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"You're not visiting your parents for Christmas," Sherlock announced, not looking up from his computer.

John didn't bother to ask how Sherlock knew that. "No, I'm not." He was gratified to see Sherlock's mouth purse in annoyance. He loved explaining himself and was endlessly peevish when denied the opportunity. "Airfare to Florida is a bit beyond my means."

"And Harry?" Sherlock asked, still tapping furiously on his keyboard. "She's going to visit them. Leaving on Friday, is she?"

John put the paper down. Sherlock never made idle chat; he was driving at something. "You know that perfectly well or you wouldn't have brought it up." Sherlock smirked at him, looking ghostly pale in the glow of the screen. "Why do you ask?"

Sherlock closed the laptop, strode over to the mantel, tapped it with his finger, opened his mouth, walked into the kitchen, picked up a mug, put it down again, then came back in to the sitting room and threw himself on the couch, eyes resolutely shut. "I want you to come home with me," he announced.

"I am home with you," John said, frowning. If he didn't know better, he'd think Sherlock was nervous. You had to have nerves for that, though. "Flatmates, remember?"

"Don't be a twit," Sherlock snapped. "I mean home, my home, my family home." He still hadn't opened his eyes. "My mother expects me home for Christmas. Mycroft comes home for Christmas. It's...challenging."

John shuddered. "I know Mycroft; no need to elaborate. Why me? And won't your mum be surprised that you're dragging me along?"

"My mother," Sherlock started, then stopped, pressing his fingers to his lips. "My mother would be pleased to know I'd made a friend," he admitted, darting a quick look at John. "I wasn't exactly popular in the schoolyard." He closed his eyes and settled into the pillows. "Of course, if you have a date with Chinese takeaway and bad telly, please," he waved his hand languidly, "don't let me stop you."

"Well, I'll go just to see Mycroft in a silly paper crown," John said, laughing. "Must be a sight." Sherlock smiled briefly, cracking his eyes open. "If your mum doesn't mind, well, then, I'd be honored."

"That's because you're a fool," Sherlock said, rolling over, his back to John. "But a kind one."

................

They took the train to Kent. Holmes didn't want to hire a car, because he wanted to be able to think and people-watch, "to prevent me from suffering through the tedium of your conversation and music choices for miles."

He'd been more snippy and derisive than usual in the weeks since he'd asked John to come home with him. John just ignored it for the most part; he'd seen enough soldiers cover up their fright with bluster to pay it much mind. It had taken a lot for Sherlock to open up, even if he'd never admit it, and the realm of friendship and family was a sight more frightening to him than any number of madmen with guns.

(John had, however, put his foot down, when Sherlock had blown off his inquiries about what to bring for gifts. He'd threatened to text Mycroft and go Christmas shopping with him instead. Horrified, Sherlock dragged John to the shops. Wine for Mycroft, a leather-bound diary for his mum.)

Sherlock spent the train ride texting John with things like:

The woman in the green coat -- no, don't look!

Going to see her lover to break it off. He doesn't know she's pregnant.

and

elderly gentleman with a drinking problem is former military, closeted gay

and

Pass me the crisps. I know you're hiding them in your bag.

Sherlock grew increasingly tense as they approached. "Look at this place," he said. "Terrifying."

John looked out the window. "Seems like a perfectly lovely little village to me," he said. "Quite relaxing, actually."

"Please," Sherlock pointed out the window, his long finger stabbing into the glass. "Can you imagine all the crimes that can be committed out here, with nobody the wiser?"

"You're a morbid git," John said, shaking his head. "And stop hogging all the crisps."

............

Sherlock's family home was exactly as John had pictured: a long, winding drive leading up to a stately, picturesque, family manse. Positively reeking of old money without being too ostentatious, and obviously well-loved and cared for.

Sherlock, who was sitting straight as a poker next to him in the cab, bit off a curse. "She's let the gardener go again, and that nosy Agatha woman has been around." He whipped out his phone and started texting furiously. "And Mycroft has yet to make his grand entrance."

"The grounds look lovely," John said, unsure of what Sherlock was seeing that indicated the lack of attention of a gardener. It was hard to tell in the dim light and under the dusting of a recent snow.

"Of course they do; she's been caring for them herself. Not the mowing, of course, but the vegetables...damn her." Sherlock said, more obviously distressed that John had ever seen him. "She's a bloody fool." He jumped out of the cab before it even came to a full stop, leaving John to pay the driver. Sherlock stood, staring at the house, hands jammed in his pockets, looking for all the world like a bizarre piece of Gothic statuary.

"Some help with the luggage? Yes? No?" John shared a look with the driver, who gave him a sympathetic nod and started pulling bags out of the boot. "I do have a bullet would in my shoulder," John called out. "Pains me terribly."

"Too bad you don't know any good doctors," Sherlock said, unmoving.

The door opened to reveal a woman, leaning on a cane and breathing heavily. Any impression of infirmity, however, was immediately banished by her voice. "Sherlock!" she called. "Last I heard, you were bringing a friend to our house, not a servant. I don't suppose you're too good to carry your own bags."

Sherlock ducked his head and grabbed the two heaviest bags out of John's hands. "Yes, Mother." He looked at John and said, "Well, are you coming?" He breezed past his mother, kissing her briefly on the cheek. "Mother, may I present my friend, John Watson. John, this is my mother. Now I trust that she will ask you all sorts of horribly prying questions and then subject you to ghastly old family portraits." He crossed his arms. "I suggest starting with Mycroft's baby pictures."

"Oh, I suppose these are the manners they're keeping in London these days." She fixed Sherlock with a hard stare and he uncrossed his arms and put them in his pockets. John was completely and utterly besotted with her. He'd never seen anyone with the ability to silence Sherlock Holmes in quite that way. It was evident that Mycroft favored her; she had a rounded face and a soft, pleasant look, but her piercing gray eyes were all Sherlock.

"Mrs. Holmes," John said, taking her arm. "Thank you ever so much for having me for the holidays. It is so lovely to finally meet you."

She beamed at him. "We're going to get on just fine, dear. Would you like a tour?"

"No," Sherlock cut in. "He would not. You are going to call Mrs. Leighton and have her make you a cup of tea in bed. And I am going to show John to the guest quarters. And if you don't like it, then you can take it up with Mycroft. I think you'll find that this is one point on which we both agree."

"You remember to whom you're speaking," she said, but she let John lead her to a couch in an adjacent sitting room.

"The most stubborn, idiotic woman in all creation, yes, I'm aware." Sherlock started up the main stairs. "This way, John. Keep up or you'll get lost in this godforsaken maze."

John hurried to keep up, falling into step with Sherlock on the wide, marble stairs.

"She's not well," Sherlock said, no emotion coloring his voice.

"Congestive heart failure." John said. "The edema, and the rattle in her exhalations." He looked at Sherlock, who was striding toward a great pair of doors. "She shouldn't be gardening. I see your point."

"She's a stubborn old goat." Sherlock opened the doors into a guest room, with a giant four-poster bed made up with soft, white embroidered linens right in the center, and a fireplace on the far wall. Heavy carpets that probably cost more than John's yearly pension covered the wood floors. "My room adjoins," Sherlock said. He pointed to a wooden door. "You can knock there if you need anything. No need to bother anyone else." He called over his shoulder as he left, "Dinner is in an hour."

John's phone buzzed.

Well? Corpses, bride of Frankenstein?
-Lestrade

Chuckling, John texted back:

POSH.

His phone buzzed back.

No corpses, won 5 quid from Anderson. Tell him I said happy xmas. Same to you.

John sent back a quick will do and set about to unpacking his things.

...................

Mycroft arrived later that night, full of excuses about things that he couldn't disclose on pain of death, and brought with him a uniformed driver, a large box full of garishly-wrapped gifts, and...Mrs. Mycroft.

"He has a wife?" John hissed to Sherlock, watching Charity Bodington-Holmes flutter around the sitting room, laying on compliments in one breath, then offering decorating suggestions in the other.

"No upright man in politics would be seen without the proper doting wife on his arm," Sherlock said, leaning close to John's ear. "She looks smart in Chanel suits and donates money to photogenic orphans, thus she serves her purpose."

"They don't have...children?" John tried and failed to imagine Mycroft imparting life lessons on some little tykes, possibly in an empty car park.

"No." Sherlock's mouth quirked upward. "God, no. It'd ruin her figure."

"Sherlock! How good to see you again!" She swept over and moved to kiss him on the cheek, but he neatly sidestepped her. "Charming as ever, I see!"

"Wish I could say the same," Sherlock said, not even looking her in the eyes. "Charity, this is my friend John Watson."

"I've heard ever so much about you from Mycroft." She beamed at him and gripped his forearms with perfectly-manicured red talons.

"That's terrifying," John muttered under his breath, knowing Sherlock would hear him. "I mean, that's nice? That's nice. Um, Happy Christmas." He could see Sherlock out of the corner of his eye, staring at the ceiling in a way that meant he was trying not to laugh.

"It's so nice that Sherlock has finally found someone to share his life with!" she trilled, digging her nails another inch deeper in her enthusiasm. "After all those years alone!"

"We're not, actually," he started, then gave up. He didn't want to give this woman an inch of satisfaction, or any hook to hang her pity on. "Yes, quite nice," he said. He saw Sherlock whip his head around. Excellent. He loved being able to surprise Sherlock now and again.

After she left in a cloud of perfume, ten half-moons likely permanently impressed into John's forearms, Sherlock spoke, not looking at him. "Pity? From you, John? Really, there's no need."

"No, I...no. She was just so...smug. And bloody awful." He nudged Sherlock with his elbow. "And besides, she didn't say, 'I'm so glad Sherlock has found someone to shag,' right? It's just a lie of omission. Sort of."

Sherlock was staring at him, a slight crease between his eyes, like John had suddenly started speaking Farsi. "Hmmm," was all he said.

....................

gunfire, flashing bright against the dark mountains; an American under his hands, mangled by a bomb, not dead, should be dead, screaming voices

"John! John, wake up!" John woke with a gasp, reaching for his gear that wasn't there. He was warm. Not home, but safe. His eyes adjusted to the darkness.

Sherlock was standing by his bed, wearing silk pyjamas and a cross expression. "I can't sleep."

"Bloody hell," John muttered and rolled over. He wasn't sure which was worse: the possibility of taking another little nighttime holiday to Kandahar, or dealing with Sherlock Holmes in a snit at two in the morning.

"It's too quiet here," Sherlock said, flopping on the unoccupied side of the bed. "There's no traffic, no busses, no shouting, no food smells, nothing but the rapid-fire whirring of my brain to keep me company." He sniffed, smoothing out the coverlet. "It's unsettling."

"What's unsettling is your staggering lack of boundaries," John said, pointedly pulling the covers up to his chest.

"Please, you were having a nightmare. You can thank me in the morning."

"And didn't you grow up here?" John asked, rubbing his face. God, he was tired. He didn't have time to play nursemaid. "You should be used to it."

"Not hardly," Sherlock said, his lip curling up. "I was here as a boy, went away to school, then to Uni. I've lived more than half my life away."

"Well, I've had a long day, I'm tired, I'm going to have to face your brother and his wife over breakfast tomorrow, and I can sleep bloody well anywhere, gift of Her Majesty's Royal Medical Corps. So I'm going to sleep. You're welcome to stare daggers at me while I do if you'd like." And with that he rolled over again, pulled the blankets over his shoulders and, true to his words, dropped off to sleep.

Just before he sunk into his (much more pleasant) dreams, he thought he felt a cool hand touching his cheek, just a moment, but then it was gone.

....................

Mrs. Holmes sighed. They were in her study, having a cup of tea. Sherlock was gone when John woke, to his disappointment. He would have liked to see Sherlock's face softened and vulnerable in sleep, something he'd never quite managed to catch in their months living together. Mycroft and his wife were out on some errand or another, so it was just the two of them.

"Just like his father," she was saying, after John said that he had no idea where Sherlock had gone. "Robert was forever holed up in his lab with one experiment or another. He was a biologist, you know." She smiled at the memory, raising her teacup up to her lips and sipping carefully.

"I didn't know, actually," John admitted. "Sherlock isn't exactly forthcoming about himself." He rubbed his hands on his trousers, trying to somehow generate courage like it was static electricity, warming his palms against the rough corduroy. "Sherlock's father...my I ask? What happened?" There had been no mention of divorce, he was always referred to in the past tense, and there were still pictures of him in cherished places throughout the home. That last detail was one that John would have never recognized before Holmes.

"Home invasion," she said. "Knifed for a few pieces of china and my second-best jewelry." Her hand trembled and she put down the cup. "I was away with the boys on holiday in Greece. He had some 'crucial piece of data' that had to be gotten that week or never." She laughed, a thin, watery sound. "I was so angry with him. It was always something. Tests to be run, experiments that might fail if he took his attention from them for one minute...we had planned this holiday for months, and he refused --" She shook her head. "I was so angry with him," she repeated softly.

"I'm so sorry," John said, reaching out to hold her hand. "I didn't mean to upset you."

"It is years in the past," she said firmly, coming back to herself. "Sherlock was just a boy. He idolized his father. He'd always taken after him, you know. So serious, so scientific. It was downright strange in a boy of six, but also charming." She smiled at John. "He was a queer little duck, my Sherlock. But after his father's death, he lost all the little boy in him. I worried about him constantly. I do still worry about him." She reached over and caught his hand that was covering hers. "But now he has you," she beamed at him warmly. "I am so relieved."

Oh, bollocks.

"And if you break his heart," she went on, still smiling sweetly, "I will break you, do you understand?"

John just stared at her. This whole family was completely mad.

"Um, we're not actually together...not like that. We're friends," John babbled. "I may have um, misled..."

"All the same," she said. "If you break his heart, there will be no safe place in the world for you, do you understand?"

"Yes, um." John set his cup down, stood up quickly, and nearly bumped into a vase on his way out the door. "I had better go check to see if he's back. He's better when not left to his own devices for too long."

"You know him so well," she said, smiling as if she hadn't just threatened him with a worldwide manhunt ending in death.

John backed out of the room and fled upstairs.

.....................

In hindsight, there was no reason for John to expect Sherlock to be awake and dressed; he knew, as Sherlock's flatmate, that he never kept any kind of regular pattern of sleep. Sometimes he would sleep for what seemed like days; sometimes almost never. The only indication John ever had of Sherlock's sleeping habits was his absence or presence in the common areas of the flat. And he certainly never wandered about half-dressed, rubbing his eyes and mumbling for his coffee. He always emerged, either fully dressed in clothes that cost half John's pension, or wrapped in his dressing-gown if he was in a mood.

So while it could be said that John might have expected that (a) Sherlock wasn't awake, and (b) he'd get dressed in his room, the fact that (c) he walked in on him while he was getting dressed was a complete shock.

John opened the door, walked in, and got a flash of long, pale legs, a smooth torso, expensive silk boxers (burgundy), and -- "Oh, sorry," John said, and turned around.

"Really, Doctor Watson," Sherlock said, in that voice that meant he was laughing at John. Annoyed, John turned back to face him. "Ten years in the military and fifteen as a doctor, and you still carry shame about the human body? How quaint."

"I don't," John said. "I was just respecting your privacy." He couldn't explain that the sight of Sherlock, casually walking about unclothed, where you could see the jagged scar on his back knife wound of some sort, messy, lucky it missed his lungs and the light dusting of hair on his chest and belly and legs, was so unbearably...erotic, his brain supplied. Personal, he mentally shouted back. Intimate. I'll go as far as intimate. Sherlock was right; as a soldier and a doctor, after years of military showers and caring for the dead and dying, the human body held little mystery for him anymore. But this was different. In a way that John wasn't in any rush to define. The novelty, he told himself.

Sherlock pulled one of several indistinguishable pairs of black pants from a garment bag hanging in the wardrobe, bent to put them on, and John wasn't looking away now. Watching the smooth black wool sliding over Sherlock's thighs and buttoning over the silk of his boxers was like a strange, chaste, Victorian striptease in reverse. Next came a dark grey shirt, closing over the smooth expanse of his chest surprisingly muscled, given he's so slim and then John realized that he'd been staring at Sherlock for a full minute without speaking.

It hadn't escaped Sherlock's notice. As soon as his shirt was buttoned and he'd patted down his hair, he quirked a smile at John. "Well? Did you enjoy the show? Or did you have another reason for barging in my room?"

And now, a potentially awkward conversation made even more awkward. Wonderful.

"Your mother told me that if I broke your heart, she'd scour the ends of the earth and do something unspeakable to me," John said. Best to get these things over with.

"Is that all?" Sherlock grabbed his coat from where he'd thrown it over a chair. "Don't pay her any mind, the nosy old bat."

"She's a lovely woman," John retorted. "Just frightening sometimes. And I don't want her to get the wrong idea."

"And what idea would that be?" Sherlock murmured, stepping close to John and speaking right into his ear. "It becomes less and less clear by the day." He glanced at his phone. "Right. I have business to take care of. I should be back in a few hours. We're going down the pub tonight."

"But you don't like the--" John said, but Sherlock was out the door and down the hall before he had a chance to finish. "Pub," he said to the closed door.

There was no way he was going back down to talk to Sherlock's mum again. And this morning, Mycroft had cornered him, trying to recruit him for government work because he was "more intelligent than your association with my brother would indicate" and "obviously a man who loves his country," which gave John a spectacular headache and a blazing flashback to go along with it. Sherlock had leapt in and harangued Mycroft about his diet, his waistcoat, and his tiny, yappy dogs, giving John a chance to escape.

What am I even doing here? he asked himself, but as the answer apparently was, "Standing in Sherlock's room like a crazy stalker," he decided to put the larger philosophical questions aside in favor of retiring to his room for a few rounds of Sudoku on his phone and a large mug of tea.

....................

The pub was hot, almost steamy, compared to the nip of the air outside. They shed their jackets quickly and set up at an unoccupied table near the door. The pub smell -- old beer, new beer, mixed perfumes and colognes, fried food -- was familiar and comforting.

Even more comforting were the two amber pints that Sherlock brought back to the table. "Cheers," he said.

"Cheers." John lifted his pint and drank deeply. Nectar of the gods. He wasn't much of a drinker, not after seeing what booze had done to Harry and some of his fellow veterans, but he regarded the occasional pint as a well-earned treat.

Sherlock, who was less of a drinker than John was, saluted him, and tipped back the entire pint in one gulp. John stared at him, shocked. "Well done, mate."

"You're surprised," Sherlock said, wiping his mouth delicately with his napkin. "It's a simple matter of biology."

"You don't spend a lot of time in pubs, unless you're on a case," John said. He couldn't imagine Sherlock letting go like that, not even a little. The nicotine, sure, speed, cocaine, possibly hallucinogenics for the occasional psychological experiment, but nothing as sloppy as alcohol.

"Yes, but if I'm there for a case, don't I want to look like I fit in?" Sherlock leaned back, subtly changing something about his look, his body language. Nothing John could easily define, but suddenly he wasn't Sherlock Holmes, buttoned-up and alien; he was just another bloke, kind of posh, relaxed, out for a pint with his mate on Christmas Eve. Then Sherlock sat up and he was Sherlock again. "Pubs are festering little cross-sections of humanity, populated by people with loose tongues and few inhibitions." He tapped the table thoughtlessly, already bored with the conversation. "They are invaluable to my work."

"Okay," John said, nodding out toward the crowd. "Go on, impress me."

"My skills are not a party trick," Sherlock sniffed. But his eyes roved over the crowd, lighting here and there, making notes, evaluating. As much as John saw him do it, it never got any less amazing. Sometimes it was amazing and annoying, or amazing and infuriating, but the amazing part was what kept John coming back for more, even after the kidnappings and murders and bombs and whatnot.

"Yeah, yeah, but you like showing off," John said. "Tell me about...hmmm, about that bloke right there, coming toward us."

"He's a native," Sherlock said, narrowing his eyes. "He's not just visiting for the holidays; he lives here. The weight is recent. He's not used to carrying that extra heft, look at the way he's navigating the crowd. I'm guessing a former athlete faced with the inevitable decline in metabolism of his mid-30's; lazy, unambitious, but wealthy enough for it not to matter. He--" Sherlock broke off and pressed his lips together. "He's seen me," he said flatly.

"What do you mean? Do you know him?" The man was pushing his way past a few tables, grabbing the shoulder of another man, shorter and stockier, then whispering in his ear and nodding toward Sherlock. "Friends of yours?" he asked.

"Hardly." Sherlock didn't move from his spot, but his fingers drummed on the table and his lips remained a tight, bloodless line. "Former schoolmates."

The two men arrived at their table. "Well, well, Sherlock Holmes," the taller one said, grinning in the same nasty, cruel way he must have done as a child. John knew the type. He was never bullied himself, being good at sport and average enough in looks, but he'd seen it happen more than enough. Happened in the service as well, but he'd been quick to shut down that kind of behavior in his own men. "Fancy seeing you here. Visiting your mum, are you?"

"Davison, I have little patience for small talk from a small mind. Happy Christmas, etc. etc., now go breathe down that young woman's blouse some more. I daresay if you show her your platinum card again, she might even go home with you."

"Still a freak, I see." Davison smiled. "Did they ever lock you up again for being a nutter?" He looked at John, who wondered what that again meant, then resolved never to bring it up to Sherlock. "Don't tell me you've gone and found yourself a boyfriend. I can't imagine anyone'd stoop to sleeping with a psychopath, but you wouldn't be bringing him home for Christmas if he was just a friend, hey?" He looked proud of himself at that, likely imagining how clever he was, pulling tricks on Sherlock Holmes. John could only imagine what kind of things Sherlock knew and told as a young man, especially in a close-knit, chummy public school.

And John could also very well imagine how they made Sherlock's life hell for it.

"Brilliant deduction," Sherlock drawled, rolling his eyes. "Completely off-base as usual, but bravo for trying to exercise that saggy, atrophied brain of yours."

And this was the part where Sherlock would tell them that their assumptions were safe and that no, nobody in their right mind would sleep with Sherlock. Or date him. Or be his friend. Because who wanted to be friends with a crazy person? Who wanted to have their dates interrupted by mad chases and missing body parts and furious police officers?

John did, apparently. And he'd had quite enough of people talking shite about one of the most brilliant men on the planet just because they were too small to understand him.

"We're not exactly dating," John said, covering Sherlock's hand in his. It was thin and cold and twitched at his touch. "We're to be married. And I'll thank you to shut your mouths."

Sherlock openly stared at him. John couldn't tell exactly what was going through his mind, but he looked baffled, like he did on a particularly difficult case, and...perhaps a little sad. Something in his eyes shut tight and hardened. "My intended," he said, pitching his voice even lower than usual, "is a decorated war hero. He knows fifteen ways to kill a man using ordinary cutlery."

John let his other hand rest on a spoon and tried to look intimidating. "And Sherlock knows about a hundred ways to hide the bodies and never get caught. So off with you, then."

They nearly fell over themselves trying to get away, their faces fearful and twisted in hate. John rose. "I don't much feel like drinking anymore. Do you want to go home?"

Sherlock wasn't listening; his face was a mask, calculations and figures and charts were writing and re-writing themselves across his mind. John knew the look. Sherlock was utterly lost to analysis of some kind, either because he was very near to figuring something out or because the encounter with his past had left him so shaken that he retreated to his favorite place in the world, his mind. "Come on then." John held out his hand, remembering that they were supposed to be engaged. Half the pub was staring at them and the other half was pointedly not staring at them.

Sherlock took his hand and rose gracefully, ignoring the crowd. He dropped John's hand as soon as he was standing, then pushed his way to the door, leaving John to make his apologies behind him.

John met him out on the cold pavement a few meters away from the door. It had gotten colder, or John was just used to the heat of the pub. He shivered into his coat. Sherlock didn't look cold, just thoughtful, no longer gripped by whatever had overtaken him just a few minutes ago.

"Sherlock," John said, intending to apologize yet again for misrepresenting their relationship, but his apology fell silent in his throat as Sherlock approached him, took John's face in his hands, and kissed him.

It wasn't a cold kiss, or clinical, or any of the things that John might have suspected if he'd ever imagined kissing Sherlock. Which he hadn't, really. (Really.) It was soft and warm, a quick press of the mouth in the middle of a cold street, and nearly nothing -- nothing -- in John's dangerous, wild, exciting life had been as shocking as this perfectly normal, sweet, slightly shy kiss.

Sherlock pulled away, his hands still on John's face. The shadows from the streetlamps made it almost impossible to make out his expression. Not that John would know what was going through his mind anyway, even in broad daylight.

"Are...are they still looking? Those tossers from the pub?" John asked, grasping for some meaning, some rationality to this.

"No," Sherlock said, and stepped away, dropping his hands. In the next instant, before John could marshal his thoughts, Sherlock turned toward the street and signaled a cab that had been idling near the pub. The cab sped off into the darkness, leaving John alone, shocked silent, with a slight lingering warmth on his lips.

 

.....................

 

Nobody was awake by the time John got back to the house, and Sherlock was nowhere to be found. John sat in Sherlock's room for a bit, waiting for him, but that felt a bit creepy and he didn't know what he was going to say to him anyway, so he went back to his own room to go to bed. He was lucky; as he'd told Sherlock, he had the soldier's gift for falling asleep immediately, no matter what warm, firm lips; the look of wonder on Sherlock's face when John stood up for him was going through his head.

Unfortunately, John's military service had also left him with a complete inability to wake up gracefully. So when the balance of the mattress shifted, signaling the presence of another body in close proximity, John flailed upward, reaching for his radio, his gun, anything--

But no, it was just Sherlock, stretching out on the bed next to him.

"I detest ambiguity," Sherlock announced.

"I hadn't noticed," John said, covering his yawn with the back of his hand. "Are we going to talk about this or are you going to be cryptic and abandon me again?"

"I? I am being cryptic?" Sherlock turned toward him slowly. "I assure you, John, that I am not the one who is being cryptic." He rose, pushed back the covers, then hopped under them with considerably more grace than John could have managed. "I have given our situation considerable thought," he said, stretching out and lacing his fingers behind his head.

"You mean the situation where everyone thinks we're dating or the situation where you kissed me?" John asked, rolling over onto his side to face Sherlock. He knew the answer already. He just liked taking the piss out of Sherlock by being deliberately obtuse.

Sherlock shot him a look. "One and the same, John. Do keep up." He huffed out a breath in irritation. "I honestly don't know what I see in you sometimes."

And that was it; that was the thing, the clue that sparked in John's brain. Sherlock had taken him out to the pub and kissed him; he'd taken John home to meet his family and had defended him from Mycroft. If it had been anyone else, John would have realized what was going on. Sherlock Holmes was very nearly throwing himself at John.

Sherlock moved suddenly, sliding on top of John, oh so careful of his bad shoulder, pressing him into the mattress, hands splayed out on either side of John in the same way that John's would be if he was fucking someone. The eroticism of that, that mirror-role reversal, took the breath out of him. His skin prickled with heat. No, he told himself. This is what Sherlock throwing himself at you looks like.

"I hate ambiguity," Sherlock repeated, lowering himself down to rest on his elbows. John tried not to shift against him. "So it ends here. You can tell me to leave and I will; I promise you that our partnership will not be affected."

"Or?" John asked, softly.

"Or we end this ambiguity once and for all," Sherlock said. "It is wearing on my mental state." The words, casually tossed out with the air of an insult, but John could feel the trembling of his limbs, the way Sherlock's eyes stared at his mouth. He wanted this. He wanted John. Very, very badly.

"I've never been a fan of ambiguity, myself," John said, wrapping his hand around the back of Sherlock's head. "Man of action, that's me." He pulled Sherlock closer but didn't kiss him. He whispered in his ear, "I hadn't thought to want this, but I do." Then he knocked Sherlock's elbow out of the way, pushed with his good arm, flipped Sherlock and rolled over him in one smooth move. God, he hadn't done that particular maneuver in five years. Good to know it still worked.

John grabbed Sherlock's wrists and pinned them down above his head. "Kinky," Sherlock murmured, his pupils blown and slightly breathless. "What a pleasant surprise." His hips bucked up, pushing against John.

"I just don't like to be held down," John said, because he didn't, and he didn't like being left to find his own cabs home and he certainly didn't like terms being dictated to him. Now that he'd made this decision -- made it ages ago and didn't realize it, he was ready to go for it, ready to feel skin against skin and get sweaty and oh god, orgasms, he hadn't had a good orgasm with another person in so long. And the thought of Sherlock naked and sweaty and making noises...John ground his hips down and shuddered, leaning back long enough to pull off his shirt and get started on unbuttoning Sherlock's.

Sherlock smacked his hands away. "More efficient if I do it myself," he said, the words coming fast and short. "You are unused to the angle. I can be completely undressed in 11 seconds, longer if you stand." He slid his long, clever fingers down the front of his shirt, flicking the buttons aside. John couldn't help it, he didn't want to stand up, didn't want to make this efficient. He pushed the sides of Sherlock's shirt open and kissed his way down Sherlock's chest and belly, licking along his ribs, listening to the soft, muted gasps echoing in his ribcage.

Grabbing his arms, Sherlock pulled him up for another kiss, deep and measured. When they pulled away, he said, "I left you in town because I didn't know if you'd been motivated by pity or affection. I needed space for analysis. The effect of...emotional attachment on the logical processes is truly horrifying." He frowned. "I shall have to account for that in my future investigations."

"Apology accepted," John said. "I hope you understand that--"

"John, if you'd wanted to sit here and talk about our feelings all night, you should have taken up with one of your idiotic women." Sherlock wrapped his hands around John's hips and pushed up so John could feel the hardness between them, his eyes glazed and losing their focus. "Move," he said hoarsely. "Move, damn you."

John laughed. "You don't do this much, do you?" he said, shimmying off his own boxers, then trailing his hand down to Sherlock's belt buckle.
"Never," Sherlock said quietly. "Almost never."

John didn't know what to say to that, so he simply undid the belt buckle, heavy and solid in his hand, then unzipped Sherlock's fine wool trousers and slipped them down past his hips. Sherlock shuddered, his cock straining against the silk of his boxers. John paused, his hand hovering over the fine silk, feeling the heat from Sherlock's body. "I'll torment you," Sherlock murmured. "Torture. Inexperienced, maybe, but do not think me unskilled."

"Never that," John said, and took him in his hand, stroking the length of him through the thin silk that left absolutely nothing to the imagination.

Sherlock didn't gasp or moan, not that John expected him to, not this early on, but his body tightened and his fingers flexed wildly, hands scrabbling for purchase on the fine sheets. John didn't hold back his own noises, rutting against Sherlock's leg like he was a teenager, moving up his body to kiss his pleasure into Sherlock's neck. It felt so good, the slide of skin against skin, Sherlock hot and heavy in his hand; he hadn't done this with a man in a very long time and the novelty of Sherlock's lean, muscled body was shockingly erotic. Sherlock splayed his hand against John's chest and dragged it downward, stopping at the band of his boxer shorts. "Please," John said, not sure he really meant it, because he was nearly forty and coming in his pants was downright embarrassing at his age.

He noticed that Sherlock was turning his head away, eyes closed, lips moving almost imperceptibly. John leaned down to hear what he was saying, but only caught gusts of air. "Recitation," Sherlock said, his voice low and dark. "Memorization, formulae, trying to...prolong." He strained upward, his cock jerking in John's hand, and then he did gasp, a soft, involuntary noise, something so open and slightly broken that it was nearly John's own undoing. His vision whited out and he ground the heel of his hand into his own cock to keep from coming right then and there. "Just," John gasped, "stay with me."

Sherlock's whispering grew louder, and John could hear, "Yes, yes," before his eyes snapped open and he smiled at John, determination radiating from every pore. "Can I," he said, "there are things I want--"

"Anything," John said, biting into his shoulder.

"Very well," Sherlock said, which was the only warning John got before Sherlock crawled over him, bent his head, and took his cock in his mouth. John shouted, forgetting the house full of people, sucking in great lungfuls of air as he tried so fucking hard not to come immediately from Sherlock's not at all shockingly precise blowjob technique. Just enough pressure here and tongue there and sweet Jesus, he could feel it coiling in his belly, his toes curling, and...no.

John grabbed Sherlock's shoulders and pushed him off, yanking him back toward him in the next breath. "Together," was all he could bite out, reaching between them to take them both in his hand. "Romantic nonsense," Sherlock replied, but he pressed his face into John's neck and thrust harder, slicking their bodies with sweat, finally, finally breaking, stuttering out a short, low moan that hit John right in his gut and sent him over the edge, falling apart, one hand clenched in Sherlock's hair.

.......

When he woke up the next morning, Sherlock was still there, or, rather, there again, because he'd been to his room to change. He was pacing the room, fully dressed but barefoot, tapping away at his phone. "Good, you're awake!" he cried, smiling, happier than John had seen him in weeks. John didn't for one moment presume that it was a result of their liaison. There had to be a..."They found another body!" Yes, there it was.

"And when you say 'another...'?" John asked, stretching. He loved the mornings after sex. He felt ten years younger.

"Another poisoning, like the one last week. They don't know it yet, but it's the same, yes, obviously related..." here, he descended into wild murmuring, abusing his phone even harder. John watched him fondly. Nothing had changed, of course.

Sherlock looked over at him and frowned. His thumbs slowed on the keyboard, then paused. "Um, you weren't expecting some sort of," he gestured at the bed. "Post-um, coital, cuddling and so on and so forth?"

John considered the idea. "No, I think I'd find that somewhat unnerving, to be honest."

"Oh." Sherlock seemed relieved. "Right then." He continued his pacing and typing.

"Happy Christmas," John said, searching under the bedclothes for his boxer shorts. Under the duvet, no, down further, aha, lodged between the footboard and the mattress. He emerged, victorious, just in time to have his head nearly taken off by Sherlock's dramatic flop on the bed. "Christmas," he said, with all the loathing he could possibly put into the word.

"Yes, that would be today." John shimmied into his boxers, noticing that Sherlock, while pretending complete petulance, was watching his every move.

"That's why nobody's returning my texts," Sherlock said, tossing his phone aside. He covered his eyes with one hand, scrubbed at his face, then leaned back on the bed. "And the world stops turning for a day," he intoned dramatically.

"The poisoner will still be out there tomorrow," John offered. "And we'll be back in London by tomorrow evening."

"I hate waiting," Sherlock grumbled, but he relaxed slightly. "We still have to suffer through Christmas dinner."

"It won't be so bad," John said, daring to reach out and brush his fingers over the tops of Sherlock's knuckles.

Sherlock smiled, looking down at the bed, then slowly, deliberately, turned his hand over and curled his fingers around John's. "Not this year," he said.