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Pull the Stars from the Sky

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John woke up sweating, his pulse thudding in his chest and in his temples. Had he yelled? Sherlock was still asleep next to him, curled against his side and wrapped around him like ivy. A glance at the clock told him it was half four in the morning. They hadn't been asleep long, just long enough for John to hit the first REM stage of the night.

By the time they had finished at the hospital, by the time the police had taken their statements—and Sherlock was right, there wasn't much they could do—it was past midnight. Irene had a mild concussion and was expected to be fine. Several people had congratulated John, saying it would have been much worse without his help. It left him with a sour stomach.

He eased slowly from the tangle of Sherlock's arms and legs, not wanting to wake him. Greg and the others had reassured him that Sherlock was sleeping much more regularly on this tour than times past, but he still didn't sleep enough. John didn't turn on a light, but moved over to the window and opened the drapes enough so he could look outside. Seattle was cold and wet, a mixture of rain and sleet ticking against the hotel glass. John leaned his flushed face against the cold surface. His shoulder ached, possibly with the weather, a hint of things to come as he got older.

The nightmare was coming back to him gradually, in pieces. Mostly it was the same as ever: trapped on that last mission with his squadron, scene replaying over and over. Of late, the face of the body on the ground—the one bleeding out under his hands—was changing. Five days ago it had been Greg. The two nights ago it was Molly. Tonight it was Irene, dying under his hands while he was helpless to stop it. It didn't take a psychiatrist to see where his subconscious was taking him. As exhausted as he was, sleep offered no rest.

He heard the sound of Sherlock's skin against the sheets. "...John?" His voice was muzzy with sleep.

"I'm here. Go back to sleep."

"What's wrong?"

John watched the liquid trailing down the windows. "Nothing. I just couldn't sleep."

"Well, come not sleep over here." Sherlock's voice was edging towards petulant, and it was almost enough to make John smile. He pulled the curtains open so he could watch the rain before going to crawl back into the bed beside Sherlock, who snuggled against his back and pulled him back into the cradle of his limbs.

"Better," Sherlock mumbled against John's back. John listened to the quiet sounds of sleet. "John? Was it a nightmare again?"

"Mm. It's fine."

"You'd say that even if it weren't, wouldn't you?" Sherlock kissed his aching shoulder. "Want to tell me about it? It must have been bad, you've been sweating." John didn't answer and debated feigning sleep. "John, I know you're awake. Tell me."

"I can't." It was effort to say even that much.

"Then at least look at me."

Sherlock sounded more alert, and that low, coaxing tone of voice was nearly impossible for John to resist. He rolled over and tucked one hand under his head, letting the other drape over Sherlock's side.

"Bad?" Sherlock said.

"Yeah." One syllable words, he could do that much. He could feel the weight of Sherlock's gaze sliding over his face.

"Will you tell me what happened? I don't mean the dreams. What happened to you?"

"It was a—" John cleared his throat. Dry details were easy. "A hostage rescue mission. Eleven members of the Royal Irish captured outside Freetown."

"You said Sierra Leone?"

John nodded. "The MOD—they were still looking for someone to blame when I left. How did a bunch of untrained kids and civilians—Christ, Sherlock, they were young; I had twelve- and thirteen-year-olds aiming grenade launchers at me—how did they manage to capture eleven armed British soldiers?"

"That was you. The rescue mission." Sherlock's face was just visible in the light from the window, painted over with rivulets of water. It was oddly gratifying to see Sherlock look surprised. "There was—nothing really to do when I was in the hospital. I made my brother send me a subscription to The Guardian—no doubt he would have preferred The Daily Telegraph. I read about it. Hostages rescued in twenty minutes with only one fatality." He traced a thumb over John's cheek. "You really are a hero."

"No." The word was blunt and heavy, and John tilted his head away from Sherlock's hand. "No, I'm not."

"John."

John wouldn't—couldn't—look him in the eye. "I had one job, Sherlock. One. Sixteen men in my troop. Bring them back. That's all I had to do."

"The one fatality."

"Over 150 men involved, and I'm the captain who got one killed." He pulled away and rolled onto his back, then out of the bed onto his feet.

"You didn't—"

"I bloody well did," John snapped, stabbing a finger at Sherlock. "You fucking weren't there. I saw the shooter. I saw him. I could have taken him out. I didn't, and a good man died." There was a water glass on the nightstand. It shattered against the wall opposite before John could think. He winced at the splintering crash.

"John!" Sherlock unfolded himself out of the bed and stepped towards him. When he grabbed John's upper arms it took all the control John had not to hit him.

"Don't," he said, breaking Sherlock's hold easily. "Don't touch me." Sherlock stepped back, his hands open. John forced himself to meet Sherlock's eyes and saw an unfamiliar expression—was he worried? "I had one job, Sherlock." He felt as if he were speaking with a throat full of broken glass.

And Sherlock, goddamn him, goddamn his perception, stepped toward him the way one would a nervous animal and spoke with a quiet, gentling tone. "It was a kid, wasn't it. The shooter." John stared at him, willing him away, breathing hard through his nose. "It was," Sherlock said, and took a step closer, a hand out towards him. John didn't pull away, and Sherlock took his hand and pulled him in. "Jesus. John..."

John let Sherlock hold him for a few minutes, never quite relaxing into the embrace, standing stiffly in his arms. When he drew back, he was careful, so careful, not trusting himself, not yet. "I should clean up my mess," he said. "You might get hurt."

"John," Sherlock caught his arm. "I trust you."

John moved past and started picking up pieces of broken glass. "Well, maybe you shouldn't." He threw away the larger pieces and ran his hand over the carpeting, picking up a few tiny shards in his skin. He brushed them off into the bin. "You should go back to bed. Tomorrow's going to be a long day."

"Not without you," Sherlock said.

"Fine." John walked around to his side of the bed and lay back down on his side, facing the window. He didn't fight when Sherlock laid down behind him and pulled him in close, but he didn't relax, either.

"There wasn't a good choice to make," Sherlock murmured in his ear. "You did the best you could."

John had heard the same empty words from his commanding officers. And Sherlock still didn't understand. "I shot the kid," he said. "He was lining up a second shot." Sherlock's arms tightened in response.

John felt Sherlock's mouth press hard against his shoulder, against the scar one of the kid's friends had made. "There was no good choice," Sherlock repeated.

"I'll be sure to tell that to Jenny and the girls the next time I see them."

Sherlock said nothing, but buried his face against John's skin. It wasn't until Sherlock's breathing had evened out with sleep that John gave himself the luxury of taking Sherlock's hand in both of his and leaning back against him, watching the storm outside the glass.

 

"Stop treating me like I'm about to break; I'm fine!" Irene sat propped against the headboard of her hotel bed. "You know, 'keep her under observation' doesn't mean I need all three fucking Stooges standing around my bed."

John glanced at Greg and Sherlock and fought a smile. They were being a little overprotective, maybe. "Bad metaphor," he said. "We don't need anyone else getting a knock on the head."

"I'll knock you on the head if you don't stop hovering."

"Wasn't 'irritability' one of the symptoms the doctor told us to look out for?" asked Sherlock. Irene threw a pillow at him.

"Just tell me we know who this guy is now," said Irene.

John sat down on the side of the bed and sighed. "We really don't. I mean, there's not much to go on: Molly's description, and the notes. He doesn't exactly tell us anything about himself."

"Doesn't he?" Sherlock curled in the armchair, knees drawn up to his chest. "He's my age, possibly a bit younger. British, and considers himself to be at least marginally upper class. And he claims to have met me and had a conversation with me. That last bit doesn't really help, of course, but it's part of what we know. He's relatively attractive—something I knew before Molly's sketch—"

"What?" said Greg.

"Attractive?" said John at the same time.

"Of course," Sherlock said. "Oh, stop being jealous. He was attractive enough to get Molly's attention, but he's not so attractive that he can't pass unobserved when he wants to. He blends in."

"And you got all that from the notes and a police sketch?" John still wasn't sure how he felt about hearing Sherlock call the man who'd tried to kill him 'attractive'.

"Just the notes, really." Sherlock looked at the three of them. "You don't see it? It's obvious. Just look at his last note. He refers to Irene as the American—suggesting that he isn't. Then he calls John 'a bit of rough'—British idiom, suggests he thinks John's beneath me. He couldn't be more wrong." One corner of his mouth twitched. "The fact that he considers himself a suitable replacement says he thinks he's got more social status than John. The age is a guess, but given that he fits in at the shows, it's a good one."

"But Molly didn't mention an accent," Irene said.

"He might have used a different one speaking to her—or possibly, she didn't notice it. Do you notice when someone has an accent similar to yours?"

Irene snorted. "I would if I were in the UK. The sound of home, you know."

"Hmm. So possibly faking an accent."

Greg blinked. "You're in the wrong line of work, mate. You tell the police that?"

Sherlock shrugged. "They have their own profile, they said. I don't know if they listened to me or not."

"I'm listening to you," John said. "What else do you know?"

Sherlock uncurled and sprang to his feet with a sudden burst of energy, pacing the length of the hotel room. "He's not working entirely alone. He's got an accomplice, or he's convincing people to help him."

"Bribing?" asked John.

"Possibly. No, likely. Leaving a note in my room might seem harmless enough to a chambermaid who needs extra money." Sherlock shrugs. "It's happened before, but usually it's a phone number or a room key."

Greg coughed. It sounded suspiciously like, "Naked pictures."

"Just the once in the room," Sherlock said, waving a hand. "The rest were backstage. She was inventive, I'll give her that."

"But the police interviewed the staff," Irene said.

Sherlock turned to look at her, eyebrow raised. "If you'd taken a bribe to sneak into someone's room, only to discover that the note was threatening, would you confess?"

"What about the cameras?" she said.

John spoke up, warming to the idea. "There was a lot of footage to go through. Who pays attention to a maid going into a room? And that's for the places they had footage. The footage from outside your room in Detroit never existed." Sherlock smiled at him. John grinned back at him, then continued. "So. He's British—or wants us to think he is. He's attractive—" Sherlock rolled his eyes "—and he fits in to the concert crowds. Well. That should make him easy to spot."

"So really," Irene said, "we don't know anything about him that will actually help. Don't quit your day job, Sherlock."

 

Irene sat with John and Sherlock in a coffee shop across the street from the hotel, cradling a cup of tea she wasn't drinking. "This is bullshit," she said. "Come on. I don't even have a headache anymore!"

"You were only scheduled for two more stops anyway," John said.

"Yeah, and I'm going to make them."

"No you're not." John called up that particular type of patience he hadn't had a use for in months. "Do you understand what a concussion is? It is a traumatic brain injury. Your brain, Irene. You're not going out there and pogoing around on stage."

"Sherlock, come on, tell him."

Sherlock shook his head. "This is between you two."

"Coward."

"I know where he sleeps," John said. He reached across the table and touched Irene's arm. "I mean it. God knows we'll miss you around here, but the doctors are right." He twitched an almost-smile. "Besides, my sister would kill me over the liability issues alone."

Irene sighed and squeezed John's hand. "Ah well. I suppose it's back to playing bitches and breeches for me."

"The life of a contralto," Sherlock agreed. "You know... you could throw it all over and come over to my side of things."

Irene shook her head. "I couldn't, really. You're a lovely fling, darling, but I don't want to marry you."

Sherlock leaned back in his chair and sprawled lazily. "Your first love doesn't appreciate you—isn't that enough reason to leave? You know you deserve more than a supporting role. Opera is never going to give you more than that."

Irene laughed and glanced at John before turning back to Sherlock. "Oh, and you will? Besides, if I leave opera now, everyone will say you talked me into selling out."

"I'm trying," Sherlock said. "But you seem to have too damn much artistic integrity." He barely managed to say it with a straight face.

"Children," John said, holding his hands up between them. "Irene has a flight to catch. Do you have everything, Irene?"

She nodded, rising to her feet. "You don't have to come to the airport with me," she said.

"Yes, I do," said John.

Sherlock stood as well, kissed Irene on the forehead. She pulled him down to whisper something in his ear. He straightened and grinned at her. "If you change your mind, you know how to reach me." He gave John a quick kiss then walked back towards the hotel. Once he was safely inside, John picked up Irene's bags.

"Come on, let's get you to the airport." He paused. "What did you say to him?"

"Nothing I'm going to tell you," Irene said. "We've got to have some secrets, you know."

 

There wasn't a note under the door. When Sherlock opened the hotel room door—new hotel, new city—there was nothing. He let Greg in for the now-obligatory look around the room to make sure it was empty—ridiculous, but John was already working and insisted on it.

It wasn't until he swung the door closed, finally alone after a crowded (but blessedly short) flight to Portland, that Sherlock saw the manila envelope taped to the inside of the room door. His name was scrawled across the front. He reached towards it, felt the weight of it against his fingers as he lifted it from the door. Heart starting to pound with fear and excitement, he took the envelope over the desk and sat down to open it.

The photographs that slipped out caught his attention first. Glossy, 8" by 10" photos, all with the same subject. John in the theatre lobby in Seattle talking to Sally. John on his mobile walking along a sidewalk—which city? Sherlock couldn't tell at a glance. Then, worst of all, the back of John's head, close up. The photographer couldn't have been more than three feet behind John. Neatly drawn around it, cross-hairs. Sherlock turned the photo over, and scrawled on the back of it was: It would be so easy.

He up-ended the envelope over the desk, looking for the note. It fluttered to the desk.

Sherlock:

I've been patient. I've endured your little follies, but the time for playing is over. Put away your toys and send your little friends home. If you can't do it, I'll do it for you.

You owe me, Sherlock. You belong to me. Don't make me regret everything I've done for you, you unappreciative prick. It's all been for you.

-J

Sherlock read the note several times over, looking from the paper to the photographs. He reached for his mobile to call John.

"Sherlock?"

"John. There was another note in the room."

"Christ." Sherlock could almost hear him rubbing the bridge of his nose. "How bad?"

"Bad. I think you need to see this."

"I'll be there in fifteen. Make sure the door's locked." He rang off before Sherlock could tell him to be careful.

Fourteen minutes later, there was a knock at the door. "It's me," John said. Sherlock let him in. "Where is it?" John said, and Sherlock gestured to the desk. John looked over the envelope, the photos, the note. "Shit."

"You don't sound surprised," Sherlock said, coming to stand behind him, staying close to him for comfort.

"I did tell you," John said. "When he doesn't get whatever he wants from you, he's going to turn on you. This kind always do." He looked down at the note again and reread it. "Looks like it's started."

"John, the photos—"

"I know." He breathed out through his nose, mouth a thin line. "Might've used a telephoto lens, but it doesn't look like it. The fucker was right behind me. And I missed it. Look. This was after the show in Seattle. Which means he was right behind you, and I fucking missed it." John dropped the photo and pushed past Sherlock to pace the room. "How could I have missed that?" He stopped pacing and reached for his phone. "Fuck this. We need more security. Harry can goddamn well eat the cost. The alternative is not acceptable."

"John—"

"What."

"You don't have to do this alone."

"You don't get it, do you." John stood still, mobile still in his hand. "This is what I am trained to do. And I failed. This sodding lunatic got close enough to touch you."

"But he didn't."

"Because we got lucky. Fuck that." John threw his mobile onto the bed. "No more after-show appearances. You go from the hotel to the green room to the stage and back again. If I get any sense that something is off, we cancel the show."

"John."

John whirled on him, eyes blazing. "If anything is off, you're not leaving the bloody hotel room. No more interviews, no more—"

"John." Sherlock stepped over and took him by the shoulders. "You say you have a job to do. Well so do I. You have to let me do it."

"I can't—" John lowered his head, hands clenching and unclenching as he half-turned away. "I can't fail someone else." He refused to meet Sherlock's eyes.

"I'm not going anywhere," Sherlock said, then laughed, low and dry. "You can't keep me a prisoner in my hotel room, you prat."

That earned a ghost of a smile from John. "Could try," he said. "Ever hear of Stockholm syndrome?"

"Too late," Sherlock said, and kissed him. "Come on. Take me over to the theatre and keep an eye on me while you do all the hard work."

"I still say we need extra security," John said.

"Yeah, if it comes down to profit margins or me, don't think for a moment I'm going to come first," Sherlock said. "We'll manage."

 

The first show in Portland had gone well, no further signs of trouble. John had seemed particularly impressed with the venue staff, including security, who were inclined to take his concerns seriously. As a result, John had relaxed just enough to let Sherlock convince him that they should go for a stroll around the neighbourhood the next day.

Sherlock didn't fool himself that he had introduced the notion of sex in a public restroom to John, but he had certainly been the one to introduce it into their relationship. He didn't regret it, not in the least—especially not now, moments after being the recipient of a scorchingly hot blowjob in the men's of a riverside park—but he did wonder a little at the headlines, should they ever get caught. He smiled at the potential for uproar as he leaned against a picnic table, sated and a little drowsy. The park was nearly empty in the early winter mid-afternoon. He could see John, perhaps a hundred meters away, buying coffee from a cart. It was cold out, but not as frigid as the last few stops had been.

"Hey." Sherlock opened his eyes at the unfamiliar voice. The man walking towards him was dark-haired and dishevelled, in a dirty green parka and torn jeans. His face was covered by several days' worth of scruff. Homeless, possibly.

Sherlock gave a small smile. "Hey." He waited to see if there was any recognition. It happened sometimes, and there would be a script to follow: Hello-I-love-your-work-will-you-sign-this-for-me-please-can-I-take-a-photograph. It didn't happen often, but it was happening more often since the Grammys.

"Spare some change?"

Sherlock took a closer look at the man and re-evaluated his initial first impression. Possibly homeless, and higher than a kite. He should have spotted that sooner. He raised his hands in an open-handed posture. "I don't have any, I'm sorry."

"You're a fucking liar. Empty your pockets." The man's eyes grew harder and Sherlock's pulse kicked in the side of his throat. He wanted to look towards John, but didn't want to take his eyes off the man.

"Really, I don't—" His throat closed with a click when the man pulled out a knife. Where was John?

"Don't play with me, you fucker. Empty your pockets."

There wasn't much in Sherlock's pockets. Hotel room key, his mobile, his wallet, empty of everything except some ID and the remains of his per diem. This was ridiculous, it was broad daylight and where the bloody hell was John? His heart was racing. He tried to think. He tried to buy time by removing each item from his pockets slowly, one at a time, and the man snatched them up, looking them over. Sherlock had just pulled his wallet out when he saw John over the mugger's shoulder. John had circled them, and was coming up behind the mugger.

"Come on, hand it over," the man said, snatching the wallet and opening it. He pulled out the small handful of bills and tucked them into his jeans pocket. "What else?"

"That's it." John was closer now, and Sherlock tried not to look at him.

"Bullshit." The man grabbed his wrist, knife loosely clasped in his other hand. "Where's the rest?" John was there, right there... then he grabbed the man by the knife hand, wrenching the arm up behind the mugger's back.

"Behind you, you dick," John spoke through gritted teeth. "Let him go." The man did. "Sherlock, get back." Sherlock stumbled out of harm's way. John pulled harder on the arm with the knife. "Drop it. Now. Or I'll break your fucking arm." The man cursed and dropped the knife. John kicked it out of reach and grabbed the mugger's other shoulder. "Now the wallet—"

The man swung wildly, trying to throw free elbow into John's gut—even Sherlock could see he hadn't a chance of actually connecting. John sidestepped easily and wrenched the man's trapped arm until he grunted. "Wrong answer. The wallet."

The man tossed down the wallet. "Sherlock," John said. "You all right?" Sherlock nodded. Then John said, "Is it him?"

Sherlock shook his head. "No. No, I don't think so."

"You're sure?" In the meantime, the mugger whined a little at the pressure on his arm. "Shut up," John said.

"I'm sure," Sherlock said. "Wrong—wrong everything."

"All right," John spoke to the mugger. "I'm going to let you go here in a minute, and you want to think about what you do after that." His voice was harsh as he reached into the man's pocket and retrieved the stolen cash. "You can walk away from this, I'll let you—but if you so much as look at him, you won't be walking anywhere for a long time. Understand?"

The mugger licked his lips nervously. "U-Understand."

"Okay then. I'm going to let go. And then you're going to run." John paused. "And if you're very lucky, I'll give you five seconds before I call the police. Ready?"

The man nodded. John shoved him forward hard enough to send him to his knees, letting go of his hold. The man looked back up at John, who was cold-eyed and calm, not even breathing hard. Sherlock's heart beat hard enough in his chest that it ached. The man scrabbled forward to his feet and took off running. John started to pursue, but Sherlock caught his arm. "Leave it."

"What if you're wrong?"

"I'm not, I'm sure of it." He tugged John's arm. "Please. Let's just—let's just get out of here."

"You okay?"

"Fine. Just shaken." It was mostly true. Sherlock didn't want to look too closely at just how shaken he was.

"All right. Let's get you back to the room and get you some tea." John leaned over and picked up Sherlock's belongings and handed them over before taking his hand and leading him from the park.

 

"We should at least file a police report," John said. He'd sat Sherlock on the bed and was making what would be a poor excuse for tea out of hotel tea bags and heated tap water.

"No."

"Sherlock—"

"No. What's the point? He was probably homeless, definitely high. He didn't hurt me."

John handed him a paper cup of murky liquid that smelled vaguely tannic. Sherlock just held it in his hands. John studied him closely, looking for any sign of shaking. Instead he was... still, which was disturbing enough. He sat down next to Sherlock and pulled him close. "Hey. Come here. It's okay," he murmured, pulling Sherlock's head down to his shoulder.

Sherlock lowered the cup of tea to the carpet and reached for John, pulling his face close and kissing him hard. He bit at John's lips until John opened his mouth, letting Sherlock lick at his tongue and fist his hands against the fabric of John's shirt. John pulled away for a moment to protest, "Sherlock—"

Sherlock pulled him back and moved into John's lap, straddling his thigh. He licked John's jawline, down the side of his neck, while John squirmed.

"Sherlock—"

"Shut up and fuck me," Sherlock hissed in his ear. He started pulling off his shirt, but John made no move to get naked.

"Easy, tiger." John tried not to laugh, because really.

"No." Sherlock said. He stood and shoved his jeans and pants down, giving a little growl when he couldn't pull them past his boots. He leaned over John, naked except for the clothing trapped around his calves. "You're not listening to me. I need you to fuck me. Hard. Right now."

"This is adrenaline, you know that, yeah?" John swallowed, his eyes moving over Sherlock's face.

"I know you're feeling protective. I don't need protective right now."

Protective could wait a little while longer, perhaps. John caught him around the waist and swung him down to the bed. He stood over Sherlock and patiently removed the tangle of Sherlock's boots and jeans.

Sherlock slid up the bed while John undressed. John barely managed to hide a grin when Sherlock started squirming against the bedspread, watching as he walked around the side of the bed to get the lube and the condoms. Finally, John spoke. "Turn over." Sherlock obeyed with alacrity, rising up on his hands and knees, pale skin flushing pink. God. John undressed himself much faster than he had Sherlock, reaching out to steady himself against Sherlock’s back as he stepped out of his jeans and pants. When John's hand slid down the curve of Sherlock's arse, Sherlock exhaled in a noisy rush. The heat of his skin radiated against John's hand and oh Christ how much hotter would he be inside? John knelt on the bed behind him, dragging his fingernails against Sherlock's spine.

He curled against Sherlock's body, nudging the head of his swollen cock between Sherlock's thighs and feeling him spread just enough. He nuzzled at the back of Sherlock's neck, looking for the perfect spot to sink his teeth.

"John, please. Please, I need you."

"I know." John nipped at one of Sherlock's shoulderblades, kissing his way down Sherlock's spine. "I'll take care of you." Sherlock dropped his head to hang between his arms, breathing through his nose slow and steady as John slid his mouth over the curve of Sherlock's back, just pausing at the cleft of his arse.

John's hands closed over the soft skin of Sherlock's hips, thumbs stroking over his arse then gently parting him so John could lick a slow teasing trail from bottom to top, barely pausing at Sherlock's entrance. "Please," Sherlock said. John pressed his face to Sherlock's arse—mind so full of heat and salt and musk he couldn't tell what was scent and what was taste—using just the tip of his tongue to tease him. It was enough to make Sherlock cry out and press back against John's mouth. When John dipped inside of him, Sherlock gasped. "Please."

John kept fluttering his tongue in and out, fumbling one-handed for the bottle and flipping the lid open with his thumb. John lifted his mouth away and murmured, "Tell me."

"Fuck me, oh god stop teasing and fuck me."

He'd never seen Sherlock this desperate before, begging, begging for John's cock inside of him. It was the hottest thing John had ever seen. He nudged one slick finger into Sherlock's tight hole and Sherlock slid back against him hard, begging for more. It was hypnotic, watching the way Sherlock writhed on his hand. John flicked his tongue across his lips and closed his other hand around his cock. He stroked himself a few times, fighting not to close his eyes, not wanting to miss a second of the way Sherlock squirmed.

"Give me more," Sherlock groaned, the sound mingling with the wet and slick sounds of John's hands stroking both bodies. Two fingers now, and Sherlock was panting, pleas louder. John couldn't stand to tease anymore. He grabbed the condom with his free hand and tore open the wrapper with his teeth.

"Come here," John rasped, trying to roll the condom on with one hand while the other pulled Sherlock to him by a hip. He lined himself up and tried to go slow, but Sherlock wouldn't let him, slamming onto him hard. "Ow, carefu—oh Christ," John growled, as he lost everything to the tight heat engulfing him.

Sherlock said. "Oh god." John could feel Sherlock's muscles rippling around his cock and he gritted his teeth against the urge to thrust. Sherlock shifted his weight and John felt the slight jerk of Sherlock's hips as Sherlock grasped his own cock. Stay still, oh god, stay still, he told himself, tightening his fingers on Sherlock's hips until finally Sherlock moaned, "Now, John, now." John tried to start slow, but Sherlock was having none of it. John had to hang on to keep his balance as Sherlock thrust back against him, surrounding him and squeezing him over and over. The hair was standing up all over John's body; he dropped his head to try to think of something distracting, because Jesus Christ, he wasn't going to last like this.

Looking down was a mistake. The sight of Sherlock's arse stretching around his cock nearly pushed him over the edge. He squeezed his eyes shut. "Sherlock," he warned. John felt the shift of Sherlock's body as he started stroking himself faster. John tightened his hands and took back control, thrusting his hips hard and fast, feeling Sherlock tighten and tremble around him until John couldn't breathe. Sherlock arched his back and let his head fall forward with a low guttural cry. John followed in a few hard strokes, legs trembling and muscles burning.

He kissed Sherlock between the shoulderblades, turning his face to nuzzle against the damp skin over Sherlock's spine. John rolled them on to their sides, his arms wrapped around Sherlock's waist. Sherlock took one of his hands and nuzzled at it, but was otherwise uncharacteristically quiet. John withdrew slowly to clean up. When he came back, Sherlock was curled in the other bed on his side. John could see the small tremors running through him. Now maybe Sherlock would let him be protective again. John lay next to him and pulled him close, wrapping Sherlock up in his arms and legs and nestling him to his chest. He nuzzled Sherlock's hair, murmuring, "Shh. It's all right."

After a long while, it was.

 

San Francisco was a nightmare from the start. The flight was two hours late, denting an already impossibly tight schedule. John was making phone calls from the minute they stepped off the plane. There was no time to go to the hotel; instead they headed straight for the theatre, luggage and all. Since Portland, Sherlock had been staying closer to John's side than before. For the most part, it was fine. It made looking after him easier, but the night before John had been ready to kill him. He'd wanted nothing more than just a few hours of sleep, but Sherlock had sat across the room and played his guitar until after six AM—and quiet or no, John couldn't sleep through it this time.

The theatre was easily one of the largest they'd played yet, the auditorium vast, the art deco interior badly in need of restoration. Sherlock flung himself into one of the theatre seats, while John, Greg, and Molly went to work. With Sally at the hotel, the merch setup fell to John. Sherlock followed him into the lobby. John's eyes were already stinging with fatigue, and by the end of the night he knew he'd be just this side of falling over—too many nights of worry.

"Sherlock, go take a nap or something. We'll be fine." John hauled boxes onto the table and started opening them.

"I can help here," Sherlock said, frowning when John laughed at him.

"Thank you, but no. Come on, you need the energy for tonight." He looked at Sherlock, who looked as drawn as John felt. "At least one of us should be alert, yeah?"

"Fine." Sherlock left the lobby, and John bit back a smile at how much he'd sounded like a cranky toddler.

 

Hours later, after the show, John was in his now-customary place behind Sherlock as Sherlock signed autographs and posed for photos. It was a grabby crowd. So far John had stepped in to pry two teen girls off Sherlock, and one boy who'd managed to grab him by the shoulders and try to kiss him. It was getting old, fast.

Finally the crowd thinned, and John and Sherlock left the lobby. "Oh, hang on," John said. He ducked into the manager's office. "Jeff! Hey, how did we do tonight?"

Jeff, a tall, bear-like man, looked at him oddly. "Sorry?"

"The receipts?" John said.

"One of your guys picked them up already," he said. "Did well, though!"

John frowned. Had he asked Greg to take care of it? He rubbed at his forehead trying to remember. He had in Seattle, but not in Portland... Shit. "Er, great. Thanks. Nice meeting you." They shook hands, and John went back with Sherlock to the green room.

When they got there, John went over and thumped Greg on the shoulder. "Thanks for taking care of the money for me, man. I forgot I asked."

"You didn't," Greg said, handing John a beer.

"Oh. Well, definitely thanks then," John said and clinked his bottle to Greg's. The look on Greg's face made him pause. "What?"

"John, I didn't pick anything up."

"But I just saw Jeff, and he said—" John stopped and turned to the rest of the room. Sherlock had been with him, and couldn't have been arsed to go to the office at any rate. Sally was over on the loveseat with Molly, and John hurried over to them. He crouched and kept his voice low. "Sally, you didn't pick up the take tonight, did you?"

"God no, why would I do that?" Sally said. "Not my job."

John's pulse started beating in his temples. "Molly?" She shook her head. Anderson was his last hope, and god help him, he never thought it would come to that. Anderson was leaning against a wall chatting up one of the press. John excused himself and pulled Anderson out of earshot. No luck there either.

He fought to keep from running back to the office. "Hey again," he said, managing a smile. "So... I've just checked with my lot, and none of them came by. You're sure someone was here?"

Jeff frowned. "Let me check the receipt book..." He flipped it open. "See, right here—" his finger paused on the entry. "John Watson signed for it. Wait. That's you, isn't it?"

John looked at the book and for a moment wondered just how sleep deprived he was. Not only was it his name, it was his signature. "But I didn't—" He pointed at the initials. "Who is E.J.?"

"Edgar Jackson, he's the owner."

"Is he still here?" John forced his voice to remain even, calm.

"Probably in the bar." Jeff was starting to look worried. "Listen, you're sure you didn't—I mean—" The look John levelled at him stopped him mid-sentence. "Right."

"I'll check the bar," John said.

Sherlock was in the lobby waiting for him. "John, what's wrong?"

His lips thinned. "The money's gone."

"What?"

"Tonight's take. It's gone. Whoever did it did a damn good job signing my name, too." He crossed the lobby to the bar, where he found a small, weaselly man smoking a cigarette and flirting with the bartender, who was clearly in the middle of shutting down for the night. John smiled. "Mr Jackson?" The man turned, irritated. John extended his hand. "Hi, I'm John Watson, the tour manager. I don't believe we've met yet."

Edgar Jackson's face tightened for a moment, then fell. "Watson. But you're not—"

"No," John said. "I'm not."

"Fuck."

"What did he look like, the man who said he was me?"

Jackson actually looked nervous. "He, uh, I don't know, he had ID, and he sounded like one of you. I wasn't really paying that much attention. I'd seen him around all night, so I just assumed..."

"Thanks," John said.

"We can stop payment on the check for the door take," Jackson said. "I can issue another one. The bar though..."

"Cash," John said.

Jackson nodded. "About five thousand, if I remember."

John rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "And you don't remember what the guy looked like. You just handed him five thousand dollars, and you can't give me so much as his hair colour?"

"Dark. Not like his though," he indicated Sherlock.

Something cold wrapped around John's heart. "And he sounded British?"

Jackson nodded.

"I—I'll be back."

"I'll be in the office," Jackson said to John's back as he left the bar. Sherlock trailed in his wake.

John pulled Greg out of the green room. "Greg, how fucked are we?"

"What? What's going on?"

"The money's missing. Somebody signed for it with my name and the dolt of an owner handed it over to him." John ran a hand over his hair. "How fucked are we with this?"

Greg sucked in air through his teeth. "How much are we talking?"

John could feel Sherlock hovering behind him, could feel Sherlock's hand at the small of his back. "Jackson says he'll reissue the check for the door. I'm assuming Sally still has the merch money. So we're looking at the bar take. Five thousand in cash."

"Christ," Greg said. "We gotta find it."

"That bad?"

"...I don't know if they could fire you fast enough."