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Stages of Grief

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1: Euphoria

His hands shook as he washed the blood out of his hair. Pale pink water swirled in the basin. He'd done it: not that there'd been much doubt, but it had been a tricky operation.  Lots of moving parts, misdirection, collaborators—-any one of whom might have blown their role in it.  Molly'd been an absolute brick; the entire plan would have been impossible but for her.  But now he'd been officially declared dead, and Molly could handle the coroner.  She knew every weakness in the system. She--

Molly!" Sherlock said, catching sight of her in the glass and whirling to greet her. "The rumours of my demise have been successfully exaggerated! This calls for a celebration--champagne, I think!"

Molly was wearing the po-faced expression she reserved for the actually dead. "Sherlock..."

"My treat, obviously," Sherlock said, snagging a towel and drying his hair. 

"I think I should stay nearby," Molly said softly. "They've admitted him. Given him a sedative--"

"Excellent," Sherlock said, jauntily snapping the towel onto the lab bench. "That'll muddle things even further."

"Sherlock," Molly said with surprising sharpness. "They've given him a sedative."

Sherlock felt a rush of frustration. "Yes, so you—-oh." For a moment he didn't know what to do with himself; he wanted to hug her, dance about, punch the wall. "Well. He'll be all right, won't he."

Molly just looked at him. Sherlock did his best not to tap his fingers, or to tell her that it was a rhetorical question, really. "It had to be done," she said finally.  "It'll be for the best," and Sherlock blew out a breath because yes, obviously.  Molly reached into a large sports bag and pulled out a white lab coat and a pair of glasses.  "Here," she said. "You know your way out."

Sherlock didn't dignify that with a reply.  Instead, he slipped on the coat, then slicked his damp hair straight back with a comb and put on the specs.  The effect was to make him look older, distracted: maybe even a little dotty.  He studied himself from various angles, pleased with the result, then picked up a clipboard and tucked a pen behind his ear.

"All right, then," Sherlock said. "I'll be in touch.  You'll remember  to--"

"Yes, Sherlock," Molly said gently.  "I'll remember."

"Right. Well. Thanks for all your help," Sherlock said; his spirits were rising again. "You've made topping myself much easier."  Molly didn't laugh.  He supposed he should be glad that she was so immersed in her role: who would have guessed that she had such capacities as an actress?  "Well, I'm offed," he said, and again, she didn't laugh.  After a moment's hesitation, he leaned forward and gave her a quick peck on the cheek.  This, at least, earned him a quick flash of a smile.

He knew St. Bart's well enough to know exactly the nearest exit, but told himself that he shouldn't go anywhere where a doctor would be conspicuous. He thought he'd go out of the staff doors and head to the taxi rank round the back of A&E. And if he happened to catch sight of John―well, he thought he could trust in people's well-known inability to see things that they couldn't be seeing.

John was asleep in a curtained bay. Sherlock took him in at a glance: two scraped palms, a bruise--burst capillary?—-at the side of his eye, and, perhaps most disconcertingly, there was a crutch, grey plastic and metal, hooked over the oxygen valve in the wall.  The knees of his trousers were ripped.  He was terribly pale, eyes moving below his purpled lids in restless—Lestrade. Sherlock immediately ducked out and crossed into radiology, staying just long enough to identify a missed extra-axial haematoma of about 3 millimetres before making a break for the outside world.  It was pleasantly windy and he stopped, closed his eyes, felt the air on his face.  He decided to forgo the taxi and walk: the evening was beautiful, the city was beautiful, and he was a genius on the loose--alive and totally free.

2: Absorption

It took him nearly three months to find the strangle point of Moriarty's operation, but that was only because he was an idiot.  He knew that Moriarty's system was decentralised--knew it from the way that the arms and legs of the beast kept twitching, even after the brain went splat on that roof of St. Bart's--but it had taken him far too long to narrow down the possibilities: communications, information, delivery...no, no, no. He had wasted nearly three weeks absolutely sure that UPS was at the heart of it: millions of anonymous cardboard boxes, more every day as internet sales exploded.

Stupid: no, not UPS itself, but its tracking system: all the little barcoded stickers telling the drivers where to go.  After that, it was easy; an hour and a half in a UPS van with a laptop and a few cables, and he'd ghosted the terminal and was ready--eager, even--for a few relaxed months of codebreaking.  Because, sure, he could just disrupt the system (its architect being no longer available) but then all the crooks, thieves, and killers would escape. Far better, and infinitely more fun, to figure out and isolate the criminal codes and pick off their users one... by.... one. 

Mycroft set up a meeting for him with a SOCA agent in a greasy spoon near Kings Cross. A frowsy, middle-aged woman called Anne turned up, ordered tea and a cheese sandwich, and then proceeded to outline the most beautifully efficient action plan he'd ever been part of. Her task force would discreetly intercept and arrest the recipients of the criminally-coded packages. Anne passed him a list of password phrases in case he couldn't reach her directly. He paid for lunch and kissed her cheek as he left.

The next morning he had himself delivered to Baker Street along with some kitchen units, a new cooker, and an integrated a-rated fridge freezer.  His legs were quite cramped by the time Mrs. Hudson razored him out.  "Why not a cake, dear?" she said as he unfurled himself. "Just for the thrill of it?"  The agent he was replacing--one of Mycroft's--told him that no suspicious activity had been reported in Baker Street after the first week.  All the hitmen had gone, though the Albanian had left a henchman in place three doors down to keep up surveillance. He looked bored, though, Mycroft's agent informed Sherlock. Did nothing but read the racing papers and listen to Italian soap operas on the radio.

Perfect. Sherlock waited for John to go out, which Mrs. Hudson said he did, most days, after lunch, and then hurried upstairs to lock himself away in what Mrs. Hudson insisted on calling "the nursery": the disused set of low-ceilinged rooms on the third floor.  Sherlock hesitated as he passed the door to John's room--a quick visit inside could tell him so much--but he couldn't risk inflaming John's own, not impossibly poor, detective instincts.  And besides, there'd be cameras upstairs, Sherlock having made sufficient provision for this moment months before Rich Brook met his unfortunate demise. 

He was therefore careful not to disturb the dust on the plain wood banister that ran along the narrow twist of stairs that went up to the servant's quarters—hm.  He wondered if class squeamishness led Mrs. Hudson to prefer "nursery" to "servants' quarters." Or perhaps it indicated a subconscious longing for a child, made impossible when Mr. Hudson proved to be such a bastard.  Or, Sherlock realised, the joke might be on him: Mrs. Hudson had delighted in the idea of confining him to the nursery.

The stairs led directly to the small wood door.  Sherlock opened it with a handkerchief and then turned to make sure the stairs looked more or less all right, which they did; he'd been careful. He shut and locked the door, then looked around his new home.  He couldn't imagine being confined to a nicer place.  A bank of nine computer screens offered views of the UPS Headquarters near Felton, of the Euston Road, of his own sitting room downstairs. One browser was open to Google Maps, another showed real time traffic near Vauxhall Cross.  On the opposite wall was a small bookcase containing those few, indispensable works which hadn't been digitised or were otherwise inaccessible. A chair, a table, a bed, and, rather terrifyingly, a hard metal suitcase containing the parts to a long-range rifle.

Gleefully rubbing his hands, Sherlock hooked his laptop into the rack of computers.  Twenty minutes later, he was parsing algorithms; an hour after that, the system generated its first corrupt barcode, which Sherlock checked and crosschecked: shipper account F32440, destination postcode SE9 3SA: Sidcup.  A plain 6-sided box, weight 1530 grams. Sherlock texted Anne the information, then resolutely stopped himself from texting, "Well?" "And?" "So?" at regular 90 second--

(a man limping up the street)

intervals. Instead, he worked to find the nearest live camera to

(a rectangular flash; a door opening)

Sidcup Road, and was only vaguely distracted by

(17 steps: sitting room door: coat: limp: armchair)

John Watson's reappearance at

(armchair)

Baker Street

(armchair)

after a morning spent

(armchair) --and precisely which failure of education had concluded that John was all right? Sherlock saw it at a glance, and surely months of near-constant surveillance would make it conclusive for all but the most plodding of intellects. He'd been told that John had re-injured his leg; John had taken his own fall. He'd seen the crutch at the hospital, had expected its return. But he hadn't expected...

Twenty-three seconds spent staring into space. Twenty five.  Twenty seven. Twenty nine.  Ennui if not exactly catatonia; he probably didn't even need that damned crutch, the fools. Sherlock remembered the notes from that dreadful psychiatrist; he'd hacked her computer before they'd moved into Baker Street. Detachment, disengagement, and depression. "Trust issues"--God, how did reasonable people stand this pop-psychoanalytic mush? Freud had so much to answer for. John Watson had been re-attached, re-engaged, and re-animated when presented with something worthy of his attention; bored was what he'd been, stupid cow, and bored was what he was now. Sherlock watched John stare vacantly across the room and felt the ache of sympathetic boredom. Cocaine might help, or MDMA powder; he wondered if John would still be so resolutely anti chemical stimulation, now that he'd had a taste of the disease.

He was brought up sharp by his phone: a call, not a text. "Yes, what?" he said, and Anne told him that three people had been discreetly arrested, and over three pounds (1530 grams, Sherlock thought) of base (street value: £115,000) had been confiscated. "Right. Good," Sherlock said absently, disconnecting. Possibly speed would help, but boredom on speed was really really boring.

John sat in the chair, looking at nothing, for another thirty-four minutes before levering himself up and making himself a cup of tea. He drank it almost automatically. Sherlock used the zoom function on the various cameras he'd installed to search the flat as well he could. He couldn't see detail terribly well, but there were some things he could see. Oyster card and cab receipts. White stain on his shirt collar, dark stain on his cuff.  Paperback novel on the kitchen table, page folded over in the first tenth. Three small orange pill bottles on the counter; he deduced a fourth in the bulge in John's leather jacket. Laptop only half visible under a pile of newspapers: abandoned, untouched.

He texted Mycroft: "Want detailed surveillance re: JW ASAP from your flailing agent. SH."

His laptop chimed softly. Another of Moriarty's codes, and so soon—for a moment, he could picture the whole glittering web, all the packets of information moving along the system.  A letter, directed to one of a thousand agents.  Dear Jim, Fix it for me?  And the answering letter.: Enclosed please find…  A slow-acting poison and an alibi. A fast-acting poison and a suicide note. A threat provoking the victim's worst enemy. A gun and a description of the police statement: He came after me. I was sure he was going to kill me. But then he dropped it and I—I…."   A map marked at the intersection of Oxford St. and Wonderland Road: the perfect place for a hit and run, make sure he wears his red cap.

His phone rang: Mycroft. Sherlock ignored it. A moment later the phone beeped; a text.

"Will send encrypted email. Problem? M."

Sherlock looked at the screen; John was back in the armchair and had flipped on the television.

He texted Mycroft: "Four bottles of pills and the Radio Times. You're fired."

John watched Diddy Dick and Dom while Sherlock read through three months of reports summarising John's daily routine. By the time Escape to the Country had finished, Sherlock had confirmed his first diagnosis: acute, nearly terminal boredom. Problem identified, but determining a solution was harder.

According to Covert Agent Dullard, John was distracting himself with the occasional shift at St. Bart's, and he gone back to that hack of a psychiatrist. Lestrade had also been smart enough to seek out John's advice on a few cases, though John hadn't seen fit to blog about it, or even to submit an invoice.

Sherlock tapped his lip with his finger.  He considered using one of Mycroft's corrupt codes to send John a human head, but then remembered Shaw's alternate golden rule: "Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same." Better to start small, arrange a minor puzzle or two.  He had a thought and brightened: a shift in casualty might raise John's adrenaline level, and could probably be arranged. The thought propelled him out of his chair.  It was a plan.

3: Obsession

John managed to solve a minor but interesting jewel theft in between working long, intense shifts at casualty, three of St Bart's regular A&E doctors having unexpectedly been called to jury duty at the same time. (The niece did it.) Sherlock, overhead, paced and texted and began keeping track of the arrests on the wall in black marker: Murderers: IIII I. Drug Dealers: IIII IIII II.  Kidnappers: II. Thieves: IIII.  He shouted insults at SOCA when John was away and hissed them down the line when John was at home: they had to move quickly, damn it all! Cut enough strands of a web and it falls to pieces. Sherlock wanted all of them, everyone: as many as he could get.  In her polite, middle class way, Anne told him they were already going quite fast, and that he should fuck off. Sherlock snarled and ate cold Ginster's cheese slices: decrypted more codes; tweeted anonymously.

He was fairly sure--smugly sure, to be honest--that his plan for John had worked. John certainly watched less television, though he sometimes fell asleep in front of it with a scotch at his elbow. Exhausted, maybe, but hardly bored: in fact, Sherlock had just put him on the track of a blackmailer, a case he'd've happily tackled himself if he weren't busy shutting down all other crime in London. 

His thesis collapsed one Sunday night. Sherlock looked up, distracted, conscious of nothing but his own irritation at being distracted, willing himself to remember the second to last iteration of the code (5 10 925 10 925). He forgot it instantly as John bent his head and began to sob into the crook of his arm. 

Sherlock was paralysed; horrified; he switched the monitor off and stared at his own reflection in the single black screen. He was blank. He heard nothing but the hum of the computers. Biting his lip, he turned the screen on again. John was still there, shoulders heaving. Sherlock turned it off again and rubbed his temples to stimulate thought.

Facts. He needed-- It was Sunday. 10:17 p.m. How had John spent the day? He'd done chores in the morning. Gone to the green market (kale, broccoli, tomatoes).  Bought and read the papers. He'd gone out again in the afternoon and come back with a takeaway, which he'd left half eaten on the table.  He'd started drinking heavily afterwards. Sherlock went back through Mycroft's reports to see if there was a pattern to John's Sundays. There was. Afternoon walk, takeaway curry from Shahir's. Sunday evenings at home—just that: "at home." Which was odd, actually, considering Agent Dullard's eye for the utterly insignificant detail. Here were no details at all, and Sherlock scrolled back through weeks of identically notated Sundays before deciding to start from the top.  And then he had it, first Sunday in.

Highgate Cemetery. 3 p.m.

Sherlock went to the small window and looked out, seeing nothing. He remembered that day: it was before he'd begun unravelling Moriarty's web. Tying up the loose ends of his own life, making sure he was dead and buried. He'd been touched, actually, to discover John and Mrs. Hudson at the gravesite: an irrational but lovely gesture. A bit silly to visit a corpse: sillier when there wasn't even a corpse. But visit they had, and then they'd spent the evening at home, drinking and telling stories about him.

John had gone back the following Sunday. Dullard had noted John's return, that he'd had a few drinks and gone to bed early.

The ritual had formed: cemetery, takeaway, quiet evening at home. Except now Sherlock could see what wasn't there, because Agent Dullard had politely averted his eyes. Manners!

He stamped back to the monitor. He made himself look. John was slumped and ugly in the armchair; bleary-eyed, poleaxed. Standing before the monitor, hugging himself—not for comfort, but to keep himself there, to straightjacket himself--he saw all that he had missed: the dark circles under the eyes, the ripped cuticles and bruised knuckles, the blinking "17" on the answerphone, the dirty shirt-collar. 

Not boredom; grief—ongoing, persistent, intense. He saw John knock his tumbler over with a fumbling hand, saw his spasm of rage, saw him hurl it across the room.  The thick crystal hit the wall but didn't break, just fell harmlessly onto the sofa below.  John pressed his fists to his eyes, then reached for his crutch and levered himself to his feet.  Sherlock wanted to rush downstairs and grab it, smack him with it.  Instead he watched John hobble to the door and up the stairs, using the crutch as a hedge against drunkenness as much as anything else.  Here was a camera outside John bedroom, but nothing beyond; manners had also dictated this propriety. John went inside and shut the door, shut Sherlock out.

Sherlock closed his eyes and thought hard, pressing his palms together.  Now he had the right thesis. He'd been an idiot, thinking it was boredom, just because it had been boredom before, but now at least he was working on the correct problem. Grief. Now he just had to--

Now all he had to do was--

Now it was just a simple matter of--

4: Madness

Sherlock lay on the floor in the dark, perfectly still, eyes closed. His ear was glued to the makeshift microphone he'd engineered from his cannibalised electronics.  Below was John's room, and Sherlock had learned to construct a detailed picture of the activities within from sound alone. The sound of John's (utterly uninjured) stride, the thud of the crutch (supporting his uninjured leg: don't psychiatrists have to go to medical school?) were absolutely distinctive. He knew the differing creaks to all the drawers in the chest and the desk, including the sawing drag of the ill-fitting drawer in John's bedside table, where he kept the gun. He could tell when John was reading. Sometimes, if the acoustic conditions were right, Sherlock could tell from John's breathing alone whether it was a good night or a bad one, if he were drunk or sober, sleepy or wakeful.  If he were sitting there, holding the gun...

His mobile rang, and Sherlock answered it without looking at it; the fastest way to shut it up. He'd intended immediately switching it off, but he'd instinctively clapped it to his free ear.  "You have to get out of there," Mycroft said.

The urgency was unfamiliar; nonetheless.  "No," Sherlock replied. He squeezed his eyes closed more tightly, trying to see what John was doing.

"Someone's on to you, to the whole operation," Mycroft said implacably.  "Three of Anne's finest were ambushed and killed two hours ago. Lined them up and shot them in the back of the head. I've had Anne taken into protective custody. Baker Street will be next. Leave now."

"But I'm dead," Sherlock said softly.

"So I've heard," Mycroft said, "but you're not the only person in the country who can put two and two together. What's the phrase? When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable—and you're quite improbable. One need not be a genius to recognise your fingerprints on the affair. They will come to Baker Street. It would be best if they do not find you there."

There was a rasp of fabric, a soft thump: the crutch; getting up?  "I'm not leaving John."

Mycroft was evidently trying to be patient with him.  "They're not interested in John."

"But I am," Sherlock said, and hung up.

Silence. Darkness. Sherlock listened intently, eyes still closed. John still hadn't got up. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, crutch between his knees. Sherlock began to breathe in sync. Sometimes, when he was perfectly attuned like this, he could hear colours, and right now he knew that John was wearing a muddy coloured t-shirt and faded blue boxer shorts. He knew it, even as he knew he couldn't know it. Christ, this had to end soon. It had to, because he—he couldn't take much more of—

The crutch banged onto the floor, and Sherlock jerked. Then he flinched, feeling the stinging scrape as John opened the bedside drawer. A gun night--only the fourth, but Sherlock's body had already tensed and locked. He reminded himself that John just liked holding the gun: no reason to believe that he'd use it. Sherlock knew the comforts of contemplating one's self-destruction, and John was in this sense a far superior person: he knew better, he was better.  He would never do it. He would consider the feelings of others. He would think about his sister, Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade. Sherlock hadn't thought about anyone: had never in a million years considered that John would be awake at 2 am, battling grief.

That was before. He'd been schooled through nights spent listening, suffering, gasping sympathetic gasps.

He was up before he'd registered the noise, the reason, moving, earpiece flying out of his ear, wires ripping at his clothes, fumbling the lock, hip smashing against the doorframe and practically tumbling down the steep servant's staircase, picking up a splinter as he grabbed the top of the newel post and swung himself around, propelling himself toward John's door.  He scrolled back to the distinctive snick of John releasing the slide, chambering a bullet, just as he flung the door open and—

John was wearing the muddy t-shirt and blue boxers.  He looked up, the gun in his hands.

"I should have known." John dropped the gun into the drawer, and Sherlock gripped the door frame, weak with relief. "I mean, I really should have known," John said, and barked a laugh. "I suppose there was some clue that I missed, some observation. Some dog that didn't bark in the nighttime."

"You were meant to miss it. You particularly," Sherlock explained. "It was meant—designed--for you, specifically, to miss. So you could bear witness to—testify that—" He twirled a hand in the air.

"Ah," John said, nodding. "I see." He face still had an unfamiliar puffiness, but his eyes were familiarly keen. He stood up easily; no crutch required. "That's very interesting," he said, and Sherlock didn't see the punch coming, didn't even know he'd been punched until his head thunked into the wall. He didn't have time to fall, or even to react: John had his shirt in both fists and was shaking him, shouting at him, then punching him again: once, twice. Sherlock felt his lip split, tasted blood.  He was shaking. He felt vaguely—fantastic, and it took a little effort to not raise his arms, to not protect his face, but it was well worth it. Two more punches and his adrenaline was through the roof, knees giving way, but John had him. Three buttons popped on his shirt as John grabbed it and threw him hard against the chest of drawers. Sherlock flailed, helplessly, not sure which way was up, and sent everything clattering to the floor. He righted himself awkwardly, arm braced behind him, and leaned into another punch. This time the world flickered. Black white, black white. John Watson seen by flashes of lightning.

"What are you," John was saying. Somewhere. Hands on him, shirt yanked out of his trousers, but he was vertical: he had his feet. "What the hell are you." Sweat in his eyes, and Sherlock reached up and swiped at them with his wrist, then wiped his nose and mouth, leaving a smear of blood up his forearm. John was redfaced, shouting. "Why?" and Sherlock fell forward and kissed him with his bloody mouth.

5: Jouissance

"Oh my God." John looked totally poleaxed, but he was still holding Sherlock up, which was good; Sherlock wasn't sure he could've managed to stand on his own. John's anger had melted away, post-retribution, as Sherlock had known it would. Fair was fair, after all; John deserved to get in a few punches: had deserved more than these, in fact. Sherlock inhaled violently and trembled, wonderfully overclocked. His face buzzed and stung, and bruises were coming up along his arms and back.

"Was it good for you?" Sherlock asked.

"Oh my God." John stepped back, his eyes widening as he took Sherlock in. Everything was on John's face to be read. He was alive, improbably and miraculously. He was bloody and bruised from John's own fists. He was still—the twitch in John's right eye made this clear—an extremely irritating person.  He wondered if John would rip apart in front of him from the sheer force of contradictory emotions.

A moment later, guilt began to predominate. "I—Jesus Christ." But that was intolerable. For once, Sherlock was entirely sympathetic to someone else's violent impulses.  He had seen what he'd put John through—had seen it close up, from multiple angles, on six monitors, for weeks.

"No. Stop," he said, and kissed John again, mainly to confuse and irritate him. But instead John clutched Sherlock and kissed him back hard. Sherlock pulled away, surprised, jerky, but John went with him, leaning into it, tongue sliding into Sherlock's mouth. Sherlock gasped out loud, felt his breath hot and close between their faces, and pushed forward, closer against him, their bodies crashing together. John's body was a wall, his t-shirt soft, almost slippery in his hands. They groped, tottered. Sherlock began to burn and tingle again, rather differently. John's hand was in his hair, tugging. It hurt a little. It was wonderful. He'd lost the thread somehow. He jerked backward, lost his balance, and fell awkwardly onto John's bed, legs sprawling out. It was surprisingly hard to catch his breath.

"I thought—You aren't—" Sherlock said.

John loomed over him, and this time Sherlock tried to protect his face. John straddled him, one thigh on each side, and knocked his hands away.  "By the love of all that's holy," he said, "you are the biggest idiot I have ever known."

"Oh." Sherlock stared up at him. "Really?"

"In certain areas, yes." John flashed a tight, unhappy smile. "Catastrophic failure levels of stupid."

"I suppose that's," Sherlock's voice fogged over and he coughed, "only to be expected. Exceptional ability in one area is often balanced by exceptional weakness in another," he admitted.

"I want to beat you with a stick," John told him, bending down. "I want to rub soap in your eyes."

"Fair enough," Sherlock said.

"I want to pull out all your nosehair!" 

"Understandable," Sherlock said. "Negotiable," and John cracked him about the head a couple of times and then kissed him so hard his bruised lips tingled. Sherlock twisted him off balance, pulling him down, on him, over him.  John was heavy and so warm. Sherlock kissed him with great concentration. John's fingers twined in his hair (he concluded that John liked his hair) and Sherlock rolled and ground against him, trying to get the right sort of friction, wanting more intense pressure, jerking his hips up to--

John broke off their kiss with a gasp. "You could ask," he said, glaring.

All the delicious friction had stopped.  "I—yes," Sherlock snapped, and jerked his hips again,  "this would be me, asking," and John burst out laughing and said, "Okay." 

Sherlock's shirt was halfway down his arms, and John stroked Sherlock's chest, his hand lingering as he smiled to himself. It was a quick little pleased expression, a flash, but Sherlock was paying very close attention. His whole attention was on John, who was reaching down to unbutton Sherlock's trousers; he cupped his erection and Sherlock groaned and thrust up, his eyes closing without him willing it. It had been a long time since he'd felt something so unalloyedly wonderful. Most enjoyable things were illegal now.

John's mouth touched his, and Sherlock felt a shiver across his skin, a thrill that made him want to curl his spine and pull John into himself. He'd misjudged this pleasure, his own hubris leading him to underrate anything so wildly popular with the public. Sex was just another tediously athletic activity undertaken by people who lacked the wit or imagination to do otherwise: outsourcing to clumsy-handed others what could be more efficiently and pleasurably done oneself. Bumping body parts!

He had occasionally been tempted: by his own narcissism, he'd assumed. But John was nothing like him - even his virtues were distinct--and yet Sherlock was utterly, ardently attracted. He could see the outline of John's excitement in the pale blue boxers and his mouth watered. True complementarity, he supposed, which dimwitted poets struggled to articulate and theoretical physicists entombed in quantum mechanics. But here it was. Sherlock believed the evidence of his own senses; in fact, in only that.

He pushed John onto his back, and John made a huff of surprise and pleasure. He pulled John's shirt up and his boxers down and pressed his face to John's skin, feeling the heat and the life of him, astounded by the unique, overwhelming sensation of skin against skin. He applied himself to the delicious area between nipples and knees, charting John's every gasp, his every involuntary flex of muscle. He was drowning in sensory information.  It was all of it new and tantalisingly unpredictable, and though he could barely think, he managed to draw one or two small conclusions--enough so that he had to lock his arms around John to stop him thrashing as he sucked him to orgasm. Sherlock closed his eyes tight and tried not to come himself. He gritted his teeth, unbearably suspended, holding John so fiercely they were both rocked by the waves. John relaxed, minutely, and Sherlock gasped out loud and crawled up his body, rubbed off on his inner thigh and came on his stomach.

He thought John might complain, but John just awkwardly grabbed his hand and laced their fingers together.  Sherlock squeezed back and then, out of breath as he was, he began talking and couldn't stop.  It was suddenly crucial that John know everything: every single thing that had happened since he'd washed the blood and bits of brain out of his hair. He told John about Moriarty and UPS, about living upstairs, about Mycroft and SOCA, all the decentralised murders and drug deals and kidnappings they'd stopped, and how Anne's agents had been shot in the head, and--

"Sherlock," John said.

--how they were so close, now, to cutting out the last bit of cancer infecting London. Which was--

John was struggling to sit up.  "Sherlock."

-- crucial; surely John saw that. Having known Moriarty first hand, surely John could see that stopping him had to be their absolute first priority. No life for any of them otherwise. It was only logical, though Sherlock admitted that he hadn't understood the emotional consequences of his rational, highly successful plan to--

"Sherlock!" John grabbed his shoulders. "Are you telling me that a team of trained assassins are--"

They both heard the door splinter downstairs.  "That gun's loaded, right?" Sherlock asked, as John scrambled for the bedside table.  "Because I've got quite a good rifle upstairs--"

"Shut up and lie on the bloody floor!" John yelled, racking the chamber. "I can't believe I missed you!" Sherlock crouched behind the bed as John took up a position with a good line of sight. "I have missed you," John said a second later, darting a glance at him. "I've been buried alive every day."

"I'm―" Sherlock began, but then the shooting started, so he hid under the bed and felt home at last.

THE END