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Sublimation

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He won't follow me. He won't.

John isn't sure if that disappoints him or is a relief. His head is spinning from the evening: Maggie, dressed as Sherlock. Maggie cracking him wide open and letting the thing he most feared spill out. And then sending him home to face his fear. “You think it's just you,” she said, “but you're wrong. I saw that picture in the Sun. He's looking at you like you're a mouthwatering Sunday roast and he hasn't eaten in days.”

So John came home and kissed Sherlock. Just the once. And then fled like a coward. Now he sits on the edge of his bed and tries to decide if he wants to hear footsteps on the stairs or not. He's thinking it so hard that when the sound comes, he can't figure out if it's real or just in his fevered brain.

John stands up. Facing Sherlock while sitting on his bed sounds like a horrible idea. Sherlock appears in his doorway and doesn't look at John. “That was... unexpected,” he says.

“Got your attention, anyway.”

“And was that what you wanted? My attention?” He looks up at John with those damned unearthly unsettling eyes.

“I...” John licks his lips. “I don't know. Maybe.”

“Why?” Sherlock hasn't moved across the threshold, but is standing in the doorway with his hands clasped behind his back. John steps toward him. It's not a large room. Two steps is enough to halve the distance.

“What are we, Sherlock? Really? I follow you around and you... you stare at me just like you're doing right now.” He's moving forward without planning to. “What are we?” They're standing nearly chest-to-chest now, John with his chin jutted out like a challenge, Sherlock cool and impassive.

“You tell me,” Sherlock says, watching the micro-expressions on John's face. “What does your latest girlfriend have to say about it?”

“She's not—it's not like that.”

“What is it like, then?” Sherlock's looming, possibly without meaning to, his voice dropping pitch and volume in the stillness of the room. “I find myself overwhelmingly curious.”

John breaks the gaze and the slight movement in his shoulders suggests that he's about to turn away, and Sherlock doesn't want that. He catches John's chin in his fingers and turns him back. “I know about her, John. I've seen--” he catches himself from saying 'a video', that's too much “--photographs.”

“How the fuck did you--” John does pull away at that, but he doesn't go far. “Mycroft?”

Sherlock nods.

“Jesus Christ.” It fascinates Sherlock, it will never cease to fascinate Sherlock, how quickly John can shift between emotions. Anger, embarrassment, anger again. “I'm sorry. It—it wasn't intentional. I mean, I didn't set out to shag someone who looks like--” He runs his hand through his hair and turns away, blowing out his breath. “That was... creepy of me. I'm sorry. If you want me to go, I'll understand.”

Sherlock waits, and lets John pace the room. “Why would I want that?”

John stops pacing and looks up at Sherlock, hand paused at the back of his head, mid-ruffle. “Why would you—Jesus, Sherlock. Why wouldn't you?”

For the first time in days, Sherlock feels something approximating control. He, after all, has a clear picture of the situation. John does not. “Why wouldn't I?” He repeats the question, turning it back on the asker. “Think it through, John.”

“Oh this is hardly the time for deductions--”

“No, this is exactly the time, John. You know me better than anyone. Open your eyes and look.”

John's spine straightens, the military falling across his shoulders again. Sherlock wonders if he realizes he still does it. He wonders if it's a mask. Then John steps forward, studying Sherlock from head to toe. John actually walks a circle around him. Normally Sherlock can read the tension in any room like a book—who the main players are, how the plot is likely to turn out—but this is written in a language he has never bothered to learn. So he stays very still, hands clasped loosely behind his back. Only when John's eyes come back to his face does John begin to speak. “Maybe you find it flattering,” he says. “Maybe you're amused to learn that I find you...” Sherlock watches him grasp for the right word “...attractive, for all my protesting. But then again...” John takes a purposeful step forward, his eyes fixed to Sherlock's. “Maybe it's something else entirely. Your pupils are dilated, did you know?”

“So are yours,” Sherlock murmurs.

“Yeah well, we're not talking about me right now, are we?” He moves snake-quick and takes Sherlock's wrist in his left hand. “Let's see.” John cups Sherlock's hand in his right and turns it over, pressing his fingers against the radial artery. “Pulse elevated.”

“Yes, I'm well-acquainted with the effects of neurochemicals on the body.” Speaking has become more difficult. All Sherlock can focus on is the warmth of John's hand beneath his, the sharp tickle of John's fingertips brushing across his palm. He tries to still his breathing and fails.

“Sherlock... you were—you are—turned on by this.” The lemon-yellow wonder in John's voice makes Sherlock want to kiss him.

“It would appear so.”

John laughs, not a low sultry chuckle, but a boyishly exuberant bark. “Why?” And there's the crux of it. John still doesn't understand.

“You idiot.” Sherlock reaches for John then, taking his face between his hands and pulling him closer. “You kissed me, and I followed you up to your bedroom. Think it through.” And then, oh then, his mouth is on John's, and it's not soft and it's not tender but it's so, so necessary. He hears John make a muffled sound—of surprise or protest, he can't tell which—before yielding and putting his hands on Sherlock's waist.

The kiss moves in waves, swelling with intensity and depth, fading back to nearly nothing before rising again. For Sherlock, every other sensation backgrounds itself to the kiss, movement of mouth on mouth, tongue slipping against tongue, the feeling of his hands on John's face. And that is what Sherlock's been hoping for, that grounding sensation. He has a flash of recall, remembering what he saw the woman in the video do to John and the reaction it engendered. His mouth leaves John's and he moves a hand to John's shoulder, letting his mouth trace down the other man's neck.

John gasps and pulls back, his eyes wide and so grey-blue, the only trace of coolness in his face.

“What?” Sherlock says, “I thought you liked that.”

“You thought I--” John's laugh is nervous this time. “I do. Sherlock, what are we doing?”

“Kissing.”

“Yes, I know, you're the genius for a reason. Why? Why are we kissing?”

Sherlock doesn't think that's the real question. He thinks the real question might be more, Sherlock, why are you kissing me? This isn't how this was supposed to go. Weren't they supposed to be swept away? “You don't want to?”

“Well yes, I started it, so obviously--”

“I did assume that if you were sleeping with women who look like me--”

“Oh god, can we please not talk about that right now.”

Sherlock pulls John back towards him and wraps an arm around his waist. Lowering his lips to brush against John's temple, he lowers his voice to a deliberate, soft growl. “Why are we talking at all?”

The response from John is quite satisfying: a startled jerk throughout his body, followed by a slow shiver. “But--”

“Shut up.” This time it's Sherlock who stops any further discussion, taking John's mouth once more. It's softer this time, but no less urgent. It's only a moment before John's hands are tangled in his hair again, pulling him down, pulling him closer. Sherlock tightens both arms around John's waist, bending him slightly backwards. He's fought this for so long, not wanting the distraction, not wanting a distastefully messy entanglement. Now he can't get close enough.

He nudges John backwards, peeking with his peripheral vision to make sure he's going to hit his target. The backs of John's knees bump against the bed and his eyes fly wide mid-kiss, but he lets Sherlock lay him down and join him on the bed.

He sprawls half atop John and their mouths meet with a new urgency. Sherlock loses some of his focus and it's maddening: the whisper of fabric against fabric as John moves against the duvet, against Sherlock; the sound of their breathing reminiscent of the last time they were running side by side through the streets; John beneath him, John-who-doesn't-smell-like-John. He's too warm, too constricted. Sherlock tears at the front of his shirt, heedless of the buttons, then stops, pausing to consider how to remove John's jumper without breaking the kiss. Short of cutting it off of him—which does seem like a viable option for a second or two—he gives it up as a bad job and settles for sliding his hands beneath the warm wool. John's skin is warm, the same warm colours as his voice. His stomach muscles flutter satisfactorily under Sherlock's fingers as he pushes the jumper further and further up John's chest.

Only then does he lift his mouth from John's, who fights him for a moment, trying to keep him where he is. He stops fighting when Sherlock lowers his mouth to his golden-warm chest, lips moving from one nipple to the other as he pushes the jumper up and over John's head. As soon as the fabric falls away, John's hands come back to tug at Sherlock's hair, and his back arches towards Sherlock's mouth. Then Sherlock's able to finish undoing his own buttons. He can't wait long enough to actually shrug the shirt from his shoulders, and instead just reaches for John's mouth again, lowering his body until they're skin-to-skin.

And everything snaps into focus again. There's just one sensation, and that sensation is John. John warm and alive and moving, John breathing, John making small intoxicating noises as Sherlock climbs over to straddle his hips. The world goes blessedly narrow. John's hands move from his hair to his back, moving with slow, tentative strokes. Sherlock doesn't understand the hesitation—given their current positions, his own growing arousal must be apparent. John's certainly is.

Minutes go by, endless minutes of mouth against mouth, stroking hands. If not for that persistent and growing biological need—useless really, the drive for reproduction has no place here—Sherlock would be almost content to go no further. Almost. Curiosity and need drive him to push a little more. He raises his hips and trails his fingers down John's chest to the waistband of his jeans. He pulls back from John's mouth and gives him a questioning look, hand hovering at the top button.

The nod is a familiar one—short, barely more than a meeting of the eyes. It says yes, I trust you. It says yes, I'll follow you in this. How many times has he seen it, since that night in the sports centre by the pool? When did he earn such utter, implicit trust? For a heartbeat, he is terrified. This is an experiment, and experiments regularly fail. That's the point of experiments, to test a hypothesis. When an experiment failed, you altered your hypothesis and moved on to the next one. Can he alter this hypothesis? If this experiment fails, if the bond can’t hold when heat is applied, what would it mean?

After several breaths, he starts to unbutton. John isn't fully hard—given his age and the evening's presumptive earlier activities, Sherlock isn't surprised. They watch each other, and slowly, carefully, Sherlock curls his fingers around John's cock.

“God.” A short, reverent rush of air from John.

“Do you want this?” He feels compelled to ask, to be sure, before crossing a boundary that can't be uncrossed. John nods again, slowly. “No. Tell me. I need to hear you say it.”

“Yes,” John says. “I want this. I want you. But--”

Sherlock withdraws his hand immediately. “But?”

“No, come back.” John laughs, a little shaky. “It's been a—oh hell—it was a busy evening. And I'm not twenty any more.”

Sherlock leans down and kisses him again, finding him again with his fingers. “We'll have to see what comes up.”

John groans and it doesn't sound like pleasure, as it's followed by a giggle. “That's terrible.”

After a moment, Sherlock adds his own low chuckle. “Unintentional, but yes.”

The giggle fades away from John, his eyes shifting a shade darker. “Jesus. That laugh. Come here.” He pulls Sherlock down to him, rising to meet him halfway. The mood shifts, as do their bodies, and Sherlock finds himself half on his side with John's teeth at his neck and John's hand sliding over the front of his trousers. It's his turn to give assent, and he does it before even asked, a sibilant “Yes.”

It's been so long, so stupidly long, the part of himself he put away when he put away cocaine, the rejection of everything to do with the corporeal, not trusting himself not to wallow in it. He wants to wallow in this, to give up and give over, to surrender himself to this man. John's hand wrapped gently around him, starting to stroke, as steady and sure as the man himself. And it has been so stupidly long since he's done this. Sherlock tries to hold on to thought but can't, back to the one sensation that is John. He tries to return some of the pleasure he's receiving and can't, can't focus on more than one thing. John lays him back and draws out of Sherlock's reach, leaving Sherlock to close his fist around the duvet. John's lips at his ear murmuring for him to let go. It's too soon, much too soon, but John's hand is warm and firm and just damp enough and oh god.

Blinding flashes starburst across his vision and his brain—that overactive, overclocked machine—goes offline. Sherlock doesn't know if he cries out or if the sound is only in his mind as he jerks and shudders and spurts messily over John's hand. John's voice filling his head, “God, you're beautiful.”

When his body stills, John draws him into his arms, ignoring the mess, bringing them chest to chest again, on their sides. Sherlock presses his flushed cheeks into John's shoulder and tries to re-assimilate himself. When he starts to shake in the aftermath, violent tremors throughout his body, John pulls him tighter. “Okay?” he asks, pulling away to meet his eyes.

“Yes,” Sherlock answers. “No. Oh, John.” He can't explain, how can he, all the bad old habits just lying there waiting to be picked up. Begging to be picked up. Awake again for the first time in years. “Don't let me go. Just stay with me.” He know John's worried, can feel it in the new tension in his arms. “Stay with me until I fall asleep.”

“I'm staying right here, Sherlock.” John kisses his temple and settles in next to him. “For as long as you want. I'm not going anywhere.”

Sherlock clings to him for nearly an hour, letting himself be soothed as he has never done before. John never asks, he never pushes. If John had pushed, it would have easy for Sherlock to push back. To get up. To leave. To fall. Maybe John understands more than Sherlock thinks--they both have their demons. But John is just John: the anchor. Finally the worst of the reawakened craving passes and Sherlock can fade into restless sleep.