The fire raged twelve stories above the pavement, looking to all the world to be unstoppable.
It scorched up the higher floors and raced down the lower, flames licking at stone and wood, roaring its way along carpeting and skittering up walls. It gobbled the heavy, satin drapes and decimated the dozens of dining tables that had just been dressed and set.
By the time the fire service was called there were flames puncturing all of the north-facing windows and it was only a matter of time before the whole wall went completely. The sound of beams buckling and falling could be heard above the hiss and crackle, smoke pluming dark out of every opening.
It was greedy, consuming every molecule of oxygen it could, racing higher, growing large, until everything that was associated with Hotel Bennington was aflame.
Four houses turned up and and by the time John Watson’s ladder made it to the scene, two firefighters had already lost their lives and four more were still trapped inside.
Dashing over to Engine 41’s captain, John glanced at the structural blueprint; then without warning, he secured his jumpsuit, strapped on his airtank, made a last check of his radio, and with a large, sweeping wave of his hand, dashed into the blaze.
The rest of Ladder 221 followed their captain into the inferno in search of the trapped men.
It was morning by the time they had the fire under control. Three of the four men had been rescued from the rubble unscathed, while the fourth was sent to Saint Joseph’s for smoke inhalation.
Men garbed in black and yellow tore through what remained of the smouldering mess, knocking out walls that had become structurally unsound and tamping down the small pockets of embers that had somehow withstood the force from their hoses.
Captain Watson stomped out over the ash and away from the building, exhausted. He’d fought the flames for the better part of six hours and had carried out two men on his back. His shoulder twinged in pain as he made his way over to his truck, nestling his backside in an empty storage compartment where they usually stowed the axes; the tools were now in the hands of his crew as they made certain that the hollowed-out structure would be safe when the arson investigator and police began their work.
He unzipped his dusty flack coat and peeled off the damp, flame-retardant jumper beneath. His vest was stained through beneath his arms with evidence of his exertion and long, dingy streaks of ash and soot; his hair was peppered with curls of what once was wood, now ash, and he smelled rather ripe.
Leaning his head back against a titanium shelf, John snatched up a bottle of water from the cooler that had been left open next to the engine. Lemon flavored - Jesus, had it been Stamford’s turn to stock the drinks again? - but refreshingly cold, the water slid down John’s throat as he tipped his head back and sucked it greedily down, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand.
His back and shoulder ached and his throat, no matter how much he drank, felt parched. His eyes felt as though the lids were made of sandpaper and his head felt heavy and full, the beginnings of a headache creeping around his consciousness.
Damn, he was getting too old for this.
He was content to watch the scene in front of him: other firefighters milling about and packing equipment, sharing brief stories about the two they’d lost. John hadn’t known them; they were out of Biggin Hill, far enough to the south that their brigades never really came in contact with one another, professionally or socially. It was tragic that two men had perished, but it was an unfortunate, ingrained peril of the job.
John finished off his lemon water - disgusting - and tossed the bottle into the truck, gathering up his gear in order to stow it, when a booming voice rang out across the dirty expanse of street.
“If you’d kindly stop knocking about in there and destroying all of my evidence, it would be most appreciated!”
John groaned and for a moment rested his head against the side of the truck. Of course he was the only captain left on the scene, which meant he would have to be the one to deal with the arson investigator.
John had found, in his fifteen-odd years as a firefighter, that arson investigators were surly at best; generally, they tended to be firefighters who had become too old to ride the trucks, some of them even coming out of retirement to take their positions. A few others were law enforcement, cops who had trained specifically in arson-related investigations. There were two traits they all shared: they were bastards and they were drinkers and John found he didn’t tend to get along with people who had those personality traits.
John slid back into his flak jacket and made certain that he had his credentials on him before he rounded the truck and ran straight into a beanpole of a man.
“Tell me, captain, that you’re not as inept as your men in there,” the same deep, condescending voice said. The syllables were clipped and crisp and when John looked up it was at a mouth that looked predatory, about ready to tear into his jugular. He took a step back and met cool blue eyes with a hard stare.
“Beg your fucking pardon?” John barked, straightening his shoulders so he was at full height.
The other man narrowed his eyes and gave John the once-over. “Tell your men to stop destroying my scene,” he demanded, smacking a clipboard that was bursting with paper against his hip. “This, as I’m sure even you’re aware, is arson and I would like to be able to prove that if you please.”
John’s jaw set in a hard line and he twined his arms tightly together over his chest. “My men aren’t through in there; when they are, you’ll know.” John shot him a scathing smile and then stepped back to his truck, taking up his seat once again. “Who the hell are you, anyway? You don’t look like an arson investigator to me.”
“Oh?” the investigator breathed, tucking his papers beneath his arm and taking a step towards John. “And do tell, what do I look like?”
John tilted his head back, bit his lip and glanced at Sherlock appraisingly. He wore a pair of perfectly tailored trousers, likely bespoke from the way they hugged the man’s hips, and a charcoal button-up was tucked in neatly to the trousers, but was unbuttoned nearly too much at the top. A long, graceful neck led up to his face - delicate cheekbones and full lips - and an artfully unruly mop of hair. The only evidence that the man was what he said were the heavy utility boots that he scuffed impatiently on the pavement. “Bloody… a bloody GQ spread. Not exactly appropriate for a fresh scene.”
The investigator said nothing, attention fixed on the scene before him. John scratched at the back of his neck and looked past the man at his guys, the last of them leaving the burnt husk of the hotel with an axe levered over his shoulder. “There, right, they’re through, so you can do your thing mister…”
It took a moment for the man to rise to the prompt, as he was lost to staring at the scene with wide, greedy eyes. “Sherlock,” he murmured, distractedly.
“Right, well, Mr. Sherlock, shall we-”
“Sherlock Holmes,” he said, snapping his attention back to John. “Mister Holmes. No,” he corrected, squeezing his eyes shut in a grimace. “Just Sherlock is quite fine.”
John remained seated but raised his brows and settled quite comfortably into the awkward moment that Sherlock had created. After a moment the investigator rolled his eyes, huffed and extended a hand, long, graceful fingers on offer. “And you’re John Watson, Captain of Paddington Brigade? Yes, about fifteen years on the force but there was some time spent elsewhere in between... was it Afghanistan or Iraq?”
There was a beat of silence before John’s chin tipped up with the singular laugh he emitted. “Afghanistan, Helmand Province.”
“Medic?” Sherlock asked, angling his body towards the building, and John stood, grabbing his helmet as Sherlock donned his, and led them over.
“And how did you know that?”
“Evidence,” Sherlock supplied and stepped into the hollowed out shell of the former Bennington. “You wear it on you, I’m trained to see it.” Sherlock’s eyes weren’t on him but on the beams that angled awkwardly above their heads.
John ensured the path in front of them was clear, pointing his torch first at the floor and then at the ceiling and Sherlock followed suit with his own. “How quickly did it go up?”
“Initial call came in at half two, possibly burning for five minutes before that? There was smoke but no flames, call came from the lobby, possibly reception but it’s not clear. So, basement is likely,” John rambled, recalling from memory where stair access to the basement was and leading them towards it.
Sherlock followed without question, and they walked for a time with the only sound the crunch of charcoal beneath their boots. Their torches were dueling beams on the charred walls and floors. “A captain who leads his men into a blaze, that’s rather unheard of.”
“Well, yeah…” John trailed off, offering no new information.
Sherlock was silent behind him, following John’s steps to avoid detritus that was in their way; as they descended into the basement, the air became thicker and John held up his mask as a reminder that they could use the oxygen if needed. Sherlock waved him off and soon they pulled up short in front of a gaping doorway.
“This is the point of ignition, laundry room. We’ve got ducts leading up and out of the building of course but it didn’t vent, and the sprinkler system seems to have been delayed in triggering.” He shone his beam quickly across the charred ceiling where the tarnished sprinklerheads gave timid little drips as though to prove his point.
Sherlock stepped through and took a look around, moving past all of the walls and supports. He stopped every now and then, stuck the butt of his torch into his mouth and scribbled down notes onto his clipboard. “There seems to be no indication that there was an accelerant used.”
“But can you tell with this much damage?” John inquired, stepping over to where Sherlock stood, taking in the far east wall.
He gestured to a bank of dryers stacked along the wall. “You see there, extensive burn signature, up and out, obviously the point of ignition but-”
“Dryer fire? That seems… I don’t know, doesn’t that seem-”
“Too simple, yes,” Sherlock agreed and moved closer to the dryers, shimmying his body as far behind the bank as he was able without getting all sooty. “But yes, here it is. Point of ignition, it just seems…”
John’s face scrunched up as he thought. “And right under the ducts, too.”
“The duct system branches off just above here. The HVAC system is housed two rooms over, so the access panel is just behind the wall there.”
Sherlock squinted and then popped out from his tight quarters. He took two paces and smacked his palms down on John’s meaty shoulders. “John Watson you are -- that’s brilliant! I need to see those blueprints.”
“Yeah, sure… what?” John wasn’t sure what he’d done but he wasn’t going to balk at being called brilliant, that was for sure.
Sherlock grinned, excited. John’s stomach flipped without warning. “Get us back upstairs and get me that architect and I’ll solve this arson.”
“What?! Holmes, it’s only been twenty minutes, you can’t possibly-”
“But I have,” Sherlock assured, straightening his spine and towering over John. “And that’s how good I am.”
Mouth suddenly parched, John attempted to swallow but found that he couldn’t. Instead, he turned on his heel and marched them back out of the building, torch bobbing over floor and walls until they emerged from the rubble.
John dropped his gear back at the truck and divested himself once more of his jacket, feeling tepid and sweaty; the sooner he got back to the house and to a nice warm shower, the better. But he couldn’t take off before he discovered the evidence that Sherlock had managed to gather, and right before his eyes.
He shoved a hand through his hair and made his way over to where Sherlock stood with the architect. The blueprints were spread out over the hood of an SUV and both men had their heads ducked, talking excitedly. When John strode up, Sherlock shimmied over, allowing him room before the plans.
Their eyes met briefly before Sherlock stabbed a finger smack dab in the center of the blueprints. “Just as you said.”
John’s eyes went wide. “Just as I said? I didn’t say a damn thing!”
Sherlock huffed a bit and tapped the papers again. “This ductwork is structured so that it feeds back into the basement and then up,” Sherlock whispered, running two fingertips over the figures laid out beneath. “The dryer fire… the dryer was allowed to be neglected; it was just a matter of time before it went up, breached the wall due to the faulty sprinklers, and the HVAC ensured that the flames would carry efficiently to the higher floors.”
The architect smiled ruefully and hung his head. “And it looks like it was redesigned that way. Jesus, this project was handled by two of my second years. Mustafa and Jarrod. God, if they-”
“Are they still with the firm?” Sherlock interjected, spinning around in a flash.
The architect startled and seemed to wrangle his thoughts together. “No, no they both resigned six months ago. Rumor has it they went to the states to work for a New York firm but-”
Sherlock interrupted again, body thrumming with excited energy. “Paid off I’d bet, likely by whomever is the largest stakeholder in this hotel.”
“That’s brilliant,” John murmured, his own fingers tracing over the ductwork on the papers. “Just brilliant.”
“Oh?” Sherlock asked, stepping back so he was able to see John’s face.
“Yes,” and John dragged his gaze up to meet Sherlock’s. “Fantastic. That would have taken anyone else-”
“Yes,” Sherlock rolled up the paperwork and slipped it beneath his arm. “Well, I did say I was that good.”
John grinned. “Yeah, you did.”
It was two months before they ran into one another again.
The FDIC training conference was known to attract firefighters around the world and, as captain, John made sure that he or one of his direct subordinates attended every year. No one had volunteered this year due to the lackluster locale - not much going on in Indianapolis, Indiana - and so John had packed up and headed to the States.
He was more than surprised to run into Sherlock Holmes at the registration table, snatching up his tag from the large display.
“Fancy meeting you here,” John had said as he’d reached for his badge.
Sherlock pivoted and gave John the onceover, securing his nametag to his lapel. “Is it?”
“It’s an expression,” John rolled his eyes as he fiddled with his own nametag.
“Well, as we’re both top in our field, it’s really no surprise.” Sherlock shrugged his shoulders and then shifted his hips, looking equal parts impatient uncomfortable.
John smiled and took pity on him; he didn’t seem the type to be at ease with these sort of events, if his previous behavior at the scene of the fire was anything to go on. “No, suppose it’s not. But hey, I saw that write up they did of the case in the Times, really stellar things they said about you.”
Sherlock glanced to his left, then to his right and then, strangely enough, at the ceiling. “Yes, I… it was….”
“Good?” John supplied.
“Yes, it was good.” Sherlock said, definitively and once again made to look anywhere but at John’s face. “They rather simplified it, for the masses of course. It was much more complex than they made it. The eventual chemical analysis was actually quite fascinating-”
John barked a laugh and took a hand to Sherlock’s elbow, moving him out of the line of registrants waiting to pick up their badges. “I’m sure it was, and as they left it out of the paper-”
“Imbeciles,” Sherlock growled.
John just laughed again. “Well, you can tell me all about it at the mixer. Bloody hate those things and don’t know a single person other than you.”
Sherlock’s smile was tight and fake. “Ah yes, not the last resort, the only resort.”
“Shut it you ponce, let’s go get pissed on good wine that we didn’t pay for and you can regale me with how brilliant you are. Does that sound alright?”
Sherlock’s lips twisted and he finally sighed, rolled his eyes and said, “Lead on.”
“As ever,” John stated, mock-seriously.
Sherlock told him to shut up.
They each managed to polish off a bottle of wine and John had been daring enough after his fourth glass to grab a half-full carafe of Malbec and sneak out a side door onto the balcony. There were few people around, but Sherlock still tiptoed behind John until they found a deserted alcove and carefully tipped the wine to their lips.
“So you’re speaking tomorrow?”
Sherlock finished swallowing a gulp and shook his head. “Tuesday. Accelerants. Flashpoints. Scintillating and quite relevant, but no one will attend because… chemistry.”
John laughed and snatched the wine back. “I’ll be there.”
“Oh will you?” Sherlock asked skeptically, his eyes shining in the moonlight.
John just nodded, grinned some more and finished off the carafe.
You look entirely different when not in uniform. -SH
Thank you? How did you get this number?
I have my ways. And you should take that as a compliment. -SH
Alright then. Your talk wasn’t as boring as I thought it was going to be. :D
John felt ridiculous calling. Aside from a few innocuous text messages in the wake of the conference they hadn’t spoken. John wasn’t sure if he was overstepping his bounds but he couldn’t get Sherlock Holmes out of his head. He’d picked up his mobile and put it down more times that he could count before he finally worked up the courage to actually hit ‘Call.’
It was three rings before Sherlock picked up. “LFB, Holmes speaking.”
“Er, uhm, hi, it’s-”
“Ah, John Watson of the Paddington Brigade,” Sherlock said knowingly, voice crisp and unhurried. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
There was a slight warmth in Sherlock’s voice that John hadn’t expected. It was so contrary to how he’d sounded the first two times they had interacted that it threw John momentarily for a loop. He said nothing for a long moment and was spurred to speak on when Sherlock asked dubiously, “John?” as though the connection had been severed.
“Hi, yes, sorry, you just sound so…”
There was a thick chuckle. “Victorious? I’ve just come from court. The man responsible for the Hammersmith flats fire was sentenced to twelve years.” There was a pause. “Thanks in no small part to my examination of the fuse box in the flats.”
John scoffed, “Well, good on you! But that doesn’t seem a lot considering how many people died!”
“Yes, well,” Sherlock continued on, tone prideful. “He’ll be going to Thameside, where I’m told the uncle and second cousin of the youngest victim are also being detained. Suffice to say his time won’t be easily spent.”
John mouth flicked upwards at that before falling back into a thin line. “I suppose.”
“Right,” Sherlock said, crisply. “How can I help you?”
John swallowed and felt suddenly as though he was putting up a very shaky facade. Truthfully he’d wanted to call Sherlock Holmes because he wanted to call Sherlock Holmes. He was interested, but Sherlock didn’t seem to be the type of person who socialized outside of his given profession. John could understand and appreciate that; he himself rarely found the time to seek out people outside of his firehouse.
John swallowed his nerves and mustered up the will to speak. “Do you think you could forward me that paper that you referenced in your talk last week? About ethyl alcohol? I’ve got testimony on the 2012 Umbridge fire and it’d be a big help.” John didn’t know why his hand was shaking as he held the phone to his ear; he was a damned mess and there was no reason to be.
There was silence on the other end of the line and then Sherlock’s voice cut neatly in around the sound of rustling paper. “Hard copy or via email?”
John bit his bottom lip, slammed his eyes closed and kept his voice level as he proposed, “Hard copy? We could meet at that Cafe Nero by LFB Headquarters?”
“Brilliant, give me an hour,” Sherlock directed and disconnected the call before John could confirm.
John shoved his mobile into his pocket and snatched up the Umbridge file, shifting it back into some semblance of order. He’d bring it with him to the coffee shop just in case.
In case of what, Watson? You actually need Sherlock’s help. There’s no obfuscation necessary.
But still John’s stomach flipped; he felt as though he were putting on a ruse, getting Sherlock to meet with him for circumstances other than work. Perhaps that was because John simply wanted to see him, and for reasons he couldn’t quite admit to himself just yet.
He took a glance in the mirror, ran a hand through his hair and then set out towards Union Street.
Sherlock, as it turned out, took his coffee black and had ordered for John before John arrived. “Non-fat latte, no sugar. You don’t order them often because your unit gives you grief for it.”
John took the proffered cup with a grin. “Spot on. That is spot on. It’s fantastic, how you do that.”
“Is it?” Sherlock asked, blowing over the surface of his coffee.
“Yeah,” John confirmed and took a seat across the table, their feet bumping accidentally underneath. “Brilliant.”
Sherlock bit his bottom lip and sat back in his seat, looking appraisingly at John. It was a long moment before he spoke again.“So, care to tell me your prepared testimony for the case and I’ll explain to you the intricacies of ethyl alcohol combustion?”
John laid out his file on the table. “Sure. I should get most of it. I read quite a bit of chemistry and biology at uni.”
“Did you,” Sherlock asked, voice sounding lightly amused.
“They didn’t just toss me in the medical unit without cause,” John grumbled. “I am a trained doctor.”
“Hmmm,” Sherlock hummed. “Yes, I know.”
“You know!” John exclaimed, rattling their table. “Then why did you-”
“I wanted to see you flustered.”
John rolled his eyes. “Why?”
Sherlock’s foot knocked against his and he leaned over the table, very much into John’s personal space. His voice was rich and low when he shrugged and said, “Why not?”
John flushed, but didn’t drop his gaze from Sherlock’s. When John smiled at him, Sherlock smiled back.
The Paddington Brigade was called out to a blaze on the Thames just south of the city, along with half a dozen other houses. Warehouses went up fast, especially along that part of the river, and this one was no exception. None of the older structures that lined the bank were outfitted with detection or suppression systems and it made battling the flames incredibly difficult; the city had promised to demolish the remaining warehouses as they were hazards and served no purpose.
The city just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
The building was a shell of metal and plywood, but was rendered into tinder by the number of homeless squatters who lived inside. Old mattresses, heaps of garbage, drug paraphernalia and foam cushioning were strewn about the floor, giving the fire ample fuel to start up. The roof and walls were held together with the insulation of the time period - mainly tar and poorly-applied asbestos - which gave an easy direction for the fire to spread.
By the time it was detected it was already at four alarms, and when John’s brigade tore onto the scene the entire city block had been cordoned off. John had experienced some fires like this in his time and he knew of their unstable nature. God only knew what else was inside that building that might go up; there was a chance that men would be trapped inside when everything combusted.
Warehouses were notorious for flashover and before he sent his men into the blaze, he wanted to find out how many firefighters were already inside.
The Captain on scene - a man twenty years John’s senior - was barking commands both over the riot of activity and through his walkie. “Captain,” he addressed. “Watson from Paddington, how many are inside?”
“Peters,” he introduced himself, voice tight. “We’ve got the first responders and the crew from 17 truck. Place is notorious for homeless so they’re doing a sweep.”
John nodded, barking out a short command to his own men over his radio. “You pulling them out after the sweep?”
The older man nodded, “No sense in saving the place, just containing. It’s scheduled to be demolished at the end of the year anyhow; looks like the city’s been done a favor.”
“If you can call it that,” John replied darkly and watched on as the fire licked out of the narrow row of windows at the roof of the building. “The walls won’t stand for long, want us to hit it from the south?”
“That’d be good, confer with Lex from Battersea and see if you can’t make a combined effort, yeah?” The Captain commanded, not sparing John another look.
“Can do,” John replied and did as instructed, rounding up the men from his house and from Battersea and striking the south-facing wall of the building with their combined hosepower. It took nearly an hour to get the flames centralized, but once they did, they controlled them easily, dousing them steadily until all of the men inside had pulled out and been accounted for.
It was a timely retreat, as not more than five minutes later the smoke turned thick and billowing and the roof gave way. The walls followed shortly thereafter, but by that point the trucks had been moved and the men had taken cover.
Once they firemen had ensured that the wreckage of the warehouse was simply a pile of smouldering detritus, most of the brigades were dismissed to return to their houses. Peters and his house were the first to leave the scene, having been the first to arrive. John’s brigade had been the last on the scene and so they stayed, hoses at the ready in case there were any flare-ups.
By the time dawn rolled around John was sweaty and exhausted, but kept making his scheduled walks of the perimeter, a slave to his duty. Finishing up his third rotation, he pulled up to his squad truck intending to sit down for a moment or two, looking for a bit of respite. When he rounded his vehicle he was shocked to find Sherlock Holmes, lit cigarette in hand, flipping avidly through a stack of papers.
“Ah,” he said without looking up. “There you are. They said you had control of the scene but I couldn’t seem to locate you.” Sherlock shuffled his papers around. “Thought you’d have been inside, leading your men into battle, so to speak.”
John rolled his eyes as Sherlock flicked the ash off of the end of his cigarette; it was in poor taste to smoke at a fire scene but Sherlock obviously paid no mind to convention. “Yeah, well, was off checking the perimeter. Again. And you won’t be getting on that scene any time soon, she’s all embers at the moment.” John unbuttoned his flak jacket and let it sag open, revealing a nearly-translucent ribbed tank top. Jesus christ he was disgusting but the breeze against his damp skin felt heavenly. He sighed in relief.
“‘Sides,” John continued through a yawn, “won’t be much evidence once you do get in there.”
Sherlock finally glanced up, meeting John’s tired gaze; the investigator’s pupils glinted in the combination of dawn and dying firelight and John was momentarily stunned by what he saw swimming there. He thought for a moment that he might have imagined it, but he could almost feel Sherlock’s own gaze traveling down his body and then back up, a sweet, intense circuit of attention.
“Well,” Sherlock very nearly purred. “This is a well-known location for homeless squatters. I’ll eventually need to determine if this was accidental or intentional but for now…”
Sherlock held up a digital camera, dangling from a fingertip as he simultaneously dropped the butt of his cigarette and mashed it against the asphalt. “Get me as close as you can to the building.”
“Just going to command me, are you?”
Sherlock grinned. “You seem like someone who’s rather good at taking orders.” Sherlock’s voice dipped into something hard and silky, rubble and molasses. “Captain.”
It was just rounding on Christmas when John heard from Sherlock again. “Watson, that LFB investigator prick phoned for you!” an echoing voice called down the hall.
“Who are you calling a prick, Gavin,” John shouted back as he poured himself his third cup of coffee in as many hours. He was pulling a double and he’d just finished up the paperwork on two probie transfers; he deserved a cup of the good stuff this time around.
“Aye, not saying I’m not.” Gavin, grizzled and filthy, stuck his head into the kitchen and shot John a gap-toothed grin. “Said something about the warehouse fire from last month. Wanted you to call him, I don’t know. But seriously, you fucking dealing with Holmes?”
John slammed his mug down on the countertop and rounded on Gavin. “Yeah,” John kept his voice level. “What of it?”
Gavin laughed and shook his head. “Nah, nothin’, nothin’, god bless you, Captain. Patience of a saint, swear to Christ.”
John waited until his coffee had cooled to ring Sherlock back from the privacy of his small office.
“Negligence,” Sherlock said without preempt as soon as he answered the call.
John paused with his cup of coffee halfway to his lips. “Pardon?”
“Yes, hello John, do keep up. I’m making a case for negligence.” Sherlock’s voice was smug and excited and John squinted across his office at the blank, wood paneled wall.
“On whose part?” John demanded, willing his brain to catch up.
“The city of London, of course. I’ve documents dating back to 2007 stating that the building, as well as the others a kilometer and a half down the waterfront, were to be demolished by 2010 due to ‘structural inadequacies.’”
There was silence for a time while the information sunk in. John was shocked; it would take considerable effort to stage a cover up of that magnitude. John considered what might have happened had the entirety of the abandoned warehouses gone up; he considered what would have happened to all of the men who would have been sent in to fight those fires.
It didn’t take much from there for him to become enraged. “That far back?”
Sherlock’s chuckle was dark. “Oh my yes. Isn’t that just delicious?”
John finally managed a long sip of his coffee. “Delic- I’m sorry, is this what you called me for? I’m… I’m confused.”
“Yes, I thought you might be.” John could imagine Sherlock’s grin. “John, I’d like you to help me bring a suit against the city of London.”
John dragged a hand down the side of his face. Of course; of course Sherlock Holmes was going to sue the city of London. “Christ, you’re mad, do you understand what that entails?” John closed his eyes and leaned forward to rest his head on his closed fist. Someone needed to take responsibility for the lapsed plans, surely, but John wasn’t exactly certain that suing the city was the way to go about it.
He didn’t even know if it was possible.
“Jesus that’s… that’s going to be a lot of work,” John sighed eventually.
Sherlock’s glee was absolutely evident over the line. “Mmmm yes, and I figured you’d be the only man raving enough to assist me with this.”
Sherlock invited John over to his flat to begin work on the case on the Friday after Christmas.
He ushered John up the stairs to his flat, talking all the while about the files he was able to procure and the parties he had been able to track down. Once finally inside the front room, John took in the cardboard boxes and stacks of paper piled to toppling. “This… is what you’ve gathered?” John swept his hand around in awe, not at all shocked by the lack of seasonal decoration.
Sherlock glanced around the room, hands on his hips. “No, that-” he said, pointing to an orderly stack of containers in the corner. “Is what I’ve gathered.”
“Then what’s all the rest of this?” John asked, slipping out of his coat and tossing it on the sofa.
“That’s,” Sherlock waved his hand vaguely, “everything else.”
Sherlock plunked himself down on the sofa, leaving ample room for John to sit and suddenly, the notion of sidling up that close to Sherlock Holmes spooked him. He cleared his throat and twisted his thumb in his fist. ”Right uhm, perhaps tea first?”
“Kettle’s in the kitchen,” Sherlock said as he divided the files into stacks without even a glance up at John. “I take mine with three sugars; I’ve no milk in.”
And just like that John was trusted with the making of the tea, in Sherlock’s kitchen, in Sherlock’s home.
John made the tea very hot and very strong and though they didn’t speak much that evening, they worked late into the night, toiling away easily side by side.
Three weeks in and they’d managed to amass a wealth of evidence, but still needed to pull it all coherently together. Sherlock insisted that he needed John’s assistance in order to do so and John insisted that he was needed at the firehouse for his scheduled shifts.
Sherlock showed up at the firehouse late after John’s shift at the start of February, all done up in his great coat, clutching an accordion file stuffed to bursting with paper. “We have to review these,” Sherlock insisted, following John through the garage of the house, up the back steps and into the living area where the rest of his company were winding down and cleaning up from their last call.
John huffed and dragged himself fully uniformed into the expansive communal bathroom, nodding his head in greeting to the men who were clearing out. Still, Sherlock followed him into the bathroom, paying no mind to the moisture on the floor or the humidity in the air. “I need you on this, John.”
John crossed the room and tossed down his dingy canvas satchel on the bench. He spun in the combination to his locker with deft fingers and pulled out clean civilian clothes. “I appreciate you saying so but-”
“But what? What’s more important than this case?” he said, voice raised, and the syllables echoed in the tiled room.
“Sherlock,” John said, slamming his locker door shut with a bang. “I’ve been on shift for 28 hours. I need a shower and at least eight hours of sleep.” John shucked his jacket and jumper, tossing them into his laundry sack; they both needed a thorough washing in the utility sink but he couldn’t be arsed to do it at the moment.
He kicked the bag underneath the utility bench and looked up to meet Sherlock’s gaze.
Sherlock took a step back, his expression incensed. But then he blinked down at John, expression gone a little glassy and unfocused.
“Sherlock? You getting this? Looks like you could use sleep too,” and with that John shook his head in exasperation and shucked off his bunker trousers, wrangling them into the bag as well. His vest came next and he flicked the button on the denim utility trousers he wore beneath his gear before snagging a clean towel from above the lockers. He drew a hand down the front of his face and sighed. “I just… I just need a shower and some sleep is all, yeah? Back at it tomorrow morning.”
When he returned to face Sherlock - arm levered for balance against the row of lockers - he was suddenly very aware that he was barechested. He’d never felt particularly naked before when he was shirtless, but somehow now was entirely different. Sherlock’s gaze was fixed to John’s chest and John glanced down at himself, wondering what exactly had caught Sherlock’s attention. His skin was streaked with sweat and grime, there were tiny flecks of ash stuck to the ridges of his scar and his perspiration had accumulated around his neckline, leaving a gray crescent moon of soot on his skin.
Sherlock continued to stare unabashedly and it took John a moment to realize that he’d bared his scar to a civilian without second thought of how it might be received. John grimaced and tossed his towel around his shoulder to curtain the marred skin. “Yeah, took a shot in the shoulder in Afghanistan. Sorry, sorry, I uh should have-”
Sherlock’s chin snapped up and their eyes met. “Right. Yes. The scar.” Sherlock said and suddenly his cheeks flushed and the tips of his ears flamed red. “Sorry, I… you shower. Sleep and… ring me when-” Sherlock paused, frowned at himself and finished, “tomorrow.”
With that he turned on heel and walked out of the communal bathroom, leaving John standing confused in his wake. He glanced momentarily down at his chest and then moved the towel aside so he could examine his scar. He wasn’t accustomed to people seeing it, but even those who did never reacted quite like Sherlock had.
It wasn’t until John was standing under the warm spray of the shower and had worked the shampoo through his hair that he realized Sherlock hadn’t been put off by his scar.
Sherlock Holmes had been checking him out, and liked what he saw. Jesus. John nearly dropped the bottle of shampoo as he went to put it back on the shelf. When his hands returned to his scalp he scrubbed harder and ignored the fact that he was wearing a stupid, loopy grin on his face.
John waited until after he’d had a proper fry up and two cups of strong tea before he called Sherlock.
His call was answered on the first ring, “Ah, John, about time.” There was the distant sound of papers shuffling.
“It’s half nine, this is a perfectly acceptable time to be starting my day, especially after working a double, thank you very much.”
Sherlock’s scoff was audible but he sounded prim and polite when he inquired, “When will you be coming by?”
John ran a hand through the hair at the back of his head and leaned back in his chair. “You know, I thought we could meet for lunch, first.”
“It’s half nine, John,” Sherlock reminded, speaking very slowly.
“Yes, well, we could meet later or… go out? I’ll come over round eleven and we could go out for lunch at, say, one? If you wanted to get to the work beforehand?” John dragged his teeth across his bottom lip and held his breath while Sherlock considered.
“Fine,” he finally acquiesced. “Thai. And stop biting your lip, it’s distracting.”
John nearly dropped his cup of tea. “Distracting? Distracting how?”
“Never mind,” grumbled Sherlock. “I’ll see you at eleven.” And with that, the line went dead.
John took extra care choosing the color of his shirt that morning; he knew, instinctively, that Sherlock would know that he had and make inferences about the meaning behind it. In fact, he hoped Sherlock would. He hoped Sherlock could tell that he considered what jumper would best bring out the color of his eyes, all for Sherlock’s pleasure.
He hoped that it would give Sherlock the impression that John was rather smitten with him as well.
When he arrived at Sherlock’s flat, it was with two fresh cups of coffee in hand, and he barely had a chance to ring the bell before the door was flung open. John stumbled back on the pavement but Sherlock reached out and caught his arm before he could topple over.
“Jesus Christ, you scared the bollocks off of me!”
Sherlock grinned wryly. “Let’s hope not. You’re late.”
John ducked his head to check his watch without spilling the coffee. “It’s five past.”
“Yes,” Sherlock confirmed and ushered John inside. They fell into their work easily, John making a concise timeline of the condemned buildings on the laptop and Sherlock constructing one on the wall, in plain view. They worked fluidly for a time, handing notes back and forth with nary a word until Sherlock paused, put down his papers and announced without preamble that it was time for lunch.
John startled, dropping the pen that was in his hand. “God, seriously Sherlock,” John brought his hands to his temples to rub. “You’re going to give me a heart attack.”
“I’d never!” he returned and spun to shrug into his coat with a flourish. John couldn’t help but watch with interest as Sherlock pulled on his gloves snugly and wound a scarf around his neck. When their gazes met, John didn’t even flush. “Come on now,” Sherlock continued. “I’ve made a reservation.”
Grinning, John stood and reached for his coat. “A reservation? Fancy!”
“Yes, well,” Sherlock reached forth and opened the door for him. “This is a date, after all.”
John paused, one sleeve of his jacket on and one hanging limply at his side. “Oh, is it?”
“Don’t you want it to be?” Sherlock asked, a furrow of confusion lining his brow.
John grinned and pulled his coat on. “Yes. Yes, in fact, I really do.”
“Good,” Sherlock smiled warmly and ducked down into John’s space as he passed through the doorway. “And nice choice of jumper, today.”
Lunch was easy and casual and John laughed more than he had in a very long time. He reclined in his chair, stretching his legs beneath the table, his heart skipping when Sherlock didn’t move his legs as their feet met and bumped.
“That was the spiciest drunken noodle I think I’ve ever had,” John said, finally straightening up and reaching for the bill.
But Sherlock leaned in gracefully and seized it, closing the distance across the small table and pressing his mouth to John’s without a hint of warning. John felt the vibrating hum that Sherlock emitted as he snuck just the tip of his tongue out to press at John’s mouth; it cracked something inside of John and he felt warm all over.
When Sherlock retreated, cheeks flushed and smiling, he nodded. “Yes,” Sherlock agreed. “Very spicy indeed.”
John continued to be scheduled for doubles due to the fact that his house didn’t have enough coverage at the administrative level to grant him much time off. The time he did find off he was either sleeping, at the gym, or rounding up the last bits of information on the case with Sherlock.
Sherlock was certain they would be able to present their findings to the Commissioner by the end of the month if they could just track down the building inspector’s findings on the rest of the last block of dilapidated buildings. There seemed to be a backlog in requests at City Hall and the Port Authority and both had flat-out refused Sherlock any further access after he’d managed to trash their file room.
There was nothing left to do but fact check and wait.
Sherlock, as John came to find, quite hated waiting.
He would fill John’s email inbox with technical papers and his phone messages, demanding to know when he was next available and questioning the capabilities of various city offices and employees. John knew he was done for when he realized that instead of being annoyed that Sherlock was reaching out to him twenty-four hours a day, he was actually quite amused. He, in fact, found it rather adorable.
After two weeks of late shifts and a string of unruly fires related to an unseasonably windy spell, John finally found the time to take Sherlock out on a proper date.
“And how was our first date not proper?” Sherlock had asked when John had posed the invitation as such.
They were walking side by side through Oxford Circus, dodging tourists, when John caught Sherlock’s hand. His accompanying grin was tinged with a pink blush. “Well I didn’t know it was a date, did I?”
“That was rather the point.” Sherlock squeezed his hand and John felt a warmth spread right up his arm, across his collarbones and dive towards his heart.
John squeezed back, feeling lighter and happier than he had in quite a long time, and when he laughed, it was boisterous, from his gut and so real that it surprised him. “And I was the one who came up with the idea of lunch in the first place!”
Sherlock scoffed and tugged him suddenly into an alcove just along an alleyway. “Ah, but I made the reservation and as such, I do believe I’m taking the credit.”
John licked his upper lip even as he rolled his eyes at Sherlock’s claim. “You’re impossible, now kiss me.”
Sherlock did as he was told, slanting his mouth over John’s and licking slowly in, taking his time. Even as John’s back pressed into the cold brick he felt burned up, suddenly consumed by Sherlock’s lithe body that draped over him.
It was spectacular.
“We’ll be late,” John gasped when Sherlock’s mouth diverted and took the opportunity to brush tiny kisses over his neck.
He felt Sherlock smile against his skin and the sensation made it feel as though the pit of his stomach had fallen out. “Oh, alright.” Warm breath puffed against John’s overheated skin, turning to vapor in the chilled air. “But after dinner…”
“Yes,” John countered, pressing his lips to Sherlock’s hard, one last time before tugging at his hand. “After dinner.”
They’d managed to kill a bottle of wine over their appetizers. It was a proper five course meal this time around, and John felt both extremely relaxed and absurdly out of place when he plucked up his salad fork to attack his steak tartare.
“Now who’s fancy?” Sherlock purred, sliding his fork down into his own dish, before shooting John a flirty wink. John simply swallowed and silently went about eating.
The conversation came easily and John was delighted when Sherlock laughed freely, and reached over the table to touch the top of John’s hand. John began to lose some of the nerves he felt about asking Sherlock out to such a formal restaurant.
“Your first fire,” Sherlock said from behind the rim of his wine glass after their entrees had arrived. “Tell me, what was it like?”
John paused in cutting off a piece of his fish. “I… why?”
Sherlock gently placed down his glass, sliding it across the table out of reach. He folded his hands beneath his mouth and eyed John inquiringly. “You’re adept at it, quite the dedicated professional. But… you also enjoy it, don’t you?”
John laid down his cutlery with care and cleared his throat. He reached across the table and refilled his own glass, but hesitated before bringing it to his lips. “It was… I was twenty-two. Needed a job that was keen to take me on the night shift while I studied during the day. Volunteer at first, you know. No real need for men at the local but… got to work out for free, you know, in their gym, and had some down time to study but then…”
“Your first call?”
“Took us bloody ages to get there, was during a rainstorm and I… I remember thinking how fires somehow couldn't happen if it was raining, but. It was a three alarm.” John finally took up his glass and took a long draw from it. “It was a bungalow, but a two family, you know?”
Sherlock nodded, moving his chair close to the table, closer to John.
John took a breath and continued. “Two families, out on the front lawn just watching their homes go up in smoke and then one of the mothers, a frail thing, started screaming about her mother. Her mother wasn’t with them. It’s like in all of the chaos they forgot about the woman and…”
John looked into his glass. “I just went in. Without any orders from the Captain, without checking my radio, just, just ran right into the house. To the back bedroom and she was on the floor, crawling about, trying to find the door I think, I don’t know but…”
He tucked his bottom lip into his mouth and took another breath, another sip of wine. “Gave her my oxygen and just grabbed her, carried her out and, the rest was-”
“You saved her life,” Sherlock said quietly.
“I brought her out,” John clarified.
“But that’s not all. That’s not all, is it John?”
John shrugged. “I gave her CPR, she came to. They brought her to hospital and… it was the perfect duality. The fire was pressing in and I just…” John trailed off and finally met Sherlock’s gaze. “I felt alive, lit up. That’s it, really, I knew where I belonged.”
“You gave up a life as a doctor to be a firefighter.” His voice was low, stunned. “You’re an interesting man, John Watson.”
Again, John shrugged.. “And what about you, then. You posh git, arson investigator can’t have been what you dreamed of growing up.”
“Alas, no,” Sherlock agreed, pushing a haricot vert around his plate. “I wanted to be a pirate, first and foremost.” John laughed and went back to his fish. “And then, decided chemistry was fascinating - and it is but I didn’t know how to put it to practical use - and then,” Sherlock sighed and popped a speared bean into his mouth. “I desperately wanted to be a detective.”
“A detective!” John exclaimed. “Alright, well, that makes a bit of sense.”
Sherlock smirked. “Hm, and fires, much like people, are predictable. There’s always a pattern, if you know where to look.”
“Well you’re rather adept at what you do, as well,” John said, giving Sherlock a long look from under his lashes. “I can… appreciate that.”
Sherlock met him with a long look of his own. “You’re most thrilled by taming the fire, I find the thrill in determining how it came to be in the first place.”
“You make it sound...” John breathed, smoothing his napkin onto the table.
“What?” Sherlock enunciated the ‘t’ crisply.
John rubbed his palms over his thighs and then licked his lips slowly. “I don’t know, sexy.”
Sherlock settled his fork tines-down next to his knife and dabbled at his mouth primly with his napkin. “Sexy?”
“Yeah” John decided, “sexy.”
Sherlock sniffed primly, leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “John, would you be terribly put out if I asked for the check right now and took you back to my flat?”
“Oh no, no,” he replied easily, airily. “I think that’d be quite alright.”
“One of the benefits of being a member of Her Majesty’s Fire Service,” Sherlock panted, “is I swear you all have these, these arms.” Sherlock squeezed at John’s bicep twice and then leaned over to sink his teeth gently in, teasing.
John chuckled and rolled Sherlock onto his back, splaying Sherlock’s long, lean, pale body out on the dark duvet. “Hold on, all? You’ve some sort of fetish about firemen?”
Sherlock grinned up at him. “The arms are nice, but I like you, specifically.”
John bent to flatten his tongue against a nipple, hiding his blush. “Specifically,” came his casual murmur before he pressed his lips to suck. John made an amusing little popping sound when he pulled off and dragged his mouth up Sherlock’s chest to his neck, scraping his upper teeth over the curve of Sherlock’s chin.
John dove in for another kiss, pulling away after long moments, a hand threading through Sherlock’s hair. “Solely,” Sherlock cemented, and his smile slid off his face, his eyes going a bit softer. “To be blunt.”
John sat back on Sherlock’s hips and looked down at his naked torso, curling two fingers on each hand beneath the belt of Sherlock’s trousers. He tugged minutely and then laid his palms flat out on Sherlock’s concave stomach.
“People think you’re a cock,” John said quietly, pushing the pads of his fingers into the flesh beneath him.
“I have a cock,” Sherlock said saucily, rolling his hips so their pelvises rubbed together.
John coughed out a delighted and shocked laugh; his hand fit over the heavy bulge in Sherlock’s trousers. “Mmm, yeah I see that, I was just thinking… I know different, don’t I?”
Sherlock’s hands came out to circle John’s wrists loosely. “Yes, you do. And what’s the verdict, then?”
“I quite like it.”
“My cock? You haven’t even seen it yet.” His grin was smug and he spoke with such ego that John wanted very nearly to get up and leave him hard and wanting.
John tore a hand from Sherlock’s grip and swatted him in the center of the chest. “Not your cock. You, you absolute dick,” John laughed and allowed himself to be pulled down by a chuckling Sherlock. Their mouths met through smiles and Sherlock’s hands went to the button on John’s trousers, undoing them deftly.
“Ah, sentiment,” Sherlock smeared through a laugh against his cheek.
“Right, doing away with that,” John growled and grabbed Sherlock’s wrists, planting them on the bed above his head, taking charge. “I,” he began, seriously, “am going to fuck you.”
And like that, Sherlock melted beneath him, going nearly boneless with a groan, and his eyes rolled back as he swallowed thickly. “Christ, yes.”
John rolled off and divested himself of the rest of his clothing, hearing Sherlock do the same just behind him. When he dropped his trousers and turned around Sherlock was resting on his side, head propped up on a hand. He looked divine. “Well, fucking hell, alright.”
“What?” came Sherlock’s innocent question.
“Bloody GQ model, knew it,” John murmured and climbed onto the bed, sidling up to Sherlock. “S’not fair.”
“There was talk,” Sherlock murmured as he sucked a bruise into John’s neck, their cocks sliding together, “of fucking me.”
Their mouths met in a sloppy kiss, John grinding down onto him. The light in the room was dim, but bright enough that when John glanced down into Sherlock’s face, Sherlock was thrown into dusky chiaroscuro and John felt a pang of ardent hunger sizzle through him. John took control of the kiss, nipping at Sherlock’s upper lip as Sherlock awkwardly reached over his head and knocked his knuckles against a bedside drawer, attempting to get it open.
John laughed into the kiss until Sherlock’s mouth opened wide against his and their noses were bumping and their teeth were clacking with the force of their shared glee. “Want me to uhm, get that,” John asked, dotting a kiss on the tip of Sherlock’s nose.
“I’m usually so much more suave,” Sherlock claimed, faux annoyed.
“Oh, I believe it,” and with one last smacking kiss to Sherlock’s mouth he reached out and over and got a bottle of lube from the drawer. “Success.”
“Fantastic,” Sherlock drew out the ‘s’ and stretched his body out beneath John. “Now, put it to use.”
Without further prompting John snagged a pillow and shoved it under Sherlock’s hips, lifting his arse just so. Sherlock twisted and shifted against the headboard so that he was levered up and John could meet his gaze from where he’d maneuvered between Sherlock’s legs. “Jesus Christ, you’re a marvel,” came the whisper into the skin of Sherlock’s hip; John dragged a hand lightly from his sternum to his belly button and after tracing it momentarily, ran the tip of his finger over the precome on Sherlock’s cock. “A fucking marvel.”
Sherlock’s eyes fell shut at the compliment and John tipped forward, planting open-mouthed kisses on Sherlock’s inner thigh. He teased there momentarily before ducking in and simultaneously curling his hand around Sherlock’s cock and bringing his mouth to lick experimentally at his hole.
Above him Sherlock twitched and sighed and John took that as good an indication as any and began taking him apart with his tongue. Eventually Sherlock’s fingers threaded gently through his hair and he began making small, pleading sounds in his throat at John’s ministrations.
John was careful when he slicked up his fingers and worked Sherlock open. Sherlock’s right leg fell slack while his left pressed in against John’s head and the tiny, throaty sounds became cracked pants and gasps.
It wasn’t long before he was moving three fingers inside of Sherlock, no longer slicking him open but twisting and torquing his fingers with no other reason that to tease more whining, desperate sounds out of Sherlock. John sighed and lifted himself up on his elbows, sucking the tip of Sherlock’s cock into his mouth.
“John! Juh-John, just, god, just…” Sherlock’s head thrashed against the pillow and with one last sucking slurp, John pulled off and out of Sherlock’s body.
He nearly tumbled over himself getting to the drawer in the search of a condom and came up with one after frantically digging around. It was another fumbling moment of rolling it onto himself and shifting back between Sherlock’s legs and then he was pushing gently in.
The groan that slipped out of Sherlock was long and luscious; his right hand meandered down to pump his cock and his legs twined around John’s hips, pulling him in closer, deeper.
“Christ,” John managed to grit, taking stock of Sherlock’s face pulled tight in pleasure. “Christ that’s nice.”
The mangled moan that came from Sherlock seemed to be an affirmation; John gave himself a moment before gently thrusting. Sherlock’s free hand came up to twine around John’s forearm and tugged him closer, down, down until they were nearly chest to chest. “Fuck, Sherlock.”
“Hmm,” Sherlock’s eyes slid deliriously closed. “Yes.”
They rocked together, John managing to find a rhythm as Sherlock ground down enthusiastically to meet his thrusts. John’s mouth fell open against Sherlock’s face, grazing his eyelids, his cheekbones and the corners of his mouth; he was lost to it, the pull of their bodies, and he couldn’t find the necessary brain cells to accurately aim for Sherlock’s lips.
John changed his pace after a moment, thrusting hard and deep, much faster than he’d been before. Sherlock began a mantra of “yes, yes” and John quickly found himself losing control, the tension that was coiled low in his belly becoming more insistent by the second.
When Sherlock reached up and dug his blunt nails into the nape of John’s neck, John lost it, thrust erratically twice before he came. His breath escaped him in a surprised gasp and ended on a strangled groan and John pressed his face against Sherlock’s as he panted and trembled in the aftershocks. He could feel Sherlock’s hand, still moving between them and he did his best to keep moving shallowly as Sherlock reached the brink.
Sherlock was a gasping mess as he came, sinking his teeth into John’s bottom lip and huffing through his nose. Twitching, he went limp almost immediately, his legs and arms falling with an audible thump down onto the mattress.
John laughed breathlessly once, twice, and managed to slip out and clean them both up before collapsing, equally as boneless, next to Sherlock.
“There’s a terrible joke about firemen and their hoses in here but I’m too tired to find it,” Sherlock said, flopping onto his side.
John was silent and then suddenly he wasn’t, erupting in high-pitched, manic giggles. To his left, Sherlock fell into laughter as well, shifting until he was on his side, curled into John. “You’re staying the evening, I take it.”
John interlaced his hands above his head and stretched out his muscles. “I’d like that, if you don’t mind,” John mumbled, already falling into lethargy.
“Not at all,” Sherlock sighed and after placing a light kiss to John’s bicep, was pulled down into a deep sleep.
When John awoke it took him a moment to acclimate himself, turning over in the foreign bed to find an empty space beside him. In the seconds that followed he came to terms with the fact that he’d had a fantastic shag the evening before, with Sherlock Holmes, and he’d been invited to stay over. His grin couldn’t be helped and he stretched the sleep out of his muscles.
He heard the shower running in the bathroom and was content to laze about until Sherlock returned. He twisted around in the bed until he was on his stomach, arms thrust beneath the pillow, and dozed until Sherlock emerged from the bathroom, damp and pink.
John grinned and blinked up at him. “You… look good enough to-”
“Don’t say eat,” Sherlock grimaced. “So cliche.”
“Right, well... fuck again, then. You look good enough to fuck again.” Sherlock rolled his eyes and tossed his damp hair towel at John’s head.
“Not that I wouldn’t be amenable,” Sherlock said, flipping through the trousers hanging in his closet, “but we skipped dessert last night and then did some rather strenuous cardiovascular activity.”
“That we did,” John agreed, flopping over onto his back.
“So… I can imagine you’re starved,” Sherlock growled and tossed his wardrobe choices down at the foot of the bed and then clambered up, dropping his mouth to the center of John’s chest. “Waffles, I think.”
“Waffles,” John sighed, heart fluttering and absolutely full to bursting. “Sound fantastic.”
Sherlock left one last smacking kiss on John’s left pectoral and stood to get dressed, John watching him all the while. “Oh,” he mentioned as he did up the buttons at his wrists, “your mobile was buzzing earlier, I set it to charge out in the kitchen.”
“You plugged in my mobile for me? How thoughtful,” John said, affecting a playful tone. “So domestic, I just might keep you around.”
“That’s the point,” Sherlock murmured and without a glance back at John, disappeared back into the bathroom.
John remained in the bed for a moment, flabberghasted by Sherlock’s response but too startled by the swell of hope that rose in him to do or say much of anything. With a last shake of his head he rose and found his pants, tugging them on before making his way through to the kitchen of Sherlock’s flat.
He was shocked to find that when he illuminated his mobile’s screen, there were more than ten missed calls, all from different numbers. As he scrolled down he noted at least a dozen different text messages, three from Stamford, all of which demanded that John ‘call him immediately.’ A feeling of dread settled in the pit of John’s stomach as he unlocked the phone and listened to the first voice message.
He was staring down at his phone when Sherlock padded into the kitchen, dressed impeccably but still fiddling with his cuffs. “I was thinking after breakfast we could take a look at the last of the Devon Street files and finish up… what?” Sherlock asked, clearly able to read the troubled expression on John’s face.
John’s face was even, devoid of emotion when he replied, “The uh… my building… my flat it’s… there was a fire, last night.”
John’s flat was burned beyond salvaging. The kitchen and loo were completely blackened and the sitting room had sustained heavy water damage; John was hopeful that he’d be able to save the few important books and photos that were in the boxes beneath the sofa but other than that, there was nothing left.
The bedroom had been spared, at least a bit: there was smoke damage up the walls and scorch marks along the doorframes but most of his clothes and belongings in the room went unscathed. He’d have to see if he could keep any of his clothing; he knew how cloying and nearly permanent the smell of a fire could be. John didn’t have much attachment to his clothing other than his regulation uniform and the pair of scrubs he’d kept from his first shift at Bart’s; still, he didn’t much fancy having to spend the money on an entirely new wardrobe.
Sherlock had accompanied him to the scene and had immediately begun barking orders at the men still present when they arrived, taking up his digital camera and snapping photographs of the wreckage. “Time of discovery, time of call and time of arrival, now,” Sherlock demanded with cool intent, sweeping the caution tape up so that John could cross under.
Sherlock disappeared for a few long minutes and John didn’t bother to follow, just stood in the hallway of his flat and stared helplessly into the gloom. He didn’t have much but what he did have, it was all in here. A sense of hollowness filled his chest, replacing the pleasant lightness he’d managed to find only that morning. His head felt heavy and he hung it, sighing into the husk of his home.
Heavy footsteps tramped into the space and then paused, John knowing somehow, without sight, that it was Sherlock. “Guess I can’t grab a change of clothes before breakfast,” John joked vacantly as they took in what was left of his flat.
“The fire was localized on this side of the building,” Sherlock said, ignoring him. “Charring indicates that your flat and the flat below you sustained the most damage. It seems the flat below is configured differently.”
“Yeah?” John asked, seemingly disinterested. “So?”
“The bedroom is the front room in the flat below.” Sherlock’s voice was conspiratorial and he leaned in as though sharing a vital piece of information. John just blinked up at him, feeling all of the energy drain from his body.
Sherlock rolled his eyes but stepped into John’s personal space, placing his palms on John’s shoulders in what was an oddly calming gesture. “Either elderly Mr. Singh downstairs - who wasn’t home last evening, thankfully - made some enemies in his old age or this fire was set intentionally to target you.”
“Me? Why me?”
Sherlock blinked. “There’s only one possible reason I can think of.”
“The suit,” John breathed, shocked. “Someone knows we’re putting it together.”
Sherlock nodded once, briskly. “And someone would rather us not take it to the city.”
“Christ.” John swiped his hands hard across his eyes. “Jesus Christ. I’m… I’m suddenly very, very exhausted. I don’t want to deal with this right now.” John turned, looking back down the hallway towards his sitting room.
Sherlock pulled out his notebook and began scribbling notes in it. “Well, we’ll pack up your things and take them back to Baker Street; simple enough,” came his assumption, looking past John at the damage on the wall.
There was a beat of silence and then, “What?”
“Hmmm?” Sherlock turned his attention back to John.
“Just like that, take my things back to Baker Street?” he asked incredulously, folding his arms tightly over his chest.
Sherlock’s nod was slow but perfunctory. “Do you have another viable option?”
John set his jaw hard and thought for a moment; he could go spend time with Harry while looking for a new flat, but every time they got together it always resulted in a blowout argument. Mike Stamford had a rather sizable place just north of the city but his wife was pregnant and John didn’t want to put them out. “No,” he finally said, begrudgingly.
“Good, then it’s settled. Let me see if I can’t get some boxes from the men assigned to clean up.” And like that, Sherlock was gone, leaving John to go through what remained of his belongings.
It didn’t take Sherlock long at all to gather evidence that the fire had been set intentionally. There had been a liberal use of accelerant - gasoline, easily available at any petrol station - and therefore a request for a proper, detailed investigation had been cleared almost immediately. Sherlock spent long days at the office; he was rarely around when John came down in the morning and arrived back at the flat late in the evening after John had gone to bed.
John had taken up residence in the spare room on the third level of Sherlock’s flat, purchasing a large lilo and nothing more. He wasn’t certain how long he’d be staying and didn’t want the hassle of having to move any furniture, especially if a flat opened at the last minute. His and Sherlock’s budding relationship seemed to have cooled in the wake of the fire and John found himself wishing he’d reached out, been more receptive, thanked Sherlock for the help he’d offered in the days directly after.
Sherlock had given him his space - something that he hadn’t known that he needed until given it - and John floated in and out of Sherlock’s flat without really interacting with him. He didn’t reach out for anything further, for help or comfort or relief; John felt he was already overstepping his bounds, accidentally ruining something that could have been really good if he hadn’t been thrust into essentially becoming Sherlock’s flatmate.
That’s not how things went; that wasn’t how relationships began.
John took more shifts at the station but didn’t talk about the fire, didn’t respond to the emails from friends and colleagues offering assistance and instead threw him into the job as he had in the early days of his career.
So when he made it home on a Thursday evening after a double shift, flipping through flat listings on his phone, he was surprised to find Sherlock at the kitchen table with a bounty of Chinese food spread out before him. “Ah, John, you’re home.” He popped the plastic lid on one of the containers. “Good.”
“Ah, yeah, uhm,” John wasn’t sure how he felt about Sherlock calling it ‘home’ in relation to him, but he didn’t push it, instead walking cautiously up to the table and glancing down at the bounty. “You’re hungry.”
“I thought we could have dinner,” Sherlock grinned up at him, holding out a pair of chopsticks. “Sit.”
John bit his lip and thought about demurring, but his stomach grumbled loudly and Sherlock chuckled at the sound. He slipped out of his jacket and smoothed it over the back of the chair, taking a seat across the table from Sherlock. “What’s the occasion, then?”
“We hadn’t,” Sherlock paused in spooning chicken onto his plate, “had a third date, which I thought was bizarre as we now live together.”
John paused in reaching for a container of rice. “We’re not… I’m looking for a flat. I know this is temporary and I’m-”
“Why?” Sherlock interrupted.
“Why bother looking for a flat? I’ve a spare room that you’re welcome to, and if we’re together, sleeping together, really it’s most convenient to be in the same flat, no?”
“Oh, we’re… Sherlock I didn’t think that we were going to-”
“My fault; I’ve given you the wrong impression,” Sherlock assumed, wiggling his fingers as he decided between the lo mein and the pork fried rice. “The work consumes most of my time, as you’ve seen. Sometimes I don’t talk for days on end, will that bother you?”
“What, I… I’m sorry, I’m a bit lost, here.” John said, waving up his hands in surrender, the chopsticks clattering down to land on his empty plate.
Sherlock sighed through his nose and rested his palms on the table. His gaze met John’s briefly before he diverted just to the left, over John’s shoulder. “I’m not especially well-versed in how these things work, John. I… pursued you and that, that was good. Better than good, really and I’m figuring out how to go about it from here.”
“What… what do you mean?”
Sherlock’s gaze drifted to the ceiling and the tips of his fingers tapped against the surface before them. “This part of the… process. I’ve never got this far. With anyone,” he clarified.
John gaped and then the left side of his mouth jumped in an incredulous smile. “Oh.”
“I thought… I was sure that it was my fault, with the moving in and rushing things - but nevermind that, we’re both idiots.” John said judiciously and grinned.
Sherlock blinked at John and his eyes narrowed as his lips curled into a satisfied smile. “Yes, I suppose we are.” Sherlock suddenly took his utensils to the bounty on his plate, effectively deeming the matter settled.
John felt some of the anxiety that had solidified in his stomach over the past week diffuse and he finally managed to serve himself some food.
“Though,” Sherlock said warningly, thrusting a chopstick in John’s direction, “that will be the only time you hear me adopt that moniker.”
After dinner John fell asleep half sitting up on the sofa; forty-eight hours with only a wink or two of sleep in between really did a number on the body. It was to Sherlock’s touch that he awoke, a palm warm and solid pressing against his bicep.
“Mmmmph?” John asked, cracking his eyes open.
“Come to bed,” Sherlock ushered.
“Mmmno, can’t take the stairs, stay here,” he said, and petulantly snuggled himself down into the corner of the cushion.
Sherlock’s sweet, low chuckle vibrated through him but he didn’t open his eyes to it; he was knackered. There was blissful silence and then Sherlock’s hand wrapped around his bicep, tugging him gently. “No, come to mine, we’ll sleep there.”
John recalled, in the hazy, sleep-tumbled recesses of his mind, the plushness of Sherlock’s bed, the warmth, the inviting scent of it, and cracked one eye open. “Yeah?”
“Yes.” Sherlock chuckled again and helped John through the flat and out of his clothes, settling down into bed with him when he’d slipped his own pajamas on. The last conscious thought John had was how at home he felt in Sherlock’s big bed before Sherlock scooped John into his body and pressed his lips to the back of his neck. “Sleep.”
“Kay,” John mumbled and did just that.
Upon wakening he was shocked to find the time gone half two and in a fit of panic he sat straight up in the bed, belatedly recalling that he didn’t have a shift for the next two days. Adrenaline coursing through his veins, and finding it far too late to be waking up, he padded to the bathroom and relieved himself and a shower, spending an extra bit of time scrubbing the grime from his teeth.
John returned to Sherlock’s bedroom, starkers save for the towel around his waist, intending to gather up his clothing and return to his own room to dress for the day. He wasn’t expecting Sherlock to bowl him over onto the bed and pin him down; he fought momentarily, his instincts kicking in, before he huffed and tossed his head back against the mattress. “Good morning, then.”
“Good morning indeed,” and Sherlock smacked his lips to the side of John’s neck. “I woke up wanting your cock in my mouth but didn’t have it in me to wake you.”
A sizzle of heat shot through John at Sherlock’s stark admission and he rolled his hips hard against Sherlock’s. “Well,” he said, gruffly. “Thank god for small miracles.”
“Sleep well?” Sherlock planted an elbow down in the center of John’s chest, resting his chin in the cup of the palm and stared down at him angelically.
“Very well, thank you,” John said, smiling just as serenely back.
“All well rested, perky, fresh from the shower, ready for me to suck you off,” Sherlock said in a manner that was so blasé that John nearly chuckled at it; instead, he rolled his hips again, giving Sherlock the answer he was looking for and without anything further, Sherlock slid down John’s body and pressed a wet kiss to the head of John’s half-hard cock.
“I’m sorry I ever gave you the impression that I didn’t want this.” Sherlock pressed the flat of his tongue at the base of John’s prick and licked a stripe upwards. “The work is very important.” He did it again, this time lingering at the frenulum to run his tongue back and forth. “Though, I should mention that I found myself distracted by thoughts of you often.”
“Sherlock,” John rasped.
“Yes?” he pulled away and batted his eyelashes in John’s direction.
“It’s sweet, that’s sweet, you’re sweet but if you don’t suck me I’m going to go out of my mind, you bastard.”
With a rumble of a laugh Sherlock did just that, wrapping his fingers around the base of John’s cock and sliding his mouth down over the shaft as far as he was able. Sherlock was wonderfully boisterous about the whole thing, slurping and humming against John’s skin. His fingernails trailed over the short hair on John’s thighs and reached up now and again to tweak a nipple, but Sherlock kept the pace slow, diverting every so often to lick teasingly at his perineum and place messy kisses on his bollocks.
John tipped his gaze from the top of Sherlock’s head to the ceiling and he took a deep breath, wondering if he could rightly place the last time he’d received head that was so ardent and filthy. He found he couldn’t recall, not with Sherlock’s plump lips sucking him right to the tip and then swallowing back down.
Glancing back down, he caught sight of Sherlock’s upper lip slipping over the tip of his cock and he lost it. He gave a warning groan and a tiny little tug of Sherlock’s hair but Sherlock didn’t let up. It was like a blessing, being sucked in, tight and hot and close into the back of that mouth, and coming.
John came in aborted little thrusts, feeling like the essence of him was being drained through his cock.
It was long moments before his body went boneless, tongue coming out to wet his parched lips. “Jesus Christ, I’m sure what you just did is illegal in France.”
“Hmm, nothing’s illegal in France,” Sherlock laughed, and crawled up John’s body, not bothering to wait for him to peel his eyes open before he leaned in and kissed.
John tasted himself on Sherlock’s tongue and his prick gave a half-hearted twitch in response. With what little energy he had left he curled his hands into Sherlock’s hair and held him there while they snogged. He needed a moment before he returned the favor.
When Sherlock pulled away, John made to shift down the bed towards Sherlock’s straining prick, but Sherlock just placed a hand in the center of John’s chest and held him down. “May I,” he asked, very delicately, very primly as he took himself in hand and stroked, “come on your face?”
“Hah,” startled out of John, a dart of a laugh and then he was shimmying down so he was beneath the head of Sherlock’s cock, tongue slipping up and out to lick at the head experimentally. “Yes, god, yes do that.”
And so Sherlock maneuvered closer on his knees and pulled himself off in just a few quick strokes, painting John’s lips, chin and neck in come. When he was through, John brought a hand up to his face and ran the tip of an index finger through the mess, sucking it off as though testing the taste.
“Hmmm, have to say wasn’t expecting that,” John said.
Sherlock flopped down onto the bed, onto his side. “Oh no? But I asked so politely.”
John laughed and swatted at his bicep. “Oy, shut up you and grab me that towel before this dries on me!”
Sherlock had three investigations on, plus the case surrounding John’s flat, and over the next two weeks he was rarely in when John came home. It was no matter; John felt much better about their living situation after the talk they’d had over Chinese. He actually found himself feeling quite thankful, lucky even, that the fire had forced him to move in.
Aside from being shagged regularly, he’d also found a living companion he could deal with, who kept him on his toes, leaving him enough space so that he didn’t get smothered. He didn’t want to count his chickens, but John felt rather good about the direction in which he and Sherlock were headed.
It was a Friday morning when he returned to the flat after a long shift, opting to shower at home rather than at the station. There was always commotion when the shifts were changing and getting in the shower wasn’t as simple as just getting in the shower. Barbs had to be exchanged, the size of one’s dick commented upon; the locker room had been known to devolve into towel snapping at times.
After dropping his gear in the sitting room he went straight through to the loo and peeled off his sweat-soaked vest, tossing it on the floor in a heap. John checked himself in the mirror and pursed his lips at what he saw: the two day old stubble on his chin, the bags beneath his eyes. He truly was getting too old for this, he thought and for a moment his heart sank. He’d found a home at the station when he’d come home from active duty. He wasn’t sure what he was fit for, if not for fighting fires. Dragging a hand down his face, he let his fingertips snag at the end of his chin, tugging against the skin there.
He smacked himself lightly on the cheek to snap himself out of the thought and climbed into the shower, pulling the curtain closed with more force than necessary. He welcomed the startling and grounding spray of cold water on his body as he waited for it to warm. With his head beneath the water he didn’t hear Sherlock enter, wasn’t aware of the curtain being pulled back.
John shouted when arms twined around his middle, Sherlock’s chin coming to rest on his shoulder. “Christ, Sherlock, what the hell?”
“Wanted to keep you company,” he murmured into John’s ear and spread his hands wide over the toned plain of John’s stomach.
Pressing his back into Sherlock’s chest, John willed himself to relax, the frayed edges of his nerves beginning to recover from the fright. “How’s the case coming?”
Sherlock bent to retrieve his shampoo, working a dollop into John’s scalp; the pressure felt divine against his head and John lolled back, resting the curve of his skull against Sherlock’s sturdy shoulder. “I’ve had a chat with the commissioner. He’s got some free time on Tuesday, if you can make that work.”
John nodded and then sluggishly turned, pressing his face into the warm slope of Sherlock’s neck. He took a long inhale, feeling relaxed and warm, but the pungent scent of sweat and kerosene infiltrated his nose. “Ugh, Sherlock, you smell awful.”
“So do you,” Sherlock snuffled, pushing the soapy residue off of John’s forehead.
John squinted up at him. “No, I don’t.”
“No,” he agreed, resting his chin in the divot between John’s neck and shoulder. “You don’t.”
John squared his shoulders, stock still. “Sherlock this is…”
John sighed and let his mouth rest on the jut on Sherlock’s scapulae. “This is… nice.”
“It is,” Sherlock said, sounding surprised. “Isn’t it?”
They were sitting a chair apart from one another in the Office of the Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade. Sherlock had hired a courier to deliver the three boxes of evidence in advance of their arrival and thus they sat twiddling their fingers, waiting to be called.
Sherlock crossed and recrossed his legs, sighed aloud and then leaned back until his head thunked against the wall. “God, this is taking ages.” He groaned and thumped his head once again for good measure.
“Well, settle in for it; even though we’ve done the brunt of the work, the RFB will want to go over everything we’ve laid out,” John said placatingly, though he was equally as ready to be through with the whole ordeal. “And you know… all the paperwork. It’ll be ages still until we see anything come of all this.”
“Bloody bollocksing paperwork,” Sherlock said and scrubbed a hand down his face. John could tell from the frantic pace that his leg bounced at that he was thrumming with energy, really to snap. “Honestly, this time would be better spent…”
“Better spent?” John prompted, leaning forward, knees on elbows.
“Seeking out whomever was responsible for the arson of your flat.” Sherlock’s voice was low and heavy and though John was gazing imploringly at him, Sherlock wouldn’t meet his eyes.
“It’s not fine. Don’t say fine. It’s been weeks and I, I’m better than this,” he hissed at himself. “If I could just, just-”
“You’ll figure it out; I have faith in you.” And just like that, John reached across the short distance and laid a palm on Sherlock’s knee. “And I was going to say it’s been weeks… maybe whoever did it - ”
Sherlock’s hand sliced through the air as he abruptly cut John off. “They’re watching, of course they’re watching, waiting to see what will come of...” and he rapped his knuckles against the lid of the topmost box.
John’s brow scrunched in confusion as he attempted to figure it all out. Surely if someone was so keen to set his building on fire they’d be keen to see to it that they finished the intended job. If they were any sort of professional at all they would know that the work had been done at Sherlock’s flat and not his own. “If they were watching, wouldn’t they have, I don’t know… tried to torch your flat as well?”
Sherlock shook his head, distantly. “Surveillance is prevalent on Baker Street, thanks in no small part to my meddlesome brother. Your flat was merely a scare tactic.”
“A scare tactic?” John hissed. “That was my life, Jesus.” He took a steadying breath, and then another, and finally peeled his hand off of Sherlock’s knee. “Wait.” He caught up with what Sherlock had said. “You have a brother?” It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to him that Sherlock had a sibling, but he so rarely shared anything personal of himself with John that this felt like a revelation.
“Mmm, older, yes. Is a player of some significance in the British government, but meddlesome as I said; there’s not a person who enters or leaves the block who isn’t on Mycroft’s radar, the bastard.” Sherlock curled back into himself, resting back once more against the wall. “But yes, a scare tactic, obvious by the copious amounts of gasoline; they wanted to make it quite obvious that they were willing to go to murderous lengths to get us off of this case - which would likely mean that this person isn’t a professional so much as hot under the collar. So, not a firefighter or someone who works in a position related to the Fire Brigade. Which means-”
“He’s connected somehow to the warehouses,” John supplied.
“That’s the safest bet, yes.”
They were quiet for a time, John examining his nailbeds and then he perked up, a thought occurring to him. “Wait, does that mean your brother knows - ”
“That I’ve shacked up with a dashing ruffian of a firefighter with whom I’m having loads of sex? Of course.”
John frowned and then asked, “Dashing?”
“Don’t fish,” Sherlock shot him a glare even as John grinned back at him and they fell back into silence as they waited.
It was another quarter of an hour before they were ushered into the large, wood-paneled office. The man seated behind the desk was large and mustachioed, his glasses sitting on the bridge of his nose as he finished up whatever paperwork he was bent over.
“Mister Holmes, Mister Watson.” He placed his pen down with a certain care and stood, holding out a large, firm hand which they both took and shook. “Is this all of it?” he asked, as he waved to the two cardboard boxes that they had lugged in.
Sherlock sat down in one of the visitor chairs and John followed suit. Opening the top box, Sherlock lifted out a thin file and slid it across the desk. “This is the summary of the contents of the investigation that we undertook between October the fifth and January the twenty-second. The entire seventh and eighth block along that section - ” he leaned forward and tugged out a map, indicating where he was referring to.
When he settled back against the chair his lips were tight but John could tell how smug he felt. “-was slated to be demolished over a period of six months over three years ago. This paperwork and the project into the demolition wasn’t simply stalled, it was derailed entirely, covered up.”
The commissioner sat for a time and sifted through the summary file Sherlock had offered. Once he was through, he too sat back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. “Someone at City Hall covered this, all of this up.” It wasn’t a question.
“We’ve narrowed it down to the office but without further resources…” John trailed off.
“And we both agreed that the investigation should go through the highest channels to dispel any fears that there might be bureaucratic tampering,” Sherlock finished.
The commissioner nodded once and reviewed the documents again, leaving Sherlock and John to exchange a quick glance.
“This is all fairly comprehensive,” he said eventually. “I’ll have to scrape together an independent team of investigators, corroborate what you’ve given me but what you have given me seems very up to snuff, so Holmes, no promises but for once something in this department might have a reasonable turnaround time.”
Sherlock stood and with a curt nod, extended his hand; the commissioner too stood and they shook on it. “Thank you, sir. We look forward to hearing from you.”
John followed suit but was stopped from pulling away when the commissioner's other hand landed on his wrist. “Hold on, are you the Watson whose flat went up?”
John shifted on his feet, squared his jaw and briefly glanced over at Sherlock. They hadn’t mentioned that the fire at John’s flat and the person who set the warehouse fire were related; they didn’t have proof of that yet, but Sherlock’s hunch was enough for them to go on. They both feared if anyone found out it would derail the initial warehouse investigation and Sherlock was confident that he could find the perpetrator on his own, no harm, no foul.
Now, John felt as though he were purposefully hiding something from the commissioner and it didn’t sit right with him. John swallowed. “Uh, uh yeah, that’s me.”
The commissioner grimaced but released John’s hand and after a moment, composed himself and shot a comforting smile. “Well Holmes here is on it, isn’t he?”
“He is, yes sir,” John confirmed.
“Well.” The commissioner sat back down and once again took up his pen. “It’s as good as solved then, isn’t it!”
John considered buying a bed.
Just in case.
He was living at Baker Street and it would be good to have in the event of…
In the event of, well -
“Why on earth are you looking at boxsprings?” Sherlock had asked one evening, stooping down into John’s personal space where he sat at the table, browsing.
John startled and slammed the laptop closed, rounding on Sherlock. He had his dressing gown shrugged over his shoulders, pajama pants on his legs but his chest was gloriously bare. John might have stood up and stalked him back to the bedroom had it not been for the oversized rubber gloves and safety goggles he wore. “What are you - no, nevermind, don’t want to know. And the boxspring is for you know, a mattress. I was figuring I could get one for the room upstairs and - ”
“If you find during the duration of our relationship that you need to sleep elsewhere I know firsthand that the sofa is quite comfortable.”
John goggled for a moment, mouth popping open only to snap back closed again. “Relationship, is it?”
“It’s been several weeks, John. You sleeping in my bed, me making you coffee in the morning. Then there’s all the sex, too,” Sherlock commented wryly.
“That doesn’t mean we’re in a relationship, that means we’re fucking. If we’re in a relationship - ”
“Yes, god, feelings. Always feelings. Well I care about you a great deal and feel as though that will continue for the foreseeable future. Now, is that concrete enough for you? Shall I provide you more evidence? Would you like me to wax terribly poetic about how your hair catches the sun just so?” Sherlock poked fun, but John just stepped up and laid a hard kiss on his open mouth before pulling back.
“You are.” John stopped, reached up and flicked just above Sherlock’s right nipple. “A right arse.”
“There’s a but in here,” Sherlock growled.
“Is there? A butt?” John reached around and swatted at Sherlock’s arse as he chuckled.
Sherlock yelped and rolled his eyes in a fantastic fashion. “Terrible sense of humor you have.”
“Anyway, yeah,” John returned to the matter at hand. “I care about you too.” When he stood back and put his hands on his hips he said, “So, relationship then?”
“Yes,” Sherlock nodded once and then brought the beaker he was holding up to his face for closer inspection. “I think so.”
The other Captain in John’s house was slated to be gone for two weeks, and as such, John picked up many of the empty shifts. The men in his house could handle it, he was sure, but if anyone from the LFB came by, John wanted to be on hand to show that the house was adequately staffed and being overseen.
He spent a few nights on the sofa in the Captain’s office - surprisingly comfortable for a piece of furniture that looked to have been in use since the mid 80’s - and took most of his meals at the worn metal table in the kitchen. Without having to commute to work most mornings he was able to catch an extra few minutes of sleep, which was a bonus, though he hadn’t seen Sherlock in roughly a week, an absence that he felt much more acutely than he expected to.
He was in the middle of tossing a load of white ribbed vests in the wash on Wednesday - the one he currently wore was stained nearly beyond salvation - when Sherlock swooped into the house, navigating between two engines and plonking a fragrant bag down atop the washing machine.
“Well hello,” John said, pleasantly surprised, grinning up at Sherlock.
Sherlock smiled down at him, hesitantly, his gaze flickering to John’s lips and then back to his eyes. John shrugged and wrapped a warm palm around Sherlock’s neck, bringing him in for a brief but sweet kiss. “No, no one knows about us, but that’s because I’m not the sort of person who tells other people those things. This… this is all fine.”
Sherlock grinned. “Good. Because as a wonderful, attentive, caring partner - ”
“Yeah,” John chortled, “right.”
“ - I’ve brought you Korean takeaway and your favorite beer and some really fantastic news.” Sherlock was giddy, dancing up on the balls of his feet.
“Oh?” John turned the machine on and stepped over to his locker, shucking his disgusting vest in favor of a soft navy cotton tee shirt. “Well, go on.”
Sherlock raised a brow at John as he ran a hand through his hair and tugged at the hem of his shirt. There was a heat in his gaze, a heat he hadn’t been privy to in over a week. “Hey, none of that, not while I’m on the clock.”
“It’s been forever, John,” Sherlock hissed but followed John as he took up the bag of food and made his
way up the winding staircase to the kitchen and offices.
They set up in John’s office and Sherlock dragged a chair over to the desk, sitting just out of John’s reach.
“Andrea Jacobson, formerly an agent at Cushman and Wakefield, took a position with the redevelopment authority five years ago. It seems that while working in commercial real estate she had some dealing with warehouse conversions - lofts and conference spaces and last minute renovations for the Olympics and all that - and helped the firm profit greatly.”
“Right.” John shoveled some pork bulgogi into his mouth.
Sherlock dangled a beer between two fingers and continued. “It seems Ms. Jacobson’s firm had a contract to purchase the block of warehouses back in 2011 but that fell through when the redevelopment authority had a random inspection and condemned them.” He took a swig from his bottle. “What’s more is that her firm was in talks with a Japanese hospitality conglomerate to subcontract the buildings to.”
“And then she just quit after the deal fell through?”
“Strange that she would take a position with the redevelopment authority, no?”
“You think then, that… that… she was going to sweep all of that under the rug? That the buildings were condemned? That’s a lot of information to hide, a lot of people to do away with or pay off,” John considered, sipping at his own beer. “And why?”
“The Japanese backers! She’s adept at the culture of commercial real estate and now she works in City Hall! In the very office the City of London relies upon for all of it’s land and real estate dealings. The Japanese are still interested,” Sherlock finished, placing his beer down on the desk. “She’s trying to make this deal go through before the buildings are condemned and she isn’t particularly thrilled that of all the people employed by the city, you and I were the ones to finally uncover all of the paperwork.”
“But we can’t be the only ones who know that the buildings were slated for demolition! That’s a few city blocks worth of warehouses - someone would have been contracted to do the demolition, someone would have signed off on the project!” John exclaimed.
“God, paperwork gets lost in the minutiae of bureaucracy all the time. Who’s going to remember that a few ancient warehouses need demolition when the facade of Westminster Abbey is crumbling! It would have been easy for people to look the other way. A forged signature here, a lost form there, and everyone just forgets about it.”
“Jesus, makes you wonder what else falls through the cracks at City Hall,” John said and finished off his beer, sticking his fork with a finality into the container of pork. “So,” John sighed heavily and folded his hands over his stomach. “What do we do now?”
“Now, I - ”
But the blaring of the house alarm interrupted them, a calm female voice calling for “Engine, Ladder, Company,” and John was on his feet. “Sorry, stay here, yeah? Finish dinner and - ”
“Go, go, I’ll see you at home tonight,” Sherlock waved him away but John stumbled back, dropped a quick kiss against his mouth and then dashed hastily from the room.
The fire was brutal; due to the strong winds and the colder-than-average temperatures it was a hassle to get under control. John had sent four of his men into the ten-flat building before he himself had geared up and gone in.
It was slow going once inside, the density of smoke making it difficult to see. The structure was old and divided awkwardly; the confusing layout spoke to the suspicion that it had once been tenements and John had to take extra precautions as he wound his way up the floors, assisting his men in ensuring that it was clear of people.
John made it to the third floor and was pleased to find that the smoke was less dense and though the fire was climbing its way up, it had yet to reach that level. He forced his way through two doors, each of which appeared to be a separate flat and then radioed down the all clear. At the end of the hall there was a door that he was sure led to a utility closet but he check it just to be sure - children had a habit of running and hiding from the flames rather than trying to make it outside.
He turned the doorknob and stumbled back when a pile of brooms fell out directly on top of him. John chuckled at himself for the over-reaction and leaned against the wall as he caught his breath. Radioing down a second time that he was about to make his way out of the building, he took a step towards the stairs and suddenly the floor beneath him gave way.
He went with a shout, down through the splintered floorboards and hit the hallway below with a thud. The last thought he had before he lost consciousness was what a shame it was that he hadn’t bothered to linger a second longer when he’d kissed Sherlock goodbye.
“Finally,” he heard when he came to, but it took John a moment to clear his vision and figure out where the hell he was. The bright lights and terrible wallpaper combined with the overwhelming antiseptic smell made it quite clear that he was in hospital.
And the voice, perturbed and annoyed, had come from Sherlock.
John blinked over at him and he continued on. “Now you can tell the nurses to stop ogling you. You’d think they never saw a fit man before.”
“You’re jealous,” John wheezed and grimaced and Sherlock held out a cup of ice chips to him. God, his body felt like one huge exposed nerve. “What happened?”
“As far as I can gather the floor gave way, you landed on a support beam and were knocked unconscious,” Sherlock leaned forward and tapped on his left forearm. “Also dislocated your left shoulder, broke two ribs but other than that no damage. Well done, you.”
“Fuck.” John’s eyes fell closed and he rubbed at his brow with his available hand. It was when he opened his eyes once again that he realized that Sherlock’s arm was too in a sling. “What the hell Sherlock? What happened?”
Sherlock’s gaze flittered down to the snug black sling that encased his arm.“Oh this? Just a graze.”
“You were shot?!” John screeched, sitting up too quickly in bed and swaying as a wave of pain punched him in the solar plexus.
“Knife,” he tried to reassure. “And as I said, just a graze.”
“Just a - ” John sputtered. “Just a graze? Let me see?” and he inched himself closer to the edge of the bed as Sherlock shuffled back.
“What - no? How did you do it then? Where? When?”
Sherlock sniffed and glanced out the window. “After you were called away, I took a chance and was going to - ”
The phrase took a chance turned something in John’s stomach and he narrowed his eyes. “What?” John growled.
“I didn’t break in to the RDA, I… it’s easy enough to get into City Hall if security thinks you’re part of the cleaning crew and then it was a simple matter of picking the lock and - ”
“You, you - ” John’s anger was beginning to boil, he could feel his face heating and his good hand curled into a fist. “You…”
“Andrea Jacobson happened to be working late and I, well, I…”
“Couldn’t keep your big gob shut could you? You blurt it all out? Hm? Right there?”
“I didn’t think she’d have a knife on her person at work, John. I didn’t think - ”
“No! You didn’t think! You could have been seriously injured! Or worse! Next time - ”
“Next time I will call the proper authorities,” Sherlock said mockingly just as John finished with, “wait for me!”
They fell into silence, John visibly fuming, chest heaving with the force of his breath and Sherlock startled, wide eyed.
Once John had gotten his anger under control and was leaning back against the pillows, he reached across his body with his right hand and wriggled his fingers; Sherlock fit their palms together awkwardly, but tightly enough. “So that’s it then? She’s been arrested?”
“And not just for fraud and arson,” Sherlock informed. “Although we put in all of that terribly hard work what’s going to be easiest to convict her on is attempted murder. Though, I’m sure the prosecutor will be grateful for the wealth of evidence we provided them.”
“And I’m sure the LFB is happy to be rid of the investigation, diverting funds and all that,” John said, sounding rather sad.
“Hmmm,” Sherlock hummed, equally as dejected.
“It was all a bit…” John scrunched up his lips as he searched for the word. “Over a bit suddenly, I guess. I expected to be involved in all of this case nonsense for… oh I don’t know. Nevermind, I suppose I just found it…” John huffed a little sigh and shrugged against the pillows. ”Exciting,” he said eventually. “Sussing it all out, working the case with you. It was… fun. Good, it was good.” John pursed his lips and kept his gaze fixed resolutely on the ceiling.
“Well,” Sherlock said after a time, squeezing John’s hand. “I’ll have more cases; there are loads of backlog and I find that I - ” Sherlock paused abruptly and frowned at himself, shook his head.
“I quite enjoyed working with you,” Sherlock said quickly, as though it were something shameful. “You’re not the most luminous of people but as a conductor of light you are unbeatable.”
“Well,” John sigh and ran his thumb against the side of Sherlock’s palm. “That’s quite nice, isn’t it?”
“Oh, shut up,” Sherlock groused and then stood, tugged his arm gently out of John’s grip, walked around to the other side and climbed onto the small bed. John did his best to scoot to the side and Sherlock lay down next to them, their good arms pressed together. “We are… a pair.”
“We are,” John agreed and tucked his head into the space between Sherlock’s neck and shoulder. “Maybe we can do this again sometime, without the getting stabbed and falling through floors business. Just the investigating bits.”
“I’d quite like that, I think,” Sherlock said and John sighed, utterly content but for the throbbing in his ribs.