When John gets back to the flat Sherlock is still staring at the crime scene photos he'd been obsessing over before he'd gone out. They're spread out all over the floor, Sherlock's striding back and forth over them and glaring down at them in a way that suggests he's made no progress at all.
"Still mystifying you then?" John offers sympathetically, while shaking his coat off.
"Something's wrong," Sherlock insists, hands held out in front of him like he thinks he can grab onto the sliver of wrongness and drag it out into the light. "The way he was positioned, it isn't right, it's clearly for show but it doesn’t match - it doesn’t make sense."
"Not everything has to make sense." John debates how hard it will be to make his way over the wave of crime scene photos and make a cup of tea. How Sherlock can leave so many things on the floor and not expect boot prints on them bewilders him sometimes. And of course he'd always be able to tell it was him. Even if he borrowed Sherlock's shoes.
"Yes, it does," Sherlock says, like John is quite obviously wrong.
John rolls his eyes and carefully steps round the glossy photos so he can get to Sherlock at least. "So what is it, what's wrong?"
"I'm missing something, something obvious." Sherlock makes it sound like a terrible failing. Always expecting himself to spot everything. To find everything. For all that he expects failure in other people he won't tolerate it in himself.
Sherlock presses his hands together and makes a noise, sudden, excited. Then he flings an arm out and catches John's elbow. "John, get on the floor."
John resists the attempt to thrust him towards the haphazardly arranged crime scene timeline.
"Get on the floor, I need something to look at, something to walk around."
John pulls a face. "You want me to pretend to be the dead man?"
"Obviously." Sherlock waves again, like John is a bird that can be shooed.
"Do I have to? I know how being roped into your experiments usually turns out."
"John." Sherlock's whining now, his frustrated 'I don't understand why people don't just do what I want' sort of whining. The one that no sane person should ever pay attention to.
John sighs out a breath and relents.
"Fine, alright, fine, where's the above shot?"
Sherlock hands him the photo and John sits down on the carpet, reluctantly, and attempts to get himself into position. Head slightly tilted, facing the bloodstain. One arm flung out sideways, the other curved in at his hip. Legs almost straight.
"You're immensely irritating you know that?" John complains because shuffling around on the rug, shoving photos out of the way so Sherlock's brain can work in 3D is not his idea of a fun afternoon.
Sherlock decides his positioning isn't good enough and starts making minor adjustments to his legs and arms, tips his head up just slightly.
"There, that's it, perfect, shut your eyes and don't move - and don't speak."
John shuts his eyes, though he resists the urge to sigh, because that probably counts as moving, or at least being distracting in a way that will make Sherlock complain, again.
He can feel the faint, warm scratch of the rug under him, the soft curl of it against the knuckles of his out-flung hand.
Something hits the floor by his head, a low drum of liquid on the rug.
John realises it's water, from the glass on the table, poured around his head in a vague approximation of the bloodstain in the photographs.
It seeps into the carpet, the pool just touching the edge of John's hair.
John's sorely tempted to mutter something about this being ridiculous, because it feels ridiculous, he feels ridiculous.
He hears Sherlock push back onto his knees, then get his feet under him. He walks around him, a slow circuit.
"Dead seven hours, killed and then posed - but not moved," Sherlock murmurs, far away. John suspects he's already forgotten about him.
The rest of the case tumbles out, slowly. John already knows the details, he'd heard Sherlock go over them at the scene. He tunes out the rambling and listens to the rustle of cloth and the faint sound of shoes on the rug instead. Pretends to be dead.
It takes less than two minutes before Sherlock's crouching again. Fingers strangely careless and perfunctory when they touch him. The same things he did to the victim. Turning his hand round, checking his pockets and his collar. Pushing back through his hair. Taking off his shoes and socks - and John is immensely glad that Sherlock's fingers don't drag over the bottom of his feet. Because pretending to be dead while being tickled is a little beyond him.
John's not wearing the same clothes as the victim, obviously. But Sherlock remembers, he remembers everything that's important. John remains still and lets him work, lets him do whatever it is he needs to do.
He's never had to do quite so little to help someone before. He feels ridiculous and lazy, and there's a laugh somewhere in his chest that he forces back down.
Sherlock goes still suddenly, fingers still half over John's forearm, they squeeze and then slide away.
There's a long minute when he doesn’t touch him, when he doesn't talk, where John can't hear him at all.
When Sherlock does touch him again it's slower, less purposeful and more curious. He unfolds John's fingers, feels the weight of them. There's a rustle of fabric, a second moment of stillness. Like Sherlock is watching him, careful and uncertain now.
John thinks that Sherlock already has what he needs, that he's already filled in the missing pieces.
This, in some strange way, is something else entirely.
It feels like indulgence.
Sherlock's name hovers on the tip of his tongue.
Sherlock, what are you doing?
Sherlock, how is this possibly useful?
John doesn't say any of them, he keeps his mouth shut. Keeps it firmly shut and breathes, slow and steady while Sherlock spreads his fingers and drags his knuckles up his wrist. His breathing doesn’t sound as steady as John's. There's a forced slowness to it, a careful, whispery drag of air that suggests - that suggests Sherlock is aroused.
John's never known him to find anything arousing and it's so unexpected that he doesn't know what to do with it. He'd half convinced himself that Sherlock honestly didn't have any interest in sex at all. That it was completely irrelevant to him.
Clothing shifts on the rug and Sherlock is much higher and much closer, leaning over him.
Close enough for John to feel his breath against his ear.
"John," Sherlock says quietly. "John, if you want me to stop - if you want to get up, you should do it now."
It's an admission, of guilt, of the fact that Sherlock is no longer pretending this has anything to do with the current investigation.
John has to make a choice whether to stop this now, or let Sherlock indulge...whatever this is. Because he knows if he opens his eyes, if he moves - the moment will break and Sherlock will go back to his photographs. He'll pretend this never happened. They probably won't ever speak about it again.
John listens to the unsteady thump of his heartbeat, the roar of blood in his ears. The world is still dark behind his eyes.
But he can't bring himself to do anything at all.
Sherlock takes his stillness for consent.
His fingers touch John's face, a slow slide of warmth and barely-there pressure against his forehead, cheek and mouth - before they drop to his throat, curl down in a long tickling trail before drifting away once they reach his shirt collar.
They slide back, fold round his jaw and turn his head, John feels his skull roll on the carpet, hears the tiny noise that Sherlock fails to hold on to.
Sherlock sees everything, every tiny detail, things John doesn't even know about himself. He wonders, absently, if Sherlock is imagining that he's dead, if he's trying to find some reason, some evidence that would explain his body here in the flat - cold - no, not cold, Sherlock isn't wearing gloves. A recent death then, so he still retains most of his body temperature. So the feel of his skin doesn't jar him out of whatever strange place he's in. The thought of it, the suggestion - John should find it disturbing, but instead it's just another curious piece that may or may not fit into the puzzle that is Sherlock.
Or perhaps it's the mystery, the examination, the search for clues.
Sherlock turns his hands and feet, feels the texture of him, examines him through the curved lens of a magnifying glass - John can feel where the plastic digs into the skin.
It starts slowly, Sherlock's voice a low murmur, telling John things he already knows about himself, about where he's been, how long he was there. He's listening but he's not really hearing. There's a subtle tremor under the words, something soft - intimate and that's what John's following, the tension of it.
If Sherlock ever came home to find him dead this is probably what he'd do. No moments of sentimentality, no calling the police, he'd strip the room for every piece of evidence he could. How he was lying, how much blood there was, the colour of his skin, the trace materials on his shirt and jeans. Every detail, every tiny insignificant feature. Sherlock would see it all.
John will never have as much of Sherlock's attention as he does right now. It's a slow realisation that leaves him almost dizzy, lying there on the floor.
Sherlock is concentrating absolutely on him and nothing else. It surprises him how much that affects him. John didn't realise how much he wanted Sherlock's attention until now. He certainly didn't realise that he could want it like this. That he could lie passively under it and encourage it.
That he could need it.
Sherlock's still processing, still thinking. His fingers ease the buttons of John's shirt open, efficient little flicks of plastic through the holes. The shirt slides apart, both halves pushed aside and John resists the urge to inhale at the slow drift of cold air across his skin. He doesn't shiver, or twitch, he doesn't do anything but lie still and breathe as quietly as he can and pretend that he's not almost hard inside his jeans.
Sherlock's fingers drag and press, drift over the tiny imperfections where John knows there are scars. The larger, more obvious scars. The softness over his ribs, broken by the occasional raised white line. Not recent wounds but Sherlock gives them the same attention.
He explains them, in quiet detail, which is always right, fingers gently pressing and pushing.
He finds the faint, dull ache of a bruise where John walked into the kitchen cupboard Sherlock had left open yesterday. Sherlock spends a minute tracing the outline of it with his fingers. Like he can match it perfectly with the part of the flat that caused it -
But then he does, it melds into the low shiver of his explanation effortlessly. Committing it all to memory like it's important, like it's all 'important details.' Sherlock's voice, John's body.
And then Sherlock goes quiet.
His hand has slid down, the heel of his palm resting on John's belt. It pauses there and John knows that Sherlock is letting him decide. That it's his choice whether this thing becomes more obviously sexual. John knows, without doubt, that Sherlock will let this go exactly as far as he allows it to and no further.
When John doesn't move, chooses not to move, Sherlock's fingers carefully slide his belt open, thumb unsnapping the button on his jeans.
Sherlock's breathing is rougher now, he's not trying so hard to hide everything. Or maybe he's simply forgotten to.
John knows that this isn't exactly normal. He even knows that Sherlock knows this isn't normal. Hell, it's probably not even tasteful.
But it's Sherlock and Sherlock is giving him new definitions of normal every day.
Today, today he's lying on the floor of their flat being treated like a crime scene and Sherlock is aroused in a way John had assumed was either impossible for him or at least highly unlikely.
John is letting him...explore his arousal.
God, that makes him sound like the most generous flatmate in existence. No, he's not deluded enough to pretend this is doing nothing for him. Because Sherlock's not the only one of them that's hard. He's not the only one who's breathing too fast and slowly crossing the line from friendship to...something more complicated. John wants this too, he wants this strange, quiet intensity that's fragile and new and strange in a way that feels utterly Sherlock. Who's probably never done anything the easy way in his life. John’s already had to open his mouth, just a fraction, to take in enough air. To stop it being an audible rush through his nose.
His zip is strangely loud and there's a moment, a quiet moment of panic and hysteria where Sherlock is roughly and efficiently working his jeans and underwear over his hips, where John wonders what the fuck they're doing. And how exactly things could ever go back to normal after this.
But again, normality with Sherlock is relative.
He lets his heel roll on the carpet when his jeans slide free. He hears them land somewhere across the room.
Sherlock doesn't have the breath left to explain, to examine, but he tries. The words are low in his throat, voice almost too deep to be real.
And then the words are gone completely. Sherlock gives a soft, wet gasp, quickly bitten off - and John hears the faint drag of a zipper that isn't his, a slide of cloth and a low, drawn-out hiss.
The sound that comes after that, John knows far too well.
Sherlock is masturbating.
John's teeth dig into his own tongue, prickles of heat running through his stomach and thighs, he can feel his muscles twitching and contracting in sympathy. Whatever lingering uncertainty he'd had about where this was going is completely gone.
His throat is dry and he needs to cough but he doesn't dare, holds on to it, swallowing hard and quick.
Sherlock's knee slides up and presses into the floor on the outside of his thigh, fabric soft against the hair there. John can smell his shampoo, can hear the rough hush of the carpet fibres next to his head when Sherlock's free hand settles there. It all tells him that Sherlock is braced over him, that he's watching him.
John listens to the sound of it, the slow, subtle sound of Sherlock's hand moving on himself, the faint rustles of cloth. The sharp little noises that fall out of Sherlock's throat like he can't hold on to them. Soft and guilty and raw.
John's never felt so naked in his life.
He thinks, in that flow of breaks and catches, he hears his own name.
Sherlock comes over his stomach with a stifled gasp. It's warm and messy and real, and John feels it. He feels his stomach muscles contract in sharp, unexpected lust at the obscenity of it. His own dick twitching in an ache of jealousy and sympathy.
The world hangs for a second.
And then Sherlock's hand is on him, wrapped loosely round him in a way that feels tentative and uncertain. His fingers are warm and faintly sticky and it's a spike of sensation that makes John huff gently out through his nose. He knows if he loses control it will be a great, shuddering inhale, all dryness and desperate need for air.
He's sure that his swallow is visible, if not audible.
Sherlock tightens his grip, movements awkward at first, but John's close enough to the edge that it isn't going to matter. There's barely anything for his senses to focus on but that quick, inelegant slide, the trail of Sherlock's thumb, the weight of his other hand on John's bare thigh.
John's teeth grind together when he comes and he fights the instinct of his body. The way it wants to push and catch and ride his orgasm out in shaky gasps and curses. He stays still while Sherlock strokes him through it, listening to the warm, fascinated rush of Sherlock's own breathing.
Until Sherlock moves away.
John opens his eyes, blinks, squints. The room's a lot brighter than he remembers.
He's gasping before he remembers that he can, shaking in whole breaths like he needs the air. He pushes himself to a sit, feels the mess on his stomach shift and run in a way that's going to be unpleasant if he doesn't shower very soon.
Sherlock is refusing to look at him. There's an uncharacteristic tightness in the line of his body. Like he very much thinks he has done something 'not good.'
John swallows twice, three times, until he's confident that he can talk without his voice coming out broken and scratchy.
"Next time you should wear gloves," he says quietly.
Sherlock inhales, a quick, punching gasp of air.
"You don't go to a crime scene without gloves," John adds and rolls his head sideways to look at him.
There's honest surprise on Sherlock's face and there's more than a little satisfaction to be had in that.
John sets a hand on the carpet and leans over. He decides it's not even close to a liberty when he presses his mouth briefly against the warm curve of Sherlock's jaw.
Sherlock's looking at him like he's something marvellous. Like he's something he fully intends to keep.
"I need a shower." John puts his hand on Sherlock's shoulder and pushes himself to his feet.