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Pull the Stars from the Sky

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"John!" Harry took his call almost right away. "How are things going?"

"Harriet. When I get home, you and I are going to have a long discussion about what the word 'difficult' means." John breathed slowly through his nose. Anderson was out of the hotel room they were sharing, and John was trying not to pace.

"What?"

"Sherlock Holmes is not difficult, Harry. Sherlock Holmes is bloody impossible."

"What's happened now?"

John lost the battle and started to pace as much as the phone cord would let him. "I can deal with the constant sarcasm that comes my way. I can even deal with a little bit of groping now and then."

"But?"

"You could have warned me about the 'test', Harry."

There was just the sound of transatlantic hiss. "Did you pass?"

"Did I—" John pinched the bridge of his nose, then dissolved into laughter. Harry started giggling with him on the other end. "I hate you," he finally said.

"No you don't," she said. "You're having the time of your life. I can hear it."

John tried to catch his breath, tension melting. "No, really, Harry. What the hell was that about?"

"To be fair, I didn't realise it was something he would try more than once."

"How have you not been sued? Seriously." John sat on the edge of his bed.

"I don't know," she admitted. "He certainly deserves it. But things are going all right?"

"Yeah. They're a good lot. More clean-cut than I expected."

Harry chuckled. "Do you think that was accidental? At the request of Sherlock's family—and you are not to repeat any of this—we started slowly swapping his staff about a year and a half ago when it became apparent he might have a problem."

"His family. And you just... what, went along with it?"

"Mycroft Holmes can be quite persuasive where his little brother is concerned."

John sighed. "Brother, that explains it. Sherlock said his brother had hired me." Harry was quiet for just a moment too long. "Bloody hell, Harry. Did he?"

"No," said Harry. "You're our employee. Mr Holmes just... gave us some criteria to look for."

"Criteria." Something about this was sanding at John's skin. "What criteria?"

"I can't say, John. I really can't. I've said too much as it is."

"Harry, I have never heard you sound afraid of anyone before."

"Not afraid, John. Just respectful. I told you. They're a powerful family. They want to make sure their youngest child is well looked-after. I thought I could hardly do worse than to send along my big brother." When John didn't respond, she said. "Now, if we can move on? You're going to have company once you get to Washington. Irene Adler is confirmed to join the tour for a few dates as a special guest."

"Adler. That's the... the opera singer? The one... wait, but I thought Sherlock just used samples of her voice."

"He does, when he has to, but we wanted to get her onstage here and there. We'll try to keep it secret, of course, but once she appears at one show, it will be all over the message boards."

John leaned back across the bed to grab his notebook. "Okay, details?"

"I'll fax you the most important details. Just so you have an idea of who you're dealing with," Harry said.

"Oh god. She's not going to expect me to kiss up to her, is she?"

Harry laughed. "Just you wait. You might want to kiss up to her."

"Tell me one thing: is she as much of a pain in the arse as he is?"

"John, just keep telling yourself, 'Harriet is my sister and she loves me.'"

"Christ."

 

Sherlock woke in the late morning, cold and gritty-eyed. He climbed out of bed long enough to go to the loo and find his dressing gown, wrapping it around himself before heading back to bed. Greg was out already and his guitar case was gone. Probably off to jam with Anderson—who for all his personal flaws was a good enough player that Sherlock was tempted to invite him into the studio. There was a piece of paper tucked under the door. He plucked it from under the door jamb and unfolded it as he was crawling back under the covers. The handwriting was spiky, unfamiliar:

Tomorrow night, wear the black velvet cutaway. It's my favourite. Then maybe we can talk. I'll be watching.

—J

Sherlock smiled. He'd worn that particular jacket the first night of the tour, and he hadn't missed the way John's eyes had followed him around that whole night. This wasn't the first time someone had shouted 'no' as loud as they could only to slip a note to him later. Usually the note just contained a phone number. This. This was much more interesting. He settled back into the mattress and began to plan.

He was still making a mental list of ways to make John pay when Greg came into the room—carrying his guitar case as expected.

"Oi, what are you still doing in bed? Get up, you lazy git. We're going sightseeing."

Sherlock rolled on to his side. "God that sounds unspeakably dull."

Greg sat down the case and turned around, hands on his hips. "Dull. Sherlock, we're in New York City."

"Dull."

"Have it your way then." Greg paused. "Sherlock..."

"You're not dragging me out there. I've seen Manhattan before.. I'm going to have a lie in and do fuck all today."

"I talked to Anderson this morning."

"Well I suppose someone has to."

"No, Sherlock. Listen to me." Greg settled down on his bed. "He's having some problems with John."

Sherlock raised an eyebrow. "Problems?"

"I may need to switch rooms. But if I do, you have to behave."

"Greg, what's going on?"

Greg looked uncomfortable. "I guess... John hasn't really told me anything, but whatever he went through, he has nightmares. I think he scared Anderson two nights in a row, yelling in his sleep."

"That's ridiculous."

"I know, but you know how Anderson is."

"Fine. Put John in here with me." Greg opened his mouth to say something. "I'll behave. Mostly."

"Yeah, just remember he's probably trained to kill you with his bare hands."

 

Heading back to the hotel, Greg snagged John by the elbow. "All right, mate?"

John watched the others walking ahead, then let Greg stop him in his tracks. "Yeah, fine. Why?"

"Listen. Can we swap rooms tonight?" Greg rubbed the back of his neck, seemingly interested in the shop window behind John's head.

"What? Why?" Greg wasn't meeting his eyes. Whatever this was, it couldn't be good. "Greg. What's going on? Did—Sherlock didn't try anything on with you, did he?" John got a snort in response. "Okay, that's a no. What, then?"

The others were long out of sight down the block before Greg spoke, his brow creased. "I—I don't know what happened. To you, I mean. But—you..."

"What, already."

Greg inhaled. "You sort of... freaked Anderson out last night."

John shook his head. "I barely saw him. I think I was asleep before he—" Oh. He winced. The nightmares had been bad, the smell of petrol and grass and blood filling his head until he woke up sweating. Greg just nodded slightly. "You think putting me in the room with Sherlock is going to be better?"

To his credit, Greg still looked uncomfortable. "I wouldn't ask if there was a better way. We could see about getting you your own room, but the budget's so tight. Sherlock's not going to bunk with Anderson and me, and I don't trust Anderson to keep an eye on Sherlock. So..."

John folded his arms, the back of his neck feeling too hot, too tight. "Right. So what happens when I freak Sherlock out? What then?"

"I don't think—"

"No, really. Are you going to start just rotating me around the lot? 'Short straw gets to share a room with the traumatised soldier tonight'?"

"John." It was in the way he said it. If there had been anything approaching pity in Greg's voice, John could have stormed off in a huff and felt justified. It was just a quiet, matter-of-fact syllable. Four letters that managed to spell out 'it's fine, you're fine, and that's not what I meant'.

The breath rushed out of John in a burst. "Sorry. No. That's fine." It wasn't.

Greg met his eyes for a long moment, then tilted his head down the street. "Let's catch up." As they started walking, he said, "Besides, Sherlock will be so overjoyed to have you in his room, I doubt he'll sleep anyway."

"You'd be surprised, actually, at how much better that doesn't make me feel," John said.

 

Before dinner, John took his things down to the room that Sherlock and Greg had been sharing. Greg had already cleared out, and presumably informed Sherlock of the change in plans. John took a breath, and pushed the door open. The room was humid, and he could hear the shower running. At that point, it became a race for John, to see if he could get settled and out of the room before the water turned off.

He was halfway through hanging up his clothes when the bathroom door opened. John glanced up to see Sherlock barely clutching a towel around his narrow hips. Christ, this was going to be more difficult than he'd thought. "Uh, hi."

"Oh. It's you. I thought I'd heard someone come in." He crossed the room over to his bed and John quickly looked back to the task at hand, but not before he saw that the towel sat just low enough to see the dimple that started the crack of his arse. His face felt flushed and he wanted to hit something. Or someone. He was tempted to start with Anderson.

Sherlock showed no signs of digging out clothing, and John knew he was being watched. Sherlock said, "Sorry, am I making you uncomfortable?"

"Nothing I haven't seen before."

"Oh, well in that case." John heard the towel hit the carpet. He rolled his eyes, but he looked anyway, as he was meant to. There was barely an ounce of fat on Sherlock's body, all whipcord muscle, but not even much of that. He was maybe half a stone away from 'painfully thin', but gorgeous, all white skin and black hair. The monochrome was marred only by three things: the pale sea-foam colour of his eyes, the fading red scars inside his elbows, and the deeper, darkening red of his cock, which lingered in that tempting space between fully flaccid and fully erect.

John raised his eyes up the length of Sherlock's body until their eyes met and held. One breath, two. His pulse pounded in his temples as Sherlock parted his lips as if to speak, then didn't. John's left hand clenched at his side like a gunslinger ready to go for his holster. I could do this, John thought. This looked nothing like the power play in the dressing room. This was an invitation. He could accept. Hell, he wanted to accept. He could feel the pull in his gut, in his groin. John swallowed, then pulled his gaze away, deliberately breaking the connection. "Get dressed," he said. "It's too fucking cold in here."

Sherlock's bag was on the floor, and John didn't think the eyeful he got when Sherlock bent over was an accident. John managed to keep his gaze further averted until Sherlock was done, trying to regain his composure. When he glanced back, Sherlock was still watching him as he buttoned the cuffs on a dark blue silk shirt. John felt a little scruffy in battered old jeans and a t-shirt that had seen better days. As if reading his thoughts, Sherlock said, "Are you going to dress for dinner?"

"I suppose I should."

There was a smirk playing at the corners of Sherlock's mouth as he settled on to his bed and leaned against the headboard. "I'll wait for you, then."

John recognised the challenge. "Fine," he said. He knew what Sherlock was waiting for. John tightened his jaw and briefly considered taking his clothes into the bathroom to change. Instead he dug out the only decent jacket he'd brought with him, and a fresh shirt and pair of jeans. He stayed where he was, and stripped with quick efficiency down to his pants. He didn't dare look to see if Sherlock was still watching him from the bed, although the way John's skin was twitching he knew he had to be.

The scar on his shoulder was still violent, livid red, and there was a smaller scar pattern that skidded down and around his side from burning bits of wood from exploding huts. If Sherlock were one of his old squadmates, John wouldn't think twice about it, but Sherlock with his damned lean, civilian body... it was difficult not to be self-conscious.

He kept his left side angled away from Sherlock on the bed. Impossible to get dressed that way, of course. As soon as he reached down for his jeans, he heard a sharp intake of breath. He glanced over and saw the unexpected: Sherlock with flushed cheeks and slightly parted lips, looking as flustered as John had felt moments before. It felt like the first time John gave an order and watched someone jump to obey: that little shift of power from one person to the other.

John dropped his gaze away from Sherlock and continued getting dressed, as slowly and deliberately as he could, pretending he couldn't see the way Sherlock fought to keep from squirming.

As they walked out to meet the others for dinner, John might have had a little extra swagger in his step.

 

By the time Sherlock got back to the room after dinner, John was already there asleep—or feigning sleep remarkably well. Sherlock kept quiet as he moved around the room. Their flight to Washington was in eight hours. John had already packed, his belongings stacked neatly at the foot of his bed. All that was missing was the footlocker. Sherlock's clothes were scattered everywhere, flung haphazardly each time he got dressed. He gathered them up and started packing. He paused now and then to look at the man sleeping in the bed opposite his.

John was sprawled on his back like an extravagant child, arms and legs a jumble under the covers. His right arm was thrown up over his head, face turned into the crook of his elbow. The line of his neck, that lovely sternomastoid muscle, was stretched taut under his skin. Sherlock had a sudden overwhelming urge to lean over and lick it. The thought stopped him where he stood, and he breathed deep for several moments, mirroring the steady, even breathing of John asleep.

John was not behaving at all the way Sherlock had expected. He wasn't acting on his obvious interest, not even on Sherlock's obvious interest. Was there someone back home? No, he would have heard by now if there were. Phone calls, post cards, something. There was no one waiting for John at home. Was he really waiting for a response to that ridiculous note?

Sherlock threw his clothes into the nearest suitcase, then undressed. John slept on. Sherlock still wasn't tired enough to sleep, so he pulled his guitar out of his case. He'd left the violin at home—a concession to space versus necessity—so he settled for second best. He turned on the light farthest from John and settled back against the headboard, cradling the instrument. He played as quietly as he could, needing more to go through the movement than to hear the music. Muscle memory triggered quiet in his brain as his fingers moved, the sound of skin hitting strings almost louder than the music itself.

John muttered something, and Sherlock stopped, thinking he'd woken him. John muttered again, and twitched. Sweat was beading on his forehead. John's head rolled to one side, his lips moving. One of the nightmares, then.

"John." Softly at first.

More muttering, something that sounded like "Get down."

"John." Louder.

The twitching threatened to become thrashing.

"John."

He jerked awake at that, eyes wide and unseeing for the first two seconds. "Mm?" He struggled to a sitting position.

"Are you all right?" Sherlock could see that he wasn't, but asked anyway.

John scrubbed at his eyes with the heels of both hands then shook his head, hard. His breathing was still uneven. "Yeah. Fine. I'm fine. Sorry if I woke you."

Sherlock suppressed a chuckle. "John, I love my music, but I don't sleep with my guitar." John finally looked over then, actually seeing Sherlock. He gave a small smile that managed to look absolutely nothing like John Watson. "Do you want to talk about it?" The sentence felt odd in Sherlock's mouth. He was quite certain it was one he'd never uttered before.

"Nothing to talk about. Greg warned you, I assume?" John threw back the covers and pulled his right knee up, massaging it as if it were painful.

"He said you had nightmares, yes."

"Do you ever sleep?" John's voice had an edge to it as he focused on his knee.

"Sometimes." There didn't seem to be anything else to say. "Will it keep you awake if I play?"

John lowered his leg with a sigh. "I don't know. It might." He glanced over. "I think I'd like that though, either way."

"Lie back down," Sherlock said. "At least try to sleep."

John settled back into his bed, curling on to his side. "Sherlock?" His voice was subdued. "Thank you."

Sherlock bent his head over the guitar with a faint smile. "You're welcome, John."

John's eyes closed, and eventually his breathing evened out in peaceful sleep.

 

John woke to his alarm the next morning with the uneasy sensation of having done something unutterably stupid the night before. Normally it was a feeling he got only after a night of drinking, but last night he hadn't—oh. The nightmare was blessedly distant by the light of day, but the aftermath wasn't. He ran quickly down a mental checklist of things Sherlock had not been: naked, snarky, grabby. Then he looked at the list of things Sherlock had been: kind, even concerned. The man in question was growling something unintelligible from under a pile of pillows. John reached across and turned off the alarm. Sherlock quieted and John looked at him—well, at the form under pillows and blankets—for a few minutes.

Not twelve hours before Sherlock had been parading around the room mother-naked, trying to goad John into something he was sure he would both enjoy and regret. Then eight hours later had soothed him to sleep with music after a nightmare. He tried to reconcile the two in his mind, and couldn't. John shook his head and went to shower.

The flight to Washington was blessedly quiet, and this time, John remembered to nap as much as he could.

 

John was just getting the last of this things put away in the room when the front desk rang to let him know that Irene Adler had arrived. He ran a quick hand over his hair, grabbed his keys and went to start the busy day in earnest.

The first order of business was to get Ms Adler settled. John mentally ran through the information that Harry had faxed him: American, educated in the UK at the same music school as Sherlock. Had made her debut with the New York Metropolitan Opera two years earlier and hadn't looked back since. She'd taken some flack from the classical community for her collaboration with Sherlock, but it hadn't seemed to hurt her career, nor had her unconventional approach to... pretty much everything.

"Ms Adler?" John crossed the marble floor of the hotel lobby, his hand extended. The petite dark-haired woman turned around and smiled expectantly. "John Watson, tour manager. Welcome to Washington, DC."

She took his hand briefly, "Irene, please. So you're the new one." Her accent was American and there was a glint of amusement in green-grey eyes. "Sherlock's told me about you."

"I shudder to think," John said, returning the smile.

"Not at all. He was quite complimentary." She looked up him and down and released his hand. "Not without reason, I see."

John returned the appraisal: she was lovely, casual in snug-fitting jeans and an open-throated green blouse. He might have to revisit some of his preconceptions about opera singers. When he met her eyes finally, she was smiling archly. He said, "He's been keeping you a secret. Selfish git."

She laughed. "I think we're going to get along just fine, Mr Watson."

"Ah no. If you're Irene, I'm John." He picked up her bags before the bellboy could. "Let's get you settled in. I'm sure you'll want to rest for tonight."

"And I'm sure you have far more important things to do than babysit me," she said, reaching to take the bags back from him. "I know how this goes. Even now there are three people waiting for you to come and save the day, aren't there?"

John chuckled. "Well. Maybe two. The third will come later."

"Go," Irene said. She winked at him. "I can take care of myself. If I get bored, I can always go harass Sherlock."

"Oh, that's right, you know him. You went to school together, yeah?"

"Yes. We know each other quite well," she said.

John smiled, but it felt tight and wrong on his face. "Well then. I'll leave you to it. Sherlock has my mobile number. Call if you need anything."

He was the first crew member to the venue, but only just. Molly came walking up from the opposite side of the street just as he was opening the stage door.

"Hiya," she said. Her long brown ponytail swayed behind her as she jogged to catch up. "Ready for tonight?"

"Are we ever?" John smiled. Molly was a nice girl—odd to think of her that way, since she was only a few years younger than he was, but nonetheless: a nice girl.

"We will be. We always are."

They moved through back corridors after being checked in by security. Before he could think too much about it, John asked, "What's the story with Sherlock and Irene?" He didn't need full lighting to see Molly's blush—it was always an instantaneous reaction to Sherlock's name.

"They're old friends, I guess," Molly said. "In school together. She tells everybody who'll listen about the time she beat him in a composition contest at school. She'll even sing the piece she won with, if you ask her nicely."

"I'll bet Sherlock loves that."

"Just don't ask him to play his piece," Molly said, her nose wrinkling. "It's some terrible modern thing that keeps going back and forth between the same two or three notes." It was the closest John had ever heard her come to criticising Sherlock.

"So... they have a history together?"

Molly shrugged. "I don't honestly know. I mean..."—her voice was very casual, very light—"it's pretty obvious they slept together at some point. I don't know if it's still happening though." She took a deep breath. "Listen, I should get up to the booth. I don't want a repeat of last show."

John nodded, then dove into his day.

 

There were two shows in Washington, so there was no need to tear down after the first show. It was Greg who suggested they go out, which was how John found himself perched around a tiny, high table with Greg, Sally, Molly, and Anderson while music thumped loud enough that John could feel it in his chest. They hadn't been there long, just long enough for everyone to get pleasantly pissed.

Sherlock and Irene were out on the dance floor, still dressed essentially as they had been onstage. Irene's dress was almost too short to be decent, black and white diagonal stripes over black fishnet stockings. John thought he might be starting to understand why she was such a polarising figure in the opera world. Sherlock wasn't much better. He was wearing deep tan trousers so tight John was shocked they hadn't split open when Sherlock first walked across the stage, and knee-high black boots laced only three-quarters of the way up his calves. Over it all, he wore a loose, billowy white shirt and a short leather jacket decorated with silver studs and zips. The effect was very piratical, and John had spent most of the show uncertain which of them to stare at. As Irene had spent a good portion of her time on stage draped around Sherlock, 'both' had been a perfectly valid option.

When Sherlock had first come into the green room before the show, he'd given John a very strange, pointed look, as if waiting to see his reaction to his costume. John had simply said, "Nice," and went back to finalising things with Greg.

'Nice' might have been inaccurate, he thought, watching Sherlock move from one partner to another. The song changed, and Sally jumped off her chair to squeeze out on the dance floor. Molly and Greg were deep in some sort of conversation John couldn't hear despite being a foot away. The music overhead was different from the loud thumping of before, there was just the steady undulating pulse of drums with a little underlay of bass, and over it, a low growling voice. Before John could get too caught up in listening to it, Irene emerged from the crowd at his side.

"Come on," she said, tugging at his arm.

"Uh, no. I don't dance," he said. His only concession to going out had been to put on a jacket and to let Sally do something ridiculous to his hair with gel and a lot of fluffing about—he was definitely outclassed.

"Come ooon," she said again, smiling. "It'll be fun."

He let her draw him out as the beat of the song picked up, a second voice joining the first in a hollow sort of harmony. John tried to remember the last time he'd been on a dance floor, and hoped he didn't make an arse of himself. Other couples formed around them to the slower, less frenetic beat. Irene danced with her arms overhead, hips swinging. Their eyes met, and she grinned, swaying closer. Within a measure or two, she was nearly touching him with each movement of her hips and dancing suddenly got much... easier. He didn't mirror her, exactly, but he let her lead, keeping his hands to himself, but letting the music push and pull through his body. Irene never lost the same teasing smile as she kept her eyes on him.

The thudding of John's pulse in his throat was nearly as strong as the pulse of the music. When Irene finally slithered against him, he slid his right hand around to press firmly in the small of her back, keeping her there. He smiled to see her surprised look and loosened his grip just enough to give her the chance to pull away. She didn't. He pulled her close again and kept his eyes on hers as they started to circle together, hips pressing and almost-not-quite grinding. John worried just a moment what her reaction to be to his imminent erection—then a moment later knew he had nothing to worry about. If anything, she pressed closer and John had to shut his eyes and focus on his breathing.

In her heels, they were nearly of a height, and when John opened his eyes again, she was right there, lips parted, pupils dilated. The message was unmistakable. He leaned closer to kiss her, only to see her eyes dart to just over his shoulder as a pair of hands closed over his hips from behind. John's first instinct was to throw an elbow into whoever was grabbing him, until he heard a familiar, pouty voice rumble close to his ear, "You're having entirely too much fun without me, John." Sherlock's breath was hot against his skin, followed by the warm, slow trace of the tip of his tongue up the outside curve of John's ear. Before John could react, Sherlock had settled himself into the slow, grinding rhythm John and Irene had established.

He looked back to Irene who looked, if anything, looked more intrigued than ever. Sod it, John thought, and closed the gap and kissed her. As he did, Sherlock pressed tight against his arse, pushing John's hips harder into Irene's. Her hands moved to rest on his shoulders, and she gently pulled back before the kiss could grow any more intense. She was still looking over John's shoulder, and his stomach dropped in disappointment. He let himself be caught between Sherlock and Irene, let them toy with him, pressing and grinding until he was so hard it hurt—a state that wasn't helped by the clear awareness that he wasn't the only one every time Sherlock slid his hips against him.

By the time the song ended, John could barely breathe. He shook Sherlock and Irene off and left the dance floor, pressing his way through the crowd to get to the bar. He had a shot of American whiskey in hand and was about to down it when a blond girl in too much eye makeup climbed onto the stool next to his.

"That was incredibly hot," she said, smiling at him. "You are one lucky son of a bitch."

His cheeks got hot, but he smiled back. "It was... unexpected. Just a joke my friends were playing on me."

Her eyes got wide. "Ohmigod, where are you from? England? Your accent is amazing."

"Cheers," he said, before downing the drink, feeling it warm his stomach. "Grew up just outside Manchester."

"Say something else," she said, leaning closer.

John took another look at her. Dressed in skimpy clubwear, a microscopic black skirt and off the shoulder top, and she had a lush figure. God, he was tempted, especially after five minutes trapped between Irene and Sherlock. He leaned down to speak directly in her ear. "What should I say, love?"

The girl practically wriggled with delight. "You should say you want to come with me to somewhere a little quieter."

He slid off the stool and offered her his arm. "I'm all yours." She led him past the dance floor, and despite himself, he found himself looking for Sherlock. He spotted him, just at the edge and was startled to see that Sherlock was staring at him as the girl pulled him past.

They'd barely made it into the hallway leading to the toilets when she pressed into him and started kissing him. God, it felt so good to just kiss someone without worrying about ulterior motives—but at the same time, he couldn't shake the image of Sherlock's face from his head. He'd looked... disappointed? The girl's arms were around his neck, her body pressed tight to his, and that should have been enough to drive anything else from his head.

After a moment, he pulled back. "I'm sorry. You're lovely, you really are. I can't do this right now." She gave him a small pout. He stroked his thumb at the corner of her mouth. "Believe me, I'd like to. It's... complicated."

"Boyfriend? Or girlfriend?" She smirked. "Or both?"

He looked back towards the main room of the club, then leaned down to kiss her cheek. "Neither." For now. Whatever was going on, it was past time John figured it out and got past it. "I told you, it's complicated. Sorry, love."

John made his escape to the men's, where he went into one of the stalls and just stood breathing for several moments. His head was pounding and he was suddenly exhausted. He squared his shoulders and walked out, washed his hands, and headed back into the club.

It was short work to find Greg, still sitting at the table and talking to Molly. "Make sure everybody gets home in one piece, yeah?" John said. "I'm knackered." Greg nodded distractedly and John shook his head and left.

Back at the hotel room, John put out the do not disturb sign and turned on the water for a shower. A decent wank and a few hours of sleep and he should be able to think clearly again. And god, he needed to think.

The hot water and the sheer relief of physical release—during which time John may or may not have thought about what happened on the dance floor—combined into a potent sleeping potion, one that had John's eyes closing as soon as he fell into the bed.

When John's alarm went off the next morning, he opened his eyes to see that the bed opposite his hadn't been slept in. Shit. He sat up and scrambled for the room phone, dialling Greg's room number. After three rings he answered.

"Greg, you were supposed to get everyone back last night. What happened to Sherlock?"

"He's not with you?"

"No, didn't come back last night."

Greg yawned loudly, and John could hear an alarm go off in the other room before someone smacked it to turn it off. "He's probably still with Irene then. He went back to her room when we came back."

John was at a loss to explain the sudden sick lurch of his insides. "Oh, right. Do me a favour, make sure, yeah? I don't want to have to tell my sister that I lost her biggest star."

 

"Bloody hell. It's your turn tonight, Greg. We agreed." John was tired and John just wanted to go to bed. It had been three days since Washington, and he had spent most of it avoiding Sherlock and Irene as much as humanly possible. He and Sherlock had hardly spoken three words, despite the fact that Sherlock had come back to the room every night except for that one. John had spent most of those nights hovering in shallow sleep, afraid of the vulnerability of the nightmares.

"I know, I know." They were standing in the lobby of the night's hotel as the rest of the group streamed past them with personal belongings dragging. "But I think I've got a shot."

"With Molly," John shook his head. "Don't you think that's a bad idea, shagging one of the crew?"

Greg just looked at him. "You're not serious. You are. Is that why you're being so uptight?"

"I'm not being uptight."

"Uh-huh." He laughed. "It happens all the time. Besides, you've met Molly. She's probably one of the most wholesome things about this whole tour."

"And how long have you been hung up on her?"

"I can't help it, she's cute," Greg mumbled.

"This fucking soap opera. I feel like I'm back at school." John grinned. "Did you pass her a note?"

Greg grabbed his arm. "I'd do it for you. If, you know, there was ever a reason."

"Fuck off," John brushed off his hand and rolled his eyes. "Fine, fine, fine. I'll babysit the bloody child while you go try and get off with the crew."

"You're a pal," Greg said, and trotted off. John sighed and went to get a key for his room.

The bathroom door was closed when John let himself in. One of the double beds—the one nearest the window, of course—had clearly been claimed. It was a mess already, with pillows strewn everywhere. John set his bag down near the small desktop and toed off his loafers. It was a night off, and John planned to take full advantage of it: propped up in bed doing as little as possible before falling into a solid twelve hours of sleep.

He closed his eyes, just for a moment, when the bathroom door opened with a rush of steam. "Where's Greg? I thought he was with me tonight."

"Change of plans," John said without opening his eyes.

"Molly?" Sherlock sounded amused.

"Isn't love grand," John said. He heard Sherlock moving around the room. "You can open your eyes now, I'm not naked."

"You prat, I was trying to nap." John opened his eyes anyway. "Going out with the rest of them tonight?"

Sherlock shrugged. The clothes he was putting on definitely weren't clothes for clubbing or going out, they were soft and worn. John would almost say cosy, if it were anybody else. "It's Detroit. Boring." He pulled a dark blue dressing gown from his bag and wrapped it tight around himself.

Something in the tone of his voice caught John's attention. There was an underlying tremor that gave away the lie. John took a harder look at him, the vocal tremor mirrored in his hands. Barely there, but enough to make knotting a dressing gown tricky. "Bad night?" he asked.

Another shrug. "Not bad enough that you have to babysit me. Go on and do whatever you had planned." There was something oddly vulnerable in Sherlock's profile as he rifled through the hotel desk, a total contrast to the cocksure, spoilt brat who normally looked out from that face.

"I had nothing planned but some crap American telly and some sleep." He paused. "I can... go, if you'd rather be alone."

"No, stay." Sherlock flopped on the opposite bed and stared at the ceiling. "Talk to me."

"About what?"

"Anything. Just don't be boring. What did you do in the army?"

John snorted. "You don't really care about my army stories."

Sherlock rolled onto his side, pulling the dressing gown with him. He propped his head up on his hand, looking for all the world like a teenage girl at a slumber party. "Sure I do. Consider it as doing my part for Queen and country. Where did you serve?"

"Sierra Leone, mostly. Well, at the end, at least." John stretched back out on his bed, pillowing his head on his hands. "That's where I got shot."

"I thought you got shot in the shoulder."

"Oh ho, the rock god thinks he's funny now." There was a soft whumph as something large and white hit John in the face. "Thank you," he said with a grin, and propped the newly-acquired pillow behind his head. He felt some of the tension dissolve. "It was the shoulder, and my knee. I was a fucking mess."

"Knee? I've not noticed any sign of injury." Sherlock had that odd edge to his voice he got when he was thinking.

"You wouldn't," John said. "But I'm not going to be hauling my arse for eighteen hours over rough terrain carrying twenty-three kilos of gear any time soon." He rolled his eyes up to the ceiling and added, "So that made me effectively useless."

"Sierra Leone... a few months ago, yes?" A puzzle was coming together, John could hear it. "With that level of physical requirement, you weren't regular army." Sherlock paused. "SAS or Paras?"

"22 SAS."

"That's impressive."

"You don't seem the type to be impressed by that sort of thing," John said.

"I'm impressed by competence," came the response. "Surely you've noticed by now."

"Well, I've noticed the opposite, anyway." John shifted, an itch in his spine demanding a change of subject. "What about you? What were you doing a few months ago? I spent September in hospital."

Sherlock laughed, a low unhappy sound. "So did I. While you had a morphine pump, I had methadone."

"Right," John said, a hiss escaping from between his teeth. "Not sure I'd guess which of us got the worst end of that deal. Are you—how are you coping?"

The silence went on long enough that John thought Sherlock wasn't going to answer. Finally he said, "Some days, the only thing that keeps me from going back is the thought of going through withdrawal again."

"Bad?"

"The methadone helped, although heroin never had as strong a pull for me as coke did." Sherlock paused, then said, "Does." John didn't know what to say to that. After a moment, Sherlock said, "There's one thing I don't understand."

John looked over. "Only one?"

"Shut up." It was a good-natured 'shut up', though. "The other night, in the club. I know you were more than a little wound up, and I know that little American girl would have got you off in a second."

"Hey."

"You know what I meant." Sherlock looked over and gave him a quirked smile. "But you didn't."

"How do you know?"

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Please. Sexual frustration is one of the easiest things to read in a body's movements. You turned her down. Here you are, a genuine war hero, touring with a rock band. You could snap your fingers and have any man or woman you wanted. Christ, you could screw any one of us if you wanted and just walk away afterwards. Even Irene's got her eye on you." He looked at John across the gap between the two beds. "Why haven't you?"

They watched each other for a few moments as John tried to formulate an answer. Why hadn't he? He looked away first, going back to studying the hotel room ceiling. "I told you. This is my job. Can't very well keep you lot in line if I'm trying to get off with everyone, can I? Besides, Irene's got you, hasn't she?"

"Irene? And me?" Sherlock chuckled. "God, not in years. She got tired of me when I stopped playing in orchestra pits. Besides, she remembers me when I was a skinny twit with glasses."

"But I thought—the other night—"

"You were jealous," Sherlock said.

"No, I wasn't."

"Yes, you were. You thought I spent the night with her and that's why you haven't talked to me for three days." Sherlock snorted breath out. "Of course. I should have seen that."

"I was not jealous of Irene, Sherlock. I turned the American girl down because I—I don't work that way." It was a blatant lie, John had had more than his fair share of casual shags. The problem was lying in the next bed over, talking to him like a human being for maybe the second time ever, and watching him intently enough that he could feel the pressure of Sherlock's eyes against his skin. Damaged. Gorgeous. Dangerous. And here John was, right in the middle of it.

"Liar." Sherlock's voice was softer than he'd ever heard it, and—come to think of it—much too close. John rolled his head to the right against the pillow, and there Sherlock was, crouched next to the bed, eye to eye with him. "What are you afraid of?"

Shit shit shit. John swallowed and rolled over on to his side, propped up on an elbow. "Look at you," he finally said. "You're a fucking train wreck, Sherlock." The words were harsh, but his tone of voice wasn't. "Some wrecks... you get caught in them you don't—you can't just walk away."

"Then don't." With a little flex of his knees, Sherlock closed the gap between them and covered John's mouth with his own. John pulled back at first, then parted his lips and slid his hand around the back of Sherlock's head to pull him closer. Sherlock's mouth opened against his, his tongue teasing its way between John's lips, tasting faintly of toothpaste and tobacco. Sherlock nudged John back on to his back and knelt beside him on the bed, giving John a moment to war with his better judgement. Their mouths moved open and soft against each other.

John broke the kiss, heat rising in his cheeks. "Sherlock, this'd better not be some sort of game."

Sherlock crouched over him, hands to either side of John's head. "It's not, I swear." He lowered his mouth to one of John's cheekbones and murmured, "Not this time." His hair tickled as it trailed across John's face. He reached up to brush it away, and instead tangled his fingers in it, pulling Sherlock's mouth back to his, arching up off the mattress to get closer. Sherlock's hands left a tingling trail against the skin of his belly as they slid under John's t-shirt, drawing a small gasp from him. John collapsed back against the bed and Sherlock followed him, licking and biting up the side of John's neck while he pushed the thin cotton inexorably upwards.

"This is a terrible idea," John said, last word cut off as Sherlock bit at his collar bone through his shirt.

"Stop thinking," Sherlock said.

John laughed, breath catching. Sherlock settled against his body, one hand trapped beneath John's t-shirt, long fingers dragging over his skin. Their mouths met again in a slow, easy slide. John pushed his hands into Sherlock's hair and tugged, just a little. With each tug he could feel a corresponding twitch in Sherlock's cock, pressed against John's thigh.

"And here I thought you were angry with me for not following your instructions," Sherlock murmured against John's mouth. "Your last note sounded quite cross."

"Note?" John tried to find a way to talk and kiss at the same time. "What note?"

Sherlock drew back to look at him. A rattling pounding on the door made them both jump. "John! Are you in there?" It was Greg, with a strange edge in his voice. "Answer your goddamn mobile, man!"

"Fuck." John rolled out from under Sherlock, pulling his shirt down as he went. He had a second to hope there wasn't a bite mark on his neck before he opened the door. "What's going on?"

Greg's hand was combing through his hair, not for the first time, to judge by the way it was standing up, and his face was flushed. "What the hell, John. I've been calling you for ten minutes."

"Yeah, sorry, it's in my jacket..." He didn't turn to look, but he knew Sherlock was standing just over his shoulder, close enough for John to feel his body heat.

"We need you. Someone broke into Irene's hotel room."

"Shit," John said, immediately swinging back into the room to grab his phone and keys. "What did they take? Did you notify the hotel yet? The police?"

"John." Something in Greg's voice made him stop and look at him. "Whoever it was... it's completely trashed. You—you need to come see this."

John wanted to tell Sherlock to stay in the room, lock the door. The prickle at the base of his skull said something horrible had happened. His fingers itched for the heavy comfort of steel and ammunition, his shoulders for the weight of body armour. He turned back to Sherlock, who was already pulling on shoes. "Sherlock, you should stay here."

"And miss this? Not a chance."

John sighed. "Fine. Just. Stick close."

Irene's room was on the other side of the hotel on the same floor. The door was open when they got there. John could hear a woman's voice murmuring comforting words. Molly. He could smell perfume, choking thick, getting stronger with each step towards the door.

The room was in shambles. Clothing lay everywhere, most of it torn to rags. Broken glass on the dresser proved to be the source of the smell. Written on the mirror, in what could only be Irene's distinctive blood-red lipstick: TOUCH HIM AGAIN AND I WILL SKIN YOU.