John Watson is a man who is comfortable with paradoxes. He has learned to be. Has to be.
He is a good man, and he went to war.
He is a doctor, and dying is what people do.
So he copes with opposites quite handily--better than most, with more grace. Most contradictions cause him no more than a couple of slow blinks, an inner shrug, and a tired smile. Then he goes about his business, and the paradox, whatever it was, is allowed to live in peace without John Watson insisting it account for itself in any way. This is why it occurs to him two weeks after being ordered out of his own flat as if there were a ticking bomb in it, and then discovering that bomb's self-identified name was Sherlock Holmes, and then being kissed as if the sky was falling by the world's tallest, palest, most alarming and beautiful madman, that he ought not be so very surprised by anomaly at this point in his life. It ought to be the case that the most unsurprising thing about sleeping with Sherlock Holmes is that it's all so surprising.
It's a job, though, not being startled. By nearly everything about it.
"I--what? What is it?"
Sherlock is staring again, this time at the back of John's neck, which is currently slick with sweat that's beading thicker by the second as John valiantly tries to endure the sort of scrutiny normally reserved for severed heads, murder scenes, flogged corpses, and other inanimate objects which were once alive and are now somehow gruesomely not alive. The fact that he can't see the expression doesn't mean it's not there. They're flush against each other, just moments afterward in fact, not even fully apart, and John can feel ash-grey eyes boring holes through his spine. At times, John wonders if Sherlock remembers that he's still an animate object for the time being, capable of being rendered uncomfortable. His flatmate removes the hand from his hip and puts two elongated fingers very softly against his spine. And then, inevitably, it all becomes so much more shocking than it could be.
"I didn't know you'd played football as a child."
It takes John a few seconds to decide what he wants to know first.
"Um. Important, is that?"
"You never told me."
And of course, John had played football as a child, for two years, when he was ages twelve and thirteen. But how that information could be gleaned from the back of his neck remains a mystery.
"Should have disclosed it sooner, eh? Two years at being a crap goalie is the dealbreaker?"
"No, it's lovely."
And there is the kicker, the lurking shock to the system waiting to pounce. Moonlight-coloured, mad-eyed scrutiny is to be expected. It was always a central tenet of living here, in fact, and at times it was even helpful. John can't spend nearly so much time rigourously examining himself, his dreams, his ridiculous leg, when someone else is already doing it for him. That would have made his own pathologies seem far too important. John isn't a vain man. And now that he seems to have placed himself entirely at the disposal of London's only consulting detective, he hardly expected the chillingly thorough study to lessen. That would have been completely out of character for his friend, and anyway John supposes he might actually have missed it. So deductions and scrutinies are all very much in their usual line, necessary, no matter how...exposed they might make him feel at times.
No, it's lovely in a hushed baritone, on the other hand, is borderline earth-shattering. He means it, too. John knows he does. Sherlock never says anything he doesn't want to say.
John Watson is a man who is comfortable with paradoxes. But some are easier dealt with than others.
For instance, it is just after a frankly harrowing case during which he and Sherlock were very nearly done to death by way of the sort of poison gas soldiers wake up screaming about, and their hair still smells slightly of burning lye, though they've washed it at least three times apiece, and binned their clothing, and scrubbed each other's skin pink, Sherlock's pinker than John has ever seen it, and now they are naked in John's bed and Sherlock is on top of him, raised on his elbows, grinning the genuine but blinding grin of the utterly cracked.
"Fantastic day, wasn't it? I don't know that I can remember a better."
And no, it wasn't fantastic. Not really. Not exactly. Not what with the three dead transvestites, and the being locked in a makeshift gas chamber, and Lestrade's looking so horrified even for a hardened policeman. Not when the terror of taking a single breath more was considered, and accurately recalled--the cold sweat and the steadily growing panic making John's every limb perfectly calm and still. He's not sure why that happens to him, actually. And it isn't precisely pleasant, turning into a survival machine. It takes him hours feel startled by anything afterward. To feel human and not this detached breathing apparatus. But then again, the day had after all been spent with Sherlock, and lord knows it hadn't been dull.
"By your standards, yes."
"What, you'd have preferred it spent at the cinema, falling comatose?"
"No, just. I like a bit more steadily-come-by-breathing in a day, myself. Less of the holding your breath till you're about to pass out moments, crouched against the crack in a door. Fewer of those."
Sherlock just widens the smile, which should not actually be possible. No one's lips are like that, John thinks. They're minor miracles.
"Glad to see you're chuffed, though."
John slowly smiles back. And he finds that he means it.
"Breathing," breathes Sherlock, "is boring."
And he places a white hand over John's neck. He presses, just a little, just so much that the air flow is restricted. Audible. He does this so meticulously that John wonders for a moment whether he is in fact about to be murdered. That wouldn't make sense, though, because Sherlock has had his fair share of chaos and destruction for the day. Being locked in a tiny room with poison pumping into it ought to hold him for...oh, ten hours at least. Maybe even through dinner the next night. And then Sherlock reaches between their legs and grips the two of them at once in his other hand, lifting his hips to the side a bit so his slender weight is balanced, settling back down, and now John still can't quite breathe but that doesn't matter any longer. Sherlock is steadily pulling, and he's tightened his grip on both his throat and their cocks, and John supposes that of all the ways to die in the world, this one isn't bad.
No, god no, he thinks, and then, does he want me to fight it?
But Sherlock makes a sound like a contented little sigh, and squeezes all ten of his fingers, and his curls fall towards John's face, and no.
No one save for John trusts him entirely. So this time, he wants him still.
Now Sherlock's lips are against John's, and yet he isn't kissing him. He's instead feeling with his mouth how John isn't breathing freely, the way he's sucking air through in little trickles, and that is probably the mirror opposite of a kiss when you think rationally about it, thinks John. An anti-kiss, one which shouldn't turn him on, but he's seeing adoring star-bursts behind his lids anyway. Sherlock's own breath is warm, unimpeded. Caressing John's lips as he grapples with the lack of oxygen. Things are going as pale as Sherlock's skin was four hours ago, as white-noise-but-sharply-brilliant as his thoughts, and then black as his hair, and it's glorious, it's perfect, it should never stop, this being mastered by him, this sensation of his entire life being held in someone's palm. And not just anyone's palm, either.
It feels so very safe to be this dangerous--when he abandons control entirely, nothing can ever be John's fault.
It's getting worse and getting better by the instant. His blood pounds through his ears and his face and his groin, not enough room and too much pressure and far too quick. John thinks he might actually black out for a moment, but just as he falls, Sherlock gives him a breath from the detective's own lungs. As if it's mouth to mouth underwater. As if they're both drowning.
We probably are, to be fair, thinks John, clutching the sheets into his fists because he can't help himself.
When it's over seconds later, it's more like death than it ought to be. And also exactly like being raised from the dead in a blaze of glory. None of that was the shocking bit, though. Not in the slightest. Sherlock is, after all, entirely insane.
The surprise comes afterwards again, on this occasion. Sherlock cleans them up, and John gets his breath back, and when Sherlock climbs back into bed like some stunning new creature fresh off the Nature channel, all limbs and joints and gorgeous angles, he fits his palm over John's face and kisses either one of his eyelids. Before flopping dramatically over with his back to John's chest, turning out the light, and deliberately curling John's arm round his torso with their fingers laced together.
"People aren't like this," John says affectionately into Sherlock's downy hair.
"Aren't they?" Bored. A pause. "Wait, like what?" No longer bored: intrigued.
"People who choke you without asking don't generally use your arm as a heat source."
"It's not a heat source," comes a muffled and mildly petulant voice. "I want you closer."
John obliges. Sherlock adjusts a leg so they fit even tighter. John is baffled. Paradoxes are fine by him, have been for years now. But he can't seem to help being continually surprised.
"I meant that generally people stay far away from chaps who want to choke them."
"Yes. On principle."
Sherlock just pulls the tip of one of John's fingers between his lips, the tiniest, most chaste caress conceivable.
"I don't see what the one has to do with the other."
John thinks about this, breathing in and out through hair which still bespeaks traces of chemical warfare. He loves it. Can't help but love it.
More possibly he loves him, rather, John corrects himself.
"You really don't, do you?"
"Shut up," says his friend contentedly, running his fingers gentle and slow round John's pulse point.
John Watson is a man who is comfortable with paradoxes. But this has all gone quite far enough.
Sherlock found him in a skip under a piece of corrugated metal, drugged half into a coma, filthy and unmoving and whitewashed of complexion. Already looking more than three days dead. It had only been two days, though, when Sherlock dove into the right metal bin. And six hours after Donovan had elsewhere shot the kidnapper, as it happened, an act which seemed to John when he awakened to have exploded Sherlock's entire sense of self.
Donovan wasn't gloating, through. Not that he could remember. He'd glimpsed her from the wheeled cot, and she'd seemed very quiet about everything. Smiled at him. Rolled her eyes at Sherlock's back. John had tried to return it. He wondered if he'd been successful.
It was all so confusing. He had been in there for so long, and been so dehydrated, and so fucking high, that staying awake in the blackness had seemed the only viable medical self-treatment. And he'd done it, though it had been worse than miserable. What with the duct tape over his mouth, and the cold, and the blade-like aches cutting through the numbness. He'd done it, but it had been a near thing. So they had gone at once to hospital, or so John gathers, because now they're already leaving hospital, and Sherlock won't let the nurse anywhere near the wheelchair. As if it's an aeroplane he's piloting, and everyone else on earth a hijacker. John is beginning to find the idea of his belonging to Sherlock slightly unsettling. Endearing, yes, of course. But Sherlock just snapped at a perfectly pleasant nurse as if she might be a badly disguised vampire, and that raises John's hackles. People ought to like nurses. They work hard, and get snapped at for their trouble by worried spouses. Friends. Colleagues. Sociopaths.
Perhaps all of the above, he thinks as Sherlock wheels him twenty feet out of their way so as not to encounter a single kerb.
They arrive home. John still feels slightly queasy, can't help it for the life of him, and so he directs his feet towards the sofa and Sherlock obliges, letting himself be steered by the man half in his arms.
That is in itself highly unnerving.
John Watson collapses, breathing heavily from the stairs. Having sex with Sherlock is currently the very last thing on John's mind. His mind is on his body, because it bloody well aches, and on his back, which was severely bruised when he was tossed into the skip, and on his life, which seems to have taken a turn for the suicidal. Sherlock is indispensable to John, and John knows it. That isn't a question any longer. But he is beginning to think of himself as a minor accessory in the pantheon of Sherlock's wild opera, the sort of character who lives and dies and is mourned for four measures if at all. It isn't that he wants to leave. It's that he thinks he'll probably be snatched away sometime soon. Which would be a shame, really, as he and Sherlock get on like a very successful bit of arson.
"I don't know what I would have done," says a very deep voice.
John's eyes open. Sherlock seems to have sat on the carpet beside the sofa and has rested his impossible-to-tame head on John's stomach.
The sleuth doesn't seem to be breathing very well. In fact, he looks almost exactly like he did when he was lying through his teeth to that young waiter taking a smoke break behind the posh curry restaurant last week, when Sherlock was shamming that his cat had just died and that he desperately needed to borrow the man's mobile. There had been actual tears, coldly brushed off minutes later, which always unnerved John. There are this time too, or perhaps there are about to be. Except that this doesn't seem to be about a cat. Or about a mobile. It appears to John to be much, much worse. Perhaps because this time he isn't shamming?
John instinctively brushes his hand into his friend's hair. But Sherlock doesn't curve up into it like he generally does. He shudders.
Surprise number one.
"How dare he touch you. Drug you, shut you up in the dark. How dare he steal from me. I would have drowned that son of a bitch like a bag of kittens," he says fiercely.
"That is, supposing I'd lived through it, but I don't think I would. I don't think people can feel like that and survive it. I only had a bit of it, you were alive, but you aren't supposed to leave me. You aren't meant to leave me, ever, and you did. It wasn't your fault. But I couldn't stand it."
Surprise number two.
"It's all over, can't you see that? We could dance round it forever, but the point is that you're like--like some kind of bloody pacemaker, and if anyone so much as looks at you in future, I will hurt them."
"Bit not good," John whispers, carding his fingers through masses of hair.
"What would be better?"
Surprise number three. John wonders if he's the insane one just now, or Sherlock is. One or the other of them has completely lost touch with their special version of reality.
"Dunno. How about you love me?"
The head resting on his torso shakes back and forth emphatically.
"Right. Okay. Why not?"
"Because that isn't new information."
"Well," John coughs, letting that go. "Fine, then. I love you. How's that?"
Sherlock's mouth twists like John's just struck him across those unnaturally fine cheekbones, and he wrenches his face into John's thin cotton shirt. For a while, longer than John would ever have expected, he seems simply to be using it as a tool against hyperventilation. But then he is kissing John's belly through the fabric. Not long, after that happens, before the shirt is rucked up and John's fly is down and his slim stomach is wet with saliva and there are hands on his thighs and none of that is very surprising. But what went before it was...sea monsters and dragons flying over London and straw spun to gold and flying cars.
Oh, Christ, John thinks when he slips into Sherlock's mouth, not having been the least bit interested in any such thing seconds before.
No. He rethinks the matter.
Not surprising in the least.
John Watson is a man who is comfortable with paradoxes. As a general thing. But they can grow to be very exhausting.
When Sherlock is bored, people tend to suffer for it. Mrs. Hudson suffers when she brings up a generous slice of bread pudding for the pair of them and is asked why on earth she can't bring something useful, like a fresh corpse, or else leave him in peace. Lestrade suffers, because his mobile lights up with the word WRONG! when he's doing the crossword in the morning, and it's unsettling to think that Sherlock can read his mind. John suffers for two reasons. First, he suffers because the kitchen becomes filled with unnerving experimentation of the highly toxic variety, and it becomes very dangerous to make a cuppa with everything smelling equally of formaldehyde. And second, it's a hard thing to watch, Sherlock being bored, because he knows it genuinely scrapes his skin raw. And John Watson is a sympathetic person.
Tonight, though, he found thirty-two human teeth with their long roots still attached sitting in the bathroom cup he likes to use when brushing his teeth before bed. Beginning to smell.
"What in hell, Sherlock?" he demands.
"I need to watch how fast they discolour," his friend...boyfriend...plague of his life, rather, that's closer to the truth of it...replies from where he's twisted into the shape of a capital R somehow, on the sofa, with his fingers tented up by his lips. He's wearing the blue robe, and has been for three days now, changing his thin t-shirt every morning after he showers and shaves and not doing a damn thing else.
"Why for Christ's sake do I need to watch them discolour along with you?"
"No, I'll stay in tonight, I think. Bring back some miso soup, though."
John grinds his own--mercifully not yet the subject of scientific research--teeth. And suddenly some sake and tempura seems to be a very good idea indeed. He gets his coat and stalks out.
"Wear a muffler, it's freezing," he hears from above him.
So he grabs one of Sherlock's, the thick blue one, and he remembers to slam the door.
The sake and the tempura are satisfying distractions, and because he sits at the bar, he chats with a neighbour from further down Baker Street who sells custom home theatre equipment. It feels strange, talking with someone about the merits of Bose speakers. Worse than strange--unnatural. But very nice, too, like visiting a foreign country where the natives are friendly and want to teach you the language. John hums and nods and listens to a long discussion of wireless speakers and flat-screen telly, and is offered a substantial discount for their flat. He demurs.
"Maybe your boyfriend might like a better way to unwind of an evening?"
"My boyfriend's idea of recreation isn't...quite normal, actually," John observes.
"More of an outdoors type of bloke?"
If by "outdoors," you mean "elbow-deep in fresh gore," yep. That's just his bag.
"He's not much a one for telly. Not a lot on that holds his interest."
"Well, the BBC is crap anyhow, innit?" his neighbour agrees in a friendly way. "Here's my card, if you change your mind."
John pays, and forgets the miso soup. He's halfway up the stairs when he recalls it, and it annoys him. It annoys him so much that he is very prepared to be stroppy with the man who probably hasn't moved from the sofa, who thinks "miso soup" is the proper response to "why the teeth?" He opens the door.
Sherlock has moved, actually, and is now slumped in his wide-armed chair with his legs crossed under him. He looks miserable. He looks, in fact, as if he's being tortured. The man looks so hurt by the normalcy of day-to-day life that for a few seconds John wonders if it's worth it, never being enough of a distraction. John shuts the door, and locks it, and wonders when he's going to be accused of forgetting the soup as he takes off his coat. It's cold in here, so he leaves the muffler on for now.
Sherlock doesn't say anything about soup. Doesn't remember, probably. He's staring at their blank television screen. Lifeless.
The last thing we need is a three thousand quid sound system, thinks John. The very last thing. On earth. We'll sooner need an elephant, or a racecar. Or a solid gold statue of Napoleon.
John goes to the bookshelf and pulls down Master and Commander. He turns up the light a bit. He sits in front of Sherlock's chair, with a pillow at his back and his knees drawn up, with a second pillow for the book in his lap. He's not going to start a crime spree for this man, but he's not going to stand by and watch him disintegrate either. He'll be nearby, at the very least. Right here. In front of this sodding chair. With some poor bastard's teeth filling his cup in the bathroom. God help him.
It's a good book, as it happens. John begins to forget there's a suffering genius behind him, except when he brushes his knee turning a page. Then Sherlock readjusts his legs, pulling them in so he's jackknifed, with his arm curled under his head on the arm of the chair, his feet tucked into the other arm. It should not be physically possible for a man this tall to accomplish this particular move. But Sherlock is perennially doing impossible things. Like fitting his entire body into small spaces. His breath is now very close against the back of John's neck.
"Fancy a shag?"
John fights the urge to laugh. Fights it hard.
"Um. No, thanks. Not really in the mood."
"Have I been ignoring you?"
Long minutes pass. John begins to wonder whether playing hard to get was the right card. Sherlock is bored, this he knows. Sherlock loves chasing things. Sherlock has become aware once again that John exists. Isn't it better to drag it out? Have two pleasant hours instead of one? Give Sherlock the chance to form strategies, to plan, to think a little? But now he's quiet. His absolutely beautiful nose is nearly touching his own muffler, still wrapped round John's neck. John begins to worry. It isn't that he doesn't want the sex, far from it. But he wanted to give the man who can't bear to live a normal life a little room to maneuver. To scheme.
"Not very determined, are you?"
Sherlock never wastes time saying "what," or god forbid "I beg your pardon," when a velvety humming sound will suffice.
"About the sex."
"What about it?"
"Not very determined, I said."
"Oh, sorry, wasn't thinking about that any longer. Distracted."
"Your hair isn't blond."
John puts the book facedown on the floor. He turns, not sure he heard right.
"Your hair isn't blond. But I like it. That's wrong, but I don't know why, can't think why this is different, it bothers me when I can't think of a colour. There are too many colours, everywhere, like an infection. It's awful."
John blinks. "Is it?"
"Yes. It's like..." Sherlock ponders. His eyes are very pale. "There are thousands of sorts of microwaves, and I know all of them. It's very much like that."
John turns more fully round so that Sherlock is right in front of him, folded into the chair seat. He doesn't usually see Sherlock from this angle: sideways, with their faces almost level, John's a little higher. He's gorgeous like this, John realizes, which is nothing if not unsurprising. John leans one forearm on the edge of the chair seat.
"That's what I said, yes. Microwaves. I know all the sorts, it might come in handy, has done before, because everyone in the world has one, and who can tell? But I hate that there are so many. It's not...elegant. It's messy. It takes up space on my hard drive."
John absorbs this.
"And my hair is. Just like that. Like microwaves."
"No no no no no no no, your hair isn't like the microwaves, so many colours all the time is like the microwaves."
Rubbing a hand over his face, John allows himself to smile. He doesn't understand a word of this conversation, and if he smiles about it, he's not going to feel quite so dense. He doesn't like feeling dense. Even when Sherlock is calling him an idiot, it doesn't usually provoke that reaction, but failing to follow a conversation certainly does. So he smiles a little, taking a breath.
"You aren't dense, or not any denser than all the rest, you're just not letting me finish. Your hair isn't blond and it isn't brown. I can't work it out, I don't have a word for it, and that should bother me, but I've been thinking for ten minutes, and it doesn't bother me. So I forgot about the sex, thinking about your hair. It was helping."
John swallows, and touches Sherlock's hair. His hair is black. Very black. Blue-black, as a matter of fact. Inky.
"So, you're telling me, you sometimes don't like to differentiate between so many similar things. Like colours and microwaves. So when my hair should have bothered you but it didn't, you started thinking so hard about hair that you. Um. Jumped tracks and forgot about sex. My hair colour being equally as fascinating to you as..."
"As the sex with you is. Yes, that's it."
"Sherlock, does that mean that sex with me is...boring?"
Sherlock scowls darkly, adjusting the lapel of his thin robe in a huff.
"Now, that is dense."
Something begins to glow in John's chest. It's a fluttery glow, warm and yet skittering, like leaves before a pane of glass blocking the sunlight.
"Does it mean my hair is...riveting?"
"There we are. Thought you'd catch up eventually."
It has become impossible not to kiss Sherlock. And the kissing Sherlock is, of course, sublime. Surprising in every way, when it ought to be rote by this point. His lips are always full and soft, but his mouth always opens when John least expects it to, and he never will get used to the taste of him, no matter how many times he tries to identify it on the slide of his tongue. And there are about to be a thousand shocks in store when the sex begins, John thinks when he pulls the robe off his friend's shoulders and Sherlock laughs at his haste.
But none of them more shocking than to think that John's hair colour is equally as arresting as making love. That means something profound, John thinks before he can't think anymore. That means something...quite heavenly. A paradox a little bit like love itself.
"Dishwater," he says much later, to Sherlock's neck.
"That's what mum called it, anyway. The colour of my hair. Dishwater."
"Dishwater," says Sherlock.
As if he's saying, spectacular.
John Watson is a man who is comfortable with paradoxes.
To a point.
"Fuck," he gasped seconds ago at the ceiling. Feeling as if he was splitting apart, in a transcendent fashion. With his knees over Sherlock's sharp shoulder blades and his fingers bruising the man's ivory neck.
Now Sherlock is up and away and already texting someone. John heard it buzz too, but had been sufficiently mind-blown to have forgotten. Not Sherlock, of course. Three seconds after they've both finished, and his fingers are flying. His face, with all its unexpected curves and lovely not-curves, is ardent. His trousers are at half-mast, and his face is flushed, and he's yet to bother with tidying himself up, but not so distracted that he can't manage to text...who?
Who in bloody hell?
"Mycroft," Sherlock answers without being asked.
John wonders if he's capable of rising and finds anger a powerful motivator. He rises. Finds a pair of used boxers half-under the bed. Wipes himself off. Continues to work on the same project. Glaring at the carpet.
"Life and death, you know, question of world security. Tiresome, really. Why can't he be bothered to solve things himself? Lazy old cat, can't even bother to be moved from behind his desk usually, no wonder he can never get fit, doing nothing but sit in chairs asking me questions."
John gets himself clean to the point that he thinks he might be able to sling a towel around his hips and make it to the shower without Mrs Hudson screaming should she happen to be...anywhere in the vicinity. It is her house, after all. And John is a gentleman. Even if, at the moment, he does feel just a bit like a paid call girl. Still, he is a gentleman.
Unlike that sod on his mobile, he thinks darkly. Don't know quite why I feel the need to tolerate human decomposition in our fridge.
"I mean to say, he does it purposefully, pretends there are lives at stake at awkward moments for me. Maybe there are, but not yours, and I don't care about the others."
John pauses in the doorway, a white towel clutched round his waist.
"Bit not good," he says over his shoulder.
Merely as a test.
But his heart is racing. Which is...
...entirely to be expected. You love him, but you aren't yet quite certain of anything. You'd shoot a man in cold blood to protect him, but you don't always like him, at times want to throttle him yourself. You'd let him kill you, but you don't like being treated like an escort, and that's where you draw the line. He might love you, but it might never cross his mind to mention it. He'd probably die for you, but half the time you're completely invisible to him. You'd die for his sake in a heartbeat, but he has to be bothered to notice that's true. So what's it to be?
"Why 'not good'? I love you," comes the annoyed response. "You can't expect me to feel the same way about it, about you as I do them. It isn't logical."
John almost drops the towel, only keeps it up because it occurs to him that dropping it would be an absurd, almost cartoonish reaction. Something out of classic American Warner Brothers. Still, that was not what he'd expected. That was...
More than shocking. Life-changing.
He can still hear it echoing in his ears. Along with the continued clicking of tiny keys under his lover's thumb. Which is...
"Don't just stand there, I need you dressed in three minutes," Sherlock announces, hitting SEND and shrugging his button-up back on.
So John heads for the shower and lets the warm water fall over him.
Thinking what an odd life it will be, what a continually surprising one, to be loved by a walking paradox.
But he's comfortable with paradoxes. And in any case, he's beginning to suspect that he might be just a bit of one himself.