“Oh, hey, someone you went to school with’s posted a class photo on one of your fan sites,” John said, when Sherlock wandered into the living room. John glanced up and then away again very casually. Sherlock was straight out of the bath, glowing from the no doubt too-hot water, his dressing gown clinging to his damp skin.
“Have they," Sherlock said flatly, with his usual evident lack of interest in the weird and wonderful things that had started popping up on the internet since Sherlock had caught the public’s attention.
The caption invited viewers to guess which spotty youth was the great Sherlock Holmes. John studied the faces of the most likely-looking boys, but couldn’t work out which one was supposed to be Sherlock. Their hair was cut uniformly short, no distinctive dark curls to single him out. “I can’t see you.”
Sherlock suddenly appeared at his shoulder, stared at the photo a moment and whirled away to poke at something on the mantelpiece.
“Use your eyes, John,” he said, with the air of someone despairing of the future of mankind.
John turned and stared at the sulky curl of Sherlock’s mouth for a moment, then looked back at the photo, past the smirks and the hopeful smiles and straight at the sullen-looking boy on the end, his tie defiantly askew, one hand thrust into his blazer pocket.
“Right,” he said, finally.
“Is that all you have to say?”
Sherlock’s shoulders were tensed and he was very obviously avoiding looking at John.
“Get it over with,” Sherlock bit out.
"Why on earth do you dye it?" he asked, honestly gobsmacked, that Sherlock of all people—
"Isn't it obvious?"
"Ginger, John. Ginger, " Sherlock practically shouted, gesticulating in the direction of his own head.
John frowned. "Nothing wrong with being a ginger, is there?"
"Oh really,” Sherlock sneered. “Have you any idea what percentage of red-haired people are bullied at school?"
"I'm guessing a lot?" John said mildly.
"And you were one of them.” Of course he was, John thought, his heart sinking in sympathy. “I’m sorry. It mustn’t have been easy."
Sherlock wrapped his dressing gown more tightly around him and flopped down on the sofa. "In my case, the hair was just an excuse... my schoolmates seemed to find most things about me... objectionable."
God, John could just imagine it. Sherlock as a boy, with even fewer social skills than now, too proud to even make an effort to fit in... keep his head down. It saddened him, the thought of what Sherlock must have gone through, to have resorted to something that drastic.
"It was Mummy's idea," Sherlock said defensively, not looking at John.
"Habit, that's all," Sherlock said dismissively. John looked at the carefully casual disarray of dark curls against the sofa cushion.
"You think it makes you look all brooding and dramatic, don't you?" he said.
"Don't be ridiculous," Sherlock said, still staring with apparent fascination at the ceiling.
"You do," John said, delighted.
There was a stain of colour across Sherlock's cheekbones. He didn't answer.
John opened his mouth to say something else, because it was fun, teasing Sherlock and then abruptly shut it again, because he wasn’t a bastard, and Sherlock was obviously still sensitive about it.
He went over and perched on the edge of the sofa, by Sherlock's side. Sherlock blinked at him, but to John's surprise, shifted over slightly to give him more room. John settled more comfortably. Their hips pressed warmly together.
John let his eyes drift to Sherlock's hairline. Now that he looked closely, he could just see the very beginning of fair hair, just at the roots. How often did Sherlock dye it, that he'd never even guessed before? Like puzzle pieces slotting into place, it all made sense, the pale body hair, the—god—ginger stubble when Sherlock couldn’t be arsed to shave… it hadn’t occurred to him, plenty of dark-haired blokes had ginger beards.
"I reckon the red hair would look brilliant on you," he said, gently.
Sherlock's eyes seemed to bore into him, as though he couldn’t possibly believe John could mean that.
"Of course, the Heathcliff look suits you too. Goes with the cheekbones," he said lightly, and grinned.
Sherlock sighed. "What is this fascination with my cheekbones?" he drawled.
John wasn’t falling for it—Sherlock was fishing for compliments. John wasn’t going to be distracted that easily. He took in their positions, pressed together on the sofa, Sherlock's eyes, intense, questioning.
"They’re… sharp," he murmured. “Elegant... very you.”
Sherlock’s brow arched. “I hardly think—” he started loftily, and then stuttered to stop as John reached out and ran his finger along Sherlock's cheek. Sherlock's breath hitched, his eyes widening in surprise for a moment, then fluttering closed. He drew a deep breath. “John?”
Sherlock was reacting to him. In a sexual way, if John wasn’t mistaken. All those instincts, those feelings he’d carefully damped down, over and over again, because Sherlock had said… when they first met, Sherlock had been so certain….
“So,” John said, grasping for a way forward, a pretext, obvious as it was to both of them. “Can I deduce, then, that the collar and cuffs don’t match?”
“Interesting theory,” Sherlock murmured, looking at him from under his lashes, for fuck’s sake. “How would you go about testing it?” Sherlock was teasing him, flirting with him, John realised, his mouth going dry. God, Sherlock was on board with this. Sherlock wanted this. Anticipation shivered through him. “May I?” he said, poised at Sherlock’s waist, studying Sherlock carefully, as Sherlock had taught him to do with other people.
Needing to be sure. He really didn’t want to get this wrong. He watched Sherlock’s pupils dilate, the way his lips parted slightly before he gave the barest of nods. Slowly John pulled on the tie and drew open the dressing gown, brushing Sherlock’s sides with his fingers, noting the slightest of shudders go through him. Somehow he’d expected Sherlock would be wearing underpants, just from the fact that Sherlock had let him do this, go this far, but Sherlock was lying before him, exposed, naked in every sense of the word, and John couldn’t help staring, his tenuous justification for this exploration forgotten as he took in the lightly freckled chest, the tight nipples. John could feel himself getting hard before he even got to Sherlock’s cock, which was elegant, like the rest of him, and half hard, filling with blood even as John watched.
“Always satisfying to have a theory proved correct,” he murmured.
“Indeed,” Sherlock agreed, just as softly, but his eyes… his eyes were sharp, focussed; he was staring at John as though he was the answer to every mystery ever posed and it was a heady feeling, having Sherlock Holmes looking at him like that. It made him want to give Sherlock everything, make Sherlock feel everything, make Sherlock look at him like that forever.
As from a distance, John was aware that around them the world went on, Mrs Hudson’s soaps, barely audible, drifting up the stairs; the occasional blare of a horn or sound of an engine revving. But here, with just the two of them, the air seemed strangely still and silent. Expectant. John leaned forward slowly, eyes on Sherlock’s slightly parted lips, giving Sherlock every chance to pull away. For a heart-stopping moment he thought Sherlock had, as Sherlock turned his face away, John’s lips grazing his cheek instead. John pulled back only far enough to look at Sherlock, at the averted eyes, the long line of his throat, his pulse beating rapidly there. He waited, giving Sherlock time to process. He didn’t know what Sherlock thought was on the table here, but if they were going to do this, they were going to do it properly, not some quick hand job that Sherlock would delete from his memory afterwards as inconsequential.
John took a deep breath, inhaling Sherlock’s warm soapy smell, the scent sending tingles straight to his groin, but Sherlock was still motionless, head turned aside. Fair enough. John exhaled, surprised at how disappointed he was, and braced himself to get up.
“No,” Sherlock said, and then long fingers wrapped around the back of his head, and Sherlock pulled him down not at all gently and brought their mouths together. John didn’t know what he’d been expecting—clumsiness, hesitancy—but either Sherlock was more experienced than John had assumed, or else kissing was just one more thing that Sherlock only had to set his mind to in order to excel at. While that was usually a bit annoying, in this case, John was all for it. He raised one arm to brace against the arm of the sofa and let Sherlock deepen the kiss, let Sherlock clutch his hair too tightly, let Sherlock pull him down on top of him and align their groins, all with a comfortable lack of urgency, as though they could do this forever.
Eventually John, at least, had to pause for breath, Sherlock seemed fine, his mouth chasing John’s for a moment as he pulled back. He wasn’t even breathing heavily. Knowing Sherlock, he’d have trained himself to hold his breath for insane amounts of time, though probably not with snogging in mind. John made himself comfortable on top of Sherlock, resting one arm on a bony shoulder and propping his head up on his hand so that he could look at Sherlock. Sherlock was watching him again, weirdly silent, and John was suddenly at a loss. “I quite like gingers,” he blurted, for something to say. “You know—if you got tired of dyeing it.”
“Really,” Sherlock drawled, a hint of amusement lurking about his eyes, despite the disbelief.
John grinned. “I wouldn’t kick Ewan McGregor out of bed,” he said.
Sherlock’s brows twitched together. “Who?”
“Never mind,” John said, kicking himself for even bringing up the subject of other blokes right now.
“Oh, right—Trainspotting, ” Sherlock said. His nose wrinkled. “Really?” he said doubtfully.
“Of course you’ve seen that,” John sighed. “Actually, I was thinking of The Pillow Book.”
“Is that when you became cognisant of your bisexuality?”
In fact, that film had come out around the time John was figuring out he was into blokes as well. He’d taken a girl to see it on a blind date and then spent half the movie with a hard-on, torn between dismay and arousal and had had to get himself off feverishly in the cinema toilets afterwards before he took the girl home. He hadn’t called her again. He couldn’t even remember her name now. “Let’s just say McGregor made quite an impression.”
“So you fetishise red hair then,” Sherlock said, not accusingly, but in that voice that made John feel like he was a specimen under a microscope.
“That’s not what I said and you know it.”
“Oh, I don’t mind,” Sherlock said airily. “In fact….”
“In fact, what?” John prompted, leery.
Sherlock tugged at John’s t-shirt. John sat up and raised his arms, letting Sherlock pull it off. Sherlock dropped it by the side of the sofa. His hand slid slowly from John’s waist to his shoulder, lightly tracing the ugly scar. It felt weird, not unpleasant exactly, but John flinched anyway. Sherlock stopped, but didn’t move his hand away. “It doesn’t hurt anymore,” Sherlock said, questioning.
“No, but it’s a reminder… I don’t like to think about it.”
“That’s why you keep it covered up.”
“It’s not like I go out of my way to. Normal people don’t wander about their homes in a sheet, Sherlock.”
“I think you do. Go out of your way to.”
“No, I—wait, what? Have you been trying to cop a look?”
“Scars… interest me. Your scars interest me.”
“You mean you fetishise them.”
“Are you trying to be clever?” Sherlock said, sounding bored. “Because—”
“No, I leave that to you,” John said tightly, feeling his temper start to rise.
“Quite right,” Sherlock said smugly, and John had to laugh, relaxing again against Sherlock’s body, marvelling that Sherlock hadn’t lost interest yet, or been distracted, or said something to completely spoil the mood, or suddenly remembered an aversion to physical intimacy.
Sherlock had his calculating face on. “I have a proposition,” he said.
“If you will allow me to examine, touch, whatever, your scars, then I’ll agree to go back to being ginger sometime.”
John hadn’t lived with Sherlock all this time without checking the fine print. “Within reason,” he said firmly. He wasn’t really sensitive about his scars anymore. Well, not much. His therapist, if he were still going, would probably approve of him ‘working through’ his remaining issues, though possibly not of whatever Sherlock was planning. Also, ‘sometime’ was pretty imprecise. Sherlock always chose his words deliberately. John suspected that he would probably keep on ‘forgetting’ to keep his end of the bargain. John didn’t mind, though. If Sherlock ever wanted to go back to his natural colour, that was well and good, but John wasn’t going to push it. Whatever Sherlock’s real, no doubt convoluted, reasons for keeping his hair like this, they were clearly important to him.
“It’s a deal,” he said. He leaned in and kissed Sherlock again. Sherlock kissed him back, hard, and then John found himself dumped on his arse on the end of the sofa as Sherlock leapt up and charged out of the room, dressing gown flapping behind him like a cape.
John blinked. “Okay, then,” he said to himself, resigned, and adjusted his erection more comfortably in his jeans while he waited for Sherlock to deign to reappear.
When he did, not more than a minute later, John stared at him in disbelief. “Do you not understand the concept of ‘within reason’?” he said, hearing the edge in his voice despite his efforts to speak mildly.
Sherlock drew himself up stiffly. His robe was loosely tied again, but wasn’t really hiding much. “A small tissue sample is quite within reason,” he said primly, as though he wasn’t standing right in front of John with a hard-on.
“Absolutely not,” John said firmly.
Sherlock’s shoulders sagged. “But you agreed,” he said, looking horribly, tragically disappointed.
John was being played, he knew it. He caved anyway. “Fine,” he said, feeling his stupid heart flutter as Sherlock’s face lit up. “There’s a time and a place, though,” he said firmly.
“Of course,” Sherlock said, carelessly dropping the scalpel, tissue forceps and microscope slides onto the coffee table and flinging himself down beside John. He turned his head and smiled at John.
“That means, not during sex,” John said, because sometimes Sherlock needed things clarified, despite his great brain.
Sherlock opened his mouth.
“Or before, or after,” John added quickly.
Sherlock’s eyebrows drew together and he crossed his arms. He looked like he was trying to ascertain exactly how long before or after sex would be appropriate.
John looked at him pointedly. “And if that’s the only reason you want to have sex with me, you can forget it,” he said, his stomach clenching with disappointment. He started to get up, not looking at Sherlock.
Sherlock’s hand on his chest stopped him. “It’s not,” Sherlock said, leaning close. John stared straight ahead, not acknowledging him. “It’s not, John,” Sherlock repeated, more urgently. “It doesn’t matter.”
Sherlock, backing down from something? John blinked and looked at him. Sherlock was staring at him intensely, confusion and something else in his eyes, something John couldn’t be sure of, but it made his heart beat faster. “Come on,” he said, sliding his arms around Sherlock and hugging him. “We’ll sort out the finer details later,” he said, and went willingly when Sherlock tipped him back onto the cushions and covered him with his body.