Chapter 1: Prologue
There are ways of being that are not quite complementary, but nor do they cancel each other out.
John Watson has not yet killed himself.
One month in a beige bedsit with a gun, and the words depression, post-traumatic stress.
This shouldn’t happen to a soldier. Although of course, as a doctor, John knows there is no shame in illness. But this shouldn’t happen to a doctor. As a soldier, of course, John knows that doctors have no immunity to being shot down.
This has happened.
He wakes drenched and panting. The awful lurch of it, from chaos to – stop. A darkened room, traffic noise. His heart.
There are moments of almost starting to cry aloud for it all, for dead men and his life, then feeling himself still. There’s nothing to cry for, here.
There is nothing to live for, here.
John is not morbid. Army habits help. He keeps the bedsit scrupulously tidy. But no amount of scrubbing can get it entirely clean. After cleaning he sits. A beetle crawls around the desk. He watches it for seven minutes then crushes it with such force that the floorboards shake. Tiny limbs stick to his hand.
This is a worse day. The shabby objects in the room have taken on a viscous look. The appalling crutch is slick with it. Sooty fires kick off in his back brain, a longing for the solid heft of the gun.
He thinks about what he is thinking about, and what it means to think about it. He raises his chin; he lowers it. The weight of each movement is his world, and all judgement, fear, failure, condemnation turns in.
He is not out of his mind. He can correct his faulty perceptions. He can spend every minute of every day correcting his faulty perceptions.
screamingboyrunningnickoftimetoolate… beige. desk. silence. curtain. grey.
Of course, he is not always like this. He watches the tree swaying outside his window. Later he will walk across the park. He will finally visit Harry. He will update his blog, and see the therapist who means well. She is a healer. That is who he is. Was. Is.
He is the limp, and the shame of the limp; the shame of the shame, and the ‘repressed feelings of frustration and inadequacy following medical discharge’.
He sits on the bed until the night comes. He is holding himself in. He held a woman’s entrails inside her body on the dusty road in Kandahar.
John Watson has not killed himself, yet.
Sherlock Holmes has not yet got himself killed.
‘Not for lack of trying,’ Mycroft has said, to date thirty-four times, with twenty-seven different tonal inflections.
But sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, emotion is the lowest form of thought and right now at 11.43pm in a grubby part of Deptford, skeins of calculation radiate through Sherlock’s brain as he studies the broken-necked prepubertal corpse recently extracted from a tower block’s communal dustbins. Chocolate and skin flakes under the fingernails, certain signs on certain faces in the gawping, dressing-gowned crowd… blatantly the child’s uncle is to blame but he needs to fill in the gaps.
Sherlock partially backtracks down a channel of logic in his head, the asymmetric movement displeasing but of service to ultimate perfection. There was a food bribe, there was a struggle, an accident, but what had the uncle been afraid of? He peels back the girl's pink t-shirt and palpates her chilled skin, screens out the shape of one bloodstain, which is morbidly elegant like a… no. The imprecision of simile leads to paralysis, and causes of paralysis are erased from the drive.
Back on track. A faint whiff of styrofoam sets off another burst of associations: crack user or possibly dealer.
‘Freak’s practically inhaling the stiff,’ someone mutters. It’s Donovan. ‘Again.’
‘Christ.’ Anderson now, at normal speaking volume. ‘Is he going to jizz his pants?’
Oh please. Sherlock lets his eyes roll – nearby police feet shuffle backwards – and give two seconds to his irritation at three facts: a) panicking crack user or possibly dealer raises a number of possibilities that are guessable but outside the scope of strict deduction; b) the possibilities are without exception small, mean and stupid; c) Anderson exists… but that’s beneath his notice. Whywhywhy can’t the Yard bring him an intelligent murder? He calls up his mental snapshot of the street as he saw it on arrival. Yes, the uncle was there, obsessively touching his wrist, glancing at the child’s mother. Why wait any longer?
‘Fuck me.’ Lestrade now. The inspector leans over the corpse, huffing. ‘A bloody kid, eh. Some things you just never get used to. So, Sherlock, are we looking for a nonce?’
Sherlock smiles. He stands up before Lestrade has even finished squatting down, forcing the inspector to bounce like a puppet (clichés are safe).
‘No,’ Sherlock says. The acceptable thing to do now is state his deductions, but if he does that the plods will all swivel their moony faces towards the uncle, a dull little chase will follow, and Sherlock will not get the opening he wants – the opportunity to scan the suspect’s mien for something beyond the banal melange of love, drugs, greed, fear that usually leads to bodies in bins, and which Sherlock himself has long since transcended.
Death and its stooges, however… do interest him. This curiosity is a professional hazard for a consulting detective, a peccadillo, and a tantalising terminus for deductions. Who can conceive the cessation of self?
‘Excuse me,’ Sherlock says.
‘Hey!’ he hears Lestrade shout after him in weary protest, but nothing in this world catches at Sherlock Holmes with more than a feather’s hold; nothing slows him down. Well before he reaches the huddle of locals his features are moulded into shock, and he jumps with surprise on seeing the uncle, standing slightly to one side of the rest. He gushes in Estuary English: ‘Man, this is a headfuck. I live up, like…’ – vague wave behind him – ‘I just come out, right, and…’
The tough, sour features of the uncle – age 37, girlfriend recently left him, incipient thyroid dysfunction – are picked out in blue police lighting and almost on a level with Sherlock’s. Suspicious brown eyes meet his own. The guy smells of baking soda, shit and fear.
‘Let’s have a fag, mate,’ Sherlock says, offering the packet he brought for this purpose. A cigarette is taken. Sherlock puts a hand on the man’s back, gently-firmly propels him into a concrete fold between more sheds full of bins. And the guy turns on him, whipping out a knife.
‘Fuck you. You ain’t police but you’re with em!’
‘Ah,’ Sherlock says, watching the blade weave idiotically at waist height. His heart is beating fast now, and he lets his mouth quirk to the side. ‘Solid grasp of the obvious. But is there anything else going on in your nevertheless tiny mind? For goodness’ sake, you’ve got milk chocolate on your wrist.’
Sherlock glances up to see the man’s rodential eyes narrow. Perhaps his mode of address was one Mycroft would classify as Not Good.
‘I didn’t mean to kill her!’ A hesitation; the knife grip is slightly relaxed. ‘Look, if you’re after cash…’
‘Wrong answer,’ says Sherlock, sighing. ‘Dull. ’
There’s nothing to see here; he doesn’t know why he bothers. He turns to summon Lestrade – then rocks backwards, punched in the gut. A blurred second later he feels the press of the knife at his throat, the scrape of his scalp against the concrete wall.
‘Or I can just fucking kill you, cunt.’
‘Really,’ Sherlock wheezes. ‘And that would help how…?’
His chin is high and his head back. It’s one of those nights when in defiance of London haze the stars are visible. Far above the white puffs of his ragged breathing, a billion blazing data points are one frozen intricate pattern. His mind should be, is, like that. Chaos atomised and controlled. And just at this moment, his body is as well. There are a hundred logical ways to circumvent this crass situation – his arms inexpertly pinned by a thug with a pointy stick – but they are scuppered by the dissonance of logical and thug. Whatever course he follows, who knows how the man will actually react?
In a curious way this is liberating flux…
until the uncle crumples backwards, screaming. Sally Donovan is standing at the entrance to the concrete alley, firing a taser. Inevitably, more police come running; blue lights drown out the stars and Sherlock is sucked back into the world, a terminal prolixity of humdrum sensations slicing through his brain. No, not terminal. A lifetime of channelling overkill into patterns reasserts its calm. He’s fine.
Some vigorous bawling in the vicinity of his ear suggests that Lestrade is concerned. Sherlock accepts this. Bathetic rescue by Scotland Yard is a regrettable side effect of research. Though he will avoid being followed next time, and certainly select a higher-grade murderer, if the chances of London allow.
Mycroft’s strictures are ridiculous. He does not try to do anything. He simply needs to know. Everything.
Sherlock Holmes has not got himself killed, yet.
There are ways of being that are not quite complementary, but which can twine like desperate hands if chance allows. And pull towards the light.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1: System Failure (follows on from Prologue)
Although neither Sherlock nor John are poster boys for healthy adjustment, they’ve each learnt to survive on their own. But when they meet, they start to realise there may be a better way to live. This chapter tracks the events of A Study in Pink – exploring underlying reasons for some of the eccentric behaviour – and adds missing scenes.
Deep night at the bitter fag-end of winter in central London. Sherlock Holmes walks the sodden streets, down Kingsway to the river to check in with the homeless network under their dank arches, back to Montague Street via Holborn past shuttered shops and drifting swirls of rubbish, the crushed body of a pigeon, all these things whispering stories too dull to deduce but which unfold anyway in his brain because it does not switch off. He has no case so he should be sleeping but he slept for sixteen hours two days past.
The hours between two and five in the morning have a particular flavour for Sherlock. At night in his childhood, while sixty imbecile tormentors snored in the dormitories beyond, he crouched in an unheated bathroom, pressing his forehead against the wall to stop the shaking, fist in his mouth to choke the tears. He branded himself with control, at a level so deep that not even the judging voices could strip it from him.
Do try to get on with the other children, Sherlock. Mycroft can do it. The connections you make at boarding school will set you up for life. If you won’t try, I’m afraid I’ve got no sympathy. How could anyone like you, the way you behave? What do you expect?
He held himself apart, and cold and desolation entered into him. Eventually he became them. But he does not trouble himself with memories of those years, although they resist redaction. He is what he is, now, and he can do as he pleases.
0420: Sherlock has been walking for two hours, and he has slowed down. Not much, but the restlessness that drove him out has been blunted. London’s diurnal cycle, meanwhile, has reached its tipping point as the desultory lurching revellers mix with, give way to yawning cleaners, nurses, bakery staff. A lighted bendy-bus wallows awkwardly around the junction of Holborn and Kingsway, assaulting Sherlock with a dozen sleep-softened faces, and for a moment he thinks… almost nothing. They’re just people.
These stray moments are convenient for the consideration of matters which are not worthy of his intellect when at full strength. For example, he needs to find himself a flatmate if he is to afford another central London rent, even the conveniently obliged Mrs Hudson’s, and he does need a zone one base, the way he needs eyes in his head. Well, later today he is going to Bart’s, and the relatively high-functioning idiots who occupy lab space there can scout for him.
It is so very quiet, as he heads through Bloomsbury Square. The trees drip, clasped in a black chill, flanked by silent rows of Georgian housing. A light wind gusts around the corner from Great Russell Street and Sherlock unwinds his scarf, letting the cold freshen him up, before tying the cloth back in place and starting to walk faster. Alone at this hour, he is unusually conscious of his body and its movements; he feels he would like to touch someone, which has not happened in a long time. He would like sex, with all that sex entails for him. But there is no-one now; they never last and he would not want them to. Nor is cottaging exactly his style.
Sherlock is nearly home. He turns the remaining corners into Montague Street and climbs the stairs to his room, moving with brisk care since the complaints which arise from not doing so are a waste of valuable time. He logs on and follows various lines of research until the groggy light of dawn shows above the stacked boxes almost blocking his window. Waiting for pages to load, he reviews his night’s journey and conversations for useful data and files it away.
He discards his petty impressions regarding bendy-buses and trees and sex. Once let trivia settle, and it would never end.
It’s 11:08am, his watch tells him, as John Watson hobbles through pale February streets. In his old lives, time and place meant something – lectures, surgery, patrol schedules – but that has changed. Locations now are simply hard or easy to negotiate with the step-click, step-click motion imposed by his damaged body and the appalling crutch. All other rhythms are gone.
Spring is coming in spite of him; it’s not visible yet but as he limps across Russell Square gardens he can sense it in the ground. Yesterday, his therapist told him to nurture himself, as he would a plant. He could find no reply.
He hates being like this. Hates his own emptiness. Hates worst of all seeing it perceived and reflected in a pitying look from someone else. He will talk to no-one today; do the world the only favour he can.
‘John! John Watson!’
Mike Stamford breaks in. John does his best to prevent it, but the cheery fat face brooks no refusal, beaming away and at the same time missing nothing, all through the small talk and the coffee and the grinding awful cringing pretence. But eventually the awkwardness does ease slightly, because Mike knows an ‘interesting chap’ who needs a flatmate. Mike won’t say any more, just taps his nose and chuckles, but now they have a reason for talking and, John thinks, with a tiny spark of something, what does he have to lose?
In a lab at Bart’s hospital, a familiar place now made strange by screens and expensive test kit, John stops dead.
There is a ridiculously beautiful man seated at the corner workbench. Tall, dark, slender, intent. This is his potential flatmate, John realises; and he can’t stop looking. He forces himself to stare at the desk. The feeling, whatever it was, dies away.
The apparition wants to borrow a phone. John offers his, and the sound of his own voice assures him that he is anchored to earth.
But he has some difficulty staying there once the apparition, thin fingers flickering on the iPhone keypad, really starts talking. Expounding. Ranting. First he plucks John’s combat history out of thin air, then insults some unfortunate lab tech who brings coffee, then proclaims his personal eccentricities – the violin? well or badly? – before suggesting they rent a flat together, tomorrow, without giving the location.
‘Gotta dash, I left my riding crop in the mortuary,’ the apparition concludes – and that’s when John finds himself stung into responding, because he’s known this guy for all of one minute and can already tell that nothing he says is accidental. God knows what he’s heard about John’s past or somehow reads in his face, but the tone and the absurd riding crop reference say loud and clear Let’s tease the pervert.
‘Is that it?’ he snaps, intending sarcasm over the missing address of the flat. But while the words come out right his tone says Are you trying to insult me? Because I can knock your head off.
John expects a confrontation, and it seems he might be about to get one. The extraordinary man turns as if braked, and if his expression was intense before, now it’s hungry and searching and guarded at the same time, like a harder version of the look John more usually sees on faces asking ‘Doctor, can you save my legs?’
He feels for a moment that he should shiver, but that’s not the way John Watson handles things. Really, this guy is just putting on an alpha male routine, and those amuse him. Always have. And it does suggest that a flatshare would not be dull.
‘We’ve only just met, and we’re going to look at a flat?’ he says, feeling a laugh start to creep up his throat.
His bluff is being called.
‘We don’t know a thing about each other,’ John takes the bait. ‘I don’t know where we’re meeting. I don’t even know your name.’
The apparition stares at him for a long moment.
Then he takes the lid off John’s mind and casually rifles its contents.
Finally he gives his name and their prospective address, follows up with a frankly cheesy wink then waltzes away into Bart’s.
‘Yep, he’s always like that,’ Mike says.
John says nothing. There are at least a dozen things he can’t work out about the last few minutes, but somehow the most pressing question is, why do I feel like that was a test, and I passed?
Sherlock Holmes established long ago that the best way to find out whether a given individual deserves his attention is to Sherlock at them full-on. If anything is left standing after that, he can decide whether it’s something he wants around.
The psychosomatically damaged army doctor with the amusing scowl – John Watson – did quite well yesterday at Bart’s. Sufficiently well that Sherlock tries to keep things muted for the flat viewing, focusing on John’s convenience so intently that he even realises his having moved in already might seem impolite. And when a case turns up, Sherlock’s judgement is vindicated.
‘You’re a doctor,’ he says. ‘In fact you’re an army doctor.’
John has been staring at The Times – at the suicides story, of course. As he announces he’s ‘very good’ and tilts his chin defiantly, he’s so easy to read that Anderson could do it, which should qualify him as supremely boring – but how could Sherlock be bored, when the game is on?
‘Oh, god, yes,’ John says.
The crime scene is down in Brixton. It takes time to get there, and while in the taxi Sherlock feels an itch. John will surely recoil into standard banality at some point, and he does not want to waste time wondering when this will happen. So he gives up the normal act and expands the conclusions he arrived at earlier, about Harry and the phone, getting caught up as he does so in the joy of logic which carries him onward, tracing the one true pattern through infinite variables even as he waits for the inevitable denials and denunciations, which will hopefully at least supply him with useful data about the accuracy of his work.
‘That… was amazing,’ John says.
Sherlock’s mind skips a beat. A surprisingly un-unpleasant feeling of surprise.
John has known Sherlock for one day now, and he isn’t sure quite what he’s got himself into, and he can’t bring himself to care. His situation could not rationally be called ‘improved’– not when he finds himself staring at a murdered body for the first time in months, still less when Sherlock leaves him to limp home alone from the crime scene and he gets abducted by some kind of evil genius with the ability to control CCTV cameras – but there has been a change. It’s as if Sherlock really did rummage through his brain and put his thoughts back in a different order. The same raw material, but with a spark he thought was gone. It had been gone. Damn ‘rational’, John is alive. He can tell because it hurts.
The change pulls him violently in different directions, and hurls him into walls. One moment he’s facing off against the car park-lurking ‘arch-enemy’, giving as good as he gets, and almost, incredibly, enjoying himself. Then he’s wincing under Sherlock’s asexual disdain in an Italian café, not even knowing what he wants beyond the fact that suddenly he does want it, but it’s clearly not on the cards. In between, he watches his new flatmate smirk at a pink suitcase, with Donovan’s ‘psychopath’ echoing in his mind.
He doesn’t believe the policewoman’s warning; doesn’t quite disbelieve it; doesn’t know what Sherlock is. But then John no longer knows quite what he is, either. There is one truth, and that’s the impossibility of going back. He leaves his crutch in the restaurant and scrambles after Sherlock over rooftops, down alleys, with his mind bathed in neon Soho light, a new landscape singing bright with danger as if he was born again invulnerable – no, not that, he just doesn’t fear being vulnerable, because he has already been dead.
But always Sherlock is so much faster than him, spinning onwards through predictions, deductions, seemingly offhanded snarks so humiliating to their victims they make John wince. The man obviously considers himself superior to the entire world, with John just about worthy to be audience instead of target – and the fuck of it is, Sherlock may be right.
Then, in the space of a moment, Sherlock spins too far and too fast. He ‘pops outside’ for ‘fresh air’ and John, like a loyal mutt, thinks the decent thing to do is let him.
His flatmate is gone. In a taxi with a murderer. Out of John’s reach.
John experiences in full the peculiar stupidity of Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock is standing in a deserted college with a serial killer who has offered him a choice of pills, one lethal and one benign. In theory the man may be lying, but he is not. Sherlock has dissected him and found him sincere. The challenge thus presented is of interest.
Sherlock is standing in his own head, watching his reason disintegrate. That’s dis-integrate in a precise, technical sense. Idiots lose their minds; he has simply allowed part of his to detach and stir beyond the bounds he has long set for himself. It turns its venomous face to his.
The murderer keeps on talking. It does not matter exactly what he says, because Sherlock has already decided. He wants with an absolute desire the ends the pill in his hand has to offer. Both of them.
He previews his twitching abjection on the polished floor. In his teens he took an overdose, but within reach of ‘help’. If his choice is wrong now, he will have time to know it, and endure simultaneously the punishment and the escape.
And if he succeeds, he buys another triumph, another bow on the world’s stage, an infusion of the fear contempt admiration that keeps him moving shark-swift, shark-hungry through the void.
This is not chess, as the murderer claims. Chess is a closed system. Such things hold no interest at last. Sherlock has walked for thirty-four years inside his mind, in a closed system, and perhaps this pill, this bullet-white fragment, will finally smash it apart.
He doesn’t hear John’s shout of ‘SHERLOCK!’
A man drops, blood spraying, violated in an instant of rupturing walls, glass, hearts.
John has killed again.
He was shooting at his old self, his old uncertainty; he realises that even as he flattens against a wall out in the deserted corridor, blood roaring in his ears, a familiar beigedesertPAINgriefflashback wrestling him for control. He wins.
Sherlock was raising a pill towards his mouth when John saw him. There was no coercion from the cabbie. John only had seconds to make that judgement of course, and perhaps he was mistaken… he knows he wasn’t.
John and Sherlock have shared a death. The question of whose seems to be blurred.
If Sherlock was here at this moment, John would kiss him. He would pin those elegant wrists to the wall, bruise that extraordinary body, hurt him long and sweet and dirty because they are both alive and they want. The fantasy seems possible now, though he knows it will soon fade. He lacks the stamina to hold on to that much of himself, yet.
It is so very quiet in the hallway, until he hears the police sirens wail in the distance. He has bare minutes to slip out of here, compose himself, and be ready to talk to his... well, he supposes the word would be friend.
Sherlock is alive. Raging. Bereft.
‘Was I right? I was, wasn’t I?’
No answer. He’ll never know. He dashes the pill to the ground by the cabbie’s lolling head. A bullet has crashed through the system, and there is no control or compass. There is a howl inside him, propelling his limbs.
He must make sense, keep control of this. He won’t die now; that could never have happened. So he must win.
‘Your “sponsor”, who was it? I want a name!’
The murderer is still alive, but for all his genius Sherlock cannot punch into synaptic tissue and rip out information. He stamps on the cabbie’s shoulder. Blood and gristle crunch and slide. He tortures and does not feel.
He grinds his boot into the wound.
The agonised wail comes just before the body goes limp. Sherlock is left ahead of the game, by a single piece of information; and that’s enough. The world makes its old constructed sense.
He glances around in the sudden silence, running Moriarty through the software in his brain. He is in control of everything. Everything is control.
John stands for a long time beyond the police tape, adjusting to the calm of the present, watching Sherlock for signs of shock, or just regular distress. Nothing doing.
Psychopath? he asks himself. Sociopath? He never specialised in psych. What he sees is a brilliant man failing to understand a blanket. It makes him smile.
With the smile comes a tiny click in his back brain, like a safety catch locking back into position. There is one thing he’s sure he wants. He waits to see if it’ll happen.
Sherlock notices him.
Chapter 3: Chapter 2: The Chemical Composition of Tears
Sherlock and John have been sharing a flat since the events of A Study in Pink, but the initial spark between them seems to have died away. And that's fine with John, who has a new girlfriend and is busy trying to be as normal as possible and not have fantasies about his flatmate. Because life owes him a rest, dammit.
Except that Sherlock thinks otherwise.
In Afghanistan, he thought in terms of life and death. But as John clocks up another month in London, he comes to remember that there’s a third state available: the mundane.
The mundane is so bloody good when you’re still getting used to an improbable new life chasing criminals and you need to stop and take stock. The mundane has tea and telly and chat. You can get comfortable there; swaddle yourself so firmly you never find the way out. You don’t want to find the way out. Even with Sherlock bloody Holmes looking down his patrician nose at you and making snide remarks.
Whatever reared its head between them after the night with the… cabbie, has slipped. Sherlock is stupidly gorgeous, but he’s bonkers and apparently asexual, and John is a bit eccentric these days as well but definitely not asexual, and stir all that together and you get seventy shades of mangling disaster. So John shut it all down.
And now he’s met Sarah.
Sarah is lovely. She likes the things she likes, just because she likes them, and that’s simple and appealing and a direct route to John’s respect. She enjoys soft kisses and nuzzles, and it’s gentle and healing – he’s high on how gentle and healing it is. Do that again, Sarah, oh Christ yes it feels nice, do it again yes YES, I’m getting off on this stuff, what a relief…
He lost so much of himself in the depression and pain, and he’s got some of it back, and some is enough right now. The rest… he’s not repressing it, it’s just not in use. John will never stop being a soldier, but why pick fights. A breather, that’s all he asks.
Sherlock uses him as an intellectual punchbag all the way through the Chinese smuggling case, and John resents it like hell. But it seems they’re stuck this way. Moments of connection spark between them, but don’t add up.
The nightmares still visit. He drugs himself with tea and housework and grumbling patients and the smell of Sarah’s hair.
Then he has to comfort her after she gets dragged into Sherlock’s world. Yes she copes bravely, but why should she have to, she wasn’t made for it, her head doesn’t go icy clear and her pulse start racing and something dark uncoils inside him and sniffs the air when there’s danger and thrill and Sherlock…
Sherlock is not one to bother hiding his disdain. Anyone who commits murder, however justified, earns a modicum of his interest; but John has not followed through.
‘Don’t worry about the jar with the eyeballs,’ John deadpans one afternoon, after slamming around the flat for a couple of minutes, complaining about mess. ‘I just washed it and put it carefully back in the fridge.’
‘Good,’ says Sherlock. He’s trying to conduct a delicate procedure, and John is making the floorboards shake.
There’s a heavy sigh.
‘Fine,’ says John. ‘Dead bodies are more interesting than people. I get that.’
Instead of a reply, Sherlock refocuses his attention on the tiny corpse from the mousetraps he’s set up in the corridor leading to 221C. There are a number of interesting conclusions to be drawn from the process of cauterising the creature’s entrails.
John is watching him, but Sherlock won’t look round. He’s not about to justify himself; he has kept certain memories unredacted to remind him of the cost of that mistake.
As a teenager, before he accepted his own otherness and made it into a weapon, he did try to believe in the value of friends. He hobbled himself, crawled at the pace of those around him in an attempt to belong, and they stared at him and laughed. They were human, and he was else.
He hanged himself in a disused storeroom. He came round choking, sprawled under the snapped rope, the noose tight enough that he still hoped for death. Instead the world dragged him back, first to a lengthy fumble with the jammed knot then a stumbling return to the dormitory, wheals slathered in drama cupboard makeup, to bear what would happen next.
From this Sherlock gained new understanding of how abjection averts attention. Strict codes govern what it is permissible to comprehend.
Sherlock lives by violating them.
John was supposed to understand that.
Sherlock realises that he is standing motionless with a scalpel between his fingers, while his flatmate presumably waits for a response in accordance with the laws of verbal joust. Instead he turns his stare on John before slitting open another section of hindquarter.
The stench thereby released is promisingly foul, and causes John to retreat from the room.
The man is extremely manipulable. And idiotic. And now somewhere else.
Late evening, and John should be preparing to go to bed. Instead, he’s watching Sherlock surf the net. Though ‘ransack’ might do better than ‘surf’, for him.
The remains of a takeaway are sitting on the table. Sherlock ate some of it – half a dish at any rate. A process John watched with an interest which he rigorously channelled through the doctorish part of his brain, the details of the interaction between slurpy noodles and Sherlock’s lips being by the by.
Diagnosis of friends and relatives is a bit of a dirty habit, but John can’t help trying to pigeonhole Sherlock sometimes: anorexic? obsessive-compulsive? Nothing quite fits. And he’s had a bit to drink this evening and it’s making him flippant, so he runs through a few scene labels as well: S.A.M.? brat? angling for a take-down?
It’s not like he’s forgotten that first comment, I left my riding crop in the mortuary, even if he’s sometimes tried. There had to be something in it. So often Sherlock seems to be pushing him to…
Fuck, he needs to stop that train of thought. He thinks of Sarah, who’s visiting her parents tonight, but the silence in the room is still growing larger, even though his rational mind tells him he’s the only one who feels it or cares.
‘You enjoyed that, then,’ he says, gesturing at the congealing dish beside Sherlock’s laptop.
‘Transport requires fuel,’ his flatmate says, typing away probably faster than John can think. ‘I’m going to Minsk tomorrow.’
Oh. Right. What’s he supposed to say to that?
Sherlock shoots John the briefest of looks over his laptop.
‘And fuelling the plane with noodles?’ John suggests, cracking a smile.
‘Ah, a witticism,’ Sherlock responds. ‘I’d score it one out of ten.’
John takes a deep breath. This is just a normal conversation. You have those, with people you… like. ‘Minsk’s in Russia, right? Sounds a bit chilly. I’ll stay here in the warm if you don’t mind.’
Sherlock keeps typing. ‘Belarus, John.’ A pause. ‘When you say something intelligent, I will respond in kind.’
John goes hot and cold. He reins in his anger and hurt feelings – just about – then thinks, what’s the point? Sherlock’s probably deduced more about him than he knows himself. The bastard doesn’t care, is all.
To hell with it.
‘Jesus Christ, I could find a use for that bloody riding crop of yours sometimes, you know that?’ He gets up. ‘Just... send me a postcard from wherever. I’m going to bed.’
He doesn’t see Sherlock’s lashes flicker, or his head turn just slightly to watch John go.
0309. Sherlock is sprawled on his bed in the blue dressing gown, making contemptuous margin notes in A History of Fingerprint Techniques. He finishes a chapter, sets the book aside, takes a split-second mental inventory of the room: what next?
He knows well enough. Maintenance. Sordid but necessary, if his concentration is not to be impaired by ongoing irruptions of desire. He has concluded that John was flirting earlier, expressing towards Sherlock the interest in topping which he deduced the moment they met, but if there is a way to switch gears from disdain to invitation, Sherlock has never reliably found it.
He pushes the word ‘freak’ out of his head. At the age of 34, he knows what he is, and how to manage it with the least fuss.
Sherlock leans over the edge of the bed and fishes around underneath it before drawing out a small case. From this, he extracts four clamps of medium severity. As he fits them to his nipples and balls his already half-hard cock stiffens to attention, and two minutes of stimulation bring him near to completion, imprecise non-sequential sense-images of his bound wrists, gagged mouth, reddened flesh, John’s teeth tongue hand penis strobing in his head.
His rational mind stops him, not without effort, when it discerns that muffled sounds are coming from the other side of the wall.
John is weeping.
He’s propped up on his elbow, forehead to the coolness of the wall, hand massaging his cheekbone. He can’t lapse back into sleep, can’t quite drag himself out of it. Nightmares are waiting: a corporal’s screams and splintering bone. At moments like this nothing quite matches the pull of war, for all that he generally, now, chooses the present over the past.
His will, the thing that’s kept him alive for this long, is currently refusing to engage. It’s obvious he has to deal with what’s inside him, the whole ambivalent raging morass of it, but he is fucking tired, and he just wants to be let off for once. Just make it better. Someone.
He’s broken, and when he wakes in the dark like this he knows he’ll never be completely fixed. Stuck back together differently, perhaps.
The sound anchors him in the present.
It’s still dark but his bedroom door has opened a crack, letting in a spill of streetlight from the uncurtained landing window. Sherlock, a tall silhouette, pushes open the door further, revealing a tooth glass full of water glimmering in his hand.
‘Are you all right? I heard noises,’ Sherlock says.
John considers. Part of him wants to dredge up a denial, but that part isn’t in charge right now. It was never his favourite, anyway.
Instead he grunts, and takes a moment to rub a hand over his face. Then he switches on the bedside lamp.
‘Awful bloody nightmares. Again,’ he says, and nods at the glass, with Sherlock’s long fingers curling around its rim. ‘Oh, thanks.’
With the light on, the world seems a bit more rational and solid, but there’s still something odd happening. It starts with the fact of Sherlock acting concerned, and only intensifies when he puts the glass of water on the nightstand, sits down on the floor and reaches out to touch John’s face – or more precisely, the tracks of his tears.
‘What are you doing?’ John asks as levelly as he can. Sherlock’s breathing is off-balance. His fingertips scrape gently downwards, gathering moisture, and when the tiny pressure passes John feels colder than before.
‘What do you cry for?’ Sherlock demands. Moisture glints on a fingernail as he tucks his hand into the folds of his dressing gown.
‘Come on, you can’t ask a question like that,’ John protests aloud. He squirms into a more comfortable position and hears the quite ordinary creak and rustle of mattress and bedding.
But his flatmate is serious. He’s got that answer me or I’ll kill you with my brain expression again.
John sighs. ‘People I liked are dead,’ he explains as best, and as briefly, as he can. ‘And here I am; and what’s it all in aid of anyway? That’s about the size of it.’
Or at any rate it’s all he’s saying now, even though it’s 3am and John’s filters aren’t quite working properly and the hungry fascination in Sherlock’s intense gaze is starting to... Oh god, I fancy my flatmate because he’s even more fucked up than I am, is there even a word for that?
‘Futility troubles you,’ Sherlock says. He’s fiddling with the belt of his dressing gown. Winding it around his hand. ‘We all die in the end. But you should… try.’
‘Try what?’ is the best riposte John can manage at this time of the morning.
Sherlock, however, shakes himself a little and gets up.
‘The chemical composition of tears is sodium chloride, calcium phosphate, mucus and water,’ he tells the wall above John’s head as he moves towards the door. Then, by the sound of it, he retreats to his own room.
John turns the light off and stares at the dark ceiling. What he actually sees is Sherlock’s wrist wrapped in the silk belt of the dressing gown. Imagination takes the scenario onwards.
But in the following days, Sherlock goes to Minsk and back, shoots the wall, spars with Mycroft and generally behaves like a nutter. If he thinks anything happened between them at 3am, he doesn’t let it show; in fact he seems to be behaving as badly as possible as if to make clear his disdain.
What’s most likely happened is Sherlock’s edited everything out; after all he can cut the solar system out of his memory, and John’s not egotistical enough to think he’s bigger than that. He goes round to Sarah’s, because she makes some bloody sense.
Then a case comes up.
‘I’d be lost without my blogger,’ Sherlock says.
That’s the closest he ever gets to a come-on. John follows him out of the door.
Sherlock has tried shooting the wall, and John just took away the gun.
Sherlock has left John a severed head, and John rubbed his forehead and looked pained.
Sherlock has summarised all the things that are wrong with John’s blog.
Nothing. Not a reaction in sight.
So he gives up. There’s no provoking some people. And more to the point it doesn’t matter, because there are others who don’t even need to be provoked.
Moriarty. The name has a taste to it at last: challenge, triumph and collateral death. John disapproves but that is illogical as Sherlock is playing within the rules: no murder or suicide, on his part. We all die and pass into void eventually, so why not spend himself in the chase? The humans have their food and fucking, and Sherlock has this.
‘I’m sure you’d be very happy together,’ says John, stomping away from a TV report about the tower block deaths.
It takes a moment, but Sherlock registers that one.
‘I’m sorry, what?’
‘There are lives at stake, Sherlock. Actual human lives. Just so I know, do you care about that at all?’
John is disappointed; he’s angry enough to momentarily snag Sherlock’s interest again. But not to really affect him now. Even the Powers case, his first failure, is redeemed and drawn into the pattern, the great game which he plays with a skill beyond the imagination of anybody alive, except one. Moriarty, a force of unseen elegance, splays the world for Sherlock to study, and he deduces and masters and wins, wins, wins.
Until he discovers that he doesn’t want Moriarty, he wants John. Everything breaks, then.
When Moriarty steps out of the shadows, he’s actually rather a disappointment. Small and risibly unstable, the man tries so hard. He is compelling, yes, but it’s a fascination that begins and ends with the rifle trained on John’s heart.
Sherlock has been chasing a revelation, and the one he has found is not the one he expected. Even while he trains the gun on their enemy and calculations cascade through his head, it’s the sight of John wrapped in semtex that draws his gaze again and again.
Moriarty is a cracked and magnificent mind, but Sherlock already has one of those. John is patience, nightmares, judgement, comfort, anger, touch, dead cabbies, friendship, the promise of sex.
All his life murder-suicide was a valid option, and he is still Sherlock so he appreciates the beauty of the sniper’s light dancing on John’s chest. Yet now he just wants to live. With John.
He lowers his own gun to the wired-up jacket, the most logical gambit left.
If they can just survive for another few minutes, he will work out what comes next.
Chapter 4: Chapter 3: Fitting
The events at the pool shock Sherlock and John into an honest assessment of what they want and need from each other. And the next day, they start to put it into practice.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
A minute ago, all Sherlock wanted was to live.
Well, now he can. The sniper lights have gone out. A release so flat and so sudden that he feels light-headed. Chilled.
‘Someone changed his mind,’ Sherlock says. ‘The question is, who?’
He’s talking to himself again. Doing so puts five seconds, then ten, between the revelatory extremities of the last few moments and now. He will survive this. Avenues of calculation beckon him on: Who called Moriarty? Deductive challenges. Back to normal. Safe.
‘It’s really not,’ replies John, from his crouching position near the floor.
His tone is mild, as it usually is. It reminds Sherlock that he actually wants to listen.
‘Explain,’ he says.
John sighs, winces, and carefully stands, holding on to the cubicle wall to keep his balance. The process takes three, four, five seconds and they are torture because Sherlock is holding himself back, staying here in this empty hall instead of taking flight into thought, and he’s doing it for John.
John would have died for him. The danger is over, but that’s because of some deus ex machina, not Sherlock’s brilliance. Without it, John would have died. And that matters. It won’t stop mattering. Sherlock would not want it to.
What does that mean?
It occurs to him that he should help John stand up, but it’s too late. John is already helping him again, gently but firmly re-appropriating the gun which, he suddenly realises, he has been waving about with the safety off. Well that’s Sherlock’s life in a nutshell, isn’t it. And he can’t change in one minute. Can’t be expected to.
His thoughts are coming in drip-feed sequence instead of sweeping him up in their pattern. Perhaps this is shock. At least there’s no idiotic blanket.
John would have died.
John has a hand on his arm. It’s warm, even through the suit fabric. John has still not explained.
‘Are you all right?’ John says. The words don’t make any sense, because nothing is all right, and Sherlock is the cause and centre of that problem. John’s expectation of a reply is ludicrous, and yet a reply there must be, or they will never… never…
Sherlock snaps: ‘Follow a simple logical sequence, John. You repudiated my question, and implied you had formulated an alternative. Which is?’
John stiffens. There is no sound in here except the water, rippling back and forth within the ordered confines of surface tension. And it’s absolutely awful. John is supposed to be unpredictable. To act.
‘John!’ Sherlock blurts, so that pleading, messy echoes surround his head. ‘I – god, please.’
He doesn’t know what he wants. He didn’t mean it. John will have to decide what it was. Why won’t John speak?
‘Satisfied now?’ Sherlock spits out. John was Moriarty, then something got twisted; now Sherlock feels like a supplicant, and John’s eyes are wide, watching him pace up and down. He can’t stay still.
‘Stop doing that,’ says John at last, and Sherlock halts abruptly. Fuck it, following a clear instruction is actually a relief. Oh god, John has an expression he’s never seen before, could it mean there is going to be touching? That is not Sherlock’s area. It is what Sherlock wants.
‘Right,’ says John, very quietly. ‘Well, then. The question is: shall we take this discussion somewhere else before your nutter there comes back and really does shoot us?’
There’s no arguing with that.
Out on the main road, still on the watch for Moriarty, John is relieved by how quickly he spots a taxi, considering the hour and their distance from central London. He hails it and Sherlock follows him into the back, where they settle into their separate corners… and do not speak.
The suspended ‘discussion’ hangs in the air with the cabbie’s inane choice of radio station. The taxi turns on to a dual carriageway; streetlights strobe past. Sherlock stares out of the window, hunched inside his coat. By now he’s probably contemplating the chemistry of gangrene, or something like that.
Or perhaps not.
John was so angry with Sherlock, so recently. To survive his hour as a hostage, he plotted Moriarty’s painful death, but also cursed his childish bastard of a flatmate, who got them both into this. If they survived, John would damn well teach him a thing or two.
Then he saw Sherlock’s face, contemplating the semtex. Sherlock was learning all on his own. The shock in his eyes, when he thought John had betrayed him… it sent a corresponding shock rippling through John. He trusts me. Of all the people in London. Me.
One single step to win John Watson. Simple, really, though he suspects that Sherlock would never have worked it out himself.
‘Sherlock,’ John says, gently.
Sherlock has turned his coat collar up in spite of the spring mildness. He’s huddling in his corner of the taxi, and when John speaks to him he turns his head only part-way round, as if he simply finds John tiresome. His eyes give the lie to that.
‘Inconvenienced you, have I?’ he snaps.
John takes a deep breath. Yes, the jibe riles him, but he can’t focus on that at the moment. He has words to say.
‘Somewhat, yes,’ John concedes. ‘That’s not what I was going to talk about. Oh fuck, this is awkward.’
Sherlock remains silent, managing to imply with his look that John has created this problem by inconsiderately existing, so he had better deal with it too.
‘I’ve had guns pointed at me before,’ says John. ‘But never anyone looking at me like you were doing.’ Pause. ‘Maybe it’s the adrenaline, but I could think you…’ John tails off. Hell, this is difficult. And will probably win him nothing except rejection.
‘For god’s sake, John, I bother spending time with you, so you must be intelligent enough to finish a sentence. Tell me what you want, because I don’t think it’s chit-chat.’
Sherlock’s voice sounds even more contemptuous than usual.
It is also shaking.
John takes that in.
‘You’re right, it isn’t,’ he says.
Silence. John stares as regular beams of illumination flow across the black leather upholstery between them, briefly lighting Sherlock’s sharp nose, his curious, intense, vari-coloured eyes. His intelligence, his intolerance even, are a violent aphrodisiac.
The horrors of the evening are still thrumming inside John, but sod the inappropriate timing, and at least for the moment sod negotiation. Sherlock apparently trusts him. So they can do the worthy discussion of sexual histories when this cab ride is over; for now Sherlock is surely capable of shouting ‘get off, and I really fucking mean it’ if he wants John to stop.
So instead of a verbal answer, John reaches out to grip Sherlock’s hair. He twines his fingers in the thick curls, and pulls downwards. Hard.
Sherlock submits. Not entirely without resistance, and his arms shoot out to support his body as he is forced awkwardly across the seat. John seizes both Sherlock’s wrists in his free hand, and drags the dark head down into his lap, where his cock is suddenly straining against his trousers. John tightens his grip and Sherlock shudders. The seatbelt slides and creaks, holding him awkwardly pinned; John thinks of the thousand ways he can and will bind Sherlock tighter, better, more painfully, far more exposed. His fantasies rise up and take him, in this moment outside time, except oh god it’s reality that he can hear Sherlock’s fast, uneven breaths, feel them between his legs while he grips Sherlock’s wrists tight enough to bruise.
What the hell have we been waiting for? thinks John, and can find no good answer.
With small variations, they stay in the same position until they are in central London.
‘Um, my mate’s gone to sleep,’ John says at one point, when the cabbie catches his eye in the mirror.
‘Has he now? Sixty quid upholstery cleaning charge for bodily fluids,’ the bloke replies. Then he turns the radio up.
Sherlock has to unwind himself from John in order to pay the cabbie. Without looking around, he unlocks the door of 221b and goes upstairs, leaving John to demonstrate to the driver that his upholstery is undamaged.
Sherlock’s mind never wanders, but, very rarely, it will slow down in order to digest something enormous. Thinking about anything other than John currently seems to be difficult. Facts are pressing in on him; facts in the form of sensations.
John touched him. John held him and hurt him, inflaming a longing which Sherlock has never been able to eradicate from his system. It seems he has at present lost the inclination to try, and he apparently isn’t even bothered. The back of his neck is cold, missing the steady nudge of John’s erection that made clear beyond doubt the synergy of their desires.
John did not die. Together they have come home.
Sherlock is standing in his kitchen, blinking in the too-bright, too-ordinary light. He’s very tired, and distractions get into his head when he’s like this. Other things that are already in there break. And John’s standing here too now. John, lips pursed, eyes dark, awkward in a grey checked shirt and the horrible maroon cardigan with hairs on it from the receptionist who tries to mother him at the surgery. John was wrapped in semtex. John says ‘Tea?’ then looks concerned as Sherlock pulls out a dining chair and sits down with less than complete accuracy. Parts of his body have stopped reporting in.
‘Hey,’ says John, and comes around to steady Sherlock’s shoulders. Longing still surges inside him. This evening has only stoked it. But he’s just too tired.
‘Not Moriarty,’ says Sherlock; at any rate it must be him saying it as the voice doesn’t sound like John’s. ‘You. God, you.’
The expression on his face right now must be very stupid. John is leaning over, looking into his eyes, clearly worried, which is not good. More words bubble up: want you; be with me. Perhaps he should let them out. Mouth won’t work. John.
Sherlock falls asleep.
John hears ‘You. God, you.’ He sees the look in his flatmate’s eyes, then stops him falling off his chair as his eyelids slip down and his body gives up the weight of his mind.
Few things in life come with the clarity that a soldier might desire but, if only for tonight, John’s relationship with Sherlock is one of them.
‘In love, at my age,’ he says quietly, and strokes Sherlock’s hair.
Then he falls back on army logic: one thing after another, a man’s down so you sort him out then sort yourself out next. Ignoring the tiredness that seems to be welling out of his bones, he carry-drags Sherlock the fortunately short distance to his bed.
There is one thing left to do after that. Sherlock could, in fact probably will, wake up tomorrow with all his mental armour re-riveted, and decide the scene in the taxi never happened. Well, John’s not having that, so he goes to his room and lifts down a particular dust-covered box from the wardrobe. It contains kit that he had not planned on needing again, because it seemed too complicated to fit in the life of a pensioned cripple. But things change. My god, they really do.
John looks into the box and hesitates, some last stray doubts still whispering to him. To buy them off, he selects a conservative sample of the box’s contents. He carries the items downstairs and places them in a neat row on Sherlock’s bedroom floor.
‘Erase that, mate,’ he mutters.
Getting all the way back up to his room seems like a lot of effort at the moment, so John just doesn’t do it. He manages to pull off his clothes, then flops down and falls asleep at Sherlock’s side.
Bright spring sunshine is flooding into the back bedroom of 22lb Baker Street when Sherlock wakes up and finds that he is surrounded. On one side of him, John is sleeping. On the other side, a neat row of kink toys is apparently awaiting his attention. Padded cuffs, a soft-looking flogger, a blindfold.
Today, Sherlock decides in the next second, is a day outside time. Moriarty is still out there, and Sherlock remembers that John could have died, but in spite of that or perhaps because of it he will allow himself a few hours’ grace.
Last night, with hands alone, John hurt him as naturally, as intimately, as if they had been together for years. Sherlock wants more of that. He needs to know this is real. Too real for him to think himself, or to bully John, out of it.
‘Good morning!’ he announces, poking his sleeping flatmate. ‘We’re going to have sadomasochistic sex.’
‘Ngg?’ says John, opening one eye as the duvet is stripped off him.
Experience has taught Sherlock that repetitious clarity is best if he wants ordinary people to grasp his meaning. ‘You will be the dominant partner,’ he says.
‘Ngg,’ John repeats. Then he sits up slowly, and looks around. ‘OK… so I didn’t imagine last night, then.’
‘No,’ says Sherlock, resisting the urge to try shaking John into a more useful reaction. ‘Would you prefer it if you had?’
He’s immediately annoyed with himself for asking that. There is no rational reason for suspecting ambiguity, and yet John is blinking as if in doubt.
Then John leans forward and whispers in Sherlock’s ear, voice still slightly hoarse with sleep: ‘We need to shower and eat breakfast first, like sensible grown-ups.’ Pause. ‘Then I’m going to tie you up and hurt you, and get off on it.’
Fuck. A bolt of silver fire shoots up through Sherlock’s belly. And John grins.
There are parts of the mind that defy even Sherlock’s attempts at orderly filing, and those parts fit. John’s and his.
‘Why have any safeword except “safeword”?’ Sherlock says, rolling his eyes and cramming toast into his mouth. ‘Universally understood, highly convenient. If gagged, then it’s clicking fingers.’
John takes a deep breath and remembers the paramount importance of this kind of discussion. Sherlock has not actually said ‘Negotiation is for idiots’… he’s just clearly thinking it.
‘Clicking fingers isn’t universal,’ John goes on, after swallowing his frustration along with a mouthful of egg. ‘But yes, it’ll do fine, when we get to gags, which isn’t happening the very first time we play together. And I suppose you have limits?’
Sherlock chomps on more toast. ‘Of course,’ he says through his mouthful. ‘No third parties, un-negotiated scarring, scat, fluffy pink handcuffs, tickling, animals, children. Fairly standard, I suppose.’
John’s relieved at Sherlock’s sensible response, and commits the ‘no tickling’ instruction to memory even while another part of his brain is going Oh my god, we can negotiate scarring.
‘My list’s similar to yours, plus medical play. Too close to the day job,’ he summarises, to avoid telling the whole painful story behind that one. And anyway, he has a question to ask: ‘Fluffy pink handcuffs?!’
‘At Oxford I had a girlfriend,’ replies Sherlock. ‘She asked me to top her. I hated it.’
John stares, the wheels in his brain momentarily jammed.
‘Nobody is born fully formed, John, not even me,’ Sherlock says. He hides behind his tilted coffee mug, but there is sadness in his voice.
John closes his eyes, and understands what Sherlock is sharing with him: the dumb cost of getting this far in their lives.
Nothing is safe, because Moriarty, the unmentioned third at their table, will surely return, and nothing is stable, because who knows what unexploded ordinance is lurking in their own heads. But they are going to do SM. To take the pain and remake it as best they can.
John has waited far too long.
‘I’m in control from now on,’ says John, and the voice he uses now makes Sherlock put down his mug and stare as fixedly as a hungry child. ‘But I need to learn from you as well. You can make one request.’
Sherlock nods. He takes his wrist in his other hand, and slowly strokes his thumb over the bruises. ‘Reasonable,’ he says, in the clipped tone of a deduction. Then his voice roughens: ‘John, you put out the Ann Summers kit, as if you thought I might be scared. For god’s sake, get something real instead. Everything you do to me – I want to feel it.’
Oh, god. Yes.
‘Five minutes,’ instructs John. He heads for the stairs. ‘I want you naked on your bed.’
Sherlock’s bedroom has magically moved downstairs since the last chapter. We can blame Season 2 for that one.
Chapter 5: Chapter 4: What You Call Letting Go
Sherlock and John have finally come to an understanding about what they want – and they act on it. This chapter is one great big kinky thinky sex scene.
John gets his toys out in this chapter. On first appearance they are hyperlinked to reference pages for anyone not familiar with them.
Four minutes and fifty-eight seconds later, Sherlock is sitting naked on the edge of his bed, watching the door.
Submission is not his natural state. It’s the concept of compulsion that interests him – another will, temporarily as strong as his, clearing its own space in his mind.
John ordered him to strip, and he obeyed. It feels like… calm breaking out in his head. He wants to be used and damaged, wants the release and the distraction, but he finds himself caring whether John enjoys it, and that’s still new, curious and fresh.
Five minutes and three seconds. There are footsteps on the stairs.
When John pushes open the door, he’s wearing a rather appealing ensemble of black jeans, a khaki shirt and combat boots, plus a shoulder bag which he shucks immediately onto the floor. His demeanour suggests he might be going on a field trip, because he doesn’t pay attention to Sherlock, instead crouching down to rummage in the bag. And then he does glance up, and he looks Sherlock slowly all over, eyes lingering at cock level, and he grins.
That grin is depraved. Sadistic and happy and intent, it lights John’s weathered face and sends a tendril of delicious trepidation shooting up Sherlock’s spine. He’s used to evoking and exploiting lust in the stupid, but this is different. John knows him. And still likes what he sees.
‘So here we are,’ says John. He stands up, and he’s holding two chunky pieces of metal. With a flip of the stomach Sherlock recognises Irish eights. He won’t be escaping from them.
Sherlock can think of a hundred things to say, and they all cancel each other out. John is approaching him with heavy-duty cuffs. John, with that look on his face. Fuck.
‘Kneel down, facing the bed, with your arms behind you,’ John instructs, and although arguments have broken out in Sherlock’s head he finds that his body has taken up the position.
John takes a quick look over the bed, lifting the mattress to check the configuration of the base. Then he comes around behind Sherlock, closing cold steel around his ankles and then his wrists, screwing the eights into place. Sherlock gives an instinctive squirm, trying to pull his wrists apart but nothing’s doing, and the heat of the realisation takes the breath out of him, because John has come around, seated himself on the bed and placed his hands around Sherlock’s chin and neck.
They stay like that for a full minute.
Swallowing, Sherlock feels the push of his own muscles against John’s palms, and shuffles still closer on his knees. John’s eyes are hard and bright, as if he’s searching for something in Sherlock’s face. Sherlock wants him to find it there. There is a kiss coming, he’s sure of that, but not yet.
Not yet, and not yet.
John’s right hand is travelling slowly down to stroke Sherlock’s chest. He’s toying with a nipple, and then he’s pinching hard. Too hard for a beginning in fact, and Sherlock hisses protest and tries to jerk away, but John’s left hand is now a vice around his shoulder… and Sherlock understands that his personal opinion is not relevant now just as John pushes in for the kiss.
Their first. It’s deep and long and ragged with what Sherlock recognises as his own whimpering. John tortures first one nipple then another, and Sherlock catches fire because he is hurting, and it doesn’t stop, and John.
Eventually a muffled giggle breaks out of him, fuelled by endorphins. John pulls back, takes Sherlock by the hair and delivers a blunt slap to the side of his face, not hard enough for serious pain but enough to silence him – and send him scrambling through internal disarray, looking for the right response, chasing awareness that there isn’t one and that is the very point.
‘Fuck,’ Sherlock breathes. The skeins of logic in his head are getting tangled and when that happens it is imperative that he reorder them, but he can’t fix his attention because it is all absorbed by John, whose face is very close to his, an open book as ever. The kindness and steel and patience are all still there, just shuffled in a slightly different order from anything Sherlock has previously seen.
The vertical folds between John’s eyebrows have deepened. His breath is coming faster, and one corner of his mouth has quirked up.
He’s getting off on hurting Sherlock. On trying to unstring his mind.
Unthinkable. Impermissible. Hot. As John strokes the curls at the side of his head and then turns the movement into a painful twist of the ear, Sherlock registers that his own breath has become panting. Nothing is quite normal now, and yes that is as predicted when they planned this, but it is also quite extraordinary, and he wants to keep track, because …
There is a violent sideways shove to his shoulder, and as John stands up and walks away Sherlock overbalances and crashes helplessly onto the floor.
He is staring at the underside of the mahogany bedframe. He flexes his wrists, and steel restrains them. The world is without precedent, and he is in it… and somewhere far above him, John laughs.
John has never fantasized anything quite like this: it would have been too lavish, too costly for his straitened tastes. Barring a few occasions on the edge of sleep, he limited himself to general desires, without focusing in too much on the detail: Sherlock struggling, Sherlock crying out. Even during last night’s taxi ride John worried about misreading, about being out of practice, about failing to cope with a bottom who mentally runs him in circles. A thousand general concerns.
The reality of this actual scene brings him to earth.
For long seconds, Sherlock lies where he fell, face towards the bed, his cuffed hands moving slightly behind his back. Then with a vigorous squirm he rolls onto his stomach and up on to his other side. His gaze as it meets John’s is so intense it looks almost stunned, and John smiles as he draws a light chain out of his shirt pocket and lets it dangle from his hand.
Sherlock’s gaze flicks down to it instantly and yes there is fear in his expression, and that is delicious.
John pushes away from the wall he has been leaning against, strolls over to Sherlock and rests a boot lightly on his throat.
Sherlock could shrink back, at the cost of banging into the side of the low bed, but he doesn’t. Through the sole of his boot, John can feel the tremors in the long neck underneath him – until Sherlock suddenly swallows and looks down, as if disengaging from a dull conversation.
‘Not sure you want this after all?’ says John, smiling to himself at this bit of last-ditch resistance. ‘Well, I could just leave you there and make myself a cup of tea instead.’
A small but audible snort answers him.
John waits for a long moment. Then he drops to his knees, seizes a handful of hair and forces the pale face back round towards him. With his free hand he tugs roughly at already reddened nipples, then fits on the clover clamps. He lets them bite home, enjoying Sherlock’s long hiss of protest, the utterly absorbed expression as he handles the pain, then John tugs, wrapping the chain around his fingers.
Sherlock lets out his first yell, a raw-throated half-sob that mixes pain with longing and surprise. It goes straight to John’s groin and he pulls again, harder; he keeps up the tension and the next sound he hears is a whimper, low and intimate.
Sherlock’s eyes are wide open as he gazes up with an expression of sweet, dazed bewilderment.
‘It’s all right,’ says John, because really it is. All of him is finally here, in this room, with Sherlock. They are who they are, the both of them.
‘Fuck,’ breathes Sherlock after a moment, as if it was his profoundest-ever deduction. He’s shaking slightly. His shackled hands are crushed behind him and there is no possible way he can stop John from doing anything he wants to.
It is twisted and perfect.
‘You deserve this,’ John says. Another tug at the clamps, and Sherlock’s groan makes his own breath catch with desire at the thought of what will happen next. ‘It’s time to use that riding crop. I’m going to beat you, and I will make it hurt.’
Sherlock wonders if this is what people call letting go. It isn’t like other times, when he always knew that afterwards the wielder of the cane or flogger would have to be managed and dispatched. John has, somehow, become as enduring as London. That is… right.
But the eights are being unscrewed from his wrists so that, for a few moments, Sherlock doesn’t know what to do with his newly-liberated arms. Instinctively he starts trying to flex them, but John catches his shoulders and drags him up and round, until he is kneeling by the side of the bed with his face pressed into the mattress.
‘Stretch your hands above your head . Stay face down,’ John says.
Sherlock’s arms are free, and he considers rebelling while he can, but John guides his limbs into place before he can think the idea through. And anyway it’s somehow more rewarding to stretch his arms as instructed, and feel the steel close around them again. There is a comforting pull on his shoulders as John loops rope through the cuffs and fastens it to the underside of the far edge of the bed. Sherlock’s clamped nipples rub against the bed, and it hurts, and that is compelling, and the only place he really wants to be is here.
‘Aren’t you at all afraid of what I might do to you?’ John asks as he comes around behind Sherlock again. He raises each of Sherlock’s knees in turn, and inserts a pillow between them and the uncarpeted floor before starting to bind his thighs to the side of the bed. Every physical sensation seems amplified, and that is fine because it means Sherlock can focus on them without the wasp buzz of the world quite breaking in. He flexes his wrist, and he’s completely stuck, and it’s peaceful. It’s right.
‘Answer me,’ presses John, and there’s a warning tone in his voice.
‘Yes,’ Sherlock says. He is afraid, and that’s part of the calm: a dark rich thread linking everything together.
‘Good, says John, and without seeing his face Sherlock knows the grin is back. ‘Cos you bloody well should be. I could have the skin off your arse with some of the kit I’ve got. Things that didn’t come from Ann Summers, thank you very much.’
A shiver travels along Sherlock’s spine. He is trussed naked with his arse in the air and he knows John would not truly harm him, but a soldier is standing over him promising pain, and reality is blurring, it’s causing Sherlock’s thoughts to snag, to fix in one desire: touch me hit me hard John now hard.
Seconds pass. Sherlock wants.
John has hit him lightly on the right buttock. The pain flares briefly before dissolving into a mild ache. It’s not much, but before Sherlock can fully process it a matching blow lands on his left side, and briefly there is balance – until John strikes him again on the spot where the first impact landed.
That hurts more. Sherlock hisses instinctively, rubbing his head against the sheet. John just says ‘Ah,’ as if he was satisfied with something – then he sends the crop whistling through the air without making contact.
After that, by the sound of it, he decides to take a stroll around the bedroom, examining furniture on the way.
Sherlock tries to crane his head around and get in a glare, but before he can see much the bed creaks and dips beside him. John grabs him by the hair, crushing his face into the mattress. The voice above him issues its instructions: ‘I only want to see you squirm when you can’t stand the pain, and I will know when that is.’
Sherlock struggles for air. John is holding him down, and he can’t see, and all he can hear is his own laboured breath. Eventually the pressure on his skull lets up, but only so that a leather blindfold can slide around his face to block the light completely.
The fear surges in, sharper… and Sherlock controls it; he trusts John. But he is in the dark now, and time is suspended until seconds or minutes later a set of stinging blows slaps down across his shoulders, making him suck his breath through his teeth. Another set scours the backs of his legs and he freezes under it, trying to handle the pain, the shock, the instruction to be still… and suddenly he’s angry, because he can’t see, and some bastard is hitting him, and it hurts.
‘Fucking hell!’ Sherlock snarls in the tone of voice that normally has people backing away from him. John only gives a snort, as if something was grimly satisfying, and with a swish crack the crop hits the sensitive skin at the top of Sherlock’s inside thigh. It flicks upwards with the lightest tantalising brush against his arsehole then smack into the other thigh, so harshly that he lets out a whimper and burrows his head into his arm. Familiar darkness is rising inside him: the crop strikes again and again, and alongside the pain and the anger an old bitterness kindles. An emptiness, a nothing, turning its formless face to his own.
He’s going under. The darkness is part of that, merged with the fear, but it can’t take hold. Not with John here.
John strikes again and again, hard, hard, hard, alternating between buttocks. The onslaught forces whimpers from Sherlock’s throat, sends his fingers scrabbling at smooth rope in search of unreachable knots. And at the same time there is a blessed loosening. The pain alchemises into a burn of pleasure radiating up his spine through his limbs, the disconnected floating taking hold in defiance of moment after unendurable moment. Sherlock sinks his teeth into his own arm, a tiny sensation of his own making as desire slews through his head, desire for John, for a kiss, for more touching, for the crop that is hurting him… then even the crop is gone, and a sensation of stunning, full violence sends a whole-body shudder through Sherlock, chafing his cock deliciously against the bed.
John is spanking him bare-handed, hmming with concentration. Each blow melds punishment and caress, and Sherlock pushes his arse up into the pain, because something has unfurled and is flying free inside him. Overhead John pauses and murmurs ‘God, you do love this,’ as if an alternative was conceivable.
There is such rich darkness between them. John killed for him. John is hurting him. John made him live.
Finally the spanking slows, comes to a halt, leaving Sherlock buzzing, raw, but only half-spent. More of this is needed. More. Deeper. More.
‘All right,’ says John. ‘I’m going to untie you…’
No! Sherlock reacts, almost surfacing with the force of it.
‘…because I want to see you crawl.’
He is dropped back into a crucible of pure desire.
Yes. Yes yes yes.
This is topspace. John remembers it: the feeling of precision and rightness, with everything in place beneath his hand.
Deep inside him, old cramps have eased. There is soldiering, and there is doctoring, and there is this, the time when the pain is beautiful, and controlled, and fused with John’s care – with his devotion. There’s little point kidding himself it’s anything less than that. Right now he would, if necessary, shoot half the population of London to protect Sherlock.
is naked on his hands and knees on the bare floorboards. His hair is dishevelled and sweaty, and his back and bum are blotched and streaked red-pink. His swollen cock points down, twitching a little, out of time with the swaying chain of the nipple clamps.
He is staring unwinkingly at John, who leans against the opposite wall of the bedroom to take in the sight of Sherlock undone. He is still recognisably himself, his eyes lit by the fire of will even if his intellect is banked for the moment. But the habitual harshness has blunted. Sherlock’s contempt is in check, for the duration of their game.
It’s been replaced by need. For what John can give him.
John’s blood is singing. And his cock is pressing insistently against the inside of his pants. He unzips his fly, puts his hand inside, feels pleasure radiate through him while his eyes explore Sherlock’s beautiful, stripped self.
Sherlock’s own eyes have gone to John’s crotch. His tongue comes out and runs across dry-looking lips. John makes an answering movement.
Sherlock is waiting for him.
‘Crawl to me,’ John instructs.
In spite of his exaltation, he almost disbelieves that it will happen. But it does. Sherlock puts one hand forward, then the other, then shuffles his knees up behind. The movements are small, as if Sherlock wants to draw this out as much as John does, but the room is not large and a few seconds later he’s crossed half of it.
So John backs away towards the bedroom door. He’s improvising the scene at this point, flying, and simply to prolong the sight in front of him he steps backwards over the threshold, past the dining table, and keeps going. Sherlock crawls after him, a little faster now, the only sound harsh breathing interspersed with hands and knees thudding against floorboards, the slight jingle of the nipple chain.
The kitchen is still and normal and homely. And there is Sherlock, naked and marked: intent, animal, vulnerable and wholly John’s.
From downstairs comes the faint hiss and grind of a commercial coffee maker. The sound reminds John of place and time: this is only one day in his life, and tomorrow he will still be crippled, pensioned off, haunted in the head. But against those broken images he can set this present, this necessary version of himself.
Until this moment, he has been holding back, just a little. He stops.
John takes one more step backwards, smiling, trying to methodically commit what he sees to memory the way Sherlock might. Then he swings forward on the balls of his feet to grab Sherlock by the hair and yank him to his feet.
Sherlock stumbles. His arm comes out to steady himself against a chair, but before he can catch hold of it, John has him. He takes Sherlock by the wrists, rights him roughly and shoves him face-first against the battered door that leads to the stairwell.
‘God, I love doing this,’ says John, above the anguished huff of Sherlock’s breath being pushed out of his body. ‘Can you tell?’
Instead of a reply, Sherlock fights back. He’s strong, and instinctive, but also predictable, and John is trained, and stronger, and high on his own mastery as he twists Sherlock’s arm up behind him, locks a wrist around his neck, bites deeply into his upper arm. Sherlock spasms, half-choking on a cry of pain and exultation, jerking his head back so his curls brush softly against John’s cheek as John drags blunt nails through the sparse hair on his chest and finishes the bite to kiss his way up Sherlock’s shoulder to his ear.
‘There’s so many things I want to do to you,’ he says. ‘I want to choke you, and feel you fighting for air which I might not give you. I want to splay you out and cut you. I want to clamp your balls and tighten and tighten the grips until you lose your mind with the pain. You fucking know I want this, and you come crawling to me, and Jesus you’re going to get it. Not all today, but this is where it starts.’
John’s own intensity surprises him. It lays him open to rejection, wanting Sherlock this much… and right now he doesn’t care. You don’t ask, you don’t get.
Sherlock is shaking in John’s grip. He’s somehow managed to turn slightly, and his mouth blunders against John’s, seeking a kiss. John jolts back into himself, thrusts his tongue briefly into Sherlock’s mouth then pulls back into biting his lower lip, hard enough to draw a little blood. Sherlock is squirming against John’s clothed chest and if there’s one thing John wants now it’s as much contact as possible. This man is his: he will hurt Sherlock with his own body, and have Sherlock pleasure him the same way.
Still holding Sherlock’s twisted arm, he drags him back through the door into the bedroom and pushes him onto the bed. Sherlock lies as if stunned, his eyes wide and his lips trembling for the few seconds it takes John to retrieve the eights and fit them back into position.
‘You still in there?’ John checks briefly, low-key for a moment as he fiddles with the locking mechanism then reaches out to stroke Sherlock’s cheek. This doesn’t feel like a first scene, not when they’ve been playing in their heads since Barts in February, but still it is one.
Sherlock nods. ‘Mm-hm,’ he manages, then turns his head and kisses John’s fingertips. John plants a kiss of his own on Sherlock’s sweaty forehead, before scrambling off the bed and unbuttoning his shirt.
Sherlock’s mind does not have an off switch, but it is not beyond control. He has given that control to John, just for a time, and John fills him with pain, with touch, with blissful obscene promises. He sprawls on his side on the bed where John left him, scoured arse smarting where his steel-bound wrists press against it.
John is removing his own clothes. Stocky but trim limbs emerge from denim and khaki, a thick, dark-flushed cock springs eagerly out as pants slip down. And there on his left shoulder is the livid trace of his bullet wound.
Ordinary, extraordinary, fierce, scarred John.
‘I’m going to teach you to be useful,’ John says, coming over to sit on the bed. He unfolds his hand to reveal a second set of clover clamps, which he loops around the dangling chain of the pair already affixed to Sherlock’s nipples. Then he slides his hand slowly downwards, skirts Sherlock’s cock, attaches the two sets of rubber teeth to the skin of his ballsac, and tugs the chain.
Four points of agony flare in Sherlock’s chest and groin. The world clenches. Even John’s face slips out of focus as Sherlock’s knees try to jerk up and his arms flex hopelessly behind him. His own whimpering is harsh in his ears, because whatever he said he can’t bear this after all, even if he wants it… even if John is holding him down while he suffers… and oh god that is gorgeous and filthy, and the pain is burning, colliding, finally stoking his arousal, because John is doing this to him, murmuring ‘Fuck yes. Yes,’ as if in admiration.
The pain is bearable, welcome, right.
‘Yes,’ Sherlock echoes, shakily, and above him he sees John’s feral smile.
‘Good. Now, follow my instructions,’ John says.
He takes Sherlock by the shoulders then drags him into an upright sitting position in the centre of the bed, feet dangling over the edge. When John straddles his thighs, settling into a kneeling position, Sherlock tries to thrust himself forwards a little so that their cocks meet, but John takes him by the hair and pulls his back straight.
‘Great handle, this stuff,’ John says. He drags Sherlock’s face down again, to position it in the dip between his own shoulder and neck. ‘Now, kiss and suck, medium hard.’
Origins and conclusions have lost their meanings. John simply is, and Sherlock is forced to pleasure him. Again and again John issues an instruction and drags Sherlock like a puppet so his mouth is positioned against earlobe or clavicle or neck, and Sherlock kisses, licks, nuzzles, feeling the vibrations from John’s growls of approval, occasionally flexing his hands or feet in their cuffs and feeling again how totally he’s restrained. John reaches his free hand right down to Sherlock’s arse and digs his nails in, and Sherlock winces, the shudder drawing new throbs of pain from his clamped flesh, until oh god John presses their bodies right up together, his cock rubbing against Sherlock’s in a blissful confusion of chains, pain, warmth, pressure.
‘You wanted to feel everything I do to you,’ says John, and his voice is shaky. ‘God, I like feeling it as well. When I hurt you, and you take it… well, fuck.’
Sherlock searches inside himself for words. ‘Not… much option,’ he manages.
‘No,’ breathes John. ‘None.’
Nails drag slowly all the way up Sherlock’s back, and he moans, trying to shrink from the new pain, but there’s nowhere to go. As his hand crests Sherlock’s shoulder, John rises up on his knees and pulls Sherlock’s head right back, then bends in and bites his throat, fisting both hands in his hair. Sherlock stares at the white ceiling; stares and feels.
Finally John’s left hand leaves Sherlock’s scalp and delves down between them. With a jolt of fire the clamps tighten and John groans with pleasure as Sherlock hisses with pain, and god he can guess what is happening… Yes: John shoves his head downwards, and he sees how the chains are now looped over John’s cock, and John’s hand is wrapped around chains and flesh together, tugging at himself, hurting Sherlock with every pull. Sherlock’s own cock juts neglected between them, weeping pre-come.
Sherlock feels John trembling; he’s getting close. Then suddenly John lets go of his cock but keeps hold of the chains. The arm still holding Sherlock’s head straightens, and he is wrenched backwards, away from John. The clamps stretch Sherlock’s nipples with a sickening burn then slip off and he flounders in a wave of agony, and John has let him go entirely so that he screams and collapses backwards onto his bound hands, the endorphins crashing in so that the room spins crazily as his head tips back off the edge of the bed, looking upside down at the madly ordinary dresser, and god he’s laughing and sobbing and his raw back smarts against the sheets, and the clamps are still on his bollocks and John is still pulling the chain.
‘Yes,’ says John – just that – looming over Sherlock on hands and knees, and there’s a vicious light in his eyes. One of his hands wraps around Sherlock’s throat, not hard enough to choke or silence, not quite, but the promise is clear. Sherlock co-operates as best he can as John drags him a few inches so that he’s fully on the bed, and then the weight of John’s body descends on him, warm and solid. They rut together violently, Sherlock’s wrists protesting under him but fuck his cock is tangled in chains and caught between John’s erection and thigh. Sherlock’s orgasm is rising up through the heat and the helplessness, an inexorable bliss riding all the pains that assault him, harnessing them to pitch higher and higher as John bites his shoulder, snarling against him… and Sherlock comes with a strangled shriek, pressing his neck up into John’s clutching hand.
There are light bursts and ringing, ringing ecstasy as Sherlock convulses up against John’s hard cock and hip, and exquisite pleasure takes him and wrings him out… and when it passes it is not quite over, because John is kneeling above him now, bucking and moaning as he brings himself off.
‘John,’ whispers Sherlock, meaning everything by it. That fierce blue gaze sweeps over the wrecked expanse of Sherlock’s come-stained, welted body and up to his face, owning everything it touches. Sherlock’s own cock twitches again at the sight, and seconds later John spasms, wide-eyed and exultant, come shooting out to stripe Sherlock’s chest and the sheets.
Spent, John tips forward onto one elbow, and their faces come very close together. He smiles as he rolls aside to lie on his back, next to Sherlock on the ravaged bed.
His hand rests on the left side of Sherlock’s chest.
In the aftermath, John pulls himself together and removes the two remaining clamps as quickly and steadily as he can. Sherlock jerks away and John winces as well, picturing the blood rushing back into newly-released flesh. Post-orgasm it must be unadulterated agony.
‘Ssh,’ soothes John, and kisses the top of Sherlock’s head. ‘It’s done now. Roll over and I’ll get the eights off your wrists.’
John’s blood is still singing. His mind’s eye is full of images of Sherlock suffering rapturously, for him, so he doesn’t really register that Sherlock has tensed up. John smiles as their eyes meet... and Sherlock glares at him, as hard and watchful as when they were strangers, each probing for what he might find in the other’s face.
‘All right. What is it?’ he asks, drawing his arms back. He will not let this happen.
Sherlock’s gaze drops to the bedclothes. It stays fixed there as he hitches himself awkwardly up onto his side.
‘Sherlock…’ John prods cautiously. He wills himself to relax: this isn’t a fight.
‘Hold me a while longer,’ Sherlock says. ‘Please, John. I want to… not go back yet.’
John understands. Such a simple, momentous request.
‘OK,’ he says lightly.
The stiffness leaks out of Sherlock’s posture as John lies down again. He presses up to Sherlock, who flexes luxuriously against his chest, letting out the occasional hiss as a raw spot is chafed. Gently John traces a finger down Sherlock’s back, across the welts and scratches that must be showing there, pink and red. His own wounded shoulder is twinging a little, from the effort of spanking, and he feels pleasantly dazed.
‘You smell good,’ says Sherlock a little smugly, as if the fact is his own doing. Which it kind of is.
‘I feel good,’ John admits.
John holds him.
John holds him.
Chapter 6: Epilogue
After the main events of Points of Light, this is a snapshot of how things have changed for John and Sherlock since they met. Stylistically it brings the fic full circle. And has a bit more hot kinky sex.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
There are ways of being that are not quite explicable, but which nevertheless sustain.
John Watson is in love. It’s a bit surreal.
‘So you just want me to top you in the bedroom, then,’ he says, the day after their first session, when he comes in from work and there’s Sherlock doing an experiment on the kitchen table, and everything is normal-but-not-quite. ‘You’re not looking to be in role the rest of the time?’ He would find that difficult, but he’s just been assuming Sherlock wanted the same as him, which is never wise.
Sherlock just snorts, anyway. ‘God, no. How dull.’
John’s fine with that. And Sherlock is obviously back in his personal comfort zone, having found some ordinary human behaviour to look down on. John leaves him fiddling with his microscope, and goes to read the paper, letting the occasional fantasy play through his head between articles. He has plans, as of yesterday.
After an hour’s companionable silence, Sherlock says: ‘You should hurt me fairly often. Twice or three times a week would be acceptable.’
John looks up. Sherlock is giving him a stare that is probably supposed to appear mildly inquiring. Instead it is obviously insecure.
Can Sherlock possibly still doubt him?
John puts down his paper. He feels suddenly remote, as if the air itself had thickened. And he can’t speak. Not even when Sherlock pads sock-footed out of the kitchen to stand over him, eyes concerned. Sherlock, concerned.
Words come out of John’s mouth: ‘In that bloody bedsit… I was going to kill myself, do you know? I was that lost.’
The full weight of the knowledge falls on him… and dissolves. The air is clear again, and Sherlock is giving him a characteristic megawatt stare.
‘Well don’t,’ Sherlock instructs. ‘Tried that, extremely boring. Fuck me instead.’
John nods. Glorious images crowd his head. Himself and Sherlock, fitted together.
‘I intend to. Violently, perversely, and often,’ he says, and hears the hitch in Sherlock’s breath.
John Watson is in love. It’s salvation.
Sherlock proceeds the same as ever, of course. A week later he leaves Donovan and Dimmock subduing one idiot thug and chases another into a dead-end alley – into a stand-off.
‘I’ll fucking kill you!’ the individual shouts, as they often do. He’s waving a length of pipe. ‘Come and have a go, man to man!’
Sherlock regards him from the mouth of the alley. The frisson of deduction – this person stole a council official’s identity, of course, even Dimmock should have seen that – is passing, but in its place he feels again a familiar fascination. The paradoxical banality of the criminal classes, as combined with the finality of the death which they frequently threaten.
Sherlock will never know everything. One day he will die though; hopefully on the crest of a victory. His mind will dissolve in the patterns of London that are complex beyond even his grasp; spread through its secret veins and be free.
He considers that moment.
It seems he does not want it to be now. Not for this.
‘I think not,’ he says, keeping an eye on the thug for sudden movements, and texts John for back-up.
Two hours later, Sherlock is kneeling naked on John’s bedroom floor, with his wrists bound to his ankles.
He is wearing a prong collar, and he knows that from its catch at the back of his neck a rope stretches away taut to the knob of the closed door behind him. In front of him is a heavy wooden chair, and the chain of the clover clamps that are attached to Sherlock’s nipples is looped through the slats of its back.
He cannot lean forward without agony in his neck; he cannot lean back without agony in his chest. He cannot move, cannot stay still without waves of exquisitely arousing torment. He is drunk on it, far under; and astraddle the chair with his forearm draped over the top bar, watching Sherlock with lips slightly parted, is John.
The two of them are all. Sherlock struggles and endures and savours the tides of pain and pleasure that sweep through him, carrying him away, away… and back, to John. Overwhelming.
There is a kiss coming, he knows, but not yet. And not yet.
It comes now.
There are ways of being that are not quite explicable, but which can twine like loving hands if chance allows. And flourish in the light.
A/N: Prong collars are designed for restraining large powerful dogs, and many people consider them inhumane when used for their original purpose. Their use on consenting humans is sometimes considered edgeplay… and I cannot imagine that putting Sherlock off for a moment.
Chapter 7: Links
A couple of additional items related to the fic.