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The Thing Is

Chapter Text

Sherlock had very nearly got Mycroft out the door in a towering snit and was feeling positively triumphant until the arrogant prat paused on the threshold.

“Incidentally,” Mycroft tapped his umbrella's spike oh-so-casually on the runner, “you really should see what John is up to presently.”

“What John does is no conc—”

Mycroft wordlessly held up the surveillance photo.

“It is no concern of mine,” Sherlock repeated, but he'd paused just a fraction, was just a bit stiff, and Mycroft smirked.

“It will take him a little while longer to understand he's being—” Mycroft's lips twisted. “—hit upon. He is rather inebriated. Is that wise, given his family history? Well, no concern of mine.” He slid the photo into the pocket of the coat hanging at the door. “I shouldn't wait too long, Sherlock, if I were you. Good evening, Brother,” he said, and tapped down the stair with the insufferable gait of a man who has just landed a particularly well aimed blow.

Only once he heard the black car idling beneath his window pull away did Sherlock snarl.

The photo.

John, at the Swan and Badger. A young man at his shoulder, late twenties, feature writer for a travel magazine, doing well for himself. They'd met at the pub a few times before, chatted, shared rounds, played darts. Darts! John, who could kill a man two buildings away with a handgun, reduced to darts. And not even aimed at living targets. Deplorable waste.

The boy's body swayed toward John. His eyes followed John instead of the projectile. His posture mimicked John's so closely they all but breathed in tandem. In about twenty minutes, he was going to ask John home. And because John really could be spectacularly idiotic sometimes, he would say yes, and not realize the planned post-pub activity was sex instead of football on telly until the child had his tongue in John's mouth. Drunk, lonely, sexually frustrated John Watson, who continually insisted he was not gay but who was addicted to the rush of adrenaline, of surprise, of uncontrolled impulse.

Sherlock briefly contemplated John's state of mind upon waking with a hangover in the bed of an infatuated young man who had offered his body on the assumption John shared his sentiment. It would be Spectacularly Not Good.

There was also the added complication that some unobservant idiots—and it has been established that John is often an idiot—might think the young man bears some slight resemblance to John's flatmate. It really would not do for John to come to this erroneous conclusion. It might make things...awkward. Sherlock had grown accustomed to a high degree of ease between John and himself, and refused to allow anyon—anything to disrupt that.

The best course of action was obvious. For John's own good.

#  #  #

Draped bonelessly over the sofa, Sherlock heard footsteps on the stair, heard concern and resignation and irritation, and heard too that yes, John was more than a little drunk.

“Sherlock? Got your text.”

“Hmm? Oh, right.” Eyes closed, he held out an expectant palm. “Your laptop.”

There was a long silence. Sherlock kept his eyes closed even as John fought an internal battle between handing Sherlock his own laptop and punching him in the testicles.

A sigh. A rummaging through the detritus on Sherlock's chair. A solid thunk of cold laptop dropped on Sherlock's abdomen, followed by John's footsteps again, this time on the stair to his bedroom.

Some time later, the all-but-inaudible sounds of surreptitious and rather bitter masturbation.

#  #  #

John woke with a horribly familiar hangover headache and the impression that something furry had died in his mouth. Since that was not actually an impossibility in 221B, he was relieved when a tentative scrape of tongue between teeth dislodged no rodent bits. Right. Good. He needed to piss, his right arm was asleep, and there was a spider crawling in his hair.

Oh. Not a spider. Sherlock's nose.

John's entire limbic system stuttered to a halt.

The problem with living with Sherlock, John thought eventually, attempting to ignore the increasingly urgent pressure in his bladder as he lay very still, was that you never, never, ever knew the significance of anything. With some other person—some average, ordinary, normal person—a bloke might make a fairly accurate stab at why his flatmate was in bed with him, sound asleep, one hand on the back of John's neck, face buried in his hair, inhaling short, deep whuffs.

Or, well, no, because that would be hard to explain no matter what. But the point was that with Sherlock, the explanation could be literally anything, and you just absolutely never knew when it was the obvious thing and when it was something...else.

The thing was, if a bloke knew his flatmate was coming on to him, was interested in That Way—if a bloke knew, even a totally not-gay (not that there's anything wrong with that) bloke—then a totally not-gay bloke could come to terms with it. And he could also come to terms with those disturbingly not-exactly-totally-not-gay things his body did in response. But no way in hell was a bloke going to put himself through the therapy needed to admit he wished his flatmate's knee were wedged just a little bit higher when this whole scenario might be about measuring radon levels in tropical fish.

He lay still, wondering why every bloody morning in London was overcast except the one when he had a hangover. The early morning Saturday traffic noise drifted in from the streets below, and from next door came the unmistakable sounds of Mrs Turner's married ones engaging in enthusiastic weekend marital relations. John was on friendly terms with the couple, had eaten lunch a time or two with them at Speedy's, and found them to be generally good blokes, if a bit dull, but at that particular moment he hated them with spectacular intensity.

John rolled a little to the right to take the pressure off his arm and restore circulation. It was coincidence that rolling pressed his...thigh against Sherlock's thigh. He'd barely shifted when the hand on his neck tightened and the whuffing deepened.

“Cigarette smoke,” moaned Sherlock rapturously.

John hastily scooted backwards off the bed, nearly getting whiplash as his head was yanked forward in protest. “Sherlock,” he said desperately, “let go. I've got to piss.”

Chapter Text

"John—"

"Shut up."

"—did terrorists storm the Chelsea Flower Show? It wasn't on the news."

"Shut up."

"A dahlia appears to have exploded on your head."

"Shut up. How do you know what a dahlia is, anyway?" John smacked the kettle down on the hob. He needed tea and a shower. Bits of hair had worked down the neck of his jumper and he itched like a bastard. That barber—no, no, no, don't think about the haircut, don't think about the haircut, Sherlock will know.

"How do you?"

"M'gran grew them. Won prizes. Highly competitive, those dahlia growers. Downright cut-throat."

Sherlock's head popped up hopefully. "Any unsolved—"

"No gardeners actually died, Sherlock, sorry."

"Hmpf." Sherlock turned his attention back to the Connie Prince memorial marathon.

Excellent, thought John. Now just keep him distracted long enough for me to drink my bloody tea and escape.

# # #

Interesting, Sherlock mused. John's trying to hide something. Futile, of course, but intriguing that he's trying.

The evening had suddenly become far less dull.

# # #

John lathered his hair a fourth time and told himself he was making sure all the trimmed bits were out, which might have been more convincing if any of his hair had been longer than two centimetres.

The haircut. Oh, Jesus.

It was sleep deprivation, that's all. He'd spent the last two nights in his chair in front of the telly—not his bed, God, no—until exhaustion had him nodding off for a few moments, only to jerk violently awake, slapping at the phantom draughts shifting his hair around, heart pounding, throat dry. All. Bloody. Night. For two nights.

Clearly his hair was too long, so he'd gone to the barber that afternoon.

People in severe sleep deprivation have involuntary microsleeps. He knows this; it's fact; combat medics see it all the time. The mind flickers off and on, trying to snatch sleep in dribs and drabs in order to keep functioning. And that's what had happened to him: he'd fallen into a microsleep in the barber's chair just as the man was wetting down his hair and woke as he was being toweled.

He'd been warm and relaxed, his mind a perfect blank, dove-gray haze behind his closed eyelids. Big hands had rolled his head gently from side to side, rocking his body in the nicely supportive chair. Then fingers had run through his hair, and he'd taken his first peaceful breath in two bloody days and exhaled an Mmmmmmmmmmm. A split second later he was wide awake, eyes as fixed and staring as a hare watching a lorry bear down, convinced Sherlock had heard him from six streets away.

The barber hadn't given any signs of noticing and John thought the sound of hairdryers had drowned him out. The rest of the cut had gone as usual, except that when the barber put away his clippers, he'd briskly slapped some unfamiliar product onto his palms and done...something...and at the end of it John's hair in the mirror was fashionably spiked.

My God, he'd thought, blinking in astonishment. I can look like this? I've never looked like this. I could go clubbing with hair like this. And they'd let me in.

"There y'are, sir. Looks right smart on you, that does. Should do it like that at home." And the barber had tried to sell him a tube of product that smelled subtly manly and cost fifteen pounds. John had declined but had been tempted, because women liked it when a bloke made an effort. It really had made his hair look...good. Great. Sexy, even.

Being English, he'd gone right home and washed it all out.

# # #

Meanwhile, Sherlock had deduced River was Rory's daughter and the killer in the spacesuit but as the programme still had the full series less one episode to run John probably wouldn't appreciate his mentioning it. There had been a sharp and emphatic discussion about how discloses critical plot points prematurely should have been mentioned along with plays violin and doesn't talk for days as the worst that potential flatmates should know about each other.

John was taking an unusually long shower. Masturbating again? No, washing his hair repeatedly. Possibly the product contained lacquer that had hardened and needed to be softened with a hydrophilic until it dissolved.

A shame to have had to make the dahlia comment, but John really could not be allowed to go out looking like that. He'd been very irresponsible lately, often leaving Sherlock alone and bored at the flat while he went to the pub or cinema or some tedious restaurant or, as had nearly happened just two days ago, home with whatever forgettable individual he happened to be with at the time (although that had not actually happened as opposed to potentially happened for some time now, a fact which might account for John's increased irritability and masturbatory frequency). And now John had a different and highly attractive hairstyle and had been on the verge of going home with a man for the first time. Granted, he'd thought he was going to kip on his friend's sofa, but he'd never done that before, and really, even someone as oblivious as John had to be aware on some level that the man had found him sexually appealing.

Not acceptable. John never answered texts during coitus and it was simply intolerable that he might miss a case because he was thus occupied. No. Sherlock needed John; the Work needed John. Otherwise there might be Anderson. Not acceptable at all.

# # #

John wandered into the sitting room, wearing his oldest, most shapeless jumper and carrying a plate of leftover takeaway, although he was going to wait a few moments until the memory of what had been in the first leftover takeaway box he'd opened faded before he tried eating. There would have to be another talk with Sherlock about labelling. The contents had been...vivid. And squirming.

As usual, Sherlock was sprawled over the entire sofa in his I Am Thinking Important Thoughts pose, which both blocked the best view of the telly and cunningly made him the focal point of attention in the room. John had long since developed his own way of dealing with this, which was to lift Sherlock's legs by whatever fabric they were encased in, sit, and redeposit the limbs across his lap without comment. He rested his plate across Sherlock's shins and settled in for the evening.

# # #

John had so far been irrationally resistant to Sherlock's suggestions that he dispense with the social niceties of courtship and simply hire a professional when he felt the need (which would accomplish the same goal but take up far less of John's time), insisting emotional connection was integral to his enjoyment. Sherlock had very nearly questioned how John's masturbation fit into this frame, but a certain tightness about John's jaw suggested his mind had already beaten Sherlock there and Sherlock's kidneys would become intimately acquainted with John's boot if those words were ever uttered.

Therefore some novel course of action was called for. Ideally one in which John could be persuaded to participate knowingly and voluntarily, although that wasn't strictly necessary.

# # #

John had not taken into account that however alert he felt after the shower, he was still desperately sleep deprived and entering his third day without a REM cycle.

# # #

So, the data thus far:

First, John was dissatisfied with his current arrangement of semi-casual relationships—

# # #

Everything was quiet and dark, the telly flickered soothingly, and his lap was warm.

# # #

Second, Sherlock was deeply dissatisfied with John's current arrangement of semi-casual relationships—

# # #

John's lids drifted shut.

# # #

Third, John had developed an as-yet-unconscious attraction to Sherlock—

# # #

"Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm."

# # #

The solution was, of course, obvious once the third data point was factored in. Sherlock examined the plan from several angles. Oh, it was perfect. It was efficient; it was elegant. Sherlock, the Work, and John. Yes. And John would like it. He would see how very clever the plan was and shake his head admiringly and say, "Brilliant!"

Sherlock begin laying the foundation in his mind's eye. He'd have got much further along before morning if he hadn't had to keep pausing to repeatedly delete the irrelevant, intrusive image of Mycroft's knowing smirk.

Later, he would blame a lot of what happened subsequently on that.

# # #

John woke the next morning to discover Sherlock had curled himself on the sofa like a greyhound and again wedged his knee into John's crotch. He had a moment of nostalgia for Afghanistan, when all he'd had to worry about were scorpions, the occasional lion, and being shot at. Things were simpler then.

He leaned his head back to stare at the ceiling and willed his morning erection away before Sherlock woke. An expedition into the cushions for the source of his lower back discomfort turned up the fork from last night's dinner. Further exploration located the plate under Sherlock's shoulder. The food appeared to have been eaten. That was good, because cleaning fish curry out of the sofa was not an experience John cared to have more than three times. Also, it explained why his stomach was growling.

Shit, he thought. We're out of milk. And bread. And bacon. I'll have to fetch something for breakfast.

Well, he certainly wasn't up to that before he'd had some tea. He'd pop down to Speedy's, come back for a shower, then go to the supermarket.

Sherlock, as always, lay comatose as John disentangled himself, and if John's hands slid over his bare ankles as he placed them back on the sofa, it was only because he was setting his legs down gently.

Rummaging in the pocket of his hanging jacket for his wallet, he found his hands slowing, then pulling the jacket to his face for a closer sniff.

Cigarette smoke.

The smell was much stronger on his jacket than it could possibly have been in his hair days ago, and his jacket had been much closer to Sherlock that night than John had been, up in his room. So why had Sherlock been—?

A slow grin spread across his face. So much for ambiguity.

Caught you out, you wanker, he thought cheerfully. I'm not as dim as you like to think.

So what will I do now that I've got one up on you for a change?

Chapter Text

Two days later

Well, John thought, I always said that as long as I knew he was coming on to me, I could deal with everything else. He sucked in a breath to—what? Protest? Beg? He honestly wasn't sure. Then Sherlock rolled his erection into John's groin, ran his palm up across a nipple, and groaned into John's mouth, and the last coherent thought John could remember at all was, Yeah, that's pretty clear.

# # #

-2

Sherlock sodding Holmes was a fucking coward, and the more John thought about it, the angrier he got.

At first, it had been hilarious. John had sniggered to himself in the queue for tea, ridiculously chuffed at being cleverer than Sherlock. He'd seen through Sherlock's smokescreen and was one up on the git, and there had to be a million ways to take advantage of that. But then it had sunk in.

Sherlock had known how John felt about him. Had probably—no, make that definitely (because this was Sherlock, after all)—known long before John had admitted it to himself. And he'd done nothing.

He'd seen how Sherlock turned down advances when he didn't return the interest. He didn't so much have a razor-sharp tongue as a machete in his mouth, but worse than the vicious, frigid words—God, poor Molly—was the utter contempt. Through all those months of agonizing and soul-searching, the biggest question John had kept coming back to wasn't am I gay? (though that was there, of course) but rather would I want to continue to live if I reached out and he carved me up like that?

And the answer had always been God, no.

But Sherlock didn't have that excuse. John's genius flatmate had deduced—John winced as he realised—within twenty-four hours what it had taken stupid John Watson months of confusing wet dreams to figure out: that he wasn't quite as straight as he'd believed himself to be, and worse, was tight in the pants for this mad, brilliant, unpredictable fucktard of a man.

All Sherlock had ever had to do was indicate somehow that yes, I suspect, John, that I may be interested in you as well. He'd have known the feeling was mutual and he'd be risking nothing. Instead, the man had been sneaking around getting his secret thrill while John twisted himself into knots wondering if that thing he sometimes thought he saw between them (the one everybody else seemed to see without any contortions at all) was real or all in his head.

The total bastard.

# # #

"—so physical intimacy really is the most sensible solution. We will of course refrain from intercourse during cases—I can't have that kind of distraction; it's nearly as bothersome as eating—although you may masturbate if you really can't help yourself, since it doesn't seem to diminish an inferior brain the same way and tends to make you less irritating. So, we are agreed? John? John? JOHN!"

"What, Sherlock?" called John from the stairwell. "Bloody hell, will you keep your voice down?"

"I asked you if we were agreed."

"I haven't been in the flat, Sherlock. I went to get tea."

He turned from the window at the annoyed tone and regarded the figure in the doorway. "Oh, you're angry."

"Bloody good observation, that."

He ran through the possibilities swiftly. "If I hadn't eaten the curry, it would have gone off anyway and you still wouldn't have had any," he said defensively. "You were asleep and not eating it and I didn't want to get up. It was a bit dodgy as it was."

"And you still ate—never mind. This isn't about the curry. No—" John held up a silencing hand. "—I don't want to hear it. I'm going for a shower."

As John strode away and slammed the bathroom door, Sherlock stood bewilderedly looking after him.

In the relative silence that followed, a very small, very young voice in the back of his mind whispered, He was supposed to think I was brilliant.

# # #

John scrubbed vigorously—Jesus Christ, how was there curry in his bloody hair?—and growled a steady monologue of all the curses he knew. When he eventually ran out, he started combining them creatively and personalising every single one of them for Sherlock.

Bracing his hands against the wall of the shower, he let the water run over his head until his breathing slowed. It was possible he was...overreacting a bit, because after all, this was good news on the whole. Sherlock might be an absolute cowardly knob-end, but now John knew his interest was returned. And he reminded himself he always did get irritable when his blood sugar was low, so probably he shouldn't make any important decisions before he'd had breakfast.

He could start planning his revenge, though, since stroppiness would be the proper state of mind for that. For truly poetic justice there should be symmetry, so...lots of confusion for Sherlock. John had no illusions about his ability to take on the man in terms of intelligence but in terms of deviousness he'd give himself even odds or better.

Any plan he could come up with, Sherlock would see through in minutes, so—yes!—he needed a meta-plan. That was good. What if...there was no pattern for Sherlock to deduce? What if John just did random odd things, things he wouldn't normally do, and let Sherlock try to string them together?

That could work.

# # #

Of course Mycroft would choose to return this morning when Sherlock had much more entertaining things to do, such as continue his conversation with an interestingly angry John. And he would keep prattling on and on about national security and duty and dull dull dull umbrella thump dull dull rising furious voice dull.

Whereas John was not dull. And if Mycroft would just bugger off, Sherlock could secure John's agreement to his enormously clever plan and they could start testing the hypothesis right away. He bared his teeth at Mycroft and hissed in annoyance, which led to more pointed umbrella thumping.

# # #

John was towelling off and realising he hadn't detoured for his dressing gown before showering when he heard voices in the front room. Well, one voice and a lot of thumping. He cocked his head at the seam of the door to listen more closely.


Oh, bloody hell. Mycroft was here. He hadn't had any breakfast and his choices for getting to his room were a towel or his ratty, slept-in clothes, and Mycroft and Sherlock were having a row in his flat. Excellent. Fucking splendid. Just what he needed.

On second thought, it was.

# # #

Mycroft stabbed his umbrella spike into the pavement outside that squalid little flat and reminded himself his dentist had warned him not to grind his upper molar lest it crack. Damnable, irresponsible child, too self-absorbed to care what he could do for his country if he would only—

"Er, Mycroft?"

His eyes raked over his brother's flatmate. Had Sherlock sent him as a messenger? Alas, no. John was here on business of his own. Recent sleep deprivation, unshaven, hair still wet from showering and dear God in heaven what was that garment he was wearing? Any charity shop in the sceptred isle would have consigned that jumper to the rag bin without a second thought. He briefly closed his eyes, steeled himself, opened them again, and smiled pleasantly. "Dr Watson. What may I do for you?"

"I wondered if I might ask a favour." At Mycroft's inquiring look, he continued, "I wondered if you could recommend a shop where I could get a good suit. Something in my price range." He was gratified to note the man was not naif enough to think he did not know what his price range was to the penny.

Intriguing. Why would John Watson be in need of a good suit? Besides the obvious fact that his current clothing was beyond deplorable, he was rarely in circumstances that required one. Mycroft observed more closely. Oh. Oh.

Oh, this was just...delicious. He allowed himself an expression of pure, unholy glee and saw the former soldier instinctively recoil. Easy, Mycroft. Don't frighten him off.

"Certainly, Dr Watson. I know just the place. Excellent quality, surprisingly affordable." Since Mycroft would end up subsidising the lion's share of it, it certainly would be. In fact, any of this particular tailor's other patrons would be very surprised indeed if they ever discovered the pittance John Watson would actually be paying himself. "And might I inquire if you will be needing the services of a jeweller as well?"

"What? Er, no. Just a suit." The comment had obviously gone straight over his head, and Mycroft sighed; he feared a query about a happy announcement in the near future would tip his hand too far.

"Anthea will ring you with the address. Is an appointment this morning acceptable? Very good. In return, I wonder if you would be inclined to do a small favour for me? There's an event tomorrow evening, a gathering of new-media users like yourself, John. I understand your blog has a small but devoted following. I would be interested in knowing what you think of the presenters. Your new suit would be acceptable attire."

"I see," the doctor said cautiously. "And will Sherlock be going?"

"He certainly will," Mycroft said with absolute truthfulness.

# # #

"You're doing what?" Sherlock snatched up the nearest phone—his own, as it happened—and began tapping furiously.

You would hurl a seal pup into a tank of sharks. SH

John shrugged. "It sounded interesting."

"It won't be interesting; it will be stultifying. You haven't said, by the way."

If necessary, yes. M

"Said what? Speak up, I've got the tap running."

"Whether you agree to our arrangement."

"I can't hear you!"

"Our arrangement! Yes?"

"Yes, fine, whatever, damn it, I've got water all over the floor and I can't hear you."

Good. That was settled, then.

An orca might be able to protect him. M

Sherlock had devised sixteen ways to flense the epithelial layer from Mycroft's tongue before he noticed John had left the flat again. Shortly afterwards Lestrade phoned with a mysterious decapitation that kept him at Bart's until the small hours of the next morning. When he got home again, the flat smelt of bacon sandwiches and there was one wrapped in cling-film on the coffee table. It had gone soggy but he ate it anyway, pressing the collar of John's jacket to his nose and wondering if John would be unreasonably angry at being woken up by the violin.

# # #

-1

"Where," said Sherlock slowly, "did you get that suit?"

"Is it a decent one? Relatively speaking, I mean. It's not like I can afford your tailor, so keep that in mind when you answer."

Exercising heroic self-restraint, Sherlock forbore to reply the maker of said suit was his tailor. Mycroft, you bastard.

Wait. Why had John asked Mycroft about a suit? In fact, why had John asked Mycroft anything? Mycroft had taken advantage of the request to use John to bring Sherlock to heel (and oh, he would pay for that), but why had John approached him at all? John could be distressingly slow at times, but his natural self-preservation should have kept him away from that piranha. This required thought.

By the time he admitted he needed more data, John had left the flat again. Sherlock frowned. Why was he still doing that? They had an agreement.

# # #

John's world had been a very different place ever since the tailor Mycroft had recommended had discreetly murmured that Sir would perhaps find pants ruined the line of his trousers and that this had been taken into account in the structural details. John's mental faculties had immediately short-circuited whilst trying to remember if he had ever, ever, ever noticed VPL on Sherlock's arse. Oh, God, was he seventeen?

When the suit had been delivered (along with a shirt, tie, and pair of shoes John didn't remember buying), Sherlock had grudgingly admitted it was a nice suit, glared at the tie as if it had insulted his mother, and flung himself onto the sofa, knees up, to curl his lip at the ceiling. John's eyes had naturally gone straight to that arse, and that's when he decided he was going to the barber's to buy hair product.

Now he was at Mycroft's event, and the building was filled with beautifully dressed people of which he was, for once, one. And he had very nice hair which did not look like a demented sea urchin, fuck you very much, Sherlock. The technical presentations were over his head, so he watched the crowd dynamics to amuse himself.

Something was odd.

There was a woman. Nothing at all stood out about her. Average looks, average dress, average manner. She would drift into a group of people, there would be conversation for a bit, then the group would disperse and each member would go separately to a different cluster of people. Later the pattern would repeat. Four times, now five. The group she approached had a different combination of people each time, but it was always the same set of people moving from cluster to cluster, and the pattern always started with her.

# # #

So far, Sherlock had managed to keep John from being chatted up by several entirely inappropriate individuals and prevented his coming to the attention of three minions of Mycroft-equivalents in hostile governments. The evening was not as boring as he'd predicted after all. But Mycroft could bugger off if he thought Sherlock would search for that damned codecracker just because he was here. He wasn't Mycroft's trained monkey and John had done that hair thing and seemed to have forgotten all about their agreement so Sherlock was busy with other matters and Mycroft could go—

"Sherlock." John appeared at his side. "Who is that woman? Brown hair, green dress. Do you know?"

He glanced at her, snorted, and skimmed his eyes away. Stopped. Thought. Noticed how he kept wanting to look away from her, to direct his attention elsewhere. Oh, she was very good.

"My clever John," he breathed, put on a charming smile, and went to introduce himself.

# # #

Midnight

John's blood was singing, wild and mad and alive. The alley smelt of piss and fermenting rubbish, rain drummed on his face (he deliberately did not think about what it was probably doing to his lovely suit), and he slumped against a wall and heaved with breathless laughter. Right there, on his left side, close enough to feel the warmth shimmering off his lanky body, Sherlock tilted his head up against the brick, feral eyes glinting, dark curls plastered to his forehead by rain and sweat. John raised questioning eyebrows, and by way of an answer Sherlock opened his hand to display a small electronic prototype bagged in—yes, that was one of John's socks.

"We got it," he gasped, grinning foolishly with adrenaline and oxygen deprivation.

"Yes." The packet disappeared somewhere into Sherlock's clothes. Sherlock looked at him, and they both wheezed out a fresh bout of laughter, drunk on danger and thrill and triumph.

Finally John straightened to put his back against the wall, pressing a hand to the stitch in his side, breath slowing.

"John." Sherlock had turned to put a shoulder on the brick and was looking at him with peculiar intensity. "The case is over now."

"Yes," he said, "all right," since that seemed to be important.

Sherlock continued to stare, waiting for something. "The case," he repeated, with more emphasis, "is over."

"Okay."

"Oh, for God's sake," Sherlock said impatiently, grabbed John's head and pulled him into a kiss.

John tasted rain and cardamon and a hint of tobacco—oh, naughty Sherlock. And there was no mistaking the nature of the kiss, since tongue was almost immediately involved and Sherlock fisted his hand in John's hair and pulled him closer.

Once, long ago, a rugby ball had hit John's solar plexus very, very hard. For some reason, he remembered that now.

John wasn't ever clear afterwards just what had been done by whom, but when he came to his senses some moments later, his shirt was untucked, Sherlock's hand was underneath it and roaming freely over his nipples, there was a purpling love bite below Sherlock's ear, both pairs of trousers were tented (definitely ruining the line), his hands were on Sherlock's arse (not wearing pants), and he thought he might have a concussion from inadvertently smacking his head against the wall. No question about it: that was definitely a come-on.

Sherlock bit his earlobe and he made a garbled noise that certainly was not "stop." God, it was glorious. Now his tongue was doing something below his jaw and—

"Sherlock."

—hips were pushing him into the bricks and his body was so warm and—

"Sherlock."

—the man's fingers were sinful but they really had to stop because—

"Sherlock."

"What?" he snarled, immediately returning his mouth to—how had John's shirt become unbuttoned?

John focused with an effort and jerked his chin to the camera on the corner of the building. "I think your brother's watching."

Chapter Text

It took only a few moments for a black car to stop at the wide end of the alley. By then all garments had been tucked, buttoned, straightened, or—in the case of John's tie—located in a pile of unidentifiable alleyway horror and left to dissolve. The lines of their trousers had returned with remarkable swiftness, for which they had Mycroft to thank.

Someone who was not Anthea stepped out, opened the door and waited.

"Mycroft wants his toy right away, it seems." Sherlock petulantly kicked a chunk of rubble to send it skittering down the street. The bodyguard, John was relieved to notice, did not overreact to the projectile or Sherlock's sudden and violent movement, but his weight shifted. Sherlock scanned the walls surrounding them. "Would serve him right if I—"

"We're not scaling any buildings, Sherlock. Why don't you stop making the nice SAS man over there wonder if he needs to draw his gun and go give the...code thing to Mycroft."

"Oh, all right. We can talk in the car."

John swallowed hard and shot him a look that said plainly, I will be kidnapped and tortured by Chinese assassins in your place, I will wear a Semtex vest and offer to get myself blown up to save you, I will even risk dying by highly unnatural causes from the probably radioactive orange things growing in the container by the microwave, but do not ask me to face your brother right after he has seen me groping your arse.

Sherlock sighed. "I'll see you at the flat."

# # #

"Here." Sherlock dumped the technological marvel three continents would go to war to possess onto Mycroft's desk from the open end of a markedly threadbare sock, which he then tossed onto the floor. Most people, Mycroft reflected, ended up with mateless socks in their drawers, but John Watson had the distinction of being the only person in the northern hemisphere who knew exactly how his were regularly widowed. "By the way, your operatives really are useless if John spotted her before they did." Despite the words, the tone was proud. "I assume they were able to locate her associates once the rocket launcher was fired, at least?"

Mycroft made a vague hand gesture that may have been yes or that's not my department or I have had their heads placed on spikes in the Tower pour encourager les autres.

Sherlock... fidgeted. His fingers swept restlessly over the few items on Mycroft's desk (Mycroft pocketed the device) and Mycroft knew that whatever his outward body was doing, internally his brother was pacing wildly. Finally he gave that arrogant jerk to his chin that meant he was extremely nervous and pinned Mycroft's gaze with his own. "You owe John a new suit." Mycroft carefully did not retort that he'd bought the man the first one. "His was spoilt in the rain during your ridiculous errand."

They both knew rain did not ruin a well made suit. That wasn't what was happening here.

Mycroft almost pushed it. He almost said John's trousers would have been truly ruined only if they'd been dropped on the street of that revolting alleyway as they'd been well on their way to being. He almost said it, because he had to know. It was critical he discover how vulnerable his brother was about this, how deeply a blow to that spot could strike. He almost did.

But he didn't. He didn't because Sherlock had gained nearly four pounds and had lost the frightening grey undertone to his skin and the ketones on his breath. He slept, sometimes—still not nearly enough, but he did sometimes sleep instead of falling into an exhausted stupor, and Mycroft knew with absolute certainty that there were no needle marks on him even in the hidden places. He would keep his mouth shut and buy John Watson a new suit every damned day of his life for the nightmares he was no longer having about getting The Call, the one that stopped his heart: not the one that said, "A pinpoint nuclear bomb has been detonated at Whitehall" but the one that said, "Sir, we need you to identify a bo—"

So instead he said mildly, "Ashton has his measurements."

Sherlock snorted inelegantly. "Ashton. I suppose that amused you."

"It did, actually."

A haughty sniff, and his brother turned away to leave. He stopped with his hand on the doorknob. Examining the brass minutely, he said, "He doesn't...like suits. He likes jumpers."

Mycroft blinked and was very glad Sherlock could not see his expression.

As if it physically pained him to say the words, Sherlock choked out, "Cabled ones." They both winced.

"Oh, Sherlock. Instead of Ashton?"

Now Sherlock did turn around, and he dragged his eyes across the floor, up the line of the desk, to Mycroft's face. "Sometimes he wears cardigans."

It was a plea. Watch over him, but don't make him one of yours. Don't take him from me. Promise.

Mycroft wanted to give it to him. It would, he knew, cement a place for him in his brother's heart that he'd been denied since the boy had become a tormented young man, and for a mad instant he entertained the fantasy he could do this: give his baby brother the very best, shiniest present, the one that would make his face light up and his hands clap.

But while Mycroft Holmes could personally wrap the entire British government around John Watson to protect him, he could not promise he would not someday require the man to be sacrificed for the greater good, could not promise he would never use John to force Sherlock's hand, and if that day came he would do what he must without hesitation and without remorse. And he would not lie to his brother. At least he would not do that.

So, with their eyes locked, he shook his head fractionally and felt the fragile, newborn rapport between them flare and die. Face tight, Sherlock shoved open the door and kicked it shut behind him. Footsteps pounded down the corridor, and all the oxygen in the room drained away.

Talk to John, he wanted to say. He understands duty. Maybe he can get through to you when I can't.

He sat for several minutes, breathing steadily through his nose and gripping the edge of his desk. Eventually he called for Anthea.

# # #

Despite his best efforts to stay awake, John was dozing in his chair when Sherlock returned. The boom of the door crashing into the wall as it was flung open sent him rolling to the floor, arms protecting his head from shrapnel as he tried to remember who was on duty—

"John, it's all right. John. John, I'm sorry. It's all right."

He gulped deep breaths and smelt wet wool, spilled tea, a ghost of fish curry. It was the lingering aroma of bacon that brought him fully back to England and Baker Street, and he puffed out his cheeks, blew a couple of times and gingerly sat up. "Jesus." His shoulder was going to hurt like a bastard once the adrenaline wore off. "What was that about?"

"Mycroft," Sherlock spat, and stood up to pace, wheeling every three strides, back and forth, back and forth.

John remembered his pacing this way at the pool, scratching his head with a loaded pistol, for Christ's sake, and kept his voice light. "What'd he do this time?" Sherlock snarled and kicked the sofa. John flinched. "Can you please stop doing that?" Sherlock stopped snarling and growled instead. "Kicking things, I meant, or throwing. Making noise. You'll wake Mrs Hudson." John couldn't imagine she wasn't already up, but it seemed to steady Sherlock, who abruptly knelt beside him.

"Are you hurt?"

"I'm fine."

"Don't lie to me, John, it's tedious and you're not any good at it. Shoulder?" Sherlock started tugging at the buttons on his shirt, looking grim, and John, honestly amused, said, "You were a lot smoother at this earlier." That surprised a bark of laughter out of Sherlock, and his fingers slowed.

When John's shirt was unfastened, Sherlock paused and then tentatively ran a forefinger down the line of exposed flesh. John sucked in his breath and shivered, watching it move. Pale hands slipped beneath the sides of his open shirt, gliding over his ribs, running up the long muscles of his back. One ghosted over his shoulder, and he said, "Just a little tender. It's fine." Sherlock grunted disbelievingly but dropped the subject. "Weren't we going to talk about this?"

"Not now."

It ought to have felt a lot stranger than it did. After all that time, all the wondering and worrying, it shouldn't have felt so easy. Maybe it was because he'd learned in Afghanistan to take what each day offered that he was able to simply let go and move his hands to Sherlock's own buttons.

"Get these off." Sherlock unfastened John's cufflinks and dropped them into the chair. "What? We'll remember where they are."

"When someone sits on them, we will." Sherlock's fingers were at his fly now, and John shuddered when knuckles brushed the line of hair below his navel.

"Off." Sherlock pulled at the cloth roughly and John was naked on the floor of the front room except for the socks he hastily shoved off with his toes. Sherlock swept up his new shirt, trousers, and the jacket hanging over the back of the chair, opened the window sash and flung the clothes into the bins below.

"What the hell?"

"I'll buy you new ones. You—I won't let you wear his livery. You're not his man to order."

John was inclined to say more along the lines of what the fuck are you talking about and go get those back, they make my arse look like it did when I was twenty, but then Sherlock returned, dropped to his knees, put a hand in the centre of John's chest, and pushed him flat. "Well, take yours off too, then," he said instead.

Sherlock had all the nudity-shyness of a cat, with that same lack of self-consciousness and simple acceptance that his body was what it was. Easy to not be shy when you're young and beautiful, John thought ruefully. Sherlock's vee of curls was startlingly dark against the blue-white of his abdomen, and the flush of colour on the head of his cock broke the lines of light and shadow. I don't know what to do with that, he thought for a ridiculous, panicked moment before metaphorically smacking himself on the head. Of course you do; you have one, you idiot.

Sherlock was watching his face closely. "You said yes," he stated, not quite questioning but not quite certain, either.

"I'm not saying no. I just...needed a moment. This is all a bit new. I'm fine, it's fine."

Sherlock's mouth twitched. "Bravery."

"Just had to stop thinking with the wrong head."

It wasn't much different after all. John had never been too proud to ask his lovers tell me what you want, show me what you like, and Sherlock of course didn't need to ask because he observed. Hands and tongues and lips and teeth—Sherlock was a biter and John didn't mind that at all. At one point when they were lying side by side, John took the opportunity to straddle Sherlock's thigh and grind himself down, which turned out to be every bit as good as he'd imagined days ago.

It was all going very fast—Sherlock liked to get right on with things and go straight to the point—and soon he was panting, hips straining upwards until Sherlock took pity on him and closed a hand around his shaft. Maybe not mercy at all, John corrected himself, letting out a strangled cry as that mouth closed over his head and the hand began stroking. Maybe it was just a new way of inducing a heart attack.

"Wait, wait, wait," he said urgently, screwing up his face and trying to think. This was important. He pulled Sherlock's impatient mouth off him and said, "All my tests were neg—"

"I know. So were mine. I know you think I'm irresponsible but you must know I would never—"

"Of cou—" Thank God Sherlock wasn't inclined to hold a grudge; wet heat closed around his cock again and John's eyes rolled back. Sherlock flicked his tongue and began sucking in long, hard pulls, and a truly embarrassingly short time later, John inhaled sharply and got as far as "I'm—" before he was jerking helplessly and shouting.

When he could speak again, he rolled his head to look at an unbearably smug Sherlock. "That...was amazing."

Sherlock huffed a small laugh and with an impish grin (grin! From Sherlock!) replied, "That's not what people usually say," which made John laugh so hard he cracked his head against the leg of the coffee table.

Sherlock propped himself up on one arm and trailed his fingers through John's hair. Waiting, John realised. He took a steadying breath and told himself he could not in good conscience refuse to do something his lover had just done for him and which he had on several memorable occasions literally begged other lovers to do. He let his fingers curl around Sherlock, ran his thumb in circles over the slick head. The body under him arched, and he looked up to see silver eyes locked on his own face. Slowly he lowered his head and ran his tongue over the path his thumb had taken.

The response was everything he'd hoped for, although he pulled a muscle in his neck avoiding a broken nose when Sherlock's hips bucked a bit too enthusiastically. He sent a silent apology and heartfelt thanks to every woman who'd ever gone down on him. Moments later he realised it wasn't all one-sided pleasure as Sherlock's hands held his head and traced circles in his hair while he made small, shallow thrusts into John's mouth and much to his surprise John's spent cock twitched.

Sherlock's breathing became ragged and his thrusts came deeper and faster until John had to wrap his hand around the base to hold back a little and keep himself from choking. Suddenly Sherlock lifted his shoulders off the floor and leaned forward to clench his hands in John's hair. "Mine," he growled, eyes fierce and glittering, "mine," and spilled himself into John's mouth.

There had to be a trick to not choking on it, John thought sleepily a little while later, still lying on the floor. There were bound to be websites. He'd look it up in the mor—

# # #

When he woke, he was alone. There was a blanket over him and the Union Jack pillow under his head, but when he called blearily, "Sherlock?" there was no answer. He slept again.

# # #

When he finally woke up properly in the late morning, the shower was running and a new woollen jumper sat on his chair. Propped on it, easily visible, was a note:

This is from me. If Mycroft sends you anything, burn it. SH

John shook his head at that, scratched and yawned, looked down at the darkened love bites scattered over his chest, winced at his sore shoulder, winced again at his sore neck, and decided that under the circumstances he could go into the bathroom to piss while his flatmate was showering as long as he remembered not to flush without warning.

# # #

"I'm adding a coda to the agreement. Do not go to Mycroft for anything, do not exchange favours with him, do not take gifts from him, do not do anything he tells you to—"

"Why?" John sounded amused. He was sipping his tea and taking this far too lightly. "And what agreem—?"

"Because he's an arsehole."

"Right. I'm still not quite clear on what I agreed to. Or when. Or—"

"You said yes. The case was over and you'd been very clever. It was stimulating so we had sex."

John paused. "Is this a change of subject?" he ventured. "Between 'Mycroft' and 'sex'? Because I really don't know if I can handle it if the answer to that is no." He paused again. "So my being clever is why you—"

"Positive reinforcement."

Another pause. "Let me guess. This agreement, it's convoluted and offensive and involves you getting to order me around."

"You get to have sex with me. It's a fair trade."

"If you'd put on some clothes I might be able to argue with that."

"Why would I want that?"

John tipped his head, conceding the point. "Um. So what happened, that was," he said carefully, looking into his tea, "a...transaction?"

Damn. It was never possible to get all the parts right, to think of all the variables, and everything he read from John indicated an affirmative answer would be Really Very Not Good.

"We met each other's needs. You've done as much with people you hardly knew and you didn't find that distasteful. Why should this be?"

John swirled the dregs in his mug. "Don't you like it better with someone you care about?"

"I haven't got a basis for comparison."

"Y—" John turned an unappealing shade of puce and wheezed alarmingly. "You hadn't—you—there is no way you were a—" He swallowed. "Were you?"

# # #

Oh, Christ. Please, God, not that, because last night had been far from John's best performance and how rubbish would that be for anyone's first time?

"Don't be ridiculous."

John started to breathe again.

"Of course I was. Why would I ever have bothered with it before?"

It is not actually possible to choke to death on your own tongue, John reminded himself. It just seems that way. Wait it out.

I was his first. Sherlock's first. The man waited thirty-odd years and then gave himself to me.

It surely meant something terrible about him as a human being that his primary emotion was not tenderness or concern or protectiveness, but swelling pride. And lust. Definitely lust. Some fear, yes, because Mycroft was going to have him disemboweled (slowly, by experts) for defiling his little brother, but he'd die a happy man if he could just bend Sherlock over the kitchen table and be all his firsts before that happened

John remembered his firsts, and the one standing to attention in his memories was when they'd been learning to find the prostate and his doctor-in-training girlfriend had lubed up that evening and—

He wanted to hear the sounds he'd made coming from Sherlock's throat.

There was something else, too, something significant, although God knew that was hard enough to figure out around Sherlock at the best of times and even harder when all your blood was racing to your cock. He wasn't a genius like Sherlock, but he knew more than a little about sex—he had experience, by God. Yes, people did and said things in the heat of the moment that might or might not be true; yes, Sherlock insisted the body was transport and sex nothing but physical release; but John was damned sure that coming so hard you nearly blacked out while fucking your very first lover's mouth and growling "mine" did not exactly equal emotional detachment.

He must have been quiet too long or maybe missed a question, because Sherlock was looking at him oddly.

Sometimes, he thought, you just have to jump in with both feet. So—"Do you trust me?"

Sherlock frowned. "Have I given you any reason to doubt it?"

"I'd like to...try an experiment. Come upstairs."

"Your bedroom?"

"There's lube in my nightstand."

Sherlock took the stairs two at a time.

# # #

"Do you trust me?"

"You keep asking me that. Is there a reason I shouldn't?"

John snorted good-naturedly and pushed at his chest until his head rested on the pillow. "Let me do this."

It was different this time. John was slow, so, so slow. He kissed not with the urgent drawing and thrusting of the night before, but with soft presses and pulls. Sherlock shuddered and tried to grasp his neck to bring him down, but John just smiled, shook his head, and continued the slow, soft touches. It wasn't enough.

When John's hands finally moved to Sherlock's nipples, he exhaled sharply in relief and half-rose off the bed to tear at John's clothing, but again John shook his head and pressed him back to the mattress. He trailed light, teasing fingers across his bare abdomen, sternum, ribs, running fire down Sherlock's spine and making his shoulders jerk involuntarily. "Shh, shh. Push into what feels good," John murmured in his ear, the warm breath bringing another rush of blood to his groin.

He was drowning in sensuality. Regardless of how he bucked or writhed, John would not quicken the pace, would not press any harder, would not concentrate his attentions on Sherlock's erection. Warm hands and lips and tongue roamed everywhere, the arousal maddeningly diffuse, filling his entire body instead of focusing on the one organ he needed to climax. It wasn't enough, it wasn't nearly enough for orgasm, and it went on and on and on without end until Sherlock was so lost in a haze of desperation and pleasure he might have wept. "Shh, shh. Just let me. Just let me," John said, his mouth on a flushed nipple, and Sherlock's back arched helplessly as his hands clawed at the sheets.

Then John's hands were pressing his thighs apart, and Sherlock could only draw great, heaving breaths and cock his hips in anticipation, but again John merely ghosted fingertips and lips over Sherlock's phallus. It wasn't enough, and it was all too much, too much sensation, too much alien emotion rising in him; Sherlock closed his eyes and fought it down.

Instantly John's hand was brushing sweat-matted curls off his forehead, slipping down to stroke his cheek. "Look at me. Come on, look at me," he whispered, and Sherlock could deny this man nothing, no matter the cost. John smiled approvingly as Sherlock met his eyes, rewarded him with a deep kiss and the slow press of a slick finger into his body, and swallowed the sudden cry of hunger with his warm mouth.

More slickness, more fingers in him, John—who was so very clever, how had he never seen just how brilliant the man was?—stroking that secret bundle of nerves that had him writhing. A blur of heat and pressure and pleasure, and John was over him, in him, moving too slowly, too gently, and instead of the rising urgency of orgasm he could only feel an expansion in his chest that threatened to drown him in emotion. "Jo—" He couldn't speak; tried again. "John. I need—I can't—"

"It's all right. Shh, shh. It's supposed to feel like this. Keep your eyes on me. Keep looking at me." Soothing hands ran over his ribs and back to his shaft as John kept his slow rhythm, kept claiming the body beneath him with long stokes, kept refusing to let Sherlock look away.

And finally, finally John must have gotten what he wanted because his thrusts and strokes became harder and faster, and that was very fine and almost enough. Sherlock distantly heard his own ragged cries, heard John's sharp intake of breath just before his rhythm became erratic and seeking, and suddenly that was enough at last. John's eyes never left his as he felt his body sublimate into white fire and his mind—his tumultuous, frantic, endlessly observing-processing-synthesizing mind—stilled for the first time he could ever remember.

It was terrifying.

But it was something new.

Chapter Text

Any potentially awkward question about who would sleep where later that night were answered when Sherlock collapsed shortly after orgasm, sprawling over John's mattress and burrowing into the pillows. Whatever he'd been doing the night before, it clearly hadn't included sleeping.

Though there wasn't any reason for awkwardness, John thought, running his hand lightly over shoulders that were far too thin. The two of them had slept together before, back when things were still—well, you couldn't call it platonic and unconsummated just sounded weird. Leave it at before.

How lonely did a man have to be to crawl into his flatmate's bed for a scrap of comfort and human touch? It made his chest hurt to think about it, and all his anger at the deception and his need for revenge drained away. It was a stupid plan—meta-plan—anyway. That had been an awfully nice suit, though, and he was still pissed off at Sherlock for throwing it out the window. It wasn't like he had another couple of hundred pounds to just toss around like that. John sighed. To Sherlock, money was something that happened to other people.

He lay there for what must have been hours, tracing lines of light and shadow over the body next to him, pressing soft kisses to warm skin, memorizing every dip and bony prominence while Sherlock slept like the dead, as always. When he couldn't keep his own eyes open any longer, he tucked his nose against Sherlock's bare neck and simply breathed him in until everything slowed and stopped.

# # #

Eventually he had to get up, because his back and shoulder were killing him. All the signs indicated Sherlock would sleep for hours yet, so John could get to the supermarket and back well before he woke and have dinner waiting. He felt uncomfortable leaving Sherlock alone, though, in case he sensed it and didn't sleep as well, or worse, woke to an empty bed and empty flat after the first time anyone had ever made—John's thoughts shied from the word, but it was true and he was not a coward so he made himself think it—made love to him.

Sherlock would probably have something cutting to say about that flight of sentiment, but Sherlock made fun of him for many things and John wasn't much inclined to change important parts of himself just because of that. A decent bloke didn't lay open someone's body and heart and soul that way and then leave, even if that someone said a body was transport and he didn't have a heart and nobody had a soul. You just didn't do that, didn't knock down someone's walls and then leave him vulnerable and alone. The two of them could just order takeaway again, it wouldn't matter for another night.

Except that when John checked, the bottle of lube had only a few drops left in it, not nearly enough for another go. Maybe he was flattering himself that Sherlock would want another round before the next trip to the shop, but John had stitched up rectal tears before and thought that for the patient, the pain had to be almost as bad as knowing what the conversation was like among the staff at the hospital. Nor did he trust himself to stick with oral if Sherlock wanted to shag and got persuasive—okay, so, a lube run it was, but just a fast one.

He left a message on Sherlock's mobile as well as notes in the kitchen, bathroom, both bedrooms, and on the sofa, and took a taxi to and from the shop, expense be damned.

Sherlock was still asleep when he returned, for which John was unspeakably thankful because that meant there was a chance he'd never find out what the married ones John had run into at the shop'd had to say about John's apparent...talent, going by the screams coming from 221B the night before. He'd thought his blazing ears might actually set his hair alight when Liam had calmly reached into his basket and pulled out one of the three bottles of lube John had placed in there. "Not this one, love," he'd said in a brotherly fashion. "You need extra-thick if you're going to go at it like that." He'd tossed in a different brand with a slap on the shoulder that made John pray for the earth to swallow him.

It wasn't the ribbing that bothered him, he thought as he stashed a bottle in each bedroom and, after a moment's thought, one in the front room as well. He'd taken much worse from his mates in the Army. It was the gnawing worry that a possessive Sherlock might get creative with the married ones to scare them off.

Sherlock was still sleeping when John had made dinner and washed up, so he left a wrapped plate on the nightstand and slipped into bed next to the long, sleek form that was now as necessary to his happiness as breath.

# # #

He pawed off the pair of jeans that had just hit him on the ear and sat up flailing. "Huh?"

"A case, John, do keep up. I'll get the cab." Sherlock bounded off down the stair.

John stared at his morning erection, which stared resentfully back at him.

# # #

It was one of those days that just pissed down. Greg's feet were wet and cold, there'd only been decaf coffee at the station, and he and the wife were going through another bad spell so he was inclined to write the day off as utterly shit anyway, but then they'd been blessed with the kind of case that needed Sherlock's attention because God hated DI Lestrade personally.

And something really weird was going on, beyond even the usual levels of Sherlock-weird. There was always an undercurrent of...something...between those flatmates, but now the air between them was vibrating . Greg had to keep fighting the urge to slink out of the room and lock the door behind him.

"—so of course it couldn't be the nephew because he's a Jain, but then who would have put the finches in—"

"Sherlock, if he's—"

"—the bedroom? Who, who, who? It all hinges on that and none of you lot can even see—"

"—a Jain, where are the lanterns?"

"—why it ma—. Say that again."

"Where are the lanterns? It's Dewali, there are lights all over the East End, it's gorgeous out there, like Christmas, but there aren't any in the house."

Sherlock turned and fastened his eyes on the blond man's. "Lanterns. Lanterns. The LANTERNS! You notice! You observe, John! It's the neighbour with the dent in the car boot." His face lit with a terrifyingly feral smile—baring of teeth, really. You couldn't call something that dangerous a smile.

Greg had absolutely no idea what was going on there, but the temperature in the room rose about twenty degrees and John's ears flushed pink. He resisted the urge to loosen his collar, mainly because any action that led eventually toward having fewer clothes on was disturbing. He really wouldn't have minded having an encounter suit on hand just then, as a matter of fact.

# # #

Sherlock flung some bills at the cabbie and dragged John up over the kerb to the door.

"Lanterns." Slap the latch to disengage, kick open the door, thrust John over the threshold. "My clever John." Against the hallway wall, hands on John's hips—yes, he liked that—moving up under the jumper, where his body was so very warm. "That," he breathed into the mouth fallen open beneath his, "was a very good observation." Not genius level, no, not even close, and not a deduction, but loads better than any of the Yard and quite a lot better than John's usual. Positive reinforcement was called for.

"Sher lock, what have I told you about kicking the—oh, dear me, sorry to interrupt. It's just there's a package that came for John a bit ago. Dropped off by a nice young lady it was, too, although I must say I don't understand how young people go around these days with their noses stuck in their mobiles like that—"

"Mrs Hudson—John, no, don't take that—" He reached for the box just as John said, "Oh, it's from Mycroft" and pulled off the lid.

# # #

John glanced into the box and promptly forgot how to breathe.

By virtue of acquaintance with some former military mates who were now mercen—er, private peacekeeping forces, John had access to some very, very private websites. On those websites, there was every so often a photo of one of these, with its proud owner showing off injuries sustained while acquiring or retaining possession of said item. With something very like reverence, he lifted it out of the cardboard and gently shook it open. Strangely, when he did so, a pair of socks fell out onto the floor, but he ignored them in favour of the prize in his hands.

"Ooooh," said John.

"Oh, look at that! Well, that's very smart, now isn't it, Sherlock?"

"It's...it's a Svalinn 7004X." John pulled the jacket to his face and inhaled the scent of suede shoulder patches and gun oil. He may have rubbed his cheek against it a little, too, in a very manly way. "It's still in beta. You can't buy them. Nobody knows how they choose who gets them...but I guess if anyone would know how to get one..."

"Send it back. You're not taking anything from Mycroft, I told you that, it's in the agreement." Sherlock reached for the hem but John snatched the jacket close and cradled it like a sleek black impact-dispersing infant. Turning his back to Sherlock, he held it up again by the shoulders and just gazed at it. The thing was designed to trigger every masculine pleasure receptor in the human body. It made John want to retire to a closet with it and—

"Oh, yes, very nice, very James Bond." Nobody could drip sarcasm like Sherlock. "They must have used testosterone in the final rinse. How dashing. Now give it to me, I'll burn it."

John's fingers stroked the fabric of their own volition. "Can't be burned. Can't be torn, either, or eaten away with acid. There isn't a scale high enough to rate its ballistic protection properties. This jacket...Sherlock, it's, it's not a fashion statement, it's body armour. If I'd had one of these in Afghanistan, I'd've had a bruised shoulder and a story to tell at the pub instead of that mess that's there now."

# # #

Mycroft, you utter, utter bastard.

Because of course he couldn't get rid of the damned thing now, not when there was even a slim chance it might someday protect John. And oh, yes, Sherlock caught all the hidden messages, the coarsest and most obvious being you asked me to keep him safe, you brought this on yourself; and the multitude of smaller ones: I know what he likes and I can get it for him, I can get him things he didn't know he wanted, and I can make him want whatever I give him.

I gave him something he didn't know he wanted, Sherlock realized, something utterly irreplaceable, and John valued it immensely. It would be good to remind him of that right now.

"Excuse us, Mrs Hudson," he said, exhibiting a stunning display of good manners under the circumstances, and hauled his John up the stairs, the man stumbling on the treads he wasn't looking at because he was gazing lovestruck at the jacket.

John's head fell back with a grunt as Sherlock hooked fingers in his belt loops and pulled him to the front room by his hips. "Jesus," he gasped when Sherlock dropped him backwards into the chair and knelt with obvious intent between his knees. "Sherlock," he panted when fingers slipped into his fly and ran up and down his length, "the window's open."

"Yes," he said, and lowered his head to the blond-and-grey curls that smelt wonderfully of John. John made a strangled sound and then thankfully stopped talking and just howled at a very satisfying volume, all of which Mycroft's surveillance detail could overhear and report on.

He was slow and steady and relentless—he'd learned that from John—and he could feel an odd sort of pressure coiling low in his own abdomen as John bucked and groaned and held Sherlock's head on him as if his life depended on it. By the time he applied suction, John had been reduced to raw, animalistic noises that should have been repulsive but that instead made his phallus swell and his observational abilities sharpen. When he felt John's sudden pre-ejaculatory inhalation and stiffening he anticipated the crescendo of guttural cries announcing to the whole of Baker Street and beyond that this man was his, but heard only a faint, muffled scream. Incredulous, he raised his eyes to find John had stuffed the shoulder patch of that damned jacket into his mouth and was biting down hard, eyes screwed shut as he spilled.

This was not acceptable at all.

# # #

Later that night, hours after John had pulled a bloodied set of cufflinks from his flesh ("I knew this would happen.") and serviced an exceptionally demanding lover, Sherlock perched on the back of his chair and glared at John's new armour hanging on the door. That wild, mad feeling rose in his chest again, the one that made him shake for a cigarette, for cocaine, for heroin, for anything to be numb again rather than deal with this sensation of impending loss of something vital when he looked at the jacket and translated Mycroft's primary message to him:

He was ours once, and he misses it.

Chapter Text

If he'd ever thought about it—which he never had, honestly never—John would have said that yes, in any bizarre alternate universe in which Sherlock Holmes would ever propose marriage to anyone, he would do it over a mutilated corpse.

"Married," he said slowly.

"You heard me the first time."

"No, I really don't think I did."

Sherlock did that thing with his chin that meant he was nervous. "I need to find where the lips have gone." He swept off, coat purling and snapping even more than usual.

John felt very, very drunk all of a sudden.

"S'all right, mate. Happens to us all at one time or another. Nothing to be embarrassed about," Lestrade was saying kindly. "Head down, and try not breathe through your nose. It passes."

John blinked at him. Where had he come from?

"Gave me a bit of a funny turn too, I don't mind saying. You've think you've seen it all and then some poor sod has his family jewels taken off with a belt sander."

"Right. Was Sherlock just here?" Maybe he'd had another microsleep.

"Yeah. He's off looking for the lips now."

"Right. Thanks." Okay then. Not a hallucination.

The next thing he knew, he was sitting on a low stone wall on the other side of the field from the body with absolutely no idea how he'd come to be there. The view was nice, though, and it was a quiet place to think.

Sherlock had said, as near enough as John could remember, "We need to find the pruning secateurs and the lips. I've had my solicitor draw up papers and applied for the license so we can be married Wednesday morning."

He watched a few clouds scudding overhead. This is my life now, he thought. Abraded genitals, missing lips, marriage announcements. Okay.

Life with Sherlock was like being continuously concussed. He wondered idly how he would ever be able to tell if he had traumatic brain injury, given what passed for normal on any given day.

"John, quick, he's found the lips! A cat's got them."

Oh, God. "I'm coming. Don't let him touch it!"

# # #

John wasn't supposed to be looking like a man who'd just been struck with a large chunk of yellow ice from a passing aeroplane. He was supposed to have said, "Yes, Sherlock, that's a brilliant idea. Why didn't I think of that?" and Sherlock would have said, "Because you're an idiot" and they would have sniggered. Then Wednesday would have come and John would have been married to him and there would be no more of this unbearable breathless anxiety and no more leaving, ever, because John would never do that then. Not his John.

But somehow it had all gone arseways when he'd mentioned marriage and Sherlock wanted to tell the cabbie to just keep driving in circles around the city because he was afraid that when the taxi door opened John would bolt. His rebellious stomach—when had his body parts starting doing as they pleased instead of waiting for orders?—roiled.

He couldn't bring himself to look at John directly, but the window made a perfectly adequate mirror. He noted the stress lines around dark eyes, the tension in the set of the unshaven jaw. Impossible to miss the rigidity of the spine, the fixed stare out the window. Sherlock still had enough self-control not to actually cringe but something under his sternum clenched and made itself into a small, tight ball.

John made a pained noise, and Sherlock realized blue eyes were looking at his own reflection in John's window. The man turned and examined his face, then said, "Shit," and slid his foot over to rest against Sherlock's. "Stop," he said. "Whatever you're thinking, stop. I didn't say no."

The rest of the cab ride was less terrible.

# # #

"Sit down." John pointed at the kitchen chair. "I recognize nausea when I see it. Did you eat anything but custard yesterday, for God's sake? Tea and crackers, then we talk."

When Sherlock actually did so without argument, John upwardly revised his estimate of the severity level.

"That was good, figuring out the lip ring was a trophy," he said as the kettle heated.

Sherlock perked up a little at that. "Yes, that was good, wasn't it?" John slid a plate of water crackers and cheese to him and pretended to fuss with the teapot as the other man inhaled even the crumbs.

"Better now?" he said when they were each on their second cup of tea. Sherlock mmphed at him, still examining the pattern on the plate as if he'd never seen it before. "Right. Well," he licked his lips, "we should talk."

Sherlock's face was tipped towards the wall, hiding his expression.

"Aw, Christ," he blurted, exasperated, and Sherlock look up, startled. "I've had your cock in my mouth and your fingers up my arse. I've swallowed. This is no time to get shy on me, is it?"

Sherlock's lips twitched. "That's one way of putting it into perspective." And there, the easiness between them was back. John drew a deep breath and let his shoulders relax.

"Good. So, first thing. I checked on my phone, you git. It takes sixteen days to apply for a licence—"

"Considerably less if the registrar owes you a favour, as it turns out."

"Hunh. Well, that solves the mystery—" Sherlock made an inarticulate sound of protest at the term "—of why you'd be applying for a license when we hadn't even slept together then. I did wonder."

Sherlock examined the wood grain of the table. John sighed. "You're not going to make this easy, are you. Why do you want this? The truth, please, and all of it. I deserve that, if you're actually asking and this isn't some ruse for a case, and I don't think you'd have mentioned a solicitor if it were that. So why?"

Sherlock opened his mouth and John said sharply, "I did ask for the truth, remember." Sherlock exhaled and shifted in his chair. "You're asking me to stand up in front of our families and friends and the rest of the world and make an eternal oath to you. I don't know if that's a lark to you or not but it's a deadly serious thing for me."

"I know." Sherlock said it so quietly that John knew he was hearing the truth. "I know. That's why. Because promises and honour matter to you. Because that oath means something to you and you will never abandon it."

The drip from the tap was the only sound for long moments.

"And to you?" John asked.

"It...matters."

"I need more than that."

Silver eyes met his, and John was deeply humbled to get a glimpse behind this man's ever-present wall of reserve. "I want this. It's irrational and sentimental and—" words came tumbling faster and faster "—and ordinary and stupid and I hate wanting it, but you're in me now and if you leave I can't breathe."

John licked his lips again. "It's, um, it's sudden. Honestly, I'm worried this is...it's common, you know, with your first lover, to think—"

"Give me some credit, John," said Sherlock in such offended tones that John had to grin. In a smaller voice he continued, "I knew I...cared for you long before we did—" he waved a dismissive hand "— that."

"Don't. Don't do that. Don't trivialize what we do. It matters. It matters to you, or you wouldn't have waited. You'd have traded it for a hit when you were using if sex didn't mean anything."

Sherlock toed the carpet and complained, "Why are you never this insightful at crime scenes?"

"I'm learning from the best." That got the very faintest of smiles.

"Right, then. Well. This is...I haven't thought about marriage for a long time. Things have, um, changed a lot since then. The Army. You. I don't know if what I used to want still applies. Always thought I'd like kids, you know, but now I think I'd be a crap dad." His mouth quirked. "Seems I like juggling grenades too much. Got a taste for it and can't stop. Also, I'm pretty sure kids aren't something you're ever going to want." He raised his eyebrows questioningly and got a hesitant nod in return. "Yeah, thought so. Somehow I don't think Harry or Mycroft is going to give us nieces or nephews, either, so," he blew out his breath regretfully, "no kids. That's...actually a good bit harder to accept than I thought it would be."

He looked up across the table again to find Sherlock frozen and not breathing. "Shit, no, stop doing that. I'm not saying— Just—Sherlock, give me a bit of space to think, yeah? If this is going to be something real, I have to be sure of what I'm saying yes to. I have to know what I'm getting and what I'm giving up, all of it, the good and bad, so nothing's a surprise later." He reached across the table and touched the pale, cold hand closest to him. "Would you look at me?"

Sherlock raised a miserable face and John could have laughed but it was too heartbreaking. "I'm not leaving you. I just...don't know if this is the right thing just now. That's all. All right? Please use your voice, I'm worried I've scared you mute. I'll get struck off for that."

"Idiot," Sherlock said, and then he was up over the table, pulling John across by his shirtfront, kissing him with a desperation that made John's heart flip and his blood run straight to his cock.

"Guh," he managed when Sherlock finally released his mouth.

"You maintain there's some expression of truth in what bodies do, how they respond to each other," Sherlock said, breath hot on his neck and hands fisted in his shirt. "You need to be sure of it all, you said, of what you're getting. Then come to my bed."

"God, yes."

# # #

They were still finding the ways they fit, in terms of desire as well as mechanics. Sherlock's mind had to be either fully engaged or else overwhelmed with sensation; anything in between risked overriding his body's response in favour of cataloguing the response. John needed to hear the sounds of pleasure, the cries and hard breaths, the wet slides of mouths and hands and shafts.

Some acts can be learned only through experience. John had not yet been the receptive partner during intercourse, given their mutual inexperience with that configuration; Sherlock's tentative advances in that area now were well received. Fingers were familiar, and John's body readily accepted them as he moaned and spread his thighs shamelessly. Neither of them was prepared for John's involuntary clench upon phallic penetration, nor for Sherlock's resulting involuntary buck. John's fingers closed on pale hips so hard they left purple marks blooming beneath the tips and he choked out "Wait" with watering eyes.

Mortified, Sherlock froze, whispering urgent apologies. A moment later John opened damp lashes, grinned, and said with somewhat forced cheerfulness, "Let's try that again, why don't we? A bit slower this time."

How does he do that? Sherlock marvelled as he eased himself forward, fighting his instincts for control of his disobedient flesh. A few words, a smile, the shame dissolves and it's all fine.

There was the indescribable tightness around his member; there was the fine sheen of John's perspiration against his own thighs, which should have felt base and vulgar but didn't; there was John's breathless, joyous "Oh my God, I had no idea, GodGod God touch me please God don't stop;" and there again was that wild, soaring expansion under his breastbone when John's body shuddered and his own followed and he gave his John another first.

And it was all fine. Much more than fine.

# # #

"Hello, Anthea. Figured I'd be seeing you. Thanks for bringing 'round the package earlier."

"Hmmm? Oh. Hello."

"Right. Mind putting the cheese and the milk over there, thanks? That one's got bread and eggs in it, so keep it on the top and don't let the cans roll over on it, yeah? And don't shake up the beer."

There was no sense wasting a kidnapping that included a free car ride when there was heavy shopping to carry, after all, John thought. Besides, it was just a little hard to walk this morning.

# # #

"John. Have a seat, we may be here a while."

"I hope not, I have milk in the car."

Mycroft turned and busied himself with the whiskey. "The couch is well padded," he offered casually. When he handed the glass to John the man's face was scarlet, and Mycroft felt a sense of wonder that such an innocent could be part of his world even so tangentially.

"I'm afraid I've put you in a terribly awkward position. It's been brought to my attention that Sherlock has applied for a marriage license. He is rather prone to impulsive acts."

"I had noticed that about him, yeah."

"I apologize. I'm afraid I miscalculated," (and oh, John would never know how difficult it was to say that so lightly, as if it were nothing of significance), "pushed him too far and panicked him into this. I don't imagine you were prepared to deal with such a declaration at this time."

"I think that's between me and Sherlock."

"Hmm." It was not agreement, and John noticed. "Peace, John. Surely you can't deny me a brother's concern?"

John frowned into his whiskey glass and set it on the side table. "What do you mean, you panicked him into—?" Almost immediately his lips thinned. "It was the bloody armour, wasn't it?"

Mycroft watched the transformation: the jaw set, mouth hardened, lines deepened around the eyes. John stood, spine straight, facing Mycroft square on, and the coldly furious look he had seen once before in an abandoned warehouse stared at him out of dark blue eyes. "Mycroft," he said softly, and a foolish man might have thought the mild tone meant John was even-tempered. "Whatever this game is between the two of you, well, clearly you're both getting something out of it because you've been at it forever. Fine. But I won't be the stick you poke Sherlock with. You don't get to hurt him through me."

As if you could stop me, little badger, if that's what I wanted, thought the British government, whilst the brother sighed in relief and gratitude, I am not alone in this anymore.

"I have milk waiting." John stalked towards the door.

"We'll talk again later, when you're less—" A slam cut him off. Mycroft reflected that the Watson-Holmes household was terribly hard on doors.

He wasn't very worried about John and himself. That relationship would be fine. After all, the man left wearing the jacket.

# # #

The reagent was finally at the proper concentration and the experiment was at a delicate stage but progressing very nicely when John stormed into the kitchen and shook Mycroft's damned jacket under his nose, blocking his view of the flask. "Did you bring up marriage because of this?" he demanded. Sherlock impatiently pushed it aside, craning his neck to watch the flask. He'd need to add the copper as soon as the foaming started.

"Indirectly," he muttered. Was that a bubble?

"You did. Right. That's...fine. All right."

"Not now, John. Hand me the copper, quickly." It was definitely bubbling.

The jacket hit him in the back of the head. He shook it off and reached for the copper. John snatched up his old jacket from the front room and moments later Sherlock heard the street door at the bottom of the stairwell slam.

He was too late with the copper. He'd have to start over.

# # #

Come home. SH

Come home. SH

Your jacket is not warm enough for this sleet. SH

Hypothermia can occur in 48 minutes under these weather conditions. You have been gone for 3h 26m. SH

Answer me. SH

Come home. SH

Chapter Text

Seven hours into an ice storm that gridlocked London, Mycroft's phone pinged.

Find him. SH

# # #

John was a dick for about twenty minutes. That's what he gave himself in circumstances like these, when Sherlock did something very Sherlock and John knew he couldn't reasonably expect anything different but he had to let himself be pissed off about it: he could be a dick for twenty minutes. Maybe a little longer under extreme provocation.

So for twenty minutes (more or less) he walked (okay, stomped) away from the man he'd told repeatedly he wasn't leaving, because he was furious and feeling manipulated and the alternatives were doing something terrible to Mrs Hudson's walls or saying something to Sherlock he would later regret. He took the route to the footbridge he liked because the boards made satisfying thumps when he clomped over them.

On his second trip over the bridge, he stopped and leaned against the handrail, looking down at the water and blowing out his breath. The rain had turned to sleet, so he'd have to start back soon. Time to stop being a dick and think it all through.

Sherlock was a master liar and manipulator and John knew it as well as anyone, but...no. He'd been sincere when he'd taken John to bed, when he'd said he hated wanting something so ordinary as a commitment but wanted it anyway. John didn't doubt he'd played every bit of it for maximum effect, but he'd long ago accepted he lived with a drama queen.

No, what pissed him off was being played for a fool by both Sherlock and Mycroft as part of their eternal game of one-upmanship. Well, Watson, if the shoe fits...

Once upon a time, before he'd met the Holmeses, he'd been considered a reasonably clever bloke. He doubted he'd ever feel that way again.

He ought to send a text. Sherlock was likely still in the middle of his experiment and hadn't even noticed John had gone, but he ought to text anyway. He'd left the shopping on the kitchen floor.

He pulled out his phone and slowly fumbled through texting OTOT WKLGN, PTU AAWY MILLK with half-frozen fingers, backspaced, managed OUT WLKIN and dropped the damned slippery thing. When he bent to pick it up, the worn tread of his shoe slid on ice and he pinwheeled wildly before falling against the handrail. His foot kicked the phone, which skittered over the side of the bridge and hit the water with a plop.

Shit.

He closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the handrail. He was going to have to wade in and search for his phone, then walk home with squelching shoes, trousers, and sleeves in the sleet because no taxi driver was going to stop for him. And his phone wasn't even going to work once he found it. Well, Sherlock would enjoy playing with the carcass.

Gritting his teeth, he plunged into the frigid water, squinting up at the bridge and trying to estimate where the phone had fallen. It should be right...about...here. He stuck his arms into the soft, mucky bottom and rooted around, arching his neck to keep his face out of the water.

"Oi! What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Something huge, white, very angry, and fast beat the shit out of him. Somehow, feathers were involved.

# # #

Mycroft's people traced him to a magistrate's, where he'd been scheduled to receive an ASBO. A note in the report stated the man had minor injuries and a possible concussion but had refused medical treatment, saying he was a doctor and lived with a flatmate experienced in first aid.

So he had intended to return to the flat five hours ago but never arrived.

# # #

John gingerly palpated his swollen cheek and marinated in the chilly, muddy puddle on the plastic chair. He'd had no idea birds could hit that hard. Swans always looked so graceful and serene, just bundles of fluff placidly floating along. Turned out they could slug like sodding cricket bats.

Harassing the swans. He was going to get another ASBO, and it was going to be for harassing the bloody swans that had knocked him near-senseless. He glanced again at the calendar of John James Audubon prints hanging behind the constable's desk and knew he had no chance of getting out of this one. His requests to make a phone call had been punted into administrative limbo and he was certain that if he tried to make an issue of it the constable would find a reason to leave him sitting in his wet pants for another three or four hours.

He wished he had something for this headache. He needed to get home. He'd told Sherlock he wasn't leaving. He'd been gone for hours now and he really needed to get home. The milk was going to go off.

# # #

The homeless network hadn't spotted him and was increasingly unlikely to do so as individual members were forced to look for shelter from the ice storm.

John would not voluntarily remain out of contact for this length of time under these circumstances, therefore something was preventing him from communicating.

And Moriarty was still out there somewhere.

Sherlock paced, hands raking through his hair, mind spinning wildly.

# # #

When he was finally released, he limped along the pavement, half-squinting against the freezing sleet splattering down around him and trying to flag a cab. He was soaked through and shivering and his knee hurt like mad from the swans' attack. He thought one had hit him with a wing there; he gritted his teeth every time his patella shifted and thought longingly of a warm auto. Naturally, they were few and far between.

In the time it took him to hail a ride, he could have walked home on a better day, one without ice or a swollen knee. He was beyond being annoyed by then and was just grateful to be inside the cab.

"Two twenty-one Baker Street," he told the cabbie, and the woman said, "Can't go straight there, mate. Accidents everywhere on this ice, blocking the roads. I'll have to take you by side streets."

"Yeah, that's fine," he said, trying to keep his teeth from chattering. "Would you mind turning up the heat?"

Damn this headache, anyway. It was okay. He'd be home soon, and then he'd get a hot shower, some tea, paracetamol, and dry pants, and sit by the fire and explain to Sherlock why you didn't get married because your brother gave your lover a very nice piece of body armour, although he himself was becoming increasingly unclear on why that was so.

# # #

Using his release time as a starting point, they were eventually able to locate CCTV footage of a very bedraggled and limping Dr Watson getting into a cab and then set about following the cab's progress. The many accidents on the roads and the smeared-image quality of footage filmed through heavy sleet made this more difficult than it should have been.

# # #

John jerked awake as the cabbie said, "Well, looks like you'll be my last fare of the day. Storm's shutting everything down."

"Huh," he said, scrubbing at his eyes and wincing at an unexpectedly sore cheekbone. He was finally starting to feel warm, which meant he'd been in the cab a lot longer than the trip should have taken. Oh, right—blocked streets.

"Damn it," the cabbie muttered under her breath. John craned his neck and saw three cars skewed across the road ahead. Unless the cab went up on the pavement, there was no getting through that. She tapped the brakes and the whole car lost traction on the thick layer of ice, sliding gracefully sideways until jolting lightly up against a bollard.

Swearing, she got out to inspect the damage. John thought he ought to do the same, but didn't want to risk his knee on that ice if he didn't have to. He peered through the windscreen and saw people standing calmly on the pavement near the three cars ahead. Nobody badly hurt, then.

The cabbie stuck her head back inside. "Just the frame," she told him. "We're fine. I'm going to try to shift—"

John was thrown hard against his door as a sliding yellow Audi slammed into the cab. "Shit," he hissed, eyes squeezed shut, reminding himself that had not been an IED, "oh, shit."

"Fuck," said the cabbie. She lay curled protectively around her arm on the pavement where she'd been thrown when the cab rocked upon impact. John fumbled for the door latch, slid as soon as he stepped out of the cab, and ended up on his knees beside her. "Jesus Christ," he groaned, and they grinned at each other through gritted teeth and laughed.

"You okay?" she asked.

"Fine. You?"

"I heard it crack. Wrist. Tried to catch myself."

"This is your lucky day; I'm a doctor."

"Really lucky." She jerked her chin up the street. "Here's an ambulance. Must've already been coming for them." She tilted her head towards the cars that had blocked the roadway.

John prudently waited until the ambulance came to a complete stop before helping the cabbie up and limping to the paramedics. "Broken wrist here. Anything more serious up there?"

"Lumbar sprain, sounds like. Rob'll take care of that. Let me see your wrist." He deftly got the cabbie's coat off and slid on a splinting cast. "Up you get, now," he told her, and he and John helped her into the back of the ambulance. Once she was settled, he said to John, "Looks like you got knocked about a bit."

"I'm fine."

The paramedic gave him a once-over. "Don't think so, mate. You look like a damaged knee and a head injury to me."

"I'm fine. A swan hit me earlier." No sooner were the words out of his mouth than John knew what was coming. Sure enough, the medic smoothly backed him into a seat, shone a penlight torch in his eyes, and ran fingers over his skull. "A swan," he said mildly. "Big yellow one?"

"I'm not disoriented. Yellow was the car; the swan was white. I'm a doctor. I know I'm fine."

"You've had two knocks to the head, then?"

Shit, shit, shit.

# # #

An accident report filed for the cab John had taken allowed them to find the relevant CCTV footage. It appeared he had voluntarily entered an ambulance to assist a patient and had then been refused exit. It was not clear if force or coercion had been involved.

# # #

John really couldn't blame the man. If their circumstances had been reversed, he'd also have threatened to sit on a patient with double head injuries only hours apart, one of which had occurred in an auto accident, unless said patient agreed to be seen by a doctor. A doctor who was not sharing a concussed brain with the patient.

He rubbed his sore face again and once more wished for dry pants. "Okay. Can I borrow your phone? My, uh, my flatmate'll be wondering where I am."

Three minutes later, staring blankly at the phone in his hand and realizing he couldn't remember Sherlock's number (which was not, of course, in the Contacts list, and why had he expected it to be?), he sheepishly conceded that the paramedic might have a point.

# # #

The ambulance had made very slow progress; accidents blocked streets all over the city and treacherous curtains of ice on the road surface kept traffic to a crawl. Only emergency vehicles were permitted to be out.

When at last the ambulance had arrived at the hospital, John had walked from it under his own power and apparently of his own free will. His limp was considerably worse. Probably legitimately seeking treatment, then.

If that was the case, why wasn't he in the hospital records?

# # #

Impossible not to remember the last time this had happened.

He kept the drapes drawn and stayed away from the windows, but couldn't stop the mad pacing. Think, you dolt. This isn't a pointless Yard case. This is John. Think.

But there were no data from which to form hypotheses, and no mind, however brilliant, could deduce from thin air.

# # #

Mycroft unsteepled his fingers, opened his eyes, and said, "Have Lestrade of the Yard sent to UCH to look for John Watson. Tell him not to rely on admission records; physically search for the man."

He stepped into the hallway to phone his brother. "Stay at the flat and don't go haring off," he said. "I may have located him and it would be beyond ridiculous to miss him in passing. Furthermore, you and I are going to discuss revised security measures because this absurd series of coincidences could be deliberately manufactured with remarkable ease."

# # #

Greg found him sitting on a bench in front of a vending machine.

"Jesus, there you are. Have you gone into witness protection?"

"Hi, Greg. Have you got change? I'm dying for coffee."

"Yeah, well, I mention this on the off chance it'll keep my arse from being called out to find you next time, but you might have wanted to check yourself in before you went wandering around."

"There was a queue. I triaged myself and went for coffee until it cleared out."

"Apparently you got here three hours ago."

"Hunh." He seemed to lose focus for a moment and then asked brightly, "Do you have any change? I really want coffee. And clean underpants." (You don't want to know, Greg told himself firmly. You'd regret asking.) "Can I use your phone? I tried to call Sherlock earlier, but I forgot his number."

"It's on the website, isn't it?"

"Oh. Right." John sighed. "Guess I'd better let them get a CT scan."

His unofficial orders had been quite clear: Get John home at once unless it was medically necessary he stay at the hospital. If he needed anything to make that happen, it would be provided. He was not to concern himself with paperwork or policy.

"Here, call him. I'm going to get your scan set up."

# # #

In short order, John had been scanned, physically examined, cleared to leave, and given a painkiller for his knee. He had declined to take a prescription for the same back to the flat.

"This will dope him up a bit," the doctor cautioned Greg. "He'll be wobbly and unco-ordinated, and he's already unsteady because of that knee so be careful to support him even if he doesn't seem to need it. Are you certain he won't take the tablets? He's going to hurt like hell tomorrow morning."

He agreed with John; they were pretty sure Sherlock wasn't interested in painkillers, but why tempt fate?

# # #

"Swans are shit. Hate bloody swans. Bloody vicious fucking birds. Did you get me coffee? I hope I was nice to you."

Apparently John was chatty when he was high.

"Oh, God, I want a hot shower. I want, wanna put my feet right into the fire. That would feel so good. And dry. I remember dry. Dry was nice."

Greg thought he should be recording this. He could play it at the next post-case pub meet.

"Shit, Sherlock's feet are gonna be cold. 'S like a vampire or something. And he sticks 'em anywhere warm, Greg. I mean, no consideration at all, just none."

No. No. Now that image was in his brain and it was never going to come out.

John's voice dropped into a throaty register. "But oh, God, Greg, I'm, I'm telling you, you really, really want a blowjob from a bloke with a serious oral fixation. You don't know. You don't know."

"Bloody hell, please shut up right now and I mean RIGHT FUCKING NOW."

"I'm just sayin', when a bloke can give you a hickey on your cock—"

"Oh, Christ."

Chapter Text

Greg had fervently hoped to decant John from his car into Sherlock's tender care and leave immediately for home (where five cans of good beer were waiting to dull the pain of the last little slice of eternity), but God was still holding a grudge and he'd instead been press-ganged into getting John up the stairwell and settled into the flat.

After John's revelations in the car, he'd never be able to look at any of that furniture the same way again. He certainly couldn't look at Sherlock or John (especially after John greeted Sherlock with a cheerful and stunningly lascivious "Heeeyyyyyy"), which didn't leave many places for his eyes to go. He settled for the bags of shopping on the kitchen floor. John hadn't said anything about shopping, so that was safe.

Sherlock peeled off John's clammy jacket with a look of disgust and John sighed happily. "Oh, yes. Shower. Clean, please, and warm ohGodohGod warm."

Both Greg and Sherlock regarded the unsteady doctor, listing noticeably even whilst standing still, and came to the same awful realisation simultaneously.

"As doing this jointly is going to be distasteful for me and borderline traumatic for you, I suggest we get it over with and never speak of it again," Sherlock muttered. "Help me walk him to the bathroom. I'll...put him in the shower. It'll have to be my room afterwards; his is upstairs."

They both let stand the fiction that John could be placed unsupported into a wet environment because really, it was better that way.

Greg stood—not sat, no, never again—in the front room and tried very hard not to hear Sherlock's repeated Not now, John s over the sound of running water. Once the shower was off it was much too easy to overhear that John liked the way the shampoo smelled and what water did to Sherlock's body hair, so he retreated to the kitchen and put away the shopping, loudly. He put the room-temperature milk by the sink in case they were making yoghurt out of it.

There was an unmistakable scent lingering in Sherlock's room when they settled John into the bed, although the sheets were freshly laundered (and Greg hated himself for noticing that, as if it mattered, as if it were any of his business).

"Damn, my knee hurts." John shifted his shoulders to get more comfortable and closed his eyes. A moment later he half-opened them, found Sherlock's, and murmured, "Not tired?"

"I'll be just a moment."

Back in his car, Greg turned the ignition and then sat for a couple of minutes, considering what he'd just left and what awaited him at home. If he was ever lucky enough to have someone look at him the way John Watson looked at Sherlock Holmes when he wasn't hiding anything, he hoped he'd be brave enough not to give a shit whether it was a man or a woman either.

He knew he wasn't. Small wonder Sherlock called him an imbecile on a regular basis.

# # #

"Mmmmmm, nice." John tilted his head into Sherlock's hand and sighed. "M'head really sodding hurts."

"So I would imagine."

"Mmmmmm." John trailed his fingers down Sherlock's torso and lower. Sherlock caught them gently.

"It would be best not to raise your blood pressure."

"Hmph. Shit, your feet are, are cold." He wriggled closer. "Greg's a good driver."

"I find it disturbing that your mind turns to him when I refuse you sex."

"God, are you great in bed. Except, y'know, the time you tried to shove—"

"Yes, I apologized for that."

"I don't even care you don't have tits."

"How fortunate for us both."

John pressed his forehead to Sherlock's clavicle and licked his pectoral. "Shagging would take, take my mind off my bloody knee. Fucking swans. Evil shits."

Sherlock estimated he had another forty minutes before this tremendously interesting painkiller's side effects dropped below useful levels. Never one to waste an opportunity, he leaned in to nuzzle John's sensitive, vulnerable ear and purred, "Why don't you—" John pressed into the hand stroking his abdomen. "—tell me a secret."

# # #

"The crash wasn't an accident."

John paused his two-fingered tapping ("Blog Entry: Fowl Weather Day. Swans are evil sodding shits and what the fuck is with handing ASBOs out like lollies these days? Also, hospital vending machine coffee is too bloody expensive and my knee hurts like a motherfucking bastard. Does anyone actually have to have a license to drive anymore? Also, ice—"). "What's that?"

"The Audi that hit you. It wasn't an accident. Mycroft-and-minions now believe your cab was followed. The original plan was to snatch you from the doorstep when you arrived here, but your cab was blocked by the crashes. They crowded your driver from behind so she skidded, then rammed you when you didn't get out. They needed you out of the car; no one would pay much attention to a good samaritan assisting an injured man, but dragging a struggling one out of a vehicle would be noticed. The ambulance coming behind them blocked their exit, though, so they aborted the snatch."

John shook his head in confusion before he remembered not to do that because it damned well hurt. "Um, why'd they do that? Who's responsible?"

"No idea."

"Moriarty?"

"Doesn't seem quite his style. We have to consider the possibility, though."

"Hmph." John read over his entry so far and backspaced over everything but the title.

"You're in pain."

"It's not bad."

"Don't try lying, John, you really are terrible at it and it's ghastly to watch. You need a proper painkiller. Paracetamol isn't enough."

"I'm fine."

"What would you prescribe for yourself if you weren't living with a junkie?"

"It's fine, Sherlock. Let it go."

"I have contacts—"

"NO. You absolutely will not get in touch with your contacts." John pushed back from the desk with a sigh. "We could shag. That would be a good distraction." He frowned. "Do I remember you...interrogating me last night when I was drugged?"

"You know how irritating I find it when you ask questions you could answer for yourself. Your asking me to deduce your memories is the height of intellectual laziness—"

"Right. Did you interrogate me last night while I was drugged?"

"Of course."

"Sherlock—"

Oh. Apparently Not Good. Upon finding oneself in an untenable position, go on the offensive. "I'm surprised by you, John. I never took you for a hypocrite."

John put a hand to his head. "Did I miss something? No, no, wait—you always do this when you're trying to change the subject—"

"We shouldn't have this conversation right now because Mrs Hudson is going to interrupt us, but we shall have it, John," he said reprovingly. "You haven't been honest with me."

"What the hell are you— no, I know what this is, this is you changing the subject and you won't get away with it. I'm not falling for it, Sherlock, I'm not. Don't you try—"

"Yoo hoo! Boys? You have a visitor."

# # #

She always does that, John thought. It's always "Sherlock" or "boys." She never calls for just me.

The visitor was one of Sherlock's homeless network with John's waterlogged and thoroughly ruined phone, which Sherlock exchanged for a wad of bills and (at John's insistence) an address with a hot shower and change of clothes waiting. Sherlock extracted the chip and John spent an hour researching replacement phones and wondering when he'd be able to limp out to the shop.

# # #

"Tell me a secret," he'd whispered.

He'd learned the most interesting things. His John, his warm, bright, good John, was also a creature of intriguing shadows and glinting hard edges, camouflaged with moral codes and strict rules. This was not a surprise. John had courted him by killing a man for him, after all, although he hadn't realised it then.

So it was also not entirely surprising that buried deep, so deep that John himself didn't know they were there, discoverable only by hints and whispers and the shapes of things that weren't there, were John's thrillingly darker needs.

# # #

Sherlock had been pacing, making abortive attempts at playing the violin, and irritably refusing to eat while stealing John's cups of tea for hours. John had been making replacement tea without milk and savagely cursing what the frequent resulting trips to the toilet did to his knee. Mrs Hudson's presentation of John's hated old crutch (which he'd binned months ago, but "waste not, want not" was one of Mrs Hudson's favoured idioms) did not help his eroding temper. Unable to fall back on his habit of going for a walk when Sherlock became too obnoxious to bear, he was entertaining thoughts of bludgeoning the git with the kettle.

Sex, which might have helped soothe them both, was ruled out on Sherlock's part because John had a concussion and keeping his blood pressure moderate was essential, and on John's because Mrs Hudson kept popping upstairs to see how the invalid was holding up. He wasn't sure which of them would be more scarred by her catching her boys in flagrante delicto.

He was on the verge of shoving Mrs Hudson's herbal soothers up Sherlock's aristocratic nose with a pipe tamper when Lestrade rapped hesitantly on the door.

"I've come to get your account of the accident with the Audi," he said to John, looking strangely uncomfortable. Shit, I hope I wasn't rude to him.

"Oh, right. I didn't see much, so I doubt I'll be much help. Yesterday's a bit of a blur. Tea? I've just got the kettle on again. We've no milk, I'm afraid," he said with a pointed look toward Sherlock, who was regarding Lestrade with a peculiar expression.

"John is quite fatigued, Detective Inspector. There's no reason to vex him with matters he can't recall."

God damn it, just because he had a concussion didn't mean he had sodding amnesia and he sure as hell didn't need to be coddled.

"Right," said Lestrade slowly, meeting Sherlock's intense gaze and then examining the carpet runner. "I'll just...take his statement and be off, then."

"That would be best," said Sherlock agreeably whilst crowding into Lestrade's personal space. "You'll want to be home early today. See what the wife's up to and all that."

"Sherlock." The man shot John a glance of offended innocence and flounced off in a swirl of dressing gown to throw himself onto the sofa and fling an arm over his eyes. Jesus, I'm sleeping with a diva of operatic magnitude. "Oh, thanks for the ride home, Greg. I guess I wasn't in any shape to make it without help. Listen, I'm really sorry if I was offensive. M'mates in the Army told me I swear like a sailor when I'm injured."

Lestrade's jaw went oddly rigid for a moment. He cleared his throat, swallowed, and said, "No trouble at all."

Sherlock snorted.

# # #

"Tell me a secret."

"What kind of, of secret?"

"What do you want to do that you won't tell me?"

What had followed was breathtaking.

# # #

Shortly after Lestrade had gone, a package addressed to Sherlock arrived from Mycroft.

He regarded the state-of-the-art phone within, snarled, and threw the packaging into the fire John had kept roaring all day, wishing he could consign the damned phone to the flames as well. At last, with very poor grace, he submitted to the inevitable and slotted John's old chip into the thing.

"Here," he said. "It has tracking permanently enabled and it's unblockable, which won't do you a bloody bit of good if you're taken because the first thing any halfway competent professional will do is get rid of your phone. But we'll be able to find you if you wander off with a head injury, which you do seem to acquire with unnerving frequency. You know the effects can be cumulative, don't you?"

"Well, I'm hardly doing it on purpose. I'd rather like to avoid being coshed in future." He flipped the phone over. "Ha! Twice the memory of the old one. Thank you, Mycroft; Harry will spit when I tell her."

Sherlock seethed.

"Oh, stop. It's just a phone. Or would you suck me off if I let you carry on being jealous?"

"Would you bite on the damned thing if I did?" he said nastily, but John just laughed.

# # #

Lips trailing up the nape of a tanned neck, nose ruffling short blond-and-grey hair. "One more secret." Breath ghosting over a faintly stubbled jaw. "What must you never tell me?"

A sleepy rub of forehead into the pillow. "That I know."

# # #

"I'm going to turn in early." John lifted Sherlock's legs and stood carefully from the sofa. The lines of his face were deep with pain.

"Take my bed."

Hesitantly he asked, "Are you—?"

"Will it disturb you if I compose?"

"No, no, that's...fine. I could sleep through Guy Fawkes tonight, I think. I'm not kicking you out of your bed, am I? I can make it up to mine."

"It's not a night for sleeping. Too much—" he ruffled his hands through his hair sharply. "I can't settle tonight. My mind is whirling and there's nothing to do all damned day when all the criminals appear to be icebound."

Nothing sounded right. Finally the cacophony grated his own nerves raw and he tossed his bow into the chair and just raked his fingers over his head again and again. Damn it. Damn it. Damn it.

# # #

"That I know."

Teeth lightly scraping below an ear; a body arching softly up to meet his. "What do you know?"

"Mustn't say."

A mouth sucking delicately on the softest part of the throat. "What?"

A sigh of pleasure and fatigue. A burrowing into the warm blankets. A voice thick and slow with sleep and trust. "That you, you...you do. Mustn't say I know. Never say."

Lips on lips. "You can tell me."

A head tucked down into his chest, shaking minutely back and forth. "No. You wo'dn't like it that...I...know." Breaths deepening, evening out as sleep dragged him under.

# # #

John knew. That was bad, but bearable, that John knew, because John was part of him and it wasn't much different from knowing himself, not really. John understood it was precious and private and held close, wrapped in silence to protect it. It was...all right that John knew.

But anyone else? To be stripped bare in front of them, his secret exposed, laid out, bleeding? Mycroft? Moriarty? Lestrade? Donovan?

He needed to get out and run. Go out into his alleys and run and run until his body submitted to his will and the wildness ebbed away and took with it the stark craving.

# # #

When he returned, John was in his chair by the banked fire, dried sweat staining the shirt he'd slept in. He took in Sherlock's fresh sweat, the weariness in his limbs, the semblance of peace or at least exhaustion settled over his features, and wordlessly opened his blanket to share.

"The car accident." Sherlock sat on the floor and pressed his forehead to John's good knee.

"Christ, you're cold and wet and now so am I, you inconsiderate git. Yes. When it was hit it felt like a bomb."

Sherlock grunted. He had his own nightmares about bombs now.

John's hand crept down to stroke dripping curls. "Better now?" Sherlock nodded against his leg. "Good."

"You?"

John shrugged.

Sherlock understood now, after the pool, understood how it was possible to be haunted by something that would not stay deleted, and how, even more oddly, the incident did not need to actually have occurred in order to haunt.

In his nightmares, Moriarty flicked his eyes to the snipers and Sherlock fired into the vest. In his nightmares, he had time to turn as the roiling ball of flame expanded, had time to meet John's eyes, see him gasp in superheated air, see his face as he was ripped apart in flying bricks and an implacable wall of water. In his nightmares, he had plenty of time to see John die by Sherlock's own hand, and always, always, every single time Sherlock was untouched by the explosion, was left standing in settling rubble with flames licking around him, the Browning falling from slack fingers as he realized his heart was dead and he could not possibly live without his heart.

He shuddered and drew John's knee closer.

"You're dripping down my legs. Get under the blanket, y'idiot. Stir up the fire first, would you?"

"It's fine for now. We'll be fine under the blanket."

"You and your bloody icy feet."

Chapter Text

They made it through the weekend without strangling each other or doing irreparable harm to the structural elements of the building (although John's stove kettle had to be replaced with an electric one and there would need to be a minor replastering job) mainly because Sherlock took a case that kept him out of the flat for a day and a half. John suspected the case hadn't been all that interesting and Sherlock had taken it because his lizard brain had warned him he was in imminent danger of death if he didn't stop stringing yarn cat's cradles three inches off the floor when John's ability to hop over tripwires was severely impaired.

When he was feeling particularly egotistical, he let himself think that maybe Sherlock had also needed to get out because it was becoming harder to resist shagging like ferrets and he was still adamant about not raising John's blood pressure. Through sex, anyhow; he had no problems raising it with a tripwire minefield impeding urgent trips to the toilet and with unspeakable things done to John's favourite kettle. John had pointed this out. The resulting domestic had definitely raised his blood pressure.

# # #

On Sunday evening, Sherlock got the text he'd been waiting for.

asbo dropped. no paperwk no magistrate. used lots favours so u owe me 3+ cases

"We agreed on two," he growled under his breath.

"Who's that?" Across the room, John's head lifted hopefully.

The ice had melted, John's knee was supporting his weight, his concussion-induced headache had gone, and Sherlock had scouted out a suitable location days ago. Yes, it was time.

"Lestrade," he said. "Come with me?"

"A case," John said happily, shoving up out of his chair. "Yes, God, I want out."

It was not his fault if people drew entirely the wrong conclusions from incomplete information.

# # #

Sherlock didn't hail a cab. When John realized he was leading them into the side streets, through alleys and into what Mycroft in his non-dramatic way liked to call the Battlefields of London, he put himself on high alert. He wouldn't be able to fight well with a weak knee so he needed to see problems coming well ahead. When did I start registering the presence or absence of CCTV cameras as part of a threat assessment?

"Here," said Sherlock, suddenly shoving John hard against the alley wall. John was still searching for the threat when he realized Sherlock's hand was protecting the back of his skull from the concrete and then a tall coat-wrapped body was slamming against his own. Hit from behind, John thought, and got ready to fight, but Sherlock was biting at his lips and palming him roughly through his trousers, and this wasn't the urgent, heated groping of lovers but something darker.

They'd never been like this. John tasted blood and tried to draw back, tried to say "Slow down, a little easier," but Sherlock had his head trapped. It hurt and John grunted, was bringing his hands up to push back and get his mouth free when Sherlock lifted his head enough to say, "No. No more hiding, not from me, not anything from me, John; I won't let you."

"What?" he said as Sherlock bit at his throat and bucked his groin hard against the hand pressed between them. "You want it rough? Okay."

"No, you do."

I don't, he thought. I don't like this, it hurts, there's no affection and I don't like it. But he was stiffening under Sherlock's palm and running his knuckles up the ribs pressed into him, and when Sherlock freed both hands to unfasten his belt and jerk down his zip he let his head fall back and closed his eyes.

"No. Watch me."

Right there, right there in an alley where anyone might see them, right in that dirty, narrow, sordid little street, Sherlock dropped to his knees and licked John's balls.

"Jesus." His hands scrabbled for purchase on the wall to hold himself up as he panted loudly. "Jesus, stop. Not like this. This is—no."

"John. Look at me." It nearly undid him, because in the face looking up at him—looking up at him from his knees, oh, Christ— was no subterfuge, no guile. "Do you trust me?" His heart stuttered and it was several breaths before he could nod. "You do want this. Let me have this from you. Let me," his face turned into John's thigh and his voice faltered. "You are in me, part of my chemistry now. You did that, you made yourself burn in my blood. I should be burning in yours."

He could not imagine what the admission had cost the man.

Mouth dry, head reeling, heart hammering its way out of his body, he rasped, "Yes."

Sherlock kissed his thigh and lifted his face again. "Everything," he said hoarsely. "Don't keep anything from me."

John remembered pale, wide eyes looking up at him from his own bed, adrift and uncertain but determined to give him everything he asked for. He half-fell forward, pressing their foreheads close for a moment, holding his lips to feverish skin. When he straightened again, he ran a trembling hand through soft curls, whispered "I trust you, oh, God," and gave himself over.

It was rough. It was dirty. It was everything John was so careful never to be. This is wrong, he thought, one hand fisted in dark hair and the other twisting a coat collar as he drove himself into the mouth working over his cock. This is wrong. A decent man didn't do this, didn't use his lover this way, didn't grunt and pump harder at the sight of saliva glistening on a chin, didn't say those depraved things he heard coming from his own mouth. He drew a shuddering breath and forced himself still, tried to regain some ghost of self-control before he did something unforgivable.

Sherlock tightened his hands around John's thighs and shook his head violently. John hesitated, and Sherlock rolled his eyes exasperatedly and—

the son of a bitch bit him.

When John came to himself again, he was grinding Sherlock's cheek into the concrete and spewing vile obscenities. Sherlock's trousers were tangled about his knees, and John had his free hand around his cock and was shoving himself brutally into the arse under him. He grinned sadistically at Sherlock's sharp yelp and pulled the hair in his fist tighter.

It was not lovemaking. It was barely even sex. It was something much darker, filthy and crude and wrong, oh, God, wrong. It was not okay to do this. It was very, very bad and wrong and he should stop, he had to stop, but then Sherlock made a noise under him and Jesus it was everything he'd craved having just once. Just once, to let go and take what he wanted and not think of anything else, God he wanted that but it was wrong and his body was—was—his body was— Jesus— just once, please, shit, just once, let me have him like this just once— He spent himself screaming something he couldn't even make out, and when it was finished he rolled off and turned his face into the concrete and drew racking breaths. Oh, shit. He was a bad man and he had done something unforgivable and he didn't know how he was going to live with himself.

His eyes were hot and stinging. His throat was raw. Sherlock was calling his name.

"John, quickly now, the police will be coming. Can you stand?"

He blinked his surroundings into focus. Sherlock was crouched in front of him, hair wild, mouth bruised, cheek scraped and bleeding. The scarf hanging out of the pocket near John was wet; he must have used it to...clean himself. John turned his face away, shame burning his gut. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

Sherlock held his face in both hands and kissed him. "Up, my John. You were shouting my name and what we've been doing is too obvious for even a copper to miss." He slung John's arm over his shoulder and heaved. His ridiculously pleased expression grew when John's legs buckled on the first go.

The front of his trousers was wet over a very prominent erection. John stopped trying to stagger forward and disbelievingly pressed a still-shaking hand to the patch.

"Flattered as I am at your priorities, that will have to wait until we're home."

Apparently not unforgivable after all.

# # #

Mine. Mine. Mine. I was his first this time, and I'm in his blood now, ever and always.

# # #

Somehow the man managed to swagger whilst sitting down. The sheer masculine pride radiating from him nearly gave John sunburn.

"You realize that was the embodiment of every gay-sex cliché in the book, don't you? Public, violent, degrading, power imbalance—"

"We neglected to fulfil the requirement that we be unknown to each other."

It had been wrong and he was a bad, bad man and didn't feel like he'd ever be clean again. On the other hand, Sherlock was not behaving as if he felt violated. He was, in fact, preening, and John had seen him brush his fingers over his scarf when he'd hung it up.

Humiliatingly, his cock throbbed at that. He let his forehead bump down onto the table so he didn't have to look at anything and wrapped both hands around his face. "Oh, Christ, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to do that. It won't happen again, I swear."

"Don't ever keep something like that from me again."

This conversation was not going the way he'd expected.

"How dare you," Sherlock continued, and John could feel electrical sparks of anger pinging against his skin, "demand everything from me, leave me no secrets, no privacy, and hold yourself back from me? Why is it, John, that the first time you gave yourself over to me entirely was tonight?"

"That's—no. That's not who I am. I don't want that. I—"

"It is who you are. It's not who you want to be. Well, this isn't who I want to be, but I am, and I accept it because it is reality and I am not one of the clods who blunders around blindly because they see what they want instead of what is! I'll forgive you the desires you don't know you have yet, but you knew that one and you were never going to admit it. You kept yourself from me. You are not allowed to do that. Terms of the agreement."

Sherlock lurched up, slapped his hands down on the table, leaned forward on them, and hissed furiously, "I don't want a pretty fantasy, John. I'm not one of your moronic, vapid girlfriends. I want you, real, complete, the jumpers and tea and razor wire, the blood on your hands and the scent of rain in your hair. And your desire in all its forms, especially the ones you run from. You will give me that. It's what I gave to you."

He really hadn't seen that coming.

"And John? If you ever touch someone else that way, I will do bad things, very bad things, and Mycroft will cover them up."

After a moment he closed his mouth, cleared his throat, and said in a tone that fell far short of the outrage he'd been aiming for, "Did you just threaten me?"

"Not at all. I threatened the future corpse with which you'd be copulating. More of a deterrent for your personality type. Now come to bed and take care of this." He gestured towards the wet and tented front of his trousers. "I feel a juvenile need to engage in territorial marking behaviour."

# # #

John was tense as he undressed, still vaguely ashamed, exposed and unsure of what was coming. It was all utterly absurd and Sherlock had told him so but annoyingly his tension persisted. Sherlock even had to yank the sheet out of his hands and shove it to the foot of the bed. "I want to look at you," he said exasperatedly. "I like watching how you respond." John blushed deeply at that but stopped trying to hide.

He put the man on his back in the bed, straddled his thighs, and for a long while simply stroked the pads of his fingers over the body beneath him, mapping the changes in texture both gross and subtle and noting hitches in John's breath. When at last the rigidity in his spine and neck ebbed away, he rolled him onto his side and repeated the process on his dorsum.

When John was pliable and relaxed enough to rock softly under his hands, he curled his body around him and ran his lips and nose over the nape that smelled so strongly of John. This produced such a rush of arousal that he had to still himself and just hold the man's hips for a long moment before he could trust himself to move again. He found himself returning to that spot frequently, to nip and suck and inhale the intoxicating pheremones.

It was highly unlikely John could achieve orgasm or even full erection again tonight, given the refractory period required by his age and intensity of recent climax, and manual stimulation would probably be uncomfortable. Sherlock was careful to keep this in mind as his hands nudged a thigh up to give him better access. John's breath stuttered as a slick forefinger circled him delicately.

They were so very quiet. The only sounds in the room, this cocoon of warmth and privacy, were the soft, wet noises of their coupling and the even breathing of two men falling into rhythm. John's expression was peaceful as Sherlock slipped in and out of him slowly, meditatively, entering him again and again for the sheer delight of John's almost imperceptible quiver when he seated himself fully.

John twisted his head around and brought a hand up to pull Sherlock's lips to his own, and events proceeded rapidly from there. A handful of fast thrusts and his climax crashed over him, a breaking wave of fire. He held John through those frightening moments when his mind was nothing but a featureless sea of sensation, held tightly to his infallible anchor, and came safely through to languid pleasure and the return of thought on the other side.

Chemically induced pair bonding was even more powerful than he'd anticipated.

# # #

Not unforgivable, then, John thought gratefully. Not if we can still do that. Thank God.

# # #

Even as he was jerking upright, trying to kick free of the blankets and roll, Sherlock's voice was saying, "Car, John, backfire. Just a car." Sherlock's arm was still flung over his waist where it had been when they'd fallen asleep, but wisely he had not tried to restrain him.

John rested his forehead on his knees and choked back the humiliating whine in his throat. Home, London, the flat, Sherlock, home, he was home and nothing was exploding. It was fine. He put a hand on Sherlock's hair and concentrated on touch and scent to ground himself.

Long moments later he flopped down onto the mattress again. "I didn't mean to wake you."

"You didn't." Sherlock's hand rubbed circles over his abdomen. "Sleep. I'm keeping watch."

John nodded acceptance before the phrase sank in. "Have we started setting watches, then? I haven't stood one."

"You sleep better with someone alert nearby."

He could argue, but rejecting the gift seemed counterproductive. He settled himself and drifted, feeling the warm hand on his belly slide over his skin, around and around.

It brought back a fragment of a dream, a very nice dream, the one that had been interrupted by the damned car. They'd been in the alley again, but this time it had been John on his knees. Sherlock had stood above him, bent over him, cradling his face in his large hands, running his thumbs over John's brows and placing light, tender kisses on his eyelids, his cheeks, his lips. He'd held him like something fragile and precious, and between the delicate kisses he'd murmured things John could not recall but which he knew were achingly sweet endearments.

His eyes flew open. Oh my God.

That's his idea of dirty sex, and he's so, so ashamed of wanting that.

Chapter Text

"I swear to God, he hasn't had any amphetamines. He's just like that this morning."

"Jesus." Greg watched him swing up onto the low balcony and bounce along the top of the railing on his toes. "He's like a three-year-old on a sugar high."

To tell the truth, he'd been a bit hesitant to call Sherlock out for this one. He was pretty sure it was a case Sherlock would consider dull, dull, dull, but they needed him and Greg'd been owed three more cases of his choosing after the ASBO deal. Sure, Sherlock had bitched and moaned about it but here he was, so everything was all right in the end. Wasn't it?

Greg hadn't made Detective Inspector by ignoring his instincts for danger, and something about Sherlock's smile when Greg had pressed the point about how exchange of favours meant it was Sherlock's turn to put out worried him.

Now Sherlock was perched on the railing like some mutant raven, complete with gimlet eye and cocked head. "John, fetch my magnifying glass."

John didn't even bother sighing anymore. "Where?"

"Trouser pocket."

"You're not serious," he said, but it was halfhearted at best, and Greg shut his eyes but could still hear the rustle of cloth that accompanied one grown man's shoving his hand into another grown man's front pocket.

"Lestrade, come here." Sherlock pointed to a spot on the ground below the railing that looked like every other spot beneath the railing. "John, take a look."

John crouched and bent his head to peer at the soil, giving Greg an unimpeded view of the deep purple bitemarks that covered the back of his neck from hairline to neckline. He lifted his eyes hastily and intercepted Sherlock's smirk just before the git dropped off the railing, stepping up close behind John to lean down along his back and point to the ground.

Greg felt his neck flush. God damn the insufferable shit.

"Mmmm, right there." He poked his finger at a small stone whilst resting his hand on John's hip for balance and shot his eyes sideways at Greg. "See it?"

"Yes, yes, I've got it," John said. "Scuff marks."

"Congratulations, John, you've not attended a single forensics course in your life and you've just surpassed Anderson's observational skills, although really that's faint praise as the same could be said of a hydrocephalic lemur. Now you know how he got out, Lestrade; even you can take it from here. And Lestrade?" Sherlock openly raked his eyes over John's arse behind the doctor's back. "Don't call me out for the dull ones; you'll regret it, I assure you."

Oh, I already do.

# # #

"Morning, Mycroft. Sherlock's in the shower. I'd say he'll be just a minute, but with him you never know, do you? Have a seat."

Mycroft settled himself. "Actually, I've come to see you, John. I'd like to offer you a job."

John rubbed gritty eyes and wished he'd had a cup of coffee before his shower. He was sure he wasn't up to this yet, whatever it was going to be. He opened his mouth to refuse.

Mycroft held up a hand. "Hear me out, please. You can't practice within any conventional institution of medicine and still be available to accompany Sherlock on his very unconventional escapades. The position I have in mind offers a flexibility of schedule you'll not be able to find elsewhere, and it will challenge you as locum work in a clinic couldn't possibly do."

Damn it. Damn the Holmeses and their ability to dangle just the right bait. "What is it?" he asked, almost against his will.

"Certain employees of mine work in extremely hazardous conditions. On occasion, we have need of a trained medical professional with a high security clearance and proven discretion. Someone with field experience and familiarity with the kinds of injuries that might be obtained in combat conditions is ideal."

"You don't have a stable of your own doctors?"

Mycroft closed his eyes briefly. "Yes, we do," he said patiently, "and I am proposing to make you one of them."

Sherlock wandered into the room in his dressing gown, hair wet from his own shower. He saw Mycroft, grunted sourly, and continued on to the refrigerator, where he extracted one of Mrs Hudson's currant buns and began pulling off bites with his fingers, noisily popping them into his mouth and spitting out the fruit.

Mycroft ignored him. "You'll find the compensation and other terms of employment quite gener—"

"NO." Sherlock scrambled across the rooms, dressing gown untied and flapping around him, and interposed himself between John and Mycroft, bun forgotten and dangling in one sticky hand. "Remember the coda, John," he said, staring down Mycroft, who looked understandably puzzled at this cryptic statement. Bitterly he went on, "Oh no you don't. This is Victor all over again. Not this time, Mycroft. You're not the only one with influence anymore."

Mycroft rose and stood nose to nose with his brother. "John is not Victor, and because he is not, I am making him a different kind of offer. And for your sake I kept that young reprobate out of prison, if you recall. For sentiment," he added maliciously, and Sherlock flinched.

Who's Victor? And what the hell is going on here, because this is old and I'm feeling like I ought to be diving for cover right about now—

"What will you have him do, Sherlock? Will you keep him entirely dependent on you, with no chance to make his own way, no opportunity for pride in his work, all his notable accomplishments in the past? Is that any fit way for a man to live?"

"Standing right here," said John, "and able to speak for myself, thanks."

"My apologies." Mycroft tipped his head but his eyes never shifted from the angry pale ones in front of him. "If you agree, we could use you today, as soon as you can be ready to travel. A rather delicate situation involving reconstruction in a dominant hand; an excellent candidate for experimental surgery, I am assured."

"Travel where?"

"Dublin." Mycroft broke eye contact to collect his coat and umbrella. "We'll need an answer in short order, please; we'll arrange a cover story if you decide to accept the offer—attending medical conferences and the like, I suppose. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have another appointment."

"Mycroft." Sherlock floundered momentarily and then straightened with a sly expression. (He's not even trying to hide that, John thought. What the hell is going on? Who's Victor and what did he do and what has it to do with me?) "John's to be your brother-in-law. Family." His feet were planted triumphantly, and John had the distinct impression he might actually have been saying, "Checkmate, arsehole."

John firmly bit back an I haven't given you an answer, you presumptuous git, but he clearly might as well have saved himself the trouble.

"Is he?" Mycroft said brightly and pleasantly with a perfectly neutral smile on his face. "Well, that is happy news. Felicitations, Brother. John," he gave a shallow bow in John's direction, and his mouth twisted with something approaching real pain. "I'd welcome you to the family, but I wouldn't wish us Holmeses on anyone I like," he said, and tapped down the stairwell.

"Hah." Sherlock flung himself into his chair and began picking at the bun again. "See him get around that," he muttered around a mouthful of yeasty sugar, and delicately spat out another currant.

"You know," John said, even though the smarter part of his brain was urgently waving its metaphorical arms stop, stop, for the love of God, horrible wreck ahead if you keep going, "I might have preferred that particular announcement to have been something more than a point in that bloody game of yours. And for you to have waited until I'd actually said yes."

"No, no, it was perfect. Now he can't—"

"I would also," he said, voice rising even though the smarter part of his brain was now jumping frantically up and down and waving warning flags,"like it quite a lot if you could manage to trust me not to conspire with your brother to screw you somehow."

Now Sherlock did look at him, faintly puzzled. "John?"

"Right." He nodded to himself. "Right, then."

Sherlock sprang to his feet, alarmed. "What? What are you thinking? It's not anything good—"

"I've a patient waiting in Dublin."

"John, no! We have an agreement! JOHN!"

# # #

Three days later, John returned to the flat in the small hours of the morning to find that Sherlock had neither eaten nor slept since he'd left, and had apparently spent the entire time pacing, licking nicotine patches, snapping at Mrs Hudson, and blowing up all their tea. John changed his long-standing opinion that night and decided that yes, rage sex did have a place in a relationship, and if stolen Yard handcuffs were involved, so much the better.

# # #

John'd thought things would be better the next day, but despite sex that left them both shaking, sweaty, boneless, and nonverbal, they were still on edge with each other.

Sherlock had never known him as a practicing surgeon. Since he'd returned to England he'd treated colds at the clinic and stitched Sherlock's split lip after an encounter with the butt of a fish knife, but the practice he'd trained for had been in hibernation since he was shot. Now he had work again, real work, the kind of work that meant there was a man who would be able to use his hand again because of John, and he had something to be proud of. Sherlock could understand that. Sherlock would know what that was like, to have work that meant something.

Pleased with himself, he'd started to describe the technique to him over lunch, the first meal of their day because they'd slept until early afternoon. Before he'd even explained the injury, Sherlock had abruptly declared "Boring" and pushed away from the table. John'd sat until his soup was cold, then had left his food on the table, taken his coat, and gone walking.

He went east, away from the big parks and their bloody swans, and watched his breath puff in the cold air with each stride. You shit. You utter shit. You can't even let me have that much, can you? Can't even be glad for me.

He hadn't realized until Sherlock had flounced off just how much he'd looked forward to his approval, how much he'd counted on being able to share this with him, how hopefully he'd waited to see that mouth curve into a slow smile and silver eyes shift towards green at a lazy "Good, John, very good." Because who else could he tell? Stamford would understand the challenge, but John couldn't talk about it with him or anyone else who didn't have proper clearance, and "anyone without clearance" was everyone John knew bar the Holmes brothers.

He briefly imagined Mycroft's face if he were to show up at his office with curry and beer. It didn't bear thinking about.

Three hours later his knee was aching, which reminded him of a time not long ago when he was limping and useless and hopeless and he'd rather not remember that time. It was late enough by then that he could meet somebody at the pub without it seeming like he had nothing better to do and nobody to talk to, so he texted Greg, and when that was a no he texted Terrence for darts and a couple of rounds.

# # #

John had gone away. He had agreed to the arrangement and then he had let Mycroft send him away, away from the flat and from Sherlock, who liked being able to find him at the flat, making it smell like home and warmth and touch and John, all the things he'd never had until John had come.

John had been gone for days, light and dark following light and dark, and he wasn't sure how many it was because he'd lost count after the second morning when he'd decided to start licking the nicotine patches because it was a more efficient delivery method. If John couldn't be in his blood then something needed to fill that emptiness and nicotine was the least terrible thing that might do it.

Then John had come back and that was better, except that it wasn't because he looked tired but very satisfied and so he might leave again to do things for Mycroft. Things that made him a part of a different world, one Sherlock couldn't follow him into because he could never follow those rules even if he cared what all of them were.

Sherlock hadn't planned to use the handcuffs. He'd stood up to face the stairs when he'd heard a key in the door, and when his fierce, stubborn John had come over the threshold and dropped his bag against the wall Sherlock had just stood there, breathing more rapidly than usual because he'd been sucking on the latest patch to soothe his anxiety but instead it had only been getting worse.

"John," he'd said, and he'd replied, "Are you over your sulk n—"

Sherlock had kissed him hard and John had pulled back, gagging and spitting. "Jesus, what the hell have you had in your mouth?"

Sherlock had said, "You left."

John had said, "I'm back now."

"But you left. For Mycroft. Don't do that, John. Don't. Don't." And the hands gripping John's hateful jacket had pushed him against the wall, dragging his body upward, and this time it wasn't for the sake of John's fantasy but because Sherlock wasn't frightened anymore, he was angry.

Then they'd been tearing at each other's clothes and Sherlock had wrestled a naked, aroused John into his room and thrown—thrown—him facedown onto the bed. "You could have let me piss first," John panted. "It's been a long trip and I had coffee."

"Shut up." The handcuffs had been right there on the nightstand, where Sherlock had been practicing picking them before John had left, and Sherlock had straddled him, clamped his heated, struggling body between his thighs, and cuffed both of John's hands to the headboard.

"God damn it, Sherlock, these things can do nerve damage. Not my hands."

"Then don't pull."

And Sherlock had thoroughly buggered him. It was the only word that fit. He'd been careful not to hurt him but the buggery definitely had been going to happen that night. His body had told John's how lonely and worried and above all angry he'd been, and he'd made John understand when his words were inadequate.

When he had poured himself into John, all his lust and rage and desire and fear, he'd felt him shaking beneath him and heard him, muffled by the duvet, gasping, "Please, Sherlock, God, please, I need you to touch me, please." So he had; he'd rolled John onto his side and taken him into his mouth and demanded everything. He hadn't stopped until John was spent and begging, "No more, too—too much, please, love, can't take more, I'm done, I can't."

By the time their bodies had dried he'd stopped being angry. He'd unlocked John, who had immediately gone to the toilet and then insisted Sherlock brush his teeth and tongue and yelled at him for the patches when he'd found out. Then they'd gone back to bed, and John had put his hands on his face and kissed him, saying sleepily, "Missed you."

Everything had been all right after that, until they'd been eating and John's eyes lit up as he talked about the Thing of Mycroft's that he had clearly enjoyed very much and wanted to do again, and all Sherlock could think just then was Why am I not enough for you?

# # #

John might have had a little too much to drink. He might actually have had a little too much to drink two or maybe three glasses ago. He wasn't sure just when he'd crossed the line between you don't get to play with darts anymore, mate and too drunk to do anything truly stupid but at least he was safe now. Something didn't seem quite right about that bit but it was fine because he had fresh chips in front of him and that made everything all right.

"—and the geckos are hanging right there at eye level, just staring at me, and I absolutely cannot get rid of the beer whilst I'm being watched but I'm going to cramp in the worst places if I don't—"

John made a heartfelt sound of solidarity and washed down his deliciously salty chip with another mouthful. He became aware Terrence had fallen silent and he glanced up from his plate to see him, slightly open-mouthed, looking over John's shoulder. He twisted his head around, which made the walls of the pub do interesting but not entirely pleasant things.

"Dr Watson, Sir," said the man behind him. Retired SAS, dressed to blend with the crowd, which made him look exactly like an ex-military bodyguard trying to blend with the crowd. "Mr Holmes sends his regards, and says that in the interest of avoiding further Audi-related accidents, I'm to be your escort, Sir." John was slowly working through that when the man realized simplicity was key. "I'm to take you home, Sir."

"Pull up a chair, then, and have some chips. I'm not ready to go."

"No, Sir. Mr Holmes says to remind you that you don't want your new mobile to end up in the same condition as your old one and you are therefore to leave with me now, Sir."

Drowned? he puzzled, but then it clicked: scratches on the power connection, "From Clara"—oh, Mycroft, you bastard.

"Is he talking about your flatmate?" Terrence asked, shooting sideways glances at the very fit minder by John's shoulder.

"No." John sighed and stuffed a few last chips into his mouth. "Well, yes, but not the way you mean. It's complicated." He wiped his fingers and put on his coat. "See you later."

In the car, he switched on his mobile and ignored the 113 text messages from Sherlock. They would all come down to "Get your arse home and entertain me" and "We're out of milk" and were pointless since he was on his way home without any sodding milk.

# # #

John's unsteady footsteps paused on the stair and then continued on to his bedroom. Sherlock perched on the back of the sofa and watched the fire burn down to embers.

John would apologize soon and then everything would be better. He had a great deal to apologize for but Sherlock was prepared to be generous.

Chapter Text

He dropped his visor, struck the flame, and squinted thoughtfully. Yes. Start with the collar.

# # #

John was entertaining thoughts of removing his own eyeballs with a runcible spoon to stop the light stabbing into his brain when he smelled the smoke. He'd learned to ignore a great many things since moving into the flat but never ignored that one; fire around Sherlock was rarely an end in itself but usually a precursor to something worse, and there were likely to be sirens of some kind in the near future if the situation wasn't diffused immediately.

With this hangover, sirens would kill him. His feet were pounding down the stairs whilst his head was still spinning from the sudden change in position from horizontal to vertical. He could vomit later, on the fire if necessary.

In any normal household—one without a fucktard genius living in it—the fireplace would have been the logical place to start, but John knew the best odds were on the kitchen. Yes, Sherlock was there in a welding mask. John threw out his hands to grab the doorframe and stop his mad rush before he got closer to the torch without knowing the situation.

Sitrep: Sherlock. Plasma arc torch. Smoke. Svalinn jacket.

With a sound of disgust, Sherlock extinguished the torch and flipped up the helmet visor. "Not hot enough. It'll have to be the antimony next."

"What the sodding hell are you doing to my jacket?"

"Nothing. Well, nothing much; it's annoyingly heat-resistant. I've only been able to melt the pull on the zip so far, although I have hopes for the explosive antimony if it's concentrated on—"

John strode forward to snatch up the jacket, then cursed imaginatively and dropped it when it scorched his bare skin. He stuck his burnt fingers in his mouth before realising he had no idea what might have been on the fabric and probably shouldn't be ingesting it.

God damn it. God damn it. He was standing in his own bloody kitchen in his pants and undershirt with a rotting hangover while the same flatmate who'd given him the best blowjob of his life two days ago was now attempting to destroy his body armour in a petulant hissy fit for God only knew what reasons but probably Mycroft and Dublin and the pub were involved. And he was possibly poisoning himself at this very moment, or no, probably not, because Sherlock looked neither alarmed nor curious and observant. But still.

Somehow, all that crossed a line John hadn't known he had.

"Touch the jacket again," he snarled, "and I will let Anderson take a sledgehammer to the bloody skull. I will film it. And then I'll post it on the blog."

The two men bristled at each other for a long moment before Sherlock wordlessly, contemptuously, woundedly flipped down the visor and stalked off to his bedroom.

Not exactly the talk John had been planning to have with him today.

# # #

John never knew if it was by luck or design that Mycroft came by a few hours later whilst Sherlock was still in high dudgeon. Mrs Hudson had knocked on his bedroom door to inform him he had a visitor and added sotto voce that he might want to hurry because Sherlock was doing truly terrible things to his violin, which John could hear only too well for himself. He'd stopped sawing at the poor thing and was staring pointedly and haughtily out the window with his back to the other occupants of the room when John came in.

"I thought you might like to review your patient's progress," Mycroft said, handing John a paper medical file.

He was surprised; he'd thought he'd be out of the information loop after the surgery. He skimmed the notes, pleased to see the prognosis for a return of at least moderate function in the hand. Considering the injury, Mycroft's agent was lucky not to have needed a prosthetic.

I did that. He'll be able to dress himself, eat, hold a phone in that hand because of me.

"Thank you," he told Mycroft sincerely, returning the file. "That's good to know."

"The patient sends his personal thanks as well, Doctor. He understood the risks and is happy with the results."

"I'm...glad to hear that, glad I could help." He couldn't help shooting a sideways glance to see if Sherlock was listening, but all he could see was the bow tapping against the fingers of his free hand behind his back.

They made meaningless small talk for a few more minutes, John so distracted by Sherlock's tapping that he could not have said later exactly when Mycroft left. He could hear the popping of the logs in the fire, the patter of rain against the windowpane, the hiss of car tyres outside.

"My work matters too," he said at last.

"How many surgeons could have performed that operation?"

"No two of us would have done it quite the same way."

Sherlock finally turned to look at him. "So this time it had to be you, out of all the physicians—"

"Surgeons."

"—at Mycroft's beck and call, it had to be you. He had to come and take you."

"I see. I'm not the world's only consulting detective, I'm not unique—"

"You know that's not what I'm trying to say."

"No, I don't. I don't know what you're trying to say, but I know—SHUT UP. Shut up. For once, Christ, shut up and listen because I can't see any way this," he gestured between the two of them, "can work if you don't get it: my work matters. It matters to me, it matters to my patients, and it fucking well ought to matter to you because you told me you wanted everything and this is part of everything. You don't get to pick and choose if you say I have to give you everything I am."

"It doesn't have to be like this. Not Mycroft."

"It does, it really does. He was right, you know. I can't practice anywhere else and still be free to come when you call. I'd been trying to sort that for months. It doesn't work any other way."

Sherlock made an agitated, abortive motion.

"You said you wanted the blood on my hands," John said. "You meant the killing, I know, but it's this too, Sherlock. Time to decide. Did you mean it, that you want it all?"

"You keep leaving," he burst out, and he sounded achingly young.

"So do you, in so many ways. You leave me behind in more ways than I can count. Even when you're here you're gone sometimes. Did you think that doesn't affect me?"

Sherlock was silent for so long that John started to get up, only to hear him say, low and rough, "I kill you, you know. In my dreams. You die because of me, because I didn't keep you safe, because I wasn't clever enough or fast enough and I didn't see the danger in time. You die and I follow."

"Then at least we go together." He knew his therapist would be horrified at that and it wasn't the least bit healthy, but it was true and right and comforting, and Sherlock at last came and leaned his head against John's.

Things were not settled, but they were better and he didn't ache as much.

"You know, I half-expected to find you sniffing my hair in bed this morning."

"I was waiting for you to apologize."

"Of course you were."

"Still waiting."

"Of course you are."

# # #

Things were not settled, but they were getting there. John made risotto and Sherlock ate. John watched telly and Sherlock mostly refrained from rolling his eyes. Sherlock snuck his hand under John's shirt and John let him. John complained about Sherlock's cold feet and Sherlock pretended not to hear.

They slept in the same bed, and when at half two Sherlock woke, he ran a line of small, nipping kisses along John's ribs and hooked his fingers under the waistband of his pyjamas. John tensed and brought his hands up to the long, pale ones, shaking his head. "John?" he asked softly, and there were many questions in that one word.

Four long heartbeats, and then John's grip changed, helping to push down the fabric.

Things were not settled, but they were better.

# # #

Two days later, Sherlock raced off on his own without a word whilst John was still at a crime scene. A very pissed-off John was fumbling out a text when a prickling on the back of his neck made him surreptitiously scan the area. One of Mycroft's men met his eyes, casually tapped the phone at his waist, and then went back to watching the crowd.

He immediately abandoned his text and phoned Mycroft.

"No names. Where is he supposed to be?"

Oh, shit. Something's happening and Mycroft hasn't got him either. He began making his way to the black car a few streets away as quickly as he could without being obvious. "Bart's."

He heard Mycroft issuing orders to someone in the office before returning to the phone. "We need you."

"What's going on?"

"This is not a secure line. Get in the car, Doctor." The line went dead and John stopped worrying about being obvious and just ran.

# # #

"Jesus."

There were at least eight agents being prepped for surgery, possibly some in the operating theatres already and God only knew how many were incoming. Mycroft's other medical specialists were being pulled in as rapidly as they could be transported. Clearly something had gone disastrously wrong but as no one was briefing him on that side of things he'd just have to wonder what.

Sherlock, Sherlock, Sherlock, his mind chanted as he scrubbed and gowned, and then he had to put it all aside and concentrate on the damaged body in front of him. He was very good at that.

He was finally out of surgery quite a long time later, gulping nasty coffee and carefully watching his left hand for fatigue tremors, when a different bodyguard brought Sherlock to him—walking under his own power, thank God, but one sleeve blood-soaked.

"What happened?" He steered him towards a chair but Sherlock yanked his arm away and began pacing.

"I have work to do and these imbeciles won't give me access." John winced when a fresh bloom of blood appeared on the formerly white shirt as Sherlock threw his limbs about.

"Well, let me look at your arm and then maybe—"

"I can't work without data—"

"Sit down." John had spent the last eighteen hours giving orders and being immediately obeyed without question. Sherlock's legs folded and his arse hit the plastic seat as if his strings had been cut.

They stared at each other in mutual astonishment, John's mouth slightly open, Sherlock's cheeks pinkening. It had suddenly become difficult to swallow.

With an effort, John filed that away for future exploration and resolutely turned his attention to cutting cloth away from Sherlock's injury. "What did you do? What did he do?" he asked the bodyguard.

"Not important," Sherlock said hastily. "I place myself in your capable hands, Dr Watson."

"Nice try. You're changing the subject. We're going to need to soak this off. How old is this injury, Sherlock?"

He gave his How Can You Possibly Expect Me to Clutter My Hard Drive With Such Inconsequential Trivia shrug.

"He refused to be treated until he could see you, Sir," the bodyguard offered with an air of a man ensuring that responsibility for possible gangrene would not fall to him.

Too old to stitch, it turned out once John had a look at it, and full of debris, mostly fibre but glass flakes as well. "You should have had this cleaned at once," he said, knowing he might as well have been scolding a houseplant for all the notice Sherlock would take. "It's probably going to scar. Is this some kind of twisted apology?"

Sherlock just sat there with his I Do Not Know How Your Funny Little Brain Comes Up With These Notions expression whilst John picked out the rubbish until John sighed and said, "Don't be that stupid again," which earned him a glare and a sniff. "Have you heard what all this was about?"

"Mr Holmes—Mr Mycroft Holmes will see you in his office when you've finished, Sir."

There was no possible way that could be good.

# # #

Mycroft breathed with the unnatural stiffness of a man with a cracked rib. John squinted at Sherlock's bound arm and wondered what they weren't telling him. Probably more than he could imagine.

Sherlock looked as delighted as if it were Christmas and his birthday wrapped up with high explosives and a diseased pancreas. John felt like he'd been dragged behind a lorry from Bristol to Bath without a chance to shower afterwards and then expected to sit exams in theoretical physics. He followed the conversation a bit better when "tactical counterstrike" came up, but the brothers appeared to be communicating in a high-speed shorthand of their own in which few sentences were completed and entire plans of action were referred to by single phrases.

The codecracking device they'd snitched a little while ago was at the heart of it. He got that. Certain groups thought the best way to it was through Sherlock and John, who had taken it. He got that, too. Somebody else'd had the idea to go through Mycroft, and that was where things got interesting because the number of people who could possibly reach Mycroft was quite small and most of them were supposed to be on his side.

# # #

The good doctor was making a heroic effort, but clearly the body was weaker than the spirit and he was flagging. He hoped Sherlock would remember to let the man sleep at least a short while.

Sherlock had once accused Mycroft of indulging in the delusion that he was a medieval lord with vassals and minions at his command. He'd scored with that hit, but not for the reasons he thought. Fealty ran both ways, and to the extent Mycroft was able, he protected his own; failing that, he made their deaths useful instead of empty and pointless.

Eleven men and women had been wounded protecting him and the interests of the nation. Three were dead. He had debts to repay.

The two men in his office now were his best chance to do so, and anyone who wasn't frankly terrified by that wasn't sane.

Chapter Text

John always found it amusing when people assumed he'd developed the skill allowing him to sleep anywhere at the drop of a hat whilst in the Army. Other doctors never made that mistake, remembering their own years on the A&E rotation only too well.

He woke on a narrow bed with the softest, crispest sheets he'd ever touched. Right, then. He was in the safe-house Mycroft had insisted on. A very, very posh safe-house. Sherlock was pacing and messing about with his phone on the other side of the room instead of tearing around London, so they must still be in lockdown.

He scrubbed at his face with his hands. "Assume I haven't heard anything you've said for the last five hours."

"You've been asleep for three."

"Assume I don't understand anything you and Mycroft said before that. What's going on?"

"Mycroft would prefer it not be treason. That's always messy."

"Do you think it is?"

"Not enough data. Well co-ordinated attack, excellent intel. Not many people would have been able to connect Mycroft to the codecracker, even fewer would have been able to reach him. But what were they after, exactly? He doesn't have the device, that's long gone, and the people who came after us wouldn't expect us to have it any longer either. What else could it be? That one's easy: information. About what? The device? Possibly, but what would be worth the trouble an abduction would cause? We're not technological experts; no one who's ever seen you type would believe you know anything whatsoever about technology. "

"I—"

"You have trouble with chip-and-PIN machines, John."

"I'm quite good with my phone."

Sherlock's expression was half pity, half disbelief. "You actually think that's true. What must that be like, to persist in a delusion in the face of all evidence to the contrary?"

"I've had three hours of sleep in the last two days and I was in surgery for most of one of those. Could I at least have coffee and toast before you start in on me?"

Sherlock rolled his eyes, strode to the door, flung it open, announced "Breakfast here" loudly to the hallway, and slammed it shut. "There. Now, as I was saying, information. Specifically, information you, I, and Mycroft would all possess. Not about the device, but about the maker of the device. We've all seen her. Obvious."

"They think we can lead them to the inventor?"

"Yes."

"You figured that out from practically nothing. That's brilliant."

Sherlock's derisive snort was overshadowed by his obvious preening. "Basic, John," he said, but he caught his gaze in a scorching eyefuck that sent John's heart thumping against his breastbone.

Or that might have been knocking at the door. Damn.

Sherlock tossed him an unfamiliar dressing gown and tipped his head towards what John assumed was an en suite bathroom.

Fifteen minutes later, showered, shaven, and dressed in the suit that had been hanging just outside the bathroom, John found a breakfast tray set up in the bedroom. Mycroft was there, Sherlock was not.

Mycroft waved him towards a chair by the tray. "Eat, please. It can compensate somewhat for lack of sleep. We need to talk and we haven't much time."

"I won't—"

"—conspire with me against him, I know. I'd never ask you to betray his trust, John. I'd never put you in a position where you'd have to agree to that."

John didn't even have to think very hard to spot the loophole there. He remained standing and only looked longingly at the food once.

Mycroft closed his eyes and sighed, mask slipping momentarily. He looked weary and injured and whilst John knew any expression of vulnerability from the elder Holmes was calculated, he was just as sure this one wasn't manufactured. "Please, John. There are things you must know."

John sat and, being practical, spooned eggs onto a plate. You simply never knew when you were going to get a chance to eat whilst running around after Sherlock.

"Sherlock explained this may be a matter of treason? Then you understand the need for tact and discretion, and you understand that all matters concerning tact will fall to you. More urgently, I need you to understand how important it is that Sherlock succeeds.

"Until recently, Sherlock's abilities have attracted only passing interest among certain of my peers. His little cases had been local in impact and no official notice had to be taken of an eccentric younger brother with a drug problem who dabbled in solving crimes as a hobby. His involvement with Jim Moriarty changed that. His lifestyle and talents have come under close scrutiny and there is going to be increasing pressure to bring him into the fold and under someone's control."

"I can't see him tolerating that. He'd see it as a prison, a straitjacket."

"And destroy himself to get free, yes. He has done once already, or nearly so. I know you've little reason to trust me, but we are on the same side in this matter, you and I. I'm not a villain, John, despite what Sherlock thinks, and I cannot abide the waste of human potential."

John said nothing. Loudly.

"Very well, if you can't believe I want what's best for him, at least believe I don't want to see him pushed to the breaking point of frustration and desperation. My brother is extraordinary and capable of great things if allowed his safety valves. Without those, he is an atomic bomb."

John's appetite evaporated.

Mycroft shifted, trying to ease the pain in his ribs. "If I can't prove that he can be useful to us, that he is a unique, irreplaceable resource worth the trouble he causes and the concerns raised by his violent allergy to authority, I don't know how long I can shield him. He has to be valuable enough to us to outweigh the risks of his potentially being used against us. This investigation is an opportunity the likes of which may not come again. I can't afford to let it pass by."

John licked his lips. "And you can't tell him this."

"You can imagine his reaction if I tell him he needs to prove himself to my peers."

Yes, he could imagine it only too well.

"So you'll need to keep him focused, John."

"Wait, what?"

# # #

"No, no, no, no, no," John was saying to Mycroft as Sherlock opened the door. That was excellent. John had finally remembered the coda.

"Ah, good, you've eaten," he said, and brusquely tipped John forward in his chair, yanked off his suit jacket, thrust the cardigan he'd managed to locate in one of the clothespresses into his arms, and headed towards the bathroom.

"Childish, Sherlock," Mycroft called after him as he dumped the wool into the bathtub and turned on the hot water.

"I'm not the one trying to put him in a suit when he prefers jumpers, Mycroft."

"Boys," said John tiredly.

"I was saying to John that we'll need a cover story to explain why you're moving in these social circles again as you investigate. It's only natural that I should invite my brother and his partner to stay with me as we arrange a public celebration of their engagement."

That...wasn't actually a bad idea, even if it was Mycroft's.

"No," said John.

Mycroft continued, "You would of course wish to begin making connections, talking to parents about school choices and the like, planning for the future."

"I'd really rather not."

Sherlock ran possible scenarios in his mind's eye. "It accounts neatly for everything..." It also provided the perfect social barrier to oblivious idiots who would otherwise make entirely inappropriate advances towards his John.

"In case anyone cares what I think, I am opposed to this idea."

"But it—"

"Pick something else, anything, I don't care. But I can't carry that off."John stood, dropping the cardigan into the just-vacated chair, crossed to the door, and marched away down the outer hallway.

"Now look what you've done," he snarled at Mycroft, and went out after John.

# # #

Was that real gold leaf on the ceiling? Why would anyone even do that, except to show they had so much money they could piss it away on hideous decor? "What was this?" he asked without turning around. "Ballroom?" I'd be such a crap dad. It's better this way, really.

"Dining room." Sherlock ghosted to his shoulder and simply stood beside him. John regretted leaving the jumper behind; the empty, cavernous room was bloody cold and that made his shoulder ache.

Having a who-can-be-silent-longer contest with Sherlock was like trying to stare down a cat: you only won if your opponent became terminally bored. He cleared his throat. "I would try, Sherlock, of course I'd try. I just...I don't think I could be convincing and we really need to carry this off."

"It's fine, John. We'll come up with something else." One side of his mouth twisted in a half-wistful smile. "Ah, well. I was so looking forward to introducing you to Sebastian Wilkes as my husband-to-be."

"If you're going to manipulate me at least try not to be so bloody obvious about it." Anger was so much easier to deal with than longing and loss, so familiar. He knew what to do with anger, how to press it down and hold it primed and ready and waiting. He knew how to be both angry and calm. "There's something else, too, you know. If we do this, there'll be expectations, pressures, assumptions from the people around us, influencing us. Things will change, and we're not ready for that."

"It's only—"

"A cover story? No, because people will treat us differently and it will affect how we are with each other. You think it won't matter, but it will. It's jumping about six steps ahead of ourselves and that won't lead anywhere good. I know you want to skip the boring bits. I know you—we both know...Sherlock, we both know neither of us is ever leaving. But that doesn't mean we're ready to be...bound together."

"That makes no sense, John. If it's going to happen eventually then it may as well happen now."

"No. Some things take time. I've been remembering m'gran, the one with the dahlias. She was an amateur naturalist, taught me about botany, entomology, things like that. I forgot so much," (he resolutely ignored Sherlock's knowing snort) "but I remember the butterflies. She had a butterfly garden, and one summer I got to see one hatch.

"She told me that the caterpillar spins a cocoon, and then...turns to soup, as she put it. Dissolves. That before it becomes a butterfly, it has to become a cocoon full of goo."

"I am familiar with the process of metamorphosis, as well as the proper terminology."

"Bully for you; I was eight and I wasn't, so she explained it in a way I could understand. She said if you shook up a chrysalis, you'd disrupt the process and only ever have a cocoon of goo. She also told me that when the butterfly hatched, I couldn't blow on its wings to dry them faster so it could fly sooner, because it took time for them to straighten out and they had to stay moist until then or they'd be deformed."

"You think this...process of ours could be disrupted?"

"Not leaving just means neither of us leaves. Being happy with each other takes much more work, and it takes time. This thing—whatever it is between us, it's in a—a formative stage."

Sherlock just looked frustrated. "We could add a catalyst—"

"And watch it explode. Stop pushing this and start using that massive intellect to figure out how to give ourselves time and still solve this case."

He made a dissatisfied noise but John could see the wheels already turning at the challenge. "If your grandmother taught you entomology, why did you call my insects 'bugs'? Only a third of them are."

"They looked like beetles. I wasn't much into beetles. I liked her bees, though." He looked around the echoing room again and took a deep breath. "Sherlock? Mycroft...thinks it's really important you solve this one."

A pause, and then a dropping away of tension. A soft hand in his hair tilted his forehead into a kiss; a hummingbird pulse drummed in the white throat under his cheek.

"Thank you, my loyal John."

# # #

Given John's vehemently expressed opinion on the matter, it was probably best if Sherlock didn't mention that with a bit of help from the registrar who owed him a favour, he'd forged John's signature in the marriage register eight days ago. Sherlock was always very careful with his catalysts and there were hardly ever unintentional explosions.

Metamorphosis. Really, John got such odd ideas in his funny little brain sometimes.

Chapter Text

"All I'm saying is that it might be a good idea not to piss off the blokes whose job it is to take a bullet to save your arse."

Why did John keep going on about that?

"Right, I can tell you're not even listening. Just...would you just apologise? When we get out of the car, would you just take one minute and apologise? Because yes, I know it's their job and yes, I know Mycroft would have them killed if they didn't take a bullet when they were supposed to, but have you considered that if they're going to die either way, they might prefer to let the obnoxious bastard that is your good self die alongside them?"

And so when the car parked on Baker Street Sherlock ended up lagging behind for a moment whilst John went upstairs to pack a few things. "I must apologise," he said and then turned away, flipped his collar up against the wind, and opened the street door, leaving them open-mouthed.

He was three steps up the staircase when he heard, "Sherlock, dear, just a moment, I have something for you. Well, for both of you, of course."

That sounded promising. Perhaps there were biscuits. The hallway smelt of baking and Mrs Hudson was always generous with her sweet buns, saying Sherlock needed feeding up. He subtly sucked in his cheeks and stepped into her flat to kiss her forehead.

"Here we are, now. I thought you boys would like a keepsake. You kept it so quiet! I understand not wanting a fuss or a crowd but I thought you'd at least tell—well, no matter. Young people these days! In my day we'd have made a fuss about it, reception and rings and such, but then in my day the two of you couldn't have—well. Very small gathering, was it?"

With a dreadful sense of foreboding, Sherlock peeled the wrapping paper from the flat package Mrs Hudson handed him. Oh, no. How in the hell had she come across this?

It was a large picture frame, pink and gilt, with garlands, bluebirds, rosebuds, interlocked rings and love hearts. There was glitter. Astonishingly, the frame was not the most horrifying aspect of what he now held. That distinction was reserved for the newspaper page matted beneath the glass, a newspaper page on which, under "Public Announcements," it was printed for all the world to see that amongst the other noteworthy events of the day a civil union had been contracted between the parties of—

"Sherlock? I'm not packing for you, you know. If you want anything from your room then you'll need to get your lazy arse up here and get it yourself."

Apparently the registrar had taken it upon himself to do Sherlock one more little surprise favour.

This fell under the category of a Bit Not Good at All.

"I hope you like it. If the two of you didn't want a fuss then I certainly don't want to make one. Just your brother and John's sister there, I expect, and perhaps John wore that nice suit of his. I wondered why he was getting such a fine set of clothes and I—well, of course I hoped but it wasn't my place to say anything if you didn't tell me..." Her voice trailed off and her eyes were suspiciously bright. "You could have trusted me not to say anything, you know. I wouldn't have gossiped it about if you'd said—"

"Sherlock?"

"What are you wittering on about, Mrs Hudson?" he snapped.

"Well, I mean, if it was just family there then of course I wouldn't have expected an invitation but you could have told—"

Oh. She thought they'd had the wedding without her. Well, they had, but they'd had it without John too, and strictly speaking he was supposed to be integral to the proceedings so she could hardly be put out about not being there under those circumstances. It seemed she was, though, if the quivering lip meant anything. Really Quite Extremely Not Good, Not Even a Little.

He wrapped an arm around her small shoulders and leaned into her conspiratorially. "Mrs Hudson, we'd have loved to have you there but we had to do it in such a rush. Mycroft disapproves, you know, and he might have made things...difficult."

"Oh. Oh, dear. I thought Mycroft liked John."

"Well, you know those poncy snobs. Good enough to be his brother's flatmate, but a brother-in-law is a different kettle of fish."

"Well." Righteous indignation surrounded her like a cloud of cheap perfume. "Well, we'll hope he'll come around eventually. That does happen sometimes, you know, especially if—well, at any rate, just see if he gets any of my fairy cakes if he's going to look down his nose at John! Such a nice young man, and a doctor."

Presumably Mycroft's fictional disapproval would have been justified had John been a plumber, then. Interesting.

He pressed the package back into her hands. "Why don't we keep this for later and surprise John? Perhaps Christmas?"

"Oh, there's an idea! I'll just tuck this back—"

"Yes, very good, you do that and I'll go on and take these biscuits up to him. We'll be out for a few days, Mrs Hudson, so I'll just text you to get fresh milk on our way back."

"Not your—"

Oxytocin, he decided, climbing the stairs. Large, near-continuous, post-orgasmic doses of oxytocin, vasopressin, and dopamine might keep John from noticing any little remarks alluding to their happy state dropped by others that might occur over the next few days. An inoculant of sorts against any uncharacteristic bouts of observation on John's part.

Because if Mrs Hudson knew, God knew how many other people did. Mycroft surely did and they were going to be staying in the man's house and Mycroft had no reason at all to do Sherlock any favours.

# # #

Whatever the hell had gotten into Sherlock, John thought as his eyes rolled back for the fourth or maybe fifth or seventh time, he sure as hell wasn't going to complain about it. Just this morning he'd brushed off John's hopeful advances with an irritated "I'm working, go and masturbate in the shower if you must" that had effectively wilted his enthusiasm and taken care of the problem in an entirely different way than the one he'd been hoping for.

Then in one of those typically Sherlockian about-faces, he'd pressed John up against the doorframe of the kitchen in Baker Street and slipped his hand down his trousers until John had begged him not to make him come with Mrs Hudson hanging around the foot of the staircase lest he never be able to look his landlady in the eye again. As it was he'd had to position his suitcase to conceal his raging hard-on and the bottle of lube in his trouser pocket as they left.

Sherlock had positively smouldered at him during the car ride from the flat to Mycroft's, and quite possibly John had not breathed even once the entire trip. Immediately they'd arrived, Sherlock had whisked him past the rest of the house into what would be their shared bedroom. John had the impression of lots of wood and light but mostly his thoughts, if you could call them thoughts, were of the desperate need to get Sherlock's wicked tongue on his cock right now.

Now they were on the bed and John didn't know how that had happened or where their clothes had gone and he really, really didn't care because he'd kept hold of the lube, which was the important thing. For a bloke who had never given nor received a blowjob until three weeks ago, Sherlock was bloody fantastic and John told him so over and over. He couldn't even imagine what it was going to be like when the man had more experience. Probably fatal for John, but what the hell, it was a good way to go.

Sherlock's fingers slid further back and pressed, and John slapped his hand over his mouth and bit the fleshy mound to muffle his sharp groan.

Sherlock tugged at his wrist. "I want to hear you."

"Mycroft—"

"—is out. It's just us here."

He was lying, he knew Sherlock was lying and Mycroft was in the house, probably somewhere where he could hear them but apparently John had a kink about some part of that (which he would not think about right now) because arousal shot through him and he let his hand fall to the bed as he screamed, "Bloody fuck do that again."

# # #

"—and he's never met Mr Holmes the younger, Sir, so naturally he thought that when you had visited them that day it had been to attend the ceremony, and as a result he classified this as low priority."

It was an understandable mistake, if unfortunate. He sighed. "As you say, he's never met Sherlock. Don't look so anxious, Summers, I'm not going to have him fired, but make sure he understands that nothing concerning my brother is ever classified as low priority, won't you?"

Mycroft regarded the document in his hands. John Watson was a man of exceptional talents, it seemed, including the ability to be in a Dublin surgery and a London registrar's office at the same time.

Trust issues, he recalled from the doctor's therapist's notes. He closed his eyes. He trusts you, little brother, and you have been irredeemably foolish. Let's hope not unforgivably so.

# # #

There was some awkwardness as they tried to work around various injuries old and new until John became so frustrated with Sherlock's refusal to stop bearing weight on his injured arm that he barked, "Lie down!"

They were both stunned when Sherlock's muscles instantly slackened and he dropped bonelessly to the mattress.

Well. That tone was...stimulating.

John recovered first. "Good," he said, a bit breathlessly. "That's good." In a firmer tone, he commanded, "Now stay still." He maintained eye contact whilst his warm hands slid down the body laid out beneath him, thumbs flicking over flushed nipples, fingers curling through damp hair below the navel. He made an obscenely satisfied noise as he slicked Sherlock's erection.

"Still," he ordered again, and Sherlock fisted the sheets into knots trying not to buck his hips as John adjusted them both, licked his lips, and slowly lowered himself onto Sherlock.

That pitiful, needy whining noise was most certainly not coming from him.

Moments later John ordered, "Okay, move now, move with me," and he gasped in relief. They began searching out the tempo for this particular encounter, discovering it would be slow, deliberate, ardent.

He drank in the sight of his John deep in passion, chest flushed, hips rocking, throat working around low, earthy moans. His phallus stood to attention between them, proud and wet with arousal, and Sherlock reached to glide his fingertips over the head in small circles. The moans turned to shuddering cries and he found himself driving up into the body clenched so wonderfully around his own, wanting more, more, more of those exquisite sounds.

Too soon—he'd wanted to make it last for John, but he hadn't yet taught his unco-operative transport to wait—too soon he felt coiling heat in his abdomen, felt the wave of his climax racing towards him. "John," he said, and John said, "I'm here," and took his free hand palm to palm, fingers interlaced, tethering him so that he could let himself fall.

He bowed off the bed with John's name ripped out of him, dazed and frightened at the blankness of his mind, and John's arms came around and held him tightly as the pleasure wracked his body. He heard John's low laugh of approval, smug and contented, as he followed him back down to the mattress and lay atop him, running soothing hands over his ribs and pressing kisses to his neck.

"Good to see I've still got it in me," he rumbled, and Sherlock replied, "No, I think you'll find it's all over my chest" which set them both laughing breathlessly.

"That," said John, easing himself off and collapsing next to Sherlock, "wasn't something I thought I'd ever do a month ago. Jesus, everything with you is just amazing."

Sherlock brushed his lips over his temple, which tasted faintly of the ocean and wholly of John. "Yes," he said. "Amazing."

I cannot lose this man, he thought as John drifted into light sleep. Better I should lose my beating heart, because my John has already replaced it.

And then, That was sentiment.

Bugger.

# # #

If you've quite finished, there is a matter you and I need to discuss. I think you would prefer we not do it over dinner with John present. My office. M

# # #

Mycroft did not look up from the report he was poring over when Sherlock dropped insolently into the chair, merely slid a copy of the registrar's document across the desk in response. "Explain about Victor, and he may forgive you for this."

Sherlock sniffed. "I don't take relationship advice from you, Mycroft."

"Oh?" He glanced up and wished he hadn't; Sherlock had come still rumpled from bedding his partner, hoping, no doubt, to provoke a reaction of disgust. He refused to allow the childish tactic to succeed. "Am I wrong? Had he said yes to you in the half hour between when I left the flat that day and when the car came for him? Was he so overcome with the need to be yours he couldn't wait until he'd returned? Then tell me why he wears no ring, Brother, because if John Watson ever made that commitment he would wear one."

His brother stared at the wall, defiantly silent. Mycroft's fingers tightened on the report and did not fling it at his unrepentant, foolish head. At last he blew out his breath and said, "I can't fix this one for you, Sherlock. I could have made the register entry disappear but too many people have seen the announcement. He will find out. It will be much worse if it doesn't come from you first." He rapped the pages of the report square and dropped the folder into his briefcase. "You have until tomorrow afternoon. That's when we three will be hosting a small luncheon, ostensibly to introduce John to the people you'll be investigating. Someone is bound to mention it to him then."

Still nothing.

He closed his eyes. "Sherlock. Mummy never left Father, either, but no one could say their union was a happy one."

A hiss of indrawn breath. "How dare—"

Because I am the one who will be trying to gather the shards if you lose him, he didn't say, because his brother would never let him into his life that way again. Not after Victor.

Inevitably, Sherlock slammed the door as he stormed out.

He had a new nightmare now, to add to the ones about Whitehall and the morgue. In this one, his thoughtless, stupid little brother lost John Watson and if they were all very lucky, he only spiralled into ever-increasing doses of cocaine until one day he found the dose that burned out his heart.

If they weren't, he made all of London and half the world his funeral pyre.

# # #

John reflexively dropped into a crouch when the door smashed open, reaching for a sidearm that wasn't there since he was only in his pants and socks. "What—?" he started before Sherlock flung himself down on the bed.

"I need to think. Go away."

John sighed and reached for his trousers, wrinkling his nose and unpacking a fresh pair when he saw the stain over the crotch. "Right. I'll see if Greg wants to watch the game at the—"

"No! I've...changed my mind. I'd like you to stay. Here. In the room."

"It's not particularly thrilling to watch you lie there and think, Sherlock."

"You could read. I packed that horrible novel you were reading." John was going to refuse until Sherlock added, "And maybe you could stroke my hair?"

What could he say but yes?

# # #

"I don't eat when I'm on a case, Mycroft."

"Then for God's sake just let it sit in front of you."

We are never, John thought resolutely, having any formal family gathering of any kind for any occasion. Never. Someone would end up dead and any surviving Holmeses would bitch about how there was no flair to it.

He shifted in his chair, trying to ease the tightness in his lower back. He wasn't as young as he used to be and lying around with Sherlock hadn't done his lumbar spine any favours although it had been worth it to run his fingers through those soft curls and watch Sherlock's expression smooth out and grow lighter whilst his breathing deepened. He'd looked happy and relaxed as he sorted out bits and pieces of information about the case aloud, organizing them in his idiosyncratic way.

He'd only stayed on the bed for a little over half an hour before he'd sprung up and paced, but it had been a nice half hour. Looking at him stretched out and loose-limbed, John'd found himself recalling Sherlock's response to his old captain-voice and musing idly that silver dogtags would look very fine indeed against that long, lean neck. A sudden vision of holding a squirming, moaning Sherlock down by the tags in his fist whilst he roughly buggered him over—oh, Jesus Christ—Mycroft's desk had horrified him. Yes, horrified. That was a terrible, awful thing. Very bad. And he'd left his dogtags at home and Mycroft surely locked his office.

Sherlock could unlock anything. And John did have ties.

Stop it, stop it, stop it. You know they know what you're thinking. And this is serious shit, Watson, an awful lot is riding on this investigation so grow the hell up and get your mind out of your—Sherlock's—pants.

Right. So, as he understood it, there were three main factions among Mycroft's cronies: Waterhouse's, Fitzhugh's, and Mycroft's. Waterhouse seemed the most likely candidate for the attack, but for precisely that reason Sherlock would be concentrating his attentions on the other two (since even Mycroft's people were not above suspicion) whilst not ruling out the first.

"We won't mention anything about your relationship to Sherlock except that you're his partner—you have no objections to that becoming public knowledge?—and let them make of it what they will. They'll assume Sherlock's brought you to meet me in order to, er—"

"Suck up," Sherlock supplied helpfully.

"—persuade me to release his trust fund upon his marriage."

Of course there was a trust fund. Naturally. The people he was going to be introduced to saw the world in terms of trust funds and politically, financially expedient relationships and he should remember that. And of course he didn't mind if the whole bloody country knew he was shagging a man—it wasn't as if it mattered if the women he'd dated would wonder if he'd been closeted the whole time. Lately they'd all thought that anyway.

He stabbed the fork at his dinner and cleared his throat. "That's fine."

"I regret the necessary intrusion on your personal life."

God damn the bloody Holmeses. Couldn't even leave a man's private thoughts alone, could they? "It's...fine."

Unspoken but clearly understood amongst the three of them was that John, with his open face and warm manner, so clearly the naif outsider in these rarified circles and obviously unused to political intrigue (civilians, he'd come to realise, were astonishingly ignorant about what an officer posted to Kandahar Province might know about political intrigue and backstabbing), would be their stalking-goat to draw out the enemy. People often underestimated and dismissed him. People liked to talk to him and thought they didn't have to be so careful around the friendly bloke with the ready laugh. He'd always found that useful, and now so did Mycroft.

"You appear to be the easiest target," he said, "the least well guarded and the one most likely to talk without realising what you've revealed. We'll let them come to you."

John was rather looking forward to it. It wasn't as exciting as chasing murderous villains over the rooftops but it was a damned sight better than yet another bloody run to Tesco.

"Do you realise you hold yourself as if you're going into battle tomorrow?" Mycroft asked over evening brandy. "Try not to do that; it's always noticed on some level." John mentally translated that exactly as he was meant to: Do not fuck this up. Sherlock's future depends on this.

No pressure or anything.

# # #

Late that night, after the strategical discussions were over for the day and after Sherlock had brought him to a throat-shattering, messy orgasm over the side of the bed (whatever the hell had gotten into him, John hoped it stuck around for a while), John dreamt of chasing a traitor through a dark and crowded Underground, his Browning in one hand and a chrysalis in the other, trying to run fast enough to protect Sherlock without jostling the fragile life inside the cocoon and failing at both.

He jerked awake and heaved breaths in through his nose, stripped off his sweat-soaked shirt and pressed his forehead against his knees. He was glad Sherlock was wherever he was out of the room so there were no witnesses to the shameful whine he couldn't seem to stop.

Lovely. A brand-new night terror. Just what he needed.

Things really had been simpler in Afghanistan.

Chapter Text

Even before John was fully awake for the second time, he registered limbs draped over him, hair tickling his face, a familiar scent surrounding him—and frigid toes digging into his calf. The light from outside was dim and dove-grey, a liquid mercury two shades darker than Sherlock's eyes. Sleet drummed against the windowpanes.

The bed was warm and soft and full of Sherlock, and for once John didn't have to hurry off to the toilet. He left his eyes closed and pressed a kiss to the skin under his lips; Sherlock drew him in closer and sighed deeply.

Desire was a slow burn, stirring embers rather than a conflagration. The mouth against his was soft, the hands moving over his back deliberate, their breathing deep and relaxed.

"Didn't think you'd want this, with a case on."

"Verisimilitude. We're supposed to be lovers; you should look as if we have sex often." John couldn't tell if he was kidding or not. The nips under his ear convinced him he didn't care.

# # #

John had started to speak twice and stopped himself; Sherlock ran a hand up the long line of his arm and shoulder and said, "Ask."

"Is this..." John was rarely hesitant. "Is it all right if we do this now? If it's...more than sex, when you have to be sharp and brilliant and on your guard in just a little while? Would it, um, be a distraction?"

It took him a long moment to puzzle out what John meant, but when he did—

He could have told himself it was because John needed the comfort; clearly his nightmares had returned. He could have said it was insurance against John's anger if he found out about the registrar's. He knew very well, though, that those were partial truths at best, and to himself, if to no one else, he could admit the yearning and need that leapt through him like an electrical charge when he realised what John was asking. More than sex.

"I'll be fine," he said hoarsely, and gathered his John tightly to him, held him close and shivered with anticipation and longing and fear, always the fear, but the longing and need were so much greater than that and he could do this, he wanted to do this. He wanted John to do this.

John's taste. John's warmth. John's body and his ridiculous, easy affection, given so freely. All of this offered to him, to be his, now.

Yes. Oh yes. Please.

# # #

He could do this for hours. He could do this for days. He hoped he'd have a lifetime to do this, to explore this man in every way possible, to let quiet passion run through his hands and his mouth and his cock, because Sherlock needed it, needed to be shown what he felt since neither of them was likely to say the words. Absurd but true: neither of them could choke them out, despite everything.

They spent a long time kissing softly, the sounds mingling with the sleet and that strange, otherworldly light. They hadn't spent much time kissing each other before except as foreplay and it was deeply arousing and comforting at once to take his time, to hear the small sounds that pleased him so much, to be aware of his half-hard cock and enjoy the desire without urgency. Sherlock cupped his head and breathed a tiny whimper into his mouth; John's hunger rose sharply and his fingers tightened in dark curls momentarily before he forced them open. No. Let this be slow and sweet, make his fantasy real. He needs it so much.

Eventually they moved beyond kisses. He stroked and caressed, worshipping with his fingers, his lips, his gaze, with all his heart. Several times he had to stop and just lean their foreheads together, breathing steadily, forcing his desire into softer channels.

It was Sherlock who finally inhaled, dug his fingers into his arse, and groaned, "Oh God, John, get on with it." He drew up his knees and John said, "Do you want—?" and Sherlock said, "Yes, you idiot, yes."

He still wasn't used to this; it was strange, wonderful, and not something he thought he'd ever, ever do. Sherlock was beautiful and ethereal but very much male and it still shook John sometimes that he could feel this way about another man. He held Sherlock's face and kissed him when they came together, moved within him, stroked his cock, whispered that he was brilliant, amazing, exceptional. Sherlock arched beneath him breathlessly and gasped, "Don't stop."

"Your face," John started, and bit his lip hard enough to bleed trying not to just take.This is for him. All for him. Behave.

Sherlock threw his head back, exposing the length of his throat as his hands clasped John's and came up slowly beside his head, sprawled softly, vulnerably. John thought he'd never seen anything so erotic as that trust and abandon. Then Sherlock rolled his hips and made a wanton sound that was so sweet and so filthy that—oh, God, he wasn't going to last long now. "Love," he whispered, and he felt the jolt run though the body around him, "come on, love, come with me, let me see you, I need you, come on."

He came first, which was only to be expected since he didn't have a hand free to bring Sherlock off, but he hadn't done that since he was a teenager and was so embarrassed he nearly hid his face in Sherlock's neck. He didn't, though, not and risk missing watching Sherlock's face. Luckily Sherlock was right behind him and a few twisting strokes of John's hand was all it took. Sherlock held his head to his shoulder through the aftershocks, murmuring, "John, my John," and when he made to pull out, Sherlock's other hand clutched against his lower back and he said, "No, not yet."

So John just brought his clean hand up to stroke the flushed face next to his, and if there was an unusual amount of sweat trickling down Sherlock's temples and John's throat was too tight to speak, well, neither of them would mention it afterwards.

# # #

Molly Hooper had been raised to do the right thing, always, even when the right thing hurt. Her mother had believed that good manners were the foundation of a civilised society and that there was no excuse for shirking.

So Molly had cried for a while, then had washed her face, emptied the used tissues into the bin, and done the right thing—the polite, civil, courteous thing. She'd petted her cat for a while and had taken deep breaths and then she'd picked up her phone and ordered him the best present she could think of. Them. It was them now, not him. If it had been just him she would have given him the amputated gangrenous leg from the diabetic that Ross had offered her. He would have loved that.

She cried some more and fed the cat and really, really tried to wish them both happiness. She threw the stupid newspaper in the bin.

Minutes later she plucked it back out, smoothed it, and put it away in her keepsake drawer. She would throw it away. She would. Just not yet.

# # #

It was one of the unfair cruelties of life, John reflected, that his status as a supposedly engaged gay man was currently netting him more feminine attention than any single thing about him had previously. He smiled, took another sip of wine, listened to the sixth woman to monopolize his attention this afternoon—this one with a lovely set of breasts that he was trying very hard not to notice—and thought fuck my life.

"—structure of the garden is a nod to Oudolf's early work. Mycroft must have followed Piet's career from the beginning."

Privately John thought the garden reflected Gertrude Jekyll's influence—Gran had been an admirer of hers and Mycroft was clearly a traditionalist—but he grinned bashfully and said, "Ah, don't know much about gardens, I'm afraid. Well, except for a bit about allotments."

By then he'd seen so many people make the same recalculation regarding his social status that he could anticipate every glance, every mental shift. This must be what it's like to be Sherlock. He waited, detachedly, for her to realise he was Not One of Us in spite of his new suit ("This belongs to me, Sherlock, I bought it and don't you dare go tossing it out because I'm not spending a couple of hundred pounds every time you—what are you choking on?"), for her expression to settle into a polite, distant mask, for the conversation to trickle off as she made her excuses and glided away to talk to someone with more potentially useful connections.

Instead her face lit with sudden warmth and she said artlessly, "Oh, it's a love match, then," before slapping a hand over her mouth and blurting, "Oh, God, that was tactless. Forgive me."

John gave the first genuine laugh he'd had since this bloody luncheon began. "No, no, it's fine. That's a far more charitable way of putting it than what most of the people here are thinking."

"You mean that you're after him for his money and he's been addled by shagging a bit of rough?"

John was actually speechless for a moment. Private school, doctor, Army officer—he knew he wasn't as posh as Sherlock's people and he certainly wasn't rich by any stretch of the imagination but he could honestly say he'd never been referred to as anyone's bit of rough before. "Er."

"Shit, shit, shit. I swear to God, give me a bottle of wine and my mouth just runs on its own. Let me start over. Hi, I'm Helen Blaketon and I'm not actually as big an arse as you might think if you'd met me a few minutes earlier."

"John Watson. And it's fine, really. Would you like another glass of wine whilst you tell me all about the rest of the people here? Particularly the ones who were rude to me?" He grinned. After a beat, she laughed and looked relieved.

As it turned out, Helen knew everything about everyone.

# # #

"If you ask me—"

"I didn't." Jesus, but Donovan was like a bloody terrier with a chew toy. Greg just wanted to enjoy his coffee in peace, not go over her new favourite topic yet again. He wished he'd never left that damned paper on his desk yesterday, although if it hadn't been his copy it would have been someone else's. There was never any chance the Yard wasn't going to hear about that particular announcement.

The thing was, he understood why Sherlock hadn't said anything to him. Sherlock to that day didn't understand why Constable Lestrade hadn't left the shivering, starved smart-arse who looked like a damned kid with track marks up his arms (who had incidentally pointed out three small but really sodding important clues his team had missed at the murder scene) behind to live or die. Didn't understand why he'd wrapped him in a spare jacket, bullied him into the car and driven around with the heater all the way up until he'd stopped shaking so hard Greg could hear his teeth chatter. Didn't understand why he'd later nearly force-fed him a hamburger with chips and three cups of hot coffee and watched him eat with the manners of a bloody earl, had even later shoved him into the shower at his own flat and pretended not to see the flicker of relief in those strange eyes when he'd told him he'd be sleeping on the sofa.

Yeah, he understood that it wouldn't even occur to Sherlock to say anything. What he didn't get was why John hadn't either.

But then, John had texted him to come out to the pub a few days ago, that day he was dealing with paperwork up to his bloody eyeballs and hadn't even left the office until half eleven. Maybe he'd been going to tell him then.

"Well, if you ask me, they only did it so they couldn't be forced to testify against each other."

Greg's mouth quirked. A moment later he pulled out his mobile. That one was too good not to share.

# # #

Since they'd begun having physical relations, John's innate sensuality had thrummed against Sherlock's skin like the notes of a cello. Annoyingly, he was not alone in this; other people reacted to John as well, which was not at all acceptable. Since Mycroft had forcibly separated them early in the event and blocked his every attempt to make his way back to John's side ("He has a job to do, Sherlock, and so do you. Please try to remember that."), he had worked out all sightlines in the room and positioned himself to scowl unblinkingly at the women attempting to be inappropriate with his partner. This invariably drove off the interlopers within minutes.

Mycroft was shooting him tight-lipped warning glances but it was necessary. Breasts had a profoundly detrimental effect on John's already strained thought processes and Sherlock took it upon himself to provide the optimal working conditions for him to gather information without distractions.

Also, he couldn't take the chance someone might mention the newspaper announcement to John.

This—Cassandra? Iphigenia? whatever—was proving harder to drive off. Not only had she not retreated but now she was dragging John around and introducing him to people as if she were the hostess. Bloody cheek. How was John going to learn anything useful with all that incessant mammary-waggling?

Sherlock could get him focused properly again.

# # #

John's head was spinning a bit. Helen had been telling him about Maxwell's knack for picking slow horses and how somebody named Robbie (whom she seemed to think he knew) had been in Greece recently "for the obvious reasons" when from behind his left shoulder had come That Voice.

"Hello, we haven't properly met. I'm Sherlock."

Oh, God.That Voice, the one John had heard most recently whilst listening to the sleet and watching Sherlock's eyes shift from grey to green to blue as the sweat had dried on the body beneath him. He'd tried not to swallow too conspicuously as Sherlock smoothly extended his hand to Helen.

No sooner had the handshake ended than Mycroft had materialised at Sherlock's side. "Helen, how is your grandfather? Please give him my regards when you speak to him next. It would be a pleasure to have him for dinner when he's in the city. If you'll excuse me, I'm afraid I must steal away my brother; there's someone he really must meet. Sherlock, if you will." And just like that they were gone, and if John hadn't known to look for it he would never have seen the stiffness in Mycroft's carriage from his injured ribs.

He'd felt a whisper of touch as Sherlock had moved off, and when he casually slipped his hand into his pocket his fingers closed over slips of embossed metal on a chain.

He looked across the room, and Sherlock returned his gaze with lazy heat, lifting one corner of his mouth, then deliberately turning his head aside to charm a silver-haired doyenne. John repressed a shiver and turned to shake the hand of the young man Helen had beckoned over. Remembering Mycroft's warning from the night before, he took care to keep his stance relaxed, kept doctor instead of soldier in his thoughts as he ran his thumb over the edge of the dogtags, and didn't think about desks at all.

When he noticed Sherlock had taken his phone in exchange, he shook his head and grinned to himself in a way that made Adrian Jameswood blink, give him a second look, then rejoin their conversation with considerably more interest.

Oh. Right. He really should have seen that coming as well.

Maybe Adrian knew why Robbie was in Greece.

# # #

They met in Mycroft's sitting room afterwards to share information.

"Sherlock, for God's sake stop sniffing him. You know perfectly well where he's been; you spent the afternoon frightening off everyone he spoke with and I do not wish to be subjected to your—" foreplay was bitten off before it passed his lips. Sherlock smirked anyway. Mycroft deliberately turned his attention to John. "What have you found out?"

"I learned that it's considered vastly amusing that the lower classes expect fidelity from their partners," John said tightly.

"I assure you that I expect fidelity, John. Do remember what I said about corpses."

"If you two could be bothered to remember that we are dealing with a case of possible treason—"

Sherlock sighed heavily. "Evidence points to Fitzhugh, but something's off. Aspects of the situation are simply too amateurish to have been engineered by the same mind that organized a co-ordinated attack on you."

"Are there two different groups?"

"Possible, but unlikely. Perhaps someone who is not as clever as they think had decided taking the initiative might be rewarded."

"There's something that's been bothering me." John shifted in his chair. "The car that whoever-it-was was going to use to snatch me. A yellow car isn't exactly inconspicuous; you'd be able to track a car like that easily. So somebody wanted people focused on the car, right? No-one would pay much attention to what the people in it looked like, not when the colour's so distinctive."

"Obvious," dismissed Sherlock.

"You think this may be similar," Mycroft said slowly. "Tell me why."

"We're all paying attention to the attack, naturally. People killed, wounded, possible treason, someone after a very important device or the person who can make another. If I were in a battle where so much heavy fire was coming from one direction, I'd be watching for a flank attack."

Mycroft nodded—this was nothing they hadn't considered—but it confirmed that the person they were searching for had military command experience.

"They won't be that crude," said Sherlock. "It won't be an attack. It'll be a spy."

Mycroft said it aloud for John's benefit. "Catch the spy and we'll have his master. Tell us everything you remember about the conversations you had today."

# # #

Sherlock had him up against the bedroom wall before the door had finished slamming shut.

"That was good, John, very clever, good reasoning." He was repeating himself but his mind seemed to have developed a stutter now that John was pressed to him, his intoxicating scent rising from the open collar of his shirt. "Very good." He let his hands slide up from hips to shoulders, lifting the body more tightly against him. John's breath, broken and hot, caressed his neck, followed by small, maddening nips.

When John pulled away, he had his phone. Sherlock couldn't help but be impressed at his improving pickpocketing skill even if this was an unfortunate development. He hadn't had a chance to delete more texts or voicemails since before they'd gone to Mycroft's sitting room, and John'd had a worrying number of congratulatory messages from a number of people in addition to a furious one from his sister. There was no telling how many more might have arrived in the meanwhile.

"Need to check on Harry," John said, and Sherlock carefully manufactured a look of inquiry. "She's been calling, ranting about something, I can't tell what because she's totally pissed yet again. Probably another girlfriend's left her because of the drinking, so of course she gets drunk to deal with it. Oh, there's a message from Mrs Hudson."

The bottom dropped out of his stomach. He'd managed to keep any mention of the damned announcement from John so far and with just a little more time he'd be able to—

"Oh my God." John sat heavily on the bed, and Sherlock stepped close beside him, alarmed. "Oh my God. It's Molly. She...um, I didn't even know they did that kind of thing anymore." Blue eyes looked at him out of a stunned face. "She gifted us six months of daily milk delivery. Oh my God. Oh my God. I think I love her."

"Mrs Hudson?"

"She wants to know what to do with the pint that arrived today. Oh, God," he groaned, flopping backwards on the bed. "She must have heard a rumour about this stupid party and thought she had to get us a gift. We can't keep it, Sherlock, we have to tell her to cancel it, we really do." John sounded somewhat less than convincing. "We can't accept it under false pretences."

"It...wouldn't have to be false. We could..."

"I haven't changed my mind about rushing things."

"Right." He cleared his throat.

"Although this comes very close to swaying me. Daily delivery." The sound coming from John started deep in his chest and was the sort of vocalisation normally reserved for sustained prostate stimulation. "Milk. Every day. Right to the door." He sat up and reached for Sherlock. "I need to fuck you. Right now. I know you're planning the whole desk scenario and I want that, I really do, but that's hours away and I need you right now."

He supposed he should have been offended to have his person used to slake desire engendered by a bovine dairy product, but John was becoming pleasingly skilled at fellatio and it gave him a chance to reacquire his phone.

He'd have to remember to turn off comments on John's blog as well. He'd make this work. John would come around and everything would be fine. He just needed to keep him distracted until then.

Chapter Text

John discovered Sherlock had re-taken his phone when he tried to call Mrs Hudson about the extra milk whilst Sherlock was showering. He grunted in exasperation and then realised there had to be a landline somewhere in the house.

"Oh, Dr Stamford came by and I made him a cuppa since you weren't here. I have to say, John, he was a bit put out that you hadn't told him, seeing as he'd introduced the two of you, but I explained about Mycroft and how none of us were invited and I think he understands."

John really didn't need to make the second call, because he already knew. He knew but he had to hear it just in case he was wrong. He wanted so much to be wrong. Please, God, let him be wrong about this.

He wasn't.

# # #

"It isn't that you're attracted to Mycroft," Sherlock said as he walked back into the bedroom, towelling his hair. "You're aroused because he's very dangerous and you think he might kill you for buggering—"

John was sitting on the edge of the bed, elbows on his thighs, head low, staring at the floor.

In every scenario he'd imagined, John had been angry. Sherlock had anticipated that, had contingencies for every variation: shouting, flinging projectiles, attempting to storm off. He could direct anger, could talk John around. Anger was fine. In some scenarios it led to sex. He would provoke John into using the handcuffs and being very rough, and when his anger had burnt out and he felt guilty he would come around. It would be fine.

What he had never anticipated was that John would look...empty.

It was suddenly very hard to breathe.

"Ah," he said.

"The thing is," John said thickly, not raising his face, "the thing is, you don't think you've done anything wrong. That's what really scares me. You genuinely don't understand consent, and that is truly frightening."

"John—"

"Don't."

Get angry. Shout. Throw something. Hit me. React in some way, any way at all, don't just sit there with those dead eyes and that flat voice that don't belong to you . Anything but that.

John dropped his face into his hands, the lines of his body speaking eloquently of despair, of mourning, of defeat. No. No no no no no. This was not happening.

"One thing. I had one thing to give you. It meant something to me. My choice to say yes was the one thing I had to give and you took that and made it meaningless. Saying yes was the whole point."

No. It was just a word. You gave me so much more than that, don't you see? It's just a word. You already meant it; what does it matter if you spoke it or not? There are words neither of us can say but they don't matter. It's only a word. But he couldn't speak because he couldn't breathe. If he could just speak he could make John understand. John would see how ridiculous it was to fuss about this like Mrs Hudson fussing about the walls.

"I—" John was so empty. There was no-one in that shell sitting on the edge of the bed, the bed that was still rumpled and wet, that smelt of pleasure and warmth and soft murmured words. Didn't those words mean yes? Didn't their mingled semen on the sheets, the touch of John's lips on his neck mean the same as that stupid word? Why couldn't John see that? He was losing everything right now, in this moment, over a word and he didn't know how to stop it, didn't know what to say to make John understand that it was all fine, really, if he would just—all he had to do was understand, just change his mind and everything would be fine.

John's shoulders slumped forward and he exhaled a long, shuddering breath. He scrubbed his hands over his face, then slowly straightened, and when he spoke again it wasn't John there at all but some walled-off stranger who wore John's skin and spoke with John's voice but wasn't John. "Tell Mycroft. I finally figured out—I realised—Malcolm Harris at the luncheon recognised the sound of my dogtags and looked at my shoe first. That's where we wear them, on a boot, so that if we get blown up they're attached to the part most likely to be found. A civilian would have looked around my neck. Tell Mycroft. I think that's your spy."

John was talking about the case and that was a good sign, surely—he still thought of them as partners if he was talking about the case, didn't he?—but nothing about his body language suggested anything but duty. Now was the time to be very clever but he had no data with which to evaluate potential courses of action concerning this man who was not his John. He had to acquire data quickly.

He let the towel slide off his shoulders—eyes track the movement, body language does not soften at implied intimacy—took a step forward—stiffening of posture, rejection of familiarity—another—no anger at violation of personal space but no acknowledgement of closeness, no welcome. "John. Just let me—"

"No. Don't. No games, Sherlock." The man on the bed looked at him then, with eyes that weren't John's. "I can't even be angry with you. You truly don't think you've done anything wrong."

"John, please—" He stretched out his hand but John wasn't there. The man who was there instead got off the bed and walked carefully around him without touching and quietly, quietly closed the door behind him when he left.

# # #

Because Mycroft employed very intelligent and experienced persons who were extraordinarily good at their jobs, he was notified that there was a crisis before John had left the house and was therefore able to arrive at the gate in time to forestall a greater crisis.

"Open. The sodding. Gate." Mycroft had heard those tones before, from men who had nothing left to lose and whose focus had narrowed to the next breath, the next step towards escape, and the desperate attempt to hold on to the last vestige of restraint.

"It's all right, Colonel. Captain Watson and I will—"

"Sir, he has a gun."

"Well, of course he has. He's certainly not foolish enough to leave it with my brother." Mycroft was very careful not to touch him, not to move into his personal space. "John, walk with me."

"Let. Me. Out of here."

"Security, John," he said gently. "I have a safe-house being prepared for you but you will not be permitted to leave the grounds until it is ready and you certainly will not go on foot. Walk in the gardens with me." He added, "He won't be there. You won't see him."

After a moment, John turned and followed him.

They had been walking for over an hour and cold rain had been falling for twenty minutes by the time he circled them around to the gazebo. Neither man had spoken a word. John was still stiff but his breathing was steadier and Mycroft thought the immediate crisis might be over.

The long-term one, on the other hand...

Keeping his eyes fixed on the ornamental pond barely visible through the murk, he said, "You've met Sebastian Wilkes. Imagine a group of young men like him: boys of privilege from families with the influence to make youthful indiscretions disappear, raised with a sense of entitlement and the knowledge there will be no consequences for their actions. No responsibilities, no obligations, no purpose, unlimited wealth and with it the means to assuage boredom in whatever ways they please, all of them urging one another to greater and greater excesses. Can you imagine a more fearsome pack of wolves? Sebastian was not by any means the worst of them. Victor outstripped him by orders of magnitude."

John's back stiffened further but he said nothing.

"Imagine a young man whose childhood has been hellish, who has survived it by telling himself everything would change when he was able to attend university where he would find others like himself. Imagine what he might do to maintain the approval of the first person his own age to offer him a scrap of positive attention. Imagine if that person had been one of those wolves. It's a game to them, to corrupt what they can, make it over in their own image, and destroy what they cannot corrupt when it is no longer amusing. It is very amusing to lure an innocent; vastly more entertaining to string the boy along and make him complicit in his own degradation."

He let several minutes pass before speaking again. "My brother appears self-contained, but in reality he is influenced by the people he admires. I did not care to see what he would become under Victor's continued influence. Unfortunately he had become deeply attached by the time I removed the man and...did not take it well."

After a long while, John said, "If I tried to get a divorce, would any solicitor accept me as a client?"

"Eventually, if you insisted. I have no intention of keeping you prisoner, John, but surely it would be better to make no rash decisions?"

"Explain again how I'm not a prisoner," he said bitterly.

He let silence settle between them again. "Is it truly unforgivable, that he was so frightened of losing you that he reacted this way? He doesn't understand the difference between the form and the spirit of the thing, but John, at least he tried to give you something he thought you would want."

"No. No, he saw it as a choke-chain, to force me to stay. It's not something that matters to him."

"I believe his motivations were more complicated than that. It's likely that he didn't fully understand them himself. Relationships are not his area." He smiled wryly. John didn't.

The rain was falling steadily now, pattering on the roof and the gravel paths.

"He doesn't esteem the institution in itself, no, but he does understand it has meaning for you. It matters to him for that reason."

John shook his head and continued to scowl out into the night. Dear God, trying to talk with the man was even more tedious than arguing with Sherlock.

"Let me explain this to you another way. You, hmm, divested yourself of your virginity when you were fifteen—"

"Jesus, I'm not even surprised that you know that, that's how surreal my life has become."

"Clearly it wasn't something you valued for your own person. Sherlock's, on the other hand—"

"Oh, God, I am absolutely not having this discussion with you."

"His mattered to you because it mattered to him. Don't you think he could feel the same—"

"You are seriously creeping the hell out of me, Mycroft. This conversation is unbelievably inappropriate. Drop it now or I am leaving and your colonel can just shoot me. And if you'd stopped to think about it for a minute you'd have realised how tasteless continuing that comparison would be since consent is rather the point of both acts."

"Just trying to get your attention."

"Don't do this. It...it can't ever become what it might have done, not now. That's gone."

"Yes. Nevertheless, people do rebuild marriages after betrayals, sometimes. It can be done."

"Shut the fuck up. You have no part in this." John restlessly paced the length of the gazebo.

"Difficult marriages are nothing new, John. People find ways of coping. When the union is not what one had hoped, there can be other compensations. Children, for example. Arrangements could be m—"

"If you're trying to bribe me into staying in a sham marriage by offering me children I swear to Christ I will put my fist in your throat. Neither a marriage nor a child is a bloody bargaining chip. You don't make deals with them."

"Idealism is all very well, but we are living in the real world, where compromises must be made. Can you honestly tell me you could bring yourself to leave him for good, even now? Ah, excellent, you are at least that self-aware. Do you think that perhaps we should be practical and begin to plan how to make a place for your happiness amidst the inevitable disappointments and shortcomings, or is it somehow nobler to—"

John stilled abruptly, looking across the dark garden. "Quiet," he said softly. "Your patrol hasn't made their latest circuit. The safety light at the gate is out. Who knows you're outside the house?" He crossed to Mycroft and swiftly shoved him into a crouch near a support pillar, shielding him with his own body. "How much do you trust your colonel?"

"He's seconded to me from the Grenadier Guards."

"Dead or wounded, then; no backup from him. Would he have trusted Malcolm Harris if he'd come to the gate tonight?"

"Harris? Ah. It is Fitzhugh, then."

John made a sharply aborted motion towards the house. "Sherlock—"

"If the house had been breached, there would be unmistakable signals." John motioned him to silence. Out in the darkness there were soft footsteps on the gravel pathway. One person.

"John," he said, barely whispering, "I must not be taken hostage, not under any circumstances. Do you understand? That must not happen, regardless of what it takes to prevent it." John was a soldier; he would understand that was permission to use deadly force if necess—

John grabbed him by his waistcoat, heaved upwards, and threw him into the next pillar.

Then shot him in the chest.

# # #

Oh Jesus Jesus Jesus let him be right about why Mycroft was still stiff when the treatment for cracked ribs wasn't binding them, not anymore, so there was another reason and oh Jesus fucking Christ let him be right. He aimed for the heart because if he was right—

Mycroft hit the floor of the gazebo, his lax body slumped in dark puddles, limbs slack, and John calmly turned whilst Harris planted his feet wide and trained his own gun on John.

John shoved his Browning in his jacket pocket and zipped it in. "Took you long enough to get here. Sodding amateurs. After your last cock-up Fitzhugh sent me to make sure this was done right."

"You—he was supposed to be brought in—"

He rolled his eyes. "We only need the phone. Christ, how green are you? You realise there'll be an automatic alarm when the second scheduled patrol misses check-in? We need to get out of here now." He rummaged in Mycroft's suit pocket. "Got it. Let's go, fuckwit, move. Somebody heard that shot."

Harris followed him like a puppy. There was no bloody way a kid this limp had taken out a Grenadier colonel so something more was going on here and he'd better figure it out fast.

He just hoped like hell Mycroft's people would get to Fitzhugh before he did or he probably wasn't getting out of this alive.

Chapter Text

When the footsteps had faded, Mycroft let himself curl into a ball of agony. Every breath sent spears of blinding red through his chest, focusing his attention exquisitely inwards. He lay in puddles of freezing water; he'd be risking exposure if he couldn't get to his feet soon. At least to his hands and knees, off the ground, he told himself, but bones shifted when he tried and he exhaled hard through his nose, stifling sound, and lay still just a moment longer.

That had been unexpected. He'd need to adjust his plans accordingly.

A dark shape dropped from the plane tree behind the gazebo and observed dispassionately, "Less surface area to dissipate the kinetic force. Luckily you have ample padding to absorb the impact. Clavicle?"

"Full armour would have been rather too obvious. Ribs. I have a matching set now," he wheezed and wondered why that seemed terribly amusing.

Sherlock crouched beside him and peeled back his clothing to expose the Svalinn-made undershirt beneath, prodding the area where the bullet had struck. Mycroft hissed.

"There?" Sherlock placed the heel of his hand over the spot and leaned his body into it, eyes glittering like some lethal jungle cat's. The pain was shockingly vivid. "You provoked him repeatedly, every time his attention turned from you. What didn't you want him to notice? Tell me what's going on, Mycroft."

Mycroft shoved the arm off, his breath hitching as the hand slid roughly along his ribs, and rolled onto his side, coiling his body around the injury. "Get the evidence," he said between gritted teeth. Neither his dentist nor his physician was going to be pleased. "Get me enough to take down Fitzhugh. Figure out what we need to do it, Sherlock, so we can get John out of there as soon as possible."

"Did you set all of this up?"

"Three dead, Sherlock. Eleven wounded. If I don't make an example of Fitzhugh over this, if my people are considered easy targets—"

"Not my problem."

"You and John are perceived to be among my people, Brother. Now hurry and get him out."

Sherlock rose to his feet. Shoes had never looked so ominous. "You're very eager for us to reconcile. Not long ago you were trying to steal him away."

"I never was, you idiot; no-one with any sense believes that's a possibility. I hadn't realised you hadn't figured it out yet. If this is the effect sexual activity has on your observational skills, you were right to avoid it."

"If he's at all harmed because of what you've done—"

"That," he said acidly, "is your area. Hurry."

Sherlock's eyes narrowed. "You're being very obvious."

"You appear to require it."

Sherlock didn't kick him as he left. Mycroft was surprised for the second time that evening.

# # #

When the colonel stepped out of the shadows near the gate, John simply thought, Oh, right. Harris could not have done it alone—hell, John could hardly believe the kid had served a tour of duty, but if he knew about dogtags on boots then he must have done because you only did that if your daily life routinely included IEDs. But Harris could never have executed this alone, not one idiot against the whole of Mycroft's security team on high alert. There had to have been someone on the inside.

Except. Except this was Mycroft's team. Mycroft, who knew everything and anticipated everything and used that to his advantage, always. Mycroft, who had walked him around the garden long past the time it would have taken to call for a car to the safe-house. Mycroft, who had a dozen reasons for every action, poking and prodding his brother's partner about their intimate life, keeping John distracted...so he would react naturally when the time was right.

He wasn't nearly smart enough to figure everything out, but he had to believe that Mycroft knew what John would do and had factored that into his plan, and he had to believe Sherlock had worked it all out and was not going to let him walk into a trap with no escape. At least not without a good reason.

"That shot was you?" the colonel asked.

"Yes," John answered. Then he took a chance and said, "I have the phone. Einstein here was going to try to drag Mycroft Holmes along as a hostage. Were we ever that young and stupid?"

"Never," he said without a blink, and John started to think his life expectancy might just have gotten a bit longer.

# # #

Watson was motherfucking nails.

You learned in the Army that real life wasn't like the movies. You learned that it wasn't easy to shoot someone, to kill, even when that person was shooting and trying to kill you. It was bloody hard to look into a stranger's face and shoot him. How much harder was it when you knew the man you were shooting?

When Harris had seen the marks on the back of Watson's neck, almost but not quite under his shirt collar, he'd thought he had it figured out. The little poof was the pillow-biter, then, playing the girl and taking it up the arse from the big skinny one. Made sense. Then somebody'd mentioned Watson had been in the Army—not some enlisted grunt, either, but an officer—and Harris just refused to believe that any bloke sharing a uniform with himself was a pussy so it must be that Watson was giving it to the tall one after all.

Then he'd watched Watson pull a gun and shoot his sodding brother-in-law right in the heart, cool as you please, just pulled it out and bang, dropped him dead. And whilst Harris could imagine being pissed off enough to kill somebody you knew, there was something more than a little scary about watching a bloke do it so calmly. He tried to imagine doing that to his girlfriend's brother and thought he couldn't, not without being really drunk and really angry. Couldn't do it in cold blood.

So Watson must be Special Ops and that meant Fitzhugh had given him two high-levels as backup so he'd really, really better not screw this up.

'Course, the other problem was that if Fitzhugh thought he needed two spooks to get the job done, it was going to be harder to pull off something that would finally impress the poncy bastard and let Harris move up to better things. He'd have to have a think about this.

# # #

They'd been watching some movie. Sherlock remembered that although he had deleted the title and everything else about it. He and John had been watching some ridiculous movie with tedious plot holes and annoyingly stupid characters and he had said, "John, if you had to find the quickest way to get yourself into enemy headquarters, what would you do?"

John, who whilst still an idiot on distressingly numerous occasions could occasionally rise above the ocean of stupidity encompassing the part of the human race not named Holmes to something approaching competence, had said, "Surrender."

# # #

"What are you waiting around for? Get the car," the colonel told Harris. "We need to be long gone by the time they find the body."

When the kid had gone, he asked John, "Is he dead?"

"Jesus, I hope not. He was breathing when I took his phone but I don't know how bad his injuries are. He said he couldn't be a hostage."

"Right, then. What are the orders?"

John looked at him uncomprehendingly and it slowly dawned on him that—Oh, fuck. "He didn't give me any. I thought you knew the plan."

They regarded each other. The colonel looked into the darkness after Harris, nodded thoughtfully, and said matter-of-factly, "We're fucking screwed."

# # #

Harris wasn't trigger-happy, which was a damn good thing because otherwise he'd have pissed away what was probably the biggest break he was ever going to get in his career.

As he was opening the car door, the tall poof came out of nowhere like one of those bloody vampires on telly, making Harris jump, and said, "I'd like to speak with your employer. Now that my brother is out of the way, I believe we can negotiate mutually satisfactory terms."

Harris turned the gun on him and barked, "Hands up."

The posh twat rolled his eyes, like Harris wasn't pointing a revolver at his fucking face, and flipped his wrists out as he put up his arms. Then he stood there looking ready to die of boredom.

Okay, so now he had the brother. He didn't have the other Holmes, but that one was dead so he couldn't do anything about it, and he didn't have the phone but Watson would be taking the credit for that anyway. If he brought the brother in by himself, without the other two along to steal all the glory when he'd been the one to capture this one...yeah, yeah, that would work. And it was probably better if Watson wasn't around to see him pulling a gun on the guy he was fucking because even professionals could get funny about shit like that.

Right. Right. He could work this.

"Give me your phone," he ordered. The poof dug into his pocket and came up with an expensive black one, which Harris threw into the shrubbery because he wasn't stupid. "Get in," he said, gesturing with the gun to the driver's seat. "I'll tell you where to go."

# # #

The colonel punched in the gate code when they heard the car start.

John realised something was wrong scant seconds later when he saw the car weaving off the drive onto the manicured lawn on either side, never slowing as it approached the gate. As it jerked back onto the asphalt at full speed and was backlit by the floodlights in front of the house, he recognized, with a horrible sense of unreality and dread but not a bit of surprise, the familiar silhouette on the driver's side.

"Look out, look out, look out!" he shouted, urgently waving the colonel away from the gate where he was reaching for the override button, racing across to pull him out of the way of the careering car that clearly wasn't stopping for them. Tyres squealing, it sideswiped the gatepost (acquiring a bare-metal gash along the length of its left side), accelerated, and made a hard right, bouncing over the lawn and onto the street, not quite on two wheels but as close as a heavy, low-slung car could come to that.

# # #

"You never asked if I could drive," Sherlock complained, using his elbow to bat away the revolver shoved into his ribs, "you just told me to do it. I complied. Now remove that before we hit something and you shoot me by accident and have to explain to your employer why both Holmeses are dead with nothing to show for it."

# # #

"Was that—?"

"Yeah," said John. "It was. That unbelievably stupid arsehole with delusions of grandeur has Sherlock, who is a genius and a loose cannon and Mycroft's baby brother.  Now we're screwed."

There was something niggling at him, something to do with abduction and a car and—

Phone. He's got my phone with permanently enabled tracking, and Harris might not have searched him. He didn't check Mycroft, after all.

"Get another car," he said absently, switching on Mycroft's phone, not even realising he was giving orders to a man who theoretically ranked him. He thumbed through it and found two whole screens full of icons labelled Sherlock and the one buried amongst them labelled John. He resolutely did not think about how extremely creepy that was and tapped the icon. "We can follow them."

He debated calling Mycroft's house to have CCTV track the black car with the fresh, wide scrape down its left side, but there might be more than one spy and he didn't know who to trust. He couldn't even send someone to fetch Mycroft from the gazebo, although the man must be freezing and probably had broken bones, maybe even a partially collapsed lung; half-armour or not, a bullet from a Browning at that range packed a hell of a punch. John wasn't sure what Sherlock was to Fitzhugh if Mycroft was dead, but Mycroft alive meant Sherlock was a hostage to use as leverage so they couldn't risk that getting out.

Not knowing who to trust meant no backup, either, beyond the colonel whose name he didn't even know, much less what his background or skills were or, for that matter, if he was actually Mycroft's man for certain, although it looked that way.

I am a truly sick son of a bitch, thought John, because even as his gut twisted with fear for Sherlock, even as he acknowledged he could never hope to match wits on equal terms with the men playing this game of little kings and kingdoms, even as he checked his gun and accepted that someone might die tonight—himself, Sherlock, the colonel, some other man by John's own hand—even so, he felt the bright thrill of excitement and pure joy that right now, whatever came later, at this moment he was alive and fully engaged and his world was not boring at all, not in the slightest.

He was grinning madly as he clambered into the car that pulled up beside him.

Chapter Text

Mycroft hadn't planned for John to shoot him.

The tyres scraped along the low wall of the kerb and he jerked the steering wheel sharply, rocking the car on its shocks.  The idiot in the other seat squawked and Sherlock vindictively bumped the tyres again.  “You're making me nervous,” he snapped.  “I can't concentrate.”  There was something he was missing.  What had Mycroft—

“For fuck's sake, pull over and let me drive.”

Sherlock turned his head to throw him a withering glare, the tyres briefly riding up the kerb to smack back down onto the street.  Harris yelped and reached for the wheel with his free hand.  “I would be insane to let the man poking a gun into my side divide his attention like that.  Now be quiet  so I can focus.”

He ran through the facts again.  Mycroft hadn't planned for John to shoot him.  Mycroft had indicated John had clearance to use deadly force but hadn't intended it to be used against him. Mycroft had been wearing hidden, bespoke torso-armour since the—oh.  Oh.

He slammed the gearstick into first from third and then into neutral without touching the clutch.  “You're right,” he said over Harris's vehement but unimaginative cursing.  “You'd better drive.”  He stepped out of the driver's seat and tripped awkwardly, catching himself with an outstretched hand and scraping it badly on the wet pavement.

And so Harris, the idiot, never questioned Sherlock's tucking his bleeding hand in his trouser pocket as he limped slowly around the car to the passenger door.

#                    #                    # 

“Turn left there,” John said, eyes flicking between Mycroft's mobile and the street.  The dot that was John's phone had stopped moving not far ahead, so there was a good chance they'd catch—

The phone pinged softly.  John glanced at the screen and blinked at the message sent from his own mobile.

return to m
immediately
no reply
sh

Shit.  Decision time. Continue to follow the mad genius with a tendency to risk his life to prove his cleverness who was currently headed into enemy territory with no other backup, or follow said genius's urgent instructions (no punctuation or capitalisation—therefore very bloody urgent) and turn back to protect a high-ranking member of the shadow government who was, incidentally, his brother?

Not a hard choice.  He closed the message.

“Who just texted you on Mycroft Holmes's phone?” asked the colonel in a mild tone of voice that meant I am here to deal with a case of treason at the highest levels so do not fuck with me.

John had absolutely no illusions about being an action hero.  He was also acutely aware that, under present circumstances, it was undoubtedly best to avoid...ambiguity about allegiance and motivation.  So whilst he did very briefly entertain the thought of lying, or of doing something truly stupid involving his gun to force the colonel, if necessary, to continue following Sherlock against his orders when this new information was revealed, in the end he simply said, “Sherlock.”

“I'd appreciate knowing any information you have about what we're headed into.  I can do my job better with more intel than less, and I'm flying blind right now.”

John suddenly realised he'd never asked Mycroft what his security rating had been changed to.  It must be something at nosebleed-altitude if a colonel of the Grenadier Guards was deferring to his judgement without question.  Well, now that loyalties had been established, anyway.  

John thought it through.  “You're seconded to Mycroft, but you've a primary mission objective from someone higher up.”  Higher than Mycroft,  he'd lately come to understand, was rare and rarified. 

“You know I can't confirm or deny that,” the colonel replied with heavy irony.  “But until I receive other orders, I'm following the last one I was given.”

“And that was?”

John was quite familiar with all flavours of the You Are an Idiot looks and had no trouble recognising this one.  “Protect this family.  In the national interest.”

Well, that made sense.  Mycroft was unimaginably important and Sherlock— 

He had, abruptly, a full-colour flashback to Sherlock, clad in a dressing gown and holding a currant bun,  planting himself between Mycroft and John and triumphantly declaring, “Family,” as if that was terribly significant. 

There were quite a few questions he should have thought to ask, he realised.  If he hadn’t been so pissed off, he might well have done.  If he hadn’t needed to prove his bloody point.  If he weren't such a fucking idiot. 

After a moment, John said, “You didn't try to stop me from coming.” 

“I have no orders to stop you.  You're all safer if we catch the son of a bitch responsible for this shit.  I stay with you, you stay with little brother.  He’s a civilian; bound to be an idiot.”

“You're not wrong.  What's your name, by the way?”

“Jack Tobin.  I know who you are, of course.”

#                    #                    #

 

Mycroft's hand clenched above his sternum but hovered without touching. He wasn't going to make that mistake again.  Breathing was...remarkably painful and surprisingly difficult.  Aside from the physical inconveniences, however, John's impromptu alterations to his original plan were working out quite well. 

For example, he had just discovered that his enemy was aware of the contingency plan that involved falling back to the boathouse, where there was both an emergency communication device and a weapon.  He'd discovered this when he'd leaned on a bit of statuary by the pond on his slow trek from the gazebo to try to catch his breath.  As he'd observed his surroundings, he'd seen the faintest flicker of movement a sniper's distance from the door:  insects riding the tiny thermal caused by human body heat. 

Very few persons knew the contingency plan.  Fitzhugh thought this was the endgame, then, to tip his hand so obviously and thus sacrifice his mole.  Good.  Mycroft's lure had proved too tempting to resist.  At least something was still going according to plan.  He would have preferred to do this under more advantageous circumstances, with a dry suit at the very least, and preferably without broken ribs making it so damnably hard to breathe, but one had to remain adaptable.

It would be the formal sitting room for the confrontation, of course.  Very dramatic stage-setting there, all the trappings of power and status.  Likely Fitzhugh had already started on the brandy, confident of his victory.

And if Fitzhugh was in Mycroft's sitting room, he wasn't in Sherlock's way.  

Mycroft could not bring a charge of treason against a man of that standing without hard evidence.  Anything less and Fitzhugh's allies and secret employees would make sure he walked free.  Fitzhugh would not have been able to risk leaving anything in the heavily guarded locations where his own people might come across it.  No, it would be somewhere private, in a place where cleverness, not firepower, would win access.  John and Tobin would get Sherlock into the site and Sherlock would figure out where to look.

Once he saw the evidence, Sherlock would know who in Mycroft's household could be trusted to detain Fitzhugh, and Mycroft's phone would give him clearance to place the orders to do so.   

It would be over soon.  Then Mycroft could sit down and rest and breathe.

#                    #                    #

“The only way to make absolutely sure you’re dead is for me to cut your head off myself. I should have known better.” 

Mycroft ignored Fitzhugh and the handgun in his lap.  He made his way to the decanter, posture erect, gait even.  He kept his back to the man and placed his hands on the table, arms spread wide, clenching his fingers tightly on the edge as if in anger.  In truth, he needed the support.  Breathing was increasingly difficult and he dared not let Fitzhugh know how unsteady he was. 

“What is it you hope to accomplish by killing me? You can't possibly avoid capture. You'll be in custody before morning.”

“I won't even try to run.”  That was a lie and they both knew it, but there were rituals to be observed. Kabuki theatre, stylisation and set form, with hyperbolic oration added for good measure. “I'll be sitting right here when they come for me.  Someone has to stop you and I am the only one who can reach you.  I'm willing to pay the price.” 

“Such noble sacrifice.  Naturally this has nothing whatsoever to do with my being the only person who knows you're trying to reverse-engineer the codecracker device that would give you full and free access to military drones.  You intend to use them first to re-ignite hostilities and make void the peace treaties I've negotiated.”

“My goddaughter was killed by one of their damned IEDs.”

“I saw her name in the casualty report.  I sent you my condolences.”

“Then you sat down at a table with her murderers and gave them food and schools.”

“Well then, clearly what I should have done was send in brothers, daughters, husbands, fathers, nieces to die as well, senseless death after senseless death for vengeance's sake.” Mycroft had always received high marks for oration.  He didn’t usually indulge, but the rhythm mirrored the sudden pounding of his heart and the inexplicable flood of adrenaline in his veins.  “How many do we throw into that maw, Fitzhugh?  ”

“You've never lived over there with those people, Holmes. You don't understand how they think. They don't respect us now, because of what you did. They fought us and we blinked, we backed down, and they have no respect for that. Now they think we're weak and our people out there will never be safe again. And eventually they’ll bring the fight to us. There will be more bombs in the Underground, plagues at football stadiums, chaos and fear because you let them think we’re weak." 

How long had Fitzhugh been drinking in the sitting room?  Long enough?  He couldn't keep stalling much longer.  He couldn't keep standing much longer. But Fitzhugh must not become suspicious or it was all over.   

“Whereas those things would not have happened had we continued engaging in hostilities, of course. Your favoured approach has never worked, Fitzhugh. It has never resolved anything. Isn't it time we try a different approach if we are to hope for a different outcome?” 

Mycroft did not know a great deal about firearms, but he could recognise the soft sound of a safety being thumbed off in an otherwise silent room.

There was no chance, he knew, that Fitzhugh would try for anything but a head shot.  His armour was useless here.

 

#                    #                    #

“This is it. Get out.”

Sherlock said irritably, “I came with you voluntarily.  I want  to be here.  You can stop waving that thing in my face.”

#                    #                    #

“They've stopped.”

“How far?” 

“About a klick and a half, north-northeast.” 

“We'll go in dark the rest of the way.”  The colonel switched off the headlights and slowed.  After a moment, John's night vision sharpened.

The colonel said, “You realise we're headed into a trap, right?  How full is your clip?”

“Full, less one round.  And yes, I had figured they weren't going to walk him into headquarters.  I doubt they've even let Harris know where that is.” 

“Does Sherlock know it's a trap?”

“I don't know.  In the past we’ve talked about why it would be in these kinds of circumstances but I have no idea if he was listening to me.”

“Right, then.  Sitrep:  One civilian hostage, assumed clueless, absolutely not expendable, and an unknown number of armed hostiles in occupied territory.  Oh, and I can’t let my backup get himself shot, either, so keep your head down, eh?”  Tobin's grin flashed in the darkness.  “Can't believe they pay me to do this.”

It's possible, John thought, that for once Sherlock is not the craziest one on our side.

#                    #                    # 

“This won't bring them back, you know. No matter what you do to me, no matter what you do to anyone, the dead will remain just that.”

“You would see it that way.” The voice was full of loathing. That, too, was part of this grand play: the righteous indignation.  “You made peace with their killers.  You treated with those animals as if they were honourable men, you granted them concessions.  You dishonoured the memory—the sacrifice of our dead.”

Such overblown dramatics.  The man probably admired Kipling.  Well, if Fitzhugh wanted a show, Mycroft would give it to him.  “The dead are beyond offense, and what do soldiers die in the name of, if not peace?” He'd have to risk pouring the decanter, even as unsteady as his hands were.  He needed an excuse to keep facing away from Fitzhugh; the man wasn't quite ready to shoot him in the back and the longer Mycroft could keep him talking, the longer the brandy would have to take effect. “You'd rather we keep fighting, keep throwing bodies into that charnel house?  The waste.”  Another surge of adrenaline made his heart slam.  “None of them return whole, not in body nor mind.  My own brother-in-law—” 

“Oh, don't try to convince me that was anything but a cover story to plant a bodyguard with your brother.”  

Damnably hard to breathe.  He really couldn't keep this up much longer.  “You were quite useful, you know, in the negotiations.  Your vehement outrage over our fine young soldiers smeared to a red paste—aren't the media convenient?—allowed me to argue that the insult to our national honour would result in a nuclear option if accords were not reached at the table.”

He needed to see Fitzhugh's glass.  There was no help for it now; he was going to have to turn around and face him, and Fitzhugh was going to see that he was...diaphoretic and...dyspneu—no, dyspnoeic.  That was the word.  “But this is really about the drone systems.  You aren’t going to stop with control of the foreign—” Nausea made him clench his jaw and swallow hard. “The foreign—”  He doubled over, right hand clawing involuntarily at his chest. The pressure was impossible.

Far away, Fitzhugh said, “I'm not falling for that old trick, Holmes.”

“Quite right,” he replied.  “Good for you.”  He slid to his knees and smiled mirthlessly.  “I see you drank the brandy, though.  You'll be here when they...come for you.” More crushing pressure banded his chest and he vomited, which did quite terrible things to his ribs.

There was one hell of a commotion by the side door but Mycroft had toppled, coiling around his chest again, and couldn't lift his face out of the slime to see.  Oh, he thought, vaguely surprised.  I think I may be dying.

Evidence, Sherlock.  Find it and hurry back.  I must know you're safe.  

Eleven wounded.  Three dead.  No-one would see his people as easy prey, not after this.  Not after the example they would make of Fitzhugh.

There should have been a better way. 

I want a different outcome.

Hands were rolling him onto his back and helplessly he began to choke.

Hurry.

Chapter Text

The blip on Mycroft's phone led them to an abandoned car on a spur of road behind a hedgerow. After some investigation they found John's mobile switched off and wedged deeply between the seat and backrest on the passenger side.

John laid the back of his hand on the seat. “They can't have got far,” he said, ducking back out of the door and turning to scan the edges of the field through the drizzle. “Seat's still a bit warm. Key's in the ignition, so either someone's planning to come back or they've ditched the car.” To himself he breathed, “Where are you, you wanker?”

Right. Think. Why would Sherlock hide his phone in the car? And why on the passenger side, when he'd been driving?

The car had stopped on the way here. The blip on Mycroft's phone had shown the stationary car and then Sherlock had texted him and told him to go back to Mycroft. The text hadn't been in his usual style at all. Was that a clue? Had he been forced to send it? Had Harris searched him whilst Sherlock was driving and discovered the mobile? How would he even have done that, the way Sherlock was driving? And why leave it in the car, in that case?

He was shit at this. Sherlock constantly sifted through so many possibilities. How did he manage to sort through the static to find the significant?

# # #

The poofter was bitching at him again. Harris wondered how Watson could stand it. Probably stuck his dick down that throat just to shut him the fuck up, he decided. Too bad there was only one room in the cabin.

“Once more: I volunteered to come with you. Voluntarily. Of my own volition. Do you understand? I. Am. Here. Willingly. I do not need to be tied up to prevent me from leaving because I. Want. To. Be. Here.”

Harris was having a serious think about using his socks as a gag. Risking frostbite seemed worth the trouble.

“And you're using the wrong kind of rope anyway. Did you suffer multiple concussions on your tour of duty? Or—no, footballer, maybe? Blocked more than a few high-velocity shots with your head, obviously. Would explain the face,” he added nastily, and Harris really wanted to backhand the gobshite and splinter that poncy nose, but he didn't because he was a fucking professional and he was going to act like one.

He knew Fitzhugh didn't think much of him after his epic cock-up and that's why he was getting the shit assignments. He wasn't stupid; he knew he was expendable now and being sent out to do the jobs likely to get him killed. He also knew he didn't want to be expendable so he needed to do something brilliant to change Fitzhugh's mind. Well, this was his chance and he wasn't going to fuck it up.

He was scrolling through the contacts in his mobile, deciding who he should send the message to since he didn't have Fitzhugh's direct line, when there was a sharp bang behind him. He flung himself to the floor and rolled.

# # #

John and Tobin pelted towards the noise as soon as they heard it, staying to the wooded edges of the field for cover.

“Was that a .22?” he asked incredulously. Who the hell would be using a .22 caliber?

“Maybe.” Tobin sounded just as puzzled.

There was a cabin ahead of them with the faint blue glow of a mobile screen showing in one window and at the sight of it they both quieted and slowed, creeping forward warily.

With hand and facial gestures they attempted to get a look inside without getting their heads blown off, but Tobin was not Special Ops and the Army was not in the habit of sending surgeons out on search-and-rescue missions. They both knew not to pull any of the action-movie bullshit, of course, but John couldn't help thinking that inside that cabin was Sherlock in God only knew what state, and the temptation to kick open the door and go in guns blazing was much, much stronger than it should have been.

# # #

Once he'd wriggled free of the knots—ridiculously easy to do if one was willing to dislocate a thumb and lose a few layers of skin—it was child's play to work free the Christmas cracker he kept secreted in the inner pocket of his coat (one never knew when small explosives would come in handy) and snap it, then leap on Harris, kneeling on the man's brachial arteries and pressing thumbs—one abused and throbbing, but serviceable for this purpose—into the ocular cavity, feeling the orbs give under pressure.

“Do struggle, if you like. I've performed total globe avulsion only on cadavers and I've always wondered how different it would be on a live subject.” He wiggled his thumbs slightly as a guide for the anatomically ignorant and Harris lay gratifyingly still. “Drop the gun.” A thunk told him he'd been obeyed. “Twitch and you'll go through the rest of your short and painful life missing your depth perception.” He pressed his right thumb in slightly harder and reached for the gun to his left.

Once he had it in hand he stood carefully. “On your stomach, face to the wall, arms and legs spread. If you try to stand, I will shoot you in the gut and then both knees. Understand?” Harris nodded, pale and obedient, and turned over.

Harris's mobile was cracked from its fall but still functional. It would be pointless to try to get information out of Harris without any way to verify its accuracy—the reason torture was useless as an interrogation technique—and Sherlock doubted he could win his trust and co-operation after threatening to pop the man's eyeballs out. He needed Mycroft's resources now.

# # #

John felt a strange pulsing warmth in his trouser pocket and started. Mycroft's phone. Right. Nothing as prosaic as a vibrate setting for the elder Holmes. He pulled the fabric out just enough to let him view the screen, cupping his hand over the top to block its glow. There was a text from a number he didn't recognise.

Need list of Fitzhugh's property holdings. Send to this mobile and John's. SH

Oh, fuck.  Sherlock's plan, whatever it was, assumed that John was with Mycroft now and that Mycroft had his own mobile back.

This was spectacularly not good.

Tobin had crept beneath the nearest window, head pressed to the wall in an attempt to hear via conduction, gesturing for John to stay back. He crouched to peer in a corner of the window, backing quietly to John after a few moments.

“Just the two of them, single room, no hiding places. Harris is on the floor and Sherlock's got him covered. Does he know how to use a gun? His grip's odd.”

“He does, but that's not as reassuring as you might think.” He held up the mobile. “I'll text him we're coming in. You get the door; I'll take care of Harris.”

He sent the text, counted to ten, and nodded to Tobin, both of them ducking inside. A quick scan told him Sherlock had no immediately obvious injuries, thank God, but he was less than pleased to see them.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he objected, pacing and wheeling agitatedly. Tobin's eyes widened and he instinctively shifted to stay away from the muzzle of the alarmingly mobile gun. “You're supposed to be with Mycroft! Why aren't you with Mycroft?”

“Oh, God, the irony,” John muttered, planting his foot firmly on Harris's spine. “Are you listening to yourself?”

“I swear to God I wouldn't have hurt him,” Harris said. “Watson, I swear I wouldn't have hurt him. I just wanted to be the one to bring him in, okay?”

He blinked. There was a beat where he and Tobin glanced at each other, suddenly realising what this looked like from Harris's point of view. Tobin twitched his chin downward: Go for it.

“Yeah, well,” John ground his heel between the C4 and C5 vertebrae, to Harris's pained hiss, “if you have—if you've hurt him—” His foot pressed down harder and Harris gasped but didn't dare struggle. Soldiers' dark humour, the ditty everyone knew about injuries: Break C4, breathe no more....

“Christ, Watson, enough. Let him up,” Tobin said sharply. “That was an order, Captain.”

John slowly lifted his foot and stepped back. Harris coughed and rolled up to his feet beside Tobin, the sane one, his new best friend.

“I'm fine.” Sherlock's voice was unusually steady and calm and he was standing strangely, with his hands placatingly held away from his body and his torso very still. “I need to find out where Fitzhugh is so I can talk to him. That's the important thing now. All right?”

“Your hand,” he said, spotting the rawness of his palm before Sherlock quickly turned it away. The rotation exposed long bloody scrapes around his wrists and there was something wrong with the angle of the thumb—

“Watson.” Tobin was between him and Harris. “Go and watch the door. Move. We three are going to have a little talk and you are going to stand outside in the dark and preserve your night vision so we're not all blind. Go.”

Obeying that particular tone was a conditioned reflex inculcated by drill sergeants and senior surgeons the world over, but he was still annoyed to find that his legs had carried him over the threshold without conscious decision on his part. He went far enough from the cabin that the noises from within wouldn't mask the sounds of anyone approaching, although the rain was still falling steadily enough that they'd have to be in a Humvee for him to hear anything until they were right on top of him.

It wasn't long before Sherlock came out. Without preamble he jammed his hand in John's trouser pocket and pulled out Mycroft's phone, immediately tapping at the screen. “Is yours on?” he said absently.

“No.” John quickly turned before the glow could dazzle his vision.

“Switch it on. I'll text you with the information for Mycroft when I have it. Take the car with the scrape; tell Mycroft—”

“I'm not leaving you alone with them. Tobin might not—”

“Leave. You're a distraction.” John risked a glance sideways. Sherlock had stopped tapping and was staring fixedly at the mobile.

John's eyes narrowed. Sherlock was breathing rapidly and he’d jerked his jaw, the one tell he never seemed to be aware of. “What are you planning?”

“I don't need you for this. Go back to Mycroft. You're useless to me here.”

“Sherlock,” he said, something dark he barely recognised undercutting the syllables.

“Useless, you're useless. You don't have your bloody armour and we won't have time to carry you if you get yourself shot, the window of opportunity here is too short for that. You're a liability and I need you gone so I can concentrate. Go and plaster Mycroft's knees; it's all you're good for now. Your grasp of military tactics is abysmal, by the way; it's a good thing they never let you lead a squad.”

“What? Oh, no. No, you don't. You're changing the subject, I know what you’re doing—”

“You said to surrender to get to enemy headquarters. Patently wrong.” Sherlock had started tapping again.

“You—I knew it, I knew you weren't listening to me. I told you in any military society technologically advanced beyond swords that wouldn't—no. No. This won't work. I'm not falling for it. I'm not arguing with you and I'm not leaving. And what did you do to your thumb?”

“It's fine; I reduced it myself.” He swiped and tapped the screen some more, then made a low noise in his throat. “Are you still here? Fine, make yourself useful: go in and play bad captain to your good colonel. That piece of cannon-fodder in there is terrified of you—not only are you Black Ops, you're mad enough to be fucking someone like me.”

“Oh, absolutely. I'll just pop inside so you can run off to the car, shall I?” John stepped in close and stated flatly, “I'm not as clever as you, I know that. I’m not going to argue with you. I'll just break your bloody metatarsals so you can't outrun me.”

Sherlock sneered and turned back to the mobile. If John hadn't been watching him closely, he'd have missed the slight hesitation before he opened another screen and typed furiously. “Change of plans,” he said abruptly, striding to the cabin and flinging open the door. “Tobin, leave him, he's not important, someone will round him up later. As of this moment—” he flashed a time display on the mobile screen, “—you are a Crown witness. You will not leave my side until you are relieved by a superior officer or released by direct order.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“We have to go, John. Now.”

Not until they were in the car, breathless and dripping from their mad scramble across the field, did John pant, “What's happened?”

“A medical air-evacuation for two was ordered at Mycroft's.” To Tobin, in the driver's seat, he said, “Hoxton. Gopsall Street. Come on!” John's shoulders smacked the backrest as the car leapt forward. “John, phone Bill Murray and ask what's happened to Mycroft.”

“Murray?!”

“Yes, Murray! I'll explain later, we haven’t time for this. I need data. Phone him!”

Murray answered with the unflappable tones of an Army nurse who'd seen it all. “John, mate, I have to say he's not looking good. The MI was bad enough, but they think a rib nicked his lung when he fell, too.”

“Fuck.” I did that. I shot him and now— He shook it off. First things first. “Give me details. Are you with him?”

“Yeah—“

Sherlock grabbed the phone out of his hands. “Stay with him. Don't leave him alone for a minute, stand outside and guard the door of the operating theatre when you get there, and don't surrender your gun to anyone. Anyone. Use the passcode when you're challenged; they'll stand down.”

“Yeah, all right. I remember what you told me. I won't leave him.”

“Good.” He threw the phone back to John and turned his attention to the one in his lap.

“Details,” John repeated.

# # #

The car stopped in front of a building on what John assumed was Gopsall Street. Sherlock had the door open whilst the car was still rolling. “This way. No, not you, John, stay here. Trade phones. Don't argue, there isn't time. Monitor the messages that come through and be ready to drive as soon as we come out. Tobin stays with me.” Then they were sprinting off.

“You’d better come back,” he told the empty car. “You'd sodding well better.”

He checked the messages scrolling across Mycroft's phone, blanching when he realised that whatever his new security clearance was, it sure as hell wasn't high enough for him to be reading any of this.

Moments later he heard shattering glass, a shrill alarm, and then shouting. He had the car in gear when Tobin yanked open the back door and Sherlock flung himself in, arms wrapped around what looked like a backup computer drive. “Go, go!” Tobin shouted to John, landing half on top of Sherlock and slamming the door shut. He heard bullets hit the armoured side of the car and stomped on the accelerator.

“Stay down!” Tobin roared, shoving at Sherlock's head and wedging his shoulder above it. “Give me the phone,” he said, and John fumbled to pass it back even as he hunkered over the steering wheel. “Just drive, keep going, I'll tell you where in a minute.”

“London Heart Centre,” Sherlock said. Tobin ignored him. John saw headlights coming up behind much too fast and cut towards the New North Road and heavier traffic.

“This is Tobin. Passcode Carlo Bergonzi. We're coming in hot from Hoxton. I need Ultra-cleared witnesses and backup. Give me a destination.” Seconds later he said to John, “Moorgate. They'll escort us from there.”

John didn't see how it happened, but by the time they arrived at Moorgate there were six heavy black cars surrounding their own battered one, and he was politely but insistently edged out of his lane and onto the side of a road that was utterly deserted. Tobin made two more calls and exchanged three more passcodes before he holstered his gun and told John to unlock the doors.

“Mr Holmes,” said the elderly man in a nondescript grey suit sitting in the car next to theirs. “I am Charles Waterhouse. I am told you desired a meeting with me.”

Waterhouse. The third of the great triumvirate of Mycroft's cronies.

Sherlock slid into the seat beside him, Tobin at his heels. The door shut and there was no more sound from within. John watched the estate as if he could stare through the chassis by force of will alone.

Eventually the door opened and the two men emerged. “An ugly business,” said Waterhouse, who was now holding the backup drive. “To think that one of our own.... I'm sorry to hear about Mycroft. I'm sure you'll want to be with him now. My gentlemen will take you there.” It was clearly a dismissal.

Tobin stepped back into the car with Waterhouse. Until relieved by a superior officer or released by direct order from the Crown, John remembered, and no-one had taken Tobin's place by Sherlock's side. He shuddered. Yes, this was ugly and complicated and far, far above his head; what had Mycroft been thinking, to involve the both of them in something so important?

“Thank you, that won't be necessary,” Sherlock said. “We'll make our own way from here.”

Waterhouse paused in the act of closing the door. “My dear boy,” he said, so sympathetically that John's mouth went dry, “I think you're going to want to be there as soon as possible. Take the escort.” The car pulled away.

After a moment, Sherlock motioned John into the back of a waiting sedan.

The streets to the hospital were remarkably clear of traffic. Sherlock had turned his head away and stared out the window into the night. Neither of them spoke. What, after all, would they have had to say?

It was remarkable, John thought, just how quickly everything important in your life could go to shit.

Chapter Text

Sherlock strode into the Heart Centre as if he owned it, which, for all John knew, might have been the case. At this point, he wasn't discounting any possibilities. They hadn't made it far past the entrance when they were surrounded by very serious people who were very visibly armed and armoured. He and Sherlock were scrutinised by an unfamiliar major who spoke briefly into her headset and then waved them through to the elevators together with a new escort.

Christ, thought John. They've cleared the floor for Mycroft.

In front of a door midway down the corridor was Murray, sat in a plastic chair with his revolver resting in his lap. John frowned. Mycroft ought still to be in surgery, oughtn't he?

Murray rose and nodded to Sherlock—and just how did they know each other?—before stepping in close to speak to John. “Listen, about his injuries—”

“Not here,” Sherlock cut him off, opening the door and sweeping them both in behind him. 

John's eyes went first to the bed, to the patient and the monitors surrounding him. Mycroft looked like hell, naturally, and John ruthlessly shoved back the rising guilt until he had time to deal with it later. He picked up the chart, flipped through it, and frowned again. 

“What I wanted to tell you is that the security detail told me to play up his injuries over the phone in case the call was monitored,” Murray said. 

Sherlock nodded. “Of course. If he appeared likely to die without...outside assistance, there was a better chance Fitzhugh's people would wait and see if an assassination attempt was really necessary,” he said coolly, but John saw the way his eyes scanned his brother's pale and clammy face, the IV taped to his forearm, the nasal cannula. 

Right. That strategy explained some of the anomalies he was seeing, but not all. John kept flipping through the chart. He backed up, read the test results again, examined the monitor readouts. “He did have an MI, and his lung was partially collapsed but a chest drain sorted that out. That's good,” he added for Sherlock's benefit. “He's had periods of consciousness?” Murray nodded. “His response patterns are...atypical,” he noted. “He's intermittently alert but doesn't speak—” He had, in fact, become more confused and disoriented over time rather than less.

“Stroke?” Sherlock quickly asked. 

John shook his head. “No sign of one,” he said absently, checking and rechecking the monitors, the drug dosages, the blood values. Anticoagulant, beta-blocker, nitroprusside.... 

Sherlock said sharply, “You think something's wrong. What? What are you looking for?” 

“I'm...not sure. I'm not a cardiologist, Sherlock, I might be wrong. I'd like to talk to his attending physician, though.” Was the beta-blocker dosage high? That might be masking symptoms. He looked up at Murray. “Fetch Dr—” he flipped through the chart, “—Banks at his earliest convenience, would you?” Murray scrambled for the door.

Sherlock shoved into John's personal space and snarled, “Don't lie to me, don’t ever lie to me; you're absolutely shit at it and I won't be coddled.” 

John deliberately broke eye contact and turned aside to put down the chart. He took a deep breath and said quietly, “I don't know. This isn't my area, Sherlock, but I think he ought to be better than he is. His colour, his breathing—they ought to be better. He ought to be lucid. The MI wasn't trivial, but he shouldn't still be this unwell, and I'm worried there are internal injuries no-one's thought to check for.”

Sherlock regarded him shrewdly. “That's not all you're concerned about.”

He threw his hands up. “I don't know. Odds are that I'm wrong anyway; these doctors are the very best. I don't compare, and that's not through any false modesty on my part.”

A sound like a slurred lisp had Sherlock bedside in an instant. Mycroft's eyes slitted open and his fingers twitched. “Fit. Fitz,” he managed.

“Waterhouse has the drive with the evidence. Tobin was a witness. It was the best I could arrange under the circumstances.” Sherlock leaned close and said softly, “What happened?” 

Mycroft squinted at him, blinking rapidly. “Pass.”

“Gertrude Jekyll. What happened?”

“Brandy. Fitz.” 

“Clever,” Sherlock said, which was probably as close as the Holmes brothers could ever come to saying “I love you and I'm glad you're not dead, you insufferable twat.”

“Do you know where you are?” John asked him.

Mycroft’s words came with long gaps in between phrases, slurred and imprecise. The contrast with his normal speech was shocking. “Zurich. Clinic. No. John. He stopped, if you’re here.” Sherlock's faint wince confirmed John's guess at both the nature of that clinic and whom Mycroft had been visiting. He wondered how long ago that had been, and how many times it had taken Sherlock to get clean. 

“Sh—Sherlock.” Mycroft's hand patted the air in Sherlock's direction. “He's not gone. Sent to Dower House. For you. Understand? Second chance.” His face twisted. “Don't mess this up.” 

Sherlock flushed, but whether from embarrassment or anger, John couldn't tell.

A sharp rap at the door preceded the appearance of a stocky man in a doctor's coat, who seemed surprised to see John and Sherlock there and surprised again to see Mycroft alert. He said with a sigh, “If they let you on this floor, there's no point in my saying you shouldn't be disturbing my patient because I won't be able to throw you out. The lads outside have been over my security clearance so I suppose you'll be wanting to grill me on my medical credentials.” 

Sherlock snorted. “Hardly necessary. Your coat is at least six years old and your seniority is embroidered on the breast pocket so you've been Head of Department for at least that long. Where and with whom you studied are irrelevant. I'm only curious as to why you specialised in cardiology.” 

John rolled his eyes. Yes, of course the man who thought putting product in your hair meant you were gay would think having diabetes meant you'd specialise in endocr— 

Diabetes. Why would he think Banks had diabetes? 

A person did not live with Sherlock Holmes without picking up something of his methods, something of his instincts, if not his mad genius.

There were lancet marks on Banks' fingertips from checking his glucose levels and the outline of an insulin syringe in his pocket and yes, some diabetics did carry one around but he couldn't take insulin without eating soon afterwards so why—? 

John turned quickly to look at Mycroft, hints and clues at last slotting into place: trembling hands, slurred speech, excessive confusion that was growing worse, blurred vision, too, if the way he was squinting at Sherlock and Banks was anything to go by, but not much sweating and no tachycardia because those would be masked by the beta-blocker. He was sliding into hypoglycaemia through gradual insulin overdose. What were the odds that was accidental, when his doctor was a prime cardiologist and intimately familiar with the effects of insulin? 

Mycroft had his own stable of physicians. Wouldn't Fitzhugh? 

Sherlock was closer to Mycroft. “Pull out that IV!” John ordered, already executing a rugby tackle on Banks that he would certainly pay for tomorrow. “Insulin—pull it out!” 

Banks was in motion, headed for the door. He twisted as John landed on him, squirming like an eel and catching John in the abdomen with a knee, and that was the last straw in a stretch of days crammed full of pent-up frustration and fury. 

Monitors shrieked, the door flew open, dark shapes piled into the room, Sherlock shouted—John ignored all of it and concentrated on breaking every fucking bone in Banks' right arm.

# # # 

John shifted the ice pack against his jaw gingerly. Sherlock kept up a steady stream of senseless patter designed solely to remind the man beside him that he was in a London hospital.

“Impressive deduction,” he ventured for the fourth time. John had not registered any of the previous three. “How did you come to your conclusion?” He paused, prepared to go on with a different topic if John's gaze remained unfocused—well, not so much unfocused as focused both inwards and quite far off simultaneously. 

This time John sighed and squeezed his eyes shut in a series of hard blinks. “You're asking me to walk you through that deduction?” He huffed. “Most people checking for concussion just ask who the prime minister is, but I suppose in your family that's never mattered much.”

He let one side of his mouth quirk upwards. “Too true.” Was it Not Good to hope for just a small head injury, just enough to cause retrograde amnesia of, say, twelve hours? It probably was. 

John frowned and squinted at him. “You have a black eye.”

“It's nothing.”

“You shouldn't have tried to punch that corporal.”

“I have realised that, yes.” But the annoying child had been holding him back when he needed to get to John. That Army thug had pinned John against the wall with a forearm against his throat and John had been struggling reflexively, his eyes seeing mountains and sand and knives and of course he wasn't going to lie still as ordered, how could they have expected him to do when he thought he was fighting for his life? His John would never lie still and let anyone kill him quietly. 

He wondered if it was also Not Good for him to be so ridiculously pleased that before he'd been immobilised, John had broken Banks' ulna in three places, dislocated one soldier's knee, and bitten another's wrist to the point where it was a bloody mess. He wasn't sure he approved of that last, however. If anyone were to bear the scars of John's teeth, it ought to be Sherlock, in some private place for only the two of them to share.

“I suppose it was a difficult situation for them to sort on first glance, yeah? I mean,” John snorted, laughter starting to well up, “there's their star cardiologist on the floor with an enraged civilian bashing him up, whilst another nutter is yanking the IV out of the extremely important patient they're supposed to be protecting—” He doubled over, giggling helplessly as his shoulders shook, sucking in his breath as the motion strained his abused back. “Oh, God. Oh, God. I can just imagine—”

“You don't have to imagine; you were there,” Sherlock said, and John laughed much harder and longer than the poor witticism deserved, still high on adrenaline and endorphins.

Sherlock had spent the last forty-five minutes not thinking about how very badly things might have gone had the major not been briefed that John was a recently discharged veteran, had she not known his relationship to Mycroft and Sherlock, had she not reached the room swiftly and ordered her men to stand down and stop hurting him before the situation escalated further and terrible accidents subsequently occurred. He had not let himself think about that because it had not happened.

He suspected he would dream about it later nonetheless. 

“How's Mycroft?” John shouldn't have had to ask. He had saved his patient's life; he should have been in Mycroft's room with the other doctors, never mind that he wasn't a cardiologist. But that was the deal struck with the major: John would stay in the reception area with Sherlock, and in return there would be no guards posted in the room with them—no guards who might be looking for payback for their injured squadmates. It was acceptable under the circumstances, but it was wrong that Sherlock couldn't be with both his brother and his—whatever John was to him now. Partner. Surely still that? 

“The glucagon helped significantly. We’ll have their most recent assessment shortly.” It was difficult for the doctors to sort the after-effects of the heart attack from the effects of the insulin. That, of course, was what had made it such a good assassination vehicle for a cardiologist personally familiar with hypoglycaemia. Mycroft would have slipped progressively towards coma and irreversible brain damage, helped along with a massive subcutaneous injection from the syringe in Banks' pocket, the cause undetected until it was too late and that, too, had not happened.

John shifted uncomfortably in his chair again, carefully replacing the ice pack. “I forgive them the jaw,” he said lightly. “I was chewing on the bloke's wrist, after all. The sodding kick to the kidney was just retaliation, pure and simple, though. I expect I'll be pissing blood for a while.” Sherlock must have looked quite alarmed because John hastened to add, “It's normal after that sort of trauma.”

“We'll be able to go home soon. You'll be more comfortable there.” He predicted John's next question. “Mycroft is being moved as soon as he's stable. His house is the most secure site possible for him, so equipment—what?”

John shook his head. “They move a bloody cardiac unit to Mycroft's house in a matter of hours and somehow keep up the illusion he's a minor bureaucrat in—transportation, is it?”

Sherlock shrugged. “People see what they expect to see.” It's why they overlook you, too. Idiots. He added, “If Waterhouse agrees to support the charge of treason, Mycroft will be safe again. Once the information has been disseminated, it will be pointless for Fitzhugh's people to target Mycroft any longer. They'll begin hiding their own tracks instead.” 

“You should look in on him,” John said quietly. “He's your brother. You should be with him now. I'm fine here.” 

Sherlock brushed it off. “We'll all be leaving soon. He has a whole passel of doctors fussing over him now; no room for one more body in that jumble.”

“Sherlock. It's just you and me in this room, so who are you trying to convince—”

“Why don't you stop that jaw and just keep the ice where it's supposed to be?”

# # #

John had finally managed to get Sherlock to sit still long enough to clean and bandage his wounds and splint his thumb (“Fine, then, it's no matter to me if I'm never woken up by the bloody violin ever again. You do know there's ligament damage in every dislocation, don't you?”) when a lieutenant rapped smartly on the door and poked his head in. He shot John a filthy glare and said, “Mr Holmes, there's a DI Lestrade—”

“Let him come up.”

Maybe he brought coffee, John thought, and wondered where that had come from.

“Right,” said Lestrade a few minutes later, shutting the door firmly behind him. “Just to be clear about this, your brother scares the shit out of me. First I hear there's an emergency helicopter called to his address—”

Sherlock's head snapped up at that.

“—then, after that—so it has to be something he set up in advance—and after a dozen bloody texts gone unanswered by you two—thanks very much for that, by the way—I get a call on my mobile from an untraceable number telling me to come here and tell the two of you it's all over the news, you can go home now. Whatever the hell that means. And I'm to fetch you myself because God knows the Met has nothing better for me to do than save you cab fare. And what the bloody hell happened to your faces?”

Sherlock pulled out his—Mycroft’s—mobile as John carefully prodded a molar with his tongue and decided it would probably stay put. “It's true,” Sherlock finally said. “The news is out.” He regarded Greg unwaveringly. “How did you recognise Mycroft's address?” 

John lifted his head in time to see Lestrade look as though he'd just swallowed a tarantula. Not meeting Sherlock's eyes, he muttered roughly, “You want a ride or not? This is coming out of my sleep.”

Sherlock stood up and looked at him intensely for a long moment. “You should feel honoured, Inspector,” he said at last, mockingly. “He doesn't often invite any of you home.” He stiff-armed the door open and strode off down the corridor, coat swinging, calling behind him, “Well? Are you coming? I'm sure they'd let you keep his feet warm if you'd rather stay here.”

# # #

He was not at all surprised to find Sherlock sitting on his bed when he came out of the shower.

“I don't think it's a good idea for us to do this now,” John said. In the shower, he'd realised he still had dried come on his stomach from just before he'd walked out at Mycroft's house all those hours ago. Nothing was better since then, nothing was fixed, and he was angry and exhausted and he was indeed pissing blood and he just knew Sherlock would push all his buttons because that's what he did, and John didn't want this to go any more wrong than it had already.

Although, really, it was hard to see how it could get much worse. Tomorrow he'd see about finding a place to stay for a while, until he sorted things. 

“I know,” Sherlock said. “I know. I just....” He slid his gaze from over John's shoulder to his face, and there was something in his expression that John wished he could place because it was important, he knew it was important but he couldn't pin it down. “Mycroft never got to you.” His mouth twisted into a hideous parody of a smile. “I managed this all on my own.” He stood. “I just wanted.... Goodnight, John.”

His bandages peeked out from beneath his cuffs, and John had a sudden, horrible thought. He whirled and caught Sherlock's elbow. 

“If there's any chance this can work,” he said, heart pounding in his throat, “and I don't know if it can but if there's any chance at all, then I can't stay just because—if the only reason I don’t go is because I’m afraid that if I do, you—Sherlock. If you harm yourself, if you do anything, I will leave and not come back. I swear it. I won't be, be trapped like that. It will be all over. Do you hear me? I will leave.” 

The breathing exercises weren't working; he still felt lightheaded and he knew his heart rate was far too high but he was so raw and worn out and he couldn't handle this tonight. 

A large hand cupped the back of his head softly, just resting there, anchoring him, and eventually he steadied and settled and then felt the flush of shame across his downturned face.

“Trust issues,” Sherlock murmured, letting his hand slide down and turning away—a small, unexpected kindness. “Who was your Victor, my John?” And he glided out on cat's feet, slipping the door shut behind him.

John didn't sleep that night, nothing at all like real sleep. But twice he was roused out of dozes that threatened to descend into ugly, bloody dreams by the strains of a violin being played quite badly by someone unable to properly hold a bow, and when he finally woke for the last time just after sunrise, it was to a softening erection and a warm slickness in his pants that left him confused and aching and feeling even more fucked-up than he had been before.

When he could bring himself to stumble downstairs to make tea and search for ibuprofen, he found Sherlock, exhausted and disheveled, in his chair pulled up to the fireplace. He stood wordlessly, followed John into the kitchen, watched as he filled the kettle and set it to boil. And when John turned at last to meet his eyes, he shoved up his sleeves and spread his arms for inspection and said, “I didn't. It was hard for me, John. As hard as staying is for you.”

And all John could do was to brace his hands on the counter and breathe and breathe and breathe.

Chapter Text

 

 

"It was hard for me, John. As hard as staying is for you.”

John was supposed to have said, “Staying isn't hard, you great git.” He was supposed to have brought a mug of tea to Sherlock, let his thumb run over Sherlock's knuckles as it exchanged hands, and smiled his warm, slow smile. Then everything would have been all right.

That did not happen.

John recovered his composure quickly, but the fact that he needed to do so at all was...troubling. He poured tea and set the mugs on the table amidst the beakers, then sat, cupping the ceramic, staring sightlessly into the steam. Sherlock pushed a pair of retorts containing the remnants of his digestive-enzyme dilution experiment in a 115-degree arc around himself millimetre by millimetre and tried to avoid triggering him again, wishing he would just get on with it because waiting was tedious and unsettling.

When he eventually spoke, John said quietly, “I didn't realise it was still so hard for you,” and Sherlock's heart gave two great, sickening pounds and then clenched tight and small beneath his breastbone.

“Are you staying?”

“I think that's what we're deciding now.” John drank two-fifths of his tea and Sherlock savagely snapped pipettes to Fibonacci stubs. They might very well have gone on not looking at each other, not speaking to each other, not touching each other, possibly for weeks or at least the rest of the morning had Mrs Hudson not taken it upon herself to bring up the freshly delivered milk of the day.

Trapped, John had said the night before, and John in a vest hung with explosives had not looked so desperate to be somewhere, anywhere else as he did when Mrs Hudson came cheerfully up the stairs with that bottle. John thought of being with Sherlock as trapped.

That was not acceptable at all.

# # #

“Yoo hoo, boys, your milk's come, and one of your papers. Oh, and Mrs Turner's married ones have sent you a wedding present.” She offered it to Sherlock, who waved it towards John and took the paper instead, snapping it open to read the headlines and ignoring John's tightly furious expression. “The way you boys went about things, we didn't have a chance to throw you a proper reception. Of course you have everything you need, I suppose. Not like you need another toaster or a set of monogrammed towels.”

A new toaster. John thought longingly of a toaster that had never had asafoetida in it. He could have one. That was something that could actually happen.

Sherlock lowered his paper a few inches and glared over the top. “You're having salacious thoughts about something that isn't me. Direct violation of our agreement. Stop it.”

The look John shot him had made mere corporals piss themselves. With a glance at Mrs Hudson, he pressed his lips together and popped open the flaps of the box. The card on top of the gift read, Just a little something to help the residents of Baker Street get some sleep during your honeymoon.

He closed his eyes. No. Surely they hadn't.

“Well, go on, let's see,” Mrs Hudson said brightly, leaning over and poking the tissue paper aside for a better look.

Maybe she won't know what it is.

“Ooh. What is that?” Brow furrowed, she tilted her head from side to side.

Sherlock briefly craned his neck and went back to the paper. “It's a ball gag, Mrs Hudson.”

Oh, excellent. Mrs Hudson and I will die of embarrassment and Sherlock will murder the neighbours in a fit of jealous rage for sending us a sex toy. Four deaths - that’ll ruin Lestrade's weekend. 

She frowned. “Ooh, that looks like one of those horrible, what d’you call them, scold's bridles. We learned about those in school. Nasty things. Well, that's hardly the way to deal with problems in a marriage, shutting the other one up, is it? No, it’s always got to be talked out. Never let the sun go down on an argument, my mum used to say.”

Sherlock actually looked up from his newspaper and beamed at her. “Quite right, Mrs Hudson. You see, John? We should talk.”

John's outraged “Me?!” was overrun by Mrs Hudson's, “Are you two having a bit of a tiff, then? Well, with all the gadding about you boys get up to I suppose you haven't had time to settle into your new life as you ought. It can be a bit stressful, you know. All that change. You must remember to make time just for yourselves, especially at the beginning. That's one of the secrets of a happy marriage: making time.”

John had started pouring a second mug of tea before the words registered and his hands froze. She's giving us marriage advice.

Seconds later, his incredulous brain further noted, We're getting relationship advice from a woman who used to be married to a serial killer.

He looked up to see Sherlock and Mrs Hudson exchanging knowing glances. Um.The last time these two put their heads together, the spouse in the equation ended up in Florida under a death sentence. 

“Ooh! You should talk with them—Mrs Turner's boys, I mean. She says they've been together for ages. I'm sure they'd have some good advice for the two of you.” She frowned momentarily, looking at the gag. “Although I’m not sure you should take all of it.” 

John took a hasty swig of too-hot tea and did not think about lube, hoping his blazing ears would be chalked up to mortification. 

# # #

“Mrs Hudson, why don't you leave now before John scalds himself further with that tea? The next injury may occur in his lap.” 

Sherlock.” 

“Oh, it's fine, dear. I suppose it's only natural he'd have that on his mind, especially with your jaw still being so sore.” She trundled down the stairs and called back something about returning with a good fry-up as their refrigerator was empty but for the flatworms, and Sherlock watched John try to convince himself she hadn't just alluded to multiple sex acts.

Eyes closed, John pursed his lips, took a deep breath, and nodded. “Right. First thing,” he said, “no killing the neighbours.”

Sherlock huffed but agreed with an exaggerated eyeroll. It was probably best to concede the small points to put John in a more compliant mood. 

“Why did you do it?” John finally asked. “The truth, please. You knew I didn't want to get hitched yet, so why?” 

“It gave you some slight measure of protection. Mycroft can't do anything to you that he can't do to me. Of course, you've seen what he can do to me.” 

John considered this, then shook his head. “Nope. That's not all of it or you'd not have kept it a secret. You'd have told me and tried to steamroll me into agreeing retroactively.”

“There was no reason for you to know. As long as Mycroft did—”

“You'd better not say what I think you're about to say.”

“You'd been an idiot and gone to work for Mycroft despite all the times I'd warned you not to have anything to do with him! He was sending you away. You'd let him get his hooks in you and he was sending you off to Dublin. I had to do something. It's your fault it had to be something drastic. If you'd just abided by the agreement—”

“So your justification for forging my signature in the fucking register is that Mycroft gave me a job? You—you—” He stood up and pointed to the sofa. “Our very first night at this flat, you posed yourself right there and told me I should have taken money from him to spy on you so we could have split it. Now I'm taking money from him—and it's a lot of money, Sherlock, enough that I could buy a—a bloody good motorbike or something for just one surgery—and you're throwing a colossal strop over it? Would you make up your mind?”

“You want to buy a motorbike?” asked Sherlock, suddenly interested.

“You and I can only make this work together, Sherlock. I can have a job I love and we can make Mycroft pay me a lot of money for it. Besides, he owes you now, doesn't he? That's got to be worth some favours.”

Sherlock's breath came faster. “You’d ride it at extremely unsafe speeds and come home excited, smelling of petrol and wind. Would there be boots?”

“You're missing the point.”

He considered. “Yes, of course you’d wear boots, ex-army man that you are. Part of the uniform. You would be aroused by the danger and then we would have vigorous sex.” A slow, sly smile broke over his face. “And Mycroft would be paying for it all.” He nodded decisively. “I approve. Get the motorbike.”

“Oh, for God's sake. Would you stop thinking with your dick for one minute?” John stopped and visibly replayed his last sentence. “I can't believe—” His gaze sharpened. “Nice try. Back to the bit about the marriage. I told you it was too soon and I told you why.”

“That came later.” John's expression indicated this was not a winning strategy.

“Tobin implied some things.”

“There are a few perquisites to go with the annoyances.” He toyed with a stoppered flask of—oh, that was where the chlorine trifluoride had got to. Best set that aside. “Mycroft's penned us in. We've come to the attention of influential people now, and we'll need him to keep them off our backs.” He drew a breath. “John, I know—oh, bloody hell, go away!” he snarled down the staircase in response to the damned doorbell. He needed to talk to John and tying up Mycroft's loose ends was going to be boring. “He's going to keep at me until this is done. Please be here when I come back.”

Tobin clattered up the stairs before John answered. Sherlock would have been considerably less distracted over the next few hours had John said yes.

# # #

You have questions about last night. SH

Answer your phone. SH 

Answer your phone. SH

Answer your phone. SH

Plan phone-charging times more conveniently in future. SH

You surprised Mycroft. He thought you'd hesitate before shooting. CCTV voyeurism no substitute for real-world personal interaction. SH

Original plan was for you to have gun out when Harris arrived, resulting in standoff to be broken by appearance of Tobin; he to have disarmed you and fired harmlessly into massive blubber layer to cement Harris's trust. SH 

Why has Helen Blaketon given you a racehorse? SH

Original plan would have resulted in Mycroft blown up in boathouse with grenades. SH 

Your plan was better. SH 

Have negotiated substantial pay increase for surgical services, which now include strategic firearm use. SH 

Mycroft unable to rise from bed. His office unguarded and within hearing distance of sickroom. I mention this as example of consequences of your poor planning. SH

# # #

“Uh, hi, Sherlock. This is Bill, Bill Murray. Um, our bank called to say that a rather large deposit was made into our account today, and I wondered if you'd done that? Because like I told you when we talked about it, I was there as a favour to John, you know, no payment necessary. Although it's very much appreciated; the roof's needed a bit of work and that would, uh, cover it. Also our daughter's just been given a scholarship to a public school and, you know, new uniforms and such, it all adds up. Yeah. Well. I just wanted to say thanks, if it was you, and, um, say hi to John for me. I hope his kidneys are better soon, and that you two are very happy together. Congratulations, by the way, in case I didn't say it before. John's a good man to have at your side. You won't find better.”

# # #

“John, it's Greg. I know it's early, but do you fancy watching some footy at your local? I—well, truth is I got my divorce papers today and I don't want to drink alone but I don't want the blokes at work to know just yet, yeah? I'll—” 

“I'm here, I'm here. My phone was charging. Ah, my back can't take one of those pub chairs, but I'll bring beer if you want to watch the game at your place.”

“Are you on painkillers? I mean, should you be drinking, if you are? Or, you know, leaving the flat? At all? Maybe this isn't a good idea. Forget it.” 

“Beer's a diuretic; it'll be good for my kidneys. And seriously I can't take Mrs Hudson’s comments one more bloody minute. You'll be doing me a favour. Be there in twenty.” 

# # #

When he came home, just pissed enough that he couldn't take any of the effective painkillers but not enough to take the edge off, there was a box on his bed, right in the centre where he couldn't possibly miss it. It was a measure of his life as it currently stood that he wasn't actually surprised. Even braced as he was, when he lifted the lid he couldn't help recoiling at the contents. 

Rana septentrionalis,” Sherlock said from doorway. “Mink frog.”

He took another look in the box. “It's got six legs,” he observed calmly, which he thought was really admirable under the circumstances.

“Insecta isn't the only class to undergo metamorphosis. Amphibia does as well, and is...less fragile. The amount of disruption to the process it can withstand and still produce viable...end results is significantly greater.”

“It's got six legs.”

“Yes, it’s mutated. But—” John sneaked a glance out of the corner of his eye to find Sherlock staring rigidly at some point over John's right shoulder. “—but it survives. It is not what it would have developed into without disruption, but it is capable of all the necessary processes of life: it respires, it eats, it excretes, it's even capable of reproduction, which is a luxury process.”

John looked again. “I don't imagine it does any of those things, actually, since you pithed it.”

“It kept moving around,” Sherlock said irritably.

After a moment, John said, “Can't help but see that bit as a very significant aspect of the metaphor you're creating here.” He put the lid back on the box and sat on the bed.

There was warmth at his shoulder and then the mattress sank. “I am sorry.” 

“And that makes it all better, does it?”

“I have no experience to go on in this area, John. I am not able to predict...anything. Tell me—” John heard him swallow. “You don't trust me now. Tell me what I’d have to do to fix this.”

Fuck.

“Sherlock, you took something that mattered to me. When I wouldn't give it to you, you took it. That's not a small thing.”

Sherlock sprang up and paced agitatedly. “You keep saying that. What had we not already given each other? Was there anything that wasn't just a formality?” He whirled, placing his hands on the bed on either side of John and leaning intrusively close. “We kept nothing from each other. You're in my blood; I'm in yours. How do you think you didn't say yes to this one thing? How do you not understand? You're not that dim, so what else is going on?”

The deranged thing was, John understood this warped logic. But—“And what happens,” he said, “when you get bored of me? When you get frustrated that I can’t keep up, and you—you just go on without me, and—” Shit. It was getting hard to breathe again. Not now, damn it. “—and I'm left behind, still tied to you, and you can't be arsed even to end it? What happens then?”

Sherlock stilled, his head close enough to John's that he could feel warm breath on his face. “Oh,” he said, in tones of revelation. “Oh. I took your vial. That's why you panicked. I should have realised—” He spun and unlatched John's window. “I know how to fix this.” He stepped onto the ledge and scrambled onto the roof. 

“Sherlock, Jesus, what the hell are you doing? The slates are iced over, for God's sake!”

“Fifth row, third slate; fifth, third...got it.”

A brief scrabbling slide had John thinking he'd be joining Mycroft in intensive cardiac care before Sherlock slithered back in through the window, left hand clutching something to his chest.

“What the hell was that about, you nutter?!”

Sherlock's words came rapid-fire and he chewed his lips nervously. “The roof was the best place; could never get sniffer dogs up there, the pitch is too steep. But you need,” his respiration was elevated, and John stepped close, puzzled and concerned, “you need to know I understand.” His pale eyes speared John to the spot. “You don't intend to leave. Not ever. You don't intend to do it, but you need to know you can, if you really have to someday, you can. If it's just...too much. The option is there. Yes?”

Abruptly, John knew what was in that closed hand. “Oh, fuck.”

“So I'll give this to you. You'll put it somewhere; I won't try to find—well, yes, I will, because that's how I am, but I'll leave it alone. I've left it alone for years, I never touch it, I just need to know it's there, but I'll never use it. And you—I'll have my—our solicitor draw up papers. I'll sign them, you won't, and we'll leave them with the solicitor. You'll know they're there, if you need them. But you won't ever sign. You see? It fixes everything.”

“Oh my God.” John sat heavily on the bed. It was that or the floor. “That's—that's unbelievably fucked up.”

“Yes.” Sherlock sat beside him. “But we are nothing approaching normal, John. Normal solutions aren't going to work for us.” 

“Your proposed solution is that I hold your emergency cocaine for you and you sign emergency divorce papers for me.”

“Can you think of a better one?”

He couldn't. He was pretty sure that was part of the problem, and a symptom of a much greater one.  He screwed his eyes shut and pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead.

He felt the fingers of his free hand pried open and a small vial set into his palm. “You still think I'll get bored and leave you. Why can I not make you understand? I use simple words, but you don't understand. Your grasp of science is deplorable. You're in my blood, John. My whole physiology has changed to accommodate your presence. You will never not be a part of me. That is not sentiment, not choice, it is biological fact. It exists whether or not we ever acknowledge it. I choose to accept fact and acknowledge it, however inconvenient it may be, in this part of my life as in all others. I’ve told you this repeatedly. Do you not listen at all?”

“'Inconvenient'.”

“Moriarty got to me through you. There will be others. It is not at all safe for you, and I...dislike having such an obvious vulnerability. It tells my enemies where to aim.” 

“You've got a lot to learn about working as a team.”

“It's likely I'll need to make some adjustments in my habits. Inconvenient, as I said.”

“Sherlock.”

“Hm?” 

“Even if this were a good time—and it's not—after the beating I took yesterday, I'm not in any shape to have sex.” 

“Hm.” 

“So you can get your hand off my cock, all right?”

“Fine. If sex isn't going to facilitate renewed emotional and chemical bonding, it's not worth the bother of orgasm.”

“That's...weirdly romantic.”

Sherlock launched himself off the bed disgustedly. “Don't be petty, John; it doesn't suit you.”

# # #

In the middle of the next week, they had bad sex. 

Not having had any basis for comparison at the time, Sherlock had dismissed John's remark about sex being better with someone you cared about as more of the cloying nonsense he was given to spouting when discussing his refusal to take a more practical approach to obtaining sexual release. 

In addition to caring, it appeared trust was essential. 

They were both healthy adult males, and therefore the attempt ended in ejaculations despite the inadequacies. Sherlock's orgasm was little different from those resulting from solitary masturbation, with none of the complexity or deep satisfaction he'd come to associate with those involving John. He spent the rest of that night and several following days restless and irritable with the knowledge there were levels of John to which he no longer had access.

John, simple creature that he was, just looked miserable.

Their next attempt was no better, and after that, they did not try again.

But John didn't leave, and Sherlock clutched that to himself like a talisman. 

# # # 

Christmas was wretched.

# # #

Boxing Day brought a tolerably creative ritual killing. John unexpectedly contributed to the solution when he mentioned an aspect of Zoroastrianism that accounted for the bull's horns. 

“Where'd you learn about that?” Lestrade asked. 

“Biography of Freddy Mercury,” John answered, and then turned to Sherlock, eyes bright, and said, “That was amazing.”

The case was only a 7, but Sherlock ranked it as Significant and filed it in a prominent place in his memory. 

# # #

In mid-January, the night before he would be leaving to perform surgery in Bruges, John came to Sherlock's bed for the first time in weeks and slept with his head on Sherlock's pillow. He woke to long, splayed fingers on his abdomen under his shirt, and he thought his heart would break when Sherlock noticed he was awake and looked as if he didn't know whether he could leave his hand there or not.

He scooted forward and pressed their foreheads together. “I'm trying.”

“I know.”

“And I'm coming back.”

Arms tightened around him wordlessly. 

# # # 

It was coming on Valentine's Day, and the jeweller's box for his wife in Anderson's pocket undoubtedly had a lot to do with why Donovan had been exceptionally vicious at the crime scene that evening. It had been all John could do to bite his tongue and not escalate matters to the point where Lestrade would have had to get involved, because that wouldn't have ended well for anyone.

He stripped off his coat and threw it over his chair, then knelt to build up the fire. He didn't get it. He just didn't get how she could notice so much and still have such a blind spot where Sherlock was concerned. “Look at that freak,” she'd said. “They're just pieces of meat to him,” and John had wanted to ask her how she thought it was that a man who supposedly didn't care about people spent his time observing them with all the fascination and longing of a kid with his face pressed against the window of a sweet shop.

It was sheer chance that the mirror usually over the fireplace was propped on the floor at an angle that showed him Sherlock, weariness in every line of his body, hanging up his coat and pausing for the smallest moment to rest his head against the wall before settling his spine back into the familiar arrogant carriage and schooling his expression to indifference.

Everything he'd been struggling with suddenly became so simple.

“Sherlock.” Five strides carried him across the open space, close enough to slide the fingers of one hand into wet hair and close the other in the cotton of a tight-fitting shirt.

Sherlock made a terrible sound when John kissed him. John knew that sound: it was the one you made when you'd hurt for so long that the absence of pain came as a shock. He let it buckle his knees, let himself slide down the long, warm body until he could press his face into the stomach above a belted waistband. His hands slid up the thighs on either side of him, and Sherlock made another awful noise when John tugged his shirt out of his trousers and ran his lips over bare skin.

“John,” he said on hitched breath. His hands were splayed against the wall, and he pressed into them to hold himself up as he bent his knees and slid down a few inches to give John better access. John's thighs burned sympathetically but he was not stopping. Not now.

“Yes?” he asked urgently, fingers already fumbling at the belt. “Yes, can I?”

God,” Sherlock choked out, and took both hands from the wall to wrap them around John's head. “God, yes, anything you want, but now, John,right now.” 

The trousers wouldn't come down far, not with Sherlock's legs spread wide enough for John to kneel between, but it was far enough for John to get his hand in and Sherlock's cock out, to press his forehead to a too-lean belly and pull the foreskin up over the glans with his lips until he could play with it with his tongue. Honest to God, he didn't know how Sherlock was staying upright, and the way his hips jerked would surely mean a lumbar sprain but no, no, they were not stopping, not even pausing. If he tried, Sherlock would rip his hair out by the roots.

Cocksucking wouldn't ever be his favourite kind of sex, but oh, he'd missed this—Sherlock, hot and wet and wanting under his hands and mouth, making noises that shot straight to his groin. It was brilliant, fucking brilliant and it'd been much too long, which is why it took hardly any time at all before his mouth was flooded with bitter salt and Sherlock let go of his head to pound a fist against the wall and groan loudly. He pulled off fast, coughing and spluttering. Damn it, Sherlock had never learned to be polite about that. 

He managed to shuffle back on his knees just before Sherlock's legs collapsed entirely and he slid down the plaster to land with a thump. Breathless and panting, one hand still buried in John's hair, he cracked open unfocused eyes and pulled John in for a sloppy, awkward kiss. “Sorry,” he said insincerely.

John wiped his watering eyes and wet chin on the posh shirt. “No, you're not.”

“I'm not,” he agreed. “I like it and you never tell me not to do it again.” 

Somehow, John hadn't ever noticed that.

Sherlock nudged him with a knee. “Hearthrug. Pull down the blanket from the sofa and rummage in the seat cushions. We left a bottle of lube there in November; I doubt Mrs Hudson removed it when cleaning. We're going to have intercourse and I want to be warm. The beds will be freezing.”

John wasn't at all sure how he managed to get up and walk after that, but he did while Sherlock squirmed out of his trousers and shoes and came to the fireplace, where he stripped off his shirt and spread himself enticingly over the blanket.

John remembered their first time, very like this. How much of what he'd thought was Sherlock's impatience with foreplay had actually been inexperience? Nearly all, he decided, shucking his clothing and lying to press skin to skin, given how devoted he'd been to exploration and greedy for touch ever afterwards.

There was no way to make up for nearly three months in a night, and they didn't try. It was more important to find the way they would be with each other now. But they let their bodies say all the things they couldn't put into words, and that went a very long way towards healing the wounds they would never acknowledge aloud.

Sherlock's generous mouth sliding down John's abdomen meant, I'm sorry I took from you. I'm selfish and I'll do it again, but I never mean it to hurt you. John's fingers easing into tight heat meant, I'm sorry I walked away from you. I do that when I'm frightened, but I'll come back.

When teasing and worshiping turned to urgency and fierce joining, the words these two could not say, might never say, burned between them and left them shaking.

John drew it out as long as he could, until the pleasure was so sharp he was nearly blind and he needed to come so badly his balls ached and Sherlock was thrashing beneath him. Then he made himself stop. He pressed Sherlock's hips still and curled over him, straining for breath, gasping, “Wait, wait, not yet, I want more. God, make it last. I want you, I want you so much, I want it all.”

“John, oh God, you're being ridiculous. We'll do it again, as many times as you want but don't stop.” Sherlock protestingly clamped his body around him and oh, hell, that nearly did it but somehow John hung on. It was a close thing, though, and he smacked his hand against Sherlock's frantically squirming arse and snapped, “Damn it, be still.” 

Sherlock's eyes went wide and he blurted, “Oh, fuck.” 

Any other time, John would have been stunned enough by that word from Sherlock to leave him open-mouthed, but the body beneath him spasmed and he was lost. He doubled over, drove in hard enough to shove Sherlock across the blanket on the floor, dug his fingers into bony shoulders in a desperate search for leverage, and came so hard he saw stars.

Several minutes later, his heart at last slowed to a mere gallop and he regained sensation in his extremities. His sense of hearing appeared to be returning as well, because he could finally make out Sherlock bitching at him.

“—wool. Friction burns are going to make wearing trousers a nightmare and no, I will not wear one of those atrocious tracksuit bottoms in public, John; I have standards, so don’t even think of suggesting it. And I would appreciate it if at some point you could see your way to removing your iliac crest from my bladder.”

He pressed his lips to the flapping ones below him. “Yeah, fuck you, you tosser.” He grinned, still a bit cross-eyed. “As many times as I bloody like, in fact.”

Sherlock grunted and rolled them both over onto their sides. John nuzzled into his neck, still too dazed to think about getting up to clean off the sticky mess. “Liked that, did you?” he mumbled, exploring a hint of stubble with his lips.

“As did you.” 

“Oh, yeah. Bloody hard deduction, that one. My spunk in your arse tell you that?”

Sherlock's nose wrinkled. “Reverting to barracks vocabulary. How attractive.” 

“You started it.” He was treated to the sight of a bright flush moving across Sherlock's naked skin. 

He yawned and was debating the merits of just falling asleep like this and dealing with the itching later when Sherlock poked his bicep and announced, “I want tea.”

“Get it yourself,” he grumbled, but they both knew how this was going to end. While he was up, he pulled extra blankets from Sherlock's bed and tossed them on the floor by the hearth. 

Sherlock made him bank the fire, too, lazy git. 

# # #

Sherlock's faint winces every time the trousers pulled across his bum at the scene the next day kindled something warm and slightly disturbing in the pit of John’s stomach. As there was a lot of bending over to examine the pieces of the body, there were a lot of winces, and John had plans for what he was going to do as soon as this case was over. God, let this be a quick one. 

It took two days. By the time Sherlock threw Lestrade's paperwork at his head and announced he was going home, thank you very much, John was ready to drag him into an interrogation room and bugger him until they both lost the capacity for speech, witnesses be damned.

“It's good to see you boys have made up,” Mrs Hudson called up the stairs after them as they slammed the doors to the flat shut and proceeded to ensure they'd be receiving a second pointed gift from the neighbours. 

This is utterly mad, John thought hours later, watching the man beside him sleep for the first time since the case had begun. Everything about us is so fucked up.My therapist would recommend sectioning. 

The odds of either of them living to forty-five were slim. The best working compromise they'd come up with involved cocaine and divorce papers. There was a fucking human placenta spread over the six-pack of nice beer John had bought for watching the game with Greg and had explicitly declared off-limits to experiments.

He shifted to stretch his shoulder and Sherlock's arm tightened around him until he lay still again with an aristocratic nose pressed behind his ear. 

He grinned. Yeah. It was fucking brilliant. 

 

Finis.

Chapter Text

There is now a sequel to this story: “A Different Outcome,” part 2 of the Nitroglycerine series.