Actions

Work Header

Into the Dark

Work Text:

John Watson was worried about Sherlock Holmes.

As someone who had experienced the full range of Sherlock’s hissy fits, maudlin swoons, meltdowns, and frankly epic tantrums, if there was anyone able to speak on behalf of Sherlock’s emotional wellbeing it was John Watson, and the strange dark mood that had overtaken him was not one he had ever encountered before.

John didn’t like it. He didn’t like it one bit.

They were on their way home from an especially draining and exhausting ordeal, from which they had emerged victorious, technically speaking, in that they had successfully taken into custody the criminal they had been seeking to apprehend.

However, the incident had not been without collateral damage—the nature of which John had suspected would not cause Sherlock any due unease, or at least, that’s what he would have told you if you’d asked him so before the conclusion of the case. Now, he was not so sure. In fact, the evidence was painting a distinctly different picture.

Sherlock was quiet beside him in the cab; alarmingly still, his gloved hands motionless in his lap.

It wasn’t the usual silence Sherlock exhibited at the conclusion of a case—the kind of quiet that was tinged with exhaustion, but also a deep satisfaction, shutting his eyes with a half-smile on his face, the whole of his body language communicating to John the success of their venture, triumph exultant in the peaceful expression on his face.

This was entirely different.

Not only was there something wrong with his posture—a stiffness, a restrained quality that seemed to demonstrate an effort to hold himself together through sheer physical fortitude—but there was a darkness, a wrongness to his silence as though it didn’t belong there, as though his body longed to communicate a different emotion entirely but wasn’t able to, or wasn’t allowed to.

His silence was so penetrating, so unsettling, John could feel it affecting him just by nature of the fact that he was sitting beside Sherlock. It was like a vacuum of emotion, sucking the energy out of the atmosphere around him, rendering it as dark, as still as the mood that held him in its thrall.

John wanted to say something, to ask him what was wrong, but everything about Sherlock at the moment was advising him against this course of action.

When the cab pulled up outside Baker Street, Sherlock was out of the car and up the steps of the flat before John had finished paying the cabbie.

He took the stairs two at a time, pushed open the front door, and without another word, without taking off his coat, disappeared into his bedroom and shut the door.

John stood in the middle of the living room and felt his worry intensify by several degrees.

Sherlock hadn’t slammed the door; he’d shut it softly, quietly, like a reasonable person.

But Sherlock wasn’t a reasonable person, and shutting doors without slamming them wasn’t something he typically did, especially after coming home from a case. Of course, there was a range of different door slams—from triumphant to enraged—but this quiet, polite method was completely out of character.

And it made John very worried indeed.

John sat down on the sofa, still wearing his coat, and let out a long breath.

He’d noticed something was wrong almost immediately, but he hadn’t realized just how bad it was until they’d climbed into the cab to make their way home.

They had been hunting down a ring of illegal dog breeders—ruthless men who bred dogs for the purpose of fighting them, men who were wanted for a myriad of other crimes—drugs, gambling, possession of illicit firearms.

A particularly nasty incident had tipped off members of the Yard to the group’s existence; while investigating the murder of a woman and her young son who were shot to death at their home in Battersea, it became apparent that the woman was the wife of a prominent breeder of fighting dogs, and the crime was the result of some £50,000 the man had won during a dog fight.

Sherlock, of course, had been the one to almost instantaneously assess the cause of murder, and with his help, Lestrade and his team had begun to knock out several of the key members involved in this particular ring.

As Lestrade had told them grimly over cold cups of coffee back at the station, it was worthwhile pursuing dog fighting circles, as you could often get more drugs and guns off the street by breaking up dog rings than you could breaking up drug rings. The search warrants for the two crimes were frequently interrelated.

They were making steady progress eliminating members of the group, but they had yet to locate the ringleader, the man said to be responsible for one of the largest dog fighting circles in south London.

The case had been cold for several months. Lestrade had been otherwise occupied and John and Sherlock had been busy with cases from the blog, but early this morning they’d received a phone call from Lestrade that the ringleader’s whereabouts had finally been ascertained.

They’d tracked him to a warehouse in an old industrial park in the north side of the neighborhood and what they’d found there was grim, as they’d managed to unearth not only where the man was hiding out, but also the locale of his dog breeding and training ground.

The facility was enormous, and horrifying not only for the cruelty of its various components, but for the sheer mechanized nature of its organization.

The majority of the dogs were kept in wire cages stacked two deep like luggage in a cargo bin, however a large number were chained in various locations throughout the warehouse—starving, misshapen from years of inbreeding, many missing ears and tails.

The evidence of their continual abuse was manifold. The cages were filthy, the stench of blood and feces hanging in the air like a palpable presence. There were treadmills for training the dogs, chains strung from the ceiling to suspend them by their jaws, as well as large stockpiles of steroids the dogs were injected with to amplify their strength and aggression.

John had seen his fair share of the cruelty human beings were capable of, but this facility was beyond anything he’d ever witnessed.

The dogs were furious, terrified, most of them out of their minds from prolonged maltreatment and abuse.

As they walked past row after row of the stinking cages, many of them charged forward, snapping and snarling, but still more shrank back into the corners, quivering, broken, their eyes rolling with fear.

John saw the sweep of Sherlock’s gaze moving over it all, taking in every detail, and watched his posture grow stiffer with every step, the gloved fingers of his left hand curling into a fist at his side.

The stench was so bad they were forced to cover their faces with whatever they had at hand—Lestrade held his scarf up to his mouth; John covered his face with the sleeve of his jacket. Only Sherlock resisted the impulse but John heard his breathing grow shallow the deeper they penetrated into the interior of the filthy warehouse.

It took only a matter of minutes for Lestrade’s team to secure the facility, and just a few minutes more to locate the whereabouts of the ringleader, who they had successfully managed to catch unawares.

They found him in a concrete courtyard engaged in one of the many sadistic training rituals used to keep dogs at the height of their aggression.

There were four dogs tied up with weighted logging chains—two of which were covered in blood, barking and snapping at the end of their chains—and another two dogs in the center of the room, circling one another in the middle of a wire enclosure.

The man they had come to arrest—Martin Jones was his name—was standing on the edge of the enclosure, with a device in his hand designed to deliver high voltages of electricity at the pull of a trigger.

He shot one of the dogs as they entered the room and John heard it make a whining, snarling sound of pain and charge forward to sink its jaws into the dog opposite, who was limping badly, and missing both its ears.

The floor of the enclosure was covered in blood.

Lestrade and the two officers with him all trained their guns on Martin Jones.

“Step back from the enclosure with your hands in the air.”

The man looked up at the MET officers with an ugly expression on his face. He didn’t step back from the enclosure.

“I repeat: step back from the enclosure and put your hands in the air.”

Still, the man hesitated, his small eyes flickering from one officer to the next, as though weighing his options.

Without looking at him, John could feel Sherlock’s stiffness beside him transforming into raw, unmitigated rage. John could feel it coming off him like a pulse, gathering charge, vibrating like the energy in the atmosphere before a tropical storm.

John shifted slightly closer to Sherlock, in anticipation of the inevitable outburst.

The small eyes of the criminal were still flickering around the room but he was lowering the device in his hand when Sherlock’s voice cut through the weighted silence like a poisoned dart.

“Typical that a man stupid enough to make his livelihood torturing animals would think he could escape a room with half a dozen guns trained on him.”

John watched the ugly expression on the man’s face curdle like sour milk. His eyes settled on Sherlock.

“So you disapprove of my income, do you? Let me guess, you think hurting animals is wrong?”

John threw a warning glance at Sherlock, who had stepped out past the line of MET officers, his cold, white face edged with fury.

They all watched as Marty Jones pulled a gun from his coat and trained it on the two dogs who were still locked together in bloody combat.

“How much do you really care about ’em though? You gonna shoot me if I do this?”

Marty Jones fired two shots into the snarling mass of fur. John heard a yelp of pain, saw the back leg of one dog give out. Despite the obvious gravity of the wound, the dogs continued fighting, locked together, growling.

“See? They don’t even mind it.” He was smiling a sick, self-satisfied smile, watching the expression on Sherlock’s face. “You think these animals feel pain like we do? They don’t. Here’s a little game I like to play—how many shots does it take to stop ’em?”

He fired again, and this time one of the dogs broke away, yowling.

“Stop it!” Sherlock took two enraged steps forward and then froze as Jones pointed his gun at Sherlock’s chest.

John’s heart flew into his throat.

“What? You don’t like it?” Marty Jones eyed Sherlock with a sadistic glint in his eye. “You from the RSPCA or something?”

Marty Jones smirked as he took in Sherlock’s long coat and dark curls, the absence of a weapon in his hand. He trained his gun on one of the chained dogs across the room. “What are you gonna do about it, poufter?”

Sherlock raised his gloved hands in the air in a gesture of peace. “Please, don’t—”

Marty Jones laughed, and then shot the dog farthest from him, one of the few in the room who appeared to be uninjured.

The shot caught the dog directly in the skull. The dog fell motionless with a whimper.

Still laughing, he fired two more shots in the direction of the dogs chained against the far wall.

Then a lot of things happened at once.

Sherlock tore forward with a snarl of rage and John watched his life flash before his eyes. Of all the stupid, stupid reckless things Sherlock had done, this topped them all. Charging a sadist with a loaded gun in the middle of a blood lust was just not on.

“SHERLOCK!”

Sherlock raced forward to tackle Marty Jones, John following hot on his heels to tackle Sherlock. Marty Jones, meanwhile, delivered two more shots toward the dogs fighting in the enclosure before one of the MET officers finally did his job and shot Marty Jones with a stunner, causing him to drop to his knees.

It took two shots to fully bring him down, but before the second shot hit home, Sherlock was on top of him, pulling the gun from his hands.

John was so enraged by the utter stupidity of this gesture that he almost missed what Sherlock said to Jones as John came up behind him.

Sherlock had one gloved hand fisted in the furious man’s hair, pulling at the roots to cause the maximum possible pain, bending down with hatred into the purple, rage-filled face.

“If I had my way, you’d be put through the paces of your own so-called training practices before being fed to your own dogs. But since I can’t have it my way, this is the best I can do.”

Sherlock pulled his arm back to maximize the force of the blow, and then struck Jones in the side of the face with the butt of his own gun so hard John saw a spurt of blood shoot from his mouth and splatter the concrete.

“OYE!”

Lestrade rushed forward to intervene but John had already seized Sherlock by the elbow. He could feel Sherlock shaking with rage under his hand.

Marty Jones lay motionless on the bloody concrete.

A circle of MET officers crowded in to take custody of the unconscious man. John towed Sherlock out of the way, glancing around the room as he did so to take in the extent of the damage.

The two dogs in the fighting pit lay motionless in a pool of blood; jaws still locked together even in death.

Three of the four dogs chained against the far wall were also dead, or if not dead, close to it. Only the fourth lay, snarling and shaking, fatally wounded but still clinging desperately to life, blood pouring out of a bullet hole in its back leg.

Before John could stop him, Sherlock had shaken his arm free of John’s grasp and was crossing the room toward it.

“No, Sherlock! Don’t—it’s too dangerous—”

But by the time he reached it, the dog had fallen over onto its side, still snarling. It was already that much closer to death.

Sherlock crouched down beside it. John couldn’t hear what he was saying but he saw his lips moving, and he could make out the low murmur of Sherlock’s voice as he reached out a hand and smoothed it over the ridge of the dog’s spine.

John watched him lean down over the dying animal and stroke its heaving flanks, his scarf trailing in the blood pouring out of the dog’s side, the quiet murmur of his voice never ceasing, even after the dog lay still, its terrified eyes wide open and staring at nothing.

John went over to stand behind him, tried to think of something to say and failed, so he stood quietly as Sherlock straightened up, his face whiter than ever, his lips pursed so tightly they were almost invisible.

Lestrade’s team had taken Marty Jones out, and John assumed that Sherlock would want to leave immediately now that the object of the raid had been completed. But much to John’s surprise, Sherlock wanted to stay. He was committed to assisting with the clean-up process as they worked to assess what was to be done with the dogs that remained.

Of the some fifty or sixty dogs on the premises, it was determined that less than a quarter of them could be saved. They were to be taken to the Battersea branch of the RSPCA. The rest were too damaged to have any hope of being adopted, and would be put down immediately.

John stood at Sherlock’s elbow as they watched the last of the vans headed to the shelter pull away from the warehouse.

Sherlock hadn’t said a word since the encounter with Jones, and John could feel the weight of his silence starting to press against him, drawing his notice. They had been working for hours to help clear the warehouse and now it was almost midday, the sun burning unusually bright in the colorless London sky.

John followed Sherlock to the main road where they’d gotten a taxi, and it wasn’t until they were halfway home that John realized he’d never said goodbye to Lestrade, so preoccupied was he with Sherlock’s disturbing silence.

Now it was long past noon and John had ordered food, as neither of them had eaten since the very early call from Lestrade this morning.

Sherlock had not emerged from his room since they’d gotten home.

John headed to the door with several fragrant containers in hand, hopeful that the smell would rouse Sherlock from his solitude.

“Sherlock?”

He knocked on the door gently with his knuckles.

No answer.

“There’s food if you’re hungry.”

He waited almost a full minute for a response but there was no reply.

Sighing, John returned to the living room to eat his share of the food in silence.

He flicked on the telly in an effort to drown out the silence that felt as though it were still emanating from Sherlock, leaking out from under his door to disrupt the stillness of the sunlit afternoon.

*

It was fully dark when John returned to stand outside Sherlock’s door.

It had now been hours since they’d returned home from the warehouse and Sherlock had not once exited his room, or emitted a sound.

John found himself almost longing for the sound of smashing mugs or furniture being overturned, as that would indicate that Sherlock’s dark mood was working itself out. The destructive phase usually came toward the end.

However, the deathly silence that seemed to hang over Sherlock like a shroud had only deepened, and now John was really starting to worry.

He knocked at the door, clear and firm.

“Sherlock?”

He knocked again.

“Sherlock.”

He channeled every ounce of his concerned disapproval into his voice, hoping that Sherlock would recognize the tone and what it meant.

He knocked again, and waited, his head inclined toward the door to hear if there was any sound of life from within.

He was just considering alternative methods of getting the door open in case it was locked, when to his great surprise, the door opened to reveal Sherlock’s pale, scowling face in stark contrast to the shadows within.

“What do you want?”

Sherlock looked terrible. There were dark circles under his eyes. Somehow, he’d managed to grow even whiter in the space of the afternoon. His skin looked almost translucent.

“Um, nothing, I just—wanted to see if you were alright.”

“Of course I’m alright, why wouldn’t I be?” His words were full of the usual venom but something about his delivery was off. Perhaps it was the stiff quality of his features. Something about them didn’t look right.

“Well, it was pretty grisly stuff—all that.” John gestured vaguely with one hand. “It was upsetting, so I just thought—”

Sherlock cut him off, his tone vindictive. “You thought it was too much for me? That I couldn’t handle it, John? You think I couldn’t stomach the blood?”

“No.” John noticed Sherlock had removed his coat but he was still wearing his bloody scarf. “No,” he repeated carefully, his tone cautious. “I just meant that experience would have been traumatic for anybody and with what happened at the end there…”

“You think I’m upset because a stupid dog died?” Sherlock sneered, his voice vicious. “If that’s what you think than you’re stupider than I ever gave you credit for.”

“Sherlock—”

“If you’re just going to stand here saying idiotic things then I suggest you spare us both the time and energy and leave me ALONE!”

Sherlock tried to slam the door in his face but John was too quick for him. He heard the slightly hysterical pitch under Sherlock’s cruelty and he’d stuck his foot out in anticipation of the inevitable door slam.

Sherlock’s voice was a snarl. “Get out of the way, John.”

“Nope. Not until you tell me what’s actually wrong.”

“There’s nothing wrong I told you—”

“Sherlock, there’s no shame in going to pieces when an innocent creature dies under your charge.”

There.

He’d said it.

For a moment, John thought he’d gone too far.

He saw the muscles in Sherlock’s face twitch, saw his hand clench hard on the doorknob, and steeled himself for the hurricane of rage that was sure to follow.

But instead, he watched as Sherlock drew in a sharp hissing breath and let go of the doorknob all of a sudden, stepping back with a violent motion.

He fisted his hands in his hair, his face half-obscured by the shadows in his dark room. “It was my fault, John. Those last six dogs… all of them, we could have saved all of them if it wasn’t for me.”

“Sherlock—”

But Sherlock had turned away and begun pacing the room, his movements frantic, agitated.

“It was so stupid of me. I shouldn’t have taunted him like that. He shot them just to get a rise out of me—because I showed how much I cared. He could tell. He could tell in an instant how much I cared.”

John stepped into the room and shut the door quietly behind him.

He watched Sherlock from his position against the doorjamb as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, watched Sherlock move in and out of shadows as he went on, his voice brittle with self-hatred.

“I let him get to me. Stupid, stupid mistake. I gave him exactly what he wanted.”

Sherlock came to a halt in front of John, reaching up again to grab fistfuls of his hair—the gesture full of anguish, involuntary. His haunted eyes clearly were not seeing John standing before him but the scene from earlier.

He looked like a wild animal himself—his eyes ravaged, his face sunken, fury written into every line of his face.

“It was so stupid of me, John. It was my fault. I could have prevented it. I should have prevented it.”

John said nothing, knew the power of Sherlock’s rage at his futility to stop the kind of cruelty that people like Jones enacted in the world.

He’d experienced that rage all too often himself.

“I just can’t—” Sherlock’s breathing was shallow. “I can’t stand people like him. Hurting other humans is one thing. They so often deserve it, but animals…” Sherlock shook his head, his blank eyes still unseeing.

He let go of his hair, his voice suddenly vicious. “A man like that deserves worse than death.”

Still, John said nothing, and remained where he was, motionless against the door.

“God, and what did I do to stop him? Nothing!” Sherlock started pacing again, his hands clenching on air. “I should have made that case a priority—it’s been months since we started looking. We could’ve stopped him ages ago, but I let myself be distracted by cases from the bloody website, as if any of that mattered!”

Sherlock stopped pacing again, his chest heaving. He rubbed a hand over his mouth, his movements agitated, abrupt. John could feel the force of his anger like heat shimmering off a wall of flame. He steeled himself for the outburst that was about to come.

“Sherlock, listen to me. It wasn’t—”

Sherlock rounded on him, his face stark with fury. “Don’t you dare tell me there was nothing I could have done! There was! There were a hundred things I could have done to prevent that from happening, instead of waiting until it was all over and there was nothing I could do, crouched there uselessly while an innocent fucking animal died under my hands!”

Sherlock let out a choked sound of frustration, one hand coming up to cover his mouth. Just as suddenly, his hands dropped to the bloodstained scarf still tied around his neck. He yanked it free, bunching it between his fists as he fell back against the wall.

Something in him seemed to break.

He let the scarf drop from his fingers, and slid down to the floor, both of his hands covering his face.

John came and sat with his back against the opposite wall, close enough to reach out and touch but careful to leave distance between them.

He sat quietly, unmoving, listening to the ragged sound of Sherlock’s breathing, issuing harsh and uneven from between his hands.

For a long, long time, John said nothing.

When at last he spoke, his voice was soft and low in the darkness.

“There have been a lot of times in my life when someone I was meant to protect has gotten hurt under my watch. When someone I was meant to be saving has died under my hands. It’s par for the course when you’re a doctor.” He studied the backs of Sherlock’s hands in the half-light, the elegant shapes of his long fingers where they still covered his face. “Some have been worse than others, but one thing’s certain… it never gets any easier.”

“There was one though that—” John swallowed around the sudden tightness in his throat, his voice coming out harsh. “There’s one that still keeps me up at night.”

Sherlock lowered his hands to look at John, the anguish on his face still evident but mingled now with curiosity.

It was remarkable how within the space of a single heartbeat, the memory of that day could still send adrenaline coursing through John’s bloodstream, his palms prickling with apprehension, his body instantly tense.

John rubbed his palms along the sides of his thighs, as if he could rub the tension out of them, suddenly grateful for the darkness in the room.

“Two months before I was sent home for medical leave, we were doing a routine drill in the desert when a gang of snipers ambushed us. Most of my men knew what to do, but there was one soldier, a new recruit, Perkins—was his name, he panicked. He ran out, got shot. I could have stopped him. It was my job to stop him, but I didn’t get there in time. He bled out in my arms. He was fucking terrified and there was nothing I could do to help him.”

John clenched his fists against his thighs, helpless all over again in the face of his rage, which felt as raw, as overwhelming as it had that day. He shut his eyes, drew a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“It was his first goddamn day on the field. His first day and he got shot. He was sixteen. He was just a bloody kid.” John forced his fists open, forced his palms to lie flat on the tops of his thighs, felt them trembling. “It was my job to keep him safe, and I didn’t. He died under my charge. And in the end there was nothing I could do to help him.”

For a long time again, John said nothing.

He kept his eyes shut, head tipped back against the wall behind him, let wave after wave of rage wash over him.

He had never told anyone that story before. Not even his therapist who had tried her hardest to draw it out of him. It was one of those things he wasn’t even aware he carried with him, how it affected him always, tucked out of sight like a hard, dark weight under his ribs.

It was difficult—pulling himself back to the present, to the London bedroom where Sherlock sat a few feet from him in the darkness, silent and intent.

When he opened his eyes, he saw that Sherlock was still watching his face.

He could feel sweat along his hairline, as though the power of the memory had actually carried him back to that day under the heat of the desert sun.

Sherlock’s bedroom was cold by contrast, and John felt a shiver move through him.

John pulled his legs in against his chest, prepared to stand up.

He’d seen the bitterness drain out of Sherlock like a wound that had to be leached—he was out of the danger zone now.

Sherlock had dropped his eyes and was staring at a point on the floor between his legs, his face lost in shadow.

John’s voice, when he found it again was hoarse.

“The point is… I know a little bit of what you’re going through right now and it’s… there is no worse feeling. It doesn’t get worse than that. And I won’t tell you it gets better. Because it doesn’t. But at least know that you’re not alone in that feeling.”

John climbed to his feet.

To his surprise, Sherlock reached out a hand and grabbed at his wrist.

He looked up at John, and in the pale grey light from the window John could see the expression on his face was completely naked, filled with need. “Stay.”

John sat.

This time, he settled himself next to Sherlock, his back against the same stretch of wall; his legs stretched out alongside Sherlock’s, close but still not touching.

Sherlock had let go of his wrist but something about that touch had awoken something in John—he felt a sudden need to be close to Sherlock, as if Sherlock’s touch had initiated a magnetic charge within him that he hadn’t been aware of, a pull issuing from deep within his bones.

He was careful to keep several centimeters of space between them. Even so, his body seemed to bridge the gap between them. He could feel the heat from Sherlock’s torso all along his side where they almost touched.

And then, without warning, Sherlock shifted beside him, pressing his leg against the length of John’s, his body leaning into John’s until their shoulders touched.

Neither of them said anything, and after a few shatteringly loud heartbeats, John felt himself relax into Sherlock’s side.

It seemed that whatever physical comfort John found himself suddenly, desperately in need of, was just as much of a need for Sherlock.

John let himself enjoy the sensation for several moments, shocked by how natural it felt to have the whole of Sherlock’s long body settled in against him, how good it felt.

There was something forgiving about the darkness that allowed for this moment, that seemed to open up a space for intimacy that had never been possible before.

John studied the silhouettes of Sherlock’s curtains—pale and ghostly in the grey light from the street—and listened to the sound of Sherlock’s quiet breathing beside him.

Sherlock’s silence had lost the terrifying, void-like quality it had possessed earlier but there was still a sharpness to it, an undertone of anxiety that John could feel as clearly as he could feel the bone in Sherlock’s knee pressed against his own.

He began to talk into the silence, in an effort to soothe the ache that still resonated from Sherlock, to fill up the emptiness of all that Sherlock couldn’t say, his words gentle, almost meaningless, the murmur of his own voice soothing even to himself.

John told Sherlock about his time in the army. Many of the stories were ones he had never told anyone before, but somehow it was easy, here, in the quiet darkness with Sherlock close beside him, to speak of things he’d never talked about with anyone before.

He talked about the people he knew, what it had been like, that life—so strange, as different from civilian life as the waking world was from the world of dreams, yet so natural when you were in it, full of its own unique monotonies and terrors and joys.

Sherlock listened and John could feel the full weight of Sherlock’s regard. He found himself warming in the presence of the rare joy that came from holding Sherlock’s attention so completely.

As he spoke, he could feel the edges of Sherlock’s anxiety softening, his body relaxing into John’s, until his head gradually came to rest against John’s shoulder.

At any other time, John might have found it strange—this softness in Sherlock, this longing for touch, but somehow, in this moment, it felt perfectly natural, and it corresponded with a similar need that had surfaced in John.

He fell quiet and feeling half-scared to do so, leaned his own head down until his cheek was resting against Sherlock’s hair.

He shut his eyes, breathing in the scent of Sherlock’s fragrant, faintly floral shampoo.

“I’ve always liked dogs better than people.”

The sound of Sherlock’s voice in the darkness startled John’s eyes open, but he didn’t move his head from where it was pressed against Sherlock’s. Instead, he waited for Sherlock to go on, holding himself as still as possible, afraid that the smallest disruption would spook Sherlock back into silence.

To John’s relief, Sherlock kept on speaking, his voice a low rumble under John’s cheek. John could feel the gentle vibration of it all through his body.

“I had a dog growing up. It was a miracle I got one at all. I’d wanted one for ages but Mummy hated the idea of having animals in the house so she resisted and resisted no matter how much I begged and bargained with her. I did everything in my power to convince her but she wouldn’t be moved. She said I wouldn’t take proper care of it and it would be left to starve. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything so badly in my life.”

John waited for Sherlock to go on, holding his breath.

“I don’t know what made her finally change her mind but it certainly wasn’t me. It may have been Mycroft,” Sherlock admitted grudgingly. John could hear the unyielding resentment in Sherlock’s voice, despite what was probably the truth of that statement. “It was the year he went away to school and I think he felt badly, leaving me alone. I was always trailing after him. He was probably relieved to get rid of me, but I was seven that year and lonelier than ever. He came home for holidays and who knows? Maybe he realized how miserable I was. At any rate, they relented. It was meant to be both my and Mycroft’s dog, a shared responsibility, but as I said, Mycroft was away at school at that point, and my parents didn’t care for him one way or the other, so really he was my dog. I always thought so anyway.”

John listened, stunned, to this outpouring of detail about Sherlock’s childhood—this rare glimpse into Sherlock’s interior world.

“He was… he was everything to me. As you can probably imagine, I was never very popular at school. Everyone around me was slow and stupid and dull. And jealous of me for being better than they were at everything. I skipped two grades the first year I started, so I was surrounded by students who were older than me and stupider than ever. I was small for my age, and strange, and I didn’t belong and they knew it. They feared me and resented me. So they were cruel to me in the way that only children can be.”

John heard the bitterness in Sherlock’s voice. All that was left unsaid in the wake of that statement loomed large in the darkness in front of John’s eyes. For several horrifying moments, John let himself picture that tiny, dark-haired, arrogant boy—so vastly intelligent, yet so utterly ignorant about his fellow humans and the ways of the world, viciously lonely, with no idea of how to connect with anyone.

John felt his whole being ache in sympathy for that fierce, lonely little boy.

“I’ve never gotten along with other people, and Redbeard was better than any of them because he wasn’t a person. He didn’t ask for the same kinds of inexplicable things people always seemed to ask me for. He wasn’t… complicated like that. He wasn’t disappointed in me for things I could never understand. He made sense—we understood each other. We were inseparable. We did everything together, well everything they would allow. My mother was shocked at my fastidiousness in my care for him. She never thought I had it in me.”

John heard the scornful tone creep back into Sherlock’s voice and knew once again that there were worlds left unsaid in that statement. Once again, he could imagine the implications all too well.

“And then… when I was ten he got ill. Stomach cancer. Typical for dogs of that breed. There was an expensive operation they could have done but the odds of recovery were low even after the surgery, and Mummy wasn’t willing to pay for it. They said he’d have to be put down.”

The pain in Sherlock’s voice—even after all these years, John could hear the raw edge of it beneath the words.

“I did everything I could think of to try and come up with the money. There was a chemistry contest at school with a cash prize, which I won. I worked at the petrol station in town; I ran errands for neighbors. I scoured the paper for odd jobs. I did all that I was capable of doing, but none of it was enough. There wasn’t enough time. I asked my parents if they would loan me the money for the surgery, told them I would pay them back, even if it took me years. I asked Mycroft to co-sign on the agreement, and he did. But in the end my mother said it was absurd to spend so much on an animal that would only live for a handful of years even if the operation was successful.”

John waited for Sherlock to continue, the corresponding ache in his chest growing by the minute.

When Sherlock spoke at last, his tone was clipped, matter-of-fact but John heard the hollow, brittle quality in his voice.

“So that was the end of that.”

John struggled to think of what to say, of how to acknowledge the import of what Sherlock had just confessed to him, to convey his compassion, but also his gratitude, for Sherlock choosing to share something with him that was clearly so personal, so deeply embedded in the innermost chambers of his emotional world, which he never discussed.

“God, Sherlock, I’m sorry, that’s—”

He lifted his cheek off of Sherlock’s hair to shake his head in the darkness.

“You only had three years with him. That’s—” He shook his head again. He was still picturing that small, lonely boy, but now he was imagining the enormity of his suffering after losing his only friend, the only creature he’d ever felt connected to in the world—how that must have affected him, how it must have torn him apart.

A wound like that would never fully heal.

“God, Sherlock, I’m so sorry.”

Sherlock went on, his voice strained.

“Redbeard was… he was my best friend. He was the only true friend I ever had, before… well, before I met you.”

John felt his throat close up.

Shock rendered him speechless for several long moments.

And then, reaching down in the darkness, John took hold of Sherlock’s hand. He squeezed Sherlock’s fingers hard between his own. They were ice-cold.

Sherlock’s voice, when he spoke again, was harsh.

“I didn’t have a mind palace then. I hadn’t learned how to delete things so the pain was with me constantly. It was unbearable. The pain manifested as rage. I had a lot of trouble. They had to send me to a special school.” There was a note of dark amusement in his voice. “You could say that’s when the trouble began.”

John rubbed his thumb over the back of Sherlock’s palm, desperate to offer him whatever comfort he could.

Sherlock was silent for a moment, his head inclined over their hands, as though considering their interconnected fingers. He hadn’t moved his hand from John’s grip. John could feel warmth returning to Sherlock’s fingers thanks to the contact with his own.

Sherlock hadn’t pulled his hand away, so John assumed he didn’t mind.

“When I did finally learn how to delete things permanently, I— ” John’s thumb froze mid-circle. It was so strange to hear Sherlock hesitate over anything the pause shocked him into stillness. “I struggled for a long time over whether or not to delete all of Redbeard.”

Sherlock’s voice had taken on that brittle quality again. John felt Sherlock stiffen imperceptibly against him. His fingers tightened on Sherlock’s.

“Obviously, I haven’t yet. But sometimes… on days like today… I wonder—I wonder if it’s worth it.”

John turned toward Sherlock in the darkness, his movements underscored with sudden urgency.

“Sherlock, listen to me. You’ve got—look, do what you want, alright? But don’t, don’t delete love. That’s, that’s the only thing that makes any of this worthwhile. Believe me. Believe me when I tell you that none of this is worth it without that.”

John realized too late that he’d just said ‘love’ to Sherlock Holmes, and expected at any second for Sherlock to pull away from him in horror.

Instead, Sherlock was silent. He moved his fingers for the first time under John’s, brushed his index finger over John’s knuckle.

John inhaled sharply.

Somehow, the miniscule movement of Sherlock’s fingers under his own was enough to make his body light up in response—he felt warmth pool in his belly, the skin on his arms prickling in anticipation. What felt like the electrical charge running between their bodies was suddenly impossible for John to ignore.

John shifted his leg slightly, felt the press of Sherlock’s knee against his own.

Sherlock’s head was still bent over their fingers, the faint light from the street outside shining silver in his hair.

“You’re right.” Sherlock’s voice was soft. “Of course, you’re right.”

John watched, his breathing growing shallow, as Sherlock turned John’s hand over in his own, tracing the tips of his fingers down the length of John’s until they reached his palm.

He tilted his palm up and let it rest, where Sherlock had pulled it against the top of his thigh, the fingers of his hand falling open.

It seemed to be an absent-minded gesture, meditative, as Sherlock considered John’s words, but John was having a hard time disguising his body’s reaction to the gentle sweep of Sherlock’s fingers.

“That’s why I’m so glad I know you.”

Sherlock’s fingers were circling the swell of John’s palm, his touch inquisitive, appreciative, not quite light enough for John to convince himself he was imagining it.

John wanted to shut his eyes, concentrate on the feeling; savor this bizarre moment that would surely never happen again.

But he kept his eyes open, fixed on the outline of Sherlock’s inclined head. He fought to keep his breathing even. “Why’s that?”

“Because you know things that I don’t know. And you understand… you understand.”

John watched as Sherlock pressed the whole of his hand over John’s, his long fingers eclipsing John’s.

John held himself absolutely still, his heartbeat fluttering at the base of his throat.

He wanted to press back against Sherlock’s hand, feel the force of Sherlock’s fingers against his, but the problem was he wanted a lot more than that. The hum in his body that had started with the touch of Sherlock’s hand had grown into a roar. He could feel all his desire tingling in him like a live current.

John didn’t want the moment to end, didn’t want to interrupt this rare moment of intimacy that Sherlock was sharing with him, but he couldn’t keep his feelings in check if Sherlock was going to keep touching him like that.

Hating himself, John squeezed Sherlock’s hand once more, before pulling his hand back into his own lap.

“It’s getting late.”

He started to rise but Sherlock stopped him with a hand on his arm.

“Sleep with me in here tonight?”

He said it so quickly, John thought for a moment he’d misunderstood.

He peered down at Sherlock in the darkness, disbelieving.

Sherlock’s face was half-shrouded in shadow but John could see clearly the same open, vulnerable look he had seen earlier, underscored with something close to panic.

John felt a sudden stab of shame at his own self-involvement. God, how unfeeling was he that he had considered abandoning Sherlock when he clearly needed John the most?

“It’s been cold in here,” Sherlock added nervously. “My heater’s broken.”

John nodded, still slightly numb with shock.

“Yeah. Yeah, alright. I’ll just go get cleaned up and then… I’ll come join you, shall I?”

Sherlock let go of his arm. John saw the tension go out of his body and knew he’d made the right decision.

When John stood up, the glow of the clock by Sherlock’s bed told him it was even later than he’d thought. He hadn’t realized how long they’d been talking.

He went upstairs to change into a pair of pajama bottoms and a t-shirt. John normally slept without much on but he didn’t think that was appropriate sleeping etiquette for cozying up with your grieving friend.

While brushing his teeth, he tried not to think about what might ensue if he crawled into bed, naked, with Sherlock Holmes.

Then again, he was having a hard time imagining the prospect of crawling into bed with Sherlock Holmes in any capacity.

When he’d finished rinsing his mouth, he looked at himself in the mirror for a long moment, his reflection staring sternly back at him.

Come on, Watson. Get it together. You can do this.

Sherlock needs you.

John straightened his spine, and strode out of the bathroom, resolute.

When he came back into Sherlock’s bedroom, the lights were still out, but he could see a Sherlock-shaped lump curled into a ball under the duvet.

It was cold in here, now that John thought about it.

He pulled back a corner of the duvet, and crawled in on the opposite side of the bed, painfully aware of the dip he made in the mattress as he settled himself down.

He lay flat on his back, staring up into the darkness, wondering what sort of posture was appropriate for sleeping beside one’s grieving best friend.

Sherlock stayed where was, turned away from John on his side several feet away, unmoving.

The brief spell of physical intimacy that had graced them earlier seemed to have fled.

John figured that was probably for the best, but he couldn’t suppress the small jab of disappointment he felt at the realization that that was probably the first and only time he would ever sit pressed hip to hip with Sherlock, Sherlock’s fingers twined through his own.

Yes, it was much better this way, he resolved. This would make things much easier.

“Well, goodnight then,” he said, and hated the awkwardness in his own voice.

There’s no need to feel awkward, he told himself feebly. You’re just trying to offer Sherlock some comfort.

Sherlock made no reply.

Several uncomfortable minutes passed in silence and John lay in the dark, listening to the sound of his heartbeat thudding in his own ears, wide-awake.

Then, just as John reasoned that Sherlock may very well already be asleep, the Sherlock-shaped lump under the duvet rolled over and curled up against John, sliding one leg in between John’s, pressing his chest into John’s side.

“Turn over,” Sherlock said, his mouth directly against John’s ear, his breath a warm gust of air down the side of John’s neck. “Onto your side.”

For reasons unbeknownst to John, he did as Sherlock instructed.

He rolled onto his side, and Sherlock coiled around him like a garter snake, the slender curve of his hips tucking in against John’s back.

John lay very still for a moment, his breathing shallow, his senses assaulted with new information, and wondered briefly, if he was going to have a heart attack.

This, this was exactly what his body had been craving earlier: Sherlock pressed against him at every point—his chest tucked in against John’s back, his leg tangled between John’s, one arm snaking around to hug John’s middle. He could feel the heat of Sherlock’s breath on the back of his neck.

John shut his eyes, and tried to breathe calmly and quietly, struggling not to betray the fact that he was having a very hard time making this bed sharing experience appropriately platonic.

Of course, nothing about what was happening felt platonic. No, what was happening right now felt to John as though it were the antithesis of all that embodied that word.

But this was Sherlock. One could never be too sure.

“Er… Sherlock?”

Sherlock sighed behind him—a long, exasperated sound. It seemed designed to foreclose all further conversation. However, its effect was to make chills erupt like tiny pin pricks all up and down John’s spine.

He let out a quiet gasp.

Things were becoming distinctly less and less platonic with every moment.

John cleared his throat and tried again, in spite of the clear intent of Sherlock’s sigh. “Um, it’s just that, well… this is a bit awkward but…”

“John, please.” He could hear the note of long-suffering patience in Sherlock’s voice. “If you’re concerned about the fact that you have an erection, don’t be. Look, I’ve got one too.” Sherlock thrust his hips forward, close enough so that John felt the outline of a very prominent bulge press in against the back of his arse.

He let out a yelp of surprise.

“How—?”

Sherlock cut him off. “No, don’t try and talk about it. It’ll take ages to answer all your questions. We can talk after. Come here instead and kiss me.”

He felt Sherlock shift against him, felt the heat of Sherlock’s breath move over his jaw, and realized that Sherlock had lifted himself up on one elbow and was leaning down over him to find his mouth.

John let out another gasp of surprise, and then Sherlock’s mouth was covering his own, and his gasp of surprise turned into a gasp of pleasure.

He felt Sherlock hum against him in satisfaction at the first tentative brush of their lips coming together.

John held his head still for a moment, losing himself in the sensation of Sherlock’s soft, full mouth against his own, the overpowering stillness of the dark room around them in sharp contrast with the live, vibrant presence of Sherlock’s body against his, the smell of Sherlock so close making the warmth in the pit of his stomach swell into a blaze.

At the realization that this was happening—Sherlock was kissing him—and wanted to be kissing him, John felt his heart turn a series of delighted somersaults in his chest.

Sherlock settled a hand at the base of John’s neck, fingers rubbing gently through his hair, pulling him closer, his nose brushing John’s as he shifted the angle of the kiss.

John let his lips part slightly, wanting to taste more of Sherlock, and Sherlock obliged by deepening the kiss, his fingers cradling the base of John’s skull. John pushed his tongue into the hot, sweet hollow of Sherlock’s mouth, felt Sherlock sighing into him as he did so, shifting closer against him on the bed, and oh god, this was erotic.

John felt the erection that he had half-heartedly been trying to suppress leap fully back to life.

Without pulling his mouth away from Sherlock’s, John shifted so that he was lying flat on his back, one of Sherlock’s legs still tangled between his own. He felt Sherlock settle against him fully, and consequently felt the warm, reassuring weight of Sherlock’s hips sink down against his leg.

He could feel the bulge of Sherlock’s erection against the top of his thigh, and the weight of it, the heat of it, made him groan into the kiss.

For the first time, John reached out and let himself touch Sherlock the way he’d been wanting to touch him half the night.

He started with one hand, delicate, soft, tracing down the side of Sherlock’s neck, then settled both hands on his shoulders, felt the muscle there, lean and strong—let his hands trace down his narrow sides to his hips, and then around to grip Sherlock by the arse and tug him closer.

Sherlock pulled away from John’s mouth, gasping.

“God… John.”

He pressed his forehead to John’s, breathing hard, his eyes huge in the darkness.

John watched him lick his lips and was seized with the desire to bite Sherlock’s mouth where his tongue had just been.

“John, will you…?” Sherlock looked hesitant. He licked his lips again, and this time John couldn’t help himself. He rose up on his elbows and sucked the plump expanse of Sherlock’s bottom lip in between his teeth.

He bit down on it softly, and then licked the length of it, before licking his way into Sherlock’s panting mouth.

Sherlock made a keening sound and John felt Sherlock’s hips twitch against him.

“Oh god, John, will you—?”

John rubbed his hands, slow, over the curve of Sherlock’s arse, pressing a kiss in against his jaw. “What is it, love?”

Sherlock drew back slightly. John could see the expression on his face was close to anguish. “Will you touch me?”

John felt his heart break with sympathy. It was such a simple request.

“God, yes.” John reared up against Sherlock and seized his mouth. He kissed him slow and deep, with all the promise of what he wanted to do to him. Sherlock moaned into the kiss. “Yes, Sherlock. I can do more than that if you like. Anything you want. Anything.”

He kissed the corner of Sherlock’s mouth, kissed the sharp line of his jaw again.

“God, the things I want to do to you…”

He wanted to lick every inch of this man, wanted to pin him down and kiss him until he was crying and gasping with pleasure, wanted to bite and suck and taste each sweet dip and hollow of his long, lean, lovely body.

But he could feel Sherlock trembling against him, could feel how overcome Sherlock was, and it occurred to him that he had no idea as to the range of Sherlock’s sexual history, whether he had any experience at all. He also knew that Sherlock wasn’t in a mood to discuss those details with him.

However, based solely on what he had observed so far, John could deduce that this first time between them might be relatively brief.

John didn’t mind. Oh, he didn’t mind in the slightest.

“Lie back. Here.” He used his grip on Sherlock’s arse to maneuver him so that he was lying on his side, his head on the pillow beside John’s. “Like this.”

He heard the rasp of Sherlock’s breathing, felt the pliancy of his body as he let John direct him, and once again was struck by the marvel of this soft, vulnerable Sherlock, willing to be led, to be maneuvered by John.

John lay with his head on the pillow, facing Sherlock, so he could look at him. He pushed the duvet down to their hips, and reached between them, letting his hand skim down the expanse of Sherlock’s chest, pausing briefly to circle his nipples, leaning in to kiss the resulting gasp of pleasure that escaped Sherlock’s lips.

He kissed his way along Sherlock’s jaw as his hand kept traveling down until he reached the tented material of Sherlock’s pajama bottoms. He spread his palm wide and stroked Sherlock through the thin cotton, pulling his head back to lie opposite Sherlock’s on the pillow so that he could take in the expression on his face.

He watched Sherlock’s eyes flutter closed as his hand began to move, his eyelashes two trembling, dark smudges against his cheeks.

John wanted to take it slowly, so slowly, to stretch out this moment as long as possible, watch the pleasure as it unspooled on Sherlock’s face, but he knew he didn’t have that kind of time, so he slipped his hand in under the waistband of Sherlock’s pajamas and curled his fingers around the hard, velvet heat of his bare flesh.

Sherlock’s mouth fell open, his breath coming out in a shocked gasp, hips stuttering to a halt under John’s hand.

The tip of Sherlock’s cock was already slick with pre-come and John groaned as his hand made contact with it, rubbing the liquid over his palm to coat it as he began to stroke.

He watched Sherlock’s eyes flutter open and lock onto his, his pupils enormous, the rim of his irises two slivers of brilliant green.

John shifted his lower body closer, sliding one of his legs in between Sherlock’s tensed thighs, so that his hips were tucked in next to Sherlock’s, his own fingers brushing the outline of his own cock as he stroked.

He established a rhythm based on the variations he heard in Sherlock’s breathing, the slight changes in tempo, the hitch in his breath when his hand did something right.

All the while Sherlock’s eyes were on him, gazing at John through heavy lashes, his swollen lips parted, the color rising in his cheeks.

Watching Sherlock watching him was pushing John very quickly toward the threshold of his own pleasure, even though Sherlock hadn’t so much as laid a finger on his cock.

He quickened the pace of his strokes, listened to the sound of Sherlock’s breathing speeding up, magnified in the intimate space between them.

Suddenly, it wasn’t nearly close enough.

He dragged his face along the pillow until it was almost touching Sherlock’s, so that he could feel the heat of each of Sherlock’s shaking breaths against his mouth.

Sherlock reached out, his fingers closing around John’s bicep as though in supplication. “J-John...”

John pressed his forehead against Sherlock’s, stilling his hand on Sherlock’s cock, his voice breathless. “What is it?”

“Let me—” He watched Sherlock lick his lips, his eyes dropping to John’s mouth as the hand that was on John’s bicep moved down between them, sliding hot along John’s hip. “Can I…?”

John groaned in answer, pushing his hips into Sherlock’s hand. “Oh, god, yes.”

He felt Sherlock’s long, slender fingers brush the outline of his cock where it was pressed thick and throbbing against the material of his boxers, his thumb tracing the tip through the soaking cotton.

John’s breath was a hot gust of air against Sherlock’s mouth as Sherlock took him in hand, those strong, smooth fingers gliding down the length of him to the root, fingers tangling in the hair there, creeping down between his legs, his touch inquisitive, worshipful, as though he wanted to uncover every inch of John with the touch of his fingers.

“You—” John’s words were interrupted by a harsh gasp as Sherlock’s fingers slid back up to the tip of his cock, twisting lightly, exerting the perfect amount of stimulation.

“Yes?”

Sherlock smiled slyly against him; John felt the quirk of his lips as Sherlock pressed his mouth down to John’s before pushing the wet heat of his tongue into John’s mouth.

John moaned into the kiss, let Sherlock stroke the inside of his mouth hungrily as his hand began to move on John’s cock, mimicking John’s movements from earlier but with a slight variation that was suited precisely to John’s tastes.

He broke away, panting, and Sherlock kissed his way down John’s throat as John struggled to speak.

“How—how are you so good at this?”

Sherlock bent his head to John’s chest, sucking on a nipple through the material of John’s t-shirt.

John cried out and arched forward into Sherlock’s mouth.

He pulled away long enough to look up at John, his eyes glinting in the darkness, the corners of his lips curling upward with delight. “I’m a quick study.”

John pulled Sherlock back up to his mouth and kissed him, hard, his tongue slipping over Sherlock’s, his hand reaching down between them to finish what he’d started.

He felt Sherlock stiffen against him as he resumed stroking, felt his thighs clench together around John’s leg, his own movements on John’s cock losing some of their precision.

Sherlock broke free of John’s mouth, his breathing ragged.

“God, John…”

Sherlock pushed his face in against John’s neck. John felt the rhythm of Sherlock’s strokes grow choppy, and he knew from the mounting tension in Sherlock’s body that he was close.

“Sherlock,” he breathed, needy, desperate, his fingers sliding down the slick heat of Sherlock’s cock, lips against Sherlock’s forehead, his body bending in toward Sherlock’s like a bow. “Sherlock.”

And then he felt the whole of Sherlock’s body clench against him, the hot exhalation of his shout against John’s neck as he came, spurting into John’s hand.

John continued stroking him through the aftershocks of his orgasm, felt Sherlock shudder against him, crying long and low into the skin of John’s throat, his free hand coming up to grip hard at John’s shoulder.

John was close; he was so close.

Just the feel of Sherlock clenching against him, each muscle in his body curled tight before uncoiling, so that he now lay loose and heavy against John, his warm mouth still pressed against John’s throat, was almost enough to push him over the edge.

Sherlock stirred against him then, and fitting his hands over John’s arms, he dragged John half-on top of him, reaching down to take hold of John’s cock again, his swollen lips trailing over the tendon in John’s throat.

John let his body cover Sherlock’s, let his face fall heavy against Sherlock’s temple, breathing in the scent of him, his hair—the smell of his sweat; he smelled like sex.

He pushed his hips down into Sherlock, writhing shamelessly against him, fingers coming up to clench in Sherlock’s damp curls.

Sherlock’s fingers worked him expertly, his mouth pushing up to caress the skin below John’s ear, his tongue coming out, greedy, to taste John’s pulse before biting down softly, his teeth scraping the sensitive skin, the hand not on John’s cock gripping John’s arse, pulling John down hard against him.

And then John was coming, his body bearing down against Sherlock, his face pressed into Sherlock’s hair, his voice breaking as he cried out in pleasure.

He felt Sherlock’s arms close around him, surprisingly gentle, as he drifted back down to earth.

John waited for his breathing to slow, and then slid down Sherlock’s body so that he was settled more comfortably—his legs tangled neatly between Sherlock’s, his face now taking up residence under the sharp curve of Sherlock’s jaw. Despite the stickiness between their bellies, he felt perfectly content to stay exactly where he was, and Sherlock didn’t seem keen on moving anytime soon.

Sherlock reached down, and pulled the duvet up over them both.

John could hear the slow thump of Sherlock’s heartbeat against his ear. He shut his eyes; let the sound wash over him.

He was almost asleep when John felt the vibration of Sherlock’s voice against his chest. “I want to thank you.”

John rubbed a reassuring hand over Sherlock’s shoulder. He lifted his head slightly off of Sherlock’s throat to answer, his voice slurring with sleepiness. “For making you come?”

Sherlock didn’t laugh.

John felt a twinge of guilt probe him back to wakefulness. He lifted his head the rest of the way off of Sherlock and looked up at him in the darkness.

From this angle, he could just make out the fringe of Sherlock’s eyelashes against his cheek, the bone in his jaw as sharp as a blade.

“No. For… earlier. For everything. Thank you for… for what you did.”

John felt Sherlock swallow hard, and felt a surge of tenderness overtake him.

He lifted himself up onto his elbows and kissed Sherlock’s down-turned mouth, softly once, before pulling away to gaze down at Sherlock’s serious face, half-swathed in shadow.

“It was my pleasure. All of it. Especially that last bit.”

He smiled down at Sherlock, and this time, he saw the corners of Sherlock’s mouth turn up in response.

“But I mean it. In all seriousness. If you ever need anything like that again… well, you know.” John ducked his head, suddenly self-conscious. “You already know, don’t you?”

John could feel Sherlock’s gaze focusing on him, his scrutiny sharpening as he looked up at John through the shadows.

He lifted his eyes back to Sherlock’s.

“I’m yours.”

And then Sherlock’s arms were pulling John back down against him, his answer one long sigh against John’s lips before he pulled John in for a kiss.

“Yes. Yes, you are. Mine.”