his doctor skills and she is impressed.

She kisses him goodnight.

It's after one a.m. when he comes back home. It was good to feel like Three Continents Watson again. They have already planned a second date.

Sherlock is still awake, and he's sulky, ignoring John and stomping when he walks barefoot across the floors. John leaves him alone and readies himself for bed. When he enters the bedroom, Sherlock has also moved to the bed, eyes already closed. John lies down beside him with a contented sigh – it was nice to be out, but it's nice to come home too.

When he wakes up in the morning, Sherlock is still sleeping. His head is now resting on John's arm, his legs covering John's. John looks at his peaceful face, relishing having Sherlock to himself before the world intrudes and Sherlock decides to be in a bad mood. He moves his hand into Sherlock's thick curls, slowly stroking his fingers through it, watching Sherlock's smooth forehead and slightly parted lips.

He can't say what it is about Sherlock's sleeping face that makes it impossible to look away.

***

The next date lasts for about thirty minutes, before Sherlock barges into the restaurant to drag John with him on a case.

“I'm busy tonight, Sherlock”, John says, sending Tobi an apologetic smile: “Sorry, this is my flatmate. He has no concept of timing.”

Tobi smiles back, thank God, but Sherlock glares at him. “I need your professional opinion on the cause of death, John.”

“Yeah, well, good thing you have a police team to help you. Really, Sherlock, some nights I just can't be with you.”

The waiter comes in with their food then, putting it on the table for John and Tobi, eyeing Sherlock hesitantly: “Should I fetch a menu for you as well, sir?”

“No”, John says firmly through a smile, “he isn't staying.”

The waiter leaves, and John tries to go back to the flow of the date, demonstratively taking a bite of his food. Tobi's smile has turned awkward, and Sherlock's glare has turned icy.

“The life of an underweight, dyslexic nurse is at stake – is that not the type of situation you regularly demand that I care about, Doctor Watson?”

“Oh, God”, Tobi says, looking back and forth between them.

John chews his food, swallows, glances up at Sherlock, and sighs.

“Tobi, I am so sorry. I'll pay for the food.”

She waves her hand. “It's fine. Just text me later.”

“Of course.” He smiles at her and then hurries to the counter to pay, as Sherlock is already halfway out of the restaurant.

He texts her as soon as he's in a cab to the Yard. Her flirty reply tells him there's no lasting damage done.

***

The goodnight kisses become longer and the texts more daring. John is getting frustrated in a rather nice way, a low buzz of arousal lining his days. He longs for a warm body pressing against him – so he carefully steps back from touching Sherlock, because that would be beyond weird. He can't mix up his desire to snog Tobi and his urge to hold Sherlock. He stops the lie-ins, instead leaving bed and sending a good-morning-text to Tobi.

When they have sex for the first time, he realises how long it's really been; it's better than he remembered, which is a bit pathetic. He's still wrung out and sated when he comes home early in the morning, and for the first time in months, he lies down in his own bed upstairs.

***

“Um, John, don't you think it's time to buy a new phone?” Tobi raises her eyebrows at him teasingly when she picks up his mobile to check the time.

“Yeah, I suppose”, John snorts.

“Can you even use this? The screen is completely destroyed.”

“Hey now, don't exaggerate. It's just a bit cracked.”

She giggles and sneaks up on him. “It's only gonna get worse, y'know”, she murmurs, her lips hovering above his.

“Can't afford a new one”, he answers and closes the distance, occupying her enough to drop the issue.

He really can't afford a new one. He also can't imagine giving up the device that was the first link between Sherlock and him. When Sherlock held it then, he saw right through John and decided that he wanted to keep him. When John holds it now, he feels like he matters.

Holding on to a broken phone with an engraving that isn't even for him, seems a bit… pathetic. But it's easier than holding on to Sherlock himself, sometimes. He evades John, always has, guarding his feelings with acting skills so good that John at times forgets what he's really like.

He's always reminded of it when he has Sherlock in his arms, hair ruffled from sleep, breaths loud with pleasure in his throat. That's the real Sherlock. But John has to manage without that reassurance now. He has a girlfriend. He can't do the same things with his mate as he does with her. She's the one who should fill his need for hugs and cuddles – that's what girlfriends are for. He can't very well alternate between sleeping in her bed and in Sherlock's.

He lies in her bedroom, sweaty under the duvet and the weight of her body, staring at the ceiling until he can't take it. He carefully draws his arm back from under her waist.

“Mmm”, she mumbles sleepily, tightening her hold on his chest.

“I'm sorry, sweetie”, he whispers, “I can't sleep like this.”

“But it's so cosy”, she complains, burrowing her nose into his skin.

“I know. It's nothing personal, I just need the space.”

She reluctantly lets him go. He blinks in the darkness, trying to sleep instead of thinking.

***

John is happy. He got what he wanted; he got everything he wanted. He's lucky. He's getting laid. It's a part of being John Watson that he'd forgotten he missed.

It's a part of being John Watson that he feels weird about fusing with the world of Sherlock Holmes. The few times Sherlock and Tobi meet, it's always a disaster. Sherlock behaves as he does with every person who isn't John, and Tobi doesn't understand why John wants to spend so much time with him. One time John tries to explain to her what he sees in Sherlock, but he has barely started before he shuts his mouth around the poetry pouring out of him. She won't understand.

He spends time at her flat, and it's buzz and lewd and ecstasy. He feels virile, sexy, he's surfing on hormones that smudge out everything but freckled skin and what he can dream up doing to it. The sex keeps getting better, and the talking isn't too bad either. Even her cat isn't the worst thing in the world; he wasn't overjoyed to learn she had one, but this one does little else than lie around sleeping.

John comes home from her flat, and is surprised every time at how easy it is to breathe in 221B. Everything is effortless, even the arguments about inappropriate experiments; it only makes him feel safe, relaxing some part of him that he didn't know was tense. And Sherlock looks like home. He looks like something John wants to bury into and just be.

He stares at Sherlock, and he wants to take his hand. He wants to sink his fingers into the dark curls and sleep in his arms. Sherlock sits there looking like some unattainable model, hair irresistibly styled, skin indifferently pale, clothes crisply untouchable, and John doesn't know how to reach out.

Sherlock doesn't do it either. Maybe he never really wanted to. This cool indifference is more his style; everything else is transport. Whatever they did before, he's apparently done with it now.

Which is fine. John is happy. He got what he wanted. There's no reason to miss Sherlock as much as he does, not when he sees him every day, not when their friendship is everything a friendship should be.

Every time he goes home, he reminds himself to be fine. But then he sees Sherlock with his hands steepled beneath his chin. Or with his furrow between the eyebrows. Or with a reckless smile at an inappropriate moment. And suddenly John longs for him from a place so deep in his soul that it scares him.

He reaches for Tobi to forget about it.

***

“You were so sweet tonight, John.”

“Oh, no. What did I do?”

“No, nothing embarrassing. You just put your arm around me in your sleep. You haven't done that before.”

“Oh. Right.” He nods, trying to answer her smile. “Must have dreamed something.”

“I would be very interested to know about this dream.” Her eyes twinkle.

His smile strains his cheeks. “I can't remember.”

He does remember. It wasn't even a dream; he woke up briefly, noticing the body beside him, turning over to lay his hands on it. But in his half-sleeping state he thought she was someone else.

She looks at him curiously, seeing thoughts behind his eyes. He clears his throat and turns away, even though he knows there's only one person who would be able to deduce what really happened.

And that person can't know this happened.

Now that he's with Tobi, the closeness Sherlock and he had seems even more weird than it did at the time. There is little that distinguish their friendship from his romantic relationship with Tobi, what with those almost-kisses that happened regularly in the mornings. He tries to just pretend it never happened.

Because it's normal to exist with a stretch of distance and silence between one's flatmate and oneself. It's normal not to reach out to touch just because one stands close enough to do it. It's normal to lie alone in a narrow bed on nights when one's girlfriend is busy.

It's not normal to smell an old pillow case and feel nauseous because it hasn't kept the smell of posh shampoo and sleepy skin. It's not normal to wake up clutching a pillow to one's chest, and upon realising it's a pillow and not a person feel as if one has been punched in the gut.

***

Once they're in a cab going to a crime scene, something thaws in the air between them. Laughter comes easily and conversation flies, and they always arrive too soon. But then the case begins, and that's glorious. Riding on Sherlock's roller-coaster thought processes, running side by side; there's a closeness in it that's almost like holding him in his arms.

Sherlock looks at him approvingly when he does something right, and insults him through a fond expression when he does something wrong, and John can't believe that everyone doesn't love Sherlock Holmes. He is the most brilliant man John has ever met, and Donovan calls him a freak. He is effortlessly charming with his witty humour, deep chuckle and radiant smile, and Greg insists on the fact that he doesn't have friends. How blind they all must be. John would feel sorry for them, if he wasn't also selfishly joyous that he may have found a secret he gets to have for himself.

On their way home from such cases, John thinks of nothing but Sherlock, and Sherlock is the bright being he was that first night.

“What are you doing for Christmas?” John asks him when they get home.

“Christmas?” Sherlock scowls, but the light in his eyes is still there. “Why would you think that I was planning on acknowledging a pagan celebration of an astronomy-related phenomenon, hijacked by Christianity and subsequently exploited by capitalistic and commercial interests?”

John shrugs and hangs his jacket on the hook. “It's a time to spend with your loved ones. I thought you might be going to see your parents.”

Sherlock scoffs. “Please.” He slumps onto his chair and John goes to the kitchen, filling the kettle.

“Well, I'm going to Harry's, anyway.”

When there's a pause, he looks back. Sherlock's scowl has deepened. “Harry's? But you hate Harry.”

“I don't hate Harry, she's my sister.”

Sherlock glares pointedly at him, and John snorts, clicking the kettle on.

“But you hate Mycroft, naturally.”

“Naturally. Never in a million years would I voluntarily spend another Christmas with that pig.”

“They did ask you to come, then.” John leans his hip on the sink.

“They also redecorated the library in purple and yellow, thinking it was a good idea.”

Something about this spitting and hissing creature is so adorable that the words fly out of John's mouth before he can think. “Hey, you should come with me to Harry's.”

He has barely finished the last word before regret floods him like ice water. He's already asked Tobi. He can't stand having the two of them in the same room; even when they're being civil his skin crawls with the need to separate them. He doesn't know who he should be when both of them are there.

But Sherlock scoffs again. “Spending Christmas at the house of an unemployed, intermittent alcoholic who's invited her brother out of obligation and is likely to spend the whole 'celebration' nagging him to see how much he will take before it escalates into a row? I don't think so.”

John turns away to fill the tea balls. “You could have just said 'no', you know. Just. Sometimes. Leave it alone.”

After quietly drinking his tea, John readies himself for bed. Sherlock is already somewhere else behind his closed eyes, the tea cooling by his elbow. He's not going to sleep.

He never sleeps nowadays. John knows this, and he worries about it, but he doesn't say anything the way he did before. That would entail using the word bed. It would mean Sherlock knowing that John knows that Sherlock stopped sleeping at exactly the same time as John started sleeping upstairs, and they don't talk about that.

John walks through the living room, glancing back at Sherlock's motionless figure, and goes upstairs without saying goodnight.

***

John wakes at three a.m. His body is rippling with adrenalin, and he is half out of bed before he realises what's going on. It's his phone ringing on his bedside table. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he squints at the screen before he clumsily answers.

It's Tobi. Her voice is trembling and breaking. For a few more seconds he's in soldier mode, asking where she is, but she says it's nothing like that. She sobbingly tells him how sweet he is and he frowns, hunching forward with his underarm on his knee.

He remembers now where she is. Her office had a Christmas party tonight, and he was supposed to join her but had to wrap up a case with Sherlock. She's likely drunk – but that's never made her call him in the middle of the night before.

She gasps that she's sorry, over and over, until finally she gets out: “There's this guy.”

Something stabs in John's gut before she goes on. She doesn't know how it happened. Nothing had been going on before tonight. John's voice has gone sharp and flat when he asks what she's trying to tell him, and she tells him she slept with him.

She breaks out in loud sobbing. It fades in John's ears as his blood runs cold. He stares into the darkness while she cries in his ear. He can't think of a single thing to say.

She sobs apologies and regret. The guy didn't mean anything, she's such a bad person who screws up good things in her life, and it's all very very sad for her. John tries to calm her down. He tries to sound anything but cold when he tells her to breathe. He tries to tell her it's fine, but he only gets to the f.

She's scared she'll get pregnant.

“You didn't even use a condom?” John's voice reflects an anger he's too numb to feel. He regrets it when she breaks out into a fresh crying fit and answers something indiscernible.

She begs him not to give up on her. She tells him she can't lose him, not when a good thing has finally happened to her. John takes silent, strained breaths. He tries to finish the conversation, his chest tight and crowded under the weight of her sobs, but she panics.

“No, please don't hang up on me! I can't be alone right now, I can't go back in there.”

He frowns. “Where are you?”

“I'm still at the party. I called you at once.”

His guts feel stiff and icy. “You, what, had sex in a handicap toilet, and then walked right out of there to call me?”

More crying. “I regret it so much, John! I couldn't stand to go another second without telling you. I'm sorry I woke you-”

“No, it's fine.” He tries to breathe calmly and make his voice reassuring, but it still sounds oddly ragged. The words feel like violence on his tongue when he goes on: “It was good that you called me. Thank you-”

He tries to say her name, but he only gets to the T.

***

The next day is a grey, thick haze of sleep-deprivation and mortification. He texts with Tobi, who needs to spend the day with her best friend. She needs comforting, apparently.

John needs to be alone. Sherlock leaves the flat, sparing John his deductions. John stares at the Christmas decorations Mrs Hudson has put up for them, and doesn't even feel like drinking tea. There's a garland framing the mirror, with green plastic leaves and little lights in it. It's old and dusty.

John has never been cheated on before. He's an honest person, a good person, and has just assumed that will prompt honesty and goodness in his girlfriends. And Tobi and he were happy. Less than a week ago, he had cooked her a delicious meal with prawns and curry that turned out surprisingly good, and she'd told him no man had ever cooked for her before. She had lit every candle in her flat, and they had eaten the dinner while planning their first trip together. When they'd had sex, she'd come three times.

Was that not enough for her?

John keeps imagining this “guy”, and it makes him nauseous. It's not the terrifying churn of jealousy, but the swooping realisation that another man was irresistible enough for the memory of John to fade. He keeps flicking through his memories, looking for points where he wasn't interesting enough, handsome enough, didn't have enough stamina.

He always did know she's out of his league.

Please come to me tomorrow, she texts him. Let me speak to you. I need to explain.

Ok, he writes and swallows the humiliation.

***

Their crisis meeting gets postponed. Apparently, Tobi's boring cat has had a fit and wrecked her flat while she was away, and she has to do a major cleaning before John can come. John follows Sherlock on a case instead, and while he's too tired to do much, it's reassuring to watch Sherlock work.

John has barely seen that lazy cat awake in all the time he's spent at Tobi's flat. He finds it hard to imagine it messing anything up too badly, and assumes it's just Tobi being pedantic. When he finally opens her door, he is proved wrong.

The smell of detergent isn't quite strong enough to cover the underlying stench of decay. John frowns at Tobi, standing in the hall in a too-big, worn-out hoodie and sweatpants, her hair in a messy bun.

“What happened here?” he says as he reluctantly closes the door behind him, trapping the air inside.

“Does it still smell?” she asks, wiping her underarm over her forehead. “Damn, I was hoping it was just me. Hang on, I'll open the window again.”

“It's freezing outside”, he points out, following her into the living room.

“Yeah, well, we gotta get the prawn smell out”, she bites, forcefully yanking the window open.

John watches a strand of hair escape from the bun, and Tobi impatiently tucks it behind her ear. She's moving with the restless energy of someone who has spent hours cleaning without ever sitting down, fluttering through her echoing living room with sweaty face and goosebumps on her arms.

The room is bare; the sofa is gone, as is the large rug and all her plants. There is a very noticeable absence of the Christmas tree that took up a third of this room last time he was here, and one wall is covered with scratch marks.

“What the hell happened?”

She sinks down into an armchair and is on the brink of tears when she tells him how thoroughly the cat destroyed her flat. The rubbish from the bin was spread out on the large rug, and the prawn shells from their dinner earlier in the week were everywhere. The plant pots were all broken, and on top of it all, the Christmas tree lay in a sea of broken glass baubles. And on the sofa beside the cat lay the carcase of a half-eaten rat in a pool of soaked-in blood.

The cat is now lying in the other chair, sleeping and not caring in the least how Tobi's day has been. John imagines her carrying out the sofa, Christmas tree and rug, sweating and trying to escape the smell by breathing through her cuffs. He remains standing, his arms crossed over his chest.

“I thought I took the rubbish out”, he finally says.

“Yeah, well, you should have”, she says, turning her head without looking at him.

John remains carefully expressionless. He's not sorry.

***

John stays for longer than he'd thought he would.

Tobi has been afraid that something like this would happen.

She is trying to do better, and she thinks she can.

In a way it's good that it happened. She got it out of her system. She proved to herself how wrong this was, so now she can move on.

Now she can be better. And she wants to, for John.

This will only bring her closer to him.

She had to make this one mistake to realise how important John is to her.

She pleads with him to give her another chance.

He gives it to her.

After their talk he feels closer to her than he has to a girlfriend in a long time.

The flat still smells like an unwashed arse from the prawns. They search in the cabinet under the sink, and when they don't find any remaining shells, they open all the windows. They're soon freezing, sitting bundled together on her bed, the cold somehow making the persistent stench even more distasteful.

Then they close the windows and have sex. It's more intense than it's been in a while, even though the smell stays as an undercurrent through the whole thing.

***

“Merry Christmas, Sherlock.”

“What?” Sherlock practically spits.

“It's Christmas. Today. We talked about this.”

“Possibly you talked.”

“Yeah, well it counts. Here, this is for you.”

“Why?”

John rolls his eyes. “Because it's Christmas.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes even harder at the bottle of wine John places in his hands, then puts it on the closest surface and forgets about it. It was much too expensive for John's budget, but he couldn't stand giving Sherlock some cheap crap, even knowing Sherlock wouldn't give him anything at all. He doesn't even mind that. Sherlock will be Sherlock, and John will be here to love him for it.

There are steps on the stairs. “Yoo-hoo, boys, here's our first guest!” Mrs Hudson chirps, coming in with Tobi behind her.

“Our first guest?” Sherlock repeats.

John sighs long and hard. “We talked about this”, he says again.

There's a ring on the doorbell, and the sound of the door opening, Molly's and Greg's voices drifting up the stairwell.

“Oh for God's sake”, Sherlock exclaims with his best scowl in place. “Isn't it enough that she is running around here all the time” – he gestures at Tobi with his chin, not even looking in her direction – “did you promptly have to invite more people?”

“Hey”, Tobi says, her hands going to her hips, “what do you mean she?”

Sherlock gives her a lethal stare. “I mean you”, he says icily.

“Wh-?!” Tobi turns to John, raising her eyebrows expectantly.

“Sherlock, stop being rude to Tobi”, John says. “It's Christmas, can't we have some fun?”

Sherlock's eyes meet his and seem to shut off before he turns away, returning to his laptop at the desk, not looking up when Molly and Greg enter.

Molly tries to strike up conversation with Sherlock, smiling softly through his biting answers. Tobi is cross because Sherlock is an arsehole, refusing to smile. Sherlock is sulky, probably because he finds Christmas pointless and all the people prevent him from thinking. Greg and Mrs Hudson talk with loud voices and try to lighten the mood. Mycroft blessedly hasn't shown up. And John Watson does what John Watson does best; remains unfazed in the middle of it all.

He has the weirdest home.

He loves it.

After a few hours, it's time to leave for Harry's. Tobi has warmed up, excited to meet his sister for the first time, while John is more cautious. As annoying as Sherlock's prediction about their Christmas was, he was likely right. And as nice as it is to have a woman by his side, who chose to spend Christmas with him and will get on her back for him later, he aches when he leaves Sherlock in 221B.

It doesn't matter to Sherlock, though. It's stupid to miss someone who doesn't even care about spending time with his loved ones on Christmas.

Harry's flat is too bright and too loud, the ceiling too high and the glasses too full. Harry's eyes are too wide and all the smiles are too fixed, Tobi laughs too much and John breathes too little. His skin crawls, the row with Harry flares and passes, and he barely makes it until he can pull Tobi away from the others and go numb between her legs.

***

It ends two hours into the twenty-ninth of January. John's phone wakes him, Tobi cries through the speakers. John tells her he'll come to see her in the morning and he hangs up, falling back asleep before what happened slots into place in his reality.

Her flat still stinks when he visits it for the last time. She begs him to forgive her, John doesn't.

He gets back home with an emptiness settled in the corners of his mouth, the hollows of his cheeks, the dark blue of his eyes. It's a strange kind of sadness. He doesn't feel as though he'll miss her, really. He only feels drained, as if the whole relationship has sucked him dry of something he didn't know he needed.

He feels humiliated.

He watches the snowfall from his chair, holding a teacup, feeling it get cold in his hands. At this time last year, there was no snow. The ground was bare and stiff when John limped through the park, for a second considering pretending not to hear his name being called from behind.

Afghanistan or Iraq. John has never regained his balance after that, and he's never wanted to. All he's ever wanted is to stay here with Sherlock; it's the only way he can see his life making any sense.

Part of him wants to crawl away from Sherlock's sharp eyes, sweeping over his back when John is turned away – as if he wouldn't notice – but he can't stand not spending the twenty-ninth of January with him. He wants to tell Sherlock how much meeting him meant to him, but he chokes on the words before they're even in his throat.

John doesn't speak all day. But Sherlock speaks constantly without words. Hushed steps around the flat, homely clatter on the laptop, soft clinks by the microscope, and his violin. God, his violin.

John watches Sherlock's back move with his bowing, letting the notes wrap around every broken shard in his chest. You're not alone, they say, and John feels stupid for thinking he would be. He still has this, and it matters more than he can comprehend. It matters more than being fooled and betrayed and losing a regular sexual outlet.

John accidentally takes a sip from the tea that's gone cold long ago. This isn't how he wanted to spend their anniversary.

He's not sure Sherlock cares, or if he knows. John's guts twist when he debates with himself; they aren't like that any more. They were never meant to have it anyway.

But John can't stand going upstairs silently on this day, hands twisted into an empty pillow case. And Sherlock played for him.

John fights to make himself dare believe what he knows to be true; he played for him.

He takes a deep breath. It stays painfully in his lungs, refusing to release all the way when he rises from his chair. He looks at Sherlock, sitting motionless at the kitchen table, staring into his microscope.

He might as well be a million miles away. It's unfair how someone who is so far out of reach can at the same time be so close that every detail of him makes John ache. He can't stand Sherlock's smooth cheeks, his straight nose and his warm lips being more than a few inches from his own face. He barely remembers what it's like to run his fingers through those beautiful curls. The yearning for it makes him wish to look away, but he has nowhere to look.

It takes him a lifetime to gather enough courage to speak.

“Sherlock?”

Sherlock doesn't move, his focus remaining on the petri dish. “Hmm?” he hums with disinterest, before reluctantly raising his gaze to John.

John feels as though he's forgotten how to stand up, the soles of his feet not broad enough to keep him steady on the vast living room floor. His vulnerability is clearly visible in his flayed-open chest, inviting Sherlock's scrutiny.

When John speaks, his words crack the secrets draped in the air of 221B.

“Can I sleep in your bed tonight?”

Sherlock's pause is barely there. “Of course”, he says indifferently before turning back to his microscope, as if John asks this every evening. As if this is all normal.

The breath finally leaves John's stiff lungs. He walks into the bathroom to brush his teeth. He wishes he could just trust himself. He knows that their meeting one year ago turned Sherlock's life around just as much as it did John's.

When John is finished in the bathroom, Sherlock still hasn't moved to change into pyjamas. John pops his head into the kitchen: “You coming?”

“Yes”, Sherlock mutters.

John could weep at the familiar weight of Sherlock's duvet on top of him and the smell clinging to the sheets. It feels like putting down every weight he carries and allowing himself to rest, to float, to smile. Sherlock moves quietly through the room, lying down on his side of the bed. John turns out the lights before he turns to him, the words coming easier in the darkness.

“Do you know what day it is?”

“Saturday”, Sherlock says.

“Yeah.” John's heart hammers against his hard ribcage. “January twenty-ninth.”

Sherlock's hum could mean anything. John doesn't know what to say about it, how to thank Sherlock for saving his life, for giving him a reason to live for another whole year.

“Thank you for the violin”, he says finally.

“What do you mean?” Sherlock's voice is deep and grumpy.

And this is the fucking problem, isn't it. This is why John can't puzzle Sherlock out, why he can't just lie down in this bed as if he belongs here.

“Don't do that”, he says softly.

Sherlock doesn't answer. He doesn't deny what he's doing.

And he does know what today is.

The darkness is heavier than it used to be, thickened with something John doesn't like to ponder what it is. Carefully, he moves closer to Sherlock over the mattress. Sherlock remains silent and still, and John moves a little more. There seems to be an electric field around Sherlock's body, forbidding John's hands to come any closer. It doesn't matter; John only needs a point of contact, however small. He curls up on his side, bowing his head until his forehead rests lightly against Sherlock's bony shoulder.

“Goodnight, Sherlock.”

Sherlock's only answer is breathing, but it's enough. His breathing is wonderful.

***

John wakes up alone. He stretches with his eyes still closed, imagining his hands bumping into skin, but Sherlock is gone. He opens his eyes, watching his hand rest on the space where his body lay, and he already longs for tomorrow morning. Maybe Sherlock will lie in with him then.

He tries for a moment to wish it was Tobi lying there, but no. She thought he'd actually take her back once again. It's only been a day and he can't remember why he took her back the first time.

When John shuffles into the kitchen, Sherlock is standing by the sink, fully dressed. His coat hangs open over his suit, his scarf lies untied around his neck. In one hand he holds a cup he's gulping coffee from, and in the other he holds John's jacket.

“Ah, John! We have a case.” He pours the last of the coffee down his throat while holding out John's jacket. John raises his eyebrows.

“Uh, I think you missed something important here. You see, but you don't observe.”

Sherlock glares. “Yes, I can observe that you are still in your sleepwear, John. I was simply refraining from acknowledging it, as it would only serve to encourage this lazy morning behaviour on your part.”

John is the idiot who smiles at this and obeys, going to change and skipping breakfast. They leave less than five minutes later. Sherlock is in his case mode, infuriating and brilliant, and John clings to his every word with the heady mixture of annoyance and fascination.

Sherlock is on a roll. As soon as one case is closed, he jumps onto the next one, and all John can do is jump after him, gluing himself to the hem of Sherlock's coat. Days go by like this, disrupting life completely, mocking every routine. John eats when he's hungry and has five minutes to spare, and he sleeps on whatever surface is available when he can't hold himself upright any longer. He doesn't lie in a bed for days, but Sherlock's focused energy is contagious, and John forgets how much time passes by. He only cares about running after his friend until their blood surges through them and their bodies dissipate into the night.

He barely thinks about Tobi until a text from her wakes him, where he's sleeping against the wall of Sherlock's lab at Bart's.

She wants to return a shirt he left behind in her flat. John has no desire to come over, and she says she doesn't blame him, bitterness heavy in her text; the prawn smell is as strong as ever. It can't be the carpet and it can't be lingering in the curtains, because she's washed those. There must be some shells she never found, she writes, and she doesn't understand how the cat managed to hide them so well from her. She desperately asks John if he has any ideas, but he doesn't. And he doesn't want the shirt, either.

He pockets his phone and watches the nape of Sherlock's neck, bent over the microscope. A pool of warmth in his stomach spills over to the corners of his lips, forming a tiny smile when he falls back asleep.

***

“Hey Sherlock?”

“Mmm?” Sherlock looks out of his side window in the back of the cab.

“Do you believe in justice?”

They're on their way home from their last case. Serial killer, took them four days to solve. John has been awake for so long that reality has taken on a shimmering, unreal quality. Sherlock seems to be unaffected as usual.

“No”, he answers shortly.

If John didn't know better, he'd think Sherlock is cross. But he does know better. He definitely does: “But you're a detective. You literally work with bringing justice into the world.”

“Trying to bring it is quite something else than believing in it.” Yep, there it is: trying to bring it.

“U-huh”, John says, fighting his smile. In the corner of his eye, he sees Sherlock glance at him.

“There's no such thing as justice”, Sherlock says condescendingly, but he can't take it back now.

“It's strange, though”, John says, keeping his voice casual. “When she cheated the first time, her cat went crazy. I'm telling you, it's the laziest cat I've met, but the day after, it completely wrecked her apartment. Toppled the Christmas tree, broke all her plants, played with the rubbish, it even took in a rat and ate it on the couch.” Sherlock keeps looking out his window, pretending not to listen. John is unfazed: “That's justice, right there. Almost like God intervened to punish her.”

Sherlock snorts. “As if 'God' would care.”

“Yeah, I know”, John says, not letting Sherlock's mockery get to him. “I wouldn't have guessed God's punishments would be so petty, either. I mean, prawn shells on the carpet?”

“Creative.” Sherlock's head turns, eyes flicking quickly to John before staring straight ahead.

“You know the strangest thing, though?” John says, trying to keep sounding innocent. “I'm pretty sure I took out the bin the same evening we'd had the prawns. Didn't want it to smell.”

“Perhaps you intended to, but you obviously forgot. This would not be an unusual event, John.”

That's not true and they both know it. John looks at Sherlock's profile, but Sherlock doesn't cave, keeping his gaze fixed on the windscreen. John doesn't cave either. When there's a rug full of prawn shells, there also have to be actual prawns. And they weren't eaten during that dinner.

“She thinks she hasn't found them all yet”, John says. “We texted yesterday, she wanted to return a shirt I've forgotten at her place. She told me the flat still stinks, even though she has washed the carpet twice.” Not a muscle moves on Sherlock's face. John waits a few more seconds, then he casually adds: “Where are the prawns?”

Sherlock sighs deeply, and John can see the tension in his muscles release. “In the curtain poles.”

Silence blooms from his last word, his posture as motionless as the air. John tries to keep a straight face, but he thinks about her tastefully decorated flat with the brass curtain poles, he thinks about the prawns everywhere, he thinks about the rat – and isn't that so hilariously typical – and he starts laughing.

“In the curtain poles”, he says, trying to sound calm. “She'll have a hard time blaming that on the cat.”

“She will never find them.” Sherlock's voice is deep with disdain. “She will eventually be forced to move, and she will take the poles with her.”

John laughs even harder at that, because he's right; she'll take her posh curtain poles to her next flat, and then, what, she'll have to move again?

It's not even very clever. Sherlock has gone into her flat and wrecked it in the most petty way possible, just to protect John. Sherlock, who was silent that morning, halting his deductions the moment John asked him to. Sherlock, who played for John for hours the evening after the breakup. Sherlock, who genuinely cares about him, desperately though he tries to hide it.

John can't even look at him in the back seat of the cab, because he's just too damn adorable. And then Sherlock's low rumble joins in with John's giggles, and suddenly it isn't John's laughter that makes him unable to breathe.

They arrive at Baker Street, the glorious scent of home wrapping around John after hours on the case. He puts the takeaway on plates, digging for clean forks, carrying it to the sofa. They eat in silence, revelling in the peace and quiet of their flat and their simple company. John tries not to imagine Sherlock tugging on a branch of Tobi's gigantic Christmas tree, or sitting cross-legged on the floor carving at the wallpaper with a knife, but halfway through his dinner he helplessly starts giggling again.

“What?” Sherlock says, failing not to sound amused.

“It's just, there are so many things you could have done”, John says, trying not to giggle through it. “I daydreamed about asking Mycroft to have her fired somehow, or make her believe her one night stand was HIV positive. You're so clever, if you wanted to revenge me there were so many possibilities. But you, you chose to break into her flat and create claw marks on her wall!”

Sherlock fights to remain impassive, but a smile is tugging on the corners of his lips. “One of my more artistic efforts, I thought.”

The magnetism constantly pulling at John suddenly wins out, and he leans forward, touching his forehead to Sherlock's briefly. A pleased squirm shoots through Sherlock's body and he giggles in surprise, a high-pitched, adorable thing. John draws back and smiles at him, and Sherlock smiles back, his whole face beaming.

“It's just so incredibly petty it's sweet”, John says, and the great detective Sherlock Holmes blushes.

“One must do something to stave off boredom.” He goes for nonchalance, but he's too flustered to be the slightest bit convincing.

John eats under Sherlock's continued gaze. Weirdly, that doesn't make him self-conscious – he's used to Sherlock scrutinising him when he's doing the most boring and insignificant things, and God only knows what about John Sherlock could possibly find interesting. It doesn't really matter; John trusts that whatever Sherlock finds out by observing him, he will keep the data safe. It makes John feel calm. It makes him want to never be anywhere but under the headlights of Sherlock's eyes.

“Finish your food”, he reminds Sherlock after a while, “so we can go to bed before we pass out on the couch. I'm knackered.”

With every part of their old bedtime routine they go through, John feels more like himself. Their movement through the flat is frictionless, and the word bed, out in the open, hasn't caused it all to disappear. Sherlock lies down beside John and John turns out the light, reaching for his hand. Sherlock grabs it with his soft, shy fingers, pulling their joined hands to his nose. That perfect, straight nose presses into the back of John's hand, and John can feel that the smile on his own face will stay in place even after he's fallen asleep.

Chapter Text

John slowly rises from sleep with a feeling of thorough contentment. The more he wakes, the louder the feeling becomes, until it's concentrated down to one word, so dense and consuming that it shuts out everything else in his brain:

Finally.

Sherlock is asleep in his arms. His face is tucked against John's throat, his hand hangs loosely over John's back, his thighs cradle John's. It's been so long since John caught him like this; limp and peaceful, his sharp mind at rest. Even longer since John got to feel Sherlock's calm against his own body, the whole length of Sherlock's lean chest and stomach moving with easy breaths. He slides his hand up Sherlock's muscled back, breathing in the addictive scent of his hair.

John needs this.

Or maybe it's just as simple as wanting it.

John strokes him carefully, enjoying being alone with this secret part of Sherlock Holmes before he wakes up. Sherlock's sleep-shirt is becoming worn out, the fabric soft and thin – he can feel every rib, vertebra and muscle through it.

Eventually, Sherlock's ribcage expands against John in a deep sigh. His hand comes up to touch John's arm, and John takes it as consent to stroke his back more determinedly.

“Morning”, he mumbles into Sherlock's curls, and oh, they're so soft against his cheek and lips.

“Mmm”, Sherlock answers, or maybe it was an ill-concealed moan. John huffs a silent laugh – he'd almost forgotten how responsive Sherlock is, how endearingly pliant under the slightest touch.

He keeps stroking Sherlock's warm back, and Sherlock's body seeks out his hand, rising into his touch, the air drawn into his lungs following John's movement. John moves on to the wonderfully vulnerable skin of his neck, causing Sherlock's head to tip back and reveal his blissful face. John leans down, brushing the tip of his nose across the bridge of Sherlock's. Sherlock moves lazily against him, and it feels more right than John had dared hope it would, after so long without it.

But it could never be any other way with Sherlock. They belong together. They belong in a way beyond words, beyond wishes and intentions. They belong together as a matter of fact, and no one can change it, not even themselves.

John keeps brushing his fingertips over delicate skin, and Sherlock's head tilts, his lips coming into contact with John's. They both still. Their mouths rest, feeling each other through stillness. Calm exhalations tangle between them.

When Sherlock moves slightly, John doesn't think about it at first. He feels his friend's soft lips tense a bit, forming themselves after the curve of John's mouth before relaxing again. It isn't until Sherlock pulls back an inch and then immediately comes back, softly pressing his lips against John's before ending it again with a quiet pop, that John really takes note of it. This is new.

Sherlock rests his forehead against John's, breathing quietly, seeming uncertain in a way that doesn't belong in their lazy mornings. John bumps the tip of Sherlock's nose with his own in a silent hello, you – and then Sherlock's mouth is back on his, brushing softly back and forth across John's lips. John sighs contentedly through his nose, and Sherlock presses in harder.

Sherlock is a genius, finding this chaste way of moving against each other, finding a way to be even closer without crossing the line.

And then Sherlock's mouth gently squeezes John's bottom lip, and suddenly there's the line.

His full lips close around John's slowly, almost sensually – no, definitely sensually. He pulls back leisurably, and the hot breath from his mouth makes something stir low in John's belly, far lower than it should.

Sherlock comes back again with wetted lips, and John can't help it. He means to keep still, because this whole thing is based on the simple rule that they don't move, but Sherlock's lips are slick and lush, and John's lips want to be closer so badly. He doesn't know if he's breathing at this point, or if he ever will again, when he catches himself pressing forward just a tiny, tiny bit.

When it ends, John feels his own tongue dart out to wet his lips. He curses himself when Sherlock crashes onto his mouth again, apparently taking it as an invitation.

John's breath thunders in his ears when Sherlock burrows in closer to his body, his lips pressing against John's in what can only be described as a kiss. The way Sherlock's body melts into his like warming butter makes it hard to think straight; instead of ending it, John shapes his lips to fit Sherlock's.

He has to say something. Sherlock doesn't know what he's doing right now. It's probably an experiment, and as with other experiments, it's John who has to tell him when he's taken on something too dangerous.

“Sherlock. This is not a good idea for an experiment.”

Sherlock laughs silently, the heady scent of his air puffing against John's face. “It's not an experiment.”

He dives in for a new kiss, and John decides to stay perfectly still, not so much as twitch his lips, but somehow he finds himself tilting his head. He desperately ignores the way his blood surges through his body, making him tingle. He should move away from Sherlock's pelvis – and he will, any second now. He will untangle himself from Sherlock's legs, and he will still be able to pretend that neither of them felt anything against their hips and thighs.

The movement of Sherlock's lips is careful and tentative, and his jagged breathing is reverent through his nose. John's pulse rate has increased so quickly that he's dizzy. The finally in his mind pulses through his body, and he stays. He feels more stupidly reckless than when he runs with Sherlock after murderers at night – when he feels deep in his gut that he needs to stay close to this man at any cost. Wherever Sherlock wants him to be, in whatever way Sherlock allows him to be.

Sherlock's lovely lips are dreamlike in John's haze, and he fights to bring his brain back online. Jesus, he's kissing his flatmate. How did he end up here?

“Sherlock, we don't do this.” He tries to sound firm – he's the one who should know – but he starts to feel like he doesn't know bloody anything.

“Do we not?” Sherlock murmurs, hovering just above him. John opens his eyes, finding Sherlock's still closed. He looks soft, his eyelids smooth. “But you have to admit, John, the lines are somewhat arbitrary.”

John draws back further and Sherlock opens his eyes, meeting his. Ridiculously, when Sherlock says it out loud, it shocks John that he knows about the hand-holding and the cuddling. As if it's been a secret that neither of them were in on.

“But this is something else, Sherlock. This is not what friends do.”

Sherlock stares back at him intently, delaying his answer long enough for John to feel uncertain.

“Do you truly believe that I am unaware of that?”

John stares. Sherlock watches him calmly as memories start flashing through his mind, every one of them banging against the careful balance of his world, making it tilt underneath him. Head in lap, fingers in hair. Spooning on sofa. Sherlock inviting John to his bed. Sleeping together every night. Nose snuggles. Almost-kisses.

“I-I thought…”

“You thought I was asexual.”

“Aren't you?”

Sherlock lowers his head. John's cheek tingles when Sherlock's curls brush against it, and then Sherlock's voice is in his ear; low, velvety and purposely seductive:

“No.”

The sound shoots straight into John's groin, and he knows with mortifying certainty that Sherlock can feel him twitch against his hip. It's too late to pull away now.

The words are so big inside his lungs that he can barely get them out:

“I am not gay.”

Sherlock looks at him steadily. “I know”, he says in an emotionless voice. “That would be me; you are bisexual.”

John stares back at him, waiting for the outed word to burn on his cheek like a slap. He waits for all the counterarguments that have crowded his brain for as long as he can remember, roiling and twisting to torment him. But Sherlock's statement is just as factual as when he's deducing a crime scene. Sherlock sees everything, Sherlock knows, Sherlock is a brilliant man. Sherlock is a beautiful, hopeful, shiny-eyed man with irresistible morning hair, smooth skin and still-glistening lips. Those lips.

Those lips swoop back in to kiss him, and John is too overwhelmed to stop them. He can't think, can't work out how he's supposed to react. How does a straight man react when he's being kissed by his best friend? And why does he even have to ask himself that question?

John keeps his mouth closed, trying to pretend he has no part in what's happening right now. Sherlock's mouth is open, though; he somehow uses his exhalations as part of the kissing. His lips pull lazily at John's, his breath is a heady drug seeping into John's skin. He kisses John as if it's his only source of oxygen, and damn, but it turns John on.

The swelling against John's thigh is hardening, becoming difficult to ignore. It should scare John out of his wits, but at this point he isn't sure what's fear and what's arousal screaming in his bloodstream.

John is starting to lose control. His hand clutches Sherlock's hair, his legs pull Sherlock closer even though it will mean their erections dig into the other's skin. He fights to smother the sounds he wants to make, but one of them rises embarrassingly in his throat. At that, Sherlock tries to move impossibly closer, his thigh brushing John's erection in the process.

John gasps, fear making his ears ring. He should get away – this is his friend – it shouldn't feel so fucking good. When Sherlock's tongue flicks against John's lips, John breaks away.

“John”, Sherlock whispers, looking flushed and kissed and fucking lovely. “Must you have your sexual identity crisis right this instant? Surely it can wait?”

John stares wide-eyed at Sherlock's eyelids when Sherlock nuzzles familiarly against his nose.

“It's hard”, he gets out.

“Well. Yes.”

They look at each other for one second before they explode into laughter. Every bit of tension leaks out of John's body and he rolls onto his back. Sherlock chuckles against his chest, and John holds on to his unruly hair as if trying to hold on to sanity. It really is his best friend – his bright, witty best friend – that he's holding in his arms.

He isn't afraid of Sherlock.

It takes a long time for their laughter to subside. John stays afloat in the feeling of wrung-out muscles after a good laugh, letting the last of the giggles pour out of his chest. Eventually Sherlock raises his head.

“Say it.”

John aches with fondness. “Say what?” he teases.

“You know what.”

John strokes his hair and holds his gaze, smiling. “You're an idiot.”

He can see a light starting to glow behind Sherlock's eyes, lighting up in an incandescent smile. He shifts along John's body, moving his head to be level with John's.

“John, it's just me”, he says. “Do you see? Our definitions, our identities, our inexperience – none of it matters. Don't think about all of that, just… think about me.”

John gazes up at him. He looks soft and honest, the way he only ever does in bed with John; when he doesn't impress John with his genius, when he doesn't appeal to John's weakness for the thrill of danger; when he's just Sherlock, John's best friend, his very favourite person.

John strokes his palm over Sherlock's smooth cheek, the contour of his cheekbone beautiful against the morning light from the window. “Hello Sherlock”, he says in a barely audible voice.

Sherlock blinks at him, losing his voice when he asks: “What do you want to do when you think about me?”

His eyes seem to hold the world in them, and it's the only world John cares about. The question is easy. John brings Sherlock's face down, slowly, slowly caressing Sherlock's cheekbone with the tip of his nose.

The silence in the room is palpable, not even the sound of a breath audible. John moves on to Sherlock's nose, and they have done this before, but at this moment every tiny motion is thick with meaning, holding John's lungs frozen.

Sherlock's hand glides from his shoulder, down over his pectorals, over his belly, stopping at his lower abdomen to skim back up again. In a way, the touch is fairly innocent. But Sherlock is gay – John can't believe he didn't know that about his best friend – and suddenly John realises what it means that Sherlock has held John's hand every day, and snuggled in close in the mornings, and rested his lips against John's.

It means that Sherlock wants him.

The realisation is as humbling as it is ruthlessly arousing. Sherlock, who scoffs at emotions, romance and desire, has for some reason made an exception for John. John is nearly panting when Sherlock strokes his hand downwards again, because those soft, careful fingers, those gorgeous violin hands, are for John only.

When John kisses Sherlock's cheek, he realises that he normally monitors himself closely during mornings like these, making sure not to fall for an impulse like that. He feels slightly silly for it now – it's just a kiss on the cheek. He's always wanted to do it – always? How long?

He keeps pressing earnest little kisses to Sherlock's face, and when he carefully kisses Sherlock's closed eyelids, Sherlock gives a short whimper through his closed lips. John pulls back a fraction, and Sherlock follows him, blindly seeking him. John almost smiles, for the thousandth time keeping himself from telling Sherlock just how sweet he is.

He tells it through his mouth instead, placing a series of closed-mouthed kisses onto Sherlock's lips. Sherlock keeps instinctively following him when he pulls back in between, and it's at the same time innocent, wanting and vulnerable. When Sherlock's lips part, John's blood pulses between his legs in a way that makes him not care about the embarrassing sound he makes. Sherlock tentatively touches the tip of his tongue to John's lips again, and the uncertainty of it tells John that this is the first time Sherlock has done this.

Sherlock has no idea what he is doing but it doesn't matter. His mouth feels amazing, his breath tastes divine, and his tongue grazes the inside of John's lips with single minded-attention. John is so turned on that he isn't sure what his pelvis is doing – he thinks he's at least managing not to hump Sherlock's thigh. But Sherlock is stirring restlessly on top of him, the hardness digging into John's hip making John ache to move against him. When Sherlock's tongue first touches his, he almost passes out from pleasure. John clutches his fingers tightly in Sherlock's hair, otherwise he doesn't trust himself not to grope Sherlock's bottom and press him in harder.

Sherlock suddenly tears himself away from John's mouth, escaping to the space by his neck as if the pleasure is too much to bear. He pants against John's throat, making John's head desperately fall back and his jaw drop. John gasps for air, but he doesn't have a chance to catch his breath before Sherlock sucks at the sensitive skin. John can't help moaning loudly. How is it even possible that this mouth feels even more delicious than it looks?

Sherlock dives back to his lips, his tongue slipping into John's mouth urgently. John tries to slow things down, to back up to safer ground, only he has no bloody clue what ground that might be. The way Sherlock gives in to this is irresistible, and John's hips press upwards helplessly, screaming for friction. He still hasn't taken an active role in the kissing, and when it's obvious that Sherlock tries to make him do it, it's like a fire alarm blaring through his mind. This is not a woman. John needs to stop him, but he doesn't know how, or when, or even why.

Suddenly Sherlock pulls back. John struggles to open his eyes, staring stupidly at Sherlock.

“It's fine, John. If you really don't want to, I'll stop.”

He starts rolling to the side, the heavy weight on John's pelvis lightening.

“No!” It flies out of John's mouth automatically, his legs clinging to one of Sherlock's. Sherlock makes a choked sound, seemingly out of his mind with desire, and John loses it.

Before Sherlock has a chance to react, John kisses him with parted lips, slipping his tongue inside. If he is going to do this, he will bloody well do it properly.

Sherlock's mouth is soft and open for John, letting him take the lead. He's quivering on top of John, breathing in sharp bursts, his hands clutching at John's shirt with less purpose and more helpless desperation. The great Sherlock Holmes' brain seems to be in short-circuit, and that may be the hottest thing John has ever seen.

Their shirts are tangling awkwardly between them, maintaining the illusion of a barrier, both reassuring and endlessly annoying. Sherlock strokes the skin of John's lower belly, his hand bumping against the bulk of John's trapped shirt.

“Do we need these?” he murmurs.

John can't even answer him. He feels the back of his head tousle against the pillow when he shakes it, and Sherlock rises to take his own shirt off first.

John shouldn't look. It's a trained response to anything interesting going on below Sherlock's chin. He can touch him and try to be friendly about it, pretending friendships can be like this, but looking would ruin the whole charade.

He's been looking anyway, though. Secret, quick glances that he fought not to remember, pretended weren't burned into his mind to surface whenever he didn't guard himself enough.

The grace with which Sherlock pulls at the hem of his shirt and lifts it over his head, is impossible to look away from. And then there's his chest, with the freckled skin that must smell so sweetly of Sherlock. Sherlock is entirely unselfconscious, barely aware of John's gaze when he tugs at John's shirt. It's innocence and fierce hunger all at the same time, and John is so dizzy, and then his shirt is gone and he's on his back, Sherlock lowering himself over him. His abdominal muscles tense under his vulnerably pale skin, and the flat plane of his chest is… is…

Gorgeous. Shit.

John almost groans at the feel of Sherlock's hot skin touching him from shoulder to belly, and the return of Sherlock's hard erection trapped between them. Sherlock kisses John's throat, and John holds on to Sherlock's hair, desperately clutching a familiar thing in the middle of this shocking intensity. Sherlock's mouth moves down over his chest, sending an electric spark to John's groin wherever he touches him. John presses his lips together tightly, trying not to make a sound when Sherlock pauses to lick his nipples.

Sherlock moves even lower, breathing hotly into the skin of John's stomach. John can barely manage to hold still any more, Sherlock's position making it very hard not to want something that he's been very careful about not wanting when looking at Sherlock's mouth as he speaks. But Sherlock kisses John's skin just above the waistband of his pyjamas, and John will lose it if he isn't touched soon.

“John?”

John has to take a deep breath through his nose, not trusting himself to open his mouth without begging Sherlock to take him. He steels himself and looks down, almost throwing his head back again at the surge going through him when he sees Sherlock hovering just above John's tented pants, staring up at him with burning eyes from under his lashes.

“May I taste you?”

John's mouth falls open: “Oh my God”, he gasps. Sherlock's deep voice settles in his very bones, deeper than any female voice could ever be, and it's the most erotic thing he has heard in his life.

If he gives his consent now, he can't pretend this is something that just happened to him. You are bisexual.

When he can finally speak, the fatefulness of the word should sound in some way monumental, but instead it's just a croaked: “Yes.”

His waistband is lifted, and then Sherlock's mouth is on him.

“Oh.” He can't keep his mouth shut any longer.

Sherlock makes a muted sound, his experimental touch quickly turning into a sensual caress.

“Oh. Sh- Oh.

It's clearly Sherlock's first time doing this, but he isn't shying away from any part of it. He likes it, John can feel it in everything he does. Sherlock's name tries to wretch itself free from John's tongue, and Sherlock gives a wretched whimper as he lowers his head further. John sucks in a harsh breath; he can already tell that he's going to have the most spectacular orgasm in ages.

“Shhh- Shhh- Sherlock-”, he manages.

Sherlock lets him go with a gasp. John looks down at him, at his black eyes and his swollen, slack lips. John can't tear his eyes away, and he involuntarily raises his hips, seeking contact. Sherlock closes his eyes and takes him again, sucking as if he can't function if he doesn't.

It takes almost nothing. Sherlock moves messily over him, and John watches his lips stretch and his cheek bulge, he watches Sherlock's forehead crease with arousal and feels him moaning. The orgasm seems to last for minutes, and all the while Sherlock keeps him firmly in his mouth.

John sinks back down into the mattress, trying to grasp the enormity of what just happened. He was wrong. Not the best sex in ages, but the best sex of his entire goddamn life. Which shouldn't even be possible as it must have been the first sex of Sherlock's. But it isn't about skill or anything as trite as that, is it. It's about the way Sherlock gave himself up for John completely. It's about John finally having Sherlock close without dodging the imaginary limits of what's fine and what isn't.

“Sherlock”, he whispers, gently moving his fingers through Sherlock's hair.

Sherlock hums into his hip, not moving.

“Come up here.”

Sherlock hesitates briefly before lifting his head. He looks guarded and vulnerable, eyeing John when he moves back up on the bed.

John places a tender hand on Sherlock's neck to kiss him. He allows himself to close his mouth slowly around Sherlock's lips, tasting him carefully. Sherlock keeps a distance between their bodies, but John puts his other hand on his lower back and pulls him in.

Still doesn't feel strange. It actually feels amazing. The hardness between them makes John feel strangely proud, makes him want to press in closer and see how much control he can make Sherlock lose. He strokes Sherlock's waist while he works up courage to nudge his fingers under the waistband. He succeeds on the second try, prompting a heavy sigh from Sherlock.

John takes a gentle hold of Sherlock's hipbone, where the skin is smooth and stretched thin. He strokes his thumb back and forth over the ridge, dipping it deeply enough into the crease that his meaning will be clear.

“Do you want me to…?”

Sherlock keeps his eyes firmly closed. “It is really not necessary”, he says, endearingly businesslike.

John keeps moving his thumb, not willing to move away from the heat increasing lower down Sherlock's pants.

“But can I?” he asks.

Sherlock gasps, nodding jerkily, and John moves his hand. A sudden cry from Sherlock surprises them both. John watches his face closely when his eyes open, staring at John in pure shock. A thrill goes through John as a dozen ideas of how else he might be able to shock Sherlock flood his mind.

“John, that feels good”, he informs John in a breathy voice. Then his eyes close again and his mouth falls open when John tightens his hand.

John stares at his face, seeing every tiny movement of his hand play out across Sherlock's features. He takes it easy, getting used to the feel of Sherlock in his hand. It sure is unfamiliar, but not in a bad way. Sherlock gapes in pleasure before him, and it makes John want to do everything for him.

“God, you're amazing”, he breathes, moving his hand with more certainty.

Sherlock squirms, already beyond words – until he manages a choked: “John.

John's gaze pours over his flushed cheeks, his perfectly round mouth with the impossibly full lips, his messy hair. The look of wrecked pleasure has never been more gorgeous than on Sherlock. John's own breath catches along with his – Christ, the man is made for sex.

“You're beautiful”, John says, shocked that he's never put it into words before, when it's the only thing he can ever think when he sees Sherlock's face. “You're beautiful.”

“John”, Sherlock sobs, and John speeds up his movements. Sherlock is shaking, his head falling back to make his mouth open even more, fighting for breath in short gasps. He pushes his hips up to meet John's hand, his spine arching. “John, yes-”

Yes”, John says, hardly able to speak in the face of Sherlock's ecstasy, “you're so beautiful-”

The force of Sherlock's orgasm lifts him off the bed, a series of screams tumbling out of his gaping mouth.

When Sherlock's muscles finally give out, he immediately folds himself on his side, curling up and nudging his head under John's chin.

John strokes his back soothingly, grazing his fingers across the miles of sweaty skin. He could stay here forever, with this tiny ball of tousled and sated genius detective.

But then Sherlock abruptly moves, sitting up and avoiding John's gaze. He slips away between John's fingers when he rises off the bed.

“Where are you going?” John asks, but Sherlock doesn't turn when he walks into the bathroom and shuts the door.

John sighs, glancing down at himself. There's a little wet spot on his side, and he drags his finger through it. It makes him feel oddly possessive to have a part of Sherlock painted on him, and he almost doesn't want to wipe it away. But his pants are a tangled mess by his knees anyway, he might as well use them as a towel. He pulls at the duvet, which is half off the foot of the bed at this point, and sits up against the headboard.

He waits for the panic.

He just had sex with a man. He isn't drunk. He wasn't forced. He watched Sherlock sucking him, he touched Sherlock until he spurted semen in John's hand.

Sherlock's sensuality is the most intense thing John has ever witnessed and John is bisexual.

Actually, he's seen pretty boys through his whole life. That blonde who always had his clarinet lessons after John's. The James Bond crushes. Brian, oh, Brian, how much John's been turning that one over in his head. And then there's Afghanistan or Iraq.

John can't remember a time when he didn't feel drawn to Sherlock like a magnet. He thinks about their very first night, giggling together at a Chinese restaurant at one a.m. Even then, there was nothing he didn't want to know about this man. His eyes have been following Sherlock's every move since then, his head is filled to the brim with Sherlock; his eyes, his mouth, his hair, his grace, his open collar, his crisp shirts, his black trousers.

He decides he doesn't have time for the panic. He'll have to deal with his father, and deal with Harry, and with himself – but right now he doesn't have time. Because while it's a pretty big adjustment to realise he is bisexual after all, it's a much bigger adjustment to realise he's just had sex with the most gorgeous human being he has ever seen. He stares into thin air and thinks that this is what people mean when they say mind-blowing.

He didn't know.

It's a long time before the bathroom door opens. Sherlock walks in wearing his red silk robe – the one that makes him look sultry and inviting, and that is not a new observation. It looks even better when matching his still-pink cheeks.

Sherlock stops cautiously before reaching the bed. “How are you?” he asks awkwardly.

John raises his eyebrows. “How am I? I'm… God, Sherlock, you know something?”

“Probably.”

John ignores his arrogant tone. “I think I've wanted this since day one.”

“I know.” He almost looks bored.

“You know?”

“Of course”, Sherlock says with his blunt deduction voice. “You flirted shamelessly with me at the Chinese restaurant after our first case.”

I did not, John almost says, but holds it in to consider it . He soon feels a bit stupid for how very, almost embarrassingly flirty he was that night, and for not seeing it just because it was a man sitting across from him.

“In that case, you did too.”

“I don't believe that I ever denied it.”

“Then why didn't you-”

“I was unaware of the significance at that time.”

“When did you know?”

Sherlock walks up to the bed, sitting down facing him.

“When there was a female person in the way.” His voice doesn't sound quite as impassive as it aims to be.

And if John thought his world couldn't tilt any more than it already has today, he was wrong.

Tobi.

Nothing he ever had with her is comparable to what he has with his best friend. Not the companionship, not the looks, not the sex. He stares dumbly at Sherlock. Did he even have feelings for her? In that case, what he has for Sherlock is something so profound he has no words for it. “ Oh. My God.

Sherlock rolls his eyes, but John can only stare at him with slack jaw, because it's not just Tobi. It's every girlfriend or crush or one-night-stand he's ever had. None of them even come close.

“Sherlock, I'm in love with you”, he blurts, before he even has time to think about the potential consequences of saying this to his best friend. “Sorry, didn't mean it to slip out like that, I just… what I felt for her, what I've felt for… it's not… this is… oh my God.”

“John, you are certainly not the most perceptive of people”, Sherlock says with arrogant disdain, so familiar that John wants to… wants to wrap him up in his arms and kiss him. Oh, dear God.

“Oh, so you knew this as well, did you?”

“Of course – obvious, really, clear for anyone to discern. As ever, John, you see, but you do not observe. I suppose I'll even need to tell you that I'm in love with you too.”

The new words fit in Sherlock's mouth as if it's the most obvious thing. His eyes don't match his scornful tone; they are golden and shining, young and hopeful.

John can't believe such a beautiful pair of eyes is looking at him like that.

Did Sherlock Holmes just fucking say that?

He has to try a few times before his voice carries. “You might even need to tell me twice.”

Sherlock holds his gaze without blinking. “I love you.”

John's heart pounds heavily in his chest. Sherlock doesn't shy away from the electric field of their eye contact, and it gives John courage to say the word, new and terrifying on his tongue.

“Kiss me.”

He closes his eyes when Sherlock leans in, nudging the tip of John's nose like so many times before. The anticipation stops the breath in John's throat. Sherlock tilts his head and slowly, gently fits his mouth onto John's. The thrill of it holds John's whole body frozen in place, and he wants, he wants so much; he wants to open his mouth and consume this man, he wants to hold him as carefully as he possibly can and touch him more lightly than either of them can stand.

John has lost count of how many people he has kissed, but he has never, he now knows, kissed someone he loves. “Oh my God”, he breathes.

“Not quite.”

“Oh, shut up, you git.” The response comes automatically, breaking free from a tight space in John's chest. He waits for Sherlock to open his eyes, then lifts his hand to Sherlock's cheek. “Idiot”, he smiles, letting all his love fill the word, just as it always has.

Sherlock laughs, kissing John's palm. “Breakfast?”

John feels his face glowing. “Starving.”

***

John watches Sherlock from across the room.

His delicate hands move over his microscope. His curls are boyishly untamed. His smooth cheekbone begs to be kissed.

John walks over and places a hand on the hot skin of his neck. Sherlock's head falls back the way it always does, the way it always has done. John leans down and gives him a kiss, and everything slots into place like the last piece of a thousand-piece puzzle, finally bringing the picture into harmony. It's the ultimate culmination of everything he's always been aching for – and even then, it's not enough.

John straddles Sherlock on the kitchen chair, snogging him like there's no tomorrow.

It takes only a few hours until he's back, watching across the room, wanting.

When Sherlock is too absorbed by his experiment, John tries to distract himself by cleaning the flat. But under their bed, he finds something that makes his chest even tighter with longing.

“Sherlock.”

Sherlock grunts.

“What's this?” Sherlock ignores him. “Hey, look up.”

“Mmmmh.”

John supposes that is the best he's going to get. “I was hoovering-”

“Why would you do that?” Sherlock interrupts, still not looking up from his microscope.

“Because I thought probably nobody had hoovered under your bed since we moved in. And then, um. I found this.” He turns the mug over in his hands and Sherlock finally raises his head.

“Oh.”

“What is this?”

“Really, John-”, Sherlock starts, deflective scowl already in place, and John is quick to interrupt.

“No, I know what it is, just… you did this?”

It must have been almost a year since Sherlock broke John's RAMC mug during a mad experiment. John had been furious and Sherlock had scoffed at him for getting so upset about it. And now, hidden far under their bed, he finds it again; the small shards glued together.

“It was your favourite”, Sherlock says. “I don't like it when you're sad.”

“This must have taken you ages”, John says, running his fingers over the cracks.

“Mm, not ages, no”, Sherlock mutters, still defensive.

“Why didn't you show me?”

“It is unusable. The glue is toxic. Forgot to take that into consideration.”

John clutches the mug in both hands, staring at Sherlock in awe at everything he has hidden under that abrasive exterior. How had he ever missed it? “This is just the sweetest thing.”

“Well. Consider it the declaration for the day.”

John smiles. So this is another one of those things, the things that Sherlock did long before they were a couple. Like learning the solar system, like composing music for him. Since they got together, he has let John see, frustrated that the words I love you don't seem to be enough to express himself.

John is still taken aback by things like this. Imagining Sherlock awake for hours at the kitchen table, fitting together pieces of ceramic, makes him feel treasured. And like Sherlock, John is daily at a loss for how he will ever be able to express it.

Today, he settles for saying it with another kiss.

***

There is a wrapped box on the kitchen table.

“What's this?” John asks.

“Surely you understand that if you open it, you will not have to ask me that question, John.”

“Yeah, yeah, Mister Has-To-Be-Rude-In-Order-To-Be-Nice.”

“This is not niceness”, Sherlock scoffs. “This is necessity.”

When John opens it, he knows what Sherlock means. John is still using Harry's old phone, and after dropping it on the asphalt outside the clinic today, the display is cracked just where the first line of the texts he writes are showing. He does need a new phone – but this one seems a bit expensive.

“You didn't have to”, John says, and Sherlock, naturally, rolls his eyes.

“Obviously. I bought it for Christmas. Then I recognised that, well. It would have been something of a give-away.”

“Ha, well, I certainly would have been surprised, but you know. I've never been able to understand what goes on in your mind. Probably wouldn't have thought expensive phones were your declaration of eternal love.”

“Turn it over.”

John does, and then freezes. There's an engraving on the back of the phone, looking just like the one for Harry.

 

John Watson

Here, use mine.

 

The image of a phone passing from one set of hands to another, gets lodged in his airways somehow. If he breathes it'll become tears in his eyes.

“I would have signed if off with the kisses too”, Sherlock says, “but I didn't… know.”

“I can't believe you're this much of a romantic. I love you”, John blurts.

Sherlock gets all shy and angry at this, and John could weep at the sheer joy he feels that this man exists .

It isn't until later that he thinks about what Sherlock let slip.

There hasn't seemed to be much point in talking about the time before they got together. John feels sheepish enough as it is, being so stubborn about embracing his bisexuality. The reasons for that is something he doesn't enjoy dwelling on, and the important thing is that he is where he's supposed to be now. Moving on is the best thing to do, surely.

But the Christmas present that was never given, makes him pause. Something happened right before Christmas that made Sherlock regret buying John the phone, because it was something of a give-away. That's when he realised his feelings for John; when there was a female person in the way.

John remembers Christmas Day; Sherlock getting a gift from him, unable to give him something in return for fear of revealing his feelings. Probably knowing that John would think it meant he didn't care, and no doubt seeing the scarf from Tobi around John's neck later. He had been in such a bad mood that day.

Suddenly John feels like the biggest arsehole in all of London.

He was so focused on saving himself, grabbing for the first available female to prove he didn't want the bloody love of his life. So scared, so confused, so busy not allowing himself to think beyond his orgasms that he didn't notice Sherlock was hurting. He wasn't even in love with her, stayed just to prove a point that no one except him cared about. He isn't sure even his upbringing by a homophobic father justifies the way his best friend's heartbreak slipped his mind.

John takes a long walk, guilt and shame knotting his guts. When he gets home, Sherlock is playing his violin in the living room. He is a relief of black and white in the backlight of the window; his black suit matches his perfect curls, and the skin of his neck is almost as white as the shirt collar. The notes move with his body, flowing down his waving back, jumping under his quick fingers, soaring from his steady bow.

John stops in the doorway, not wanting to interrupt him. Sherlock feels his presence, and without turning he changes the music into one of his John compositions. John swallows, for a moment unable to look at him.

Sherlock lingers on the final note, holding the bow in the air for a moment, keeping the music in the air even after it has silenced. Then he lowers the instrument, and John clears his throat.

“Sherlock. I need to talk to you.”

Sherlock spins around at his tone, eyes narrowing when they rake over John's body.

“You don't need to deduce it, I'll tell you as soon as we sit.”

“Where's the fun in that?” Sherlock says lightly, but there's a tension in his shoulders when he puts the violin in its case.

John sits down in his chair, waiting until Sherlock sits opposite him before he leans forward on his knees, looking up into Sherlock's face.

“I need to tell you how sorry I am, Sherlock.”

Sherlock frowns. “Whatever for?”

“I'm sorry about Tobi.”

“Oh.” The frown flows off Sherlock's face, leaving sadness. “It's fine”, he says softly.

“No, it's not. You don't need to say that, okay?”

Sherlock looks at him, then nods. “Very well”, he says solemnly.

“I didn't love her”, John says, meeting Sherlock's eyes. “And I regret that I was ever with her. It was just a substitute for you.” Sherlock looks down at his hands. “I realise that doesn't change what happened, though”, John continues. “I did leave you to be with her.”

“You hadn't promised me anything, John”, Sherlock says, lifting his head.

“No, I hadn't”, John agrees. “But I didn't see that you were hurting, and that makes me a pretty crap friend.” Sherlock smiles faintly. “And I took you for granted. I didn't think you cared, so I didn't realise how horrible you would feel when I just swept in and out of your bed like that.”

“Well. I didn't exactly tell you I cared, but-”

“-but I should've known. I know you, and I'm your best friend. I'll never take you for granted again – do you even realise how… rare you are? How lucky I am to have you even as a friend?”

Sherlock bites his lip and doesn't answer.

“Sherlock, I can't even tell you how much I missed you.”

“I know you did. Unlike you, I do observe”, Sherlock says softly.

“Yeah, I'm sorry I'm so late to catch on.” John stubbornly holds Sherlock's gaze even when the shame coldly squeezes his guts. “I know you were hurting. I wish I'd been brave enough to see that and to be with you. I put my own fears before us and that… well, I'll never abandon you again, Sherlock. I was just so scared.”

“I know that, John.”

“Yeah. But I need you to know that I know it, too.” John shakes his head. “I can't believe I never thought about what it was like for you with her, why you did that prawn thing…”

“I did that for you”, Sherlock interjects.

“Yeah, but you also hated her.”

Sherlock tips his head. “Mm.”

“I'm so sorry.”

“Yes.”

John reaches his hand out to take hold of Sherlock's across the space between their chairs. “Do you know why I didn't realise I was in love with you?”

“Because I am a man”, Sherlock answers, lacing their fingers together.

“Yeah, but also because I didn't recognise the feeling, because I've never felt it before. I've never felt that… connection to someone. I had no idea that's what love was. I had no idea.”

Sherlock looks silently at their hands. “Neither had I”, he whispers and looks up at John once again. John watches him, his best friend, his beautiful lover, the funniest, sweetest, most brilliant, most blazing man.

“You are everything to me, Sherlock.” John chokes on the end of the sentence, fighting to keep at least his gaze steady even when it's wet.

Sherlock looks back at him calmly, and though the flat is getting dark, the sun seems to be shining on his features.

***

“Sherlock. Er. I have something- something of yours. You might want it back.”

“A pillow case. Really.”

“Thought you might have been missing it.”

“Why would I have missed it?”

“Well, because it's yours.”

“Technically, we share all our pillow cases.”

“We didn't always, though.”

“Oh John, do get to the point.”

“Okay, this is not as silly as it'll sound. Before I first started sleeping in your bed, I was changing my bed sheets one day and accidentally picked this up. I went to get one of my own, but I forgot to return yours, and it smelled like you which was… nice, so it kind of… stayed in my bed.”

“… Stayed in your bed? For how long?”

“Well, eventually it slipped between the mattress and the wall, and I forgot it was there. But, well, during the months when we slept apart, it felt nice to have a piece of you with me in bed.”

“Then you didn't forget it.”

“Well. No. I… I only pretended to, I suppose.”

“And did you pretend to forget to return it in the first place?”

“Hrm, yeah. Like I said. It smelled nice.”

“Then it is as silly as it sounds.”

“Yes, alright? Yes. You did all those things for me before we got together. I just wanted to show you I did it too.”

“This is even more stupid than the things I did.”

“No, it's not.”

“A meaningless piece of fabric-”

“Hey, you kept that broken cup under your bed.”

“Did you come here to insult me or tell me you love me?”

“Both.”

“All right. Do go on.”

“I've been in love with you forever, you beautiful bastard.”

“How long must I wait for you to kiss me, then?”

“As long as it takes me to call you an idiot.”

John leans in for a kiss, sweet and simple. Staying with the tip of his nose against Sherlock's, eyes still closed, he adds:

“Never longer, though.”