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John can't remember the last time he came back to the flat and had to ask a normal question. It's never 'do we have any milk?' or 'where's the post?' No, these days it tends to be 'why are there eyeballs in the microwave?' or 'why are all the walls covered in dead butterflies?' or 'where did this 40 gallon tank come from?' Or, on one particularly memorable Thursday, 'why are you tied to a chair?'

Far be it from Sherlock to disappoint John's newly acquired sense of morbid curiosity.

"Why is the sink full of electrodes?"

"I needed some data." Sherlock provides from where he's currently sprawled on the couch like some sort of nineteenth century heroine.

John's fairly sure that one of the electrodes is ever so slightly burnt, in a way that wouldn't be comforting in any universe, not even the one he seems to have fallen into. He wonders if they need to have a conversation about supervision being required the next time there's electricity involved.

"Some data?" he repeats carefully.

"Yes."

"With electrodes?"

"Yes."

John decides he's just going to cut off the line of questioning there, before Sherlock develops that frustrated little crease between his eyes that suggests the rest of the world's wilful refusal to join up the dots physically pains him. Though John hasn't quite worked out whether Sherlock honestly thinks people are vastly stupider than him, or whether he's decided they just aren't bothering to try. Possibly just to annoy him.

Though John thinks there's something to the way he prods at them, like a frustrated parent trying to get their child to take their first wobbly steps without clinging to the sofa. Like he genuinely wants them to do better.

God, that would explain a lot.

John puts the electrodes on the drainer, which is marginally less disturbing than the sink, or maybe it's more disturbing? He's worried Sherlock has moved the posts where 'disturbing' used to be while he wasn't looking. It's barely been a few months and he's slowly forgetting what it's like to live somewhere where weird things don't happen. Where he doesn’t keep getting 'involved' in things.

He's fairly sure that he's caught in Sherlock's orbit and it's not exactly a stable one.

"Could we try to keep your experiments away from the food preparation areas. I don't particularly enjoy the way the eyeballs look at me while I'm buttering my toast."

"I've finished that experiment now," Sherlock says from the sofa. "You can enjoy your toast without being observed by disembodied eyeballs."

"That doesn't mean I won't find something equally disturbing in the fridge tomorrow."

"Perhaps you should leave me a list of the organs you find especially disturbing?"

Sherlock's smiling in that odd way he has, as if something marvellous has just occurred to him. An awkward, crooked stretch of mouth, like his face isn't quite used to it. It's one of those little things that John thinks makes him look reassuringly, ridiculously human.

"Nothing that belongs in a face," John says without really thinking about it.

On the television in the background a lion has just brought down a zebra and it's still kicking feebly.

It feels like some sort of strange metaphor for his life at the moment.


*****


When he comes down the next morning the carpet is covered in feathers, white, brown, black, they're also still floating in mid-air in an adventurous sort of way. Possibly they're celebrating having escaped some terrible fate.

John's already knows who's to blame. Because Sherlock is ignoring the avian carnage to write on the papers he's tacked up on the opposite wall, and it's unlikely that someone swept through and deposited the mess while he wasn't paying attention.

Even Sherlock would have found that odd.

John honestly can't decide whether it would be easier to ask, or to just make himself a cup of tea and hope it's all magically gone when he gets back.

...

"Do we have a hoover?" he eventually asks over a steaming mug.

"Yes," Sherlock says straight away, not turning from the very important something he's currently doing. "Though it doesn't work."

John stares at his back.

"Why doesn't it work?"

Sherlock swivels all the way round. "I may have cannibalised it, slightly, to make a scale model of a wind tunnel."

"Could you cannibalise it back?" John asks, because that seems like a sensible question.

"That depends," Sherlock says slowly.

"On what?"

"On if you actually wanted it to suck anything up."

John nods. "That would be one of the main uses I'd be hoping to put it towards, yes."

"Then no." Sherlock doesn't sound particularly sorry about it.

"Is this a habit of yours? This deconstructing household appliances for the furtherment of science."

"You have to take advantage of every tool available to you, John."

John drinks his tea and thinks about that for a minute.

"I'm a tool in this scenario aren't I?" he says.

He already knows the answer's going to be yes.

"Anyway, you've left us without a tool to hoover the carpet with. It's a good job I'm not allergic, I'd be facedown in it by now."

Sherlock makes a noise, which seems to indicate he'd never miss something so obvious, then looks at his feet, where the feathers have made their way across his shoes like the world's least effective shrapnel. He pulls a face like he hadn't noticed the addition to the carpet until now. Or how that might make life difficult.

"You'd probably have noticed them then, as they floated around my corpse," John murmurs, and he doesn't particularly care whether Sherlock hears that or not.

He sets his now empty mug down.

"You know what, I'm not the one who left the flat looking like the aftermath of the world's most enthusiastic pillow fight. So I'm not the one who's going to worry about the carpet."

There's a brief, slightly frenzied period of writing on one of the books on the table, before Sherlock steps over the pile of feathers and picks up his coat.

"Fine, fine, to save you from unexpectedly dying from a hitherto undiscovered and unlikely bird allergy. We will acquire another hoover." He winds his scarf round his neck in a way that's guaranteed to choke him should it catch on anything.

"Which you won't turn into a wind tunnel, or other wind-based device," John says from where he hasn't actually moved yet.

Sherlock looks physically pained.

"Unless absolutely necessary and I'm talking 'lives at stake,'" John corrects, reluctantly.

Sherlock nods.

"Agreed."

John nods back and goes to find his own coat.

Sherlock looks irritated at not being able to whisk straight out of the door in an explosion of coat and drama once he's ready.

John changes his shoes too, just for the hell out of.

"And no dashing off in the middle, because something's just occurred to you that absolutely can't wait and takes precedence over household appliances."

"I'm fairly sure everything takes precedence over household appliances," Sherlock says firmly.

"You'll say that until you blow up the microwave."

Sherlock pulls a face and John realises that he should never underestimate Sherlock's capacity to render things unusable at a moment's notice. Another thing Sherlock has infinite capacity for is obliviousness. Though it's a very focused sort of obliviousness which seems to be designed for maximum annoyance.

This is only fair, John decides, since Sherlock has done nothing but drag him places since he met him. Not that being out with him isn't an adventure. Just usually not in the way he's expecting. And there are often dead bodies.

He suspects Sherlock isn't good for anyone's reputation.

"No disappearing unless someone is in mortal peril," John repeats. Just in case Sherlock's brain had missed that part due to being sidetracked by types of flowers, or the Russian alphabet, or a recipe for pound cake.

"I shall try to contain myself," Sherlock says after a minute.

"Oh, God, don't do that, you'll probably explode." People like Sherlock aren't supposed to be contained, John's not even entirely sure they can be steered. Possibly they just happen.

He's fairly sure he shouldn't enjoy being a bystander quite so much. Especially since Sherlock will press close enough that John can practically feel him vibrating with whatever random intellectual puzzle he's currently obsessed with, no matter how many clothes he's wearing. Then he'll loom over anyone within range, in that carelessly arrogant way he has, while simultaneously demeaning anyone that happens to come close and professing terrible, life-threatening boredom.

The whole thing seems to be designed purely to leave the rest of the world under the impression that they're sleeping together. John's starting to think that it'd be simpler and faster, to just ignore it and stop protesting. Though he's fairly sure that's going to come back and bite him on the arse at some point. Most likely the next time he meets a woman and ends up trying to convince her that he is actually interested in her. Not just trying to make his boyfriend jealous.

It occurs to him that they're buying a hoover together and he's probably reached some sort of saturation point already.

What's that old Chinese curse about interesting times?


*****

John gets roped into the next experiment, because he's awake, and within a fifty foot radius. He doesn't actually know what it is because that will apparently 'skew the results.' It mostly consists of picking out shapes and trying to remember things. He's fairly sure it isn't some sort of horrible psychological experiment that's going to scar him for life. Please, God, let it not be one of those.

He's still oddly afraid of failing it though, whatever it is.

"The fact that I live here doesn't give you free rein to experiment on me, just for future reference."

"I'm not experimenting on you," Sherlock offers, over the book he's balancing his notepad on. "I'm just using your data to confirm earlier findings."

"That's reassuring."

"No electric shocks, I promise," Sherlock says without looking at him

John frowns at him, because he has no idea whether that's a joke or not.

"You're just saying that because you don't have anyone else to experiment on, you've probably scared them all off."

"There is, naturally, a high turnover rate of subjects."

"Naturally," John agrees and the look Sherlock throws him is something strange and unique to him. John can't help but think that Sherlock is perfectly aware that the majority of people can't stand him. He finds himself curious whether Sherlock's fiercely intent on being himself anyway, or if he simply doesn’t know how to be anything else.

Though the idea of Sherlock attempting to be anything else seems strangely preposterous.

"So you don't date, at all?"

Sherlock looks up at him through his hair, and John leaves his expression as bland as he can manage.

"I did briefly consider accepting an invitation when I was younger but I was in the middle of an experiment."

"Important, was it?"

"I was testing to see if mould would form an impression around shoes painted with a variety of carefully selected chemicals."

"Mould?" John offers, because that seems to be the most interesting word there.

"I had to monitor the conditions constantly," Sherlock explains. "If I'd accepted the invitation then any results would have been questionable."

"Of course," John hears himself say. Because in Sherlock's world that probably made perfect sense.

"After that I had neither the time nor the inclination."

John does look up at that, because he's never met anyone who doesn't have sex because they genuinely have no interest, rather than through lack of opportunity, or personal choice.

"What, never?"

Sherlock blinks at him, in that way he does when he feels he's answered a question already and doesn't understand why John needs him to repeat himself.

"No, never," he adds anyway. Rather than accuse John of not listening the first time, or of being an idiot.

It's the little things that make you feel loved, John supposes.

"And you never thought to - I don't know - revisit the idea later?"

"I had more important things to occupy myself with," Sherlock tells him.

In Sherlock's world there's a good chance they were genuinely were more important, but still....

"I don't think that's the sort of thing that could just slip my mind," John says.

"I never said it slipped my mind." Sherlock manages to sound affronted. Like nothing in his mind would ever do something so awful as 'slip,' and certainly not without his permission.

"You just labelled it as something non-essential didn't you, like some sort of 'optional extra' on your insurance."

"I did a brief anthropological study -"

"Not really the same thing," John offers.

He can't tell if Sherlock's more annoyed about the interruption or the insinuation that he's lacking valuable data in any sort of intellectual arena.

John sighs.

"All I'm saying is don't knock it 'til you've tried it.'"


*****


John's barely awake, he can't even make out the layout of the room, but he knows if Sherlock's shaking him then he won't go away until he at least attempts to be coherent.

"What?" he asks. He's expecting the usual, something's on fire, don't be alarmed, or Sherlock's desperate need for an unbiased observer at two in the morning, or possibly there's been some sort of horrible accident because God only knows what Sherlock gets up to while John's asleep that he doesn't find out about. He's not expecting -

It's very hard to talk when someone's trying to kiss you. It's very hard, at two in the morning when most of your body is still asleep, not to kiss back.

There should be an awkwardness about it, but Sherlock is perfectly precise in his attention, not to mention intent. John really shouldn’t be so surprised, but he's surprised enough that he does nothing for a possibly incriminating length of time. Everything starts sliding perilously towards inappropriate. Because Sherlock apparently takes dumbfounded bewilderment as permission.

Until John manages to wake up enough to wonder what on Earth he's doing, and to try his best to untangle them.

"Sherlock. What - why would - what?"

He's become completely incoherent.

"What are you doing?" he manages, because that, at least, is a full sentence.

Sherlock looks irritated at having his experiment cut short. As the subject of said experiment John thinks he deserves to be a little annoyed about that.

"You told me I should try it."

"I didn't mean with me." John doesn't know how his voice still sounds so sensible. He thinks that should have come out more scandalised.

"You don't seem to physically object to the idea?" Sherlock points out.

John drags the sheet back into his lap until that isn't quite so obvious.

"I was half asleep and you were warm and - look that's not the point. The point is -"

Oh, God, what was the point again?

"The point is, why me, at two in the morning?"

"I know I can be difficult," Sherlock says. There's no apology there, it's just flat honesty. "And I'm aware that you're making allowances. Compromising. I'm focused but I'm not oblivious, and there seems to be some overlap between our mutual goals."

John can tell he's supposed to have gotten something from that. But all he can do is shake his head, helplessly. Sherlock's brain is hard to follow wide awake, let alone when he's talking too fast and John's mostly still asleep. It's like operating heavy machinery, drowsiness is dangerous. He'll fall asleep at the wheel and crush someone at this rate.

And that's his point right there. He's not even awake enough for his metaphors to make sense

"No, sorry, I'm still confused over why you want to have sex," John supplies.

Sherlock's eyes are a peculiar shade of pale in the dark. Far too intent for this early in the morning.

"You seem to rate it highly in order to function and I clearly have gaps in my knowledge which I could fill at the same time," Sherlock offers, more slowly.

John blinks at that. Because understanding it apparently helps not at all.

"And you decided that this was an acceptable compromise?" he says slowly, because he thinks he's just gotten a glimpse of the sharp and insane alien clarity that is Sherlock's thought processes.

"I decided it was the only sensible compromise, considering your energetic and wildly tangential questioning yesterday."

"Of course you did," John says quietly. Because real people are not like this.

Sherlock's fingers are still somewhere on his arm, warm and narrow and not at all as complicated as the rest of him. He's honestly surprised that Sherlock doesn't have more of a problem with touching, that he doesn't seem to have any personal space issues at all. Or maybe it's just that he flagrantly ignores everyone else's personal space issues. John can't decide how much of that's his fault. He hasn't exactly put his foot down - on much of anything.

This would probably be a good place to start.

He manhandles Sherlock, who seems just confused enough to let himself be manhandled for once, off of the bed.

"Alright, you're going to put a mental note in your brain, in red pen, underlined three times."

Sherlock looks put out at the thought of any sort of pen being needed in his brain.

"When you want to compromise with the people you live with, you do it with toast in the morning or the occasional cup of tea, or by cleaning the bathroom. Or maybe just by not leaving disturbing experiments in any of the food preparation areas."

Sherlock looks confused and he looks irritated at being confused. He now obviously thinks he's failed some sort of important social interaction exam. John already knows he's the sort of person who finds failure crushingly difficult to accept.

John carefully takes hold of both his arms.

"Clearly you knew exactly what you were doing when you decided to opt out of human interaction and sex education. I should have left well alone. You're absolutely perfect exactly as you are."

Sherlock raises startled eyebrows and John thinks he's probably babbling now. He's obviously used up all the sensible conversation he has for the middle of the night. He manages to walk the now surprisingly malleable Sherlock back the extra few steps it takes.

"Go back to bed," he tells him.

There's a very long pause between when he shuts the door and when Sherlock actually leaves.

John pulls the duvet all the way over his head and falls asleep to the sound of his own confused, frustrated mumbling and absolutely doesn't think about how it really has been far too long.


*****

In the morning there's toast.

It's sitting on the table, plate balanced on a haphazardly stacked pile of books. John doesn't laugh, though it's a close thing. There's a noise buried somewhere in his throat that threatens to burst free. But he holds it long enough to pick up a piece - which is still warm, and that should be impossible given the amazing powers of toast to go cold the moment you look away from it.

Sherlock's half buried behind a pile of books that, at first glance, appear to have poison as a general theme.

John eyes the toast for a fraction of a second, and then shrugs and stuffs it in his mouth.

He'll bet his life that the bathroom's clean as well.

"What do you know about poisonous frogs?" Sherlock asks, like last night never happened. Like he's already rated it a failed experiment and moved on to something else.

"Not a lot," John offers, once he's finished chewing. "Though I get the feeling I'm about to know more about poisonous frogs than I ever thought I'd need to."


*****

He can't decide whether to mention the poisonous frogs in his blog. Too little information tends to worry people but he's fairly sure that too much will worry them even more. His life used to be far less interesting, and easier to summarise.

He knows that Sherlock reads his blog. Or rather that he carves each sentence into bright pieces, extracting every ounce of meaning. Before leaving them empty and bleeding. He thinks that might be the reason he doesn't talk about Sherlock much. He's afraid there'll be too much to read there. Stuff he doesn't even know he thinks yet.

The blinking cursor has started to look highly suspect.

He stares at it for a while and tries to think of something reassuringly mundane to say. Something that none of the handful of people who actually know this exists will be able to read anything into.

Maybe something about the weather?


*****


Sherlock, without doubt, sends the weirdest and most persistent text messages John's ever received. On the occasions when he's not summoning him from all over London, or asking questions about the weather or views from rooftops, or if John knows where his pipette is, he'll be randomly told to acquire a Dalmatian or time how long it takes to check a book out of the library.

It has to be a morbid sort of curiosity that has him doing as he's told. He's not sure what else it could be.

Which is why he rolls his eyes when, halfway through the vegetable aisle, his phone goes in his pocket.

He pulls it out and opens it.

What if it's not a compromise?
SH

John stares at the text over the tomatoes.

He has no clear idea whether it's a thought exercise or curiosity, or whether Sherlock has decided he's genuinely interested.

It occurs to him, in the salad section, with a disturbing lack of fanfare, that there's the slight possibility he may be interested in Sherlock in exchange. That he's never really protested too hard about any of the liberties and assumptions and that he really was more impossibly frustrated than impossibly irritated about having to send him away in the middle of the night.

The man's a contradiction of brilliance and arrogance and enthusiasm. Even if he is infuriating and shockingly rude and quite possibly genuinely unhinged. It's impossible not to get dragged along for the ride.

He's fairly sure becoming attached wasn't part of the plan though.

The cherry tomatoes have nothing to say on the matter.

John's never been interested in another man before. Not really, there's always been the understanding that one drunken night of experimentation would be the closest he ever got to bisexuality. But he's most assuredly not drunk now and the world will forgive him if he's a little confused. Because he thinks he may be seriously considering agreeing to be Sherlock Holmes non-drunken night of experimentation. Which feels like the sort of huge life decision he shouldn’t be forced to make while buying vegetables

He's still staring at his phone and he knows he should send some sort of answer. But he can't for the life of him decide what to say. He's strangely unwilling to have Sherlock know what he's thinking before he does, and he suspects if he provides any sort of communication then he immediately will.

His phone goes again before he can formulate any sort of calm and sensible reply that Sherlock won't read anything into.

Pick up more milk while you're having your sexual identity crisis.
SH


*****


Sherlock's on the sofa where John left him, pale enough to look ghostly. Which suggests he'd been so busy with intellectual quandaries that he'd forgotten to move. Or maybe he's just been abusing nicotine patches again.

Still, John has to wonder how much of his drama is carefully orchestrated and how much is natural.

The man remains silent while John dumps the bags on the kitchen table.

"Interpersonal relationships," Sherlock eventually says, slowly and carefully. "They're messy and confusing and not conducive to clarity of thought."

Score one for 'genuinely interested' then. John's honestly surprised. Which is why he's very glad Sherlock's not currently looking at him.

"Have you spent the twenty minutes it took me to get back here talking yourself out of it?"

Sherlock tips his head over the back of the sofa.

"I don't come to final conclusions lightly, John." It sounds chastising, but then there's a strange moment of silence. Something that edges out of contemplative and into something else all together.

John sits in the chair and waits.

"I find you sexually arousing," Sherlock admits. "That's never happened before."

From anyone else that would be a compliment. Sherlock makes it sound far more complicated. Like it's something John might apologise for.

"I can see how that would be unsettling," John admits.

"It was unexpected."

Sherlock rolls his head sideways and frowns at him.

John thinks about the text message.

"And you decided you'd like to explore it further?"

"If you don't object," Sherlock says carefully.

John thinks he detects just the slightest tension in his profile.

He should probably object. This whole thing is clearly the worst idea in the history of the world. There's a vast world of difference between being in Sherlock Holmes's orbit and actually being involved with him.

But then there's the possibility that if he says no Sherlock might decide to explore the idea somewhere else, with someone else.

"I don't object," he says, before he's entirely sure he's going to say it.

For a perfectly visible second Sherlock looks honestly surprised, like he hadn't expected that at all. For all his careful deductions John has actually managed to surprise him. He tries not to look too smug about it, but Sherlock has already seen more than enough.

"I'm aware that it could be considered blurring boundaries we've already established with our friendship, which people seem to frown upon, usually because they have trouble returning to a comfortable equilibrium once the sexual relationship has run its course."

John suspects Sherlock's trying to convince himself of something, in his own special way, or trying to convince John. He thinks about reminding Sherlock that he's already agreed. But maybe Sherlock's brain is like a slinky that just has to get to the bottom of the stairs.

He's going to put that in his blog at some point, just for the hell of it.

"So you've thought about it?"

"Extensively," Sherlock says quietly.

Which is...unexpected, and more than a little flattering. Though John's not sure why, Sherlock thinks about everything, it's what he does.

"With little in the way of solid conclusions," Sherlock adds.

"That must be irritating," John offers.

"You're mocking me now."

"No, I'm finding the general theme amusing, there's a difference."

"I'm not quite sure how these things work. Oh, I know exactly how they work obviously, the tedious progression of a relationship laid out in black and white, step by step. But this is all quite different when I'm not an impartial observer. I think I prefer being an impartial observer."

There's a uncertainty there that John feels a little guilty about.

"We don't have to, you know, just because you've expressed interest. You can treat the whole thing like, I don't know, a thought experiment."

"That's not exactly fair to you."

"I do have some self-control you know, and I'm not going to be horribly crushed, if you pass on the opportunity," John says blandly.

That makes Sherlock laugh, one quick, bright noise.

"I should hope not, John. Though I will admit to finding your own tentative interest in me both unexpected and strangely flattering. "

John doesn't even bother to ask how he knows. "I'm just saying, I'm not going to add any sort of pressure."

Sherlock eyeballs him from over the sofa and John's reminded, suddenly, of how much taller Sherlock is than him. How quietly ruthless.

"And if I were to say that I fully intended to continue?"

There's a look there that's almost flirtatious, though John suspects it's entirely accidental.

John gets the distinct impression that this is his last chance to back out.

"I haven't changed my mind," he says simply.

Sherlock makes a noise in his throat, something John's heard before, though he's come to associate it with Sherlock's moments of self-congratulatory brilliance.

He pretends he hasn't heard him and tries to find the post instead.

Sherlock still hasn't moved from the sofa yet. Which is odd. John gets the impression that usually when Sherlock decides to do something new and reckless he'll jump on it straight away with all the self control of a small child.

But the odd pause continues.

Sherlock Holmes doesn't flounder, he says what he thinks, he comes to conclusions. Which suggests he's come to one already, but isn't entirely sure whether it's appropriate or not.

He's actually considering someone else.

John doesn't know whether to be proud or amused.

It does make him feel considerably better about saying yes though.

"Shall we have Chinese?" he asks, because as random questions go that's rather a good one.

He's too busy looking at the menu to see what expression Sherlock's wearing.

Either way, it's his move now.


*****


John gets to page 7 before Sherlock appears at his bedroom door, looking irritated most likely, John can guess that even before he looks over the top of his book at him.

"I knew you'd work it out eventually," John offers from the bed.

"Considering your reaction last time I showed up in your bedroom unannounced, I thought it best to make absolutely sure this time," Sherlock says. If he's annoyed about John making a prediction about the future for once, he doesn't show it.

"That was before I agreed to have sex with you, I think that changes our relationship."

Sherlock looks at him through his hair. It's an expression somewhere between irritated and impressed.

"Facts, I can work with, facts remain solid and unchangeable. Social cues are messy and irritating and fraught with difficulties."

"You like things which are difficult, don't you?"

Sherlock raises both eyebrows, on anyone else that would be surprise, on him it manages to be something else entirely.

"A few hints wouldn't go amiss here I think," he concedes, reluctantly.

John thinks about it for a minute, then moves over so he only occupies one half of the bed. Because, as hints go, that one's fairly easy to unravel.

Sherlock comes into the room and stretches out beside him. John can't help but notice that he's not wearing any shoes or socks, feet long and pale and curious. He can't quite recall if he was still in the room when he did it, and how he could have missed it. His interest isn't so much of an abstract thing now as a genuine, low simmering desire. He'd honestly thought it would bother him more. Instead, he finds himself curious. It's unexpected but nice to feel the warmth of anticipation.

Sherlock makes a noise next to him which can only be described as huffy.

"Are we having sex or are we in some sort of mutual and overly familiar book club?"

"We could start a book club if you like," John offers, and turns a page. He thinks he's enjoying this. It's easier than he'd imagined it would be.

"Now you're being facetious."

It's only a matter of time before Sherlock folds his arms and accuses him of things, which will only be fair and completely correct.

"It's your experiment, Sherlock," he reminds him.

There's a stillness from beside him which feels contemplative.

John counts down from 10 in his head.

He gets to 6.

Sherlock steals the book with not a murmur of apology, one long hand braced on John's shoulder. The other curls round his neck, turns his head into an angle perfectly designed for Sherlock to fit their mouths together. The book slithers to the floor with a thud, and flutter of pages. This time John is neither half asleep, nor drunk, and he has more than enough sense to let himself enjoy it.

The kisses are slow, more careful than they were the first time, as if Sherlock half expects him to protest again. But John has no intention of protesting, he even risks an arm around Sherlock's waist, effectively holding him captive like he might be the one who tries to slip away this time.

"I have no intention of leaving," Sherlock murmurs, half into his mouth and John shuts him up because he can. Though he gets the feeling Sherlock Holmes will flatly refuse to stay pliant for long, no matter how little he seems to mind John making a wreck of his hair, or bruising the clever curve of his mouth.

Sherlock is impossibly warm underneath his half-unbuttoned shirt, all slippery fabric under John's fingers that promises things he doesn't quite have the words for. He's more than willing to press on though, more than willing to take the chance.

"Clothes," he offers helpfully, then finds himself unwilling to let go long enough to do much but gets his hands under Sherlock's untucked shirt onto the shocking warmth of his skin.

But, after Sherlock's borderline amused noise of frustration, he does force himself to stop, to let Sherlock slip free and attend to his buttons.

Sherlock is all angles, all light and darkness, and he strips with an efficiency and a complete lack of self-consciousness that John doesn't share. He supposes it's only fair though. He drags his t-shirt over his head and slips his trousers and boxer shorts down and off. More than aware that Sherlock is watching him with as much interest as he'd just levelled at him. Sherlock has a way of looking at you which is more than unsettling. Finding your weaknesses, cataloguing every flaw. But there's an intensity, a vulnerability, to being nude under the attention.

There are more flaws to find.

John's a breath away from saying something but Sherlock always knows just when to move, when to speak, knees sliding back onto the bed and John neglects words in favour of putting his hands on skin, learning the weight of Sherlock underneath his clothes. Though more distracting still is the feel of Sherlock's palms on his waist, curving round and holding, the movement slow and curious. Like he's never had the opportunity to touch a living human being. Or to keep one and do whatever he pleases with them.

"Would you like that?" Sherlock asks curiously. John can't even be annoyed about the brush with mind reading. He has to lift a hand, fingers darting into Sherlock's hair, gathering a handful of it and pulling. Sherlock lets him, dipping down and opening his mouth and not refusing anything.

Even between kisses his mouth is always moving. Sherlock talks, constantly, a quiet but steady stream of words. Observations and questions and compliments, and odd little moments of self-chastisement when John moves his hands, tips his head, makes it easier, makes it better. Sherlock does react to his touches though, the words are softer when John touches him, when he slides his hands up Sherlock's narrow waist, or curves one round his neck. They go low in his throat when his hand drops lower - he's not fully hard yet but he's clearly more than willing to find his way there eventually.

Sherlock is surprisingly willing to take direction and his legs are so long, so impossibly long in John's bed. He thinks, helplessly, that he'd like them wrapped around his waist. Which leads his brain on a journey that's all hard edges and greed. Things he's never wanted, things he's barely thought about before. He can't help but wonder how far Sherlock would let him push, where his boundaries are, if he even has boundaries or whether he'll treat this like everything else. With a reckless disregard for rules and social convention.

"Yes," Sherlock says quietly, all dig of hands and sharp eyes. "Whatever you're thinking now, yes."

God, how on earth is John supposed to cope with this?

Sherlock is a contradiction, half intent on finding his own way and half frustrated at John's refusal to tell him what to do, what he wants, what he will find satisfying. Sherlock's need to lead, his need to understand is maddening and impossible and completely Sherlock and John could probably stop him, or divert him, somehow. But he thinks he likes the way Sherlock swings wildly between skilled focus and irritated impatience. He has astonishingly clever hands, soft but strong, and there's a competent sort of common sense to his touches that shouldn't work but feels familiar, leaves him forced into stillness for long moments, while Sherlock simply touches him. John finds himself equally fascinated by Sherlock's reactions, addicted to the moments where he finds out which sensations will make the words catch in his throat, where Sherlock will be silent and let himself feel it - only to smack John's hands away when the edge gets too close.

It prickles at the edge of John's own arousal, the way Sherlock is still all denial and restraint. Treating this like something that can be learned and not just felt. He wants that loss of control, he wants to cause it, wants to see it happen.

The third time Sherlock does it John catches his hands and eases them away, holds them briefly against the sheets.

"No," he says, simply but firmly. Whatever Sherlock sees in his face makes him inhale sharply, makes him wind a leg round the back of John's own and pull.

"Of course, my apologies, carry on," Sherlock says smoothly. Which is ridiculous, and delicious. The half-smile, curved and soft and different makes John's breath catch. He quietly files it away, and lets his weight sink down, a slow push of greed that feels long overdue.

It's more intimate than hands, this slow, tangled shift against each other. Sherlock is a stretch of warm, damp skin and strangely aggressive hardness against the curves and planes of his body. Height difference shading into insignificance.

John's well aware that this is close enough to be dangerous. Close enough to leave every inch of his expression bare if Sherlock wants to read it, can't help but read it, and John knows the other man will pick more out of the untidy mess in there than he can.

But he's close too, closer than anyone else has ever gotten and he knows how to notice things as well. The way sweat makes Sherlock's hair curl against his skin, the way his face gathers colour just barely, and the way his eyes aren't quite so pale like this, pupils full and dark.

Sherlock's carefully constructed sentences break in the middle, come back fractured, words broken altogether when John tilts his hips, presses in, turns the pace into something quick and inelegant. Because that's a special sort of compliment, being able to steal the fine threads of sharp meaning underneath the words and turn them into this. This rough, human collection of sounds that make no sense. To turn Sherlock's clarity of purpose into quiet, bitten-out curses and the half-clumsy catch of hands on his waist and hip, hard enough that there'll be a litter of bruises in his future, the perfect shape on Sherlock's fingers.

The idea of it, that Sherlock can leave marks on his skin that will take days to fade, John doesn't know why that makes him breathe curses against the smooth, sharp edge of Sherlock's jaw. But the skin shifts under him, mouth pushing, aggressive, for a kiss he can't refuse.

John can't help - can't resist the long curve of Sherlock's throat, stretched out just right and if his teeth catch a little tighter than he means to, it's not his fault.

"Fuck, John."

Sherlock's voice makes the curse sound obscene. All razor-edged and filled with promise. It's warm and human and comes out shivery. Sharp nails dig in John's hip, when he presses down on reflex, all imperfect angles and ragged stabs of genuine, visceral pleasure.

There's no warning, Sherlock simply goes still, breath falling out of him like he has no further use for it and John watches his face, watches that focus shatter.

The skin he's pressing into and sliding against is warmer and slicker than before and he swears into the damp curve of Sherlock's throat and loses any hope of control in a series of unsteady, too-hard pushes, face tucked down where it can't be seen.

Sherlock's hands don't fall away until he can breathe again.

John rolls off of him, back damp against the cold slice of sheet underneath him. Sherlock's thigh is burning hot where it still lays against his own.

He's fairly sure Sherlock's using his discarded t-shirt to clean himself off with.

The seconds tick away and Sherlock's voice is still glaringly absent. An absence which is obvious and oddly disquieting.

John had expected something straight away. Before he'd even had the chance to get his breath back, some sort of rambling conclusion, or observation. But the silence drags on instead. He turns his head, and Sherlock is strange and narrow in the other half of his bed. Spread out untidily like he's fallen. His hair is dark and damp around the pale curve of an ear and his expression looks curious from the side in a way that he hasn't seen before. John can't for the life of him decide when Sherlock's strange lines and angles became something appealing.

"Sherlock?" he prods carefully.

"I'm thinking," Sherlock says quietly, slowly, though John can't for the life of him decide whether that's a good thing or not.

But then there's a strange tension, like something has sidetracked the complicated wheels in his brain from whatever complex tangent they've rolled off on. John wasn't sure such a thing was possible. It's like watching a planet stop turning.

"In the interests of avoiding awkwardness in our future relations I feel like I should ascertain now whether this experiment was a success or not." Sherlock sounds exactly the same, like success and failure are both equally valid end results. But John's close enough that he can see the way his pulse jumps and catches in his throat.

"You could use a little awkward in your life," John tells him, and he still sounds breathless, world tilted sideways. Sherlock does that to him, it seems.

"That doesn't answer the question," Sherlock says and he almost sounds peevish.

John's tempted to point out that he didn't phrase it as a question. But instead he slides his leg across the bed until he can trap one of Sherlock's long legs underneath it.

"It was a success. Now go to sleep or I'll make a point of asking you irritating and obvious questions all next week."

Sherlock huffs something annoyed, but doesn't say another word.

John considers the possibility that Sherlock will be gone when he wakes up, off on some quest to redefine the nature of crime. Another strange momentary whim satisfied by experimentation.


*****


When John wakes up, at four in the morning, Sherlock's making notes on his shoulder, he can feel the tickling scratch of a ballpoint pen against his skin. He should have known Sherlock's brain could only be rendered unconscious for so long. Even with sex.

"That better be important," John complains into the pillow. He's not awake enough to be properly irritated. Also, there's a long length of bare thigh pressed up against his own and it's distracting.

"It is, important, very important," Sherlock insists.

"I wouldn't let just anyone write all over me you know," John tells him.

The pen pauses for a very long second. Then continues, smoother and more careful than before.