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Second Chance

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Second Chance

 

The problem is, he doesn’t know how to begin.

In a sense it seems as though it should be easy. John’s moved back in, which is immensely satisfactory. The divorce was finalised in June, messy as that whole business had been. Mary took the child and moved to the suburbs and John’s had several months to adjust to all of that. Sherlock has watched him carefully, waiting for any signs of malaise or depression to follow, but despite a certain grim set to his jaw for the first few months, he’s begun to relax, even to smile without bitterness again. The first day that Sherlock heard him laugh again, a laugh free of all the weight that’s been sitting on his shoulders for the past – well – four years, if Sherlock admits the part he played in putting that weight there – he’d been relieved.

It’s August, eleven months since Sherlock was shot. Three months after that, he’d shot Magnussen. On New Year’s Day, he was shipped off to and recalled from Serbia within the space of five minutes and put to work at finding Moriarty. Turned out to have been nothing but a couple of hackers with too much time and a disturbing level of fannish devotion to Moriarty on their hands, but by the time Sherlock had caught them, the MI6 had relented and didn’t send him back to Serbia, after all. Lady Smallwood had had a great deal to do with that; despite Sherlock’s failure to retrieve her husband’s letters, she’d told him brusquely that at least he had avenged her late husband’s public shaming. The massive public response to Sherlock having once again eliminated the perceived threat of Moriarty probably hadn’t hurt, either, not that there had been a threat to eliminate. Neither had it seemed to matter that it was Moriarty who had shot himself in the first place, but the public was rarely all that given to concerning itself over facts. He was permitted to return to Baker Street after a month of safehouses and occasional texts to John.

He’d come back to find a John who had thoroughly missed him and said so this time, instead of getting angry about something trivial. John had not been allowed to help; Sherlock was stuck working with only Mycroft to alleviate the boredom in the downtimes of the case. It had been extremely annoying. Especially as he still wasn’t convinced about Mary. He’d taxed Mycroft about this several times.

“How could you have sat back and just let her go on?” he’d demanded of his brother. “Why didn’t you do something?”

Mycroft had raised his eyebrows to his nonexistent hairline. “Why didn’t you? Oh yes – for the very reason that I couldn’t. We couldn’t risk flushing her out too early. If only for John’s sake. Surely that means something to you. Don’t pretend it doesn’t.”

“Of course it does,” Sherlock had retorted. “He’s my best friend.”

Mycroft gave an unbecoming snort. “At the very least, yes.”

“Mycroft, for the last time – ”

“Sherlock.” He’d held up a hand. “Please. I know what it is and what it isn’t, despite your fondest and not particularly well-hidden hopes, however forlorn,” Mycroft had told him dryly. “However: given that you have chosen his happiness and well-being above all else, including any and all dictations of logic, you will have to trust that I am not troubled by such clouding of my judgement and am acting as I see fit with regards to the woman you know as Mary Morstan.”

“Watson,” Sherlock had corrected, albeit in a mutter. Mycroft still had the ability to reduce him to his youngest-feeling, most vulnerable self and he hated it when he seemed to feel the need to strip him of any sense of respect or even collegiality.

Mycroft had rolled his eyes. “Given that their marriage stands between you and the objection of your… affections,” this last delivered with as much scathing and repulsion as his brother could muster, “it’s interesting that you’re so keen on defending her status as John’s wife.”

Sherlock had looked away. “It’s a fact of reality,” he’d said. “Better just to face it, isn’t it?”

“That sounds almost like common sense,” Mycroft said, but added, sneering, “Only it’s just that you don’t want to rock the boat with John. You would do anything to keep him from being angry with you, wouldn’t you.” It wasn’t a question. He’d sighed then. “I will deal with Ms Morstan as needed. You find Moriarty.”

So Sherlock had buckled down to the task of locating the pranksters and debunking their electronic mischief and let his brother make the arrests. He’d been allowed to go home at last, and had texted John to tell him. John had beat him there, was waiting in the sitting room when Sherlock walked in. He’d got out of his chair upon hearing Sherlock on the stairs, and when Sherlock saw him he’d stopped in the doorway. They’d stared at each another for a couple of seconds, then John come over and bear-hugged him, wordless with relief, and Sherlock had awkwardly hugged back.

It transpired that the marriage, despite John’s forgiveness and efforts to make it work, was in the midst of falling apart. Sherlock had secretly worried that without him there to distract John, John would delve back into his marriage and willfully forget everything that he hadn’t ever wanted to know about Mary. (Would forget him. The real fear.) John had told him frankly, that first evening that he’d been back at Baker Street, that he couldn’t see how it was going to work.

“I thought I did the right thing,” he’d said, staring into the fire that he’d built in the fireplace. “Loving someone means forgiving, means second chances.”

Sherlock had been mirroring his posture, leaning back in his chair, elbows propped up on its arms. “So what’s the problem?”

John had shaken his head and given a frustrated gesture with one hand, shoulders shrugging up near his ears. “It would be a lot easier if she in any way seemed sorry.”

“For which part?” Sherlock had asked, not wanting to needle but clarity was needed.

Any of it,” John had retorted. “All the lying. Shooting you. Having become an assassin in the first place.”

“You were expecting her to… show remorse?”

John glared. “She could have done! I mean, she didn’t even thank you for having shot Magnussen for her, saving her from going to prison. I just don’t even understand. She acts like that was just her due or something.”

Sherlock had contemplated this for a few moments. “So what are you going to do?”

John shook his head. “I don’t know, Sherlock. I really don’t. I’ve tried talking to her and she’s like a wall. She just gets annoyed and changes the subject, wants to talk about the baby or something.”

“But you can’t leave it alone if you’re upset about it.” He knew John better than that. “It does seem strange that she didn’t seem more relieved about Magnussen’s death, come to think of it.”

“It’s more than strange,” John said. “I almost feel like she was expecting you to do it for her, in the end.”

“Not for her,” Sherlock had corrected, looking over, hoping his meaning would be plain enough.

John had flushed a little in the firelight. “For me by proxy, then,” he’d said. (So he did understand. Good.)

And after that, the end had become inevitable. Sherlock had never asked after the details of the fight that finally led to John demanding a paternity test, but the day he saw the results, he’d moved out definitively. It had already become a point of their frequent shouting matches, the amount of time that John spent at Baker Street – without Mary, unlike before the wedding. Once or twice she had come along, to Sherlock’s discomfort (not that he could say so, forced into a geniality he did not feel yet could not appear to be less than genuine about), and John had been the one to clam up and show overt signs of hostility at Mary’s presence, rather than Sherlock. He’d moved out at the end of April, the divorce finalising in June. Mary had held a car boot sale and sold the possessions John had left temporarily behind, then burned what didn’t sell that day. John had been furious, as the greater part of his wardrobe had been included, not to mention most of his books, DVDs, and – well – everything else that hadn’t fit into the suitcase he’d brought to Baker Street that day.

Sherlock had gone out and purchased John a few jumpers of the sort of style he generally preferred, only less objectionable. Had he known about the car boot sale in advance, he’d have sent one of the homeless network in his place to buy it all from Mary, regardless of cost, but he hadn’t known and it was too late by the time he found out. John had accepted the new jumpers with a forced smile – all of his smiles were forced in spring – and went out to buy some more of his own choosing. But he wore the ones that Sherlock gave him, which pleased Sherlock to no end.

He’d kept his distance, waiting for John’s anger to burn out. Sometimes it had nonetheless still caught him unawares. He’d come home one day to find John savagely cutting an article out of one of the papers announcing the engagement of a minor league rugby player and someone called Ruth Fennel. Ruth Fennel was clearly Mary, only with dark hair now. Sherlock had asked what John was doing before ascertaining the answer for himself, and once John stopped shouting and throwing newspapers everywhere, Sherlock had swallowed and wondered what to say. Finally he’d stooped, picked up the paper closest to him, and said after an uncomfortably long stretch wherein no one had spoken, “I realise it’s a warm day, but perhaps we could do with a fire.”

John had stared at him and Sherlock wasn’t sure if he was going to come over and punch him in the face, or laugh. John did neither, just stood there, breathing hard and red in the face, then said shortly, “Yes. A fire. Right now.” And before Sherlock could gather the papers and do it for him, he’d done exactly that, stalking into the sitting room and stuffing every bit of newspaper he’d found into the grate and lighting it on fire. “I gave her a second chance,” John fumed, stuffing the last of the papers in with the rest. “Never again. Never again. I’ve learned my lesson.”

“Right,” Sherlock had said, and thought it quite tactful on his part that he hadn’t pointed out that he had sort of wanted to read at least one of the papers and let it lie. After that, he made sure to surreptitiously screen all of the papers for the next few weeks until the (very minor) news item had fallen out of public sight once again.

And slowly John had started to smile again, even laugh. One night late in June, they’d eaten dinner in their chairs (Sherlock had made lasagne, a favourite of John’s) and they’d finished the spy movie they’d begun the previous night. As the credits rolled, John had sighed contentedly and set his empty beer bottle down on the table beside him. “That was good,” he said.

Sherlock had looked over at him. “The film?” he’d asked. “Or the lasagne?”

“Both,” John said, “though I actually meant the whole evening.” He gave Sherlock a rare smile, one without any sharp edges in it, and added, “It’s good being back here with you, you know. I’ve been meaning to say.”

Sherlock had had a moment of not knowing where to look, taken by surprise at this and slightly flustered. Finally he’d directed his gaze at the production credits now playing and said with deliberate neutrality, “Well. You’ve said it, then.” That sounded too stiff. His gaze fell and landed somewhere around John’s knees. “It’s good to have you home again.” (Worse: that came out sounding quiet and a bit uncertain. Not what he’d intended. Worse still: he wasn’t sure what he had intended, precisely.)

Nonetheless, since that evening things have begun to feel less prickly and much better. John has started to laugh again, and their friendship has seemed to settle into a place that is actually better than it had been before Sherlock’s feigned death and subsequent disappearance. John is physically and verbally affectionate with him – very much so, in fact, and in the privacy of his own thoughts, Sherlock has begun to allow the tightly-curled bud of an idea he’d never allowed to flourish slowly unravel in his head, an idea that had been there almost since the very start.

But now that he comes to it, he doesn’t know how to put it into action. Doesn’t know how John would respond. This isn’t a case; it matters if it goes wrong. It had worked excellently with Janine, but then, she’d telegraphed that she was open to the notion from the very start. When he’d learned where she worked (interesting, that Mary had so specifically failed to mention it, too), he’d texted and proposed they meet for coffee, and she had accepted easily. But if she hadn’t, that would have been fine. It had simply expedited his entry into Magnussen’s office, a fair trade-off for the three weeks of discomfort he’d endured at feigning a relationship with a person to whom he was not remotely attracted. But it matters with John: he cannot take the risk unless he’s sure of John’s response, and the fact is that he isn’t. Not in the slightest. And he has no idea how to probe, how to delicately acquire information as to the potential for such a thing to happen. John’s physical proximity and displays of affection would indicate platonic amiability, certainly, but Sherlock is well aware of the breadth of the gap between that and the vague notions he has in mind.

He’s already decided that he’ll need to tread with caution. John’s always been quite obliging about doing things for him; perhaps Sherlock could simply increase those requests to bring John into closer and closer proximity with him. He used to experiment with that, see how far John could be made to go before he would refuse. So far he never has. He groused about it sometimes, but he always did it, no matter how odd the request. And since Sherlock’s return, he’s stopped complaining at all.

They’re both in the kitchen now. It’s August and quite warm. They were out earlier, so Sherlock is properly dressed but has rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and taken off his suit jacket as he checks on the progress of the spore germination experiment he started yesterday. John is wearing jeans and a t-shirt and they’re both barefoot. Sherlock waits for the alarm on his phone to ring. He set it on purpose with this in mind. He adjusts the focus on the microscope. His phone pings. He ignores it, knowing that it will prompt John to prompt him. John types approximately three more words. The phone pings again. He looks up. “That’s your phone,” he says, perfectly predictable.

“Mmm.” Sherlock switches out a slide without taking his eyes from the eyepiece.

“Are you going to get it?”

“Can’t. Need my hands.”

John sighs. The phone pings again. “Do you want me to get it, then?”

“It’s probably not important,” Sherlock says, knowing this will drive John mad.

It works perfectly; John gets up and comes around the table. “Where is it, then?” he asks, impatient.

“Shirt pocket.” Sherlock doesn’t indicate which side.

John is standing on his right (as expected) and pats down the empty pocket over the right side of Sherlock’s chest, then goes to his left and slips the phone deftly out of Sherlock’s pocket, his other hand resting on Sherlock’s back. “Here,” he says, as Sherlock silently basks in the momentary touch.

“Thank you,” he says, and takes it. He glances at it. “Oh. It’s just an alarm.”

John makes an annoyed sound. “For what?”

“It’s to do with my spore experiment,” Sherlock says vaguely, and switches the alarm off. John goes back to his computer and Sherlock wishes he’d thought of a way to make the proximity last longer.

***

The next day, he tries again. John is cooking dinner and Sherlock goes into the kitchen. John likes it when he offers to help, though he usually refuses it. It took Sherlock months and months to finally realise that it was only the offer that John wanted, not the help itself. Sometimes he’ll delegate small tasks, though. He’s making what looks to be a stir-fry of some sort; onions and garlic are grilling in a flat pan and he’s currently dicing red pepper. There’s a carton of eggs on the counter and a bottle of soy sauce, so Sherlock assumes it’s to be fried rice of some sort.

“Fried rice?” he asks, peering over John’s shoulder as though he hasn’t already deduced what’s in the pan.

“Yeah.” John gives the garlic and onions a stir and lifts the lid of the pot of rice, which he always does no matter how many times he’s made rice. Sherlock can’t help but find it rather endearing.

“Are you doing carrots?” he asks.

John makes an indecisive sound. “Could do, I suppose.”

“I could slice them for you,” Sherlock offers.

John glances at him. “Sure, that’d be great.” A quick smile.

Sherlock files the smile away into some internal folder to keep and savour later, and goes to the fridge to get a carrot and the spring onions, which John has forgotten about. He always adds spring onions at the last minute. It’s one of his better dishes. He hates slicing carrots, though, and Sherlock knows it. He retrieves a cutting board and places himself a bit too close to John, just enough so that John’s elbow will hit him now and then, but not close enough that John will actually tell him to move over. He slices the carrot thinly on an angle, which John always likes, while John slices chicken breast into long strips and adds them to the pan. Sherlock goes around him, carrots balanced on the cutting board, and adds his contribution. John washes his hands. It’s all perfectly domestic and content, yet somehow it isn’t enough any more. He’s had hints of it, during that three-week period with Janine, yet all he wanted was for it to have been John the whole while – John, whom he hadn’t seen since the night of his wedding. He’d been off in Aruba for the honeymoon, and then they hadn’t seen each other until John had finally showed up in the crack den and then he’d been angry. By that point, Sherlock had already moved his chair in an act of part-rebellion, part-despair, and was in no mood to be shouted at. Finally all of that mess is behind them – Magnussen, Janine, getting shot, and above all, Mary. John is here again. Home. With him. And Sherlock craves more from it, more from John, no matter how content things are. There’s a fire burning low in his gut that simply never goes away now, won’t be ignored. He wants John. Fiercely, sometimes. He’d never let himself want it actively before, but now it seems he can’t help himself, especially when John has remained determinedly single since the divorce and seems completely happy to just… stay here with him. And Sherlock wants it to last forever this time. No more girlfriends. No more wives. Just them.

And more than that, he wants John, in ways that he’d successfully suppressed for years and years. He’d thought that he could quell his libido, submerge it in his work, and he had for years. But worse, it’s far more than physical desire. He knows very well that if John leaves again for another woman, it will be more than he can bear. He cannot go through that again. Giving John away. But how is he supposed to keep him? How to convince him that he doesn’t need to divide his loyalties between his best friend and his romantic partner, that he can have both in Sherlock? He knows very well that it’s what he wants. John has always been so determined that people should know that they’re not like that, that they don’t do… that. And it’s true: they don’t. So how can Sherlock possibly suggest it? John is far more physical with him than he used to be, his casual touches quite frequent, and he even hugs Sherlock on occasion now. It’s still a far cry from what Sherlock occasionally allows himself to imagine in the darkness of his own bedroom, all too aware of John lying almost directly above him in his room.

“Sorry, I’m just…” John’s voice startles Sherlock out of his thoughts, reaching around Sherlock to adjust the heat below the pan.

“Oh, sorry,” Sherlock says, and steps away, though not very far. When John resumes his position in front of the pan, Sherlock subtly moves closer again, making a pretence of checking the rice. (Ridiculous; it doesn’t need checking. It always takes the exact same amount of time to cook.) He brushes up against John in doing so, though, and likes it.

John gives a slight laugh. “Sherlock, you’re… ”

“What?” Sherlock asks, concerned. (Has he taken it too far?)

John shakes his head. “Just a bit underfoot, but it’s fine,” he says, smiling at him.

It’s a good smile, open and easy, the stress lines relaxed. Sherlock smiles back and doesn’t move. “Okay,” he says. “Good.”

John stirs the things in the pan again. “The rice almost done?”

“Two minutes,” Sherlock confirms. “I’ll chop the onions.”

“Great.” John waits a bit, then transfers the rice to the pan and looks at the eggs, but Sherlock is blocking his access. John goes around behind him, his right hand resting lightly on Sherlock’s right hip as he reaches for an egg. There’s a very brief moment of full body contact as John passes behind him again and Sherlock is quietly thrilled by it. John goes to the bin, disposing of the egg shell, then washes his hands again. Sherlock takes over stirring so that the egg is evenly distributed, but surrenders the cooking spoon to John again when he comes back, moving out of the way. He uncaps the soy sauce and passes it to John. “Ta,” John says, pouring a generous splash over the rice. “Onions?”

“Right here.” Sherlock scrapes them off the cutting board with his knife and John mixes them in. “I’ll set the table,” Sherlock adds, which gives him another excuse to brush by John from behind him. He chooses plates that are on the highest shelf and lets his hand settle on John’s shoulder as though for balance as he gets them down, and John still doesn’t object. He probably just thinks it’s part of Sherlock’s characteristic oddity, Sherlock reflects, feeling a bit dismal for a moment.

Never mind. It’s progress, or so he hopes. He finds knives and forks and sets them out as John serves them both directly from the pan. There’s still half a bottle of wine from the other night, so Sherlock uncorks it and pours them each a glass, and John smiles at him again over the rim of his as he lifts it. “Cheers,” he says.

“To the cook,” Sherlock responds, returning the smile.

“Cooks,” John corrects. “To a good team.”

“The best.” They clink and drink and Sherlock is momentarily happy, despite the fire still blazing away in his belly and cheeks both.

***

He cannot seem to progress beyond these very small gestures and ploys, however. John seems determined to interpret everything he does as utterly platonic, and Sherlock has to admit that this is justified: they have always been close. Closer than most people are with their friends, he has come to realise. He has little to compare it to, and John, despite having said there are limits at his wedding, has never actually set any. Never denied anything Sherlock has asked of him, no matter how bizarre he may have found it. Strange that this is now proving to be a disadvantage, that John has apparently just accepted that Sherlock is occasionally very strange in his own estimation, and has shrugged it off and accepted it.

Sherlock attempts to up the ante. He walks into the bathroom one day while John is showering and says, “Sorry, just left my phone in here.”

John is unperturbed. “Oh, did you?” he says from the other side of the shower curtain. “I didn’t see it.”

No, because it wasn’t here, Sherlock doesn’t tell him. Instead he says, “I’m going to the lab for a bit. Do you want to come? Should I wait?”

There’s a pause as John considers. “Depends. What are you doing there? Just experimenting, or… ?”

“No, there’s a body. Molly texted. Looks suspicious.” Sherlock offers this as bait, knowing (hoping) that John will rise to it.

He does. “I’ll come,” John decides. He shuts off the shower abruptly and pulls the curtain partway back, revealing his wet and very naked torso. “As long as you’re in here, you can pass me my towel.”

It takes Sherlock a moment to recover; he finds himself unable to drag his eyes off John’s chest. “Er – yes, of course,” he says hastily, snapping out of his semi-trance. He locates the towel and thrusts it at John, fleeing back into his own bedroom. “Let me know when you’re ready to go,” he says as he closes the door. As John agrees amiably, Sherlock throws himself down onto the bed and stares up at the ceiling in momentary despair. Should he have said something? Made some sort of pass at John? (A more overt one than the small tactics he’s employed thus far?) He has no idea. And, he notices with slight horror, his body has reacted to the sight of John wet and half-naked. Well: fully naked, but he’d only seen half, hadn’t he? His hair was slicked back from the water, rivulets running down over his chest and abdomen and probably continuing south, maybe catching in John’s fair body hair before travelling down his legs.

He is definitely aroused. He can’t go to Bart’s like this. Sherlock looks down the length of his own body and notes that his erection is decidedly visible. He normally only masturbates very occasionally, just to deal with these infrequent biological urges. He can be honest enough with himself to admit that he thinks of John when he does it. But to do it now, with John right there in the bathroom, the vague outline of his nude body visible through the frosted glass, is too much. And yet he’s already doing it, a bit. His left hand is resting atop the tent of his trousers, fingers loosely cupping himself. The entire notion smacks of things forbidden, and that thought only makes him harder. Sherlock’s fingers unfasten his trousers before he can think about it any further, eyes on John’s outline through the glass. He furtively draws his erection out of his pants and begins to touch himself. The caution factor both inhibits and heightens the pleasure in different ways. John is still moving, the length of his blue towel a blur through the glass, but then he disposes of the towel and leans forward over the sink, possibly examining himself in the mirror. Shaving, perhaps. His hand moves faster and he lets his eyes close, savouring the sensation more than he usually does. Normally he just wants it over with as quickly as possible, but of late, his secret desires regarding John have been creeping into this vaguely distasteful but necessary activity of self-relief, and it’s become rapidly much more pleasurable. Today is no exception. He wonders what they would do, if John ever decided he was interested. Would John want to have penetrative sex with him? Would it all be terribly casual – just getting one another off in front of the telly as they watched the evening news? Or would John be rough, enthusiastic – taking him by the shoulders and slamming him up against a wall? Oh. This thought has decided appeal. He’s jerking at himself quickly now, wetness slicking itself along his length. He doesn’t know how he feels about the idea of being penetrated, but he’s often thought of curling up behind John in bed and doing that to him, assuming he was amenable to the concept, of course, or in the sitting room, bending over him on the sofa. Or the floor. Or in the kitchen. Anywhere, really. In a back alley somewhere, semi-public and dangerous. John would like that, he thinks.

The pleasure is tightening in his gut as his hands fly over his aching flesh. It’s going to be soon – thinking of having sex with John – of entering John’s body, being inside him – never fails to bring about the end much sooner; otherwise it can drag out for much too long. But now – Sherlock thinks of John’s wet body again and wonders what would have happened if he’d gone over and reached behind the curtain to touch John, trail his fingers down John’s perfectly-proportioned body, take his penis into his hand. It wouldn’t matter if it was soft at the beginning, warm and relaxed from the shower. It would get harder in his hand, and –

“Sherlock?” John’s voice, right at the door, his silhouette much clearer.

Sherlock hadn’t even noticed his approach and desperately hopes that he won’t actually open the door, stick his head in the way he often does. “Yes?” he answers, trying valiantly to hide the fact that he’s panting.

“I’ll be ready to go in ten,” John says. “I’ll just go up and get dressed.”

He hasn’t noticed, then. (Good.) “All right,” Sherlock manages. He waits until John’s footsteps have retreated down the corridor before resuming, and when he does, he comes within thirty seconds, faster than he was expecting. There isn’t anything on hand and therefore gets it all over his trousers and shirt. He’ll have to change. Ridiculous; he should have planned better, only he hadn’t been planning on having an erection and needing to masturbate just then. He checks to make utterly sure that John is not downstairs, then goes into the bathroom to wash his hands and inspect the damage to his suit. He wipes off most of the mess with a flannel, then quickly strips down to his pants and socks and changes into another suit before John can come downstairs.

***

John is quiet in the taxi, though Sherlock thinks that it’s a companionable silence. Once they’ve arrived at the lab, Molly takes them to the body and shows them the odd markings along the sides. Sherlock crouches to inspect them. “Has Lestrade seen this?”

“It’s not his case.” Molly picks up her clipboard and moves out of his light. “But I cleared it with Sergeant Hallsey.”

Sherlock suppresses the urge to groan (Hallsey is not his favourite member of the Yard) and leans in to sniff at the marks.

“Do not lick that,” John says in tones of warning from behind him.

“Wasn’t going to.”

John gives a snort that shows clearly what he thinks of that. Sherlock absently takes the gloves Molly is holding out to him and rolls them onto his hands, prodding carefully. “Burns,” he says after a few minutes. “Acid, I think.”

Molly’s brow furrows. “But they’re clearly contusions made with some sort of object – how – ”

“Check for residue,” Sherlock interrupts. “It was applied with something metallic, I would say. John?”

John moves to his side, standing unusually close, for John. Sherlock endeavours to ignore it for the time being (though the touch along his left side spreads like warmth through his torso). “Hmm,” he says, as though completely ignorant of what his presence is doing. “Could be. You think the victim was scratched by something metallic that had some sort of acid on it? What could that be?”

“Don’t know,” Sherlock says. “Depends on what sort of acid it is.” He looks at Molly. “I’ll need a sample.”

“Oh – of course. I’ll get the kit.” Molly goes a cupboard and prepares a sample dish and brings it back. Sherlock collects the sample and takes it upstairs to the lab, John following him close behind.

After half an hour or so, Sherlock determines the type of acid and tells John that it was applied by a piece of machinery one might find in an automobile factory, going by the trace elements of industrial-grade mechanical grease found in the wound.

John sounds impressed and comes to stand very close again, on his left. “Do we know which factory? Or brand of car?”

“No. I need to look up the type of grease.”

His hands are still gloved and the gloves are dirty. John notices this. “Where’s your phone?” he asks.

“Right pocket. I think.” This is true; he isn’t playing a game at the moment.

John moves even closer instead of going around to the other side. “Jacket pocket or trousers?”

Before Sherlock can answer, John’s hand is patting down on his right trouser pocket, extremely close to his crotch. Sherlock’s breath draws in sharply. “Jacket!” He sounds more alarmed than he meant to.

“Oh, sorry,” John says, not sounding at all concerned. His hand lifts and settles lightly on Sherlock’s pec, sliding over his shirt pocket. “Oh, jacket,” he corrects himself. “Thought you meant your shirt.” His hand slips into Sherlock’s jacket pocket and retrieves his phone. “Should I look it up? Your gloves are dirty.”

His proximity and the ghosting touches of his hand are a bit torturous, but Sherlock nods. “Please.”

“What’s the name of the grease?” John doesn’t move away at all, typing into Sherlock’s phone. He enters the name and instead of just turning the phone toward Sherlock, leans his right arm on Sherlock’s shoulder and holds the phone so that they can look at the search results together. “Any of these links?”

“The – second one,” Sherlock manages. John is warm and very close, his face open and interested and apparently oblivious to the effect he’s having on him.

Molly bursts in then and John moves away swiftly, clearing his throat. Molly doesn’t notice. John tells her the results before Sherlock can, giving him a moment to attempt to control the heat in his face and remove the sample from its petri dish. (Did John do that on purpose? Is he trying to tease Sherlock over having been too close to him while they made dinner last night?) It’s confusing and Sherlock finds himself flustered and uncertain and hates it. The name of the factory is enough to solve the crime, so Molly calls Sergeant Hallsey to let him know and Sherlock collects himself sufficiently to take John and head for the doors. He means to get a taxi and go home, but then John suggests they go for lunch, so they do. It would be perfect if he only weren’t so tongue-tied because of whatever happened (did something even happen? Sherlock wishes he knew) in the laboratory.

***

He remembers exactly when he first became aware of how he felt. No: how he felt was always nebulous, a slippery, unquantifiable thing. But he remembers with clarity the exact moment he became aware that his vague, undefined feelings first manifested themselves in a startling and physical manner. It was perhaps two months before his plunge from the roof of St. Bart’s. He and John had been leaving a crime scene, a grisly murder in a disused underground waterway, a rounded, brick-lined tunnel. They’d been leaving and the mouth of the tunnel narrowed. Sherlock had turned to warn John to duck only to see John passing under it, unaware and unbothered by the sudden loss of overhead space. He was short enough that he didn’t have to duck, and something about that had struck him suddenly. John’s very smallness, the incredible efficiency of his build in general. It was pleasing, somehow. Extremely so. And yet he was such a large person in every other respect. Another contrast of his juxtaposed personality: the doctor/soldier, domestically inclined/adrenaline addict, physically small/metaphysically enormous. And just then, Sherlock had felt the strange urge to put his arms around John, feel his comparative smallness against his own, lanky height, the compact tightness of his sturdy, muscular frame against himself. He’d been rooted to the ground for a moment, mouth opening with his useless warning about the tunnel and staying that way, lost for words. John had given him a puzzled look and kept walking, saying something about getting a cab and needing a shower, and Sherlock had followed after a moment, practically dumbstruck by the sudden realisation that he’d been completely infatuated with John for an impossibly long time. Since when, precisely, he’d never be able to say. Since the very start? Some undefined point after that? Had it always been like that? He’d followed John, face outwardly composed into a scowl against the bright light of the overcast sky, too brilliant after the dank dark of the tunnel, but within his thoughts had been whirling like eddying water, the newfound knowledge burning in his gut.

He’d known since then, and it had never gone away. It’s still there, all the time. Only lately, now that Mary is gone and the dust from the divorce has finally settled, can he even allow himself to think about it at all. Only John is so difficult to read in this respect. So impossible to tell the difference between platonic fondness and the openness to it being something more. A lot more, preferably. Quite a lot more. He has moments now where the yearning for it rises and threatens to choke him, suffocating him in his want for it. For John. The desire to bury his face in John’s hair, wrap his arms and legs around him and hold him for untold lengths of time, touch his face, put his mouth on John’s and see if it feels the way he estimates that it would based on what it looks like. Prod at the bumpy shrapnel scar on his left shoulder and behind it, feel it on his tongue. Taste behind his ears and knees, the place where his thigh joins his torso. And more, obviously. To touch him intimately, taste him, be within him, or have John within him… the very thought is intoxicating and he tries very hard not to allow himself to think about it when John is in the room – or house – at all. He wants this so badly that he occasionally thinks he will go mad for lack of it, and with John with him, right in front of him all the time, his very presence can be torture. And when he goes out, it’s intolerably worse.

He’s on the alert for any specific signals from John all the time, but John is too clever about masking everything he does in terms of friendship. Or perhaps that’s all it is. He did marry a woman, after all. Whatever else one could say about Mary Morstan or Ruth Fennel or A.G.R.A. or whomever she really was, she was definitely a woman. John has never dated men, at least not to Sherlock’s knowledge (and he has given it a great deal of thought in the past eight months or thereabouts). It’s entirely possible that John has simply had enough of dating, had his trust too thoroughly destroyed by Mary (and possibly also by Sherlock before that) and has therefore decided to spend the rest of his life as a contented bachelor, living and working with his best friend. And nothing more. He gave Mary a second chance and perhaps has grown too wary to extend himself any further in Sherlock’s direction, not wanting to make the same mistake twice. It’s completely understandable, and Sherlock knows he should be content with the possibility of having a lifelong friendship with John. And he is – John’s friendship is paramount to him – but if it could be more, then he would very much like to know.

John speaks then, startling him out of his thoughts and he has to ask him to repeat himself. John smiles at him a bit quizzically. “Just asked if you wanted some more tea. Thought I’d put the kettle on.”

“Oh.” Only that. “Sure. Fine. Thank you.”

John likes it when he says thank you, so he’s tried saying it more often now. This gets him another John-smile for his mental folder and John also pats him on the shoulder as he passes behind him. Sherlock spends ten minutes attempting to analyse the precise nature of the shoulder pat and accidentally tunes out everything John is saying while he does so.

***

Three days and a disappointingly easily-solved case later, they’re watching the news when Sherlock goes into the kitchen to put the kettle on. John calls to bring back a beer for him.

“I’m making tea,” Sherlock calls back. “Do you want both?”

“No, just a beer. Please.”

“All right.” Sherlock changes his mind about the tea and switches the kettle off, and after a moment of thought, gets two bottles from the fridge. He doesn’t drink beer most of the time, but on occasion it’s not all that objectionable. He carries the two bottles back into the sitting room. John is sitting on the sofa with one arm stretched out casually along the top of it, the ankle of his left leg resting on his right knee. He’s sitting on the left side, leaving the centre or right for Sherlock. (Does he know that it looks rather like he intends for Sherlock to sit about where his arm is?) Sherlock decides he doesn’t care, as that’s precisely where he would prefer to sit, and places himself next to John. “Here.”

“Cheers.” John moves his arm to twist the cap off the beer, then puts it back where it was, to Sherlock’s private satisfaction.

He’s tempted to lean back into it, but knows better than to push his luck. The news proves to be dull. John changes the channel after they learn that there is nothing interesting going on in the world of crime and the second-most important story is a feature entitled “Dogs with Jobs”. John finds an old spy movie, one they’ve seen before, and lets that play. “I like this one,” Sherlock says out of the blue as he sips the beer.

He can feel rather than see John’s face turn toward his a little. “Do you? I thought you said it was facetious and boring last time we saw it.”

“No.” Sherlock denies it, though it’s probably true. “I liked the part about the lockbox.”

John gives a slight laugh. “You never fail to surprise me.” His hand comes off the back of the sofa and squeezes Sherlock’s shoulder. “Oi. You’ve got serious knots.”

“I didn’t sleep very well last night.”

“And the night before that, you were wrestling the would-be bank thief. I remember all too well.” John leans forward and sets his empty beer bottle on the coffee table. “You want a massage?”

Sherlock hesitates. “You don’t have to.” (He would very much like this but feels he probably shouldn’t telegraph this.)

“I want to. Come on. You’ll feel better and you’ll sleep better tonight.”

He gives in. “Where should I – ”

“Just come sit on the floor in front of me. Take off the dressing gown. Yeah, like that,” John adds, as Sherlock arranges himself on the carpet in front of John’s legs, which John widens to give Sherlock room to lean back if he wants to. He is terribly aware, however crudely, of the proximity of John’s crotch to his head. He thinks he can even feel the heat of it on the back of his neck, which is a dangerously interesting thought. John’s fingers begin to dig into the stiff muscles of his neck and shoulders, terribly strong for all their compact size. John has beautiful hands, he thinks. John touching him in any way at all is dangerous, and as it is, the massage feels good. Well: it hurts, but it also feels extremely pleasant. He can’t think of the last time he had a massage. Much too long ago, it seems. He closes his eyes and the movie ceases to exist. There’s nothing but this, John’s agile fingers kneading into his stiff muscles. “You’ve got a massive knot here,” John says, pressing into it. Sherlock’s breath catches and John hears it. “Sorry,” he says apologetically. “That must hurt. You should have said something. Gone to see a massage therapist or something.”

“Mmm,” is all Sherlock can manage. The pain has eased and the pleasure has returned in spades; it’s all he can do not to drool on himself. John’s fingers have rendered him completely unable to form rational thoughts.

“Lean forward,” John says after a bit, and Sherlock complies silently, still attempting to make the right sounds in response to John’s occasional, casual comments. Now his hands are working down Sherlock’s spine, the back of his rib cage. His muscles are slowly releasing and every press of John’s thumbs and palms and fingers is addictive. This isn’t even remotely sexual, yet Sherlock finds himself incredibly aroused by it. It gets even worse when John pulls him fully upright again and works his way up Sherlock’s neck and into his hair, massaging his scalp. Sherlock can feel his exhalations becoming heavy and attempts to conceal the fact. He can now feel his erection pressing into the seam of his zip and every single touch of John’s fingers is making it worse. Those damnable fingers are tugging on his hair and his earlobes and Sherlock feels he may actually combust in unrequited lust any moment now. Finally John gives his shoulders a final squeeze and says, “There you go. Feel any better?”

“Mmm.” It comes out mangled and he clears his throat. “Yes. Thank you.” This last is terribly stiff and overly formal.

John doesn’t seem to notice. “Sure. Any time.” He yawns. “Think I’ll head to bed, since the movie’s over.”

“Okay.” He didn’t notice that the movie wasn’t playing any more. His eyes are still closed, his penis still humiliatingly hard in his trousers. He cannot possibly move while John is still in the room, not unless there’s something convenient to hand to hold in front of himself. There isn’t; he tossed the dressing gown too far out of reach and there’s nothing else nearby. He’ll just have to wait until John goes upstairs.

John extricates his legs and gets to his feet. “You staying up?” he asks lightly.

Sherlock opens his eyes and draws his knees up to his chest in an attempt to shield himself from view. “No, I’m going to bed, too.”

John’s smile has something predatory in it, or so it seems – but perhaps it’s just a trick of the light. “Have a shower,” he suggests. “It’ll keep your muscles loosened up.”

“I might. Thank you.” Sherlock swallows down the saliva that’s gathered in his mouth and waits for John to go.

The corner of John’s lip twitches. “All right,” he says. “Need a hand up?”

“I’m fine,” Sherlock says hastily. “Thank you,” he adds, again.

John smiles again, then sighs. (Why is he sighing?) “Good night, then.”

“Good night.” It sounds completely neutral but neutral is the best he could have hoped for, given that he’s only waiting for John to go so that he can adjust himself, then get to his feet with painful care. Once the sound of John’s footsteps has faded on the stairs, he does exactly that, holding himself as he heads down the corridor and into the shower, the resultant orgasm of his frantic and desperate masturbation therein so strong he nearly blacks out under the hot water. He shuts off the water and towels himself off, chest still heaving, and goes to lie down. He could groan aloud at this. It’s becoming unbearable. Sooner or later, John is going to notice, and then what is he supposed to do? He supposes John has to know, if there’s any chance of this moving forward, but if he knows and doesn’t want it, doesn’t want Sherlock in the same way, it will surely destroy their friendship. Stalemate. What is he supposed to do? (Despair.) Sherlock turns on his side and tries not to think about it as he falls asleep, but he can think of nothing else. Wanting to touch John the same way, see if he could provoke a similar level of response. He imagines their positions reversed, John leaning back to kiss him when it’s finished, Sherlock bending over his shoulder to reach his mouth, a hand on John’s strong jaw line. Every night, some new fantasy suggests itself, some new possibility of the way it could happen. He is prepared, in actuality, for none of them.

***

The next few days are uneventful. Sherlock does not make any particular attempt to get John to be close to him. John appears not to notice or care, either way. He stares at John when he thinks he can get away with it and wonders unhappily what he’s supposed to try next, how to break out of this impasse of moving neither forward nor backward. He watches John’s mouth on the edge of his tea cup and the way it closes around a piece of potato he puts in his mouth with a fork. The way his eyes shift to a deeper blue in the lamplight, or when he’s laughing. He watches and he wants and he doesn’t know how to go about putting it into words, how to shape it into an inquiry, a request. The frustration grows, primarily with himself. This isn’t supposed to be rocket science. But how to translate the images he has in his mind, his vague notions of shared intimacy, into the limitations and too narrowly-defined realm of simple words – it’s impossible. Love does not contain it, what he desires from John. Consume is too strong, attraction laughably weak. He wants to know every pore of John’s skin, wants to hear John say his name in every possible tone of voice and connotation he possesses, wants to photograph him, draw him, sculpt him, graph the sound waves his voice produces in its different moods. Make a study of his hair, the density of his bones, of his fingernails, watch the DNA spiralling through his blood and semen, all of it, just all of it. He wants to know John well enough that he could wear his skin and know it as it his own, wants John to want to know him that way, that deeply, too. It’s too much and it will never be enough, Sherlock thinks to himself, looking at the newspaper but really watching John drink tea out of his peripheral vision. When a pat on the shoulder can occupy his attention for nearly an hour, what would a kiss do? He shivers, actually shivers at the thought of it.

“You cold?” John asks absently, gazing at one of the other papers. But he caught it nonetheless. He is wired to be attuned to Sherlock, after all this time.

“No.” Sherlock turns a page. “Must have been a draught.”

“Ah.” John goes on reading and the peaceable silence resumes between them.

Sherlock wants to throw his cup at the far wall and lock himself in the bedroom. This is torture.

***

That night, John drags him to a pub with Lestrade (tolerable), Anderson (why), Sergeant Hallsey (tedious, dull), Donovan (the less said the better), Dimmock (insufferable but better after several units of alcohol) and some other people whose names he forgot instantly. Somehow he must have drunk rather a lot, himself (he suspects John’s hand in that), which results in them both nearly falling asleep in the taxi and then laughingly stumbling up the stairs together.

John pushes open the door to the flat. “Where’s the whiskey? I’m not done,” he announces.

This is his loud drunk mood. Sherlock has witnessed it on multiple occasions in the past. There is no reasoning with John when he has hit this phase, so he decides to go with it. “Kitchen, right-most cupboard, top shelf.” He watches John process this (slowly), then frown at the cupboard in question. “Want me to get it for you?” Sherlock offers, smirking.

“Shut up,” John says affably. “And yes. Get the damn whiskey, and don’t put it up so high next time.”

“Something has to go on that shelf. We can’t keep everything we own on the lowest shelf just because one of us is a – ”

John wrests the bottle out of his hand. “Say it and you’ll live to regret it,” he promises. “Get some glasses.”

“Bossy,” Sherlock comments, but goes to find some clean glasses to drink from nonetheless.

“Classy,” John contradicts him. “We could have decided to just drink from the bottle.”

“That would surely be the lowest possible common denominator for a definition of class,” Sherlock says, rolling his eyes, but he can’t help smiling.

John drops into his chair like a bag of rocks and exhales mightily, but holds out his hand for the glass Sherlock offers. “Let’s play a game,” he says, as though declaring war.

“A game,” Sherlock repeats, sitting down across from him and noticing the way his hair glints in the lamplight. “Is this going to be another of those games which will require large amounts of knowledge of popular culture? If so, you should know by now that I find those both tedious and – ”

“All right, all right, no pop culture,” John cuts in, grumbling. Then his eyes light up. “Let’s play ‘Truth or Consequences’.”

Sherlock eyes him. “What does that involve?”

“Just telling the truth. Not your strong suit, I realise, but – ”

“What are the consequences?” Sherlock interrupts. John is getting to the stage where he talks too much and says things he regrets in the morning. It was how he’d learned that the relationship with Sarah Sawyer had never been consummated, which he privately suspected all along, despite the trip to New Zealand. Some sort of old-fashioned religious restriction or some such thing. John had been mortified when he’d mentioned it a few days later, though.

John shrugs. “Nothing much. You just have to drink. Including if the other person thinks you’re lying.”

Sherlock allows himself another smirk. “Should be easy enough for me, then. You’re the worst liar on the planet.”

“This coming from a man who barely knows what a planet is,” John retorts.

“I know what a planet is.” Sherlock takes a sip of the scotch and sets it down. “Who’s starting?”

John watches him through narrowed eyes for a moment, then says, “I will. True or false: you have a bolt hole behind the face of Big Ben.”

Sherlock snorts. “False. That’s ridiculous. Where did you get that idea?”

“Mrs Hudson,” John says. “I knew that had to be wrong!”

“Completely wrong.” Sherlock studies him. “True or false: you grew that moustache because Mary told you she thought it would look good on you.”

John’s lips tighten, either at the mention of Mary or the moustache. Possibly both. “True,” he says. “Though obviously her theory was incorrect, as she disliked it the entire time. Though she claims she didn’t hate it as much as you did.”

“It was awful.”

“Fuck you.” The corners of his mouth are twitching, though. “My turn. True or false: you had never killed anyone before Magnussen.”

Sherlock considers this. “True, I think. I’ve certainly shot at people before, but I don’t think I ever caused lethal damage.”

“Any regrets?” John asks, looking at him over the rim of his glass.

“No,” he says briefly. “It was necessary. His information – his mind palace had to be destroyed.”

John smiles slightly. “Agreed. Your go.”

“Hmm.” Sherlock has to think. “True or false: you really never saw Mary’s true nature.”

“True.” John sloshes the whiskey around in his glass and frowns at it. “I never saw that. I’m not completely blind to everything. But I didn’t see that.”

Sherlock wonders what he’s referring to, specifically. (Should he ask?) Before he can, John is asking his next question.

“True or false: what Mycroft said, that day at Buckingham Palace.” John hesitates, looking a bit embarrassed, but then looks over at Sherlock.

“Mycroft said a lot of things that day,” Sherlock says, though he suspects he knows what John is talking about.

John clears his throat. (Ah. His guess is correct, then.) “That you’re, uh, that you’re…” He stops and looks directly at Sherlock again. “That you’ve never been with anyone.”

“I’ve been with lots of people,” Sherlock says, deliberately obtuse. “I’m with you right now. Obviously.”

“You know what I mean.”

Sherlock evades the question. “False. I don’t know what you mean.”

“Liar. Drink.”

Sherlock takes a long sip of the whiskey and tries to ignore the way his pulse is suddenly racing. “True or false – ”

“Hang on. You haven’t answered the first question,” John objects.

“Not my fault that you asked two in a row. True or false: Mary complained about you spending time texting and emailing me on your honeymoon.” Sherlock has actually held this theory for quite some time but a confirmation from John’s own mouth would be nice.

“True.” John’s face hardens, as it always does when he thinks of Mary. “True or false, Sherlock: you’ve never been with anyone. Answer the question.”

Sherlock raises his eyes from his glass. “What do you think?” he asks quietly.

John’s lips purse a little. “I think… no,” he says. “I think it’s true. If only because your brother said it. But he didn’t know about Janine, did he?”

“True,” Sherlock agrees. “He didn’t. True or false: it matters to you, knowing the answer to that question. Doesn’t it.”

John shrugs. “I’m just curious,” he says, looking away.

“False,” Sherlock proclaims. “Drink!”

John’s mouth gives a tiny smile, barely visible, and he takes a small sip of whiskey. “True or false,” he says. “You did have sex with Janine.”

“False,” Sherlock says quietly.

John looks over at him. “Not once?” When Sherlock shakes his head, he adds, “And not just – you know, sex-sex, but other things, too?”

“Neither of us has ever had an orgasm in the presence of the other,” Sherlock says dryly. “Is that an adequate definition?”

John is staring at him. “But she would sleep here! You’ve seen her naked, at least…?”

“No.”

John blinks. “I can’t believe that. I’m not calling false, but…”

Sherlock leans forward. “True or false: that matters to you, too.”

“I – ” John starts to deny it.

“Just as Irene mattered to you,” Sherlock adds, relentless. “You counted her texts.”

“I wasn’t – ”

“You were. You were jealous.”

John swallows and parries the accusation with his own. “True or false: you got hard during the massage I gave you the other day.”

Heat sweeps into Sherlock’s face and for a moment he feels light-headed. Time to stop drinking, he thinks. “False,” he mutters.

“Drink.” It’s an order and comes with a pointed finger.

Sherlock does so, aware that his cheeks are flushed darkly. “True or false,” he says, trying to regain his composure, “you masturbate in the shower.”

“Everyone masturbates in the shower, Sherlock.” John leans forward. “Including me, yeah. Why do you think I suggested you go shower after that massage, hmm?”

Suddenly he’s too close, since they’re both leaning forward. His mouth opens but no words come through. Sherlock tries again. “True or false,” he says, his mouth dry. “You’ve touched other men before. In the army.”

John’s mouth works a little. “That was a long time ago, but yeah, on occasion,” he owns. “Everyone does it, over there.”

“I don’t care about everyone else,” Sherlock says, then is shocked to hear the words leave his mouth, hovering there between them.

John clears his throat again after a moment has gone by. “But you do care about me,” he says. “Whether or not I did.”

Sherlock falls back on the feeble line that John tried earlier. “I’m just curious.”

“Fuck that,” John states. “False. Drink.” When Sherlock does, he adds, “You’re hard again, aren’t you?” He nods toward Sherlock’s crotch. “I can see it, you know, with your legs sprawled like that.”

Sherlock is mortified. He looks down at himself and it’s true. He’s hard, and it’s unmistakeably visible. He hadn’t even noticed himself becoming aroused; it’s a constant when around John these days, it seems. He’s lost whatever ability he used to have at controlling himself that way. He takes a sip of whiskey and realises he has nothing to say to counter John’s statement. It’s his turn and he can’t think of a question. Suddenly he turns his head, eyes locking onto John’s with the light of predatory realisation. “True or false,” he states, “so are you.”

John grins and leans back, knees sprawling open. It’s like the stag night, Sherlock thinks. John hasn’t answered, not verbally, but Sherlock lets his gaze travel downward, hungry for the confirmation of John’s arousal, and there it is. John is clearly hard, visible even through his thick jeans. “True or false,” John says. “You’ve been trying to figure out how to make a move for a long time now. All spring and summer at least.”

Sherlock’s gaze is still stuck on John’s crotch. “True.”

John lifts one of his legs and puts his socked foot directly onto Sherlock’s erection. Sherlock makes a sound he is unable to prevent and presses John’s foot to himself with his left hand. “You like that?” John’s voice is lazy, teasing. Completely uninhibited.

“John…” Sherlock can’t think of anything else to say but his name, still unable to put into words what he wants.

John takes pity on him, at last. He puts his foot down and leans forward, leaving his chair to bend over Sherlock, bracing himself on the arms of Sherlock’s chair. “True or false,” he says, his face only a few inches away, “you’re dying for me to touch you.”

“True,” Sherlock says again, trapped in his chair, face turned up to John’s in helpless submission. Impossible trying to lie at this point, anyway. Even so, the admission feels humiliating.

John wedges his left knee between the side of the chair and Sherlock’s right thigh and his right hand drops to cup the hard outline of Sherlock’s penis, coiled tightly in his trousers and fit to burst. Sherlock gasps and John smiles, eyes narrowed. “You like that.”

“Yes – John – please – ” He is incoherent and John’s fingers are too slow.

John’s face comes nearer, but not close enough to kiss, which is approximately fifty percent of what Sherlock wants at the moment. “Okay, okay,” John says, relenting. He gets his other knee on the other side of Sherlock’s legs and slips the button of Sherlock’s trousers open, gets the zip open with his thumb. (His hands really are amazing, Sherlock thinks as he attempts to keep breathing.) John’s clever fingers are sliding into his underwear and wrapping around his penis and he can’t help what his breath is doing, this ragged, shredded sound that’s coming from him. “God, look at you,” John breathes, looking down at it. Sherlock looks down to see himself in John’s fist, too. John looks back up at his face. “That’s really – ”

“John,” Sherlock says, and trails off again. He wants to touch him, too, but is he allowed to say that? If he says the wrong thing now, it could still curtail this. Ruin it somehow.

“Yeah?” John starts to stroke and it causes Sherlock’s train of thought to skip and falter for a moment. “What do you want?” John asks, his voice a bit breathless.

“I – ” Sherlock tries again. “You – I want to – ”

“You want to touch me?” Sherlock nods in unspoken relief that John said it, and John nods. ““Get my jeans open, then. Come on. You’re right, I’m nearly bursting here myself.”

Sherlock exhales harder than he meant to and attempts to focus on doing exactly that even as John’s hand twists and works over his jutting erection. He pushes the jeans and underwear down as far as he can push them and there it is at last – John’s thick, flushed, swollen penis, gleaming in the lamplight with a bit of moisture that’s already gathered. Sherlock wastes no time in getting his hand around it and mimicking John’s motions, his other hand settling onto John’s arse and squeezing. John is groaning, thrusting forward into Sherlock’s hand unreservedly. They’re both breathing hard, and it’s okay because they’re both doing it. It’s not a secret that they’re both turned on. They’re touching each other’s penises; of course it’s not a secret, Sherlock reminds himself. He wants to kiss John, though, and that’s not happening with this, it seems. Touching each other’s genitalia is all right but kissing is off-limits. He still wants it, but accepts that it apparently isn’t on and concentrates on the hard length of John’s penis in his hand and marvels privately that this is happening at all. John is breathing against his forehead, hips moving in time with Sherlock’s hand stroking over him, and suddenly he’s pulling harder on Sherlock, speeding up. He almost didn’t notice how close he was getting, so focused was he on John’s experience, but now he’s suddenly there on the edge, teetering. He hears himself trying to say John’s name and then he’s spilling himself into John’s fist and all over his shirt and trousers, even his jacket. It’s slightly embarrassing that he came first, but he can’t stop it; he’s still coming and coming and it feels like it will never stop. He closes his eyes tightly and rides it out, letting the grip of the orgasm wrack him from head to toe as his penis discharges more and more semen onto them both. Finally it’s done and he remembers himself, hand squeezing over John’s erection and it seems John was thankfully nearly just as close, judging by the sounds he’s making, the curses gritted out through clenched teeth, and then – yes, finally – John is gripping his shoulder and grunting hard, loudly, his entire body convulsing as his orgasm overtakes him and his penis erupts in Sherlock’s hand. The feel of it, of John coming apart in his hands like this, is utterly intoxicating. John is so free about it, so unconcerned about how he looks or trying to hold back in any way. When he’s spent at last, he leans his sweaty forehead against Sherlock’s, panting.

“That was really good,” he says between breaths.

Sherlock still wants to kiss him. “Agreed.”

John looks down between them after a moment. “Oh boy, you’re a serious mess. We both got you, looks like. Sorry.”

“It’s fine.” Sherlock says, but something is tightening in his gut and he doesn’t know what it is but he doesn’t like it. “Perhaps I’ll go and take this suit off, though.”

“Yeah, sure,” John says. He reluctantly (it seems) gets out of the chair to let Sherlock up. As Sherlock pulls his limp body upright and makes for the bathroom, John adds, “Come back after, yeah?”

“All right.” Sherlock gets himself down the corridor and shuts himself in the bathroom. He looks at himself in the mirror. He is covered in semen. This should be pleasing, somehow – he’s wanted something like this to happen for ages. Why, then, is he not happier? He strips off the suit, which will need to be dry-cleaned (he makes a mental note to use a dry-cleaner he’s never seen before, given the state of his suit) and on second thought, removes his underwear as well. Nude, he washes his sticky hands and penis and looks at himself in the mirror. He looks upset, he thinks. Why was this upsetting?

With his soiled clothing removed, he looks smaller. He always thinks this of his unclad frame, that he looks reduced without the armour of his clothing. Just now he thinks he looks unsure of himself and unhappy, and he is. Because it’s not enough. He didn’t only want to touch John, being touched by him. He wanted it to mean something. What was that? Just a practical exchange of basic pleasures? It was pleasurable, but he wanted more. Still wants more. Impossibly more. But everything about John’s demeanour, his casual approach to it all, suggests that the stakes are not particularly high, for him. Perhaps this is just a joke-y one-off for him, something they can laugh about having happened when they were drunk, that one time. Not in front of anyone else, of course. Maybe John thinks of it as something that could just happen now and again, now that the ice has been broken.

That would almost be worse, Sherlock realises. Being casually sexual with John. It would be so much harder to disguise the way he feels and the sickening weight of what it is that he truly wants from John. But John said it himself, that in the past he’d only ever been with men out of necessity, when there was nothing better available. For him, perhaps this is the only thing missing in his life, now that the mess of his divorce is out of the way. No more wives, no more romance. No more second chances. He remembers all too well what John said about Mary and second chances, the day they’d burned the newspapers. But of course he would still crave sex in some form. If he could get it right where he lives, with the person he considers himself closest to in the world, why would he ever want it to be more? And now, if Sherlock goes back to the sitting room to tell John that he doesn’t want to do this again, have casual sex in some form, without explaining why, things will become awkward and strained forever. It will destroy their friendship. And if he does explain, that will be unbearably worse. John will still be awkward and strained and might pity him on top of it. (And he certainly wouldn’t want to even have casual sex, then, if he were to know of Sherlock’s feelings.) Either way, it’s finally come to the point: John is going to find out how he feels. It’s inescapable now.

In the mirror, the muscles over his jaw twitch. What a mistake. He should have kept denying it. Shouldn’t have drunk so much at the pub, or kept drinking back here at the flat. Everything is going to be ruined because of it.

There are steps in the corridor, stopping just outside the door. “Sherlock?” John’s voice is a bit uncertain. “Everything all right?”

The water is still running into the sink, so Sherlock shuts it off. “Yes,” he says, hating the stiffness in his own voice.

John pauses audibly. “Are you sure?” He sounds unsure, himself. “Are you… was that…” He stops.

Sherlock doesn’t know how to fill in his blank, so he stays quiet, staring miserably at himself in the mirror. There’s a dressing gown on the back of the door that leads into his bedroom, his old blue silk one with the bullet hole in the sleeve. He pulls it on, as though to shield himself from the unpleasant conversation that’s about to take place.

John tries again when Sherlock’s silence grows too long. “Are you okay with… with what just happened? I’m just asking because… well. I didn’t mean to push anything on you. I just – I thought you were interested in that?”

“I was,” Sherlock says heavily. (This is awful.)

“But,” John prompts from the other side of the door. It sounds as though he’s standing very close to it. When Sherlock doesn’t answer again, he prods. “But what? What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Sherlock says, which is untrue. He scowls at himself in the mirror.

John pauses again. “I’d tell you to drink, but your whiskey’s over by your chair.” The light joke falls flat. “Look, I’m sorry,” John tries. “I just thought… well, lately it’s seemed rather a lot like you’ve been attracted to me, and I thought that if our friendship was going that way, we could just… do that sometimes, too. We don’t have to. We can just forget it ever happened.”

“Can we?” Sherlock asks dully. John is silent on the other side of the door, which doesn’t tell him anything. “I don’t know if I can.”

When John does speak again, he sounds upset. As upset as he is, himself. “Christ, I’m sorry, Sherlock,” he says. “I didn’t mean – I really thought you might be up for that. I’m sorry.”

He’s berating himself but for all the wrong reasons. Sherlock closes his eyes and knows that the moment has come where he finally has to explain, set the record straight. “It wasn’t that I didn’t want that,” he says, the words coming out with painful honesty. “It was that I didn’t want only that.”

John goes quiet again on the other side of the door. “What?”

He thought it fairly clear, but Sherlock grits his teeth and continues, makes himself say it. “It’s that I wanted it to be so much more than what it was. I don’t want… friendship with casual sex sometimes. Of course I was interested; you clearly know how attracted I am to you.” He makes an angry gesture that John can’t see. “I’ve hardly been able to conceal it from you, yet I’ve had no idea how to go about trying to ask if it could ever be anything more than what it currently is.” He takes a deep breath and lets it out in a gusty sigh. “In other words, you hardly need apologise when it’s precisely because I wanted this that is going to make everything so uncomfortable.”

He hears John swallow. “You wanted it to be… more?” he asks, voice softer than it was.

Sherlock opens his eyes and meets his own gaze in the mirror. “Quite a lot more,” he confirms, his mouth dry.

“God – Sherlock – that’s what I – I thought that you would never go for that!” John says, suddenly agitated. “That’s why I – I thought you might be up for something physical, but certainly never anything emotional or romantic – ”

The truth of what John is saying suddenly makes itself clear in Sherlock’s mind. “Wait,” he interrupts. “You wanted that? Something romantic?”

“God, yes,” John says, exhaling hard. “I have for ages. I thought – ”

He doesn’t get any further because Sherlock has just wrenched open the door. John is standing directly on the other side of it, nearly falling through the doorway. Their eyes meet and for a second neither of them moves. Then Sherlock takes John by the shoulders, backs him across the corridor and into the wall, and kisses him. Thoroughly. John’s hands are clutching at his arm, his lips tightening against Sherlock’s until a moment later when they part, allowing Sherlock entrance. Their tongues touch and he can taste John’s breath and has never felt anything as wonderful in all his life. They kiss and kiss and John is gasping into his mouth, arms winding around Sherlock’s back now, strong and sturdy like the rest of him and Sherlock feels that he cannot possibly, ever, be close enough to him. It goes on and on, their mouths devouring each other’s and it is bliss. Exquisite, painful, incredible, unbelievable bliss. He could be dying and never know it. It wouldn’t matter. Only this matters: only John.

It feels like centuries later when their mouths part, both of them panting and short of breath. “You – I can’t believe I didn’t realise,” John says, taking the blame.

I didn’t realise,” Sherlock counters. “I’m an idiot.”

“I’m the idiot. Thought we both always knew that.” John shakes his head, looking dazed. “Seriously, Sherlock – I had no idea! I was definitely clear on the idea that you were sort of trying to flirt with me, really obviously, but I assumed it was just that you were attracted and didn’t know how to just ask if we could maybe, I don’t know, expand our friendship to include that. I never thought you’d actually have feelings – of a romantic nature, I mean. But it certainly seems that you do – I mean – ”

Given that his hands are cradling John’s face with a tenderness he hadn’t fully realised he possessed, his lips swollen and wet from John’s, Sherlock thinks this probably doesn’t need confirmation, but then perhaps it does. “I do,” he owns, his voice low. “John, I – I didn’t know how to ask because I was so concerned about frightening you off. Destroying our friendship.”

John blinks, his eyes turning even darker blue in the light of the corridor. “How long have you felt this way?” he asks, sounding suddenly a bit emotional.

“A long time,” Sherlock admits. “Since before – well – the day I jumped.”

John stares at him for a long moment, then shakes his head. “I don’t believe it,” he says, sounding choked. “God, Sherlock – all that time – and then you came back and – ”

“And you were with Mary,” Sherlock finishes. “What was I supposed to say?”

“You have to have known that I felt like this about you before, though,” John says. “Sherlock. You had to know that. Before that day at Bart’s.”

Sherlock shakes his head. “I didn’t. You’re too good at masking yourself in platonic affection. I thought that’s all it was. I still thought so until this very moment, when you just said it. I had no idea.”

John groans and leans his forehead against Sherlock’s. “Teach you to call me a bad liar. We could have saved ourselves so much time and trouble.”

Sherlock realises he doesn’t care. “It doesn’t matter,” he says, and knows with conviction that it’s true. “Kiss me.”

John doesn’t hesitate, putting his mouth back on Sherlock’s immediately. As they kiss, one of his hands gets between them to trail down Sherlock’s abdomen to untie the belt of his dressing gown, slipping inside it to stroke over Sherlock’s back, his arse, caressing whatever part of him he can reach. Sherlock responds by pulling John’s t-shirt over his head, wanting to feel John’s body against his own, skin-to-skin. He shivers when it happens and John stops kissing him long enough to say, as he pushes the dressing gown off Sherlock’s shoulders entirely, “Your bedroom. Now. Let’s do this again, properly this time.”

Sherlock can barely articulate his instant agreement and they half-push, half-pull each other into the bedroom in their haste. John gets his jeans and underwear off in record time and wrestles Sherlock onto the bed. Sherlock pulls him down onto himself, then rolls them over so that he’s bending over John. John doesn’t seem to mind this at all, being trapped under him. Rather, his hands are travelling down Sherlock’s back and arse, hips fighting upward to establish contact between them. When Sherlock feels John’s penis touching his for the first time, he shivers again and moans despite himself, into John’s mouth.

John responds with a similar sound, eyes opening. “You like that?” he asks, only he’s not teasing this time. It’s just above a whisper, such a private, intimate question. Not a game, just two people trying to create something, learn each other in a completely new way. His genuineness makes it possible, makes it safe to answer in like fashion.

“Yes,” Sherlock tells him, horribly open and entirely honest. “I – yes.”

John eyebrows are making those terribly expressive brackets around his eyes, so full of emotion that Sherlock thinks it could break him if he isn’t careful. His hands come up to hold Sherlock’s face, thumbs stroking over his cheeks. “You know, I think I could touch you for a hundred years and never get tired of it. I’ve wanted to for so long. I thought you would notice, how I already touch you all the time. As much as I ever thought I could get away with, and more. Why do you think I wanted to give you a massage?”

Sherlock blinks down at him. “It wasn’t just to torment me?”

“It was also that,” John allows. He grins suddenly. “It was fun. I was trying to push you – I knew you were attracted to me but I was frustrated that you wouldn’t just ask. I didn’t know there was so much more to it. I would have settled for that. Just something physical.”

“But you did want more,” Sherlock says, wanting to hear the confirmation again. “You’re not just saying this because you think I want it.”

“Of course I did, you tit. I always have.” John pulls his face down and Sherlock lets him have it, closing his eyes and revelling in it, in the sensation of lying on top of John, both of them nude, kissing and feeling each other’s bodies harden in desire again. It’s better than everything he’d dreamt of, hoped, longed for in silence. He hadn’t known. He hadn’t seen it. How is it possible that he’s been so stupid, so blind, so unobservant? Of John? Perhaps the adage about love being blind really is true. After several long, extremely wonderful moments of this, John releases him and says, “Could I have another go at the massage? I could give you a proper one, with the proper ending this time, if you want?”

Sherlock considers this. “All right.” The massage had been extremely pleasant, despite the frustration at the end.

John smiles at him. “Turn over on your front.”

Sherlock moves off him, only slightly dismayed at the loss of contact (between their genitalia and everywhere else, too), but John swiftly remedies it partially by settling himself just at the juncture of Sherlock’s arse and thighs. He leans forward so that he’s nearly lying on top of Sherlock now, hands already digging into Sherlock’s tight shoulders, and Sherlock can feel the hardness of his erection directly against the divide of his arse, which is intoxicating, intensely arousing.

“Can you feel that?” John asks in his ear. When Sherlock nods, not needing clarification on that point, at least, John goes on. “You’re not the only one who’s had to hide it lately, you know.”

Sherlock arranges his arms under his face, which he turns sideways. “No?”

“No.” John’s hands are working at his muscles, and it’s already as pleasurable as it was the other day. Just having John touch him at all, in any way, is wonderful. “By the way,” John adds, “You’re a fantastic flirt when it’s for a case and you’re acting, but when it’s just you, you’re kind of terrible at it, by the way.”

Sherlock tenses a little. “Sorry,” he says, a bit stung.

John’s hands make apologetic motions on his back. “No, no,” he remonstrates. “It’s not meant as criticism. I found it rather endearing. It’s both completely obvious and also far too subtle. You would never take it very far – or far enough, even – but it was completely see-through.”

Sherlock doesn’t know what to make of this, and stays silent.

John bends over him again. “Hey. Don’t take it that way. I liked it. It actually gave me the hint that you wanted something from me, at least. I never thought you would want me this way.”

“Idiot,” Sherlock says, still cross about the flirting bit.

John chuckles in his ear, then kisses it. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s amazing. It’s utterly fantastic. I’m over the moon. Really.”

Sherlock adjust his face on his arms and closes his eyes, making a neutral (slightly put-out) sound.

“Okay, I’ll prove it,” John quips, borrowing one of Sherlock’s lines. His hands work lower down Sherlock’s back and he shifts back himself, further down Sherlock’s legs. These, he pushes apart a little to make room for himself to kneel between them. When his hands reach Sherlock’s arse, the massage grows harder. Sherlock makes a hmmm of appreciation and John sounds satisfied. “You like being touched here?”

“It’s all right,” Sherlock says noncommittally and John swats him on the arse. “Ow.”

John’s tongue comes out and licks over the place he just smacked and Sherlock shivers, which makes him chuckle again. “Not protesting that part, then?”

“Mmm.” It’s neither confirmation nor denial.

His hands still rubbing and squeezing Sherlock’s arse, John shifts still further, then pushes Sherlock’s cheeks apart and licks directly at Sherlock’s hole. This time Sherlock can’t help the startled yelp of reaction he gives, and John’s laugh is breathy against his flesh. He licks again, then says, “Do you like that?”

Sherlock’s mouth has just filled itself with saliva and he has to swallow before he can respond. “I – John – ”

John stops. “Wait, are you actually uncomfortable? I won’t do it if you don’t like it,” he says, sounding a touch worried. “I just – I read about it once and I wanted to try it, see if you liked it….”

Sherlock’s penis is leaking against the sheets under himself. Having John’s tongue, right there at the very core of his body, feels even better than his hand did on his penis. He forces himself to nod, to admit it in words, so that John won’t get the wrong idea and worry that he’s crossed some barrier he should have respected (again). “I like it. A lot. I –oh – ” He can’t speak; the instant he said it, John’s tongue returned, and it seems that was all he needed to say to confirm it, because John isn’t stopping now. His tongue is pressing right into Sherlock’s body, impaling him, and Sherlock is gasping and writhing against the sheets despite himself. He suspects he is drooling and can’t be arsed to care at the moment. John keeps up the assault of his tongue until Sherlock is nearly in tears, nearly begging, only he’s too incoherent to speak.

Finally John lifts his face and when he speaks, his voice is absolutely wasted with arousal, ragged and panting. “Holy hell, Sherlock – seeing you like this – I can’t even – ”

Sherlock twists around so that he’s on his back looking up at John, and an instant later has John pinned to the sheets beneath him, kissing his belly, then lower, the jut of John’s wet erection bumping into his chin. He slides his mouth onto it, and no matter how many times he’s fantasised about doing this to John, for John, the reality is unspeakably better. Plus which, John is unreservedly vocal in his reaction, moaning loudly and pushing upward into Sherlock’s mouth, fingers clenching in the sheets, cursing. Saline fluid is collecting on Sherlock’s tongue and he swallows it, revels in the taste of John, a taste so uniquely him that he hates with sudden violence the very thought that anyone else has ever tasted it before him. It will be different for John. He was always the only one, always will be.

John makes a sharp sound and twists away, pushing at Sherlock’s head. “Stop!” he gasps.

Sherlock raises his face in confusion. “What is it? I thought you were almost – ”

“I was,” John says. “That’s why – I don’t want it to be over so quickly.” He pushes himself into a sitting position. “Come here.”

He gestures for Sherlock to do the same, which he does, putting himself into the vee of John’s legs and winding his own around John’s hips and back. John pulls him into another kiss, their torsos pressed together, and it’s as intimate as Sherlock has been yearning for all this time, their arms wrapped around one another. He could drown like this. He wouldn’t even mind. It’s the best thing there is, the best thing he ever could have hoped for, and he’s dizzy with it. Should he say something? Tell John what he’s feeling? Perhaps. John might like that, he thinks. He pulls his mouth off John’s for a moment. “John,” he begins, then isn’t sure how to continue, but this is important. Important to put into words. “I – ”

John’s tongue comes out to touch his lips. “Yeah?”

“I – this is what I wanted,” Sherlock tells him. “Exactly this. I wanted this so much. Wanted you so much.”

John blinks rapidly, but even that doesn’t prevent the moisture that forms over his corneas. He clears his throat. “Me too,” he says. “I don’t even know how long it’s been, honestly. But when I moved back in here after Mary – I don’t know, I suppose in the back of my mind, I always sort of hoped it would come to this. I just didn’t think it ever really would.”

“Are you happy?” Sherlock asks, then thinks that it sounds like a childish question.

But John is nodding, and smiling his best, John-est smile. “Extremely,” he says. “You?”

“Yes,” Sherlock says immediately. “Very. Extremely.” He hesitates, then says it. “I – love you.” It’s jerky but at least he’s managed to get it out.

John is blinking still more and he makes a sound like a soft moan, putting his forehead against Sherlock’s, apparently unable to speak. It makes Sherlock think of the moment on the tube carriage, when John was struggling to forgive him, the lines around his mouth etched deeply with unexpressed (inexpressible?) emotion.

“Are you – was that – ” Sherlock isn’t sure how to phrase his question.

“Yes. Yes.” John kisses him fiercely, holding him even tighter, and they’re rocking together, penises not quite close enough for proper contact at this angle, but it’s the intimacy of it that matters. Though Sherlock’s aware that he craves even more of it. If he were to shift just slightly, John’s erection could fit into the crease of his arse, and maybe even – The same thought seems to occur to John. He lifts his mouth from Sherlock’s and says, very seriously, “I want to make love to you. I want to be inside you.”

“Yes.” Sherlock opens his eyes. John’s are fathoms-deep and midnight-blue in this light. “I want that. Let’s do that.”

“Do you have – ”

“Do we really need that?”

“It would definitely help, from what I’ve heard. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Sherlock gives in. “The drawer. Don’t move, maybe I can reach it.” He leaves his legs where they are, but leans back and over to fumble at the drawer of his bedside table and just manages to find the tube of lubrication they need. John takes it from him gratefully and slicks it over himself, tossing the tube away.

“Okay, just – yeah, like that – oh. Oh God.

Sherlock is groaning, too, letting his weight settle onto John’s penis and then there are a few moments of breathless discomfort and stretching that it nonetheless pleasant because it’s John, within him, closer than he knew it could feel between two people, and they’re still sitting up facing each other on the bed, Sherlock leaning back a little as he grows accustomed to the feeling of John’s penis stretching him. The discomfort eases and he begins to move experimentally, which makes John gasp and moan unabashedly. They establish a rhythm, and once it’s set and John is moving within him, pushing into him regularly, Sherlock leans forward again, wanting to kiss him, and that does something interesting – he ends up gasping like a fish out of water instead of kissing John as something like electric shock happens within him at his movement.

“Oh, fuck yes, found it, did we?” John groans, thrusting harder into him, and Sherlock cannot even answer him, his head thrown back in utter ecstasy as John’s penis hits that same place in him over and over again. He’s clinging to John’s shoulders and the back of his neck, fingers clenching in the soft hair there, and suddenly John is bending forward to bite at his throat and it’s more stimulus than Sherlock can take. He comes suddenly and violently, the force of his orgasm startling them both, shot after shot of ejaculate shooting up between their bodies and catching them in the chest and neck. John’s mouth is emitting a string of filthy language and Sherlock is still riding out the wave of intense physical bliss, barely noticing that John is driving into him as hard as he can in the position they’re in, until it isn’t enough and he’s pushing Sherlock over onto his back and pounding into him from above. Their bodies are slapping together, Sherlock’s penis still jerking out last remnants of his orgasm as John comes into him with a hoarse shout, slamming into Sherlock repeatedly, the rush of fluid spattering Sherlock from within, and that thought is so arousing that he would come again if his body had anything left to give. John’s movements slow and still, until he’s spent and collapses onto Sherlock’s already-languid body, panting on his shoulder.

“That was incredible,” Sherlock says, also breathing hard. He wraps his limp legs around John’s and his arms around John’s back.

You’re incredible,” John contradicts him. Sherlock can feel his pulse thudding against his own chest.

John is breathing too hard to kiss just yet, so Sherlock takes his head and kisses it several times. “Seeing you like that is, I suspect, exactly as arousing for me as you seeing me like this is.”

“Well, good, because you’re stuck with seeing me like this now,” John says. His body has gone heavy and relaxed on Sherlock’s, which Sherlock likes very much. This moment, with both of them spent and open and too sated to care about appearances – he relishes this intensely.

“Good,” Sherlock says. He combs his fingers through John’s hair and thinks of how it’s his hair now, in a way, and likes that, too. He kisses John’s head again, then again, until John lifts his face to be kissed properly. They lie together that way for long minutes – how long, Sherlock can’t even tell and doesn’t care enough to estimate, and thinks how fortunate it was that he had his small crisis in the bathroom, there. After all this time, they still could have misunderstood each other disastrously. A pair of idiots. They deserve each other, he thinks, and it makes him smile into the kiss.

“What?” John asks, feeling it and pulling away.

“Nothing,” Sherlock reassures him, still smiling. “I’ll tell you later.”

Because now there will always be a later.

*