Actions

Work Header

Messages Unspoken

Work Text:

‘I’ve got to see a man about a dog,’ Sherlock says, a twinkle in his eye and the tiniest little curve of his lips that invites John to share in the joke, and John laughs to himself as Sherlock walks off.

Sherlock’s knowledge of popular culture is greater than he likes to pretend. Now that they’ve grown used to each other then John has been let in on one of Sherlock’s many secrets: that he’s deeply entertained by people’s expressions when he declares that he’s never heard of the Beatles, or that he hasn’t a clue who the reigning monarch is. His general knowledge is still patchy – for example, he genuinely hasn’t bothered to retain the details of heliocentrism – but if there’s the slightest chance that a piece of information or cultural reference could pertain to his work then it’s carefully filed away. A year ago, John would have been one of those who protested, and gaped, and was taken in by Sherlock’s airy declarations, but a lot can change in a year.

A lot has changed, for both of them. A year ago Sherlock would have loomed over John hawkishly and chivvied him to hurry up with his breakfast, but now Sherlock brings him coffee without being asked and is content to linger in the pleasant March morning while John takes his time. John has a moment of self-satisfaction, because it’s undeniable that Sherlock has been good for him but sometimes, on mornings like this, then it’s also inescapably clear just how good he’s been for Sherlock.

Sherlock is still fundamentally himself, however, and he frowns when John reminds him that they still have to give their statements at the local police station before they can catch a train.

‘You knew we’d have to do it before we left,’ John tells him, forestalling the argument he can see in the offing while he wipes a bit of bread round his plate. ‘Can I just remind you that you were the one who flounced off without talking to them last night, and I got them to let us go on the understanding that we’d just helped them solve a very high-profile case and that we’d be back to talk to them this morning.’

‘I don’t flounce,’ Sherlock grumbles, but he sits beside John on the bench and doesn’t hurry him when he dawdles over his coffee. It’s difficult even for Sherlock to be annoyed on such a morning, with the swallows chasing each other around and over the thatch and the sparrows under the table tidying up dropped breadcrumbs. There’s no trace of the gale of last night, which had blown up on their way back from Dewer’s Hollow and which had been such a fitting conclusion to their adventure, there’s only the sun trying its best between patches of cloud.

Sherlock is such a city creature that it’s difficult to imagine him being really at home in the countryside but at that moment – with his eyes closed and face tipped back towards the sunshine – he at least looks as though the bucolic lifestyle isn’t actively infuriating him.

The slow, plodding pace is particularly in evidence at the local station, when they eventually arrive there. This case is the most dramatic thing that’s happened in Grimpen for over a century, and the whole place is in mild chaos. They have to wait ages for someone to see them, by which point Sherlock is actively glowering at anyone in a uniform and even John’s good mood is a little tarnished.

At last they’re able to give their statements but, with so much to recount and the officer trying to take it all down by hand, it’s late afternoon before they’re finally done and free to go. They return their rental car in town before proceeding to the train station, with a deep sigh of relief from Sherlock, but even when they get there things aren’t so simple.

‘What do you mean, there are no trains running?’ Sherlock thunders, and the young man behind the ticket counter quails.

‘The gales last night brought a tree down on one of the main lines into Exeter,’ he says weakly. ‘It’s blocking all trains on minor lines running west. We’ve got men working to clear it, but in the meantime your tickets are valid on a replacement coach service to Exeter and–’

‘They’ve had all bloody day! Are they stopping for a fag every ten minutes or are they just naturally useless?’ Sherlock asks rhetorically, and the attendant looks as though he wants the floor to open up and swallow him. He’s not much more than a lad, really; John takes pity on him and steps forward to draw Sherlock away with a hand on his arm.

‘This is Mycroft’s doing,’ Sherlock fumes, and John gives him a look.

‘Even Mycroft can’t control the weather, Sherlock. Although I’m sure that he’d be flattered at your faith in him.’

At times John fancies that he sees glimpses of how Sherlock must have been as a very small boy, ascribing near-omnipotence to his older sibling. Although having met said sibling then John is prepared to grant that if anyone could organise such a thing it would be Mycroft Holmes.

‘He’s always telling me to take a holiday in the countryside,’ Sherlock grouses.

‘Well, it would probably be good for you–’ John begins, but Sherlock gives him such a glare that he changes it to, ‘Alright, never mind. Look, that’s the coach over there.’

Sherlock stares at it with loathing. John can tell what he’s thinking: two hours of Sherlock’s long legs cramped into the small seats, followed by yet more hours on an over-crowded train with grumpy passengers. It’s not exactly appealing.

‘Mycroft would probably send a car for us,’ Sherlock says half-heartedly, and John snorts.

‘You’re not seriously thinking of asking Mycroft for another favour so soon after the last one, are you? You know he’d never let you live it down. And anyway, we still wouldn’t get back to London until God knows what time. Come on.’ John bends down and hefts his rucksack onto his good shoulder. ‘We’ll stay an extra night and go back tomorrow.’

Sherlock sighs heavily, sounding put-upon, but when John starts walking then he follows readily, to John’s secret delight.

‘And besides,’ John says, ‘this means that we actually have a chance to do what people traditionally do when they come away for a few days at a quiet country inn. I’ll give you a clue: it doesn’t involve chasing all over the moors like madmen.’

Sherlock frowns down at him as they walk. ‘Drink? Sample so-called “regional specialities”?’

‘No.’ John smiles to himself, not looking at Sherlock but aware that Sherlock can see his amusement from the curve of his cheek.

‘Well, what then?’ Sherlock demands.

‘Not telling.’ John shifts his grip on his bag, settling it more comfortably. It won’t hurt Sherlock to be puzzled about it for a few hours and might even be good for him, since there’s a familiar and dreaded tension that’s already manifesting itself in his speech and behaviour. ‘Hold on a minute, I want a look in this bookshop.’

John knows Sherlock’s weakness for old books – worn and ancient volumes that he buys while conjuring up laughably weak pretexts that they’re for his work – and this shop looks suitably musty and well-stocked. Suddenly docile, Sherlock follows him through the door and wanders off before John has gone a dozen steps inside.

John loses himself in the travel section; the adventure of the last few days has given him his fill of crime and horror stories for now, and coming down to Dartmoor has left him restless. It was partly a desire for excitement and travel that led him to join the Army, after all. He steers away from the Middle East shelves, not yet able to read about the situation there with equanimity, and browses happily among accounts of the Americas and Africa.

He flicks through books by various engaging authors, and it comes as a surprise when the owner taps him on the shoulder to tell him that they’re closing in fifteen minutes. John thanks her, and tucks his intended purchase under his arm before picking up his bag and going to look for Sherlock.

He finds him, unsurprisingly, in the old books section. He’s perusing a volume with two other books cradled in the curve of his arm, as though he can’t bear to put them down, and for a long moment John just watches him. It’s rare that he’s able to sneak up on Sherlock, and consequently rare that he gets the chance to observe him without Sherlock aware of his scrutiny.

Sherlock’s head is bent over his book, and he’s utterly focussed on it to the exclusion of all else. His lips are parted slightly as he reads, and John’s heart constricts momentarily with how physically beautiful Sherlock is, and how unselfconscious. John might tease him about the way he dresses, but in truth he knows that Sherlock does so at least partly because he thinks that he needs to in order to get people to pay attention to him. As though he couldn’t turn up in frayed jeans and a washed-out T-shirt and still be the most captivating thing in the room.

‘Hey,’ John says at last, walking up to him. ‘Found something good?’

‘Yes.’ Sherlock tips his arm to allow John to read the titles of the books. One is a faded, leather-bound tome on chemistry, and in French to boot. The information contained therein is bound to be hopelessly out of date; Sherlock is clearly buying it for the simple reason that he likes it, but John knows that if he points this out then he’ll be vigorously contradicted. The second is a more modern introductory text on psychology and John suspects that, on some barely-acknowledged level, Sherlock is more rattled by his crisis the other evening than he’s willing to acknowledge.

The book he’s holding in his hands is an edition of Shakespeare’s Henry V, and when Sherlock sees John looking then he flips open the front cover to show him the publication date.

‘Eighteen ninety-five,’ Sherlock murmurs, his long fingers stroking the cover almost reverently. ‘Over one hundred years old.’

The date reminds John that he needs to fix his blog counter, still stubbornly lodged at the same number of hits. It’s entirely possible that Sherlock picked the book up because he liked the look of it, but kept holding it because of that connection. John wouldn’t put it past him – Sherlock has some of the oddest ways of showing affection that John has ever come across – but he knows already that Sherlock will never tell.

‘Come on,’ he says. ‘They’re closing. We’ve got to go.’

Sherlock nods his agreement, tucks Henry V on top of his other two books, and plucks John’s from under his arm to add to the pile.

‘I’ll get it,’ he says carelessly, off-handedly, and John wonders if this is yet another apology for his outburst other night. Coffee, and books, and Sherlock’s uncharacteristic docility – John will admit that he’s enjoying it but if it carries on much longer then he’ll have to say something. Tell Sherlock that this is what lovers do: they argue and then make up, and that he’s not required to keep apologising for days afterwards as though John will leave if he doesn’t. John doesn’t think that it’s possible for him to leave Sherlock now, even if he wanted to; he’s told Sherlock he loves him but Sherlock doesn’t appear to have followed this to its logical corollary.

The woman at the cash desk smiles when she sees what Sherlock has chosen.

‘A fellow bibliophile,’ she says, swaddling the chemistry book and the Shakespeare in tissue paper. She glances at their luggage. ‘You know, if you’re staying until Saturday then there’s an antique book fair in Newton Abbot.’

Sherlock’s face lights up with interest. ‘Really?’

John hates to chase that look away but, while a couple of books is one thing, they’re not so financially solvent that they can afford to spend ridiculous amounts of money on volumes that they don’t need and he says, ‘Sherlock.’

Sherlock glances at him, then turns back to the woman and says, ‘I’m afraid we’re leaving tomorrow.’

‘Well, never mind. Perhaps next time you’re down,’ she says.

Sherlock flicks a quick glance at John while she searches under the counter for a bag, and John has to bite his lip and look away. He can’t imagine when they’ll next be down this end of the country to chase a giant spectral hound all over the moors, but by God he hopes it isn’t any time soon.

‘Are you looking for a place to stay?’ she says, sliding their books into a bag and proffering it to Sherlock. ‘The Cross Keys inn has some lovely double rooms.’

‘Thank you,’ Sherlock says smoothly. He fishes out his wallet and pays for the books, looping the handle of the bag over his wrist as she rings up their purchases on an antique till. ‘We’ll be sure to stop by.’

----------

The sun is setting when they get back to Grimpen. The owners of the Cross Keys are surprised to see them again, but happy to help out once John explains their situation. Sherlock’s credit card – that he slaps on the counter while John fumbles for his wallet – is waved aside with an emphatic ‘Wouldn’t dream of it, Mr. Holmes,’ and a few moments later Gary looks up from the ledger and announces brightly, ‘You’re in luck. There’s a double free – the couple checked out this morning when you did. Number six, it’s a lovely one.’

‘I…’ John isn’t sure what to say. He’d been very quick to accept the two adjoining single rooms when they first arrived, knowing Sherlock’s propensity to stay up all night pacing when he was working through a puzzle, and having no desire to be kept awake – but now the case is over and Sherlock is crowding close behind him and breathing down his neck. ‘I–’

‘That’s perfect,’ Sherlock cuts in easily. ‘Thank you.’ He scoops up the room key and turns. ‘Come on, John.’

Number six is, as promised, very nice. It’s in the eaves of the inn, with the noise of the swallows twittering and squabbling in the thatch, and a glance along the corridor shows that there are no other rooms on this floor, and no neighbours to disturb them. John smiles to himself. A bit of luck, that, considering what he’s got planned for Sherlock later. Always assuming Sherlock is amenable, though, which John has found isn’t at all a given.

In the room, Sherlock stretches out on the large double bed, looking a bit incongruous among all the chintz and ruffled fabric. It’s like a spread from Country Life, save that they don’t generally use models that John wants to strip bare and lick all over.

Speaking of which… he looks at Sherlock’s pose, draped suggestively over the bed, but Sherlock is already burrowing into the bag for one of his new books, seemingly unaware of the tempting picture he makes. John sighs inwardly, and counsels himself to patience.

‘Come on.’ He walks over to knock his leg comfortably against one of Sherlock’s feet hanging off the edge of the mattress. ‘Let’s go downstairs and read by the fire.’

The two armchairs are free, and they install themselves contentedly. John sees Sherlock shifting around and reaching for his wallet, and forestalls him by standing and saying, ‘Would you like a drink?’

‘Yes please,’ Sherlock says, looking up at him. ‘But here, wait a minute, I’ll–’

‘No, it’s fine,’ John says. Sherlock is definitely still apologising. ‘It’s on me. What’ll it be?’

‘Whisky, please.’ Sherlock subsides in his chair. ‘Thanks.’

‘And shall I ask them to keep a table for us for dinner?’ The pub’s small restaurant area is already starting to fill up. ‘In about an hour or so?’

‘Yes,’ Sherlock says, and smiles slightly. ‘If you’re sure you can survive another evening without meat.’

As with most food, Sherlock can take it or leave it – and more often it’s the latter – but John still hasn’t quite grown reaccustomed to the luxury that is fresh meat whenever he wants it, as opposed to Army rations. Consequently he’s been eating more of it than he probably should; he’s been intending to cut down on it, and these few days seem to be a good time to start.

At the bar John requests a table for dinner, and orders a pint for himself and a double shot of Macallan for Sherlock, of which he gets a generous measure. It’s one of the nicer ones, certainly nicer than the rubbish Sherlock was downing when he was so desperately self-medicating the other night, and John is rewarded with the sight of Sherlock’s eyes fluttering closed as he rolls it around his mouth, savouring it.

‘Thanks,’ he says.

John smiles as he settles himself in his own chair. ‘You’re welcome.’

John wonders what the Yarders would say if they could see Sherlock now – content by the fire with a good book and a glass of something nice. Ignoring the fact that the book is an obscure French volume, he looks just like any other bloke away on holiday and John thinks that they’d be hard-pressed to see Sherlock Holmes, arrogant consulting genius. And yet, even if it would help his relationship with them, John can’t help being selfishly glad that he’s the only one allowed to see this side of Sherlock.

John sips at his pint, and soon loses himself in his book. It’s well-written and absorbing; after a while he’s half-reading and half-musing over collecting his blog entries into a similar layout for publication, and Sherlock’s foot has to nudge his twice before he stirs. He lifts his eyes, and Sherlock nods towards the bar.

Gary is looking over at them, bobbing and craning his neck around the customers he’s serving, and generally trying to attract their attention without doing anything so uncouth as actually raising his voice to call to them or abandoning his post.

‘It looks as though we need to go and defend our claim,’ Sherlock says, looking through into the restaurant. He’s loose-limbed and relaxed, slightly flushed from the fire and the alcohol, and John is sorely tempted to say ‘Fuck it’ to dinner, drag Sherlock back to their room, and see if he can exploit their current good standing enough to get Billy to send up a sandwich or two.

‘John.’ Sherlock raises his eyebrows expectantly and John pulls himself together and stands.

‘Let’s go, then,’ he says.

----------

Dinner is enjoyable more for the company than for the cuisine. Sherlock orders a vegetable tagine, and John manfully does his best with a vegetarian lasagne that he tries to convince himself is as good as the real thing. Gary has given them a quiet table in the corner, but the tiny restaurant fills up and before long a pleasant-looking, middle-aged couple take the table next to them, smiling politely at Sherlock and John as they sit down. John nods amiably in response, and tries to think of a different conversation topic for Sherlock and him than corpse decomposition rates in various types of soil, since the tables are too close together for privacy.

Sherlock’s mouth twitches as though he can tell what John is thinking, and he says airily, ‘Did I ever tell you the results of that experiment I did at Barts last week? The one where I had the help of the inestimable Mr. Prendergast? Well, I say “help”–’

John stretches his legs forward, captures Sherlock’s calf between both of his, and squeezes warningly.

‘No,’ he says. ‘Tell me later, alright?’

Sherlock’s eyes dance with mischief and he returns to his food. He looks utterly innocent, but John knows with the terrible certainty of several months’ acquaintance that he’s merely biding his time while thinking up something new and dreadful.

In an effort to distract Sherlock, John resettles his legs around Sherlock’s and grips gently. He gives one long, firm press against Sherlock’s leg followed swiftly by two shorter ones, pauses, then three long squeezes, then another pause, then long-short-long-long–

But by this time Sherlock is frowning at him as though John has lost what little brain he could ever have claimed to possess, and so John asks, seemingly apropos of nothing: ‘Do you know those detective books? About that Morse character?’

He gives Sherlock’s leg another pointed squeeze for good measure and he can see that Sherlock gets it. His face lights up and he says, ‘Yes.’

‘Yeah, I thought that that might have been your thing,’ John says, thrilling at how Sherlock is staring at him, bright-eyed and riveted as though he’s trying to read John’s thoughts through his skull. ‘Do you know all of them? Or just a few?’

‘All of them,’ Sherlock says promptly. ‘Mycroft taught– I mean, he lent them to me. When we were boys.’

One day John hopes to be allowed to find out the story of what happened between the brothers to leave them the way they are, but for now he just murmurs, ‘Good.’

He looks down at the bits of salad left on the side of his plate and sends, slowly and carefully enough that Sherlock should have no problems following: look at beard of man next to us

‘Weather last night was dreadful, wasn’t it?’ John says innocently and Sherlock snorts with laughter.

‘Appalling,’ he says. His face is lively with amusement that tells John Message received and understood, since John has never yet heard Sherlock converse about anything so mundane as the weather. ‘Worst I’ve seen in a long time. It was just so… so…’

‘Mmm,’ John agrees, while under the table Sherlock’s other leg settles outside of his and Sherlock hesitantly sends: like a dead ferret

John gnaws at the inside of his cheek, laughter bubbling in his throat, and stabs firmly at a wedge of tomato. ‘Worse than the time we stayed in that little village, Anderson. Back when we first met, d’you remember?’

‘I remember meeting its idiot,’ Sherlock mutters darkly, and this time John can’t suppress a laugh, giddy with amusement and their shared secret. The man at the neighbouring table really does have terrible facial hair, but more than that John loves to see Sherlock entertained and interested because of something John has done.

you look gorgeous, John tells him and Sherlock looks down, suddenly intent on skewering a piece of carrot to chase the last bit of sauce around his plate. John sighs inwardly, resigned by now to Sherlock’s interest in sex being erratic at best, but then Sherlock flicks him a glance from under his eyelashes and, very deliberately, sucks the spear of carrot clean before putting it in his mouth.

John swallows hard, his grip tightening on his cutlery. It looks as though his idea for tonight might be on the cards after all.

‘So this is what people usually do when they come away to the country for the weekend,’ Sherlock says.

John smiles slightly, remembering his throwaway remark to Sherlock that afternoon.

‘Yes. Well, one of the things, anyway.’ He puts his knife and fork neatly together on the plate. ‘Though it’s fine if you don’t want to. To tell the truth, I expected you would think it’s too dull.’

‘Not necessarily,’ Sherlock says silkily. ‘It rather depends on what precisely you’re thinking of doing.’

Sherlock is attractive enough when he’s being unselfconscious about it, but when he tilts his head just so and glances flirtatiously at John out of the corner of those extraordinary eyes… John has to take a moment before he replies, since his initial reaction is Everything, when you look at me like that.

He slides his other calf between both of Sherlock’s, using his shins to spread Sherlock’s legs wide for a moment, before resuming his hold and telling him silently: strip you bare

He pauses. bend you over the table

Another pause. kneel behind you

The couple at the next table are engaged in an animated debate about something – John doesn’t know what and frankly doesn’t give a toss, since he’s too busy watching the little wrinkle between Sherlock’s brows – and neither of them look over when Sherlock says aloud, ‘But that makes no sense. You’d be in the wrong place to actually do anything.’

A grin tugs at one side of John’s mouth, making him feel younger and more wicked than he has in ages, and he murmurs, ‘Bet you a tenner?’

He only means to tease Sherlock, and he isn’t sure whether Sherlock will even guess what he’s thinking of, but after a moment Sherlock’s cutlery clatters onto the plate – making heads turn in their direction – and he stares at John, shocked. It’s not something they’ve done, or in which John has ever indicated an interest, and Sherlock looks down at the table. He picks up his knife and fork, and opens and shuts his mouth a couple of times as though he’s going to speak but ultimately remains silent. He looks so flustered that after a few moments John takes pity on him and slides his hand across the table to pick up the wine list, taking care to knock his unused spoon onto the floor.

Sherlock leans down quickly to retrieve it and spends several moments down there fiddling with his already-perfectly-tied shoelaces, which explains his flush and slight breathlessness when he sits back up.

‘Oh look,’ John says, trying to look as though butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, ‘they have a Tokaji on the menu.’

John knows a bit about wine, thanks to an ex-girlfriend, and he tilts the short but top-quality menu towards Sherlock, who ignores it entirely in favour of frowning at John.

‘Have you ever tried it?’ John asks. He knows for a fact that Sherlock has, since a grateful client sent them half a crate of the stuff at the conclusion of their case, but Sherlock shakes his head.

‘Why would you want that?’ he demands, his tone sharp. John knows Sherlock well enough not to take offence; Sherlock naturally reverts to hostility when he feels his knowledge is inadequate in any way.

‘Well…’ John takes his time answering, and lays his hand on the table halfway between them where Sherlock ignores it entirely. ‘Why does anyone do anything?’ John shrugs. ‘It’s enjoyable. Like a good dessert wine – sometimes you feel like ordering it, and sometimes you’re in the mood for something else. It’s something I’d like to order for you, and if you’ve not had it before then I thought you might like to try it. That’s all.’

Sherlock’s frown doesn’t disappear.

‘What if I don’t want any?’ he demands. ‘What then?’

John shrugs again, not sure how to get Sherlock to unwind. ‘Then that’s fine? Look, it’s not a big deal if you don’t. Hell, we don’t have to order wine at all, if you don’t want any.’

‘I…’

The couple at the next table are glancing at them covertly, probably drawn in despite themselves by Sherlock’s slightly aggressive tone over something so seemingly trivial. John ignores them. Considering what he and Sherlock are really talking about then they can damn well count themselves lucky that they’re using code. Sherlock swallows and looks away, the turn of his neck drawing John’s attention to the creamy little dip between his collarbones, before saying, ‘Alright. I want to try it.’

He speaks quickly, as though he has to get it out before he loses his nerve.

‘You’re sure?’ John presses. ‘Because we really don’t have to. We could just go and have coffee by the fire with our books.’

‘No.’ Sherlock’s hand ghosts over the back of John’s before retreating. ‘I want it.’

‘Right,’ John says, his mind suddenly hijacked by increasingly lewd thoughts about Sherlock, and then he pauses, suddenly realising the problem with this particular method of talking.

‘Er, did you actually want a glass of wine, or–’

Sherlock’s laugh interrupts him. It’s brief but sincere and Sherlock’s eyes sparkle with mirth, his temper as mercurial as ever. ‘Yes please. And I really do like that grape.’

‘Yes,’ John smiles at him, affection plain in his voice. ‘I know you do.’

John dawdles for a moment, fussing unnecessarily with finding his wallet. All this talk of what he’s going to do to Sherlock has affected him, and he has to pause to be sure that it’s not going to be embarrassingly obvious as soon as he stands up. The couple next to them clearly think that they’re both half-mad, but John bares his teeth at them in a not-quite smile as he stands, and Sherlock pulls out his Blackberry with an air of superiority worthy of an emperor.

The wine, when John brings it back to the table, is deeply golden in the glass. Sherlock offers him a taste when he sees John looking at it, and the rich, almost honeyed sweetness that spreads over John’s tongue prompts images of late summer days, with bees buzzing fat and indolent in long grass.

‘That’s good,’ John says eventually, swallowing and enjoying the aftertaste.

‘Mmm,’ Sherlock rumbles, almost purrs, and John smiles at him as he hands the glass back. He’s just ordered a coffee for himself, and he tips some milk into it and stirs as he watches Sherlock take another mouthful. While he was at the bar the couple next to them have finished their dessert and left, and he and Sherlock are now once more alone in their little corner. And yet, although they now have privacy enough to say whatever they like to each other, there’s nothing John needs to say. The silence between them is comfortable and familiar as an old blanket, like something they’ve done a hundred times before and will happily do a hundred times more, and John watches Sherlock sip his wine and savour each mouthful, eyelids growing heavy with pleasure. He’s so lovely in that moment that John’s breath catches with the wish that Sherlock could always be this content, sated with his solved case like a well-fed cat. But that’s a fool’s hope: if Sherlock were the type of man who was capable of this sort of contentment on a regular basis then he wouldn’t be Sherlock Holmes.

At last Sherlock sets his empty glass down, and leans back in his chair. His feet tangle unhesitatingly with John’s, and John rubs his ankle along Sherlock’s in an absent-minded caress. The thought of what they’re about to do upstairs has started to burn low in John’s gut and he puts his hand on the table, palm upwards, holding it there until Sherlock’s hand settles on top of it, light and hesitant. John doesn’t try to grip it, only curls his fingers up to stroke them along the sensitive inside of Sherlock’s wrist and suggests, ‘Why don’t you head upstairs and take a shower, and I’ll join you in a bit.’

Sherlock bites at the corner of his mouth at this, looking anticipatory and just a touch nervous, and murmurs, ‘Alright.’

With a last, fleeting pressure of his hand on John’s, Sherlock pushes his chair back, gets up, and leaves.

John lingers over his coffee. Desire and arousal can be elusive, fleeting things for Sherlock, John has found. Sherlock finds it difficult to relax and let go enough to enjoy sex, unable to turn his brain off for long enough to listen to his body; consequently orgasm can take a while and occasionally doesn’t happen at all, despite John’s best efforts.

Once, and only once, after John had failed to get Sherlock off with either hands or mouth, he tried holding him close while Sherlock masturbated. John’s limbs were loose and rubbery after his own climax, but he hugged Sherlock as tightly as he could manage. He kissed Sherlock’s forehead, stroking his nape and the sharp ridges of his shoulder blades, while Sherlock tugged at himself with quick, furtive movements. His rhythm grew jerkier and angrier the longer he went on, until John was moved to put a hand on his forearm and murmur, ‘Take it easy. You’ll make yourself sore if you do it like that. Just relax.’

It was the wrong thing to say: Sherlock pulled roughly out of John’s arms, snarled ‘I’m trying, you idiot,’ and stalked off to take a shower. Whether he managed to get himself off there or not, John never found out. When he came downstairs after his own shower he found Sherlock in the middle of something complicated and foul-smelling on the kitchen table, and spikily dismissive of John’s attempts to say that it was fine, that these things happened (or not, as the case may be).

John pities Sherlock. For all his brilliance, Sherlock can’t enjoy this most basic of human pleasures, but John knows enough not to admit his sympathy aloud. And yet, even though sexual release can be erratic for him, John has seen enough to know that Sherlock’s body is deeply sensual, whether he’s consciously aware of this inclination or not. The sheets that he sleeps on – when he sleeps – are a ridiculously high thread count, and his pyjamas are the softest cotton John has ever felt. His clothes not only set off his frame to advantage but also invite the hand to touch and, once there, to linger. Not to mention that John has seen him take a truly unbelievable amount of time over dinner in a Michelin-starred restaurant, eating each course in tiny, protracted bites.

(Sherlock used to schedule haircuts frequently, more frequently than anyone could possibly need, until John worked out that he just enjoyed the feeling of someone running their hands through his hair. Since he started ambushing Sherlock and pulling him down onto the sofa to give scalp massages, Sherlock’s curls grew longer and longer until one day he had to push them out of his eyes with an exclamation of annoyance.)

When he judges that Sherlock has had more than enough time, John settles the bill and climbs the stairs to the top floor. Sherlock took the only room key they have and John can’t be bothered to redescend to ask for a second, so he taps on the door.

‘It’s open,’ Sherlock calls and John enters, locking the door after he shuts it.

Sherlock is folded awkwardly into one of the small armchairs, disdaining the large expanse of the bed. His hair curls wetly on his forehead, and he’s pulled on a pair of black boxer-briefs and a shirt, loosely buttoned. His long legs are drawn up – laptop balanced precariously on his knees – and when John looks over his shoulder he sees that Sherlock has pulled up a train timetable for the following day.

‘I didn’t know the rooms had free WiFi,’ John comments, as his eyes skim down the list and he notes the times of possible trains.

‘They don’t,’ Sherlock says, clicking to a different tab that shows a weather report. ‘But it wasn’t exactly hard to get to.’

Unseen, John rolls his eyes. ‘Right. Well, since we can both get it on our phones then how about we stop abusing their hospitality?’

‘A computer screen’s easier to read,’ Sherlock protests, but he closes the browser anyway.

John places a finger on the lid of the laptop. ‘Are you done?’

Sherlock nods, and John tips the lid down until it clicks shut. He moves around to the side and Sherlock looks up, meeting his eyes for the first time since John entered. Someone who didn’t know him would think he was perfectly composed, for all that he’s sitting there in just his shirt and underwear, but John can see the tiny hint of something at the back of his eyes that betrays him.

‘Why don’t you go and get on the bed,’ he says. It’s not quite a request and not quite an order: John has learned that he can’t drag Sherlock into compliance even with chains of iron around that gorgeous neck, but that he can sometimes do it with a gossamer cord around his wrist.

Sherlock unfolds himself from the chair – and how he managed to fit all his height in there in the first place is a puzzle – and goes to stretch out on his side in the centre of the bed, his head propped up on one hand.

The room is snug and well-heated, so John takes a moment to toe off his boots and socks and tug his shirt off, and watches Sherlock’s eyes tracking over his chest and shoulders as he climbs onto the bed and stretches out, mirroring Sherlock’s pose. There’s some space between their bodies, albeit not much, and it closes when John leans in. Sherlock’s eyes slide shut and his lips part: he’s obviously expecting a kiss and, looking at him, John is tempted. But instead he hooks a finger in the collar of Sherlock’s half-open shirt and tugs it aside, baring Sherlock’s neck and collarbone.

He kisses along the side of Sherlock’s throat and down onto his shoulder, while Sherlock’s breath shivers a little in his throat. Sherlock smells utterly delicious, all warm and clean; John could bite him but he keeps his touch light, the only contact between them John’s mouth on Sherlock’s skin and the tiny brushes of the back of his index finger against Sherlock’s shoulder. John indulges himself for a moment and buries his face in the crook of Sherlock’s shoulder and throat, inhaling deeply and feeling himself start to get hard, and when Sherlock’s hand settles tentatively on his waist then he slowly kisses back up, arriving at last at Sherlock’s mouth for a kiss.

John is proud of himself for suggesting the glass of dessert wine. The small amount of alcohol has made Sherlock relax slightly, and contributed to the light touch of colour in his cheeks. For all that the outcome isn’t a certainty for Sherlock, he’s definitely on board with John’s suggestion; the shirt he’s wearing is the purple one, that sets off his pale skin perfectly and that he knows is John’s favourite. John’s likewise pleased with himself for planting the idea in Sherlock’s mind, knowing that Sherlock will have been obsessing over it since he brought it up, rather than growing distracted by any one of half a dozen other trains of thought.

Sherlock’s mouth is positively made for kisses, and John spends a long time brushing light, shallow touches over those full lips until Sherlock starts to lean forward every time he pulls back, unconsciously seeking more. John gives it to him, touching his tongue lightly against Sherlock’s mouth until he opens up for him while his hand rubs firmly along Sherlock’s ribs and waist, the crisp fabric of his shirt whispering under John’s palm. Sherlock’s ribs are less prominent now than when they first started sleeping together, and given that that was several months into their acquaintance then John doesn’t want to think about what they must have been like when they first met.

John takes his time kissing Sherlock, nuzzling at his mouth as though they have all the time in the world to do this. He revels in the sweet, luscious softness of Sherlock’s lips against his own; such a gentle mouth for such a prickly, reserved man. Sherlock’s breath washes warm and slow against John’s cheek, and John pulls back briefly to see that his kisses are bringing more blood to the surface of Sherlock’s skin, blooming pink along those cheekbones that John could stare at all day. Glancing down the length of Sherlock’s body, John sees that the rise of black cotton at his groin is slightly more pronounced and Sherlock’s hand clasps the back of his neck to draw him back in.

John’s hands don’t stray below Sherlock’s waist, but he touches him everywhere else: rubbing at his nipples through his shirt, squeezing his shoulders, and sliding down his arms to encircle Sherlock’s bony wrists between middle finger and thumb. Sherlock goes along with it, and reciprocates on John. He’s obviously fascinated by the way John’s muscles shift under his skin when he moves, and the difference in texture between the scar and the rest of his skin, and John wonders giddily if being the centre of Sherlock’s focus will ever stop being quite so exciting. He catches Sherlock’s lower lip in his mouth and suckles, just a tiny bit, before letting go, and Sherlock moans a little and squirms closer, trying for more contact.

John brings his hands to Sherlock’s shirt buttons and slowly, telegraphing his intent and giving Sherlock plenty of time to consider it, he slips each button free of its buttonhole until the lower half of the shirt falls down to lie on the bed and John pushes the upper half back, baring Sherlock’s chest and stomach.

‘You’re lovely,’ he murmurs into Sherlock’s mouth, gliding the backs of his fingers along Sherlock’s breastbone with its sparse wisps of hair. He keeps going down to Sherlock’s navel, and dips a knuckle lightly inside before stroking back up, until he clasps Sherlock’s chin gently and holds his face tilted for more kisses.

‘Gorgeous, you are,’ John says, and lets go when Sherlock turns his face away.

‘John…’

‘Come here.’

John slides down the bed a little, ignoring Sherlock’s awkwardness. If Sherlock had changed his mind or lost interest then John knows from experience that he would have no qualms about saying so, and so this is Sherlock simply unaccustomed to such lavish, freely-given compliments. John slides closer, tugging a pillow down to prop under his head so that he’s at the perfect height to lean forward and cover one of Sherlock’s nipples with his mouth. Above him Sherlock inhales sharply and John takes it between his lips and grips softly.

He’s found that Sherlock is exquisitely sensitive, almost painfully so, and that too much sensation can actually be uncomfortable for him. Discomfort translates quickly into self-consciousness, and from that point the chances of a successful sexual encounter go swiftly downhill, for Sherlock at least. He’ll always ensure that John gets off but pushes John’s hands away when he tries to reciprocate; once Sherlock has lost his momentum then John can almost never persuade him to try again.

So John goes slowly, achingly slowly, and thrills with triumph when Sherlock gives a soft whine and pushes his fingers into the hair at John’s nape.

(It’s been getting a little long and John means to schedule a haircut, he really does, but Sherlock has just realised over the past fortnight that he’s able to get a grip on it and the sensation is too delicious to give up just yet.)

He sucks at Sherlock’s nipple, and laps, and even bites it – lips carefully shielding the sharp edges of his teeth – until Sherlock’s breathing changes and his fingers grip John’s flesh rather than his hair, as though he needs something more solid to hang on to. John carries on until the pink rise of flesh is drawn tight and flushed between his lips, and then he props his head up on one hand and moves up to the other one while Sherlock’s chest arches subtly towards him.

John repeats the process with the other side but this time, while Sherlock shifts restlessly and pushes forward into his mouth, he slides a hand between Sherlock’s thighs. The skin there is like warm silk, soft over the long, lean muscle beneath, and John rubs his hand along Sherlock’s inner thighs. The calluses on his palm scratch lightly against Sherlock’s skin, and John assumes that it feels good from the way Sherlock moves and parts his legs. John meticulously avoids touches to Sherlock’s groin, and focuses on running his hand up Sherlock’s thigh before veering off at the last minute to caress his hipbone, sharp through the black cotton of his underwear. He moves higher, to rub soothing circles on the base of Sherlock’s stomach, but doesn’t move any lower until at last, breathing hard, Sherlock grips John’s wrist and pushes his hand down. John pretends to let him before, at the last minute, bypassing Sherlock’s obvious erection to push his hand between Sherlock’s thighs again.

John,’ Sherlock says at last.

John lets Sherlock’s nipple pull free from his mouth, with a last fond lick, and raises his head. Sherlock is properly flushed now, John notes with approval: a bright glow of pink along his cheekbones and over the bridge of his nose.

‘John, please.

He’s all but wriggling, trying to get John’s hand where he wants it, and John lets his touch drift higher, brushing the side of his hand against Sherlock’s balls just to watch his eyelashes flutter.

‘Look at you,’ John says, entranced. ‘Just look at you.’

He twists his wrist, cups the heavy swell of Sherlock’s balls and rubs gently, watches Sherlock’s white teeth nip briefly at his lower lip. John’s fingers slide up under the leg of Sherlock’s boxers easily, and he ghosts the backs of his fingers against heated, delicate skin.

‘Oh Christ,’ Sherlock gasps. ‘Take them off me, for God’s sake.’

He reaches down but John is faster: he tips Sherlock onto his back and scoots further down the bed, shouldering Sherlock’s legs apart to lie between them and press his face hard into Sherlock’s groin. Sherlock’s cock is a thick, solid line in his underwear, and John rubs his face along it, nuzzles into the small dip where Sherlock’s balls join the base of his cock and inhales deeply. Sherlock smells divine here – soap and clean laundry and, underneath it, fresh arousal – and John mashes his face harder against him, wanting to eat him alive, wanting to make him howl.

John’s mouth waters, but instead of swallowing he noses at the tiny buttons on the fly of Sherlock’s boxers and pushes his tongue between them to smear the first touch of wetness against Sherlock’s cock. Sherlock’s thighs jerk violently against John’s shoulders and John catches hold of them, winding his arms around them and holding Sherlock steady while he teases him: mouthing along his cock, almost biting him, until he finds the head and presses his parted lips against it.

‘Fuck,’ Sherlock grinds out. He reaches down to cover John’s hands where they’re digging into his thighs, and John relaxes his hold long enough to twine Sherlock’s fingers with his and squeeze reassuringly.

‘I can’t,’ Sherlock says, voice shaky and desperate, and John’s fingers hurt where they’re clamped between Sherlock’s. ‘I – oh – don’t tease, John, I can’t… I don’t like it, I–’

John stops at once, kneeling up and wincing a little as his jeans pinch his erection. Sherlock gazes up at him, looking thoroughly debauched with his shirt pulled half-off and his erection clearly outlined in his underwear, and John grips his calf.

‘Get up for a moment.’

Uncomprehending, Sherlock sits up and reaches for John.

‘No, I mean, get up. Off the bed,’ John says, and adds, ‘Just for a moment,’ when Sherlock’s face falls. Sherlock obeys, slightly clumsy and gawky with lust, and John quickly snaps the covers back. He piles the pillows up against the head of the bed and turns to Sherlock.

‘Come here,’ he says gently, when Sherlock doesn’t move.

John steps in close, slides the shirt down Sherlock’s arms and off, and takes a moment to tilt Sherlock’s face down to brush kisses over his eyebrows before saying, ‘Now get back on the bed, and lean back against the pillows.’

Sherlock does so, while John takes a moment to kick off his jeans and underwear, sighing a little as the pressure is relieved. Sherlock hasn’t thought to remove his underwear, and John climbs back onto the bed, kneels between his legs, and tucks two fingers into the elastic waistband, tugging a little.

‘Lift your bum,’ he says and Sherlock does so, bracing his hands on the mattress to cant his hips up so that John can work his boxer shorts down and under the curve of his arse to slide them down long legs and off. Finally Sherlock is naked, head and chest propped up against the headboard while his legs relax into an untidy splay either side of John.

‘Beautiful,’ John murmurs, running an approving hand up Sherlock’s calf. Sherlock’s nostrils flare slightly on an inbreath, and when John’s hand crests the curve of his knee and starts to slide up his inner thigh he twists his face away, eyes closing.

Don’t,’ John says sharply. He wants to keep Sherlock grounded and here, and he knows from far too many tedious Army briefing sessions that it’s far harder for your mind to wander if you’re actually looking at what you’re meant to be paying attention to. Sherlock’s head jerks up, startled.

‘Don’t turn your face away,’ John orders. ‘And don’t close your eyes.’

If John had wondered whether Sherlock liked being ordered around by him then this would be his proof – Sherlock’s eyes go dark and liquid and his cock twitches fractionally – but John wonders whether Sherlock even realises. Sherlock’s physical self-awareness is notoriously terrible, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if he wasn’t consciously aware of how much it turns him on. John’s hands splay against Sherlock’s inner thighs, just inches from his cock, and Sherlock’s hips tilt a little, restless. John bites the inside of his cheek to stop a smile and, not breaking Sherlock’s gaze, he moves his hands higher.

Sherlock’s cock pulses under John’s touch, and Sherlock’s eyelids flutter as his lips part. He doesn’t look away, though, and John curls his fingers around Sherlock’s cock and strokes him a few times, much lighter than he would for himself. Sherlock licks his lips; his breath shakes but he holds John’s gaze, and John rewards him by angling his cock up, away from his body, and leaning down to take it in his mouth. Sherlock groans above him and John sees, out of the corner of his eye, the muscles of Sherlock’s forearms bunching as he takes hold of the sheet.

Given the choice, Sherlock always prefers John’s mouth to his hand. Part of it is the intimacy of the act but part of it is because – John discovered through previous aborted attempts – it’s too easy to be accidentally too rough for Sherlock’s liking when he’s using his hands. Too easy for the calluses on his palms to catch in the wrong place, or for the lube to dry out and Sherlock not to say anything until he’s already lost his erection, or for John to press his thumb too hard against Sherlock’s cockhead. So John keeps everything soft and wet, gathers saliva at the front of his mouth so that Sherlock slides easily between his lips, and Sherlock’s thighs twitch further apart as his breathing stutters and he gulps. Sherlock’s cock throbs and John slides his mouth off to lap at the head, letting it slip in and out of his mouth.

‘John…’ Sherlock gasps. ‘Ah… John. John. John.

John lifts his head. Sherlock is staring down at him, biting his lip, and John leans up to kiss him, coaxing that lip free and letting Sherlock taste himself in John’s mouth.

‘I thought,’ Sherlock mumbles between kisses. ‘I thought you wanted to… to…’

‘Oh, I do,’ John says, kissing one high cheekbone, Sherlock’s lashes tickling his nose in a butterfly kiss. ‘But there’s no rush. We’ve got all night.’

Sherlock hums in agreement, and tips his face up for a proper kiss. He reaches down between John’s legs, and John lets Sherlock stroke him for a few moments before he draws back, breaking their kiss and pulling his cock gently but firmly out of Sherlock’s grip. He slides down the bed as Sherlock frowns slightly.

‘I ought to do something for you.’

John grins at him. ‘Oh, you’re doing plenty for me, believe me.’

Sherlock frowns harder, obviously suspecting some joke he’s not privy to, and John leans down to plant an open-mouthed kiss on Sherlock’s inner thigh. The distraction works – Sherlock goes limp against the pillows and his legs sag further apart. John works his way up, until he’s licking along the line where Sherlock’s thigh meets his groin and Sherlock’s breathing has quickened. Slowly, John moves a couple of inches to the side and slides his tongue over the soft, vulnerable skin behind Sherlock’s balls, and Sherlock stops breathing altogether.

John kisses him there, all gentle lips and tongue and warm breath, until Sherlock squirms slightly. John sits up. With Sherlock positioned like he is then there isn’t quite enough space to go lower, and John doesn’t want to start and then have to stop partway through because of logistics. He cups Sherlock’s calves in his hands, tugging gently.

‘Come here,’ he says. ‘Slide down the bed a bit. Yeah, that’s it–’ when Sherlock clumsily obeys, ‘–a bit further. Yes. Now pass me that pillow.’

He stuffs it under Sherlock’s hips, tilting him up, and puts his hands on the back of Sherlock’s thighs. He pushes at them, urging Sherlock silently to lift them and murmuring encouragement when Sherlock gets the message and draws his knees into this chest.

‘Good,’ he praises him. ‘Now hold them there. Like that, that’s it.’

Sherlock’s hands replace John’s on the back of his thighs, and John slides down to place another hot, messy kiss behind Sherlock’s balls. This time he has enough space to dip lower, and he does.

At the first pass of John’s tongue over his hole, Sherlock jolts so hard he loses his grip and kicks John in the shoulder. Luckily it’s his good shoulder, and so John just catches Sherlock’s ankle and mutters, ‘Easy.’

‘Sorry,’ Sherlock gasps, and gathers his leg back into his chest. It might be easier with Sherlock on his front but when John looks up at him he sees that Sherlock is equal parts wild-eyed and aroused, and breaking the rhythm of this slow advance-and-retreat to make Sherlock uncurl and turn over feels like a bad idea. John wants Sherlock to look down and see him, and to feel that he has complete control over how long they do this for – since when he’s had enough then all he has to do is plant his feet on John’s shoulders and push.

John waits until Sherlock has a firm grip on his thigh before he leans back down, and this time when he slides his tongue down and back then Sherlock’s body quivers but he holds his position. John laps softly at him, a barely-there touch to get Sherlock used to the feel of someone’s mouth there, and after a while John pulls back slightly.

He draws saliva into the front of his mouth, and when he leans back in then his lips and tongue are warm and slick. The first long, wet slide of John’s mouth over him forces a curse out of Sherlock, and his legs tremble. John crows inwardly in exultation – his worries that Sherlock might not like this evaporating – and returns for another pass. He keeps his touch light at first, not wanting to push too hard too soon, but when he hears a soft, half-stifled whimper then lust spikes through him, so sharp and sudden that he almost can’t breathe.

He grips Sherlock’s flesh firmly and goes at him harder, licking and pressing his tongue against the tight muscle while it flutters under his touch, and even pushing a little way inside while Sherlock’s curses get louder and less coherent above him. John gets a good rhythm going; Sherlock’s hips start to writhe against the sheets and he’s reduced to gasping, ‘Ah… ah… ah…’ with each rhythmic squirm and press of John’s lips and tongue. John snakes a hand up between Sherlock’s thighs to find his cock lying on his belly. It’s hot and heavy, and John curls his fingers around it and squeezes gently.

Sherlock gives a little cry at this, his spine arching as though he can’t decide which stimulus to push into, and for a long, heart-pounding moment it seems as though he’s about to come. He’s fluttering erratically against John’s mouth, his thighs are shaking, and his cock strains in John’s grasp. John strokes him a few times, pushing his thumb up over the head, and thrusts his tongue inside Sherlock, trying his hardest to tip Sherlock over the edge that he’s struggling towards. But it’s not quite right: the pressure of John’s hand is too much, or not enough, and Sherlock’s muscles unlock as his hand settles on the top of John’s head.

‘John.’

It’s tempting to keep going, but John lifts his head, wiping his mouth on the back of his wrist, and looks up. Sherlock’s face is shiny, scarlet flags flying in his cheeks, and his chest heaves with the force of his breathing.

‘Are you alright?’ John asks, and Sherlock nods wordlessly. ‘Too much?’

Sherlock opens his mouth but it takes him two tries before he can speak, and he wets his lips and says, ‘A bit. But I just… I want it to be both of us.’

John snakes a hand down between his legs and strokes himself a couple of times, taking a deep breath at how good it feels. Going down on Sherlock always turns him on like mad, but Sherlock finds it easier to come when one of them is fucking the other, when he doesn’t feel under pressure to finish but can watch John’s pleasure until his body relaxes enough to drop him into orgasm almost before he knows it.

‘Okay,’ John says softly, and grips one of Sherlock’s splayed thighs to guide it back down to rest on the bed. Sherlock stretches a little, easing the tendons in his groin after being held at an awkward angle for so long, and John draws patterns with his fingertips on Sherlock’s inner thighs and says, ‘Get out the lube, and a condom.’

Supplies are in the bedside table – John is sure that Sherlock wouldn’t have forgotten this bit of preparation while he was up here waiting – and Sherlock holds them out to him.

‘They’re not for me,’ John tells him, tracing figure-eights on Sherlock’s skin.

Sherlock’s brow furrows in confusion that John probably shouldn’t find as enchanting as he does.

‘I thought you were going to fuck me,’ he says and, when John shakes his head, demands, ‘Why not?’

Because I know you, John thinks, and if that was what you wanted then you’d have shoved the condom at me before I could ask you for it.

Aloud he only says, ‘Well. You’ll get bored of me if I always give you what you’re expecting,’ and traces a fingertip along the flushed, rigid line of Sherlock’s cock.

‘N-no,’ Sherlock says, hips shifting. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of… of…’

John has made a circle of thumb and forefinger and is sliding it gently back and forth over the silky wet head of Sherlock’s cock, effectively derailing his train of thought. With his other hand he steals the bottle of lube from Sherlock’s unresisting hand and flicks the cap open. Taking his hand away from Sherlock’s erection – and smiling at the little protesting whine this provokes – John squeezes some out onto his fingertips and drops the bottle by Sherlock’s waist as he reaches down and back. He bites his lip and groans in pleasure at the smooth twist of fingers inside himself, and glances up at Sherlock to find him watching, lips parted and attention rapt.

John puts on a bit of a show for him, rubbing his face against Sherlock’s thigh and canting his hips up toward his hand as he opens himself. But it’s not much of an exaggeration, since he’s past ready for Sherlock to fuck him, and it’s not long before he presses a fervent, open-mouthed kiss to Sherlock’s skin and orders, ‘Christ, get yourself ready, Sherlock. I need you in me now.’

Sherlock scrambles obediently. John watches him fumble with the condom packet and before Sherlock can put it on he says, ‘Wait a moment.’ He reaches over and knocks his knuckles against the bottle, unwilling to let go of Sherlock’s thigh where the muscles are firm and quivering in anticipation. ‘Give me some more. Just a little–’ as Sherlock picks it up, ‘–just a few drops. Yeah, that’s it.’ He smears the tiny dab on the head of Sherlock’s cock. ‘Now put it on.’

Sherlock does so, adding more lube on top, until John pushes his hands away, climbs up and straddles Sherlock’s hips. He grips Sherlock’s cock, feeling it throb slightly at his touch, and holds it steady as he sinks down onto it. John is so turned on, and Sherlock has been so generous with the lubricant, that there’s not the slightest trace of discomfort when Sherlock pushes into him, only a smooth, easy slide that continues until John’s full weight rests on Sherlock’s groin and Sherlock’s fingers scrabble at his hips. John groans softly, letting his head tip back as he rolls his hips a couple of times, just pulling Sherlock’s cock a little way out and pushing it back in, and Sherlock grips John’s splayed thighs and arches his back.

‘John… oh God, John, that’s… that’s…’ His face crumples, his eyes sliding closed, and John reminds him sharply, ’Don’t.’

Sherlock’s eyes fly open, and John repeats, ‘Don’t close your eyes.’

Sherlock nods, but he’s biting his lips and squirming so much that John adds, ‘And don’t come.’

It’s an experiment, of sorts. Sherlock’s body functions best when he doesn’t feel pressured and so, while John desperately wants Sherlock to enjoy himself, he tries not to show it but to act as though it’s all one to him whether Sherlock gets off or not.

‘You’re not allowed to come,’ John orders, while Sherlock takes deep breaths. ‘Not yet, anyway.’

‘I… alright.’ Sherlock swallows visibly. ‘When?’

John takes hold of his own cock and strokes a few times, toes curling at how good it feels.

‘Not until I have,’ he says, trying for a tone of careless arrogance, and Sherlock inhales deeply and nods. It’s not going to take long: the beginnings of an orgasm are already prickling along his spine and down his inner thighs, and John lets go of his cock. He leans back a little, taking Sherlock’s cock at a different angle, and groaning helplessly when he finds the one that makes it press firmly against his prostate on every thrust and withdrawal. He rocks his hips, showing Sherlock the speed and rhythm that he wants, and Sherlock picks it up at once. He grabs John’s arse while he fucks him, fingers digging in while he watches John move.

For a moment, John’s self-consciousness flickers. The scar on his shoulder certainly isn’t an attractive sight, however fascinated by it Sherlock might be, and he’s softer around the middle than he used to be. But the way Sherlock looks at him helps to quash those thoughts. Sherlock’s mouth is open and his face is slightly screwed up, as though John is something painfully bright to look at but that not looking is unthinkable. His breath is coming in great, ragged gulps of air, and John reaches down to cover one of Sherlock’s hands where it’s gripping his thigh.

Sherlock lets go to twine his fingers with John’s and John, breathless, orders, ‘Bring your knees up; feet flat on the bed. Tilt your hips up and do it harder, and – oh. Oh fuck, yes, that’s it, like that.’

His vision blurs a little with this new angle and his balls tighten, pulling up slightly. He can feel himself starting to pulse, the muscles deep in his groin beginning to contract rhythmically, and he bites out, ‘Get your hand on me. Make me come, Sherlock, please.

Sherlock obeys, taking John’s cock in a grip that’s slick with sweat and lube and the pre-come leaking from him, and John’s back curves into an arch. His thighs try to splay wider, his hips heavy and liquid with the need to come, and a last perfect twist of Sherlock’s hand makes him cry out and reach down to cover Sherlock’s hand with his own.

Through the rushing of blood in his ears, John hears Sherlock whimpering while he comes, pulsing over their fingers and clenching tight around Sherlock’s cock. Sherlock sounds oddly lost, and John flails blindly to put his hand on Sherlock’s chest, rubbing at where Sherlock’s heart is pounding under his ribs. Sherlock works him through it, and John tightens his grip and stills Sherlock’s hand as the spasms subside into weak pulses.

‘Oh God,’ he gasps, dragging air into his lungs past the thumping of his heart. ‘Fuck, that was amazing.’

John,’ Sherlock groans. He lets go of John’s cock to grab his hips, fingers digging in as he thrusts wildly. John raises himself up, taking his weight on protesting thigh muscles and giving Sherlock room to move, for his body to find the rhythm and depth it needs. Sherlock’s lips pull back from his teeth in a desperate snarl, his hips are frantic underneath John, and John braces himself as best he can while Sherlock’s heels slide and dig into the mattress and he chases his own climax.

It seems that body and mind are cooperating for once, or perhaps Sherlock is too far gone for his mind to betray him now. John isn’t sure which it is but, thanks to hours of watching Sherlock, he can tell the moment it starts to coalesce for him. Sherlock’s face contorts and he twists his head away, gasping, ‘Oh God, I’m almost… it’s there, fuck, it’s…’

‘Do it,’ John growls at him. He seizes Sherlock’s forearm and holds it in a death-grip, while his other hand drags his thumb roughly back and forth over Sherlock’s left nipple. ‘God, I want to see you come.’

Sherlock gives a little cry and surges upward at this, wrapping an arm around John’s waist as the other flings back to brace himself against the bed, and John catches hold of his face and kisses him – his forehead, and the bridge of his nose, and his fever-hot cheek.

‘Come on,’ he whispers against Sherlock’s beautiful panting mouth, his salt-wet temple. ‘Come on, gorgeous. You’re almost there.’

Sherlock’s face dips down as he cries out, at last, and his cock twitches sharply in John’s body. He grinds his forehead into John’s chest, nails scoring into the small of John’s back, and falls apart, sounding as though something inside him is cracking in two.

John circles Sherlock’s shoulders with his arms, supporting him and holding him steady while Sherlock sobs. His noises sound like equal parts pleasure and relief, like a heavy weight is falling from him, and John tightens his hold and murmurs fiercely into Sherlock’s wild curls: ‘God, I love you, I love you, I fucking love you.’

He’d make Sherlock sound like this every day if he could, but for now he contents himself with clutching Sherlock close and kneading rough caresses into the nape of his neck while Sherlock clings to him and shakes.

Slowly, Sherlock’s muscles sag and he sighs deeply.

‘God,’ he says, his voice muffled by John’s chest.

‘Yeah,’ John says softly. Sherlock keeps hanging onto him, and John doesn’t relax his hold but stops kneading Sherlock’s neck. ‘I know.’

There’s a spot at the nape of the neck much favoured by snipers – who call it ‘the apricot’ and aim for it to ensure a clean kill – and John flattens his hand protectively over it now, planting kisses in Sherlock’s hair while his mind churns with greedy thoughts of Mine, and I’d kill anyone who dared to try to hurt you.

Sherlock stirs a little. ‘That…’

John grins to himself. This makes it all worthwhile; even more than his own finish, John adores this – holding Sherlock close while he comes down after a successful sexual encounter.

Sherlock takes a deep, shuddering breath. ‘I…’

John laughs aloud, stomach shaking where it’s pressed to Sherlock’s.

‘Give yourself a moment,’ he says, sliding his fingers upward and lifting Sherlock’s thick curls off his nape. ‘That was pretty spectacular.’

Finally Sherlock lifts his face to look up at John. His flush has started to fade, leaving him splotchy and uneven; his lips are dry from panting, but John has never seen a more beautiful sight. He bends his head to kiss Sherlock’s forehead.

‘Take it easy,’ he says.

He’s almost dizzy with tenderness for this extraordinary man, and at the same time savagely protective of him, and to tell the truth he could do with a moment himself.

Sherlock lies back down, pulling at John as though reluctant to relinquish the full-body contact, and John grips the base of the condom carefully as Sherlock’s cock slips free of him. He lies down, muscles beginning to complain at the vigorous exercise, and nuzzles the side of Sherlock’s throat, pressing vague, blurry kisses to the tendon there as Sherlock’s arms wind round him and try to draw him closer still.

John rests his head on Sherlock’s shoulder and strokes gentle fingertips over his stomach, watching the spot on Sherlock’s chest where the heavy thudding of his heart is making his ribcage quiver almost imperceptibly. Sherlock’s hands run along John’s side, and he pauses a moment to grab a handful of tissues and remove the condom when it becomes uncomfortable, dropping it in the bin by the side of the bed before his hands return to John’s skin as though magnetised. On a whim, John lifts his head so that he can see Sherlock’s face, and what he finds there makes him pause.

Sherlock’s eyes are shut tight, the corners of his mouth pinched. He doesn’t look anything like as relaxed and content as he usually does when they’re both curled together in bed, and trepidation prickles along John’s spine. Of late, Sherlock has been smiling less and less, to the extent that John was disproportionately relieved when Henry Knight walked into their sitting room. It’s also been happening increasingly often that he’ll look at Sherlock to find his expression in the process of shifting, like someone closing a book when someone walks up behind them.

John is no fool: he knows what bipolar disorder looks like and he knows that Sherlock’s ‘black moods’ aren’t just down to him being petulant. But Sherlock has never before been reluctant to share them with John and this reticence feels alarming, like Sherlock is skating around the edges of something that he isn’t yet ready to admit even to himself.

‘I love you,’ John says, on impulse.

Sherlock doesn’t give any sign of having heard, save the corners of his mouth pinching a little tighter.

‘I said I fucking love you, Sherlock, are you listening to me?’

This time one side of Sherlock’s mouth twists up into an attempt at a half-smile, but he still doesn’t open his eyes.

‘I know you do,’ he says, gentle fingers toying with the hair at the back of John’s head. ‘Much more than I deserve.’

Now he opens his eyes, and meets John’s gaze. He doesn’t repeat the sentiment back but he doesn’t need to – John can see it in the way Sherlock looks at him.

‘No.’ John shakes his head vehemently. If anything, his trepidation has grown now that Sherlock is looking at him. ‘That’s not true, Sherlock. You deserve to be loved.’

‘Oh John.’ The hand at the back of his head holds him still as Sherlock strokes the backs of his fingers down John’s cheek. ‘What would I do without you?’

It’s unnerving enough to hear Sherlock admitting anything less than complete self-sufficiency, even without the betraying flicker at the back of his eyes. It flashes and is gone so quickly that it could have been merely a trick of the light, but it inspires John to say: ‘It doesn’t matter, since you’ll never have to find out.’

Sherlock doesn’t answer, but his eyes slide away from John.

John grabs Sherlock’s shoulder, shakes him a little. His stomach is in nervous knots for reasons he doesn’t fully understand, and he insists roughly, ‘You listen to me. I’ve killed for you. I would die for you. More than that, I would live for you. So don’t pretend that I’m going to get tired of you, or leave, or–’

‘What if I left you?’ Sherlock interrupts, and John doesn’t hesitate.

‘You wouldn’t. I know you, Sherlock Holmes, and you need me just as much as I need you.’

Sherlock’s eyes close again, his mouth twisting, and John continues, ‘And if anyone takes you or forces you away then I’ll come after you. Do you hear me? I swear to God, I will track you as far as it takes and I will fucking find you and–’

Sherlock is silent, his breathing as shallow and fast as a frightened animal’s, and John’s throat dries up as a new and dreadful thought occurs to him of how Sherlock might leave him.

‘Don’t you dare,’ he hisses, furious but unable to bring himself to articulate his fear. ‘Don’t you fucking dare, you bastard. You can leave me and disappear if you have to, for a while or for always, and I can’t say I’ll understand but I’ll accept it. I’ll even help you, if you need it: I’ll lie for you, and cheat, and steal, to send you safely on your way. But don’t do that.’ He chokes as he speaks, his eyes stinging. ‘Don’t you dare go where I can’t follow you.’

‘John.’ Sherlock has opened his eyes and is looking at him, brow furrowed with concern. He reaches for John’s face, but John jerks his head away, refusing to allow the touch.

‘Promise me,’ he says fiercely. ‘Give me some fucking sign that you understand what I’m telling you.’

‘I do,’ Sherlock whispers. He cups John’s face in his hand, wiping a long thumb under first one eye, then the other. He seems to be on the verge of saying more and John holds his breath, waiting, but then Sherlock’s gaze flicks away and the moment passes. Perhaps if John had done something else: used more words, or fewer words, or just different words, then Sherlock would have–

‘My middle name,’ Sherlock says suddenly, ‘is Sigerson.’

John can’t help it: he laughs through his tight throat.

‘Why are you telling me this now, you lunatic?’

The corners of Sherlock’s mouth tilt upwards, tentative but growing more certain, and he touches John’s face again gently. ‘I just thought it would make you smile.’

John rubs a hand over his face, draws a deep, shaking breath.

‘I’m not sure I believe that,’ he says, starting to return Sherlock’s smile.

‘True,’ Sherlock murmurs. ‘John, come here.’

John allows Sherlock to pull him down to lie on his (rather bony) shoulder again, one hand catching hold of John’s to tangle their fingers together while the other cradles John’s skull possessively, fingertips ghosting through his hair.

After several minutes John shivers against Sherlock, partly from the cooling sweat on his body and partly in the aftermath of so much strong emotion, and Sherlock immediately eases John off his shoulder so that he can sit up and retrieve the blankets from the foot of the bed. He pulls them up, carefully tucking them round John in a gesture that John wouldn’t have believed him capable of just six months ago, and wraps his arms around John again, drawing him in to lie on his shoulder.

The rise and fall of Sherlock’s chest is steady and rhythmic, and John finds his own breathing slowing and aligning to it. He closes his eyes and concentrates on relaxing all the major muscles groups in his body, while Sherlock reaches down to take his hand again and gentle his fingertips along the grooves between John’s knuckles.

Half-asleep and fading fast, John’s mind is very calm, almost zen. When it comes down to it then things are actually very simple: anyone who wants to get to Sherlock will have to go through John first. Somehow, when John wasn’t looking, Sherlock crept in and now occupies a place in his heart that means that John would rather die than have to work out how to live without him.

There’s something almost freeing in the unshakeable certainty of it and it’s that which allows John to fall asleep, while Sherlock’s fingers tap out l-o-v-e in his hair.

--End--