At first, it all seemed a little too absurd.
Mike had recommended it, presumably in a different manner, but it was a helpful suggestion nonetheless. It got John thinking, at the very least. Not about him, at first, but he made his way there slowly.
Her hair had been dirty blonde, obviously treated, her darker roots showing through as if she had lost interest in looking presentable. Not in a profession where it’d be a concern, he thought. He had tried to touch her but his hand shook badly and he suddenly forgot how to be around a woman. Not that this was a familiar situation. He sat on the couch for awhile, sucking in painful breaths through his nose before he heard the door shut and noticed the obscene wad of money he’d withdrawn on the table. A laugh almost escaped him before he realized how pathetic he was. It didn’t mean he wouldn’t give it another go.
With the second one he got a bit more relaxed. She talked, filling up the quiet like she was shoveling dirt into the grave that 221B had quickly sunken into. He never remembered what she had said, only that if he closed his eyes, he could pretend she was him. That was when he decided to stop being coy: this wasn’t the time to shrug off his real intentions.
Hiring him was a bit of a wrestle, but somehow he found the right contacts. For a moment he thought of calling Mycroft when he found it difficult, but when a red flare of hatred coupled with a touch of humiliation burned in his belly, he abandoned that idea as quickly as it had come. Apparently his human connection had really dwindled down that far. His brown hair was the first problem, the fact that it was wet with product was the second. Not even close. Now he knew he had a goal. It took him four more to find the right one.
He was tall and lean, and his hair wasn’t quite the exact level of curly, but it would do. The first thing he did was run a hand through it, landing at the nape of his neck and resting there for a moment. John had told himself he wouldn’t look into his eyes, but he found it impossible. He was better at imagining than he thought he’d be. Maybe it meant he was going insane. He wasn’t sure he cared.
Kissing he wouldn’t do. That was a promise he would not break, no matter how much he pretended. He kissed in the dreams. In the lab, pressed against the kitchen table, in the back of a cab. All the places they’d been before St. Bart’s and his slow decline into letting strangers into his bed.
John undressed him quickly, wishing he’d have the same pale skin he’d inadvertently seen so many times. It was tinted brown, ever so slightly, but in the dim lighting he could ignore it. He leaned forward, pushing his weight against the other man’s chest, trying so hard not to breathe in his scent. He only wanted to know how he felt. The smell he got from all the clothes left in the apartment and the sheets he had rarely slept in. John pulled off his trousers, then the pair across from him.
He didn’t expect to be so hard the first time. It was an experiment, but it seemed to work. The first time he turned him around, rolled the condom on, and entered after minimal preparation. He started slowly, coaxing unwanted moans, and that’s when he had decided to speed up before he lost his concentration. Each time he got better at ignoring the noises, and eventually the other man stopped altogether. John hoped he hadn’t offended, until he remembered that good manners didn’t always go along with paying for it. Soon they became a well-oiled machine, and that thought depressed John more than this whole endeavor in general.
They rarely ever talked, and when they did it was mostly about money. He was rather cheap, and John felt guilty for a time, especially after the first few months. John didn’t have much to spare, and he found himself sending in his CV for no other reason than to finance it. That, and the take-away he was so fond of.
Every once in a while his cane nagged at him from across the room, resting in the corner by his bed, threatening to be useful once more. John found fucking to be the best deterrent. Maybe it made him forget that, too, along with so much else.
One night John cried in the middle, and surprised himself as much as the man beneath him. He didn’t stop, thought he ought not to, but he didn’t set up another appointment for two weeks. It took him three more times after that to come again.
One year later, he hadn’t expected it to last this long. He wonders if this relationship will go on longer than the real thing. He doesn’t want it to, but he can’t imagine surviving without this. He tries not to think about it too hard.
John grips his fingers around hipbones, his nails leaving crescent-shaped indents like they’ve done so many times before. He can feel the orgasm sneaking up on him as he thrusts in faster and harder, losing the rhythm he had set a few minutes ago. His cock jerks inside and he groans. His right hand reaches up, taking hold of a shoulder instead, using it as leverage to increase his speed. The couch squeaks, moving an inch from where it’s usually situated in the sitting room. He curses, damning the silence they’ve been shagging in for the past twenty minutes. As he comes, redness flushing over his chest and his face, he catches a glimpse of movement near the staircase. He tries to ignore it as the waves wash over him, static lining his vision, and when he comes back down, he’s too busy pulling out to see Sherlock standing in the doorway, white as a ghost. He might as well be one.
John isn’t sure what to do once he realizes he’s not insane and that Geoff sees him too, his coat hanging on his frame perfectly, his black curly hair tousled enough to look effortless, and his goddamn neck showing itself scarcely beneath his scarf. He decides on fumbling for his clothes, and Sherlock settles with striding over to the fireplace and pretending like John can’t see him staring in the mirror. Geoff leaves in more of a hurry than he’s used to, and then they are alone.
Now fully clothed, John sits on the couch like a normal human being, as if he hadn’t just been caught having someone over the arm of it. Sherlock teeters on his feet, not yet turning around, and John feels so much hanging in the air. He still can’t be sure this isn’t a dream, or maybe someone’s pulling one off on him, but either way he’s not sure if he wants it to end or keep going forever and ever if only just to let him pretend like Sherlock is really here.
After allowing the embarrassment to wash off of him, he is filled only with anger and desperate hope that Sherlock will turn around and say something. A few minutes later, when Sherlock does turn, his mouth remains decidedly closed.
“I…” John mumbles, a lump catching in his throat when all of his emotions gang up on him at once and disable his voice box.
“He forgot his payment,” Sherlock mentions, tilting his head toward the kitchen table. John sees the bills piled on the table and sighs.
“Yeah,” John agrees, feeling the words bubbling up in his throat with no way to get out.
“Surely he doesn’t need it, what with the volume of appointments you’ve had the past few months.” Sherlock’s head falls as he stares at the floor with intensity, numbly pushing at nothing in particular with his shoe. John nods.
“Oh, surely it’s been longer than that.” That makes Sherlock look him in the eye, finally, and John tries to smile but it turns too quickly into tears. He takes his head in his hands, wiping at the wetness congregating on his cheeks and thinking maybe Sherlock will be gone when he looks up again. But he’s still there, asking permission with wide eyes to seat himself next to John, and John gives a hesitant nod, despite still not knowing exactly what the fuck is going on.
They sit like that for God knows how long, John trying to stop the tears from falling and Sherlock frozen in time but still there. John can feel him there and that’s why it’s so hard to do anything but break down into the tiny pieces of the feelings he’d been building up for more than a year. He sees Sherlock’s hand move in the corner of his eye. His body tenses, hoping that it will touch him yet not knowing how he would react if it did. It doesn’t.
“A year,” John whimpers, Jesus, he didn’t think he’d ever whimper, “Sherlock…”
“I assumed once I returned I would be met with a beating, but I did not mean to catch you at such…” he breaks off then, clearing his throat and pausing, “It seems you’ve changed in the time we’ve spent apart.”
“Death’ll do that to a bloke,” John sighs, flexing his hand again and again, wondering if maybe he will punch Sherlock since he obviously expected it. Maybe if his insides didn’t feel like they were melting down into his feet and seeping out through his toes. Maybe if he wasn’t left with the sad post-coital-your-best-friend-is-back-from-the-dead-and-saw-you-fucking-his-hooker-clone fog blocking his mental processes.
Suddenly John’s on his feet, the pure anger spreading to the tips of his fingers and the edges of his ears. He paces a few times on the dusty carpet beneath him, unable to look back to where he had been sitting moments ago.
“Fuck,” he murmurs, all that will come out of his mouth, and he’s saying it more to himself than anything else, trying to figure out what to do with himself, his hands, his heart, that won’t stop pounding in his ears.
“I didn’t expect you to be…” Sherlock starts, before John raises his hand abruptly into the air.
“Shut up, Sherlock. Shut up. Just let me,” he swallows, running the same halting hand through his hair, “Let me… think.”
Sherlock stands up, and before he realizes it, John is moving toward him, his feet betraying his mind, pressing himself into Sherlock’s body. The feeling is familiar and foreign at the same time. He’s never exactly hugged Sherlock, not that this is what one would call a traditional ‘hug,’ more of a smashing of bodies together, but he likes it more than any contact he’s had over the past year. Even if he is seething with rage.
John’s legs start to give out, he can feel it, and when his knees buckle ever-so-slightly, Sherlock’s hand grips tightly around his waist, holding him in place. He sighs. Bloody hell, this is all he’s wanted.
A minute passes, John’s heavy breathing the only sound, and Sherlock just stays, not saying a word. John thinks that he’s not the only one who has changed.
Finally, John raises his head, his anger dulled down to a dry poke in his abdomen. Sherlock’s eyes have slipped closed, and John considers staying there forever, or at least until everything seems okay again. He realizes that may never happen, but he’s willing to give it a try. Instead, he lifts his hand to rest on Sherlock’s elbow, cupping it gently. Sherlock’s eyes snap open, concerned and surprised, with a layer of hesitancy, considering that John could still punch him at any moment. Honestly, John has not yet ruled out that possibility himself.
John leans forward, pressing his forehead to Sherlock’s clavicle. He breathes in his scent. It’s more potent than the bed sheets and old clothing he’d become accustomed to, with a new twist that John takes to mean he’s been sleeping somewhere new. Sherlock places another hand, slowly, very slowly, to the small of John’s back. After a waiting period it begins to creep up, teasing the edge of John’s jumper, and it’s the first time John realizes that he didn’t dress properly, as he’s neglected to tuck it into his trousers. He can feel fingers on his bare skin, Sherlock’s fingers, Sherlock’s long fingers, and he doesn’t stop them. He sinks back faintly, warming to the touch, and hoping Sherlock will notice that his anger has faded into need.
John decides that Sherlock understands when he senses warmth atop his head. When he looks up once more they’re vaguely touching noses. John nods, giving permission, and Sherlock understands again as he pushes their lips together lightly. John can’t help but let the tension melt off of him like a layer of clothing, a coat he’s been wearing despite the warming temperature.
He can’t explain why he’s not angry; by all accounts he should be furious. Maybe he is, underneath it all, but he’s been so self-destructive lately he’s not sure what would come of it if he confronted that truth. All he knows is that those months and months and months of shagging anything that took his money and looked like the man now tucked safely in his arms left him raw and cold. The warmth in his chest now might be fury or arousal or happiness, but it means something and he doesn’t care what it is. So he lets himself be kissed, slowly but surely, and lets Sherlock apologize with his mouth like normal people do but with significantly less words.
After Sherlock has successfully kissed any and all sense out of him, John pushes him toward the couch, almost no memory remaining of the tryst that particular piece of furniture has just experienced and instead focusing solely on what it can look forward to from now on. A flicker of pain ignites in his stomach at that thought. He hopes where this was leading would be duplicated or replicated or however the hell you scientifically state that you want something to happen again and again until… well. There is no end in sight for this particular experiment. He is getting ahead of himself.
When he feels the back of Sherlock’s calves hit the couch he rotates, carefully lowering both of their bodies down to sit without breaking their wet, sloppy and increasingly desperate kiss. For the first time it’s a bit awkward, Sherlock isn’t sure where to put his hands, and he settles for grazing John’s thigh with the tips of his fingers. When John tugs at the curly mop of black hair in his hand, Sherlock smiles against his lips.
They taste and touch and feel for a lifetime, lips testing every inch of each other and hands wading through the shallow waters of first-time-contact. John scoots forward an inch, then another, until he’s pushing a knee between Sherlock’s legs and he almost has to pull away to moan when Sherlock’s erection meets him unexpectedly on his journey. John removes his hand from Sherlock’s hair and palms the front of his trousers, and this time it’s Sherlock moaning, low and deep in the back of his throat.
“John,” Sherlock sighs, then rockets off the couch at an alarming speed. John worries he’s gone too far until Sherlock’s coat is lying on the ground, his scarf being torn away and those long fingers that a moment ago had been massaging closer and closer to the bulge he’s sporting himself are unbuttoning the deep blue shirt clung tightly to Sherlock’s torso. “Too much,” Sherlock says, cheeks blushed red and lips swollen. “You are wearing too much,” he clarifies, and John joins him in undressing.
He only manages to remove his shoes and one leg from his trousers when he notices that Sherlock has stopped.
“What’re you doing?” John asks, leaning toward the other man a bit. Sherlock presses his lips together in a frown.
“I’ve… I haven’t, eh…” He’s at a loss for words, or so John deduces, and when he realizes that Sherlock is saying he’s never done this before, it makes him feel even worse that Sherlock knows he has, and in fact has seen him doing this on their couch. “I pride myself on being prepared in many spontaneous situations, but this is one in which I’m unable, I’m afraid, to draw on past knowledge, unlike…” he stops again, and John feels his heart sink back down into his feet. Frankly, he’s surprised that Sherlock isn’t finishing his thoughts, he’s so very keen on that usually, but hurting John must not seem like an entirely appropriate thing to do at the moment.
He reaches out and pushes Sherlock’s shirt off of his shoulders until it lands silently on the floor in a heap.
“Lie down,” he tells the taller man, stroking a finger up the length of his naked torso. Sherlock follows his orders, and John finds it unsettling, how truly malleable he’s become. They’re both a bit broken, hanging loosely off the frames of their former selves. John wants nothing more than to erase the last eighteen months of their lives. The loneliness, the confusion, the desperation. The sex.
John peers down, towering over Sherlock as he perches horizontally on the couch. He lifts one leg, balancing on the other and lowering himself down on top of Sherlock’s thin frame. He lines himself up so his ear is pressing closely to Sherlock’s chest, the detective’s ridiculous height aiding in their perfect fit together. John doesn’t feel quite aroused anymore, and he can soon tell that Sherlock’s own excitement has gone. For the first time since he’s begun sleeping with men, he honestly does not care.
Closing his eyes and focusing solely on Sherlock’s heartbeat, John takes a deep breath in through his nose. He wants Sherlock to absorb him through his skin, taking in every molecule, churning him around and putting him back together again. He doubts it can be done, although he’s not felt this whole since the last time Sherlock was drowning him in his presence. John doesn’t want to think about sex right now. Maybe in awhile, when they’ve both patched up. John wonders if he’ll not use Sherlock as a cane for the next few months, if only to have something to lean on.
After a moment, he feels a hesitant hand tangle into his hair, and he grips Sherlock tightly at the shoulders.
“Let’s just…” John starts, and Sherlock tips his head down to bury a kiss in the doctor’s hair.