“John, can I borrow you?”
He doesn’t glance up from his laptop. The violin plucking hasn’t stopped yet, so he doesn’t have to. “What for?”
“Just an experiment.”
Right, as if that narrows anything down. “What kind, how long, and will I have to hold anything?”
“Psychology, thirty-four minutes, and only if you want to,” Sherlock answers crisply. The plucking – “ Pizzicato ,” the mind reader corrects – stops.
John looks up. Sherlock is sprawled on the couch, holding his violin like a ukulele. His dressing gown sprawls with him, covering the cushions while his t-shirt rides up over his pale stomach.
“What sort of psychology?” John asks. “Because I think you’re in my head enough already.”
“If I told you, it would bias the results.” He turns his head, his neck ridiculous. “You don’t have to sign a waiver or anything tedious like that.”
“ Should I sign a waiver?”
“If you like.”
That’s not a no.
John considers it.
“Okay, fine. Thirty-four minutes?”
“Thirty-four minutes,” Sherlock confirms. “If we begin now, you’ll be able to catch the start of Come Dine With Me .”
John has considered that too. “So what do I do?”
Sherlock grins widely and sits up, setting his violin safely off to the side. He bounds up, positions the armchairs and sits down pointedly in his own.
After logging out of his email and closing his laptop, John sits across from him. The chairs are really quite close and Sherlock’s excessive amount of leg makes it difficult for John to position his feet and knees. As John arranges himself, Sherlock does something on his mobile.
“The first alarm will chime in thirty minutes, the second in thirty-four,” Sherlock explains. “We remain seated the entire time. Once the first alarm sounds, we stop talking and sustain eye contact until the second alarm. For the next half hour, neither of us can be flippant, dismissive or judgmental. We will converse truthfully.”
“Act like decent human beings, you mean,” he surmises.
“Boring, I know, but keep with me.”
He chuckles a little. “Yeah, okay.”
“I will choose the initial topic and we will proceed on that general theme. Beyond those conditions, simply do what comes naturally.”
“So what are you going to do then?” John asks and it’s less a question, more an insult.
Sherlock lights up in a way that is, frankly, a little terrifying. “Ready?”
“One second....” John turns his mobile off. “There. Go ahead.” Half an hour of chat and then a staring contest. He can handle that.
Sherlock presses the timer. He places the mobile on the arm of his chair. “All right, then,” he says.
“So, the topic?” he prompts.
Sherlock leans forward. He stares very hard at John’s face and then looks away entirely. “Right,” he says, and pulls his eyes back to John. Elbows on his thighs, he presses his palms together and breathes through his steepled fingers. “This is more difficult than I thought it would be.”
“Okay,” he says, confused but intrigued. “We’ve got half an hour, take your time.”
Eyes drilling into John’s face, Sherlock does. “When,” he begins, then stops. He looks absurdly frustrated. “When,” he grits out once more, “we were children.” He looks as though he’s in the process of swallowing something terrible, or maybe vomiting it back up. “When we were children, Mycroft was the perfect older brother.” Definitely the vomit. “I adored him,” Sherlock admits.
John is floored.
“Until I was four, he never paid attention to me. Seven years is a large gap, that young. But at that point, everything changed. I would sneak into his bedroom and read his textbooks. Real textbooks, not those mindless ones for children with unrealistic pictures instead of diagrams. After that,” Sherlock says, nodding a little, now addressing John’s shoulder. The following is a quiet murmur: “After that were the five best years of my childhood.”
“What happened?” John asks.
“Everything,” Sherlock says, the word turning over inside his mouth like a savoured sweet. “He was the only interesting person in the world, John. The only one for years. You wouldn’t believe what a hold that gave him over me. I’d been driving my nannies away since I was old enough to crawl and suddenly, I became perfectly behaved.”
“You?” he asks before he can stop himself. He’s not sure if that counts as breaking the rules.
“It’s absurd, isn’t it?”
“When you say ‘perfectly’ behaved,” John begins.
“I stopped making observations aloud in public,” Sherlock answers.
“Wait, you were deducing people when you were four?” The textbooks are one thing, but this is another.
“I’ve been noticing things my entire life,” Sherlock says dismissively. “It took some time to patch together what meant what, but the patterns were easy enough to see. I was looking, after all.” He pauses and his hands fold, falling into his lap. “Mycroft helped with a great deal of that.”
“Spent a lot of time playing Cluedo, did you?” He winces after he says it, even before the look on Sherlock’s face has a chance to change. “Sorry,” he says.
“You respond with humour to uncomfortable situations,” Sherlock answers. “I’m making you uncomfortable. We can stop, if you like.”
“It’s fine,” John says. “I’m sorry, it’s fine.” He shifts in his chair, leaning forward. “So what did you two do?”
Sherlock’s eyes go to John’s knees and stay there.
“I swear I won’t poke fun,” John says. “You wouldn’t believe the stupid things I got up to as a kid.”
Sherlock’s lips quirk. “I bet I would.”
“Yeah, you would,” he acknowledges with a laugh. “Suppose neither of us has outgrown climbing roofs, come to think of it. Not that Harry ever did that with me.”
“Mycroft didn’t climb roofs with me.”
“Then what did he do?”
“He supervised dissections.”
John would stare at him but, somehow, he’s really not surprised. “All right,” he says slowly. “Dissections of what?”
“Housekill,” Sherlock says. “The old house had immense windows. Birds flew into them all the time. I would filch them from the compost once they’d been ‘taken care of’ and Mycroft would bring the knives and tell me where to meet him. We were never caught. Together, that is. The third time I tried by myself, Mummy found me and pitched a fit.”
“My mum didn’t take well to it either,” John says.
Sherlock looks at him attentively. For Sherlock, that’s saying a great deal.
“I wasn’t doing it for fun or anything,” John adds. “We’d had a cat when we were little, me and Harry, and one day the neighbour’s dog got at her. There was a great big bite in her side. Harry was the one to find her, but when she picked her up, well, half the guts fell out. Seemed like it anyway.” He grimaced. “That was the loudest I’d ever heard her scream. Harry refused to let my parents bury Avalanche-”
“You had a cat named Avalanche,” Sherlock interrupts incredulously.
“She was white, fat and fell off of things, all right?”
Sherlock smiles. From anyone else, it would be a tiny facial spasm, but from him, it counts. “Go on.”
“As I was saying,” John pointedly continues, “Harry refused to let them bury her as she was. She felt horrible about the whole guts thing. Couldn’t even look at the cat, she was so guilty. And I just thought, ‘I can do that.’ I put on gloves and squished it in a bit. It was pretty disgusting at the time.” By now, he’s seen injuries so far worse that the poor cat is almost comical. “The fur was the worst, actually. Hiding the intestines didn’t do a thing for blood on white fur.”
“Said it was the grossest thing anyone had ever done, but she hugged me for it. She made me shower first, but still.” He shrugs a little.
“How old were you?”
“I was twelve, I think. We’d already done a basic dissection at school – I think that was the only reason I got permission to do it. Harry crying her eyes out didn’t hurt either.”
Sherlock thinks about this. “Mycroft never would have done that for me.”
“To be fair, Mycroft never would have needed to do it for you,” he points out.
“True,” Sherlock acknowledges. Then: “Is that how you became a surgeon?”
He shakes his head. “Only looking back. Mostly, I liked biology best and my hands were steady. And I always wanted to be a soldier, in a little boy sort of way.” Admitting that isn’t as bad as it could be. “What happened after the five years?”
“You said the best five years of your childhood,” John ventures. He is fully expecting Sherlock not to answer.
“Oh,” Sherlock says. “Mycroft left for university and sold out.”
John’s eyebrows flick up.
“He stared lying to Mummy. About the important things, not like where we’d been all day. She never noticed. I never told, but he was never entirely certain that I wouldn’t. He had so much less to bribe me with by that point. I’d already taught myself pickpocketing and lock-picking. He was perturbed to find those trump cards gone.”
John does the math. “You were nine.”
“He thought he’d have a handle on me at least until I was eleven. Our relationship has never recovered.”
John does a bit more math. “He went to uni when he was sixteen?”
Sherlock nods. “Mummy forced him to stay home for a year. She said fifteen really was far too young.” He pauses, then shakes his head. “No, she didn’t suspect the sex, she was only worried about it.”
“I really don’t want to know about your brother’s sex life.”
“No one does,” Sherlock agrees. “Mummy thought she did, in a protective sort of way, but he let her die without telling.” He leans forward. “Tell me, what is it like when your sibling comes out?”
John blinks, readjusts his view of the world slightly – not so childish of a feud, after all – and then answers, “It really depends on who’s drunk at the time.”
“I imagine it would. Your father or your sister?”
“My sister, then my father,” he says, and it’s somehow easy to say to Sherlock. The man will know one way or another, with or without John’s consent in the matter. It’s oddly liberating. He talks about the domino effect in the Watson household, from daughter to father to mother to son, a wave of upset that tore the family into more than simple halves.
“Did you like your father?” Sherlock asks. “I’m sure you loved him, but like is so much more volatile for families.”
“I loved him until the day he hit my mum,” John finds himself saying.
“My father was afraid of me,” Sherlock replies. “I always thought that was preferable to the reverse.”
“Maybe,” John says.
Their legs are touching, resting against each other, shins and knees and a spot of thigh. It’s warm and comfortable. He looks into his flatmate’s eyes and feels no particular compulsion to continue speaking. He’s fine, he realizes. He’s oddly fine.
They shift against each other a little, not enough to break contact. Acknowledgement. Sherlock glances to the mobile on the arm of his chair and John realizes he doesn’t want the alarm to sound.
A minute more and Sherlock asks, “Did you want to be a soldier for your mother?”
“For me,” he corrects. “Just because I could.”
Sherlock smiles slowly. “The best of reasons.”
“What about you? Did you want to be a consulting detective for your mother?”
The smile fades. “I only wanted to be her son,” he says. “That was simple enough until she decided it wasn’t.”
“You came out to her.”
Sherlock scoffs. “You don’t need a boyfriend to be gay. Not that Mummy saw it that way.”
“My mum tried to persuade Harry out of it too,” John admits. “She had a girlfriend, though, so that more or less clinched it.”
“I tried that,” Sherlock says. “As far as poor life decisions go, that one tops even the cocaine.”
John laughs despite himself. It’s half shock, probably. And then he thinks: get the orange blanket. It’s all giggles after that.
Sherlock laughs too.
“Tell me it wasn’t Sebastian.”
“That would be against the rules,” Sherlock says.
“I need to bleach my brain,” John replies.
“Your fault, not mine.”
“Have you told him he’s worse than a drug habit?” John jokes.
“Unfortunately, he took it as a compliment.”
John laughs until it hurts.
“Sorry, that was a lie,” Sherlock admits.
“I could tell,” he wheezed. “Still funny.”
“The cocaine was after university.”
He stops laughing.
Sherlock’s legs are warm, surprisingly so for such a skinny man, and they don’t move as his flatmate waits for a response. What John decides upon asking is, “Was it also after your mum died?”
“Unrelated, but yes.”
John hesitates a moment longer. His gaze, unable to hold Sherlock’s, falls on the mobile. “Do you mind me asking how you got clean?”
“No,” Sherlock says. He sounds surprised. “I don’t. Um. It was Mycroft. Obviously. The one last hold he had over me.”
John stays quiet. His fingertips find their way to Sherlock’s knee, his palm resting on top of his own leg. Sherlock’s pyjama bottoms are remarkably soft.
“It was embarrassingly simple, but it did mean I finally won,” Sherlock said. “He started off on the wrong track, kept telling me that I was proving Father right about me, being weak, being stupid, so on, and I cut off his options until he had to bribe me.”
“He came out so you would get clean.”
There’s something in Sherlock’s eyes that’s not quite right, not for him. Not that it’s wrong. It’s just not him. This isn’t the man who goes around telling the police he’s a sociopath. This is someone else with the same grey eyes and floppy black hair, someone whose hand curls tight around John’s fingers.
“I remember thinking,” this new man says, “that if he didn’t keep his word, I would be justified. I would be right and he would be wrong. That it really would be so simple.”
“But it wasn’t.”
“Of course it wasn’t.” His grip is tight and it hurts. Maybe that shouldn’t be reassuring, but it is. “Somehow, in Father’s eyes, Mycroft was my fault. Never mind that he’d been sexually active before I was finished with puberty, this was somehow my fault. It was even more ridiculous than his accusations over Mummy’s weak heart. At least there was some basis to those. No one can say I didn’t cause her an inordinate amount of stress.”
“You didn’t kill your mum,” John says.
“I know that,” Sherlock snaps. He turns his face away, then turns it back and raises his chin. His neck is pale and defiant. Only Sherlock could have a defiant neck. “I’ve never accepted the blame for that.”
“Not yours to accept,” he answers.
Their hands turn over, palms pressed. Their fingers clasp rather than weave, but Sherlock’s thumb strokes his wrist.
It’s nice, in a way.
It’s nice in lots of ways.
They’re leaning forward, have been for some time. Their faces are close and Sherlock’s eyes are clear. They weigh him as his thumb presses against John’s wrist.
“That’s not how you check it,” John tells him. “You’ll wind up feeling your own pulse that way. Wrist’s pretty inefficient for it.”
“Are you inviting me to touch your neck?”
“Do you need to?”
Sherlock doesn’t release his hand. He doesn’t release his gaze. He holds him and goes on holding him. It feels right. Better than right.
John looks down at their hands, at his watch. The first alarm will go off in two minutes and he knows, he knows with absolute certainty, that this will never happen again. The talking will stop, the moment will pass, and he will never again have Sherlock’s attention the way he does right now. “I didn’t know,” he says. “Before my parents died – not that I was on speaking terms with my dad, mind you – I just didn’t know. There was always a girl to chase, until Afghanistan.” His tongue darts out, a dry tongue trying to dampen dry lips. “And then there wasn’t.”
“Who?” Sherlock asks.
“No one,” John says. He can feel his pulse beneath his flatmate’s thumb and it’s racing. His hand, his left hand in Sherlock’s, it isn’t shaking at all. “You don’t need anyone to be bi.”
Very faintly, Sherlock smiles.
“Helps to have porn, though,” John adds, and then they’re both laughing. They’re still laughing when the mobile alarm beeps.
With his left hand, Sherlock presses the alarm quiet before doing the same for John, a finger across his lips. The effect is galvanizing. His laughter halts inside his mouth, changing into a sound he can’t recognize as a noise John Watson makes. Because he doesn’t sound like that, confused and needing.
Sherlock doesn’t lower his hand and John can’t breathe, can’t seem to inhale.
Sherlock does. In and out, chest rising and falling under that old t-shirt, shoulders lifting and settling beneath his blue dressing gown.
John breathes with him. The air comes to him around Sherlock’s finger, around that constant, steady touch. His hand hurts from holding but he’d no sooner let go of his flatmate than he would a life raft.
He doesn’t think he can handle four minutes.
Their faces are close, too close, and there’s no moving away. He presses closer, into the touch, into that grey gaze, and he wants to suck on Sherlock’s fingers, how long has he wanted to do that?
His eyes flick down, taking in parted lips and shallow breath, and Sherlock’s hand shifts on his face, index finger first pressing, now lifting, firm and serious beneath his chin. John meets his eyes.
Have his eyes always looked like that?
Their hands grow loose in their grips upon each other, hot and pliant. It’s his turn to shift now, to hook his thumb against the other man’s and stroke his fingers across a thin wrist. Sherlock’s left hand flows from his chin to his neck, thumb on his cheek, palm along his jaw. John leans in immediately and Sherlock catches their foreheads together, eyes dark and open. It’s almost too close to see him properly but he knows Sherlock has no such problem. Sherlock is looking down into the centre of him, and approving, and wanting, and there is nothing John wants more.
Breathing is gone again. That’s not even important. He knows full well what’s making him dizzy where he sits. He hooks his foot around the back of Sherlock’s ankle and Sherlock pulls his leg back, traps John’s foot between calf and chair. It makes knees rub against thighs. It makes Sherlock groan.
John tilts his chin up, presses in, and is denied. Sherlock jerks his head back, blocks him. It’s the thumb on his lips now, the thumb, and he is entirely beyond caring that this is ridiculous and crazy and Sherlock has so much to answer for. Time enough for that later.
When John sucks down his thumb, his eyes fall shut, impossible to keep open. He presses tongue to skin and tastes and he has no idea if he wanted this half an hour ago. And then he thinks he’s dreamed about this. And then Sherlock makes that noise and he knows he has.
Sherlock releases his hand to clutch at the side of his head, ear and hair under the grip. His eyes and mouth open as he remembers his own hands, and they’re clutching at each other. They’re holding so tight, hands on shoulder or neck, fingers twining in hair. The air between their mouths is hot from shallow breaths and it hurts, it hurts to want this much, to want and wait, to keep his eyes open any longer when Sherlock’s are dark and hooded, lids lowered and pupils blown wide. His eyes are right there, they’ve been right there for ages. Four minutes, god, how long is four minutes, it can’t possibly be this long.
Their noses brush, once and again. It’s a poor substitute, an absolute tease, and John would shout and yell if he weren’t completely certain Sherlock is just as desperate. The moment that alarm goes, the very second, he is snogging the other man to within an inch of his life. He’s not sure about the rest of it, can’t manage to think long enough to think about the rest of it, but he knows what he wants to the point of pain.
Faster than he can think: an electronic beep, the slap of a hand, the clatter of a silenced mobile to the floor, the hard press of a man’s mouth against his own.
He opens his mouth, tongue against tongue, meeting teeth and lips and air and heat. Wet and soft used for hard and unyielding, push and pull piled high with distraction; it’s Sherlock, every bit. He buries his hands in warm curls and Sherlock’s hands cup his throat, the sweetest suggestion of strangling he’s ever known.
A giggle, abruptly close to hysterical, leaves him, and then he’s laughing into Sherlock’s mouth, holding tight to him when he tries to pull back.
“You’re insane,” he gasps, pressing his mouth against one of those impossible cheekbones. Their legs are as tangled as humanly possible with them in two different chairs. “We are both very insane.”
“I have an inquiring mind,” Sherlock counters, pulling at him, impatient and demanding and wonderful. “Now get on my lap.”
“This, wait, this is what you were-”
“ Obviously .”
What. “Wait.” The kissing doesn’t stop. Except he doesn’t want the kissing to stop. Except the kissing really ought to stop. “Wait, wait, wait, wait. Did you, what did, did you just-”
“Brainwash you with intimacy? Yes.” Sherlock hauls him on top of him and John goes far too willingly for having heard that little piece of information. Not even the thing that Sherlock’s doing to his ear ought to make up for that, but they’re close and touching and not close enough.
“Why?” John asks and he is not making sane choices right now. “Why the hell?”
“Seemed more effective than a chat-up line,” Sherlock confesses in a breathy huff.
John laughs, and he can’t seem to stop laughing. Sherlock shifts him and his body complies, sitting on Sherlock’s thighs, legs folded, back bent, forehead at that pale throat. He laughs and holds on and Sherlock’s hands are tense and solid on his back.
Dizzy, he sighs to a stop. Everything feels like it’s spinning and Sherlock smelling edible doesn’t particularly help. There’s a hum in his skin, as if his blood is vibrating, and, doctor or not, he can’t honestly say it isn’t. He nuzzles close and catches his breath and he doesn’t realize he’s done the first until the second is complete. It hasn’t left his mind that, thirty seconds ago, a minute or maybe two now, they’d been on the verge of having sex.
When he stiffens, the tension in Sherlock eclipses his by far.
“John?” Sherlock asks, tentative and low, like he’s not sure what he’s done wrong, only that it’s something.
“What did you base this on?” he asks. He shifts, supporting himself with his hands on the armrests to sit down across Sherlock’s lap rather than directly on the other man’s erection. His bum presses against one armrest and his knees against the other, his calves along Sherlock’s outer thigh. It’s a bit awkward, with both of them still hard, but it’s far less uncomfortable for his knees than a sustained kneel. “Just so I know what to expect.” He shoves his shoulder against Sherlock’s arm until the man gets the message and puts it around him.
His flatmate stares at him, somewhere between wary and affectionate. Being a breath away from kissing is suddenly an entirely appropriate distance for their faces. “I’ll email you the link. I made some minor deviations from the original study.”
“Okay,” John says. He swears to himself that he’ll read the entire thing before they get anywhere near a bed. He’s almost sure he’ll be able to keep that promise. As novel as the sensations are, this feeling can’t be new. It’s too well-worn. Too familiar. Or maybe he’s only telling himself that. He’s not sure if it matters and that’s probably a bad sign. “So,” he continues. “Brainwash yourself, then, too?”
Sherlock glances away. He says nothing but his face is flushed from more than just their snogging.
Being smug seems fitting right about now. Even sitting across another man’s lap, traditionally anything but a gloat-worthy location, it’s absurdly easy.
John kisses his cheek and, gently, keeps at it until he’s being kissed back. It’s tender and soft, and John really has to read that psychology study soon, right before he goes out and buys condoms. Their lips part with a soft sound that he could easily get used to.
“Best use of an hour I’ve seen in a while,” he says.
“I can show you a better one,” Sherlock answers dismissively. Left arm around John’s back, his hand curls around a denim-clad hip. His other hand rests high on John’s thigh, stays perfectly, infuriatingly still.
“Subtlety is not your forte, Sherlock.”
The man under him rolls his eyes and leans in close, nose nudging the edge of John’s ear. “If you were less of an idiot,” Sherlock rumbles, breath hot, “you might have noticed that it is .”
Once John’s brain re-solidifies, he’ll have a much-deserved rebuttal to that.
“But since I have to spell it out for you....” Lips trace the skin below his hairline, a slow trail from ear to temple and back. “We will get up and use our laptops. I will send you the study. While you read, I will be in my bedroom, naked, and – more importantly – impatient.” A nibble to his ear now, then a sharp bite that leaves him trembling after the initial gasp. “If you don’t finish before I do....” He trails off darkly, lifting his hand from John’s thigh to his face. Fingers curled, knuckles ghosting across his flatmate’s cheek, the bastard doesn’t follow through with the kiss he positions them for.
“Tease.” There’s no force behind the breathless accusation.
Sherlock hums his approval, then shoves John off his lap. True to form, he only manages because John goes willingly.
Somehow, they manage to complete the email and file-opening transaction without jumping each other, possibly due to keeping to opposite sides of the room. When Sherlock slips out, John wastes precious moments staring after him, unable to see but unable to stop listening to the soft thumps of deliberately abandoned clothing.
The study is lengthy, but someone has helpfully highlighted the personally relevant bits. He skims even that, until he gets down to what he should probably consider to be the warning section. Emotional confusion, strong feelings of attachment or romantic attraction. The stages of elation, obsession and settling typically associated with falling in love. In the case of one pair of research subjects, marriage. There’s a moment of panic as he wonders whether Sherlock is trying to be subtle again, but then he sees where Sherlock’s made a note on that last one: Statistical improbability; please don’t panic.
High risk of intense short term attraction.
And, after that:
Long term is acceptable. Provided you’re amenable.
John shuts his laptop with a firm click. He sets it down, grabs a pen, and scribbles a note on the unused back of an index card. Grinning like the idiot he doesn’t mind being, he legs it, all the way to the open door of his flatmate’s bedroom. And then, well.
It works out pretty nicely after that.
I, John H. Watson, having been experimented upon by my madman of a flatmate, hereby give my informed consent to romantic and sexual involvement with the aforementioned and not at all subtle madman. (Of course I’m amenable, you stupid git.)
Dr. J. H. Watson