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The Escape Artist

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John found the handcuffs, wedged deep between the seat cushion and the arm of his battered chair. His hand strayed down into the tight space, fingers catching on loose cushion threads as he followed Archie Goodwin across the pages of Black Orchids and through the brownstone on West 35th street. By the time Archie found Nero Wolfe pacing among the rows of orchids, John’s focus was shot. He followed the familiar curve of the metal and thought of darker things.

“Useless,” Sherlock said.

John looked up, untangling himself from the mystery on the page and the one tucked beside him.

Sherlock stood before the sofa, staring at a mosaic of photographs and documents and newspaper clippings that covered the wall. He shook his head slowly, and stepped closer to the spiral of data. His shins pressed up against the sofa cushions.

“What is?” John asked.

“All of this. I still don’t have what I need.” Sherlock leaned in, his face inches from the wall. He narrowed his eyes. “I’m missing something.”

John traced his fingers across the two small loops of the chain. He pressed his thumb against the keyhole as the desire to slip back in time to join Nero and Archie faded completely.

”It’s half two. Take a step back. You’ve been staring at it for hours. We’re both tired.” Just come to bed. John caught himself before he said the words; they were still almost habit, one that he needed to break.

Thirty-four days had passed since they’d been together. Thirty-four days since Sherlock had given up control for the first time and let John take him apart. At the end of that night, after the bondage and pain, and the games of power and control, they had lain together in the dark and promised that this would be the start of something more.

But when the morning came Sherlock grew distant and John had been choosing his words carefully ever since.

“Just sleep on it. Your mind will keep working.”

Sherlock stifled a yawn against the back of his hand and compelled John to do the same. The weight of three straight days of locum work bleeding into casework had taken its toll. Long days and longer nights of watching out for Sherlock settled heavy into John’s bones. And although he had been awake almost twenty-four hours, Sherlock had been awake for even more.

John left the handcuffs where they lay and picked up his book. He stared down at the page and read the same sentence over and over again until it lost all meaning.

He had no idea how long the cuffs had been hidden beside him. Or why Sherlock had left them there in the first place. Sherlock usually kept his gear locked away in a trunk at the back of his wardrobe and unearthed it for the sole purpose of causing exquisite distress. This was something different. Intentional. Perhaps an opening back to what had been lost. Whatever Sherlock’s reason, the handcuffs stopped John in his place, as surely as a command.

“To sleep, yes.” Sherlock backed away from the puzzle. A sleepy countenance settled over his features, eyes half closed, lips parted as if a thought hovered in the space in-between.

“Why are you still awake?” Sherlock asked. He swayed slightly as he spoke, running solely on fumes and will. “You’re working in the morning.”

John looked up at him, surprised that somewhere in the whirlwind of theories and data, a space had been saved for his schedule. Sherlock paused when he reached John’s chair and his hand settled heavy on the back rest.

“Black Orchids.” Sherlock squinted down at the cover. John turned the book over.

“Don’t tell me what happens. I’ve only just started.”

Sherlock grew quiet. He tapped his hand against the back of John’s chair and John thought about covering it with his own. They remained in that quiet loop until Sherlock stirred from his thoughts.

“I can’t tell you what happens. I don’t know how it ends.”

 


 

John waited for the click of the bathroom door and the soft rush of the shower before he moved. He turned off the lights and settled back into his chair and pulled the handcuffs from their hiding place.

The cuffs lay heavy in his hands, cool to the touch and sturdier than he remembered. He ran his thumb along the frame and traced the lines engraved deep in the nickel. The letters M&P marked one side, the looping Smith and Wesson logo carved into the other.

The first time he had been handcuffed they had been ratcheted so tight the edges cut into his wrists. The pain kept him lucid as he laid freezing, trapped in the dark in the boot of a car. Everything they did back then had been so clumsy and fucking reckless.

The handcuffs rattled softly as metal slid across metal in the palm of his hand. There would be no way Sherlock could hear. Not at that moment. Not for a while. But the cuffs wouldn’t grow quiet, until they had someone to keep still.

He had no idea what would happen, if Sherlock returned from the shower and found him sitting in his chair, his wrists locked together, waiting in the dark.

“I’m giving myself to you,” he would say and the words would be barely above a whisper. He didn’t know if Sherlock would remember what came after that, if Sherlock would choose to take him down or if he would refuse him.

The metal teeth clicked as he locked the cuffs around his wrists and notched them tighter. He pulled against them, testing the finger’s-width of space between the inside edge. Room enough to twist his wrists, but not to pull free.

He closed his eyes and settled back into the cushions, careful not to disturb the keys balanced atop his thigh. He took apart the sounds in the space, the gentle shift of the chain as he scratched his knee, the soft rumble of a car passing below, the white noise of the shower.

He waited for a spark of arousal, or fear, or for his heart to beat heavy and quick as it always did when Sherlock bound his wrists and forced him to wait.

He hooked his wrists behind his neck and interlaced his fingers, as if he were a prisoner, ordered not to move. His back and shoulders began to ache as the seconds passed, waking him up again. He tightened the cuffs until the edges dug into his skin, and strained against the metal, trying to feel something more than just discomfort. He imagined Sherlock at his back, gripping the chain, holding him in place.

John shifted to the edge of the chair and began to adjust his body. He planted his feet squarely and sat up straight and the horned skull high on the wall became his point of focus. His wrists ached now even without a struggle and the burn settled deep between his shoulder blades as he lifted his ribcage and held the position.

The shower stopped and John stopped with it, and for the first time his heart finally began to race. His hands curled into fists as he fought the urge to break position. All he had to do was count the seconds and wait, and Sherlock would come out and find him.

Chin up. Eyes forward. Don’t move. Not a sound.

His leg twitched, and the key slipped from his knee and broke his nerve. He snatched up the key and jammed it into the lock. He fumbled a few times before he freed his wrists and shoved the cuffs into the pocket of his robe.

“What are you still doing here?” Sherlock paused in the bathroom doorway, wrapped only in his dressing gown, his pyjamas draped over his shoulder. He turned off the light and cast them both into the dark.

John stood up too quickly and blocked Sherlock’s path. He stood frozen, invading Sherlock’s personal space, not knowing what to do. The handcuffs weighed heavy in his pocket, and the soreness lingered across his skin.

“I fell asleep in the chair. I was just headed up.”

The words sounded false; he’d pitched them too quickly. John picked up his book, certain that even in the dark Sherlock would see right through him if he bothered to look. He stepped aside, and waited for Sherlock to pass.

It took Sherlock a few moments to move.

“Goodnight, John.”