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John woke to find himself being semi-smothered, a heap of curls filling his nose and mouth with an air of expensive shampoo and hair product.   He tried not to tense, and tried not to relax too obviously either, because here he was at skin-to-skin range with the world's most observant man.

John had known sleeping with Sherlock was a mistake since the first night. 

He was fairly sure he'd managed not to give himself away yet, mostly because when it came to sex Sherlock Holmes' deductive genius was let down by his lack of data.  By the time Sherlock's brain got properly calibrated, John reckoned he'd have finally settled in and accepted the situation.   

He blamed all those months of aching grief when he'd wanted anything, everything of Sherlock so badly that he'd let ten minutes go by just staring at a bad photo on his mobile, or looking through the meaningless scribbles in one of those pocket notebooks Sherlock chiefly used as dramatic props.  So when Sherlock had suddenly been there again, John had been primed:  Once the first shock and anger had gone, all he'd wanted was to wallow in careless brilliance and stormy moods and bad manners.  He hadn't known any better; somehow he'd never been taught the appropriate way to act when your best friend came back from the dead.  And they'd ended up like this.

Sherlock apparently enjoyed sprawling on top of John so much that he'd forgotten his stated opinion that sleeping was a waste of time.  This time he seemed to have spent the entire night.  He had a case on, for heaven's sake, but here he was.  

John Watson had always been the sort of bloke who preferred to go home after sex with a girlfriend, so he could sleep comfortably alone in his own bed.  Sleeping with another person was hot and uncomfortable and resulted in waking up every twenty minutes with an elbow in the ribs or a wheezing snore in your ear. 

Sherlock radiated heat.  Sherlock was lanky and hard with muscle and bone.  Sherlock in bed was like a heavy duvet stuffed with hat racks.  A duvet that crawled back on top of you whenever you managed to slip out from under during the night, usually making a little satisfied huffing sound as it resettled. 

So there was nowhere John could go to just get some space, no way to just get some air for a minute. 

John hoped he'd learn to sleep through it all soon, because god knew he needed his rest if he was going to cope with the sex.  John had been straight all his life.  He'd managed, so far, to get through sex with Sherlock without completely panicking or descending into humiliating impotence, but he knew he owed that much success again to Sherlock's mostly-complete inexperience. 

Sherlock, meanwhile, had apparently taken out his mint-condition libido from whatever box he'd been storing it in for thirty-odd years, and discovered that it not only still worked but ran like a bloody bullet train. 

He was interested.  Sherlock was suddenly interested in sex the way he was interested in forensic chemistry.  It was early days, but John could see the trajectory Sherlock's inventive, inquisitive, reckless mind was taking.  John had seen him on the internet, absorbing vocabulary and theory.  And the videos.  Before long he was going to stop tinkering with foreplay and start insisting on something more sophisticated than frottage under the blankets or a handjob.

Before long Sherlock was going to at least want the lights on, and expect John to be able to look at Sherlock's cock and touch it at the same time and then John was doomed, because John was a sexually experienced, mature man, except when it came to homosexuality, where he was apparently stalled at the stage of shame-faced pubescent experimentation.

Sherlock's head rose from where it had been pressed to the side of John's neck and in close-up he saw those long silvery eyes blink.  Then Sherlock kissed him. 

No good morning, no hello, no hopping off to brush away night-sour breath.  All right, he'd said Sherlock was free to kiss him when he felt like, as long as they were alone, but really!

Sherlock now seemed to regard John's mouth more or less as he regarded John's phone: his to use whenever he felt like.  Like the appropriation of his phone, John was no longer even surprised.  So John just cupped the back of Sherlock's head and kissed back -- sleep made Sherlock's mouth hot and moist and wanton, almost overripe -- until Sherlock rolled away. 

So, there was Sherlock, the complex shapes of his pale chest and shoulders visible above the sheet, and John had kissed that skin and stroked it and held that body close and still he couldn't bring himself to think Sherlock was attractive without wanting to add a hasty for a bloke, to the thought.

Sherlock stretching was absurdly cinematic; he rolled his shoulders with flair, arched with élan, and delivered a BAFTA-worthy yawn, his bony face stretching, skin rucking up under his long chin.  John smiled a little in amusement at dramatics that had to be at least partly designed for himself as audience.  Finally Sherlock, giving the yawn a quick encore, got up and wandered out of the room, shrugging into his dressing gown. 

He didn't bother to call back, "Up, John! We're going to the morgue." until he was already thudding down the stairs.

John lay there a moment longer, not sure how to feel.  Sherlock's morning routine lately had involved appropriating John's cock for his own use as well.  John had been expecting the pattern to continue.  He had the beginnings of a pavlovian erection already.    

Apparently the case was starting to get more traction in Sherlock's brain.  Or possibly any trip to the morgue was more interesting than sex.  Which was a relief, obviously.

John pulled himself out of bed, went down, and had filled the kettle and switched it on by the time Sherlock was out of the bathroom.  He had brushed his teeth, John noticed.  "Have your shower first," John offered. 

Sherlock made a small sound of assent, then bent for another kiss.  John put a hand on his shoulder.  "You've brushed your teeth.  I'm still awful."

Sherlock backed off.  "I don't mind that," he said.  And he probably really didn't. Caring about morning breath was just too depressingly middle-class.

The kettle clicked for attention.  "Shower," John said.  And then he bobbed up and kissed Sherlock briefly.  Sherlock's mouth was cool with mint.  He tasted nice.

When he pulled back, Sherlock gave him an appraising look.  John had the feeling he was about to be appropriated after all, as an aid to either hygiene or masturbation, probably both.  He turned and started getting down mugs.  "When's Molly expecting us?"

Sherlock made a noncommittal noise.  If Molly Hooper had given him a specific time to come by the morgue, he'd have disregarded it and still swanned in when he was ready. But, attention back on the case, he went for his shower alone.

John made a cuppa for himself and conscientiously waited a bit before starting one for Sherlock, though he knew the man would take his tepid and stewed and with the bag still in, without blinking.

As soon as he smelled the bread starting to toast, John was abruptly ravenous.  In fact, he was gasping for a fried slice, eggs, and sausage.

He ate his toast dry, and put in two more slices for Sherlock.  The new regime had been prompted by the unavoidable comparison between his physique and Sherlock's.  It was absurd.  He was reasonably fit, and he'd never once even thought about this in bed with a girl, but Sherlock's concave stomach had started feeling like a rebuke.  He had enough trouble keeping his confidence in bed with the man as things were; if he didn't keep his weight down, he was doomed. 

Feeling very slightly like a saboteur even though Sherlock really needed all the calories John could give him, John put jam on both Sherlock's slices, and was tossing the second tea bag away just as Sherlock came out of the bathroom in a cloud of steam.  He had a towel, but instead of covering himself with it he was rubbing vigorously at his dark hair, helping it squeeze itself back into curls against the weight of water.

"Have you left me any hot water?" John called.

Other than the actual fact of their sleeping together, and sleeping together, one of the very few changes was that now Sherlock seemed to go out of his way to dress with his door open, in full view of the kitchen.  And, come to think of it, to come out of the bathroom and walk naked through the hall despite  the other door that opened straight on his bedroom.  John hoped it wasn't meant to be seductive, because it definitely wasn't.  He mostly found it embarrassing. 

Sherlock dropped his towel carelessly, not answering John's question, and bent over the chest of drawers to get his pants.  Was that deliberate?  That nearly had to be deliberate.  Less than a week out of his virginity, and Sherlock was doing the bending-over-naked thing at eight in the morning.

John went into the shower, thinking that if the water were cold that might be no bad thing in the circumstances.  In the event, the hot water didn't run out until he was just about to turn the taps off anyway.  The trouble with living with -- sleeping with -- a genius was you never quite knew if he'd done some trick of personal observation and prediction to work things out perfectly or if he just had the luck of the devil.

 


 

Sherlock spent the cab ride to Barts Hospital playing with his tablet computer, a new toy roughly the size of a paperback book.  He was updating something on his poncy website and pausing periodically to swap to some kind of chat.  In the chat he was pretending to be a normal person.  John could tell because his face went sort of bland and pleasant while his spidery fingers tapped out his messages, and then when he swapped back out of the chat it melted away into a more typical sneer.  John rather suspected Sherlock didn't know he was doing it and he found the whole thing stupidly pleasing.

When they reached Barts Sherlock swept out of the cab without a look back.  John, left to pay, glared at Sherlock's back but couldn't work up too much actual irritation.  This was the first time Sherlock had done that since he'd come home but it had been Sherlock's standard behaviour for a long time — mind already in the morgue, assuming John would simply follow along, there when wanted like any of Sherlock's other mobile devices.  By all reports, he'd talk to John, sometimes at length, even if John weren't there.   The weird thing was, John had never seen him do it; Sherlock didn't keep lecturing DI Lestrade about casework or making demands on Molly or hectoring his brother Mycroft when they weren't there.

John didn't pause to look at the pavement outside the hospital where Sherlock had died — pretended to kill himself, lied to John with the blood in his hair and the way his body lay still and pale on the pavement.  He'd never made a shrine of the place when he'd believed it was real, and it was even more pointless to go looking there again now.

Since it had apparently slipped Sherlock's mind for the moment that John was with him, John decided not to be, at least briefly, and went up to stick his head in at Mike Stamford's office. 

Stamford had his glasses off, reading paperwork, but he put them on and grinned when John tapped at the door.

After saying hello, John stalled hard, looking at Mike's cheerful, round-jawed face, no idea what he did and didn't want to say.

Of all the people John knew, Mike was the one it would be easiest to . . . no there was no getting around it: come out to about Sherlock.  Mike Stamford had introduced them, and so occupied the unusual point of overlap between the normal world John had lived in once and the heightened, mad world of Sherlock, where there were archenemies and people came back from the dead and John Watson slept with a man.

Mike and Sherlock got on reasonably well; probably because Mike was fairly brilliant himself.  He had none of Sherlock's showy genius; it would take knowing him a while before you realised.  Back in training, John had once picked up a novel Mike was reading at the cafeteria table, to make fun of him for reading highbrow stuff like Umberto Eco, and discovered the book wasn't a translation.   There was a novel on the top of the shelf behind Mike's desk now.  The cover was in Chinese or Japanese, or something.   He presumably pulled it out to fill the odd spare moment between writing one textbook and editing another.  All when he wasn't actually practising or teaching medicine.

Mike and John got on very well, mostly because Mike was one of the most genuinely kind and accepting blokes John had ever met. 

Whenever John's sister Harry met one of John's friends, she made a policy of loudly berating them on some point of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or other malediction.  If they didn't come out with something off their own bat, she'd deliberately provoke it.  The first time she'd met Mike, he'd evaded all but one of her verbal traps, and sprung the last in her face by going on about Eddie Izzard's probably empowering, but, really,  problematic use of the phrase Male Lesbian.  Harry, denied her rightful prey, had the next day given John a right bollocking for . . .  well, he wasn't entirely sure, but it was somehow related to laughing at the wrong point in a Catherine Tate sketch.

So, if John told Mike he'd started sleeping with Sherlock, Mike would, John was sure, respond with exactly the right blend of congratulation and knowing concern.  Maybe that was why he couldn't bring himself to say anything; it would be a bit disturbing to come out to someone who had so much less of a problem with John's new relationship than John himself did.

So they talked about Mike's daughter Carrie, and Mike told his newest Idiot Student story, and then John went down to see if Sherlock had noticed he'd gone yet.

He found Sherlock in the lab downstairs, and as he stepped through the door and saw Sherlock sitting between the two lab counters, suddenly he was sweating.  He hadn't been to this room since that day, two years ago, when he'd stood just here, at the door --

And he'd said --

And the next time he'd seen him, Sherlock had --

"Stamford's taken over Park's students then,"  Sherlock commented.

"Uh," John said weakly.  "Didn't mention it."

"Otherwise he'd have bought you coffee.  He always buys you coffee unless he's got a student with him or he's overloaded with someone else's work."

"Oh," John said.

Molly came in the doors just behind him.  "Hello, John."

John smiled at her.  "Molly.  How's Toby?"  At this moment, and for the first time in his life, he genuinely longed to hear Molly prattle about her cat.  Every other possible topic was simply too much to think about at the moment.  He wanted to get out of here, go outside where he could breathe.

"Oh, he's in disgrace.  Pee'd on my pillow when I worked late on Monday.  I've got the bodies out -- "

And with that Sherlock was out the doors between them, leaving John and Molly to trail after him down the hall. 

Molly first uncovered Marie Gibson, the murdered mother.  When John had first seen her, lying on her floor, she had been grotesque, face and throat swollen by the anaphylaxis that had killed her.  Gravity had pulled the fluid downward in her corpse and her face was recognisable now. 

"Exactly what you'd expect," Molly said.  "Heart practically empty, terrible edema in the throat -- "

"High serum tryptase," Sherlock chimed in, "Et cetera, et cetera.  Peanut butter?"

"You were right," Molly said, a little bit of that old starry eyed look back on her face.  "Most of the capsule had broken down in the stomach acid, but there was a trace of peanut butter, and none of the medication that should've been there."

Sherlock nodded.  "Now the son."  He handed John the tablet.  On screen were the pages of a document, laid out in a grid of thumbnail images.  Most were text, but several were colour pictures of a crime scene. 

The son was the suicide -- if Russian roulette counted as suicide.  This was DI Dimmock's case file, John realised, the one Dimmock had bluntly refused to give Sherlock.  John had only been the distraction, when Sherlock was pinching it; John hadn't actually looked at the stolen documents yet.  So actually committing the crime started . . . now.

John tapped the first picture and it opened out to fill the screen, showing a small home office, man's body on the floor between the desk and the chair he had clearly been sitting in.  Sherlock was likely to quiz him later, mostly for his own amusement, so John did his best to notice details.  Expensive gear -- two big flat computer monitors on the desk, top-end stereo system on the shelf behind, high-quality clothes, especially the shoes.  The revolver had probably been knocked those few inches away when the lax hand hit the carpet.  Splatter on the monitors, stereo, back of the chair.

John swiped with his finger to flip to the next page, slightly proud that he'd remembered to do it that way rather than return to the grid to tap the next one. 

The picture slid into view, bright and clear on the tablet's little screen.  It was a closer shot; head and shoulders picture of the dead man, the suicide.

In the picture, the suicide was thin, cheekbones and jaw prominent.

In the picture, the suicide's dark hair had fallen in his face. 

In the picture, there was blood on the suicide's pale face.

Molly uncovered the corpse.  He'd been kept in the much colder area used for long term storage, and cold seemed to come off him.  His clean bloodless skin was nearly white.

He was very slim.  Above the sheet John could see the complex shapes of the bones and muscles in his bare pale shoulders and chest.

This wasn't --

He couldn't —

He needed some fucking air.

He felt as if he took a step backward, so that he was watching from behind his eyes, watching as if from the other side of a screen.   Everything had gone muted and unreal.  He was not at Barts. 

There was no suicide. 

No blood streaking a pale face. 

Not happening.

Sherlock's voice, saying something, which was bound to be clever.  John tilted his head and smiled as he listened, because that was what John Watson always did.  But it all felt like a dream, or something happening on the telly. He wasn't really doing these things, they were happening by remote.  It was fine, just a matter of getting through this.

John Watson was like a fictional character.  A good one.  He knew John Watson well, cared about him.  And Sherlock Holmes too, and Molly.  He was interested to see what they would do.  From a distance.  From outside.  As long as none of this was happening to him.  As long as he had some space to breathe.

" . . . his feet." Sherlock finished, corner of his mouth set in a smirk.

By remote, John Watson shook his head and grinned.

By remote, John Watson said, "I'll never get tired of watching you do that."

Sherlock's lips pressed briefly harder together, which meant he was suppressing the expression that showed how much he enjoyed praise.  That was good to see, that was lovely, like a film with a happy ending.

This time it took until they were in the cab, out of Barts and away, before John settled back, felt properly back in his body.  Sherlock sat subjecting the rest of the case file to a narrow-eyed glare, fingers swift and sure on the little screen.  John was here, and his life was raw and real again. It was the worst episode he'd had since Sherlock's return to the living.

The very first few times had been five years ago, while he was recovering from being shot and realising that they'd kept his blood in but let his career, his whole life, bleed out.

Never in combat.  There had been many times in Afghanistan when he had ceased to exist as anything but a floating perception that scanned for threats and performed operation after operation.  But at those times he had felt he was pressed intimately up against a harsher, brighter, more real world than usual. 

This other feeling, when the world became a fiction on the other side of a screen, felt like the exact opposite of that utter alertness and immersion in the moment. 

Sherlock had brought back that urgent, glorious battlefield reality.  And then he'd died and taken it away again. 

It had been strange, since he'd come back, to learn that this disconnected unreal feeling could co-exist with Sherlock. 

But it was just a feeling.  It came and went, and it hadn't affected anything; Sherlock hadn't even noticed.

"What did you see, in the case file, John?" Sherlock asked.  "Something clearly made an impression."

All right, possibly Sherlock had noticed something.

"Um, he was doing well.  He was what, a professional gambler, right?  Pricey toys.  Clothes nearly as poncey as yours.  Then, the angle; looked like he kept the gun right at his head.  People going to shoot themselves in the head — bloke did it my first tour —  a lot of times they'll pull up or a bit aside, think better of it even as they're pulling the trigger.  He didn't."

"And from all that you deduce?"

"Quest for worldly goods is ultimately unsatisfactory sort of thing?" John suggested.

Sherlock's mouth quirked in amused annoyance.  "Anything about the woman?"

John frowned.  "Nothing new.  I just keep thinking -- she was taking no chances about her allergy, those extra epi injectors in the house, and she checked all her food.  And yet when she started to feel ill, she went for the phone first instead of the shot of epi."

Sherlock was now giving John the narrow-eyed look, as if he suspected John of hiding something or making a joke.

"Just panic and confusion, I suppose," John said lamely.

Sherlock gave a little huff and stopped staring.  "For a moment there, I actually thought you'd cracked it."

John couldn't help but smile.  "You've cracked it, you mean.  Go on."

"Grace Gibson did it."

John's face fell.  "Didn't we know that already?"

"No, no, no.  Grace Gibson didn't kill her mother-in-law.  That was suicide.  She killed her husband -- that was murder."

 

Chapter Text

The Suicide's Note

"Boring," Sherlock pronounced, and hung up on DI Dimmock.  Just over a month after his return to London (and still nearly a week before John Watson would unexpectedly take him to bed for the first time) Sherlock Holmes considered that he had settled back into his life.  He was ready for a case; but he had no intention of taking anything but an interesting case.  A man playing Russian roulette?  And Dimmock had a feeling about it.  No, Sherlock could wait for something better.

It was natural that it had taken him some time to settle.  He'd been immersed in a very different sort of life for the last two years.  He'd set out to take down Jim Moriarty's criminal legacy, only to find there was no monolithic empire to be dismantled.  Instead there were dozens of scattered entities: businesses, people, data stores, interconnected by nearly invisible threads he could only see because he knew the mind of the spider that wove them.

And so Sherlock had been doing work that felt very much like clearing a minefield.  Allow even one of those entities to come near the knowledge he was still alive, and everything would have been destroyed.  And yet he had to get close, disarm and remove every single one without a single misstep, without a single mistake.

It had gone on so long that at the end he'd hardly been able to accept that it was over; that he had eliminated every threat.   He'd returned weeks later than he might have because he had continued to compulsively check and re-check, knowing that if he missed even one he would lose everything. 

So, after two years of playing dead because his life painted a target on John's back, it was natural that at first the sight of a man at a high vantage had made him crowd John when they were crossing the street.  It was natural that for a while he habitually closed blinds or else stood between John and the line of sight from a window.

Natural even that those first few nights with them both back in their flat in Baker Street, Sherlock had lingered in the sitting room.  Even after he'd talked through it all and John had stopped raging and begun to accept the necessity of what Sherlock had done, Sherlock had continued making unnecessary conversation and directing John to perform needless tasks, all to keep him from going up the stairs and out of Sherlock's sight. 

Much as he'd have preferred to think John was simply too idiotic to recognise what was going on, he was fairly sure that John had been deliberately playing along, letting Sherlock stall him for hours deep into the night.

Now John was in his usual chair, with a cup of tea and a magazine, while Sherlock practised with his violin.

It was vaguely humiliating, that he was practising, rather than playing.  But he hadn't touched an instrument for most of two years, and he was only now starting to properly build up his calluses again.  It would have been worse if John could actually tell Hindemith from fingering exercises on a consistent basis. 

He was on edge for other reasons though, not really focused on the music.

Before, John had generally been pleasant company, capable of a stillness that Sherlock particularly appreciated.  When most people were quiet around him, it put Sherlock on edge.  Their quiet was like a vacuum, pulling at Sherlock to fill the dull void with something worthwhile, something interesting.  John's stillness was full, not empty. It expected nothing of Sherlock; was self-sustaining and resilient whatever Sherlock did or didn't do. 

But John was seldom still like that these days.  John seemed now to be under constant internal pressure, which built up visibly until he relieved it, at least once daily, by demanding something of Sherlock.  He was nearly there, yes, now:

"Look, I know my number and my email were watched, but don't tell me Sherlock bloody Holmes couldn't have come up with, I don't know, some way to get a message to me."

Every time, John seemed to accept the answers Sherlock gave him, and yet by the next day there would be another of these outbursts, a new protest, and Sherlock was starting to think they were all demands for some single answer to a question John himself hadn't figured out he was asking.  In the meantime, John's unfocused hostility was extremely annoying; the charm of John's permanent readiness for a fight was lost when John didn't himself seem to have the least notion what he was fighting for.

Sherlock rather suspected that John really just wanted Sherlock to admit that the whole business of faking his own death had been a mistake, and to apologise for it.  And if he'd been absolutely sure that was what John needed to hear, he'd probably have done it.  But it would have been a lie, because it had been John's life —  and Mrs. Hudson's and DI Lestrade's, — for his and what Sherlock had managed was a magnificent swindle, buying their lives and giving only a counterfeit for his own.  That had been the best thing to do, the only thing that ended with them all alive, and Sherlock wasn't going to lie and call it a mistake unless he was certain it was what John really wanted him to say.  John had, after all, said that what bothered him most was that he'd been deceived in the first place.

For now, he simply addressed each question on its own merits — or lack thereof.  "They were watching you all the time.  Every means of communication would have been dangerous.  And anything obscure enough for all of them to miss would certainly have got by you as well."  He had already told John all this.  Repeatedly.

"I was too stupid to get a message to," John translated, jaw going aggressive.

"Too dangerous," Sherlock repeated.

"No, you're cleverer than that, you'd have come up with something."

"Clearly, I didn't."

"If you'd wanted to.  If you'd bothered to try."

Annoyed, Sherlock rummaged on the table by the windows, scattering books and papers until he unearthed a notebook.  He tore out a sheet and scribbled on it in handwriting entirely unlike his own, then folded it into thirds across the writing.  The folds were uneven and careless-looking, but the right side was folded under first and with a firmer crease than the left.  He went over to the shelves and pulled out a paperback, and put the folded sheet inside, far enough in that it wasn't visible past the edges.

"You'd already read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and enjoyed it.  The first book you bought, after my disappearance, was The Girl Who Played with Fire.  The atmosphere of violence and despair and the anger of the protagonist appealed to you, while the writing was simple and straightforward enough even when you had difficulty concentrating.  At your typical reading speed, taking into account that you were seldom leaving the flat, but also that difficulty concentrating, the book would take you four days to finish.  You'd want the next book almost immediately.  So: The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest from the WH Smith two down from Tesco Express.  This might have been in it."

He could see that light of admiration in John's eyes for the negligible display of intelligence.  The mystery of how John could keep being amazed by so little was matched by the mystery of why Sherlock still found the admiration so pleasant.  He held out the book.

John opened it, found the paper, and unfolded it with both thumbs.

There was always something.  Sherlock, facing a sheet folded like that, would always have first looked at it with only the first fold undone, then unfolded the other, not opened the whole thing at once.

The words, written sloppily and in slightly varying sizes read:

Ian M. Birthday Mix?
- Just a Girl - No Doubt
- Magic Carpet Ride - Steppenwolf
- Trick of the Light - The Who
- Do No Harm - Carrie Newcomer
- Things We Do For Love - 10cc
- Dangerous Age - Paul Weller
- Shush - Mad Professor

John noticed anyway after a moment, and let the right third of the sheet fold back over so that only the parts of the words on the first third showed.

"Why Ian M.?" he asked after a moment.

"Another clue," Sherlock said.  He'd thought that one had been a bit obvious, though nowhere near as obvious as how big he'd had to make the writing on the last line so that only the first two letters of the last title were on the correct side of the crease.

John squinted at it for a bit, then shook his head.  "Nope."

"Ian Monkton, John," Sherlock snapped.

"That bloke whose blood was in the car?  Oh.  The one who — "

"Faked his death, yes."

"Okay, so you did think about it.  But the note wasn't in the book, Sherlock."

"I chose not to."

"You chose not to," John repeated.  He blinked several times.  He was very, very angry.

"If you'd got that note, your behaviour would have changed, and someone might have noticed."

"You think I'd have run out into the street yelling He's alive!? You really think I'm a complete twat, don't you?"

"No, but it would have changed things.  Even if it wasn't something visible that day -- what about weeks later, months later with no more word?  I could never have risked a second note."

John shook his head, still looking furious.

"I had no idea how long it would take to come back, or if I'd die trying.  Can you really tell me that after a year had passed, or two, having read that note, believing I was alive and in danger somewhere, you wouldn't have tried to come find me?"

The anger subsided a little.  John looked at the note, folded it against the book's ugly cover, unfolded it again.  "It wouldn't have taken a year," he admitted at last.

"You see why I couldn't take the risk."

John shook his head, shut his eyes, breathed an angry breath out through his nose. 

"Wasn't it better?" Sherlock said, trying to get some handle on these hatefully imprecise and ambiguous matters of emotion.  "If I'd died in the meantime, wasn't it better for you not to be left with false hope?"

"Did you think you were going to die?" John asked sceptically.

"It seemed the most likely outcome."

John looked at him for a moment.  As ever his face was mobile with emotion, but now too complex to read. 

Much as it benefited Sherlock's reputation to let people think he could read their minds just from looking at them, there was only so far pattern matching could go.  John was often a challenge — so much there to read that sometimes Sherlock was simply too swamped with data to make any kind of judgement. 

Even regular people were complex, had many motives, many needs. They seldom acted for a single motive, and still less often for motives they themselves were aware of. Sherlock's ability to read people dealt in patterns of action, not the emotions and thoughts behind them. The actions were what mattered, and the emotions and thoughts were too nebulous and ambiguous to be dealt with anyway.

"Should've taken me with you," John muttered darkly.  The voice, at least, read all anger and bitterness.

"Ask you to leave everything, to live on the run, in hiding, almost certainly to die?  And you'd have gone?"

John held up the note and smiled grimly.  "Says here, 'Danger.'  What do you think?  Of course I'd have gone, you bastard.  Of course I'd have fucking gone with you."

That made Sherlock feel very odd.  Of course, what John said now didn't guarantee he'd have said the same at the time.  And if so it would have been just as he said: his need for danger.  But the idea of John having been there, with him, all those endless grey slogging days.  John in Paris, John in Seregno.  Being able to see the life he was fighting for —

But it hadn't been, and couldn't be, so why bother thinking about it?

"And should I have invited Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson too?  One death I could fake, John, but two, no one would believe — we'd have been leaving them to be killed."

"It wouldn't have worked at the time, no.  But later, after a month or so.  I could have been another suicide. "

"Don't be absurd," Sherlock protested.  "Coming from me, yes -- a dramatic, selfish gesture.  Coming from you, no.  You're too — "

"Dull," John suggested, glaring.

"Sensible.  And you care about people.  You wouldn't hurt them by killing yourself.  And we'd have had to set up a believable reason for it -- it just wasn't workable when, at best, it would have put your life in more danger with me than you were already in."

John was looking at him with another of those expressions Sherlock didn't know how to interpret.  After a moment he just waved the note.  "Okay, well, thanks -- for at least thinking about doing this.  For at least wanting to get in touch."

The man was a cretin. 

What did John think he'd done it all for, for heaven's sake?  He'd stepped off a building, and John still seemed to regard it as some kind of madcap spree Sherlock had taken on a whim.

Sherlock had spent, it had often seemed, the majority of his time waiting, travelling, observing, unable to act until the right moment, and for the first few months he'd filled that waiting time by obsessively plotting methods of contacting John.  Eventually he'd forced himself to stop; thinking about it only made the temptation to try it worse; and it wouldn't have been Sherlock who'd have paid the price for giving in.

What had he done it for?  To get back to this?  Endless carping on his faults, real and imagined?  Disapproval from this dull man, short in stature and small in mind, who thought himself tough because the real soldiers had taught him to swear?  The constant middle-class po-faced reproach?  It was like living with the poorer class of vicar.

John stood up, holding the note, and went into the kitchen.  "Tea?  And if I heat up that Chinese will you eat it?"

Where John was standing in the kitchen he was out of Sherlock's line of sight, but perhaps he didn't realise his reflection was visible in the glass-fronted cabinet. John took a visible breath, raised his head, chin up, showing defiance to an empty room.   Instead of tossing the note into the rubbish, he took out his wallet, and tucked it inside.  Sherlock wasn't sure, but that seemed somehow significant.

"I'll have the tea,"  Sherlock called back.

 


Webmail

John skimmed idly through The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.  Two days before, Sherlock had used it to deliver his re-creation of a cryptic note, and it had reminded John that there was something in there, some passage, something Lisbeth Salander had done or said that had been so like Sherlock it had felt like being stabbed the first time John read it.  He wanted to read that bit again now, in happier days.  If he could bloody find it; at the rate he was going, he'd end up re-reading the whole thing, and he hadn't even liked the book that much the first time through.

And what had Sherlock been doing then, when John was self-medicating with fictional disturbed geniuses like some kind of crap emotional methadone?  John supposed the note was some proof that Sherlock hadn't entirely forgotten John Watson's existence while he'd been off on his marathon pissing contest with Moriarty's ghost to see which of them had the bigger frontal lobe.  But the fact Sherlock had once considered sending John a note was just about the most he'd got out of Sherlock yet about his time away.

Which was bizarre.  Sherlock had a two-year backlog of brilliance going.  Why wasn't he showing it off, now he had an audience again? 

Well, that was assuming a lot, wasn't it?  Maybe he'd had an audience all along.  Maybe along the way he'd taken on someone to make his reservations and pick up his dry-cleaning for him — Passepartout with a smartphone.  Yeah, someone who'd reward his every deduction with praise in four languages. 

Or maybe Sherlock had just finally genuinely got tired of John's gushing praise — he'd said so often enough, but John hadn't taken it seriously before, because there was always that little glow of smile at the praise, even if Sherlock tried to hide it by biting his lips together and looking away.

John just wished he'd say something about it all. 

But that was a petty complaint, all things considered, because in general John was so fucking happy.

Of course he was happy.  He'd been granted a wish that nobody else had got granted in two thousand years.  The person he'd allowed to become the epicenter of his life had died, and John had wished for him back, and it had happened.  It had been nearly two years instead of three days, but he wasn't Saint John, after all, so he couldn't complain.

Most of the first week after Sherlock's resurrection, John had actually sat up half the night every night just bloody wallowing in the man's company, talking about whatever bizarre topics Sherlock fleetingly deemed important, doing whatever odd little tasks Sherlock demanded.  He'd only stopped when he realised Sherlock had to know exactly what was going on. 

It didn't all feel the same as before of course, but then, it wouldn't.  He'd not been aware before.  He'd not been so sensitised to the need to appreciate Sherlock's simple presence. 

He had known that it would even out eventually.  It had been the same the first time he'd come home from deployment. He'd drunk Lucozade and eaten curry flavoured crisps until he was sick (which admittedly did not take long).    He'd got up and sat actually watching Sian Williams instead of leaving her as a background during breakfast.  He'd spent one cab ride stunned with lust at the sheer plenitude of breasts under form-fitting tops visible on the street.  Eventually, London had faded back into normalcy again, and the next time it hadn't been anything like as overwhelming.

And it was going the same way now -- they were more or less settled again, and Sherlock actually being there had stopped being shocking and started being normal.  Well, under whatever skewed set of definitions ever classed anything Sherlock-related as normal.  Anyway, it had more or less stopped knocking John breathless when he came down the stairs and found Sherlock sprawled on the couch texting or reading email or correcting magazine articles with a red pen and cheerful malice.

He supposed it could be that Sherlock didn't want to talk about his adventures because he really wanted to move past it and get on with their lives.

Of course it wouldn't feel like their lives were really on track again until Sherlock finally got to work on a case. 

John abandoned Salander to her mid-book confinement and looked over at Sherlock, who was doing something on his laptop.  "Your site's taking email again, right?  Anything good?" 

"Quantity," Sherlock said in a pained voice.  "At the expense of quality.  Ever since the press declared me no longer either dead or a fraud, every idiot who can find their internet connection but not their keys has been emailing.  I've been auto-deleting three hundred a day."

"You're auto-deleting them?  Cases?  There might be someone in there who really needs your help, Sherlock."  Stupid John; the Sherlock-friendly way to phrase it would be to point out there might be someone in there with something interesting.  He was out of practice.

"It's sending them an auto-reply first," Sherlock said, in his why am I so misunderstood? tone. "Anyone with a proper case who still needs help will get in touch again.  At the moment it simply isn't worth sorting through the avalanche of publicity fetishists for the real thing."

"You're solving cases by auto-reply?"  John asked, boggled and imagining some kind of computer-Sherlock program that searched through the text of emails for words like inheritance and arsenic and picked from a list of standard solutions.

Sherlock held his laptop out to John.  Rather than actually get off the couch, he stretched and shifted until he was a weird cantilevered shape arched above the coffee table and threatening to topple off the couch at any moment.  John took the machine quickly.  The text of the automatic reply was open:

Having given your email all due consideration, I have come to the conclusion that it would be immoral for me to take the case when it is clear that you do already know the answer, but simply refuse to face it. - Sherlock Holmes

That was what he was sending out to three hundred people a day who'd asked for his help.  John groaned.  "Sherlock, are you trying to get the entire commonwealth hating us again?  You do realise these are actual people with feelings, who are trusting you to help them?  Christ, some of them are probably the same people who emailed me back at the start to let me know they didn't believe you were a fake."

"I was helping," Sherlock had gone sulky.  "It's a helpful reply.  Generally applicable.  And polite."

"I bet the hatemail they send back isn't polite."

Sherlock frowned.  "I . . . haven't looked at the responses — they're filtered into the third incoming mailbox."

Along the side of the window the third mailbox was named, obscurely, TTA.  John clicked it.  There were 278 in the list, all unread.  He opened the first, mentally steeling himself against death threats and the kind of profanity Sherlock brought out in people.  He read it.

"All right," he admitted.  "The first one's thanking you.  And getting a divorce." 

He opened another, licked his lips, shook his head.  "This one got her car back.  Also she's proposing to you, which lends a nice sense of balance, I suppose."

He went for the third.  Surely one would be sane enough to be pissed off by Sherlock's attitude.

Really, he should have known better.  "Dear Mr Holmes," he read out to Sherlock,  "When I first got your reply, I admit I doubted you.  Please forgive me.  It was quite true -- once I faced facts it was obvious my granddaughter was at fault.  We had a long talk this morning, and she has now admitted that an inebriated friend had," John read the next bit with the clear emphasised diction of disbelief, "urinated on the stereo, and it was her I saw trying to sneak into the house, attempting to replace it with a new one without telling us.  I can only imagine what clues in my email let you see the answer so clearly when it was so inexplicable to me.  You are a genius, sir, a true genius.  England is privileged to have you back."

Almost hesitantly he looked sideways from the screen at Sherlock.  The moment their eyes met they both broke into helpless laughter.

When John got his breath back, he stood up and carried back the laptop.

"Not reading any more?" Sherlock said, sounding mildly disappointed.

"Sod it.  They're all going to be thanks and praise.  Your ego's healthy enough without."

He went back to his chair.  He was just deciding between giving the Larsson novel one more skim or shelving it when Sherlock suddenly said, "Wait, who emailed you?"

"What?  I don't have your grateful public, Sherlock.  What email?"

"You said people emailed you, to tell you they didn't think I was a fake.  Who?"

John shrugged.  "Dunno.  Just . . . people.  Some of them you'd solved cases for before, I think.  Others just said after reading the papers and then reading my blog, they believed me — they believed in you."

"People you didn't know?  What did they want?  Why email you?"

John sighed.  Yeah, figured this would be one Sherlock didn't get.  "Just to show me support.  They saw someone suffering, they tried to help.  People do that."

Sherlock had gone from languidly bemused to actively curious.  "Did it help?"

John looked away.  "No.  Not really.  Just made me feel more sodding guilty, to be honest.  But they meant well.  I mean, I did appreciate it, knowing that not everybody'd been taken in, that it wasn't just me on my own knowing . . . you were real."

When he looked at Sherlock again, the expression had passed over to complete incomprehension, the way Sherlock reacted sometimes to normal human behaviour as if people had suddenly grown extra heads and started sacrificing cats to the blender.  "Why guilty?  You didn't know he'd threatened you.  Why should you feel guilty?"

And John had to blink for a moment, absorbing this, because of course Sherlock didn't know.

He'd seen Sherlock throw himself off a building, and John had understood.  Because of Moriarty's campaign, Sherlock had thought he was losing the Work, and the Work was everything to him, was the one thing he knew made him important to other people, made him needed.  And John had abandoned him, and Sherlock had been left alone.

John had known what Sherlock felt, that hurt and loneliness and uselessness.  John knew it very well — it was what he'd felt himself, when he'd arranged through a friend of a friend of an army friend to buy himself a gun, in that endless time he'd spent lonely and useless and limping through a colourless world.

And then Sherlock had come along and given his gun — given John — a totally different purpose. 

But in the end, neither he nor his gun had saved Sherlock.  He'd failed his best friend.

And the gun had still been there, waiting.

It had come as a bit of a shock the other day, when Sherlock told him the idea of John killing himself was unbelievable.  It hadn't felt very unbelievable all those days he'd sat on his bed turning the gun over in his hands while his mind turned over the fact that it was his fault, his fault there would never be one more stunning deduction, his fault he would never hear one more of those deep shameless chuckles, his fault he'd never see one more glimpse of that figure, elegant and cartoonish at once.

For months after Sherlock's death, it had throbbed in his head in an obsessive loop: If Sherlock had known he wasn't alone --  if Sherlock had known he was loved — if they had —

And it didn't matter that John had only ever thought about that kind of relationship with Sherlock sometimes, that he'd been mostly doubtful that it could ever work.  He had thought about it.  And if he'd done something about it, Sherlock might still be alive. 

If he'd known he wasn't alone.  If he'd known he was loved.  If they had.

The thought had worn grooves in his brain.  Even now he could feel that aching, shaming guilt.  Even knowing that Sherlock hadn't actually needed to know those things because Sherlock hadn't been suicidal at all, the fucking guilt was still there, making him feel sick.

All he could think to say to Sherlock, though, was, "It's something people feel, when there's a suicide."  He shrugged, "You know, sentiment."

"Survivor's guilt," Sherlock suggested, sounding dubious. 

Close enough, John supposed.  "That's the right idea."

 


Your First Clue

John was sitting in his chair, feet bare and turned inward, pencil tapping his lips, suffering bravely but needlessly.  Sherlock watched until John finally blew out an irritated breath and admitted defeat.

"'A light meal without any chicks? Try to melee about that without laughing,'" he said, grudgingly.

Sherlock considered.

"Eight letters," John added after a moment.  "It has an E in it."

"Shut up," Sherlock complained.  "It's meant to be cryptic.  What's cryptic about it if you tell me everything?"

John rolled his eyes and frowned and twitched and finally shook his head and smiled.  "Go on then."

"Omelette."

John glared down at the puzzle on his lap, clearly willing the word not to fit.  Then he wrote it in. "Unbelievable."

Sherlock waited.

"Right, okay, you are sodding brilliant and I still don't bloody see it.  How?"

"You tell me.  How far had you got?"

"First I thought, chicken's fairly light fare, right, so take out chicks and we've got EN."

"That would be forgetting the S.  What else."

"I reckoned melee meant an anagram somewhere, so I got GLEAM from light meal, but that didn't help."

"No, it wouldn't."

"And then I saw there's nearly MANGLE in there, only without the N, which is sort of like melee."

"No."

"No," John agreed.  "Are you satisfied, or do you need to hear my humiliating theory about without laughing meaning STERN and --"

"And chicks somehow leading to terns, I suppose."

"Sod off, I was getting desperate.  So, now I see the O-M-E-L-E-E part, but where do the two Ts come from?  Tea's a light meal?"

"An omelette is a light meal.  Put OMELEE about THAT, but without the laughing."

John groaned.  "Taking out the HA.  But how do chicks come into it?"

"They don't.  If you make an omelette with the eggs, you're without chicks."

John fixed the puzzle with a baleful look.  "Right," he told the paper, "you can fuck right off with that sort of thing."

"What's the next one?"

"Let me try it first."

"Give me one."

"No, you enjoy them more if you can make me tell you the stupid things I tried, so let me try."

Quite true.  Also, John solved at least three quarters of the clues himself, which spared Sherlock having to even consider the annoyingly easy ones.

Sherlock was so relaxed on the couch he felt melted.  John was sitting there, apparently prepared to go on indefinitely offering Sherlock simple puzzles exactly suited to his near-dozing state and then praising him for every single one.  And apparently also willing to go on baring his thought processes for Sherlock's observation as well.  Sherlock had no intention of telling him, but John was actually getting better at picking out patterns and noticing outliers.

"Cooee," called Mrs Hudson's voice.  "Decent in there, dears?"

John rolled his eyes at the mention of decency.  He never quite seemed to grasp that pretending to remain convinced they were sleeping together was just Mrs Hudson's way of winding him up.  It was sometimes amusing. 

Just now, Sherlock wished she'd go away.  He was relaxed, and this hadn't got boring yet.  "Ignore her," Sherlock said, pitching his voice to be heard.

"Sherlock!" John hissed, and hurried over to the door, leaving their puzzle on the chair.

"Sorry to bother you, dear," Mrs Hudson said when he opened the door to her.

"It's fine, Mrs Hudson," John said. 

"Go away Mrs Hudson!" Sherlock barked, without bothering to turn his head.

"Sorry about that," John murmured.  He really was a cringing conciliatory little creature at times.

"That's all right, dear," she said.  He could hear the fond smile in her voice.  The two of them had become remarkably close, it seemed.  "I daresay he knows we're glad enough to have him back we'd put up with all manner of — "

"Bad manners," John put in drily.

It was maddening.  They acted as if he'd changed.  He hadn't.  He'd never been concerned with their boring manners and rules and small talk.  They'd changed.  If they weren't questioning him, they were tiptoeing around him as if he were ill and talking about him as if he were some hopeless child with problems they could solve.  He should have taken Dimmock's pointless case just to get out of the damned flat.

Deliberately he went quiet and inward.  He didn't have to walk out of the flat to leave.  He had infinite space available without moving.

The act of writing out that note for John the other day had brought up the sense memory of the time he'd originally composed it. 

The tiny room in a Paris hotel was now permanently duplicated in his mind, another series of nooks and niches for the storage of data.  It had reminded him of home — of 221 Baker Street —  a bit; the building had been a house originally and the space was cramped with extravagant detail —  the moulding making the shape of a fan on the door, the pale ghosts of pink that had been roses on the wallpaper, the badly-plastered centre of the ceiling where an electric lamp had been put in, but the now-dead gaslamp still there, useless, on the wall.

He'd sat on the bed, not trusting the single fragile-looking chair, and scribbled his note.

He'd just killed the first of Mrs Hudson's assassins that day, in fact.

Or really, the last of them.  As he had suspected, there hadn't been exactly three assassins for the three targets, but many.  Should anything happen to the first, another would be called, and then another, and another, and another.  Mrs Hudson and Lestrade had eight each, a number whose significance eluded him and made him obsessively search for others he might have missed.

For John, there had been fourteen.

He'd soon discovered the original assassins had been contracted to watch their subjects directly only for the weeks surrounding the denouement of Moriarty's game.  After that, they were permitted to take on other contracts, with the requirement they return should there be any sign of Sherlock's continued existence. 

Any of those, then, could have been eliminated, made to look like an unrelated death.  They were, after all, men in decidedly dangerous lines of work.

Except that when the next two were called, the coincidence of more than one of them dying would certainly be noticed.  As too would the deaths of one after another of the assassins on any of the contracts.

Thus, Sherlock had been forced to trace the chains all the way to their ends, and work backward, eliminating each killer only after the replacement had already been removed.

In the end, he hadn't had to kill them all.  Most had agencies or handlers who took care of their contracts, and these could be tampered with instead.  He'd had to kill the last in Mrs Hudson's chain, though.  He'd been a direct hire from Moriarty, and he'd known Sherlock's face.  There had been no possibility of letting him live.

Sherlock hadn't got any blood on himself, not that time.  It had been close-quarters and blunt and, in the end, half asphyxiation and half broken neck, and he'd left a stink on Sherlock that he'd had to wash off in the tiny — absurd, nearly doll-sized — porcelain bathtub, in the bathroom shared with the rest of the rooms in the hotel.

He'd returned to sit on the bed, wet hair leaving him chilled, and let himself work out that note to John on a sheet of the hotel's parodically feminine note paper.

The American couple in the next room went to the bathroom next, together.  They were obviously having a Paris honeymoon two years after the wedding, and they still didn't really have enough saved to manage it, thus the loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter they were subsisting on, and the choice of this dilapidated but low-priced hotel they'd convinced themselves was more romantic than something large and modern.  They were going to attempt a romantic soak in that tiny bath.  The night before, they'd had sex up against the wall, trying not to be loud, but noisy enough that the businessman in the other room on this floor of the hotel had masturbated to the sound, trying to be quiet but, in turn, just audible to Sherlock, who failed to find any of it erotic in the least.

Sherlock had looked at the note he had written for John, who was not there to be impressed by any of these observations, who was not there to appreciate the humour of the substandard room and the miniature bath, who was not there to snicker with him about all the overheard moaning, who was not there to tell him he was looking peaky and try to feed him, who was not there

He'd already, by that time, had to lock away the mental model of John he kept in his palace of memory.  He'd kept talking to it, and it only made him miserable, standing there in his memory of Baker Street, eyes soft and sad, head tilted up so bravely, a stupid useless lie that his mind tried to tell him to relieve an ache he couldn't even understand.

 Then he'd folded the note into a careful grid and reduced it to one hundred and twenty tiny squares by tearing along the creases.  But he didn't get the chance to risk them against the building's elderly plumbing because the Americans stayed in the bathroom half the night (to the onanistic appreciation of the businessman).  He ended up flushing them in an airport washroom the next day, en route not to London, where he could have sent a certain person to a certain bookstore in Baker Street, but to his next murderer, his next murder.

In Sherlock's deliberately structured memory, a hoe gouged the hotel's slanting, nearly furry wooden floorboards near the window, revealing an old fashioned pocket calculator with semen mucking up the keys; this represented the business man, who worked in agrarian supplies.    In either side of the small wardrobe were American flags, one stuck in a jar of peanut butter beside a phlebotomist's syringe, the other fashioned into an apron over a satin ball gown; this represented the American man, finishing his nursing degree, and the American woman, supporting him with waitressing and occasional jobs dressing as a Disney princess at children's parties — an idea so foreign and pleasingly bizarre that when Sherlock someday cleared this room to store something else, he planned to retain that item and store it elsewhere.

In Sherlock's memory, a green van was parked on the hotel bed, slimy river water slowly leaking from the seams around the doors.  If he opened one of those doors he would see the room where he'd killed the assassin, with its own collection of images and reminders.  That would have to be kept too; one did need to recall where one had hidden the bodies.

John and Mrs Hudson were gone when Sherlock surfaced to immediate reality again.  Off to do whatever little task she'd chosen to believe she needed male aid for.  Another mouse, very probably.  Annoying. 

There had been a time when it was Sherlock she'd have gone to first, not John.  Well, now Sherlock had graduated to exterminating rather larger vermin, hadn't he?

She occupied an unusual place in his life, Mrs Hudson.   Of the few people he touched occasionally, she was the only one who could be relied on not to either mind it (Lestrade sometimes twitched at Sherlock's hand on his arm) or take it too much to heart (Molly had gone strange for weeks after that ill-judged kiss on the cheek).  He could embrace and even kiss Mrs. Hudson with impunity.  Sherlock, who had eventually been forced to accept his inexplicable urges to touch people as inborn and ineradicable, had appreciated that outlet immensely.

She'd slapped him, when he'd first come back.  She'd slapped him quite hard, and then hugged him and sobbed and ranted for a bit without letting go.  And then she'd sat him down on her couch, whose cushions sagged within inches of the floor under his weight, and ordered him to explain himself. 

Despite the initial outburst, she had listened properly, without stopping him for an argument even once.  At the end she'd looked sad and stern and said, "Oh, Sherlock.  Oh you poor —  I see you didn't really have much choice.  But . . . I don't think you know, dear, what you did."

Well, he did.  He knew all too well.  She didn't.  What he'd done, for her specifically, was to kill three people and a violent but essentially blameless Rottweiler. 

John wandered back in and washed his hands in the kitchen.  "Mouse," he reported.  "I don't know where they're getting in.  Your brother should hire them to infiltrate foreign security compounds.  That's assuming they're not actually his minions anyway."

She'd doubtless showered John with thanks over it.  She should have seen the Rottweiler.  John wouldn't be much cop when it came to Rottweilers.  Well, admittedly, with a gun John would do brilliantly against most things short of a tank (or a moderately tricky crossword). But could he have managed it against eight and a half stone of angry German guard dog with just a suit jacket and an empty Riesling bottle?  Sherlock thought not.

"Does he, your brother?" John went on, moving the puzzle aside and settling back into his chair. "Army of trained mice?"  He made his voice squeaky and absurd (and for reasons best known to himself, a bit comedy Yorkshire).  "Yes, Mr Mycroft, we will infiltrate t'flat and determine where subject S. is hiding the brolly 'e pinched."

"I've never pinched his brolly," Sherlock said, slightly amused despite himself.  It was extremely pleasing, how unimpressed John was by Sherlock's brother's power and government position.  There was something warm and satisfying about having someone else take the piss at Mycroft's expense.

"Missed opportunity, one feels," John said.  "He'd go spare.  Probably contains the missile codes, a sword, and a cyanide capsule.  And his old Ted."

Sherlock gave one brief laugh despite himself.  "He had a triceratops, actually.  Yellow felt.  Apparently he sucked it up to aged three.  The dye came out in spots."

"He must have looked like he'd been fed too much pureed carrots."  John said happily.

"He did.  There are pictures."  Exposing such information was the sort of petty nastiness that made him vaguely hope Mycroft had succeeded in his most recent attempt to sneak a bug into the flat.  He shook his head,  "Disgusting object."  If Mycroft was listening, he'd hear the ambiguity there between Sherlock's opinion of himself and his toy. 

"What was it called?"

"Mycroft's triceratops, of course.  Mycroft wouldn't give an inanimate object a proper name."

"I had a Ted.  Called Ted," John said comfortably.  "It got lost on a trip to the chemist one day.  Dad searched every step of the way there and back, twice, out past midnight, never found the thing.  I apparently cried for a week."  After a moment, in a less amused voice, he went on, "I only remember how rotten it felt, knowing it was my fault.  He was mine, and I'd let him go, not taken care of him properly."  Suddenly he smiled.  "And if you say you'd already deduced from my career in medicine that I lost my Ted at age four, I'll call you a liar even if you are the smartest bloody man on the planet."

"I had," lied Sherlock, and found he was grinning.  There were still seven unfinished clues to go.

"Liar."

 


She Gives Tongue

Sherlock had been going through one of his somnolent periods for a day or so, but now the energy seemed to be back.  He'd spent all morning on what John by courtesy referred to as experiments —  they really weren't, since Sherlock generally knew beforehand what kind of flash, smoke, and unusual stink he was going to produce.  They were really more in the way of chemical performance art, but they seemed to please Sherlock, which was what mattered.

After that he'd picked up his violin and played something rapid and surprisingly melodic.   John sat and listened, and grinned at him when it was done.

"What?" Sherlock asked.

"That was good."

"It was barely competent.  I'm out of practise."

"Well, it sounded fucking amazing."

Sherlock smiled slightly, and then picked up his mobile, dropped into his chair, and let his thumbs blur. After a half-hour bout of texting, Sherlock jumped up again and took a deep breath.  How he could make breathing into something that looked both self-satisfied and self-indulgent was beyond John (particularly when it was something he had long since declared boring).  In his amusement John paid a bit more attention than usual.  That was how he noticed that Sherlock's shirt buttons didn't strain. 

This was one of his old shirts, mysteriously boxed up and stored somewhere in the interim by Mycroft.  If you took at face value the claim that Big Brother hadn't been in on the whole plot from the start, that pointed to him keeping some kind of maudlin Sherlock-shrine somewhere.  Could Mycroft, who came over like a minor Dickens villain, all suit and brolly and arched nostrils, be maudlin?  John supposed he could picture that, actually.

Sherlock's absurdly slim-cut shirts had always been on the edge of blatant, and under John's influence in the way of regular meals, he'd previously bulked up enough that John had actually considered having a serious conversation with another bloke about shopping for clothes.  It had seemed a bit funny when it was just women staring, but when teenaged girls had actually started following him down the street, John had realised he might have to act before Sherlock got arrested for assaulting the public morals or being a danger to shipping or something. 

Then things had gone a bit mad, and then Sherlock had been gone.  Apparently whatever company Sherlock had while he was gone at least hadn't been forceful enough about making him eat.

That missing bulk was going to take John months of wheedling, shouting, and sometimes sheer dishonesty to re-establish.  Oh well, at least this time he'd had practice and knew what would and wouldn't work.  In this, oddly enough, Mycroft was a great help.  Sherlock's monumental disdain for his brother's obsessive dieting — "He's hungry all the time and it makes him dull!  When he was fat he was occasionally nearly worth talking to." — was tremendously useful.  For Sherlock, what appetite wouldn't do, self-righteousness and spite often did.

"Clear a space in the refrigerator," Sherlock directed imperiously.  "Molly's found me some tongues."

"Did she give some sort of estimate?"  John asked.  "Is this the family-style bucket of tongues, or did she just tuck two or three into a snack bag?"

"Seventeen," Sherlock answered seriously.

John opened the refrigerator door and tried to mentally compute the volume of seventeen tongues.  It was actually not a particularly spacious refrigerator for two grown men, one of whom kept a great deal of meat not intended to be eaten.  "If I have the rest of the fried rice for tea, they can go in next to the cider."  The cider was not moving.  For one thing, chilled cider —  the way John's dad always had it at home —  offended Sherlock, who seemed to consider the idea bourgeois, and he made really amusing faces of disgust about it.  For another, it represented a block of refrigerator space that belonged to John and which was not going to be ceded to Sherlock without a land war.

Sherlock crowded up behind him.  "No, John.  They need to be spaced out on a tray," he said, as if that should have been obvious.

John rolled his eyes.  "Then do your own refrigerator geometry puzzle.  And that is not to be an uncovered tray.  Which reminds me, I did buy you another roll of cling film.  What exactly do you do with it all?  You don't use it to keep food safe to eat, I know that."

Sherlock was quiet for a moment.  He leaned against the table.  "Do you want me to tell you?" he ventured.

John shut the refrigerator door and looked at him with narrowed eyes.  "Do I want you to tell me?"

"No," Sherlock said firmly.

John grinned despite himself.  "Right then.  No.  I don't want you to tell me how you've managed to use up two rolls of cling film in ten days.  Do not by any means tell me or allow me to find out."

Sherlock nodded at the conclusion of another successful negotiation.  "If you eat the rice I can rearrange the rest."

"Fine."

"You need to eat it now.  She's on her way."

It wasn't exactly that John was angry with Molly Hooper.  She'd been in on the lie.   She'd lied to him.  She'd seen him half a dozen times during those two years and she couldn't have missed what he'd been going through and she'd never said word one.  But he got it -- she'd been doing what Sherlock told her, and when it came to Sherlock, Molly wasn't exactly in her right mind. 

Well, which of them was?  John was currently planning his meals for the benefit of tongues not his own.

He put the rice in its takeaway carton into the microwave and pulled out a bowl from the cupboard.  Once the rice was hot, he measured a third of it into the bowl — making sure the bits of vegetable were equitably distributed — and put the bowl on the table in front of Sherlock, who was presumably either in spiritual preparation to receive seventeen tongues into his care or plotting unholy acts involving cling film.

Much as he'd have liked to get the whole carton into Sherlock, John had learned to gauge the amount of leftover takeaway Sherlock would deign to eat.  If he was given too much he'd refuse the lot. 

John settled in his chair with the carton and spent half a chapter eating rice and trying to decide if Jonathan Kellerman had gone boring or if he just wasn't in the mood. 

Molly showed up carrying an insulated bag.  "Hullo, hullo," she called out, smiling.  "Delivery as per."

John nodded to her as Sherlock went to take his new tongue collection.

Once the bag was out of her hands, Molly perched on the other chair across from John.  She was still smiling.  "All right, John?" 

"Fine, yeah.  You?"

"Oh, it's all right.  Toby picked up ear mites somehow, but I got that cleared up."

Eventually it registered what was wrong here.  Molly's determinedly cheerful (and largely feline-centric) conversation and rather pitiful smile -- the one that was hopeful while fully expecting disappointment -- were being directed at John.  He was used to a side-view while she turned it all on Sherlock.  It was disorientating being in the line of fire.  

"Oh," he said. No, he decided, after a moment, she hadn't decided to pin her crush on John instead.  But she knew what she'd done, and she wanted everything to be jolly and forgiven and forgotten.  He put on his blandest smile.  "Well, that's good." 

She seemed satisfied.  "Good to see you, John."

"You too."

"Molly, there are samples -- " Sherlock began.

Molly hopped up at the excuse for more interaction with Sherlock.  "Right, right!  I knew you were interested in the effects of long-term hospitalisation, so I took some samples while you were away."

John shook his head.  Molly: displaying affection by bringing Sherlock bits of dead things.  She'd been living with a cat too long.  Mind you, with Sherlock it wasn't the worst strategy.

"I told you not to," Sherlock said.

"Well, I know," said Molly.  "But it was no trouble.  Oh, I was wondering if you wanted that bag you left at mine."

"What bag?" 

"Blue bag?  It had some clothes in it -- track suit bottoms and a hoodie and things,"  From the way she said it, things meant pants.  "I washed them.  And it had some shampoo, and -- "

"Good lord," Sherlock said.  "You kept that rubbish?  Bin the lot." 

John blinked.  Coming from Sherlock, not making a comment on the obvious reason Molly had kept his things was amazingly kind.  Well, she'd been his partner in the whole faux-death business.  It made sense they were quite good friends these days.

"Okay," Molly said meekly.  "What about the, um, the folder -- "

"Do you have it with you?" Sherlock asked abruptly.  Some folder, probably with case notes about his criminal contacts in The Hague or Moriarty's Korean mafia sub-branch.  More stuff Molly had been entrusted with while John was unknowingly on news blackout, attending ersatz funerals and thinking about eating his gun. 

"No, but I could -- "

"I'll get it from you eventually.  You can go." 

She knew dismissal when she heard it.  "Okay, right, yeah.  Good night, Sherlock.  Good night, John."

"Night, Molly," John said.

For about an hour, Sherlock arranged tongues and did glass-clattering things behind John's back while John remained ambivalent on the subject of Kellerman's newest.

Then Sherlock made one of those little grunts that meant two lines of thought had just knotted together into something very clever.  John expected he'd hear about it presently.

Overexcited by his own brilliance as ever, Sherlock dashed over to crouch between John's chair and the fireplace and reached in and up behind the tiles.  After a moment of groping around, he gave a grunt of annoyance and stuck his head in as well.  Oh yes, there was that little ledge inside, behind the tile.  So John knew what Sherlock was looking for and not finding.

"Binned it," he advised.

"What?"  Sherlock said.  "I'm looking for -- "

"Binned it.  When we were cleaning out the flat."

"No, I'm looking for a dish of culture.  You wouldn't have found -- "

"It wasn't so hard to find when it started to smell, Sherlock.  I binned it before it either asphyxiated the street or developed a parliamentary government and a space program."

Sherlock was making his John, why do you hate scientific progress and all things good? face, which John usually found endearing in an irritating sort of way.  And suddenly he was furious.  He dropped the book on the floor.

"Oh, should I have saved it for when you came back?  From the dead?  You weren't sodding away, Sherlock.  You weren't off, or gone.  It wasn't a disappearance.  You weren't missingYou were dead.  Christ, I -- "

He got hold of himself, feeling sick, feeling stupid.  He knew better than this, damn it.

He'd just, miraculously, got Sherlock back, and apparently now he was trying to drive him away again.  No.  He was not going to do this.  He was not going to stay here and risk that this would be the argument that broke everything. 

He was going to do the healthy thing, the sane thing, and go away until he could act like a human again.  Get some space.

He grabbed his jacket.

"You're going?" Sherlock demanded. 

"Yeah.  Yeah, I need some air."  He nodded tightly at Sherlock, because they both knew what was going on.

So Sherlock, who generally had so very little tact, sat there on the floor and glared and sulked like a stroppy kid, like he was actually bothered by anything John did.  He let John get out of there with some dignity, let John maintain the fiction that he wasn't the one on the edge of losing control.

 


Unspoken Agreement

Sherlock was furious.  And confused, which made him more furious.  He hadn't even complained about the ruined experiment, disappointed as he was about it; really it would have dovetailed beautifully with his plans for the scrapings he'd just taken. 

And suddenly, inexplicably, John had exploded.

And then he'd gone.  John's permanent trump card, which he played every bloody time an argument got heated: reminding Sherlock how easily John could just leave him.   He would come back later, calm and pleasant again, as if everything were fine, secure that he'd made his point.  It was childish and cruel and Sherlock hated John a bit every time he did it. 

And now, after all the harping on how hurt John had been over the faked death (which had saved his fucking life) John apparently still didn't care enough to stay and argue.  John apparently still found it easy to walk out the door.

Well, it was Sherlock's own fault.  John had already been at an advantage knowing Sherlock had no one else and likely never would.  Now, knowing Sherlock had spent two years alone and trying to get back to this, John's position was unassailable. 

Just as well John was generally on his side.  John as an enemy was a merciless hateful little bastard.

He watched acid eating away papillae on a slice of tongue for a while, but the fun had gone out of it. 

Molly's various other samples he bagged up and stuck in the freezer.  The interest he'd had in the topic had been fleeting and he'd told her not to keep anything for him while he was gone.  He'd told her not to expect him back at all, knowing how unlikely it was he'd survive long enough to outlive Moriarty's entire system.  He should have taken her excessive sentiment into account.  She'd managed to keep her mouth shut, but if she hadn't been so consistently overlooked by everyone, her behaviour would have given him away and got John killed.  He owed Molly a great deal, and found he didn't terribly mind her company at times, but she could be maddeningly stupid.

 It hadn't occurred to him she'd kept the bag he'd been carrying when he hid at her flat the night between leaving the squat in Wapping and heading for Manchester, but if he'd considered it, he'd have expected it.  Sloppy and sentimental. 

He had known she'd still have the folder.  He ought to do something about that.  There had been a few of the less-successful paparazzi who'd camped on Baker Street for several weeks after Sherlock's funeral, taking pictures of wan, tired-looking John going out and coming back with the shopping.  They'd given up when John failed to produce either tears or prostitutes.  Sherlock didn't need John knowing a load of those pictures had disappeared into a folder in Sherlock's possession.  He should have burned them, not left them with Molly.  He still wasn't entirely sure why he'd  taken them in the first place.  Over-stress, probably.  

In a spirit of inquiry -- and spite -- he restarted the experiment John had binned and stored it behind a bit of moulding in John's bedroom.  See if he found it by smell this time.

John wandered back in around eleven, wearing the shoes of a man who'd been round the boating lake twice, and the sleeve of a man who'd spent time in Dorset Square.  So he'd gone, come back, decided he wasn't ready to come in yet, and passed their door to go off in the other direction.

Sherlock scanned carefully for signs another girlfriend was in the offing.  They were about due for one.  Nothing as yet, but there wasn't always much warning.  John picked them up mysteriously, like Toby's ear mites. 

"I'll finish off that casserole so we can give the dish back to Mrs. Hudson," John offered.  "More room for tongues."

Sherlock shrugged.  He wasn't furious anymore, but he was still annoyed.

"Don't suppose you had a call?  Lestrade?"  John ventured hesitantly.

Sherlock looked at him, put that together with the way John at been on at him about the email the other day, and saw what was going on.  John wasn't really angry about having to clear up smelly experiments.  John was on edge because they hadn't had a case.  It was, after all, one of the unspoken tenets of the agreement that kept John here and tolerant: Sherlock would provide John with danger and excitement in the form of cases.

If only there had been something more interesting on offer than Dimmock's feelings about Russian roulette, he'd have taken it.  He was more than ready to return to the work as well.  In the interest of domestic harmony, he'd take the next one he was offered, whatever it was.  Well, if it wasn't too boring.  If it had some interesting features.  Call it a five at least.  But definitely, he'd take the next solid five that came up.

Lestrade called the next day, and Sherlock smiled to himself at the way John practically crowded him out the door in his enthusiasm to go.

"Only just found her," John said, "how do they already know they're stumped without you?"

"Experience?" Sherlock suggested. 

John rolled his eyes.  "Okay then, what did Lestrade say to convince you it was worth your time?"

"She dialled nine-nine-nine, and the only word she got out was 'poisoned.'"

"That's all it took?" John asked, smiling.  "You must be bored."

"Accidental poisoning is all too common.  But 'poisoned.'   Deliberate.  Promising."  And it was.  A five at least.

 

 


Marie Gibson

They met Lestrade -- or rather Sally Donovan, who reported that Lestrade was busy on the phone  —  at a terraced house.  "Guv's talking to the super," Sally said, sotto voce, without bothering with a greeting. 

"I'm not wanted," Sherlock concluded.

Donovan shrugged.  "He does," she tilted her head at the house where her boss was.  "He's what matters."

John reckoned that was the crux of things.  Lestrade was a bit of a media hero these days, after that mess when Sherlock came back.  So his superiors would give in to him eventually.  And for all Donovan's other faults, John had always reckoned she'd follow Lestrade through fire, even if she'd bitch about it every step of the way.

Lestrade came out of the house.  "Am I permitted on the crime scene now?" Sherlock demanded.  He'd been pricklier with Lestrade, since he came back.

Lestrade looked mildly uncomfortable. Sherlock regarded him for a moment, and then tilted his head in curiosity. "It isn't me at all.  Which means it's John.  That doesn't make sense."

"Me?" John asked.  "What've I done?"

"You've got assaulting a superintendent on your record, for one thing," Lestrade reminded him. 

"Right, that." For one thing.  Because it hadn't ended there.  For another thing there had been that night in the holding cell when they'd found him, after Sherlock...    All he really remembered about it was a haze of hurt and rage and wanting everyone to pay.  And saying so.  They'd let him out in the morning and he'd only later had the sick realisation that it had almost certainly been Mycroft who'd stepped in to get him out of anything worse.  "Sorry, about . . . what I said, then."

Lestrade shook his head.  "Nah, mate.  You shouldn't have been put in there at a time like that.  If I'd had any say -- but I was already 'on leave' by the end of the day."

"You were arrested -- "  Sherlock started, staring at John.

Talking about all that again was not something John had any interest in.  "You were probably distracted with faking your death," John said.  "Would things be easier if I left?"

"No," Sherlock said, with the finality of divine pronouncement.  "Believe me, Lestrade, things would not become easier in that case."

"All sorted now anyway,"  Lestrade said. 

"Good," Sherlock said.  John hoped he wasn't going to be stroppy enough with Lestrade to get them kicked out of the crime scene.  Sherlock needed a case.

"Deceased was Marie Gibson," Lestrade announced, gesturing to the house.  "Dialed nine-nine-nine but beyond "Poisoned," couldn't get anything out bar wheezing.  By the time the ambulance got here, she was already dead." 

The corpse was a middle-aged woman, lying on the floor of the bedroom in a housecoat and cotton nightdress, a telephone handset several inches from one hand.  In the hallway John had seen a dozen framed photographs and he guessed the woman appearing in several of them was the dead woman, but it was hard to tell, death had so distorted her face.

"Looks like anaphylaxis," he noted. 

Lestrade handed him  a plastic bag.  Inside there was a MedicAlert emblem bracelet.  On the back, between the telephone number and the ID at the bottom was HYPER TENSION and on the next line, ALLERGIC PEANUTS, NUTS, stamped on the bright silver metal.  "She was wearing that."

Sherlock walked around the room eyes quick and avid for details, then wandered back and plucked the bracelet from John's hand.  He considered it for a moment before tossing it back without looking,

Next to the bed was an old telephone stand, the sort with a door opening on a compartment meant for storing telephone directories.  On top were a lamp, an alarm clock, another photo of the woman, this time with a slim, dark-haired young man, a pill organizer with sections for the days of the week, and an empty glass.

The door to the compartment was open and a basket had spilled out.  John could see a box of tissues, a blood pressure cuff, and a paperback.  Lestrade showed them another bag.  "This was in that lot, but she didn't get to it.  Epi pen."  It was the white cylinder of a 500 microgram Anapen epinephrine autoinjector.  EpiPen was another company, actually, but seemed to be sticking as the generic name these days.

"Check -- " Sherlock began.

"Another one in her bag," said Donovan, "a spare in the bathroom."

Sherlock nodded.  He minded being interrupted, but not too much when people were actually supplying useful information.  "Serious allergy then, and she knew it."

He started looking around the room, staring first at the table by the bed, and then starting to investigate the chest of drawers.

John and Lestrade turned to each other, both knowing well enough Sherlock would be uncommunicative until he had something exciting to report.  Before John could comment on the home blood pressure cuff, Lestrade asked, "She knew she'd been poisoned, but how did they get it to her?  She'd have to eat it, right?"

"Inhaled particles could cause a reaction in an enclosed space, but not too likely," John said.  "Ingestion is usually the way."

"She didn't call until it was too late.  So it wasn't enough for her to taste it."

"Wouldn't have to be.  A hundred milligrammes could be enough, less even.  And it can sometimes take hours for a reaction.  She could have had something at dinner, and only realised when she felt the reaction."

"So where did it come from?"

Sherlock smirked. "Hundred milligrammes?" he confirmed with John.

"Could do."

"Settled then."

Lestrade visibly gritted his teeth. "Oh, go on then."

John was already starting to smile.

Sherlock shrugged elegantly and pointed at the bedside table.  "She downed it with a glass of water."

Lestrade picked up the pill organiser.  The Thursday section was open and empty.  He flipped open Friday. 

"Capsules, light and dark blue?" Sherlock asked.

Lestrade tipped the pills out.  There were a vitamin and what John thought was probably a calcium supplement, and two capsules.

"Cardizem.  How did you know?" John asked, amazed as ever and not hiding it.  From the corner of his eye he saw a slight change in the set of Sherlock's shoulders.  Strutting was imminent.  "There are plenty of other hypertension drugs."

"Cardizem is popular, in certain circles," Lestrade said.  The tone was a bit odd.

"I don't follow," John said.

"They cut cocaine with it," Lestrade explained, staring at Sherlock.  "It's supposed to increase the high."

"Not the most important aspect, in this case," said Sherlock evenly.  But the strutting had been aborted.

"And that is?" Lestrade asked.

"One mention of drugs and your mind really does go completely blank.  Try to remember what we're here for," Sherlock complained.  "Dead woman?  Murder?  Poison?  Delivery method?"

"Capsules," said John, although he was experiencing a bit of that mind-blanking effect at the reminder that in some unimaginable past Sherlock had done something so self-destructive as take cocaine.

"In theory I suppose powdered peanut proteins could be shaped to match other pills, but re-filling a capsule is the easiest method."

"Would this be enough?" Lestrade asked, looking at the pills skeptically.

"More than a hundred milligrams.  If she was allergic enough, that would do it," John answered.

"If you don't have anything more interesting, Lestrade --  come along, John."

John shrugged at Lestrade, who rolled his eyes knowingly.  John followed out of the house in Sherlock's wake.

"Remarkable, isn't it," Sherlock said, once he had summoned a cab and they were on their way back, "the pavlovian reaction?  You would think Lestrade could get past it by now."

"The cocaine, you mean."

Sherlock gave him an irritated look.  "It's nonsensical.  Why should it be so important?"

"You used to take drugs that could have done permanent damage.  Or killed you.  That actually is important, Sherlock."

"Thank you for the official line, Doctor Watson," Sherlock said sulkily.

"I've never understood how you could have done it.  How could you be so self-destructive?  Were you that isolated, Sherlock?"

"Actually, buying drugs used to be one of my few social outlets.  I don't see what business it is of yours," Sherlock said, coldly.  "And isolation has certain advantages."

John felt abruptly miserable, cold and sick and lonely, in that nice warm cab next to his best friend.  Sherlock still didn't get it, still thought he was alone, still thought it was nobody's business if he destroyed himself.

If he'd known he wasn't alone.  If he'd known he was loved.  If they had.

The thought was not going away.

I could kiss him, John thought.  The idea made his stomach feel like a huge cold void. 

He tried to picture it, imagine kissing Sherlock.  Sherlock had a beautifully shaped mouth, you couldn't deny that. 

Maybe inevitably, the first place that popped into his head was the roof of Barts: Sherlock standing there and John this time up there with him. 

He'd pictured that a thousand times, obsessively, what he might have done if only he'd been up there, not just a voice on a phone, not just a figure down below, but there, within reach.

So John pictured stepping up next to Sherlock.  He pictured them side by side, four storeys of drop in front of them.  Pictured putting his hand on Sherlock's arm, tugging him back, pulling him so they were face to face.  Leaning up to kiss him.

And for the first time, it seemed possible.  Would Sherlock have jerked back, pushed John away?  Really?  When he was about to jump off a fucking building at least partly to save John's life?

Sherlock had been crying that day, John had heard it in his voice.  Genuine emotion or faked, his mouth would have been salty with tears.  John imagined his mouth all wet and plush, needy. 

Yes, it was possible, and it was necessary, and John settled himself into the calm determination with which he'd once faced orders to advance.

"What?" Sherlock demanded suddenly, so John knew his face had given him away.

When they got home, he decided.  He turned and smiled at Sherlock.  "It only bothers Lestrade because he cares, you get that, right?"

Sherlock sat there the rest of the journey, apparently either too surprised or too offended to respond.

 

Chapter Text

Sherlock threw himself onto the couch as soon as they were back in the flat.  Then, having got a little of his overflowing drama out but too restless to remain in his swooning maiden posture, he slouched forward over his knees and began to scribble some kind of diagram on the front cover of John's Lancet, probably simply because it was the nearest thing on the coffee table rather than any especial spite.

John vaguely felt he wanted to take a shower first.  Which was stupid, because forty-one was a bit late in life to start being precious about sex.  He also vaguely felt he wanted Sherlock to have a shower first, and that was just embarrassing. 

He supposed he could just spring it on Sherlock that way: suggest they take a shower together.  Kill two birds with one stone.

John was sure he hadn't let a giggle escape, but Sherlock looked up sharply.  "What?"

John shook his head.  "Nothing.  Are you done defacing my medical journal?"

"You'd read all the bits you care about."

"I mean, are you in the middle of something? "

"No."  Then he frowned.  "Why?"  From Sherlock's narrow considering look, he suspected John was about to inflict some unreasonable demand on him, like asking him to tidy a bit of his mess, or doing the washing up.  Most of it was sheer laziness, but for a man who liked playing about in dead bodies, he seemed to have a remarkable horror of being made to put on a pair of marigolds and scrub something.

"Lestrade got you off-track.  You were going to explain how you worked it out at the crime scene."

"Obvious, surely," Sherlock said, but in a voice that invited disagreement.

"Not to the rest of us," John said.  "Budge up."

Sherlock blinked as if the concept of sharing his couch was new and vaguely alarming.  Possibly he wanted to keep the runway clear in case he felt the need to fling himself down again.

  After a moment he shifted slightly sideways, and John sat in the minimal space Sherlock had left at the end of the couch.  Probably Sherlock was thinking that by sitting so close he was discouraging John from sitting there; Sherlock wasn't to know proximity was the whole point of the exercise.

"Go on, then," John prompted.

Sherlock tilted his head slightly.  "Hypertension was obvious."

Without thinking, John rolled his eyes, "Right, you can just see hypertension."  All right, he was meant to be basking visibly in genius, but John was a doctor and Sherlock's tendency to blithely diagnose conditions based on stereotypes rankled.  Primary hypertension had no signs easily observed without an ophthalmoscope. 

"I could see the monitoring chart she kept on her desk,"

"I thought the cuff in the bedside table was a bigger clue.  And the bracelet."

"As I said.  Obvious."

"Even to me."

"Anaphylaxis also obvious."

"Even to me," John said, grinning.

"So, likely either insect or food allergy.  In the 999 call she said 'poisoned,' not 'stung' or bitten' so likely food.  Confirmed  by the bracelet: nuts."

John settled comfortably against the back of the couch, letting his admiration show.  None of this was actually all that extraordinary by Sherlock standards, but watching Sherlock's brain careering along through what the rest of them had to plod through was always good value.  And god, John had missed it.

"So," Sherlock went on, "how did it get into her system?  Most obvious possibility: accidentally included in a meal.  But, dishes on the rack by the sink -- she'd done her own supper and snacks for her guests. Guests?  Yes, four of them, written in on the calendar at her desk for a bridge game, Louise, Graham, Fred; and Grace written in sloppily in a different pen, probably a hasty addition."

John grinned at Sherlock, now talking at breakneck speed and providing his own interruptions.  Not that there'd been any chance John was going to bottle out of this -- decisions were for sticking with -- but Sherlock being like this, like John had missed him most, yeah it made things easier.  Sherlock had only walked through the woman's  kitchen and the sitting room, glanced at the desk, and yet all this had gone in, got analysed and used.

"So, she thinks she was poisoned," Sherlock went on, "why not something brought by one of the guests?  There was a basket, probably muffins, on the kitchen counter, but if she'd had one she'd have shared them out, and the tea towel on top was too high for five muffins to be missing.  She wasn't eating much of anything anyway, too upset."

"Upset?"

"Red eyes and nose not obvious because of the allergic reaction, but the nose and philtrum dry and chapped from wiping her nose repeatedly, Thinking of You in this Difficult Time cards on the desk, rubbish bins full of tissues, photo of a young man by the bed -- she'd taken it down from where it used to hang in the hall.  So she was grieving for someone, probably son.  So if she'd made all of the little food she did eat herself, and that had been hours before, what had she ingested right before bed?  Water glass, pill organiser right there on the bedside table, hypertension sufferer, so if she was taking Cardizem, a capsule, easy to refill -- "

John leaned in, because he was doing this, he was actually doing this.  He shook his head, grinning, "You are fucking amazing."

Sherlock got that slightly stunned look compliments sometimes gave him.  "Obvious."

"Amazing," John affirmed, voice gone low.  His eyes were on Sherlock's mouth.  "You can tell me to shut up with the compliments if you want."

"No," Sherlock said, "It's . . . all right."  He was staring at John.

If it had been anybody else, John would have been pretty sure the way he was leaning in was pretty unmistakable.  But with Sherlock, maybe not.

John brushed his mouth briefly over Sherlock's.  Just a peck, chaste, practically the kind of kiss he'd seen particularly demonstrative girls give their friends.  "Brilliant," he murmured.

He shifted back, half-standing with just one knee on the couch, waiting for some kind of explosion.

Sherlock blinked.  He spoke, but he was apparently trying to say three things at once and what came out was a garble with a question mark at the end.  He blinked again, looking more disturbed by his own lapse than the kiss.  His eyes flicked all over like he thought he was facing an impostor in a John-Suit and was looking for the zip up the back.

"Just fucking fantastic."  John leaned in again slowly, giving him plenty of chance to get out of it. "Tell me if this isn't okay."  He was a little shocked when his mouth landed on Sherlock's without one protest or push away.

Right, then.  Giving this a go.  Kissing a bloke.

Sherlock's lips moved slightly with John's first tentative press, but nothing more. With Sherlock sitting up and John balanced half-kneeling on the couch, they were just about level.  John's chin brushed skin as he adjusted his angle, trying to find something that would feel right, and there was no actual stubble, because stubble was something Sherlock had to work at, but that wasn't a woman's skin. 

John pressed slightly harder, seeking that moment he'd always found before with women: the moment when things clicked and the kiss came alive.  There were faint whiffs of smell -- a bit of cologne, chemicals, maybe some deodorant, and, no getting around it, he smelled like a bloke.  John was kissing a bloke, and he was utterly pants at it.

No.  He was not going to let himself sabotage this.  If Sherlock pushed him away, if Sherlock said he wasn't interested, fine.  John wouldn't be too sorry.  But the guilt was not going away until he knew he'd really given this a try, given them a chance.

Kissing Sherlock,  Brilliant, mad, maddening man. 

Man.  Damn it.

Sherlock.  This was Sherlock, here, alive. 

And he'd been gone

John felt something in him lurch and he kissed Sherlock the way he would have kissed him that day, the way he would have kissed him on top of Barts.  Sure and firm and caressing so it was unmistakable: Sherlock was not alone, not alone, not alone.  John tilted his head and slipped his tongue into Sherlock's mouth, fearless and feverish because if he'd had the choice he'd have followed this man off that roof, followed him anywhere, everywhere -- never let him be alone.

Sherlock made a soft noise in his throat and opened more.  Then he abruptly pulled his head back and turned his face away, and at the same moment took the sides of John's jumper in two firm handfuls, keeping John from stepping back.  It was the most thoroughly mixed signal John had ever received. 

Sherlock's breath was coming a bit fast.  That turned-away face worried John quite a lot.

"If you're not interested, just say the word, Sherlock," John said hurriedly.  "It's fine.  Seriously.  It was just an idea.  Could be a rotten one;  I am an idiot."  That was simple bait, really, and it worked too, Sherlock turned back to him.

"Is this a joke?" he asked, in a quiet, oddly tight voice.

"What the fuck kind of joke, Sherlock?" John asked, too out of his depth for the moment to figure out where that question was coming from.

Sherlock slowly relaxed his grip on John's jumper and John moved back a bit as Sherlock stood up.  John wasn't sure whether he was meant to be staying close or not.

Now Sherlock was a bigger presence.  John knew Sherlock wasn't actually remarkably tall, only an inch or so over six feet, but he had a knack of looming. 

"Try again," directed Sherlock, which ought to have answered the question, except for the flat inflectionless way he said it.

John was going to bloody have to stand on his tiptoes, wasn't he?  Maybe that was the aim of the exercise, give Sherlock a laugh.

That question about the joke . . . oh god.  He could just see it, some little twat at school getting their own back -- because no way had Sherlock Holmes not been an infuriating hateful little swot as a kid -- by kissing him and then laughing at him.  Sherlock wouldn't have given them the satisfaction of any visible reaction, but he'd have silently absorbed it, along with everything else that had left him so isolated, so hungry for praise.

John put his fingers against Sherlock's jaw, just stroking, and at once Sherlock bent.  John still had to tilt his head back a bit and lean up. He pressed Sherlock's full lower lip between his, a nearly dry press and quite tender, then the same for that complex recurve of the upper lip.

When his open mouth pressed Sherlock's next, Sherlock's tongue slid slightly forward at once.  It wasn't exactly tentative, but very, very careful.  The kiss stayed like that, both of them barely moving, just breathing together, and Sherlock's breath came faster and faster. 

Finally Sherlock pulled back, and for one long breath his eyes were closed.  John thought he looked needy or fragile.  Maybe that was how lust looked on Sherlock.  Since it was Sherlock, the possibility he was faking everything couldn't ever be totally discounted either.  

"Is kissing as far as this goes?" Sherlock asked.

"I'm not after anything you don't want, Sherlock."

"As charming as I find your assurances that you intend to respect my limits, John," Sherlock said, sounding as if he didn't find them particularly charming at all, "that was never a question."

Suddenly this felt a bit more like a normal conversation with Sherlock again.  "Yeah? What is the question then?"

"Do you intend an evening of casual necking, or are you willing to take me to bed?"

Oh god, this would have been a lot easier if Sherlock had been capable of just letting things happen.  But the word necking made John suddenly imagine biting Sherlock's long neck; he was surprised how much he liked the idea. 

"Yeah," John said, aware his voice wasn't very strong, "Yeah, I'm -- yeah.  Willing."

"You've repeatedly said you're not gay," Sherlock said.  He just had to bring that up, when John was just about not concentrating on how tall Sherlock was and how much less breast than usual had been against his chest during that last kiss.

"Right.  Okay.  But, you, Sherlock.  You're incredible and, and brilliant.  You're exceptional.  And . . . well, that's what the word means."  Sherlock aside, John seldom felt like an idiot, but good lord he sounded like one just now.

"Not gay except for me."  Sherlock sounded incredulous.

And yeah, said like that it sounded stupid and really bad, but just keep moving past it.  "My sister says she makes a policy: no sleeping with straight women, 'cos, if they've seen Portia di Rossi and they're not gay yet, she doesn't reckon she'd make a difference.  But I can't see you thinking that just because, I dunno, Zachary Quinto does nothing for me you wouldn't."

"Because I'm exceptional," Sherlock said dubiously.

"Do you have a policy of not sleeping with straight men?"

"I have a policy of not sleeping with anyone."

John couldn't tell if the feeling in his gut was disappointment or relief.  "So, yeah, not interested, then.  Married to your work.  Right.  Sorry."  He started to move back.

Sherlock sighed as if John were being dim and moved with him, keeping the small gap between them exactly the same size.  "John, I may have mentioned it before: you are exceptional."

That was very nearly dizzying.  It felt like a compliment, only bigger, out of scale with ordinary John Watson, like he'd been knighted while he wasn't paying attention. 

If Sherlock was running true to form, of course, anything nice he said would end up gutted within a minute.

"Just . . . making sure I'm not misunderstanding -- " John began.

Sherlock gave him one of those you cannot be this slow looks.  As usual, Sherlock's response was to talk faster.  "Yes, I'm a virgin, by any standard, though I've been kissed and fairly thoroughly groped on occasion, and I've masturbated.  Yes, I've never been interested in sex with other people in the past.  And yes, I am interested in sex with you.  I haven't the least idea why.  I've been propositioned by more attractive members of both sexes."

There it was.  But John had been expecting it.  He was aware he was nothing like elegant, and couldn't be called exactly rugged either.  And he looked his age, which ruled out cute.  And that more or less eliminated all the possibilities when it came to being an attractive bloke, didn't it?  He reckoned his face was sort of appealing all the same, but then, it was his face, so he was likely biased.  Then again, he'd just been informed he rated being Sherlock's first, and Sherlock was a genius, so apparently looks weren't everything.

He'd never been sure if the business about Sherlock not knowing anything about sex was serious on Mycroft's part.  It had seemed believable that it was true, but equally likely that it had been a strange Holmesian joke and Sherlock had actually gone to bed with loads of people, if only because he wanted a statistically significant sample size for data collection.

But no, in his own words, a virgin.  Well, on the one hand, it meant Sherlock wasn't likely to demand anal sex on the first go, with whips and chains for afters.  On the other hand, it meant John had to go on taking the lead here.

"We can do it with the lights off, if you like," John said, keeping his voice light.

"I didn't say you were repulsive," Sherlock protested.  "Wait.  Does the light level have any real effect?"

"Most people prefer it dim," John said, trying not to sound hopeful.  "More intimate.  Less distraction."

"And presumably less discomfort for those not confident displaying their naked bodies for scrutiny."

"That too," he admitted.  "In London there's nearly always enough light coming through the windows."

He finally realised that Sherlock's gaze kept fixing on his mouth.  Right.  Not supposed to be talking, supposed to be doing.  He closed the gap again and leaned up, hands resting lightly on Sherlock's shoulders. 

Sherlock's mouth found his this time, caressing.  John hadn't been wrong, that was a good mouth, plush and hot.  Sherlock took a handful of John's jumper again. 

John began to slide his own arms down round Sherlock's waist, to show him it was okay to go beyond clutching at clothes.  Not just hungry for praise, John reckoned, hungry for touch as well, poor sod.

A soft sound vibrated from Sherlock's mouth against John's, and John was tugged tight into Sherlock's embrace.  John's eyes flew open.  Sherlock was hard.  Not just half-hard, starting to be aroused, like John, but a rigid hot length against John's belly.

John had to tear his mouth away and press his face into Sherlock's shoulder for a moment.  He hoped it looked like lust.  He could feel a giggle welling up.  He'd always thought all those is that a gun in your pocket jokes were sad macho shit.  But he'd never been on this side of a hard-on before.  And it turned out it did, it actually did, feel a bit like a concealed weapon.  Hot, like one that had been fired recently.  He was not going to actually laugh.  He was not.

"John?" Sherlock asked.

He raised his head.  "Just, you're more into this than I was expecting."  His strained voice sounded enough like lust, didn't it?

Sherlock frowned, looking the way he did when a new clue didn't fit with his pet theory. He pressed John closer still.  "You're not erect."

"I am, a bit.  Getting there.  I'm older than you; don't rub it in."

"No?" Sherlock murmured with mock-innocence, and rubbed deliberately against John.

John groaned.  Sherlock noticed what words you used when ordering Chinese or asking for a serviette and could diagnose your school career based on your adverbs and conjunctions.  If he started making a point of looking out for double entendres, it would never end.

He also groaned because a warm body sliding firmly against his cock felt so good.  It had been a long while.

And Sherlock kept bloody doing it, rocking against him.  John's breathing sped up.  When he managed enough concentration to look at Sherlock's face, he had to groan again.  Sherlock's gaze was fixed on him, and he looked fascinated and intent.  And determined. 

John had sometimes thought about something like this before, about what it would be like if he ever made the offer and Sherlock took him up on it.   He'd completely underestimated the effect that just seeing Sherlock's diamond-focus gaze deployed sexually would have on him.

He caught Sherlock by the back of the neck and tugged him down into a kiss with all the brakes off, pushing his tongue inside Sherlock. 

Sherlock moaned, no other word for it, and his hands now clutched at handfuls of the back of John's jumper.  His mouth pressed and moved gently around John's invading tongue like he wanted it there, right there.  He was just barely sucking on it.  He might have been the taller one, the one leaning down, but his mouth over John's was soft and entirely receptive and Christ, riding John's tongue.

John had been fairly sure he could rely on autonomous physical reactions to get him through this; enough stimulation of the right kind and he was bound to come, even if he wasn't actually that turned on by Sherlock.  Here was something more he hadn't expected: Sherlock reacted to kissing like it was the hottest thing that had ever happened to him, and that was making John hard.

He pushed, hardly thinking about it, and Sherlock took it, even when the kiss got briefly so hard the press of lips against teeth began to hurt a little.  John pulled back immediately.  Hurting Sherlock was the last thing on earth he wanted.

Sherlock was panting now.  "Tell me what you want," he breathed, looking down at John.  His lips were red with the kissing and John's brain fixed on them.  No.  He was not saying that.  Christ, he was dealing with a virgin here.  And he really wasn't sure he could handle oral sex with a bloke. 

"You want my mouth," Sherlock said.  He'd gone from baritone to basso.  "You're staring.  You want to -- "

John kissed him again, spoke only in gaps, not letting up fully until he was done.  "To kiss your mouth," and then, "It's a sexy mouth, Sherlock," and finally, "Mouth like this, kissing is a bloody end to itself."

When he backed off, Sherlock actually chuckled.  John assumed it was because his attempt at distraction had been too transparent.  But Sherlock said, "You like shutting me up.  That's it."

John grinned.  "Certain appeal, yeah."

"I might try being rude -- you'd likely enjoy silencing me even more."

"Right, and am I supposed to be convinced by the idea you ever need an excuse to be rude?"

"Just trying to find what will arouse you enough that you'll finally take me to bed, John."

John blinked.  Right.  Yes.  He'd been building up slowly on autopilot, going on a lifetime of heterosexual conditioning.  If there was one thing that should be an advantage of sex with another bloke, it was that neither of them needed to spend ages on foreplay.

The fact he was with another bloke was pretty unmissable, and if he were thinking clearly he'd have realised that, given how hard Sherlock had already been minutes ago, the man must be aching now.

"Being asked will pretty much do it every time.  Mine?"  Usually he'd have suggested the other person's bed, giving himself leeway to get away afterwards, but this wasn't about John's convenience.  Christ, his first time Sherlock might need the space to escape if he decided he didn't like it.

Sherlock nodded.

He'd been getting through it pretty well, all things considered, John thought.  Until the stairs.  Suddenly the question of which of them ought to go up first froze him.  It was his room, he should lead the way.  But then Sherlock would be behind him, which he found stupidly but undeniably unsettling.  Sherlock might feel the same if he was the one going first, and John would certainly feel uncomfortable right now having Sherlock's arse in his face.  Trying to go up side by side was such a twee idea it made John even more uncomfortable than the other options -- should they hold hands and skip too?.

"John?"  Sherlock prompted.

John shook his head.  Leading the way.  Right.  Yes.  As soon as the decision was made, it all stopped mattering.  He looked over his shoulder to check on Sherlock when he got to the landing.

"I'm not used to making such judgements, obviously," Sherlock said, "but I'd have to say it's a reasonably enticing arse, John.  Certainly nothing to be shy of."

"Thanks," John muttered, almost inaudibly.  Well, that was him told.  Serve him right for assuming his only 'reasonably enticing' arse would be some kind of irresistible temptation.

John knew how easy it was to lose the thread, lose momentum even with just a brief shift of location, so instead of worrying about next steps -- whether he should be the first to undress, or how much of their kit either of them should get off before getting into bed, or whether it was better to turn down the covers now or roll around a bit on the duvet first -- the first thing he did as Sherlock stepped into his bedroom was pull him close and try another kiss.  With the lights off, the light from the window was, yeah, about right -- dim: he could see enough, but maybe not too much. Good.

Sherlock folded warmly around him, one hand settling on the small of John's back, the other touching on his shoulder and then cupping the side of John's face. 

John kept one hand on Sherlock's side, and slipped the other between them, teasing a finger between the buttons of Sherlock's shirt, feeling the warm skin underneath.  Sherlock gasped.  There, good.  Most things should translate just fine.

John eased two buttons open and slipped his hand inside, caressing, stroking up, teasing near a nipple without quite touching it.  Sherlock swayed.

Eventually Sherlock's hand trailed down John's side and his fingers slipped in under John's jumper and vest. 

Sherlock's long fingers spanned the better part of John's belly, cool at first then warmed by his skin.  Hands on his skin under his clothes always felt terribly intimate, probably they reminded him of his first few times, furtive and dizzy with lust and hoping not to get caught, with his hand up Diane Dickinson's blouse and her hand slipping down into his trousers.

John got all Sherlock's buttons out of the way and slipped both hands inside to stroke Sherlock's sides.  Sherlock took a shuddering breath and stepped back while trying to keep his mouth on John's at the same time.  Both hands pulled on the hem of John's jumper but Sherlock tried to keep kissing right up until the jumper, with the vest caught in it, was pulled between their faces.

John raised his arms to let Sherlock finish peeling the clothes away, remembering being a teenager and doing much the same thing, full of uncoordinated confusion about what he wanted most -- nudity or more of a hot mouth, and trying to have both at once.

Occasionally John found himself with odd protective feelings about Sherlock, which was an absurd way to feel about a grown man with six inches of height and probably thirty IQ points on him.   Nonetheless, Sherlock was generally graceful and confident (sometimes to the point of parody) and to see him fumbling a bit here gave John a weird urge to shield him from... something.

Sherlock dropped John's tangled and mostly inside-out clothes carelessly on the floor, eyes fixed on John's chest.  John had a bizarre moment of wishing it were dimmer or his shoulders were more muscular, before he realised his shoulders, or shoulder, was apparently exactly what Sherlock wanted to look at.  Sherlock reached out and stroked fingertips just around the ugly divot in John's flesh.

"Genuine as the sexual motive is," Sherlock said, voice still low and now a bit thick, "I should admit at this point that I've been seeking a pretext to examine this for a long time."

"Oh," John said.

"I thought it would be better to say so.  In the interests of honest disclosure."

John let him test the lumpily puckered skin around the hole and try the texture of the surrounding fan of faint silvery and dull-red streaks where they'd had to cut out infection.  

John was not going to say one fucking word about whether Sherlock "I'm a fake" Holmes would know honest disclosure if it bit him on the bollocks.  And for the moment that meant he had to simply not say any words at all.  He didn't want to be angry now.  He was not going to be angry now.  He took a breath and let Sherlock's scrutiny just be something that happened, nothing really to do with him.

"This bothers you," Sherlock said moving back reluctantly. 

John caught his hand and brought it back to the shoulder, and let Sherlock turn him so he could match the scar on John's back.  John wouldn't have been shocked if he'd gone to switch the lights on for a better view.

Sherlock seemed to take a long time to look, then abruptly he stepped back and pulled off his own jacket and shirt, treating the expensive things with no more care than he'd shown for John's less-than-posh gear.  Before they had hit the floor, he'd pulled John into a bare-chested embrace.  "John," he murmured hoarsely. 

"Everything you hoped it would be?" John asked, hoping he didn't sound too harsh.

Sherlock just kissed him, sloppy with urgency. "Lie down," he demanded.  "Lie down with me, John.  Now."

John stepped back and sat on the edge of the bed to take off his shoes.  Instead of sitting by him, Sherlock went to one knee to unlace one glove-like black oxford then the other, and peel off his absurd silk socks.  The effect was like a sprinter lunging out of a crouch as he surged up barefoot and crowded John back into the bed, John belatedly deciding to try to tug the covers down under them.

The duvet ended up in an uncomfortable lump under their hips as they lay in a tangle.  Sherlock seemed to be determined one of them be on top of the other, but didn't seem to be able to decide which, so they rolled clumsily back and forth.

John gently pulled Sherlock so they lay on their sides, facing each other.  Sherlock seemed happy enough to allow it, but once they were pressed close, he kept shifting fretfully.  John tugged at him a bit and Sherlock gave a relieved groan as the new position pressed his erection against John's hip.  John ran his hands soothingly up and down Sherlock's back.  The skin was hot and sleek.

"Would you like an opportunity to shut me up?" Sherlock rasped against John's hair, just as unselfconscious about rocking his cock against John as he was about the transparent request for more kissing. 

John wondered vaguely whether Sherlock had a fetish for scars specifically, or if it was just his general interest in violence of all types that had him so stirred up.

"John?  I'm prepared to attempt to surpass all previous levels of rudeness," Sherlock offered.

John laughed despite himself.  "I'd be tempted to hold out, just to see what comes out when you're actually trying."

Sherlock made a disgruntled sound. 

Charmed against his better judgement, John took Sherlock's face between his hands and sucked softly on Sherlock's lower lip.  Sherlock bucked twice and when John bit down lightly made an almost wounded sound that sent a twitch of interest to John's own flagging erection.

He felt another twitch at the whine of urgent protest Sherlock made when he took his mouth away.  John put his mouth on Sherlock's jaw, then indulged -- very gently -- in that bite he'd imagined on Sherlock's neck.

"John!" Sherlock gasped out, neck stretching taut under John's teeth.  Then he let go of John and jerked back, frantically undoing his trousers. 

While he had the opportunity, John pushed the bedclothes down further and opened his own trousers and started to push his pants out of the way.

And there was Sherlock's cock, stuck out the vee of his expensive trousers, looking thick and stiff and so dark with blood it was nearly purple.

His annoyance earlier had distracted him enough that shirtless cuddling hadn't fazed him.  But, well.  There was a foreign cock in his bed.  God.  Why had he been so sure he could do this?  Any minute now they'd both be naked and he'd have to reach out and --

Sherlock, chest heaving, didn't give him more time to think, but wrapped himself around John again.  He had only barely got his pants and trousers out of the way, and the bunched fabric rubbed John uncomfortably.  John pushed the clothing further down and adjusted Sherlock's hips again so Sherlock's bare cock slipped hard and hot and slightly slick against the skin of John's belly.  

"John! Oh," Sherlock choked, gulping for air. 

John cupped the back of Sherlock's head in his hand and held him where he was, face pressed into John's neck.  Sherlock sobbed, frantic, "John, John."  As if this meant something, as if John had got through to him.

"I've got you," John murmured, amazed that Sherlock could ever be like this.  "I'm here."

Sherlock's hips twisted, grinding his cock hard against John's skin, and he gasped out a last desperate, "John."  In Sherlock's deep, wrecked voice, John's name sounded rich, the J gone exotic, the vowel guttural, the n nearly swallowed: Dzjhwn.  John wished he could see what Sherlock's face was like just now, but it was hidden hard against John's skin.

John realised he could feel Sherlock's cock pulsing out hot ejaculate all over his stomach.  It was really entirely disgusting, and not, strictly speaking, safe sex, but it was just biology, he could handle it. It was over soon enough.  And that left John with what suddenly felt like a decidedly surplus erection. 

Sherlock was taking shuddering breaths, and John held him.  This was just as essential a moment as that first kiss -- Sherlock wasn't going to feel abandoned after sex, not for one moment.  John kissed Sherlock's damp brow, stroked his heaving back.

When his breathing had evened out a bit, Sherlock pulled back slightly, still not looking at him, and began wiping at the streaks on John's skin.

"That's all right," John said, "I  -- "

Sherlock's come-wet hand moved down, down, and slid over the head of John's cock. 

John's reaction consisted of a strangled yell and a savage heave of his hips and a mind apparently wiped blank. 

Before he could get his wits back, Sherlock had tipped back and pulled John half over him.  Sherlock's slickened hand was between their bellies and the other was pressed to the small of John's back.  "Come on, John," he rumbled, now staring avidly up at John's face.  He rocked slightly and his hand on John's back encouraged John to thrust into him.

He was fucking Sherlock's big hand, and Sherlock's grip rippled subtly, obscenely, to make him fuck harder.

John rose onto his elbows, slipping his forearms under Sherlock's back.  After a moment he curled his fingers over Sherlock's shoulders from underneath, gripping for leverage. Then he was grunting, rutting, desperate to come. 

He didn't even mean to look at Sherlock's face, it was only an accident.   With every one of John's thrusts, Sherlock's eyes narrowed and his face tensed, just slightly, like he was feeling it, really feeling it, like John was actually --

John's hips snapped forward and he bit down hard on Sherlock's collarbone as he came.

For what felt like minutes he lay there on Sherlock's chest, too stunned with shame to speak or move.  He barely noticed as Sherlock's hand let go and slipped out from between them. 

The need to check on the bite got him moving.  He shifted his arms free and leaned back to give it a serious look.  It had felt like something that had to bleed.  Hell, it had felt like he was taking a chunk out of Sherlock's flesh.   But it looked like he hadn't even quite broken the skin.  It would bruise horribly though.

"Christ," he whispered.  "I am so fucking sorry."

Sherlock pulled at John, who was still pliant with remorse and confusion, and guided him into a languid kiss. 

John only let that go on for a few moments before pulling back.  In a cardboard box under the bed he kept his few mementos, and on top of the box sat whatever book he was reading when he couldn't sleep, and a couple of clean flannels.  (Among the mementoes was Sherlock's obsessively annotated 2010 British Pharmacopeia, which John really needed to sneak back onto Sherlock's shelves in the almost certainly forlorn hope its disappearance hadn't been noted.)

John reached down and pulled out a flannel.  He picked up Sherlock's hand, which seemed both freakishly large and also delicate, nearly fragile.  He gently wiped the palm, the wrist, each finger.  Then he wiped his come from Sherlock's pale belly.  Sherlock watched him and shivered once at the stroke of the cloth over his skin.  When he was sure Sherlock was cleaned up, he gave his own chest a wipe.

"Thank you," Sherlock said quietly, and John wondered how many minutes this bout of post coital politeness might last.  "Lie back," he directed.

John did.  Sherlock took the cloth from him and carefully wiped around John's cock, and then tugged John's pants and trousers up, leaving them unfastened.  Then he did the same to his own.  It was the most terrifyingly intimate thing John could remember ever happening to him.

After dropping the flannel off the side of the bed -- John's room had now reached a level of squalor not seen since uni -- Sherlock pulled the sheet and duvet up and settled them around waist-level while settling himself face-down, right on top of John.

John wondered where Sherlock had learned about after-sex cuddling, and whether he could be persuaded out of it.  At the moment, John was just about holding himself together, but when Sherlock left he suspected he was going to go quietly to pieces for a few minutes.  He couldn't think about how he'd acted, couldn't believe it.  It was all just a bit too much, and he needed some distance, to deal with it, to get himself back on track.

Sherlock shifted a bit, flat bony chest against John's.  Then he moved his chin a bit in what actually felt like a nuzzle.  It dawned on John at last that Sherlock had settled in.  He was staying put for the foreseeable future.

"John," he murmured.  Right, maybe less a nuzzle than adjusting to let himself speak.  "Would a critique be considered impolite?"

A critique.  Well, it was Sherlock, what else had he been expecting?

Actually, be honest about this, he'd just made a complete dog's breakfast of his first fumbling attempt at gay sex with Sherlock, a man whose motto in life was Geniuses and Experts Only Please. He was about to be called the Anderson of sex, he just knew it.  Sherlock ought to wear a warning like a funfair attraction: You must be this intelligent to ride.

"All right," he murmured.  "Let's have it, then."

Sherlock didn't start off right away.  For a moment John thought maybe he was going to be kind and let the moment pass.  Then he said, "You've made me want to do it again, but I can't possibly manage another erection."

John lay very still for a moment.  Nothing else.  "That's your critique?  You want another go but you can't manage yet?"

His voice had felt very dull, but Sherlock seemed to have heard the incredulity.  "When I masturbate, afterwards I don't want more.  It removes the urge entirely for long periods."

John tipped his head farther back on the pillow, shutting his eyes, resigned and amazed and amused.  "This conversation is going to end with me apologising for giving you a taste for orgasms, isn't it?"

Sherlock's weight shifted.  He kissed the taut skin under John's up-pointed chin.  They weren't either of them turned on and working towards orgasm now, so that kiss was, what?  Maybe more of Sherlock's ideas of what people did in bed;  John wondered where he'd picked all that up, hoped it wasn't Barbara Cartland or something.

Sherlock's head settled again.  "Go to sleep, John."

He was going nowhere.  John caught at the tail of his normal post-sex sleepiness and managed to avoid thinking long enough to drop off.

 


 

Sherlock, all his muscles warmly relaxed, sprawled half-naked on top of John Watson and almost immediately decided that this bit was better than the sex itself.  Now he could lie here, remarkably comfortable in the wake of orgasm, and analyse and mentally revisit all the fascinating details and delicious sensations of their sexual encounter as he committed the entire event to memory. 

John, a considerate and experienced sexual partner, had produced a flannel and gently wiped away their emissions, a touch Sherlock hadn't even considered, but had been pleased to take part in. So there was relatively little mess and Sherlock felt confident he could lie comfortably on John's warm body indefinitely.  The position -- face-down, covering John's body with his own -- appealed to Sherlock tremendously.  It was physically far more comfortable than he would have credited before trying it.  Probably there were other attractions he had not consciously considered yet -- the way it suggested further sex acts, for one.  (It had not escaped him that John had noted that Sherlock couldn't manage more yet.)

When John had first kissed him, Sherlock had three reactions -- surprise, determination, and resentment.

He hadn't predicted that John would initiate sex with him until a bare moment before it happened.  It had come as a complete surprise, though a happy one once he'd determined John actually meant it.

The prospect of re-examining the data and identifying where his assumptions had gone wrong,  had filled him with considerably more hungry anticipation than had the prospect of the immediate sexual activity.  Previous experience had taught him that he would have trouble even maintaining his concentration — much less an erection — when it came to the whole tedious business of touching another person.  He'd never cared enough to really try before.

But he'd been determined to do his best, because this was a totally unexpected opportunity.

John Watson considered friendships more or less disposable (though Sherlock knew better than to ever voice this judgement to him).  John had dropped boyhood friends from his house at King Edward Grammar School as soon as he left home, and similarly left behind his King's College friends when he went back to Chelmsford.  All his friends in Britain had been abandoned at deployment, and his friends from Afghanistan forgotten now he was home.  (There was Stamford, of course, but it was clear their current relationship was a new and different thing, not a continuation of their student friendship.)

Oh, John might consider all of these to still be friends, might still meet up with one or another on rare occasions, have a conversation by phone or email, but he no longer saw them regularly, or thought of them every day or was willing to drop everything at their request.  In short, he no longer treated them the way Sherlock had observed John to treat a friend.

Sherlock had come to these conclusions about John years ago, at about the same time he first realised how valuable John's presence in his life had become; in other words, just in time to appreciate how problematic this aspect of John would prove for him personally. 

He had tested his hypotheses by asking whether John kept in touch with certain army mates (implying they might be a useful resource) and John had provided the devastating answer that, "Sometimes friends just drift apart."

There was, however, a class of people John considered potentially permanent fixtures in his life: romantic partners.  He had once or twice explicitly spoken about marriage, about settling down.

And so, however little personal enjoyment Sherlock had expected to find in the evening's activities, he did not miss that this was his opportunity to convert their relationship, in John's mind, to something with the potential for permanence.

Sherlock had therefore felt somewhat resentful to find himself facing what would likely be his only chance to convince John that he would make an adequate romantic -- for John this appeared to be interchangeable with sexual -- partner, with no time to prepare.

And it was not a simple prospect.  John might have initiated contact, but it was glaringly obvious that he was still troubled by the idea of himself in a homosexual context, which meant Sherlock must be careful not to overwhelm or intimidate him.  On the other hand, if this was the only chance, it would clearly behove Sherlock to convince John that Sherlock could be relied on to provide better than an average level of sexual gratification.

But Sherlock had insufficient experience in this arena to guarantee that.  If only he'd had time to prepare!

His initial plan had been to play up his inexperience slightly, to keep John confident in a dominant sexual role, and subtly apply all his previous knowledge of John, combined with moment-by-moment analysis, to bring John as much pleasure as possible.

As it turned out, there was a limiting factor Sherlock had not considered.  John was apparently phenomenally gifted at sex.  (An alternative interpretation was that Sherlock's previous would-be partners -- those who'd had any interest in his enjoyment in the first place -- had been phenomenally inept.)  Sherlock's concentration on planning his next action kept splintering as his body shuddered in unexpected bliss.   It had taken only a few minutes of John's mouth and hands caressing him before he'd been catastrophically distracted by the quickest, most insistently distracting erection he'd ever experienced.

And then John had let him examine the wound on his shoulder, despite the fact that the vulnerability of it clearly made him deeply uncomfortable.

Sherlock had seen occasional glimpses of the scar before but never appreciated how it dipped in, deep as John's shallow navel.  He'd not quite expected the smooth but uneven texture of the surrounding scars.  But most of all he'd never held the path of the bullet between his two hands.  Never felt how inevitably the impact had broken the first two ribs despite the bullet itself managing to travel at an angle through John's body that touched neither.  Never seen exactly where the bullet had brutalised its way through flesh and muscle and almost certainly lung.  And never felt, most spectacular and terrible, the uneven reconstructed blade of John's shattered scapula.

The sight, the feel of that had made Sherlock lightheaded with shock and regret.

If John had only done this before.  If only he had let Sherlock see, before Moriarty and the roof and that long wasteland time killing his way back to John.

Because then he'd have known exactly.  They'd all had guns, those men and women whose job had been to kill John.  They'd have done this to John again, but this time not leaving him the space to survive and wear it as a scar.

Yes, Sherlock had known that, but only in the abstract, only in theory.  He'd not seen, felt, (and later, secretly, tasted) what guns were capable of doing to John.  If he'd carried that certain visceral knowledge with him, he was almost certain it would have been easier to live through what he'd had to do to see it never happened again.

At least now he could cover John's body with his own, shielding him literally, directly.  The feeling that any bullet meant for John would have to pass through him first was both heady and steadying.  It didn't matter that there were no more guns aimed here, the feeling, childish as it was, pleased him.  When John shifted in his sleep and nearly rolled Sherlock off, Sherlock moved to drape himself securely over John's new position and, with a satisfied sigh, took another tiny taste of the scar.  The taste itself was only the same salt-sweat as any part of John's chest, but his delicate tongue appreciated the texture even more than his fingertips had.

If direct experience of John's scar had been all that came from this, it would have been a profitable evening.

But finally seeing the scar had also filled him with something that was mysteriously bruise-like in the mind: aching wherever the idea of John touched.  And that had combined with his unprecedented muzz of lust into a state of being he would be days analysing until he could make sense of it. 

The indignity and mess of sex had barely bothered him.  He'd rather sickeningly come all over John, but while his whole body was sweetly seizing in orgasm, that had been only one more aspect of the swooning loveliness of John being here, with him, here where he should be, here, his.

Soon afterwards, when he'd started trying to clean up the mess, Sherlock had realised he'd entirely failed at his original ambition for the evening.  He'd achieved orgasm, and John hadn't.  So much for establishing himself as a reliable sexual partner.

The notion of John fucking his hand had been sparked simply by the feeling of slickness on his palm.  John's discomfort about expressing his desire to have Sherlock's mouth on him had been palpable, and Sherlock hadn't been about to push on that issue until he'd done more preparation.  But providing an agreeable alternative -- equally slick and equally capable of  deliberate caress and massage -- seemed sensible.  And John had reacted to the improvisation with feverish ardour. 

The sudden rapture of seeing John's steel shatter into jagged shards right there in Sherlock's arms had left Sherlock shaken and delighted. 

He tentatively declared his first sexual experience a success, pending further information.

And he could -- would -- prepare better for next time.

This was going to work.  Sherlock had already established that he could satisfy John's need for danger and meaningful work, by including him on cases.  That was easy and very enjoyable.

Now he'd determined that he was also capable of satisfying John's sexual needs.  Despite his early worries, that had turned out to also be not only quite achievable, but unexpectedly pleasant.

And Sherlock was quite confident of his skills as a mimic, so he was fairly sure he could fake whatever needed faking to satisfy John's emotional needs as well.

Because, although Sherlock had none of these needs, that didn't make John's any less real.  Sherlock was prepared to return any declarations John made -- best to let John take the lead there, to avoid anything he'd find uncomfortable -- and take any small actions necessary to keep John content (which was to say, mildly combative and cheerfully exasperated).

Sherlock was, of course, incapable of really having that kind of emotional response to anyone.  All this was simply a practical approach given the facts: Sherlock was happiest when John was content, because if he was content, John wouldn't leave and wouldn't look for outside relationships, and John was necessary and John was his and Sherlock wanted John with him for the rest of Sherlock's life.  That was simply logical.

 

Chapter Text

 

The first time John woke up under Sherlock he didn't panic.  In fact, he felt a kind of relaxation or release, as if something heavy had fallen away with a heavy clonk.  Much as he'd avoided thinking about it, he'd been waking up every day with the small unspoken fear that it had all been a dream, or some kind of hallucination.  Waking up afraid that he'd been wandering around in a fugue state, talking to an imaginary Sherlock while everyone he knew shook their heads at him in pity.  Waking up afraid this would be the day he came back to the drab fog of sanity, and holding himself just slightly tensed against it, until he got downstairs each day and still saw Sherlock there.

But there was no question today;  Sherlock was here, he was presumably queer, and John could safely get used to it.

He was also awake, staring at John from extremely close quarters.

John had surfaced several times in the night, poked or pinched when one or the other of them shifted, and at least two of those times he was pretty sure Sherlock had been sleeping.  So at least he hadn't been staring at John the entire night.

"Morning," John said.  The frequent interruptions had left him less well rested than usual, and he was bleary.  His face probably was not rewarding Sherlock's scrutiny with any aesthetic value.

And what the hell was he doing?  He'd got through last night, yes, but he hadn't really expected it to happen; he'd never thought beyond it.  Now here he was with one half-naked bloke too many in his bed.  He'd probably never manage it again.  He'd get stuck panicking about Sherlock's cock and his own would shrivel.  This was a mistake, a stupid, stupid mistake.  He ought to --

What?  Tell Sherlock, sorry, I only offered you sex because I was sure you'd say no?  Abandon him?  If anybody else treated Sherlock like that, John would've shot them in the face.

And was this really so difficult that he wouldn't do it for Sherlock?  No, because there wasn't anything he wouldn't do for Sherlock.  Weird, scary, stupid, but true. 

He'd go on.  Make this work.  Wouldn't be all bad.  Parts of it he could quite look forward to.  Like the part where Sherlock finally got off him and he got feeling back in his legs.

Now he just had to hope his moment of panic hadn't showed too clearly on his face.

"You didn't critique me," Sherlock said.  So maybe he had missed the panic.

John squinted.  Sherlock's face was too close to take in properly.  "That's what you're leading with.  Okay, fine.  No.  Critique was your idea.  Not exactly part of my usual repertoire."

"I have yet to develop a repertoire.  I need feedback."

John sleepily fed this through his mental Sherlock-to-English translator.  Right.  Of course.  This was, in fact, a shameless demand for praise. 

"A-triple-plus.  Would shag again," John said,  just because it sounded funny in his head, and then hoped Sherlock wouldn't take it as an immediate come-on.

Sherlock shifted back an inch, letting John focus properly on more than one eye at a time.  He raised an eyebrow.  "Fast delivery?"

He had got hard awfully fast.  And come pretty quick too.  Maybe he was worried about it.

John shrugged.  "No complaints.  Not waiting on someone else for once makes a nice change."

"It isn't normal, to become erect so quickly from kissing."  It wasn't quite a question, but he sounded very doubtful.  Good god, was this Sherlock unsure of himself?

"I haven't done a survey, Sherlock."

"I tried kissing before.  I never became erect without other stimulation."

"Right, well, I'm very stimulating, me."

"You like sex."

"Yeah . . . "  Suddenly John had the feeling Sherlock was working up to something and he was about to get the Sherlock version of it's not you, it's me.  Probably something like, you're a perfectly adequate data point, it's my experimental parameters that don't work.  Well, that would make things easier then; it was fine, if Sherlock dumped him.  That wouldn't bother him.  He'd be fine with it.

"I never have,"  said Sherlock.

Oh christ.  John's stomach flipped over and the word virgin, which hadn't seemed so important last night, started clanging in his head.   And he'd been worried about how to keep this going.  Idiot.  Complete arse.  "Sherlock, you did  . . . you did want to do that, last night?  I mean, I didn't push you into -- "

Sherlock rolled his eyes and then, finally, rolled off John.  "Does sex make you amnesiac?  We had this discussion.  Explicitly.  Stop mis-emphasising my words."

Okay.  Good.  He didn't have to go commit hara-kiri in the bathroom then.

John turned on his side to look at Sherlock, who was now making a face at the ceiling. "So you did like it."

"Yes, yes, feel free to take the fact entirely as an endorsement of your technique and native appeal."

John stared.  "Nope.  Don't believe it.  That was a compliment.  I'm good, but nobody's good enough to make you nice."

"I said you're gifted at rubbing bits of bodies together.  I didn't call you incisive, inventive, or intelligent."

"Just in with a chance then."

Sherlock glanced at him, then chuckled.  Suddenly he rose up on one elbow.  "I want to kiss while we're laughing," he said, abruptly enthusiastic.

"You'll have to make me laugh then," John said, stretching comfortably against the pillow.

Sherlock's face fell slightly.  "You laugh at unexpected times.  It's one of your more attractive qualities."

"Oh, right, what Sherlock Holmes looks for in a bloke: frictional expertise and a wonky sense of humour.  I did wonder."

Sherlock was quiet for a moment.  Then he repeated, "Frictional expertise."

John grinned and raised his eyebrows.

Sherlock chuckled again and kissed John while he was grinning.  John hoped that was close enough.

Sherlock went on being enthusiastic about the kissing, and kept it up for ten minutes before his mobile rang.  (This was possibly the only reason Sherlock's morning sex habit didn't begin that very first day).

"John," Sherlock prompted, pulling back and then just lying there, despite the fact he was closer to the side of the bed where he'd dropped the clothes.

John climbed out of bed and dug into Sherlock's jacket until he found Sherlock's mobile while rolling his eyes at the laziness of the man.   But at least this seemed to mean that the out-of-bed relationship was going to go on as healthy -- which was to say, not -- as ever.  He checked the screen. "Lestrade."

Sherlock sighed.  "Yes, fine.  Perhaps he's found something interesting about that case."

John rolled his eyes, but answered.  "Hi, Greg."

"Got you answering his calls again has he?"  Lestrade said.

"Pretends he can't be arsed," John said.  "I think actually he believes the thing about mobile phone radiation and doesn't want to endanger his precious brain.  I'll name my tumour after him."

John was all too used to being the one answering Sherlock's calls and having his conversations for him despite the fact Sherlock was sitting right there doing fuck-all else except lounging.  Oddly enough, it wasn't even the first time he'd talked to Lestrade with Sherlock sitting on his bed, because sometimes Sherlock got bored waiting for John to wake up in the morning, and Sherlock only appreciated boundaries in that he enjoyed the ripping noise they made when he crossed them. 

John trusted that Lestrade, unlike Sherlock, couldn't hear post-coital over the phone.  

"The case is boring," Sherlock said.  "Tell him he can talk to Louise and Fred and Graham perfectly well without me."

"Is his highness still in a strop?" Lestrade asked.

"Always reckoned that was the ground state."

"Too right." Lestrade said.  "Anyway, when he can be bothered, we're talking to some friends of Marie Gibson this morning -- "

"Louise and Fred and Graham?" John asked.

There was a moment of silence on the line and John could just see Lestrade shaking his head and making that purse-lipped face of annoyance.  "Yeah, all right, go on."

"Sherlock, want to tell him how you managed that one?" John asked, sitting on the bed and holding out the mobile.

Sherlock didn't reach to take it.  "Obvious!" Sherlock groaned.  "No one with a pulse could miss it."

"Written on her calendar," John relayed to Lestrade, giving up and putting the mobile to his ear again.

"Yeah, that's where we got it too.  You can tell him we all do have pulses -- well, I'm not that sure about Thompson, to be honest -- but we appreciate how hard he works to raise our blood pressure."

John snickered. 

"Ask him if they've thought to look into the son's death," Sherlock directed.

"Sherlock says — " John began.

"I heard," said Greg.  He was silent for a moment.  "John, is he having a laugh, or does he really not know?"

"Know what?"

"What?" Sherlock demanded.

"Tell him the son's name was Neil Gibson," Lestrade said. 

"The son's name was Neil Gibson," John parroted, watching for Sherlock's reaction.

Sherlock frowned for a moment.  "I don't — "

"I know for a fact he's heard of it," Lestrade said, "because Dimmock's been bitching about being blown off for a week."

Sherlock's eyes and mouth suddenly went round, the way they did when his genius careened round some hairpin turn of logic and crashed into a conclusion.  With his curls a mess, barechested in John's bed, the familiar blissed-out expression suddenly had implications that made John feel extremely odd.  "Dimmock's Russian roulette case!"  Sherlock shouted, sitting up fully.  He snatched the mobile away from John.

"No," he barked after a moment.  And then, "No, I will not.  It's hardly my fault that even when Dimmock manages to have an intelligent thought he can't manage to express it properly.  What he told me was that he had a feeling."  He listened for a few more moments, and then said, "Yes, fine," and rang off, handing the mobile back to John.

"So, case is a bit interesting after all, is it?"

Sherlock grunted.

"Your battery's at critical," John said, waving it.

"You distracted me.  I'd have plugged it in if we hadn't been having sex.  Yours will be dead.  You've left it in your coat again, so that's not my fault."  Suddenly all Sherlock's energy seemed to snap on.  He bounced out of bed, holding up his trousers, and went for the door, leaving the rest of his clothes and the mobile for John to deal with. "Come on, John, case."  He went on down the stairs.

After tugging off his trousers and pants and putting his robe on, John gathered up all the clothes, discovered that not only Sherlock's jacket but his shirt was dry-clean only -- really? -- and put only his own gear (and a totally disgraceful flannel) into his laundry basket.  Sherlock's things he carried downstairs. 

Sherlock's door was open and he was standing in front of his stereo, which hung on the wall like modern art because Sherlock was, after all, a complete tosser in many respects.

John dropped the clothes on Sherlock's bed, and feeling saintly, plugged his mobile in for him.  When he looked up, Sherlock was still in the same position.

"Sherlock.  Are you after the shower or -- "

"You can go first.  I'm planning a playlist for sex.  I'm almost certain it will be enhanced by music.  I'll send you the list -- you get two vetoes."

"Right,"  John said.  Then his eyes narrowed.  "Yeah, why do I get two vetoes, now?  That's your idea of being reasonable.  What have you done?  How have you managed to do something offencive in the five minutes since you got out of bed?"

"To be fair, the actual escape happened some hours earlier.  I wasn't here to check on it."

"The escape," John said.

"I was distracted."

John rubbed a slow circle between his eyebrows and sighed, wishing he was really surprised.  "You know, I did think those mice in Mrs. Hudson's were awfully sleek and well-fed looking."

"You said I shouldn't tell you."

Oh god.  An experiment that involved mice and clingfilm.

"I stand by that.  And when Mrs. Hudson sees your little friend -- " He noticed Sherlock's face twitch, "christ, when she sees your little friends, I'll be able to honestly say I know nothing about this."

"I'll catch them."

"Didn't catch the three that got down to her flat earlier, did you?"

"That was the control group.  These should be . . . slower."

John put his hands over his ears.  "Taking a shower now --  preserving my precious ignorance."

When he took off his robe and hung it on the back of the bathroom door, he saw a sleek, well-fed, brown mouse at the corner of the floor. It took a few sluggish steps and then curled up and apparently went to sleep. 

"Think, mate," John said, "You could've been bought by a kid with a pet snake."  Sherlock probably had a painless euthanization in store for the mice once he'd run all the tests he liked on them. 

John considered trying to corral the mouse with the little bathroom rubbish bin without actually tipping cotton buds and bandages all over the floor. 

It was Sherlock's mouse, he could deal with it. "Oi," he called through the door.  "Are we actually licensed under the Animals Scientific Procedures Act?  I'm exposing a test subject to adult male nudity.  Hope that doesn't throw off your results."

There was silence for a moment, and then the door connecting the bathroom to Sherlock's bedroom opened.  Sherlock was in his own robe now, but he hadn't bothered to tie it, and he was naked underneath.  He stared at John, who flinched.  "Sherlock for christ's sake!"

"I didn't see you properly last night.  It's not fair," Sherlock said, voice low, and then he stepped close and kissed John.  John felt the silk of the robe and the heat of Sherlock's skin. 

John felt his face and neck go warm. The fact that he was actually blushing was more than embarrassing enough to warrant a blush in itself.  Sherlock stepped back, grinning hugely.  "This is so interesting," he said.  Then he pulled a plastic container from the robe's pocket, crouched down, scooped up the mouse, and left John to his shower.

Probably it was not the sign of a healthy and well adjusted psyche that it still bothered John more that Sherlock was a bloke than it did that Sherlock was utterly barmy. 

He took a shower and gave himself a really very thorough wash and refused to think about why.

Their late night had led to a very late morning, and by the time they reached the crime scene it was early afternoon. By night, with the patrol cars and hovering detectives and strobing lights, one terraced house looked much like another.  By day John saw that Marie Gibson's front door was a bright jaunty blue.  When people chose a paint colour, they never considered whether it would look jarring if their house ever became a crime scene. 

Donovan was wearing a wine coloured shirt with a low neck under her grey coat.  John disliked her a bit less these days, which wasn't saying much.  But she was still one of the most attractive women he'd ever met, and his heterosexuality appeared entirely undimmed by his first night with a bloke.

"I suppose your forensics teams have been through the whole house by now," Sherlock said.

"Yeah, we've done the unglamorous bit, as ever," she said.  She'd come through when it mattered, but still no love lost between Donovan and Sherlock.  "Bins and all."

Not actually fair, as Sherlock would dive head-first into a rubbish tip if he thought there was something interesting inside.

"With any result?" Sherlock asked, sceptically.

"No peanut anything.  Just packets and tins, from the same food as in the kitchen mostly.  Tissues, one of her epi pen things, a -- "

Sherlock spun and cut her off.  "There was an epi injector in the rubbish bin, with the kitchen trash?"

"Yeah, been used.  You're meant to toss them once they're used, aren't you?"  This was directed to John.

"Ought to go with medical waste, but people do put them in the rubbish, yeah."

"So she'd had another episode, quite recently," Sherlock said.

"You think it was an earlier attempt, someone tried to feed her peanuts another way, before the pills?" John asked.

Sherlock shrugged.  "It's certainly interesting."

"Oh lord," Lestrade said from the doorway.  "He starts finding things interesting, you know the case is about to go a bit Fellini.  We're two doors down.  Louise Bates' house.  We thought we'd talk to her, Graham Brown, and Fred Marlowe all together.  Bates confirmed they were the friends Marie Gibson played bridge with most weeks."

They walked down the little street.  "Her son had just died," John said.  "But she still had people over for bridge?"

"Didn't want to be alone?" Donovan suggested.  "We'll see what they say about it."

"And Grace?" asked Sherlock.  If John had it right, that was the other name down on the calendar to come to the bridge party -- which made five, come to think of it, not the right number for bridge unless John was mixing up his old-people card games.

"Daughter in law," Lestrade said. "That's the really odd bit."

"Widow of Neil Gibson, the one who died playing Russian roulette," Sherlock said.

"Which his mother reckoned was murder," Lestrade told them. "She told Dimmock she was sure Grace had done him in. Then a couple days later she's having her over for cards and nibbles."  His voice went higher and strained when he was describing people acting bizarrely.

Sherlock sighed. "So Dimmock's feeling about the case was provided externally."

"Well, then it turned out she'd never liked the wife. Grace had a drugs conviction, and the mother didn't think she was good enough.  So with all the evidence pointing to suicide..."

"And who did forensics on Neil Gibson's death?"  Sherlock demanded.

"Platt," said Lestrade. "And even you don't have a problem with Platt."

"He's generally less ham-handed than the others, but -- "

"Yeah, before you start coming up with theories, freak, did Dimmock mention there's video?"

Sherlock stopped and turned to stare at Donovan.

She nodded. "Yeah.  He did it sitting in front of his computer. Recorded it with his bloody webcam, didn't he? I dunno, maybe he was planning on putting it up on YouTube if he lived."

Sherlock's mouth stretched out into an expression of delighted anticipatory hunger. "Oh, oh, this is brilliant! Dimmock should be fined! If he'd bothered to lay out the facts I could have been on this case days ago!" So, as it turned out, John did know what lust looked like on Sherlock.

Louise Bates greeted them at the door.  She was dumpy and wore a pink cardie and had fluffy grey hair and looked a bit like a melted ice cream.  "Hello, Mr. Lestrade, officers," she said.  "Do come in.  I've got Graham and Fred settled in the lounge."  She had a strong but slightly creaky voice.  A pair of glasses hung on a long cord, resting open on the slope of her bosom.

John didn't look to see Sherlock's reaction to being lumped in with the police officers.  He was too busy noticing the appraising way the old lady looked over the four of them.  Lestrade generally got appreciative looks from all kinds of women, he was just that sort of good-looking.  John wasn't sure what the looks for Donovan and Sherlock meant, but for himself, well, he knew a motherly look when it was aimed at him.  He braced to be given biscuits.

The two old men sat on a sagging couch.  One looked leathery, maybe ten years older than John, the other was bent and a bit frail.

Lestrade and Donovan took a broad striped loveseat at a gesture from Louise Bates.  John sat in a yellow chair with a knitted afghan laid over it, but instead of taking the chair on the other side, Sherlock stood behind him, probably just preserving his ability to pace around annoyingly.

They started in on introductions but then it got bogged down.

"Sherlock -- heard that name somewhere, have I?"  Fred asked.

"Not a name you could forget," Graham said, voice creaking and a bit breathless with age.  "Sounds like a home security firm."

Donovan's mouth pinched closed hard and her eyes squinched up in amusement.  Lestrade's face went suspiciously blank.

"He's that detective, it was on the telly months ago," Louise Bates told them.  "Government wanted you to break up organised crime or some such thing, wasn't it?  So they had you fake your death."  

"Oh, well remembered.  Can't possibly talk about it, though.  Terribly hush-hush.  I had to sign the official secrets thingy!"  John couldn't see Sherlock's face, but he could hear the tone.  Sherlock had settled on a persona for the interview, evidently.  John knew this one: puckish, posh, and obviously gay, a doomed romantic schoolboy from a period drama.  Oh fucking christ.

Next came the ritual offering of tea and biscuits. Everyone but Sherlock took tea.  When the old lady brought out the tin of biscuits, John took the path of least resistance and let her push two on him, although he wasn't really in the mood.

Lestrade took one as well.  Donovan said, "No thank you, Ms. Bates."

"Watching your figure so the boys do too?" Mrs. Bates asked, smiling.

Donovan smiled back politely.

"And I suppose you're watching your figure as well, dear?" Louise Bates asked Sherlock.

"Or who else will?" he said.   John tried not to let his jaw clench in embarrassment, praying Sherlock didn't look as camp as he sounded right now.

"Oh, all sorts, I expect," said Louise Bates, looking amused.  So John supposed he understood this one -- Sherlock was pretending to think he was talking over the old lady's head, which allowed her to feel smug that she wasn't as out of touch as she thought he thought she was.  Which probably meant Sherlock reckoned she was the most useful of the witnesses, with the others too dull or slow to bother with.

"Obviously, we understand you're upset at the loss of your friend," Lestrade began.  "But we do need to understand what happened, and it's important we talk to you as soon as possible."

"Before our aging brains leak out all the facts," Louise Bates put in.

"You seem sharp as a tack as it is, Mrs. B," Sherlock said.  "All that lecturing trains the brain to remember."

She glanced at him.  "Lecturing, was I?"  She sounded as if she was enjoying this.

"You've a strong clear lecturer's voice.  And four red pens in the cup on your desk -- you're used to doing a fair bit of marking essays."

"She gave it up two years back," put in Fred. 

"Much to the sorrow of the students," Louise Bates said.  "They didn't know who to burn in effigy, last Guy Fawkes."

"Oh, Louise," Fred said fondly, "you know they adored you."  John reckoned he thought he was in with a chance there, while the old lady put up with him out of politeness.

"But you were about to ask us your questions, Mr. Lestrade," she prompted.  John also reckoned that even if she'd had any interest in her friend Fred, she was too busy enjoying Lestrade at the moment.  Ogling wouldn't be putting it too strongly.

"Yes.  The evenings playing bridge, that was a standing arrangement, every week?"

"Most weeks," Louise Bates said.  "Sometimes we used to do it at Graham's, but the last few years, since her husband died, always at Marie's."

"I offered, for this time.  I've got a decent table for it, see," Graham creaked.

"At first we thought she'd cancel, obviously, since she'd just lost Neil," Louise Bates said, "But she wanted people with her, she said.  Had enough grieving alone, wanted a bit of company.  Can't blame her.  And she said she'd just as soon do it at hers; I suppose it helped take her mind off things."

"You'd been doing this for a long time?" Lestrade asked.

"Used to be Louise and Marie and my Carla and Fred's Anne," Graham said.

"But I'd always come along, watch them at it," Fred said.  "When Annie passed, I didn't know what else to do with myself."

"We were happy to have you," Louise said kindly.

"And then Carla went, and they asked if I'd like to join in," Graham said.  "I always reckoned they just wanted someone they knew was a rotten player."

"Someone besides me," Fred said, and grinned a gappy grin.

"Better either of you than Neil," Louise said.  "That boy never lost.  Even when he was twelve and we'd let him sit in for just one game.  Demon with the cards.  Uncanny.  But he went on to do it professionally, you know."

John blinked at that.  He'd always reckoned professional gambler was a euphemism for unemployed compulsive gambler, but she sounded like she thought it was a good career path for her friend's son.

"So you'd known Marie Gibson long enough to know she had an allergy," Lestrade went on.

"Peanuts," Fred said.  "I remember, must be over twenty years gone -- when we were new to the neighbourhood, they'd invited Annie and me by, and we wanted to be good guests, brought over some of that fancy bridge snack stuff, from Marks and Sparks, and she went and hid in the loo until we'd taken it away again and her Toby had washed off the table."

"Had you ever seen her have a reaction?"

The men shook their heads. 

"I had," said Louise.  "Oh, ages back.  Something in a restaurant.  They didn't put peanuts in the dish, but there was peanut in the sauce, they hadn't checked that when she asked.  She got the pen out of her bag the minute she started feeling funny, so it was mostly all right."

"She was so careful," Graham put in.  "She actually said, last night, she'd not had even a close call in years."

Sherlock made a sound of interest, keeping in character by making it a sort of drawling "Hrrm?"

"Right," Fred said, "Somebody made a joke about playing for pennies, and she said thank goodness we weren't playing for peanuts -- that was a joke her Toby used to make.  She said she was doing well, hadn't had an episode for years.  That was actually where it started going wrong with that Grace.  Marie said something about how she was careful because she couldn't rely on other people to be careful for her."

"Some kind of incident there," Graham put in.  "Early days in the marriage, and Grace nearly fed her something with peanut in, dozy little cow.  Anyway, that's when they started arguing."

"This was Grace Gibson, Marie's daughter in law?" Lestrade asked.

"They'd never got on," said Louise, "but I suppose Marie was trying to reach out, now they'd lost Neil.  Asked her to come by, even though Grace couldn't play bridge to save her life.  We said we'd just have a short go while she sat by, and then watch a video.  I'd brought Brief Encounter?"

"The girls liked that," Graham put in sourly.  "Bloody depressing thing, last thing Marie needed."

"She asked me to bring it," Louise explained.

"So you played bridge, while Grace Gibson watched, and at one point the topic of peanuts came up, and Marie and Grace argued."

"Not even really an argument," Fred said.  "Just, well, the mother and the daughter in law, it's never really peaceful, is it?  They sniped at each other a bit, and Grace kept saying how bored she was.  You'd never have thought she was a new widow -- just annoyed she wasn't having enough fun."

"We wrapped up the game," Louise said, "and we were about to make a bit of popcorn, put on the video, only there'd been some kind of confusion, I suppose: Grace had thought Marie wanted her to bring a film.  So she had that superhero movie, Thor, from a couple years back?  I think Marie was trying to spare me, really, she knows bad mythology gets my back up.  So she insisted on Brief Encounter, and they had a row.  Ended up shouting at each other about how Neil had left Marie a bit to live on instead of leaving it all to Grace.  You'd think losing someone would bring the people left behind together.  Doesn't always work like that.  Finally Grace said she'd take her video and go watch it at home.  So she left, and we watched our film, and then we called it a night," Louise finished.

"Were you all together, the whole evening?" Donovan asked.

They thought for a moment.  "In and out of the kitchen and the dining room where we played," Louise said.  "And then into the lounge for the video."

"I used the loo," Fred volunteered.  "State of my waterworks, that's a foregone conclusion."

"Marie did too," Louise said, "after the row.  Probably just to blow her nose, didn't want us to see her crying.  Oh, and Grace did too.  Just before she left, she went to the loo.  I think Marie really had been going out of her way to be nice to the girl, kept her glass topped up all evening.  I remember because Marie was put out by that point and said something about how Grace took her handbag with her, like she thought Marie would dip into it if she didn't protect it."

And then for a while, John watched Lestrade and Donovan ask variations on the same questions, going back and forth over the same ground in different orders.  He got it, they were hoping to jar something else, something interesting, loose, or else catch a contradiction.  It was necessary, because people forgot details, and people lied.

But it was clearly driving Sherlock mad;  he was pacing now, back and forth from the edge of John's peripheral vision on one side to the other.  He could never have been a policeman, because he could never have stood doing this every day.  Then again, Sherlock didn't need to do this.

The next time Sherlock paced around from behind John, John turned his head far enough to catch Sherlock's eye, and raised his eyebrows.

"Oh, do you know, we really must be going," Sherlock announced.  "Ta for the tea, Ms. B."  And then abruptly dropping the act, "Call us when you're ready to talk to the next witness, Lestrade."

John said his own goodbyes and hurried after him.

 


 

John had clearly been nearly as bored as Sherlock at the interminable questioning.  Sherlock had been willing to stay and use the time to organise his thoughts while half-listening, on the off-chance something else interesting would be said that would go over the heads of Sally and Lestrade.  But when John's expression had suggested escape, Sherlock had decided to go along with it.

"Think they'll talk to Grace Gibson today?" John asked, catching up with Sherlock on the road in front of Louise Bates' house.  Sherlock was heading for the corner of the next road, where they'd be able to get a taxi.

Well, at least John had followed enough to see that Grace Gibson was the obvious — maybe too obvious? — next step.  "Not likely.  The man who stabbed his wife and girlfriend in Chelsea — that's their other current case — will be found any time now, unless forensics have managed to forget to take a soil sample or how to do basic subtraction.  Lestrade will need to deal with that first."

John's smile at that struck Sherlock as particularly kissable, which was a new and quite interesting attribute for a smile to have.  He had in the past occasionally wished to kiss John, but that had been theoretical.  Now he knew the temperature and humidity and taste of that mouth.  And he was actually able, so long as John remained compliant, to kiss it on occasion.

 "I'm in the mood for a pizza," John announced.  "You?"

Sherlock couldn't recall ever being in the mood for pizza, but Angelo's version was at least more appetising than the usual hard tack choked with cheese.  He'd only need to take a bite or two to appease John anyway.  "Angelo's."

"Yeah, good."

Sherlock looked at the terraced houses across the street as they passed. Couple in the midst of a divorce at 31, based on the state of their bins.  The curtains and lock at 33 showed signs of alcoholism.  And at 35 there was a face at one of the upstairs windows.

Sherlock abruptly shifted to the outside of the pavement, putting himself in the direct line between that window and John.  The face at the window had no gun.  The face at the window was no danger.  And yet as soon as he put himself in the way, he felt relieved. 

It wasn't a problem.  John was oblivious as ever.

Angelo was out for the evening but their waiter knew Sherlock and the rules about how he was to be treated.  He didn't put a candle on the table, but then, perhaps that was for the best; John didn't need his equilibrium upsetting.

Sherlock took out his mobile while they waited, and found Grace Gibson on Facebook.  He downloaded her picture and sent it off to a few contacts, and then made a small friendly overture to one of her friends under his persona as Val Harper, who in her profile picture -- a lightly Photoshopped image of the victim of a serial strangler, taken from one of Lestrade's case files -- was making a duck-lipped face at the camera and wearing too much mascara.  Val was living at home and working on  A-levels in Design and French.  When writing English, Val occasionally got lost in her own sentences. Val's persona and history had taken him three days to design and establish across four social networks and had come in extremely handy on many occasions; he'd even made use of Val a few times while he was away, but he'd best start updating her status more frequently if she was to remain a viable tool.  

"That's five minutes," said John.

"I'm working."

"Five minutes.  Treaty of the Drunken Monkey.  Put it away."

Sherlock's attention refocused entirely from the mobile screen to John.

One evening during the dull early weeks of that first February in Baker Street, John had insisted on, as he put it, Sherlock getting off the couch and leaving the flat before he got bedsores.

Sherlock had pulled out his mobile as soon as they sat down in the restaurant, compulsively checking for email and watching European news sites — he'd have cheerfully flown to Latvia for a locked room mystery.

John had told him to put it away and have a conversation.  Sherlock had ignored him.

"Sherlock, put it away or I'll tell the waitress it's your birthday," John had threatened.

"Don't be absurd," Sherlock had said, and tried Lithuania. He'd registered peripherally John leaving the table for the loo, and coming back a few minutes later .

And two minutes after that four Drunken Monkey waitresses had walked up to the table, carrying a bowl of ice cream with a candle in it.  They all wished him a happy birthday.  One told him he was very handsome.  Another kissed his cheek.

They wouldn't go away until he blew out the candle.

The ice cream was something revolting involving banana. 

"I told them you were depressed about turning thirty, and your girlfriend had dumped you," John had said, smiling pleasantly, looking at first glance so harmless and easygoing.  But his eyes had been iron with malice and challenge.  He'd raised one finger, tapped it to his mouth, raised an eyebrow, and then lifted his own mobile so Sherlock could see the image on the screen.  John was rubbish at using the camera, and the light wasn't good, but it had clearly been Sherlock  with a candle in front of him and four pretty Asian girls clustered round him, one of them leaning in to kiss him.

"Delete that," Sherlock had ordered.

"Too bad Mrs. Hudson doesn't have a smartphone.  Who else could I send it to?  Your brother did offer me money to pass on information about you."

 Sherlock had glared, considering holding his ground.  But if someone at the Met got hold of the file, it would be the desktop background of every computer in forensics and homicide by morning.  John wouldn't do that deliberately; he'd been the one to actually made a formal complaint about the Photoshopped picture of Sherlock's face on the head of that telly serial killer, which had up until recently hung on a bulletin board outside Anderson's office. But it could easily get out by accident. 

And John was actually capable of sending the picture to Mycroft, which didn't bear thinking about.  The smirk it would raise alone might finally provoke Sherlock to fratricide.  No, the very existence of such a picture was dangerous. 

So Sherlock had become co-signatory to the Treaty of the Drunken Monkey, and John had peaceably passed over the mobile and let Sherlock destroy the evidence. 

Sherlock had found himself enchanted all over again by this affable killer, this cuddly sadist with the sweet smile and the hard eyes. 

John had gone on to invent article after article of the treaty, with absurd clauses couched in mock legal jargon: whichsoever party shall be seen to compose an electronic message or email in excess of three sentences during the consumption of Thai or Korean food shall be formally termed 'the wanker' and required to pay a sum not to  exceed the full expense of the evening including cab fare.

Sherlock had resisted, but by the time the dim sum came he'd joined in with clauses of his own and they'd been giggling more or less continually by the time they got home. 

It was part of their life.  Life together, life before

He'd wanted John then, that night, Sherlock recalled.  Wanted, and dismissed it as a pointless distraction.

Sherlock put the mobile away.  "Pursuant to article eight, if we have to wait more than twenty minutes — which we will,  the kitchen always takes longer when Angelo isn't there to supervise — I get another three minutes."

"Yeah, fine.  But not until then."

Sherlock wondered whether he should suggest repealing article five: should any third party employ terms such as 'date,' 'romantic,' or 'couple,' at any time before, during, or after the meal, Sherlock shall, at a later time to be determined purely at John's convenience, sit through an entire video of John's choice without complaint, critique, or spoiling the ending. But probably that would be pushing things.  Besides, finding novel ways of ruining movies for John was occasionally amusing.

 Instead, Sherlock told John a number of irrelevant details he'd observed about the day's witnesses. Considering these and putting them aside was a necessary part of organising the data mentally, and doing it aloud often seemed to lead to better results.  And it entertained John, and made him pleased and impressed.  And John in return showered Sherlock with praise.

They fit together so well it would have been hard for Sherlock to believe if he hadn't experienced it.  It would be thoroughly stupid and wrong if John were ever to leave him. 

The food did come late, but Sherlock was too busy talking to John to take his extra minutes.  Sherlock said something that was apparently amusingly rude about Louise Bates and John rolled his eyes and leaned back and grinned and, yes: kissable. 

Sherlock looked around the restaurant.  Three good-looking young men, one stunningly beautiful man in his early thirties, and one striking woman.  Their faces were more symmetrical than John's, and all their lips were fuller, and he didn't want to kiss any of them.  Only John.

Good.  If he was going to desire anybody, John was the only sensible option. 

So the only problem was to ensure that John desired him. 

Some months after the debacle with Moriarty's pet dominatrix, Sherlock had —  showing off — announced that John was in love with their client, based on his physical reactions to her: the pulse, the dilation of the pupil.  Only, instead of being impressed, John had pronounced it "wonky and a bit worrying," that Sherlock couldn't distinguish between love and just wanting to have a lot of sex with someone.  Neither Irene Adler nor Mycroft had corrected Sherlock on that point, but it was quite possible neither of them had known any better either.

He couldn't read lust in John's face just now.  John was always more animated when talking to Sherlock than with anyone else, and food and amusement had pinked his cheeks.  But he wasn't visibly looking at Sherlock's mouth despite his claims about its attraction.

Sherlock was simply going to need to make a better impression on John sexually. 

Back at the flat, Sherlock went to his room to shed his suit in favour of pyjama bottoms and tee shirt and dressing gown.  No need to get semen all over another suit.

Changed, Sherlock settled on the couch and took out his laptop, determined.  First came the playlist, which he'd strung together in moments when his mind wasn't busy enough throughout the day.

That done, he started with an article on the electro-chemistry of human sexual response.   Next, several studies on male arousal, including a few disheartening results about the reaction of straight men to scents or images of other men and viewings of homosexual erotica.

It took three tries to craft a query that made Google bring up advice on foreplay not geared to either side of a heterosexual encounter nor fetishising homosexuality to an extent that would probably scare John off permanently.  He did glance through the search results before he filtered out the advice for women, thinking things couldn't be so very different.  But the first page of suggestions looked to be the work of either a brilliant satirist or someone who wanted to sell a lot of yeast infection treatments.  Doughnuts?  Really? 

He researched for over an hour, finishing up by logging into John's Google account. John's skill at password formulation had grown hugely under Sherlock's tutelage, and the current iteration consisted of a five word phrase with two deliberate misspellings and a sprinkling of numbers and symbols.  Sherlock was fairly sure he could have guessed it eventually, with some thought, but watching John type it in with two plodding fingers was as good as having it written up on the wall.

He paged through John's history and pulled up anything sexual, keeping in mind, obviously, that not everything John viewed would be something John liked or wished to engage in himself.  Not much to be found, really; pictures of pretty actresses, videos of a pole dancer with remarkable muscle control, and a video of kittens popping their heads out of various women's cleavage, set to Stuck in the Middle with You.   When John went on the internet his IQ appeared to drop 30 points.

Then, as he was in the account already, he went to John's Google Drive, where he'd taught John to back up his files several years before.  He felt quite virtuous about this, checking to see that John was taking care of his data. 

There was a folder labelled "Sherlock."  That was practically an invitation.  Inside were copies of news stories saved off newspaper websites, and nearly two dozen photographs ranging from the hated picture with the hat to a number of grainy, blurred cameraphone pictures, as well as several other documents.  Sherlock wondered what it was all in aid of, and decided to return to it later when he had more time for a complete study.

In the Backup folder Sherlock had created for him were several new sub-folders labelled with dates.  There were a few documents he might read later, probably blog entries John had realised were too dull to post, copies of online receipts and official documents, and photographs of John's sister and of a few men Sherlock recognised as old army friends.  In the earliest of the new folders were three photos of Sherlock. 

The first John had taken in front of St. Paul's when they were pretending to be tourists while observing a suspect.  Sherlock had never much liked his own smile -- it was too manic, inelegant; he'd thought he'd controlled it at the time this picture was taken, but apparently not. 

The second was of Sherlock sitting on the couch with Mrs. Hudson while they'd been setting up for their Christmas party;  Sherlock was in mid-laugh which was worse than the smile -- he looked something between brainless and deranged. 

The third picture hadn't been taken by John, but by Lestrade, to document evidence.  In it, John was holding up the book that had put two serial poisoners in prison, while Sherlock stood a pace or so away.  Sherlock could remember the moment, but he'd had no idea what he'd looked like at the time.  It was more confounding than the embarrassing smile or laugh; in the picture he was gazing not at the evidence but at John.  He looked pathetic and young and a bit sad.

All three of those pictures had also been in the Sherlock folder.

They were also duplicated in another folder named Do Not Delete.  It was stupidly sentimental and pathetic.  He could picture John taking such absurd care, treating those files like something valuable and rare.  If the ice cream picture hadn't been deleted, he'd likely have kept that too.  Oh, John.

Perhaps it had been a mistake to make his performance of the day's deductions over dinner; as that was the only precursor to sex Sherlock knew worked with John.  Hours had passed now and John hadn't made any sexual overture.  Finally Sherlock decided that perhaps this was one of those stupid social expectations about taking turns coming into play.

He started the playlist on his laptop, volume soft.  He'd wanted something accessible for John, to start with, and seriously considered Jessye Norman's Isolde, before deciding that, given John's ongoing uncertainty concerning a male partner, he'd avoid starting off with a solo soprano.  That stricture made the choice surprisingly difficult;  he'd been on the edge of simply sticking in the Bolero, much as it felt like an insult to both of them, when he'd thought of Salomes Tanz.  So, with Strauss at his most obvious, Sherlock decided to be just as direct.  "I'd like to make it clear that I have no objection to necking on the couch as such," Sherlock said, shifting towards the end near the window and leaving plenty of room for John to join him. 

John, sitting in his chair looking at the paper, raised his eyebrows without raising his gaze, "Okay.  Good to know." 

Sherlock narrowed his eyes, unsure whether John was being unbelievably slow, or just playful.  "Take off your shoes and jumper and come here at once," he directed.

"Pushy."

"That could hardly come as a surprise."

"Nope," John agreed.

"I did wait quite patiently for you to initiate."

John snorted.  "No you didn't."  His gaze was still on the paper, though he clearly wasn't reading.

"Not patiently.  But I did wait.  You could have had me any time since we arrived home."

John's eyes widened slightly and then his face twitched.  A smudge of pink spread across his cheeks.  Ah.  That phrasing apparently gave him ideas he found exciting but somewhat embarrassing.  He cleared his throat.  "You know, I'm not sure you can deliberately start necking just like that," he said, obviously trying to keep his voice light.  "I think you can only end up necking when you were meant to be doing something else.  You sit down to watch a film and end up necking, or you're meant to be having a serious conversation, and end up necking.  I'm not sure you can just sit down and start necking on purpose."

"I feel up to the challenge," Sherlock said in mock-solemn tones.

John grinned and put the paper away, then a thought visibly struck.  "Right, we are not starting in on anything unless you've secured all other experiments."

"There won't be any more escapes," Sherlock sighed, long-sufferingly.  The mice were not going to be a problem.  In an unexpected turn of events, he seemed to have induced borderline narcolepsy.  He'd also checked that both of them had plugged in their mobiles when they got home.

John slowly walked over.  He sat on the couch, took off his shoes and nudged them under the coffee table.  One of his socks had a small but unmistakable hole in the toe.  It was sad and ridiculous.

In a hallway in Sherlock's head, a pair of socks were placed on a side table near a bottle of shampoo  and a bulb for the microscope-- this was the extent of Sherlock's current shopping list.  Mostly he simply sent John to shop for him, but there were certain items he did buy himself.  John seemed to feel actual pain when forced to pay more than two pounds fifty for shampoo, and he certainly couldn't be trusted to buy himself a decent set of socks.

Strauss gave way to Palestrina: let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.   Sherlock put his hand to John's jaw to turn his head and leaned in.  Lovely.  John's small neat pink mouth was lovely to kiss, and he sighed softly and moved warm and firm. 

On a whim, Sherlock ran his lips across John's lightly stubbled cheek, up to the ear.  "You could bite me again," he suggested.

Miscalculation, apparently.  John winced and then pulled back.  "I'm -- look, sorry about that.  I -- "

Sherlock rolled his eyes and nipped John's throat sharply.  John gasped and his hands clutched at Sherlock's shoulders.  "I liked it, John.  Or I wouldn't be asking for more."

"I'd like to take a look, just to make sure -- "

"I believe I asked for your jumper off first."  He slipped his palms in underneath the dark maroon wool, and then under John's tee shirt beneath.  He'd meant to drag them up and off, but stopped to appreciate the sensation of warm skin.  John's flesh felt delicious against his fingers and palms.  He returned to kissing.

John held him in a loose embrace, hands occasionally  stroking up and down his back, and let Sherlock kiss him and touch him all through a Chopin nocturne.

John was compact and soft and unfussily sleek and so warm.  His belly was almost painfully vulnerable under Sherlock's hands, and when Sherlock skimmed fingers up to brush nipples, John made a choked little sound and clutched at the back of Sherlock's neck and pushed his tongue into Sherlock's mouth.

They were up to Sibelius' Swan, whose English Horn had always made Sherlock slightly on edge and restless in his skin.  He abruptly pushed the fabric up to John's underarms and put his mouth to one pale flat disk of nipple.

John grunted and his breath was quick.  Sherlock nipped him here too, testing, because according to his reading, male response to nipple stimulation ranged from complete disinterest to nearly orgasmic.  John seemed to like it well enough, back arching to push his chest into Sherlock's touch.  Sherlock scratched nails lightly around that briefly tight curve of John's spine and moved to mouth John's other nipple. 

John's breath shivered and he abruptly pulled the clothing up out of Sherlock's hands and off over his head.  Sherlock pressed a kiss to the scar as it was revealed, but didn't linger there, in deference to John's obvious discomfort about it.

Next came that famous duet from Lakme (which Sherlock had to admit he quite liked, and had decided to include partly for that and partly for the known response of the heterosexual male to the perception of lesbianism).  Sherlock shrugged off his dressing gown and lifted his own tee shirt off over his head.  John pushed his fingers into Sherlock's hair, which Sherlock realised must have been fluffed out by the motion, and leaned in to kiss brief but firm, before putting a steadying hand on Sherlock's arm and looking at the bite.

"I liked it very much," Sherlock reminded him.

John nodded, though Sherlock suspected he'd have a deal of work before he got another such passionate lovebite out of John. 

"Did you always like to be bitten so much?"  John asked, leaning in to stroke his mouth against Sherlock's throat as he spoke.

"Not with anyone else," Sherlock said firmly.  The only other person who had bitten him in a similar context had been one of the two men who'd tried to have sex with him in a bedroom at a Kensington house party when he was high.  He'd broken one man's nose and then they'd beaten him until Sean came in and stopped them because Sean hadn't wanted to lose one of his best customers.  Sherlock hadn't enjoyed that at all.

John brought their mouths together again, kissing Sherlock and pressing him down on his back on the couch.  The kiss was magnificently firm and hungry, but the position was uncomfortable, Sherlock half sitting and half lying, with his torso twisted.

"Lie on me," he invited when John moved to nibble his jaw.  John stopped, but when Sherlock tugged at him, he shifted to let Sherlock swing his legs onto the couch.  Then instead of lying on top of him, John sat beside his legs and  trailed his hands in from Sherlock's shoulders, down to his nipples slowly, the skin amazingly sensitised where John's fingers had touched.  

"Actually, roll over."

Sherlock raised an eyebrow, but turned himself onto his belly.  John's hands pressed his shoulders, squeezing the muscles, and then stroked down, mostly a caress, but occasionally grinding his fingers firmly into muscle.  As a massage, it was rubbish.  As an experience it was unexpectedly delightful.  John ran his spread hands all the way down Sherlock's back from his neck to his waist, making Sherlock achingly aware of skin that for most of his life had rode on his body entirely ignored.  Sherlock sighed as the sensation coincided with a beautiful blend of the voices in the music. 

Then John's fingers faltered, and his fingers rested on a spot low on Sherlock's side.  "Sherlock -- "

"Stab wound," Sherlock said, dismissively.  It was the most obvious scar from his time away. 

John stilled.  Very gently but firmly he pulled at Sherlock until he rolled over again.  "What happened?" he said.

"It's nothing."

"Sherlock," John said, voice tight, "christ, I know a near fatal wound when I see it.  No way you survived something like that without surgery.  Somebody almost killed you."

"It's not important,"

"You nearly died."  John's voice had gone strange.

Sherlock put an uncertain hand on John's arm.  "John, you're — "

"Yeah, about an inch away from … I don't know, burning something down, gutting somebody.  So please just fucking tell me."

Sherlock shuddered.  This wasn't good.  Not okay, not right, to feel so warm and soft and unstrung at John's protective rage.  The truth, so much less dramatic than what John was probably imagining, would probably calm him.

"Tony Williams, small time drug dealer."

John's expression sagged horribly.

"Not my dealer, John," Sherlock snapped.  "An investment manager with a sideline in narcotics was supplying Tony's capital; I needed to get at another partner in the firm.  I was sure Tony could get me in.  He'd earned a great deal of trust from his boss —  he was quick-thinking, practical.  He was also loyal, and kind.  I should have realised how dangerous that was. He was loyal to the employer I was asking him to betray, and kind enough not to bother hurting or frightening me first.  He just stabbed me and left.  Actually, we went out for Chinese first; he paid."

"He took you out to dinner.  He was your fucking friend, and he — " John's voice was thick.  "Stabbed you in the back and left you to die."

"Luckily he'd seldom had to resort to violence before, and didn't realise he hadn't killed me outright.  It scarred badly, John, it wasn't as deep as you're thinking."

"He stabbed you in the fucking back.  Tony Williams.  Right.  Someday I am going to find Tony fucking Williams and put his sodding head up on that spiky railing by our front door," John's voice was just slightly ragged.  "As a warning to backstabbing cunts."

Then John got up on his hands and knees over Sherlock and kissed him as if he were trying to glut himself on Sherlock's mouth.

Sherlock felt as if his whole body were stunned and swollen with lust at John's fury. 

John had shot a man to protect him, and when Sherlock had first realised that, seen John standing there so compact and so competent, it had seemed to change everything between one flash of police light on John's face and the next, leaving Sherlock dizzy with the notion that John had seen him and chosen him.  Sherlock was genuinely, unquestionably unique, and finally someone had seen it, and valued it, and wanted it, and would kill or die for it.

After some more clear-minded thought, he'd been humiliated by his misconception.  John would kill or die for him, yes.  But John had joined the army.  John had volunteered to kill or die for the entire population of the United Kingdom

But would John react like this on behalf of the entire country?  Sherlock thought not.

He tried to pull John down.  "On me," he insisted into John's warm wet mouth.

"Don't want —  crush you."  John was breathless.

Absurd idea.  Sherlock had lain on John most of the night before.  Crushing wasn't an issue.  Sherlock put his hands firmly on John's buttocks, which were surprisingly pleasant to hold, and pulled down until their groins were firm together.  They were both half-erect, and they both gasped at the feeling.

John ground once against him, and Sherlock wondered if it was all going to end in clothed frottage on the couch after all.  But then John took a long slow breath, pressed a very small, firm kiss to the side of Sherlock's mouth, and climbed off. 

Before Sherlock could protest, John said, "I cannot be having with this couch, Sherlock.  Can we please go to bed like grown men?"

John wasn't complaining about Sherlock's lack of skill at foreplay.  John wanted them to go to bed like grown men.  John wanted to put heads on spikes for him.  "I'm bringing the playlist," Sherlock said.

"Yeah, it's good.  I liked the violin one," John said, heading towards the bathroom.  "I'm going to brush my teeth."

Sherlock shook his head.  John liked the violin one.  John was magnificent and delightful and lovely, but good god, the man was a philistine.

Since they were being grown men, Sherlock brushed his teeth as well, after plugging in his laptop in John's room.

When he came back up, John was sitting in bed in his boxer shorts.  The laptop screen added just a little extra light to the room, enough to look at John's mostly-naked body.

Sherlock wanted to rub his cheeks against the fine, nearly invisible hair on John's calves, and bite his thighs.  He'd been careless about his internet research; the sites he'd read had been geared to a casual interest in fornication, more titillation than actual instruction.  John --

John was --

John clearly merited more serious preparation. 

Sherlock didn't even know the sexual significance of the bicep.  Clearly it had some, because the sight of John's was making Sherlock's skin tighter and hot. He wanted to press his fingers against it and feel the resistance.  He wanted to pinch the skin at the crease of John's wrist between his teeth.  He wanted to taste the soft-looking inner bend of John's elbows.  There must somewhere be a formal vocabulary to describe such things.

He needed a system of quantification for his reaction to the relationship between the protrusion of John's lateral malleolus and the taut line of his Achilles tendon and the dip between.  There must be a unit of measurement for how fiercely he needed the pale golden skin of John's belly to be purely for his own use.

Sex having been studied for the entirety of human history, such systems surely must have been developed.  If not, Sherlock would have to do it himself.  Even if someone else had done all the work in the general case, Sherlock would have to make a specific study of John.  John could not be normal.  He was short and middle aged and only reasonably fit and he was entirely gorgeous -- Sherlock wanted to, had to, gorge himself. 

X-rays would do, he supposed.  No need to actually flay the skin to see the intimate details of tendon and muscle.

Sherlock turned aside to the laptop.  Not good.  Not okay.  Violent pronouncements were only words.  The comment about the spikes might have been no more than a misreading of John's typically dark humour.  John wouldn't run screaming if he knew what Sherlock was capable of, no, but that didn't mean he'd like it.  He certainly wouldn't let Sherlock touch him anymore.   He certainly wouldn't stay. 

Bounds of normality.  Just keep within the bounds of normality.  He could do that.  It would work.

As the Tanz started from the top, Sherlock sat on the bed next to John.  John put his hand on Sherlock's bare arm.  "Look, I know, you can take care of yourself.  I just -- "  He took a deep breath. 

"If I minded your tendency for protective violence, we'd never have got past the first evening," Sherlock said.

John chuckled, and Sherlock quickly turned his head and kissed him.  Someday he was going to manage this when they were both laughing.  John clearly recognised what Sherlock was doing, and giggled a bit more into Sherlock's mouth.

Sherlock had intended to start over, working on John's neck, then nipples, using what his inadequate research had managed to give him.  But John pressed against him and gasped at the feeling of Sherlock's erection.  The tedium of tending to his oral hygiene had left him flagging, but just these few moments looking at John and he was completely hard again.

"Christ, Sherlock, look at you," he whispered.  He wasn't actually looking, but he was softly rubbing against Sherlock through his pyjama bottoms.  Sherlock clenched his teeth, pressing up against him.

John slid a hot open mouth up and down Sherlock's throat, and then sucked on a tendon.  It wasn't a bite, but it was extremely pleasant, and sent a sting of bliss down to Sherlock's cock. 

Sherlock put his arms round John and stroked the muscles of his back.  Sometime he would give John a proper massage.  He'd learned some decent technique on a case, but never before felt the urge to do it to someone else.  But the idea of John kneaded by his hands until his every muscle had gone loose under Sherlock's control was strangely appealing.

John rocked them together.  He still didn't quite put his full weight on Sherlock, but it was lovely all the same, an echo of the night before when John had surmounted and surrounded him, breathless and urgent.

John's position, only half on top of Sherlock, did give him the space to bring a hand up to pinch Sherlock's nipple, then roll it.

Sherlock felt John's mouth, still on his neck, stretch into a smile at the noise Sherlock made.  John sucked and lipped and gave Sherlock one very gentle nip, which Sherlock tried to encourage by sighing and grinding his erection up against John.  Another pinch to his nipple and a whine of sound rose in Sherlock's throat and he bucked.

"You're close," John murmured.  "Let me -- "  He shifted off of Sherlock so his hand could stroke up Sherlock's thigh and then cup his testicles softly through his pyjama bottoms.

Sherlock arched with a sound that was actually a bit embarrassing, high-pitched and reedy, and flinched back.  "Too close," he protested.

John smiled.  "Sherlock, let me," he said.

Sherlock pushed up into John's palm, giving in.  John could have whatever he wanted, as long as John wanted him.

 


 

 

Sherlock didn't need coddling and John couldn't let himself go into autopilot, relying on experience with women.  He'd been about to coo something like let me take care of you and if he'd said that to Sherlock, he'd have earned what he got, starting with Sherlock's scorn and ending with a punch in the face, most likely.  So he'd kept it to "Let me," and mentally steeled himself for The Handjob.

The gut-deep need to find that bastard who'd hurt Sherlock and kill him was harder to stifle.  He supposed he could ask Mycroft -- but if  Mycroft knew about it, Tony Williams was probably already in the ground.  

Sherlock had said, more than once, that he'd not been sure he would survive to come back, but John had somehow always dismissed that.  Of course Sherlock had survived.  The only human being who presented any real threat to Sherlock was Sherlock.  That was one of the truths of the world.  Except that wasn't actually remotely true.  A cabbie with a pill, the strangling hands of an assassin, a madman's snipers, a madwoman's injection...

The two of them could smile at the thrill of danger, but Sherlock was mortal and fragile and god, that scar!  He'd nearly not come back.  Today John could have been still alone, sitting in the middle of an empty room and an empty life, remembering that Sherlock had died two years ago and it would never stop being his fault.

One shitty little drug dealer had almost undone the whole of John's life.

He wasn't going to think about that.  If he let his mind so much as picture some complete fucker sticking a knife in Sherlock's back somewhere far away, when John wasn't with him, when Sherlock had  so stupidly, stupidly been alone,  John would probably start spouting insane threats again.  Or babbling something more embarrassing.

Not important.  The past wasn't important.

What was important was now: Sherlock safe and cared for and not alone.

Sherlock's stomach was flat, verging on concave, with only a little hair.  John stroked down Sherlock's belly, softly but firm enough not to tickle, and managed not to even pause as his fingers slipped under the elastic of the pyjama bottoms.  Right, The Handjob.

Coarse hair under his fingertips, and then, damp and hot, Sherlock's cock.

It was the first time John had held another man's erect cock.  Very erect.  Very hot.  Leaking and slick with it.  He wasn't going to think about whether this was disgusting or not.

The laptop streaked soft bluish light across Sherlock's face, and if men could be beautiful, Sherlock was beautiful.  John was the one, the only one, who he'd let see him like this, panting, head thrown back, eyes squeezed shut.  On Sherlock's playlist, some orchestra went soft, strings drawing out suspense while drums pounded quietly.

John stroked firmly up and down Sherlock's cock, and bent over him and stuck his tongue in Sherlock's mouth.  At once Sherlock was kissing him desperately, all smothered moans and soft whines.  Sherlock's hand gripped John's upper arm and squeezed a sort of restless massage into the muscles. 

John had known sex with a man would be unsettling, and unfamiliar.  It hadn't occurred to him that it could be exciting.  With some of the nervousness of the first time gone, he could appreciate the exhilaration of Sherlock like this, like an incoming barrage, like a timebomb ticking down.  John felt rock steady and weirdly powerful as he moved his hand and Sherlock writhed and groaned.  It didn't take long. 

Sherlock arched up hard, and John stroked him through it, drawing it out as long as he could, tongue thrusting slowly in Sherlock's mouth until the mouth went slack and Sherlock's entire body was limp.

John drew back, and quickly wiped his hand dry on Sherlock's already-messy pyjama bottoms, not thinking about it. 

Sherlock looked wrung out, practically in a swoon.

He realised he was smirking.  He was hard as a rock and he felt like a fucking genius.  It looked like he might have to take care of himself, but god knew, he could do that.   He pushed his boxers down a bit and took his cock in hand.

After only a few strokes, however, Sherlock looked over at him, frowned, and grabbed John's wrist.  "Wait."

John smiled indulgently.  "Get your breath back."

But Sherlock sat up, hurriedly stripped off the filthy pyjama bottoms, and then heaved himself up and sat on his knees over John's thighs.   One hand wrapped around John's cock, the other stroked his chest.  "Shall I draw it out?" he offered.  "I have some ideas."

John groaned.  "God, no.  I need to come.  Immediately.  Sooner."

Sherlock looked maybe a bit disappointed, but still a touch sex-sleepy too.  He masturbated John with quick, twisting strokes.  "Good?" he asked.

Post-coital Sherlock was definitely a bit off; that had actually sounded concerned.

"Are you kidding? It's fucking brilliant."

Sherlock fondled John's bollocks lightly with his other hand, alternated a few long pulls down his length with quick fluttering twists round John's glans.  Trust Sherlock to get fancy when John could have come rubbing up against a table leg.

Close.  Very, very close.

"John, you're about to come," Sherlock said.  He sounded so fucking delighted at being able to tell when John was going to go off.  Not exactly his greatest feat of deduction ever. 

"Well spotted," John gasped, and came giggling; and Sherlock, who might possibly be developing some kind of fetish, kissed him through it.

After a moment, Sherlock sat up again.  "Flannel?"

John flapped a hand toward the side of the bed.

Sherlock apparently found the one remaining flannel left on top of the cardboard box, and cleaned them up, before stripping off John's boxers the rest of the way.  Then he pulled up the sheet and duvet, and  --

And deposited himself flat on top of John.

John was trying to come up with a polite way of asking him to choose another position when he drifted off.

 

Chapter Text

John had woken at some point deep in the night when Sherlock moved off him. Sherlock hadn't just been finding a different sleeping position; he'd sat up in the bed beside John, sheet pulled to his waist, and reached over for his laptop. Apparently Sherlock's newfound interest in sleep went only so far. John drifted back down to the sound of rapid-fire typing.

At what later proved to be not the crack of dawn, as it seemed to John, but about half-seven, Sherlock shook him awake. "You have an erection," he announced.

"Happens," John muttered, trying to pull the pillow over his face. "Biology."

"Yes," Sherlock said impatiently.

"Not everything is about you, Sherlock," he said, but now he was awake properly, and not likely to get back to sleep. Sherlock must have kept him up late; he felt sleepy and stupid.

"I was considering frottage," Sherlock said, "but given your mood, I'll stimulate you manually — less effort for you." He sounded as posh as if he'd been talking about where to deploy the sepoys.

The both of them were starkers, John noticed. Last night it had seemed a bit more dignified, that they'd managed to get all their gear off instead of sleeping half-dressed. Now it felt weird. A load of naked blokes in a changing room or shower was one thing; just one naked man arm's reach away and focused on John's cock, that was more concentrated nudity than he felt ready for just now.

John had never been terribly enthusiastic about morning sex. Not just when he'd woken up, morning erection or no. After breakfast maybe. He considered telling Sherlock to piss off. He also considered sitting up and showing Sherlock that he was perfectly capable of putting in effort, thanks very much; but he suspected that was what Sherlock was angling for.

"If you must. I'll do me best to stay awake," he said, which he reckoned was a nice rude compromise between the two reactions.

Sherlock set his laptop aside and bent near. He was smiling softly. He kissed John's mouth. First very, very soft, all plush lips, then slowly, slowly deepening, stale breath but so gentle and focused. John's breath sped up and he had to remind himself that Sherlock was new to kissing, was just experimenting with technique, probably didn't realise that what he was doing felt more sweet than the sexual aggression he was probably going for.

"I appreciate the opportunity," Sherlock said lightly, when he raised his head. "Last night's episode was even better than the first. I have high hopes for today."

Damn it, Sherlock had actually made him blush again. That was two mornings in a row. He felt like an idiot schoolboy.

Last night had been good. Sherlock so desperate and then so soft and vulnerable. And that absurd laughing kiss while he was coming, Sherlock sitting on him.

Then he pictured it, what they must have looked like, big Sherlock sitting practically in his lap, skinny and with his bollocks on John's thighs, his wet cock flopping on John's skin. He'd been too busy getting a handjob to think about it. They'd wiped up the worst of it, but he still felt filmed in spunk.

God, this was one reason he wasn't into morning sex. It usually followed night sex, and night sex really warranted a shower.

Now it sounded like Sherlock thought the more sex they had, the better it got. John had reckoned on Sherlock being one of nature's celibates, with only the occasional exception. Once a week, maybe. But apparently he actually had an on-switch, and John had tripped it. John was either going to die of exhaustion, or of shame when he couldn't get it up on demand.

Sherlock pulled the sheet aside, and then settled on his side, head about even with John's navel.

Sherlock was staring, absolutely staring, at John's cock. Like an erect penis was some fascinating and rather wonderful object. He was partially erect himself, and hardening visibly.

Well, that was one minor question answered. Homosexuality was yet another area where John got by through hard work and deliberate training, while Sherlock was simply naturally gifted.

Sherlock reached out and cupped his hand over John's cock, squeezing slowly tighter, easing, squeezing again. John gave a long sigh.

"Apparently, erections immediately after deep sleep tend to be the firmest," Sherlock said, consideringly.

"You woke me up in the middle of a REM cycle," John realised. "To gather data. On my penis. You utter berk."

"I woke you so you could give consent."

"Oh, good, at least you're not violating the Nuremberg Code. If you have a tape measure, Sherlock, I will kick you out of my bed."

Sherlock looked down at his naked body. "Where would I have a tape measure?"

John couldn't help it. He snickered like a third former.

Sherlock rolled his eyes and knelt up. He settled himself on John's thighs again, but far tighter in this time. The sensation of Sherlock's bollocks rolling against his own was so strange John couldn't decide whether he liked it or not. Sherlock took both John's cock and his own in his grip, pressing them together.

Another thing John certainly couldn't help (and really, he might as well be twelve years old) was comparing the two of them. Comparing himself to Sherlock was seldom a good idea, Sherlock's frame overall was larger, so no real surprise that his cock was a bit bigger as well. Longer, anyway. John thought they looked about equally thick, but as Sherlock had said, erections fresh out of sleep tended to be a bit more impressive. Sherlock's had a definite rightward curve, while John knew from obsessive teenaged self-observation that his own curved very slightly upward.

Then Sherlock gently stroked up and down the both of them, those fine-boned but oversized hands squeezing them lightly together. John's head tipped back and he shuddered out a long breath. It felt fantastic. His penis was pressed against another man's penis and it felt amazing and what the hell did that say about him? Never mind. Sherlock was pumping them slowly, and John let his back arch and his hips writhe.

It was languid, unhurried. John remembered that last night Sherlock had been in favour of drawing things out. This felt like it could go on forever. He felt no urgency. He could just lie here like a sultan while Sherlock did all the work.

Sherlock's gaze was focused on their cocks, watching himself stroke them off, breathing quickly.

Self indulgently, John raised his hands over his head, yawned and stretched and gave his hips a little roll. He looked up at Sherlock, and found those pale eyes watching his face now. Feeling suddenly self-conscious he lowered his arms to his sides. "Just going to do that until we chafe, are you?" he asked, which was stupid because actually he felt quite happy to have Sherlock go on with this indefinitely.

God, what was he like? He might have felt decadent and sensual, but he had to look like a middle aged idiot yawning during sex. He braced for Sherlock to make a comment about it.

"Have you ever used a masturbatory aid, John?" Sherlock asked instead.

For a moment, John heard it as aide, and pictured a cheerful uniformed helper. But Sherlock had to be talking about toys. Oh god, Sherlock was talking about toys.

"Other than you, you mean? Played around a bit with things, if they were handy: you know, silk, soap. When I was fourteen I got ideas about a cola bottle; nearly became one of those stories nurses tell when they're pissed."

Sherlock smiled. He blinked slowly. John knew that look. Oh god, what was Sherlock putting together now?

"You're willing to pay for high quality clothing if you believe it will wear longer, but you would never buy silk; too self-indulgent. A girlfriend left behind her knickers. Probably not silk in any case — just nylon, perhaps."

"Yeah, probably. We were students. No dosh for your actual silk."

Sherlock leaned forward, weight on one hand, and kissed John while he kept slowly pumping their cocks together. The change in angle shifted them abruptly from a languid drift to something more directed, anticipatory. John put his hand round the back of Sherlock's neck to hold him still, and Sherlock accepted John's thrusting tongue, Sherlock's mouth going soft, letting John bite at him as he liked. Sherlock just took it, making small sounds of appreciation.

Sherlock's hips started to twitch and his hand finally got faster, squeezing and sometimes twisting.

John bit Sherlock's lower lip and then, in a spirit of cooperation, used his hand to push Sherlock's head to the side and nipped his neck, just below the ear.

Sherlock moaned and suddenly his hand was still, but his cock was moving, fucking through the loop of his fingers, rubbing against John's, right at the ridge of the glans, rubbing fraenulum against fraenulum in the rawest, most focused frottage imaginable. Sherlock's jaw had gone tight, teeth gritted, eyes squeezed shut. And John wasn't quite there, but he'd follow soon after.

And once again, be the one covered in come.

John moved his hands down to grip Sherlock at the waist and halt him. Sherlock made a whining sound of protest.

"I've got to have a go at this," John said, pushing at him.

With an unhappy grunt, Sherlock got off him, and John rolled after, kneeling over Sherlock's thighs and then immediately leaning forward and taking their cocks in hand — he had no intention of denying Sherlock, he just wanted to be the one on top.

John found he needed one hand on the bed to keep his balance as he pumped them, and the height difference meant he couldn't comfortably kiss Sherlock unless Sherlock hunched forward. So he concentrated on his cock. His hand wasn't as long as Sherlock's, and he had to turn his wrist a little, a slightly awkward angle, so that his own cock got more than just his thumb hooked over it.

It took three thrusts and then he'd found that same perfect place, heads of their cocks rubbing together exactly where it was almost too sensitive, and then the position of his fingers didn't matter anymore, he was rubbing his cock against hot damp silky firm skin.

John thrust, thrust, thrust, and then realised he could feel -- in his hand, in his own cock -- the change as Sherlock's testicles drew up, feel that Sherlock's cock was slightly thicker, firmer, feel it twitch. Sherlock's hand clamped on John's arm as he groaned. Sherlock jerked and shuddered under him and gasped, "John, John," as he came.

If he'd been thinking, John would have had mercy, backed off from that spot that was now probably far too sensitive for touch. But he was so close now, and it was slicker and hotter. He kept thrusting and moved his hand too, now, fast and tight. Sherlock's cock twitched again as John used it to bring himself off, and Sherlock whimpered. John squeezed his hand and groaned through gritted teeth and felt as if something in his belly broke open and spilled heat through him. His back arched and he moaned and ground his hips down as orgasm thrummed everywhere in his body.

As it was ending, John felt his spine relax, and he eased back slightly and held just his own cock, watching the last of his semen spurt out onto Sherlock's already spattered belly.

Christ, Sherlock looked like something out of a filthy magazine. Curls awry, lips pink and more splotches of palest pink blush on his face and neck and chest, still a little shudder in his breathing, and John's come all over him. John grabbed a handful of those curls and kissed that soft upturned mouth hard, loving the way Sherlock just tilted his head back with John's grip and just took it.

Panting, John sat back on his heels, staring. What was he thinking? Ugly, shameful thoughts.

John got off the bed, breath still slowing, and found his discarded boxer shorts — apparently Sherlock's overnight activities hadn't included bringing up any more flannels. He wiped Sherlock clean, gentle and firm and respectful for fuck's sake. Maybe it was just that it had been such a long dry spell, before, maybe that was why he was losing it a bit during sex. Hell, at least it was helping get him past any problems he'd normally have getting aroused by a man.

Sherlock had closed his eyes and was smiling almost dreamily. "I was right," he murmured smugly. "It was even better."

"You come over all complimentary, post-shag," John noted, though he didn't miss that the emphasis was on Sherlock's rightness, rather than John's actions.

"Positive reinforcement," Sherlock said, and smirked as John worked it out.

"Right. Try cleaning something after a shag, and you'll have me trained in no time flat."

"All right," said Sherlock, and got out of John's bed. He picked up the robe he'd left on the floor the night before.

John watched him with narrowed eyes. He knew better. "Washing your arse in the shower does not count."

Sherlock just looked even more smug, and traipsed off down the stairs.

John finally got up to move various filthy items into his laundry basket. And got a glimpse of Sherlock's laptop screen. He could see the word MEN and a picture of a large circumcised penis against skin smooth of any body hair at all, and four flashing ads, and oh good sodding christ.

Sherlock had been looking at sex sites. Investigating the sizes of morning erections. And presumably researching interesting techniques, beyond the one they'd just tried. And toys.

What on earth had John got himself into? He was sleeping with a formerly-dead virgin-turned-budding sexoholic, and he'd just practically marked his territory during sex like some kind of caveman. Sometimes his life seemed lost in a murk of things that could only be unreal.

Morning. Morning sex was a bad idea, that was all. And sex with Sherlock had almost certainly been a mistake. But it wasn't -- if he could just step back from it a bit, he could -- He'd cope, get through all this, surely.

John laid back down, put his head on the pillow and shut his eyes, just breathing, just getting some space while he could. He could cope. As long as he could take a minute like this, step back. He'd have liked to go back to sleep, actually, wake up in an hour and give this day another try when things felt more under control.

Ridiculous, feeling so tired; he'd been thoroughly spoilt by his years back in civvy street. In Afghanistan he'd sometimes got woken three times in a night, did whatever needed doing, and went straight back to sleep each time, and was no worse for it in the morning. Maybe it was age catching up with him. Maybe he was just incapable of coping with Sex With Sherlock, which had been intimidating enough as a concept, and in practise was, well, it was a lot to handle.

For a good half hour he lay there. He couldn't get back to sleep, but the sex, the way he'd behaved, seemed to drift farther away, become like a dream, something he didn't really need to worry about. Eventually, feeling better, he gave up on sleep and went downstairs, and was unexpectedly handed tea by Sherlock.

Sherlock was quite capable of making tea, and sometimes did so without being nagged at all. John had never been able to determine what prompted these occasions; possibly it had something to do with the alignment of the planets (in which case, Sherlock couldn't predict it either, John thought, feeling petty).

At any rate, Sherlock had done a bang-up job of lowering John's expectations. This one cup of tea felt like such a kind gesture that John was nearly distracted from Sherlock.

Sherlock was stark bollock naked again. He'd left the robe somewhere; he was wearing a towel: he had it wrapped round his head like a turban. He'd apparently stood about in the kitchen making John a cuppa, looking like an illustration from an obscene Arabian Nights fantasy. John drank his tea and did not laugh.

Instead, he started some toast. He held up a slice at Sherlock, who shook his head, apparently not doing breakfast today, so John put away the loaf.

"Grace Gibson today," Sherlock said. "Lestrade will be in a mood; they didn't catch the man from Chelsea. Boring case anyway."

John stood looking into the refrigerator for a moment, deliberating between jam and marmite and steadfastly ignoring the tongues. The tongues laid spaced out flat had been unpleasant. Piled up in a bowl they were much worse. They looked like a load of slugs having an orgy.

Oh god, he had perverted sex on the brain. John snatched the marmite and turned to the table to spread it. "That's the one who killed his wife and his girlfriend?" he asked. Perversion wasn't entirely his fault. Sherlock was leaning naked on the counter, a fantasia of laboratory glassware behind him. John had been dragged to loads of performance art by Harry in their teens. This would fit right in: Naked Turbaned Genius with Erlenmeyer Flasks.

"Media called it a crime of passion. Basically, he found himself a dog with two bones, and panicked." Finally Sherlock wandered off into his own room, but left the door open.

"Sherlock," John said, suspiciously, following, "is there anything you could tell Lestrade that would get the guy caught?"

Sherlock was now looking at his wardrobe. Possibly the positions of celestial bodies also influenced his choice of clothes. There had occasionally been epic sulks because John had not picked up a load of dry cleaning containing a specific pair of trousers which were the only ones he could possibly wear that day. In the past, this had led to sometimes swanning around the flat in a sheet — or in cold weather, the duvet.

Now maybe he'd just walk about nude in warm weather. Mrs. Hudson would be secretly thrilled. John had long since learned that she was harder to shock than a soldier. And she rather ached for her tenants to be more bohemian than Mrs. Turner's, as if it were a competition.

"Not now. If I looked at the details — but what's the point?"

"Right, you just said this guy's response to panic is to kill people. He's got to be pretty panicked right now. So the point, Sherlock, is to get him off the streets before he kills somebody, because that would be another boring murder and you hate fucking boring murders."

Sherlock turned to look at him, head tilted. "Well reasoned."

Annoyed, John nodded at him. "You're taking the piss."

"No. A simple and linear argument, but solid, and based on observation of human behaviour." Sherlock looked so pleased about it that John realised he actually meant it.

"You're rubbing off on me," John said, deadpan, and went back to his toast.

"That was lewd, John," Sherlock called after him.

Sharing a bathroom with Sherlock Holmes was not for the faint of heart. There were things John had found in the basin that still made him shudder; and John had once shared a house with two other trainee doctors, a guitarist, and an art student, all blokes, so he'd already been mostly desensitised to organic horrors going in.

Sherlock was also that nightmare of all flatmates and medical practitioners: the Bottle Re-user. Was this in fact John's shampoo, or had Sherlock used an old bottle to store congealing blood? Every time was a gamble. One day John had treated a woman still recovering after having once added bleach instead of white vinegar to a recipe because her husband had re-used a bottle without labelling it; he'd come home raging and Sherlock had at least put an end to that kind of thing in the kitchen. The bath, though, remained a dangerous place.

Also, Sherlock had always been prone to barging in while John was in the shower, if Sherlock was feeling an urgent need to primp.

This time it was indeed shampoo, but as he was rinsing it clear, he heard Sherlock come in and start performing the largely symbolic process of shaving, and then one of the elaborate rituals involving The Hair. John knew The Hair demanded offerings of expensive sprays and gels and waxes in various proportions depending on the weather and what kind of effect Sherlock was after. John wouldn't have been surprised if Sherlock occasionally made a small blood sacrifice as well; that amount of glamour probably involved at least a little black magic.

Sherlock finished himself up while John was still washing his back, and then wandered out again, leaving the door open. "Cold!" John protested after him.

If Sherlock was trying to encourage John to come out of the shower and wander around in the nuddy as well, the ploy backfired; John pulled the towel into the bath itself and dried there, where the curtain was keeping some of the warm in, and then pulled his robe in and put it on.

In the kitchen, Sherlock was lounging — now dressed — more languidly than the plain kitchen chairs could really support, texting busily. When John came in, he pushed away from the table. "Back later."

John blinked. "We're going now? Sherlock, I'm not dressed yet."

"You've plenty of time to dress while I'm out."

Wait. What? "I'm not --"

"You'll be in the way." Sherlock said, walking off into the sitting room. "This way you've loads of time to have more breakfast and dress and . . . " He shrugged as if unable to imagine what other things John actually might do with his time, and then he was thumping down the stairs.

John stared after him. That had just happened. Sherlock was buggering off on his own without telling John anything. He'd thought he was making things better between them, and instead --

Somehow, a little sex, and he'd turned into a housewife. Or, given Sherlock's usual level of maturity, a stay-at-home mum.

He was going to spend the rest of his life sitting home scrubbing necrotic tissue off the kitchen table and trying to get acid burns off the floor. But at least there would be occasional gay sex to relieve the tedium. Christ.

No, but it wouldn't be the rest of his life, would it? The sex thing clearly had an expiration date. However much research material Sherlock could find on the internet, sex simply wasn't that complex. Sherlock would solve sex to his own satisfaction, it was only a matter of time, and then he wouldn't need John's body to experiment on anymore. In fact, before he'd exhausted the sexual possibilities, Sherlock would probably want to try out someone fitter anyway, and then someone who was actually gay and good at it too. Maybe he'd even want to test drive a vagina, just for comparison.

Be honest, John Watson wasn't that complex either. People had been telling him since the beginning that most people didn't last long with Sherlock. In the rare cases where Sherlock didn't drive them screaming out of his life, he got bored. John wasn't like Lestrade or Mrs. Hudson, he didn't have cases or housing to offer. Sooner or later, wouldn't Sherlock have exhausted the possibilities of a middle-aged doctor with no career to speak of, and chuck him out with the rubbish?

Well, no, all right, it wouldn't be quite like that. Sherlock really did seem to care, in his fashion. But being bored genuinely caused Sherlock pain. John going on living here once Sherlock was completely bored by him would practically constitute mental abuse, and he couldn't be expected to live with that.

It was even possible that by initiating sex he'd actually granted himself a bit of a reprieve, made himself of interest for longer than he would have been.

John rinsed his dishes and went upstairs to get dressed.

All right, he was jumping to conclusions. Overreacting. He'd talk to Sherlock. When Sherlock was back, they'd talk, and he'd --

Well, what? If Sherlock didn't want him on cases, what could John reasonably say?

That he'd help solve it? Sherlock had made it clear a thousand times that when he did consult John's opinion on evidence, it was chiefly for the amusement of seeing what he got wrong.

That Sherlock needed him there as protection? Sherlock had just spent two years running around the planet in constant danger without John, and survived. True, he'd got himself stabbed in the back, but Sherlock didn't appear to appreciate that as a serious problem.

"Fuck," John said. "Fuck, fuck, fuckfuckfuckfuck."  At least with Sherlock not here he could afford to vent his temper for a moment.  After that, and a long breath, he felt a bit better.

The sheets were disgusting, so John changed them. He didn't replenish the flannels because he didn't want to think about sex anymore. He tidied.

He convinced himself to be sensible and not make any assumptions about the actual intentions of a man who had once punched a six year old girl in the face in order to get her sent to A&E and out of the hands of her murderous grandmother. Maybe Sherlock would be back in ten minutes and they'd be off to the crime scene, same as ever.

Then he convinced himself that Sherlock was in one of those tailspins that emotions sometimes sent him into, that sex had made him feel things he didn't understand, and now he was trying to keep John home out of a misguided surge of protectiveness.

Then he convinced himself that Sherlock would at any moment send him a text telling him to have his things packed by tomorrow.

That utter arse. How had John managed to land himself with such a wanker?

When Greg arrived, he'd given up thinking about it and was doing what he could about getting the flat fit for human habitation again -- with Sherlock around, this was an unending uphill battle.

"HRH not in?" Greg asked.

"I, uh, I thought he'd gone to meet you, actually. Took off an hour ago, bit less."

"Not me, no. We're talking to Grace Gibson today, reckoned he might want a go; I know the bridge-playing pensioners bored him rigid. To be honest, I could do with some interest in this case meself, take me mind off things."

John gestured Greg to the couch. What he didn't know about the sort of things Sherlock and John got up to on that couch these days wouldn't traumatise him. "You had some trouble with another case, Sherlock said. Stabbing?"

"Rotten business. You're cheating on somebody, tell them and get off out of it, don't stab them to death. Divorce is rubbish, but it's a sight better than getting stabbed. And I speak from experience on both counts."

That reminded John of the scar on Sherlock's back, and he winced. "As long as it wasn't your ex both times," he managed, trying for humour.

"Nah, she only stabbed me in the back metaphorically," Lestrade said. "Really no idea when he's back? Only we said we'd stop at Gibson's at eleven."

"Not a clue. Take a cuppa. Or I can do you coffee."

"Proper coffee?" Greg asked, hopefully.

"Instant. Sherlock keeps buying french presses and then using them as lab equipment. I assume you don't want coffee made in anything that's been used to press a liver. He's got one of those little pots for doing Turkish, but every time I try that, it ends in burn ointment and coffee on the ceiling. A-level chemistry isn't enough, apparently, you've got to be a fucking alchemist."

"Or Turkish," Lestrade suggested. "Tea's fine anyway."

John put the kettle on.

"Doing all right, the two of you?" Lestrade asked, as John went through the ritual of checking that there was nothing exciting in the mugs.

Oh god, what had he seen? Had Sherlock left a lovebite John hadn't noticed? "It's fine. Well, fuckery at normal levels, any rate."

"Got to be weirder than usual though, I mean, I can't quite get my head round it, and I'm not living with him. I was just thinking — somebody dies, you get into this pattern, yeah? You look around, somewhere you expect to see them, or you go to call them up, or you see something and you think, I've got to tell Sherlock about this, this is right up his street, and then you remind yourself, no, that's never happening, because he'd gone, he's dead. And now — I came in today and he wasn't here and I thought, of course he's not here, he's dead, and then I had to remind myself that no, he's back, actually. Like whiplash. Can't think how you stand it."

John nodded. "It is like that, yeah. For ages I'd come down in the morning and -- you heard of that thing: cat in the box, and until you open the box the cat's, sort of, alive and dead? That's how it felt, like by coming downstairs it was me making him be dead or alive."

"Yeah," said Greg, "Schrödinger's Detective sort of thing." And John reminded himself that Greg Lestrade was only an idiot according to Sherlock.

"Right. So, that took some getting used to. But... Dunno, it sort of... settles, eventually."

Greg shook his head as John passed him a mug. "I just — did he really not tell you what he was doing?" Right away he shook his hand in the air and then ground knuckles into his forehead. "I mean, I know he didn't. I saw you, after. I just can't believe he'd actually do that to you."

"He was saving our lives," John said, resenting that this conversation was putting him into the position of defending Sherlock's insane plan.

"I know, but, I just, I did see you, and no offence, John, you looked like you were on the edge . . . " He trailed off, looking embarrassed.

"I went a bit off the rails, yeah," John admitted.

"To be honest, I tried to tell them to put you on suicide watch, but by then nobody was listening to me." He shook his head again. "Christ, John, I thought so many times about coming to see you. But I reckoned you blamed me . . . "

"I did," John admitted. "Blamed nearly everybody, to be honest. You couldn't have helped." First there had been the rage, and when that had passed and he'd realised that Sherlock was gone and it was his fault and he could do nothing, nothing at all to fix it, the world had turned into something that seemed to be made of mist, or made of plastic, all false. Sherlock had said, I'm a fake, but without him it had been the rest of the world that had seemed like a fake, a stage set that John walked about in, saying his lines and knowing it was all just fiction.  For those first months, nothing anybody said could have helped, because nobody was real, least of all John.

"I guess that's what I was thinking, why I asked if it was going all right.  Turns out Sherlock's to blame in more ways than anybody could have thought. I've been expecting a call you'd given him a right thumping, and I couldn't blame you a bit."

John shrugged. "We've had our share of punch ups," he said, "but I'd never go after him angry, Greg."

"Yeah, I know that, John."

"Mostly I just have to step in sometimes to remind him his sodding kung fu doesn't actually make him Superman."

"Baritsu," Greg drawled in a mock-posh baritone, "a more elegant form of self defence."

"Too right," John said, "he looks fucking elegant as you like, right until he lands on the carpet on his arse. Baritsu's brilliant against anything except a low centre of gravity, apparently."

Greg grinned at the idea. "If you're ever after a bit of extra dosh, video that and flog it down my way," he suggested, "You'll be minting it, mate."

 


 

 

Sherlock felt unaccountably pleased with his virtuousness in leaving John behind this morning. John liked to play up his idea of Sherlock as a posh ponce in contrast to his own assumed middle-class humility, but in practice he was hugely uncomfortable around the homeless. Their unwashed smell, their ratty clothes, even their uneducated grammar, obviously filled John with guilt, and also disgust, which made him even more guilty.

John always came away from such encounters unsettled and prickly rather than his usual cheerful snappishness. So on the whole, sparing him made Sherlock's day more pleasant.

He returned to find John sitting in the kitchen with Lestrade. Oddly, he was wearing the drab rust-coloured cardigan and checked shirt that meant he was feeling insecure in himself. So probably all the better Sherlock had spared him an encounter that would have made things worse.

John's expression when he looked up as Sherlock entered was also the slightly tense smile that usually formed part of his shield on days when he was feeling particularly threatened in a way gunplay couldn't resolve. Sherlock eyed Lestrade, looking for signs of what he might have said to put John on edge.

John wasn't likely to have told him about their nascent sexual relationship, so it was unlikely to have been direct disapproval on that score. A general joke or comment about gay people was a possibility; like John himself, Lestrade would defend any individual homosexual to his last breath, but considered gay jokes permanent fair game. Normal people lived with contradictions like this all the time, probably because their attention was too small to hold both the contradictory elements in focus together.

More likely, Lestrade had pulled out a few of his Sherlock the Junkie stories. The happenstance of cardizem being the drug used by Marie Gibson had brought the subject back into Lestrade's mind.

Sherlock didn't deny that he'd been a junkie, but not the way Lestrade described it. For several years, Sherlock had used cocaine and occasionally heroin and LSD carefully and sparingly to enhance his work and his life. He'd been well-controlled and able to go without when he needed to. It was only later that things had slipped out of control, and the coke itself had become the focus and the goal, instead of a way to elevate his work and improve the dead times between cases. As soon as he truly had become a junkie, Sherlock had started his struggle to get clean.

But Lestrade would insist on characterising the entire period as one long drug-fuelled mess, despite the fact that he'd been reliant on Sherlock's help for nearly twenty cases during that time.

Lestrade had a habit of bringing up information about Sherlock's past to John. It was a combination of an offering intended to ingratiate himself, because he knew John was (gratifyingly) interested in nearly everything about Sherlock, and a strange kind of competitiveness over the fact that John had so quickly become so much closer to Sherlock than Lestrade had ever managed.

It was even possible that John had asked about it. Sherlock generally found John's apparent hunger for stories about Sherlock's past charming. In this case, though, it was simply an annoyance.

There sat the two of them, upright citizens with upright citizens' addictions: Lestrade's nicotine and John's alcohol. Both, Sherlock was fairly sure, had tried marijuana — Lestrade during his somewhat rough youth, John in Afghanistan — and both had hated its effects on them, and decided that lack of desire for the drug counted as some kind of moral triumph.

Both of them sitting there, speculating on when he would fall to temptation. Probably discussing theories of whether he'd got high while he was away. (He had. It had not been by choice.)

"I take it Grace Gibson's prints were on the pill organiser?" Sherlock asked, making sure he sounded lazy and unconcerned about their topic of conversation.

John smiled. It had always felt like a tiny reward for showing off his talents, and somehow sex had amplified Sherlock's appreciation for John's face in general and his varied smiles particularly. He looked tired though, Sherlock thought. His apparent dis-ease this morning might be no more than the stress of not getting as much sleep as his body insisted on. In future, Sherlock would time morning sex to suit John's sleep schedule better.

Lestrade sighed. "That where you were, stealing evidence?"

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Entirely unnecessary. You said drugs conviction. So, her prints were already in the system.  She's the clear suspect, but you'd want something concrete so you could search the house as well as asking questions.  It's been the right amount of time for a match to come through, so: fingerprints.  Where?  If they'd been on the pills themselves, you'd not have waited for me, you'd have arrested her already.  So, on the organiser where the pills were stored."

John was grinning at Lestrade in that vaguely proprietorial way, as if Sherlock was a beautiful machine he owned.  This had always oddly pleased him, and now it made Sherlock want to put his hands on John to emphasise still more that they were to be taken as a unit. 

After a moment, though, John's smile faded into something sadder.  Strange.

"I do want to get on," Lestrade said.  "Prints on the pill box -- bad enough.  I assume you're coming."

"We'll follow," Sherlock declared.

"You know the address already I suppose?" Lestrade asked sarcastically.

 "I do.  Run along.   You'll have an easier time of the polite official bits if I'm not there, or so you always tell me."

Lestrade exchanged one of those infuriating, oh, it's Sherlock being Sherlock again, ha-ha looks with John, and went.

"You know, if you'd occasionally accept a ride instead of insisting on paying for sitting in your own cab in solitary splendour the whole time, you could have afforded to do without a flatmate, " John said.

What on earth did that mean?  Needing a flatmate had been an initial inconvenience that had proved, in the end, obviously and supremely beneficial.  Why on earth was John making it sound as if Sherlock would have been better off riding in vile police cars and doing without John?

"So, just as well for me you're a prat,"  John said.  That edge in his voice wasn't quite sadness.  Nearly resignation, but with a hint of, what?  A plea almost.  What on earth had Lestrade been saying to him?

"Employees ride in police cars," Sherlock said, which was only one small part of his objection.

"Consultants arrive at their own discretion," John quoted.  "Yeah, you said."  John, who often seemed to take in so little of the world, gave every appearance of having committed the majority of things Sherlock had ever said to him to memory.

"Anything else of interest from Lestrade?"

"Not to you.  He was talking about his ex.  Fluffy emotional stuff.  You'd have come out in hives."

Ah, so perhaps the discussion of Lestrade's disintegrated marriage (which, in Sherlock's opinion, had been doomed from the outset) had made John feel less than secure in their own current relationship.  Possible, although Sherlock had watched John shrug off being dumped by several girlfriends, and had a hard time imagining John facing the end of a liaison with any trepidation. 

"Her string of infidelities was chiefly in response to her rabid jealousy.  A supremely stupid response.  Instead of trying to hold on to her husband, she simply chose to pre-empt an imaginary betrayal with real ones of her own.  Stupid woman."

"It isn't a bit that you hate her because she hurt your friend," John said, his tone implying he knew better.  Sherlock ignored the obvious provocation.

"You've tidied the kitchen," he said instead, coming in on the subject obliquely.

John got up.  "And the sitting room, a bit.  Should I worry that I haven't seen where you're keeping your mice?"

"They're contained, John, I promise.  But the flat wasn't too chaotic to start with.  Typically you don't bother clearing up until things get far worse.  You're upset about something.  You haven't shouted at me about it yet, so it may or may not be something I've done... "  He raised his eyebrows and waited for clarification.

John's mouth was pursed up, holding something in.  After a moment, he sighed through his nose and let it out: "Where were you off to, this morning?"  

Sherlock blinked.  Good god, had Lestrade managed to plant the notion in John's mind that Sherlock was being unfaithful, off to visit another lover ten minutes after John had given him such a beautifully intense orgasm this morning?  No.  Even John could not be so gullible.

"I'd arranged to have Grace Gibson's activities and bins investigated."

John blinked, looking even more confused than usual.  "Your homeless lot.  Why would I be in the way there?"

"They live precarious lives, John, and many of them are mentally unstable.  They're less comfortable —  thus less cooperative — with two of us, particularly as they don't know  you well."  Sherlock was immensely pleased with himself about that; for someone with so little experience constructing white lies, he thought he'd done a fair job of work there.

"Oh," John said.  "We are going to talk to the daughter in law though, right?"

"Whether she is precarious or mentally unstable, yes."  He stepped close to John and put a hand on his chest, then plucked at the ugly cardigan.  "This doesn't suit you, and you know it.  Wear the blue one."

John raised his eyebrows.  "You're telling me what to wear now?"

"You resented my previous attempts to edit your wardrobe directly."

"You mean setting my trousers on fire, and using my shirt to clean up chemical spills."

That had been a few months in, when he'd realised their apparent dissimilarity was making it harder for observers to see them as a partnership, which led to a lot of tedious explaining of why John should be allowed with him at crime scenes.  "A more direct approach, yes."

John rolled his eyes.  "Just so you know, I'm only changing out of terror of what you'll try if you think you need an indirect and underhanded approach."

He came back down in the dull steel blue, which suited his colouring far better, bringing out richer tints in his hair and emphasising his dark blue eyes, so often muddied to near-brown by poorly-chosen clothes and bad lighting.  In Egyptian blue, or cobalt, he'd be stunning.  He never wore either.  Sherlock stopped him a few steps above the landing and kissed him with John's head higher than his own.  John's fingertips stroked down Sherlock's face as he drew back.  "That much of an improvement?" he asked, sounding incredulous.

"You've no idea."

 


 

"Spill something on yourself?" Greg teased, tipping a nod at John's changed jumper as they stood to the side in Grace Gibson's sitting room, giving Sherlock room to prowl.

John rolled his eyes.  He wasn't really sure why Sherlock had wanted him to change and the only explanation he'd been given, that rubbish about how he looked, wasn't something he was about to mention to anyone else.  "Ah so, today feng shui not auspicious for wearing of brown," he said in a fortune cookie voice, gesturing at Sherlock.

Sherlock was looking at stacks of DVDs by the telly, looking particularly inscrutable.  They exchanged a grin and Greg clapped John on the shoulder.  They'd never been exactly mates, but of everyone, Greg came closest to understanding.  Greg didn't just admire Sherlock, but liked him, even when Sherlock clearly wanted a good punching in the face.  Greg, like John, stood there while Sherlock showed him up and put him down and generally ran rings round him, and like John, came out of it shaking his head and grinning and loving it.  There were other people who liked Sherlock, people he'd helped, mostly, but they were usually dazzled.  John and Greg had got past the dazzle, and were still there.

Then there were people like Sally, who saw dazzling and complained about the flashing lights.  She was sitting on one of two parallel couches next to Grace Gibson. 

Grace seemed to be mostly confused by Sherlock so far.  She was young and blond and very pretty, with quite round blue eyes and a narrow, slightly up-tilted nose.  In jeans and a tracksuit top and her hair drawn back in a bunch, she looked very young indeed, staring at Sherlock as if he were some sort of strange animal. 

Which was fair, really, since Sherlock had barely said a word when they'd arrived, just started poking around her beautiful little house. 

Blinking a bit, maybe nervous, she offered John a coke for the third time.  "No, thanks, I'm fine," he said, and smiled reassuringly.

Her lips, pink with gloss, smiled shyly as she looked him over.  Oh good christ, she was pretty.

Stupid. His brain, or possibly his libido, was apparently running on autopilot. John was sleeping with Sherlock. Sherlock, who'd been a virgin. What kind of cunt was he these days?  If he'd caught someone else, someone who was meant to be Sherlock's... boyfriend or partner or... well, whatever, staring at pretty girls, he'd have taken the bastard outside and punched his face in.

It would be different if Sherlock did meet someone else. Maybe a bloke would come along some day -- Irene Adler notwithstanding, John reckoned it would have to be a bloke -- who was proper brilliant, and posh, and all, someone good enough for Sherlock.

If Sherlock had someone, that would be different. Yeah, then John would just go out and find some woman.  That would be fine.  Everyone happy.

He tried to imagine the bloke Sherlock could really fall for, and kept ending up with another version of Sherlock. Not likely then, since it was an article of faith in their household that Sherlock was the only one in the world.

Grace Gibson was still smiling at him.   A pretty young widow, smiling at him.  And next to her, Sally Donovan, who was gorgeous as ever, as long as she wasn't speaking.  And who in this room was John Watson sleeping with?  Him over there, big bloke with no manners.

But all the rhetoric about sentiment aside, Sherlock could be hurt, and all the feelings John had for anyone who would hurt Sherlock were violent. He'd do better about not looking at pretty girls then. New policy.

Greg started taking Grace through the bridge evening again.

"I don't even know why she wanted me to come," Grace said.  "I tried to play bridge a few times, but I never got the hang of it.  Never saw the point.  So I was only there to watch.  And then she was so mean, and she'd asked me to bring Thor, you know.  You'd think they'd like to see something new, something with a bit of fun, but they just wanted to watch that old black and white thing."

The couches were tan, the coffeetable wood a few shades darker, the carpeting dull cream.  The telly and shelves for the DVDs Sherlock was looking at so intently were built into the wall, absolutely symmetrical.  On one wall was a painting.  It was a bowl of flowers.  No clutter, no casefiles, no chemicals.  No bulletholes in the wall —

— well, all right, there might be, in the office, but that was different.

It was so hard to remember, sometimes, that this was how real people lived, this was what normal people had.  They got married and settled down and had a nice house and a nice life.

And she'd had it all, this poor simple girl, and lost it because her husband was miserable and selfish and had offed himself right there in the middle of the life they were supposed to be sharing.  She'd thought they were building something up, something new and special and just theirs, and he'd thrown it away, thrown her away, and left her sitting here in the middle of a life now gone half empty.

Of course, it might not have been like that.  She might have done it.  If she had, if she'd killed him, did she still feel that emptiness?  She'd have to.  Even knowing it was her own fault, she'd still have to feel the pull from that empty space next to her.  Even if she'd killed him, it would still be like Lestrade had said, having to remind herself that part of the basic make-up of her world was gone.

Maybe she'd done it and now when she walked into the kitchen or the bathroom she had to remind herself not to brace for the mess, because he wasn't there to leave it anymore, had to remind herself not to dread watching things on telly because he wasn't there to ruin them anymore, had to remind herself not to worry about meeting new people, because he wouldn't be there to say horrible things and offend them.  Or whatever it was that had made her hate him enough to kill him, if she had.

Maybe she hadn't.  Maybe she ached right now for all the things about her husband she'd ever complained about.  Maybe she'd laid in bed all night thinking about all the things she'd never done with him and would never do now.  Maybe she was sitting there hating the lot of them for being here when her husband wasn't.

"I'm just not clever enough for bridge," she sighed.

"I was never any good at it either," John said, to buoy her up a bit.  "Never saw the appeal.  Poker, now..."

She beamed at him again.  "Oh, yeah.  I like poker."

John heard the double entendre, and immediately saw from the looks on their faces that so did Greg and Donovan.  He resolved to shut up.

"And your fingerprints on the pill organiser," Sherlock said, from the doorway into the hall, not even looking.  "How did that happen?"  He didn't even sound accusatory, just curious.  John saw Greg and Donovan exchange fed-up glances.  This was not, apparently, how they'd been planning on playing their trump card.

Grace frowned.  "That plastic thing with the days of the week on?  It was sitting in the bathroom basin.  Must have fallen out of the medicine cabinet, I suppose.  I took it out when I went to wash my hands."

Sherlock turned.  He was grinning.  He looked demented.  "I see."

"It's true," she protested.  "I didn't even really know what it was for.  I just took it out of the basin, that's all."

"But you certainly hated your mother in law," Sherlock said, lightly,  "Nearly as much as you hated your husband."

"What? What are you talking about?"  She looked to John as if expecting him to speak up for her. 

But John's chivalry had always been a limited commodity, and it didn't stand a chance now, because Sherlock had that look.  Here it came, and stupid and embarrassing as it was to admit, John lived to watch him do this.

Sherlock gestured at the hall, at a shelf.  "Pictures from early in your marriage, embarrassing displays of obviously faked affection, fading away in more recent pictures.  The earrings you have on now, entirely different style from anything else, presents from the man you're having an affair with.   He likes action movies, so you have a new stack of DVDs.  Neil Gibson's movies on the shelf are old film noir — that black and white you hate so much —  a couple of the better recent suspense films.  Also, he was obsessed with fitness.  Early in the marriage you went running with him, but you haven't in many years, judging by the state of your calves and current trainers."

John looked at the pristine pink and white trainers, and then up at the pretty, shocked face.  She didn't appreciate the brilliance of it, of course. 

 


  

Sherlock regretted having dressed John more attractively within the first ten minutes at Grace Gibson's house. 

It was larger than her husband's mother's house had been, semi-detached and sprinkled with the sort of architectural fancies that uninformed people with no confidence in their own taste were drawn to.  Trappings of upper class style were shoved here and there —  a completely useless column stood in the middle of  the living room, two millimetres of space between its top and the ceiling.  If the signs of homelessness put John on edge, it was this sort of clueless newly-rich ugliness that irked Sherlock.  It was so thoughtless, taking no chances and still getting it wrong.

Much like the owner.  Grace Gibson's hair was clearly bleached to that shade of blond, but that sort of obvious falseness seemed to have been accepted as a stylistic choice for pretty young women.  And she was pretty, but only pretty, too symmetrical and doll-like to tip into actual beauty.  Yet the messiness of her hair, the track suit combined with the lipstick and the mascara and the neat little pearls on her earlobes, spoke of an arrogance about her appearance.

Next to Sally, a truly beautiful woman, she looked like a child.  And yet John's eyes kept straying to her tight jeans and her pretty face.  And she'd clearly taken in the handsomeness Sherlock had foolishly accentuated. 

Even Lestrade had noticed the change in jumper, eliciting a comment in a truly stupid mock east Asian voice from John.

John's actual sense of humour was dark, and unusual, but when he wanted to get on with people he tended to bring out a strain of unnuanced middle class humour that was even more embarrassing for its lack of originality than for its casual provincialism.

Yet another example of how John's simpler brain seemed to allow him to do things Sherlock could never have stood in himself. 

More annoying today was the utter unfairness of John characterising Sherlock's demand that he change clothes as some kind of incomprehensible whim, when it was obvious Sherlock's argument had been entirely aesthetic.  An argument well-borne out, clearly, by the fact that even Lestrade had been moved to paw at John's shoulder now he was in the more flattering blue.

And now John and the Gibson woman were smiling at each other like a couple of idiots. 

John made a comment, glanced at Sherlock, and licked his lip.  Sherlock had always found the gesture slightly distracting.  John's tongue was pink, pink enough to be mildly obscene, and the movement called attention to his thin but equally pink lips.  It was practically a sexual display.

Sherlock stared, feeling something acid and angry high in his chest.  Why was John flirting with this stranger?  Was John looking for --

No, John would not deliberately seek opportunities to be unfaithful in a relationship.  But if John was dissatisfied with Sherlock's performance then his preference -- Sherlock had no illusions about this -- for female lovers might make him unconsciously engage in courtship behaviour without realising what he was doing.

Yes, the woman admittedly met baseline criteria for attractiveness, though she was far from exceptional in any area.  And likely to the experienced heterosexual she sent signals that she was at least no virgin still struggling with the most basic aspects of sexual intimacy.

He abruptly wanted to grab John and kiss him in front of everyone in the room. 

Oddly enough, he'd occasionally felt that same want before, long before he'd had the least notion that kissing John under any circumstances was a possibility.

He wanted -- he had wanted -- to be seen kissing John.  It was, admittedly, a primarily possessive urge.  He'd wanted to establish his claim to drive off potential girlfriends and cement their alliance in front of the police and show bloody Mycroft that he could have something of his own.

But now --

Now he knew what John's mouth actually felt like: the warmth, the caressing mobile softness, the shockingly intimate wetness of that pink tongue.  He'd had John's tongue inside his mouth while he was having an orgasm, and the two sensations were now associated as firmly as if he'd put them side by side in his memory palace and reinforced the links every day for a decade.

In time, when John's sexual identity crisis had faded, when Sherlock had proved himself equal to John's sexual expectations, one day perhaps he'd persuade John into such public kisses.  He could wait decades if necessary.

In the meanwhile, he would step up his work on ensuring John's sexual satisfaction.

And deal with the current situation.

"Just because we stopped doing everything together -- " Grace Gibson was weakly attempting to rebut him.

"Your boyfriend before you were married was abusive, much older, probably your dealer.  You never talk about him directly, but it's obvious in the context of your Facebook conversations with friends from school.  He's the one who broke your wrist and your nose.  Fixed beautifully, but it slightly changed the timbre of your voice.  He was the one you wanted, but you knew you couldn't stay with him.  You tried to make it work with your husband.  You really wanted to.  You just -- "

The break in the flow of words was too brief for anyone else to notice, but it was there, as Sherlock recognised what he was saying. 

" -- couldn't change what you wanted, in the end."

Like a heterosexual man who couldn't change his preferences, however genuinely he might try.

"You ended up looking for the kind of person you were really attracted to.  Your husband couldn't keep you once you'd found what you really wanted.  Not as old and forceful as your first lover this time, the emotional scars go too deep for that.  You shy away from older men in clear authority.  You prefer not to look at or speak directly to Lestrade.  That's vanishingly rare in heterosexual women.  Most of them stare slackjawed."

"Sherlock," Lestrade said.  He sounded annoyed, which made very little sense, since by any measure Sherlock was complimenting his appearance.

"But you're making eyes at John blatantly enough to embarrass all of us.  So I suspect your current lover is reasonably good-looking, in his early forties, firm without being authoritarian enough to frighten you."

"Sherlock, pushing it," John warned.

Sherlock ignored him.  Of course John didn't want his flirting interrupted.

"Marie probably knew all along.  She'd certainly have realised when your affair began.  She noticed the earrings.  She noticed the movie.  You thought she genuinely wanted to watch Thor at her bridge party?  She was mocking your unfaithfulness.  If you'd stayed to watch, you'd have discovered the movie she did choose was about a wife's failed infidelity."

"Do I have to listen to this?" Grace demanded.  "He's, he's just -- "

"You went out with your new boyfriend last night.  The two of you brought party favours which you shared out among friends.  To rave reviews, I'm sure you'll be happy to hear."

"This is one of your homeless friends eavesdropping in the street, I suppose," Lestrade said.  Of course he had no use for  any evidence that couldn't be legally stored in an airtight bag.

"Overheard your friends saying how long the high lasted.  Sounds like  coke cut with cardizem to me.  Marie knew about that side of your past as well, did you know?"

"Sherlock," Lestrade said, "unless you can produce some evidence -- "

Idiot.  And John was looking doubtful.  John, of all people, with doubt on his face.  Intolerable.

Fine.  Let Lestrade have his evidence, for all the good it would do him.

"Tip out her bag," he instructed.

"May we look through your handbag, Mrs. Gibson?"  Lestrade asked politely.

"I . .  . yeah.  Yes.  All right.  Have it.  Nothing to hide."

That meant she was sure she'd got rid of all the party favours.

"Make sure to look under the tissues," Sherlock said.

It took nearly five minutes, and in the end they did have to tip the bag over to clear the mulch at the bottom.  And there, where he'd known it would be, was exactly, exactly what Lestrade wanted: a small plastic bag holding two blue capsules.

As Sherlock had also known would happen, Grace Gibson's eyes grew even rounder with shock.  "Those aren't mine.  I didn't put those -- he did it!  He planted them there."

Sally's mistrust was, occasionally, a boon.  Before John could even get out the requisite loyal protest, she'd said, "Nope.  I've been watching; he looked, but he's not touched it, not once."

"I don't know how those got there!" Grace wailed.

Which was quite true.  She was far too stupid to realise, obvious as it was.  Sherlock didn't have the full picture yet, but this part was inevitable.  If Lestrade had been smarter, and Grace Gibson less annoying, he'd have left this to dangle until he could produce the final result.  But let the two of them suffer instead.

Crying prettily, Grace Gibson was arrested.  Even as she went out the door, she was looking winningly back at John, hoping he'd come to her rescue.  Hateful woman.

"Bit harsh in there," John commented, as they left to find a cab.

Sherlock glared.

"I just mean -- Sherlock, you're like using a grenade launcher against a troop of girl guides.  You had her outclassed from the first moment.  You didn't have to drag her entire sad life out as well."

Sherlock was very slightly mollified.  "It was relevant."

"It was cruel.  Amazing, but cruel."

"Hardly amazing.  The most interesting parts of the case are still unclear."

"Wait, I thought you were done."

"John, you cannot possibly --"

"You gave it to Lestrade, Sherlock.  Had her arrested."

"I showed him things.  He put them together.  In entirely the wrong order, which is his own fault."

"But everything fit -- "

"Hardly everything, John.  Marie Gibson's bracelet.  Shiny, she never wore it.  One of her epi pens in the rubbish bin, but she'd not had an episode in years.  The daughter-in-law invited to the bridge night in the first place when they clearly despised each other.  And why did the husband record himself playing Russian roulette?"

John frowned, trying, in his feeble way, to think through it.  And now, in the corner of his eye, Sherlock could see a new annoyance approaching.

 


 

Sherlock stopped beside him on the pavement.  "Yes, fine," he said, in a grudging voice, apropos of nothing.  "There's a way up to roof level two alleys on, we could make a run for it.  But as we were going to take a cab anyway . . ."

John now noticed the black car as it came up to the kerb and stopped.  Sherlock opened the door for him, and John slid in.  To his surprise, instead of a mere minion, Mycroft himself was in the car, sitting in the seat opposite John in the roomy back.  John supposed the rules were different when they were being kidnapped as a pair.  Sherlock slid in beside John and put his feet up on the seat next to his brother. 

Mycroft gave the long shiny shoes a disapproving glance but didn't mention it.  "My people appreciate not having to chase after you," Mycroft said. "The rust and sharp edges on that fire escape are a symphony in tetanus."

"What do you want?"

"Things are busy at the moment, Sherlock, and I can only spare a little time.  It's obvious that in the last few days something -- "  he stopped, head tilting slowly as if he were twisting his suspicious gaze into Sherlock like a corkscrew.   "Dear god."

He knew, John realised.  His cameras or spies or whatever had picked up that there was something new going on, and it had taken five seconds of actually observing the two of them for Mycroft to diagnose that sex was being had.  So, already John had been outed.

Mycroft leaned his head back against the seat and rolled his eyes.  "You little fool," he sighed at Sherlock.  "What can you have been thinking?"

Maybe John had been wrong, maybe there was something else Mycroft had figured out.  He hoped so, because he'd always got the feeling before that Mycroft mostly approved of John's part in Sherlock's life.  "Um, are you -- "

"Yes, John, I am talking about the fact that my brother has at last managed to worm his way into your bed."

"Shut up," Sherlock snapped.

"Not that it's any of your business, but it was my idea, actually," John said.  It wasn't worth denying it; not with Mycroft, who would probably enjoy listing off all the ways they had given themselves away.

"I'm entirely sure you believed --" Mycroft said.

"Shut up, Mycroft!" Sherlock snapped.  He didn't sound like a sulky teenager, which was his usual reaction to Mycroft.  He sounded really upset.  "Stop the car.  Now.  We're getting out."

John put a hand on his arm.  It felt odd to reach out and touch him like that, but, well, he could now, couldn't he?  And he wanted it clear to everyone that he wasn't ashamed of anything.  "Wait.  I reckon if your brother's going to be that rude about me, I've a right to do him out of cab fare home."

"You misunderstand me, John," Mycroft said.  "It isn't my brother's taste I question."  For some reason, Sherlock glared rather more at that than he did when Mycroft went on, "it's his judgement.  Risking a relationship he has become so reliant on for -- "

Suddenly furious, John leaned forward, towards Mycroft.  "That's balls, Mycroft.  This isn't telly, and nobody here is a teenaged girl.  People have sex and go back to being friends all the time.  It's awkward for a bit, and then you get on.  You are too fucking smart not to realise that, so what the hell is this really about?"

Mycroft looked at Sherlock.  "If you would prefer to tell him . . . " he said.

Oh god.  There was something going on.  Some Holmesian fuckery he probably didn't want to know about.

Sherlock shut his eyes, looking pained.  "He's suggesting that I manipulated you into it."

John grinned in disbelief.  "Svengalied by a thirty-seven year old virgin, was I?"

"John -- " Sherlock said, in the tone he used when he thought John was forgetting that he was Sherlock Holmes.

"Oh, you reckon?  You, what?  Use subliminal suggestion to get me to do things thinking it's all my own idea, do you?  And yet you can't get me to stop complaining about the bloody state of the kitchen?"

"I don't suggest it was deliberate," Mycroft said delicately. 

"Oh bollocks," John said.  "It isn't even as if Sherlock had ever thought about us -- "  John registered Sherlock's expression.  He blinked.  "You -- "

"Shut up," Sherlock muttered.

"But -- no.  Wait, really?"

"I thought about it.  Not -- I wasn't pining or -- "  He made an extremely disgruntled face and trailed off.

John smiled.  So Sherlock actually had been in more or less the same state as John himself had.  Well, probably less than more, obviously.  And Sherlock hadn't been exerting any weird psychic influence either; that was just Mycroft being a total arse, and missing the point.

"Charming as your modesty is, John -- "  Mycroft began, with an irritating smirk.

"Piss off, Mycroft," Sherlock said nastily, and suddenly leaned over in the seat and kissed John. 

John froze up for a moment.  Kissing someone in front of family members was never comfortable.  And this wasn't just a peck, Sherlock's mouth was hungry and insistent.

But the point was: Sherlock and John v. World. 

And here they were sat with the man who quietly ruled the world.  So, making a point.  Yeah.  Okay.  Just let him get it out of his system.

 

 

Chapter Text

When he had done about as much kissing as he thought John would stand for, Sherlock spent the rest of the journey staring at the window. Unfortunately, there was a semi-transparent reflection of Mycroft's face in it. There had been a time when Mycroft had actually been a comforting presence. Solid, reliable, big enough to stand between Sherlock and the world, and intelligent enough to understand Sherlock's need for a windbreak when all of reality was howling stupidity and derision in his face.

These days, Mycroft was spindly as Sherlock himself, and the constant hunger seemed to have soured something at the core of him.

And Sherlock had never liked the way Mycroft looked at John, as if John were yet another thing of Sherlock's that Mycroft could take away at any time, just another toy he wasn't to be trusted with.

Mycroft's taken aback look at this kiss had been marvellous. Sherlock wondered if John would put up with being kissed every time Mycroft looked at him from now on. Probably not.

When they rolled up in front of the flat, Mycroft said, "John, would you excuse us?  I'd like a word with my brother."

"Okay. Does he want a word with you, that's the question," John said.

Sherlock sighed. Perhaps if he sat through it now, Mycroft would go away for a while. He'd claimed to be busy. "I'll be up in a moment."

John got out and shut the door behind him.

Mycroft smiled with fake magnanimity. "I do appreciate the opportunity to help the two of you displace some of your rage."

Sherlock spared him only a brief glare. He'd let Mycroft get whatever it was out of his system, but he had no intention of helping.

"What exactly are you after, Mycroft?"

There was a leather file case on the seat beside Mycroft. From it he pulled a file and held it out.

Sherlock, sure it was going to be some tedious case of pilfered international secrets Mycroft wanted Sherlock to look at because he couldn't be bothered wasting his own time, was caught entirely unprepared by the image of the decomposed corpse that was the first page inside the file. Had it been anyone but Mycroft he'd have suspected that it was a deliberate attempt to use gore to shock him, but Mycroft knew better than that. The split and rotted flesh didn't bother Sherlock, but clipped to the picture of the body was a head-and-shoulders shot of a living man with a long aquiline nose, large dark eyes, a weak mouth. His name had been Stefano Magoni and Sherlock had killed him in Seregno, just less than a year ago.

"A flash flood and sudden subsidence uncovered the body," Mycroft said, and oddly Sherlock's first thought was a pang of annoyance; digging that hole had been exhausting, and he'd only gone so deep because he'd been making sure it wouldn't be found. His luck had been freakishly bad.

Sherlock ignored his brother and paged forward in the file. The next seven pages were a police report.

"As you see," Mycroft went on, though Sherlock was pretending not to listen, "The body was badly decomposed. But an inconveniently sharp-thinking coroner hit on the notion of a paralytic poison and managed to narrow down the date of death. After that, it was no great difficulty identifying Sr. Magoni."

"I've already got a case. And I can't see anything about this one worth the price of the flight."

"Quite," Mycroft bit out, acidly. "A witness, a waiter named Vincente Uccello, was found easily enough. His way home every night took him down the street behind Magoni's apartment. One night, he saw a tall, pale, dark-haired man who he thought looked as if he might have been in a struggle. And then there was the hotel worker, who also remembered a tall, pale, dark-haired guest with an English accent. She remembered him because he'd acted so odd, unfriendly, and secretive." Mycroft's tone dripped with scorn.

"Oh, was this one of your little spies, not living up to your expectations of dishonesty?" Sherlock asked, knowing that his disingenuous tone would irritate his brother. He assumed Mycroft had read between the lines there: he'd turned that horrid hotel woman down when she'd tried to offer herself as a sort of hotel amenity to make up for the dingy bath and lack of wireless.

"Sherlock," Mycroft said. The ugly childish twist of his mouth made the whole irritating conversation very nearly worth it.

"What do you want Mycroft? Do you really think some Italian police could possibly -- "

"Start looking for a tall, pale, dark-haired Englishman only weeks after a few international papers carried images of the shocking return of the famous Sherlock Holmes— " Mycroft put a sarcastic spin on Sherlock's name that no one who hadn't been saying it since childhood could ever have managed, "— who is known to have been mysteriously abroad at the time of the murder?"

Fuck. It might just work. It would take one clever policeman, but there must, somewhere, be such a creature, and given how the rest of Sherlock's luck had run in Seregno, he couldn't rule out that the Italian police might be in possession of this rare beast.

"As it happens, the detective in charge of the investigation retired, very suddenly. The case seems to have drifted out of current interest. I doubt anyone will ever look at it again. Magoni will hardly be missed."

"Retired suddenly," Sherlock echoed, thinking it was a euphemism.

"He wanted to spend more time with his wife, and his son's new family. I envisage a charming picture of his twilight years," Mycroft said with one of his saccharine smiles.

Of course Mycroft had taken care of it. A word in the right ear, pressure on the right point, and the whole thing would have disappeared. Sherlock shoved the file back at his brother.

Mycroft's smile grew uglier. "Manners, Sherlock. I know we did teach you some. You could at least express a little gratitude. I am doing my best to make sure your relationship with John gets no worse. It would make matters far easier if you— "

"There is nothing wrong with my relationship with John," Sherlock said tightly.

"By all means," Mycroft said with showy insincerity, "displace and deny your resentment of him, and I'm sure in time it will fade."

The arse was having fun.

"I don't resent John."

"You lost two years of your life, became a fugitive and a murderer— " Mycroft flapped the file in his hand, "— for him. And he's annoyed with you about it. Of course you resent him, Sherlock. And imagine his reaction if he knew about all this."

Sherlock could. It was hideous, but it was none of Mycroft's business. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"Now he's deflowered you, you think he'll stay on no matter what, is that it? Don't be a child." He leaned forward. "Though, I admit, that did come as something of a surprise. I'd assumed the tension had finally snapped your restraint and you'd pounced on him. I'll never get the limits of that man. Firm, unhurried, competent, with squalls of sudden passion, one assumes?"

Sherlock knew he was being baited, but he snapped back anyway, "You'll never know."

"I want this for you, Sherlock," Mycroft said. "I truly do. I only hope it lasts."

"Oh, fuck off," Sherlock said, and got out.

In the sitting room, John was standing at the desk, sorting the mail, muttering, "His, mine, his, stalker, junk, junk, junk, crackpot, his, junk, mine, his, crackpot, junk."

"The stalkers and crackpots are junk," Sherlock told him.

"Someday you'll be bored and these will divert you long enough for me to hide the guns and the board games," John said. "Did that git have anything useful to say?"

John's use of invective was a complex subject. Terms like twat and git were most often used fondly when John was enjoying a conversational wrangle. When John was particularly cheerful, he sometimes called Sherlock a complete fucker. Sherlock wondered if this counted as John using pet names, which Sherlock recognised as a marking a certain degree of settled comfort in a relationship.

John couldn't possibly have pet names for Mycroft though. Probably this was straightforward abuse, which would make sense as Mycroft clearly was a git.

"Does he ever?"

John smiled wryly.

Mycroft's interference had made Sherlock particularly determined to have as much sex with John as possible in the immediate future. He took it as a simple axiom that this might have been exactly Mycroft's intention, whether because he honestly wanted Sherlock and John to continue as they were, or because he hoped Sherlock's sexual inadequacy would bring a swift end to the whole business.

Sherlock drifted closer, eyes fixed on John's lovely little mouth.

"That— erm, about that, in the car," John said. The smile had melted away. He looked uncomfortable. "Kissing, in front of your brother . . ."

Sherlock experienced a strange cold at the back of his neck, and in his chest. "You don't— " Not fair. Not fair, not fair. Mycroft had done it after all, taken away his chance to keep John. And he'd played straight into the smug bastard's hands, with that kiss.

John moved closer, hand going to Sherlock's arm. He'd done that several times today, and it was good, right, to be the one person John— normally fairly touch-avoidant— naturally reached out to. "Sherlock, no, listen. I just . . . you surprised me. Doing that in public."

"You kissed the girlfriends in public. Well, not the one with the dog, because she wouldn't let you kiss her at all, and not the short one because you always stayed in with the short one."

"Sherlock, did you actually follow me on all my dates?"

Sherlock was fairly sure that answering that question could not in any way improve the situation.

John sighed. "Never mind. Look, I've not even come out to my sister yet. When we're at home, when we're alone, you can kiss me whenever you like, all right? But it's the first week. Just, give me a bit to work me way up to the bloody Pride March, can you?"

The thought of John at a gay pride event was fairly unnerving. Straight women were more of a threat, obviously, but men tended to be more aggressive. And at such events even those who weren't chemically intoxicated tended to lose inhibition in the accepting atmosphere and the excitement of the crowd. Men flirting, even pawing at John. Hideous thought.

Sherlock took John at his word— they were home and alone— and kissed him, pulling John in by the arms and pushing his tongue into John's mouth. As in the car, he seemed surprised and not terribly responsive. This was not going well. Sherlock let him go. "We needn't be public about anything," Sherlock promised hurriedly, though allowing other people to think John was still available was exactly the opposite of what he wanted to achieve. "I— "

"You just wanted to give Mycroft a shock. I get it. It's fine." John smiled gently.

Sherlock nodded, though it had been not about shock— Mycroft was difficult to shock without the aid of small explosives— but about proving a point.

In the interests of keeping John in a good frame of mind, Sherlock ate dinner when requested. The thought of Mycroft made him down the whole sandwich and a packet of crisps when they were put in front of him, just to show he wasn't a diet-obsessed compulsive. Also, he rather thought John would prefer a body rather better padded than Sherlock's present boniness.

Afterwards, John began typing up quick notes on the case so far. Quick in the sense of their content, that was. John, for all his complaints about Sherlock's supposed laziness, carefully maintained certain incompetencies in order to avoid work he disliked. He refused to learn to type, or drive, or make coffee properly. Though he could be enticed to learn with the right encouragement — he'd been useless at texting until Sherlock gave him reason to learn.

While John thumped doggedly away at his keyboard, Sherlock stared unhappily at his own laptop. He had now a fair-sized collection of acts he'd like to try with John, but none of the studies on male bisexuality were particularly encouraging. He could question their methodology all he liked, but why should it be so difficult for science to record a statistically significant slice of the male population aroused by images of both men and women? The young men Sherlock had known at school had apparently been aroused by passing air currents and changes in lighting, if their frequency of masturbation was anything to go on.

It was so maddeningly, stupidly unfair. Why should John, so otherwise uniquely suited to Sherlock, be straight, and be so obviously discomfited by stepping out of that role? It was difficult for Sherlock to understand, this sense of identity tied up in sex. He'd had only fleeting episodes of interest in sex a few times in his life, and he'd never felt the need for the sense of belonging or community John and others seemed to get from being straight or gay or any such category.

John might remain deluded about Sherlock's malformed character for a long time, if Sherlock was careful about skewing his behaviour toward the normal. And Sherlock had some practice stacking the deck against competition, keeping potential girlfriends at bay or driving them off quickly. But what could Sherlock possibly do to mitigate his gender? The theoretical option of gender reassignment surgery would not likely help; John would be perhaps even more uncomfortable with a transgender partner. And at any rate, being male had undeniable advantages for the work.

There had to be a way, there had to be a solution. John had to be his, for always. Safe from the distractions of attractive women. Safe from the interference of Mycroft. Safe from later revelations of the many ugly truths about Sherlock. Why could there not simply be a price he could pay — however high, it would be worth it — and then he would own John forever and without question?

There John sat, so simply perfect, and Sherlock wanted to pull him out of the chair and kiss him, bite him —

Yes. God, yes. Throw him to the floor and claim him, kiss his pink little mouth and bite his pink little tongue. Grip John's arms and hold him there and rub his cock against John's belly or better yet, yes, into him, into John, penetrate him. Come and come and come deep inside, John's strong heat everywhere around him, John shuddering and gasping under him. The thought was so viscerally satisfying it left him lightheaded and hard, and with sweat on his forehead.

Was this what it was like for everyone else, assailed all the time by such bestial demands of the body? It couldn't be. They'd all run riot. Well, perhaps by living with it every day they built up resistance, learned to ignore the stupid animal urges. Perhaps it was worse for him because he'd never developed a tolerance.

Sherlock had never been interested in the business of dominance and submission play. For most of his life, Sherlock had found he could dominate nearly everyone without really trying. Other people were intimidated by Sherlock's intelligence. They were afraid of what miserable truths about themselves he'd see and announce to the world. They needed his help. And he'd found their resultant submission dull and pathetic, and certainly of no use to him.

He'd never considered submission like John's, submission from a position of strength. Even when John was rolling his eyes and complaining about running an errand or sending a text, he'd got such dignity.

John certainly didn't fear Sherlock's intelligence. He mostly seemed to regard it as a sort of beloved pet, to be praised when it did a trick and scolded when it did something uncivilised in the sitting room. He even sometimes took his turn exercising it: when Sherlock was bore,; John had been known to deliberately go someplace unusual on his way home, or buy something odd, just so there would be a discrepancy for Sherlock to catch and amuse himself with for a minute or so.

 There was no question of Sherlock making John do anything; John's submission, so carefully judged, so wholly deliberate, was faintly frightening, like a block of C4 pressed into his hands, but John's shocking pliancy lasted exactly as long as he wished it to, and then he became immovable, bedrock. It was like living with a particularly charming shear-thickening fluid, or possibly a very personable rheopectant.

Yes, that was John, highly explosive, kissable oobleck.

Maybe taking orders with dignity was something he'd developed in his military career, but Sherlock had never observed it like this in anyone but John. So this was almost certainly one of those socially unacceptable reactions he had to keep to himself. When normal people saw strength and dignity, they probably didn't react by wanting to stick their cocks in. Did they?

He was certainly not going to so much as suggest to John that Sherlock penetrate him. Probably not ever. He'd far, far rather have John by his side when he was fifty than have John under him once now.

But, oh.

The solution might be here after all. John by his side was the real goal, however enticing the idea of somehow establishing unassailable possession.

If the act of penetration was inextricably linked to the notion of claiming a mate — and given Sherlock's reaction just now, despite relatively little association with the idea otherwise, the link appeared to exist at some basic anatomical level — then he had a unique tool for manipulation.

If John could be convinced to fuck him, that would instill in John a sense of ownership. And if Thaler and Nofsinger's results were to be believed, the Endowment Effect would then make John value Sherlock — as a possession — more highly. It would make him less willing to give Sherlock up, even if offered a clearly more valuable — in this case, attractive — alternative.

Sherlock approached John from behind the chair and with a gentle hand cupping his jaw, tilted John's head up so that Sherlock could give him an inverted kiss. It was interesting, and it made John giggle, which was always charming. It allowed Sherlock to stroke the top of his tongue directly over the top of John's.

And John just let him do it, head laid back and neck exposed. Sherlock had to lean further and nip there, feeling fine stubble on his lips. He straightened abruptly. "Get up, John. I want you."

"Okay. Try politeness sometime," John said easily, head still tipped back, smiling fondly at Sherlock upside-down. This would work. John already felt comfortable occasionally telling him what to do, which was surely a proprietary notion.

"No, I'm afraid we've already established that rudeness helps provoke kissing."

"Right, rewarding the thing I'm trying to extinguish. I always was rubbish at behavioural modification."

"Behavioural modification doesn't work on me. I know all the techniques." He stopped quickly. That had been careless. The last thing he wanted John to start thinking about was Sherlock's history with mental health professionals.

"You know everything," John said dismissively, standing up. He walked around to Sherlock and put his hands on Sherlock's waist. The hands rested, shifted, registering his thinness, moved to rest again. John didn't say anything about it, but Sherlock could tell John was plotting.

Good. He would eat what John fed him, and gain fat and muscle mass, and then parts of his body would be John's direct creation. He was bound to feel further invested in Sherlock based on that, wasn't he? Yes, it had been tested, Journal of Consumer Psychology, sometime in 2011 — the IKEA effect. So many little tools naturally at hand, to chip away at John's defences.

Not that he'd ever had motivation to work at one before, but it appeared that this sort of interpersonal relationship, stripped of the swooning oversentimentality the world at large liked to veil it in, merely required a little planning and logical thought.

John was looking up at him with calm, amused expectation. That was mildly annoying, John should have been hungrier for this. John was the one who'd always wanted sex, had seemed to spend a good ten percent of his time searching for, negotiating for, or maintaining the relationships that provided it.

If there had been breasts involved, Sherlock thought, he'd be seeing a deal more sharpness of interest from John here. Breasts. Honestly. What made them so important? Sherlock had nipples, and owned a throw pillow, and that appeared to cover all the same affordances. And the pillow had a nice union flag pattern and could be used to hide small objects, so really ought to be the preferred choice. He considered, with dark amusement, how he might make the point by slicing off a pair of unneeded breasts from the mortuary and offering them on a plate; divorced from their usual context, they wouldn't be so appetising.

Sherlock blanked his face, pretending not to be the sort of person who went about having thoughts about desecrating corpses in mid-embrace. Every woman on the planet, however dull, had flesh to offer that John was hardwired to appreciate, but Sherlock couldn't even offer the familiar comfort of blokey friendship and sane normalcy like Lestrade.

He didn't want to be blokey and normal. Never had. It sounded a lot like brain death. He could act the part. But the whole point of John was that they fit, that Sherlock could be exactly as awful as he'd been born to be, and John would just snipe at him and grin and occasionally shoot people. Except for this. This, Sherlock knew, had different rules, rules about being a good partner and caring and all that tosh.

John had introduced this new aspect to their lives, and while at first it had been only a means to the end of cementing their alliance, now Sherlock — yes, it couldn't be denied — wanted it for itself too. Orgasms were dull eruptions of dull physiology, but orgasms with John so far had ranged from pleasant to... well, he still wasn't satisfied with his vocabulary on this particular subject, but failing a better term he'd have to plump for beautiful. Like the flu virus when magnified three and a half million times, something mundane and generally quite unappetising became, when analysed under the correct circumstances, strange and full of unexpected detail and interest and, yes, beauty.

Sherlock kissed John, hard, one hand at the back of John's neck, the other taking a handful of the thin blue fabric of the cardigan.

John kissed back for a moment, then let his mouth go slack and gently pulled back a bit. He was smiling, somewhat uncomfortably. "Yes, all right, you're keen."

The light on his hair was particularly fine just here, and he really did look much better in the blue. Another opportunity there. There were some pieces in Sherlock's wardrobe that John clearly appreciated; Sherlock could deliberately wear some of these and explicitly say that it was because he'd noticed John liked them. A sense of ownership could perhaps be bolstered along the way through such suggestions.

And he did already choose his clothes for their effect on John, as well as others. The pyjama trousers, inverted tee-shirt and dressing gown he'd put on after dinner, for example, besides being comfortable and allowing excellent freedom of movement, always softened John's attitude slightly and increased his patience with Sherlock; perhaps a doctor's conditioned response to the trappings of bed-rest? And then there was one of the Spencer Hart suits whose jacket was cut in a way that faintly echoed an army dress uniform, and always put John in a slightly more danger-hungry state of mind for the day. And then certain of his more casual shirts, particularly those in deep colours, simply held John's eye longer than others. In fact, John had once, when Sherlock was choosing an outfit for an encounter with a jewel smuggler, rolled his eyes at Sherlock's careful calculations and told him, "You want to pull him, wear the red. You want to pull his wife, wear the blue. You want everybody to be able to actually concentrate on the conversation, wear a fucking white shirt and not the jeans."

So, he'd just occasionally be more explicit about why he wore what he did (although not about the pyjamas; John's unconscious response to that outfit was simply too convenient).

A few compliments going the other way might not go amiss, he supposed. Since John seemed to have genuinely not managed to work out why he'd been asked to wear the blue today. "Of course I'm keen. You're decidedly good at sex, and you're distinctly attractive just now. I did tell you the blue suits you."

John tilted his head, frowning, and licked his lips. "Okay. You just, erm, like... you like me in blue?"

Apparently this was a particularly ridiculous thing. Possibly it registered with John as feminine, or too-obviously homosexual (John was not always very clear about making a distinction between these).

"Shut up."

John smirked. "Yes, all right. You look good, but then, you know you look good because you always look good." As usual, he spoke of Sherlock's physical attractiveness as if it were an annoying hanger-on he tolerated for Sherlock's sake. Sherlock understood perfectly well that the mock-jealousy was one of a dozen or so layers of obfuscation over John's very real insecurity about his looks, which was mostly rooted in his height. It was also a quirk of slight asymmetries in John's facial structure that the reflected face he saw in the mirror was slightly more stern and masculine — the deeper-set left eye more prominent, the rightward quirk of his mouth less so — than the face the rest of the world saw. As a result, comments on the sweetness of his face irked him, because they seemed like mockery. (Sherlock's own face, thankfully, looked to the world somewhat sterner and less callow and lumpish than what the mirror showed him.)

Handsomeness came and went from John's face with mood and lighting, but that was besides the point, because the magnetic attractiveness of his subtle, mobile little mouth and beguiling expressive eyes could not be denied. Sherlock didn't see how anyone could ever get tired of watching John's face go through the stepwise series of little quirks he incorporated into his expressions — an eyebrow jumping, then a flicker of tongue, a narrowed eye, then a frown with one up-tilted corner — and trying to puzzle out what their entirety added up to.  John's very hairline could contribute overtones of disbelief, or worry, or annoyance, or...

One unacceptable outcome of John getting his head turned by some woman was that he'd literally spend more of his time with his head turned towards her, and away from Sherlock, wasting those intricate expressions on someone who couldn't possibly appreciate them. John's face was wonderful, and Sherlock deserved it.

He kissed it, the wicked pink little mouth and then the stubborn jaw, gold-stubbled. He breathed his way up an impudent cheek and then softly kissed the deft knot of muscles between John's eyebrows. Then with a sigh he fixed on John's mouth again, kissing hard, tongue slipping around to feel the silky backs of cheek muscles and then deep to taste John.

Not much actual taste, admittedly. Some suggestion of salt and tannin. He pressed in close, holding John tight, getting his body up against that warmth. So warm and good and all his. He did deserve John. He was exceptional, as John had said, and he'd been told — usually in bitter tones — that he could have anyone he set his mind to. Well, he'd set his mind, and his mind was a powerful machine.

And anyway, he appreciated how exceptional John was, so by rights he ought to be rewarded. The notion of bringing John down with him to the floor occurred again, and he groaned into the kiss. Not something to do, but so heady to even imagine for a moment.

"Hah," John said, pulling back. "All right, hmm. Good in blue. Okay. Got it."

John was flustered. Sherlock had overwhelmed him.

A thought finally occurred. Fairly obvious. Well known heuristic. The way a person acted toward a sexual partner generally signalled how they themselves hoped to be treated. "If you're not interested, John, you only need say," Sherlock offered. "Just," he shrugged, "an idea." There.  John now had an explicit out.

Sherlock hated it.

"No, no, I — christ, don't get the wrong idea," John said, and reached up, caressing Sherlock's cheek. Now his eyes and mouth were worried; apparently Sherlock's disappointment had been very badly hidden. "I'm right here, I'm not going anywhere."

Sherlock smirked at him. "Up to bed, perhaps."

John smiled. "That'll do, yeah."

Sherlock kissed the smile, and ran his hands up and down John's body, taking a first step to back him toward the door to the landing.

John, frustratingly, halted them. "You mean right now. Okay, but give me a moment to clean my teeth — "

Sherlock interrupted his words by biting lightly at John's lower lip. "Do it later."

"No, Sh— stop that — Sherlock, I'm cleaning me teeth before I go up to bed. You may have all the boundless energy of a thirty-seven year old lunatic, but I'm forty-two, and I'm not going to bloody feel like coming back down to floss after I've got off, I know that."

"Your constant harping on dental hygiene is boring."

"Just prefer to keep my teeth, Sherlock," he said, in that slightly more abrupt tone that meant this particular topic was on the edge of really annoying him.

Well, it wasn't as if Sherlock wanted either of them to go about the place suffering halitosis. He stole one more quick kiss.

"You like my teeth," John reminded him playfully, heading for the bathroom.

Admittedly true.

So it was another ten minutes before they were standing beside John's bed. Sherlock used part of the time to find and pocket a tube of medical Aquagel, which he happened to have on-hand, and to see that their various electronic devices were plugged in; which he supposed in its way was as much a bit of dogged domestic responsibility as the dental hygiene. It was a rather nice thought, that they should automatically make this division of labour, Sherlock seeing to technical and mental matters while John looked after medical needs.

Once John was upstairs, nicely mint-smelling, Sherlock got himself down to his pants fast, leaving his clothes on the floor in a heap by the bed, so that he could easily reach down into the dressing gown pocket. Then he swooped in to kiss at the bared collarbone where John was unbuttoning his shirt. His hands cupped John's arse, and once again he noticed how strangely good that felt, that hold on John. His breath was coming fast, and he let himself thump to his knees at John's feet, mouthing at John's warm sternum. "Mm, John," he murmured. His cock was hard and his whole body felt warmly ready.

John pulled at his shoulders and they both sat on the bed, John quickly skimming off trousers and pants together. Not so hard as yet, but he'd insisted on interrupting them for tooth-care, so clearly his interest needed to be piqued.

Sherlock kissed John's chest, briefly latching onto a nipple, then nipping at John's collarbone, which was a lovely shape under his skin, and took John's cock in hand.

John groaned and rolled to his back, arching up. Sherlock masturbated him slowly and firmly, until John was hard enough. Sherlock's hand rode up and down, measuring the length and the girth in relation to his own body. It would stretch him, but people did this every day, people with far less knowledge of anatomy, people with far less control over their bodies. He tried a shallower, brisker motion, and felt a little slickness dribble from the head of John's cock. He imagined it, this, yes, inside him, and the thought was overwhelming, made him pant and cling to John. He could have this. John, inside his body, and then he would be John's.

And then John would be his.

Sherlock had taken some thought over what vocabulary to use, aiming for something that wouldn't jar against John's heterosexual experiences. He slipped his hand smoothly up and down John's cock, and put his mouth to John's ear. "I want you," he purred, "I want you inside me."

John had frozen up. That was expected. This was quite an escalation. Was he going too fast? But what if while he worked his way up to this slowly, some slim, elegant and reasonably intelligent woman crossed John's path? What if Sherlock carelessly slipped into some freakish misbehaviour that would be enough to break this fragile new configuration of their lives before he had managed to reinforce it? What if Mycroft kept interfering?

John's hairline behind his ear smelled of his cheap shampoo and a slight tang of sweat, and losing this would be hideous and wrong.

"Don't you want to, John? Wouldn't you — "

John's hands gripped Sherlock's upper arms, firmly. "I — uh — can, can we . . . Let's sit up a moment, yeah?" And he was pushing Sherlock away.

Sherlock was suddenly aware of the cold of the bedroom air on the bare skin of his back. Reluctance he'd planned for. But not this, not John pushing him away entirely.

Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid. He'd got it wrong. This was the unforgivable social error. And of course he'd made it. And of course John would push him away. He was a man, and he was a murderer, and quite possibly insane, and —

 


 

 

John had known anal sex was bound to come up sooner or later, but he'd assumed it would take time.  He'd only been starting to work himself up to the idea of oral sex; and when Sherlock had gone to his knees beside the bed, John's whole brain had briefly halted, unable to get past the image.  He'd got Sherlock back up again as quickly as he could, and thought he'd headed off something he wasn't ready for. In general tonight, Sherlock had been a bit . . . Well, if it had been anyone else, John would have called it passionate.  Aggressive, at least.  To be honest, John had already been nervous, and then this.

Admittedly it was typical of Sherlock to vault over all the intermediate stages and skip straight to the end, but this seemed to have come on very suddenly.

Sherlock had gone awfully tense now under John's hands.  If experience was any guide, John had about fifteen seconds to defuse this before Sherlock decided he had been denied something and went on the attack.  He was capable of astonishing nastiness when not pandered to.

"We can't do that tonight," he said, carefully.  "We've not been tested, Sherlock.  STIs.  AIDS for christ's sake."

That seemed to have at least partly derailed the oncoming strop.  Sherlock blinked several times with that rare bemused expression John privately thought of as Sherlock's rebooting face.

"Is that really necessary?" Sherlock asked, after a moment  His tone implied that safety was one of those tedious middle class concepts he'd prefer to ignore.

"I know, virgin, and, yeah, I've been pretty careful," John said.  "But careful only goes so far, and you've been known to go paddling in corpses.  Anal sex is risky, especially between a couple of novices."

"It's hardly likely — "

John rolled his eyes.  "Look, unlikely, yeah, but — Jesus, Sherlock! —  if you caught something from me?  Something that could kill you?"

Sherlock gave a frown of mutinous concession.  "You'd be unlivable.  I'd be months coaxing you back into bed."

John blinked at that.  Sherlock had clearly not quite thought through the hypothetical situation.  His focus was mostly still on sex at the moment, apparently.  Who'd guess the prospect of orgasm could derail even Sherlock's usual clarity of thought?

They certainly did need to get tested.  Mutual masturbation was only comparatively safe.  The idea of infecting Sherlock with something genuinely made him sick to his stomach.  And Sherlock hadn't even thought about it, hadn't thought to suggest condoms or anything.  That was a reminder of how inexperienced Sherlock was.  He'd decided he was ready to leap ahead, but that didn't necessarily mean he was ready.

"To be honest," he said, carefully.  "Look, sorry Sherlock.  But I, uh, I'm not sure I'm ready for that anyway.  Yet, I mean."

Sherlock took a slow breath.  "I realise the situation is not . . . not what you've been comfortable with."

Which was true, and yet completely wrong.  Except for the sex, there was nobody in the world he'd ever been so quickly, completely, inexplicably comfortable with as Sherlock.  And if Sherlock wanted John inside him, well, Sherlock always got what Sherlock wanted, eventually.  That was practically a law of the universe.

"It's fine," he said.  He smiled, shook his head, shrugged.  "Sherlock, everything is fine." 

When Sherlock finally did insist on this, even after they were tested, John wondered if he could still wear a condom.  Maybe convince Sherlock he had a fetish for latex so he could wear gloves as well.  Sticking his fingers, or anything else, up someone's bum really required some kind of medical barrier, to John's mind.  He could argue at least for the condom on the grounds of easier cleanup, couldn't he?

 "It was only an idea," Sherlock said, turning his face away, making it all sound so casual. 

"Any other ideas?"  John asked, inwardly quailing at what he might be letting himself in for.  "As long as they don't involve actually exchanging bodily fluids, I mean."

"Hmm." The noise was a low musical sound in Sherlock's throat. "You masturbate regularly,"

Okay.  Where was this going?  Was it too late to add a no graduated cylinders, pipettes, or callipers rule?  "Um, don't know about regularly.  Or is this just you being posh about calling me a wanker?"

That got him a brief twitch of a smile.  "I mean you have a routine, a technique."

Didn't everyone?  Present company excepted, possibly.  "Yeah, guess so."

Sherlock's long eyes were slightly narrowed in thought.  "I want you to do it to me, exactly as you do to yourself."

John raised his eyebrows.  "Sort of have been.  I mean,  I wasn't trying to come up with anything different."

"Different angle.  I want to experience your preferences directly."

Sherlock wanted to spoon.  And he wanted to be on the inside.  That was... unexpected.  But it was true, when it came to  a really good and proper wank, John had a lifetime of expertise from that angle.  "Yeah, actually, my preference has always been sex with another person, Sherlock.  Masturbation is strictly second choice."

Sherlock looked away.  Something had made him uncomfortable.  Maybe he thought John was shooting down another idea.  "A baseline, nonetheless — "

John put a hand on Sherlock's shoulder, leaned in and kissed him.  Sherlock's skin was cold, though his mouth was hot and wet and immediately receptive. John pulled back.   "Christ, you're frozen.  I didn't think it was that cold in here.  Come on, lie on your side.  We'll give it a go."

Sherlock settled, and John slotted himself in along Sherlock's long pale back.  It wasn't the first time he'd spooned someone taller — John had long since stopped worrying about looking like a git next to a girl taller than he was — but that was usually only an inch or two.  In this case, it was for the best, really, he could avoid snugging his cock up right against Sherlock's bum without being too obvious about it.  He started off high enough up he could see over Sherlock's shoulder, and rubbed his hand in a small circle — soothing but sensitising — in the middle of Sherlock's chest. 

"This is how I start off, usually.  That's what you want, right?  Do what I do to myself?"

"Yes," Sherlock sighed. And then softer, and lower, "Please."

"Right, I'll just show you what a complete tosser I am then, shall I?"

Sherlock chuckled, low, and John could feel it in his chest.

John nosed some curls out of the way and sucked on an earlobe. "Sorry," he breathed, hand wandering until he found a nipple.  "Cheating.  A bit.  Can't actually nibble me own ear."

"The experience will be largely subjective anyway, so I don't think any pretext of rigour — "

John pinched the lobe between his teeth and the nipple between his fingers at the same time.  Sherlock's breath caught and he arched a little.  John let both go, grinning to himself and trailing his fingers now teasingly round the other nipple and then in long zig-zags, working his way very slowly lower.

"This is how you masturbate?" Sherlock asked, breathless.

"Yep," John lied.  He seldom had the time, patience, and focus for this.  In the army he'd learned to rub one out in a few minutes and get on with life.  For most of the last two years, masturbation had acquired an aura of guilt it hadn't had since puberty.  So many times he'd lain there with his cock in his hand thinking, miserably, that if he'd only done something, said something...  What had all that insistence on his heterosexuality won him but an empty life and an empty bed?  So he'd miserably brought himself off, lonely and sick of himself.

But he'd had a few nights, on leave, and before Sherlock had gone, when he'd taken the time and energy to treat himself.  And remembering the shamed self-disgust of the bad days only made him want more to make this good for Sherlock, because if on any one of those nights he'd been offered the chance to be here like this instead —

John teased fingertips along Sherlock's side, following ribs and delicately defined stomach muscles.  Not too light, though some tickling might be in order someday if Sherlock's thing about kissing while laughing went on.  Sherlock was already shifting a bit, restlessly, as John got lower.  His belly tensed as John's hand moved down in an arc, slowly, fingers trailing down.  The nail of his little finger skated further than the others, scratched just round the lower rim of Sherlock's navel, and as Sherlock sighed and twisted, John's hand slid upward again.

"If you do that to yourself —  is there a term for someone who is both a masochist and a sadist?" Sherlock asked, breathless. 

"If you're not enjoying it, I could stop."

"Don't stop," Sherlock commanded.

John grinned to himself and rolled a nipple gently.  It turned out that figuratively fucking with Sherlock was just as much fun while literally fucking with Sherlock.

A bit more on the nipples, and then John scratched gently across below Sherlock's navel.  Backward, forward, feeling Sherlock's stomach muscles tense and jump and then, making a sort of figure seven, down into coarse hair.  His knuckles bumped Sherlock's erection  and Sherlock grunted, twisted his hips, trying to get more contact.  John flattened his palm to Sherlock's belly and smoothed up, away.

"John," Sherlock complained.

John bit at Sherlock's neck, and started tugging at the nipple he'd neglected earlier. 

While Sherlock blew out an irritated breath through his nose, John shifted down a little, and got his right hand in under Sherlock's waist.  Not as much clearance there as there would be with a woman; that arm was going to be awkward and likely end up halfway numb, but oh well.  His right hand took over with the nipple and his left, now at just the right angle, slipped down and curled round the base of Sherlock's cock.

Sherlock moaned and his hips moved and somehow with nothing to look at but the skin of Sherlock's back, and doing it from this familiar angle, the whole handjob thing felt much easier.

John played with the foreskin a bit first, sliding it up, sliding it down, giving a slight twist.  Sherlock moaned and moved, and was for the moment apparently perfectly happy with anything John felt like doing to him.

John gave him some good firm pulls, and then slid up, over the head of Sherlock's cock, leaving it untouched.  Sherlock whimpered. 

John reached down to cup Sherlock's testicles.  Heavy, soft, firm, two weights he could roll against each other, lightly squeeze, and then tug out away from Sherlock's body.

Sherlock had admitted to masturbating himself, but knowing him, that had been a quick tight series of jerks, getting himself off as fast as possible.  Certainly from the gasps and groans it sounded like he'd never had his bollocks played with before.

John went back to the cock.  The tip was a wet drooling mess but, hell, hands could be washed, and Sherlock was even more responsive than usual and for once John felt like he was really getting it right.  He could do this.

He tried out different strokes, tighter and looser, shallow just below the head, long starting at the root.  If he'd been Sherlock, he'd have catalogued the reactions and memorised Sherlock's response to every technique.  But that sort of thing was too much like giving a physical, like recording a patient's vitals, to ever work for John.  If there was something somebody really liked, he'd remember that, and he gladly took requests, but otherwise he just followed the instincts of the moment.  Possibly under all the moaning, Sherlock's brain was humming along quantifying, and he'd get a report back later.

No one touch, just the continuing stimulation, seemed to be what tipped Sherlock over into real desperation.  His back arched and he writhed in John's arms, and ground his arse back into the bend of John's body, where John's cock was already hard.  God that felt good.  Animal and greedy, and coming from Sherlock that was heady stuff, yeah, but it was also just hot sweat-damp flesh rubbing his erection.  John let himself curl in tighter, hips rocking just slightly to keep that lovely pressure on as he stroked Sherlock's cock.

Sherlock was rocking himself too now, breath fast and rough, trying to thrust himself into John's grip. 

"Oh, god!"John gasped, as his cock lined up and slipped into the hot shallow cleft between Sherlock's buttocks.  He was in no danger of penetrating, just cupped gloriously by soft damp skin. His hips took up the same rhythm as Sherlock's, but his hand slowed.  It was so good, he didn't want it to stop.  He pressed his face against Sherlock's spine.  "Good.  God that's good."

"John," Sherlock whimpered.  "Close now.  Faster."

John shook his head rubbing his face back and forth against Sherlock's back.  "Make it last."  He slowed and tightened his strokes on Sherlock's cock, and managed, awkwardly, to get the lower hand in to pull gently at Sherlock's bollocks at the same time.

Sherlock groaned and kept rocking, twisting, and every motion felt so fucking good, John had to rock harder against him. 

His right arm really was having trouble.  He gave up on the balls, and shifted that hand back up to Sherlock's chest.  In the act of shifting, his other hand stopped stroking Sherlock for a moment.

Sherlock made a grinding sound of annoyance and took himself in hand instead.  John's grip snapped around Sherlock's wrist.  "None of that," he said, and placed Sherlock's hand back on Sherlock's thigh. Sherlock groaned and ground himself hard back against John again.  "Then you, John, please.  I need — need — you — "

A shock of lust made John's skin flush hot, made him sweat, made him clamp his lower arm tight round Sherlock's waist and press his face into the smooth, heated skin of Sherlock's back and grip Sherlock's cock firm in his other hand.  Sherlock whimpered and writhed, and then just groaned, "John, John, John," thrusting into John's grip.

Sherlock's body felt untamable, enormous, electric with life.  John stroked him, firm and quick, slickening fast, and rubbed his own cock in the firm hot damp groove.  Sherlock cried out, wordless and needy, and John made him come.

John's arm held Sherlock's shuddering body tight as John thrust, rubbing his cock feverishly up and down in that deliciously receptive little notch.  He worked himself, feeling Sherlock's skin gone sweat-slick against his cheek, against his cock, and then John's orgasm hit.  It was fucking fantastic, deep, almost painfully good, and drawn out until the last few rabbit-kick jerks of his hips were gorgeously complemented by Sherlock's own body giving a last few quivers.

For a long while after, he just lay there, panting, holding Sherlock's body close, wondering what the hell was happening to him.   This was Sherlock -- Sherlock!  Sherlock the genius who could see the human threads that tangled in a crime scene, Sherlock the chemist, Sherlock the violinist, Sherlock the man, Sherlock his fucking friend.  And he'd grabbed the body that housed all of that and used Sherlock's arse like some  kind of — 

He rested his splayed palm on Sherlock's belly.  "Sherlock?  Jesus, Sherlock, I — "  He took a slow deep breath.  This wasn't him.  John Watson didn't act like this.  It was like some weird dream.

"Yes, I realise that's not really how you masturbate," Sherlock said, sounding — for Sherlock — a bit slow, the way he'd sounded when he'd been dosed with drugs.  And the mad bastard actually chuckled.  "If it was, you'd never leave the bed."  Maybe he really was dreaming.  Could even Sherlock be this weird?

He held Sherlock for a bit longer, feeling a bit numb, no longer so sensitised to Sherlock's skin.

He finally noticed that John's come was a mess on the small of Sherlock's back, and Sherlock's own was smeared on Sherlock's belly.  If John had been worried about parity when it came to getting filthy, he was definitely now the one owed a wrecking. Poor bloke couldn't roll forward or backward like this.  Here was something he could fix, make normal again.  "Forgot to get any new flannels in.  I'll go get something to clean us up," he murmured.

"You — all right," Sherlock said, still sounding a bit slower than usual.  John retreated downstairs.

 


 

Sherlock lay on his side, waiting for John to come back. He hadn't wanted John to leave. A long stillness with John holding him, just as they had been, was what he wanted; time to process the situation with no changes in the parameters. Because this hadn't been...

He hadn't...

It had been an entirely unexpected success. Just when he'd been sure he'd entirely alienated John, it had turned out that John had simply, as usual, been keeping an eye out for risk and ruling out dangers that lacked the right sort of thrill for either of them to enjoy. Disease was indeed tedious. Not worth the slight increase in solidarity that might come from facing the same illness together. And if he had managed to pick something up himself, and give it to John, that would probably come under the heading of unforgivable.

So getting tested was on the agenda, and that itself would have a sense of mutuality about it. And almost certainly they were both clean, although overnight he would need to determine contingency plans for all the other possible outcomes.

And then John, wonderful John, had managed to turn Sherlock's plan B attempt at simple data gathering into a gentle simulation of the very act he'd requested.

And Sherlock had been... surprised. Caught unprepared.

John had been masterful along the way, in a way that implied exactly the proprietary interest Sherlock had been after.

And then he had thrust firmly against Sherlock's backside, and that seemed to imply even more sense of ownership.

In all honesty, Sherlock had felt, at least a bit, owned.

The experience of a partner thrusting his way to climax against a vulnerable part of the body was, it proved, quite different from a partner coming to orgasm through direct manual stimulation. It had been closest that first night, John thrusting into his grip, but the lack of intelligent control was, mysteriously, a hugely important element. There was a rawness to it, without the mediation of hands that were also trained to the keyboard and the scalpel and the violin.

It had been wonderful, and exactly what he'd set out for, and also so unsettling he hardly knew how to approach analysis.

John's comment, that he wasn't sure he was ready for anal sex, now made quite a bit of sense. Sherlock wasn't sure he was ready either.

Good. Yes. They were in accord.

John returned and put one hand on Sherlock's hip. "Just cleaning you up," he whispered. The cloth was slightly warm and damp, and John stroked it along his skin so tenderly. Perhaps all this sex was doing things to the hormone levels in Sherlock's body. He felt very strange. His throat felt almost as if he were coming down with a cold, and his limbs felt as if they were melting towards John.

John's hand tugged his hip, and Sherlock rolled to his back, feeling terribly exposed, yet wanting to be so. John cleaned his belly and his cock, and then folded up the cloth and dropped it off the side of the bed.

Then John, frowning just visibly in the low light, picked up Sherlock's hand. "All right?"

"Fine. What?"

John looked off to the side, smiled uncomfortably, licked his lips. Sherlock wanted to lick them too. "Your wrist."

The man bordered on moronic at times. "John, if you'd applied anything like the force necessary to damage my wrist, I'd hardly have been coming thirty seconds later."

"Yeah, endorphins never screw up your perceptions when your dick's hard," John said defensively, and rather crudely.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "It's fine." He sat up and kissed John, which had been one thing lacking during their previous activities. John's hand cupped his face and he felt again as if he could melt forward into John, all the cohesive bonds in his body losing strength. "Let's masturbate each other, face to face, in the morning. I'll wait until you wake naturally."

"Actually grasped that molesting me in my sleep would be a bad idea, have you?" John groused. "There's progress. Next thing you'll be giving me a say in the proceedings." But that was just John, acting put-upon. He was perfectly capable of assuming control in this situation; he'd more than proved that just now.

As Sherlock settled himself on John, he had a long list of topics for consideration: efficient STI testing, and various related outcomes, online gambling, possible keyword combinations for further research into sexual technique, Russian roulette in general, hormone responses in the sexually inexperienced, and (despite general opinion, not something he was an expert on) London's current ecosystem of drug dealers.

The post-STI testing plan needed no new input, so he lay with his head on John's shoulder and worked on that first. It amounted to partial-order planning, with the help of a mental model of John Watson's behavioural patterns to prune the search space down to something workable. Admittedly, his mental model of John had recently been proved incomplete at best, but he did what he could, accepting that in this case he was merely satisficing, finding perhaps only local maxima rather than strictly optimal solutions.

He was done with that before long, but stayed where he was through the whole of one of John's sleep cycles rather than jostle John during his deepest, most restful sleep. John, in the faint light from the window, was slack and soft and very handsome in the depths of sleep. Sherlock supposed that there had been girlfriends who had seen this, but none of them could possibly have appreciated it. John's lips were thin, parted, somehow even more delicate with their pink lost to the dim light. And John's neck — no one could possibly have appreciated John's neck like this before; it was a beautiful strong neck, shapely where it met his chest, and rising in a perfect slope to a surprisingly well-modeled chin. Those high round collars he wore must be designed deliberately to de-emphasise it. And that was only right; jugular, carotid, trachea, esophagus, spine, all those beautiful necessary vulnerable corridors from John's fine head to his warm body, all bound and bundled together in that one column. Sherlock for a moment pictured slicing the narrowest opening so that his fingers could trace the beautiful movement of John's air and John's blood, and he had to squeeze his eyes shut and grit his teeth to stop his shudder of horror.

Oh yes, it should be camouflaged, it should be hidden and guarded and armoured, not least because John had so stupidly entrusted his vulnerability to a man like Sherlock. Normalcy, Sherlock reminded himself. He could pretend to be normal, pretend that he was good, and that he cared about John the way normal people cared for each other, and that he never had such hideous thoughts.

 He watched John's face and felt John's breath, and waited, only getting up when John's sleep had gone shallow again, so that John grumbled at him and curled up on his side when Sherlock was out of the bed and wouldn't lose any quality sleep.

Sherlock pulled on just his dressing gown and went downstairs to find his laptop. He sat on the couch, and glanced at his email first. A few of his broader enquiries had brought in further information about Grace Gibson, most of it simply confirming what he had already deduced from direct observation.

There was also an email from Mycroft. Sherlock glared at the screen and opened it, ready for more infuriating commentary on his relationship with John. Irrationally, he nearly expected Mycroft to accuse him of wanting to vivisect his partner.

The text of the message simply said: "This sort of stain — Ribena one assumes — is easier to remove before it sets. -MH"

Attached was .JPG file of a white carpet with a stain on it.

Sherlock, now slightly more interested, saved the file and switched to a command line.

>cat ~\img\mhstain.jpg | jpgboxer -x | enc -x -w "Ribena" -p "MH" | tar -xvf

The scripts for hiding files inside an image and encoding data using a combination of PGP (in this case, using Mycroft's public key) and a cryptographic scheme of Mycroft's own devising (here using the key included in the email) had been written by one of Mycroft's pet computer boffins. Sherlock had little or no interest in programming computers, whose complexities were simply combinatorial and had nothing to compare to the genuine complications of human behaviour; he had simply memorised the necessary command line options to have these scripts invert their operations and extract the actual files of interest from the hidden tarball inside.

The resultant file, Ribena.pdf, was password protected, and Sherlock irritably checked the date and time Mycroft's email had been sent and did a few quick calculations before typing in a fifteen digit number as result.

It was the file on Stefano Magoni.  Sherlock sighed.  He supposed Mycroft had a point, he ought to look it over just to be sure there wasn't anything else that might come back to haunt him.

The first seven pages were from the original police report, written by a detective named Nestore Abelli who had  found the flat where Magoni lived, and further narrowed down the date of his disappearance, then managed to find and interview the waiter Vincente Uccello, and even, after some time, get the statement from the wretched hotel woman.

The eighth page was part of the paperwork establishing Nestore Abelli's early retirement. The ninth page quietly summed up the affair Abelli had carried out with a witness during a case in 2003, easy leverage, from Mycroft's point of view, for getting rid of him.

The tenth page was part of the case file concerning Vincente Uccello's long term small-time embezzlement from the restaurant where he worked.

Sherlock had injected Stefano Magoni through the stomach in Magoni's own kitchen, with only the slightest struggle. It had likely been the difficulty of moving the body down to Magoni's car — corpses were unwieldy — that had rumpled him enough for Uccello to notice. He'd seen Uccello too that night, he remembered, and knowing he would have to come back later to drive the car away and take the body, he'd considered eliminating the witness, but he hadn't done it. He'd never, as it turned out, killed anyone but assassins (and one rottweiler).

Magoni had been hired to kill Lestrade. Perversely, Sherlock found himself seeing parallels to Lestrade in Nestore Abelli. In the small picture on page nine he was handsome and grey haired, though far darker and craggier than Lestrade. He was an uninspired but dogged investigator, to have found both Uccello and the amorous, vengeful hotel woman, and his marriage was clearly as troubled (though apparently he lacked Lestrade's core loyalty), and though Sherlock's Italian was only serviceable, he thought the writing in the report had some of Lestrade's hurried, wry style.

Uccello, Sherlock could see with only a brief glance back over his statement, was certainly guilty. He'd fiddled the till that very night and pocketed some trivial sum, as he did on a weekly basis.

And there was no doubt Abelli had once slept with a witness, but...

Sherlock had chosen this, to trade the assassin's life for Lestrade's. He could hardly balk when Mycroft chose to sacrifice Abelli's career for the sake of Sherlock's freedom. 

Even had he chosen to take a flight and turn himself in today, that would do Abelli no good now. Abelli would remain in forced retirement, and Sherlock would be in an Italian prison, and who in the world would that help?

It wasn't even as if Abelli would ever link his own misfortune to this one particular case among many he'd been working on.  Mycroft would have been too careful for that.

And weighing all that against the possibility of John knowing the real and undeniable depths of Sherlock's essential wrongness, if Mycroft had asked first, yes, Sherlock would have thrown Abelli to the wolves gladly.  Lucky he had an elder brother to take care of such inconveniences for him. 

He supposed he couldn't even entirely fault Mycroft for the over-dramatic delivery method.   If Mycroft wanted to play spy, who had better resource to do so?  And though so far John always stuck to his own computer, surely with their changed relationship before long he would see the sense of simply using whatever machine was closest to hand.  Sherlock deleted the pdf version of the file and, after a moment's thought, the JPEG as well, and the email it had come with.  He had no interest in seeing the file again.

The text of that email had been a pointed suggestion, but there was no way Sherlock would even consider making a list of his murders and where the bodies had gone for Mycroft's convenience. The mere idea of it made him breathe harder and his stomach clutch. They were stored, in rooms in his head, but he maintained no explicit list of his victims; he found even counting them repellent.

In his head was the dingy hotel room: Magoni's car, the bonnet heaped with rubbish and the boot full of dead assassin, was parked by the window. Standing by the door was Uccello, whose name Sherlock  had not known, but who was holding a plate, because he had so obviously been a waiter. Sherlock's initial mental point of view of the room was from the bed, where he'd lain after a shower, naked, weighing the benefits of taking care of another assassin in Naples or getting out of Italy for the moment and going back to South America. Lying there, he'd thought about a woman he'd seen on the street, a fat pretty woman with enormous breasts who had carried two tiny yapping dogs held up to her shoulders, one in each hand, as if each breast needed its own tiny guardian. He'd thought how John would have laughed, and hated John for not being there. He hadn't deliberately put the hotel woman into this memory, because her quickly-rebuffed advances had seemed so unremarkable, but now he included her scratching at the outside of the door.

Another new addition: Abelli now stood in the room, bent over the trunk of the car looking for clues. He had his own face, but dressed like Lestrade. Making such adjustments to his memory constructions was no longer quite a conscious act, simply how his mind reacted to new information, filing it automatically if there were already obvious places to put it. Clear visual clues to Abelli's and Uccello's names would require a moment's actual thought, and Sherlock shifted his focus out of the room deliberately without taking the effort.

He had thought enough about this. Enough, enough, enough.

What he suddenly wanted most to do was go back up the stairs and crawl into John's bed and hide his face against John's chest, in that warm, good-smelling skin, and feel John there, close, his. Worth all he'd done. Worth the price, even when others had paid.

He checked the clock. John was in mid-REM again. Perhaps he wouldn't wake.

Sherlock got up and then, on a whim, took a hot shower instead of going up. It felt good, the hot water as he scrubbed himself. He didn't need to crawl all over John, he just needed to warm up a bit, after sitting all that time in just his dressing gown.

When he was dry, he put new pyjama bottoms and a tee shirt on, and played snatches of Stravinsky, something he'd learned so long ago that he could play it more or less properly, even though his fingers were still soft and a bit clumsy.  He put his effort into keeping the music soft, too soft to waken John.  Then abruptly, mid-phrase, he was sick of it, and he went back to the laptop.

For a while, Sherlock tried to research sex. But it suddenly all looked uninteresting and distasteful. There were pictures, some artful, some clinical, but those bellies, those cocks, those thighs, they hardly seemed to be from the same species as John, who was golden and warm and real. The descriptions were sometimes dull, sometimes amusingly flowery, but none of them captured the breathless thrumming sensation of arousal rising, or the shocking happy thrill of feeling John hardening, feeling John's pulse throb, feeling John panting, feeling John arch and jerk and orgasm.

Sherlock's ability to mentally transpose should have made it nonetheless easy to picture the suggested actions in the context of himself and John, but at the moment it all seemed nebulously unsuitable, almost insulting, to try to take these strangers' sexual notions, things to do to your partner or the man, and apply them to John, who was so much more.

So he spent the rest of the night on gambling, revolvers, and drug dealers. By the end he'd brightened up considerably, thinking of the report that would arrive on Mycroft's desk in the morning from whichever minion was currently eavesdropping on Sherlock's internet traffic.

He deliberately finished up with a few more outre sexual search terms, just to give Mycroft something to sigh over as he consumed his three egg whites with kale, or whatever his diet was currently limiting him to.

Then he went  into his own room and put aside the Aquagel, replacing it with something suited for a less charged sort of sexual act.  When he got back upstairs, John was just coming up out of deep sleep, beginning to stir.

John's hair, Sherlock noticed, was getting longer than John liked to allow it. Though the softness suited his face, he'd have it shorn back soon, and come back from the barber with more army than usual in his walk and the tilt of his head, and that suited him too. He was still curled on his side, shoulders and small bare feet uncovered by the duvet. Sherlock found himself again staring at the complex shapes that made up John's ankle. He wanted badly to mouth that skin, that strong little joint that took every impact as John walked by Sherlock's side. And he wanted to rub his face against John's neck, use the sensitive skin of his own cheeks to measure how much more stubbled John was now than he had been earlier in the night. And he wanted to unwrap the duvet and look at John's chest and belly, which were firm and warm and fine, and yet looked so little like the plastic-smooth, plastic-moulded bodies of the men in the sex-pictures on the computer.

John shifted a little, back of one hand rising to his jaw, then cheek, as if pushing away some dream-fly.

It was like standing over a sleeping wild animal, something small and sleek and well-formed. Like a badger, perhaps, something capable of astounding viciousness that nonetheless looked soft and vulnerable in sleep.

Then John's eyes opened. They took a moment to fix blearily on Sherlock, and then John smiled at him. "Yeah, that's not creepy at all." He mumbled sleepily.  John's first, his very first response to the sight of Sherlock, when he was fresh out of sleep, had been to smile and make a joke.

John was... John was happy with him.

It wasn't something he'd ever wanted. In fact, he'd have called it an impossibility. Rare, unusual people, like John, could put up with Sherlock, could enjoy his dazzle and his excellence, because Sherlock was dazzling and Sherlock was excellent. But that wasn't enough, that surely, surely, could never be enough when Sherlock was also — and unashamedly — horrible and unkind and abnormal.

Sherlock had never made people happy. He didn't try to. Didn't want to. It wasn't important.

No reason it should suddenly seem such a sweeping, thrilling realisation that he somehow had.

No. No. It made sense. If John was happy, then John would stay, and their immensely successful partnership would continue, with all the concomitant advantages to the Work, and that was important.

Sherlock threw back the duvet and laid himself down beside John, took John's face in his hands and kissed him. He wasn't aroused, exactly, and yet he wanted deep kissing, wanted John's arms round him tight and John's warm body. He also wanted to make mad declarations, but I'd gladly ruin a thousand Italian policemen for the chance to be kissing you wasn't the sort of thing he supposed one could actually say, so he satisfied himself with the kiss for a long, long time.

Chapter Text

"All right," John sighed at last, pulling back from Sherlock's mouth and self-consciously licking his lips. "Okay, hello, good morning." His tone and his expression said that Sherlock's behaviour was abnormal and embarrassing and odd, but Sherlock could match this particular tone and expression exactly.  This was the one John had worn during the Wildeman case, when Sherlock had offered him the Thatcher mask and told him to be sure to stick the gun right up against Sherlock's neck.  Apparently, like pretending to be an assailant in front of the CCTV cameras, being enthusiastically kissed in the morning by Sherlock was something John didn't think he was supposed to be enjoying, but despite his protests, he was.

So Sherlock just grinned at him.  "I waited for you to wake up."

"Well done you.  Not actually much of an erection this morning though . . ." John looked at him.  Some worry there, perhaps?

John's cock was a bit plumper than in its flaccid state, his scanty foreskin just a bit retracted.  "Not a problem.  I'll enjoy arousing you."

John blinked a few times, and Sherlock didn't wait around to hear what was coming next, because John was still a bit bleary with sleep it seemed.  He settled his mouth against John's again for more kissing.  John was naked, Sherlock in only his dressing gown.  When Sherlock pressed against him and twisted slightly, John's mouth went more open, his breath slightly faster. 

Good.  The dressing gown was silk, good quality but fairly raw, without the slippery texture which was almost certainly what John thought of as silky.  From its pocket, Sherlock pulled a long white oblong of thin smooth silk.  It had been among the boxes of clothes that Mycroft had, for reasons Sherlock had still not puzzled out, put away somewhere during his absence.  He'd produced them on Sherlock's return, and Sherlock had been quite pleased despite himself— he really liked some of those pieces— except for the following interminable argument with John, who had then taken most of an evening to convince that Sherlock had not in fact included Mycroft in what John insisted on calling the plot.

The scarf had been one of those odd trifles that people insisted on pushing on Sherlock when the resolution of one of his cases advantaged them.  He'd have much preferred that Ms. Shane have given him more money, to reflect how happy she was to have her uncle back, but accepting such pointless tokens was something John insisted he do, and it was easier to take the unwanted gifts than deal with a stroppy John if he didn't.

Sherlock was now just as glad he had taken the pointless length of fabric.  It was too lightweight and the whiteness would hardly last through the average case, but it was the only silk of this airy, smooth type he had.  The rest of his silk — the robe, a few shirts, some of his socks — were higher quality, but without the expected slipperiness. 

(Oddly enough, the one time someone had tried to press a token on him and John hadn't insisted he just smile and take it, it had been a pair of silk boxer shorts, offered by a woman whose fawning interest in him had nearly outweighed the interest of the disappearing corpse in her koi pond.  The pants Sherlock actually wore were all made of one of the better modern fibres, flexible, moisture-wicking and adding almost no bulk.)

 John hmmed softly into Sherlock's mouth at the sensation of the silk wiped softly across John's collarbones.  Sherlock drew circles on John's skin with the silk and slid his mouth along John's jawline to whisper in his hear, "This would be your actual silk."

A nice point, Sherlock thought, the distinction between John's former experience of a pair of nylon knickers accidentally left behind by one of the girlfirends, and this genuine silk, which was, moreover, a reward for a case they had shared, thus a result of Sherlock's intellect which, given John's reaction to his brilliance generally, should be all the more effective as a sexual aid.

Sherlock swirled the scarf around one of John's nipples, then spread the scarf across John's chest and slid himself down John's body a bit to suck at one nipple, dampening the silk with his mouth and then working the wet fabric against the tightening peak with his tongue.

John sighed, head tilting back.  "Yes, good, okay.  Silk.  Silk's ...nice."

Sherlock crumpled up the scarf and stroked it in random swirls on John's chest and belly.  John was definitely getting hard.  Sherlock brought the edge of the robe into play, stroking it against John's side while the scarf brushed his throat, catching slightly on the stubble.  "This is silk as well," he pointed out.

"Oh.  Not as soft," John commented, clearly distracted by sensation, and not terribly interested in a comparison of fabrics.  Sherlock supposed it didn't matter that John preferred cheap silk to the better stuff.  Having the good taste to appreciate Sherlock was enough.

He tried the silk on John's thighs, running down one leg, and then up the other, against the pale gold hair.  John took a shivery breath.

Sherlock knelt up and held the scarf above John's groin.  John stared at the edge of the fabric just touching his cock.  Sherlock lowered it very, very slowly, so its minimal weight settled in soft folds on John's hot skin.  John shifted, swallowed, staring.  Sherlock slowly drew his hand to the side, so the silk slowly slipped away again.

Then he took the ends of the scarf in his hands and lowered it, held taut between them.  When the middle of the scarf touched John's cock, he dragged it slowly back and forth, rubbing in a sort of polishing motion.  He stared, fascinated, as John's cock visibly twitched.

"God," John said, unsteadily, "I'm going to be towelling off my back later and have a spontaneous erection."

Sherlock smirked, and pulled the scarf so that he held one end near the base of John's cock.  Slowly he wrapped it round with the other hand and pulled it tight, a loop of silk round the base of John's erection.  It took careful motion to do it so that only the silk, and not his hands, actually touched John.  John groaned softly.

Sherlock wrapped another loop.  Wrapped, and wrapped, and wrapped, until John's cock was entirely covered, and John's hips were shifting restlessly and he was making pleased humming sounds in his throat.

Sherlock took the extra fabric he'd been holding at the base of John's cock and looped it under John's testicles.  There was no doing that without lifting the soft hot sack in his fingers and John's groan now was guttural and harsh.  With that end weighted down, Sherlock pulled at the other, and the silk unwrapped slowly, unspooling around the tip of John's cock, around and around that pink, vulnerable-looking skin.

John whimpered and turned his face to rub his cheek into the pillow and pushed his hips up into the sensation.  "Jesus Christ, Sherlock," he whispered, when the end of the scarf slipped from under his scrotum at last.  "What are you doing?"

It was absolutely unmistakable that he was enjoying it, and there wasn't even an attempt at sounding annoyed or exasperated, and yet there was an edge of something like worry in his tone.

"Arousing you," Sherlock said, "I did say."  He leaned in, weight on his knees and elbows, and kissed John, and this time simply lined the grip of his hand with silk as he took hold of John's cock. 

John moaned and nipped at Sherlock's lips.  Whatever might be worrying him, it wasn't interfering with his enjoyment.  He was quite erect now.

"God," John breathed, "Let me — I've got to — something for you."  His hand went for Sherlock's own erection.

Sherlock could hardly have failed to forsee the obvious conflict, though this was the first time it had come up: as John's left hand tried to occupy more or less the same position as Sherlock's right, their wrists banged into each other.  He'd been assuming that, as usual, they would simply fall into place together despite all apparent difficulties.  "Sorry," John muttered.

Sherlock shifted his arm, but John shifted the same way and he had barely a second of John's fingers deliciously on him before their wrist bones knocked together again, and John let go.  "Sorry, shit." And then John was giggling.  "Oh damn, that was always on the cards, wasn't it?"

Usually Sherlock enjoyed John's humour tremendously, but now he couldn't quite see the joke.  "What?" he demanded, letting go and dropping to his side on the mattress, annoyed. 

John sighed.  "There's you, posh, gorgeous fucking Sherlock Holmes, gone full fucking throttle erotica with fucking silk.  And what do you get?  That."  He shook his head, smiling ruefully, and gesturing at... himself.

Was this actually John demeaning his obvious  sexual  prowess? 

Sherlock swapped the silk to his left hand and slipped those fingers back round John's erection.  "There." 

"Christ, you would be fucking ambidextrous as well," John said.  "Give me a bit of that scarf then."

Unexpectedly, Sherlock realised he didn't want John to use the scarf on him, not just now.  The brief touch of John's fingers had made him hungry for more, John's firm, warm hand on him again, as it had been the night before.  "I'd rather your skin," Sherlock told him, shifting in closer to John.

"Okay," John said, briefly shutting his eyes at Sherlock's stroking.  He shifted too, and took Sherlock's cock in his hand, and Sherlock closed his eyes and let his head dip back.  He was nearly fully aroused himself now, and the feeling of John's hand, firm as it had been the night before, was blissful.  He let himself rock into it until the first ache gave way a little to thought again.

Despite John's flattering willingness to believe him capable of nearly anything, Sherlock wasn't in fact ambidextrous.  The violin had trained his left hand fingers to some skill, and the motions of masturbation were quite simple, but using his less-dominant hand at the same time as he was lying on that arm was making his motions rather less smooth than he found satisfactory.   In addition, the scarf was losing its charm.  It had proved adequate in foreplay, but as a masturbatory tool it left much to be desired, and Sherlock had to wonder if those discussing it on the internet had really been working with silk at all.  Quite possibly, like John, they had mistaken nylon or something similar for silk.  Nylon, unlike the silk, wouldn't have absorbed John's natural moisture so easily.  Smooth as the fabric might be, it was considerably less smooth than skin, and might soon come to chafe John.

There was less danger of that on the shaft of John's cock, protected as it was by foreskin.  The glans, though... he actually felt oddly protective of  that raw, thin, bare skin, all those nerves; John was vulnerable, there.

Perhaps he should have brought the Aquagel after all.

He could wet the silk again as he'd done before, tongue, mouth, let saliva soak through, a little more moisture to help in the short term.  Sherlock stared down at John's cock.  He wanted that, to lick there.  Taste was a useful sense, a kind of crude chemical analysis.  He'd tasted John's mouth and neck and shoulder and nipples, he wanted to taste his cock too, where the taste, like the scent, was stronger, more sexual.  But not now; that would have to wait until John was satisfied they were safe.

Before long, he stopped his hand, dropping the scarf aside.  John made an annoyed, interrogative sort of grunt, his own stroking trailing off.

"Don't want to chafe you," Sherlock explained, taking hold of John again with bare skin, feeling the slight shift of foreskin along the rigid length.   

"Rate we've been going, I'll end up with calluses," John said, beginning to stroke again.

"You have calluses," Sherlock told him.  He could feel them, they were a delicious detail of the sensation of John's hand on him.

"Didn't mean on my hand," John corrected.

Sherlock chuckled, which turned into a shudder of breath as John's hand took on a shallower, jerkier rhythm.  Each pull of John's small capable hand affected far more of Sherlock's body than made any kind of sense.  It was delicious sensation along his cock, and a jolt low in his belly and a rush of heat higher, just under his ribs, and a tickle or fizz down his spine.  It made his eyes close, his breathing catch, his teeth grit, muscles as far apart as his calves and the back of his neck clench.

The night before, John had, in theory, shown Sherlock what kind of masturbation he enjoyed.  But Sherlock thought the more accurate measure of what John needed in order to come was in the rhythm he'd found rubbing himself between Sherlock's buttocks. 

Sherlock took a firmer grip and gave John quick long strokes.  John gasped and then breathed out one long hahh and then three brief little pants.   It was a pattern.  He'd breathed like that last night, and before that too, when they'd been on the couch.  Sherlock recorded this incident alongside the others, wondering exactly what it signified, if anything.  In a few of the sex videos online one or another of the men would breathe a bit like that, usually in response to something unexpected, but none of them matched exactly John's pattern.  John was, as ever, unique, and it seemed that the fifty seven hours since they'd first had sex was not yet enough time for Sherlock to analyze the patterns of his behaviour in this context, even with the massed pornography of the internet to use as a baseline.

The thought of weeks of this, rather than just over two days, made him oddly hot in his throat and chest, made him want John's mouth very badly.  Sherlock leaned his head closer to John's and caught his lips.  John kissed with an open, panting mouth, and then bit Sherlock's lower lip as his thumb pressed just under the head of Sherlock's cock, pressed and sort of rocked there, nearly a quiver.  "John!"  Sherlock yelped, the word distorted as his lip was briefly tugged before John's teeth released him.

The sensation was most intense in his groin, just behind his cock, where it felt like impact, like pleasure had punched into him, and then across his shoulders and down his back, where it was shivery cool and a bit like a low electrical shock.  He pushed forward to bury his face under John's chin, to rub against stubble, rub against John's jaw and then against John's collarbones. "John," he breathed there.

John's skin smelled of laundry detergent and in a faint way of the cotton shirt he'd worn during the day, and of a man's unwashed skin -- sweat and musk -- and on his skin were traces of his soap and shaving lotion and the cologne he used so sparingly because he was a little ashamed of wearing any at all, and deodorant. 

Still coming, Sherlock licked.  He thought that with the salt in John's sweat he could taste just a trace of hot spice from something John had eaten recently, and under his ear astringent -- the cologne -- and when Sherlock mouthed gratefully lower on John's chest he caught a hint of something saltier and bitter.  It might be a trace of John's semen from last night.

Sherlock felt very like the one-man forensics unit John had sometimes claimed -- bragging of him, boasting with a deliciously proprietorial pride -- that he was.  If John's body had been merely a body, laid out for him at a crime scene, he would have, he thought, been able to trace the complete history of their night together if he smelt and tasted every inch of John.  Because on top of all those traces, all those other clues, John smelled and tasted of him, of Sherlock's body and of sex.

"John," he breathed again, on a long last sigh, as his body relaxed entirely.  He almost could have dropped off to sleep, with his face pressed to John's chest and his limp legs starting to curl in.  He realised his lax hand was still loosely curled around John's firm erection.

He wanted to keep this.  Not just for now, not to go back to being just friends again afterwards.  And not just to keep John for the work, but for this, for its own sake.

He used his teeth gently, nibbling John's chest, and gave John longer faster strokes, sometimes slowing for a moment and tightening round John's glans, recreating John's thrusts from the night before, which he would keep, would treasure, in the growing corridors of his mind devoted to John's body.  And his other hand felt for and found the silk scarf, and held it just at John's glans, so that when John, with a grunt, thrust into Sherlock's hand, the fabric just softly brushed him. 

John groaned and pulled at Sherlock's chin until they were breathing together again, clumsily kissing.  One more long moan and a few thrusts into Sherlock's hand, into the waiting crumple of silk, and John arched his back and came.  Sherlock, forehead against John's, stared down and moved the silk out of the way so he could watch the last few twitches of John's cock, the semen spurting out, the spasm of his stomach muscles and the heave of his chest.  Sherlock wanted to lick every inch.

 


 

 

John lay with his forehead resting against Sherlock's while both of them got their breath back. He was fairly sure he was still blushing like mad. It really wasn't fair, Sherlock coming in like that, treating John like some kind of fucking king, wrapping his cock with silk for christ's sake, first thing in the morning.  God only knew what he'd been expecting, from all that sex research he'd been doing on his computer.  Probably John had been supposed to produce candles from nowhere and drink wine from Sherlock's navel while they were both blindfolded.

And instead John had proved once again that jerking the poor sod off was just about at the upper limit of his skill set.

John reckoned he'd probably been the ruin of that scarf, but it had been one of those little presents people gave Sherlock that he claimed to have no use for, so John supposed he shouldn't worry about it.  He looked down, and saw that the scarf had, yes, got  splattered.  So had Sherlock's hand.  Sherlock was dreamily looking down too.  He slowly stretched his hand, then raised the gleaming fingers to his lips.

John's hand shot out and caught Sherlock's wrist, pulled it down. "Sherlock," he scolded.

Sherlock stared. His head slowly tilted and the corners of his mouth turned up in amusement. "John -- " he said, sounded like he was trying not to laugh.

"I'm not being prudish, you great daft sod. Remember? We've not been tested."

Sherlock still looked amused and incredulous. "John, really. The chances --"

"Are not worth taking. For christ's sake, Sherlock, you must've tasted your own. Everyone does. It's not particularly tasty, is it? I promise, mine's as bad."

Sherlock gave him an I never get to have any fun look. Which was absurd. What did he think, that John was bloody coming champagne?

Sherlock had apparently been busy overnight.  He'd had a shower, for one thing, because when John went for his, Sherlock's towels were already in a damp pile on the floor.  It was sort of worrying, since John hadn't often known Sherlock to shower overnight; had it been because he'd got so thoroughly messy last night?

But he'd been making his more usual sort of mess as well.  The tablet had presumably cut down on the actual volume of paper Sherlock used, but he still preferred to spread print-outs, maps, torn bits of newspaper, and similar over the coffee table, walls, and floor.  Part of the current collage was clearly related to gambling, complete with two packs of cards spread in seven-card hands.  Another pack was on the kitchen table, where Sherlock had apparently been dribbling various chemicals on them.  Probably inventing a new method of marking cards that would be undetectable to anyone without a sense of smell.

John cleared up enough to make room for breakfast.  Then he cleared enough to find his own laptop. 

Oh, god.

It was possible Sherlock had done this deliberately, was making some kind of point by leaving his sex research on John's computer for John to look at.  It could be Sherlock's way of saying you're rubbish, do a bit of studying up.  But then again, Sherlock seemed to genuinely have trouble fathoming the notion that John was allowed to own things.  If it came into the flat, Sherlock seemed to view it as his rightful property.

So there were fifteen tabs full of sex open in John's browser.  They ranged from paused redtube videos to discussion boards to journal articles. 

One of the videos was paused on an image of two men in a bed, spooned together.  They were both muscular and tanned, the larger of the two behind the smaller.  The larger man was holding his partner's hips, the smaller had his head thrown back, teeth gritted.  John blushed hotly.  That was what Sherlock had wanted, obviously, actual sex.  And John had managed a good excuse this time, but sooner or later he'd have to brave this, or explain to Sherlock that he was too much of a bloody coward.

It was John's own fault.  He might not, strictly speaking, have been responsible for introducing Sherlock to orgasms, but he had certainly been instrumental in convincing Sherlock that he liked them and wanted more.  And now, being Sherlock, he wanted to know everything about how it worked, and try it all for himself.

Trying to face things like an adult, John made himself look at the rest of the tabs.  Some of it was pretty generic.  But one of the discussions was about something called sensation play — wasn't that what sex was? — and the first comment John read was comparing a belt with a wooden hairbrush for spanking purposes.  The next few were talking about silk.  Then there was one on pine needles for heaven's sake.

Sherlock came out of the bathroom just then.  "The water's gone cold!" he complained. Maybe he'd forgotten his extra shower. He was bare and towelling at his hair briskly.  Sherlock's arse was, well, it was a really bloody nice arse for anybody to have.  John fundamentally could not stop his brain from connecting it with the idea of spanking.  He'd occasionally swatted a lover's arse in fun, and there had been a girl he'd met at a bar who'd asked for a spanking before sex from behind, and that had been fun, for one night.  But, much as the man deserved a good hiding at times, he couldn't exactly picture Sherlock wanting to be on the receiving end of punishment.  Dominating people was practically Sherlock's hobby.  If Sherlock had a plan on this topic, it was bound to involve John bent over and Sherlock's big hand smacking his arse.  Oh christ.   John's face felt painfully hot.  How had he got himself into this?

John considered walking over there and declaring that the riding crop would by no means be making an appearance in their sex lives, thanks.  He didn't quite dare, though.  Sherlock might have just been focusing on the idea of silk, which after all he'd got from John in the first place. What if Sherlock hadn't even been thinking about it, and it was John bringing it up that got him interested in sexual sadomasochism?

John closed everything on his laptop and then opened up the BBC news site.  Lestrade's face came up.  He'd caught the bloke from Chelsea who'd stabbed his wife and mistress.  Usually the Beeb used  pics of the victim or the scene, or occasionally the criminal, but Lestrade's star had been on the rise for a while, and god knew he was photogenic.  Sherlock had even been going on about it the other day, how women tended to stare at Lestrade.

John looked at the picture.  Handsome.   No question.  John could see it.  And he liked Lestrade.  And yet he never had any reaction to Lestrade the way he did to Sally, who he didn't really like at all.  In fact, the idea of sex with Lestrade made him really uncomfortable, the way he'd always felt when he thought about sex with men.  He'd, in the words of his sister, gone gay, and yet it just didn't seem to have taken properly.

"They caught him," he called to Sherlock.

"Precise," Sherlock commented.  But John knew Sherlock had caught exactly what he was talking about.  One of the advantages of talking to a genius.  If John had just hmmed loudly, it would probably have been enough.

"So that's Lestrade busy for the day, if there is more to this case," John prompted.

"We need the case file," Sherlock said.

"I thought he'd given you all that," John said.

"The case file on the son," Sherlock corrected impatiently, and came out of his room buttoning up a dark green shirt.  It was new, and tight.  It also made Sherlock's eyes, which were usually something between ice blue and silver, look a sort of sea-green.  He looked posh and fit and probably gay.  He looked exactly the sort of bloke who would stroke his lover with silk.  He looked exactly the sort of bloke who thought spanking was a bit of fun.

"So Dimmock then," John said.

Sherlock pulled out his mobile.

John went back to the news, hoping for something to distract him from any and all kinks Sherlock might or might not be developing.

"That was before the mother died.  You really could have made it clearer that the case had elements of interest,"  Sherlock was saying.  He followed up with, "No, of interest to someone of intelligence, not to you."

John shook his head and listened to the deterioration of relations.  By the finish, Sherlock was shouting abuse.  With a stab at the screen, he hung up, and then slid it into his pocket.

John saw the anger in his face drain into a sort of sneer, and was suddenly paying a lot more attention. That had been a Sherlock performance.

"If I was meant to kiss you to shut you up there, you've got this whole thing wrong, Sherlock."

"Rude was I?" Sherlock asked, now smirking.

"Yep," John said.  He'd called this one right.

"You should go apologise, then,"  Sherlock said.

John glanced at him, keeping his face and voice neutral.  "You want me to go apologise to Dimmock for you being a complete prat."

"Yes."

"Right, I'll get me coat."

Sherlock gave him a narrow-eyed, suspicious look.

"Come on, Sherlock," John said.  "File's not going to steal itself, is it?"

Sherlock loomed up at him, caught him at the back of the head, and kissed him.  Deep and all tongue and teeth.  "In certain respects, you may actually be perfect," he said, frowning slightly as he pulled back.

John was quiet in the taxi, because that was a comment that took some thinking about.

 


 

Sherlock had arranged to meet John in the forensic computing division.  John was excellent.  John had just known Sherlock wanted him to distract Dimmock while Sherlock abstracted the Neil Gibson case from his office.  True, it had been a fairly obvious plan, based on Sherlock's over-the-top insults over the phone, but there had been a time when John would have needed the whole business spelt out for him.  Now the file was copied over onto Sherlock's server, waiting for his perusal. 

Lestrade was far wiser to their tricks, and would have started getting suspicious when Sherlock's behaviour lapsed into the theatric, and would probably have started marching back to his office as soon as John started apologising.  Dimmock, on the other hand, seemed to actually buy into the notion of John as Sherlock's downtrodden apologist.  The idea was ludicrous to anyone who paid attention to John for more than five minutes, but, then, if people paid attention, Sherlock wouldn't be unique. 

It was also far more convenient to steal digital files.  If he stole paper, it was noticed, and printing off new copies was tedious and made him more likely to be caught.  And Dimmock would never, without prompting, think to check whether his computer had been communicating with other machines.

If Sherlock were caught at this sort of thing, it would likely be by the man at the desk before him.  Ralph Paulson was one of the Met's better finds, much like Lestrade — dull, but competent and dogged, and not stupid beyond the bounds of normalcy.  When Sherlock had asked him to bring out Neil Gibson's computer, he'd asked if he had permission from Dimmock, and when Sherlock had said he'd just come from Dimmock's office, Paulson had just smiled knowingly.

John showed up while Paulson was setting up.  He looked immensely pleased with himself.  That was fine, Sherlock was immensely pleased with him.  He'd have liked to kiss John, but he behaved himself and turned to watch Paulson bringing up Gibson's hard drive as a mount on his own machine.

"So what are we after?" Paulson asked.

"You have the video of the death itself," Sherlock said.  It had been an attachment to the file he had taken earlier.

"Video program was set to save all recordings."

"Any other video chats stored?"

"Some -- mostly testing out the camera, trying to get Skype going with his mum at the other end.  She couldn't get her mic working.  Beyond that we can be pretty sure there were a few, but they were securely deleted -- all the data overwritten."

"Aren't you meant to be able to get back anything that's ever been on a computer, on the hard drive, whatever?" John asked.

Sherlock exchanged an understanding look with Paulson.  John's intelligence, such as it was, seemed to come to a dead stop within hand's reach of any electronic device.

"Not if it's been completely overwritten," Paulson explained, "we were lucky to find a fragment of the program's log that showed there had been other videos."

"I assume any other files of interest are in the report you sent to DI Dimmock," Sherlock said.  "Now what I need to see is a report on the network activity.  I assume BT's been forthcoming with the Met.  Everything from Gibson's IP."

"Which one?" asked Paulson, turning to Sherlock with a grin.

Sherlock grinned back.

 


 

John assumed Sherlock had got his file, or he'd have been bitching about it. Instead he was hanging out with one of the Evidence Recovery Unit's designated Alpha Nerds, a kid named Paulson. Well, maybe not a kid, but he looked very young to John, with his longish ponytail and wrinkled polo shirt. Rather fit though, despite practically living in the computer chair. And so obviously had a crush on Sherlock he was practically drooling.

John tried to take part in the conversation, but Paulson looked at him as if he were an idiot, and of course Sherlock generally looked at him like that anyway. John had a very uncomfortable moment when he realised he really hoped he hadn't embarrassed Sherlock by being so obviously technically illiterate.

Paulson actually typed faster than Sherlock. In a few moments he'd pulled up one of those weird computer address numbers: 212.58.256.131. Then another, which seemed to please Sherlock no end. John would ask later. Or probably he wouldn't have to ask, Sherlock would lecture, condescendingly. John didn't mind that, if there were no one else about to see.

John passed the time looking at Paulson's desk. Loads of files and bits of computers. Stuffed in among these was a bowl: apple, two oranges, but also a number of miniature Mars bars. John considered filching one.

Paulson was talking about servers and showing Sherlock lists of more numbers, some with recognisable web page addresses next to them. He pointed at one, brought up another list, pointed at another.

"Oh very good," said Sherlock. 

Most of the stuff on the bulletin board in Paulson's cubicle was gibberish. And there was a Doctor Who calendar.  Honestly.  John had watched Doctor Who, yes, when he was nine.  (All right, yes, he'd sat through a few more in his teens because of the American girl with the amazing tits, but that had been different.)  These days, twenty-something lads who ought to have been out getting pissed and maybe playing rugby instead watched kids' telly.

"Can't tell you what a relief it is to talk to someone who can follow beyond the basics, Sherlock," said Paulson.

Next to Paulson's annotated weekly ticket list was pinned a supposedly funny sign: 'It has been (6) days since I last killed a client' with the 6 in a box as if it were a number updated daily.  John hated that sort of cute humour.

Sherlock, who was, of course, basking in the praise, asked for more numbers.  Paulson gave him more numbers.  Then they actually spent ten minutes looking something up on Wikipedia.  John considered going for lunch.

"But what does this give us?  Was he looking at a page, something he was ashamed of, got caught, decided to kill himself?" Paulson asked.  "Gay porn maybe?"

John stared.  Was that seriously the kid's idea of flirting?

"No," said Sherlock, with finality.  Well, he wouldn't understand the idea of being embarrassed about being caught viewing gay porn, would he?

"Well, if you like, we could go over these further," Paulson suggested.

"I hoped you'd be finished, considering the fact that Dimmock had practically closed the case before the death of the mother.  When you have done your job, please send me the records."

Sherlock swept out, and John, catching the disappointed look on the kid's face, gave him a sympathetic smile.  "He's like that," he said, "don't let it bother you."

 


 

John's determination to remain ignorant about technology was apparently so strong that it even overrode interest in the case.  He'd clearly ceased even trying to pay attention somewhere around Gibson's very revealing pair of IP addresses.  By the time they left Paulson he was an hour behind on evidence and would have entirely lost the thread of the case. 

It was really extremely vexing.  Sherlock had, in point of fact, just collected all he really needed, although a fair few confirmations would need to be found before he could deliver it all to Lestrade.  He wanted to point the connections out to John and see that look of abject admiration in John's eyes.  But it would take too much tedious explanation at this point, and since apparently all it took was a single IPv4 address to disconnect John's brain, it most likely wouldn't register anyway.

There were two reasonably intelligent firearms experts in the Evidence Recovery Unit.  It was Sherlock's good luck that one of them happened to have been assigned to look at the gun Neil Gibson had used in his game of Russian Roulette.  It was John's bad luck that of the two of them, it was the one John couldn't stand.

Nicholas Way -- thirty-two, twice divorced, not now dating but obviously considering buying a dog, raised by nominally-Buddhist hippies who had never married and whose unabated marijuana habits worried the life out of their son -- loved guns. 

It meant he was good at his job, because he remembered everything about every gun on the black market in loving detail.

It meant he irritated John Watson to no end, because for John a gun was a tool, and watching that tool fetishised, made into a sort of magic talisman of manhood, clearly made John want to punch people.

Way's obvious worship of John's war hero status only made things so much worse.

Way was delighted to show off the Nagant revolver, trying to use it to start a conversation with John about European police firearms used by insurgents, while Sherlock, feeling very much that he was doing his bit to hold up his end of their relationship, kept verbally dragging Way back to the facts of the case.

They didn't really need to stay very long; once Sherlock had determined that it was indeed the gun he thought it was, and confirmed what he suspected about its ammunition, all that was left was to look over the gun, in case there were some trace of physical evidence he could hand Lestrade when the time came.  Unlikely, but Lestrade was likely to be ungrateful about being corrected on his arrest of Grace Gibson.  The more evidence Sherlock could put in his hands the better.

John stood there while Nicholas Way got the gun out.  He stood very straight, very still, looking kindly and pleasant.  He was rubbing the knuckles of his index and middle fingers past each other in a way that meant he had about seven minutes more patience before his temper flared. 

Sherlock saw within one minute that there was nothing decisive on the gun, but decided to use about five more of those remaining minutes just to enjoy this.  There were parts of seventeen types of deadly weapons scattered on Way's workbench, and John was quietly standing there being the most dangerous object in the room. It was very, Sherlock thought happily, like being in a relationship with a small amount of manganese heptoxide.  Except that John smelled very nice.

 


 

"Harley Street," Sherlock directed as they got into the cab, once he'd got a bunch of information about the Russian roulette gun out of that idiot Nick Way.  As they'd left, Way had actually thrown John a salute, as if he had any notion what it meant, or any right to do it.

"Why Harley Street?" John asked, settling next to him on the seat.

Sherlock ignored him, scrolling backward through his texts.

"Sherlock?"

"Efficiency, mostly," Sherlock said, cryptically.  "Or impatience, you'd probably say."

"Not actually clarifying matters."

"Yes it will," Sherlock said with a slight smirk.

Oh, he was in that kind of mood.

The place in Harley Street had an understated sign -- a logo and the name FreedomHealth.  Wait a moment.  He'd heard that name -- right, so apparently Sherlock had seen something in the computer numbers that told him Neil Gibson, or his wife -- or possibly his mother? -- had been discreetly tested for STIs.

John went right on thinking that until they sat him down and asked him to roll up his sleeve.  In a sort of haze, he submitted to jabs and swabs and pissing in a little plastic cup.  The staff acted so detached and non-judgemental and respectful that, as a medical professional himself, he felt vaguely that he was being satirised.

When that bit was done with he watched Sherlock calmly pay six hundred quid for two sets of same-day test results. 

So among all the restaurateurs, tailors, dog breeders, and graffiti artists, Sherlock had neglected to ever do a big enough favour for a pox doc to earn him sex-disease testing on the house for life.  He'd probably never thought he'd need it.

"We could have done that at a clinic," he said, when they were out on the street again, walking along.

"I said," Sherlock told him.

"Efficiency," John recalled.  "Impatience.  Right.  You couldn't stand to wait a few days for results."

"Officially, they call, but the lab tech will text me the results the moment he's done."

That couldn't be within the excessive bounds of confidentiality a place like that maintained.  "Bribe or blackmail?" John asked.

Sherlock pretended to be offended.  "Neither.  He's a fan."

John stopped and covered his eyes with his hands.  "Oh god."  The fans.  The  ones who left comments on the blog and hung around Baker Street trying to take pictures through the windows.  Sometimes they tried to give them gifts through Mrs. Hudson.  That had trailed off a bit when John had posted pictures of the Met bomb disposal unit remote-detonating a little heap of wrapped packages for safety.  (Luckily the bomb lads were already disposed to like Sherlock and didn't seem to mind wasting time blowing up cakes and poorly-knitted mufflers.  Some of the younger ones clearly enjoyed it.)  "You know what they're like.  It'll be on Twitter by now.  We just came out to the entire internet."

"John, the entire internet has thought we were sleeping together for as long as they've known who we were.  They like the idea so much that there are videos— "

John stared.  He hadn't.  How could he have— where the hell had Sherlock put the camera?

"Not real videos, John," Sherlock snapped.  "Don't be ridiculous.  Gay porn parodies starring two men intended to look like us.  The one who plays 'Doctor Hotson' is more muscular than you, but nothing like as attractive.  The one based on me is nearly six-foot-four, mixed-heritage -- Pakistani on his mother's side.  All the same, there is enough resemblance that our lab tech today recognised us as the stars of an amusing masturbatory aid."

"He thinks we're gay porn actors."

"I gave their stage names.  As it happens, though, Doctor Hotson is almost certainly only gay for pay.  Not that it matters, our fan hadn't noticed the tells."

The tells. There were tells.  Sherlock knew the tells.  Oh god, that was a little too close to home.  "Okay.  Uh, you actually... watched these videos."

"The one based on me wears that ridiculous hat in most of them.  Doctor Hotson sometimes wears that flat cap you had in the same newspaper picture, but mostly a white coat.  Sometimes only a white coat.  In the pocket of which he habitually carries a speculum, it seems."

"As one does."

They broke into giggles.

Wait.  Oh, it served Sherlock right for always harping at John about how what wasn't said was as important as what was.  "What's the one based on you called?"

"I suppose we might as well get a cab," Sherlock said, holding out his palm to show the sprinkling start of rain.

"Doctor Hotson and who, Sherlock?  Come on."

"There is literally nothing on this earth that could induce me to repeat it."

"I'll find out."

"You won't."  Sherlock made a cab appear with his usual magic.

When they were settled, John continued.  "I'll find the videos."

"You won't."

"You're the one who taught me to use Google and the Internet Archive, Sherlock.  Unless you intend to bring down the entire world telecommunications system, I will find out.  In fact— "  He pulled out his mobile and brought up the browser.  He usually used it only to find restaurants and look things up on demand when Sherlock was texting on his own phone.

"Your search for gay pornography will be part of your online identity for the rest of your life," Sherlock warned, as if he hadn't opened loads of the stuff on John's computer that very morning.

"Yeah, since you've already had me search for the average cubic volume of a child's coffin, the number of women who set themselves on fire in Europe per year, and the average wait time for gender reassignment surgery in Canada, I'd be quite worried I'd been put on a list with the government watching everything I do.  Except I've met him, and he's a bit of a woofter."

Sherlock looked at him and raised an eyebrow. 

"And I ought to know," John said, evenly.

"No," Sherlock said, after a moment, "I don't think it works, John, do you?"

Feeling a right arse, John muttered, "Right, yeah," and spent the next five minutes looking at his mobile.  Since he couldn't think of anything else, he checked the search results.  It turned out he didn't have to actually watch the video, for which he was ridiculously grateful.  It was right there in the title, although the first time his eye skipped right over it, the l changed to c in Sherlock's name.  It was so utterly stupid, it had to be driving Sherlock right round the bend knowing there were loads of gay potential clients who'd always think of him that way.  The thought cheered John up a bit in spite of himself. 

 


 

"Okay," John said, "We've stolen police property, looked at a computer, and been a gun-fetishist's best day ever, then got tested for hep and AIDS.  I reckon we're more productive when Lestrade's busy.  What's up for the evening?"

After their trip to the clinic, John had insisted on a late lunch.  Sherlock had managed a few bites.  Food didn't seem to slow him down as much as it used to.  Perhaps it had just been a matter of his body getting used to spending the extra energy on digestion.

"Chiswick Poker Club, and then the Western, if we've time.  Otherwise that will have to wait for another night."

"Because Neil Gibson was a gambler," John said.

Sherlock nodded.  He knew John was able to play poker.  They'd not played together, since John had declared himself to have gone off games after the Cluedo debacle.  The Shane case had involved sending John to the Fox Poker Club, which had since been taken under the Genting umbrella, but Sherlock had been unable to go along that time, since his face was too well known there.

These days, his face was too well known everywhere, to the point where even a uniform and a hat often weren't enough to mislead, and going anywhere undercover required actual physical disguise, which Sherlock found profoundly unpleasant.  On the other hand, people were sickeningly willing to talk to him for a smudge of his secondhand fame, so he could now make use of that, he supposed.  Too bad pretending to be his own porn double would be useful only in a limited number of situations.  

"Found some friends of his?"

"Colleagues, at least.  Few friends, although possibly some partners in crime."

"You're saying he was a cheat."

Sherlock stared at him.  John's intelligence was so variable.  How could he so easily pick up what Sherlock wanted of him today, and have totally missed most of the important points of the case?

"Of course he was a cheat.  Louise said as much, that he used to cheat at bridge.  His house showed an absurd level of income for a professional gambler.  He had two IP addresses."

"She didn't say he cheated.  She said he always won."

"A child, playing with a group of adults with long experience of the game, who always seemed to get lucky with the cards.  He was cheating, John."

"So what about the computer addresses?  Is that illegal or something?"

"No, but it is a standard approach to cheating at internet poker.  He played under two separate accounts, thus as two players in the game, and was thereby able to gain leverage from knowing the contents of two hands — collusion without a second person involved to split the take.  Although I'd be surprised if he didn't also sometimes collude, using chat or phone calls with another player as well."

"All right.  So, anything specific I'm meant to be doing?  I'm not cheating at cards with you, if that's what you've got in mind."

"No?" Sherlock asked, honestly surprised that would be a sticking point for John.

John rolled his eyes.  "You already know he was a cheat.  You don't need to prove you can cheat too to show you're cleverer than he was."

"Of course I don't."

"I mean, you don't need to cheat for the case, do you?"

Ah, so John was willing to cheat if it was for a case, but not purely for amusement's sake.  Fine. 

"Probably not.  I'll let you know."

John sighed theatrically.

"Wear the grey suit, with the black shirt."

"I'm dressed already, thanks."

So Sherlock saw to it that John's sleeve got a tongue briefly dropped on it.  John glared and went up to change.

Sherlock took the time to check his email, on John's computer, since his own was across the room.  John had closed all the pages Sherlock had been using for research, so Sherlock opened more, flipping between a few useful answers to his queries about the various members of the Gibson family and a new discussion on sensation play, since the silk had been a success.  Much of the previous discussion board he'd been reading had been weighted towards a preference for pain.  Sherlock thought seeing John in pain would only make him angry.

Only after John had pointed out the need to be tested had Sherlock really thought through the implications.  Having been at some point exposed to something himself would of course be unpleasant, and couldn't be ruled out, the number of times he'd had to fish about in a sharps disposal container, industrial bin, or the Thames after evidence.  But the idea of someone having infected John struck him oddly.  It was as if a bullet had been fired a long time ago, and there was nothing he could do now to protect John, to block that line of fire, to remove that assassin.  He could only wait to see whether it had hit or missed.   (Though his obstructionist policy towards the girlfriends now seemed more sensible than ever.)

But soon he would know for sure, and he had plans for all the possible outcomes.  So when he next decided to introduce the notion of penetration, he would not look such a sexually naif little fool as he had this time round.  He would have plans.  He would have practised.  John would never allow Sherlock to be hurt if he could help it, but he'd said he was new to anal sex, so apparently he'd never tried it with a woman; in this he would not, for once, be experienced and sure. If it was not actually painful, it still might or might not be pleasurable. Sherlock should take some time in private to stretch himself, perhaps with a toy, to see that things went smoothly on the day, whenever it came.

It was hardly Sherlock's fault that anal sex had been so much on his mind last night. The internet, as monitor of English usage, showed that anal sex and gay sex as terms were used practically interchangeably, to the extent that searching for beginners guides to gay sex brought up a fair number of guides for women trying anal sex with men. 

By the time John had come back down — the black shirt definitely suited him, although he'd have looked better without the tie, which interrupted the line of his neck.  As they were going out in public, Sherlock supposed it was just as well, the fewer people moved to make advances to John, the better.

"There, do I look enough like I have a gambling problem now?" John asked.

"The suit could be better tailored," Sherlock admitted.  It failed to highlight John's slim legs, and rode oddly over the concealed gun.  The gun wasn't too obvious, unless you knew John well enough to know what to look for, but John so seldom could be convinced to wear a proper suit, it really ought to be one that fit him beautifully when he did. He mentally added John's suit, with an enormous needle stuck through it, to the table containing his planned purchases.  He'd have to deal with some of that soon; he was getting to the end of his shampoo, and switching to John's would be a very bad idea unless he wanted to look like he used one pound generic shampoo from the chemist.  A disguise of sorts, but not one he intended to adopt.

John rolled his eyes and picked up his coat.  "Right, anything else I ought to do before we go?"

Sherlock had checked himself over in the mirror and decided that he looked well enough.  The green shirt was new, and had attracted John's gaze to him for a statistically significant amount of extra time.

They went to Chiswick first because more of Neil Gibson's cohort of gamblers, who would have come up on the cusp of face-to-face gambling giving way to internet poker, still went there, according to Sherlock's sources.

It was, as Sherlock had remembered it, a grubby little place, in which he and John stood out a bit, attracting just the right amount of attention.  While John went to get drinks — Sherlock had warned him against the substandard food — Sherlock got a stack of chips for himself.  He slipped a bank card to John in exchange for a rather watery scotch.  "Buy about four hundred pounds.  Don't worry about how much you lose."

John fixed him with a stony look.  "Do you need me to lose money for some reason?"

"No.  But it doesn't matter if you do."

John jabbed the card back into his hand and stalked off to the counter to buy his own chips. He came back with two hundred pounds worth.

"You're being childish," Sherlock pointed out.

"If I'm losing money, Sherlock, it'll be my own, thanks," said John. "Which table?"

Sherlock frowned.  John still wanted to distinguish between his money and Sherlock's.  His resistance to the literal joining of their accounts did not bode particularly well for the figurative joining of their fortunes.  And it was stupid, because Sherlock had never seen any point in drawing a dividing line when it came to their possessions, far before sex had become an issue.  He remembered the first time John had taken his card, the odd warmth of the idea of the money being theirs.  Of course that had gone badly later, but only because Moriarty had managed to somehow recruit the stupidest criminals Sherlock had ever encountered.  Perhaps that was all that lay at the bottom of this reluctance though; John had been stung by using Sherlock's card in the past, and would prefer to avoid it again now.  Possible.  Something to analyse later.

Sherlock gestured to the table and let John go first.  An observant person could hardly have missed that they knew each other, but going to the table side by side might be a bit much.

Ashfield and Hartwell were both at the table, not sitting together, though that didn't rule out collusion between them, which according to Sherlock's sources both had been known to take part in previously.  John sat two seats up from Hartwell, next to a slim woman with a dental hygienist's hands, who was there primarily because she was sexually obsessed with the dealer, a strikingly handsome Nigerian who, by his shoes and watch, was only slumming in this place while he finished his degree because it provided him with a pool of sexually available women stunned by his beauty.  Sherlock sat next to Ashfield.

Ashfield was short, John's height, stocky in the way John tried to look in his bulky jumpers and jackets, though in tonight's suit it was more obvious how slim and neat John's body actually was.  Ashfield had a low, rather bristly hairline and dark facial hair that he'd shaved not long before coming here, yet still shadowed his cheeks.  He'd have done better to grow a beard, if he wanted to look handsomer.  But no, he'd settled into the role his looks implied to people; he liked looking rough, a bit feral, possibly dangerous.  He stank of cigarettes.  He had two small children, at least one a girl, and had spent most of his time up to coming here working on some project involving construction paper and glue.

Hartwell was taller, and the blandness of his looks was less a matter of deliberate choice than genetic disadvantage.   His hair was true dishwater, eyes a rather dull blue, face symmetric enough not to be ugly, but with no particular feature to mark him out as handsome.  Next to John he looked like a blank sheet of paper.  Ashfield gambled, to fund his life, to support his family; he worked in a stockroom as well to supplement his income, Sherlock now noticed from his trousers.  This was Hartwell's life.  He lived for this, and had nothing else.

Poker could be an amusing game.  Sherlock's hand was unpromising.  The hygienist's was good, obviously.  Hartwell had no tells Sherlock could see as yet.  Ashfield's eyes widened at his cards, but Sherlock suspected he manufactured false tells; he was a professional, after all.  The others at the table were an elderly couple, tourists.  The man didn't like his hand, from the way his fingers curved around the cards.  The woman's face was stone, no tells at all.

John — John was a masterpiece of mischief.  His eyes glanced repeatedly at one card on the end, his tongue flicked out as if in worry, then he glanced at Hartwell's face and his mouth pursed as if holding in a smirk.  He glanced at Sherlock and his eyebrows went up.  He didn't have a tell, he had all the tells.  Ashfield and Hartwell and the dealer all stared briefly at him before giving up, overwhelmed by static.

It went down to Ashfield and the old lady on the first trick, and Ashfield took it in the end.

The next time round, John's face started off stony, slid into a frown that melted into a smile that went suddenly blank again.  Sherlock could have cheered. 

They both had to fold fairly early.  This time it went down to Ashfield and Hartwell, and Hartwell took it.   While they were out, Sherlock's mobile buzzed.  He took it out, glanced at the message, and grinned hugely across the table at John.

John looked at him with raised eyebrows.  Oh for heaven's sake, did John's IQ deteriorate a certain number of points with each hour of the day?  He'd been positively bright this morning, and now he couldn't make the most obvious inference.  Sherlock nodded once.

John raised his chin, finally getting it.  "Not doing me best work here.  Off for a pint." 

"Five minute rule, sir," said the dealer. 

"S'alright.  I'll have a break.  Sherlock?"  John looked expectantly at Sherlock.

Oh.  Well.  Perhaps some celebration was appropriate.  "We could do with a drink," Sherlock drawled.  At gaming tables, he usually found it most useful to play up his class; it made people greedy.  "I don't think we've quite got the scent yet."  The five minute rule officially removed them from the table, but there was plenty of room at all the tables, and it wouldn't be difficult to rejoin later.

So they left the table, finishing off the last of their drinks.  "You're amazing," John muttered.  Sherlock smiled.  Apparently John had been admiring Sherlock's abilities as much as Sherlock had his own.  "So, are we off to Western next, or is there anything else on here."

Sherlock shut his eyes.  "John," he sighed.  "I'm not remotely finished with Ashfield and Hartwell."

"Well then what was the smile and nod about then?" John demanded.

"We're clean, John," Sherlock explained, holding the screen in front of his face.

"Oh," John said in a small voice.  "Right.  Okay.  That's good.  Really good.  I — yeah."

Sherlock put his hand on John's elbow and guided him out of the room.  The place was worse even than he'd remembered, grimy and tacky.  As he'd expected, one of the side rooms stood empty.  Sherlock guided John inside and shut the door.  "Is this private enough?"

John's eyes went wide.  "Uh, Sherlock — "

Sherlock rolled his eyes.  "For kissing, you idiot."

John's face went soft with a smile, and he looped his arms round Sherlock's neck and kissed him for a good minute.  A very good minute.  It was lovely.

"Sorry about interrupting the game," John said, pulling back,  "I don't think we'll have any trouble getting back in though.  This place is a dump, Sherlock."

When they came back out, Hartwell was also gone from the table.  They sat back down, this time side by side.  "Took his winnings, did he?" Sherlock asked, since it was obvious what had happened.

 They played for another hour before the game broke up.  John had ended up with his original two hundred pounds plus twenty.  Sherlock had let go of fifty of what he'd started off with to put Ashfield in a happy frame of mind.  "You don't remember me, do you?" he asked.

Ordinary people typically insisted that they did, trying to show themselves the sort of person who remembered people.  Sherlock had never really understood why, but he knew they did.  Ashfield wasn't ordinary; he had a great many skills at dealing with people, and thus at not being dealt with.  "No, sorry," he said.  Away from the table, he let his scepticism show, not keeping a firm rein on his face.

"My name's Sherlock Holmes."

"Got that, yeah," Ashfield said.

Ah.  So his fame, combined with his unusual given name, had done its work.  Possibly that was what had happened to Hartwell.

"I'm investigating the death of Neil Gibson.  I only knew him slightly; I was in a game with him, and you, about, seven years ago?"  This was pure invention, but Ashfield would have been at tables with literally thousands of people over his career.

"I heard he died.  Look, we knew each other, a bit, but we weren't friends, yeah?"

"I'd just like to hear your impressions of him.  As a professional."

"As a gambler, you mean, yeah?"

"Yes," Sherlock said.  He liked the verbal tic, that reflexive yeah.  He wondered if it were a release valve for stress, a neutral word that wouldn't give much away.  Or perhaps a con man's trick, like nodding at ordinary people to influence them to agree.

"He won.  That's how he was as a gambler.  He won a lot, yeah?  More than me, more than most.  He knew all the tricks, yeah?"

"He cheated then," John asked.

"He won a lot," Ashfield said.

"And what about his wife?" John asked, which was a long shot.  Sherlock wouldn't have bothered to ask.

"Yeah, met her once.  Twice maybe.  Pretty."

"Excellent, well observed," said Sherlock.

"Did she love him?" John asked, ignoring him.

Ashfield smiled.  "I'm a gambler, not a marriage counsellor."

"You watch people's faces for a living," John said.

"I load pallets for a living," Ashfield said.  "You're not bad at poker, don't romanticise it."

"Grace Gibson," John said, "did she have a winning hand?"  He was having fun, probably imagining himself some fictional detective off the telly.

Ashfield rolled his eyes.  "Are you from a fucking film?  It doesn't work like that."

John smiled and shrugged. "Just asking."

 


 

 

Compared to the Chiswick Poker Club, the Western was a palace.  The huge room full of tables was bright, clean, and crowded.  In Chiswick, they had simply walked up to a table.  Here their names went on a list.  As ever, though, Sherlock had done someone some little favour — probably returning some priceless heirloom and/or heir — and before long they were on their way to the table Sherlock wanted.

This time there was just one person Sherlock wanted to talk to, a little old man with greying tight-curled hair.  He had pale eyes and leathery brown skin, and his name was apparently Bryant Wood, which sounded to John like the sort of name an over-romantic twenty-something would pick to write poetry under.

There were four others at the table, a big middle-aged guy whose grey hair still had a little ginger, two women John reckoned were sisters, plain and a bit horse-faced, but both with really smashing bosoms framed in low-cut tops, and a young dark-haired guy who John knew was a soldier from across the room. 

He wasn't Sherlock, didn't lay out chains of this, so this, so that, so that in his head, he couldn't have laid out exactly what the clues were, but he couldn't not see a soldier.  Leave, John reckoned, and needed tension, needed thrill, and was trying to get it here.

That was never going to be the answer for John; risking his wallet just wasn't the kind of danger he needed. It was all false.  First, it was deliberate, like climbing over a balcony to dangle off the rail on purpose for no reason.  Second, money wasn't heart and blood and breath.  Losing could fuck up your life, but it wasn't the same as direct endangerment.

And it was pointless, it was risk where the only reward was more money to risk.  John could enjoy the occasional game of chance for fun, for entertainment, but it wouldn't ever be what he needed.  It wouldn't ever be leaping into weapons fire after a man down, wouldn't ever be throwing his body against an enemy's, wouldn't ever be running to keep up with Sherlock in the dark.

But he'd needed entertainment while he was deployed, so he'd got good at it.  They played for an hour and a half before the table broke up, and John ended up ahead by seventy pounds.  Sherlock had again lost a bit, this time to Wood, but John was almost sure that was deliberate.  John congratulated the biggest winner, one of the two sisters, who hugged him and gave him a beery kiss on the cheek. 

Sherlock had on a face like he'd smelled something rotten, though John sometimes wondered if Sherlock could actually have much of a sense of smell anymore; the man's equivalent of bored doodling was inventing new kinds of stink bombs in their kitchen, and his nose should have surrendered.  John rather hoped so; if Sherlock could smell how bad they were and kept doing it, that was a new layer of antisocial on top of all the others.

"What?" John said.

"Friend of yours?' Sherlock snapped, pointedly.

"Just friendly, Sherlock," John said.  "Do — " he stopped, and turned slightly, putting his back towards what he'd just seen.  "Three tables from the door, is that Hartwell, from earlier?"

Sherlock didn't even seem to glance that way.  "Well spotted."

Oh, John knew that one.  That was Sherlock implying he'd already seen the man without actually lying. "Yeah.  So that's a coincidence."

"Seems not," Sherlock said.  John turned, trying to look casual.  Hartwell had intercepted Wood, who was having a drink with the ginger-haired man.  He wasn't remotely casual about looking at Sherlock and John.  He gestured at them with a waving hand.

John sighed.  "So, something's up, then," he said, smiling.

"Mm," Sherlock agreed, smiling back, then turning the smile on Hartwell and giving him a little wave.

Hartwell ran for the door like a scared rabbit.

John took off after him, cutting easily through the crowd and out the door.  He knew Sherlock was right behind.  He went down a corridor.  In front of him, a heavy fire door was slowly closing again.  John managed to slip through just before the gap got too thin and barely had to slow.  Hartwell was in view now, opening an outer door.  John burst through right after him and brought him down with a tackle.

Grip to the arm, roll him to put weight on his hip, and when Sherlock jogged out the door a moment later, Hartwell was pinned and whinging.

"In some respects," said Sherlock, "it's a bit like owning a terrier."

John glared.  "You wanted to talk to him."

"Why the fuck are you chasing me?" Hartwell demanded.

"Why the fuck did you run?" John said.

"Because standing next to Wood was Hartwell's dealer, and Mr. Hartwell is apparently not bright enough to distinguish between me and a member of the Drugs Enforcement Squad," drawled Sherlock.   "Mr. Hartwell, we didn't get a chance to speak earlier," Sherlock said.  "I'm Sherlock Holmes, as you obviously know.  The gentleman currently sitting on you  is my colleague, John Watson, we'd like to speak to you about Neil Gibson."

Hartwell glared, "Fuck off."

Sherlock tilted his head.  "Please believe, I have no interest whatsoever in what you choose to insert nasally.  Neil Gibson."

"What about him?"

"Were you Gibson's collaborator in the online poker cheats, or was that Mr. Wood?" Sherlock asked.  He sounded like he was in a drawing room, posh git.

"Let me up!  Get off me you fucking poof," Hartwell yelled.

For a moment, John wished he could take a moment, get out of here, deal with the fact that for the first time he'd been called a poof and it was true.  But no, he was here, now.  The alley was a long dark space, and the air was cold and stank a bit of rubbish when John took a deep breath of it.  He didn't twist the arm he held.  He didn't adjust where his weight was pressing.  But he could have.  Nothing to fear here; just a man he could break into about eight pieces without trying.

"That was really unwise," Sherlock commented.

"Saw you two run off for a shag. I read the fucking paper, man, everyone knows you're a couple of — "  John smiled slightly and gave the arm just a slight tug until the man's voice stopped.

"Were that true," Sherlock said coolly, "we'd hardly find the comment offencive, merely accurate.  Before you annoy John any further, please, keep in mind, we really have no interest in you at all.  I find it difficult to imagine anyone does.  Neil Gibson's dead, and you're still in his shadow — do stay there.  Just tell me, did you play online poker as a team with Gibson, or was that Wood?"

"I'm not a fucking cheat."

Sherlock nodded.  "No, not much of one, really.  Thank you, you may go."

John straightened, suddenly taking off the pressure, and Hartwell lay on the ground panting for a moment, before crawling to his feet.

"Please," John encouraged, "make some more comments."  For the first time since he was about thirty, he genuinely wanted to provoke a fistfight, because he knew he would win, and it would be so fucking satisfying.

Hartwell glared, backed off, and then ran off round the bins, toward the side of the building.

"Fuck," John muttered.  "That was pointless." 

"You've no particular reason to be able to recognise a drug dealer's wrist, or the way he handles money, I suppose."

Oh, right.  Just what he needed to be reminded of now.

"It was an idiotic thing to do," Sherlock said.

John shook his head.  "Gave him a shock," he said.

They grinned at each other and a moment later John's grin bumped up against Sherlock's.  The air was cold but Sherlock's lips and tongue were  warm.  Sherlock's hands gripped his jacket and he made a humming, cheerful sound.  "Idiotic, yet extremely arousing."

"I'm not having sex with you in an alley full of bins."

"Of course not," said Sherlock, letting him go, and then grabbing him again to nip John's lower lip firmly.  He was grinning like a lunatic.  "Wood will be gone, so we might as well make some extra money."

So they played blackjack until Sherlock got thrown out for counting cards.  All the way home he complained about it, since he couldn't actually help noticing how many high and low cards had been played.  But John could tell he'd done it deliberately.  They were both giggling on the way up the stairs, and when they were in the sitting room, and John had shucked his overcoat, he grabbed Sherlock by the sleeves before he could take his own off. 

"Necking," John said, breathless and grinning.  "On the couch, right now."  He was absurdly horny, especially for a man who'd nearly had more sex than meals in the past few days.

Sherlock looked startled and pleased and let himself be dragged.  John went straight for that long pale neck as they collapsed together onto the cushions, Sherlock's collar and the ends of his curls against John's cheek.  Sherlock's fingers clawed at John's suit jacket and he dragged John in close against him.

John firmly turned them, putting Sherlock on his back and climbing on top of him.  His cock bumped up against Sherlock's, which was hot and very hard through his trousers.

Sherlock groaned and his hands clutched lower, grabbing at John's arse, and he arched up, grinding them together.

John gasped.  "This was meant to be necking."

"Bite my neck then, but don't stop."

John gave him a bit of teeth and gave in, grinding back. 

Sherlock moaned.  It sounded overwhelmed, passionate, and not entirely happy.  John stilled.  "Sherlock, okay?"

Sherlock pressed his face up against John's neck.  "Going to... come," he whined.  "Too soon."

Fuck if John was going to do things like this and have Sherlock not enjoy it.   He nudged at Sherlock's face until he got their mouths together and licked firmly inside.  He curled one hand around the back of Sherlock's neck and slid the other in under Sherlock to squeeze at one of those surprisingly round buttocks -- Sherlock was skinny god knew, but not scrawny.

Sherlock writhed and moaned continually into John's mouth.  He was still in his coat, still looked like that larger than life figure, posh and brilliant, and under John he gave a soft whimper and started to shudder.

John worked his hand in between them and gave himself a few quick rough tugs through his suit trousers.  It was enough, it was all he needed.  Sherlock was jerking,  John kept holding him, kept kissing him, kept moving, trying to draw out as much pleasure as he could give.  His own orgasm didn't last long, but felt like a wave hitting, slamming into him, leaving him breathless and coming messily in his pants.

Finally Sherlock tore his mouth away and lay with his head thrown back, panting.  John gave him one of those nips on the throat he liked and felt Sherlock's hips give a late twitch as he gasped.  "Good?"  John murmured.

Sherlock grabbed John by the head in both hands and kissed him deep and slow until they both had their breath back.

"Hmm," Sherlock said.  "I was planning on making some use of our medical status.  But I came too soon." 

"Well, I thought it was bloody fantastic," John said, because for one thing it was true, and for another, judiciously applied praise had been known to short-circuit the kind of misbehaviour a disappointment usually provoked.

Sherlock smiled up at him, and then leaned up, put two fingers lightly on John's jaw, and kissed him again, very softly.  His hair was mussed and there was a little pink in his cheeks, and John never, ever, wanted anything but to follow this lunatic around.

Abruptly Sherlock pulled back, now frowning.  "Why do I come so quickly?  You don't. You're not much older.  Less than a decade.  And remarkably fit, as you displayed to excellent effect this evening.  Did you come this quickly when you were thirty-six?"  His eyes were slightly narrowed, as if he thought John were deliberately undermining his sexual stamina.

"No," John said.  He considered again telling Sherlock it was actually a bit of a relief not to have to wait for his partner, which had been an issue with most of the women John had dated.  Advantage of gay sex.  Then he suddenly remembered that stupid little cunt Hartwell calling them a couple of poofs.  Well, for all Sherlock's technically true denial — they hadn't gone off to shag in the poker club — they were a couple of poofs, weren't they? He'd hear worse in time.

 "I reckon I only lasted about that long most of the first two years I was having sex though," John said, remembering girls, breasts, being a normal bloke.

"Two years!" Sherlock protested. He'd probably have flipped himself over to sulk with his face in the cushions, in that theatric way of his, if John hadn't been on top of him.

"Teenager.  Which you're not," John clarified.  "You'll settle."

He heaved himself up and went off to peel off his disgusting suit and brush his teeth.

For a while, he lay in bed and thought it was going to be another of those nights when Sherlock went back to his usual nocturnal behaviour.  But sometime late, late in the night, Sherlock slipped into bed and dropped heavily onto John.  Like a duvet full of hatracks.  Like John's poof boyfriend.  Sherlock was still there when he woke, and John kept himself still, trying not to give anything away at skin-to-skin range with the world's most observant man.

 

Chapter Text

 

"No, no, no.  Grace Gibson didn't kill her mother-in-law.  That was suicide.  She killed her husband— that was murder."

John, sitting beside Sherlock in the cab from Barts, just settled back into raw reality, looked at him carefully. "Sherlock."

"Mmm."

"That's the wrong way round."

There was that smug look he could remember from the very first day.

"I — all right, I was right there in the morgue with you. What the hell did I not pick up on that turned the entire case around?"

"Oh, the morgue was just to satisfy myself on some minor issues."

"You knew already?"

"To be honest, even last night's interviews were unnecessary for this particular conclusion, although it may well turn out to be useful for the larger picture later."

"Larger picture?"

"Later."

For once they didn't see Sally Donovan on their way to Greg's office.  "It's no good sending Sally on training courses," Sherlock announced as he barged in.

John followed, he and Greg exchanging their usual glances acknowledging that Sherlock was a brat and it wasn't worth fighting.

"I know we're all dunces round here," Greg said with a shrug, "but I reckon Donovan will make a pretty bloody good DI."

"Oh, DCI, easily.  But she won't do it.  Too loyal.  She'd hate to outrank you."

Greg shut his eyes and shook his head, sighing.  "Piss off, Sherlock."

Sherlock turned to John and waved his hand under his chin as if to indicate, you see?  "I'm only trying to spare your budget the unnecessary expense of sending her on courses she doesn't need, when you'd both rather she was here."

"Did you actually come here for a reason, Sherlock?  I don't have a new case for you."

"We're not done with the existing case yet."

"What," Greg asked, "you mean the Marie Gibson murder?"

John tried hard to memorise Sherlock's smile at that, so that he'd be able to recognise later exactly what Sherlock's you've just said things in such a way that I can have fun lying to you while technically telling the truth expression looked like. 

"No," said Sherlock archly.  "Not the Marie Gibson Murder."

Greg looked to John.

"You're going to love this one," John told him, and couldn't help his grin.

Greg pinched a fold of skin between his eyebrows, worked it between his finger and thumb like he could knead the annoyance out. "Yeah, okay, fine. Let's have it."

John settled into a chair while Sherlock paced, all big coat and theatrical hand waving.  "Marie Gibson wasn't murdered. She killed herself. She administered the pills filled with peanut protein to herself, knowing exactly what they were."

Greg just looked at him. "And then called emergency services."

"To say that she'd been poisoned, yes. Her son had died; she knew he'd been murdered by his wife, but couldn't prove it. His murder was invisible. So she set out to create a murder that would be obvious, something no one would miss."

"So not only was the murder a suicide, the suicide was a murder."

"Told you you'd love it," John said.

"All right, go on," Greg said, with a despairing sort of wave.

"Marie Gibson knew her son's apparent suicide was actually murder.  Unfortunately for her, most of what she had to go on was her knowledge of her son, and the relationship between him and his wife. She knew he was exactly the opposite of a gambler, and would never play Russian Roulette, never risk himself."

"Sherlock, he was a professional gambler."

"Who was able to live at that standard on his winnings alone? No, no, no.  He took no real chances. He cheated. That was what Marie knew."

"And you've got evidence, do you?" Greg asked.

Sherlock smiled magisterially. "Let's keep things in order. Marie was determined to create a murder that even the Met — and the representative she had of your colleagues, remember Lestrade, was Dimmock — could solve. So she did everything she could to make it obvious without actually spray painting Grace Did It on the walls. Medic alert bracelets aren't decoration; people either wear them every day for safety or almost never. Hers was shiny: no dings, no scratches, nearly unworn. And yet she put it on for a party in her own house and wore it to bed. Deliberately said poison when she called 999. But she'd administered the poison herself, filling her own pills with peanut protein."

God he'd missed this, Sherlock strutting about the place practically glowing with self-satisfaction and brilliance.  It made John feel weirdly warm inside, the stupid happy pride of being this total tosser's friend, of getting to see this.

"And how did she manage that bit without killing herself?" Greg sighed.  He'd maybe meant to sound sceptical, but he was too impressed to manage it.

"Do pay attention, Lestrade. Your own team found the first epi shot in her rubbish. She gave herself a prophylactic shot and then did it, probably with a scarf across her mouth and wearing a pair of marigolds.  She was careful to get rid of the peanut butter — and the gloves, and the Cardizem she'd replaced — somewhere else, probably left it in a public rubbish bin, but the shots were prescription; she knew if they were missing entirely, that would be even more suspicious -- the wrong sort of suspicious."

"Would that work?' Greg asked John.

"Not something I'd suggest," John said. "Could work. Apparently did."

"If you get someone besides Anderson to do a real sweep of the house, you'll probably find a few particles of Cardizem floating around, probably in the kitchen, I expect that's where she did the replacement. No reason for any of that to ever escape from the pills unless they'd been opened up there."

"So the bridge party was just more setup," John said.

"Specifically so she could invite her hated daughter-in-law. Already no love lost between them, and she set up the misunderstanding about the DVD to add to it. So she made sure several witnesses were reminded of the animosity between them, reminded of the allergy, and reminded that Grace was aware of the allergy."

"And got Grace Gibson's prints on the pill case by leaving it in the basin," John groaned.

"Sounded like a lie," Sherlock agreed, "absolutely true. Pills in the bathroom basin, looks like they fell there from the cabinet. Grace goes to wash her hands, has to move it out of the way first."

"And the pills in her bag, Sherlock?" Greg said, leaning back and crossing his arms.

"She obviously had no idea they were there. Marie planted them. She knew her daughter-in-law, knew the state she kept her handbag in, she knew if she tucked them in at the bottom it might be months before they were unearthed, unless someone was looking for them. No prints on the plastic bag, were there?"

Greg nodded grimly. "All right, that more or less hangs together, but this all depends on her believing her son was killed by his wife. Any proof for that?"

"To be specific, it depends on Marie believing that Grace killed him. The fact that she did is besides the point for dropping that murder charge."

"But you want her charged with her husband's murder."

"John and I spent a little time last night getting impressions from Neil Gibson's peers  at his preferred gambling tables.  You heard more from his mother's friends.  And then there's the evidence from your own computer forensics people.  He was a cheat.  He didn't take risks unless he could tilt them in his favour.  Sitting in his chair at home alone playing Russian roulette is the last thing he'd ever do — all risk and no reward."

"Sherlock, we've a video of him doing it.  Are you saying forensics has found it was tampered with?"

Sherlock sighed.  "No, no, no.  The video shows exactly what happened.  Neil Gibson put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.  He wouldn't hold a gun to his head for no reward."

"So there was a reward on offer," John said, getting it.

Sherlock grinned at him.  When he was in deep thought, expression still, Sherlock's face could look like something beautiful carved out of marble.  When he grinned like this, not being careful of his expression, his face went a bit goofy, so pleased with himself his features couldn't contain it properly.  John couldn't help but grin back. 

"Please tell me this is not some kinky sex thing," Greg begged.

Sherlock turned back to Greg. "Not exactly.  But there are... enthusiasts for Russian Roulette."

"This sounds like a kinky sex thing."

"More of a kinky death thing, I think," Sherlock said.

"Please never say that to Sally," Greg groaned, and kneaded at his forehead some more.  "She'll go right off you again."

"It isn't my death fetish," Sherlock protested haughtily.  "I've no interest in watching people take a one in six chance of shooting themselves in the head." 

Well, no, John reflected, that was true.  Sherlock was only interested in looking at the effects afterwards.  He wouldn't have nearly as much fun if he'd witnessed the crime and seen how it was done.  "But somebody does."

"Over the last four years, there have been eleven cases of Russian roulette-related deaths where the shooter was found in front of his computer."

Greg stared, then shook his head.  "Sherlock, I'd have heard— we'd all have heard— if there'd been eleven cases.  Dimmock wouldn't have missed that."

"Eleven cases worldwide.  Three in the United States, not more than one in any other country.  In every case, the man was known to be in a desperate situation.  Obvious suicide.  The presence of a computer was ignored — just an element of modern furniture."

Greg wasn't actually dim, whatever Sherlock liked to think.  His head slowly tilted through forty-five degrees as he thought this out.  "Did all the computers have webcams?"

"Not everyone has responded, but in every case where they'd bothered to note down the particulars, or take a picture, yes."

"Somebody's paying for videos of Russian roulette?" Greg said.

John wasn't remotely shocked.  He'd seen the journos feeding the hunger for war footage, met the girls who had no interest in him until they thought they could get a good story of blood and death out of him.

"And has found a large number of people desperate enough to take the risk for money."

"Jesus," John said.  "One in six chance, most revolvers.  Unless it's fixed somehow— "

"He's probably played his game with something like sixty-six people," Sherlock agreed.  "He's not just after  a video file, though.  Neil Gibson's computer was connected at the time to a server using a proprietary chat protocol.  Live video chat, so the viewer could ask questions and establish that he wasn't being fed a doctored recording."

"All right, this is, christ, Sherlock, you're going to have to talk to sodding Interpol about this," Greg said.  "But then what's it got to do with Grace Gibson?  Her husband took money to play Russian roulette, and lost.  Not her fault."

Sherlock scrubbed his hands through his hair in abject frustration.  "Can you really not keep a list of less than a dozen facts all in your head at once?  Neil Gibson did not take risks.  He was not desperate.  He did not fit the profile.  He was a cheat."

"Wait," John said, "are you saying he, what, tried to feed this guy a doctored video and was killed for it or something?"

Sherlock rolled his eyes, but there was something a bit softer than his usual expression of disgust in the line of his mouth.  John reckoned he actually liked it a bit, when he was proved yet again to be the only one in the room who wasn't an idiot.  "No.  The gun he used was a  Nagant M1895 Revolver.  Your firearms expert seemed to think that it being a Russian revolver used for Russian roulette was only natural, and never looked any further, despite the one salient fact being one of the best-known characteristics of the Nagant."

"They used to be used for police guns in Europe, that's all I know about them.  Not one of the more popular street weapons," said Lestrade.

"Don't think I'd seen one, except the other day," agreed John.  The insurgents had probably had some around, since they were stuck with whatever they could get, but John's interest in guns had only ever been immediately practical.

"The cartridges are known for being easily mistaken for blanks," Sherlock pronounced.

John shook his head.  "So Neil Gibson was trying to fake it live — put in what he thought was a blank, but he got it wrong."

"He was a card sharp," Sherlock agreed, "hands of a stage magician, prepared to swap real with fake.  He thought the worst he'd be risking was some hearing damage."

It was a lot more dangerous than that, playing around with blanks, but likely Gibson hadn't known any better.

"Well, you've put us onto a crime," Greg said, "but not Grace Gibson's.   It's the one who's been paying people to play Russian roulette we're after.  The wife had nothing to do with it."

"The wife had everything to do with it!" Sherlock roared.  "Who put Neil Gibson in touch with someone who would pay him to play Russian roulette?  Who got him a gun and both real and false ammunition?"

"Grace Gibson doesn't seem exactly the illegal firearms sort," Greg said.

"But her dealer — her lover — is.  A man with a lot of contacts, including our friend who likes to watch pseudo-suicides.  She wanted to get rid of her husband, and her new boyfriend provided the scenario and all the props.  All she had to do was step in at the last moment and swap round the ammunition.  A risk, but unlike her husband she doesn't mind risks at all."

"And can you prove any of this?" Greg begged.  "I need something I can lay out in front of normal people, Sherlock.  These days, it takes something more than Sherlock says. "

"You can trace the gun and ammunition to the dealer.  It shouldn't be too hard to connect the dealer to Grace Gibson, they've spent a tremendous amount of time together lately.  But the best part is the Wikipedia article history."

"Oh god," Greg groaned, rubbing his palms over his face.  "You want me to cite Wikipedia in a murder case."

"Not the content," Sherlock said lazily, "the history.  I did say this business about the bullets is one of the most widely known facts about the Nagant.  You'll find it in the Wikipedia article.  It's there now, and you'd have found it there nearly from the time the article was first added.  But for a period of forty-eight hours three weeks ago, those sentences were edited out.  The edits were made from someone at an IP address that was leased to Neil Gibson at the time."

"No reason for him to do it, so it was his wife," John said.  "Christ, that's amazing." 

Sherlock's smile changed in tone, a new warmth on top of his usual joy in showing off.   John realised after a moment that they were staring, no, all right, maybe gazing at each other.  Oh christ.

Greg was frowning, but that could have been because Sherlock had just carpet bombed him with bizarre brilliance.  "All right," he said, "if this holds up — " he put up a palm in defence at Sherlock's outraged look.  "I mean if we mere mortals can put it together into a case a judge will look at, then, yeah, we'll swap the charges."

Sherlock looked very briefly pleased with this apparent obeisance to his ego, and then realised Greg was taking the piss with the mere mortals thing.  John couldn't quite hold back a snort of laughter.   The whole solving the case thing wouldn't be complete without Sherlock being a complete twat.

"We'll need to get hold of this drug dealer boyfriend for one thing — "

"His name's Cummings.  I've not yet found a picture, but he'd be in his early forties, probably good-looking."

"Right, good.  Send me all you've got."

"When you find him, Lestrade, let me know.  I'd like to speak to him."

"Yeah, all right.  And, Sherlock?"

"Yes?" Sherlock said, now gone a bit haughty again.

"Good to have you back, mate."

Sherlock's eyes narrowed slightly, clearly unsure if he was being mocked.  Then he nodded once, and swept out.

"See he does actually send me all that stuff?" Greg said hopefully.  "I'll never keep it all straight in me tiny little bonce if he doesn't."

"I'll get him to tell me again and I'll type it up for you," John promised. 

 


 

They got home in time for a late lunch.  John plucked up a menu from the litter on the desk and flapped it at Sherlock.  "I'm after lo mein.  What do you want?" John asked. 

Sherlock dumped himself onto the couch.  "Not hungry."

That meant he'd eat about half a cup of John's, if it were offered properly.

"Sure?  After today, you deserve something — christ, you were amazing, Sherlock.  Maybe we should go out, celebrate."  And after, yeah, maybe lots and lots of sex, in the way of positive reinforcement for Sherlock being so fucking amazing.

"To celebrate you want to make me get up and take me to eat food I don't want," Sherlock said, rolling his eyes.  Right.  Still a twat, actually.

John sat down on the coffee table.  "Just an idea," he said, shrugging.  Then he bent over, and kissed Sherlock.

Sherlock's expression, when John pulled back, was softer, and he smiled faintly.  "Some of your ideas are better than others."

"But you don't want to go out."

Sherlock twitched himself into a new pose on the couch.  "I'm thinking, John.  Go and order food; you'll be utterly tiresome if you aren't fed, that much is obvious."

"Thinking about what?"  John prodded.  Sherlock was sometimes so easy to tease.

Sherlock jacknifed himself up and lunged toward the other end of the couch, using one of his explosions of restless energy to change position entirely.  He was like a teenaged boy.  "The case John.  This case.  Very promising.  Excellent in fact.  We're going to enjoy it."

John raised his eyebrows.  "This would be the case you've just finished... Sherlock, if you go back in a week and tell Lestrade his suicide murder turned murder suicide is actually a double execution or something, I think he might actually kill you."

"What?  Oh that case.  Not that case.  That had a few interesting elements in its own right, I suppose, but the real interest — the real case, that's just getting started."

John was flabbergasted.  "How in hell did you — did you steal a file from Lestrade's desk when I wasn't watching?  What case?"

"The viewer, John.  Someone rich and powerful enough that his hobby is paying dozens— possibly hundreds— of people to point guns at their heads in front of him.  You didn't follow the IP evidence, of course— we must do something about your luddism.  Paulson gave up after the packets of that video chat had been re-routed through eight different servers, but he failed to notice anything about the servers themselves."

"Yes, and what about them?" John asked.   He just about knew that a server was a computer on the web.

"Well, three of them used to be owned by companies that were part of Moriarty's little empire of mischief."  Apparently the look on John's face made his thoughts on that obvious, because Sherlock sat up again.  "Nothing to do with the man himself.  Moriarty's quite dead, believe me, and his assets divided.  I happened to recognise those IP addresses, that's all.  The others I looked up later — all linked in one way or another to organised crime.  The person doing this has friends everywhere.  I knew there had to be a larger picture and this..."  He grinned and steepled his fingers in front of his mouth and lay back again with a happy sigh.

John sighed. A larger picture. That sounded...

Christ that sounded like Jim Fucking Moriarty, sitting in the background pulling Sherlock's strings, pushing his buttons. And the worst part had always been that Moriarty fluttered his eyelashes and Sherlock came running. Sherlock bloody wanted there to be some larger game, something to relieve his boredom. And when he'd got what he wanted last time, look how that had come out. Now here he was panting for more.

The warm buzz of pride in Sherlock was suddenly gone.  He'd thought they were back on track, solving the Gibson case together, and all the time Sherlock's mind had been on this instead.  "Pleased, are you?" John asked.  "Ready to go looking for this peeping tom of yours?"

"Hardly that — them knowing that he's watching, that he's in a position to convince them to go through with it, that has to be part of the appeal."

"Yeah, 'course.  Good clean fun, then."

Sherlock frowned.  "You're annoyed.  Are you annoyed?  Why are you annoyed?"

"Me?  Nope.  Glad you've found another playmate.  Maybe this one will skin somebody for you."  He'd barely been back any time at all, and now he was going looking for another madman to get him killed.  All John had tried to do hadn't made a dent; Sherlock still didn't get that he wasn't alone.

Sherlock stared at him.  "It's a case, John.  An interesting case.  I don't understand why you're — "

"You really don't.  Okay.  You really — "  He was going to explode.  He was going to say something unforgivable.  His temper was going to get out of control and everything was going to go wrong.  The brittle ground they were standing on was going to shatter away beneath them.

He had to get out of the way before he lost it entirely.

"I'm going out."

"Bring back a hot and sour soup; I'll eat it," Sherlock said, with the air of someone bestowing a tremendous favour.

John slammed out of the room before he punched the smarmy git in the face.

 


 

The unfairness of it made Sherlock leap up and pace the room for three tight, hands-clenched circuits before he lurched at the bookshelves, snatched, and threw Thomas Hardy across the room, then Richard Dawkins, Leslie Iversen, and then Dawkins again, rather later in the man's career.  Then he scrubbed his hands through his hair until his scalp tingled.

How was this different from the Jefferson Hope case?  It had been reasonably interesting, and had led to something far more interesting still.  Was John so resentful that the new case depended on clues related to technology that he had gone off to sulk?

They were sleeping together.  This was meant to be a long-term relationship.  John was meant to stop stomping off away from him. 

At least John was meant to respond to Sherlock's attempt at peace-offering by way of willingness to ingest food.

In fact, up to the point of his unexpected tantrum, John had been meant to spend the rest of the evening telling Sherlock how clever he was, followed by oral sex.

At least, oral sex was what Sherlock had originally intended for the evening, but he'd got caught up in finishing up the previous case and getting a feel for the new, and he hadn't spent much time researching oral techniques or practising to make sure his first attempt at fellatio didn't end after ten seconds with a choke and a splutter.  Ideally he'd have had at least more than a few hours this afternoon to see what he could do about his gag reflex. 

At the moment, he was honestly more enthusiastic about his new case, although oddly enough sex with John remained moderately interesting, rather than fading to unappetising blandness as the rest of the world usually did, receding into a background grey around the bright vividness of new work.

They had been having a great deal of sex lately, though.  Twice daily for the most part, which was really rather more than average if studies were to be believed (though positively sluggish compared to some self-reporting on new relationships in a gay messageboard he'd read).

Perhaps John simply didn't feel himself properly included in the case.

Or... playmate, John had said.  If John really thought this man was to be another Moriarty, then he'd have reason to be afraid.

Absurd, of course.  Moriarty had been unique.  The world was better for his death, though unavoidably duller as well.

In the end, Sherlock went back to tracing IP addresses, checking business records and server ownership, and eventually downloading a few of the files he'd kept from his encounters with Moriarty's outfit and its various hangers-on.

John wasn't back until after seven.  In his steps on the stairway up were lingering anger and one beer, and one stronger drink, probably whiskey.

He wasn't carrying any food.  By the way his jacket set on his shoulders he hadn't eaten, just spent the afternoon drinking.  Casual conversation, probably about sport.  John was capable of astounding levels of involvement in the topic of which footballers were an embarrassment to the side and which were good lads.  If he'd had a bit more to drink, they'd all have been good lads by the end of the evening.  All good lads, really, seemed to be the phrase with which John announced that he was completely pissed.

"He appears to be in Brazil," Sherlock announced.  That should put John's mind at rest a bit.  Far off, on another continent, no direct threat.

John stopped at the door, licked his lips, exhaled slowly.  "You didn't mention this new case of yours to Lestrade, I noticed."

"The IP addresses were international."

"Yeah, Brazil, you said."

"A bit outside the reach of the Met, then."

"But perfect for you."

"Yes, John.  Unusual criminals are exactly our purview."

"So you're off after this millionaire Brazilian death fetishist then.  Not bothering to get any help from the police.  Are you going to send me a post card from Rio this time?"

Sherlock's exhale was a shocked shudder.  Walking out the door had been no worse than things were before.  But telling Sherlock straight out that if he went on this case John wouldn't be with him... or was John's message simpler, was he telling Sherlock to get out?

How had this happened?

Sherlock had to take a breath before he could speak properly.  "John, I don't — "  Didn't understand.  Didn't see what he'd done wrong.  Didn't know how all his work with John had suddenly shattered. 

John shuddered a breath himself.  "I'm sorry.  God,  I didn't — please, Sherlock, I did not mean to say that.  Just.  I think I'd better be on my own for a bit.  Apparently I'm a complete cunt tonight."

"John — "

John leaned forward and, rather shyly, rather clumsily, kissed Sherlock's cheek.  Then he exhaled softly against Sherlock's jaw.  "You know — um, you — " another exhale, like an angry, barely controlled sigh, and he turned around and went up to his bedroom.

Sherlock wanted to chase after, to question him, to demand to know what was going on.  But John wanted to be on his own. 

And there really ought to be more he could get from looking at these servers.

There was also the matter of the act itself.  Russian roulette.  What was the exact nature of the appeal?  Death fetishist had John's usual slovenly imprecision.  Would Neil Gibson's attempt at fakery have gone unnoticed without his wife's intervention?  Once he'd really considered all the details, Sherlock thought he might be able to stage something even more convincing, something that might get him, if he worked it properly, face to face — on screen — with his quarry.

Yes, once he'd exhausted the scope of home forensic computing, he'd have to have a go with John's gun.  He'd need an actual revolver, rather than John's Sig, for the real thing, but just to frame things for the laptop's webcam, John's gun would do for now. 

And once he was sure he had that part settled, he could tell John about it, draw John into the case that way.  Yes, that seemed a very promising idea.  John liked cases, and John liked his gun and most of the time John liked Sherlock, so John would like this.

 


 

John's temper had been causing him trouble since he was a boy.  He'd constantly been shouted at and sent to his room for the things he said.  He could remember how his childhood tantrums had made Dad drink, remembered Mum, driven past all patience, storming out and Dad telling him that he hoped he was proud, driving his own mother out of the house.  All the teenaged relationships he'd cared about had, one way or another, ended because John had said something unforgivable.

It had been a small and unspoken part of why he'd chosen the army.  The army was meant to teach you control.  And John had struggled so hard with it.  He knew he still had no real handle on his temper.  It had been part of the end with Cathy, the one whose pimples Sherlock had always been so rude about, when she'd lost patience and started mocking him, saying how controlled he was and telling him to express a damn emotion, John, and that sarcasm had caused him to finally explode with abuse that had left her in tears.

Apparently he still couldn't get a handle on himself.  Sherlock had made him so angry so fast, and he'd had to get out. 

Then he'd spent hours at a pub nursing one beer followed by one whiskey, talking to a bloke who over the course of the afternoon called every member of Man United a pouf at least once.

John had sat there the entire time telling himself each time that if it happened just once more John was going to fucking say something.  Hell, he would have before, at least, after a few times.  He'd done it loads of times, said, look, can you cut it with that, my sister's gay, actually.  But now... now he felt like if he brought the topic up it would flare in bright pink lettering across his forehead.

And stupidly he'd left that pub not only feeling in a worse mood, but feeling more annoyed with Sherlock, in a way that was stupid and shameful and apparently couldn't be helped.

Then, when John had thought a long, long walk had finally burned the annoyance out of him, Sherlock had started lobbing new logs on the fire the minute he was in the door. 

Even lying in his bed, John had found himself picturing a smooth Brazilian Moriarty, all suave malice and sudden mayhem.  And this one was even another master of persuading people to kill themselves.

Sherlock had, as usual, been only slightly sulky about John's childishness, and left John to sleep off his tantrum.

John came down the next morning and found Sherlock still on the couch, still tapping at his laptop.  He didn't say good morning but, then, he was Sherlock.  If he'd been maliciously ignoring John, he'd have been a lot more ostentatious about it, possibly stamping off to his own room. 

Also, there was a mug on the coffeetable in front of him, and a second one on the desk.  John recognised a peace offering when he saw it.

He drank the tea standing by the window.  "All right?" he said.  He still felt as if he were standing on something fragile. 

Sherlock nodded.

"Ta.  For the tea."

Sherlock  didn't bother to respond.  He seemed to be thoroughly engrossed in whatever he was doing on his computer.  John had the nasty feeling it was all about this Brazilian of his, but as long as Sherlock kept his interest to things he could manage from the couch, and wasn't running off to do god knew what, John could let it go in silence.  He'd not had his dinner the night before, so he had beans with his toast for breakfast, and then did his best to clean up the kitchen. 

Dealing with email and comments on the blog swallowed several hours.  Lunch finished off most of what was edible in the kitchen.   "I'll go and get the shopping," he told Sherlock.  "Text me anything you want me to pick up?"

Sherlock made a vague noise of agreement and scrolled through some endless document.

When John got back with the shopping, Sherlock was in a chair at the desk between the windows, his laptop open in front of him.  His right arm was lifted.  He had John's gun against his head.

John launched himself across the room and tackled Sherlock out of the chair, catching his wrist to force the arm up and away. 

They fell into the narrow space between one of Sherlock's file cabinets and the battered trunk John had always assumed was the one Sherlock had taken to Harrow as a kid.  He bashed Sherlock's wrist against the low window sill until the gun fell into the pile of miscellaneous rubbish Sherlock kept there.

Once it was gone, John lay on top of his friend, weight of his hips on Sherlock's belly, leaning forward to keep Sherlock's right wrist pinned, gasping for breath.  The corner of the desk had left a stunning pain on John's hip and he'd bashed his thigh on the corner of the chair as he came down.  Sherlock likely had bruises from hitting the chair and the file cabinet and the trunk— hard enough that it had shifted, heavy with papers as it was—  and the floor on the way down.  But John saw that, without thinking about it— he hadn't been thinking anything at all— he'd managed to get his right hand under Sherlock's head, keeping him from bashing his skull against anything.

Sherlock's head was surprisingly hot in his palm.  Sherlock was wearing that cologne that smelled to John vaguely like green tea, odd but very pleasant.  Sherlock's shirt was blue so dark it was nearly black and so smooth it looked like the fabric might have been shaved from some solid block instead of woven.  The base of his throat was pale and heaving with breath.  His face was amazing.  He seemed beautiful and alien, eyes nearly silver, and the complex curls around his head seemed outlined in light. 

Everything seemed outlined, highlighted, significant.  Sherlock's head with the file cabinet on one side and the trunk on the other was like a modernist triptych of stored information.  The gun had fallen out of John's line of sight behind the dingy curtain, and that seemed like an allegory of hidden danger.  Sherlock's heart beating under John's sternum felt like the thrum of the engine that made the world run.

There had been times in firefights that felt like this.  Then it had been John's own pounding heartbeat in his ears that sounded like the secret rhythm of the world.

"John," Sherlock said, very softly, his eyes fixed seriously on John's face, "it wasn't loaded.  I was working through this Russian roulette business.  It wasn't loaded, John.  You can check."

It should have helped, but that moment of bright alert reality was already draining with the spike of adrenaline, and John felt like a trapdoor had opened under him and he was tumbling away.  He'd said something horrible and then Sherlock had held a gun to his own head and— no.  No more of this.  He let go Sherlock's wrist and carefully scooted back off him until he could stand, then grasped Sherlock's arms and helped him to his feet.  Then he turned to walk away.

Sherlock caught him with a hand on his shoulder.  Sherlock's face came close, but John couldn't read the expression, because everything was grey.  Sherlock was grey.  "John? John, come here.  Sit down."  Sherlock put John in his usual chair, both hands pressing his shoulders down, then both hands briefly on his knees.  Then Sherlock sat in the other chair.

There, they were settled in their chairs.  Everything was normal.  None of this was happening anyway, he didn't have to worry.  His magazine was on the floor under the chair.  He pulled it out, opened it on his lap.  In a bit he'd go make tea.

"John!" 

John raised his eyes from the magazine.  Now Sherlock was kneeling on the floor in front of John's chair, which was an eccentric thing for a person to do, only not actually eccentric at all by Sherlock's standards.  From the tone of the shout he'd been trying to get John's attention for a bit.

"Hmm?  Did you want tea?"

"John, it wasn't loaded."

"Yeah, you said."

"I've never been suicidal, John."

"Okay."

"You understand?  I never had any intention of killing myself with your gun."

"That's what it was for."  Why had he said that?  He hadn't meant to.  But it didn't worry him.  It was just a story, like a film.

"What?  You're not making sense, John."

"That's why I bought it," John explained.  "That's why I bought the gun in the first place.  It's for shooting myself in the head with.  See, Sherlock -- there's always something."  He smiled, because it was an old joke between the two of them.

 


 

John wasn't... wasn't right.  He'd walked in on Sherlock clarifying the logistics of Russian roulette via webcam, and it seemed to have broken something.  Sherlock had broken something.

For a moment, when John was lying on him, one hand gripping Sherlock's wrist bruisingly, the other cradling his head, John had stared at him as if he could gulp Sherlock whole with his eyes.  He'd looked dangerous and wild and blazing and for a moment Sherlock had thought John was going to fuck him, just peel him bare and take him there on the floor.

Then John seemed to have shifted into some bizarre parody of his usual unassuming, peaceable front, the face he put on for other people.  He'd looked at Sherlock on his knees and calmly asked if he wanted tea, for heaven's sake.

And then in that same cool pleasant tea-with-the-vicar manner, he'd told Sherlock he'd originally bought his gun to kill himself with.  At once, Sherlock had realised it was true.  He should have seen it from the first, but somehow he'd actually let the shocking discomfort of the idea keep him from thinking things through properly.  Had he really been allowing John to distort his thinking even as early as that first evening?  Apparently so.  He was an idiot.  Idiot idiot idiot.

"But not now," Sherlock said at last, carefully.  "That's not what the gun is for now, John."

"No," John agreed.  "Not now you're alive again."

"I was never suicidal, John.  The gun wasn't loaded."  He'd been going to bring the gun over and show John that it was empty, but at the moment he didn't want it in John's hands either.

"You've never been very good with guns, Sherlock.  Deleted proper gun safety, did you?  You pointed one at my head once, with your finger on the trigger, remember?  And that one was loaded."  His voice was pleasant, he was smiling a bit.  Sherlock wanted to shake him.

And weirdly, he also wanted to lean forward and hide his face in John's lap and just hold on to John's warm body, feel it alive and safe and his.  Which was stupid.  Absurd.  Idiotic.  He stood up and stepped away.

"Why are you acting like this?" he demanded.  "Because you're angry?"

John just looked at him calmly, tilted his head, skewed his eyebrows in a questioning sort of way.  "Acting like what?  Look, I'm not, not exactly angry with you.  Gave me a bit of a turn, coming in and seeing that.  But you explained.  It's fine."

Sherlock could have seen it wasn't fine if he'd been stupider than Anderson.  He was absolutely shit at this relationship business, and both of them had known it going in, but this appeared to be beyond even his usual disasters.  This had to be fixed.

He'd hurt John.  He'd apologised.  But it hadn't made things better.

It was clearly time to forget trying to make sense of things and pretend to be normal as hard as he possibly could.  Pretend to be what John wanted and deserved.  What did normal people do in a situation like this?

He supposed he could make another mug of tea, although he'd already done that in the morning, trying to diffuse the earlier tension.  He'd chosen that because it was a surprisingly sensible normal approach: make amends by doing something that John would like.

Tea was simply on the wrong scale.  He needed something John would like much better than tea.

Presents.  Yes, that would be good.  He'd quite like buying John something nice.  A good suit, for one thing.  But that seemed more a long range approach.  He needed something more immediate, and more direct, more personal.  Something he could do for John that would make John feel good.

Yes.  Yes, that was a very good idea.

He was fairly sure he should give John some time to settle first, for his current stress reaction to wear off.

So he got up and made John another mug of tea after all, and brought it to him.

For a while, John sat there staring at his Kellerman novel, clearly not reading, and not drinking the tea either, although he sniffed its steam a few times.  Then he took a drink of the tea, put down the book, and dug around until he found a three-day-old crossword and a pencil. 

He stared at that for a minute or two, then blinked.  "Here's one.  Playing away, Man United?  Foul later rued."

Sherlock blinked, taken aback, and then remembered that John was not that clever, and was always far more direct.  He was neither accusing nor confessing, just failing to see a rather obvious anagram.

"Foul later rued," he prompted.

John stared at the paper for far longer than it could possibly take to find all the permutations of nine letters.  Then finally he wrote at the edge of the sheet.  "Oh."

He stared at the word for a bit, then his lips quirked, as they did when he saw an odd little joke he would refuse to share.

Sherlock decided that meant he'd had enough time to calm himself.  Time for the apology.

"John," he said quietly, "if you're not angry — "

"I said, I'm not."

He was.  Sherlock formed a smile to point at him anyway.  "And if you're not really all that interested in that crossword — "

"That was a good one.  Man United — I wouldn't have thought of that."

That was what they were supposed to be, Sherlock thought, wondering with some desperation what he would do if his attempt at making amends like a normal person didn't fix everything.  He walked over to John and knelt again.  He put his hands on John's knees.  "I can suggest an alternative.  Something more diverting."

John frowned.  He looked slightly shocked — not the frightening sort, but just John's dull middle-class sensibilities being mildly offended.  "You want to — "

Sherlock leaned forward until John's knees parted around his chest and kissed John.  John's mouth responded only sluggishly, but it did respond.

Sherlock ran his hands slowly up and down the tops of John's thighs, caressing as they kissed, then he pulled back a bit and anchored his fingers behind John's knees and tugged a little, encouraging John to slide slightly forward, slouching in the chair.

Now John's torso was at an angle, and Sherlock kissed John's neck, then his plain white shirt: over his heart, over his sternum, over his belly.

Then finally he did lower his head to John's lap, to nuzzle at John's cock through his trousers.  John was soft, but Sherlock didn't mind.  It would give him more scope to explore John's cock and the way his body responded to arousal.

John shifted a little in the chair. Growing more restless as Sherlock went on using his nose and lips and jaw to rub at the placket of John's trousers.

John was very slow to respond at the moment.  Perhaps Sherlock should have given him more than an hour's peace to get over his shock before trying this.

Or perhaps John simply needed a judiciously applied jolt.

Sherlock looked up at him.  John's face was still oddly blank, without its usual twitches and tensions.  The sight made Sherlock's stomach strangely cold, made him feel like there was pressure behind his eyebrows, made him worried and slightly angry.

Sherlock put his head back down, opened his mouth right against the trousers, and exhaled hotly.

John's breath did catch a little at that.

"John," he whispered to John's still-soft cock, "I'm going to suck you now."

 


 

Sherlock was a virgin.  He'd never even had a blow job before, much less given one.  It was an interesting situation, wasn't it?

Perhaps this was what it was like being Sherlock.  Everything was interesting but... removed.  Nothing was too close, everything could be handled, considered rationally. 

One slight drawback was that everything was too far away to be sexually arousing.  In fact, the idea of sex itself seemed strange and hazy.  It was sort of astounding that John usually spent so much time thinking about it.

He wondered how Sherlock managed to get hard so easily, if he always felt like this.  But, then, Sherlock could cry on command, so maybe he could just will himself an erection when experimental requirements made one useful.

John couldn't.  He'd known this would come along sooner or later, a time Sherlock would be after sex and John couldn't manage a stiffy to save his life.  But, Sherlock ought to be protected from trying something he wasn't ready for anyway.  So that was both problems solved.

He reached down and touched Sherlock's face.  "No," he said.  "I'll have the first go."

Sherlock stared at him.  Sherlock's eyes were long.  When he stared like that, with them a bit narrowed, he looked like a very pretty Chinese bloke.  He also looked like a cat.   His eyes got even narrower when his head was petted, apparently.  Now he looked like a very pretty Chinese cat.

"You don't want to perform fellatio," Sherlock said.  He sounded like he did when he was laying out a fact he'd found on a case.  Which was odd because what they were doing wasn't a crime these days.  "That much was obvious all along.  The idea of doing it makes you uncomfortable.  You find it far too gay.  You're reluctant for me to do it because you think I'm equally uncomfortable, but I'm not."

"Yeah, I'm uncomfortable," he agreed.  It turned out to be easy to talk about, as long as he wasn't really himself.  "But I don't, um,  don't want to be.  So, just... let me do this, okay?"

His fingers had worked into Sherlock's hair, he noticed.  His hands were half hidden, peeking out of curls here and there.  When he paid attention, he could feel the heat coming off Sherlock's scalp.  Otherwise his hands seemed numb.  Of course Sherlock's head would be hot — his brain probably ran hot, the way computers did if they were, what was it called?  Overclocked.

Sherlock was overclocked in general.  Playing with guns, for fuck's sake.

"John — "

"Look, Sherlock, I'm not angry, but, frankly, your judgement today is not great.  So, let me do this my way, yeah?" 

Sherlock said, "If that's what you want."

He leaned forward, a bit awkward in the chair, and kissed Sherlock.  More heat pouring out of that overclocked head.  It was sort of amazing that when Sherlock's mouth opened there wasn't a red glow.

Kissing was really awfully nice.  Kissing Sherlock, that was.  Obviously kissing normal people was nice.  Kissing girls.  That was supposed to be nice.  But kissing Sherlock was really nice even though it shouldn't be. 

And Sherlock's head was so beautifully shaped in his hands.  Thin skin over bone, and bone could — a bullet, or the impact of pavement could —

He needed a little more distance.  That was all right.  Probably best.

He sat back from the kiss. "Right, bed," he said.  When Sherlock had moved back enough, he stood up from his chair, and then went straight for Sherlock's bedroom.

"My room?" Sherlock asked.

He turned.  "If you don't mind."  It just seemed more sensible, somehow.

"No, that's fine."

Sherlock stopped him in the little hallway where the kitchen and the bath and Sherlock's room all met.  Sherlock put both arms round John.  It was one of the more bizarre things he'd tried yet.  It was... it was a hug, actually.  No kissing, no groping, he was just holding John. 

He couldn't interpret this at all.  Sherlock hugged Mrs. Hudson, and sometimes got hugged by enthusiastically grateful former clients, but hugging John seemed so strange.   Maybe he thought it was sexy? 

In the end he simply let it go, waited until Sherlock was done.  "You can have anything you want, John," Sherlock whispered, just before he stepped back.  "I may not have been clear about that."

"That's an awfully broad promise," he said, because Sherlock didn't know any better.

"Yes," said Sherlock, a little impatience in his voice, "That would be the point."

"Is this still you trying to make up for being a complete arse?  Stop it.  You're always a complete arse.  Take off your gear and let me see about getting you off.  That's what we're doing now, all right?  If you want to be creepily nice later, you can eat something."  He was doing well; that sounded just like something John Watson would say.

Sherlock nodded and went into his own room, pulling off his shirt as he went.

Once Sherlock was shirtless, things seemed to get much easier for a while.  He knew how to do this.  Kissing and touching.  Mouth, neck, ears, jaw, collarbones, chest.  Most of it he'd been doing for years.  When he wasn't over-focused on the situation, it turned out to be easy, as if Sherlock was a flat-chested girl.  Before long they were laid out on the bed together and Sherlock was quite hard.

Sherlock stroked his body as well, but he was mostly numb to it, and as he moved lower down Sherlock's body and just kept up the touching, Sherlock let him get on with it.

Getting Sherlock out of his trousers and pants was no trouble either, really.

Sherlock's cock.

"You don't need to, John," Sherlock said.  "You're clearly nervous -- "

"Yeah, calling attention to it, that's helpful."  He put his hand on Sherlock's cock and stroked it, moving the foreskin up and down, twisting a little, and Sherlock gasped and shuddered.  "Just shut up and let me do this."

From the girls who'd mentioned it, he had got the idea that this was actually easier to do if the bloke was sitting and the person performing the blow job was kneeling on the floor, so he tugged at Sherlock to put him at the edge of the bed.

Getting to his knees, John wobbled, a twinge going through his leg, but Sherlock would probably think it was more nervousness.   Or maybe not.  He didn't suppose it mattered.

Sherlock's cock.

It was meat.  It was a rod of swollen red meat, and he wanted to stick it into John's mouth.

His mouth was on it.  Salty.  Clumsily his head moved up and down. 

This was how blow jobs worked. 

His head moved.

His tongue moved, licking a bit.

Sherlock was groaning and shouting his name and twitching his hips.

His mouth was sucking.

Warm meat was in his mouth.

Sherlock made a noise like, "Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah!"  He thrust up once and his cock hit John's soft palate.  That was uncomfortable, and it made John cough, but he just held on. 

Sherlock's cock was heavy meat, getting harder in him.

It was fine.  It was all just happening to somebody.

He really ought to lick.  Licking, he knew, was a good thing to do in a blow job.

His tongue licked some more.

Sherlock sobbed, "Oh John!"

His mouth sucked and his head moved.  He wasn't trying to take in too much, but there was drool on his chin.

That was horrible.  It was disgusting, that he was drooling.  He quickly wiped it away before he could drip on Sherlock's thighs.  He tried to swallow his spit.

"John — John!  I'm about to come," Sherlock gasped urgently.

Sherlock was a posh lad, public school boy.  Good manners.  And that meant it was nearly done.

His mouth moved up and down.

Sherlock's cock twitched.  Hot, overclocked in his mouth.

He could do this.  He'd decided to do this.  Just get through it; all over soon.

Sherlock was moaning his name.

His throat clenched, swallowing, swallowing, and only a little coughing made him back off at the very end.

Dragging pull at his arms, Sherlock's body hot and close, he was up on the bed, Sherlock kissing him.  Sherlock's mouth. Hot-wet.  Licking.  Sherlock couldn't miss how sloppy his mouth was.  Then Sherlock had his hand on John's crotch, moving urgently where John was soft and shrivelled.

He caught Sherlock's wrist gently and peeled him away.  "I'm sorry," he said.

His throat was raw.  His voice sounded funny.

"John?" Sherlock asked.  He sounded like something had upset him.   

Well, Sherlock could keep his critique to himself this time.  It wasn't John's fault if he'd been crap at it.  It was his first go.

"John--" Sherlock asked again, voice a little sharper.

"Look, I'm sorry," John interrupted.  "I just... I can't.  Okay?"  He turned his face away.  There was nothing he could do.  He just couldn't get it up now.  "Sorry," he said.  "Guess I'm... tired."  He waited, with mild interest, to see if Sherlock would correct him with a more obvious reason for his impotence.

"Don't be sorry," Sherlock snapped at him.  He wrapped both arms around John, pulling him in close, and when John turned his face back, he actually reached up to stroke a thumb across John's lips before hugging tight again, holding John there where he couldn't get any distance, where he couldn't fucking breathe.

For once, though, John had someplace to retreat to.  "Just tired.  Been a hell of a couple of days," he said.  "D'you mind if I go up and sleep in my own bed?"

Sherlock ducked his head down and put his face to John's neck, and John thought for a moment that Sherlock was simply going to weigh him down and keep him here.  But, after a moment, Sherlock murmured, "If that will help."  He backed off.  When John was at the door he said, "Sleep well, John." 

For an hour or more he was lying in bed awake and yet somehow not really thinking.  That was very relaxing and probably not at all like being Sherlock.

 


 

There was a very soft tap at the door about twenty minutes after John had gone upstairs.  Sherlock, who had been lying there in a haze of lingering bodily bliss and mental consternation,  dragged his way into pyjama trousers and his robe.

Mrs. Hudson, slightly excited about something and yet only wanting to come in if somebody was paying attention to things like quiet knocking.  Oh.  Apparently he'd been really rather loud, and they had been downstairs, rather than up in John's room where they would have been less audible from the downstairs apartment.

"Hello dear," she said, beaming at him.  "I didn't want to bother you  if you were still busy."

"But I was making a lot of noise."

"You drowned out the telly dear."

Sherlock sighed, rolled his eyes.  Silly stupid woman.  What did she want from him?  What now?  What at all?  Why didn't she put up the rent and try to get him out of there so she could have tenants who didn't drip acid on her floorboards?  Why did  the notion of him having sex please her so much?  She wasn't a voyeur.  Was it just the further scope for teasing John?

That part he could understand.  Teasing John was extremely pleasant.

Upsetting John — really upsetting him, upsetting him so that  his pseudo-bad leg started bothering him again or his face went blank and he stopped paying attention to Sherlock — wasn't fun at all.  It was fairly horrible, and Sherlock's only reassurance was that John hadn't stormed off in another mock-abandonment, he'd stayed.

He'd stayed and taken Sherlock in his mouth, hot smooth, wet, truly astounding.  It had been far, far better than he'd expected.  The mouth, after all was surely less dexterous then the hands.  Surely the hands, with some form of lubrication, should have the advantage.  And then John's lips had closed clumsily round him and it had turned out that in certain aspects the sensations provided by the mouth were unique.

Really, just deliciously good.  He couldn't wait to do that to John.  Which was the problem.  He'd rushed it through over-eagerness, and missed that John would insist on doing it himself first.  That John had didn't surprise him, but it wasn't something he'd predicted.

John was so frequently unpredictable.  It was lovely, but sometimes inconvenient.

He was almost certain, now, that  John had not in fact been ready to perform oral sex. 

If John had drawn back, shown any sign beyond his original obvious reluctance, Sherlock would have stopped him and tried again to suggest they do something else.  But John had insisted, and he had worked so hard, so clumsy but so determined, that Sherlock would have let him go on even if it had been rubbish.  The man had his pride, after all.

It hadn't been elegant, or shown anything by the way of flair, but apparently that trite claim that even a bad blow job was good had some truth to it.  It had been shockingly good, and such relief that John had been willing to do it -- surely if he'd been angry enough about Sherlock's idiocy with the gun to end things between them, he'd never have actually brought himself to perform oral sex.  Sherlock had been convinced it constituted an act of forgiveness, until he'd found John entirely un-aroused, turning himself away, pulling away and going off to hide in his room like a wounded animal.

"Fine, yes, I was loud," Sherlock said.  There, he'd apologised, and now she'd have to leave.

Mrs. Hudson just looked at him for a moment, head to one side.  She was so small and birdlike and had no fear of pecking at him when she thought he deserved it.  But all she said was, "Only, I heard him go up to his room after, love.  You two didn't have a row?  I know men can get a bit... well, they think they've opened something of themselves they didn't mean to and lash out to protect themselves."

"And which of us were you imagining had a post-sex moment of panic?" he asked with a sneer.

"Oh both, dear, you're as bad as each other."

"And what, exactly, did you imagine you could do about it?"

"I thought you might shout at me a bit, dear.  That usually helps.  Mostly, though, I'm an old nosy-boots, you know that.  I'd be lying in bed all night wondering.  And I know you don't have any decent sense of modesty."

That was why they got on so well.  Like John, Mrs Hudson was willing to live by the rules of normal society mostly, but not completely, and it really rather pleased her, most of the time, to watch Sherlock ignore them completely.

And, oh, stupid, stupid Sherlock.  He'd been searching the internet and ignoring that he had an excellent resource right here.  Mrs. Hudson had considerable experience of how to please a heterosexual man, and she had, so far as Sherlock could tell, no decent sense of modesty either.

"We — "

She put up a hasty hand.  "Now, Sherlock, before you go saying something you shouldn't — you know John wouldn't like me knowing the details, dear.  I just wanted to be sure the two of you are all right.  You've only just been back together so short a time, and it's so much better for both of you."

True, if he discussed specific details of their sex life with Mrs. Hudson and John found out, John would be horrified.  And furious.  He'd quite possibly lock himself up in his room indefinitely.  Without Sherlock.

Sherlock would have to make sure he posed all his questions to her quite theoretically.

"Is oral sex an appropriate apology for a large error in judgement?"  There, that should be suitably general.

She patted his arm.  "It doesn't make up for doing something rotten dear, if you just go on and do it again.  But it can make the forgiveness come faster, I'll say that."

"Well, I doubt I'd ever do that again."

"Sherlock, dear, for such a clever boy, you do tend to be a bit silly.  Is John cross about the thing you did, or about what made you do it?"

What a perplexing question.  "I did it for a case."

"Of course you did, dear.  But if it upset John, there must have been a reason.  He's not exactly easily rattled, your man."

And there was the crux of the matter.  Was it possible for  John ever to be his man?  He'd felt himself entirely owned by John, when John had been sucking him.  A few of the descriptions he'd read had spoken of that notion, of the person performing fellatio having the better part of the power, but he'd taken that for necessary self-delusion on the part of people unable to face how vulnerable they were in that act.  In the moment, though, he'd been somehow made utterly vulnerable to John.  He'd certainly made not only a lot of noise, but a lot of noises he'd never thought himself capable of.

He'd been so devastatingly affected, wanted to curl himself into John's embrace afterwards, full of gratitude that John had forgiven him and given him so much.  And John had pulled away.  John hadn't wanted him anymore.

"Sherlock," Mrs Hudson cooed, and he knew his face must have given too much away.  "What is it dear?"

"You heard me," he prompted.  "But not John."

"Well, he doesn't generally yell as much as you, dear.  Worried he didn't enjoy it, are you?"

"He didn't enjoy it, Mrs. Hudson," Sherlock muttered.  "At all."

"Oh!" Mrs Hudson said, eyes going a bit wide.  "Well, he's not as young as he was, John.  It's true what they say, it happens to every man.  Don't worry, dear.  There are pills and things -- "

That perspective hadn't occurred to him, that John might have been simply unable to get an erection.  It did seem to match the almost shamed way he'd turned his head away.  "It's never been a problem before."

"Could just be stress, dear.  Next time, try something relaxing -- a hot bath maybe."  She patted his arm.

Well, there had certainly been stress.  Yes, perhaps he shouldn't have suggested sex at all, immediately after John had been so upset.  Perhaps it was no more than a temporary bout of impotence brought on by shock.  He'd not mention it, since obviously John was embarrassed.  He'd not push to try oral sex again immediately.  Something more relaxing, yes, he'd find something gentle they could do.  And he'd be very nice and normal and buy John some gifts, when he thought of it.

And he'd show John that the new case was exactly the kind of excitement they loved.  That would fix things. "Do go away, Mrs. Hudson."

She reached up and cupped his cheek.  "Poor boy."

Sherlock groaned and turned away, rolling his eyes.  "We'll be fine."

"I'm sure you will dear. And I really am awfully pleased about it, you know.  I just want you both to be happy."

Finally she went away and left him to his work.

 


 

John's mind finally focused again properly on the taste in his mouth.  It wasn't actually as retchingly horrible as he'd been afraid of.  A bit salty, mostly bitter.  He wanted to brush his teeth.

In fact, he really ought to brush his teeth anyway.

But if he went down now, after lying here all this time, would that look... well, how would that look?

Fuck it.  If Sherlock was going to start making comments about other people's eccentricities, John would enjoy laughing in his face.

Sherlock was back on his computer, but he looked up when John came down. 

On the coffeetable, Sherlock had stacked up a number of books—  god only knew what he'd been researching that required both Thomas Hardy and The God Delusion -- and on top of the pile, he'd put John's gun.

Apparently, London's smartest man thought putting an illegal firearm on a display plinth was a good idea.  "Yeah, if Lestrade sees that, I'm telling him it's yours," John said.

Sherlock stood up quickly and walked over to him.  "Are you all right?" he demanded.

Right.  Okay.  Apparently John's little bout of unreality hadn't been as difficult to detect as he'd thought.  On the one hand, he supposed that made sense because: Sherlock.  On the other hand, nobody had ever noticed before, when it had happened after he'd been shot.  Even nurses whose whole life was dealing with people having weird reactions to stress had never seemed to realise he was talking to them from far away, by remote.  And, also, just now he'd been bent over with a mouth full of cock, which really ought to have done a better job hiding any tells in his expression.

"I'm fine.  You were right: uncomfortable.  And nervous."

"You never need to do that again.  No need to worry about it."

John smiled ruefully.  He'd put a man off blow jobs.  That had to be a new sexual low.  He was officially bad at gay sex at an olympic level.  "Didn't realise it was that bad."

He was expecting a Sherlock-typical precis of all the ways he'd managed to make a hash of it, or, maybe, since Sherlock had been in an appeasing sort of mood, one of Sherlock's clumsy well, you can't be blamed for not being a genius I suppose attempts at kindness.

"John, obviously you were preoccupied with your admittedly embattled heterosexuality, but could you really have failed to notice — " He sighed.  "I think Mrs. Hudson's probably going to bake us a cake."

John knew Sherlock's methods.  He applied them.  "Were you that loud?"

"She said I was drowning out the telly.  She's terribly pleased about it. "

Oh god.  "Please, never tell me what she said."

"She'll probably say it again tomorrow.  With a cake."

"You couldn't have told her — no, never mind."

"I put away the shopping," Sherlock pointed out.

"Oh.  Good.  Yeah, thanks."  From Sherlock, that was practically like a bouquet and a grovelling apology.

"You came down to brush your teeth."

John shut his eyes.  "Yes."  Now Sherlock was going to verbally dissect all his hangups about this.

"I did wonder about that.  You're usually so insistent about it."

John wandered off to brush his teeth, smiling incredulously to himself.  Yeah, actually, Sherlock had already done his commenting about John's embattled heterosexuality hadn't he?

When he came back out, he picked up the gun. Then put it down on its stack of books and came over and kissed Sherlock's temple, for no reason at all but the beautiful wholeness of Sherlock's mad overclocked brilliant head.

When he moved away Sherlock just looked at him over the top of his laptop screen.  When he was uncertain, he could look painfully young.  After a moment, he said, "I know what I did— it wasn't good.  I didn't want— "

John sighed.  What good was talking about it going to do?  Sherlock wouldn't do that again, (well, unless he got interested in testing how consistently he could get John to tackle him).  He would come up with different acts of complete stupid fuckery to do instead.  He was Sherlock, he was like that.  John had known that much going in.  He could cope.  Hadn't he coped so far?

"I know.  Night, Sherlock."

He picked the gun up again and went back upstairs.  It was only eight o'clock, but he fell asleep nearly as soon as he'd put his head down. 

Chapter Text

The next morning, John was stiff and close-lipped but polite to Mrs Hudson when she came up with a loaf of nutbread.  He ate a slice with her and was about as obviously uncomfortable as it was possible for a man with a mouthful of nutbread to be while she congratulated him and kissed his cheek.

After that, Sherlock decided silence was the better part of keeping John from exploding, and they had a quiet morning.  He played a few classical pieces that made John smile when he recognised them -- for John, familiarity trumped style and quality every time.  At least he could pick ones that had mildly interesting fingering.  Sherlock's fingertips had never entirely lost their toughness and were hardening up nicely again, letting him play longer and longer.

"I'm off for lunch," John told him, later, after he'd read a bit and looked at the news and done a few crossword clues.  "Need anything?"

"Enjoy the tourists and MP's," Sherlock said.  

John gave him an annoyed and unsurprised look.  "You've been snooping on my calendar."

Naturally Sherlock had looked at the calendar in John's mobile as a matter of course. It had needed less than two minutes work to get from Shree Birthday Lion to find a Dr. Shree Prakash, who had worked at the clinic where John had done locum work a year ago and whose birthday was today. He only had to glance at her facebook profile picture to know she'd have picked the Red Lion. 

"You don't even like those people," he pointed out.  John hadn't so much as spoken to any of them in the past month.

"I'll be back later," John said, and went off to have a sandwich and a pint with a load of boring doctors.

About an hour after John had gone, Sherlock had got the case to the point where he was mostly stuck waiting for responses to emails and texts.

In the past, this would have left him irritable, pacing, trying to find another case or experiment to run, or churning his brain to ruin with too little information. But now he had another area of interest. Perhaps this was why Mummy had tried for so many years to get him a hobby. Collections and small woodcraft activities had been useless, and the violin was art and passion and had to come at its own time. If only someone had thought to offer him a John Watson when he was at a formative age...

John would have made a really excellent fifteenth birthday gift.  Or perhaps not.  That had been about the time that Sherlock's cock had been at its most distracting, when he'd still been learning to overcome his body's incessant demands for food and sleep and sex.  With John about the place, he'd probably never have learned to ignore his idiot physiology.  

He spent some time working on oral technique and his gag reflex, using first his own fingers, and then a smallish graduated cylinder removed from its stabilising plastic base.  He'd not got around to buying himself any dildoes as yet; sooner or later he'd have to get some errands done. 

Then he wandered from one sexual tangent to another on the internet for a while, collecting an array of choices for activities John would likely find less intimidating.  Oral could wait (and a bit more practice was called for, to get rid of the unattractive retching problem he was currently having).  John could clearly do with somewhat less stress at the moment, and happily Sherlock now had one area in which he had, theoretically, a great deal of control over John's experiences.

John brought back some shopping, as well as a Clive Cussler that John would probably enjoy rather more than his current Kellerman. Unfortunately John had been convinced by some early teacher that stopping in the middle of a book meant failure, so he would insist on clawing his way to the end of the current book first. It was the sort of minor annoyance that under normal circumstances would make John pleasingly combative, but at the moment it was just one more stressor.

"If I do chicken for dinner, will you eat?" John asked.

"Yes, fine," Sherlock said, pleased with himself for being so accommodating.

John could successfully cook a small number of meals. John's chicken involved wrapping chicken breasts and peppers in aluminium foil and baking them. This required removing all the items that for one reason or another had ended up in the oven. Sherlock didn't intervene, because activities that required minimal physical action and were mildly annoying tended to raise John's spirits slightly. He complained cheerfully about the hearts, which despite his claim didn't smell at all; that experiment had gone very well. Then he held up two file boxes. "What are these, cold cases?"

Sherlock gave that the exactly zero response it deserved, since it was obvious he'd simply been putting them someplace Lestrade could pretend not to know he had them but could retrieve them if needed.

As ever, Sherlock ignored John's claim that the chicken was done, because as ever he ended up putting it back in to cook further. This appeared to be one of those situations in which John was constitutionally incapable of learning from experience. He had been failing to adjust for the relatively low temperature setting of their oven for close to five years now.

But when it was done, it wasn't bad. John was apparently unaware of any condiment other than cheap curry spice in a jar, but the strips of fresh pepper helped tremendously. Sherlock ate all but the tough bits at the ends, and shredded those and put them aside with the remainder of the pepper to see whether the mice would eat them.

While John was tidying away the dishes, Sherlock fed the mice and made sure, as promised, they were un-findable by John, and also saw to it that both his and John's mobiles were charging.  Then he stopped John coming out of the kitchen and kissed him.

John hesitated only a moment, and then that complex little mouth was open under his, and John's arms slipped round his waist.

Someone tapped the knocker on the downstairs door four times, just audible.  Someone was a bit nervous about coming to see them.

They pulled back from each other, and  Sherlock saw the nervous way John glanced at the door to the landing.  He didn't want to be seen kissing Sherlock.  Well, Sherlock had known that much.

It only lasted a second, and then John grinned.  "Client?"

"Case," Sherlock affirmed, and kissed John again, quick and hard, because technically they were still alone in the flat, so he was allowed to.

 


 

The day had been weirdly normal. Old normal. Pre-sex normal. Sherlock didn't wake him for sex (nor try to have sex with him without waking him). Mrs. Hudson had been embarrassing, but no more, really, than before when she'd just thought they were sleeping together.  Sherlock was childishly resentful of John going to a friend's birthday, but he'd always been like that.

The party itself was fine for the first hour, nice to see people he'd worked with, hear how they were, how their lives were going.

Only toward the end did Howard Bell start asking him questions about Sherlock. John had never been keen on Howard anyway. Dull bloke, bit of a bully with the nurses. "I'm sure there's more to the story," he said, after asking John about Sherlock's miraculous return.

"In hiding while bringing down an international crime syndicate not enough of a story for you?" John had asked, trying to deflect.

And Howard had gone on making these stupid little comments like there was some obvious scandal going on.

John had sat there, jaw rigid around a polite smile, sure he was about to be outed for about ten minutes until Howard said, "Some of those old news stories about him were faked, but John, he never even denied he'd been an addict," and John had finally realised Howard's idea of a saucy story was that Sherlock had spent two years pretending to be dead while he was in rehab.

After that he'd just tried to keep his giggles under control until it was time to go.

The sandwich he'd had at lunch was unsatisfying, and he knew Sherlock wouldn't have bothered to eat, so he stopped off and got some chicken breasts, which he hadn't thought to get the day before, and picked up a novel for when he was done with the current one, if he ever did get to the end of it.

Sherlock was suspiciously compliant about eating. Sooner or later John reckoned he would find, probably by stepping in it, whatever Sherlock had done to make him feel he had to behave himself. Or maybe Sherlock was still trying to make up for sticking a fucking gun to his head, although with Sherlock even that kind of thing didn't always seem to merit more than a brief play at human decency before things were back to arsehole as usual.

Then, just when things had started to veer into what really should be, by now, the new normal— Sherlock kissing him in the kitchen— a client had shown up on the doorstep.

Sherlock really rather enjoyed it, John thought, when the client tried to hide things from him.  He'd bitch about it, and lose interest if it dragged on too long, but mostly he saw it, like everything, as an opportunity to show off.  This was one of those times when John wasn't a hundred percent convinced by what Sherlock claimed had clued him in.  John could see that Paul Nichol, yes, had a really smooth shave, and well manicured hands, and his shoes were nice, and he supposed maybe Sherlock really could tell when skin had been waxed, but John reckoned the jump from all that to wears women's clothing at home was more Sherlock's uncanny instinct for guessing people's secrets than strict logic.

"So, the item stolen was a pair of shoes.  High heels." Sherlock prompted.  "That's why you didn't feel comfortable reporting the theft to the police."

Paul Nichol looked down at the shoes he was wearing now.  Perfectly nice oxfords, reasonably shined up, dark brown, roughly the size of shovels.  "I've got one other pair," he mumbled.  "Special ordered, off the internet.  I was sensible about it, you know, basic black, goes with anything.  And then I saw these.  My sizeIn a shop.  I couldn't believe it.  Bright red patent leather, with these amazing heels...  They were so expensive, nearly five hundred pounds.  But... I just, I had to, you know?  It was like they were there just for me."

Five hundred pounds.  For shoes.  Shoes he'd never even wear out of the house.  John controlled himself and didn't look at Sherlock and roll his eyes; he'd get no understanding there.  Sherlock probably just thought it a bit middle class that Nichol had noticed the price.

"And they were stolen today."

"While I was at work.  I hadn't even showed them off to my girlfriend yet," Nichol said miserably.  "I told her about them, and I texted her a picture, just a tease, and then before we could get together -- "

"Let me see," Sherlock demanded.

Shyly, miserably, the man passed Sherlock his mobile.  It was, in John's opinion, possibly the ugliest shoe he had ever seen.  The picture was shot straight down so the amazing heel wasn't visible, but below an edge of tugged-up trouser cuff, Nichol's smooth ankle was crossed by one of a line of rhinestone studded straps of red patent leather, which continued, one over another, all the way down to the toe.  Possibly it was supposed to suggest bondage in a cheeky titillating sort of way, but it looked to John more like an overenthusiastic child's attempt at wrapping an inconveniently shaped Christmas parcel.  Possibly, he thought, it looked better in person.

As it turned out, it really didn't.  Ten hours later, in the flat of a shoe shop clerk, John was holding the third strap out from the enormous shoe so that Sherlock could peer at the rhinestones through his magnifier.

"This one," Sherlock whispered, and raised a grinning face to John, just as the door flew open.

John managed to knock the man at the door— later Sherlock would explain that this was the shoe shop girl's boyfriend— over, clearing their way out of the shabby flat.

They ran for the stairwell.  Sherlock was ahead as ever, and the man John had knocked down was only a bit behind, and very angry.  

They'd made it nearly all the way down the stairwell,  when John was tackled and knocked down the last few steps.  He saw the hard floor, realised there was no way to recover, and even as he was twisting himself to roll into the fall, found himself losing track of his worry, his exhilaration.  It didn't feel real at all. 

He'd managed to make sure his attacker hit the ground as hard as he did, and he was the first one up.  His gun was at his waist, but his hands were full with the shoes.  John changed his grip to those stupid straps, the longer ones that were meant to go round the ankle.  He swung them like the world's campest nunchuks and gave the man both heels in the face, twice.

"Are you all right?" Sherlock demanded.

"Yeah, yeah," John said.

"Then run."

So they did.

The next time either of them had enough breath to speak, they were in front of an all-hours cafe, John  holding the shoes in a carrier bag.  His legs burned with running and the bruises from the other day ached, especially his hip, which had taken the worst  bang when he'd gone down the steps, but it didn't worry him.

Sherlock's hands, usually so pale and pristine, were a bit red and banged up from punching people, he saw.  John's hands were fine though he'd probably scuffed the hell out of the most expensive shoes he'd ever touched.

The two of them looked at each other, and then Sherlock looked down at the bag John was carrying, and broke into a laugh.  It had been like that, since the first night, the recognition of how mad it was, the things they did, and how amazing it was that the two of them were in it together.  John, after only a second, joined in with the laugh briefly.  It was strange.  Usually at this point he was giddy, exhilarated, practically glowing.  Instead he felt like he was floating just outside it.  He'd drifted away from himself a bit without meaning to, and not enjoyed the chase the way he usually did.

"Are you all right?" Sherlock said, the grin dropping off his face.  He'd noticed John's moment of disconnection, then, before the laugh kicked in. 

"Bit sore," John said.

Sherlock seemed to accept that.

The next four hours were the tedious bit, getting the police in to pick up the jewel smugglers and seeing to it that there would be no later violent payback against Paul Nichol.  John wasn't floating away any more.  At eight o'clock in the morning, they went to Nichol's flat and dropped off the shoes. 

Nichol was in a silky purple robe with roses all over it, having breakfast with his girlfriend.  She was pretty in a mousy sort of way and neither particularly girly nor butch, which left John wondering which he'd been expecting.  But the both of them were ridiculously happy over the shoes, even though now they were a bit scuffed, and missing two of their jewels.  John reckoned they were a nice enough couple. 

It was deeply strange to realise that of the three men in the room, the only one who could reasonably claim to be straight was the one John was fairly sure was wearing a padded bra under his robe. 

Sherlock waived his fee, and the girlfriend kissed his cheek and called him sweet.

Sherlock didn't mention the reward he'd just collected for the return of two fairly enormous stolen diamonds, and John let him get away with it this time, because he'd had too much fun to begrudge Sherlock any.

By the time they got home to Baker Street, though, John was utterly knackered.  He trudged upstairs and fell into bed, and only just about managed to work his own shoes off before he was asleep.

At some point, Sherlock woke him by crawling on top of him.  John told him to fuck off and went back to sleep.  At some later point, he woke again when Sherlock got up.  He tried to tell Sherlock to fuck off again, but he was so tired it came out as a sort of garbled groan.  But John didn't worry about it, just tucked his head under the pillow to hide from the light and get back to sleep; Sherlock was clever; he'd figure it out.

 


 

It had been a pleasant little souffle of a case, and the best thing about it was the gleam of enjoyment in John's eyes for most of night.  He'd wanted to get John a gift, but really, what could he possibly have chosen better than a night of running about and sporadic violence?  John had clearly needed it.  And even still, there had been moments when he'd seen that John wasn't enjoying himself quite as he usually did.  The stress Sherlock had put him under had apparently done even more damage than he'd realised.

So Sherlock was determine to let John continue his deep sleep, all day if necessary, to complete his recovery. 

He checked for new information on the Brazilian, ignored an email from his brother, upped the dosage he'd been giving the mice, which were, admittedly, reaching the end of what interesting information he could extract from them, and practised performing fellatio on the graduated cylinder some more.  It was too hard and too smooth for verisimilitude, but he really couldn't be bothered to go out to the shops today, so he focused on summoning up his sense memory of the feel of John's cock in his hand, the taste of John's mouth on his, and trying to extrapolate from there.

Sherlock was excellent at visualisation, a virtuoso of the gedanken experiment.  Irritatingly, he was, in fact, so good at  imagining himself sucking John's cock that after a quarter of an hour of it he was erect and stupidly aroused. 

He considered masturbating— he had no shame about the practice, though he tended to find it tedious, but then his mobile buzzed with some information from a Sao Paulo contact, and the erection waned as he refocused on the case.

John wandered down in the late afternoon, wearing his shirt and trousers from the day before, and ate ravenously.  Sherlock finished off what he was working on and met John coming out of the kitchen, taking John's sleep-warm body in his arms, tasting the flavours of John's meal— sharp mustard and the savour of meat— when it was still fresh in John's mouth.

John breathed against Sherlock's lips, something between a sigh and a chuckle, and gripped Sherlock's arms gently.  "If you're after food, eat your own," he said.

"Food's boring," Sherlock told him.  "Are you too tired for sex?"

There, that should give John the chance to turn him down if he suspected he'd be unable to get an erection.

John shrugged, "Nothing too athletic..."

Sherlock leaned to the side and took John's earlobe into his mouth, applying light pressure, just a pinch with his teeth, before running his tongue lightly around the rim. John responded very well to that, a slow inhale and his chest leaning into Sherlock's, but ducked his head away with an annoyed giggle when Sherlock put his tongue farther into the ear.

Sherlock kissed John's lips again and John bit Sherlock's lower lip softly, which Sherlock found tremendously erotic and wished John would do more often, particularly when Sherlock was nearing orgasm.

"I was wondering if you'd like to take a shower with me, John," he murmured.

Oddly, John's mouth quirked as if there were another giggle coming on. "Uh, yeah. Yeah, I could do that."

Sherlock unbuttoned John's shirt. John's chest, with its faint definition and pale nipples, ought to have been bland. But that was the consistent conundrum of John. All the things about him that ought to have been most dull were instead fascinating. His jumpers had proved to have the perfect heft when Sherlock's hands needed something to grip, and told a subtle story of a small man's desire for intimidating mass and yet satisfaction in looking— while not being— innocuous and unthreatening.  In just a shirt and jeans and his feet bare on the kitchen floor he was smaller and yet more obviously fit.

Sherlock stroked with both hands, palms flat under the open shirt, then moved his hands to the outside, took a pinch of cotton in each and scrubbed the fabric against John's nipples. John's eyes widened in interest. Sherlock lowered his mouth to John's neck and chased the shirt from John's shoulders by kissing along, and kept going until he hit bicep. He nipped the bicep.

John impatiently shook the shirt off his wrists, caught it in one hand before it could hit the floor, and stepped back. "Hot shower sounds good, actually." He walked back through the kitchen, working at the trousers.

Sherlock had intended a great deal more stroking, and some further sensation play using elements of their clothing, but if John was impatient, that surely meant he was aroused enough, not suffering another episode of impotence, so Sherlock followed.

 


 

John felt just about ready to cope with sex with Sherlock again.  It had been a good little case, with not so much as a whisper of international criminal masterminds, and Sherlock hadn't done anything blatantly horrible for over a day— or at least nothing John had noticed; he was prepared to admit he was probably numb to a lot of Sherlock's bad behaviour by now. 

John was just surprised when Sherlock didn't go straight for oral again, since he'd been so insistent on it before. Maybe even Sherlock was capable of getting nerves about something like that.

When Sherlock suggested they take a shower together, it reminded John of his thoughts back on the first night, when it had all been just an idea, and he'd more than half thought Sherlock would raise an incredulous eyebrow at his kiss and tell him sex was boring and unhygienic.

He hadn't expected at all a Sherlock who'd caress John in their kitchen, or make soft little noises he didn't even seem aware of while they were kissing.

Sherlock came up behind him and started massaging John's back while John was leaning into the shower to get the water going without getting caught in the first frigid minute before the hot kicked in properly. Sherlock's spidery fingers seemed to span most of John's back and his narrow fingertips pressed hard. It felt rather good. John's best physical therapist, Matt Green, had huge pawlike hands that had ground pain out of John's muscles and left a soothing hollowness behind. For a moment, this felt like that, just perfectly sane relief. But then one of Sherlock's spiky fingertips dug into the wrong place, one of his bruises, and John winced and shrugged him off.

"I didn't realise it was still sore," Sherlock said. His voice was very low, and he sounded worried about it.

"It's fine," John said, not looking at him, reaching in to find that the water was properly warm now.

Sherlock turned him by the shoulders and then bent to kiss his bruised side lightly. "I wouldn't — you know I've no interest in deliberately causing you pain," he said. Often, when he was having trouble saying something because he didn't understand his own emotions any better than he understood anyone else's, Sherlock's voice got ridiculously posh and deep.

John kissed his upper lip. "I get that. So you'll be okay with not having sex in the shower, so that neither of us ends up with their head split open and a funny story for the nurses."

"What if we both kneel?"

John blinked. All right, they weren't likely to fall arse over tit if they were kneeling. He'd been conditioned from an early point in his career to think of sex in the shower as something that inevitably led to being laughed at by nurses. Trust Sherlock to once again talk him into a bad idea.

"Fine. Though-- there's no way I'd kneel on that floor if it hadn't been scrubbed, you know.  And I'm the only one who ever scrubs it."

"Your share in the household duties is appreciated," Sherlock said in his most thoroughly bored voice.

"Sherlock," he explained patiently, grabbing — not roughly — a handful of black curls for emphasis because he could get away with that now, "things are only shared if both people have some."

"I do the internet research."

"That's a household duty, is it?"

"In our household, yes."

John supposed that was accurate enough. "Anything you'd like to share?"

"Approximately three dozen sex practises we haven't tried yet, about a quarter of which I think you'd enjoy— I can email you an alphabetised list later— and several contacts who I believe can tell us more about our Brazilian friend."

That was how he'd spent his day. After everything else, the bastard was still chasing his new Moriarty. How were you supposed to protect someone who kept sticking his bloody head in the lion's mouth for no reason? And why had John ever thought he could keep hold of this man, when Sherlock never failed to make clear what was and who wasn't really important?

John turned away, checked the water.  "Warm," he said, and stepped into the shower.

Sherlock followed him in. In the enclosed space, Sherlock seemed bigger, the way he did in his impressive coat, when he was deliberately looming over somebody who was actually barely an inch shorter than he was. He reached out over John's shoulder and picked the soap off the little ledge shelf that held John's shampoo and Sherlock's collection of expensive potions.

Sherlock rubbed the soap to a lather between his hands before putting it back on the ledge and rubbing slippery hands over John's shoulders and chest. He stroked down over John's belly and then out to his sides.

John widened his stance, bending his knees slightly for stability, and grabbed Sherlock's wrists. "Do not fucking tickle me in the shower, Sherlock."

Sherlock drew his hands back quickly. "Ticklish," he pronounced, in a musing this is new and interesting evidence sort of way.

John tilted his head and looked up at Sherlock. Naked, half aroused, shower drumming on the back of his head, John couldn't look very intimidating. But Sherlock made a sort of brushing-away gesture to indicate he was dropping the subject, then stepped in closer, "I want to wash your legs. Any ticklish zones to avoid there?"

John let himself be turned around so the shower was on Sherlock's back instead of his own. Sherlock grabbed the soap again and went to his knees.

Oh, John realised, Sherlock was going to suck him after all. Sherlock had just decided that telling John gave John too much say in the proceedings.

Water washed Sherlock's stubborn curls down to soft waves, then to an inky hood around his head when he straightened and the water hit directly. Without the fullness of hair around it, his face was long and bony and quite young. He'd gone from so big to so delicate in a matter of minutes.

John was most of the way hard now, and wasn't sure if he should be ashamed of himself or not.

Hell, he could cope with whatever happened. Hadn't he proved that yesterday? He'd got through giving head to a bloke. Had being given head ever really been a hardship for anybody? Let Sherlock do what he wanted; he would anyway. And it was easy to step back from it, if things got too... weird.

Sherlock took John's thigh between soapy hands, right palm on the biceps femoris, left, still holding the bar of soap with his long fingers along the Gracilis. And then he just... washed John's leg. Not quite firm enough to be massage, but not light enough to tickle or even really tease. More soap than was remotely necessary.  He could have been genuinely interested in hygiene.

Well, hygiene and anatomy. Sherlock was clearly focusing on the muscles and bones of John's legs, working his way up and down, squeezing and stroking and petting. He soaped and massaged all up and down John's thighs, then worked on his calves, all the way down to the ankles. And then Sherlock bent all the way down andput his mouth to John's ankle, kissing and biting. There he was, Sherlock fucking Holmes, with shower water pouring over that long pale back, on his knees and kissing John's feet.

John reached up and grabbed the curtain rod for stability and Sherlock made his way back up John's leg. Some kissing. Mostly biting, softly, like he was checking the resilience of John's skin.

He looked up at John, when he moved across from biting one knee to the other, and Sherlock looked, what? Absorbed. Interested. Like John's legs were something he thought could do with more research.  Like he wasn't satisfied with the scientific community's results on the subject thus far, so he was doing his own study.

When he straightened more, John could see Sherlock was also, one way or another, enjoying this. His cock stood out stiff from his body.

Sherlock began soaping John's testicles next, watching in apparent fascination as the soap foamed in John's fair, furry hair. John groaned, let his head fall back. It was good, so fucking sensual, and Sherlock seemed to be enjoying it so much. If they could just stick to something simple like this.

Sherlock looked up at him, put his hands on John's hips.  "Kneel down, John," he said.

John did, lowering himself in front of Sherlock, so they were knee to knee. Apparently Sherlock hadn't been working up to a blow job after all. John felt even more off-balance, and admittedly a bit disappointed.

Sherlock, warm and wet, put his arms round John and kissed him. On his knees, he still seemed big.

"You don't want me to, whatever, scrub your back then?" John asked.

"Another time," Sherlock breathed, and reached down with both hands. He put a hand around each of their cocks, and brought them tip to tip.

John stared, waiting to see where he was going with this.

Sherlock moved his hand down to where his foreskin was pulled back, and smoothed it forward, forward, until it covered the head of his cock, then his grip on John's cock pulled John's foreskin forward too, shifting the loose skin down John's shaft and half over the head. It felt good. John sometimes liked to pull it like that when he was having a wank. But it did feel a bit odd to have someone else manipulating it. Only a few girls John had dated had ever played with his foreskin. 

Sherlock pulled his own foreskin forward again until it pouted forward over his tip and just touched John's cock, then slid his own back and pulled at John's which didn't go nearly so far. Then his own again, back and forth.  Sherlock's foreskin was looser than John's and after a few more long strokes, Sherlock managed to pull it out far enough that for a moment John could feel Sherlock's skin around the very tip of him.

"John," Sherlock breathed, shakily.

"Jesus Christ," John said, staring down and watching it happen again, Sherlock taking just a little more of John inside.   Sherlock kept it up, this, a slow, odd rhythm of masturbation, and John was just settling into it when he felt Sherlock's cock press hard against the tip of his, and a tight smooth damp stretch around him, and John's whole glans was inside Sherlock's foreskin.

Sherlock's head fell forward on John's shoulder and he was groaning while John froze in disbelief.

He'd slipped out again after only a moment. He hadn't even seen it. Now he hurriedly pushed Sherlock back a little so he could look and check. Christ, if Sherlock had managed to damage himself and use John's cock to do it, John would punch the idiot.

"Jesus, Sherlock, are you all right?"

Sherlock took a shuddery breath. "Yes. Oh, John."

"Are you sure?"

"It's intense, but very satisfying. Here — "

He brought John's cock to his again and carefully tugged his foreskin out to rub against John's cock again, which felt nice enough.  Then he pushed them hard together, and pulled, and an inch of John's cock was  inside and John stared, watching it happen, a bit grossed out, a bit turned on, mostly just amazed that this actually worked. 

Sherlock was panting wildly.   He apparently needed both hands to keep them in this position, so he nuzzled John's face with his jaw.  "Please, John, my testicles, please — "

Something simple, John had thought, like playing with each other's balls. 

Well, nobody took forever to come, did they?  In fact, Sherlock tended to go off pretty quickly, so however weird this got, it was just a matter of getting through it, right.  He looked down.  With a little distance, it was just a rather odd sort of lumpy sausage shape in Sherlock's hands.

He reached down and cupped Sherlock's balls.  His hair was wirier than John's.  The weights moving in their sack reminded him a lot of the sensation of foreskin moving over penis.  Like a sort of theme.  He rolled and softly squeezed, and Sherlock moaned.

"You're fucking my cock John," Sherlock murmured in his ear, voice low and breathy.

He had no response at all to that.  It was just too far outside what he knew how to deal with.  For a moment more he kept massaging Sherlock while Sherlock stroked their bundled cocks, then Sherlock, with a shuddery breath, pulled them carefully apart.

He waited to see whether Sherlock had designs on doing the same with John's foreskin.  If so, he'd have to put a stop to the whole business, because John's wasn't as loose, and there was no way Sherlock's cock was going to fit inside.  If he tried, they wouldn't be a nurse's funny story, they'd be one of those stories the old ward sisters pulled out to try to make the new nurses sick.

But Sherlock reached outside the shower for a moment, and pulled in that light silk scarf he'd used the other day.  John relaxed a bit. Back to something they'd done before, at least.  He supposed Sherlock had been carrying the scarf around  in his dressing gown pocket.  At least it looked like he'd given it a wash.  Well, he'd mentioned he'd been doing more sex research on the computer as well as trying to track down his new supervillain, so apparently some preparation had gone into this.

Sherlock wet the silk thoroughly then shook it flat.  "Hold out your cock for me," he instructed, holding his own.

John steadied his cock in his hand and watched Sherlock bring them tip to tip again, and then begin to wrap the silk around the both of them.  He wrapped it around and around and around, his long dexterous fingers managing to keep it mostly stretched flat, with only a few wrinkles, until he'd wrapped the whole length.

John wondered if the unwinding trick would work like this — the wet silk didn't move as smoothly as it had when it was dry.

But apparently that wasn't what Sherlock was after.  Instead, he wrapped his hands round the silky bundle and stroked back and forth between them. 

John shut his eyes.  It was good, mostly the slide of Sherlock's hand, but a slight shift of the silk moving as well.  It was sort of like one long foreskin, John supposed, and wondered where Sherlock had picked this one up. Was there an all-foreskin-play fetish page out there?  No, what was he thinking?  Internet.  There were probably dozens.

Sherlock had mentioned something about an alphabetised list of sex.  Did this mean they were on the Fs?  Fellatio followed by foreskins followed by, well, sort of obvious what else started with F.

Sherlock kept stroking.  He could feel the little ridges of the wrinkles in the silk.  Then Sherlock brought the soap back in, working it into the silk with one palm.

Soon there were suds, and the silk began to slide more, slippery, moving.  This much soap on such sensitive skin was probably a bad idea, but the immediate sensations were precisely what was needed  to make John suddenly  ejaculate. 

It was odd, to feel so calm while he was coming.  It made it easier, all of this easier, to be just slightly outside.  He could see that the two men kneeling on the shower floor with their cocks one long silk wrapped rod between them, made a picture that was ridiculous and yet still undeniably erotic.  He could pay attention to the change on Sherlock's face when Sherlock realised John had come.  Vulnerable and glad and then suddenly twisting into a grimace of pleasure as he came too.

John carefully unwrapped them, and they both shuddered as the silk came away.

When he was towelling himself off, John spent a moment to wonder again if Sherlock even noticed that he was giving himself a bit of distance.  If not, then this seemed to have solved John's problems with the sex side of things.  Whenever it all got a bit too much, he could just step back a bit, and it wouldn't even affect Sherlock.

"Some of my contacts in Brazil should get back to me overnight," Sherlock said, towelling at his hair.  "So I won't sleep."  Then he bent over John and kissed him, quick but deep, and didn't show the least sign that he'd noticed John's reaction.

John brushed his teeth, when his own hair was dry, and then went up to bed.  It took a bit; there was a faint odd smell — maybe Sherlock was doing something chemical and exciting downstairs.

Sherlock woke him in the morning. For a moment, John was expecting sex, then he realised Sherlock was dressed and the intensity in his eyes said case and not I'm here to experiment with your cock.

"Lestrade thinks he's found our drug dealer."

"Please don't be excited about finding a drug dealer in front of Donovan," John told him sleepily. "Okay?"

"Get up John."

Maybe this would focus Sherlock back on the previous case and let him stop thinking about his fucking Brazilian playmate. John could hope.

 


 

"His name's Jack Cummings," Greg told them. "Slippery bastard. Took some finding."

Typically, since Greg was offering it freely, Sherlock was showing no sign of interest in the file. John picked it up and was sniggering a moment later. "You've got to be kidding."

"What?" Sherlock demanded.

John handed him the file, pointing at a picture clearly pulled from CCTV. "Look familiar?"

"What?' Greg asked, tone flat.

"No," John clarified hastily. Now he was the one giving Lestrade the idea Sherlock was still hanging out with dealers. "We met this guy, a couple days ago, playing poker at, what was it? The Western."

"Our bland friend Hartwell wasn't warning Wood that we were talking to Neil Gibson's friends," Sherlock crowed. "He was warning Cummings that we were investigating his girlfriend."

"So you met this guy, and you didn't just magically know he was important to the case?" Greg asked mildly. "Well, that's good."

"How is it good?" Sherlock asked suspiciously.

"Evidence in your favour, next time they're after  burning you as a witch," Greg said.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Yes, very funny. You've made that joke before. Twice."

"So after that he hid out?" John asked.

"Looks like," said Greg. "But we've got a line on him. Walworth, would you believe?"

He took Sherlock through finding the guy in the first place and then tracing him to a rather pretty white semi-detached with a row of narrow windows all across both storeys, and their plans for going in and taking out both Cummings and the lab in his kitchen. John reckoned this was Greg's way of asking for Sherlock to yeah, check his work a bit, but more, hoping Sherlock would come up with some way to get the job done without a load of blokes in body armour going in yelling right in the middle of a neighbourhood.

But that seemed to be what they were stuck with, so eventually it came down to one of those arguments where all the laws and rules and sanity were on Greg's side, and on Sherlock's side was, well, Sherlock.

Consultants did not go on drugs raids, Greg said.

Sherlock could not be there, Greg said.

There was no reason for Sherlock to be there, Greg said.

He could talk with Cummings after, Greg said.

He could look over the crime scene after, Greg said.

There was no way Sherlock was coming, Greg said.

In the end, they rode in one of the un-marked vans. Donovan, just back from her training course, gave them all Greg's arguments again, punctuated with regular mutterings of freak but clearly didn't expect it to have any result. She went with Greg and Kev House, from Drugs Enforcement, who were cooperating on the operation.

The only one in the van with them John knew was Thompson. The rest were either from the drugs squad or firearms specialists he didn't know.

Thompson made one attempt to talk to Sherlock about drugs crime in Bromley. John got the feeling that the kid had actually done his research, and might even have had something vaguely relevant to say, but he couldn't seem to filter it down into something sensible, and Sherlock just looked at him once and then stared at the ceiling of the van in silence until Thompson gave up.

There was a little traffic circle at the end of Cumming's street, just a raised circle of pale grey cement with a call box sitting on it, off-centre. There were trees all along the streets there, and people kept their fronts tidy.  But the circle was so ugly and depressing it made the rest feel somehow cheapened. John, waiting behind the parked van, stared at it in the dull streetlight while the guys who were actually in on the raid finished suiting up and got into position.

The concrete looked like it was waiting to be filled up, waiting for benches and maybe a planter. Rubbish and some graffiti would even be an improvement. Bare, and grey. And with a phone box for calling out to the rest of the world.

Eventually, Sherlock tugged his arm. John looked up. Sherlock tilted his head towards the street. John sighed through his nose, then nodded, and followed Sherlock round the back of a house, through a fenced yard, and then they were slipping in behind Greg and Sally Donovan.

What was supposed to happen was a sudden attack on the front door. John could feel the tension. He knew he could count down to the moment by instinct just now.

Then he just had time to register that he'd seen something change about the front of the house, and then it all went wrong.

Smash of glass and gunshots, and John didn't see exactly what position they came from or where the shots went, because he'd been knocked to the ground with Sherlock on top of him.

Sherlock, who'd been cool and amused through the tension build-up was panting like he couldn't breathe and one hand was clutching a handful of John's jacket in a death grip.

"Sherlock?" he asked.

Sherlock was looking around desperately.

Nobody else was paying attention, too busy worrying about the shots, except Sally Donovan, who suddenly crouched next to them. "Fuck! John! Is he — "

"I'm fine!" John protested. "Sherlock, can you — Sherlock, they're not even shooting at us back here. Get off."

Donovan's expression was mistrustful, like she reckoned Sherlock had to be up to something. But John didn't think there was anything there to see but Sherlock's bizarre panic.

They'd been shot at before. Sherlock had always been exhilarated about it, like John.  He wasn't hurt, he just looked frantic, scared, and tried to hold John down.

Then from the road somebody yelled, and John had heaved Sherlock off himself and was diving forward before his brain caught up.

Out of cover. The road. Sniper vantage. Man down.

It was one of the Drugs Enforcement guys.  The idiot hadn't buckled his armour down properly, and there was too much gap at the neck.  Still, it had to be a lucky shot; it would have taken a trained marksman to hit that gap on purpose.  John got enough of the armour loose that he could get his fingers up against the mess of the man's throat.

He had no gear with him. "Get the medical kit from the van!" he yelled, in a voice that was used to being obeyed. He was keeping pressure, checking damage.

It was bad. Even if he had the medical kit from the van right now, there wasn't much hope.

This man was going to die on the pavement, heart pushing his blood out right past John's fingers. John couldn't do anything.

He felt so stupidly helpless and useless. He might as well have been down the road at the call box, phoning this in.

His hands kept up pressure, he kept checking for something he could do.  Nothing. He was so fucking useless. Blood on the pavement, and nothing he could do to save a life. Like he was on the empty grey circle, on the phone, safely away and not really here at all.

And that was wrong. Gunfire in the air, and a patient in his hands. This was as real as it got. Even if John wasn't real, the dying man was. He deserved the doctor whose hands were in his mangled neck to be here, really here, to save him if he could, and to witness if he died.

He deserved better than a coward who could only watch his own life from behind a screen.

It had been about a minute before the first aid kit hit the tarmac beside him. John recognised a paramedic's motion without even looking, and kept his attention on his hands, on the jump of blood under his fingers. John reported the patient's state in the fast hard tone that could be heard over battlefield noise without straining his voice in a yell.

They understood the situation, didn't try to get him out of the way, just fell in to working, extensions of him, lighting things properly so he could see the mess he was dealing with. As they dug into the kit, John was aware of the last gunshot. As they got armour out of the way he was aware of Sherlock suddenly behind him. The world was vivid. A sharp edge of shattered collarbone announced itself to his hand so that he could shift his palm to keep pressure in place so it wouldn't turn and break through skin. John's hands were hot and rock solid, keeping their work stable as they got a stretcher under the man. He rose in perfect unison with the paramedics, as if unfolding, unaware of muscles in his legs or any effort. They were a single creature as they got into the ambulance, the man they were moving not jarred at all. John saw Sherlock standing there, staring, as they went by.  John saw everything.

Things went bad twice on the way, but the first time they stopped the bleeding, and the second time he kept the damage from getting worse while the paramedic got the heart going again. It took longer than it should have because the two nearer hospitals were full up in A&E, and the driver ended up cursing for the last two minutes it took to get to Barts.

And then the hospital doors, one of them with a smear of vomit on the lower half of the glass, and John was left behind bloody handed. Barts. Again.

He went into the toilets and scrubbed his hands clean. His jacket sleeves were stained. He and Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson between them, however, were all champions at getting out blood, so that was no problem.

He walked back out and sat down in a fiercely yellow hard plastic chair with three long cracks down the back. An old woman hobbled in. She'd cracked something in her wrist, but John wasn't employed here, so he resisted his urge to go and help her and get in the way of the running of the hospital. Her face was deeply wrinkled like a map of rivers or crumpled mountains. She wore a tweed skirt suit and heavy white trainers with reflective stripes down the side. The girl at the desk who took her information had elaborate stylised curls in her hair; they looked lacquered and ugly, and her eyes were small and slightly off-level, but she had a lush mouth which was probably very nice to kiss and high, pretty breasts.

Down the corridor, a child wailed for his gran.

It was ridiculous that being in Barts had made him want to take a step back from the world. He knew it so well. He wasn't studying or working here these days and still he couldn't seem to stay away from the place.

Harry had always said she could never be a doctor because she hated all this, all these people, and the endless ugly details of their bodies and their sickness and their pain. John loved it, and he supposed that was part of why he got Sherlock so well, because Sherlock lived for the same kind of detail, but could put it together in more ways than just a physical diagnosis.

John had always  lived for that reality, and his patients deserved — needed — him to be in it. Even when it was ugly and painful and too much. Even when he failed and was useless and wasn't enough.

If a stranger bleeding in the street deserved it, what about Sherlock, who was so fantastic, who meant so much, and who himself seemed to live at the sharp end of that vivid realness every moment of his mad glorious life?

Sherlock deserved someone who wouldn't retreat to that safe place behind a screen, phoning it in from a traffic circle down the street.

It was like the cane, John supposed. That ability to retreat made things easier, safer, less painful, held him up. Sherlock had made him drop the cane, and then gone on to become the thing that kept knocking John off his feet.

John pulled out his phone and sent Sherlock a text saying where he was, in case at some point he surfaced from the glee of playing around in a crime scene with so many new people to offend. Then he stood up, and went down to Mike Stamford's office.

Mike was in, and grinned to see John. "I was just after a coffee. Want one?"

There was a grubby drip coffee machine in the little staff area, but Mike always bought from the canteen if not leaving the hospital altogether, chatting with the girl on the register and apparently enjoying being around the public. They sat at a little table and Mike sipped his coffee with a blissful expression.

"We that short staffed?" he asked, gesturing to John's darkened sleeve.

"We were with the Met. Somebody got shot, so I helped out until we got him here."

"Police shootout. The things the two of you get up to," Mike said, grinning.

About four months after Sherlock's death, John remembered, Mike had insisted on taking him for coffee at a cafe one afternoon.

"If there's anything I can do," Mike had said. Which was what everyone said, and it was stupid, but kind, in a way that even someone as clever as Mike could be stupid, because he was so kind.

John had managed his usual garble of assurance that he was fine.

"I introduced you two, remember," Mike had said.

If Mike apologised for bringing Sherlock into his life, John had known he would lose it, there, in public, punch him in the face until his nose broke. "You reckon he was a fraud too?" he had said, acid in his voice.

"Well," Mike had said, mild, "you don't, and you lived with the man, so I expect you'd know. And —  did I ever tell you about the day I met him?"

John had relaxed a bit. "Got you to let him in for a look at a severed hand, wasn't it?"

"Yeah. Well that was just after my mum died, and I'd been looking through the stuff at her place and... I found some stuff of my dad's in an old box. Stuff that made me question— well, everything about Dad. Whether he loved Mum, whether he'd wanted to be with us at all. It was unprofessional, having that stuff at work, but I couldn't stand to have it at home around Dee and Carrie, so there I was with it open on my desk, staring at it instead of concentrating on work, and that's when Sherlock Holmes comes in, looking like an elf from Mars and demanding hands. And then he tells me— out of nowhere— that exactly what I've been thinking about Dad was true, but that Dad decided to stay with us anyway because he loved us. And Sherlock points to all these things in the pictures I had on my desk, and talks about things I'd forgotten, that I'd never grasped when I was a kid, but . . . he had it all right. That's what I remember, when people call him a fraud. The first day I met him, the stuff he said to me, it was true, and, mostly, it was kind."

He'd thanked Mike, and meant it, really meant it, because every time he heard somebody else remembering what Sherlock had really, really been like, it helped, chipping away at the horrible weight of the lies in the papers.

"I'll tell you something else," Mike had said, "Twenty-ninth January this year, Sherlock shows up in my office with a load of tickets for the Lion King, enough that Carrie could take all her school friends for her birthday. I asked what it was about, and he just said he certainly didn't need them, and only later I remembered what day it was."

John had stared. "You think he was thanking you for finding him a flatmate."

And Mike had said, "I think he was thanking me for you, John." And that had hurt in a sweet place in his chest, and again he'd gone home and thought how they might have, how he could have tried, and how then Sherlock would have known.

Sipping at his mediocre canteen coffee, sitting there with blood on his sleeves, John licked his lips and decided he was bored with being a coward. "Actually, we've been getting up to more than usual, lately."

"Lots of cases."

"We had a case, yeah. Also, um, we're sort of — we're together."

Mike beamed. "That's brilliant mate. The two of you deserve a go at it. Can't imagine it's easy. He's a lot of work just to have round the place sometimes."

"Yep," John agreed. "It's like, I dunno, doing a degree, growing orchids, having a pet, and trying to live in a foreign language all the time, while under fire."

Mike snorted. "That'd be marriage you're describing there, John."

John rolled his eyes. "You and Dee fit together perfectly. You were fucking made for each other, mate."

"Yeah? Well from out here, that's how you and Sherlock look. Though I'll admit Sherlock presents a whole new class of challenges."

"You have no idea. He's researched his way into a sex life. He's gone from barely knowing how to kiss to being the Stephen Fry of gay sex."

Mike smiled wryly. "Actually, Stephen Fry would be the Stephen Fry of gay sex, I'd have thought."

"You know what I mean. He's like Google with an erection. Oh, christ, sorry, that was more than you needed to hear."

"Never truer words," Mike agreed, and downed the rest of his coffee. 

As he was leaving the hospital, a black car came up to the kerb to meet him. John hadn't been expecting it, and yet he realised he wasn't at all surprised.

"Good evening, John," said Mycroft.

"Evening," John said, sitting down. "And how was your day? You obviously know everything that happened to me, so we can skip that bit right? So, any luck with world hunger? How's Rwanda going?"

"Much as I appreciate your interest in my work, I'm afraid that this is in the way of a personal discussion, John."

John choked out a little laugh. "Christ, you're going to try playing the heavy big brother, is that it? You do know nobody really makes those hurt him and you're dead speeches, right?  You understand that's just something that happens on telly?"

"And what do real people say then?"

"Not a lot. Ring up maybe once a year and see if either of us have any clever ideas for birthday presents, make sure we get gift cards from different stores, that's about it."

Mycroft smiled the way he did when John was annoying him and he was trying not to seem bothered. "I'm afraid I have to insist on rather more than that.  I need to know about you and my brother."

John stared. "No. No bloody way." Apparently being able to use CCTV to watch all of London's windows had totally warped Mycroft's idea of what he did and didn't get to know about other people's sex lives.

Mycroft rolled his eyes. "No, no, no, John. I don't want details of that sort. Sherlock is my brother. I choose to believe that behind closed doors you engage in the occasional chaste kiss and possibly holding hands. Please never disabuse me of this notion — it is essential to my sanity."

"Okay, good.  But then I don't get what you want to know."

"I need to know the things that matter John."

"Well, he's my best friend, right? And I'm not losing him again. So, how's that?"

Mycroft's eyes narrowed and he turned his head so that he mostly looked at John from one squinting eye.  He looked a bit like a ridiculous bird, and a bit like the most powerful man in the country.  "Hmm."

"You think I'm going to leave him, is that it?  Well I'm not.  I'm not going to just abandon Sherlock as soon as it gets hard, all right?"  John said.

Well, that should convince him, as long as Mycroft couldn't recognise the anger of someone accused of doing something he'd just decided to stop doing.

John sighed."If it helps, I just came out to Mike Stamford."

"Stamford is as incapable of making a harsh judgement as he is of turning down an eclair," Mycroft said, with a lot more venom than John had been expecting.  "Coming out to him is no sign of commitment." 

So apparently there actually was someone who didn't get on with Mike Stamford.  According to Sherlock's admittedly biased account, Mycroft was utterly obsessive about his diet.  Maybe this was just a compulsive dieter's helpless rage against a fat bloke.

John wasn't about to mention that it had taken him two goes before he'd managed to come out to Stamford either.

"I was considerably more impressed by the earlier statement," Mycroft said quietly, after a moment.

"Sorry?"

"Best friend, not losing him," Mycroft quoted.  "Very promising."

"So glad you're pleased for us."

"When you appeared on the scene, John, I hoped you would be a steadying influence on my brother.  Instead, as a direct result of his relationship with you, he faked his own death and spent two years on the run."

"We weren't in a relationship before — " John broke off at the disgusted look in Mycroft's eyes.  He supposed he deserved that look.

"Look, I know it hurts your sense of the dramatic, but how about just telling me straight out what you want, Mycroft?"

Mycroft raised his chin slightly.  "What happens if something better comes along, John?"

John sighed.  "I'd... I wouldn't get in his way, okay?  If he meets somebody, you know, somebody like him... yeah.  I wouldn't — " he shrugged.  He'd thought of that before, of someone coming along who was clever and gorgeous and really perfect for Sherlock, and he'd reckoned that would be the happy ending for all involved.  And now that he was saying it, he knew what he'd want to do was fight tooth and nail for every day he could get, and fuck being noble.

Mycroft looked at him narrowly after that, and John supposed he guessed John wasn't being totally honest.

And then they were at Baker Street.

"If you ask him nicely, he'd give you half," John said, in the way of a parting shot, as he got out of the car.

"Hmm?" Mycroft said, line between his brows, and John could have crowed, because for once Mycroft wasn't three steps ahead.

"Mike Stamford's eclair," John said, and shut the door.

It wasn't until after he'd gone upstairs and got to work on getting the blood stains out of his sleeves that it finally struck him that Mycroft might not actually have been talking about something better coming along for Sherlock.

 

Chapter Text

 

Sherlock did a quick walkthrough of the home office where Cummings had been caught, enough to get what he needed, but after that he left the rest for Lestrade's incompetent colleagues to stomp through. He no longer had a vested interest in such matters, but he found he still felt no particular urge to help with a narcotics investigation, which would be most of the upshot of the evening's work.

Lestrade would definitely be able to get from Cummings the facts about the buying of the Nagant revolver, and how he had passed on the information about the paid game of Russian roulette game to his girlfriend, for her to use to entice her husband. And that would be the end of the Gibson case, probably without Sherlock even having to go through the tedious business of appearing as a witness, once all his deductions had been borne out by later evidence.

Sherlock had more important things to think about.  There was a good chance the gunfire had been no more than a moment's panic by some of Cummings stupider employees.  The man himself had looked only cool and furious when he'd been led away.  But Cummings himself was an employee.  The Brazilian.  The Brazilian was the important thing now  Perhaps the gunfire had been a mistake, and perhaps not.  John had been in the line of fire.  

Sherlock had involved himself in the Brazilian's business dealings.  Now he had removed the Brazilian's agent.  It might have become personal now.  The intellectual interest he'd formerly had in the case was now beside the point; the man might be a threat to John.  He would have to be dealt with.

But he'd extracted all he needed from this scene for the moment, so Sherlock left in a cab. John had sent him a text saying the ambulance had gone to Barts, and that John's patient would survive. Sherlock only actually cared about one of those facts, but he supposed it was just as well the man hadn't died after John had risked his life to save him; John would probably have been upset if it came out otherwise.

Sherlock hoped, at least, that the excitement of a moment's simulated field medicine would have distracted John from commenting on Sherlock's behaviour.

It had been entirely unavoidable. There had been John, and there had been gunfire coming from a high window, and Sherlock had been utterly incapable of not bearing John to the ground and covering him with Sherlock's own body.

And then John, the bloody idiot, had run right out into the line of fire after some stranger, and before Sherlock could follow, two police morons had grabbed him and held him back.

John had been magnificent, though. As painful and maddening as those moments before he'd managed to free himself and get to John had been, he'd still seen the economy of John's motion, how John had run, reached and shielded the downed man, how John had barked out orders and been obeyed. His competence and command were exquisite, and shockingly erotic.

After he'd gone, Sherlock had felt a momentary urge to turn to Lestrade and demand whether he'd seen, whether he knew how amazing John Watson was. But of course he didn't, no one did. Except Sherlock.

Sherlock went looking for John first near Barts' A&E, but no one there had even noticed a short blond doctor who had come in with an ambulance. Sherlock wanted to shake the girl at the desk for being so unobservant as to miss a diminuitive marvel whose kissable legs were only outshone by his kissable mouth.

He tried Molly's lab next.

"No, he's not been in today," Molly said. "Were you supposed to meet here? I don't think we've had anything in."

"No.  He came to Barts . . . but not here."  He'd not been thinking. John came down to the labs with Sherlock, but not for his own interest. John got on with Molly, but wouldn't particularly seek her out. Mike was his friend; he'd have gone to Mike.

Molly gave him an odd little smile.  "No, can't see John coming here.  I mean, he, um, well, he's still angry?  I think?"

Sherlock tilted his head.  This wasn't something he'd particularly observed.  And John's anger wasn't usually hard to detect.  "Angry? Why angry?"

"He knows I knew.  About you.  And I didn't say anything.  I mean, maybe you could tell him?  That I hated doing it?  I felt so terrible.  I nearly did say — "

"Telling him would have got him killed," Sherlock snapped, annoyed.  Molly knew this.   The whole point of the exercise had been to keep John at a distance, just the right distance, let him see only what was safe for him to see, only know what was safe for him to know.  Right from the moment Sherlock had told him where to stand, so that his view of Sherlock's jump would be the right one.

Molly had been brilliant, at the time, arranging things for him.  This faintheartedness after the fact was stupid.  He hoped it wasn't more of the faux-girlishness she so often unthinkingly resorted to in attempts to appeal to him; he'd begun to think they were getting past that.  She was far more pleasant to be around -- ah yes, like this:

Her chin set mulishly.  "I know.  That's why I didn't tell him.  But I -- it looked like..."  Her voice dropped.  "I thought he might do something silly."

"Silly?"  Sherlock repeated.  As a euphemism for suicide it had always seemed particularly stupid, and the idea of John -- "No.  John wouldn't... "  He trailed off.  It was an absurd idea, John being in danger of harming himself over Sherlock.  Stupid.  John wasn't like that, wasn't that sentimental, that foolish.  But the gun.  John's gun.  It's for shooting myself in the head with.  

He stood there, blinking.

"But I mean, he seems fine now," Molly said, hurriedly.  "I mean I'm sure. Because you and John...." She seemed to run out of steam.

"Yes, I know, I'm more socially acceptable since John has domesticated me," Sherlock sneered.  It was an opinion he'd heard from all quarters at one time or another.

"Well, sometimes. Sometimes you're worse."  She smiled nervously and then dropped it.  "Mostly you're just more.... more you, with him. I mean, you always did have little moments when you'd do lovely things for people."

Oh well.  "I'd thought you were done deluding yourself about me, Molly."

"Like, with Dr. Patel that time," she insisted.  "And Lucy's auntie's car."

"Those were just observations, reasoning. I was showing off."

"Yeah, but you could just as well have shown off by reasoning out something horrible and saying it. But you don't, not— not always. You do help people, Sherlock. You solve crimes."

"Yes. To show off. And for pay, if we're lucky."

"Well, yes, but you, you could have gone, um, I mean, you could have... You know, been like him."  Her voice and gaze always dropped a bit when she mentioned Moriarty.  "I mean, that would show you off and get you a lot more money, wouldn't it?"

"But with far more risk. Don't assume I never considered it."

John would assume that too, wouldn't he, because Sherlock was still, as a matter of necessity, managing what John saw, what John knew.  There was a line between Sherlock and Moriarty;  they were not the same, whatever the man's dying words.  But the line was so hair-thin, so fine, that he couldn't trust that John would see it, if he knew about the people Sherlock had had to kill, the things Sherlock had done, and worst, the things Sherlock sometimes thought.

"All I was trying to say was, John hasn't changed you, not really. Just, sort of— like when you're looking at something through a telescope, and then you twist and it comes into focus?"

Sherlock blinked. Yes.  As if slowly, over a course of weeks after he'd met John, someone had been adjusting the focus until he could see his life more clearly, recognise which details were essential and which had only been obscuring. "Occasionally, Molly, your observations are remarkable."

Molly smiled her pained pathetic smile. "You'd be standing here and he'd come in, and you'd just... Nobody could compete with that. And when he was there, mostly you just saw him, and everybody else was just background. And I knew what that meant, because that's how I felt too."

Sherlock frowned; Molly's descriptions were overly romanticised, silly things. "Not anymore?" He asked, hoping.

Molly's brave face was even more pathetic. "I'm getting over it. Takes time."

"You're right, about... about John. It never was a competition."  He considered telling her they were sleeping together; that ought to put paid to her incomprehensible desires for good and all.  But John wouldn't like it; he'd been embarrassed enough to have Mrs. Hudson and Mycroft aware of their new situation.

She nodded.  "You, um, you know he's the same, right?  He, um, feels the same?"

Obviously, in certain areas Sherlock had no competition because Sherlock was simply the best.  Unfortunately those were not necessarily areas of John's need.

He'd thrown himself into the line of fire for John, but that had clearly not mattered when John could, for some few minutes, live back in his army doctor life again. Sherlock would only ever be a second-best replacement for John's real addiction to medicine under fire. And that was fair enough; because John could never have replaced the Work either.

And anyway, how often could John expect to have real gunfire and a patient again in his life? Probably Sherlock could go on being the best John could do, from that perspective.

If only he could establish a similar position, be the best John could do for everything else as well.  He'd simply have to get better at sex, since it seemed he'd never get any better at this relationship business.  He tended to do strange things, surely socially unacceptable, and often incomprehensible even to himself.

"File,"  he said, sticking out his hand.

"File?  Oh, oh yes, that."  Molly dug it out fairly quickly, just a plain stiff folder with a few sheets in it.

"I expect he's gone to see Stamford," Sherlock said, tucking it under his arm.

He left Molly there in her lab, hearing her soft, "Okay.  Bye," as he walked out the door.

Mike Stamford was reasonably intelligent, which Sherlock knew John admired, so probably that was why they were friends. Stamford's life was almost entirely dull (with the exception of some of his family history), but he could manage a reasonably interesting conversation from time to time, so Sherlock didn't mind him. Sherlock liked his solidity; he reminded Sherlock a bit of what Mycroft had been like, before he'd focused on his Ministry career and a program of austerity apparently for its own sake and whittled himself down to a thing of powerplays and sneering.

"'Lo, Sherlock," Mike said from his desk. "He's gone off home. Patient's stable, so congratulate him, eh? He'll like that."

Sherlock nodded. Mike was smart enough, at least, not to bother with pointless pleasantries and empty exchanges when it was obvious why Sherlock was there and what he wanted to know. Sherlock did wonder if Mike thought Sherlock was rather stupid, because he often provided commentary like this, as if he wanted to guide Sherlock through dealing with other people. The irritating thing was, Sherlock might not have thought of offering congratulations on saving his patient as a way to please John, if Stamford hadn't suggested it. "Hmm," he said.

"He'll be waiting," Mike said, and grinned.

Sherlock peered at the smiling round face, took in the tone. "Did you guess?"

"Everybody guessed," Mike said cheerfully. "But he said, today. Good on you both."

John had told a friend. Admittedly, a friend who also knew Sherlock well.  But also someone  John had known for a long time.  Why do that unless he intended something that would continue for the forseeable future?

"You've been married fourteen years," Sherlock said. Mike hadn't told him this, but it was fairly obvious.

Mike smiled. Mike understood the significance. If nothing else, Mike Stamford's intelligence made conversation very restful -- so much less tedious explaining. "If he's important, Sherlock, treat him that way. If he's not, end it."

Sherlock raised his eyebrows.

"You want something more specific, ask a question," Stamford advised cheerfully. "It's a heuristic."

So Sherlock went home. Mike wasn't stupid, so his heuristic might not be as stupid as it seemed. It did seem stupid; of course Sherlock treated John as important, since John was important. It seemed of a piece with Mrs. Hudson's odd talk of what had really offended John the other day. Probably it was a matter of vocabulary, some subtle— doubtless rather silly— element of formalized relationship expectations that everyone else had picked up and he'd sensibly left lying.

In which case it could hardly be helpful anyway, since that sort of thing was for normal people, whose problems consisted of disagreements about budgets or families or what sort of television to watch. They'd likely be of very little utility in helping mitigate his sociopathy, his recent history of homicide, or his desire to perform core biopsies on several sites on John's body so he could analyse John's architecture at the tissue level.

In the cab on the way home he looked through the folder.  He would have simply destroyed it all using a document shredder in the hospital, but given Molly's claim about John's mental state at the time, he wanted another look.

The John in every picture was military straight, chin defiantly high.  In most, he was wearing dull browns or greens that made him drab and colourless.  In two of them, his lips were slightly pursed, which usually meant he was either considering something he found unpleasant, or hiding another expression.  In only one was he looking anywhere but straight ahead.  The background of the picture showed Baker Street.  Based on his position and eyeline, he was looking back at the door to 221.  The pictures told Sherlock nothing he didn't know.  John had been under stress, felt himself watched and judged.  He couldn't read suicide in John's face or stance or clothes, nor in the shapes of the carrier bags he held in three of the pictures.

If it was true, then Sherlock might have come back to find the flat empty, dead, desolate.   John not there. John might have selfishly, idiotically thrown away all Sherlock's work, and there would never have been any more crossword clues or sarcastic comments about the state of the kitchen.  He'd never have seen John's wonderful poker face.  He'd never have come to orgasm in John's arms.  

It hadn't happened.  Probably it was just Molly's over-romantic imagination.  He'd put these in the pile of paper to be shredded at home, and be done with it.  He didn't need pictures; he could look at the real thing every day.  John was there.

John was indeed waiting at home. He'd brought souvlaki, which he liked and Sherlock only tolerated, but he'd also bought a serving of the overpriced baklava which he'd always pronounced too sticky to eat, and so must have been bought purely because Sherlock liked it. That, at least, seemed to indicate he wasn't annoyed about having been tackled to the ground when the gunfire started.

"I understand your patient survived. Someone was sloppy on the Met's part; they couldn't have expected they'd have a competent veteran there to clean up after them."

"Chance shot, ugly, but we got him to Barts alive anyway," John said with a shrug, not looking quite as pleased at the praise as Sherlock had expected. Possibly the word fantastic should have been in there somewhere.

Sherlock ate the lamb out of his souvlaki and then ate all of the baklava. It was very sticky. His fingers were covered in honey and tiny flecks of phyllo pastry when he was done. He caught John watching him lick off the worst of the mess with slightly dilated pupils, but then John hurriedly dropped his gaze back to his souvlaki, which he devoured down to the last shred of onion.

"Anything interesting after I went?" John asked, when Sherlock had washed the last of the honey off his hands, and John had taken his place at the kitchen basin, washing the day's dishes.

Sherlock grinned and pulled from his pocket the key he'd taken from Cummings' office when Sally hadn't been looking.

"What's that?" John asked, smiling a bit.

"Key to a self-storage unit. Lestrade won't need it for the Gibson case, and the drugs squad really has more than enough evidence."

Instead of looking impressed, John's eyes narrowed briefly. Oh for heaven's sake.

"There may be drugs stored there, I suppose, but I have no interest in them," Sherlock protested.

"No, okay. So what is there?"

"I don't know, but it's the storage area that Cummings keeps as part of his dealings with the Brazillian. It was first rented by the previous contact, and when Cummings became the main contact in London, he took it over, those records were clear."

"And you recognised it was for the right storage place by, what, the cut of the key?" John asked. Anyone else would have been sarcastic and doubtful, John was just asking for clarification on what to be impressed over.

"The key numbering," Sherlock said, showing him the way it was stamped on the metal.

"Wow," John said. His smile was still a bit off, not as pleased or impressed as Sherlock wanted him to be, but then he changed the subject. "The Gibson thing, Sherlock, it really was amazing. I was working on it, before you got here — writing it up, I mean. People are going to love it."

"I suppose you're going to call it, what, The Problem of the Bridge Party?"

"Haven't decided. Seems like I ought to be able to work a pun about Thor in there somewhere, since that was one of the clues..."

Sherlock glared.  "The Thor Loser, I suppose," he sneered, and John grinned.

"Anyway, I was thinking — I guess I do understand why it wasn't... cases like that, I can see they'd be boring, after what you've been doing the past few years. Moriarty's international criminal empire, whatever, I mean, that must have been the biggest case of your life. So..."

Sherlock stared. Was that what John thought? He got up and walked over to the couch "It wasn't a case at all," he explained. "Just an endless stultifying progression of problems." He leaned back, stared up at the ceiling. "Determine a target's schedule," he made a vague gesture withe one arm. "Evade a security system." He gestured with the other arm, wanting John to understand how stupid and pointless it had been, that, whatever John thought, it had been no kind of adventure or vacation. "Eradicate the data." He flapped his hands in the air.

Dispose of a body, he did not say.

Instead he scowled at the window. "At times I started to think Moriarty had planned it to go exactly this way. He was torturing me with boredom, wanted my brain to seize and putrefy."

He got up, suddenly restless, and walked back toward John. "You have no idea what a relief it is to be home, John, to have the Work again."  He was trying to decide whether he ought to say what a relief it was to have John again, whether that was the sort of sentimental gesture Mike and Mrs. Hudson were trying to tell him to make, or whether that would just make John's skin crawl, when John grabbed him by the hips, and pulled him close.

 


 

John had watched Sherlock's theatrics on the couch with mild amusement, but when Sherlock stood up, he found himself leaning against the sink just staring for a moment. Sherlock was happy because he had the Work again.

It wasn't hard to throw yourself into the line of fire to save somebody else. John had done it and it was easy. But that wasn't what Sherlock had done that day on the roof. No fast sacrifice with an assured ending.

Sherlock had given up the Work.

He'd given it up every day he was away, lived without the one thing he'd cared about his whole life. For John.

John abruptly moved to sit on one of the kitchen chairs, tugging Sherlock closer. He pulled the tail of Sherlock's shirt free of his trousers and pushed away the fabric to bare Sherlock's side over his hip. He put his face there, first an attempt at a kiss that turned into a smear of his lips and then he was just pressing hard into the flesh, inhaling the smell of Sherlock's skin, feeling the nearly imperceptible tiny muscle movements, hearing pulse and god, you might take a bullet or throw yourself on a grenade for a mate, but what Sherlock had done for him --

For John Watson who was such a coward he retreated from reality as soon as things got difficult.

John, breath starting to come hard, rubbed his face into Sherlock's belly, feeling the light, fine hairs against his cheek and the place where they coarsened at his lower lip. He rubbed against the waist of Sherlock's trousers. Here the valley of a seam, and here the slight lapped rise of the fly.

"John?" Sherlock murmured, his hand curving almost hesitantly around the back of John's head.

"Do you know? Do you even know?" John whispered. He drew back enough to look up at Sherlock's face. "You are phenomenal."

Sherlock's mouth tilted up only on one side. "That's the point, John, it wasn't— "

John stood, crowding Sherlock against the side of the table. "Shut up. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about you. You're a fucking phenomenon. You -- " he shook his head, grasping for words. "You're like, I dunno, vaccine. Cubism. You're silicon fucking chips. Never mind. You do know. Lack of self esteem isn't one of your problems."

"Cubism?" Sherlock said, sounding affronted.

"Sorry," John said, suddenly helplessly grinning. "My mistake. Baroque."

"That isn't better."

"I stand by Baroque. Lots of flourishes." John moved his hands up into Sherlock's curls. It took a certain amount of product to maintain that calculated extravagance. He'd never liked feeling stuff in girlfriends' hair. It was unpleasant on his fingers, and he just stood there feeling it, and feeling the softness and the texture and the heat coming off Sherlock's scalp.

Sherlock looked surprised but pleased. He put his arms round John. "If you don't intend to have a great deal of sex with me this evening, now would be the ideal time to make that clear."

John shrugged. "Didn't have anything else on tonight. You'll do." He got interrupted by Sherlock's decadent mouth. When the kissing slowed down a bit, he put in, "But if a great deal means more than once, you'll have to find yourself somebody under forty." Then he pushed his face into the open neck of Sherlock's shirt. Sherlock's long throat seemed to buzz with life at the base where John was kissing it.

"Don't be disgusting," Sherlock said.

"Hmm?"

"I don't want to have sex with anyone else."

"What, not ever?"

Sherlock's hands gripped his shoulders a bit hard.  John looked up.  

"No," Sherlock said sharply.  "Not ever, John."  That was his how do you manage to dress and feed yourself when you're so clearly stupid? voice.

Well, Sherlock thought that now...   But it was nice to know that he wasn't currently planning a series of experiments spanning the range of human genitalia.  "Good," John said weakly.  "That's good.  I never did share well."

"I don't share at all," Sherlock said, and pulled John in, holding tight and kissing him hard.

They took a while getting their shirts off, mostly distracted by kissing. John pinched Sherlock's nipple and didn't flinch from noticing the flatness there. He didn't need to pretend it was a flatchested girl. Sherlock's pale, lightly freckled chest was pretty, it its own way, and warm and strong and nothing he actually needed to feel ashamed of touching right now. And in response Sherlock hummed as if John were being delightful and brilliant.

Once their shirts were off — John's hung over the back of a kitchen chair, Sherlock's thrown half across the sitting room, Sherlock wrapped both arms tight round John and started backing through the kitchen.

"Your room?" John asked, rubbing his evening stubble against Sherlock's collarbone.

"Closer," Sherlock purred into the ear he'd been nuzzling. "Less distance after, to brush your teeth."

"Point," John admitted.  Oh.  "D'you want me to brush my teeth now, actually?  I mean, onions..."

"I do not care about onions," Sherlock snapped at him, and ground his erection against John's stomach.

John let Sherlock drag him into the room.  In the doorway Sherlock ground against John for one more moment, but then he pulled back and started tugging frantically at his own trousers. Apparently getting them off in a hurry was more important right now than trying anything mutual.

John had taken his shoes off before Sherlock got home, and was bare first. He watched Sherlock pulling his clothes off. Normal people looked awkward taking clothes off. Some girls knew how to make a striptease of it, but surely any bloke just looked like an idiot when he was taking off his socks.

Sherlock looked like something a classful of art students would spend an afternoon on, all muscle and bone neatly shadowed, all beautiful skin. Well, he was halfway to erect, so maybe a classful of art students, but, still.

As soon as he'd dropped the last of his clothes, Sherlock took John by the shoulders and guided him round, gave him a little push to sit him on the side of the bed. Then Sherlock sank gracefully to his knees on the floor. He placed one hand on each of John's thighs and gently pressed them apart.

"You don't need to do that," John said, tugging at his arm. "Honestly, Sherlock, you— "

"John, relax," Sherlock ordered. He stroked his knuckles lightly along John's inner thigh. "Tension in this case is counter-productive. If it helps, judge me for my perversion: I'll happily suck you flaccid."

Oh god, Sherlock thought he had performance anxiety. He hadn't, up to this point.

No. Sherlock was right. He wasn't going to get tense. He wasn't going to panic. He was going to stay right here and deal with this.

God. Yeah, rough life for that John Watson, innit? He's got to deal with being sucked off by someone gorgeous and brilliant and willing to sacrifice everything to protect him. Poor lad.

"Reckoned that was one of your virtues, being perverse. Anyway, only a problem if you actually prefer me limp."

Sherlock bent lower, closer, and looked up at John from that angle. It made his face stranger, angelic and vaguely feline. "I'd like very much to take you in completely soft and experience the full process of your cock hardening inside my mouth."

John felt a wave of heat and groaned. "Saying things like that pretty much guarantees me not being soft, Sherlock."

Sherlock smiled. It was predatory. "Another time."

Then Sherlock kissed John's cock, kissed it as if he were kissing a mouth -- mostly the moving press of near-dry lips with a small core of wet heat. Lips mobile and passionate, single swipe of tongue.

John gasped shudderingly and had to let it out in a few broken breathy groans.

Sherlock leaned slowly back a bare inch, sensation fading away, and then exhaled hotly. John gritted his teeth. This was not fair. Sherlock's fucking internet research. He'd studied blow jobs. John should have smashed Sherlock's computer.

But he could keep it under control. He'd not always been a gentleman about this, but one early girlfriend had been kind enough to teach him instead of throwing him out on his arse, so he'd learned not to thrust or grab hair or give into any of his other stupid urges except by specific request.

Sherlock leaned forward slowly again. Another kiss that deepened, deepened, slowly deepened, and inches of his cock were inside Sherlock's mouth. John whimpered. Sherlock's tongue moved, slow, firm, caressing. John clenched his fists and gasped for breath.

Slowly, Sherlock pulled back again.

"John," he murmured. His voice was low, seemed subtly roughened. "You're holding back. You think you're being polite, but let me reframe this. I am showing off. When I am showing off, has it been your experience that I want you to restrain yourself?"

John blinked. It was so... so... Sherlock. He laughed feebly and bent over to kiss the laugh into Sherlock, because Sherlock liked that. Sherlock— deliberately, he was sure— kissed John's mouth just the same way he'd kissed John's cock.

For a moment after, he smiled up at John, knowing and self-satisfied and avid. Then he bent and there was that kiss again, on his cock.

Maybe it was the fact that he was working so hard at staying focused and not letting himself retreat, but the kiss came as a weird little revelation.

John liked oral sex. No, John loved oral sex. He loved the sensations, and he'd always loved the idea of being in a woman's mouth. And yet... when his cock was in it, the mouth became purely sexual, somehow unconnected with words, smiling, conversation, even kissing. Maybe that was sexist. Whatever they called it— objectification.

Sherlock's mouth, though, was just Sherlock's mouth. No disconnect, no distance. The palate and the tongue that surrounded his cock as Sherlock took him in again, those were the palate and tongue that formed Sherlock's brilliant words.

Kissing press of lips together, firm round the girth of John's cock, that was the B sound, the bilabial plosive, if he was remembering terms right. And the tip of Sherlock's tongue lapping, as it lapped at John now, the L -- no, couldn't remember the name of that one. And a quick tap of the tongue and the slightest touch, utterly unthreatening, of upper teeth, that was, what was it, hard to concentrate, some other of plosive: T. BriLLianT.

And here, the soft palate where his head nudged, yet another plosive?  Deeper, more intimate.  The click of the K when he'd first said the name's Sherlock Holmes.

John's cock was there, there. Baritone and sweet coffee and that wonderful deranged grin -- Sherlock's mouth. John moaned and fell back on his elbows.

Sherlock pressed slightly lower, pulled back with the lightest, most sensual suck, slid down again, a hair further, licked to test his tongue against the texture of John's foreskin, and then sucked his way up again. He was inching more of John's cock inside himself. He was gently, self-indulgently fucking his mouth on John's cock.

"Sherlock! Oh god, oh god, oh please -- " This should never stop. This should go on and on and on forever. Too good, too perfect. John cried out helplessly. And again on the next slide. And again at the next suck.

Sherlock eventually got far enough he didn't need his hand to steady John's cock anymore. He moved his hands to grip John's hips, kneaded gently. As long as he'd been aware of Sherlock being taller, Sherlock's larger frame, Sherlock's big hands, this had never occurred to him; Sherlock was simply built a lot larger than anyone who'd ever tried to suck John before. He could take nearly John's full length without too much trouble.

The next slow suck upward, from nearly the base all the way up to the ridge round his head, was firmer, a deep aching pull. John twisted and gasped and Sherlock's hands just managed to keep his hips still.

John panted and tried to get hold of himself. Sherlock wanted to hear John, and feel John's response, yes. But however ready Sherlock thought he was, John was not going to make him gag or choke. John was not going to hurt him. Not for anything.

The sensation, the lush tender sweetness of it, it was so much that he wanted to back off. But instead he shut his eyes and let himself fall flat on his back and whimpered, and when one of Sherlock's hands stole down to caress his balls, John made an animal whining sound in his throat and spread his thighs wider.

It seemed to go on forever, and yet when Sherlock pulled off it was too soon, much too soon, and John groaned in protest. He managed to get up on his elbows again. He looked down his body; Sherlock's mouth was red and wet and still very near John's cock, which was also wet, also red. John shivered at the sight.

"I'm going to make you come now," Sherlock said, hands now softly massaging John's thighs. "I want you inside me when you do, I want to feel it with my tongue, John. So please don't try to pull away at the last moment out of some misplaced chivalry."

"Sherlock— " John sat up enough to stroke Sherlock's cheek.

"I'm not assuming I'll like it. I may not. But I will be very annoyed if you deny me the opportunity to experience it and find out."

"Then you'd have to try again," John managed, smiling.

Sherlock grinned back. That mouth. Sherlock's mouth.

John surged clumsily forward and ended up slipping off the bed entirely, straddling Sherlock where he knelt on the floor and kissing him, kissing that mouth, feeling with his tongue all those same places. Yes, the same heat, the same wet, the same texture. More detail with his tongue but less of that stunning pleasure.

"John— " Sherlock got out, but John wasn't having any of it, so he held Sherlock's head in place firmly with both hands until he was finished kissing the man. Finally he let go with a satisfied sigh. "John," Sherlock said again, once he had the use of his mouth again. He sounded unsure whether to be annoyed or not.

"Whatever you want, Sherlock," John said. "Christ, don't you know? You can have anything you want. "

Sherlock's face went suddenly serious. "You don't— "

John shut him up with a kiss again, because Sherlock had been right, shutting him up was extremely satisfying. Then he got back up onto the bed, which was not easy from his careless slump between Sherlock and the bed. It involved a bit of grunting, and absolutely no grace, but at least he didn't give Sherlock a prick in the eye in the process. He settled more or less where he had been, on his elbows. "Whenever you're ready," he prompted.

Sherlock looked up at him. "Are we agreed you won't pull back— "

"Stop talking bollocks," John said, gesturing to his own, and sniggered like a sixth-former.

Sherlock dropped his forehead against John's thigh and shook his head in a show of frustrated annoyance.

John leaned back on his elbows, and groaned happily as Sherlock took him in again.

Sherlock sucked him slow and sweet and it seemed to take no time at all before all John could do was fight not to buck. Then Sherlock cupped his balls and sucked hard at John's glans, lips' tight just behind the ridge, and slowly sank down.

"Sherlock! Jesus, Sherlock, please! Oh fuck!" John shouted, and it was all clenching shuddering waves of hot pleasure rolling through him, making all his skin feel new and raw and quivering. It was so much, so fucking much; Sherlock kept moving through it, drawing it out until John's was gasping raggedly and his eyes had actually teared. When Sherlock's mouth finally slipped away, John whimpered and shivered hard.

Sherlock's head dropped against John's knee. He was panting.

It took John a moment to realise Sherlock was also masturbating, frantically.

Uncoordinated but desperate, John hauled Sherlock up onto the bed, put his hand on Sherlock's rigid cock, and took over.

"Yes, John," Sherlock gasped, bucking, "yes, John, John, John."

John watched his hand move, watched Sherlock's cock twitch and jerk and pump out semen. It still felt scary, and a bit shameful, but it was Sherlock, and there was a little triumph in it too, in the fact that John's cock in his mouth had been enough to drive Sherlock spare with lust.

And sex was meant to be a bit messy, for fuck's sake.

Although, admittedly, that was easier to decide now they were in Sherlock's bed. On the grounds that it was a tiny revenge for the perpetual state of the kitchen, he wiped the worst of it off on the sheet before wrapping his arms round Sherlock and pulling him close.

"There are tissues on the other side of the bed," Sherlock said, in a slow, sleepy voice.

"Do you want me to get them?"

Sherlock's face pressed into John's neck. John wasn't sure if he was shaking his head no or just trying to burrow closer.

He let himself drift a bit, just feeling Sherlock nuzzle there.

Sherlock was nuzzling. Sherlock was strange and touch starved and needy and if you peeled the rest away and stopped trying to filter it all through John's stupid expectations, Sherlock was affectionate.

John kissed the top of his head. Fuck it all, it was nice.

After a while, when it felt a bit less nice — but that was the nature of cooling sweat and cooling semen, no matter who you slept with — he pulled gently away.  At this point, he wanted something better than tissues, and Sherlock was right, it was nicer having the bathroom nearby. So John went and got a warm wet cloth and cleaned himself off, then Sherlock, then went back and brushed his teeth.

When he was nearly done, Sherlock walked in beside him, yawning hugely, and started brushing his own teeth. John found himself, weirdly, blushing about that.

"Mind if I sleep down here?" he asked.

Sherlock yawned around his toothbrush and made an imperious gesture toward the bed, which John interpreted as I insist on it.

So he settled into Sherlock's sheets, and when he ran into a stiffening patch on the absurdly smooth cotton, he accepted that it it served him right.

Sherlock switched off the bathroom light and trudged back to the bed, and climbed heavily on top of John, as usual.

John sighed, and stroked Sherlock's hair, sleepy but now not quite comfortable enough to drift off.

Something kept niggling at him.  He was sick of worrying about what they were doing in bed together.  It was good, wasn't it? And yet...  The Work.  Sherlock had given up the Work.  He'd known that, yeah, and yet hearing it again today, it kept bothering him.

John had started all this, decided to sleep with Sherlock because it felt like saving Sherlock's life. He'd done it the way he'd have taken a bullet for Sherlock.  It had felt, well, noble, somehow, self-sacrificing, stupid as that sounded.

But why, exactly?  What had pushed him over that edge?  He'd let it happen without ever really examining things beyond the feeling of urgency and remembered guilt.

Sherlock had given up the Work.

Self-absorbed, uncaring Sherlock, Sherlock the sociopath, Sherlock the bloody machine,  had jumped off a building for John. He had sacrificed more, been more noble, than John could ever hope to be. The one arena, the only one where John had felt himself at a natural advantage, and it turned out that Sherlock outclassed him even there.

Was that really it? Could he possibly have been that petty? He didn't think so, but then, he didn't want to think so.  

John murmured against the hair, "Sherlock?"

"Hmm?" For Sherlock, responding to his name and the simpler sort of questions was no sign of actual wakefulness.

"Can you wake up a bit?"

Sherlock shifted, moving his body against John's in what would be called a snuggle in anyone with less natural hauteur. "Yes?" He didn't seem to mind being woken up; in the Sherlock manual of etiquette, waking people up whenever you wanted to talk to them was quite acceptable.

"Right, there's something I haven't said, that I should have said, ages ago. I feel a right cunt for not saying it, actually."

"Is it interesting information, or just some dull social expectation?"

"You'll have to tell me. Listening?"

"Mm."

"Thank you, Sherlock. Thanks for jumping off a sodding building and faking your death and spending all that time saving my life." He tightened his arms round Sherlock's chest and kissed his hair. "Christ, Sherlock, I'll never live up to it, but thank you."

For what seemed like whole minutes, Sherlock lay very very still. Finally he murmured. "Expressions of gratitude. Dull."

"Okay," John said. Should have expected that, but at least he'd said it.

"Don't credit me with any noble aims," Sherlock went on, quietly. "My reasons were largely selfish.  I didn't want you to die."

"Ta,"  John said.  "Right with you there.  Not sure that counts as selfish, actually."

"It was," Sherlock pronounced, but didn't elaborate.

"Cos you'd be lost without someone to follow you around telling you how bloody brilliant you are," John teased.

"Lost," Sherlock echoed, mumbling into John's collarbone.  And then, so softly John barely heard, "Desolate."

A bit stunned, John lay there, Sherlock's curls against his jaw, Sherlock heavy and bony and radiating heat on top of him. When, some time later, he could speak again, he said, "Um, Sherlock? You're actually... sorry... you're a bit heavy, like this."

"Oh," Sherlock shifted off to the side, squirmed a bit, turned his back on John, and then immediately reached back to tug John toward him. John settled behind Sherlock's back, let Sherlock pull John's arm round his waist. Sherlock curled a bit tighter, and rolled slightly into the pillow, so his shoulders presented less of a solid wall in front of John's face. "Better?"

He was still a furnace, but now there was cool air on John's back. "That's lovely," John murmured. He shifted his legs a bit, and Sherlock, big as he was, seemed to suddenly fit perfectly into the bend of John's body. "God, that is. That's lovely."

It wasn't anything John had ever wanted.

It wasn't anything like taking a bullet.

The city light through the window shades made cool highlights down Sherlock's side, made stark shadows like ink in his curls. John's own arm was limned in that same cool light.

John didn't have a word for this, what they were, what they were doing. It would go on being weird and awkward and difficult. Sherlock would behave badly, and be a miracle. John would try to look after him, and sometimes fuck it up, and sometimes find himself pulling away when things got hard.  Neither of them would be exactly noble or cruel or heroic or selfish, or a proper boyfriend or friend or anything that made sense.

It was all too achingly shockingly real to be defined.

Just as his eyes were shutting, he thought he saw a flicker of movement on the windowsill. He raised his head a bit to look over Sherlock, managed to focus, and then he was giggling tiredly into Sherlock's warm back.

"What now?" Sherlock protested. He sounded like he was actually going to sleep, and John really could not be arsed to get up either. He shook his head so Sherlock could feel it against his spine, and left Sherlock's mouse to do whatever the hell it was doing.

 


 

When Sherlock woke it was, according to the red Jasper Morrison clock on his window sill, just past four in the morning. The clock was sitting slightly askew. Ah yes, one of the mice had been up there last night. At the time, John had just giggled and held Sherlock, so Sherlock hadn't got up to do anything about it. Sherlock didn't suppose John, without being thoroughly drugged by his own endorphins, would be so blase about the matter this morning, but at the moment John was still sleeping,  just a bit of his weight leaning on Sherlock's back, one of his legs on top of one of Sherlock's.  When Sherlock moved a bit, John's arm round him had tightened slightly, as if to keep him where he was.

So for the moment, Sherlock stayed.

John felt very nice like this, as Sherlock had noticed before. If John liked this position better, Sherlock was happy to adopt it.

He'd after all, had the experience of actually covering John's body with his own when bullets were flying, and as needless and embarrassing as it had been, it had also left him with a certain satisfaction. He wondered if John felt at all the same about having (however unnecessarily) tackled Sherlock and stopped what he'd thought was a suicide attempt.

John at least no longer seemed to be so angry about that. Last night he'd been more enthusiastic than in any of their recent encounters. Sherlock was prepared to declare oral sex a probable success.

It had made his jaw and neck ache eventually, and the back of his mouth felt not quite sore but tender. Swallowing hadn't been terrible in terms of taste, but the texture hadn't been very nice.

But John had cried out his name, and shuddered and looked so perfectly abandoned when he came, as if he were opened up for Sherlock to see everything just for a moment, as good as having him flayed and laid out on a slab with a body block to put him at the best angle.  

Afterward, John had, rather oddly, brought up Sherlock's time away again. Perhaps it had just still been on his mind from earlier. Sherlock hoped John wasn't going to start picking at all that; he'd more or less seemed to let it go, while they had the case.

The last thing he wanted was all that coming up again, when it seemed things were back on track with the two of them. Perhaps they could settle just like this, permanently. He'd suck John every night, and then lie there with John holding on to him as if Sherlock was the one in danger of going somewhere and John the one who wanted to keep him. Just like this, for the rest of his days.  It was something to work for.

But that would definitely require that he take care of John's safety.  Which meant he'd have to take care of the Brazilian.

Sherlock relaxed his body fully into John's embrace and walked the hallways in his mind, re-organising what he'd learned so far.

Mostly he could trust such organisation to happen more or less automatically as he observed details, only needing occasional cleanup of the kind he could do while talking to John. But this case might mean John's life, so it deserved something special.

He started off by moving his mental representations of the relevant elements out of their temporary home in Marie Gibson's house, transplanting them into the rooms of a flat in Birmingham where he'd once been asked to look at a supposed suicide.

It had been one of his early cases and the details were so settled in his memory of the room that they provided excellent locations for storage of the information on the new case. He decorated the hanging corpse with series of trinkets encoding the relevant IP addresses, and splashed the pictures on the walls with colours for the contacts he was waiting for responses from, and used the window ledge and the curtains and the wheeled desk chair — the essential clue in the old case — to store interesting details of business dealings and Brazilian tax law.

There was a great deal of related data already and he spent a long time arranging things to please and amuse himself, letting his mind make new connections.

One association that might be relevant required a visit to his mental model of the Negros Navigation Ferry Terminal in Manila. Behind the building, on the other side from the water, cars were crammed three and four deep. On their windshields he had stored the business contacts of a man named Tupas who he had dragged between two rusting white sedans and murdered there with an injection into the taut golden skin of his plump belly.  He'd returned the next day to take advantage of his observations of the sloppy running of the ferry on Wednesdays and see the corpse dumped in deep water.

He found what he was looking for on a dark blue estate car — yes, Tupas had done much of his business in South America and had a base for himself in Sao Paulo.

A few other associations required visits to other sites from his years away, to those lonesome hotel rooms and abandoned streets.   All empty.   All dead .  All that ugliness, all his murders, and John not there.  But he'd remember every miserable bit of it, if just one fact could be the thing that protected John again now.

When he was done reviewing it all, he lay there physically warm and comfortable, with John breathing on his spine, and decided to visit another mental room, a version of the bath only a room away in the physical world. In the version in his head, John stood naked in the shower and Sherlock, in a sort of daze, spent more than two minutes riding the remembered contours of his strong legs.

He was just starting to physically shift on the bed at his response to the memory of John's body, when John's arm tightened far more deliberately around him than it had before. Sherlock opened his eyes.  Now the clock said just before seven.

"Y'not going anywhere," John murmured blurrily against his back, and stroked Sherlock's belly, then up to his chest. John shifted closer in, snugging his erection firm up against Sherlock's arse as his hand stroked low.

Oh, he was going to do this again. "Yes," Sherlock whispered, his already half-hard cock jumping at the touch of John's hand.

John stroked him up and down, and kissed his back. "You bloody amazing git," he murmured. "Tell me what you want."

"Faster," Sherlock told him. "Focus on the head."

John gave a sort of breathless laugh against his back, and Sherlock supposed he was supposed to be less demanding, or some such rot, but John did exactly as he was asked, his warm hand moving quick up and down just over the last two inches of Sherlock's erection, with only an occasional slide lower.

"And I suppose you want this too," John said, a grin in his voice, and slid up enough that he could bite Sherlock's shoulder.

Sherlock's hips bucked into John's grip, and he was so close so suddenly. "John, he groaned. "Same as before."

"All right, I know, we've done this before, you're bored. Got something from that alphabetical list of yours you want to try instead?"

"Shut up," Sherlock groaned. "Do it the way... " he gasped as John twisted his hand round Sherlock's cock.  He pushed his hips back to remind John.

"Oh." John gave him another bite, and started rubbing firmly against Sherlock, his cock pressing between Sherlock's buttocks, sliding up and down between them.

Sherlock shut his eyes and just moved his body, pressing into John's hand, pressing back against John's cock. John could do exactly what he liked, really, as long as he kept up the pressure, as long as he was firm and there.

It wasn't exactly as before.  This time John wasn't trying to keep them both on their sides.  Some of his weight was leaning on Sherlock as he rocked them together, and that was warm and lovely.

Sherlock came first, long delicious judders of orgasm running up his body, first a cluster of them all together, then two slower, spaced out, before he was entirely loose and limp, warm and satisfied.

John was grinding against his back, breathing hard. Sherlock rolled himself a bit forward, while still pushing back into John, so he was nearly belly-down, letting more of John's weight rest on him.

"Oh my god," John moaned.  "Sherlock.  You perfect fucking — oh fuck, Sherlock," John's arms gripped him hard and his movements went frantic for a moment, rapid tight little thrusts along Sherlock's arse, and then he made a warm mess all over the small of Sherlock's back with a long low, "Ohh..."  For several panting breaths John just stayed there, limp and heavy and delicious, and then he slid up, smearing both of them, and nipped Sherlock's neck. "Just as well the shower's just there," he murmured, still a little breathless, into Sherlock's ear. "We need a fucking wash."

He sounded cheerful, thoroughly confident, and, yes, nicely possessive. Sherlock grinned and let himself be taken to the shower and soaped all over. It didn't lead to more sex, which he didn't suppose either of them could have managed at that point anyway, but when John left him in the shower to finish conditioning his hair — something John clearly still considered less than masculine behaviour — Sherlock still felt a kind of warm unfocused excitement buzzing through him, as if he'd had a sudden hit of stimulant.

When he came out, he picked up his mobile and found that there had been four replies overnight, one of which provided a little information, which he enjoyed integrating in the structure he was building. Then, at a rather leisurely pace, he dressed.

John had apparently gone up to his own room and got dressed, because Sherlock didn't hear him start the kettle until he was nearly ready himself. Then there was a bang. And John saying, "Fuck. You have got to be  fucking kidding me."

Well, John's good mood couldn't be expected to last. He was naturally combative and wry, and that suited Sherlock perfectly. Sherlock wondered what he'd done this time.

When he came out into the kitchen, John pushed into his hands a large plastic container, in which was most of a loaf of bread. Curled up in the hollow it had chewed through the first few slices was one of Sherlock's experimental mice.

Sherlock took it. "That's surprising." He'd expected them to remain borderline narcoleptic, certainly not to make it as far as the kitchen. Perhaps being fed on scraps had far more impact than he'd thought likely.

John sighed. "I'm sorry, Sherlock, but they've really got to go."

"John -- "

As he often did, John interrupted his agreement to argue with him. "Sherlock, if they get out again and breed, getting rid of them will be hell. Mrs. Hudson would be well in her rights to kick us out. If you still need them, I'm sure Mike or Molly would let us sneak them into a lab with proper containment."

"No, I agree, I'm done with them."

John nodded and grumbled about the lack of bread, and eventually dug out the ends of a takeaway to heat up. Sherlock drank tea but didn't eat. John had been feeding him so consistently lately, it was hardly surprising he didn't feel like eating today.

He put the breaded mouse on the desk while he replied to three of the emails, complaining about not being given the information he so obviously needed, and the mouse slept solidly through.

He'd also had another email from Mycroft, with evidence of another coverup — not of a body this time, but of Sherlock breaking in to a US government contractor's lab in Portland Oregon. Nobody's career was being destroyed in this, although a large amount of money was being put into replacing security equipment that had actually worked perfectly well.

Expecting thanks? -SH, he texted from John's mobile.

Not delusional -MH came the reply before long.  As expected, the mobile rang a moment later.  

"Then what do you want?" Sherlock answered the call.

"A day when I don't have to clean up one of your messes would be pleasant. Not to say refreshing."

"It wasn't a mess.  Three blurry frames of a man in a cap, that's all they had."

"Your features are striking and recognisable, Sherlock," Mycroft lectured.  "If you don't believe me, do ask your lover, I'm sure he'd agree."

"Shut up."

He hung up on his irritating brother and went off and collected the other mice from where he'd hidden them — as agreed — from John. The odd piecewise construction of 221 had left many small areas between rooms that went largely unobserved. If Sherlock had wanted to resume a drugs habit, Lestrade and his team of enthusiastic volunteers would likely have searched without any result unless they brought an actual sniffer dog.

He put the other mice into the container with the bread, and put it on the kitchen table so he could keep an eye on them while he got the sodium pentobarbital ready. It would be extremely embarrassing if they escaped again now. They nibbled a bit on the bread, and then went back to sleep.

He'd done this before, often enough. He had his own preparation, mixing the barbituric acid with lidocaine. He had the knack of holding a mouse still and doing an intraperitoneal injection that didn't puncture intestines.

He picked up the first mouse, pushed the needle neatly into place, just a dent in the taut, plump little belly. He pressed the plunger, poison pushing out, stopping life. He'd done this so often  He was good at it.  Then he laid the mouse back into the container.

When he went to pick up the next of them, his hands were shaking. He took a deep breath. This was stupid. He had no moral issue with painless euthanasia of experimental animals or of nuisance species, and this was both.  It was just muscle memory, just memory, Just those same memories he'd been reviewing only hours ago— a carpark in Manila, the hotel room in Seregno and another in Dubai, and Paris, Paris where he'd botched things so badly, broken the needle, and had to resort to brute force and then dig the needle out of the body and camouflage the injection site with a stab wound.

John's hands gripped his wrists. He hadn't even noticed John coming up to him. "Jesus. Sherlock," John whispered.

"It's fine. I don't— "

"What the hell is going on? Please tell me these weren't actually pets. Because I'm feeling like fucking Herod here, Sherlock."

"They're not. Just an experiment. I— " He couldn't explain himself.

"Christ, you've gone cold. Come here." John guided him gently to the couch and sat him down. Then he went and picked up one of the rather ratty lap blankets John sometimes pulled over himself when he thought the flat was too cold. John wrapped the blanket round Sherlock's shoulders and sat close beside him.

"I'm fine," Sherlock protested, shrugging off the blanket, but didn't  push away John's arm when it wrapped round his back.

"You're shaking," John murmured. "Can you tell me what just happened? You were injecting the mouse, and then -- "

The needle, the belly.

"I... killed...  I killed them— that way."  No.  He should be lying.  John wasn't supposed to know.  He was meant to keep John standing in exactly the right spot, at a perfectly safe distance, so that his lines of sight were controlled and he saw the Sherlock he was supposed to see, the one who was fantastic and clever and a bit mad, but not this.  John was too close now and he'd see how the trick was done, see psychologically damaged, see mentally unstable, see not good.  Everything had been wonderful and now it was all going to be ruined and Sherlock couldn't stop it because it was only the truth.  He deserved it. "Three— three people. Nearly four.  Had to— to strangle him... in the end."  The sanest part of him seemed to be trying to stop him doing this, breaking up his words with painful shaking breaths, but it was too late, done now.

"You killed... Sherlock, what are you talking about?"

He meant to say, While I was dead, sneering at John's insistence on not saying he'd been away or missing. What came out was, "While I was death."

John didn't move away. He actually almost seemed to press a bit closer. "Those two years, you killed four people."

"No, John, I killed--I killed eleven people. Only three by injection."

This was it. John would look at him and see the psychosis, the disgusting dark hole in him.

And then John would leave. If he'd ever really cared about Sherlock, he'd probably try to have him sectioned first.

The pictures.  He hadn't yet shredded the pictures in the file.  He'd have those, at least.  Mycroft would see he was allowed to keep them.

Sherlock realised he was shivering harder. He wanted to clutch at John, and to shove him away.  

"You killed the assassins. The ones who were going to kill me, and Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson."

"Obviously,"  Sherlock snarled.

John swallowed audibly. He was going to go. It would all have been for nothing. Sherlock shut his eyes, which felt hot and too big, as if he were allergic to something. He needed to put the previous night, all of it, into a room in his head so he could keep something, something to last him the rest of his life.  

John's other arm slipped gently around him, so he was held.  That made sense; John would restrain him, because he was a danger to himself and to others.  John's face was against his neck. "You didn't think this was something you should probably talk to me about?"

"Why?" Sherlock tried to snap out, pretending he didn't know, pretending it wasn't obvious John would be sickened he'd had a murderer in his bed.  His throat was too thick, it came out as an absurd damp noise.

"Well," John said, calmly, softly, "I'm the only person you know who's killed more than that. I mean, except for people you've put in prison, probably."

"You are incoh—hom—prehensible."  His words were now breaking up entirely on his weirdly uneven breathing, now it was too late.

"Feeling's mutual," said John, brushing his cheek against Sherlock's jaw gently, then backing off a bit, just leaving his hand on Sherlock's back. "Look, had you ever had to kill people before?"

Sherlock bent forward so he could stare at the floor.  He gave himself a long moment before he could breathe smoothly and speak again.  John was asking reasonable questions, and Sherlock owed him useful answers.  "Self-defense, twice. In-indirectly any number of-of times."  Putting the blame on a criminal so that his boss executed him. Telling someone of an infidelity, which later led to the death of the spouse. "This— these were direct. Not self defence."  Most of them had no idea who he was; the ones who did had strict instructions not to harm him; that would have defeated the whole purpose of Moriarty's little plan.

"So, just in my defence, then," John said, mildly. "So that's all right then."

Sherlock's head whipped around and he stared at John.  John's face was very close.

"It was like the cabbie," John said, "No, with the cabbie, he wasn't even threatening you directly. And that was day one, Sherlock."  He stroked his fingers up Sherlock's cheek.  They skated smoothly over his skin.  "Do you think I wouldn't kill eleven people to protect you? You fucking idiot. Do you think I wouldn't kill eleven people a day?"

"I think that's probably... not very good," Sherlock ventured. The fact that hearing it made him feel hot and bright and glorious was probably worse.

"Too right. I'm not very good. I'm a killer. You know this, Sherlock. I think you forget sometimes. You want me to be the nice one. But I'm a killer. I should've been there, with you. I should have been there to do the killing.  You should not have been fucking alone."

"It wouldn't bother you." It wasn't quite a question, because yes, Sherlock did know. And yet he also hadn't known.

John looked at him calmly. "No, Sherlock, it wouldn't bother me a bit. They were out to kill me and people I care about."

"I -- "

"You had to kill those people, but you're not a killer." John kissed his forehead, then one cheek, then the other. It felt like a soldier's gesture.

Sherlock squeezed his eyes shut and said something he'd never ever meant to say to John, felt like it leaked out of him without his permission. "When I was fifteen they sectioned me. A therapist said I was a murderer in the making. Mycroft eventually persuaded them to let me out, but... "

"Well, your brother's not been a complete twat his entire life then. Good to know. So this bothers you, obviously. But I know you respect expertise, Sherlock. So, this therapist, how many people had she— "

"He," Sherlock corrected.

"How many people had he killed? Rough guess"

Sherlock smiled slightly despite himself. "None."

"Well, I've killed twenty-two people directly, for certain. Start counting the uncertain ones, long range weapons, explosives, could easily be fifty, more."

"In war," Sherlock pointed out.

"Yeah, people like to pretend that makes a difference," John said quietly.  "Look, I'm telling you, you're no kind of murderer.  And I should know."

Sherlock's breathing was evening out. John wouldn't leave over this. John wasn't even angry. John thought the therapist with the green tie (Sherlock had deliberately deleted his name and face) had been wrong.

"Can I kiss you?" John asked, cupping Sherlock's cheek.

Sherlock let himself melt down against John's body, let John kiss him.  It was gentle, but wet, saltier than usual.  After a moment, John pulled gently back, arms still round him, and let Sherlock rest his head against John's shoulder.  It was still morning, but he felt drained of all energy.

After a while, observations settled into his mind, now he was no longer panicked. "When did — oh, back from the hospital."

"Your complete twat of a brother?" John said,  "Yeah."  His voice was soft, he spoke into Sherlock's hair.

"What did he want?"

John shrugged. "My guess? An eclair and an ice cream."

"Yes, you'd just talked to Stamford, hadn't you?"

John's chest rose in a deep breath, fell again. "I did, actually. I, um, told him. About us. I should probably have mentioned that."

"It doesn't matter to me," Sherlock said. Well, it had made him nebulously glad, actually. But it shouldn't matter, which was the important thing.

"Doesn't mean I'm ready to snog in front of the Met."

"I'd want to save that for when Sally was being particularly annoying anyway."

John was quiet a moment, probably picturing the effect, and then he giggled.

Sherlock chuckled and then hurriedly raised his head to kiss John again.

John laughed harder at that, and so Sherlock did too, and they were more or less rubbing their laughing mouths together and puffing breath into each other's mouths for a good ninety seconds, until Sherlock broke off and sat back.   

John, who usually glared and shifted away when Sherlock sat too close, let Sherlock stay right there, bodies touching all along their sides, but after a while turned on the telly.  It was ghastly daytime stuff. "Christ, this is all crap," John pronounced, after he'd gone round all the channels twice.

"Mmm," Sherlock agreed, but snatched the remote control away before John could switch off.  He lazily browsed channels, mocking the stupidity and feeling the little movements of John's body.

Later a man whose Dr implied a medical degree but whose collar proclaimed he had a PhD in art history and no medical expertise at all, made a comment to the studio audience that really gave Sherlock no choice but to jump up and shout about how obviously wrong he was. When he sat back down, he found that John, sitting at the end of the couch, was at the perfect position for Sherlock to curl entirely on the couch with his head in John's lap, so he did, and when the telly became no less idiotic but far more boring, turned over to push his face into John's warm belly.  And still, John just let him, didn't even complain.

Some hours later, Sherlock went to his room to assemble a load for the dry cleaners. When he came back out, he discovered all three remaining mice were dead, laid out side by side, and the bread gone, presumably binned. John was reading that Kellerman novel he wasn't enjoying, finally nearing the end of it. "I'll get rid of them, if you like, but I didn't know if you needed to do any more tests post-mortem," he said, not looking up from the book.

It was one of the kindest things anyone had ever done for Sherlock. It was unfortunate that as tokens went, dead mice were difficult to preserve. Pressing them between the pages of a book would be messy.



Chapter Text

 

John resented running Sherlock's errands somewhat less than usual.

He'd admittedly contributed in a material way to the mess this time, for one thing.   Also, Sherlock had been so upset, John was inclined to indulge him even more than usual.   John had been a bit hesitant to leave him alone, to be honest, though he'd seemed back to his usual self— annoying as ever— when he'd been handing John his suits to look after.

He'd always more or less assumed that Sherlock had eliminated the assassins; that had been the whole point.  But he'd supposed that it had been a matter of setting traps, probably turning them in to the police or else some complex scheme that got them killed by other criminals.  

Well, according to Sherlock he'd managed some of that — he'd gone on talking about it like a slow leak all the time they'd sat together on the couch, nominally watching the worst daytime telly had to offer.  All through it, Sherlock had leaned on John or kept a grip on a handful of John's jumper.  Sherlock hadn't seemed to realise he was clinging, just as he clearly hadn't realised there were tears on his face at the start of his confession.

It had been hard to take, Sherlock like that.  John felt a bit ashamed of how endearing he'd found that vulnerability.  That probably didn't say much for his decency.  Just as well for him Sherlock didn't care about decency.

John should have realised that Sherlock would have to have ended up doing some direct fighting, and that would mean he'd have ended up killing to avoid being killed.  Had he just been ignoring the idea, because it was yet another thing Sherlock had done for him he hadn't wanted to deal with?

It shouldn't have happened.  Sherlock should never have been alone.  

And now Sherlock was obsessed with this Brazillian, this new Moriarty, and all John could do was try to argue some sense into that amazing brain.  Failing that, if Sherlock did decide he had to run off to Brazil in the middle of the night, then John would just have to go with him, to protect him from what anyone tried to do to him, and protect him from having to do anything terrible himself too.

John had stopped at the shops as well while he was out, getting a new loaf of bread. He'd stood there for several seconds looking at the condoms and lube, but decided against it.  What they were already doing was plenty to be going on with.  It was good, actually.  Bordering, sometimes, on amazing.  Sherlock hadn't mentioned penetration again, and John still wasn't feeling particularly keen on the idea himself.   Frankly, nice-looking as Sherlock's arse admittedly was, John would much rather have his mouth, now he knew what it was like.

When he got back, Sherlock was out.

John shook his head.  "Right.  Fuck you, then," he told the empty flat.  Apparently, there were interesting errands that did merit Sherlock himself getting off his arse and going out, but of course he couldn't be bothered to take care of anything else along the way, not when he had John to order about.

If this turned out to be some meeting with a contact about the mysterious Brazilian Sherlock had such a crime crush on at the moment, John would punch him for going alone.

He put away the shopping and then sat down and grimly read his way through the last fifteen pages of the novel he'd been working on. Perhaps he ought to give up on thrillers; a little Sherlock-shaped part of his brain kept pointing out all the stupid things people in the book did, and noting that most of the action in the book was rather less exciting than John's own life, as long as Sherlock was around.

When the book was finally done, John took out the rubbish.  Perhaps Sherlock was off safely disposing of the mice.  God knew what he'd been doing to them.  Probably they ought to go into an incinerator or something, just to make sure.

He just hoped Sherlock was actually all right about it now.

Once Sherlock had come out with the truth, John hadn't been a bit surprised he was tearing himself up over it; for all Sherlock's intellectual sophistication, his morality seemed a bit simple, childish even.  It had stalled somewhere, like his interpersonal skills.  

Unnervingly, just as with certain social situations, Sherlock seemed to accept John's moral judgments  uncritically.  That was even harder to take than the affectionate clinginess on the couch.

Sherlock got back about an hour after John and for a moment John thought Sherlock had actually gone for food himself. But the carrier bags he was carrying didn't go to the kitchen.  From one of them he produced  a small flat box, which he handed carelessly to John.  On the way towards his room he pulled two new bottles of his absurdly expensive hair potions from another.

John knew better than to ask what the box was — Sherlock would at best ignore the question and most likely make a snappish comment about how John could find out for himself. So John did.

"Socks," John said. "Sherlock, did you mean to give me socks?"

"Yes," Sherlock said, coming back without the bags.

"Right, okay, yes. This explains a lot, actually."

Oh, that got him. Sherlock turned to stare at him, brows squeezed hard together. "What does it explain?"

"All the errands, never getting the tea yourself, making me come downstairs to give you things that were two inches out of reach — I should've known you reckoned I was a house elf."

Sherlock just stared some more.

"Never mind. It was in Harry Potter," John explained.

Sherlock gave him a sceptical look.

"They showed the films on base when they came out," John protested. "They were silly, kid's stuff, yeah, but everyone went.  This one I remember — it had an big fuck-off snake in it, and a little gnomy slave thing called a house elf that got given a sock."

Sherlock gave him a why are people other than me allowed to speak sort of look.

"All right, why did you give me socks?"  There were three pairs, all black.

"Yours are worn through."

This was actually not all that unusual. It was one of the things that had proved to him early on that Sherlock wasn't as uncaring as he liked people to think; he just had funny ways of acting on it. Sherlock sometimes bought things for people. He wouldn't get the shopping when it was his turn, or even concede that he had a turn, but he'd bought Mrs. Hudson a new brolly once — your clothes get soaked with that tatty one — and  Lestrade a little keychain USB drive — sixteen gig, so you can carry files about properly.  For John at various times he'd bought stereo headphones that hooked over the ears, to replace the ear-bud sort that always seemed to fall out — so you can listen to that banal music you like without polluting the air —  a pen — not that it will help your handwriting but at least this one won't leave you covered in ink —  a fully charged-up oyster card — don't walk when it's raining you idiot —  and a pair of shoes — to replace the ones Driscoll bled all over.  At the last, John had balked, because the shoes were an order of magnitude more expensive than anything else John owned, but Sherlock, as ever, had got his own way in the end.  

Sherlock liked to do that, buy people a better version than what they'd had before.  They weren't intended as gifts exactly; Sherlock just wanted the people he liked to have what they needed, so he'd buy it, mostly to remove the annoyance he visibly suffered at their muddling stupidly along doing without.

John looked at the socks.  Felt them.  "Sherlock, are these socks fucking silk?"

"Not intended for sexual purposes," Sherlock explained.

"Oh, well, good.  Because I haven't actually got a foot fetish, thanks."

"Silk is breathable and hard-wearing."

"Thank you for the socks, Sherlock, but I can buy my own, all right?"

"You dropped off my dry cleaning, I bought your socks," Sherlock said, sulkily.

John considered attempting to explain how this was not a perfectly reasonable interpretation of the way things worked, but decided it wasn't worth it.  If Sherlock wanted to express his affection by buying socks, fine.

John made himself a sandwich for lunch, but Sherlock refused to eat and just sat on the couch with his tablet computer, poking at the screen in a way that could not possibly be getting anything done.

John came around beside him to check that he wasn't just sitting there playing Angry Birds or something.  But no, it was some kind of document.  It was in a language John didn't speak, but he could recognise a police report by now.  Great.  More on the Brazillian.

John was deciding whether to start the new book, or if he really was fed up with thrillers and ought to do something else, when Mike phoned to let him him know that his patient from the previous night had gone into arrest and died.  He thanked Mike and sat down next to Sherlock.

"You're not upset," Sherlock said.  "Why aren't you upset?"

John didn't even question that Sherlock had been able to tell enough from hearing John's side of the conversation, even though it had been mostly grunts, to know what had happened.

"I'm not happy about it," John said.  "But I did my job, I kept him alive, got him out.  And it's not like I could've taken over surgery at the hospital."

"It isn't your job anymore," Sherlock said.

"Yeah it is.  Always going to be.  Anyway, I did what I could, the best I could, which was pretty fucking good, actually."

"Yes it was," Sherlock said, quietly.  "Of course it was."

Then Sherlock just looked at him, frowning slightly.  Sherlock didn't seem to know what else to say, but for once that wasn't Sherlock being badly socialised.  Nobody would've known what to say.  There wasn't anything to say.  

He'd cried over losing patients, when they'd been men he'd known, his own guys.  And he'd got drunk over it, when he'd tried and tried and fucking tried and still the damage had been more than he could fix.  And sometimes it had just been like this, just something that happened.  Stupid and bad and tragic, but not his tragedy.

"Lestrade will call," Sherlock said, after a while.  And of course he did, just about the time John had put down his new book — the first chapter was a lot more promising — and was thinking about dinner.

"Sorry to hear," John said.

"You did everything you could," Greg told him.  "The ambulance guys were really fucking impressed, John.  You gave his partner a chance to say goodbye, you know?  Thanks."

"Oh.  Good," John said.  

He supposed it was like when you bought a new mobile, and  suddenly noticed the street seemed to be full of other people with the same one.  Or the first time he'd had a patient take his wig off during an exam, and started noticing hairpieces everywhere for weeks after.  He'd started sleeping with Sherlock and for a while he was going to keep being struck by coincidences of homosexuality.

"I also rang to say you can tell Himself he was completely right."

"Doesn't need telling," John said.

"I know," Greg said, and John could hear the grin in his voice.  "But I reckoned you'd want the confirmation — round it out, like.  We're getting this on the blog, right?"

"Still working on a title."

"Well, one of Cummings' errand boys told us about buying the gun, and the blanks, and the proper bullets for his boss.  And then Cummings and Grace Gibson both tried to claim it was their own idea, trying to clear each other."

"True love," John deadpanned.  

"Another case where running off together would have been a hell of a lot cleaner.  It's not like divorces require a fucking pint of blood," Greg said darkly.  "Oh, and there were traces  of cardizem round the edges of the floor in Marie Gibson's kitchen.  We'd never prove in a court she did it herself, but it's enough we'll only be charging Grace Gibson with her husband's murder."

"Good to know."

"We'll be waiting on that blog post.  Oh, probably should mention, Dimmock reckons Sherlock's been half-inching his case data and talking to forensics without him, and he's bloody furious."  Greg sounded decidedly amused about it.

"Can't think where he gets these ideas," John said.

"Nah, me neither.  See you the next time something nasty turns up."

"Ta, Greg."

John sat down at the desk and opened Sherlock's laptop.  After a moment Sherlock was standing behind him, peering in great interest.  "That's my laptop."

"Yep."  John looked up, just hoping he'd actually be hypocritical enough to complain about it.  Instead the insufferable git looked slightly pleased.  God knew why.  "I'm going to check your email.  Gibson case's officially done, I want to see if any of your adoring public have sent something."

"John we have a case."

"Your Brazilian?  That's not a case, Sherlock.  You know who did it, you know how he did it, you know what and when and why.  There's no place to insert a detective in the whole thing.  Turn everything over to the Brazilian police and let's find a mystery that actually has some mystery in it."

"There won't be anything," Sherlock grumbled.  "Everything's dull."

He backed off and picked up his violin.  To John's surprise, he actually could hear that Sherlock was better.  The notes were somehow both crisper and smoother.  And the arrogance was back in Sherlock's swaying stance in front of the window.  Maybe they'd start having people standing out on the pavement and clapping again (sometimes booing, when Sherlock got sophisticated).

As snatches of actual music alternated with atonal yowling, John went through emails.  Of the first thirty-one, twenty were people who thought their spouses were cheating or their housemates were stealing or their children were marrying criminals.  Seven were people who claimed they'd been wrongfully accused and seemed to think Sherlock was a barrister.  The rest were abuse: Sherlock was a fraud, Sherlock was a liar, Sherlock was insane and should be locked up for what he'd put that poor John Watson through.  

"You have no idea," John muttered, and Sherlock, violin still under his chin, glared.

The thirty-second email was better.

When Sherlock put the violin down, John told him, "One here from a woman who breeds poodles —  the kind that get shaved into weird shapes and go to dog shows."

"Topiary that drools, wonderful," Sherlock drawled.

"So, one of her prize bitches is at the vet's, and there's a fire," John went on.  Sherlock had a possibly worrying weakness for things being on fire.  "Vet dead, fifteen-thousand quid dog disappeared."  He'd read that bit four times, and he still didn't quite believe it.  "Police reckon accidental death — "

"Well they would," Sherlock said, which sounded very promising.  Sherlock was already seeing something about this one that would let him show off.

"Anyway, they're not interested in looking for a lost dog.  So she wants to hire you."

Sherlock blew out an irritated breath through his nose.  "We have a case."

"Come on, you're interested, I can tell."

Sherlock glared, which meant John was right.  He reached for his violin again and wrung out several high-pitched shrieks.

"Yeah, rather you put on somebody else playing for a bit now, thanks," John said

Sherlock got one of his surprised, hurt looks.  It emphasised his long jaw and his young eyes.

"I mean, I wish you'd put on a playlist," John said, pointedly.

The corner of Sherlock's mouth slowly curled up.  "Sometimes you make suggestions that are positively clever, John."

 



When Sherlock had taken John's suit to be properly tailored, he'd been able to reel off the necessary measurements easily.  In deference to John's need to control the flow of information, he'd refrained from boasting to Mr. Maalouf that Sherlock had private sexual access to the delightful body he'd just detailed, but, as usual, the term flatmate had been taken to mean much the same thing.  

The socks he'd picked up today, so he at least had something to give to John straight away.  He'd take John in for a final fitting in a week.  If that went well, Sherlock would order him a new suit as well.  Gifts to John had to be offered carefully.  If John began to feel overwhelmed, he'd childishly refuse to accept anything, pridefully asserting his independence.  It often took wheedling and long sad-eyed gazes until he'd give in.

In addition to this and his other errands, Sherlock had also intended to purchase six or seven dildoes or plugs in graduated sizes.  He'd bought such toys at various times before as part of cases, and disposed of them when they were no longer relevant.  Now that the relevance was much more personal, however, he had found that the packaging on most of them repelled him.  Those designed to be bought by a male audience used a vocabulary of invasion, stretch, punishment, and, most off-putting, burst.  Those marketed to women were instead juvenilised to the point of infantilisation; there were fluffy large-eyed cartoon animals on some of the boxes!

He'd found the idea of John looking at any of these and thinking that they reflected Sherlock's desires thoroughly horrid.  In the end he'd bought a single smallish dildo with the requisite flaring at the base, and thrown away the packaging before bringing it home.  He'd try it out alone.  Perhaps not even show it to John, just use it as practice.  Sooner or later, John would miss penetrative sex, surely, and when the time came, Sherlock would be ready to accommodate him.

John was, as expected, prickly about the socks, but he didn't refuse them, and Sherlock thought he was pleased, at least a bit.

Then John had received the news that his patient had died.  

During Sherlock's panic this morning, John had been perfect, even as Sherlock's thoughts had become so confused and his behavior so bizarre that Sherlock still couldn't explain it to himself.  This news had seemed to be a wonderful opportunity to firm their relationship by showing he was equally capable of the supportive role.  He'd been ready to play condoling and sympathetic — posher voice and deeper, play up his height, vocabulary somewhere between vicar and headmaster.  But then he'd known instinctively that John would recognise and hate the slight condescension in that persona.  Then he'd nearly gone for compassionate and emotive — voice higher and breathier yet mirroring John's intonation, wider eyed, softer mouthed, vocabulary solidly middle-class, mostly middle-aged housewife with a bit of earnest labourer's sweariness to emphasise particularly emotional statements.  And yet that didn't seem right either.  That was a persona for talking to distraught survivors.  He needed something better for John.  John should have something better.  

So he'd sat there, at a loss, hoping John's emotional response would give him a cue.

But John, surprising as ever, seemed to genuinely take it in stride.

Perhaps this was part of the same personal trait that made John capable of viewing Sherlock's murders with equanimity — John was at peace with all aspects of death.  Presumably that was a skill appropriate to his role as a doctor and as a soldier.

Sherlock didn't mourn dead strangers, and the death of the body had certainly never fazed or disgusted him. This was abnormal and he knew it. But killing was over the edge. Killing, he'd been taught, was a sign of madness, of the unacceptable, of something so far from good that he'd lose his freedom and be kept some place with dingy white walls and the endless devastating dullness of medication and group therapy.

Except that John killed. John had called himself a killer, and John was not a shameful thing to be locked away. With John, Sherlock felt at some moments as if there were a small twilight world here of just the two of them, where he could simply be himself, and everything was right.

In some ways it was a terrible feeling, because when he finally did find the wrong line and step over it and lose this incredible place, it would be all the worse.  So he would just have to trust to John to let him know where that line was.

When Sherlock didn't know what to do, John so often did.

After John suggested sex, Sherlock went briefly to his own room and put his clothes away, and then took his computer up to John's room and put on the playlist, starting with the Tanz again, and kissed John and touched John and committed the scent inside John's elbow and the colour of the veins inside John's wrist and the texture of John's nipple on his tongue to memory, and eventually laid John down on the bed and drew off his briefs.

"I'd suggest intercrurual next." It was, in some sense, surprising they hadn't tried it yet, given its historical popularity.  And if they did it face to face, it would surely feel comfortable to John, very close to the heterosexual acts he was used to.

"This is next from your alphabetical list, is it?" John said.

"There isn't a list, John."

John gave him a sceptical look. "Yeah there is."

"It's more of a graph, or — "

John grinned and waved a hand to cut him off.  "Right, intercrural then."

Sherlock pulled the small tube of Aquagel from the pocket of his robe.  "Lubrication may be helpful."

There was just a moment when John's expression flickered a bit, jaw tightening — was he annoyed by the improper use of medical supplies? — then he took the little bottle from Sherlock, broke the seal, and squeezed a bit into his hand. He rubbed his fingers together testing the viscosity, and Sherlock stared, charmed by John's practical sensuality.

Then John put his hand on his own thigh and rubbed the lubrication slowly down the inside.

Sherlock knew his eyes had gone wide. "You — "

"This is my way of saying you can try the intercrural, I just want you to suck me again."

Sherlock frowned, unsure. Surely this would put John in an uncomfortably... receptive position.

John froze immediately.  "Oh.  God.  No, I mean, you don't have to, Sherlock.  I swear, I will never — "

"Oral sex is fine, John.  You just surprised me.  You don't mind?"  

"Nope," John said, "I'm not like you, Sherlock."

True in many senses, but Sherlock didn't really see what John meant in this case.

"I don't get bored," John said, "Give me something I like and I'm happy to stick with it. But I know that drives you mad. So you get something new, and I get that fantastic mouth — and you get to show off some more.  Everybody's happy, yeah?"

Apparently when he'd judged his efforts at oral sex a success he'd entirely underestimated things.  His stated goal, to achieve a level of sexual prowess that met John's expectations, had apparently been achieved without his realising.

From his reading, periodic additions of new sexual material would still be called for, to keep things from getting stale (he wasn't entirely sure what that meant, in context, but the internet seemed surprisingly unanimous that this was a danger in long-term sexual relationships) so there was no need to abandon his research into sexual topics.  But perhaps he should slow the introduction of new acts after this.  No need to hurry with that dildo.

Instead, he could focus on improving his technique.  

He took things a bit more slowly this time, indulging himself further with the tastes of John's chest and belly on the way down, and then teasing John with just his tongue  and hand at first, until John called him a wanker.

Then Sherlock sucked him.  Oral sex from this end was entirely tedious in theory and slightly uncomfortable in fact.  But for reasons he could only put down to the astounding sensuality of John's body, he was rather enjoying it.  

Worrying at the ridge round the head of John's cock, Sherlock felt John's hand pet his hair, gently, careful never to pull at him.  John's soft, rhythmic moans broke on a long low cry, and then he gasped, "God, Sherlock, you fucking amazing -- ohh suck, please?"

So he did.  He sucked and bobbed and worked John with his tongue until John's moaning had gone to breathless grunts and his hips were rocking very slightly upward.

"I can finish you now," Sherlock offered, pulling back a bit.

John groaned. "If you need to get off now, just -- " he broke off to pant hard -- "yeah, go ahead.  Just finish me after, okay?"

An unusual request.  "Trying to impress me with your patience?"

"Trying to get more of your fucking mouth, Sherlock. I'm in no rush.   Believe me, you can suck me like that until I'm about eighty, and I'll be happy."

Sherlock's body went hot and his head abruptly felt strange: larger, as if the deliberately ordered architecture of his mind had suddenly gained higher ceilings full of echoes.

Until John was eighty.

John at eighty would be tiny and gnarled. His taste in clothes would finally suit him. His gold would have faded to grey, and the little lines on his face would collapse into ravines. He would look out from under white eyebrows just as fierce, but twice as wry.

And he had just given that, that wonderful, terrible, doubtless hugely annoying old man, to Sherlock, to keep.

Sherlock cupped his hand behind John's erection and kissed it the way he'd seen religious people kiss sacred things. There was indeed something visceral about the gesture, something he'd never understood before. John's cock was a delightful object; it had finally allowed Sherlock to manipulate John into viewing their partnership as a long term project.

Feeling magnanimous in victory, Sherlock went back to sucking John's testicles, furry and odd as they were on his tongue. John moaned happily. When he was quite old, they would likely grow more pendulous, the skin having stretched slightly. And Sherlock would get to experience their slow changes over time.

He gave one a dozen soft sucks in rhythm with the music, then took the other beside it and let them both sit on his tongue.

Then he went back to John's cock, licking his way up from the base with a firm tongue, flicking hard at the fraenulum, licking a bead of salty moisture as it leaked from the head. John's ability to get and maintain an erection would almost certainly wane with age. Eventually Sherlock might quite literally be able to suck him for an hour without any danger of him coming. He should begin timing the process and record the data now, so he could chart it.

"I'm serious, Sherlock," John said, sounding muffled. He had an arm thrown over his face, Sherlock saw. "I will let you do that for-fucking-ever. God! So when you're ready just — ohhh!"

Sherlock was definitely getting better at letting John deep. It was primarily a matter of relaxing. It might never be comfortable, but he had plenty of time to entirely vanquish his gag reflex and learn to actually swallow with John in his throat, which his sources promised would be even better received than what he'd done so far.

Finally he sat back from John and looked at John's thighs. Strong, slim, well shaped. He bent again and kissed the little pad of fat atop John's rectus femoris muscle, first on the left thigh, then the right.  

With the promise of eighty in his mind, he couldn't wait.

"Legs together, crossed at the ankle," he directed.

John had dropped the arm from over his face, and nodded seriously at him crossing the right ankle over the left.

Sherlock put a knee on either side of John's calves.  John, still a bit breathless, squeezed out some more lubricant, reached forward, and stroked Sherlock's cock slow and slick until Sherlock couldn't wait anymore and lowered himself on one elbow, the other hand holding his now stiff and slippery cock to position himself.

John turned his thighs slightly outward. His skin felt hot as Sherlock pushed between his thighs, and John let him press close, and then squeezed his thighs together again.

Sherlock shut his eyes and bent his head back, savouring the sensation. Different from the articulation of a hand on him, and without the wet and suction of a mouth. The feeling of sartorius and adductor magnus squeezing him, a flattening press, was new and interesting.

He settled on his elbows, weight on John. John didn't complain, just smiled a little up at him when Sherlock sloppily kissed his ear. Then Sherlock pulled back slightly and pushed forward again. Good, yes, it was so nice, so good.

Then John's hands rested on his back, a loose embrace, and it was wonderful. His body was fucking John's thighs and his hands and mouth were free at the same time.

Experimentally he thrust a bit more boldly.

And promptly his cock slipped entirely free of John's grip.

With an irritated groan, he took hold of himself again and John opened himself a bit again until Sherlock was firmly back between his thighs.  

He heard John's slight huff of amusement.  "Might've overdone the lube."

The angle was more of a problem; it proved just tricky enough to maintain a position that let him thrust but didn't slide him free that he was nowhere near coming, while enjoying the sensation immensely.

Remembering the first night, John on top of him, he slid his hands under John's shoulders to press their bodies closer. The shift of their bodies had moved him higher, now feeling the squeeze of John's adductor longus and gracilis.

John stroked his shoulders, and started slowly squeezing his legs tighter, then letting off the pressure, then squeezing tighter again.

Sherlock grunted and thrust faster, and then cursed furiously at himself as his cock slipped free again.

"Here," John murmured, pulling him up slightly. "Push in again, here."

He was between the tops of John's thighs now, just under John's testicles. It put his cock close to perpendicular between John's thighs. He hadn't quite dared put himself here, so close, not wanting to suggest things that would make John uncomfortable and ruin it all just when John had started talking about old age.

But John just settled him there, and then gave a sort of wriggle under him, rubbing his thighs together, and Sherlock slid his arms in under John again and started pumping his hips, panting with how good it felt.

"Come on," John breathed in his ear, hands pressing encouragingly at his back. "Yeah, yeah — " which was meaningless, which should have been annoying and was instead simply the lovely addition of John's voice to the sensation of John's thighs pressing him and the rub of John's cock against his stomach and the sight of John's tensed jaw and moving mouth, all his eyes could focus on.

"John, can — " he slowed, pressed his face into John's unwounded shoulder.

John's hand rubbed gently at his back. "What? Tell me what you want."

He'd said anything once, but Sherlock knew better than to interpret that too broadly. Sherlock wouldn't ask for anything he knew would be ruinous. But perhaps this would be all right.

"Bite you," Sherlock breathed.

John's body quivered in a soundless laugh.

"Should've known that was on the cards," John said. "Not the neck. How about — " he put his hand to Sherlock's cheek, getting his attention on what John was pointing at, "right here?"

His fingertips were tapping his scar.

Sherlock stopped, staring, mouth open. He likely looked idiotic. "John — "

John just smiled up at him, looking maybe even a bit smug. "Yeah?"

Sherlock nodded, so grateful he couldn't find any words.

So he thrust his body down on John's, and John held him and stroked him, and the music played, and John walked out the door when he was angry, and John would never stop wanting breasts and cunts and the unwavering confidence of heterosexuality, but John was letting him do this anyway, and John would still want Sherlock to suck him when he was eighty.

And John had said, eleven people a day.

John ground his thighs together. "Bite me you fantastic twat," he whispered.

Sherlock whimpered and started to buck helplessly against him, and though it meant crooking his back quite a bit to bring his height down, he bit John's shoulder, lower teeth scraping hard at the dip of the bullet wound and just for a moment catching there.

It was like fever, shivers of hot and cold, sweat all over him, and he just lay on top of John, breathing hard, until he remembered John thought he was too heavy for this, and he shifted to the side. It made his cock pull free again, but he only moved far enough to put his weight on the mattress, so he could keep his face against John's scar.

John stroked his hair until Sherlock finally had the energy to raise his head.

"I really am... inordinately fond... of your legs," He admitted, still getting his breath back.

"You would be.  You reckon you worked a miracle and fixed them that first day," John said, rolling up slightly on his side and cupping his hand at Sherlock's jaw, stroking a little behind his ear.

Sherlock turned his mouth to kiss the side of John's hand, amazed.  Apparently John was also aware of the Ikea Effect.  And in one of those rare bursts of brilliance, John had applied his knowledge where Sherlock had not.  Yes, Sherlock did have a vested interest in John's legs, having cured his limp.

John's expression was particularly soft, almost emotional. "Tosser."

He was also charmed once again by the novelty of a pet name, even one of John's rather idiosyncratic variety. He had no wish to call John anything else though. "John," he murmured.

"If you fall asleep and leave me like this," John said, warmly, "I will grass to Lestrade next time you pinch his ID."

He would too. But Sherlock had never had any intention of leaving John unfinished. He slid down the bed, gripped John's hip to encourage him to roll up entirely on his side, and sank his mouth down the length of John's cock. It was rigid and salty — the rub of their bodies together clearly enough to nearly bring him off already.

Sherlock wrapped his arm over John and put his hand over one of John's shallow but muscular buttocks to encourage him to push into Sherlock's mouth. He'd let John choose his rhythm. If he wanted to draw it out he could, but Sherlock thought he was close enough that he'd want to come soon.

John let Sherlock pull at him, but then stilled again. It took a fair bit of pushing at and caressing his arse, and moving Sherlock's head, before John hesitantly thrust an inch forward. He kept it to no more than that, shallowly rocking, though he let himself pick up speed when Sherlock put his hand on John's hip instead of his arse, so he had control to still John if he wanted.

Sherlock gave John soft suction to thrust into, then a fluttering tongue, then a low hum. The last made John cry out and stay where he was, pushing into Sherlock's mouth.

Sherlock raised the pitch by half steps through half an octave as he tightened his lips around John.

"About to come," John warned breath hitching. "God, Sherlock, just — just do that."

So Sherlock slid down as far as he could and hummed hard. His body felt so warmly relaxed with his own orgasm he thought he'd be able to take anything, but when John's hips gave a little hitch, he did choke, and ended up having to pull off, coughing at the first spurt of semen.

"Fuck," John groaned. "Sorry," so to make sure the experience wouldn't make a bad impression, Sherlock used his hand to stroke John through the rest as he slid up John's body, trying to suppress his cough. John rested his face against Sherlock's shoulder until they were both breathing normally.

"Please, god, tell me I did not just put you off giving head," John muttered.

"Really, John, think," Sherlock told him. "Your best approach would surely be to convince me that I'm in need of a great deal of practice."

"Nah, you'd never fall for that. I was going to tell you how amazing you are and ask you to show me how to do it properly. Me being such an idiot, you'd have to show me again and again."

Sherlock kissed the grin.

"Ugh," John said. "Now we both really need to brush our teeth." But he didn't say this until after they'd kissed for nearly a minute.

"Apparently the taste of semen can be affected--" Sherlock began.

"Yeah, and I will let you run that experiment only if you eat everything I eat. And I mean equal amounts."

Would anyone else in the world have permitted the experiment? Certainly no one else would have cared to use it to influence Sherlock's eating habits.  Maybe he'd succeeded at persuading John to stay for the long term after all.

Eighty.

 



John woke up wrapped around Sherlock, very probably smothering the breath out of the poor bloke.

Going in, he'd been pretty unsure about the whole thigh-fucking thing. Only the promise of that bloody mouth had been enough to make him volunteer. And when Sherlock had started thrusting on top of him, he'd had to take a moment to stop himself drifting out to a comfortable distance, but then he'd settled again, and realised it was no worse than Sherlock rubbing himself off on John's hip. It felt pretty fucking fantastic, actually, his already throbbing cock rubbed against Sherlock's belly, and Sherlock pressing and holding and staring at him like John was the best thing he'd ever felt.

At the end, Sherlock had actually gone frantic and wild, fucking at John, and instead of feeling like some kind of... well, whatever it was he'd been afraid of feeling like, John had felt like a wall of strength for Sherlock to struggle against, like some kind of fucking demigod who could take what Sherlock was throwing at him. Sherlock was the one who was desperate and needing, and John the one who'd made him whimper and shake and come.

He'd gone a bit overboard afterwards — oral sex could be so tricky from both sides, and he never wanted to hurt Sherlock. But Sherlock really hadn't seemed to mind, had actually seemed more embarrassed than annoyed about choking.  Having tried giving head himself now, that was something John could actually sort of understand.  He didn't particularly look forward to the next time Sherlock would want oral sex from him, but if they took it slow... John reckoned he could handle it.

Sherlock was awake, of course. Why Sherlock sometimes stayed the night through, when he barely slept John couldn't understand.

Unless... well, Sherlock might actually just like to be held.

The idea was unsettling and rather sweet.

Unsettling.  Rather sweet.  Yeah, that about covered the whole thing, didn't it?

Sherlock turned over and pressed close.

John kissed his cheek. "Um, before you — can we give the morning sex a miss?"

Sherlock stilled. John kissed his lower lip. "I'm just not usually all that much in the mood in the morning."

"You initiated yesterday morning."

John shrugged. "But not usually.  Sorry."

"It's fine," said Sherlock, and sat up.

John hooked an arm round him, and kissed him thoroughly, morning breath be damned. "Afternoons... ask me later about afternoons," he said.

"Seems a waste," Sherlock said, and gave John's morning erection a quick, friendly grope before rolling out of the bed and gathering up his robe, all hauteur and pert arse.

"Wanker," John called after him.

Sherlock paused. "Well reasoned," he said, grinned, and posed with his own erection in obvious profile for just a second before wrapping himself in the robe.

While John lay snickering into the pillow, the shower started downstairs.

So John reckoned Sherlock wasn't feeling too rejected, and he thought things were fine, right up until Sherlock announced they were going to Battersea to see what Cummings was keeping in his storage room.

John groaned. "Sherlock, just give the key to Lestrade. He can use it for — "

"He doesn't need it for the Gibson case, he told you himself that was settled," Sherlock argued. "John, we already know Cavalcanti's got his fingers in gambling, drugs, and internet fraud, not to mention the orchestrated games of Russian roulette. Who knows what we may find — "

"Wait, who?"

"His name is Rico Cavalcanti. Fifty-three, has a house in Rio, another in Sao Paulo. Widower. One son, died of overdose in 1987."

"So, you already know every bloody thing about the guy. Give him to the cops, Sherlock."

Sherlock shrugged into his coat and went to the door. There he stopped. "Not coming?"

Of course he was coming.  John would probably fuck it up, end up yelling like a child, say something terrible, but better that than let Sherlock go off alone.

And probably at some point he'd start to drift a bit.  It was probably always going to be too easy to let himself slip aside, feeling like he needed some distance, feeling the need for some air.  But he'd work at it, he'd do his best to stay right where he belonged, right beside — okay, probably three steps behind — this brilliant amazing total git.

He picked up his jacket and followed.

Sherlock was good value as ever. To the attendant at the storage unit he was charming, cheerful and  vague, so posh he couldn't help coming across a bit camp. He'd set up the unit ages ago, you see. He'd just realised that his friend Jack Cummings— they'd been flatmates — had been using it without him knowing. Oh yes he knew the agreement said he couldn't allow others to use the space. His friend had taken the key. He'd only just realised since they had... parted ways. His new friend — this was John — was going to help him remove anything his former friend had been keeping there against the rules. Only it had been so long since he'd actually used it. How long since his friend had last been there? Just in the past week, well!

It was the first time one of Sherlock's put-on personas had implied they were boyfriends since they'd actually started sleeping together.  John realized it seemed just about as annoying and embarrassing as it always had, but was probably a bit funnier now.

Sherlock was beaming as he and John took the lift and went up to the room.  He liked his little theatrical productions, proving he could pretend to be a normal person.  Admittedly, John liked to watch him do it.  But he'd have been happier if it had been in aid of a better case.  

"It's got a PIN as well as a lock," John pointed out.

"Not a problem."

"Yeah, if Cummings left you a little love note in the code," John said. Once Sherlock had told him, he'd had a good laugh over the idea that Irene Adler's password had been anything but a joke at Sherlock's expense, mocking him. Grown women didn't do the modern equivalent of doodling their crush's name on their notebooks, not when they had their livelihood to protect, not in John's experience. Sherlock had insisted, but his experience consisted of exactly one woman, who had lied about everything else as a matter of course.

Sherlock gave him a nasty look, and John regretted the comment slightly. She was dead, after all. This was the problem: he was a cunt when he was pissed off.  He wanted to be out of here and away from everything to do with Rico whoever -- who his brain now insisted on picturing as Jim Moriarty with grey hair and  a sombrero.

"So what then?" John asked. "Grace Gibson's birthday?"

"He opened the account before they started dating."

"Okay, what is it then?"

Sherlock shrugged, a showy what care I? shrug, and pulled out of his pocket a collection of bits of electronic junk connected by wires.  He used the key, and then pried at the plate of the keypad until he could slide a thin card sort of thing in under it.

"Right, I dare you to say with a straight face that having that thing is legal."

"Of course it isn't.  It brute-forces the pin.  There are more elegant versions, but I had this one lying around."

"Brute force meaning it just tries all the possibilities for you until it gets it right?"

"Yes."

"And you'd rather be doing this than figuring out where the hell the fifteen-thousand quid dog is?"

"You're growing obsessed with that animal.  If it were a frequently-used lock, I could narrow it down by looking at the wear patterns, but according to the records our friend at the front desk showed me, Cummings only came by occasionally.  There's a bit of wear on the three, but other than that — this is less tedious.  There."

The door had clicked.  Sherlock hauled it open, and John looked in around him.

A table, boxes, packages.

Wire.

Blink.

John tackled Sherlock bodily to the ground, and knew he was getting slow. A chunk of something, wood from the wall maybe, hit him in the side of the head and for a moment the world blanked into a huge gonging nothing.

Sight came back as a narrow field ringed with white, which slowly widened. With sight, unfortunately, came stupidly awful pain.

But Sherlock was talking at him, which meant Sherlock was all right.  So, everything was going to be fine.



 

"John?  John?  Please, John," Sherlock babbled stupidly.  John's fault.  Entirely John's fault.  Sherlock needed a medical expert, and a flawless marksman, and a magnificent sex partner.  He did not need an undersized have-a-go hero.  What on earth could John have been thinking, putting himself in the line of that blast?  How had he even known?  Sherlock's one glance into the room had taken in the block of plastic explosive, but he'd only recognised it after the fact (with some extremely suggestive context clues).  

John, meantime,  must have reacted to the sight of the explosive as instinctively as a baby bird responding to the silhouette of a hawk above, to act so fast.

"Stay awake, John!" Sherlock snapped, "Stay with me."

John smiled vaguely, eyes closed.  "Yep.  Yeah.  That's the plan.  Trying me best."

"John!"

"Fuck," John said, putting a hand to his head.  "Oh fuck that hurt."

"Ambulance is on its way.  Stay still," Sherlock ordered.

John opened one eye and peered up at him.  "Ambulance?"

"Yes, John.  I called them.  You were unconscious."

John frowned.  "I was out?  How long?"

"Less than a minute," Sherlock admitted.

John looked at Sherlock's hands, saw he wasn't holding his mobile.  "You hung up on emergency services."

"I didn't call emergency services," Sherlock snapped.  He'd called Mycroft, of course, much more efficient. Was this a sign that John's brain had been damaged, all this pointless questioning?  "Stay down," he ordered, when John started trying to sit up.  "You -- "

John reached up a hand and squeezed Sherlock's shoulder.  "Look it's not as bad as you think," he said.  "Rotten headache, that's all."  He started moving again, so Sherlock lifted him so John was leaning against his chest.

"You should stay still," he said.

"I'll be fine.  You won't hide this from Lestrade now, you realise."

John might be fine.   If he hadn't been, it would have been for something so pointless, so dull.  This was Cavalcanti's notion of basic security, too many tries at the pin setting off explosives — if someone got close to his secrets, reduce them to nothing.  No games, no subtlety, just a slam of destruction.

There was a scrape and a little smear of blood  at John's hairline.

If there had been a three-tumbler lock on a fifteen-second timer to defuse the bomb, Sherlock would have managed it.  And it would have been thrilling and he'd have grinned at John who would have gazed at him, eyes hot with admiration.  So would that have been worth it, worth the minuscule chance of this, of John's blank face and body gone limp and unresponsive for eighteen unbearable, unlivable seconds?

Sherlock was a terrible person, and couldn't answer that question.  There were risks and rewards.  And for both of them, the risk often was the reward.  How could he possibly —

Oh, yes.  He'd answered this question already; he just hadn't put the answer into application across the board.  Somehow he hadn't recognised that it applied here.  John knew what they should do, when Sherlock didn't.  John was in charge of determining when the thrill wasn't worth the danger.  

John thought going after Cavalcanti alone wasn't worth it.

"Lestrade can deal with the Brazilian police," said Sherlock.

John tipped his head back a bit to look up at him, then smiled a little.  "Okay."   He tried to sit up again.

"John!"

"Sherlock, I've had a worse TBI playing rugby.  It's fine."

Mycroft's pet paramedics got there, accompanied by the man from the desk, who kept demanding explanations and being ignored.

"Any pain?"  One of them asked John.

"Yeah, my head feels like fucking UXO at the moment. Hand me over to the AT's before I go off and get bits of brain all over the wallpaper."

Sherlock wondered if the lapse into army vocabulary indicated serious effects of the blow to John's head.  Was he confused about whether he was still in Afghanistan?

But John sat patiently through having his eyes and responses checked, and gave a wry wave when Lestrade showed up.  His behavior seemed unchanged.

Sherlock gave Lestrade the shortest possible summary of events -- which made the man from the desk start shouting -- and  handed the key over to Lestrade.

There had been a server in the room, certainly on a cellular modem, since while the room provided power it would hardly have wired ethernet.  It had likely relayed some of the Russian roulette videos and would probably have still stored some evidence of that.  But the machine was slag,  and as of now Sherlock wasn't really interested.

John had been quite right.  This wasn't a case, and it wasn't a matter of protecting John either.  This hadn't been personal, not at all.  Cavalcanti wouldn't rig a complex network of assassins to threaten John.  His style was this blunt clumsy punch.  If he'd killed John here today, it would only have been by accident — the target of the explosion had been the evidence, harming the intruders only a convenient side-effect.  The only one endangering John was Sherlock, by putting him in the line of Cavalcanti's mindless destructive jabs.

So, even if Cavalcanti had been as interesting an adversary as Moriarty, it wasn't worth it.  Sherlock didn't even need John to tell him that.  He'd made that mistake once; never again.

So when he'd been assured by the paramedics, and by his own expert (whose opinion was, admittedly at the moment, compromised) that John just needed to rest, he took John by the arm to take him home.

"You'll sit with him, though," Lestrade said pointedly.  "I mean, aren't you supposed to keep him from sleeping for a day or something?"

Lestrade thought he'd get distracted and leave John alone.  "I'll stay," Sherlock said, stiffly, glaring.

"And all you have to do is wake me every couple of hours overnight to check I'm not impaired," John put in.  

"Lost cause, m'old son," Lestrade teased, "Look who you're trusting your brain to."  

John grinned. "Right, yeah.  Any more impaired."

Sherlock took John home, settled him on the couch, and called out for the best hot and sour soup in London.  John ate, and told him that he was an idiot for having insisted on going to the storage facility.  So for the most part he seemed like himself, but Sherlock would definitely be watching for changes.

"You’re actually worried," John said, suddenly, lips compressing in a sort of smile.    

Apparently Sherlock was being too obvious. "Given how slow you are ordinarily, brain damage might well render you entirely unable to function."

"Ta for that.  Look, if I do a crossword, will you believe my brain hasn't been scrambled?"

Sherlock shrugged.  "It would be a positive sign."

So John sat with a paper for the better part of an hour.  His determination to show his brain was working as well as it ever had meant he wasn't giving any of the clues to Sherlock.  Finally he abandoned it and went down to have tea with Mrs. Hudson.

Sherlock checked.  John had given up at zeitgeist, which ought to have been easy from unusual size-- get it? but he had figured out that Matriarchs hold places in our hearts gave atria, which boded well.

When John came back up, they watched one of John's pointless movies full of helicopters and naked women until John nodded off on the couch during the third extended tedious chase scene.

Sherlock edged close enough that their legs touched, since John hadn't minded that the day before.  He sat there through the rest of the ridiculous film, using his laptop to gather information on Pyland kennels and the typically idiotically named Pyland's Miss Poodle-Potter.  The most interesting item was a short article on the local paper's web page titled The Dog Who Lived? which reported several sightings of the valuable dog immediately after the blaze, recognised by her markings.  With that in mind, the schedule list on dogshowcentral.co.uk became very suggestive.

As the credits rolled, Sherlock put the computer aside.  "John, wake up."

John sat up.  "Yeah, yeah, awake."

"Two men, both wearing uniforms from the same cleaning service, are accused of robbing a dry cleaners, removing all money from the till and killing the proprietor with a blow to the head.  One wears two rings, four year old trainers, and has a missing tooth.  The other got a haircut within the past week and has a rash on his neck.  Which is the guilty man?"

"This is your idea of testing if my brain's damaged?"

"Yes," Sherlock said.  It seemed fairly obvious.

"Because you can't actually check if I know who the prime minister is, because you don't know."

"I could google it," Sherlock pointed out.

"It'll be the one with the rash," said John.  "Because of something about dry cleaning chemicals."

"You just guessed."

"Yes, yes I did."  He got to his feet, stretched.  It made his shirt ride up, baring an inch of pale belly.  "I need an early night."

"I'll need to check on you.  Sleep in my bed."

John glanced at him.  "You're still worried."  

"Yes," Sherlock admitted.

John went through his usual evening ritual, stripped down to his pants and curled up tight in Sherlock's bed.  It was still early, but Sherlock stripped to his own boxers before turning out the light.

"I'll wake you at the end of your next sleep cycle," Sherlock said, wrapping his own body around John from behind and inhaling the scent at the back of his neck.

He stayed there, mentally preparing the reports he would send to various anti-crime organizations in different countries and considering the problem of the dog.

When next he woke John up, John tried to tuck his head under the pillow.  "Go away," he grumbled.

"Who is the prime minister?" Sherlock asked dutifully.

John told him, and added an obscene suggestion.

"I told you, I'm not interested in sex with anyone but you."

"Go away, and take any and all erections with you.  I have a headache," John said, and kicked him lightly.

"I didn't mean now, obviously.  Go back to sleep.  Unless you'd like to take some—"

"Fuck. Off." John grunted and pulled the pillow fully over his head.

Under there, he snored in a snuffling sort of way.  Skin to skin like this, John's body was warm and compact and lovely.  

John was here.  John was safe.  John's body was magnificent and John's cock ruled John's head in certain essential ways, and Sherlock in certain respects ruled John's cock.  And John had said eighty.  And John knew about the murders and had still let Sherlock lie with his head in John's lap on the couch.  

Sherlock had said stay with me, and John had said yeah. That's the plan.

Sherlock eventually untucked himself from around John, and spent the rest of the night sitting there with his laptop, sending the reports and learning new things about dogs.  Periodically he woke John, who called him any number of extremely rude pet names.  

Late in the morning, John woke on his own and trudged off to the bathroom looking rumpled and clearly spoiling for a fight.  After John had gone up to his room, Sherlock considered what he could do to John's laptop that would spark a cheerful little wrangle.  But he filed that away for later when John bellowed his name from upstairs.

Sherlock could hear the difference between distress and fury, and went up the stairs in no great hurry.

"What the fuck is that smell, Sherlock?"  John demanded.  "That is not a me smell.  That is a Sherlock Holmes fiddling about with chemicals smell."

It wasn't strong yet, but stepping into the room from the hallway it definitely made an impression.  Sherlock carefully blanked his face and didn't glance at the bit of the baseboard behind which he'd hidden the dish containing the restarted experiment John had previously binned.  

"The mixture should be quite finished maturing by the time the dog case is finished.  Until then, you should probably sleep with me."

"Sherlock," John growled, "clean your bloody experiment out of my room or I swear to christ I will mention Shercock Holmes on the blog."

Sherlock was fairly sure John was bluffing— he'd not deliberately draw his readers attention to the pornographic adventures of Dr. Hotson and friend, even for revenge.  But the cheerful nastiness convinced him that John was more or less recovered and back to himself.

"I need it finished in time to use with the tongues," he argued.

John was unmoved by scientific expediency.  "So go put it wherever you put the mice."

"Then the smell will pervade the entire flat."

John rolled his eyes.  "Put it in C, then.  Nobody will smell it over the mildew.  But get it out of my room!"

"Yes, fine," Sherlock acceded.

When he'd moved the dish to the empty flat downstairs, he came back up to find John eating breakfast.  He'd brought out Sherlock's laptop.

"So, you're reading up on the dog case?" John prompted.

"You were quite right, John.  The dog case is going to be interesting."

"Interesting," John echoed.  A slow, lovely, beaming smile broadened and rounded the whole lower half of his face, put deep beautifully-shaped brackets at either side of his mouth, narrowed his eyes and emphasized the unusually straight line of their slightly drooping upper lids.  "Yeah, it will be.  You utter prat.  You fantastic bloody fucker."  He stood up, wiped his mouth. "You don't need tricks to get me into bed, you know.  Asking would do."

If John had been paying attention, he'd have realized the dish had been placed in his room well before they'd begun sleeping together, to reach that stage of reaction.  But if John had continued that earlier string of nights when he'd turned away from Sherlock, sleeping on his own, Sherlock might well have tried a similar tack, just to guarantee their continuing intimacy.  Did it really matter if John misunderstood specific events, when he understood Sherlock so well?

"Is it afternoon yet?"  Sherlock said, asking, placing his hands on John's waist.

John smirked, reached up, grabbed Sherlock by the back of the neck, kissed him firmly and deep and for a long time.  "Close enough," John said, when Sherlock was panting and trying to press them tighter together.  "Close enough."

 

END.