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The Art Of Seduction: The Distressed Doctor

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John came home from work that Tuesday to find Sherlock hunched over a magazine and frowning.

“Good day?” he asked, taking his coat off.

Sherlock continued to glare at the magazine. “I've been quoted in Attitude,” he said as if it was the worst thing that had ever happened to him.

“Surely that's a good thing?” said John. “Bit of publicity?”

“They described me as 'everyone's favourite sex guru',” said Sherlock in tones of deep disgust.

“Ah, right,” said John, trying to work out what was wrong with that. “And you don't want to be everyone's favourite?”

Sherlock looked up long enough to glare at him. “I am not a 'sex guru',” he said. “I am a seduction consultant. The only one in the world.”

Oh, of course. “Right, sorry,” said John. “My mistake. I thought that, what with all the sex advice, sex guru was just as accurate.”

Sherlock gave a disgusted sniff. “It's demeaning,” he said.

John rolled his eyes. “Don't worry,” he said, ruffling one hand through Sherlock's curls and then trailing it down to the back of his neck. “You'll always be my favourite seduction consultant. Do you want some tea?”

“Please,” said Sherlock, flipping the page on the magazine violently enough to tear it.

It wasn't until he was halfway through making the tea that John realised what he'd just done and had to stop to stare blankly at the wall for a moment. It wasn't so much that touching Sherlock was completely out of the norm for them – it was impossible to get through a night in a crowded club without giving up any pretence of personal space, especially if you were dancing – it was that it had come so naturally to him. Ever since his feelings for Sherlock had got out of hand (which had been very shortly after he met him, if he was being completely honest), he'd carefully watched the amount that he touched Sherlock, and the ways in which he did so. He knew he could get a bit touchy-feely with people he liked, and the last thing he wanted was to piss Sherlock off by constantly petting him.

Well, maybe he didn't need to worry about that any more. After all, Sherlock was the one that had spent Sunday night practically on top of his lap while they watched Sylvester McCoy chase around after Cybermen. Their conversation on Saturday had cleared the air between them and laid out exactly where they stood – perhaps that meant that John could relax a bit more around Sherlock and not worry so much about his feelings causing a rift between them.

When he took the tea back into the sitting room, he sat down on the sofa next to Sherlock rather than creating some distance by going to his chair, like he usually would have done. Sherlock was typing what seemed to be a lengthy email about his precise job description to the editor at Attitude, but he paused for long enough to wriggle his toes underneath John's thigh.

Cold feet again, thought John. Perhaps he should think about getting him some slippers. He tried to imagine what kind of slippers Sherlock might deign to wear, but all that came to mind was stupidly expensive designer label ones. Did Armani make slippers?

His phone beeped while he was pondering it, and he checked it to find a text from Greg.

Been another two murders. Victims likely to remain unidentified for at least a while – they're a mess. Can you get Sherlock to ask his Twink Army if they know of anyone who might have gone missing in the last 2 or 3 days?

John's post-work tea-drinking contentment dissipated and was replaced by a sick feeling in the base of his stomach. “There's been two more murders,” he said. “But they haven't got IDs for them yet. Greg wants us to ask around and find out if anyone's gone missing. God,” he realised, “it could be someone we know.”

There was another message beep. And obviously I didn't use the phrase 'Twink Army' in the last text, because that would have been horribly unprofessional of me.

Sherlock stopped typing. “This killer really is making things difficult,” he said. “Every time he kills, it gets more difficult to persuade someone to come back with me.”

John stared at him. “Don't be so bloody cold-hearted,” he said angrily. “People are dying, Sherlock! This is more important than you getting laid.”

Sherlock made a face and for a moment John thought he was going to claim that nothing was more important than him getting laid, in which case John was going to be forced to get up and walk out or punch him. Or both. Luckily, Sherlock stayed silent in favour of pulling out his mobile.

“I'll text Molly,” he said. “She keeps track of all the gossip, she'll know if someone's not been seen in a few days.”

Molly hadn't heard anything, but she said she'd text Toby and see if he knew anything. John watched the news that night and then wished he hadn't when he kept picturing people they knew being abducted, raped, mutilated and murdered. Sherlock took his attention away from the internet long enough to watch the report on the latest murders, but he didn't say anything and his face didn't give away any of his thoughts.

“Sherlock,” said John as the presenter discussed ways that people could stay safe with the police media representative. “You are taking precautions, aren't you?”

Sherlock frowned at him. “You know I always use condoms, John, I'm not an idiot,” he said.

John resisted the urge to throw a cushion at him. “Not those kind of precautions. You are taking care not to end up being murdered by a psycho, right? I realise asking you not to go off with strangers isn't going to get very far, but you are being a bit sensible, right?”

“Don't be ridiculous,” said Sherlock dismissively. “I'm not in any danger.”

John thumped his fist down on the arm of the sofa with frustration. Trust Sherlock to think that he was exempt from petty things like worrying about his personal safety. “Of course you are!” he exclaimed. “You're exactly the kind of person in danger – you spend your life going off to secluded places with complete strangers, any of whom could suddenly decide to carve you up.”

“I can look after myself,” said Sherlock.

“I bet that's what all those guys thought,” said John, gesturing at the TV. “Trust me, Sherlock, it doesn't matter how well you can protect yourself if you're caught off-guard, or facing someone with a weapon. You have to be careful.”

Sherlock let out a put-upon sigh. “Oh, fine then. I will.”

John didn't believe him for a second. He grabbed out for Sherlock's hand, clutching at it to get Sherlock's full attention. “This is important,” he said. “I really, really do not want to have to go to the morgue to identify your body. You have to be careful, Sherlock. If you can't be bothered to do it for your own sake, do it for mine.”

Sherlock looked at him for a long moment, then nodded. “Okay, all right, John,” he said in careful voice. “I will. I promise.”

John glared at him for another long moment, trying to see if Sherlock was just saying whatever he thought John needed to hear in order to get him to shut up, then let go of his hand. “You better not be lying to me.”

“I'm not,” said Sherlock. “I have no more wish to be murdered than you do.” John wasn't sure about that – there occasionally seemed something a bit self-destructive about Sherlock's behaviour – but he knew when to let a subject go.

John went to bed not long after that, and as he was leaving the room, Sherlock said his name. He paused and looked back.

“You need to stay safe as well,” Sherlock said. “It would be completely unacceptable if you were murdered.”

John managed a smile. “Of course I will,” he said. “But I don't think you need to worry. I'm not exactly this guy's type.”

Sherlock made a quiet noise under his breath that could have meant anything and John carried on up to his room.

 

****

 

John's helmet didn't fit quite right and it was digging in at the back of his head. They were marching in formation down a dusty road, line after line of soldiers all heading for battle. John glanced sideways to see Greg next to him, his gaze fixed forwards and his gun held tightly in his hands.

John looked forward too, but he couldn't see where they were going – all he could see was the helmets of an endless number of soldiers, stretching out in front of him right to the horizon.

“Come on, you bastards, faster!” shouted Sergeant Keirnan, and they all broke into double-time. In front of John, he could see Molly's hair escaping from under her helmet, far too long and not at all in a regulation style.

She'll get in trouble, he thought, and then there was a sudden explosion, right in the centre of the column of soldiers. Shrapnel and limbs went everywhere, and John ducked to one side just as there was another explosion. They were under attack. His heart started to pound with adrenalin.

“Get to cover!” shouted Keirnan, and then there was a shot and his head exploded.

“Shit shit shit,” said Greg. “Come on, John!” He ran off towards the noise of gunfire and John followed after him, tightening his grip on his gun. There was smoke and confusion everywhere, soldiers running about and yelling nonsense orders, the wounded screaming out in pain as the barrage continued, and John lost sight of Greg in the mess of it all.

He stumbled over Toby, who was ripped apart from the waist down. He grabbed uselessly at John's ankle.

“John, help me,” he begged. “How will I dance? I need to be able to shake my groove thang, please.”

John knelt down beside him, dropping his rifle, and felt for his medkit, but it was gone. He went through all his pockets looking for it, wondering when his uniform had gained so many, but all he kept finding was condoms, bottles of lube and sex toys.

“Hang on,” he said to Toby. “I've got it, I have, I must have it.” What kind of army doctor went to war without his medkit?

Toby was making horrible moaning noises, blood bubbling up in his throat, and John knew it was probably far too late but he couldn't stop looking for his medkit. If he found it, he knew he'd be able to fix Toby and then they'd be able to go dancing. There was nothing but more condoms, though, spilling out of every one of his pockets. Why did he have so many?

Toby died in front of him with a horrible, gut-deep groan of pain, staring at him with desperate, accusing eyes. John stared at his corpse for a moment, then stood up, stumbling away.

Sherlock appeared out of the smoke and grabbed his arm. “There you are,” he said. “Come on, it's this way.” He was wearing his coat and John wondered how he got away without being in uniform. But then, the rules never seemed to apply to Sherlock.

He followed Sherlock across the battlefield, smoke stinging his eyes and explosions still ringing in his ears. “Where are we going?” he asked.

Sherlock glanced back. “The Criterion, of course,” he said. “That's where he'll be.”

“Who?” asked John, but Sherlock ignored him.

The Criterion loomed up ahead of them, military camouflage daubed over its façade. “There!” said Sherlock excitedly, and let go of John so that he could speed up. The front door swung slowly open and there was a silhouette in the doorway, lit from behind by disco lights. “It's him,” said Sherlock.

He was getting away, moving too fast for John to keep up. “Wait!” he called out, but Sherlock ignored him, too intent on getting to the shadowy figure.

John started to run, but the wounded and dead were in his way, bodies lying all over the ground. Some of them reached out for him, wanting his help, but he had to get to Sherlock, he had to help him, and he didn't have his medkit anyway, there was nothing he could do.

“Sherlock!” he called out. “Sherlock, please wait!”

Sherlock was nearly at the doorway now, reaching out for the figure. The figure turned, and suddenly John could see that he was holding a knife.

“SHERLOCK!” he bellowed, just as the figure swung the knife, slashing right across Sherlock's throat.

Sherlock fell to the ground and the figure laughed and turned away, twirling his knife. He vanished back inside the Criterion and the door slammed shut behind him.

“Sherlock, Sherlock,” cried out John, dropping to his knees next to him. He started feeling for his medkit again, but he still couldn't find it and Sherlock was choking on his own blood. It was gushing out of his neck like a river, soaking into his clothes, his coat, getting all over John as he desperately went back through all his pockets, even though he knew his medkit wasn't going to be there.

“No, no, no,” he chanted, pulling out yet more condoms and packets of lube as he searched. “No, Sherlock, you have to-”

“John!” said a loud, firm voice somewhere else, and he woke up with a start.

His heart was beating like a hammer and for a moment all he could see was Sherlock dying in front of him, then he refocussed on reality. He was in his bedroom, in the dark, and Sherlock was in front of him, sitting on his bed and holding onto his shoulder.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” he choked and groped out to cling to Sherlock's arm. He concentrated on taking deep breaths for a while, forcing the images out of his head as much as he could.

“Are you okay?” asked Sherlock cautiously. “You were making rather a lot of noise.”

“Oh god,” said John miserably. “I'm sorry. Did I wake you?”

Now that he was properly awake, he could see that Sherlock was wearing his dressing gown and nothing else.

“No,” said Sherlock.

John shut his eyes for a moment, trying to push away the fear that was still running through his veins. He didn't get nightmares nearly as much now as he had when he first got home from Afghanistan but when they did come, they were still just as bad as they'd always been. Sherlock didn't usually come to wake him, though. He must have been making rather a lot of noise.

He forced himself to let go of Sherlock and sat up, rubbing a hand over his face. “Fuck,” he muttered.

“You need tea,” said Sherlock, standing up. “Come on, I'll make you some.”

John couldn't remember ever hearing a better idea. “Yes,” he said, getting up. “That'd be brilliant.”

“Was it about the war?” asked Sherlock as they headed downstairs.

“Sort of,” hedged John. “Other stuff got mixed in. This stuff with all the murders.”

Sherlock nodded to himself as if he'd been expecting that. He probably had been. “If you need to talk-” he started, slightly hesitantly.

“Oh god, no,” said John immediately.

Sherlock's shoulders relaxed slightly. Clearly he'd been relishing the idea of talking about John's psychological scarring as much as John would have been.

They made it to the kitchen and Sherlock put on the kettle. His bedroom door was wide open, and John glanced in, then froze.

There was a naked man tied to Sherlock's bed with a gag firmly in his mouth.

“Sherlock!” said John, horrified. “Who the hell is that?”

Sherlock glanced in, as if he'd forgotten. “I told you I wasn't sleeping.”

“You can't leave him there!” hissed John.

Sherlock huffed out a sigh. “Well, I'm not really in the mood for finishing with him now,” he said. “Besides, he was getting dull.”

“Then untie him!” exclaimed John.

“Oh, fine,” said Sherlock sulkily, and went into his room. “You'll have to make the tea, then.”

When the man was untied, he immediately started to pull on his clothes.

“I'm so sorry,” said John.

The man gave him a wide-eyed look. “It's fine,” he said quickly. “Just fine.” He flashed a look at Sherlock. “Really,” he insisted.

“Let me call you a cab,” said John, because Sherlock clearly wasn't going to.

“No, no, it's fine,” said the man and rushed out of the flat before John could point out that it was the middle of the night and that there was a deranged killer out there somewhere. He turned and glared at Sherlock.

“What?” asked Sherlock defensively. John let out a sigh and gave up in favour of having tea.

 

****

 

When they went to The Criterion that Friday, it was pretty quiet. Beyond the handful of dedicated regulars, it seemed that most people had decided to stay home until the murderer was apprehended.

Sherlock was disgusted. “This had better stop soon,” he said, looking around at the few tangled knots of men. “Or I'll have to take action. I can't operate under these conditions.” He gestured around. “Look at them all! Dull, dull, dull. Why is it only the interesting people that have stayed away?” He pulled out his phone. “There has to be something Greg can do about this.”

“I think he's probably doing all he can,” said John. “He's pretty much just sleeping and working at the moment, you know that.”

Sherlock made an irritated noise. “He shouldn't be wasting time with sleep.” His phone beeped with a reply and he read it, then frowned.

“What?” asked John. “Has he told you to piss off and leave him alone?”

“No,” said Sherlock. “They've identified those two bodies finally. Miles Chalmers and Neil Wilson.”

“Miles,” said John slowly. “Not Toby's friend?”

Sherlock nodded. “Yes, that's him.”

John was silent for a moment. He hadn't really known Miles as more than one of the more normal members of the Twink Army, but they'd once had a conversation about Jeremy Kyle whilst waiting at a taxi rank. It was awful to think of him dying like that. The murders were just getting closer and closer to home.

“I hope they catch this bastard soon, and cut his bloody cock off,” he said with feeling.

“I'm pretty sure that's not a punishment our legal system is authorised to hand out,” said Sherlock.

John tried to remember something more about Miles than 'he was blond and had a daytime TV fetish'. “I suppose you'd slept with him.”

Sherlock nodded. “Of course,” he said. “Neil too, unless I'm getting him confused with another Neil. I'd have to see a picture to be sure.”

“Jesus, Sherlock!” said John. “That's every victim – don't you think you should be worried?”

“I told you I'd be careful,” said Sherlock, as if that had been a massive concession rather than a sensible precaution.

“This guy is killing people you've slept with,” John pointed out. “What if he's some crazed stalker? This could be all to do with you – you know that some of the men you've slept with haven't been all that stable. Remember Harvey and his midnight serenades?”

Sherlock winced at the memory. “I sincerely doubt it's related,” he said. “Think about it, John – if it was to do with me, then he'd have picked people that I've associated with more than once, rather than men whose names I barely remember, and he'd almost certainly have alerted me to his presence in some way before going on a murder spree. Besides,” he added. “Look around us. I've had sex with sixty-eight percent of the men currently in this club. It's getting increasingly difficult for me to find someone to have sex with that I haven't already, and I'm actively trying. It's just statistics.”

“Maybe you've just managed to tap London out,” suggested Jim, sidling up behind them.

John felt like groaning. Why the hell did Jim have to be one of the people willing to brave a serial killer to have a good time? Mind you, he was probably crazy enough to think it made things exciting.

“I hope not,” said Sherlock, sounding grim at the prospect.

“It happens,” said Jim. “Why do you think I left Dublin? Sometimes you need fresh pastures.”

“I couldn't leave London,” said Sherlock.

Jim tutted as if Sherlock was a small child claiming he'd never want to leave home. “Then you're doomed to a future of increasingly dull sex.”

John actually saw Sherlock shudder at the idea of that. “It'll pick up once these murders are done with,” he said firmly, as if trying to convince himself.

“And if it doesn't,” said John, knowing exactly how this suggestion was going to go down and smirking at the thought of it, “you could always try branching out into women.”

Sherlock gave him a horrified look, as if he'd suggested necrophilia rather than heterosexuality. “I'd rather die.”

“Oh, melodrama,” said Jim. “Why not leave London? Your website could be updated from anywhere, and surely the data on other cities and countries would be invaluable? All those new nationalities, new ways of chatting people up...”

“It's a London-based blog,” said Sherlock, but there was a note in his voice that said he was considering it.

Jim heard it too, and pounced on it. “Make it an international one,” he suggested. “I've been thinking of going to America and checking out the scene there – you should come with me. Imagine what we could do together in New York, or LA. Or San Francisco. All those new places, new men, new experiences, just waiting for us.”

John felt a cold shiver go down his spine. If Sherlock left London, what the hell would John do? He had a sudden, horrible image of himself sitting in Baker Street alone, wandering through the dull routines of his life without any of the craziness that surrounded Sherlock. It reminded him of the colourless existence he'd had when he first came back from Afghanistan, and he had to swallow back a lump in his throat.

Sherlock looked at him. “If I left, you wouldn't come,” he said, not making it a question.

John shook his head. “I can't leave my job,” he pointed out. “Besides, I'm hardly international playboy material.”

“You don't need him,” said Jim. “You'd have me. I'm a much better wingman.”

Sherlock looked back at him. “Tempting,” he said, and John could see that he meant it. “But I really don't want to leave London.”

John let out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. Jim's face twitched, then he shrugged. “Your choice,” he said, as if it didn't matter at all to him. “Just thought you might like to be doing a bit more than rotting away in this dump, shagging the same dull people for the rest of your life.”

“I like this dump,” said Sherlock, then clearly dismissed the conversation from his thoughts. “John, time to dance.”

“Right,” said John, setting his drink down and following Sherlock onto the dance floor, leaving Jim behind them.

 

****

 

Although Sherlock did eventually manage to find a man that he didn't immediately dismiss as dull, the clubs were quiet all weekend, and John could tell that an almighty sulk was on the way by the time that Sunday came around.

He wasn't in the best of moods himself – the murders were beginning to play on his mind, and he couldn't seem to settle to anything without getting distracted partway through by wondering who would be next, if it would be someone they knew, or even if there was already some poor bastard being sliced up.

Sherlock spent most of the afternoon slumped on the sofa, ignoring John as he wandered through the flat, half-heartedly tidying up around attempts to occupy himself with the crossword or his laptop, or anything, really.

Eventually, Sherlock let out a sigh. “Either actually do something,” he told John crossly, “or go up to your room, but don't keep flapping about the place – it's distracting.”

“What exactly am I distracting you from?” returned John. “You've spent the afternoon staring at the ceiling – you can't tell me that holds some deep purpose.”

Sherlock glared at him. “I'm thinking,” he snapped. “And you're interrupting it. Sit down.”

John threw himself into his chair and glared at Sherlock. “Better?” he asked.

“Much,” said Sherlock, returning his gaze to the ceiling. John continued to scowl at him for a while, but was ignored, and eventually found himself just staring at Sherlock, letting his eyes wander over the lines of his body, the pale skin that was visible where his dressing gown flapped open. It took him several long minutes to realise that he was just sitting and ogling his flatmate but when he did, he tore his eyes away and cleared his throat.

“I'm getting cabin fever,” he said. “I'm going to go for a walk.”

“Excellent,” said Sherlock. “You can get takeaway from Tang's on your way back.”

“Yeah, okay,” said John, standing up. “You better be done thinking when I get back, because I'll be putting Doctor Who on.”

“I would expect nothing less,” said Sherlock. He looked over at John with a half-smile that made John hope that he'd be able to stave off the threatening black mood if he just put a little effort in. “You know I would never get between you and your Time Lord.”

John grinned back. “I should hope not,” he said, gathering his wallet and his keys. “You know some things are far more important than friendship.”

He was halfway out of the door when Sherlock replied in a quiet voice. “Only a very few things.”

John wasn't sure if he was meant to have heard that, so he kept going without pausing to reply, but he was smiling to himself as he left the house.

 

****

 

John was on his way back, takeaway bag in one hand, when Jim appeared out of an alleyway.

“John,” he said, blinking in surprise. “Oh, excellent – you're a doctor, aren't you?

“You know I am,” said John. “What are you doing here?”

“No time for that,” said Jim. “I need your help. The bloke I was shagging has collapsed. I think perhaps I was too much for his heart.”

“Where?” asked John, his mind already going into emergency mode. A collapse could mean anything, but if it was a heart attack, they needed to get him to a hospital as quickly as possible.

“This way,” said Jim, setting off down the alley, and John followed him. Trust Jim to be shagging some guy in an alley on a Sunday night rather than staying home and watching telly like a normal person.

“Just around this corner,” said Jim, but when John followed him around it, there was no one there but Jim, holding a syringe and grinning. He lunged before John could get his wits together, grabbing John's arm and plunging the syringe in. John dropped the takeaway and flailed at him, but his limbs were already out of his control from whatever had been in the syringe, and it was only a few seconds before everything went black.

 

****

 

John woke up feeling awful. His head was throbbing, his stomach was on the verge of ejecting everything he'd eaten that day – mainly toast – and every single muscle was screaming in agony. He groaned before he'd even opened his eyes and when he did, it only served to make him feel worse.

He was tied to some kind of metal table in a dimly-lit room and Jim was standing over him, grinning like the cat who'd caught the canary and reduced it to a pile of bloody feathers.

“You're back with us!” he said. “Excellent – I was beginning to get bored. Starting while you were still unconscious just would not have been as fun.”

John's brain came back online enough to point out that Jim was holding a knife and he let out another groan. “Of course you're the serial killer,” he said. “I should have guessed – I already knew you were crazy.”

Jim tutted. “Crazy isn't a very nice word, Johnny. I prefer 'misunderstood'.”

“You're a psychotic murderer, probably with Mummy issues,” said John. “What's to misunderstand?” He pulled at the ropes that tied his wrists to the edges of the table, but there was no give in them and he couldn't even feel where the knots were. He hadn't really expected to be able to get free, but feeling just how trapped he was made nausea rise up in his throat.

Jim narrowed his eyes. “This has nothing to do with my mother,” he said, bringing the knife down to rest on John's neck. “That would be so plebeian.” He pressed down with the edge of the knife and John braced himself for the pain of a cut, but Jim pulled it away before it got that far.

“Right,” said John, clearing his throat. “This is about Sherlock.” He'd been right, although he found it hard to find any satisfaction in that right now.

Jim grinned. “Bingo! Give the boy a prize! Of course it's about Sherlock. He'll be much better off without you in his life, you know.”

“Because what he really needs is a friend who kills people,” said John. The longer he kept Jim talking, the longer it would be before he started cutting, and the more time the police would have to find him. He carefully ignored the thought that the police hadn't found any of the others in time and that there was no reason why they would find him before Jim dumped his corpse in an alleyway.

The grin fell off Jim's face and he leaned forward, getting right up close to John's face with a dangerous look that took John's breath away. He suddenly looked like exactly what he was – not just irritating Jim who wouldn't leave Sherlock alone, but the murderer who'd been leading Scotland Yard around for months.

“Do you really think he needs you? Boring, old John? Barely able to get laid more than once every six months, and even then only in the most dull, pedestrian manner? You're pathetic. Sherlock deserves better – he deserves better than you, and better than London.”

He leaned back and the look was gone, replaced by his off-kilter grin again. The glimpse had been enough, though. John realised just how much trouble he was in. He wasn't going to survive this.

“I'm going to fix that, though,” said Jim happily. “After all, who would choose to stay in a city where their best friend was raped and murdered in so horrible a manner that even the police refuse to talk about it?”

John felt terror well up in his stomach, cutting off all thought beyond raped and murdered for a moment, and he pushed it firmly back down. He couldn't allow himself to get lost in that.

“You'll get caught,” he said with as much certainty as he could muster.

Jim laughed. “Oh, Johnny, don't be silly. They'll never catch me, especially not once I've vanished to America with Sherlock.” He clapped his hands sharply. “Enough talk! Time for some fun.” He looked John over, then tipped his head to one side. “Less clothes,” he decided. “Definitely less of those clothes - they're horrible.”

He cut John's clothes off him without much care, his knife slipping into John's skin and leaving tiny cuts in its wake. John kept his mouth firmly shut – he had no delusions that he'd be able to remain stoic for everything that Jim had planned, but he was damned if he was going to give him the satisfaction of a vocal response just yet. He distracted himself by trying to work out just how long it had been since he'd left the flat. Was Sherlock even aware that he was missing yet? How long had he been unconscious? Long enough for Jim to get him to wherever they were, certainly, and probably a bit longer, but what did that mean in terms of actual time passing?

“There's my brave little soldier,” said Jim when he was done. The air in the room was cold against John's skin, and he felt horribly exposed, even if Jim had left his underwear on. No matter how much he tried to concentrate on what Sherlock might be up to right now, he couldn't keep the gleeful way that Jim had said raped from burning through his mind. He found himself hoping that Jim would start with another kind of torture. Anything else, just not that.

“Gosh, you really are old and scarred underneath it all, aren't you?” Jim put the tip of his knife right in the centre of the scar on John's shoulder and pressed until a bead of blood welled up. John held every muscle as tightly still as he could to keep himself from reacting. “Such a shame this didn't kill you. It would have saved us all so much bother. Still, this is more fun, I suppose.”

“Your definition of fun doesn't exactly match up with mine,” said John, keeping his voice as controlled as he could.

“Well, we can't all find ancient BBC sci-fi entertaining,” said Jim, tracing his knife down from the scar to over John's heart, leaving a line of blood behind it. John gritted his teeth against the pain, sickeningly aware that it was going to get so much worse.

“So easy just to push down and end you now,” said Jim musingly. “That really would end all my fun, though – I've been practising on all those others, just waiting for you, Johnny. You're going to be my masterpiece, and you'll be begging me for a quick death before the end.” He bent in close and breathed into John's ear, “Don't worry though, I won't listen.”

John glared at him, refusing to be intimidated by the terror freezing in his guts. “You really do like the sound of your own voice, don't you?” he said. “Or is having to listen to your rubbish meant to be part of the torture?”

“Ooh, you're feisty,” said Jim, and ran the knife down to John's stomach as if in retribution. It sliced open a long line of flesh as it went, and John had to bite back a grunt of pain. “You know, before I really got started on those other guys, I gave them a few hours of intense pleasure.” The knife continued to travel downwards until it hit the waist of John's underwear. John felt himself freeze with panic. He knew his reactions to pain and how to cope with it, but rape was something else entirely. How was he meant to keep himself together through that?

“I'm not really all that keen on giving you any pleasure, though,” said Jim, pulling the knife away, and John let out a breath of relief. It might only be a temporary reprieve, but it was still a reprieve. “And it would be a shame to ruin your anticipation,” Jim added with a smirk that said he knew exactly what John was thinking. “How about a few hours of pain instead? Then I'll come back and see if it's made you more or less pliant than the pleasure did the others – like one of Sherlock's experiments.”

John fumed impotently over the idea of anything about Sherlock being comparable to this as Jim paused for a moment. “Something you'll really feel,” he mused. “but nothing that'll distract you too much when I get back.”

“I've always hated paper-cuts,” offered John.

“So unimaginative,” said Jim. He stepped away, out of John's field of vision, and there was the clatter of various things being moved around. “Of course!” he exclaimed after a moment. “What else?” When he came back, he was holding a small whip – one that was identical to Sherlock's. John had never really seen fit to ask Sherlock just why he had one – the answer was bound to only make his brain hurt. There was no real question as to why Jim had one.

“We'll start with the riding crop,” said Jim happily, then brought the whip down hard on John's chest.

John clenched his teeth to prevent himself from crying out at the hard, sudden burst of pain that flared across his chest, but was unable to stop a grunt forcing its way past his lips. Jim laughed with pleasure and swung again. His eyes were glowing with glee, a grin frozen on his face as he swung, and John found he couldn't watch it. He shut his eyes for a moment, but that was even worse. There was nothing but the noise of the whip swinging, the sharp crack as it hit his flesh, and the burning lines that it was carving into his flesh. He opened his eyes and fixed them on the ceiling, clenching his jaw and trying to distance himself as much as possible.

He lost count of how many times Jim struck him. After his chest was layered with long, thin lines, some of them starting to seep blood, Jim struck twice at his stomach. The tender skin of his belly hurt in a completely different and more intense way than that of his chest, and John was unable to hold back a cry as the air was forced out of his lungs. Jim let out a delighted laugh and finally stopped.

“Oh yes,” he said, panting. John wasn't sure if he wanted to know if that was with exertion or excitement. “That's much better. Look at you, John. You're starting to be a work of art.”

“I'm not really one for modern art,” managed John, trying to keep his voice as even as he could. He felt tenderised and every breath he took made his chest shriek with pain, especially where the whip-lines had intersected with the cut Jim had made earlier, but he was damned if he was going to give Jim even a hint of that.

“Oh, but I am,” said Jim. “I think I shall call this one 'The Whipped Dog'. In fact-” he moved away, and came back a moment later with a camera. “Say cheese!” he said, and then took several pictures of the wounds marking John's skin.

“Jesus Christ,” said John, overwhelmed with disgust. “You really are a sick fuck.”

“Oh, I'm just dedicated,” said Jim. He looked over the marks carefully, then nodded. “Yes, that will do for now. Just one last detail, then-”

A telephone rang, and Jim cut himself off. It took John a few moments to realise that it was his own ringtone. Someone was calling him – Sherlock, hopefully, wondering where the hell he was.

“Would you mind awfully if I got that?” he asked.

Jim slapped his hand down on John's chest, making him grunt with the fresh burst of pain that shot through him. “Silly,” he said. “You're never going to talk to anyone except me ever again.”

He pulled out John's phone from his pocket and glanced at it. “It's dear Sherlock again,” he said. “That makes eleven missed calls from him, and three from your little policeman friend. Aren't you Mr. Popular?”

So Sherlock had noticed he was gone, and he'd told Greg as well. John immediately felt better. At least there were people out there looking for him – he wasn't just going to turn up as a body before anyone even knew he was gone. Whether or not they found him in time was another matter, of course. John hadn't missed just how unconcerned Jim was about being found; wherever this place was, he was convinced that the police would never find it.

“Time to go and get myself an alibi,” said Jim, tucking John's phone away again. “But first...” He turned away and came back holding a box of something. “We don't want an infection to set in, do we? Not that you'll be alive long enough for that, but it never hurts to be too careful. Well, it won't hurt me, anyway.”

He sprinkled the box over John's chest, covering his raw wounds with salt, and John had to bite down on his tongue to keep the scream inside. It burnt like he wouldn't have believed, and he lost a few moments to bright, blinding pain, his eyes screwed up against it.

“Excellent,” said Jim with satisfaction. “I'll be back, don't go anywhere.” He left, slamming and locking the door behind him, and John finally let himself give in to the pain for a while, clenching his hands into fists so tight that he could feel his knuckles cracking.

 

****

 

It was several long hours before Jim came back. Once the pain had become more manageable, John tried to get free, but after half an hour of struggling it became clear that all he was achieving was causing friction burns on his wrists and ankles. There didn't seem to be much point in adding to the wounds that Jim had already given him, especially not when he seemed so keen on causing more, so he gave up. For the next few hours he just lay where he was, trying to ignore the burning pain that covered his chest, and wondering just how much chance there was that he'd be found before Jim had finished with him. Slim-to-none, if this place was as well hidden as John suspected it was.

All in all, it was a pretty miserable few hours, especially once he got to wondering just how Sherlock would react when his body was found. He wasn't stupid enough to think that it wouldn't affect him at all – he had said that John was important to him - but it was hard to imagine Sherlock reacting like anyone else would. John couldn't shake the feeling that, after an initial period of mourning and readjustment, Sherlock would go on pretty much as he always had and in six months, he'd barely remember how having John around had made his life different. Jim's belief that it would make him want to abandon London completely was more than a bit over-the-top.

John was just hoping that Sherlock would at least make sure that his Doctor Who DVDs went to a good home when the door lock clicked open. He took a preparatory breath, then tried to look as unconcerned as possible.

“Honey, I'm home!” announced Jim as he came back in with a flourish. “Did you miss me?”

“Not particularly,” said John.

“Well, I missed you, Johnny,” said Jim. He stepped up close to the table and looked down at him. “Oh, you're still looking beautiful – I've been thinking about you the whole time I was away. Trying to work out just how to decorate you.” He ran one finger down the length of the cut that ran all the way from John's shoulder to the edge of his underwear, poking in at the points where it was deep enough, and pulling the edges apart. John clenched his teeth against the pain and glared at him.

“Mmm...lovely,” said Jim. “Another photo, I think.” He took another couple of photos of John's injuries, then put the camera away and regarded John for a moment, his head tipped to one side. “More cuts, definitely. Your insides are so much more interesting than your outsides.”

He turned away to get his knife from wherever he was keeping his torture tools, and John looked up at the ceiling, wondering just how long it would be before he broke, and what that would be like.

“I'll start with the hands,” said Jim when he came back. John's hands automatically clenched into fists. “Surgeon's hands – useless for that now, of course. Useless for anything by the time I'm finished.”

He prised the fingers of John's right hand open, pushing his palm flat against the table despite John's best attempts to prevent him.

“Hands that have never been allowed to touch Sherlock,” added Jim, grinning at John and bringing the knife down to cut a careful line from the knuckle of his forefinger down to his wrist. It stung, but it wasn't deep enough to really hurt, not while his chest was still throbbing with every breath. “Too dull and boring for him. You follow him around like a little lost lamb, panting with lust and staring at him as if he's the second coming, and yet, you've never been allowed to touch.”

He cut another line from the knuckle of John's middle finger to his wrist. John had had a lover when he was in medical school who had drawn all the bones of his body on his skin once when they were supposed to be revising for an exam, and he was suddenly reminded of that. The idea of Jim doodling cuts across his body was both infuriating and sickening.

“And you're really missing out, you know,” continued Jim, carving lines from the last two of John's fingers with careful movements, then joining all four cuts with a sweeping line across the back of John's wrist that burned with pain. “His skin is so much more amazing to touch than yours.” He looked down at his handiwork. “Your blood's getting everywhere,” he noted, and turned away.

“You know, you're really fixated on having got something that almost every other man in London has had too,” said John in the pause.

“Almost every other man,” repeated Jim as he came back with a bottle of something clear that John hoped like hell was water. “Not you, though, Johnny-boy. Not the one guy who's so pathetically in love with him that the whole world can see it – including him. How does that feel?”

He poured the liquid over John's hand and it burnt in the cuts as if it was red-hot. John let out a choked cry, squeezing his eyes shut. When he opened them, Jim was looking as if all his Christmases had come at once.

“Oh, lovely,” he said. “Feel free to keep doing that.”

John resolved to try and avoid doing that again. Well, for as long as he could, anyway. The fresh, sharp pain in his hand was now vying with the more dulled, continual ache of his chest, and he wondered just how many more types of pain he'd get to feel before Jim finally killed him.

Jim picked the knife up again. “How much of your skin do you think I can peel off in one go?” he asked. He started to cut into the back of John's forearm, some design that required a frown of concentration. John couldn't feel what it was beyond bloody painful, but whatever it was put a smirk of satisfaction on Jim's face when he'd finished.

“John Watson, who wears his heart on his sleeve,” he said. “And now it's cut into your skin.”

He turned away to change the sharp knife he'd been using for a differently shaped one. “Perhaps I should add JW above it, and SH below,” he mused. “No, too obvious. Everyone already knows.”

He pressed the knife into the cuts he'd made and began to peel the skin away from John's arm.

It hurt an incredible amount and John had to squeeze his eyes shut again, although he managed to avoid crying out. As Jim kept going, gently coaxing the skin away from John's flesh, the pressure began to build up in John's chest, his teeth aching as he clenched them together. He began to force himself to take loud, even breaths through his nose, trying to control the pain in some way, but it didn't really help.

“There's my brave little soldier,” said Jim. “Sherlock would be so proud. If he could find the time to spare that much thought for you, of course – the emotions in your little partnership all go one way, don't they?”

Well, that was obviously wrong. If Sherlock didn't care at all, why on earth would Jim have needed to kidnap John like this?

Jim was nearly halfway through, and John could feel that the whole section of his skin was coming off in one go. He could feel the doctor part of his brain already thinking about likely blood loss and the need for skin grafts, but the rest of him knew that there was no point in thinking about treating it. He wouldn't need to worry about scarring when he was dead, after all.

The worst part of it all, far worse than the pain or the damage that Jim was causing, was that there was nothing he could do about it. He was completely, frustratingly helpless, unable to do anything but lay back and let Jim do whatever he wanted, slice him up however he wanted and witter on about any rubbish he wanted to. There was no way to even begin to fight back.

Or maybe there was. He'd kept as quiet as he could up until now, allowing Jim to rave about him and Sherlock as if he had any idea what he was talking about, but maybe it was time to change his tactics. After all, if he made Jim angry enough, maybe he'd slip up somehow. There might not be any chance of a rescue, but a quicker death than Jim had planned would almost count as a win in this situation.

John took a deep breath and licked his dry lips, fighting to keep his voice steady as Jim continued to work. “It really doesn't matter, you know,” he said.

Jim glanced up. “What doesn't? Your death and dismemberment? No, probably not, but it's so much fun!”

“No,” corrected John. “Whether or not I'm in love with Sherlock, or what he thinks my feelings are. We've both decided that our friendship is the most important thing – more important than sleeping together, more important than the faint chance of something more, and certainly more important than heading off to America with a madman like you.”

Jim had stopped, mid-knife-stroke, in order to glare at John.

“If you knew anything about friendship, you'd understand that,” continued John. “But you really don't, do you? Have you ever had a friend, Jim? Has anyone ever even liked you? I know no one I know does. Even Sherlock only puts up with you for the occasional bit of entertainment.”

Jim's eyes narrowed, then he flicked the knife in John's arm, slicing off a large section of skin and making John cry out with the sudden pain of it. “Whoops, look what you made me do,” he said. “I've messed it up.”

He grabbed the bottle again and John tried to brace himself for the pain he knew was coming, but the fresh burn of agony was too startlingly overwhelming, and he heard himself yell again even before he knew he'd opened his mouth.

“We'll just have to start again!” he heard Jim say somewhere far away, on the other side of the pain.

There was a sudden bang and John opened his eyes to see Sherlock standing in the doorway, the door still bouncing back from where he'd thrown it open. He looked horrified, wide-eyed and shocked in a way that John would never have been able to picture if he wasn't seeing it.

“What on earth have you done?!” he asked Jim.

“Johnny and I were just having some fun,” said Jim. “I wasn't expecting you to join us – that's going to require a sudden change of plan.”

He was still holding the knife and he stepped sideways so that he was close enough to press it against John's throat. “Come any closer, and John takes the easy way out.”

“Don't worry about me,” said John, his throat moving against the knife as he spoke. “Get out, get the police. He's fucking crazy.”

“Don't be an idiot,” said Sherlock, and only Sherlock would insult him at a moment like this. “Of course I'm not going to do that. Besides, I thought ahead. I am a genius, you know.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out John's gun.

“Put the knife down, Jim,” he said. “The police are already on their way, there's no point in any dramatics.”

“There is always a point in dramatics,” said Jim. “I want to make sure you won't forget me, after all. I won't ever forget you, Sherlock, my dear.” He pressed the knife into John's throat, grinning as if it was all big game.

“Stop,” demanded Sherlock.

“Why?” asked Jim. “It'll make little difference if I've killed one more. Besides, even if the police do catch me, you can't imagine any prison will hold me for long. I've fingers in more pies than you could possibly imagine.” He gestured at the torture chamber. “This is just a hobby.”

“That would explain why you're so bad at it,” said Sherlock, and he took the safety catch off the gun. “Step away from him, or I will shoot.”

“Oh, we can't have that,” said Jim. He pulled the knife away from John's throat, ducking behind the table as Sherlock shot at him and missed. He flung the knife at Sherlock, making him curse and step back, then he ran for the door, barrelling past Sherlock while he was still thrown off by the knife, then out into the corridor.

Sherlock followed as quickly as he could and for a moment John was left alone, trying to work out what was going on from the sound of footsteps echoing against concrete. There were two gunshots, both of which sounded as if they'd hit stone, then Sherlock came back scowling.

“He got away?” asked John.

“The police will get him,” said Sherlock with far more confidence than John felt was warranted.

“Right,” said John. Now that the ordeal was apparently over, he felt exhausted, and every injury was making itself known with renewed fervour. Relief was slowly flooding through him, but he couldn't yet properly feel it beneath the pain and the remnants of terror.

Sherlock was staring at him as if he'd never seen him before, eyes flickering over the marks that Jim had left. He was still holding the gun, but slackly, as if he'd forgotten it was there. John eyed it nervously, wondering just how much experience Sherlock had with firearms, and what the chances were that he'd accidentally shoot one of them by mistake.

“Could you untie me?” John asked after a pause, when Sherlock hadn't make any move towards him.

Sherlock shook himself, as if out of a daze. “Right, of course,” he said. He dropped the gun on the table with a lack of care that made John wince, then set about undoing John's bonds with scrambling hands and frantic movements. John didn't move when he was finally free, too aware of just what sitting up would do to the wounds on his chest and stomach.

“Christ, your arm,” muttered Sherlock.

John didn't want to look at his arm. He didn't even want to think about it. A large part of him just wanted to shut his eyes and give passing out a go, but he wasn't about to swoon like Victorian maiden. He took a deep breath and then sat up, very very carefully.

Bending pulled at every lash mark on his chest and stomach, bursting several of the half-formed scabs open. He couldn't quite contain the groan that the movement drove out of him, but now that Jim was gone and there was only Sherlock to hear him, he couldn't bring himself to care. Once he was upright, the blood loss made itself known, making him feel light-headed and dizzy for a couple of moments. He swayed uncertainly, then Sherlock's arm was there, steadying his shoulders and holding him up.

“What should I do?” he asked, sounding as if he was at a loss. John tried to remember if he'd ever heard Sherlock not know what to do before and failed. It seemed he was going to have to try and keep it together enough for the both of them.

He finally brought himself to look down at his arm, and then winced. It was covered in blood, and underneath that he could see the red slickness of skinless flesh.

“We need to wrap it,” he said, glancing around. The cut remnants of his clothes were still on the table and he grabbed at part of what had been his shirt, and tried to wrap it around his arm one-handed. Sherlock made an irritated noise and took it off him in order to do it himself.

“It needs to be pretty tight,” said John. “Need to stop the bleeding.”

“I know that,” snapped back Sherlock. His tone was at odds with his movements though, which were far more gentle than John would have guessed. He wrapped the arm with several layers, frowning with concentration.

“Thanks,” said John. Blood loss was beginning to make everything seem a bit faded and blurry, so he focused hard on Sherlock's face in order to keep himself together.

Sherlock looked almost outraged. “Why are you thanking me?” he asked. “This was my fault to start with.”

John couldn't hold in a weak laugh at that. “That's only true if you told him to kidnap me and cut me up,” he said.

“Of course I didn't,” snapped Sherlock.

“Well then, I think we can safely say that the blame lies squarely with him, and you're in the clear,” said John. He swayed again, and Sherlock pulled him over to lean against his chest, holding him tight and close. John allowed himself to slump against him. “Sorry,” he said. “Probably getting blood all over your clothes.”

“As if that matters,” said Sherlock. He glanced at his watch with a frown. “Where the hell is Greg? He should be here by now.”

The edges of John's vision were beginning to darken. “If I pass out,” he said, and there was a slur to his words that he couldn't seem to control.

“Don't,” said Sherlock sharply.

John ignored him. “If I pass out, don't worry,” he said. “It's just the blood loss.”

“Oh, good,” said Sherlock. “No one ever dies of that.”

John let out a choked half-laugh. “I'm not going to die,” he said as firmly as he could. “I'm not going to give that psycho the satisfaction.”

There was the sound of echoing, rushing footsteps in the distance, followed by voices.

“This way!” someone shouted.

“We're in here!” Sherlock shouted back.

Two policemen burst into the room and the shocked look they got when they saw John was enough to tell John just how awful he looked, covered in blood and mostly naked, leaning drunkenly against Sherlock.

“We need an ambulance,” Sherlock told them.

“Of course,” said one of them, already pulling out his radio.

John allowed himself a deep breath and shut his eyes. Just for a moment, now that it was all over.

 

****

 

When he woke up, he was in a hospital and the pain was buried under the haze of drugs. Sherlock was sitting by his bed, sprawled out as if he'd been there a while. When he saw that John was awake, he sat forward with an expression that John wasn't sure how to classify.

“John,” he said urgently.

“Yes?” replied John, then coughed. His mouth and throat were horribly dry – he tried to remember the last time he'd drunk something, but had to give up when he realised he wasn't even sure if it was Monday or Tuesday. It almost certainly wasn't Sunday any more.

Sherlock didn't reply. Instead, he picked up a glass of water that was by the bed and held it carefully for John so that he could drink. The water slid down John's throat, feeling as if it was replenishing every cell on the way down. He shut his eyes to savour it, then had to open them again rather quickly when Jim's leering face appeared on the inside of his eyelids.

“Did they get him?” he asked as anxiety – he refused to call it panic – rose up in him. If Jim was at large somewhere, then he might try again. John wasn't sure he'd be able to last through another kidnap-and-torture session.

“Don't worry,” said Sherlock. “They got him.” The three words sent a flood of relief through John that was even more welcome than the water had been.

“In fact,” continued Sherlock, “you managed to miss all the excitement. He was still hiding down in the tunnels when the police arrived. He became rather violent at the prospect of arrest, and then tried to persuade them that he was just an innocent bystander, and that it had all been me.”

John snorted, then regretted it when the movement lit up his chest with pain for a moment. “I can imagine Greg's reaction to that,” he said.

“It didn't go particularly well for him,” agreed Sherlock. “Although, before Greg arrived I'm pretty sure he had Anderson mostly convinced.”

“Anderson's an idiot,” John pointed out.

“True,” said Sherlock. “You should have been awake for it. Being unconscious was just boring.” There was something about the way he said boring that made John think he meant something else by it.

“I think I've had enough of Jim's brand of excitement to last me for quite a while,” he said instead.

Sherlock was still and silent for a split-second. “Yes,” he said eventually, his eyes flicking down to the mass of white bandages that was John's arm.

“How is it?” asked John. “He didn't cut anything important, did he?”

“They don't think so,” said Sherlock. That was good – John had enough nerve damage already. “They did a skin graft,” he added. “And put rather a lot of stitches in your chest.”

John nodded. “Yeah, I thought they would,” he said. He regarded the outside of the bandages for a moment. “I suppose I'm lucky that he started with my right hand,” he said.

“Nothing about this can be attributed to good fortune,” said Sherlock sharply.

“It could have been a lot worse,” argued John. He really hadn't thought he'd escape with so little damage, not once Jim got properly started. Even in the most optimistic thoughts of rescue that he'd allowed himself, it had been several hours before the police found him. God knows what he'd have been like by then. He remembered how Jim had taken his time with it, as calm as anything as he cut into John's flesh. He'd had the attitude of a man who could have kept going for hours, for days. John shut the thought down as firmly as he could, refocussing on Sherlock's face in order to blot out Jim's.

“He thought he had all the time in the world, that no one would ever find me,” he said. “How the hell did you?”

Sherlock shrugged. “It was simple,” he said. “Anyone could have done it if they'd just been paying attention.”

“The police didn't,” John pointed out. “All those other murders and they never even had a clue it was Jim. Greg wouldn't have been hanging out with him if he'd been a suspect.”

Sherlock made a familiar, disgusted face. “The police are idiots,” he said. “If I'd been investigating this case, I'd have known it was Jim from the very first murder.”

“Did you tell Greg that?” asked John. He was starting to feel really tired again and the drugs had worn off just enough to let him know that he wanted to be asleep before they faded much more, but he didn't want to shut his eyes just yet. As long as he kept his eyes on Sherlock, it felt like he could pretend that the ordeal had never happened.

“He told me rather a lot more than that,” said Greg, standing in the doorway. “He was rather forceful on the subject.”

Sherlock let out an exasperated breath. “You were being so blind,” he said.

“Right,” said Greg, rolling his eyes at John, who suppressed a smile. “Good to see you awake, mate.”

“Thanks,” said John. “I might not be for very much longer,” he added. There was only so long he could hold off falling back asleep when he felt like this, after all.

Sherlock gave him an affronted glare. “You only just woke up!” he pointed out.

John snorted. “Explain the healing process to our genius here,” he said to Greg tiredly. “I'm just going to shut my eyes for a moment.”

“Oh, fine,” said Sherlock ungraciously. “I'll save my explanation of how I found you for later.” His attempt at annoyance was rather betrayed by the way his hand moved just far enough to cover John's, though. He patted at it and John finally shut his eyes, able to concentrate on the touch to keep his mind from throwing up images of Jim's grinning face.

It didn't take him very long at all to fall back asleep.

 

****

 

The second time he woke up, it was dark and Sherlock was still there. He was clearly exhausted with dark shadows under his eyes and hair that had passed through his usual 'artfully ruffled' style into 'dishevelled mess'. Even his clothes were crumpled – something John had thought impossible. He'd had a tiny, private theory that Sherlock extruded some kind of anti-wrinkle forcefield that kept everything precisely in place and it was disappointing to have it proved wrong.

“Hasn't anyone sent you home yet?” he asked, his voice still hoarse.

“They tried,” said Sherlock.

John pictured various nurses and doctors trying to get Sherlock to do something he didn't want to do, and winced in sympathy for them. “What time is it?” he asked, then corrected himself. “Actually, better start with what day it is.”

“It's Tuesday now,” said Sherlock. He glanced at his watch. “And quarter past five. In the morning.”

“Christ,” said John. Someone must have called the clinic and told them he wouldn't be in. He wondered if they'd told them why, if he'd have to deal with Sarah's sympathy once he was well enough to go back. The thought made him feel sick as he realised that this was going to become public knowledge. Everyone was going to know that he was the guy who'd been tied up and tortured by a maniac. He could already picture the half-curious, half-pitying looks he'd get next time they went out. It was going to be hell.

Sherlock wasn't looking at him like that, though. His facial expression wasn't one of the ones that John could easily identify, but pity wasn't in his repertoire. Besides, the exhaustion of having been sat in a hospital for far too long seemed to be drowning everything else out.

“They really should have chucked you out by now,” he said, thinking about what his reaction would have been if he'd had someone like Sherlock refusing to leave one of his patients. “Aren't you bored?”

Sherlock shrugged in an off-hand manner. “There's plenty to entertain me here.”

John groaned. “Oh god, are you running some experiment?” he asked. “Using this as an opportunity to find out how easy it is to get laid in a hospital?”

“I ran that experiment ages ago,” said Sherlock. “Why do you think that Mike Stamford knew to find me at Barts when we first met?”

John had wondered about that once he'd got to know Sherlock, and then carefully shut away the train of thought when all he could come up with were disturbing reasons. “I thought you were using the chemistry lab,” he said.

“Oh, I was,” said Sherlock. “I combined the experiment with an attempt to create a better lube, but the results for that were inconclusive.” Which was Sherlock-speak for 'it went horribly wrong'. John immediately decided to never ask any more questions about it.

“So, why are you still here?” he asked. “I've spent too much time in hospitals to believe that they're really the hotbed of sex that the telly always makes them out to be.”

Sherlock looked at him with exasperation. “You're here.”

John had no idea how to respond to that. “Oh,” he said eventually.

“You really are an idiot sometimes,” said Sherlock, but he sounded fond rather than irritated.

John just made a grumpy noise in response and let his eyes fall shut again. Somehow, knowing that Sherlock was set on staying close made him feel safe enough to go back to sleep.

 

****

 

John spent the morning being poked at by what seemed to be every medical practitioner in the building while he tried to remain calm and avoid snapping, 'I am a doctor, you know. There's no need to treat me like a five-year-old.' He knew they were just doing their jobs, but there was something about the way they examined him that reminded him of the way Jim had looked at him as he cut into him. It put him on edge and made him more than a little tetchy, especially when combined with the pain he was in.

Having Sherlock next to him was more of a help than he'd have thought. For one thing, he knew that if he did lose his rein on his temper, Sherlock was likely to join in on his side and start making cuttingly hurtful personal remarks at the medical staff, and they didn't deserve that. For another, whenever he found himself on the verge of snapping, all he had to do was look at Sherlock and take a couple of long, deep breaths, and he immediately felt better.

He did back the nurse up when she insisted on throwing Sherlock out of the room when it came time to change his dressings, though. Sherlock might have seen it all already, but that didn't stop John from wanting to keep his injuries as private as possible.

The last layer of gauze hurt coming off and when he looked down at himself, he wished he hadn't. He was a mess of bruises and lacerations, criss-crossing across his chest. The initial cut that Jim had made was deep enough to have needed several stitches, as were some of the deeper marks from the whip.

It looked horrific and he had to force himself to look at it from a doctor's point-of-view, viewing the work that had been done on him and trying to work out if he'd have done it differently. He couldn't hide from the truth that it was going to leave scars, though, which caused him a few moments of mind-clenching fear. He really didn't want to have a permanent reminder of Jim carved into his flesh.

The nurse did his arm next, and John was forced to accept that he was going to be stuck with the scarring from this for the rest of his life. The skin graft looked to be taking well, but there was no way it would heal well enough for the design that Jim had carved into him to ever go away. The straight edges of the heart were carved with careful neatness and perfectly symmetrical, but the top, where Jim had ripped it off as payback for John's comments, was jagged and rough. It looked a little like flames were shooting out of the top of it, and John felt sick when he saw it.

The nurse had just finished rewrapping him in bandages when Greg arrived. Sherlock was still off wherever he'd disappeared to when he'd been thrown out – John was really hoping it was somewhere with food. He wasn't all that sure that Sherlock had eaten anything since he'd gone missing.

Greg raised his eyebrows at the impressive amounts of bandaging. “Looks like you're more than halfway to a mummy costume there, mate,” he said. “Maybe we should have a fancy dress party when you get out of here.”

“I'm not really sure I'd be able to dance much,” said John, wincing as he settled back on the bed. The nurse patted his unbandaged arm gently, then left.

“When you're better then,” said Greg. “Sherlock can come as Dracula or something.”

John groaned. “Please, please don't put the idea in his head,” he said. Sherlock's costumes were legendary – he always went above and beyond, and ended up looking amazing. The last time there had been a costume party, John had been chatting to Doctor Frank N. Furter for nearly half an hour before he realised he was Sherlock. “Are you here for my statement?” he asked.

Greg shook his head. “This is just a social visit. Sherlock told me that if I took your statement without him there, he'd put that I've got some hideously embarrassing STI on his blog, and then I'd never get laid again.”

Given that almost every gay man in London read Sherlock's blog, that wasn't an empty threat. “Mycroft would never believe it,” John pointed out. “And it's not like you're looking to sleep with anyone else. Are you?”

“Oh, God no,” said Greg with feeling. “But it would still be irritating, especially if it got back to my work colleagues. Besides, if Sherlock's making threats like that, it means he cares. Who am I to get in the way of him discovering what it's like to feel protective of someone?”

“You think it's because he's being protective?” asked John. He tried to make that fit, then had to shake his head. If Sherlock wanted to hear John's statement, then there was only one plausible reason why. “It seems more likely that he's just desperate to know exactly what happened. You know how he hates not knowing things.”

“Maybe,” said Greg, but John could hear in his voice that he didn't really believe that. “You didn't see him when you were missing, though. Or when you were unconscious on the way here, come to that.”

Sherlock chose that moment to sweep in. He'd clearly found somewhere to tidy himself up a bit, and was almost back to his usual, perfectly turned-out look. Of course he'd gone for making sure he looked good over actually eating something, John thought with resignation.

“You're in my chair,” he snapped at Greg before John could attempt a greeting.

“I think it's the hospital's chair, actually,” said Greg, not moving.

Sherlock glared at him. “It's reserved for people who manage to actually catch killers, rather than letting them get away with kidnapping John.”

Greg actually flinched.

“Sherlock!” said John, furiously. “That was completely uncalled for!”

“It's sort of true though,” said Greg quietly. He looked gutted, all the easy chatter of the last few minutes disappearing as completely as if it had never been there. “I'm so sorry, John. I should have been able to stop this from happening.”

“Of course you should,” said Sherlock. “Any idiot would have-”

“Shut up,” said John. “Both of you.” He sat up a bit further, then had to pause and breath for a moment when it pulled on his injuries in the wrong way. He didn't let the pain interrupt his glare, though. If he wasn't allowed to get angry with the doctors, then he was bloody well going to get angry at his friends.

“You're both idiots,” he said. “I told you, Sherlock, this was all Jim's fault. I'm not stupid enough to think that Greg did anything less than everything he could, and you shouldn't be either. And that goes for you too, Greg. If you try and apologise again, I'm going to be forced to throw things at you, and that's going to hurt right now.”

Both Sherlock and Greg looked taken aback and a bit shame-faced. John gave them one last glare for good measure, then relaxed back against the bed again, trying to calm his breathing to the point where it didn't make his chest burn with every inhale.

“Right,” said Greg, clearing his throat. “Point taken.”

Sherlock let out a huff of air. “Do try not to hurt yourself,” he said to John, then went off to get another chair from one of the other cubicles.

The anger ebbed out of John as quickly as it had arrived and he felt a bit embarrassed by the strength of it. Well, the two of them deserved it, he thought. He had enough problems right now without bickering and self-flagellation.

 

****

 

They kept him in the hospital for another night. John was finally able to persuade Sherlock to go home that evening, mainly by pointing out just how insane his hair was going to get if he didn't go home and wash it soon. Sherlock left with a scowl and a promise to be back in the morning.

John had what he assumed was going to be the first of many Jim-inspired nightmares that he had to look forward to that night. Jim was cutting at him, his knife circling around John's heart, sawing through his ribs as he giggled with insane glee. When he'd finished, he reached inside John's chest and pulled out his heart, then set it on fire.

John woke up with a start that made his chest ache. He lay still, working on controlling his breathing for a long time, trying to push the images to the back of his head like he'd learnt to do with his Afghanistan nightmares. It wasn't as easy when the memories were still so fresh, though, and he lay awake for several hours, listening to the hushed bustle of the hospital and telling himself that it would get better, he just had to keep it together and get through this.

His left hand had started shaking at some stage during the previous day, like it had after he'd been shot. He'd thought he'd put the tremor behind him, but it seemed that it had just been waiting for an excuse to come back. As he lay there, trying to think calming thoughts, he had to clench it into a fist in order to control the shaking. Right back where I started, he thought, which led to a trail of other depressing thoughts. God, he hated hospitals.

Sherlock was as good as his word, turning up the second it might be considered morning, and John was ridiculously relieved to see him. He tried to hide it, but he didn't think he was all that successful, especially as the first thing he did once Sherlock was close enough was to grab at his arm.

Sherlock gave him a narrow-eyed look, then put his hand over John's and squeezed gently. “We'll get you out of here today,” he said, as if John's reaction was perfectly normal.

He spent most of the morning badgering John's doctor until he finally caved and agreed that John could be discharged that afternoon. John let him, although he tried to rein Sherlock in whenever his comments got too personal.

“You have to make sure you take care of those wounds though,” said the doctor to John. “I don't have to tell you that an infection could be nasty.”

“No, you don't,” said Sherlock before John could reply. “He's a doctor, he knows all this already.”

The doctor glared at him and left without another comment, and John thought to himself that he probably wouldn't have been discharged so quickly if the staff weren't so keen to get rid of Sherlock. Well, whatever got him out of here and home as soon as possible.

 

****

 

Greg arrived with a change of clothes when it was finally time for John to be discharged. “I brought my car,” he said. “You don't want to be messing about with taxis right now.”

“I'm not getting in your car,” said Sherlock with a grimace. He had some anti-police car thing that went back to long before John had known him and which apparently included Greg's car. John had a sneaking suspicion that it was something to do with the drugs habit that was only very occasionally alluded to.

“Well, I'm going in Greg's car,” said John, picking up the shirt Greg had brought and wondering just how much it was going to hurt to put it on. “So if you get a taxi, it'll be on your own.”

Sherlock stared at him for a long moment, then turned to Greg and held up one long finger. “No locks,” he said fiercely. “And you'll drive far more carefully than you usually do.”

“Noted,” said Greg, sounding amused. He glanced over at John, who was still regarding the clothes with a grimace. “I'll get you a wheelchair,” he said, and left him to it.

John wasted half a second wishing that Sherlock would disappear as well and leave him to the humiliating business of getting dressed on his own, but there didn't seem much chance of that. He started carefully taking off the hospital's pyjamas, wincing at every movement that pulled on his chest. His hand was shaking just enough to make undoing buttons a bit of a challenge, and the longer it took him just to take off his shirt, the worst it got.

Sherlock let out a long sigh, as if he couldn't believe how ridiculous the world around him was. “Let me do that,” he said, stepping in and taking over.

“I'm fine,” said John crossly, trying to fight off Sherlock's hands.

“No, you're not,” said Sherlock, ignoring John's feeble attempts to get rid of him. “Honestly, if you're going to make a fuss and bother about being helped, this is going to be a very long recovery period for both of us.”

John gave up with a sigh, letting Sherlock peel off his pyjama top and replace it with his shirt, carefully pulling it on over his bandages. “I'm not expecting you to play nursemaid,” he said.

“That's good,” said Sherlock. “I don't really have the legs for a nurse's uniform.”

That conjured up a mental image that derailed John's train of thought.

“Actually, that's a lie,” said Sherlock after he'd done up a few of the buttons. “I look great in a skirt.”

John snorted. “Always so modest,” he said.

“There's no point in modesty,” said Sherlock.

Sherlock helped him into his clothes with more care that John would have expected, although he wasn't sure why he was surprised. Getting someone into their clothes wasn't all that different from getting them out of them, after all, and Sherlock was an expert on that.

Greg turned up with a wheelchair and a doctor, who gave John some last minute instructions he didn't need, then finally let him go.

 

****

 

John sank down onto the sofa with a sigh, carefully avoiding putting pressure on the skin graft donor site on his thigh. He wasn't moving again for a good few hours, and damn the rest of the world. His chest had not enjoyed the move from the hospital to Baker Street and he needed some time to recover.

Sherlock stood over him for a moment, staring at him with narrowed eyes. “Tea,” he announced abruptly, and turned away to the kitchen.

“Sounds great,” said Greg, settling down into an armchair.

Sherlock glared at him. “You're not staying,” he said. “John's home now, we don't need your help now.”

“Sherlock,” said John wearily. “Stop being a prat. Greg can stay as long as he likes.”

“And besides,” added Greg, “I need to get John's statement.”

John made a face. “I've changed my mind,” he said. “You should leave now.”

“Hah!” said Sherlock with glee. “You heard him. Get out.”

Greg ignored him. “John, mate,” he said. “I know it's an awful thing to do, but I've put it off as long as I can.”

John let out a slow breath. Part of him had been hoping that he'd never have to go through what had happened with Jim, but he'd known that was a false hope. At least he knew Greg, and he wasn't having to go through it all with a stranger. “Fine,” he conceded. “Tea first, though.”

Sherlock made an unhappy noise but continued his aborted journey to the kitchen.

“And while I'm here,” Greg called to him, “I should get yours as well.”

“Yeah,” said John. “I'd really like to find out how you found me.”

“It was ridiculously simple,” said Sherlock, but John could tell that he was looking forward to laying his genius out for them.

“Of course it was,” said Greg, catching John's eye and sending a private smile to him. John smiled back, finally feeling like he was able to relax now that he was home and surrounded by his friends.

 

****

 

Getting through what Jim had done to him was much harder than John would have thought, even with a cup of tea in his hand and Sherlock's comforting presence beside him on the sofa. He'd been expecting a stream of interruptions and questions from him, but Sherlock remained silent the whole way through. He had his leg pressed close against John's, but John couldn't bring himself to look up from his tea to find out what his expression was.

He found he remember the ordeal in a lot more detail than he'd have expected. Every one of Jim's mocking comments seemed to be engraved on his memory. His hand began to shake again, and he clung to his mug tighter, trying to force it into steadiness. When he got to the part where Jim had taken photos of his wounds, he had to give up and put the tea down on the table, or risk spilling it.

“We found the photos on his camera,” said Greg quietly. “And ones that he'd taken of the other victims. He'd printed them out and put them into photo albums.”

John thought about how many photos he must have taken to need more than one album, and how many wounds that must have represented for the victims. “Christ,” he said with feeling, clenching his hand into a fist on his knee.

Sherlock reached over and covered it with his own, cutting off John's tremors. “Keep going,” he said.

John took a deep breath and continued. When he'd finished, there was a long silence.

“Christ,” said Greg eventually, looking down at the paper he'd been taking notes on. “How did we all miss what a sick fuck he was?”

Sherlock stood up in a sudden surge and paced the length of the room, and then back again. “Because he was a gifted actor, and took care to come across as slightly off-kilter, so that any personality aberrations were merely written off. Besides, he was relying on the fact that people just don't ever see what's in front of them – everyone walks through the world with their eyes shut. Not me, though, I should have seen it, I knew there was something off, why didn't I realise it was that? So stupid-” He started yanking at his hair as if he was going to pull it out at the roots.

“Stop it,” said John firmly. Sherlock stopped pacing. “Sit down,” continued John and, miracle of miracles, Sherlock actually did. “I don't have the energy for any melodrama today,” John continued once Sherlock was settled back next to him on the sofa. “If you're really going to need me to point out that Jim fooled all of us, and that just because you're a genius doesn't mean you get to take responsibility for everything, it will have to wait until tomorrow.”

Sherlock scowled. “I should have seen it,” he muttered rebelliously. “If I'd just seen the crime files sooner-”

“And yet, oddly, we're not in the habit of showing them to civilians,” put in Greg. “How about you take us through how you did work it out and leave the self-recrimination for now?”

Sherlock let out a long-suffering sigh. “Obviously, the moment I saw in the crime scene photos that-”

“No,” cut in Greg. “I'm going to need it all. Go from when you first realised that John was missing.”

“This is a ridiculous waste of time,” said Sherlock. “You have Jim, you have more than enough proof, why on earth do you need me to go through all this?”

“I want to hear it,” said John. He poked Sherlock gently in the side. “Go on, you heard my side of it all. Now it's your turn.”

Sherlock looked at him for a long moment. “I first realised John was missing when he failed to come back from his walk,” he started, ostensibly talking to Greg, but keeping his eyes on John. “When he goes off to walk out his frustration, he invariably takes between half an hour and forty-five minutes. I allowed another quarter of an hour in order for him to get the takeaway, but when it had been an hour and a half, I texted him.”

John tried not to let his surprise show on his face. He had no idea that Sherlock paid so much attention to his habits.

“When there was no reply within ten minutes, and I had made sure that he hadn't left his phone behind, I texted a few more times, and then called him. When there was still no reply, I texted you.”

“And what a wonderfully coherent text that was,” said Greg.

“Wait, you tried calling me that early?” said John. “You hate phoning people.”

“The only times you don't respond to texts immediately are when you're at work, are in a sulk, or have misplaced your phone,” Sherlock pointed out. “And there was a murderer around.”

“A murderer that, until then, had only taken victims from gay clubs, not off the street or at a Chinese takeaway,” said John.

Sherlock made an irritated face. “I was right to be worried,” he said. He turned to glare at Greg. “Even if some people didn't think so.”

“At that point he'd been out of contact for two hours,” said Greg. “If the police got involved every time someone was missing for two hours, we'd never get anything done.”

“And if we'd waited twenty-four hours, he'd be dead right now,” snapped Sherlock.

John held up his hand. “Enough,” he said. “Get on with it – I wasn't answering my phone. What then?”

“I went to find you, of course,” said Sherlock. “Instead I found the takeaway, abandoned in an alleyway, so I called Greg. He was particularly obtuse on the phone-”

“Thanks,” added in Greg dryly.

“-but I did manage to get him to come and take a look,” continued Sherlock. “He didn't see any of the important details at the scene – what is the police force in this country coming to? - so I made him take me back to Scotland Yard so that I could look at the files on the other cases, to see what else he'd missed.”

“Um,” put in John. “Isn't that a bit against procedure?”

“Horribly so,” agreed Greg. “I've no idea how I'm going to explain it to my superiors.”

“Tell them I'm a consultant,” said Sherlock. “It's not as if you'd have solved this case without me, after all.”

“There's a time limit on how much longer I'll put up with this condescending attitude,” said Greg with an irritated look.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Fine,” he said. “Well then, while looking at the crime scene photos, I noticed something that the police hadn't, although I'm sure they would have if they'd hadn't all been temporarily blind that day.”

“What?” asked John before Greg could rise to the bait.

“Footprints,” said Sherlock.

“Actually,” said Greg, “we had noticed those. That's why we had pictures of them.”

“But what you had failed to notice,” said Sherlock, “was that they could only have been made by one pair of shoes. They had clearly been tailor-made.”

“Brilliant,” said John before he could help himself.

Sherlock sent him a quick look. “You know that apparel is an important part of my work.” By which he meant that he used his work as an excuse to spend ridiculous amounts of money on designer clothes. “It was an easy step to go from that to the fact that it must have been Jim – he's the only person I've seen wearing shoes like that. The fact that John had been taken, even though he didn't fit with the profile of the other victims, meant that he'd been right when he said the murders were to do with me. It had to be Jim – it was obvious.”

“It always is, with hindsight,” said Greg.

Sherlock spared him a scornful look. “I went back to the alleyway to see if I could find any trace of where Jim had taken him, but the marks there disappeared when they hit the main road. Really, it would be so much easier if London wasn't paved.”

“But a lot messier,” put in John. He was rather enjoying listening to Sherlock explain his actions – it was a lot better than when he explained exactly how he'd managed to seduce some bloke, and what exactly he'd done with him afterwards. John shifted so that he was facing Sherlock more, wincing as the movement pulled on his chest.

Sherlock sent him a frown. “Probably,” he allowed. “I knew I had to find where Jim had taken you extremely quickly, and I knew that the police weren't going to be any help – Jim wasn't going to have put you anywhere that could be easily found. I realised he must have a secret place where he could take his victims, somewhere that wasn't anywhere near his flat. The only people who'd know where it was would be Jim, and whoever he'd taken back there. Of course, the only reason he'd take someone there would be to kill them, but there was a small chance that someone might have been there and left before Jim had the chance to do anything to them. I called Toby and asked him if any of his friends had ever been taken somewhere like that by Jim.”

“You called in the Twink Army?” asked John.

“That is a highly inaccurate name,” said Sherlock crossly. “You, of all people, should know that they lack almost all the attributes of a real army.”

John laughed, and then regretted it when it sent a fresh burst of pain through his chest. “Right, sorry,” he said. “The Twink Network, then.”

“Better,” allowed Sherlock. “At any rate, Toby got several of his friends to phone around everyone they knew, and eventually they found someone who had had an unpleasant experience with Jim a couple of weeks ago. He'd gone back with him, only to find out they weren't going to Jim's flat, but to a basement storage area that he'd had fitted out as a sex dungeon. He said the whole thing seemed a bit hardcore for him, so when his sister phoned him before they'd really started, he claimed a family emergency and left as quickly as he could.”

“Jesus,” said John. “Does he know how close he came to being killed? If his sister hadn't called...”

“She almost certainly saved his life,” agreed Sherlock. “He stayed on the phone the whole time he was leaving, or Jim would likely have just killed him anyway.”

“I'm surprised he didn't kill him after that,” said Greg. “It's a bit of a loose end, having someone out there who knows where your murder dungeon is.”

“He left to go to Scarborough the next day,” said Sherlock. “I suspect Jim didn't know how to find him.”

“Bloody lucky for him,” said John with feeling.

“And for you,” said Sherlock. “I made him take me to where Jim had taken him, called Greg to let him know where it was, and then went in to get you. There was a room outfitted for a range of sexual activities, where I found a hidden entrance to the tunnels and the room he had you in. You know the rest.”

“Why didn't you wait for the police?” asked John.

“That's what I'd like to know,” said Greg. “Running in on your own like that – we could have arrived to find two corpses and Jim long gone.”

“John was in there,” said Sherlock, as if it was obvious. “What on earth would the point have been of waiting? Anything could have happened to him.”

There wasn't much either John or Greg could say to that. Greg left not long after that, saying that he still had ridiculous amounts of paperwork of his own to do. The moment the door had shut behind him, Sherlock swung round to stare at John. He didn't say anything, though, he just looked while John twitched under his gaze.

“What?” he asked eventually.

“You need food,” Sherlock announced.

“We both need food,” corrected John. “Is there anything edible in the kitchen?” He started to sit up, intending to go and look.

“Don't move,” said Sherlock sternly, and swept off into the kitchen himself.

John relaxed back again, unable to hold in a smile. He could get used to being waited on by Sherlock, although he didn't really think it was going to last long enough for that.

Sherlock rattled through the cupboards and fridge, then re-emerged. “There are some things that might once have been edible,” he said, “but I'm afraid they're not any longer.”

“Takeaway then,” said John. “Or we could nip down to Speedy's.”

“We're not going anywhere,” said Sherlock. “We've still got Doctor Who to watch from Sunday. I'll order something.” He disappeared into the kitchen again, presumably after the takeaway menus. John glanced over at the TV and realised for the first time that there was a stack of DVDs balanced on it. He tipped his head to one side to read the titles and was pleasantly surprised to find that every single one of his top ten episodes was there. It seemed like it was going to be a rather nice evening.

 

****

 

John could have quite happily stayed on the sofa all night, with The Doctor on the screen in front of him and Sherlock sprawled out next to him giving no thought to personal space, but his body had other ideas.

“I'm going to have to go to bed,” he said reluctantly after the credits for Colony In Space had rolled. He felt weighed down by weariness, barely able to keep his eyes open even with Jon Pertwee on the screen, and his chest was beginning to really object to being kept upright, despite how much he had slumped down.

Sherlock sent him a quick glance, then nodded. “We can watch the others tomorrow,” he said, getting up, then turning to help John up. He had to lean rather a lot of his weight on Sherlock as he struggled upright, and he wondered if he shouldn't have gone to bed an episode or two ago.

“Tomorrow?” he repeated once he was up, trying not to enjoy having Sherlock's hands holding on to his arms too much, which was difficult when Sherlock didn't let go immediately. “I thought you'd be going out tomorrow.”

By John's count, Sherlock hadn't had sex since Friday night, unless he actually had managed to get laid at the hospital. Five days – that was almost twice as long as John had ever known him to go without it, except when he was in one of his fits of depression and refusing to leave the sofa, but even those rarely lasted this long.

“Probably not,” said Sherlock, as if it was no big deal. “I think the clubs can survive without me for another night.”

“Right,” said John uncertainly. Sherlock was still standing very close and looking down at John with an odd look, although he had at least let go of John's arms now. There was a pause that wasn't so much awkward as tense, as if they were waiting for something, although John didn't know what. If he'd have been with anyone else, he'd have thought it was in anticipation of a kiss, but Sherlock had made it clear where he stood with that.

John cleared his throat, then regretted it when it just seemed to highlight the weirdness of the moment. “Right, I'm off then,” he said.

Sherlock finally stepped away, nodding. “Good night.”

“Night,” returned John, then escaped up to his room, telling himself that he had to stop letting his imagination run away from him.

 

****

 

The bonds were freezing cold against John's wrists and ankles. Jim was taking photos of his naked body, laughing with delight, and every time he clicked the shutter, another cut slashed across John's flesh. He was covered with blood, far more than he could afford to lose, and it was dripping off him onto the floor, pooling under the table.

Jim skirted around it, carefully keeping his shoes clean and leaving no footprints. “And now it's time for the riding crop,” he said excitedly.

John woke up with a start to find a dark figure standing over his bed. He let out a startled cry and tried to sit up from the stack of pillows half propping him up, then collapsed back when it pulled at the injuries he had somehow managed to forget. He fumbled an arm out for his bedside lamp and turned it on.

It was Sherlock.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” swore John. His heart was thumping so hard that he almost put a hand on it to steady it, before remembering why that would be a bad idea. Trying to sit up had made all his bruises and cuts cry out in pain, and he spent a couple of moments trying to catch his breath. “What the bloody hell are you doing?” he asked eventually.

Sherlock hadn't moved from where he was standing, as if he was frozen in place, but he shifted at the question. “I just needed to check you were here,” he said in a strange, quiet voice.

“You scared the crap out of me,” said John, finally managing to get his breathing back under control.

“Sorry,” said Sherlock, which made John blink. He wasn't sure he'd ever heard Sherlock apologise with sincerity before. “I had an unpleasant dream,” he added.

Ah, so John wasn't the only one having nightmares tonight. And he, at least, was used to coping with them. Sherlock looked bewildered and a little lost. John thought about suddenly finding out what it was like to worry about someone you cared for, and let out a slow sigh. “Me too,” he acknowledged.

“You were gone,” said Sherlock, still speaking in that hushed, middle-of-the-night tone. “I came to make sure you were still here, and then- I found it hard to leave.”

“Okay,” said John. Well, he'd dealt with weirder things from Sherlock than a need for reassurance. He lay still for a few minutes and Sherlock stayed where he was, still silently watching. “Are you going to be here much longer?” he asked.

Sherlock was quiet for long enough to make John wonder if he was ever going to answer. “I'm not sure,” he finally said.

John nodded to himself, then lifted up the corner of his duvet in invitation. “You may as well get in then.”

Sherlock frowned. “For sex?” he asked.

John rolled his eyes. “No, idiot,” he said. “Beds don't always mean sex, you know. If you're going to be watching me, you might as well do it lying down – you might manage to fall asleep again that way. Besides, I'm not sure I'll be able to sleep with you standing there like that.”

“Ah. Right,” said Sherlock. He climbed into the bed gingerly and John shifted over to give him space.

John turned off the lamp and let his eyes shut again. He had almost made it back to sleep when he heard Sherlock whisper, “Thank you.” He was too far under to reply, but he did feel a smile spread over his face as he slipped into sleep.

 

****

 

John woke up to the feel of a hand on his hair, but it disappeared as soon as he shifted so that he wasn't really sure if it was a lingering remnant of a dream or not. When he opened his eyes, Sherlock was looking at him, sitting up against the headboard and frowning slightly. Suddenly, what had seemed like a completely sensible and logical course of action in the middle of the night became incredibly, intensely awkward.

“Um,” said John eloquently. “Good morning.”

“Morning,” returned Sherlock.

There was silence. Treat this as if it were any other morning, thought John.

“Did you sleep okay?” he asked, and then could have kicked himself. That was just the kind of polite small talk phrase that Sherlock despised.

“I slept,” said Sherlock shortly.

“Right,” said John, giving up. Time to just get up and start pretending the whole thing had never happened. He sat up carefully, wary of his injuries. “Well, I'm going to have a wash-”

“We should have sex,” announced Sherlock.

John's head spun around to stare at him. “What?”

Sherlock repeated himself with a touch of irritation, “We should have sex.”

“What the hell?” asked John. “Why?”

“Because we both want to,” said Sherlock, as if it was just that simple.

John shook his head in disbelief. “What happened to not wanting to make things awkward? And not wanting to get bored of me?”

Sherlock scowled. “You could have died,” he said. “We might never have been able to.”

John struggled to get his head around that. “And what? That would have ruined your record?”

“No,” said Sherlock quickly, but John wasn't listening. He held up a hand to stop whatever Sherlock was going to come out with next.

“We're not having sex just because you're worried I'll die and leave you without some of your precious bloody data. And we're not having sex just because you haven't in a few days and I'm the most convenient person.”

“That's not it at all,” said Sherlock with frustration, as if John was the one being unreasonable.

“I don't care,” said John, getting out of bed. “We already talked about this and nothing has changed since then. If you want a shag, you'll have to go off and find one somewhere else.”

“I don't want 'a shag',” said Sherlock petulantly. “I want you.”

John paused and looked at him. It felt like he'd been waiting for those words since he'd met Sherlock, and it took a great deal of effort to not just give in, to climb back into the bed and kiss the irritated frown off Sherlock's face. “And what would happen after?” he made himself ask.

Sherlock looked confused. “After?” he repeated. “I don't know. The same things we always do – breakfast, I suppose. It wouldn't have to be awkward if we didn't want it to be.” He moved closer, clearly sensing John's moment of weakness. “Come on, John,” he said softly. “It would only be one time, and then we could get on without thinking about it any more.”

“Yeah,” said John, nodding to himself. “One time.” He let out a long sigh, letting go of the momentary hope he'd let himself feel. “That's the problem, Sherlock. I told you before, I'm not interested in sex on its own. I'm looking for more than that.”

Sherlock's expression said that he still found that as inexplicable as he always had. John turned to leave.

“John-” said Sherlock behind him.

“We've finished talking about this,” cut in John and left the room without looking back.

 

****

 

John had a very awkward and less than satisfying bath, working around his bandages as much as he could. Getting dressed was even more fun and by the time he'd finished, he really just wanted to lie down and have a rest for a bit, but he took a deep breath and went downstairs instead. He was going to need breakfast if he was going to take as many painkillers as he really wanted to.

When he finally got down to the sitting room, Sherlock was lying on the sofa in his sulking pose. John thought about ignoring him, then decided to just carry on as if nothing had happened. There was no point in making things awkward without even having sex first.

“I'm making breakfast,” he told the back of Sherlock's head. “Do you want some?”

“Dull!” announced Sherlock.

“Right,” said John. “I'll just make you tea then.” He went into the kitchen, leaving Sherlock to it. He flicked on the kettle then turned to get the mugs and faced his first problem. The mugs were on the top shelf of the cupboard and would involve a bit of a stretch to get at. Normally not a problem, but even the thought of it made his chest hurt now. He scowled to himself. There was nothing he hated more than being an invalid.

He reached up carefully, but no amount of care was going to stop his injuries from protesting the stretch and despite his best attempt to keep quiet, he let out a pained breath of air.

There was a flurry of limbs and dressing gown, and Sherlock appeared in the kitchen. “Idiot,” he said scathingly and got the mugs down for John. “You're hurting yourself.”

“I could have done it,” snapped John back.

“But there's no need to,” said Sherlock. “Go and sit down, and stop straining yourself.”

“I'm fine,” insisted John. “I want toast.”

“Sit,” repeated Sherlock in a tone that brooked no arguments, pointing at the sofa. “I will make your toast.”

The idea of Sherlock making breakfast for him was enough to shut John up and he obediently went and sat down. “With jam,” he called back at Sherlock.

“Well, of course,” said Sherlock, still sounding cross. A couple of minutes later he came in with John's painkillers and a cup of tea, both of which John gratefully accepted.

“Thanks,” he said, giving Sherlock a smile. Positive reinforcement probably wasn't going to do a lot to get Sherlock to make him tea more often, but it didn't hurt to try. Besides, he was going to be stuck in the flat for at least the next few days, and the last thing he wanted was to have to put up with one of the atmospheres that Sherlock was so talented at generating.

“It's ridiculous to cause yourself pain rather than just ask me,” said Sherlock, sounding as stern as if he was a parent reprimanding a child. Usually that was John's role.

John glanced at the tea. “There's nothing in this, right?” he asked cautiously.

Sherlock let out a sigh. “Just milk and sugar,” he said. “I wouldn't experiment on you. Well, not while you're hurt, anyway.”

“Good,” said John, taking a careful sip. “Let me know when you consider me well enough to be experimented on, will you?”

Sherlock went back into the kitchen muttering about ungrateful flatmates and John smiled to himself. So much for his sulk.

 

****

 

The word seemed to have got out that John was back from the hospital, because everyone came round to see him that day, much to Sherlock's annoyance and John's surprise. He'd thought people just thought of him as 'that guy who hangs out with Sherlock', so having everyone drop by to make sure he was okay was oddly touching.

Molly came over about mid-morning. “I can't stay too long,” she said. “I've left Jacob in charge of the shop, and he still blushes whenever people ask him practical questions about our dildo range.”

“Perhaps he just needs some more experience,” said Sherlock with a smirk that John knew all too well. He tried not to let himself react to it, although he couldn’t prevent the bitter thought that it had only been a few hours ago that he was claiming that John was the only one he wanted to sleep with, and now he was wanting to give a stranger some experience with dildos. He is who he is, thought John. This is why you said no, remember?

“You leave him alone,” said Molly with a lot more firmness than John had ever heard her show Sherlock before. “He's got an adorable boyfriend and I don't want you to mess that up.”

Sherlock shrugged and threw himself down in his chair. “Infidelity is so boring,” he said. “There's always too much guilt.”

“I bought you these,” said Molly, handing John a bag. “I wasn't sure what to bring, really. Sorry. Just thought you might get bored, and, well. They're what I had to hand.”

John looked inside the bag. There was a box of chocolates and three porn DVDs. “Ah, thank you,” he said, taking the DVDs out and glancing at the covers.

“Show me,” demanded Sherlock, grabbing them off him and flicking through them. “Dull, dull- Oh. This is the one where ninety percent of the action is anatomically impossible unless you've had at least one vertebrae removed.” He dumped the others on the table and started to examine the case of the last one. John winced at the mental images.

“I brought that one for him,” Molly said to him quietly while Sherlock was distracted. “I thought it might keep him occupied for a bit.”

John gave her a genuine smile. “Thank you,” he said with feeling. The gift of some entertainment for Sherlock was worth a lot. “Did you want some tea?”

“That would be great,” said Molly.

“I’ll make it,” said Sherlock, shooting John a glare before he’d even thought about standing up. “You’re not allowed to move.” He sprang up and into the kitchen, taking the DVD with him. John wondered if they’d ever get tea, or if Sherlock would wander off to watch it in his room instead.

“Wow,” said Molly, then blushed when John turned to look at her. “Sorry,” she said. “It’s just, making tea doesn’t really seem his style.”

“It’s not very often,” said John. “You’re very lucky.” Or incredibly unlucky, he thought. “Sherlock!” he called.

Sherlock appeared in the kitchen doorway. “What?”

“Just milk and sugar, right?” prompted John. “For all of us.”

“No sugar for me,” added Molly.

Sherlock scowled at him. “Yes, yes,” he said impatiently, and disappeared again. John couldn’t tell if he was annoyed that John had bothered saying anything, or because he’d been caught before he’d had a chance to add something disturbing to Molly’s tea.

John opened the chocolates that Molly had brought to have with their tea and was gently trying to steer Sherlock away from detailing all the positions that were covered in his new DVD, complete with commentary on just how much pleasure was achievable in each if done correctly, when Toby arrived, bringing one of the members of the Twink Army with him.

“John!” he said. “How fabulous to see you looking so well!”

John thought about just what kind of rumours could be circling about his condition and then promptly shut down the train of thought when it brought up all kinds of unpleasant images of what Jim might have done to him, given time.

“Oh, I’m all right, really,” he said. Toby was wearing a tight pink t-shirt that said ‘Boys Boys Boys’ on it, and John wondered if he’d read a book on stereotypes as a child and decided that they sounded like fun.

“No, you’re not,” said Sherlock, sounding even more grumpy than he had when Molly arrived. “And these people are cluttering up our flat.”

“Oh, Sherlock,” said Toby. “Don’t worry, you look fabulous too. Love what you’ve done with your hair.”

Sherlock hadn’t done anything with his hair as far as John was aware, but the compliment made him look less grumpy. For a genius, he was sometimes astonishingly easy to manipulate.

“Honestly, though, John,” said Toby, suddenly looking more serious than John had ever seen him. “I can't tell you how good it is to see you. When I heard you were missing, and after Miles-” He broke off and took a quick breath. “Well,” he finished. “I was scared for you. We all were.”

John had no idea how to respond to that. With everything that had happened, he'd forgotten that one of Jim's other victims had been a friend of Toby's. He nodded. “From what Sherlock said, he couldn't have found me without you,” he said. “I'm extremely grateful.”

Toby shrugged that away. “We were glad to help,” he said. “Besides, all I did was call a few people. This is the guy you really should be thanking.” He gestured at the man with him, who had been hanging back, looking oddly nervous. “This is David. He’s the one who told Sherlock where Jim's...lair was.”

“Uh. Hi,” said David awkwardly. He was a bit older than Toby and standing next to him, he looked a bit faded somehow, as if he’d been flamboyant once, but had found it to be too much effort.

“I owe you a lot,” said John. “Please, come in and sit down.” Sherlock made a muted noise of irritation.

“You can have my seat,” said Molly, standing up. “I should get back to Jacob before the bondage delivery arrives. I’m not sure he’d be able to cope with that.”

“Let me know if anything exciting comes in,” said Sherlock.

“There’s nothing today,” said Molly, tipping her head to one side and thinking. “I’ve a new range of whips coming in a couple of weeks, though.”

John flinched at the word ‘whips’ and then hated himself for it.

“No whips,” snapped Sherlock.

“Right,” said Molly, looking at John with a wide-eyed look that made him want to disappear into the sofa to get away. “Sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks for coming round,” John said, trying to break the moment before Molly disintegrated completely. “And thanks for the presents.”

“Oooh!” said Toby, bouncing on his toes. His sombre mood was gone as completely as if it had never been, although John thought that it was just covered over with his usual brand of up-beat excitement at any tiny thing, rather than gone completely. “We brought presents too. Look!” He thrust a bag at John, who took it rather gingerly, not sure what present Toby would think was fitting and not sure he wanted to find out.

“Bye,” said Molly quickly, and disappeared out of the door.

John watched her go with a sense of futile annoyance. He hated that there was this thing in the room, not being talked about and tripping up the conversation, but he knew he'd hate it even more if anyone was actually trying to talk about it. He let out a long, slow breath through his nose, pushing the shadow that the idea of whips had cast over his mind away.

He glanced down at the bag Toby had given him, then back up at his expectant face. God only knew what was in there. “Do you want tea?” he asked both Toby and David, trying to put off opening it for a bit.

“Tea would be Amazing,” said Toby with more feeling that it really necessitated.

“Please,” added David.

John looked at Sherlock, who huffed out an almighty sigh and then headed back into the kitchen. John braced himself, then finally looked in the bag. It contained grapes. Somehow that seemed oddly normal for Toby – they weren't even pink or glittery.

“I thought we’d go traditional,” said Toby.

David cleared his throat. “Actually, he wanted to bring you a pink cowboy hat, but I told him fruit would be better.”

John raised his eyebrows. “Then that’s the second time you’ve saved me,” he said. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Toby attempted to look annoyed. “Everyone should have a cowboy hat.”

“I’ve lived this long without one,” said John, “I think I’m going to be okay a bit longer.”

“John,” said Sherlock in a serious voice, coming back with the tea. “If you ever acquire a cowboy hat, I shall be forced to ask you to move out.”

John nodded. “That seems more than fair.”

Toby let out a long sigh. “You guys just don’t understand,” he said sadly.

Greg brought lunch around for them not long after that, which was a relief for John. Sherlock might be able to manage tea and toast without messing it up, but anything more complicated might end up with the kitchen on fire or something even more dramatic. He didn't have the energy for that right now.

“Oh, hello,” Greg said, sounding surprised at the number of people in the flat. “Am I missing a party?”

“Oh! Oh yes!” said Toby as if he was having an epiphany. “That’s it! John!”

“What?” asked John warily.

“You are going to come out on Friday, right? We should get everyone out, make a Proper Fiesta of it! Celebrate having a murderer-free scene again!”

“There are almost certainly other murderers around,” put in Sherlock, quietly enough that everyone was able to pretend they hadn't heard.

“Ah,” said John, trying to imagine being in a club again and just coming up with the pain that dancing would cause him right now, interspersed with images of Jim smirking from the edge of the dance floor. “I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about going out, to be honest.”

“Of course you’re not going out,” snapped Sherlock. “You’re still recovering.”

Enough was enough. John glared at him. “Stop telling me what I can and can’t do,” he said. “I am a doctor, you know, and I have been injured before. I know my limits.”

“Do you?” asked Sherlock. “Because your actions so far would not suggest that.”

John felt rage surge up in him, that peculiar, white-hot fury that only Sherlock seemed capable of summoning in him. Sherlock was the very last person to lecture anyone on what was reckless and what wasn't.

“Perhaps next weekend, then?” suggested Toby, breaking the crackling tension of the moment.

John pulled his angry gaze away from Sherlock. “Yeah, I’ll be up for it by then,” he said defiantly. His chest would be healed enough, certainly, and he was damned if the memory of Jim was going to keep him from doing the things he loved.

“Excellent!” said Toby, bouncing up from his seat. “You can be Guest Of Honour, then. And everyone can wear cowboy hats!”

“No,” said John, David and Greg all at the same time.

“Over my dead body,” added Sherlock. “Or, more likely, yours.”

Toby pouted. “Oh, fine,” he said. “Come on, David, let’s go and alert The Troops!” He swept out with David trailing behind him, leaving them with a half-hearted wave.

“Troops,” repeated John, once they'd gone. “See, even Toby thinks they're an army.”

“Yes, but he's an imbecile,” said Sherlock. He picked up the bag of food that Greg had brought up from Speedy’s and started poking through it.

“Aren’t you going to make Greg tea?” prompted John, wondering how much more domestic service he could get out of Sherlock.

Sherlock sent him an evil glare. “Greg can make his own tea,” he said. Ah, apparently he'd hit his limit.

“I don’t really need any,” said Greg, glancing between them and looking amused. “Got to get back to the Yard soon, anyway. Suspicious circumstances on the death of an M.P. There’s never any let-up.”

He left them eating lunch, after which Sherlock brought John his painkillers and insisted that he rest.

“I'm fine,” said John, although he was beginning to feel a bit battered. Who knew that drinking tea could be so exhausting?

“Sleep is extremely important for the healing process,” said Sherlock. “You told me that at the hospital.” He looked stubborn in the way that usually meant 'no, John, I will not agree to keep my cock rings somewhere out of sight.'

“How about we put on some Doctor Who?” suggested John, shifting so that he was stretched out along the sofa, which eased the stress on his chest a bit. There was an awkward moment when he caught the patch of bare skin on his thigh from the graft against the sofa, then he managed to find a position that put as little stress on his injuries as possible. He was really starting to get fed up with how careful he had to be to avoid knocking any of his many wounds. “I might drop off during it,” he added.

Sherlock scoffed. “You'd never fall asleep while there was a Time Lord on the screen.” He thought for a moment. “How about we watch something of mine?” he said, and disappeared off into his room.

“Not porn!” John called after him.

“It's not porn,” said Sherlock when he came back with a DVD, sounding as if the idea was ridiculous when John knew that he had two bookcases in his room filled with nothing but porn. “It's arthouse.”

“Right,” said John uncertainly. Well, he'd made Sherlock watch an awful lot of his DVDs, it was probably only fair to watch one of his.

It was porn. It was in black-and-white and the sex was interspersed with the occasional scene of the characters sitting around in cafés looking melancholy, but John knew porn when he saw it. There seemed to be some sort of plot, but even if it hadn't been entirely in French, John was pretty sure he wouldn't have had any idea of what was going on. He was asleep within fifteen minutes.

 

****

 

When he woke up, there was a blanket draped over him and the TV was off. Sherlock was crouched in his chair with one hand curled around the neck of his violin, but he wasn't playing it. He was looking at John with a frown, probably lost in his own mind somewhere.

“Did I miss the end?” asked John, rubbing at his face in an attempt to get rid of the muzzy feeling of having napped during the day.

“I turned it off,” said Sherlock.

“Right,” said John, struggling into more of a sitting position. “I guess it had served its purpose.”

“You needed to sleep,” said Sherlock stubbornly.

“Yeah,” said John. He should probably be more annoyed about being manipulated so blatantly, but he rather liked that his welfare was clearly important enough to Sherlock to make him sit through that awful film just so that John would get some rest. It certainly seemed a bit much to gripe at him about it when John really did feel much better for having had some sleep.

“Why do you even have that rubbish?” he asked instead.

“Maybe I like it,” said Sherlock. He was still watching John with a curiously intent look, not having moved an inch since John had woken up. John wondered if his hair had decided to do something ridiculous whilst he slept and ran a hand through it, hoping to tame it a bit.

“No, you don't,” he said with confidence. He knew Sherlock well enough to know what he liked to watch. “It was pretentious as hell and besides, the sex was all vanilla.”

Sherlock's face burst into a grin. “It was a present,” he said. “From someone who didn't know me as well as you do.”

“Well, do me a favour,” said John, “and never make me watch it again.”

“I wouldn't put myself through that again,” said Sherlock. He leapt up from his chair in one of his sudden displays of energy. “Besides, now you've slept, we can watch Doctor Who.”

“Brilliant,” said John, which won him another grin over Sherlock's shoulder as he changed the DVD.

 

****

 

John had another nightmare that night but this time when he woke up, the room was empty. He lay there, getting his breathing under control, and told himself firmly that that was a good thing.

They spent the next few days in the flat, until John thought he was going to go nuts from cabin fever. He'd expected Sherlock to go off clubbing on the Friday night at least – in all the time he'd known Sherlock, he'd never missed at least one of his weekend nights out, but when it came to their usual going out time, Sherlock was still hunched over his laptop in his dressing gown.

“When are you heading out?” John asked.

“I'm not,” said Sherlock.

There was silence for a good few moments as John stared at him, trying to wrap his mind around that. Eventually Sherlock glanced up, took in John's incredulous stare, and rolled his eyes.

“You're not going out,” he pointed out, as if John's plans had ever affected his.

“You don't have to stay with me,” said John. “I'll be fine on my own.”

“I know,” said Sherlock. “I'm just not in the mood.”

John wondered if he'd been catapulted into a parallel universe without noticing. “What?” he managed.

Sherlock scowled at him. “It's not important.”

“Sherlock,” said John slowly. “Since I've met you, you've gone out, on average, three or four times a week, and had sex even more often than that. Unless you're in one of your moods, which you're clearly not right now.”

“And?” asked Sherlock in a bored tone of voice, although John could see from his tense shoulders that he wasn't as blasé about this conversation as he wanted to seem.

“If this is about Jim,” said John, wondering how he was going to navigate his way through this minefield of a conversation without Sherlock exploding, “then-”

“It's not Jim,” interrupted Sherlock. “Why on earth would I let him affect my actions?” There was an edge to his voice that made John doubt his words but before he could pursue the subject, Sherlock had continued. “I go to the clubs to have sex and I've already told you that I have no interest in sex with strangers at the moment.”

That made John's brain halt for a moment. “Wait,” he said incredulously. “Because I said no, you're swearing off all sex?”

Sherlock glared at him. “You made it clear you didn't want to talk about this,” he said bitterly. “Allow me to save you the bother.” He stood up, taking his laptop with him as he disappeared in the direction of his room.

John watched him go, trying to work out what had just happened. Because he wouldn't have sex with Sherlock, he wasn't going to have sex with anyone? He couldn't work out if that was further evidence of Sherlock's occasional astonishingly childish streak, or sign that maybe it meant more to him than John had realised.

It would only be one time, and then we could get on without thinking about it any more, he remembered Sherlock's voice saying. It seemed more probable that he was just seeing it as a challenge that he needed to crack, like the time that he'd spent three weeks relentlessly hunting down an ancient Chinese sex manual, barely stopping for food or sleep. He'd then spent another four weeks going through every chapter of it with a different partner each night, before he decided that he'd learnt everything he could. The last time John had seen the manual, it had been underneath a stack of Victorian erotica and a box of assorted handcuffs. When Sherlock had decided that he wanted something, he didn't give up until he'd got it, but once he'd finished with it, he forgot it as completely as if it had never existed, beyond whatever details he felt were relevant for his bloody blog.

John felt his resolve strengthen. He wasn't going to have sex with Sherlock just to see the event discarded as soon as it was over. Sherlock would just have to learn to cope with disappointment.

Sherlock stayed in on Saturday night as well, although John didn't mention it. They spent the weekend drinking endless cups of tea – mainly made by John now that Sherlock had moved the mugs to a lower shelf - and watching Doctor Who until even John thought he was going to throw the remote at the telly if he heard the theme tune one more time. On Monday morning he woke up and lay in bed, wondering what the point of putting clothes on was when all he was going to do was lounge around the flat. After a period of staring idly at the ceiling, he resolved to start getting his act back together. This was getting ridiculous, and was going to end with him going stir-crazy.

He carefully got dressed – it was easier to move than it had been, but his chest was still a colourful mass of semi-healed cuts and bruises, shading from darkest purple to a faint yellow-green – and then went downstairs. Sherlock emerged from his room just as John finished making tea, wearing his pyjamas and dressing gown. He hadn't really bothered with clothes since they'd got back from the hospital.

“I'm going to go for a walk in a bit,” said John with conviction. If he told Sherlock, then he'd have to do it, no matter how queasy the thought of leaving the flat and venturing out onto the streets made him feel. Staying indoors as long as he had had given him a nervousness about going outside that he needed to get rid of. Jim wasn't out there, lurking in an alleyway somewhere waiting for him, and John needed to move on. “I'll probably stop in to the supermarket on the way back – we can't keep living on takeaway and toast. Is there anything in particular you want?”

“I'm coming with you,” said Sherlock, ignoring the question.

John stared at him. “To the supermarket?” he asked. The only times Sherlock ever went into a supermarket were when he urgently needed condoms or nicotine patches. The idea of him wandering around pushing a trolley was enough to make John wonder if he'd taken the wrong pills that morning.

“If you insist that's where we need to go,” said Sherlock. “I'd prefer to walk over to Molly's. That DVD she brought over has a sequel, you know.”

“Well, you do that, then,” said John, “and I'll got to the supermarket.”

“No,” said Sherlock instantly. “I'll stay with you.”

Ah, so that's what was going on. John narrowed his eyes. “I'm perfectly capable of shopping on my own,” he said.

“Of course you are,” said Sherlock in a voice that suggested otherwise. “But let's not forget what happened last time you went for a walk.”

“Oh, for God's sake,” snapped John. “I'm not going to get kidnapped just because I've left the flat. Jim's locked up!” He was talking as much to his subconscious as to Sherlock and it felt good to get to say it out loud.

“I know that,” said Sherlock, scowling. “But my research has indicated that re-visiting the scene of the attack might be distressing, and unless you walk an extremely circuitous route, you'll be passing the entrance to the alley he took you from.”

John stared at him. “You did research into the psychological effects of being attacked?”

Sherlock's scowl grew. “Your sleep is extremely disturbed,” he said. “I was merely preparing myself for other changes.”

John didn't know how to respond to that. He rubbed a hand through his hair, then sighed. “If I tell you not to come, you're just going to follow me,” he realised.

“Of course.”

“Fine, then,” said John. Having Sherlock by his side would make it easier to pass by that alley, he supposed, and he was curious to see him having to help buy actual food. “But just this one time – you can't just start following me around all the time.”

“The first time is the most psychologically difficult,” said Sherlock, which wasn't an agreement, but was probably the closest John was going to get.

He texted Greg as Sherlock was getting dressed. You might have been right about Sherlock being overprotective.

Ah, you finally noticed, came the reply.

John didn't reply, but about ten minutes later, as he and Sherlock were heading down Baker Street, Greg sent another text.

Be gentle with him. Remember, Jim made him a victim too.

John glanced at Sherlock, who was walking along with a frown on his face, glaring at anyone who came too close.

“Hey,” he said, putting his phone back in his pocket. “If you promise not to tell me anything about this film you want, we can go to Molly's first.”

Sherlock glanced at him. “It's likely to have all kinds of interesting data,” he said. “Why wouldn't you want to hear about it?”

“Because I have the normal amount of vertebrae and wouldn't be able to apply any of it?” suggested John. “Besides which, I prefer my sex to be less likely to cause serious injury.”

“There's no risk of injury if you do it right,” said Sherlock.

“Yeah, well, I've never been a gymnast. The chances of me doing it right are probably pretty low. It all seems a bit over-the-top to me – I just like sex to be a bit of fun.”

Sherlock threw him a quick glance, then fixed his eyes in front of him. “We would have fun,” he muttered.

“Sherlock,” said John in warning.

“Fine,” snapped Sherlock. “I won't tell you about it, then. Let's go to Molly's.”

It was barely a twenty minute walk to Molly's, but it put a lot more strain on John than he had expected. His chest didn't like the exercise at all, and he resolved to start getting out and about at least a bit every day. The best way to stop feeling like an invalid was to stop acting like one, and sitting around at home wasn't going to get him back to full health.

Molly's was busy, and she barely had time to do more than greet them and express delight at seeing John up and about before she had to go and help a lesbian couple pick out a strap-on. Sherlock found his DVD, then got distracted by a nervous-looking bloke who was looking at the lube display and who Sherlock clearly decided needed advice. Instructing people on sex-aids was one of the things that was guaranteed to cheer Sherlock up and by the time they left, over an hour later, he had lectured several of Molly's customers on a variety of subjects and was in a much better mood.

“Let's have lunch out,” he said, rubbing his hands together.

“Good plan,” agreed John. His initial tension over leaving the house had completely dissipated and he was really enjoying being outside after so long cooped up in the house. He could do with a sit down before they braved the supermarket, but it had definitely been time to start getting over this and moving on.

Sherlock continued to be in a good mood all through lunch. He described the sex lives of the other diners in the café to John in an undertone that probably could have been quieter if the looks they got from the two women eating at the table next to them was any indication. John couldn't bring himself to care about them, though, not when Sherlock was making him laugh with his pithy little comments and then smiling smugly at him, as if John's laughter was something to be proud of.

He did have to make him shut up in the supermarket when he started detailing every possible sexual use for every product that John picked up, though. He really was never going to look at a cucumber the same way again.

When they got back home and had put away the shopping, John felt far more exhausted than he should have been just from lunch out and a trip to the shops. He thought about collapsing straight into a chair – carefully, of course, everything had to be done so carefully these days – but stubbornly resisted the urge just yet. If he hadn't been injured, he'd be making tea before he sat down, so that was what he would do now, dull ache in his chest or not.

“Time for a cup of tea,” he said. “Want one?”

Sherlock considered for a moment. “No,” he said. “I'm going to masturbate.”

John groaned and put a hand over his face. “Remember what I said about not having to inform me of that every time?” he said.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Fine then,” he said. “I'm going to go and spend some time in my room, doing nothing in particular.” He hesitated in the doorway of his bedroom. “You're welcome to join me, of course.”

John glared at him. “I'm having tea.”

“Suit yourself,” said Sherlock, then disappeared, shutting his bedroom door behind him. John flicked the kettle on with a sigh, wondering how he was meant to have a relaxing cup of tea when all he could think about was what Sherlock was getting up to just a wall away. For a moment he though about skipping the tea and going upstairs to masturbate as well, but that felt like giving in almost as much as joining Sherlock would have been.

 

****

 

Toby didn't fail to deliver on the 'fiesta' he had promised. When John, Sherlock and Greg got to Angelo's that Friday, the place was filled with familiar faces, although Toby was the only one wearing a cowboy hat. Angelo greeted their entrance with a cry of delight, and then produced a large, neon green cocktail with a sparkler in it.

“For the guest of honour,” he said, handing it to John, who took it with some trepidation. “And for our rescuing hero,” added Angelo, handing a glass of water to Sherlock.

Sherlock frowned. “There's no such thing as heroes,” he said. “And if there was, I wouldn't be one.”

“I don't know,” said Greg. “Don't heroes usually get laid a lot?”

“If he's the hero,” said John, “does that make me the damsel in distress? Because I'm not okay with that.”

“You could be his sidekick,” suggested Greg.

“Even worse,” said John. “Sidekicks are generally largely useless.”

“You're not useless,” agreed Sherlock, which was possibly the nicest thing he'd ever said about John. “We'll just have to abandon the hero scenario completely.”

“John! Sherlock!” came Toby's excited voice as he rushed up. “We saved a table for you, come on!”

They followed him back to a table by the window, where Molly and David were already ensconced, along with a couple of men that John didn't know.

“This is Jacob, and his boyfriend Chris,” Molly introduced. “This is John, Sherlock and Greg.”

“Hello,” said John as they sat down.

“Jacob,” said Sherlock musingly. “Oh yes, the one with the lack of dildo experience.”

Jacob went a very bright red. He did look a little innocent, and John wondered how long he would be able to hold onto that while working at Molly's shop.

“Oi,” said Chris. “Leave off. Most people don't need an entire wardrobe just for their toys, you know.” He was a couple of years older than Jacob and had an arm stretched along the back of his chair in a vaguely protective manner.

“Actually,” said John, “he had to get a second one. Not that much of his collection ever gets put away.”

Sherlock frowned at Chris. “How did you know that?” he asked.

Chris looked amused. “We shagged.”

That didn't clear up Sherlock's frown. “I don't remember you,” he said.

That made John pause. Sherlock remembered everyone he had sex with – it was one of the things he always made a permanent record of on his 'hard drive'. Names might not get saved, but he always recognised faces, if only to avoid sleeping with the same person twice.

“Yeah,” said Chris, not sounding surprised. “Well, you were pretty high. It was five or six years ago – can't say for sure, cos I was pretty high too. It was a good night, though, the bits I remember.”

“Ah,” said Sherlock quietly. “Yes, there are several periods I have little recollection of from that time.”

“Yeah, I know that one,” said Chris commiseratingly. “Good to see you got sorted out, and got yourself a feller.”

“I'm not his feller,” said John automatically.

“Oh, right,” said Chris, not sounding as if he believed it.

“They're one of London's greatest bromances,” explained Toby. John stared at him, nonplussed by the description.

“Bromance?” repeated Greg. “Jesus, do people actually say that?”

“Only people like Toby,” said David.

Greg shook his head disbelievingly. “That calls for a definite drink. Want one, guest of honour?”

John looked at his cocktail, which he had only managed a couple of sips of. It was horribly sweet and more than a little sticky. “Just a pint would be great,” he said.

“Got it,” said Greg, getting up.

“If you're not going to drink that...?” asked Molly tentatively.

John pushed the glass over to her. “Go for it,” he said. “Just don't let Angelo catch you – I don't want him to think I'm ungrateful.”

Molly and Jacob shared the cocktail, then Chris bought them both another one. Everyone seemed to feel the urge to buy John a drink, although they did at least stick to beer after Angelo. He tried to limit them, mindful of the painkillers he was still taking, but finally being back relaxing in a pub with his mates made him laid-back about it.

“All right,” said Toby after they'd all had a couple. “Chat-up lines. Which is your favourite?”

“Is it hot in here, or is it just you?” said Chris immediately.

“That's the one you used on me,” said Jacob.

Chris grinned. “Exactly. It's got sentimental value.”

“I bet you use the policeman thing,” Toby said to Greg. “You'd have to. 'I'm afraid I'm going to have to arrest you. It's illegal to look that good.'”

“Or 'you've clearly stolen the stars from the sky and put them in your eyes,'” added David.

“'Can I buy you a drink?' has always been good enough for me,”said Greg. “No need for anything fancy.”

“Dull,” said Sherlock.

“What's the expert's favourite then?” asked Greg. “Or do you just go with 'I'm Sherlock Holmes. We're going to have sex now.'”

“I've heard him say similar things,” said John. “And have them work as well, the bastard.”

Sherlock glared at him. “If either of you had read my website,” he said, “you'd know that it's all about tailoring the line to the person. No one line works on everyone.”

“I knew that,” said Toby smugly.

“You've memorised the whole site,” John pointed out.

Toby shrugged one shoulder, clearly not bothered that that was true. “It's useful information.”

“How do you know which line is going to work on which person, though?” asked David.

“External clues,” said Sherlock. “Observe the subject for a bit first, then make your move based on the information gathered.”

“Right,” said David, sounding as if he had as little idea what that meant as John did.

Sherlock let out a sigh. “For example,” he said. “Take John.”

“Let's not,” said John quickly, but Sherlock ignored him.

“It would only take the quickest of glances to tell that the best way to approach him would be like this.” Sherlock turned to John, leaned in close and lowered his voice to a register that sent an electric feeling straight down John's spine. “Would you like to come and see my TARDIS?” he purred. John felt almost dizzy for a moment, caught by the look in Sherlock's eyes and the tone of his voice. “It's bigger on the inside, you know.”

He managed to make that sound like the most filthy innuendo possible, although when John tried to work out what it might be innuendo for, he drew a bit of a blank. There was a long moment where he was just staring at Sherlock, his mouth suddenly dry, then Greg interrupted.

“How would you know he was a Doctor Who geek just from looking at him?”

Sherlock leaned away again, looking back at the group, and the moment was lost. John cleared his throat and tried to compose himself.

“Simple,” said Sherlock. “He's wearing TARDIS socks.”

Everyone's eyes travelled to John's feet.

“My sister gave them to me,” said John weakly in his defence.

“They're your favourites,” Sherlock pointed out and John glared at him. There was no need for everyone to know that.

“I didn't know you were a Who fan,” said David with interest. “Which is your favourite Doctor?”

“Three,” said John, waiting for the inevitable, 'oh, I liked Tennant'.

“Oh,” said David, sounding even more interested. “Mine's Four.”

John brightened. Four might be the most obvious of the old Doctors to like, but at least he was a real Doctor. “Oh, you're a proper fan then,” he said.

David laughed. “Yeah, I know my Brigadier from my Tegan.”

“The Brigadier is my favourite companion,” confided John. “Battlefield is in my top ten episodes.” Wait, was having a top ten going too far? He didn't want to come across as too much of a geek, after all.

“It is a good one,” agreed David, and his face had lit up with an excitement that John recognised only too well. “I think it's probably in my top fifteen rather than ten, though.” Ah, no need to worry about being a geek, then.

“Of course you like the Brigadier, John,” said Sherlock, breaking in to the conversation. “You clearly wanted to become him as a child.” He fixed David with a look that was almost a challenge. “I like Seven,” he said. “And One,” he added after a moment's thought.

David looked even more surprised. “You're a Doctor Who fan?!” The rest of the table, who had drifted off into other conversation when John and David had started geeking out, turned back to stare.

Sherlock shrugged. “Hard not to be, around John,” he said. “And it has more to recommend it than most of the ridiculous rubbish that's on television these days.”

To say John was surprised was an understatement. He knew that Sherlock would have made his feelings very clear if he didn't like Doctor Who, but he'd assumed that he just put up with it for the sake of domestic harmony rather than actively liking it. He certainly hadn't thought that he liked it enough to have favourites amongst the Doctors.

“You would like One,” he said, grinning at Sherlock. “Given how much you both enjoy insulting people.”

Sherlock shrugged his shoulders. “If people would just use their brains, there'd be no reason to insult them.”

“I thought you generally maintained that people don't have brains,” said Greg.

“Most don't,” agreed Sherlock. “And those that do, don't use them. It's infuriating.”

“How trying it must be to be a genius,” said Greg, but his delivery was too bitter for it to be as light-hearted as he probably meant. “Right, I'm off to the bar.”

“We'll be moving on to Criterion soon,” said Toby.

“I'll just get a half then,” said Greg, standing up.

“What's up with him?” asked John once he'd left. “He's drinking far more than he usually does.”

“I suspect that he and Mycroft have had a falling out,” said Sherlock in an offhand manner.

“Oh,” said John, glancing back over at where Greg was leaning on the bar. “That's a shame.”

Sherlock made a non-committal noise that clearly meant he disagreed but wasn't going to risk an argument by saying so.

“So,” said David, leaning over to John, “which other episodes are in your top ten?”

John let go of his concern about Greg in order to get into a proper discussion over the merits of various Doctor Who episodes. He didn't get to talk to other fans nearly often enough.

 

****

 

John managed to get Greg by himself as they walked over to the Criterion – well, to himself except for Sherlock, who was stalking along next to them apparently in a world of his own, but that was pretty much the same thing.

“How're things with Mycroft?” John asked as casually as he could.

Greg made a face. “Bad,” he said shortly.

“Oh,” said John. He'd been hoping that Sherlock had been wrong, however unlikely that was.

“After I'd wrapped up the final paperwork on the Moriarty case, I went round there for a celebratory- ah, drink,” said Greg. “And he told me that, now Jim was behind bars, I could give up being a policeman, because the hours were too inconvenient for a relationship.”

“What?” asked John.

“He wants me to run the security at his bloody club,” said Greg. “Can you imagine me as a bouncer? Fucking git.”

“What on earth made him think you might quit?” asked John. A man would have to blind not to see how important Greg's job was to him.

Greg shrugged. “I might have commented that I was getting a bit old for the pace we were at on the case,” he said. “But it's not like I really meant it – it was just blowing off steam, you know.”

“Typical Mycroft,” said Sherlock with derision. “The more he cares about something, the more he has to control it. You should be flattered that he thinks you're important enough for him to need to have you completely under his thumb.”

“I wasn't bloody flattered,” said Greg. “I told him to fuck off. No one gets to dictate to me like that.” He shrugged. “That was Wednesday. I've not heard from him since.” He said that in a weary voice, and his shoulders had slumped lower and lower as they'd been talking about it.

“That's a real shame,” said John, putting his hand on Greg's shoulder comfortingly.

“He'll be hidden away, licking his wounds and trying to come up with another plan to get what he wants,” said Sherlock. “Trust me, he won't give up that easily.”

“He can fuck right off before I'll rearrange my entire life for him,” said Greg with feeling. “He'd never give up his precious bloody club for me – and he shouldn't have to either, even if it is as much the reason why we hardly see each other. Saw each other.”

“Well, he's clearly an idiot,” said John. “I'm sorry, mate.”

Greg shrugged. “These things happen,” he said. He glanced at John with a smirk that barely covered his true emotions. “We can't all have an epic bromance, you know.”

John groaned. “Bloody Toby,” he said. “That one's going to stick around, isn't it?”

“It will if I have anything to say about it,” said Greg. “Got to take the small joys where you can.”

“Bastard,” said John with a shake of his head.

Sherlock had pulled out his phone and was fiddling with it. John had assumed he'd just got bored of the conversation, or had a sudden realisation that he needed to share with his blog, but then he read out, “Bromance: A non-sexual relationship between two men who are unusually close,” and John realised he just been googling what was probably an even more unfamiliar word to him than it had been to John. “I don't know why you're complaining, John, that seems remarkably accurate. Especially the non-sexual part.” The last part was said with an edge of bitterness that made John scowl at him.

Greg look curious. “What's this?”

“Sherlock thinks we should have sex,” said John with a sigh.

Greg actually stopped walking to stare at them both. “What?” he asked.

“It's not a big deal,” said Sherlock in a terse voice. “John has made his feelings on the subject clear.”

Greg's gaze travelled to John. “You said no?”

John scowled at his tone. “I'm not being part of one of his experiments.”

“That's not it at all,” said Sherlock with exasperation. “I've already explained this.”

“Then don't bother going through it again,” said John, hoping to head the conversation off before Sherlock decided to get into a snit about it.

“Fine then,” snapped Sherlock and sped up his pace, pulling away from Greg and John and overtaking the people in front of them as well. Too late to avoid a snit, then.

“Well, I hope you're not expecting to get away without telling me everything,” said Greg. “I could do with a distraction from my own problems.”

John rolled his eyes. “It's ridiculous,” he said. “He seems to have decided that because I might have died without him having shagged me, we have to get on and do it immediately before I actually do die and ruin his track record. But all he wants is one night, and then to forget all about it afterwards. I'm not going to be used like that. I know I put up with a lot from him, but I do have some self-respect, you know.”

“I know,” agreed Greg. “Jesus, sounds like a mess, mate.”

“I'm hoping he just needs time,” said John. “And a shag – he hasn't had one since before Jim, as far as I can tell. I'm really hoping he'll find some bloke tonight, then get back to his usual self. He's barely left me alone since I got out of the hospital. I can't take much more hovering, or I'm going to snap. A man needs some time on his own, you know.”

“Yeah, and he needs his own bloody job as well,” said Greg with feeling. “Think if we told Sherlock how similar he was being to Mycroft, he'd back off?”

John laughed. “Probably,” he said. “But he'd throw the world's biggest tantrum first – not sure it's worth it. Not yet, anyway.”

Greg nodded. “We'll keep that as a back-up plan then,” he said.

 

****

 

The Criterion was packed. The group that had come from Angelo's split up, some people going straight to the bar, others going to see if they could find somewhere to sit and another, larger group heading straight for the dance floor. John paused, glancing around to see where Sherlock had got to, but instead it was David that came up to him first.

“Want a drink?” he asked, leaning in close to John's ear in order to be heard.

John shook his head. He'd had more than enough at Angelo's. Time to start being a doctor and remember the medication he was on. “Seen Sherlock?” he asked in return.

David shrugged. “Already shagging someone?” he suggested.

Sherlock took that moment to appear, sweeping in and clasping John's elbow. “Come and dance,” he commanded.

John hesitated. He wanted to, he really wanted to, but his chest was still more bruise than not, and despite the pills he'd taken before coming out and the alcohol he'd been drinking, he was a bit too stiff and sore to be banged around on a dance floor.

Sherlock saw his hesitation and leaned in to say, “We'll keep to the edge of the floor – I won't let anyone come near you.”

One of John's favourite songs started playing as if fate was on Sherlock's side, and John gave in. “Fine,” he said.

They managed to find a spot on the dance floor that was reasonably empty and Sherlock glared at everyone else near-by until they all backed away. John ignored him in favour of letting himself go to the music as much as he could whilst taking into account his injuries. He never realised just how much he missed dancing when he hadn't had the chance for a couple of weeks until he was back in a club, bass drumming through him.

There hadn't been much chance for dancing in Afghanistan and when he'd got home, going to clubs had been the last thing on his mind. He'd felt too old and worn, trapped by a psychosomatic limp and memories of a war he hadn't wanted to leave behind. Then Mike had introduced him to Sherlock, and everything had changed.

Sherlock had dragged him out with him the first night John had moved in despite his rather feeble protests, and they'd danced for hours, until the pain in John's leg had disappeared under a rush of adrenalin and endorphins. Sherlock had pulled him up to dance on a podium and John's cane had been left behind and forgotten about, and that had been the last time that John had had to worry about his limp.

Really, he thought as he danced, watching the graceful way Sherlock moved to the music, it was hardly any wonder he'd fallen in love with the man. Anyone would have.

 

****

 

John danced as much as he could, but he wasn't well enough to dance straight through the night without a few breaks – there was, unfortunately, nothing psychosomatic about his injuries today. Sherlock stuck by his side the whole evening, even though John could tell that he really just wanted to dance, and the interludes of sitting and chatting with the others made him excruciatingly bored.

When they were dancing, he fixed his eyes on John's face, focussing all his attention on him rather than endlessly looking around for someone to shag as was his usual habit. John wasn't about to complain about it, but having Sherlock so close and so intent on him was making it harder and harder to remember why taking him up on his offer was a bad idea. He'd just be using you, he reminded himself sharply as Sherlock danced so close to John that he could smell his aftershave. He wasn't able to prevent his reaction to it, though, his cock growing half-hard as he imagined all the things he could do with Sherlock if he did get him in bed.

I'd be using him just as much, he thought. Using him to pretend that there was more to it than Sherlock wanted there to be, that at least some of his feelings were returned, or even just to store up fodder for masturbatory fantasies.

His reaction didn't go unnoticed by Sherlock. He grinned at John and leaned in even closer to say, “We would be amazing together, you know. I'd make every other lover you've ever had pale into insignificance.”

And you'd ruin every one of my future shags, realised John. He put his hands up to push Sherlock back, but got caught in the feel of Sherlock's smooth, expensive shirt over his chest. He could feel Sherlock's breathing, his muscles shifting as he kept dancing, the heat of him bleeding through the shirt and into John's skin.

“John,” said Sherlock in a low voice, and it was a voice that John had heard a thousand times before, just before whichever bloke that Sherlock had set his eye on gave in to him.

John felt his resolve harden and he finally pushed Sherlock back. “I said no,” he reminded him, then ducked away, going back through the crowd to get away before he gave in as well, just like every other meaningless shag that Sherlock had ever gone after.

He went to the toilets just to get away from the noise and heat of the main club, and stayed there for a moment, his head resting back against the tiles as he took a few deep breaths and reminded himself of all the reasons why having sex with Sherlock would be a terrible idea.

When he left the toilets, he found Sherlock and Greg at the bar, their heads leaning into each other. Whatever they were talking about – and John had an unpleasant feeling that he knew what it was – looked far too serious for him to want to break in on. He paused where he was and wondered who else he could go and talk to. He could see Molly, Chris and Jacob standing extremely close together at the end of the bar, shot glasses lined up in front of them. Chris said something that made Molly duck her head, then Jacob took hold of her chin, pulling her back up to look at him and kissed her. Chris grinned as he watched them, looking like the cat who had got the cream.

John blinked at them for a moment, and then hastily looked away. Good for Molly, he supposed, but there was no way he was going over there just now.

“John,” said a voice behind him, and he turned to see David. “Hey, I'm glad-” Whatever he was glad about was cut off as he put his hand on John's right forearm, right over the section that Jim had skinned, and John let out a cry of pain and pulled away.

Sherlock was there in moments, although John wasn't sure how he'd heard his cry over the music. “What did you do?” he demanded.

“Nothing,” said David, looking wide-eyed. “I swear, I just-”

“You hurt him,” said Sherlock fiercely.

“I'm fine,” said John quickly, trying to derail whatever craziness Sherlock was heading towards. “It was just a shock, really.”

Sherlock didn't stop glaring at David, so John reached out for him, touching his arm in the hope that it would get him to calm down. “It was nothing, Sherlock. Just an accident.”

Sherlock glanced at him with a frown, then back at David. “You should go away now,” he said.

David nodded nervously. “Right,” he said. “John, I'm so sorry-”

“Go,” repeated Sherlock. David went.

“That was a bit unnecessary, don't you think?” said John crossly to Sherlock.

Sherlock gave him an incredulous look. “He hurt you,” he repeated. He sounded so outraged at just the idea of it that John couldn't bring himself to be as angry as he knew he should be.

“Christ,” said John, rubbing a hand over his face.

“John,” said Greg, who John hadn't even noticed watching. “Can I have a word?”

“Only if it comes with a drink,” said John, turning away from Sherlock. He shouldn't, but one more wouldn't make too much difference, and he really needed one if Sherlock was going to keep acting like this.

“I can do that,” said Greg. “Sherlock, be a good boy and piss off for a moment?”

Sherlock sent him an aggrieved look. “Fine then,” he said and glanced around. His eyes lighted on Molly, Chris and Jacob, who were doing yet another shot, one of Chris's arms curled around Molly's waist. “I shall go and give Chris some tips on how to succeed with his endeavour.”

He swept off before John could point out that it didn't really look like he needed any.

“Right,” said Greg. “Come with me. It's time someone tried to get you two blokes sorted out.”

“We are sorted,” said John, following him over to the bar.

Greg gave him a look that said he knew better. “Right,” he said. “That's why I've got you suffering nobly with unrequited love whilst refusing to just grab your chance and shag the guy, and Sherlock attempting to start fights just because someone got too close to you, and telling me that he doesn't know what he's going to do if he doesn't get to have sex with you.”

John blinked. “He said that?”

“Precisely my point,” said Greg as the bartender asked what they wanted. “Two Coronas,” he ordered. “And a double whiskey.”

John frowned. “Are you sure that's a good idea?” Greg had been drinking steadily all evening and although he was still perfectly coherent, John was very aware that it wouldn't take much more to tip him over.

“We're not talking about me,” said Greg. “We're talking about how much longer you two are going to keep doing this dance.”

“No, we're not,” said John. “I'm not talking about this – I've made my decision.” The barman came back with their drinks and John took a long pull at his.

“So has he,” said Greg, paying the barman. “One of you is going to have to change your mind.”

“He'll lose interest soon enough,” said John. “It's not as if he couldn't get any other guy he wanted.”

“I'm not sure it's going to be that easy,” said Greg. “Have you ever seen him not get something that he's gone after? His persistence is legendary.”

John scowled. “So, what? You think I should just sleep with him to get him to shut up?”

“No,” said Greg, then paused. “I don't know. I just think you need to do something. Have you tried talking to him?”

“Yes,” said John. “He didn't really listen. There's nothing to be done.” He glanced around to find Sherlock. He was with Chris, Molly and Jacob, giving some speech that was making Chris grin and Molly's eyes pop out of her head.

“Oh Christ,” said John. “I better go and stop him mentally scarring them.”

“Right,” said Greg with resignation. “Well, any time you need to talk.”

John gave him a grateful smile. “Thanks, mate,” he said. “Same goes for you, of course. If there's anything I can do to help about Mycroft.”

Greg shook his head. “There's another stubbornly persistent Holmes who doesn't really listen to anyone else. I'm probably better off without.” He didn't look better off, though. He looked sad and worn out, and John wondered if maybe he shouldn't have paid more attention to Sherlock's warnings about his brother. It had just been nice to see Greg so happy for once.

He put a hand on Greg's shoulder. “I'm sorry, mate,” he said, and then headed over to stop Sherlock from causing Molly to die of death-by-blushing.

 

****

 

By the time they left, Greg was drunk enough that John was worried that he was going to find the front door too much of a struggle when they let him out of the taxi at his flat.

“Wait a second, mate,” he said to the cabbie and watched as Greg weaved his way to the door of his building, then spent a ridiculously long amount of time trying to fit the key into the lock. He made it inside just as John was thinking about going and helping him, and John let out a breath. Even if Greg didn't make it up to his actual flat, at least he was indoors now.

“Okay, go on,” he said to the driver. “Baker Street next.”

“Right you are,” said the cabbie, pulling away, and John sat back.

“He's made it home whilst far drunker,” Sherlock observed. “There's no need to worry about him.”

“I was just making sure,” said John.

Sherlock was silent for a moment. “Always so kind-hearted,” he muttered as if to himself. John felt himself flush at what, from anyone else, would have been a compliment, and purposefully ignored it. He wasn't nearly as drunk as Greg, but he was merry enough not to want to risk a conversation with Sherlock right now. It was hard enough when he had his shirt collar open like that, when John's body was still reacting to the sense memory of dancing so closely with him, when pretty much every gesture Sherlock made only served to remind him of Sherlock's whispered words. We would be amazing together.

He stared steadfastly out of the cab window, watching London pass by rather than looking at Sherlock. When they got to Baker Street, he pulled himself out of the taxi and left Sherlock to pay the driver for once, heading straight up to his room once he was inside.

“John,” said Sherlock just as John was starting on the second flight of stairs. If he'd sounded demanding or impatient in any way, John would have just kept walking, but instead he sounded tired and more than a little lost.

John stopped and turned around. Sherlock was paused at the door to the sitting room, wearing an expression that John wasn't sure he'd seen before.

“Greg thinks it will help if I explain myself fully,” he said.

“What is it with him and explanations?” wondered John.

Sherlock shrugged. “He's a policeman. He knows that the only way to get to the truth is if you have all the facts.”

“I have all the facts,” said John. His hand tightened on the bannister and he thought of just walking away, but he couldn't leave Sherlock like this, not without attempting to get him past this somehow. “Look, I know you're not very good at being told no, but can't you just let this one go?”

Sherlock shook his head and John let out a sigh. Typical bloody stubborn Sherlock, couldn't even let something go when it was threatening to-

“I can't stop thinking about it,” confessed Sherlock, cutting into John's thoughts. He looked up at John where he was paused on the first step of the stairs. “You – I can't stop thinking about you. About how you'd look, naked and stretched out on my bed, about what your skin might taste like at the base of your throat, what your cock might feel like in my hand. The noises you'd make, the way you'd move with me, your face as you orgasm. It's distracting me from everything else, it's ridiculous. It's even affecting my work - how can I focus enough to have sex with someone else when you're all there is in my head?”

If John had been a bit horny before, he was desperately turned on now, and completely taken aback. The sound of Sherlock's voice conjuring up those mental images was wired straight to his cock, and he drew in a ragged breath in an effort to calm himself.

Sherlock heard it, and stepped forward. “John,” he said with an air of desperation. “I know you want to keep our friendship intact – so do I, but I can't keep on like this. If you'd just let me get it out of my system, everything could return to how it was, but I can't see an end to this without that. Nothing else will get you out of my head.”

John knew he really shouldn't find that flattering, but it was very hard to be annoyed with Sherlock when he was staring at John as if he was coming to pieces just because John had refused him.

“Sherlock,” said John hesitantly, but he didn't know what to follow that up with. Instead he just stared at Sherlock, trying to find the willpower to turn him down.

Sherlock must have sensed John's weakness, because he strode forward to the foot of the stairs and put his hand on John's face, cradling his cheek. “Please,” he said in a low, intent voice. “John. I know you want this too, just...”

Sherlock leaned in to John, resting his forehead against John's. They were almost the same height with John on the step above Sherlock, and John felt himself give in, relaxing against Sherlock and letting his own hands rest on Sherlock's shoulders.

Apparently that was all the surrender that Sherlock needed, because he immediately moved to kiss John, and John knew that he'd lost. Sherlock took kissing to a level that John would not have believed existed, lips and tongue moving in a harmony that threatened to pull John apart completely. It was all he could do just to hold on to him for a few moments, and then his brain broke through the frozen shock in order to point out that he was kissing Sherlock, just as he'd been wanting to do since about ten seconds after he'd met the man, and that this was not an opportunity to be wasted.

He slid his arms around Sherlock's shoulders to pull him in closer and took control of the kiss, letting himself work out at least some of the fantasies he'd had about what he'd do if given this chance. Sherlock let out a low moan that sent a thrill right down John's spine and slide his hands around to the back of John's head, holding him close as if afraid he might still try and get away, despite the evidence of how he was clinging on to Sherlock. He knew that he should be pulling away, going upstairs, shutting his door and trying very hard to forget that this had ever happened, but he also knew there was no way he was going to have the willpower for that. There was only so much that you could ask of yourself, after all.

“Right,” he said in a rough voice when they finally had to pull apart for air. “Okay.”

Sherlock's face lit up – there was no other way to describe it. “Excellent,” he said, and took John's hand so that he could tug at him, pulling him back down the stairs towards his bedroom. “Come on then.”

John resisted Sherlock's attempts to move him. “Wait,” he said. “If we're doing this-”

“We are,” said Sherlock in a voice that didn't allow for John to change his mind again.

“Then we're doing it my way,” said John just as firmly. “You're not going to mention a single word of this in your blog, or use it as data, or discuss me with anyone, or anything like that. I'm not an experiment.”

“Understood,” said Sherlock. “Come on, John.”

“And,” added John, taking a step backwards up the next stair, rather than down towards Sherlock's room. “We're doing it in my room.” Sherlock had had sex with a thousand strangers in his room. John wanted this to be at least a bit different, even if it was unlikely to ever register as special with Sherlock.

“Doesn't matter where, as long as it's soon,” said Sherlock, following John up a step so that he could kiss him again, taking care not to crush John's chest against him as he ran his hands over John's back. John felt more than a little dazed when he pulled back. Sherlock's kisses were dangerous and completely wiped out his attempts at logical thought.

“Anything else?”

“No,” said John in a breathless voice that gave away just how affected he was by Sherlock right now. Any other stipulations he might have had flew straight out of his head as Sherlock pressed in closer, completely intent on him. His stomach was a churning mixture of need, desire, anticipation, and the first cold tendrils of regret, which he knew was probably going to kick in much stronger tomorrow morning. He pushed it away for now in favour of kissing Sherlock again, giving up any lingering doubts. If he was going to make this mistake, then he was going to commit to it whole-heartedly.