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The Midas Touch

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Sherlock had heard of John Watson before he met him, of course. He doubted there was anyone in Britain who hadn't. Medica Verpa was rare enough for the sole British man to have it to be something of a celebrity.

“This is an old friend of mine, John Watson,” said Stamford, clearly proud that he could claim that relationship with him.

John tensed slightly, as if bracing himself. Sherlock could guess exactly what reaction he was dreading. Whilst Sherlock had been at Cambridge, he'd had his own experiences with strangers recognising his name.

“Sherlock? Oh! That Sherlock?”

As if there were crowds of other Sherlocks for him to be confused with. He had tried very hard not to hear the stories that were being bandied around about him but as a highly-observant individual, that was not always possible. He decided not to give John Watson the same reaction.

“Afghanistan or Iraq?”

John was clearly taken aback and Sherlock allowed himself a private smile as he turned away to text Lestrade.

“Sorry?”

“Which was it – Afghanistan or Iraq?”

“Afghanistan,” said John. “I take it you don't read the tabloids, then.”

Sherlock scowled. This was the problem with celebrities, even reluctant ones. It was hard to impress them with deductions when their whole lives were spread across every trashy paper that Rupert Murdock owned.

“On the contrary,” he said. “I read them often. However, I only read the sections relating to crime, or potential crime, and I delete the rest. The only thing I've retained about you is your name and your condition. I'm surprised to find they don't keep you locked up in some hospital for the rich and influential somewhere. The Army seems like rather a risk.”

John's mouth twisted into a bitter smile. “They certainly tried,” he said. “Turns out that slavery is illegal, though.”

Ah. Joined the Army to escape the pressure of being unique. Being invalided out and forced to come back to that pressure would account for the air of depression that hung over him. Sherlock wondered just how much media scrutiny he was under in his day-to-day life. Having reporters hanging around the flat would be irritating.

On the other hand, Sherlock wasn't blessed with a wealth of choices when it came to flatmates.

“I play the violin when I’m thinking,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t talk for days on end. Would that bother you? Potential flatmates should know the worst about each other.”

John turned to look at Mike. “Oh, you told him about me?”

Mike gave a smug little smile that meant he was enjoying every moment of this. Sherlock wondered if he knew that he deliberately collected interestingly unusual acquaintances to try and hide how dull he was. “Not a word.”

John was now confused, as most people were when they met Sherlock. “Then who said anything about flatmates?”

This was getting boring. Sherlock picked up his coat. “I did. Told Mike this morning that I must be a difficult man to find a flatmate for. Now here he is just after lunch with an old friend who must have his own difficulties when finding a flatmate. Wasn’t that difficult a leap. Got my eye on a nice little place in central London. Together we ought to be able to afford it. We’ll meet there tomorrow evening; seven o’clock.”

“Right,” said John. “And I don't get to ask you any questions?”

Sherlock had been on the point of walking out the door, but he paused and turned back. “What questions could you possibly need to ask? I told you about the violin.”

“Are you healthy?” asked John bluntly. “Got any medical conditions? Asthma? Back problems?”

Sherlock couldn't hold in his amusement. “Are you offering to fuck me?”

“The opposite. I don't want a flatmate that wants a shag.”

“You may rest assured that I have no interest in the properties of your penis,” said Sherlock. “I am just looking for someone to split the rent with.”

John relaxed. “Right. Okay. Good. Then you should probably tell me your name and the address we're meeting at.”

“The name’s Sherlock Holmes and the address is 221B Baker Street,” he said, and then couldn't resist adding a wink just before he left. There was something about the look on John's face that just seemed to ask for it.

****

John Watson turned out to be an excellent choice as a flatmate. He was impressed by Sherlock's deductions, capable of keeping up with most of the obvious points in a case and willing to shoot serial killers. Living with him meant a constant source of tea, access to several key medical texts and only an easily ignored level of complaining about Sherlock's habits.

The only real annoyance was the steady stream of people that came to the flat to have sex with him. Still, John tended to keep them out of the way, up in his bedroom, and they never stayed once the deed was done. They were generally too eager to go and celebrate.

It was about a fortnight after they'd moved in together. Sherlock was tuning his violin when John and the woman he'd just had sex with came downstairs from his room. The oxygen tank that John had helped to carry up the stairs for her, while she struggled to get enough air into her lungs to reach the top, was now disconnected and slung casually over her shoulder. They lingered on the landing outside the sitting room for a moment or two.

“Thank you so much,” she gushed.

John shrugged. “No problem.”

She gave him a kiss on the cheek that made John look oddly uncomfortable, given what he had just been doing with her. “I have to show my boyfriend!” she said, and then clattered down the stairs.

John's shoulders relaxed and he came into the sitting room. “Tea?”

Sherlock just hummed his agreement as John headed for the kitchen.

“One a day,” remarked Sherlock.

“Cups of tea?” said John. “Are we rationing ourselves now?”

“No,” said Sherlock, setting his violin down. He walked to the doorway between the sitting room and the kitchen and leant against it so that he could watch John. “You have sex with one person a day.”

John twitched and tension crept back into his posture. “Yeah,” he said. “What of it? I suppose you think I should be spending all my time in palliative care wards, fucking my way up one side and down the other.”

“You've badly misjudged my character if you truly believe I'd think that,” said Sherlock.

John glanced over his shoulder at him. “Yeah, true,” he said. He turned back to the kettle and took a deep breath. “I first had sex when I was seventeen. Jane, my girlfriend, had asthma, and then she didn't. She had bruises from hockey and a paper cut on her finger, and then she didn't. She told the press about me four months later, when we broke up, after which I was flooded with people looking for a miracle. I didn't have any limits set, I just – well. I just kept fucking and fucking.”

The kettle boiled and he paused to pour it.

“When I was nineteen, I had a breakdown. I was exhausted – mentally, physically – the human body isn't meant to have sex that much, even when you're nineteen. After that, I made strict rules for myself.”

Sherlock nodded slowly. “Only once a day.”

“Yeah,” said John. “That's 365 people a year who would have otherwise died or lived severely curtailed lives. I don't fuck anyone that can be cured another way, I don't fuck anyone under eighteen or over sixty-five, or who can't consent.”

He handed Sherlock a cup of tea.

“And I became a doctor, so that I could help people without having to take my trousers off,” he said, and then snorted bitterly. “Fat lot of good that was. I've been applying for GP jobs but no one wants to employ me. Surely your skills are more suited to a hospital environment.” He scoffed. “Skills. They don't mean my skills, they mean my penis.”

“That was why you joined the Army,” observed Sherlock, taking his tea over to his chair. John followed, settling in his own.

“Yeah,” he said. “Well, that, and it was trickier for The Sun to follow me around Afghanistan. But soldiers know about finite resources and keeping them back until they're actually needed. I didn't get nearly as many people with nothing worse than hayfever or bad sunburn begging me for a fuck there.”

Sherlock nodded, considering that. Having one person a day turning up for a sexual liaison with his flatmate seemed relatively painless when compared with a troop of sick people constantly knocking at the door. “Very well,” he said. “Once a day. I will attempt to remain patient about it.”

“Thanks,” said John, with a hint of sarcasm. “Very kind of you. And I'll try and remain patient about the severed fingers and the midnight violin practice.”

Well, of course he would. After a war zone, there probably wasn't much Sherlock could do that would actually push John too far. Part of him was tempted to try and find John's limits but another, larger part didn't want to drive him away. When Sherlock had first been looking for a flatmate, he had assumed that any period of cohabitation would be short, given how most people reacted to him. Now, however, he wanted John to stay around for as long as possible, for reasons he hadn't yet managed to put his finger on.

****

John's fame didn’t usually get in the way during cases. His face wasn't instantly recognisable and his name was generic enough not to ring any immediate bells when it was out-of-context, so when they were out and about, hunting down clues, few people twigged who he was. It was only really at crime scenes that problems arose, especially as time went by and word of who Sherlock’s new assistant was spread throughout Scotland Yard.

“That's the John Watson,” one constable whispered to another as Sherlock examined the corpse's fingernails. Beside him, John twitched. “Now's your chance to get that cold fucked away.”

“Really? That's him?” replied the second constable. Sherlock wondered what it said about the mental prowess of Scotland Yard that neither of them were aware that they were clearly audible. “He's shorter than I thought he'd be.”

John let out a barely-audible sigh. Sherlock tried to hide his smirk.

“Do you think he and Holmes are shagging?”

“If they are, his penis clearly doesn't work on mental disorders.”

Both constables started sniggering.

Sherlock opened his mouth to drown them out with deductions, but it was too late.

“I should get going,” said John. “Got an appointment.”

Sherlock stood up. “Indeed,” he said. He looked at Lestrade, who was across the other side of the room where he wouldn't have heard the whispers from the corner. “I'll send you a text, but this should be relatively simple to solve, even for the imbeciles you have here.”

He swept John along with him as he left, ignoring Lestrade's attempts to get him to stay and explain his deductions. He felt oddly protective of John, wanting to keep him from all such vile comments. It was a strange, not entirely unpleasant feeling that was completely outside of his previous experiences. He wasn't sure what to do with it, so he ignored it.

“You didn't have to leave too,” said John once Sherlock had got him into a taxi. “You're not the one who's got a man with a heart condition to fuck into health.”

“It was dull,” said Sherlock. “Besides, why should I help people who think I have a mental disorder? It should be obvious to them that when compared to my brain, they are the ones with the disorder.”

John was quiet for a while. Sherlock glanced over to see him staring down at his hands as if they held the key to some great mystery.

“I wasn't sure if you'd heard them,” he said eventually.

Sherlock snorted. “My senses are excellent.”

“Well, you never seem to hear me when I ask you to do the washing up.”

“Dull,” said Sherlock, relieved that the conversation had moved onto more familiar lines.

They were nearly back at Baker Street before John spoke again. “I can't heal mental disorders, by the way. Not unless there’s a very definite physical cause for them.”

Sherlock considered that statement. “Then I suppose it's a good thing that I don't have one.”

John turned his head enough to smile at him. “Yeah,” he agreed.

There was something about the smile that made it impossible for Sherlock not to smile back. John's fame, as well as the other consequences of his condition, might cause disruptions to Sherlock's life and work, but they were minor when considered in contrast to the benefits that having a friend and companion had brought into Sherlock's life.

The man with the heart condition was waiting awkwardly in the hall for John when they got back.

“Uh, hello. I'm Matthew Jackson, we spoke on the phone?”

“Of course,” said John, giving him a smile and shaking his hand. Sherlock noticed, not for the first time, that the smile John used for this kind of social interaction was very different from the one he reserved for Sherlock.

“Come on up,” said John, waving at the stairs.

Matthew gave the stairs a bit of a grimace but nodded and started up them, gripping the rail and pressing one hand to his chest.

Sherlock wished he'd had the sense to get up to the sitting room before he'd got stuck behind an invalid. Their staircase was cluttered up with sick and dying people trying to haul themselves up it far too often. He wondered if it wouldn't make more sense for John to have a ground floor room rather than one that was two flights of stairs up. John had seemed happy, almost eager to have the upstairs room, though. Perhaps he liked the idea of two steep flights separating him from the hordes of sick people who wanted to take advantage of him.

Sherlock pictured a swarm of weak, pale people struggling to climb up to John's room while John escaped out the window and had to suppress a smile. Laughing at the dying seemed like something that would upset John.

John and Matthew paused on the first landing and Sherlock took his chance to slide past them into the sitting room.

“Uh, so, you should probably know that I'm not gay,” he heard Matthew say as Sherlock headed into the kitchen, looked at the kettle and decided that it would be better to wait for John to be done so that he could make the tea.

“Right,” said John, sounding irritated.

“No, I mean – I don't have any problems with it, you know,” backtracked Matthew. “I've got a mate who's gay. It's just – I'm not.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes and went to collapse into his chair, exhausted by the idiocy of the world.

“Okay,” said John, sounding a bit gentler. “No need to worry, it won't be as bad as you think.”

“Okay, right,” said Matthew. “No, I mean, I'm sure it won't. It's just- I don't really fancy that, um...that arse stuff. Could we just do something else?”

Sherlock made a face and considered getting out his violin to drown the conversation out. 'That arse stuff', honestly. Was it really so hard to use the correct terminology?

“Sorry,” said John. “It has to be penetrative sex for it to work.”

“Oh,” said Matthew, bleakly. “Well, okay. I suppose it can't be worse than the surgery last year.”

“Hopefully not,” said John heavily. “Are you ready for the next flight?”

John and Matthew proceeded up to the next floor while Sherlock tried to get his head around the idea of comparing sex with John to open heart surgery. He might not have had any experience with either, but he knew exactly which he would choose if given the choice. The sex he’d had with the occasional stranger when he’d been younger had been impersonal, rushed and surrounded by a haze of either alcohol or drugs, but it still had to have been better than open heart surgery. Sherlock was willing to bet that sex with John would be significantly better than even the best of those experiences.

****

Three months later, Sherlock broke his arm.

No, that was inaccurate. Three months later, a pavement broke Sherlock's arm. It was not his fault at all. It was hardly the first time he'd jumped out of a moving vehicle and he'd never broken anything before.

John was furious, of course.

“What the bloody hell were you thinking?! For Christ's sake, Sherlock, children know not to jump out of moving vehicles!”

Sherlock ignored both him and the pain. “We need to get to the mother's house. She won't have had time to dispose of the knife yet, but we don't have long.”

“The only place we're going is hospital,” said John. He was knelt beside Sherlock, touching his arm with a gentleness that was completely at odds with his tone. “Christ, definitely a displaced fracture of the ulna, probably the radius too – you're going to need surgery to pin this. You don't do things by halves, do you?”

“That wasn't my fault,” said the cabbie. “He said 'pull over', then just leapt out without waiting! Wasn't my fault.”

“It's the pavement's fault,” said Sherlock. His arm really hurt and he was beginning to think that John might be right. How extremely annoying. This case was so very close to being solved and now he was going to have to waste time on medical attention.

Or was he? He eyed John for a moment, contemplating the idea of asking him for a quick shag. There was an alleyway just over there...

John looked at the cabbie. “Can you take us to a hospital? I promise I won't let him do anything else categorically stupid.”

Sherlock let the idea go. Alleyway sex would probably be rather uncomfortable.

John helped him into the cab with an arm around his waist and directed the cabbie to the nearest hospital with an A&E. Sherlock tried to push aside the pain in order to text Lestrade, but he found himself typing a lot slower than was typical and making unnecessary typos as well. It was frustrating enough to make him vocalise it with a rough noise in his throat.

John sighed and took the phone from his hand, his fingers sliding over Sherlock's for a moment before he pulled it out. “What did you want to say?”

Sherlock huffed and sat back, cradling his arm. “Tell him that the mother will have the murder weapon hidden somewhere in the sewing room on the second floor and that he needs to get to it in the next hour, before the son goes to his piano lesson and the daughter goes to her judo lesson. Once they're out of the house, the mother will be able to dispose of the knife, and he'll lose his chance.”

“Right,” said John. “Give me a mo.”

He typed for a long time, frowning with concentration. Sherlock watched his finger jabbing at the keys and wondered what insult he was using to describe Sherlock as he told Lestrade about the broken arm. 'Moron' seemed likely, but 'lunatic' was also a contender.

“Right,” said John. “Done.” Instead of handing the phone back to Sherlock, he tucked it back into his pocket for him, as if both of Sherlock's arms were broken.

Sherlock spent the rest of the trip to the hospital trying to tell himself that there was no way that the touch of John's hand had made the pain lessen, it had merely been a psychological reaction. Humans in pain were conditioned to want the comfort of other humans, that was all.

****

Sherlock did have to have surgery, which was infuriating, and then he was made to stay in the hospital for days and days and days, until his mind was atrophying from the hideous tediousness of it all. John came to see him every day, but he didn't stay very long. Too many of the other patients in the hospital, or their relatives, started hanging around Sherlock's ward once they heard John was visiting, propositioning him in increasingly blatant ways while John tried to explain that he was just there to see a friend.

Sherlock couldn't decide which was worse – when John wasn't there and Sherlock was stuck without even the small entertainment afforded by his conversation, or when John was there and he could see all the medical staff eyeing them, wondering why John hadn't just fucked Sherlock back to health.

Sherlock found himself wondering the same thing, but he kept his mouth shut. Watching all the other sick and injured people throwing themselves at John in the hopes of a quick shag and a chance to go home was enough to make him decide that he had more dignity than that. Or to at least wait until they were in the privacy of the flat before he did.

“Next time you injure yourself by being an idiot, I won't come to visit you in hospital,” said John as they pulled away in the taxi, leaving a handful of disappointed patients standing on the pavement behind them.

“Yes, you will,” said Sherlock with complete certainty.

John sighed. “Yeah, I will,” he agreed. “I'll be pissed off about it, though.”

Sherlock snorted. “I'd expect nothing less.”

John sent him a darting frown which Sherlock pretended not to see as he tried to work out the best way to manage a seatbelt with his arm in a cast.

Having a cast was the most infuriating thing that had ever happened to Sherlock, including having to live with Mycroft. Having a cast while at home somehow managed to be even worse than having a cast while being in a hospital. At least he had expected to be bored senseless while in the hospital.

He couldn't play his violin, Lestrade had stopped texting him with cases – John's fault, Sherlock was certain – and even getting dressed had turned into a palaver. Who knew that buttons required so much dexterity?

The temptation to ask John to fuck him so that he could just get the stupid thing off just kept itching at the back of his mind. It wouldn't take much time, after all, and if John was willing to do it for a complete stranger with motor neurone disease, why wouldn't he do it for his best friend?

He kept himself from asking, though. John had made his rules very clear and a broken arm didn't fall under the definition of 'something that can't be cured any other way'. Besides which, he was not some snivelling child. He was more than capable of handling this without any assistance.

The day after Sherlock came home, John arrived back from the supermarket with a scowl. He tossed a newspaper at Sherlock without a word and then disappeared into the kitchen to put away the shopping.

Sherlock pulled the paper over and took in the front page. There was a large photo of his return from the hospital, John helping him out of the cab as he held his broken arm against his chest and glared at nothing as if trying to burn the stupidity out of the world using his brain. It was the headline that would have upset John, though.

PROOF THAT SLEUTHLOCK HOLMES AND DOCTOR COCKSON AREN'T SHAGGING

John hated being in the papers, he despised his media nickname and he detested any suggestion that he and Sherlock were a couple. This was a triple hit.

Sherlock threw the paper aside as John banged something down in the kitchen. If John was reacting this badly to the papers pointing out that John hadn't cured him with a quick shag, how much worse would it be if Sherlock was spotted with a fully healed arm? Probably best if Sherlock did just get through this the normal way. After all, if other people could handle this, then so could he.

Of course, that decision was made before The Itch started. Sherlock couldn't stop himself from thinking of it with capitals as he desperately jammed forks under the cast, trying to scratch his skin off.

“This is INTOLERABLE!” he bellowed. “I can't live like this!”

The woman John was showing down from his room, who until a few minutes ago had been riddled with cancer, gave a derisive snort. “Wuss.”

Sherlock turned his glare on her but John interrupted him before he could start deducing.

“Sorry about him, he's just being a brat. I'll show you out.”

Sherlock was speechless. A brat? Well, possibly, on occasion, but surely anyone suffering from The Itch, who had a brain racing away at the speed of a runaway train and no way to occupy it because of his stupid, defective body, should be forgiven for acting a little brattishly?

He turned over and tried to curl into the back of the sofa, but the cast got in the way. The infernal thing was just always in the way.

John came back up the stairs and paused for a moment in the doorway. Sherlock stubbornly didn't turn back over so that he could see his face.

John let out a sigh. “I'll make tea.”

Tea. John's answer to everything, even when there was another, far more obvious answer hidden in his trousers. It would be so easy for him to say 'Sherlock, I can see you're suffering, let me do something about that' and heal him. Sherlock could picture it with startling clarity. No need to move to a bedroom or anything like that; John could take him right here on the sofa.

Sherlock might have to move a bit, turn so that he was kneeling rather than curled up. He could keep his broken arm safe against his chest while the other one held on to the arm of the sofa. There would be space for John to fit behind him, the sofa was long enough. Sherlock was only wearing pyjamas so John could easily pull them down to gain access. He'd take off his own trousers before he got into position – and his shirt as well, decided Sherlock. John should be naked.

John had lube in his room. He'd have to finger Sherlock open first. He'd probably try and be clinical about it to start with, just a doctor undertaking a particularly invasive procedure, but he wouldn't be able to keep that up for long. Sherlock wasn't sure what his own reaction would be, but he could imagine finding it hard to keep his composure as John's fingers fucked into him, stretching him open. They'd both be trying so hard to pretend that there was nothing more to it than a friend helping another friend, but they'd be panting and growing hard and–

“Tea's ready,” said John.

Sherlock was pulled abruptly out of his thoughts to find that he had an erection. How appallingly unexpected. He was meant to have far more control over himself than that – in fact, he couldn't remember the last time he had become erect when he didn't intend to.

The way he was curled up meant that it was hidden from John. Sherlock made a noise that he hoped conveyed hopeless depression rather than mild embarrassment and didn't move.

John let out a sigh. “Fine, be like that. It's on the table.”

There was the sound of a mug being put down and then John moved away towards his chair, where he settled down with a quiet sigh. Sherlock stayed as he was and tried very hard not to imagine the sorts of noises John would make if he did fuck Sherlock on the sofa.

This whole thing was insufferable and clearly a product of his current incapacity. He was now so bored that he was indulging in sexual fantasies, and it had only been a week. What was he going to be like by the time his arm was healed and he was able to finally get the cast off?

“I'm going to go mad,” he announced to the room.

John snorted. “That implies you're not already,” he said. “Drink your tea and stop being melodramatic.”

Sherlock scowled at the back of the sofa. John wasn't taking this seriously. Sherlock could only hope that he would realise before Sherlock went mad that this was an unacceptable situation, and offer to rectify it using the most obvious solution.

****

Except he didn't. Another week passed. Lestrade started bringing case files to Sherlock again, but he refused to let him come along to any actual crime scenes. The boredom began to build to almost unimaginable levels, until Sherlock could do little more than lie on the sofa, staring at the ceiling and feeling his brain shake itself apart.

“Aren't there any experiments you could do?” asked John.

“With only one hand?” said Sherlock. “How am I meant to do delicate work with only one hand?”

“Something less delicate then?” said John. “You wouldn't need both hands to whip a corpse.”

“I've already done that experiment, John,” said Sherlock. “Why would I need to repeat it? If you're not going to have any useful suggestions,” like fucking Sherlock's bones back together, “don't bother opening your mouth.”

John let out a sigh. “Fine. I'm just trying to help but, as usual, The Great Sherlock Holmes knows best. Sulking on the sofa and driving yourself into a fit of depression is a much better idea than getting up and actually doing something.”

“There isn't anything I can do,” snapped Sherlock. “That's the point!”

“Oh, don't be ridiculous,” said John. “There are plenty of things you can do. It's a nice day, why don't we go for a walk or something? You can show me places where you've solved fiendishly complex crimes, and I can tell you how clever you are.”

Sherlock opened his mouth to snap back, then paused. That did sound good, actually. John was always so endearingly sincere when he complimented Sherlock's brain.

“Fine,” he said, standing up.

“Great,” said John, with insultingly obvious relief. “Get dressed, then.”

Sherlock looked down at the pyjamas that he had been living in for the last two weeks, ever since he'd realised how impossible it was to fit any of his shirts over his cast, let alone do up the buttons on them.

“I've changed my mind,” he said, and collapsed back onto the sofa.

“Oh, for–” said John. “I'll bloody help you with your sodding buttons, you twat, just put some bloody trousers on so we can get you out of here before you go completely around the bend.”

Sherlock sniffed and turned over to curl up. “Not interested.”

John stood very still and quiet for a moment, then let out an explosive breath. “Right,” he said, more to himself than to Sherlock. “Right, okay then.”

He strode off in the direction of Sherlock's bedroom and Sherlock sat up in a hurry, craning his neck to see what he was doing. He didn't leave the sofa, though. That would be admitting that he didn't know what John was going to do.

There was a thump that Sherlock identified as his wardrobe door being flung open. Ah, John was going to bring clothes to him. He'd probably dump them on Sherlock's head and issue some sort of ultimatum. Sherlock relaxed again. He could safely ignore that.

The sounds of clothes being rifled through filtered into the sitting room as Sherlock curled up again, content that he was going to win this battle of wills. Then there was a sound he hadn't anticipated: the quiet snick of scissors.

“John!” he shouted. “What are you doing?!”

John emerged with a grim look of determination and an armful of clothes. “Solving your problems for you, as bloody usual.”

Sherlock couldn't help thinking that if that was true, he wouldn't still have a broken arm because John would fucked it away a long time ago.

“Sit up and get that t-shirt off,” said John, holding up one of Sherlock's shirts.

Sherlock stared at it in horror. “What did you do?”

“I cut the sleeve so that it would fit over the cast,” said John.

Sherlock couldn't take his eyes off the mutilation in front of him. “Do you have any idea how much that shirt cost? You've destroyed it!”

“I've made it into the only shirt you can actually wear right now,” said John. “Come on, sit up. Let's get on with this. Oh, stop looking like that. I'd have to cut up far more than one shirt to be anywhere even with your history of destroying my clothes.”

Sherlock sat up slowly. “That could have been my favourite shirt,” he pointed out.

“It's not,” said John. “It's your least favourite.”

Sherlock felt his eyes narrow. “A guess.”

John shook his head. “Nope. A deduction. This is always the last one you wear before doing laundry, and you're always in a bad mood when you do. You hate it.”

That was true. When had John started to know him so well? “Mycroft gave it to me,” he admitted.

“Then it's a wonder it's not been drenched in acid at some point,” said John, which was exactly what Sherlock had done to the tie that Mycroft had given him with it. Probably best not to tell John that.

“Come on, t-shirt off,” said John impatiently. “Don't make me skin the rabbit.”

Sherlock stared. “Do what?”

John rolled his eyes, stepped forward and pulled Sherlock's t-shirt up and over Sherlock's head from the hem, briefly blinding Sherlock. “Skin the rabbit,” he said as Sherlock desperately tried to sort out the mess that had made of his hair.

“Never do that again,” he growled.

John just grinned and handed the maimed shirt over. “Don't give me a reason to, then.”

Sherlock scowled and pulled the shirt on, fumbling with it one-handed. With the sleeve sliced apart, it was easy to pull over his cast, but he was still stuck when it got to the part where he had to do the buttons up.

John didn't let him spend more than a moment fiddling with them. “Here,” he said, knocking Sherlock’s hand away and doing them up for him.

Sherlock bit his tongue to stop himself saying anything horribly rude and felt himself tense at John's close proximity. This would be so much less humiliating if he was undoing them, he thought, which made no sense. The point of the exercise was to get Sherlock dressed, after all, not strip him naked. That would only be the point if John changed his mind and decided to fuck Sherlock after all.

Sherlock felt his skin heat up at the thought of John doing just that, taking off Sherlock's clothes and caressing the skin, kissing his collarbones.

Stupid, he told himself. Why would he need to kiss Sherlock at all to fix his arm? It would just be a medical procedure, nothing else. Sherlock didn't want to have sex with John for the sex, he just wanted to sort out his arm.

“Right!” said John, stepping back once the last button was done. “Now the trousers.”

“I can do them myself,” snapped Sherlock, taking the trousers from John. The last thing he wanted was John fiddling with his flies, right over where Sherlock's cock was showing more interest than was really warranted at the idea of sex with John.

“Right,” said John, stepping away. “Good. I'll just. Um. Get your shoes.” He hurried away to Sherlock's bedroom and Sherlock was left alone with two pairs of trousers and one working arm.

Getting the pyjamas off was easy. Not graceful, but easy. Pulling the other ones up was slightly trickier, but manageable. It probably would have been easier if the trousers weren't so tight, but Sherlock didn't see the point in wasting unnecessary material on making clothes loose.

The real problem came when he tried to do up his flies. The trousers had a button inside the waistband as well as the one at the top of the zip, and he just couldn't get it to do up. His cast was just too bulky for that hand to be much use at getting his fingers into where they needed to be, so he had to resort to trying to do it one-handed. He tried bracing the material with his cast, sucking his tummy in to get it out of the way and release the pressure on the button, even bracing himself against the sofa to try and force the button into the hole. None of it worked. The button refused to go into the buttonhole, eluding all Sherlock's best attempts.

Frustration began to build as Sherlock wrestled with the bloody thing. He was a genius and he refused to be defeated by a button! He squirmed until the material was caught on the edge of the button, then tried to gently tug it in, one-handed. For a moment, it looked like it was going to work and then it slipped free again, as if it was taunting him.

“Um. Want a hand?” said John and Sherlock turned to see that he'd emerged from Sherlock's bedroom, holding a pair of shoes. Shoes that he'd have to lace up for Sherlock, because there was no way he could tie a bow right now.

Suddenly, it was all too much.

“No, I don't want a bloody hand,” snapped Sherlock. “I want your cock! Just fuck me already, would you?” He pushed his trousers down his thighs as far as he could one-handed, then turned to brace himself against the table. “Come on, it won't take long and you haven't performed your daily miracle yet. Make yourself useful, doctor.”

There was a moment of deadening silence. Sherlock looked around at John to see him staring at Sherlock with a shocked look of devastation. Sherlock's stomach plunged to the floor.

“You utter bastard,” said John, and then he walked out, slamming the door behind him. Sherlock stared at it, his arse still on display, and felt like the world's biggest fool.

****

John didn't come back for hours. Sherlock had time to decide that this was all John's fault for pushing him to get dressed in the first place. Not to mention that it had been a complete over-reaction to walk out like that. Was it really so hard to say no politely, with reasons?

At about eight o'clock, a young man tapped on the door and came in without waiting for a response. “Uh, hi,” he said. “The lady downstairs told me to come up?”

Sherlock spared him a glance from where he was sprawled on the sofa, back in his pyjama bottoms but still wearing the shirt John had done up for him. “Cystic fibrosis,” he said.

The man blinked. “Yes,” he said. “I know. Um. Is John Watson here?”

Sherlock let out a sigh and put an arm over his eyes to block the world out. “Not tonight,” he said. “You're going to have to wait for your miracle fuck, I'm afraid.”

The man didn't leave. “Are you sure? He said he'd be here – we made an arrangement.”

“Yes, yes,” said Sherlock. “I know. An arrangement for you to dodge the bullet that fate has fired at you.” He moved the arm from his eyes. “What makes you think you deserve it? So many sick and dying people out there, why should you get John's magic ejaculate? Don't you think it would be better to just die? I'm sure you're aware of the population crisis.”

The man gaped at him. “That's–” he spluttered for a moment and then stopped and shook his head. “Fuck you, man,” he said, and finally left.

Sherlock let out a sigh and shut his eyes. John needed to come back and forgive him, or at least forget that Sherlock had upset him, so that Sherlock could get rid of this black pit of guilt in his stomach. It was extremely unpleasant and he needed it to go away.

It was so late by the time John got home that Sherlock had begun to wonder if he'd found somewhere else to stay the night.

John slipped in and shut the door quietly behind himself before crossing to his chair. Sherlock hadn't bothered getting up to turn the lights on when the sun went down and was lying in the dark. For a moment he thought John hadn't realised he was there, but then John spoke.

“When I was twenty-two, a friend of a friend started sitting next to me in lectures. I thought he just didn't know anyone else on that course and didn't think much of it. He suggested we get lunch afterwards one day, and then we started hanging out a lot. He had a whole lot of bad sci-fi that we'd watch together, and we'd play one-on-one rugby when it felt like we'd done too much studying – just stupid student stuff, you know.”

Sherlock didn't know, but he kept his mouth shut.

“And then, after a few months, his sister came to stay for the weekend,” said John. His silhouette ducked its head. “She was twelve and she had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. It's–” he paused and then took a deep breath. “It's extremely painful. My friend talked me in to hanging out with them for the day and then, that night after she'd gone to bed, he came to my room and begged me to–” He stopped and cleared his throat.

Sherlock realised that his hand was clenched into a fist, as if he wanted to hit this nameless person from John's past.

“He begged me to fuck her. He said he'd get her to agree, and no one would ever have to know, but he couldn't stand to watch her suffer any more. He– it became clear pretty quickly that the only reason he'd become friends with me was because he thought I'd be okay with having sex with a twelve-year-old.”

“That's not why–” Sherlock started quickly, but John interrupted him.

“I know. I know, but that doesn't change it, Sherlock. I am not your – your panacea. I'll do the cleaning and the cooking and let you order me about on cases, but that's it, okay? I am not going to fuck you. If you ever ask me to again, I'll leave.”

Sherlock felt as if he'd been socked in the stomach. John couldn't leave. Sherlock couldn't go back to the life he'd had before John. It had seemed fine at the time – satisfying, even, but now that Sherlock knew what it was like to have someone to share a smile with at a crime scene, or to bicker with over dinner, he couldn't ever imagine letting that go.

“Understood,” he said.

John jerked a nod and then stood up. “Right,” he said. “Bed then. Good night.”

He was almost out of the room before Sherlock managed to get any words out. “What happened with your friend and his sister?”

That hadn't been what he'd been intending to say, although he wasn't sure what that would have been.

John paused in the doorway. “I told him to piss off and not bother talking to me again. And then I wrote her a letter saying that I couldn't help her then, but she could contact me when she was sixteen, if that was what she decided she wanted. I never heard from her. I think she decided that some prices aren't worth paying.”

He went upstairs, leaving Sherlock in the dark with too many thoughts. The most prominent was why am I so disappointed that we'll never have sex? but close behind was an unfamiliar sense of shame that a teenager with a chronic condition had more sense of self-respect than he did after only a fortnight with a broken arm.

After that, Sherlock did his best not to whine too much about the cast. He wasn't entirely successful, because the thing was excruciatingly irritating and The Itch only got worse, but the way John tensed every time he expressed his frustration was enough to make Sherlock shut up. He couldn't drive John away, not over something like this.

Trying to bottle up his frustration was made even harder by the fact that now the broken arm wasn't the only thing driving him up the wall. Every time he looked at John, all he could think about was the certainty with which John had said, I am not going to fuck you. His eyes would catch on the line of John's neck and remind him that he'd never run his mouth over it, or on the muscles of John's thighs as he crouched down and he'd remember that he was never going to be allowed to touch them. It felt like he was being bombarded by all the things that he and John would never do together, which made John's daily appointments agonising. Sherlock lay on the sofa, day after day, trying not to imagine all the things John was doing with the patient he had taken up to his room, while a sign flashed in his brain saying That Will Never Be You.

It all added up to make him very short-tempered, which made John start to avoid him, which made Sherlock imagine all the things John could be doing without him – largely masturbating, if his brain was to be believed – which only notched his frustration higher. By the time a month had passed, he found himself staying in his bedroom as much as possible to avoid the whole mess.

It's just boredom, he told himself. Once the cast was off and he could engage in cases properly again, all the thoughts about John would dissipate like mist and things would go back to normal. Until then, he was just going to have to accept that a wank was now part of his daily routine, where it had barely been a monthly concern before.

***

The woman galloped down the stairs from John's room, leaping the last three in one go.

“Watch it!” said John, following her down. “I'm not up for another round if you break something.”

The woman spun around and gave him a grin. “I haven't been able to run down stairs like that since I was six,” she said. “Thank you!” She pressed a kiss to John's cheek, then dashed off down the next flight.

John stood for a moment at the top of the stairs watching her, then let out a breath which made his shoulders sink. The smile fell off his face to be replaced by a look of exhaustion. He turned towards the sitting room and started when he saw Sherlock watching.

“Tea?” he offered.

“We're out,” Sherlock reminded him.

John's shoulders slumped. “Right,” he said. He glanced at the stairs as if contemplating going to the shop, or perhaps down to Mrs. Hudson's to borrow some, but instead came into the sitting room and sat in his chair. “Anything interesting on telly?”

“There never has been before,” said Sherlock absently, noting the tension still sitting in John's back muscles and the little sigh he let out as he sat down. A deduction came to him and he sat up straight.

“Sex makes you stressed.”

John gave a faint frown. “What?”

“Most men are relaxed and lethargic in the wake of sex, due to the release of prolactin. You, however, are still tense.” Sherlock frowned. “I've never known you to nap after sex, as is the most common male response to orgasm.”

John scowled. “Yeah, well, most men aren't having sex with a total stranger who doesn't really want to be there.” He flicked on the telly in a futile effort to end the conversation and added, in a mutter, “That's just me and rapists.”

“Presumably men who frequent prostitutes also fall into that category,” said Sherlock.

John snorted. “Oh yeah, great. I feel much better now.”

Sherlock's brain had already moved on. “She looked happy enough when she came downstairs,” he pointed out.

“Oh yeah,” said John. “Of course. They're always happy afterwards, when the pain's gone, or they can run down some stairs without keeling over. During, though– Well. No one wants to feel coerced into sex, even if it's their ailing health that's doing the coercing.”

Sherlock considered that and decided that he didn't understand anyone being unhappy about having sex with John. “Idiots.”

John shook his head. “It's sex with a stranger, Sherlock. You wouldn't understand.”

“No,” agreed Sherlock. “I've only ever had sex with strangers, so I have nothing to contrast that with.”

John turned to stare at him. “You've had sex?!”

Sherlock felt an odd mixture of embarrassment and insult. “I was so bored I turned to drugs, John. Of course I tried sex as well.”

“Right,” said John faintly, still staring at him.

Sherlock cleared his throat. “If you find sex with strangers to be unpleasant, perhaps you should give yourself other sexual possibilities and find a girlfriend,” he said, and then couldn't resist adding, “or a boyfriend.”

John blinked for a moment before he started to laugh. “Oh yeah, that'd be a good trick,” he said.

Sherlock frowned. “I don't understand why that was funny.”

John stopped laughing. “Sherlock, I have sex every day with complete strangers. What kind of girlfriend would ever put up with that? Plus I can't have kids- Medica Verpa means you're sterile- and that's a dealbreaker for more women than you'd expect. I haven't been in a relationship since my first one with Jane, after which I started having sex with sick people on a regular basis.”

“Surely that's not a deal-breaker for everyone,” said Sherlock. “Prostitutes have relationships, don't they?”

“Not healthy ones,” said John. “You've clearly never seen Moulin Rouge. Look, when I first found out I had it, I did a bunch of research. Roughly 1 in 50 million men have Medica Verpa, which is 67 known living men in the world right now. Do you know how many of those are in a successful, lasting relationship? None. Historically, we have records of a couple of hundred more men, and of those, only seven are known to have ever been married, at least one of which is more myth than historical figure.”

“That doesn't mean–” started Sherlock, but John cut him off.

“Yes, it does. Look, it's fine. You're single, I'm single, neither of us are likely to ever be anything else. We can grow old together, fighting crime.” John turned back to the telly and fixed a look on it that said he wasn't interested in continuing the conversation.

Sherlock lay back on the sofa and considered that. He rather liked the idea of growing old with John, but he wasn't sure he wanted to do it as a single man. He pictured them in the future, frail and greying, and found that his imaginary, older self was holding John's hand as they shuffled through the park, complaining about the ridiculous fashions of the youth.

Apparently, it wasn't just sex that he wanted from John. He let his imagination spread its wings and pictured what a relationship with John, a proper relationship such as he had never thought he'd have, would be like. John wouldn't be sitting over there in his chair right now, he'd be on the sofa with Sherlock, relaxed against him as Sherlock thought and John watched the rubbish on the telly. Later, they'd go to bed, where Sherlock would be allowed to kiss and touch as much as he liked, before they fell asleep together.

They'd still do all the things they did now: investigating crimes, chasing after murderers, arguing over the state of the kitchen. It was just that they'd also flirt at crime scenes, hold hands on the street, and have make-up sex that only served to make the kitchen even more untidy.

John would still have his daily appointments, of course. Sherlock knew him well enough to know that John would never agree to give up using his condition to help people. Sherlock found them irritating now, because all those strangers got something he never would from John. Would he still feel the same if he was sleeping with John every night? He couldn't imagine that he would. What did it matter what John did with strangers as a medical service? If he had been able to get a job as a GP, Sherlock wouldn't feel jealous of the patients whose pulses he took, or whose abdomens he palpated. Why should he feel jealous of those that John cured when Sherlock would be the one John loved?

Loved.

Sherlock had the sudden, sick feeling that this was not going to end well. John wasn't ever going to love Sherlock – he didn't even want to fuck him. He'd made his feelings on that clear enough.

Sherlock glanced over at John's face as he laughed at something inane on the screen and felt ice seep into his veins. Every moment that Sherlock had just imagined for their future was impossible. He was never going to get to be more than the friend John grew old with, just close enough to yearn for him, but not allowed any closer.

He sat up in a sudden movement.

John glanced over. “Okay?”

“I'm going to bed,” announced Sherlock. He left before John could reply, suddenly desperate to get a closed door between the two of them.

****

He tried to distance himself from John after that, without a great deal of success. His arm was still in the cursed cast, so his ability to leave the flat was considerably hindered. He settled for just avoiding the communal areas by not leaving his room at all, but that only served to heighten his boredom. He hadn't realised how much less tedious things were when John was in the same room as him.

Lying in his bedroom didn't stop him from hearing John moving around, just the other side of the door. The shower would come on at roughly the same time every morning, leading Sherlock to a flurry of images of John's wet, naked body that were no help in his attempt to shut down his unwanted feelings. Not long after that, John would tap on Sherlock's door and offer him tea. Sherlock tried a number of responses that he hoped would get John to stop, but they had no effect. If anything, they only seemed to make John more determined to attempt communication every time he put the kettle on.

Shutting himself away from John had no noticeable effect on Sherlock's feelings for John, but he stubbornly persisted. Just a bit more distance and the amount of time he spent contemplating the precise details of a hypothetical relationship would start to drop off, and the tingle under his skin whenever he heard John moving about close-by would fade away.

On the fifth day, John tapped on Sherlock’s bedroom door with more purpose than he had the other days. “I'm making breakfast, and you're going to come out and eat it. Sulking in there isn't going to make you less frustrated with your arm, you know.”

“I'm fine,” Sherlock called back. “Go away.”

“Yeah, not a chance,” said John. “You're coming out of there today if I have to drag you. Save yourself the hassle and come and have breakfast with me.”

“Not hungry,” said Sherlock.

“I don't care if you're hungry or not. Come out. This isn't healthy, Sherlock.”

There was very little about Sherlock's life these days that could be considered healthy in any way, so he ignored that. At least he wasn't still injecting himself with large quantities of class A drugs.

John waited a few moments and then let out a huff. “Right,” he muttered, and Sherlock heard him move away.

Five minutes later, he was back. He tapped on the door but opened it without waiting for a response.

“I said, go away!” said Sherlock raising himself to his elbow to glare.

John was carrying a tray that held two cups of tea and two plates of toast. “Yeah, no,” he said. “If you won't come out and have breakfast with me, I'll just come in and have it with you.”

Sherlock scowled. “I said I wasn't hungry.”

John set the tray down on Sherlock's bedside table then sat down on the edge of the bed where he could reach it. “Yeah, I don't buy that. You've been in here for five days and while I know you're sneaking out at night to eat, I know what food's gone missing, and it's not nearly enough. Eat.”

Sherlock wrinkled his nose and turned away from both John and the tray.

“Suit yourself,” said John. “I'm going to eat, anyway.” There was the sound of a mug being picked up.

Sherlock lay as still as he could, doing his best to block out just how close John was, how he could feel his body separated only by the duvet. He had to be as discouraging as possible so that John never did this again. He wouldn't be able to distance himself from these unwanted feelings if John kept pushing himself into Sherlock's personal bubble like this. Even now, he had to fight to keep himself from turning over and curling around John, resting his head on his lap where he could watch John's face as he smiled down at Sherlock.

He wouldn't smile down at Sherlock, though. He'd frown and ask him what he thought he was doing. There would be awkwardness and possibly a reminder of John's stance on having sex with Sherlock. Sherlock didn't want to have to live through that again, so he stayed where he was, clenching the duvet in his fist to keep himself from moving.

Eventually, John finished eating and drinking, but he didn't go away. Instead, he sat for a bit longer in silence before sighing.

“Sherlock, I know you're finding the broken arm frustrating, but just staying in bed all the time isn't a good solution. At least come out to the sitting room today, please?”

“I'm fine here,” said Sherlock.

“Yeah, well, maybe I want to actually spend some time with you,” said John.

Sherlock allowed himself a derisive snort at that.

“Right,” said John. “Of course that doesn't matter.” He finally stood up and Sherlock immediately began to miss the weight of his body on the bed with him. “Fine, stay here. Just, please, eat the toast.”

Sherlock didn't bother replying and after a few more moments, John finally left, shutting the door gently behind himself. Sherlock immediately rolled over to look at where he had been. He found himself stretching out a hand to feel John's warmth on the duvet, and then cursed himself for being a sentimental fool.

The toast looked good and the tea was probably still warm. It wouldn't hurt to eat it now John was gone. He pulled himself upright and tucked in.

****

John's appointment that day was at 3. Sherlock heard the bell ring, then slow footsteps on the stairs. There was the brief sound of voices but he couldn't make out any words, only that the patient was a man. He and John went upstairs and Sherlock rolled over onto his back to stare at the ceiling and wonder what kind of sex they were having up there. Was it cold and clinical, as if John really was just performing a medical procedure, or did he try and make it good for them? Did he kiss them at all, or engage in foreplay? Did he put his mouth to their necks, sucking gently as he worked down their collarbones?

Sherlock was getting hard just thinking about it. He shut his eyes and let himself imagine himself in the unknown invalid's position. John would try so hard to keep objective about it, but without success. Sherlock wouldn't let him. He'd roll them over so that John was on his back, then take the time to explore John's body. Just because it had to end with John coming inside him didn't mean that was how it had to start. He imagined travelling down John's body, taking in every detail, before sucking his cock into his mouth, worshipping the organ that had such an incredible power, and was about to cure him of – of whatever it was he was sick with.

Sherlock pushed his hand into his pyjama bottoms as he let the vision play out. John would react so beautifully to having his cock sucked. He'd arch his back and make the most wonderful noises, crying out Sherlock's name and burying a hand in Sherlock's hair while Sherlock took him in as deeply as he could, right to the back of his throat.

“Enough,” John would gasp eventually, reluctantly. “You won't be healed if I come like this.”

Sherlock would pull away and take a moment just to look at John, at how aroused he was, fixing the image in his mind before he moved forward to straddle his body.

Sherlock's hand tightened on his cock as he imagined it, then sped up.

He'd have already prepared himself, he decided. No need to waste time with lube and fingers when he could just sink right down on John's cock, impaling himself slowly and watching John's face go slack at the sensation. What noise would John make as Sherlock began to ride him? Something heartfelt and guttural, which would–

Sherlock came into his hand. He lay still for a moment or two, catching his breath, then pulled a tissue from the box he was now forced to keep by his bed, cleaned himself off, and dropped it into the bin.

He felt lethargic but also unsatisfied and he wondered if masturbating while picturing John would ever feel like enough. He felt a violent surge of envy for the man who was with John right now, but pushed it back down and resolutely shut his eyes. He'd have a nap to stop himself from thinking about it.

He woke up to tapping on his door. “Sherlock?” called John. “I'm making tea.”

Sherlock blinked his eyes open and scowled. The man must have left, then. John always made tea after his appointments, and always knocked on Sherlock's door to inform him of that fact.

“Good for you,” he called back.

“Come out and drink some with me,” said John.

“Not thirsty,” said Sherlock.

“People don't have tea together because they're thirsty,” said John. “They do it in order to share companionship.”

“I'm fine for companionship right now,” lied Sherlock.

There was a moment of silence, then a thump as if John had rested his forehead on the door. “Yeah, well, maybe I'm not,” he said in a low voice. A moment later, his footsteps headed away from the door.

Sherlock sat up. He hadn't once considered the idea that his absence from their communal areas might have a negative impact on John. Did spending time with Sherlock really mean so much to him? Sherlock went into his Mind Palace in order to run through various memories of sharing tea with John, concentrating on the physical cues that signified John's level of contentedness.

A pattern emerged startlingly quickly. As Sherlock had already observed, John was often tense and stressed after his appointments, which continued while he made the tea for himself and Sherlock. However, once they were sat down and engaged in meaningless conversation, that tension slowly seeped away, until he was relaxed and smiling again. Sherlock hadn't noticed that John purposefully engaged Sherlock in conversation after his appointments, rather than letting a comfortable silence bloom between them as was often the case when they had tea together at other times.

If having tea with Sherlock helped John cope with the unpleasant aspects of his appointments, then he must have spent the last few days in an increasingly tense state.

Sherlock stood up. It was vitally important that he drink tea with John immediately.

When he emerged from his bedroom, John was stood over the kettle staring off into the distance with a melancholy look on his face that Sherlock wanted to kiss away.

Not allowed, he reminded himself.

John startled and looked over at Sherlock with surprise.

“I require tea after all,” said Sherlock, and he sat down at the kitchen table.

“Really?” said John. “I thought you were all set on languishing in a state of ennui forever, or at least until next Thursday.” He reached to get down another mug as he said it and Sherlock noted that his shoulders were already beginning to relax.

“Next Thursday?” Sherlock repeated, concentrating most of his attention on the various signs that John was stressed, and had been for a while, and hoped that just having tea with him would be enough to eradicate that.

“Yeah,” said John as the kettle boiled. “When you get your cast off.”

Sherlock blinked and looked down at his arm. He had forgotten that it was only there for a finite period. He tried to remember what it had been like to move around with both arms unencumbered, and found it trickier than he would have liked. “Can't we move that forward?”

John snorted. “Not a hope,” he said. “We both know that the minute you get it off, you're going to be trying to leap tall buildings again.”

Sherlock scowled. “It wasn't a building, it was a pavement,” he muttered, “and it was completely at fault.”

John set a cup of tea in front of him and then sat down with his own. “Yes, of course it was,” he said. “The inanimate object did it deliberately.”

Sherlock took a careful look at him and realised that the small amount of conversation they had engaged in had relaxed him almost entirely, as well as put an amused half-smile on his face. “It was probably in cahoots with Mycroft,” he said. “We were in Westminster, you know.”

John laughed and Sherlock felt something inside himself relax at the sound. Perhaps he should stop thinking about the things that he was never going to experience with John and concentrate on the things that he could. Being the one to make him smile again after the stress of his appointments was surely worth as much as being allowed to have sex with him?

Sherlock remembered his fantasy and decided that no, it really wasn't, but it was at least a close second. And all he was ever going to get. Compromise was not his strong suit, but perhaps he should give it a try, just this once.

****

John was visibly pleased when Sherlock left his bedroom the next morning to have breakfast with him. Sherlock did his best to pretend that he hadn't noticed.

John's appointment that day was in the late morning. Sherlock felt a swelling resentment when the man tapped on the door and found himself glaring as John greeted him and conducted him up to his bedroom.

There followed an unpleasant half hour during which Sherlock desperately tried to think of something – anything – other than sex with John and failed spectacularly. For all his resolution to focus on the parts of John that he had access to and which the strangers he had sex with never would, he found himself unable to prevent jealousy from rampaging through his mind.

He just couldn't stand the idea that there was anything about John that he was denied. How was it fair that he had to construct his fantasies about John entirely from conjecture while a stranger, a man who had no emotional stake in the matter at all, was experiencing the reality?

When Sherlock heard John's door open, he forced himself to get up and go into the kitchen, where he wouldn't be tempted to throw things at the man. Once there, he thought he might as well put the kettle on, as that would undoubtedly be John's next act once he'd got rid of the man.

The man seemed keen on a long goodbye, so Sherlock had the tea made by the time John came into the kitchen. There was a heaviness to his step that made Sherlock itch to shout at the world for putting John in this position. He held a cup of tea out to John to stop himself from going into a rant.

John's eyes riveted on the mug and then darted up to Sherlock's face. “Thank you,” he said in a heartfelt voice as he reached for it. A smile broke out on his face and for a moment Sherlock could almost see the tension draining away from him. It was fascinating to watch, and extremely gratifying to know that he was the cause of that. If he'd known that merely making tea would have such an impact, he'd have done it at least once or twice before.

“Thanks so much,” said John again, after he'd taken a sip. “I didn't know you knew how to make tea.”

Sherlock managed a shrug as he picked up his own tea and headed back into the sitting room. “If I don't get this cast off soon, I'm going to be so bored I'll have to resort to household chores. Cleaning the bathroom, John!”

He sat down in his chair, where he'd have a good view of John and the effect drinking tea was having on him.

John made an amused noise as he settled in his own chair. “Can't possibly have that,” he said. “What would I do then? Spend some time not cleaning up after you like some kind of maid?”

“Exactly,” said Sherlock. “You'd be quite useless.”

John snorted and shook his head as he bent over the tea, as if trying to hide his smile in it. Sherlock memorised the precise angle of his lips and let a sense of satisfaction spread through him.

The next day he made tea again, and John's smile was just as wide. Sherlock decided that he would make it a habit, at least until a case finally came along and gave him something other than John to think about.

It was only a few days later that a case did come along, and it was splendid, even with John hovering beside him, glaring at any suggestion Sherlock came up with that might endanger his arm. When John looked at his watch and said, ruefully, that he had an appointment and needed to go, Sherlock took one last look at the corpse and went home with him. John would need him to make tea.

A woman in the early stages of Huntington's disease was waiting for them and John took her upstairs immediately. Sherlock took the time to look up a couple of facts that might be relevant to the case and found that it was a lot easier to ignore what was happening on the floor above if he was distracted by a case. Besides, he wasn't particularly interested in what John was like when he had sex with women. It wasn't as if Sherlock could use that information when constructing a scenario in which he and John had sex together.

He made the tea once he'd run out of things to do for the case that didn't involve leaving the flat. As they'd missed lunch while at the crime scene, he also dug out the biscuit tin and set a couple on a plate for John.

John took rather longer than usual, which gave Sherlock enough time to wonder if the biscuits weren't a step too far, and then get bored and just eat them himself. John wasn't the only one who'd missed lunch.

When John and the woman came down, she was crying. John had a hand on her shoulder and was talking in a quiet, reassuring voice.

“...all okay now, you were really brave. You got through it, and now you're cured completely, I promise. No more invasive medical treatments, you're all clear.”

“I know,” she said through sobs. “I just– I'm sorry. I'm being silly.”

“Not at all,” said John. “I know it's unpleasant.”

Sherlock turned away before he got involved in the emotion and pulled the biscuit tin out again to refill the plate. John was definitely going to need them.

John took the woman downstairs and Sherlock went to hover by the sitting room windows to watch. A man was waiting outside the front door for the woman and she burst into floods of tears again the moment she saw him. He opened his arms and she stepped into them, leaning against him, gasping out something Sherlock couldn't make out.

John climbed back up the stairs to the sitting room with a weary step that made Sherlock frown. What had that woman done to him?

His eyes went straight to Sherlock when he came in and he made a face. “I hate it when they're like that.”

“Damp?” suggested Sherlock.

John shook his head. “So desperate to be cured that they force themselves to go through with it even though it's making their skin crawl. Where's the tea?”

Sherlock nodded at the kitchen and John turned in that direction. He looked completely worn out, as if he'd climbed a mountain only to discover his mother dead at the top of it. Sherlock looked back out the window at the couple, who were still embracing on the street, holding on to each other as if they were all they had.

John came up beside him and they watched together in silence. Eventually, the man pulled away and wiped the woman's tears away with his thumbs. He said something that made her give him a watery smile, then he slid his arm around her shoulders and they headed off together.

John let out a sigh. “I've made her future – both of their futures – much better, so why does it feel like I've just been responsible for giving her the most traumatic experience of her life?”

Sherlock glanced at him and realised that the tea wasn't having the required effect this time. He looked back at the arm the man had around the woman's shoulders and took a deep breath. John had been touching her shoulder earlier, it was clearly an acceptable platonic gesture to someone who was distressed.

He braced himself and then reached his uninjured arm out to encircle John's shoulders. John tensed for a moment, glancing at him with a startled look that made Sherlock think he'd gone wrong, but then he let out a sigh and relaxed into Sherlock's arm.

It was lovely. Sherlock hadn't realised just how blissful it would feel to have John within the circle of his arm, to be able to feel the warmth of his body and the rhythm of his breathing. Several minutes passed by without him being aware of anything other than the beautiful combination of his arm and John's shoulders.

“What's the next step on the case?” asked John eventually.

Sherlock forced himself to let go and move away, before he was tempted to insist John let him keep his arm there forever. “We need to go to the morgue,” he said. “Finish your tea, eat a biscuit, it may take a while.”

“Ooh, biscuits,” said John, and he wandered back into the kitchen. Sherlock let out a breath he wasn't aware he'd been holding and looked down at his arm, which felt weirdly tingly. He wondered if he'd ever have the excuse to do that again and hoped fervently, in a way that he usually only hoped for a murder, that he would.

****

The case was easy enough, in the end. Sherlock deferred to John's glares and let the police make the final arrest, but he told himself that the minute his cast was off, he'd drag John in a chase down a dark alleyway. John might deny it, but there was nothing he liked more.

A few days later, John went with Sherlock to get the cast removed.

“You know this isn't the end of it,” he warned him, while they were in the waiting room. “You'll need to go to physio.”

“Yes, yes,” said Sherlock distractedly, too busy planning to scratch The Itch out from under his skin.

“I mean it, Sherlock,” said John. “Physio is important, especially when–”

“I know, John,” interrupted Sherlock. “I am acutely aware of its importance. Do you honestly think I'm going to neglect it and risk losing the violin?”

“You won't lose the violin,” said John.

“No,” agreed Sherlock. “Because I won't let myself lose it. I will attend each physiotherapy session diligently, John, have no fear. I can't promise I won't complain about them afterwards, however.”

“Of course not,” said John. “You do enjoy a good moan at every opportunity.”

Sherlock nodded. “Precisely.”

“Ah, excuse me?” asked a man in a suit. “Are you Sherlock Holmes and John Watson?”

Sherlock spared him a glance. A man in a position of some power, who was under a certain amount of stress and lived in a house with a black cat. Dull.

“Yes, that's us,” said John. “Are you the orthopaedic technician?”

“Don't be an idiot, John,” said Sherlock. “He's clearly at the top of some form of management. Look at his shirt.”

The man let out a hesitant laugh. “Ah, very good. I see your reputation is well-deserved. I'm Steve Simons, the Chief Executive of NHS England.”

“Oh,” said John, straightening his back and holding his hand out. “It's good to meet you.”

Sherlock ignored the hand that Simons offered to him. “You want John,” he said.

“Ah, yes,” said Simons. “Is it that obvious?”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Most things are,” he said. “You've waited until you knew he'd be here rather than coming to Baker Street, and it's a matter of some importance to you – you're hiding how annoyed you are by me, which means you're trying to get on John's good side.”

“Hah,” said Simons flicking a nervous glance at John, “I'm not annoyed by you, not at–”

“Don't worry about it,” said John. “Most people are. Me included, on occasion. Is he right about the rest?”

Simons vacillated for another moment and then let some of his act drop away. “Yes. I'm sorry to bother you while you're here with a friend, but I wanted to talk to you without the papers getting wind of it and, well, your address is well-known as a paparazzi hang-out.”

That was distressingly true, no matter how much Sherlock nagged Mycroft to do something about it.

“What do you want from him?” Sherlock asked. If the NHS were about to try and force John into some kind of sexual slavery, things were going to get very unpleasant for Simons.

“I want to offer you a job,” said Simons.

“As a GP?” asked John, without much hope in his voice.

“Not quite,” said Simons. “We've spent some time trying to come up with a good way to incorporate your unique skills into the current NHS structure, and we have a number of ideas that we think would fit within the objections you have raised in the past to previous administrators. I was hoping you'd agree to discuss them with me while Mr. Holmes was in his appointment.”

John let out a long sigh. “Yeah, okay,” he said, standing up.

Sherlock sat up straight. John clearly didn't want to go, or to be involved in any part of his 'unique skills' being incorporated into anything, let alone the 'current NHS structure'. “What? No! John, don't go wandering off when I need you!”

“You'll be fine,” said John. “I'm just going to hear him out, then come back, okay?”

“I really appreciate it,” said Simons, smiling smarmily.

Sherlock collapsed back against the seat. “Fine,” he bit out angrily. John was going to regret this, and then he'd remember that Sherlock was always right.

John patted his shoulder as if petting a small child to make it feel better. “Don't leave without me, yeah?”

Sherlock managed a nod before Simons conducted John off to places unknown and Sherlock was left alone.

****

Sherlock's arm felt very light and oddly naked once the cast was off it. He could already imagine just how good it was going to feel to get it in a shower, where he could scrub it clean until The Itch was nothing but a distant memory.

John was back in the waiting room when Sherlock emerged, holding a sheaf of paper and looking thoughtful in a way Sherlock instantly distrusted.

“Whatever it was, you should say no,” he said.

John looked up at him. “It was actually a very reasonable proposal,” he said. “I've taken the contract to look over.”

Sherlock fixed his eyes on the papers and wondered how quickly he could destroy them.

“How's the arm?” asked John.

“Fine,” dismissed Sherlock. As if that was important right now. “Tell me what he wants you to do so I can explain why it's a bad idea.”

“Yeah, I'll make up my own mind, thanks,” said John. “Anyway, you might not hate it too much – it's really only part-time, so I'd still be able to help you on cases.”

Sherlock made a face. As if that was his primary concern.

Once they were home, John settled into his chair with the contract and set to studying it. Sherlock stared at the tiny crease in his forehead for thirty-two seconds before forcing himself to head away towards the bathroom.

When he came out, his arm feeling clean for the first time in weeks, John was still in the same position. Unacceptable. Sherlock plucked the papers from John as he walked past to sit in his own chair. “Make tea while I read this.”

“Oi!” said John. “I was–”

“Rereading for at least the third time,” said Sherlock. “Even you don't read that slowly. Let me read it and I'll tell you why you should say no.”

John let out a long, slow breath, but got up and headed for the kitchen. “I probably won't listen to you.”

Sherlock ignored that. John did what Sherlock told him to far more often than John ever realised. It worked well for both of them.

The contract had annoyingly few holes for Sherlock to pick at, unless you counted the basic nature of what it represented. John would be given his own unit, comprising of an office, a treatment room and a part-time admin assistant, in a major London hospital of his choice. He would be a treatment option offered to any patient who had been diagnosed with a comprehensive list of terminal or life-limiting conditions, all of which were exhaustively listed on pages 4 to 12. Their files would only be sent to him at their express request and he would then make appointments with those he chose.

“It goes against your golden rule,” said Sherlock. “Two appointments a day, it says here. That's double your self-imposed limit.”

“Yeah,” said John. “I know. That's probably my major sticking point at the moment, but it's not as if two a day is going to exhaust me. And I'll get weekends off so it would only be three extra a week. And maybe I am being stingy at the moment – I could do so much more.”

Sherlock scowled. “You do plenty,” he said. “You use up time every single day on it, when you could be helping me with the work.”

John snorted. “I do both,” he said. “I'm not sure how much difference an extra hour or two of me being your dogsbody would make.”

“You are invaluable,” insisted Sherlock.

“Right,” said John. “Of course. Look, I've been trying to get a job for a while – we can't keep relying on you knowing a rich banker with a case to be solved, you know.”

Sherlock scowled. “Mycroft will pay the bills, there's no need to pay any attention to them.”

“Yeah,” said John. “No. I'm not going to live off my flatmate's brother, ta.” He snatched the contract back from Sherlock's hands.

Sherlock could feel himself losing. He played his last card. “Well, what about the name they're proposing for the unit? You can't possibly work for something called that.”

“Coital Office of Medical Excellence?” said John. “There are far worse unit names in the NHS, trust me.”

Sherlock let out a long sigh. “John, think about it. Think about the acronym.”

There was a brief pause while John's brain worked, and then he winced. “Oh Christ,” he muttered. “Someone must have been chuffed to pieces when they came up with that.”

Sherlock nodded sharply. “Precisely. So, you see, there's no way you can possibly–”

“Sherlock,” interrupted John. “This is my decision. Let me make it on my own, would you?”

Sherlock subsided with a scowl. “Fine! Go ahead. Just remember how often I'm wrong about things when you do.”

John snorted. “You mean, things like the solar system?”

“Important things!” snapped Sherlock.

John just rolled his eyes. “Of course, nothing important about the movement of our planet at all.”

Sherlock gave up on the whole conversation and withdrew to his room to sulk. If John was going to get stubborn about this, then there was no way Sherlock would be able to change his mind. The best he could hope for was that John would decide against shackling himself to a government-run body and drastically reducing the amount of free time he had to spend with Sherlock.

****

John decided to shackle himself to a government-run body.

“This is the worse decision you have ever made!” Sherlock thundered at him. “You do realise that Mycroft has a degree of control over the NHS? Mycroft!”

John took another sip of tea, ignoring Sherlock's attempt to talk sense into him. “I'm sure he's far too busy to bother involving himself in one tiny department of one hospital.”

“He will if he thinks it will wind me up!”

“I don't see why it would wind you up,” said John. “My job, my life, my choice, Sherlock. You don't get to be involved in everything I do.”

It was like a bucket of cold water. Sherlock became suddenly, achingly aware that he had been assuming that he had the kind of influence over John's choices that was more akin to a partner than a friend, even a best friend. He had let his feelings convince him that he was allowed to have input on John's life, when really he was only ever going to be allowed to stand on the sidelines and snark.

“Fine,” he spat out, and retreated to his room in an attempt to hide just how much it felt like he'd been punched in the stomach.

When he emerged, it became clear that John just thought he was throwing a fit of pique at not getting his way. Not for the first time, Sherlock was grateful for his reputation as someone likely to act like a child over such things. It hid his true emotions rather neatly and meant he didn't have to even attempt to be supportive, or any of that rubbish, as John went to meetings and signed contracts and, eventually, got ready for his first day at work.

“Does this make me look too...middle-aged?” asked John, looking down at his incredibly dull outfit.

“Yes,” said Sherlock. “But as far as I'm aware, you don't own any clothes that don't make you look ten years older than you are.”

“Whereas as skin-tight designer shirts would be a much better idea,” said John.

Sherlock, who was collapsed on the sofa trying to pretend that he wasn't plotting ways to prevent John ever leaving the flat again, snorted. “Given what you're going off to be paid to do, maybe you should invest in a leather g-string.”

There was a pause just long enough to let Sherlock know that he'd crossed a line. “Right,” said John. “Fine. I suppose it's too much to hope for anything more from you. Enjoy your sulk, but don't forget your ph–”

“–physio appointment,” finished Sherlock. “Yes, John, I am aware of it. I'm not suffering from short-term memory loss.”

“So you'll remember to tidy up in here,” said John, glancing around the sitting room. “And hoover, while you're at it.”

“Remembering is not the same as doing,” said Sherlock.

John let out a long, frustrated sigh. “Of course not,” he said. “You know, now I'm earning enough to afford to rent a flat on my own, maybe you should take the time to consider whether or not you think I want to keep being your unpaid servant.”

He left while Sherlock was still trying to get his mind around that. John couldn't leave. He wouldn't leave. Would he? No, of course not, he enjoyed the cases too much and he even liked Sherlock, most of the time. It was just an empty threat.

Still, Sherlock cleared up the experiment that had taken over the table sometime last week and then been abandoned. That would have to do John, as Sherlock clearly couldn't waste any more time on menial chores when he had an appointment in two hours' time.

He got home before John and sank into his chair, wondering why no one had come up with a way to do physiotherapy in your sleep, so you didn't have to be conscious through the whole tedious business.

He'd been given exercises to do at home, which he was either going to have to shut himself away in his room to do or suffer through John's pleased, approving look, as if he was a small child who was tying his own shoelaces for the first time. What was worse was knowing that part of him wanted that look from John, no matter how patronising it was.

John was wearing a very different look when he came in. He was tense and hunched over, with something tired behind his eyes that Sherlock would give anything to eradicate. He sat down in his chair without even noticing that the experiment had been cleared away.

There was something that people said to each other in such circumstances. What was it? Ah, yes...

“How did it go?” asked Sherlock carefully.

John gave a shrug. “Okay. Not really all that different from having people over here, I suppose, except it's someone else's job to clean the sheets afterwards.”

He didn't look as if there were no real difference. Something about his posture made him look small and isolated and Sherlock ached to be allowed to take him in his arms. Well, that might not be allowed, but he could do something that would help.

He stood up. “I was about to have tea. Do you want some?”

“God, yes please,” said John. “I'd forgotten how terrible hospital tea is.”

A day of bad tea might account for some of John's tension, but not all of it. Sherlock made tea to the best of his abilities and presented John with a cup.

“Thanks so much,” said John, taking it. As he did so, his fingers grazed over Sherlock's, sending a tingle across Sherlock's skin. John twitched, as if the contact had come with an electric shock. Tea threatened to spill.

“Sorry,” said John, leaning back to put distance between them. “Sorry, just– Sorry.”

“It's fine,” said Sherlock, making sure to keep an eye on him as he moved back to his own chair. Was John jumpy because he knew just how much any casual touch between them meant to Sherlock, or was there another reason? Sherlock couldn't stand the idea that anything about him made John uncomfortable, but it did seem to be the most obvious explanation.

Most obvious did not mean most likely, however. Sherlock pretended to be engrossed in his own tea while he watched how John had almost curled over his cup, breathing in the steam and staring into it as if it contained the mysteries of the universe.

What more was needed? Oh yes, of course. Sherlock had already deduced that friendly conversation was an important part of John's relaxation process.

“Did I ever tell you about a boy I knew at school who was convinced the crown of Charles I was hidden somewhere on his family's estate?” he asked, knowing the answer to the question already.

John blinked, and then looked up with the first traces of a smile hovering around his lips. “No, can't say you have.”

“It was allowable as a teenage delusion,” said Sherlock, watching as John's posture relaxed and he uncurled his spine, turning his attention to Sherlock, where it should be. “As he grew older though, it got a bit out of hand. Things really came to a head when I went to stay during the summer after our A levels...”

****

John came home the next day in a similar mood. He was just as grateful for the offer of tea, but still didn't give Sherlock a single clue as to the cause of his distress. If something at the hospital was upsetting John, then Sherlock was going to have to hunt it down and eradicate all trace of it. As Sherlock waited for the kettle to boil, he began to plot the best way to infiltrate the hospital in disguise in order to spy on John during his shifts.

“Tea,” he announced as he brought it in.

“Oh, good,” said John. The note of relief in his voice, as if tea was going to solve every problem he'd ever had, combined with the way his shoulders were still rounded over, touched something that resided deep in Sherlock's chest. As he handed the mug over, he couldn't resist putting his hand on John's shoulder for a moment, as if his touch could soften the muscles and melt away whatever was making John feel like this.

John startled and Sherlock tore his hand away immediately.

“Sorry,” he muttered. Idiot, he berated himself. Look but don't touch. Except he had been allowed to touch before, he'd been allowed to put his arm around John and offer him comfort. It had been wonderful.

“No,” said John. “It's not– It's fine. I'm just–” He let out a long sigh and made a face. “Sorry, I'm just ridiculous. It's not you, I'm just not very good with, um, that kind of touch.”

Sherlock frowned and moved away to fall into his own chair. He hadn't bothered making himself tea so his hands were free to steeple in front of his face as he regarded John carefully to try and work out what that meant. “That kind of touch,” he repeated. “Non-sexual?”

“Sort of,” said John, then changed his mind. “No, not at all. Not the way most people think of these things. I suppose–” He stopped and frowned, as if puzzling something out to himself. Sherlock sat quietly and let him. “I suppose,” said John slowly, “that what I mean is friendly touches. Which makes me sound pathetic but, well, I only really touch people, or am touched back, during, you know. My appointments. And that's not – neither of us really want to do it.”

Sherlock considered that. “Very few people touch me at all,” he said. “Except for when they're punching me, or something similar.”

John gave him a smile that almost reached his eyes. “Well, your attitude encourages more punches than it does hugs.”

“Yes,” Sherlock agreed. “That's how I prefer it. From most people.”

John raised his eyebrow. “Only most people?”

“Well, fine,” said Sherlock with a shrug. “Anyone except you.”

John gave him a careful look and Sherlock began to worry that he had said too much. Instead of a rejection, however, John looked down at his tea again and said, “Yeah. I– it's the same for me. If you ever. Um. That is, I know I flinched, but that's not. It was fine. It would be fine if you– uh–”

Sherlock found himself nodding. “Right,” he said. “Fine. Good.”

There was an awkward pause, then John looked up with the grin that meant he was inviting Sherlock to see how ridiculous this was. “Next time we bicker over the washing up, we'll just hug it out then, yeah?”

Sherlock returned the grin. “And the best hugger doesn’t have to do any menial chores?”

John snorted. “How on earth are you meant to judge who's the best hugger?”

Sherlock sat forward eagerly. “Empirical testing. We'd just have to establish a control and set of parameters, and then–”

“No,” said John firmly. “No, Sherlock, no.”

Sherlock slumped back. “Fine,” he said. “I suppose we'll just have to keep our hugging non-competitive.”

John blinked, then burst into laughter. “Only you could say something like that seriously,” he said.

A moment passed, and then Sherlock found himself joining in, noting with satisfaction just how relaxed John was now. He would have to try the touching thing again some time.

****

He didn't try the touching thing again the next day. A case came up, so instead he and John spent two days hunting down a blackmailer. John kept disappearing to go to work, which was most inconvenient, and halfway through Sherlock had to exert all his willpower in order to abandon the case for long enough to go to his physio appointment, but apart from that it was a lovely bit of Sherlock being incredibly clever and John being constantly by his side. At the end there was even a bit of a chase and a brief fight. Perfect.

Sherlock did manage to keep enough of his brain off the case to notice that John came home from his appointments looking tired, but it didn't take much to involve him in the investigation again. As long as there was a criminal to be hunted down, John never stayed stressed for long. It was one of the things that Sherlock appreciated most about him.

After the criminal had been handed over to be tutted at by the Yard, or whatever it was they did with the people Sherlock caught for them, he took John to Angelo's and then back home.

Sat in his chair, full of food and content in the wake of a complex case, Sherlock had to physically restrain himself from beaming at John like an idiot. Just because this part of a case was made immeasurably better by John's presence didn't mean that Sherlock had to get emotional.

“I suppose I need a blog post title,” said John.

“You should probably start by working out how you're going to protect the identities of those she had caught in her web,” said Sherlock.

John let out a sigh. “Yeah,” he agreed. “That really is an awful thing to do to someone, using their worst moments against them.”

Sherlock started running through the exercises that the physiotherapist had given him for his arm. He'd kept up with them rather well over the case, largely because they didn't require any real brain power so it was possible to continue to consider a tricky point of detection at the same time. Still, it didn't hurt to do them again now that he could focus on them.

John watched him for a moment before speaking. “I suppose I should apologise,”

“Should you?” said Sherlock. This should be good. John's apologies often came with a cup of tea and Sherlock could do with one right now.

“Yeah. I really thought I'd have to nag you constantly about your physio, but I haven't had to mention it once.”

Sherlock allowed himself a huffed sigh. “I am an adult, you know. I can be responsible. Occasionally.”

“Very occasionally,” agreed John with a half-smile. “Not usually with your health, though, or do I need to mention your eating and sleeping habits?”

“Oh, eating and sleeping,” said Sherlock dismissively. “They're hardly important. Why would I waste my energy on the small things? After all, I gave up the drugs, didn't I?”

John blinked and his face suddenly fell into serious lines. Sherlock could have kicked himself. Why did he bring up the drugs? They always seemed to dampen John's mood.

“Yeah, but I can't believe that was for health reasons,” said John eventually. “After all, we both know you didn't give up smoking because you were worried about your lungs.”

Sherlock dismissed that with a wave of his hand and moved on to the next set of exercises. “Smoking was far more inconvenient than the drugs. Which I did give up for health reasons, actually. I'm surprised Mycroft has never felt the need to fill you in on it – he does so love sharing details of my life with you. I overdosed and nearly died, and after that I decided that the risks outweighed the benefits.”

John stared at him with a look Sherlock couldn't adequately dissect, but which made him feel very uncomfortable. “You nearly died?” John repeated. “Jesus, Sherlock!”

Apparently that had been a mistake to mention. Sherlock shrugged one shoulder, hoping to downplay the incident. “It was many years ago.”

John continued to stare. There was definite horror in his face, but also fear and what looked oddly like sadness. “Before you met me,” he said. “You could have died before I even met you.”

Sherlock expressed his discomfort with a scowl. “So could you,” he pointed out. “You were shot.”

“Not the same thing,” said John, shaking his head. “That wouldn't have been my fault, because of a stupid decision I made–”

Sherlock wasn't letting that go without argument. “No?” he interrupted, leaning forward. “Then you were in Afghanistan without making any decision to be there? A doctor, a non-combatant, in the firing line purely by chance? I know you better than that, John.”

John hesitated, then dropped his head and let out a long breath. “Point taken,” he said. “I don't think you can compare joining the Army to becoming a drug addict, though.”

Sherlock sat back. “It's closer than society would like us to believe,” he said. “We both chose lifestyles that have a high mortality rate because we thought it was the only way forward, and because they gave us a thrill we couldn't get anywhere else. We both know how you enjoy an adrenalin rush.”

“The difference is that I was trying to do some good for other people with my choice,” said John. “I wanted to be able to help people – to be allowed to be a proper doctor. You just wanted a quick high.”

“I wanted my brain to shut up for a bit,” said Sherlock, with more honesty than he would have given anyone else.

John raised his head and gave Sherlock a long, solemn look that made Sherlock think that he understood exactly how much Sherlock had needed the brief silence the drugs allowed him. Before the cases, before John, before he had learnt to control all the thoughts rushing around his mind, attacking him like angry bees, the drugs were all he had to keep himself sane.

“I was healing someone when I was shot,” said John, in a tone that implied it was a confession.

“Of course you were,” said Sherlock. “You're a doctor.”

John shook his head. “No, I mean – I was fucking someone. A soldier. He–” He stopped and his tongue darted out to wet his lips. Sherlock was riveted. “I haven't talked about it at all,” continued John. “My therapist kept trying to get it out of me, but I couldn't– I couldn't.”

Sherlock stayed very quiet, hoping the space would coax more words out of John. It worked.

“The insurgents got through the perimeter of Camp Bastion. They got close to the tent I was in – we were having dinner – and we were evacuated out of the way. The medical staff, that is – we weren't meant to be anywhere near any actual fighting. We were being escorted to safety when suddenly the enemy was all around us. We ducked behind a Jeep and I saw– there was. A soldier I knew, someone I used to play poker with, he was shot. He fell behind a tent and I knew no one had seen him, so I ran to him. Everyone was distracted by the gunfire, by trying to get the rest of the medical team out of the way to safety. I got behind the tent and he was lying there, blood bubbling up – I could see he wasn't going to make it. Medical help would come too late, even if it managed to get through the gunfire.”

He fell silent and Sherlock let himself fill in the space. “You had sex with him.”

John snorted. “Yeah. I started to, at least. Trousers down, lube out, fingers buried in him while he stared up at the sky, barely aware of what was going on. And then an insurgent came around the corner. God knows what he thought – probably horrified by the Western depravity of fucking a dying man in the middle of a gunfight. Didn't take him long to pull himself together enough to shoot me, although he buggered off pretty bloody quickly afterwards. Probably worried that two dying British soldiers would mean the others would all congregate for a gangbang.”

John paused and took in a slow, shaking breath that told Sherlock all he needed to know about how difficult it was for him to tell this story. And yet he's doing it anyway, he thought. Of all the people he could trust with this, he's chosen me.

If only Sherlock had even the first idea of how to respond. Was there something he should be saying to make John's confession worthwhile?

“He died,” John said. “By the time the others found us, he'd lost too much blood. I got patched up and sent home, and– well, you know the rest.”

“Yes,” said Sherlock. He found he didn't have any other words, which was a completely novel experience but not one he was interested in repeating. He should be saying something to John. How on earth was he meant to know what?

There was silence for several long minutes as Sherlock searched for something to say. In the end, John beat him to it.

He let out a sigh and then stood up. “Right, time for bed. Got a lot of paperwork to catch up with at work, so I'll probably be there most of the day.”

Sherlock frowned. “What paperwork could you possibly have to do?”

John let out a tired laugh. “It's the NHS. You would not believe the bureaucracy involved, even with an 'alternative therapy' unit like mine.”

Sherlock made a face. “This is why you should have stayed freelance, like me. No paperwork at all.”

“Sherlock, your job involves plenty of paperwork,” said John. “It's just that I do it all.”

Sherlock found a memory of various bits of paper with the Met's header being shoved under his hand for a signature and allowed himself to nod in recognition. “Get yourself a blogger, then,” he said. “I've found mine invaluable.”

John's amused smile widened into something warmer, but he didn't acknowledge the compliment. “Not sure people would want to read a blog about my work. It's not quite the same as chasing criminals. Good night, Sherlock.”

John headed for the stairs up to his room, but hesitated in the doorway with his back to Sherlock. “Thanks. For letting me tell you about...about all that. I appreciate you listening.”

He left before Sherlock could point out just how useless he'd been. Apparently helpless silence had been the only response John had wanted.

****

John came home from the hospital the next day very late, and he looked terrible.

Sherlock leapt to his feet. “What happened?” he demanded.

John blinked at him as if just thinking about responding was too much energy. “Nothing,” he said, and fell backwards into his chair. “Just, you know. Work.”

Sherlock's eyes narrowed. “No amount of paperwork would leave you this tired. What else happened?”

John gave an uncoordinated shrug. “The usual. Sex with dying strangers.”

Sherlock looked at him very closely, marking all the usual signs of John's post-sex weariness, and noting that they were all amplified by several factors. “There must have been more than that. You are clearly suffering from extensive physical and emotional exhaustion.”

John made a face, but didn't offer a response. Sherlock eyed him for a moment longer and then made a decision. “Stand up,” he demanded.

“What?” said John.

Sherlock moved in front of his chair. “Stand up.” He gestured impatiently with his hands and John rose, with more trepidation on his face than Sherlock thought was necessary.

Sherlock measured him up with a careful look, then moved forward to instigate a hug. It started out rather awkwardly, with John flinching in surprise while Sherlock tried to work out the best placement for his arms, but after a moment or two, John let out a quiet sigh and relaxed into him, bringing his own arms up to encircle Sherlock's waist.

“Right,” he muttered. “Thanks.”

Sherlock didn't bother replying. The sensations being generated by the hug were occupying all his attention. John's body was warm against his and just the perfect size to fit in Sherlock's arms with his head tucked under Sherlock's chin. It made Sherlock feel oddly as if he could protect John from whatever demons were preying on him, just with the circle of his arms.

The longer they stayed as they were, the more relaxed John became. Sherlock realised that he was matching his breathing to John's unconsciously. It felt oddly like they were sharing the onerous task of breathing, their lungs working in tandem in order to halve the load on each of them. John's head had fallen to rest on Sherlock's shoulder, his forehead pressed against Sherlock's shirt so that his hair brushed Sherlock's neck.

It was one of the most perfect combination of sensations that Sherlock had ever experienced. He wanted it to last forever but was all too aware that if it went on too long, it would negate the effect on John by making things tense and awkward again. How was Sherlock meant to gauge the proper length of a hug? Were there guidelines based on the situation and the relationship between the participants? Perhaps he should have done research first, rather than diving straight in to the activity.

Except that John had clearly needed a hug right there and then, and not after Sherlock had spent a few hours making sure he was getting it right. Well, normal people did it all the time, it couldn't be too hard. And John was clearly enjoying it, if the way all the tension was sliding out of his muscles was any measure.

“Okay,” said John quietly and pulled away. Sherlock reluctantly let him go and was rewarded with a small, contented smile. “Thanks,” said John again, then he sat back down again.

Sherlock felt bereft at the loss of his touch and had to force himself to step backwards, away from John. “Tea,” he announced, and strode off to the kitchen.

He used the time it took for the kettle to boil in order to lock every moment of the hug into his most secure memory room, then forced his brain to move on. He could properly analyse every aspect of it later, when John had gone to bed. Right now, he needed to concentrate on finding and eradicating the source of John's stress, so that he wouldn't return in such a state again. Even if part of his mind was pointing out that if John did keep coming home like that, Sherlock would be able to keep hugging him.

When he went back in with the tea, John took his mug in both hands with a display of pure pleasure. “God, thanks. I need this.”

Sherlock settled in his chair so that he had a good view from which to frown at John. “Today was particular difficult for you. Explain why.”

John snorted as he took a sip of tea. “Most people say 'how was your day', Sherlock.”

“I already know how your day was,” said Sherlock. “I want to know why.”

The hug appeared to have mellowed John in ways Sherlock wouldn't have predicted. He sighed as he sat back, tea still cradled in his hands. “There was a lot of paperwork,” he said. “Lots of files to go through and decide who gets cured, and who carries on suffering.”

Sherlock frowned. “You are making that decision?”

“Yeah,” said John. “Well, who else? Now that I'm official, there are dozens of patients applying every day. Someone has to whittle it down to manageable numbers for me to treat.”

A deduction arrived, fully formed, in Sherlock's brain. “You had more than two appointments today.”

John's mouth twisted unhappily. “Yeah,” he said. “I did three. Well, it's the weekend tomorrow, so it's not like I don't have time to recover. Two days off seems rather excessive, really.”

It was only the end of the first week and John was already pushing himself beyond the limits he'd set for himself. Sherlock extrapolated and found the results unacceptable. “You'll have another breakdown,” he said. “Within six months.”

“I'll be fine,” said John. “I know my limits now. I won't make a habit of it, I just couldn't decide between two patients today so I cured them both. No big deal.”

Sherlock shook his head. “It will keep happening,” he said. “You will push yourself too far and you'll collapse. You can't do that, I need you healthy.”

“Right, well, as sweet as it is to be needed to run around after you,” said John. “This is my choice. And I will keep within my limits, Sherlock.”

No, he wouldn't. Sherlock scowled and started calculating possible solutions. John sat quietly and drank his tea, and then reached for his laptop and opened it. Sherlock tracked his fingers on the keys for long enough to ascertain that he was writing up the case they'd just finished, then went back to his thoughts.

By the time it was dark, Sherlock had a plan and John had got bored of typing and switched on the telly. There was nothing to be done for the plan until Monday morning, so Sherlock turned his attention to other things, like the way John's hands had felt, splayed out and pressed to his back, and whether or not Sherlock would be able to make such a thing a regular occurrence. John had made it clear when they discussed it before that he wouldn't mind, but Sherlock needed to make sure that John didn't realise just how much Sherlock wanted to have sex with him, because that would make him angry again. Would Sherlock be able to restrain his arousal if he spent a lot of time pressed against John? Particularly if it occurred when John was less distressed? Unlikely.

By the time John yawned, switched off the TV and got up, Sherlock was still no closer to resolving the issue. Conundrums that involved a high emotional factor were always so much harder to resolve than ones that were nothing but simple facts. It was endlessly frustrating.

“Going to bed,” said John. “Try not to stay up all night with whatever's got your brain whirring.”

“No,” said Sherlock absently. Perhaps if he found some way to mentally separate the idea of John's body against his and sex so that- no, there was no way even his level of control over his mind would be able to accomplish that.

“Right, that was convincing,” said John. “Good night anyway.” And then he did the most astonishing thing. He stepped towards Sherlock – out of his natural path from chair to door – in order to press a hand to Sherlock's shoulder and give it a little squeeze. “See you in the morning.”

He turned and went upstairs while Sherlock was still trying to process what had just happened, and what the reasons for it might have been. Had the hug broken down some sort of tactile barrier between them that meant John would now start touching Sherlock on a regular basis? Was it a one-off as a gesture of thanks, or because John was still looking for physical comfort after his day? Was it just a random incident that meant nothing in the long-run? How was Sherlock supposed to draw any conclusions without data?

After fifteen minutes of furious thought, he abandoned the whole issue as too difficult to resolve without further information, and retreated to his bedroom to masturbate instead.

****

The weekend was unusually quiet. Sherlock hadn't realised how disruptive to his routine John's appointments were until John didn't have any for two days. Instead of going to the hospital and leaving Sherlock without his blogger, or some stranger arriving and interrupting Sherlock's train of thought, things were blissfully quiet. John pottered around for most of Saturday, finishing his blog post on the case, doing some laundry, having an unnecessarily long bath. They ordered takeaway and then Sherlock did his physio exercises while John tidied up the remains, cleared the washing up that had piled up and gave the kitchen surfaces a wipe down.

He came back into the sitting room with a little frown and threw himself onto the sofa.

“I didn't realise how weird it was going to feel not to have sex for a whole day,” he said. “Other than when I was recovering from being shot, I've had sex at least once a day since I was a teenager.”

His fingers twitching oddly and Sherlock eyed them with interest. “The general remedy for sexual frustration is masturbation,” he suggested, probably unwisely. If John wandered off to masturbate then Sherlock would be forced to go to his bedroom to do the same.

“Masturbation,” said John. “Yes.” He let out an amused snort. “Can't remember the last time I masturbated. Back when I was a kid, I think. Back when sex still meant the same things to me as it did to everyone else.” He let out a long sigh and leaned back into the corner of the sofa, wriggling his shoulders as if settling in for a while. “I'm not going to orgasm today, or tomorrow,” he said with satisfaction. “It's going to be so novel.”

Sherlock went back to his exercises to stop himself from doing something stupid, like declaring that John should give up his job if two days off from it made him look so relaxed.

“Let's watch a film,” said John. “I bet there's something with lots of violence and no plot on at least one channel.” He flicked on the TV and ran through the channels until a man holding a gun and looking desperate came on screen. “Perfect,” declared John. “Come and watch it with me.”

Sherlock had no interest in the film and even if he had, he'd have been perfectly capable of watching it from his chair. He didn't point either of those things out, however. Instead, he went over to the sofa and sat down beside John, where he was close enough to observe every detail of his quiet smile and relaxed posture.

After about half an hour of explosions and terrible dialogue, John shifted and was suddenly close enough for their legs to rest together. Sherlock couldn't believe his luck. He barely let himself move for the rest of the film, in case John realised how close they were and shifted away. It was possibly the best experience of watching a film he'd ever had.

****

On Monday morning, Sherlock made sure that he was ready to leave the house at the same time as John.

“Going anywhere interesting?” asked John as they headed down the stairs together.

“I'm going with you,” said Sherlock.

John stopped in front of the front door. “What? Why?” He shook his head and continued without waiting for Sherlock to answer. “No, doesn't matter. You're not coming, Sherlock. This isn't the kind of job where you can have a friend pop along because they're bored.”

“I'm not bored,” said Sherlock. “I intend to make things better for you.” John looked insultingly suspicious at that. “And you can't stop me,” added Sherlock.

John opened his mouth as if going to argue, then glanced at his watch and made an aggravated noise. “I'm going to tell security at the hospital not to let you in,” he said, and turned to open the door.

“Fine,” said Sherlock, smiling to himself. As if that would do any good.

When they got to the hospital, John did, indeed, try to tell reception that he wasn't allowed in.

“I'm Sherlock Holmes,” Sherlock informed the receptionist. “I have an appointment with Moira Davenport.” He glanced at John. “As a matter of fact, we both do.”

John blinked. “The hospital CEO? Why do we have an appointment with her?”

“Pointless to explain to you now when I'll only have to do it all over again to her in the meeting,” said Sherlock.

“Your appointment is at 9.15,” said the receptionist. “You can go straight up. Fifth floor–”

“I know where her office is,” said Sherlock and he swept off, John following behind him still asking questions, all of which Sherlock ignored.

When they arrived at Moira's office, her secretary let them straight in and Moira stood up to shake their hands. “Sherlock Holmes,” she greeted him and cut straight to the chase, which Sherlock approved of. “You said there was a problem at the hospital. I do hope it isn't serious.”

Ah, she'd assumed it was related to Sherlock's job rather than John's and had spent the weekend imagining massive criminal conspiracies going on under her nose. No wonder he had managed to get such an early appointment with her.

“It's serious enough,” he said.

“Sherlock, what the hell is going on?” insisted John.

Sherlock didn't bother looking at him. “I wonder if you aware that your current policy on John's unit is leaving you open to a number of problems, including the statistical certainty that John will suffer a breakdown within six months.”

“What?” asked Moira.

John sighed. “Oh god, not this again. Sherlock, I told you, it's fine.”

“It's not fine,” said Sherlock.

“Mr. Holmes, if Doctor Watson thinks it's fine, then–” started Moira.

“Not to mention that you're leaving the hospital wide open to being sued,” added Sherlock.

Moira froze. “What?”

Sherlock let out a sigh. Why was everyone else so dense? “Picture the scenario. John goes through a stack of files, picks out two for appointments, and puts the rest in the 'rejected' pile, yes? Someone in one of those files dies a few weeks later. Their grieving relatives then sue you for denying them life-saving treatment.”

“All our patients are aware that we have finite resources when it comes to the C.O.M.E. Unit,” said Moira. Sherlock noted that acronym sounded just as stupid as he'd warned John it would.

“But you haven't covered yourself for how the choice of patient is made,” said Sherlock. “If the lawyers get hold of any information about John's sexual preferences – that he prefers brunettes to blondes, for example, then the relatives of blonde patients will sue based on the grounds that they were discriminated against when John was choosing.”

Moira let out a long breath and clenched her hands together. “Fine,” she said. “What do you suggest, then? There has to be some way of choosing which patients John sees.”

“Yes,” agreed Sherlock. He looked at John. “How are you narrowing it down at the moment? How many do you disqualify for not meeting your guidelines?”

John gave a shrug. “I think I've only had proper grounds to disqualify three people. The others – it's been largely random, really. I don't know how to choose, most of the time. That's why I did three on Friday.”

Sherlock nodded and turned back to Moira. “You need to set up a random lottery. Get John's admin assistant to set up a database that generates two names at random every day.”

Moira glanced down at the desk as John cleared his throat and said, “Ah, I don't exactly have an admin assistant.”

Sherlock turned to frown at him. “It was in your contract.”

“We had budget cuts,” said Moira. “Every department has felt the effect of them.”

Sherlock wanted to pull his hair out with frustration. “Budget cuts? For the love of– How much does it cost to treat a terminally ill patient?”

Moira blinked. “That depends what they're suffering from, which treatments they're given, and, uh, how long they live.”

“Tens of thousands usually, yes?” continued Sherlock. “Money that John saves you twice every day! How much can the salary of one admin assistant cost compared to safe-guarding your most effective employee from burning out after a few months?”

Moira pursed her lips but nodded. “Very well. We'll find the unit an employee who can manage a lottery system for choosing patients.”

“No more than two a day,” Sherlock insisted.

She sighed. “Yes, yes, we'll stick to the limit. You can leave now.”

Sherlock left without wasting time on goodbye. John lingered behind and Sherlock could hear him apologising for him. Pointless. He was about to set off down the corridor, assuming John would catch up once he'd stopped wasting his time on social niceties, when Moira responded with something that made Sherlock pause, wondering if he'd need to go back inside to defend John from yet more over-exploitation.

“If you're going to be spending less time on medical files, perhaps you'll be able to spare some to help Doctor Gibbons with that research proposal?”

John snorted. “Oh no,” he said, and Sherlock relaxed. “I think I orgasm more than enough without also coming into test tubes constantly so that Doctor Gibbons can fail to find anyway to replicate the effects of Medica Verpa artificially just as thoroughly as every other researcher since the dawn of time has.”

He came out of the room without waiting for a response, and didn't say anything as they headed towards the lifts. Sherlock hadn't been able to accurately predict his reaction to Sherlock's interference and he find himself clenching his jaw in anticipation. It would be gratefulness, surely?

The doors of the lift slid shut, isolating them temporarily from the rest of the hospital.

“I don't want you to ever get involved in my work again,” said John.

Apparently, Sherlock was getting anger. He opened his mouth to point out that he had just solved a crucial error in the way John's workplace was organised, but was cut off.

“That said, thank you,” continued John in a quieter voice. He reached out and squeezed Sherlock's elbow. “Thanks for looking out for me.”

Sherlock had no idea how to respond to that. There was an awkward silence before he cleared his throat and said, “Not a problem.”

The doors opened with a ting and John moved to step out. “Want to come and see my office?” he asked as he did so.

“Yes,” said Sherlock. He couldn't imagine why, but getting see the place where John spent the largest chunk of time that he was away from Sherlock so that he could accurately picture him in his workplace, sounded like a great idea. He followed John out of the lift.

****

Things settled into a rather pleasant pattern over the next week. John came home from the hospital less stressed than he had been during the first week, although he still looked rather drained.

Now that Sherlock had seen where he worked, and even seen one of his patients arrive, he thought he could understand why. John had gone from being the helpful stranger who healed people in the comfort of his own home to a doctor in an almost sterile environment, performing a procedure that contained more clinical efficiency than personal care. The difference between the two would have had an impact on the way John saw what he did, one that would be emotionally draining in the short term.

In the long term, Sherlock was confident that John was intelligent enough to create a better atmosphere within the unit that would negate that effect. He should also be able to adjust his thinking to appreciate the distance that the process now put between who he was and what he did. Having Medica Verpa was no longer John's entire raison d'etre, it was just his day job. Now he was also a detective's assistant, not to mention a surprisingly popular blogger. When he came to realise that, he'd be a lot more content with his life. Sherlock might have to drop a few comments that would channel his opinions in the right direction, but that would be easy enough.

Sherlock made him tea every day after work now, as well as offering some form of physical affection – usually a hand on his shoulder – and then they indulged in quiet conversation until the tea was gone and John was completely recovered.

When John came home on Thursday evening, Sherlock was working through a series of exercises on his violin, trying to get back into practice after the weeks he'd spent unable to play. He wasn't aware that John was back until he turned to find him standing in the doorway, watching Sherlock with an odd half-smile.

Sherlock stopped playing, wondering how he had lost time so badly to miss that John was due home and he needed to put the kettle on. “Tea?” he said, moving to put his violin away.

“I'll make it,” said John. “Keep playing.” He hesitated before adding, “I've missed it.”

Sherlock hadn't realised that John had an opinion on his violin playing, other than a negative one when Sherlock chose to practice while John was sleeping.

“I'm only doing scales,” he said, raising the violin again.

John gave a little shrug as he went into the kitchen. “They're familiar.”

Sherlock had no idea what that meant, but he obligingly went back to them.

John bought the tea over to Sherlock when he'd made it and Sherlock put the violin down to take it.

“When do you think you'll be back to Bach?” asked John.

Sherlock gave a shrug. His arm ached from holding the violin and his fingering had been all over the place, although he doubted that John had noticed. “A week or two.”

John nodded and handed the tea to Sherlock, but didn't let go of it as Sherlock took it. “You'll have to give me a concert when you're back on form then,” he said, and patted Sherlock's side with his free hand.

There was a delightful moment where their hands were overlapped on the mug and John's fingers were curled around Sherlock's waist, and then he let go and stepped away, leaving Sherlock with no idea what had prompted that, but achingly desperate to make sure it happened again.

****

It did keep happening. Or, at least, similar things kept happening. John seemed to have settled into a pattern of casually touching Sherlock whenever the opportunity arose and Sherlock found himself repaying the favour just as often, unable to hold himself back now that it was apparently acceptable. Sometimes, when John had only reacted with a quiet smile to Sherlock's fingers in his hair, or had trailed his hand along Sherlock's back as he passed Sherlock crouched over his microscope, it was all Sherlock could do to stop himself from just taking John in his arms and kissing him.

It was all rather lovely, which is perhaps why Sherlock became so worked up when he got a case outside London and John refused to go with him. It was like a bucket of cold water after the warmth of the last two weeks.

“It's a locked room murder!” he said, waving the crime photos at John again. “His head blown clean off, John! Mysterious tattoos and dropped notes with secret codes!”

“Yes, I know,” said John. “I read it. It sounds great – I'm sure you'll enjoy it. I have a job now though, Sherlock, I can't just run off to the country at the drop of a hat to investigate a murder.”

“You said this job wouldn't affect your work with me,” Sherlock pointed out. “You said you'd still have time to help.”

“I helped with the ones in London,”said John. “I can't skip my appointments, Sherlock. Is it really that big a deal? You never seem to notice my presence much when you're on a case anyway.”

What on earth had made John think that? “I always notice you, John. You're invaluable.”

Oh god, was that too much? Sherlock was meant to be keeping just how much he had come to need John to himself. If he gave away too much, John might realise that Sherlock wanted sex with him – amongst other things – and leave. That was what he'd said he'd do, after all. Sherlock wouldn't be able to bear that.

Happily, John looked touched rather than angry, which meant he hadn't realised what Sherlock really meant. “Well, okay,” he said, in that awkward voice he used when he was being faced by sentiment. “That's– Good. Yes.” He glanced down and his tongue flicked out to wet his lips. Sherlock felt a burst of hope, which was dashed a moment later when John looked back up with a resolute expression. “But I still can't come, Sherlock. If you haven't solved it by Saturday I'll come and join you then, but I can't just abandon my patients. ”

Sherlock wasn't interested in John's patients. He threw one last glare at John, then turned to go to his room to pack. “Fine,” he snapped. “Enjoy your sex. I hope it's really fulfilling.”

The murder was a good one, but Sherlock couldn't seem to enjoy it properly without John beside him. He went over the crime scene in great detail while ignoring the prattling of the DI assigned to the case and then went to the morgue to go over the corpse with just as much thoroughness.

“Do you have any ideas?” asked the DI as Sherlock left the morgue.

“Several,” said Sherlock. None that he wanted to share without John beside him to look awed.

He went back to the crime scene to carefully canvas the area surrounding the house, which was when he received a text from John.

Just because I'm not there doesn’t mean I don't want to hear about it.

Sherlock glanced at his watch. Ah, an hour after John had finished work. He'd be sitting in his chair at Baker Street, drinking tea alone and bitterly regretting not coming along.

A man was murdered. No one knows who did it. I intend to find out. SH Sherlock sent back, then went back to scrutinising the grass under the hedge that ran around the highly pretentious moat that surrounded the house.

His phone beeped again a moment later. He debated ignoring it in favour of the work but found himself unable to do so. He scowled as he pulled his phone out again, wondering how John had managed to upset the normal workings of his mind so thoroughly.

Anything I can do to help? Any long distance research?

Sherlock wanted to text back 'No'. If John wasn't going to come along to the case, then he didn't get the fun of working on it. Somehow, his fingers typed something else entirely.

Investigate the online footprint of Judy Douglas and Cecil James Barker. SH

On it, John replied before Sherlock had a chance to put his phone away. He found himself smiling rather foolishly at John's enthusiasm and made himself wipe the look of his face and get back to the hedge.

John didn't text again for an hour, just as the light was becoming too dim for Sherlock to continue his search.

Can't find anything weird on either of them other than that they seem a bit keen on sharing amusing photos of cats on Facebook, given that they're meant to be mourning.

Interesting. Sherlock tapped his mobile for a moment, deep in thought, then replied.

See what you can find on this tattoo. SH

He attached the photo he'd taken of the corpse's arm earlier and then, after another few minutes of introspection, texted the local DI as well.

We will need to drain the moat tomorrow. Make sure everyone knows this evening. SH

Once that had sent, he headed back to the B&B that the local force had put him up in. He'd been given what the irritatingly talkative landlady had told him was the last room left, which featured one, large bed. He couldn't help reflecting that if John had come along, they'd have been forced to share. That would have been wonderful.

As it was, he didn't waste much time there. He spent just long enough at the reception desk to make sure the landlady, who was clearly the village gossip, knew about the plans to drain the moat and then went upstairs to change into a darker outfit. He left again as soon as it was fully dark and headed back to the house, thinking that this was the bit John would have particularly liked. It would have been even better if Sherlock hadn't explained what he was expecting to find, so that he'd be twitching with curiosity and anticipation. Sherlock loved him like that.

Sherlock loved him in a lot of different moods. As he crouched under the hedge, waiting for movement within the house, he let himself acknowledge it. He loved John, which was a strange, miraculous thing, but he was never going to be any closer to him than he was now. It should have been enough – they spent almost all their time together, after all, and John had admitted that he expected to grow old with Sherlock – but Sherlock wasn't sure that anything short of possessing John entirely, body and soul, would ever be enough.

Those melancholy thoughts kept him occupied until the expected movement came from within the house. He texted the DI, who was waiting near-by, then revealed himself to Julie Douglas and Cecil Barker, who were in the process of winching the evidence the DI would need from the bottom of the moat. Once they were arrested, the 'murder victim' sprung forth from concealment to reveal the full story, as Sherlock had known he would, and all Sherlock could do was think about how much John would have loved this one. An undercover agent infiltrating a protection racket, going into witness protection, being hunted by assassins and then forced to fake his own death – John would have written such a florid and overdone blogpost about it.

Sherlock didn't bother staying until the end of Douglas's long and rather drawn-out account of his undercover days. Instead, he went back to the B&B, where he lay awake in the giant bed, wishing that John was with him.

****

When he woke up, John had already texted him.

How's the case? Need me to come join you today? Couldn't find anything on the tattoo, sorry.

Solved. Coming home. SH

Shame. Was starting to fancy getting some country air. You'll have to tell me all about it when you get back.

Country air is dull. SH Sherlock replied, and then looked up the trains to London. He wanted to already be back home so that he could watch John's face light up as he told him every exciting detail and moment of genius from this case. After all, the better Sherlock made it sound, the more John would regret not coming, and the more likely he was to come along next time.

Come back and breath some city air again then, so I can nag you into actually telling me what happened, sent John and then, a few moments later:

It's been quiet here without you. Not sure I like it.

Sherlock couldn't stop a smile from growing on his face. John had missed him. Definitely time to go home.

The train took too long, as did the taxi from Waterloo. When Sherlock finally got back to Baker Street, he had to restrain himself from bounding up the stairs like an over-excited puppy. He might be desperate to see John's face again, but that didn't mean he had to show it.

John was in his chair, reading the paper. He looked up with a welcoming smile that Sherlock wanted to tattoo on the inside of his eyelids so he could see it every time he closed his eyes, cast the paper aside and stood up. “You're home!” he said, and walked over to Sherlock and gave him a hug.

Sherlock was completely taken by surprise and so didn't react quickly enough to take full advantage. John kept it to a brief, manly embrace, with the requisite back-slapping that blokes seemed to go in for, and then stepped back, gave Sherlock another smile and turned into the kitchen.

“Right, I'm making tea and then you're telling me the whole case. No excuses, I want every detail.”

Sherlock forced himself to respond. “I have visual aids,” he offered, in what sounded to him like a rather weak voice.

John grinned over his shoulder. “Excellent! It'll be like I was really there.”

God, I wish you had been, thought Sherlock, and then made himself go to his bedroom before he gave himself away with an ill-timed declaration. He hadn't realised that being apart from John for little more than twenty-four hours would cause seeing him again to have such an influence over his emotions.

He unpacked his bag in an attempt to give himself time to gain some mental distance but the kettle boiled all too soon and John made him come out to drink tea. Not that Sherlock really resisted – he wanted to see John's reaction to this case as much as John seemed to want to hear it.

It was just as good as Sherlock had hoped it would be. They sat together on the sofa with their cups of tea, bodies angled towards each other and close enough for Sherlock to show John the photos he had taken on his phone. Sherlock could have put his arm around John, if it had been allowed. John was completely engrossed, asking mostly the right questions at almost the right time and interrupting more than once to exclaim at Sherlock's brilliance.

“...and then Douglas turned out to still be alive – as I'd already deduced – and the corpse was actually an assassin sent to kill him,” finished Sherlock.

“Incredible,” breathed John, his eyes wide with fascination and focused on Sherlock. He had leaned forward during the story so that his face was only a few inches from Sherlock's, and Sherlock was having to fight with every scrap of willpower he had not to lean in and close the gap.

“He revealed he was under witness protection, which I had already inferred from the coffee mugs, and his wife had a moment of histrionics about the possibility of other assassins coming to kill him. When I left, they were planning to assume different names and move to South Africa – taking their 'friend' Cecil Barker with them – I'm sure you'll have worked out his true relationship to them by now.”

“Not really,” admitted John. He moved his arm from the back of the sofa to rest on Sherlock's shoulder. “I know I say it too often for it to still have meaning, but you really are brilliant, Sherlock.”

Sherlock leaned in and kissed John without realising he was going to do it, pressing their lips together and giving in to all the want that was flowing through him.

It took nearly two seconds before his brain started working again – an unprecedented lapse in intelligence. He recoiled to see John staring at him as if he'd never seen him before.

“I'm sorry, so sorry, delete that,” Sherlock babbled, dread sinking into his stomach. “I know you don't want that, you should forget it entirely.” What had he done? He'd destroyed everything that made his life worth living. He sprang to his feet. “I'm going to unpack.”

John caught his wrist before he could get away. “Wait, Sherlock, don't–”

He stood up as Sherlock froze in place, caught as much by the look on John's face as the grip of his hand. Oh god, here it came. He was going to be rejected. He hadn't realised just how much pain an emotion could cause, flooding through his limbs and pooling in the pit of his stomach.

“Maybe I do want that,” said John, which was so completely at odds with what Sherlock was expecting him to say that it took him a moment to process. Really, if this kind of sentiment was going to continue to cause his brain to run so slowly, perhaps he had been right to avoid it for so many years.

“What?”

John hesitated, then pulled Sherlock back down and kissed him, which made his point rather more eloquently than Sherlock thought words ever could have.

“Oh,” he heard himself say, and he pulled John closer so that he could kiss him properly, bringing their tongues together and wrapping his arms around John's shoulders.

Together they sank back onto the sofa, where they indulged in several long minutes of kissing in a way that Sherlock had never done with anyone. Kissing had always been a perfunctory precursor to sex, something to be got through as a signal of what was to come, but not be indulged in for its own sake. John's mouth was making it very clear just how wrong that idea was. Sherlock couldn't imagine ever wanting to tear his away, not even to form words that might make sense of this.

You said you'd move out if I asked for this, he thought, sliding his hand up John's neck, over his cheek and into his hair. Why are you letting me have it? Are you going to change your mind?

It didn't feel like John was going to change his mind. His breath was becoming just as ragged as Sherlock's and his hands were gripping at Sherlock's back as if he'd never let him leave.

“John,” Sherlock managed to fit in between kisses. “John. Say this is okay.”

John let out an amused snort. “Should have thought that was obvious,” he said, and pulled Sherlock in even closer, so that their bodies were pressed together, Sherlock shifting so that his knee was between John's. “Not all that different from a hug, right?”

He could not have been more wrong. This was as different from a hug as a hug was from a nod. Sherlock couldn't get enough of it, couldn't stop himself from being as close to John as he could get, abandoning his mouth only to kiss along his jaw and down to his neck, and then back up.

His skin was beginning to tingle, as if having John this close was causing static electricity. He could feel himself getting hard. If John was okay with this much, might he let Sherlock go farther? They didn't need to engage in the traditional interpretation of 'fucking' for Sherlock to get off, after all, and maybe, maybe, John would even let Sherlock get him off.

Just the thought sent a shudder of lust down Sherlock's spine and he pressed in even closer, his knee pushing further between John's legs to feel that he was hard as well. What if Sherlock got to feel John rub himself off against his knee, or even to move his hand down to grasp John in his grip? Oh god, what if Sherlock was allowed to touch him?

“John,” he gasped against John's lips. John responded with a distracted hum that Sherlock couldn't resist kissing away, until he'd almost lost his train of thought.

“John,” he tried again. “John, please, let me–” He moved his hand down to John's crotch to make his point so that he wouldn't have to waste energy on finding words when he could be using it to kiss John.

John's reaction was immediate and unwelcome. He started back from Sherlock with a level of shock on his face that Sherlock felt was a little uncalled-for. Surely you didn't have to be a genius to have seen where things were going?

“No,” said John, and he put his hands on Sherlock's chest and pushed him away. “Sherlock, we should talk.”

“Talk?” repeated Sherlock incredulously. “Now? Can't it wait?” He tried to move closer again, aiming for another kiss, as they were clearly allowed now even if nothing more was.

John didn't let him. He ducked his head away and pushed at Sherlock again, until Sherlock gave in and collapsed back into the other corner of the sofa.

“No, Sherlock, this– Kissing is one thing, but anything more is a bad idea,” said John.

Sherlock struggled to pull his scattered thoughts together enough to put together a coherent argument. “Surely it's the same bad idea, but with different degrees?” he said. “John, I haven't forgotten what you said about fucking me, I don't – please. Just let me touch you.” He hesitated, then couldn't resist pushing his luck. “Or suck you off.”

John pulled all his limbs into his body so that he was contained in a ball at the other end of the sofa. He looked small and fragile and Sherlock wanted to move to hold him again. It didn't seem like that would help matters right now, though.

“No,” John said. “Sex is nothing but a complication we don't need, Sherlock. This is– we're fine as we are, right?”

“It felt like we both needed it a moment ago,” Sherlock pointed out. There was a sick feeling building in his stomach.

John shook his head. “That was just kissing, that's different. We can't – Sherlock. On Monday I'm going to go into work and have sex with two complete strangers, and then I'm going to do the same on Tuesday, and for every weekday for the foreseeable future.”

Sherlock frowned. “So, you're bored of it?”

John let out a tired laugh. “It's not a case of bored,” he said. “And that's not my point, anyway. My point is that if we do this, we both know that it will have a profound impact on our friendship. Me going off and shagging other people all the time – how is that going to work?”

“How won't it work?” asked Sherlock. “If you were a gynaecologist or a urologist, you'd go off to work and spend the day with your fingers inside other people, and I wouldn't care about that. Why should I care just because it's another part of your body?”

“It's different,” said John stubbornly.

Sherlock shook his head. This was it, his one chance to persuade John that this could work. He needed to be the most eloquent and persuasive that he had ever been. His mind raced, marshalling his arguments. “You haven't said you don't want to,” he pointed out. “John, surely this is simple? If we both want it, then why not do it?” John wasn't looking convinced and Sherlock couldn't stop some of his desperation slipping into his voice. “Please, John. I want to be close to you. Do you want that too? If you don't, then I won't ever mention it again, but–”

“I do want that,” interrupted John. His arm uncurled from around his knees and he stretched out a hand to take Sherlock's. “I do. But we just had that, didn't we?”

Sherlock clung to his hand. “You pulled away from me,” he pointed out. “Please, John. I–” He cut himself off before the most ill-advised words of all could tumble out.

John 's head ducked and his tongue darted out to wet his lower lip. “I didn't mean to,” he said quietly. “I won't again, I promise. You're– you're important to me, Sherlock. I. I care about you a lot. It's just, sex is– it's a really complicated thing for me. Can't we keep this simple?”

“Nothing about this seems simple,” said Sherlock, perhaps with a bit of bitterness.

John let out a quiet laugh. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Okay, well, how about this, then? We're not– we're more than friends, yeah? I mean, I want to be.”

“Yes,” affirmed Sherlock.

John nodded decisively. “Right then. So, this–” he moved closer to Sherlock and pressed a careful, dry kiss to his mouth, “–this is okay, yeah?” Sherlock nodded mutely. “That's all we need then,” said John. “The rest of it – Sherlock, it's just unnecessary drama.”

Sherlock couldn't agree with any part of that statement, but he forced himself to nod anyway. If John wanted to draw the line there, then he would stick to it. It was still more than he'd ever expected to have, he thought as John kissed him again, settling in against him while Sherlock put an arm around him.

****

The next few days were a strange mixture of gloriousness, awkwardness and frustration. Now that they'd crossed the line, John kissed Sherlock whenever the urge crossed his mind. Sherlock had no protest to this policy and found himself adopting it himself once the fear that John would reject him again slowly faded. It was lovely, and so much more than Sherlock had ever expected, and somehow still not enough.

He found his mind was fixated on what sex with John might be like in a way that he had only previously experienced with things that it made sense to focus on, like a chemistry experiment, or a crime, or finding a game that he could beat Mycroft at. He imagined that finally being allowed to watch John's face as he orgasmed would be even better than the first time Mycroft was thoroughly trounced at Operation.

He found himself masturbating so often that he was worried it was going to lead to some sort of damage from over-use. He gained a sense of respect for John and all the years he had spent having sex so often. No wonder his brain was a little slow at times.

A case come up which provided Sherlock with at least some distraction, especially as it led into the reopening of a file from a decade ago and a full re-examination of the evidence. Sherlock spent long hours at Scotland Yard, pouring over the pitiful attempts of the original investigation team while Lestrade tried, and failed, to defend their work.

John joined Sherlock for every moment that he didn't spend at the hospital. Sherlock found himself resenting John's job even more now that it meant an interruption of Sherlock's ability to experience John's lips against his whenever he wanted as well as losing his assistant. He kept himself from saying anything though, with some difficulty. If Sherlock spent too much time being rude about John's job, eventually John would lose his temper. John was unlikely to kiss Sherlock if he was angry with him and there was a distinct possibility that he would leave Sherlock alone even more than he already was.

Because most of the case took part either in Scotland Yard or in the labs at Barts, Sherlock was able to continue to make sure that John received a cup of tea when he arrived back from an appointment. Sherlock didn't often bother making it himself, but it wasn't hard to manipulate one of the junior police officers or Molly into deciding to provide some just as John arrived. John must have caught on, because every time he took a mug and thanked the person providing it, his eyes darted over to Sherlock instead, with an amused look that said he knew who he really should be thanking.

It took Sherlock four days to sift through enough terrible police work to find the vital clue, which meant the final stage of the case happened at the weekend. John was able to stay around for all of it – Sherlock's breakthrough, the escape from Lestrade's watchful eye in order to confirm it with a little light breaking-and-entering, and then the showdown with the murderer when he unexpectedly came home an hour early from his tai chi session.

“You fucking wanker!” he screeched, and charged Sherlock with a golf club, proving that tai chi did not lead to a serene soul.

John stepped in before the murderer could get anywhere near Sherlock, lunging at him with a tackle that drove his shoulder into the man's stomach, forcng all the air out of him. John bowled him over backwards to the ground and there was a brief tussle that Sherlock put an end to by knocking the murderer out with a handy lamp.

John sat up. “I had him.” His face was flushed with action and he was taking heavy breaths, but his shoulders were relaxed with the joy that a good fight always sent through him. He looked like everything Sherlock had ever desired.

“It was taking too long,” said Sherlock, and couldn't stop himself from stooping to kiss John's upturned mouth.

John kissed back for a long moment, then pulled away with a half-laugh, pushing at Sherlock's chest. “Sherlock, we can't snog at a crime scene.”

“It's not a crime scene,” said Sherlock. “He didn't commit any murders in this house.” He bent in again towards John's mouth.

“Oh, well, that's fine then,” said John, letting Sherlock kiss him. “Not like I'm straddling an unconscious serial killer or anything.”

Sherlock straightened and stepped away. “You're right,” he said. “Get off him and stand up. You're giving me a crick in my neck.”

John laughed but did so, and they kissed a bit more until John insisted they stop so that they could call the police. Dull, but probably necessary. Now that the case was over, Sherlock wanted the criminal taken away so that he could get John home, where he could kiss him some more, back him up against a wall and–

He made himself cut off the thought. There was no sense in torturing himself. John would kiss him, yes, but if Sherlock let himself get too carried away, he'd duck away and slip out from Sherlock's arms like water. He'd already done it several times since they'd begun engaging in such activities.

“Let's get Chinese on the way home,” said John as they waited for Lestrade to stop his histrionics at being left behind. “And some beer. We can eat and drink way too much while being all smug that we've cleared another criminal off the streets.”

Sherlock considered the idea. He didn't usually luxuriate like that in the wake of a case, not even his most successful ones. His mind always turned too quickly in on itself without the mystery to unravel. John clearly wanted to though, and Sherlock could admit that it sounded nice enough, in theory. If nothing else, he'd get to watch John being happy and he'd found he rather enjoyed that.

“Not beer,” he said. “Wine.”

John rolled his eyes. “We'll get both,” he said, which Sherlock supposed would have to do. He wondered what it would taste like to kiss John once he'd drunk some beer, and Sherlock had drunk some wine. That seemed like an interesting experiment.

****

It was an extremely interesting experiment. John became more tactile as he became drunker and even more prone to long, leisurely kissing. The wine took the edge off Sherlock's thoughts and he let himself enjoy it thoroughly, pulling John half on top of himself and sliding a hand beneath his shirt before he could stop himself.

For a moment he was afraid that he'd gone too far, but John only gave him a bright grin and kissed him again.

“Okay,” he said, leaning back to grab his beer and take another drink. “Okay, I know. Truth or Dare.”

Sherlock snorted. “Why on earth would we do something so inane?”

John shrugged, his shoulders moving loosely and slightly out-of-sync with each other. “Dunno. Cos we're acting like teenagers?” He frowned. “Well, we're acting like me as a teenager, not sure what you were like as a teenager.” A flash of amusement took over his face. “I bet your hair was mental.”

Sherlock ignored the last part of that. His hair had not been mental, it had been...mildly unruly. Once he'd worked out a proper haircare regime, it had been fine.

“I'm pretty sure that adults get drunk and engage in– in this kind of activity,” said Sherlock. “There's no need to sink to pointless games.”

“Well, I haven't since I was teenager,” said John. He pushed one hand up into Sherlock's hair, probably doing untold damage to its tidiness, and then looked amused at the result. Sherlock endured it for the sake of the look on John's face. “But then,” continued John, “I haven't kissed anyone at all since I was a teenager. Not since Jane. It's lots more fun than I remember,” he said, and leaned in to kiss Sherlock again, leaning too much weight on an elbow resting on Sherlock's chest as he did so.

Sherlock ignored the pain and kissed John back, too surprised to do much more. Had John really not kissed anyone since his first girlfriend? Even Sherlock had done that, and his romantic and sexual experience was considerably sparser than the average person's.

He put his arms around John to hold him properly, one going under his shirt again, sliding up the skin of his back. John made a pleased noise and snuggled in closer, and Sherlock wondered how so many people had got this close to him without wanting to kiss him.

“People are indescribably stupid,” he told John, once they'd paused for breath, then felt himself frown. He hadn't meant to say that out loud, and he certainly hadn't meant to find 'indescribably' so difficult to say.

“Yeah,” agreed John, reaching for his beer again. “C'mon, I'm nearly ready for another drink, you'll have to catch up.”

Sherlock reached for his wine glass and downed it in one go, just to see the impressed look in John's eyes. “I'm caught up.”

“Time for another round then,” said John. He clambered off Sherlock to head to the kitchen.

Sherlock felt rather cold without John sprawled out over him like the best kind of blanket. “Just bring it all out here,” he said. “No point in moving every time.”

“You have the best ideas!” said John. When he came back, he was carrying what looked like every bit of alcohol in the house, including the vile, sticky sherry that only Mrs. Hudson drank.

“If we're not doing Truth or Dare,” said John, setting all the bottles down around the sofa like a minefield of alcohol, “it'll have to be 'I Never'.”

Sherlock frowned, searching his Mind Palace. “I don't know that game,” he said. “Is it inane?”

“Oh yes,” said John with relish, collapsing back next to Sherlock. “You'll hate it.” He waved at the array of bottles around them. “Choose your poison, and we'll begin.”

It was inane. It was also strangely compelling, for reasons Sherlock struggled to form into thoughts. He learnt new things about John, which was good – always good to know more things about John. John also learnt new things about him, which Sherlock wasn't sure how he felt about. What if John didn't like what he learnt?

“I've never...” said John, then his voice trailed off. “Uh.”

“Formed a coh-rent thought?” offered Sherlock, then frowned to himself. Perhaps it was time to start choosing words with fewer syllables.

“Arrogant arse,” said John fondly. “I know. I've never spent more time on my hair than I have, um, brushing my teeth.”

Sherlock scowled and drank. He wasn't sure what he was drinking now, at some point they'd started choosing bottles with their eyes shut and pouring them into each other's glasses.

Time for payback. “I have never found a grey hair,” he said.

John's scowl created whole new lines on his face that Sherlock wanted to trace over with his fingers. “Bastard,” he said, drinking. “Gonna get you for that. Yes. Um. I've never...never...” He stalled for a moment, then beamed, raising a wobbling finger to point at Sherlock. “I've never lost a fight with a pavement and ended up with a broken arm.”

Sherlock drank again. “I've never been shot,” he retorted. “Shot at, but I've never let anyone actually hit me.”

John gave a little shrug before he drank. “Fair enough,” he said. “I've never...um...never worked out where someone lives by looking at their shoes.”

“It's not their shoes, it's the bits of, you know, stuff, on their shoes,” said Sherlock. Oh dear god, what was happening to his vocabulary?

John shook his head “Counts. Drink.”

Sherlock thought while he drank. He was finding it increasingly tricky to think of things that John had done that he hadn't. Either that meant he was getting so drunk his brain had stopped working, or he and John just did everything together now, which meant they did the same things. Or both.

Oh, obvious. John had already given him one, before they started the game. “I've never got drunk and played ridiculous teenage games with someone and snogged them a lot,” he said, triumphantly.

John blinked at him, then down at his glass. “Nope,” he said. “Me neither.”

Sherlock frowned. “You said–”

“Yeah, okay,” said John. “I did. Bit of a lie, mostly just got drunk. No snogging, remember? Not after Jane and she wasn't the getting-drunk type.”

“Oh,” said Sherlock. His cunning plan had backfired. He wilted. “Have I lost?”

John blinked. “Nope. There's no winners or losers in this game. Why would you have lost?”

“You didn't drink,” Sherlock pointed out.

John frowned. “Is that the first one we haven't got the other person to drink?” He glanced over at the clock. “We've been playing for....” He squinted at it, then gave up. “-a long time. Ages.”

Sherlock shrugged. “We know each other too well?”

John turned back to him. “Or just well enough,” he said, then put his glass down and fell slowly forwards onto Sherlock, catching himself on Sherlock's chest and looking up at him with drunk eyes. “It's good,” he said. “I like knowing you.”

“I like knowing you too,” said Sherlock, putting his own glass down so that he could hold on to John.

John smiled and then kissed him again, and Sherlock lost track of everything else.

Sherlock woke up at 2am with John half-snoring and sprawled on top of him, a taste like a dead weasel in his mouth, and the sudden, complete knowledge that the sofa was not designed for two grown men to share. He wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep, but there was no way he was going to be able to do that with his back aching and John's whole weight on top of him.

“John,” he said, softly.

John made a snorting, wheezing noise but didn't move.

“John,” Sherlock said a bit louder, shaking him. “We need to get up.”

John's arms tightened around him. “No,” he mumbled.

“Just to my bed,” said Sherlock. He nudged John again, a bit harder. “Come on, up. I'm in pain.”

That got John's head to lift, albeit slowly and unsteadily. “Your room,” he said, and set his sights in that direction. “Right.”

He clambered off Sherlock, nearly putting his knee somewhere unpleasant, and then staggered away from the sofa. A couple of crashes indicated that he'd stumbled into some of the bottles they'd left lying around, but Sherlock ignored them in favour of following him.

John stopped dead in the middle of the kitchen so suddenly that Sherlock almost walked into him. “Water,” he said.

“What?” said Sherlock, who had allowed most of his mind to go back offline.

“We need water,” said John, and he turned away from the direction of Sherlock's lovely, warm, comfortable bed in order to grab a glass from the sink, fill it with water, and down it.

Sherlock watched the silhouette of John's throat swallowing against the window and wondered if he was awake enough to go and masturbate in the bathroom. Probably not.

John refilled the glass then held it out to Sherlock. “For the hangover,” he said. “Very important.”

Sherlock took the glass, wondering how much alcohol it would take to shut down John's inner doctor, and dutifully drank it. “Bed,” he said insistently when he handed it back.

“God, yes,” said John, and they shuffled to Sherlock's room, managed enough coordination to strip off their trousers, and collapsed into the bed together.

****

Waking up was an interesting blend of sensations. Objectively, Sherlock felt terrible. His head throbbed, his stomach was churning and every muscle was aching, for no discernible reason. However, balanced against that was the incredible experience of having John nestled against him, one arm draped over Sherlock's stomach and his head tucked in against Sherlock's shoulder. He wondered if there was some way to ensure that he woke up this way every day, only without the hangover.

He was awake for twenty-three minutes, observing as much of John as he could, before John stirred.

“Oh god,” John muttered as he eased his eyes open. “Why did we do that?”

“It was your idea,” Sherlock pointed out. Now that John was awake, he allowed his hand to do as it had been craving since he'd opened his eyes to see John's hair so close to his fingers, and stroked through the strands of it. Lovely.

“I have terrible ideas,” said John with a sigh, moving closer to Sherlock in order to facilitate his hair-stroking. Sherlock took full advantage.

“Usually,” agreed Sherlock. John's hand had started moving, sliding up under Sherlock's shirt to trace over his skin. It felt delicious. “I would say that, with the exception of the pointless game, nothing you suggested last night falls into that category.”

John snorted and his legs shifted until one was hooked over Sherlock's. “Flatterer,” he muttered. “Besides, you liked the game.”

Sherlock was distracted by the realisation that neither of them were wearing anything on their bottom halves beyond underwear and that John's t-shirt was sufficiently pushed up for him to ignore its presence as his other hand found its way to the base of his spine. “Did I?”

“Oh yes,” said John, and he moved up to rest his weight on his hands, looming over Sherlock. “It gave you a chance to show off how much you know about me.”

Sherlock considered. “You got to do the same,” he said. “After all, I was the one to go wrong first.”

John grinned. “True,” he said. “I suppose I should claim some kind of forfeit.” He leaned in and kissed Sherlock, softly and quickly.

He pulled away before Sherlock could turn it into more, which Sherlock wasn't having. He cupped his hand around the back of John's head and pulled him in for a more serious kiss, ignoring their morning breath as he brought their tongues together.

“Mmm, that'll do,” said John, and kissed him again, settling down on Sherlock's body so that they were entirely pressed together. Sherlock put both his arms around John and held on, wondering how something so simple could occupy his mind so completely.

Several minutes passed, although Sherlock couldn't have said how many. Nothing seemed to exist outside the feeling of having John there, draped on him and apparently as little able to stop kissing as Sherlock seemed to be. They were both letting their hands wander, although Sherlock found his coming back to the curve of John's arse again and again, stroking over the material of his underwear and wondering what it would be like if they were completely unclothed for this.

He was wondering if he could get away with suggesting they removed their shirts at least, when John shifted his hips slightly, and suddenly their erections were pressed together. A spark of electric lust ran through Sherlock and he sucked in a sudden breath, just as John stilled and stared at him with wide eyes.

Sherlock froze. Was this where John drew the line and pulled away? He found himself clinging on to him tighter as if he could prevent that.

It was just kissing he thought fiercely, as if he could manipulate John's thoughts. It wasn't sex, please don't go away yet.

He couldn't read John's expression at all as John continued to look down at him. It suddenly felt as if he was miles away, rather than merely inches from Sherlock's face. There was a tense silence for a long, painful minute and then John let out a shaky laugh.

“This is ridiculous,” he said.

Sherlock whole-heartedly agreed, but he couldn't be sure that they were thinking of the same thing. “What is?” he asked.

John shifted his hips again, rubbing their cocks together again. “This,” he said, pointedly. “I don't- You know what? Fuck it. Let's just do it.”

Sherlock felt his eyes widen. “Have sex?” he clarified, before he let himself get too excited.

“Yep,” said John. “I want to, you clearly want to, the only thing stopping us is me being silly, basically.”

Sherlock wondered if he was experiencing an alcohol poisoning-related hallucination. “You want to?”

John laughed “Of course I do,” he said. “Have you seen yourself? Of course I want to have sex with you.”

“Then why–” started Sherlock, but cut himself off. If John wanted to have sex, he wasn't going to waste any more time with pointless conversation. “Yes,” he said instead. “Okay.” He pulled his hands away from John's arse and started on his shirt buttons. “We need to get rid of our clothes.”

John laughed but pulled away, sitting back onto his heels. “Excellent plan,” he said. He pulled his t-shirt off and discarded it while Sherlock was still fumbling with his buttons, trying to get his fingers to work properly despite his hangover, the anticipation coursing through him, and the clumsiness left over from his injury.

“It'll help with that as well,” said John, taking over the buttons for Sherlock. “You won't have to bother with physio any more. Got any lube?”

Sherlock paused at John's casual tone and frowned up at him. John had lost a large percentage of the desire that had radiated from his expression when they had been kissing and was now looking as if he did this kind of thing every day.

Which, technically, he did, but Sherlock couldn't begin to imagine putting this in the same category as John's patients. He made a lightning-fast decision.

“No,” he announced and sat up, catching John in his arms and then rolling them both over so that he was the one on top, staring down at John's surprised face. “We're not doing this like that. I want to make you feel amazing, John, not get a quick-fix.”

“Oh,” said John, sounding surprised.

Sherlock immediately resolved to only make him more surprised. He bent to kiss John again, doing his best to wipe all thoughts from his mind and return it to the state it had been in a moment ago.

“Yeah, okay,” breathed John as Sherlock pulled back. Sherlock didn't give him time to say anything else. This was his opportunity to have everything from John. He needed to make this good.

He bent to kiss down John's neck, working his way to his nipples and running his tongue across the hard bead of one as he sank his hands inside John's underwear, pulling them down so that John could kick them out of the way. Once they were gone and John was completely naked beneath him, Sherlock pulled back for a moment to take in the view and then darted back in to take John's cock in his mouth.

“Wait!” hissed John, grabbing hold of Sherlock's shoulders.

Sherlock stopped with a scowl. What on earth could be John's objection to this? “If you're about to insist on a condom,” he started, but was interrupted by John's startled, breathy laugh.

“God, no. My come cures cancer, do you really think I've ever had to worry about STIs? They get cured long before they can infect me, you're completely safe. No, I just – you're still wearing your shirt. That's hardly fair.”

The man had a point. Sherlock pulled away for long enough to rid himself of the material. “Better?”

John ran a hand over the line of his collarbone. “Much,” he said with a smile.

Sherlock couldn't help returning it, and then bent back to what he had been about to do. No more time-wasting.

Having John in his mouth, shuddering with lust and making quiet, panting noises every time Sherlock caressed him with his tongue, was even better than Sherlock had hypothesised. He immediately discarded all his fantasies in order to make room on his hard drive for as much detail about the real thing as he could.

“God, Sherlock,” gasped John, his fingers starting to dig in as he clutched at Sherlock's shoulders. “That's– fuck. Don't stop.”

Sherlock had no intention of stopping. None of his few brief, fumbled encounters with strangers had even come close to comparing to this. He could feel himself hardening in response to the noises John was making, the taste of him in Sherlock's mouth, even the smell of him, primitive and intimate.

“Oh, oh god,” John managed. “I'm going to– Sherlock!”

Sherlock held on tighter to his hips in case John had any silly impulses to push Sherlock away before the best bit, but he needn't have worried. John didn't seem to have the brain capacity to even put words together, putting a strange, aching cry as he came.

Sherlock swallowed it down with a great deal more satisfaction than he would have predicted. He had done that; he'd made John come so hard that he had seized like an electrocution victim. He hadn't been so proud of himself since he'd solved his first case.

He pulled away to move up John's body, pressing kisses to his face until John started to respond, weakly at first and then with fervent passion.

“So good,” he murmured. “Sherlock, god. So good, I haven't ever–”

He cut himself off with a kiss, but not before Sherlock caught the gist of what he meant. He wasn't sure if he should be appropriately smug that he had apparently made John feel better than he ever had before, or sickeningly sad for him that Sherlock had, with one hungover blowjob, been better than every single sexual experience John had had, given that at a minimum of one a day, he would have passed 7000 encounters some time ago.

“You're perfect,” breathed John, and Sherlock settled on smug, with an undertone of horny. He pressed his own erection to John's thigh, wondering if it would be gauche to just rub off against him.

“No,” said John, reaching between them. “Come on, let me.”

He wrapped his hand around Sherlock's erection and Sherlock had to take a very deep breath to cope with the sensation of John's fingers holding him like that.

“Yeah, like that,” said John, which made no sense, but Sherlock was too far gone to point that out. John's grip was firm, but there was something in the rhythm of his strokes that felt a little clumsy and amateur, and Sherlock was hit by the idea that John was as new to giving handjobs as he had been to blowjobs.

I can show it all to him for the first time, thought Sherlock, as he dropped his forehead to rest on John's shoulder and let his hips give in to a mindless thrust into John's hand.

John's other hand came up to rest on the back of his neck and Sherlock felt completely, mindlessly grateful for this incredible man, who gave everyone so much and yet had still kept something back for Sherlock to have for his own.

“John,” he gasped. “John, you're–” He broke off, not sure what he wanted to say, as everything built up inside him.

“Sherlock,” said John, and he pressed a kiss to the side of Sherlock's forehead.

For some reason, that was what sent Sherlock over the edge and he came with a noise that felt like it had been torn out of the very depths of his lungs.

It took him longer than he would have expected to recover enough to roll off John and settle on the mattress next to him. John immediately turned on his side so that he could drape his arm over Sherlock, and Sherlock found himself automatically moving his arm so that he could put it under John, around his shoulders.

“Yeah, I was an idiot,” said John after a few peaceful moments had passed.

Sherlock turned his head to raise an eyebrow, not interested in wasting the energy on what, precisely, he had been an idiot about this time.

“We should have done that days ago. It was nothing like my appointments.”

Sherlock snorted. “I have no idea why you thought it would be,” he said. “That's work, John. Completely different.”

John laughed. “Right. And your work never involves moments of inspiration that look a lot like orgasms to an outside viewer.”

Was that what they looked like? Sherlock had never stopped to consider the matter. “We have very different attitudes to our jobs,” he pointed out.

“Yeah,” agreed John, quietly.

There was a calm silence for a moment, which Sherlock enjoyed more than he would expected, but it didn't take long for him to begin to twitch.

“I need a shower,” he said.

“We both do. Who knew that hangovers and sex would cause that?” said John with a smile that Sherlock could feel against his shoulder.

“Next time we'll have to avoid the hangover,” said Sherlock.

“I can get behind that,” said John. “Oh, you know what would be a great way to avoid making any mess? Just having next time in the shower.”

“That's an excellent idea,” said Sherlock. He sat up, disrupting John's position so that he made a vaguely annoyed noise. “Let's implement it immediately.”

John snorted, but obligingly sat up as well, rubbing his hands through his hair. “So much for the afterglow,” he said.

Sherlock made a face. “We can work on creating another one,” he said and got out of bed, then turned to pull John's arm so that he would come as well. “Perhaps one that can be enjoyed with tea.”

That made John perk up. “Tea does tend to make all things better,” he said, and happily followed Sherlock into the bathroom.

****

The whole day continued to be lovely. John did insist that they cleared up the collection of alcohol that was still clustered around the sofa, but then he made tea and let Sherlock collapse across the sofa with his head in John's lap, where he deigned to run his fingers through Sherlock's hair. It was blissful. Sherlock let his eyes fall shut and found himself drifting off, perfectly content.

The rest of the day passed just as quietly, which caused Sherlock just as much pleasure without any hint of boredom. They had sex again in the afternoon, retreating to Sherlock's room again when a snog on the sofa started to get a bit heavy.

Around dinner time, Sherlock began to worry that he was experiencing some sort of chemical imbalance. Surely it wasn't normal to be this happy, for so many hours in a row, just because someone had made it clear that they wanted nothing more than to be close to you as much as you wanted to be close to them?

“Right,” said John, as the clock ticked its way towards 11. “I should go to bed.” He hesitated, and then added, “Work tomorrow,” with an edge of tentativeness that didn't make sense.

“It is a Monday,” Sherlock acknowledged as John stood up.

John paused and ducked a nod. “Yeah. Right.” There was another silence and Sherlock turned to raise an eyebrow at him.

“Is there something you wish to say?”

John let out a long, noisy breath. “I'll be having sex with two strangers tomorrow.”

Sherlock continued to look at him, waiting for the point of John repeating information they both knew already.

John made a face. “Isn't that– Doesn't that bother you?”

Sherlock frowned. “No more than it did last week,” he said, and John made a frustrated noise. “Why would it?” asked Sherlock.

“Because we– we had sex!” said John. “Aren't you going to be, I don't know–”

“John,” interrupted Sherlock, standing up so that he could smooth over John's emotions by taking his hands. “I meant it when I said that wasn't going to be a problem. It's not the same for you with them as it is with me, correct?”

“Correct,” said John. He moved closer so that he was snuggled against Sherlock and Sherlock put his arms around him, wondering if there were some magic words he should be saying so that they never had to have this conversation again. “With you, it's–” said John, but didn't finish the sentence, to Sherlock's frustration. “I know it's different, I suppose I just didn't expect anyone else to,” he said instead.

“I am not 'anyone else',” Sherlock pointed out.

John laughed and pulled away to press a kiss to his lips. “That's very true,” he said. “Okay, I'll stop worrying about it.”

“Good,” said Sherlock. “It was getting boring.”

“God forbid,” said John, and he kissed Sherlock again, and then pulled away. “Good night.”

“Good night,” said Sherlock, and returned to his chair, where he had been pretending to read a journal while secretly memorising the lines of John's face. He supposed he'd have to actually concentrate on the article now, as he wasn't remotely tired enough to warrant going to bed.

John gave him a smile and started to head out the door to the landing and up the stairs. Sherlock frowned after him, wondering why that seemed so wrong when he had watched him do it a hundred times before.

Because he should be going to my bed, he thought. John should be going to sleep in Sherlock's bed, where Sherlock could climb in with him in an hour or two so that he could lie close and watch John if he couldn't sleep, and wake up like he had this morning.

“John,” he called, and John's footsteps stopped halfway up the stairs and he came obediently back down to glance in the sitting room door. “Sleep in my room.” For a moment nervousness crept through him, as if John was about to reject him now, after everything.

John smiled and gave a small nod. “Right, okay,” he said. “Don't wake me up when you come in, then.”

“I wouldn't dream of it,” said Sherlock.

John didn't entirely look as if he believed him, but he said, “Okay, I'll get my pyjamas,” anyway.

Sherlock's heart filled with warmth for him as he turned back towards the stairs. Content that everything was now as it should be, he looked at the journal again, and then wondered why he was bothering when he could be in bed with John, watching him fall asleep.

“It is rather late,” he said. “I'll come too.” He abandoned the journal and headed for his bedroom.

****

Sherlock was ready and waiting when John returned home from work the next day. He saw him coming up the road from the window and immediately went to flick on the kettle. He'd already set two mugs beside it, teabags waiting in them.

He walked back to the window and picked up his violin. He waited until John was only steps away from the front door, fumbling for his keys, and started to play John's favourite Bach piece. He'd spent the last week concentrating on it in his practices, until he was able to play it just as well as he had before he'd injured his arm.

He resolutely kept his back to the doorway as he played, but he tracked John's footsteps up the stairs and was completely aware when he reached the doorway and paused in it, apparently content to watch Sherlock play for a moment before coming inside. Sherlock allowed himself a small, smug smile.

The kettle boiled and Sherlock turned around, expecting to see John's attention distracted by the important task of making tea. He was still standing in the doorway though, looking at Sherlock with a warm look that had an impact on Sherlock's emotions so strong that he nearly fumbled a note.

“That was lovely,” said John, once Sherlock had brought the piece to a conclusion.

Sherlock found himself ducking his head in an awkward manner. “Thank you,” he managed, and then turned to put his violin away. “The kettle just boiled,” he pointed out.

Instead of going in to the kitchen, John came towards Sherlock and put his hand on Sherlock's wrist, gently turning him back around so that he could press a kiss to his lips. “It can wait.”

Sherlock's eyes darted over John's body, marking the places where he had always held his post-appointment tension, and finding no sign of it. “Did something happen?” he asked.

“Yeah,” said John, sliding one of his arms around Sherlock's waist and pulling him into another, longer kiss. “I came home to find a genius serenading me.”

“I wasn't serena–” Sherlock started to scoff, but he was cut off by John's lips again. He allowed himself to be distracted from finishing the sentence.

“Play something else,” said John, once all thought had been kissed away from Sherlock's mind. “I'll make the tea, then we can have a cuddle on the sofa.”

Sherlock couldn't imagine a better plan. “If you insist,” he said, raising the violin again.

John got halfway to the kitchen before he hesitated. “Uh, just a cuddle. I don't – I'm a bit tired.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “I wasn't assuming that you'd be up for an all-night sex marathon after supplying two orgasms already today.”

“Right,” said John, with an edge of uncertainty that Sherlock did not approve of.

“It can't have escaped your notice that I am not particularly highly sexed,” said Sherlock. “It won't be a hardship to wait for the weekend.”

He hadn't even contemplated sex today, he realised. After weeks of finding himself far too fixated on it, all he had been thinking about today was John coming home, where Sherlock could make him smile with a bit of Bach and then they could enjoy an evening in together. There was a sense of relief in the realisation – he had been becoming concerned that his inability to control his libido would result in him becoming one of those people who could barely focus on anything else. Discovering that all he had needed was to finally indulge his passion for John and the knowledge that there would be plenty of other occasions to do so in the future seemed to have dimmed it back down to more manageable levels.

He raised his violin and plunged into his own favourite Bach piece, which he had not practised so assiduously. There were a number of minor errors, but from the happy smile John gave him before he turned back to the kitchen, he didn't notice.

Sherlock played it through twice before moving to the sofa, and the second time went far more smoothly than the first. His arm barely ached at all once he was done and he thought, with satisfaction, that his injury was almost entirely healed. Soon he could cease the mind-numbingly dull physio exercises.

He took the tea that John had left for him on the coffee table and sat close enough to John that he could engage in physical contact, but not so close as to force it on him. John immediately slumped sideways towards him, until Sherlock felt obliged to move his arm so that John could settle underneath it.

“I thought it would be weird,” he said, as Sherlock sipped his tea.

There were a number of things he could be referring to. Sherlock decided not to theorise before the facts. “You thought what would be weird?”

“Having sex with a patient after I'd had sex with someone I– ah, someone I cared about,” said John. “It wasn't, though. The two are so different that there didn't seem to be any overlap at all.”

“My point precisely,” said Sherlock. “That is exactly why any notion of me being upset about or jealous of your appointments is ridiculous.”

John nodded. “Yeah, I get that now.” He gave a rueful smile. “Seems I'm always a couple of steps behind you.”

“You get there eventually,” said Sherlock. “That's the main thing. You always catch up.”

That earned him a wide smile that he couldn't resist kissing. One kiss turned into several, and Sherlock happily abandoned his tea to get cold in favour of John's lips. Some things were more important than tea.