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There's A First Time For Everything

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John is the first person that Sherlock ever tries to impress from the minute they meet. Really tries, pulling out all the stops, rather than just languidly dropping observations to be noted or ignored at will.

When Sherlock first meets John, he finds himself rattling off a string of deductions at top speed and then sweeping out into the corridor with a dramatic swirl of coat and an airy, attention-grabbing remark. All the familiar gestures, added to his repertoire as befitting an eccentric genius, are suddenly imbued with real meaning.

It isn’t until he’s ensconced in a taxi on his way back to his flat in Montague Street that he takes a moment and wonders at himself. But he’s never paid his own feelings the same minute attention he gives to everything else and soon shrugs it off. He might as well go ahead and move in, since the man had seemed perfectly adequate and sufficiently intrigued that there was no possibility that he’d fail to show up to view the flat.

It isn’t until very late the following night – so late that it’s early – that he realises. They’re halfway through a Chinese meal of staggering proportions, and Sherlock is making John laugh with his predictions of the fortune cookies. When John grins at him, eyes bright and alive with mirth, he’s almost unrecognisable as the quiet, sad-faced man who limped into the lab only yesterday, and Sherlock’s stomach gives a little leap as he smiles back. It’s been so long since he was attracted to anyone that it takes him a moment to identify the feeling, but when he does he looks at John – deceptively non-threatening in his knitted jumper – and thinks Oh.

And when John looks out of the window, and a small voice in Sherlock’s head points out how nice it would be to press his lips into the hollow at the base of John’s throat, he thinks, You’re going to be trouble, aren’t you?

----------

The first time Sherlock realises that he’s different is when he’s just four years old, and he finds that none of the other children want to sit next to him because he’s always top of the class and the teacher’s pet. It puzzles him – the answers to the questions are so obvious, he doesn’t know why everyone can’t see them like he does – but nevertheless he obligingly modifies his behaviour.

After three weeks of feigned ignorance and deskmates who pass sweets and cereal-box toys under the desk, Mycroft somehow finds out (Sherlock never works out how – he hadn’t kept any of the objects pressed into his hand) and tells him sternly to stop it, and that pretending to be stupid so that people will like him is A Very Bad Thing. When Sherlock protests that no-one (apart from Mycroft and Mummy) likes him if he doesn’t pretend, Mycroft’s face softens and he tells Sherlock that one day he’ll meet people outside of their family who do like him, just as he is.

At this point in his life, Sherlock’s big brother is still a minor deity in his eyes, being a mature and worldly young man of eleven, and so he obeys.

Things revert back to how they were previously, but Sherlock isn’t too bothered.

Reading The Complete Greek Mythology during playtime is far more interesting than playing Kiss-Chase with the others, and sometimes old Mr. Blumenthal lets him help in the music room, putting the instruments back in their cases. He’s promised to start teaching Sherlock the violin next year when his hands are big enough to grip one properly (Sherlock scorns the child-sized instruments that the others play), on the condition that his mother agrees.

She’ll agree. Mummy almost always lets him do what he wants; she agrees to most of his requests with a laugh and a smile, and calls him her impossible child. The one who arrived after all the doctors had told her to give up hope of Mycroft having a younger sibling, and that she had already been quite old to have one son and a second was out of the question. This is where the nickname comes from, but later on Sherlock well and truly earns it for himself, since all his questions are thoughtful, serious, and far too perceptive for a child of his age.

It’s Mummy, whose still-life studies were the stuff of legend, who had taught her two sons to look, really look, at an object and see what was truly there, and not what was generally assumed to be there. She knows that he’s been looking at all the instruments, and that the violin is the one his eyes keep coming back to. She’ll agree.

He adores his quiet, gentle mother, who never raises her voice to her boys but who (Mycroft told him) fought like a tigress with the school psychologist when he called her in for a meeting and confided that it wasn’t quite normal for a child of Sherlock’s age to shun the company of his peers, and asked whether she had considered further psychological testing.

But it’s the first time Sherlock has ever paid attention to what other people think of him. He tells himself then and there, with the stubbornness that is already deep-rooted in his character, that it will be the last, but that point won’t come until many years later.

(And even then, he will discover to his amazement that he will always, always care about one particular ex-Army doctor thinks of him.)

----------

The weeks pass, more of John’s belongings migrate from his bedroom to their living room, and Sherlock discovers that they get along rather well. John doesn’t seem to mind the ongoing experiments in the kitchen, and will even sometimes ask for more details if it’s something that captures his interest.

For his part, Sherlock finds that John is quite pleasant to have around. He doesn’t ever come up with the answer to whatever problem Sherlock is working on, but occasionally he’ll ask just the right question to make Sherlock’s mind jump tracks onto the one that will get him to the solution in the end.

Sherlock’s initial flicker of attraction shows no signs of dying away, and if that means that he gets a certain amount of satisfaction from John occasionally wandering around shirtless when he leaves the bathroom in the morning… well, that’s neither here nor there.

His first inkling that it might be a bit more than an aesthetic appreciation comes in the middle of the smuggling case involving the Black Lotus gang, more specifically on the evening they’re going through the combined book collections of Lukis and van Coon.

When John dozes off for the third time over the book sorting, Sherlock disgustedly orders him upstairs for a brief nap. Once he hears John’s bedroom door close, Sherlock takes the opportunity to call Lestrade. He knows that the DI will still be at the office – work that guarantees he can’t deal with something as important as serial murders with possible links to a smuggling ring also guarantees that he’ll still be working even at this hour.

When Lestrade picks up, he sounds amazed. ‘Sherlock? You never call, what’s going on?’

‘I need…’ Oh, how the words stick in his throat; he has to force them out. ‘I need a favour.’

‘“A favour”? Oh God.’ Lestrade’s voice lowers and Sherlock can see him in his mind’s eye, leaning forward and cupping one hand around his mobile in an attempt to keep the conversation private. ‘Donovan always said that something like this would happen one day. What is it? Where’s the body?’

‘Oh, shut up. It’s not like that. The favour… isn’t for me. It’s for John.’

A few seconds of silence follow, heavy with unspoken questions, and Sherlock grits his teeth. He can almost hear Lestrade thinking, adding two and two and getting five, and he sounds curious when he finally says, ‘All right, go on. What’s the problem?’

‘He’s been given an ASBO.’

‘An ASBO? John? How the hell did you manage that?’

‘What makes you think I had anything to do with it?’

Lestrade laughs. ‘Honestly? Well, firstly because there was that time that–’

‘Yes, all right, point taken. Look, I need you to… cancel it, or close the file, or whatever you do. Just make it disappear.’

Lestrade is silent for a few more seconds before slowly saying, ‘In all the years I’ve known you, you’ve never asked for a favour. Never. And you’ve been in some pretty tight spots.’

Sherlock grits his teeth again. He’d anticipated that Lestrade would probably enjoy this, but that didn’t make it any less torturous. And yet it was still better than going to Mycroft. ‘Yes. I know.’

‘And yet now you are. For John.’

‘Shut up. I know what your sordid little insinuations are, and it’s not like that. I need him with me for this case, not tied up in pointless bureaucracy.’

‘Well…’ There’s a rustle of cloth, as though Lestrade is stretching and leaning back in his chair. Clearly he’s preparing to milk this for all it’s worth before capitulating. ‘It’s not going to be easy.’

‘Oh come on…’

‘Hey, I’m serious. I’m a detective inspector, not a fairy godmother; I can’t just wave my wand and make it all disappear. There’s a procedure I have to follow. What’s in it for me?’

‘It’s a favour,’ Sherlock says through his teeth. ‘You’re not meant to demand compensation for it; you’re meant to just do it.’

But Lestrade doesn’t sound cowed in the slightest. ‘Your assistance, with no complaints or insults, on the next six occasions I want it. You’re not allowed to refuse because you think it’s boring. It might be dull to you, but to us it’s still a crime scene.’

This is too much. Sherlock gets up from his chair to pace between the living room and the kitchen. He’d suspected that Lestrade would demand his assistance as payment, and it’s small consolation to know that at least Lestrade is intelligent enough that anything he calls Sherlock in for probably won’t be a complete waste of his time. Probably.

‘Three.’

‘Five.’

Three.

‘Four.’

‘Three, damn it.’ He stops pacing and glares furiously at his experiment in progress on the kitchen table that had been interrupted by Sebastian’s email – a study on ear resemblance in identical and non-identical twins. ‘You know you’re going to do it anyway; John’s a good man and you like him.’

‘I do,’ Lestrade agrees, sounding affable. ‘Not least for the effect that he’s apparently having on you. All right, three. On the condition that you’re not allowed to insult my team on those three occasions.’

Almost beside himself with annoyance, Sherlock snatches up the biggest kitchen knife he can see and slams it down into one of the ears with an almighty bang, pinning it to the solid wooden chopping board beneath.

‘Done,’ he says, breathing heavily but slightly more composed.

‘Great. I’ll text you when the paperwork’s done. By the way, what was that noise?’

‘I’ve just stabbed a human ear with a very large, very sharp knife,’ says Sherlock, enunciating each word with relish. ‘Would you like me to send you a picture?’

‘No, thanks. Unless there’s a human still actually attached to this ear, then it’s not my jurisdiction.’ Lestrade sounds like he’s grinning, the bastard. ‘How’re you getting on with Dimmock?’

‘An officious little twerp. Tedious beyond belief. Speaking with him is like trying to walk uphill through treacle, and the incompetence of his team surpasses even that of yours, which I hadn’t thought was possible.’

‘So, pretty much as expected, then.’

After a terse admonition that Sherlock might get more done if he tried not to actively annoy Dimmock, Lestrade hangs up and Sherlock is left staring down at his board of ears, one of which now looks quite markedly different from its twin.

When John wanders downstairs an hour later, he asks, ‘Was there a bang a while ago?’

‘Testing the resilience of human cartilage,’ Sherlock mutters, once more engrossed in van Coon’s books.

John yawns and walks into the kitchen for tea. Out of the corner of his eye, Sherlock sees him make a disgusted face at the transfixed ear and then he asks reproachfully, ‘Did you have to do that? That used to belong to someone, you know.’

At this, Sherlock jerks his head up, ready to growl at John precisely why he had to do that. But John is sleep-rumpled and has pillow creases on his cheek, and at the sight of him soft and worn, the words die in Sherlock’s mouth. Instead he just says, ‘Tea would be nice, if you’re putting the kettle on,’ and then has to turn away and pick up another book, occupying his hands with anything other than smoothing order back into the blond and grey streaks of John’s uncharacteristically messy hair.

----------

The first time Sherlock meets Lestrade is a thoroughly unenjoyable experience for all concerned. Lestrade arrests Sherlock when he refuses to leave a crime scene, on the charges of Loitering, Obstruction of Duty, Drug Use, and Being A Bloody Nuisance, since it’s the end of a long day, Sherlock has insulted every member of Lestrade’s team, including Lestrade himself, and even Sherlock can see that the man has clearly had enough.

Sherlock spends an uncomfortable night in the cells at Scotland Yard, berating himself for thinking that the police would ever have enough intelligence to listen to outside advice. When Lestrade brings him into the interview room for his official caution – and Sherlock suspects Mycroft’s influence is responsible for him getting off with only a caution, but can’t bring himself to ask – Sherlock slouches in his chair and glares at him. In an almost-bored tone of voice pitched for maximum irritation, he recites what Lestrade had for dinner the previous night (Chinese), what stage he’s at in his divorce (decree nisi, waiting for the decree absolute), and who the most likely culprit of yesterday’s murder is (the brother). There’s a long silence while Lestrade just stares at him in astonishment.

After several months, and an offer from Lestrade couched as an ultimatum, Sherlock is off the cocaine and has set himself up as the world’s only consulting detective.

----------

The first time they kiss, followed quickly by the first time they have sex, is immediately after an invigorating chase through pouring rain that has left them both looking like they’ve been swimming in the Thames. They stagger up the stairs to their flat, and collapse side by side on the sofa.

‘We shouldn’t,’ John says half-heartedly, making no effort to move. ‘The water’s going to be bad for the leather.’

Sherlock makes a vague noise, and looks over at John. His hair is slicked straight back from when he pushed it off his forehead, and it’s starting to stick up in little tufts as it dries.

John meets Sherlock’s gaze, and his eyes drop to Sherlock’s mouth.

Sherlock is still drunk on adrenaline. Soon the crash will come, and it’ll be all he can do to drag himself from sofa to bed, but for now his blood is singing and he feels so very alive.

Therefore it isn’t entirely a conscious action when he reaches for John and leans in. He doesn’t have very far to lean, because as soon as he makes his intent clear then John is leaning too, grabbing at his jacket and muttering roughly, ‘Yes, Christ, yes,’ just before their mouths connect.

It’s a bit clumsy at first, but then John opens his mouth and Sherlock tilts his head and fuck. His hands fist in John’s sopping jumper and he barely has to tug at all before John is scrambling closer and then Sherlock groans happily as John’s weight settles into his lap, straddling his thighs.

He yanks John’s shirt out of his trousers and pushes his hands underneath, feeling John’s fingers moving nimbly over his shirt buttons. For once, John is more competent than him, and he’s still fumbling with John’s clothes when he’s yanked abruptly forward so that John can push his loosened shirt and jacket down his arms and off. The leather of the sofa is smooth against his damp bare back as John pushes him down, licking a stripe up the side of Sherlock’s neck while dragging his thumbs roughly over his nipples, making Sherlock gasp ‘Fuck!’ as his fingers dig into John’s shoulder blades.

Giving up on John’s jumper – since John refuses to remove his hands from Sherlock’s chest long enough to lift his arms and let Sherlock remove it – Sherlock cups John’s erection through his wet jeans and squeezes briefly before going to work on his belt buckle. At this, John makes an enthusiastic noise against his jaw and starts working at Sherlock’s own trousers, not stopping until they’re bunched halfway down around Sherlock’s thighs.

The first grip of John’s hand around his cock makes Sherlock jump and curl forwards slightly, but John just flattens him back against the sofa before taking his hand away briefly to lick a broad stripe across his palm and beginning to work him with short, hard strokes. It feels incredibly good, and Sherlock tries his best to keep kissing John even as the feeling of John’s thumb wiping over the tip of his cock makes him groan and falter.

He shoves his hands inside John’s jeans – loosened but unable to be pushed down given how wide John’s thighs are splayed where he’s straddling Sherlock’s lap – and clutches desperately at his hips. He eventually manages to get his hand on John’s cock, hard and hot even through the thin, damp cotton, and rubs with the heel of his hand, feeling it jerk as John moans.

The next instant, John is reaching down between them, cupping Sherlock’s balls in a warm, moist palm and pushing them up against the base of his cock as he tightens his hand and speeds his strokes, muttering, ‘Come on… let it go…’

Sherlock’s fingers claw at John’s waist as he comes, struggling for breath and letting his head fall against the sofa as John presses his face to Sherlock’s exposed throat and expertly works him through it.

When he opens his eyes again, John is kissing the underside of his jaw and murmuring, ‘Yes… that’s it… God, you’re gorgeous…’

John is still hard in his underwear, and Sherlock drags his hand though the come smeared across his stomach and pushes it under the waistband of John’s boxers. John closes his eyes and groans, ‘Fuck,’ when Sherlock takes him in hand, and when he begins to stroke then John’s teeth dig into his lower lip.

The elastic of the waistband digs into Sherlock’s wrist, and the angle is making the muscles of his forearm start to cramp, but John’s cock is sliding easily in his grip and his hips have started to hitch forwards, fucking Sherlock’s hand in tiny thrusts. So Sherlock grits his teeth and keeps going, watching as John’s face crumples, and when John’s movements start to speed up and lose their rhythm, Sherlock takes this as his cue to drag him down into a kiss.

John lets himself be dragged, his hand covering Sherlock’s on his cock and squeezing his grip tighter, and the next instant John is almost sobbing against his mouth, his cock jerking hard in Sherlock’s hand as he comes.

For a few brief moments, John slumps forward, leaving heavily against Sherlock and rubbing his cheek against Sherlock’s temple as he gasps for breath. Sherlock’s hand is still in John’s pants, wrist bent awkwardly, but he doesn’t protest, being too distracted by the feel of John’s weight against him and the thick cock softening in his hand.

The ticking of their mantelpiece clock and John’s breathing are the only sounds in the silence, until John sits up.

‘God, I need a shower,’ he groans, climbing off Sherlock’s lap and grabbing at the waistband of his jeans when they start to slide down. Sherlock greedily drinks in the sight of him – red-faced, with his jumper rucked up and hair going every which way – until John turns his head and catches him. John tenses, subtle but visible, as he says, ‘Look, we’re both shattered, let’s deal with this tomorrow.’ He makes a vague hand gesture in the air between them. ‘Talk about it… or whatever. All right?’

‘Fine,’ Sherlock replies, wriggling his own trousers back up over his hips. He flaps a hand at John, effectively dismissing him. ‘Go on, take your shower.’

John does so, calling down to Sherlock when the bathroom’s free. In the shower, Sherlock scrubs himself efficiently and then just stands under the hot water, until he’s flushed and almost asleep on his feet.

When he leaves the bathroom, towel slung around his hips, he’s met with the sight of John’s bedroom door, directly opposite their bathroom, firmly closed. Sherlock raises a hand, and rests a palm lightly against the wood. He hadn’t been thinking of the aftermath when he had John, hot and eager on top of him, but a closed door doesn’t bode well. He briefly considers just walking in, but decides against it. John had said ‘tomorrow,’ and had also made it clear very early on that a closed door is a closed door (with exceptions made for new cases).

In the end, too tired for further analysis and rapidly getting chilly, he goes to his own bedroom, dons his pyjamas, and is asleep almost as soon as his head hits the pillow.

The next morning – or rather, afternoon, by the time they both make it out of their respective beds – John alternates between fatuous smiles at nothing and nervous glances at Sherlock. Sherlock pretends he can’t see this, and says nothing. He can’t stop thinking about the steady pulse of John’s cock against his palm, and the broken noise John made when he came, but he’ll be damned before he acts like some love-sick idiot.

Instead, he concentrates on his laptop and silently counts the minutes until John stops puttering around in the kitchen, visibly steels himself, and comes to sit opposite him. John slides a mug of coffee across to Sherlock, and clutches his own until his fingertips turn white.

‘So… last night…’ he begins.

Without lifting his eyes from his laptop, Sherlock reaches for his coffee, takes a mouthful, and makes an encouraging noise. John continues, ‘That’s… that’s something you do, is it?’

‘On occasion, yes.’ Now Sherlock looks up, and stares hard at John. ‘Problem?’

‘No, no, not at all.’ John shakes his head, his obvious nervousness making him a bit over-emphatic. ‘Is it… something that’s likely to happen again?’

Sherlock takes a breath and returns his gaze to his laptop, avoiding John’s eyes and hoping that he won’t notice the way his pulse leaps at the idea, making him swallow convulsively. Aloud, he merely says, ‘I don’t know. Possibly. Problem?’

Inwardly, he cringes. He can hear how nervous he sounds – one word sentences and repetition, good Lord – but John either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care, since he’s fidgeting with his mug and biting his lip in an unsuccessful attempt to hide his grin as he says, ‘Fine. Yes, that’s… that would be… fine.’

‘Good.’

‘Right.’

And that seems to be all that needs to be said on the matter.

----------

The first time Sherlock takes cocaine is two weeks after Mummy’s death, and the rush is like nothing he’s ever felt before. He’s aware that none of his problems have disappeared, per se: his mother is still dead, his life is still too wretchedly grey and tedious to bear, and his world is still too full of small, utterly useless details that leap out at him and scream See me! See me! until it’s all too loud and bright and overwhelming.

But when he depresses the small plunger of the needle and, seconds later, feels the rush of euphoria, he laughs aloud in giddy delight and none of it seems to matter.

Mycroft visits him after a few weeks.

‘Oh Sherlock, really,’ he says, picking his way delicately through the squalor of the bed-sit that Sherlock currently calls home. ‘Look at yourself. What would Mummy say if she could see you now? How do you imagine this would make her feel?’

Sherlock doesn’t have to imagine. Mycroft has their mother’s eyes, and they’re full of disappointment and worry and grief. Mycroft has organised everything since her death – the funeral, the reading of the will, the tying up of legal loose ends – and he looks tired and far older than the seven years that separate him from his sibling.

When he reaches down to where Sherlock is sprawled listlessly on the couch and puts a gentle hand on his sibling’s head, Sherlock’s eyes sting and his throat closes up until he can hardly breathe. So he glares up at Mycroft and answers, low and venomous, ‘I suppose we’ll never know, will we? Since she’s currently feeding the worms.’

Mycroft doesn’t respond to this, just presses his lips together and turns his face away. Shortly after, he leaves.

----------

The next time sex happens between them – which is also the first time he sees John fully naked, his brain helpfully notes – is just a few days later.

John has been prowling around the flat, unable to settle. He’s poked at his blog without writing anything new, stared at his book without turning a page for fully ten minutes, and turned on the TV only to hop aimlessly through the channels. After a while, he flicks it off.

‘Anything interesting?’ he asks Sherlock, who’s sitting at his laptop and typing out a request for more information from someone who’s emailed him with a potential new case. He merely grunts in reply, hits ‘Send’, and opens the next email.

‘I was wondering,’ John persists, ‘whether you want to… you know.’

‘What?’ Sherlock looks at him vaguely, his mind still full of But which species of orchid does she mean? and It might depend on what time the gardener arrives in the morning…

John shifts in his chair and wets his lower lip in a familiar nervous habit. ‘Whether you wanted to… you know.’

Sherlock’s brow furrows at him – he’s good, but he’s not bloody telepathic – and John finally exclaims, sounding a bit exasperated, ‘Sex, Sherlock. Are you up for a shag?’

Oh.

He’s not sure what his face does, but John is instantly talking again.

‘I mean, there’s nothing on TV… and you’re not that busy… and if you don’t want to then obviously that’s fine, more than fine, I just thought I’d–’

‘Yes,’ Sherlock says, interrupting the nervous spill of excuses and justifications. ‘All right.’

‘Okay then. Great.’

John wipes his palms on his thighs unconsciously and bites his lip, but Sherlock hasn’t missed the way he’s also starting to flush and is already half-hard in his jeans. Sherlock closes the lid of his laptop and stands. He walks into his bedroom, acutely aware of John’s footsteps behind him and the soft click as John locks the bedroom door.

It’s… well, it’s good, obviously, because John is a kind and considerate lover, but it’s also fascinating. Cataloguing John’s body – the way the skin on his neck and on his inner thigh taste subtly different but are somehow similar, still recognisably John, is riveting. And his reactions to different touches on his erogenous zones makes Sherlock want to give over an entire day to doing nothing else but putting his hands and mouth on different parts of John to learn what sounds he makes.

All this time, Sherlock has thought that John avoided touches to the back of his neck, both deliberate and accidental, because of his trust issues, but he was quite staggeringly wrong. Instead, it turns out that John’s nape is amazingly sensitive, and when Sherlock cups his hand over it and pushes long, warm fingers up into John’s hair, his eyelashes flutter and he gives a breathy moan that makes Sherlock want to know what John will do if Sherlock replaces his hand with his mouth.

Impulse control has never been his strong point, and so he does just that. He spreads John out on the mattress, laying him on his front so that Sherlock can suck kisses into his neck and let his hands run over the muscles of John’s shoulders and back. When John is thrusting against the mattress and his moans have become louder and more broken, Sherlock tips him over onto his back and leans in to nuzzle at John’s cock.

John looks almost painfully hard, and the head is already wet when Sherlock takes it into his mouth. John’s hands are bunched in the sheets and his breathing is a mess, making Sherlock think of panic attacks and running for his life, but John banishes any doubts by spreading his thighs wider and arching his back when Sherlock starts to suck him.

Within a couple of minutes he’s shaking, and when Sherlock daringly lets go of his grip on the base of John’s cock to slide both hands underneath his hips and squeeze his arse, John cries out, pushes Sherlock’s head away, and comes all over his stomach and hips.

‘Don’t you ever stop being such a bloody doctor?’ Sherlock grumbles, when John has finished. He’d wanted to ignore John and put his mouth back on his cock while he was coming, but John had taken a handful of curls in a grip that threatened hair loss if Sherlock tried to twist out of it.

‘Nope, sorry.’

John grins, red-faced and entirely unrepentant, and pulls Sherlock up for a kiss, effectively derailing the acerbic You were leaking so much that safe sex considerations are a bit late now that’s hovering on the tip of his tongue.

The kiss is wet and messy, and after a while John reaches down and takes hold of Sherlock’s erection, guiding it so that it’s sliding between John’s thighs, warm and slick with come. John presses his legs tightly together and reaches down to grab Sherlock’s arse with one hand, encouraging him to thrust, and Sherlock’s ability to kiss begins to steadily deteriorate.

It’s very like how he imagines fucking John is going to be: John warm and solid beneath him, his breath hot in Sherlock’s ear as he murmurs encouragement, one hand buried in his hair and the other gripping his arse as Sherlock snaps his hips forward harder and faster. And when John puts his open mouth against Sherlock’s temple and mutters, ‘I can’t wait to feel you inside me. God, it’s going to be so good,’ Sherlock’s breath catches in his throat and he comes with a deep groan, burying his face in John’s neck.

Afterwards, when his muscles have all gone limp but his heart is still racing, John rolls them onto their sides but keeps an arm around Sherlock’s waist. He strokes Sherlock’s sweat-damp spine with gentle fingertips, while Sherlock relaxes under John’s breath on his forehead and imagines that he can still feel the calluses from where John held his assault rifle in Afghanistan.

At last John heaves a deep, satisfied-sounding sigh, and says, ‘That was great. I feel ready for bed now.’ He shifts his legs and adds, ‘After a shower, obviously,’ in a wry tone that’s completely at odds with the delightedly smug look on his face.

‘Right. Yes, of course,’ Sherlock says, feeling slightly off-balance as John pulls away. He wants a bit more time to look at John’s body and ask him about a couple of the more unusual scars, perhaps even suggest that if John wants to stay the night then Sherlock wouldn’t object, but if John wants to get up then obviously that’s fine. Of course it is.

John sits on the edge of the bed and stretches, arching his back and reaching his arms up over his head, moving the left more cautiously than the right. Sherlock is hypnotised by the way the small, coin-sized piece of scar tissue on the back of John’s left shoulder shifts with his movements.

‘So then,’ John says, looking back over one bare shoulder at Sherlock, his eyebrows tilted in friendly enquiry. ‘If we’re going to do this, I’m guessing that you’ll want to keep it a casual thing? What with being “married to your work” and all that?’

‘Yes. Yes, of course,’ Sherlock says, wishing he could shut himself up, or that John would stop looking like it was all a foregone conclusion. Suddenly he’s conscious that his stomach and thighs are uncomfortably sticky and rapidly cooling in the chilly air of his bedroom. He pulls a corner of the duvet across himself. ‘That would probably be for the best.’

‘Right,’ John agrees readily. He looks entirely unperturbed, and Sherlock feels a faint twinge of annoyance. It isn’t as though he wants John clinging to him but damn it, John doesn’t look even remotely put out at the idea that either of them could theoretically drop the other one at a moment’s notice.

As John reaches for his underwear and steps into them, humming to himself, Sherlock feels oddly like he’s lost the upper hand without even being aware that they were competing for it. Trying to regain some composure, he stretches and points out, ‘Well, at least it’s nice to know that I was right after all.’

‘About what?’ John is distracted, trying to track down all his clothing. ‘Have you seen my shirt?’

‘Under the dressing table. That first evening, in Angelo’s,’ Sherlock says, looking away in feigned disinterest and stretching again and yes, perhaps posing just a tiny bit. He’s only human, after all. ‘I knew you were chatting me up.’

‘Oh, piss off,’ John says but good-naturedly, grinning and clearly fighting laughter. ‘Anyway, you started it.’

This makes no sense. ‘I started it? What on earth do you mean?’

‘Yeah. You called me a war hero the second time you met me.’

So I did, Sherlock thinks, too absorbed in the memory of their first taxi ride to reply, and John mutters, ‘Crikey, never thought I’d get the last word with you. I should put this in the blog,’ as he slips out, clothes bundled to his chest.

----------

Sherlock’s first case is also the first time he plays truant from school. Carl Powers, struck with a fit in the middle of a swimming competition and drowned before anyone could help. It sounded like any other tragic mishap, save for the singular fact that someone has clearly been through the boy’s things to remove his shoes.

It’s so obvious that it’s more than just an unfortunate accident, and it’s immensely frustrating to find that the official police won’t listen to him. They give him vague, tolerant smiles – not bothering to look up from their notebooks – and ask whether his parents are nearby. When they find out that he’s older than he looks (he’s still infuriatingly small for his age, although Mummy keeps telling him that his big feet mean that he’ll one day be as tall as his father was), and that he’s unaccompanied, the tolerant smiles vanish.

Instead he gets dragged into the local station by an officious young constable and is forced to sit through a tedious lecture on the importance of attending school and studying for his exams. Sherlock doesn’t bother listening to any of this, too busy fuming at how he’s been brushed aside as though he’s nothing more than an annoying toddler, merely gives his name and address when asked.

Mycroft comes in a few hours, but he doesn’t listen to Sherlock’s explanations any more than the police had. Instead he gives Sherlock another long lecture on his thoughtlessness, and irresponsibility, and had he even considered how this is just the type of behaviour that falls into the category of ‘upsetting things’ the doctor has said they must avoid for the sake of their mother’s deteriorating health, until Sherlock is ready to rant and rage at the injustice of it all.

All in all, Sherlock thinks in later years, with such a beginning then it’s no wonder it took him so long to come around to the idea of working with the police in an official capacity.

----------

After days of careful planning and stalking that had resulted in the capture of almost all of the members of a smuggling ring, the case is finally over. Sherlock knows a fancy French restaurant that will provide food good enough to make a grown man cry, and he and John gorge themselves happily, stomachs finally getting something other than tea and biscuits. Sherlock pays for the meal and watches John pull on his jacket, too full to pay much attention to their surroundings.

He goes down like a felled tree under a vicious wallop to the side of his head. Lightning explodes behind his eyelids, and when he comes back to himself he’s conscious of a throbbing pain in his temples and the warm trickle of blood down the side of his face. He tries to stand, but the world tilts sickeningly and he subsides when John growls at him to stay down.

It’s a wretched end to what had been a very promising evening, and it’s only a small compensation to see John twisting their assailant’s arm competently and painfully high behind his back, and his irritation on Sherlock’s behalf when an embarrassed Lestrade comes to collect their prisoner, who had escaped the raid Scotland Yard had set for the smugglers.

When they get home John checks him over, gives him painkillers, sticks butterfly bandages over the gash on his temple, and then pushes him gently down to sit on the toilet lid while he cleans the dried blood off the side of Sherlock’s face. Sherlock’s head has set up a relentless, steady pounding that seems set to last all night, and he says, ‘I need more painkillers.’

‘Sorry,’ John says, compassionate but inexorable. ‘I’ve already given you as many as I can.’

Sherlock closes his eyes and sighs. He’d known that, and known that John would never exceed the maximum dose, but it had been worth a try. He concentrates on John’s hand on his chin and the brush of the cloth on his face, warm and damp, a bit like a cat’s tongue, and lets it push away his headache.

When he’s finished, John’s hand touches Sherlock’s shirt collar as he observes lightly, ‘That shirt’s a write-off, I’m afraid.’

‘I know,’ Sherlock snaps. John has stopped touching him, and is instead rinsing the cloth out and dropping it into the laundry basket. The headache has returned, and the bathroom light is too bright and makes him squint. ‘I had noticed, I wasn’t hit that hard.’

John stays silent, but comes to stand in front of Sherlock and puts his hands into Sherlock’s hair. He works his fingers through the messy curls, checking Sherlock’s scalp for any other bumps or lacerations from when he hit the ground. It’s soothing, and Sherlock closes his eyes and leans forward, pressing his face into the warm wool of John’s jumper as he inhales.

When John finishes, he doesn’t step away again, just cradles Sherlock’s head against his stomach and asks softly, ‘Other than a prize-winning headache, how do you feel?’

‘Utterly wretched,’ Sherlock snipes, mostly muffled against John but still audible. ‘What a ridiculous question. How do you think I feel?’

If he tilts his head upwards slightly he can just see John’s face out of the corner of his eye. He’s looking both sympathetic and resigned as he says, ‘Well, I’ve checked and you definitely don’t have a concussion. My guess would be that it’s the result of eating all that rich food after starving yourself for days. I’ve told you it’s not good for you.’

It’s true, although Sherlock will be damned before he admits it. His stomach is gurgling at him unhappily, and the splitting headache sends an occasional wave of nausea roiling through him. He wants nothing more than to don his pyjamas, crawl under his duvet, and not emerge for a week, but as he heaves himself to his feet John puts a steadying hand on his arm and says, ‘If you want, you could sleep with me tonight.’

Sherlock gives a brief laugh, quickly stifled when it makes his head throb. ‘John, I’m flattered, but I really think you might be overestimating my stamina–’

‘No. No, I didn’t mean… just, no.’ John’s cheeks are reddening and he’s repeating himself – always a sure sign that he’s flustered. ‘I didn’t mean that, I just meant… Well, my room’s closer to the bathroom, if you think you’re going to be ill.’

It sounds like a logical plan, and so fifteen minutes later Sherlock is hovering on the threshold of John’s bedroom, picking at a loose thread on his pyjamas before getting annoyed with himself and stopping. For God’s sake, this is John, and they’ve had their hands and mouths all over each other by now. But as John, already in bed, pulls back the duvet and sleepily murmurs, ‘Well, come on then,’ he has to force himself to step forward and climb in next to him.

It’s rather nice. John doesn’t cling to him or smother him; he just waits until Sherlock has made himself comfortable and then reaches over to turn off the bedside light before curling up behind him, one arm draped gently over Sherlock’s waist. The room isn’t quite dark – the fuzzy glow of the street lights pick out the edges and corners of desk and wardrobe that remind Sherlock that he’s very definitely not in his own bed. John’s breathing soft and warm on the back of his neck, and lying there together – both fully clothed – feels oddly like the most intimate thing they’ve done yet.

John snuffles a little, already sinking into sleep, and Sherlock closes his own eyes and doesn’t let himself think about how nice it would be to hear that noise every night.

----------

The first time Sherlock gets injured while on a case, it’s because the pursuit of a jewel thief (Kevin Matthews, 27, also works as a bricklayer from the colour of the dust on his trainers) takes him all the way to Charing Cross station and culminates in a fistfight that knocks out one of his canines.

Matthews is led away in handcuffs, and no sooner has Sherlock stepped outside the station – his tooth clutched in one hand and wondering if any cabbie will take him as a fare, looking like he does – than Mycroft’s car pulls up. Mycroft gets out, horrified at the quantity of blood streaming down Sherlock’s face and soaking his shirt, and bundles him into the back seat to drive him straight to the dentist.

‘Slightly overprotective, even for you,’ Sherlock says. He’s aiming for a drawl, but ends up slurring as more blood runs down his chin.

‘The sooner it is, the easier it is to replace them, as you know very well,’ Mycroft answers tartly, plucking a clean handkerchief from his breast pocket and passing it to Sherlock. ‘Now – and I appreciate that this may be difficult for you – please stop talking.’

Once the emergency appointment is over, Sherlock tries his hardest to delete the memory of the whole painful business. He returns to his shabby little flat on Montague Street, and gingerly washes most of the blood off his face before putting on his pyjamas. He crawls into bed, wrapping himself up in his duvet, thankful that there’s no-one around to witness how pathetic he’s being.

He must fall asleep, because he startles awake some time later, incredibly thirsty and utterly starving. He tries to drink water, but the whole lower half of his face is throbbing and he has to stop after a few sips. There’s no soft food in his fridge – none that’s still safe to eat, anyway – and the corner shop that sells soup and painkillers is much too far away.

He huddles miserably under his duvet once more and, despite the pain in his jaw and his growling stomach, falls into an uneasy doze.

----------

The following morning is horrible.

He wakes with a dry throat and pounding head. John refuses to hand over the bottle of painkillers but instead doles out only the recommended dose, and even that paltry allowance is only given after Sherlock grudgingly swallows a piece of toast for breakfast.

When Sherlock complains that they’ve not had much of an effect, and that his head is still hurting, John just says, ‘Well, maybe if you hadn’t done all those recreational drugs when you were younger then you wouldn’t have such a high tolerance to painkillers now,’ with a lack of sympathy that’s frankly appalling in a medical professional.

He curls up on the sofa, still in his pyjamas and dressing gown, pointedly facing the back and presenting his rigid spine to the room. John mutters under his breath, but Sherlock is definitely not sulking, whatever John might think; he’s just trying to rest his eyes.

Sherlock stays like that until a series of bumps and grunts of exertion from John tug at his attention. He debates ignoring them, but curiosity is a powerful motivator and he eventually rolls over to see John deposit a large cardboard box in front of their fireplace.

‘Some stuff I put into storage before I left for Afghanistan,’ John explains, catching Sherlock watching him. ‘I shoved it under my bed when I moved in. I’ve been waiting for a quiet day to unpack it all, but it seems they’re a bit of a rare commodity around here.’

Sherlock continues to watch silently as John cuts through the tape and opens the lid, but when he pulls out several books and tries to slot them onto the bookshelf Sherlock says, ‘No, not there,’ and ‘I wouldn’t put them on that shelf, it’s loose,’ and ‘Please don’t touch that, it’s a first edition Poe,’ until John sets his books down in exasperation.

Usually an argument, or at least a heated discussion, would be forthcoming at this point and Sherlock has his explanation ready of how he has a precise order for things on that bookcase. However, John’s eyes flick to the square of bandage taped to Sherlock’s temple and he can visibly see John reining his temper in and telling himself that Sherlock is in pain and hence irritable. The man has the patience of a saint, and so when his only response to Sherlock’s pedantry is a mild, ‘Surely there must be somewhere I can put them,’ Sherlock is already getting up off the sofa and stepping over their coffee table.

‘I’ll do it,’ he offers. ‘I know which ones can be rearranged, and you must have other boxes you need to unpack.’

It’s an apology, of sorts. Sherlock is well aware that he can be trying at the best of times, and even more so today, and John looks surprised and then pleased.

‘Yes, thanks, that’d be great,’ he says, and disappears back upstairs, leaving Sherlock with the box of books.

It wasn’t an entirely altruistic offer. If anything can distract him from how out of sorts he feels, then a licence to poke around some of John’s personal effects will do it.

It’s the work of a few minutes to clear space on the bookcase. Some of those books are invaluable to him, both as sources of information and also as old friends who’ve travelled with him through various lodgings (some of them better than others) and he runs an affectionate fingertip along their spines as he gently encourages them to squeeze up and make space for the interlopers.

John’s books are an eclectic mix. John Le Carré. Travel books. 101 Drinking Games – fairly predictable, he’s read the note on John’s blog about his old rugby friends. Several medical textbooks, reassuringly well-thumbed. Towards the bottom of the box is a sheaf of papers, sandwiched between two large books to stop them getting creased, and Sherlock picks them up and scans through them.

A few newspaper clippings (reviews of various matches that Blackheath had played in), a copy of John’s birth certificate (Sherlock notes his mother’s maiden name and her date of birth for future password-cracking attempts) and, lastly, a sheaf of sketches on heavy paper that make Sherlock grin in delighted anticipation.

The first one is a pencil drawing of a much younger John coming off the field after a rugby match. A match that his team presumably won, because although he has a smear of mud on his cheek and bits of grass in his hair, he’s also looking triumphant. He’s looking at something over the artist’s shoulder and laughing, and Sherlock smiles faintly in response. The lines of the drawing are clear and sharp, and the detail is painstaking; it’s either been copied from a photo or drawn by someone who knew John very well indeed.

The next is also of John, but this time he’s curled on one end of a sofa, a pencil in one hand and an impressively thick book that looks like one of the medical tomes that Sherlock has just unpacked open in his lap.

The one beneath it makes Sherlock’s eyebrows lift slightly – John asleep in a bed by a window, with the covers pushed down around his hips and the sunlight falling in a stripe across his back. He’s lying on his front – one arm wedged under the pillow – and his face is turned away from the artist, but Sherlock knows that sun-warmed back, and has spent long minutes biting and sucking at those shoulders (so strange, to see both of them whole and unscarred) as he rocks inside John and feels him tremble and curse beneath him.

Sherlock bites his lip pensively. He was beginning to suspect John’s relationship to the unknown artist, and this sketch confirms it. The bed has been drawn very clearly and precisely but the lines of John are less sure, indicating that he’d moved around while the drawing was being done. Drawn from life, then, by someone John was sleeping with.

When Sherlock turns to the next sheet, arousal spikes warm and sudden in the pit of his stomach, even as he faintly notes that his deduction was correct.

It’s John again, but no longer sprawled placid and sleeping in a patch of sunlight. The rough lines seem to indicate that he’s in the same bed as in the previous sketch, but this time he’s flat on his back, and definitely awake. His legs are drawn up, feet braced flat on the mattress, with his knees splayed wide. One hand is gripping the pillow beneath his head (which is flung back, baring the line of his throat to Sherlock’s greedy gaze), and the other is between his legs, wrapped around his erection.

The lines of this drawing are much rougher and it has an unfinished look, but that doesn’t detract from it. On the contrary – as he looks at the figure he gets a strong impression of motion stilled, and he can almost hear John’s impatient pleading to hurry up and finish the sketch so that he can come with his lover in the bed with him.

Face flushed and heart pounding, Sherlock stares at it for a long time. He’s already mostly hard just from the sight of it, and from imagining how John would look and sound spread out in that position, getting himself off as Sherlock watches. The idea is so tempting that he nearly goes upstairs to see if he can persuade John to leave his unpacking for half an hour, but he makes himself carry on and almost immediately he’s glad he did.

Lying in the box, underneath the next book down, is a bundle of photos, and Sherlock scoops them up. Without exception, they’re all of John and another man, and from their proximity and physical cues they’re almost certainly boyfriends. The man is a tall, dark-haired, broad-shouldered giant; he towers head and shoulders above John, although John doesn’t look particularly bothered by this.

In all of the photos, Sherlock notices, John is grinning as though he’s ready for anything and hasn’t a care in the world, and the combination of his bright, unlined face and shaggy hair – shaggy brown hair, not yet lightened by the desert sun nor turned grey with stress – make him look impossibly young.

A few of the photos include other people too: Sherlock spots an unexpectedly skinny Mike Stamford among a group of blokes, most of them in matching rugby shirts, sitting around a long table in a pub, with John and his dark-haired boyfriend squeezed onto one end. The photo that Sherlock lingers longest over is of John and the other man sitting on a sofa. John is wearing a pair of frayed and ragged jeans that have seen much better days, a navy jumper that looks about three sizes too big for him (that doubtless belongs to the other man) and, from the state of his hair, he’s only just got out of bed. He’s clutching a mug of tea at a precarious angle, and is tucked up against his boyfriend’s side, snuggled under his arm. A sketchpad is balanced on the man’s knee, and with the hand that isn’t holding John close against him he’s flourishing a stick of charcoal combatively. They’re both laughing, and from the black smudge on the end of John’s nose it isn’t hard to guess what’s happening.

The thing that arrests Sherlock’s attention is how natural the position looks, as though this was something they did often, and how unguardedly happy John looks as he laughs.

Absorbed by his discoveries, Sherlock actually jumps when John touches his elbow.

‘Off inside that brain of yours again.’ John looks at him curiously. ‘Where were you? It’s not like you to let people sneak up on you.’

John doesn’t belong in the category of ‘people’ in any case, but before Sherlock can even begin to construct a coherent answer from his scattered thoughts, John’s eyes drop to the photos clutched in his hand and his expression changes.

‘Oh.’ He takes the photos from Sherlock’s unresisting hand. ‘God, I’d forgotten that Rob gave me these.’ He laughs a little. ‘Look at the state of my hair.’

Rob. So that was his name, that giant of a man who sat by John in the photographs and ducked his head shyly before the camera.

‘Didn’t think he was your type,’ John says, with a forced casualness that confuses Sherlock until he sees John’s eyes flicker down to where Sherlock’s thin pyjamas don’t do anything to hide the fact that he’s still half-hard.

‘Oh honestly,’ he huffs, rolling his eyes. ‘False modesty really doesn’t suit you. Or had you forgotten about these as well?’

From the way that John’s ears turn scarlet as Sherlock passes him the bundle of sketches, he had. The one of John touching himself is on the top, but John doesn’t hide it away or start stammering excuses, merely grins wryly and says, ‘Right, I see. Wow, I wasn’t bad-looking when I was younger.’

As John flicks through the other pages, Sherlock can only stare at him – this man with his compact, scarred body and sharp, kind mind who fascinates Sherlock more than anyone else he’s ever met – and think that he will never understand John.

‘So, this is the one you liked, is it?’

John pushes the sketch into Sherlock’s hands, and as he looks again as the hastily drawn figure he can only nod, feeling his cheeks start to burn.

‘Well then. I can’t just leave you standing around like that all day, can I?’

John palms Sherlock’s cock through his pyjamas, making his breath catch, before pushing him down to sit in the armchair and dropping to his knees in front of him. Sherlock lifts his hips in response to John’s insistent tugging, and when his pyjama bottoms have been pulled off he tries to put the drawing to one side.

John stops him. ‘No. I want you to keep hold of it.’

John wraps a hand around Sherlock’s cock, his erection returning with each thump of his heart against his ribs. The dry brush of skin on skin sends a tingle up Sherlock’s spine, and John lets him slide slowly through his fingers as he continues, ‘You know, he kept me like that for ages. It can’t have been all that long, really, but by God it felt like it.’ He mouths the head of Sherlock’s cock once, quickly, making Sherlock squirm. ‘He said he didn’t want me to come until he was fucking me.’

‘Oh fuck,’ Sherlock gasps, feeling his skin prickle and more heat pool between his legs.

John grins and takes Sherlock’s erection back into his mouth for one slow, luscious push in and out before pulling away again. He sticks two fingers in his mouth, sucking on them, and as Sherlock looks down the length of his torso he can see his own cock twitch and get harder as a heavy throb of lust jolts through him.

When John hitches Sherlock’s thighs over his shoulders and lowers his mouth, Sherlock lets his head fall back, waiting breathlessly for the touch of John’s mouth on his aching cock. But instead he feels a firm tap on the outside of his leg and lifts his head.

‘Hey, none of that,’ John says, eyes alight with mischief and his mouth just inches away from where Sherlock desperately wants it. ‘You have to look, either at me or that–’ he nods towards the sheet in Sherlock’s now slightly sweaty grasp, ‘whichever you want. But you have to look.’

With that, he lowers his mouth and Sherlock makes an incoherent noise, writhing against the smooth, warm leather of the chair cushions. He can’t thrust – with his legs over John’s shoulders he has no real leverage – so all he can do is dig the fingers of his free hand into the arm of the chair and watch John’s flushed mouth sliding along his rigid length, and when he can bear to tear his eyes away it’s to look at the picture of John: hand on his cock and knees spread wide, waiting for his lover to come to bed, hitch his legs up, and fuck him to orgasm.

He doesn’t last very long. When his toes curl and his thighs start shaking, he unpeels his fingers from their white-knuckled grip on the arm and pushes a warning hand through John’s hair, too far gone to speak, but John merely groans and slides a wet finger up inside him, crooking and pressing in exactly the right spot. He comes, writhing, John’s name getting tangled in his larynx to emerge as an incomprehensible noise, while John keeps sucking him but more gently now, easing him through it.

When he opens his eyes again, John has his flushed face pressed against Sherlock’s inner thigh, and from the motion of his left shoulder he’s opened his trousers and is pulling on his own erection.

‘Oh God,’ Sherlock breathes, dry-mouthed at the sight of John masturbating at his feet. ‘Here, let me…’

He sits up, legs sliding off John’s shoulders, and reaches for him. His mouth finds John’s just as his hand closes around John’s cock, stiff and blood-hot and already wet at the tip. John makes a strangled noise as he pulls him down off the armchair and onto the floor, where he proceeds to thrust frantically into Sherlock’s grip and come all over his thigh after just a couple of minutes.

Later, when they’ve regained their breath and their clothes, they sit propped against the armchair, bodies pressed warmly against each other as John looks through the rest of the sketches and photographs, and Sherlock looks at John. When John stops on the final photograph, of him and Rob crammed onto the sofa, Sherlock asks, ‘What was his full name?’

‘Robert Holden,’ John answers automatically, and then narrows his eyes at Sherlock.

It’s insultingly easy to see what he’s thinking, and Sherlock rolls his eyes and says, ‘No, I’m not going to track him down.’

Although perhaps just a background check.

‘He was doing an art degree, as you’ve probably guessed. I met him through one of the blokes on my old rugby team; he used to come along to watch the matches, liked trying to capture players in motion. Out of the pair of us, everyone always thought that he was the rugby player, not me.’

The distantly amused twist to John’s mouth tells Sherlock that this had been an oft-repeated correction, and he imagines a younger, more affable, less wary John standing next to his enormous boyfriend and explaining that no, actually, he was the one who enjoyed playing violent sports.

‘Why did you end it?’

‘Me?’ John comes back from whatever reverie he’d been in. ‘What makes you think I ended it? It was him.’

‘What?’ Sherlock resists the urge to shake his head like a dog with water in its ears, but all the same: No, that’s wrong, that doesn’t make sense.

‘He was the one who ended it, not me.’ John quirks his eyebrows at him in gentle amusement; it’s not often that he gets to correct Sherlock on something and Sherlock supposes that John wouldn’t be human if he didn’t enjoy it, just a bit. ‘I thought you’d have guessed that, what with the phone.’

The non sequitur, in addition to the unwelcome sensation of being wrong-footed, makes his brain start to hurt again and his fingers drift to touch the bandage on his temple. ‘What phone? What on earth are you talking about?’

‘You know, my phone. How you worked out that it was Harry who left Clara. “If she’d left him then he’d have kept it. People do; sentiment.” ’

John quotes his own words back at him, and Sherlock frowns in denial, even as the ruthlessly logical part of him points out that yes, he really should have known that and would have, had he not been too distracted by his emotions and failure to imagine that anyone could be in a relationship with John Watson and decide that they didn’t want to keep him. Though it’s really just more proof for the theory he’s lived his life by, that people are stupid.

‘Why?’ he asks, and John shrugs, his expression gone distant again.

‘It was when I said I was joining up. He said he couldn’t stand being at home, waking up every morning and wondering whether this was the day he’d get the phone call saying that I wasn’t coming back.’ John gives a short, self-deprecating laugh that sets Sherlock’s teeth on edge. ‘Can’t blame him, really.’

He was an idiot, Sherlock thinks, but aloud he asks, ‘How long were you together?’

He’s expecting (hoping, a small voice in his head corrects) to hear that it was just a casual affair of a month or so, and so when John looks thoughtfully at the ceiling and says, ‘Mmm… I suppose it would have been about a year,’ he’s thrown off balance again, for what feels like the umpteenth time this morning.

‘What?’ John asks, catching sight of his expression, which must be slightly aghast, and immediately growing defensive. ‘Look, I did tell you I was bisexual. That doesn’t mean sleeping with both sexes but only having a relationship with one, you know.’

‘No, of course not,’ Sherlock says helplessly, and John seems to relax slightly. He looks at the sketches and photos in his hands one last time before shrugging philosophically and dropping them back into the box.

‘Ah well. Water under the bridge, and all that.’ He gets up, and extends a hand to pull Sherlock to his feet before walking through into the kitchen. ‘I’m making lunch, and you’re having some,’ he says, raising his voice. ‘So what do you fancy?’

‘Anything’s fine,’ Sherlock calls back, too preoccupied by the whirl of his thoughts for the question to really register.

His hand is warm from John’s strong grip, and when he moves he can feel that his penis is still slightly damp from John’s mouth. His legs are a bit unsteady from the backwash of oxytocin and endorphins, and he sinks down to sit in his armchair again, leaning down to fish out the photo of John and Rob and stare thoughtfully at it.

One year. A whole year, before the man left John for wanting to make a difference. God, he was a fool. Sherlock stands up, refusing to accept protests from his thighs, and flings the photo back into the bottom of the box. He picks up more of John’s books and starts tucking them into the spaces he’s created on the bookcase, ignoring the train of thought that tells him, If it had been you, you wouldn’t even have let him sign up.

It’s true, but he can cope with realisations about himself. Realisations about John are harder; it’s slightly insulting to find that it’s not Sherlock’s gender that’s precluding the possibility of a relationship with John, and if it’s not his gender, then it must be his personality. He grumbles to himself as he works. He knows he can be difficult to live with, but he’s also clearly far more interesting than Rob ever could have been.

----------

Sherlock hates – really, passionately hates – that his first remotely serious relationship was with Sebastian.

It’s in his final year at uni, and while Seb isn’t the first person Sherlock has slept with, he’s the first one that Sherlock has vaguely considered as something more than just a quick tumble. Sebastian listens to him when he talks and laughs when Sherlock is scathing about people, and Sherlock has started to think tentatively of what Mummy would think of him if Sherlock brought him home. And, after graduation, perhaps a shared flat somewhere in London, while Seb steps into the bank job that a cousin of his is creating for him, and Sherlock tries to find an occupation that doesn’t bore him to tears.

But his castles in the air come crashing down one afternoon in May, when he’s walking through a shaded archway and spots Sebastian talking with Tom, a drinking friend Sherlock has never particularly liked.

‘What’s this about you and Sherlock?’ Tom drawls, sounding highly amused. ‘Jonathon said you two are actually moving in together after graduation. Christ, you’re not serious, are you?’

Sebastian laughs, and Sherlock instinctively shrinks back into the shadows. His heart is pounding uncomfortably fast, and he suspects that he won’t like what he’s about to hear.

‘Good Lord, no. Can you imagine it? Trying to take him to networking evenings at the bank?’

They both laugh, and the other man reproaches him, sounding more entertained than disapproving, ‘Well you’ll have to actually tell him, Seb. Or were you just planning to email him after we’ve left and tell him it’s all off?’

‘Oh, I know, I’ll get round to it,’ Sebastian says, as though he’s talking of an unpleasant chore. ‘But it’s just so nice having someone on hand to shag on a regular basis. Have I told you that he can do the most amazing trick with his tongue?’

Face burning, Sherlock doesn’t wait to hear what Tom says when he’s stopped laughing. He stumbles back to his room, walking blindly and feeling as though he’s just been hollowed out. He leaves uni that very evening, returning only briefly to sit his finals, and never sees or talks about Seb again until that email.

----------

In the end it isn’t Moriarty, or any of the other crazed villains they encounter on an almost-weekly basis, who manages to get to them. It’s a nothing but a common mugger.

They’re walking home after a decent dinner, John choosing simple food over rich, arguing that Sherlock’s system would thank him for it . It doesn’t even occur to Sherlock to worry about the fact that they’re in one of London’s more dubious areas. After all, they’ve dealt with serial killers and mad bombers; what could possibly happen to them?

(Later, he will wonder whether his presence was to blame. John – small, unassuming, camouflaged so well in his jeans and jumpers – probably would have passed unnoticed. However, Sherlock – striding along in his obviously designer coat, Blackberry in hand – stuck out like a sore thumb.)

He doesn’t look up when a figure looms out of the shadows, doesn’t even look up at the rough, ‘Oi!’ It’s only when John says, ‘Sherlock,’ his voice taut and thrumming, that he raises his gaze from the Blackberry screen.

The man barring their path is small and wiry, dressed in the generic jeans and hooded sweatshirt that most of the young population of London seem to sport these days. Physically, he’s barely a match for one of them, let alone both, and Sherlock smirks as he says, ‘This really isn’t your lucky night.’

‘Wallets and phones,’ the man says.

He doesn’t seem to be much more than a boy, still gangly and uncoordinated, and Sherlock rolls his eyes. ‘Yes, because of course we’re just going to hand them straight over to a skinny little–’

Sherlock.’ John cuts him off as the man’s hands fist where they’re shoved into the front pocket of his sweatshirt, giving Sherlock a brief, irritated look before returning his attention to their would-be mugger. ‘Look, just calm down and let’s talk about this.’

‘Don’t wanna talk about nuffin’,’ the man growls, his gaze shifting between them.

Anything, possibly.’

‘What?’

‘You don’t want,’ Sherlock presses his tongue up behind his teeth, emphasising the alveolar consonant, ‘to talk about anything. Not wanting to talk about nothing would imply–’

Sherlock!’ snaps John. ‘Listen, mate…’

The next few seconds are a blur. John steps forward, one hand held out in a pacifying gesture and oh, that’s a mistake, because the man lunges for John, bringing a fist out of his sweatshirt pocket and slamming it into his stomach. John doubles over with a gasp, and the man takes off like a greyhound, making Sherlock snarl, ‘You little shit,’ as he starts after him.

He doesn’t get very far.

A gleam of light shows up a metallic glint in the hand of the fleeing figure, and Sherlock feels a prickle of worry on the back of his neck. And then John says his name in an unsteady voice that doesn’t sound like him at all, making Sherlock turn and see that John isn’t straightening up and calling to him to wait so that they can give chase together. John is still doubled over, one hand pressed against his stomach, with a distant, preoccupied look on his face. All his attention is turned inwards to his own body, and Sherlock knows instantly that something is wrong.

He’s at John’s side in a moment, reaching him just as John lifts his hand and stares in disbelief at the red smeared across his palm.

‘Oh, shit,’ John breathes, just before his knees buckle.

Sherlock catches him, supports him on the way down to the ground, and pulls open his jacket. There’s a dark patch surrounding a tear in John’s jumper, about the size of his palm but spreading even as he watches. He pushes John’s shirt and jumper out of the way impatiently, needing to see the damage, and yes, there it is: a small gash, from which blood is welling in a steady trickle.

‘He had a knife,’ John says, faint but steady.

‘Yes, thank you,’ Sherlock snaps. ‘Please do refrain from commenting if you can’t find anything useful to contribute.’

‘Press on it,’ John says, flattening his hand over it as though that will do the slightest bit of good. ‘Take my jacket, you need to bunch something up to hold against it–’

‘Shut up,’ Sherlock says. ‘You’re going to go into shock, the last thing you should do is take off any clothes.’

His fingers have been flying over the buttons of his coat and suit jacket since he saw the crimson trickle running down John’s side, and now he tugs his shirt off over his head and wads it against John’s skin, noticing how quickly the white fabric starts to turn red.

He reaches into John’s jacket pocket for his phone, dials 999 and tersely gives their location. Then he hangs up and leans harder against the bunched-up fabric, trying to force John’s blood to stay inside his body through sheer force of will. John hisses between gritted teeth but doesn’t tell him to ease up.

‘Do you know what it hit?’ Sherlock demands, already thinking could be punctured spleen… or ruptured intestines, peritonitis is very difficult to recover from… ‘John! Talk to me. Where did it go?’

‘Sorry, Sherlock, I can’t tell, I’m not that good a doctor. It just… hurts.’ John tries to grin at him and oh God, that’s all wrong. John is the one lying there with his lifeblood trickling out onto the grimy cobblestones; he shouldn’t be the one offering reassurance as well.

‘They’ll be here soon,’ Sherlock says, lifting an already bloody hand to tuck his fingers under the curve of John’s jaw. His pulse is strong against Sherlock’s fingertips, but his skin feels cool. Even though Sherlock knows that that’s a normal reaction – body going into shock, diverting blood away from skin to other, more essential organs – it still makes him lean down and press a brief kiss to John’s forehead.

‘You’re going to be fine. They’ll be here soon.’ God, what an utterly useless platitude. Of course they’re going to be here soon, they’re hardly going to stop for a bloody coffee on the way, and Sherlock refuses to let himself wonder whether it’ll be soon enough. It has to be.

‘Of course I will.’ John’s voice is almost steady, and he puts a hand over both of Sherlock’s where they’re pressed against the warm, sodden shirt. ‘Few stitches, probably a transfusion too, and some antibiotics. I’ll be right as rain.’

‘I should have seen that he had a knife.’

Sherlock’s insides are churning, and the dinner they’ve just had is threatening to make an imminent reappearance but he grits his teeth and tells his rebellious stomach that now is not the time. Instead he draws a deep breath, and then his gorge rises again when he realises that the air around them is thick with the smell of blood. That’s wrong, that’s the smell of crime scenes and operating theatres and occasionally their kitchen in Baker Street, but never of John. John smells of tea and wool and himself – warm, good things – not like copper and death.

‘I’m sorry,’ Sherlock says. He’s calm, because the situation demands that he be calm and competent and efficient. But he’s aware that there’s a small part of him that’s raging No! Not John! Not this, anything but this!

John raises a hand to touch Sherlock’s face, and Sherlock snarls at him. ‘Lie still, you idiot. You’re going to increase the blood flow.’

John does so, one corner of his mouth turning up. Probably at being called an idiot while he’s bleeding profusely; Sherlock has never been able to understand the way John’s mind works.

‘You’re going to be fine.’ Christ, he sounds like a trained parrot, but the simple fact of the matter is that John has to be fine, because now that Sherlock knows him he can’t imagine a life without him.

‘Listen,’ John murmurs and Sherlock leans forward obediently, thinking that John is about to divulge a secret, before he too hears what John did – ambulance sirens, and drawing closer with wonderful speed.

The next instant John sighs deeply and his eyes slide shut.

‘No!’ Sherlock presses harder on the wound, now deliberately trying to hurt. Anything that will keep John awake until the paramedics get here. How much blood has he lost already? The average human body only contains eight pints, and looking at what’s soaked into his shirt and puddled on the ground, that has to be at least–

‘Don’t you dare pass out, they’re nearly here and you’re going to be fine.’ On impulse, he leans down and presses a kiss to John’s lax mouth. ‘You have to be fine; I love you.’

Now John’s eyes snap open and he stares up at Sherlock. Shock has smoothed the lines from John’s face and he looks very young, like the John in those photographs that Sherlock found. He sounds very faint as he asks, ‘What?’ but at least he’s looking at Sherlock, his eyes focussed and aware, and Sherlock repeats, ‘I love you. So please be okay.’

This is wrong, this is all wrong. He’d never intended to say that aloud, and certainly not when he had John’s blood smeared halfway up to his elbows. Telling someone you love him for the first time should be a pleasant occasion, possibly even a romantic one, or so he’s been led to believe. Hands slippery-sticky with the gore that’s leaking out of the beloved should not be part of the moment.

The sirens have been getting steadily louder and now they stop abruptly. There’s the slam of doors and the shouts of the crew from the mouth of the alley and then, finally, help is here.

Sherlock relinquishes John into their hands, albeit reluctantly, and manages to ride in the ambulance with him by very sincerely promising that all hell will break loose if he can’t. When they ask him what his relationship with John is, Sherlock snarls, ‘I’m his boyfriend,’ and they let him pass.

He only said it so that they would give him access and stop questioning him, although they were well within their rights to check. He’s bare-chested and daubed liberally with blood and must look terrifying – but as they pull away and he catches John looking at him, he realises that, in fact, precisely the opposite might now be true.

For months this thing between them has been casual and undefined and now, with those three words blurted out incautiously, things might be over. This might be the point where John discovers that this is more than what he signed on for.

But that will be fine. Sherlock will make it fine, somehow. As long as John survives this, Sherlock won’t ask for any more than just his presence.

At the hospital, John is whisked away. Sherlock follows him as far as he can, before the doors to surgery swing shut in his face and he has to stop.

He doesn’t know how long he stands there, staring through the glass pane at the trolley receding down the corridor, but after a while there’s a touch on his elbow and he turns to see a nurse, who asks solicitously if she can help him. He doesn’t reply, because behind her he sees a familiar face, crumpled with worry.

‘Jesus Christ, Sherlock,’ Lestrade says.

Belatedly, Sherlock realises that he’s still shirtless, his suit jacket and coat bundled into his arms by the ambulance crew, and that his face and torso still have rusty smudges and smears from where he’d scratched unthinkingly at the dried blood. He remembers John’s sticky hand cradling his face and has to swallow hard.

‘I got a call from some bloke who said he was your brother,’ Lestrade says, nudging him towards a nearby chair. ‘He told me what happened. I came as soon as I could.’

‘Not much point in making a statement, although I appreciate the punctuality,’ Sherlock says, placing his coat on the chair next to him and pulling his jacket around his shoulders. It’s ruined now, with bloody handprints all over it, but he doesn’t care. ‘The man was just one of the scum of London, and any evidence that was in the alley will now be well and truly gone since the ambulance crew walked all over it.’

Something complicated passes across Lestrade’s face, and he says, a bit roughly, ‘I’m not here for your statement, Sherlock. I came because I thought you might need… well… you know.’

That makes a hot, prickling feeling start in the corners of his eyes and his throat closes up briefly before he snarls, ‘I don’t need your pity, Lestrade.’

‘Fine,’ Lestrade says, rolling his eyes and sounding more like his usual self. ‘Then let’s just pretend that I’m here because I get a perverse thrill out of hanging around in hospital waiting rooms.’

Lestrade’s tone is heavy with irony but that’s okay, that’s better than the warm, compassionate voice that was making Sherlock’s chest feel as though it was caving in on itself.

‘Come on.’ Lestrade tugs him to his feet and pulls the jacket off his shoulders. ‘You need to clean yourself up. John will want to see you when he comes out of surgery, and if you walk in looking like that you’re going to give him a heart attack.’ He herds Sherlock over to the nearest toilets and nudges him through the door. ‘Go and clean yourself up in the sink.’

Sherlock does so, appreciating the comforting lie that John is going to be fine, that he will wake up from surgery. Of course it’s not certain – he’s very well aware of all the complications possible, even probable, with abdominal stab wounds. He’s never once regretted his carefully accumulated medical knowledge, but he thinks that he might just be close to it at the moment.

When he gets out Lestrade hands him a shirt (his own, Sherlock notes vaguely, feeling its warmth and recognising the scent of cologne that clings to it) and drags him up to the waiting area of the intensive care unit, where they’ll be taking John once he’s out of surgery.

He hates the waiting area, hates it passionately. The colour of the walls that’s supposed to be soothing, the magazines scattered on the tables – as though anyone here is remotely interested in reading about who’s sleeping with whom – and even the smell of the air, disinfectant and worry and desperation. All he can think about is John, lying two floors below while surgeons slice into his warm, living flesh, that a place where Sherlock’s lips have rested is being cut open. He thinks about the attacker’s knife, about all the thin, delicate tissues folded secretly away inside the human abdomen and of the damage a rough thrust from a dirty knife blade can do.

He rubs his hands vigorously through his hair, trying to force himself to concentrate on something else, anything else, and after a short while Lestrade starts talking aimlessly about the cases he’s currently working on. It’s not very helpful, but it’s still better than the images forcing themselves into his mind.

When a doctor approaches them to ask if they’re here for John Watson, Sherlock waits only long enough to ascertain that John is going to be fine before he’s brushing past her, leaving Lestrade to make apologies and explanations.

John is still unconscious when Sherlock enters his room, hooked up to drips of saline and blood and drugs, and Sherlock quietly drags a chair over to the side of his bed. He picks up the hand that isn’t hooked up to the drips and very gently folds both of his own around it, noting that the fingernails on all three hands are crusted with John’s blood. His own wash in the toilets was perfunctory at best, and they’ve only given John the briefest of clean-ups before leaving him alone, not wanting to jostle his body too much until it’s begun to repair the damage.

The pulse at John’s wrist is steady and strong beneath Sherlock’s fingers, and he lets his head droop down to rest on the mattress by John’s legs and dozes off somewhere between one beat and the next.

He wakes to the feeling of fingers in his hair, and when he looks up John’s eyes are open and he’s blinking sleepily at Sherlock.

----------

The first time Sherlock makes a friend, it’s entirely accidental. He’s walking through the main court of the college, nose in a book as usual, when a sharp pain in his ankle makes him trip and cry out. A small terrier has latched onto his leg, teeth digging in with surprising force for such a small dog, and when he tries to kick it off it only grips more tightly.

As Sherlock clenches his jaw against the pain, he hears a shout and a young man runs up and grabs the scruff of the dog’s neck. He’s clearly the dog’s owner, as evinced by the short hairs on his clothes and also the way he’s alternately scolding his pet and apologising profusely to Sherlock.

Sherlock, however, is in no mood to hear apologies, and merely snarls, ‘Why the fuck isn’t that animal on a lead?’

His sock is already warm and sticky, and he pushes it down to find that, as suspected, the dog’s teeth have broken the skin and he’s bleeding. An unsteady noise makes him look up in time to see the young man sink to his knees, white as a sheet, one hand rubbing his forehead and shielding his eyes.

‘I’m so sorry,’ he mutters, sounding wretched. ‘I’m afraid I’m not very good with the sight of blood.’

‘Oh for God’s sake,’ Sherlock growls in disdain and struggles to his feet, limping over to the Porter’s Lodge to request a taxi to the nearest A&E.

The following day the young man comes to visit Sherlock in his room. His name is Victor Trevor, he’s on the college fencing team, and he’s deeply mortified by both his dog’s behaviour and by his own utter uselessness when confronted by the sight of blood. He brings Sherlock a new hardback that’s been at the top of the crime bestseller lists for weeks and looks so apologetic and dejected that Sherlock doesn’t have the heart to tell him that he’s already read the book and worked out who the killer was before chapter six.

After Victor has left Sherlock thinks that that will be the end of it, but to his surprise Victor stops by most days, even after Sherlock has recovered. His visits get gradually longer, and eventually progress to meals out, and to Victor tracking down the chemistry labs and dragging Sherlock away from his experiments when he’s been studying too long. It’s a novelty, but Sherlock finds that being dragged away from his work every now and then doesn’t bother him. In fact, it’s quite nice, and he even starts to look forward to it.

In later years, Sherlock will look at John – feeding him, listening to him, scolding him for working too long without a break – and think to himself that he and Victor would have got along rather well.

----------

For the next several weeks, Sherlock hacks into Mycroft’s surveillance network and takes care never to be alone with John, only visiting when he knows that someone else will be there too, be it Lestrade, Mrs Hudson, or even Sally. She visited once, to bring grapes and a book on model trains that inexplicably made John laugh briefly and then clutch his side as the movement pulled at his stitches. Nonetheless, Sherlock’s estimation of her went up a fraction; it was the first time John had laughed since he’d woken up.

He was there when Harry visited, teary-eyed and emotional at the sight of her baby brother in a hospital bed – never mind that said baby brother had once invaded Afghanistan – and left when she did, seeing out of the corner of his eye John flex the hand that Harry had clutched too tightly.

Throughout all of these evasive manoeuvres, he can feel John’s gaze on him like a physical weight. It’s perfectly clear that he remembers what Sherlock said while they were waiting for the ambulance, but he’s much too reserved to discuss his private life in front of a third person. It’s what Sherlock has been counting on, and so he can visit and reassure himself of John’s progress without the risk of having to discuss anything. And yet every time their eyes meet, John’s look silently promises that he hasn’t forgotten about it. It’s just what Sherlock was afraid of – he knows that people occasionally don’t remember deeds done and words spoken in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, but he should have known better than to hope for that with John.

Sherlock already has an idea of what John will want to say, once Sherlock doesn’t have the buffer of a third person’s presence: that he’s flattered, but didn’t realise that they were having that sort of relationship. John has trust issues, and he’s had relationships with men before but has never indicated that he wants more with Sherlock than the semi-regular sex that they have already. He’ll doubtless feel bad about letting Sherlock down, as John is a very compassionate man, but he’ll do it anyway, because he’s also an unflinchingly honest one. So perhaps it’s kinder, really, to delay that conversation until John is recovered and feels up to the strain of such an awkward discussion.

One afternoon Sherlock arrives at the hospital for visiting hours and bounds jauntily up the stairs. It’s been a couple of days since anyone has had time to visit and, therefore, since Sherlock has been able to visit. Mrs Hudson mentioned that morning that she was going to pop down, and so he gets a shock when he strides into John’s room to find an absence of landlady and John arguing instead with a young doctor.

‘Sherlock,’ John’s face lights up when he sees him. ‘At last. Help me out here – I’m just telling Dr Perry that it’s fine for him to let me go home. This man is my flatmate,’ John says, turning back to the junior doctor and pointing at Sherlock. ‘He’ll be able to keep an eye on me.’

‘No,’ Sherlock says, in response to Dr Perry’s questioning look. ‘Out of the question, I’m afraid. I’m a–’ he barely hesitates, fishing his Blackberry out of his pocket and flourishing it with a dazzling smile as he continues, ‘barrister. Have to work terribly long hours; John here would be left entirely to fend for himself.’

‘Sherlock!’ John hisses between his teeth, but Sherlock carries on as more inspiration strikes.

‘Not to mention that John’s always had the most terrible tendency to pick at things. Scabs, stitches, labels on beer bottles… you name it. It’s an awful habit; I keep telling him that, what with all of the mess in our flat, he’s going to give himself an infection one of these days.’

John has been glaring daggers at him throughout this, but now he recovers himself enough to protest, ‘That’s complete rubbish. And anyway, barrister, what are you doing out of the office at three in the afternoon?’

‘Visiting a colleague,’ Sherlock says, face as innocent as the driven snow. ‘Heart attack from stress, poor man. I just came to tell him that I’m taking on his caseload, and he’s not to worry about a thing.’

‘That’s very good-hearted of you,’ the young doctor smiles at him, clearly won over by Sherlock’s compassionate barrister persona, and Sherlock can see his internal debate over whether he should invite Sherlock for a coffee after his shift. John sees it too, and his eyes narrow in a way that makes Sherlock’s stomach flutter happily, but his expression snaps back to neutrality as Dr Perry turns back to him. ‘As for you, Mr Watson, I’m sorry but I think that we’d best keep you in for just a few more days. Better safe than sorry.’

He smiles at them both, his gaze lingering on Sherlock, as he makes a few notes on John’s chart. John smiles back, a tight-lipped expression that looks more like he’s struggling not to bare his teeth, and when man has left he growls, ‘Doctor Watson, actually,’ before shifting his attention to Sherlock and saying, ‘I hope you’re bloody happy.’

‘Well, with our flat you can’t be too careful.’

‘At least pass me my sodding chart, since you’ve just sentenced me to another week in here.’

Sherlock does so in silence, and John’s scowl deepens as he skims through his notes.

‘Christ, he really should have sent me home,’ he grumbles. ‘I’m a grown man, and with my history… He could have freed up this bed and let someone else have it.’

The chart is tossed aside with a sigh, and then John fixes Sherlock with a speculative look.

‘So, since it’s just the two of us…’

‘Actually, I can’t stay,’ Sherlock cuts in. ‘I left an experiment on the kitchen table, I really ought to go and see how it’s doing.’

John looks mildly exasperated. ‘How long are you going to keep avoiding me? It’ll be harder when I’m back at home, you know. We’d do better to talk before then.’

‘Nothing to talk about, not sure what you mean,’ Sherlock says hurriedly, backing towards the door. He glances into the corridor, and sees Mrs Hudson at the other end of it, chatting with the girls on the ward reception. She’s brought them a tin of biscuits. ‘Anyway, Mrs Hudson is here now, so I’ll just be going.’

John’s face seems to crumple a little, making Sherlock’s heart do the same, before he leans back resignedly, looks out of the window, and mutters, ‘All right then. Off you go.’

Thus dismissed, Sherlock walks down the corridor, feeling oddly upset. He’s got what he wanted: a few more days of John away from Baker Street and under the care of the team of nursing staff who, he has no doubt, are all doting on him. Not to mention The Conversation neatly avoided.

So it makes no sense that he should feel as though he’s left something behind in John’s room, or that he has to fight the urge to go back to retrieve it. He tells himself that it’s just low blood sugar, and makes a note to stop and buy biscuits on the way home. Some of the chocolate ones that John likes.

The following afternoon Sherlock is lying on the sofa, staring at the ceiling and fiercely not thinking about anything at all. He’s certainly not thinking about how dreadfully silent the flat is without John in it (it’s strange how just one person, and not a very big or loud person at that, can fill up a whole room with his presence), and he’s absolutely, definitely not thinking about John lying in his hospital bed yesterday, tired and unhappy at the thought of another week in hospital before he’s allowed to leave.

He hears the front door open and shut downstairs. It must be a visitor for Mrs Hudson but she’s making an awful lot of noise and fuss over them, so it must be an unexpected visitor. The squawking and exclamations are such that he scowls and gets up to wrench open the door, preparing to complain about the racket, but then he hears a voice, very familiar and very dear.

He descends the stairs two at a time, knowing that John has told him countless times what a reckless habit it is and, sure enough, when he reaches the bottom John is glaring at him and saying, ‘Sherlock, if you trip and break an ankle doing that then I’ll bloody well kill you. We can’t both be laid up at the same time.’

Sherlock ignores this. John looks decades older than he really is, clearly worn out by the short taxi ride home. ‘What are you doing here? Your doctors can’t have let you out already, not unless they’re even more spectacularly incompetent than I thought.’

‘They weren’t incompetent, they were very good. And very patient. I’ve heard all about your interrogations of them, and I’m amazed they didn’t ban you.’ John is leaning on a cane – a hideous thing of grey plastic and aluminium that Sherlock instantly detests – and he shifts his weight before he continues. ‘They let me go, although it was reluctantly, and only because I’m a doctor. Even then I had to swear on my life that there was someone at home who’d look after me.’

‘Well there isn’t.’

‘Sherlock!’ Mrs Hudson scolds.

He ignores her, his gaze fixed on John. ‘You oughtn’t to be up and about; you need to go straight back to hospital and tell them they’ve made a mistake.’

He reaches for John’s arm, intending to guide him back out of the door and wondering whether the taxi in which John obviously arrived has had time to pull away. But John twitches his arm away and firmly says, ‘No. There’s no reason for me to still be in hospital. All I need is rest and to continue the course of antibiotics.’ He holds up an impressively large paper bag and shifts his weight again. ‘And now I’d really like to sit down. I’m shattered.’

The lines on his face are deep with strain and exhaustion, and Sherlock watches them tighten as John slowly climbs the first stair. His lips compress as he does so, and Sherlock is moving almost before he’s aware of it.

‘Sherlock,’ John says warningly, as Sherlock slides one arm around his ribs and stoops to tuck the other against the back of his knees. ‘Don’t even think about–’

The rest of his words are lost in a gasp as Sherlock straightens, picking John up as his cane clatters to the ground and Mrs Hudson says, ‘Oh, boys,’ sounding both affectionate and amused. Without looking at her, Sherlock starts up the stairs as John protests, ‘Sherlock! Put me down right this bloody minute.’

Of course he’s not going to do any such thing and he doesn’t waste the breath it would take to reply, but when John starts to squirm halfway up the flight of stairs he stops and tightens his arms.

Don’t,’ he bites out. ‘Whatever you do, don’t wriggle. You’ll throw me off-balance and then we’ll really be in trouble.’

Thankfully John subsides, although he mutters, ‘Bastard,’ under his breath.

‘It’s a good thing you lost all that weight in hospital,’ Sherlock says, all his attention on where he’s putting his feet and not on whether this is a tactful thing to say. ‘If you’d been your usual weight then I don’t know if I could have managed it. Not that you could really help losing weight, given the disgusting slop they fed you.’

‘This from the man who never cooks,’ John retorts. ‘Anyway, it’s hospital food. Whenever you’re catering for a large number of people then it’s never going to be– Hey! Watch it.’

One of John’s feet has clipped the edge of the doorframe on their way into their flat. It’s almost impossible to manoeuvre two fully-grown men through the doorway without incident, and Sherlock was too focussed on not bumping John’s head or pressing against the bandage covering his stitches.

Once inside he sets John down on the sofa. Part of his brain points out how lovely it is to see John there, half-sitting, half-lying in the warm hollow made by Sherlock’s own body just a short time before, but he squashes that thought viciously. Instead he darts back downstairs to get John’s cane and the plastic bag containing the few things he had with him in hospital. He doesn’t even have a change of clothes – the ones he’s wearing are the same bloodied ones he’d had on that evening, save for a cheap shirt that the hospital must have given him. He picks up the carrier bag from where John had put it on the ground when he greeted Mrs Hudson, noting the book and various get-well cards inside it, and takes it up to the flat.

When he re-enters it, John has managed to work himself up to a sitting position on the couch. Very unwise; given the location of his stitches he should really be moving as little as possible.

‘Here’s your book,’ Sherlock says, placing the bag on the coffee table within easy reach.

‘Thanks,’ John says. He seems to be debating with himself and then adds, with the air of someone making a big concession, ‘And thanks for the help with the stairs. Although next time I think I’d really prefer it if you didn’t pick me up.’ He picks at a thread on his sleeve before clasping his hands firmly in his lap. ‘Now. Just listen for a minute–’

‘Sorry about the mess,’ Sherlock interrupts. He’s been unable to focus lately and has been hopping from one experiment to the other in endless attempts to distract himself, none of which worked. Only now does he realise that their flat, always messy even at the best of times, is an explosion of documents and random artefacts. He tries to clear a space in the debris, cramming a fencing glove and a selection of corkscrews into a drawer and depositing his correspondence on the mantelpiece, using the pocket knife to pin it in place with a satisfying thwack.

‘Never mind the mess.’ John raises his voice over the sounds of Sherlock’s haphazard tidying. ‘I was just wondering… that night when we…’

‘Tea,’ Sherlock says, desperate to shut John up.

‘Excuse me?’

‘You’ll want tea. You usually put the kettle on as soon as you return home from a prolonged period away, and also when you want something comforting, which gets you on both counts right now.’

‘Yes, tea would be lovely, thanks. But–’

Sherlock is already in the kitchen, banging cupboards open and clattering around in the drawers in a search for clean cutlery. It’s with a definite feeling of relief that he finds that there’s no milk in the fridge – of course there isn’t, John always buys the milk except when Sherlock is trying to appease him for some transgression – and he strides back into the front room, shrugging into his coat as he speaks.

‘We’ve no milk left, I just need to pop out for a minute.’

‘Sherlock–’

‘And soup, you ought to eat soup, is there any particular type you prefer? No, actually, don’t worry. I’ll just get one of everything and whatever you don’t eat I can use for experiments.’

He can hear the words tumbling and spilling from him, trying to fill the space between them so that there’ll be no room left for the ones that John keeps trying to get out.

‘Sherlock.’ John repeats his name, still so patient. ‘While any other time I’d be bloody ecstatic for you to do the shopping, please just stop it. Come here.’

John’s words don’t have any effect but then he starts struggling to get up, wincing and pressing a palm over the bandage that Sherlock knows is under his shirt, and straight away Sherlock crosses the room and plants a hand on John’s chest, pushing him back down.

‘Stop. Just… wait a minute.’ John’s voice is gentle but his hand is firm where it covers Sherlock’s and holds it tight against his chest, preventing escape. ‘I just want to ask you something. What you said, while we were waiting for the ambulance… did you mean it?’

Now that the moment he’s been dreading has arrived, Sherlock feels more nauseous than he has since he went through cocaine withdrawal several years ago. His hands are freezing and he’s wondering whether he’ll have time to make it upstairs to the toilet or if he’ll have to settle for the kitchen sink if the vague, hovering queasiness decides to manifest itself. God knows it wouldn’t be the worst thing that the kitchen sink has contained.

‘It’s not a trick question.’ John squeezes his fingers with hands that must be equally chilly, because his fingers don’t feel as warm as they usually do. He gives Sherlock’s hand a little shake. ‘There’s no right or wrong answer. I just want to know.’

Wrong, Sherlock thinks, watching a small frown gathering on John’s face. There’s always a right or wrong answer, especially when you’re the one asking the question.

He’s ready to dismiss it with a laugh and an explanation of wanting to keep John conscious long enough for the ambulance to arrive, and saying the most shocking thing he could think of. But John’s hand tightens on his, and the crease between John’s eyebrows deepens as he says, ‘Truthfully, now. Just… did you mean it?’

And so Sherlock nods, feeling light-headed. ‘Yes. Yes, I think I did.’

He’s aware that he sounds awful, voice oddly hoarse, and clearly he looks even worse, because John is tugging at his hand and saying, ‘Bloody hell, sit down before you fall down, will you? You look like you’re about to collapse. I didn’t realise I was that terrifying.’

Sherlock sits on the floor, the folds of his coat puddling out around him. John is still clutching his hand and Sherlock finds that his own fingers are gripping equally hard.

‘I’m sorry,’ he says. ‘I didn’t mean to say it. Let’s just pretend I didn’t. We can delete it, and carry on as before.’

John shakes his head. ‘I’ve told you before, the rest of us aren’t so talented.’

‘Well, what then?’ John’s face is sombre, and Sherlock feels unfamiliar panic welling up inside him. ‘I don’t want to lose this; just tell me what you want and we can do it. If you don’t want to forget it, then what?’

Now John’s face softens, and he brings their joined hands up to press a kiss to the back of Sherlock’s knuckles. ‘I want to love you back.’

The words are so quiet and softly spoken that it takes a few moments for their meaning to filter through, and when it does Sherlock blinks. He’d been expecting a regretful explanation of why it would be best to just let this thing between them die. ‘What?’

‘You heard me.’

It feels as though his world has been turned upside-down; Sherlock honestly doesn’t understand how he could have failed to see this coming, and he stares at their clasped hands in bewilderment.

John gives his hand another tiny shake, and comments dryly, ‘You’re allowed to look happy about it.’

Sherlock lifts his eyes to meet John’s gaze. John looks exhausted, and fond, and just a little bit amused at what Sherlock can only imagine is his own pole-axed expression, and Sherlock blurts out the first thing that comes into his head. ‘You never said.’

John quirks his eyebrows at him. ‘Neither did you. And anyway, you said you were married to your work; I thought we were doing what you wanted.’

‘No. No, I just wanted…’

‘What?’ John nudges gently, when his voice dies away.

‘You,’ Sherlock finishes simply, and John makes a soft noise in his throat.

Pulling gently at Sherlock’s hand, he murmurs, ‘I think you need to kiss me now,’ and Sherlock quickly kneels up to comply. As their lips meet for the first time since the dirty little alleyway where everything went to hell, Sherlock thinks that while things are still Not Good – John is still in pain, and looks years older than he actually is – he now dares to hope that, just possibly, they’re not irreparably so.

----------

 

Epilogue

‘Sherlock.’

He looks up, and then instantly has to look back down into the microscope. John is leaning against the kitchen doorframe, clad only in a pair of pyjama bottoms, and Sherlock swallows hard.

Look, red blood cells. Most of them are normal but a few have ruptured, therefore–

‘Are you coming to bed?’

John’s voice is gentle, and Sherlock glances over at him again. He can’t not look, when John uses that tone. At the sight of John’s bare feet and his rumpled hair, Sherlock feels an odd flutter in his stomach. The harsh glare of the kitchen light shows up every scar and mark on John’s bare torso. Sherlock knows that John doesn’t consider himself particularly attractive – describing himself as ‘all right, but nothing special’ – but is aware that Sherlock likes to look at him, and so this casual half-nudity is an attempt at seduction. It’s working.

‘Sorry if I woke you up,’ Sherlock says through a dry mouth. ‘I didn’t mean to. I just need to check the lysis of the–’

‘You didn’t wake me.’ John comes to stand next to Sherlock, and his hands are as gentle as his voice as he takes the slide out of Sherlock’s unsteady fingers and places it with medical precision on the table. ‘I was already awake, waiting for you to come to bed.’

John smells like warm, clean laundry and soap and himself. It’s just scent molecules, just a simple chemical reaction and it’s ridiculous that it has this effect on him but Sherlock still tucks his face into the side of John’s neck and inhales. His insides feel a bit like they’re liquefying, and John tilts his head down and finds his mouth for a slow kiss. Sherlock’s eyelids are too heavy and they close, opening when he feels the fridge against his shoulder blades, cool through his shirt. John has backed him up against it and Sherlock closes his eyes again as John’s hand, heavy on the nape of his neck, pulls him down and into another kiss.

Eventually John leans back to look at Sherlock. Sherlock feels utterly wrecked by those long, intense kisses, as though John’s mouth on his and John’s thigh wedged between his are the only things holding him up. Tucking his fingers through Sherlock’s belt loops, John whispers, ‘Let’s go to bed,’ against his mouth and he makes a helpless noise in his throat. He can feel John getting hard against his hip, and when he looks down he can see the beginning of John’s arousal clearly outlined through the soft fleece.

But he can also see the red-purple line of John’s newest scar, and the desire that was building in him collapses, and he asks, ‘Do you want a cup of tea first?’

‘No, thank you.’ John’s voice is serious but his eyes are laughing at the absurdity of Sherlock’s offer. He nudges his groin fractionally against Sherlock’s hip. ‘Come to bed.’

‘The erythrocytes,’ Sherlock says stupidly, removing one hand from John’s warm, bare waist to point over his shoulder, ‘they’re at a very crucial stage, they–’

‘I know for a fact that they’re not, since I just looked at them an hour ago. They can wait until the morning.’

‘All right then.’ Sherlock has a last-ditch attempt and tries to make his voice seductive as he suggests, ‘Then why don’t we get rid of these,’ plucking at the waistband of John’s pyjamas, ‘and you can sit down in that kitchen chair over there and I’ll–’

John doesn’t move, although his breathing has quickened slightly and there’s the beginning of a flush on his cheeks. ‘No. No more blowjobs.’ He grins and shakes his head, looking highly amused. ‘Christ, that’s another one for the list of Things I Never Thought I’d Say When I Moved In Here.’

Sherlock is intrigued. ‘There’s a list?’

‘Yes, there is a list and no, I’m not getting into it right now with you. The point is that ever since I got back from hospital, sex has been you going down on me and then, if I’m lucky, you let me get you off with my mouth. If I’m not lucky, it’s just my hand.’

Sherlock’s eyes are drawn to John’s scar again and he protests, ‘It’s important not to put any stress on abdominal sutures.’

‘Yes, I know; I am a doctor. But the stitches came out two weeks ago, and I’m fine.’

Almost of its own volition, Sherlock’s hand settles over the scar. It’s not very big compared to the one on his shoulder – just a raised seam of flesh barely a couple of inches long – and when Sherlock traces along it with a gentle fingertip John’s stomach muscles shudder.

‘But if sutures burst before the skin has fully knitted–’

‘Yes, all right, thank you,’ John interrupts with a grimace. ‘I know what happens and what it looks like, and that’s not a picture I want in my head right now. But I’m fine.’ He thumps his side for emphasis, and his voice is slightly huskier as he continues, ‘I’ve been watching that gorgeous arse of yours bending over that table all day, and now what I really want is to take you to bed and fuck you.’

When Sherlock tries to answer he finds that he can’t even begin to assemble a sentence – words have completely deserted him – and John nudges him towards the sink, affection plain in his voice as he says, ‘Go and wash your hands. I know where they’ve been, and you’re not putting them anywhere else on me until they’re disinfected.’

He does so, aware of John moving behind him, switching off the microscope and resealing the small container of blood before replacing it in the designated biohazard section of the fridge. Sherlock stares down at his hands as he washes them. You’re not touching me with them until they’re disinfected. He’s about to put them on John, in John, and the thought makes his heart start to pound. Then John comes to stand behind him and reaches around, tangling his fingers with Sherlock’s soapy ones and working the lather over their hands, paying particular attention to their nail beds and the webbing between fingers. The professional touch, Sherlock thinks, faintly amused.

When they’re done John lets him pat his hands dry on the kitchen’s designated hand towel before nudging him towards the bedroom, turning off the kitchen light and locking the door to the flat as they go. It feels oddly like being herded, and Sherlock can’t quite stop a grin.

‘What is it?’ John asks, catching sight of his amusement.

Sherlock explains, wondering if John will be offended, and in reply John merely raises an eyebrow.

‘Well, God knows you need a bloody sheepdog,’ is all he says as they enter Sherlock’s bedroom and John closes the door behind them.

He comes close to Sherlock for a kiss and Sherlock’s hands settle on John’s hips, fingers splaying out to cover as much warm skin as possible. It’s true that Sherlock hasn’t dared to push John too hard for the past several weeks. Previously he’s never thought twice about dragging John out on this or that case, or flinging them both into danger, but now there’s a couple of tell-tale inches of skin that remind him that John isn’t invincible, and that Sherlock’s actions can have consequences for both of them. Funny, how such a small physical thing can cause such a shift in perspective. He touches it again, lays his fingers over it and parallel to it, and feels John smile against his mouth. John’s hand covers his own, pushing it harder against the skin so that Sherlock can feel the faint beat of John’s blood flowing just beneath.

It’s turning him on, to be snogging like this when he’s almost fully-dressed and John is all but naked, and Sherlock feels himself start to get hard. He smoothes his hands along the gentle curve of John’s spine and pushes them under the waistband of his pyjamas, grabbing a lush, double handful of John’s bare arse and pushing their hips together.

John sucks in a breath through his nose and speaks against Sherlock’s mouth, voice a bit deeper than usual as he says, ‘Yes. God, I love it when you grab my arse like that, but I like it better when I’m inside you.’

Fuck. Sherlock feels his cock throb as he gets harder still, and doesn’t realise he’s breathed the expletive aloud until John’s face splits in a devilish grin and he says, ‘Yeah. I can see you’re getting the idea.’

Sherlock lets John peel away his clothes, lets himself be pulled down onto the mattress so that John can lie on top of him, a solid and entirely welcome weight. Together, they push John’s pyjama bottoms down and off his legs. John’s erection is hard and hot against Sherlock’s hip, and when he shifts a little so that they’re pressed up again each other, Sherlock gasps.

Leaning down, John kisses him and then bites gently at his lower lip as he begins to rock against him. Sherlock’s thighs squeeze the outside of John’s legs almost automatically, and for a few minutes John just thrusts against him as their mouths slide against each other, a warm tangle of lips and tongues and breath.

Distantly, Sherlock is aware that his hands have settled on John’s arse again, and soon John pulls away to grin at him.

‘Right then,’ he says, and before Sherlock can think of a reply he’s leaning over to grab the lubricant out of the bedside table and sliding down Sherlock’s body. The sight of John, kneeling between his spread thighs and smearing gel over the first two fingers of his left hand, is enough to temporarily rob Sherlock of breath, but when John leans down to take Sherlock’s cock into his mouth his chest spasms and he sucks in a shuddering gulp of air. He tries to breathe calmly as John slides his mouth up and down on him a few times, but then John tucks two slick fingertips inside him and all his intentions go out of the window.

John’s very good at this. He sucks Sherlock like he has all the time in the world, and like there’s nowhere else he’d rather spend it – strong, heavy pulls on his erection that make Sherlock’s hands scrabble against the sheets as John teases him with his fingertips, dipping them shallowly into him before, without warning, sliding their full length up inside him and unerringly finding his prostate. Sherlock’s head arches back at this and he groans wordlessly at the ceiling, and by the time John pushes in his third finger Sherlock feels open and wet and desperate with the desire to have John’s cock up inside him.

But when he begs, ‘Please,’ John only grins around his cock.

When John presses his tongue tip just under the head of his cock and slides three fingers as far up into him as they’ll go, there’s a familiar surge of pleasure deep in his groin and Sherlock cries out, digging his heels into the mattress and clinging blindly to John’s shoulders. He’s sure that this is it, that he’s coming before John has had a chance to fuck him, but John seems to know just where he is and backs off, nuzzling hard, biting kisses along the inside of Sherlock’s shaking thighs as he murmurs, ‘Wait.. not yet…’ in a voice that’s husky with arousal.

When the edge recedes, Sherlock finds that he’s still hard, and that John has buried his face against Sherlock’s leg, fingers still sliding in and out of his arse. He winds his fingers into the hair on the top of John’s head and tugs insistently and, with a slightly pained noise, John obeys, sliding up Sherlock’s body for a kiss. The shift in position makes his fingers slip free of Sherlock’s body and when Sherlock makes a broken noise at the loss of sensation, John reaches down to stroke himself roughly with his lube-slick hand and then guides his cock to push lightly against Sherlock’s hole.

Yes,’ Sherlock groans as he feels his own body opening to the gentle, insistent press of John’s cock. A slow, gradual slide and John’s inside him, while Sherlock’s nerve endings almost light up with the feelings of too much and yes, more.

‘Breathe, Sherlock.’

It’s some comfort that John’s voice is also shaking, and when he opens his eyes Sherlock can see the pulse leaping in the hollow of John’s throat. Instead of bracing himself up on his hands, or sitting back on his heels and tugging Sherlock’s hips into his lap, John goes down onto his forearms, pushing them under Sherlock’s shoulders and working up underneath him so that John’s hands are buried in his hair.

Their bodies are pressed flush together from hips to chest; John’s wiry forearms are wedged under his shoulder blades and Sherlock’s legs are wrapped high up around John’s ribs. It ought to be uncomfortable; Sherlock ought to feel smothered, even claustrophobic, but he doesn’t. It feels as though John is wrapped around him, protecting him. Placing himself between Sherlock and harm, as he’s always done from the first night they met. Sherlock wants to laugh at himself for such a ludicrously sentimental notion – he is a grown man, after all, and certainly not in need of protection – but finds he can’t.

And then John kisses him softly and starts to move, and all other ideas – ludicrous or otherwise – are driven out of Sherlock’s mind. John’s thrusts are slow and unhurried, and thanks to his attentions earlier Sherlock’s erection is wet with saliva and pre-come, and sliding up against John’s stomach with each of his movements. Pinned as he is, Sherlock can’t do a thing to increase or decrease the pace, but he finds he doesn’t mind. It’s quite arousing to murmur ‘Harder’ or ‘A bit faster’ against John’s mouth and let the resulting pleasure show on his face, knowing that John’s hungry gaze is taking in every flicker and shift of expression.

When John has followed all of Sherlock’s directions well enough to leave him distinctly less verbal – although not less vocal – John kisses his forehead, his lips moving soundlessly. Sherlock knows John’s affectionate nature well enough now to work out what he must be saying, and he turns his head to crush his mouth against John’s ear and repeat them back to him. ‘I love you.’

The next instant John’s mouth is on his, fierce and happy, and he kisses him for long minutes before drawing back, with a last gentle suck at Sherlock’s lower lip. He’s breathless, and his voice is a bit rough when he asks, ‘Can you come like this?’

Sherlock rolls his head from side to side, feeling John’s fingers cradling his skull, and groans, ‘I don’t know.’

At this, John stops thrusting and grinds his hips in a slow, dirty circle that feels divine, and Sherlock makes a loud, strangled noise and blurts, ‘God, maybe. Possibly… I don’t know.’

‘Take your time.’ John drops a kiss on the bridge of Sherlock’s nose, and uses his lips to push back the sweaty curls that are clinging to Sherlock’s forehead. ‘No hurry. I can do this for hours.’

He makes another slow circle with his hips for emphasis, and Sherlock whimpers but still manages to say, ‘Liar,’ through a tight throat. He can feel the fine shivers running through John’s muscles, and John gives a soft huff of laughter against his cheek.

‘Well, perhaps not hours,’ he admits. He’s still grinning, managing to look tender and utterly overjoyed at once, and it’s one of the most endearing things Sherlock has ever seen. ‘But long enough.’

John presses his mouth to Sherlock’s as he starts to thrust again, snapping his hips forward harder now and careful to hitch upwards at the end of each thrust, until Sherlock is writhing beneath him and can’t seem to find a full lungful of air. Each of John’s thrusts is pressing against his prostate, making him sob aloud at each heavy throb of pleasure, and John is making sure to grind against his cock with each push and withdrawal.

Incredibly, he can feel himself responding – his balls are pulling up towards his body, and the separate bursts of pleasure are starting to blur and run into one another. It feels like John’s cock is getting bigger inside him, even as he knows that that’s just a side-effect of his own body tightening as he approaches orgasm. In the last few seconds before he comes, when the fluttery spasms in his groin start to coalesce into something sharp and immediate, he forces himself to speak, knowing that John will want to hear it.

‘John…’ he gasps out, in between poundings, ‘I think… oh God, I think I’m going to come…’

‘Fuck.’ John’s voice is odd, almost choked, and he leans down to kiss Sherlock and mutter, ‘Yes, God, yes. Come on.’

Sherlock meets him halfway, tilting his face up to bump their mouths together as his fingers dig into John’s arse and he comes, shaking like a leaf and whimpering helplessly. His reading had indicated that orgasms achieved solely through prostate stimulation tended to be slightly more intense, but he’s still unprepared for how much it feels like his entire body is convulsing.

John’s response, when Sherlock’s cock jerks and spurts untouched between their stomachs, is electric. His fingers twist in Sherlock’s hair and his last few thrusts make the headboard thump against the wall until he groans, loud and heartfelt and sounding as though it’s come from his toes, and stills.

‘Please don’t stop,’ Sherlock sobs, and feels John struggle to keep moving, to keep fucking him through their orgasms, ‘God, don’t you dare stop.’

John does his best, fucking into Sherlock even as his head drops and he buries his face in Sherlock’s throat, while Sherlock shudders and begs mindlessly beneath him and his fingernails claw red crescents into John’s skin.

The first thing John says, after he’s collapsed onto the bed next to Sherlock and drawn a full (albeit shaky) breath, is: ‘It’s a bloody good job you were so close. You do know, don’t you, that if you tell a man who’s fucking you that you’re about to come without your cock being touched, then that’s the surest way to guarantee that he’s going to come more or less instantly.’

‘I’ll make a note of it,’ pants Sherlock, his eyes squeezed shut as his heart hammers against his ribs, ‘for future reference.’

He doesn’t realise what he’s saying, until John growls, ‘Like hell you will,’ and drags Sherlock in for a hungry kiss.

When they eventually separate, John’s hands cradle his face, thumbs rubbing along Sherlock’s cheekbones as John blinks shyly and murmurs, ‘I mean, I know that I’m not the first person you’ve slept with. But,’ he pauses to kiss Sherlock again, softly, and whispers against his mouth, ‘I’m sort of hoping that I can be the last.’

‘You will be,’ Sherlock promises him, unable to kiss properly because of how much he’s grinning. He’s breathless and giddy and feels a bit like he’s having a heart attack from sheer joy. John tugs him closer and Sherlock goes willingly, nuzzling into John’s neck and repeating, ‘You will be.’

And that was the first time that, try as he might, Sherlock could see no end in sight for them.

--End--