His hand felt good. Warm, secure.
"Yes, you've got it." Sherlock stepped back just in the direction John intended him to go. It was good to be able to steer him, for once. Hell, after the last few years, it was good to be doing anything with him at all. John smoothly waltzed them once more round the lounge, then promptly tripped over his feet. Sherlock caught him: even going backward he seemed to have more grace than John ever did, but there was no time for jealousy. They laughed instead, Sherlock holding him up as they teetered precariously toward the sofa.
Mrs. Hudson pushed into the kitchen to leave them some shopping. She did one silent circuit of the floor, like a bird flitting inside the flat from kitchen to lounge to landing then was gone, shaking her head and pretending she wasn't laughing too.
"Ridiculous," John gasped out, and he pressed his forehead to Sherlock's shoulder for a moment as he regained his footing.
"I wasn't the one who tripped."
"I didn't do it on purpose," John said. He grinned up at the brilliant smile, the lines wrinkling the corners of Sherlock's eyes, those human, human eyes, and the particular way his mouth twisted in a smile, as familiar as breath. John’s heart thundered in his chest. Sherlock's gaze flicked down to his mouth, then back up.
They stared, and slowly their smiles melted away. They left the music playing to disguise their speech, speaking close and quiet, their bodies still clinched. Sherlock pulled John back into the dance. His arms were posed as if he were following, but he led just the same.
"You're ready to do this, John," Sherlock said with tremendous, monstrous certitude.
"I'm not sure if I am." John swallowed.
"I know. I know I did. But." John tried very, very hard not to look at Sherlock's mouth in return. "Are you sure this is the only way?"
"You have to. We agreed."
"After all this, you can't back out now."
"I'm not saying I'm going to back out, but…"
"You have to marry her, John." Sherlock caught his eye. "You must." He laughed, and it sounded forced. "I certainly can't be the one to do it." John felt Sherlock's hand twitch on his shoulder.
"She didn't ask to marry me."
"No, I know."
"She's the last of his network. Remember that. The last."
"Oh," John said in a dry, humourless laugh, "I'm aware, Sherlock."
"So you know how dangerous this is. You know what I'm entrusting you with."
Just once more, just for this minute, John let himself feel the warmth of Sherlock's back under his hand. He felt the flex of his breath. He stroked his shirt. "I do."
"It's not…too long." Sherlock's face was so close—too close. They needed to stop soon. It was mortally important that they let go. Sherlock stared at John's cheek. "When this is over. When this is over, we can…"
Sherlock seemed lost, his sentence abandoned. His loneliness was even louder from this distance, and it made John's heart crack.
John no longer counted the rhythm in his head. His body had taken over, meting out these stolen moments three heartbeats at a time. They danced, and John let himself be carried away in the feel of Sherlock's body as the constructed waltz became something softer, sensuous, sinuous, seductive. The pulse in Sherlock's throat jumped. The blood in John's veins felt the same: barely contained by his skin, barrelling out of control with every iota of strength he used to keep them apart.
Sherlock sighed, and his breath shook. The sound of it made John's stomach roil with a dark-tinged, desolate longing. He wanted so badly he was momentarily nauseated with it. But they'd promised themselves, and it would be disastrous to lose sight of the goal now: so close to being free from Moriarty’s web. So close to having a chance.
"It's not too long," John whispered. "Just a few weeks."
Sherlock’s breath came quicker. "May be more." His chest brushed the front of John’s shirt. John’s breathing sped to match it.
"I won't let it be more."
"I'm sorry, John, but you have no way of—"
"I won't let it be more." John could feel Sherlock exhale in response, his breath stirring the fine hairs on John’s neck. There was faintest brush of skin under his ear. It might have been the tip of Sherlock’s nose. It might also have been his lips. John shivered.
Their cheeks skimmed together, setting up ripples of emotion that echoed into the pit of John’s stomach. "Mycroft tells me that there may be complications,” Sherlock said, and John could feel his resolve beginning to melt with the intensity of Sherlock’s closeness. He couldn’t see; he could only feel. He wanted.
"Bugger the complications," John murmured. Tension twisted like a knot at his groin.
Only when he felt Sherlock’s speech against his lips did John realise their mouths were a breath from touching. "Sherlock,” John said in a puff of air. They froze. After a heart-rending moment John swallowed and collected himself, backing out of the embrace and staring over Sherlock's shoulder at the far wall. Then he looked down at his feet. Then he looked at the door. His hands shook. "I just. I just got you back. Two years, and I feel as if just got you back. And I know that was the plan, and I know what my job is, but. The hell am I going to let this go on one single day—no, one single hour longer than it has to, do you understand?”
"It's only for a few weeks more, John."
"And then I can come home. We can both be home. Here. Together."
It was clearly the wrong thing to say. Sherlock's face did something subtly wrong and his shoulders jerked. "John…" he whispered in a voice as fragile and strained as cracked glass.
Sherlock stared into his face, open misery in his eyes, for only a moment. Then he shook it off. He stood up straight, pulling himself out of John's grip and reassembling himself from the ground up. When he was through he looked like Sherlock Holmes, the detective. Sherlock Holmes, calculating machine. His expression was shuttered, and any warmth, any humanity he'd shown John was gone. "Into battle," he said.
John already missed him. He tucked his hands away behind his back. "We're good at battles."
"And this one has been no different. Just a longer campaign."
"One I'm very much looking forward to being over."
"Same," John said. He envisioned the past few years, with their expected dramas and carefully laid plans unfolding like a map from Moriarty to freedom. He envisioned his role in it: loving husband, unwitting dupe, luckless pawn. And at the end, he envisioned relief, and breath, and a brilliant, incandescent love. John swallowed. "You don't even know how much."
"I think I do." For a long, drawn-out moment Sherlock stood so close John could feel his body heat spread like warm honey through his bones.
Then the song ended, and Sherlock took a breath. He spun away to the stereo then faced John. "Ready?"
"As I'll ever be." John firmed his shoulders. He nodded at Sherlock, a captain to his SO.
Sherlock took in John's stance, toe to head. Then he dipped his head toward the stereo, a tiny smile playing at the corners of his mouth. "One more dance?"
"Just one." John allowed himself a smile.
Sherlock started the music over and stepped in to hold John in his arms. John tried to memorise the feeling of security to take with him as he went willingly back into Mary's—Moran's—trap. They grasped at each other's hands, moving as one unit in a pattern around the room as Sherlock's fingertips pressed against his neck and John tucked his thumb into the waistband of Sherlock's trousers.
Just this dance. Just one more, and then back into the fray.