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And if you say the word, I could stay with you

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John arrives home from work a full two hours early.

“First day of spring on the calendar,” he grumbles, shrugging out of his jacket, “and it’s a bloody blizzard out there.”

Sherlock looks up from his elegant repose on the sofa. “It’s snowing?” he murmurs with mild surprise, craning his neck to look out the window. Sure enough, the grey afternoon outside the sitting room window is filled with icy swirling flakes.

“Since a little after ten,” John replies. He loosens his tie, an automatic gesture that always draws Sherlock's eye. “Spent all day in your mind palace, I suppose.”

“Weather is boring,” Sherlock drawls lazily. “Unless it pertains to a case, of course.”

“Of course,” John replies with a smile. He toes off his shoes, carries them to the foot of the steps, sets them down neatly on the first riser before he comes back into the sitting room, bending over the sofa to kiss Sherlock.

John’s lips are a bit chapped, the tip of his nose still cold, the scent of snow still clinging to his hair.

They are the kind of couple that kiss goodbye and hello. Sherlock is still surprised by this on a daily basis, by how natural it feels, how he feels oddly adrift without that anchoring touch of lips to mark their comings and goings. They only kiss in private, of course, though it’s been a near thing more than once.

“What’s going on up there that’s so interesting?” John asks, scratching gently at the top of his scalp with affectionate fingers.

“Delusional parasitosis,” Sherlock answers, which is partially truthful--one track of his brain is contemplating the fascinating case an old school mate of Lestrade’s sent down from Liverpool. A gruesome murder-suicide of a couple universally described as happy and loving, which turned out to be a fascinatingly tragic saga of a housewife so convinced she was infested with parasites she ended up inadvertently killing her husband and herself with a meat pie spiked with a lethal dose of veterinary insecticide.

While he contemplates the spectrum of human mental disorders, however, another part of his mind is mulling over the more important question of Doing Something Nice for John. He was on the brink of figuring out just the right course of action when this inopportune snow thing brought John home early. However, he always prefers having John with him rather than at dreadful boring stupid work, so he’s not overly put out at having his thought process interrupted.

Though the fact remains he hasn’t yet arrived at a suitable Something Nice, and time is growing short.

“That Liverpool case?” John says, straightening. “Dreadful thing. I’ve had a few of those pop up myself. Fixed delusions, very difficult to treat. Tea?”

“Please,” Sherlock replies.

As John retreats into the kitchen to put on the kettle, Sherlock peers at the outline of his compact form, silhouetted in the kitchen doorway. He finds himself frustratingly unable to determine if John is aware of today’s significance.

***

His army duffle hits the wooden floor with a thump.

“I left her,” John says with a flat finality. “I’m done. I can’t do it anymore, Sherlock.”

Sherlock stands paralysed in the middle of the sitting room, unable to move, his limbs turned to lead as hope and fear wrestle in his belly.

(They haven’t seen or spoken to each other in ten days, not since a black car had swept John off the street outside the pub where he had spent the evening drinking after another spectacular row with Mary. That night at Battersea, when Mycroft outlined everything they knew about A.G.R.A, why they had not confided fully in John, why it was essential that he continue his sham of a marriage, continue to keep her close and placated until the final shoe could drop and the final remnants of Moriarty’s network could be destroyed for good.

John had raged and screamed and even wept a little. He hadn’t punched Sherlock, but Sherlock knew it had been a very, very near thing.

But in the end he had agreed, eyes red-rimmed and bleary. He had agreed, and gone back to his bitter, poisoned sham of a marriage.)

“John,” Sherlock says carefully. “We talked about this.”

“No,” John says flatly. “Not for the baby, not for my supposed safety, and not for some bloody half-arsed plan the Holmes Brothers are making up on the fly.” He looks more tired than Sherlock had ever seen him, face deeply lined, eyes exhausted. “I can’t, Sherlock. I just…” he blew out a breath, shook his head. “I can’t.”

“All right,” Sherlock says, placating. Now is not the time to argue. “All right.”

“Is it okay for me to stay here?” John asks suddenly, as if the question hasn’t even occurred to him before now. “I mean, I don’t want to assume--”

“Of course,” Sherlock says, almost sharply, then he stops, softens his tone. “It’s always okay. You’ll always be welcome here, John. Please know that.”

John laughs, a hollow bitter rasp of sound. “I’m finding the list of things I truly know grows shorter by the day.”

Sherlock has no idea how to respond to that so he doesn’t. For a moment the two men stare at each other, the silence between them thick and strained.

“I can make tea,” Sherlock finally offers lamely. “Or, the bed upstairs is made up, if you--”

“Yeah, I think... I think I’ll just go to bed,” John says flatly, tonelessly. He slowly bends to pick up his duffel bag; it seems to weigh a hundred pounds from the way he sighs as he slings it over his shoulder. “We’ll talk in the morning, all right?”

“All right,” Sherlock says. “Good night, John.”

John turns and leaves the room without another word. Sherlock sinks into his chair, listens to the heavy, tired tread climbing the stairs, and he marvels at his own sharp, swirling, confusing feelings, seeing if not fully understanding how soaring joy and bitter sorrow can coexist so seamlessly in the confined space of a human heart.

***

He could simply ask, of course. But if John doesn’t remember, he will feel badly for not remembering, and while Sherlock is a horrible person in many varied and entertaining ways he does not ever wish to hurt John knowingly, so the best course of action is clearly not mentioning today’s towering significance.

It’s seeming likely John does recall, however--he’s been warmly affectionate since morning, not once snapping or grousing like the grumpy old man he’s slowly but surely becoming--but it’s possible that he’s just in one of his infrequent but not rare sunny moods. An indicator, then, but not a definitive sign.

But then again, while he’s been loving and cheerful, he’s not shown any inclination towards doing anything out of the ordinary, either--no clandestine purchases or furtive little I’ve got a secret glances that he can’t help but give when he’s trying to keep something from Sherlock.

So. Nothing definitive in either direction.

That means a gift is off the table. Sherlock had contemplated it briefly but dismissed the notion; John has moments of deep insecurity about the socioeconomic disparity of their respective upbringings, and an unreciprocated gift would only serve to make him uncomfortable and self-conscious, as well as embarrassed for being self-conscious, which would inevitably lead the pair into a pointless, frustrating row.

So there’s only one thing for it, then. A traditional gesture, a bit cliched perhaps, but--

“I could make something for dinner,” Sherlock offers with a studied nonchalance. “Unless you had something else in mind.”

John puts down the newspaper, regards Sherlock over the rims of his silver reading spectacles (he hates them, complains about how they make him look old, but Sherlock loves them, thinks John looks suave and mature and distinguished). He is still dressed in his work khakis and plaid shirt, though his tie is missing, discarded immediately upon returning home.

Sherlock is expecting one of John’s gently snarky rejoinders, something along the lines of When did you discover the kitchen is useful for producing food? or I’m not going to let you slip me some terrifying new drug that easily, Sherlock. He is genuinely surprised when John instead glances up at the sitting room windows and says mildly, “If we need to go to the shops we’d better get a move on. It’s really starting to come down out there.”

“We could just get takeaway, if you’d rather stay in,” Sherlock replies.

“It’s not far,” John says, “And I absolutely cannot recall the last time you offered to cook for me, so I’m not passing that up.”

“Last October,” Sherlock replies. “I made cheese toasties.”

“Yes, you did. A momentous occasion, destined to be remembered for generations in song and epic poetry. Frankly, I’m interested to see how you top that accomplishment.” John stands, stretches, holds out a hand to where Sherlock is stretched on the sofa. “Come on, then,” John murmurs fondly, and Sherlock allows himself to be pulled to his feet. “I rather fancy a nice walk in the snow with my boyfriend.”

Boyfriend. Lover. Partner. They have used all these relationship terms at one point or another in the past year, and Sherlock never objects, but none of them are quite right, none of them express enough of what he truly wants to convey when he refers to John, none of them come close to expressing what John Watson is to him without obscuring the truth of it in juvenility or euphemism or bloodless remove.

John Watson is his sun, his star, his gravity well, the centre of his personal universe. None of the ordinary labels suffice, not even remotely, but they will serve until he can find the absolute right word, the perfect combination of lips and tongue and air across vocal cords to convey to the world exactly what this man means to him.

***

The supermarket is packed, of course, with panicked Londoners who are apparently fortifying themselves against the apocalypse with bread, milk, and loo paper.

“I will never understand the human impulse to buy excessive amounts of staple foods in response to any kind of measurable snowfall,” Sherlock observes. “It’s not as if the delivery vans will be held up more than a day or two at most, and God knows the average Brit could stand to lose a stone.”

John shrugs. “Human nature, I suppose. You’re right, though. It’s not rational, is it?” he chuckles, fond and amused. “You’re not really one to buy staple foods in any weather, though, so maybe you ought not judge.”

“I keep you around for those sorts of tedious tasks,” Sherlock replies, a teasing note in his voice.

“Oh, is that why?” John says, pretending to contemplate the empty shelves and leaning his warm, solid weight against Sherlock’s side for a brief moment.

“Obviously,” Sherlock says with mock arrogance, which is so similar to his regular arrogance no one but John would be able to tell the difference. “Well, and also the sex,” he adds with a condescending tilt of his head.

“Of course,” John murmurs with a nod.

“I’m all about the brain work. Basic biological maintenance, that’s your purview,” Sherlock says, and if he can’t keep his face from betraying him with a foolish, besotted grin as he glances at John out of the corner of his eye, well. It’s not as if he gives a single damn what anyone in Tesco thinks, anyway.

“Aren’t I a lucky sod,” John replies mildly, a matching grin appearing on his face.

“You really are.”

“With sweet talk like this, who needs dinner?” John says, gesturing at the bare shelves. “Damn good thing, too, because I don’t know there’s any food left.”

The supermarket shelves are largely empty, but they manage to locate a whole chicken, as well as bacon and onions and one last lonely baguette in the bakery that Sherlock has to engage in a glare-off with a harried-looking woman in a tweed pantsuit to obtain.

(He wins, of course. Sherlock Holmes can out-glare anyone, anytime, any place without even breaking a sweat.)

The wine department is equally bare, but Sherlock finds several bottles of pinot he deems ‘marginally acceptable’ as he places them into the trolley.

“How much wine, exactly, does the recipe require?” John asks.

“My grandmère’s recipe calls for three bottles,” Sherlock says. “One goes into the stew.”

“Ah,” John murmurs with a nod. “And the others?”

“Coq au vin takes quite a while to prepare,” Sherlock says. “The other two help pass the time.”

“Ah, the French,” John replies, appreciatively. “I like how they think.”

The snow is ankle deep when they step out of Tesco and begin the trek back to Baker Street.

***

Sherlock knows he’s being creepy, really he does; that knowledge doesn’t dissuade him from tiptoeing silently up the steps (avoiding the creaky fourth riser) to listen at the closed bedroom door for signs of distress.

There are no gasps, no sobs, no ragged breaths. The room on the other side of the door is silent, save for a creak of the bedsprings when John turns from his back to his side, a susuruss of fabric and feathers as he adjusts the pillow, a sigh when he again rests his head.

Five minutes pass. Ten. Fifteen.

“Sherlock,” John says, seventeen minutes after Sherlock ascended the stairs. “I know you’re out there. Stop lurking and just come in.”

Sherlock turns the knob, opens the door, and stands in the doorway, feeling uncertain and exposed and very foolish.

“I was worried,” he says, and it comes out far more brittle and defensive than he intended.

“It’s all right,” John says, rough and tired but not unkind. “Jesus, will you stop looming and come sit down already.”

Nerves, confusion, anxiety course through Sherlock’s veins; his feet feel heavy as lead, but he forces himself to do as John asks, to cross the small room and sit on the edge of John’s bed.

Neither man speaks. The silence spools out between them in the dark bedroom.

“Why?” Sherlock finally asks, his voice little more than a whisper.

John doesn’t ask for clarification. “Because I...I was sitting on that couch, that awful plaid couch with the hard cushions, Mary was in the kitchen, talking about something or another like nothing was even wrong, like we had a real marriage and I just.” He takes a deep breath. “I just realised I couldn’t do it. She’s a murderer, Sherlock.”

“So are we, John.”

“Not like that. We have regret. We wish things could have been different. She has no sorrow, no pity, no compassion. She’s a killer, all the way down to her soul and I hate her. I hate her, and I would have hated the baby too.” He rolls onto his side, towards Sherlock. “If there was a baby.”

Sherlock turns to look at him, brow creasing, and the questioning surprise on his face must be visible even in the dim light. John nods and sighs.

“I’ve not seen her without clothes since before... ” The night she shot you is not said, but hangs in the air as surely as words uttered aloud. “But even still, her weight gain is all wrong. Her face, her hands, her feet, no swelling. I’m a doctor, Sherlock, for Christ’s sake, and I’ve seen a lot of pregnant women. And, she said she went for the scans without me, when we were separated. I’ve looked closely at them, and I swear the ID tags look altered. All of it, put together...there are too many little things that aren’t right, too many little details that feel off.”

Sherlock nods. “She is the most skilled liar I have ever met. The thought had crossed my mind, but... I trust your instincts, John. I always have. If your gut is telling you the pregnancy is fake, I believe you."

“Does that change things?” John says. “I mean, the plan. If there’s no child to protect, then…”

He trails off, looking at Sherlock apprehensively.

“Yes,” Sherlock says. “It changes things. Quite a lot.”

“It was doomed,” John says. “Even before. She never could have. Not since…”

He trails off, exhales, his lined face a study in misery and exhaustion.

“I’m sorry, John. I truly am.”

“Don’t,” John says fiercely. “Don’t be sorry for being alive. Not now, not ever. Even if… even if you had been dead for real, I never should have…”

“Never should have what?”

John shakes his head minutely, his lips pressed tightly together as if to keep more damning words from tumbling out.

Sherlock can literally feel him slipping away, refusing to acknowledge what is between them, has always been between them. The space between their bodies right now, though-- he’s so close, mere inches away, and after years of uncertainty and indecision and hesitation, it is suddenly the easiest thing in the world to stop John from running away by leaning forward and pressing their mouths together.

***

The pair slowly make their way back to the flat in the hushed, silver-grey twilight unique to a snowy afternoon, each holding a shopping bag, picking their way carefully across the slippery pavement.

He should have worn sturdier shoes; Sherlock’s feet slip and slide a bit, as do John’s, and they hold on to each other more than is strictly necessary for balance, both of them luxuriating in having a pretense for touching each other outside of the flat.

In front of 221B, John shifts the bags he’s carrying to his right arm and rummages in his jacket for his keys. “Bugger,” he sighs. “Haven’t got mine.”

“it’s fine,” Sherlock says, and fishes his own out of his pocket. He fumbles with the key a bit, fingers cold despite his gloves, and unlocks the front door.

“Hey, Sherlock,” John says softly behind him. “Take a look.”

Sherlock turns around. John is gazing out at the street, at the falling snow, illuminated by the newly-lit streetlamps into icy rippling curtains. The smile on his face makes him appear young, guileless, innocent in a way Sherlock has seldom seen.

“It’s gorgeous, innit?” John says, and even his voice sounds younger, less weary, his carefully-cultivated accent a bit rough, more rural around the edges.

A feeling rushes over Sherlock, something too huge and terrifying to even name. He drops the bags he’s holding--distantly grateful he wasn’t carrying the wine--and his right hand reaches out, grasps the lapel of John’s black jacket. Pulls him close, the ever-present love in his heart for this small splendid man suddenly boiling up into something fierce and tender and wanting.

“It is,” he murmurs, his left hand coming up to cradle John’s jaw as he dips his head down and kisses him.

John gives a small ‘oof’ of surprise but then responds enthusiastically, his lips parting, inviting him in. His lips are cold but his mouth is warm and inviting, his tongue soft and wet. He tastes like nothing in particular, and like everything good and right in the universe.

He tastes like home, Sherlock thinks as his teeth gently nibble John’s soft, slightly chapped lower lip, the tip of his cold nose pressing against John’s warm cheek.

They’ve never kissed in public before.

They’ve been a couple for a year, and while they’re not keeping their relationship a secret, exactly-- Mrs Hudson knows, clearly, and Molly and Lestrade, and Mummy and Dad, and of course Mycroft, who never met anyone else’s business he didn’t immediately make his own-- but they’re still British men of a certain age, of some public notoriety if not quite fame, and the end result is that while everyone on the planet is certain they’re shagging, the two of them have never even held hands outside the privacy of the flat.

Now Sherlock rues that year of wasted opportunity.

I want to kiss you everywhere, he realises. Here on the pavement in front of 221B, in the queue at Costa, on the steps of New Scotland Yard. I want to kiss you everywhere, all the time, in front of anyone who cares to watch and anyone who doesn’t. I want the entire world to know, every day, that you belong to me, you’re mine to hold and touch and kiss.

Sherlock pulls back slightly, gazes down at John’s upturned face and realises all over again that despite what others may see as objective physical shortcomings, John is the most perfectly beautiful human being Sherlock has ever seen. He gazes into those dark blue eyes, looking up at him in a rare moment of raw vulnerability, wide and guileless and oh so much in love Sherlock almost can’t breathe. He feels full to bursting with adoration, it makes his heart hurt to feel this much, but it’s a good pain, a joyous pain, something his younger self never would have been able to comprehend.

John smiles up at him. “What was that for, then?” he asks, his tone pleased and playful.

Sherlock huffs a soft breath of laughter, brushes at John’s soft silver-blonde hair with a gloved hand. He tries and fails to find words to express the hot tangle of feelings inside his chest, pressing hard against his ribs.

“You have snowflakes in your hair,” is all he can say, and it’s not enough and it’s everything all at once.

***

John takes a quick shower while Sherlock locates the heavy Le Creuset pot deep in the back of a seldom-opened cupboard, quite relieved to find he had remembered to clean it after the carrion beetle experiment of the previous summer.

He’s sharpened their one good knife and minced bacon and onions, and he’s cutting the chicken into pieces when a damp clean John wanders back into the kitchen. He’s dressed warmly in jeans and a longsleeved thermal shirt, but his feet are bare and pale, a sight which always makes Sherlock feel a little shivery deep in his belly for reasons he can’t adequately understand, let alone explain.

“You’re very good at cutting up a chicken,” John observes.

“Well,” Sherlock replies, “basically it’s just dismembering a body, isn’t it?”

“Gruesome, yet technically correct,” John notes. “Which, by the way, is what you should put on a business card. ‘Sherlock Holmes, gruesome yet technically correct.’”

“It does have a certain ring to it,” Sherlock replies, smiling.

“You’ve got the dismembering covered. What else can I do to help?” John asks, pushing up his sleeves.

“Open one of the bottles, get us each a glass and pour the rest into the bowl on the table.”

John does as asked, then seats himself at the kitchen table with his glass, sipping pinot as he watches Sherlock work. Sherlock places the chicken pieces in the bowl of wine for a brief soak, then reaches for his own glass.

“Wash your hands first, Sherlock. Salmonella. Jesus. I swear, sometimes you’re fastidious as a cat, and sometimes you’re completely vile.”

“I assure you, I have handled far, far worse than raw chicken and lived to tell the tale.”

“You want to hear me tell horror stories from my gastro rotation?” John challenges.

“God.” Sherlock shudders. “Not ever.”

“Then listen to your doctor and wash your damn hands.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes but complies, then picks up his wineglass and takes a healthy swallow.

“This is remarkably almost not-mediocre,” he comments approvingly.

“Such a fucking snob,” John mutters, but he’s grinning, his eyes warm and amused. “So what’s all this about then? Six years in, and I never knew you could cook. I mean really cook, not just an annual cheese toastie. ”

“It’s really just chemistry, isn’t it?” Sherlock takes another sip of wine. “I don’t mind it at all. It just doesn’t cross my mind that often.”

“Why did it cross your mind tonight?”

Sherlock shrugs. “Snowstorm. Something to do.”

“I’ll give you something to do,” John says in a low, husky, come-hither voice, and the innuendo is so terrible Sherlock can’t help but laugh even as the words send a frisson of heat racing along his nerves.

“Are you trying to seduce me, Doctor Watson? With a terrible line like that?”

“Have some more wine, then,” John says, refilling Sherlock’s glass and then his own. “The more you drink, the better my lines sound. I promise.”

The pair of them steadily work through the rest of the bottle and open another, chatting amiably as Sherlock cooks, sautéeing bacon and onions and cleaning mushrooms, then browning the chicken pieces. By the time he adds salt and pepper and thyme and slides the pot into the oven, his head is pleasantly fuzzy and his fingers feel just a bit thick and clumsy as he adjusts the oven dial.

“How long?” John asks.

“Anywhere from one to three hours. It’s a very forgiving recipe.”

“Would have to be, with all this booze to go with.” John holds up his glass in a mock-toast before draining the last of the ruby liquid. “One to three hours? Aside from getting pissed on Tesco pinot noir, how do you propose we pass the time?”

Sherlock grins, then holds out a hand to John, pulling him up and out of the kitchen chair, stumbling gracelessly back a step in the process.

“Easy there,” John mumbles, looping an arm around Sherlock’s waist, then pulling him close, the warm heat of him radiating through Sherlock’s thin cotton shirt. He mouths gently at Sherlock’s neck. “Having a bit of a time keeping upright?”

Sherlock sighs a bit as he closes his eyes, slides his hands across John’s back. He tilts his head to the side, encouraging John to continue his ministrations. “I’m thinking upright... is perhaps not optimal... ahhhh… for what I have in mind.”

John’s lips slide across his jaw, his teeth gently tugging on his earlobe, making him give the tiniest whimper.

“Maybe we should--” John begins.

At that moment the lights go out.

“That was unexpected,” John murmurs, then finds Sherlock’s mouth with his own in the pitch blackness.

Something about the deep darkness, about feeling John’s mouth against his without being able to see him--Sherlock finds it inexplicably, intensely arousing as he kisses John deeply, hungrily, shivering at the feel of John’s demanding tongue in his mouth, wet against his own.

To be fair, it’s likely also partly due to the wine.

“It’ll be back on in a minute,” John murmurs against his lips and Sherlock nods, sliding his fingers around the back of John’s neck and bringing their mouths back together.

They snog in the dark kitchen for what feels like ages--the darkness and the alcohol warp Sherlock’s perception of time, slowing it to a thick, syrupy crawl as they kiss and kiss, hands roaming across each others’ bodies, fingers slipping under shirt hems, cool palms pressed into warm soft skin. Presently, however, Sherlock notices an observation is trying to make its way into his fogged brain. His mind chases it, pins it down while his body is still dedicated to snogging John as thoroughly as humanly possible.

Ah. “John,” he murmurs. “Why is Mrs Hudson not making a fuss?”

“Visiting her sister in Hampshire.” John huffs a soft breath of laughter. “She’s been gone four days. You really didn’t notice?”

“I really didn’t.”

“Well, it’s for the best. I’d rather she not be fumbling around in the dark downstairs and breaking a hip trying to make a cuppa.” John pulls back, fishes in his pocket for his phone, holds it up as a torch, craning his neck to look at the stove. “The oven will stay on, right?”

“It should,” Sherlock says. “Only the starter is electric.” He turns away from John, opens the oven door, feels the heat as he sees the blue flame. “Yes, still lit.” He closes the oven door, straightens. “The gas furnace, however, won’t work in a power outage.”

“We’ll be getting chilly tonight,” John observes.

“We have wood leftover from Christmas,” Sherlock says. “We should get a fire going.”

“It’s just above freezing out,” John says by way of agreement. “We’ll wrap up, it’ll be fine. Like camping.”

John has a bit more tolerance to alcohol and is not quite as tipsy as Sherlock, so he takes charge of building the fire while Sherlock drags pillows and blankets and comforters from their bed into the sitting room, using his mobile phone as a makeshift torch. He spreads the blanket over the floor in front of the fireplace as John efficiently stacks kindling, newspaper and logs in the fireplace (he learned during his time in Boy Scouts--three years, possibly four, at his mother’s insistence, hated it the entire time. John has never told him any of this.)

Sherlock suddenly feels a bit dizzy, so he makes himself horizontal, stretching out on his side across the blanket, propping his head up on his bent arm to admire the view of blue denim stretched tight across John’s inviting arse as he attends to his task, striking a match and setting it to kindling with the solemn, single-minded focus of the slightly drunk.

“Very nice,” murmurs Sherlock appreciatively.

“Hasn’t even caught properly yet,” John replies.

“Wasn’t talking about the fire,” Sherlock purrs.

John looks back at Sherlock and rolls his eyes. “God, that’s a worse line than mine.”

Sherlock stretches, chuckling. “I only speak the absolute truth.”

John huffs out a sigh of mock annoyance, but as he turns back to the fireplace he wiggles his rear just a bit, making Sherlock erupt in a high-pitched squeal of laughter.

“You are drunk, my love.” John sits back on his heels, surveying his work as the logs catch and blaze, filling the darkened room with a warm orange glow.

“Am not,” Sherlock replies, realizing as he’s saying it that’s exactly what he would say if he were drunk. “Well,” he amends. “Maybe a little.”

John stands, heads into the kitchen, and returns with the newly-opened wine bottle and their glasses. He sets them on the side table and turns back to Sherlock with a smile, basking in his frankly adoring gaze. “Whatever am I going to do with you?” he says, voice deeper and a bit predatory.

“Something unspeakable, I hope,” Sherlock rumbles, his voice honeyed and deep in the way he knows John loves.

John doesn’t answer, his eyes wide and dark in the firelight, brimming with unmistakable hunger. Without preamble he grabs the hem of his shirt, pulling it up and over his head in one fluid motion, tossing it carelessly on the floor behind him.

Sherlock pushes himself up to kneeling, shuffles forward a bit until his knees are almost touching John’s toes. He gazes up at John, his torso bare and and lovely, the tiniest bit of extra flesh he can never shift soft over his navel, the fine pale hair sprinkled across his chest and disappearing below the button of his jeans glowing golden in the dancing firelight.

His eyes never leave Sherlock’s as John reaches behind him, plucks his wineglass from the end table, raises it to his lips and drinks. He slowly lowers the glass down to Sherlock, presses the rim gently against his lips. Sherlock opens his mouth obediently and drains the glass, gazing into John’s dark marble eyes the entire time.

John puts the glass back on the table. His left thumb comes up, wipes a trace of wine from Sherlock’s lower lip. Sherlock darts his tongue out and licks the red drop away.

“Jesus, Sherlock.” John’s voice is quiet but rough, choked with desire. “Do you know what you’re doing to me right now?”

The power dynamic between them is always shifting, always fluid. That is one of the things that draws him so strongly to John, that unpredictability, and ten minutes from now everything could change but right this moment Sherlock is fuzzy with drink and adoration and he loves the way he feels kneeling at John’s feet, gazing up at him in desperate, aroused supplication as his long fingers come up to bracket John’s waist, thumbs brushing the soft skin on either side of his navel as he presses his face into the fabric covering his crotch. A moan is caught low in his throat as he mouths at rough denim, the flesh hard and hot underneath as John gasps and rocks his hips forward in response.

One of John’s hands comes up to stroke his hair, carding his fingers gently through dark curls as Sherlock deftly unfastens the button and zip of his jeans, yanking them impatiently down over his hips.

John’s not wearing pants. His cock easily springs free from his jeans, proud and stiff.

Sherlock looks up at John with a quirked eyebrow.“Optimistic,” he murmurs dryly.

“Practical,” John replies with a smirk, gazing down at him with dark, hooded eyes as Sherlock takes him in hand, wrapping fingers around his hard length, nudging the foreskin fully back with his thumb. He looks up at John again as he rubs the head of his leaking prick obscenely across his mouth, precome trailing wet and shiny on his lips.

“Holy fucking god,” John breathes, fingers tightening in Sherlock’s hair. “Look at you. You gorgeous fucking creature, hungry for my cock.”

(John is shockingly, inventively filthy-mouthed when intimate and Sherlock loves it, loves the contrast between the reserve of his public face and his frank, unashamed lewdness when he’s naked in Sherlock’s bed.)

Sherlock darts out his tongue to delicately lick at the wet tip, swirling around the full, blunt head, savoring the slide of silk-smooth skin against his rough tongue.

“Oh, God,” John rasps. “Jesus. Sherlock.” He takes himself in hand, rubs the side of the shaft against the edge of of his cheekbone. “Open your mouth for me, sweetheart.”

Sherlock obeys, allowing John to guide his cock between his lips, sucking him with eager enthusiasm as John pulls at his hair, setting the rhythm as he thrusts into his eager mouth. Sherlock wraps one of his hands around the base of John’s cock as the other slips around John’s hip, caresses the swell of his arse. John’s thrusts are insistent, just bordering on the edge of rough, glans nudging the back of his throat, causing his eyes to water and the drool to spill wetly from the edges of his mouth.

“Fuck, oh fuck,” John gasps. “Look at you. God, you’re so gorgeous with my cock in your mouth.” Sherlock moans, a vibrating rumble around John’s prick, as he slides his free hand under his bollocks, massaging them, tugging on them gently. John makes a tiny, choked whimper of pleasure as his fingers tighten in Sherlock’s hair and pull him even closer, his nose buried in sandy musky curls as John fucks his mouth. Sherlock pushes down his gag reflex, keeping his throat relaxed as saliva drips down his chin.

“So good,” John groans. “God, you’re so good. I could come right now, right down your throat,” he sighs, “but I want--” he gives one last thrust before he stills his hips and pulls out of Sherlock’s mouth, reaching down to wipe the drool sliding off his chin with the edge of one hand before dropping to his knees and slotting their mouths together, kissing him ferociously, licking the taste of himself off Sherlock’s lips as he cups his hands around his rear, kneading the soft rounded flesh of his arse.

“Anything,” Sherlock murmurs, his voice raspy and low from rough use. “Anything you want.”

“What I want,” John says softly against Sherlock’s mouth, “is to get you naked, get you on your back, and watch your face as I ride on your cock.” He kisses him again, presses his palm against the aching hardness in his trousers, and strokes, making Sherlock gasp and press his groin into the touch. “Think you can manage that, beautiful?”

Sherlock nods wordlessly; John kisses his cheek tenderly, then takes him by the shoulders and pushes him down with unmistakable intent.

Sherlock stretches out on the blanket and watches John wrestle briefly with his jeans, tugging them down and off, baring his strong, solid body to Sherlock’s hungry gaze. He picks up his wine glass and refills it before lowering himself to Sherlock’s prone form, straddling his clothed legs between his strong, naked thighs.

John sets the wineglass next to the blanket, then smirks a bit as he tugs Sherlock’s shirt out of his trousers and begins to undo the buttons from the bottom, parting the fabric to reveal Sherlock’s pale, concave belly. He drops his head, mouths at the warm skin there, dips his tongue briefly into the tight, involuted knot of his navel, breathing out a huff of laughter as Sherlock squirms underneath him.

Sherlock’s hands stroke across the muscles of John’s arms and back as he works his way up Sherlock’s torso, pressing kisses into his skin as he works the buttons open one by one. When all the buttons are undone John pushes the cloth aside to taste a flat, dark pink nipple, pulling it into his mouth and sucking hard. Sherlock gives a sharp cry as John lavishes attention on the hard, peaked nub of flesh, each swipe of his tongue sending sparks of pleasure singing through his nerves.

“You taste amazing,” John breathes, before resuming his ministrations on the other nipple, light teasing strokes of his tongue alternating with rough sucks, closing his teeth and pulling gently as Sherlock arches and gasps underneath him. “I could do this for days. Just licking and tasting and teasing you.”

“God,” Sherlock moans. “Please, yes. John. Please.

“Please, what?” John rumbles teasingly. “Tell me. I love to hear you tell me what you want.”

“I want--” Sherlock struggles to find words through the building haze of pleasure. “I want your mouth on me, your tongue.”

“Do you like it when I play with your nipples?” John asks.

As much as he adores John’s filthy mouth, Sherlock finds it difficult to communicate his feelings when aroused, something in him deeply reticent and shy and fearful of such vulnerability. John loves to coax it out of him, loves to make Sherlock talk, loves the perversely intoxicating blend of primal, deeply internalised embarrassment and shame and hot, desperate arousal that Sherlock feels when John makes him describe what he wants, what he feels, what John is doing to his body.

“Yes, I--ahh--God, I love it,” Sherlock gasps. “It feels so good, it feels amazing.”

“They’re so sensitive.” John pulls back, blows cool air onto the wet flesh, circles the hard nub with the pad of his thumb. “So responsive. Just like the rest of you.” His mouth drifts back downward, small teeth nipping at the sharp crest of his hip as his deft fingers unbuckle his belt, unzip his fly, work his trousers and pants carefully down, freeing his straining prick from the confines of fabric.

“Perfect,” John murmurs, climbing between his legs and encircling his cock with gentle fingers, dipping his head downward and licking a broad, wet stripe up the underside of his shaft, pressing the tip of his tongue into the wet slit and tasting the moisture there.

“Oh God,” Sherlock breathes.“Ohgodohgodogod.”

John peers up at him, a devilish smirk on his thin pink lips. “Is that good, love?”

Sherlock nods, giving a tiny pained moan. John kisses the crease where groin meets thigh, cups his bollocks in his warm palm, massaging gently. “Use your words, darling.”

“You know it’s good, damn you,” Sherlock breathes. John chuckles.

“I like to hear you,” he murmurs. “I like to hear what I do to you. No one home but us, love. I want to hear you.” His head moves lower as his mouth replaces his hands, mouthing and licking at his balls as Sherlock whimpers and cries out incoherently, head rolling from side to side as his fingers slide through soft silvery hair.

“God, John, yes, yes, fuck, oh God.” He babbles heedlessly at the wet heat of John’s mouth surrounding his testicles as his fingers stroke his twitching, leaking cock, gently first then more insistently. “I want,” Sherlock pants. “I want, I want--”

“Yes, baby,” John murmurs against the skin of his inner thigh. “Tell me what you want.”

“I want you,” he groans. “I want you on top of me. I want--"

“Tell me.”

“I want to be inside of you,” he breathes. “Please, God, I want to fuck you.”

John presses one final kiss to Sherlock’s thigh before sitting back on his heels, stroking his hands possessively down the pale flesh of Sherlock’s legs, fine sparse body hair glittering auburn in the firelight. He slides up his torso, grasps his wrists, pins them above his head as he kisses him, the taste of Sherlock’s body still on his lips.

“Stay still for me,” John whispers into his ear. Sherlock nods.

John slides off him, climbs to his feet and pads into the kitchen, Sherlock gazing hungrily at the fine view of his back and arse in the flickering orange glow. He hears drawers open and shut and a few muttered curses before John returns with a small plastic bottle. He gracefully drops down to his knees, refills his wineglass, takes a sip.

“Please tell me there’s not a box of dead spiders in the drawer by the stove,” John says conversationally.

“There’s...not a box of dead spiders in the drawer by the stove,” Sherlock replies, making it clear by his inflection that yes, said box undoubtedly exists.

“Oh thank God,” John says, his tone arch but without rancor. He gracefully swings a knee across Sherlock’s body, straddling Sherlock’s slim hips. John’s erection is flagging slightly but still thick and lovely and delicious, and Sherlock can’t help but push his hips up, trying to find friction.

“No wiggling,” John murmurs, amused. “I told you to keep still.” He takes another sip of wine, gestures with his glass. “Do you want some?”

“Please,” Sherlock breathes, and it comes out deep and rough and needy.

John takes another mouthful of wine and brings his lips to Sherlock, lets the rich dark liquid flow from his mouth into Sherlock’s. Sherlock swallows and swallows as John kisses him, wine-sour tongue insistent against his, John’s cock fully hard and hot against his own.

“Again?” John murmurs against his lips; Sherlock nods and John does it again, letting the wine flow between their mouths as they kiss, and something about the act is devastatingly intimate and achingly erotic, making both of them moan and shiver against each other as John rolls his hips so very slowly, their cocks pressing and rubbing and sliding together.

“You ready for me?” John murmurs, and there’s a teasing amusement in his voice.

“Fuck you,” Sherlock groans, fully intending the double meaning.

“I’m counting on it,” John replies with a trace of a smirk, sitting back on his heels and reaching for the lube. He flicks open the cap, slicks the fingers of his right hand, tosses the bottle aside. His marble blue eyes hold Sherlock’s gaze. “Watch me,” he murmurs, and reaches back, slides a finger inside himself with a sharp hiss of breath.

Sherlock is desperate to touch him, desperate to wrap his hand around both of them and stroke as John writhes on top of him, his breath coming in short pants as he works himself open. John must see it in his eyes, and gives a small shake of his head.

“No,” he breathes. “Don’t… ahhh… move.” Sherlock gazes at him, transfixed, as John’s eyes drift closed. He makes a string of small moans as he adds a second finger, fucking himself open as Sherlock watches. The sight of John on top of him, lewdly fingering himself open to take his cock--it is is pure liquid lust in Sherlock’s veins, potent as any drug he’s ever taken, and he whimpers helplessly as his nerves sing with arousal.

Through his haze of wine and lust he makes an effort to push past his reluctance and find the words of filthy encouragement he knows John loves to hear.

“You’re so beautiful like this,” he rasps, low and hoarse. “John. I want you so much.”

“Oh,” John groans, grinding down against his own fingers. “Yes. Ohhh, ohhh, fuck. Tell me.”

“I want you so much,” Sherlock breathes. “I want to fuck you now. I want to be inside of you. Please, please let me fuck you.”

John stills his movements, withdraws his fingers from his own entrance with a soft hiss. He picks up the lube and squeezes a dollop into his palm, wraps his cool slippery hand around Sherlock’s aching cock and slicks him, before raising up on his knee sand positioning himself. He guides the head of Sherlock’s prick carefully against his still-tight opening and pushes carefully down against him.

Sherlock cries out wordlessly at the indescribable sensation of the head of his cock breaching the tight ring of muscle, pushing into the lush velvet heat of John’s body.

“God,” he moans. “God. John. You’re still so tight. Are you sure?”

John moans, quietly. “I’m, oh, fuck...I’m sure. I like feeling you open me up.”

“I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I want you to hurt me,” John breathes in between moans. “I like when it hurts. It feels so, oh, oh, fuck, so fucking good when it hurts.”

They’ve done this so many times, but still, the very idea of the act of John opening up for him, taking him into his body in the most intimate way possible, sends violent shivers of electricity through Sherlock’s body, hot pleasure building deep in his pelvis.

“Oh God. Oh John. Oh God oh fuck,” Sherlock moans, heedless of his own words intermingling with John’s tiny grunts and moans as impossibly snug warm heat takes him in, inch by slow, careful inch. John gives a sigh as the last bit of Sherlock’s cock slides fully inside of him, his arse pressed against his thighs, his tight, full bollocks nudging against the dark thatch of hair between Sherlock’s legs. He gazes down at Sherlock, his eyes half-shut, dreamy with pleasure.

“You feel so good,” he purrs, low and gravelly. “Christ, you feel so fucking good in me.” He leans over to kiss Sherlock, then takes his hands by the wrist and places them on his hips. Sherlock moves his right hand to touch John’s cock, dusky red and dripping against his belly, but John shakes his head and moves his hand back to his hip.

“Not yet,” he murmurs, brushing a stray curl from Sherlock’s forehead. “I just... I just want to focus on you. I want to make you feel so good. All right?”

Sherlock nods, beyond speech, beyond words as John rolls his hips against him, the slide and friction setting off fireworks of pleasure all along his spine, sparks zinging across his nerves. He moans, broken and guttural, gripping John’s hips as he starts to fuck himself on Sherlock’s cock in earnest.

“I want to do this forever,” John sighs as he rides him. “You’re so good, baby, God, I love the way you feel.” His hands wander across Sherlock’s chest, thumbs tracing circles around his peaked nipples. “I love the way you look underneath me,” he whispers. “You’re so beautiful, Christ, you’re so beautiful, I can’t fucking stand it, you don’t even know.” He dips his head and kisses Sherlock, his mouth tasting of wine. “I love fucking you like this.”

Sherlock presses his fingertips into the warm, pliant flesh of his hips as John thrusts down onto him. “I love it,” he rasps, and he does, loves the hot tight pull of John moving around his cock, he loves the discipline of willing himself to stay still, stay passive as John fucks him, uses his body to chase his own pleasure. The tension winds up tighter and tighter in him, the urge to thrust almost unbearable as John rides him harder, hips snapping down against his, his arse bouncing lewdly against Sherlock’s thighs as he moans and shudders with obscene, gorgeous abandon.

John’s hands suddenly clutch at Sherlock’s arms at the same moment Sherlock feels the first fluttering pulses around his cock, deep inside John’s body.

“Oh, God,” John breathes raggedly. “Oh, fuck. I’m so close. I’m so close--I’m not even--”

Sherlock tenuous control breaks; he grabs John by the hips, hard enough to bruise as he thrusts, fucking hard up into him, burying his prick deep into that gorgeous pulsing heat. “God, yes,” he growls. “I can feel you. Come for me. John. Come for me like this.”

John takes a shuddering breath, goes rigid above him. “Oh,” he says softly, sounding almost surprised, and then he’s coming, his cock untouched, each wave a delicious rippling pulse around Sherlock as he spurts forcefully, warm and wet across Sherlock’s chest and belly, a splash of semen landing on the curve of Sherlock’s neck and he’s still coming, abdominal muscles contracting as he gasps and shudders like a drowning man. Sherlock fucks him through it, bending his knees for leverage as he manhandles John’s smaller frame, all passivity abandoned as he pounds into his lover’s open, willing, welcoming body, the pleasure so tightly wound around his spine the tension of it verges on unbearable.

He’s beyond words now, grunting and moaning mindless desire as John’s lips meet his; they’re not even kissing, really, just panting and gasping into each others’ mouths as Sherlock’s last shred of self-awareness frays and snaps. All thought abandoned, his entire being narrows to friction and the slide of flesh against flesh and the pure animal need to fuck, oh God, as the unbearable need and tension builds and builds until his body finally blessedly explodes in sensation, a blinding spasm of pleasure seizing every muscle as he comes and comes, a rush of heat as he spills hot and wet into John’s still-shaking body.

As the waves crest and recede the pair cling to each other, gasping and shivering with aftershocks of pleasure.

After, they lay still and quiet for a remarkably long time, a tangle of arms and legs, unmoving except for their heaving ribs, silent save for their ragged, hitching breath.

John finally disengages himself a bit from Sherlock’s limbs, wincing as his soft cock slides out of him with a wet noise, then sighs and sinks back down against his chest. Sherlock summons the energy to press a kiss to his soft hair.

“That,” John finally croaks. “That was.”

“Yes,” Sherlock replies, voice like walking on a bed of sharp gravel. “That was. Indeed.”

Several more minutes of silence pass.

“That has never, ever happened before,” John says, sounding surprised and a bit bemused.

“Was it good?” Sherlock asks, honestly curious.

“It was fucking phenomenal,” John answers. “Or rather, phenomenal fucking, I suppose.”

“Oh,” Sherlock says, feeling a bit bashful for some reason but smiling, feeling undeniable pride in being able to give John that kind of pleasure.

“You should get a medal,” John says, teasing but sincere, cajoling him out of his self-consciousness. “‘Best Shag in London, 2016.’ I’ll have it engraved with your name.”

“Don’t you dare.”

“I’ll call the papers. They’ll love it.”

“Shut up.”

“The world should know how lucky I am.” John rolls to Sherlock’s side, kisses his lips gently. “Happy anniversary, love. By the way.”

Sherlock flushes with pleased happiness.“You remembered.”

“Of course I did,” John murmurs. “How could I forget something like that?”

“I didn’t want to make a big deal of it,” Sherlock says.

“You cooked. That’s a big deal.”

“Chicken and wine in a pot. That’s not a big deal.”

“It is, and it’s lovely,” John insists. “Hey, I need the loo. You want to go first?”

“I’m fine for a bit.”

“Back in a tick, all right?” John kisses him once more before getting to his feet and heading for the loo, their recent activities obvious in his rather tentative gait, his stride even more bowlegged than usual as he disappears into the darkened hallway. Sherlock hears the toilet flush and the water run, then John exits the bathroom through the bedroom side and fumbles around briefly in the dark. Not for clothes--no drawers open and shut, no distinctive click of the latch on the wardrobe door. Instead, John is pulling his old duffel out from under the bed, unzipping the top. Sherlock crinkles his nose in concentration as he listens to John zip the old green canvas back up before shoving it back under the bed.

John’s footsteps echo in the hallway and he re-emerges into the cocoon of orange firelight, damp flannel in one hand and a small, square black box in the other. He tosses the flannel to Sherlock, who makes no move to catch it, allowing the cloth to land squarely on his chest.

“I made, um, quite a mess, didn’t I?” John says a bit sheepishly. “Apologies.”

“None necessary.” Sherlock swipes at his torso with the flannel, looks up at John with a smirk. “It’s fair to say I don’t mind at all.” He tosses the cloth carelessly toward the couch as John lowers himself carefully back down to the floor.

“I, um. I got you something,” John says, holding out the black box.

“I see that,” Sherlock tilts his head, contemplates the offering. “What I really want to know is how I didn’t know that.”

“I’m not the open book I used to be,” John says, and seems to reconsider the words as soon as they come out of his mouth. “Wait--what I mean is, I’m better at holding things close. Because I kind of, you know, had to learn to. Shit. “ He looks down, suddenly sad. “That all came out wrong. Forget I said any of that.”

“It’s all right,” Sherlock says, careful to keep his tone gentle. “I know what you’re trying to say. But, for what it’s worth… John, I’ve never considered you an open book. You’ve always been a mystery to me, in very many ways. That’s one of the many reasons I find you so endlessly fascinating.”

John’s cheeks colour adorably; clearly at a momentary loss for words, he turns his face away and thrusts the box at Sherlock. “Well. Go on, then. Open it.”

Sherlock carefully undoes the heavy black wrapping paper; John turns his head back to watch, looking on expectantly as Sherlock reveals a plain brown cardboard box, no lettering of any kind, end flaps folded under but not taped. He opens one end to find shredded packing material; he digs through the material and pulls out an ivory-coloured model of a bald human head, like that of a very large doll, about four inches high and perhaps three inches in diameter. The dome of the skull is incised with engraved lines, mapping out precise areas; each area is labelled with a neat, careful Victorian hand.

“Celluloid, not ivory,” Sherlock murmurs. ”The head is a poured molding but the engravings were done by hand. Late nineteenth century. A teaching model for phrenology professors. Absolutely one of a kind. Priceless to the right owner.” He looks up at John. “It’s amazing. Where on earth did you find this?”

John blushes with happiness. “I just saw it. In the window of an antiques shop. And I knew it was meant to belong to you.” He smiles. “I bought it months ago, just waiting for the right moment.”

“It’s perfect,” Sherlock breathes, and it is, everything about tonight is perfect, a haven made of snow and fire, and perfect can never last but it’s here right now, a rare shining moment of peace and joy. He kisses John, a simple, heartfelt press of lips. John pulls away after a moment, runs a gentle thumb across Sherlock’s cheekbone.

“I've had a lot of days I’d rather forget,” John says, quiet and serious. “The day I made the best decision of my life? That’s one I want to remember.” His fingers tuck a stray curl behind Sherlock’s ear. “I want you to know, I could never--Oh, Jesus.” He makes a face. “There’s come in your hair.”

As John apologises and dabs at him with a balled-up tee Sherlock starts laughing, he can’t help it, the impossible romantic spell broken by the rather sticky and gross realities of the flesh.

“You should get a medal too,” Sherlock tells John through helpless giggles. “For the distance event.”

“Shut up,” John huffs as he swipes ineffectually at Sherlock's hair, but after a moment a chuckle escapes him, and soon they’re both snickering like naughty schoolchildren at a juvenile dirty joke.

“Forget it,” Sherlock finally says, taking the shirt and tossing it in the general direction of the flannel. “It will wash out. Come here.” He collapses back onto the comforter, pulling John down with him, wrapping a long arm around his shoulders. John sighs, nestling his smaller frame against Sherlock’s torso.

Sherlock picks up the celluloid head, examines it in the flickering firelight. “His name is Quentin,” he pronounces.

“Why Quentin?” John mumbles sleepily.

“Because of Doctor Quentin Pemberton, noted phrenology professor of the late nineteenth century. His accomplishments included…” Sherlock grasps for something that sounds plausible, but orgasm and alcohol have slowed his racing brain to a crawl, and he feels open and relaxed in a way he can’t recall ever feeling before, so he shrugs mentally and gives it up for lost. “I’m making shit up,” he admits, shaking his head. He reaches for the bottle of wine behind them on the floor, raises his head up to take a long swallow. He offers the bottle to John, who declines with a shake of his head. He puts the wine back down, grabs a pillow, shoves it under his head as he curls himself back around John. “I make a lot of shit up.”

“You’re brilliant and talented,” John says quietly, fond amusement in his voice as he strokes reassuring fingers along the sensitive skin of Sherlock’s lower belly.

“Of course I am. That doesn’t preclude the fact that I make a lot of shit up.”

“I should be recording this.”

“You really should. No one will ever believe you.”

“You secret is safe for another day, my love.” John presses a sleepy kiss into the side of his torso, just above his nipple. “How much longer for the stew?”

“An hour or so, I suppose.”

“Enough time for a nap, then.”

A nap suddenly sounds like a marvellous idea. John is already halfway asleep, eyes closed, his gently lined face smooth and young in the flickering glow of the fireplace, his small pink mouth a perfect O shape as he breathing grows slow and even.

Sherlock would love to watch John sleep peacefully in his arms forever, but the fire is warm and his body is sated and his eyes are drifting shut before he’s even finished the thought.

***

They wake sometime in the middle of the night, mouths parched and bladders full. The storm outside is tapering off to flurries, the street hushed and silent under a thick blanket of snow. The flat is pitch-black and chilly, the fire long since burned down to glowing red embers.

They stumble to the loo, lighting the way with their mobiles, then John builds the fire back up with the last few logs while Sherlock fumbles in the dark kitchen for bowls and clean flatware.

The coq au vin is perfect. They eat naked in front of the rebuilt fire, tearing at chicken with their fingers, dipping hunks of bread into the rich sauce left behind.

“Tactical error, Sherlock,” John tells him, swiping the bottom of his bowl with a bit of crust.

“What?”

“Revealing you can cook like this. Now I’ll expect it.”

Sherlock laughs. “Not a chance.” He licks a drop of sauce from his thumb, doesn’t miss how John’s eyes linger on the sweep of his tongue. A hot curl of want unfurls in his belly, despite the exertion of just a few hours earlier. “Anyway, it’s the only actual recipe I know how to make. You’d tire of it before long.”

“Once a year then,” John says. “For our anniversary.”

Sherlock dips his head, smiles at the utter sentimentality of it all, at the domesticity of their natures underneath the crime-solving and the gunfire and operatic danger of their life together. The two of them share this dual nature, he now sees, have done since the day they met. John was unconsciously seeking the danger and adrenaline he desperately needed, and Sherlock was unknowingly searching for peace and stability and connection to another, things he didn’t know he wanted until the first time he looked in John’s searching blue eyes.

“For our anniversary,” Sherlock agrees, a bit absently, a new thought already gathering speed on the heels of the previous one.

John tilts his head, looks at him quizzically. “Sherlock?”

“Hm?”

“You okay? You have a look on.”

Sherlock is not a believer in sudden realisations; he is a student of human behaviour, and he knows that every action is the result of a chain of events, the culmination of many, many prior decisions that lead to a singular moment in time.

So he understands, then, that what he is thinking, what he is feeling is not something new or blinding, but the tipping point of a thousand small moments, stacked one on top of another, moments that add up to a life created together.

“Sherlock?” John asks again, sounding a bit concerned this time.

****

John doesn’t pull away when Sherlock kisses him, but goes completely rigid instead, as if frozen in place by shock or surprise or (oh God oh God oh God) maybe horror.

Both men are utterly still for a moment, then John pulls back, eyes wide and dark in the dim light of the streetlamps.

For a long moment all Sherlock hears is the blood pounding in his ears. He feels sick, hollow, empty. He has bollocksed this up so completely. John will leave now, horrified, or worse, he’ll stay out of some mortifying, humiliating sense of obligation, of pity--

“Sherlock--”

Move!, Sherlock mentally screams at his paralyzed, traitorous limbs. His body refuses to comply.

“I need to know you’re certain,” John says. “Because--I can’t do this halfway. If we’re going to--I need to know you really want this. Because if you want me then I’m all in, I’m yours, but if you’re just trying it on, if--if--”

Sherlock is so convinced of his imminent, crushing rejection that it takes him a moment to process John’s actual words.

“Wait,” he says, in a moment of spectacular idiocy. “What?”

John gives him a carefully patient look.

“Do you really want this?” he asks calmly, with the barest touch of over enunciation on each word, as though Sherlock is just slightly mentally deficient.

The relief that floods through Sherlock’s body is so strong he doesn’’t even think to be irritated with John’s condescension, so potent he almost laughs in John’s face before he realises that might not best convey his intentions.

“Yes,” he says, with as much quiet sincerity as he can muster, even as his insides fizz and spark in an exhilarating, terrifying way. “Yes yes yes. I want this. I want you.”

They gaze at each other for a moment that feels like an eternity. John takes a deep, steadying breath.

“Sherlock,” John murmurs. “I’m going to kiss you now. All right?”

“All right,” Sherlock breathes.

John nods just once and kisses him, warm small perfect frame surging and pressing against his body, soft pink tongue nudging against Sherlock’s lips, and when Sherlock opens his mouth and tastes John for the first time he feels the fierce, soaring joy in his heart, almost enough to bring tears to his eyes, and he knows with an aching, bone-deep certainty that come what may, he will be forever lost to this angry, beautiful, gently ferocious man.

***

A log on the fire shifts and pops.

“You okay, love?” John asks. “Tell me what’s going on in there.”

What Sherlock thinks is, On the day I die, be it in a dirty alley at forty or in my bed at eighty, the last thing I will remember is tonight, the way you looked at at me on the snowy pavement, cheeks pink with the cold, breath puffing in frosty white clouds, your heart in your eyes and snowflakes in your hair. I will remember that single perfect moment in my life, that moment I knew I had everything I ever wanted, and whatever happens next, I will die content.

What he says is simply, "Marry me."

John cocks his head, as if uncertain of what he’s hearing. “I never thought you’d want to… Sherlock. Love. Are you sure?”

“I’ve always been sure,” Sherlock says. “Always.”

***

Their second round of lovemaking is slow and sweet, curled together on their sides under rumpled blankets. Sherlock kisses the back of John’s neck as he pushes into him, hot and slick inside with his seed, and the feel of it, the knowledge that John is so open and wet because of him, for him--it sends hot, possessive shivers of desire down his spine as they move together, hushed and quiet, the crackle of the fire and their quickened breathing and the slide of flesh against flesh the only sounds in the silent flat.

Sherlock feels like the entire universe is suspended in time, holding its breath, as he and John seek their pleasure in each other, tender and sleepy. He takes John in hand, his thick gorgeous cock hardening and twitching in his fist as Sherlock strokes him, whispering soft words of encouragement in his ear. John comes with a single choked cry, his semen pulsing over Sherlock’s fingers as his body shudders helplessly in his arms.

Sherlock’s second orgasm is a sweet, shivery release, silver waves of bliss spreading outward from deep in his pelvis as he breathes John’s name, over and over, like a mantra, like an incantation, like a promise.

***

After those first, tentative kisses they lie together, still fully clothed, clinging to each other for dear life as they contemplate the enormity of this new undertaking.

“This doesn’t make anything easier,” John says quietly. “If anything, we’ve made it a million times worse.”

“I know,” Sherlock says.

“And we’ve still got a tremendous amount of shit to deal with, just between the two of us,” John adds. “None of that goes away just because we’re... this.”

“I know,” Sherlock says.

The room is silent for a time, each man wrapped up in his own thoughts.

“She’s going to try to kill me again,” Sherlock says presently.

“Oh, most definitely,” John replies.

The pair lapse into another thoughtful silence.

“It’s going to be all right, though,” John says quietly. “In the end. We’ll make it through.”

“How can you be so certain?” Sherlock asks, sounding tired and afraid even to his own ears.

John pulls him close, kisses him, a chaste press of lips. “Because I won’t allow anything else.”

“I want to believe that,” Sherlock whispers.

“You will,” John says, carding warm fingertips through his hair. “I promise you will.”

***

“You never said yes, you know,” Sherlock says into John’s sweat-damp skin as they both drift towards sleep, still spooned tight against each other.

John huffs a breath of laughter. “Yes, you git. Of course yes.” He brings their joined hands up to his lips, kisses Sherlock’s fingertips. “I told you it was going to be all right. Do you remember?”

“Of course I do,” Sherlock murmurs. “I remember every single word you’ve ever said.”

***

His first thought upon waking is that the light is far too bright, pulsing brilliant against his eyeballs, sending vicious skewers of pain through his eggshell-thin skull.

Sherlock cracks open one bleary eye, registers the sliver of deep blue sky through the dusty window, sunlight pouring through the glass, He recalls the snowstorm, a white blanket reflecting back the sun, making the morning light dazzlingly X-ray brilliant. It’s hateful.

His second thought is, Red wine is evil.

His third thought is, he and John spent the night sleeping on an exceptionally unforgiving wooden floor, and his back is killing him.

His fourth thought is, he’s much closer to forty than thirty, and good God is he feeling it this morning.

His fifth thought is, the flat is warm and he can feel the gentle, subaural buzz of the Mains hum, and therefore the power has been restored.

His sixth thought is, My goddamn brother is sitting in my chair.

“Get the fuck out of my flat, Mycroft,” Sherlock snarls, except he’s dying of dehydration and everything hurts and it comes out a bit less than commanding--in fact it’s rather a pathetic, hungover croak.

“Such language, Sherlock,” Mycroft tuts, sounding smug and starched and perfectly put together. “I would have called, but your phone battery is dead, as is John’s.”

“How did you even get here?” Sherlock grumbles.

“I requisitioned an all-terrain military vehicle, of course.”

Sherlock opens both eyes to glare at him properly, and Jesus Christ that was a mistake. He closes his eyes with a pained groan.

“I brought you water and ibuprofen, dear brother. I thought you might be in need of both.”

Sherlock grits his teeth, tries to ignore his parched throat, but gives in after less than ten seconds, extracting an arm from the tangled bedding and stretching it out towards his brother. Mycroft places a cold bottle of water in his outstretched hand, and Sherlock sits up and drinks, trying not to look too pathetically grateful for the hydration.

The blanket-wrapped lump next to Sherlock stirs and groans.

“What the hell, Mycroft,” John rasps blearily. His head emerges from the nest of bedclothes, sandy grey hair a riot of messy spikes.

Mycroft hands another water to Sherlock, who nudges John’s shoulder with the cold plastic bottle. John sighs and nods, takes the bottle, unscrews the cap and drinks.

"Now get the fuck out of our flat,” John rasps at Mycroft, scrubbing a hand across bleary eyes. He looks for all the world like an angry, sleepy, bleary hedgehog, and Sherlock feels a fierce, protective stab of adoration.

“You should be civil to Mycroft, John,” Sherlock tells him, a note of teasing in his raspy voice. He turns his head to hide his grin. “After all, he’ll be your brother-in-law soon.”

Mycroft looks utterly unruffled. “‘A spring wedding, then?” he intones smugly. “Mummy will be so pleased. There will be lilacs. Bushels and bushels of lilacs. And all the relatives--”

“There are a score of registrar’s offices within ten minutes of Baker Street,” Sherlock sighs dismissively, although the idea of his parents’ house and morning suits and pale blue flowers and finger sandwiches doesn’t repulse him nearly as much as he feels it ought. “And whatever we decide to do, rest assured you won’t be--”

John sighs. Loudly. “Boys. We are not discussing this now. Or later. Or possibly ever, but definitely not now.”

“Why exactly are you here, Mycroft?” Sherlock grumbles.

“Maybe I just wanted to extend my congratulations.”

Mycroft,” Sherlock growls warningly.

Mycroft sighs. “Very well.” He waves a folder at Sherlock. “A top Ukrainian general was found this morning, frozen to death on the sidewalk a block away from a very discreet, very expensive, shall we say, establishment he was known to favor in Notting Hill.”

Sherlock groans as he reaches out and snatches the folder from Mycroft’s fingertips, then scans the contents.

“Upwards of seventy percent of Ukrainian commissioned officers are heavy drinkers,” Sherlock says. “He made a social call, if you will, where he was plied with alcohol to loosen his wallet. Not expecting the uncommon occurrence of heavy snow in London and underdressed due to the late date, he became disoriented and hypothermic.” Sherlock hands back the folder and closes his eyes, the thunderbolts of pain in his head threatening to coalesce into a raging, pounding thunderstorm. “There. Done. Now get out.”

“That would be the perfectly logical explanation,” Mycroft replies evenly, “if his presence at a state dinner in Kiev four hours earlier wasn’t confirmed by three credible eyewitnesses.”

Sherlock takes a deep breath, wordlessly indicating his badly strained patience. Mycroft says nothing, regarding him evenly, his infuriating face perfectly composed.

Sherlock exhales, crosses his legs tailor-style (keeping the wince off his face; no matter how hungover he may be he refuses to admit to something as embarrassingly plebeian as lower back pain in front of Mycroft) and steeples his fingers under his lips, trying to force the headache out of his brain through sheer force of will, trying to think.

“You want this investigated extrajudicially,” Sherlock murmurs. “Avoid a diplomatic incident if at all possible.”

“Precisely.” Mycroft makes a show of checking his watch. “The temperature will rise above zero centigrade in approximately forty-three minutes, at which point much valuable evidence will be irretrievably damaged. I don’t have time to bicker, Sherlock.”

John sighs and sits up. “I’m taking a shower, then,” he says, kissing Sherlock’s cheek. “Make him get us coffee.” He clambers to his feet, water bottle in hand, blanket wrapped around his naked body, and disappears without another word to Mycroft. The ensuite door slams, and Sherlock hears the sound of taps turning, the patter of water droplets hitting tile, John’s groan of pained content as he steps into the hot spray.

The brothers gaze at each other for a moment, the silence between them speaking volumes. Mycroft clears his throat and and rises, straightening his cuffs before crossing the room to retrieve his heavy, camel-coloured coat from where he carefully draped it over the end of the couch.

“I believe I’ll wait downstairs,” he says. “Do try to be quick, Sherlock. Time is of the essence.”

“Make yourself useful and get us coffee at Speedy’s,” Sherlock calls after him as Mycroft turns toward the door.

“Fine,” Mycroft sighs in classic, put-upon older sibling fashion, manicured hand resting on the doorknob. Sherlock expects his brother to open the door and leave, but instead he pauses, tilts his head just slightly in contemplation, turns back to Sherlock.

“Do you know what happened to the man who got everything he always wanted?” Mycroft asks, his expression inscrutable, his tone that of a man reciting a proverb.

Sherlock gives a childish, annoyed sigh. “Something dreadful and tragic, I’m sure.”

“Not at all,” Mycroft replies quietly. “He lived happily ever after.” A small, genuine smile crosses his thin lips, and for just a moment something in his eyes makes him look real and human and shockingly kind. “My sincerest congratulations, Sherlock.”

He turns away and slips out the door, down the steps and gone before Sherlock can form any sort of coherent reply.

After a moment of silent contemplation, Sherlock shakes his head, stretches his arms, scrubs fingers through matted curls, but he does not yet rise. He pulls his knees to his chest, wraps his arms around himself as he sits on the floor, naked in tangled blankets, gazing at nothing in particular as his attention focuses inward on unfamiliar, unexpected thoughts.

He had, at some point, acquired the unshakable belief that a man like him could never be truly happy, that contentment and peace were something that happened to other people, to better, kinder, more deserving people.

Is it even worth considering that he may, possibly, be mistaken?

He tilts his head back and gazes up at the ceiling, the familiar cracked plaster glowing with the brightness of sunlight reflecting off fresh snow.

He listens to the sounds of the street, the car horns' frustrated honking in the snow-snarled traffic of the Marylebone Road, the idling vehicle waiting for them on the street below.

He listens to his fiancé-

His mind skips and stutters briefly at the word.

“Fiancé,” Sherlock says out loud. He feels the shape of the word in his mouth, the way his lower lip presses against his teeth on the initial consonant. He likes it.

He listens to his fiancé singing as he showers, a bit off-key, cheerful even in the face of a what is sure to be a vicious red wine hangover. Something old and classic, something Sherlock once knew but long since deleted.

When I get older, losing my hair

many years from now

will you still be sending me a valentine

birthday greetings, bottle of wine

He closes his eyes and listens to running water, to the elderly pipes groaning and creaking, to John’s sturdy baritone as he serenades the stained tile walls of the bathtub.

You'll be older too

and if you say the word

I could stay with you

Happily ever after, Sherlock thinks. For someone like me. For me.

And for the first time in his life, he allows himself to believe.