The alarm on Sherlock's phone sounds, a fact John notices only because there is brief silence in the slamming beat of the music in the club. Jesus, what club? Fifth stop now or, bugger, maybe sixth? All that is certain is that he's at Sherlock's mercy, drinking out of glassware pinched from Sherlock's chemistry lab, and next door to where they'd discovered a bizarre double hanging three years ago. And he's drunk.
And he's getting married. Or something.
Sherlock grabs his phone and pokes at it. The damn phone has been between them all evening, Sherlock won't put it away for five minutes. Sod it, John can't be bothered to gripe; he feels great, warm and right, and what he really wants now is another drink, perhaps one measured in good old-fashioned pints. He looks over to the bar and taps his foot.
Sherlock says something incomprehensible, still looking at his phone.
"What?" John asks, leaning in. Sherlock smells really nice. Hair serum.
"You should eat," Sherlock repeats at a shout, tapping in a final something and then putting the phone in his pocket.
"I know a place. Nearby." Sherlock is up and swirling his coat on with a great deal of panache for a man also holding a graduated cylinder.
"You are reminding me to eat? You?" John hops up as well, only a small stumble against his stool, grabs his glassware. "That's novel."
"Volume greater than two litres," Sherlock says. "The alarm."
John looks at Sherlock hard, even tries squinting his eyes, but it doesn't help. "What are you talking about?" is what he finally resorts to.
"Time to eat." Sherlock walks off, coat billowing behind him, along the edge of the sweaty dance floor.
John sways just a moment, giving the conversation one more going over in his head, but no, still no, so he has no choice but to follow.
Outside the club, the cool night air clears John's head a bit. Sherlock is standing at the curb, and, even from the back, John can sense how much he wants a cigarette. Hell, in this state, John sort of wants one himself.
"So, food?" John asks, sidling up and taking his place at Sherlock's side, like so many nights in the past, so many of the best nights of his life. John goes dizzy for a moment, because Christ This is real, isn't it? You're not dead?, and he almost touches Sherlock's shoulder to make sure, stops himself in time. Shit, drunk.
Sherlock looks down at him, that piercing look that makes John feel he's under the microscope. "Yes. Short walk. Just off the Marylebone Road. Follow me." Sherlock grabs the second graduated cylinder from John, shakes the last few drops of liquid out of both, and stashes them in each of his coat's voluminous pockets.
"Stylish," John says.
Sherlock doesn't reply, just lets a tiny smile ghost over his eyes, and John grins back before they set off at a brisk walk down the pavement, matching pace. It's heaven.
Their destination turns out to be a fish and chip shop, just a little hole in the wall that John can smell from two streets away. A man and woman, carrying a promisingly grease-stained bag, are coming out as they walk in.
"Third date," Sherlock deduces to John in a whisper after the couple passes, and the warm feeling in John's chest expands, just a little.
The man behind the counter, a tall, wiry blonde with a lip piercing and vivid arm tattoos, acknowledges John with a nod, so John turns his attention to the (slightly blurry, focus John) blackboard menus above the counter to plan his order. Sherlock's right, of course; he's desperately hungry.
"Didn't imagine seeing you tonight," the man at the counter says, and John looks again, perplexed. He starts to say, "Do I know you?" when, no, the man at the counter is not talking to him, he's leaning on his (really well muscled) arms and speaking to Sherlock. Like a friend. Or something.
Sherlock, for his part, doesn't look at the counter man at all, keeps his eyes on the menu. "Got hungry."
"Yeah? Hungry, eh?" He looks Sherlock up and down. "Hmm." Maybe John is just drunk, but is this man flirting?
"What's good tonight?" Sherlock is still staring at the menu.
The man looks intently at Sherlock (nice eyes, dark dark brown). "Sherlock," the man's voice has dropped deep and quiet. Private. Intimate. "I always give you what's good."
Sherlock looks down then, meets the man's eyes. John can't breathe, because, Jesus. After a moment, he becomes aware that his mouth is open and he is pinging looks back and forth between the two of them. He turns his gaze away, heart pounding, and loudly clears his throat.
The counter man pulls himself away from Sherlock, and wipes his hands on a rag as he says to John, "Sorry, mate. What'll you have then?"
"Um, just battered cod and chips for me," he stutters out to this stranger, who knows Sherlock and just spoke in a bedroom voice in the middle of a chip shop and who, he now notices, has a rather elaborate tattoo that says Queer Punk. John's no genius and he's had five beers, but even he is able to deduce something from this evidence.
"For a friend of Sherlock's, I'll throw in some extra scampi." The man's voice has shifted completely, no nonsense, just serving a customer.
John looks at Sherlock, hoping to get some reassurance that this is odd for him too, or a joke, but Sherlock has resumed his perusal of the menu. "Sure, um, great. Thanks," John says. Before the man at the counter turns away to get John's food, he smiles and nods, pursing his wide mouth into a knowing little pucker that makes John's blood run livid and his neck flush with heat.
"I'll have the usual," Sherlock says.
"Mmm, the usual," the man replies, glancing back over his (well-built) shoulder, "That's what I hoped." That intimate voice again.
John can't take it anymore. "Sherlock, I need some air," he sputters, and doesn't wait for a reply, just makes for the door, pushes his way out, and gulps in the fresh, non-alcoholic, innuendo-free air for a moment, hands on his knees.
Two men are passing by, heading in to the shop. One of them stops next to John and leans over to meet his eyes. "Bit too much fun, eh?" He's balding, and John stares at the juncture where thin hair meets the smooth skin of his scalp. "We've all been there, mate. Can we get you anything?"
"It's my stag night," John says, by way of explanation, and the two blokes nod knowingly.
"Ah yes. Pace yourself, the night's still young. Food'll help." The man pats John's shoulder and then resumes his path behind his friend into the shop.
John rises, takes one more calming breath, and then eases back into the shop after them. He leans against the window next to the door and folds his arms. Getting married, John. Stag night, John. Best friend, John. Pull yourself together.
Unfortunately for John's heart rate, the man at the counter still has Sherlock's attention as he rings up the sale. John hears, in an undertone, "Stop in later?" Christ.
"Can't." Sherlock is leaning his hip against the counter as he passes over payment and accepts the greasy bag of food.
"Tragedy." The man fingers the stud on his lip piercing for a moment and raises an eyebrow. John wishes he was wallpaper.
Sherlock says something in reply, leaned in almost to the man's ear ("I know"? "Back soon"? "No more"?), but it's so quiet that John can't really hear him.
They locate a bench in a little pocket of greenery a few blocks away and set to work on the mountain of food in the bags. John drenches his cod in vinegar, takes his first bite, and can't stifle an appreciative grunt as he chews. Crisp, salty, perfect. They eat in silence for a few minutes. John's warm alcohol glow has transformed into a moody and introspective drunk.
"So, how do you know...him?"
Sherlock chews for a long time, then says, "Who?"
"Ah. You mean Sean."
"Yes, I suppose. Um, Sean. Murder suspect?"
"Sean?" Sherlock considers this for a moment, and John feels a momentary sense of relief. Then, "God, no."
Ah. Okay. "So?"
"What?" Sherlock takes a few chips.
"How do you know him?"
"I stop in often. Known him for years." Sherlock is licking grease off his long fingers (God), and looking out at the lamp-lit streets.
"Best fish and chips in London."
"Sure. Okay." John takes another bite of (frankly delicious) fish and chews on his thoughts for a few moments. Sherlock is quietly nibbling on another chip. John swallows, lets the words build in his chest, and then speaks. "But, no, actually, no. You see, I have been to many, many chippies in my life, Sherlock, and it's really very predictable. I order, they hand me my order, I hand over some cash. Possibly they say, 'Come again,' or even 'Thanks, mate.' But you know what has never happened? The man at the counter has never, ever suggested to me that I stop in later."
"You live a very dull life, John." Another chip.
"No, no, I really don't, Sherlock. Who was that guy?" John stares at Sherlock's maddening face (I was over this, I'm over this, I'm marrying Mary for god's sake) but Sherlock continues to chew thoughtfully, pointedly avoiding John's glare.
Sherlock's phone beeps again in his pocket, and to John's utter annoyance, he removes it and starts tapping away. "Ah. It's time. Remember the Morrison stabbing?"
"That's our next pub."
Sherlock stands, flips up his collar, and strides away, glass cylinders bobbing like misplaced antennae from his pockets. John rubs his eyes, grabs the bag of food, and trots to catch up. They need to find a pub. He is far too sober for any of this.
Two and a half years ago they'd actually found a body in the next pub, in the corridor by the toilets, a poor sucker named Clyde Morrison who'd run afoul of a ring of rare gem smugglers. The place looks exactly the same, which is both comforting and disconcerting.
John insists on being the one to take the graduated cylinders to the bar. While Sherlock is distracted deducing the two women seated nearby, John orders a shot of whiskey, necks it, then orders one more and adds it to Sherlock's beer. He's damned if he's learning anything more about Sean without a nice, solid wall of alcohol between them.
After his first sip, Sherlock looks at his beer askance and John thinks the game is up, but then he takes another sip without comment. This pub is quiet, no pounding soundtrack to fill the silence that hovers around them. John can feel the warm spread of the whiskey in his chest.
"There are four," Sherlock says finally, non-sequitur.
"Sorry. Four what?"
"I am human, John."
John thinks for a moment, trying to find the trail of conversation. "Yes. Got it. Was that in doubt?" he lifts his glassware for a drink.
"I know about all of your sexual partners."
John has the bad fortune to be in the midst of taking a large mouthful of beer, and he only just manages to not to spray it out all over Sherlock's damn coat. Somehow, he swallows and then gives his head a little shake to clear it. "Sorry?"
"Yeah, got that."
"Sometimes I need...It's just...maintenance."
John can't look at Sherlock, can't think, can't feel his arms. "Stop talking now," John says, and strides over to the bar to order another shot, drains it as soon as it is set in front of him. Jesus. Sherlock is...is...and has...and some arsehole named Sean for fuck's sake...John orders another shot.
John looks back at Sherlock as he throws the whiskey down. Sherlock is frowning at John and tapping something more into his phone. John slams the glass back on the bar and strides with purpose back towards Sherlock. "Give me the phone." Hand outstretched, palm up.
Sherlock's petulant look in return, but John's had it. "The phone, Sherlock. Now."
"No, this is my stag night, for me, for what I want, and what I want right now is for you to give me the fucking phone!" A few patrons at the bar have looked over as John's voice rises. He doesn't give a damn. John extends his hand further into Sherlock's face. Sherlock gives in without further fuss, just an extended raising of his eyebrows, placing the phone delicately into John's palm.
"No more phone, no more schedule, no more...eating." John falters for a moment, his mind suddenly producing a vivid image involving Sean's lip stud. He clears his throat. "We are staying here, and enjoying these," he gestures firmly at the graduated cylinders, "until they are empty, and then we are enjoying the rest of our evening drinking out of the glassware provided by the pub, Sherlock, the normal glasses, and enjoying each other's company and not talking about any...sexual partners...you are my best friend...my best friend... and...that's...what we'll do." John grabs hold of the edge of the table as the final burst of speech sets off a dizzy spell.
Sherlock looks at John with aggravating calm, says, "Fine," and gestures to the booth.
"Fine." John sits down rather hard.
It is quiet for a long time. Then Sherlock takes a long inhale of breath and whispers, "Woman in black at the next table is contemplating an affair with her boss." Takes a drink.
John takes a quick look at the woman, a smartly dressed twenty-something with too much makeup, sitting with another woman dressed in bright purple. John's heart lightens as he says, "Alright, then, how do you know?" and then sits back and lets Sherlock just talk and talk and talk, his voice blotting out thoughts of Sean the fishmonger and his lip piercing and tattoos, and the hungry, familiar way he looked at Sherlock.
They stay at the Morrison Stabbing for two more beers (in pint glasses, though John has to admit it's a bit less fun). John is rolling on his own legs now, and Sherlock is not far behind; he's working a sort of sideways, slanted walk that means he keeps crashing into John and getting tangled. John doesn't mind. He gives Sherlock special permission to check his phone and get the address for one more club, this one near the Roland-Kerr Further Education College, memories of which inappropriately make John giggle in the cab.
That was the night he'd fallen far and fast for this madman, and shooting be damned, the memories of that chase across the city and saving Sherlock's life are some of the best he's got.
They drink once more out of the graduated cylinders, and go abruptly from quietly sitting across from each other in an alcohol stupor to Sherlock almost punching some (other) drunk idiot (John thinks he may have drifted off and missed something). John stows Sherlock in a cab and then collapes in after, managing a muttered, "Home, please. Baker Street, 221. Thanks," to the cabbie before closing his eyes. Not really your home, his muddled mind supplies, then Stag night, John. Marriage. But the last thought that flits through John's mind as he drifts off is Sherlock has sex, and then John can't remember the rest of how they get home.
His next memory is a soft-focus rousing due to being elbowed in the ribs. He's not entirely sure where they are (smells like Baker Street), but he is on his back and Sherlock (probable source of the elbow) is tucked in next to him, his back squashed against John's side. Should be uncomfortable. Instead, is perfect. John closes his eyes.
"I have an international reputation." Hmm? Ah, Sherlock talking. Soothing slurry voice. "Do you have an international reputation?"
John has to put in a bit of effort to make his tongue move. "No, I don't have an...international reputation."
"No." Quiet, perhaps time to sleep again? "And I don't even remember what for..." Sherlock's body settles in against John, so John folds his hands more firmly over his chest. No touching. Wait, why can't he touch? Something about arms...and...sex...ah right. A thought roils around in his mind and takes shape.
"Sherlock?" John's mouth tastes of cigarettes. Did he smoke?
"Hmm?" Sherlock doesn't move.
"Why didn't he...care?"
"Oh him." Sherlock lets out a dismissive sigh that John can feel against his side. "I thought we weren't talking about him anymore." Sherlock's speech is sloppy and oddly melodic. Makes John want to hum.
"Changed my mind," John mutters.
"Ah. Why didn't he care about what?"
"That I was there. He still...you know...I mean, he didn't know who I was. I could've have been your... date... something... partner."
Sherlock stirs next to him. "You are my partner, John."
John opens his eyes, caught in the sudden rush of the ridiculousness of his life. "You know what I mean."
It's very quiet and John thinks, through the fog of alcohol, that maybe Sherlock doesn't know. Hell, maybe John doesn't even know himself. Then Sherlock quietly slurs, "Sean's not very observant."
"Well," John says, "neither are you."
Sherlock shifts hard against him, like he sits up suddenly, or maybe slides down. John manages to wobble his way upright to see. Sherlock is staring at him, brows pinched together in deep, swaying thought.
Clatter and bang of a door then, and Mrs. Hudson's voice, very loud. "Boys? What in heaven's name are you doing on the stairs?"
"Hudders! What time is it?" Sherlock rolls forward and stands up, leaving John in bleary confusion.
"Oh, just going eleven. You missed a client while you were out. Lady nurse, left her number with me." Mrs. Hudson hands a paper over to Sherlock, who folds it using a series of dramatic hand flourishes, then has to grab the banister to stay upright.
"An adventure for tomorrow. Come, John."
John doesn't recall ever giving Mrs. Hudson a hug before, but he does now, then follows Sherlock up the stairs.
They drink water and tea, comfortably ensconced in their old familiar chairs by the fireplace. Feeling a second wind coming on, John pours them each a healthy glass of scotch, then digs out Sherlock's envelope of tobacco and rizlas (Sherlock is impressed he knows where they are hidden) and rolls one cigarette for them to share, passing it back and forth until he almost burns his fingers on the last drag.
The warmth is back, John feels positively glowing. God, this is where he loves to be. Why would he ever be anywhere else?
Somehow the rizlas turn into a ridiculous game and hysterical laughter, and Jesus, Sherlock has a lover, a man, and John's insides are on fire with that thought, because something he thought was impossible, isn't. Isn't even complicated, really. His legs keep inching closer to Sherlock, and his hands keep forgetting not to touch. As the game dissolves, John's feet have crept up onto Sherlock's chair, toes nestled under his thighs. Sherlock smiles a sort of surprised smile, and so John wiggles his toes. Sherlock reaches down and brushes his hand on John's ankle, his eyes all sort of soft, sending a wave of shivers through John, so he does it again.
"Why did you take me there? The fish shop to meet your...sex guy." John sips his scotch, avoids Sherlock's eyes (his toes stay put).
Sherlock snorts, and then brushes his fingers more confidently on John's ankle. John's body is electric. "I didn't."
"I'd forgotten about him, actually. That he'd be there."
John let's out a bark of laughter, his entire self alight. "You'd forgotten him."
"Irrelevant," Sherlock sips his scotch and looks at John, and John stares back past those long fingers on the smooth glass. "He is...irrelevant."
"Yeah, yes," John mutters, and he cannot stop smiling and staring, so he looks at the rug and drains the rest of his scotch, melting into his chair. They sit like that, connected at the toe and ankle, for many heartbeats, until John is ready to jump out of his skin.
John shifts his legs, unable to sit still anymore, aiming to get up and refresh his scotch. Sherlock must have had something similar in mind, because they rise at the same time, into the same space between the chairs, chest to chest. There isn't even a pause to think; arms wrap around, hands grab hair, shirt, beltloop, and they are kissing and kissing and kissing.
Sherlock tastes like a long night of drinking and a lifetime of waiting. His mouth is hot and agile on John's, lips and tongue and teeth. John just holds on. Sherlock has him backed up against the fireplace before John can finally take a breath and generate a thought, and when he does, Sherlock moves down to nuzzle at John's throat. Christ.
"This is happening," John says to no one, but he feels it needs to be announced.
"S'been happening for years, John," Sherlock's voice resonates into John's skin.
"Oh? Has it? I think you forgot to invite me," breathes John.
"Won't forget again," Sherlock replies, and then they are kissing again. John's mind is like fireworks, full of exclamations and random bursts.
"I really don't like piercings."
"Don't have any," Sherlock replies. His hands are trailing along John's hips and pulling at his shirttails.
"Yeah. All right." More kissing. Jesus, so much more.
What might be hours later, at the next pause for air, somehow they are now in the doorway to the kitchen. "What was four?" John asks, letting his mouth drift around Sherlock's wide lips.
"Before...then...long time ago, you said there are four. Something." Sherlock's tongue finds John's ear. "Oh Jesus."
"Mmm, four. Four men."
"Mmm-hmm? Yeah. Keep doing that. Four men?"
"Four men I regularly have sex with."
John's body goes stiff, his fists pull tight on Sherlock's shirt, and he inhales hard. "Shit." Four. Wants to punch somebody (not Sherlock) (maybe Sherlock).
Sherlock must feel the stillness, grips John hard, whispers into the skin behind John's ear, "Had a bit of a schedule. Monthly. Clears the mind. Easy to cancel now." Lets John loose and steps back to look, a bit wobbly, meets eyes (are we really doing this?). John squints, making sure he sees everything in Sherlock's face, every line and quirk and signal (yes, we are doing this).
"Four," John says, and Sherlock's eyebrow quirk confirms. John lets his breath out slow. "So...that means...you know what you are doing?"
"Yes." Sherlock's voice is very deep, and right by John's ear.
"Oh god, yes." John pulls Sherlock back in to a slow-burn kiss that he can feel in his toes.
Easy to cancel now. Like canceling a dental appointment. John can't hold back a laugh right into Sherlock's mouth. Christ, Sherlock's casual assumption that they will be doing this again. At least monthly, John notes, somewhere in his exploding brain. After a moment, Sherlock laughs, too, his quiet, real laugh that starts in his eyes.
John thinks, I have something to cancel as well.