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as if not spoken to in the act of love

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The first time they have sex, it's actually something of an accident.

("Accidental sex?" John said once, to something he saw on the telly. "How does that work? Did she trip and fall on his penis, then? Bollocks.")

They've just had a very narrow escape from the police, after burgling the house of a well-known blackmailer. It's not very different from that very first night, when John left his cane behind in the restaurant; they're propped against the wall in the front hall, laughing and glancing at each other and then laughing again, trying not to wake Mrs. Hudson, giddy with adrenaline. Then John looks at him, and his grin twitches, and then he's leaning up and kissing Sherlock.

Sherlock's never been kissed--not like this, he doesn't count schoolboy dares and kisses from Mummy--and at first he doesn't know how to respond. John flicks his tongue against Sherlock's lips, and Sherlock opens up obediently, vaguely remembering something he saw in a movie once, and then oh God John is licking into his mouth. It's wet and foreign and a little uncomfortable, but John is sighing and pressing Sherlock up against the wall, igniting a long, sweet line of heat between their bodies.

"Do you--?" John murmurs against the corner of Sherlock's mouth.

"Yes," Sherlock replies immediately. He's not sure what the question is, but it will always be yes for John. Anything, anything, for John.

John tugs Sherlock's shirt free of his trousers, but has to break the kiss to curse at Sherlock's belt, while Sherlock leans uselessly against the wall, hands by his sides. Once he has the buckle free, John thrusts one hand straight down the front of Sherlock's trousers, and Sherlock gasps and slams his head back against the wall. His eyes shut of their own volition, so that there is nothing but a wall of sensation, crawling up his spine from between his legs. John's strokes are fast and brutal, and Sherlock comes silently, holding his breath.

Afterwards, he's aware of John's face tucked into his neck and something moving, quick and regular. It's John's shoulder that's moving, he realises, because John is wanking himself off, eyes closed, breathing hot against Sherlock's collarbone.

He should be doing something. He should be helping. This is not how it goes.

But Sherlock can't seem to make himself move, and it's very possible that John is holding him up, and before he can muster the effort to at least touch John, John gasps and comes, shuddering against him. Then there's nothing but the sound of laboured breathing. Sherlock closes his eyes and allows himself a moment of completely unproductive self-loathing.

"Sorry," he mutters, even though John is in no state to appreciate that Sherlock is apologising.

John lets out a high, delirious giggle. "Whatever for?" He pulls away, looks up at Sherlock, suddenly too sober. "Was that all right? Did you like it?"

"Yes," Sherlock says, because that's the answer he's supposed to give, and he's rewarded by a slightly foolish smile, compelling enough that Sherlock returns it.

-----

The second time they have sex, it is an utter disaster. More precisely (and Sherlock is always precise), it doesn't happen.

It is several days after their encounter in the hallway, and the weather is divine: picture book skies, sunshine blinding after a long, gloomy winter, London looking like a postcard sold to tourists. Not yet time to put away the jackets and scarves, but a promise of a better future. John stands at the window, one hand in his pocket and sipping his tea. He's smiling. Sherlock lies on the couch, memorising John's sun-lit profile.

John turns, catches Sherlock watching, and his smile widens. "What?"

Sherlock doesn't reply, because one isn't warranted.

John puts his tea down on the bookshelf and crosses the room to the couch. He sits down on the edge of one of the cushions, by Sherlock's leg, and puts one hand on Sherlock's knee. He's been like this, since that night, casual and fond with his touches. It is not unpleasant. "You're bored. D'you want to go out, then? We could take a walk through the park, have lunch."

"No."

John strokes his thumb over Sherlock's patella contemplatively, then slides his hand upward by about six inches. "Then I'm sure we can find something else to do." The expression on his face is not unlike the one after their close calls, but without the sweat and the flush. He's grinning like he's about to laugh, his eyes crinkling around the corners, and Sherlock is suddenly able to label this look mischievous, as if it were an illustration in a dictionary with the definition printed below it. The years peel away from John's face, and Sherlock is presented with John Watson as he might have been in school, suggesting to his mates that they go round back for a fag, or sneak into the girls' locker room. (Surely John never would have done any of these things. John is good, has always been. And yet, this look on his face sits comfortably, like John is used to naughtiness.)

John's hand is still on Sherlock's thigh, thumb now carressing his inseam. The mischievous look is fading, replaced by trepidation.

"Oh," says Sherlock. "Oh! You want. Oh."

"We don't have to." John takes his hand away, leaving Sherlock terrified and bereft. "If you don't want."

"No. I mean. I." Sherlock prides himself on an ordered mind, everything lined up and neatly filed, words close to hand. Is this what other people, what normal people feel like, too many thoughts, mired in mud? "It's not that. I just."

John hastily pats Sherlock on the knee. "It's all right. It was just a suggestion."

Sherlock watches John get up and retrieve his cup from the bookshelf. He is filled with an incoherent fury.

This cannot be allowed to happen again, and so that very night Sherlock does his research and places an order. It comes in the mail two days later, in a plain, unmarked envelope: two bottles, one large and one small. He reads the instructions three times and watches a video online. After John goes to bed, Sherlock carefully mixes the contents of the two bottles and injects himself with 10 milligrams in the abdomen. Then he takes a nap.

His mobile alarm wakes him several hours later, and Sherlock makes his way into John's room and climbs into his bed.

John wakes immediately. "Sherlock?" he slurs. "Wha--"

Sherlock presses his lips to John's, and God, this is so easy. Desire suffuses his senses, tightens his skin, blooms heat in his chest and low down in his abdomen. He straddles John's hips and presses kisses against John's face, his chin, his neck, his chest. He adores John from the taste of sleep in his mouth to the scent of his skin, and he has never wanted anything so much in his life, not even Jim Moriarty's brain in a jar.

"Oh my God," John moans. "Sherlock, I have work tomorrow."

Sherlock doesn't care. John wants this more than he wants sleep, more than he wants to be well-rested for his boring, mind-numbing, tedious, obligatory work. He can tell because John is clutching him closer, opening his mouth for Sherlock, grinding up against him. He efficiently strips John of his t-shirt and shorts and closes his hand around John's penis. It's too dry to give John much pleasure, and he moves down to take John in his mouth. It's messy and inexpert, but Sherlock doesn't care, because John is gasping and tangling his fingers in Sherlock's hair, and this is brilliant. John comes in his mouth, and that's brilliant too; Sherlock swallows it down, running his tongue round his teeth to make sure he's gotten all of it. Then he simply lies there, head pillowed on John's hip, while John catches his breath.

John tugs on Sherlock's hair. "C'mere." When Sherlock doesn't move, he does it again, a little harder. "C'mon. Up."

He goes. John turns Sherlock so that they're back to front, so that John can hold Sherlock across the chest while he brings him off with the other, hand coated with spit and his own semen. Sherlock likes that, likes the idea of being covered in John. He covers John's hand with his, the one that's holding him. He's drowning in affection. His orgasm feels like it belongs to someone else.

They fall asleep like that, curled around each other.

-----

The next morning, Sherlock wakes up to John stubbing his toe against the doorframe and cursing colourfully. His shirt is only half-buttoned and he's unshaven; late for work, then.

"Sorry," he whispers, drops a kiss against Sherlock's mouth, and dashes out. Sherlock lies there for a few moments, feeling where John's stubble brushed against his skin.

He feels slightly nauseous; could be a side effect of the bremelanotide, or it could be the dried semen on his skin. He scrapes at it with a fingernail, lips curled away from his teeth, and finally gets up and stumbles his way into the shower. He's strangely sore, as if he's just gone two rounds with a hired thug, although he doesn't recall doing much of anything last night.

He spends a long time in the shower, leaning one hand up against the tile and letting the hot water run down his hair and shoulders.

Dried and dressed, he feels more like himself. He's even hungry, so he eats a piece of toast, with some of John's jam on it. (It's apricot jam, this time. John seems to like it; the ratio of apricot jam to other jams is 1.7.) He leaves crumbs on the table and uses John's laptop to check his website. He deletes an email from a group of schoolgirls writing in to ask him to investigate who's been stealing their pencils. Then he checks John's blog. He's put up his account of their brush with the blackmailer, without any mention of what they got up to in the hallway afterwards. Sherlock leaves a comment insulting John's choice of verbs and logs off.

When John returns, Sherlock has boiled a packet of gnocchi and dumped half a jar of basil pesto on it. John is so shocked he drops his bag on the floor and loses the ability to speak for a good several minutes. He asks Sherlock several times if the food is poisoned (no). It is nowhere near as good as Angelo's, but it's edible, and John is as ecstatic as if they were at The Fat Duck. Sherlock eats three bites and watches as John cleans his plate. Afterwards, John takes the plates away for washing up and Sherlock continues to sit at the table, staring at the wall as if it's solved pi to the last digit.

"So," John says as he starts the water running. "Last night."

Sherlock breathes in, holds it for one second, and breathes out again.

The dishes clatter in the sink. "It wasn't a one-off, then? That--that time. In the hallway. Because I thought you didn't--that you--"

Sherlock stops looking at the wall to stare at the back of John's head, because this isn't about what he wants.

"It's fine," he says, finally, when it seems like John might never finish his sentence. "It's all fine."

John looks at him over his shoulder and smiles, so breathtakingly simple and joyous, and Sherlock decides that this is worth it.

-----

He takes the bremelanotide most nights, so long as he's not on a case. (Curiously enough, it was John who set this limit. Sherlock had already taken the injection, was reaching for John, and John looked at him, surprised, and said, "Surely not while you're on a case?" "Of course not," Sherlock agreed and spent the entire night unable to think, thrumming with devotion and hormones.) Those nights he wants to drink John down, mark him all over with Sherlock's scent, and he wonders if this is what other people feel like, all the time: hungry and desirous for one another. He loves it and loathes it in equal measure, because he wants nothing more than to please John, to be normal for John, but he's never been normal, never wanted to be normal (until now, until John, until the look on John's face when Sherlock told him that heroes didn't exist), spits the word out of his mouth like it's dirty, and he resents that John wants this of him.

But the rest of the time, John smiles when Sherlock plays songs for him that he recognises from car adverts and movie trailers, things like "Swan Lake" and "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik." He lifts his eyebrows, rolls his eyes up to the ceiling, licks his lips, and says, "Oh, I know that one. Wait, let me guess. Mozart, isn't it?" John follows Sherlock to crime scenes and stands by the wall or doorway while Sherlock strides around imperiously, examining unlit corners and tasting cigarette ash and sniffing fingernails. When Sherlock becomes too acerbic or insulting John touches Sherlock's wrist or murmurs his name, and Sherlock bites off his word in the middle and stalks away. John never complains--or complains very little--that Sherlock doesn't help with the hoovering or the washing up, "largely because you're bollocks at it. I mean, really, that's your plan, isn't it? To be so bad at day to day tasks that I end up doing them all myself so that you don't set off the fire alarm again." And so Sherlock endures the indignities, bodies squirming against one another, the sweat, the saliva, because of John's jam in the fridge and sour-breathed kisses in the morning and John's gun in the nightstand drawer.

Sometimes, he's afraid that after all this, John will still leave.

-----

"Really?" John looks from the toy, up to Sherlock's face, then down to the toy again. He looks dubious, but (Sherlock thinks) also intrigued.

"I thought you might like it," Sherlock offers. They're sitting, naked, in bed. Sherlock is holding a smooth piece of black silicone, gently curved to a bulb at one end and a ring at the smaller, tapered end. The salesperson at the shop (34, partnered for seven years but in an open relationship) assured him that it was a very popular basic model, easy to use, that his partner would love it.

John stops just short of touching it. He licks his lips. "Do you want me to use it on you?"

"Whatever you want."

After a moment of--hesitation? indecision?--John takes the toy and kisses Sherlock, a brief meeting of lips. Then he presses his fingertips gently to Sherlock's chest, pushes, and Sherlock lies down, knees drawn up.

John is always gentle and careful and thorough, but tonight he's even more so, to the extent that Sherlock is afraid the bremelanotide will run its course before the main event. John pushes his lubricant-slick fingers inside Sherlock, presses his lips to Sherlock's throat, the juncture between neck and shoulder, the crook of his elbow, as he works his fingers in and out. He dips them in again and again, until Sherlock is wet and open, and he wishes that John would just get on with it, so that he doesn't continue to feel so exposed.

Finally, John presses one last, lingering kiss to the inside of Sherlock's thigh, rolls a condom down over the toy, gives it a generous palmful of lubricant, and slowly pushes it in.

"Breathe," John instructs him, and Sherlock lets out his breath, draws another one in. John gives one last push, until the toy is fully seated, and Sherlock breathes. Then John takes the ring and rocks the toy, and Sherlock's back arches without any input from the rest of him. John chuckles and does it again, and Sherlock clutches the sheets as a moan pushes its way past the obstruction in his throat.

"How is it?" John asks. "Good?"

Sherlock hates it. This thing isn't John: it's inorganic and lifeless and cold, no matter how soft the silicone is, how much it warms to body temperature, and John is so far away, so outside of him.

He says, just the tiniest exhale of sound, "Yes."

John nudges the toy in a circle, gently, and Sherlock throws his head back and pants. He does it again, and Sherlock closes his eyes. Phalanges: distales, mediae, and proximales. Metatarsals: first, second, third, fourth, and fifth. Tarsi: talus, calcaneus, cuneiformes I, II, and III, cuboid, navicular. Moving on. Tibia. Fibula. Patella. Femur.

By the time Sherlock reaches the vertebrae, he can hardly see and John has eased the toy out of him and is lying nearly on top of Sherlock, pressing him down into the mattress. Ordinarily Sherlock hates this too, but right now he finds it comforting. Grounding. He can feel John's flush against his skin, and he darts out his tongue to lick the side of John's face, tasting the salt of his sweat. John nuzzles his face against Sherlock's, like an overgrown cat, and whispers, "Can I?"

"Yes," Sherlock says, without hesitation, and hears the crinkle of another condom wrapper.

He's never been so grateful for John's slide into him, and he swallows with relief as John begins to move, long, tender strokes. Sherlock brings his legs up higher, giving John more room to move, though his thighs hurt at this point. The thrusts turn shorter, faster, and John cries out as he comes, hips jerking helplessly two, three more times. Then he's panting, elbows trembling as he braces himself above Sherlock's body, head hanging down. Sherlock brushes his fingers across John's cheek, and John opens his eyes and smiles down at him, and Sherlock remembers that this is worth it.

He's not actually sure he can come at this point, but John wraps his hand around Sherlock and pulls it out of him, much to his surprise. Thank God. He hadn't been looking forward to explaining that one.

Afterward, when they're curled under the sheets together, Sherlock asks, "Did you enjoy that, then?"

"What do you think?" John retorts, sleepy and amused. "God, who wouldn't enjoy that? That was amazing. Brilliant."

John's breathing evens out into sleep soon after, but Sherlock lies awake, watching John and thinking.

The next day, he goes back to the shop and purchases a set of anal beads.

-----

The beads are followed by a cock-ring, which Sherlock loathes because it makes John take longer to finish. John insists on Sherlock trying it next, which Sherlock hates even more; he has trouble finishing as it is, and the resulting orgasm is so strong that it knocks all his thoughts out of alignment, so that there's nothing but white static in his mind for long minutes afterwards. After that, Sherlock decides he's had enough of toys that go in orifices or on genitalia and nicks a pair of Lestrade's handcuffs.

"No," John says immediately, when he sees them on the bed. "Absolutely not."

A hard little bubble of panic wells up under Sherlock's collarbone, until John continues with, "They'll hurt you. You don't want that, do you?" He glances sharply up at Sherlock as he says this, a little line developing between his brows. Sherlock realises that this, here, is a line for John, and the next day goes to the shop and buys two lengths of soft hemp rope. The salesperson recognises him and asks how his boyfriend is doing. Sherlock spends the walk home wondering if that's what John is. Does John think of Sherlock as his boyfriend? Does Sherlock want him to?

Sherlock discovers that he rather likes being tied down. He doesn't have to do anything except lie there while John feathers kisses down his sternum, licks his nipples, dips his tongue into Sherlock's navel, sticks his nose in Sherlock's armpit and inhales, makes Sherlock come with his mouth and fingers, fucks him. He's almost disappointed when John tugs on the ends of the ropes to set him free.

"You liked that, didn't you?" John chuckles. Sherlock freezes; if John can tell that Sherlock enjoyed it, can he tell when Sherlock's merely enduring it? "It's all right," John says. "I liked it, too. I like just about everything, really." He pillows his head on Sherlock's shoulder and goes to sleep.

They're in Hampshire the next night, investigating a suspicious murder (actually a cleverly engineered suicide; Sherlock is pleased), but when he crawls into John's bed the next night John is waiting for him, ropes already lashed to the headboard, a bit of fabric in his lap. He holds it up for Sherlock as he approaches.

It's a sleep mask, of the sort you can purchase from Boots. Sherlock turns it over and over in his hands. Black; elastic band; padded lining for comfort; a slight divot for the nose. He puts it on.

"All right, then?" John's voice floats out of the darkness. Sherlock nods and lets John guide him down and secure him to the headboard. John's warm, dry hands smoothe down Sherlock's forearms, and Sherlock is startled by the warm press of lips to his. He should have predicted that, felt the weight shift on the mattress, the scrape of skin against sheets, but he's warm and heavy with the chemicals of desire and he can't see. John lingers in his kiss, slipping in tongue, and Sherlock kisses back, marveling at the sensations he can feel without vision in the way. He runs his tongue along John's molars, looking for fillings, but John pulls away. "Easy, tiger," he murmurs, dry amusement suffusing his voice, and he pats Sherlock twice on his side. "I'll be right back. Just need to get a few things."

And then John is gone. Actually gone; Sherlock heard his footsteps depart the room, can no longer hear John's bare feet going down the steps after the first three. "John?" he whispers, and there's no response. Sherlock is alone in the dark, and the ropes, instead of making him feel held, make him feel helpless. Without his eyesight, without the ability to touch, he's out of tricks: he's just a tall, skinny man with a deep voice and a bad temper. He closes his eyes, although it's pointless with the blindfold on, as if the mere act of closing them will somehow enhance his concentration. Perhaps he should pull the rope, release himself--but no, that will disappoint John. Mustn't disappoint John. John said he'd be right back. But the abyss inside him grows every second that John is not here, and if this goes on he'll--

John's steps coming up the stairs. Sherlock would recognise them anywhere, even if John were dead for fifteen years. His eyes snap open--again, pointless--as John approaches. "Back," John calls, although it's obvious, and sets something--smallish, ceramic, probably a cup, likely a teacup--on the bedside table. Sherlock feels the mattress dip as John takes a seat next to Sherlock's hip.

And then nothing. And then John is apparently just sitting there. Looking at Sherlock? Twiddling his thumbs? Sherlock listens hard, but there's no telltale slip of skin against skin. He can barely even hear John breathing. John's just being still. Is Sherlock supposed to be doing something? He wishes he could see John's face. His fingers twitch uselessly.

The silence spirals out interminably, pressing in on him at every side. A memory springs up, unbidden: Sherlock, nine years old, slouched low in a leather armchair. Six feet away, in an identical leather armchair, a woman, a therapist, staring patiently back. Her face is blurry, her name is a blank; Sherlock deleted that information long ago. But not this image, of silence stretching out between them, the globe on her desk, a dinosaur made out of children's sculpting clay (a gift from a previous client), a bin of plastic bricks in the corner. They spent three sessions like this, until Sherlock's parents stopped making him go.

Then shock: Sherlock's spent so long in his own mind that he didn't notice John moving, the clink of the cup, and Jesus Christ that's cold. It's ice, as a matter of fact, tracing around Sherlock's nipple, leaving a cooling trail in its wake. Sherlock's teeth come together with an audible click. The ice disappears as abruptly as it came, to be followed by John's mouth, and Sherlock can't suppress a groan.

Sherlock's other nipple is given the same treatment, and then--oh God--the base of Sherlock's penis. The ice melts into his pubic hair, and Sherlock hears more shifting in the cup as John gathers another piece. This one he strokes up the shaft and circles the corona, and Sherlock grits his teeth to keep them from chattering. He moves, he can't help it, a tiny squirm of the hips, a feeble attempt to close his thighs, ruthlessly suppressed. The ice glides over the glans in seemingly random movements--Christ, aren't John's fingers cold?--and down the shaft again, on the other side. Then it disappears and John's mouth closes over him, and Sherlock arches and gasps, because the ice is now in John's mouth.

Performing fellatio with an ice cube in one's mouth must be extremely awkward, and John doesn't keep it up for long, which is a mercy. He pulls away, spits the ice back into the cup; Sherlock can hear it rattle. John smoothes one hand up Sherlock's thigh and sets the cup back down. "All right?"

"Yes," Sherlock says, faintly.

"We're going to change it up a bit, then. Let me know if there's anything you don't like."

John circles the bed--Sherlock can hear him--his fingers leaving trails of sensation behind as they slide from thigh to knee to shin. The hand comes to rest curled around his ankle, fingers stroking over his Achilles tendon, and Sherlock has a sudden premonition that John is going to slice it open, bloom blood onto the sheets and leave Sherlock helpless and unable to walk. But instead John just presses a kiss to the bone at Sherlock's ankle and brushes something across the sole of Sherlock's foot.

A feather. It must be a feather (calamus vane rachis afterfeather barb). Too large to be down from John's duvet or one of the cushions in the sitting room, but fluffy, shaped like down, not like a flight feather from a pigeon one might find on the street (and John would never bring one of those into bed anyway; too unsanitary). Most likely a false feather, brightly coloured, that one can find in any crafts shop, that children glue to their art projects. The feather brushes up along Sherlock's calf, circles his knee, and Sherlock's mouth goes dry and his thought process goes to pieces. He tries to bring up Gray's Anatomy, but the images refuse to stay in his mind long enough for him to look at. Closing his eyes brings no relief: there's nothing but the darkness and this maddening, itching tickle, always there, not hurting but distracting, like the low buzz of voices in the background when Sherlock's trying to fit the puzzle pieces together. Apparently done with his knee, the sensation wanders up across the top of his thigh, then to the crease just below his hip, where leg joins torso.

The feather twirls around the base of his penis once, twice, three times, and Sherlock wishes that John had gagged him, because it's very possible he's going to scream. Then the feather disappears, and Sherlock is suddenly aware of his own harsh breathing. The backs of his eyes are stiff and hot, and he draws in a deep breath through his nose.

"All right?" John asks, and Sherlock seizes onto that with both hands. John is still here. John is getting onto the bed, his weight sinking the mattress to one side.

"Yes," he says.

The feather brushes over Sherlock's lips, around the edges of the blindfold, down the side of his face, over his throat, across his collarbone, around one nipple but not the other. Then down and across his ribs, and Sherlock's breath hitches in his throat. He hasn't been ticklish since he was a very small child, a response he trained out of himself after being caught by Mycroft too many times, but there's something about this, this not-quite-there touch, and the darkness, and--

The feather disappears again, and Sherlock hears the bedside table open, the familiar crinkle of condom wrapper and pop top of lube, and he lets out a long, shuddering sigh of relief. He brings his legs up to make room for John, and John's hand on his calf is familiar and welcome as John works him open, first with one finger, and then two, gentle and firm. Then John pushes in, and Sherlock can hear John's grunts, the wet slap of skin against skin, his own heartbeat thudding in his ears, the air dragging in and out of his lungs, the electricity grid singing, the very spinning of the galaxy. He can feel every inch of John inside him, every nerve ending sparking, the sheets against his skin, the ropes around his wrists, his hair against the back of his neck, his fingernails growing. It fills him up until he can't bear it, and then John comes, and Sherlock can feel that, too.

Silence again, broken only by jagged breaths. John sits up, discards the condom with a snap and a wet splat, and closes one hand around Sherlock. Sherlock bites his lip against the sudden urge to say Stop. Please. Don't. His orgasm is like being lit on fire.

Then his throat feels strangely sore, and John's fumbling with the ropes and pulling the blindfold away. The room is too bright, although only the bedside lamp is on, casting the room with a soft, pinkish-yellow hue, and Sherlock winces away from it. He doesn't get very far, because John has both hands on his face, stroking his thumbs over his cheekbones and saying his name, over and over again, with a note of terrified pleading. John should never sound like that because of Sherlock, and that's when he realises that his eyelashes are wet. He can feel moisture drying on his face. John has his forehead pressed to Sherlock's and is murmuring apologies over his skin.

"I'm sorry," Sherlock blurts out, and speech appears to have become an involuntary function, because it continues. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"What? No, I'm sorry, Jesus, I'm so sorry, I didn't realise." John pulls Sherlock halfway into his lap, and Sherlock wraps both arms around his waist--such a relief, to be able to move and touch John and feel him again, stroke his fingers across John's back. He doesn't even mind that John's still damp and sticky with sweat and semen. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"No."

John, rightly, doesn't believe him, and checks Sherlock's wrists, tsking over the little half-moon indentations in his palms. He examines Sherlock's penis, his anus, and satisfying himself that Sherlock does not appear to have suffered any physical injury, turns out the light and gathers Sherlock up in his arms, rubbing one hand in soothing circles on Sherlock's back. Sherlock is nearly asleep.

"Are you sure I didn't hurt you?" John asks.

"No."

John mulls this over, and then asks a question so terrifyingly perceptive that it forces Sherlock to reevaluate everything he thought he knew about John Watson: "Would you tell me, if I did?"

"Of course," Sherlock says, when he can speak again.

-----

Sherlock dreams of swimming up through layers of ocean, from the black trenches up through the abyss and into the midnight deep, and finally into faint light, then through ribbons of sunlight in the kelp beds, and at last breaking the surface.

He opens his eyes, blinking. Daylight shines through John's windows.

John is still in bed, curled behind Sherlock with one arm around his chest, like he can protect him from all the agonies of the world. (Ironic, when John still has thrashing, violent nightmares on a regular basis. Sherlock never says a word but sits there as John gasps out tight-chested sobs, and afterwards John thanks him, as if Sherlock's helplessness is a gift.) He rubs one hand in a circle over Sherlock's chest (how does he know Sherlock is awake?). "How're you feeling?"

Sherlock stretches his arms and legs gingerly. His shoulders are a little stiff and achy from being held in one position for so long, but his wrists are unchafed and his palms don't seem to have taken any permanent damage. There's a lingering soreness in his arse and inner thighs as well, but that's normal and will soon fade. Mostly, he's still exhausted. And thirsty. "Fine," he says.

"Liar," John says. Sherlock's heart stutters. He feels John shift behind him, apparently reaching for something on the bedside table, and then there's a glass of water in front of his face. Sherlock takes it and drinks obediently, propped up on one elbow. The water wasn't here last night. John must have fetched it just this morning, while Sherlock was asleep. He finishes the water and returns the empty glass to John, who replaces it on the table.

John remains propped up against the headboard, hands clasped in his lap like he's sitting at a lecture. Sherlock rolls onto his other side, so that he's facing John. "I'm thinking we ought to talk about a safeword."

Sherlock doesn't see the point, but he says, "All right."

"That safeword," John continues, "is stop."

Sherlock blinks. He's certain safewords are usually more esoteric than that, something that neither party would usually say.

Oh.

John rests his fingertips on the back of Sherlock's hand. "What happened last night?"

He can't talk about this. If he talks about this he will cry or throw up or run away, and then John will leave. "Nothing."

John's lips tighten into an upset line. "If you don't tell me, I won't know what not to do again."

"I don't know." Sherlock injects a watery irritation into his tone and makes as if to get out of the bed. He needs to shower anyway, get rid of last night's filth. John's hand shoots out, and he doesn't grasp Sherlock's wrist, but he lays his fingers across it, and that is enough.

"You know everything," John hisses, and oh, he's angry. Sherlock sits back down. "Don't lie to me, not about this."

And that's it. This is how it ends. If he tells the truth, John will be angry and leave. If he lies, John will be angry and leave. Sherlock lies back down and laces his fingers over his chest. He stares at the ceiling.

Well. John told him not to lie, and if he's to be damned either way, he might as well do what John wants. He creates a separate partition for his feelings and puts them there, then says, "I would kill for you."

John sucks in a breath. "Well. That's nice. You know the feeling's mutual. But that doesn't explain last night."

A numbness descends over the hot ball in his stomach and it's easier to think. "I'm not normal." He can feel John's blank stare on his skin. "This isn't really my area. As you know. I was never really interested before. Then you came along, and you wanted to, and I wanted to. . . want to." He drums the fingers of one hand against the back of the other hand, feeling the play of tendons and muscle under the skin, the skin's elastic response.

"But you. . . didn't want to," John says, slowly.

Sherlock forces his hand to still. "I told you, I wanted the want. I wanted to be whatever you wanted."

"But you didn't want it," John repeats, getting louder and higher with each word.

"It doesn't matter what I want!" Sherlock snaps, and it's cool tundra in his head, desert during the hottest part of the day, nothing stirring. He turns his head, looks at John, and it's free and easy and John is going to leave, the worst has already happened, and he's just going to float away, unmoored. "It's all transport, anyway!"

"Then." John stops. "Then it wasn't just last night. It was." His eyes widen, and all the blood drains from his face. "Oh my God." His voice is strangled. "Then all this time, you didn't--I--" He puts one hand over his mouth, like he's about to be sick. "Oh my God, Sherlock, I'm so sorry, I didn't, I didn't know--"

"Of course you didn't know, I didn't want you to know," Sherlock sighs and sits up, pulling his knees towards him. "I knew you were going to be like this."

"If you knew, then why did you--" John makes a frustrated noise and lurches from the bed. He stands there for a moment, his back to Sherlock, hands on his hips. He's shaking, ever so slightly, a barely perceptible vibration along the lines of his shoulders and his arms. Sherlock takes a moment to admire the expanse of John's naked back, the pale curve of his buttocks, the red and white scar radiating outward from his shoulder, like an exploding sun.

"Because I love you," Sherlock says. "That's what you do for people you love, isn't it? Give them what they want?"

"Not like this!" John barks at the wall. "God." His shoulders slump; John rubs one weary hand across his face. "I need to use the loo," he says abruptly, and marches out of the room without looking at Sherlock.

Sherlock doesn't understand. He thought relationships were all about sacrifice.

-----

Sherlock bins the bremelanotide.

He makes cup after cup of tea, so that John will have something hot to drink when he comes out of the bathroom. He leaves it on the floor, to the side of the door, so that John won't step on it but will surely see it. When it cools, he takes it away and makes another one.

He goes through eleven cups of tea in this manner before John finally emerges. Sherlock is lying facing the back of the couch, in pyjamas and dressing gown, knees drawn up. He hears John kick the saucer, then pick it up. A long pause, wherein he imagines John examining the tea, lips pursed and eyebrows raised. When he finds none, he takes a sip. Then footsteps, shuffling away, towards his room.

When John returns, he's dressed and shaved and carrying an empty cup. Sherlock has rolled over onto his other side, so that he has a view of the room (John). John takes the cup into the kitchen and then returns to sink into his chair. His eyes are red, but he is otherwise composed.

"Thank you," he says. "For the tea."

Sherlock nods.

John rubs his eyes. "So."

John is wearing one of his striped button-ups and a forest green jumper on over it, dark blue denims, and brown derbies. He shaved, but he missed two spots, close together under his jaw. There's a little bit of moisture in the hair at the nape of his neck, from when he splashed his face.

"I don't know what to do." John spreads his hands.

There is a writing callus on the third finger of his left hand, though he's of an age where children were trained to write with their right hands regardless. (Could John be ambidextrous? Sherlock will never find out. A pity.) There is no trigger callus on the second finger of his right hand, or where the grip rests against his palm. This is because members of the RAMC fire their weapons only in self-defence. (And in defence of others, presumably. The memory still makes Sherlock shiver.)

"I think I'd like to yell at you some more," John admits. "But that wouldn't really solve anything."

Is there something that needs solving? Sherlock has been reliably informed that he's good at solving mysteries. But his brain is a mess right now, data scattered everywhere, and John's hair is brushed differently today. His fingernails are getting a little long--he'll trim them tomorrow--and he hasn't yet eaten breakfast. They still have eggs, or perhaps John will opt for beans on toast. Sherlock would have made him breakfast, but he had no good way of predicting when John would leave the bathroom, and they would have run out of materials if Sherlock had cooked eleven breakfasts.

John drags his hands over his face. "Please say something."

"You missed a spot," Sherlock says, gesturing.

"Really?" John runs his fingers across the indicated spot. "Oh."

Sherlock imagines John spreading shaving foam across his face, dragging his razor in neat, precise stripes across his skin, rinsing the razor in the sink. He didn't cut himself, so John is not afraid. Or perhaps John is afraid, and that is why his hand did not shake.

John huffs out a breath. "So. What happens now?"

Sherlock considers. "Delete last night," he suggests. "Forget it ever happened. Go on as before."

"Ah. No." John pinches the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger, squeezing his eyes shut as if physically pained. "Not really an option, I'm afraid."

"But why not?" Sherlock sits up, careful to let his dressing gown gap open to reveal a pale slice of skin. "We were fine. We were happy."

"You were not happy." John lets his hand fall away, but his eyes are still closed. "How could you possibly have been happy? Doing these things you didn't want--" He swallows down the punctuation to that statement.

"You were happy," says Sherlock. "Weren't you?"

A long, long pause, before John opens his eyes and says, "Yes. I suppose I was." He doesn't look at Sherlock. He looks off to one side, perhaps at some baseboards badly in need of dusting, and blinks rapidly.

"Then what's the problem?" Sherlock thrusts his long, white legs out in front of him and studies his toes. "You were happy. I was happy that you were happy. There's no reason not to continue."

"Except now I know. God." John scrubs both hands through his hair. "That you didn't like any of that. You didn't want any of it, did you?"

"I wanted you," Sherlock says. "I didn't mind the rest of it."

"Not minding and wanting it are two different things. God. When I think that all this time--that you--and I--I was--" John puts one hand over his mouth. His eyes are suspiciously shiny.

"Don't." Sherlock pitches his voice low and soft. "It wasn't like that."

"It sure fucking well feels like it," John says through his fingers, and the words are low and jagged and thick.

Sherlock's interviewed enough grieving witnesses (and faking suspects) to know what's about to happen. He doesn't know what to do, and before he's never cared, just waited until they'd got it out of their systems before continuing with his line of questioning. But he can't stomach the idea that this is John, and that this is because of him, and never in his life has he wanted more to be someone else, someone that wouldn't hurt John Watson by loving him. He slithers from the couch to the floor, scrambles on all fours until he's kneeling by John's chair with his face pressed into John's thigh. "Please don't," he says.

John's fingers tangle in Sherlock's hair. "What do you want?" he asks, his voice thick, and Sherlock is glad, for the moment, that he can't see John's face, because the sight might send him off the nearest bridge. "God, what do you want? You can't have done all this solely to please me, you've never cared what anyone else wanted, you don't have an altruistic bone in your body, you stupid bastard." He pounds the back of Sherlock's shoulder with one fist, twice, not even hard enough to hurt, barely even hard enough to feel. "You bloody great--idiot. God. What do you want from me?"

"Nothing," Sherlock breathes. "Nothing."

John curls in on himself, letting out a great wheezing breath, and his fingers tighten in Sherlock's hair to the point of pain. Sherlock climbs half into John's lap so that he can wrap his arms around John's waist and press his face against John's stomach. John shudders over him, fisting his hand in Sherlock's dressing gown, and Sherlock wishes he could slide into John's ribcage and live there, whispering into the space between his heartbeats I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I wish I could love you enough.

-----

They migrate to the floor at some point, thank goodness, because Sherlock may be a tall person, but he isn't meant to have himself half in someone's lap and half on the floor like that. He clings to John, all arms and legs, as if he can prevent John from leaving simply by restricting physical movement. John has one arm wrapped around Sherlock and stares at the ceiling like an atheist praying for answers from God.

"I still don't know what to do," John announces.

Sherlock savours the scent of John's skin beneath his ear. No aftershave today, but he still smells, faintly, of shaving foam. His hair smells merely like hair, and below that, skin, the warm, dry smell of John. If he were to lick John, he would taste slightly of salt.

"The worst bit of it is," John says, conversationally, "is that I love you too. For the record."

He can feel John's heartbeat nearby, deep and regular, and he shifts back a little so that he can put his hand over it. John's jumper is soft to the touch. It was a present from Harry; John sighed over it, but kept it. Harry has good taste.

"And I need you, I think." John brings one hand up to place over Sherlock's, not clasping, just resting it there. His palm is warm and dry. "You're amazing and brilliant and mad as a boxful of rhesus monkeys, and I'm never bored, and I'd probably be dead now if it weren't for you. I don't know who I am, if I'm not with you."

Sherlock props himself up on one elbow so that he can look down at John, but he doesn't move his hand. John's heart is still throbbing away, not a bit slower or faster than it was before. "Then you'll stay?"

John snorts. "God, where would I go?"

Sherlock beams and swoops down to cover John's mouth with his. John's mouth opens under his, startled, and Sherlock dips in his tongue. He cuts it off before it can get too messy, and when he pulls away John is staring up at him, stunned. His heart is going a little bit faster.

John swallows and licks his lips. "So you like that, then?"

"I like you." Sherlock rests his chin on John's chest, next to their hands. "I like that you're staying."

"That's. Not really an answer." John sighs and closes his eyes. They stay like that for a long time, and Sherlock is content to, because he can still feel John's heartbeat under his hand, and he can see John thinking. He wonders if he looks like that, himself. Perhaps he should videorecord it.

Finally, John opens his eyes and says, "All right. If I'm going to stay, if we're going to keep doing this, there need to be rules."

This is not the first time John has attempted to impose rules on their household. Sherlock detests authority, flouts it whenever possible. John knows this, and yet he insists that body parts do not belong in the refrigerator, or at least belong in sealed and labeled containers and that toxic experiments do not share space with food preparation and that sugar does not go in the bathroom sink. Sherlock mostly ignores them, compromises on a few, and eventually John ceases to grumble. He nods.

"Or one rule, really," John goes on. "And that is, you are never, ever going to lie to me. If I ask you directly, you will tell me the truth. No lies of omission, either. You can say that you don't want to tell me, but you can't ever lie."

Sherlock stares.

"That's it," says John. "One rule. The most important one. If you break it, so help me God, I'll leave. I will."

It's a death sentence. There's no way John will stay if he gets to see all the bloody bits inside of Sherlock's head, when he finds out all the things that Sherlock loathes and loves. It's quite possible he would prefer being blindfolded and tied down and tickled again, because this--this is--it's as if John just skinned him and cracked open his sternum and is counting the weaknesses between his ribs.

"You said you had nowhere to go," Sherlock says. "You'd stay anyway, even if I said no."

"Probably," John admits. He looks like he did that day in Bart's, when his leg hurt, when each day was exactly the same as the last. His heart beats strong and steady under Sherlock's hand.

"Yes," says Sherlock.

John exhales. "All right, then." He moves his hand from over Sherlock's to touch his face. "So. Do you like kissing?"

Sherlock draws in a breath. Evaluates. John watches him, patient as ever.

He says, "Sometimes."

John draws his thumb across Sherlock's cheek, once. "Is now one of those times?"

Sherlock licks his lips. "I believe so."

John draws him down, but halts just before their lips meet. "Tell me when." And then he kisses him, gently and tenderly, until Sherlock tells him to stop.

---END---