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Behavioural Modification

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“You do realize you’re prostituting yourself for tea, don’t you?” John asked him. “Technically.” Eyes shut, mouth slack, and his head lolling against the back of the couch, the doctor spoke at a murmur.

“So you keep saying,” Sherlock answered, efficiently tossing the tissues into the bin. “Now go make the tea.”

For approximately ten seconds – closer to eight – John didn’t move. Then, with a sigh, he tucked himself back into his pants and zipped up his trousers. His shoulders hunched less this time but he still kept his eyes directed away from Sherlock when he stood and walked to the kitchen. Not quite the progress he had predicted, he would admit. Surely six sessions were enough for John to acclimatize. The man had adjusted to the general difficulties of living with Sherlock within a single week. His recalcitrance in this matter was frankly baffling.

Was that how John thought of them, as sessions? He sprawled out as he wondered, soaking in the heat John’s back and thighs had deposited into the cushions. Sherlock thought of them as sessions simply because that was a default term. An “event” was too vague, an “appointment” required that he inform John of his intentions in advance, and none of the cruder terms were apt. Perhaps John thought of them as “exchanges”. That was the category his vocabulary most commonly suggested.

He craned his neck, not quite able to see John in the kitchen. Surely the man didn’t need to be in there to watch water boil. Sherlock was still a bit miffed at the lack of cuddling, but he couldn’t quite find the correct opening for it. Moving into the warm space which had previously contained John was satisfying in its own way, of course. It had to be, or otherwise he would have stopped doing it by now.

The problem with a space having previously contained John was that this necessarily meant John had vacated the space. Sherlock disliked this basic principle. Among John’s best qualities were his stability and warmth. His absence temporarily negated these qualities.

He considered getting up and following John into the kitchen.

He considered John’s potential responses. The most likely possibilities: being ignored, enduring awkward attempts at small talk, or, worst of the three, being told that now he was in the kitchen, he could make his own tea. Sherlock could always hold the sexual debt over John’s head, but that entailed its own risks.

Relationships were complicated. Everyone knew that. There appeared to be a great debate within popular culture whether they were worth the effort, the general consensus coming up in the positive. Listening to John putter about, Sherlock privately agreed. For once.

He curled into the couch cushions, resisting the foreign urge to hug something. Perhaps the Union Jack pillow by his feet. In the absence of John, objects that had been near John took on new significance, at times functioning as vastly inferior substitutes. His reactions fascinated him. He resisted them to determine their pull. Some settled into aches, like unused muscles protesting their lack of exercise. They could inspire other physiological responses as well.

He could, for instance, consider the act of kissing. The required proximity, resulting in varying levels of physical contact. Where to place his hands or direct his gaze. The matter of aim. The issue of stubble. Olfactory input. Taste.

There: his body tightened. He experienced warmth in his abdomen, accompanied by a small chill through his upper body, particularly the shoulders. He could do this on command now.

Sherlock realized he was also smiling.

That reaction being far less controlled, he forced himself to stop.

Then he realized he was playing with his own hand, left thumb stroking right palm. Unacceptable. He stopped that as well. He had been considering the pretence of washing his hands in the loo and experimentally licking his tissue-cleaned hand. The lapse of control made him think otherwise.

His mobile beeped.

His mobile was charging in the kitchen.

He was off the couch in a flash. In one of those moments of reduced barriers and privacy that couples were apparently prone to, John had already picked it up and checked the text. Sherlock read it over his shoulder, his cheek momentarily brushing John’s hair and ear. John’s back was warm against his front. Bliss. The final moment of it permitted before the case.

“Oh, that’s brilliant,” he gushed.

“That’s creepy as fuck,” John replied. “Who hides dead bodies inside mannequins?”

“No idea.” Reaching around the shorter man, he unplugged his mobile, mindful of the steeping cup on the counter. “Let’s find out.”

“I’m going to have nightmares.” Already going to his trainers.

“You already have nightmares,” Sherlock reminded him, calling over his shoulder as he bounded into his room to get dressed. “And there’s nothing remotely frightening about a body once it’s dead.”

“Could be infected with something. Disease, parasites, so on.” Somewhat muffled, even with the door left open. John was bent over, then, doing up his laces.

“Once it’s been killed, then!” Fresh shirt, fresh trousers, his socks, where had his socks gone? Ready for him in his shoes. Wait, the nightmares.

Coming into the sitting room, he threw on his coat, looped his scarf and deposited another scarf on one of John’s shoulders. Accepting it as his due, John wrapped the cloth about his neck and asked, “Does the tea count? Whether or not you drink it, I made it.”

“Plastic-coated corpses, John. Forget the tea.” There were more important things. Such as: “You’ve never had nightmares from the bodies before.” He was almost certain. Not bad ones, at least. Not nearly as bad as the ones from the war.

“No,” John acknowledged behind him on the stairs. “No, just- Never mind.”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“What?” he persisted. John possessed enough coordination to lock the door and look at him at the same time. That he wasn’t doing so irked him.

“Cultural reference,” John explained. “It’s a thing.”

“A thing.”

“Yes. A thing.” John flapped his arm at a taxi that already had a passenger in it.

Ah. “A thing where you’re afraid of storefront mannequins.”

“No,” John contradicted. Sherlock had heard the same sullen tone out of his own mouth. Completely irrational, the way the resemblance warmed him. Proof they were rubbing off on each other, discernible traces of their prolonged contact. He made sure to flag down the next cab with his left arm, using his raised limb to hide his ridiculous smile from John.

“Then what?”

“It’s a cultural reference you wouldn’t get,” the doctor insisted as they climbed in.

“Harrods,” he instructed the cabbie. Then, to John: “If I won’t understand, it can’t embarrass you to tell me.”

John’s mouth twisted. Not in disagreement. He was annoyed at the reasonable tone and therefore giving in.

“Autons,” John said.

“God, I hate those,” the cabbie chimed in.

Thank you!” John burst out, immediately welcoming an ally on the subject. Whatever it was. Something Harry had teased him about when they were children, no doubt, or still did.

At any rate, by the time they arrived at Brompton Road, Sherlock had a rough grasp of the ridiculous subject of some sort of television programme. Once face-to-elbow with the remains in the department store basement, the matter took a momentary backseat.

He didn’t delete the information entirely, however. Within two days, he used it to make Anderson scream outright, seemingly by accident and with only the aid of a plastic dummy. Once away from the officers, John looked at him, so immensely pleased, and began laughing. They were both laughing, leaning on the other for support. John wound down into chuckles more than once before setting himself off again. His head was ducked down, smile hidden.

“Whew,” John said, breathing into Sherlock’s shoulder. He pulled back, his face flushed. In the dim light of the plastics factory hall, his eyes had already dilated. He looked and sounded as he did prior to orgasm. “Dizzy.”

“Not as dizzy as Anderson,” Sherlock murmured and, there it was, the stifled giggle. “Falling over like that at a crime scene....”

“Shut up,” John said, hand over his own mouth, eyes crinkling. “Stop it.”

“Never.”

John laughed on.

Sherlock was reasonably certain that this was as true as love could get.

 

 

He flung himself onto the couch with what was intended to pass for dramatic flair. Whether it did was immaterial. He’d taken out the last of Mycroft’s equipment prior to starting the sessions with John, and with Mrs. Hudson out, there wasn’t even anyone downstairs to hear the impact of his body on the cushions.

Pity.

Sherlock sighed.

He texted John.

Worker took remains of industrial
accident. Arranged as poorly hidden
murder to frame employer. Bored.
SH

He put down his mobile, annoyed at the kitchen for sounding so empty. At the entire flat.

He considered his options.

Violin.

Emails.

Mrs. Hudson-proofing the laboratory half of the kitchen.

Resisting the urge to go into John’s room.

Clearly, none of those options held any merit whatsoever. John’s room, then.

He went upstairs, stood in the doorway and attempted to understand. It wasn’t anything new, but the fascination had yet to wear off. John’s room was still largely devoid of anything beyond the essentials. Nearly everything was neat, down to the crisp corners of the tightly made bed. No fresh information to be gleaned there.

“Bored,” he told John’s bed. Seeing as Mrs. Hudson had yet to return his skull, again, he had very few options in the matter. Disliking the desk chair, he remained outside the doorway. Without John’s excessively meticulous bed-making skills, he couldn’t sit on that either without leaving evidence.

He resisted until he was bored of having so slight a challenge. Then he went inside and sat down on the floor. The dimensions of John’s bed were fundamentally the same as his in terms of height and width. Sherlock’s was longer by necessity. It was why he had claimed his bedroom. Not that he used it often enough to merit one.

“Still bored,” he reminded the bed.

The bed, if Sherlock had been prone to anthropomorphizing furniture, would likely have replied that it spent the vast majority of its time waiting for John to return to it.

Sherlock would have responded that this sounded very boring. John was something that happened, like sunrise. Regular in its own way, the sun, and though it was helpful with illumination, any Londoner knew how to function under clouds or rain.

Except that all sounded a bit too metaphorical for his tastes.

He was revising his theoretical conversation when his mobile received a text.

That was faster than I’d expected.
Thought we were investigating
the maintenance staff before dinner.

Rolling his eyes, he typed out a quick reply. “Sometimes, he makes it too easy,” he told the bed.

10 AM is certainly before dinner.
You went to your job, I to mine. SH

Entirely unanthropomorphized, the bed continued to say nothing.

I’m starting to like yours better, in
all honesty. It’s all colds and paranoia
over here. Nothing a cuppa and sleep
couldn’t cure.

“Oh, that’s practically an invitation.”

Speaking of tea. SH

His chest felt strange. Adrenaline surging, increased heart rate, shallow breathing; all on cue.

All on cue except for John.

Twenty-three minutes later, the reply came.

Between patients again. And, no, I
haven’t forgotten. Try being patient
for once.

A pun occurred to him. It was so horrible that he was actually unable to forget it. It could very well haunt him to the end of his days. Doctors shouldn’t talk about patients and patience in the same text.

Patience is another form of boredom.
SH

Almost immediately:

Too bad.

John. Honestly.”

That’s no help. SH

Too bad. :P

He was smiling.

He couldn’t seem to stop.

“I feel ridiculous,” he told John’s bed.

John’s bed didn’t care one way or the other. Obviously.

He wondered when he would sleep on it. Copulate on it, if nothing else. John would probably insist on a bed for their first time and Sherlock couldn’t imagine they’d use his room. It would be such a waste. John had an undecorated wall in here. Sherlock twisted, right hand on the flooring behind him, mobile in his left. John would look good against that wall. The sight would be worth the effort, the neat doctor finally untucked. Trousers discarded on the floor. Shoes strewn. Jumper abandoned, one sleeve pulled inside out. The jumper under Sherlock’s knees, John considerate.

They would cuddle, after.

Sherlock really couldn’t stop smiling. It was alarming.

No longer bored. SH

Oh dear.

I believe you’ll be pleased
with the results. SH

Get the hell out of my room,
Sherlock. I mean it.

No. SH

Prat.

John was smiling. Sherlock could tell.

Always. SH

 

 

“I don’t know what it is,” John eventually concluded, “but you’ve done something to my bed.” As he worked slowly on his laptop, pecking his way through the last case, his speech turned as disjointed as his typing. “I’ve looked. You have.”

“Wrong.” He’d merely wanted to.

“You’re lying.”

“You’re paranoid.”

John looked at him, clearly wanting to sigh and clearly not wanting to give Sherlock the satisfaction. Too late: he had it anyway. Sherlock idly fiddled with the hem of his bathrobe.

The sound of typing died down in a few minutes. John stood, stretched. A much better sigh, that one. He went into the kitchen. Sherlock immediately rose and claimed John’s laptop for his own.

“Stop editing that. I’m not done yet.”

“Clearly.”

“Sherlock.” Feigned irritation. Poorly feigned.

When John returned, he had a mug in each hand. It hadn’t happened this way before.

Sherlock smiled.

“There you are,” John said, handing him the blue one. “I still don’t know what you think I do special to it.”

“Some people are gifted,” he answered dismissively. Inexplicable, but something he had so far been unable to disprove. He set the hot mug down on the table.

John reached around him as he did, snapping his laptop shut. A flick of the hand to unplug it before hand and computer were both removed. “C’mon.”

John walked to the stairs and turned around.

He looked at him expectantly.

Sherlock stood and followed.

Up the stairs, into the bedroom. There was a sense of unreality about it, as if this weren’t truly happening.

Why now? Some internal clock John possessed? Or an external factor? If Sherlock could determine that factor, if he could become that factor, his quality of life would increase nigh instantly. Even factoring in the current transitional period and its attached awkwardness, Sherlock’s sense of satisfaction with his life had skyrocketed. Managing John’s libido was even fun, somehow. He experienced a remarkable lack of dread when considering it.

With uncharacteristic clumsiness, John set his laptop down on his desk with an uneven clatter, tea still in one hand, still too hot for drinking. By the time Sherlock returned downstairs, he expected his own to have gone stone cold. Acceptable loss. Perfectly acceptable.

John leaned back against his desk, three steps away from his perfect spot against the wall. He pointed at his bed. “Well?” he asked.

“Demanding, aren’t we?” Given the choice between trembling or being flippant, the banter would win out every time. The trembling remained beneath his skin, a shiver that took him behind his knees. Brain chemistry changing, his body altering itself in response to external stimuli. Kneel down, do it, be held. Task, reward. Simple.

“Just prove you haven’t done anything bad to my bed.” Feigned irritation was now fond exasperation. Tea held defensively. A shield? A reminder. John was nervous.

Good John. Wonderful John. He wasn’t merely reacting to the game any longer. He was playing it, had devised his own endgame.

Sherlock didn’t need to be told twice.

He flopped backward onto the bed in his best sprawl. The mattress was wonderfully firm, the duvet fighting the disturbance to its set ways. He bounced, slightly, then again, slighter still. Turning his head, he said in the most arrogant tone he could muster, “Oh, yes, that was terrifying.”

John’s eyes were blue and steady. They studied the length of him once before keeping to Sherlock’s face. His control was excellent. Frankly, it was far better than Sherlock’s. He knew what his course of action would have been, had he been the one to first manoeuvre the other into his bed. Namely: pounce, pin. Tuck his face against John’s neck and refuse to be budged. Nonverbal claiming. John, however, seemed stuck on some bizarre stage of wary contemplation. Tedious. Stupid.

Sherlock budged over. Patted the space of duvet next to him.

John hesitated.

More coaxing, then. “Why do you think I’ve done something to the bed?”

“Because you’ve done something to everything else in here. Counter-clockwise order means the bed is next.”

“Ah.” Reasonable. And true. He hadn’t been able to think of something worthy enough. “But you’re wrong. I know better than to disturb your sleeping environment.” Not when nudging him awake could result in a very impressive left hook to the temple. Only once, on a train. Once had been enough.

John’s head bowed, steady gaze vanished. Clearly, a shared recollection. “You know,” he said, “the rest of my room is my sleeping environment, too.”

He shrugged, moving the duvet under his shoulders. “It’s perfectly safe to lie down.”

“Is that all it’s perfectly safe to do?” The innuendo was delivered simply, straightforward. It was aimed at him over the rim of a mug, followed by the movements of John’s throat and mouth. Swallow. A lick of the lips.

“The safety of your bed hasn’t been compromised in any way,” he answered. He patted the space beside him a second time.

John very nearly frowned. He set his mug down on his desk, still looking at the sprawling, barefoot man on his bed.

He approached and sat. “Budge.”

“No.” He already had.

Rolling his eyes, John’s response was a quick hand on his shoulder and hip – and Sherlock found himself flipped over onto his stomach. He laughed into the pillow, bit it for symbolic value, and laughed again. It smelled wonderful.

John settled down next to him, close to touching, more than close enough to touch. Sitting, still upright. Not quite uneasy but certainly tentative. Attempting to conceal his own arousal.

Sherlock rolled onto his side. “I really haven’t done anything.” He paused, waited, properly dramatic. “Yet.”

“If I put a lock on the door, that would only encourage you, wouldn’t it?” Shifting back now, leaning on his left hand.

He hummed noncommittally, uncertain. What would the lock mean? Barrier, or challenge? Keep out, or Come get me?

“It would,” John decided.

Not a challenge. Rather: “That’s practically an invitation.”

“Only to you.”

Sherlock grinned.

“God, that’s terrifying,” John said. Twisted at the waist, right foot still on the floor. Left leg on the bed, bent at the knee. Leaning slightly closer now, roughly sixty degree angle. Too far away.

“You know you enjoy it,” he replied. “Speaking of which.”

John Watson had a way of going still when a hand was placed over his crotch. His features went into a somewhat slack expression, then froze that way. He sucked in his breath and his stomach by extension. Gathering heated blood, his fly bulged upward beneath Sherlock’s hand, his fingers. Such a quick process.

Sherlock began.

John’s breath shuddered out. Eyes closed. Mouth open, certainly enough to lick into with ease. Still too far away. He made a noise, a variety of whine that would turn into a whimper, given time. His hips rolled, body shifting, twisting.

Awkward with only his left hand, Sherlock sat up, guided John down. Less than graceful, his torso bounced. Sherlock unfastened his trousers. Dark blue pants today, tenting, darker patch at the top. Very quick. Flattering. Evidence that John needed him in return would never go unappreciated.

“Oh, fuck.” Muffled, John’s arm over his face, voice stolen away by a jumper sleeve.

“A bit more than what I was intending, but if you insist....” It wasn’t remotely likely that he would achieve enough of an erection to penetrate, but John certainly seemed up for the reverse.

“No,” John gasped. “This- I, oh.”

“Lick my hand.”

John did. Tongue pressing, breath hot. Saliva across fingers and palm, now applied to other flesh.

Eyes squeezed shut, John bit his own hand, teeth beneath his thumb. Beautiful, strained. Impossible to kiss. Time became subjective.

John came.

God, that noise. Christmas, Christmas every day, whenever he wanted, that noise.

With no tissues in sight and John already paranoid of bed mistreatment, Sherlock licked his hands clean. He didn’t like the taste, but he had been curious about it. Eyes hidden beneath his forearm, John didn’t watch, merely groaned at the sound. Overstimulation. His breathing slowed. He closed his mouth, possibly preparing to fall asleep. Still no kisses, then? No matter. Having seen the way the man approached women, he hadn’t expected John to be shy. That it was unexpected made it better. Frustrating, but endearing. Or he was aware of the lengths Sherlock would go to for that reward. In which case, it was simply frustrating, but Sherlock would certainly respect him for it.

A small twitch when Sherlock tucked him away. Not enough to dislodge his arm from over his eyes. Sherlock understood; he’d been told more than once that his gaze was far too penetrative for comfortable intimacy. Beyond that momentary responsiveness, John remained stationary, limp. Unguarded, vulnerable on his back. One foot still on the floor. A trail of hair lead up from his crotch to his navel, such an insignificant covering over skin, muscle and intestines. Sherlock put him back together with care.

Prolactin in the blood, serotonin and endorphin surging as adrenaline faded. Oxytocin and phenethylamine continued their introduction. Effects like morphine, neuroimaging displaying the resemblance to cocaine. He wanted to see a scan of John’s brain, see where it lit up when he was touched, when Sherlock touched him, when John thought about Sherlock. He wanted to see a scan of each of them, overlaid. If they matched.

He wanted to see John’s eyes.

Muscles relaxed, John’s arm was a warm weight. Sherlock studied the bite marks on his hand, touching, looking until John decided to look back. He would adjust someday. Sherlock was in no hurry. Stretch it out, make it last. Keep the boredom at bay. The wonders of addiction. John was a high that Lestrade couldn’t confiscate.

It was sensitive to teeth, that part of the hand John had bitten. The marks were a relatively smooth crescent on the back of the hand, dots on the palm from his lower incisors. Before, he had bitten his finger. Escalation? Desire for pain or muffling of sound. Oral fixation a certainty; Sherlock saw the way he licked his lips, couldn’t help but see.

John flexed his fingers against Sherlock’s.

His eyes were open.

Sherlock’s wanted to close. His body wanted to stop this sitting up nonsense and lie down on top of the man spread out beneath him. Sleep was boring, but sleep on top of John.... It had possibilities. Positions, ramifications. Their personal spaces merging. Kissing him awake. Yes.

“I should, um,” John said. Tension returned to his hand, indecision pushing at lethargy. “Do you want me to...?”

Stupidity had never been more endearing. Being responsible for the chemical basis behind it played a part. A large part.

“You already made tea,” Sherlock reminded him. He took that he did so as proof that he was willing to be supportive in this relationship. He was sure John would realize that when his brain chemistry returned to its admittedly altered status quo.

John blinked up at him slowly. His eyes flickered between Sherlock’s face and their hands, then the mug on his desk. “Oh.” He pulled his hand free, thumbed at the imprints of his teeth. They did hurt, then, the pain blocked at the time. “Right.” His tongue played at his lower lip.

“Then you forced me into your bed,” Sherlock continued.

John’s tongue froze in its half-out position. Enough to see, not enough to do anything about. A tease, unintentional but a tease nonetheless. His eyes were wide.

“Which is safe,” he added.

The expression of alarm didn’t fade.

Sherlock bounced a little, the vibrations moving John as well. “See?”

His smile was faint, eyes still troubled. He pushed himself up, elbows planted on the duvet.

“If you need me to prove it, I’ll sleep here tonight.”

John blinked, then laughed. The sound was more surprise than joy. “No,” John declined. The accompanying smile didn’t dull the rejection. “I trust you,” he elaborated, and that was the closest either of them had come to saying it. Not a rejection, then. Simply denying the necessity. A correction.

Sherlock smiled back.

“Your tea,” John said. “Probably getting cold.”

“I’m aware,” Sherlock replied. He took the cue anyway. If there was one thing he had learned from that wonderfully maddening year with Victor Trevor, it was that his partner would feel the urge to reciprocate as a necessity. It was a small outlet Sherlock had provided John with, but it had proved an effective one so far. John had displayed no signs of guilt and Sherlock had only needed to push John’s hand away once. What John hadn’t understood, he had wordlessly accepted. For that, Sherlock was grateful. Neither did it hurt that keeping John in a sexual debt made him feel more secure.

He left the bed by climbing over John, momentarily straddling him. Propped up on his elbows, John had little use of his hands. The illusion of defencelessness increased. An abandoned pistol, waiting to be picked up. Craving purpose, calling out for a hand to reload it. To take it apart, clean away the grit and reassemble it. To wield it.

Resisting the urge to remain on top of his flatmate, he climbed off too quickly for his liking. If he looked back, looked down at John on his mussed bed, post-orgasmic and loose and caring, there would be an issue. There would be an emotional display, and no one wanted that. Sherlock went downstairs and drank his tea instead.

It was good to be in love.