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1. Munich.

"Nice," John observes.

"It's a hotel room," Sherlock tells him, tossing his bag into a corner.

"It's a nice hotel room," John says, shrugging off his jacket.

"It's an acceptable hotel room," Sherlock tells him, watching as John steps over to the (tiny) wardrobe and digs through the hangers. John sighs—they must be the sort that have a little ball at the top that has to be fiddled out of the socket; Sherlock hates those, too—then hangs up his jacket without taking the hanger out and holds out a hand. John missed a spot shaving, just under his left ear; distracting.

"Cold, are you?" John asks him, and Sherlock looks back up (John's mouth, John's eyes). He isn't cold; it's not cold. It's summer; even past midnight, it's pleasant. Sherlock clears his throat and slides off his coat and hands it over, then tucks his fingertips just inside the left pocket of John's jeans.

John's smile widens as he hangs up Sherlock's coat. Sherlock pulls, and John turns towards him, steps towards him, and again when Sherlock tugs more insistently.

"So," John says, close enough that Sherlock can feel it. "You don't technically have a case on right now, do you?"

"I've a meeting in the morning," Sherlock tells him. "With Moran's... associates. But at the moment, no."

"Mm." John laughs a little. "So I—so we agreed that kissing was—acceptable, yes? When you're not on a case?"

"I was thinking that we should take the opportunity," Sherlock tells him, "to—to, um, get it out of our systems."

"Oh, um," John says, and when Sherlock steps back two paces to sit on the end of the bed, John tilts towards him, stumbling, as though Sherlock can affect his gravity. The thought sends a shiver down Sherlock's spine. He unbuttons his cuffs, watching John's face.

John licks his lips, then steps over. He nudges Sherlock's knees with his knees, pushing them apart, and Sherlock catches his breath, hands stilling on his sleeve. John's shirt is askew, a bit, buttons not quite in line with the zip on his jeans.

"Don't think I can get you out of my system," John tells him, very soft.

Sherlock swallows, then looks up at his face. He asks, "Is that a no?"

John reaches out, trailing his fingertips down the side of Sherlock's throat, then murmurs, "It's not even a little bit of a no," and unbuttons the top of Sherlock's shirt.

Sherlock drops his gaze back down to his cuff. It takes him much longer than usual to get the buttons undone, for some reason, and by the time he's finished, John's done with the buttons on the front, hand sliding in under the fabric, along Sherlock's ribs, and Sherlock wants to stop time, right here, right now, until he's had a chance to memorize the difference between the calluses on John's index finger and thumb.

"Scoot back, yeah?" John says, soft, and Sherlock blinks himself out of it, slow and dazed, and John murmurs, "Christ," and bends down to kiss him, cupping his left hand around the nape of Sherlock's neck, his right still resting over Sherlock's ribs. Sherlock thinks John wanted him to do something but he can't think what; John tastes like stale aeroplane coffee and it is delightful. Sherlock's hands feel heavy, so he slides them around and tucks them into John's back pockets, for safekeeping. John exhales and presses his forehead to Sherlock's, saying, "Bit hard on my back, you know," and Sherlock says, "What?" with tongue and lips that feel numb and clumsy and John tells him, "Scoot back, c'mon, I want to kiss you lying down" and Sherlock didn't make that noise, he didn't, there would be no reason at all for him to make that noise. Sherlock takes his left hand back to help push himself back and pulls on John with the other; John puts his knee on the duvet and climbs up after him, pushing Sherlock's shirt back and off his shoulders, until it hangs around his right wrist, and then John bends down to kiss Sherlock's shoulder and Sherlock closes his eyes.

"Sherlock," John says, soft, and Sherlock sucks down a breath, then another. John kisses his cheek and sits back, crouched up over Sherlock's right thigh, Sherlock's fingertips still tucked in his pocket. Sherlock forces himself to take another breath. John asks, "Are you—is this all right?" His eyes look worried.

Sherlock swallows and manages, "I don't know what to do with my hands."

John blinks at him. He says, "You don't—"

"I don't know what to do with my hands," Sherlock repeats, and then squeezes his eyes shut and refuses to be embarrassed.

"You can do whatever you want with your hands," John tells him, and Sherlock says, too fast, "I want to do everything with my hands," and John says, "Oh—I mean."

Sherlock doesn't say anything.

After a minute John says, "Sherlock."

Sherlock swallows.

John says, soft, "Unbutton my shirt."

Sherlock swallows again and nods and opens his eyes, and takes his right hand out of John's pocket so he can unbutton John's shirt. He goes from the top down, this time. On the third button, John leans in and kisses his eyebrow, and Sherlock has to blink twice, hard. When Sherlock finishes John's shirt he keeps going and undoes the button on John's jeans.

"Um—what time's your meeting, then?" John asks him.

"Half ten," Sherlock says.

"So, we've got—what, ten hours, before you've got to go?" John asks, as Sherlock is tugging down the zip. John folds his hand around Sherlock's wrist, light, and Sherlock looks up.

John watches him, steady. He licks his lips. Then he says, "I just mean—we're really not in a hurry."

Sherlock blinks at him. After a minute, Sherlock says, "I'm fairly certain that I could recognize Irene from any square ten centimeters of her body."

John's brow wrinkles, and Sherlock shifts.

"I just mean," Sherlock says, and then clears his throat, and says, "I haven't yet actually quite managed to see you all the way naked."

John's expression clears, and then the corner of his mouth twitches. He says, "You do remember that we took a shower together, don't you?"

Of course Sherlock remembers. "I was distracted," he says, and John grins at him.

"Well," John concedes, "that time we were in a hurry."

"Yes, exactly," Sherlock agrees, and John laughs and then pulls back, leaving Sherlock feeling suddenly lonely and bereft, and stands to push down his jeans.

"You too, you know," John tells him, looking up. "It's not a free show."

Debatable, but Sherlock doesn't think it's worth the time. Sherlock tugs his wrist free from his shirt, then unbuttons his flies, as John peels off his shirt, then his undershirt, leaving his torso bare. The scarring on John's shoulder is not ignorable: faded, but still darker than the rest of his skin, and Sherlock's fingertips remind him that it is raised and rough despite the shiny-slick feeling of each tiny individual contiguous patch, and that it is there because John almost died, which is a thought that makes things happen in Sherlock's head that are completely unacceptable. John always wears boxers, and they are usually white, most likely so that he can wash them in the same load as his sheets, and John has almost no chest hair, which Sherlock has known for ages but is now allowed to think about. John kneels up on the bed and says, "Got distracted, did you," and Sherlock tells him, "Yes," and hooks his fingers into the waistband of John's white boxers and pulls.

"You're still wearing your trousers," John tells him, lying down so he can kick his boxers off. Sherlock wriggles out of his trousers and pants together, saying, "Better?" and John says, "You have no idea," and leans in to kiss him.

While they kiss, John's hands move a lot. He touches: Sherlock's hair (more or less constantly, with one hand or the other), Sherlock's neck (12% of the time), Sherlock's shoulders (between 15 and 22% of the time, depending on precisely where he draws his lines), Sherlock's chest (between 21 and 24% of the time, same reason), Sherlock's back (between 34 and 38% of the time, and how Sherlock loathes imprecision), Sherlock's hips (3% of the time), and what are inarguably Sherlock's buttocks (8% of the time, though a nontrivial amount of the time John's hands spend on his back makes Sherlock feel shivery enough that he feels like that particular dividing line should be moved substantially upwards, anatomical realities be damned). Sherlock, meanwhile, has his left arm crooked under his ear to support his head and his right fisted uselessly, resting on the bedspread between them.

"Um," Sherlock says, "I still don't exactly," when John finally pulls back, and John says, "My hip, then?" and Sherlock says, "All right," and reaches out to touch John's scar.

"Now you're just being perverse," John tells him.

"On this particular occasion, I don't mean to be," Sherlock admits, and then sighs and says, "Does it bother you?"

"What, that you're perverse, or that you're touching my scar?" John asks.

"You like it when I'm perverse," Sherlock points out, rubbing his fingertips along the scar.

"Yes," John says, "I do."

"But does it bother you," Sherlock says, quiet, and John exhales and says, "I've lost some sensation, you know, it's not—it's not really erotic, or anything. But no, it doesn't bother me."

Sherlock takes his hand off John's shoulder and pushes himself up, sits cross-legged. John's eyes follow him, and Sherlock brushes his hand along the outside of John's left arm, down to his wrist.

"That," John exhales, "is, um."

"Erotic," Sherlock says, and looks back up at John's face.

"Yeah," John agrees.

Sherlock watches his face. He runs his fingertips over John's palm, and John's eyelashes sink, just fractionally, as John curls his fingers to meet Sherlock's. Sherlock exhales and turns his hand, hooking their fingers together. He tries to remember the purpose at the heart of this exercise, but—

(The 28th of November, 2007, just past sunset; windows open; crisp, not really cold, not yet; lights out but for that one ancient reading lamp with the tiny 15-watt incandescent bulb, glowing like fine light amber and irritatingly difficult to replace; as Sherlock lay on his back on his bed with his bare feet pressed against the wall as he flipped his phone [smoothsatiny] over and over and over in his hands; with his skin too small too tight, feeling achy, heavy inside his pajama bottoms; with his heart racing and his mind transparent-clear ice-cold and superconductive and a waterfall rush of bursting-fizzing bubbles wriggling about just under his skin, as he thought about everything and didn't touch anything and waited—just a—little bit—too—long—to—d—i—a—l—

—and it'd been awful, after, awful, awful, but at the time it'd been perfect and he still has it stored in his head for whenever he wants it, stashed just around the corner from the British Museum.)

—the objects at the periphery are awfully distracting.

After a minute, he says, "Throat, hands and wrists, um—lower back."

"You or me?" John asks.

"Me," Sherlock says.

"By lower back, do you mean 'lower back' or 'arse'?" John asks.

"Bit of both," Sherlock admits, then clears his throat and looks at the wall and adds, "I like—I like it when you kiss me. Um. Rather a lot, I mean."

"Yeah," John says, quiet.

"So there's that," Sherlock says, and rubs at his eyebrow.

"Yeah," John says, and leans over, and kisses Sherlock's knee, which is the bit of him that's closest.

"I can't tell with you," Sherlock says, then adds, "You—you like oral sex."

"Yes, that's because I'm not dead," John tells him, and then John—he, he must see something, because he pushes himself up to sitting and slides over so his right hip is pressed against Sherlock's, and slides his arm around Sherlock's waist and kisses his cheek and says, "All right, so, you don't like oral sex, then," and Sherlock shakes his head.

"No, I definitely do, I." Sherlock stops. After a minute, he clears his throat and says, "I—I would rather be able to kiss you, if this is." He stops again. He doesn't want to say it.

John's quiet for a minute. Then he says, low, "If this is the last time, right," and Sherlock exhales and drops his head onto John's shoulder.

John's hand is rubbing Sherlock's left side, up and down, up and down. It's not exactly soothing, though Sherlock thinks that maybe if they weren't quite so naked it would be.

"What if it isn't the last time?" John asks, after a minute. "What if it's just—the last time for a while?"

"But we might be killed and then it would be the last time," Sherlock points out.

"Well, always true," John concedes, "but I—I mean, I really am fine with—pretty much whatever. I mean, we're both naked and so far that—that really hasn't gone wrong for me, so I'm definitely not going to complain, whatever you would rather do, but—but I, at least, plan on doing my utmost to prevent either of us being killed for the next—well, several decades, really, so. I imagine that somewhere in there we'll be able to fit in another shag."

"And you can live with the uncertainty," Sherlock says, very low.

"Well," John says, and then sighs, and says, "I—look, Sherlock, I'm not sure if this is something I ought to bring up or not, but—I think I've had, um, a bit more, um." He stops.

"Yes," Sherlock says, lifting his head.

"What?" John says.

"You've definitely had more sex than I've had," Sherlock tells him.

John licks his lips, like he's going to ask how Sherlock knows, which is stupid—only John could possibly want Sherlock to justify a deduction this obvious—but Sherlock rolls his eyes and says, "Not that it is in any way relevant, but I am in fact absolutely certain that you have had substantially more sexual partners than I've had sexual encounters, so I am perfectly willing to concede that the experiential advantage rests with you."

"You," John says, and then stops, and Sherlock watches him count and then say, "That can't be right, you can't be certain, you can't possibly know about girlfriends from before I moved into—"

"You talk about them all the time," Sherlock tells him, and it comes out perhaps more bitterly than Sherlock intended, because John sighs and says, "Oh, Jesus, I—" and Sherlock snorts and shakes his head and says, "It's not like I was—I wasn't pining, or anything," and John presses his mouth against Sherlock's jaw and murmurs, "Well, I was, recently, a bit."

Sherlock briefly considers bringing up Moran, but decides not to.

"Okay," John says, and sighs, and then says, "You're right, it's not relevant, except that I—I think it'll be easier to assume that it won't be the last time we have sex after it's, um, not been the last time we have sex a few more times."

"I don't know that it isn't the last time we'll have sex," Sherlock says quietly.

"I know that," John says. "I mean—I was paying attention. But I—I'd like to believe that it won't be, that it—it doesn't have to be, and I want to kiss you, too, but I—I just feel like we can kind of play it by ear, we don't have to make any—um. Final decisions."

"I still don't know where to put my hands," Sherlock tells him, and John says, "Oh."

Sherlock rolls his eyes, because honestly, sometimes John is intolerably slow.

"That's related to the—er, oral sex question, isn't it?" John says.

Absolutely intolerable. Sherlock snaps, "Well so far that's the only thing I can tell that you especially like, so—"

"All right, yes, shut up," John says, and kisses him until Sherlock's desire to lie down has overwhelmed any more practical concerns and John's stretched himself out half on top of him and Sherlock's largely forgotten what he was going to say. Sherlock finds that one of his hands has ended up in John's hair, and the other one is curled up on the back side of John's ribs, his arm wrapped tightly around John's back. John kisses his jaw, murmuring, "Yes, see, that's—fine," and then takes a detour down beneath Sherlock's ear.

"'Fine' is unacceptable," Sherlock tells him, without opening his eyes, and John laughs against Sherlock's skin and says, "I—I, honestly, it's. It's quite—endearing, you know. That you're worried you're bad in bed."

"Sadist," Sherlock tells him.

"Really not, actually," John tells him, muffled by the hollow of Sherlock's throat. It makes Sherlock's fingers twitch. John licks a clumsy stripe up the side of Sherlock's neck and props himself up on his elbow, looking down at him. His eyes are soft and his mouth is red, wet, and he looks somehow warmer, even, than he feels, pressed down against Sherlock unhurried and heavy. He looks like he should be shot out-of-focus, lit red and golden; the thought is plebeian enough to make Sherlock feel guilty. John looks happy.

John says, "You're just—um. Rather good at everything, you know."

Sherlock is quiet. After a minute, he says, "You should tell me."

"Tell you what?" John asks, shifting his weight. Sherlock slides his hand down John's side and over the curve of his bottom.

"What you like," Sherlock says, soft.

"That," John says, and laughs a little when Sherlock squeezes. John says, "Yes, um—and that," and bends back down to kiss him.

The second time, Nick had told Sherlock, Just—turn it off, for a minute, won't you? and Sherlock didn't say anything. John, on the other hand, seems perfectly content to lie about naked in a hotel room in Munich and kiss Sherlock and let Sherlock squeeze his bottom and rub his palm up his back and his thumb down his side and catalogue that the—the a-arse-squeezing makes John press down against him (reflexive; not very hard) and the palm up John's back makes his shoulders tense and then relax and the thumb down John's side makes his erection jerk against Sherlock's, and he doesn't say, Just—turn it off, for a minute, won't you? and his mouth stays on Sherlock's neck and Sherlock's face and Sherlock's mouth and apparently when John says they're not in a hurry, he means it. Sherlock just wishes his own body could agree.

Sherlock has had plenty of experience with masturbation; over the years, he's become clinically efficient in achieving orgasm in minimal time. He doesn't know if he's had occasion to regret that ever before. He doesn't think so. But now they're in a hotel room in Munich with ten hours to make the most of and Sherlock's belly is damp with their shared sweat, with—with precome, and every time John shifts against him, desire pools inside the marrow-hollows of Sherlock's bones, slow and thick and honey-sweet, and ripples out through Sherlock's skin like the very best kinds of high. Sherlock's organs feel foreign to him. He has lost his language: no engraving in Gray's Anatomy ever felt this way; this cannot possibly be explained by his eventual postmortem. The next time John murmurs, "You all right?" Sherlock gasps, "No," without thinking, and then pulls John closer against him, kisses him hungrily, ashamed.

"Um," John manages breathlessly, a few moments later, then asks, "Why not?"

"Because I'm about to come," Sherlock tells him, and then twists his face to the right, which is a mistake, because it bares his throat, and John props himself up on his right elbow and licks one long stripe down the side of Sherlock's neck and Sherlock feels his own moan shake him down to his toes. Then John wraps his hand around both of them together and Sherlock gasps out, "Oh, God—John—" and John says, "Yeah, come on, come on—" and Sherlock explodes.

"Oh, Jesus," John gasps, and Sherlock manages to get enough neurons firing together to say, "Come—come on me, John, I want you to—" and John moans and presses his face to Sherlock's neck and sticks three salty-sticky fingers in Sherlock's mouth and Sherlock sucks and sucks and sucks, pulse still practically vibrating under his skin, as John rubs his cock against Sherlock's hip, panting, "Oh, I—God, Sherlock, I—oh," until he pulses wetly against Sherlock's skin.

"God," John gasps, and then collapses against him, pressing his face into Sherlock's neck, then dragging his fingers in Sherlock's mouth over until Sherlock can kiss him. John tells him, "I—oh, okay, that was."

"Unexpected," Sherlock finishes, and John props himself up and says, "See, I was going to go with, 'great'."

"Oh," Sherlock says, and swallows, and John says, "Because that was—" and Sherlock finishes, "Yes, no, that was..." and John supplies, "Great?" and Sherlock says, "Yes, it was—really, um. Really, really great."

John smiles and leans back down and then sticks his tongue back in Sherlock's mouth, where it belongs.

 

In the morning, the first thing Sherlock does is inventory himself, blinking up at the ceiling. He thinks that something in his brain has perhaps been badly miswired.

It's early, still only half seven by the clock on the bedside table, an hour earlier in London, and John is heavy and sweaty on top of him, face mashed into Sherlock's neck and legs scissored between Sherlock's thighs. Sherlock had barely been conscious by the time John convinced him to get under the covers the night before, and Sherlock hadn't really had anything to say about the way John lay down on top of him and then pulled the blankets up to their shoulders, but now Sherlock is positive that he woke up because he's too hot, and yet his primary interest, it seems, is still split between the fact that John is naked under the covers, which really shouldn't be important, since John has yet to show any significant disinclination towards being naked around Sherlock, and the fact that Sherlock wants to be closer to him, which is both largely impossible and, given that Sherlock really is already rather overwarm, wholly irrational.

Sherlock reaches one arm out from underneath the blankets, the open air shockingly cool against his skin. He exhales, sharp with relief, and John stirs, so Sherlock pets at his hair. He didn't mean to wake John up.

"Mm." John kisses his throat. "Hi."

"Go back to sleep," Sherlock murmurs. "It's early."

"You're too hot, aren't you," John mumbles, and yawns, and rolls off to one side.

"I didn't say you should go away," Sherlock says, and John laughs without opening his eyes, tugging the blankets off of Sherlock's body and wrapping them around his own shoulders, then holding out one arm.

"C'mon," John tells him, so Sherlock slides back over against him, tucking his arm back under the blankets, around John's waist. Sherlock's back is still bare, cooling rapidly. "Mm." John shifts, sighs, and kisses the corner of Sherlock's mouth. He asks, "How d'you always get so hot when you sleep, anyway? You wear a knee-length wool coat all year 'round."

"Don't know," Sherlock tells him, "always have, I'll be fine in a minute." He tucks his knee in between John's and kisses him properly. John still hasn't opened his eyes. Sherlock runs his thumb up John's stubbly jaw and says, "Don't you need more sleep?"

John makes a noncommittal noise and slides closer.

"I have a couple hours," Sherlock says. It feels dangerous.

"Out of your system?" John asks, and Sherlock tells him, "Not quite yet," and John rubs his hand down to the small of Sherlock's back and then keeps going.

It still might be the last time. In fact, at this point, it is much more probably the last time, since Sherlock has to go out around ten and when he comes back he most certainly will be on a case and then they really won't have any excuse at all. But Sherlock finds himself drowned steadily in the rip tides of his desires, and somehow the only thing he can find to hold onto while struggling to surface is his devotion. He slides down John's body with it thumping with every syncopated beat of his heart, how badly he wants to give things to John. It seems paltry, but then John says, "Hey, what about—turn around, then, give me something to do," and laughs, but not meanly, when Sherlock feels the blood rush up into his face. Then John kisses Sherlock's hip and his thigh and then dribbles all over him and keeps losing his rhythm while Sherlock does his best to make it excellent but not fast, suffused with adoration down to his every spinning electron. John comes in Sherlock's mouth and then half chokes when Sherlock comes in his and then laughs at himself and Sherlock wants to fold this room around them, tuck the corners in, and stay.

"I'm sort of awful at this, aren't I," John says, wiping at his mouth, and Sherlock leans in and licks John's jaw and says, "It's endearing, that you're worried you're bad in bed," and John says, "God, you're such a bastard," and Sherlock tells him, "I love you," even though he knows that John knows and that at this point he's just repeating himself, "I love you, I love you—"

Sherlock is almost late for his meeting.

 

Munich turns out to be—well, boring. It's forgery (artifacts, not art; he does give them some credit for that) and it doesn't take Sherlock even the whole of the first day to realize that his entire job description, for the next week or so, has been reduced to repeatedly explaining everything they're doing wrong to four rather cantankerous middle-aged academics and a postgrad who obviously fancies himself the next Neal Caffrey.

"Who?" John asks, stirring sugar into Sherlock's coffee.

"He's—no one, it doesn't matter," Sherlock says, mentally cursing Molly and her laptop's extensive collection of terrible American television as he tosses his new socks on top of the rest of the darks. ("Cold water, John, cold water this time—" "You know, seeing as how you're such a princess, you could always wash them yourself, so—" "I will repeat that I'm perfectly happy to use some of the truly grotesque amount of money Moran is paying me to send our laundry out—" "Yes, fine, shut up, I'll wash them on cold, Jesus, Sherlock.")

John sets Sherlock's coffee on the edge of the desk, and his shirt is blue today, so Sherlock drops whatever irrelevant piece of fabric has found its way into his hands and slides his hand into John's hair. It's not as easy to do as it was yesterday morning; John was out when Sherlock came back last night, and he returned just before seven with takeaway in one hand and snipped ends all over the inside of his collar.

John looks up at him. "You're working," he says, but his mouth is quirking up.

"Hm, no," Sherlock says. "At the moment, I'm waiting for a phone call."

"For work," John says.

"And while I'm waiting," Sherlock says, ignoring him, "I am sorting the laundry, which is not, in fact, noticeably more dull than the actual job."

"But you do have a job," John persists.

"Not a real one," Sherlock argues. "It's a job that is very much like not working at all."

John licks his lips. He says, "You—you said you needed to be stopped, before."

"I changed my mind," Sherlock says.

"Last time we shagged while you were working, you were really a bit of a bastard to me, after," John reminds him, which is true, so Sherlock slides his hand out of John's hair and drops down onto his knees and says, "This isn't the same. You should let me apologize to you."

"Oh, Jesus," John says, which Sherlock has noticed he tends to do when he feels like he should say no but doesn't want to, so Sherlock puts his hands on John's hips and pushes him back up against the foot of the bed and John really isn't at all stupid, so he sits down.

This, Sherlock reminds himself, doesn't count. It doesn't. Not really. He won't be the one who loses himself in this; even at fifteen he could almost make this, by itself, just a game. The carpet is hotel room carpet, short, not remotely plush, and hard on his knees. That, too, will be a reminder; he focuses on that and not on the way his heart is going a bit too fast and his fingers are not as dexterous as they ought to be when he works open the button on John's jeans. John's hand comes down and settles in Sherlock's hair, and Sherlock's first thought is, That's nothing like the way Nick did that and then his second thought is, Well, of course not, it wouldn't be, would it? and then he has to rest his cheek against John's thigh for a minute to catch his breath.

John keeps scratching his fingers against Sherlock's scalp, saying nothing.

"That's nice," Sherlock tells him eventually, a little bit muffled by the denim.

"Want to come up here?" John says, very soft.

Sherlock shakes his head. This isn't about him, it's not about him. He's the one on his knees.

"All right, then," John says, and when Sherlock gets himself together enough to go back to John's zip, John pushes himself up with his left hand braced on the bed and doesn't move the right one at all, and Sherlock drags John's jeans and boxers down together while John's fingers slide through Sherlock's fringe and down over his cheek. John murmurs, "You don't have to, you know," but he lets Sherlock tug all his pointless clothing down over his feet and toss it aside.

"I don't do things I don't want to," Sherlock reminds him, looking up, and John's whole—mouth, and—and face, and everything, are unbearable, so Sherlock presses his face down into the crease between John's groin and hip with John half-hard against his cheek and John rubs his hand through the back of Sherlock's hair and murmurs endearments Sherlock feels in his bones but refuses to hear too closely and this is already going badly, badly wrong. Sherlock breathes in, deep, filling his lungs with the bits of John that John doesn't need anymore and then presses his knees down into the carpet until they hurt, and then sticks out his tongue and licks, just a little, just a taste, and then turns and presses his face back into John's thigh, shoulders heaving.

John pets his hair. "Okay," he says, a minute later, "this is—both, um, very hot, and very worrying, so—"

Sherlock turns his head, fast, sliding his right hand over to guide John into his mouth, and John exhales above him, hand tightening in his hair. John tucks his right foot over the back of Sherlock's left calf, and Sherlock feels that touch vibrate straight up into his throat and escape.

"Oh, f—" John is saying, and this is—this is rapidly turning into an exercise in things Sherlock can't handle, like John's hand in his hair and John's bare foot tucked over his leg and John leaking into his mouth, heavy and salty and thick in Sherlock's hand pressed up against Sherlock's mouth with John in his mouth, and fuck! This isn't—this isn't, this isn't how it was supposed—this isn't what Sherlock—he pulls off gasping and leans up, desperate, stretching to meet John bending down to kiss him, instant and urgent. Sherlock puts both his hands on John's cock and rubs it because he can, aimless and ineffectual. He keeps pressing his hips against the foot of the bed like he's some sort of—and John is biting at his mouth and saying, "Oh, God, I—you—" and Sherlock knows that the next thing John is going to say will be come here and then Sherlock will have to so he pulls back and drops his head back down and takes John as deep as he can, which is not half as deep as Sherlock wants him to be but still very deep indeed.

"Okay," John says, a little high, and then gasps and laughs, a little, and then pets at Sherlock's hair, too fast.

When Sherlock pulls up to breathe again his face is burning. He says, "You can pull if you want," rough, and then swallows John back down, then up—breathe, down, up—breathe, with John panting above him, and then John tugs, very lightly, and Sherlock moans and swallows him again to shut himself up, and John gasps, "Jesus—" and pulls and Sherlock comes in his pants and chokes and chokes until John pulls out because Sherlock can't remember why he's not getting any oxygen.

"Fuck—Sherlock—" John is saying, kneeling down next to him, running shaking hands over Sherlock's face and Sherlock's throat as Sherlock coughs and swallows, coughs and swallows, as John says, "Are you okay, are you okay—" and Sherlock coughs and fists his hands in the front of John's still-buttoned shirt and nods, rasping, "Sorry, sorry—" and John says, "Jesus Christ," and wraps his arms around Sherlock's shoulders and leans back against the foot of the bed, pulling Sherlock over against his torso because Sherlock's muscles have all gone liquid and uncoordinated and he doesn't appear to have any say in the matter.

"God, you scared the crap out of me," John breathes, and kisses Sherlock's hair, and Sherlock lets himself slide down to rest his head on John's bare thigh, and then John puts his hand over Sherlock's mouth. Sherlock looks up at him.

John's face is flushed. He says, "Don't even think about it, Sherlock."

Sherlock looks back down at John's lap, at the disarrayed mess of the tails of John's shirt, at John—at John's cock, still mostly hard and wet with Sherlock's saliva and so close it practically makes Sherlock's eyes cross. Sherlock shifts his hips for no reason, then reaches out and wraps one hand around John and then looks back up at John's face. He can't read John's expression, so he squeezes, not too hard, sliding his hand, and John gasps, so Sherlock parts his fingers and slides them down around the sides, slow, then up again. It's. Compelling. The fourth time, John licks his lips and says, "Promise me, hands only." Sherlock nods, heart in his throat, and John drops his head back against the foot of the bed and looks up at the ceiling and says, "Oh, Jesus, I'm a terrible human being," which means yes, and that is compelling, too.

Sherlock shifts a little bit for a better angle and then settles in, watching his flesh move over John's flesh, feeling John's fingertips sliding down over his cheek, his throat, up into his hair, as John's breath comes faster and harder and John's thigh tenses up under Sherlock's head. Sherlock can already feel the ghost of arousal stirring along the line between his tailbone and his groin, and he licks his lips and swallows around nothing and says, "I want you to come on my face."

John makes a noise about an octave higher than any Sherlock's ever heard out of him before, then gasps, "You—I—"

"Do it," Sherlock tells him, and then looks up at John's face and says, "I wanted to taste," and John groans, "Oh, God," and Sherlock slides closer and rubs his cheek up John's cock and John comes half in his fringe before Sherlock can shift around enough to catch any of it with his tongue.

"Oh my God," John gasps, as Sherlock sits up, wiping at his fringe. He licks his fingers. "Oh my God," John repeats, and Sherlock turns to look at him. John's eyes are wide. Sherlock props his left arm up on the other side of John's thighs and leans in and kisses him. John kisses him back, though it takes him a minute to wrap his arm over Sherlock's back.

"How—" John asks breathlessly— "on earth—" some time later— "did you make it for twenty years without—"

"It's just mechanics," Sherlock says, rubbing his nose against John's. Sherlock's throat still feels raw.

"I'm not talking about the actual sex," John says, laughing a little, "I am talking about your filthy fucking mind—"

Sherlock swallows.

"Oh," John says, then tightens his arm. "No, no, I—I didn't—that is very definitely not a bad thing, I'm just—surprised, given that—"

"It really shouldn't be a surprise to you at this point," Sherlock says, pulling back and straightening up, "that an awful lot more goes on inside my head than it does for most people, it is after all how I make my living—"

"Sherlock," John sighs, and reaches out and hooks his fingers in between the buttons on Sherlock's shirt. Sherlock could still stand up if he wanted to; it's not like John could actually hold him down. Sherlock stares at the wall and doesn't move.

"Okay," John says, quiet. "Since we're on the subject of things that shouldn't be a surprise at this point, all those things that go on inside your head that don't go on inside most people's heads? Um, bit of a turn-on, so."

Sherlock swallows.

John says, "Stop freaking out."

"I'm not freaking out," Sherlock tells the wall. "Why would I be freaking out?"

"No reason," John says, and then tugs until Sherlock lets himself exhale and lean back over John's legs, tip his head down to press their foreheads together.

"You're freaking out," John murmurs.

"Only a little," Sherlock admits, and John kisses his cheek.

Sherlock twists, so that his next exhalation falls into John's mouth.

"This carpet is awful," John mumbles, later, and Sherlock agrees, "Unhygienic," and John says, "C'mon, then, shower. I'll wash your hair."

 

The call comes in while Sherlock's trying to come up with something clean to wear.

"You can't put that back on," John tells him.

"It's either that or one of your undershirts," Sherlock tells him, and John tilts his head, considering, and then digs one out. Sherlock says, "Absolutely not. I'm a professional."

"Yes, and the come on your shirttails will definitely help you make that point," John says. "The undershirt's fine, put—put your jacket on over it, or something."

Sherlock snaps his fingers, then points. "You, you have a white shirt, I saw it, where is it?"

"In the wardrobe, but it won't fit you," John says, laughing a little. Sherlock steps over to the wardrobe while John's saying, "It'll look ridiculous, come on."

"It's better than nothing," Sherlock tells him, pulling it off the hanger, but in this particular instance, John turns out to be right.

"Stop laughing," Sherlock tells him, peeling it back off. "It's not funny."

"It was, actually," John manages, from where he's half-doubled over, still only wearing his boxers, palm flat on the bed. Sherlock throws the shirt at him. "Your—your wrists, Sherlock."

Sherlock curls his lip at him, then buttons his suit jacket up over John's undershirt and steps out into the hall and tries not to feel like he's in disguise as someone with absolutely no taste at all.

He and John don't manage to intersect again until John slips back in at half two in the morning and Sherlock looks up from his laptop to assure himself that nothing important has changed. It hasn't. John hangs up his jacket and plugs in his phone and then sits down on the foot of the bed to untie his shoes, sighing.

"Tea?" Sherlock asks.

John looks over at him. "Where'd you come up with tea?"

"I abused the coffee maker," Sherlock tells him, standing up and going over to flip it on. "I bought tiny milk, too—we should use it up, won't be safe in the morning."

"You—that's." John laughs a little, with a soft thump as he flops back onto the bed. "Thanks."

Sherlock shrugs, filling up a cup and setting the tea bag in to brew. It's trivial. It's just that John always wants tea when he's upset, which he is, because he doesn't like doing things that Sherlock can't do, too; Sherlock, for his part, knows that it'll be safer if there's nothing for him to reveal if he's asked, so he has to leave this, all of this, to John. Knowing that it's right doesn't make it easy, for either of them.

"Thanks," John says, sitting back up when Sherlock touches his shoulder. He smells like other people's cigarettes, and he's spilled lager on his cuff. He takes the cup and asks, "You sleeping tonight?"

"Probably not," Sherlock admits, and John nods. Sherlock bends down to kiss his hair (safest), then pulls back about ten years before he really wants to and goes over to the desk and gets back to work. It's not as distracting as a real case; he's still aware of John's body when John goes into the bathroom to wash his face and brush his teeth, of John peeling off his clothes and peeling back the covers, of the way John's stomach folds together, softening, when he climbs up into bed. Sherlock hits the reduce-brightness control on his laptop sixteen times, into utter darkness, then hesitates, just for a moment, and then turns it up by one, just as John turns out the light.

He works for another hour, then decides that his back hurts and his shoulders hurt and the chair is awful and uncomfortable and Moran can just damn well wait, so he strips down to his pants and John's undershirt and climbs in next to John's warm solid body, just for the way John rolls over and reaches out for him, without surfacing from sleep.

 

On Wednesday, he's himself again. He wakes up at five and doesn't have sex with John and drinks four cups of coffee and then showers and shaves and puts on proper clothes and beats even Sabine into the lab.

"Oh!" she says, startled, when she opens the door.

"Good morning," Sherlock tells her, and hands her four careful sheets of notes on their latest travesty, saying, "Here's a list of all the ways this one can get you arrested;" she huffs, brows drawing together, but she puts the papers down on her work table and scans them as she puts her heavy grey hair up into its habitual messy knot.

At half eleven, Marcus sidles up to Sherlock's worktable to clumsily request a lunch date, which is irritating, though really not particularly surprising.

"I'm married," Sherlock tells him, without looking up from his work. "Though if you'd still like to ply me with foodstuffs, I certainly won't stop you." His stomach is, troublingly enough, making its presence known.

"O-oh," Marcus says, shifting. He's still leaning against Sherlock's worktable, but now Sherlock can see the awkward sort of tension in every line of his body, even out of the corner of his eye. "You—um." Sherlock wonders how long it'll take him to figure out how to casually lean away.

Sherlock turns to properly look at him. "I'm especially partial to cheese sandwiches," he says, leaning back in his chair and narrowing his eyes. Marcus looks, if possible, even more uncomfortable than he did a moment ago. Since it's almost August and they're probably actually edible, Sherlock adds, "With tomatoes."

Marcus flushes and makes his escape. The next time Sherlock looks up, there are two tightly wrapped cheese sandwiches and a takeaway cup of tea resting a careful two feet away, and Marcus is long gone; apparently, under the right circumstances, postgrads do have their purpose.

"Sabine," Sherlock calls across the lab, tearing another sheet off his notepad and holding it up. Sabine heads over to take it from him, but she doesn't look happy about it. Sherlock tells her, "I'm beginning to think that the first thing you need to do to tighten up this operation is fire Georg. Nothing I've done today couldn't have been done by any half-rate chemist with the better part of an undergraduate degree, and they'd cost your boss about a tenth of what I do."

Georg is glaring at Sherlock from the other side of the lab, his expression mirrored half-heartedly on Sabine's face. Sherlock smiles up at her, showing his teeth, then stands, and gathers up his sandwiches and his tea.

"If you happen to see Marcus, tell him thank you for the sandwiches," Sherlock tells them, heading out.

"Where're you going?" Sabine asks. "It's not even two."

"I'm going outside, where the reception's better," Sherlock tells her, "and I am going to eat my lunch, and then, if you are very lucky, I will come back down here and continue to be massively overpaid to do Georg's job for him."

Georg makes an angry noise but if he says anything with actual words, the door closes in time to mute it. Sherlock sits outside and eats a sandwich and a half and drinks all his tea and reminds himself to switch back to English before he texts John twenty-seven times, keeping his phone out and resting on his knee in between the replies, and then, feeling full and warm and very much in charity with the world, he goes back into the lab and works until nine in the evening, just because he can, and then goes back to the hotel and takes John out for dinner, because it seems like a remarkably good use of Moran's money, and then they go back to the room and Sherlock kisses John rather a lot but doesn't take off any of his clothes, because taking off John's clothes is, today, unnecessary.

Wednesday, Sherlock thinks, with John snoring into his collarbone, may just be his biggest success yet. He wiggles his toes under the sheets.

 

Thursday, he wakes up all wrong again.

"Oh—I—um," John gasps, "your phone—"

Sherlock bites his own lip, then manages, "I—I think I'm going to throw it out of the window," and John moans and gasps and pushes up through their interlaced fingers, looking down. Sherlock rubs his heel up the back of John's calf and his phone buzzes again and then falls off the desk.

"How late are you?" John asks, breathless, which is idiotic, because it's not like criminals report to work at nine.

Sherlock doesn't say that, though. He just stretches his neck up awkwardly to catch John's mouth, teeth clacking as Sherlock breathes in John's breath, then drops his head back down onto the pillows and looks down at their hands, at John's cock pushing against his cock pushing through the sweat-slicked cup of their fingers, and says, "Not nearly as late as I'm going to be," and John laughs.

Sherlock looks up at him, not quite able to swallow his wholly inappropriate smile, and John drops down onto his elbow, trapping their hands between them, sticky and slick and hot, and kisses him while Sherlock wonders just how far he can push it, just how many things he can get away with doing to John while Tina Moran is paying him to do something else. The thought is incendiary, and Sherlock licks clumsily at John's jaw and says, "I really, really want to fuck you."

"Fu—" John says, and then laughs, a little desperately, and says, "God, Sherlock, you—"

"You said," Sherlock says, low, thinking about John in his lap in a chair in Mycroft's living room—God— "you said I could, if—"

"You, shut up," John tells him, pushing down hard.

"But I want to," Sherlock tells him, sliding his free hand up over John's arse, just, God. Sherlock can feel the clench of his desire slide down the whole of his body, how desperately he wants to be inside. "You—you can't, you can't know, how badly I want to—"

"Oh, think I do," John says, too fast, and then groans, pushing into their hands, and Sherlock feels John coming over his fingers, flooding Sherlock with mingled elation and despair. John says, "Fuck," and kisses Sherlock's jaw, clumsy, and then pulls back and bends down and kisses Sherlock's sternum, sticks his tongue briefly into Sherlock's sweaty bellybutton, which should in no way be as arousing as it in fact is, and then slides his arms under Sherlock's thighs and says, "Slide up," pushing, so Sherlock slides up until his hair brushes against the headboard with his heart beating double-time. Then John says, "Tell me," and grabs hold of Sherlock's erection, first with his hand, then with his mouth.

Sherlock's spine arches up against his will, which makes John settle one arm heavily across over Sherlock's hips, holding him down. John's mouth is still clumsy, wet and sloppy, and it makes every hair on Sherlock's body stand straight up on end. John pulls off with a soft, lewd sound that echoes inside the walls of Sherlock's veins, and says, "C'mon. Tell me, and maybe I'll let you, tonight."

"Oh my God," Sherlock whispers, and squeezes his eyes tight shut, and when John half-laughs half-around him it's almost more than he can take. Sherlock fists his hands in the sheets and stares up at the ceiling and thinks about John on his knees—no—John against the wall—not yet—John in the shower—later—and says, "In my lap, in my lap, you'd—we'd be more the same height," and John makes a noise that sounds like assent and sucks harder, and Sherlock throws his arm up and over his eyes and gasps out, "I could—inside you, kissing you—" as John pushes down on Sherlock's hips and swallows everything that Sherlock still isn't entirely certain that he can afford to give.

John slides back up next to him and kisses him. John tastes like Sherlock. Sherlock honestly can't understand how people who aren't him do this with people other than John. He doesn't understand how they can stand it. Sherlock can only stand it because John is John and John's thumb is tucked just under Sherlock's left ear, moving in slow, tender circles.

Sherlock's phone buzzes on the carpet.

"Oh, just, fuck her," John sighs, heartfelt, and then briefly tucks his face into Sherlock's neck. "It's—it is Sabine, isn't it?"

"Probably," Sherlock admits. "Unless she's bumped it up the chain, in which case—"

"Yes, well, let's not think about that," John says, and sighs again, and rolls away. He sits up and Sherlock stares at the small of his back, feeling stunned and stupid, as John sits at the edge of the bed and reaches down for Sherlock's phone. John checks the number and then hands it over, saying, "Still Sabine, which is something, I suppose. Call her back. I'm going to have a shower, so I don't tell her exactly where she can shove her early morning God-help-us-we're-lost-without-you phone calls."

"It's half eleven," Sherlock points out, but he flips open the phone.

"Still want to tell her to shove it," John calls from the bathroom, and then turns on the water.

Sherlock's mouth twitches as he hits "Send." "Hello, yes," he says, standing up and stretching until his spine cracks. "Yes, sorry, I overslept, I'll be there in half—in forty-five minutes." He doubts John'll mind sharing the shower.

John doesn't mind sharing the shower, but it still takes more like an hour for Sherlock to make it down to the lab, the ends of his hair damp against his collar and resentment sitting like a stone underneath his ribs. He does what he has to and ignores, to the greatest possible extent, Moran's team; it's harder than it might otherwise be, given that they're really actually very nearly done and that means that Sherlock's lists of problems are getting shorter and shorter and their fixes are getting faster and faster. Just before nine in the evening, Sabine says, "We probably can finish this tonight, if we stay," and Sherlock hunches his shoulders in and doesn't argue, even though his whole body wants to shake with his refusal. John is somewhere else, not here, keeping track of their promises; Sherlock wants to be there too.

It's past three in the morning before they actually finish, and Sabine rubs at her face and says, "We'll give everything one last go-over in the afternoon, everyone sleep on it, meet back at one." Sherlock manages a nod and then slides his coat on with numb and shaking fingers, sliding his laptop bag over his shoulder and staggering out into the hall. He's freezing. He can feel his whole body grinding down: troubling. Never in his life has he needed to sleep this many nights in a row.

The older members of their little cohort are slow, still gathering up their things, no doubt, but Marcus makes it out just behind Sherlock. In the lift, Sherlock ignores him, checking his phone reflexively, even though the battery's been dead since eleven. It takes approximately a year and a half for the lift doors to slide open again.

"Do you want to split a cab?" Marcus is asking Sherlock's back, and Sherlock pauses and turns to look at him, considering.

"Can I borrow your phone?" Sherlock asks. "Mine's dead, I need to—can I borrow yours?"

Marcus shifts a little awkwardly, but he hands it over, and Sherlock texts John quickly, then feels a rush of irrational defensiveness, and clicks over into Marcus's sent messages and deletes the record before handing it back.

"So, the cab," Marcus says.

"I'm sorry, did you not hear me when I said I was married?" Sherlock asks him.

"You don't wear a ring," Marcus says.

Sherlock snorts and stuffs his hands in his pockets, heading down the long hall towards the main doors; all the others are alarmed against exits at night. He says, "Plenty of men don't wear wedding rings."

"In my experience," Marcus tells him, half-jogging to keep up behind him, "when handsome men don't wear wedding rings it's because they're not married all the time."

Sherlock mentally curses Marcus for not being quite as stupid as he looks. Sherlock says, "Well, that's not why I don't wear one, so, bad luck there. Not interested. Go away."

"Just asking you to share a cab with me," Marcus persists, and Sherlock stops and turns to face him.

"Just so you know, John tends to be surprisingly well-armed," Sherlock tells him. "He also spends a nontrivial percentage of his life dealing with people who are trying to kill me, and I usually text him every hour or two, but since my phone battery's died, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he's waiting out the front, and since it's late, he'll be tired and probably more than a little bit jumpy."

Marcus licks his lips.

"I mean," Sherlock says, with his best ordinary-person smile, "by all means, though, if you want to walk out close by my side, after I've just sent him a very belated text reassuring him of my safety from a number he won't recognize, be my guest."

Marcus doesn't say anything. Sherlock turns and keeps walking. Marcus follows him, but a few paces behind, and Sherlock is selfishly pleased to find that John is outside, perched on the edge of a bench with a takeaway cup of what smells like really wretched coffee, right hand tucked into the pocket of his jacket, shoulders hunched. His eyes look tired. Sherlock goes over, saying nothing, and steals John's coffee for a sip (even worse than expected), while John watches Marcus past Sherlock's side, not relaxing until Marcus's footsteps have faded into the muted throb of late-night background noise.

"Who's that?" John asks.

"That one's Marcus," Sherlock tells him, giving him a hand up off the planter then handing back the coffee. "The one who let me use his phone."

"Ah," John says, then adds, "He was—um. Watching you."

"Yes," Sherlock says. They're in the cab before Sherlock adds, "Marcus has—a bit of a crush."

"Ah," John says.

"I did turn him down," Sherlock says, looking over at him.

John glances up at him, mouth quirking. He says, "I wasn't worried."

"Didn't think you were," Sherlock says. "Give me your coffee."

John passes it over again and Sherlock has another sip, then keeps the cup. He tosses it in the bin in front of their hotel; John needs to sleep.

 

"Sherlock."

Sherlock opens his eyes, his awareness snapping into focus in stages; too slow.

John holds out a mug—coffee. Sherlock swallows and pushes up to sitting, the sheets sliding down to his waist. He rubs at his jaw, and asks, "What time is it?"

"Just shy of noon," John says, and Sherlock takes the coffee. John sits down on the edge of the bed, folding his knee up. Sherlock shifts the mug into his left hand and puts the right on John's thigh.

"I need you to catch me up," John says, rather reluctantly. "If you're really as close to finished as you said last night, Ti—Moran's going to want to move you along, and I want to report before we go anywhere else. Too many opportunities for something to go wrong."

Sherlock nods. He says, "I couldn't get photographs, but I used carbons, so I have copies of all my notes. In my bag."

"No one noticed?" John asks, and Sherlock shrugs.

"That's the beauty of keeping things low-tech," he says, and takes another sip of coffee.

"All right, that's good," John says, a little absently. He licks his lips, and Sherlock watches him think.

After a minute, Sherlock tells him, "Notes or not, the fakes aren't going to be easy to prove." John's eyes refocus on his face. Sherlock explains, "The weakest spot in the group is the chemist, Georg Lang, but he's almost certainly a plant. He's a newish hire at the university, so he didn't land in with them from inertia, and there's no way they'd voluntarily be working with someone that incompetent. I had to point out everything he was doing wrong or I would've raised red flags, so it isn't wrong anymore."

"So you're still under suspicion," John says, quiet.

"It'd be foolish of them to trust me," Sherlock says. "No one seems to be looking at you, though. Aside from Marcus, none of them even seem to know you exist."

John nods. "I am being watched, though."

"Don't," Sherlock warns him. "No details, not unless—"

"No, no," John agrees. "Don't worry, you don't need to know. But I should look idiotic enough, I've been spending a fair amount of time trying to get my hands on records—that woman they arrested in Ottawa—it's just the sort of thing you'd give me if it were your case: deadly dull."

"I still think Mycroft needs to make the fakes more interesting if it's going to look like you're working for me," Sherlock says, ignoring the bait.

"I know, and I've told him that," John says. "It's just a time issue, between the two decoy jobs and one real one and there only being the two of us—I just, it can't be too complicated or we won't be spending enough time on it to look like we're really working on it, so."

"True," Sherlock says, and sighs, then takes a sip of coffee.

"Anything else I need other than the notes?" John says, and Sherlock closes his eyes and thinks.

"The suppliers," he says, after a minute. "It—there was a shipping company, I wrote down the name, but that's all. There's—there's layers to this, I'm sure of it, it's not just the forgeries. Something else, coming in from China; they're using the lab as a cache and I'm not sure if everyone there is even working on it. I don't think Sabine knows about it; Felix does, though. Um—Felix Meier, but he's an older man and definitely a bit iffy, he'll have other identities."

John says, "And he is..."

"He's an archaeologist," Sherlock says, thinking. "Marcus is technically his assistant, which—hang on." Sherlock straightens. "Marcus's background is in the hard sciences, I'm sure of it, he was talking to Lea about protein folding—"

"So maybe Meier's not an archaeologist," John says, and Sherlock shakes his head, saying, "No, he is, he's definitely an expert on archaeology, his publishing history is miles long, but if he's hanging about with a postgrad with a background in biochemistry, that's definitely not all he does. I'd guess... counterfeit pharmaceuticals, maybe? Big money, there. Felix would be able to get them travel documents and give them a cover, and Marcus would be able to talk to the scientists."

"Makes sense," John says, nodding. "I'll pass it along."

He stands up, and Sherlock slides his hand up his thigh in protest.

John smiles down at him. He says, "If you're supposed to be back at the lab at one..."

"I'm coming to realize that this is a—a sexual relationship," Sherlock tells him, and John's brow wrinkles. Sherlock frowns and tries again. He says, "I mean, I really did intend to prevent things from developing in that direction, since sex seems to vastly complicate something that really ought to be very simple, but it's become obvious to me that—"

"Sherlock," John says, fondly. "Go and shower. You can explain to me later all about how you have cleverly deduced that we're shagging."

 

John's gone when Sherlock gets back. He's still gone at eight, and at ten, and at midnight. Sherlock rolls up his sleeves and packs up all their things and then repacks all their things neatly, the way John would've done if he were in, and then he repacks all their things a third time, carefully and meticulously organized by function and color. Just before one, he breaks his self-imposed rule about multiple unjustifiable texts within one ten-minute period, sending, Please tell me you're all right, just before he hears John's key beep in the lock.

Sherlock exhales, sharp, and goes over to hold open the door. John smiles at him. He looks tired, eyes lined, mouth stretched thin, and he's carrying his laptop in a new and rather stylish black case.

"Your phone?" Sherlock asks, helping John slide the strap off over his head.

"Battery's dead," John says, and sighs. "Died ages ago, I think it wasn't all the way plugged in last night." He rubs at his face and says, "I got us both second chargers, they're in the bag, but I didn't have anywhere to plug it in."

"This is new, too," Sherlock observes, carrying John's bag over to the desk and unzipping the top. He fishes out the chargers and checks as subtly as he can; surprisingly enough, they're fine. Either John got someone to help him, or he's getting less hopeless about technology. Probably the former.

"My strap broke," John explains, sitting, then flopping back diagonally on the bed with his feet still planted on the floor. "Just—snapped right through. Right after I'd finished buying the chargers, of course, so I had to go back in and try to figure out how to explain to an eighteen-year-old shop assistant why I would actually want a bag that looked like a middle-aged man might carry it—so, I ended up with this one."

Sherlock smiles without looking over. He says, "It's a nice bag," and plugs John's phone in.

"It's a ridiculous bag," John tells him. Sherlock plugs in John's laptop to recharge, too, and then pauses, looking down into the bag. John says, "I'm going to spend every day looking like I robbed a university student."

"We should trade," Sherlock says, and then hesitates, licking his lips. He says, "I mean, I at least actually did rob a university student," and then reaches back into John's bag.

"You shouldn't tell me these things," John tells him, not quite laughing.

Sherlock sits down in the chair and slides it over to the foot of the bed, then reaches out to rest the bottle on John's chest. John blinks down at it, then looks up at Sherlock. His mouth is quirking up at the corners. John admits, "I thought I'd be home earlier."

"Well, it's under 100 milliliters, we don't have to throw it out," Sherlock says, and John laughs.

"Leaving in the morning, are we?" he says, smiling over at him.

"Yes," Sherlock admits, then adds, "We're—um, booked on a flight at eight," and John groans and puts his hands over his face.

"So I get—what, three hours of sleep?" he says, muffled.

"More like four and a half," Sherlock tells him, and slides the chair to the side, then reaches down and pulls John's foot up into his lap to untie his shoes.

"What are you—" John pushes up onto his elbows, and the bottle rolls off his ribs.

"Shut up," Sherlock says. "We're in a hurry. You need to sleep. If you want to help you can undo your buttons."

John laughs a little, and drops his head back down against the bed, then starts to unbutton his cuffs. Sherlock slides off John's shoe, then rubs his thumb up the arch of John's foot, just because.

"Mm," John says, and then, "Four and a half hours?"

"Hm." Sherlock pulls off his sock. "Well, four, at least."

"Three," John suggests, propping himself up on his elbows to slide out of his shirt. Sherlock looks at him. John tells him, "It's easiest to wake up if you sleep in multiples of ninety minutes."

"And you can always sleep on the plane," Sherlock agrees.

"Right, exactly," John says, and then toes off his other shoe while Sherlock's climbing up onto the bed beside him, peeling his shirt off over his head without undoing any of the buttons and ignoring the creak of the seams. John presses his mouth to Sherlock's sternum and unbuttons Sherlock's trousers; Sherlock can't make up his mind what needs to come off first and ends up with his left hand up the sleeve of John's undershirt and his right hand down the front of John's trousers, groping him comprehensively enough but without actually effectively making John any more naked, which may have been a miscalculation. John tugs Sherlock's trousers and pants down to his knees and then twists up awkwardly to kiss him.

"So, about the—" Sherlock says, and John pushes Sherlock over onto his back and kneels up on top of him and yanks off his own undershirt and undoes his own trousers and kicks everything off together and then drops back down against Sherlock and Sherlock says, "Um."

"Bit fiddly," John tells him, sliding against him, perfect, and Sherlock tries to keep his eyes from rolling back in his head. John kisses his throat and says, "When we—when we have some time—"

"Tomorrow," Sherlock gasps.

"After we land," John agrees, breath hot on Sherlock's skin. "We'll have time?"

"All night," Sherlock manages, sliding his hands down John's sides, over John's—

"With your hands," John tells him, and Christ, that really shouldn't— "your hands, first, and you, you can take as long as you want, no rush, just—"

"I'll want to kiss you," Sherlock tells him, squeezing, pulling John against him.

"You can always kiss me," John says, and kisses him, then presses against him—oh God—and murmurs, "Keep going."

"What?" Sherlock gasps, against his mouth.

"Go on," John breathes. "Explain it to me."

"Oh God." Sherlock swallows, hard.

John laughs, low. "Did I finally find your mute button?"

"Shut up," Sherlock tells him, and John laughs, kissing down over Sherlock's jaw, sucking at the lobe of his ear. Sherlock blinks back sparks.

"Go on, then," John murmurs, and it feels like he's telling it to the inside of Sherlock's body. Sherlock shakes. John tells him, "Tell me, tell me how it's going to go, tell me what you want to—"

"I want—your tongue in my mouth," Sherlock blurts out. His heart is pounding. John sucks on his ear, and Sherlock gasps, "while I—while I p—put my fingers—"

He stops, and John whispers, "Keep going," a little rough, and Sherlock swallows and says, "As, as deep as they can go, as—the way you fucked my throat—"

"Oh, Christ," John gasps, and laughs a little, shifting against him. "God, you—you. Keep going."

"I—I think I'll do it for hours," Sherlock tells him, feeling it bubble up out of him, just on the edge of a strange sort of panic. "I'll—I'll kiss you for hours and f-fuck your arse with my fingers—"

"Jesus," John pants. Sherlock bites down on nothing and swallows, feeling John's cock sliding against his, fever-hot, and John whispers, "Keep going, you—you have no idea what this is doing to me, you—"

"I'll keep my fingers inside you for hours," Sherlock tells him, staring wide-eyed up at the ceiling and seeing the walls of another hotel room, fuzzy and vague with imagination. He can feel it, in counterpoint, now with John's knees getting mixed up with his and John whispering, "Keep going, keep going," as then in the future Sherlock pushes his fingers—"two fingers, it'll be—" two fingers, dripping-wet and slick— "I think it'll—I'll keep going until we're just almost out, until the bottle's almost empty, just with my fingers, pushing—" pushing into John's body— "pushing into your a-arse, while you tell me—" Keep going, John groans out, "Keep going, keep going," and Sherlock says, heart pounding so hard it feels ready to burst, "Yes, like that, and I—I will, you—I'll fuck you for hours with my fingers until I can't stand it anymore, until neither of us can stand it any more, and then I'll push my—my cock into you—" and John groans, "Oh, God," and presses fast, desperate kisses against Sherlock's throat and shoulder, shaking, and Sherlock says, in a voice he barely recognizes, "and then I'll push into you and I won't move at all because if I do I'll come, I just know it, and I want, I'll jerk you off until you're just on the edge with—with my cock in your arse and your tongue in my mouth and then when you're—when you're here, just here, where you are right now, I'll just—push—" and John groans so loud it shakes Sherlock's ribs and pushes against him and Sherlock turns to catch his mouth, squeezing John's arse tight against him where Sherlock will be, where Sherlock will be inside him the next time they are like this, ripping each other open, breaking in. Sherlock can see it inside him, before him; prophetic.

Eventually, Sherlock opens his eyes.

"Just," John manages, voice rough and foreign. Sherlock feels him swallow. John says, "Just, for the record—if you can do that just by talking to me—just, you, you really don't ever have to worry about being bad in bed."

Sherlock feels a sharp, unfamiliar pain, somewhere under his ribs, inexplicable.

"I'm going to," Sherlock tells him, and turns to look at him, at John's beautiful face, soft with the aftermath of ecstasy. Sherlock says, very low, "I'm going to do it, I'm going to—I meant every single word, I'm going to, we're going to do that, and we're—we're going to love it."

John smiles at him, too close, hot and secret, and Sherlock thinks, This is my life, now, this is where I want to be, and he feels it crash over him like a tsunami, leaving nothing behind.

Chapter Text

(interstitial)

John sleeps.

It's unremarkable, on any objective level; everyone sleeps. The only remarkable thing is how remarkable it feels, to have John sleeping against him, heavy and solid and warm, half draped over the left half of Sherlock's body, with his face tucked in near Sherlock's, with his breathing gone steady and slow, slow, slow. With the curtains drawn and the lights off, John is a blur of warmth and dark shadow, but Sherlock knows what he looks like. Sherlock's hand is on John's back, a three-freckle constellation (currently invisible) bracketed by Sherlock's splayed index finger and thumb. Beneath the skin of Sherlock's palm: John's skin, John's blood, John's organs; beneath the skin of John's body: Sherlock's skin, Sherlock's blood, Sherlock's organs. Beneath them both their bed.

Sherlock can't lie to himself well enough to lie about this. Sherlock may keep bits of himself locked behind doors behind bars in a vault, but he still knows they're there: he knows that he craves sensation, that he has felt almost every physical lust imaginable and indulged—one way or another—the vast majority of them; but he also knows that he gave up the chemicals that Lestrade found offensive and left his violin to sleep in Mrs. Hudson's care and bartered away his home for a potentially endless stream of empty and anonymous hotel rooms, because the work demanded it. None of that changes the fact that he tried to give up John and failed. Sherlock lies in the dark and, even with the rest of his bad instincts carefully packed away, needs John's body against his body. His toes make more sense when John is sleeping against him. He doesn't understand it—he can't justify it—it's illogical and he knows it, but disliking the truth doesn't change it: John is important and touching John is important and either of those two things alone is only half correct. This, skin to skin and breath to breath, is an integral part of what they are. Sherlock can't tell himself that it would be the same if they were together in every way but one, because even if it should be, it wouldn't. It wasn't. Sherlock has stumbled into a paradox he didn't believe in: he may not love John any less when his mouth isn't on John's skin, but he still somehow loves him much more when it is, and now that he knows, Sherlock simply can't go back to living outside these honeycombed spaces where his body fits alongside John's body. He can't force himself to accept anything less. Sherlock has tried too many times to keep John within reasonable bounds, but he has always failed, he is always failing, he will always fail; he just can't bring himself to want to succeed.

Sherlock suddenly remembers Penelope. He doesn't know her last name—he never knew her last name—he doubts even Mycroft knew her last name without having to refer to her file. Penelope was very, very tall, almost as tall as Sherlock was, then—just twenty-one and still two last surprising and belated inches off his present height—and she had long, long legs and wide, doe-like brown eyes and creamy skin, and Sherlock hasn't thought about her for years, but he thought about her then. He remembers watching her stroke her fingers through Mycroft's hair while Mycroft was sorting through their father's papers, and he remembers thinking, consumed with loathing, how unfair it was that she would inevitably be sent out on field work in Bolivia or Korea and the next time Sherlock asked, "So, still shagging Penelope?" Mycroft's gaze would inevitably cloud, just slightly, just for a moment, before he put a face to the name and said, "Ah, yes. Penelope. Regretfully, no."

Sherlock, at twenty-one, still could call up the very whorls of Nick's fingerprints, everywhere they had been pressed into his skin.

He is nothing like Mycroft, not in this, and he never has been; he thought he had largely come to terms with that, but now here in the dark he feels the heat of it creeping up his cheekbones, sharp and shameful. Caring is not an advantage, Mycroft has told him and told him and told him; a useless admonishment, coming as it is from the preternaturally correct to the messy and explosive; Sherlock doesn't need anyone to remind him that his weaknesses are weaknesses. Sherlock's weaknesses are, on the whole, loud and impertinent and hard to ignore and impossible to kill—all except for John, of course, who is warm and heavy and dribbling on Sherlock's shoulder and terrifyingly human and fragile. Sherlock's brain hates that he has come to this, another meat-person depending on meat-people for meaty sorts of things, but even warring with himself, all sides concede that John's body was dangerously central to Sherlock's heart before he ever leaned up in the dark and pressed his lips for that first scalding instant to John's stubbly cheek. Caring is not an advantage; it will inevitably be twisted and abused, and even though being so divided cannot make him any stronger, Sherlock still finds he hates himself for being weak. Sherlock has the work and John. Sherlock cannot give up either. His attention will be split; he will, he knows, give each of them less than they deserve. Sherlock is choosing and he chooses this: he chooses to be weak, and divided, and in love, so that when Sherlock looks into himself he sees every hated other, all the world's sentimental idiocy, come home at last to be welcomed in, to live within his skin.

John sleeps. Sherlock touches his cheek, and John tightens the arm thrown over Sherlock's waist, exhaling steadiness and rest. His fingers curl against Sherlock's ribs, and Sherlock forces himself to close his eyes.

 

2. Dubai.

Sherlock gets up twenty minutes before the alarm is set to go off and shaves and showers, then starts the coffee with a towel around his waist and pushes John up and over into the shower while it brews. John's skin feels cold to the touch and he's blinking miserably, so Sherlock runs the water two degrees hotter than usual and washes John all over, from his hair down to his toes. By the time they get out, John's awake enough to shave without cutting himself; Sherlock dresses, then packs up their phones, laptops, last night's clothes, and leaves John's bag open for his shaving kit. John's taking his first sip of coffee when Sherlock goes down to the lobby and tying his shoes when Sherlock comes back up with printouts of their hotel confirmation and boarding passes; Sherlock hands them over.

John looks down at them. "Dubai," he says, voice flat, and looks up.

Sherlock frowns at the tone. "Yes," he confirms.

John's mouth is tight. Sherlock—Sherlock must've missed something. Bad memories? John was in Afghanistan, but Sherlock doesn't know what route they use to transfer soldiers in and out—or, or it's possible that after he was shot—or, no, John's never mentioned Dubai, but, maybe, because of course, John also still rarely talks about being shot, and that was important, so—

"She's fucking with us," John tells him, then looks back down to flip through the printout pages.

Sherlock can feel his own frown deepening. He rearranges the evidence in his mind, but still— "It's something with—it's some kind of construction fraud, she has a mole, she wants me to—"

"Two rooms, Sherlock," John says, voice tight, and Sherlock blinks; he hadn't so much as looked at their reservations. He hadn't thought he needed to.

Sherlock licks his lips. There's—there must be, there's something missing. He says, "I'm sure we can tell them that—"

"No, we can't," John interrupts. Sherlock stops, and his confusion must show on his face, because John sighs, then rubs at his face, and then says, "Fuck."

Sherlock doesn't say anything.

"I forget, sometimes," John says, soft, "how little you pay attention to politics."

Oh. "Politics isn't relevant," Sherlock tells him, then adds awkwardly, because things are starting to make sense, "usually."

"Right," John says, quiet. He stands up and shoulders his laptop bag (formerly Sherlock's) and tucks the boarding passes into the outside pocket. He says, unnecessarily, "It's relevant this time."

Sherlock reaches out and touches John's shoulder. John still isn't looking at him, so Sherlock slides his hand up over John's neck, stepping closer until John's laptop bag is bumping into Sherlock's side.

"How much trouble are we going to face?" Sherlock asks.

John looks up at him.

"Assuming we're discreet," Sherlock clarifies, because sometimes John thinks Sherlock's a bigger idiot even than he actually is.

John exhales. He says, "Not actually using both rooms, I take it."

"Out of the question," Sherlock says, and then asks, suddenly uncertain, "Isn't it?"

John licks his lips. He says, "No, yeah, we can just—use one room."

"And that won't," Sherlock says, then stops.

"I'll, um, make a call," John says. "To—to make sure. But I—I don't think they'll, um. Hassle us. In private."

Sherlock nods and bends down and kisses John's cheek, once, fast and awkward. His heart is racing. He steps back.

John grabs Sherlock's shirtfront and pulls him back. He says, "Properly," and leans up, so Sherlock tips his head back down. John smells like shaving cream, more so than usual, so that after Sherlock pulls back, he says, "Hold still," then licks his thumb and rubs it over—there, a fleck of foam, just under John's jaw. John exhales, short and sharp, then blinks up at him and pushes up onto the balls of his feet.

"We're—we're going to miss our flight," Sherlock manages, later. John's hand is down the back of his trousers. This combination of circumstances is deeply unfair.

"Dammit," John grinds out, and takes his hand back, and adjusts himself in his jeans. They're late, though, so Sherlock swallows back everything that makes him want to say, and grabs his bags, and follows John out to the lifts.

 

Once they're through security, they have enough time for John to sneak off to make a call and for Sherlock to buy two cups of coffee and a rather tired-looking croissant, and then, since John isn't back to their gate yet, a postcard and a stamp. He spends longer than he ought to thinking about what he'd like to say, but of course he knows that he can't really say much of anything, so in the end, he just writes out Molly's address and then drops the card into the post.

John's waiting when Sherlock comes back to the gate. Sherlock hands him both cups of coffee, then sits down next to him and fishes the croissant out of his laptop bag and passes it over. John hands him a cup in exchange, then opens up the paper bag and says, "Oh."

"Got a bit mashed, I'm afraid," Sherlock says.

"No, it's great, thank you." John tears the croissant in two and gives him half. Sherlock takes a sip of coffee, but it makes his stomach hurt, so he thinks that maybe he should eat the croissant. Sherlock eats the croissant.

"Did you eat last night?" John asks.

"No," Sherlock says. He doesn't say he wasn't hungry.

"Hm," John says, and then the gate intercom crackles to life.

 

Moran has booked them into first class again, which is something. Sherlock lets John take the window seat, and then slides in after him. First class means almost enough room for Sherlock's legs and no one on his other side, so that as soon as they're in the air, he can drape his hand over John's armrest and take John's hand under John's blanket, rub the knuckle of his bent thumb over and over again into the center of John's palm, as John's fingers wrap over onto the back of his hand, the tip of his index finger just resting at the angle of Sherlock's wrist.

John looks over at him. His voice is pitched low, just barely audible over the engines, when he says, "If we're careful in public, we should be fine."

"Right," Sherlock says.

"The operative part of that sentence is 'if we're careful'," John adds. "I'd rather not get arrested."

"We're not going to get arrested," Sherlock tells him. "I can be careful. Can you sleep?"

John sighs. "Yeah, probably," he says, "just—"

"I know," Sherlock says, squeezing his hand, "I'll—I promise. Just. Not now. Not yet. We're still in Germany. You need to sleep."

John exhales, blinking over at him, and then nods and closes his eyes.

Sherlock doesn't. Sherlock keeps his eyes open and watches John settle into sleep, by the ease of long training at uni and in the army, in just under seven minutes.

He doesn't let go of John's hand until the cabin crew is announcing landing, at which point Sherlock licks his lips and relaxes his fingers; John stirs, but doesn't immediately wake, so Sherlock pulls his hand back and puts it safely on John's shoulder, ignoring how the touch echoes back up his arm to twist under his own ribs.

"John," Sherlock says, soft.

"Mm?" John blinks at him.

"We're about to land, put your seat up," Sherlock tells him, and since the flight attendant is coming back towards them, Sherlock pulls his hand back, and folds it uselessly in his lap.

 

Dubai is punishingly hot, hitting him like a wave before they've even properly stepped out of the terminal. Sherlock had thought to take his coat off but he didn't think to roll up his sleeves, so by the time they get a cab, sweat is springing up under his shirt, all along his sternum and his armpits and the backs of his shoulders. He slides in, then rubs a hand through his hair, and then undoes the buttons at his cuffs, telling the cabbie the name of their hotel while John settles his laptop bag on the seat between them.

John sits beside him in silence the whole way to the hotel. Looking at John's mouth is oddly painful; it has been pounded out by the things inside him into a flat, hard line: more familiar than Sherlock would like it to be but never friendly, not like this. In the lobby, John stands ramrod-straight, shoulders tensed, and says nothing while Sherlock checks them in, says nothing as the man at the desk takes their passports, says nothing as he then passes them two keys to two rooms, and then something snaps inside Sherlock's chest, and he gives the hotel receptionist his very best ordinary-person smile and says, "I'm sorry, there's been some mistake, I'm certain my assistant booked a suite."

Since no one in their right mind goes to Dubai in July, they are rebooked into a suite.

"Was that necessary?" John asks him, in the lift, and Sherlock pushes the button for the ninth floor.

"It's twice as expensive, and Moran is paying," Sherlock tells him, as the doors slide shut, and John is startled into laughing.

 

They do end up using both bedrooms, at least at the beginning: John shuts himself up in one with his phone to make calls Sherlock isn't supposed to know about while Sherlock unpacks in the other. It's lucky, because it saves Sherlock the embarrassment of having John see the way Sherlock packed, his anxieties visibly encoded in the neat gradient line of their socks, but Sherlock still feels himself warring with himself inside.

Sherlock finds that he is doing foolish things. The suite is unnecessary, but John had said, She's fucking with us, and Sherlock doesn't really understand why she would bother, but he still trusts John's instincts. If John says this is personal, it probably is, and Sherlock wants to strike back, even though it's too early in this process to be picking fights with Tina Moran. Sherlock knows that it's stupid and he knows with blinding certainty that he will continue to do it anyway, because that's what love is, isn't it? This is what love does: it forces people who always weigh their decisions carefully to neglect to do so, because their scales have all been unbalanced. In no reality is it more important to strike back for some petty, emotional wrong than it is to take down an international criminal conspiracy, and yet John was wronged and Sherlock strikes back because taking down an international criminal conspiracy is important but letting Tina Moran hurt John is unthinkable. Sherlock has picked this fight; he knows, with helpless rage coiling in his belly, that he will pick another one tomorrow.

Sherlock can't take much more of this.

Sherlock hears John come in. Sherlock hangs up the last of his shirts. Sherlock feels John touch his spine. Sherlock closes the wardrobe door. Then John rubs his palm up, and Sherlock turns around and yanks John's shirt out of his jeans, shoving his hand under, as he licks a neat stripe up the center of John's bottom lip.

John gasps, startled, saying, "I was going to—" and Sherlock says, "Shut up," and slides his hand around and back down under John's waistband.

"I," John says, pushing up onto his toes, blinking, "um—okay," because Sherlock's just curving his fingers into the crack of John's arse (as best he can; not easy, too many clothes), and then John's weight slams into him, sudden and hard, licking into Sherlock's mouth as John turns him around and backs him up towards the bed.

Finally.

Sherlock stumbles back, kissing him desperately, hands sliding around to John's chest to strip him bare, starting at his sternum and working out and down. John is faster, and Sherlock ends up naked on his back, pushing John's left sock down with his toes while he's still trying to undo one last particularly stubborn button on John's cuff. Everything but the shirt and the sock is already on the floor, and John's mouth is on Sherlock's throat. Sherlock finally gives up and yanks, until the button pops free and pings off something hard. Sherlock tosses the shirt towards the door.

"Um—" John says, "I like that shirt," then grabs Sherlock's hair, pulling his head back. Sherlock manages half a breath and then stares, wide-eyed and shocked, up at the ceiling, as John sucks, hard, just under his jaw. It has. Promise. John's teeth scrape against his skin and Sherlock's feet jerk, calves cramping up in response, and then somehow Sherlock gets down just enough air to tell him, "Leave a mark."

John pulls back, shifting his weight to grab both of Sherlock's wrists, pushing them up above Sherlock's head and then bending back down, licking up Sherlock's throat, then sealing over and sucking at the hot and achy impression he left before, and Sherlock grinds his teeth together, his breath coming in short, hot bursts from his nostrils until the pain of it blossoms out in long, white tendrils, spiraling all the way down into his ribs.

"Now," Sherlock manages, and John makes a small noise, then manages, "What?" and Sherlock tells him, "Now, I—I want to—" and John groans and says, "I—I can't, I can't do slow, I'm already—" and Sherlock says, "F-fuck slow, just—I want to do it anyway," and John makes a soft, desperate sound, his abdomen trembling against Sherlock's with his too-fast breath. John says, "I—just, wait, wait here—" and then he pulls back, half-falling as he struggles up to his feet and practically runs for the bathroom, padding back out agonizing seconds later with his cock still standing out thick and heavy and red, holding the lube and two condoms that he's struggling to get apart. Sherlock feels the pressure of that curve his spine the wrong way around, and he stands up, vision blurring, furious, and reaches out to take the condoms away from John and chuck them towards the door. John doesn't give even a token protest, just drops the lube on the bedside table and then presses himself against Sherlock standing up, presses his tongue into Sherlock's mouth and then says, "Bedspread," so Sherlock reaches behind himself and struggles to pull the sheets down without losing contact with John's mouth.

John pushes him onto the mattress, sliding his knee between Sherlock's knees, and Sherlock drags John down against him, clumsy, as he wriggles back. Sherlock ends up with his elbow lost somewhere among the mess of pillows and his spine twisted awkwardly, with John half sitting, half lying on his side, his left leg thrown over Sherlock's hip and his right leg pressed all against Sherlock's left, and Sherlock drops his forehead down against John's cheek and groans in frustration when he grabs around behind John's back and can't quite reach the lube.

John pants out, "What—oh," then stretches back to get it. Sherlock bends down and licks his armpit, which tastes sharp and complicated, enlightening, and John's entire body jerks— "Jesus—" so Sherlock drags John back against him and then grabs the bottle out of John's hand the second John twists back into reach.

Sherlock fumbles the flip top on the lid open, fingers shaking, and— "It—oh, fuck them," he grinds out, because of course, of fucking course it has a foil seal under the cap, so he has to twist off the whole cap with John rubbing his cock into Sherlock's and sweating all over him and panting and licking at the blinding ache of the mark on Sherlock's neck until finally, finally! Sherlock gets the bottle open, splashing all over his fingers, but then Sherlock has to put the lid back on, Christ, he's so hard he's going to die. John manages, "I—" with a shaky sort of laugh, and takes the bottle away from him, which gives Sherlock two free hands, one with three fingers soaked and slick and running messily down onto his palm, so Sherlock twists John up over more on top of him and runs the mostly-dry flat of his wrist down the curve of John's arse and the second John gets the bottle shut and drops it onto the bedspread, Sherlock pushes the tips of two fingers into him probably too hard and too fast, and John groans and half collapses against Sherlock's chest.

"Sorry, sorry—" Sherlock gasps, and John's voice is trembling when he says, "I, no, I—I'm fine, just, God, it's—it's been a while, I knew I should've done it to myself," and Sherlock's eyes fly wide open and his pulse picks up and he didn't think even that was possible. He hopes he isn't about to die of a heart attack. John manages to say, "Just—just give me a minute," and Sherlock breathes, "I'm sorry, I—" and John says, "Just—tell me, tell me what you want, it—it's so hot, I—" and Sherlock tells him, "I want, I want you all around me, I want—I want, God, I want to fuck you through the mattress, I want—" and John is groaning, shifting against him, and Sherlock can't stop, words piling up on themselves in his throat, "I want—I want to touch every place on your body I can reach all at once—" words spilling onto John's cheek, John's neck John's mouth John's mouth John's wet sharp mouth— "and I want you to—to pull my hair I used to hate that and I want—" with his fingers just moving can't help it his fingers rubbing at the inside of John can't help it and John shivers can't help it as he rubs his outside against Sherlock's as Sherlock's fingers can't help it sink can't help it deeper and deeper can't help it and Sherlock tells him, "I want to know what happens inside your body when you're coming, I want—" and John gasps, "Now, now, Jesus, Sherlock!" as Sherlock yanks his fingers out and spreads the lube that's been dripping down onto the flat of his hand all over his cock and shoves in.

"Oh my God," Sherlock gasps, blinking hard, and John's breath catches, again— and again— and Sherlock says, "I—oh—" and holds as still as he can as John presses his face against Sherlock's with a low, strange noise in his throat that sounds not quite unlike pain. John's hands are on his shoulders, and there's nothing comfortable in this, nothing comfortable about the way their spines are twisted around, their legs tangled up, awkward and clumsy—but then John's fingers curl, tense, and Sherlock doesn't know what that means until John moves, and Sherlock groans all the way down to the roots of John's body wound up with the roots of his body and turns his head and curls his tongue against John's curling into his mouth. Sherlock drops his hand between them and brushes the still-slick backs of his fingers up the length of John's cock, and John gasps out, "You—you better be close, if—" and Sherlock laughs desperately and says, "Don't pretend that you're stupid," and wraps his hand fully around him as John stretches the seam of them just up to the edge of breaking and then pushes back down all around him and Sherlock lets the whole of himself collapse into John collapsing into flooding.

White noise. Within: their breath, syncopated, in counterpoint.

Sherlock's arms are tight around John's body, shaking. John's face is tipped against his.

"I did that wrong," Sherlock manages, voice raw.

"Shut up," John tells him, and kisses him. It draws up the ache in Sherlock's chest.

"I did that wrong," Sherlock whispers, and John shakes his head and shakes his head and whispers, "Shut up. You're an idiot. I love you."

 

Sherlock blinks and it's dark, shadows gathering at the edges of the room where the bedside lamp can't reach, and John is kissing his shoulder.

"What?" Sherlock asks, tongue thick in his mouth.

"I'm starving," John tells him, sitting back. Sherlock rubs at his face. John is dressed again and his hair is dark with water. John says, "I'm going to go and get us something to eat—do you want to come along, or should I bring it back here?"

"Um," Sherlock tells him. John's eyes crinkle up at the corners. Sherlock rubs at his face and manages, "I—I need a shower, don't I?"

"Little bit, yeah," John says, smiling.

Sherlock sits up. He says, "I'm not that—" and John says, "Try again," and Sherlock says, "—hungry," as his stomach growls, and John's eyebrows slide fractionally upwards.

Sherlock's quiet for a moment. Then he says, "If you bring it back here, I can shower," and John says, "All right," and Sherlock bends in and kisses him. John tastes like toothpaste.

"Later?" Sherlock asks. His fingers are tucked under the hem of John's shirt; he doesn't remember doing that.

"Bit ambitious," John says mildly.

"But not out of the question," Sherlock says, low. He adds, "We do have all night," and John laughs, just a little, and pulls back, saying, "Go shower," so Sherlock goes to shower.

He puts on pajama bottoms, because anything else seems disingenuous, and then a t-shirt, because John's got the air conditioning turned up to a point that's comfortable for Londoners and as a result, not very comfortable for half-naked Londoners, at least not when they're alone. John's key beeps in the lock, and Sherlock barks his shin on a surprise end table trying to scramble over to help him manage the food, which turns out to be unnecessary.

"Shawarma?" Sherlock asks, half-hopping, locking the door behind John as he steps in.

"Yep," John says. "Smell? What did you do to yourself?"

"Yes," Sherlock says. "I tripped."

"You?" John says, sounding amazed, and Sherlock tells him, "Shut up," and John does, but he's trying and failing to hold back a very obvious and insulting grin. He toes off his shoes and heads over to the overstuffed sofa sitting beside an inconveniently low coffee table, Sherlock trailing behind him, and takes the food out of the bag. Two huge bottles of water and a heap of foil-wrapped packets of meat and flatbread: it's enough to feed four.

The smell makes Sherlock's mouth water before he's even unwrapped his food, and the first bite is salty and greasy and animal, and makes Sherlock's toes curl up against the carpet.

"This is good," Sherlock admits, a little thickly, and then, after swallowing, adds, "Thank you."

"Yeah," John says. "I—um. Of course."

Sherlock takes another bite. He's not really paying as much attention to John as he usually does, which explains why he's surprised when John takes a breath, and then exhales, and then inhales again and asks, "Do you know that you've lost weight?"

Sherlock blinks, then turns to look at him.

John shifts. He's looking down at his knees. He says, "Not a lot, but you have. Your shirts are looser."

Sherlock chews and swallows. "My jeans aren't," he says, after a minute.

John nods, hands crinkling on the foil around his shawarma, then says, "I'm going to pretend that you didn't just try to pass jeans from your—from half a decade ago off as a good indicator of where healthy weight sits for you."

Sherlock doesn't really have anything to say to that. After a moment's consideration, he goes back to his food.

After a minute, John says, very quietly, "You know, it's not exactly strange that you'd need to eat more when you're—when you're doing more."

Sherlock looks up from the last two bites of his shawarma.

"I mean," John says. "Like. Exercise, and things."

Sherlock says, "I've always got loads of exercise."

"That," John says, "is completely untrue."

"I," Sherlock starts, and John looks over at him, and Sherlock falls silent.

John exhales and looks back down at his food. Sherlock is hungry, so he eats the last of his shawarma and licks off the foil and then reaches out for a second one. John's only about halfway done with his first.

"I just mean, it's not like you usually go for morning runs, or anything," John says, carefully. "Most of the time what you do is spend days on end lying about on a sofa and thinking. Then you spend a week sprinting madly about London in half-hour bursts and abusing every legal stimulant you can get your hands on, then you eat everything in the fridge that came from Tesco's and not the morgue and hasn't been around long enough to go fuzzy, and then you sleep for four days straight."

Sherlock shifts. John is hovering right at the edges of something that Sherlock finds upsetting; he thinks it's worse, somehow, because John so obviously knows, because John is speaking slowly, picking and choosing his words.

"I'm just saying," John says, then clears his throat, and continues awkwardly, "for the past week, you've been living an awful lot more like a—an ordinary person, that's all. It's not really surprising that your eating habits would change."

Sherlock is silent for a while. He isn't sure how he feels about John having noticed. Finally he says, "It's—disarming. I hate that I—I shouldn't need to—"

He stops.

There's a brief silence before John says, "You know, you average about fourteen breaths per minute."

Sherlock looks over at him again. John's not looking at him again.

"It's lower when you're thinking," John says. "More like eleven. Even lower when you're sleeping, of course, and higher if you've been moving around, playing the violin or doing experiments or something. Substantially higher if you've been running. But your average is right about fourteen breaths per minute."

"You count my breaths?" Sherlock says. The thought is strange; it makes Sherlock's spleen feel fluttery, which is wanton sentimentality but still sort of... nice.

"Yeah, sometimes," John says. He's still not looking up. After a few seconds, he clears his throat, and says, "You—you used to be so still, you know, so when I moved in, I—I started counting them when you were thinking, just to—well, it was a bit weird—alarming, really, at first, so—so I counted just to be—um, sure that you were, and then I—it kind of became a habit." John's cheeks are a little flushed.

"Oh," Sherlock says.

"I don't—I don't really think about it consciously, or anything," John tells him.

"No, no," Sherlock agrees.

"It's just, um." John clears his throat again and finally, finally looks over at him, and says, "Fourteen breaths per minute is right near the center of the average range."

"Ah," Sherlock says. He's suddenly uncomfortable.

"I just mean," John says, "it never seems to bother you that you have to breathe fourteen times per minute, so, you know. Why should you worry if you have to eat more than once a day?"

Sherlock swallows.

John doesn't look away. His eyes are very blue. He says, "If you need to eat twice in one day, or—or three times, or nine, go ahead and do it; the world won't end," and Sherlock swallows against nothing, and then looks back down at his food.

If this were the end of a case, Sherlock thinks, and they were back in London, John would be right: Sherlock would eat all of his two foil-wrapped shawarma and also probably John's second one, which John doesn't even touch, but it isn't the end of a case, not properly, and Sherlock only makes it about a third of the way through his second one, and only drinks about half of the bottle of water. Then he helps John wrap up the rubbish and stashes the leftovers in the mini fridge, and then he straightens up and undoes the bottom button on John's shirt, all in the spirit of inquiry.

"Oh—'all night' meaning—now, then?" John asks, smiling, but he still leans up to kiss him. Sherlock exhales against John's mouth; he's sure he tastes like garlic, but John does too, so it all evens out, and John is warm and handsy and lovely to kiss, and it's—romantic, Sherlock realizes, alarmed; it's romantic. John is kissing him in what this hotel no doubt advertises as a "kitchen", meaning that there's the mini fridge and a coffeemaker and a microwave with the clock set wrong, and it is romantic; this slow, sleepy-warm feeling spreading up through Sherlock's lungs like drowning from the inside out; this is what other people must mean when they say that something is romantic. Sherlock makes a mental note to be revolted in the morning. In the present, he steps closer, and rests his toes on top of John's foot. John is still in his socks, and Sherlock's feet are bare, and Sherlock slides his hands between them and unbuttons the rest of John's shirt, while John shamelessly gropes Sherlock's arse, first through his pajama bottoms, and then from underneath.

Sherlock isn't really hard, not yet, but that, he thinks, might make this easier; he knows his own body well enough to suspect that he's bought himself time but not—with the nap and the food and John's attention and, and everything—a full reprieve. He doesn't know John's body that well, not yet; he's starting to think that he needs to change that. He doesn't pull back, not properly, just mouths, "I—have an—idea," muffled by John's tongue, and then when John makes a curious sort of noise, Sherlock shifts his toes into the arch of John's foot, so that John takes a step back, then another, then another, as Sherlock steers them back into their half-ruined bedroom. John hits the bed awkwardly and slips, and Sherlock grabs at his open shirt to keep him from falling onto the floor.

"That was," John says, a little breathlessly, "graceless."

"I tripped on an end table earlier," Sherlock reminds him, and John laughs and puts an elbow behind himself to pull himself all the way up.

Sherlock reaches for John's shirt. "Sore?" he asks, pushing it back off his shoulders.

"A bit, yeah," John admits, sliding it off, and then puts his hands back on Sherlock's sides.

"Then do it to me," Sherlock says, all in a rush, before his brain has a chance to throw up the walls in his throat, which would block out his words.

John's fingers pause on Sherlock's waistband. John's not wearing an undershirt, not this time; that probably shouldn't be as intriguing as it is. Sherlock runs his hand down over John's belly.

"Okay, wait," John says, shifting underneath him. Sherlock ignores him and unbuttons John's jeans; John can't mean it too seriously because he lifts up his hips when Sherlock goes to slide them down. The boxers go with them; they'll only get in the way later. "Really," John says, grabbing Sherlock's wrist, "not that I object to being naked, but—I sort of."

He stops, then licks his lips. Sherlock stands up and peels off his own t-shirt, pushes down his pajama bottoms, and when he straightens back up again John is staring at Sherlock's navel, cheeks flushed.

"I'm not trying to interrupt you," Sherlock tells him, even though that is not, strictly speaking, true.

"Right, no, why would you naked interrupt me," John says, looking up at his face. "Because I mean, historically—"

"I've worked it out," Sherlock tells him.

John blinks. "Worked it—worked what out?"

"Think of it this way," Sherlock says, kneeling next to him on the bed. John reaches out and pets at his side, like he can't help it. Sherlock doesn't want him to help it. He settles down next to him, and John rolls the rest of the way over to properly face him. Sherlock says, "I obviously have impulse control issues."

John sighs. "You—your impulse control is fine, Sherlock, you didn't hurt me, you—"

"No, no," Sherlock says. "Please be quiet. Listen to me."

John is quiet.

"Right," Sherlock says. "So—the way I see it, you should just—do, do whatever you want, to me, and then I'll—I'll learn from it and it'll be easier, next time I—"

"Okay, stop," John says, and leans in and kisses him, and Sherlock stops, because kissing John. "Okay," John says, quiet, sliding his hand up into Sherlock's hair. "Here is—there is a tiny flaw in that plan."

"I—" Sherlock starts, but John shakes his head and kisses him again, and says, "Nope, shut up, you're still shutting up," and then kisses him again for a while. When John next pulls back, Sherlock doesn't say anything. He's breathing a little hard, though.

"All right," John says, and clears his throat, and then says, "So—I'm sure you'll argue with me if I've misunderstood anything—not now, shut up, I mean at the end—but I don't think I have misunderstood anything, so. Be honest with me, all right?"

Ominous. Sherlock hesitates for a moment before he nods.

"Okay." John clears his throat. "See, I reckon—the thing is, I have done this before, I—I, I know this is awkward. Past, um. Lovers, and all." He meets Sherlock's eyes.

Sherlock swallows, but he nods again.

"Right," John says. "The thing is, my girlfriend at uni was—adventurous, I think I've told you that, and I—I, um, I've always really liked it, even—even before her, not that—not that that should, at this point, be a surprise. Right?"

Sherlock nods. It has the advantage over speaking that he can do it even when his mouth is dry.

"But you," John says, and then laughs, a little awkwardly. "I—I mean, you're, um, a thirty-six-year-old man who doesn't seem to know when the lube is really not optional, but I, er, I'm fairly certain you masturbate?"

He looks unsure, so Sherlock nods again, because in this conversation, that is really not the part that John should be uncertain about.

"Right," John says, "so—I mean, I feel like, if it were—if it were a genuine, um, interest, you would've. Tried it out. Even without—er. Another person being involved."

Sherlock doesn't nod.

"Okay," John says. "So—now you can argue with me."

"I want to try it with you," Sherlock tells him.

"Right," John says. "Which—right, that'd be fine, if I believed you."

Sherlock is quiet.

"It." John clears his throat. "I—I really kind of—I know it isn't, it isn't strictly any of my business and—and yes, I am asking partly out of—uh, pure curiosity, but these conversations would be easier if I, er, knew what you had. Um." He stops.

"Done," Sherlock supplies.

"Yes," John agrees.

"With Nick," Sherlock adds.

"Right," John says, then adds, "or, well—you haven't actually come out and said, but—it was just—just him, right?"

John is very pink. Sherlock finds it touching, for some reason.

"Yes, um—just, just Nick," Sherlock says, and John exhales, and nods, and Sherlock says, "I—all right."

"All right," John agrees, then licks his lips.

Sherlock looks at him.

"So," John says, shifting.

"Manual stimulation," Sherlock says quickly, because he actually, physically is unable to say a handjob, for some reason. "Oral sex," he says, and then, for completeness, adds, "Twice."

"All right," John says, and waits.

He waits for a while.

Then he says, "Okay."

Sherlock doesn't say anything. John shifts closer, and tucks his knee in between Sherlock's.

"So that's it," John says. Sherlock nods. John nods in reply, then says, "And—on your own," a little uncertainly.

"I masturbate," Sherlock tells him.

"Right," John says.

"Frequently," Sherlock adds, in the spirit of disclosure.

"Right," John says. "With—um."

Sherlock blinks. "My hand?" he hazards, a little uncertain.

"Okay, let's try this," John says, shifting a little. "I wank with my left hand on my cock and the right one doing whatever the moment seems to call for."

"Operating the naked women on the internet," Sherlock says snidely, and John grins, saying, "Yes, sometimes my right hand is—er, here on Earth I think we 'browse' the naked women on the internet, not 'operate' them, but otherwise, bang on—and sometimes it's on my balls and sometimes it's on my stomach and sometimes it's covered in lube with three fingers up my arse, so really—"

"Yes, all right," Sherlock says, sitting up and reaching over John's side for the lube. "I learn better with visual aids."

John grins at him again and says, disappointingly enough, "Not the purpose of this exercise," and Sherlock says, "What exactly is the purpose of this exercise?"

"I'm trying to find out if you've ever stuck anything up your arse, you idiot," John says, laughing.

"Oh," Sherlock says, and then shifts, and then admits, "Not—up."

"Ah," John says, leaning close to him. "But—against?"

"Yes." Sherlock licks his lips.

"And?" John says.

"It was—unnecessary," Sherlock tells him.

John stills. "Huh," he says.

"What?" Sherlock asks, propping himself up on his elbow.

"I was expecting you to say 'unpleasant,'" John says.

"It wasn't unpleasant," Sherlock tells him.

John looks at him carefully and then says, "You're not telling me something. What aren't you telling me?"

Sherlock sighs and flops back down, rolling onto his back and rubbing at his forehead.

John is silent for a minute, then he shifts and says, "When was this?" and Sherlock closes his eyes.

"Right," John says, soft. "So—recently, then? After I moved in?"

Sherlock nods.

"And it has to do with me," John says.

"You're not as stupid as you pretend to be," Sherlock says, and then opens his eyes and looks up at the ceiling.

"So you thought about—me," John says, slowly.

"Yes," Sherlock says.

"You thought about me fucking you," John clarifies.

"Yes," Sherlock says, shifting. It's—different, when John says it.

"And that—help me out, here," John says. "Was that... interesting?"

"Yes," Sherlock says, and sighs. "But it was—but I kept—it kept—changing."

"You kept thinking about fucking me," John says slowly.

"Yes." Sherlock swallows.

"And that was—really interesting," John guesses.

"Yes," Sherlock says, low, turning his head to look back over at him.

"Right," John says, "so—I mean, obviously, that is really interesting to me too, so, I mean, I'm fine with. Um. Sticking to that, for now."

Sherlock swallows. He says, "It seems unfair."

"You know," John says, mouth curving up, "there isn't actually a sexual parity board, or anything." He bends down and kisses Sherlock's shoulder. "I—I mean, you obviously want to bugger me over every stationary object in the hotel room and that sounds—um, fine, really—great, actually, to me, so—"

Sherlock rolls over on top of him, and John exhales. Sherlock's not really even half-hard, not yet, but he'll be a lot more than that in a minute if John keeps talking.

"How sore are you?" Sherlock asks, very low.

"Oh, um—not that sore," John tells him. His mouth is curved up, half smiling, eyes crinkling up at the corners.

"You'll tell me if it hurts?" Sherlock asks.

"Yes," John says. His smile is widening.

"Promise me," Sherlock says.

"I promise," John says, and then he laughs, saying, "God, you're annoying, sometimes," but it sounds affectionate.

Sherlock licks his lips and says, "I—I want to, um," and wriggles down, and John says, "Are you—oh, yes, you are," half-laughing again as Sherlock tugs on his hips to make him roll over. John grabs one of the pillows and wriggles it up under his hips.

"They're too soft, get another," Sherlock tells him, eyeing the curve of John's back. Two does the trick, so that when Sherlock runs his hand up over John's spine John shivers and sinks into it, spreading his knees wider on the sheets. Sherlock settles down onto his side, propped up on one elbow between John's legs, and rubs his thumb up from John's balls, over his perineum, and keeps going. John's hair is brown and wiry, unremarkable, darker than the hair on his head, and when Sherlock leans in and breathes he can smell hints of hotel soap but mostly John John John, secret and complex. Sherlock's heart is pounding, and they haven't even started. He leans in and licks up the trail of hair, all the way from beginning to end.

"Oh, Jesus," John mumbles.

"All right?" Sherlock asks.

"Yeah," John sighs, and Sherlock settles his hand in to better spread John apart and then presses the flat of his tongue against John's body. Hot—Jesus, John's skin is hot. Sherlock licks over and over and all around, mapping him out, and John shivers against him and Sherlock thinks, I have been inside him and squirms and then pushes the tip of his tongue through the short scratchy hairs, pushing his tongue just barely inside John after himself and John groans out, "Oh, God, that's—"

Sherlock pulls back and asks, "Have you ever done this before?" and John mumbles, "Not—not quite like this," and Sherlock thinks about the condoms on the floor, and then burning with furious and irrational victory, bends back down and pushes his tongue back against John's body, back inside John's body, which opens for him. God. Sherlock can't taste himself—that'd be too much to hope for, probably—but he can taste John and nobody else can taste John and Sherlock can't get deep enough with just his tongue so he reaches one hand up by John's side, fumbling about for the lube.

"All right?" Sherlock asks, and John rubs his face on the sheets and says, "Um—yes, very," and Sherlock nuzzles at John's perineum—John's panting, shifting his hips into the pillow like he can't help it—and licks John more or less all over— "Oh——" and then Sherlock realizes he's got distracted, and pulls back so he can see what he's doing with his hand.

John shifts his weight, drawing his knee up and saying, "Um—no, you—" in a voice that sounds heavy, drugged.

"Wait," Sherlock tells him, and rubs his left hand over John's bottom while he grabs the lube with his right, then settles back down in between John's bent-up legs and exhales and rests his cheek on John's arsecheek, leaning his weight against John's left leg as he gets the lid open.

"If you fall asleep," John tells him, and Sherlock rolls his eyes for the benefit of no one and pours the lube—hm, too much, possibly—into his hand and says, "Yes, John, because sleep is absolutely foremost in my mind, right now," and John says, "Well, then, what are you—oh—" as Sherlock slips the first two inches of his index finger into John's body.

"All right?" Sherlock asks.

"Yeah," John says, thick.

"Doesn't hurt?" Sherlock asks, curving his finger, just a little.

"No-o-o," John manages, slow. He keeps shifting. Sherlock licks his lips. "More like—like a muscle ache," John tells him, low, "when you've—overworked, a bit." Sherlock nods, his hair rubbing against the curve of John's bottom, but otherwise holds still; John doesn't. John pushes back onto his finger and Sherlock sucks in a breath.

"All right?" Sherlock whispers.

"Yeah," John says, exhaling, and Sherlock leans back down and licks at the skin around his finger, tentative and quick.

"You taste better than the lube does," Sherlock sighs, half to himself, and John laughs, a little, and clenches and then relaxes, and Sherlock presses a kiss to John's skin and slides his finger in, deeper and deeper, easy, until his middle finger is curled awkwardly against John's arse. The pressure makes Sherlock's wrist ache. He blinks, exhaling; that—he didn't predict that.

"That's, um." John's voice has dropped a minor third, gone slower still, and Sherlock shifts over and licks at him, at the chemical-nothing flavor that Sherlock doesn't really like until he can taste skin and musk underneath, and John exhales and says, "That is—keep going."

"What's the best?" Sherlock asks, and John shifts, breathing loud, and says, "Your tongue is—" Sherlock bends down and licks down his own finger, dipping his tongue down against the awkward "V" of his fingers and palm, licking down beneath John's surface, as deep as he can go, and his finger curls and John shifts around him, saying, "Oh—okay, that is—great, so—two, come on, I'm not breakable."

"Yes, you are," Sherlock tells him, very soft, but he pulls his finger out and gets more lube—unnecessary? He doesn't know, but, but more is better, he thinks, he thinks more ought to be better—and then slides his two fingertips just in and John sucks in a breath and shifts and pushes back, and Sherlock is two knuckles deep inside him and his mouth is watering.

"I want you in my mouth," Sherlock tells him, breathless, curling his fingers down, rubbing against John on the inside.

"You," John gasps, tightening around his fingers, and Sherlock moans and presses his face to John's arse and licks and licks and says, "You—you taste, the way you taste—" and John makes a low, startled noise and pushes back, and Sherlock groans and pulls his fingers out and grabs helplessly at John's hips while John rolls onto his back, pushing the pillows aside. Sherlock drags John's leg up over his shoulder and John sucks in a breath, saying, "Come on, I—taste if you want but quick, I want—I want you, you told me you'd fuck me through the mattress," and Sherlock gasps, "John," and pushes his fingers back into John's body and puts his mouth on John's cock, too deep too fast, and he just manages to not quite choke as John cries out and then grabs at a pillow, dragging it over his own face.

Sherlock can't actually physically have everything he wants right now, can't have John in his mouth in his throat while he's pushing into John's arse, can't come deep inside John's body with his tongue in John's mouth and John's cock in his mouth and his mouth on John's throat and damn it, this is confusing. Sherlock blinks and takes a breath and then swallows, and John makes an unrecognizable noise into the pillow as Sherlock fucks him with two fingers and sucks and sucks, half-cupping his left hand awkwardly under John's balls even though he needs his left elbow to hold himself up. He thinks he can manage it; for once, he's not wrong, and he can feel it—he can feel it—even before John pushes the pillow aside, panting, "Sherlo—oh, fuck, I—I'm really close, I—" and Sherlock pulls back and gasps, "Like this, please, please," and takes him in again. John moans and squirms but doesn't protest, so Sherlock doesn't pull back, just sucks harder, his fingers curling deep inside John's tensing body as Sherlock thinks frantically, next time, next time, next time, as John arches, trembling like a vibrating string all around Sherlock's fingers, flooding his mouth, bitter and salty and thick. Sherlock swallows and swallows and pulls off, panting, gasping out, "God, you—the way you taste," while John is whispering, "Jesus, Jesus Christ, Sherlock, oh my God, just," and reaching down to pull Sherlock up by the hair.

Sherlock settles his body beside John, half on top of him, so that John's heavy too-fast breathing moves Sherlock's own ribs. John licks Sherlock's mouth open and kisses him so deeply that Sherlock can almost forget the pull of his own body—almost, almost, heavy as it is and insistent and oh, oh—John's hand, the backs of his knuckles—and Sherlock rolls his hips out a little, pressing his forehead into John's so that he can look down and see.

"Show me," John tells him, low, and Sherlock sucks in a breath, looking back up at John's face. John licks his lips and brushes his hand over Sherlock's cock again and says, eyes dark, "Show me what you do to yourself when you think about fucking me," and Sherlock groans and wraps his hand around his cock and John wraps his hand around Sherlock's hand and Sherlock strokes himself—God—with John's fingers wrapped around his and God, he needs to come, he needs to—

"Tell me," John says, low, his thumb shifting apart from Sherlock's, rubbing over the head of Sherlock's cock, tearing noises up out of him, "Tell me, come on—" and Sherlock gasps and laughs and manages, "On—on the sofa, at Baker Street, sometimes—between—between cases sometimes you'd be sitting in your chair with your laptop and I'd be lying on the sofa imagining you underneath me and you—you always thought I was thinking—" and he laughs and laughs into John's mouth with John's hand over him around him holding him close, close, closer, now

Sherlock wraps his shaking arms around John's back and shoulders as John wraps his arms around Sherlock's so that they are anchored together as Sherlock tries to catch his breath.

"I want," Sherlock manages, finally, "I want everything."

"Then take it," John tells him, and pulls him tighttighttight, and fits their mouths together.

 

The next morning is. Bad.

"This is worse than coming down," Sherlock says, rough. His hands are shaky. His back hurts. He feels like he's been beaten up.

"It's not so bad in your twenties," John tells him. He's sitting with his feet pulled up onto the edge of the bed, leaning heavily into Sherlock's side. "God, if I'd met you in my twenties."

Sherlock blinks. He says, "Wouldn't have been able to, in my twenties."

"Fair enough," John murmurs, and shifts up to kiss his cheek. "Drink your water."

"Yes, Doctor Watson," Sherlock says. It doesn't come out quite as snidely as he'd intended.

John smirks at him, then repeats, "Water," though Sherlock doesn't doubt he'll bring the other up again later. "Water first, then coffee."

Sherlock nods and rubs his face and takes a long gulp. John touches Sherlock's throat. He says, "Your collar won't cover that," and Sherlock laughs and tells him, "Good."

"Sherlock," John says, low, and Sherlock shakes his head and shakes his head and says, "I won't—I won't do anything stupid, I'm not going to—" and John twists over and kisses him until Sherlock's breathing steadies out.

"Drink," John reminds him, and Sherlock nods and drinks and then passes him the water. John gets down half of what's left in long, steady swallows, then grimaces and tucks his hand over his stomach, grumbling, "Jesus, I'm too old for this."

"You need to eat something," Sherlock tells him.

"So do you," John says, and Sherlock nods, a little hesitantly, saying, "I'll—I'll get something on the way."

"How long until you have to leave?" John asks.

"Um, if I take a cab—" he squints at the clock— "um, twelve minutes." He sighs and pushes up to his feet, scrubbing his hand through his hair and saying, "I have to shower," and John nods and drops his face down into his bent-up knees and says, "Go on, it'll give me time to finish dying." Sherlock bends down and kisses his hair and says, low, "Not funny," and John huffs out a laugh and tilts his head up to kiss him, mouthing, "You're going to be late," so Sherlock pulls back and goes to shave and take the fastest shower he's ever managed in his life.

Sherlock makes it out of the hotel on time and is late anyway.

"You—can you stop here?" he asks the cabbie, looking out the window. "Just, um—let me off here."

"Here?" the cabbie asks.

"Yes, thank you," Sherlock tells him, digging out his wallet. "I—I have to pick something up."

"Ah," the cabbie says, laughing. "For a lady friend, yes?"

Sherlock tips him, but doesn't dignify the comment with a reply.

He spends a possibly insane amount of money, mostly because he can; crime, it turns out, pays really astoundingly well. The whole enterprise is, he knows, very stupid; it's stupid like the suite was stupid and he does it for very many (though not all) of the same reasons. But stupid or not, Sherlock doesn't regret the suite, and he doesn't regret this, not as he does it and not later, not when he ends up having to eat some sticky-sweet prepackaged... thing he bought in a corner shop to soak up his sex-hangover coffee and not when he's further delayed trying to flag down another cab and not when he's forty minutes late for his meeting. His contact comes down to the lobby to meet him and takes in the whole of him in a series of quick, unreadable glances: his face his throat his shirt his shoes his hands. Sherlock realizes he's rubbing his thumb against the base of the ring, tucked just up against his palm, and forces himself to stop. He's already got off on the wrong foot; in this particular instance, that could be fatal.

His contact, Safa Yassin, has wide, deep dark eyes, and a soft, rounded voice, low and liquid, with the faintest electrifying hint of an alveolar trill on the occasional "R," and she is a logistics coordinator at a major construction company in very much the same way, Sherlock suspects, that Mycroft is a minor member of the British government. Someone in her accounting department is passing information to law enforcement. She wants Sherlock to find him. Sherlock thinks this assignment has potential; it's familiar, in its general shape, to working for the other side, and Miss Yassin's mouth is beautiful, the kind of mouth that Sherlock can imagine John kissing. He shifts in his chair and says, "I'll need access," and she smiles and says, "Welcome to our team, Mr. Watson."

She sets Sherlock up with a desk and a computer and leaves him alone in the office, empty on a Sunday and eerily quiet. Sherlock spends seven hours digging through their file system, sketching out the shape of the crime, the criminals, the criminal among criminals, who is really on the right side. Sherlock gets as far as he can without meeting any of the players, then sends Yassin an email telling her he'll be back in the morning. It's getting late and the office is overwarm, the thermostat setting turned up to save power over the weekend, and Sherlock wants to be a great many places but absolutely none of them are trapped by himself in front of a computer in a hot office building in Dubai.

Yassin replies, 9 am — and I do mean 9 am, Mr. Watson, and Sherlock grabs his laptop case and his wholly unnecessary suit jacket, and leaves.

In the cab on the way back to the hotel, Sherlock twists the ring around and around on his finger, and then, just as they are pulling up, he swallows against the strange, treacherous ache in his chest, then tugs the ring off, and hides it inside his wallet.

 

John's not in when Sherlock gets upstairs. He pulls out his phone and texts, Back, and the reply comes almost immediately, 30 minutes. Sherlock rubs at his jaw then says, Something to eat? and there's maybe ten seconds before his phone buzzes in his hand, Yes, starving, anything. Sherlock orders them room service and sits down on the sofa while he's waiting for it to show up.

"Hey," John is saying, from far away, and Sherlock can feel John's hand on his back and he jerks awake, stretching out and rolling up onto his side, wiping the cuff of his sleeve over his mouth.

"I fell asleep," Sherlock tells John, unnecessarily.

"Yep," John agrees. He's looking down, his face soft, and his eyes are so blue, they're so blue, Sherlock doesn't understand how other people can behave normally around someone whose eyes are so blue, and then the doorbell rings. Sherlock recollects himself and sits up and John takes his hand off Sherlock's back and goes over to get the door. Sherlock stands up, a little swimmily, and then ducks into the second bedroom, closing the door behind him, because he's not really awake and his hair is probably disastrous and also they're trying to be discreet, which is difficult, under the circumstances, because Sherlock is fairly certain that the way he feels about John is visible from space. After a minute, the voices in the main room stop, but Sherlock waits until he hears John bolting the door again to come back out.

"Sorry," he says, rubbing at the indentations the sofa cushions left pressed into his cheek.

"What for?" John asks, "It's not like signing for the food is hard, and you—you definitely look like you were asleep." Sherlock scrubs ineffectually at his hair, and John laughs, saying, "No, no, you're—come here, honestly," as he heads back over to their food, spread out on the coffee table. There is a real table in the suite—small and round, four closely-crowded chairs—but it's the second time John's gone straight for eating on the sofa, like Sherlock's too-frequent commandeering of the kitchen table in their flat has warped John's understanding of the proper uses of furniture. Sherlock wonders if John realizes what he's doing.

"What'd you get, anyway?" John asks, lifting off a cover.

"Um." Sherlock sits down next to him. "Some kind of mixed grill, flatbread, Thai soup—"

"Thai soup?" John asks.

"You like Thai soup," Sherlock says. "The menu's a bit—eclectic."

"I do like Thai soup," John agrees, handing Sherlock the bread. "So what's the job like?"

"Interesting," Sherlock tells him, eyeing the mixed grill. Lamb. Perfect. He stabs a piece with his fork. "It's always diverting when someone's trying to outwit me. Corrupt construction company; one of the accountants has been passing information to the police, but he's actually been rather clever about hiding his tracks."

John stills.

"What?" Sherlock asks around a mouthful of bread, looking over at him.

"Nothing." John licks his lips. "Just—the person passing information," he asks. "What happens when you find him?"

Sherlock is still for a moment. Then he chews. Then he swallows.

John looks down at his bowl.

"I'll think of something," Sherlock tells him.

"No," John says, quiet.

"What?" Sherlock says.

"You can't, Sherlock," John says, and sighs. "You can't. You—you think you can find their spy and then out him and then when he vanishes before they can take care of him, Moran'll just say, 'Oh, too bad for us, better luck next time?'"

Sherlock doesn't think that at all.

"If you screw up," John says, and then takes a breath, and sets his jaw.

"No," Sherlock says, fast. "I—I'm not going to screw up, I—if I screw up you die."

"If you screw up you die," John says, and Sherlock nods and says, "Possibly, but I really don't mind killing people to protect you."

John sucks in a breath, sharp.

Sherlock clears his throat and picks up another piece of lamb.

John looks up at the ceiling. After a minute, he says, "I—I'll pass it along. In case. In case someone can—can find a way to take care of it, without—without getting us involved."

Sherlock thinks that that is highly unlikely.

After a minute, he says, "How's the soup?"

"It's—it's very good, actually," John says, and Sherlock can actually see him shifting back out of himself. John exhales, then asks, "Want some?"

"Trade," Sherlock says, and holds out the mixed grill, of which, Sherlock realizes guiltily, he has eaten rather more than half. John passes him the soup, which is, in fact, very good; Sherlock finishes it off while John eats the rest of the mixed grill and about two-thirds of the bread, and then leans back, rubbing at his face. His shoulders hurt; the layout of his new desk is perfectly ergonomic in every way—for someone of John's height. Besides, Sherlock's never really comfortable sitting up properly; he doesn't fold in quite the ways he's supposed to.

As soon as he's finished, John crumples up his napkin next to their plates and settles back next to Sherlock, putting his hand on the back of Sherlock's neck. Sherlock exhales and drops his head forward, and John—clever man—takes the hint and squeezes, which sends an ache up into the base of Sherlock's skull that vanishes completely as soon as John loosens his hand. Sherlock hums, so John does it again.

"I'm going to be Doctor Watson again for a minute," he says, after a while. Sherlock manages to muster up enough muscle control to look over at him. John says, "You need to sleep tonight. I don't care if you're technically working; I've lived with you for a year and a half and I've never seen you fall asleep by accident before."

"Right," Sherlock says. His voice is a little rough. He clears his throat.

John hesitates. "You're not going to argue with me?"

"No," Sherlock says, and then admits, "I'm exhausted."

John nods. He says, "The heat's tiring."

"Offices are tiring," Sherlock tells him, and John's mouth quirks up at the corners, so Sherlock adds, "I'm going to have coworkers, John," and John laughs, sliding his hand down Sherlock's spine.

"Come on," he says, pushing Sherlock up to his feet. "Five minutes. Give me what you've got, and then sleep."

"Safa Yassin," Sherlock starts, and John says, "Hold on, hold on, let me get my laptop."

 

Sherlock goes to sleep with his face tucked next to John's hip, despite the bedside lamp and the glow from John's computer screen, and wakes up to the smell of coffee, in shadow, by himself. He pushes up onto his elbows and looks at the clock: not quite eight, which means Sherlock's slept for almost eleven hours, and also that John must be meeting someone, to be out of bed without prompting this early. Sherlock is, for once, still wearing his pajamas. He heads out into the suite's supposed kitchen and finds John fully dressed, hair damp, yawning over his coffee. Sherlock leans against the wall.

"That's new," he observes.

"What?" John looks over at him, and his eyes half close; dilating; interesting. Sherlock isn't even naked. He saves the thought for later, shifting his weight, then points at John's shirt, which is objectively, in every regard, completely awful: it's some sort of weird checked pattern in electric blue and green, and it's badly cut, so it pulls over the shoulders when John looks down at himself, then says, "Oh, yeah, bought it yesterday, it's about five hundred degrees outside," as he grabs Sherlock a mug. "All my other shirts have long sleeves."

Sherlock knows that all of John's other shirts have long sleeves. John has very nice arms. Sherlock clears his throat and steps closer.

John points at him with the mug. "Don't," he warns. "Don't even, I just took a shower, and I have a meeting in—"

"Not going to do anything, I have to go to the office," Sherlock says, not even attempting to restrain his loathing. "I have to be there by nine."

"So, right," John says, sounding pleased. He reaches for the coffee pot. "See? Right. You can—you can do whatever you're planning to do, um. Later."

"Oh, I will," Sherlock tells him. "But for the record, that shirt is terrible."

"It's very lightweight," John replies, stirring in the sugar.

"It's hideous," Sherlock says, and John rolls his eyes and says, "Yes, well, it's also cool, so it could have tiny unicorns printed all over and I wouldn't really care. Here, coffee."

Sherlock takes the cup from him, then sets it on the counter and leans in, kissing the corner of John's mouth. He says, "Good morning," and John laughs a little and says, "Yes, hi, good morning," and Sherlock wraps his arm around his waist, just for a minute, because he can.

 

Sherlock doesn't actually get a good look at himself until after John's gone, not until he's showered and wiping the steam off the mirror so he can shave. He pauses. The mark on his neck is darker today, purply-red and shocking, and Sherlock finds it embarrassing, then grinds his teeth, because he refuses to be embarrassed, he refuses to be embarrassed about anything. Also: it clearly turns John on, and that turns Sherlock on, which is, possibly, a self-reinforcing loop. He shifts and thinks about Shostakovich instead, because Shostakovich is technically challenging and therefore a good distraction, but possibly not a good enough distraction, because after he shaves he finds himself putting on a black shirt, leaving his collar open so the mark is even more obvious than it would be all on its own, floating in a sea of contrast against his too-fair skin. He jams the ring on his finger in the cab and then folds his shaking hands up tight in his lap, jaw set, ready for battle.

It doesn't come to that. Not quite. Instead, Sherlock drinks six cups of coffee and spends very little time at his desk and "befriends" three of the accountants: Darren, who is obnoxious even for an American, with an adenoidal whine to his voice that doesn't improve upon his personality; Moayad, who has a broad, booming laugh and an almost imperturbable good temper; and Kareem, who is quite young and very soft-spoken and nods at Sherlock's hand—he's rubbing at the ring again, stupid, stupid—and asks, rather shyly, if Sherlock is a newlywed.

"No," Sherlock says, and then clears his throat, because he worries it came out more unfriendly than he intended; he's trying to ingratiate himself with these people. He deflects by inquiring after Kareem's wife, who is, Sherlock quickly gathers, not only the most beautiful and sympathetic and understanding young woman in the world, but also funny and brilliant and generally as perfect a specimen of humanity as is to be found anywhere. Kareem has been married for two and a half months.

"Just wait until he's been stuck with her for a year or two," Darren says to Sherlock, under his breath, but Darren's not yet thirty and is divorced—twice, in fact, judging by the badly mismatched tiepin and cufflinks; both times, Sherlock suspects, after being caught in an infidelity, so Darren, Sherlock decides, is utterly ignorable.

It turns out to not be quite as easy as that. Darren makes six vulgar allusions to Sherlock's entirely imaginary mistress—"can't be your wife, now, can it, eh?"—before lunch, by which time Sherlock has decided that Darren needs to be destroyed. He briefly toys with the idea of throwing Darren to Moran's wolves, since at this point Sherlock's made the acquaintance of everyone else in the department and finds every other person there, including the Frenchman—the Frenchman—less offensive, but he decides with regret that Yassin probably would be able to tell that Darren is simply not intelligent enough to be keeping them running like this. Instead, Sherlock spends one hundred and nine minutes rerouting the building's most obviously suspicious patterns of internet traffic through Darren's IP; enough of it is already coming from his workstation that it's probably unnecessary, but it ensures that whenever Mycroft finally gets around to taking these people down, Darren will be going down hardest and fastest of them all.

It's something. Not really enough, but it's something.

 

At seven, Sherlock packs up his suspicions and theories with his laptop and heads back to the hotel. He's still thinking, hard enough that he's in the lift before he realizes he's still wearing the ring. He swallows, his heart suddenly pounding, an unexpected and probably unnecessary rush of adrenaline spreading out under his skin. He takes the ring off and tucks it into his wallet, just as the doors slide open, showing him John, in his new, awful short-sleeved shirt, holding two bags of laundry.

John blinks at him. Sherlock slides his wallet into his pocket and pushes the "Door Open" button, stepping to the side so John can get in.

"You're having the hotel do that, aren't you?" Sherlock asks, reaching for the second bag.

"Yep," John says, a little tense, as he passes it over. "Don't have time."

"Right," Sherlock says, and pushes the button for the lobby, then looks at him and says, "Thank you."

"I'd do it myself if I had a choice," John tells him crossly, and Sherlock sighs and says, "I really, honestly don't understand your reluctance to having my ill-gotten gains pay for people to do things for us. You don't seem to have any problem letting other people do the cooking."

"That is because we don't have a kitchen, and also, I am a pretty rotten cook, and you never can be arsed to do it," John says.

"It's a waste of time," Sherlock replies, shifting the laundry to his other hand.

"Oh, shut up," John says, and sighs, then rubs at his face. "I—I don't expect you to understand it, it's just—I don't like feeling like I'm not paying my own way, and—"

"Mycroft pays his lowest-ranking personal agents £2000 a week," Sherlock says, and John's mouth drops open rather comically. "Plus expenses, naturally, which would include sending your blasted washing out, since really, he'd rather his agents spent their time worrying about things other than whether or not their socks are clean."

The lift dings, and the doors slide open, and John doesn't say anything else until they've dropped off the laundry and got back in the lift.

"Mycroft doesn't pay me," John says, and Sherlock sighs and looks up at the ceiling.

"Yes," Sherlock says, as patiently as he can manage, "he absolutely does."

"I think I'd know if your brother were paying me," John says, and Sherlock sighs again and says, "John. When was the last time you checked your accounts?"

"I—yesterday, why?"

"Right," Sherlock says. "So... what, twenty-seven fifty in the current account, a few hundred quid in savings, something along those lines? Just enough to not really scrape by until the pension money comes in?"

"Yes?" John says, uncertain.

"Right," Sherlock says. "And the other accounts."

"I don't have any other accounts," John says, and Sherlock rubs at his face and says, "John. I've seen the identification Mycroft gave you. I know for a fact that he gave you eight different identities, complete with credit and debit cards. Did it not occur to you that should you need to use them, it'd be handy if there were money in those accounts?"

"But that's not paying me," John says, laughing a little, and Sherlock says, "No, not in general, for the most part that's what I mean when I say 'plus expenses'." The lift dings, and Sherlock steps out and towards their room. He digs his keycard out of his—careful—wallet and unlocks the door, saying, "Your pay will be in one of those accounts, though; wouldn't want it to trace a line between him and you."

"I don't want him to pay me," John says, bolting the door behind them, and Sherlock sighs, toeing off his shoes.

"Well, that's a pity," he says, turning towards John, "especially given that if you're my handler, I'm technically his asset, so he ought to be paying me, too, and since he doesn't enjoy entrusting me with money, he's almost certainly paying my wages directly to you as well. And given that I'm undoubtedly going to have to hand over whatever's left from Moran if we ever make it home, I very much do want him to pay you, because that's all we're going to get for our time, and also because I like ripping Mycroft off, whenever possible."

John looks a little perplexed, like this is still something to be conflicted about, so Sherlock sighs and says, "Did they pay you in the army?"

"What?" John says, blinking. "Of course they paid me in the army, but this isn't even remotely—"

"Right," Sherlock interrupts, "so, now that you're abroad, looking after the well-being of someone doing dangerous work for the government, and also putting yourself directly into the line of fire in order to help them to do their job—oh, and also, just on the side, gathering and coordinating all the intelligence from this particular operation, you want to do it for free."

John flushes, but he doesn't look confused anymore.

"Excellent." Sherlock grabs the front of John's terrible shirt. "Now. Are you hungry? I hope not, because I've been thinking about your arms since quarter to eight in the morning."

"You," John says, blinking, and then licks his lips, finishing, "you can change tracks much more quickly than I can."

"Yes, but that's not applicable in this instance," Sherlock says, backing him up towards the sofa. "I never changed off this one."

John grins and then does—something, and Sherlock lands on the floor. Sherlock licks his lips and reflects: ankle hook, subtle; his shoulders didn't even move, but then again, John rarely telegraphs. Sherlock needs to learn that one.

"Not the sofa," John says, holding a hand out. Sherlock eyes it, considering, but John says, "Don't bother, I'm watching for it. And—bedroom. Shagging on the sofa is not discreet."

Sherlock narrows his eyes, saying, "What we did to the bed on Saturday wasn't particularly discreet," but he lets John pull him up, then puts his hands on John's arms and slides his palms up.

"It was washably indiscreet," John tells him, eyes crinkled up, and Sherlock says, "You ruin all my fun," and John says, "I'll make it up to you," tugging Sherlock into the bedroom.

"I sincerely hope so," Sherlock says, maybe a little breathless, which is only excusable because John is unbuttoning Sherlock's trousers.

John grins at him and is still grinning when he leans up to kiss him, murmuring, "You owe me, by the way," against his mouth, and Sherlock says, "Oh?" and then grabs at John's hair, because John keeps turning away to pay attention to other parts of Sherlock like his ear and his chin which do not need nearly as much attention as Sherlock's mouth. John pushes Sherlock's trousers and pants down just past his hips and grabs his arse and very obligingly kisses him all the while, managing, "You—mm, promised to—fuck me through the mattress," and Sherlock swallows, even though it wasn't really technically a promise, and says, "Yes, okay," and pushes John back onto the bed, which is depressingly neatly made.

"You're—you're still dressed," Sherlock tells him, pushing up awkwardly onto his knees and kicking his pants and trousers off. John has started in on his shirt, and before Sherlock knows it he's lost that too, and John is still wearing all his clothes, including his shoes. Sherlock is wearing a sock. He's not entirely certain what happened to the other one, which is alarming.

"How," Sherlock says, confused, and then John pushes him over onto his back and lies down on top of him, which is—Sherlock sucks in a breath and rubs his hands up over John's triceps, to tuck his fingers in under the hems of John's sleeves.

"Hello," John says, soft, and then bends down and kisses him, with the whole of his warm heavy body pressed all over Sherlock's, and Sherlock—Sherlock really can't decide how he feels about this.

"This is," he starts, and then gets distracted for a while, because John is on top of him and half-hard under his khaki trousers but also seems fairly content just to kiss him until Sherlock actually loses his mind. Finally Sherlock pulls away, squirming, and it isn't like he couldn't push John off him, if he wanted to, it's more that it—it seems. Counter to the spirit of the endeavor. He says, "This is—you're still dressed."

"Yep," John agrees.

"You should at least take your shoes off," Sherlock tells him, "they're on the bedspread," and John bends down to press his face into Sherlock's collarbone, laughing. "What?" Sherlock asks. "That's not—that wasn't meant to be funny."

John pulls back, propping himself up on his elbow, resting by Sherlock's head. He says, "This is why you find sex overwhelming."

Sherlock is startled into saying, "What?"

"Hey," John says, and bends down and kisses him, shifting his knee between Sherlock's. Sherlock has fabric pressed up against him all over, and it's not as soft or warm or sweaty as John's skin, but it's still—it shouldn't be, but it's—

"Focus," John says, low, and Sherlock sucks in a breath. John kisses the corner of his mouth and says, "My shoes."

"Are on the bedspread," Sherlock says, curling his toes, and John says, "Right, and you're naked," and Sherlock falls silent.

John kisses him again, until Sherlock doesn't feel quite so wound up—or, really, until Sherlock is wound up differently. When John pulls back, Sherlock tells him, "I can't help it," and John says, quiet, "You really don't have to."

"But if it's why I find sex overwhelming," Sherlock starts, and John shakes his head and says, "That wasn't a complaint, Sherlock. That was—that was a deduction."

"Oh," Sherlock says, and rubs at John's arms. John hums and kisses Sherlock's cheek, then pets Sherlock's fringe away from his face.

"You're very relaxed," Sherlock tells him, a little annoyed. He feels—itchy, almost. He's not certain what he's supposed to be doing.

"I'm not in a hurry," John says. "We're not in a hurry. We've got ages. This is the upside of a regular job, Sherlock. Right now nobody owns your time."

"Oh," Sherlock says, then his eyes widen and he says, "oh."

"There we go," John murmurs, bending very close, "now you're paying attention."

Sherlock swallows and says, "It would've been simpler if you'd just told me."

"You don't always pay attention to me," John observes. Sherlock doesn't argue, so John shifts a little to kiss Sherlock's jaw. "Where do you want to start?"

Sherlock exhales and rubs the top of his foot up over the laces on John's shoe.

"These are bothering me," Sherlock admits, and John says, "Then I will take them off," and pulls back onto his side, so he can toe them off and onto the floor: one thump, two. Sherlock licks his lips and then tugs John back over on top of him.

"Not going to get me naked, then," John says, low. His eyes are half closed, shadowed by his eyelashes, and Sherlock tells him, "I hear we're not in a rush," and John smiles, and leans back down, and just touches the tip of his tongue to Sherlock's upper lip, so that Sherlock has to press up to meet him.

Sherlock knows more about what John does in bed with other people than he thinks he really ought to; John and his girlfriends may not have ever been loud enough to be rude, but they weren't particularly quiet, either, and Sherlock has never been able to help drawing conclusions. So he knows that John likes to use his mouth, and all the available evidence (auditory and olfactory, primarily) indicates that with women, at least, John is possibly quite exceptionally good at it. With Sherlock, though, John's blowjobs are enthusiastic but sloppy, and he spends what Sherlock has guiltily determined to be a disproportionate amount of time kissing Sherlock's mouth. There's a tiny part of Sherlock that has wondered, at times, whether this is an indicator of secret anxieties, but he loves kissing John, he loves it; giving up the sex would be unthinkable but the idea of giving up the kissing fills him with a panic so blind and desperate that—

"Focus," John tells him, soft, and pets Sherlock's ribs, until Sherlock exhales and unclenches and settles, and then John settles back down against him, kissing him heavy and deep and slow.

Sherlock feels like he's melting. Evaporating, possibly. He thinks if he tested them via volume displacement, first himself, then John, then the two of them together, the results wouldn't make sense. He is certain that eighty percent of him occupies the same space as eighty percent of John. It explains why it's so—so startling every time John pulls back, even when it's to finally say, "If I get undressed," which makes heat creep across Sherlock's skin before John has even said, "can you keep your hands to yourself?"

Sherlock hasn't been keeping his hands to himself with John having all his clothes on, so he thinks it's unlikely. "Probably not," he admits, taking his right hand out from the back of John's trousers, and sliding the left out from under John's shirt, "but I can try."

"Hm." John's mouth is rubbed red, which makes the way he twists it up when he's thinking somehow scandalous. Sherlock licks his lips and slides his foot up John's calf, pushing John's trouser up, then down again, catching John's sock with his big toe. John grins and leans down and kisses him, then pushes up onto his knees and sits back. Sherlock follows like their chests are tied together, but John points at him and says, "Lie down. Hold still, Sherlock," so Sherlock settles onto his elbows, then drops down onto his back. John is unbuttoning his terrible shirt.

"I can tie your wrists," John tells him, "but I'd rather not, we'll both want them free in a minute. So if—if I give you something to hold on to, both hands, will that work?"

"You're taking your clothes off," Sherlock points out. John shucks off his shirt and hands it to Sherlock, who drops it on the floor. "If you think I'm going to be paying attention to anything else—"

"Oh, I want you to pay attention to me," John tells him, grinning. "I just don't want you to touch me. Not right away. That tends to—hurry things along. You were supposed to hold on to that."

"What, the shirt?" Sherlock asks. John is unbuttoning his trousers. Sherlock sits back up so he can reach out and run his fingertips over John's belly, which jumps under his hand.

"Hey," John says, grabbing Sherlock's wrist. Sherlock drags his eyes up to John's face, with some difficulty. John licks his lips. He says, "You trust me, right?"

"That is a wholly idiotic question," Sherlock tells him, but John squeezes his wrist and Sherlock says, "I trust you with parts of me I don't trust to myself, John."

John smiles a little, and says, "Sometimes you need to be reminded, though," and Sherlock exhales and flops back on the bed, because John might have a point.

John stands up to slide his trousers and boxers down, then says, "Budge over," so Sherlock wriggles over to help him push the blankets down, then lies down onto his back in the middle of their bare white cool washable sheets while John bends down to grab the awful shirt off the floor.

"Hold on to this," John tells him, handing it over.

"Both hands," Sherlock says, as snidely as he can manage, but John just nods. Sherlock rolls his eyes, but he takes the shirt and holds it, with both hands. He asks, "All right?"

"Yep," John says, and then pads off into the bathroom.

Sherlock bangs his head against the mattress, which is not particularly satisfying.

"Head trauma isn't sexy," John tells him, coming back in and climbing up onto the bed.

"It's a mattress," Sherlock reminds him. "I'm not going to hurt myself. And you keeping the lube in your shaving kit isn't sexy."

John raises an eyebrow at him. "Where exactly do you expect me to keep it? On the bedside table, conveniently laid out for housekeeping to dust, when they come by?" He's settling his back against the pillows, half turned towards Sherlock, with both knees bent; the right is flat on the mattress, the left is crooked up, with his left foot resting on top of his right. It is, Sherlock thinks, with not inconsiderable heat, a position in which Sherlock has seen him before: dressed that time, though barefoot, on the sofa, with his laptop resting between his stomach and his bent-up knee. Sherlock is absolutely certain that John wasn't touching himself at the time, but the connection is now so immediate and obvious that Sherlock quickly rearranges all his life goals to get John back to Baker Street as soon as possible, so he can see.

Sherlock licks his lips, then loosens his hands on the shirt to awkwardly struggle up to sitting. "Can I touch you yet?" he asks.

"No," John says, and flips the top of the lube open. Sherlock swallows. "Paying attention?" John asks, and Sherlock says, "Stupid question," and John says, "Terrific," and squeezes the bottle into his right hand—yes, so, Sherlock definitely was using too much—and then closes the top again, and reaches down, brushing his hand lightly over his own cock, which visibly responds.

"Because I really want to touch you," Sherlock says, low.

"I want you to touch me too," John says, stroking himself. When Sherlock shifts, John shakes his head, saying, "Wait."

Sherlock waits. John is watching him. Sherlock tightens his fingers on the shirt, as John shifts to wrap his left hand around his slicked-up cock, slides the right down between his legs, which fall wider open, as his fingers leave shiny trails down behind his balls.

"I mean," Sherlock says, very low. "I really, really want to touch you."

"I can't get deep like this," John says, and then exhales, sinking one fingertip—God. Sherlock's fingers tighten so hard they cramp. John licks his lips and says, low, "I can—I can get in but not deep, not—not properly. But you can."

"Want to," Sherlock says, instant, reflexive.

"You're going to," John tells him, "but first you're going to watch."

"I'm watching," Sherlock says, then clears his throat and says, "I could see better, if I were—"

He stops, and swallows, and John says, "I—oh, Jesus, you're going to cheat, aren't you," and Sherlock says, "I am—I am trying really hard not to, but if I were sitting in between your legs—" and John's breath catches and he says, "Yeah, I—all right, Jesus, just—I want, I really want this to last," and Sherlock sets the shirt aside and crawls over, reaching for John's legs. In deference to John's rules, he tries not to touch him above the knees any more than is absolutely necessary, as John spreads out around him, bending his left knee up over Sherlock's crossed legs, stretching the right out along the sheets to Sherlock's side. Sherlock bends down and kisses his left knee, because it's handy and he can't help it.

"Cheating," John says, a little breathless.

"Can't help it," Sherlock tells him, and then reaches over to pick up the shirt again. He holds it in both hands, and watches John. John's left hand is still on his cock, but light, not really properly wanking, just touching himself in counterpoint to the two fingers he's pressing into himself, hardly at all. Sherlock swallows and says, "You really can't get deep, can you."

"No," John says, a little breathless. "It's—I need a toy, or—or your fingers, or—"

"A toy," Sherlock says, low, and then licks his lips. "You—at Baker Street, did you—"

John makes a low, frustrated noise, and says, "I—no, it was—they're—they're expensive, and a bother, so I—I, um—"

"Your girlfriends," Sherlock says, piecing it together. His pulse is picking up dangerously. That shouldn't turn him on, but it does. "You—your girlfriends had toys. You—you let them—"

"Yeah," John breathes, and Sherlock bends back down and licks John's knee, and John groans, hips canting up, pushing his fingers into himself, harder, still not deep, still not very deep at all.

"You asked them to, didn't you," Sherlock murmurs, because he can see it, he can see it, John laughing with them, saying, Come on, let's, it'll be fun, kissing them out of their uncertainties until they got out some alarmingly pink contraption with bumps and knobs and seventeen vibration settings; he can see it. He licks his lips. "You talked them into it," he says, very low, against John's knee. "You—they were, they'd be intrigued, but also a little embarrassed—"

"Mostly intrigued." John licks his lips, eyes half-closed.

"And definitely excited," Sherlock says, low, and John exhales, spreading his legs wider. Sherlock says, "They'd—they'd be tentative, at first, starting with their fingers—all those women with their small hands—not enough, is it?" and John shakes his head, restless. He's flushed all over. "But then they'd use their toys," Sherlock says, a little too fast, "they'd rub them against you and—and statistically speaking—vibrators, mostly, weren't they?" John nods, shoulders tensed and shaking, and Sherlock says, "So they'd rub their vibrators up against you and turn them on, slow at first then more and more and that—that'd be more, far, far more than you can do to yourself, and they'd—they'd see you looking like this, and some things, John, are absolutely universal, so I don't think there's a woman alive who could see you like this and not push anything into you she could find."

"Oh, God," John gasps, pushing his fingers in as deep as he can, which is heartbreaking, because Sherlock could get so much deeper.

"Let me," Sherlock asks—begs, because he can't, he just can't stand it, he can't stand not touching John anymore so he begs, "let me, please, John, I—"

"Your hands," John says, panting, "I—I want you to—" and Sherlock's already grabbing for the lube, slicking up his fingers and shifting up, dragging John's hips closer as John wraps both hands around his cock, like he can't stand not to. Sherlock kisses John's knee again and pushes one finger in, slow, because John wants slow and also because it gives Sherlock a chance to watch the feel of it shiver out through John's body, like the tide.

"Yes?" Sherlock manages, and John nods and nods, his cheeks very pink. Sherlock rubs his cheek against John's knee and curls his finger up, just a bit, and John shakes his head and says, "Two, okay, I—I need two, I—" and so Sherlock pulls out and then gives him two, feeling John's whole body clenched tight around him, just for an instant, before John exhales and relaxes.

"I used to hear you with your girlfriends," Sherlock tells him, very low, and John sucks in a breath, just tensing up again, so Sherlock kisses John's knee again and pets him on the inside, slow and gentle, and says, "I—sometimes I could hear you, even when—even when you were being quiet—and then I would do things to distract myself as long as I could stand it and then I would get myself off as fast as I could and try not to think about you but I did, I did, I was always thinking about you." John makes a low, soft noise, and Sherlock says, "I—I told myself it was—it was proximity, you were—you were near and you—you had. You had details and I—I more or less knew what you looked like and I knew what—what you sounded like—"

"You great pervert," John breathes, and laughs, spreading his legs wider, and Sherlock says, "You still have no idea. I—if I—sometimes I would be holding your computer and I would think about how easy it would be to set it to video you and how you are utterly hopeless with computers and you would never, ever know."

"But you didn't," John says, still smiling, and Sherlock shakes his head and says, "But I spent an awful lot of time thinking about how I could."

"You could," John says, and then licks his lips and says, "You could now," and Sherlock stills, and John's voice is low and oddly raw and his eyes are getting wider and wider as he says, "You—you could, Sherlock, I'd—I'd let you," and Sherlock shifts up onto his knees, saying, "I—I really—John—" and John reaches up for his hair and pulls him down to kiss him, panting out, "Y—yes, now, come on," as Sherlock grabs the lube again and gets himself as slick as he can barely touching himself at all. John's shifting his knees up high around Sherlock's ribs and kissing Sherlock's face without terribly good aim and his heel is pushing into Sherlock's back as Sherlock pushes in and John groans and pulls him close and— "Stop, I—all right, don't—don't move," Sherlock says, pinning John's hips and trying to force himself to breathe normally, which is. More or less impossible.

"Um," John grits out, and then laughs, a little desperately, and Sherlock manages, "No, John—" and John pants out, "I'm—I'm trying, just give me—touch me, Sherlock," so Sherlock works a hand between them meeting John's hand, his hand to John's hand, their hands on John's cock, and he lets John set the pace and pants into John's mouth until the hot-white pressure of his blood has eased enough that he can move, just barely, and John groans out, arching up underneath him, and Sherlock gasps and pushes up, just a little, to shift the angle, and thrusts.

"God." Sherlock laughs, desperately, managing, "God, I—how do you do this?" but John is making low, wordless noises underneath him and biting at Sherlock's jaw, so Sherlock focuses as hard as he can on not coming and does it again, and again, and—God, John is so—his skin his blood his breath, he's so hot, and Sherlock's brain evaporates into nothingness. He can't think can't choose can't decide, just lets the whole of his weight sink into John, just gives into the screaming demands of his skin, pushing himself in deeper deeper harder while John cries out against his mouth and Sherlock feels echoes of John's voice in his own chest with his body buried deep in John's body and his hand on John's hand, twisted awkwardly between them. "I," he manages, and then shoves in, shaking, thinking, No, nonono, with a deep and almost painful ache, so he whispers, "John, John, I—" and John gasps, "Just—if you—just stay—" and Sherlock groans, pushing as deep as he can and coming apart inside John with his hand going clumsy and useless over John's as John's wrist speeds up, fast and desperate, until he pulses—hot, so hot—against their skin.

Sherlock bites down on John's lip, and holds on.

John tugs at his hair, just a little, and when Sherlock lets go of his lip, John whispers, "Don't move, just—stay," so Sherlock stays, as long as he can.

 

Sherlock takes a brief nap—loses consciousness, really, if he wants to be accurate—but even when he shifts awake, sticky and clammy with old sweat and starving, John remains dead to the world. Sherlock takes a shower and, in deference to public opinion, puts his shirt and his trousers back on, then orders room service and waits with his laptop in the living area, the doors to both bedrooms carefully shut. He waits until after the food has arrived and the man is gone again, then checks the clock; it's almost ten. He sighs and goes back into their bedroom, then lies down next to John and kisses him until he stirs awake.

"Mph," John tells him, rolling away.

Sherlock rubs his back. "John," he says. "Dinner."

John makes a noise of disagreement and pulls a pillow over his face. Sherlock frowns, considering briefly, then decides that if it were him, John would wake him up, so he persists, scooting over to wrap himself around John's back and rub at his belly and chest, nose tucked into the nape of John's neck.

"M'sleeping," John tells him, thick.

"Eat first," Sherlock says.

John shakes his head.

"It's ten at night," Sherlock tells him. "If you keep sleeping, you'll wake up very early, very hungry. If you get up and eat, you can go back to sleep after and sleep through the night."

John groans, then rubs at his face, and then says, "God, stop learning from me," and Sherlock smiles into his skin.

John stretches out, sighing, and folds his hand over Sherlock's on his chest.

"This is nice, though," he says, soft.

"Later," Sherlock tells him. "After we eat. Aren't you hungry? I'm hungry."

John laughs a little, then rolls over to face him. Sherlock kisses him quickly, then pulls back, standing up before he can get distracted.

"You're dressed," John says, and Sherlock rolls his eyes, bending down to grab John's boxers.

"I had to answer the door," Sherlock tells him, handing them over.

"Fair enough," John says, kicking off the blankets and tugging his boxers on. "You're not wearing pants, though."

Sherlock is pleased. He curls his toes against the carpet and says, "No. And you're getting better."

"Your arse is a powerful tool for teaching observational skills," John tells him, and Sherlock lets himself grin, at that, and holds out his hand to tug John up to his feet.

 

The next morning finds Sherlock in a very good mood. "Good morning," he beams at Darren, and then fills a coffee cup for him, too. "Isn't it a lovely day?"

Darren isn't a morning person. He glares, but he takes the cup of coffee. Moayad has his back to them, but his shoulders look amused.

"You're unnatural," Darren tells him, and Sherlock smiles and says, "You have absolutely no idea," and then takes a sip of coffee. Darren snorts and heads back to his desk. Sherlock loiters long enough to pretend to Dawud that he follows sport, to discuss the dreadfulness of the coffee with Philip and Nasim, to hear about the latest exploits of Rashad's newish baby, and then to get sucked into listening to yet another panegyric on Kareem's perfect and really very boring wife. Sherlock pours himself another cup of coffee and nods and nods, and then very carefully doesn't straighten up or shift in any noticeable way when he sees Moayad come back from the loo and pause at Darren's workstation (Darren's been gone for just under six minutes; he'll be back in two, reeking of cigarettes), in a manner so casual it can't be anything other than completely studied. Sherlock keeps nodding along to Kareem's drone, and watches until Moayad goes and sits back down at his own desk.

"Excuse me, Kareem," Sherlock says, "I didn't realize how late it was getting—can't stand about talking all morning, alas, can I?" He laughs, which prompts Kareem into laughing too, and then strides off towards his desk and sits down.

He stares at his computer screen, heart pounding. There are cameras; he knows that. They don't cover the whole room—he can call up the sight lines if he closes his eyes—but they cover enough. They cover his desk. He has, he knows, very little time, because once he's seen like this, Yassin—and via Yassin, Moran—will know he's solved it. He stands up and heads out into the hall. Camera, camera, camera. He uses the loo and washes his hands; he knows better than to think he can lock himself into a cubicle to not be seen. He tries to remember who he exchanged numbers with first; he hopes he remembers correctly. He heads back to accounting and over to Darren's desk, and—yes. Damn it. No sight lines to Darren's desk; he doubts it's an oversight. He should've kept his focus on Darren from the start. He says, "Darren, can you help me with—oh, damn," knocking Darren's coffee into his lap.

Darren springs up. "What the—"

"Sorry, sorry," Sherlock tells him, grabbing tissues out of the box and patting them awkwardly over Darren's desk, then dropping down onto the floor and mopping at the carpet with one hand while he slides his phone out with the other, sending a quick and desperate and, he suspects, really very inaccurate text to the second number down from the top in his history. He pockets his phone again, saying, "Do we—are there paper towels in the kitchen? It's really just gone everywhere."

"You—yes, they're over the sink," Darren tells him, torn between his fury and his really very genuine need for a towel. He's using a tissue to wipe futilely at his shirt and his trousers.

"I'm really so sorry," Sherlock tells him, and he doesn't even try to make it convincing. He heads into the kitchen and grabs the roll of paper towels and then strides back out, watching Moayad duck out of the room, then passing the towels off to Darren as he says, "You know, I—I have a meeting, I've just remembered," giving him his best, fakest smile.

Sherlock doesn't stop moving long enough for Darren to say anything. He grabs his laptop bag from his desk and heads back out into the hallway, towards the lifts.

 

Yassin is waiting for him. "That was deliberate," she says angrily. "You—"

"Darren is an idiot," Sherlock tells her. "I don't care if he's one of yours, I don't care if he's one of Moran's, I dislike him and if I'd really wanted to prove that to him, I would've done that while the coffee was hot. Stop sending spies in after me; it makes me think your boss doesn't trust me, and who knows what I'll do if I feel I'm not trusted."

Yassin grinds her teeth together, then says, "You know who the mole is."

"Yes," he says. "I want to talk to Moran."

"Call her, then," she spits out, and he shakes his head and says, "No. I want to talk to the two of you together."

She draws in a breath, straightening her spine, then reaches for the landline and dials, putting it on speaker as it rings.

"Hello, Safa," she says, and then, after a pause, "Robert."

"Hi, Tina," Sherlock tells her. "I've found your spy—the one working against you and the one working for you, by the way—and this ends, right here, right now."

"You work for me, Robert," Tina warns him, and Sherlock shakes his head and says, "No, nope, no. I work for myself. You want our interests to be aligned, great, that's—that'd be great. Best for everyone, including me. You are really very generous, you know; our suite is really very nice."

"Careful," she says, voice low. Yassin is shifting in her seat.

"That goes both ways, Tina," he says. His heart is racing, thunderous and angry underneath his ribs. "You—you be careful too. I don't like it when people are watching me, I like it even less when they're sanctimonious American bastards who cheat on their wives. So here's how this is going to work, at this point: I'm going to make two demands, neither of which is negotiable, and you are going to accept them."

Yassin exhales.

On the other end of the line, Tina is quiet.

"Here's the first demand, while you're thinking," Sherlock says, low, "you want me to work for you, let me work for you. This isn't worth my time. Munich wasn't worth my time. I'm done with the training wheels, Tina; either use me, or let me go home."

"Tina," Yassin says, very quietly.

"Later," Tina says, and Yassin shifts, but says nothing. "What's your other request?"

"It's not a request," Sherlock tells her. "It's a demand. I said it wasn't negotiable, and it isn't. Let your mole go. Sack him, give him terrible references, I don't care, but let him go, and let him live, and don't touch him."

"He has information—" she starts, and Sherlock interrupts, saying, "Not the kind of information you think he has. You put cameras in the accounting room that cover every desk but one, he wonders what goes on at that desk, because he's not an idiot. He has—a friend, or—a relative, more likely, in law enforcement; he passes along files off Darren's computer whenever he gets a chance, because you are stupid enough to cover everyone but Darren with the security cameras, really, I thought better of you. He's not even reading what he's sending out; he didn't take enough time. All he's doing is passing the files along."

"Not reading them," Yassin says, low, and Sherlock shakes his head and says, "He didn't take enough time. I saw him. He was at Darren's desk for under fifteen seconds. If you had security cameras on Darren's desk, this wouldn't have happened in the first place, but if it had, you wouldn't have needed me at all."

Yassin looks to the side. She doesn't look surprised; her jaw is clenched, and Sherlock wonders how much of this he's missing, and how much of this conversation Moran and Yassin have had before.

"Fine," Moran says. "Safa, you'll fire him, then you'll leave him alone. All right?"

"Yes," Yassin bites out, and then looks at Sherlock. At the other end of the line, Moran says, "I'm sure that'll satisfy Mr. Watson. Give me a name, Robert," and Sherlock says, "Moayad Qasim," and Yassin exhales, and drops her head, and Moran lowers her voice and says, "Very interesting, Safa."

"I didn't know," she says, quiet. "I—I've had him tailed, his internet traffic was traced, there was nothing—I didn't know."

"I'm sure you didn't," Moran says. "We'll discuss it later. Robert, go back to your hotel, and by all means, keep running up your bill; it's quite diverting. I'll email you new information later. If you warn Moayad—"

"I already did," Sherlock tells her, "and Tina, I'll thank you to remember that our agreement was that you weren't to ask me to kill anyone."

"I wasn't going to ask you to kill him," she says. "Not personally."

"Not good enough, and you know it," he says. "I warned him because you broke our deal. I only work for you under our terms as negotiated; don't jerk me around. Not again." He pushes to his feet, holding out his hand, saying, "Ms. Yassin, a pleasure." She doesn't take it, and after a minute he smiles, and drops his hand, and heads out to the lifts.

On the ground floor, his mobile rings.

"No killing, then," she says.

"No killing," he agrees, stepping out onto the street, into a wall of midday heat.

"I wouldn't think you'd mind," she says.

"John would mind," he says. It isn't true—not the whole truth, anyway—but it's believable, and that, he thinks, is more important.

"But John won't know," she says, testing.

He isn't that stupid. "I will," he says. "I don't want to have to lie to him about that, Tina, and I know that you understand why. Whatever crimes I have on my head, I'd prefer for them to be, to the greatest extent possible, bloodless."

"Hm," she says, and then clears her throat, and says, "Enjoying your honeymoon?"

The question startles him—though perhaps, in retrospect, it shouldn't.

"I'm not a newlywed," he says, as evenly as he can manage, "and I'm not on my honeymoon."

"You're wearing a ring," she says. "I noticed it on the video footage."

Damn it. He rubs at his face. A cab passes him, but he's not quick enough to flag it down.

"Only when I'm alone," he tells her, finally. "Consider it a disguise."

"It raises questions," she says.

"No, it answers them," he tells her. "I don't want to have to explain myself to anyone. It isn't relevant to the work. Leave it alone."

He hangs up the phone before she can answer, and then hails a cab.

 

He's more than halfway there before he texts John. Bad morning. Finished job. At the hotel?

Stepped out to get breakfast, John replies, a few moments later. Sherlock licks his lips, feeling it tug at his stomach. John had been heavily, immovably asleep when Sherlock had woken that morning; hadn't so much as stirred at the alarm, or while Sherlock shaved and dressed, not even at the smell of Sherlock's coffee. That was three hours ago.

We're not going to be here much longer, Sherlock types out, careful. Need to talk to you.

Understood, there in 5, John sends back, almost immediately, and Sherlock pockets his phone, and then, after a minute, takes off his ring, and slides it back into the twin of the depression the other is pressing into his wallet.

 

Their room is still a mess; John didn't have the "Do Not Disturb" sign off their door long enough for housekeeping to come by. Sherlock checks his email, then swallows, and reaches for the phone to call the front desk; they need their things back from the hotel laundry.

"How long?" John asks, as soon as the door clicks open, and Sherlock holds up a hand, saying, "Yes, that's—yes, that's fine, I'd prefer to come down. Thank you."

John bolts the door, sliding his computer out of his bag as Sherlock hangs up. He says, all in a rush, "Moayad Qasim—Q-A-S-I-M, his given name is M-O-A-Y-A-D, friendly bloke, heavyset, late forties, but he mustn't be tailed. He's already being tailed, so he can't be tailed."

"I've got it," John says, nodding. "You have—"

"Phone number, no address," Sherlock tells him. "He's going to be a target, and he's going to be a target for a while. I don't think they'll do anything as long as I stay in line, but he's definitely going to have to go on the list. As soon as this starts falling apart—"

"Where on the list?" John asks, looking up, and Sherlock thinks and exhales and closes his eyes and says, "Higher priority than Molly, but lower probability. Moran knows I care about Molly; she thinks this was just a power play."

"Higher priority?" John says, quiet, and Sherlock says, "He's got kids," voice tight, and John says, "Oh," sounding a little surprised.

Sherlock looks away. "Molly is higher probability," he says, and then clears his throat. "And since she also still lives in London, I can't believe there's a resource competition issue, they have to be able to get people in place here without taking anyone off her—"

"Sherlock," John interrupts, and Sherlock stops, and John says, "You trust me," and Sherlock nods, once, quick. "All right," John says, soft. "Trust me with Molly."

Sherlock exhales.

"How long?" John asks.

Sherlock shakes his head. "Our flight's in three hours," he says, and John sighs.

"I'm really going to have to move," he says. "How long is it going to take you to fill me in?"

"Half an hour at least," Sherlock says. "And I have digital records I should've transferred to you last night."

"Fuck," John says. "She'll have to come here."

"Not here," Sherlock says. "I'm—I just, I didn't play this one well, John, but Moayad's—he's, he's a good man and you were right, Moran was fucking with me. With us. But you can't bring your contact here, I'm sure Moran has hotel workers on staff."

"Damn it," John sighs, and rubs at his face. "Airport?" he asks.

"I'm not supposed to be involved," Sherlock reminds him, and John shakes his head and says, "That's not a luxury I have right now. I need your help. Think this through for me, Sherlock. Where's best? Airport?"

Sherlock swallows, thinking. "Plane is better, if you can manage it," he says. "Airports have more security cameras than you can imagine and I know she's hooked into CCTV."

"Plane it is, then," John says, and sighs.

"I have to go and pick up our laundry," Sherlock says, standing. "Make the call. The time is awfully tight, John."

"I know," John says, then asks, "Where're we headed?" as he pulls out his phone.

"I emailed you the flight info," Sherlock tells him, unbolting the door, "New York, by way of Cairo, on the three-fifteen."

"Got it," John says, and Sherlock nods, and heads out to the lifts.

Chapter Text

(interstitial)

They change planes in Cairo, and as soon as the seatbelt sign is off, John says, "Wait here," and climbs out over Sherlock's legs, and heads towards the back. Sherlock very, very carefully doesn't turn, doesn't look; it'd be easy enough to do so, but he knows he shouldn't. It's part of the deal: if he looks, Sherlock will be able to see anything he needs to about the games that John is playing, but he is among the enemy, and he mustn't know. So John goes back, at least three rows, or Sherlock would be able to hear him, stop, so Sherlock stops, and doesn't turn around to look.

Instead, he opens his laptop, and looks at what Moran has sent.

The idea is brilliant in its simplicity, and dangerously clever in its technological scope. Incompetence, he thinks. Endemic to any large bureaucratic organization. Brutally, frustratingly, blindly destructive. Rife with opportunity for invisible exploitation. After all, plenty of criminal cases are ruined because of procedural errors; if some of those procedural errors are not quite as accidental as the others, who's to know?

"Up," John tells him, nudging his knee into Sherlock's. "Come on, I'm not climbing over you again."

Sherlock folds his laptop up, tucks it away, slides it under the seat, and then looks up at John and raises an eyebrow.

John blinks, mouth curving up, obviously against his will. John puts his hand on Sherlock's shoulder to steady himself and climbs over his legs, and Sherlock puts his hand on John's side, just to help.

"You're angling for an entry into the mile-high club, aren't you," John murmurs, settling down next to him.

Sherlock frowns, turning to look at him. "The what?"

John blinks at him. "You," he says, and then stops.

"What?" Sherlock asks, and John licks his lips and says, voice pitched low, "The mile high club. It's—well, it's—if you have sex on an aeroplane, in flight, you've joined the mile-high club."

Sherlock lets himself smile, and John exhales, and leans back, and says, "You knew that, didn't you."

"No, no, I didn't," Sherlock says, then admits, "though if I had, I might still have made you say it." He drops his hand onto John's thigh, adding, "I do like the idea, though."

"The loo is traditional," John tells him, and Sherlock brushes his fingers up the inseam of John's jeans and murmurs, "Also tiny, awkward, uncomfortable, and obvious."

"Because you groping me in our seats is not obvious," John says, and Sherlock says, "Blanket?" and skates his fingertips up John's crotch.

John exhales. Sherlock rubs his thumb against John's thigh. It's really a pity he's not left-handed; he's trained himself into a certain fundamentally requisite amount of ambidexterity, but it's not the same.

"When we land," Sherlock tells him, "I have a meeting, right away," and then curls his fingers up and slides his knuckles up John's flies, then down again, then takes his hand back and waits, because he has presented his arguments, and now it is up to John to decide.

"Right away," John says, soft, and then licks his lips. Sherlock nods. John sits up straighter, and leans down, to get his blanket from where he's tucked it under the seat in front of him.

Sherlock shifts, and watches as John spreads his blanket out over himself, tucking it in around his shoulders. Then he looks over at Sherlock, half-smiling, and Sherlock can see his legs shift under the blanket, as he lets his knees fall just slightly apart.

Sherlock looks up and over into the aisle. The stewardess, an angular woman in her forties, is leaning over the man in 2C; she doesn't have the cart. Responding to a call, then. She'll be gone again in a minute. Sherlock shifts, and then reaches down for his laptop bag, and fishes a handkerchief out of the outside pocket. It's John's, not his. John is the sort who always has a handkerchief, but Sherlock never did until after John moved in and they started mysteriously turning up in his pockets; Sherlock is relatively certain that no conscious thought goes into them, on anyone's part, but he wouldn't absolutely swear to it.

Sherlock puts his laptop bag back under the seat in front of him, then leans back in his seat and tucks his left hand over John's armrest, just under the blanket. He turns to look at John, who is feigning sleep, very badly; his eyes aren't really better than half closed, and he's smiling. Sherlock licks his lips and tucks the handkerchief into John's right pocket. John shifts, and his hand slides over against Sherlock's, brushing their fingertips together.

Sherlock's ankle jerks, and then he clears his throat. He's not embarrassed.

"Throat," John whispers, "hands and wrists, lower back." He strokes his fingertips down the valleys between Sherlock's fingers.

Sherlock shivers, and drops his hand down to John's hip, and slides it over—over—over.

John exhales and tilts his head back, and brushes his palm over the back of Sherlock's hand. Sherlock squeezes, and shivers again. Contextualization. His problem is contextualization, he thinks. There is nothing, in the abstract, that is alluring about the concept of someone else's erectile tissue. There is everything, in the particular, that is alluring about John's cock, hard and heavy, hot through his jeans. Sherlock can't stop touching him.

"Zip," Sherlock breathes, and thumbs the button on John's jeans open, holds onto John's open waistband so that John can tug down the zip. Sherlock turns to look at him, and John meets his eyes, grinning wide, completely and utterly unsubtle. Sherlock slides his hand in through the gap in John's boxers and eases him out, slow, while John rubs his thumb against Sherlock's wrist.

"This is such a terrible idea," John whispers, still grinning, and Sherlock strokes him and murmurs, "Moran is paying for us to be in first class."

John pushes up into Sherlock's hand, and he exhales, wrapping his fingers around Sherlock's. John's skin is impossibly silky against Sherlock's palm. John's fingers are rougher against the backs of his knuckles. Sherlock licks his lips.

"My contact," John says, very low, and Sherlock shifts, looking at him.

"I'm not supposed to know," Sherlock tells him, and John says, "One thing only," and Sherlock says, "All right."

John smiles at him, eyes hooded, and says, "When I went back, she slid over, and I took her seat. The aisle seat. So I could see you—well. Your neck. When I got up, she took her seat back. She can see you, right now."

Sherlock swallows, hard, and John whispers, so soft Sherlock has to read his lips to hear, "Think she's watching?"

Sherlock bites down on his own lip, and lets John move their hands, moves his hand as John moves his hand on his hand, until John is shaking and breathless with it, holding the rest of himself still with some superhuman control while Sherlock fails to restrain himself from shifting in his seat, his ankles restless, his hips lonely, while his left hand and John's right hand are busy driving John crazy. John's breathing is coming in hard, short jerks that Sherlock more feels than hears, and his face is flushed, obvious, which for some reason John never seems to mind. Sherlock wants to lick the tops of John's ears, which are, at the moment, off limits.

The hum of the engines drowns out almost everything else, almost, almost everything. The ding of the tannoy is startling. John sucks in a breath, loud enough for Sherlock to catch it, and pushes up into Sherlock's fist, sharp and hot. The captain's voice is blurred and incomprehensible. John's fingers tighten on Sherlock's, his whole body tensed and straight, and Sherlock—Sherlock can feel—it's—John is listening, Sherlock realizes; John is listening to the underwater-far-away words over the tannoy and coming in slick, wet pulses through Sherlock's hastily shifted fingers, overlapped by his own.

Sherlock stares at him. John's face is bright red, and his ribs are heaving against the back of Sherlock's tucked-over arm, and he's listening to the tannoy and when Sherlock rubs his come-slicked fingertips over the head of John's cock (shouldn't; too sensitive) John arches up against him and squeezes his wrist, leaving wet fingerprints.

There's a handkerchief in John's pocket. Sherlock knows because he put it there. He should get it.

John doesn't let go of Sherlock's wrist. After a moment, he twists, just enough, digs out the handkerchief with his other hand, wipes Sherlock's left hand clean. Then he pulls Sherlock's hand up, out from under the blanket, and kisses the center of his palm, looking up to meet his eyes.

Sherlock gasps and jerks his hand back, and looks straight ahead. He swallows, twice, then undoes his seatbelt, and staggers up to the toilets, face burning. He barely gets the door locked, his fingers clumsy on the bolt. He shoves his trousers and pants down and braces his forearms on the tiny too-low sink, the sole of his left foot pressed up against the far wall. Danger, it's danger; it's always danger. He's known that for ages. It's just that now he puts it together in ways he's never let himself before: John coming under his thin blanket at the crackle of the tannoy, then kissing the center of Sherlock's still sticky palm—John spread out on a vast white hotel bed, all the windows open, because the thing about views is that they go both ways—John under his hands in the silent dark, quiet, quiet, they can't know we're here—John between his knees with John's mouth on his cock, sloppy and enthusiastic as he half-humps the sole of Sherlock's bare foot, while Sherlock slumps back in his chair and raises his voice a fraction of nothing for the benefit of the speakerphone as he says, not quite even, Well, Tina, I'm certain I can think of something to tell John, pushing up up up and in, just to see if John will choke—

His joints dissolve. If he hadn't braced himself, he'd fall.

It's another minute or two before he's able to gather himself enough to grab a handful of paper towels, wipe himself off. He washes his hands, pulls his pants and trousers back up, tucks in his shirt. He combs his damp fingers through his hair, presses their chill into his flushed cheeks. It doesn't really help. Sherlock stares at himself in the mirror until the tannoy dings again, the captain's voice forges words Sherlock actually understands, and the seatbelt light comes on again. Sherlock swallows, and opens the door, and heads back to his seat.

John's eyes are closed, but he opens them when Sherlock sits back down next to him.

"All right?" he asks, voice sleepy, a little rough.

Sherlock licks his lip and leans over the armrest, and presses his mouth against John's.

John makes a vaguely startled sound, but his lips part, just barely. Good. This is—no longer forbidden, and in a scant few hours, Sherlock will have neither the room nor the time. It's fortunate that Sherlock has made a science out of kissing John, out of pouring his confused and contradictory desires onto John's tongue. He kisses John until John slides his left hand up to the nape of Sherlock's neck.

"In New York," Sherlock murmurs, into John's mouth.

"Mm." John tugs at his hair, just enough to make him shiver, and Sherlock pulls back, bare inches, and tells him, "I'm going to need your help."

 

3. New York.

In arrivals, there's a cluster of men in dark suits with impassive expressions holding up signs: J. M. JOHNSON, D. PATEL, R. WATSON. Sherlock doesn't do anything to draw John's attention to it; John notices on his own, spine stiffening, stride lengthening fractionally. John heads to their right, towards the toilets, and Sherlock follows the arc of his body.

Inside, John tucks his head down. His voice is barely audible as he asks, "Cameras?"

"Can't tell." Sherlock turns on the tap and splashes cold water on his face.

"I'll get a cab," John says, sidling up to a urinal. "Is this necessary?"

"That'd probably be best. And—yes, it is." Sherlock runs his damp fingers through his hair, trying to put it into some semblance of order. He tilts his head down and says, "I'm a professional."

"You have your phone?" John asks. "And it's on?"

"Yes," Sherlock says. "I'll text you."

"Careful," John tells him, zipping up. He steps over and washes his hands.

"You too," Sherlock says, and leans over, and kisses John's cheek, quick, before pulling back and shifting his laptop bag on his shoulder.

"Cover?" John asks.

"I sent you ahead, and you went," Sherlock tells him.

John snorts. "I'm so glad your entire plan always hinges on everyone thinking I'm biddable."

"Hm," Sherlock says, "aren't you?"

"Oh, you'd better ask me that later," John tells him, "when I have time to answer you in full."

Sherlock lets his mouth quirk, just barely, then steps back out into the baggage claim.

The man holding the R. WATSON sign has his side facing towards Sherlock, still staring at the flow of people into the arrivals area, face blank.

Sherlock steps up next to him and says, "My apologies, I didn't see you at first."

"Mr. Watson," the man says, dropping his sign and reaching out for Sherlock's bags. Sherlock gives him the suitcase, but keeps the laptop bag. "I was told you were traveling with a companion."

Sherlock waves a hand. "Yes, he's gone straight to the hotel." His tone doesn't invite questions.

"Yes, sir," the man says, and leads him out to the car.

Sherlock wishes he'd thought to get a cup of coffee inside the terminal. His body thinks it's five in the morning, and he didn't do more than doze on the plane; he's certain that his hosts will be more than happy to provide, but he'd really prefer not to show them even so small a weakness.

 

By the time Sherlock makes it back to his hotel, he's sent John a total of six texts, over the course of four and a half hours—slightly more frequent than strictly dictated by their arrangement, but John knows Sherlock isn't at his best, and will probably appreciate the reassurance. He sends the seventh from the car, so that when he finally stumbles out of the lift on the twelfth floor (We're in 1263, I have your key), John is waiting for him (rumpled hair; undershirt and jeans; feet bare against the hall carpet, which probably should be disgusting).

John takes Sherlock's bag.

"Need sleep," Sherlock tells him.

John nods. "I already checked the room, we're clean," he says, steering Sherlock to the right. "There's a connecting door, empty room, so I broke in and searched it, too—they're not coming from that direction, either. Come on, then. When're they expecting you tomorrow?"

"No time in particular," Sherlock tells him. His voice sounds run-over-flat, strange even to him. "Told them I need to do some work on my own."

"Good," John says, and unlocks the door. There is a bed. Sherlock staggers over to it and drops down onto his face. He closes his eyes, toeing off his shoes and flailing his way out of his coat without getting up. He drops his coat on the floor. Caring seems—impossible.

"Roll over," John tells him. "Twice as quick, if I help with the buttons."

Sherlock gathers up the last failing threads of his energy, and rolls over.

 

Sherlock sleeps until after noon and wakes up confused. His body is telling him it's evening and he's slept through at least two meals; John's sitting at the desk with his laptop, fully dressed, hair flat on one side. Sherlock struggles up to sitting.

"Coffee?" John asks, but his voice sounds distant, absent, and Sherlock shakes his head and swings himself out of bed and pads off into the bathroom, which is vast, marbled, and absolutely freezing. Sherlock hisses, curling his toes up, and turns on the shower, partly for the warmth, and partly because he smells very much like it's been thirty-six hours since he last showered, over thirteen of which he spent on an aeroplane, and more significantly, because his jaw looks like he's coming down with a particularly distasteful skin condition. He showers and shaves, and the bathroom floor doesn't get any warmer, sucking any hint of heat down and out through the soles of his feet. He pours himself a cup of stale, dreadful, hot coffee and dumps in twice as much sugar as usual, and then pads over to get John's attention.

John slides his arm around Sherlock's thighs, tucking his hand well up under Sherlock's towel, but he doesn't look away from his laptop.

"We have an agreement," John reminds him. "You in a towel isn't conducive to me remembering it."

"I know," Sherlock tells him, and John does look up at that, then turns, burying his face in Sherlock's hip, kissing him just over the top of the towel. Lovely. Sherlock curls his toes against the carpet.

"Sherlock," John says, pulling back and dropping his arm. "Go and put on some pants."

"But," Sherlock starts, and John shakes his head.

"When I make promises, I keep them," John says, and pushes the hotel notepad towards him. "Write it down. It'll keep."

"What?" Sherlock says, momentarily derailed. "Write what down?"

"Whatever pornographic thought has you distracted this time," John says. "You said this job was important. We can do it later."

Sherlock stares at him, then down at the notepad, then back up at John's face. His cheeks are a little pink, but he's studiously looking at his computer screen.

Sherlock looks down at the notepad. He reaches for the pen. Morning post-shower blowjobs, he writes, with an aggressive sort of flourish on the "S", then adds, that last forever. He underlines "forever" twice, then turns the notepad towards John, and stalks off to find his clothes. When he comes back, fully dressed, John's typing out something at his usual approximate seven words per minute, and the notepad is turned back towards the other side of the desk, next to Sherlock's closed laptop.

Sherlock drops down and looks it over. John has added a comma, and appended, and don't end until ten minutes past where your spine won't hold you up any longer.

"Who's the 'you' in this instance?" Sherlock asks, opening his laptop.

"You," John tells him. "I need the practice. Room service?"

 

Sherlock inhales the better part of three thousand calories in one sitting, and then has to take a nap. He lifts his chin, daring John to comment, but John just asks, "Want me to wake you up?"

Sherlock exhales, then says, "I—yes."

"How long?" John looks up at him. He looks oddly rumpled; he's never quite taken to long days holding still. John admits, a little reluctantly, "I have to—go out. In a bit. For a while."

"Oh," Sherlock says, hand stilling on the zip of his trousers. "Well—when you get back?"

"All right," John says, and then reaches out, tugging at the waistband of Sherlock's pants.

"You're giving me ideas," Sherlock warns him.

"Nope," John says. "Notepad." His heart's not really in it, though; he rubs his hand over Sherlock's arse, twice, and then kisses his belly. Sherlock grimaces at him, but he reaches for the notepad, then somehow ends up on his back with his half-unbuttoned shirt crumpled up under his arms and John lying in between his legs and tongue-fucking his navel, which is—really not what they were intending to do, whether or not their genitals are, strictly speaking, involved.

"You were going to take a nap," John tells him, panting, "and I was going to—go out."

Sherlock blinks down at him. He's somehow got all of John's hair sticking up all over, which makes him look surprised, and Sherlock's leaking a wet spot through his pants. Sherlock had forgotten all about the nap. Unfortunately, John is right.

"Right," Sherlock says, and then swallows, his throat suddenly hollow and empty and desperately, unacceptably dry. "Give me the notepad."

John straightens up, leaving Sherlock's bellybutton damp and uncomfortably cold, and grabs the notepad and pen and hands it over. Sherlock finishes peeling off his shirt and tucks his knee up so he can press the notepad against his thigh as he writes it out: I am going to fuck you over the desk, and then, upon reflection, adds, and the end of the bed, and up against the wall. John doesn't stick around to read it, just staggers off into the bathroom, probably to—Sherlock's eyes briefly cross. He takes a deep breath, and adds three more things to the list:

You are going to lie naked on the bed and bring yourself off without me touching you.

I am going to be filming you, on my phone.

And then later, when we're out somewhere in public, we're both going to watch it.

 

Sherlock manages to ignore the thrumming insistence of his blood long enough to let his exhaustion take over, but he wakes up before John gets back, sliding directly from unconsciousness into full awareness, sudden and sharp. He rolls over and rubs his cheek against John's pillow, taking shameless advantage of the continued presence of the "Do Not Disturb" sign hanging on their door and the promise of another twenty-four hours to burrow around in John's smell, especially since John isn't here to watch him making himself ridiculous. Sherlock presses his nose into John's pillow, which smells like John's unwashed aeroplane hair and stale saliva, then rubs his hair against it, his chin, his open mouth, exhaling a puff of damp air. He presses his nose into it again; lovely. He ends up tugging his laptop back into bed and lying on his stomach to work; it makes the muscles in his back pull a bit, but whenever he starts to feel itchy he can drop his face back down and breathe them both in.

The best part about this job is that he has actual cases, actual, real live cases to dissect, to pull apart to see how they work. Moran is still lying to him—or, well, someone is; Sherlock wouldn't actually swear that she isn't passing along the information exactly how she finds it. But the embezzlement case glosses over George Chang's involvement in a murder-for-hire scheme in Chicago that Irene (anonymous, but it was definitely Irene; she knew he'd find it interesting) sent Sherlock two months ago, and the diamond theft isn't actually a diamond theft, but an estate tax dodge, no matter what the files claim. Sherlock flexes his fingers and writes out a lengthy email, not bothering to conceal his scorn—how else will they improve?—and then adds four more items to the notepad while he waits for a reply.

When it comes, Sherlock curls his lip; he knows how to keep someone off-balance, and Teeter's insistence on late-night meets is both obvious and unnecessary. If Teeter is hoping that Sherlock will still be jet-lagged, he's going to be disappointed; Sherlock's never kept a regular schedule for long enough to have much trouble resetting his internal clock. Sherlock clicks back over to the files, uploads copies for John, and then goes back to surveying them again, even more thoroughly, even though it's almost certainly unnecessary.

By the time John's key beeps in the lock, the sun has gone down without Sherlock noticing, so that when John turns on the light, Sherlock flinches and blinks, used to nothing more than the glow from his screen. John has brought pizza, which smells revoltingly greasy and makes Sherlock's mouth water, as John looks over at Sherlock squinting up at him from the bed and asks, "Are you actually trying to make it impossible for me to keep my hands off you?"

"Not at this moment, no," Sherlock says. It's possible that at some point he should've considered putting on something more than just pants, but he can't bring himself to regret it. "I'm going to have a meeting at ten, though, so if you're looking for a way to pass the time between now and then, give me the pizza."

"No sex involving the pizza," John tells him, toeing off his shoes and sliding his laptop bag off over his shoulder.

"Of course not," Sherlock scoffs. "Pizza first, then sex."

"Pizza first?" John asks, grinning at him. He sets the pizza box down on the end of the bed, a wad of napkins uncrumpling itself on the top, and then starts unbuttoning his shirt. Sherlock reaches over and flips the lid of the pizza box open. His stomach is rumbling again.

"The pizza will be best hot, of course," Sherlock observes, and then turns, sitting up properly, and moves his laptop over to the bedside table. John's shucking off his jeans, too, down to his boxers, no undershirt, when he climbs up into bed. Sherlock eyes his sternum thoughtfully; the pizza certainly isn't more alluring, but it is, possibly, more time-sensitive.

They eat the entire pizza in twenty-three minutes. John wipes his hands on four different napkins but still has sauce on his mouth; Sherlock leans over and licks it off.

"Add anything to the notepad?" John murmurs, and Sherlock rubs his knuckles down John's sternum, saying, "Yes, but tonight, I need to—I need days, but I only have hours, I'm in a hurry, can't we just—"

"God, yes," John breathes, and pushes Sherlock back, and Sherlock can barely stand to get his pants down, let alone off, not with John kicking off his boxers in one whip-quick movement and then pushing Sherlock back into their rumpled sheets and pressing up against him, murmuring, "Hi, hello, hello, hell—oh," not quite laughing, while Sherlock rubs his hands all over John's back, John's shoulders, John's arms, John's hair, whispering, "I missed you, that's absurd, but I missed you, I stayed in bed because I missed you—" while their bodies press together getting sweatier and slicker and togetherer, John's tongue against his tongue in John's mouth, John's knee heavy beside Sherlock's knee between John's knees, moving together, insistent—impossible—oh, and falling, falling, falling.

"Mm," John murmurs, face buried in Sherlock's neck while Sherlock tries to catch his breath.

"I was given to understand that the sex gets less good over time," Sherlock manages. "When, exactly, does that happen?"

"Well," John says, and exhales, rubbing at Sherlock's side. "It gets less—urgent, I think. Not less good. And, uh. Few months, probably, I think? Longer than two weeks, at any rate."

"Absurd," Sherlock tells him, "it's always going to be urgent if it's this good," petting at his hair, and John laughs, and mouths at his neck, his jaw, his mouth, and oh, God, Sherlock wants to stay here for years.

"I want," John manages, a little clumsily, mouth still pressing wet warm marks all over Sherlock's skin. "I want—to get you somewhere all alone, with nothing to do, for days. Just to see how long it takes you to get bored."

Sherlock stills, then runs his hands over John's shoulders.

"I don't think I should find that intriguing," he says, and John buries his face in Sherlock's neck, laughing. "What?" Sherlock asks him, genuinely baffled, and John hums and slides up, propping himself up on one elbow and looking down at him, smiling.

"You really don't get it yet, do you?" John says, the last of his laugh catching in his nostrils. "You can't—you can't do that, you can't say, 'I shouldn't think bare feet are hot, or, or I shouldn't be interested in girls dressed up as Catwoman, or my girlfriend fucking me with her vibrator.' You just—you can't use logic to decide whether or not something's blue, either. If it turns you on, it turns you on."

For some reason, Sherlock licks his lips. His heart throbs, suddenly painful, because—

"Is that how you do it?" he asks, low, and John's smile slips at the edges.

"Do what?" he asks.

"This." Sherlock tucks his foot into the mattress, just barely pushing his thigh up, mindful and careful, but unmistakable nonetheless.

John's eyelids slip lower. Sherlock knows John knows what he means; John's never been stupid. He licks his lips, and says, very quiet, "Yeah."

Sherlock nods, hair scraping on the pillow.

"I turn you on," he says, and John leans down, kisses Sherlock's jaw and says, "Should be pretty obvious by now," and Sherlock looks up at the lines in his forehead, between his eyebrows, and says, "And that doesn't—bother you?"

John exhales and pushes back up to look at him.

"Honestly?" he asks, and Sherlock nods. John nods back, and rubs at his jaw, and says, "Sometimes, yes, it bothers me. But—but not for the reasons you think."

"I don't think anything," Sherlock tells him: an acceptable untruth, because it is less invasive than honesty, and because John doesn't believe him, anyway.

"Right," John says, and then laughs, a little wrong, and shakes his head. "I—Harry came out when I was seventeen, not long after our mum died, you know?"

Sherlock didn't, but he nods, because it fits.

"And here I am," John says, quiet, "home alone with my dad when she turns up on a Wednesday, half drunk already and—and shaking she's so nervous, who was—well, he was a bit of a bastard, our dad, but I'll give him this: I watched him think of every wrong thing he could possibly say—" (that laugh again: different from the real one; cold and brittle, nervous) "—and then open his mouth and say, 'I love you, Har, and your mum'd be so proud of you,' and I. I just."

He rubs at his mouth, and shakes his head. He says, quiet, "Never, if I—if I hadn't seen him do it, never, ever would I have been able to believe that that would be what came out of his mouth."

Sherlock can feel John against him, heavy and familiar, touching him all over, warm against his arms, beneath his palms.

"You weren't a rebel," Sherlock says, quiet.

"No," John says.

"Who?" Sherlock asks, and John laughs, more like his usual laugh, warm and split open, welcoming.

"God, sometimes I hate it when you do that," John says, shaking his head.

"You wouldn't have told me about your father," Sherlock says, quiet, "if it weren't relevant."

"Yeah," John says, mouth soft. "He—kid named Will, played rugby with me. I—I knew he was, but I didn't—I didn't know about me, and after—after Harry, after my dad didn't—well. I wondered. So."

"Didn't get far," Sherlock tells him, and John shakes his head.

"No," he says, quiet. "He was—we kissed, a bit, he got a little handsy, it was—it didn't feel right. I—I mean, don't get me wrong, I was seventeen, I could've, I could've with the furniture, but. He was my friend. Wouldn't have been quite fair."

"Ah, yes, ever the gentleman," Sherlock says, rubbing at John's ribs, and John laughs and turns pink and says, "Well, he had a sister," and Sherlock sighs and pushes him off, saying, "Oh, of course, of course he did," and John laughs and laughs and pulls Sherlock back over, down tight against him, surprising enough that Sherlock almost knees him in the crotch, just managing, a hair's breadth away, to shift his weight.

"Careful," Sherlock warns.

"Always am," John says, and then his smile slips, just a little, and he sighs. "It bothers me because it was—surprising," he explains. "Not because—I'm not, I'm not invested, or anything, it just—caught me off-guard."

"And it took—a lot," Sherlock says, quiet, thinking about his body not his body, blood on the pavement.

"Not as much as you think, actually," John says, quiet, and Sherlock shifts. John's mouth is curved up when he says, "It was your brother."

"Mycroft?" he asks, uncertain, and John snorts and says, "Please tell me there aren't more than two of you."

"No," Sherlock says. "What did he say?"

John looks a little uncomfortable. "Said he thought you were—trying, with me."

Sherlock nods.

"And I thought." John reaches up, rubbing at his eyebrow. "It had come up so many times, but that was the first time it was—real, I suppose. It was the first time it felt like it came from you. And I—at that point I wanted anything, if it came from you."

Sherlock nods again. "I am sorry," he says, quiet, and John shakes his head.

"We're—past that, aren't we?" John murmurs, and Sherlock exhales, kisses his shoulder. "And I—I already knew I—it wasn't—it wasn't how I felt about you that was ever in question, it was—the. The—the physical side of it, and the—the name."

"Me, too," Sherlock says, soft, and John looks down at him, chin tilting into his chest. He doesn't know what to say, doesn't know how to explain about Molly, or Hannah, or Irene, or any of the anatomy of his bone-deep uncertainty and dread. He doesn't know how to explain how little he understood what he was and was not capable of managing, how hollow he had felt at knowing he didn't know.

"Just," he manages, and then shifts his weight, and says, "Just not for the same reasons."

"Right," John says, and then clears his throat. "You—what about you, anyway? You haven't ever actually—"

"Nick," Sherlock says, and John falls silent, and Sherlock shrugs. "And—Irene. And you." He settles down, resting his chin on John's arm. "Mostly you."

John hums, but says nothing, and Sherlock shifts, feeling strangely and unaccountably dishonest.

"I don't mean—well. For example. Mycroft had—a, an assistant," he says awkwardly. "I won't pretend I thought she was really a—she wasn't his lover, not properly, they never are, but—but she was—she was exceptional, and she—she looked like a fashion model—I mean, they usually look like fashion models, but he doesn't even." Sherlock stops, then shrugs, shifting his weight against John. John's hands are sliding down to his arse. "Mycroft actually couldn't ever care less, and I—she was beautiful, just—almost transcendentally beautiful, and—and sexy, and shagging my apathetic brother, and I was—jealous, I suppose, at the time, but it was—complicated, and rather—theoretical. I mean, I'm—I'm not—I am definitely not unaware, when someone has that sort of magnetism, but usually I. I am able to—to manage it, or."

"Or you wait it out," John says, quiet.

"Yes," Sherlock says.

John rubs his thumb over the dimple at the base of Sherlock's back, and Sherlock shivers into him. "Or you—cope," John suggests, low, and Sherlock breathes out and says, "Yes," and John laughs, and says, "I'd be willing to help you cope, you know," and Sherlock jerks against him, startled, because John can't possibly—but John laughs again and says, "Oh, I knew it, I knew it. Right, then. Which was it?"

"What?" Sherlock's heart is pounding. He feels off-balanced, surprised.

"One of my girlfriends," John says, and Sherlock says, "I—I hated your girlfriends," and John says, "Yes, but one of them, you coped with one of them, didn't you, you coped with me and you coped with her and I will give you fifty quid, right now, if you can tell me honestly that you didn't cope with thinking about me and her together."

Sherlock presses his face down into John's shoulder, breathing in the smell of his sweat, his deodorant, the traces of washing-powder smells his shirt has left on his skin.

"All right," John says, and then laughs again, sounding strangely and unaccountably delighted. "Fine. I'll deduce it then, shall I?"

"No," Sherlock says, quiet, and John's hand on his back stills.

"No?" he says, soft, and Sherlock shakes his head, rubbing his face into John's skin.

"No," he repeats. "Please don't."

John pets his hip. His voice is gentle. "Bothers you?"

Sherlock clears his throat. "Yes," he says.

"All right, then," John says, pressing his face into Sherlock's hair.

"Just—not tonight," Sherlock tells him, and John says, "All right," and rubs at his back while Sherlock breathes against him until the alarm on Sherlock's phone starts beeping, loud and unwelcome in their warm, close silence.

 

There is, Sherlock is forced to admit, a small complication. Two, in fact.

The first one is Sherlock's irrational attachment to justice, which is not, at the moment, serving him very well.

"Joel and Prudence Walker," Teeter says, sliding another file across the conference table. "Mrs. Walker wants out, and she'll pay us extra if Mr. Walker stays in."

Sherlock looks up. He says, "For a brutally efficient double murder that they committed together."

"Now, now," Teeter says, laughing. The sound is low, rich, relaxed. Sherlock spreads all the fingers on his left hand, cracking his knuckles. "Mrs. Walker is the customer," Teeter says, settling back in his chair. "And what do they say? The customer is always right, Mr. Watson."

Behind Sherlock's left shoulder, the door swings open, and Teeter says, "Ah, Lisa, thank you. Mr. Watson, my assistant, Lisa Stewart," as Sherlock pushes to his feet, turning. "Lisa, Robert Watson, Tina's sent him."

Sherlock smiles and holds out his hand, saying, "A pleasure, Miss Stewart."

"Please," Irene says, in an absolutely pitch-perfect Jersey accent, "call me Lisa." She sets two cups of coffee on the conference table before shaking his hand, smiling, and then licking her lips, tilts her hip up, head back, which, yes, probably the best idea, but this is definitely another complication.

 

Teeter doesn't seem very surprised—Irene is, after all, a very beautiful woman—but it's still an hour and a half before Sherlock has a plausible opportunity to corner her alone, pushing her into the disabled toilet and bolting the door, hands aggressive on her polka-dotted blouse, unbuttoning the entire long line. "Audio?" he whispers.

"Hall only, not in here," she murmurs. "Video feed over the mirror."

"I can't ever decide whether to be pleased she's smart enough to have absolutely no respect for privacy or annoyed at the number of times I know she's watched me in the loo and honestly, Irene," he snaps, finally. "You couldn't call? Email? Anything? 'Still not dead, working in New York, all my love to John', et cetera. I would've warned you if I'd known."

"Well, really," she says, nails vicious in his hair. "The last place I expect to see you, O Great Undead Wonder of London, is on my turf—"

"It isn't your turf, Irene," Sherlock hisses and backs her into the wall. She knocks her head back against the tile and moans, rolling her eyes at him. "The colonies," he reminds her, tucking his knee between her thighs, "rebelled."

"Why are you here, anyway?" she whispers, and then, louder, "Oh, yes, yes!" and then, softer again, "God, you can't even fake it, can you?"

"I'm trying to take down your boss's boss," he says, dropping his face down into her breasts, "and you're the one who's actually had sex with actual women, give me some direction." He's not really sure what to do with them, so he smashes his nose up against her sternum and counts to ten while he tells her, "You're going to be in my way—can't you go on holiday?"

"I'm not done here, you bastard," she tells him, hiking one leg up around his waist, which makes his back twinge until he straightens up. "And I was here first. Put your hand under my skirt."

"Oh, God," he groans loudly, putting his hand under her skirt, jerking his hips in a way he hopes looks convincing. "Server or local only?" he asks.

"Don't be an idiot, there's not even a local copy," she tells him. "The security guards watch everything live, nothing's saved."

"Well, that's something," Sherlock mumbles. "Dammit, Irene, this is going to have to go to John."

"Congratulations, by the way," she tells him, as meanly as possible. "Love the ring."

"I really deeply and sincerely loathe you," he tells her. "Do we need to kiss?"

 

They give it another ninety seconds or so—"That bit's believable," she tells him, and he curls his lip and says, "I have not once got a complaint about my stamina," though now, of course, he wonders—and then he buttons her blouse up—"No, no, only one off, don't be stupid, Sherlock"—and she messes up his hair some more and smears lipstick on his collar—"That's not too careless?" she asks, and he says, "Teeter's an idiot, he'll probably need a neon sign to put it together," and she huffs but doesn't disagree—and then staggers out of the loo just ahead of him and half runs into Teeter. She ducks her head and says—"Oh! Sorry, Mr. Teeter, I was just—um, straightening my stockings," and laughs, sounding embarrassed.

Teeter leers down her top—God, what an utter bastard, Sherlock hopes she'll get a chance to shoot him—and says, "I think you can probably head home, Lisa... unless Mr. Watson would like your assistance on the way back to his hotel."

"Yes, that'd be terrific," Sherlock says, straightening his cuffs. "I would like to review a few details on the Walker case." He tries to look well shagged; he thinks about John, which makes it easier.

"Of course," Irene says, and then gives that same embarrassed little laugh, and then looks at him and actually blushes and oh, she is good, he'd almost forgotten how good she is. "Let me just get my bag," she says.

"Nice work," Teeter tells him, under his breath, and Sherlock tilts his chin up so he can just barely look down his nose and say, "Well, never miss an opportunity to sample the local cuisine," which makes Teeter laugh and slap him on the back.

 

Sherlock texts John in the car, Awake? We're about to have company; the reply comes while Irene is still reciting the details of the Walker case ad nauseum while he hums at appropriate moments and they shoot each other increasingly hostile glances, trying and failing to figure out what to do.

Do I need my gun? John asks, and Sherlock flips open his phone and texts back, Not immediately, no. Check the room next door again?

It doesn't take much to get the room; Sherlock just says, "1261, please," in his laziest voice, which tends to make people think he has something backing it up, and Irene hands over Lisa Stewart's credit card. Sherlock doesn't think for a second that there isn't a Lisa Stewart, or that she's not going to be extremely put out when she gets her credit card bill, but with any luck that'll take a while. Irene's heels are shockingly loud on the marble in the hallway, and in the lift, she keeps shooting him come-hither glances that are simultaneously arousing and deeply, deeply irritating.

Irene unlocks the door to 1261 and Sherlock heads in ahead of her. The connecting door is closed (logical; it can be seen from the hall when the front door is open), and when Sherlock opens it, John's just on the other side, in jeans, with his shirt on but unbuttoned over his undershirt, barefoot and sleep-rumpled and still smelling like sex (distracting). Sherlock steps to one side to let him in. John glances from Sherlock to Irene and back and again, and then his gun is out, safety off, both hands steady, leveled directly at Irene's face.

"You'd better have a good explanation for this," John says, and he—he sounds furious, absolutely furious, which is surprising enough that it calls Sherlock back into himself with a start. He swallows, hard, and tucks his hands behind his back, tugging off the ring.

Irene sounds fierce as she tells John, "It's bad luck and nothing more, and I don't have a single fucking reason to explain myself to you." She still hasn't dropped the accent.

"Your blouse is buttoned up wrong," John snarls, stepping towards her, gun level, and Sherlock says, quiet, "John," and John's shoulders stiffen, but his eyes meet Sherlock's. Sherlock lets his mouth quirk, just a little, and John exhales, flicks on the safety, then steps over, putting his hand on Sherlock's side, Sherlock's throat, the lipstick mark on his collar, shaking his head.

"You're all right," John says, soft, and Sherlock tucks his right hand into his pocket, sliding the left around John's side, over his back.

"I'm fine," he tells John, because John didn't notice, so it's true. "It really is just bad luck, John, but she's here, we can't do anything about it, and besides, her boss thinks I'm shagging her, isn't this something we can use?"

 

John's a sensible man. He isn't the type to make a scene or hold a grudge or endanger any of what they're doing by, for example, throwing Irene out, or shooting her. He does, however, lock himself in the bathroom in their room, which gives Sherlock the opportunity to tuck his ring back into his wallet as he listens to the familiar, angular sounds of John running water, washing his face, pacing, running water, washing his face. Sherlock gives him four minutes before he steps over into their room, raps the backs of his knuckles softly against the bathroom door.

"Give me a minute," John says, muffled.

Sherlock licks his lips and says, "Let me in?"

There's a pause, but then the lock clicks, and Sherlock steps in, as John's stepping back. Sherlock locks the door behind them. He says, quiet, "It made sense, John."

"I know," John says, reaching out, resting his palms on the counter. He drops his head down. The line of his neck and his shoulders is hard to look at.

Sherlock steps over, awkward, clumsy. He can't figure out where he should put his hands, so he steps closer again, and again, until he can feel John warm and solid in front of him.

"You trust her," John says, low.

Sherlock shifts. "In certain limited ways."

"Because I don't trust her," John says, looking up, twisting to meet his eyes. "I don't trust her at all."

John's eyes are very very blue, and his mouth is tense and angular, and Sherlock reaches up and touches John's lips, warm against his fingertips. It shouldn't be surprising, because John was there, but John was only there for some of it: for Sherlock trying to feel his way blindly back to something normal and for the steep cliffs at the borders of Irene's well-intentioned deceit, but not for the four sharp-edged shots of terrible American whiskey; not for an unreasonable request and a more-or-less graceful concession, neatly paired; not for Sherlock's blind and surprising desperation when he realized he was leading the heart of the British government straight back to her. Irene has been a friend to Sherlock. She tried to protect John simply because Sherlock asked her to, and that may not buy much but it's a currency Sherlock hasn't had often enough to know how to spend.

"It was a game," Sherlock says, quiet, rubbing John's mouth twice before dropping his hand. "I lost, and then I won, and then—then we teamed up to play other people."

"You played me," John says.

Sherlock doesn't reply.

"You and Irene played me," John repeats, "twice."

Sherlock swallows, then shrugs one shoulder, then the other. "You're—you're a forthright person, John, I didn't—I didn't know if you could lie."

John nods. His mouth is still wrong. "And now," he says. "Now, Sherlock. And what happens now? You team up with her again? Who's on your side, Sherlock?"

"You," Sherlock says, instantly. It's the right answer, he knows that, but he still isn't really surprised when John says, "I don't believe you."

"She's clever, and dishonest," Sherlock says, quiet. "That's—that's useful, that has to be useful."

"I'm sure it would be." John sighs and turns, leaning back against the counter. "But I—you can't cut me out, Sherlock, you can't. The second you trust her first, I can't do my job, and I can't protect you."

"I don't trust her first," Sherlock says.

"I just can't believe that." John's eyes flick down to Sherlock's collar, barely perceptible, and Sherlock exhales, sudden and sharp, and steps up into John's space.

"You're jealous," he says, his feet bracketing John's on the marble. "You think that I—"

"Think about what you say next very, very carefully," John warns, and Sherlock blinks, and then runs it through again, and then exhales out, slow, and leans in to press his lips against John's cheek.

"Tell me," Sherlock whispers, and John breathes out, and wraps his arm around Sherlock's waist.

"Cameras?" John guesses, and Sherlock nods. "See, I—I can know that," John says, quiet, arm tightening. "I—I know that—the idea of you cheating on me is—a little bit absurd."

"Yes," Sherlock breathes, and rubs his nose against John's cheek.

"But you made a decision, you obviously made a decision with her and without me, and I—I know, I do know, I mean. Cameras. You couldn't contact me."

"No." Sherlock exhales, tucking his hand up around the back of John's neck. He squeezes.

"I know that," John mumbles. "But I—I still."

Sherlock rubs at John's neck, until John sighs and drops his head down onto Sherlock's shoulder.

"It seemed like the best decision of the very few available to us," Sherlock says. "Best—best for all three of us. And I knew that—I knew you wouldn't believe for an instant that she and I—but I. I didn't think about—that."

Foolish, of course. Unbearably foolish to think about anything else, when this is—this is the place where John will leave him, if John leaves him. Sherlock does trust John, when he can remember that he is allowed to; it isn't even hard. But John doesn't trust Sherlock, not very much, not anymore, and Sherlock doesn't blame him for that. Sherlock can't blame him for that.

Sherlock swallows, and says, "I needed a situation where I could talk to her privately, and then, when that—when she said she wouldn't leave, I knew we needed a situation where you and I could talk to her privately, and Teeter gave it to me."

"I get it," John says, quiet, and Sherlock shakes his head.

"I—I never once was trying or expecting to hide it from you, John," Sherlock explains. "I would've—I mean, I hate that you can't—I hate that I can't know everything about what you're doing, but I know that—sometimes I think about—I think, we'll go home, to Baker Street, and you'll make tea because I know that's the first thing you'll do, you always make tea, so you'll take off your jacket and make tea and then you'll tell me, as soon as we're home. And that makes it bearable, that you are living something without me, because it's temporary and it's necessary and it will end, and this—this was only that. I wouldn't—I didn't do it without telling you, I did it before I told you, because I had to."

John breathes out and tightens his arm around Sherlock's waist.

"I don't like her," John tells him.

Sherlock nods and rubs at John's neck. He knows John doesn't like her.

"You like her," John adds, and then sighs.

"I wouldn't say I like her." Sherlock presses his face into John's hair. "I don't like very many people."

John huffs and straightens up against him and says, "All right, fine, yes, I'm being an idiot," and Sherlock says, "Well," and John kicks him, not hard, then says, "All right. Just—give me a minute, I need to think."

Sherlock nods, rubs at John's back, then untangles himself and goes back out to watch Irene, still perched on the end of the bed in 1261, looking down at her phone.

After a minute, Sherlock says quietly, "What's your angle in all of this, anyway?"

She looks up. "What do you mean?" she asks.

"What are you looking for?" he says. "You're not—you've never really been part of the organization, have you?"

"No," she says. She sounds bored. "Wasn't a part of it and didn't want to be. Not much interested in greasy little ticks telling me what to do. It was necessary at the time, but I'd so much rather it wasn't ever again."

He shifts. "You're looking for—what, contacts?" he asks. "Information?"

"Protection," she corrects.

"Oh, not this nonsense again," he says, and sighs. "Blackmail's beneath you."

"I don't have the same bad idea twice," she says, and smiles at him. "Blackmail only works if your target plays along; we've all seen how well that worked out for me. Now all I want is the tools to make me disappear, without relying on you or anyone else to do it for me. Is that so much to ask?"

He narrows his eyes, then leans back against the wall, exhaling. "You want in on the records."

"I want to know how they get into the records," she says. "No fun if I have to ask pretty please every time I need to erase the evidence."

John steps up behind Sherlock's shoulder, just on the other side of the connecting door. Sherlock turns and reaches out and touches his back; he's still got the gun tucked into his waistband; predictable, but—for many reasons—reassuring.

Irene gives John a vicious little smile, eyes narrowed. "Not going to thank me for playing matchmaker, are you?" she asks.

John smiles back. "Maybe I would," he says, level, "if I thought you'd done it voluntarily."

Her smile goes hard, and John leans over and kisses Sherlock's jaw.

"Oh, please," she snorts. "Do you think you're going to make me jealous?"

"I think you should be," John says, very soft, very close, "think maybe you already are," and Sherlock, against his will, shivers, then shifts, wondering if there is any way to adjust himself without it being hopelessly, tragically obvious. It feels like time stops with John's breath warm on Sherlock's throat, an eon before John pulls back. Sherlock looks up at Irene, whose mouth is tense and flat.

"I want to offer her a deal," John says, quiet, and Sherlock looks over at him. "You said you needed my help," John reminds him. "I think we both could use hers."

Sherlock hesitates. After a minute, he says, "You—you don't trust her."

"You do," John says, quiet.

Sherlock tilts his head. "Mostly I trust her to do what's best for her."

"I think that'll be enough," John says.

"Should—should I be here for this?" Sherlock asks.

John licks his lips, looking up. "This is the kind of thing where I always want your help," he admits.

Sherlock shifts, asking, "But is it—" and John says, "Yes, probably, but—I think we need to—" and Sherlock says, "Dangerous," and John says, "This time, I think, I need you to, because otherwise—" and Sherlock sighs and says, "Fine, fine," and Irene says, "Good Lord, that's revolting."

Sherlock looks over and glares at her. "Or," he says, "or, you could go on holiday, and get out of our way."

"Hm," she muses, like she's actually considering it. "No, no thank you, I'm perfectly well-rested, and also very interested in getting my very own free all-access pass to screw over the New York County District Attorney, so I think I'll stay, actually. Especially if John's going to offer me something that's within my best interest."

"Yes," John says, low, "if you think it's within your best interest to come out on the right side, money and information ahead, with favors owed to you."

She pauses, and then recrosses her legs. "All right," she says. "What would I have to do?"

"I want you to sell Sherlock out," John tells her, and Sherlock thinks it through, then breathes out a laugh when he catches the thread, and John looks up at him, smiling.

 

Before she goes, John insists on searching her while Sherlock re-checks the room, their room, their electronics, her electronics, because honestly, he thinks that'd be more likely, given her history.

"I'd rather Sherlock did this," Irene tells John lazily, as John pats his hands up her legs.

"You're hilarious," he tells her, hands sliding up under her skirt. She smiles down at John, kneeling at her feet, and Sherlock looks back towards the chest of drawers quickly, his face heating up. Neither he nor John turn anything up, so the three of them take a moment to set the scene and then survey the tumbled sheets and general disarray of the room with approval before Sherlock closes the connecting door behind John and then shuffles Irene out into the hall. She catches him with a finger behind the buttons of his shirt, and he ducks his face down close to hers and breathes, "You can't have already forgotten that John has a gun."

"Mm," she murmurs, sounding amused, "better make it look good for the cameras," and he reaches around her and squeezes her bottom, both hands, telling her when she startles, "After all, that's the side of you they can actually see."

She laughs, at that, and Sherlock—Sherlock pulls back, because he can smell her, which is—which is so much more distracting than her with no clothes on, which he remembers as being fairly distracting to start with. As soon as he lets go of her, she takes a step back and straightens her skirt, smiling up at him. "The car will come by for you in the morning," she tells him, and Sherlock makes a show of straightening his cuffs, then tells her, "Not before ten. I'm certain nothing's so urgent it can't wait until then, and I'd like to catch up on my sleep."

She gives him a small nod and heads towards the lifts, and Sherlock turns around, cracks his neck, settles his shoulders, and digs out his keycard to open the door.

The lights are off—but of course they are; it's almost two, anyone would expect John to be asleep. Sherlock closes the door behind him, then flicks the entryway light on. John's sitting up on the foot of the bed, hands folded in his lap. Sherlock toes off his shoes and pads over, then drops down onto his knees on the floor, in between John's feet.

John looks down at him.

"Sarah," Sherlock tells him.

John blinks.

"You—you and Sarah," Sherlock says, low, and slides his hands up John's thighs. "It was you and Sarah."

John's lips part. Eventually he says, "You said it bothers you."

"It does," Sherlock says, quiet. "It feels—invasive. Inappropriate."

"It would be invasive and inappropriate if you had tried to join in," John tells him. "Wanking's free."

"Is it?" Sherlock asks, sliding his fingers over to John's zip without looking away from John's face. "Where's the line, then?"

John frowns, a little, but he shifts his hips, enough that Sherlock can slide his jeans and boxers down. John's not hard, not yet, and that tugs at Sherlock, too, as so much of John tugs at Sherlock, that Sherlock is allowed to see him like this, to take him soft into his mouth, suck—and oh. Oh. Sherlock pulls off, sighing, and rubs his cheek against John's cock as John says, "Irene."

"Yes," Sherlock says, soft, and then licks at John's balls, sucks one into his mouth.

"Just Irene?" John asks, a little breathless.

Sherlock has to let go to answer. "You and Irene," he corrects, and pets John's cock, tonguing at the head.

"Oh, Jesus," John sighs, pushing up, reaching up to rub his hands through Sherlock's hair. "I—I'm really not interested in having a threesome with Irene."

"I'm really not interested in sharing," Sherlock tells him, and then takes him in, as deep as he can, careful to not get carried away. Christ, he tastes— "Just—" Sherlock says, as he pulls back off— "you were—at her knees, and she—I could smell her," he explains, and then bends back down and swallows.

"Oh my God," John breathes, wrapping his hand up under his balls, cupping them close to his body.

Sherlock pulls off. "You went down on Moran," he says, looking up, "and then you came home and found me."

John stares down at him. He sounds startled, shell-shocked, when he says, "You—Jesus. You could—you could smell—could you taste her?"

"Yes," Sherlock tells him, and John gasps, flushing bright red all over, and Sherlock puts his mouth back on John's cock, swallowing the thin bitter-saltiness of his precome, which is doing things to Sherlock that it probably shouldn't do but does because he can't use logic to decide whether or not something's blue, either. Sherlock pulls back, breathing hard, and says, "I want to know if it's—if touching you while thinking about you touching Irene is free, too."

"Oh my God," John groans, hips jerking, pushing up against nothing, so Sherlock takes him into his mouth, looking up at the red flush peeking out from under the hem of John's undershirt, running from his face all the way down to his hips, at his bright startled blue eyes, and then John shifts, brushing the sole of his bare foot against the crotch of Sherlock's trousers. Sherlock has to pull off, kiss John's balls, lick at the salty skin under the hair, and Sherlock—Sherlock can hear himself—so he puts his mouth back on John's cock to be quiet.

"Yeah," John breathes. "You—yeah, you can—you can think about anything you want, just—" Sherlock lets his eyes flutter shut, drowning in the torrent of John's low, broken-rough voice as John says, "You can—Jesus, Sherlock, just—you have to tell me, tell me—" and Sherlock pulls off, panting, and says, "I think—I think a lot about you—you in between her legs, your—your fingers, you have lovely wide blunt fingers—" and then he groans and takes John down again, pushing up against the sole of John's foot as he thinks about John using his fingers and his mouth, burying himself in all Irene's secret places that smell like—that smell like—and Sherlock can't—he's—he has to pull off, bite down hard on something, which turns out to be the soft fleshy inside of John's thigh.

"Christ," John gasps, too high, petting at Sherlock's hair in a desperate, restless sort of way.

"I—I think I want you to fuck me, John," Sherlock manages, once he's come down enough to get his jaw loose again. He says, "I think—I think I want—" and John says, "I want to come in your mouth," and Sherlock groans and takes him in again, his heartbeat still pounding, too hot, too fast, overwhelming. Sherlock ignores the restless and conflicting demands of his body long enough to give John exactly what he wants, and more, and more

"All right—bit sensitive, ow," John is saying, half laughing, and Sherlock pulls off, mumbling, "Sorry, sorry, m'sorry," kissing all up and down John's thigh.

"Okay, it's okay." John rubs at Sherlock's cheek, and then he exhales, pulling his hands back to slide out of his shirt, peel off his undershirt. As soon as he's done he flops back against the bed. "This is—I am way too old to be having this much sex."

Sherlock struggles up to his feet, feeling undone and clumsy, then pushes off his ruined pants and trousers all in one go. John is reaching up towards him, so Sherlock lets himself drop down next to him, awkward and ungainly, as his limbs largely refuse to obey his brain. John reaches out and starts unbuttoning Sherlock's shirt.

"Do you remember how, on the plane, we agreed that we weren't supposed to be touching each other?" John says, and Sherlock huffs.

"Perhaps that wasn't the most far-sighted plan," Sherlock admits, wriggling out of his shirt, and John grins at him and says, "Well, I suppose we could always go back to wanking secretly in the shower," and Sherlock can feel his cheeks get hot.

"You weren't supposed to know about that," he says, trying to block the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"Well, when you take a forty-five minute shower and come out with dry hair," John says, and Sherlock says, "That was one time," and John says, "Excuse me, it was four times that I was home for, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if that was an awful lot of what you did with yourself when I was working at the surgery."

"Well, yes, but usually I remembered to wash my hair," Sherlock says, and John rolls up close next to him and says, "Sarah, huh?" and Sherlock clears his throat and slides over, tucking his face into John's shoulder.

"Yes," he admits.

"You have a thing for doctors that I should know about?" John asks, wrapping his arm around Sherlock's back.

"No," Sherlock replies, and kisses John's neck. "But she was—I thought you were—I thought she had you. And I—I thought a lot about—why."

John rubs at his spine and says nothing. Eventually, Sherlock cools off enough to feel like he can bear to pull back.

"There's a couple," Sherlock says quietly. "A married couple, not very nice. Double murder, good evidence, there's no chance they won't be convicted, not unless someone intervenes." He looks up at John's face and John nods, rubbing at Sherlock's side. "The wife hired Teeter's firm. She wants to be freed, but she wants her husband to be convicted, which is why it got sent over to me: easy enough to contaminate enough of the evidence that they'll both be released, a lot harder to get her out and her husband put away."

"Yeah," John says, quiet.

"I find it terrifying," Sherlock says, very low, and John blinks, and then exhales, and leans over, kisses him.

"Already got arrested with you once, remember?" John murmurs, and Sherlock says, "Sentimental," and tugs John tight up against him, silently and ridiculously grateful.

 

Sherlock wakes up because John is rubbing his hip and—oh.

"Good morning," Sherlock says thickly, blinking up at the ceiling. The light coming in around the curtains is pale. He manages, "Time's it?"

John pulls off. "Half six," he says, "I'll let you go back to sleep in a minute," and then puts his mouth back over the head of Sherlock's cock.

"Right." Sherlock struggles up onto his elbows. "You have an early meeting," he says, and John's eyes crinkle up at the corners, which Sherlock takes as confirmation. John's hair is a disaster, and he has pillow creases on his cheek, which is rapidly coming to be one of Sherlock's favorite ways to see him. "When?" Sherlock asks, with some difficulty, because John is—John is definitely getting better at that.

John pulls off just long enough to tell him, "Busy." Then he gives Sherlock's cock two long, luxurious strokes that make Sherlock's skin feel like it's melting off him, and then draws Sherlock back into his mouth.

"You," Sherlock manages, dropping back down against the mattress, "you are definitely getting better at that." John laughs, a little, which feels—very strange, and also delicious, and Sherlock's hips snap up without him thinking about it, which John was apparently expecting, because John pins him back down before Sherlock manages to choke him, which is a little bit—a very tiny bit!—disappointing. John's mouth is very warm and very wet and messy in all the very best ways. Sherlock likes it in there.

John pulls off, and Sherlock hears a whine before he feels it in his own throat, and John says, a little roughly, "Tell me if you want me to stop," and Sherlock says, "I definitely do not want you to stop," and John says, "I meant," and then Sherlock feels the slick touch of John's fing—no, thumb, rubbing just—just behind his—God.

John licks at him again, slides his other hand up the entire length of Sherlock's cock, squeezing hard enough that Sherlock's brain processes, inside, and then, not inside, and then John puts his mouth back over the head of Sherlock's cock, inside, and just presses the tip of his thumb into Sherlock's body, for a fraction of an instant.

"Oh," Sherlock gasps, his whole body tensing, but John's thumb has slid down again, rubbing hard against the dark, thrumming pulse at the base of Sherlock's body, pushing Sherlock into someplace hot and desperate, and— "John, I—" Sherlock manages, feeling hot and tight all over and John pulls back and grabs the base of Sherlock's cock, squeezing. "Oh—" Sherlock manages, squirming, and John says, "Shh, shh. We have some time. Unless you want to go back to sleep?"

"I want to come," Sherlock tells him, and John laughs at him and says, "Right now? Or can I—" and there it is, there it is, his thumb, his thumb again, and Sherlock pushes down onto him as John gasps, "Jesus, Sherlock, don't—" but Sherlock isn't listening, just feeling a sharp edge of sensation that sears along his nerve endings, too much.

"I," Sherlock manages, because—John says, "Okay, okay, just—don't push, Sherlock" and then holds his thumb very very still as he licks at Sherlock's cock, sucks him into his mouth, which is slow and sleepy-dreamy, flowing through him liquid and slick, so very unlike— "Don't," John warns, and Sherlock licks his lips and tries to relax. He manages to say, "Okay," as John drops his other hand down, already working lube (cold) around his thumb as he pulls back, slow, gentle, slow.

"You all right?" John asks, rubbing at Sherlock's hip, and Sherlock says, "That was—intellectually speaking, I wanted—" and John says, "How about we work on 'physically speaking' for that one, all right?"

"I liked," Sherlock says, "from the outside—" and John brushes his thumb down across Sherlock's outside skin and Sherlock arches up, feeling the flow of his blood shift under pressure, "Yes."

"All right?" John asks, soft, and Sherlock breathes, "Amazing," and John laughs, sounding pleased, and takes Sherlock's cock back into his mouth again. Sherlock stretches his arms up above his head, soft white sheets beneath his skin, and counts his breaths: one, seven, twenty-three, forty-nine before he whispers, "Again, John," in a voice so slow and thick it sounds like his dreams when he's sleeping.

John pulls his mouth back, rubbing Sherlock just a little, just enough to keep him melted and pooled into this same useless puddle of what used to be his body. John murmurs, "Don't have to, you know," and Sherlock manages to make his mouth hold meaningful shapes long enough to tell him, "Want you to."

John bends down and presses his tongue against the head of Sherlock's cock, and Sherlock shivers. "You can tell me to slow down, or stop," John says, low, "but you can't tell me to speed up, and you can't force me to go faster. All right?"

"Yes." Sherlock thinks it more or less sounds like his voice.

"You push it again, we stop," John warns. Sherlock nods, and John breathes out against him and says, "All right."

Sherlock blinks up at the ceiling through the whole of a drawn-out two and a half seconds, and then John wraps slippery fingers around Sherlock's cock and Sherlock manages to get back up onto his elbows, breathing out, looking down at where he's pushing up into John's hand. John grins up at him, conspiratorial, like in this they share a secret, then bends down and kisses—kisses the head of Sherlock's cock; a chaste kiss, incongruous and surprising, tugging Sherlock's bones apart and open, wide enough that John could fit inside. Sherlock breathes out, then in, then out again, his shoulders shaking, as John brings him just to the borders of his skin, with his wet-hot-clumsy mouth and his slick hands, with his honey-colored eyelashes casting smudgy shadows onto his cheeks, and Sherlock feels John's fingers move upon him beneath what he can see, the tip of John's thumb rubbing circles around him, not even—

"I want you to," Sherlock manages, and John pulls off and tells him, "Don't push down," and then dips his thumb just inside Sherlock's body, then out again, as Sherlock trembles and trembles.

"All right?" John asks, and Sherlock licks his too-dry lips and manages, "I think I'm dying don't stop," which makes John laugh at him again, but he doesn't stop.

John kisses his hip, then takes him back into his mouth, and Sherlock drops back down and throws his arm over his eyes and tries to remember to keep breathing. He's not sure what's going on; it never takes this long, never, except that every time he thinks it's in reach, John pulls off, gives him the space and the time that Sherlock needs to be unnecessary, then bends back over him again, until Sherlock is so boneless and vague he feels like he takes up the entirety of the room, like he could run his hands through John's hair without doing more than breathing out, setting up a tiny ruffling current of nitrogen and oxygen molecules that would shiver over his skin and John's skin and the wet-warm conjunction of John's mouth around him. John's thumb is sunk deep inside him, not doing anything, just present, and it's—God, it's easy, it's so easy, it's nothing at all, it could be—Sherlock wants more, so he says so, rough, his phonemes gone loose, just this side of unrecognizable, and John pulls his thumb out, and then—that's different, it's different, and Sherlock can't work out how until he feels John's thumb, brushing against—the base of his finger—deeper, his finger pressed deeper, curving upohGod as John's thumb goes back to rubbing against him outside, slow burninghot irresistible pressure and oh

Sherlock slowly, so slowly, gathers himself back into his skin.

John is sliding up next to him, and Sherlock tugs John's arm around him, rolling onto his side and pressing his back up against John's front, shifting until—yes. "Oh—okay," John breathes, thrusting lightly between Sherlock's thighs. John asks, "This is—okay?" and Sherlock nods, shivering back against him. John exhales, pressing his mouth against Sherlock's spine, and again, and again, and Sherlock feels each small, rocking movement trembling under his skin, and pulls John's hand up to suck two of John's fingers into his mouth, while John pants out, "Okay, oh—Jesus Christ, Sherlock, I—" and Sherlock moves his body with John's body until John's arm goes shaking-tight around his chest and John breathes, "Oh, oh," and Sherlock feels him suddenly slick among their conjoined skins.

Sherlock breathes out, presses his mouth to John's palm, John's knuckles, John's wrist. John breathes against the back of Sherlock's neck, sounding wet and heavy, just this side of sleep. Sherlock knows better than to let either of them close their eyes, so he twists around against John's body and asks, "When?" and John's voice is raw when he says, "Eight." Sherlock twists up, looking over John's shoulder; it's half seven, so he kisses John on the mouth, his beautiful mouth, and says, "Go and shower. I'll start the coffee."

John groans, but he lets Sherlock pull him to his feet, shuffling into the bathroom, shoulders hunched, while Sherlock fills up the coffee maker at the sink. Sherlock starts the coffee brewing while John grumbles about the perpetually arctic marble tile in the bathroom, and then, after briefly considering, Sherlock pulls on a cleanish shirt and his jeans, toes on his shoes without socks and pockets his wallet, and heads down to denude the hotel's complimentary breakfast of muffins.

The muffins are tiny and ghastly, far too sweet. They each eat five. Sherlock lets John drink the better part of the coffee, then kisses John liberally enough to very nearly—but not quite—make him late. Sherlock wants to climb back into their bed and breathe in, but he knows he'd be better off to just start another pot of coffee while he showers and shaves, so he does, already feeling too little sleep and too many orgasms sneaking up for the kill. He ends up tugging the blankets up to cover the wet spot and taking a post-shower nap, fully dressed, on top of the bedspread; when his phone alarm starts beeping at eight minutes to ten, his hair is quite a few steps past "artfully tousled" and his mouth tastes like dead rat, but he feels like his blood is actually getting some oxygen to move about, which is something. He wets John's comb and works it through his hair, then brushes his teeth, then gathers his things and heads for the lifts, slides on his ring as he steps out into New York's muggy midsummer heat.

 

Sherlock deals with the easy cases first—he takes a certain degree of pleasure in arranging the diamond theft in such a way that if the police have half a brain between the lot of them, they'll be forced to release Rebecca Corden on the burglary charge, and then promptly arrest her for fraud, tax evasion, and filing a false police report—and then focuses in on the Walkers. Sherlock's fairly certain that the best bet will be the weapons, so he spends the day working out how much needs to vanish from the police reports for the search warrant on the car to be tossed out, since the handgun is by far the most damning piece of evidence against Mrs. Walker, and that'll still leave all the evidence from the house and the office intact.

Irene—well, Lisa, more properly—gives him come-hither glances all day but doesn't make any effort to actually get him to go thither, and Sherlock laughs at all of Teeter's off-color remarks and tries not to grind his teeth. He desperately wants to know what she's up to, but he can hardly ask. The positive side is that Irene is in contact with John; Sherlock knows this because around two in the afternoon, he sees her texting while waiting for another pot of coffee to brew, and seconds later Sherlock's phone buzzes in his pocket with a text from John: Irene says your third button is coming undone. I told her to fuck off. Sherlock smirks at that, a little, but he does duck into the toilets to fix it.

When he gets back to the hotel, it's almost nine. He slips the ring off in the lift, and it almost even doesn't bother him very much, because the "Do Not Disturb" sign is hanging from their door and John is napping on their bed, the neatly made blankets and bedspread wrinkling under his weight. Sherlock knows better than to just let the door fall shut behind himself; he pushes it closed with the handle turned, then eases his hand off slowly. It clicks anyway, but John doesn't seem to notice.

John's sleeping half on his left side, half on his stomach, his right arm curled up in front of his chest, his hand in a loose fist, resting just in front of his chin. He's still wearing all of his clothes but his shoes (floor) and his belt (chair), but his shirt is mostly untucked and one of his socks has worked itself down, bunched up around his heel. Sherlock swallows, then sets his laptop bag on his chair and toes off his shoes, stretching out on his side at John's right, settling his weight down as gently as he can. John doesn't stir.

Sherlock has work to do, but it's thinking work; he usually does that kind of work lying down, anyway. He can do it here. He looks at the way light and shadow catches and pools in John's hair, around his eyes, his mouth; he matches his breath to John's breath, so, so slow. Sherlock considers his options: two guns, two dead, and a marriage deeply in trouble, though that bit certainly doesn't surprise him; he thinks about how he will do this work, he will make this come out wrong for the police and right for Prudence Walker, who will go home, while her husband spends the rest of his life in prison. Sherlock finds, distressingly enough, that this bothers him. It makes him feel itchy along the inside of his skull, a juvenile chant of not fair, not fair, but he knows that he will do it anyway, because he has the full computer database of Branson, Washington, & Teeter, LLP, stashed on a hard drive in his bag in 500 MB encrypted chunks, and tomorrow morning Sherlock will sell out Joel Walker without a sliver of doubt in his heart, because it is unfair and wrong, but Sherlock has to pick his battles, and this is necessary. He will do it because it's very nearly time to move on, to set another pendulum in motion. One step further along; one step closer to home.

Sherlock pulls his phone out of his pocket, then hesitates. He doesn't like being beholden to anyone, much less amoral criminal masterminds, but so far, when it comes to John, Moran has shown nothing worse than a tendency to mock Sherlock, and she's welcome to mock him all she likes if he can keep convincing her to do what he wants. Right now, he wants time; he needs time. John clearly hasn't been getting enough sleep. He thumbs it out: Almost got this one sorted. Give me something with downtime, next.

He doesn't get a reply, but of course, it's two in the morning in London. After a minute he drops the phone off the side of the bed, then reaches out, touches John's cheek, John's throat, John's mouth, until John sighs against his fingertips and opens his eyes.

"Dinner?" Sherlock murmurs. He isn't terribly hungry, but he knows that Moran likes to yank him about, so he's assuming that a nice leisurely lunch won't be on the cards for tomorrow.

"Mm." John licks his lips, catches Sherlock's fingertips, a bit. "Time is it?"

"Nine," Sherlock says, quiet.

"God," John mumbles, and then rubs at his face. "Got home at four."

"Longish nap," Sherlock observes.

"Didn't mean to," John tells him, and rolls over, pressing a kiss against the corner of Sherlock's mouth.

"You didn't exactly have a restful night," Sherlock says. He can't help what his hands are doing, rubbing down John's shoulders, John's back, over the nape of his neck.

"No," John agrees. "You work it out?"

"Yes," Sherlock says, quiet. "Irene's already talked to Moran?"

"Not yet." John untucks Sherlock's shirt, then slides his palm under, to rest against the small of Sherlock's bare back. Sherlock shivers. "Dropped a few hints to Teeter, just so it didn't look off when she finally decided to tell them, but I need to get everything off you, first. Wouldn't be unheard of for Moran to use this as an excuse to search you."

"Drive's in my bag, my laptop's fine," Sherlock says, running his hand through John's hair. "This is nice," he adds, in an undertone.

"Yeah," John agrees. "I never would've figured you for a cuddler, you know."

"I'm expanding my horizons," Sherlock says, and John laughs, and nuzzles his throat.

 

They end up getting dinner in a restaurant that has candles on the tables and very low lighting. It's a date place. This is the kind of place that John takes his dates. Sherlock would know that even if he hadn't, on occasion, found it necessary to interrupt John during his dates. It's a strange, awkward thought, and Sherlock feels unaccountably hostile towards the waiters and waitresses, the other patrons, until John hooks his foot around Sherlock's ankle under the table and Sherlock realizes that their reasons for staying so much in their hotel room in Dubai are rather less in force in New York. He wishes that had occurred to him sooner; he'd always rather be in London, but he does have a certain amount of fondness for New York, much in the way one might appreciate the antics of a clumsy and imitative younger cousin. It's disappointing to think he'll be leaving tomorrow. He is in New York, out on what he strongly suspects is a date, with John. Interesting. Sherlock takes another sip of wine.

Between the two of them, they manage to put away a rather impressive quantity of pasta, and they both drink enough that John gets a little pink and Sherlock feels noticeably warmer than usual when they're leaving. Then John insists that they stop to buy more toothpaste, since those little travel tubes don't last and they don't know where they'll end up next.

"All I'm saying is that if she sends you to Antarctica, I still want to be able to clean my teeth," John tells him.

"Mm." Sherlock has his hands tucked in his pockets, examining the conditioner.

John looks over at him. "What're you—"

"Molly," Sherlock says, pointing. "I never did—"

"Send her some," John suggests.

"The postage will be exorbitant," Sherlock says, but John shrugs.

"It'd be a nice gesture, though," John says. "Bit of an inside joke. The sort of thing you do for a friend."

Sherlock considers, then grabs the bottle and drops it in John's basket. John's picked up two tiny tubes of toothpaste, a packet of cheap ballpoint pens, and a new bottle of lube; their current bottle's not quite empty yet, but John's always the sort to plan ahead.

"I sent her a postcard," Sherlock admits. John looks over at him. "I didn't write anything," Sherlock says, feeling vaguely insulted by John's expression. "I just—sent her a postcard."

John's lips twitch up, and Sherlock says, "Shut up," and John laughs.

 

By the time they're back in the hotel and Sherlock's given John the drive and the office rundown and any other details he suspects might be relevant and a significant number he's really fairly certain aren't, it's well past one in the morning, which is a detail that normally wouldn't enter into Sherlock's calculations at all, but John's resting his cheek on his hand, propped up by his elbow on the desk, in that way he only does when he feels like the elbow is really necessary to his vertical integrity.

"You should sleep," Sherlock tells him.

"I should call Irene," John says, and sighs.

"In the morning," Sherlock says, standing up and stretching until his spine cracks; relief. He's never been cut out for desk work. "I have to go in and give everything to Teeter, you'll get an hour or two."

John rubs at his face, but he nods, pushing up to his feet and starting on the buttons of his shirt. "How are you not exhausted?"

"I need less sleep than you do," Sherlock says.

"But," John says, unzipping his trousers, "you—you were sleeping almost as much as I was, and now—"

"I'm acclimatizing," Sherlock says, and John groans and looks up at the ceiling, saying, "Oh, God, you're—this is going to be like that time I spent my leave with a university student, isn't it?"

"Well, not very much like, seeing as how I'm not a university student," Sherlock tells him. Also not Dutch, he thinks, but doesn't say, just in case John has spent more than one leave with more than one university student. "Besides, that wasn't a line. I can tell when you're tired, you know."

John's smiling, a little. "And what are you going to do?" he asks. "You've not got any work."

Sherlock shrugs up one shoulder, then the other, then starts peeling off his clothes. "I could sleep," he says.

John pauses. He's down to his boxers and his undershirt, and his gaze is intent, his expression contemplative. After a moment, he says, "You want to cuddle."

Sherlock doesn't let it change his expression. He takes a breath, then lets it out, then says, "Yes."

"All right," John says, smiling, and then reaches out, brushes his hand against Sherlock's elbow. He says, very soft, "You can ask, you know."

Sherlock swallows. He nods, just once, and doesn't say anything.

 

Sherlock wakes up still wrapped around John's back, with pale early morning light creeping in around their curtains. He's kicked the blankets down in the night, his back bared to the air, but John is still largely under the covers, deeply asleep, so Sherlock leans up as carefully as he can to look over at the clock. It's not even quarter to seven. John's breathing remains slow and even, his warm chest rising and falling under Sherlock's arm, and Sherlock settles down against John's back.

Sherlock likes: the way John smells; the way John feels; the way John tastes; the way John laughs a lot when they're having sex, easy and friendly and often at himself; the way John always puts two sugars in Sherlock's coffee before he passes it over, without ever asking or even seeming to notice that he does it (though that one long predates giving Sherlock permission to sleep wrapped up around his back); and Sherlock finds himself disproportionately pleased that John does not want to have a threesome with Irene. Sherlock finds that hoping is easy, under these circumstances; it's easy to believe, in the still and the quiet, that John will continue to let Sherlock be his in ways that are embarrassing, inappropriate, and juvenile. Sherlock remembers, with sharp and bitter humiliation, writing Nick letters; he remembers, even worse, how Nick had been after. Nick had always been friendly, easy, casual, and he hadn't teased Sherlock, or laughed at him, much, or told a single soul, not about that. Nick had simply pretended it had never happened. Sherlock has always suspected that that was perhaps accidentally more cruel, under the circumstances, than the alternative. But wrapped around John's back, it is easy, almost, to believe that John would tell him, if Sherlock asked too much; that John will help guide him through; that John can allow Sherlock to be desperate and too certain and demanding, and that John will help him along. John is more tolerant than Sherlock deserves, so it's possible that it's not a problem that John trusts him less than Sherlock would like. It's easy, under these circumstances, to believe that that can change.

Sherlock listens to John's breath, heavy and warm, and waits until 7:49, and then reaches out for his phone, and turns off the alarm just before it has a chance to beep. He rubs his face against the back of John's neck, his stubble catching against John's skin, and after a moment John takes a deep breath, stretching against him, and then turns, and they spend their allotted ten minutes plus two more in liquid, marrow-deep kisses.

 

Moran replied while they were sleeping, but of course she can't actually be bothered to tell him whether or not she'll do what he wants, which is probably to be expected but still makes him grind his teeth. Sherlock showers first, while John makes his calls, and then ends up having to leave while John's shaving, which leaves Sherlock still tasting shaving foam and feeling a little disgruntled as he waits for the lift. He slides his ring on as soon as the lift doors close and there's no chance of John seeing; he still has to check himself to make sure he takes it off again, but he's almost got putting it on down to a routine.

Teeter is waiting for him in the car.

This, Sherlock knows, is not at all a good sign.

He slides his hand into his pocket and smiles at Teeter. "This is a surprise," he says, holding his thumb down, silently counting.

"Yes, well," Teeter says. "I was hoping you could tell me what you've got planned."

"Oh, the search warrant on the car," Sherlock says, reaching for his laptop bag with his left hand. "I've got it all written up here, if you—"

He looks up at the gun, then up at Teeter's face.

"You don't look very surprised, Mr. Holmes," Teeter says. "Oh yes, I know who you are. Lisa recognized you. Saw your photo online."

"And she told you, did she?" Sherlock asks. His heart rate is picking up; that's very bad. Irene isn't stupid enough to have spoken freely to Moran where Teeter could hear, which means that either she sold him out deliberately, or Teeter isn't as stupid as he looks.

"I have my ways," Teeter says, softly, and then lifts up his hand, and honestly, one of these days Sherlock will meet a criminal who doesn't want to pistol-whip him in the face but today is apparently not—

 

Sherlock blinks back up into consciousness someplace damp and smelly, grit sharp under his palms. He pushes himself up to his feet as quickly as he can, processing alley, rubbish, Teeter, gun, driver, very big gun, and then tucks his hands into his pockets, empty, damn it. He blinks and blinks, trying to remember how long he managed to keep his thumb down before Teeter knocked him out.

"So," Teeter says, leaning against the passenger door. He's still holding the gun loosely by his side; his driver's is up and out, steady on Sherlock's face. "You're a private detective."

"Consulting detective," Sherlock corrects. "I used to be—the key there is 'used to be'—a consulting detective. The only one in the world, as a matter of fact."

"And now?" Teeter asks.

Sherlock waves a hand. "Career change," he says. "Consulting criminal. Sadly derivative, I'm afraid, but the pay's much better."

Teeter smiles. "What I want to know," he asks, "is why my assistant requested to be connected to headquarters, first thing this morning, then told Moran that you were Sherlock Holmes, a famous private detective, and then Moran sent a car for her, spirited her away, and didn't do a single thing about you."

"Moran knows who I am," Sherlock tells him. There's a movement off to the left, near the end of the alley. Sherlock forces himself not to look.

"Interesting," Teeter says. "See, what I can't figure out, is whether you're playing her, or she's playing me."

"Must you be so small-minded?" Sherlock sighs. "Moran and I came to an agreement. A simple exchange of money for services, which I have been led to believe is the very basis of our capitalist system. You have a problem, namely that you're too stupid to outwit an overworked public servant. That problem costs you and Moran money. I'm not at all too stupid to outwit an overworked public servant, so I come and fix your problem, and then Moran pays me lots of money. Everyone's happy and no one has to get shot."

"Oh," Teeter says, all teeth, "someone is definitely going to get shot," and then the driver cocks his gun and Sherlock hears two shots, deafening in the alley, and then the high-tone ringing of the post-shot silence.

The driver falls first, red blooming across his forehead. Teeter stumbles against the car, pressing against his chest, and Sherlock barely hears the third shot, but he sees it, red smeared against fair hair and cracked glass, as Teeter slides to the ground.

Sherlock steps over, fast, and digs around in Teeter's pockets. He takes his mobile, Teeter's keys, then opens up the car's back door to grab his laptop case off the seat.

"We've got to hurry," John says, jogging up.

"Want to steal some records?" Sherlock asks, holding up the keys.

"No time, dump it," John says, and then his eyes widen, and flick back down to Sherlock's face.

Sherlock's chest tightens, sudden and sharp. He clutches his laptop case to his chest with his right arm, and then forces the fingers on his left hand to relax, dropping Teeter's keys onto his still chest.

"We have to hurry," John says, voice tight and wrong, and Sherlock manages to say, "Lead the way," and follows him out of the alley, down two side streets, back up to a main road and into an idling cab, where Fiona—of course it would be Fiona—is waiting.

"Went bad?" Fiona asks, sliding up tight against the door without looking up from her BlackBerry. Sherlock slides in next to her, squashing up to make room for John, and holds his bag in his lap, burning with embarrassment. He tucks his hands under his bag to slide off the ring. It's probably too late. It'll probably be all on his brother's desk before the cab even has a chance to make a turn.

The cab turns left.

"It went very bad, as a matter of fact," John says, looking straight ahead at the back of the passenger seat. "Had to shoot both of them; Teeter overheard Irene."

Fiona does look up at that, turning to glance at Sherlock, with her same familiar expression of polite disinterest. She looks back down at her BlackBerry and says idly, "Well, a certain number of dead bodies is simply to be expected, John. Mr. Holmes didn't think you were squeamish."

"I'm not," John says, "But I didn't get a clean line on Teeter at first and I had to shoot him twice."

"Sloppy," she says.

"I'm sorry, but I was rather trying not to shoot Sherlock," John snarls, "so clean it up—that is what you do, isn't it?"

She sighs and tucks her BlackBerry in her handbag, turning against the door to look over at John. It's a more intent expression than Sherlock has ever seen aimed at him, certainly; as usual, her eyes slide past him like he's barely even there.

"You'll go back to the hotel," she says. "You'll pack your things. Sherlock will contact Moran, and he will tell her that Teeter turned on him and you shot Teeter, and he will get his next assignment. If my understanding of the situation is correct, Moran seems to have no trouble believing you to be little more than a particularly well-trained and dexterous German Shepherd, so she ought not to ask too many questions, and I'm certain taking care of two dead bodies is all rather in a day's work for her. If she gets suspicious, however, Sherlock will tell you, and you will tell Sophia. Sophia remains your front-line contact."

"Anthea," John sighs.

"I am on holiday, you know," she tells him. "I'm not supposed to be cleaning up your messes." She sighs and pulls out her phone again, saying, "Do try not to get into any more trouble today. I have theater tickets."

"I didn't call you in," John tells her.

"I know you didn't," she says, without looking up. "But I still got called in anyway, which makes it your fault. I haven't even had breakfast, you know."

The cab pulls up at their hotel, and John opens the door, holding it open for Sherlock. Sherlock is still clutching the ring in his right hand, the left wrapped awkwardly around the strap of his laptop bag as he struggles out. John shuts the door and the cab pulls away, and then John finally, finally, meets Sherlock's eyes.

John licks his lips, then nods, just once, and heads in and towards the lifts. Sherlock follows. John pushes the button for the twelfth floor, and then says, "Since?" and Sherlock swallows and says, "Sunday, in Dubai," and John says, "And what've you been saying, then," and Sherlock says, very soft, "Nothing."

John doesn't reply, just ducks his head down and rubs his thumb over his eyebrow.

Eventually, the lift doors slide open, and Sherlock follows John to their room. Inside John turns to face him, shoulders stiff and squared.

"All right," he says. "Did you tell anyone we were married?"

"No," Sherlock says quickly, because Sherlock has been careful, Sherlock has been so, so careful, to not say anything about John.

"Are you lying?" John asks.

"No," Sherlock says, emphatic, and then swallows, and says, quietly, "But it—it may have been implied."

John breathes out, and takes a step back, and closes his eyes.

Sherlock takes the opportunity to set his laptop case down and fish out his wallet, tucking the ring back inside. John doesn't move, and he doesn't open his eyes.

"I need to call Moran," Sherlock says quietly, and John says, "Irene," and looks at him, mouth thin and unhappy.

Sherlock says nothing.

"Irene knew," John says, quiet. "Irene saw you, didn't she? You've—Jesus, you've been going off on cases wearing a wedding ring, and Irene saw you."

Sherlock swallows, and nods, and John shakes his head and laughs, raw and horrible, and says, "She tried to—just, fuck her, she was trying to prepare me."

He turns and heads over to the desk, rubbing at his hair, and Sherlock says, "John," very soft, and John shakes his head and says, "Shut up. Just—just call Moran, I want to get out of here. Just—just, don't put it on again, just—keep it—wherever you keep it, and call Moran, and later we'll—I don't know. Just. Call Moran."

Sherlock calls Moran.

Chapter Text

(interstitial)

It takes Moran four hours to take care of New York. Then the rest of the day is cut up into chunks: airport, waiting, aeroplane, waiting, airport, waiting, aeroplane again.

("She's suspicious," John had said, halfway to Minneapolis.

"Yes," Sherlock replied. "I told her I dialed you and you heard enough over the line to run me to ground."

"Does she believe you?" John asked.

"Probably not, no," Sherlock had said, and John nodded, silent.

Sherlock made a point of memorizing every single subtle nuance of John's voice during this exchange. It wasn't difficult to make it memorable, because it'd been the first thing John had said to him in close to six hours.)

The second flight is on a commuter plane, which Sherlock hates, because even in first class he has nowhere to store his knees, and the smaller the plane, the more agonizing the takeoff. This one is particularly bad; the plane shakes violently all throughout taxi, and just as the wheels leave the runway the plane lurches in a way that makes Sherlock remember, not fondly, his descent from the Bart's roof. He reminds himself that the probability of dying in an aeroplane crash is substantially lower than the probability of dying while doing any number of things he routinely does (did) for entertainment, and then John rests the backs of his fingers against Sherlock's on the armrest.

Sherlock looks over, surprised.

"If we're about to die," John says, voice strained, and then stops, and swallows. Sherlock watches his throat move, and John says, "Sometimes I want to punch you so hard you'd see three of me."

"Teeter hit me in the face with his gun," Sherlock offers as consolation. The plane dips again. Sherlock tightens his grip on the armrests.

John doesn't smile, but he no longer looks as though smiling were utterly outside the realm of possibility. He says quietly, "We're probably not about to die," as something under their feet grinds alarmingly. Sherlock turns his palm up, and John spreads his fingers out against Sherlock's, just for a moment, familiar and warm.

Then John folds his hands up in his lap, and Sherlock tilts his head back against the headrest, and closes his eyes.

 

4. Minot.

"This—is this the hotel?" John asks, leaning forward in his seat. "This really doesn't look like—um."

Sherlock drums his fingers on the wheel of their too-small rental car and says nothing. His stomach feels heavy, leaden, and he has a sneaking suspicion that somewhere, Moran and Irene are both laughing themselves sick.

John looks over at him.

"Oh," John says, after a minute, then turns to look out the windscreen again. "Right." He licks his lips.

"Let's not," Sherlock says. "We passed four proper hotels, we can—"

He stops. After a second, he turns the key in the ignition, and John reaches over and puts his hand on Sherlock's wrist.

Sherlock exhales and turns the car off again. Outside, the sky is white and grey. It feels like a timer running down.

"Right," John says, taking his hand back. He licks his lips. He leans back in his seat. He says, "It's—um. Pink."

"Yes," Sherlock agrees. It is, indeed, pink, because of course Moran would send them to some ghastly frills and flowers sort of a place, because she's not a nice person, and the fact that John's barely speaking to him just makes it worse. Sherlock can't even get John to make it into a joke.

"Um—why is it pink?" John asks.

Sherlock swallows. He says, "Please," and then exhales, and sets his jaw.

There's a long pause. "Yeah," John says, finally. "All right."

Sherlock nods, and turns the key.

 

They end up all the way back by the airport before they find an available room, in a low-end motel with a sink and an open wardrobe tucked away at the far end, just to the right of a bathroom practically too tiny to turn around in. The light over the sink is a fluorescent that flickers incessantly and the air smells like stale cigarettes and air freshener, but the room has a smallish table that they can use as a desk and free WiFi and air conditioning, which is about all they genuinely need. It also has a tiny refrigerator that isn't plugged in and two beds (probably—though painfully—wise). Sherlock wants—all Sherlock wants is a decent cup of tea, but under the circumstances he'll take what he can get, which turns out to be Lipton made with water heated up in the coffee maker. There are many reasons why it doesn't taste all that much like tea.

"Oh—thanks," John says, when Sherlock passes him a styrofoam cup. He's at the table, the air conditioner rumbling beside him, hard enough to ruffle his hair. He has his laptop open, but he isn't looking at it. The screensaver is going, and John's body is angled away, his gaze fixed somewhere around Sherlock's right hip.

Sherlock takes a sip of tea, and swallows, then steps forward, and again, close enough that John drags his eyes up to Sherlock's face. Sherlock doesn't know what to say, so he sets his tea down on the table and takes another step, setting his right foot between John's feet. Sherlock can feel John's knees through his jeans, almost uncomfortable in the close, warm air of the room, still resisting the thrum of the air conditioner. Sherlock has to practically fold himself in half to kiss him.

After a moment, John's hands brush against the backs of Sherlock's thighs, lightweight wool scratching up against Sherlock's hair and skin. Sherlock settles his shoulders, and exhales, and lets John's gravity draw his weight closer: Sherlock's right knee to the edge of John's chair, hot between John's thighs; Sherlock's body folding up awkwardly, not-quite-painful, as he hunches his back, half-hovering over John's right knee. He doesn't want to put his weight down anywhere, so he supports himself with his left foot and his right knee and his hands, wrapped over the back of John's chair, and stays suspended, unsettled, while his lips touch John's lips, as everywhere: lightly.

John's mouth tastes just like it always does. His hands are, as always, slow and broad and steady, sliding up over Sherlock's trousers, untucking his shirt, finally coming to rest spread over the base of Sherlock's back. Sherlock exhales and leans back against them, and John sucks in a breath and shifts his weight without warning, forcing both of them up to their feet.

Sherlock stumbles, but he goes, lets John push him up and back. John steps on Sherlock's foot, and then Sherlock hits the bed at an awkward angle; he ends up lying diagonally across it with his head near the foot and one shoe up on the pillows, the other hanging off the edge of the bed. He pulls at John's shirt until John is properly on top of him, his chest trapping Sherlock's forearms between them.

John exhales, looking down at him. John's eyes are tense at the corners, as close as he ever gets to unfriendly with Sherlock.

John says, "I—"

Sherlock tightens his grip on John's shirt, and John exhales, bends down. He presses his forehead to Sherlock's. Sherlock presses up, just barely, his lips brushing John's lips, John's tongue, John's tongue on his tongue and oh, Sherlock wants John to breathe the whole of Sherlock's body in, then out again: transformed, made better. I didn't mean to, Sherlock wants to say, I didn't want to; but he did, and he did, and John hurts because Sherlock was foolish, and Sherlock isn't so naïve as to think that an apology will excuse him. Apologies are generally useless. John's hands are on his buttons and John's breath is in his mouth, low and heavy, blanketing, like John's body on his body, John's useless old carbon dioxide drawn into Sherlock's lungs.

Sherlock slides his arms around John's shoulders, and suddenly John pushes himself away, back, all of Sherlock's buttons undone but for three (the bottom two on his shirt, and the one on his trousers). John pushes up to his fists on the bedspread and looks down at him and Sherlock's hands are suddenly confused, aimless, resting on nothing. John's face is terrible.

"I," John says, and pushes back up onto his knees.

Sherlock pushes up onto his elbows—no— "Don't," he manages.

"I need some air," John says, and that is terrible, too.

Sherlock grabs John's shirt.

"Let go," John says, and Sherlock watches his face and doesn't let go even though John told him to. John's shoulders are tense and he says, "Let me go," and Sherlock hears, "Don't," torn out of his own throat.

John stares at him.

Sherlock lets go instantly and pushes up to sit properly, his legs over the edge of the bed, shoes back on the floor. He clears his throat. It isn't working right. He looks down at his shirt, puts some hands on his shirt, which are shaking. His hands. His hands are shaking, on his shirt. He swallows and forces them to still. The air conditioner is rumbling. He does up his buttons.

"Sherlock," John says, very quietly.

"You can go," Sherlock says. It comes out perfectly even. "If you want to."

John is still looking at him. Sherlock can see him well enough out of his peripheral vision, so he doesn't look back. He looks straight ahead, at the curtain moving in the flow off the top of the air conditioner. John stays kneeling on the bedspread.

After a minute, John shifts, takes his shoes off the bedspread, pushes up to his feet.

Sherlock closes his eyes and doesn't open them again until the door clicks shut.

 

They haven't really been keeping separate suitcases; easier to just use whatever space is available and not worry about whose socks are whose until they're getting dressed. There are three wide drawers under the television; the bottom one is stuffed with extra pillows and a blanket. Sherlock can't bring himself to choose one empty drawer for his and the other for John's, but he does put his things on the right and John's on the left, just in case. He does the same with their things at the sink, cluttered in beside the coffee maker, then finishes his tea, gone cold.

He takes his wallet out of his pocket. The rings have left marks in the leather. He takes them out and sets them on the table, his on the left and John's on the right, then the other way around, then the first way again, then the second. And again. And again. His wallet is still unfolded, untidy; angled up like a "V" that is listing, falling asleep. The marks are still there, stretched out and pale, mounded limply over the hollows the rings have left behind. He swaps the rings again: his on the left, John's on the right. He puts them back the way they were. It isn't an improvement, so he puts his right hand flat over them and lifts it and they vanish. He wiggles his fingers, then puts his left hand down on the table and lifts it up, and there they are again. He does the trick again, left-handed; it's not quite as graceful. Then he puts the rings back in his wallet. Then he puts his wallet back in his pocket, because he has exhausted his options.

He sets up his laptop on the desk and clicks through his email again. Surprise me, Moran had said, and she hasn't given him anything more since. It's not much to go on. Minot's not a big place. There's a military base to the north and oilfields to the south and west. It's far enough north that at nine in the evening in July, the sun still hovers above the horizon, filtering in yellow and alien through the thickening clouds, and Sherlock doesn't know if that's because of their longitudinal position within their time zone, or properly because of their latitude. He could check if he thought it was in any way relevant, but it isn't. Nothing is relevant. Moran had said, Surprise me, and nothing in Sherlock's head tonight is surprising. Sherlock rubs at his face and grabs his coat and heads outside.

Sherlock can see John's tread in the gravel of the car park, headed off to the right, into the town proper. Sherlock swallows and heads off to the left. The clouds are dark in the north, and the air is heavy, choked; Sherlock isn't familiar enough with the terrain to estimate how long it will be before it hits. It doesn't matter. The weather is not relevant. Sherlock tucks his hands in his coat pockets. There aren't any other pedestrians. A few drivers turn to look at him; also irrelevant. It's been a long time since Sherlock's cared how little he blends in. There's a petrol station with a shop. Sherlock's fingers itch, so he turns in, ducks in between the endless racks of bizarre American trinkets and processed food, wrappers shiny and sickeningly bright under the fluorescent lights. He closes his eyes and rubs at his face and tries to catch his breath.

"You all right?" he hears, and opens his eyes. The woman at the counter is leaning forward to look at him, one bony elbow resting on the counter.

"Yes," Sherlock says, and reaches out and grabs something off the shelf in front of him, and takes it up, saying as he sets it down, "I'd like this—um." It's a figurine of a hula dancer. Sherlock's not at all sure how she ended up in Middle America, but she probably wants out too, so he swallows and says, "I'd like to purchase this, please. And—um, cigarettes." John's already angry with him, so he hasn't got much to lose.

"Pick your poison," the woman says, shifting back and pointing.

Sherlock points. "Marlboros. Please." He rarely smokes Marlboros; they're American. He grabs a blue plastic lighter off the rack and puts it next to his hula dancer.

The woman gives him an angular half-smile, and passes him a pack of Marlboros.

 

Sherlock smokes one just outside the shop—atrocious—then walks back to the motel. John's not back, so Sherlock smokes another, and then, just for variety, lights a third. They make his stomach hurt for no reason. The sun is setting behind the motel, the light going blue-grey and fading by the second as the storm spreads and the eastern sky sinks into cloud-mottled greys and blacks, the horizon blurred and shadowed, growing opaque. Sherlock gets tired of everything halfway through the third cigarette, but he finishes it anyway, then tosses the butt in the gravel and heads back into the room. He puts the hula dancer and his cigarettes and his lighter on the table, next to his laptop. After a moment's consideration, he takes his wallet out of his pocket, and sets it on the table, too. There is nothing left to hide. Then he hangs his coat far away from John's things, so it'll air out, then takes a shower, mostly to pass the time. When he gets out, John continues to be gone. The room is very dark and very silent. Without turning on the light, Sherlock puts on pajama bottoms and the undershirt John wore yesterday and lies down on top of the bed closer to the wall, because left to his own devices, John will always pick the side by the door.

Sherlock lies on his back and closes his eyes. Surprise me, Moran had said, and then sent them to North Dakota, where there is an air force base and oil fields and between settlements, the endless grasslands sprawl out, open wide. Surprise me, Moran had said, and sent Sherlock to buy ghastly American cigarettes and a hula dancer from a too-thin middle-aged woman in coral-pink lipstick, with sharp eyes and sharp elbows and a surprising and generous-looking mouth, with a pale-blue shirt with Chrissy embroidered in cursive above the absence of her left breast. Robert, Moran had said, because Moran always calls him Robert and Sherlock always calls her Tina—Robert Watson, Sherlock had told her; had told her, I'm his cousin, and Moran had said, Surprise me, and sent them to stay in a monstrous pink devouring hotel where John is angry with him and the hinges creak as Sherlock stands on grassland and watches the endless expanse of Lincolnshire sky gather and grow dark, his hair pulled hard from side to side, first left, then right, whip-stinging at his cheeks until Mycroft grabs him by one chubby childish wrist and drags him behind walls and windows to get dry. Inside the motel room that he shares with John in silence the sun hangs just over the horizon, and Sherlock can't ever get warm. He jerks back awake, not-quite-stopping the noise clawing out from under his ribs, rising up over the tide of the rain, a dull roar against the windows.

The light between the beds is on, low and golden. He is in Minot, North Dakota. It is the twenty-seventh of July, 2012. His heart is still beating. Sherlock folds his hands over his face and tries to catch his breath.

"All right?" John's voice asks, quiet. He is emptying out his pockets as always, a clatter of four countries' coins on the bedside table.

Sherlock swallows and drops his hands.

John sits down on the edge of the second bed, watching him. "Did you eat?" John asks.

"Not hungry," Sherlock says. John is looking at his throat. Sherlock swallows again, and John looks up at his face.

"I have leftover pizza," John tells him. "It's cold, but it was pretty awful to begin with, so."

Sherlock can't stop looking at him. John looks tired. His hair is wet.

"Well," Sherlock manages, as lightly as he can, "with a recommendation like that."

John doesn't smile, not quite. He glances down at Sherlock's mouth, then up again. "I should shower," John says, and stands up.

Sherlock wants to grab whatever he can reach and hold on. He doesn't, though, because John is wet, and the air conditioner is on. John gets up. John will shower, be warmer. John stands just out of sight by the sink and takes off his shirt, his undershirt, his shoes and his belt and his jeans, his boxers, and as he steps over to stuff his dirty clothing into the second plastic laundry bag from the hotel in New York, Sherlock gets stuttering half-frame glimpses of his naked body, his softnesses and hardnesses, his scar. John steps into the bathroom and turns on the shower, and the pipes rattle in the walls.

Sherlock gets up and goes over to the table. His cigarettes are still there. He eats the leftover pizza, which is more or less as advertised, and looks at the hula dancer, who was cast in a mold from cheap plastic and poorly finished, the mold's seams still visible in raised lines up her sides. Sherlock gives her a tap, and she sways her plastic hips in a way that is probably supposed to be light-hearted; diverting. Sherlock stills her gently, which is the best he can do by way of apology, then goes to the sink and runs as little water as possible as he brushes his teeth. Then he climbs back into the bed by the wall, which has been only moderately rumpled by his accidental nap. He tries to decide whether to hope, or to lie in the middle. The shower turns off, and Sherlock swallows and slides all the way over towards the wall (foolish [inexcusable {inevitable}]).

Sherlock listens to John drying off, John getting dressed, John cleaning his teeth. He listens to John shave for the second time that day and feels, for the first time in what feels like a very long time, something like hope, and then John comes over in a clean undershirt and boxers and looks down at him.

Sherlock pushes the covers down. John stands up straighter, shoulders firming, jaw set.

"I'm sorry," Sherlock tells him, even though he knows it's useless. Inane.

John licks his lips. He says, "You can't wear it anymore."

Sherlock nods. He can't quite stop himself from reaching out. He says, "Just—"

He stops. John says nothing, does nothing, so Sherlock repeats himself, "Just." He can't manage anything else.

After a moment, John nods, sharp, like his neck is stiff, and then the mattress dips under his weight, once, twice, again, as he slides his legs under the blankets, and twists up to turn out the light.

 

When John first lay down beside him, Sherlock understood. He understood that they would be sleeping side by side. That was—that was fine, it was enough; it was better than John sleeping an ocean of empty air away on an entirely different mattress, between different sheets, alone. Sherlock understood, and so went to sleep beside John but not touching, a careful handspan between their bodies, and it was enough. He still wakes up wrapped around John's back, his face buried in John's shoulder, John's arm folded over Sherlock's arm folded over the base of John's ribs.

Sherlock shifts, then stills, uncertain, but John brushes his fingers down the back of Sherlock's, and his breath is slow, but not sleep-slow, not quite. The clock on the bedside table reads, 02:41, glowing red.

Sherlock swallows, and then, carefully, hesitantly, he kisses the side of John's neck. John is still for a single agonizing instant before he twists against Sherlock and mouth, sleep-sour and oh. Sherlock slides his hand into John's hair and pretends that he is forgiven. He slips his knee between John's knees, his arm around John's body, and John just pushes into him, against him, his skin hot through his undershirt, through Sherlock's undershirt which is John's undershirt and then John tugs so Sherlock tugs and then John is hot through Sherlock's skin which is also John's skin; John's, like Sherlock's everything. Sherlock wants to tell him, he wants to explain, but there are no words in which Sherlock will make sense so he gives John his breath and his sweat instead.

Sherlock shouldn't be here. No one should be here. No one should get to see him and John in this, like this; not even him. Not even him.

Not even him, so Sherlock closes his eyes.

 

(Much later, John says, "This is mine," and Sherlock says, "Yes," and then John hands him an undershirt, and Sherlock says, "Oh—that, yes," and then drops it off the side of the bed again.)

 

The next time Sherlock wakes up, the sun is sneaking in around the edges of the curtains, and John is made of shadow, silhouetted against the light.

"No," Sherlock says, and reaches for him, slides himself clumsily up to sitting as John stands and says, "I—coffee," and Sherlock says, "Oh, all right," before he realizes that John means to leave the room to get it.

Sherlock is still half-asleep, uncoordinated. It takes him seventy-three seconds too long to get on John's undershirt and his own too-small jeans and his shoes—no, wrong, other way, left to left and right to right—and: damn it. He fumbles for his key—not on the bedside table, not by the hula dancer, not in his wallet, damn it—and then gives up and scrambles out the door after John empty-handed. John's probably brought his key. He's good at keeping track of things like that.

John looks over at him, surprised.

"The coffee in the hotel room will be terrible," Sherlock explains for him. John shrugs, and Sherlock stuffs his hands in his pockets. His arms are prickling with goosebumps. The air is clean and sharp, cleared by the storm. It's very early. He should've brought his coat.

"I would've brought you some," John tells him.

"I know," Sherlock says.

"I do know how you take your coffee," John says, and Sherlock clears his throat and stops, touches John's elbow. John stops too, and Sherlock looks at the nothing important over John's left shoulder and says, "I know."

John turns away. After a second or two he starts walking again, and Sherlock tucks his hands back into his pockets and falls into step at John's side.

"Cold?" John asks, after a minute.

"Mm," Sherlock concedes, and John doesn't reply.

When John turns off to the right, Sherlock follows, up into a sleepy-looking restaurant with plastic tables and Led Zeppelin coming in staticky over the radio. The man working the grill has grey whiskers that hang down off the sides of his chin and a tattoo of a pair of robins on his forearm. The girl dealing out coffee refills has freckles and frizzy auburn hair in a long ponytail and is worrying about her exams (summer term, Year Twelve—no, Eleven, probably, because the Americans do their numbering differently). It's half seven in the morning on a Saturday and Sherlock feels naked, which is appropriate, because he practically is. He follows John into a red-upholstered booth and hunches up his shoulders, does anything but complain when the girl comes over with two mugs and pours them out coffee without even asking.

"Hi, Mr. Watson," she says, and Sherlock blinks at her, then over at John, because he thinks for once Mr. Watson is probably not him. "Came by for the pancakes, huh?"

"Well, figured we could use the recommendation," John says, smiling. "Sh—Shelly, this is Robert, my cousin. Robert, this is Shelly. Shelly won twenty dollars off me playing darts last night."

"Hello," Sherlock says awkwardly, because Shelly is turning a little pink and smiling down at her notepad, and only John could go out for dinner alone in North Dakota and pick up a seventeen-year-old girl.

"Mike says thank you, by the way," Shelly says, and—well, that's— "Pancakes?"

"Yes, please," John says, and then looks over at Sherlock and says, "Shelly recommends the pancakes," and Sherlock has no idea what's going on, so he says, "I—all right," because apparently he's getting the pancakes. She taps her notepad and nods, then heads back into the kitchen.

"What?" Sherlock asks John, and then reaches for the sugar.

John sips his coffee. "Her boyfriend works at the pizza place," he says, voice flat. "We talked a bit last night, and then Shelly challenged me to a game of darts and won, and then told me she worked at a diner with good pancakes."

"Did you let her win?" Sherlock says absently, trying to figure out why John would be— "Army?" he asks, putting it together.

"No, Air Force," John says, and Sherlock restrains his impulse to roll his eyes because they have had that argument before, and John left that time, too, but also came back. John clears his throat. "Almost finished with school, evaluating his options. And—no, I didn't let her win, she's just good."

"Reassuring," Sherlock says, before he's really thought about it, and then looks up, feeling his face heating up. John's watching him over his coffee, mouth tense. Sherlock clears his throat and turns to look out the window.

"You thought I went out for—what, pizza and a shag?" John says, under his breath.

Sherlock shakes his head, brow wrinkling together. "No, no," he says, and then swallows.

John sips his coffee and is silent. Eventually Shelly brings out their food, and then Sherlock has something to do with his mouth besides not saying things.

 

The car park is damp, muddy near the entrance. Closer to the rooms, the gravel is built up higher. It crunches under their feet.

"So," John says, a little awkwardly. "At some point you probably should explain the job to me."

"It's—there isn't anything to explain, yet," Sherlock says. He can see the numbers on the blue-painted motel room door getting closer and closer, which feels strangely and frighteningly final. He stops, so John stops. "She wants me to come up with something," Sherlock says, and then clears his throat and says, "I want to fix this."

John frowns. "She wants you to—what?"

"No, no," Sherlock says. "She—ignore her. She's not important. I want—John."

"Oh, we're talking about this?" John says, and then laughs, and shakes his head, and keeps walking.

Sherlock takes two long steps to catch up with him. "That's what people do, isn't it?" he says, and John turns to look at him. "I mean." Sherlock swallows, and adds, "I don't—I don't know how to fight with you, John."

"You fight with me all the time," John says, digging out his key.

"Yes, but usually it's because I've done something awful and I understand why it's awful and you don't understand why it isn't important," Sherlock tells him, and John sucks in a breath.

"Fuck you," John says, tightly. "This is—"

"John," Sherlock says, but John shakes his head, gripping the door handle, and says, "No, just—just. Stop."

Sherlock stills and is silent.

He watches John, his knuckles pale, fingers wrapped tight around the door handle, his throat working. Sherlock wants to touch the hair at the nape of John's neck with his fingertips, his mouth; wants to rub his palms into John's shoulders until they melt and sink under his hands, until John exhales, sinks back into his own body with Sherlock's body, like coming home. John's mouth is flat, and his eyes are closed, and then he sighs, his hand slackening, and unlocks the door. As Sherlock steps in after him, John rubs at his face, shrugging off his jacket and dropping it over the back of his chair. It slides off, lands on the floor. John doesn't pick it up.

Sherlock throws the bolt, then leans his back against the door. He says, very quietly, "Help me fix it."

"Fix what," John says, voice low and raw. John rubs at his face again, then shrugs, shaking his head, unsettled. John hasn't been taking off his shoes. He doesn't take them off now. He looks up at Sherlock now, eyes wide, mouth narrow. John says, "You—I don't even know what you were thinking."

I am, Sherlock thinks, which he can't say. He says, "Marcus was—"

"No," John says. "That—there was something else, before that, I saw you, Sherlock, I saw you think it and not say it and when have you ever edited yourself around me?"

"Since I started wondering if the next place you went alone would be the airport," Sherlock tells him, and that. That wasn't edited at all.

John exhales, very slow. After a minute, he says, "I wouldn't do that."

Sherlock says nothing, and John's mouth goes tighter, narrower, flatter.

"If I do that," John says evenly, "I will tell you, first."

"In person," Sherlock says, quickly.

"Yes," John says, looking at him steadily. "In person, Sherlock."

"You will tell me in person and you will be sure I understand," Sherlock says. It's humiliating. He's speaking too quickly. His words are running into each other.

Something in John's face shifts marginally, indecipherable, as Sherlock is explaining, "Because I don't, always," his voice flat.

"You." John hesitates, and licks his lips. He says, "You don't always understand."

"No, I don't," Sherlock agrees, sharp and biting. "I—I don't, you aren't a body, John, so I don't always understand, and you, you leave, and I know you're leaving, but then you come back, which is rarely what I expect, so—"

"Oh, Jesus, Sherlock," John says, dropping his head down, and Sherlock stops and wishes, not for the first time, for ⌘-Z, backspace, delete; he shakes his head and says, "No, stop—never mind, it isn't important, I just." His throat closes up, and he stops, shakes his head. He can't afford to release any of the words that are swarming just inside the top of his chest.

"It is important," John says, for the first time in twenty-four hours without rancor, and Sherlock shakes his head, and says, "Don't—stop, I don't need your pity, I don't—" and John says, "Stop," in the tone he only uses on special occasions like breaking into government labs, so Sherlock stops.

John licks his lips, and says, in his everyday voice, "All right."

Sherlock swallows and looks up at the ceiling. John is standing approximately two meters away from him, not far. Sherlock keeps his back to the door. It seems safest that way.

John exhales and turns his head to the side. He's looking down at his jacket, puddled on the floor. "The worst thing for you would be—me leaving," he says, a little lopsided, voice dropping down at the end.

Sherlock's lungs are full; dangerous. He purses his lips, just slightly, and exhales carefully through his mouth, for a count of eight. He trusts himself more by the end.

"Yes," he says.

"And you—d'you think that's likely, then?" John asks, roughly, and then looks up at Sherlock's face.

Sherlock can't say anything. His whole body feels pulled and cramped, wearing a skin two sizes too small.

John licks his lips, then says, "If we are—partners." He sounds uncertain.

Sherlock manages to nod.

"If we're partners," John repeats, more steadily, "you have to—I can't navigate you by guesswork, Sherlock."

"You." Sherlock swallows. "You—understand me."

"Yeah, sometimes," John says, quietly. "And I—I think I get a lot of the—the surface stuff. But I—I would've sworn—sworn, Sherlock, that you wouldn't ever actively lie to me, and I—"

"I had to," Sherlock says, looking over at him.

"I—I know that you think that," John says, uneven, "but I—I would've sworn, Sherlock, I would've sworn to—to Mrs. Hudson and your brother and—and Greg, and—and anyone, that you would never actively lie to my face, I would've—I would've put money on that, I would've—but you did, and I spent almost a month thinking you were dead, so—so no, I don't always understand you. Not—not perfectly."

Sherlock watches him. John looks tired. He still looks—exhausted. In the night, when they—in the night. Sherlock should've made him go back to sleep.

"I'm so tired of having this fight with you." John's voice is thick. He shakes his head, reaches up, rubs at his face. "You can't keep me in the dark, Sherlock. If you want something, you have to tell me, I need to—"

"I want you to take off your shoes," Sherlock tells him.

"You." John stops. "What?"

Sherlock swallows and is silent.

John licks his lips. Sherlock counts his own breaths, one, two, and then John sits down on the edge of the still-made second bed, and unties his shoes. He pulls them off, arranges them side by side, and then removes his socks, first the left, then the right. He tucks one inside each shoe. Then he straightens up, still seated, and looks up at Sherlock's face.

"It's been a while," Sherlock says. "Since you—started going barefoot. In—the flat. Around me." His throat hurts.

John's mouth turns down. He leans forward, elbows on his knees, and then exhales, and his right hand comes up to his mouth, and rests there.

Sherlock swallows.

John exhales, rubs his hand against his mouth, drops it back down to his knees. He looks down at his bare feet and shakes his head and says, "I never have any doubts, about anything, when I'm touching you."

Sherlock swallows and says, "You should touch me more, then," very quietly, and John exhales and says, "God, I wish it were that easy."

Sherlock licks his lips. "I want—I want for you to not leave," he says, somehow.

"Right," John says, and sighs.

"If—if I have made a mistake," Sherlock tells him, "if I—if I am making mistakes, that's—that's always." He stops, and shakes his head. He says, "I don't want you to leave."

"That's not actually at the top of the list of things you need to worry about," John replies. It sounds defeated, which is terrible, pulling at all the uncomfortable parts of Sherlock, like his voice box and his liver and the corners of his mouth.

Sherlock takes a step, and then another, then steps in between John's knees and puts his hands on John's shoulders, John's face. John looks up at him—exhausted—and Sherlock says, quietly, "Can this be fixed?"

"It has to be," John says, a little roughly, and Sherlock runs his fingertips over John's face: his eyelids fluttering shut, his cheeks relaxing, the edges of his mouth softening under Sherlock's touch. John puts his hands on the backs of Sherlock's thighs, light.

"I'm sorry," Sherlock whispers, "I hate it when I hurt you," and John turns to press his face into Sherlock's belly, and breathes.

 

Eventually, John's breath against his belly settles into the shallow, hitching pattern of early-stage sleep, Sherlock's hand still sliding through his hair. Sherlock swallows and says, softly, "John," and John makes a startled noise and blinks up at him, but he still seems better than half under, even after Sherlock pushes him down onto his back. The bed is still made up, wrinkled where John sat on the far edge, but otherwise undisturbed.

"No," John mumbles, when Sherlock pulls back, and Sherlock says, "It's all right, you're asleep," and rubs his hand over John's belly, and John sucks in a breath and then tangles his hand up with Sherlock's and exhales, dragging Sherlock's hand up to his chest. Sherlock is startled, but lets him, and then John rolls over onto his side, and Sherlock has to lie down behind him, or take his hand back. Sherlock licks his lips, then settles down onto his side.

His arms and ankles are still bare. The air conditioner is still on. He gives John half an hour, tries for longer, but the goosebumps are a bit too much to ignore. He works his hand free, carefully, gently, but by that point John is basically unconscious, so he probably needn't have bothered. John doesn't wake up when Sherlock gets up to grab the blankets off the other bed and spread them over him, or when Sherlock gets up again, ten minutes later, to use the toilet and make a pot of truly execrable coffee. He doesn't wake up when Sherlock shaves or showers or digs out clean clothes (the jeans and pants are his; the shirt and undershirt are John's, because for this, Sherlock thinks, he ought to blend in as best he can, and as long as he rolls up the sleeves and no one looks at his shoes it makes for an excellent disguise). John only wakes up when Sherlock climbs back onto the bed an hour and forty-five minutes after getting off of it, and then only because Sherlock is bending to kiss his neck, his shoulder, his jaw, press his skin to John's skin until John mumbles, "What?" and blinks up at him, more than a little foggy.

"I brought you a sandwich," Sherlock tells him, reaching over to the bedside table. "And tea."

"Tea?" John asks, sitting up.

"Awful tea," Sherlock admits, handing over the cup. "It came from the petrol station. But—there's milk, so."

John looks down at the cup, then up at Sherlock. He licks his lips and says, "Thank you."

Sherlock swallows, nods.

John takes a sip of tea, then sighs, long and slow, his shoulders sinking down, not quite into normalcy. Sherlock watches him. John misses proper tea, he knows; John's always been a bit of a snob about tea, but Sherlock knows John misses the routine of it, too. He wonders what else John misses, if John's chest aches the same way Sherlock's does when he thinks of the violin, the fireplace, of Mrs. Hudson's scoldings and homemade scones, or if the pain is different: in his hands? his abdomen? his knees? Sherlock wonders if John misses Sherlock lying on the sofa in his dressing gown the way Sherlock misses John in his chair with bare feet and his laptop, complicated and closed-in and somehow secret, shared with Sherlock, with Sherlock, and no one else. When Sarah had been over, John had kept his shoes on until he took her up to his bedroom.

Sherlock clears his throat, then says, as steadily as he can manage, "Is it likely?"

"Is what likely?" John looks up at him.

"Is it likely that you will leave." Sherlock is having a hard time looking at John's face.

John's breath hisses against the plastic of the lid on his tea. "Have you done something else that I ought to know about?" he says. Sherlock can tell it's meant to be a joke, but John's voice is too strained to make it come out quite right.

"I'm—concerned." Sherlock shifts, cracking his spine. "I am aware that—that it can be problematic, if there is a disconnect between—between the individual desires of people who are—involved. In a relationship. That is—well, it leads to rather a lot of murders, in my professional experience, so I don't think it's entirely bizarre that I would be anxious about—"

"Stop," John says, so Sherlock stops. John rubs at his face. He says, "I did just wake up, you know."

Sherlock exhales. "Sorry," he says.

"No, no, it's fine." John takes a sip of tea. "You're—you think there's a disconnect between us, and I'll leave you over that."

"It's a reasonable assumption," Sherlock says.

"Right," John says. "So—what, you'll want something, and that'll be more disturbing to me than the severed head in the fridge?"

"That was one time, and—" Sherlock starts, but John's mouth quirks, so Sherlock stops, and ducks his head.

"There's always a disconnect," John says. "Between—between people. It's—two minds, you know. We're not actually the same person, so—of course we're not perfectly in sync. You—you think different things, and you—muddle along. It's just what happens. I mean, I—I'm pretty sure you know that."

"How would I know that?" Sherlock asks, and then presses his mouth together.

"Well, as you said." John takes another sip. "Professional experience."

"My professional experience is exclusively with the rather catastrophic failures," Sherlock reminds him. "I have absolutely no experience of people in functional relationships."

John pauses. "I." He stops, then sighs. "Sorry, I—I suppose I should've known that."

Sherlock shifts. "With your—girlfriends," he says, even though it makes him uncomfortable.

"I really hope you're not about to use me and my ex-girlfriends as examples of functional relationships," John says. "I mean—for one thing, Sherlock, none of them stuck around for very long, and for another, rather a lot of them threw things at me on their way out."

"Ah." Sherlock swallows. "You—do you know any?"

"Functional relationships?" John asks, looking over.

Sherlock nods, and slides his legs up onto the mattress, sitting properly with his back against the headboard, not half a meter away from John. John sips his tea.

"Mike and Norah," he says, finally. "As far as I know."

"Right." Sherlock clears his throat.

The silence stretches out. Sometime after Sherlock's fingertips start to go a bit numb, but before John's quite finished his tea, John says, "For what it's worth. I think that I can."

He stops, and Sherlock looks over at him. "Can what?"

"I think that I can—live with it," John says, a little hesitantly. "If we aren't perfectly—together. If it's something that we—both know about. I can live with that."

Sherlock turns his head, looks down past the foot of the bed, at their reflections, dimmed and distorted, in the television screen.

"Can you?" John asks.

Sherlock breathes out. "Yes," he says.

John nods beside him and before him, in counterpoint.

Sherlock blinks his eyes, shifting through the possibilities, and then says, a hair too fast, "You—you're concerned that there is a disconnect. A specific disconnect. Of which I am not aware."

John licks his lips. "Yes," he says, quietly.

"Oh," Sherlock says.

John sips his tea.

"What is it?" Sherlock asks, even though he isn't certain he wants to know the answer.

"You first," John says, and Sherlock falls silent.

After a minute, Sherlock says, "I have to—I have to go. Out. To the oil fields. For the, um. Case."

John's quiet.

"I'd like it if you came," Sherlock says, finally, and then straightens out his spine, cracks his neck.

"Yeah," John says. "Just let me—um, get dressed."

 

It's over an hour's drive each way, through a boundless stretch of flat grassland that Sherlock, at least, finds disorienting. The horizon unbalances his sense of distance, of magnitude and space, and, in a way that makes sense relativistically but not on a more macrocosmic scale, his sense of time. He keeps having to check the clock in the rental car, being simultaneously surprised at how little time has passed, and how much. It doesn't seem to bother John the same way. He sits in the passenger seat and drinks his tea, eats his sandwich efficiently, neatly, without dropping lettuce on the floor, and then watches the clumps of grass slide by (theme, with uninteresting variations).

"Do you want to be able to tell me?" John asks, seven and a half minutes after he finishes his sandwich.

Sherlock watches an insect spatter at the corner of the windscreen. They're bigger here.

"I mean." John clears his throat. "I'm—you're afraid."

"I'm not afraid," Sherlock says instantly.

John turns and looks out the window.

Sherlock clears his throat. "I," he begins, then clears his throat again. "Sorry."

"I mean," John says, "if you're—if you're hiding things because you're afraid I'll leave if you tell me—well, it's bullshit, but at least I understand it. If you're just hiding things from me because you don't think it's important that I know..."

Sherlock licks his lips, then pulls the car off to the side of the highway, even though it's probably unnecessary; they've seen precisely four other vehicles since leaving behind the city proper, and all of them were headed in the other direction. Sherlock rolls down the windows, then turns off the ignition.

"I have no sense of what is and is not acceptable between us," Sherlock says. He reaches out, adjusts the vent to his left, even though the car is off. "I can—go by what I know—"

"Which is?" John interrupts.

Sherlock squints up at the sun, still hanging bright and high ahead of them. "Um—books and things," he says, awkwardly.

"What, like—from school?" John asks.

Sherlock hesitates. "Sometimes," he says.

"Ah," John says.

Sherlock props his elbow up on the edge of the rolled-down window, rests his chin on his hand. "I—I keep wishing," he says, and then takes a deep and fortifying breath. "I keep wishing I could talk to Molly."

John stiffens.

"Not." Sherlock sighs. "Not in that—not in that—oh, hell." He rubs at his face. "If I ask her questions incorrectly, she seems to be able to translate, and it doesn't matter what she thinks of me."

"And you can't ask me questions," John says.

"It matters what you think of me," Sherlock replies, very low.

"At some point," John says, "you have to trust me."

"I do trust you," Sherlock says. His throat hurts.

"Not in the ways that matter," John says, and ducks his head, rubbing his thumb over the knee of his jeans.

Sherlock turns his head, pressing his knuckles to his mouth. He can hear a mechanical whine, somewhere in the distance; some type of mower, he thinks. It's not a model he recognizes. His heart is pounding.

"You asked," Sherlock starts, and then has to clear his throat. "You asked me what I was thinking."

John inhales, straightens in his seat.

Sherlock breathes out. "I was thinking that—that I am." He breathes in, then out again. "I was thinking that—that I am, and you're not."

John licks his lips, then says, "You were thinking that you are," voice trailing off, uncertain.

"Married," Sherlock says, and then presses his lips together.

John is silent.

After a minute, Sherlock nods, and then turns the key in the ignition, and pulls the car back out onto the highway.

 

They spend about three hours in and around the oil fields, moving the car in fits and starts. Sherlock has to convince four separate people he's an inspector; the third looks at his feet, which briefly makes Sherlock worry that things are about to get interesting, but John's hands are resting behind his back in a way that anyone less familiar with his body might think meant he was relaxed, but mostly, in point of fact, means that he is armed. No one seems to question John's presence, which Sherlock notes, tags, and mentally files for later review. It's a significant complication, that the work isn't shut down even this late on a Saturday afternoon, but Sherlock can see enough to tell that this is only a fraction of the activity he'd see during the week.

"Come back on Monday, then," John suggests, once they're back out onto open prairie road, the traffic and half-grown towns and settlements closer in vanished far behind them. "See how they properly operate."

Sherlock pokes at the air vents and says nothing. John's driving. Despite the utter lack of other people or vehicular traffic, John has been obeying the posted speed limits and indicating all his turns, which is infuriating. Sherlock doesn't want to think about what it will be like, another thirty-six hours trapped with John in a motel room with two beds and not much to distract them but everything Sherlock can't say and John won't. Maybe John will sleep. Sherlock knows that he won't be able to.

In the driver's seat, John sighs, slow, and then says, "Are you sulking about the case, or me?"

Sherlock swallows. "I'm not sulking intentionally," he says.

"It speaks," John murmurs, and Sherlock sighs, shaking his head, eyes sinking shut.

Sherlock counts six heartbeats, and then John says, "Sorry," in an undertone.

"No, I'm." Sherlock swallows. "I'm—today has been." He opens his eyes, straightens his spine, looks straight ahead. "I'm not—comfortable or familiar with. With this sort of." He sets his jaw.

"Domestic?" John supplies, and then laughs, short and tense, and shakes his head. "Christ."

Sherlock's mouth is turning up, mostly against his will.

"Mrs. Hudson would tell me to make you a cup of tea and apologize," Sherlock says, and when John laughs properly at that, Sherlock adds, "And to clean out the fridge," and John laughs again, hunching over the steering wheel, gasping, "Shit, Jesus," and then flipping on his indicator and pulling over so he can laugh as hard as he wants, bent forward with his eyes scrunched shut and his hands on the wheel. He doesn't put the car into neutral, just keeps his foot on the brake.

Sherlock turns to look at him. "You just indicated," he says. "You just indicated to pull off an utterly deserted road, honestly, John."

"Oh, shut up," John says, and then slumps back in his seat, dropping his head back, eyes closed.

Sherlock looks out the windscreen. It's a lovely day, actually. It's been hard to notice. But the other side of that vast, disorienting horizon is the drowning-deep blue of a wide clear sky, supersaturated and darkening as the sun slips lower and lower behind them. Sherlock breathes in, and reaches over, and slides the gear lever into neutral, and then reaches under John's elbow, pressed against the steering wheel, to turn off the ignition.

John looks at him. "Giving new meaning to 'backseat driver,'" John says, but without rancor.

"I'm not in the back seat," Sherlock says.

John is watching him.

"I didn't assume anything about you," Sherlock says.

"Yes," John says. "You did."

Sherlock swallows. "Was I wrong?" he asks.

"Yes," John says.

Sherlock shakes his head. He says, "I wasn't."

"Yes," John says, voice tight. "You were."

Sherlock doesn't say anything.

After a minute John exhales and leans back into his seat. After a minute, he says, "Is there—is there a question, in your mind, about whether or not we've been talking about this being permanent?"

Sherlock swallows.

John looks at him again. "Because—because I thought we were talking about this being permanent," he says.

With the engine off and the windows rolled up, the car is already getting stuffy. Sherlock breathes out, which is more difficult than he expects.

John rubs at his eyebrow. "You're the love of my life," he says, very quietly. "I already told you that. Were you not paying attention?"

Sherlock swallows. He says, "I want to be able to ask you to marry me."

"I want you to stop acting like that is a one-time, single-answer question," John says, voice tense.

Sherlock turns and looks out the window.

"You can't be married to me on your own," John says. "It—that isn't how it works. It is—it has to be mutual, that's what it means."

Sherlock breathes out.

"In Munich," John says, a little unsteadily, "if you had asked me to marry you, I would have told you no, you're insane, and we'd better be damn fucking sure that we know how to be in love with each other before we go down that road."

Sherlock swallows. He says, "You would've left."

"No, I bloody well wouldn't have left," John says, low and very fierce. "I—I don't, I can't leave, I don't know how to leave, and—and that has to stop being how you decide whether or not this is working."

Sherlock tries to take a breath, which is useless. He reaches out and pulls the handle on the door, cracks it open, for a hint of cooler breeze. John exhales and drops his head back, breathing deep.

"God," John mutters, and closes his eyes.

"How, then?" Sherlock asks.

"How what?"

"How do we decide whether or not this is working?" Sherlock asks.

"Are you happy?" John asks. "With me?"

Sherlock turns to look at him. "Right now?"

"Yeah," John says.

Sherlock looks away, says nothing.

"Yeah," John says, straightening in his seat. He turns the key in the ignition and says, "Me neither. Close your door."

 

Eleven minutes farther down the road, John asks, "Where do you keep it?"

"Hm?" Sherlock draws himself up out of himself, turns to look at John.

"The ring," John asks.

"Oh," Sherlock says, blinking. "I—" He stops, with in my wallet perched, precarious, just on the tip of his tongue.

He hesitates for long enough that John's shoulders are drawing themselves up, his hands tightening on the wheel, so Sherlock forces himself to say, "It—you—there are two, you know."

Sherlock watches John's profile, watches him blink twice, hard and fast. "You—" John stops. "Two?" He glances over, quick, then back to the road, twisting his hands towards himself without turning the wheel, so that his wrists are tensed, bent sharply.

"Yes," Sherlock says. His heart is beating fast, like a bird's. He says, "There have always been two."

"Oh," John says, and falls silent.

Sherlock turns back, looks out the windscreen. He says, "You—you didn't know that."

"No. Nope." In Sherlock's peripheral vision, John shakes his head. "No, I—I did not know that."

"Oh," Sherlock says, and then, "In my wallet."

"What?" John says, and then, "Oh, you—really?"

"Is it better or worse, that there are two?" Sherlock asks. "Yes, they're leaving marks. In the leather."

"No, right," John says, nodding. "That's—that's a stupid place to keep them."

Sherlock licks his lips. He asks, "Is it better or worse?"

John is quiet. Sherlock leans forward, adjusts the vent again.

After a minute, John says, "It's not worse."

"Not worse," Sherlock echoes.

John licks his lips and repeats, very quietly, "It's not worse," and then falls silent.

John doesn't say anything else until he's pulling into the motel's car park, Sherlock already unfastening his seat belt.

"Sherlock," John says, very quietly.

Sherlock glances over.

John is looking straight ahead. After a minute, he says, "Marcus," as he slides the car into neutral.

Sherlock swallows, then nods, very slowly.

John turns off the engine. "If it was just to—to avoid those situations," he says, "if you just want to—not get attention, you could—it would be—fine, if you—if you told me, if you wanted to wear a ring."

Sherlock turns away quickly, stares out to his right, across the car park, at the ice maker, nestled into an alcove on the other wing of the motel.

"Just." John takes a breath, and says, "Just, not—not that ring. Not a ring with a—a mate."

Sherlock doesn't often find himself surprising himself, but the coiled thread of agony that winds its way down through his abdomen at that thought does surprise him. He wonders when that stopped being part of it. He wonders, uncomfortably, if it ever was.

"No," he says. It comes out hoarse, so he clears his throat, and tries again. "No, that's—that's not, um." He can't find the right words.

"That's not," he starts, then swallows, and says, "That's not what I want."

"All right." John licks his lips.

"But thank you," Sherlock says.

John nods, and undoes his seat belt, opens the door.

 

Inside the room that he shares with John, Sherlock sits at the table and regards his hula dancer, his cigarettes. Surprise me, Moran had said, but Sherlock is beginning to wonder if he was made for this work, because as easily as crimes already committed spool themselves out flat and untangled for his regard, he finds, in committing them himself, that he is occasionally somewhat at a loss.

Part of the problem is Minot itself, with a military base to the north and oilfields to the south and west, with seventeen-year-old girls who can beat John at darts, and their boyfriends, who are thinking about joining the military. Sherlock has no true sense of this place, and he knows it. In any other chapter of his life, Minot would be nothing more than noise in the signal; something to be filtered out, disregarded, and deleted. But Moran had said, Surprise me, and sent him here to make for her a gift, and nothing that Sherlock can think of is clever, or unusual, or acceptable.

"I'm going out," John says, twice. The first time he says, "Just for a walk, I'll be back," and waits for Sherlock to nod, then comes back forty-seven minutes later with the spicy-sharp smell of his sweat whispering to Sherlock from the collar and underarms of John's shirt, which John wears, in July, in North Dakota, with the sleeves rolled up. Sherlock wants to stand close to John, to bury his face in those magnetic places, to lick them until John's taste on his tongue mingles with the smell of his saliva for both of them, until he can't tell the difference any longer. He doesn't do that. Sherlock wasted forty-seven minutes examining his records of John's essential self in the dark, no-longer-safe places inside his mind, the mess of his memories fully occupying the whole of his not insignificant intellectual attention; now that John is back and safe and smelling, just slightly, of sweat, Sherlock hopes that he can get something done.

He makes notes on unused serviettes, on the blank sheets of the hotel notepad they stole in New York (the filled sheets, he tears off and stuffs back in his laptop bag, then ignores). His Google search history gets increasingly and frustratingly ridiculous. He wishes, futilely, that he knew rather more about oil drilling, or that oil were something easily pilfered, like an ashtray, or a mobile phone, or John's undershirts. It's fully dark before John says, "I'm going out," for the second time, adds, "Getting hungry," and then drops his hand, warm, against the back of Sherlock's neck, just for a moment, before drawing it back. "Requests?"

Sherlock wants to say, Your hand, but he can't, so he says, "Um—not pizza," and John makes an affirmative sort of a noise, and leaves.

Sherlock thinks he can still feel the pressure of John's hand against his neck. He knows that that is untrue. His skin insists, anyway. Sherlock swallows and pushes up to his feet, his hands shaking on the edge of the table. He grabs his cigarettes, his lighter. He still can't remember where he's put his key, so he folds the latch out to hold the door propped open, stands just at the edge of the graveled car park and smokes one, two, a third he shouldn't smoke, a fourth he really doesn't want, and then, feeling vaguely ill, tosses the rest of the pack in the rubbish bin beside the stairs and heads back into the room. He keeps the lighter; lighters are often useful.

Sherlock sets the lighter down on the table, between his laptop and the hula dancer. The figurine manages to be somehow terrible, in ways he can enumerate but not fully explain: the incongruous fact of her existence, here, amid vast oceans of prairie; the lines from the mold still embossed on her sides; her permanent pink-painted smile. As a child, Sherlock had disliked anthropomorphic toys. He had found their insistently cheerful expressions disturbing, contextually inappropriate; false in a way that smacked of betrayal. He remembers the summer when he was six and Mycroft thirteen, when the combined lot of their Lego men (long since wholly abandoned to Sherlock) had walked the plank with smiles on their faces, and Sherlock had buried them in the garden. His mother had turned them up while planting bulbs in the autumn and given him a comprehensive scolding as she rinsed them off under the kitchen tap; that night, he'd hid them in his grandmother's handbag, and when she'd asked them if he wanted her to take them away, he'd nodded, so she had. He remembers that at six the relentless optimism of his Lego men was frightening; thirty years later, on the hula dancer, it merely makes him uncomfortable, but he doesn't know why. Sherlock wishes he could talk to Molly.

He doesn't register the sound of the door until John's coming past his right side. Sherlock looks up at him, and John gives him a half-smile and sits in the other chair, setting a grease-spotted paper bag on the table.

"Any luck?" John asks, fishing out a wrapped hamburger and then pushing the bag towards Sherlock's laptop.

"No." Sherlock really isn't hungry, but he takes his hamburger out of the bag anyway, sets it next to his hula dancer. "I have plenty of ideas," Sherlock explains, and then rubs at his hair. "They're just—bad ideas."

John frowns. "Such as?"

"Well, any area where work is booming faster than the community can grow to support the workers and their families tends to afford certain opportunities," Sherlock says. "There's a reason why the character of frontier towns tends to be similar, in certain ways, across cultures. Prostitution, I imagine, would be particularly lucrative, given the number of women we saw."

John pauses, then finishes chewing, then swallows. "We didn't see any women," he says.

"Precisely," Sherlock agrees, and John says, "I know."

Sherlock shakes his head. "I'll find something else." He unwraps his hamburger, then picks off the tomato—the first slice of tomato; there are two—and examines it. It looks fine, so he eats it by itself. It is, in fact, delicious, so he eats the other slice, too. When he looks up again, John is watching him, mouth quirked up.

"Shut up," Sherlock tells him.

John swallows a small noise and says, "I didn't say anything," smiling, and something inside Sherlock's chest twists uncomfortably.

After a minute, he says, "You can laugh at me, if you want to," still watching John's face.

John's smile slips, just a little.

Sherlock looks back down at his hamburger.

It's another seven minutes before John gets up from the table. Sherlock waits until he hears the pipes rattle in the walls, the dull roar of the bathroom fan, then folds the paper back around his hamburger, uneaten. He considers the refrigerator, the rubbish bin outside at the foot of the stairs. After a minute, he licks his lips, unfolds the wrapping again, and takes one tentative bite, then another, then another. It is a small thing. It is a small thing, something John cares about, and it is within his power; so he does it, until it is done. Then he folds the latch out and tosses the rubbish in the bin outside, to get rid of the smell, and comes back inside to John standing at the sink with a towel around his waist, the small of his back shiny and damp.

Sherlock swallows, and bolts the door, then drags his eyes up over John's back and shoulders, and meets his eyes in the mirror.

John blinks at him, then looks back at his jaw, draws the razor along his skin in another smooth swipe, then rinses the blade, and does it again. Sherlock stands by the door and watches him in the mirror. Another broad swath of skin revealed, and another, and another, flushing, just barely, pink. Sherlock watches John check his work with his fingertips, but Sherlock knows that John didn't miss anything.

"Last August," Sherlock says.

"Mm," John says, and then turns the tap on, rinses his face.

"In August," Sherlock says, "I bought two tomatoes. On the seventh."

John looks up at him in the mirror.

"They weren't perfect," Sherlock says. "Acceptable, but not perfect. And then—for all of August and the better part of September, we had tomatoes, whenever I went into the kitchen. At least one. Two, if you'd just done the shopping. And then it got cold, and the tomatoes—vanished."

"You like tomatoes," John says, and reaches for the hand towel to dry his face.

"You asked for extra, on mine," Sherlock says. He crosses his arms. "There was only one slice of tomato on yours."

John shrugs. He says, "You like tomatoes."

"But in January," Sherlock says, "and twice in February and again in April and in May, you—you asked them to leave it off." He crosses his arms. "I—I didn't tell you, I never—if you had asked me I would've said I hate tomatoes."

John hangs up the hand towel. "You do," he agrees, "most of the time."

Sherlock swallows, and tells him, "I can understand—many things, but I don't know if I'll ever be able to tell how to do that for you."

John rests his palms on the edge of the counter, watching Sherlock in the mirror. Like this, John's face is reversed, unfamiliar; the way John sees himself.

"I wish I could," Sherlock admits.

"I just want you to be honest with me," John says, quietly. "It's not a lot to ask."

Sherlock rubs at his face. He says, "It was—unacceptable."

John's shoulders still.

"I—it was unacceptable," Sherlock says. "That—that people could look at me, and fail to see you. That was—I couldn't bear it. I thought it was—I thought it was that I, that I didn't like the—well, Marcus, but—but I, it was, it wasn't that, it was—it was unacceptable, even with people who—didn't; it was unacceptable that they looked at me and just saw me."

John doesn't move or breathe or speak. His mouth is tense and unhappy.

"I feel—cut up," Sherlock says, the words clumsy in his mouth. "I am—I am not myself, when I am by myself. And it was—wrong, to me, to be seen, by other people, as—as incomplete as I am, without you."

John exhales.

Sherlock leans his weight into the door. "I'm perfectly aware of the neurochemical basis for—for feeling this way," he says. "I can—I am aware, you know, that my biology is rational even if the resultant psychology is not. But knowing that doesn't make what goes on inside my head make any more sense."

John's shoulders sink fractionally. "Sherlock," he sighs, dropping his head down.

"It was—it was unacceptable," Sherlock says. "That's all. I know I wasn't—I know that I wasn't supposed to."

"I think this will work better, for us, if you go less by 'supposed to'," John says, quietly.

"Yes, thank you." Sherlock leans back against the door. "I have figured that out."

John swallows. He wets his toothbrush. Sherlock watches him brush his teeth, his tongue.

"You say I don't trust you," Sherlock says, low. "I—I am. I am not ever aware, of any place where trust could—be had, where it is not."

John rinses his mouth, then straightens up and says, very low, "It means—it means a lot to me. When you tell me things that—things that you think are—aren't. Allowed."

He meets Sherlock's eyes in the mirror.

Sherlock swallows. "I keep—worrying, that you will—know me better, and—um. Care less."

John says, "I kept one of your post-mortem photos."

Sherlock processes this. It takes him a minute, and then his spine contracts, tenses under his skin.

"I kept thinking," John says, voice steady, "'How can this be him? How can I—how can I recognize him so little?' And—and all the while I was—I was starting to—to question, I was—"

"Stop," Sherlock whispers, and John stops, shakes his head.

"It cuts both ways, you know," John says, quietly. "I kept a photo of Moriarty's body in my desk and looked at it while I was falling in love with you, and sometimes that makes me sick but it makes me sick because it was him and not—not, you know, not because it was an post-mortem photo, and you—you can't ever, you make—you make the worst decisions, and neither of us—neither of us knows any better."

Sherlock crosses, then uncrosses, recrosses his arms. He says, "Well, then."

John nods, and breathes out.

After a minute, John says, "I don't know how two people have a relationship that leads to something permanent. I've never done it. Obviously." He meets Sherlock's eyes in the mirror, and says, "Neither have you."

Sherlock rocks back on his heels. He asks, "Have you ever wanted to?"

"Have I ever wanted to what?" John asks.

"Marry someone," Sherlock says.

John rubs at his face. "In an abstract sense, yeah," he says. "In—in terms of, a specific relationship, with a specific person? No."

Sherlock's throat feels tight. "But you—might want to," he says, awkwardly. "Marry me."

John exhales, rests his knuckles on the counter, looking down. "I don't like what my life looks like without you," he says, unsteadily. "And I think—what you, what you want from me is. Terrifyingly easy to give."

Sherlock swallows.

"But if I—this is—sentiment, Sherlock, and I do know that," John says, looking back up at Sherlock's reflection. "I know that there's—there's no rational difference between saying, 'I won't ever leave you, I will stay with you forever,' when it—when it's true, but it's true because the alternative is unthinkable, and saying, 'I won't ever leave you, I will stay with you forever,' because I—I want that, because I'm getting what I need and want from you, and I'm—content. But."

"There's a difference," Sherlock says, quietly.

"I know there's a difference," John says.

"I want to give you what you need," Sherlock tells him. "I want you to be content."

"I know," John says. "But you—you don't generalize. You—you don't make the same mistake twice, but you keep making the same genre of mistake, over and over and over again. I need you to trust me enough to keep me in the loop, even if—even if you're worried that I will—think badly of you, or, or leave, which I won't, or even if—"

"What I'm thinking isn't—right," Sherlock explains. "But I want to behave correctly, with you."

"Don't," John says, under his breath. "Don't, just—just don't, Sherlock, you—you aren't that person, I am not that person, you—we both—we are wrong together, and it—it matches up."

Sherlock swallows.

"All I care about is that you're honest with me," John says, very quietly. "I want—you're a twisted bastard for everyone and I'm the only person who doesn't run, so of all fucking things, don't sugar-coat it for me."

Sherlock swallows. "All right," he says.

"All right," John echoes, without moving.

Sherlock is still for a long minute. He feels tentative, unbalanced. Sherlock isn't certain what he's supposed to do, but he knows what he wants to do, so he takes a step closer, and another, and again, until he can smell hotel soap and toothpaste and put out his hand and touch the damp skin at the small of John's back. John is watching him in the mirror. Sherlock looks down at his shoulder, in person, then up at his ear, his jaw, and then bends down and presses his mouth to John's cheek. John exhales, and turns towards him, turning his face up, and his mouth just touches Sherlock's mouth, gentle and chaste.

Sherlock tells him, "I need to brush my teeth."

"All right," John says, very quietly, and brushes his hand over the side of Sherlock's arm, squeezes lightly at his elbow, and then his wrist.

Sherlock touches his side, and John nods, and steps away. While Sherlock brushes his teeth, he watches John in the mirror, watches John dig out clean boxers, peel off his towel, rehang it in the bathroom. He watches John turn out all the extraneous lights, so that when Sherlock flips the switch next to the sink, all that is left is the sun-golden glow of the lamp between the beds. Sherlock strips down and puts on his pajama bottoms, tucks the day's clothes in with their dirty washing, which is getting to take up more space than they really have.

He pads over to their bed. John is sitting on the edge. "We should do our laundry tomorrow," Sherlock says, and John nods, so Sherlock climbs past him, to the other side of the bed, so that John can sleep on the side closer to the door.

 

Sherlock doesn't sleep much, that night. John does, though.

At midnight and two and four, John sleeps with his head tucked down into the back of Sherlock's shoulder, his breath warm against Sherlock's skin, his arm around Sherlock's waist and his hand wound up with Sherlock's hand, knotted together over Sherlock's ribs. Sherlock is awake, at four and two and midnight, watching the shadow-smudges that move against the wall with their every breath; counting John's sleep in his own heartbeats; grateful.

 

Sherlock doesn't sleep solidly until it's nearing morning, when he drifts off for long enough that John's nose rubbing against the nape of his neck is a surprise. Sherlock exhales, and stretches, and John's mouth presses against his shoulder, and Sherlock rolls over to face him, and opens his eyes.

John blinks at him, half-smiling. Sherlock breathes out and tucks himself into John's body, his knee between John's knees, his arm around John's waist, his face buried against John's neck, just for the instant it takes him to breathe in. He pulls his face up with his lungs full of John and kisses him.

John sighs, and presses his foot against Sherlock's calf. His right hand has meandered up to Sherlock's neck. He is rubbing his thumb against Sherlock's hairline. Sherlock exhales into John's mouth and runs his hand down John's back, which makes John shift closer. Sherlock kisses John's jaw, and again, and again, and then John presses his tongue against the corner of Sherlock's mouth, so Sherlock huffs, not laughing, and turns his head. John kisses him and kisses him and kisses him.

"I want," John breathes out, rocking the whole of his weight into Sherlock's body, "a cup of coffee."

Sherlock snorts, then laughs, and John buries his face in Sherlock's neck, mouthing, "No, really, I—I've been awake for almost an hour, you know," breath hot against Sherlock's skin.

"Right now?" Sherlock asks, sliding his hands down the back of John's boxers, and John sighs out and says, "Mm, I could—get it started brewing, and—Jesus." Sherlock switches from tongue to teeth, tugs lightly at John's earlobe. John breathes out, not quite a sigh, and says, "Coffee," and then kisses Sherlock's cheek, and makes no effort to move beyond the slow roll of his hips with Sherlock's hips.

"Do you want," Sherlock murmurs, and tugs at the waistband of John's boxers, and John breathes and lifts his hips, rubbing his mouth against Sherlock's jaw. Sherlock pushes John's boxers down, because off seems complicated, and then wraps his left hand—inconvenient, nothing to be done about it—around John's cock, satiny and hot against his palm. John pets up and down Sherlock's back, Sherlock's side, then traces his fingertips along a curve around—under the waistband of Sherlock's pajama bottoms—over the front of Sherlock's hip, searingly precise. Sherlock breathes the air from John's mouth and John whispers, "Shh, shh," and moves his right hand as Sherlock moves his left hand, tucked into the space cradled between their curved bodies.

Sherlock twists his right arm up (uncomfortable), and John shifts his weight, lets Sherlock tuck his elbow under John's neck. John smells like sleep and sweat and Sherlock, which is enchanting. Sherlock flattens his hand against the back of John's shoulder, and John curls his tongue against Sherlock's bottom lip, brushing the pad of his thumb over the head of Sherlock's cock, and down, and over, and down, and over and down and over.  Sherlock breathes in and in and in, heart pounding against the too-thin trembling walls of his cells, until John shakes his head and whispers, "Don't, don't hold back," and Sherlock breathes out, shoulders quaking. John whispers, "God," and kisses Sherlock's jaw, while Sherlock gulps down mountain-thin air, not even caring when John tangles his sticky hands in Sherlock's hair.

"God," John whispers, and "oh," and "Sherlock," and each syllable spills from his tongue and onto Sherlock's without touching air. Sherlock presses his weight into John and draws sounds from him with wrist and fingertips, makes John say, "Sherlock," and "Sherlock," and again "Sherlock," while Sherlock breathes unsteadily into John's mouth (mouth). John whispers, "Please," and Sherlock shakes his head, rendered mute and helpless, and mouthes, "Anything, anything," against John's clumsy parted lips as John goes tense, fingers twisting tight in Sherlock's hair as he pulses into Sherlock's hastily cupped hand.

Sherlock takes a shaky breath. Against him, John sinks by stages, goes meltingly pliant, his heat poorly contained in the shell of his skin. Sherlock tells himself to breathe and settles his body against John's body, his mouth against John's mouth, and lets John pull, just a little too hard, on his hair. Sherlock wipes his hand on the sheet and then tucks it back against John's skin, where it always ought to be.

I want this every morning, Sherlock thinks.

"I want this every morning," Sherlock whispers.

John tugs at Sherlock's hair, which is going to be impossible to wash. Sherlock doesn't care. John's still a little breathless when he murmurs, "Presupposes that you spend every night in bed."

"Your bed," Sherlock says quietly, and John's breath hitches, and Sherlock swallows and refuses to believe it was a mistake.

John's eyes are moving over Sherlock's face. "Your bed is bigger," he says finally, looking at Sherlock's mouth, then pulls his gaze up and meets Sherlock's eyes.

"Yours is further from Mrs. Hudson's flat," Sherlock counters, and John snorts and laughs and says, "Maybe we should rearrange the furniture," and Sherlock's heart pops, like the air inside a soap bubble, bounding free.

Sherlock takes a deep breath; easy. "All right," he says, and John echoes, "All right," and breathes deep: unsteady in, even out.

"Still want coffee?" Sherlock asks, very quietly.

"Mm," John says, which isn't an answer, and then John stretches against him and then reaches up to tug at Sherlock's fringe. "Sorry," he whispers, and that isn't an answer, either, so Sherlock shakes his head and bends down to meet him again.

 

The coffee in the room is still atrocious.

"Fuck," John says, grimacing. Sherlock passes him the last packet of sugar without comment. John empties it into his cup and steals Sherlock's plastic stirrer. "Thanks," he says, and briefly brushes his fingertips against Sherlock's side.

It feels like a question. Sherlock doesn't know why; the answer will always be yes, but if John is still asking, John must not know that, so Sherlock tucks his toes not-quite-under the side of John's foot and leans back against the counter, which is sturdier than the general construction of their motel room might have otherwise led him to believe.

"Hungry?" John asks. He shifts, apparently for the sole purpose of settling his weight against Sherlock's body.

"Mm." Sherlock doesn't have a more concrete answer. He feels lighter than usual, hollowed out. He could eat. He tucks his arm around John's waist.

"We should shower," John says, and Sherlock asks, "Will we both fit?" and John says, "Oh, I didn't mean—" and then stops, and licks his lips, looks up at Sherlock's face.

Sherlock tells his expression to remain impassive. He's not certain it's listening.

John swallows, throat bobbing, then says, "Probably."

Sherlock drinks the last of his coffee and twists to drop the styrofoam cup in the bin under the sink.

"Don't humor me," he says, quietly, "unless not being interested in washing my hair actually means—"

John interrupts, "I want to wash your hair." He's looking up at Sherlock steadily, meeting his eyes.

"Can you even reach?" Sherlock asks, and the uncertain balance between them tilts over as John laughs, saying, "Oh, fuck right off," but in the end, he washes Sherlock's hair anyway.

In the shower, John's fingers are blunt against Sherlock's scalp, Sherlock's skin, and when Sherlock scratches John's back in reply, John hums and rocks up onto his toes, and Sherlock rubs his face against John's shoulder and gets shampoo up his nose. They don't really fit, in point of fact; the spray only covers about a third of one of them at any given time, and when they try to swap places to finish rinsing off, Sherlock bangs his elbow, twice. Then Sherlock shaves while John trims his toenails.

It's nice.

 

"What is that, even?" Sherlock asks, pointing with his fork.

"Hot sauce," John says, around a mouthful of potatoes.

Sherlock grimaces at him, and John laughs, tucking his hand in front of his mouth to hide the potatoes.

"It's good," John tells him, but Sherlock rubs his toast around in the runny yolk from his eggs and pretends to ignore him.

John takes a swig of coffee and looks out the window.

Sherlock clears his throat and says, "Today, we really should probably."

"Mm." John turns back to his plate, forking up another mouthful of potatoes.

Sherlock studies his face.

"Laundry," Sherlock says, finally.

"Right," John says. "There's—um, next to the lobby, there was a laundry room, wasn't there? I think they even have a machine that sells washing powder and things."

"Mm." Sherlock takes a gulp of coffee. The restaurant is busier today, but of course it's later in the morning; it's Sunday, too, and Sherlock experiences an odd, disconnected wash of familiarity at the sight of a family with two small sons (eight and five—no, not quite) in improbably crisp shirts and trousers, shined shoes. Under the table, he feels John's foot press against his, sudden and startling, almost like an accident, which it isn't. Sherlock breathes out, and John looks up at him, then back down, then takes a bite of egg. John chews and swallows and says, "Are you not going to eat your orange?" so Sherlock passes over his slice of orange.

"Bit eggy," Sherlock says, but John shrugs and eats it anyway.

"Refill on the coffee?" Shelly asks, patting the pockets of her apron for her pencil, which is tucked behind her ear. John straightens and asks, "Do you have takeaway cups?"

His foot is still resting against Sherlock's.

"Your pencil is, um," Sherlock says, pointing.

"Oh," she says, grabbing it, "thanks," and brings them the bill and two large coffees to go.

 

"Didn't we have another—thanks." Sherlock takes the packet of washing powder and starts feeding coins into the machine. John checks his other jacket pocket, then does up the zip and drops it in with their colors, the agitator tugging it down into the water in three quick jerks, before John can even get the lid down.

"That everything?" John asks.

"Um—yes." Sherlock turns their plastic laundry bags inside out, just to be sure, and then John steps close and slides his fingers into Sherlock's front pocket and tugs. Sherlock blinks at him, then twists to set the bags on top of the washing machine.

"There's a security camera," John murmurs, with his head ducked down. "Behind you."

"Oh," Sherlock says, off-balance.

"I want to kiss you," John says, and looks up, and Sherlock swallows and says, "All right."

John's mouth twists awkwardly, not quite a smile. "Later," he says, then takes his hand out of Sherlock's pocket and reaches past him to grab the plastic bags and move them to the other washing machine, for no reason whatsoever.

Sherlock clears his throat. "Do you think there's WiFi down here?"

John steps back and rubs at the back of his neck. "Probably." He clears his throat.

Sherlock crosses his arms, then uncrosses them again. "Give me your key," he says. "I can't find mine."

John reaches into his pocket, passes his key over. He says, "Grab mine too?"

Sherlock nods, then steps out. It's a quick job to cut across the corner of the car park, grab their laptops, clear out John's markers at the door and the window (as usual, undisturbed), and walk back. John's sitting in one of the hard plastic chairs, with his head tipped back against the wall; he twists to look up at Sherlock when he comes in.

"Everything all right?" John asks.

"Fine." Sherlock passes his key and his laptop down. "I put the housekeeping hanger out."

"Probably wise," John says, as Sherlock drops into the chair next to him. "We might want to stay in, later."

"Was that a come-on?" Sherlock asks, propping his laptop open on his knees.

"Aren't you a detective?" John asks.

"Mm." Mail pings softly, and Sherlock sighs, clicking over. Moran wants news; dull, predictable, and more than a little irritating. Sherlock resists the urge to glance up at the security camera, just pulls out his phone and sends a text: Right now I think I'm technically a failed criminal. John's phone buzzes between their hips, and John turns to look at him.

"Really?" John asks, under his breath.

"Shut up," Sherlock tells him, and turns back to his computer, opens a reply. "I'm working."

John digs out his phone. Sherlock tries not to watch his thumbs work; it's never anything other than painful. Sherlock finishes his email before checking his phone again.

Not going well, I take it?

I'm not exactly qualified, Sherlock thumbs out. You'd think she'd send in someone with some expertise in oil drilling, if she wanted to rip off the oil fields.

He sets his phone down on his knee and turns back to his computer, glancing over the futile mess of a plan he'd started to assemble the previous evening. He sighs. It's mostly worthless, but if he could get a consultant—

"Hm," John says beside him, and when Sherlock glances over at him, he's frowning. John holds his phone in both hands, typing carefully, and then tucks his phone into his pocket, just as Sherlock's buzzes. Sherlock tilts it up to look at the screen, just as John takes a breath and takes his phone out again.

Are you sure she's after the oil fields?

Sherlock glances over at him. John is typing another message, so Sherlock waits until his phone buzzes again: I mean, neither of us knows anything about oil drilling, but I do know something about the military.

Sherlock blinks down at the message, then swallows. He types, You have an idea.

It's agonizing, really, how slowly John types. Sherlock's phone does, eventually, buzz again.

Not really, it says, but I could probably come up with one.

Sherlock's chest feels too small. He thumbs out, Show me, and hits send, and John barely glances at his phone, just settles back into his plastic chair, which creaks under his weight. He angles his laptop so that Sherlock can see his screen, and gets to work.

 

Eventually, Sherlock notices that the washers have stilled. He stands and moves their laundry to the dryers as quickly as he can, hating the interruption; an hour later, as soon as the dryers buzz, he says, "You go ahead, I'll bring the laundry," and hands his laptop to John, too. John nods, standing, half jogging for the door. When Sherlock makes it back to the room with their plastic bags crammed full to overflowing, John's got their laptops set up again on the table. Sherlock's is still running the screensaver, but John's screen is bright and busy.

John asks, without looking up, "You know what this means, right?"

"We can make it work," Sherlock says, dumping the laundry onto the second bed. "You're biddable, remember?"

"How could I forget," John mutters, and says, "I need—can you get me personnel files? This would be easier, if I had specifics, I—"

"Give me half an hour," Sherlock says, pulling out his chair. "Hang up the shirts? They're getting crumpled."

"Yeah, just—" John starts, and Sherlock sits and says, "Yes, yes, I know, I'm hurrying," and John starts sorting through the laundry, pulling out both their shirts and shaking out the wrinkles. It only takes Sherlock twenty minutes to get John the records; he says, "All right," and turns his laptop towards John's and stands, grabbing John's nicer pair of khaki trousers out of John's hands so that John can sit back down. At two in the afternoon, John is still working, so Sherlock puts the last of their balled-up pairs of socks down next to the rest of their laundry on the foot of the bed and walks back up to the petrol station, buys four sandwiches, two large cups of tea, an enormous water bottle, a bag of crisps, and the two least dejected-looking apples he can find in the sad heap mounded on a table next to the ice cream cooler.

"You're a lifesaver," John tells him, some minutes later, then stuffs the entirety of a ham sandwich into his mouth in a series of four horrifying bites. John chews and swallows, with difficulty, then asks, "Do you have a plan?" and belches. He flushes, grabbing for his tea and mumbling, "Excuse me."

"I have... options," Sherlock says. "It depends on what you—"

"I have—an outline?" John says, squinting over at him. Sherlock holds up a second sandwich inquisitively, but John shakes his head, so Sherlock plugs in the refrigerator and tucks the extra sandwiches in the door. "I need you to look it over, though," John says, angling his laptop, so Sherlock pulls his chair around and skims John's notes, which display John's usual level of typographic errors and are, in most other regards, more or less without equal.

Sherlock licks his lips.

"Well?" John demands.

"Here," Sherlock says, pointing. "This, with the terrain here, it won't be possible to—"

"Right," John says, "I can fix that, it's not essential, just." He turns his laptop back towards himself, asking, "Anything else?"

"No," Sherlock says.

John finishes typing and tilts the computer back over.

"This won't be a one-time thing, you know," Sherlock says, skimming it over again, looking for gaps. "If we give her this, she won't settle for my work again."

John turns towards him. "She won't—what?"

"It's very good," Sherlock tells him, looking over. "The logistics are—"

"Complicated," John says, and sighs, and Sherlock shakes his head.

"The logistics aren't unworkably complicated," he says. "For an operation this size—well, I doubt she has problems with recruitment. If we give this to her, and I tell her the places it can break down—"

"So it might break down," John says, and Sherlock says, "Of course it might break down, that's not the point. The point is it isn't likely to break down, not without help from—well."

"You," John says, soft, and Sherlock shrugs.

"Or Mycroft," he concedes. "But essentially, yes."

John watches him.

Sherlock says, "I wouldn't have come up with this," and John says, "Yes, well, you haven't spent as much time with the Americans as I have," and Sherlock says, "Mycroft probably has, but I doubt he would've come up with this, either," and John rubs his face and shakes his head, half-laughing.

"Missed my calling, did I?" he asks, soft, and Sherlock leans in and murmurs, "Would've made my life more interesting," and John whispers, "Do that anyway, don't I?" and Sherlock says, "Yes," against John's mouth.

John breathes, so Sherlock breathes with him. John tucks his hand behind Sherlock's neck, and holds. Sherlock slides his fingers down and tugs at the side of John's shirt until—warm. John's belly jumps, so Sherlock pets, twice, then curls his fingers, and rests his knuckles against John's skin.

"You have to—you should call in, shouldn't you," Sherlock whispers.

"Mm." John sighs, and pulls back, thumbs out a quick text. He hits send and sets his phone on the table, turns back to Sherlock.

"That can't be all," Sherlock murmurs.

"No," John agrees, rubbing his fingers through the fine hair at the base of Sherlock's scalp. "I need to talk to her directly before you—"

"No, I know, I won't—" Sherlock kisses him again. "Can't we just—"

John's knee presses into the side of Sherlock's, harder. "We probably shouldn't," John murmurs, and Sherlock pulls the hem of John's shirt free. John's hand slides off of Sherlock's neck, to slip the top two buttons of his own shirt free. John's cuffs are already undone, rolled up, so Sherlock tugs, and John lifts his arms up. All of John's undershirts were in the wash when he got dressed. Sherlock drops John's shirt on the floor and reaches for him, but John is already crouching up awkwardly, sliding his knee along Sherlock's thigh.

"This chair is too small," John whispers, unbuttoning Sherlock's shirt, and Sherlock huffs, shaking his head.

"There are two beds in this room," Sherlock reminds him, and John breathes out and says, "We shouldn't," and skates his teeth along Sherlock's lip as Sherlock fumbles with the buttons at his cuffs behind John's back. John says, "We should, um," and pushes Sherlock's shirt off. John drops his head to lick the side of Sherlock's neck, mumbling, "We should stop."

"Or," Sherlock says, a little breathless, "we could, and—and then after—"

"Clear our heads," John says, nodding, and Sherlock pushes up to his feet, a little too fast, putting his hand on John's back to steady him. It's a step and a half to the edge of the bed, and the backs of John's knees hit it and Sherlock pushes him back and John flails one arm out, panting, "No, no, I—don't fuck me on the clean laundry, Jesus—" and Sherlock snorts, almost choking on the laugh caught in his throat as he drops his head down to John's shoulder.

"It's on the foot of the bed," Sherlock points out, "we're not on it." He tips his head up to look at John's face.

"We're right next to it." John licks his lips, adds, "We could always move to the other bed, and—"

"You're ruining the mood," Sherlock tells him, even though it isn't really true, and John says, "—and you could get the lube," and Sherlock pauses, then says, "Right," and pulls back, scrambling towards the sink. John's still keeping the lube in his shaving kit. Sherlock accidentally knocks the toothpaste onto the floor. He'll pick it up later. He takes six quick steps back around to the second bed, where John is on his back, canting his hips up, pushing his boxers and trousers down together. He's pushed all the covers down to the foot of the bed. Sherlock drops the lube on the mattress and undoes his flies. John grabs the lube and slicks his fingers, then hands it to Sherlock as Sherlock climbs clumsily up onto the mattress, in between John's bent knees. None of Sherlock's limbs are working correctly. He says, "I want to, do you want to—" but John's already pushing three fingers into his own arse, shallow and fast, his throat moving. Sherlock grabs for the lube and a second later John gasps out, "Jesus, yeah," as Sherlock works one slick finger alongside John's three.

"Please don't take this the wrong way," John says, voice ragged, "but I want—I just want you to—to fuck me really hard, I want—"

"Now?" Sherlock asks, pulling his hand back, and John nods, and pushes his fingers as deep as they go and then pulls them out, struggles up onto his elbows, while Sherlock is grabbing for the lube. John sits up and then rolls over, onto his hands and knees, and something important surges and then goes dark inside Sherlock's brain.

"Um," he says.

"Just—please," John is saying, and Sherlock stares at John's arse blankly and then his brain crawls sluggishly back online and he dumps lube into his hand and slicks himself up as John says, "Just, really hard, as hard as you can, hard enough to shake the walls, I want—" so Sherlock pushes himself up against John's body, left hand on John's hip, the right holding himself aligned as he pushes, a little harder than he thinks can possibly be comfortable, just inside, and John's mobile rings.

Sherlock freezes, heart pounding, and John grits out, "Fuck, you've got to be fucking kidding me," and John's phone rings again, impossibly loud, buzzing against the tabletop. John pushes back—God—just for half an instant, a small noise catching in his throat, and Sherlock grabs at John's hips and pulls, and John groans and his phone rings again and John makes a noise halfway to a sob and pulls off.

"Fuck," John gasps, struggling to his feet. His back is hunched as he pads over to the table to grab his phone. Sherlock is so hard it's actually painful.

"Yeah, hi," John says, grabbing the phone with his right hand. He waves the left one at Sherlock, wiggling his fingers, and it takes Sherlock an embarrassingly long moment to realize what he needs. Sherlock manages to muster up enough coordination to get a flannel, wet it at the sink, and bring it over so that John can clean his hands and start typing. John is very clearly saying words, but none of them are actually making it past Sherlock's ears in anything like a coherent fashion. John keeps glancing at him—well, yes, it would be distracting; John is distracting—so Sherlock goes back over to the bed and lies down on his back and stares at his erection. It doesn't help. He puts his hand on it, which is better, and somewhere very far away, John clears his throat. Sherlock turns his head to look at him, at John leaning against the table, still better than half-hard and watching him, and Sherlock licks his lips and strokes his cock, very very lightly, because it is important, critically important, that he not come until he has a chance to fuck John hard enough to shake the walls.

John is watching him. He is saying something on the phone. It is undoubtedly very important. Sherlock strokes his cock—careful, careful—and watches him back. John's cheeks are flushed and it goes all the way down. Sherlock swallows and reaches for the lube, gets more and more—too much, he knows it's too much—and then twists, angles his body, so he can settle the soles of his feet apart and cup his balls where John can see and then reach behind them where John can see and press against himself where John can see but it's too much, too close, and then back and then—God. He—he reminds himself that his body knows better than his brain (which is telling him threefingersfourfingersJohn, no, too much) and pushes a single fingertip into himself. It's strange, which is good. The drowning tide of his arousal subsides enough that he can think about how bizarre it feels—not bad, just weird—but it isn't uncomfortable at all, so he goes for two, not deep, but enough to make him conscious, only just, of the stretch.

"Tonight, probably," John is saying, on the phone. His voice is very, very steady. Sherlock doesn't need to look at him to know that he's watching. Sherlock licks his lips and pushes his fingertips deeper, canting his hips up, his wrist brushing against his balls. It—it hurts, a little, a very little, just enough to keep him under control. It's very important that he not come. He curves his fingers, just slightly, which is a mistake, because it sends a low hot swell of arousal through him and the last thing he needs right now is to be more turned on. He needs John to be turned on. He needs John to be watching him, and making very important plans on a very important phone call, and thinking about fucking, thinking about how Sherlock is going to fuck him so hard the walls shake, how Sherlock is going to—damn it. Sherlock grabs the lube again, hands shaking, and pushes his three fingertips in, which aches and—and God, he knows he—he knows he could, he could if the angle were better, he remembers John's finger inside him, curling up inside him and triggering wave after wave of that toohottoosmall feeling as Sherlock arched up into John's mouth. Sherlock pushes his fingers as deep as he can get them against that ache which isn't enough, it isn't enough anymore, his hand isn't enough, he needs John, he wants John, pushing his cock into him with his hand around Sherlock's hand on his cock. It wasn't like this. It was never like this, when Sherlock lay on his bed and listened to the soft creak of John's bed through the ceiling as John fucked Sarah, quietly, and Sherlock tried to match his rhythm and his brain kept mixing up who Sherlock was jealous of. Sherlock has to take both his hands off himself, he needs to and he knows that, but all he can think about is John folding him in half, pushing into him, deep, deeper than Sherlock's fingers, deeper than Sherlock can imagine, John pushing his body into Sherlock's body and kissing him and kissing him as they both pull at Sherlock's cock, desperate and uneven and John fucks into him, hard enough to make the walls shake—and Sherlock gasps and yanks his hands off himself and reaches up, grabs a pillow, and pulls it down over his suddenly burning face.

Sherlock takes fast, gulping breaths, his hands clenching at the pillowcase. His skin feels too hot all over. He could, he knows he could, he thinks right now it'd take the slightest hint of contact and nothing more, but John said that he wanted—no, terrible idea, he mustn't think about—swimming, swimming, Sherlock has always disliked swimming! Even when Mycroft said the water was warm it was always absolutely freezing, and Sherlock hasn't had enough body fat to float in thirty-two years. Swimming. Excellent. Sherlock thinks about swimming.

"Of course," John is saying, "well, there will probably be—no," and Sherlock takes a deep breath and risks it, pulls the pillow down and turns to look at him. John is bright red to the knees, with his cock as hard as Sherlock thinks he's ever seen it, shiny at the tip. Sherlock wants to lick it. He doesn't. Instead he drags his eyes up and stares at John's face and John stares back and answers whatever questions his contact is posing to him and now that Sherlock is looking at him, his voice isn't perfectly steady and he's hard, so hard. Sherlock thinks he can see the tremor of John's pulse in his belly. Sherlock's heart is pounding, too. (Swimming.)

Sherlock swallows and rolls up to his feet. He staggers to the sink and turns the tap on, holds his wrists under cold water. It helps, a little. He can look down at himself and not see every possibility in full color; 3D. He holds his wrists under for another ten seconds, twenty, thirty, and then turns and looks back at John, who is still hard and still watching him and still on the phone and Sherlock turns back around and puts his wrists back under the water. He rests his elbows on the edge of the counter and wonders if John's looking at his arse, at the smudges of lube that Sherlock can feel drying tacky and uncomfortable all over his arse and his groin and the insides of his thighs. Sherlock swallows and wets another flannel with cold water and wipes himself down. Cold. His pulse is just his pulse, for a too-brief second, and then Sherlock turns back just as John hangs up his phone, and then John is staring at him, still red-flushed and excited, and Sherlock can feel his blood speeding up again so he drops the flannel in the sink with a wet squelch and takes two steps towards John who is still hard and watching him.

John fists his hand on the edge of the table and says, "We have to—" and Sherlock says, "Can you think right now?" and John says, "Fuck, no," and launches himself forward. Sherlock's feet are suddenly awkward, too big, too clumsy, but he gets to the edge of the bed and he grabs the lube as John is plastering himself up behind him, pushing the tip of his finger against Sherlock, and Sherlock wonders what John feels, if it feels as slick and easy to John as it feels to him. John is mouthing at the back of Sherlock's shoulder, "You—Jesus, Sherlock, I want that on film," and Sherlock swallows thick and clumsy and says, "You—anything, John, I—do you still want to," and John whispers, "You stopped, you stopped for me," with his hand dragging damp across Sherlock's hip as Sherlock twists against him and presses his tongue into John's mouth, because it is imperative.

"You stopped for me," John repeats, and Sherlock nods, and John moans, his cock dragging against Sherlock's thigh.

Sherlock nods again and again, desperate, until John takes the lube away from Sherlock and pulls his mouth away from Sherlock's, then puts it back again, unfocused and desperate, and then his hands find Sherlock's cock, and Sherlock's eyes cross because John is obviously very unclear on just how dangerous that is.

"Stop," Sherlock gasps, grabbing at his wrists, and John makes a low, desperate sort of noise and says, "Fingers, anything, please, please—" and Sherlock grabs at him, clumsy and confused, and fuck! this shouldn't be difficult! normal people do this! but Sherlock can't figure out what to touch until John crawls up onto the mattress, up towards the head of the bed, and Sherlock follows because that is obviously the right decision and then when John stops Sherlock pushes his body against John's body into John's body—tight—and John moans and pushes back and Sherlock has to pull out again, gasping, "Sorry, sorry, I can't—" so he slicks up his three fingers and pushes them into John all at once.

"God," John gasps, and braces his hand against the wall, rocks back onto Sherlock's fingers.

"All right?" Sherlock manages, as John clenches around his fingers, and John moans and nods and rolls his hips, fucking himself on Sherlock's fingers and gasping and Sherlock is, impossibly, jealous. He pushes in deep, curling his fingers, and John's voice arches up again and he pants, "God, it's—it's not—I want, Sherlock, please," and Sherlock whispers, "I won't last," and John grinds out, "Me neither," so Sherlock pulls his fingers out and grabs John's hips and pushes in while John is gasping out, "Fuck, Jesus Christ, fuck, that's—"

"Swimming," Sherlock gasps, and then blinks his eyes to clear his head and then drops his mouth down to John's shoulder. His body is curved around John's body so he curves his arm around John's chest and shifts his knee so he can push in with his pulse throbbing perilously close to his skin in his wrists and his throat, so he can push in with John pushing back against him with one hand braced against the wall, so he can push in with John twisting around to catch his temple cheek mouth in a searing sharp kiss that ends in a moan, and another, and another. Sherlock's knee slides on the sheets and John scrabbles his hand against the wall and Sherlock drops his hand down to meet John's hand, and John makes a desperate hard edged noise and shoves back and Sherlock can't—he can't, he has to—harder, harder—until John's voice stretches membrane-thin against him and then breaks in a gasp, John's body going impossibly tight around him as Sherlock just—lets—go

John's hand slips, his forearm catching his weight against the wall, with Sherlock's body gone useless against him. The bed, Sherlock notices, has slid a bit away from the wall. He didn't notice that at all. He doesn't want to pull out, but he has to, sliding his knee back, pulling John by the waist.

"What?" John asks, voice thick, but when Sherlock wrestles them both down onto the mattress, John mumbles, "Oh," and sinks against him, boneless.

"I have to call Moran," Sherlock mumbles. He rubs his face into John's hair.

"Later," John tells him, and then flails his hand about, utterly failing to grab the blankets. Sherlock leans up, reaches down, and then settles back against John's body, pulling the blankets up to their shoulders. John's breath is already going shallow. It can wait, Sherlock will remember thinking, as he wraps his arm around John's waist. It can wait.

 

Sherlock doesn't want to wake up, but he's lying in the wet spot and also, he feels like there was something important he needed to do. John is very warm. Sherlock presses his face into John's shoulder and John pats at the back of his hand, still draped over John's ribs.

"Are you awake," Sherlock mumbles.

"Ngf," John replies. He twists his face down into the pillow. "Sort of."

"Okay." Sherlock breathes in. He tells John, "You smell good."

"I smell like fucking," John mumbles. It's not untrue. Sherlock chews on John's shoulder, not hard. John twists his arm up and back, and tugs at Sherlock's hair, until Sherlock twists up to kiss him. John's body is arched oddly, so after a minute Sherlock shifts over, half on top of him, their legs interlaced, so that John can lie flat, facing him. John sighs against Sherlock's mouth.

"You were thinking about me," John whispers.

"Usually," Sherlock agrees. "But?"

"Earlier," John clarifies, "when you were."

Sherlock licks at the lobe of John's ear and nods.

John exhales, slow, and then whispers, "Any time, any place," and Sherlock shivers up against him and whispers, "I—I may take you up on that," and John laughs, low, and rubs at Sherlock's back.

Sherlock refuses to look at the clock on principle, so he's not certain how long it is before John pulls his mouth back and says, very low, "We should really."

Sherlock exhales and drops his head and says, "I'm really fairly certain I had more free time when I was on the right side of the law," and John says, "Mm, yes, the rumors are true, crime doesn't pay," and Sherlock lets himself smile against John's throat. John scratches at the back of Sherlock's head.

"I'm starving," Sherlock has to admit, eventually.

"Athletics," John points out. "Sandwich?"

"Ugh." Sherlock pushes up to sitting anyway. The sandwiches aren't bad, precisely; they're just... dull. The two left are ham and turkey. Sherlock grabs his shirt off the floor, his pants, and slides them on. His shoulders are cold. He grabs the sandwiches, then climbs back up into bed and asks John, "Ham or turkey?"

"Half and half?" John suggests, so they split them half and half.

 

"I want to go to sleep again," Sherlock admits, after he's given the last two bites of his half of the turkey sandwich to John. John is still chewing.

John swallows. "Well, she probably won't reply tonight, will she?" he asks. "It's—isn't it the middle of the night, in London?"

Sherlock glances at the clock: it's nearing seven. "Almost one," he confirms, then rubs at his face. "She might still be up, though."

"Email her and then bring your phone over here," John suggests. "If she calls, she calls, but at least that way you won't have to go far, and if she jerks us around after this, it can't hurt to have had a bit of extra sleep."

"Mm." Sherlock rubs at his face again, then climbs back out of the bed. The email doesn't take long. He requests a call, but doesn't give details, and then picks up his phone, and then, considering, John's, too. Their chargers are plugged in behind the bedside table. John's sitting up, the blankets pooling in his lap, watching him. Sherlock squints back.

"What?" he asks.

John smiles, a little. "You're nice to look at," he says.

Sherlock blinks at him, then looks down at the table, and then shakes his head.

"Hey," John says. "Could—could you do me a favor?"

Sherlock looks back up at him and nods.

John licks his lips. He says, "I'd like to see the rings."

Sherlock straightens. He shakes his head, says, "You—"

"I'm curious," John says, and clears his throat, and scratches the back of his head.

Sherlock looks back down at the table. He swallows, then grabs his wallet, and brings it and their phones back over to the bedside table. He gives his wallet to John and plugs their phones in. John runs his fingers over the marks in the leather, and then digs the rings out while Sherlock's sliding back into bed next to him. Sherlock's throat is achy.

John unhooks the rings from his fingertips, drops them into his left palm to examine them.

"Which one's which?" he asks.

"That one's mine," Sherlock says, pointing.

John picks up the other and folds his thumb over Sherlock's, holding it in place while he slides his ring onto his third finger and then off again.

"It's the right size," he says, and then shakes his head, half-laughing, and then sighs. He says, "I don't know why I'm surprised."

Sherlock swallows. "Is it—strange, still?" he asks.

"Yeah, a bit." John settles against Sherlock's side. "But that's—fine."

"Fine," Sherlock echoes.

John turns towards him and says, very low, "I think—I think that's the best I can do for now."

Sherlock swallows again, then nods.

"You know that I love you, right?" John's voice is soft.

Sherlock nods and says, "I know."

John looks back down, at the rings, cupped in his hand. After a minute, he asks, "Could—could I hang on to yours?"

"I won't wear it," Sherlock says, too quickly, and John glances back at him.

"I know," he says. His voice doesn't argue with him. "It just seems—a little more equitable, doesn't it?" He tucks his thumb over Sherlock's ring, then slides his own back into Sherlock's wallet. John turns his hand up again.

"This way, later," John says, very quietly, "I can give it back."

Sherlock swallows. His pulse is suddenly insistent, heavy in his throat.

"Or," John starts.

"All right," Sherlock says.

John looks at him. "Yeah?"

Sherlock nods. He takes his wallet back, and sets it on the bedside table.

When he trusts his voice again, he asks, "Should we pack tonight, do you think? I don't know how long we'll end up having after I talk to her tomorrow."

John hums and climbs out of bed, over Sherlock's feet. "Probably won't hurt," he says, rooting around for his boxers, "if you're up for it."

"More awake now," Sherlock tells him, and follows John up to his feet. "Besides, then we can sleep in the other bed. This one is—ah—"

"Ruined?" John suggests, padding over to the sink.

Sherlock shrugs and says, "Damp."

John tucks Sherlock's ring into his shaving kit, which seems odd until Sherlock hears the tiny zip of the inside pocket, which Sherlock knows has been empty, lately. It's where John used to keep his condoms.

"I should shave, too," John says, rubbing at his jaw. He glances down at Sherlock's neck, and confesses, "You're—a bit pink."

Sherlock clears his throat. "I don't mind," he says, but it feels—dishonest, so he adds, "Don't—you definitely should not shave on my account."

"No?" John asks, lip quirking.

"No," Sherlock confirms. He licks his lips and says, "I like it."

"All right, then," John says agreeably, and steps over to grab his bag and Sherlock's suitcase. He tosses the soft bag to Sherlock and hauls the suitcase over onto the second bed, then starts stacking their clean trousers inside. John's bag is smaller, and has more pockets; Sherlock gathers up their discarded clothing and stuffs it into the end pocket, then, after a minute, peels off his open shirt and his pants and puts them in, too, grabbing pajama bottoms before John can stick them in the suitcase and pulling them on instead. It doesn't take them more than twenty minutes to pack everything up but what they'll need in the morning. Sherlock's laptop is still open on the table, John's plans copied over and edited, ready to send.

"Well," Sherlock says. "Now what?"

"I think now we sit in bed and watch terrible American telly," John says.

"The thrill is gone," Sherlock tells him, and pulls the blankets down.

Chapter Text

(interstitial)

On Monday morning, they both shower and shave. They go out for breakfast, drink a possibly obscene quantity of coffee, and take more back to the motel. They double-check that they've packed away all their things, because they are about to make a rather spectacular gamble, and what will happen after is as yet profoundly uncertain. It's not quite eight. Sherlock's breakfast is sitting heavily in his stomach, but in the diner John had murmured, "We don't know how long it'll be, Sherlock," which was true, so Sherlock had forced himself to eat the lot, eggs and potatoes and all. Now, in the room, Sherlock feels overfull and anxious, but it was still the correct course of action. He rubs his thumb over the edge of his takeaway cup, then rests his elbows on the table and meets John's eyes.

John is studying Sherlock's face. When Sherlock looks up, John says, "Ready?" and Sherlock says, "No," and John nods without comment, and takes another sip of his coffee.

Sherlock sits and breathes. Across from him, John is silent and steady, his ankle warm against Sherlock's ankle. John drinks his coffee and is quiet. He doesn't seem to be in a hurry.

After a minute, Sherlock licks his lips, then reaches for his phone, and dials.

She picks up on the third ring. "Robert," she says. She sounds amused; condescending. Knowing it's a pose doesn't make it less annoying. "How can I help you?"

Sherlock exhales, mouth wide to stay silent. John is looking intently down at his coffee, but beneath their tiny motel table, he has nudged their toes together. Sherlock swallows and straightens, shifting his shoulders back.

"I have you on speakerphone," Sherlock says, without looking away from John's face.

Sherlock knows how to read the microscopic sliver of hesitation that follows: genuine surprise, then; not quite brief enough to cover, not quite long enough to be feigned. John's mouth quirks, and he takes a sip of coffee. Sherlock agrees. For once, he thinks they might be edging ahead.

"Change in plans, I take it?" she asks, carefully amused.

"John expressed an interest in being more directly useful," Sherlock says. "And I think you'll find that his expertise will prove invaluable, in this particular instance."

She's quiet for a moment. Then she says, "I've never liked surprises." She sounds very calm.

John meets Sherlock's eyes and gives him a minute nod.

"Oh," Sherlock says, "I think you'll like this one. John?"

 

5. Hong Kong.

On Monday morning, Sherlock showers and shaves and puts on a tie. There is a sticky note on his laptop. It says, Eat breakfast. He takes it off and opens his laptop, then sticks the note next to his trackpad. He closes his laptop and puts it in his bag and goes down to the lobby. The breakfast in the hotel is fine so he gets breakfast in the hotel and eats it. He skips the coffee, which is awful, and has three cups of milk tea instead. Then he goes to work.

The coffee at work is awful, too, but the tea is worse, so he sticks with coffee. At least HR arranged to have his desk adjusted after he complained about the height of his monitor on Friday. Sherlock arranges four very minor embezzlements before noon. Then he eats half an order of noodles with his elbows tucked in at his sides. The sun outside is very bright. He wears his accidental sunglasses, even though they still look incredibly stupid.

"Robert?" Jason says behind him, just after two. Sherlock folds his hands in his lap and swivels in his chair. Jason is holding a cup of (terrible) coffee. "Tina's looking for you."

"Not very hard," Sherlock observes. "I'm at my desk."

Jason rolls his eyes, smiling a little. "Just go, will you?"

Sherlock nods and pushes to his feet. Jason is one of the more interesting of Moran's employees at the local office (world headquarters, as it turns out, which had been a bit of a surprise). He's twenty-six, born in Hong Kong, raised in London and New York. He has a degree from University of Queensland and spent a semester in Montreal. Sherlock knows all this because he spent all of Sunday tracking Jason down on Facebook because he was bored and Jason's accent is completely opaque. Sherlock isn't certain if Jason works for MM&M Technology, or Moran directly—it doesn't exactly come up easily in conversation, and the company server isn't at all helpful—but Jason speaks as though Sherlock is a data analyst, and under the circumstances, Sherlock considers it unwise to correct him. Jason has in his favor that he knows Hong Kong and he has, to some extent, a sense of humor, and also that he has a set of mannerisms that Sherlock has filed under out of place, without, yet, being able to determine where they'd fit better. Jason is, surprisingly enough, not boring.

Sherlock knocks on Moran's door, and she motions him in, even though she's on the phone. He sits in the chair facing her broad, dull desk and looks out her window and thinks about nothing. It's getting easier.

He wonders if this will be what finally ruins him: the grinding, stultifying pressure of ordinary day after ordinary day in this ordinary office, wearing a tie, forcing his brain into a tiny little box with a lid and fixed sides and clamping it shut, like his first six months after uni all over again, only this time, the work has to be done. Moran is the sort of person who convinces her employees to call her Tina like they're friends and then manipulates them because she can, the sort of person who dragged Sherlock and John halfway around the world on three miserable economy-class flights with an unbearable six-hour layover in an airport hotel in San Francisco after the second and not even two hours to recover from the jetlag in Hong Kong before meeting with her, so that when they finally made it back to the room, they'd barely been able to stand on their own. Sherlock had rested his face against the wall of the bathroom and mumbled, Is it Tuesday, while John had kicked off his boxers; John had just replied, Don't know, come on, I'll wash your hair, voice raw with exhaustion. Tina Moran doesn't trust either of them, which is rational, and she's demanded that John prove himself, which is pointless, but she hasn't done any of a number of things that would separate them permanently; instead, she has simply exercised small cruelties while they owe her their gratitude for avoiding the larger ones. Under other circumstances, Sherlock might've been able to admire her ingenuity, perhaps even appreciate her cleverness, but he hasn't seen John in four days, so right now he mostly appreciates the thought of her spending the rest of her life in prison. It hadn't been Tuesday. They'd crossed the dateline, so it'd been Wednesday, in the end.

Moran hangs up the phone. "Robert," she says brightly, and Sherlock snarls at her before he can catch himself.

She laughs. "Not a good weekend?" she asks.

He grits his teeth and says nothing. When John is enduring things he folds his hands in his lap and straightens his shoulders out. Sherlock gives it a try. It doesn't help.

She smiles at him. "His flight will be in at four," she says, voice revoltingly kind. "I don't intend to be cruel, you know. As soon as you have something for me on Jakarta, you can go. The briefing's in your email."

She turns back to her laptop. He stares at her, fingers itching, something hot and terrible gathering under his sternum, but killing her would be easy and would solve unfortunately little, so he puts the impulse aside. Instead he goes to his desk and opens his email. There's an hour and a half until John's flight lands, perhaps two and a half before John's back at the hotel, so naturally sorting out Jakarta takes Sherlock nearly four in the end. The other office drones start to trickle out not long past six, but even when Sherlock is sending out his notes, there are enough people still working that Sherlock doesn't think he could ever really have justified just giving Moran his regrets.

Sherlock knows that Moran is playing with them. He knows that if they want to remain, to stay in her good graces (quietly mining her servers and making extensive cross-referenced lists of her employees), the correct option in this moment is to let her win. He knows all of that to the soles of his feet. It doesn't make a difference. He still presses the button for the lift in the lobby of the hotel four times, and fumbles the key to their door.

John is asleep on the foot of the bed, curled up on his side, fully dressed except for his shoes. He smells like a farm animal, and he doesn't look like he's shaved since he left. Sherlock crouches down next to him and touches his cheek, his throat, the bobbing curve of his adam's apple as he swallows and blinks, eyes hazy-blue and unfocused. Sherlock leans in and presses his mouth to John's mouth, and John sighs.

"Hey." John licks his lips. He slides his hand around the back of Sherlock's neck and pushes up just enough to kiss Sherlock's cheek, then mumbles, "Missed you," sinking back against the bed, eyes slipping shut.

"Why aren't you in bed properly?" Sherlock runs his thumb up under John's ear.

"Haven't managed a shower since Saturday." John's consonants are mushy, melting together. "Bed's clean."

It isn't, really, but it is cleaner than John. Most things are currently cleaner than John. "Do you want me to let you sleep?" Sherlock asks quietly. "Or do you want me to help you get cleaned up?"

John sighs, rolling onto his back and rubbing at his face. "Fuck."

Sherlock doesn't disagree. He touches John's cheek. John looks terrible.

John scrunches his face up and then forces his eyes open. "I definitely need a shower, yeah?" His voice is rough.

"Yes," Sherlock admits.

John nods, then slides up to sitting. Sherlock helps him to his feet.

"I'm a little unsteady," John tells him unnecessarily, sitting on the closed toilet while Sherlock is getting the shower to warm up. "I haven't—really didn't sleep well. I mean. Last night."

John's been gone since Friday; on Thursday night he slept for four hours, not quite five on Wednesday. Before that they were in the air and before that in a terrible airport hotel in San Francisco, which means that it's entirely possible that the last time John got eight solid hours of rest was a full week ago, in Minot. In the shower, Sherlock pulls John's weight against his chest, and John just leans into him, head tipped back against Sherlock's shoulder. After, John holds himself up with a hand fisted on the edge of the counter and brushes his teeth, head bent, eyes half closed. He doesn't shave. Sherlock peels back the bedcovers and digs up clean boxers for John and clean pajama bottoms for himself and tries not to be obvious about how many times this takes him past the bathroom door to make sure that John hasn't just collapsed. He does, eventually; right into bed, and it's not even half seven in the evening but Sherlock crawls in next to him and wraps himself around John's back. All of Sherlock's waking nights and wearing days are catching up to him. He tucks his face into the back of John's neck and sleeps properly for the first time in days.

In the morning, John has to leave for the airport before it's light. Sherlock lies in bed unsleeping until his alarm goes off, then showers and shaves and puts on a tie.

 

John forgot his mobile. It takes Sherlock two hours to figure out how to write an email telling him so; if Moran doesn't have access to their email, she's doing something terribly wrong.

He doesn't feel like he can say anything else. He can feel his awareness of Moran's attention prickling at the back of his neck, making him feel hot and angry and ashamed, even though he oughtn't to, even though it oughtn't to make a difference. There's no reason in the world why it should be different to tell John that he forgot his phone somewhere she is listening and somewhere she is not, but it is. If he were in their room and John came back and he held up John's phone and said, You left your phone, it would be different, and that is nonsensical, but true. He knows it the way he knows that Szymanowski is underrated and that his grandmother loved him.

Sherlock rubs at his face. He replies, "Yes," then spends half an hour wondering if it sounded short. He works through lunch sorting out a tangle for one of Moran's shell companies in Tokyo and then spends three hours on the phone helping a Canadian tech millionaire bilk his three brothers out of the better part of their relatively trivial inheritance. His throat itches. He wants to tell John, The worst part about my turn to a life of crime is how unbearably petty it all is. He wants to tell John, I genuinely wonder how on earth these morons muddled along without me, given the gross incompetence demonstrated by the bulk of their work. He wants to tell John, Increasingly I think you may be the only worthwhile person in the world.

Instead, he works until six and then goes back to the hotel. He sets his shoes by the door and throws his tie at the lamp and plugs in his phone next to John's on the bedside table. He'd left the air conditioner on by accident, so the room is arctic. He doesn't change his clothes, just pulls himself in under the covers and waits for John to call.

His phone rings precisely at seven.

He tugs it over into bed with him and tucks it against his ear.

"Hullo," he says.

"'Lo." John sounds worse than he did the night before. Sherlock knows he slept, but restlessly; he kept rolling onto his stomach and then tossing until Sherlock wrapped an arm around him and tugged him close again. John sleeps better on his side, but often has a hard time staying in one position unless he's held in place, and it seems to be at its worst when he's not used to the bed.

"Calling from your hotel?" Sherlock asks.

"Yeah," John says.

"It's all right?" Sherlock asks, and then swallows. "I don't even know where you are."

John's quiet for a second. "Thailand," he says, finally. "I'm sure I can say that much. I mean, I could probably tell you more, but I'd rather not risk it. I'll tell you the rest when I get back."

Sherlock nods. "All right," he says quietly.

John's breath is audible, scratchy over the line. "Did you eat?" he asks.

Sherlock rubs at his face. "Breakfast," he says. "I wasn't hungry at lunch. I'll get room service later."

"Mm." Sherlock can hear John shifting. Skin against sheets: in bed, then. It's a start. "Call now?" John suggests. "It always takes a while. Use the room phone, I'll hang on."

Sherlock still isn't really hungry, but it matters enough to John that John wrote him a sticky note that says, Eat breakfast, that Sherlock keeps moving from the back of his laptop to the palm rest and back again, and another that said, Eat dinner, which housekeeping was idiotic enough to throw away, so Sherlock says, "All right," and calls down to order, more or less at random, while his mobile waits, open and active, on the bedside table.

When he hangs up the room phone and picks up his own again, John's very quiet.

"John?" Sherlock asks.

"Mm."

Sherlock sighs. "Are you asleep?" he asks, tucking his knees up towards his stomach.

"No," John says, but his voice is thick, heavy and slow.

"That is a blatant lie," Sherlock tells him.

John grumbles. "No—just—the flight. Was long, and then... then there was..."

After a minute, Sherlock asks, "John?"

"Thailand," John concludes, and sighs.

Sherlock rubs his hand over his eyes. "You're coming back tomorrow, aren't you?"

John doesn't answer.

"John," Sherlock says, but John remains silent, so Sherlock says it louder, "John!" and John is startled into making a low, confused sort of noise.

"John," Sherlock says, more gently. "You're asleep. I'll see you tomorrow. Put down the phone."

"Um?" John tries.

"Good night, John," Sherlock says, "go on," and then waits for the clatter of the handset against the base and the click of the line going dead before he snaps his mobile shut, and puts it back on the bedside table.

It's another half an hour before his food shows up. He eats it. Then he brushes his teeth and puts on his pajamas and turns out the lights and lies back down in bed on his stomach. He closes his eyes and breathes. On Thursday night, he had tucked his knees in alongside John's knees and kissed him and kissed him and kissed him, elbows braced on either side of John's head, pillows knocked away, while John worked them both together and whispered, Shh, it's not for long, it's just a few days, oh, shh, Sherlock, shh, and Sherlock had shaken his head and shaken his head and whispered, I never know what to do without you, which ought to have been a lie but wasn't. In the morning John had stirred a full hour and a half before the alarm, so Sherlock had slid down and tasted John's knees, John's thighs, the sweaty dip of John's hip, the soft skin just under John's navel, and then rolled John over onto his belly and licked and licked and licked until John's arms couldn't hold him up anymore, until John pressed his face into the mattress and groaned, helpless, while Sherlock tongue-fucked him into trembling, into panting, into coming all over the sheets. Then John had pushed himself back up onto his elbows, rocking his arse back, and whispered, I want—I want you to, Jesus, I want your come inside me, and Sherlock had blinked and blinked and blinked while he tried to make that make sense in English. John had insisted; Sherlock hadn't really had any reason to argue; and then before Sherlock'd had a chance to consider the logistics, John had settled back against him and drawn Sherlock close to him—just against him—just inside him, not really slick enough at all and sharp enough to make John cry out as Sherlock pressed his face hard to John's shoulder, gasping. After, in the shower, Sherlock had touched him gently, gently, gently, and John had laughed, raw and unhappy, and said, Oh, fuck off, I'm fine, and kissed him until neither of them could breathe. Then John had gone to the airport and Sherlock had called housekeeping and asked them not to change the sheets.

At seven in the morning, Sherlock's alarm goes off. It's Wednesday. He showers and shaves and puts on a tie.

 

At lunch, Sherlock can't bring himself to eat, but he also can't stand to stay in the office, so he goes for a walk and falls into a tide of people and ends up in a shopping mall. The last time this happened he ended up with a woman's cashmere jumper (green), a pair of ridiculous sunglasses, and a blue shirt, not in his size. The jumper he boxed up but hasn't posted yet; the shirt he promptly hid at the bottom of his luggage, a little disgusted with himself. The sunglasses continue to be ugly but useful. This time he isn't going to buy anything except that the hour is wearing away and he does. He goes back to the office and sets the bag under his desk and doesn't think about it. His face feels hot. He spends the afternoon on the research for an American energy company hard at work destroying the environment and looking for ways to do it even more flagrantly and then leaves at six on the dot. He's not certain exactly when John is due in.

John isn't in the room when Sherlock gets back, and of course Sherlock can't call him, so Sherlock calls for room service and then, his spine crawling, he sticks the shopping bag in his suitcase and shoves the lot back into the wardrobe. He rubs at his face. He ends up taking a shower, because it was a hot day and his lunchtime walk improved neither the condition of his suit nor the state of his hair. He hears the door beep open while he's just rinsing the soap off his back.

He pushes his fringe out of his eyes as John steps into the bathroom, looking wavery through the glass door of the shower. Sherlock pushes it open, even though it lets the water splash onto the floor. John has terrible purple-yellow circles under his eyes, and he looks as crumpled and wilted as his clothes, but he's smiling, a little.

"C'mon, then," Sherlock says, and John breathes out, and tugs his shirt off over his head without undoing any buttons. Sherlock rinses his face again, then leans out from under the water just in time to kiss the corner of John's mouth as John steps in.

"You smell like something spicy," Sherlock says.

"The pretzels on the plane," John explains, just as there's a knock on the room door. Sherlock meets John's eyes, and John laughs, and shakes his head, ducking under the spray. "Timing could use some work," he says, smile wide, and Sherlock kisses him again and then steps out, grabbing a towel and rubbing it over himself quickly before grabbing John's boxers and tugging them on.

"Are those—did you just put on my pants?" John asks, over the water.

"I'll be right back," Sherlock tells him, and steps out of the bathroom, closing the door behind him. He moves his laptop so there's room for the food on the table, then tips the porter and bolts the door again. The water's off, so Sherlock knocks on the bathroom door and calls out, "He's gone."

John opens the bathroom door and says, "Take off my pants."

Sherlock blinks. "Are you sure you don't want half of my dinner first?"

"You—" John stops, and shakes his head, laughing, when Sherlock quirks his mouth at him. "Seriously," John says, padding over to his bag, thrown hastily atop the bed. "I wore those all day, that's just—not hygienic."

Sherlock obligingly pushes them off. "Better?" he asks, and John glances back over and says, "Yes."

Sherlock hadn't intended it seriously, not really, but John turns back to his bag and drops his clean undershirt back in and then pushes the bag onto the floor and Sherlock can't get over to him fast enough. He untucks the towel around John's waist and buries his face in John's damp hair, while John is telling him, "I—I feel like I should mention that—that five days is not actually that long a time, but I—" and then turns against him, Sherlock's hands sliding over John's sides John's hips John's arse as John grabs Sherlock's face in both hands and bites his bottom lip, hard. Sherlock gasps, and John's voice is breathless as he says, "Okay, Christ, get on the bed, I have to—" so Sherlock lets go of him and pushes back the blankets, full of good intentions, until John's hands are on his arse, pushing him up towards the headboard on the far side, his elbow slipping against the sheets when John crawls up behind him and licks over the curve of his arse and then pulls him open without warning. Sherlock shivers as John licks down over his tailbone in one instant and then with the next pushes in.

Sherlock's whole body jerks. "I," he manages, blinking hard.

"Okay?" John asks, rubbing a stubbly cheek against Sherlock's skin, and Sherlock pants out, "Yes," and John pulls him apart again, and Sherlock squirms. John is, in some regards, a tremendously patient person, but not in this: Sherlock can feel John's tongue working in and out of him, insistent and inescapable, as Sherlock's field of vision blurs at the edges, obliterated by want. Sherlock drops his head down and bites at his forearm. His knee slips, and John's tongue slips, and Sherlock gasps and rocks back. John half-laughs, muffled, and works his tongue into Sherlock's body, and Sherlock's arm in his mouth isn't quite enough to keep him quiet but it might be enough to avoid a noise complaint. John hums and pulls back, and Sherlock groans, helpless, infuriated, until John drags him over onto his back by the hips and flattens his body to Sherlock's body and puts his tongue in Sherlock's mouth. Sherlock folds his arms around John's shoulders and rocks his hips into John's hips and kisses him until neither of them can breathe, and Sherlock has to turn away, panting. John is breathing hard against Sherlock's jaw, Sherlock's throat, sliding against Sherlock slick with sweat and precome and he smells like their bed and Sherlock's chest hurts and his throat hurts and he can't get close enough, he can't pull him close enough, he doesn't think he'll ever be close enough to John.

"Oh," John is whispering. "Oh, it's fine, we're fine."

Sherlock shakes his head and slides a hand between them and John groans, twisting, his mouth dragging over Sherlock's jaw as Sherlock rubs his palm over the head of John's cock, sloppy and uncoordinated but still enough to feel John jerk against him, welling up hot and wet through the base of Sherlock's fingers.

"I want," Sherlock tells him, and John shakes his head and wraps his hand around Sherlock's hand, folding his fingers around them both, and Sherlock gasps, eyes stinging, as John moves their hands around them both, John's cock still half-hard with the edge of almost-too-much just catching in John's throat. Sherlock presses his face against John's cheek and John says, "Shh, come on, that's it, that's it," as Sherlock shakes and shakes.

John's body against his is heavy, familiar and grounding. Sherlock takes a breath. John turns and kisses his cheek.

"When is she sending you out again?" Sherlock asks, even though he knows the answer.

"Tomorrow," John says softly, and brushes his mouth over Sherlock's jaw. Sherlock closes his eyes.

 

The food is cold by the time they get to it, but they eat it anyway, John in clean boxers and Sherlock in his pajama bottoms with his feet tucked under John's feet, because he's cold but doesn't want to put on anything more. He'd be warm enough if they went back to bed. They do, after they eat, even though the sheets are damp and twisted, and they lie face to face with their noses touching and their knees jammed together, and John pulls the blankets up to their ears and tells him about Bangkok.

"I think I might've liked it, under other circumstances," John says, breath warm against Sherlock's face, "it was beautiful," and Sherlock says, "Jason keeps offering to show me Hong Kong."

"Hm." John rubs his foot up Sherlock's calf. "Show you Hong Kong, as in, actually show you the sights, or show you Hong Kong, as in, show you the bit of Hong Kong between his front door and his bedroom?"

"I suspect it's really show me Hong Kong, as in, give me a comprehensive tour of Hong Kong's girlie bars," Sherlock admits, and  John laughs.

"Well if you decide to let him, make him take a picture of your face and send it to me," John says, wriggling closer, and Sherlock sighs.

"I am familiar with what naked women look like, John," he says.

"Yes, but—strippers?"

"I've seen strippers," Sherlock tells him.

John grins at him. "Yes, but have you ever tipped a stripper?"

"Why would I have tipped them?" Sherlock hunches his shoulders up. "It was for a case."

John laughs, and Sherlock slides until they're pressed entirely together, and tucks his face against John's neck. John sighs and rubs at Sherlock's back, up and down, up and down, up and down.

Sherlock breathes out. "I wasn't hungry at lunch," he says.

"Did you at least eat breakfast?" John asks. Sherlock can feel John's voice moving in his throat.

"Yes," Sherlock says. "But that's not the point."

"Okay." John shifts against him, scratches between his shoulderblades. Sherlock hums; he can't ever get that spot.

"I went for a walk," Sherlock explains. "Instead of—I really wasn't hungry."

"Right," John agrees.

"And I ended up." He pauses. "Going shopping. Accidentally."

John laughs. "You accidentally went shopping?"

"Yes," Sherlock says. It happened in London sometimes, too: his cow's head, six inexplicable packets of Jaffa cakes, a whisper-soft blue-on-blue striped jumper that forced him to complain about Mycroft's terrible taste in gifts for a week before he thought it'd be safe to offer it to John. "It's—it's everywhere," Sherlock explains. "It really was an accident."

John makes a small noise and kisses Sherlock's temple. "Okay," he says agreeably. Sherlock knows when he's being humored, but doesn't feel much like complaining about it.

Sherlock doesn't know quite what to say, exactly. He'll have to bring it up eventually, but he doesn't at all know how to start. He probably ought to be glad when John says, "You bought me something, didn't you," but he isn't.

"Yes," Sherlock admits. He's dreading the rest of it, a bit.

"Unless it requires regular feedings or was insanely expensive, I really don't think you need to get this worked up over it," John tells him, very gently.

"No," Sherlock says, because it doesn't and it wasn't, and yet. "Would you—just. Stay here, all right?"

"All right," John says, and Sherlock nods and untangles their legs and gets out of bed. His back is crawling, a little, but that might just be because it's cold, with the air conditioner on and his hair still a little damp. He needs a haircut. He pulls his suitcase out of the wardrobe and opens it up. He glances over at John, who is watching him, but probably can't see anything, not from that angle. Sherlock licks his lips, hand hesitating over the shopping bag, and then grabs the shirt instead, and stuffs the suitcase back into the wardrobe.

"It's absurd," Sherlock says, handing it over. It isn't, inherently; it's a very nice shirt, but it's also very blue and John isn't stupid.

John's smiling at him. "You really got that nervous over buying me a shirt?" he says, sitting up so he can tug it on. It's a bit crumpled, but it fits him perfectly, and Sherlock likes how it hangs on his shoulders. Sherlock helps him do up the buttons.

"It's a bit." Sherlock clears his throat.

"Soppy?" John suggests.

"Stupid," Sherlock says. "And—yes."

"It's all right," John says, leaning in to kiss him. "Besides," he says, when he pulls back, "I keep running short on clean clothes. I could use another nice shirt. Thank you."

Sherlock straightens the collar. "I bought Molly a jumper, too," he says, hunching his shoulders together. "It's not just—I bought her a jumper, because neither of you can dress yourselves. It's embarrassing."

John's smiling at him. That is also embarrassing. John says, "Clara always tried to get me to wear this blue. I mean—she tried to make Harry wear it, too. Had more luck with her, I think."

"Your coloring is very alike," Sherlock says, smoothing out the placket. "It suits you."

"Sherlock," John says, and slides his hand around the back of Sherlock's neck. "Calm down."

"I'm perfectly calm," Sherlock says, and John says, "You're an absolutely shit liar, you know that, right?"

"I am not," Sherlock says, insulted.

"You are about some things, actually," John murmurs, and kisses his cheek.

Sherlock starts unbuttoning the buttons. "It's just," he explains, as John starts at the top and works down towards him. "It's so—mundane, it's—"

"Mundane's all right," John says. "I mean, you've been doing the bulk of the shopping for a year—"

"I am perfectly happy to save you from the chip and PIN machine," Sherlock says, rubbing a thumb over John's bared collarbone. "You really don't have to buy the milk in secret; it's an idiotic thing to make a point of pride. And besides, after your tantrum over how often you end up cleaning the bath—"

"You never clean the bath," John says, exasperated.

"See?" Sherlock raises an eyebrow, curving his hand over John's shoulder. "It was simply—it's a more intelligent division of labor."

John smiles at him, wide and open, and Sherlock swallows.

"It's just—ordinary," Sherlock says, finally.

"Hm." John leans in and kisses Sherlock's jaw, runs his tongue up under Sherlock's ear. Sherlock shivers, and John breathes, "Like I said. That's all right."

Sherlock slides his hands down over John's arms, up John's sides, dips his fingers under the waistband of John's boxers, and tugs. "Next we'll be having date night," Sherlock says, and then swallows. "Or—or anniversaries."

John laughs and Sherlock tugs more insistently, until John slides up onto his knees and lets Sherlock pull them down, then wriggles to get them off while Sherlock kicks his pajama bottoms down to the foot of the bed. Sherlock reaches for John's hips and John slides over so he's crouched over Sherlock's thighs, bending to press his mouth to Sherlock's mouth, petting at Sherlock's shoulders, Sherlock's neck, Sherlock's hair. John's half-hard but when Sherlock touches him it's mostly just for the pleasure of feeling him, velvety and silky and hot.

John sighs, rocking into Sherlock's touch, slow, and then tells him, "The twelfth," and Sherlock closes his eyes.

"The thirteenth, actually," he says quietly.

John shakes his head and repeats, "The twelfth," and then brushes his mouth over Sherlock's temple.

Sherlock swallows. "It was—it was early morning, before we—"

"It was still the twelfth," John says, "when I found out that you were alive."

Sherlock blinks up at him, helpless. John kisses his cheek, the corner of his mouth.

Sherlock says, "I want a different day."

John settles back, his weight half-against Sherlock's thighs. "What?" he asks.

Sherlock licks his lips. "I want a different day," he says. "You were unhappy on the twelfth."

John takes a breath, then lets it out again, then touches the hollow at the base of Sherlock's throat. "I was angry on the twelfth," he says, very quietly, "But—but not unhappy, Sherlock."

Sherlock folds his hand around John's wrist, tight, and John sighs, and leans in, and kisses him, again, and again, and again.

"What's today?" John murmurs.

"The eighth of August," Sherlock flattens his hand against John's back. "It's Wednesday."

John brushes his hand over Sherlock's cheek. Sherlock turns to lick the roots of John's fingers, the meat of his palm, and John's breath hitches.

"It's been—not quite a month, then," John says, soft.

Sherlock nods, and pulls him in, and they both catch their breaths.

"Jesus." John licks his lip, steadying himself with a hand on the headboard. He says, "It feels—longer."

He ducks his head down to Sherlock's, touches his throat.

Sherlock says, "We could just use today."

Sherlock can hear John swallow. He presses his mouth to the sound.

John nods. "Okay," he murmurs, skin buzzing against Sherlock's mouth. "We can do that."

Sherlock touches John's spine, and John settles the whole of his weight down against Sherlock, hot against him, hard against him, and Sherlock brushes his palms up the backs of John's ribs and says, "Slow, please, please," as John nods and shifts his hips, liquid and heavy.

"I missed you," John says, quiet. His face is shadowed. The light from the lamp at the side of the bed makes his face look grave, except for his mouth, which is red and lush, swollen. Sherlock touches John's bottom lip and says, "I always miss you, I miss you when you go to the toilet," and John laughs. Sherlock can feel his own cheeks tugging up, and then John bends down to kiss him, shifting his weight, and Sherlock gasps, "I—John, I—" and John whispers, "Yeah," breathless.

"If you had any plans about how this was going to go, you should probably tell me very soon," Sherlock manages, all in a rush, and John rocks down against him and Sherlock arches and John breathes, "I—like this, God, you're—I don't even think you know, do you, how hot you are like this," and Sherlock groans.

"It," he pants, and then gasps, John's mouth hot on his neck, "it just feels like—I could, I could do anything, anything, if you want—" and John says, "I want—I want to feel you, I want to feel you against me when you come," and Sherlock laughs, high, desperate, and tells him, "If you—if you keep talking—"

John bites Sherlock's jaw, and Sherlock's whole body jerks. "I was—I was so exhausted, on that first trip, in Tokyo," John manages, rough, with Sherlock mute and desperate and tugging him impossibly close, "I couldn't—I barely had time to take naps, I couldn't—but I still, I thought about you, all the time, how pink you get, and the way you get too hot when you sleep, and last night, in Bangkok, I woke up in the night and it was too late to call you back—"

"I was awake," Sherlock gasps, pulling him down tighttighttight and John groans and says, "God, I—I kept thinking about you, I thought about you and I thought maybe if I had a wank at least I'd sleep so I thought about—I thought about you in Minot with your—with your fingers inside you—" and Sherlock can feel himself flushing all over, down to his toes— "and I thought—I thought about what you would look like if—if—God, this is—"

John stops and bites down on his own lip, squeezing his eyes shut, pressing his body close, and Sherlock manages, "God, you—you can't stop there—" and John blurts out, "I thought, what if, what if I'd just sat down and started pulling myself off and watched you, just sat there on the phone with Sophia while you shoved your fingers up your arse and Jesus, if you—if you hadn't stopped, I could've, I could've watched you get yourself off right there while she bawled me out for what a shit agent I am and you came all over yourself and I would've, I would've known what you looked like when you came from far away."

"Oh, God." Sherlock blinks hard against the swimming of his vision, and tells himself, Not yet, not yet.

"So," John says, breathless, "last night I pretended I was back in Minot watching you finger yourself, I put my hand on my cock and told myself you were ten feet away with your fingers up your arse, squirming all over the place and pretending it was me and God, you—you still have no idea how hot that was, it was—Jesus, the way you looked, and it took me maybe ten strokes, maybe, and when I came I licked my hand clean and pretended it was your tongue."

Sherlock chokes.

John laughs at him, a little crazily, but he doesn't resist when Sherlock pushes him up, shifts John's weight, so Sherlock can slide his cock between John's arsecheeks, and John laughs again, breathless and hot, wrapping his hand around his own cock. "Do it," Sherlock tells him, "and it will be," and John's voice catches, and he grinds out, "Fuck, that's—"

"I'm going to do it," Sherlock says, pressing John's arsecheeks tight around him, "I'm going to—you're going to come all over your hand and I'm going to come right up against your arse and then I'm going to lick you clean."

"You're fucking filthy," John says, half-laughing, and Sherlock says, "Come now," fighting to keep his eyes open and watch, John's hand blurring on his cock and his whole body shaking and Sherlock can't, he just can't, he can't hold back anymore.

"Oh, God," John is gasping, "oh, God, I—Jesus, Sherlock."

Sherlock gulps down air until he can see straight again, and then pulls back enough to tell John, "Give me your hand," and John laughs, but he does it.

John tastes different, bitterer. Sherlock wonders if it's because he's not getting enough sleep. He's still watching Sherlock, but his eyes are heavy, the flush starting to fade from his throat and his cheeks. Sherlock kisses the center of John's palm, then lets go of his wrist.

"I'm not going to have time to wash in the morning," John admits. "And that is—probably not going to cut it."

Sherlock sighs and ducks his head to John's shoulder. "How long, for this one?" he asks, quiet.

"Two days," John says. He scratches at Sherlock's scalp. "You need a haircut."

"Go and take a shower," Sherlock tells him, pulling back. "I'll repack your bag."

 

Sherlock sleeps curled tight around John's back, trying to pin him in place. It works, to an extent; John is restless, but whenever Sherlock half-wakes to pat at him he settles quickly, breathing even. The alarm on John's phone goes off at five, and Sherlock sits up to blearily watch John get dressed and throw his shaving kit back into his bag.

"You have your mobile this time?" Sherlock asks, thick.

John nods and pads over to kiss him. "I'll call you tonight, if I can," John murmurs, and pets at Sherlock's hair. "Can you sleep more?"

"Go on," Sherlock says, and John raises an eyebrow so Sherlock sighs and says, "I'll try. All right?"

John nods and kisses him again, then turns off the lamp, which is charming but unnecessary. Sherlock watches him leave and then lies awake until seven. Then he showers and shaves and puts on a tie.

 

19:04From: John
Shit reception. Call keeps failing. Can you try on your end?

19:07To: John
That was four times. Did it even ring?

19:07From: John
No. Bloody hell. Tomorrow?

19:08To: John
No landline?

19:09From: John
I'm not in the hotel, won't be back for hours. Snuck off to the toilets.

19:10To: John
Call me later if you're not too tired.

19:11From: John
HOURS, can you not read? I'm not going to risk waking you up.

19:11To: John
You won't. Call me if you're not too tired. Otherwise, tomorrow.

19:11To: John
What timezone are you even in?

19:12From: John
GMT+10. Don't pry, Sherlock.

19:13To: John
I take it back. Don't call. When you get in, go to sleep.

19:14From: John
Love you too.

 

Sherlock wakes to a buzzing sound. He blinks, confused, then grabs his mobile off the bedside table.

03:44From: John
Are you awake

03:44To: John
Yes. Are you just getting in?

He doesn't put the phone down, just sits up and scoots back against the headboard, so it buzzes in his hand.

03:45From: John
Yeah

Sherlock licks his lips and presses and holds the call button.

"Hi," John says, halfway through the first ring. His voice sounds gravelly, raw.

"Better reception?" Sherlock asks, quiet.

"Yeah." John sighs. "Fuck, I miss you." His breathing is heavy, wrong.

Sherlock swallows. "Pub?" he guesses.

"Um—sort of." John takes a deep breath. "I'm not—you know that feeling, when you—you don't ever get drunk but you have enough over a long enough while to just, you know, head straight into the hangover?"

Sherlock tips his head back and looks at the ceiling. "You have water?" he asks.

"Yeah, I'm fine, I just." John sighs again. "I just—you know, I'm out drinking with, um, sort of... generally reprehensible people and trying to make nice when mostly they make me just want to take a shower and burn all my clothes and this bed is crap and my—my boyfriend's in Hong Kong and I'm not." He stops. "Fuck, I shouldn't be—sorry."

"Don't be sorry," Sherlock says quietly. He rubs the tip of his thumb against his forefinger and files boyfriend away for later.

"Why can't I just sleep on my own," John mumbles, "so I won't be so exhausted when I'm with you?"

Sherlock squeezes his eyes shut. He says, "You need a break."

"I'm fine." John sighs. "I was in the army, it's not the first time—"

"John," Sherlock says, very quietly, "did you ever have much trouble sleeping, before you came home?"

John doesn't say anything.

"You need a break," Sherlock tells him. "Please."

John's quiet for a minute. Then he says, "Yeah, maybe—but don't push her, Sherlock. Be careful. Please."

"She's not going to take me down by the docks and shoot me," Sherlock says, and John says, very quietly, "No, she has people for that."

Sherlock rubs at his face. "Hell."

"Shut up," John says. "I'm not—I'm not wringing my hands, or anything, they're just—they're all terrible people, and I—"

"Be quiet," Sherlock says softly, and John stops, breathing ragged. Sherlock presses the phone to his cheek and squeezes his eyes shut.

"I knew it'd be like this," John says. "I—God, Sherlock, how naïve do you think I am? When your brother said—I suspected, then, and I—and then, then, in New York, and—and Tina, I knew, I knew this is what she'd want me for, this is—"

"You're allowed to hate it," Sherlock interrupts, and John stops.

"There's a long way, it turns out," John says, finally, "between doing it for you, and doing it for her."

Sherlock pulls his legs up to his chest, and drops his head down to his knees.

"Anyway," John says. His voice is a little unsteady. He clears his throat. "It's Friday morning already. And I, um. I have some. Some other things to do. And then—my flight gets in at eleven on Saturday—tomorrow, so."

"Morning or evening?" Sherlock asks.

"Evening," John says, and Sherlock's throat tightens up.

After a minute, he clears his throat. "Well," he says. "It's something to look forward to."

"Yeah," John says.

Sherlock rubs at his face. "Do you think you can sleep now?" he asks, quiet.

John's quiet for a minute. Then he says, "I can try."

"Put a pillow at your back so you won't roll over," Sherlock advises. "And, um. Have a wank, maybe."

John laughs, and Sherlock smiles against his knees.

"Sounds so clinical, doesn't it, though?" John says. "The six a.m. wank as sleep aid."

"Mm," Sherlock says. "But if it was the, um. Six a.m. blowjob as sleep aid..."

"I would accept a six a.m. blowjob," John says, voice warm. "As a sleep aid or otherwise."

"I like having you in my mouth," Sherlock tells him, leaning back and stretching his legs out. "Even if—at six a.m. I am often not at my best. You taste—lovely."

"Sherlock," John breathes.

"You do, though." Sherlock rubs his hand over the crotch of his pajama bottoms. He's not really... interested, not exactly, but that could change. "I like—I like being near you. All over."

"Yeah," John sighs, and Sherlock licks his lips.

"Are you—have you started, then?" he asks.

John clears his throat. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, Sherlock, listening to you—yeah, listening to you talk about blowing me is, um. Pretty much. Makes it, um. Necessary."

Sherlock shifts his hips, and slides his hand into his pajama bottoms. "I could," he says, and then stops.

"You could what?" John asks.

"I could keep talking," Sherlock suggests, and John sighs, and says, "Yeah," and Sherlock clears his throat and says, "Like—like on Wednesday, when you—when you put your tongue inside me."

John makes a low, jagged sort of noise, and Sherlock squeezes himself, sucking in a breath. "Or," Sherlock says. "Or right now. Because—I'm—I thought I was too tired. But I'm thinking—I'm thinking about you in, um, wherever you are, GMT+10, with your hand down your pants—"

"Not wearing pants," John tells him, a little breathless. "Got them off more or less as soon as you said 'blowjob'."

Sherlock bites his lip. He takes a breath, then another, and then lifts his hips and eases his pajama bottoms down. "Seems only fair to get my pajamas off, then," he says, wrapping his hand around himself again.

"Well, I'd hate for this to be unfair," John says, voice low, and Sherlock looks down at his hand on his cock and frowns.

"Do you have the lube?" he asks.

"In my shaving kit," John says, and sighs. "In the bathroom. Would be better with it, though, wouldn't it?"

"Yeah." Sherlock licks his lip. "There's hand lotion in the bathroom, but I don't want to get up."

John hums, and Sherlock swallows.

"Maybe I should get another bottle of lube tomorrow," Sherlock says. It comes out a little breathless. "I could—I could get it on my lunch break, and then. All day, sit with it in my jacket pocket, because I couldn't exactly leave it at my desk, could I?"

"Sherlock," John says, soft, and Sherlock says, all in a rush, "And then I—then I could use it on my own, tomorrow night, slick my cock up, my hand, pretend it was you—"

"My arse or my mouth?" John asks, and Sherlock closes his eyes, pushing up into his fist.

"Your mouth," he says, finally. "At first it would be your mouth."

"At first," John says, low. "Yeah, I like—I like that a lot."

Sherlock swallows. His mouth is dry. "And then," he says. "Then I'd—I'd get my fingers all wet—"

"Oh, God," John grinds out.

"Just like Minot," Sherlock tells him. "I'd do it just like Minot, I'd—I'd be doing it just like Minot, so I'd be able to know that you'd know what it looks like, only the whole time I'd be pretending. Pretending it was your mouth on my cock and your fingers inside me and you were—you were getting me ready—"

"Jesus," John gasps, and then, "Oh, oh God—" and Sherlock drops his head back against the headboard and says, "But if you came before you even got it in me I'd be fairly put out, John," and John laughs, low and breathless, and says, "No, you wouldn't, because I'd just keep sucking you and I could get so, so deep, you know, just with my fingers, just sucking you off and giving you three fingers—four, maybe, even, if it wasn't more than you could take."

"Oh," Sherlock manages, and then bites down on his lip, "oh—or, you could—okay," and John laughs at him, but Sherlock doesn't care.

Sherlock wipes his hand on his pajama bottoms before he has a chance to think better of it. "Damn it." He sighs. "That was my last pair of pajamas."

"Didn't you take them off?" John asks. He sounds sleepy. Good.

"Wiped my hand," Sherlock explains.

John giggles at him. "Couldn't just use the sheets?" he says. "They wash those every day."

Sherlock doesn't say anything. He hasn't let housekeeping wash the sheets in a week.

"Sherlock," John says, after a minute. His voice is slow. "I'm falling asleep."

"Good," Sherlock says quietly. "You should get off the phone."

John makes a small noise of affirmation.

"Sleep well," Sherlock says, and John's voice is thick when he says, "You too."

 

Sherlock lies in wait for Jason to come down with whatever is in the files he brings down for Cynthia every morning at eleven, then ambushes him by the lifts. "Morning," Sherlock says. He's aiming for cheerful, but doesn't quite hit it.

"Oh—morning, Robert," Jason says. Sherlock keeps his face impassive as he watches the way Jason slides his hand off his hip. "Where're you off to?" Jason asks.

"Looking for you, actually." Sherlock tucks his hands into his pockets. Jason mirrors him. Interesting. "Um—Tina. Have you spoken with her today?"

Jason laughs. "Sure," he says. "Can't get out of it. Why?"

"Is she, um." Sherlock hesitates, uncertain how to express, Likely to have me taken down to the docks and killed if I ask her for a favor. "Having a good day?"

Jason grins. "Angling for a pay rise already, are we?" he asks. The lift dings and slides open. "She's always in a good mood on Fridays. Come on, then."

Sherlock rides up to the fifteenth floor with Jason, then heads down the corridor to Moran's office and raps on the edge of her door. She looks up and beams at him, saying, "Come in, come in. How's the Mumbai project coming along?"

It's finished, but he's not going to tell her that. "Fine," he says. "But—I was hoping to talk to you about John."

She raises an eyebrow at him. "I thought I made it clear to you that John's position in my organization was entirely at my discretion," she says, as pleasantly as though they were talking about some random idiot losing his job and not Sherlock's partner being shot execution-style, probably while Sherlock watched.

"It's not about that," he says, which is mostly true. "Neither of us has any desire to antagonize you."

She leans back in her chair. "Well, good," she says.

Sherlock clears his throat. "He isn't sleeping," he says, finally. "And he's a liability, without rest."

"Robert," she says, smiling. "It sounds an awful lot like you're telling me how to manage my staff."

"No," he says, forcing himself to smile back. "I'm giving you advice on how to manage my boyfriend."

"Touché," she murmurs. She still looks amused.

"I do understand why you don't trust either of us very much at the moment," Sherlock tells her, "but if Minot proved anything it should've demonstrated that he can be useful when he has the opportunity to use what he knows."

"He is using what he knows," she observes.

"But he's also not sleeping," Sherlock says. "And people who are tired make mistakes, and however unhappy you may be with us, right at the moment, I can't believe you think it's in your best interest for an assassin out on a job for you in locations unknown to be so exhausted that he can't function."

She's still smiling at him, a very little. "Sweet," she says.

"Yes, that sounds like me," he agrees.

She grins, tapping her pen on her desk. "All right, Robert. Advise me, then."

He nods. "Four days, at least," he says. "Give him four days, with no one to shoot, and a chance to sleep in the same bed all those nights in a row."

"All right," she says. "Easy enough. He can have five."

He breathes out, and she smiles.

"He's back tomorrow," she says. "And I have to check up on the office in San Francisco, starting Monday. He can come with me."

Sherlock stills.

"Oh—don't be like that, Robert," she says. "You're based out of Hong Kong until I'm certain I don't need to keep quite such a close watch on you, and don't pretend you don't know it. He'll get his rest in San Francisco, and I won't have to worry about what the two of you get up to behind my back." She leans in, putting her elbows on the desk and grinning. "I'll even let him have his own hotel room, if he wants it."

Sherlock has been better lately, he thinks, with not rising quite so spectacularly to her bait, but in that moment, his vision blurs.

He tells her, "If you touch him, I will kill you."

She laughs. "Oh?" she says. "What if I just tell him about Lisa Stewart? Or—don't tell me. Was she Irene Adler, when she let you take her back to your hotel?"

Sherlock exhales, forcing himself to relax. "That one's a miss," he says, and manages a smile, somehow. "Not much John doesn't know about Irene."

"Kinky," she says appreciatively. "I mean—not that I'm saying no to a threesome, mind you—"

"Ah, no," he says, crossing his legs, "and that's two misses in a row—your name isn't even in the hat." The knot in his chest feels looser. "John isn't a tidy eater, you know—I've already tasted all I want to, of you."

She smiles, and leans her elbow on the desk, chin in her hand. "Oh, you are fun," she says, admiringly. "I didn't see that one coming. Was I yummy?"

He shows her his teeth. "I would've rather licked Jim off John's face," he says, "if it's that sort of competition."

She pouts, but her eyes are dancing. "You say that now," she says. "But I don't really think you would've liked that at all."

"No," he agrees, leaning back. "I wouldn't."

She laughs, and spreads her hands. "Oh, fine," she says. "John can have a little break, in his own room, in San Francisco, and I will return him to you in the condition in which I receive him. Acceptable?"

"Perfectly," he agrees, and stands. "Thank you."

"Of course," she says, "and—Robert."

"Yes?" he says.

"I'm expecting the file on Mumbai by the end of the day," she reminds him, and smiles.

 

Sherlock is jumpy for the rest of the day. He can't help it. He does go out on his lunch break, and he does go shopping, and then he spends the rest of the afternoon doing some light snooping around the company server. He emails the Mumbai file to Moran at six on the dot, then rolls up his sleeves and loosens his tie and heads out, jacket tucked under his arm. When Jason bumps into him in the building lobby and invites him out for drinks, Sherlock isn't surprised, exactly, but he still hesitates.

"Hot date?" Jason asks, catching the pause. "Hot date definitely trumps drinks with coworkers."

He's grinning, and Sherlock isn't entirely certain what Jason does, so he can't quite figure out what Jason knows, so he says, very cautiously, "Actually—it's just. I'm expecting a call. At seven."

"Ah, right," Jason says. He shifts his weight, then adds, "You could always meet us after, if you want."

Sherlock glances at him. "I—all right," he says, a little uncertainly, and Jason grins.

"You still have my card?" he asks.

Sherlock nods. Jason gave it to him last Friday while showing him around the office; it's been stuffed into his wallet ever since. He didn't know what to do with it, but it seemed unwise to throw it out.

"Give me a call, then," Jason says, and gives Sherlock a wave and heads over to the lifts.

Sherlock heads back to the hotel. It's early, yet; John won't call for a while if he manages to call at all, so Sherlock hangs up his jacket and his tie and sets his new bottle of lube on the bedside table and fills up two bags for the hotel laundry and then it's still not quite quarter to seven, so he squares his shoulders and crouches down on the floor and opens his suitcase. The shopping bag is harmless enough. He opens it up and takes out the camera. He opens the box. He takes out the charger and plugs in the battery, because that, he thinks, is a rational first step. It says it needs to charge for four hours. He checks to make sure that the tripod works all right. He checks the mount on the camera, aims it at the window, the table, the door. He doesn't look at the bed. Then his phone rings, and he trips over his feet trying to shove the camera back into the wardrobe and out of sight.

"Hullo," he says.

"Hi," John says. "You talked to Moran today."

Sherlock pauses. He can't read John's tone. "I told you I was going to," he reminds John. "Didn't go quite like I'd hoped, though. She's taking you to San Francisco."

"Yeah," John says, and then laughs, a little. "I know. But—I finished this afternoon, and when I called she said you'd been by, and then she bumped me up to the red-eye. I'll be back in the morning."

"Oh." Sherlock swallows, and John hums at him. Sherlock sighs and says, "It's not particularly fair for her to make me grateful to her, just now."

John makes a smallish noise of agreement. "Not going to complain, though."

"No." Sherlock rubs at his face. "I'm starting to hate her, a very little, for this sort of thing."

"A very little?" John says, voice soft and warm, and Sherlock says, "A very little. But I hate her quite a bit for a number of other things, so—" and John laughs. Sherlock wants to curl himself around John's voice and stay.

"Listen," John says. "I'm—I've got to leave for the airport, in just a bit, but—"

"I'm going to kiss you," Sherlock tells him, apropos of nothing. "Rather a lot."

"Well," John says, sounding pleased. "Now that's settled."

 

Sherlock ends up being more or less poured back into his hotel room at two in the morning by Jason, Jason's very large friend David, and David's girlfriend Lorena, who giggles a lot and could drink an elephant under the table. Sherlock is, unfortunately, not an elephant. Lorena is sympathetic, and helps him untie his shoes.

Sherlock has never much enjoyed being drunk; it makes him feel slow without, as a general rule, making him less bored, and there were always plenty of more interesting ways to distract himself of a weekend, but he finds to his surprise that he doesn't mind being slow tonight, and he isn't really bored at all. Hong Kong is very full of things that are brightly lit and unfamiliar, and even without John nearby, Sherlock finds that he is pathetically glad to be back in a real city. In the bar Jason had scribbled out a list of places that Sherlock should visit, with extensive help from David, while Sherlock puzzled over Jason's feet—his feet? why did Sherlock keep getting sidetracked by Jason's feet?—and Lorena arranged for Sherlock to be confronted with a series of increasingly neon beverages before finally asking him, "So—girlfriend? Boyfriend?" Sherlock had just glared at her, and she had giggled and stolen the last of his drink, which had had a cherry in it. He very vaguely remembers telling her something embarrassing, much later, in the cab, and that she had patted his head and said, "Oh, Robert, you are so, so drunk," but David and Jason had been arguing loudly over... something else, Sherlock can't remember, so they probably hadn't heard. It was tiring, the way being around ordinary people is always tiring, and Sherlock wriggles his toes in his socks and looks up at the ceiling and thinks about John coming home in the morning, and wishes, a little, that he'd told housekeeping to change the sheets.

He's half asleep before he remembers the camera, hastily crammed into the wardrobe, where John will certainly find it. Sherlock swallows, blinking up at the ceiling. He's still drunk and his shirt is crumpled and sweaty and one of his socks is coming off, but the lube is on the bedside table—maybe he should've put that in the drawer—and the camera is still in the wardrobe and the battery certainly must be charged up by now, and Sherlock did have a plan. He heaves himself up to sitting, a little unsteadily, and then pushes up to his feet. He grabs the battery and sets the tripod up by the table and aims the camera towards the bed. It's a bit tricky to set the frame without a person on the bed for reference, but he can make a good enough guess. The room is a bit shadowy, so he turns on the rest of the lights, then goes back to double-check the view. Better. He still feels awkward about the whole thing, but he can't stop thinking about it, can't stop thinking about John murmuring, You—Jesus, Sherlock, I want that on film, with his finger just dipping into Sherlock's body, with his mouth pressed against Sherlock's skin. Sherlock licks his lips, then hits "Record." Then he goes back over and sits down on the edge of the bed.

The camera is... off-putting. It has a little red light that flashes, and the lens looks sort of like an eye, insistent and unblinking, and also Sherlock had forgotten to take the seal off the lube, so he has to work it off now with the camera staring at him, which is awkward and embarrassing. He can feel his skin heating up, but not in a nice way; he was half-hard earlier but he isn't anymore. He gets the lube open and rubs a bit on his fingertips. It's not the same brand, but it feels fine. He looks at the camera. He needs to stop doing that.

He stretches his legs out on the bed and looks up at the ceiling instead. He's getting to be almost fond of this particular ceiling. Just over twenty-four hours ago he was staring up at the ceiling in shadow while John talked him half to death from two time zones away. Sherlock shivers and rubs his palm down over his flies. He's still very aware of the camera, watching, but he doesn't look at it and he tries to think about John watching, instead; John in San Francisco next week with his laptop, watching Sherlock right now with his palm rubbing over his cock through his trousers, with Moran just on the other side of a too-thin hotel wall, straining to hear. Sherlock breathes out, and throws his arm up over his face, rubbing his forehead on his sleeve. He thinks about John opening up the file and sliding his boxers off—not his shirt, though, probably; probably wouldn't want to risk being caught out if Moran summoned him. Maybe he wouldn't take anything off. Maybe John would try to keep himself under control, just sit on his bed fully dressed with his shirt buttoned all the way up and bite his own lip as he watched Sherlock rocking up against his own hand, still fully dressed. Maybe John would wait until he was so hard it hurt, the constriction of his clothes unbearable, and then just work his trousers and pants down around his thighs, just enough to have access, sighing with relief. Sherlock can't stand it. He undoes the button on his trousers, slides down the zip. He's so hard. Hell. He rubs himself through his pants, already damp over the head of his erection, but he can't stand that, either, so he shoves his hand down under his waistband and groans, helpless. John can be quiet but he'd rather be loud. Sherlock would rather that John were loud, too, but he knows what John sounds like when he's being quiet. Sherlock can hear him, almost: breathing through his mouth, open wide and almost silent—almost, but not quite. If Moran pressed her ear against the wall, she'd hear. Sherlock shivers. John would try to be quiet, but he wouldn't have anything to put in his mouth. Sherlock puts his fingers in his mouth, which is watering. John would see that on his laptop screen and drop his head back against the wall, startled. Moran would feel the wall shake against her cheek, but John would be thinking about Sherlock, thinking about his cock in Sherlock's mouth, maybe, or his fingers instead of Sherlock's fingers, curling against Sherlock's tongue while Sherlock sucked and sucked and John slid around him, hot and tight, flushing pink all over with Sherlock's cock in his arse and Sherlock's hands on his cock and, oh, God—God, Sherlock wants to fuck him. Sherlock wants to fuck up into John in his lap in the big chair—shove it right up to the window—bite down on John's shoulders while John pants and moans and isn't quiet at all, here in Hong Kong and all his. Sherlock wants to take John apart and sleep curled around his back and then send him away with marks to keep with him while he sits on his bed in San Francisco and jerks off in almost-silence while he watches Sherlock coming into his hand in Hong Kong.

Sherlock gasps, blinking hard. His whole body is trembling. His hand is sticky, trapped by his ruined pants. He didn't even get them off. That wasn't at all—that wasn't at all how that was supposed to go. He was going to—he'd had a plan, he was going to—his fingers, and then—his head feels so heavy. He hates being drunk. He can barely keep his eyes open, and that—that was not how that was supposed to go at all. But.

The door bangs shut, and Sherlock startles awake, feeling—well, hungover, for one thing, and also—also disgusting. He blinks up at the ceiling, which looks—different, probably because of the daylight seeping in through the thin white privacy curtain, and then over at the door, where John is standing with his duffle and his laptop bag and a sort of pole-axed expression, which is probably fair, seeing as how Sherlock is fully dressed on their bed with his trousers open and his hand down his pants at—he twists to look—eight in the morning.

"Um, hi," John says, dropping his bags on the floor. "Are you—"

Sherlock struggles to sit up. His head swims, and he loses his balance—ow—trying to unstick his hand from his crotch. He blinks over at John.

"Is that a camera?" John says, wide-eyed. "Is that a video camera?"

Sherlock tells him, "I think I'm going to be sick," and falls off the bed.

 

Sherlock wasn't wrong about being sick. John crouches next to him beside the toilet and pets at his hair and brings him a cup of water and a damp flannel and—loveliest of all—doesn't comment.

"Whatever you may have heard—" Sherlock manages, then spits— "about the alcohol tolerances of tiny Chinese women—"

He gags, then spits again.

"A lie?" John guesses.

"A terrible, terrible lie," Sherlock confirms, then heaves, helpless. John rubs his back.

"Shower?" John asks, very gently, once Sherlock has mostly settled into resting his face against the side of the toilet and trying not to move.

"Eaugh," Sherlock tells him.

"Come on," John says, and helps sit him back; helps him out of his shirt, his open trousers, his ruined pants. John fiddles with the taps; Sherlock sits naked on the tile floor until the water runs warm. It takes both of them together to get Sherlock into the shower. He sits on the floor and tips his head against the wall. John hands him down the shampoo.

"I should've brushed my teeth," Sherlock says, so John gets him his toothbrush. He even puts toothpaste on it. Sherlock is momentarily reluctant to brush his teeth in the shower, but he can't think of any logical reason why he should be, so he brushes his teeth. Then he realizes that John isn't in the bathroom anymore.

Sherlock takes his toothbrush out of his mouth and spits towards the drain, trying not to get toothpaste on his feet. "John!," he calls out. "Don't watch it. It's—I did it wrong. Don't watch it. Are you watching it?"

"...No," John calls back, but the pause is incriminating.

"Don't watch it!" Sherlock insists.

"I'm not!" John pauses, then adds guiltily, "The camera battery is dead."

Sherlock rubs at his face and wonders if John knows how to use an SD card reader. Probably not. "You won't like it," Sherlock calls, just in case.

John pads back into the bathroom, stripping off his boxers. "Want help washing your back?" John asks.

"Won't say no," Sherlock says, and John grins and steps into the shower, helping Sherlock up to his feet.

"Feeling at all better?" John asks.

"A bit," Sherlock says. "Not entirely."

"I didn't think you drank much, really," John says.

"I don't," Sherlock says, and sighs. "I haven't been hungover since secondary school."

"Ah," John says, and starts rubbing shampoo into Sherlock's hair. "You should eat something. Drink some water. It'll help."

"Mm." Sherlock ducks his forehead down to John's shoulder. "Just so you know, this really wasn't the welcome I had planned for you."

"Well, the vomiting was a little unnecessary," John murmurs. "But everything else has been all right. C'mon, then. You're getting shampoo in my ear."

 

Sherlock shaves, then orders them room service on John's instructions—"I don't even really like eggs," Sherlock admits, but John shakes his head and says, "Trust me, you'll like the eggs," so Sherlock orders eggs—while John dumps his dirty clothing in alongside Sherlock's in the bags for the hotel laundry and then tucks the camera and tripod into the wardrobe. John still looks rather enamored of the camera, which Sherlock marks mentally as a success in the general sense, even if he needs to start over on the specifics.

"GMT+10?" Sherlock asks him, over toast and eggs and coffee.

John hunches his shoulders together. "Brisbane," he explains.

"Ah," Sherlock says, and tucks his feet over John's, and John sighs.

"I don't mean to be stupid about it," he says, quiet.

"Oh, no." Sherlock sips his coffee. "I can't think why a turn towards assassination might bother you."

"She's been so fucking respectful of my boundaries," John says, with loathing. "They're all people who eminently deserve to be shot in the head, I'll give her that. She had me take down a—God, this man in Brisbane, he was—crossed the wrong person, got caught up in some sort of... idiotic conflict between Ti—Moran and this bloke, Garner, in Sydney, and Searle—the Brisbane target—was a moron, besides being—being involved in—"

He stops, and takes a breath.

Sherlock can make a fairly good guess, from John's face.

"Drugs or sex?" Sherlock asks.

John rubs at his face. "Sex," he says. His voice is flat.

Sherlock nods. He doesn't ask for specifics. If John could tell him, he would.

"Anyway." John sighs. "No great loss to the world there, but."

"Tell me if you want to run away," Sherlock says, and John smiles over at him, a little strained.

"You would, would you?" John asks. "Abandon the case and your glamorous life of crime—"

"I work in an office, John," Sherlock points out. "I wear a tie."

"—run away with me to the ends of the earth," John continues. His smile looks more genuine, now. "Hide from Moran and all her minions, and your brother and all of his, and everything?"

"Just say the word," Sherlock says. "I hear British Columbia is lovely this time of year."

"We could live in a cabin," John agrees. "Hidden out in the woods—"

"Surrounded by bears," Sherlock agrees, and John grins at him.

 

"Jason gave me a list," Sherlock tells him. John settles against him, tucking his face in against Sherlock's throat, and Sherlock wraps his arms around him without opening his eyes. "Of—of places we should go. Things to see. But."

"Yeah," John says. He's very warm. Sherlock squeezes him.

"Later," Sherlock suggests.

"Mm, later," John agrees, and nuzzles Sherlock's collarbone, and sighs. "I'm going to sleep for a year."

"Good," Sherlock says. He rubs his hand over the back of John's hair. It's more bristly than it was. He must've had it trimmed, in Brisbane.

"Then," John says, a little thickly, "I'm going to watch your video."

"No," Sherlock protests. "I—I told you, it's—it's ghastly. You won't like it. I drank too much with a bunch of kids in their twenties and then had a wank without even taking my clothes off and then I fell asleep; it's not at all something you want to see."

"Mm." John kisses his neck. "And here I thought you knew me."

Sherlock can't keep himself from smiling, at that. He kisses John's hair, and John tightens the arm thrown around Sherlock's side. If Sherlock listens, he can keep track of John's breathing going even, his heartbeat going slow.

 

Sherlock wakes up alone, which is disorienting for a number of reasons. He pushes up onto his elbows. John is gone—as is the room phone, the wire for which is trailing off under the bathroom door, which is closed. Sherlock frowns, but just then the door handle slides open with a barely audible click, and John pads out, carrying the phone in one hand and very obviously trying to be quiet, until he sees that Sherlock is awake.

"Calling, um. Your other lover?" Sherlock guesses, and John grins.

"Room service," he corrects, padding over. "It's almost seven. I've forgotten, do they give Olympic medals for sleeping?"

"We'd have to wait until 2016," Sherlock says, holding out a hand. "Besides, we'd never make the team. No consistency."

John puts the phone back on the bedside table and slides in against Sherlock's arm. Sherlock folds his elbow, tugs. "Dreadful, really," John agrees, crawling back up into bed, but it takes Sherlock a minute to connect the statement back up to their conversation; he's distracted. "We could, um." John slides down under the covers, letting Sherlock tuck an arm under his head. Sherlock kisses his cheek. "Practice?"

"First," Sherlock says. "We were talking about sleep—actual, literal sleep, so that was a terrible come-on." John grins at him. "Second." Sherlock pauses. John is sliding his hand down under the waistband of Sherlock's pajama bottoms, which are filthy anyway; he didn't have any that were clean.

"Second?" John prompts, just barely brushing his knuckles over Sherlock's erection.

"I forgot what I was saying," Sherlock admits, and John laughs and leans over to press his tongue against Sherlock's upper lip. Sherlock kisses him, twice, and then realizes, "The porter."

"Can't join in," John says, and Sherlock rolls his eyes.

"I mean, you ordered room service," Sherlock says. John hasn't stopped touching him. "We should—get dressed, probably. Or at least—at least not be actively—oh."

John grins at him and squeezes, light, and Sherlock tells him, "You're like a child," and John says, "That's—that's really not something I want to hear from you when I've got my hand—" and Sherlock says, "That's not what I meant," and John starts laughing, wide open and helpless, and Sherlock bends in and bites his jaw.

John gasps and stills, then shifts, not much, but enough to push his cock against Sherlock's hip, hard and hot through his boxers, and Sherlock blinks and says, "Or—we could—we could, just a little—" and John says, "I—I don't know what that means, how do you do it just a little," and Sherlock says, "Just—just let me," and gets his hand worked down between them to match John's hand on him and John's breath catches and he says, "I—oh, Jesus, that's—" and then, hand shifting, quick, to grab Sherlock's wrist, "—wait."

Sherlock stops. He watches John. John's eyes are wide. His hand is tight on Sherlock's wrist.

After a minute, Sherlock loosens his grip, but John tightens his. John is breathing hard. He isn't saying anything.

Sherlock breathes out slowly. "All right," he says quietly, and sinks his weight down onto his side. His hand is still curled around John's cock, John holding his wrist in place. Sherlock holds very, very still.

John swallows. Sherlock watches his throat move.

"It isn't." John stops again. He closes his eyes.

Sherlock watches his face. John's breathing is too loud, uneven. Sherlock licks his lips.

After a minute, he asks, "Tea?"

John snorts, startled almost into laughing.

"It's not bad," Sherlock says. "Or—it is bad, actually, because it's—"

"Coffee maker," John guesses.

"Yes," Sherlock says. "But the tea's better here, so—"

"I love you," John says.

Sherlock leans in and kisses his cheek, and John exhales, and lets him.

 

John is quiet while he's getting dressed, pulling on jeans over his boxers and his next-to-last clean shirt, which is checked and very ugly. He doesn't tuck it in and leaves off the undershirt, but he does do up the buttons. Sherlock puts on his jeans and steals John's undershirt from the bathroom floor while the coffee pot on the counter is heating up the water for tea.

When he looks up, John is watching him from the doorway. Sherlock tugs the undershirt down, and John steps over, sliding his hand over the fabric over Sherlock's belly.

"You keep doing that," John says, quiet. "Taking my, um. Undershirts and things." The hem is folded up. John fixes it.

Sherlock clears his throat and reaches over John's arm for the teabags, wrapped in cellophane. "Do you mind?" he asks.

"No," John says. He slides two of his fingertips into the belt loop over Sherlock's pocket.

Sherlock nods. "I'm probably going to keep doing it, then," he says. The water's done. He reaches over John again to fill their cups.

John's hand is still resting on Sherlock's hip. Sherlock finds John's face hard to look at, for some reason.

"Should we—" Sherlock clears his throat. "We could—relocate, to the table, or—"

"I want things from you," John interrupts.

Sherlock stops and looks at him. John's eyes are tight at the corners, his mouth flat and serious. He looks unhappy. Sherlock wishes he weren't.

Sherlock licks his lips. "All right," he says.

"I mean, I always want things from you," John says.

Sherlock feels like he's being asked a question that he doesn't understand. "All right," he repeats, slow.

John's throat moves as he swallows. "I want things from you," he says, very quietly, "that I—that I haven't wanted from anyone else."

Sherlock can see himself in the mirror, over John's shoulder. He sees himself straighten before he realizes that he's doing it.

"You called me your boyfriend," he says. John's jaw tightens. "I mean—you haven't, before; you've always said partner."

"Did it bother you?" John asks. He's not looking at Sherlock's face.

"It was surprising," Sherlock says. "But no, it doesn't bother me—you've just always said partner, so. I wondered what had happened."

John swallows again, mouth twisting. "Something had to happen, did it?" he asks.

Sherlock licks his lips. "Yes," he says.

John doesn't respond.

"You can call me whatever you want, you know," Sherlock tells him, just to clarify, "I just—I'd like it if you told me what happened. It seems. Relevant."

John nods. Sherlock puts his hand on John's shoulder, thumb folded against the base of John's throat.

It takes another minute before John says, "Blokes like that lot," and it comes out fast, a little rough. He stops.

"In Brisbane," Sherlock says.

John nods. "They—it was, a group of—big men, you know?" He's flushing a little. Sherlock doesn't know why. "You know the sort. It's all whose car is the biggest and whose house is the biggest and whose girlfriend has the biggest, fakest tits, it's just—it was that kind of group, and they." He stops, and rubs at his forehead. His hand is shaking. "They always have the same sort of vocabulary, you know, and they always." He swallows. "They had plenty to say. Nothing—nothing specific, you know, all—all friendly, in good fun, about—about—" He stops, and laughs, and shakes his head. "It's always—I've heard it for years and always thought they're talking about my sister and it's—it's always made me—fucking furious, you know, because—because I wanted to say, 'Say it to her face, you don't even have the balls to say it to—'" He takes a breath. "And they wouldn't, they never would have, they were—they knew I was there for Moran and they were frightened of me because next time it might be them but they kept—they kept saying things and I kept thinking, 'You can say it, you can say it and f-fucking laugh about it but if you—if you actually thought it, you wouldn't—you wouldn't ever have the balls to say it to—to say it to my face.'"

John sucks in a breath, and Sherlock rubs at John's shoulder, and John exhales, steps close, pressing his face up against Sherlock's collarbone. Sherlock's heart is pounding, throat tight. He slides his hand around to the nape of John's neck. John's breath against him is warm, too fast.

"I'm forty years old," John says, unsteady. "And I'm too fucking old to suddenly have to—it's always, they've always been—I thought, I've always thought, they're talking about Harry, but then I—then this time, this was the—the first time, and I thought, they're talking about S-Sherlock, and then I thought, they're talking about me."

Sherlock swallows. This particular dimension of John's personality, he finds, is still strange enough to be uncomfortable, if no longer entirely incomprehensible. It's been a long time since Sherlock cared much one way or another about the subtleties of offensive language as applied to his person, but John would, of course; John would embrace what smarted most if he felt it was just, with utter certainty, the same way his hand on his gun never wavers. Sherlock runs head-first into danger because the danger is rarely significant; John does it because he was built to need the fight. It seems unfair, somehow, that this should hold even when it hurts, that John should feel compelled to be contrary even when it makes him miserable, and not just when it makes his heart pound.

"You like women," Sherlock says quietly. He can't not wish that John would find this easy.

John says, "I'm with you."

"But you like women," Sherlock says. "And—well, me. But overall. You like women."

John laughs, a very little, and pulls back, Sherlock's hand sliding down his back. Sherlock rubs his knuckles against John's spine. He wants John to stop feeling the way his face looks.

"It isn't wrong, John," Sherlock tells him. "It's not—dishonest, really."

John rubs his hand over his mouth. "But I'm—it is, sort of," he says. "That's—I'm not willing to be that person, I—"

Sherlock frowns. "You," he says, "but—but you still prefer women, you—"

"I know, Sherlock, that politics is something that happens to other people, for you," John says, quiet. "But I'm not going to be that man who sleeps with men and keeps insisting he's straight."

Sherlock is quiet. He knows that he doesn't understand, not bone-deep and certain, because caring deeply about politics has always seemed to him to be rather like caring deeply about sport—inevitably, at some point, everyone will lose—but he also remembers John saying something not far different on their last morning in Munich, before the two rooms in Dubai that Sherlock hadn't even been able to tolerate as an idea. He remembers that he had said, Politics isn't relevant, usually, and then spent the next several days filled with a helpless and all-consuming rage, torn between personal insult and protective inclination and a boundless need—clumsy and ill-informed in its execution—for John to be happy. He doesn't really like to think about John kissing anybody but he thinks it might be understandable that he has thought about John at seventeen, kissing a boy from his rugby team; that he has considered how careful John must've been, how worried, wondering, Am I, am I, am I, and deciding, more or less scientifically, that he wasn't, only to have Sherlock blunder in two decades later and upset all his research. Sherlock can understand why John might be angry over that, but John has never actually seemed to be angry over that, and it's an uncomfortable realization, Sherlock finds, that there are whole oceans of uncertainty beyond simply being wrong that are yet capable of making John sad.

"I don't want you to be unhappy," Sherlock tells him.

John smiles. It still doesn't look quite right. "I'm really not," he says.

"Aren't you?" Sherlock touches the corner of John's eye.

"I just—I thought of myself in a certain way, and now I can't." John sighs, then laughs, and says, "You too, you know? You decided, didn't you, and then—you changed your mind." He meets Sherlock's eyes. "And you—it still is, um. Difficult for you, isn't it?"

Sherlock doesn't say anything.

"I mean." John rubs at Sherlock's hip. "You still feel lost, sometimes, don't you?"

"Not with you," Sherlock says, too fast, and John gives him a very small smile.

"Sometimes with me," John says, gently, and this time, Sherlock doesn't argue. He presses his mouth to John's temple, instead.

"I'm sorry," John says, unnecessarily. "I know how new this is for you."

"Sometimes it does surprise me," Sherlock says, and then swallows. "It should be simple, I think, because we both—but. It isn't."

"No," John agrees. "That's—that's it, really. It was a surprise. I was—I thought I knew myself, and I—didn't, entirely. And that was unexpected." He brushes his fingers up under the hem of Sherlock's stolen undershirt. "But I'll get used to it."

"And—and me touching you," Sherlock says, uncertain, and John steps closer and says, low, "That's—that's the easy part, that's always the easy part."

Sherlock doesn't know how to interpret that.

"Even—" John takes another half-step, tucking his forehead against Sherlock's neck. "Even when I expect it not to be."

Sherlock breathes out, and wraps his arms around John's shoulders. John slides his around Sherlock's waist.

After a long moment, Sherlock licks his lips and says, "Tea's probably ready."

"Yeah," John says. He doesn't pull back.

There's a knock on the door to the room.

"Oh, fuck them," John sighs, as he lets go and steps out of the bathroom. Sherlock grabs their tea, and catches himself in the mirror. His face looks the same way it always does.

 

They debrief over dinner, because John insists. "I won't remember the details, if we leave it," he says, and his voice is already rough with exhaustion, despite sleeping the day away, so Sherlock asks questions, takes notes (tedious); then passes John's laptop back over after John's finished eating so that John can do the same for him. For the most part it's just a matter of getting down the names and dates and places, weaving data into a snare that Moran won't be able to slip. It's trickier than it ought to be. The situation is proving to be unexpectedly muddy; in the wake of Moran seizing power, bits of Moriarty's organization have apparently felt it necessary to put up a fight.

"Don't like taking orders from a woman, a lot of them, at least not a woman who looks like her," John says, rubbing at his jaw. "They underestimate her, act like she's soft. Gives her a golden opportunity to prove she's not."

Sherlock doesn't say anything. He can hear a hint of self-reproach in John's voice, but Sherlock doesn't have to remind him that when it comes to a fight with Tina Moran, the both of them have yet to do anything better than a draw. Sherlock can still see her, in that abandoned office building, holding John's gun in her small and expensively gloved hands; her threat of violence hadn't surprised him at all, but her coolness had. He knows that he is unusually unable to divorce his mind from his body, but it still seems impossible that even accounting for the biases of Sherlock's abnormally clumsy and irrational heart, any person in her position could be so casually willing to sacrifice John. Sherlock dislikes how much of himself is proving to be subjective.

"You said you were followed in Bangkok," Sherlock says.

"Yeah," John says. "I think in Tokyo, too, but in Tokyo I was having trouble focusing."

"What about Brisbane?" Sherlock asks.

"No," John says.

"You're certain," Sherlock says, and John meets his eyes and nods.

Sherlock rubs at his mouth. "Either she's getting sloppy, or she doesn't think it's worth the resources to watch you anymore," he says. "It isn't, really—not if her own organization is nipping at her heels."

"Your office is all in English, isn't it?" John asks.

Sherlock blinks at him. "What?"

"I mean." John hesitates. "It's—everyone speaks English, don't they? And they use Western names."

Sherlock pauses. "I don't think that's unusual here," he says, shifting.

"That's not quite what I'm getting at," John says slowly. "I mean—you said, earlier, that everyone uses English, even just with each other."

"Yes," Sherlock says, frowning. "But—I mean, English is rather the lingua franca for a company with offices in London, San Francisco, and Hong Kong."

John nods, leaning back in his chair. He looks thoughtful. Sherlock watches him, but John says nothing.

"What does this have to do with Moran?" Sherlock asks, finally. "Cantonese is hardly an unbreakable code, you know. If she picked it up on surveillance she could always hire a translator."

"No, no, never mind," John says, shaking his head. "It's nothing. Just interesting, that's all. What were we talking about?"

"You weren't followed in Brisbane," Sherlock says.

"No," John says. He rubs at his face. "And—she might be getting sloppy, but I sincerely doubt it."

"So do I." Sherlock crosses his arms. "It seems more likely that she's just starting to be willing to give you a bit more trust."

"Oh good," John says. "I've always wanted to earn the trust of an international crime lord."

"Well, you certainly look very trustworthy," Sherlock says. "I think it's the, um. Ears."

John's mouth quirks, eyes warm. "It is good, though, that she's backing off."

Sherlock nods. "We're far more useful to her if we can work as a team. It's just a matter of her figuring that out, getting around to realizing we're not going to sell her out."

John's smile widens. "We actually are, Sherlock."

Sherlock waves a hand. "Only in the long-term sense," he says. "In the short term, we're perfectly reliable. If we give her a plan, it'll be a good plan. Yes, it'd be idiotic of her to give me full access to their systems, but she's got her company servers locked down—all I'm getting is scraps and fragments—but as long as she can keep our misbehaviors within limits, she's going to come out the better for our association."

John rubs at his face. "So basically what you're saying is that she knows we're spying on her and doesn't care."

"Oh, no, she cares." Sherlock swallows the last of his tea. "I'm certain she already has any number of plans in place to limit the damage I can do. She just needs time to adjust for your presence."

"And this doesn't worry you," John says.

"Not particularly, no," Sherlock says.

"And, um—why not, exactly?" John asks.

"We haven't lost yet," Sherlock says. He slides the metal lids back over their empty plates and adds, "Worrying seems premature," and John nods.

 

Sherlock finishes gathering up their laundry while John piles the remains of their meal onto their trays. Sherlock doesn't actually know, for certain, exactly how little sleep John's been getting, but he's still not surprised by the hunched line of John's spine, the way he's started to squint, a little, like the soft honey-golden light from the bedside lamp hurts his eyes. Sherlock doesn't feel all that much better. John manages to stay awake long enough to brush his teeth, but by the time Sherlock's called down to the front desk, tied the tops on their laundry bags, and handed the laundry and the trays off to the porter at the door, John's collapsed across the mattress in his boxers, his discarded jeans and shirt crumpled on the floor. Sherlock feels strange going back to bed after only a couple hours out of it, but John's sprawled out awkwardly, hips twisted, which ends in nightmares and back pain. Sherlock tugs the blackout curtains shut and then strips off his jeans and crawls into bed, pushing John up onto his side and wrapping an arm around him. John grumbles, but doesn't wake up. Sherlock closes his eyes.

He startles awake twice, in the night. The first time his heart screeches from slow to racing in an instant and he can't quite swallow a cry and he is alone, alone, alone, and then he hears the bathroom fan go out with the light. Sherlock hears the door open, sounding misleadingly distant in the darkness, then the shush of John's feet against the carpet, and then Sherlock reaches out and puts his hands on John's body and John's face and John says, "Are you—oh, Sherlock," very soft. In the darkness John presses his mouth to Sherlock's mouth and his hands into Sherlock's hair, and his breath comes warm and damp and fast between them, and Sherlock shakes his head and whispers, "Idiotic, really," and John whispers, "No, no," petting Sherlock's hair as Sherlock presses his mouth to John's throat and moves—and moves—and moves

The second time, it's just for a moment. He's wrapped around John's back. John is breathing through his nose, steady and slow, damp against the dip of skin between Sherlock's right forefinger and thumb, mouth tucked up against Sherlock's palm and drooling, a little. Sherlock's left arm is folded up, tucked under his head, and John has his right foot hooked back around Sherlock's ankle. Sherlock breathes in the good smells at the nape of John's neck and closes his eyes.

The next time he opens them, the room is very still, dark despite the sliver of bright light at the edge of the curtains, and a little over-warm. The covers have mostly migrated onto John in the night, as they tend to do, and Sherlock's back is bare and cool. John has tugged Sherlock's hand down to his chest, but other than that, they don't seem to have moved. John isn't sleeping. Sherlock can tell from his breathing.

"Is it morning, then?" Sherlock asks.

"Yeah," John murmurs.

Sherlock curls his fingers around John's. "Are we still sleeping?" he asks. He feels a little foggy.

"Can if you want," John says.

"Mm." Sherlock ducks back down to John's shoulder. John squeezes his hand. "I think I'd rather wake up," Sherlock tells him.

John breathes out and rolls over onto his back, then onto his right side, facing Sherlock. Sherlock squints at him, rubbing a thumb over John's stubble. John scoots closer, pressing his palm to Sherlock's hip. "Why don't you always wake up naked?" John asks, sliding his hand over Sherlock's arse. "I like this."

"Well," Sherlock says, "much to my dismay, you very rarely strip me naked for a midnight round of exotic sexual practices—"

"That wasn't exotic," John says, grinning.

"Consider it in the nature of a request," Sherlock says, wriggling closer, and John laughs. "Besides," Sherlock says. "I sent all my pajamas down with the laundry while you were comatose last night."

John's hand stills, his fingers curled just against the top of Sherlock's thigh. "Out of curiosity," he says, and then pauses to kiss Sherlock's cheek. "What were you wearing, when you sent all your pajamas out with the laundry?"

Sherlock shifts his hips a little, and John obligingly starts to pet back up towards the small of Sherlock's back.

"Was it just your pants?" John asks, a little breathless. "Is it wrong that I hope it was just your pants?"

Sherlock can't quite stop himself from grinning. "I could tell you it was just my pants," he says.

"I would like you to tell me it was just your pants," John agrees.

"I was wearing my pants," Sherlock tells him, very seriously, "and nothing else."

"Oh, lovely." John sighs and nuzzles his face into Sherlock's neck. His fingertips are sliding over Sherlock's skin, maddeningly slow, and when Sherlock wriggles closer, John exhales, hot against Sherlock's throat. Sherlock swallows, and John curls his fingers, tugging Sherlock's skin taut, pulling him open, just a little. Sherlock swallows, and tucks his knee over John's hip, to give John better access. John pulls back enough to meet his eyes, blurry, too close, and Sherlock feels the pressure-points of John's three fingers pulling his skin up and open and then the brush of the fourth, feather-light and gentle, just against him.

Sherlock's face feels hot. "I was going to," he explains, "I wanted to—um. The camera."

John blinks, twice.

"You said you wanted it on film." Sherlock clears his throat. "So."

John's eyes widen. "You are," he breathes, "amazing."

"I didn't get that far," Sherlock admits. "I had a plan, but. I didn't get that far."

"I know," John says, pressing his whole body up close, so that Sherlock's breath catches. "I copied the video to my laptop and watched it while you were shaving."

Sherlock's toes curl, going tense.

"I'm going to watch it again," John murmurs, his fingers moving, steady and light. He hasn't even pushed in, not at all, not even a little, but Sherlock's skin already feels tight, shivery. "I'm going to watch it again—and again—and again—and then I'm going to let it—um. Just let it keep playing. All the way until the end, while I go to sleep. Listening to you snore."

"I don't snore," Sherlock whispers. He presses his forehead against John's forehead.

"You do," John tells him. "I have evidence."

"You also have evidence of me drunk and coming with my hand down my pants," Sherlock says, quiet, sliding his mouth down over John's jaw. "Not—not my usual habits."

John is still touching him, slow, gentle; his hips just barely shifting, the only part of him that's impatient. "We could do it again," he murmurs. "Um. Get the camera out. Take two."

"John," Sherlock says, and John lets go of him—no—then twists up over him, fumbling for the lube on the bedside table. He settles back down, close, watching Sherlock's face, and Sherlock swallows and nods. John swallows and thumbs open the cap, which clicks. The sound makes every hair on Sherlock's body stand on end.

"So," John says. "You had a plan, hm?" He's slicking up his fingers. "I want to hear about this plan," he murmurs, and then pulls his fingertips away from his thumb. A thread of lube just barely shimmers between them, then breaks, and Sherlock catches his breath.

John is watching him, so close Sherlock can make out the individual bristles of his stubble, even as dim as it is, with the curtains closed.

"I was going to touch myself," Sherlock says, "at first."

"Where?" John says. It sounds too loud. He's very close.

"Just like I did," Sherlock says. "Rub my hand over—over my c-cock—"

He stops and swallows, and John works his hand down and pets at Sherlock's erection, and Sherlock takes a breath.

"You didn't take anything off," John says. "Did you mean to?"

Sherlock exhales. "Yeah," he says. "I—I was going to get myself hard, and then—then pull myself out, to show you."

John shifts. The blankets slide off his back. He turns his hand and rubs his palm up, then down again, and then wraps his slick fingers around Sherlock and Sherlock shivers, arching up, as John draws Sherlock's cock away from his body, sliding his fingers up to the tip.

"I can see it," John says, "the way you—the way you'd just work your pants down, just a little—Christ. You were going to tease me, weren't you?"

"Yes," Sherlock says, "But not for long."

John nods, stroking him slowly, unbearably light.

"It's hard to demonstrate, when I'm already naked," Sherlock explains. He's getting a little breathless.

"I know what you look like," John says. "Sliding—sliding your pants off, just showing me the tip—"

"Yes," Sherlock says.

"—I'd be watching and thinking about putting it in my mouth," John tells him.

Sherlock swallows. "But you couldn't," he says.

"No," John agrees. He slides his thumb over the tip.

"Because—because you'd be watching a video," Sherlock says, quiet. "From—far away."

John ducks down, and presses his mouth to the corner of Sherlock's mouth. "I know, I'm cheating," John admits. His stubble scratches at Sherlock's cheek.

Sherlock twists to kiss him. "Just a bit," Sherlock whispers, against John's mouth, and John sighs and squeezes, just a little, but enough to make Sherlock's hips arch, helpless.

"Then what?" John asks, as Sherlock squirms against him. John's hand is either too much or not enough, slow slow slow and torturous, all the cells in Sherlock's blood magnetized, drawn to John's touch. "You'd get yourself hard for me, and pull yourself out for me, and then—"

"I wouldn't want to stop but I'd have to," Sherlock says, too fast, "or—or I'd come just like that, knowing you were watching."

John nods and kisses him again, and Sherlock whispers, "I want to touch you," and John shakes his head and whispers,  "But you can't," and kisses him, "I'm far away, and you—you need both hands, to—what's next?" and Sherlock swallows and says, "The lube, I'd—I'd get my fingers slick and put them inside myself. I want to touch you. You would be touching yourself, I know you would be, you'd be—"

His voice lodges in his throat, heavy and rough, immovable, as John tugs Sherlock's leg back up, high over John's smooth side. John fumbles the lube open again, and Sherlock takes it away from him when he's done.

"I'm far away," John reminds him, and Sherlock says, "I'm cheating," and John's smile is sudden and wide. John leans in, presses kisses to Sherlock's mouth and jaw and mouth and throat and mouth and mouth and mouth while Sherlock brushes his slicked-up thumb over John's nipple, leaves sticky fingerprints on John's ribs, while John tugs at Sherlock's knee, Sherlock's hip, until John's hand on his arse pulling him apart feels like an afterthought. Sherlock tucks his hand into the small space between their bodies to curl his fingers around John's cock, whispering, "You would, you would be," when John squirms against him, and John whispers back, "How many, how many?" Sherlock kisses him and whispers, "Three, just a little, just to see if I could—oh—" and John presses close, panting, "Oh, I—God, what you must look like right now." His three fingertips are held tight together, just pushing against Sherlock's body, just barely, hardly at all, so slight that every time Sherlock really feels it, it's gone again. John is whispering, "You could—you could do this for hours, couldn't you? Just—just rubbing against yourself, hardly even opening yourself up, just a tease—but you could get so much deeper if you just pushed one in," and Sherlock shakes his head and says, "Two, I'd use two at least—" and John exhales, pushing slow, slow, slow, as Sherlock breathes in and in and in.

"God," John whispers. Sherlock swallows and rubs his palm over the head of John's cock, desperate, restless, while his body throbs around John's fingers. Every nerve in his body that isn't telling him about John has gone quiet. All Sherlock can feel is how near John is, inside, even; how salty-sharp he smells and how scratchy his stubble is; how heavy his cock is, blazingly hot, leaking and slick against the pad of Sherlock's thumb. Sherlock leans in to kiss John's throat and tastes sweat and musk; tastes John's morning breath when John twists to meet him.

Finally, Sherlock manages, "That's—that's. Your fingers are—I can't quite do that on my own."

"I know," John says, breathless, kissing him again. "I'm cheating."

Sherlock swallows, hard, and says, "Cheat more," and John laughs, and Sherlock feels—Sherlock feels the pull of John's fingers, tugging Sherlock open, the stretch of John's fingers pushing him apart, and—and Sherlock can't breathe. "Closer," he mouthes, but he can't—he can't get sound behind it, can't get air, but John wriggles closer so that Sherlock can get his hand around them both just as John pushes a third finger in, and Sherlock's throat scrapes, raw, and he presses his face to John's face, clumsy, as he works his hand, and—and—

John presses his mouth against the edge of Sherlock's. Sherlock closes his eyes.

"Well." John swallows.

"Mm." Sherlock licks the corner of John's mouth. John shifts his hand, gentle, sliding his fingers out whisper-soft and slow, and Sherlock exhales.

"All right?" John asks. Sherlock nods. John presses their foreheads together, breathing out. "Still need to get that on video."

Sherlock can feel himself smiling. He says, "I need at least half an hour," and John laughs.

"I think we should probably take a shower," John says, rubbing Sherlock's hip. "Maybe, you know. Clear out for a bit, to let housekeeping come by. We haven't exactly improved the sheets. They smell like we've been badly misusing them for a week."

Sherlock swallows, blinking at him, and after a second, John frowns, sliding his hand off Sherlock's hip.

"You—why are you tensing up?" John asks, propping himself up onto his elbow. "You—oh."

"In my defense," Sherlock says.

John shakes his head. "God, no, you can't—"

"In my defense," Sherlock repeats.

"Sherlock, that's—really—" John stops, shaking his head, then makes an indecipherable noise and rolls out of bed.

"You weren't here," Sherlock explains. "They smelled like you."

"I—shower," John tells him, padding off into the bathroom. Sherlock can't tell if he's angry or amused. "I'm—I'm going to take a very long, very hot shower, with lots of soap—"

"It's just us," Sherlock points out, climbing up and following him. He leans against the wall while John starts the water. "It's not like it's someone else's—"

"Please," John says, sticking his head out from the shower. His cheeks are red, but the corner of his mouth is turned up. "Please, do not finish that sentence, Sherlock."

Sherlock crosses his arms over his chest. "I like it," he says. "And I haven't exactly noticed you complaining when I'm licking it off your fingers—"

John laughs—amused, then. Mostly. "It's hot at the time," he says. "An hour or two later, it really isn't. After—what? A week? Week and a half? At that point I start to question my judgement in continuing to sleep with you." John runs his hand under the shower spray and steps in, so Sherlock pushes off the wall and follows.

"That's not true," Sherlock observes, tugging the shower door shut.

"Well, no," John admits, smiling. He touches Sherlock's sticky hip. "But I should."

Sherlock rolls his eyes, and John turns, ducking his head under the spray. Sherlock reaches for the soap and starts lathering up his hands. "I sleep better when I can smell you," Sherlock says, rubbing his palms over John's back.

"I know," John says, grabbing the shampoo. "I sleep better when you're snoring in my ear. I shouldn't throw stones."

"I don't snore," Sherlock says. It's a tiresome argument. He doesn't snore.

"You do, a bit. It's like one of those white noise machines." John steps under the water to rinse off, then shuffles to trade places with Sherlock. "What about one of my undershirts, then?" John asks. The water's very warm. "You steal them all the time anyway. And they're not. You know. Covered in come, as a general rule."

Sherlock rubs soap into his armpits. "Pity," he says, and John grins and pinches him.

 

In the end, John ends up wearing his most badly-fitting pair of jeans (unacceptable), his new blue shirt (lovely), and no boxers (intriguing). It's all he has left that's clean. Sherlock ends up rewearing his jeans and John's undershirt, for the same reason, but he does turn up a clean pair of pants. Then John hides the lube in the drawer in the bedside table and they go to get breakfast and to spend some time outside of the room, which, according to John, is the socially mandated activity after sleeping for almost twenty-four hours and having a lot of sex. Sherlock doesn't mind, exactly. They end up hunched over an unsteady laminate-topped table, eating congee with pork and preserved eggs, their knees bumping together while Sherlock fiddles with the empty cup from his milk tea. John's not touched his.

"Not going to drink your tea?" Sherlock asks.

"Bit weird, don't you think?" John looks up at Sherlock's face as he says it, then smirks and swaps their cups, so Sherlock can drink his, too.

"Snob," Sherlock tells him, but he takes the tea.

"It has evaporated milk in it," John says. "Not all of us choose to drink our daily allotment of cholesterol before ten in the morning."

Sherlock just finishes the cup. He's thirsty, and he likes milk tea. He likes that their knees are touching, too; that outside the restaurant John touches his back, his elbow, as they wander up and down the streets. John seems perfectly content to let Sherlock pick the route; Sherlock's been walking most days at lunch, but he still hasn't mapped out more than a tiny fraction of the city, and he still feels off-balance and alarmed when he rounds a corner and doesn't know what's coming. Wandering helps. It's as humid as it was during the week, but Sherlock doesn't mind so much without the tie, and John rolls up his sleeves, which Sherlock doesn't mind at all. Every now and again John touches Sherlock's arm to stop him to look at some plaque or temple or curiosity, and it takes the rest of the morning for the contact to stop catching at Sherlock's mind, snagging at the periphery of things that Sherlock has been mostly ignoring.

In the aviary in the park John leans against the railing next to Sherlock leaning against the railing, looking out at a pair of black-capped lories making a late lunch out of—Sherlock squints—a half of an apple, it seems. John's elbow is not quite touching Sherlock's, close enough that the heat in the air feels like it's hitting John's skin and rebounding into Sherlock's. John turns to smile at him, and Sherlock realizes he's been staring. He clears his throat and looks back out towards the birds.

After a minute, he says, "I, um. Still think about it."

"Think about what?" John asks.

Sherlock is acutely aware that they are very far from alone. He hasn't intentionally been keeping track and he doesn't know the occupancy of the aviary offhand, but he's seen the older couple two meters behind John's shoulder four times, now, and the girls pointing up into the canopy a meter and a half past them aren't the same group of girls they saw clustered around someone's mobile watching a video on their way in. But no one is paying any attention to them, and English isn't unusual enough, here, to really catch the ear, and Sherlock is capable of keeping his voice low.

"The rings," he explains.

John nods. He hasn't looked away from the birds. "I do too," he says. "I was, when—um. In Brisbane."

Sherlock shifts his weight. "Oh," he says.

John glances over at him, then back out into the trees.

"You mean," Sherlock says, and then stops, because he doesn't know what John means.

"Oh," John says. "Sorry. I mean, it's going to come up."

Sherlock nods, uncertain.

"I mean—it already comes up." John shifts his elbows. "But it's definitely going to come up more when I marry you."

Sherlock stares at John, then turns and stares straight ahead. A third bird comes down for the last of the apple. A spirited debate ensues.

"I just mean." John shifts, leaning into Sherlock's side for an instant, too hot. "I know that I have things I need to, um. Work out, in my head, before we do."

"Right." Sherlock nods. His throat hurts for no reason.

After a minute, he observes, "Sometimes you speak as though it's inevitable."

A boy runs behind their backs, making the walkway shake. His father calls after him.

"I think it is," John says.

Sherlock nods. He swallows. "In—in a bad sort of a way?" he asks.

"What?" John glances at him. "No. In a—in a that's-where-this-Tube-line-goes sort of a way."

"Right." Sherlock straightens up, rocks back onto his heels. He's thinking about the last run of the night, parallel tracks, the anatomy of—

"You're overanalyzing that metaphor, aren't you," John says.

Sherlock squints up at the birds. "A bit," he admits.

"I didn't mean it like that," John tells him, smiling.

"I know," Sherlock says.

"It just seems stupid," John says, "to, um. I mean. That is what both of us are thinking. We're each carrying a ring."

Sherlock shifts. "Right," he agrees.

John nods.

After a minute, he drops his voice, murmuring, "I know that lately you live on milk tea and, um, perverted sexual fantasies, but for those of us who actually eat lunch—"

"There's a cafe," Sherlock suggests, and John grins and says, "I'll buy you a milk tea."

"What about the perverted sexual fantasies?" Sherlock asks, and John touches his back, just for an instant, and says, "Later."

 

In the room, Sherlock presses his mouth to John's temple—John's mouth when John presses up onto his toes—John's throat when John presses Sherlock back into the overstuffed chair by the window.

"You're getting better," Sherlock says, breathless and delighted. "Though I'm not sure how you worked it out."

"What?" John's standing up, pushing down his jeans. "Worked what out?" He's still not wearing any pants, which, logically speaking, seeing as how Sherlock watched him get dressed, should really not be as surprising as it is.

"Oh—I thought about this chair." Sherlock reaches for the hem of his undershirt and tugs it off. "I thought you figured it out."

"No, sorry, still not psychic," John says. "But it's a good chair."

"Mm," Sherlock agrees. He's a little distracted.

"Spacious," John adds.

"Yes. Only." Sherlock pauses, then admits, "When I thought about it the chair was closer to the window."

John's fingers go still on his shirt buttons. He looks over at the window. Housekeeping has pulled the blackout curtains open, but they've left the translucent privacy curtain in place.

"You could always move it," John says, "if you wanted to."

Sherlock stands up and pushes the chair over to face the window. Perfect. Then he peels off his jeans and pants and straightens back up to watch John, completely naked and already half-hard, watching him. John brushes his palm over his own ribs absently, like he isn't really paying attention, and Sherlock does remember, in a vague sort of way, that John was going to get him to do things to himself on camera, but it seems impossible to resist the opportunity to touch John, now, like this, in person, while they still have the chance. Sherlock reaches out for him and John goes, sliding up close, tucking his feet at either side of Sherlock's foot, sliding his hands over Sherlock's back as Sherlock bends to kiss him.

John scrapes the pads of his fingers down to curl at the dip of Sherlock's spine, and Sherlock practically falls over trying to sit down and pull John down after him, all at the same time. John snorts, then laughs, then pulls himself up and slides his knees up next to Sherlock's hips, settling his weight against Sherlock's thighs. Sherlock likes John most ways, but especially like this, where John is enough taller that Sherlock can run his tongue along the line of John's throat, into the hollow under John's ear, without bending down. John's breathing is noisy, up close, and he smells like sweat and a little like Thai curry from the cafe, and his expression is very soft, eyes half-closed mouth half-smiling, whenever Sherlock can bear to pull back far enough to look at him.

"This is your, um." John pauses to smooth out Sherlock's fringe, which he has been mauling, rather. "Your perverted sexual fantasy, then. Naked kissing in the chair by the window?"

Sherlock rubs his mouth against John's neck, mumbling, "Not quite, but it'll do," and John laughs and kisses him again, and again, and again, until Sherlock's mouth throbs with it, feeling bee-stung, too hot.

Then John says, "I want to, can we—" and Sherlock says, "Yes," because it doesn't even matter what the end of that question is, for the answer to be yes, but then John is sliding off his lap—no—and down onto the floor, and oh. Sherlock drops his shoulders against the back of the chair and pushes his hair away from his too-hot face while John rubs circles with his thumbs at the tops of Sherlock's thighs and nuzzles the crease of his hip and then licks up his cock, clumsy and rather awkward-looking but still shockingly good, because John flushed and dark-eyed and putting his mouth all over Sherlock's body will always be good, it could never be anything but good. Sherlock drops his hand down to John's head, rubs his thumb up the back of John's ear, and John makes a sort of "Ngh—" noise as he draws Sherlock deeper into his mouth, his other hand dropped down and invisible, the muscles in his scarred shoulder flexing. Sherlock scrapes his thumbnail down the shell of John's ear, and John shivers. John's foot is pressed against the base of the window, just pushing the privacy curtain up, so that Sherlock can see an indecipherable sliver of the building opposite. John presses his tongue close and tight, pressure on top of pressure, velvety and wet, and Sherlock struggles to make his throat work enough to say, "Curtain—your foot, your foot is on the curtain—" and John makes a choked sort of a noise and looks up at him, and then slides his foot out, slowly, deliberately, pushing the curtain open wider.

Sherlock has to look away, just for a second, look up at the ceiling—no—out the window—no—and then, helpless, heart pounding, back down at John's face, at John's mouth stretched out around him, flushed and shiny, at the gleam of sweat at John's hairline and throat, at John's eyes looking straight up at him while John's foot slides wider and wider so that anyone, anyone could see, so that anyone looking up could see John with his feet apart and his back to the window, could see exactly what Sherlock can't see, John's lovely spine and John's arse and the dark-brown shadow of crinkly hair between John's cheeks—maybe—maybe even the underside of John's balls, which Sherlock knows feel satiny and heavy on his tongue and taste salty and dark and make his mouth water, but probably not John's cock which is fair because Sherlock can't see John's cock, not with John pressed close in between Sherlock's thighs with Sherlock's cock nudging John's soft palate while John jerks himself off with Sherlock in his mouth and Sherlock—Sherlock absolutely has to stop him, he has to, but he—he just can't, he can't, he can barely manage to whisper, "Jo—oh—" before his whole body trembles like an over-tuned string, and then snaps.

Sherlock swallows and John swallows, and then coughs, and then pulls off, and Sherlock watches John's throat move as he swallows again, wiping the back of his wrist over his mouth as Sherlock tugs at his shoulders, telling him, "Come here, come here, please," so John stumbles up to his feet and Sherlock grabs John around the waist and drags him close. Sherlock bends to lick at John's collarbone, then rubs his thumb over the slit of John's cock and then licks it off. John moans, and Sherlock pushes at his hips until John gets the idea and turns so that Sherlock can pull John down to sitting, facing the window, his knees wide around Sherlock's, his thighs spreading open when Sherlock shifts his apart.

Sherlock gets his hand around John's cock, and John makes a low, rough noise and leans back against Sherlock's chest, twisting to kiss him, and Sherlock badly wants to lick his own taste out of John's mouth but he also badly wants to say, "Get the curtain, John," because it's fallen shut again, and John makes a ragged noise, leaning forward, awkward over Sherlock's hand, to give the curtain a good tug. It falls open perhaps eighteen inches, and now, now Sherlock can kiss him and rub at his belly and kiss him and rub his precome down over the head of his cock and kiss him and pet at his balls while he pants against Sherlock's mouth, head tipped back, throat bared, the whole of his body spread out over Sherlock's body and on display. Sherlock feels a bit guilty about it, that that eighteen-inch sliver of window glare and addictive glimpses of skin is all that anyone else will get—a bit guilty, but not very. John's pulse is throbbing everywhere that Sherlock touches and John is rubbing at his own belly, his own chest and throat, and John isn't quiet at all.

"Yes?" Sherlock whispers, pulling at him, and John nods and nods and Sherlock likes how pink John's ears are so he says, "Someone might see you, you know," and John groans, his cock pulsing, just once, just a little, so Sherlock adds, "Someone might be watching you right now," just to be helpful, and John gasps and arches up, pushing into Sherlock's hand and coming hot and creamy and slick. Sherlock rubs his hand through John's come and up John's belly, and then sucks the last of it off his thumb, since John is still lax and panting against him, eyes closed, not paying attention.

"You." John swallows. Sherlock waits for the rest, but John doesn't continue.

"Good?" Sherlock asks.

"Fuck, yeah," John breathes, and then twists, turning to kiss Sherlock again, open-mouthed and wet and sloppy. It's a terrible angle. Sherlock doesn't care. John's heartbeat is slowing gradually and he is very warm and very heavy, and the curtain is still open. Sherlock is perfectly content.

 

Eventually they rouse themselves enough to shower—Sherlock reluctantly tugging the curtain shut after John sits up to look out at Hong Kong and then promptly flushes right down to his knees—and then stuff themselves at a Malaysian restaurant on Jason's recommendation. The food is significantly better outside of the hotel, which Sherlock finds he cares about more with his knees bumping John's than he does on his own. He likes the way John's cheeks stick out when he chews.

It's early when they make it back to the hotel, but Sherlock still feels rushed, his hands on John's hips and his mouth against John's ear. He thinks he will always feel rushed, like this, where their time dissipates like smoke in open air and soon they will both be imperfect, separate and alone. Sherlock's body fits properly around John's body. When John finally pulls away from him to turn off the alarm, Sherlock feels suddenly ill-made.

Sherlock doesn't entirely know what possesses him, but when he follows John into the bathroom and takes his razor away, John lets him. John leans his back against the sink and presses fingerprints into Sherlock's hips, just above his pajama bottoms, breathing heavy and uneven while Sherlock slides the razor over John's jaw, slow and careful. It's awkward, from this angle, unfamiliar; but Sherlock is a fast learner, and he wants very little less than he wants to hurt John. He doesn't nick him once.

"It's only a week," John says, quiet, while Sherlock is wiping the last of the shaving foam off of John's throat.

"Please don't," Sherlock says, unsteady.

John leans towards him, kisses the corner of his mouth, and doesn't say anything else until after he's dressed and shouldered his bag, when Sherlock curls his fingers up under the strap and pulls until John can't get any closer. Eventually John pulls back enough to murmur, "I have to go," and then again, later, "I really have to go," and then, barely a breath, "Sherlock—"

Sherlock kisses him one last time and then forces his fingers to relax. The webbing of the strap has left marks in his skin. John rubs his thumb over them and says, "I'll call you when I get in."

Sherlock nods, and folds his arms over his chest, and watches John leave.

Then he showers and shaves and puts on a tie.

 

Sherlock has spent most of the past month—perhaps even two—adjusting what he has considered axiomatic. He still takes it as a given that desire does, in fact, make him slower, but he can also assume, now, that there is something that makes John essential, some inexplicable characteristic of John's John-ness that makes Sherlock function better. Sherlock suspects that the positive effects of John's person can, in fact, fully compensate for the negative effects of Sherlock's libido, but he doesn't have any particularly concrete evidence to that effect until John texts him from the airport, just before takeoff, to ask if Sherlock in fact ate breakfast, and Sherlock looks up from his mobile to see Jason standing by the lifts, sliding his hand over his hip in what Sherlock finally recognizes as the eternal way of people in suits with badges. Sherlock feels his awareness narrow to a cutting edge, sharp at the back of Jason's hair (Dimmock), the angle of his spine (Donovan), the soles of his shoes (Lestrade). Sherlock thumbs out a reply without looking down, then tucks his phone into his pocket and steps up to Jason's side.

"Good morning," Sherlock says, and smiles like Jason is ordinary, and Jason smiles back, wide and earnest, but his eyes remain sharp, assessing, careful. Sherlock should've seen it earlier.

"Good weekend?" Jason asks, stepping into the lift.

"Yes, you?" Sherlock says, stepping in after him. Jason makes an affirmative noise as Sherlock holds the door-close button to prevent anyone else from joining them. When the doors slide shut, Sherlock tucks his hands in his pockets and says, "We should have lunch," easy, and Jason doesn't tense or look at him or anything, but Sherlock is paying attention, so he catches the wire-thin pause before Jason says, "Of course."

Sherlock smiles at him again before getting out on the ninth floor. Jason smiles back. It even looks almost natural. Sherlock heads to his desk and gets to work—tedious this morning, as usual: a bank fraud in Houston; minor political intrigue in La Paz—so Sherlock assembles his files automatically and thinks about Jason, undercover with MM&M Technology, as Sherlock and John are undercover with MM&M Technology, but Sherlock doesn't manage for a moment to fool himself into thinking they're building the same case. He wishes he could discuss it with John, but John won't be on the ground until nearly midnight, and besides, even if their phones aren't bugged and they're religiously careful to keep them that way, Sherlock is unwilling to take any chances that what Moran can't find out with technology she might discover simply by proximity. He can't contact John.

Instead, he waits until noon and then heads up to the fifteenth floor. Jason is speaking quietly with a man Sherlock doesn't know (glasses slightly askew, pinched forehead—wrists—posture—tie—coffee, sleeve: software programmer, then), and Sherlock wishes, not for the first time, he had Mycroft's way with languages, because he's fairly competent with written Chinese and he can muddle his way along with spoken Mandarin, but he's never been able to understand much Cantonese, and with Moran out of the office, his coworkers tend to slip in and out of English more casually. Sherlock finds it alarming. Jason catches sight of him and gives him a small nod, then finishes speaking to the software programmer and steps over, sliding his hands over his hips in that same idiotically distinct way. He needs to stop doing that. It's going to get him killed.

"I didn't think you ate lunch," Jason says. "You don't tend to stop at anywhere nearby."

"I don't eat lunch often," Sherlock says. "So you ought to pick."

Jason takes him to the sort of hole-in-the-wall restaurant Sherlock prefers in London because they intimidate tourists and dislikes in Hong Kong for precisely the same reason, but it has the striking advantage that it's loud enough they can barely hear each other, let alone anyone at the surrounding tables. Good. Sherlock isn't interested in mincing words.

"So, how long have you been undercover with MM&M Technology?" Sherlock asks, and Jason smiles.

"I think I should let you know that I have a gun," Jason says. "And I'm quite a good shot."

"That would be sloppy," Sherlock says. "You don't want to shoot me, especially not in here. The paperwork would be outrageous."

"All right," Jason says agreeably. "Then give me a reason not to shoot you."

"I'm going to," Sherlock tells him. "I'm going to tell you how I found you out. But first: how long have you been undercover with MM&M Technology?"

"You seem to be under the mistaken impression that I owe you any sort of explanation at all," Jason says. "I know you're not with the police or with the government; you apparently know that I am, which is unfortunate, but in this particular scenario, you owe explanations to me, and not the other way around."

"You're operating under a faulty premise," Sherlock says, folding his arms over his chest. "Can you really know everyone who does and does not work for the government?"

Jason raises an eyebrow. "I had it confirmed," he says. "Ran your picture up and down the system. Everything came back negative—and not the sort of non-answer I'd get if you were working for us and for some reason my superiors didn't want to say. Genuine negatives, Robert. You're not one of ours."

"No," Sherlock says, "but Britain has always had a special relationship with Hong Kong, and—"

Jason puts up a hand, mouth drawn thin. "We do have a special relationship with Britain," he says. His voice is tense. "But I'd be very interested to know what British credentials you think give you the right to break the law in Hong Kong."

Sherlock stops. "I'm not—" he starts, and then stops again. He straightens his shoulders.

"I have to admit, I would very much like to know how you found me out," Jason says, after a minute.

Sherlock is quiet. He has started to notice the other people in the restaurant, sitting in twos and threes and chatting loudly. A disproportionate number of them are young men, and a highly disproportionate number are sitting with their bodies angled in such a way that they have narrow-angle glimpses of Jason and Sherlock's table.

Sherlock licks his lips, then puts his hands on the table. Jason watches him.

"We're on the same side," Sherlock says.

"I doubt that," Jason replies. He shifts, and Sherlock catches a ripple of movement at the other tables. Sherlock isn't afraid, but he would very much prefer to not be in this situation. He isn't with the police, and here, Mycroft isn't watching. John is in the air over the Pacific, not outside with his gun, and Sherlock has his usual assortment of small and personal fatalities tucked into the lining of his suit jacket, but they're rather a one-shot business. Using any of them would be a tactical error, and probably a very final one.

"I'm not particularly interested in being killed today," Sherlock says. "Death is tremendously inconvenient."

Jason shifts in his chair. "So is the paperwork," he says. "I'd prefer to avoid the issue all together."

Sherlock exhales. He nods.

Jason smiles, a bit. "So," he says. "Tell me how you spotted me, then."

"This is our negotiation?" Sherlock asks.

"It's a start," Jason says. "Tell me how you spotted me."

Sherlock drums his fingertips against the table. "The way you stand," he says, finally. A lie seems both unnecessary and risky.

"The way I stand?" Jason frowns.

"Yes," Sherlock says. "There are certain things that are universal, you know. I worked closely with the police in London. You put your hands on your hips like you're carrying a badge, and your shoes are wrong, for an ordinary office worker. And the way you have your hair cut is not quite right, either, but the way you put your hands on your hips is the most recognizable."

"All right," Jason says slowly, then sips his tea. "I'll have to work on that."

Sherlock's knee is bouncing. He forces it still.

Jason is looking somewhere over Sherlock's shoulder, contemplative.

Eventually Sherlock says, "My apologies," very uncomfortably, "if I offended you. I'd prefer that we worked together."

Jason's mouth tenses, his eyes snapping back to Sherlock's face. Sherlock settles his shoulders and meets Jason's eyes.

"I'm still trying to decide whether or not I need to have you removed from Hong Kong," Jason says, after a moment. "Let's focus on that, shall we?"

"You'll break my cover if you do," Sherlock says. "Probably yours, as well. Difficult to explain to Moran why one of her employees is taking it upon himself to toss another out of the country."

"I'm not without resources, you know." Jason taps his fingers on the table. "I wouldn't break my cover."

Sherlock leans forward. "Logically," he says, "we'd do far better to work together than snipe at each other while she's busy quietly committing felonious acts around the world, so—"

"You understand that I'm not at all inclined to run errands for you," Jason says.

Sherlock hesitates. "I didn't say you would," he says.

"You didn't have to," Jason says. "Let's be honest. We don't want the same things."

"I think we do," Sherlock says.

"You want to see Tina Moran face trial in Hong Kong?" Jason says, and Sherlock hesitates. Jason smiles narrowly. "I didn't think so," he says.

Sherlock licks his lips. "She's a British national," he says. "Her primary crimes—"

"Why do you think MM&M's world headquarters are in Hong Kong and not London?" Jason interrupts. "Seems like it'd be inconvenient, seeing as how the founders live in London. But they use Hong Kong as a base because they think we can be bought, and Moran keeps on with—you don't understand what she's brought here. She plays like she's a proper businesswoman, running a perfectly respectable company, but she's involved in drugs and sex trafficking and at least two high-profile murders that I know of, more fraud than I can even inventory, and she doesn't—she barely even tries to hide it. Everyone here knows MM&M is dirty, but we haven't been able to make a case that sticks just yet, so she doesn't care."

"But it isn't just here," Sherlock says. "It's not just here, we've—I was in America, in Germany and Dubai before that, and she's doing the same sorts of things all over."

"Then work on her operation in America or Dubai or Germany," Jason says evenly. "We're working on it here."

Sherlock exhales. He says, "It's not that simple."

Jason says, "It's not your job."

"Not interested in an international operation?" Sherlock asks.

"Are you talking about an international operation?" Jason watches him. "Mostly it sounds like you're talking about a British operation with international evidence. I know how that'll end."

Sherlock shifts his knees, feeling uncomfortable. After a minute, he says, "I have the names of her deputies in three countries in Asia and two states in Australia, just from the past week and a half, and we've barely had time to scratch the surface."

"I've been working for them for a year," Jason says, meeting his gaze. "I've done quite a bit more than scratch the surface."

"And you've thought about what it all means," Sherlock says, nodding.

"Yes," Jason says.

"Have you?" Sherlock asks. "You're thinking about what she has done to Hong Kong, but even if you take her operation down here, if she pulls the rest underground—"

"She can't," Jason says. "It's too big. You're talking about a multinational criminal organization tied to a highly visible technology company with major offices in three countries and satellites all over the world. There is no underground, not for something of that size."

"In this particular instance, I have to disagree," Sherlock tells him, and Jason snorts. Sherlock leans forward. "I have a degree of personal involvement that makes me disinclined to underestimate her. Her boss vanished in June; it's been two months and she's already pulled the bulk of his organization under her own control—"

"But she was always the brains," Jason says, leaning in. "It was always under her control, she was always—have you ever met him? I have. He's a lunatic. He thinks like an opera director, not a businessman. He wants it to be spectacular. She's always been the one who makes it work."

"I have met him, actually," Sherlock says. "I knew him quite well."

Jason narrows his eyes at that.

"All right," he says, eventually. "Give me something I don't already know."

Sherlock licks his lips. "I know where his body is," he says.

Jason hesitates. "Definitely dead, then," he says.

"Very," Sherlock agrees.

Jason is trying not to look desperately interested. More intriguingly, he's more or less succeeding. "And when you say you knew him..."

"He put snipers on almost everyone I love to force me to do what he wanted," Sherlock says. "It was inconvenient."

"Did it work?" Jason asks.

"Not quite," Sherlock says.

Jason is quiet, considering.

"In Hong Kong," Sherlock says. "If you take her down in Hong Kong, you shut down the world headquarters of MM&M Technology—what then?"

"Cleanup," Jason says. "The rest of it is cleanup."

"I'm doing cleanup," Sherlock says. "This is already cleanup, for Moriarty."

Jason folds his arms.

"You take her down here," Sherlock says, low, "her deputy in New York takes over—someone else takes control of the operation in London—and your father and sister still live in London, don't they? Even if you and your mother have come back to Hong Kong."

Jason's eyes narrow. "Have you been researching me?" he asks.

"Of course I have," Sherlock says levelly. "Don't pretend to be an idiot, Jason; it's beneath you. I imagine you've researched me, too—not come up with much, have you?"

"I've come up with a librarian from Birmingham," Jason tells him. "Who mysteriously graduated from uni in the early eighties, despite having been born in 1976—so yes, obviously, you're using a fake identity, and not a very thorough one, at that. Not really the best idea, that, if you're trying to stay off the radar."

"But I'm not," Sherlock says. "I could blend in perfectly if I wanted, but if I did, Moran would get nervous. I'm not in the same position as you: Moran has known to suspect me from the first day we met. Held a gun on me, actually. She keeps me around and watches closely enough that when I do turn on her, I'm going to have exactly one shot to get it right. The entire organization needs to be taken down together, or it'll just come back, and we'll lose whatever advantage we have."

"That advantage being you, then?" Jason gives him a narrow smile.

"You misunderstand," Sherlock says. "It's not really my operation. And it's not a matter of how effective anyone is as an individual, it's a matter of the overall efficiency of the group. There are people working on this that I don't know at all; my—my handler is careful to keep me out of things I don't need to be involved in, in case something goes wrong. I get him information; he passes it along." It's mostly true.

Jason folds his hand over his mouth, looking thoughtful.

"Moran will send me somewhere else eventually," Sherlock offers, "and then we won't have any sort of access in Hong Kong. We could use your help."

Jason is silent.

Sherlock presses his advantage. "If we can get the lot down all together—the whole organization, worldwide—you can't tell me that wouldn't be better than taking her out here, and leaving the rest to wither or set roots as it may," he says. "You've got a degree in economics and you speak three languages—"

"Four," Jason corrects.

"Four, then," Sherlock says. "So I think you can understand why she's not just a problem here. And you're clever enough to keep me off your trail for a week and a half, which means you are very clever indeed, but you still decided to become a policeman, which makes you either an idealist or a fool, and I don't think you're a fool at all. This is the case of a lifetime. We have the opportunity to badly damage the criminal infrastructure of six continents in one go, but if you move too quickly here, the whole thing is going to go to pieces."

Jason watches him and says nothing.

"I'll share what we have," Sherlock offers. He will. He'll make it happen, he knows he can make it happen, even if John probably won't be pleased. "I can arrange to give you whatever bit players you need in the meantime, if your superiors are pressing you for action," he adds. "Information you couldn't possibly have. Won't blow your cover, or mine. I have access to outside sources."

Jason licks his lips, then leans forward. "You said you worked closely with the police in London. Past tense?"

Sherlock hesitates. He can guess what comes next. Jason is still angling for honesty, which Sherlock rarely has minded so much as he does now. It's never been quite this much of a risk.

Sherlock says, "Yes."

"And who do you work for now?" Jason asks, and Sherlock says, "John Watson."

 

It's after midnight by the time John texts him to say he's landed. It's nine in the morning on Monday, John tells him. I hate the dateline.

Call me when you've got some time alone, Sherlock texts back, hoping it sounds lecherous instead of suspicious. His lip curls, imagining Moran reading hungrily over John's shoulder. He takes a certain satisfaction in knowing that it's as close as she's going to get.

John texts him back to say, Won't be until tonight, I think—go to bed, so Sherlock plugs his phone in on the bedside table and goes back to his laptop—which is routing a text chat via the satellite modem Sophia provided for John (abandoned since bringing John to Moran's attention), through a secured government server, to his brother's office computer—and resumes a tedious argument, repetitive of so many in their past, where Sherlock asks for a favor and Mycroft reminds him, unnecessarily and at length, exactly how much of a favor it is before eventually and inevitably giving in.

Sherlock doesn't really ever go to bed, but he does nap briefly near morning, and then goes back to the office and helps the mother of the underage mistress of a Belgian politician work out an embarrassingly basic plan to blackmail her daughter's lover (honestly), and then ends up having an impromptu conversational Cantonese lesson with Naomi and Karen in Accounts, which somehow leads to Karen putting her hand on his knee while Naomi giggles alarmingly. Sherlock really isn't at all enjoying playing at normal. At lunch he texts John, but John is apparently still being dragged all around the Bay, despite having been awake for something near thirty-six hours and having lost all semblance of control over his phone's autocorrect. John finally gets a moment to call him in person near three in the afternoon (midnight, in San Francisco), but John is actually slurring his words and Sherlock's still in the office, so he tells John to go to bed and not call him again until after he's slept. John hangs up; Sherlock defrauds the Brazilian government; and then Jason swings by to invite Sherlock out for drinks, an invitation that Sherlock accepts, hoping that Jason doesn't intend for this exercise to end with Sherlock in prison or a body bag, and also that this time, Lorena is not invited.

He ends up getting what he wants on both counts, in the end; he sips a watery whiskey and soda for three hours while he and Jason cautiously trade low-level intelligence, and no one tries to shoot anyone else in the head. He makes it home by ten-thirty and plugs in his phone to charge, and then brushes his teeth and changes into his pajamas just in time for his phone to buzz halfway across the bedside table.

"Had a bit of a rest?" Sherlock asks.

"Yeah," John says. "Having breakfast, now."

"Good," Sherlock says. "You sound better. You're alone?"

"Yeah," John says, "but I don't know that the timing is quite right for—"

"I meant for work," Sherlock interrupts. He suspects that whether or not the timing is quite right, if they get onto that particular topic, neither of them will be particularly inclined to move onto another.

"Oh?" John says. "Had a breakthrough?"

"Not exactly," Sherlock says. "But—Jason's with the police. Hong Kong police, I mean."

"Damn." John sighs. "She's already under investigation?"

"Yes, but I think I've sorted it out," Sherlock says. "I had to go directly to Mycroft—"

"Sherlock—"

"I know," Sherlock cuts in. "I know that it was dangerous, but you weren't available, so under the circumstances—"

"Christ, I'll have to bring it up with Sophia," John says. "You can't—we need to be watching, if Ti—if Moran picked it up—"

"She didn't pick it up," Sherlock says. "I used your connection. Mycroft of course made me keep it open longer than I ought to have, but he's not enough of an idiot to not check after, John. He would've put his people on it right away. I'm certain Sophia already knows. If Moran had picked it up I would've been whisked away already—though, on that subject, if someone comes for you in an expensive black car—"

"I should probably go with them?" John guesses.

"You should absolutely go with them, in this instance," Sherlock says, "though I do still deplore that particular tendency of yours, as a general rule." He sighs.

John's quiet for a minute. "What're you giving him?" he asks.

"Oh, little fish." Sherlock waves his hand, even though John can't see it. "A number of low-level operatives—not off our information; from Mycroft's other sources. We'll feed him enough to keep his bosses happy and he'll feed us the inside information on her headquarters here after we leave."

"There's no way we'll consent to having her tried abroad, you know," John tells him.

"I know," Sherlock says. "I know, and Jason knows, which means that inevitably he'll try to stab us in the back, but hopefully it won't happen until we have enough to stab her in the back, and we'll be able to arrange it so that everything collapses more or less gracefully and so that when the dust settles we'll find out that it mostly hasn't collapsed on us."

"So essentially we're betting on a two-legged nag?" John says, and Sherlock says, "Not that bad, surely? Three-legged, at least."

John laughs, and Sherlock smiles up at the ceiling, rubbing the back of his hand over his face.

"I ought to go," he admits. "I didn't sleep well last night."

John hums. "It seems as though the least we ought to do, under the circumstances, is rest."

"You'll be jet-lagged when you get in," Sherlock points out. "Sunday, isn't it?"

"Um," John says, and then hesitates. "I'm honestly not sure. We're leaving Saturday morning, here—that's, what—Saturday night for you, right?"

"Oh," Sherlock says. "Or possibly Sunday morning. So—"

"Sunday evening, then, probably, when I land," John says, and sighs.

"Well," Sherlock says.

"Five days, ish," John says.

Sherlock doesn't say anything.

"You know," John muses, "the last time I was away from you for five days—"

"Don't," Sherlock says quickly. "Please."

"I meant." John pauses. "Not, you know—I meant before."

"Right," Sherlock says, and clears his throat.

"I don't actually remember the last time I was away from you for five days," John says, very quietly.

Sherlock doesn't either. He can't say for certain that it isn't just something he would've deleted, but barring that awful month on Molly's sofa, he suspects that the last time he was apart from John for a full five days, he was in fact apart from John for thirty-five years.

"What's she got you doing today?" Sherlock asks.

"Oh, you know," John says, and sighs. "Following her about. Holding her coat. Yesterday she kept telling the office I was her PA, which I think she enjoys mostly because as soon as someone sees me typing they'll start wondering what she actually keeps me around for."

Sherlock laughs. "You really think they'll have to wonder?" he asks.

"Go to sleep, Sherlock," John tells him, voice warm.

 

On Wednesday they don't manage to connect at all—Sherlock fell asleep without plugging his phone back in, so John's call goes to voicemail while the battery's still dead, and then John oversleeps and barely has time to text him before being dragged off to do Moran's bidding all day again—so by the time Sherlock gets home from a second round of drinks and light duplicity with Jason on Thursday night, his skin is crawling with something that is not quite anxiety and not quite frustration and not quite loneliness but every bit as wretched as all three. Moran sent him three emails today. All of them were cheerful, light. She has him doing some preliminary work for a long con in Cardiff. It'd be obvious to anyone with half a brain that it's a job for two people—ideally male, native English speakers required, British nationals preferred. Sherlock's hands shake on the camera. It's the best he can do while he's waiting.

It isn't the same as the other time at all. This time he forces himself to watch the unblinking eye of the lens as he sits back on the bed. He knows what he has told John, and he wonders if this counts as breaking a promise, that he doesn't do what he has said he would, that he unbuttons his shirt and his trousers with shaking hands and strips down to his skin, that he touches the fading fingermarks on his hips and then glances down at his right hand on his thigh—which is wrong. He folds his fingertips in against his palm and uses his left hand instead.

John generally uses both, but Sherlock can't. When he touches himself with his right hand it feels like he is touching himself but when he touches himself with his left hand it feels like he is touching someone else, or someone else is touching him; a strange tangle of foreign sensations that make his stomach feel tight and heavy, an ache springing up in his throat, across the bridge of his nose. John is very far away. Sherlock mostly watches the camera and thinks about John watching him, thinks about John curled up on his side with his hand tucked between his cheek and the pillow by himself, or so close to Sherlock that their knees have to part to make room for each other, that the pores on John's nose blur at the edges. By the time Sherlock can bear to press his fingers into himself, his breathing is ragged in all the wrong ways, hopelessly uneven, but this is for John, it is only for John, and John has already seen all of the parts of Sherlock that are unacceptable and wrong. Sherlock spreads himself open and does his best to keep his eyes on the lens and he thinks about John, because he is always thinking about John, like he is always breathing, only John is never boring. He is thinking about John in four separate moments. He is thinking about meeting John's eyes because it helps him look at the camera; and he is thinking about John curled up on his side, once on his own watching his laptop and again under the covers with their knees woven together; and he is thinking about John's hands in place of his hands, John pressed against his back and holding him up, John's right hand on his cock while John presses three fingers of the left inside. In all moments John's touch is soft as his eyes are soft, his hands gentle, caressing, because John is always careful with Sherlock, because John is a medical man and largely ambidextrous but he still watches Sherlock's face when he spreads Sherlock open: carefully, with his dominant hand. Sherlock is with John in four moments—in five moments—in six moments, in moments that haven't happened yet, John with his fingertips on Sherlock's sides and his face flushed and sweaty as he whispers, Slow, slow, as Sherlock sinks down, slow, slow—with the whole of his hand inside Sherlock's body and his forehead pressed to Sherlock's trembling and static-sparking skin—in Baker Street, in front of the fire, home and whole, with his hand wrapped around Sherlock's hand wrapped around both of them together, and his mouth pressed softly against Sherlock's cheek.

In the end, Sherlock does close his eyes. He can't help it.

Sherlock remains alone, but not alone. He has been alone, certainly; it is a state he perfectly understands. He was alone in 2010 and 2009 and 2008 and all those other tedious half-saturated years that seemed vibrant enough at the time; he was not alone in 1991 but then he was again and that was terrible, obliterating, leaving him crumbled into ashes and salt sown into earth. But John has been in Tokyo and Bangkok and Brisbane forcibly rewriting his own language to fight for Sherlock even though Sherlock never meant to request it, and Sherlock has been in Hong Kong doing small works for other people and enduring time, and Moran is in San Francisco teasing Sherlock with a job that was tailor-made for him and John together, and Sherlock can feel their orbits realigning, slow but inevitable. John will be back on Sunday. Moran seems to enjoy shrinking her tortures, rather than ceasing them all together, so she'll probably put them up in some ghastly fourth-rate hole in Cardiff and make them pay for their own meals. Sherlock doesn't care.

The room is cold. He can't ever seem to remember to turn the air conditioner off when he leaves, so it's always cold when he returns. It's bringing up goosebumps on his arms and his thighs. Eventually he manages to wipe his hand on his discarded shirt, then struggles up and over, and turns off the camera. He could watch it, but he doesn't. It's for John.

His hands shake on the taps in the bathroom, on the flannel when he wipes himself off. He washes his face, too, and cleans his teeth. His phone rings while he's pulling on his pajamas.

It's ten at night on the dot; seven in the morning in San Francisco, a day behind. Sherlock flips his phone open.

"Hullo," he says, crawling into bed.

"'Lo, love," John mumbles, thick and sleepy. His alarm must've just gone off.

Sherlock lies down on his side, curling his body around John's voice in one moment, in this moment. "Morning," he says, and presses his own fingertips to his cheek.