“Hell itself would have to freeze over”
John’s not even being dramatic. Well, perhaps a little. It’s been snowing since they got here early this morning, flakes of it already coming down when they were unceremoniously dragged from Baker Street and bundled into one of Mycroft’s cars. The roads will be pretty treacherous now, but surely they have snow ploughs in Chichester, or at least some grit. There must be some way they can get back home, even if it’s by train. John’s certain of it. And if not, he’ll go out there and carve a path back to 221B, one shovel at a time.
“It may be heading that way” Sherlock comments, using one leather gloved finger to pry open the curtain in Mycroft’s ridiculously large foyer.
Darkness is falling too, which doesn’t help. They had all been a bit too involved in hearing the case details, crowding around a laptop while the elder Holmes recounted the sordid tale. Time had been lost. This one had all the hallmarks of a good nine though – jealous ex-wife, missing mistress and another member of the Royal Family up to no good. Certainly the level of juice needed to generate a few thousand hits on the website, even if John had to change some details here and there. The lure of it had been enough that they had dropped everything else back in London, and John had called in another favour from Molly, who was fast becoming Rosie’s favourite person on Earth.
John shivers, eyes casting over the expanse of white outside.
“It’s Christmas Eve tomorrow” He says under his breath almost desperately.
The thought of leaving Rosie to wake up again without her dad isn’t a great one. She loves Molly, sure, but John’s trying his best to be a Good PersonTM this year, and generally that involves being around for your daughter instead of chasing the coattails of a consulting detective. John hadn’t bargained on the weather, though. The stuffy looking man on TV this morning had promised a shower of delightfully seasonal snowflakes, not a full-on wintery blizzard. John had sworn to be back for tea time.
The sound of wind whistling through the walls of what can only really be called a castle (even if Mycroft calls it a house) turns his head. Everything is stonework and tapestries and turrets, a large portrait of the man himself hanging over the grand staircase. It’s an actual museum, a pompous and musty illustration of the man’s ego, a telling contrast to the tiny flat Sherlock chose for himself in London.
“I really, really don’t want to stay here, Sherlock” John continues, trying to do his best I’m bloody serious voice.
Sherlock throws apologetic eyes at him, but it seems to be a losing battle. Mycroft saunters down the staircase behind them just as the wind picks up, hands tucked into his waistcoat.
“I’ve had Stanley make preparations for you both on the west wing” He announces, looking over their shoulders to the burgeoning storm outside.
John does his absolute best not to roll his eyes, but from the small smile on Sherlock’s face he fails catastrophically. Stanley, the butler. John had caught sight of him earlier in the day, shuffling around like something out of an old film, with a slightly hunched back and withering features. Almost too absurd and yet somehow not shocking at all. John wonders just how much butler-ing Stanley does, whether he irons Mycroft’s under garments and trims his nose hair. Both thoughts are equally disturbing.
“Now if you don’t mind, I have business to attend to. I’m sure you can entertain yourselves”
Well, at least they don’t have to spend the entire evening making conversation or playing boardgames with Mycroft. Could be worse. Scrabble is bad enough with Sherlock, who threatened to melt the tiny plastic tiles one by one the last time they played. John quickly thumbs out a text to Molly, his apology sincere yet predictable.
“Don’t worry brother, I know where the wine cellar is” Sherlock says, already marching out of the room, heels clicking on the shiny floor. “Tour starts this way, John!”
There’s no real use in protesting so John follows, vaguely familiar with the layout of the place from the last time they were here together. No out of work actors lurking in the shadows this time, just doors leading to unused rooms and stuffy collections of relics that never leave their display cases. It still hangs between them all, secrets and childhood traumas in the darkness of a well. Sherlock goes to Sherringford and returns, and John does his best not to ask too many questions. Simple, and like most things between them, not at all okay.
John shakes off the memory of slippery bones and follows Sherlock’s footsteps through a door to the right of the staircase. Almost immediately there are steps leading down to a cellar, narrow and worn, probably an original feature made for the slim feet of their ancestors.
“Sherlock –“ John calls, pressing his hand to the rough stone wall for balance as he climbs slowly down into the shadow.
The drop into the cellar is a little deeper than it first appears, but eventually John reaches the bottom. Almost darkness gives way to a dull light, an old-fashioned oil lamp perched on the wall to his left. The warm yellow ebbs across a large cellar, dancing over barrels of whisky John is sure are worth ten times his pension, bottles of wine stacked in neat rows from floor to ceiling the length of the opposite wall. It must be at least the size of Baker Street’s living room, if not bigger. Sometimes John forgets just how much money the Holmes family has. Sherlock lives a humble life considering.
“This is – “ John runs his hand over the nearest barrel, his fingers becoming coated in a fine dust.
“I know” Sherlock replies, voice slightly strained as he reaches for a bottle on the highest row, stretching on his tip toes. “It’s a wonder Mycroft is so boring when he has half of the world’s wine reserves down here”
John’s glad he’s still wearing his jacket. The temperature has dropped somewhat from the heated rooms upstairs, the damp tickling slightly at the back of his throat. He takes the bottle from Sherlock as he offers it, struggling to read the label in the dim light.
“Henri Jayer, Cros Parantoux. 1983” Sherlock says, the foreign words dripping from his lips like honey.
He’s never heard Sherlock speak French before. Bit of German here and there, Russian surprisingly often, but never a language so soft and delicate that it makes John’s pulse skip. Perhaps it’s the lack of oxygen down here and the fact he’s spent more time around Sherlock recently than he has for years, but a shiver trembles treacherously across the back of his neck. It reminds John of that first case all those years ago, the same feeling he had when Sherlock read the dead body in front of them both and deduced her entire life in a single breath. Beautiful and thrilling and eerie at the same time, full of possibility. A welcome ghost of appreciation John had almost forgotten he was capable of. He swallows.
“Right” John says, handing the bottle back. “If you say so”
The corner of Sherlock’s mouth upturns and he spins the glass in his hand.
“Mycroft won’t miss it, he has two more of the same vintage”
John’s not listening though, the expanse of the cellar suddenly seems a bit claustrophobic, the smell of aged wood and cold stone sticking in the back of his throat. Since moving back to Baker Street over the summer, that sensation of being gently smothered has been happening more frequently. John’s not sure what the trigger is, but it’s like drowning except dry, as if something is constricting every blood vessel in his body and stealing the air from his lungs. Maybe he’s still a little stuck, weighted down by the rocks that have slowly piled up over the last few years. Moving back in with Sherlock had been a step, a big one, despite the ease at which he and Rosie had settled right in. Now and again it feels unreal, like he’s a doppelganger in his own story, the plot laid out for him long ago. As if no matter what he does, the pages are already written.
“Let’s steal and run then” He says through the pounding in his ears, grabbing a bottle of whisky for good measure as he heads back to the staircase.
They escape the cellar and Sherlock takes them to the other side of the mansion, far away from Mycroft and his office. Snow flurries outside, collecting on the corners of the window panes in small mountains. Definitely no chance of getting back to London, then. If not for the foreboding presence of Mycroft lurking somewhere and the bitter draught running through the place, it would be quite festive. Beyond the pale vista John can pick out hills and a line of forest, little lights where families are settling down for the night, cosy in their picturesque surroundings. Sherlock leads them through several rooms, walking so quickly John barely has chance to taken them in. Just as he thinks there can’t possibly be any more, the other man stops. Sherlock reaches for a key behind a dead looking houseplant and opens the door to what should be the outside.
Instead, it leads them into a small circular room, the walls lined with books. It’s one of the turrets then, converted into a makeshift library. Just big enough for a small Chesterfield sofa placed in the centre of the room, and a wood-burner tucked against the curved window overlooking the grounds. Cosy and far enough away from Mycroft that they can probably drink both bottles before he finds them. Perfect.
“This is more like it” John grins, immediately heading for the worn looking emerald leather couch, sighing as it moulds to his body.
“The more distance between us and my brother, the better” Sherlock comments, placing the wine bottle next to the burner and kneeling down to open the grate.
John watches as Sherlock arranges kindling, practised fingers striking a match. His gaze falls from the blackening tinder as the fire begins to take, to the contrast of dark wool against Sherlock’s pale wrist then upwards, the shadow of failing light outside deepening the hollow of his cheeks and thinly set mouth. They don’t talk as much as they should, both veterans of repressing everything they find difficult. Yet they’re trapped here now, nowhere to run but the maze of Mycroft’s endless house, and John’s already unscrewed the whisky, so.
“Still a bit tense then,” He ventures, lips pressed to the rim of the bottle as he takes a swig.
An observation, not a direct question, unless Sherlock wants it to be. For a few moments the other man says nothing, encouraging the growing fire with a poker, his back still to John. Sherlock’s creation crackles and spits as he feeds a small log into the heat, and he waits there, patiently tending to it until the edges catch and the flames eat it hungrily.
“As ever, Mycroft does not agree with my methods” Sherlock eventually answers, turning and rising from the floor. “Nor I, his”
John regards him as he shucks of his coat, maroon shirt buttons straining with the movement. Sherlock places it over the back of the sofa and practically throws himself into the seat next to John, reaching to snatch the whisky from his hands.
“Whisky before wine?” The man asks, pausing to raise an eyebrow before taking a drink.
“I was going alphabetical” John replies, clearing his throat as Sherlock has a second mouthful.
There never seems to be an opportune moment to ask about Eurus. John’s not certain Sherlock even expects him to. Now would be a good time, yet he can’t quite form the words in his mouth. That way there be monsters, and though more than a year has passed, John still can’t quite open that door. Those paths lead to the version of himself that nearly broke them apart completely, and he’s not yet made peace with that particular demon.
Sherlock hands the bottle back silently, so John presses it to his lips again. Immediately he can taste the other man, a slight bitterness and warmth he already knows the notes of. They’ve breathed the same oxygen and lived the same life for so long, the tang of Sherlock’s mouth on the edge of the glass is not unknown. For some reason though, it heats his belly more than whisky usually would, some chemical reaction that makes John falter for a minute before matching Sherlock’s pace.
“You know, if you ever want to –“
He turns to catch Sherlock’s eyes and they’re soft, if not a little surprised at the offer John has not yet made. Rarely do they open up to each other, but John knows they need to. They’re supposed to. They’re best friends and roommates and whatever the hell else they are. After everything they’ve been through and are still going through, it should be easier.
“I can be a good listener, is all” John finishes, looking down to the bottle in his hand as if it has answers to questions he doesn’t know how to ask.
“I know” Sherlock says quietly. “I appreciate that, John”
Quietness falls over them, sharing the amber liquid until it’s half gone. Not an entirely uncomfortable stretch of silence, but a contemplative one. The offer is there and Sherlock will take it if he wants to, John’s made it clear there’s no expiry date and he’s not about to prod the man unless he asks to be. They watch the early evening turn to nightfall outside, the landscape slowly disappearing into the inky black of darkness. Eventually they filter out the past and discuss the case instead, going over the days revelations.
“Oh –“ John suddenly starts, yanking the bottle from Sherlock’s hand with little grace. “What the hell is the deal with Stanley?”
Sherlock chuckles, eyes crinkling with laughter as he takes in John’s widened eyes.
“I mean, I’m no stranger to odd men wandering around in the middle of the night –“ He continues, turning in his seat to raise an eyebrow at his drinking companion.
“You live with me” Sherlock interrupts, throwing his arms wide so their elbows bump softly together.
“I live with you, exactly“ John agrees, pointing at him accusatorily. “But I swear, if I wake up and he’s at the bottom of my bed…”
They both break into giggles now, that childish kind of chuckling that earns them sideways glances at crime scenes. It’s not often they get to do this, just sit and be in each other’s presence with nothing else to distract them. John feels the tiny stones in his heart breaking apart a little more each time it happens, slowly chipping away at every terrible thing he did to the patient man next to him. Somehow they survived it all, and some tear in the fabric of the universe allows them to do this still, be friends and laugh and drink expensive booze while snow falls outside, as if nothing else at all exists.
“See, I may wander around sometimes” Sherlock admits, quieter now, taking the bottle back again from John’s loosened grip. “But I’ve never done that”
“Not yet, no”
Not yet. The words slip out before John can catch them, stilling Sherlock’s hand as he lifts the glass to his lips. Those guarded eyes look down at him, the fire light catching the curvature of dark pupils at they assess. It’s not the first time John’s been on the receiving end of that particular gaze, half deducing and half wondering, trying to figure out if John’s words were a slip of the tongue or a challenge.
“There’s time” Sherlock settles on, one last flick of his eyes up and down John’s torso before he drinks.
And there it is again, a tightening of John’s airways as his body forgets how to breathe, a sensation he can now only equate to something he doesn’t want to admit but has long known. Always growing there, the layers of self-denial beginning to gently peel off like old wallpaper with each new day. John has to look away, puff out a couple of sharp breaths through his nose to level his head out again.
Mercifully, the conversation doesn’t require a conclusion. The ancient looking lightbulb above them suddenly starts to flicker, stuttering inside its patterned glass lampshade, before going out completely. The small spotlights illuminating the path outside also cease, and everything plunges into darkness. They’re saved by the warm glow of the fire, picking out the furniture and bookcases in orange as they both get up to check the light switch.
Sherlock flicks it on and off uselessly. John opens the door, poking his head out to check the adjacent room. Everything is dead, the only discernible illumination coming from the red blink of security cameras in the corners of the ceiling, which must be on a generator.
“The storm?” John asks, watching as Sherlock finds the torch function on his phone.
“Likely, yes. Your phone?”
“Yeah, completely dead” John replies, in answer to Sherlock’s questioning eyebrow. “Not even sure it has a torch function, to be honest”
He hears rather than sees Sherlock’s eye roll at his dated tech, stepping a little closer to be in the circle of white light the man’s iPhone projects.
“Stay close, then” Sherlock says, closing the grate on the fire so it will eventually burn out. “And watch out for Stanley”
John elbows him in the ribs but grins nonetheless. Over the years he’s grown adept at following Sherlock closely, it’s essentially his job at this point, so he has no trouble staying in the man’s illuminated ambit as they move towards the door and into the other room.
It’s relatively easy to navigate through the next couple of rooms, tracing their path back to the central staircase. The furniture is sparse and Sherlock’s iPhone beam is unnecessarily bright, but John stays glued to him regardless. Smoke clings to the threads of Sherlock’s coat and John can’t complain at the comforting smell of it, uses most of his effort to refrain from burying his nose in the lapels. Really he should be more shocked by that desire, yet in the darkness with the slight blurriness of whisky running through his blood, John finds that he isn’t at all.
When they finally reach the staircase, they find a single candle lit ominously at the top of the bannister, signalling the way to their rooms. Wind whistles through from the large front door, making the old oak creak and strain a little. They glance at each other, Mycroft’s rather extravagant house suddenly becoming slightly more akin to a haunted mansion.
“Those security cameras work then, right?” John asks, beginning to wonder whether he should have taken his chances on the road.
“Knowing Mycroft, they probably feed straight through to Number 10”
Not really comforting, but better than nothing. John follows Sherlock up the stairs as he takes them two at a time, struggling as always to keep up with the man’s lithe frame. A row of what he assumes are original paintings line the corridor, and John stops momentarily to study them a little closer. They’re all relatives he’s sure, generations of Holmes immortalised in oil. He doesn’t stall too long though, because Sherlock and his guiding light are drifting out of sight.
When he catches up to him around the next corner, Sherlock is rattling a door handle, irritation itching at the shadows of his face. The adjacent room is open, so John peers in. A large four poster bed sits in the middle of what appears to be a fairly sizable bedroom, the rest of the furnishings swallowed by the darkness.
“What’s the problem?” He asks, squinting in the white light surrounding Sherlock as he steps back into the corridor.
“My brother thinks he’s funny, that’s the problem” Sherlock huffs, gesturing at the still closed door.
John tries the handle even though it’s clearly no good. Mycroft hadn’t specified the preparations creepy butler had made, nor had he mentioned rooms at all, plural or otherwise. The storm howls again outside as Sherlock pushes by him and into the open bedroom. John stands there, rooted to the spot in the hallway, willing the locked door to magically spring open.
When he finally gives up on telekinesis and joins Sherlock in the vacant bedroom, the man is already coatless and shoeless, lying on the bed. With apparently zero concerns at all, Sherlock has propped himself up with a pillow, legs stretched out in front of him and crossed at his ankles, seemingly occupied with his phone.
“Right” John sighs, arms static by his sides, hand suddenly missing the empty bottle of whisky.
It’s not like they haven’t slept in the same room before. In fact, they’ve fallen asleep on the sofa together more than once recently, passed out after a case with Rosie between them, only the early morning light rousing John enough to move. They share space and touch without thinking on a daily basis more and more, yet this feels different. This is a four poster bed with ridiculous drapery and dangerous darkness and Sherlock, his shirt collar open and curls straying over his forehead in the phone’s bright glow.
Without considering the alternative, John steps to the foot of the bed, removes his jacket and folds it into a square. He places the makeshift pillow on the floor, wincing as his body protests at the gravity pulling him down to follow it. Oh, he’s going to ache in the morning, even with the cushion of alcohol numbing his bones somewhat. Ever the soldier, he folds his arms across his chest and closes his eyes, Sherlock’s tapping like a metronome in the night. Perhaps only minutes have passed, the comforting keyboard sound lulling John into an easy slumber despite the hard floor beneath him.
“It’s a big bed”
John jolts out of the black hole of sleep that had been gently dragging him down, immediately alert out of habit. Sherlock is suddenly very close and leaning over the edge of the bed, looking down at him with knitted eyebrows.
“For fu –“ John almost swears, blinking at the beam of light shining directly into his eyes. “Sherlock, phone please”
Partially blind, John props himself up on his elbows, the torch now at a safe distance behind Sherlock’s outstretched frame.
“You can’t sleep on the floor” Sherlock states, tone even. “You’re old”
John opens his mouth to protest but he is in fact correct. Now he’s fully awake again, the ache in his shoulder is already annoying, his neck cracking as he stretches it out from side to side. The plush looking mattress is tempting, soft and warmed by Sherlock’s body. The storm outside whistles its agreement, hitting at the single pane windows as if it might break through at any moment.
“I’m fine” John tries for anyway, hoping he can convince himself.
“You’re being stubborn” Sherlock counters, moving his body back onto the mattress in one fluid motion.
There are many reasons John should not lift himself from the floor to the bed, and he ignores them all. Obvious things that the both of them are aware of and wilfully ignorant of, have actually been carefully stepping around for months now, trying not to tip the dominos for fear they will fall the wrong way. It’s Sherlock’s fault this time though, offering something he knows John doesn’t have the strength to refuse. John takes the other side of the bed, keeping his limbs as tight to his torso as he can.
“Happy now?” John asks the ceiling, letting his eyes adjust to the inky black as Sherlock locks his phone beside him.
“Immensely” Sherlock replies, the smirk in his voice audible. “I have a line of defence against Stanley now”
John shakes his head but laughs a little regardless, tongue in his cheek as he replies.
“You’re definitely his type”
“Can’t say I blame him” Sherlock shifts, his cotton trousers whispering against the bed sheets as he turns on to his side to face John.
Sherlock’s body is barely visible in the new darkness, but soon John’s eyes begin to focus enough in the shadow to pick out little details. The bridge of his nose is there, catching the dull light from the half moon outside, the edge of his jaw becoming clearer the more John looks. Sherlock’s chest is perhaps a stretch of arm away, close enough that he could reach out deft fingers and undo another button if he so wanted.
“Shame Rosie isn’t here” John says, hoping to change the line of conversation in his own head. “She could scare him off”
The chuckle from Sherlock’s throat is so deep it reverberates the air between them, and John can almost feel it on his cheek.
“I certainly wouldn’t cross her” The man replies quietly, and then, softer – “I’m sorry I couldn’t get you back to her tonight”
John offers a small smile, most of it lost in the darkness. It certainly would have been preferable to be with his daughter right now, reading her bedtime stories as she falls asleep in his arms. However, John finds his frustration at their current situation has lessened somewhat. Despite the guilt of not being there for Rosie, he’s managed to spend an entire evening in Sherlock’s company without ruining anything, just enjoying being alone together for a few hours. And if his chest feels uncomfortably tight sometimes, the tension of anxiety biting his veins, well that’s just too bad. He’ll put up with it, force himself to ride the tornado of doubt in his head until it settles into calmer skies.
“That’s okay” John says, mirroring Sherlock’s movement to turn onto his side. “Can’t change the weather”
Somehow Sherlock is radiating warmth, though John’s sure he’s probably cold. Those hands are usually ice, cool to the touch even in the summer months. He looks comfortable there, stretched out the length of the bed, one arm under his head, regarding John with contemplative eyes.
“Sadly, not in my repertoire”
That voice is silky smooth in the night, and it’s no wonder Rosie prefers Sherlock’s stories to drift off to. The euphonious tones from the man’s lips are like treacle, have been slowly wrapping themselves around John’s heart for months now, keeping him going when nothing else motivates. If there are things that he keeps hidden from himself, then they begin and end there, in the secrets of Sherlock’s mouth.
“Wow,” John says, mocking surprise as he looks across at him. “Sherlock Holmes, admitting he can’t do something”
The curve of Sherlock’s lips upturn as the shadows become easier to navigate. It’s unbelievable how ethereal the man looks even without the gift of light, perhaps even more so with the peak of his lips hidden by darkness, waiting to be found.
“There are many things I can’t do, that I wish I could” Sherlock admits, his quiet words betraying the fact that he’s not talking about the weather anymore.
“You could try”
John doesn’t waste a breath before he replies, words shaking out on the tails of an exhale. Maybe it’s the truly ridiculous surroundings, or the intimacy of sharing a bed with a storm shouting against the manor walls, but he can’t quite stop himself. Can’t find the energy to, anymore.
Silence threatens the space between them. John watches as Sherlock opens and closes his mouth again carefully, leaving him bereft in its emptiness. He’s read something that wasn’t there then, imagined words where there were none, fictions they dance around that never become reality.
“Should probably get some sleep” John drops his gaze, arms tightening around his own chest as regret tugs at his gut.
“If that’s really what you want”
Sherlock knows that it isn’t. The stress of his tone says as much and John can’t look at him, clears his throat and shakes his head at his crossed arms, wetting his bottom lip. He must be obvious now, laid out and being weighed in Sherlock’s analytical eyes, the tightness in his body illustrating all the things he so clearly wants to do instead of sleep. Those words aren’t a barrier either, just another open door John can choose to close as he has all others, or at last walk through, consequences forgotten.
“No,” John admits, lifting his chin in some final act of defiance against his own tentative mind. “No, it’s not at all”
Those lips are already parted as John takes them in his own. Just once, a delicate but certain press, pushing through a small gap in the defences they have held up for so long. The fight is finally over and John melts into it, years of holding on tight with shaking hands culminating in Sherlock’s pliant mouth beneath his own, as he dares to place his lips there again. It’s different and not at all unpleasant, the rough of a chin against his own not as unwelcome as he had imagined.
Sherlock stills suddenly under the kiss, and every ounce of relief John had felt seconds before suddenly turns to a sickness in his stomach, a sharp stab of pain that he has perhaps made the wrong choice. A devastating choice, that cannot be taken back. One he knew could well end like this, with remorse at his own vulnerability.
“Shit,” John pulls away, oxygen failing to reach his lungs as everything constricts in panic. “Shit, Sherlock, I’m sorry – “
A small strangled sound comes from Sherlock’s throat and then his hand is at the back of John’s neck, pulling him until their mouths meet again. This time the angle is right and so sure that John almost feels dizzy, not enough and also too much, as Sherlock darts his tongue out to taste him. Every seemingly sane thought dissipates like the space between them, John shifting up onto one elbow over Sherlock now on his back, the other hand thumbing the line of the man’s jaw as they move against each other.
The height advantage is instantly appealing and John uses it, controls the way their mouths meet, teases at Sherlock’s bottom lip with his teeth. All at once he wants everything, each part of Sherlock he’s denied himself from the very beginning, those carefully concealed truths that have been waiting here all this time, in the arch of Sherlock’s body as he strains hopelessly beneath him.
John kisses the underside of Sherlock’s jaw, his neck and the protruding bone there, trying hard not to push too far in the heady rush of it. He finds those eyes, somehow brighter now despite the night time still going on around them, looking at him with a desire he has never seen so naked before.
And what can he say, really. Such a life changing thing they’re doing, even if it’s really not that different to everything they already are. It’s a jump they can’t undo though, the fall too difficult to recover from if they were ever to reach the pavement below.
“Are you sure,” John’s trying to be good, so acutely aware of the line he’s erasing for the both of them with his fingers travelling to Sherlock’s thinly clothed ribs. “You don’t have to –“
The exhale through Sherlock’s nose is almost desperate as he swallows, gaze dragging from the shadows of their half-pressed bodies to John’s collarbone and finally his eyes, looking up at him through the curls on his forehead.
“I want you” Sherlock puts between them, keeps his eyes set on John’s as his fingers reach to plaid shirt buttons. “All of you”
John shakes, feels the tremor scare the steadiness of his arm next to Sherlock’s shoulder. He remains upright somehow, forces the breaths through his chest as Sherlock begins to take his shirt off, every ghost of his fingertips brushing against the skin there making him tremble. Those dangerous eyes never leave John’s own, and all he can do is let it happen, find an anchor in Sherlock’s pupils as the man parts the shirt from his chest.
Then Sherlock’s hands are on him, dancing over his torso almost unsure in their path, as if he’s not certain what comes next. And he probably isn’t, John realises. Neither of them are, but John at least knows what he wants, to touch Sherlock in ways no one else has, give him things he can’t even begin to explain. John pushes into Sherlock’s searching palms, takes his mouth again and almost loses himself there for a moment. So often he’s been enamoured by the words spilling from those lips, so many times he’s stood captivated, entranced by the sound of genius. And now John gets what no one else has been given, is being allowed to take the breath from Sherlock’s mouth and keep it for himself, feed his lungs and his heart with all the beautiful things other people merely get to observe. His, alone.
The elbow taking his weight near Sherlock’s left shoulder is starting to protest so John shifts, slips his thigh between Sherlock’s legs and switches to the other arm to hold himself up. The pressure of that movement elicits a moan from the man underneath him, so John does it again, wetting his own lip as the sound sets fire to his veins.
God knows how he’s managing to coordinate his limbs, but John’s fingers find Sherlock’s shirt, pull until buttons slip through holes and he can push the designer cotton off his chest. Sherlock’s skin is pale and freckled with moles and scars, a collection of sins and sacrifices John couldn’t care less about right now. His nose bumps Sherlock’s chin painfully as his lips follow his hands, kissing and dragging his teeth across exposed skin as if he only gets this one chance to do so. Nails dig into John’s scalp, Sherlock’s fingers tightening in his hair with every adoration of his chest, fighting for purchase, and John’s vision is swimming, his heart hammering loud and fast.
Part of John feels like he can’t stop. If he does, maybe this all goes away and becomes another trick of the light. Perhaps this never actually was, and he did fall asleep, a corpse on the floor at the foot of Sherlock’s bed. He’ll wake up and none of this will have happened, or worse it did and Sherlock regrets it, leaving him cold and more alone than he ever was to begin with. The dread doesn’t creep but rather tides over John in a wash of sudden bitterness, the pollution of those thoughts causing pain in his sternum and forcing his eyes to screw tight shut. Absolutely brilliant time for a panic attack, with his mouth near Sherlock’s navel and his knee pressing against the hardening cock beneath him.
Isn’t he supposed to be the sure one? The soldier and the man who could never go a few weeks without a woman on his arm. This is his territory, a place he should feel comfortable, and yet everything about this feels a thousand times more intense than anything before. Sherlock is a man, which throws up a whole new set of challenges, but that’s not even it. John knows what to do, can already predict where to put his tongue to make Sherlock arch beneath him, how much pressure to apply with his teeth on the muscle above his hip. He can do all this, but the doubt that he should be allowed to is pinching at his forehead, gnawing at the spot between his eyebrows like the beginnings of a headache.
Of course, Sherlock can see it. Scribed across his face in helpful subtitles. Both hands slip from the hair at the back of John’s head to cup his cheek and jaw, beckoning him away from the path his lips have been making. John allows himself to be pulled away, hovers there, looking down at Sherlock with only centimetres between them, their eyes level and so close they’re almost blurry. When they focus, he finds some of his own anxiety reflected in the lines on Sherlock’s forehead. Concern and understanding and nerves too, all painted there on the canvas of a face he knows so well. As Sherlock kisses him softly John attempts to still his heart, takes a long steadying breath when their foreheads meet and press together.
Just a reset, a second to reassure each other that everything is fine, even if it isn’t. If John is the guiding light then Sherlock is the compass, both necessary to keep right. Together they are grounding and certain, when nothing else is.
“Sherlock” John replies, kisses the dip where Sherlock’s nose meets his cheek.
And he still feels a little sick, but the fingertips playing at his abdominals are encouraging and direct. The centring pressure of a forehead against his own is enough to ease the skip of adrenaline through John’s veins, as he grinds against Sherlock again. Those fears begin to fade away, slip from his mind like the leather of Sherlock’s belt, as John feeds it through the loops of the man’s waistband.
The nails at his sides dig in, the sound of Sherlock’s zipper cuts into the silence and there are a few moments where they struggle to co-ordinate. They’re both trying to get rid of clothes and cooperate limbs, and it’s messy. John’s head bumps into the sharp of Sherlock’s jaw as he finally manages to struggle out of his own trousers, but the pool of cotton at Sherlock’s feet becomes a tangle that neither of them can seem to figure out.
“Oh for fuck’s sake” John swears under his breath, attempting to sort it out one handed.
“A genius and a doctor, and we can’t beat a pair of trousers” Sherlock replies, words straining with the effort.
They look at each other for a second and break into quiet laughter. Tinged with a touch of nerves still, but offering light relief from the mild panic John had felt moments earlier. Eventually they regain composure and Sherlock manages to shake free from his binds of cotton, left in socks and the dark maroon shirt hanging off his shoulders. The socks make John chuckle again, cut short by Sherlock’s mouth on his, teeth clacking with the ferocity of it as he pushes his cock against John’s bare thigh.
“Jesus Christ” He exhales into Sherlock’s neck, biting down on the skin there as he skirts a hand to the moving hips beneath him.
“Not so sure he’d approve” Sherlock tries for sarcasm, albeit a bit lost in his strangled breaths.
John doesn’t reply because his palm has found Sherlock’s cock and is wrapping around him before he even has chance to think about it. Sherlock’s neck arches up from the pillow as he pushes his head back into it further, so John sucks at his pulse point too, moving his palm up and down once. That seems to work, the noises from Sherlock’s lips become more guttural, and John does it again, testing the smooth of his thumb across the wet head. It’s new and a bit thrilling to get such sharp reactions from so little, John can’t help the smile pressed against the man’s collarbone now, settling into a rhythm.
His own hips keen against Sherlock’s inner thigh, pushing into the dip of space there, shamelessly trying to catch any friction he can. One hand reaches down between them and Sherlock circles fingers around him finally, their wrists bumping with the movement as he copies John’s touch. John curses against Sherlock’s chest and kisses the plane of skin there, tries to breathe and move and give everything he can whilst also pushing into Sherlock’s palm. It’s been so long since he’s had someone else, since he’s wanted someone else, and for it to be the man beneath him is nearly too much for his body to handle.
Sherlock asks, moans tumbling from his tongue as he pushes it into John’s mouth. The stretch of his arm to Sherlock’s cock as he moves up to meet his kiss is painful, but it’s fine. John manages to keep his hand steady and suck Sherlock’s bottom lip between his teeth at the same time, remembering how to do several things at once now his blood is on fire. When he pulls away Sherlock’s eyes are dark and nearly closed, the grip on his own ribs becoming tight and the fingers around his cock stalling for a moment as the man beneath him climbs towards the peak.
“Yes, Sherlock” John puts his lips to the shell of Sherlock’s ear and breathes into him, picks up the pace until he’s trembling. “For me, come on”
Those words take Sherlock over the edge, spilling onto John’s hand and stomach, cursing silently. The slick feeling of it against John’s skin is warm and filthy, and he lets his fingers slip away to grip the bedsheet instead, taking pressure off his other wrist and allowing him to thrust quicker into Sherlock’s palm. When Sherlock opens his eyes again, John watches his gaze fall to his own fingers around John’s cock, observing the movement of skin and the slick of come smeared across sparse chest hair. Then, those blue greens drag upwards and John loses it as they meet there, caught in inky blown pupils as his moans rough out across Sherlock’s face.
He’s so close, and Sherlock knows it, brings his other hand to grip John’s hip tightly and slow his movements. John whimpers breathlessly, the edges of it breaking over his lips before he has a chance to quell it. The dangerous look that shadows over Sherlock’s face nearly snaps him in two but he holds out, breathing short bursts through his nose as that hand slows down a bit and the pull on his cock becomes more purposeful, measured.
John bites his own lip and doesn’t break the contact of their eyes, rising to the challenge as the power shifts and Sherlock’s hand moves from his hip to the swell of his buttocks. As in all things, the man below him has already deduced the exact way to drive John completely insane, knows that denial of what he wants most is part of the appeal. There’s only so much he can take though, and as if having Sherlock beneath him isn’t already enough, fingernails dig into the muscle of his arse and the sensation of momentary pain combined with the palm around his cock is just too much. Incoherent words trip from his tongue as he squeezes his eyes shut and finishes, Sherlock gasping below him as he witnesses the release.
Instantly the strain on his wrists to stay upright is immense. John tries to catch his breath, presses his lips to Sherlock’s jaw a few times before shifting off him, onto his back on the mattress. They lie there, side by side, swimming in the fading pool of ecstasy.
“I really hope those security cameras don’t actually feed to Downing Street” John says absentmindedly, noticing a small blinking light in the corner of the ceiling.
Sherlock chuckles quietly, their arms brushing against each other as he reaches for some item of clothing to clean himself, handing it to John wordlessly to do the same. There should probably be some kind of talk now, John thinks. Regular people would definitely need to clarify a few things, check everything is sound after wanking each other off on a four poster bed in a mansion frequented by a relative and a possibly undead butler.
They don’t talk, though. Sherlock moves onto his side and takes John’s hand in his own. Turns it in his palm and kisses the knuckles there, eyes already closing. John can’t find the strength to move, despite the odd angle of his bent elbow aching softly. So he stays there, takes in the smallness of his own palm in Sherlock’s long slender fingers, wonders how the night ended here and how it didn’t end here sooner.
When he can resist sleep no longer, John slips away with Sherlock’s breaths puffing against his face. Nothing paints his unconscious but space, a black emptiness that swallows almost everything. The only light comes from the man he now knows is his, a chaos of cosmos and elements that somehow gives John hope. There’s no order or predictable path he can follow, but there’s gravity. A force he can depend on. John can orbit around the fixed point sleeping next to him, and that is all he needs.