An hour after their suspect has been detained, Sherlock meets John on the same balcony where he perpetrated his ruse. John’s bowtie is undone and the top buttons of his tux are unfastened. He is so quiet on his own that, were it not for the flickering of his cigarette flame, he would seem to disappear altogether into the night.
The clove-scented smoke wafts toward Sherlock on the breeze, driving an edge of want through him the likes of which he hasn’t felt in months, or been so close to yielding to in years. If only he knew what it was he wanted, if for no other reason than to distinguish it from what he can realistically attain. John’s surprising display of smoking acumen has left him unsteady on the ground and reassessing every deduction he has made about his flatmate so far. In conjunction with his obvious skill in the area of seduction, it has him reassessing what he expects of himself as well. He isn’t sure what he wants, other than to remain right here.
“I didn’t realize you smoked.”
John pulls the stub of black kretek cigarette from his lips to blow a ring of smoke into the air and puts it out on the railing. “Hell must be freezing for you to admit that.”
“There’s always something,” he reminds John off-hand, and finds himself distracted by the crinkle of thick cardstock as John pulls out another fag—Djarum Black out of Indonesia—from his inside pocket. He lights it with an old, heavy lighter inlaid in gold and the first drag is as beautiful to watch as it must be to inhale, because John sighs the sigh of the truly sated and Sherlock has never been so envious of another man’s lungs.
“I’ve had lovers who smoked,” John explains. “Some of them, it was my favourite thing about them.”
Sherlock doesn’t think of uni or Bart’s, but of sand and heat and canvas tents and late, late nights with no relief. Sherlock thinks of the number John pulled with their man Stanislow, thinks of the expression of dumbstruck lust on the man’s face, visible even in the darkness, as John blew savoury smoke into his mouth. In that moment, Sinjohn Stanislow, age twenty-seven, would have confessed to any number of serious offenses to win a kiss from John. As it was, John offered it to him under the guise of sharing the taste his clove fags left behind. Sherlock’s jaw still aches from clinching his teeth at the sight. He’d been watching from the party inside, waiting for his cue. He hadn’t expected what he got instead.
Lovers, indeed. Sherlock finds the thought of them—plural, no less—nauseating.
“Is that your professional opinion?” It’s a weak retort and he knows it.
John smiles faintly, eyes fairly alight under a moon as irrelevant as a shooting star, yet no less filled with potential. “I’m entitled to at least one vice.”
“And you may as well ‘do it up in style,’” he emulates John’s words, said to the smitten young barrister not long before. “You never smoke at Baker Street.” That is solely Sherlock’s demesne and the only weakness he allows himself when the patches fail. Besides, Sherlock would know as he knows anything else.
John concedes that. “You’d know if I did and a man has to have some things he keeps to himself.”
“Why tonight, then?” Stupid question, one to which he knows the answer. Tonight, John has an excuse, tonight he’s been given an audience and a stage and, therefore, carte blanche to behave out of turn. Sherlock represses the impulse to wet his lips, his old oral fixation acting up in the face of an act he badly wants to mimic playing out in front of him.
John tips back his head to breathe too fragrant smoke in once more, throat laid temptingly bare and lips puckered so invitingly it makes Sherlock ache. He doesn’t know how he missed this part of John, how he missed this chance for shared rebellion in his arrogance. He wants to rumble John from head to toe now and shake out all his hidden places. He wants to know John as intimately as the dead, as blood evidence, wants to construct a periodic table of caresses that make John the most reactive to the least, wants find the touch which makes him ignite. But most, he wants to wring Stanislow’s neck for daring to take the ersatz kiss John proffered as though he somehow had a right. He had none, Sherlock thinks vengefully.
I’ve even less, Sherlock thinks, too, fretfully.
“I can hear you vibrating with tension. Take this before you give yourself a stroke,” his flatmate jibes, a half-burned kretek—content: approximately 3:2 ratio of dried clove leaf to tobacco, 60% the former to 40% of the latter, blended types, middling levels of nicotine and tar added—dangling from the tips of his extended hand.
Sherlock is leaning rather before he is thinking, wrapping his mouth around the filter and breathing, tongue tasting, lips remembering and goose pimples rising that he forgot something could be this sweet. He has filched the thing before he even plans to, a luxuriant exhale winding out from his chest to join John’s last expiration. He thinks, perhaps, he can taste John on it and closes his eyes to revel in it. Could be dangerous, his instincts say, far from enough to bring his desires to heel, and who better to know than he?
John is chuckling—not giggling, not quite as funny as murder, then—his hands shifting into his pockets as though he doesn’t trust what they would do outside them. Were Sherlock’s hand not otherwise engaged, he’d do the same. This is a night of something different and he’s learning not to trust himself at all.
Sherlock smokes the thing until there is little but filter and sweetness, until John reaches up and plucks it from between his lips to discard. If his breath leaves him in a rush, then it’s disappointment at it being lost, not at the glancing contact of John’s fingertips which does it. Surely.
“I’ve half a pack left, no need to act like it’s your last,” John says, smiling as though he’s discovered something that Sherlock has yet to deduce.
“You’d be a poor doctor if you gave them to me.” His hands are in his pockets now; better there, if the more miserable for it.
“Some would say I’m a poor doctor anyway.” John’s hands have vacated his tailored trousers to clasp behind his back. His eyes are too dark a shade of blue for the moon to do them justice, but Sherlock thinks that the pupils have swallowed the colour whole, at any rate. He wonders what his have done to his own.
“I wouldn’t.” He can’t conceive of a time that he would ever think John less than a consummate healer. John carries his livelihood in his bones and musculature, as telegraphed as intent, and as locomotive as joints and tendons. Anyone who believes otherwise is far too ignorant to be bear toleration.
John steps forward until he is close enough to touch, to scent in the way that Sherlock breathes in every person he meets, though his reason is different now. John, he knows in a way separate from every contact, every Irregular, every suspect, copper, or witness he has ever encountered. John’s scent he could have distinguished from a thousand similar specimens before tonight, by morning he will be able to tell it from tens of thousands more. He is becoming the archetype and, oh, how wrongly this can go, he imagines. Can’t stop, really. Yet, this night can only end one way and he’s never been one to shirk a course of action for fear. It is the mind-killer, after all, and Sherlock lives to vanquish those.
He captures the lapels of John’s tux to drag him up where John cradles his neck to bear him down. They meet in the middle where there is no comfort to be found, though the effort is no less positively right for the strain of spine bending and twitching calves.
He is licking the taste from John’s tongue, tar and smoke and cloves and bourbon, burning him just as well as if he’d been the one drink it down. He fingers the vulnerable underside of John’s jaw to find the rapid tattoo of his pulse and feels the motion of his Adam’s apple knock the steady touch of his palm. For all his fascination with the dispossessed and decomposed, he cannot protest that it is the breathing, heart-beating human form that drives him to distraction now. The lips which push back and part at his insistence, the teeth that punish his presumed dominance by sinking into his lower lip until he gasps, the tongue that laps at his wound and coaxes him to try it on regardless. He’d give up lungs for this.
He is sunk, so incredibly sunk and undone by this thing he did not see or observe. But in this ending, he cannot help thinking that perhaps it is not always folly to be momentarily blind, rather opportunity simply waiting to knock.