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Sensory Science

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“And what do you do to calm yourself when you wake up?  Have you be doing the breathing and grounding exercises I gave you?”

John sniffs, sits as still as he possibly can.  Doesn’t feel like talking about it.  Doesn’t feel like talking about it at all. 

Last night had been bad.  Really bad.  Nothing had worked but a glass of whiskey, and the solid, cold comfort of his service revolver tucked away in his desk drawer.  He doesn’t tell the woman across from him this, of course.  Ella is a nice enough person, a competent therapist, as far as therapists go he supposes.  But this is bigger than her, bigger than John, and there’s no use fighting so hard against the inevitable.

“John, did you hear me?”

“Sorry.  What?”

“I asked if the exercises have been working for you?”

“Yeah, they’re fine.”

Ella’s brow furrows for just a moment.  She knows he’s lying to her.  He doesn’t care. 

He’s tired.  He hasn’t slept well in months.


 

“John?”

The day is fine.  Remarkably warm for January.  Unseasonably warm.  The perfect day for a stroll in the park, and given the number of people milling about on the grass and eating their lunch on the benches around him, it seems like a good portion of London agrees.

John just wants to get back to his flat.

“John Watson!”

And suddenly he realises that the voice is outside rather than inside his head, and is calling his name, here in the middle of London where he knows no one.

When he turns, the man behind him does look mildly familiar.

“It’s Stamford.  Mike Stamford.”

Mike?  Mike Stamford? 

“We were at Bart’s together.”

Oh!  Mike Stamford.  Med school.  Old mate.

“Ah Mike.  Yeah.  Hi.”

The man grins affably.  “I know.  I got fat.”

“No.  It’s…”

“Heard you were abroad somewhere, getting shot at.  What happened?”

John doesn’t have the energy for any of this today.

“I got shot.”

He sees Mike’s face do that strange thing that everyone’s seems to do these days.  A twist of discomfort, sympathy, pity mostly.  John feels dizzy.  He feels sick.  He just wants to go back to the flat and why should that be so bloody hard?!  He shipped home to London because no one knew him here.  He could get lost, disappear.  He wants to, so why…?

Mike seems to recover.  “Well let’s get caught up then, Mate.”  He’s grinning.  “Come on, there’s a place just over there that has decent coffee, and let me tell you that’s getting harder and harder to find in London these days.”

John lets himself be swept along.  The cafe is mad with patrons, and he must be tired, because he’s fairly sure that Mike notices the way he shifts listlessly, and winces at the ever present hum of voices, the clatter of change, the roar of the three milk steamers running at once.  A woman across from him drops her coffee, causing it to spray over everyone in the vicinity.  They all let out a shout at once, and John flinches.  He fucking flinches.

“I say we go back to the park,” Mike smiles.  “Don’t want to waste a day like this, yeah?”

“Yeah.  No.  Right.”

“Cream, no sugar, right?”

John is amazed he remembers.  “Yeah.”

“Won’t be a minute, if you want to get some air.”

John is embarrassed, but grateful. 

When they get back to the park some of the people have disappeared.  It was lunch hour maybe?  John doesn’t remember what time it is, and doesn’t feel like bothering to pull out his phone.  The paper cup Mike hands him as they sit down warms his hands.  He takes a deep breath, lets it out slow, and looks everywhere but at the man beside him.

“You still at Bart’s then?”

“Yeah, yeah.  Teaching now.  Makes you feel old some days, you know.  All those bright, young things.  All that energy, naiveté, blind enthusiasm.”

John just nods.

“What about you.  You just staying in town until you get yourself sorted?”

“Something like that.  There’s required transition when you get back.  I’ll need to find something in a month or two, I suppose, but…”

“But you’re well sorted at the moment?”

John just shrugs.

There’s a pause.  Birds are singing.  Somewhere a short distance off he can hear children playing (shouldn’t they be in school?).

“Bit of a challenge, that, after the injury and all?”

John’s head snaps around and he doesn’t even attempt to hide the glower.

Mike holds up his hands in surrender, still smiling, always smiling.  That’s just Mike’s way and John feels a twinge of guilt.

“Listen, I was in a car accident a year ago, bloody awful mess, and of course nothing like what you’ve probably seen, but I got—unsettled for awhile, you know.”

John just stares.

“Couldn’t sleep.  Didn’t even want to see a car for awhile.”

“Listen, Mike.  I appreciate it, but I don’t really need…”

Mike pulls a pen and small pad of paper out of his breast pocket, and scribbles something on it.  Hands it over. 

John stares down at it.  It contains two words, pressed together into one.

SensoryScience

When he looks back up for an explanation, Mike grins.  “It’s a YouTube channel.  Bloke who runs it is a friend of mine.  Bit odd, but hell of a relaxing voice, and a good grasp on brain science.” 

John must be looking confused, because Mike drops his eyes to his lap, and huffs out a small laugh before looking up again.  “Listen, I know it sounds mad, but he does these videos where he just talks, or taps, or brushes the mic, and it calms you down.  Give it a try is all I’m saying.  It did wonders for me.”

“Right.”  John looks down at the paper, and then tucks it in his pocket before taking a sip of what turns out to be truly awful coffee.  Mike never did have good taste in food.


 

 “Badih, we’re here to help.  Put the gun down.” 

But the boy is terrified, that’s clear as day, standing over the bloodied body of his sister, eyes wide, hands trembling with adrenaline, trousers soaked with urine John isn’t even sure he’s aware of.  He doesn’t budge.

John lifts a hand slowly.  “Badih, you know me.  It’s Dr. Watson from Camp Bastion—the field hospital.  This is over now.  We’re here to help.  Just put it down and we’ll help Armineh.”

“I’ll kill you!”

“Okay.  Okay.”  John holds up his hands, takes a step back.  He nods to the boy’s sister bleeding all over the tile floor beneath their feet.  “She needs help.  Let me help.”

“NO SOLDIERS!”

“Captain…”  Wright warns just over his left shoulder.

“Keep your guns down.  Just, everyone calm down.”

“He’s gonna snap?” Cub whispers in English.  “Look at the kid.  He’s gonna snap.”

“Captain!”  Wright warns again in a harsh whisper.

But John can’t.  He can’t, because he recognises the look in the boys eyes, and he’s been there, right there, and he won’t, he just can’t…

Outside a lorry backfires, and that’s when it all goes wrong.

He sees the moment the panic overrides conscious thought.  It’s a strange snap and then a widening in Badih’s eyes, like he knows he’s going to do it, and he doesn’t mean to, but it’s somehow all tumbling out of control, and he’s just along for the ride, and John wonders if that is what he looked like the night he beat the shite out of his Dad and left forever, and then there’s nothing but shooting, and shouting, and pain, and he stares up at the ceiling of the small house, and notices a spider building a web in one corner, and notices the sticky warmth of Armineh’s blood, of Badih’s blood, his own blood washing over him, drowning him, and he can’t save them, he can never save them, he can’t even save himself.

He can’t breathe.

He can’t BREATHE!

The air in the cramped studio flat is stale but cool.  He sucks in great heaving gulps, sobs into the darkness, and still he can feel the warm, wet of the blood pooling beneath him, sucking him down.

It’s takes him a moment to realise he’s pissed the bed—again.

“Shit.”

He strips the bed, showers, pours himself a couple of fingers of whiskey, and sits down at his desk, cracks his laptop.  Ella wants him to journal, or blog.  He can hardly see the point.  He opens an internet browser, and navigates to his blog.  There are only a few entries.  He looks at the titles:

  • Nothing
  • Pointless
  • How?
  • Happy Now?
  • Drinks
  • Serial Suicides

John Watson in a nutshell.

With a wry smile, he opens a Word document.  Maybe he’ll start work on a new draft.

The words, predictably won’t come.  What is there to say.  Nothing happens to him.  Nothing ever happens.  He should be glad, grateful for the peace and quiet, but he isn’t.  The silence of the flat at night gets inside him, crawls under his skin like a swarm of cockroaches, itching, itching, until he has to do something, anything, to chase it away. 

Sometimes he listens to music, sometimes he just turns on a fan.  He always drinks.  Sometimes he takes his service revolver apart, cleans it, counts the bullets he has left, puts it back together, and then just holds it for awhile.

It’s heavy, and cold, and comforting.  It feels like safety, certainty.  It feels the way he imagines home is supposed to feel.  It’s a promise and a guarantee.

He pulls the drawer of his desk open and stares down at it, beside it is the scrap of paper Mike had given him the day before.  He’d got a call from the bank the second he got home, had tossed it in and then predictably forgot all about it.

SensoryScience

He snorts.  Science.  Yeah.  Right.  From what Mike said it sounded more like some New Age nonsense.  But then, he’d never really seen Mike as the sort of bloke who was down for that sort of thing.  People change, of course, but…

He takes a sip of whiskey from the glass at his side, and opens up YouTube, does a search.  A link to SensoryScience’s bio comes up (just under 5000 subscribers), as does a string of video thumbnails that just appear to be a shot of a man’s hands manipulating various objects.  John squints.  Nice hands.  Big, fine-boned.  A tall bloke, probably.  A musician or an artist maybe?  His nails seem well manicured, buffed to a dull shine.  So, a bit posh too.

John shifts in his seat, takes another sip of whiskey.  He clicks on the Bio, and then on the About page.  

This is Sensory Science.  It is an ASMR channel.  For those who are too ignorant to know what that is, ASMR stands for: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.  Don’t bore me.  Google it.

John snorts and grins.  Bit of an arrogant sod.

John does google it.

Wikipedia proves only marginally helpful: 

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is an experience characterized by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. It has been compared with auditory-tactile synesthesia and may overlap with frisson.

ASMR signifies the subjective experience of "low-grade euphoria" characterized by "a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin". It is most commonly triggered by specific auditory or visual stimuli, and less commonly by intentional attention control.

Other avenues provide less clinical descriptions.  There are blogs about it, apparently.  Lot’s of people referring it to as a ‘head orgasm’, ‘brain orgasm’, ‘sensory euphoria’.

John reaches for his glass, lifts it to his lips and realises it’s empty.  He gets up to refill it, and tries to fight down the irrational anger he can feel building. 

Just what was Mike on about recommending this channel.  Poor fucked up cripple, not getting any. I’ll hook him up with some pseudo-porn for weirdos. How is anything like this any of his goddamned business?!

He wonders if people can tell just by looking at him, if he puts off some sort of vibe that telegraphs ‘broken’.  He refills his glass with another finger, downs it, and then refills it with two more before returning to his desk.  The whiskey is kicking in now, numbing him.  That’s good.  He’ll sleep again in awhile. 

He feels some of the anger dissipate, and navigates back to SensoryScience’s about page.   

 

If you are here for pornography, you won’t find it.  This channel is strictly scientific.

Enjoy.

John laughs into his glass.  Okay.  Well, that answers that, I guess.  He is supposedly a friend of Mike’s, so maybe…

He clicks on the Videos tab.  There are quite a lot.  None have proper titles, just dates, and a series of numbers afterwards, that John can’t make head nor tails of.  The most recent one was posted a week prior, and from the thumbnail it looks like it’s just SensoryScience stroking a pillow.

Weird.  But, okay.  He’ll try anything once.

He clicks.  There’s a black screen, and then white block lettering appears.

Headphones are a requirement.  Put them on now.

Okay, then.  John pauses the video gets up and snatches up his headphones off the bedside table.  He’s just about to sit back down when he decides he might as well get back into bed.  He feels a bit tipsy (okay, maybe a lot tipsy), and it’s getting bloody cold in the flat too.  Building’s boiler’s probably out again. 

He gets himself settled, puts on his headphones and unpauses the video.

The black screen dissolves into a shot of a man’s torso and hands.  He’s lean, and fit, and wearing a plum coloured shirt so tight John feels sympathy for the straining buttons.  There’s a table in front of him, with a black tablecloth and a fur-covered pillow on it, and behind him some velvet brocade wallpaper, and what looks like a leather sofa.  John licks his lips and settles back against the pillow he’s propped up behind his back.

“Welcome to Sensory Science”

Jesus.  Mike hadn’t been kidding about the voice.  It’s deep, and warm, the sort of voice that seems to envelop you like a blanket, make your blood sing and drain all the anxiety from your veins with a single syllable.

“Today’s experiment is tactile-auditory in nature.  So watch as well as listen.” 

The man is speaking in a low murmur, not quite a whisper, but not average talking volume, either. It’s intimate, weirdly formal, a little robotic at times, like maybe he isn’t quite a confident as he seems, but soft and…  John takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly, feels every last drop of tension let go.

“As always, feedback regarding the sensations you experience is essential to my work.  So do use the survey form in the section below, and leave your answers in the comment section, and don’t forget to subscribe if this is your first time here.  I require a reliable and steady sample.”

John can feel his eyes starting to droop.  Christ it’s nice, and the pillow stroking, or whatever this  tactile-auditory experiment is, hasn’t even started yet.  It’s mad.  It’s mad that something so simple can…

“Alright then.  Let us begin.”

God yes!  Too right.

John switches the video to full screen, and watches, rapt, as those hands start to stroke the pillow softly.  He must be using some sort of special microphone, because John can hear every small nuance and whisper, and as he watches those long, thin fingers disappear into the depths of the thick fur again and again, he definitely starts to feel something.  It reminds him a bit of sexual arousal, but not quite.  This is softer, slower building, and it just sort of sits and simmers, low and tingling over every inch of his body.  It's soft, and sweet, and heady.

Jesus Christ, where has this been his whole life?!

After what seems like ages, during which he almost falls asleep twice, he hovers over the screen until the seekbar appears.  The video is an hour long.  An hour of a bloke just stroking a fur pillow, and John has only been listening for 15 minutes.  He sighs with relief.

He's asleep in minutes.

Chapter Text

John opens his eyes.  The room is light.  He can hear the bustle of street sounds below.  His laptop, his dead laptop, is laying on the bed beside him.

He sniffs, and looks over at the sunshine vainly trying to make its way between the crowded assortment of flats across the street to shine in his window.  He never gets much sun here, but when he does it’s always in the late morning.

He fumbles about on his nightstand for his phone and stares at the time. 

11:00.

Eleven?!

He sits up and scratches at the back of his neck, yawns.  He hasn’t slept this long since before he joined up.

Getting to his feet he rolls his shoulder, stretches out his thigh which gives its usual morning welcome, a surge of pain so sharp it almost takes his breath away, and then snatches up his laptop, plugs it back in at the desk and shuffles into the the sad excuse for a kitchen to make a cup of coffee.

Once he settles back in, he has enough charge to at least start it up.  It seems that SensoryScience’s channel had kept playing until the battery died, and it picks up at a different video.  Mr. Posh is tapping his perfectly buffed nails against a bamboo cutting board, and wearing a dark blue shirt this time.  Three buttons undone, revealing just a tease of chest and hint of long pale throat, before the rest disappears out of frame.

John takes a sip of coffee and lifts a single earbud to one ear. No talking, just tapping.

He puts the other earbud in the other ear, and scrolls through SensoryScience’s entire library.  Hardly any talking, sometimes a bit of talking at the very beginning, but the rest are just sounds.  Disappointing.  With a voice like that he should really be utilising it more.

John scans all the way back to the very first video, an introduction of sorts.  There’s more talking there.  He listens as the bloke explains how his research is oh so very important, how he plans to use it in his work (whatever that is—he never says), and then prattles on for ages on the scientific theories that may support ASMR, and why further research is so necessary, and John mostly doesn’t listen, just sort of zones out, buoyed up on wave after wave of sonorous bliss.

Sadly, the video is over all too soon. 

The end contains yet another request to fill out a survey, but this one is different from the one beneath the other videos, more of an introductory survey.

John reads the questions and huffs a laugh into his coffee cup as he raises it to his lips for another sip.

“Okay, then.  Let’s give this a go.”

He copies the survey questions, pastes them into a comment, and starts to answer. 

  1. Age? 38 (bit of an invasive question though, don’t you think?)
  2. Gender?  Male
  3. Sexuality? None of your bloody business.
  4. Do you experience synesthesia?  If so, please describe: Nope.
  5. How did you hear about this channel?  Mike Stamford recommended it to me.  Thanks, Mike.
  6. What do you hope to glean from your time here?  Umm, hoping it helps me sleep, I guess.  It’s all pretty new to me.
  7. What, if any, is your former experience with ASMR?  Never heard of it until yesterday.
  8. Do you have any physical or mental health conditions you would be willing to report?  What is it with you and invasive questions?
  9. If known, please share your primary triggers:  I guess you mean the things that make you tingle?  I liked the fur pillow video.  Not sure about the tapping.  I think I like a tactile element.  But, you really should do more talking videos.  You have an amazing voice.

John stares and wonders if he should delete that last bit.  It seems a bit personal, maybe even flirtatious?  Don’t want to come across as a creeper.  But then it is a channel about sound, and his voice is a relevant part of that, so maybe it would just be perceived as helpful feedback?

John sighs and wipes a hand across his face.  He needs to shave.  He needs to get dressed.  He needs to go to the shops and get food. 

He looks down at the last question:

    10. Would you be willing to conduct a one-on-one interview about your experiences?  Maybe.  But moving a bit fast, don’t you think? We’ve only just met. ;)

He clicks the Comment button to post his answers, and then types ASMR into the search bar, and falls down a rabbit hole of the bizarre, fascinating, and at times disturbingly arousing, for hours. 

The majority of ASMR artists seem to be women, usually extremely young women, which just makes him feel like a letch.  He does find a few channels run by women more his age, a couple rather appealing, nice hair, soft voice, and subscribes.

The male pickings are fewer, shockingly fewer.  There are a couple that are alright, but they don’t capture and hold him like his first foray into SensoryScience did.  He heads back there, in the end, a safe harbour of almost clinical sensory experiments in the midst of a churning sea of mermaid role plays, borderline erotic personal attention videos, and something really weird with the tentacles of a dead squid that he would rather never have to see again.

The notification bell at the top of the page is showing red, so he clicks on it, and is surprised to see a reply to his comment from SensoryScience.  

CptJWatson, thank you for your input.  I can assure you that no offence was intended by the questions in my survey.  The information is necessary data for my experiments.  Furthermore, I can assure you that I am quite capable of choosing the appropriate trigger content for my experiments.  No input from you required.

John cocks a brow, and replies: 

SensoryScience, noted.  Suit yourself.

He frowns at the screen.  Not very friendly.  He’d rather not ruin the one thing that’s helped him to sleep this early on.  No more comments.  Just watching.

But first shower, shave, shops.

He manages the shower and the shave, and even brushes his teeth, and then hates that it makes him feel accomplished.  Fucking pathetic, to be honest.

He snatches up his phone, and checks the YouTube app as he’s heading out the door, and stops dead, hand on the doorknob.  There’s another reply from SensoryScience, as well as a friend request.

John reads the comment first.  

I don’t take requests.

John rolls his eyes, and replies back. 

Like I said, suit yourself.

He accepts the friend request, and heads out the door.

The bus is late, and the weather has turned colder.  He should have wrapped up warmer, but it can’t be helped.  His leg throbs in the colder weather, and he hisses a little as he shifts to one side, leaning on the cane he always uses when he goes out.  The old lady sitting behind him in the bus shelter clucks her tongue.  “Would you like to sit down, Lad?”

“Fine.  Thanks.”

“It’s no trouble.”

“I’m fine.”  John knows he’s being a right arse, but his leg is burning, and the bloody bus still hasn’t turned the corner at the end of the street, and to add to it all, it’s starting to rain.

John’s phone buzzes in his pocket, and he fishes it out.  Another notification.  Private message from SensoryScience.  Well, the bloke definitely is tenacious, he’ll give him that.

He thumbs open the app.

I fail to see the need to incorporate my voice as a trigger.  Explain.

John snorts. 

People usually say something nice in greeting before making demands, but hello.

The bus finally roars around the corner, and after John is settled into his seat, he checks his phone again. 

People are idiots.  You are not people, you are a test subject.  I assumed I could dispense with the pleasantries.  Now explain.  Why should I incorporate my voice as a trigger?

John smiles, and actually catches himself, because it feels so fucking foreign, like his face has to stretch to accommodate it, like something in his chest has to stretch to accommodate the accompanying emotion. 

Test subject? Don’t understand why your voice might be an important element in connecting with your viewers?  Hm…  Connecting the dots here, I think.

John waits a moment, just a moment, before another notification vibrates his phone in his hand. 

You’re mocking me.

John frowns. 

Listen, your voice is nice.  It’s fantastic.  And I just think that for a lot of people the whispering or talking adds a human element, a feeling of connection, or something.  People like that.

The bus slows, more passengers get on.  A women with a screaming infant sits down on the seat beside him and John shifts a little in his seat, sniffs in undisguised pique.  He watches the screen, waiting.  Finally…

Do they?  Why do they?

He grins again, and then glances around himself to make sure no one is looking, watching him, faded and lame, grinning like some sort of loon while he chats with an odd but intriguing stranger. 

Because the human element is nice, I guess.  Comforting maybe.  Like when you were a kid and your mum would read you a story to help you sleep.  Or when you’re just waking up from anaesthesia, all disoriented and frantic, and the nurse whispers sweetly in your ear that you’re safe and okay, or when you’re feeling scattered and lost, and then your commanding officer is there with a firm command and everything is right again.  It’s just nice.

The bus turns the corner, and John reaches up and rings for his stop, watching the screen, waiting… 

I see…  No I don’t.  But it does sounds like a worthy avenue of exploration.  I’ll consider it.

The reply is disappointingly short and concise, but then a second later: 

Are you back at your flat yet?

John blinks at the screen, as he gets off the bus, and hops down onto the sidewalk.  

Who says I’m out. For that matter, who says I live in a flat.  Maybe I’ve got a nice cottage somewhere.  Maybe I live in one of those tacky, horrifying mansions in America.

It’s only seconds more before the reply comes in.

Don’t be ridiculous.  You’re clearly British.  You told me that Mike Stamford referred you to me when you answered my survey, so likely in London, and given your screen name and your description of the calming effects of a commanding officer's authoritative tones, I am assuming you’re military.  As for the flat, if you’re in London, and not just on leave, then it’s likely you’re living off of a military pension until you get resettled, and that would allow for a flat, a very small flat, somewhere outside the city centre.

Was.

What?

Was military.  I’ve been invalided home.

Yes, and now you have insomnia. What is it, PTSD?

John sniffs and stuffs his phone in his pocket while he grabs a trolly and rolls into the dairy aisle of Tesco.  He leaves it there until he reaches the cereal aisle, where he fishes it back out angrily.

None of your bloody business.  Here, why are you so interested in people’s health?

John tosses a box of Special K in his trolly rather more aggressively than necessary and rolls on to the next aisle.

I’ve told you, the data is necessary to my experiments.

John laughs bitterly and shakes his head. 

Oh, right, the experiments you never really elaborate on, for the work that remains a mystery.

John’s made it all the way to the produce aisle by the time the next reply comes in. 

What would you like to hear?

Sorry?

If you could choose anything to see on my channel, what would you choose?

Thought you didn’t take requests?

I don’t.  This is data.  Now, what would you like to see?

John stops and leans on the trolly, really thinks about it. 

Don’t know, really.  I liked the pillow thing.  Sort of like having your hair stroked.  But maybe that, and reading aloud.  Anything, maybe The Hobbit, something your mum might have read to you as a kid.

So the link to positive childhood influences and memories is important, as is both tactile and auditory elements?

I guess.  Listen, I’m at the shops.  Need to check out.  Always getting in rows with the chip and pin machine, you know how it is.  I’ll be back in a few.

The shops aren’t overly busy, and it doesn’t take long. John picks up again as he exits, and juggles his bags to his good arm on the way to the bus stop. 

You still haven’t told me how you knew I’d gone out.

It’s barely a beat before Science replies. 

Your later replies took longer than your initial ones, and contained some spacing issues, indicating that you switched from desktop to mobile.  I assumed that meant you had gone out.

John climbs onto the bus and settles the bags at his feet.

Right.  That’s pretty amazing, you know.  How you can just deduce all that stuff from practically nothing.

That’s not what people usually say.

What do people usually say?

Piss off.

John laughs out loud and then catches himself.  The man across the aisle is staring.

“Sorry.”

He looks back down at the screen with a smile. 

I browsed other ASMR videos.

My deepest condolences.

John laughs again, but manages to remember to stifle himself this time.

It was an adventure.

I can well imagine.

Did you see the one with the squid?

Yeah.  Wtf?!

The mind boggles.

Well, my stop is coming up, so I should let you go for now.

Fine.  Your input, though unnecessary, has been valuable.

Well, ta.  Glad to help.

And that’s it.  No further responses come, but it’s alright, because John is almost home. 

It’s not until he’s juggling the shopping through the front door of his flat that he realises he’s without his cane, and has no idea where he left it.

“Shit.”

Chapter Text

John can barely hobble from bed to desk.  His own bloody fault for losing his cane, (and being a pathetic, idiotic sod, all round) getting distracted, overdoing it.  He’ll check the Lost Property Office in the morning.  Hopefully it will have shown up.  He doesn’t particularly savour the idea of having to explain to the NHS why he needs another.

He was going to cook a little something for his supper, but now it’s dark he doesn’t seem to have the energy.  A bowl of Special K and an apple will have to do, and a cup of tea to warm his bones a bit.

He sits on his bed to eat and stares at his laptop on the desk across the room.

Don’t do it, Watson.  For once in your life use your bloody head and don’t do it…

He bites into the apple, rinses it down with a mouthful of tea, before rubbing a palm down the top of his thigh to work out some of the tension.

Just forget all about it.

He drains the rest of his tea.  It’s hot and it scalds his tongue.  It’s not tea he wants.  He gets up and goes to the kitchenette, sets the mug and cereal bowl in the sink, and pours himself a couple of fingers of whiskey.

He’ll read.  Reading’s good.  Reading gets his mind off things, helps him to sleep—sometimes.  At the very least it will be a distraction.

The book in question is on his desk, beside his laptop.

You know what this is.  All the signs are there.  Don’t do it.  You know what happened last time.

He’ll just check his email.

This proves to be a depressing venture.  At least a dozen emails from his sister Harry, none of which he has any interest in replying to, a bunch of spam, most of them ads for Sildenafil, or something similar, because he’d clicked on that one PornHub ad, that one time, and…  Fuck. 

He clicks the lid shut and slumps back.

Sod it.  Sod it all to hell.

He opens the laptop again and opens YouTube.

Just one video.

He’s pleasantly surprised to see that SensoryScience has posted something new.  Snatching up his laptop, charge cord, and glass of whiskey, he climbs back into bed, puts his headphones on, and clicks the thumbnail.

The same familiar black screen, fading into the message about the headphones, fading to…

For @CptJWatson, in gratitude for his valuable feedback and research assistance.

John clicks the pause button, and stares.  He’s not sure he’s ever had something dedicated to him before.  Odd bloke, this SensoryScience, bit of a cold fish and yet oddly charming all at the same time.

He presses play again.

The scene comes into view.  It’s a different background than usual, a bookcase littered with a variety of dusty oddities, and Science seated in a black, leather chair, a large, leather-bound book resting on his lap.

John pauses again, and tries to take in as many details as possible.  The room (if it is the same room from the other videos) is not what he imagined.  It’s cluttered, and warm, almost eccentric.  There’s an air of the bohemian about it.  And as for the man himself, still no shots of his face.  He never seems to want to show his face.  John momentarily wonders if he’s possibly hideously deformed. If it’s all some sort of Phantom of the Opera scenario.

Don’t be an idiot.

But there is that voice!  And black wool trousers fit to perfection, pulled taught over lean, sinewy thighs, the purple shirt from the fur pillow video, the gaping, straining buttons.   

He switches the view to full screen, and swallows dryly at the book’s title, now clearly visible. 

“The Hobbit”

By: J.R.R. Tolkein.

He clicks play.

“Good-evening.  Today’s video is primarily auditory in nature, but I will be integrating some mild tactile elements as well.  The focus of the tactile aspect will be an attempt at triggering mirror-touch synesthesia in the viewer.  If you are unaware of what that is, Google is at your disposal.  And with that, let us begin.”

John licks his lips and watches, rapt, as Science cracks open the large book, and smooths his hands (Christ they’re large!) over the fine quality pages.  John shivers at the sound of warm flesh sliding over thick, smooth paper.

Science turns another page, does the same thing, stroking the pages like—like a caress.  John shivers again as the sensation echoes against his back, between his shoulder blades up, up, up his spine to the nape of his neck, tingles across his scalp.

He sinks back against the pillows.  Jesus Christ, but it’s good.

And then Science starts to read.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

And still he strokes one hand, rhythmically over the opposite page, and John forgets to breathe, forgets everything but the sound of that voice, and the sight of that hand, stroking the heavy vellum pages like the skin of a lover.

It’s not erotic, not really, but it’s something so damn close he has no words to describe it, no other way to frame it.  It’s the oddest, maddest, hottest, and yet most relaxing thing he’s ever experienced, because he can feel it!  Somehow he can feel each stroke of the page like it’s a stroke against his own skin, and he doesn’t understand it at all, but who fucking cares!

He lets his eyes slide shut, listens to the warmth and depth of the voice, listens to the whispering shush of hands stroking paper.  His skin prickles like the summer sky under a swiftly encroaching storm.

He opens his eyes again, watches, feels the gentle brush of fingers over skin, feels it set his whole body to humming, even as it sends him deeper.  Down, down, down…


 

Something wakes him with a start.  The video is over, and another is playing.  Still SensoryScience though, slowly pouring sand from one glass into another.

He rubs a hand over his face, and looks at the clock: 3:00.  He fell asleep after an early supper around 18:00.  It’s way more hours than he usually gets. 

There is a small red dot beside the Messages icon, and so he stretches, sits up a little, and clicks.  

It would be helpful to me if you would fill out the survey beneath my most recent video.

John smiles and sinks back under the covers.  He doesn’t think about the fact that he’s not supposed to be doing this, not again.  He pushes from his mind the fact that he knows how this always goes, and all the reasons it’s a bad idea, and how he’d sworn, SWORN, the last time that he was tired of the collateral damage, and he was a better bloke than that, and he would never, ever, let himself go down this road again. He just pushes it all down (like you always do, you selfish piece of shit), and carries on.

Will do.  Good one.  Amazing, really.  You want the answers in the comment section, or here?

It’s 3:00 in the morning, there is no way the bloke is even awake, but still he watches, waits…

Whichever you prefer.

You’re up late.

Or early.

Night owl?

Vampire.

John chuckles softly.

Give me a few to fill out the survey.

Take your time.

He navigates back to the Hobbit video, and copies the survey questions into a private message.

  • Did you experience mirror-touch synesthesia during this video?  If so, when, and what triggered it?  Maybe.  Yeah.  Yeah, I think I did.  I probably sound a bit like a nutter, but when you were touching the book…  Okay.  I do sound like a nutter.  You get where I’m going with this, yeah?
  • If you answered question 1 in the affirmative, is mirror-touch synesthesia something you experience regularly?  I was a soldier, and a doctor in a war zone.  If it was something I experienced regularly I’d be pretty shite at both.  So no.  No, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced it before.  Oh no, wait, maybe a couple of times when I was really small, like two or three.  These are some of my earliest memories, mind.  I remember watching my mum pet a kitten on the back stoop and it feeling like someone was petting my head.  I tried to tell her about it and she laughed at me.
  • Do you have any mental health diagnoses related to empathy issues?  Not discussing this kind of thing with you, so stop asking.
  • Do you have a history of child abuse? Listen, you are going to have a history of abuse, if you don’t stop asking such bloody invasive questions!  Christ!

John sits back.  This has stopped being fun, and he’s way too worked up.  He takes a deep breath and tries to settle a little.  There’s still a sip or two of whiskey in the glass by his bed.  He knocks in back, breathes in slowly through his nose, holds it, breathes out, just like Ella taught him.  It usually does piss all, but it’s better than punching another hole through the wall.  He just finished paying off those repairs.

  • Is there anything else you would like to tell me? Yeah.  Mind your own fucking business.
  • Is there anything you would like to see in future videos?  Your face.  Stop being so James Bond about it.  This isn’t Her Majesty’s fucking Secret Service, you know.  You’re not dealing with affairs of the realm.  Why so cloak and dagger?

John clicks send, and then slams the lid to his laptop and tosses it to the end of the bed, before lying back down and having a furious wank.  He only feels marginally better afterwards, but he supposes he should just be grateful all worked as it should, as that has (frustratingly) not always been the case since he got back to London.

He lazily cleans himself up, and then leans forward and tentatively lifts the lid of his laptop with one finger.

Another message alert.  He sighs and opens it. 

You rather have a penchant for taking things personally.

Piss off.

It’s not personal, Captain, it’s science.

So you say.

And you see, I was right.  People do tell me to piss off.  It just took you until our second meeting.  I suppose that may make you rather remarkable.  Perhaps this is rather presumptuous of me, but could you expand on the details of the mirror-touch synesthesia you experienced?

No.

Not particularly helpful are you?

I thought I was unnecessary but valuable.

Mm, quite.  Oh, and for the record, I don’t show my face in my videos, because it would be a distraction.

John snorts.

You hideously deformed, or something?

No.  I’ve been told I’m rather attractive. The director of the Tate Modern once described me as  ‘A Walking Rossetti’.

John lets out a bark of a laugh that surprises him so much he ends up clapping a hand over his mouth to muffle it.

Modest, aren’t you.

Truthful.

I’d ask you how you know the director of the Tate Modern, but you’re probably going to be all cloak and dagger about that too.

Likely.

John shakes his head with an exasperated smile.

At the risk of sounding like an uncultured swine, who’s Rossetti?

An artist of the Pre-Raphaelite period.  Nauseatingly romantic.  Truthfully I was a touch offended.

John smiles.  The anger’s faded now, probably the post-orgasmic chemical cocktail still racing through his veins. 

He Googles Rossetti.

Wait, you look like this bloke?

No, she said I reminded her of Rossetti’s ‘Day Dream’ , and I suppose there is some passing resemblance, though I believe my bone structure is somewhat finer than Ms. Morris’.

Who is Ms. Morris?

The model who sat for the painting.  One of Rossetti’s primary muses.

So this woman was saying you looked like a girl?

Her exact words were: “There is a certain marriage of strength and delicacy in your features that you share with the sitter.  Your face is quite remarkable.  Like a walking Rossetti.”

Right.  And you were offended?

By the fact that she was comparing me to the subject of something so ridiculously romantic, yes.  By the fact that she was comparing me to Ms. Morris, no.

Right.  Right, okay.

At any rate, you have no need to see my face.

Maybe I want to.

John clicks send, and then instantly wants to take it back.  Shit!

There is a long delay during which John wishes he could turn back time and undo that one, tiny, stupid click of a button more than he’s ever wished for anything in his life.

Finally…

Captain, while I’m flattered by your interest, you should know that I consider myself married to my work, and I am not interested in any sort of romantic entanglements at present.

No.  No.  I didn’t mean that.  I was just—being an idiot.  I was being an idiot.  Ignore me.

You were being an idiot, and I do try to ignore you, quite regularly.  Unfortunately you make that somewhat difficult.

John scowls.

What?

Never mind.

No, no, no.  How is this my fault, now?!

Because you are distractingly and annoyingly intriguing.

John blinks.

I beg your pardon?

As I said, never mind.

John gets up to get himself another drink, but then decides that 4:00 is technically time for breakfast, so he’d best make it tea.  He pours the boiling water over two tea bags, and strides back over to his laptop.  

So, do you actually look like Ms. Morris?

You are remarkably tenacious when on the scent of something you desire.

Who said anything about desire?

Don’t be boring.  There is somewhat of a resemblance, yes.  We share hair and eye colour, some mild similarity in bone structure, anything beyond that is a mere fancy of the Director’s.  She was mildly wine-drunk at the time.  I’m sure that most of what she said should be taken with a grain of salt.

So, you’ll give me hints about what you look like, but you won’t show your face?  Bit of a tease.

I never tease.  As I said, it is a distraction to the viewer, and would throw off my results.  My control group already exhausts me on a regular basis with their unhelpful comments, and silly obsessions.  The last thing I need is for my carefully curated experimental group to lose their heads.

John frowns at the screen, and opens another tab with the fur pillow video.  He’s never taken the time to read the comments.  He just assumed everyone was answering the survey questions as requested.  But apparently not.

 

Scienceismydrug:

Sexy hands.

 

CatLadyNextdoor:

This is nice.  That offer for coffee still stands.  I mean, if you want to, next time you drop by.

 

DreamGirl69:

God, the things I would do to you, given half the chance… <3  DM me. ;)

 

John’s eyes narrow.

  

haterade10:

Is this some sort of porn for freaks, man.  I mean I think I dig it, but dude, wtf?!

 

JerrysGurl:

I like this one.  Thanks.

 

MikeStamford: Nice one, Mate.

 

MoonDancer51:

This stimulated my aura and realigned my chakras.  Peace & Blessings.

 

BigDickDave:

Could think of a few better uses for those hands, mate.  Those fingers…  Fucking delicious stuffed up my hole.

          CptJWatson:

          Oi!  Shut your filthy mouth, or I’ll shut it for you. 

 

A notification alert sounds for John’s Messages.  He clicks it open with a scowl. 

Do try not to antagonise my viewership, Captain.  As insufferable as the majority of them are, they are necessary to my work.

Right.  Sorry.  Not my place, I just.  Do you get comments like that all the time?

One of the many downsides to the platform, I’m afraid.

Yeah, well people should learn to have a little respect for what you’re trying to do here.

Your esteem for the value of the work is noted and appreciated.  Now, on that note, would you expand on the details of the mirror-touch synesthesia you experienced while watching my latest video?

John sighs. 

Fine.  What do you want to know?

Excellent.  You mentioned that my stroking the surface of the book caused you to feel an echoing sensation in your body.  Where?

John squirms a little. 

Started between my shoulder blades, moved up my spine to my nape, and then my scalp.

Interesting.  Was it a stroking sensation?

Yeah.

Did you experience tingles?

Yeah.

On a scale of one through ten, with one being no sensation, and 10 being almost unbearable stimulation, how intense were your tingles?

About an 8, I guess.

That strong?

Yeah.  Problem?

No.  None at all.  Tell me, if I were to record some other triggers tomorrow, would you be willing to watch and give me feedback on whether they were similarly effective?

I guess.

A simple yes or no will suffice.

Fine.  Okay.  Yeah, I’ll do it.

You’re a wonder.  

And John smiles at that.  His cheeks warm, and he realises he’s blushing, fucking blushing like some sort of besotted school girl…

Shit.

Chapter Text

His cane is ready and waiting for him at the Lost Property office, and he’s grateful for the support as his leg is still throbbing, the same low, dull ache he felt for months as a boy after the initial break.  It’s healed perfectly.  There’s nothing wrong with it.  It shouldn’t hurt the way it does.

Ella thinks it’s all in his head, so does his sister.

He wishes they would both just sod off and mind their own bloody business.

It’s foggy, and starting to mist lightly as he hobbles out of the Lost Property office and onto Baker Street.  He should just take the tube back, but Regent’s Park is just up the road.  He doesn’t feel like going back to his dingy little flat quite yet, and that’s such a rare thing these days, that he figures he should take advantage of it.

Halfway up the street the bright red awning of a small cafe catches his eye.  He’s hopelessly low on cash, and he shouldn’t be eating out at cafes, not at all, but maybe just a hot coffee and a sausage roll.

The cafe is nothing special, red and dirty white checkered floor, walls a bright, but rather non-nondescript green, but it’s between breakfast and lunch, so it’s not overly crowded, relatively quiet.  Nice.  Homely somehow.

He orders his drink and food, and settles into a table near the back.  The proprietor is leaning against the counter flirting with an older woman in a purple dress.  From somewhere in the flats above he can hear the muffled strains of violin music floating down.  He leans back in his chair, and watches people walk by on the street outside.  The rain gets heavier, and then lets up again.  The old lady in the purple dress goes through a door in the back and doesn’t come back.  The violin music stops.  The sun comes out.

John gets up and goes outside.

The sun is warm.  Another unseasonably fine day, it seems. 

The park is nice.  The sun glints off the rain soaked lawn, glitters in the naked branches of the trees overhead.  The ducks in the pond are shaking rain water from their feathers and slipping into the water to glide happily across the surface, quacking out their approval at the fortuitous turn in the weather as they go.

John turns his face up toward the sun and lets it warm him.  Mad as it sounds, that’s one of the things he misses about Afghanistan.  The sun.  The heat of the sun on his skin, sometimes almost unbearable heat, the kind that makes you heady and lethargic, and requires you to drink litres of water just to function.

This sun is nothing to that, but just the sight of it seems to lift his mood a little.

He hasn’t done this since he got back to London, just gone outside, found a park bench, and sat in the quiet.  Actually, he’s not sure he’s done this since uni.  Some nights in the desert, he would go out behind the hospital to catch his breath after a particularly large influx of wounded, and stare up the stars, a glittering river of silver against a velvet black sea of nothingness, and he would wait until his perception shifted enough for him to feel like he was looking down instead of up, like he was going to topple headlong into all that deep, dark loveliness. 

But sitting outside in the light of day with nothing but the distant hum of traffic, the lilt of birdsong, and the soft click and shush of the wind in the trees—well this might be something unique in his experience.  He’s surprised at the calming effect it seems to have.  Stunned to realise, suddenly, that he can feel something sitting here.  It’s not happiness, not really, but it’s a warmth, and calm, and a—connection to the things around him.

He thinks about Ella’s admonition about a journal, or a blog.

He pulls out his phone, and opens up a note. 

Had to go to Baker Street today, to the Lost Property office, because like an idiot I forgot my cane on the bus yesterday.  Decided to go to the park on the way home. 

This January has been unusually warm.  The sun is out.  It feels good.  I might come back here.  It’s a rather long tube ride, but it’s nice to get out my neighbourhood, someplace fresh, where I don’t have to think about things.

The other day I told Ella that nothing happens to me, but something has.  I met an old friend, Mike, in the park, and he told me about this weird YouTube channel run by a friend of his, and it probably sounds crazy, but I think it’s helping me.  I sleep better, and I look forward to seeing what the bloke will post next, and though he’s a bit odd, and a bit posh, and a bit mad, I think, he’s interesting and a bit mysterious too, and his videos always seem to help somehow.

He’s supposed to be sending me some new ones.  Think I’ll check and see if they’re up yet.

He closes his notes app, and opens YouTube.  There’s a new message. 

Something has come up.  I may not be able to record the test triggers we discussed for a couple of days.  Apologies.

He internally kicks himself when he feels his heart drop in disappointment.  Of course.  He’s probably frightened the bloke off with all of his—well, whatever the bloody hell it is that’s wrong with him.

Right.  Well, take your time.

Ah, you’re there.  Excellent.  You’re a doctor.  In fact you’re an army doctor.

Yeah.

Seen a lot of injuries, then; violent deaths.

Of course.  Yes.

Would you be up for seeing some more?

What?

I require assistance.  Can I send you some photos?

Okay.

Perfect.  Give me your number.  I’ll text them to you.

John does, and after a moment his phone starts to buzz in his hand with a series of incoming texts.

He takes a look.  A woman in a shockingly pink coat laying facedown on a dirty wood floor.

Dead.

She’s clearly dead, though as far as deaths go, hers seems fairly pretty. 

Wait, are you police?

Something like that.  So, what do you think?

What do you mean, what do I think?  She’s dead.

Obviously, but I was hoping you’d delve deeper.

So you want me to what?  Give my medical opinion on cause of death?  Little hard from a photo.  Bit more information might help.

You watch the news, I assume.  Have you seen the bit about the serial suicides?

John has seen it.  A series of seemingly disconnected suicides all over the city.  None of the victims seem to know one another.  No obvious connections. 

Yeah, I’ve seen it.  She one of them, then?

It appears so.

John flips through some more of the photos. 

What’s that scratched in the floor?  RACHE?  That German?  She scratched something in German into the floor while she was dying?

Not German, no.  Something else…

Part of someone’s name, maybe?  Rachel?

Clever.  Maybe.  She’s in her late thirties. Professional person, going by her clothes; I’m guessing something in the media, going by the frankly alarming shade of pink.

Right.  Okay, and why do you need me again?

An outside eye, a second opinion.  It’s very useful to me.

Do you have a time of death?

She’s cold and in full rigor mortis, so probably dead for at least 8 hours.  No signs of violence or a struggle, so possibly she knew her killer, at the very least she trusted him.

Killer, I thought these were suicides?

Better.  Serial Killer.

Christ.  How is that better?!

Oh don’t be like that.  You know what I mean.

Listen, you going to tell me what this is all about?  For all I know, you’re the one who’s murdered her.

You wouldn’t be the first to think so, but I assure you, I was not.  I’m a detective, a consulting detective, the only one in the world.  I invented the job.

What’s that mean?

It means that when the police are out of their depth, which is always, they consult me. 

But, the police don’t consult amateurs.

John scrolls back through the photos while he waits for a reply.  And waits.  And waits.  And waits. 

You still there?

Still nothing.

If it was the amateur comment, there’s no need to get your knickers in a twist, I was just curious.  ‘Only one in the world’, how the bloody hell am I supposed to understand what it is you do?  No frame of reference now, have I.

Yes, you’ve made your point quite clear, thank you.

Here, you angry?

Don’t be stupid.

John arches a brow.  He’s clearly hit a nerve. 

So you’re not an amateur.  You’re what then?  Some kind of detecting genius?

Some kind.

A walking Rossetti and the next Einstein.  Starting to sound a little too good to be true.

If mediocrity is what you crave, then I’m sure you will find it quite easy to find someone else to meet your exceedingly low expectations.

Bit sensitive, aren’t you.

Bit abrasive, aren’t you.

Oi!

John sniffs and scowls down at his phone.  He wants to be angry.  He is.  He is angry.  Abrasive?!  He’s not abrasive.  A fucking ray of goddamned sunshine is what he is! 

Listen, I feel like we’ve gotten our wires crossed, or something.  Can we just back up?  I get it, you’re a consulting detective, you work with the police sometimes, you’ve been called in on this Serial Suicides case that isn’t suicides, but actually murders.  I guess that means no new videos for awhile, yeah?

How can you possibly think of ASMR at a time like this?!

Christ, you know what, fine.  Go off and be Mr. CSI.  See if I care.

Fine. 

Fine.

John stuffs his phone back in his pocket and gets to his feet.  The clouds are returning, and his cane clacks angrily against the pavement as he heads for the tube. 

Bloody lunatic.  Probably some sort of serial killer.  Probably one of those blokes who sits in his mum’s basement on his laptop all day, inventing personas, pretending to be the big man.  Just your fucking luck, Watson. 

The tube is bursting with lunch hour traffic, and John remembers why he doesn’t take the tube; all the noise, the close proximity, the weird smell of a 150 people stuffed together into a metal carriage.  By the time he gets back to his flat his head is throbbing, his stomach twisting with hunger, and he desperately needs something, anything to calm him down.  But Mr. Science is being a dick, and so he can’t even turn to that without wanting to hit something.

He goes and takes a shower.  Stands under the searingly hot spray and tries not to think—about anything.  He thinks about large hands buried in fur.  He considers a wank.  He hates himself.  Things don’t really work out and he’s glad.  A wank is not what he needs.  DEFINITELY not what he needs.

He makes some toast with jam, pours himself a glass of whiskey and goes to his laptop.

He watches a couple of videos by the redhead with the velvety voice.  She’s pretty, and it’s calming enough.  She isn’t all cloak and dagger like Science.  She lets you see her face, nice blue eyes, a light smattering of freckles over her nose.  Sometimes she pulls out a basket filled with a whole assortment of tingle objects.  he likes those videos.  She whispers, and taps her perfectly manicured pink nails against a plastic pencil case.  John feels a little of the tension ease from his shoulders.  She takes out a sequined pillow and brushes her hand over it.  John shivers.  It’s a little like the fur thing.  Not quite as good, but nice.

Then there’s the curly-haired brunette with the sea glass eyes.  Gorgeous, but in a modest, homely sort of way.  Her voice and manner are gentle, and she has a lot of videos where she just sits and reads books in front of a crackling fire.  She reminds him a bit of his mum, and he tries not to think about that.  He hardly has any memories of his mum, but he does remember her reading to him, now and again, before he went to sleep. 

She’d left when he was 5, ran off to Cambridge to ‘smoke weed and shack up with bloody poofs!’ according to his dad.  Definitely not the most reliable source.  But there had been a bloke with long, flowing hair, a plum velvet jacket, and a sleek, black cat sharing her flat the one time he and Harry had gone to see her. 

There had been letters, of course.  She had a way with words, his mum.

He tries not to think about her in the end, when the cancer got bad, and all her beautiful hair had fallen out, and the wild, wondrous light in her eyes had dimmed.  He’d been overseas, and it was Harry who had sat with her as she breathed her last.  She resented it, and he’s fairly sure she sent him the photos just as punishment: ‘if I have to remember her this way, then so do you’.

He shuts the video off, and downs the whiskey in the glass beside him.

His phone vibrates in the pocket of his coat across the room.  He sighs, and goes to the kitchenette, pours himself another glass of whiskey before going to fetch it.

A text.  From Science. 

If we’re going to be working together, then I suppose you should call me Sherlock.

Jesus, you’re tenacious!

Pot.  Kettle.  Black.

Touché.  I’m John.

Hello, John.

Hey. 

So, Sherlock what?  Or is Sherlock your last name?

Sherlock Holmes.

John Watson.  And what do you mean, ‘working together’?

I need a partner.

Me?  Why me?

Why not?

And John realises he has no idea why not.  It’s not like he has anything else on.  His life is a churchyard of buried hopes, a blank slate.  He’s unemployed, practically housebound, and bored beyond belief. 

You don’t even know me.  I could be a complete dolt.

I know you well enough, and you’re clearly not a dolt.  I wouldn’t be talking to you now, if you were.

Well, I’m not sure how much help I’ll be, but okay.  What exactly would this entail?

Your eyes, your thoughts, your theories.

So like today, you text me things and I just give them a look.

Precisely.

Might be a bit of a lark.

Excellent.

So you still on that case, the pink lady?

I am.

Anything interesting to report?

A photo pops in.  A small pink suitcase sitting open on what looks like the same black leather chair from The Hobbit video. 

Going by the colour, I assume that’s hers?

You would be correct.

You have that at your flat?  Isn’t it evidence?

And they’ll get it back when I’m done with it.

Bit unorthodox isn’t it?

I think you will find that I am often unorthodox, John.  Very unorthodox.

There is no reason, whatsoever, that that statement should send the shiver it does, prickling over John’s skin.  It’s like he can almost hear him say it.

Steady on, Watson.  Steady on.

There were signs on the body indicating that she had a rolling suitcase, but no suitcase was found at the scene.  I deduced that the killer had driven her to the spot where we found her body, and didn’t realise the case was still in the car.  Wouldn’t have taken more than five minutes for him to realise his mistake.  As soon as he realised he would have needed to get rid of it.  I simply searched every back alley wide enough for a car within five minutes of the murder scene, and anywhere you could dispose of a bulky object without being observed.  Took me less than an hour to find the right skip 

Right.  And why am I looking at it?

Look harder.

John does.  There’s a small makeup bag, a couple of pairs of knickers, a cheap paperback romance novel.  He frowns.

There’s something missing?

Excellent.  Go on…

What personal belongings did you find on the body?

A wedding ring, pink coat, high heeled shoes, umbrella, blouse, skirt, underthings, earrings.

What about a phone?

See.  Not a dolt.

So, there was no phone on the body or in the case?

Correct.

But given her profession, she must have had a phone?

Indeed.

I need you to send a text for me, to the following number:

07911 132548 

So, what?  You bringing me on to be your secretary?  You can’t send your own bloody text?

I have a website for my work.  My number is there.  I don’t want it recognised.

Christ.  Fine.  Okay.  What is it I’m meant to be texting?

These exact words: “What happened at Lauriston Gardens?  I must have blacked out.”

You blacked out?!

Of course not.  Now add this: “22 Northumberland Street.  Please come.”

John does as ordered.

Hang on, hang on.  Her phone.  Where is it then?

Where do you think?

She might have lost it.

Or?

The murderer.  You think the murderer has her phone? 

Wait, did I just text a murderer?!

You don’t mind, do you?

Well, maybe.  Yeah, no.  Okay.  It’s fine.

And there’s the CptJWatson I know!  Be back in a flash.  If you don’t hear from me by tomorrow night, call in the cavalry.

Wait.  What?  Where are you going?  Lauriston Gardens?  It dangerous?  You need backup?

Sherlock?

There’s no reply.

Chapter Text

“For science.”

Ms. Morris looks up at him, her smile mysterious, like the Mona Lisa, he thinks.

“For science,” he assures her.

“Of course.”  Her voice is deep and lovely.

“For science,” he whispers and binds her wrists to the bedposts with strands of blood-red ribbon.  “For science,” he murmurs, and binds her ankles too.

“Faulty hypothesis, Captain.”

“Just to keep you.  Safe.”

“Faulty Hypothesis.  Look again.”

“Shh…”  He covers her mouth with his hand.

She doesn’t struggle, and when he takes his hand away it’s wet, everything, everywhere, wet, and he’s in the middle of a vast, wild sea, and Ms. Morris is sinking, he’s sinking, he’s the one bound, bound in blood, dissolving, drowning, down, down, down…

“Ophelia.”

John wakes with a gasp, a gasp followed by another, and another, and another. 

Can’t breathe.

Can’t.

Breathe.

He stumbles about in the dark, stubbing his toe so hard on the door jam of the loo that he cries out, before collapsing in a heap on the floor and vomiting violently into the toilet, still gasping for breath, even as he curls into the smallest ball possible on the cold tile.

He doesn’t know how long he lies there, but he’s chilled through when he can finally breathe again.  His toe is already turning black and blue, and his thigh burns like fire, and his eyes bite and swim.

Pathetic.

Somehow he makes it back to bed.  He curls up under the covers.  The flat is freezing cold.

He finds his phone, looks for a text.

Nothing.

How was Lauriston Gardens?

Nothing. 

Time to call the cavalry?

Who is this?

Who’s this?

Someone you would do best not to offend.  Now, I will ask you again.  Who are you, and how do you have this number?

Name’s John.  I was given this number.

By whom?

The bloke whose number it is.  And now I’ll ask you again, just who the hell are you?

The phone rings, unlisted number.  John ignores it.

Answer the phone.

It rings again.  He does.

“Who I am is unimportant.”  The voice is controlled, a little posh, a little oily.

“If you have this phone and he doesn’t, then the why and who are pretty fucking important to me, mate.”  John sniffs.

“Ahh, you’re his little soldier.  His little distraction.”

John sits up and stares down at his phone.  He clenches his jaw so hard it makes his teeth hurt.

“Who the hell are you?  Tell me or things are going to get interesting.”

“You don’t seem very frightened.”

“You don’t seem very frightening.”

In truth John’s heart is racing a million beats a second, his veins flooding with adrenaline, but not because of this lunatic, no.  Because if this idiot has Sherlock’s phone, then that means Sherlock doesn’t, and it’s time, definitely time, to call in the cavalry.

The man laughs, a sound dripping with condescension.  “Ahh, the bravery of a soldier.  Bravery is by far the kindest word for stupidity, don’t you think.”

“Last time, who are you?”

“An interested party.”

“Interested in Sherlock Holmes?  Why?  Not a friend, I’m guessing.”

“You two are clearly chatty.  You know him.  How many friends do you imagine he has?”

John frowns.

“I’m the closest thing to a friend that Sherlock Holmes is capable of having.”

“And what’s that?”

“An enemy.”

John’s skin prickles with adrenaline.  “An enemy?”

“His archenemy if you ask him.  He does so love to be dramatic.”

John rolls his eyes.  “Well, thank god you’re above all that.”

This seems to throw the caller, there is a moment’s silence in which John can hear the distinct background noise of a hospital.

“You’re at the hospital.  With him?”

The man sighs.  “That, Dr. Watson, is none of your concern.”

“Who says I’m a doctor?”

“You just recognised the sounds of a hospital during a two second pause in conversation over a mobile phone.  Of course you’re a doctor—and a soldier.  Interesting combination, that.  I wager you’ll be the making or the breaking of Sherlock Holmes.  I’m here to ensure it’s the former.”

“I don’t see how anything I do is any of your business.”

“You will.  Good day, Dr. Watson.”

“Oi!  I’m not done with you yet.”

But the line goes dead.

John stares down at his phone, and considers his options.  He can’t text, that’s clear.  Sherlock’s phone has been compromised.  It’s likely their private messages on Youtube have been, too, if this posh bastard knows he’s a doctor and a soldier. Time for him to do a little sleuthing.  It only takes a few calls to find out what hospital Sherlock was admitted to, though getting a diagnosis proves all but impossible.  Comforting to see the NHS is still so committed to patient confidentiality, but it does him no good.  It does seem, however, that Sherlock is safe and being cared for.

For one insane moment he considers going there, lying, saying he’s family, but he wouldn’t want a complete stranger showing up unannounced at his bedside, and so he figures that the least he can do is extend Sherlock the same courtesy.

Still, it seems almost unbearable not knowing what happened, not knowing his condition, not to mention that he feels utterly untethered again.  The last few days have been a whirlwind, and he has to admit that he’s managed to get more caught up and more invested than he’d ever planned to.

He’s restless, and it’s still the wee hours.  There’s nothing to do but wait, and hope, but doing nothing doesn’t seem like a constructive or viable option either.

He’s still clammy, and his stomach is growling with hunger despite the fact that he just vomited the meagre contents of what was left in his stomach.  He should eat.  He should.  He’s had to start tightening his belt another notch, and he doesn’t have the money to buy new clothes.

He gets an apple, wraps himself up in his dressing gown, and then goes to his desk and flips open his laptop.  There are so many of Sherlock’s videos he hasn’t even gotten to yet, but he knows which one he’s going to pick, even before he clicks it.  The Hobbit video again.

There’s a certain soothing familiarity in it now, those lovely hands smoothing over the pages, that deep, warm voice that always seems to unknot something inside him, and melt away all the cares of the day.  But tonight that voice just reminds him how helpless he is.  He doesn’t know how ill or injured Sherlock is.  He doesn’t know if his doctors are doing all they should.  He—he doesn’t have the right to even be thinking these things about a bloke he’s never met, whose face he’s never seen, and who he’s only started talking to a couple of days prior.

“You’re a fucking idiot.”

He pulls the earbuds from his ears and slams the lid to his laptop.  He stares down at it and opens it again.  He could always…

Don’t do this.  Nope.  No.  Bad idea… 

“Fuck it.”

He gets up and grabs his phone and earbuds with microphone.  It takes him a minute to get the phone propped up in a spot where he’s in frame, and it won’t tip over.  He realises he’s in his dressing gown and looks like shit, so goes and changes, shaves, combs his hair, and then sits back down and starts to record. 

“Hey.” 

He waves once at the screen and then feels a right idiot. 

“Not sure I’m doing this right.  I’ve never posted a video before, and I have no idea how to edit one, so I guess that this might turn out a right mess.  But, I wanted—needed—wanted to say some things.

“First things first.  This video is dedicated to SensoryScience of Sensory Science ASMR.

“Not sure he knows this, but his videos have sort of saved me the last couple of days.  A few days ago I didn’t even know what ASMR was, but a friend recommended it to me, and it’s really helped.

“I’ve been out of the country.  Well, I was serving overseas, actually, and I got invalided home, and things have been a bit…  Let’s just say, it hasn’t always been easy to get my feet back under me. 

“They assign you a therapist when you get back.  Mine says PTSD.  Not sure if that’s right, but sometimes it’s hard to sleep, or make my mind stop, and Sensory Science—well, his videos have been really helping.

“This morning I found out that he’s in hospital.  Don’t know what happened, don’t have any of the details, but I’m wishing him a speedy recovery, and not just because his videos have saved my life, but because…”

He huffs, and stares down at the desk, wondering why his throat suddenly feels so tight.

“He seems a fairly interesting bloke, and we’ve been chatting a little, and he’s be asking for my help with his research and some other things, and it’s be a much needed distraction, and it’s made me feel like maybe—maybe there can be a place for me back here. 

“True, my injury’s made it so I can’t be an orthopaedic surgeon anymore, but maybe I’m not totally useless, maybe there still are some things I’m good at.  Maybe I just need to take stock of my skills, and find new ways to use them.

“So I guess this video is just meant to be a thanks, and of course well wishes for a speedy recovery, and I’m not sure if I’ll do any more of these, but…  Well, that’s it, I guess.”

He stops recording, and decides to just post it without watching it back.  If he watches it he’ll lose all his courage.  He spends a few minutes seeing if there is a way for him to tag SensoryScience, but can’t seem to figure it out, and so he gives up in the end, posts and decides to go back to bed.

He wakes up hours later to the sound of his phone vibrating with incoming alerts.  He fumbles blearily for it, and waits a second for his tired eyes to adjust.

 

JerrysGurl:

Hiya.  Nice one.  Welcome back and thank you for your service.  You can’t tag on YouTube anymore.  So irritating!  Does SensoryScience know about this?  I left a comment on his last video telling him about it, and wishing him well.  Hope you don’t mind.

 

SemperFi382:

Would say let’s meet up for drinks, bro, if you weren’t all the way across the pond.  Feel you about the PTSD.  It’s a struggle.  If you ever need to chat, feel free to DM me.

 

MikeStamford:

I’ll see what I can find out and text you.

 

CagedBird29:

Pathetic.

 

Sam Loves Frodo:

Saw someone link to this vid over in comments on SensoryScience’s Hobbit video, the one he dedicated to you.  Hi.  Nice first vlog.  Hope you plan to upload more.  You two a thing, then?  You’re kind of hot.

 

CaptainSam I Am:

Didn’t think the Brits saw action.  Thought you were all over there just sipping tea and eating crumpets.  Guess not. 

 

CatLadyNextdoor:

How do you know SensoryScience?

 

DreamGirl69:

I’d be up for a threesome.  DM me. ;)

 

Rory In Pantaloons:

Can I draw you?  You’re kind of old, but I like your face.

 

John rubs a hand across his eyes.  His phone is still buzzing, non-stop, and he wonders how on earth so many people have found his video so quickly.  Sherlock has a decent number of followers, but he never thought they would be interested in him.  He almost regrets posting now.

 

Little Boy Lost:

Hard to believe that someone as plain, and dim, and boring as you would catch the attention of someone like Sherlock Holmes.

 

John sits up at that. 

Sherlock has never revealed his real name online, that John can tell.  It’s not in his profile, and true, John hasn’t watched all his videos, but everyone else refers to him as SensoryScience.  Seems an awful infringement of privacy.

He opens up the YouTube app and deletes the comment just to be on the safe side, and then goes to shower.

When he gets back, he’s still getting alerts, and he has a text from Mike:

John, I managed to pull some strings.  He’s at King’s College Hospital.  It was poisoning.

Jesus.  Is he going to be okay?

Seems so.  Sherlock’s one of those blokes who has nine lives, I think.

Yeah?  And how many of those has he used up so far?

Too many, if you ask me.  It was a close thing from what I understand.  Caught early.  Pumped his stomach.  Only mild effects for something that could have been fatal.  They’re keeping him for a few days.

Well, thanks for the info, Mike.

My pleasure.  We should meet up for a pint soon.

John doesn’t bother to reply.

He feels listless.  Relieved beyond belief that Sherlock is going to be okay, but listless, itchy, a little desperate.  Almost like Sherlock is a drug and John is desperate for another hit.

Chapter Text

The next morning dawns cloudy and wet.  It’s raining too hard to go out, and John hates these days more than anything, because these are the days that the walls of the flat seem to close in and feel more like a prison, and these are the days when his fingers start to itch, and he takes out his service weapon, and caresses it like a lover, and thinks about everything stopping and how amazing it would feel.

He stands at the window, parts the curtain and looks out at the patch of bleak, slate grey sky visible between the buildings and sighs.

He should have a plan for the day, a schedule, that’s what Ella says.  He should at least try, even though every step feels exhausting, like slogging through thick, wet sand.

  • Shower
  • Eat breakfast (at least a piece of fruit)
  • Check emails
  • Journal?

After that he can’t think of anything.  What else do you do in a studio flat with no telly?  Even his Netflix free trial has ended, and he can’t afford a subscription.

He manages the shower, and even some toast and tea, and then he sits down to check his email.  It’s an unending stream of alerts about comments on his YouTube video.  He really needs to go in and figure out how to shut that off, or he’ll start missing important emails in the flood.  He smiles wryly at that.  As if he ever gets important emails beyond ones telling him how much money he owes.

Some of the comments on his videos are rather nice, but others are the typical dross you see in most comment sections on the internet.  A weird number of people seem keen on believing he and Sherlock are a ‘thing’, which he figures he really should set straight.  Maybe another vlog?

“Morning.  Bit of a grey one here in London.  Hope it’s sunnier where you are.

“Uh, thanks for the response to the video I posted the other day.  Wasn’t expecting that.  Honestly, I thought no one would even see it, so it was a bit of a shock.  Anyway, ta, and welcome, I guess. 

“Since I’m posting a second one of these does that make me official?  A proper channel?  Don’t know how you determine that stuff.

“But anyway, I’m actually here to clear a few things up.  I have a lot of comments asking me about SensoryScience, how he’s doing, if I’ve heard anything.  The short answer is no, and I’m not likely to.

“Like I mentioned in my first video, I only met him a few days ago, and by ‘met’, I mean that I was turned on to his YouTube channel by an old friend, and I’ve been answering some of his surveys and helping him with his research, and we’ve been chatting a bit.  That’s it.  I didn’t even know his real name until the day before yesterday.  I’ve never even seen his face.  We’re not a couple.  We barely know each other.  So, if everyone could stop making assumptions that would be—good.

“Like all of you, I’m just hoping he recovers well, isn’t in too much pain, and has someone to sit with him.  I think people should have someone to sit with them in hospital.  Those that do always seem to recover sooner, in my experience.  Nobody should have to be hurting, and scared and alone."

He swallows tightly, and sucks back an unexpected surge of adrenaline. 

“I guess I didn’t really think this through, and I’m not sure what else to say except, SensoryScience, if you see this, somehow, I hope you are recovering well, and if there’s anything I can do while you are, just let me know.  It’s not like I have a lot on at the moment, and I’d be more than happy to help out."

John stops recording and posts.  He’s decided not to look at any of the videos he posts.  He’ll not post them if he does, and he still doesn’t know how to edit them.

Oh.


 

John can’t manage an umbrella and his cane, so he doesn’t try, but the library isn’t far and he has a good coat, and he’s not too wet by the time he gets there.  It’s been years since he’s been in a library, and he’s a little lost.

A woman about his age approaches him as he stands in the middle of the stacks, no doubt looking completely out-of-place.  “Can I help you find something?”

“Um, yeah, I guess.  I need some books on video editing.”

“Do you know what software you’ll be using?”

John holds up the iPhone he’d got as a hand-me-down from his sister.  Whatever’s on here, I guess.

The woman smiles.  “iMovie, then.  I’m sure we have something on that.  Follow me.”

She finds a few books for him, helps him sign up for a library card, checks him out and even wraps his books in a plastic bag before plopping them in a fabric bag to carry back to the flat.

He decides to stay at the library.  It’s still raining out, and it’s much brighter and more airy than his flat, not to mention blissfully quiet.  He sits down in a comfortable armchair by the window and fishes out one of the books.  It covers iMovie for phone, iPad and Mac.  He’s only got the phone and a cheap HP laptop.  Phone it is!

The functions are fairly limited on his phone, but it will at least allow him to edit out bits where he comes off as a right prat.

The rain outside is pattering against the huge windows beside him, and the central heat is whirring warmly overhead, and all around him is the soft hum of pages turning, and people whispering, and the distant soft beeps from the checkout counter at the other end of the library.  It’s soothing, really, and much better than staying locked up in his flat.  He’s glad he came.

After an hour or so, he wraps up his books and heads back out into what is now a much gentler rain.  He considers going to Regent’s Park again, but he doesn’t want to brave the tube, and it would take too many buses.  He just walks back to the flat.

It’s between lunch and rush hour, so though the streets are busy, they’re not as busy as they will be later, and he’s not in the centre of the city anyway, so there’s always less bustle here.  He wanders the streets and watches the birds flit and chirp in the bare, dripping trees hanging over the sidewalk, and stops to pet a drenched and miserable looking cat that clearly belongs to the house it’s in front of, but appears to have been forgotten outside.  It purrs and rubs in circles around his legs, and then keeps trotting to the front door of its house expecting to be let in.

“Sorry mate, don’t have a key.  You’re on your own, I’m afraid.”

The cat follows him a block, and then turns around and goes back.

In the small play park across the street mothers and nannies push their toddlers in swings, some chatting, some glued to their phones, all of their children seemingly forgotten, hypnotised and soothed by the steady swinging.  Quiet for a little while.  Blessed relief for their mothers, he thinks.

His own cluster of flats has just appeared in the distance when his phone buzzes in his pocket.  He’d managed to figure out how to turn off YouTube alerts while he was at the library, at least, so this has to be a text. 

Slight mishap.  Apologies.

He smiles, a huge weight he hadn’t even realised he was carrying, dropping from his shoulders. 

Being poisoned shouldn’t really be categorised as a ‘slight mishap’.

If you knew me better you would know the description was quite apt.

You running off and nearly getting yourself killed on the regular, then?

On occasion.

You need a bodyguard.

Are you volunteering?

John blinks down at the message.  If he didn’t know better he’d almost think the bloke was flirting, but…

What about the murderer?  You catch him?

You obviously don’t watch the news.

Haven’t been, no.

Of course I caught him.

But not before he caught you, it seems.

I was not ‘caught’.  It was a slight mishap, as I said.

Right.  Maybe it’s a carer you need, not a bodyguard.

As I’ve said, the position is open.  Dolts need not apply.

Well, that’s me done for then.

Don’t be stupid.

It feels like flirting.  He should stop.  The bloke’s said, ‘married to my work’, ‘not interested’.  Besides, he doesn’t really…  He’s never pursued…  He’s not—not at all…

You still in hospital?

They continue to insist.

You’d best listen to them, then.

They’re idiots.  I think my doctor’s twelve.

I can assure you, the NHS isn’t in the habit of hiring pre-teens.

You’re a doctor.

Well spotted.

You would be an acceptable alternative.

It doesn’t work like that.  I can’t just barge in and take your case.  Besides, you wouldn’t want me.  I’ve been told I have an abrasive bedside manner.

Better and better.

John grins.

Got your phone back, I see.  Was a bit worried for a while.  Got texts from some bloke who claimed he was your arch enemy.

Mycroft.

Mycroft?

My brother.

Your brother?

And suddenly you’ve become my echo.  My brother, yes.  Unfortunately.

He’s was a bit of a drama queen, to be honest.

Always.

Bit cloak and dagger.

He claims he has a minor position in the British government.  What he means is he is the British government when he’s not too busy being the British Secret Service, or the CIA on a freelance basis.

Right.  Okay.  So—it’s a family thing, then.

What is?

The drama, the Bondesque lifestyle, the brains.

I don’t know what you’re talking about.  ‘Bondesque’?  Is that even a word?

John chuckles.  He’s at the flat now.  he juggles his cane and library bag in one hand as he keys in through the front door and heads for the lift.

Bond.  James Bond.

Who?

You must be having me on.  You’ve never heard of James Bond?!

Should I have?

Oh, we’re going to do something about that.

Are we?

Oh yeah.  Movie night, as soon as you’re up and about.

John clicks send, presses the button for his floor in the lift, and then realises what it is he’s just said.  He’s all but invited himself over, or this bloke to his.  He’s invited him into his life without so much as a by your leave.

Movie nights—it’s that something people do?

Sometimes.

I see.

You’ve never sat on the sofa, ate popcorn, and watched a movie with someone?

Best be clear that he’s not being a letch.

I’ve never seen the point.

Well, it’s something to do.  But, never mind.

That wasn’t me saying no, John.

Oh?  Right.  Well sometime then.  We should.

Yes. 

Here, give me a minute, yeah?  I was out, and just need to get out of my wet things.

John pushes through the front door, sets everything down, shrugs out of his coat, and takes it into the loo to hang over the tile to dry, before heading back out to find some dry trousers. 

Ahh, the library, or a bookseller?

Library.  Not even going to ask you how you knew that.

You started a YouTube channel and posted two vlogs, neither of which have been even remotely edited.  You’re too much of a perfectionist for that.  I assumed you’d go out today and get some material on editing.

Ahh, so he had seen the videos, and he hadn’t decided John was an obsessive, hideous nutter and run for the hills yet, so that’s something.

That is bloody amazing, you know that right?  That thing you do…  Fantastic.

It is simply a talent I have nurtured and cultivated.

Still, it’s impressive.

I see.

Sorry about the video quality.  Not sure why I even started that.  Felt like something to do.

It was a pleasant surprise to wake up to.  There’s so much more data you can glean from actually seeing a person.

Oh yeah?  So just what did you glean?

Okay, he really is acting like an obsessive nutter.  And now, to top it all off, he’s fishing for—well, he doesn’t know what for, but the fact that Sherlock is taking it all in his stride, seemingly unbothered, seems a small miracle.

You were worried about me.

Yeah.

Why?

Well we were just chatting, and then you ran off without telling me much of anything, and then suddenly I was chatting with your brother and you were in hospital, and I didn’t know a thing, now did I.  Natural to worry in a situation like that.

Is it?

Yeah.

I’m unaccustomed to people caring about my wellbeing.  Thank you, John.

And John wonders why he is suddenly so unexpectedly moved. 

Yeah.  Of course.  Right.

He sounds like a right prat. 

I have nurses here who are trying to confiscate my phone.  Apparently this isn’t a hospital but a prison.

Oh yeah, if you’re hooked up to stuff you’re not supposed to be using your mobile.

You weren’t being such a bore a moment ago.

Was pleased to hear from you.  Didn’t think about it.  Off you go and be a good lad for them, then.

Boring.

Necessary, I’m afraid.  When are you out?

Day after tomorrow.

Alright.  Talk to you then.

Yes.

John is smiling when he finally sets the phone down.  Properly smiling, inside and out.

It’s probably not a good sign.

Chapter Text

“It’s raining.”  That voice.

“Yeah, it is.”

“You’re wet—and cold.”

“Yeah.”

“Come here.”

His embrace is all encompassing.  His lips are soft and warm, a sharp contrast to the icy rain pelting down around them.  His hands slide down to grip John by the belt loops and drag him in closer, and John pants against his mouth, opens to him, lets him press inside, taste, take.  John lets his hands wander, lets him loosen his belt.

“God.”

“So you seem to think.”

Arrogant prick.

A prick. 

His prick.

Somehow John’s trousers are gone, and he looks down to see himself flushed, and hard, and exposed in the icy cold.  They’re outside, for fuck’s sake.  They’re standing in the middle of Regent’s Park at dawn, and he’s—he’s naked, exposed, so fucking vulnerable.

“Come.”  That voice.

Sea glass eyes.

Water everywhere.

“John…”  hot hands on his cold hips, a faceless man dropping to his knees in the soaking grass, and…

“Oh god.  God, your mouth…”

He hums around John’s cock, and John feels it to his very core.  It glows, grows, burns hot, hot, hotter.

He looks down. 

Sea glass eyes looking up at him through rippling water.  Tears.  Flowers everywhere.

Ophelia.

The water is up to John’s waist now, and the voice, the voice is drowning, but still John can’t seem to…

The pleasure is building.

He should stop it.  He should reach down and pull that head, that mouth, that voice above the surface. 

Stop him. 

Save him. 

But god, god help him, he—he…

He comes hard, and wakes up in the throes of it, with a shout on his lips that threads out into a groan.  His hand shoots under the covers and clamps down, like maybe, somehow, he can stop it from happening, but he can’t of course.

He doesn’t want to.

Oh god.

He doesn’t want to.

He reaches inside his pants, and strokes out the last drops of pleasure, and then stares up at the dark ceiling and cries.  He lays there, spent, and cries like he hasn’t since the day he found out he was being invalided home.

His head hurts when he finally manages to stop.  His mouth feels dry.  He’s cold, and sticky, and uncomfortable.

He gets up and pads to the loo, tosses his soiled pants in the sink and cleans up with a flannel as best he can.

He goes out and crawls back into bed naked.  He reaches for his phone.

There’s a text.

He shouldn’t.

He should just stop replying to them now.

This can only end badly. 

It always ends badly, always him, always his fault, and he likes Sherlock, he really likes him.  He can’t do this to him. It wouldn’t be fair.  Wouldn’t be right or kind when he knows what he’s like, what he does.

John suddenly feels lonely, a great, gaping chasm that swallows up everything good, and leaves him feeling small and useless, broken and wrong.  He’s a coward.  He uses people and knows it.  He’s a coward.  He’s a coward when it comes down to it.  Only so far and no further. 

When James refused to respond to his texts and calls when he got back from Afghanistan, it had hurt, bloody hurt, but he’d known deep down it was for the best, for James best.  He’d accepted it, and then sworn—never again. 

And now here he is, the same thing as always, and Sherlock’s not done a thing but be charming, and gracious, and lovely, from the very beginning, and here John is leading him on.  Oh maybe not on purpose.  Maybe this time will be different.  Maybe this time there won’t be cold feet, won’t be drawing close only to pull away, won’t be flirting, and winks, and the occasional furtive grope, that leads to panic and retreat.  Maybe this time will be different.  Only he knows it won’t, because he knows himself.

Fucking pathetic.

He looks down at the phone in his hand.  He opens the text. 

Bored.

And he’s smiling again, instantly smiling.

Do I want to know how you have your phone?

There is a pause of a few minutes before John sees Sherlock start to type something in reply.

It was simple enough.  They locked it in the bedside table.  I picked the lock.

Of course you did.  Shouldn’t you be sleeping?

Shouldn’t you?

Was.  Woke up.  What about you?

I’m not really a sleeper.

You’re bored, huh.

Horribly.

What do you think we should do about that? ;)

There’s a long pause, and John thinks—maybe this is it, maybe I’ve stepped over the line, and he’ll retreat now, and it won’t be me, won’t be my fault, not really (well maybe a little, well maybe a lot). 

Suggestions?

Ahh, he’s thrown the ball back in John’s court.  Clever.  The bastard.

John waits, doesn’t know what to say.  He doesn’t want to do this, not again.  But he doesn’t want to lose this—this tether, this anchor, either.  He feels like this thing with Sherlock, whatever it is, is the only thing keeping him afloat, and he doesn’t want to mess it up, but he doesn’t do this, doesn’t know how to do this, and…

He rolls onto his side and looks down at his phone.  it’s shaking.  His hands are shaking.

Shit.

I think maybe I need to step away for a few days.

Oh?

Yeah.  I don’t really know how to explain.  I know this seems sudden and strange.  I know I’m being a right prat.  I just need to figure some things out.

oh

John looks at that ‘oh’, small, no punctuation.  If there’s one thing he’s noticed about Sherlock it’s how well spoken he is (or well written, or whatever you say when your entire relationship with someone has been entirely via text and chat).  He’s hurt him maybe. 

something i said?

Fuck.

No, no.  Nothing like that.  It’s totally a ‘me’ thing.

alright.  Good-night, John.

Didn’t mean you had to run off this minute.

Why prolong it?

Hey, if I’ve offended you, that’s not what this is, okay.  I enjoy you.  I like this.  I like you.

Do you?

Shit!  Why did he go and say that!

Yeah.

I like you too, and I like very few people.

Yeah?

Yes.

Sherlock is different from anyone he’s ever met, refreshingly frank, surprisingly truthful, and he wonders for a moment if this is a second chance.  If he could just rise to the challenge and be the same way, then maybe, maybe this time wouldn’t have to be like the times before.  Maybe this time could be different. 

Can I say something?

Of course.

I’m pants at saying things.

Are you?

Wait and see.

I look forward to witnessing your attempts.

John huffs out a small laugh.

What I said in my video was true.  Meeting you came at just the right time.  Your videos, you inviting me to help with your research, and your cases, it gave me something to do, it took my mind off certain things.  It saved me.  I wanted to thank you for that.

You have.  You did.  In your video.

Well, I’m thanking you again.

There’s a bit of a pause, and then: 

You’re welcome.

Yeah, well, it was appreciated.  You seem like a good person.  A bit of a dick sometimes, but a nice person, and I’m not.  I’m not a good person.  I’m not even a nice person.  I’m a mess.  And I have a bad habit of being a dick to people who don’t deserve it.  And you’re a person who doesn’t deserve it, so…

you want this to stop

No.  No I don’t.  That’s the problem.

I fail to see how that is a problem.  You’ve said you like this, you like me…

I’m the problem.

Then fix it.

What?

If you’re the problem, fix the problem.

You don’t just fix people, Sherlock.  They’re not a car where you can just swap out a new carburettor. 

So you’re saying what?  You would like to no longer be friends?

John panics.  No!  No, that’s not what he wants.  It’s what he should want given his track record, if he were a good man, but he—god help him, he’s not. 

I don’t know what I’m saying.

Clearly.

John snorts out a wet laugh and realises he’s crying.

May I say something?

Yeah.

What I said before, about not looking for any sort of romantic attachment.  That was accurate.  That still holds.  But I would very much appreciate a friend.  Perhaps that sets your mind at ease?

Yeah, I guess.

You guess?

I’m not gay.

Alright.

I mean everyone's a bit gay, aren't they, but what I mean is, I don't really...  Well, I have a bad habit of

Of?

Sorry.  Hit send too soon.  I have a bad habit of getting really close to blokes and then pulling away.

When your feelings shift from one thing to another, you panic?

I guess.

Perhaps you just aren’t interested in romantic relationships.  Again, I fail to see the problem.

The problem is there’s something wrong with me!

There is no requirement that you be in a romantic relationship, John.

Yeah, well what about sex?!

Shit.  Shit, shit, shit.  Why in God’s name is he having this conversation with this bloke?!

What about it?

Nothing.  Never mind.

Alright.

I just mean, I’m a bloke.  I need sex, and I’m not a slag, so no romantic relationship, no sex.

I know very little about that, and care to know even less.

You don’t have sex?

No.

Really?

Is that really so surprising to you?

Yeah, maybe.  I don’t know.  I guess I’ve never met a bloke who didn’t like sex.

Well you have now.

So you don’t do anything?

Good lord.

Sorry.

The brain is what matters to me, John.  Everything else is transport.

Right.  Okay.

So you see, you needn’t even factor sex into your equation, and perhaps now we can stop pursuing this ridiculous theory of yours, and go back to being friends.

Right.  Yeah.  Yeah, okay.  Sorry.  Sorry I’m such a mess.

You’re fine.

Sherlock?

Yes.

Thank you.

Of course.  Now tell me, are you still interested in helping me on my cases?

Yeah.  Sure.  Of course.

Good.  I need you to run an errand, to meet with a man named Sebastian Wilkes at Shad Sanderson Bank.

Chapter Text

 

 Now tell me, are you still interested in helping me on my cases?

Yeah.  Sure.  Of course.

Good.  I need you to run an errand, to meet with a man named Sebastian Wilkes at Shad Sanderson Bank.

That posh investment firm on Old Broad Street?

The very one.

Christ, okay. 

Apparently they’ve had a break in.

Oh, right.

Tell Seb you’re a friend of mine, there on my behalf, get the details, all the details.  Take pictures of everything, even things you think might not be important.

Okay.  Wait, Seb?  You know this bloke?

An old acquaintance from school.

Acquaintance?

Friend.  Well, I say friend…

Boyfriend?

no

Okay.  Okay.  So, I meet this bloke, get all the details, get back to you.  Will do.

My wardens have returned.  My phone is being confiscated again.

Shit.  Okay.  I’ll go over there later today and send you everything I manage to get.

John?

Yeah, still here.

Thank you.

Yeah.  Right.  Of course.  Try and get some sleep.  I’ll talk to you later.


 

The man who stands up to greet him as he enters the well-appointed office has the sort of poncey, arrogant, public school look about him that always manages to set John on edge.  He’s the type of bloke who’s never had to work hard for anything a day in his life, who’s never encountered a problem daddy couldn’t buy him out of. 

He’s only in the office a few seconds before all he can think about is getting out again.  But he’d promised Sherlock to do a thorough job, and he might not be much use to anyone anymore, but god damn it, he’s a man of his word.

John takes the proffered hand, shakes once, firmly.  Wilkes has the sort of limp, clammy shake John expected, and he has to fight not to recoil.  “John Watson.  I’m a friend of Sherlock Holmes.”

The man across from him smiles, a mirthless, condescending sort of thing.  “Friend?”

“Yes.  And colleague.  I’m here on his behalf.  He’s been—unavoidably detained.”

“Right.  In hospital from what I hear.  A little too much of the…?”  He lifts a finger under his nose, sniffs like he’s inhaling a line of coke and then laughs when John scowls.  “Ahh, it’s happened to us all now and again.  Well, go ahead, take a pew.”  He motions to one of the chairs the other side of his desk. 

John doesn’t move.

“Can I get you anything?  Coffee?  Water?”

“No.”

“No?”  He waves a hand at the woman hovering near the door.  “We’re all sorted here, thanks.”

She leaves, and they’re alone.

Wilkes sits down and leans back in his desk chair, fingers steepled under his chin.  “So how is old Sherlock, eh?  When we were at uni together, he had this trick he used to do.  He’d look at you and tell you your whole life story.”

“Mm, yeah.  I’ve been on the receiving end.”

“Put the wind up everyone.  We hated him.  You’d come down to breakfast in the Formal Hall and that freak would know who you’d been shagging the night before.”

John has to swallow back the urge to punch the smug smile off the bastard’s face.  He smiles tightly, sniffs and balls a fist at his side.  “Right.  So, you’ve had a break in?  You wanna show me where?”

Wilkes stares at him for a minute, and then claps his hands together and gets to his feet.  “Just this way.”

They walk through the trading floor, and into another large office.

“Sir William’s office – the bank’s former Chairman. The room’s been left here like a sort of memorial. Someone broke in late last night.”

“What did they steal?”

“Nothing.  Just left a little message.”

Wilkes nods toward the wall behind the desk, and a portrait of a sedate, suited gentleman that has been tagged with bright yellow spray paint.  The symbol isn’t anything John is familiar with.  He pulls out his phone, and takes a picture.

“Mind if I…?”  He nods down at his phone, and Wilkes shrugs.

“Suit yourself.”

He takes some more pictures, trying to think like Sherlock, trying to do as he’d said and see the valuable, the telling, the important in the seemingly insignificant.  He takes photos around the office, the latches on the windows, which inexplicably open onto narrow little balconies despite how high up they are, he goes back out onto the trading floor and takes multiple photos of the office door from different angles.

“There’s security footage, yeah?”

“Didn’t catch a thing.  Takes a photo every sixty seconds, which means someone broke in, came in and splashed some paint around and got out all in less than sixty seconds.  Come downstairs.  I’ll show you the rest of security.”

They go down to the reception area, and a desk with a large bank of computers.  Wilkes nods toward it.  “Every door that opens in this bank, it gets logged right here. Every walk-in cupboard, every toilet.”

“And the door to Sir William’s office?”

“Never opened last night.  There’s a hole in our security.  Find it, and we’ll pay—five figures.”  He reaches into his breast pocket, and hands John a cheque.  “This is an advance.  Tell Sherlock that if he can tell us how he got in, there’s a bigger one on it’s way.”

“I’ll tell him.  That about it, then?”

“Tell him not to dawdle.  This isn’t one of his silly little puzzles from school.”

“Right, and that’s us done then.”  John turns and walks out without another word. 

He’s all the way out on the street, and heading for the tube, when he finally looks down at the cheque in his hand.  His jaw drops—£7500.  And—and the cheque is made out to him.  He stops mid-stride and turns to look back down the pavement and up at the glass building glinting in the mid-afternoon sunshine.

He pockets the cheque and pulls out his phone.   

You there?

John.  Yes.  Good.  Send me everything you have.

What I have is a £7500 advance cheque made out to me.  Got nearly to the tube station before I noticed the mistake.  You want me to go back?

I told him to make it out to you.

What?  Why?

It would be rather presumptuous of me to expect you to do all the legwork without compensation.

John blinks down at his phone.

Here, this you getting in your yearly charity contribution?

No.  It’s payment.  We’re partners, are we not?  Why should I be the only one getting paid?

John wants to be angry, but he has nothing to say to that.  It’s—logical, if nothing else.  

Right.  Well, it’s really not necessary.  I was glad to do it, happy to do it.

I know you were.  Now send me what you have.

John sends off the photos, and a brief description of everything Wilkes had told him, and then pockets his phone and heads for the tube. 

He needs to go to the bank, and deposit the cheque.  He shouldn’t accept it.  He shouldn’t.  It’ll set some sort of precedent, make him beholden, but Christ if he doesn’t need the money.  Half of it will be gone the minute it hits his account, he’s so overdrawn.  But it will keep him under a roof, and fed for a couple more months beyond that, if he’s careful.

He slumps into the seat on the tube carriage, and sets his cane over his lap.  The carriage isn’t all that crowded, relatively quiet as far as the tube goes, and he fishes his phone out of his pocket.  No more texts from Sherlock.  He’s probably engrossed in everything John has just sent him.

He checks his YouTube notifications.  People still commenting on his two videos, which seems like madness to him, but what does he know about social media?  Not much it seems.

Another notification comes in:

Sensory Science has uploaded a new video.

How?  John doesn’t even care.  He clicks it open, only to realise he doesn’t have any headphones.  Shit.

He mutes his phone, and stares at the thumbnail for the video.  Sherlock’s hands.  And a title.  An actual title:

A Small Deviation

John cups his phone in his hands, and leans over against the window, forming a sort of cocoon with his body.  It seems too private, somehow, to just sit and watch in the middle of the tube, but he doesn’t want to wait until he gets home.  He hadn’t realised how much he’d missed…

He clicks play.

It is simply a shot of Sherlock’s hands folded on his lap.  There are white sheets and a thin blanket folded beneath them.  Clearly still in the hospital, then.  There are captions for the video.  

Apologies for my sudden absence.  As I’m sure you all know by now, I had a little work-related mishap and landed in hospital.  No harm done.  Well—only minor harm done.

John grins.  Always that sense of humour.  He’s made John smile more in the last few days than he had in the last few years. 

At any rate, they say I’m to be let out soon.  Can’t come soon enough, as they keep confiscating my phone.  To ensure that doesn’t happen again, and cut us off midstream, I’ll be brief.

No new ASMR experiments today.  Simply a thank you to the Captain, whom many of you know from his vlog (link in the description box below, if you’re interested), and his tireless and unwavering support in my research and my work.  I would have had to turn down cases the last few days if he had not been here to be my legs, and eyes and ears.

And Captain, if you’re watching, know that I haven’t forgotten about the research we discussed.  As soon as I’ve been released I’ll have it off to you.

That’s all for now.

The screen goes black, and John smiles again.  No sign-off.  No parting well wishes or niceties.  Just done.  Sherlock Holmes in a nutshell.  He is the strangest man John’s ever met, and he’s utterly charmed, damn it all to hell.

John is still smiling when he goes into the bank and cashes the cheque.  He decides to go to Tesco, too, get himself a bottle of wine, and a rotisserie chicken, and some of those frozen rice and veg sides you can heat up in the microwave.  A proper supper, and then he’ll sit down and give Sherlock’s new video another watch, and maybe make a new one of his own, try his hand at editing.

It only takes him minutes to prepare the food once he’s home, and he sinks gratefully into his desk chair, and tucks in with relish, as he pops in the new wireless earbuds he’d also bought on a whim, and presses play on Sherlock’s new video.  It’s even nicer with sound, of course it is, he knew it would be.  He can feel all the tension of the day drop from his shoulders, a sort of calm settle over him.  He plays it two or three times more, and then decides to move on to some of Sherlock’s other ASMR videos he has yet to watch.

He goes and gets himself seconds and then settles back in.

The first one he chooses involves water.  Sherlock pouring water back and fourth between two beakers, dripping it from a pipette into a bowl, boiling it in a florence flask over a bunsen burner.  He seems to have a rather wide assortment of chemistry laboratory apparatus around.  John makes a note to ask him about it.  There’s still so little he knows.

He had been surprised by Sebastian Wilkes.  That Sherlock would have associated with someone like him when he was in school.  But then given the way Wilkes had talked about him, and Sherlock’s reticence to describe him as a friend, perhaps it was more complicated than that.

John finds himself wishing, for one brief moment, that he had known Sherlock in school.  He wouldn’t have minded him deducing who he’d been shagging the night before.  Would have been funny, really.  Besides, John has a type.  It wouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to deduce his girlfriend Barbara, in first year, or Beth in second, or what’s’-her-name in third.  He likes spark.  He likes a woman who keeps him on his toes, and who likes to take control in bed sometimes.  He’s never understood blokes who didn’t want to date clever girls, or confident girls.  He likes them that way, and lucky for him, that had been precisely the sort of girl you met in med school in the nineties.  Sherlock would have had him pegged in seconds.

The water video only makes him anxious, so he goes looking for another.

There’s one of Sherlock stroking a small sheepskin rug. 

This one proves much more to his taste.  He tops up his wine and stares.  He’s starting to learn what he likes, and he definitely likes this.  Maybe it’s the mirror-touch synaesthesia Sherlock had been talking about, but when he watches the videos where Sherlock pets, or strokes, or smooths things, it’s almost like he can feel it.

He wonders if he could intensify the sensation.  If he focussed, really focussed, or whether it’s like flow, something that just happens, where focussing on it makes it skitter away, back into the shadows, elusive.  John never seems to know with himself, never seems to know himself at all, truth be told.  He feels a stranger, an observer in his own life, outside looking in. 

It has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember, but it had gotten worse in Afghanistan, an almost constant feeling of being outside rather than grounded in his body.  That is when things had started to not work out in bed, too.  There had been a girl on furlough, and he’d bloody well embarrassed himself.  And he’d just stopped trying after that.  He could do for himself fine.  Most of them did out there in the desert.  Until even that wasn’t working out so much, anymore.

It’s been inconsistent since he got home.  He’s not mentioned it to Ella because—well, it’s just not the sort of thing she needs to know.  It’s separate from what she’s supposed to be helping him with, isn’t it?  But it does worry him sometimes, in still quiet moments in the dead of night, when he would usually turn to a good wank to calm him down and sleep.  Sometimes he can, and sometimes he can’t, and he never knows which it will be or why.

John watches Sherlock’s fingers sink into sheep’s wool, fingers curling, nails scraping lightly against the leather beneath.  He shivers and feels a familiar hum whisper across his skin, pool warm, and sweet at his centre. 

He takes another sip of wine and keeps watching, lets his eyes slide shut after awhile and just listens to the soft whisper of fingers through fleece, to the almost imperceptible sound of Sherlock breathing, the occasional sound his mouth makes as he swallows or wets his lips.  It’s hypnotic really, and it keeps that ember burning low, and deep, and makes John sleepy and pliant from more than just the wine.

His phone buzzes on the desk beside him, and he picks it up. 

I’ve broken out.  Home at last.

You checked yourself out?

One could say that.

What?  You just walked out?

What?

Jesus, Sherlock.  Did they have you on any medications.  Do you need anything.

Stop worrying.  You’re like a mother hen.  I’m fine.

You always this difficult?

Frequently, so I’m told.

Right.

John stares down at his laptop, at Sherlock’s hands, both hands now, gliding through the fleece.  He can hear him sigh, like maybe this is as good for him as it is for the viewer, and it’s strange, and delicious, this, chatting with Sherlock on his phone, while he watches his hands, and hears him breathe, and sigh, and lick his lips on screen.

The ember is burning bright now. 

Your photos were excellent—very helpful.  We have next steps.  A man named Van Coon.  You can see the painting from his desk.  The message was for him.  I’ll go tomorrow.  I was going to send the Met over, but you know how they are.  Bungling everything.  The last thing one needs is for them to get to a crime scene first.

Right.

John takes another sip of wine, the last in the glass, and then puts it down and runs a hand down his thigh.  It lights him up. 

Would you ever call me?

He instantly regrets the question, even with the wine making him brave (and stupid). 

Never call.  Only text.

Right.  Right, okay.

There is a long pause.  John is still stroking his thigh, watching Sherlock’s hands buried deep in fleece, listening to his breath. 

His cock has started to take an interest, and John glares down at it, as though it’s betrayed him, as though he doesn’t want this, isn’t teasing this to the surface purposefully.

He hates himself, but god help him, he doesn’t want to stop. 

Would you like another video?

You don’t have to.

I know I don’t.  What would you like?  Reading again?

Whatever you want.

I’m asking what you want.

He can’t ask for what he wants. 

I don’t know what I want.

Yes, you do.

And John thinks he can start to see what Wilkes meant now, this gift of Sherlock’s, how it has a way of getting under your skin, peeling it back, exposing you, and he doesn’t—he isn’t ready to…

His hands are shaking against his thigh, which is aching almost as much as his cock.

He’s gotten in too deep—way too deep. 

I want to see your face.

Do you?

Yeah.

Why?

Just curious.  You’ve seen mine.

John huffs.  I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.  Ridiculous.  Like a teenager.  Like a bloody teenager.

True.  I have seen yours.  Anything else?

Talking.

Alright.  Anything in particular?

No.  Your choice.

It may not have the results you’re hoping.  Many people find that seeing the practitioner’s face and hearing their voice, having them speak directly to them, is too intense.  It can be vastly uncomfortable and off-putting.

Why?

It crosses a line from almost voyeuristic observation into one of personal attention, human connection.  It can feel too intimate, too vulnerable.

So you don’t want to do it?

No, I’ve not said that.  It will be more intense for you as the viewer.  I’m simply giving you ample warning.  It’s still your choice.

John thinks about it.  It makes sense.  He has watched a few personal attention videos, and they were off-putting, weird, and some of them even borderline sexual, but this is Sherlock.  He trusts Sherlock, and it’s just a video.  It’s not like he’s sitting right there, not like they’re really doing anything.  It’s—safe. 

Consider me properly warned.

Then I’ll put something together tonight, and have it up for you in the morning.  I’ll post it as private, and text you the link. And I’ve not forgotten about the trigger test video.  I’ll put that together when I have more time.  After this case is finished.

Oh.  Right.

Sherlock’s hands are balling up bits of fleece now, almost like he’s massaging it.  John can feel his skin prickle, his nipples peak.  There’s no reason why any of this should be so arousing.  He should be embarrassed, but he—he’s... 

What are you doing?

John looks down at his hand cupped around his cock through his trousers and feels his cheeks flush so hard it makes him momentarily dizzy. 

Just eating supper.

I suppose I should attempt to do the same.  My landlady gets quite cross when I don’t at least make an attempt at the things she offers me.

Your landlady cooks for you?

She is insists she is not my housekeeper, and yet food continues to appear.  Retribution is swift if it isn’t touched.

John smiles, and palms himself. 

Sounds like more of a mum.

Don’t tell her that.  She prides herself on her youthful vigour and joie de vive.

Maybe should do what she asks though, yeah?  Just being out of hospital and all.

It is unavoidable, I imagine.

I should probably go, too.  Need to wash up, check some emails.

Of course, I’ll leave you to your nightly routine.   Good-night, John.

‘Night Sherlock.

He tosses his phone on the desk, and scrolls back to the beginning of the video, opens up another window and opens up the reading video, clicks play on it too, both at once, Sherlock’s voice reading, Sherlock’s hands in fleece, on paper, Sherlock’s breath, the sounds his mouth makes, John’s hands sneaking inside his pants to wrap around his hot and aching cock.

He hisses at the contact.  His hands are cold, and it’s so good.  He twitches against his palm, leans back in his chair with a low moan, and begins to stroke in time with Sherlock’s strokes, thinks he can feel it, his own hand feeling detached, not his, could be Sherlock’s, could be…

Oh god.

He shouldn’t.  He shouldn’t.  He shouldn’t. 

Sherlock’s not interested in anything like this. 

It’s an invasion of—of…

God…

Sherlock’s finger’s curl in the fleece, nails on skin.  John feels it, thinks he feels it, over his chest, grazing his nipples.  He lifts his free hand to tease at one through his shirt, huffs and fumbles with his buttons, and reaches inside to pinch hard.  a perfect surge of pain/pleasure that causes his hips to arch up off the chair of their own volition. 

The chair is on wheels, it rolls a little, and John almost slides off, has to catch himself, losing his whole rhythm, he growls in frustration, rips the charge cord from his laptop and takes it over to the bed with him, sets it on his bedside table, and tilts the screen down so he can see it while he lies down, while he…

So, he’s doing this then, really doing it.

He knows he should stop, should definitely stop, but nothing has felt this good in a long time—such a long time.  Truth be told he wasn’t even sure if it could still feel like this (has it ever?), had started to think that maybe he was broken beyond repair, like maybe…  

Still it is probable that Bilbo, her only son, although he looked and behaved exactly like a second edition of his solid and comfortable father, got something a bit queer in his make-up from the Took side, something that only waited for a chance to come out. The chance never arrived, until Bilbo Baggins was grown up, being about fifty years old or so…

Sherlock’s voice is like caramel, thick, and rich, and sweet.  His hands knot into fists in the fleece.

Ffffuck!” 

His hand is a blur against his cock.  He wants to drag it out, but he wants to come more, and not in his sleep, in a dream, and not a quick, furtive or angry thing just to give himself a reset.  No, he wants to properly come, to take his time, to savour it and  feel wrung out, and sated, and properly fucked.

He stops, and his cock twitches in protest.  He’s so close, and no, he doesn’t want to come yet, he decides.  it’s too perfect. It’s special somehow.  This magic never happens for him.  He wants to take it slowly.

He scrambles to his feet, and strips, no shame, too far gone now to care about shouldn’t.

He fumbles about in his bedside drawer for lube.  He hasn’t used it in ages.  If he does have a wank it’s usually in the shower, or quick and angry leaning up against the wall or sprawled out on his bed, and he does it dry, so it hurts a little, so it reminds him not to like it too much, not to…

He puts his earbuds back in.  The lube is cold in his palm.  He waits for it to warm, lays on top of the covers, and closes his eyes, listens to Sherlock’s voice, and thrusts up into the cold air, denying himself, waiting until he’s so desperate for touch he thinks it might kill him.  It doesn’t take long with that voice in his ear, the phantom sensation of Sherlock’s hands on his body, each whisper of fingers over paper echos against his skin, each susurrus of fleece like fingers ghosting through his hair.  He opens his eyes just in time to see Sherlock knot his fist in the fleece and pull, in John’s hair and pull, and John moans loud, and thrusts up into the cold darkness and wraps his now hot, slick hand around his cock.

He sucks in a shaking breath at the slide of it.  So easy, pure pleasure, none of the drag and unpleasant friction he usually subjects himself to.  It should be hard, that, allowing himself this, but it isn’t.  He feels drunk.  And it’s partly the wine, partly that, but it’s mostly something else, everything else.  He’s floating, floating in a cloud of pleasure.

“Oh god.  God, Sher…”  He bites down hard on his bottom lip, and thrusts up into his fist, a steady rhythm, rocking like waves at sea, great swells of pleasure, rising, rising…

“Jesus…” 

“All the same I am pleased to find you remember something about me. You seem to remember my fireworks kindly, at any rate, and that is not without hope. Indeed for your old grandfather Took’s sake, and for the sake of poor Belladonna, I will give you what you asked for.”

“I beg your pardon, I haven’t asked for anything!”

“Yes, you have! Twice now. My pardon. I give it you. In fact I will go so far as to send you on this adventure. Very amusing for me, very good for you—and profitable too, very likely, if you ever get over it.”

He giggles and moans.  He’s never going to be able to read The Hobbit again.

Both videos are long, and thank god for that.  There’s minutes and minutes more.  He could drag it out for ages, and there’s something so delicious, so right about keeping himself like this, teetering on the edge.

Sherlock’s hand glides over the surface of the fleece, and John lets his free hand mirror it, slides his hand down over his chest, over his abdomen, strokes the inside of his thighs.  It’s cold in the room, but he’s plenty warm now, and sweat is starting to gather in the crease of his thighs.  He welcomes the slickness,  rolls onto his side, draws up his leg, and moves his fingers back, down behind his balls, strokes tentatively at his perineum.

He’s tried this once before, one of those nights when he’d been desperate for release, but his body wouldn’t seem to cooperate.  It had been different.  A little strange.  But, pleasurable.  But then he hadn’t been hard, aching, burning.  He wants to try it again now, see what might happen.

He finds the spot easily enough, three fingers, press, circles clockwise and then counter clockwise, has to let go of his cock or it will all be over too quickly, and he has 30 min left on both videos, time to relax into it, to let the pleasure go deep, suffuse his body and brain.

It’s slow building, but it always is.  It’s the sort of thing that takes time, and patience, and luckily he finds himself with both tonight.

Sherlock sighs loudly on the video, and John clenches, and releases, clenches and releases, lets the warm, full, heavy heat build, and build.  He watches Sherlock’s hands on paper.  He listens to the rise and fall of his voice.  He pants into the pillow beneath him and moans.

He’s starting to leak now, it’s dripping down onto his belly, and hip and the mattress, and he’s hard, harder than he can ever remember being.  It’s agony not touching, but beneath it all something else is starting to build, and he realises, as it grows, and grows, and grows, that this is it, this is what he hadn’t managed the last time.  He’s going to come this way, or is coming.  Whatever it is, it just keeps building and building until he’s high off of it, floating on a cloud of unending pleasure that seems to suffuse every cell, every bone and sinew, and it’s—it’s oddly emotional, and he doesn’t want to stop, even though it’s terrifying and heady all at once, even though he thinks he can hear Sherlock inside his head now, and feel Sherlock inside his body now, and even though he doesn’t know where he ends and this phantom of Sherlock begins.

He’s trembling all over, head to toe, he’s drenched in sweat, he’s overcome and it’s heaven.  He runs his free hand over his abdomen, it’s wet, the sheets beneath his weeping cock are wet, he’s panting, and shaking, and keening, and he thinks momentarily of the neighbours, and then thinks they can go fuck themselves.  He’s not stopping for anything.  He could keep going like this all night, he just might.

He’s in love.  God help him, he’s in love, and he can see that here, say that here, accept that here, and he doesn’t know what that will mean when he comes down from this, doesn’t want to think of that just now, he just wants—he just wants to feel it, because he never lets himself feel it without the anger, without the fear, without punishment, but now, here, like this, the weight of it is pressing down like water, rolling over him, and he laughs with tears in his eyes, and he lets himself.  He just lets himself.

His erection is flagging, but he doesn’t care.  He has no doubt he could get it up again in an instant if need be.  He’s so fucking keyed up, it’s like he’s passed into some other state of consciousness. 

He’d had this girlfriend in uni who had been into the Kama Sutra, and she’d always been harping on him to try orgasm delay, and deep breathing, and all other manner of odd shit, and he’d been young, and tired, and stressed, and he’d just wanted to get off and be done with it, and he’d probably been a bit of a dick about it all, if he’s honest.  He owes her an apology now, he thinks. 

As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and a jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.

He knows when he’s ready to let it subside, as Sherlock is well past the middle of the chapter by now, and John feels sweetly sated, somehow, even though he’s still coming in wave after blissful wave.

He slows his rhythm, slides his hand down to cup his balls, to fondle them a little.  The pleasure is sharp and sudden, and he groans loudly, and then runs his hand through the precome on his hip and belly and wraps his hand around his flagging erection, gives a tentative stroke, and groans again.  He’s hardening against his palm, just like that.  It will be quick, and as it curls tight in his centre, tighter, and tighter, drawing his balls up until it’s almost pain, he strokes in long, langrous pull, and he lets go, wholly lets it come.

It crashes over him and pulls him under, drowning him, transcendent release, making his back arch up off the mattress, and his toes curl, and his rhythm around his cock, falters as he starts to come, so hard, and so much he probably should have thought it through, but fuck, fuck, “Ffff…  Oh fuck.  FUCK!”

He grunts at the force of it, like being punched in the gut, wrung out, tumbled and tossed on a sea of sensation, and then left naked and gasping on the warm sand.  He whimpers and whines at the aftershocks. 

Someone downstairs raps loudly on the ceiling with a broom handle, and John laughs.  He laughs at the gorgeous absurdity of it all, lying here in the dark, covered in more come than a man his age should be able to produce, he thinks, nearly delirious in the afterglow, and the only catalyst was the voice of a near stranger in his ears, and an inexplicable love in his heart, and a willingness, a willingness to finally, finally let it happen.

Chapter Text

John wakes slowly to the sound of his phone buzzing on his nightstand.  He fumbles around blearily, and almost knocks it on the floor once, before finally scooping it up and squinting at the screen.  He’d thought it was a phone call, but it’s a series of texts from Sherlock, more coming in by the second.  He scrolls up to the top.  The first is a link—to the promised YouTube video, he assumes.  He yawns and sits up, scrolls down the rest of the texts, and frowns.

It’s just chatter, just Sherlock going on about biscuits, and the weather.  There’s something about having gone to Van Coons apartment, and him being dead in the middle, but then more prattle about violin concertos, and the works of John Locke, and something about a rare cat from Borneo called pardofelis badia.  

You okay?

Oh.  John.  Hello.

Hey.  Just woke up to a million texts?  What’s going on?

Nothing.  Nothing’s going on.  Why would anything be going on?

John stares down at his phone, quizzically.  It’s too early for this.

Van Coon was dead?

Yes.  Completely.  Utterly.

Right.  So, what now?

I’ve been to see Seb.

Yeah, you don’t have to do that, you know.  I can pass on any messages you might have, or ask him any more questions that need asking.  Don’t mind.

And then I filmed the video I promised.

I saw.  Ta.

you watched it

John stares down at all lowercase, no punctuation, and smiles.

Oh. 

Not yet.  Literally just opened my eyes.  Will do now, though.

Not literally.

What?

You didn’t literally just open your eyes.  You’ve been chatting with me for some time, and I highly doubt you were doing it with your eyes closed.

Okay.

John scrolls back up through the endless stream of texts and clicks on the link, sticks his headphones in, and snuggles back down under the covers.  The video begins with a shot of the now familiar black, leather chair, and after a moment a set of legs appear, hop up onto the seat, and then the man himself sinks slowly into a cross-legged, sitting position, facing the camera.

Jesus.

John hits the pause button.

He looks younger than John imagined, a lot younger.  Inky curls tumbling over a pale forehead, wide-set eyes that remind John of the crystal clear, aquamarine of the Gulf, lips like an angel, and a body that’s all angles—long, and lithe, and fit; somehow gangly and graceful all at once.  And then there are the hands, the voice. 

It was the voice, of course, that had been so deceiving.  He sounds eons older than he looks.

John thumbs open chat.   

How old are you?

why

Sherlock.

32

You wouldn’t have me on, right?  You’re telling the truth?

Of course, I’m telling the truth.  Why would I lie about something as pedestrian as my age?

You don’t look 32.  Thought you were just this side of legal.  Could maybe pass for 27 or 28 if you hadn’t had a good night’s sleep. ;)

Don’t be ridiculous.

Yeah, well hang on, I still have to watch this video.

oh

John goes back to youtube, maximises the screen, and just stares for a moment, before pressing play again.

Sherlock settles into his chair, folds his hands in his lap.  There is a small wrinkle forming between his brows.  He looks worried.  He’s nervous, John suddenly realises.  He watches him worry a small, loose thread at the knee of his trousers.  He’s more than nervous.  He’s—shy? 

“Good morning, John.  As promised, here I am.  I…”

The wrinkle is back.  John wants to reach through the screen and smooth it out. 

“I suppose I should have done this sooner, but it seemed rather unnecessary, and I was concerned that you might be put off.  Some people are.”

Some people are idiots, John thinks.

“Beauty can be a curse.”

John barks out a laugh.  Claps a hand over his mouth, and then chuckles with a shake of his head.  He opens chat again.

Beauty can be a curse?!  You gonna want that as a nickname, then?  ‘Hey Beauty.  Mornin’ Beauty.'

shut up

Hey.

Sherlock?

Just teasing.  I like it.  I like your face.

oh

John goes back to YouTube, presses play again.  

“I was going to put together something, but now I’m here, I find I—I don’t quite know what to say.  It’s quite different, this, putting something together specifically for someone.  Bespoke ASMR—I’m not sure anyone’s done that before.”

There’s a vulnerability to him that John didn’t expect.  

“I think perhaps, I will leave it at this, this morning, and—you will tell me if you’d like another? 

“Yes.  Yes, I think that will do.”

Sherlock gets up again, and shuts the camera off.

He is young.  Not just in looks, but it other ways too. 

John thinks about Sherlock’s brother, what he’d said about Sherlock not having any friends, thinks about fucking Sebastian Wilkes and his comment about everyone hating Sherlock at school.  He thinks about ‘never call, only text’.

John thumbs back to chat. 

You still there?

of course

You okay? 

why wouldn’t i be

John looks down at his phone.  He considers calling for one mad moment, but Sherlock is already uncomfortable, and that would probably just make it worse. 

Maybe honesty is best.  

That curator woman at the Tate was right.

what?

Walking Rossetti. 

She was the director, John.  Not a curator.

Right.  Whatever.  Point is, she was right.

He takes a deep breath. 

You’re bloody gorgeous.

I know.  It’s tedious.  Useful at times, but tedious.

John grins.

Use it to your advantage, do you? ;)

On occasion.

Right.

Better now?

Better?

Seemed like maybe it made you uncomfortable—the video, showing your face.  You don’t have to do it again if it makes you uncomfortable.

Don’t be stupid.  I wasn’t uncomfortable.  I was unprepared.  I should have had a script.  I’ll make you another if you want it.

Of course I do. 

Now, the thing with Van Coon, what are next steps?

I need you to go to the library.

What?


 

John combs through the stacks.  He has a reference number, so that gives him a general location of where to look.  But, really, he’s starting to feel a little odd about their arrangement.  If Sherlock had gone to the flat of a dead man earlier in the day, there’s no reason why he couldn’t have gone to the library.

Despite all assurances that he isn’t being viewed as a charity case, John is starting to feel it.  Old man, hobbling about.  What does someone as young, and fit and clever as Sherlock really need with a bloke like him?

He pulls back two more books and sees a flash of yellow.  He clears all the books from the shelf and stares at the now familiar cypher, takes a few photos, and then carefully re-shelves the books in the same order as before.

Well, that’s that done, then.


 

You there? 

Just on my way back to my flat from the National Gallery.  I had to see an expert on paint.  Did you find it?

Found it.  Sending you the pictures now.  Hold on.

John texts over the photos. 

Excellent!  I need you to go to the police station.

What police station.

New Scotland Yard.  Ask to speak to an Inspector Dimmock.

Sherlock, they’re not going to just talk to me.  They don’t even know me.

I’ll tell him you’re coming. 

Fine.

I need you to ask about the journalist.

Journalist?  What journalist?

The one who was murdered.

A journalist was murdered?

Of course, why do you think I sent you to the library?

I don’t follow.

No need.  Freelance journalist murdered in his flat, all the doors still locked from the inside, just like Van Coon.

Just like at the bank.

Yes.

Now, go to the police station and ask to see the personal effects of Brian Lukis.  I need a diary, a planner, something that will show us his movements.  I’m going to go to the bank and talk to Van Coon’s PA.  There must be something that connects them, somewhere where they paths intersect.

Right.  See Dimmock.  Ask about Lukis.  Get a diary.  Got it.

Good.  Now off you go.


 

Predictably it isn’t as easy as Sherlock made it sound for John to get into the MPS building and talk to Dimmock.  It’s not the sort of place you just stroll in.  But after several phone calls from the reception desk upstairs, he’s finally escorted to the third floor.

Dimmock is young, probably around Sherlock’s age.  No idiot then, or he couldn’t have risen to the role of Inspector so quickly.  He looks slightly put upon as he roots through the file box containing Lukis’ things.

“Your friend…”

“Mm?”

“Bit of an arrogant sod.”

John remembers a knit brow, and worrying hands, a lack of words.  “He can be, yeah.  Bloody brilliant, though.”

“Can’t argue that.”  Dimmock holds up a small, black leather book.  “This what you were looking for?”

John strides forward and takes it, flips through.  One page has been bookmarked, and pressed between it is a boarding pass from Dalian DLC to London LHR on Zhuang Airlines. 

So, Lukis had been to China.  Van Coon was an international trader.  It’s possible he’d been there, too.  Quite a bit of movement in China town, too.  Receipts from a cafe, an appointment at shop called The Lucky Cat Emporium. 

John shoots pictures of everything he thinks might be relevant, and texts them off to Sherlock.


 

It’s cloudy and cold.  John leans back in his bus seat and watches the dull blur race by outside.  His shoulder aches.  He rolls it a little to try and release some of the tension, and then remembers why it aches, and feels his cheeks heat. 

It had been impulsive, and hot, and a little bit terrifying, and he’d do it again in a heartbeat.  It had been ages since he’d been able to get himself that worked up, and he honestly can’t recall a better orgasm.  He should be bloody ashamed of himself, because he knows what it was that spawned it, and he’s never let himself give into it quite like that before, and it was rather inconsiderate considering Sherlock’s lack of interest, but he’s not sure he regrets it at all, and he’s not sure how he should feel about that.

John stares down at his phone, opens up his chat, scrolls back to find the private video link Sherlock had sent him.  He clicks, pauses, stares.  It’s ridiculous, ridiculous that a man should look like that.  Like art.  Really and truly like a walking piece of art.

John had not expected the softness about the eyes and mouth, he’d not expected the hesitance and vulnerability.  Sherlock had always seemed so confident, so strange, so almost abrasive at times, that John had expected a harder face.  Not cruel, not angry, but more imperious somehow.

As it is, the real Sherlock is an amazing amalgam of contradictions, and John is both confused and fascinated by how it makes him feel—a fierce urge to protect and direct, coupled with an aching desire to submit and obey.  He shivers, and smiles softly to himself, before frowning. 

He’s gotten so far ahead of himself, ahead of them both.  Sherlock has been more than clear and yet—he’s still here, he’s not running, he seems to be drawing John ever closer in some ways even as he continues to keep him at a distance in others. 

It’s madness.  It’s not even been a week since John met Mike in the park, and yet here he is, tumbling headlong into love, and isn’t that always just the way with him.  He doesn’t even want to think about what Ella will have to say.  Maybe he won’t tell her.  He doesn’t feel like being dissected just yet.  It’s still so new.  He’d prefer to keep it close, safe, his little secret.

He gets a text, this time from a number he doesn’t recognise.  

The unworthy shall be plucked from the earth.

Oddly foreboding for spam.  

Right.  Who’s this?

An East Wind is coming, Dr. Watson.

East wind?  John thinks of their case, the links to China.  He takes a screenshot and sends it to Sherlock. 

Just got this.  Unknown number.  Think it has to do with our case?

Good lord.  It’s my brother again.  Ignore it.

Your brother?  He always this dramatic and persistent?

Dramatic, yes.  But also unfailingly lazy.  This is rather outside his M.O.,  but I don’t have time to deal with it now.  When the case is over.  Just ignore him.

Okay.  Where are you?

At The Lucky Cat.

Oh yeah?  And was luck on your side? ;)

I’m an idiot.

Okay…

The cipher, John.  It’s Hangzhou!

It’s what, now?

An ancient numbering system, mostly used by street traders.  The symbols on the wall at the bank and at the library—numbers.  Numbers written in an ancient Chinese dialect.  A fifteen!  What we thought was the artist’s tag was a number fifteen.  And the blindfold, the horizontal line—the number one.

So we’ve found it!   Two men travel back from China. Both head straight for the Lucky Cat emporium. What did they see? 

It’s not what they saw; it’s what they both brought back with them. 

I’m assuming you don’t mean duty free. 

Seb told me that Van Coon stayed afloat in the market like no one else he knew.  Lost five million, made it back in a week.  This is how he made such easy money!

He was a smuggler?

A guy like him – it would have been perfect. Business man making frequent trips to Asia. And Lukis was the same—a journalist writing about China. Both of them smuggled stuff out, and the Lucky Cat was their drop-off. 

But why did they die? I mean, it doesn’t make sense. If they both turn up at the shop and deliver the goods, why would someone threaten them and kill them after the event, after they’d finished the job? 

What if one of them was light-fingered? 

Stole something; something from the hoard?

And the killer doesn’t know which of them took it, so he threatens them both.

Christ, you’re amazing.

There’s a long pause, and John wonder’s if he’s overstepped, if he’s that fucking transparent.

Of course you are, Idiot. 

It’s what I do.

Right.  I know.  But it’s still amazing to me.  We can’t all be geniuses.

Yes, well…  Be back in a bit.

What?  Why?  Where are you going?

Sherlock?

John sighs.  The bus is nearing his stop anyway.  And it’s nearly time for supper.  He has leftovers from his Tesco run the night before, so it shouldn’t take long to prepare.  Maybe he’ll eat, shower, settle in for some more ASMR.

You know what you’re really going to settle in for, stop lying to yourself.

He does eat, and shower, and even shaves, and then he sits and stares, and stares, and stares at his laptop.

He gets up and gets his phone, turns on the camera, tries to arrange a lighting situation where he doesn’t look like the crypt-keeper, and when he’s finally satisfied, clicks record.  

“Me again.”

He gives the camera a wave, and remembers too late that it makes him look like an idiot.  Oh well, all the more motivation to put his library books to use, and learn to edit. 

“It’s been a busy few days.  I’ve been helping SensoryScience out with his day job, and let me tell you, it’s been an adventure.  Keeps me on my toes, anyway.  He’s pretty, bloody amazing at what he does.  Wish you could all see him in action, but I think he likes to keep his real life and his channel here separate, and it’s not my place to expose all that.  Just know that he’s even more brilliant than he seems.

“It’s been nice having something to occupy myself.  Have been feeling a bit better, been out a bit more.  London’s a great city, isn’t it?  I’d forgotten, but travelling about for work has really made that clear.  I’ll be sad to leave here in a few months when my pension runs out.  If any of you know affordable flats on the outskirts, zone 4 or 5, or someone who’s looking for a flat share, let me know.  I’m sort of in the market.

“Been curious about the ASMR stuff.  I seem to have pretty limited and specific triggers.  Is that usual?  What about all of you, what are you triggers, what floats your boat, and what turns you off completely?  Guess I’m wondering if I’m a bit of a freak, or if this sort of narrow focus is normal.  Should please SensoryScience.  More data for his research, both from me and in the comment section from all of you.

“Guess that’s all for now.  Still not sure why all of you are here, but welcome anyway, and bye until next time.”

He plays it back, and decides that the wave can stay.  He’s too bloody knackered to be bothered to edit.  He posts, and then sits back to watch some more of Sherlock’s videos.  It would help if he’d put titles on them like everyone else. 

John clicks randomly, listening to the intro to each one, relaxing just to the sound of Sherlock’s voice.  Finally he finds one that piques his interest.  Mouth sounds.

Sherlock is sitting at a table, there is green tile behind him.  He’s wearing a dark blue shirt that makes his skin of his upper chest and throat glow with the contrast.  There is no mike stand visible, so John figures he must have mounted it overhead somehow.  He leans toward it, and starts to make a series of soft, wet sounds with his mouth, like someone might if parting their lips, clucking their tongue, swallowing, kissing.

John’s skin prickles.

It’s good.  It’s very good.  He can feel the tension of the day letting go.  He leans back and lets his eyes slide shut, and just listens.

“You know what you like.”

His eyes snap open, and Sherlock in the video is looking straight at him.

“What?”

“You know what you want.”

“What do you mean?”

You know what you want.  Ask for it.”

“Do you?”

Sherlock blinks.  That small wrinkle in his brow reappears, the one that makes John ache to smooth it away.

“Do you know what you want, because it can’t just be me.”

Sherlock is pouring water from a beaker into a bowl.  “You’re avoiding the question, Ophelia.”

“What did you say?”

Sherlock looks up/down at him.  “Ophelia.”

And John is floating in a sea of flowers, water under and around, and Sherlock’s eyes are the colour of the water, the colour of the Gulf, an oasis in the desert.  John smiles, and feels hands slide beneath him, hold him up.  He breathes in—sand, hot, and rough, and burning.

He wakes up gasping, coughing.  His phone is buzzing on his desk.

He sucks in great, gulping breaths, and waits until his heart has calmed, and his pulse slowed before he picks it up and sees it’s a text from Sherlock. 

I owe you an apology.

Okay.  For what?

Today.  The video.  It was lazy, and unforgivable of me.  I’d promised you and I failed to deliver.

Yeah.  Okay.  You don’t really need to apologise for that, you know.  I don’t see you as some sort of ASMR vending machine.  You’ve got enough on at the moment.  Take your time.

What if I want to.

Want to what?  Make me a video? 

yes

Right, well then, I’d be plenty grateful, but there’s no rush and no pressure.

I’m an idiot, clearly.

No.  I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on with you.

What?

I mean you’ve seemed uncomfortable ever since I asked.  I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.  If it’s crossed some sort of line then forget the whole thing.  I mean that sincerely, Sherlock. 

It’s the case.  I’m always this way when I have a case.

Then focus on the case.

There is a long pause, so long that John wonders if Sherlock hasn’t taken him quite literally and run off again, without a word.  Finally…  

John?

Yeah.

i hadn’t expected to like you quite so much

John’s heart stops beating.  

do you mind?

Jesus.  

No.  Of course I don’t mind.  I hadn’t expected to like you quite so much either.

Oh.

Yeah.  So maybe stop worrying now.

Wasn’t worrying.

Yeah, you were.

You don’t mind if I wait until after the case.  I can’t be distracted at the moment.

Just put it out of your head.  No rush.

I saw the one you posted tonight.

Oh yeah?

You’re not a freak.

No?  Well ta.

You're not!  You're different, unique.

Yeah, okay.

Will you keep posting, do you think?

Not sure why people want to see me just sitting at my desk babbling away, but they seem to.  Might do a few more.

Good.

John smiles. 

Oh, you like them then, do you?

They help me focus.

What, really?

Yes.  The sound of your voice.

That’s not one I hear everyday.  You want me to record something for you?  Reading a book, maybe?  Like you did for me.

You would do that?

Yeah, of course.  ‘Course I would.

If you would, it would be most appreciated.

I’ll have it for you in the morning.  Any requests?

treasure island

Yeah?  Okay.  Treasure Island it is.

Chapter Text

John takes his time with it, puts on the one shirt he has that always gets him attention, sets a chair in a corner, flicks on a lamp, tests the lighting set up a few times, and then realises he can’t stretch the cord from his microphone all the way from the phone to where he’s sitting.  He decides to wait until morning, and then go out in search of a better arrangement.  Hopefully he’ll be able to find something to suit that isn’t too expensive.

But since he’s all set up, he considers another video.  Maybe a private one this time, like what Sherlock made for him.

He checks notifications on the video he had posted earlier, first.

 

CatLadyNextdoor:

Maybe there is something wrong with you.  I respond just fine to SensoryScience’s videos, all his triggers.  He’s really good at what he does.  His is my favourite channel.

 

Sam Loves Frodo:

I think everyone has different triggers and that’s just normal.  Some people don’t get tingles at all.  I like the tapping ones.  You two are really cute, talking about one another in your videos.  Do you think you would ever do a collab, because that would be brilliant!

 

CagedBird29:

Definitely a freak

 

DreamGirl69: 

My offer still stands, Captain.  Consider it. ;)

 

SemperFi382:

Hadn’t heard of this until you mentioned it.  Tried some out.  It helps, I think.  So thanks, buddy.  Appreciate it.  Not everything worked, though, so I’m not sure that makes you all that weird.  Probably just the nature of the beast, you know.

 

DaddysLittleGurl23:

I liked the one where he read The Hobbit.  I like anything where someone reads to me, or any personal attention.  Have you seen those ones where they pet the camera?  I like those.  Sometimes Daddy makes me one if I’ve been a good girl.  Anything with crinkling makes me shiver, and not in a good way.  I avoid the crinkling ones.

 

Little Boy Lost:

It takes a great mind to be truly responsive to genius.  You could never truly connect with him.

 

Draco’s Boy Who Lived:

I like the fantasy role play.  Really immersive.  I can just lose myself in those.  But there are other things like tapping, or other noises that just don’t do it for me.  Like, it’s nails on a blackboard, you know.  I don’t think you’re odd in that.  I think that’s just how it is.  It’s a bit like sex—everyone likes something different, and it’s just about finding out what you like and don’t like, and sometimes that takes time and experimentation.

 

StrawberryFields:

I get tingles from a lot of triggers, but not everything.  I don’t like personal attention where they look right in your eyes.  It makes me cringe.  I like soft sounds, soft touches.  One where the artist is stroking something soft are my favourite.  All over tingles.  So sweet.  The best!

 

There is the usual dross, of course, but John is pleasantly surprised at how helpful some people are attempting to be.  He thinks back to Sherlock’s survey questions those first couple of days, the way he brushed off so many of the answers and feels a twinge of guilt.

He looks over at his phone, he was going to do a personal video for Sherlock, maybe he could…  He takes his phone over to his desk and sets it up behind his laptop, as usual.  Plugs in his mic.

 

“Hey.  Was going to read to you, just like I promised, had it all set up, but then I realised that I don’t have a long enough cord for my mic to get the shot I want, so I’ll go out in the morning and try to find something that will work, but for now, I thought I’d do this.  Hope it’s okay. 

“When you had me fill out your survey questions I wasn’t always very honest.  Sometimes I just brushed you off.  That wasn’t fair.  I’m not good at this sort of thing, really—talking—about things.  Most times I’d just rather not.  Makes me feel a bit of a prat, weak or stupid, or—I don’t know.  It’s just uncomfortable.  But I’m going to try.  I’m going to try to give your questions a proper answer.

“So, I guess I’ll start with your first survey…”

John looks down at the questions, and takes a deep breath.  He’s never talked to anyone about some of these things before, not even his therapist, and it seems foolhardy, and stupid, and like he’s just setting himself up for disaster.  But then he remembers Sherlock’s visible, painful anxiety, the fact that he soldiered on despite it, and he remembers Wilkes odd reference to a drug overdose when he heard Sherlock was in the hospital, and Sherlock’s brother’s suggestion that John might be the making or breaking of him, and he thinks that if anyone might understand, and if anyone could be trusted to see John’s eccentricities and odd, broken bits as just parts of a greater whole, it would be Sherlock. 

“Right, so…  Age, gender.  You know that.  Sexuality.  That’s—complicated.  Umm…  I’ve never really been asked to talk about this, to put it into words, so if I make a fool of myself, I’m sorry.  I’m not sure I know how to talk about it.

He stares down at his lap, and carves a groove into the desktop with his fingernail.  

“I’ve always dated women, been with women.  I don’t…  I enjoy it—them…  I’m not gay.  I’m not.  But, sometimes—sometimes, with some men, there’s this thing, this connection, and I don’t know what that makes me.  I don’t know.

“I’ve never done anything about it.  Not exactly.  Okay, that’s not true.  Not exactly true.  I, umm…  I think maybe I put off a vibe.  Don’t laugh.  I know I sound like a nutter.  I just mean, I think sometimes other blokes pick up on it, and when they do, if they do, and they seem interested, I sort—flirt back, I guess. 

“I don’t realise it really, or I didn’t.  I didn’t realise it.  But something happened just before I came back to England.  Something happened with someone, and I did that thing I do, flirted back, I guess, and I hurt him, because when it comes down to it, really comes down to it, I—I can’t.  I just can’t.  And I don’t know why.  I think there’s something wrong with me.”

John stops, suddenly.  Has to swallow down an emotion he doesn’t even understand.  The computer and phone screens swim in front of his eyes.  He feels like a fucking fool.  He waits until he’s mastered himself and then continues. 

“Listen, I hope this doesn’t scare you off.  I know you’re not interested in all that—love, romance, sex.  I respect that.  I’m not going to force myself on you, and I’m not going to string you along, only be a dick either.  And I know, I know you probably have zero reason to believe that now, given everything I just said.  I—I maybe shouldn’t have…

“Shit.”

John stands up, goes to the kitchen, pours himself a drink.  He’s still recording.  He’ll have to edit.  He’s too bloody tired to figure it out.  Fuck.

He goes back and sits down. 

“Sorry.  Sorry, just needed a little…”

He lifts the glass into the view of the camera, takes a sip and sets it down again. 

“What I’m trying to say is, I like you.  I think you’re brilliant, and I like helping you with the cases, and chatting, and the videos.  Whatever this is, I like it, and I hope I’ve not just scared you off.  You’d have every right to be scared off.  I…  Jesus, I’m sorry.”

John rubs a hand over his face, and drops his head to rest on his hand.  He stares at the screen. 

“I guess I’m all in now, so…”

“Physical or Mental health conditions.  The PTSD you guessed, I’ve mentioned.  I suppose I have that.  Don’t know.  I didn’t feel traumatised being over there.  I mean I went through a rough time after I got injured.  Shot.  I was shot in the shoulder, and there was a lot of infection.  It was a mess, and I don’t like being like that, you know, weak as a lamb, not even able to get up to go to the toilet by myself.  That was hard.  I like to know I can take care of myself if I need to.

“But being over there was good.  Made me feel useful.  Made me feel alive, you know.  There was always something, something to do, something to attend to.  You run off of adrenaline, and it’s good.

“So, I don’t know why my therapist says PTSD.  Maybe because I’m angry a lot.  Maybe because I have nightmares, and trust issues.  But I’ve always been like that, you know.  It wasn’t being over there that did it.  So, I don’t know.

“Have a thing wrong with my leg, too.  They don’t know what the problem is there.  I broke it when I was kid, and it just flares up sometimes.  It’s been bad since I got back.

“Headaches sometimes, bad ones. 

“Think that about covers it.”

John reaches over and grabs his cane from where it’s leaning against his desk, holds it up in front of the camera.  

“Have to use this a lot, these days.  Hate that.  Hate the way people look at me.

“I’d love to meet someday, to help you with your cases, properly, but I’d probably just slow you down, an old man like me.  So maybe what we have is best."

John stares down at his hands and hates himself. 

“That kind of brings us back to that one-on-one interview question.  Still would do.”

He looks back up at the camera. 

“Would you ever want to meet?  Could go somewhere for coffee and a proper chat.”

He looks away again. 

“No pressure.  No pressure, okay.  I just—if you wanted to, might be nice.  Probably don’t want anything of the kind after all this.” 

He huffs.  

“But if you wanted to, just say the word.”

John glances up at his computer screen. 

“Guess that was it for the first survey. Onto the second one.

“You asked about mirror-touch synaesthesia.  I’ve been experiencing it more, since that video.  I’ve watched some more of your videos, and I like the ones where you stroke things, feels like…  Christ, this sounds filthy, and it isn’t, okay.  I don’t mean it to be.  Umm…  You asked for feedback, so I guess… 

“When I watch those ones it’s like I can feel it.  I watch what you do, and I can feel it on my own skin.  It can get pretty intense.  And I think I remember it now, more, from when I was a really little kid, I just—I don’t remember much of my childhood, to be honest.  There’s these long, blurry periods, so maybe I’m not really remembering anything, and just think I am, but I thought it would be worth mentioning—for your research.”

John looks down at the list again. 

“Mental health diagnosis related to empathy.  Don’t really know what you’re getting at here?  Is it because of the synaesthesia?  Yeah, I read up about it, a bit.  Googled it, like you’re always ordering people to do.  Supposed to indicate high empathy.  Not sure that’s me. 

“Like I said when I first answered your survey, if I’d been as empathetic as they describe in the synaesthesia articles, not sure I could do my job.  Too painful, I imagine.  I can switch it on and off.  Most of the time I don’t feel anything.  More of a numbness, if that makes sense.

“Ella, that’s my therapist, well she says Depression, Anxiety.  She’s probably got a whole list of other things, too.  She’s always scribbling away when I’m there.  But I don’t feel sad.  I don’t worry about things.  So she’s probably got it all wrong, hasn’t she.

“But anyway, to answer your question, I don’t know.  I know I’m numb enough to do my job, to get on.  I don’t think I’m hyper-empathetic, but I don’t think I’m a complete monster either.  I can feel bad for people, you know.  I can try to put myself in their shoes.  I’m not a psychopath.”

John looks at the next question, reaches down and drains the rest of the whiskey in his glass in one, long pull, before beginning. 

“Child abuse.  Not sure why you asked this?  Is it to do with the empathy? 

“I guess, maybe things at home were different than for most kids.  My mum left when I was a wee thing, and my dad was a drunk, an angry drunk, and when he was drunk, and angry, he could be…  Well, you had to watch your back.  Keep quiet.  Lay low.  My sister wasn’t particularly good at that.  I was better at it, until I got old enough to be tired of his shit.

“I don’t know if my mum knew what was going on.  My sister says she did, and didn’t do anything about it.  I don’t know.  I didn’t ask her, and then she was dead, and it was too late. 

“But when I got old enough to be out on my own, I left and never looked back. 

“Heard dad died alone in a flat in East London somewhere.  Pickled his liver, I’m sure.  He wasn’t old. 

“I didn’t feel anything.  Maybe that does mean I have an empathy problem, I don’t know.  He died alone, and they found him in a pool of his own vomit, and piss and shit, and I didn’t care, didn’t feel anything.  I’ve never even been to his grave.”

John lifts his glass to his lips, realises it’s empty and sets it back down again. 

“You asked if there was anything else I wanted to tell you, and I was a bit of a dick.  Sorry ‘bout that.  But if you’re giving me another go, I guess I’d like to tell you thank you.  Thank you, for the chats.  Thank you for letting me help out with your work.  Thank you for—for wanting to be my friend. 

“Don’t have many of those, truth be told.  It’s usually acquaintances, or colleagues, or lovers.  Don’t know how to do in between, and it’s been nice, good.  I’ve enjoyed it—us.  I enjoy the me I am when I’m around you.  Don’t know what that means, I just know that I hope it lasts.

“I was pretty hard up when Mike turned me on to your channel, and it—you, pulled my head above water and kept it there, so thanks. 

“And I guess that’s all, really.  Might not even send this, I—I’ve never told anyone half this stuff, not even Ella.  Guess I probably don’t need to say I hope you’ll keep it just between us.  People talk, you know. 

“I don’t need to tell you that, do I.  I trust you, and I have no idea why.  I don’t trust anyone.  But you’re—well, you’re you, and that’s good enough for me.”

John sits back, and rubs his hands over the tops of his thighs.  

“Well, that’s me off then.  Sorry about the reading video.  It’s still coming, I promise.  And let me know if you need any more help on the case.  I’m ready and waiting.

“‘Night Sherlock.”

He presses stop on the recording and then sits back to consider his options.  If he rewatches it, he won’t send it.  He’s 100% sure of that.  He might not send it anyway.  But Sherlock is sitting there waiting.

Maybe, probably not, not really, no, he’s focussed on a case, not waiting at all, not…

John feels a fool.  He’s going to start coming off over-eager.  He’s going to scare Sherlock away.  It’s all going to be over before it’s even begun, and he’s being too trusting, too open.  He’s just setting himself up.

He gets up, goes into the kitchen, and pours himself another couple of fingers of whiskey, leans back against the wall and thinks.

“You want to send it to me.” 

Shit.  Sherlock’s voice, clear as day.  John ignores it—tries to ignore it.

“What is the worst that could happen, John?”

John takes another sip of his drink and screws his eyes shut.  He should be grateful it’s Sherlock’s voice in his head, he supposes.  He's supplanted James, it seems, but..

“John, look at me.”

And John does, even though he knows there is no Sherlock standing there in his kitchen, any more than there used to be a James, or a Peter, or his mother.

The Sherlock in his head smiles at him.  It’s soft, and gentle, and all the things John doesn’t deserve. 

“What is the worst that could happen?”

John drains his glass, and brings a hand up to cover his eyes.  The words twist and scrape out of him, raw and bloody.  “You could leave.”  It’s barely a whisper, and John can hear the desperation, and the pain, and the fucking, pathetic weakness, but he wants, god how he wants.  “I think I love you, and you could leave me.”

“True.  I could leave you.”

John’s eyes snap up of their own volition. 

“I could leave.  Or maybe, I’ll stay.  It’s a risk.  Only you can decide if it’s one you’re willing to take.”

John looks at this Sherlock, a full facsimile now that he has all the details, body, voice, face, expression.  “Would you stay with me tonight?”

The facsimile shakes its head.

“That’s not really what you want, John.  So no, I don’t think I will.”

And just like that he’s gone. 

John feels relief and bereft all at once.  He looks over at his phone still propped up behind his laptop, video still waiting to be deleted or sent.  His glass is empty.  His options weighed.

He walks over, picks up the phone, and opens YouTube.

It takes him a few minutes to figure out how to post as private with a link, and a few minutes more to load the video, due to its length.  But finally it’s done, and all there is to do is to text the link to Sherlock.

His hands are shaking.

Had a nice set up for reading Treasure Island and then realised my mic wouldn’t reach.  Recorded you something else to tide you over.  Hope it’s alright.

He posts the link, and clicks send, and then gets into bed, fully clothed, and shuts off the lights.  He’s still shaking, can't stop shaking.  It’s going to be one of those sorts of nights, it seems. 

Fuck.

Chapter Text

He shouldn’t have drank so much.  It’s always a thing he feels he needs in the moment, but that only makes it worse afterwards.  Sherlock will be off working on the case.  John knows this, he told him, and yet here it is going on 4:00 in the morning, and John is almost ill with the anxiety of waiting.

He hasn’t slept a wink.

When his phone rings, he’s just finally dropping off to sleep, and it wakes him with a jolt of adrenaline. 

Not Sherlock.  Sherlock doesn’t call. 

His sister then.  Another car accident maybe? 

Shit.

He fumbles about and accepts the call, only realising after he’s clicked accept, that it’s a video call.  The screen shifts into focus, and it takes John’s sleep-fuzzy brain a second to register that he’s looking at Sherlock. 

“John?”

For a moment he thinks he’s dreaming.  He rubs a hand over his eyes, scratches the back of his neck, and half sits up.  When he looks again, Sherlock is still there.

“Hey.”  He feels his heart stop, and his stomach flip.  He wasn’t expecting this, wasn’t expecting it at all.

“A girl is dead.”

John sits up further, and tries to clear the sleep from his brain.  “What?”

“A girl.  I should have stopped it.  I was foolish.  I was stupid.  I was horribly, unforgivably stupid.”

“To do with the case, you mean?”

“Yes, of course to do with the case!”  He snaps.

John squints at the small screen in the dark.  Sherlock is pacing fisting his hands in his hair and pulling hard.  He’s in a state, it’s clear.

“Can you sit down.  Sit down and tell me.”

“I just did!”

“Yeah, okay.  You want me to let you go, then?”

Sherlock’s eyes snap back to the screen.  “No!”  He seems to catch himself.  “No.  I—I’m sorry.”  He sits down in the black leather chair John has seen in his videos.  He’s fighting to sit still, but it’s clearly a losing battle.  His leg bounces, and his fingers thrum against the arm.

John’s head is swimming.  This isn’t how he thought it would be the first time they talked face-to-face.  And he doesn’t know why it’s happening now, why tonight.

“I saw your video.  I was at the police station, and I saw it.”  Sherlock blurts.

“Oh.  Yeah?”

“Yes.  I…  It was…  Thank you, John.”  His tone is stiff and oddly formal.

“For what?”

“Your trust.”

“Okay.”

He doesn’t know what else to say.

It’s strange, this, sitting in bed, talking to Sherlock, seeing him, knowing that there are only a few miles of city streets between them.  That hadn’t struck him until now.  They live in the same city.  Maybe they even walk the same streets.  They’re so close, and yet somehow the false divide of the internet has made the distance seem infinite.  There has been a kind of safety to it that he’s been taking for granted, and now all of that has been stripped away, in an instant.

“This was inconsiderate of me.  I hadn’t realised it was quite so late.  Well, early.  I should have perhaps asked first?  Not sprung this on you?”

“It’s okay,” John reassures softly.

“You’re in bed.  You’re—in your clothes?”

“Oh yeah, I…  Not a good night.  Guess I forgot to take them off.  But tell me about this girl.  What happened?”

Sherlock gets up again, begins to pace the floor, and John catches brief glimpses of a messy, but homely flat behind him.  Bit old fashioned, bit eccentric, filled to overflowing with clutter, but homely.

“It’s a very long story.”

“I’ve got all night.”

“She was the key, John, the answer to who Lukis and Van Coon were smuggling for.  The Black Lotus.  A crime syndicate out of China.  They smuggle fine art, artefacts—drugs.  She worked for them.  She and her brother.  Orphans.  No other choice.  She got away, started a new life.  He stayed.  He’s the one who tracked down and killed Lukis and Van Coon.  And tonight—he found her.”

“Her own brother killed her?”

Sherlock nods.  “I was there, interviewing her.  I hoped she could help me to interpret the cipher.  I—I got distracted, and by the time I got back, she…”  He rakes a shaking hand through his hair.

“I think you’re in shock.”

“I’m not in shock.  Why would I be in shock?  I have no reason to be in shock.”  Sherlock looks up at the camera, desperate.  He looks like he needs to not be alone, and that’s something John can help with.

“You want me to read to you?”

“What?”

“Well, I promised you Treasure Island, and you ended up getting my sad, sorry life story instead.  Thought maybe you’d like me to read something.”

The now familiar wrinkle forms at Sherlock’s brow and then smoothes out again.  “I was honoured that you would tell me.  And I was astounded at your courage.”

John doesn’t know what to say.  The stiff formality is gone, replaced with the sort of intensity and sincerity that would normally send John running for the hills—the words, the way Sherlock looks at him, eyes locked on his, open, earnest.  No one’s ever… 

He has to look away.

“But, if you would read to me…”  John looks up again, and Sherlock smiles.  “I would be most grateful.  There are nights when I’m best not left to my own devices.  I believe tonight is one of them.”

“Yeah?  Okay.  Just a minute, let me get my laptop.”

He lays his phone on his nightstand, and goes across the room for his computer, gets back into bed.  “Hang on.  Just have to find it online.”

“Project Gutenberg has it.”

“Right.  Okay.  Oh wait, here it is.”

He scrolls down to the the first page of the first chapter.

“You ready?”

Sherlock walks across the room, sits, and John sees a flash of familiar, velvet brocade wallpaper behind him before he lays down, curls an arm under his head, and sighs.   “Alright.  Begin.”

“Okay.” 

“Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17__ and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodging under our roof.”

He sees Sherlock visibly relax.  He shifts his phone a little, must prop it up against his forearm somehow. 

“I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow—a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man, his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulder of his soiled blue coat, his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails, and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white. I remember him looking round the cover and whistling to himself as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterwards:           

“Fifteen men on the dead man's chest—

Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”

He reads for what seems like hours, watches Sherlock’s eyes slide shut, only to pop open again at certain intervals, find him on his phone screen, and fall shut again.  He’s restless at first, but then falls deeper, and deeper.

After awhile John stops reading and just watches.  He watches Sherlock sleep.  He looks even younger, if that’s possible, mouth lax, eyes rolling about beneath closed lids.  He has lovely eyelashes, dark and full, and his lids are so pale that John can see the thin purple web of veins beneath.

Beautiful.

John aches to touch him.

Just to touch.

He wonders what those curls would feel like between his fingers, if Sherlock’s slightly flushed cheeks are as warm and smooth as they look (how, so late in the day?), what his full bottom lip might feel like beneath his thumb.

John licks his lips, and sighs.  He closes his laptop and sets it on the floor, and then lays back down with his phone, and watches his fill until he falls asleep himself.


 

He wakes to a dead phone, and a strange, muffled stillness. 

A glimpse outside reveals a world blanketed in snow.

The flat is freezing, so he dresses in layers, before shuffling into the kitchenette to make breakfast.  He does it proper: soft boiled eggs, toast with marmalade, tea.  He thinks about venturing out to look for a longer mic cord, and then reconsiders.  It’s likely all the bus routes will be running slow, and traffic will be a nightmare.

He munches on his toast, and flips open his laptop.  Checks The Guardian for the first time in ages. 

Young Woman Murdered in National Antiquities Museum

Soo Lin Yao.  Her name was Soo Lin Yao.  She worked in restoration.  John looks at the photo of the girl, and feels a twinge of regret.  So young, finally building the life she’d always wanted, and then the other shoe dropped.  It’s a scenario that haunts him constantly.

He reads the rest of the article.  No mention of Sherlock.  No texts from Sherlock when his phone recharges either, so perhaps he’s still sleeping.  John hopes so. 

He’s still reeling.  He needs time to think, to let things settle.

You’re the one who asked him if he’d ever like to meet, and now you want to draw back over a video call?! 

See.  You knew you would do this.

You always do this!

John gets up and goes to stand by the window.  The flakes are fat, floating down slowly from a slate-grey sky.  There are children making angels in the snow in the common area below, and John wonders, for one brief moment, what it would feel like if he opened the window, climbed onto the sill and stepped off.

Just stepped off.

Down.

      Down.

           Down.

                 Fallen angel.  Crimson, crushed.  Broken, bloody.  Sullying all that white purity beneath.

He sucks in a deep breath, and lets it out again, stares up the sky.  Maybe he’s too old to change.  Maybe there have been too many mistakes, too many wrong turns, bad decisions.  Maybe…

“Maybe you hate yourself too much.”  Sherlock’s voice says.

“Maybe you should mind your own bloody business.”

“Maybe you should stop talking to yourself and talk to me.  The real me.”

“Maybe YOU shouldn’t have called me out of the blue!”

“Maybe you shouldn’t be so afraid to be happy.”

John huffs.  Alone in this dismal flat arguing with himself. 

Pathetic.

His phone vibrates on the desk across the room.  He ignores it.

What is he doing?  What is he really doing?

Sherlock is this bright, beautiful, young thing, and he—he’s old, and faded, and worn out. 

Useless. 

Desperately trying to win back some sense of purpose, when he’s simply a waste of space, now, and he knows it.

His phone buzzes again, and he sighs, steps away from the window, and scoops it up.

When the wind is in the east, 

'Tis neither good for man nor beast.

John scowls.

 

Who the fuck is this?

 

Zhi Zhu

 

What?

 

A spider. 

The Spider.

Spider at the centre of a web.

 

Yeah, I don’t know who you are, but stop texting this number.

 

Little Miss Muffet

Sat on a tuffet…

 

Maybe you didn’t understand me.  We’re done.

 

Out comes the sun

And dries up all the rain…

John tosses his phone on the desk, and glares down at it, as though he might be able to stop the onslaught with sheer force of will, alone. 

Bloody irritating, it’s getting.  Case or no case, Sherlock needs to reel his fucking brother in. 

 

Why don’t you do it, Dr. Watson?

You know you want to.

 

Jump

John takes a step back from the desk in shock, and then strides over to the window, stands just to the side of it, shielding his body behind the comfort of a good foot of concrete wall, and peeks out at the building across from his.  No lights on.  No movement that he can see.  The children below are still shrieking and giggling as they pelt one another with snow.  He backs away again, leans against the wall and presses the balls of his hands against his eyes.

Steady on, Watson, you’re getting paranoid.  Take a breath.

He does.  He takes a deep breath, lets it out slow.  Takes a few more.  Looks around the room, murmurs the name of items aloud, names the men in his regiment, counts backwards from fifty.

He picks up his phone again, and stares down at it.  The messages are still there.

He screenshots them, and texts them to Sherlock. 

This still your brother?  Because it’s getting a bit old now.

He doesn’t get any response, and tries not to get paranoid about that too.

His phone rings, and he sighs with relief, and snatches it up.

“Sherlock, hey.”

“Hello?  This is the office of Ella Thompson calling for John Watson.”

Shit.

“Oh, hey.  Yeah.  Sorry.  Must have forgot that was today.”

“Ms. Thompson said to tell you that she is willing to conduct your session via Skype if you prefer.”

“No, that’s—fine.  Don’t want to be a bother.  I’ll catch her next week.”

“If you’re quite sure.  It’s really no bother.  She’s doing it for all her clients today due to the inclement weather.”

“Right.  Okay.  Yeah, I guess.  What do I have to do?”

“Do you have a Skype account?”

“I usually just use my phone.  It’s an iPhone.”

It takes them a few minutes to get him all set up, and John wishes he just hadn’t bothered, because there’s really no point anyway, and he’s itching with anxiety over Sherlock not answering his text, and he still feels like there are eyes on him, and therapy is the absolute last thing he needs at the moment.

“Hello, John.”  Ella looks as calm and collected as ever.

“Hey.”

“Glad we could make this work for you.”

“More for you, I guess.”  He instantly regrets it.

“You’d rather not be here today?”

John just shrugs.  “Bit busy.”

“Oh?”

She wants him to elaborate.  He won’t.

“Do you feel I’m wasting your time?”

“More me wasting yours.  Listen, I don’t really think this is helping me.”

“Why is that?”

“We don’t talk about anything.”

“These sessions are your time, John.  We can talk about whatever you like.”

“Yeah, well maybe I don’t want to talk!”  He sniffs and slumps back in his chair.  He didn’t mean to get quite so…  Christ, he’s on edge.

“We can do that too, if you prefer.”

“What, just sit here?”

“If you’d like.”

John does just out of spite.  Ella simply leans back in her chair, and looks at him.  And looks, and looks.

Outside the children have stopped playing.

John sniffs again, and reaches down to pull at a loose thread on the cuff of his shirt.  “I met someone.”

“Oh?”

“Mm.  Interesting bloke.  Detective.”  He looks back up at the screen.  “He’s been letting me help him on his cases a bit.”

“A job?”

“I guess.  I’m being compensated.”

“How so?”

“What?”

“How are you being compensated?”

“He pays me.  Christ!"

Ella seems undisturbed and undeterred by his outburst.  “And is it work you’re enjoying?”

John rubs a hand across his eyes.  “Yeah.  I guess.  Feels good to be doing something.”

“That’s good, John.”

“Met him through a friend.  He’s brilliant, really.  Fantastic.  I mean, I think he’s a proper genius.  He can tell things about people just by looking at them.  He helps out the police when they can’t solve cases. 

‘We’re working on a case now.  Did you see the thing in the papers about the girl at the Antiquities Museum?”

“Yes, I did.”

“That was us.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, we didn’t kill her, obviously.”  He chuckles, and Ella doesn’t, so he just continues on.  “I just mean that was a part of our case.”

“And how did that make you feel?”

“How did what make me feel?”

“The girl’s murder.”

“Oh, I wasn’t there when it happened.  Sherlock was, and I think he was pretty shaken up.  Had to talk him down a bit last night.”

“That was kind of you.”

“Well, he would have done the same for me.”

“So, you’re friends?”

The question catches John off guard.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Reciprocal acts of caring are one of the hallmarks of friendship.  I’m just asking if you consider Sherlock to be a friend.”

“As opposed to…?”

“You seem defensive, John.  Do you want to talk about that?”

“No, I bloody don’t.”

Ella goes quiet.  John can see her writing something down.  Of course.  Of course she fucking is.

“It’s not like that.”

She looks up.  “Like what?”

“What you’re thinking.”

“What am I thinking?”

John clenches his jaw, sniffs.  His leg is killing him. 

“Listen, just because I mentioned the stuff with James, doesn’t mean you need to start…”

Still she waits, and he hates that most of all, because most people will rush to fill in for you, and you can just let them think what they want to think, or it at least gives you something to react to, but this—this empty space.  Here, there’s nothing but silence, a silence that he is expected to fill, and it’s unbearable. 

“What am I thinking, John?”

“We’re not a couple.”  John waits for a look of shock, or discomfort, or surprise.  It never comes.

“What makes you think that I would assume you were a couple.”

“People assume things.”

“Do they?”

“Yeah.  Yeah, of course they do.  They assume things, and they say things, and they—they do things with those assumptions, and it’s fucking dangerous.”

“Why dangerous?”

“You know.  Anyone who pays attention to anything knows what I’m talking about.”

“I’d like you to tell me.”

“People suffer from people assuming…  People die.”

“People?”

“You—you remember the West End Murders in ‘90, yeah?  Or that American kid from Wyoming later on?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Well, that’s just the tip of iceberg, isn’t it.”

“John, it is true that gay and bisexual men have historically been subjected to higher than normal levels of prejudice and violence.  And of course that still sometimes goes on today, your observations are accurate and apprehension is valid.  But each individual has to decide for themselves if they will let that shadow and inform their life choices.”

“It’s not shadowing my life choices.  I’m not gay.”

“I didn’t say you were.”

“You implied it.”

“That was not my intention.  I was responding to your concern that you and Sherlock might be mistaken for a couple, and your fear it would make you unsafe.”

Something about the way she says it, just says it, catches him up short.  Like an unexpected slap in the face he feels the breath go out of him. 

And out. 

And out.  

“No fucking poofs in this house, do you understand me boy?!”

“Fuck off.”

“What did you say?!!”

“You heard me.”

“You bring that boy around here again, and you’ll regret it.  He’ll regret it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You heard me.”

“He’s my friend.”

“Your friend, eh?  That’s not what the lads down at the pub are saying?”

“We’re just friends!”

“Keep him out of this house.”

“He—He’s dating, Donna.  We’re friends.  We’re just…”

“And there you go, crying like fucking girl.  I swear to Christ Jesus in heaven if I’d known your mother was going to leave me with a litter of queers, I never would have married her.  Go on with ya then.  Get out!”

Ella is saying something.

“John.  John, I’d like you to breathe for me, the way we’ve discussed.”

He sucks in a great gasping, gulp of air.

“Slowly, in and out.  Remember In through your nose, count to three, out through your mouth.  Slowly.  That’s it.”

She waits a long time for him to master himself, and when he is finally able to lean forward and take a sip of cold tea, she continues.  “Do you want to talk about what happened just now?”

John just shakes his head.

“Would you like to leave it here for today?”

“Yeah.  Yes.”

“Alright.  Take care of yourself, John.  Today was a challenging session.  Remember to make room for recovery.”

“Yeah.  Right.  Will do.”

The Skype session flickers to black, and John leans back in his chair, and lifts a hand to his eyes. 

The first sob that escapes his throat surprises him, and then he is sitting slumped, and shaking, tears squeezing between his fingers as the water knocks in pipes in the wall behind him, and the the continuing radio silence from Sherlock sits heavy on his shoulders like an omen. 

When the wind is in the east, 

'Tis neither good for man nor beast.

Chapter Text

He hears nothing for three days.

He tries not to be frantic.

He tells himself that Sherlock is an adult, that he can take care of himself.

When Mike says he hasn’t heard anything, and the newspapers turn up nothing new John convinces himself that he’s being paranoid and needs to at least try to get on with some sort of routine. 

He reads the books on video editing, makes a few test videos, struggles through editing them, and then gives up.

He goes back to the library to renew the most useful one.  The librarian helpfully shows him how to renew his books online and he feels like an idiot.

He keeps food in the fridge.

He eats.

He showers.

He goes out for a daily walk.

On the fourth day, the sun comes out, warm, almost like Spring again, and he thinks maybe he’ll brave the tube and go back to Regent’s Park.  He records some snippets of video, for his vlog on the way: a bit on the tube, walking down Baker Street, a quick bite in Speedy’s cafe, with violin music floating down from above.  It’s different this time, starting off as frantic, frustrated grinding, something that barely even resembles music, but then resolves into something beautiful beyond words, waxing and waning like swells on the sea.

John sits for a long time, eating his soup and sandwich, and just listens.  It stops eventually, and he gets up, goes out, heads down the street to the park.  He takes little snippets of video there as well, the wind in the bare branches, the ducks on the pond, a caterpillar inexplicably making its way down the newly warmed paths.

Spring in January.

Finally John sits down on a bench by the pond, and looks down at his phone, at the last text he had from Sherlock.  His request for a reading of Treasure Island. 

He misses him. 

Jesus, he really misses him, and he’d held off texting when Sherlock hadn’t got back to him, because he didn’t want to seem too desperate, but now…

Hey.  Haven’t heard from you in awhile

Hey, what’s up

Where have you been, I’ve been worried.

Hey.

He waits, and waits, and waits, and tries not to be too disappointed when no response comes. 

Perhaps this is it.  Perhaps the video call had been too much.  Perhaps he’d been a disappointment, and this is Sherlock’s way of saying, ‘Sorry mate, made a mistake, let’s just put the brakes on.’

Or maybe it’s karma, some other part of him thinks, for what he’d done to James.

His phone buzzes and he looks down.

Go to Vauxhall Bridge.

It’s come from Sherlock’s number.

Sorry?

I can’t say more.  Go to Vauxhall Bridge.

John shouldn’t.  He really shouldn’t given all the nonsense that’s been texted to him of late.  He’s fed up with all the cloak & dagger.  But there’s a surge of adrenaline racing through his veins, now, and his head has cleared and he has a burst of energy, and clarity, the likes of which he hasn’t had in ages, so he gets to his feet and heads for the road. 

He takes a cab.  It’s a ridiculous indulgence, but he wants to get there quickly.  He has the driver drop him off in front of the SIS building, and starts to walk across.  He’s only a few meters over when someone brushes by him and drops something small and heavy in his pocket.

For one brief moment he fears it’s some sort of small IED, but when he slips his hand into his pocket, he feels, instead, the smooth glass and aluminium contours of a smartphone.  He takes his hand out of his pocket and keeps walking.  When he gets to the other side of the bridge, he hails a cab and heads home.

He waits until he’s back in the confines of his own flat before fishing the phone out and looking at it.  It looks like the latest model iPhone.  He’s still wary of it.  He presses it to his ear, turns it over and over in his hand.  It feels slightly lighter than his current phone.  If it was an IED, one would think that would make it heavier.

His other phone vibrates in his pocket.  One text from Sherlock’s number.

Turn it on.

Right then.  He takes a deep breath and does.  The screen comes to life.  The phone has already been set up, and there are texts waiting.

John. The texts you sent me a screenshot of the other day were NOT from my brother, this secured phone is.  I felt that extra precautions were advisable.

Jesus, I thought you were lying dead in a ditch somewhere.

I felt that radio silence until I could procure an alternative means of communication was the best solution.

You thought.

Yes.

Right, well did it ever occur to you that I might worry.

No.

Just like that.  No. 

John fights down a surge of anger. 

Fine.  So we use this from now on?  Isn’t Big Brother watching?

Likely.

And you’re okay with that?

I have little choice, I’m afraid. 

Okay.  But you’re okay?  The case?

Over.  Solved.  Bored.

You solved it?

Mmm.  Would you mind going by the bank tomorrow, and getting the cheque?

John’s heart flips in his chest.

Sure.  You want to meet somewhere so I can give it to you?

I told him to make it out to you.

What?  I thought we were splitting the fee.

Don’t need it.

And I don’t need to be kept.

There is a long pause during which John regrets all his life choices up to this point, including the bloody text he just sent.

You have a very funny view of money.

No, you do.  You’ve apparently always had it, so you don’t know what it is to do without.

Is that a sin?

No, but you don’t seem to understand how it might shame someone to be taking charity all the time.

But it’s not charity, and you’re not ashamed.  You like being kept.

Oi!

What?

Fuck you.

John throws the phone down on his desk, and goes to get a drink.  When he comes back there is a stream of texts from Sherlock.

John?

John?

I fail to see why you’re so warm over the issue. 

Why shouldn’t I take care of you?

Because I’m a fucking adult and can take care of myself.

Of course you can, but why should you have to?

Maybe I bloody well want to.

But you don’t want to.  You want to take care of me.

John scowls down at the screen. 

He does.  He does want to take care of him.  He thinks of knit brows, and worrying hands, and how he’d wanted so much to put Sebastian Wilkes in the hospital.  He thinks of watching Sherlock sleep, curls falling softly over a furrowed brow, lids fluttering, and how John had almost physically ached to be there, spooned behind him on the sofa where he could watch over him, feel and know that he was safe.

What?

You want to take care of me and I want to take care of you, so why shouldn’t we take care of one another?

People don’t do that.

Do they not?

No.

Well, people are generally idiots.

John huffs out a laugh in spite of himself.

I’m not sure I know how.

How to be taken care of?

Yeah. 

Then we find ourselves in similar circumstances, it seems. 

I didn’t mean to offend or demean you with the offer of money.  You are trying to live in London on a military pension.  You were invalided home, so you would have received a lump sum, along with a completely inadequate monthly stipend.  I imagine the lump sum ran out, or was about to before this case.  I’m quite comfortable at the moment, so all I thought to do was ease your way, rather selfishly, so you could continue to help me with my work, and not have to resort to something horrible like looking for a surgery job.

I’ll be honest, I don’t really know how to respond to a gesture like this.

It really will get terribly boring if we have to have this conversation every time I try to pay you what you are due, so perhaps you could stop being ridiculous, and just accept it for what it is—a gesture of friendship.

Are we friends?

aren’t we?

John’s heart twists painfully in his chest at the sight of all lowercase.

Yeah.  Yeah we are.  Of course we are.

Good.  Then you should stop making such a fuss.  What’s mine is yours.

That’s not usually how friendship works.

No?

Nope.

Yes well, you’ll forgive me. I’ve not had much experience.

With friends?

I never seemed to have the time or the knack for it.

Me neither, honestly.  Might be a bit pants at the whole thing.

I’m sure we’ll manage.

John is smiling, for the first time in days, smiling.  It feels like flirting.  Shouldn’t.  They’re not.  They’re really not (are they?).

Thought maybe I’d put you off.  With the video.  With my reading.

Of course not.  I shouldn’t have called you like that, out of the blue.  It was inconsiderate.  I wasn’t thinking.  I found myself rather—out of sorts, that night.  Won’t happen again.

You can call me anytime you want, you know. 

And when he gets no response:

Better now?

Mm.  Some nights are just difficult.

I know that feeling.

John, I think that perhaps I should tell you, before you hear it from someone else, most likely my insufferable and interfering brother

Okay.

On occasion, more when I was younger, just to help me think, you realise, there has been some

???

Sherlock?

John sighs.

Is this about the drugs?

The pause drags on, and John wonders if he’s gotten it all wrong, overstepped, but then…

You knew?

Wilkes mentioned something when I went to interview him.  Asked if you were in hospital for an overdose.  I about punched him.  Bloody infuriating bloke.  But yeah, I sort of assumed.

John, if you feel that it would be better that we not continue our

I would understand

i’m in complete control

i can stop anytime I want

it’s not addiction

not really i’m fine

but i know that some people

if you wanted us to not

I would understand

Right.  Can I ask you something?

yes

That really the facts?  Don’t need it?  Can stop whenever you want?  Because the other night, looked like a danger night to me.  I know those nights.  I’ve had those nights, and sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t.  Sometimes it’s going on three in the morning, and I’m looking at the bottom of an empty whiskey bottle and I don’t know how I got there.  Jesus, I’ve never said that to anyone before, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that I know, I know how it can be, and if we’re friends then maybe we should try to be as honest as we can about it?

I don’t like to talk about it.

Okay.

It’s not what you think.

Okay.

Sometimes I just need it to stop.  My brain.  I just need it to stop.

Yeah.  Think I understand that.

The drugs the only thing that helps?

I don’t know.

What about the ASMR?  That’s been helping me a lot.  Ta, again.

Has it?

Yeah.  But does it help you?

I don’t know.  I’ve never really indulged.

Indulged?  Odd choice of words, but John decides not to call attention to it.

Well, I’ve not got much of a set up, and I might be an utter failure at it, but if you ever wanted me to try my hand at it, I could try to make you a video.  I suppose you don’t know your triggers?

no

John stares down at that ‘no’ for a long time.

No pressure, okay.  I just thought, if you liked, if you thought it might be helpful to have something for when you need it.

What would you do?

Whatever you like.

Could I see you?

What do you mean?

All of you.  Could I see your hands, your body, your face?

John feels his cheeks heat.

If you wanted to.  Yeah.  Sure.

And I could ask for anything?

John’s heart kicks into high gear, and his skin prickles.

Yeah.

you might think me foolish

No.

but you might

Well, you might think I’m a right prat when I try to put the thing together for you, so I guess it’s a bit of a risk on both sides.

John waits for a response, and gets nothing.

would you comb your hair

Well, that was unexpected.

What?  Just comb my hair on camera?

never mind

No, no.  It’s fine.  It’s fine.  I would if that’s what you wanted me to do.  Anything else?

draw on yourself

Draw on myself?

Not with a pen.  On your skin, with your finger.  Write words on your forearm with your finger.

Okay.

This is the oddest conversation John has ever had in his life and he’s completely riveted.

He licks his lips and shifts in his seat.

Anything else? 

Your voice.

My voice?

It’s very—centring.

Right.  So you’ve said.  So you want me to talk while I do this?

I don’t know.

Ok.  Well, I could.  Might not be able to do all these things at once, but I’ll figure something out.

What about your experiments?

What about them?

Well, you were meant to send me that video of different triggers, to test which ones worked for me, remember?  Still waiting on that. 

You don’t mind?

Of course not.  Still interested in helping you out with your research, your cases.  I assume the research has to do with your work?

Sometimes.  In a way.

What do you mean?

nothing

Okay.

It is personal.  It’s complicated.

Right.  Okay.  Well, any way I can help, I will.

John.

Yeah.

Would you ever

Ever?

Never mind.

You can ask.  I don’t mind, you know.  If you want to do things, try things.  I don’t mind.

 

And John doesn’t even know what he’s doing, what he’s suggesting, all he knows is his heart is hammering in his chest, and his mouth is dry, and there is a warmth starting to slowly spread through every inch of his body.

Would you ever consider doing the things I mentioned in real time?

Real time?  Like what?  A video call?

Yes.

John is shocked at the surge of adrenaline that courses through his veins and leaves an all-encompassing heat in its wake.  His mouth waters.

Maybe.

Maybe?

Yeah.  I mean, yeah, I would.  I’d do that.

John rubs a hand over the top of his thigh, and shifts in his seat.  He waits for a reply.

and if it was uncomfortable?

If I didn’t like it, you mean?

yes

I guess we wouldn’t do it again.  Or we’d do something different.

You wouldn’t be put off?  You wouldn’t leave?

Sometimes stuff works, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes you have a good time, and sometimes you don’t.  Doesn’t mean you just leave.  Sometimes it takes some time to find your stride.

With a jolt John realises he might as well be talking about sex.  They’re talking about ASMR, and he’s segued off into something akin to sexual negotiation, like the complete dickhead he is.  But lucky for him Sherlock doesn’t seem to have noticed.

Alright.

The phone in John’s hand rings loudly, and he jumps.  He’s used to his own phone always being set to vibrate. 

Sherlock calling.

Shit.

He hadn’t meant right this minute!

He freezes, hand hovering over the answer button until it stops ringing.

You don’t want to?

I didn’t know you meant right now!

You don’t want to.

Didn’t say that.  Just give me a minute to get used to the idea.  Christ, you’re demanding.

Take your time.

Ta.  I will.

John stares down at the phone, thumb hovering over the call button.

Isn’t your bloody brother watching?

It’s his own fault if he is.

And John doesn’t quite know what to make of that as a response, so…

Fuck it.

He calls Sherlock back.

Chapter Text

Sherlock is sitting on the sofa in front of the brocade wallpaper.  His hair is a wild riot of fluffy waves and curls, like maybe he’d gotten out of the shower an hour before and forgotten to dry it properly.  He’s wearing a t-shirt on inside-out with a blue silk dressing gown, draped loosely over his shoulders.  It’s sliding down on one side.

He looks impossibly young, but the way his eyes catch and meet John’s when the video flickers into view is anything but innocent.   John shivers beneath the intensity of it.  He’s not sure if he could label it erotic, but it is certainly focussed, intent, and piercingly knowing.

“Hey.”

“Hello, John.”

John shivers again, and this time he knows Sherlock has to have seen it.

“This was very good of you.”

“Yeah, well…”  And he just leaves it hanging, because what do you say to that.  “So, how do you want me?”

He sees Sherlock lean forward at that.  He must have his phone on a small tripod because both of his hands are free.  He steeples them in front of his mouth.  “Any of the three options I mentioned would be fine.”

“So you want me to what?  Just talk?”

“Would it be easier if I told you what to do?”

“You are telling me what to do.  I’m here right now because you’ve bloody well told me what to do.”

“You’re here right now because you chose to call me back.”

John sits back, sucks in a sharp breath and rolls his eyes toward the ceiling.  He’s right, of course, the bastard.

“If you would like to hang up…”

“I don’t want to hang up.”

He sees the corner of Sherlock’s mouth twitch, and then he’s smiling too, and it seems to diffuse some of the tension.

“Sorry.  I told you.  I’m pants at all this stuff.”

“Your doing fine.”

“You want me to comb my hair, maybe?”

Sherlock nods.

“Okay.  Have to find a way to prop my phone up.  Wish I had a better microphone.”

“I’ll send you one.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“I have extras.”

“Oh.  Okay.  Yeah, that would be…”

John finishes piling up some books on his desk, and props his phone up on top of them.  It’s not a perfect angle, but it’s better than holding it.

“Let me just go get a comb.”

“Use your fingers.”

“My fingers?”

Sherlock nods.

“Okay.  So, just…”  John cards his fingers through his hair a couple of times and feels a bit foolish.

“Slower.”

Sherlock is leaning toward the camera now, elbows propped on his knees, hands steepled in front of his lips.  His eyes are riveted on John, and John can feel the responding awareness in his body, the warmth and tingle of so much concentrated attention.

He does as ordered, long, slow strokes through his hair with his fingers.  It feels incredible.  He can feel all the tension of the day slowly melting from his nerves.  Each stroke leaves him more and more like jelly.  He stops and rubs the pads of his fingers against his scalp, letting his eyes fall shut, and when he opens them again Sherlock’s hands have dropped away from his mouth, his lips have parted, and his cheeks slightly flushed.

“Pull.”

“Mmm?”  John hums, already half-drunk on sensation.

“Pull your hair.  Not so it hurts.  Just firm, even pressure.”

Bit kinky, something in the back of John’s brain observes, but he’s too relaxed to care.  He does, takes a good bit between his fingers and pulls hard.

Jesus.  That’s…

He hears Sherlock suck in a small breath, and opens his eyes again (when had he shut them?).  Sherlock’s cheeks are scarlet.  And John wonders for a moment if he’s actually getting off on this.  No interest in sex or romance, he’d said, and John had wondered if that meant he just didn’t feel things that way, which was fine, of course it was fine, but now he’s not so sure.

“You okay?”  He whispers without knowing why.

Sherlock’s eyes snap away from the top of his head, down to meet his eyes.  He looks stunned for a moment, and then his eyes flicker away, down to the floor.  “Yes.  Fine.  I should…  Just a minute.”  He gets up so fast, he’s nothing but a blur of blue. 

John can hear his footsteps retreating across the room.  Water turns on somewhere, and then off again.  There is a pause of several minutes, and then Sherlock reappears, holding a half-empty glass of water, which he sets down somewhere in front of himself as he sits back down and folds his dressing gown over his lap.

“Okay?”  John keeps his voice low, because it seems appropriate in the warm cocoon of a space they’ve created for themselves.

Sherlock nods.  “Yes.  Forgive me.  I’m not accustomed to being on the receiving end of…  I’d not anticipated being so responsive.”

“You want me to keep on?”

“If you would.”

“Same thing, or?”

“Skin tracing?”  Sherlock sounds almost embarrassed to ask.

But John just smiles.  He’s getting used to it now.  It’s pretty relaxing, and a little heady.  He’s having a fantastic time, and he has no idea how to classify any of what they’re doing, but maybe it doesn’t matter.

“Okay.  Hold on.”  He goes over to his bed and gets his pillow, brings it back over and sets it on his desk.  It raises his arm up high enough to be visible by the camera, while still keeping the rest of him in the frame.  He lays his arm out, unbuttons the cuff of his shirt, and rolls it up. 

Sherlock’s lips are parted again.  He reaches down and picks up the glass of water, takes a sip, sets it down again.

“Just like…?”  John traces a finger slowly down his forearm, from crook to wrist.

Sherlock nods, and swallows dryly.

“You want me to talk to you?”  John has found a tone and volume that Sherlock seems to respond to—not quite a whisper, but barely a murmur.

Sherlock nods again, and shifts a little in his seat.

“Okay.  Might be a bit of a bore.  Could tell you what I did today.”

“Alright.”  Sherlock whispers back in kind.

“Went to the park.  Took some videos that I might try to make into a vlog.  Saw a dog in a rucksack on the tube.  Stopped for lunch.  Little cafe.  Had soup and sandwich.  At the park it felt like Spring.  Blue sky.  Would never know there had been snow and ice a few days ago.  Birds singing.  Ducks swimming in the pond.”

Sherlock’s eyelids are starting to droop.  And that is a surprise to John, a complete surprise, that he might have that effect on someone.  He’s used to being a man who elicits extremes, intense emotion in moments of anger or grief, duress or trauma. 

In Afghanistan it had been tears of relief, or screams of agony, or desperate pleas.  With his sister always fighting, shouts or icy silence.  With his girlfriends he was the good time guy, until he wasn’t, all laughter, and flirtation, and screaming orgasms until they’d pulled away, gotten cold, gotten angry.  With his mother, on the rare occasion he saw her, odd, fawning affection, which he’d lapped up like a starving kitten until he’d realised the falsity of it, like it could ever make up for the fact that she’d abandoned him to a raging drunk.  With his father, rage, violence, disgust.  But here with Sherlock…

Sherlock sighs.  His eyes are closed.  He sways a little where he sits, like maybe he is going to fall asleep.  And it feels good, John realises, to know that he can have this affect on someone.  Gentle.  Slow.  Soft.

“Texted a certain someone,” he continues and sees Sherlock smile, eyes still closed.  “Went all Bond on me.  Told me to go to an arranged pickup point.  I did.  ‘Course I did.  Came back here.  And now here we are.  Here we are…”

Sherlock’s shoulders drop.

“You tired?”  John whispers.  “You want to sleep for a bit.”

“Too early to sleep,” Sherlock whispers back.

“Mmm.  Maybe.”

“Tap.”

“Mm?”

“Tap your fingers lightly on the desk.”

“Oh yeah?”  John removes the pillow, rolls his sleeve back down.  Sherlock is watching him now, from beneath drooping lids.  He looks wholly relaxed, pliant.  John aches to gather him up, pull him back against his body, and feel the languid calm that has settled over him ease into John’s bones as well.

John starts to tap his fingernails slowly and lightly on the worn wood.  Sherlock shivers.  “No, I don’t like that.”

John grins.  “How about this.”  He grabs the library book on editing, a big, soft cover tome with glossy pages, and cracks it open,  smoothes his hands over the pages, uses his nails a bit, since his mic is horrible.  It makes a gentle, satisfying scratch.

“Mmm…”  Sherlock hums and nods, and John feels an echoing wave of pleasure wash over him.

Keeping his eyes closed seems to be Sherlock’s preference now.  He’s very auditory, then.  The pairing of the auditory and visual seems to overwhelm him quite quickly.  John files that away for future reference, wonders if maybe that’s part of the aversion to sex, too much sensory input at once equals ‘not good’?

“Nice?”

“Yes.”

John continues, and keeps his eyes open this time, enjoys watching Sherlock almost melt back into the sofa.  He’s lovely, John thinks, in the way seeing a sunrise the morning after you never thought you’d wake again is lovely, or how the first sip of bracing coffee on an icy day is lovely, or how the night sky is lovely, when you are miles from anywhere, and it is simply a sea of light in the deep, velvet black.

And John wants to touch him, he thinks.  He wants to trace these lines over his skin, and write words over his heart, and breath words into that hair, behind that ear, down the long, pale column of his throat.

“You’re remarkably good at this,” Sherlock murmurs, eyes still closed.

“Am I?”

“Mm.”

“Or maybe you’re just really responsive.”

Sherlock shivers, and his cheeks pink, and John arches a brow in delighted surprise.

This isn’t flirting.  This isn’t sex. 

But…

It’s fantastic.

Whatever it is, it’s fantastic.

“Talk.”

John blinks and grins.  “And say what?”

“Anything.”

“Mm, could tell you about the desert at night.  You ever been?”

Sherlock shakes his head, eyes still closed.

“It gets cold.  The cold surprises you.  Feels like winter almost.  And yet in the day it can be up in the 30s.  You’re sweltering all day and then you step outside at night, and the cold just washes over you, and you can breathe again.  Sort of like it cleans away everything that seems so raw and unbearable in the light.

“It’s dark too.  You can see every star, constellation, planet, distant galaxies like tiny smudges in a sea of glimmering light.”

“You never told me you were a poet.”  Sherlock smiles softly.

“Not.  Just get locked up in my own head so much, that when things yank me out, I tend to notice.”

“I like the way you see.”

“Yeah?”

“Mm.  Tell me more,” he murmurs.

“Makes you think sometimes.  How we’re so small, so insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  Just little dots, here for a blink and then we flicker out again.  Makes you wonder if there’s a purpose in it all.”

“A philosopher, too.”

John huffs softly.

“And what do you conclude, Captain?  Do we have some higher purpose in the universe?”

“You laughing at me?”

Sherlock’s eyes pop open.  “No.”  And all that intensity is focussed on him again, and John feels like he is falling into Sherlock’s eyes the same way he used to feel like he was toppling into the sky, and he feels dizzy and blissfully still all at once.

“Never really figured it out, I guess.  The way I see it is, if we have any purpose at all, it’s not some grand thing.  It’s most likely small, personal.  Maybe we only matter for a blink, to a single person, but, if we make that one person’s life more bearable, then maybe—maybe we’re okay.  Maybe we’re good?”

Sherlock just smiles, and leans back on the sofa, letting his eyes slide shut again.

“What about you?  What do you think?”

“I don’t think about such things.”

“Not sure I believe that.”

“It’s a waste of time.  I deal in cold, objective data.”

“You?”

Sherlock’s mouth pops open in a look of pure indignation.  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

John grins.  “You—you who run an ASMR channel, ‘for science’, but who never seem to apply any of the data you collect to your work, you, who admit that it’s partially personal interest.  I’m supposed to believe that you’re what?  Some kind of cold, immovable, data-processing machine?”  John shakes his head.  “I think that’s just what you want people to think.”

Sherlock opens his mouth like he’s going to object, and then shuts it again.

John chuckles.  “Mm, I see.”

Sherlock’s fully attentive now, sitting on the very edge of the sofa, leaning all the way in to the camera.  “What do you see?”

John shrugs.  “Dunno.  Just know I like you, and I don’t like most people, don’t trust most people.”

“Maybe you’re just drawn to phlegmatic people.”  He sounds almost defensive.

“That you then?”

“What?”

“I just mean, you seem pretty passionate about your work, about that girl being killed.  You seem pretty responsive to this.”  John drags his fingers slowly through his hair, and Sherlock’s eyes snap up.  John just grins.  “Point made.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

John shrugs.  “You want me to stop, then?”

“I didn’t say that.”

John taps his nails once on the book, and then folds it closed, and sets it beside him.  He lifts his forearm in view of the camera again.  “You want more of this?”

“John.”

“Yeah.”

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“Everything.”

John knows he must look confused.  Pleased, hopefully, but confused.

Sherlock huffs softly and stares down at his lap.  “I find friendship a rare thing, and yours has become surprisingly invaluable to me.”

“Yeah?”  John feels warm all over.  “Well, me too.”

You’re in love with him.

Chapter Text

Over the next few weeks, a long series of small cases have John running all over the city for Sherlock, questioning clients, fetching evidence, even staking out a suspect in a dark alley in the pouring rain one night.  The mysterious texts stop, the nightly video chats and ASMR sessions continue, and John starts to settle into an odd and wholly unfamiliar state of calm.

Their respective YouTube channels languish for awhile, to the point that people start getting angry in the comments.  And so Sherlock makes a few videos to appease the masses, and John makes a vlog that Sherlock later teases is all about him while seeming inordinately pleased by that, so John can’t be too put out. 

And yet, despite it all, one thing still worries John.  Sherlock has never once suggested they meet.  John tries not to be disappointed by that.  Perhaps that last step is still a step too far for him.  John thinks he understands that.  But, still…    

“Good afternoon, Dr. Watson.”

John is sitting in Speedy’s cafe, eating his lunch and reading a book.  Somewhere upstairs the violinist is playing.  It’s something languid and calm, like water lapping at the shore of a placid lake.  John comes for the playing almost more than the food these days, but now here he is being interrupted by his nibs with a brolly, and he’s not really in the mood.

“Sorry?  We met?”

“Indeed.  Though not face-to-face.”  The man sits down and John sits a little taller in his seat, instantly on edge.

“Oh, make yourself at home.”

The man smiles, a cold, wry sort of thing, that doesn’t reach his eyes.  “If you insist on continuing this relationship with my brother, then I’m afraid you and I will be meeting a great deal more often than this.”

Good Christ.

“Ohhh…  So, you’re Mycroft.”

John grins and sits back, takes him in.  Middle aged, bit stodgy, darkish, thinning hair, three-piece suit that makes him look more like a banker than some all-knowing, all-seeing puppet master.  He never would have guessed that he and Sherlock were brothers at just a glance.  They seem to have very little in common.

The man props his umbrella up against his chair, and leans forward, elbows on the table, fingers steepled in front of his mouth, and John almost laughs at the familiar gesture.

Okay, now he sees it.

“I believe that you and I should have little chat.”

“Why?”

“Because you seem frustratingly insistent and undeterred in your pursuit of my brother.”

John huffs.  “Not pursuing anyone.  We’re friends.”

“My brother doesn’t have friends.”

John shrugs.  “Well he does now.”

“You misunderstand me, Doctor.  It isn’t that my brother is incapable of making attachments, it is that they are a danger to him.”

John huffs, the corner of his mouth curling up.  He cocks his head to the side, and reconsiders his earlier opinions about the man.  Could be dangerous.  Might just be.   “Friends dangerous?  Why?”

A woman walks over and sets a cup of tea down in front of Mr. Brolly, and he scowls down at it, before taking a tentative sip, grimacing, and placing it back down on the table like it’s an unstable grenade.

“Because, beneath the mask he has created for himself, there lies a dangerously soft underbelly.  My brother is a turtle without a shell.”

John smiles tightly.  “You think he needs protecting from me?”

“No.  From himself.”

John sucks in a deep breath.  “Look, Sherlock’s a big boy.  Pretty sure this is something he can decide for himself, yeah?”

Mycroft sits back and studies him.  It’s an unsettling feeling, like being a bug under glass. 

“When my brother was at Cambridge, there was a boy.  A friend…”  He spits out the word like a pejorative.  “When the boy starting skipping his lectures to punt the Cam and get high, my brother was right there beside him.  When the boy needed a little money to help fuel his habit, my brother was there.  And when that boy turned on a dime, and decided to shut him out, my brother was devastated.

“He slipped into a very dark place, for a very long time, a place I feared might claim him permanently.  So if I seem overly protective to you, Doctor, I’m sure you will forgive me.”

“Listen, I’m not some crackhead fresher.”

“No.  You’re a mentally ill ex-soldier, who lies to his therapist, drinks too much when he’s in a bad patch, which is more often than not, and who is already living off of my brother’s overinflated sense of generosity.”

John sniffs, and balls a fist at his side, under the table.  “We done?”

“You tell me.”

John stands up, gives the man a clipped nod of his head, and walks out before he does something stupid. 

The day is sunny but brisk, and he’s grateful for it.  It helps to clear his head and quell his anger as he marches down the street to the park.  His leg is screaming, but he wills himself to rely on his cane as little as possible in case the man is watching him go.

He shouldn’t be taking Sherlock’s money.  That’s true.  He’s told him, and Sherlock insisted, and like an idiot he’d given in.  It was weak, and stupid, unfair and ungrateful.  And he could be a danger to him.  He could. 

There is nothing Mycroft Holmes has just said that isn’t true.  He’s angry because it’s true.  He’s angry because he’s spent weeks trying to convince himself he deserves this happiness, deserves this relationship, only to have some near stranger dissemble the whole rickety structure with a few well-placed comments.

Bloody hell.

Bloody fucking hell!

By the time he gets to the park and collapses onto the nearest bench, the pain is almost unbearable, and his hands are shaking, his breath coming in quick, desperate pants.  He wills himself to calm the fuck down.  It won’t help anything if he loses it now, collapses into a pathetic, slavering mess out here in the open where Sherlock’s meddling arse of a brother probably has a million eyes.

Pull it the fuck together, Watson!

He breathes deep in the cold air.  Closes his eyes.  Thinks of the night sky in the desert, thinks of sea glass eyes, thinks of falling down, falling in.  His heart slows.

His phone buzzes in his pocket.  He breathes some more.  It buzzes again, and again.

Fucking Mycroft Holmes!

John snatches it out of his pocket and scowls down at the screen.

 

What did he say?

John?

John, what did he say?!!

John sighs, and hates the wash of relief he feels at the sight of Sherlock’s frantic texts.

 

He called you already?

What?

I just saw your bloody brother a few minutes ago, can’t believe he’s run tattling already.

Why were you at my flat?

What? 

He said you were downstairs in the cafe.

Cafe?  Yeah, there’s a cafe I eat in sometimes when I go to the park.  On Baker Street.

Yes.

Do you play the violin?

Yes.

You live above Speedy’s cafe?

Yes.

John just about drops his phone, fumbles with it for a second, and then pulls it back against his chest.  He huffs out a laugh and wonders why he feels like crying.

I just stopped in there one day, the day you asked me to help you with the Pink Lady case.  And the food was good, the music coming from upstairs, gorgeous, so I’ve just kept going.  I didn’t know.  You have to believe me.  I didn’t know.

John stares down at his phone, waiting for a reply.  It seems to take ages.

 

What did he say to you?

It’s nothing.

John!

It’s okay.  It’s nothing.

The mobile rings in his hand.  Sherlock calling.  He’s gotten himself worked into a proper state, then.

John picks up, speaks before Sherlock can even say his name.  “Stop worrying.”

“He told you things.”

“He let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I’m a danger to you.”

There’s a long pause, during which John can here the distinct sounds of frantic pacing.

“I told him he was an idiot,” John reassures.

Sherlock huffs out a laugh, that almost sounds wet.

“Hey, you’d tell me though, yeah?  You’d tell me if we were doing things that—I don’t know—made you uncomfortable?”

“Yes.”

“That’s what I told him.  Told him you were a big boy and could take care of yourself.”

There’s another long silence.  John thinks he hears Sherlock sit down.

“I’m not a child.”

“Never said you were.”

Sherlock swallows.  “He paid for rehab twice, and now he thinks…”

“Not really help it they lord it over you.  Fuck him.”

Sherlock laughs, and now John can clearly hear the tears lacing the edges.  His heart twists.  He wants to march back down the street, up the stairs to the flat, and—and pull Sherlock into his arms, but Sherlock still hasn’t offered to meet, so…

“He always get under your skin like this?” John tries tentatively.

He got under yours.

“Oh you know—family.”

And John does know.  He does.  “Yeah.”

“You should have told me about the violin.  Love listening to you play.  Would you ever—when I call nights, would you ever play?”

“You want me to?”

“It’s nice.  Calming, you know.  Would be nice if you would.”

“I have very little talent, I’m afraid.  I refused to commit to it as a boy.  A fact which mummy never ceases to remind me of.”

“Mummy?  Your mother?”

“Mmm, if I couldn’t be an era defining genius like my brother, she hoped I would be a prodigy and go into the arts like her mother.  I’m a great disappointment.”

“I don’t know how anyone could be disappointed in you.”

John clamps his mouth shut, the minute the words are out.  He really does need to stop just blurting things.

“Very generous, but perhaps you don’t know me well enough to make such an assertion just yet.”

“Yeah, I do.”

He hears Sherlock stand up again, walk across the room.  “Mycroft was right about one thing.  You’re very loyal, very quickly.”

“Problem?”

“Not yet.”

“What do you mean, ‘not yet’?  You planning on being a dick?”

“I never plan on it.”

John laughs out loud, and then looks around to see if anyone is watching.  Of course no one is.  Sherlock chuckles softly on the other end of the line.

“I think he’s gotten under both our skins, yeah?  Maybe we should try to forget the whole thing.”

“Whatever he said to you, John.  It’s not…  He has a way of reading people and using that to his advantage.  Please don’t…”

“Yeah.  It’s—it is what it is.  Don’t worry about it.”

“John.”

“What?”

“Whatever he said, that’s not you.”

“Was though.  Was to a tee, and I just—I need to learn to accept that.”

“I don’t see you that way.”

“I think that was his whole point.  Listen, I need to go, okay.  You still calling at our usual time?”

“If you want me to.”

“‘Course I want you to.”

“Alright.  Then, yes.”

“Okay.  Talk to you then.”


 

It’s a long, horrible afternoon.  The sun gives way to cloud, and then icy cold rain before John even gets home.  The tube is overly crowded.  John comes home to find that the boiler’s out in his building which means no heat.  He doesn’t feel like cooking.  He’s cold.  He’s angry.  He’s—he’s…

He pours himself a drink, hears Mycroft’s voice echoing in his head, and tops the glass up a little more.  He sits and tries to record a vlog about his day, and gives up after a few minutes.  He cleans his service revolver.  He stands and stares out the window into the gathering dusk and gloom and tries not to think about the way he feels: small, and stupid, and a waste of space.

Mycroft Holmes is an interfering arse, an overly protective big brother, who likes to toss his intelligence and influence around like a bludgeon.  John knows better than to let these sorts of tactic’s get to him.  He knows it, and yet…

John gets an alert on his phone.  A new video posted to Sensory Science.

He smiles, despite his mood, and opens it up. 

Sherlock and his violin.

He walks over to his bed, crawls beneath the covers, fully clothed, and pops in his headphones.

 

“Good-afternoon.  Today’s offering is something a little different.  A gift of sorts.  On we go, then.”

The video is only shot from his chin down, but he’s wearing the purple shirt John loves, and he cradles the violin like something precious and dear.  He lifts it to his jaw, strokes the bow across the strings in one, lovely, warm tone, and then begins to play.

John doesn’t know much about this sort of music, what makes it good, what makes it bad.  He doesn’t know if Sherlock’s mum is right, and he has no talent by the ridiculous standards his family no doubt adhere’s to, all he knows is that it is possibly the most beautiful thing he has ever heard, and there is something so achingly moving in the fact that Sherlock is gifting it to him—him,  when he feels he doesn’t deserve it at all.

He thinks he recognises snippets of it.  Some of what Sherlock had been playing earlier in the day when he was at the cafe, or possibly even many of the times he has been at the cafe.  Something Sherlock has been practicing or composing for a long time, then.

It’s such a deceptively simple tune in the beginning, just a few notes, beautiful but sad, that slowly evolve into something rich, and layered, that seems to constantly unfold, revealing new mysteries, new beauties.  John is rapt.

The buzzing of his phone brings him back to himself, and he hurriedly accepts the call.

Sherlock is sitting in his leather chair, a plaid dressing gown tossed casually over his clothes.  He has a fire going in the hearth.

“Hello, John.”

“Hey.  Saw your video.  Was just watching it.”

“Oh?”

“Bloody gorgeous.”

“I’m pleased you think so.  I composed it for you.”

John had suspected this, of course, but it’s overwhelming, somehow, having it confirmed. 

“So,” he hurries to fill in the silence.  “What do you want tonight?”

“Tonight I thought I might treat you.”

John blinks.  “What?”

“You’ve been very good to indulge all my little requests.  So tonight, I thought I would indulge yours.”

“Right.  Well, that’s not really…”

Sherlock starts to roll up his shirt sleeve, and John’s eyes snap downward on instinct.  His forearm is pale, and smooth, and peppered with faint, white, pin-point scars.  It’s incredibly intimate, Sherlock letting him see them, after everything they’d both been through today, after Sherlock’s brother had exposed him, just as Sherlock had warned John he would.  For his own good.  But has it ever been?  Ever really? 

John’s lips tingle, itch to dip down, through the screen, and press against that skin, to feel the heat, the beat of Sherlock’s pulse beneath his lips, to soothe, to reassure: to me you are enough, just like this, right now, right here, as you are.

“Consider it an experiment, if you like.”  Sherlock says, running one, long finger down the length of his forearm, crook to wrist.  John’s attention snaps back to Sherlock’s movements.  He shivers.

“Experiment?”  John manages.

“Mm.”  Sherlock’s finger glides slowly up and down his arm again.  “Tell me, can you feel that?  Can you feel my finger on your skin?”

“I…”

Sherlock flips his hand over and runs his knuckles over his arm.  “Shall I tell you how it feels?”

John can only nod.

“Like wind whispering over sunburnt skin.  Subtle fire.”

John’s whole body lights up at that.

Subtle fire.

“I have nightmares,” he whispers, and suddenly wonders why.

“About fire?”

“No.  Water.  I’m drowning.”

“Fire consumes, water subsumes, Perhaps you are meant to just give in.”

“Give in?”

“Shhh…” 

John’s eyelids feel heavy. 

“Keep your eyes fixed on me, John.”

Sherlock turns his hand palm down and runs it over his arm, and John feels it, thinks he does at least, a warmth, a weight, a quiet hush of movement that leaves that subtle fire in its wake. 

John sighs.  He sighs and notes the heightened colour coming to Sherlock’s cheeks, the way Sherlock’s lips have parted, always a sign of how effected he is. 

Sherlock reaches up, and cards fingers through his hair, and John feels that, feels it move through his body, tingle over his skin, race through his veins, burst bright and full in his centre.  He almost makes a sound but catches himself.

“Look at me.”

And John does, looks directly into Sherlock’s eyes even though it’s strange, and unsettling, and almost too much.

“What does it feel like?”  Sherlock combs his hand through his hair again, and again.

“Like…”  John swallows dryly.

“Like?”

“Like you’re touching me.”

Sherlock lets out a breath, like he’d been holding it, like he’d been hoping.

“Do you want me to stop?”

John shakes his head.  “No.”

Sherlock runs a hand through his hair again, all the way back, down to his nape.  John can see his fingers slowly fidgeting, playing with the curls that no doubt have a home there, and John’s own fingers ache, and his own nape tingles.  He reaches up and runs a hand through his own hair, shivers at the intensity of it, watches Sherlock sway forward, eyes sliding shut, tongue pressing between his lips to wet them. 

It’s swiftly becoming evident that they are creating some strange feedback loop of sensation, and John is starting to lose track of who starts here and ends there, and it is the most intensely intimate thing he has ever experienced in his life. 

He should be terrified, but there is still that camera between them, the distance of miles between them.  Perhaps that is part of the reason why he is so willing to lose himself, he thinks.  Painfully intimate, but still safe—somehow.

“I…”  Sherlock swallows.  “I suspected it might be—that we might be…”

“Mmm?”

“We’re compatible, aren’t we?”

“Compatible?” 

Sherlock’s hand is moving around the side of his neck, knuckles brushing over skin.  His cheeks are flaming, his breath coming quick and shallow.  And John is tingling all over, his skin burning just like Sherlock described, and he’s half hard and trying not to worry about it.  Sherlock can’t see, he reminds himself.  It’s okay.  He can’t see.

“You feel it, I feel it.  You want it…?”

John nods, and Sherlock huffs.  “I—I want it, too.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes.”

And John wants to ask him what he wants, but he wonders if Sherlock even knows.  No friends.  No interest in romance, sex.  It’s possible, likely even, that his experience is extremely minimal, perhaps even when it comes to self-pleasure.  It’s not a topic they’ve ever discussed.  And who is John to offer guidance there.  He feels that this is wholly new to him too, not just whatever it is they’re doing, but letting himself, just letting himself without worrying about—whatever it was he was always so bloody worried about.

“Good.”  John whispers.

He sees Sherlock’s shoulders drop with relief, and his hand dips lower, knuckles grazing over his chest, over nipples peaked and hard beneath the thin fabric of his shirt.  John’s cock fills and twitches with interest.  It takes all his self-restraint to not reach down and palm himself through his trousers.

Sherlock is clearly experiencing some level of arousal, but John doesn’t want to assume.  They’ve never done this before, never come anywhere close, and in many ways John is glad Sherlock is the one initiating it.  He can’t imagine ever having had the courage himself.  Too many unknowns, too many what-ifs.  He thinks he understands Mycroft’s worries now.  Sherlock is so—open, trusting.  It’s a trust John desperately doesn’t want to break.

Sherlock’s thumb grazes one nipple and he sucks in a sharp breath, eyes popping open.  They find John’s.  “Touch yourself.”

The words burst in John’s centre molten, and hot, and he’s lifted his hand to his chest, and started to stroke, before he even registers having done it.  Sherlock’s eyes are locked on his hand, following every movement.  John reaches up under his jumper to thumb at his own nipples and Sherlock frowns.  “Take it off.”

John grins.  He’s so bloody demanding, but it’s just getting John even more keyed up, so he can’t be bothered to care.  He does as Sherlock orders, and Sherlock seems satisfied with John in his shirtsleeves, stroking his body through the thinner fabric.

“Are you vocal?”

“What?”  John sounds breathless even to his own ears.

“When you—feel pleasure.”

John’s cheeks go hot.  “Yeah.  Yeah, I can be.”

“You aren’t with me.” 

So he does realise the effect he has on you.

“Do you want me to be.”

Sherlock’s hand has dipped low enough that John can’t see it.  John can see the muscles in his arm flex, can deduce what it means. 

Oh god. 

“Yes.”  Sherlock’s eyes slide closed, and his mouth drops open, and they haven’t talked about this, not at all, and why now? 

Sherlock huffs, and John’s mouth waters.

“Don’t hold yourself back.”

“Sherlock I don’t think…”

“John…”

“God, Sherlock.”

“Do you want this?”  He sounds desperate, almost frantic.

“I…”

“John, do you want it?”

Say yes, what the fuck is wrong with you?!

But the words seem stuck in his throat.  He can’t take his eyes off the bottom of the screen, the spot where Sherlock’s hand has disappeared, the flexing of his forearm, like he has himself in hand, like he’s…

“Fine.  Fine.”

The screen goes black.  It takes John minute to realise that Sherlock has just hung up on him.  And he wants to call him back, needs to call him back, but he’s so…

Shit.

He unzips, reaches inside his pants, and moans loud at the sensation of his cold hand wrapping around his hot cock.  He’s leaking, already leaking, and that’s not usual for him.  He wants it to hurt a little, and it won’t now.  There’s a slickness there, sweat and precome.  He strokes once, and falls back against his pillow, his eyes sliding shut, mouth falling open.  It’s not going to take long at all, and he thinks about Sherlock across the city, hard as a rock, touching himself, stroking himself, moaning John’s name.

He shouldn’t.  He shouldn’t.  He should call Sherlock back, make sure he’s okay, but god!  God!

He squeezes, and then pulls.  He’s so close.  He picks up the pace, thinks about Sherlock’s florid cheeks, his parted lips, his hand in his pants, wrapped around his flushed cock, and here things are blurry, not enough information, but John can imagine the way his cock might look in his hand, in John’s hand, might feel against John’s tongue.

“Fuck!”

His hand is a blur.  He scrambles beneath the covers, scrambles out of his trousers, out of his pants, grabs the pillow behind him, and lays down, pulls it next to his body, thrusts into his fist. 

“God, Sherlock!  God.”

He pictures Sherlock doing the same, thrusting into his large hand, slick, and straining, gasping, hissing, moaning.

“Jesus, yeah.  Come for me.  Come on.”  Sherlock’s eyes wide with surprise as it floods over him, head thrown back, the long, pale column of his throat bared to John’s lips.  The way his back arches off the mattress, the deep guttural moan as he spills between their bodies. 

And that’s what does it, the thought of that voice, rough and wrecked with pleasure.

John feels his balls draw up, and he thrusts desperately, and then shouts as it explodes inside him, and he comes hard, comes wet all over his hand, his pillow, the sheets.

He lays there for a moment, breathless and drunk on endorphins, heart fluttering, slowing, calming.  And then it hits him.  Sherlock.  Sherlock hung up on him.  Sherlock thinks he doesn’t want—this?  Him?  Sherlock thinks John doesn’t want him.

Shit.

He’s scrambles up, hurries to the loo, strips his sheets and pillowcase, and shrugs hurriedly into some pyjamas before ringing Sherlock back.

It rings, and rings.

He waits a few minutes, and rings again.

Nothing.

He texts.

 

Hey.  Pick up your phone. It’s me.

He waits.

 

Pick up, Sherlock. 

I need to talk to you. 

We need to talk about this.  It’s important.  Come on.

He paces his flat, momentarily considers getting a cab and going over there, but that would probably just make things worse.

 

I did want it.  I do.

You hung up and I thought

Well, I don’t think I was thinking at all, at that point, but I need to talk to you, okay.

Sherlock, please.

The phone rings and he snatches it up.

“Hey.”

There’s silence on the other end of the line, but he can hear Sherlock breathing.

“Sherlock?”

“What?”

“Hey, what happened?”

“Why are we talking about this?”

“You don’t want to?”

“No.”

“So, we’re going to what?  Just pretend this didn’t happen?”

“I made a miscalculation.  It’s fine.  It needn’t come up again.”

John sighs, and rakes a hand through his hair.  “Did you miss the part where I texted you that I wanted it.  I wanted it, but you hung up before…”

“Before what?  Before you could convince yourself that I was worth it?  Before you could find the courage?  Before you could swallow down the revulsion of…”

“Hey, hey, hey.  What?”

“I understand, John.  You thought you wanted it, and then when what I wanted was too…  It’s fine.  I won’t hold you to anything.  You’re free to go any time.”

“What the fuck are you on about?”

“I miscalculated.”

“I think you calculated just fine.  I wanted it, okay.  I—I want you.”

“Oh.”

John waits for him to say more, but it seems as though nothing more is forthcoming.

“That okay?”

There’s a very long pause.  John can hear the rustling of fabric.  Bedsheets maybe?

“John, I’m unaccustomed to…  That is to say, that I have never…”

“Yeah.  Okay.  That’s fine.  But I’m just saying—it’s all fine.  Whatever you want to do, however we do it.  It’s fine.  I—I want it.”

“I believe that people most often find it off-putting.”

“What’s off-putting?”

“What I do.  What I want to do.”

“And what’s that?”

“What we have been doing.”

“Yeah?  Well, I like what we’ve been doing.”

“But tonight?”

“I liked tonight.  I just—I needed a minute.  I’ve never been with anyone this way before.  Don’t know how to define it, really, I…”

“People usually define it as freakish.”

John frowns.  “Yeah, well, people are idiots, remember.”

He hears Sherlock huff softly.

“I didn’t think that.  I liked it.  I was just a little anxious, I guess.  I’ve never, I mean there’ve been a few circle jerks, but not like…”

“Like?”

“Well this is different, isn’t it?  We’re friends, proper friends.  We—you mean something to me, you know.  Makes it different.”

“Does it?”

“Yeah.”

He hears the distinct sound of Sherlock getting out of bed.  “I’m afraid I’ve been rather…  I should confess something to you.”

“Okay.”

Water turns on, and then off again.  “I may have needed to—wanted to…  I may have indulged myself—after I hung up.”

John’s heart races in his chest.  “Yeah?  Well, you weren’t alone there.”

“Oh.”  Sherlock sounds genuinely surprised. 

For a bloke who seems so hyper aware of how gorgeous he is, he certainly does seem to have a hard time processing the fact that someone might want him.  John longs to walk back into his past, and give whoever it was who made him feel this way a proper working over.

“Like I said.  I just needed a couple of minutes.  Was a bit disappointed when you hung up, to be honest.”

“Oh.  Well, perhaps tomorrow…”

John smiles.  “I’ll mark my calendar.”

Sherlock chuckles.  “So you’re not—put off?”

“Nope.”

“I must say, you’re—unexpected.”

“That good?”

“Yes.  Very.”

“Promise me you won’t hang up again.”

“Aright.”

“Things were just getting good.”

“Mm, I see.”

“Was left to my own imagination after that, and I’m not quite sure I got all the details right.”

“Well, you have a very vivid imagination, John.  I’m sure you got things mostly correct.”

“Yeah, well, still…”

Sherlock hums.  “Would you like to lead next time?”

“No.  Liked when you did.  Unless you want me to.”

“I often don’t know what I want until I want it, I’m afraid.”

“Guess we’ll figure it out in the moment, then, yeah?  But you have to trust me when I say I’m okay, and give me a few minutes to figure that out, sometimes.”

“Patience is not one of my virtues, I’m afraid.”

John smiles.  There is a softness to Sherlock, tonight, a settling.  Perhaps he’s still high from indulging himself, or maybe it’s just relief that he hadn’t got it all wrong, that John wants this as much as he does, but he seems calmer, somehow; still, in a way he usually isn’t.  John can hear it in his voice, in the slow, lazy way he makes his way around his flat, makes himself a cup of tea, sits down somewhere in his lounge.

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Will you sleep soon, do you think?”

“Mm, might do.”

“I’m wide awake.  Would you like me to read to you?  More Tolkien?”

John settles back into bed.  He’s too tired to make it up tonight.  He has a quilt and another pillow.  He curls up under it, and scoops his earbuds off the nightstand. “Yeah, that’d be good.  That’d be nice.”

Chapter Text

Georgie Porgie pudding and pie

Kissed the girls and made them cry

When the boys came out to play

Georgie Porgie ran away.

 

John stares down at the envelope in his hand.  No return address.  No postmark.  And inside only a small black card with the nursery rhyme in question crawled across it in metallic ink.

He snaps a photo and texts it to Sherlock.

Looks like our friend is back.

There is no reply.

There has a been a week's worth of evening calls since the night they’d tried something new, as John likes to think of it, and it’s never come up again.  Somewhere in the back of his head (back of his heart) he knows that he needs to be the one to initiate, that Sherlock won’t force the issue now, no matter how much John reassures him that it was fine, that it was wanted. 

They still meet, talk, sometimes Sherlock reads, or plays the violin.  Sometimes John does a little ASMR.  They’re on chapter 15 of Treasure Island.

John stuffs the letter in his pocket and heads out the door to the offie on the corner.  He’d woken up to find nothing in, and he needs a loaf of bread at least.  There’s no one else in the shop that early.  He gets bread, milk, eggs, and stands watching the little telly over the counter while the man checks him out.

Someone is nattering away about a lost Vermeer painting being found, and John’s attention drifts to the shelves behind the counter.  “You mind adding in a bottle of that, mate?”  John nods to the whiskey, his usual brand, stacked next to the wine.  The man adds it without comment.

There’s been a massive explosion in central London.

John’s eyes snap back up to the screen, just in time to see a shot of Baker Street, and the flat directly across from Speedy’s with a gaping hole where it’s front facade used to be.

As yet, there are no reports of any casualties, and the police are unable to say if there is any suspicion of terrorist involvement.  Police have issued an emergency number for friends and relatives …

John snatches his bag off the counter, throws some money at the proprietor and dashes out the door without even waiting for his change.

“Oi!  Oi, your cane!”

Shit.

His leg lets out a twinge, as though suddenly remembering itself, and he hurries back in and grabs it before heading out again.  It’s impossible to walk quickly, juggle his cane and shopping, and dial the phone at once, so he leans against the nearest tree, and rings Sherlock.

It rings, and rings with no answer. 

“Jesus, pick up.  Come on.  Pick up.”

He gives up, and stands in the cold, trying to think about what he should do.  No reports of casualties the news had said.  So, he really has no reason to be in such a panic, but…

His mobile vibrates in his hand, and his eyes snap down to the screen.

Brother here.  Bored.

John lets out a huge sigh of relief.

You okay?  Saw on the news about the explosion.

Fine.  Would be better if brother would leave.

John smiles.

Idiot, remember.

Mmm.  He’s very put out that I seem more interested in texting you than listening to his petty, little problems.  It’s very satisfying.

Good. ;)

He has a case.

Oh yeah?  A good one?

Don’t know.  Not listening.

John grins a little wider.  There’s a bit of a pause, during which he imagines Sherlock is doing his best impression of busy and failing.  He pushes away from the tree, and starts to walk again.  It’s fucking freezing out, and his nose and the tips of his ears feel nearly numb.

After a few minutes his mobile buzzes again.  He glances down at it.

Been summoned by Scotland Yard.  Will text details when known.

John feels a lift in his spirits. 

Seems the game is on, as Sherlock likes to say.


 

It’s an hour later when John receives another text.  A single photo of a smartphone in a bright pink case.

Is that what I think it is?

Meant to look like it.  This one is new.  Left in the bombed out house across the street, in an envelope addressed to me.  One message.  Five pips, and a photo of Mrs. Hudson’s basement flat.

What!?

Mm.  Brilliant, isn’t it!

No.  No.  Not brilliant.  Worrying.  This person is a bomber, remember, and they know where you live?  For Christ’s sake be careful!

Mother hen.

Yeah, well—last time I saw you this excited about a case you ended up poisoned.

I’ve been expecting this for some time.

What do you mean?

Jefferson Hope, the cabbie in the Pink Lady case, he mentioned a name, his sponsor.

What name?

Moriarty.

Who’s that?

I have no idea, but I believe I’m about to find out.

I wish you didn’t sound so gleeful about it.

You can’t deduce tone from a text.  You’re projecting.

I can determine your tone from a text.  The majority of our fucking relationship is conducted via text.  You’re ecstatic about this.

Oh calm down, John.  I’ve just got to the flat.  Ring you in a while. 

You sure you don’t need help?

Sherlock?

Sherlock!

John tosses the phone down on the counter with a huff. 

Bloody stubborn, fucking selfish, god damned brat!

John aggressively fries up some eggs.  He pours himself a finger of scotch even though it’s only ten in the morning.  He keeps glaring down at his phone screen, willing it to light up, willing himself to stop being so fucking pathetic, willing Sherlock to be okay.


 

And that is how it begins.

It swiftly becomes apparent it’s a game, a game this Moriarty person is playing with Sherlock, and John doesn’t like it.  Sherlock has become a man obsessed, possessed.  He thinks only of the game, and seems to delight in all the puzzles Moriarty sets before him.  And the more engrossed he becomes, the more he shuts John out. 

There have been two hostages so far, a woman, and a young man.  Just this morning there was a third, an old woman.  And a series of puzzles for Sherlock to solve to win their freedom.

There have been more of the threatening nursery rhymes, too.  Alway showing up in the unlikeliest of places.  Once on the empty seat beside him when he sits down on the bus, once on the sidewalk outside Ella’s office, once inexplicably in his coat pocket when he gets home from the park.

John doesn’t tell Sherlock.  He figures he has enough things to worry about (if one can call his exuberant fixation worry).  John can hardly understand it, starts to think that maybe he doesn’t really know Sherlock as well as he thought.

It’s a lonely week, one in which he almost gives up on everything, starts to wonder if he’d just been fooling himself when he thought he could matter to someone like Sherlock, starts to think that he is dim, and dull, and useless, and that there is nothing someone like him can do to pull Sherlock back from the brink he sees him teetering on, and that is why it comes as an almost welcome surprise when he walks out the door of his flat on Saturday morning and comes face-to-face with Mycroft Holmes.

Still—one needs to keep up appearances. 

“Don’t really have time for this, mate.”  He pushes past him, starts making his way down the sidewalk toward the bus stop.

“You’ll want to make time.”

“Doubt it.”

“Dr. Watson, I need your help.”

That stops John in his tracks.  Mycroft Holmes doesn’t strike him as the sort of person to ask help from civilians, certainly not mentally ill hangers-on who are constantly accosting his brother with their unwanted attentions.

He turns.  My help?”

“Yes.  With Sherlock.”

“Not really interested in being your spy or errand boy.  Besides, thought you were trying to get rid of me.”

Mycroft takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly, and John sees something he never would have expected—genuine worry.

He turns all the way around, and walks a few steps in his direction.  “You’re worried about him.  Why?”

“He is pursuing something that’s…  He cannot.  He must not.  I provided him another case as distraction, but he has become obsessed with these puzzles.  Do you know what I’m referring to?”

John nods.  “The hostages.  This Moriarty thing.”

A dark sedan pulls up to the kerb beside them.  “Get in, if you will, Dr. Watson.  We shouldn’t talk in the open.”

John hesitates for a moment, but then folds.  If Mycroft had wanted to off him, he could have done so a dozen times over the last few weeks.  He gets in, Mycroft just behind him. 

“So,” John begins, as the driver pulls away from the kerb.  “Moriarty.”

“Yes.  Moriarty.”

“Who is he.”

“That doesn’t matter, what does matter is the danger he poses to Sherlock.”

“I don’t get it.  What’s his interest?  How does he even know him?”

“My brother has gained a certain reputation in criminal circles.  He has a rather infuriating way of putting a wrench in all their best laid plans.”

“He’s fucking brilliant, I won’t argue you that, but I didn’t think business was quite that booming.”

Mycroft sticks the tip of his umbrella onto the sedan floor, and stares down at it as he turns it in slow circles.  “It only takes one or two of the wrong sorts of cases to get on the radar of these sorts of people, Dr. Watson.  I imagine you’re the sort of person who doesn’t need these sorts of things explained to them.”

John huffs.  From Mycroft it’s almost a compliment.  “So what do you want me to do, because he’s shut me out this last week—doesn’t FaceTime, doesn’t call, barely even answers my texts.”

“Then you need to try harder.”

“Try harder at what?”

“At distracting him.”

John frowns, eyes narrowing.  “What’s that supposed to mean.”

“It means, that whether I like it or not, you have become a potent and engrossing little diversion for my brother, and if anyone can drag his attention away from Moriarty, it’s you.”

“What exactly are you suggesting I do?”

“Oh, I don’t know…  You seem to have been managing just fine with that these last couple of months.”

John doesn’t like his tone, doesn’t like his bland, knowing look.  John doesn’t like the whole bloody thing.  “Listen, it’s clear you’re used to snapping your fingers and people stepping up, that you’re used to moving people about like pawns in a game of chess, but this isn’t politics.  This is your brother.  He isn’t a plaything, and I’m not interested in games.”

“Perhaps not, but Moriarty has no such qualms, and look where that’s leading my brother.  Do better, Dr. Watson.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said: Do. Better.”

“Yeah, you know what, I don’t really need to be lec…”

“Don’t you see we are losing him!”  John is shocked by the passionate response.  Mycroft looks almost as surprised as he is.  He straightens his tie, clears his throat.  I am losing him, and I am asking you for your help.  Keep him away from James Moriarty.”

“You’re not going to tell me why, are you.”

“Is it not enough to know he’s a danger to him?”

“You thought I was a danger to him.  You thought friends in general were a danger to him.  So, no, I’m not all that inclined to just trust your judgement.”

“James Moriarty is a mistake.  He is my mistake.  I let senti…”  He stops himself, swallows dryly, and stares out the window for a moment before continuing.  “When I became aware of his movements, when I began to see what he was capable of, I should have put a stop to it.  I didn’t.”

“Sentiment?  He’s not a stranger to you, then, I’m guessing.”

“I’ve already said too much.  Now, will you help me or not?”

“No.”

Mycroft is visibly stricken.

“I’ll help Sherlock.  But this isn’t for you, you understand.  You made this mess—apparently.  And now here we are, and here Sherlock is, right in the line of fire, and of course, of course I’m going to help him.  I’d fucking take a bullet for him at this point,  But, it’s not for you, you understand.”

John can’t interpret the look he sees on Mycroft’s face, but after a moment the man nods.  “Yes.”  He snaps his fingers, and the driver turns the sedan around, and heads back the way they came.

They’ve almost got back to the flat, when Mycroft’s mobile rings.  He looks down at the screen, cocks a brow, and answers.  “What is it?  Mmm.  No.  No.  You shouldn’t have involved him.  I told you.  No. This is a job for Dr. Watson, not me.  Call him.”

Mycroft hangs up without explanation, and just as the car pulls up to the kerb, John’s phone rings.  John stares down at the number.  Greg Lestrade.  A Detective Inspector from the Met he’s met with a few times on errands for Sherlock.  Seems a decent bloke.

“Answer it, Dr. Watson.”

But apparently he too is under Mycroft’s thumb.  John gives Mycroft a parting scowl, but does, as he says as he climbs out of the car, and heads for his flat.  “Greg.”

“John.  Hey.  There’s been a bit of an incident.  Thought I’d give you a heads up.’

“Sherlock?”

“Yeah.  He’s okay.  He’s okay.  Nothing like that, it’s just this last hostage…”

“The old woman?”

“Yeah.  He solved it.  Things were going smoothly, until they didn’t.  She got a little too chatty about the details, and…  Well, Sherlock was on the phone with here when…”

“When?”

“The bomb went off.”

“Jesus.  Is he okay?”

“Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it?  He always acts like he is, but—I don’t know.  This case is getting under his skin.”

“Tell me about it.  I’ll give him a ring.  Thanks, Greg.”

“You bet.”

John’s made it back up to his flat now.  He sits down at his desk and thinks.  Sherlock doesn’t answer his texts anymore, doesn’t answer his calls.  He would make him a video, but it’s unlikely he would think to check his channel and watch it.

He could go to him.

He could. 

He could do that.

It’s not what they do.  It’s not who they are, but this is… 

John makes a vow to himself.  One last call, and if Sherlock doesn’t answer, then he goes.  He takes the tube to Baker Street, and he forces the issue.  They’ve been dancing around one another for too long now, anyway.  Something has to happen. 

All this online business has been fun, necessary even, but John feels stuck, unsure if he’s even really wanted, and it would be nice to know, good to know.  He needs to know.

He thumbs open his recent calls and is just about to tap on Sherlock’s number when the mobil buzzes in his hand.  Sherlock calling.  Sherlock calling of his own volition. 

John answers.  “Hey.”

“John.”

“Yeah.  It’s me.  What’s up?”

“John.”

Something’s wrong.

“Yeah, I’m here.  You okay?  Greg called me.  Told me about the old woman.”

“I solved it.  I got it right, and she…  And then he…”

“It isn’t your fault, Sherlock.”

“I solved it.”

John frowns.  “Yeah you did.”

“I solved it.”  He sounds utterly lost.

John’s heart twists painfully in his chest.  “Sherlock, listen to me, okay.  You’ve been burning the candle at both ends since all this started, and I think you need to take a step back now.  Just take some time to breathe.”

“There’s only been three pips, John.  There are going to be two more.”

“Yeah.  Maybe.  But not this minute.”

“You don’t know that!”

“Sherlock, you are not some trained monkey.  You are not required to dance at this Moriarty bloke’s every whim!”

“He will already be setting up the next puzzle, John.  I need to stay a step ahead.  This is time I’m wasting.  This is time I could be out there looking for clues, finding the next…”

“Then why did you call me?  Mmm?  If I’m just wasting your bloody time, then why are we here talking?”

There is silence on the other end of the line.

“Sherlock?”

“John, I…”

“You what?”  John can hear the anger in his voice.  He hadn’t meant to sound so—so fierce.  But he is angry.  He’s angry at being shut out the last week.  He’s angry that they’ve known one another for almost two months and still haven’t met face-to-face.  He’s angry that he can’t seem to be brave, and do what he needs to do, wants to do, and he’s terrified, terrified that this whole situation is going to go tits up, and he will lose Sherlock just as they’ve barely begun.  And isn’t that always the way with him?  Isn’t that always, just his fucking luck?

John takes a deep breath.  Lets his eyes slide shut.  There is only one of those things he has any control over.  It feels like life or death.  It’s essential.  He’s done with being scared.

“You at your flat?”

“What?”  He can hear Sherlock’s confusion at the change of subject.

“Are you at home?”

“Yes.”

“Alone?”

“Yes.”

“Then I want you to take your phone, and go into your bedroom, and lock the door.”

“What?  Why?  Why, John?”

“Because you need to sleep.  You need to calm down, and you need to sleep, and I’m going to help.”

“What can you do?”  Sherlock sounds impossibly young, slightly petulant, definitely curious.

“Come on.  Off you go.  For me, Sherlock.”

He hears Sherlock get up from wherever he’s sitting.  There is the click of a deadbolt lock, and then another, and then the sound of Sherlock walking, shutting a door behind him.

“You done it?”

“Yes, John.”

“Good.  Now take your clothes off and get under the covers.”

He hears Sherlock swallow dryly.  “John I—there’s too much to do.  I can’t just…  In the middle of case.  I—I don’t…  I haven’t earned it.  I don’t…”

“That you refusing?  ‘Cause you can say no, anytime you want, anytime, but for Christ’s sake, Sherlock, it’s not something you have to earn, and you and I both know you need to come down.  You need to slow down, to decompress.  Today has been a lot.  Now—you—you want this, don’t you?”

“Do you?”  He sounds small and unsure.

“Yeah.  Yeah, I do.” John replies with more surety than he’s ever felt in his life.  His skin is already prickling with anticipation and relief.

“Just a moment.”  He hears Sherlock put the phone down, hears the soft shush of clothes being discarded, followed by the almost inaudible creak of a mattress.  “John?”

“Yeah.  I’m here.”

“Will you—do the same?”

“Sure.  Yeah.  If you like.”

“Please.”  The please is barely a whisper.

“Okay.  Just give me a minute.”

John sets his phone down and strips.  He looks down at the bulge of his half hard cock and momentarily considers keeping his pants on, and then remember’s he’s alone, in his own flat, and he’s being ridiculous.  He slips everything off, and climbs beneath the covers.  Picks up his phone.

“You’re going to need your hands for this, Sherlock, so you can put me on speaker, or if you have bluetooth.”

“Oh.  Yes.  Just…”  He hears Sherlock retreat and return.  After a moment he speaks.  it’s clear he’s found a bluetooth.  His voice is too close, too intimate to be on speaker.  John slips his own on, sets his phone on his nightstand and lays down.

“You back in bed?”

“Yes.”

“And you want this?”

“John?”

“Yeah.”

“What is this?”

John feels a wave of fondness wash over him.  That Sherlock trusts him enough to get all the way to this point without any real clarity on what may be asked of him—it stuns John.  He’s not sure he’s ever been so trusted.  it’s a heady thing, a thing he doesn’t want to take for granted.

“This is whatever you want it to be.”

“I—I don’t know.”

“Then we’ll try things, yeah, and if you don’t like it, then we’ll try something else.  This is about you, okay.  It’s about—letting go.  Just—try to relax.”  And John wonders if he says the last bit for Sherlock, or for himself, because his stomach is aflutter with anxiety, as well as the warm, coiled clench of desire, each seemingly feeding off the other in an odd uroboros of pleasure/pain.

“Just listen to me, okay.”

“Alright.”

“You lying down?”

“Yes.”

“Under the covers?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.  Should I tell you what I’ve thought about?  The ways I’ve dreamed of being with you?”

“You dream of me?”

“Yeah.  That okay?”

“Yes.”  Sherlock sounds breathless, and slightly awed by the news. 

“Sometimes at night, when I’m alone, and we’ve been talking, after you hang up I’m left aching, aching for you.  And I imagine what it would be like to have you bed with me, naked, curled around me, your hands wandering.”

“How do I touch you?”  Sherlock breathes.

“You stroke your hands over my chest, You grab my hips, you pull me back against you, and…”

“Yes?”

“You fit so perfectly against my arse.  You, you feel hard, and hot.”

Sherlock sucks in a breath and huffs it out again.

“You pull me in closer.  You—you’re slick somehow, and you slide between, you move, you—you grind against me.”

Sherlock huffs again.

“You like that?”

“Yes.”  He can hear the shallow breath, the hunger in Sherlock’s reply.

“You want to imagine together?”

“Yes.”

“Are you touching yourself?”

Sherlock makes a small, strangled sound at the back of his throat, that makes fire bloom in John’s veins.

“May I?”

And somehow that breaks John, the fact that Sherlock was waiting, waiting for permission.

‘I haven’t earned it.’

God, who hurt you?

“Jesus, of course, of course you can.  Touch yourself.  Tell me what you feel.  Tell me what you want.”

There is a soft rustling, followed by a soft and almost inaudible sound of pleasure.

John lets his own hand wander downward, rubs his hot palm against his straining abdomen, feels the fire build as the backs of his knuckles brush against his cock, as he tenses, lets the ache build, and build, releases again.

“I—I…”  Sherlock whimpers softly.

“It’s okay.  It’s okay if you don’t want to tell me.”

“I do.”

“Okay.  I’m touching myself too, Sherlock.  We’re doing it together.”

“John…”

“Yeah, I’m here.”

“John.  Oh, John…”

John’s cheeks heat.  It hits him suddenly, what they’re doing.  He wonders if Sherlock has ever done anything like this?  It’s unlikely.  John’s done it a few times, but this is different, with Sherlock, them never having met, this all they’ve ever shared, and everything this is, all it means to John.  It’s impossibly hot, achingly intimate.

“Where’s your hand?”  John murmurs.  “Tell me what you’re doing.”

“I—I’m.  Uhhh…” 

John’s toes curl at the sound of that moan.  His cock twitches against the back of his hand.

“That’s it.  That’s gorgeous.  Can you do something for me?  Reach up and stroke your chest.”

He hears the whisper of skin on skin.

“So good.  Touch yourself, Sherlock.  Thumbs over your nipples.”

He hears Sherlock’s breath catch.

“It feels good, yeah?”

“Yes.”

“Move, Sherlock.  Hands down your ribs, on your hip, feel your hipbone.  Press, Sherlock.  Slow circles, fingers in the crease of your thigh.  Slow.  Gentle.”

Sherlock is making the most beautiful sounds: soft, shallow panting, quiet whimpers.  John’s cock throbs hard and hot.  Even the slight friction of his sheets is too much.  He rips them off, and sighs as the cold air of the room washes over his heated skin.

“God, you’re gorgeous.”

Sherlock whines, and John has to take himself in hand.  Christ, he’s hard as a rock.  It’s almost painful.  He gives himself a tentative pull and hisses, sighs.

“John…”

“Yeah, I’m here.  I’m here.  You sound so…  God, Sherlock.  Had to touch myself, I’m so hard.  You’re making me so hard.”

Sherlock makes the lovely throat sound again, and John can almost picture him, pale and naked, hand moving beneath the sheets, head thrown back and curls fanned out over the pillow.

“You have lube?”

“Somewhere.”  It’s a breathy pant.

John huffs out a laugh.  “You need something.  Something.  It’s going to feel so good, Sherlock.  Jesus, if I was there…  If I was there, I—I’d make you so wet, I’d—I’d put my mouth on you, I’d swallow you down, and my mouth would be so slick, and so tight around you.”

Sherlock whimpers.

“Can you feel it.  Can you feel what my mouth feels like around you.”

“John, I—I can’t.”

“Imagine, Sherlock.  The glide of it, the wet, tight heat.”

“J—John.  John!”

“You’re so close already, I can tell.  God, you—your…”

John reaches over for the tube of lube on his nightstand.  Fumbles, slicks his hand in a desperate scramble, and wraps it back around his twitching cock.  “I am too, Sherlock.  Gonna come.  You think we can come together?”

“John.  I—I’m…”  Sherlock is panting hard, now, and John can hear the rhythmic rustle of sheets as he strokes himself.

“Did you find the lube?”

“Lotion.”

“Good.  Feel it.  Feel the wet heat of my mouth on your cock.”

Sherlock moans loud, and John pumps his prick all the faster.

“That’s it.  Christ, just listen to you, you—your voice.  You’re going to make me come with just your voice.  Wanna hear you.”

Sherlock moans again, and John feels his balls start to pull up.  “Oh Christ, Christ Sherlock, I’m gonna…”

The rustling on the other end of the line increases.  Sherlock is panting hard.  “John…  John, I—I…  Oh, oh John.  John!”

And it’s the sound of Sherlock shouting, moaning, whining his name as he comes, that tips John over the edge.  He grunts, and then moans long and loud, back arching off the mattress as he spills over his hand and chest.  He lets Sherlock hear him.  Wants him to know how good it is, how much he’s wanted—needed.

When it finally subsides, he lays still, listening to Sherlock’s panting breath slowly calm on the other end of the line.  They lay there in silence a long time.  John feels sated and calm.  It was easy.  After all this time, weeks, months (years), it was so fucking easy. 

He smiles.

“Hey.”

“Mmm.”

“You okay?”

“Mm.”

“Feel better?”

“Tired.”

John smiles.  “Good.  Sleep for awhile, okay.  I promise to call you if anything important happens.  You know Lestrade will call you to.

“Mmm.”

“Sherlock?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t keep shutting me out, okay.  I want to help.  You don’t need to do this alone, and you don’t have to play this game just because this Moriarty bloke wants you to.”

“People have died.”

“I know.”

“It’s what I do, John.”  Sherlock sounds drunk, his protests weak, and half-hearted.  He’s drifting off to sleep, and John aches to be there next to him, to pull him close, and watch it happen.

“And you’re amazing, but you’re human, too, Sherlock.  You need to rest.”

“Mmf…”

John smiles softly, listens to Sherlock drift off.  He never even cleaned up.  He’ll wake up sticky, and uncomfortable, but at least he will be rested.

John stares down at himself, stomach, chest and hand covered in come.  He imagines, for a moment, what it would be like to have Sherlock there with him, both of their seed mingling, pressed between their warm sated, bodies.  Sherlock makes a small sound in his sleep, and John’s cock gives a half-hearted twitch.  John glowers at it, and then lets his head fall back against the pillow with a huff and a smile.

He’s floating.

It was just a little phone sex, but Christ if it wasn’t the hottest thing he’d ever done in his life.

He chuckles and shakes his head.  “Jesus, Sherlock.  You’re going to be the death of me.”

Chapter Text

The next morning John is awakened by a text from Sherlock with an address and a few brief instructions:

 Man dead.  Alex Woodbridge.  Gallery attendant at Hickman gallery.  Question roommate. 

No mention of the day before.

There’s a case on, John reminds himself.  He gets like this on cases.

John goes, of course. 

The woman is subdued and quiet, helpful, but almost robotic in the way of those who have just experienced a profound shock.  She’d liked him, she’d liked her roommate.  He’d been quiet, bit messy, into astronomy.  Didn’t know a thing about art, according to her, but she had had a break-in, nothing taken in the last day or two, and there had been a message left on the machine for him from a Professor Cairns.  That seemed like the most promising lead.

John thanks her, and heads back to the tube.  He texts Sherlock the details, doesn’t get a response, leans back in his seat, and tries desperately not to think about the day before.  Just the thought of it has been sending little shivers of pleasure through him ever since, shivers of pleasure with doubt, and fear, and all sorts of dark, depressing musings following right on their heel.

Was it proper timing?  Was it wanted?  Was it a part of him ‘doing better’, or was it pure selfishness?  Is he failing Sherlock still, just pushing him away, pushing him closer and closer to Moriarty?

Maybe this whole relationship is just a game to Sherlock.  Distraction, like Mycroft said.  A game in the same way these murders, these puzzles are a game with Moriarty.

You were unexpected.

I hadn’t expected to like you quite so much.

I haven’t earned it.

May I?

No.  Sherlock wouldn’t be that way, he wouldn’t make himself so vulnerable if it was just a game, so why…?

Maybe it’s what Mycroft had mentioned.  The boy in uni, Sebastian Wilkes, all the boys who had hated Sherlock, used him, left him without so much as a by your leave.  Maybe Sherlock is smarter than Mycroft gives him credit for.  Maybe this is Sherlock protecting himself.  And that is something John can understand, appreciate, but they can’t go on that way forever.

He gets off the tube, and heads for the shops.  He needs a few things for his tea.  Afterwards, he decides to walk the rest of the way since the weather is fine. 

His phone buzzes in his hand.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,

Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.

It’s the first time he’s gotten the texts on the new phone.  He should be worried about it, he is, but he’s tired, too.  He’s bloody well exhausted with the whole mess.

Sod off.

He’s more than halfway home, when a cab pulls up beside him.  “Give you a ride, Laddie?”

He waves it off without stopping, but the cab follows.  And when he finally glances over in irritation, he’s met with the cold, black gaze of a slight, fair, dark-haired cabbie. 

The man is leaning out the window.  He’s smiling, something cold and almost reptilian that doesn’t reach his eyes.  “So you’re his little pet.”  His voice is soft and carefully measured, with just a hint of an Irish lilt. 

The cab stops, the back door swings open, and John comes face to face with a brunette holding a gun. 

“Best get in,” She smiles.

His mind runs through all his options in an instant.  It’s too late to run.  The only chance he has now is to capitulate.

He gets in, shopping and all.

The woman is still smiling.  It’s sweet and just a little bit saucy.  She looks like one of the mothers he sees pushing her kids on the swings at the park all the time, but the kind that usually earns a second glance because there’s something in her eyes that is in direct contrast to all that.  Something clever and dangerous.  In another time and place she might be the sort of woman he’d date, he thinks, but not here.

She keeps her eye on him, her gun trained on him as they pull away from the kerb, and roots through his shopping bags with her free hand.  “Awww, look boss, he’s brought us some sweeties.”

John doesn’t say anything, just glares at her as she pulls a chocolate bar out of his bag and unwraps it with her teeth.  She seems completely unaffected.  Only leans back and assesses him.  "His little soldier.  You’re less impressive than I’d anticipated.  Been following you for weeks.  Though—you do have a way with words, don’t you.”  She grins.  “Maybe that’s what he likes about you.”

He doesn’t like her tone, doesn’t like what it insinuates, or the cold, crawling feeling creeping over his skin.  The mobile Mycroft provided was supposed to be secure, private, but if he’s getting texts there now, then…

She winks.  “Naughty boy.”

He sniffs and holds her gaze.  “I suppose there’s no use on asking you where we’re going?”

“Clever.”  She takes a bite off the corner of the chocolate bar.

John frowns.  “So this is what?  I’m bait?  I don’t know what you think you know, but I’m pretty sure I don’t mean that much to him.”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure you do.”

“Shut him up, Roz.”  The man from the front seat mutters.

She’s on him, the butt of her gun making impact with his temple before he can think.


 

John’s head hurts.  His eyes and mouth feel dry.  There is cold tile under his cheek, and the smell of chlorine in the air.

He tries not to moan as he shifts positions.  He’s been lying on his bad shoulder for god knows how long.

“Oh.  You’re awake.  Good.”  The woman from before.  Her voice is much more irritated, much colder now.  “Suppose I hit you a little harder than strictly necessary, but you looked like you were going to put up a fight.”

John cracks an eye open, and stares up at her.  He’s in a bad position, hands pulled behind his back and bound to his ankles.  Torso exposed to her thick boots, should she opt to give him a swift kick to the kidneys.  They’ve hog-tied him, and from the screaming pain in his muscles, it seems like possibly just tossed him where he lies, and left him there for hours.

Shit.

John wiggles his hands.  This strictly necessary.”

“Yes.”  She reaches down and hauls him up to a kneeling position.  Adrenaline explodes through John’s system.  He waits for the cold press of a guns muzzle to the back of his neck, but it never comes.

“Up you get.  We’ve got to get you dressed.  Company’s coming.”


 

He’s dehydrated.  His mouth and eyes feel like sandpaper.  At least half the pounding in his head is probably from that. so he’s been here 24 hours at least.  They still haven’t given him anything to drink.  His brain feels sluggish, fuzzy, and that won’t do.

Focus Watson.  You’re trained for this.  Focus.

He’s standing in a storage closet just outside a community swimming pool.  A sports centre, but he doesn’t know which or where.  He’s currently strapped into a vest with enough semtex to blow him to bits and do a decent amount of damage to anyone in the general vicinity.  He’s got a bluetooth in his ear, and he’s got his instructions.  He intends to follow them to the letter until an opportunity presents itself.

Somewhere out in the pool area he hears the squeak and slam of a door.

“Got your message.  Here I am.”

It’s a voice John would know anywhere, and he has to fight to push down the emotion, to not think too hard about that fact that Sherlock is just the other side of that door, that they’re finally going to be standing in the same room, finally face-to-face, and that he would give anything, anything for it to not have happened this way.

 Off you pop. 

The woman’s voice says in his ear piece, and when he pushes through the door:  

There’s a good boy.

Sherlock is thinner, shorter, and infinitely younger looking in real life.  His eyes snap in John’s direction, and then stop, freeze.  The wrinkle John always aches to smooth away forms between his eyes.

Just as I tell you, now, Johnny.  Tell him good evening, Luv.

She’s whispering now, which makes John think she’s somewhere in their general vicinity.  Close enough to keep an eye on him.

“Evening.” 

This is a turn-up, isn’t it Sherlock?

“This is a turn-up, isn’t it Sherlock?”

“John.”  His voice is soft, his face stricken, and John hates, he hates with a hate stronger than anything he’s ever felt, that they are doing this to him.  “What the hell…?”

He desperately tries to telegraph the truth with his eyes, wills Sherlock to see, but he’s panicking.  John’s seen it before, in the eyes of dozens of men.  Sherlock is panicking, which means he won’t be thinking straight, which means there are bound to be mistakes, misunderstandings.

Bet you never saw this coming.

She sounds slightly gleeful, and John can feel his urge to kill rising.  She’s enjoying this—too much.

Now, show him what you’re wearing for him, Luv.  He’ll like that.

“Bet you never saw this coming.”  John parts the coat they’d wrapped him up in to initially hide the bomb vest.  Immediately the small red dot from a laser sight appears on his chest. 

Of course.  Nice.

Sherlock’s eyes go wide, flit over every inch of the vast space, desperate, anxious. 

What would you like me to have him say next?  Gottle o’ geer.  Gottle o’ geer.  Gottle o’ geer.

John scowls, but repeats the words.

“Stop it!”  Sherlock shouts.

The woman’s voice whispers on in John’s ear, and he plays puppet just as he should.  “Did you like the touch with the pool?  The place where your first pet died.  I stopped little Carl.  I can stop John Watson too—stop his heart.”

The laser sight dances on John’s chest.  He sucks in a deep breath through his nose, lets it out slow. 

“Friends, Sherlock…  Achilles heel.  Thought you’d have learned that by now.  Lucky for me you haven’t.”

“Who are you?” Sherlock turns, squints up into the darkened gallery above the pool, searching for answers, but if anyone is up there, it’s too dark to see.

John hears a door open behind him, and Sherlock’s eyes snap back in his direction.

“Ahh, here’s Little Brother.”  The man with the soft Irish accent.  John can hear him walking slowly up behind him.  He passes, leaves the woodsy-floral scent of some high-priced cologne in his wake.  He’s well dressed in a dark, fitted suit.  Not much taller than John, but much more slight.  He has his hands stuffed in his pockets, and strolls like he hasn’t a care in the world.

“Always Mummy’s favourite.”  The man clucks his tongue and shakes his head.  “Remarkable considering how stupid you are.  I hadn’t realised…”  He sounds pensive, thoughtful.  “Thought I’d finally found a worthy challenge.  But, I suppose I should have just stuck with Mycroft.”

John sees the words hit their mark.  A flash of hurt flickers behind Sherlock’s eyes before he can hide it, followed swiftly on by confusion.

The man nods toward Sherlock.  “Is that a British Army Browning L9A1 in your pocket?  Or are you just pleased to see me?”

“Both.”  Sherlock reaches into his pocket and draws it out, holds it up.  His hand shakes, and John worries, wonders if he even knows how to shoot it.  It’s army issue, looks like the one John has back at his flat.  Might be if Sherlock had stopped there first, looking for him.  It might just change their luck.

“Jim Moriarty.  Hi.”  The man gives a small wave.

Sherlock just stares.

“Jim, James, Jamie, Jimmy my boy, my precious boy?  Little boy gone wrong, such a shame.  Little boy lost.  Ringing any bells?  No?”

Moriarty takes a few steps closer to Sherlock, and John feels himself coil tight, prepare to act, in a blink, if needed.

“It seems Big Brother’s been doing his job.”

Sherlock looks utterly lost.

“I’ve given you a glimpse, Sherlock, just a teensy glimpse of what I’ve got going on out there in the big bad world. I’m a specialist, you see, and a disappointment—like you.  But all things considered, I believe I’ve faired rather better.”

Sherlock’s mouth opens and closes, opens and closes even as he lifts another hand to steady the gun.  “I—I don’t…”

“Dear Jim. Please will you fix it for me to get rid of my lover’s nasty sister?  Dear Jim. Please will you fix it for me to disappear to South America?”  Moriarty mimics the old Jimmy Saville show in a sing-song voice, and then sobers.  “A consulting criminal.  Brilliant, isn’t it.  No one ever gets to me—and no one ever will.”

“I did.”  Sherlock lifts the gun a little as it to reinforce the upper hand he clearly doesn’t have.

“You’ve come the closest. Now you’re in my way.” 

“Thank you.” 

“Didn’t mean it as a compliment.” 

“Yes you did.” 

“Yeah, okay, I did.”  Moriarty turns on his heel, grins at John.  “But the flirting’s over, Sherlock.  Daddy’s had enough now!”  He turns back.  “I’ve shown you what I can do. I cut loose all those people, all those little problems, even thirty million quid just to get you to come out and play.  So take this as a friendly warning, My Dear—back off.”  He stares down at his perfectly polished shoes, and swipes the toe of one across the damp tile.  “Although I have loved this – this little game of ours.” 

“People have died.” 

The man’s head snaps up.  “That’s what people DO!”

John jerks in surprise at the sudden change in demeanour.  Calm, almost bored, and then, on a dime, this—vicious, half mad.  It’s a reminder not to let his guard down.

“I will stop you,” Sherlock says quietly. 

“No you won’t.”  Moriarty snaps. 

Sherlock’s eyes flit up to John.  “Are you alright?” 

Remember, Luv.  No talking.

And John drops his eyes immediately, looks down, away, not just because of the danger it would be to Sherlock, but because every glance, every time their eyes meet is pain.  He’s dreamed of this moment a million times, how it would be when they first met.  Lunch at Speedy’s perhaps, or maybe a case at the Met, or maybe he would just invite him over to the flat, or they would agree to meet in Regent’s Park.  So many possibilities, all of them bright, and wonderful, and filled with joy.  Not this. 

Not this nightmare.

“You can talk, Johnny-boy. Go ahead.”

And John thinks that Thing One and Thing Two should maybe get their act together, their plan synched, but he does look up, catches Sherlock’s eye and nods. 

Sherlock looks momentarily relieved.  “What do you want?”  He demands. 

There is an edge to Sherlock’s voice now, and it surprises John.  He’s calming down, he’s finding his footing.  He can see a little of the mad, gorgeous genius he fell in love with rising to the surface, and it gives him hope for the first time since all this mess started, because the only way they are going to get out of this alive is if they work together.

“D’you know what happens if you don’t leave me alone, Sherlock, do you?”

“Oh let me guess.  I get killed.”

“Kill you?”  Jim grimaces.  “No, don’t be obvious.  I mean, I’m gonna kill you anyway some day.  I don’t wanna rush it, though.  I’m saving it up for something special.  No-no-no-no. If you don’t stop prying, I’ll burn you.  I’ll burn the heart out of you.” 

There’s a kind of feral intensity to the threat, John thinks.  Disgust, and passion and regret all rolled into one vicious snarl.

Sherlock meets it softly.  “I have been reliably informed that I don’t have one.” 

“But we both know that’s not quite true.” 

Sherlock blinks.

“Well, I’d better be off.” Moriarty looks around casually, and then turns back to Sherlock.  “So nice to have had a proper chat.” 

Sherlock raises the gun a little higher, and John’s heart rate picks up.  “What if I was to shoot you now – right now?” 

“Then you could cherish the look of surprise on my face.   ’Cause I’d be surprised, Sherlock; really I would.   And just a teensy bit disappointed.  And of course you wouldn’t be able to cherish it for very long.”

He turns and brushes past John.

“Ciao, Sherlock Holmes.”

“Catch.  You.  Later.”  Sherlock drones.

“No you won’t” comes the sing-song reply.

Somewhere behind John a door swings shut.  The laser sight on his chest disappears.  There is a crackle, and then silence in the bluetooth at his ear.  It takes him a few seconds to process that James Moriarty is actually gone.  That he is standing alone on the pool deck, body awash with adrenaline, still weighed down with enough explosives to take out anyone unfortunate enough to be on that level, and that Sherlock Holmes is standing there, just a few feet away, eyes still glued to the door the man has just disappeared through.

His eyes snap back to John, and suddenly he is striding toward him, dropping to his knees, hard, on the tile floor, and reaching for John’s clothes.  He tears off the coat, and starts to work on the vest.  His hands are ice cold, and shaking.  “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, yeah.  I’m fine.”

He’s not really.  He can feel the adrenaline drop.  He’s light headed, and cold, and his heart is racing a million miles a minute.  He lets his head fall back, takes a deep, burning gulp of air, lets it out again and drops his fingers into Sherlock’s hair.  Sherlock who’s finally managed to unfasten the vest, and who is ripping it off John’s body with such desperation and force that it causes John to stumble back a little. 

He slides it across the floor, as far away from them both as he can manage.

“Christ.  Sh-Sherlock!”

John pulls the bluetooth from his ear, and stumbles back, but Sherlock catches him around the thighs, and pulls him close, holds him up, presses his face into John’s groin and breathes deep.  It’s animal, instinctual.  It’s desperate, aching relief.  John drops his other hand into his curls, and fists them lightly.  “I’m okay.”

Sherlock pulls back and looks up at him.  His eyes are everywhere, assessing John for damage.  His cheeks are flushed even while the rest of him is pale as a ghost. 

“Are you okay?”  John asks.

Sherlock nods.  “John, I…”

Somewhere in the dark, a door creaks.  Their eyes meet, a moment of shared horror, and then Sherlock stumbles back, stumbles away, somehow manages to scoop the gun off the deck, where he’d set it down to strip John of the vest, and scrambles to his feet.

A red dot appears in the centre of John’s chest.  “Oh.”  And he feels ill.  They were there—they were right there.  After everything, they were so close.  So bloody close…

“Sorry, boys! I’m sooo changeable!”

John takes the smallest step to the side, to give Sherlock a clear shot if he wants to take it.  He hopes he’s good, because they’ll likely only get one chance.

“It is a weakness with me,” Moriarty continues.  “But, to be fair to myself, it is my only weakness.  You can’t be allowed to continue. You just can’t. I would try to convince you but,” he laughs.  “everything I have to say has already crossed your mind!” 

Sherlock looks down at John, and John looks back, hopes he understands that he’s here, that whatever he decides to do, it will be something they will do together.  He gives the tiniest of nods.

“Probably my answer has crossed yours.”  Sherlock replies, as he looks back up.  He lifts the gun little higher, and then lowers it, slowly, slowly, until he’s pointing at the explosives.

John takes it all in, the vest on the floor between them, the sight still wobbling on his chest, and Sherlock standing right on the pools edge.  The water.  The water there, just waiting to take them. They could.  They could do it.  They would have seconds, and it could still end in disaster, but they’re running out of options.

Sherlock’s eyes are locked with Moriarty, and John wills him to look back down.  Miracle of miracles, he does.  John quickly flicks his eyes back toward the vest, and then toward the pool.  He sees Sherlock understand, gives him an almost imperceptible nod, and then tenses, ready to spring the second Sherlock gives the signal.

There won’t be time for hesitation, for mistakes.

“Now.”  Sherlock says, calm as day.

John is on his feet in seconds, barrelling toward Sherlock.  There’s a pop.  he feels a searing pain in his arm, sees Sherlock’s gun fire a millisecond later, and he slams into his body in the same instant that a searing heat engulfs them.

And he falls.

Down.

Down. 

Down.

The water rises.

Covers him over.

And he sinks into the cool, deep, black.

Chapter Text

Breathe for me John.  Breathe.

James Sholto looks down at him with sea glass eyes.  He places his hand in the centre of John’s chest, over his heart.  There’s nothing but pain, the red-hot sear of burning sand beneath his back, and the cool, grounding weight of James’ hand.

He can hear a chopper somewhere, getting closer.

Breathe.

The sand is blowing away, washing away.

Water.

Water everywhere.

Sherlock’s hand presses, down, down, holds him under, and John looks up at him from the rippling depths, confusion, betrayal, terror.  He reaches up, grabs his hand, tries to rip it away, but it’s no use, there’s no point, there’s no—no need?

He goes still.

He can breathe.

The cool pressure of the deep surrounds him, and he sucks in great gulps of air, pulls Sherlock’s hand up to his face, his mouth, kisses his palm, his fingers and feels the tension melt away.

Please.  Please live.


 

John’s eyes slip open to sterile white, and the muffled, almost inaudible beeping of a heart monitor.  He blinks up at the ceiling, waiting to get his bearings.  There was an accident.  Something.  He was hurt.  His arm hurts, his neck, and head, and lungs hurt.

So he’s where?  Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham? 

No.  Not right.  That was after Afghanistan.

This was… 

Oh.

The pool.

Sherlock!

He tries to sit up, faintly hears the heart monitor kick into high gear, and lays down again.  It’s only a few seconds before a woman pulls back the curtain around his bed.  She’s all smiles.  “Oh, you’re awake Dr. Watson.  Good.  That’s good.”

John’s head is pounding, and he can barely hear her, though she is clearly talking quite loudly.

“Have I got TM rupture?”

“Mm.  Should heal up in a few weeks.  Concussion too, and some flash burns on the back of your neck.  There’s also a superficial bullet wound to your right arm.  Passed clean through, flesh only.  And we’ll keep an eye on your lungs.  You’re at St. Thomas’ in the A&E.  I’m doctor Sawyer.”

“I was with someone else—a friend.”

“Ah yes, Mr. Holmes.  He rode here with you.  Wouldn’t take no for an answer, from what I understand.”

“So he’s okay?”

“A little shaken up, I think, but physically just fine.  You took the brunt of the blast.  You’re very lucky to be alive, and your quick thinking probably saved your friend as well. 

“I believe he’s just stepped out.  He’ll no doubt be thrilled to see you awake.  I’ll let him know if I see him.”

“Doctor.”

She turns back around. 

“Were there any other casualties at the scene?”

She frowns.  “No.  No one else.  Just you and the Holmes gentleman brought in.”

She leaves and John lies still trying to focus on what he can and can’t hear in the environment around him.  Low sounds seem more difficult to hear than high ones, and he grieves what that will likely mean when it comes to Sherlock’s rich, warm voice.

His head is throbs with every beat of his heart, making it almost impossible to think, and he needs to think.  There is so much to process, take in, so much to try and remember.  No other casualties is the most worrying.  How?  How could Moriarty have escaped?

John smells Sherlock before he sees him.  The air goes thick with the scent of cigarette smoke and coffee, and then the curtain pulls back a little, and a head peeks in.  Sherlock hesitates, eyes taking in every inch of John’s body where it lies tucked tightly beneath the hospital blanket.

John gives him a shrug and a crooked smile.  “Sorry ‘bout all this.”

Sherlock’s lips part, like maybe he’s going to say something, but then he presses them closed again.  He pulls the curtain aside, steps in, and then closes it again, encasing them in a little artificial cocoon of privacy.

“Should tell you, I’ve ruptured my eardrums, so can’t hear much.”

The now familiar wrinkle forms between Sherlock’s eyebrows.

“I’ll be fine.  Just gonna to take a few weeks to heal up.”

Sherlock does say something then, just one or two quiet words, face stricken.  Frustratingly John can’t hear anything above a soft mumble. 

He motions for him to come over.  “Come down here.  You’re going to have to sit closer, or I can’t hear you.”

Sherlock hurries over, looks around for a chair, and finally finding one just outside the curtain, slides it up to John’s bed and rests his chin on the support bar on the side.  John reaches over and lowers it.  “Better.  Now what did you say?”

Sherlock leans in close to his ear.  “You saved my life.”

John tilts his head back to the side.  Sherlock doesn’t move, and he’s so close, all frizzy unkempt curls, and pale skin, and lips that are—really something else this close up.  John’s eyes drop, and stay there, fixated for a moment.  He licks his own before looking back up to his eyes again.

“Think we saved each other.”

Sherlock leans in even closer, and John realises he wants to talk again, so he tilts his ear in the direction of Sherlock’s mouth, feels warm breath waft over his neck as he speaks.  I—I should have been more careful, not gotten so distracted.  I…”

He sounds wrecked, so guilty.  John’s heart aches.  “Hey, I’m going to be okay.  The ear thing’s the worst of it, I think.  They’re going to keep me a few more hours because of the concussion, probably, and the flash burns, the flesh wound, those will heal up.  They’ll give me antibiotics.  It’s okay.”

“They’ll release you today?”

“Probably, unless this starts giving them trouble.”  He lightly taps his skull.

“They can’t do that!”

“I assure you, they can.”

“Ridiculous.  You can’t be alone with a concussion. You’ll just have to come home with me.”

“No, no.  It’s fine.”

“Oh.  You don’t want to?”

And there it is again, that tone—small and careful.  It’s probably half the strange, clinging bond anyone feels right after they’ve shared a mutual trauma.  Sherlock does look pale and shaken, and the doctor had said…  Maybe Sherlock wants them together as much for himself as for John, but John is fairly certain he’d never admit that. 

John’s being an idiot—clearly.

“Yeah.  Yeah, ‘course I do.  Just didn’t want to—trouble you.”

Sherlock seems to relax.  “You’re always trouble, John.  That’s what I like about you.”  He winks and John smiles.

“Wasn’t sure you actually wanted to meet me, you know.  It had been two months, and…”

Sherlock’s eyes drop.  After a moment he leans in close to John’s ear again.  “I wasn’t sure—it was wanted.”

John pulls back to catch his eye, but Sherlock’s gaze has dropped to the pillow again.

“Hey…  Sherlock.  Sherlock, look at me, okay.”  And Sherlock does even though it looks like it causes him almost physical pain to do so.  “It was wanted.  It was always wanted, and I’m sorry if I gave you the impression it wasn’t.  I’ve been waiting and hoping for weeks.”

“I thought you would ask if you wanted to meet.”

John huffs.  “And I didn’t want you to feel pressured.  Clearly we’re both idiots.”

“Mmm.”  Sherlock hums against John’s ear, and he shivers.  “Now I think about it, I’m rather glad they don’t want to keep you.”

John grins.  “That so?”

“Mmm.”

“You know I need to take it easy, though, nothing too strenuous for at least 24 hours.”

He pulls back to Sherlock all but pouting, and laughs, and then clutches his head at the pain, instantly regretting it.

Sherlock’s brow knits with concern, and John reaches out, reaches up, and does the thing he’s been aching to do for weeks, he smooths away the wrinkle, and thrills when Sherlock leans into the touch a little and instantly relaxes. 

“Now who’s mother hen?” John admonishes softly.

“Are you quite sure they should release you so soon?  You swallows a lot of water before I could get you out, and I…”

“I’m okay,” John reassures.


 

He’s not okay.  Or at least he doesn’t feel it in the cab on the way back to Baker Street.  He’s had a CT, has been given the all clear, but now here he is pressing his head against the cold, rain-mottled window of the cab, shivering and willing his stomach to stop churning. 

He can feel the warmth of Sherlock’s hand sitting next to his hip on the seat between them.  It’s grounding, comforting somehow.  He flicks his gaze to the the cabbie in the front seat, fights back a momentary shudder from the still fresh memories, and then reaches down and tangles his fingers with Sherlock’s on the seat.  Sherlock slides his hand over John’s, and John hadn’t realised how cold he was until the warmth of Sherlock’s large, warm hand surrounds his small, icy one.  He turns it, palm up, and lets his eyes slide shut.

It not much longer before the cab slows and then stops in front of Speedy’s cafe.  It feels odd knowing he is about to go up, see all the familiar things, spaces and belongings that have almost started to feel more like home than his own pathetic flat, but that, up until now, he has only seen through the eye of a camera. 

The front door of the flat opens as they pull up to the kerb, and the woman John had seen chatting up the man behind the counter in the cafe weeks earlier stands there motioning for him to come in.

“Go ahead.  Get out of the rain.  I’ll get everything here.”

And so John goes, and the woman steps back and ushers him into homely, dimly lit foyer, with a soft and somewhat feminine paper on the walls.  She speaks some sort of greeting he can barely hear, and he taps his ear, and gives her an apologetic look.

Her mouth forms into a small ‘O’ of understanding.  She stands closer and speaks a little louder.  “It’s good to finally meet you.  He never stops talking about you, and you two have had such a night, haven’t you.  You should go upstairs, and get settled, and I’ll bring you both some early lunch.”

John isn’t quite sure how to take her.  He’s not really used to people making a fuss.  “Oh, that’s kind of you, but I don’t think we need…”

“Nonsense.”  She looks up as Sherlock comes in the door behind them, carrying John’s small overnight bag they’d hurriedly fetched from his flat before coming over.  “Oh Sherlock, I was just telling John that I’ll bring you some lunch when you’re all settled.”

“John is still ill from his concussion.  Soup?”

“Alright, Dear.  Off you go.”

Sherlock motions for John to go ahead of him up the stairs, and when they reach the top, Sherlock sets John’s bag down, and leans in close.  “Look around.  Make yourself at home.”

John wanders through the door directly ahead of him and steps into a cluttered lounge.  There is the familiar brocade wallpaper over the leather sofa, there the honeycomb pattern curtains hanging over large windows, to his left is the leather chair set up beside the hearth, an open violin case sitting on the seat, and another red brocade chair across from it.  They’re all things he’s seen in flashes and snippets before, but seen together they make for a warm and inviting space.

John walks deeper into the room, there’s a kitchen just off of it, modestly appointed but roomy.  The table in the middle of the room is covered with chemistry equipment.  Sherlock brushes past him.  “I can clean all this up,” he says loudly, motioning to the clutter around them. 

John just smiles.  “It’s fine.”

“There’s a toilet just through the kitchen and down that hall.”  Sherlock points.  “And my bedroom.”

John can hear him just fine, but he motions to his ear anyway.  Sherlock steps forward leans down.  He breathes against John’s jaw.  “The toilet and my bedroom are down there.”  John turns his head.  “There’s another upstairs if you…”  But he stops short.  He must see it, John thinks.  He must see what John wants, now, here, in the quiet, homely warmth of Sherlock’s flat.

“Would rather stay down here.”

“Oh.”  Sherlock mouths, as John draws closer.  “Yes, you—you should—could, if you’d like.”

“Would like.”

John is honestly astounded at his own courage, and something in the back of his head tells him not to rush this, to take it slow.  It’s special.  Don’t want to ruin it when you’re still keyed up in the aftermath of all that’s happened.  But he also knows himself, knows that maybe it’s time to take a risk, to stop second guessing every bloody thing, and if he waits too long, he’ll talk himself out of it again.

Sherlock’s eyes are on his lips now and so John slides his tongue out, licks them, stares at Sherlock until he looks up again.  The draw is magnetic.

Sherlock’s breath wafts soft against his mouth and then catches as John presses up, leans in, and kisses him.

The world stands still.  It’s almost chaste at first, just a tentative, tender press of lips, and Sherlock frozen, his hands hanging by his sides, body rigid.  John wonders if it’s shock, or if he just isn’t sure what to do with his hands, so he waits, lifts his hands to cup Sherlock’s face, to trace his thumbs along his cheekbones, and waits.

Finally Sherlock moves.

His hands come to rest on John’s hips, thumbs tracing crescent moons over his hip bones, and he kisses back.

His lips are full, and warm, and wet, and John is grateful when, after a few minutes, Sherlock wraps his arms all the way around his waist, and pulls him closer as he presses past the seam of John’s mouth. 

He feels dizzy, filled, his legs like jelly, as Sherlock holds him close, holds him up, and his tongue tangles with his, a slow, deep caress, nothing frantic or harried, nothing desperate, conquering, or claiming.  This is Sherlock luxuriating in it, in John, and he just keeps on… 

He kisses, and kisses, and kisses until John loses all track of time, all sense of place, until he tumbles headlong into the velvety, honeyed heat of Sherlock’s mouth, surrounded, held, and wonders, for the briefest of moments, if he really did die in that pool and all of this is some bizarre and beautiful dream wrung free from his brain in it’s last, stuttering, gasping moments.

It takes John a minute to realise that Sherlock has pulled away.  He opens his eyes, and blinks up, drunk at the sight of him pink cheeked and swollen lipped, studying him with such intensity, and such fondness that John feels dizzy all over again.

“What was that?”

Sherlock’s brow knits.  “Not good?”

“No.  No.  Good.  Very good.  I just…”  John grins.  “Think further investigation is needed.  Kiss me again.”

Sherlock's face stretches into a radiant smile and he does just as John asks.

Chapter Text

Mrs. Hudson is as good as her word, and brings up warm soup, and fresh bread, pots of tea, and plenty of biscuits.  Sherlock has to keep shooing her out at every new appearance, which John finds equal parts rude and endearing.  It’s clear Sherlock wants John all to himself, and John can’t bring himself to complain about that. 

Currently he has John tucked in on the sofa, with the television pulled over, and Raiders of the Lost Ark on Netflix.  He’s in the kitchen working on something, but he keeps peeking his head in every few minutes to wordlessly check on John’s wellbeing.  After about the tenth time John sighs.

“You don’t have to keeping doing that, you know.”

“Doing what?”

“Checking on me.  I’m fine.  Can call you if I need you.”

“Oh.  Yes.  Of course.”  He disappears into the kitchen again, and John wonders if he should follow, because something about Sherlock’s reply and abrupt departure make John wonder if he’s taken it wrong.

“Sherlock?”

The head reappears in an instant.

“I know you’re busy, but if you wanted to come sit with me for a bit, I wouldn’t say no.”

Sherlock steps into the room with a wordless ‘O’.  “I thought perhaps you preferred to rest, or to be left alone.”

“Kind of like some company, actually.  If you’re not too busy.”

“No.  Not busy.” He glances almost longingly back into the kitchen.  “No.”

Sherlock approaches the sofa where John is laid out, and hesitates.  John pulls his legs up to make room, and Sherlock sits down.  He stares at the telly.  Marian is dead.  Jones is threatening Belloq with a vengeful death.  John is fairly sure Sherlock isn’t watching. 

He seems anxious now they’re here, alone, in the quiet of the flat, and John hopes he isn’t having regrets about the kiss they’d shared.  It had been rather spontaneous, and John has started to wonder if maybe he hasn’t overstepped.  He can’t seem to get Mycroft’s voice out of his head, the idea that Sherlock won’t say no, won’t protect himself. 

John lifts his legs and lays them over Sherlock’s lap, and Sherlock looks down at them with surprise, and then back at John.  “You okay?”

“Yes.”

“This okay?”  John wiggles his toes a little.

“Of course.”

But Sherlock doesn’t sound okay.  He sounds stiff and rather anxious.

“Hey…” John urges softly.

Sherlock looks over.

“What happened before, in the kitchen, that doesn’t have to become a thing—if you didn’t like it.”

He sees Sherlock’s brow wrinkle, but he’s staring at the telly now.  “You don’t want to?”

“Didn’t say that.  Didn’t say that at all.  Just—if you didn’t like it, we don’t have to do it again.  Just needed to make sure you know that.”

“It was a kiss.  It was—pleasant.  I’m not a child, John.”

John isn’t sure he likes pleasant, makes it sound like a stroll in the park, or a Spring day that’s warm in the sun and cool in the shade.  It doesn’t encompass the depth of feeling he had about the whole thing.

“For me it was more than pleasant.  I just want to make sure you’re having a good time when we do things like that.”

“Of for heaven sake, John, will you stop coddling me!”

And John is left blinking in confusion as Sherlock shoots up off the sofa, and returns to the kitchen. 

John tries not to get angry.  He’s hurt.  He’s fucking worried that he’s misread everything they’ve been doing, that meeting, finally meeting face-to-face, was a mistake.  Sherlock wanted an online distraction.  He wanted the relationship to only go so far, and now—now things will start to fall apart.

Maybe he should go, just go.  He’s starting to feel better.  He doesn’t really need to stay.  He sits up, and rubs a hand over his eyes.  His arm hurts more than anything.  He could easily take a cab back to his place.

He wanders into the kitchen, and finds Sherlock hovering over a microscope, focussed on Christ knows what.

“Hey, maybe I should just go back to mine?  Don’t want to put you out, if I’ve overstayed my welcome.”

“Fine.  Do what you want.”

It’s not what he wants, but John can’t figure out the whys behind this seeming sea change in Sherlock’s attitude.  “Right.  Okay, well…  ‘Night, then.”

Sherlock doesn’t say anything else, and so John turns, goes out to the landing, shrugs into his coat, takes up his overnight bag, and heads back outside to catch a cab.  It’s cold out, but at least it’s stopped raining.  The air is fresh, and cool, and the smell of wet pavement pervades everything.

It doesn’t take long for a cab to stop, and John somehow gets himself, his bag, and his cane into the back seat and settled.  He looks up at the window of the flat as they pull away from the kerb. 

Stupid.  Of course he’s not watching.  He wants you gone.

The longer they drive, the angrier he feels.  He thinks he understands it now, these blokes leaving, hating Sherlock.  Does he do this every time, just lead you on and then leave you hanging?  Bloody unfair is what it is.  It’s taken every ounce of John’s courage just to get where they are, just to do what they’ve been doing, and now this.  Fucking this!

Karma

And John pushes that thought away, pushes it down deep, because it’s accurate, probably, and he doesn’t want to think about that, about how much he deserves this, how much he had it coming.  He just—he just wants it to stop hurting, because behind everything he’s feeling in the moment, that is the biggest thing—hurt.  Christ, it hurts, because like an idiot he’s fallen in love, and it’s way too soon to be feeling things like that, but he’s in too deep to get out easily now, and he hates himself for it.

It’s raining again by the time he gets back to his flat, and he curses the bloody weather, and just wants to get back upstairs, and, and—fuck.  He can’t even turn to the ASMR now, can he?  All that’s been ruined too.

He feels more hopeless than he has in ages.  What was it for?  What in Christ’s name was any of it for, if this is how it ends—with a kidnapping, a kiss, and bit of fooling around on the phone?  He wanted more.  Still wants more, Christ help him.

John gets back up to his flat, pours himself a glass of whiskey, and realises with a jolt that he has no phone.  The one he’d had on him had been taken by Moriarty’s hired gun, and the fact that everything he and Sherlock had been doing had been seen and heard by god knows who all still makes him feel ill.  Maybe he should just stay offline for awhile anyway.

His throat feels tight and his eyes burn.

“Fuck.”

He looks at the clock.  23:00.  He’ll never be able to hail a cab in his neighbourhood at that hour, but he could call an Uber.  He could be back at Sherlock’s flat in less than half an hour. 

But if it’s not wanted…? 

Sherlock could have asked him to stay, but he didn’t.  And John doesn’t know Sherlock well enough to know if he should push ahead or stand back.  Most of what he knows is trivial, the sorts of things you learn about a person on a first or second date, and he’s long felt that Sherlock holds back, that there is a very specific mask he wears for the world, and even for John, that though John has caught small glimpses of the true man, he has never been permitted to see all of him.  They stay busy—possibly, probably, purposefully busy: the cases, their YouTube channels.

Their YouTube channels.  There is a kind of intimacy to that, even if they are public, isn’t there?

He thinks about how they started.

Comments, texts, phone calls.

They talked.  They talked, and talked and talked.

They aren’t talking now.

“You don’t do that, John, I know.  You’re not good at that sort of thing.  But look where that landed us.”

Of course James would show up now.  Of course.  John lets his eyes slide shut, and breathes.  “Was a lot more than just us not talking.”

“Perhaps.  But it would have helped.  You’re braver than you give yourself credit for, Watson, but sometimes you can be phenomenally dense.”

John laughs out loud, and claps a hand over his mouth.  He’s crying, he realises.

Alright then.


 

There are still lights on upstairs when his Uber driver pulls up to the kerb in front of 221b Baker Street, and John gets out with nothing: no phone, no bags, no cane.  He only brings himself.

The front door is locked, so he rings the bell.  It’s Mrs. Hudson who opens it, face a mask of worry, a grinding cacophony of violin sounds, loud enough for even John to hear, pouring down from the floor above.  She leans in, so he can hear her.  “Oh John, thank goodness you’re here.  He’s been in a state for hours.”

“Is he okay?”

“Oh, I don’t think so.  He gets like this, and—well, you’d better go up.”

He nods and sprints up the stairs, his thigh punishing him for it the whole way.  The door to the lounge is shut, so he pushes it open, to the sight of Sherlock facing the fire in the hearth and sawing away on his violin like a man possessed.

“Go away, Mrs. Hudson!”  Sherlock bellows.

“Hey!”  John shouts back.

Sherlock spins around like he’s been struck.  Drops his violin from his jaw, and stands staring at John with a look he can’t interpret writ all over his face.

“Hey,” John says a little quieter.  “Got home.  Got thinking.  Wondered if me leaving was what you really wanted, so—thought I’d give this another go.  You can tell me to go now, if you want.”

Sherlock sucks in a sharp breath through his nose, leans down to set his violin on the seat of his chair, and then turns back.  “It’s better if you go.”

John’s heart drops.  He swallows back the disappointment.  “Right.  Right.  Fine.  Mind if I ask why, though?  Think I at least deserve that.”

Sherlock pulls himself up to his full height.  His voice is deep and firm when he speaks, but the fondness John has come to recognise and love is still telegraphing from his eyes.  “Because I’m a danger to you.”

“What?”

“You almost died, John.”

"Funny, I’d say it’s this Moriarty bloke who abducted me and strapped me to enough Semtex to take out a van that’s a danger to me, not you.”

“You know what I mean!”  Sherlock bellows.

“Maybe stop shouting at me, yeah!”  John yells back.

Sherlock’s hands are trembling.  His eyes look red.

John takes a deep breath. “Listen, the way I see it is, I can just walk out of here, right now, never come back, or—or you can tell me what happened to us last night, what all that was about.  You can tell me rather than pushing me away. 

“Unless this really has all been some sort of…”  John motions randomly, trying to find the words.  “If I was just a bit of a lark, then yeah, best tell me now, and I’ll be off, stop being a bo…”  He’s embarrassed when his voice breaks.  He swallows.  “I’ll stop being a bother and leave you alone.”

Sherlock’s eyes fill.  He swallows dryly.  “I can’t do it again, John.”

John takes a risk and walks over, stops inches in front of Sherlock, and looks up.  “What did he mean when he said the pool was the place where your first pet died.  Who did he mean?”

Sherlock’s eyes spill over.  He shakes his head and looks away.  “It’s nothing.”

“Nope.”  John presses firm, but soft.

Sherlock sighs.  "When he took the first hostage, one of the clues he left me was a pair of trainers.  They were trainers that had belonged to—to a friend of mine from school.  We were boys.  I was barely thirteen.  He was a year above me.  He went to a swim meet, had some sort of fit in the water, drown before they could get him out.”

“That pool?”

Sherlock nods.  “Everyone thought it was an accident, but they never found his shoes.  He loved those shoes, and they were just gone—until this case.”

“Jesus.  Sherlock, I’m sorry.”  John reaches out for Sherlock’s hand on instinct, but Sherlock pulls back, turns and walks over to the window to stare out at the street.

“I was a child.  Moriarty would have been a child.  I don’t—I don’t understand how he could have known, what he could have had to do with it, I…”

“Who is he, Sherlock?”

“I don’t know.”  He sounds lost.

“Is that the truth?”

“Yes!”

“He seemed to know your brother.  Should we ask him?”

Sherlock doesn’t say anything, just stares down at the street.  After awhile John sees him sigh.

He walks over and stands beside him.  Reaches down and hooks a single finger around one of Sherlock’s longer ones, and Sherlock lets him.  “Maybe we could figure it out together?”

“I can’t be responsible for something happening to you, John.”

“You’re not.  I make my own choices, I’m responsible for myself.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, and why do I get the impression that you’re going to use it to push me away.”

Sherlock hooks another finger around John’s, and John slides his hand into his, meshes their fingers together and squeezes.  “Went home tonight, and realised I don’t want to do this without you.”

He sees Sherlock look down at him out of the corner of his eye.  “Do what?”

John looks up at him and squeezes his hand again.  “Any of it.”

Sherlock is studying him.  “You hardly know me, John, and—you’ll get to a point where you know me too well, and when that happens, you’ll leave.  People always leave.”

“I’ve done enough leaving in my life.  Not too keen on doing it again.  And just for the record, no matter what happens, I think—I think I want to have the chance to at least try.”

Sherlock’s fingers stir in his.  “I don’t know what this is.”  His eyes drop.  “I don’t—I don’t feel things this way.  I—I fight very hard to never feel things this way.”

And there is the crux of it, John thinks.  This thing they are is a battle Sherlock has been losing from the start, and he must be exhausted and terrified.

“Maybe stop trying.  I’m telling you I want to be here.”

When Sherlock’s eyes lift to meet John’s again, what John sees there takes his breath away.  “People don’t want me, not like that.”

“I do.”

“No.  You don’t.  You…”

John frowns.  “Maybe don’t tell me what I feel.”  He lets go of Sherlock’s hand and takes a step back.

“I just mean,” Sherlock sounds desperate.  “I just mean that you want me, yes, yes, I understand that.  We—we’ve been—intimate, in a way.  But that’s not what I mean, John.  You want me, but you don’t—want me.”

John thinks he understands him.  “You told me from the start that you didn’t do those things.  I said it was fine.  It is.  And If I have ever given you any reason to think that this is just about sex to me, then I’m sorry, Sherlock, but it’s not.  This isn’t about wanting you.  I want you.  I want this.  I want us.  I want who I am when I’m around you.” 

“I don’t know how to…”

“Maybe don’t worry about that.”

“No, no.  Not that, not…  Good lord, John, anyone can fuck.”

John blinks.  “Wasn’t talking about that, but okay.”

Sherlock’s cheeks go crimson.  “See.”

John huffs softly.  “I see you getting yourself all tied in knots.  Can we please just start over.  We can go slow, or we can—fuck—if that’s what you want.  But I feel like we’ve gotten off on a wrong foot, and I—I thought we’d been doing alright up until now.”

Sherlock is staring out the window again.  “I did want to meet you face-to-face.  I just—didn’t know how to go about asking.”

“Yeah, well, me either, so…  Two peas in a pod, I guess.  And fate took a hand, so here we are, and we can either try to make it work for us, or—give up, I guess.”

“I don’t do well with friendships.”

“Neither do I.”

“Sometimes I go days without talking.”

“Don’t mind quiet.”

“I play the violin when I’m thinking.”

John arches a brow.  “You don’t say.”

Sherlock looks down and catches his eye, and the corner of his mouth twitches.  “Am I quite ridiculous?”

“You’re quite…”  And John has to fight back the urge to say: beautiful, remarkable, wonderful, perfect.  “I like you.”  And he knows that his tone is communicating something more than like, but he can’t bring himself to care.

Sherlock’s cheeks flush slightly and he looks away.  “John.”

“Yeah.”

“Will you stay tonight?”

“‘Course I will.  If that’s what you want.”

“Good.  I—I am sorry.  I’m quite a mess it seems.”

“The last twenty-four hours has been a lot.  You’re entitled.”

“Could we—go to bed?”

“Yeah?”

“Yes.”

John nods.  “I’d like that.”

Chapter Text

“Don’t forget to take your antibiotics.”

“Shit.  Didn’t bring my bag.  Thought you might just throw me out again.”

Sherlock smiles, worry and sadness still clouding his eyes.  “You left your medicine here.  I knew you’d be back once you noticed.”

“Did I?  And what do you mean, knew?”

“Hoped.  I—I don’t know what I was thinking only that I—wanted a second chance.”

“And you got one and then told me to leave.”

“I was an idiot, John!  I’m sorry!”

John had half been teasing, but Sherlock sounds so upset now, he rather regrets it.  “Hey, for the record, I didn’t notice my meds.  I came back because I wanted to come back.  Now, let’s go to bed.  I’ll just take them, and then we’ll go.”

Sherlock is already in bed, sheets pulled all the way up to his nose, when John gets back from taking his meds.  John smiles down at him crookedly.  “You have a T-shirt I can borrow?”

Sherlock jerks his head toward the dresser along one wall.

John opens it to find rows of perfectly folded t-shirts, most of them grey.  He takes one, and goes to the loo, strips down to his pants, puts on the t-shirt, and breathes.  He just stands, and looks at himself in the mirror for a few minutes, and breathes.

He’s about to go back into that bedroom, and get into bed with Sherlock.  He’s going to sleep next to him all night.  It’s possible they might…  Well, things could happen.  He feels a little giddy, ridiculously giddy for a man of his age.  It’s like being a teenager all over again, nervous for your first time, as anxious as you are excited.  He feels a bit foolish, too, but not enough for it to deter him.  He takes one last deep breath and goes back into the bedroom.

“You’re anxious.  Why?”

John sighs and tries not to roll his eyes heavenward.  “Why do you think?”

“If I knew I wouldn’t be asking.”

John crawls into bed and shimmies under the covers before he answers.  “First time doing this, now isn’t it.”

Sherlock looks confused.

John sighs again.  “Sharing a bed with you—half naked.”

“You’re fully clothed.”

“I’m in my pants!”

“And a t-shirt.” 

Sherlock huffs.  “Was I supposed to wear pants.”

“You’re not wearing any pants?”

Sherlock just shrugs but his face is slowly turning scarlet.

John grins.  Sherlock chuckles.  And then John is outright giggling.  It’s half nerves, probably, but Christ they’re both such a mess.

“This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done.”

“And you invaded Afghanistan,” Sherlock smiles back and John laughs even harder.  It feels good.  He can feel his nerves dissipating.

He finally manages to sober a little.  “Honestly, though—no pants?”

“I can’t sleep with clothes.  It’s easier for your body to regulate its temperature if you sleep naked.”

“That so.”

“Yes.”

“I see.”  John winks and Sherlock smiles.  “Can I say something without you thinking it’s me fussing or thinking you’re a child?”

“Depends.”

“On?”

“What it is you’re going to say.”

“It’s something I’m going to say because I need you to know it, and I need you to know it because—you matter to me.”

Sherlock sighs.  “Fine.  If you must.”

John ignores the tone, chalks it up to nerves, and soldiers on. “I don’t mind if we just sleep tonight. I don’t mind if you want to tie me to the bedposts and fuck me into this mattress until the sun comes up.  And maybe this makes me sound like a sentimental idiot, but I’m glad to just be here with you, whatever does or doesn’t happen.”

Sherlock doesn’t say anything, but he’s looking at him in that way again.  After a moment he rolls onto his side to face him.  “Fair enough.  Then we find ourselves in a similar situation.  Perhaps you should—kiss me, and see where we go from there.”

“Yeah?”

“If it’s not too much trouble.”

John chuckles.  “No trouble at all.”

Sherlock is more responsive this time.  He kisses back right away, and John thinks that he might be willing to do that and only that, for as long as they’re both given, because Sherlock is a bloody good kisser for someone who supposedly has had little to no experience.  John suspects it’s that odd gift of his, the ability to look at someone and tell you their whole life story.  He’s remarkably good at reading a person, and he seems to respond to John, to know what he wants, needs, even before John knows himself.

John loses all track of time, but at some point Sherlock’s lips start to wander.  Like an explorer charting new waters, his lips sail to the corner of John’s mouth, his cheeks, his forehead, over closed eyelids, up the line of his jaw, warm and breathy behind his ear.  It’s sweet in a way, almost chaste.  But it’s still somehow managing to light a fire brighter than anything John has ever felt beneath his skin.

And this is the wonder of Sherlock, John thinks, that he is so instantly all in.  He doesn’t do things by halves.  He either throws all of himself into a thing, or just refuses to engage all together.  It’s refreshing.  So little guessing, their misunderstanding earlier in the evening not withstanding.

They are already completely tangled with one another when John becomes aware of it.  He can feel Sherlock’s flaccid cock pressed against his thigh.  And it’s the same for him.  Lit up, glowing warmly, steadily, hot and wonderful.  But not that.  Not yet.

John has never been with anyone like this before.  He wants to say it feels like the first time he was in love, but he’d never allowed himself this, never even gotten this far with the first person he’d been in love with, and he’s been with enough people since then, but he never felt this.  It’s comfortable, he realises.  Not in a bad way, not in the way that leads to boredom, disengagement, resentment.  No, this is something comforting, like he can be himself here, no performance needed, totally accepted.

It’s not what he had expected when he’d imagined allowing himself this.  He’d imagined it would mean a scene.  He’d imagined it would mean having to look a certain way, perform to a certain standard.  He’d imagined it would be stressful beyond belief.  But this isn’t.  And maybe he’s getting way ahead of himself, because really they’ve only done a bit of kissing, but somehow he feels that Sherlock would never judge him, not here, not when they’re like this, and it’s wonderful.

He feels like he can breathe.

John pulls back to catch his breath.  “You’re pretty, bloody good at this for someone who’s never…”

Sherlock hums low in his throat, looks pleased, and kisses him again.  John smiles against his lips, and Sherlock pulls back, brow knit.  “What?”

“Just love you, that’s all.”

It just comes out.  He just says it (like an idiot), says it like he’s saying ‘good-morning’, or ‘you okay?’ or ‘sandwiches okay for tea?’.

Sherlock’s eyes are flitting back and forth like he’s processing a million bits of data at once.  He blinks and finally goes very still.  And John wants to apologise, but what would he apologise for?  Telling the truth?  Maybe he should have waited (definitely you should have waited), but…

“Do you?”  Sherlock whispers against his lips, and John feels rather than hears it.

John looks at him, and hopes he can see it.  He nods.

“Oh.”  Sherlock sounds awed rather than uncomfortable.

“Probably should have waited to say that.  Sorry if I…”

“Why?”  Sherlock is still whispering like it’s something sacred, and John can’t hear him at all, but he can read his lips—his eyes.

“Well…  People just don’t usually say it—this soon.”

Sherlock nods, mouth round and knowing.  “Did you mean it?”

“‘Course I did.”

“Then I fail to see why one should wait.”

Sherlock’s fingers are stirring at his nape, sliding carefully up the back of his head.  “Does it hurt?”

John shakes his head.

Sherlock scrapes his nails softly over John’s scalp and John’s eyes slide shut.

“I’m terribly infatuated with you, you know,” Sherlock murmurs against his lips.  “You’ve had me quite tied up in knots for weeks.”

“Yeah?”

John’s hand is pressed against Sherlock’s chest, and he feels a hum of a response vibrate through his hand.

“I don’t—allow myself this.  It’s confusing, a distraction.  It’s dangerous to me.”

John tries not to feel disappointed.  He should know better than to expect his ill-timed and impromptu love confession to be met with something equally sentimental and spontaneous.  That just isn’t Sherlock’s way.

“But with you…”  Sherlock slides his fingers from John’s hair and drags the blunt of his nails softly over the skin of John’s injured upper arm, stopping just shy of the bandage, he traces slow, lazy circles around it.  “You were a ray of light in the darkness, a spark when all excitement had seemingly gone out of the world.”

John goes very still.  He is capable, skilled, somewhat reliable, intelligent, and always willing to serve, even if it is grudgingly, but he’s rarely thought of himself as exciting.  It’s somewhat flattering even if it is hard to accept.

Sherlock leans down and presses kisses up his jaw, until he finds John’s ear.  “You don’t believe me.”

John sighs, and swallows down a hum of pleasure at the sensation of Sherlock’s lips whispering over sensitive skin.  “No.  It’s just—don’t feel all that interesting, I suppose.”

“Oh, but you are.  You’re infinitely interesting.”  Sherlock kisses the spot he’s just breathed over and John shivers.

“I—I’ll take your word for it, I guess.”

“Mmm, a wise choice.”

John huffs out a soft laugh and turns his head so that Sherlock’s mouth grazes over his cheek and meets his lips. 

“So many layers,” Sherlock whispers against his mouth.  “A mystery for the ages.”

If this is Sherlock’s way of being romantic, John will take it.  He buries his fingers in Sherlock’s hair, fists his curls and pulls his face closer.  He’s half hard now, and Sherlock isn’t, and it’s okay.  It’s…  Sherlock’s breath catches when he pulls, slow, firm.  John relishes in the sight of his eyes sliding shut, the way his mouth parts, the way he presses back into John’s touch.

“Joh-John…”

“Mmm?”

John.”  It’s almost a whimper.  He pulls Sherlock close, and Sherlock all but rolls on top of him, buries his face in John’s neck and sucks hard, before pulling back to glide his tongue gently over the spot his just bruised.  He does it again, and again.

John groans.  “God, Sherlock…”

“Not good?”

“Christ.  No, not good—amazing!”

He feels Sherlock smile against his neck. He crawls all the way on top of him, and sits up, straddling his lap.  John feels light-headed.  Sherlock is gorgeous, all long, lean limbs, and pale flesh.  His hair is a riot, his lips pink and swollen from kissing.

John lifts his hands to rest atop Sherlock’s thighs, and winces a little at the pull from the stitches in his bicep.

“Aright?”  He can barely hear Sherlock, but he can read his lips and the fond look in his eyes as he gazes down at him.

He nods, strokes his hands up Sherlock’s legs and down again.  Sherlock’s still not hard, and John tries not to worry about it, because he seems to be having an amazing time, and he’s resting the whole of his body weight on John’s throbbing cock, and it’s heaven.

Sherlock grins down at him and shifts his hips a little, and John groans.

“You’ll chafe this way,” Sherlock informs him, like maybe John’s changing a tyre for the first time, and Sherlock’s telling him not to tighten the lug nuts too tight.

“Right.”

“Pants on or off?”

“You have lube?”

“Yes.  I bought some.”

“When did you have time to do that?”

“I went out to buy cigarettes while you were in hospital.  I got some then.”

“Yeah?  Well, well done.”

Sherlock grins, looking rather pleased with himself and John gently swats his hip.  Of you go and get it then.

Sherlock scrambles off of him, and lunges for the bedside table.  He’s beautiful, John thinks, with an arse that should probably be illegal.  There is no way John is going to be able to walk around the flat tomorrow, and look at Sherlock in his well-fitted trousers and not think about the glorious view he’s looking at in this very moment.

Sherlock crawls back on top of him, sits back on John’s thighs, and dispenses a little of the lube into his hand.  He frowns down at it, looks at John’s cock and dispenses a little more.  He freezes, perhaps realising for the first time, exactly the situation he’s gotten himself into.

John reaches out and squeezes Sherlocks knees where they sit either side of his waist.  “Do you want me to do it?”

Sherlock shakes his head, but his cheeks are flaming.

“Whatever you want,” John murmurs.

“I want you,” Sherlock says with such conviction it takes John’s breath away. 

Sherlock stares down at his hands and then rubs them together, warming the lube, reaches down and takes John in hand.  The pleasure is electric, a hot jolt of sensation that infuses John’s every cell, and makes his toes curl and mouth fall open.  He sucks in a breath, and then huffs it out again as Sherlock gives his cock a long, languorous pull.

“Jesus, that’s…”  But John can only finish his sentence in a long, breathy moan.

Sherlock looks a little awed, and it’s flattering, John thinks.  No one has looked at him like that in such a very long time.

He shifts up and sits back down on John’s cock again, and it’s a glorious slick, slide.  John’s cock pressed between his own abdomen and Sherlock’s perineum, slipping along the underside of his balls.  Sherlock’s eyes go wide for a moment, his mouth forms into a silent ‘O’ of pleasure, and then he blinks down at John.

“You wanna move?”

Sherlock breathes, moves, and John watches, flushed and fond, as Sherlock’s cock gives a twitch of interest.  His head falls back, and his eyes slide shut, and he starts to move in earnest.  John reaches out to hold onto his hips, brushes his thumbs over his hip bones with each rolling motion.

Sherlock is half hard now, and John wonders if he should help him along.  He gives his hips a gentle squeeze until Sherlock’s chin drops and eyes pop open to look back down at him.  John nods at the bottle of lube laying on the mattress beside them.  “You want me to…?”

Sherlock shakes his head.

“Oh.  Okay.”

“It’s not…  John, it’s not you, it’s—it’s…”

“Shh,”  John rubs Sherlock’s thighs.  “It’s okay.  Whatever you want, remember.”

“I want to see you…”  The whole of Sherlock’s chest is flushed pink, his cheeks are crimson.  “I want to see you come, John.  I want to know what you look like.  It’s—it’s helpful to me.”

“Yeah?”

He nods.

“Well, just keep that up, then.”  He smiles.  Sherlock cants his hips and John lets his eyes slide shut, sucks in a breath through his nose and lets it out slow.  “God yeah, just like that.”

Sherlock’s hands glide up his ribs, thumbs skirt his nipples, and all the while there is the perfect weight of Sherlock rocking against him. It’s not going to take long.

Sherlock is looking at him.  His eyes look glazed.  He opens his mouth, and John thinks he’s going to say something, but he closes it again, closes his eyes, and picks up the pace.  His cock twitches and fills, and John is grateful for the lube a moment later when Sherlock drops forward, braces his hands on either side of John’s head, and rocks even faster.  His head drops between his shoulders, his curls dropping down to tickle John’s eyelashes.

“Christ, look at you.”  John combs the hair back from Sherlock’s forehead, looks up at him, flush-faced, brows knit, breath coming in shallow pants.  John can feel him, fully erect now, his shaft sliding along side John’s with each thrust, and John wants to reach down, to take them both in hand, but…

“Want your hand around me.”

Sherlock’s eyes flutter open.  He looks drunk.

“Around both of us.  You want to?”

Sherlock just stares, and stares—and stares.  His eyes fill, shimmer above John’s until a single tear breaks free to splash down on John’s cheek, and then Sherlock gasps, makes a sound somewhere between a moan and whimper, and goes rigid.  John feels the hot pulse of his orgasm spill between their bodies.  He whines as it takes him, surprisingly powerful and drawn out, before he collapses atop John, face burning hot, buried in his neck.

“Sorry.  Sorry.  I’m sorry.”

John reaches up to card his fingers up Sherlock’s nape, wraps his other arm around his back.  “Jesus.  For what?”

“Sorry.”

“Okay.  Okay.  It’s okay.” 

“Sorry.”

John buries his nose in Sherlock’s hair.  “It’s okay.  Hey.  Shhh.  It’s okay.”

They lie like that for a long time, Sherlock trembling, until suddenly he scrambles up and disappears into the loo before John even has time to process what is happening.  He glances over at the sliding door Sherlock has just disappeared through.  It is only mottled glass.  There’s a light on, water running.

John stares down his torso at his flagging cock and belly still smeared with Sherlock’s come.

It’s the first time he’s ever had sex with a man.  He thought it would feel momentous somehow, but instead it just feels odd, mostly because of Sherlock’s inexplicable behaviour.  He’s worried.

He sits up and pads over to the loo door, taps lightly on the glass with one knuckle.  “Sherlock?  Need to come in and wash up.”

He gets no response.

“Sherlock?”  He can see the blurred and mottled form of Sherlock sitting on the toilet.  It looks like he has his face buried in his hands.  “Hey, I’m coming in, okay.”

He slides open the door, and Sherlock looks up, face pale, eyes red-rimmed.  John’s heart aches.  He hates himself so much he feels ill.

“Hey.”

Sherlock doesn’t say anything.  His eyes travel to John’s stomach, sticky with his come.  Another tear escapes the corner of one eye to roll down his cheek.

“Listen,” John tries gently.  “I’m sorry.  I—if you didn’t want that, I…  Jesus, I’m sorry.”

Sherlock shakes his head vigorously, eyes wide, almost desperate.

“If you want me to go, I’ll go.  I can sleep on the sofa, or get a cab back to…”

Sherlock stands up, strides the short distance between them, and pulls John into his arms.  “No.”  All he manages.

“Okay.”  John lifts his arms around Sherlock’s waist, and hugs him back.  John doesn’t know how long they stand there.  It’s long enough for him to start to feel cold. 

“It wasn’t you.”  Sherlock finally manages.  “Please, John.  It wasn’t you.”

“Yeah.  Okay.  I just…”  He pulls back and looks up at Sherlock’s face, stricken and—and something else John can’t seem to interpret.  “You okay?”

Sherlock nods, eyes travelling over every inch of his face.  They drop lower, and he pulls back.  “You’re…”  He turns around to the sink and wets a flannel, turns back around and wipes gently at John’s abdomen.  “There.  You’re…  That’s better.”

John doesn’t know what to say, what to do even.  He feels totally off-kilter.  “Should I…?  Do you want to sleep alone?”

“Don’t go.”

“Okay.”

“You didn’t come.” 

The change of topic throws John for a second.  “Oh yeah.  No.  It’s fine.  Next time.”  And then instantly hates himself all over again for assuming.

“You would…  You want to do that again?”

“Only if you want to, Sherlock.  I mean that.  I never meant to…  Please tell me when you don’t want something.”

“I did—want it.”

John shakes his head.  “Christ, I’m sorry, but I’m so lost right now.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, you keep saying that, but as far as I can tell you have nothing to be sorry about.  If anyone should be sorry here, it’s me.”

“It happens.  It always happens.  It’s—a problem I have.”

John relaxes a little.  “What is?”

“I can’t do it—properly.”

“What do you mean?” 

“It’s never enough until it’s too much.  Some sort of sensory dysregulation.  I…  It’s…  There’s something wrong with me!”  He finally blurts.

“Is that what you meant when you said that your ASMR research was partially personal, that it was complicated?  You’ve been trying to figure this out?”

Sherlock’s cheeks flare.  “I’m not a child, John.  I—I want it.  I wanted it.  I want you!”

“Okay, first of all, you need to stop assuming I’m thinking of you as a child.  After what we just shared, not bloody likely, and for the record, never have done, not once, so you can just wipe that whole idea from that great brain of yours.  Secondly, we need to talk about this.  I mean really talk about it, because I don’t want to put you in a position where you are overwhelmed in a bad way.  And thirdly, I think maybe we should go to bed.  Sleep on this.  It might be easier to talk about in the morning, yeah?”

Sherlock looks stunned and grateful beyond words.  He nods.  “Alright.”

“Good.  Then let’s go.”

They go back into the bedroom, crawl beneath the sheets.  “You want to sleep close, or would you rather…?”

Sherlock rolls over and curls in tight, pulls John against him, and tangles their limbs.

“Okay then.”  John rubs a hand down Sherlock’s upper arm, firm, deep pressure and feels him relax.  “‘Night, Sherlock.”

“John?”

“Mmm?”

“I do too.”

“You do what, too?”

“I love you.”

John pulls him a little closer and smiles into the dark.

Chapter Text

John wakes slowly.  His arm hurts, his ears are ringing, his head hurts. 

He can smell coffee, and eggs, and sausage.

His eyes snap open.

He’s in a strange bed—Sherlock’s bed. 

The night before comes rushing back.

He blinks up at the ceiling and then glances over at the empty spot in the bed beside him.  His stomach growls.  He should get up, should definitely get up.

He dresses and then makes his way out to the kitchen.

Sherlock is at the table, and Mrs. Hudson, his landlady, is at the cooker, frying up what seems to be a full English.

“Oh, good morning, John.  I thought you’d be hungry after last night, so I just…”  She motions to the pan filled with all manner of delicious things.  “Will just be a few minutes.”

John nods.  “Ta.”

He steps forward and peers over Sherlock’s shoulder, and then grimaces.  “Is that a lung?  A human lung?!”

“Mm…”  Sherlock sounds distracted.

“Oh don’t mind him.  I’m always telling him not to do that at the kitchen table, not where you have food.”

“I don’t eat here.”  Sherlock informs her.

“Yes, well, a kitchen isn’t the place to be carving up human organs.”

“Unless you’re Hannibal Lecter.”  John interjects with a grin.

Mrs. Hudson just stares, but Sherlock appears to be chuckling softly when John glances down at him.

“Oh you two are just peas in a pod, aren’t you.”  Mrs. Hudson shakes her head.  “Why don’t you go make yourself at home in the lounge, John.  I’ll bring you your breakfast in there.”

And so John goes.  It feels strange to be in such a sprawling, homely place after his lonely little cell of a flat.  The morning light is pouring in the lounge windows, and there is the soft hum of traffic outside, and of course the smell of good food, and the sound of other human beings in the next room.  It’s calm, quiet, pleasant.  It’s something John doesn’t think he’s ever had before. 

Breakfasts at home, as a boy, were always fraught with tension.  Would his dad be drunk or hung over?  Would Harry start something?  What verbal corner would Dad try to back him into, next?  And of course there was always the radio nattering away in the background, and Dad and Harry fighting over the channel just to have something to fight over.

In med school he’d lived in residence, and there had been breakfast in the common dining area, the same when he had been in the military, and then there had been his pathetic little cubicle of a flat, and quiet, yes quiet, but it had been a crushing, suffocating, lonely thing.

This is different.

“Here you go.”

He jumps a little, not having heard Mrs. Hudson come in.  When he turns and looks down at the plate she’s offering him, his mouth waters.  “That looks amazing.  You’re a wonder, Mrs. Hudson.  Thank you.”

This seems to please her, even if she motions as if to brush him off as he pushes back some of the books and papers on the desk to make room for his plate.  She points to her ear and then to him, and catching her meaning he leans in close.  “Mind you see he eats too.”  She glances back toward the kitchen.  “When he’s focussed on something everything else just fades, and he’ll just let it get cold.  Look at him, thin as a whippet.”

“Not sure I have that sort of influence, but I’ll try my best,” he murmurs back conspiratorially.  This seems to satisfy her, and she heads for the stairwell.  “Mind you eat, Sherlock!”  She calls out for good measure.  But, if she gets a response it’s too low for John to hear.

He wanders back into the kitchen to fetch his meds, and sure enough, Sherlock is still hard at work at his dissection.  “You best eat that before it gets cold, yeah.”  John starts opening the cabinets looking for a glass.

“You two have been conspiring I see.  Last cabinet on your right.”

John walks over to the cabinet in question and finds a large assortment of mismatched  glassware.  He takes one down, and walks over to fill it with water from the sink.  “If by ‘conspire’ you mean try to induce you to look after yourself, then I suppose we are.”

“Mother hen, John.  Mother hen.”

John sighs and rolls his eyes heavenward.  “Just eat it before it gets cold.  She went to all that work.  Might be—polite.”

Sherlock reaches over with one gloved hand, gingerly picks up a piece of toast and takes a bite, without even looking up from the surgical tray he has the lung in. 

“Jesus Christ, I hope that organ is clean.”

“Of course it is.  I know a woman at the morgue.  She always gets me the best.”

John takes his antibiotics, and a pain killer and then goes back to the lounge to tuck into his own meal.  It is as delicious as it looks, and he’s all but licked the plate clean when Sherlock finally gets up from the table and brings his own plate in. 

He sits down across from him at the desk, takes one bite of his food, and frowns.

“Told you.”  John grins.  He stands up and reaches for the plate.  “You have a microwave?”

“It’s not nice reheated.”

“Guess you should have eaten it when she asked you to, then, yeah?”

Sherlock sighs looking vastly put upon and John laughs.  “I’ll just give it a minute.”

“Fine.”

Sherlock wrinkles up his nose at every bite, but does nearly clean his plate with the exception of the mushrooms.

John smiles at him when he finally looks up from his plate.  “‘Morning.”

“Good-morning.”

“You sleep okay?”

“Very well.  You?”

“Like a baby.”

Sherlock looks pleased.  “Good.”  When John continues to look at him, Sherlock sighs.  “I suppose you’re going to want to talk.”  He says the word in the same way his brother had once said friend.

“You don’t want to?”

Sherlock just shrugs.

“Well—I’d like to.”

“You don’t talk.  You’re not a talker.”  Sherlock states like its a fact, and it is, John supposes, but then everything seems to be an exception when it comes to Sherlock.

“Right.  Yeah.  But…  Well, this is important to me.  It’s worth talking about.”

“Is it?”

“I don’t want to do that again if we don’t talk about it, Sherlock.”

Sherlock sighs deeply and rather more dramatically than John thinks the situation warrants.  “Fine.  You want to know what happened last night?”

“Yeah.”

“I already told you.  I—I have issues with sensory dysregulation.”

“Right.  Could sort of tell things got to be a bit much, but I want you to enjoy it.  That is, if…”

“If?”

“If you want to keep doing that sort of thing.”

“John, I’m not a…”

“Child.  I know.  Might be helpful if you stopped associating your aversion to sex with childishness, too.  Not sure the two are related.”

“I not averse.  I’m just—frustrated.”

“Frustrated?”

“That things don’t—work the way they should.”  Sherlock spits out the word work, and his cheeks flare.  He stares down at his near empty plate.

“I can understand that.”

“No you can’t!”

“Can a bit, actually.  Up until just recently I’d had a good long run of things not working the way they should.”

“Oh.”  Sherlock looks duly chastised.  He stares down at the desk and traces a finger along a deep gouge in the surface.  “You?”

He sounds incredulous, and John huffs out a laugh.  “Yeah.  Me.”

“What helped?”

John licks his lips, shakes his head.  “Not sure, really.  Was around the time I met you.  Maybe—maybe it was the ASMR.  Never really tried that before, and it’s not that I found it sexual exactly, but…”

“But what?”

“Let me try things I’d never have tried other wise, I suppose.  Sort of made me think about different ways things could feel—good…  I don’t know.  You’re right.  I’m shit at this.”

“No.  Tell me more.  What do you mean?”  Sherlock is leaning forward now, a look in his eyes that seems to foreshadow some sort of epiphany. 

“Well, it’s like your channel’s title, yeah: Sensory Science, like your experiments.  It’s sort of trial and error, experimenting to find out what works for you, and it doesn’t just have to be the stuff you normally think about when you want to get—closer to someone else.  It’s not just kissing, or groping, or fucking.  It could be other things.  Maybe not even things that are necessarily sexual—but could be?  So, I don’t know.  I guess for me I just let myself enjoy some of that, and then—things happened.”

“And you could be—satisfied with that?”

“What you mean?”

“I mean, if we did those things, things that weren’t fucking.”

John nods.  “Yeah, I—I think so.  I mean I like to come sometimes, same as most people, but it doesn’t have to be the usual ways.”

Sherlock looks thoughtful.  He leans back in his chair and stares off into the near distance.  “You’re not like other people.”

“Well ta—I think.”

“No, I just mean, that’s not what people usually say.”

“To be honest, I think you’ve known some pretty shit people, but just what do these other people say?”

“They leave.”

“Because you didn’t want to fuck?”

“Because what happened last night happens, and after some time that becomes wearing, their patience runs out.  I am a disappointment, as always.”

“Well taking time to figure out what you like doesn’t sound disappointing to me, for the record.  Sounds a bit—fun, actually.”

John sees the corner of Sherlock’s mouth twitch.  “I like you…”  He winks.  “Very much.”

“Thought you loved me.”

Sherlock’s cheeks pink, and his eyes soften.  “That too.”

John grins back.  “So, if it’s going to be experiments it should probably have rules and perimeters, yeah?”

“Mmm, good idea.”

“Mind if I suggest some?”

Sherlock waves a hand.  “By all means.”  John can see that much of his prior tension has melted away.  He seems keen and curious.

“First, we both make lists of things we want to try.”

Sherlock nods.  “Agreed.”

“We promise to stop if the other person gives any indication they’re no longer having a good time.”

“We should have a safe word.”  John arcs a brow and Sherlock frowns.  “Oh, don’t be like that.  I told you.  Not a child.”

“Is that going to always work for you?”

The familiar wrinkle forms between Sherlock’s brows, and John smiles crookedly.  “Last night, it just seemed like maybe—talking got difficult for you after awhile.”

“Don’t be stupid. It will be fine.”  Sherlock rolls his eyes and stares down at his lap.

“Hey.” 

Sherlock looks up again.

“Will it?”

“Of course.”

“Has it been in the past?”

Sherlock sighs loudly, pops up from his chair, and snatches up his plate, which he takes into the kitchen, and dumps in the sink with a clatter.  John follows, but Sherlock is already moving down the hallway to his bedroom, so John follows him there too.  When he gets there, Sherlock is flopped on his back in the middle of the bed, sides of his dressing gown flung wide like a pair of silken wings.  He’s fully clothed beneath, which is a pity, really, but he’s being infuriatingly melodramatic.

“Wasn’t done talking, actually.  You okay?”

Sherlock sighs, his hand is draped over his forehead like some silent film starlet.  John just shakes his head.  “Can I make a first request in this whole business?”

“Fine.”

“I want you to answer your own surveys.  The one on your intro video and that one you sent me.”

Sherlock pops up and props himself on his elbows.  “Why?”

“Because I did it, and because I think it might be helpful.”

“How?”

“It will set a baseline.  We’ll both be starting out with the same level of knowledge about ourselves and each other.”

“Fine.”

“Okay.  You want to pull it up then?  I don’t have my phone.”

“Now?”

John shrugs.  “Why not?”

Sherlock raises his arm and lolls his hand in the direction of the kitchen.  “It’s on the table.”

John bites down on the inside of his cheek and goes to fetch it.  He tosses it square on Sherlock’s chest when he gets back.  “There you go.  Now pull it up.”

Sherlock takes his time with it, but when he realises that John has no intention of getting bored and giving up on the whole thing, he huffs, and thumbs about on his phone a bit, before finally handing it to John.  “Here.”

John takes it.  The aluminium is still warm from Sherlock’s hands.  “You going to sit up.”

“Is it necessary?”

“No.”

“Then no.”  Sherlock curls into the foetal position and turns his back to John.

“Fine.  Suit yourself.  Here we go then…  Age and gender I know.”

“Sexuality.”

“Gay.”

“Oh.  Right.  Okay.”

Sherlock cranes his head over his shoulder.  “Problem?”

“No.  No.  Of course not.”

“Good.  Next question.”

“Do you experience synaesthesia, if so, please describe.”

“Yes.”

“You do?”

Sherlock curls tighter.

“Okay you do.  Please describe.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s one of the questions on the survey you’ve agreed to complete.”

“Music has colour.”

“Really?”

“Don’t be boring.”

“Here, can you stop being such a grump.  This could be fun, you know.”

“I seem to remember you hating it.”

He’s right.  John had been downright horrible the first time he’d answered.  “Fair enough.”

John lies down on the bed, and Sherlock glances over his shoulder again.  “What are you doing?”

“Getting comfortable.”

“Why?”

“Because I want to.  Now, any other types to report?”

“Auditory-tactile.  I feel sound like touch.”

“What?  All the time?”

Sherlock shrugs.

“So when I’m talking, you feel that?”

Sherlock glances over his shoulder again, and then rolls over to face him.  “I like your voice.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Mm.”

“What’s it feel like?”

“Like…”  Sherlock’s eyes drop to the mattress.

“Don’t have to say if you don’t want.”

He shakes his head.  Takes a moment to think about it.  “Like being held.”

John doesn’t know what to say.  He hopes Sherlock can see the fondness in his eyes when he finally looks up.  “Like that.”

“Yes.  Me too.”

Something has shifted in the energy between them.  Sherlock seems more comfortable.  Perhaps it is the fact that John seems more fascinated by what he’s describing than put off.

“There is also some misophonia.”

“Okay.  So sounds to avoid.  Anything I should know about?”

“Not unless you’re planning to hoover the bedroom as foreplay.”

John huff out a laugh.  “So mostly loud, mechanical sounds?”

“Yes, or repetitive, soft mechanical sounds.”

John nods.  “No vibrators.  Got it.”

Sherlock’s eyes widen a little, and then he smiles.  “Yes.  Best not.”

“Right.  Ready for the next question?”

“Yes.”  Sherlock scoots a little closer to him on the mattress.

John looks back down at the phone and skips over the few questions that don’t really apply. 

“What, if any, is your former experience with ASMR?”

“I was there at its inception.  The things people described experiencing, it was the first time I’d heard other people talking about experiencing things similar to what I did.  I didn’t care for a great deal of what I would see in the early days, so I decided to make my own, once I felt the quality was acceptable enough, I decided to post them and gather data about people’s experiences.”

“So not to do with your work then?”  John smiles.

“A little to do with it.”  It’s always helpful to know how people form associations, how that influences what gives them pleasure.  Beauty itself is simply a construct based entirely on childhood impressions, influences and role models.  The things that elicit pleasurable responses are the same.  You, no doubt, have pleasant experiences of being read to as a child, hence the pleasure you experience in it as an adult.”

“Freud would have a field day.”

“Best leave him out of it.”  Sherlock winks and John grins. 

“Okay, next question…”  He hesitates when he sees it.

“Do you have any physical or mental health conditions you would be willing to report?” Sherlock fills in for him.

“You don’t have to answer that one, if you don’t want to.”

“I know I don’t.”

“Okay.”

“I have several.  I suspect few, if any, are accurate.  And I find that several of them lead people to make assumptions, usually incorrect, about my talents, my intelligence, my ability to function according to their standards.”

“I don’t care about any of that.”  John tries to reassure him.  “The only thing that matters to me is that you can tell me when things aren’t okay.”

“And if I can’t?”

“Which brings us back to what I asked you out there.  The safe word…  What if in the moment you can’t say it, mm?  We need to think of something else.”

“I could pinch you.”

John smiles.  “Okay.  Where?”

“In the crook of your arm.”

John nods.  “Okay.  And you really want a word, because stop has always worked for me.”

“What if I say don’t and stop.  Those words read separately have quite different meaning then when apart.”

“Which is why there’s tone.”

“Which I…”  Sherlock swallows, suddenly anxious.  “I am not always adept at gauging.”

“Okay.  Okay then.  Not stop.  Something else.”

“Samara?”  

“What?  That creepy little girl from The Ring?”

“From what?  No, no.  It’s a poem my brother used to read me.  It’s to do with death and fate.”

“Cheery.  Maybe not that.”

“Mmm, Freud?”

John laughs out loud.  “Yeah, okay.  That’s sure to cut the mood.  Freud’s good.  Freud’ll work.  Is there anything else you want to tell me about this question?”

Sherlock shakes his head.

“Okay.  Next one…  If known, please share your primary triggers.”

“Hair pulling,” Sherlock blurts almost before the question is out of John’s mouth.

John blinks.  “Okay then.”

“What?”

John grins.  “Nothing.  Just for someone whose mentioned not knowing what they like, you seemed awfully sure of that.”

Sherlock pouts and John huffs out a laugh.  “Consider it noted.  Next.”

“Kissing.”

“Already noted.  But you know, these aren’t really ASMR triggers.”

“They are things that elicit a pleasurable sensation.”

“Right.  Okay.  Any more?”

“Your voice.”  They’re laying so close now, that their forehead are almost touching. 

“Like that one.  Could say the same of yours, you know.  Kind of feel it in my body, like it gets into my cells somehow.”

“You’re a romantic.”  Sherlock breathes against his lips

“And you’re not?”

“Of course not.”

“Right.  ‘Course not.”

Sherlock huffs softly, but he lets John kiss him, just a soft, brief thing, just because he can.

“And would you,” John murmurs against his lips.  “Be willing to conduct a one-on-one interview about your experiences?”  He cards his fingers into Sherlock’s hair, fists a handful of curls and pulls, firm, and steady, and even.

Sherlock’s eyes slide shut, and he makes a soft whining sound at the back of his throat that sets John aflame.

“There are—still questions, John.  The—the other survey.”

“You wanna do that one too?”

Sherlock nods.  “I want to get it out of the way.”

John lets go of his hair, and smoothes a hand over his head.  He hands him back his phone.  “Cue it up for me, then.”

Sherlock takes the phone, but presses forward and kisses John for a good, long minute before tapping and swiping through to the file he needs.  “Here.”

John looks down at the first question and smiles.  “Did you experience mirror touch synaesthesia while getting off with your boyfriend?  If so when, and what triggered it.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes, but he’s still smiling.  “Not mirror-touch, no.  But auditory-tactile.”

“Oh yeah, and when might that be?”  John winks.

It seems I am very responsive to the sound of your moans.

John feels his cheeks heat.  “And just where do you feel that, mm?”

Sherlock reaches out and takes John’s hand, guides it down to his abdomen, presses it there.

“Think that’s pretty natural.”

“Is it?”

“Mm.”  And John kisses him again, because he wants to, because Sherlock has John’s hand still pressed against his abdomen, and their foreheads are pressed together, and Sherlock looks gorgeous, smells incredible, and John still finds it hard to believe that this is his life, that Sherlock wants him, loves him, wants to be here, like this, with him.

“You can skip question 2.” Sherlock says when John pulls back again.  “Of course I experience my synaesthesia regularly.  Question 3: Do you have any mental health diagnoses related to empathy issues.  Yes.  Next.  Question 4: Do you have a history of child abuse.  No.  Next.  Question 5: Is there anything else you would like to tell me.  Yes.  You can go back to kissing me now.”

John does, until he feels Sherlock start to got to jelly beside him, and then he pulls back a little, and rubs his hand up and down Sherlock’s arm, in firm, even strokes.  “Can we go back to Question 4?”

“No.”

“You don’t have to tell me, and maybe abuse isn’t even the right word, I just…  You’ve just talked about being a disappointment to your mum, and…”

“I said no.”

“Okay.”  John squeezes Sherlock’s upper arm, eases him onto his back, stares down at the wrinkle forming between his brows, and presses his thumb to it.  “Wanna try something.  That okay?”

“What is it?”

“Want to lie on top of you.”

“Why?”

“Just thought it might be nice.”

“Oh.  Alright.  But don’t experiment on me.”

“Didn’t we meet because you were experimenting on me and half the internet?  Didn’t we just agree to experimenting?”

“That’s different.”

And there’s something about Sherlock’s tone and the subtle pleading look in his eyes that makes John back down, back off.  He was just teasing, but this is something more to Sherlock.

“Okay.  No experimenting, I promise.”  And so John does as intended.  Sherlock has a remarkably long torso, so if John wants to look down at his face he has to straddle his waist rather than his hips, but Sherlock just watches him, almost curiously, as he makes himself comfortable, and props himself up, awkwardly on his elbows, favouring his injured arm.

“So…?” He finally asks.

“You tell me.”

“What.  Am I supposed to be feeling something?”

John sighs.  “Guess not.  I’ll just…”  He goes to roll off, but Sherlock’s arms shoot up to wrap around his waist and pull him close.

“I didn’t say get off.”

“Well, you didn’t exactly seem all that enthusiastic.”

“And just what would communicate the right level of enthusiasm, mm?”

John slides down a little and lays his head on Sherlock’s shoulder.  “Could maybe say, ‘Oh John, that’s amazing, fantastic, how are you so brilliant?’”

He feels a chuckle rumble through Sherlock’s chest.  “I’ll keep that in mind.  It is nice though.”

“Yeah?”

“Mm, staring to see the benefits.”

“Oh yeah?  And what are those?”

“Sleepy.”

“Well, that wasn’t exactly the response I was hoping for, but I’ll take it.”

Chapter Text

The bedroom is bright with afternoon sun when John wakes.  He’s lying on top of Sherlock, has drooled on his shoulder, apparently, and Sherlock…  Sherlock is awake and tracing his finger up and down John’s spine.

John stirs and then groans at the crick in his neck and searing pain in his shoulder.  He’s in agony, but he does feel rather well rested.

“You slept like the dead,” Sherlock confirms.

“I feel like the undead.  Christ.”

Sherlock wraps an arm firmly around John’s waist, cradles the back of his head with the other, and slowly tips him down onto the mattress and then props himself up on one elbow to stare down at him.  “You need to take something for the pain.”

“Just need to stretch out, probably.”

Sherlock has gone back to touching him.  He’s tracing a finger over his chest now, staring down at the buttons of his shirt, like he’s contemplating loosing them.

“You been awake long?”

“Mm, little while.”  Sherlock’s eyes lift from John’s buttons to his eyes.  “You have the most remarkable body.”

John smiles even as he feels his cheeks heat.  “Don’t think anyone’s told me that before.”

“People are idiots, John.  Clearly.”

“Apparently.”  He grins.

“You’re so small, and yet so strong.”

“Oi!”

“What?”  Sherlock’s brow wrinkles.  “It’s true.”

“Did it ever occur to you that a bloke might not appreciate being called ‘so small’.”

“No.”  Sherlock looks sincerely confused.  “You are small.  Well…”  Sherlock’s eyes drag down John’s body to settle on his crotch.  “With certain exceptions, of course.”

“That’s better.”  John feels somewhat placated.

Sherlock sits up, swings a leg over, and settles on top of him, all in one smooth motion.  “You’re also quite ridiculous, you know.”

“That so?”

“Mm.”

“And why’s that.”

“Because you’re overly concerned with things that don’t matter.”

“Right.  Well maybe you should help me forget all that, yeah?”

“That was my plan.  You didn’t come last night.  I’d like to rectify that.”

“Oh yeah?”  John squirms a little in anticipation.  “What did you have in mind?”

“Oh, all sorts of things…”

“Like the sound of that.”

“Hand?”

“As in your hand on my cock?”

Sherlock grins.  "Something like that."

“I…”  But John is speechless really.  He feels like a kid at Christmas.  “Yeah.  God, yeah.”

Sherlock smiles.  “I think I’ll start by kissing you—if that’s alright.”

“More than.”

Sherlock is as good as his word.  He kisses John until he’s dizzy, panting, half hard with want.  He kisses deep.  He slides his lips down over John’s jaw, down his neck, back behind his ear, and John can feel him grin any time John’s cock gives a throb or twitch of interest.

“Mm, you’re perfect,” he rumbles close enough to John’s ear and loud enough that he can both hear and feel it.

“Not sure that’s entirely…”

But Sherlock kisses him silent, and John lets him, lets his body respond, knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that he will not last long, because he didn’t come the night before, and he didn’t think to indulge in a wank that morning, and he’s so keyed up…

“Shall I tell you what I’ve dreamt of doing to you?”

“That’s my line, isn’t it?”

Sherlock pulls back a little, and there’s something written across his face that looks almost like anxiety, maybe hurt.  John instantly regrets his words.  He needs to stop teasing, he tells himself.  Sherlock misreads it, doesn’t find it fun.

“Well, go on then?” John urges.  “‘Course I want you to.”

But Sherlock’s expression is closed now.  He pulls back.  “No, I don’t think I will.”

“Hey, hey, hey…”  John reaches out and grabs Sherlock by the hips.  “Don’t go.  Don’t go, okay.  I told you I’m pants at this.  I—I have a bad habit of teasing when I’m out of my depth, and it’s not appreciated here.  Okay.  I’ll stop, but—don’t go, okay.  I’m sorry.”

Sherlock seems to consider his words for a minute.  His eyes soften.  He leans down, and kisses John again, and John melts with relief.

“I have you out of your depth, do I?”

“You have no idea…”

“And you have me tied up in knots…”  Sherlock murmurs against his ear.  “Heart, body, and soul.”

John slides a hand up to press against the centre of Sherlock’s chest.  “That a good thing?”

Sherlock nods.  “I want it.”

“Do you?”

Sherlock nods again.  “I want to be bound to you—even by you, if you like that sort of thing.”  The corner of his mouth twitches, and John huffs in wonder and disbelief.

“You know for someone who’s never…  Well, you definitely know what you like, don’t you?”

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about it.  Of course I do.”

“Might not play out in reality the way it does in fantasy, you know.”

“So you keep telling me.  But I would like to try.”

“Wait.  You’re serious?  You really want me to tie you up?”

Sherlock shrugs, but his cheeks are red.

John chuckles.  “Yeah, okay.  I will but, but not…”

But Sherlock’s already shot of the bed and is rooting about in his wardrobe.

John pops up on his elbows and immediately regrets it when his injured arm twinges in pain.  He takes his weight off it.  “What are you doing?”

“Getting something.”

“Right.  But wha…”

Sherlock turns around brandishing three scarves.  “These.”

“You want to be blindfolded, too?”

Sherlock nods.  He looks so desperately eager John thinks he couldn’t say no even if he wanted to.

“Yeah?  Okay.  Come here then.”

“Should I take off my clothes?”

“Do you want to?”

Sherlock nods.

“Okay,  But leave your shirt.  Don’t want you to get cold.”

Sherlock smiles, tosses the scarves at John and starts undoing his trousers.

John doesn’t know whether to be thrilled or confused.  Sherlock is always a surprise, leaving him reeling half the time.  It’s dangerous, especially when he cares as much as he does.  But maybe that is part of the appeal?  He doesn’t know.  They hadn’t even met two days ago, and yet now…

Sherlock crawls onto the bed in only his shirt.  Kneels on the mattress before John and holds out his wrists.

“Sit okay.”

“Are you going to be boring?”

“Nope.  But I am going to be careful.”

Sherlock sighs in the melodramatic way that is starting to become all too familiar, but he does sit back on his heels, as John sits up, crosses his legs in front of him, and examines the three scarves.  “You know, if I tie your wrists you’re not going to be able to pinch me, if you decide you’ve had enough.”

Freud, John.  Remember?”

“Yeah, I remember, I also remember you having trouble with words last night, and I…”

“I’ve been thinking about it.  This will help.”

“What?  The blindfolding you, tying you up?”

He nods, and holds his wrists out again.  John sighs.  “Okay, but if I think you need to stop, I’m stopping.”

“Fine.  Now tie me.”

John takes the scarf that is medium width, and second softest, and binds him in a figure eight pattern, he ties off in the middle.  “Give it a little pull for me?”

Sherlock does.  “Bound fast.”

“Does it hurt?”

“No.  Oh, but I wanted you to tie me to the headboard.”

John frowns.  “Not tonight.”

John…

John grins, and then shakes his head.  “You’re such a brat sometimes.  No.  We’ll try this first.  If it works out, then—next time I’ll tie you to the headboard.  Promise.”

“Fine.”

Sherlock unfolds his legs scoots back, and extends his ankles toward John.  John ties them in similar fashion, and then gets up to do the blindfold.  “You sure about this?”

“Of course.”

“Okay.”  John ties the blindfold, and then steps back around, and instantly feels odd about it.  “You sure you’re going to be okay, because—this isn’t usually my thing.  I mean I’ve used padded handcuffs a couple times, but…”

“It will be fine, John.  Stop fussing.  This is easier for me.  Limits the sensory input.”

“Oh.  Right.  So, since you seem to have this all planned out, what’s next on the agenda?”

“I’m going to lie down, and I want you to get on top of me.”

“Okay.”

“And then I want you to touch yourself.”

“What?”

Sherlock must hear something in his tone, because his mouth forms a small, sheepish O.  “You don’t want to?”

“You want me to masturbate on you?”

Sherlock nods.  “I liked it before, on the phone.  I liked hearing you.  I want to hear you again, feel what you’re doing, but I…”

“Watching is one step too far.”  John realises.

“Yes.”

John thinks about it for a moment.  He thinks he’s starting to understand how it is Sherlock thinks, and sees, and experiences things.  For Sherlock’s brain, this makes sense. 

But, as for him—he’s never done anything quite like this in his life, it’s almost mildly voyeuristic.  He briefly wonders if Sherlock might like that too, some sort of simulated voyeuristic experience.  His cock gives a twitch, and it surprises him.  Well then…

“Yeah, okay.”

“Excellent.”  Sherlock gives an excited little wiggle of his hips, which John finds bloody endearing, god help him.

“Lie down, then, hands over your head.  I’m going to get undressed.”

“Get the lube.”

“Okay.”

Sherlock’s hearing is very good, because he seems to know the minute John has stripped the last of his clothing.  “Now climb on top of me, straddle my waist.”

John does.  “You want me to tell you what I’m doing?”

“No.  I want to guess.”

John smiles.  “Okay.  Can I touch you?”

“Not this time.  I just want you to touch yourself.  I—I think I can work up to more, but this is what I want.”

“Ok.”

John feels odd, but Sherlock is gorgeous lying beneath him, bound hands flung over his head, flaccid cock whispering softly against John’s arse whenever Sherlock breathes.  His lean, hairless chest is exposed.  He’d kept his shirt on, as asked, but he also unfastened all the buttons but one.  Typically Sherlock.  John smiles.

“What are you smiling at?”

John doesn’t even ask how Sherlock knows this.  “You.”

“Why?”

“Because I love you.”

“Sherlock relaxes beneath him.  “Oh.  I love you, too.  Now masturbate, please.”

John barks out a laugh, and tries not to think about how loud Sherlock must be speaking in order for him to hear.  He hopes Mrs. Hudson has gone out, or is smart enough to turn her telly up loud. 

“Yeah, okay.  Hold on.”

He has to take a few slow, deep breaths, get himself in the right mind set.  And Sherlock must sense it, because for once he doesn’t jump in with some order to hurry up.

After he feels some of anxiety from the newness and weirdness of the situation dissipate, he takes a deep breath and reaches up to rub a hand over his chest, down over his abdomen, back up again.

Sherlock shifts a little beneath him, and when John’s hand reaches his chest again, when his palm drags over one nipple, Sherlock speaks.  “Pinch it.”

“What?”

“Your nipples.  You like a little pain with your pleasure, I think?”

“Oh you do?”

“Do it, you’ll see.”

John does, and his cock betrays him by starting to thicken.

Sherlock smiles smugly.  “See.”

“So you’re a genius in this too, okay.”

“Shh…  I’ll be good.  Just keep touching yourself.”

The head of Sherlock’s cock nudges gently against John’s arse.  So, it is doing something for him.  A surge of pleasure coils tight and warm in John’s belly at the realisation.  He licks his lips and slides both hands down over his abdomen, palms his cock.  He’s getting properly hard now, and he has to fight the urge to take himself in hand and just finish it, because, Christ, but it wouldn’t take long, and…

“Do you ever finger yourself?”

“Sorry?”

“When you masturbate.”  Sherlock’s chest is flushed as pink as his cheeks.  “Do you ever put a finger inside yourself?”

“Might have tried in once, or twice.”

“Did you like it?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think you could stroke your cock and penetrate yourself at the same time?”

John’s face is burning.  Sherlock is so fucking brazen, and yet…  “Might be able to.  Bit hard at this angle.”

“What angle works better?”

“Lying half on my side, half on my belly, I guess.  Easy to reach around, and then I have the mattress there to…  Listen, wasn’t I supposed to surprise you.  You’re just ordering me about.”

“And you love it.”

He does.

God damn it!  He does.

John sighs.  “So what do you want me to do?”

“Get off me.  Lie on your side facing me, as close to me as you can.  Be careful of your arm.  Tell me if it hurts.”

“Think I can manage.  And just for the record this is really…”  He wants to say odd, but if it’s what helps Sherlock, then…

“Weird, I know.”  Sherlock acknowledges, seemingly unbothered.  “Thank you for indulging me.  You’ll likely be thanking me by the time we’re through.”

John just shakes his head, climbs off Sherlock, pleased to see he is half hard, and curls up beside him on the bed.  He lies on his good arm, figures he can probably reach around behind himself with his bad one, even with the limited range of motion.  He’s done it before, and it’s his fingers that will be doing most of the work.

“You better talk to me, yeah.  Need some inducement.”

“Oh, this is much better…”  Sherlock rolls his body a little in John’s direction.  “Oh I can smell you like this.”

John arches a brow.  Isn’t quite sure what to say to that, so opts to start touching himself again.  He thinks of the night he listened to Sherlock read aloud, and got off to it.  His cheeks flare as he lifts a hand to pinch at his nipples and snakes the other around from beneath him to give his cock a couple of long pulls.

Sherlock’s breathing changes.  “You—you’re touching yourself?”

“Mmm.  Feels good.  Imagining it’s you.  Remembering a time a few weeks ago when I listened to some of your videos, and—and touched myself.”  John’s breath catches as his cock pulses in his hand.  He fumbled between them for the lube, dispenses some, and goes back to the task at hand.  “God.”

Sherlock’s mouth has parted, and he is leaning in despite his earlier resolve to not be touched.  John glances down the length of his body, and smiles when he sees Sherlock’s cock jutting between the open placket of his shirt.  John’s mouth waters and he aches to touch.

“Listened to you reading.  Watched that one where you were stroking the sheepskin.  You remember it?”

Sherlock nods. 

“Christ, it felt like your hands on my skin.  I got so hard, I—I had to do something.  Felt a bit guilty, ‘cause you’d said you didn’t want that, but God, your hands, your voice.  Hadn’t even seen your face yet, and I was hard as a rock.”

Sherlock is panting hard, flushed over his entire chest, and John’s body is responding just fine to the memory.  He reaches up and brushes a thumb over his nipple again, huffs at the pleasure and cants his hips into his fist.

“Wanted you.   Imagined your hands on me.  Thought I’d try something new, something that would make it last, because I knew you would be equally creative if we were ever to…”

Sherlock sucks in a quick breath and rolls his hips, thrusting into the cool air of the bedroom.

“Knew you’d be so good if we were ever together.”

Sherlock bites down on his lower lip, and John wants to kiss him so badly it hurts.

“So good.”

Sherlock makes a small sound at the back of throat, brings his bound hands down from over his head, like he wants to touch his cock, and then seems to catch himself and puts them back.

“You want me to stop?”

“No!”  Sherlock barks.

“Yeah, yeah, okay.  Well on that night, while I was listening to your voice, while I was stroking myself, fast and desperate at first, and then slower when I decided I wanted to make it last, I decided I wanted to try that new thing I talked about, so I slicked my hand up, and I reached down, down, down behind my balls, and I found the spot.  Do you know the spot, Sherlock?  If you press hard enough, move in slow circles you feel something better than you’ve ever felt in your life.  I’ll show you sometime.”

“I reached down and I pressed, and It was so good, so fucking good, I had to stop touching my cock, or I would have come right then and there.”

Sherlock moans and thrusts into the air again, and John almost feels guilty leaving him like that, but he seems to want it, had said ‘no touching’, and… 

John’s mouth waters as a bead of precome wells up at the head of Sherlock’s cock, and then swells over to run down his shaft.

John rocks his own hips, thrusting into the tight slick, tight heat of his fist.  He moans, and watches Sherlock’s hips arch up off the bed.

“Christ Sherlock, you’re…”

“Keep talking,” Sherlock pants.  “For god’s sake, John, keep talking.”

John smiles, breathless and awed.  It’s fucking incredible, this, odd as it is.  He doesn’t care.  It’s so fucking good. 

“I started pressing and stroking, and this thing started building.  God, Sherlock, I wish you could feel it.  Warm, and pulsing, and it just washes over you in wave, after wave, after wave, and it doesn’t stop.  You wouldn’t believe the noise I was making.  Had the neighbours all in a fit.  Moaning, and whimpering, and probably crying your name.  Christ, I was so far gone, I don’t know.  It just wouldn’t stop.  It just built and built, swelled, and crested, and swelled again, and I was thinking of you, imagining your hands on me.

John…  Sherlock looks wrecked.  He’s still rolling his hips in a vain search for friction, he’s flushed head to toe, and small beads of sweat are starting to form along his hairline.

John reaches down and lubes his other hand, reaches behind himself, slides easily between his cleft, and finds his entrance.  It’s been awhile since he’s done this, and Christ it feels good!  He presses and circles, while he strokes his cock, and it is almost too much.

“Tell me,” Sherlock whines.  “Tell me what you’re doing.”

“Doing what you wanted me to do.  God, it feels good, Sherlock.  I’m thinking about if it was your hands touching me, those gorgeous, long fingers, the way you would fill me.”

Sherlock moans, and god but it must be loud, if John can hear it, feel it in his bones this way.

He thrusts into his fist, presses and strokes at his hole, feels his release starting to coil tight.  “God, Sherlock.  So close.”

John…

At the sound of Sherlock’s moan, John’s body relaxes, takes his finger in.  He grunts in surprise and then moans in pleasure, thrusts faster, starts to move his finger inside.  Sherlock is  panting and moaning his name, over and over, like some sort of mantra, and John can feel it coiling tighter, and tighter, his hand a blur over his cock, and Sherlock thrashing about on the bed, like he must be nearing his own climax, but that can’t possibly be, because…

Sherlock’s hips arch up off the bed.  He shouts John’s name, and then he’s coming.  Christ, fuck, he’s coming without a single touch, and that’s all it takes for John to join him.  He lets it take him, lets his body pull his finger deeper as the first burst of his orgasm explodes inside him.  “Oh fuck!  Fuck, Sherlock!”  His toes curl, and he arches his body toward Sherlock on instinct, coming all over his hip and shirt in thick, hot pulses.

The world goes still.  It’s been ages since he’s come that hard, with his finger up his arse.  God, he’d forgotten how good it could be.  It takes him a minute to recover, but when he does he realises Sherlock is still lying there bound, and blindfolded, and he’s trembling.

“Jesus.  You okay?  Here.  Come here.”  John sits up, and scrambles to unbind his ankles and wrists, whips off the blindfold, and pulls Sherlock into his arms.  “You okay?”

Sherlock nods against his neck.

“Sorry about your shirt.”

Sherlock huffs.  His arms tighten around John’s waist.  “Thank you.”

“For what?”  John murmurs into his hair.

“For staying.  For—giving me what I need.  For not making me feel…” 

John presses a kiss to the top of his head when he seems unable to finish.  They lie quietly tangled together long enough for the light to change in the room, long enough for John’s body to protest the rough treatment, and for him to grow cold even with Sherlock’s warm body tangled with his.

“You were the first person to not laugh at me.” 

John feels a fierce rage rise up in him.  “Wish I’d got to know you earlier.”

“Me too,” Sherlock mouths against his neck.

John runs his fingers down Sherlock’s spine.  “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“We’ve made a bit of a mess.”

Sherlock chuckles.  “Yes, we have.  Don’t worry, Mrs. Hudson washes my things.”

“I’m not letting your landlady wash our soiled sheets.  She already looks like she knows too much.”

“Oh, you have nothing to worry about.  She’s rather pleased about your existence, you know.  I think she’s hopeful you will move in and keep the flat better than I do.”

John’s heart flips.  “Oh yeah?”

“Mmm…”  Sherlock tilts his head up a little, smears a messy kiss against John’s throat.  “Mrs. Hudson usually and quite frustratingly gets her way.”

“I see.”

“Perhaps we would do well not to—disappoint her.”

“This you asking me to move in?”

Sherlock kisses the hinge of his jaw.  “You’re not particularly attached to that flat, are you?  It’s far too small.”

“Not sure I could afford my share of the rent on a place like this.”

“Mrs. Hudson gives me a deal.  Owes me a favour.  Ten years ago her husband got himself…”  He sucks on John’s neck.  “Sentenced to death in Florida.  I was…”  Scrapes his teeth gently over John’s earlobe.  “Able to help out.”

“So you stopped her husband from being executed?”

“Oh no, I ensured it.”

John laughs.  “Right.”

“He was a horrible man.  The world is better off without him, John, trust me.”

“So, you mean it?”  John reaches down and fists some of Sherlock’s curls, tilts his head back.  “You want me to live with you.”

Sherlock looks suddenly unsure, but he nods.

“Not sure I’d be the best flatmate.”

“You’re a remarkable lover.  I fail to see why you would fail at that.”

John grins crookedly, and gives Sherlock’s hair a playful tug.  “You’re talking like a man in love.”

Sherlock sighs.  “I know.  Isn’t it horrible.”  He grins back, and John laughs.

“I—I guess I’d be a bit of an idiot to refuse.”

“Yes, you would.”

“Okay then.  I will.  Yeah, I’d love to.”

“Excellent!”  Sherlock pops up out of bed, spins around like he’s looking for something (clothes maybe?) and then stills again, and stares down at John, spent and naked.  His eyes soften.  “Thank you.”

“Think I should be the one thanking you.”

Sherlock holds his gaze a moment more, and then blinks once and heads for the bedroom door, snatching his dressing gown from off the floor in the process.  “It’s time for your antibiotics.  Stay there.  I’ll get them.”

Chapter Text

“Would you like to go out tonight?”

John has just gotten back from his flat, all his earthly belongings in tow. 

He’d given his notice to his landlord, packed up all his things, and been mortified that everything he owned in the world fit in one large suitcase.  He didn’t feel anything leaving the cramped little flat behind and when his cab had finally turned the corner onto Baker Street, he had let out a sigh of relief.

Now he’s just brushing the wet off his shoes at the front door, and Sherlock’s already there, practically vibrating.  He’s changed, done his hair.

“Out?  Out where?”

“Dinner.  Just down the street.  We can walk there.  Do you like Italian?  Of course you do.  Everyone likes Italian.”

“Sure, I love Italian, but can I get cleaned up a bit.  I’m drenched.  Don’t think we’ll be walking anywhere in this rain.”

“Oh, it’s going to stop.”

“Okay.  Well just let me have a shower, yeah.”

Sherlock’s whole countenance brightens.

“Alone.”  John clarifies.  “If you ever want to get out of here and get something to eat.”

Sherlock pouts, and John laughs, and pushes up on his toes to kiss the corner of his mouth before heading for the stairs. 

Sherlock reaches down and takes his bag.  “You look fine.”

“You look fine.  Better than,” John casts him an appreciative glance.  “I need a shower.”

“Fine.”

John doesn’t linger long, though he does take a few extra minutes picking out what he’ll wear.  The shirt he always wears on dates.  His best shoes.  The claret-coloured cardigan his sister had gifted him at Christmas, which is actually surprisingly flattering.

When he comes back out to the kitchen, he’s pleased to see the combination work its magic.  Sherlock freezes and looks at him like he’s just seen God.  It’s ridiculously flattering.  John still doesn’t know what to do with the fact that he is wanted so wholly, so completely, so unabashedly by someone.  He’s had a decent number of partners, he knows what it’s like to be looked at through a cloud of lust, but this is different.  With Sherlock it’s something beyond merely that.  Oh, the hunger is definitely there, but the way Sherlock looks at him in moments like these, is intimate, a little shy, something almost like awe.  John hasn’t felt this good about himself in years.

“You ready?”

Sherlock’s eyes drag over his body in appreciation.  “Perhaps we could go later.”

John smiles.  “Bit hungry, actually.”

Sherlock sighs.  It’s not put-upon (for once), more regretful.  “Ah well, yes, I do suppose you need to eat.  Let’s go then.”


 

The restaurant is small and intimate.  The owner, who knows Sherlock, owes Sherlock for clearing him of a murder charge apparently, is gregarious, generous, and filled with praise for Sherlock, which pleases him, John can tell, even if Sherlock is obviously doing his best to play it cool. 

The man brings them a candle for their table (because it’s more romantic), a basket of bread, and a bottle of wine, and then finally leaves them in peace.  John slides his foot up against Sherlock’s under the table, and Sherlock casts a sympathetic eye on him.

He motions for John to come closer so he can speak unheard, and so John leans up and over the table, lets Sherlock murmur in his ear.  “He can be a bit much.  Are you alright?”  John pulls back and Sherlock must see the confusion written all over John’s face, because he nods toward the candle, the wine, the two red roses in a vase at the side of the table.  “All of this.”  He says, drawing close again, and  glancing behind him at the full restaurant.  “If it made you uncomfortable, I…”

John shakes his head and reaches across the table for Sherlock’s hand, on instinct.  “I’m happy to be here with you.  I’m not ashamed of it.”  He gives Sherlock’s hand a squeeze and lets go again. 

It’s not that he isn’t aware of some of the eyes that have flitted to their table and quickly away again, when it became apparent, mostly due to Angelo’s boisterous greeting, that this was a date, rather than two men simply sharing a meal.  He was.  He is.  But he’s surprised to realise it doesn’t matter as much as he once thought it would.

Sherlock is sitting across from him, looking like that, being so charming, so considerate, looking at him like he’s the most glorious thing in the world, and John knows that this is early days yet, that he’s obviously ridiculously, almost boyishly besotted, but it’s wonderful, and he’d rather keep his fears, and reality at bay for a little longer yet.

A waiter brings starter salads, and then plates of steaming lasagna, and even some tiramisu to finish everything off, all of it on the house.  And Sherlock sits across from him and nibbles at his food, occasionally rubs the side of his foot against John’s under the table, and generally beams. 

They don’t talk much, as John’s hearing makes that difficult in a crowded restaurant, but it’s one of the best dates John can recall ever having been on, and when they are walking home, walking close through the still crowded streets an hour and a half later, John reaches out and takes Sherlock’s hand in his, looks up at him, sees his surprise, and smiles.

“This okay?”

Sherlock nods.

Sherlock presses him against the wall when they they get through the front door, and kisses him thoroughly, kisses him until John is breathless, and tingling with warmth and emotion, and then they go upstairs to tea, and a warm fire in the hearth, and Sherlock playing John a variety of pieces on his violin, trying to narrow down what it is John likes.  And once again John thinks Sherlock’s mum must be horribly picky if she thinks his playing is unacceptable, because it sounds beautiful beyond belief to John.

He wakes a few hours later to Sherlock’s fingers carding through his hair, and he smiles up blearily at Sherlock hovering over him with a glass of water and his antibiotics and painkillers.

“Come to bed.”

And so John takes them, and they go.  Sherlock strips naked, without any preamble, and crawls beneath the sheets, so John does the same, draws close in the dark.

“Can I touch you?”  He whispers, because there is something about the atmosphere between them that seems to warrant it.  “Doesn’t have to be sex, I—I just want to touch you.”

Sherlock nods, and draws closer, lets John tangle their limbs, pull him close, run his palms over the muscles of Sherlock’s shoulders and back, down over the rise of his arse.  Lets John squeeze firm, and haul him closer, until their cocks brush and press together. 

Sherlock lifts his hands to cradle John’s face, and kisses him again.  It’s swiftly becoming one of John’s favourite things.  He’s never been with anyone who kisses the way Sherlock does.  It’s not just his technique, though that is exceptional, it’s rather the emotion behind it.  Sherlock, who seems so controlled, so serious much of the time, cracks wide open when he kisses, lets John taste a little bit of his soul.  He has a way of making you feel as though you’re being made love to when he kisses.  It’s fascinating and heady.

John buries his face in Sherlock’s neck, and holds on tight.  “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

His eyes bite.  He should be embarrassed by that, but Sherlock’s arms just hold him tighter.  “A difficult assessment to live up to.”

John pulls back.  “What?”

“Just promise me you won’t put me up on any pedestals.”

John huffs.  “A person would have to be mad and blind not to a little bit.”

“We’ve only just met.  Give me time to disappoint you.”

John frowns.  “Would rather deal with that when we get there, yeah?  It’s early days yet.  Let’s not ruin this.”

He feels a sort of tension pass through Sherlock’s body.  He pulls away, roles onto his back.  “I will.  I will ruin it, you know.  Perhaps I’ve been an idiot—perhaps we shouldn’t have moved so fast, shouldn’t have…”

John sits up.  “This better not be you having second thoughts.  I just gave my landlord notice.  I just went on a date in a crowded public restaurant with you, held hands with you in a street full of people, and I’ve spent the last two days fulfilling your every sexual whim, so…”

“Oh, and I suppose you’ll be wanting some sort of trophy now.  Catered to the freak!”  He spits the work out like poison.  “Give him a trophy.  Man of the year!"

John sits up, hand fisted, jaw tense.  “Just what the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

Sherlock doesn’t respond, just rolls over and curls into the foetal position with his back to John.

“So what?  You just shutting me out now, after all that?”

He’s met with only silence.

“Fine.  Fine.  That’s the way you want it?  I’m going to go sleep on the bloody sofa.”

When he gets no response to that either, he gets up, steps into his pyjamas, yanks the duvet off the bed (let him freeze), and stomps out to the lounge where he flops onto the sofa and listens to the soft hum of late night traffic outside.

Maybe Sherlock is right.  Maybe they have been moving too fast.  They know almost nothing about one another, they’re rushing headlong into something that could all fall apart and end up hurting them both terribly.

But then John thinks of how it was when they met, how grateful he had been, just earlier that day, to say good-bye to that dingy little flat forever (he’d thought), and how much it hurts to be lying here, alone in the dark with his anger, and his fear, and…

When he walks back into the bedroom a few minutes later, he finds Sherlock curled around the pillow John had abandoned when he left.  He looks up, and it’s hard to tell in the dark, but his eyes look wet.

“Could we maybe agree to not do this?”  John tries.

“Not do what?”

“Whatever this is we keep doing—self-sabotage maybe?”

“I would rather not drag out the inevitable.”

“I would rather you not begin by assuming we’re already well on our way to ending.”

A tense silence descends between them.

Sherlock sits up in the dark, brings John’s pillow with him, hugs it close against his chest.  “You’ll leave.”

“That’s the last thing I want.”

“But it’s what you do.”

John bites down on all the words he wants to hurl out, bitter, and angry, and hurt, and all because Sherlock is right.  Somehow right, somehow he knows, and…  “I’m trying to change that.”

“Well, stop trying.  It doesn’t matter anyway.”  Sherlock stands up, flips on the light beside the bed, strides naked across the room to his wardrobe, and then squats and starts rooting about in the bottom.

“What are you doing?”  And when he gets no response, and things continue to be hurled out of the wardrobe onto the floor, “Sherlock!”

Sherlock stands up, swings around, and holds out two small baggies of some sort of white powder.  John takes a small step forward and squints in the dim light.  “Is that cocaine?”

“Yes, John.”  Sherlock tosses the two bags at him, and John reaches out and catches them on instinct. 

Sherlock has already moved on and is rooting through his sock drawer, he produces another baggie throws it on the bed, and then heads out to the kitchen, still stark naked, and John can hear him digging around in the cabinets.  John stuffs the baggies into the pocket of his pyjamas and wanders out to the kitchen.

Sherlock is almost frantic now.  There is another little bag already on the table.  He tosses one from under the sink onto the floor, and then bolts for the lounge.  John follows him around, pocketing each small baggie as it appears.  Finally, Sherlock spins about in the middle of the room, looking about like trying to remember if there is any more.

“Is this all of it, then?  In the flat at least?”

Sherlock’s eyes snap to John when he speaks, like he’d almost forgotten he was there.  “You see!”  All he says.

“Is this all of it?”  John repeats.

Sherlock blinks.  “Yes.”  It’s small, almost ashamed.

John nods once.  Sniffs.  “Okay.  I’ll get rid of it for you, tomorrow.  I don’t want it in the flat while I’m living here.  That understood?”

Sherlock looks stunned.  He nods.  “I—I use it to…  Sometimes I need it to think.”

John shakes his head.  “Nope.”

“I’m clean.”

John sighs.  “Maybe so, but this flat wasn’t, and that’s just setting yourself up for failure, yeah?”

Sherlock is standing in the middle of the lounge, naked, shivering, and John’s sure that if there’s anyone in the flats across the street they can probably see him.  He strides over, snatches the plaid blanket from the back of the red brocade chair, and walks over, to wrap it around Sherlock’s shoulders.

“This you trying to force me to go?  I know I was angry earlier, but if you want me to go, you can just say.  You—you didn’t have to do this.”

Sherlock’s eyes are full.

“You want me to go?”  He asks again.

Sherlock shakes his head, and the tears that have been gathering in his eyes finally spill over.

“You’re human.  Okay.  I get it.  I get it.  You—you don’t have to lay yourself bare like this to prove it.”  He steps forward and pulls Sherlock into his arms.  “I’m not perfect either, Sherlock.  I have a temper.  I drink too much when things get tough.  I’m resentful and a right arse to my sister who is my only living relative.  I lie to my therapist.  I—I don’t know how to talk, to do relationships.  I fuck them up, all the time, have done, probably will with this one, but…  I want to stay and try this time.”

“I don’t know why you want me,” Sherlock mouths against his ear.

“And I don’t know why you want me, but here we are.  Why waste it?”  He pulls back and reaches hand around the back of Sherlock’s neck.  “I’ve never felt about anyone the way I feel about you.  Why waste that chance?”

Sherlock drops his head, presses their foreheads together.  “My brother is right.”

“Won’t tell him you said that.”  John smiles fondly.

Sherlock smiles back, a brief, crooked thing.  “He is.  I—I don’t know how to…  The only protection I have is alone.  I stay separate.  I stay above it all.  But with you…  Once I fall, John, it’s over.”

“Well then, good thing for you I promise to always catch you.”

Sherlock nudges John’s nose with his, and John tilts his head to kiss him.  “Let’s go back to bed.”

When they’re both snuggled back beneath the covers again, Sherlock twines his icy limbs around John’s warm ones, presses his cold toes against John’s calves, and earns himself a playful swat on the arse, and a bit of a tussle, that results in more kissing, before he finally pulls back and and stares at John in the dark.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“My brother came here today, after you left to get your things.”

“That what all this was about then?”

“He—he gets under my skin.  I know better, John.  I do, but…”

John reaches under the covers, and takes his hand.  “Family has a way of doing that.  Don’t know what he said.  He was probably right about some things.  I am a mess.  I could hurt you.  It’s the last thing in the world I would ever want to do, for the record, but I could.”

“And I could be the death of you.  I almost was.”

“True.  But you know what I was thinking in that split second before we hit the water?”

Sherlock shakes his head.

“I was thinking that I would rather die there, with you, than keep living the way I had been: alone, hopeless, afraid.  I still would.”

“I don’t know what this is?”  Sherlock sounds sincerely worried about this fact.  Love: illogical, completely unexpected, defying description.

“Maybe we don’t have to.  Maybe we should just enjoy it.”

“While it lasts.”  It’s not a question.

“Yeah.  No guarantees about tomorrow, but right now, right here, I’m in bed with probably the most gorgeous, most brilliant, most amazing bloke I’ve ever known, and there are loads of things I’d rather be doing with him, than talking about all the ways his poncey brother thinks we’ll fall apart.”  John winks, and Sherlock grins, seems to get some of his confidence back.

“Fair point.  What sorts of things did you have in mind?”

“Oh, this you letting me pick?”

“Yes.”

John thinks.

“Shall I give you a blow job?”  Sherlock interrupts.

John’s eyes go wide.  “You—want to?”

“Of course.  You have a gorgeous cock.”

John snorts.  “Right.  Well then, yeah.  Yeah, ‘course I do.”

Sherlock grins and disappears beneath the sheets, just like that.

His hands are still cold, and John hisses as Sherlock crawls between his legs, takes him by the hips, and pushes him closer to the headboard.  The top of John’s head makes contact with it, with a dull thud.  “Careful.”

“Sorry,” mumbled from beneath the blankets.  “I think we need a bigger bed.”

John grins like an idiot at ‘we’.

“Yeah, don’t think that’s going to work, you want me to sit on the edge, you on the floor.  You can kneel on a pillow.  But for Christ’s sake put something on, you’re freezing.”

Sherlock’s head pops up just below John’s chest.  His hair is a halo of frizz, and John strokes it in an attempt to tame it.  “You’re mad.”

“So they tell me.”

John decides to let the comment go.

"So, you want to do it that way, or do you have other ideas?”

“Don’t feel like wearing clothes.”

“Clearly.”

“Sit up, against the headboard.  Prop pillows against your back.”

John does, and Sherlock now has enough room to lie on his belly, if he keeps his legs bent at the knees.  It looks a little silly, but he is already starting kiss the insides of John’s thighs, to press his nose into the crease where leg meets pelvis and breathe deep.

“Your smell changes.”  His voice sounds husky.

“Does it?”

Sherlock nods, cranes up to kiss John’s hipbone, stares up at him through dark lashes.  “It’s how I know when you’re ready.”

“Ready?” 

“For more.”  He swipes his tongue in a long line along the crease of John’s thigh, and John’s head falls back against the wall with a soft thud.

“Christ.”

“Mmm.”

“You…”  John loses his train of thought, mid stream, as Sherlock softly kisses his cock.  He’s not fully hard yet, not even close, but it’s so intimate, so careful, so tender…  “You gonna be okay.  You need a blindfold, or…?

“Not tonight.”  Sherlock licks the inside of his thigh again, and breaths over the spot.

“And you remember you can stop anytime…”

“Of course.”  He sounds bored of John’s fussing.  “No more lectures.”

John doesn’t bother to try and argue.  Sherlock is nudging his balls softly with his nose.

“You sniffing me?”

“Yes.”  He sounds slightly defensive.

“Right.  Okay.”  John giggles.  “Carry on then.”

“Tilt your hips up a little.”

John does and Sherlock, reaches out, parts his legs a little more, and then licks a hot, wet stripe over his perineum.  John gasps.  “God, Sherlock.”

He does it again, and John feels his cock fill, remembers the night he lay in bed and touched himself, remembers, suddenly, that he told Sherlock about it, and…

Sherlock points his tongue, and starts to carefully probe.  John isn’t sure something like that will work, but Christ if Sherlock wanting to at least try it isn’t the hottest thing he’s ever experienced.

Sherlock licks, and probes, and God it all feels amazing, fantastic, but he’s not going to come this way.  Sherlock must sense it too, because he finally pulls back, licks a stripe up John’s half hard cock, and then rests his chin on John’s hipbone, and stares up at him.  “When was the last time you had a bowel movement.”

John barks out a laugh.  “Well, there’s a mood-killer.”

“Is it?”

“I don’t know, when we got home from supper.”

“Are you clean?”

“What?”

“Your arse, John.  Are you clean.”

“Cleaner than I’ve probably ever been in my life thanks to you having a bloody bidet.  Does this conversation have a point?”

Sherlock grins.  “Roll over.”

“What?”

“Onto your belly.  Roll over.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m bored of what we’re doing and I want to try something else.”

John should ask what, he should definitely, absolutely ask what before he roles over and surrenders his arse to whatever Sherlock has in mind, but his curiosity is piqued now, and god help him the mystery only adds to the appeal.

He doesn’t have to wait long to find one.  The minute he rolls onto his stomach, Sherlock’s parting his cheeks, dipping his nose in and inhaling deeply.  “Oh.  You smell different here.”

“Di—different good, or difffffuck.  Oh, Christ.”

Sherlock licks.  It’s hot, and wet, and absolutely filthy, and John has never had a partner who has done this for him before, so it is also a novelty, every sensation a surprise.

“John…”  Sherlock moans against his arse, and John is instantly hard as a rock.

“God.  Jesus, Sherlock.  Don’t stop.  That’s…  It’s…”

But Sherlock’s tongue is working miracles, his hands, those big, gorgeous, talented hands massaging John’s buttocks as his tongue strokes, and tastes.  John can feel the way Sherlock’s mouth waters, he’s so wet, so wet Sherlock could probably press his fingers inside if he wanted, and…”  John whimpers at the thought, cants his hips and moans loud at the friction it gives him.  He thrusts into the mattress with each pass of Sherlock’s tongue, completely given over, completely wanton. 

When Sherlock’s tongue nudges tentatively at his entrance, his breath catches, and he stills even as his cock twitches in protest where it lies trapped between his belly and the mattress.

“Okay?”  Sherlock asks.  God, but he sounds wrecked.  Enjoying this as much as John then, and that’s all John needs to know.

“Yes.  God, yes.  Christ, please.”

Sherlock buries his face in John’s arse again, his tongue gliding slow, and methodical, until he finds John’s hole with the tip again, and presses.  John groans, and arches back, pushes his arse up, almost without conscious thought, and when Sherlock’s tongue suddenly breaches his entrance, he grunts and moans again.  Sherlock makes a muffled, desperate sound that almost defies description.

“Oh Christ, you’re gonna…  I can’t…”

Sherlock kneads John’s arse, pulls him a little further apart, and slowly presses his tongue deeper.

“I—I gotta move Sherlock.  Jesus, please.  I…”

Sherlock pulls out.  “Move.”  And then plunges back in again.

John thrusts against the mattress, and Sherlock follows him down, but when he arches back up again, he stays put, his tongue plunging even deeper.  John fights to control himself, takes smaller thrusts, just to make sure Sherlock is okay, but after a few seconds Sherlock pulls out again.  “Stop holding back.  I want it.”

“You—you’re okay.”

“Of course I am.”

And this time when Sherlock pushes back in, John does just as he’s told.  He gives over to it with wild abandon, rutting against the sheets, and impaling himself on Sherlock’s hot and eager tongue, all the while trying with every ounce of his strength to hold back, because it’s the best thing he’s ever felt, and he wants to make it last.

He’s drenched in sweat, and making so much noise he’s sure he’ll get them evicted in the morning, when Sherlock starts to plunge his tongue a little deeper on each upward curl of John’s hips, and John whines in surprise, and starts to fuck the mattress frantically, the pleasure building, and building, curling tight in his belly, curling his toes, drawing his balls up, up, up, until it explodes inside him, and he moans loud and long, comes, and comes all over the sheets, and realises that Sherlock has pulled out, has his cheek resting against John’s arse, and is thrusting against the bed himself.  He comes a few seconds later with a grunt, and then goes limp, a dead, jelly-limbed weight draped over the backs of John’s thighs and arse.

John pants into the pillow beneath him.  “Good Christ, you are amazing.”

“Mmm…  Always wanted to try that.”

John giggles, high and almost hysterical.  He feels high.

“Oh shit, the sheets.  This your last set?  We didn’t clean the others yet, did we?”

“Gave them to Mrs. Hudson.”

“Jesus, Sherlock!”  But he can’t sound angry, can’t feel angry.  He’s too blissed on endorphins.

“What?  We needed clean ones.”

“Let me wash these ones, yeah?”

“Mm.”

John makes a futile attempt to glance over his shoulder and down his back to where Sherlock is draped over him.  “Here, move off.  Need to roll over.”

Sherlock makes a feeble attempt, but eventually drags himself far enough off that John can roll over to stare up at the ceiling, effectively smearing his own come all over his hip and back.  “God, we’re filthy.”

“You love it.”  He can tell Sherlock is smiling, and he huffs in response, because he can’t deny it.  He can’t deny it at all.

Chapter Text

John wakes to an alert on his phone informing him he has therapy in one hour.

“Shit!”

He hurries into the shower, shrugs into his clothes, and mutters a hurried explanation to a very confused Sherlock before hurtling down the stairs.

He catches a cab easy enough, but it gets caught in traffic, and he’s late despite all his best efforts.  It puts him in a foul mood before they’ve even begun, and then there is the issue with his hearing to battle on top of that.  What is nothing but a mild frustration when he is tucked into bed with Sherlock can actually be downright infuriating in day-to-day life, and he has no idea how he will manage to get through the therapy session.

At least he fought to get there.  That has to count for something, he supposes.

“How are you John?”  Ella smiles at him mildly, as always.  There’s something oddly comforting in that, in the bland familiarity.

“Been better.  Tough morning.  Rough start.  Slept in.”

She says something he doesn’t catch.  He sighs.  “Not sure I should have even come today, actually.  There’s an issue with my hearing.  Temporary, but I can’t hear much.”

“Ahh.  Well, I can bring my chair a little closer, and will speak louder, and if you would like to take a few minutes to just relax and gather yourself feel free.  You’re in luck, the appointment after yours cancelled today, so we can run our usual time, even though you were late.”

John knows she means to be helpful, but he just feels chastised.  “Gonna get a cup of coffee.”

She nods to the carafe in the corner.  “Of course.  Help yourself.”

He does, takes a bracing sip, and then heads back to his chair.

Ella sits in silence, waiting for him to begin, he supposes.

“Right, so…”  He takes another sip.  “Things have been good.  Good.  Yeah.”

“That’s good to hear.  Anything you’d like to share?”

John feels his heart warm at the thought of Sherlock.  But it still feels so new, precious almost, he hates to share it.  Worries it might ruin it somehow.  At the moment it’s his own little secret, and he’d like to keep in that way.

After several moments of silence, Ella smiles.  “You mentioned last time about a new job.  Would you like to talk about that?”

“It’s going well.  Yeah.  Had a bit of a run-in with a fairly nasty bloke a few days ago.  But we’re alright now.”

“We?”

Shit.

“Umm, yeah.  Me and Sherlock.  That’s the bloke I mentioned last time.”

“The detective.”

“Yeah.”

“And how’s that going, then?”

“Fine.  Good.”

“I’ve noticed you don’t have your cane today.  Is your leg feeling better?”

John looks around him on instinct.  “Must have forgotten it in the rush.  Umm, it still hurts sometimes, yeah, but I guess not too bad this morning.  Not bad enough to remind me to bring my cane, anyway.”

Ella writes something on her clipboard.

“Moved house this week, too.”  John doesn’t know why he says it.

“Oh?”

“Yeah.  The bloke I’m working with, he has a nice place, much nicer than where I was at, and he asked me to move in.”

“That’s a big change.”  She sits back in her seat.  “How are you feeling about it, so far?”

“Good.  Great.  Yeah.  He’s great.  It’s—great.”  He finishes lamely. 

Ella only smiles.  “That’s good, John.”

“He’s ended up being a bit more than a work partner, actually.”  He surprises himself again.  It’s none of her business.  None at all, but…”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, we’re friends, I guess.  Maybe—maybe something a bit more than that.”

“Tell me about that.”

“Umm, not sure what there is to tell.  We’ve been chatting for awhile.  Everything online, but we met, finally, a few days ago, and—we just didn’t want to be apart after that.”

She writes some more on her clipboard.

“Very quick, then.”

“Yeah.  So what?”

She smiles.  “I was only making an observation, John.  You have mentioned in the past that you tend to take your time with male relationships, often times walking away before they ever have a chance to get too intimate.  It seems like this is an exception.”

“Yeah.  Yeah, I guess it is.”

“Would you like to talk about that?”

“Not sure what there is to talk about.”

“You’ll continue to work together, now that you’re living together?”

“Yeah.  Yeah, I think so.”  John suddenly realises that work is something he and Sherlock haven’t even discussed since everything happened.

“You think so?”

“Yeah, well we had that case, and things went a bit sideways, and I ended up in the hospital, and then—well, we’ve been getting to know one another a bit better the last few days.  He’s been—taking care of me a bit, I guess, and we’ve not talked work since.”

“Ahh, I see.  You smile whenever you talk about him, did you know that?”

“Yeah?  Well, he makes me happy, I guess—know.  He does.”  And John knows he’s grinning again, like an idiot, probably blushing too, damn it.

Ella smiles.  “It’s good to see you happy.”

“Feels good to be happy.”

“Fresh starts, new relationships, new environments, they can provide a much needed distraction and provide a kind of reset sometimes.  Of course, you take yourself with you, challenges are bound to arise.  Have you talked about that?”

“He knows I’m not perfect.  I know he’s not perfect.  I’m sure I don’t know everything, but I know the big things.  He knows the big things about me.”

“What big things?”

“You know.”

“I’d like to hear what you think is important.”

“He knows I come to therapy.  He knows why.  He knows about…”  John swallows, suddenly uncomfortable.  “He knows about the PTSD, about my dad, about my drinking and my anger issues.”

Ella’s eyebrows lift.  “You’ve talked openly about these things?”

“Yeah.  I mean some of it was in email and chat before we met face-to-face, but I’ve alluded to it since, especially after he told me some of his worst.  Told him we’re all human, and that I was all in, if he was.”

“That’s very good.  He seems to draw out the best in you, and I imagine you in him.”

“Feels like it, yeah.”

“Well, I look forward to hearing more about your job, and how things go with the new living arrangement.  You said you were in hospital?”

“Yeah.  Bit of a thing related to a case.  Nothing serious.  Gunshot wound to the arm, just superficial, the hearing thing.  There was an explosion.  Going to take a little while for my hearing to come back.”

“Sounds very dangerous.”

“Yeah, maybe, but I’ve seen worse.”

“I’m sure.  Are you concerned that the danger you encounter in your work may be triggering for you?”

“Hadn’t really thought about it.  Feels good to be useful.  Feels good to have things happening again, you know.  Was a bit monotonous for awhile.  Was bored, to be honest.”

“It’s common for those suffering from PTSD to require adrenaline producing events just to feel normal.  You get used to the adrenaline.  Without it life can feel quite dull.  However, it isn’t sustainable longterm.  Do you think that your work will always be so dangerous?”

“Listen, this is the best I’ve felt in ages.  I thought you’d be happy for me!”

“I am.  You’re clearly getting your feet under you.  You’ve got a job.  You’ve found a flatmate and a friend.  From what you’ve told me you have been communicative and open with one another.  You have support.  You have purpose.  All of these things are excellent.  However, I would be remiss in my professional duties if I didn’t at least mention the fact that repeatedly exposing yourself to dangerous, life-threatening situations, though it may make you feel more alive in the moment, can exasperate the very things you are trying to heal. 

“Consider it food for thought, and perhaps a topic of discussion with Sherlock.”

“Yeah.  Fine.  Okay.”

“I haven’t pushed you, John, because I felt that you needed some time to settle in, to find a baseline.  But I feel that you’re doing well enough now, that I would like to begin to prescribe some things.”

“No.  No meds.”

“Not medication, no.  Not at this time.  What I would like you to do, is assign you a little homework.”

“Thought the journalling was homework.”

“It was.  Now I have another assignment for you.  I’d like you to start an exercise regime.  Nothing over 45 minutes.  A mix of cardio and weigh-bearing exercise.  Get your blood pumping, but don’t over exert yourself.  You’re recovering.  You need to let your brain and body heal.”

“Makes me sound like an invalid.”

“No.  Healing is a process, John.  You’re a doctor.  I don’t have to tell you that.  It takes time, and it takes dedication to your treatment plan.  This is part of your treatment plan.”

“Yeah.  Okay.  I’ll do my best.”

“Thank you.  We’ll check in next time.”

Ella walks him to the door, and when she opens it to let him into the reception area, there is Sherlock, sitting on the prim little sofa, looking far too long for it, his coat buttoned tightly, looking wildly uncomfortable.

Ella looks as surprised to see him as John is.

“Everything okay?”  John asks, because he doesn’t know what else to say.

Sherlock nods.  “I—I thought we could go to lunch.”

“Okay…” 

“You must be Sherlock.”  Ella steps forward and extends a hand.  “It’s so good meet you.”

Sherlock takes her proffered hand, and nods formally. “Likewise.”

“Right, well, off we go then.”  John interjects.

Sherlock stares at him oddly, but Ella just smiles.  “Enjoy your lunch.  I’ll talk to you next week, John.”


 

“What are you doing here?”

They reach the kerb and Sherlock lifts a hand to hail a cab.  “I’ve embarrassed you.  I’m sorry.”

“No.  No.  It was just unexpected.”

“You’re blushing.”

John lifts a hand to his face.  His cheeks are hot.  “Was just unexpected.”

“You talk to her about me?”

“Yeah.  All good things.”

“What sorts of things?”

“Sherlock, she’s my therapist.  Not sure I have to tell you everything we talk about.  But, for the record, she’s happy for me, about us.  She thinks you’re good for me.”

He sees the corner of Sherlock’s mouth twitch upward before he can hide it.

“Did you really come all the way over here just to find out what I was saying about you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.  I…”  A cab slows and pulls up to the kerb, and they both climb in, Sherlock giving the driver instructions to take them to Savini at Criterion.

“You what?”  John asks, as they both settle in for the brief drive.

“I missed you,” Sherlock leans in and admits quietly against his ear.

John smiles and shakes his head.  “Yeah.  Okay.  Nice to see you anyway.  Was a bit rough.”

“Your therapy?”

“Mmm.  She’s started assigning homework again.  Not sure it ever does me much good, though this assignment isn’t all bad.  Exercise regime.  might not hurt to get a bit more fit.  Have you to keep up with now, don’t I.”

“You’re fit enough.  But you should if she thinks it will help.”

“Told her I’d do my best.”

“Quite right.”  He sees Sherlock glance up at their driver.  After a moment, he drops his hand to the seat between them, and hooks his pinky over John’s.  John reaches out and meshes their fingers together.

“Nice this.  Not sure I’m dressed for The Criterion, though.”

“You’re fine.  It’s only lunch.”

“Mm.”

“How are you feeling?”

“The ears you mean?”

“The ears, the arm.”

“Not bad.”

“Up for a case?”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes.  Probably open and shut.  Well, a bit of entertainment, at least.  A young man says the events from a series of graphic novels he analyses with are coming true in real life.”

“A complete nutter, obviously.”

“I’m not so sure.”

“What?  Are you serious?!”

“I’ll tell you more over lunch.”

Lunch is enjoyable.  John is clearly underdressed, but this doesn’t seem to bother Sherlock at all, and perhaps the way Sherlock is dressed makes up for it, because no one sees fit to mention it.

Sherlock seems ridiculously passionate about the case, seems to take the boy completely seriously, is actually investigating.  He even has photos the boy provided.  Some bloke kitted out like he’s on his way to a Comic Convention, taking down a thief outside a tiny corner shop. 

John tells him it’s got to be staged, that they should be admitting the kid to psychiatric care, which doesn’t go over very well at all.  John smooths it all over when he agrees to help, and to stop jumping to conclusions before he has all the facts and Sherlock seems sufficiently assuaged when John lets him eat more than half of his dessert.

They head back to the flat where they spend a lazy hour kissing on the sofa, before Sherlock leaps up suddenly, clapping his hands together.

“Oh, you’re brilliant, John!  You’re absolutely brilliant!”

“What’s this I’ve meant to have done then?”

“I love you!  I need to call Chris.”

“The Comic Book kid?”

“Yes, John!  Do keep up.”

It ends up being a long week that ends with the case being solved—a comic book company had been staging the superhero sightings, using Chris Melas’ as a pawn to market their next comic book series.  Sick, in John’s opinion.   Sherlock seems even more disgusted.  But in the end, they wrap it all up by publicly exposing the company’s nefarious plot in the same manner they had trapped Melas.  John and Sherlock, dressed as ninjas and  mock battling Chris Melas in the streets, in front of a gathering crowd until Melas whips off his mask and tells the truth to everyone.

John thinks it’s the maddest thing he’s ever done.  Definitely the maddest thing.  And Sherlock seems ridiculously pleased with the outcome, and looks better than anyone has any right looking in his ninja kit, so still high on a adrenaline, they end up playfully wrestling one another to the floor of the lounge when they get back, which then devolves into something altogether different.

It’s rough and frantic in a good way, and leaves them both flushed and exhausted afterwards.  They somehow drag themselves to bed and sleep almost 12 hours.

When John wakes the next morning it’s to Sherlock’s sea glass eyes gazing at him from beneath sleep-heavy lids, a soft smile on his face.

“Morning.”  John mumbles, blearily.

“Good morning.”

“Sun’s up.  Guess we slept a long time.”

“Seems so.”

John curls his arm under his head.  “Did yesterday really happen?”

Sherlock chuckles.  “It was a bit much.”

“The maddest thing I’ve ever done.”

“Oh?  No ninja skills required in the Army?”  Sherlock grins and winks, and John laughs softly.

“Glad that’s cleared up.  Can’t believe someone would use something someone is passionate about to manipulate them like that.  Fucking sick.”

“People rarely disappoint when it comes to being horrible, John.  You were in a war zone, I imagine you must know this.”

“Yeah.  I guess some things just seem exceptionally cruel.  Getting his hopes up, leading him on, making him believe in something just to make money, and not even caring in the least about the effect it might have on his mental health.”

Sherlock reaches out and pulls John against his body.  “You are exceptionally soft-hearted.”

“I’m really not.  Just don’t like cruelty for the sake of cruelty, you know.”

“Yes.  It’s one of the many reasons why I love you.”

John reaches up and brushes a wayward curl from Sherlock’s forehead.  “That so?”

“Mmm…”  Sherlock’s eyes slide shut.

“Was kind of grateful for the case, though.  Had been wondering if you still wanted to do cases together.  Guess this answers the question.”

Sherlock’s eyes pop open again, his brow wrinkling.  “Why would you think otherwise?”

John shrugs.  “So much happened so quickly, and I’m a bit of an invalid.”

“Your leg seemed fine yesterday.”

“Mmm.  Did, didn’t it.”

“Yes, but I did worry about your arm.  How does it feel?”

“Fine.  The stitches come out the day after tomorrow.”

Sherlock’s eyes explore every inch of his face, and then he is surging forward, kissing John with a depth and intensity that takes his breath away.

When they finally part, John blinks up at him, smiles, drunk on oxytocin and endorphins.  “Whawas that for?”

“Because I wanted to.”

“Mmm.”

Sherlock chuckles.  “Do you think we should get up at some point?”

“Doesn’t sound all that enticing.”

“We could spend all day in bed.”

“Fantastic plan.”

“You didn’t do your homework, this week, and that was my fault, I’m sorry.”

“Homework?”

“From Ella.”

John blinks, stunned that Sherlock remembers.  He had all but forgotten in all the excitement of the week.  “Oh yeah, well…  You gave me a pretty good workout last night.”  John winks.

“I’m not entirely sure that’s the sort of work out she had in mind, though it did involve both cardio and weight bearing exercise.”

“True.”  John feels his cheeks warm at the memory, which Sherlock notices, of course, and looks inordinately pleased.

“I meant what I said, you know.  She thinks you’re good for me.”

“Does she?”

“Mmm.  Said I smile when I talk about you.  Said I look happy.  Said it’s good I can be myself around you.”

“Can you?”  Sherlock’s voice is low, and careful.

John frowns.  “Yeah.  Yeah, of course.  You think I’m not open with you?”

“No.  I…”  He sighs.  “I supposed I’m not used to people placing so much trust in me.”

“Why?”

“Because I usually rub people up the wrong way, I suppose.”

“You rub me up just fine.”  John grins and presses his face into Sherlock’s neck, smearing a messy kiss at the hinge of his jaw.

Sherlock hums, and traces his fingers down John’s spine.  “What else did she say?”

“Nothing important.”

“Nothing you want to tell me, you mean.”

“That too.”

“Alright.”  Sherlock nuzzles the top of John’s head and then presses his lips into his hair.

John wraps his arms around Sherlock’s waist, and relishes in the enveloping warmth of his body.  “Really, it’s nothing.  She’s just…  She’s worried I…”

“It’s fine John.  Really.”

“She’s doesn’t like the danger in the work.  Told her I love it.  It’s nothing.  It’s fine.  But she’s…”

“Because of what happened at the pool.”

“Yeah.  Maybe.  Didn’t give her many details, but enough, I guess.”

Sherlock pulls back and gazes down at him.  “It bothers me, too.”

“What does?”

“I never intended to put you in danger.  Of course there is always an element of that when you are tracking down criminals, but this Moriarty situation is something so far beyond…”

“He survived it.”  It’s not a question.  John has known since the doctor at the hospital had told him no one else was brought in.

“So, it seems.”  Sherlock’s grip around John’s waist tightens.  “I underestimated him once, let him pull me into his game on his terms.  It won’t happen again.”  There is something quiet and fierce in his tone that makes John shiver.  “She’s right, John.  Ella’s right.  I have put you in a situation of unforgivable danger.”

“I’ve told you, wasn’t you who put me there.”

“The fact remains, that if you had never met me you would never have been a target.”

“Can we please stop having this conversation.”

“No.  I think we need to.” 

John is surprised at how demonstrative Sherlock is about it.  He sighs, pulls away, and rolls onto his back to stare up at the ceiling.  “Fine.  Then let’s talk, and then let it drop.  I don’t want that creepy bloke haunting everything we do and say for the next…  Well, however long it takes us to lay this thing permanently to rest.  And your brother’s no help at all?”

Sherlock is lying on his back now, too.  He flings an arm over his eyes and sighs.  “He won’t talk.  Says he’s ‘handling it’ and I’m to leave it alone.”

“Not sure he is handling it, to be honest.  His solution to handling it was to tell me that it had gotten away from him, and I should handle it, and we all saw how that worked out.”

“What?”

John realises his mistake the minute he hears Sherlock’s tone.  He hadn’t meant to keep Mycroft’s contacting him a secret.  Not really.  It was just that so much had happened immediately afterwards.

“Yeah, sorry.  Meant to tell you but then I was busy getting abducted.”

“What did he say?!”  It’s tight, and low, and dangerous. 

Sherlock seems furious, and John is downright worried now, worried to speak up, to explain the truth, but… 

“WHAT DID HE SAY?!”

John jerks in shock, and sits up.  “You okay?”

Sherlock is breathing hard, his eyes look full, and John doesn’t understand it at all.  He’s clearly hit a button.  Sherlock tries to moderate his tone.  “Just tell me.”

“He said that Moriarty was his problem.  Something he knew about and let get out of hand.  So far out of hand that he felt it was out of his control.  He asked me to distract you from Moriarty’s game, because he could tell you were getting obsessed, and he was worried that Moriarty was—getting his hooks in, I guess.”

“When was this?”

“The day before I was abducted.”

“The night we…”  Sherlock swallows dryly, his eyes impossibly hurt.  “The night we made love over the phone.”

Shit.

“Well yeah, but that doesn’t mean that…”

“You’re with me because of my brother.”

“No.  Of course not.”  John reaches out for him, but he pulls away.  “Sherlock, you can’t possibly believe that I would…”

“My brother’s paid people before.  Why not you too?”

“Because I would never…  I told him I would help you, but that it would be for you, not for him.  For you, do you understand!”

Sherlock sits up and swings his legs over the side of the bed.  “That’s what everyone says.”

“Sherlock!”  John feels desperate.  He can feel the panic rising up, squeezing at his throat and chest.

Sherlock walks over to the wardrobe and starts fingering through his shirts.  “I’m going out.  It’s probably best you’re gone when I get back, don’t you think?”

“You—you’re kicking me out?!”

Sherlock swings around, eyes full and red, face pale.  “I trusted you!”  He spits in barely a whisper.

“I—I didn’t do anything wrong.”  John sounds small and pathetic even to his own ears.  His eyes bite and he hates it.  He hates himself.  “I didn’t do anything wrong.  I’m telling you the truth.”

The tears gathering in Sherlock’s eyes spill over.  He huffs bitterly, turns back around, and pulls a shirt and pair of trousers out of the wardrobe.  “Don’t exhaust yourself, John.  This is how it always is.  He tells you I’m pathetic, can’t take care of myself, drug addict, obsessive, a child—you pick.  He asks you to take care of me.  Oh, perhaps he plays to your very sincere goodness, kindness, empathy.  He spits the last word like poison.  “But you become his tool, his pawn, and in the end I’m just a thing!”

John leaps out of bed.  “I am no one’s tool!  I told you, I wanted to help.  I was worried.”

“Of course.”

“I—I…  Tell me how to make this right.”

“It’s a little late for that, don’t you think.”

“I LOVE YOU!”  John is desperate.  “I—I want to—to.  Let me…”  He’s shaking.  Suffocating.

He sees Sherlock’s brows knit.

“I—I can’t.  I can’t.  I’m sorry, I can’t breathe.  Sorry.”

Something shifts behind Sherlock’s eyes.  He drops the clothes he’s holding to the floor, and strides over to John’s side of the bed, takes John’s arms gently in his hands, and lowers him back down to the mattress.  “Tell me what to do.”

John shakes his head.  He’s sucking in great wheezing gulps now, faster, and faster, and nothing seems enough.

“John.  Look at me.”

Somehow he does.  He can see the sincere concern in Sherlock’s eyes, and it just about breaks him.

“Breathe with me.  Sherlock’s hands cup his face.  Keep your eyes fixed on me and breathe.”

He does, he tries at least, because Sherlock is asking, and there are his eyes, a place where John can either drown, now, or float, calm and buoyed up by Sherlock’s hands (on his face, on his arms, holding fast and firm).

“I’m sorry,” Sherlock draws close, and murmurs.  “I’m sorry, John.”

And John wants to say that he’s the one that’s sorry, sorry for all the ways that Sherlock has been hurt, sorry that whatever it is his brother has done to him through the years has reduced him to this, sorry that Sherlock would ever think that John could give what he’s given, share what they’ve shared, and do it all for money or influence.

Sherlock is holding him now.  Not too tightly, he’s giving him room to breathe, but his warmth is there, anchoring, calming.  John can feel their breath synchronise, can feel his heart slow to beat in time with Sherlock’s.

“I know how it must look,” he finally manages.  “But I—I swear to you, Sherlock, I would never…”

“I know.  I’m sorry.”

“You’d starting shutting me out.  I didn’t want to lose you.”

“I know.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Shhh.”

“I would have died with you.  For you.”  John whispers.

Sherlock kisses him.  It’s just a press of warm lips to John’s cold forehead, but it seems to leach the last of the panic from his bloodstream.

“I’m an idiot.” Sherlock whispers into his hair.

John feels wildly embarrassed.  “Don’t do well with people leaving, with feeling like I’m being blamed for things I didn’t do.”

“And I don’t do well with feeling like a burden and a project, which I always seem to be to my brother.  It was unfair of me to project that on you.”

John is still shivering.  He draws closer to Sherlock’s warmth.  “I would never work with someone against you.  I would have told you he talked to me sooner, but you seemed so lost that night, after the old woman died, and then I was being abducted, and then—well we both got a little distracted after that.

“Yes, we did.”  Sherlock’s arms are around him again.

“Are you okay?”  John tries again.

Sherlock nods.  “It’s not just my brother.  My parents are the same.  When I wasn’t the prodigy Mummy had hoped for, I was simply a disappointment, something to be dealt with, trained, made as ‘normal’ as possible.  Difference is permitted when paired with talent, or genius, but when it is not then you are viewed as nothing but a burden.

“You are a genius.”

“Not compared to Mycroft, or even Mummy.”

“What?  Really?”

Sherlock huffs into his hair, and kisses the top of his head.  “I do adore your funny little head.”

John rolls his eyes.  “Nice.”

“I mean it.  Your brain is so placid.  It makes you incredibly relaxing to be around.”

“Not sure if I should be glad or offended.”

“It wasn’t meant as an insult.”

“Okay.”

Sherlock brushes his nose through John’s hair.  “Are you alright?”

“Fine.  I’ll be fine.”  Sherlock presses another kiss to John’s forehead and he feels himself relax.  “Guess my family left their mark too.  Mum left when I was a wee thing.  Maybe hurt more than I know.  Don’t remember it much, but I still don’t do well with good-byes.  Most times that means I don’t let things get too serious after the hellos, you know.  You were an exception to that rule, and I guess you scared me there for a minute.

“I don’t like being blamed for things that aren’t my fault, either, things I didn’t do.  And I know you didn’t mean anything, it was your own thing, your own experiences with your brother that made you assume…  Valid.  Okay.  But it makes me feel—unsafe, when I’m blamed for stuff I never did.  Blame means punishment—usually.  And that was never exactly pleasant when I was a kid.”

“I’m sorry, John.”

“Me too.  I just—I want you to know that you can trust me.  You can Sherlock.  Your brother’s nothing to me.  I don’t owe him a thing, and you…”  John pulls back, looks up into Sherlock’s eyes.  “I was so alone, and I owe you so much.  You’re everything to me.”

Sherlock looks slightly stunned, but John presses up and kisses him anyway, soft, and chaste, until he feels Sherlock’s body catch up with his brain, and he kisses back.

Chapter Text

It’s a week later when John comes home from his morning jog to find Sherlock standing in the lounge with a camera and microphone set up on the table in front of the sofa.

“What’s all this?”

“A video, John.  My channel has been languishing since you moved in.”

“Oh yeah.  You gonna let me watch?”  John winks as he moves into the kitchen to get a drink of water.

“Actually…”  Sherlock appears at the entrance to the kitchen.  “I was hoping you would agree to be involved.”

“You need me to hold the camera?”

“I need you to be the test subject.”

“Oh Christ.  And just what does that involve, mm?”

“It will be nothing but enjoyable.  I assure you.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

Sherlock’s mouth forms into a moue of effrontery, and John laughs.  “Just mean that I assume this is for your channel, and I’m not sure the world wants to see us snogging for an hour.”

“You’d be surprised.  But you needn’t worry.  I will be the consummate gentleman.”

John snorts, and then leans back against the counter and drains the glass in his hand in long, thirsty pulls.  Sherlock’s eyes drift to his throat, to the sweat beading up along his hairline, and then drag back down his body to t-shirt clinging to his chest with sweat and his bare calves visible below the hem of his shorts.

John sets the glass down and grins.  “Should have a shower first, though.”

“Yes.  Shower.  Good.”

John chuckles.  “You promise this isn’t just an excuse for you to make a sex tape.”

Sherlock does his best attempt at innocent and fails miserably.  “I promise nothing.”  He finally admits, and John grins.  “Right.  Should definitely have a shower then.  Be back in a bit.”

When John gets out of the shower, he dresses in one of his better shirts, and takes a bit of extra time with his hair just in case Sherlock does actually intend to post whatever it is he’s planning on recording.  When he gets back to the lounge Sherlock has locked the door to the landing and changed his setup entirely.  He now has a microphone on a stand hovering over one of the desk chairs which he’s pulled into the middle of the room in front of the hearth.  The camera is on a tripod pointing toward that. 

“So what are we doing?”  John asks, eyeing the setup suspiciously. 

“Sit down.  You’ll see.”

Sherlock goes behind the camera, and adjusts some settings and then tosses a small remote in the air, and catches it as he walks back over to where John is sitting.

“Do try to look interested, John.”

“Yeah, well, you still haven’t told me what it is we’re doing.”

“An ASMR video, John.”

“Well obviously, but just what does that entail?”

“You’re going to ruin the surprise.”  Sherlock is standing behind him now, and John can almost hear the pout in his voice.

He sighs.  “Fine.  Just no—nudity.”

Sherlock chuckles.  “No nudity.  You have my word.”

He slips a small headset over John’s head, but doesn’t place the ends in his ears.

John reaches up to touch it.

“Microphones, for a binaural effect.”  He explains.  “And we’re going live in three, two, one…”

“Live?!  Wait a min…"

“Apologies for my absence.”  Sherlock pitches his voice low, in a tone John now realises he reserves for ASMR videos, and other, rather more intimate situations. 

“Something somewhat different today.  A special guest.  Captain J Watson.” 

John smiles awkwardly. 

“If you are unfamiliar with his channel, I will post a link in the description box below.  The good Captain has agreed to be my test subject today.”

In for a penny, in for a pound, John thinks.  Christ only knows what Sherlock’s got up his sleeve.  He should be more nervous than he is.  If he’s completely honest with himself he’s excited, and more than a little turned on by all the cloak and dagger.  Bloody ridiculous, but here he is…

“It is possible you will see more videos of this kind in the future, and the good Captain may also grace us with a vlog now and again.  Our shared living arrangements, and his helping me with my work make this almost a certainty.

“And now, onto the task at hand.  Binaural whispering and murmuring, with the added benefit of scalp and neck massage.”

Christ…

John wonders how much of him is visible on camera.  He folds his hands in his lap, and prays Sherlock’s voice close to his ear doesn’t have its usual affect.  His hearing has improved.  He doubts he would be able to hear a whisper, but he’d feel it, and he could certainly hear a murmur at this point.”

He jumps at the sensation of Sherlock’s hands settling over his shoulders, and then shivers and calms again at Sherlock’s deep, gentle, “Relax…”

Sherlock rubs his shoulders a few times until, John is fully relaxed, and then…  “On we go, then.”

Sherlock reaches around and undoes the top two buttons of John’s shirt, and John lets him.  He folds down the collar, disappears for a moment, and then returns and places a hand, warm and slightly slick against the base of John’s neck.  He strokes gently upward, over his nape, and then massages the base of his skull, before gliding his hand down again.  Whatever massage oil he’s used smells of sage and lemongrass.  He melts beneath Sherlock’s touch.

He’s saying something in a low murmur, but he’s too far away from John’s ears for John to hear, so he just lets his eyes slide shut and enjoys it.

Sherlock’s fingers are warm, and talented beyond belief, they slide up his nape, spread out over his scalp to rub tingling trails there.  John hadn’t realised he was tired, but now he can feel the muscles in his body loosing, the thoughts in his mind dissipating, his grip on consciousness fading.  He’s almost asleep when he feels Sherlock’s breath on his his cheek, and a deep, sonorous voice gentles him back from the brink. 

“I love you.”

John’s eyes pop open.  They’re live.  They’re filming live, and he’s just said…

“I love you,”  Sherlock murmurs in his other ear.

John smiles, lets go.

“Love you.”  From one ear to the other, over and over again, until John thinks he can maybe feel it sinking into his blood, his bones, rewiring his brain, cracking something open inside him.  He tells himself that the tightness in his throat and the biting in his eyes is nothing.  He’s not going to cry, not here, not like this in front of the whole world (or at least the 5K+ followers Sherlock has on his YouTube channel).

Sherlock’s fingers are rubbing against John’s scalp now, sometimes stroking, sometimes fluttering, sometimes simply sitting, warm and heavy against the crown of his head, while Sherlock murmurs ear to ear.  The ‘I love you’s change to ‘perfect’, over and over, and then other encouragements and endearments that John simply loses track of because he feels as though somewhere in the process he’s been lured and lulled into some sort of hypnotic state, a place where there is nothing but Sherlock’s voice, and the gentle, repetitive touch of his hand.

That is why it takes his brain a moment to catch up when Sherlock’s nose nuzzles down the side of his cheek, and lips press warm and insistent against the corner of his mouth.  Live.  They’re live. 

Right.  Okay.

John turns and catches Sherlock’s eye, flicks his gaze furtively toward the camera.  Sherlock just grins.  “You see, but you don’t observe, John.”  John frowns and Sherlock chuckles.  “I never even pressed record.”

John opens his mouth to complain, but Sherlock just chuckles again and kisses him.  “Perfect.”  He kisses him again.  “I love you.”

John reaches for him, pulls him down, until Sherlock settles onto his lap, straddling him.

“Probably should still make a video at some point, though.  Can’t have your super famous channel languishing, now can we…”

“Later.”  Sherlock rumbles against his mouth.

“Definitely later.”  John agrees.

Sherlock is fumbling with the buttons to his shirt.  “You smell so…”  He buried his nose in John’s neck and breathes deep, moans, and John feels his body start to respond.  “You used my shower gel.”  It’s not accusatory.  There is something almost like wonder in it.

“Must have grabbed it by accident.”

“You smell like me.”  Sherlock’s hips roll and he pulls himself closer, close enough that John can feel the hard, twitching length of him press against his belly.  He wants to laugh at how very Sherlock it is, that he should be turned on by his own scent, but he knows Sherlock well enough by now to know that laughter in this moment might be horribly misconstrued.  So, instead he kisses him, smiles against his mouth, reaches around to grab his arse and pull him closer still.

“You like that?”

Sherlock hums against his mouth.

“Mm, I’ll have to remember that.  Let’s see how else you can make me smell like you—taste like you.”

Sherlock moans again and surges against him, his mouth crashing into John’s tongue tangling, tasting.  He’s coiled so tight, he’s not going to last long. 

That has been one of the most pleasant surprises in all this, the way that Sherlock has warmed to their physical intimacy, just a taste, and suddenly he was all in.  Oh, he still has moments where he’s just not in the mood, and John has learned not to take those personally, but when he is in the mood…!  Well—John feels spoiled beyond belief.

Sherlock is panting against his neck, thrusting against him, selfishly chasing his own pleasure, and John adores him, simply adores him, and wonders how it is that he, of all people, should find himself here, like this, in the heart of London, in a flat he could never have afforded on his own, with this gorgeous wonder of a man, who he loves more than he ever thought possible, coming apart in his arms, in the middle of the lounge, in the middle of a Tuesday morning, in the middle March.

John squeezes Sherlock’s arse again, and pulls his shirt out from beneath the waistband of his trousers, reaches up beneath, and drags the blunt of his nails over Sherlock’s back, feels his skin bloom into gooseflesh, relishes in the gasp, and the whine it draws from Sherlock’s lips.

“Gorgeous.  Absolutely gorgeous.  Christ, I love you.”

“John…”  All Sherlock manages in response.

He’s not really getting the friction he needs like this, and so John figures he should help him along.  He reaches between their bodies, reaches for Sherlock’s trousers, and Sherlock instantly stills, lets John unbutton and unzip him, reach inside his trousers to palm him.  Sherlock groans, and almost collapses against John’s chest.

John laughs softly.  “Just hold on, now.”  He reaches up and pushes against Sherlock’s chest with his free hand, and Sherlock sits back with a shiver, as John dips his hands inside Sherlock’s pants and draws him out.

He gasps as his cock is exposed to the cool air of the lounge.  He’s sticky with his sweat and precome, and John stares down at him, flushed and twitching against his palm, and licks his lips.  “Mouth or hand?”

“H—hand.  I want to see you.”

John pulls his hand away, raises it to Sherlock’s lips.  “A little lubrication, maybe.”

Sherlock breathes deep, inhales the scent of sweat and sex on John’s palm, and then presses his lips there, licks a hot, wet swath over John’s skin, tasting the flavour of the two of them mingling there, and rocks his hips again.  “John…”

“Yeah, I know.  I know.  Hold on.”

Sherlock moans with relief when John takes him in hand again, and immediately begins to thrust into the tight ring of his fingers.  “That’s it.  There you go.”  John stares down at Sherlock’s cock gliding against his palm, and his mouth waters as a bead of precome gathers at the head, and wells up to run down his shaft, mingle with the saliva there.  “Christ, you’re—you’re perfect.  Perfect.”

“John, I—I’m…  Look at me.”

John looks up and meets Sherlock’s eyes, and he wonders how Sherlock is managing it, all this sensation, and eye-contact too.  It’s usually too much.  But Sherlock continues to hold his gaze, as he chases his pleasure to it’s zenith, and John can feel the moment when he starts to topple over the edge, the way his balls draw up, and his body coils tight, and his eyes grow wide and then squeeze shut even as his mouth drops open.

He doesn’t make a sound as he spills over John’s hand, stripes his shirt.  He grips the back of the chair, either side of John’s shoulders, white-knuckled, and shudders, and then collapses, full-weight against John’s chest, face buried in his hair, just behind his neck.

John wraps his arms around him and holds on tight.  “Shhh…”  And he doesn’t know why he says it, because Sherlock still hasn’t made a sound.  But he’s trembling.  Too much probably, but this is Sherlock’s new thing, pushing himself, every time, trying to see how far he can go, how much he can take.

“Shh…  I’ve got you.  Shh…”

John’s thighs are starting to ache by the time Sherlock finally stirs.  “Good.”  He mouths against John’s neck.

“Mm?”

“It was good.”  He sits back a little, and he looks drunk, John thinks, curls a riot, cheeks still flushed, eyelids heavy. 

John grins.  “Glad to hear it.”

“Was it?”

John frowns.  “Huh?”

“Was it good for you, too?”

“‘Course it was.”  John presses forward and kisses him again, knots his fingers in Sherlock’s hair and pulls Sherlock’s head back down to his shoulder.  “You don’t have to push yourself like that, you know.”

Sherlock just shakes his head against John’s neck.

“I’m not stupid you know.”

“Wherever did you get that idea?”  He can feel Sherlock smiling, and he huffs in response.

“I know you’ve been pushing yourself.  Hope that’s not because you think that’s something I need.”

“Need you to be happy.”  Sherlock strings kisses up the line of John’s neck, and John swallows and sighs with pleasure.

“I am happy.”

“Mmm.”  He buries his face back in John’s neck, and John tries to relax. 

“Gonna have to move soon, though.”

“Just a few more minutes.”  Murmured messily against his shoulder, followed by more kisses, and a deep, wet, suck to his shoulder.

John gasps and smiles.  “Yeah, okay.”

But a few more minutes are not to be, apparently, as Mrs. Hudson’s cheery, “Woo-hoo!”  sounds from the stairwell, and the sound of three sets of footsteps starts to ascend the stairs.

“Shit!”  John tries to scramble to his feet beneath Sherlock’s weight.  Sherlock just frowns and pouts.  “Get off!”  John whispers frantically.  “Look at me!”  He motions down to his come stained shirt, and half-hard cock.

Sherlock just grins and looks wildly pleased with himself as a knock sounds at the door to the lounge.  “Yes, I suppose you should go get cleaned up.”  He gets up from John’s lap in one, smooth, graceful motion, tucks himself back into his pants, tucks the hem of his stained shirt into his trousers, and zips them up again, before grabbing his dressing gown off his chair, and tying it closed.

John scrambles up and dashes for the bedroom, just as Sherlock strides for the door and swings it open.

From the bedroom he can hear the voices of two men on top of Mrs. Hudson’s.  Deep, serious, all business.  Someone from the Met, maybe? 

John hurries and changes, and then steps into the loo to wash his hands and rake a hand through his hair.  His cheeks are flushed, and he still looks a little drunk, but at least his erection has flagged. 

He hurries back to the lounge to find an extremely disinterested looking Sherlock standing by the hearth, and two men in suits facing him.

“What’s all this then?”

“Oh John, here you are.  It appears we have a case.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Mm.  We’ve been summoned.”

“Sorry?”

“We’re here to take you to the palace, Dr. Watson.”  One of the men attempts to explain, but John is still lost.

“Palace?”

“Buckingham Palace.”  Sherlock clarifies.  “Some nonsense of Mycroft’s.”

“Right.”  John stares back and forth between Sherlock and the two men, and then bursts into a fit of giggles.  He’s still high off everything they’ve just shared, and here they both are, ruffled and sated, and about to be escorted to the bloody palace, by Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Oxytocin and adrenaline battle it out in his veins.  He feels more alive than he ever has in his life.  

“Right.  Okay then.  Let’s go."