The shoes lay just at the top of the stairs, where someone might've kicked them off as she came in. They were black and shiny, with bows of thin satin ribbon on the toes.
John stooped slightly to let the shopping rest on the step above him. He weighed the odds of Sherlock knowing any woman - no, any person well enough for that person to discard his or her shoes casually upon entering 221b, with its minefield floor of unidentifiable sticky substances and sharp objects. No.
He continued past the shoes and solved the mystery at once. Sherlock was stretched out on the sofa, hands folded limply over each other on his chest. His feet, encased in sheer, black stockings, were propped up on the arm. He wore a dress made of something shimmery and smooth, silver-grey, with long sleeves and a neckline generous enough that it had slipped sideways to bare one shoulder.
John watched him for a moment and then went to put the shopping away.
"Yes and no," Sherlock drawled, as John put the lettuce in the crisper drawer.
"Yes and no what?"
"Yes, it's for a case. No, I derive no sexual gratification from it."
"That's nice," John said. "Did you eat while you were out?"
Sherlock's voice was suddenly much closer. John glanced back to find him standing with hip and shoulder pressed into the kitchen doorway, arms folded over his chest.
"Would you eat dinner? I thought I might cook."
"Spaghetti and meatballs?"
"Did you buy Tesco meatballs?"
Sherlock slipped past him and peered with suspicion into the bag John had yet to unload. The dress left his back entirely bare, all the way down to his waist. The bumps of his spine looked more like bare bone than skin. He had a dozen or more faded scars, some just faint white lines; two that almost had to be cigarette burns, pocked and circular; one long and jagged like the flesh had been torn. It stretched down under the dress. John wondered where it ended.
He shook his head. "No-- No, I got stuff to make them. And garlic bread."
Sherlock turned back to him in a subtle shift of weight that seemed to involve his hips more than was strictly necessary. It put Sherlock abruptly closer, in John's space, breathing John's air. Sherlock smelled faintly of roses and at the same time inexplicably warmer than he usually did.
"Cinnamon," Sherlock said. "Roses and cinnamon. Scents most people are unconsciously prepared to accept as feminine."
"I'm finding it hard to imagine anyone being convinced by this-- This."
"Are you?" Sherlock cocked his head and met John's eyes for a few long seconds. His back straightened, his hips tilted. He lowered his gaze a fraction and rearranged his expression into something wholly unfamiliar. His shoulders went back, and he held his hands loosely at his sides with a different sort of elegance.
"Granted, you're not the most imaginative man I know," he said. "Does this help?" His voice just hit the low end of believable, dark and smoky and faintly suggestive of lung disease, but easily acceptable as female combined with the rest of it.
John stared until Sherlock took the bag of minced pork away from him and put it in the fridge.
"Right, all right," John said. "And I suppose you learned to walk in those--" He gestured in the direction of the shoes, which were, now he thought about it, large for a woman.
Sherlock's mouth curled up at one corner, and Sherlock slipped out of the kitchen. He clicked back across the floor to reappear wearing the shoes. He moved naturally in them. The effect was that, as with so many things, he'd been born with the skill and it wasn't a learned thing at all.
"That's-- Right. All right. So. Meatballs?" John said.
"Yes, I've solved the case."
"Easy one, was it?"
"It had features of interest."
John expected that the next half hour or so after that would be filled by Sherlock explaining the features of interest, but Sherlock only looked at him. Until John broke.
"Did you wear make up?"
"Lip gloss. Eye liner. Nothing excessive. I have done, but it irritates my skin."
"It must be sensitive. Your skin. Ah, people with very fair--"
Sherlock's smile creased the corners of his eyes and made his mouth slant in a way that John found both odd and endearing, like Sherlock was trying not to let it take over his face.
"Thank you, Doctor," Sherlock said. "I'm aware."
"'Course you are." John rubbed his rather damp palms down his thighs. "Do you want to chop the garlic?"
"Yes, all right," Sherlock said. He reached for the cutting board and the airhole-punched plastic container that was John's attempt to store his garlic at room temperature while keeping noxious substances off of it.
"Wash your hands," John said automatically. "And aren't you going to change?"
"I think I can chop garlic without smearing it all down my front, thank you."
John got out breadcrumbs and herbs and milk for the meatballs and watched Sherlock out of the corner of his eye. He tried to think if he'd seen anything stranger than Sherlock Holmes chopping garlic in a dress and heels.
After a minute, Sherlock kicked the shoes off and left them wedged under the cabinets. His stocking-covered foot slid on the floor as he turned it back and forth and wriggled his toes.
"Padding?" John said. If he knew when to leave well enough alone he'd never have hooked up with Sherlock to start with. "At the-- the bust, obviously, but the hips, too?"
"Mm," Sherlock said, apparently distracted by garlic. "Yes. It didn't take much."
John mixed pork into the meatball mixture with his hands while Sherlock crushed the garlic viciously into softened butter with a fork.
Sherlock's face should in no way look feminine. It didn't look feminine, but it didn't look masculine either. John snuck glances at it as he mixed in the fresh herbs, but he didn't need to. Sherlock's face looked like Sherlock, like the animating force and terrifying intelligence and mixture of obsessions that drove him. John had a sudden desire to see pictures of him as a small child, to know whether he'd always looked like this or, as John half suspected, his face had been an empty vessel for him to fill and shape.
Sherlock finished the garlic butter and sat on the counter, feet pointed to lie flat against the cabinet door, hands curled over the edge of the counter, elbows locked. The dress pooled between his spread legs and rode up his thighs. A pendant fell free of the dress as he leaned forward. It swung gently, a delicate silver snowflake set with diamonds at the points.
"Is this some new raw meat manicure trend you plan to set, or are you going to finish those?" Sherlock said.
"Finish, yeah, right." John started his hands in motion again. "You could put the water on for the pasta."
Sherlock slithered off the counter and got a pot out of the cupboard over the fridge. John watched him fill it and rolled meatballs between his palms.
"Did you get the necklace just for this?" John said.
"No," Sherlock said. His whole stance shifted again, and his voice moved back into a passably feminine range. "A boy I knew at Cambridge gave it to me. He said if he ever touched me, I'd just melt away."
Sherlock shot him an incredibly calculated smile, half flirting and half old pain of the sort most people betrayed from time to time and Sherlock never did. Even so, John wasn't at all sure he was lying. He had no idea what to say in reply, and they fell into silence.
Sherlock stood over the stove and watched the pot until it boiled. John was left watching his back again. He wondered what Sherlock would do if he touched him.
John cooked. Sherlock paced around the kitchen, hung over John's shoulder, added unnecessary salt, and failed entirely to get bored and wander off.
"Plates," John said, when everything was ready.
Sherlock fetched them without argument. When John brought the food out, there were lit candles on the table. Sherlock sat with one foot on the chair, chin on his bare knee. His lips were shiny and colored a sort of glimmering pink.
"That's an awful thing to tell someone," John said, slowly. "That they'll melt away with a touch."
Sherlock turned his head so his cheek rested on his knee. It stretched his skin and turned his expression quizzical. "Do you think so?" he said.
It was so blatantly coy, almost mockingly flirtatious, but still, somehow, effective. John wanted to roll his eyes, but that wasn't all he wanted to do.
"Yeah. I do," he said, voice as flat as he could make it. "Eat your dinner."
Sherlock let his foot slip down to the floor and leaned forward over his plate.
"It was my mother's. She gave it to me," he said, in his own voice, halfway through a piece of garlic bread. "I was crying because I couldn't see the snowflakes up close before they melted. I was four."
"Is that true?"
John smiled. "Tell me another," he said.
Sherlock looked up, eyes brightening. "It was sent to me by a woman who wanted me to find her killer. She was dead by the time it reached me. The envelope was Italian paper, hand made, deckle edges, very fine."
"And did you find the killer?"
"Of course. Another?"
"I bought it at a pawn shop as a gift for Sally Donovan."
John laughed. "Did you?"
They grinned at each other, too widely. There was silence but for the slurping of spaghetti.
"I think the first one's true," John said, when he was done. "At least a bit true."
"Why would you think that?"
John shrugged easily and got up to clear the table and start the washing up. Sherlock trailed him into the kitchen, close on his heels.
"Because," John said, up to his elbows in suds and hot water.
Sherlock crowded against his side. He wrapped one hand around John's elbow. "Why?"
John scrubbed sticky bits of pasta off the bottom of the pot and tried to pick the right words. It wasn't always easy with Sherlock.
"Because you don't tell me things like that," he said. "Because I don't think you tell anyone things like that."
"Things like what?" Sherlock said. He was so close now that his whole chest pressed against John's arm.
"Things that hurt."
There was silence while John finished the pot, and the sautee pan he'd done the sauce and meatballs in. He started on their plates.
"It's expensive," Sherlock said.
"Very, I should think. Are they real diamonds?"
"Yes. His parents had a lot of money. He liked to let people know it."
John washed cutlery and knives and then he was out of things to wash. He pulled the plug and watched the water drain away. After that, there was nothing for it. He looked up and met Sherlock's eyes.
They were a shade paler than his dress, maybe a shade paler than the silver chain now tangled around the fingers of his right hand. His lips were parted. They still had a faint sparkle from the lip gloss. This close, John could see traces of dark eyeliner as well.
"Did you dress up like this for him?" John said.
"For a play. But afterward, he--" Sherlock gave a flip of his fingers that could have meant literally anything. "He seemed to appreciate it."
"And you thought I'd appreciate it too," John said, hoping he was right.
"I thought it would be...instructive to see your reaction." Sherlock shook his fingers free of the chain and passed them across his lips, but he held John's gaze steadily.
"And has it been? Instructive?"
"Yes and no," Sherlock said softly.
"Yes, I appreciated it, and?"
"No, I was not entirely unmoved by your appreciation," Sherlock said, in a rush. He did finally drop his eyes at the last word.
John put a hand on his cheek and eased their mouths closer, closer. Sherlock stiffened all over when their lips touched and then leaned hard into the kiss until John felt he was supporting Sherlock entirely through that one point of contact.
Both Sherlock's hands were locked around John's arm. Their bodies pressed together, chest to shoulder, hip to thigh. Sherlock's toes curled over the edge of John's shoe.
"Your hand is wet," Sherlock said.
It was, and an iceberg of leftover suds had broken free of John's finger to wander down Sherlock's cheek. John brushed it away and looked at the damp hand-print on the side of Sherlock's face.
Sherlock swallowed. "Shall we go to your room?" he said.
"Do you want to?"
"That's not what you're supposed to say."
"All right, no need to shout. What am I supposed to say?"
Sherlock glared at him. "You're supposed to say yes."
"Ah, I see. You should've given me my lines beforehand."
"John!" Sherlock still sounded exasperated, but there were hints of amusement at the corners of his mouth and eyes as well.
"D'you want some tea?"
"I'll show you what I want, since apparently you're too thick to work it out," Sherlock said. He pushed John back against the counter and kissed him, a hard press of closed lips. "Not that I'm surprised, but it shouldn't take a genius to--"
John settled his hands on Sherlock's waist, and just that light touch shut him up abruptly. John tugged until Sherlock's hips were pushed up tight against him and Sherlock's upper body was leaning backward, hands braced on John's shoulders.
John waited. Slowly, gradually, Sherlock let his arms bend, and his body laid itself against John's. John ran still-damp hands down Sherlock's bare back and felt him shiver.
Sherlock nodded. His eyes were closed. The lids looked horribly thin and fragile, as so much of Sherlock's body did when you took it out of context. John kissed each one and then slid his fingers up the back of Sherlock's neck and into his hair.
The kiss went better this time. Sherlock's lips were smooth and soft, and they parted almost immediately. John kissed him like that for a few seconds, both of them open-mouthed but nothing more, sharing breath
"But I was right." Sherlock said, so close their lips touched when he spoke. "You do appreciate it."
John bit his own lip and tried not to laugh. "Shh. God. What am I going to do with you?"
"Anything you like." Sherlock opened his eyes a fraction. All John could see was a glint of light beneath his lashes. "That's what I want."
John cleared his throat. "I think we should sit down," he said, half for something to say and half because his legs felt abruptly rubbery.
They walked side by side into the living room and sat on the sofa. John switched on the TV out of habit. It was Basil Fawlty shouting at someone. He turned the sound down.
"Drivel," Sherlock muttered.
They'd already had the Fawlty Towers argument. It didn't need capital letters, not like the Doctor Who Argument, but John still wasn't eager to repeat it. He kissed the word "formulaic" right off Sherlock's lips. It worked extremely well, and he filed it mentally as the only workable option to date for shutting Sherlock up in a hurry.
"Mmph," Sherlock said, and scooted closer. The kiss stayed light, even tentative, but his whole body pushed at John's until John lay back and pulled Sherlock down on top of him.
Sherlock closed his eyes and licked his lips. His thighs pressed into John's, his stomach, his chest, even his toes dug into John's ankles and kneaded like a cat's claws. He propped his forearms on either side of John's head and stared down at him.
"Good?" John said. He ran a hand up Sherlock's back and over the sharp curve of his shoulder, under the dress. The thin silk held in Sherlock's body heat, and his skin was so warm it felt almost fevered. John wanted to kiss him there.
"Good," Sherlock said, but sounded less like an answer than an echo.
John stroked his cheek and brushed a thumb over the remnants of eyeliner caught in the tiny creases under his eye.
"Don't be tiresome."
"I just don't want you to do anything you'll regret."
"Why must you make this so difficult?"
"Because I like you."
"You like me so you're denying me sex. I can see why you got nowhere with Sarah."
"Yeah, I also had you cockblocking me at every turn."
"What must I say in order to move things along?"
"Just say you want it."
Sherlock opted to glare at him instead. He grabbed John's hand and pulled it to his thigh, high up, under the dress.
John swallowed hard. He felt warm, smooth skin and the rough lace border at the top of Sherlock's stocking.
"Suspender belt?" he said, voice thick.
"Easier and more comfortable than the alternative."
John's fingers found the straps of their own accord and followed them up to the belt, which was also lace. Black, he imagined. Had to be black to match the stockings. His hand was on Sherlock's hip, about a mile up his dress, very close to dangerous areas.
There was smoother fabric stretched tight across Sherlock's hip bone, also with a lace border. John had shut his eyes at some point and was seeing instead the dark silky fabric of Sherlock's underwear against his pale, pale skin.
Sherlock shifted, pressed tighter against him, and John could feel his cock, hard and obvious through two very thin layers of silk. He couldn't keep back a low groan, and when he opened his eyes it was to the expected sight of Sherlock's monstrously smug expression.
"I told you what I wanted, John. Anything you like."
"I want to touch you," John said. He couldn't help himself. His fingers were tingling with the need to move just a few bare inches and mold themselves over the thick ridge of Sherlock's cock. John wanted to see how he would look, how he would sound.
Sherlock did obviously want this. He'd set this whole evening up. John rubbed his thumb over Sherlock's hip bone. He tugged the fabric down until he was touching bare skin.
Sherlock drew in a shuddering breath. His back and thighs tensed, and he rubbed himself hard along John's body before coming to an abrupt and tension-filled stop. His fingers dug into John's shoulders. His cheeks and throat were lightly flushed.
"Do it again," John told him.
Sherlock dropped his head and pushed down again, hips flexing, cock pressed tight against John's stomach. It wasn't enough.
John tore at his belt and zip and shoved his trousers down. Sherlock stared and trailed light touches over his bare thighs before settling in again, even closer than before. He pulled his dress up, wriggling against John until it was bunched around his waist, and John could see over his shoulder - pale skin and black lace just like he'd imagined.
Their mouths met with a desperate force. Sherlock slid his arms under John's shoulders and levered himself in tighter. After a few, hard kisses, he ducked his head and breathed hot against the side of John's neck while his hips worked, fast and frantic.
John watched the rise and fall of his arse, the smooth shift of muscles under his skin. He ran his hands down Sherlock's back and yanked his dress up still further. He felt Sherlock's hold on him tighten and heard a faint, low sound from Sherlock's throat.
The jagged scar he'd spotted earlier ran down under the waistband of Sherlock's underwear. John followed it with one finger, down, feeling for its edges, until it ended at the curve of his hip. He wanted to lick it. He wanted to lick the crease of Sherlock's thigh and between his cheeks and make him whine and squirm and fall apart. The stuttering rock of Sherlock's hips wasn't enough.
He flipped them over and pressed his palm hard over Sherlock's cock. Sherlock arched his whole body toward John's hand, grabbed at his shoulders, gasped like he couldn't breathe. John watched his face and rubbed him there, slow and hard.
"Is this what you wanted?"
Sherlock stared up at him, cheeks pink, little curls of dark hair clinging to his skin. John lowered his head and dragged his lips across slick silk until he found Sherlock's nipple. He sucked at it hard through the fabric, and Sherlock twisted under him, hands fisted so hard in John's shirt that they both froze for a second at the sound of a ripped seam.
"Don't stop," Sherlock said, voice thick. "I want--"
John caught the hard bit of flesh between his teeth and held it tight as he sucked. His fingers formed the stretchy fabric of Sherlock's underwear around his cock, stroked it up and down, up and down, until the head was pushing free of the waistband. John pushed at the foreskin and rubbed slow circles over the head, feeling it grow slicker with every little spurt of pre-come.
"What do you want?" he said. And then, feeling reckless in a way only Sherlock made him feel, "Come on, tell me. Or I'll decide for you."
"This," Sherlock hissed, arching his chest up toward John's mouth again. "I want this, I want you to want me. So much you can't stand it."
The only answer John could find to that was more touch, more skin. He bit lightly at Sherlock's nipple and listened to the desperate hitch in Sherlock's breath. Sherlock twisted under him, and John's thigh slid between his legs. Sherlock clutched at him and rocked up hard, again and again.
John let his hand slip from between their bodies and pinched Sherlock's other nipple, sucked hard at the first. Sherlock's cock was thick and hot and hard. John managed to shove his trousers down a few key inches, and then Sherlock was rutting against his bare skin.
John's own cock jerked at the feel of it, and his heart slammed against his ribs. That long, thick ridge slid over and over against the hard muscle at the front of his thigh. He felt wrapped in heat, overwhelmed by the sight and scent and feel of Sherlock losing himself like this, wanting this, wanting him.
Guilty thoughts skittered around the edges of his mind: he should give Sherlock his hand, his mouth, something to make it better for him, easier. Next time, he would. This time, he was going to watch.
Sherlock moaned and grabbed at John's hair. He had one foot braced against the arm of the sofa and the other leg flung up over the back. His eyes were closed. John rubbed his thumbs in hard circles over Sherlock's nipples and bit his lip at the tiny whimper that pulled out of him.
"John, fuck, John--" Sherlock's voice broke, and his nails scraped hard down the back of John's neck.
"You like that," John murmurs. "I'll remember, for next time. I'll remember how it makes you sound. Think I'll never forget it. Jesus. You're amazing."
"Gorgeous," John said. "Amazing. So hot. I can't-- I can't."
Sherlock threw his head back and gulped in air. John saw him freeze for a moment, flushed and lovely, and then he was coming in wet, hot jerks against John's thigh. Sherlock was stuttering out words so broken they weren't even words, just a tangled mess of sound. It was possibly the hottest thing John had ever heard.
Sherlock was absolutely still, but for the slowing rise and fall of his chest. John looked down at him, the silk bunched up around his waist, the wet patches from John's mouth over his nipples, his long arm flung out, fingertips brushing the floor.
"I want to see," Sherlock said. His hand tightened on the back of John's neck. "You."
John propped himself up awkwardly and shoved his underwear down to bare his cock. He watched Sherlock stare and felt himself grow harder. Sherlock skimmed his fingertips up and down John's length. His nails were painted, John realized. A pale, pale pink.
"I want to suck you," Sherlock said, and for a moment all John could do was stare at his mouth, where traces of deeper color from the lip gloss lingered and highlighted the flush of his skin.
John gave a stiff nod. He couldn't manage more. He felt as if one wrong move would be his undoing, one way or another. He lifted himself up, and Sherlock slid out from beneath him and went to his knees on the floor.
John had three seconds to take that sight in, and then Sherlock's lips were around him, slick and swollen from their kisses, rubbing the last traces of lip gloss off onto John's dick. John slid his fingers into Sherlock's hair. The back of John's mind, the only part of him that wasn't ten seconds from coming his brains out, tried to memorize every detail: the springy warmth of Sherlock's curls, the circle of his lips, the dress hanging askew off his shoulder, the way he looked up at John full on as he sucked him.
It was the stare that did John in. He couldn't look away, and Sherlock wouldn't look away. John came too soon, and with an intensity that gripped his whole body and bent him double. He shuddered through it, hips jerking, forehead resting on the top of Sherlock's head. Sherlock had pulled back at the last second and stroked John through it, but even so there was a streak of white across his cheek.
Sherlock bit the inside of his thigh, hard. John was so drained he didn't even jump.
"Sorry," he said, and it came out slurred and slow. "Christ."
"It's all right," Sherlock said. "It was fairly obvious when you were going to come."
"What was that for then?"
"I wanted to." He licked over the imprint of his teeth. Deep and red, it would undoubtedly bruise.
"It'll match the marks all over your neck," John said.
Sherlock's hand flew to his neck, as if he could find their outlines with his fingers. John smirked.
"Are you being serious?" Sherlock said.
"What, you didn't notice?"
"I was distracted. Everything just feels...warm."
John smiled, absurdly touched, and tugged at Sherlock until he had a mad genius sprawled untidily on top of him.
"It's going to be extremely uncomfortable if we sleep here," Sherlock said. He squirmed toward the back of the sofa, wedging himself in between the cushions and John's body. "There's semen on my dress."
"Mmhmm." John stroked his back, and Sherlock settled against him, cheek and hand pressed to John's chest.
"Was it true? Your story about the necklace?"
"He gave it to me. He didn't say that. It'd be a pretty silly thing to say after we'd had sex."
"You must've liked him," John ventured. "Keeping it all these years."
"I liked the pendant. It's platinum, very fine work. I admire the artist."
"But not the boy who gave it to you."
There was a pause. "I want to ask you something," Sherlock said.
"Well? Go ahead," John said, trying to sound as if Sherlock needing to ask him anything at all was an everyday occurrence.
"Do you think he meant it as an insult? I've always wondered. It's meant for a woman, of course, and the design implies chill, where heat is traditionally the favored metaphor in romantic relationships."
"Did you have a romantic relationship with him?"
Sherlock frowned. "We had sex."
"You know that doesn't necessarily mean yes, right?"
"Yes. But I am...uncertain where the distinction lies."
"Did you love him?"
"I found him convenient and occasionally amusing."
"When did he give it to you?" John said. He wondered if Sherlock found him convenient and occasionally amusing as well. It seemed likely.
"Shortly before he said we shouldn't continue our arrangement."
"He might've meant it as an insult," John admitted. "Sorry."
"It's all right. It doesn't change the nature of the thing."
John smiled. "Do you remember what you said about Harry's phone? If Clara had left her, she would've kept it. Sentiment."
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "It's not sentiment.
"No. 'Course not. You don't do that."
There was quiet for a few minutes. John was trying to decide whether to let himself sleep when Sherlock spoke again.
"No," he said.
"No what?" John said.
"You were wondering if I found you convenient and amusing."
John smiled over the top of Sherlock's head. "Yeah, you do."
"Oh, very well. I do find you both convenient and amusing."
"And I'm going to shower!"
Sherlock rolled to his feet and stalked off.
John grinned and called after him, "I'll be along in a minute, darling!"
Sherlock thrust two fingers upwards in reply without looking back.
John took another minute or two to replay Sherlock's words, but they still added up to an admission of affection, at the very least. John hauled himself upright and went to intrude on Sherlock's shower.
"I'm going to give you something horrible for Christmas," he said. He stripped off the remains of his clothes and climbed in, turning toward the hot spray. "See if you keep it out of sentiment."
Sherlock sniffed and pushed him out of the way so he could rinse the shampoo out of his hair. "I won't."
"Bet you would. Bet I could get you a tie with a hula dancer on it and you'd keep it in the back of your wardrobe somewhere."
"You're being ridiculous."
"We'll see, won't we?"
Sherlock glared at him. "Get out. You're using up all the hot water."
"Now who's being ridiculous?"
They jostled against each other and ended up pressed together under the water. Sherlock's curls fell across his face in straight, dark lines. Water flowed over his lips and made them shine.
"Are we doing that again?" John asked. "Do we have an arrangement now?"
"Does it matter?"
"I like to know where I stand."
Sherlock gripped John's arm. Pale pink nails dented his skin. "With me," Sherlock said.
John nodded. He couldn't ask for firmer ground to stand on than that.