They've been living together for two months when John first catches him doing it.
John Watson is just finishing the evening's washing up when he hears an odd humming noise. It's deep and throaty, like something emanating from the big cats enclosure at the zoo. Whatever it is, it's hitting John's ribcage and making it throb. He drops a soapy mug mid-scrub and follows the feral rumbling into the sitting room.
There he finds Sherlock, lying on his back on the sofa, his interminable legs draped over the far armrest. His head is tilted upwards, and his throat is exposed and vibrating in the half-light. He's purring, and his toes are flexing languidly, as though conducting an invisible orchestra. Sherlock's hands are rooted in his hair, and he's stroking slow, gentle circles into his temples with the pads of his thumbs. John has to mentally admit that there's something sensuous in the way he's laying hands on himself, as though he were his own violin.
Sherlock lets his head drop to one side. "John," he says, not turning around to look at his flatmate.
"Hmm? Just finished tidying up." John hasn't, in fact, finished, largely because Sherlock blew up the dishwasher last week, but he's not going back to it now. He has no idea what Sherlock is doing, but whatever it is, it's more compelling than tea-encrusted crockery. He's hoping his interest is not too obvious as he plunks himself down in the red armchair to get a front-row seat.
"Deleting," replies Sherlock, in response to the question John has not asked.
He should be used to this by now, but Sherlock's casual intrusions into John's headspace still make him blink. "Oh," he says. "Right."
There is a silence. John gingerly lifts a coffee-stained issue of the Journal of Analytical Toxicology off a stack of magazines littering the floor. He opens to an article on metabolites in human plasma following the subcutaneous administration of cocaine, then knits his eyebrows and rubs a hand over his stubbled chin. He's giving his best impression of a man possessed by the spirit of scholarly inquiry and not, emphatically not, by a desire to scope out the man who sleeps downstairs, if in fact he ever sleeps.
"Go on," says John, with what he hopes is a particularly nonchalant hand wave. He fixes his pupils on the top of the page, where he can see the text whilst maintaining the ability to quickly refocus on Sherlock, should the need arise. "Don't let me stop you."
"Mmm. If you like." The words are delivered in a lazy, baritone drawl that goes straight to John's core.
If I like? Since when does he give a damn what I like? And since when have I wanted to suck off my male flatmate just for existing? Oh, right, since the day I moved in.
John doesn't have to look at Sherlock. He can hear him smirking. As soon as Sherlock goes back to touching his own head, John looks at him anyway.
Sherlock begins by inserting his fingertips into the hollows behind his eyes and above his cheekbones, just at the spot where the sphenoid bone meets the temporal. Slowly, with great precision, he traces patterns there – ellipses, spirals, figure eights. His lips part and he starts purring again.
No longer preoccupied with being caught looking, John just stares at him, taking all of him in. His long, lean body. The rise and fall of his chest. The way his dressing gown clings to his many angles and few curves. Sherlock often looks imperious or amused or penetratingly intelligent, but stroking his own head with his hands, he looks abandoned and loose-limbed and ridiculously fuckable. John actually chokes for a moment. Despite five years of medical training, he has just forgotten how to breathe.
Sherlock's eyes are closed and his head is lolling indecently on the sofa cushions. "Ohhh, yes," he breathes, then lets the purring resume. He runs his long, pale fingers through his dark mop of hair, and for a moment John thinks of a piano: white keys moving against black. At first, Sherlock is gentle, applying only enough pressure to stimulate the follicles. Then he works his way up to tugging, then clenching. By the time he's moved on to uninhibited fisting, John is blushing furiously and the hair on his own head is standing at attention. It's something that occasionally happens when he's excited. The last time it happened, he was in a jeep in Kandahar, and a Canadian colonel named Anna was blowing him in the back seat.
Oh fucking hell.
John takes a moment to do a quick self-check on his own sexuality. He first performed a differential diagnosis on his romantic proclivities at about age thirteen and found them to be robustly heterosexual. Setting aside the last two months, the intervening decades have given him no real reason to question these initial findings. He's able to tell if another man is handsome, in a theoretical way, but he would never make a move on one. Not when women are lovely and curvy and good-smelling and so very unlikely to detonate major household appliances.
And yet. There lies Sherlock, his T-shirt rucked up on one side from all the wriggling, one smooth-skinned, angular hip revealed, and John has to let his legs fall open just to restore circulation. He has never been harder in his life.
Then Sherlock's breath catches, and his fingers stop in mid-stroke. It's as if he's found something under the skin, something small and hard, like a marble or a bead. He bites his lower lip in concentration, just enough to redden it. John can see that Sherlock has found something he wants to delete, and he's going to go in after it.
John groans out loud. The Journal of Analytical Toxicology falls on the floor, contributing once again to the general debris. It is an understatement to say that at this point, John does not give a fuck.
Sherlock, for God's sake, you can't do that. You can't use your fingertips to reassign parts of your neural network that strike you as being "suboptimally configured." It's not anatomically possible. Sherlock…
Unlike his flatmate, John has practice in not saying everything that pops into his head, and he puts it to good use now. If he were to make his case against deletion, there is the slight but present danger that Sherlock would listen to his medical opinion for once and stop whatever he's doing and never try it again, at least in front of an audience. John decides that if Sherlock wants to test the limits of what biology will permit, he is damned if he, John Watson, is going to fight science.
Sherlock is applying more pressure now, his fingers gripping his temples. Then his fingers fly out and he thrusts his thumbs into the hollows above his cheekbones. He moans and begins rocking them in and out, skin dipping into skin, convex against concave. He is unearthly and strange and unimaginably beautiful, like an alabaster archangel who has crash-landed on the sofa, and the sounds issuing forth from that pearly throat are making John weak.
The fuck is he doing? He made it clear at Angelo's he's not even remotely interested in sex, and now he's giving himself … what, a skull fuck? A brain job? How is that even happening? John bites his lip so hard that it bleeds.
And now this particular symphony is coming to a crescendo. Panting, Sherlock continues to work his temples over with his thumbs. His eyes toss and turn behind closed lids, as though he's shipwrecked and dreaming. There's a fine sheen of sweat on the parts of his body that John can see – his sweet, white throat; his elegant hands; that damnable hip – and he's shaking all over. One of his legs falls off the armrest and on to the floor, but he doesn't seem to even know it's gone. He's lost, and he rocks his thumbs hard and fast.
Nnngh. Just fucking nnngh on a plate with crisps on top. Oh God, Sherlock…
Suddenly, Sherlock arches his neck, lifts his hips, crams his fist in his mouth (what, no, his whole fist?), shouts once, then, in front of his painfully aroused flatmate, falls back spent and boneless on the sofa.
John watches dizzily as Sherlock angles his head in his direction, then opens his eyes, pupils vast and black like a night without stars. The detective's chest is still heaving, availing itself of all the extra oxygen that has been freed up by the fact that John has forgotten to breathe again. "John," he pants. "John."
Once he gets over the shock of feeling his own cock leak pre-come in response to the way Sherlock says his name, John has the feeling, half-panic and half-giddiness, that the man in front of him is going to ask him if he has a cigarette. Or worse, make him go fetch a cigarette, probably from the pocket of his pajama bottoms. John's eyes stray to said pajama bottoms, which look surprisingly dry.
So…he didn't get off? Or he got off but didn't ejaculate? So many things that could be: retrograde ejaculation, inflamed prostate, stricture of the seminal vesicles. Or, erm, "overuse." Orgasming so often that there's no time for fluid to build up. Wait, how often…
"Would it help to remind you that my face is up here?" asks Sherlock, bemused. He maneuvers himself into a cross-legged sitting position. Now that's he's finished, he's all elbows and knees and points again and watching him sit up is like watching a piece of origami spontaneously evolve into something sentient.
"I'm just wondering if you're … all right. If you'd like a medical opinion, I could …"
"Yes, I'm sure you could," says Sherlock drily. "Thank you. I'm fine. I'm perfectly capable of ejaculating, just not via the sole stimulus of cerebral self-stimulation." Sherlock runs an exploratory hand over his left temple.
"Usually," he continues. His voice is like a chocolate-covered cello, and John starts choking again.
Please. For the love of God, do not engage in afterplay. Do not cuddle and caress the side of your head while murmuring sweet nothings to it for fifteen minutes to help it come down after sex, or I am going to have a heart attack in front of you, and as soon as you get your mouth on me to do CPR, I promise you, I will die.
"Yeah," says John, after swallowing a few times. "Of course. It's just … what was that?"
Sherlock gives the tormented groan of a genius who has been asked to repeat himself. "I told you, I was deleting. Look, we know what we know due to the pathways linking our neurons, yes?"
"And every time we learn something, new pathways are created, correct?"
"Well, most of the things we learn are rubbish. They are useless, irrelevant, or just plain wrong, John. Yet there our brains are, happily creating pathways in the service of all manner of junk; pathways that, metaphorically speaking, lead into a swamp or off a cliff or, God help us, into Anderson's apartment. Of course, if our brains were infinite in volume and in search speed, the irrelevancies wouldn't be a problem. Only the outright falsehoods would be an issue. However, the human brain is roughly the size of a cantaloupe. So if you discovered a method of removing all the unnecessary or dangerous paths from your cerebral real estate, thus freeing up space for more productive uses, wouldn't you apply it?"
"No," says John.
Sherlock looks at him curiously. "Why not?"
"Because human beings are not always able to recognize what is important. Sometimes what's important just looks irritating or frustrating or out of place. For example, what about you telling me my whole life story, inviting me back to Mrs. Hudson's, and then winking at me – which, by the way, is not an appropriate way to conclude an interview of a potential flatmate? What if I had just deleted that whole interaction as soon as it happened?"
"Then, presumably, you would still have access to a working dishwasher."
John picks up the Union Jack cushion and hurls it at him. It's a satisfyingly direct hit to the chest.
"Hmm, domestic violence," says Sherlock, having inspected the cushion for clues. "Could be dangerous."
"You'd best believe I'm dangerous," says John, folding his arms.
Sherlock mimes terror for two seconds before getting bored and sending the Union Jack cushion sailing back at the aggressor.
"So when you delete," John ventures, "do you always do it … like that?"
"Like what?" Sherlock inquires. John turns red as a pomegranate.
"Oh," says Sherlock, "the writhing and carrying on. No, I don't have to do it that way. I can be immobile and silent and fast, if I wish, although it helps to steeple my fingers. It's just … that's how I learned to do it first, and sometimes, it's interesting to go back to that."
John ponders the new information. "So you have other ways of reconfiguring your hard drive. And you chose this one…"
The detective tilts an innocent eyebrow heavenward. "For your benefit? Yes."
My deepest appreciation goes out the generous and talented people who made the art and associated works below:
PODFIC by LockedinJohnlock
Cover art for the above podfic by IamJohnLocked4life
Cover by pushingdaaisies
Cover by An Artificial Aspidistra
Cover by a clever friend who wishes to remain eponymous
Cartoon by Sherlocksupportgroup at the request of I've Been Sherlocked. [5/2/16 UPDATE: I originally linked to this cartoon on the artist's tumblr, but this tumblr has also been taken down. If you are the artist and have a new URL for this cartoon, please let me know and I'll update this link. You deserve credit and traffic. Thank you!]
Drawing of Sherlock deleting by strangegibbon
Chapter 2: Necessary and Sufficient
"My benefit?" asks John. "You're a cocky one, aren't you?"
"It's been remarked."
"Was that you coming on to me? Not the double entendre just now, if that's what it was, but that whole … display?"
Sherlock examines his flatmate with undisguised curiosity. "If it were, would it work?"
John rubs a hand over his face, then goes to sit on the coffee table, an arm's length away from his flatmate, who is still lolling about in what seems to be a post-coital haze on the sofa. John snorts. Of course. It's not as if Sherlock is going to budge up and share space.
"It might. It's just … I think we need to talk."
"Oh, glorious," moans Sherlock, kicking at the armrest. The look on his face says, "People do little else."
"Don't 'oh, glorious' me. What do you want?"
Sherlock fixes John in a silver stare. "I would have thought that was obvious."
"Not to me, it isn't. You told me at Angelo's you weren't looking for anything."
"I wasn't. Really, John. Why would anybody confuse 'not looking for anything' with 'not finding anything'? Logically speaking, the two aren't mutually necessary and sufficient. I wasn't looking for 50p on the stairwell, but I found it anyway."
"Right. OK. And now you've found me."
"Yes." Sherlock pokes John's chest with a long, slender finger. John looks at him, perplexed. "For God's sake, do I have to explain everything? Tag," Sherlock clarifies. "You're it. I found you, and now it's your turn."
"I think you're mixing up tag with hide-and-seek."
Sherlock rolls his eyes. "Irrelevant."
"It's just … what do you want? And don't tell me I already asked, because you didn't answer. Do you want us to continue as we are, with you stealing my things and me making tea and yelling at you? Do you want me to lie around rubbing your head and deleting things at random? Do you want …"
John's voice trails off, because he can't really bring himself to say, "Do you want me to fuck you?" to this man right now, let alone unburden himself of the unmitigated schmoop of "Do you want to make love?" Instead, he tightens his jaw and swallows.
"All interesting ideas, particularly the last. Why don't you try them out and see?"
"Because, Sherlock, if things don't work out, it's going to be very hard to go back to the way we are now. And the way we are now is … good."
Sherlock arches an eyebrow. "Not 'extraordinary?'"
"Fine. What we have now is extraordinary. It's exciting and exasperating and it works. And I don't want to trade it in for a rough shag on the Oriental rug." Nonetheless, John can feel his own eyes glazing over at the thought of it.
Who would be on top? Sherlock, probably, the pushy git. If he writhes and carries on loud enough to alert the neighbors during basic brain maintenance, what would he be like in full rut? John takes a moment to imagine what it would feel like to have Sherlock entering him, riding him (oh yes please fucking yes just yes to everything yes), coming hard and fast inside him while crying his name.
"There's always the kitchen table," says Sherlock, staring at John's mouth. John realizes that during his quick visit to the land of OhfuckmeSherlock, he's let his tongue drift out between his lips. He hastily retracts it.
"Tell me you don't know everything I'm thinking," he groans.
"Almost everything. I see it above your head in a variety of contemporary sans-serif fonts."
"Wanker," says John, fondly. "You probably do." He studies his flatmate's angular face. "Have you even been with a man before?"
Abruptly, Sherlock breaks eye contact. Then he pulls his dressing gown tight around his shoulders and glares. "What does that matter?"
"I'm just ask—"
"Have you? No, don't answer that. I know you haven't. It's always been women. I can practically smell them on you."
"Thank you, Sherlock, for that lovely image."
Sherlock gives a twist of his hips, as if to turn his back on John, but John catches him by the wrists and stops him. "Don't."
"Don't what?" Sherlock looks too astonished to struggle.
"Don't flounce over on your side and bury your head in the cushions like you're ignoring me, when really, you're just coming up with an excuse to show off your magnificent arse."
A pause. "Do you really think it's magnificent?"
"Obviously. Can't you see it written above my head in 64-point revised Johnston Underground or something?"
"So you're not entirely heterosexual."
John lets go of Sherlock's wrists. "Apparently not," he says. "Or if I am, somebody had better tell my dick." It's been sore with wanting Sherlock for most of the evening, and it's still feeling heavy and hard with desire. If it weren't pointing up, it would make an admirable crutch.
"Hmm." Sherlock folds his arms primly over his chest. He is clearly enjoying himself. "I think now would be as good a time as any for you to engage in further discourse on the merits of my arse."
John snorts. "Of course you'd want that. You narcissistic prick."
"John," says Sherlock, indulgently, "We can talk about my prick after you've seen it. Let's just discuss one body part at a time."
John scrunches his eyes shut. On the insides of his eyelids are floating pixels, and when they coalesce, they form the words, "This cannot possibly be my life." When he opens his eyes, Sherlock is still there, looking at him like he is an especially brilliant form of clue.
"Right. Fine. It's plush," breathes John. "Ridiculously plush. Somebody with your body type – all bones and joints and angles – has no business carting around that arse." God help him, he can't help gesturing at the topic of conversation with one hand.
"You really think so?"
"You know I do. It's obscene. It's like something out of a Sir Mix-A-Lot video." John sees Sherlock looking at him blankly, and struggles to regroup. "Never mind that; it's not important. Just take it as a compliment."
"Plus, the way you dress doesn't help."
"How do I dress?" asks Sherlock, all innocence and posies.
"You know perfectly well how you dress. What do you call this?" John reaches out and grabs a bit of blue fabric.
"It's a dressing gown."
"Yes, well, men don't dress like that. Not where I'm from, they don't, or I would never have stayed this straight, this long. I suppose it's just coincidence that it's all shiny and pretty and catches the light and clings to your body when you move?"
"Yeah, right. And of course, it has to have stripes, just in case your arse is not looking extravagant enough as it is. Sherlock, I assure you, the last thing your extremely lush behind needs is optically enlarging, go-faster stripes. Every time you have one of your sulks, with the moping and the pouting and the shimmying in silk on the sofa, I have to leave the flat just to avoiding sinking my teeth into it."
"I see," says Sherlock, frowning. "Only your teeth?"
"Plus," says John, his voice conspiratorial and low, "the patented piece of orgy-wear that you traipse around in comes with handy built-in bondage rope, in case I want to tie you up and fucking use you by the fireplace."
"Technically, it's a belt."
"Technically, are you going to care?"
"I didn't think so. Just look at you. Brain like a red giant, and you dress like a cheap whore." The words are harsh, but John's voice is admiring.
Sherlock releases a huff of offended air from his nostrils. "I wasn't aware Dolce & Gabbana looked cheap."
"Oh, right, your day wear. Let's discuss that too, shall we? Those fucking black jeans that look like they've been tattooed on. That fitted purple shirt that shows off your nipples every time you open the refrigerator door. Don't lie, you know how hard and tight they get when you're cold. And then I have to take my eyes off your chest because you're looking at me strangely, and the next thing I know, I'm ogling your arse again."
Sherlock blinks. "Dr Watson, you have an exquisitely … nasty mouth."
"To quote a friend, 'It's been remarked.' And that's not all it's good for."
"How much do phone sex operators make? Because you're absolutely wasted as a physician."
"Thanks. I think."
"Yeah, it's a pity, all right," says John. He's in decisive mode now, and he climbs on top of his flatmate and grabs him by the shoulders. "A pity that I'm going to take you down my throat in about 30 seconds, and you'll be screaming so hard that the married ones will be popping their heads around the corner asking to borrow you and a tub of Marmite. And then the entire clientele of Speedy's will assemble in the hallway, hoping for some of the same, and there won't be enough to fucking go around, because I won't share you, Sherlock. If you let me have you, I won't share any part of you, not now, not ever."
The two men stare at each other, panting and pressed together. John snatches at the belt to his flatmate's dressing gown, but Sherlock reprises John's own motions of a few minutes ago and catches him by the wrists, pulling him to a stop.
"No, a pity that our time's up. We're going out."
"Julien will be expecting us." Sherlock pronounces the name with a little French moan at the end. Naturally, his accent is perfect. "Well, me, really, but I'm bringing you."
"Who in flaming shit is Julien?" John is discovering that he gets even swearier than usual when his flatmate is blue-balling him.
"We had thirty minutes, John. You were the one who wanted to spend them talking. It was my job as your future sexual partner to oblige you, was it not? Now go put on something suitable."
"What's wrong with this jumper?"
"What's right with it?"
John didn't attain the rank of captain in the RAMC without learning to pick his battles. "Fine. Let's drop the wardrobe critique, shall we? I'll go, but I need you to realise two things. First of all, you're a ridiculous tease."
Sherlock appears to view this as a compliment. "Noted."
"Second," says John, his mouth closing in on Sherlock's ear, "I will get you back for this."
What had been a smirk erupts into a predatory smile. "I'm counting on it."
Chapter 3: Of Sex and Bespoke Tailoring
Men in black tie and women with glasses of Château Lafite swirl around John and Sherlock as the detective, oblivious, stuffs his phone back into his jacket pocket.
"Idiots," he says. "Victoria Robinson is not missing, she's a victim of homicide. Also, bad taste in men. Specifically, the live-in lover."
"How do you know that?" John grumbles. "And is there any way you could have been more explicit than 'wear something suitable?'"
They're at Julien's manor in Hampstead, and they are up to their Adam's apples in rococo balustrades and Italian marble. Everyone is dressed more elegantly than John, including the help, but that's not why he's annoyed. No, he's annoyed because he and Sherlock Holmes, the world's only consulting drama queen, had a row during the taxi ride over.
They had been getting along famously until it occurred to John to be suspicious about what kinds of things Sherlock liked to delete.
"That song you were humming earlier today," John remarked. "You've stopped humming it." When Sherlock made no sign of recognition, John hummed a few bars of the Imperial March.
Sherlock stared out the window of the cab. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Sherlock, did you delete that movie I showed you?"
"No," replied Sherlock, crisply.
"Not yet, anyway," muttered the detective. John glared at him.
"What?" snapped Sherlock. "John, I know everyone else has seen that thing, but I am not everyone else. What joy can you possibly derive from clogging my neural networks with rot?"
John set his jaw. "What's wrong with that movie?"
"No! Stop! You're pushing it further into my brain just by talking about it!"
"Auuuughh!" Jamming the fingers of both hands into his temples, Sherlock crumpled into the fetal position on the seat and whimpered, clearly in pain. "The deplorable writing, the frankly … taxidermical acting, the high-pitched whinging about the power converter…"
"All right," hissed John, as the cab driver cleared his throat. "I get it."
"The blaster noises in the absence of an atmosphere! That's impossible, flatly impossible. In space…"
"Yes, I know," said John, his facial muscles tight. Sherlock had been on a space kick since the fake Vermeer. "But what you need to understand is that movie was the highlight of my childhood."
Sherlock groaned. "Do not make me pity you," he begged.
"If it helps, Han shot first."
"Arrrrgh! How could it possibly? It doesn't!"
They had ridden in strained silence the rest of the way.
As soon as a waiter passes within reach, John grabs a vodka tonic off his ebony tray and begins slugging it back.
"John," says Sherlock, hijacking his flatmate's field of vision with a long, waving finger. "Please try to keep up. They found Ms. Robinson's MPV at Torrington car park."
"And?" John idly wonders where the bathrooms are. He pictures gold-plated urinals, each with its own tiny, marble balustrade.
"Have you ever been to that car park?"
"Describe it to me."
"I don't know; I seem to have deleted any relevant details." John notes with satisfaction that his obstreperousness seems to be eliciting a frown from his conversational partner. Serves you right for being a nit, he thinks.
"Right, then," says John, arms folded. "Grey. Made of concrete. Full of cars."
"You're doing this specifically to wind me up," accuses Sherlock.
"I don't have to do anything. You were wound up when I met you. Next to catatonia, it's your natural state."
"The facility is old, John. The spaces are narrow – perhaps 43 cm narrower than the average space. Meant to comfortably accommodate a '63 Mini, but not much else."
"Sorry, still not following."
"Also, the building is spiral."
"So it is."
"So," huffs Sherlock, "she was a Benzodiazepine addict, and she had gone cold turkey within the last five days."
"Ah." John's medical training kicks in, and he worries his lower lip with his teeth. "Withdrawal. She would have been tired, anxious, depressed, impulsive. Maybe suicidal. None of this bolsters a case for homicide. If anything, this opens up the question of whether she took her own life."
"John. Stop mentally flipping through your medical school textbooks and think. When was the last time you saw somebody who needed a benzo fix?"
"Maybe two years ago."
"Describe that person to me."
"Dave," John says. "He was an Army mate of mine. We shipped off to Afghanistan, and his dealer didn't come with. God, he went through hell. Vertigo. Nausea. So dizzy he'd fall down just walking around the tent. Brutal headaches, eye spasms, akathisia. I threw my helmet at him once, and he fumbled it. He was a genius at cricket before, but that whole summer, his eye/hand coordination was shot to shit."
Sherlock shoots John a triumphant look. "Does this sound to you like a person who could park a Fiat Multipla in a smaller-than-average space on the 6th floor of a vertigo-inducing spiral car park? Boot facing in?"
"No," says John, as comprehension washes over him. "You're right. Victoria didn't park that thing. Somebody else parked it for her."
"Yes. The boyfriend. He killed her, dumped her body off the side of his yacht in an area frequented by sharks, then left her Fiat in the car park."
"Brilliant," says John, mildly breathless and staring.
"I didn't even tell you how I know about the sharks."
"Doesn't matter. Still fucking brilliant."
Red lips quirked in a smile, Sherlock radiates joy. There's an awkwardness to it, as though the face he is wearing is fresh out of the box, and he has no idea how to operate it.
He's so beautiful. Fuck, look at him. Sherlock's lanky frame is sheathed in one of his form-fitting black suits. It is probably not a coincidence that he is wearing the same tight purple shirt that had John waxing rhapsodic back at the flat. It's open at the throat, dangerously so, and shows off his body. John has never been sexually attracted to anyone's sternum before, but he is now.
There's a beauty mark to the right of Sherlock's larynx, and a constellation of them on the lower left side of his throat. John wonders where the rest of Sherlock's moles are. He wants to find them all and lick them, slowly, on Julien's elaborate parquet floor. His flatmate, however, has other ideas.
"Oh, it's Christmas," moans Sherlock.
"Sally Donovan is right," says John, rubbing a hand over his own jaw. "You get off on this stuff."
Wracked by mental absorption and covetousness, Sherlock does not respond. His eyes are glazed over, and his respiration is slow. Before he can answer John, he has to literally shake himself. He looks like an Afghan hound emerging from a lake. "What? Did you say something?"
"Nothing. Please, carry on." Carrying on is Sherlock's strong suit.
Stooped over, the homicide enthusiast rubs an inquisitive cheekbone against a locked display cabinet filled with books. If the accompanying labels are correct, all of them are bound in 18th- and 19th-century human skin.
"Most of these private murderabilia auctions are insanely disappointing," says Sherlock. "Not Julien's. Julien has the most wonderful things."
"Mm," says John. "Well, you're right to do your Christmas shopping early. Avoid the rush, I always say."
A pair of silver eyes look up quizzically.
"Joke," says John. Although they have never discussed it, he is quite certain Sherlock does not Christmas shop. It's not at all clear that Sherlock knows when Christmas is.
He needn't worry about the other man's response, because the detective's ears are turned off again. "Magnificent," Sherlock groans, gesturing towards a small, grayish volume. It looks as though it is bound in a particularly fine-grained suede. "A highwayman's autobiography, bound in his own skin after execution. Imagine what you could learn from this. His DNA is still in there, John."
"Mm. And to think our coffee table has survived this long without it."
"The usual things you see at these events are just so tacky and cheap," Sherlock points out, voice dripping with disdain. "I once went to one where they were auctioning off John Wayne Gacy's clown suit. Really, John. What can you learn from that?"
"How to be afraid of clowns?"
"And next to that, they were displaying a signed pair of knickers once worn by that woman who bludgeoned her husband to death with a 9-iron." Sherlock shivers, not with empathy but with disgust. Women's undergarments, like their owners, are not his area.
"But Julien's things," continues the rich baritone voice, "they're elegant. One time he got his hands on the pike used to display Oliver Cromwell's head." Sherlock strides several meters, then drops to his wool-crepe-clad knees before another cabinet. "John, John, look at this!"
John peers over his friend's lightly muscled shoulder. The cabinet is dark, and holds what looks to be single, tattered notebook on a cushion. The leather cover is blood red. Although the accompanying label is obscured, John can make out the word "Holmes" on the first line.
"More human skin?" asks John.
"Better than that," purrs Sherlock. His breath is fogging up the glass.
While Sherlock works himself up into a mini-orgasm over the notebook, John takes a moment to appreciate the sight of Sherlock on his knees. His reveries are interrupted by a low, breathy voice about 12 cm above his right ear. He turns to see a tall, slender Frenchman with black hair, olive skin, and piercing green eyes.
Shit. He looks like sex and smells like bespoke tailoring. Exactly the sort of person I'd picture Sherlock with, if I had to picture him with anyone.
"Sherloque," murmurs the interloper. "C'est si bon de te revoir."
"Julien," says Sherlock, falling back on his heels. "Nice to see you too." To John's horror, Julian kneels on the floor next to Sherlock, takes his chin in his hand, and kisses him in the Gallic fashion, lingering first on the right cheek, then on the left. From his vantage point, John can't tell if Sherlock is kissing back. Then Julien takes Sherlock by the wrists and helps propel him to his feet.
John's blood runs cold, then hot. Since when does he let other men touch him like that? I haven't touched him like that.
The adrenalin coursing through John's body is begging him to start throwing punches when Sherlock moves to John's side. John is a bit surprised to find him there.
Julien looks the smaller man up and down. John can't tell if the curl of his lip signifies amusement or scorn. "This is your…?"
"John. This is John." Sherlock has slight red marks on each cheek just from the pressure of Julien kissing him.
Of course he does. Cripes. Skin so white and fine that everything leaves a mark. The man is a fucking Etch-A-Sketch.
John presses his thumbs into his eye sockets. He really doesn't want to think about how easy it would be to bring color to Sherlock's pale body right now.
"Your … John," breathes Julien. "Charmant." He pauses to whisper in Sherlock's ear.
"It's not like that," says Sherlock, sharply.
John scowls. The message the ex-army doctor is trying to send Julien with his face is "Whatever you just said, you had best fucking believe it is exactly like that."
"Of course not," says Julien. "My error. Still, it's a pleasure to see you content. Please, make like you are at home. I hope you are finding everything to your taste?"
"Enormously," says Sherlock, and John wants to pick up Lot #146, the ice pick used in the Torquay triple homicide, and plant it right between his quicksilver eyes.
"You know," says Julien, "I have more items upstairs. The murder weapon from the case of the Devonshire Devil case, par exemple. Also, did you know that the Boston Strangler made jewelry?"
"I'm aware that Albert DeSalvo made jewelry," says Sherlock. "I can assure you that the person who actually committed the homicides for which he was imprisoned did not."
Cockblock! John's face lights up with a glee unbefitting an officer.
"Oh, yes, the case is somewhat controversial, is it not?" Julien is persistent. "But perhaps you would like to see something better. It is the jewel in my collection. I keep it well hidden in the master bedroom. Very few people have seen it."
"What's that?" asks Sherlock.
"It is a snuff box."
"Sounds great," mutters John.
"It has a very … particular provenance," says Julien.
Sherlock gasps. "You have the snuffbox of Jack the Ripper?"
Right. It's on.
Although not much accustomed to manhandling his flatmate, John throws his left arm roughly around Sherlock's tapered waist and reels him in until their sides touch. The captive stops gazing at Julien and starts gaping at the man gripping him.
"We'd love to see it," says the doctor, chin at maximum jut. "Wouldn't we, darling? You don't mind showing us to the master bedroom right away, do you, Julien?"
Uncharacteristically speechless, Sherlock stares from John's possessive arm to his face and back again.
"Oh my, look at the hour it makes," says Julien. He is clearly re-evaluating the situation. "Terriblement sorry, but I must seek the wine steward. You know how it is. If he does not uncork the Château d'Yquem now, no one will drink it."
"What a shame," says John, still holding Sherlock. They make a strange pair of conjoined twins, with John's hip fused to Sherlock's femur. "Some other time, perhaps."
"Perhaps," says Julien. He pauses to stroke a stray curl away from Sherlock's face. "Toujours les cheveux en bataille," he says. "You never change, chéri."
"Oh, I think I have changed, just in the past two months," says Sherlock. His voice isn't gentle, but neither is it cruel. "Goodbye, Julien."
Julien gives Sherlock an amused look. "Until we meet again."
John gives Julien a curt nod and marches Sherlock off to a quiet corner under a spiral staircase. He cranes his neck so that he can hiss directly into Sherlock's ear.
"Go over this with me one more time," he says. "Are you quite sure you don't have a boyfriend?"
Chapter 4: Battle Hair and a Bit of Rough
Warning: Here we have men who are mildly soused. If guys making drunken overtures towards each other are likely to offend you on grounds of dubious consent, you probably won't want to read this.
Sherlock sighs. "Don't try to deduce, John. You're mediocre at it during the best of times, and worse when you're angry."
"Mediocre" is probably the nicest thing Sherlock has ever said about anyone else's deduction skills, so John does his best to be reasonable. Sometimes, when alcohol is involved, John's best is not that good.
"Listen, you arrogant twat," he hisses. "Do not patronise me in public right now, or I will mediocre your arse until your prostate explodes."
"Is that a promise?" Sherlock hisses back. "Because believe me, you'll find me well up for it."
Oh, God. Why do I get stiff in my pants every time my posh, clueless flatmate tries to use slang? Next thing he'll be saying he's dead chuffed, and I'll have to shag him senseless against the Camembert tray.
"So Julien's not your boyfriend, then," says John. "Or an off-and-on thing that you'll be going back to the minute I let you get a leg over."
Sherlock shifts. "He's an acquaintance. Obviously." His pupils are blown, although John can't tell if it's due to arousal or the relative darkness under the staircase.
Is he actually … blushing? No, not possible. The man doesn't blush. It must be a trick of the shadows.
"Yes, obviously," John replies. "Sherlock, he had his hands all over you."
"So do you," says Sherlock, raising a pointed eyebrow in the direction of his waist, to which John is still clinging like a limpet. If this is a hint that he should let go, the doctor doesn't take it. If anything, he digs in harder.
"I knew him at uni," says Sherlock.
"And that thing at the end with him pawing at your hair?" prods John, spurred on by his flatmate's failure to elaborate. "What was that?"
"He says I have battle hair. That I still have it," Sherlock clarifies.
"It's a French idiom. It means your hair is … sticking up." Sherlock runs a hand through his insubordinate curls. "Unruly. Like it's been through the war."
Incredulity washes over John like a wave. "He says you have bed head?"
"In a manner of speaking."
"He says you still have bed head," amends the doctor, eyes narrowing. "Sherlock, when did he last see you in bed?"
"You never get this stroppy over a figure of speech when you're completely sober," snaps Sherlock. "But yes, we used to sleep together. No, we no longer do. Also, your fingernails are making indentations in my hip."
John loosens his grip so that it's no longer enough to draw blood. "When you were at uni…" he starts, not knowing how to finish.
"Did Julien take advantage of you?"
Sherlock's face is unreadable. "No."
"Did he? Because I will slit his jugular if he did." John contemplates smashing a bottle of Château d'Yquem against a table and slicing Julien open with the edge.
Sherlock groans. "Could you satisfy my curiosity about something, doctor? Did you even take the Hippocratic oath, or did you just mouth the words while everyone else said it?"
"I just moved my lips. Did he hurt you? I don't mean tonight. Did he ever hurt you?"
"No," says Sherlock, irritably. "Damn it, John, what's got into you? I'm not accustomed to being on the small end of the microscope."
John allows himself one last question. "What did he whisper to you? When you said, 'It isn't like that.'"
"He suggested I was reverting to type."
"What did he mean by that?"
"He was referring to you. I believe the exact term he used was 'bit of rough.' Like everyone else in Greater London, he thinks we're fucking, and I've already made it clear to you that I wish we were. Now if you'll let go of me, I'm going to get something to drink."
John watches, stunned, as Sherlock heads to the bar. It's not that he's surprised that yet another member of the European Union thinks he and Sherlock are having it off. It's that nobody has ever called him, John Watson, brilliant surgeon and decorated veteran, a "bit of rough." Or, for that matter, "Sherlock's type." For a moment, John is quietly thrilled.
"You're drunk," says John, once the cab has dropped them off at Baker Street. They are pressed up against the wall in the hallway, giggling like monkeys.
"I'm not," says Sherlock, his enunciation flawless. "I lisp when I'm drunk. At the moment, I am excruciatingly sober."
John proceeds to laugh himself almost literally sick. He clutches feebly at his midriff.
"Stop – my stomach – please stop. You lisp when you're drunk? Oh God, God. You're pissed now, but remind me to get you completely off your face. I'll sell tickets in front of Scotland Yard."
Sherlock gives his flatmate an amused smile. "Really, John. If anyone is inebriated, it's you."
"You're amazing. Just amazing. Your words get even longer when you've had a few. No, I'm not drunk. My last drink was hours ago. You only started drinking at the end."
They make it up the stairs and stagger into the flat. Sherlock collapses on the sofa, and John collapses against him.
"I'm not going to shag you tonight, you know," says John, his head against Sherlock's shoulder.
Sherlock tenses up. "Why not?"
"It's not on. It's been a long night, and I'm tired and annoyed." John can't help muttering under his breath, "Should have got some in Hampstead whilst you had the chance. I'm sure he'd have let you hold Oliver Cromwell's spike while he did you up against the Aston Martin."
Sherlock looks vaguely horrified. "Are you still harping on about that? I'm not even thinking about him. I'm thinking about you, you idiot."
"Yeah, right," groans John, giving in to a moment of bitterness. "Go on, lie down in a vat of Beluga caviar and give him a booty call. I'm sure your children will be gorgeous. Really. The cheekbones alone..."
"John, I hardly think…"
"For God's sake, I realise it's not biologically possible to knock another man up via sexual intercourse. I know you think I'm a glorified errand boy, but I do have a medical degree."
"Yes, and I know you think I can tell when you're joking," says Sherlock, frustrated, "but often, I can't. Before we left the house, you made it plain that you want to tie me up and use me by the fireplace. Am I to assume that you meant in some platonic way? As an umbrella stand, perhaps."
John moans. "Stop it. You're reminding me of your brother."
"Fine, you deserve it. After whipping me up into a fine froth, you imply that you don't want me because someone else got there first. What am I supposed to deduce from that?"
"Yeah, well, you're not exactly Mr. Transparent yourself. I made a play for you at Angelo's…"
"Just so we're clear, that's what that was?"
"Of course it was."
"Stupid, so stupid," says Sherlock, tugging his own hair in exasperation. "Like when I thought Harry was your brother."
John puts his hand on Sherlock's to keep him from pulling his hair out. Once Sherlock's hand goes still, John lets it drop.
"There's no shame in it. You thought I was straight. Good deduction. I was, up until I met you."
"In my defense, there is no article of clothing in the world more blatantly redolent of heterosexuality than a slightly baggy, oatmeal-coloured, cable-knit jumper on a short, tough man who has just come back from the war. It's the polar opposite of neon-green briefs."
"Well, I'd just met you that afternoon. When was I going to buy new clothes?"
"Dear Jim," intones Sherlock. "In light of recent events, I require a more flamboyant wardrobe. Please fix it for me."
John laughs. "Is that your imitation of me? Because it's terrible."
"I don't want to imitate you. There's only one of you. That number is both necessary and sufficient."
John pulls his head back so he can peer into Sherlock's face. "See, this is what I don't get. That – what you just said – was romantic. You've never been romantic towards me until today. You can't hold it against me if I'm confused."
Sherlock rolls his eyes. "John, although I've accepted amorous overtures in the past, I never claimed to be experienced at making them. I've never asked for sex in my life. I only started propositioning you because you were taking your bloody time."
He's never asked for sex in his life? No, of course not. With that body, he's never had to. In any case, John finds it difficult to imagine that his twitchy, cerebral flatmate has had much experience. No doubt sex, like breathing, is over-rated.
"I give you points for originality," says John, thinking of Sherlock's writhing, one-man mating dance of deletion, "but how do I know you're not chatting me up for the novelty of the thing? You know, as an experiment."
Sherlock traces the side of John's face with a long, pale finger. "You're worried I don't value your friendship," he says, finally. "That I only want sex. That this is just something else I'm looking to take from you, like your phone or your computer or your half-drunk cup of tea."
"Erm, yes," admits John. "That's about right. I know you, Sherlock, but not in this context."
"Similarly, I'm distracted by the thought that your affection for me is primarily platonic, and that, although you would tolerate sex with me at first, you would soon realise you didn't like it and revert to women."
"I think I would like it, if I knew you weren't just having me on."
Sherlock snaps his fingers decisively, then shrugs off his jacket and finishes unbuttoning his already partially open shirt.
"And you're doing what, now?" asks John, eyes wide.
"We need more data. Here, put your hand on my body and tell me you don't want me."
When John, gobsmacked, doesn't move, Sherlock takes him by the wrist and places John's palm on his exposed chest.
"Think of it as the low-budget, field-surgery equivalent of a polygraph test, but better, since this actually works. Hmm, best practices require a control. First question: what's your name?"
"John Hamish Watson."
Sherlock's upper chest is cool and smooth, and his heart beats fast against John's fingertips.
"So you're evaluating…"
"Yes, yes, temperature, respiration, perspiration, pulse. Also scent. You smell delicious, John. Second question: where do you live?"
"With you, you bloody nutter. God help me, I live with you." Despite the lack of proximity to the refrigerator, the cool air is making Sherlock's nipples hard, and portions of John's anatomy are following suit.
"True. Third question: do you want me? Not last week or last month or yesterday, but right now. Do you?"
"Yes. Absolutely, yes."
Sherlock's face breaks into a radiant smile. "True," he concludes.
John pulls off his jumper and unbuttons his shirt. Then he places Sherlock's hand on his heart.
"Just one question. Am I an experiment?"
The colour rises to Sherlock's face. "John, you can't tell anything without a control. Ask something to which you know the answer. Do you even know how to read the data?"
"Never mind that. Am I an experiment?"
"No. You are my friend, my colleague, and my partner. I care for you, and I want…" Sherlock looks out of his depth. He fumbles for the vocabulary. "To please you? Yes."
"Well, then," says John, grinning. "Why didn't you say so? Come on." And he grabs Sherlock's hand and pulls him off the sofa, through the kitchen, and into Sherlock's bedroom.
Chapter 5: The Archive
Expect some angst and non-fluff. Oh, and two mildly inebriated and extraordinarily horny men finally going at it.
Contrary to the dark speculations of some of his colleagues at the Yard, Sherlock has some familiarity with emotions. Anger, yes – Mycroft can attest to that. Boredom, definitely. Excitement, of course, as long as there's a particularly devious homicide to work on, or better yet, a spate of them. Recently, however, Sherlock has been feeling something else, something that only happens in the presence of John Watson. Whatever it is, it involves dry mouth, elevated heart rate, sweating that is unrelated to ambient temperature, mild disorientation, an inability to sit still, and a desire to pick one's own fingernails apart, yes, down to their very molecules. And this is a problem, because ever since Sarah let him go from the clinic, John is around almost all the time, smiling and bickering with Sherlock and fixing things and making tea and threatening anyone who looks at Sherlock cross-eyed and smelling absolutely brilliant.
During the first week John was living with him, Sherlock supposed that what he was experiencing was anxiety. At about week four, Sherlock began weighing the disturbing possibility that it was love. By week seven, he had come to the conclusion that it was both, and that he was therefore well and truly fucked, just not in the sense that he would prefer.
Historically speaking, Sherlock has never had any anxieties about sex. He enjoys it. Sex is about other people wanting him. Sex is about remaining detached and superior while his mental inferiors lose their minds – and it is pure charity on Sherlock's part to dignify the contents of other people's skulls with the name – over his body. Sex is about manipulation. The more physically accessible he makes himself, the less mentally accessible he becomes, and his opponents almost never notice. Sex is not about pleasure; it's about power and strategy. Sex is a game, and Sherlock is very, very good at it.
But what he feels for John is … different. These days, when he notices the disreputable state of Sally Donovan's knees, he finds himself wondering what it would be like to set his own pleasure aside in order to provide enjoyment to someone else. It comes as a shock to realise one night, in the midst of a stakeout in an alley, that he would happily get down on his knees for John, and down on his hands too, if John wanted it. This might make tactical sense if Sherlock were only looking for a way to reel the other man in or make him fall for him, but it's not that. Sherlock wants to please John because John is brave and kind and funny and strong and rumpled and delicious-smelling and amazing, and he deserves to feel good.
And that's where the fear comes in. Because Sherlock is beginning to suspect that, out of nearly seven billion people on earth, John is the only one who deserves to feel not just good, but perpetually euphoric, and sharing living quarters with Sherlock is not an obvious shortcut to that state of deserved bliss. The detective is not only aware of the gaps in his own humanity – he cultivates them. His tongue is waspish, his moods are mercurial, and his demands are aristocratic. None of these characteristics are conducive to the production of ecstasy in others. Therefore, logically speaking, what Sherlock should do is leave John Watson alone. But he can't. He can't do it, and although he is fairly skilled at hiding his emotions, the things he feels for his flatmate are making him come undone.
"Tell me," insists Sherlock, as John begins pulling the purple shirt from his shoulders.
"Tell you what?" says John. He tosses Sherlock's shirt on a chair and starts shrugging off his own. His skin is golden, and his muscles, thanks to a morning regimen of sit-ups and push-ups, are still military-taut, though they're never that noticeable under his bulky sweaters. Not unless one is skilled in deduction and specifically looking for them.
"Tell me how to bring you to orgasm. Please, John. I need to know how you sound, how you smell, what you taste like. I want to give you my hands, my mouth, everything. I want to make you ejaculate."
John gives Sherlock a dizzy, breathless grin, then sends shirt #2 sailing through the air. "Oh, fuck me," he marvels. "It's like being chatted up by Masters and Johnson. No, don't frown. I like it. Anyway, who says you get to start us off? I might want to get my hands – or mouth – on you first."
"Let me," says Sherlock. "I need to." At the moment, it's the most coherent argument he can come up with.
John considers this, then puts his arms around his friend's waist. Tentatively, Sherlock places his hands on John's bare shoulder blades, and the two men embrace.
Warm. John's so warm. He's warm and he's resting his head against my neck and he smells like Earl Grey and the chamomile in his shampoo and musk and the ozone in the atmosphere just before it rains.
"Let's take it slowly," murmurs John, his mouth against Sherlock's skin. "There's no need to do everything at once. We have plenty of time."
Sherlock nods. He explores the shorter man's shoulders with his hands. The left one is scarred. Sherlock runs his fingers over the raised starburst that marks where the Taliban bullet entered John's body. It's like a tiny replica of the Van Buren supernova.
"Who was he?" Sherlock wants to know.
"The patient. The one you were treating when you got shot."
The size and shape of John's scar are consistent with a wound caused by a 7.62x39 mm bullet fired from a Russian AK-47. The relatively small diameter of the scar suggests that the wound was not incurred at close range. There's no exit wound on John's chest, because the bullet, although designed to penetrate about 25 cm of soft tissue, hit the left scapula, shattered it, and stopped. Angle of penetration as indicated by the scar could mean that the sniper was lying on the ground while John was standing, but only if the sniper were firing at close range. This is inconsistent with the scar's diameter. Conclusion: John was on his knees whilst the sniper fired at him from above.
Why was John crouching? It could have been fear, but John is more than usually brave, so no. He could have had his legs shot out from under him first, but that's unlikely, since he has never shown any signs of serious injury beyond the bullet wound to the shoulder and the attendant limp, which was purely psychosomatic. John was a field surgeon. Why do field surgeons crouch? Because they're tending to fallen comrades. Most likely scenario: John's typically keen senses were muted because he allowed himself to become absorbed in providing critical care to a wounded patient, and he got shot.
"I don't know," says John. He doesn't ask how Sherlock deduced what happened. "He wasn't in my squadron. Just passing through. A Yank, I think. He ran over an IED in the middle of the road. After I got hit, I passed out, and some of my mates pulled me off him. Soon after that, I got invalided home. I don't know if he survived."
"You did," says Sherlock, tracing the scar.
"I'm … glad." He raises his hand to stroke John's hair.
Soft. His hair's so soft.
"Me too," says John. "I wouldn't want to miss …" He gestures vaguely at their bodies, half-stripped and pressed together. "This. Whatever this is. Us."
It's not clear who starts it, but suddenly they're kissing and John's tongue is in Sherlock's mouth and Sherlock is on fire, he's blazing, he's lit up like five kinds of apocalypse ringed with neon signs that say "Take me, John" and topped with a Christmas tree. John's tongue is breaching him. Just having it inside him feels like a promise, and it makes Sherlock's body promise things in return. He lets his mouth get wet and yielding and soft for John, hoping that John will feel welcome there, and John does, if his enthusiastic groans are any indication. Now the army doctor is maneuvering both of them backwards, towards the bed, and when his hand encounters plastic containers of luminol, distilled water, and hydrogen peroxide, he doesn't pause, doesn't flinch, just swats them to the floor and collapses on the space he has made and pulls Sherlock on top of him.
"Oh, fuck, Sherlock, you're killing me," moans John, as the detective does a slow grind against him. "More, yeah. Ungh. Like that. How do you get me this hard? It's not fair; you know it's not…"
The difference in their heights is almost all leg, so when they lie down, there's a devastating synchronisation between their mouths and hips. Having John stiff and needy and writhing beneath him makes Sherlock hot, and he throws his head back with disoriented pleasure. John takes the opportunity to work his tongue into the suprasternal notch at the base of Sherlock's throat – oh, hell, how is that an erogenous zone, must take notes for later – and then bite him on the neck. It's sure to have left a mark.
"What is it with you and my throat?" Sherlock demands, catching John by the wrists and pinning him to the bed. He's seen John staring at his neck before, as though assessing it for edibility, and it's always sent a thrill through him.
"It's so long and slender and elegant. It's like a perfect … nghh … microcosm of the rest of you." John lets his hands remain out of commission, since he wants to fuck Sherlock, not fight him, but his hips are still at liberty, and they're moving against Sherlock with breath-taking deliberation. "Take off the rest of your clothes. I have to see you. Show me. Show me where else you're long and slender and elegant…"
"Really, John. There's no … gah … reason to assume I'm like that everywhere. I'm not a fractal."
"Yes, you are, you bloody are. I can … oh God, I can feel you. You're pressed up against my thigh. Please, I need you naked. Now."
What can Sherlock say to that? Not much. He scrambles to get his trousers and pants off, while John lifts his hips and does the same. Then John pushes Sherlock onto his back and straddles him. They take stock of each other, hands glancing over skin. John has hair in places Sherlock doesn't, and it's dark gold and warm to the touch.
"Beautiful," pants Sherlock, looking up into his partner's eyes. "You're gorgeous, John."
John gives his flatmate an uncharacteristically shy grin. "I'm glad you think so."
"Don't give me that," says Sherlock. "I can hear the quotation marks around 'think.' I don't 'think,' I know." He runs an investigatory hand over his partner's cock. The head is dark purple, practically the color of Sherlock's abandoned shirt, and it's already exposed and glossy with pre-come. Sherlock rubs John's shaft gently, and a stab of desire goes through him when it twitches in response to his touch.
John shudders and moans. "I'm attached to that, you know. It's not some separate ... entity for you to enter into agreements with."
"Yes, that's what I like about it. That and how big it is. Why didn't you tell me it was enormous? I suspected, but I couldn't be sure, what with all that baggy clothing you conceal yourself in."
"Probably for the same reason you never told me you were a raving size queen. It just never came up."
"Magnificent. I knew you were about 11 stone. I just didn't know one full stone of that consisted of cock." He strokes John, then runs his thumb over the leaking slit. "Splendid, marvelous cock," he specifies.
John gives an involuntary stutter of the hips. "Guh. You're exaggerating."
"I don't think I am."
"Sherlock, will you please stop talking about it and…" Sherlock notes with interest that all of the hair on John's head is standing on end.
"And what? I'll do anything. Just tell me what you want." Sherlock is sure he can deduce it, but he'd rather hear it from that exquisite mouth.
"Anything? Fuck." John looks slightly desperate, like a gambler who's been handed a blank cheque on flash paper. It's as if Sherlock's offer might go up in smoke at any moment. "Would you suck me?"
"Ohhhh, yes." Sherlock scoots backwards on the bed, props himself up on the pillows, and licks his lips in invitation. John, still straddling his partner, staggers forward on his knees until his cock is inches from Sherlock's face. He braces his arms against the wall and rests his head against them.
"I'm clean," says John. His face is flushed and he's taking in great gulps of air. "Just so you know. I've been tested."
Sherlock gives a huff of impatience. "I know you're clean." The idea that John would do anything to intentionally hurt him is ludicrous.
Sherlock holds his partner's offering steady with one hand, then laps delicately at the swollen glans, treating himself to the desire pearling there. He knows his lover is watching him do it, and the realisation soon has him panting. It's incredibly intimate, tasting John for the first time. He tastes dark, like cloves and coffee and chocolate and adult human male, and Sherlock is half-mad with wanting him.
"Fuck," begs John. "Give me more, I need to feel you. More. Get your whole mouth on me."
Typically, Sherlock is difficult and defiant, but what the two occupants of the bed are discovering is that a consulting detective who is being bedded by his flatmate is the last word in eager compliance. As before, during the kiss, he makes his mouth wet and yielding and soft and open for John, who seems to like that, judging by the whimpers he makes. On the other hand, when Sherlock makes his mouth demanding and greedy and insistent, John likes that even more.
"Sherlock," John moans. "Please, Sherlock. Yes, more, suck me harder. Oh, God, your mouth, wherever did you get that fucking mouth? Promise you'll never take it off me; promise me…"
Sherlock wraps an arm around John's firm arse, drawing him closer. He lets his throat relax so that John can go deeper.
"What are you doing?" says John, and Sherlock is pleased to note that he sounds just short of unhinged. "Oh, God, don't let me hurt you. Sherlock, you can't take it that far in, no, you can't possibly…"
John tries to edge backwards, clearly torn between feelings of protectiveness towards his lover and a desire to come down his throat. In answer, Sherlock uses his encircling arm to force his partner forward. Caught off guard, John loses his balance and sinks up to the hilt into Sherlock's waiting mouth.
Oh, yes, absolutely; yes to that; put me down for a great, big serving of John Watson.
From under his dark fringe of hair, Sherlock looks up at the man whose scent and taste and flesh are filling him. As they stare into each other's eyes, Sherlock wills John to use him, to penetrate him and take pleasure from him and not stop.
You're not hurting me, and even if you were, I would like it.
"Yeah," breathes John. "Fuck, yes, all right." They've been making each other crazy all night, and now John is shaking with need. With a guttural cry, he gives in and begins to fuck Sherlock's face in earnest. Sherlock rumbles with contentment and makes little swallowing motions with his throat, so John will feel stimulation where he most wants it.
"Sherlock. Help me. Fucking help me. I can't. Please. It's too good."
John is clawing at Sherlock's shoulders, and Sherlock immediately has to reorganize his brain. He takes this moment with John and archives it, puts it somewhere safe, right at the hub of his neural network, so he can play it back, syllable for syllable, breath for breath, plea for plea, for however long he happens to live. It's something he's only perfected within the last week. It's taken him about a month of experimenting to develop the technique, but it was worth it, because now that he's with John, there are things he never wants to forget. He needs this moment to stain him with more permanence than John's mouth can offer; he needs it written within his body as indelibly as his own DNA.
Still sucking, Sherlock shows his partner mercy. Mercy has many forms, and here is one that is unexpected: Sherlock's long, talented finger insinuating itself between the curves of John's arse, finding his entrance, gently circling it, then pressing in.
John screams when he comes, and Sherlock archives that too. John's knees buckle and he floods his lover's mouth with his scent and his essence and Sherlock has to hold him up with both arms until he stops shuddering and pumping and practically weeping Sherlock's name. It's so hot, and Sherlock drinks him down like a great hummingbird, swallowing everything as if he's finally found a source of calories worth ingesting. He wants to find a thousand new ways to meld with John, to keep John inside of him, and this is only the second.
Afterwards, John lets his partner gather him up and lay him down on the bed, completely spent. Dazed and sated, he nonetheless manages to wrap his arms around his tall, diligent lover.
"And you wonder," he croaks, "why I like your throat."
Chapter 6: Breathe
Although still recovering from the devastation of Sherlock's mouth, John shifts his weight until he is lying on top of the man, then collapses there. Two years in a combat zone are not enough to prevent him from giggling in a very non-military way.
"John? Is something amusing?"
John props himself up on his elbows and studies the man under him. Sherlock is naked and still hard against John's thigh and shatteringly beautiful. Not, in this light, beautiful like women, but like an ice storm, when the bones of the trees are covered in sharpness.
John grins. "No. It's just … you're extraordinary. Did you just stick a finger in my arse? Expertly? On our first date?"
"Yes, well. The evidence would suggest that you enjoyed it."
"Fuck me, yes, I did. Very much." John shivers, thinking of the way Sherlock was drinking him down just minutes ago. "It's just that … you're terrifying. The way you took me apart just now, when we'd barely even kissed. You have no boundaries and no concept of personal space and if it weren't for your willingness to be touched, I'd say you had Asperger's. You're unstoppable."
"And that frightens you, captain?" Sherlock's mouth skews right. He's been addressing John by rank at odd times lately, and John can't help but think his flatmate is developing a squaddie kink.
"You're going to have to try harder than that, civilian. I love it."
"Mmm. I said 'danger…'"
"Yeah. And here I am." John grinds his hips against his lover's naked body to demonstrate.
"Yes, I'm perfectly aware of where you are, John," says Sherlock, grinding back. "Anyway, that wasn't our first date. Our first date was Angelo's."
"This again? That wasn't a date, it was a study in cock block. Plus a stakeout for a homicidal cabbie. Whom I later shot, thank you very much, so that greater London could continue to rejoice in your quite glorious arse."
Sherlock groans. "John. Your vocabulary is tragic. If this is what five years of medical school and a lifetime worth of crap telly do for a person's grasp of basic anatomical terms, I despair. Also, the line drawn between date and stakeout is arbitrary. You like danger, I like danger: what's the difference?"
"I'll show you the bloody difference," grits John. He licks a trail from the base of Sherlock's throat to the mark left by his own teeth earlier in the evening. "Let's go. How do you want me?"
Sherlock pats the bed an arm's length away. "Off."
John freezes, then dismounts. "I'm sorry. Did you not want anything for yourself?"
Oh, God. I should have known this was coming. He's willing to get me off, but it's a problem if I want to reciprocate? Did he even want to touch me?
Sherlock must be able to read his lover's horrified look, because he rolls his eyes. "Don't take it that way. Just sit."
"All right." John isn't certain what he's in for, but he's willing to give it a go. He staggers down towards the end of the bed on his knees and comes to rest facing his partner. Sherlock slinks towards him, and John thinks, not for the first time, of all things feline and predatory.
"Legs outstretched," Sherlock specifies. When John complies, Sherlock slips an impatient hand between his thighs. "Apart."
John gives Sherlock what he hopes is a wry, knowing stare, then, leaning back on his hands, slowly, deliberately spreads his legs.
Best to give him some attitude, or God knows what liberties he'll take. I mean, he'll take them anyway, but …
"Relax," says Sherlock. His expression is that of a man who is not remotely fooled. "I can assure you this is not about prostate milking."
John sputters. "You've only just learned the solar system, and you're already familiar with obscure sexual practises? How do you even know the words 'prostate milking?'"
Sherlock studies him. "In some part of your mind, you think I'm a virgin."
John tries again. "It's just that, up until today, I thought you were … I don't know, asexual? I'm still wrapping my head around the fact that you've had a boyfriend."
I wonder if Julien taught him to suck cock like sex on two legs? Because somebody did. For the first time, John is feeling well disposed towards Julien.
"The term you're looking for is not 'boyfriend.' It's 'sexual partner.' And how would you evaluate my interests now? Do I look asexual?"
Sherlock maneuvers himself into the space John has created, and drapes his long legs over John's. The two of them sit facing each other, closer than an arm's length apart, limbs entwined. Sherlock, who still hasn't got off, is completely hard. There's no point in trotting out the shopworn cliché about whether he's happy to see John or not. Clearly, he is delighted.
"You look … breath-taking," says John, fervently. "And delicious. And magnificent. And insane."
John's tongue forces its way between his own lips. A number of circumstances make the doctor this lingual: Sherlock lying on the sofa; Sherlock wearing tight jeans; Sherlock glaring at a test tube or prodding something in the fridge, for God's sake. It's not a surprise that Sherlock, naked and willing and aroused and ready, elicits the tongue salute with a passion. John's tongue is practically erect for him.
The detective stretches out a limber arm and, without turning to look, opens the top drawer of the bedside table behind him. He produces a small bottle of colorless, viscous liquid.
John eyes it with skepticism. "Knowing you, this is probably nitroglycerine."
"Lubricant," corrects Sherlock. "Any combustibility on its part is purely figurative." He takes his lover by the wrist and pours some of it into the captive palm.
"Touch me, John," he says, and the world slows down, as if these words are a gunshot.
Nngh. His voice. His fucking voice. It's like being jacked off into a piece of velvet. How am I supposed to keep breathing when this is his normal speaking voice?
John's blood doesn't know which part of him to flood most strongly with heat, his face or his already well-cared-for cock. With the world's only consulting detective draped over him and cooing like a wet dream, it's anybody's guess as to which end of John will get circulation first. He takes a deep breath, rubs his palms together, reaches between Sherlock's legs and slicks him. It's the first time he's touched another man like this. Sherlock moans, and the sound goes through John like lightning through a dry oak.
"Oh God," says John. "Sherlock…"
Sherlock says nothing, just spreads his thighs wider to allow John more access. He's searingly gorgeous like this. Desire has turned his body to rose marble, milk-white and stained pink wherever he aches and needs: nipples, lips, and cock. His pulse hammers out a staccato in his neck, bruised at the site of the love bite. John strokes him, gentles him, runs a teasing thumb over his slit. He doesn't know what Sherlock likes, so he does the things that he enjoys himself, then watches for a reaction. Apparently everything he's doing feels good, because Sherlock looks at him with so much naked desire that it's all John can do not to push him over and impale himself on his hardness.
Under normal conditions, Sherlock's eyes are a puzzle. His irises are shot through with a mercurial iridescence, like tourmaline and lunaria pods and the shining wings of insects in summer. John's never bothered to voice an opinion on what colour they are, because they're typically many colours at once. Arousal takes care of that. Irises pale as the crescent moon sliver into nothingness, leaving only an unequivocal black. He's utterly transformed, and he makes John's breath catch in his throat.
"Why are you panting?" Sherlock gasps. "I'm the one with … guh … a highly talented and insistent hand on his prick."
"Why do you think?" groans John. "You excite me, that's why. Mirror neurons. I have them, and they make me feel what you feel. So the fact that you're rock-hard and gasping and I'm finally getting to really touch you is … it's turning me on so much it hurts." And it really does hurt, although it also fills him with pleasure. Touching Sherlock, John's nerves ache and sing.
Sherlock looks at his lover with a mixture of curiosity and lust. "You feel what I feel?"
Of course. Although he's attentive to workings of his brain, he's focused on hard drive management, not empathy. His amateur neurology only goes so far.
"Yeah," says John, rubbing his thumb against the sensitive underside of Sherlock's glans. "I'm pretty sure I do. Yes."
"Well, then." Sherlock flashes John a dazed smile. "You'd best get me off, hadn't you?"
John strokes Sherlock's swollen sex with his left hand. He's touched his flatmate so often in dreams that Sherlock's length feels natural and good and right against his fingers, his thumb, his palm. Still stroking, he uses his other hand to caress the sharp edge of a cheekbone, then moves down to explore the skin over the carotid artery. He places his hand over Sherlock's heart and presses against the strong pulse there. He's not used to having a partner who is flat-chested, but he is thinking he could get used to it very quickly, if quickly means right now. He ducks his head to lick Sherlock's nipple, and is rewarded with instant hardness against his tongue.
"There's something you like about doing … that," Sherlock says, his breath hitching. John can tell from the tone of his voice that he's not being arch; he's going over the facts.
"Yeah. It's dark pink and it gets erect when I touch it, so it reminds me of something else." John tugs harder at Sherlock's firm cock to demonstrate.
Sherlock bites back a moan. "Interesting. You find it … metaphorical. You're getting off on metaphor."
"I'm getting off on you, you ridiculously hot man." John tugs at Sherlock's nipple with his right index finger and thumb, and Sherlock cries out and bows his head until it's resting on John's shoulder.
"Sherlock, are you … oh, fuuuuuuck, you are, aren't you? You're watching me touch you. Oh, God, God. That's just…" John rests his head on Sherlock's shoulder, so that he can watch too. Now their seated bodies are steepled together like a pair of hands, and the two of them look down at where Sherlock is hard and twitching in John's fist.
Sherlock lied; he is a fractal. Everything is slender and fine – his throat, his fingers, his legs, his arms, and now this, his weeping cock. Everything is of a piece, harmonious.
And yet. If John lifts his head, and looks down Sherlock's white back, he can see a tangle of raised scars there.
The lines are sharp and clear. Claw marks? They don't run parallel, so no. Too precise and thin to be knife wounds. Made with a razor blade? Yes. Evenly distributed, not just on the left shoulder, where his dominant arm can reach, so not self-inflicted, unlike the track marks on the inside of his left elbow. The pale colour of the scars suggests this happened a long time ago. Shit. Who did this to him?
"John," says Sherlock. "Stay with me." So John snaps himself out of it, puts the scars aside, and just feels. He touches his lover and finds him slick and fine-grained and smooth and taut, like wet silk stretched over a drumhead.
"Oh, God," murmurs John. "You're so … oh, fuck, you're exquisite. How can you be this beautiful? I…"
No. Not going to tell him I love him right now. Shit, I love him; I actually love him. Can't let him know. It'll scare him off and I can't lose him; I can't not be with him.
He puts both hands on Sherlock's cock now. He uses the top hand to pull up slightly on his partner's foreskin, so that it rubs against the glossy, exposed head. Instantly, Sherlock's breathing goes shallow. His hands fly up to John's shoulders and anchor themselves there.
Sherlock is moaning and babbling now. "John; Johnny; mine; sweet John; don't stop, keep going, don't stop."
John looks into eyes the colours of rain and night and sees things he's not used to seeing. Vulnerability. Desperation. Sherlock's sac is hard and tight against his body, and release can't be far off. John uses his lower hand to cup his partner's balls, while his top hand makes love to the shaft.
"Please," begs Sherlock. "Oh…"
John's hands are nimble and sure. "What do you want? I'll give you anything. Just say it."
Sherlock bites his lower lip. "Breathe into me."
"What? How? I'll do it, just tell me how."
"Your mouth. Suck in air through you nose and … fuck … breathe out through your mouth. Breathe into me. I want to breathe your breath."
What? Is this a thing? Is this a sexual practise? Maybe it's just kissing. Fuck it; whatever he wants, he's getting. Yes, hang on, I'm here for you, I'll do it, yes, let me.
John places his partner in a liplock, then does exactly what Sherlock asked of him. He breathes into his partner's mouth, and Sherlock swallows it. John feels the rush of departing air as his lover sucks his breath into his own body. He's letting the carbon dioxide render him dizzy, letting the scarce oxygen permeate his tissues, and the knowledge of this is making John as crazy as the feeling of Sherlock's tongue, frantic in John's mouth. His hands are scrabbling at John's shoulders, and now he's thrusting into John's hands, spilling over them like a waterfall as the orgasm takes him, pleading, "John, oh John, John." John swallows words like wine, and they become part of him, inexorable, undeniable, as his lover falls apart in his hands.
Sherlock lies on his side in bed, with eleven stone of army doctor curled around him like an especially cozy shock blanket.
"John?" Sherlock rumbles.
"That thing. With your hands. It was … "
John twirls a finger through one of his lover's wayward curls. "Good?" he teases, his mouth dangerously close to Sherlock's ear.
When Sherlock thinks back to the blistering rapture just visited on him by his flatmate, he is willing to concede the point.
If I were going to write an instructive monograph on partner-administered hand jobs, broken down by the career of the giver, pride of place would go to those administered by army field surgeons. The precision and dexterity required by medical work, combined with John's personal diligence, talent, and persistence, make the outcome...
"Very good," says Sherlock, with a half-smile that John, snug against his lover's back, can't actually see.
John laughs, low and throaty, and his breath is warm against Sherlock's skin. "You brazen flatterer of men. I get a 'very,' do I? You're spoiling me rotten, you know. You must be blissed out of your mind."
"Mmm." Sherlock clears his not inconsiderable throat. "Now who's the cocky one? It's clear enough that you … gave me physical pleasure. Your delight in your own aptitude for the task is merited, John, but it's utterly lacking in modesty."
Sherlock mentally winces as soon as he's let the words drop. For once, it would be convenient to have some practice in sounding romantic, rather than like a china-shop bull in evening dress. It's not difficult to identify this moment, the latest in a long line of moments like it.
This. This is the point where people tell me to piss off, if they haven't already.
John groans and rocks his hips against the taller man's unclothed backside. "You sexy bastard. Do you know you do that out loud?"
Sherlock's world wobbles slightly on its axis. "Do what?"
"Tell me that you enjoyed me wanking you off in your posh, oblivious way. Fuck. Can you just say that bit about giving you physical pleasure about fifty more times? Oh, and be really awkward about it, so that I know your brain is blown."
The detective lets out a huff of air. "Fine. You were marvelous." In deference to John's instructions, he good humouredly fidgets with the sheet.
"You too." John nuzzles the back of Sherlock's neck. "You know, I'm kind of surprised all you wanted was a hand job. You could have got more out of me, I'm sure."
"It was what I wanted. More would have resulted in overstimulation just then. It was our first time together." He can hear John trying to figure out what "first time" has to do with anything, so he provides a visual aid. He holds his hands out in front of him and lets them flutter up and down, as though juggling. "So much data," he explains.
In response, John tightens an arm around Sherlock's waist and holds him close. Their breathing is soft and slow.
"Have you ever thought about what it would be like if intelligence were sexually transmitted?"
"It's a good job it's not. You'd be a brilliant, charismatic army surgeon, and I'd be an idiot who thinks that the natural habitat for human heads is the fridge."
Sherlock snorts. "Don't make me hit you with my pillow, captain. It's undignified."
"Yeah? Bring it, posh boy. My pillow and I will own you." And with that, he and Sherlock, still curled in a comfortable pile, drift off to sleep.
In the morning, John wakes to the sound of his lover's phone ringing in another room. This is almost immediately followed by the heart-stopping sight of Sherlock vaulting over him to get to it, as though John were a turnstile or a wrought-iron fence.
Oh my God. I thought that vaulting thing was hot largely because of that coat he usually wears – all lapels and swooshing and darkness and the sound of bat wings. Turns out it's also hot when he's flying over me naked and lithe and smelling lightly of musk.
John hears his lover ranting about "icicle" – or possibly "imbecile" – in the kitchen. Although he can't make out the words, he can feel Sherlock's brilliance spilling out of him and into the flat. He loves this, loves the way Sherlock's deductions spread and grow like fast-forming ice crystals on a window pane. It's dazzling. John is not surprised that he's become stiff just thinking about it.
Oh, God. He's just too brilliant. Why does that get me so hot? I don't know what it will feel like, and I don't care: as soon as he gets back, I want him.
Sherlock is still ranting into the phone. By now, the operative word is clearly "icicle," so he's not talking to Anderson.
All right, how to broach this with him? "Excuse me, would it overstimulate you to fuck me into the mattress? Because I'd quite enjoy that."
John opens the top drawer of Sherlock's nightstand. The lube has made its way back there, and there are also condoms on top of a well-thumbed lab notebook. John plucks these out and tosses them on top of his partner's bed.
Something niggles at the back of his mind, then makes its way to the front of it.
Why is there a lab notebook in with the condoms and the lube?
Sherlock wraps up the call and begins striding down the hall to his bedroom.
"Obvious! The murder weapon was a cutting implement molded out of a special kind of ice – water with chemicals added for extra resilience, John. The weapon melted and left only the chemicals behind." He flings the door wide and frowns. "What happened to you?"
John is sitting motionless on the bed with the open lab notebook in his lap. He is grey and ashy, like the aftermath of arson.
Thousand-yard stare. Typical of soldiers in shock. Post-traumatic stress. Source of stress: Afghanistan? No. Notebook.
"So," says Sherlock. He carefully alights on the edge of the bed, next to John, who is looking less like a lover and more like a very damaged flatmate with every passing second.
John says nothing.
"Do you want to talk about this?" Sherlock asks. "People are said to find that helpful."
Again, no sound or movement from John.
"I see you've found an entry for Julien," says Sherlock, still probing for a reaction.
"Right," says John, in a voice devoid of emotion. "Twenty centimetres, did I read? Well done, Julien. And well done, you, I suppose, for landing him."
"Well, yes, it's longer than average, but you yourself..."
John cracks a broken smile. The detective has seen more convincing expressions of happiness on the household skull. He puts a tentative hand on his bedmate's shoulder, but John recoils and swats it off.
"Do not touch me," he says. "Seriously. I think I'm going to be sick."
"What is the problem?" snaps Sherlock. "Did your conquering ego need me to be a virgin that much? Did you think that I was such an acquired taste that no one else could bring themselves to lay hands on me? Am I that repulsive to you?"
"Oh, God." John presses his hands into the sides of his head, as though trying to unscrew it from his neck.
"It's not like you've never seen any action. Haven't you had women on three continents?"
"I have been involved with women on three continents. And they have been involved with me. What I have not done, Sherlock, is write up the particulars with ruthless precision, number the individual entries, provide cross-references according to sexual act, rate the experience, put down the results of any experiments, then index the whole thing by partner surname. No. I definitely haven't done that."
"All right, so I have a journal. Lots of people have journals. It's what Wilde says: 'one must have something sensational to read in the train.'"
Normally, John would be expressing interest in the fact that Sherlock, who dislikes fiction, has not deleted this information, but not now. He fixes Sherlock in a sniper's stare.
"I need to know something," he says. "Did you fuck 181 men and then write them up like lab rats? Because that is what this looks like."
"183. Some entries involve multiple partners – the twins, for example. And some individuals have more than one entry, because we did it more than once. Julien, for example. He was willing to accept me for what I am."
"Right. Of course. What you are. Again: well done, Julien."
"Incredible. You're jealous."
"You are so very perceptive. With these deductions, I can't believe you're not charging me an hourly rate."
"Yes, fine, I have a past. So do you. The difference is that in my case, they didn't mean anything. If I'm not jealous, why would you be?"
John stares at him in amazement. "Unbelievable," he says, shaking his head. "You honestly think that makes it better, don't you? The not-caring-about-them part?"
"Are you being willfully obtuse? I told them the sex would just be sex, that there was no hope of it being anything more. I never led them on. Everyone involved was a consenting adult. Why are you so opposed to this?"
John puts his hands in his hair and rocks slightly. His transition from (a) lover to (b) very damaged flatmate to (c) man having a nervous breakdown just prior to walking out on Sherlock permanently appears to be well underway.
"It should hardly be news to you," Sherlock points out, "that I'm obsessively curious. It's what allows me to do the work. What was I supposed to do, remain celibate, knowing full well that the information I forfeited could have helped to solve a case? Sexual motivations are huge in homicide. I assure you, the information was put to good use, and all test subjects were willing. More than willing, in fact. I told you, I've never propositioned anyone but you."
"They weren't test subjects, for God's sake. They were people. People you took to bed and…"
John rushes from the room. Sherlock follows and finds him on his knees in the loo, throwing up. Weakly, John wipes the back of his mouth with his hand.
"I only asked one thing of you: that I not be an experiment. I put my hand on your body and asked. You were right." He stares at the tile floor. "I didn't know how to read the data."
"Yes, you did. John, I promise you, you are not an experiment."
"Really. Is that what the evidence says? You have an entire book full of people you've fucked, and you admit none of them meant anything to you. What am I meant to conclude from that?"
"I know what it looks like, but what the evidence suggests in this case is not what's true."
Shaking his head, John slumps on the floor. "I had to wonder what that breath thing was. What was that experiment about? The effects of mild anoxia, probably."
"Kissing," says Sherlock, quietly. "It was kissing. Can we go back to bed?"
"No, Sherlock, we cannot."
"I know you wanted me to fuck you just now. You left condoms on the bed. Your ejaculate is clean, but you weren't sure about mine. Therefore, condoms on the bed mean you had plans involving me coming inside you. We can still do that. I'll make sure you come first."
John looks at him in horror. "Are you insane? No! We are not doing that now. Absolutely not!"
Sherlock, completely frustrated, stabs at the floor with his toenails. "Oh, I see: you've killed for me, you've proven you're willing to die for me, but now you won't have sex with me? Why on earth not? Especially when you don't want to kill or die, but you do like having sex, and I thought you liked me?"
John stumbles back to Sherlock's room, gets dressed in his clothes from yesterday, returns to the bathroom and begins throwing up again. When he's finished, he looks at his former partner with a facial expression that seems like it would say many things at once, if only a consulting detective knew how to read it.
"You cannot logic me into lying on my back for you, Sherlock. You just can't."
"You wanted me to fuck you," repeats Sherlock, putting his hand on his own chest. He is testing the words to see if he believes them.
"Yes. Well. Good use of the past tense." Pawing at the loo fixtures, John staggers to his feet.
Still naked, Sherlock follows him into the sitting room. "Where are you going?" he demands.
"Out," says John. "Do not follow me." He grabs his coat off a chair, puts it on, opens the door, and walks into the hallway. He's halfway to the door to the street when Sherlock, standing at the top of the stairs, calls after him.
"I am not talking to you about this now. Go back inside." Shoulders hunched, John marches resolutely to the base of the stairs.
John looks up at him with tired exasperation. Then he reaches for the doorknob.
"I have feelings for you!" Sherlock bellows from the top of the stairs.
If the married ones haven't heard the rest of it, they certainly heard that.
The army doctor opens the door.
"Let me know if you figure out which ones," he says. His voice sounds strangely muted and toneless, as though coming from underwater. And with that, he's gone, and Sherlock blinks at the place where he used to be.
Huge thanks to Youcantsaymylastname for her amazing digital painting of Sherlock's bedroom.
Thanks also to Jodi2011 for pointing out that I originally had John rush out of the house naked. Generally a good idea, but not here.
Chapter 8: Full Fathom Five
This is a tough chapter. Warnings for suicidal ideation, self-harm, and drug references. Please don't read if this material is likely to present problems for you.
Also, if you're prone to suicidal ideation, please get help. Either start by talking to somebody you trust or contact an organization such as the Samaritans. They offer phone, email, and SMS support and are easily accessible by google. To paraphrase Dan Savage, it gets better, but only if you live long enough to find that out.
Much later, when Sherlock makes a summation of all the things that go wrong on the day John walks out on him, he will remember losing valuable pursuit time – two seconds? two days? – standing on the landing and staring at the door to the street.
This is what love does to you. It makes you stupid. It slows down your reaction time until all you can do is stare at the place where the other person just was, thinking, "Any minute now, he'll be back."
But the man that Moriarty correctly diagnosed as Sherlock's heart does not come back, and Mrs. Hudson is rattling the inside knob to her downstairs flat, and perhaps it would be for the best if the world's only consulting detective were not discovered naked and distraught and door-obsessed one floor up. Such events could only result in the waste of more time that could otherwise be spent finding John.
Sherlock runs back into the flat and immediately makes another mistake. Instead of heading directly to the window, which is his best hope of gathering visual intelligence on his lover (Designation doubtful. He probably thinks of himself as my what? Oh, God: victim), he heads to the bedroom and throws his trousers on. Only then does he run to the window. Although in the past, it has provided spectacular views of an annoyed and frustrated John striding off to Sarah's, at the moment, it reveals nothing.
Not entirely nothing, no. For better or worse, it's never entirely nothing for Sherlock. Jaguar, smashed driver's side window: insurance fraud. Peach lipstick on a married woman's collar: clandestine affair with a young lady in Marketing. Abandoned wrapper of a Toffee Crisp bar lying in the gutter in front of Speedy's: man; divorce; she instigated it; he can't bring himself to eat anything but the snacks she liked; oh God, John.
None of the things he sees matter, however, because there is nothing on Baker Street with a military gait. Nothing that is dark blond. Nothing with hands that get steadier the more stressful the situation; hands that would be stable enough to perform eye surgery on a gnat right now, if only Sherlock knew where to find them.
His hands. His hands on my body. Sherlock always misses something, and right now, it's this. It's not even the scorching pleasure they inflict when they touch him; it's their solidness, their warmth. Feeling strangely widowed, Sherlock thrusts his arms into his coat and takes the stairs two and three at a time. Barefoot, he runs into the street.
Once outside, he throws his head back and inhales deeply, checking for the other man's scent. It does no good. Apparently there's been a shift in the universe overnight and all its contents now smell like Earl Grey, camomile, ozone, and wool; the sweetness of John's skin, the salt of his sweat, the bitterness of his musk, and the dark, earthy savour of his hair. Whilst vision turns up nothing on John, smell turns up far too much, and the end result is the same: nothing to go on. The absent man's scent is everywhere.
Of course it is. He lived here. Lives. He lives here.
Sherlock realises with a shock that what smells most strongly of John is him.
Snow, mud, dust: any of these would give away John's footsteps, but it's rained recently and the pavement is clear. Sherlock thinks back to what his flatmate was wearing at the time of his disappearance.
Ideally, it would have been the cable-knit jumper. It drops lint everywhere. I find its traces in the sofa, on the stairwell, stuck to my hair. But no, it was the black jumper that he wore to Julien's last night: a gift from Harry, good quality, infuriatingly intact.
It's no use. The oatmeal-coloured bit of fluff impaled on the nearby rosebush has been there since Wednesday. It's not a trail of breadcrumbs. It won't lead him, in grand, folkloric fashion, to John.
Sherlock sprints south towards the Baker Street Tube. When he doesn't find what he is looking for, he turns around and heads north to Regent's Park. Then, with Speedy's as his epicentre, he runs in ever expanding circles until he's about ready to pass out. He runs like a frenzied dog.
Moriarty was right, he thinks. One of them is the pet; the other, the master. Moriarty's only mistake was thinking that the pet was John.
Eventually, Sherlock limps back home, or at least to the flat, since home has wrapped itself in a black jumper and decamped to an undisclosed location. His lungs are exploding with air that John did not breathe into him. He needs to take in molecules – nitrogen, oxygen, argon, carbon dioxide – that have passed through John's bronchial tubes. He would take in arsenic and mustard gas if that's all there were.
He doesn't pick the gravel out of his feet. Instead, he paces around the flat until it falls off. Then he picks up his mobile.
John. Return to the flat at once. SH
Something about that doesn't seem right. Too imperious? Sherlock holds down the backspace key.
John. Tell me where you are. SH [Send]
I should be able to deduce where you are, but cannot. SH [Send]
Brain not functioning optimally. SH [Send]
Tell me where you are and I will collect you. SH [Send]
Please. SH [Send]
There is a half an hour's wait between this text and the next.
You have utterly ruined me. SH [Send]
Another ten minutes pass, with no response from the other man.
John, I love you. Please come home. [Backspace] [Backspace] [Backspace] [For God's sake: Backspace]
Sherlock wanders up the stairs to John's room and sits on his bed. He folds his knees up to his chest and rests his chin on them.
Why did John have such an adverse reaction to the lab notebook? The primary emotions he exhibited after finding it were jealousy and mistrust. But why jealousy? Sexually speaking, there have been others, but romantically speaking, there's only him. There's never been anyone but him. Surely he must sense that. And why mistrust? I never lied. When I told the others that the sex would be nothing more, it was true. And when I told John he wasn't an experiment, and that I wanted to please him, that was also true. Humiliating, in retrospect, but true.
Sherlock wonders for a moment whether John sees himself as number 184 in the series, "People Sherlock Has Slept With For Science."
He's not that. He could never be that. Instead, he is the first and sole entry on several lists, including "People Without Whom I Am Going Mad."
To Sherlock, it makes no sense for John to be jealous of say, Sebastian Wilkes. It's like a rare earth being jealous of one of the less interesting metalloids – the aptly named boron, for example – for having a lower atomic number. Why must John see himself within the context of the entire periodic table, when he is clearly the rarest of the rare earths? The metaphor doesn't quite hold up, though, because the rare earths stop at atomic number 71, and there are dozens more elements after that.
Sherlock feels quite certain that there will be no new elements after John.
At this point, Sherlock begins to try some new approaches.
First, he deduces John's latest password (Gladstone), looks up his sister's contact information, and texts her.
Piss off, responds Harriet.
He's not at her place, Sherlock realises. If he were, she would be so delighted to have spirited him away from me that she would have no choice but to blatantly gloat. He's somewhere else.
He texts Mike Stamford.
No idea, says Mike, and Mike is such an honest, straightforward type that Sherlock feels certain this is accurate.
He texts Lestrade.
I'll let you know if I see him, says the detective inspector.
He has an ASBO, Sherlock shoots back. The Metropolitan Police would do well to keep the antisocial elements of the community under closer wraps. SH.
I'll bear that in mind, answers Lestrade.
Sherlock considers texting his own brother, then soundly rejects the idea. He needs John back. What he does not need is Mycroft holding John hostage so that he can ask him a series of inane questions in one of Great Britain's underground car parks. Furthermore, John will return of his own free will. He has to.
If only I had implanted a GPS logger in him when I had the chance. Chianti knocks him out, and one more scar on his shoulder wouldn't attract notice.
It occurs to Sherlock that these thoughts are, perhaps, not good.
He picks up his mobile and starts another text.
Si cela convient ou pas, viens ici. J'ai besoin de toi. SH
"Come, whether it's convenient or not. I need you. SH"
He stares at the blinking cursor, uncertain as to whether to push the send button or not. On the one hand, he craves dopamine, serotonin, all the transmitters of pleasure that Julien – rational, practical, hedonistic Julien – can give him. On the other hand, the idea of anyone's hands on his body other than John's is making him feel, at the moment, unaccountably sick.
Sherlock holds down the backspace key. Then he heads out to the sitting room and eyes the skull.
Predictable, he tells her. It's the same thing that happened to John. He let his guard down because he cared for someone else, and that's when he got shot. Now it's happening to me, and I can see it coming, but I can't make it stop.
The skull says nothing. Doubtless she sides with John.
The awareness that romantic attraction is baseless, arbitrary, and needlessly distracting is not enough to prevent Sherlock from literally beating his head against the sitting room wall.
For a person who has just lost a lover, some courses of action are not advisable. Never, whether or not the lover in question is coming back.
First, there's sending the absent person 183 text messages, one for each of the former sexual partners that one would like him to forget.
Next, there's looking for the cocaine that used to be hidden in the right eye socket of the steer skull lamp, even if it's then discovered that the missing army doctor has since found and disposed of it.
There's also planting oneself on one's lover's bed, clasping one of his work shirts to one's face, and rocking back and forth for an hour like a metronome.
Worst of all, there's heading to the bathroom, turning on the tub faucet, and determining how to make it look like an accident.
Razor blades? Obviously not. Gore is melodramatic and liable to set off John's PTSD. Drowning is cleaner.
At the time, it seems perfectly logical. Sherlock does not want to see his flatmate leave him for good, and his flatmate apparently does not want to see him, full stop. This way, nobody has to see anybody. Madness dictates that it's a win-win situation.
Naked or clothed? Naked. Being found clothed would do nothing to support the hypothesis that it was an accident.
Sherlock strips and lowers himself. He lies face down in the tub with his knees bent and his feet in the air because his whole body won't fit on the tub floor. He turns off the faucet with the heel of his right foot. With his face submerged, he tries to will himself to stop surfacing, but his lungs keep propelling him out of the water to breathe John's air.
Brain stem not willing to submit without a fight. Best to instigate blunt trauma to the skull, consistent with knocking head on the side of the tub and then falling face first into the water.
Drowning was how Sherlock's father died. As a child, Sherlock correctly deduced that Mummy was cheating on him. Daddy thanked him for the information, then walked into the Thames, his overcoat pockets full of stones.
If Sherlock had known that the lab notebook was going to affect John the way it did, he would have destroyed it. It's too late to destroy it. It's not too late to destroy himself.
It bears repeating that for a person who has just lost a lover, some courses of action are not advisable. Never, whether or not the lover in question is coming back.
Sherlock gets to work on all of them, one by one.
Chapter 9: Thirteen
Warning: this chapter contains references to suicidal ideation and self-harm. If this is likely to present problems for you, please don't read.
Other people hunch their shoulders when devastated. John Watson is not other people.
He sits, his back ramrod straight, chin up, his hands arms quietly at his sides, at the kitchen table in Clara's basement flat in Woolwich. Except for the sitting, it's the same posture he would adopt in front of a firing squad.
Ten minutes ago, he showed up, grey and haggard, at his sister's ex-wife's door. Clara tried to steer him towards the comfortable sofa, but he brushed past it and went straight for the hard oak chair in the kitchen. Comfort would be wasted on him now. Besides, sofas remind him of dark brown hair and clever fingers and midnight violin concertos and Sherlock's already lanky body somehow expanding even further to take up every atom of space.
Sofas, thinks John. Not my area. He rarely sits on the one in the flat. There's seldom room for him there.
John looks around the room and tries to find something that doesn't remind him of Sherlock. Coffee pot? Black, two sugars. Refrigerator? That damned head. Clara's curtains? Cotton. It took me months to realise the purple shirt was cotton. There's something about the way he moves that makes everything he wears look like silk.
John snaps his eyes shut for a moment and wonders when this man became the whole world.
Clara places a hand on his good shoulder and slides a cup of tea in front of him. She fixes tea for herself, sits down, then scoots her chair a little closer.
"Do you want to tell me about him?" she asks. John stares at her yellow gingham wallpaper. He's barely aware of her left foot, quietly companionable, coming to rest against his right.
John reaches into his pocket and pulls out his mobile. He presses a few buttons, then slides it over to her, wordlessly.
He's having trouble swallowing. He reaches up to press his fingers against his larynx, but finds nothing medically wrong. After twenty years of anatomical study, it's only just now occurring to him that grief lives in the throat.
"He's stunning," says Clara, studying Sherlock's photograph. "Really stunning."
She slides the phone back to John, and John turns it over so he won't see the questioning eyes, the impossible hair, the improbable mouth. He doesn't want to see the icon that stands for unread text messages either.
"That's nothing," says John, his voice low. "You should hear him talk." He finds himself drawing out the last word and clicking the final K in imitation of his flatmate.
"Nice voice?" asks Clara. She nudges John with her foot in a way that feels like sympathy.
He nudges back. "Amazing. But that's not the half of it. It's the things he says."
"I wondered. I mean, I know you have a thing for smart. I just never thought you liked men." He and Clara have always shared an exclusive interest in women.
"Me neither. I'm still not sure I do. It's him, and 'like' doesn't exactly cover it."
I want him. I want his air in my lungs and his voice in my ears and his hands on my waist and his muddy shoes on my chair and his words entrenched in my brain. But not if he doesn't want me. Not if he can't feel for me what I feel for him.
Clara is in the process of passing John a chocolate-covered digestive, but she stops as soon as she sees John's face. What John is going through will not be solved by biscuits.
"You love him."
"Does he love you?"
John stares down at the tablecloth. "He's not capable of love."
"How do you know that?"
"Everything is a game with him," sighs John. "He told me he was a sociopath. I didn't listen."
"He told you that?"
"Not me. He was talking to somebody else."
"Someone he cares about?"
"No, someone who pisses him off." John remembers Anderson fumbling around in their kitchen during the unsuccessful drugs bust, disrupting Sherlock's delicate experiments and generally making an arse of himself. Not that it required much transformation on his part.
"Could it have been a bluff? You know, a threat display? Because that's something men do."
John is too tired to point out that posturing isn't specific to gender. "Maybe. But even if he's not a sociopath, there's something else about him. In some ways, most ways, he's a genius, but in other ways, he's a child. Sometimes I look into his eyes and I see a thirteen-year-old looking back at me."
"Full of innocent glee?"
John shudders. "You must not remember being thirteen. More like … out of his depth. Raw. Impulsive. Erratic. There are things a 34-year-old man should know about emotions, and he knows maybe half of them. It can make him seem a bit cruel."
"Oh," says Clara. "Like your sister."
John turns his head sharply. "How do you mean?"
"I mean, they told me in Alanon that a drinker's emotional development stops cold the first time they pick up a drink. Harry started drinking at thirteen, so emotionally, she's still thirteen. She'll only ever move forward if she stops drinking. Sorry, lamb, but that's how it is. Does Sherlock drink?"
"Hardly ever. He has a history of cocaine use." John thinks of the stash he found in the eye socket of the steer skull lamp.
"Could be the same thing."
John worries his bottom lip with his teeth. "There may be other addictions," he admits.
"Sex. He has a lab notebook next to the bed. It's cold, and it's clinical, and it lists all the guys he's been with. He's used calipers and tape measures and Erlenmeyer flasks and I don't know what else. There are 183 men in there."
Clara blinks. "And you're 184?"
"No. Yes. Maybe. We didn't do … everything."
"But you would have."
"Yes. Before I found the book? Absolutely. I would have done anything he let me do." John tries to determine whether he's glad he didn't let Sherlock have the full run of him, or sorry.
Would it be worse remembering how it felt to be with him, knowing I'd never have him again? Or is it worse the way it is now? John has difficulty imagining anything worse than how things are now, and he's spent years in a combat zone.
Clara runs her finger gingerly around the rim of her teacup. "Did he use the calipers on you?"
John shakes his head.
"Then how do you know that he sees you as number 184? Maybe he feels something for you. Something beyond scientific interest."
Although he remembers Sherlock saying as much, John shakes it off. "What are the chances of that? He's had some amazing men, Clara. He's got one just south of Hampstead Heath with a mansion and a basement full of medieval torture devices and cheekbones you could cut your thumb on. Why would he pick me?"
"You forget: I've seen his picture. He's already got cheekbones. He doesn't need more. Judging from his clothes, he's got plenty of money, so he doesn't need a sugar daddy. For all we know, he's also got crocodile shears stashed in the breadbox, but even unarmed, the two of you can hurt each other just fine. Why would he need Mr. Hampstead Heath?"
John stares at Clara as though she's just grown another set of eyebrows. She sets her jaw at him until he relents.
"All right, maybe he doesn't need Julien, but what can I offer him? I've got a ruined shoulder. I've got bad skin and a history of a dodgy leg – psychosomatically dodgy, mind you, which, given that I'm a doctor, makes it even dodgier. And I'm short. Women don't care, because they're usually even shorter, but he might. There's no way a man would ever mistake my height for average, not unless I was wearing stilettos."
"Well, that I'd like to see," says Clara, patting his arm, "and he probably would too. But you're forgetting something. A few things, actually."
"You're loyal. You're warm. You're sweet – don't look at me like that, you are – and you're funny. You're a first-rate surgeon. You radiate empathy, and women don't know what height you are, because they're too busy falling face-first into your big, blue eyes. You're ridiculously brave, and you don't take crap from anyone. You accept people for who they are. If I liked men at all, I would, John. So why wouldn't he?"
"Oh, he would. He definitely would. For all the wrong reasons."
Clara draws her brows together. "You don't know that."
"I don't know it, but I feel it. And I won't be that to him, Clara. I won't be something he amuses himself with while he thinks up new ways to extract human sperm. He's too important to me. Being just another body to him, another object on a morgue slab, another medieval torture victim for the pile … it would destroy me."
"Right. And leaving things the way they are, that's not destroying you at all. Honestly. I'm hardly an expert on boy trouble, but do you have to be such a … a man about this? Can't you just talk to him?"
John's mobile goes off.
"It's him," Clara says. "Answer it."
"No, it isn't," says John, picking up the device. "He only texts. I'm telling you, not even Harry is this high maintenance. Hello?"
"John," says a woman's voice. Her accent's a bit posh, but not as posh as Sherlock's.
"It's Sarah," John mouths. He turns his back on Clara and cocks his head against the phone.
"Hey," he says. "I wasn't expecting you."
"I know," says Sarah. "I was wondering if I could ask you a favour."
"Never hurts to ask." John's tone is gentle.
"Typical John," she manages. "I sack you, and you're still nothing but kind."
Her conversational partner rubs a hand over his face. "I understand why you had to let me go. I wasn't reliable. I didn't show up on time. I wasn't getting enough sleep."
"Yes, and I understand why you weren't getting enough sleep. You were … distracted. And I was hurt not to be the cause of that distraction. I'm sorry. It was unprofessional of me to take it out on you."
John bites his lip. "It's fine, Sarah. Really. It's fine."
"It's not fine, but you're a gentleman to say so. I was wondering if you would consider coming back to the clinic? You know, do a little locum work. We could use the help. You're an excellent doctor, and I won't let my former feelings for you make things difficult."
Former, thinks John. What about your current ones?
"I could use the work," admits John, running a thumb over his stubbly chin. "I'm thinking of moving out. Finding my own place."
"Yeah," says John. It's an acknowledgement that what Sarah is thinking is true. It hasn't worked out between Sherlock and him.
"Well," says Sarah, brightly. "When can you start?"
"Clara? Can I borrow your razor?"
Clara heads off to the bathroom and comes back with a bright pink, curvy plastic job clearly meant to shave legs. "Fresh blades in the cupboard," she says.
"Thanks, love," says John. "No point in showing up to work looking like I've slept under a bridge." Or under Sherlock. He shivers, remembering their entanglement in Sherlock's bed.
"I suppose it's no use telling you that the right person will come along. That you'll find…"
John snorts. "Find what? Someone like him? You're right: it won't help. There isn't anyone like him. Whatever he is, he's the only one."
"That sounds … lonely," says Clara.
"Don't make me feel bad for him," moans John. "Next you'll have me offering him pity sex. He doesn't deserve it; I do. Not that I would take it."
"Mmm," says Clara, studying his face. "A boy has to have standards."
"And pride, even if you're both choking on it. Which you are." And with that, she gives him a little push on the back to get him going in the right direction.
It's a pretty typical shift. A young woman travelling to Senegal for the first time needs inoculation against hepatitis A, tetanus, yellow fever. A toddler presenting with nasal pain stops crying as soon as John reaches into his left nostril with forceps and extracts a small raspberry bonbon. A video game fanatic gets a thumb splint and a cortisone injection for De Quervain's syndrome. It's good to be immersed in work, and it helps John ignore the texts that he knows are piling up on his silenced phone.
It's the last patient of the day that gives him trouble. The boy is fifteen years old, with dark hair, a blank expression, and a family history of severe depression. His mother has brought him here. Sitting on the examination table, he lights up a cigarette. As he is bringing it to his mouth, John intercepts it. He stabs it out on one of the metal stirrups at the end of the table, then tosses it into a nearby bin.
"Thought doctors were supposed to make you feel better," says the boy, laconically. His chin tilts upward in defiance.
"Common misconception," says John. "I thought fifteen-year-olds didn't smoke."
"Common misconception," the boy mutters. A trail of scars runs down his left arm. Each is the diameter of a cigarette butt.
"I get bored."
"I hear that a lot," says John, shaking his head. "Your mother says you're suicidal. Are you?"
The boy directs a huff of air upward, and his fringe blows in the breeze. "Do I look stupid enough to want to live?"
John breathes in. "OK, you don't want to live. Got a plan?"
The boy narrows his eyes in recognition. "Always."
"Got materials to carry it out?"
"What have you got?"
"Vodka. Pills. Tesco bag."
John ends up sectioning him. Usually, it takes two doctors to admit someone to hospital against their will, but the boy is a danger to himself, and he's well past the point of bothering to hide it. Howling with betrayal, the boy curses John out as the paramedics take him away, and his doctor has to remind himself that what he said earlier is true. Right now, it's not John's responsibility to make the boy feel better. It's his responsibility to keep him alive.
"Not the best way to end the day," says Sarah. She is standing in the door to John's office as he finishes the last of the paperwork. "Want to go for a drink? Just a drink, nothing else."
John thinks it over.
She's pretty. She's smart. Not as smart as he is, but neither am I. Neither is anyone. We could be good together. Not extraordinary, not violins at 3:00 am and sex on the roof, but good. Isn't that enough? Isn't that what everyone wants?
John slowly raises his head. "I'd better not," he says. "I've got to get home."
Sarah runs a hand through her long hair. "Of course," she says. "Thanks for coming in. Have a good night."
John takes the Tube back to Baker Street. Taxis are for people who have flatmates. If he's going to get a flat by himself, he needs to economise.
En route, he takes a look at his phone and sees 183 text messages. The last one reads, "I love you. SH." Its timestamp shows it was sent almost two hours ago.
His stomach churning, John races up the steps to the flat.
Chapter 10: Pulse
Warning: references to suicide.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The flat is dark. John fumbles for the light switch.
"Where are you?" he screams. Afterwards, asking this question will be the last thing he remembers doing in civilian mode for some time.
Grimly, as though the hot winds of the Afghan summer are on his face and heavy boots are on his feet, he begins the search. Sitting room: clear. Kitchen: clear. Sherlock's room: clear. Bathroom: Oh sweet fucking hell.
The man is lying motionless in the bath, his head completely underwater. He looks like something that has washed up on a beach. His legs are tossed against the sides of the bath like driftwood. His mother-of-pearl eyelids curve like shells, and he's as naked and self-contained as a stone in a dead man's pocket.
The center of John's world is now located in that submerged, indifferent body. He runs towards it.
"Sherlock!" he shrieks, although it's not at all clear that the collection of limbs and curls has any further use for a name. John lifts the other man's head out of the water and finds the lump near the brain stem. The pulse in the carotid artery is so faint that it could be an echo of his own, but it isn't, and John's heart rate soars at the feel of it.
Blunt force trauma to the back of the head, consistent with head striking the side of the bath. Please, God, let him live. Accident? Live, damn it. Not breathing. Get the water out of him.
It's been well established in recent months that John's wounded shoulder doesn't do heavy lifting. This would matter if he were currently aware of owning anything as commonplace and fallible as human body parts. The realisation that Sherlock is still alive has hollowed him out and replaced all his organs with force of will.
He lifts Sherlock out of the bath with steady hands and shaking arms. As he holds the taller man against him, he feels two heartbeats in the vicinity of his chest – his own, strong, and Sherlock's, desperately weak. It's as quiet as the flapping wings of a cabbage moth. It shouldn't be medically possible to feel a vibration this light stop as you are manoeuvering a patient into position for rescue breathing. But it stops cold, and the survivor feels it.
John grits his teeth. You bastard. You complete, raging fucker. Get up this instant so I can kill you myself.
John dumps his infuriating flatmate on his back on the bathroom floor. There will be time for tenderness later, either in the flat or at the funeral, but for now, there is only determination. John places his left hand palm down between the other man's nipples, places his right hand on top of that, locks his arms, and starts pounding like a jackhammer on Sherlock's marble heart.
… 28, 29, 30.
John tilts Sherlock's head back. There's a shivering moment of déjà vu as he fastens his mouth to his lover's – yes, it's all right, you can think of him that way, it will make you work harder – and breathes into him. John files away the remembrance as another thing that can wait, and keeps on working.
John's oxygen seems to be at home in the other man's thoracic cavity. He watches out of the corner of his eye as Sherlock's lungs rise once, then fall. The uncharacteristically silent man is not respiring on his own, but at least his lungs can hold air.
I thought I told you to live. John breathes into him again, then rolls him on his side. Water drains from Sherlock's open mouth.
Then it's time for another furious round of chest compressions. John alternates between pounding on his flatmate and breathing for him. At about the two-minute mark, Sherlock begins coughing and weakly slapping at him. John has never been happier to be struck in all his life.
"Let go," Sherlock demands. His voice is feeble, but his attitude seems the same as ever.
"Idiot," says John. He is crying and laughing at once. "You fucking idiot. What have you done?" John collapses next to Sherlock and presses his face against the other man's long neck.
"You're dripping on me," complains Sherlock, wiping off one of John's tears. "Stop it." Tentatively, he runs a shaky hand through short, dark blond hair.
"You deserve it." John wipes at his eyes with the back of his hand, then checks Sherlock's pupils for symmetry. When they check out, he watches the gentle rise and fall of his flatmate's chest. He touches it to make sure the movement is real, then sits up and reaches into his pocket for his phone. The #9 tone beeps in triplicate.
"There's no need to dial emergency." Slowly, gingerly, Sherlock props his lanky frame against the bathroom wall.
John grabs a towel off a nearby rack and throws it at him. "Hello, I need an ambulance. My friend hit his head in the bath and almost drowned. Did drown, in fact. I gave him CPR."
"I'm fine," Sherlock rasps, dabbing at himself with the towel.
"No, he's not bloody well fine. He's sitting up now, but he stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating and he needs a CAT scan to determine whether he's fractured his thick, idiotic skull." John takes the towel away from Sherlock and begins aggressively drying his shoulders with it.
"I'm not going." Sherlock struggles against the onslaught of terry cloth.
"I'm his doctor, and he is going. I will superglue him to the trolley if I have to." John rakes the towel up and down Sherlock's chest for emphasis.
"Oh, you'd love that," groans Sherlock. John notes that the muscles that allow him to roll his eyes are completely functional.
"221B Baker Street. Thank you." John puts the phone down. "That's sorted," he says. It's a relief to have the medical aspects of the evening taken care of, because now he can get to work on chewing Sherlock out. He folds his arms and sits on the edge of the bath.
"So," he says. "Maybe now you can tell me what this is all about." It's not a request.
Sherlock struggles to his feet, grabs his dressing gown off a nearby radiator, and wraps it around himself with all the bearing of a Roman emperor. The effect is ruined when he totters dizzily and has to sit back down.
"What makes you think it's about anything?" he demands. "Can't a man slip in the bath without it being the subject of a criminal investigation?"
The only sign that John gives to acknowledge that he has heard him is to lift his jaw and fold his arms just a hair more tightly.
"Fine," says Sherlock. "I knocked my head, sustained a concussion, and woke up to you pounding on my chest and calling me an idiot. Nothing new there. Isn't there somewhere else you should be? Your girlfriend's, for instance?"
"I wasn't in Sarah's flat, and she's not my girlfriend."
Sherlock's nose wrinkles. "You smell like her."
"I smell like work. And we're not discussing me. We're discussing you. What the hell did you think you were doing?"
Sherlock's focus is not diverted. "Since we're asking questions, what makes you think this wasn't an accident?"
John breathes deeply.
"Sherlock, this is not my first day at the fun fair. You didn't slip. There are no bruises on your back or your legs or your arse that weren't already there this morning. The bath water is cold. You always start with a hot bath – I can see the steam rising from it when you neglect to close the door – which means that you ran the water and then lay it in for a long time, working out whether or not you wanted to die. You apparently decided you did, which, by the way, was a fucking terrible idea. Really. The decision to keep maggots in the meat drawer looks like genius in comparison."
Sherlock opens his mouth, but John continues steamrolling over him.
"Then there's the position I found you in. Your back was flat, and your legs were splayed open and bent at the knees. That's how you usually bathe: first, because you're a relentless tease who likes maxing out my blood pressure, and second, because you are built like a string bean and can't stretch out in small spaces. It's not a position you would have randomly tumbled into after a fall. You were having trouble drowning yourself, so you lay down and knocked the back of your head hard against the enamel on purpose. Then you blacked out, and drowning got a whole lot easier."
Sherlock stares at him. "That's astonishing."
"No, Sherlock, it isn't. It's fucking obvious. What the hell were you thinking? You could have ended up a vegetable. Is that what you want?"
"You wouldn't understand." Sherlock looks away, as though suddenly fascinated by wainscoting.
"No, you don't understand. Look at me." When Sherlock does not turn his head, John pounces on him and grips his lightly stubbled chin.
"I don't have the luxury of deleting this," says John, quietly. "The least you can do is look at me before you do."
Sherlock glares, his lips twitching with fury. "I have never deleted anything about you."
John gives a short, sharp laugh. "Nothing? Really? Does this ring any bells? 'A long time ago…'"
"'In a galaxy far, far away. It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships…'"
"You've got to be kidding me," says John. He lets out a huff of surprise. "I thought you deleted that."
"I wanted to. I left it in my cerebral recycle bin for 24 hours, then brought it back. God, John, it's horrible. If it happened a long, long time ago, why use the present tense? Why start the whole thing with a sentence fragment? I can't even imagine. I only kept it because it reminded me of you."
"Is that why you kept your memories of our fight this morning? Couldn't you have just deleted them and not, you know, tried to off yourself in the tub? Successfully, I might add. Your heart stopped cold, and you were lying there dead in front of me."
John bites his lip. The feeling of helplessness is only hitting him now.
"I won't delete them," says Sherlock, stubbornly. "I won't delete anything about you. John, I…"
"No," says John.
"You don't know what I'm going to say."
"Yes, I do. I see the words drifting above your head, and you don't get to say them while you're concussed. You do not get to flood your lungs with water, die in my arms, and then pop back up and tell me you love me. You don't, Sherlock."
John grabs Sherlock's hand and holds it in his lap. "Listen to me, damn it. That is not love. Did you think about how I would feel when I found you? Look at my face. Take a good, hard look. Now deduce what will become of me if you…"
John's face crumples. He lets his eyelids drop and his head fall forward. Sherlock gently extricates his hand, then holds the small body close and rubs his cheek against the side of his friend's wet face.
"I'm sorry," he murmurs. "John, I'm so sorry." Time passes as Sherlock rubs John's shuddering back.
"Fucking Mycroft," John mutters, wiping his eyes on the hard ridge of Sherlock's shoulder. "Why didn't he catch this?"
"Because I made modifications to the surveillance equipment in the flat."
"You turned off the bugs? Why?" John is amazed to find himself arguing for Mycroft's right to spy on them both, but it's been a long night.
Sherlock's breath ruffles John's hair. "I wanted you," he admits. "I was hoping you and I might be intimate. I wanted to make love to you without exposing you to any undesired attention."
John's face softens. "That's … sweet, actually. Bizarre, yes, but coming from you, it's quite …"
Sherlock hears the sirens a second before John does, and John cranes his neck to catch the sound. More and more, John finds himself reacting to things because he notices Sherlock reacting to them, not because he's aware of them himself. He tries not to let this make him feel staggeringly co-dependent.
"Will you go quietly?" John wants to know.
"It depends. Will I have company?"
"Yes." John shucks off his sweater, which is soaked from wrangling his damp flatmate, and smoothes his button-down shirt. Then he rises to his feet and extends his hand. Sherlock takes it.
As they reach the sitting room, the consulting detective hesitates. The red lights shining through the windows flicker against his skin.
"John?" Pairs of boots clomp up the stairs.
"What?" John stares up into a pair of silver eyes. They look elegant and dangerous, like the headlights of an oncoming Bentley.
Sherlock's voice is deceptively casual. "Are you planning to have me sectioned?"
Many thanks to MrsMetta for her lovely and understated pencil-and-watercolor illustration for this chapter.
Chapter 11: Precious
Warning: references to cutting.
The paramedics are banging on the door of the flat. To a classically trained brain with a concussion, it's an admirable imitation of the timpani and bass drum parts from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.
They're really quite good, thinks Sherlock, momentarily waiting for the woodwinds to come in. I haven't heard Ritual of Abduction since … Wait. John.
The smaller man has made it halfway to the door by the time Sherlock pounces on him and catches him by the wrists. The two of them stare, each man's eyes reflecting the other's in an infinite loop. Rings of ether meet rings of ocean, orbiting around cores of shadow and midnight.
"I'm going to let them in," says John. He speaks softly, as though talking to a frightened animal. "You need a brain scan, and I'm going to make sure you get it."
Helplessly, Sherlock lets both wrists drop. "If you're going to section me once I get there, I can't go. Please, John."
The army doctor looks at him with steady intent. "I need you to trust me. Can you do that?"
"You left," manages the other man, running frantic fingers through the damp thicket of his hair. Was that a wail? Damn it, yes. I'm wailing. This is what my desire for John Watson has reduced me to. It doesn't soothe Sherlock's nerves to discover that his internal monologue now ends sentences in prepositions.
"I needed to think," says John. "I left for fifteen hours, and you killed yourself over it. Who is doing a better job taking care of you right now, you or me?"
"You," acknowledges Sherlock. "Always you."
"Then trust me," says John, and he opens the door.
And then of course the paramedics, frustrated percussionists all, want to manhandle Sherlock onto the stretcher and strap him in for the trip down the stairs. It's pointless, tedious. It's a medical fact that Sherlock has more leg than anyone else in the room, and even with a concussion, he is confident he could outscore the three paramedics and the combined population of their hometowns on any standardised testing instrument known to man. Of course he can walk.
Astutely giving Sherlock up as a lost cause, the ginger paramedic – the smart one, apparently – walks over to John. He rubs the back of his neck.
"Sir, it's terrible legal trouble for us if we let him walk down the stairs. If he has a fractured skull, he could fall and hurt himself worse, d'you see? Do you think you can get your boyfriend to lie down?"
Despite himself, Sherlock perks up at the word "boyfriend."
"He's not my …" says John. He looks at Sherlock in time to see his lower lip quirk. "Oh, hell. Yes, yes, he is. He is also my date and my friend and every other suggestion I've ever shot down. Sherlock, get on the stretcher."
"Boyfriend?" sniffs Sherlock, still miffed over the initial denial. It grates on him when John is not quick to acknowledge changes in the status of their relationship. "I'm hardly a boy. I suppose the popular term is lover."
John thrusts his chest out and lets his hands latch onto his hips. Sherlock is powerless against the tide of fondness that washes over him at the sight.
He's a puffed-up cat, he marvels. He does it because he thinks it makes him look bigger.
Clearly aware that Sherlock is looking at him as though he is made of fur and whiskers, John fixes him with an uncompromising stare.
"Boyfriend, lover, sugar crumpet: I am telling you to lie down on that stretcher. Now."
Reeling at the addition of "sugar crumpet" to the household lexicon, the detective makes his frostiest face. Superb, the muscles that work my left eyebrow are intact. I'll be needing those.
Realising that he needs to get out the big guns, John sidles up to him, shifting from one foot to the other. It's a sign that he is thinking about doing something he considers … not manipulative, maybe, but not exactly cricket. He lets his mouth stray, hot against Sherlock's ear.
"You're insufferable," he whispers. "Pretend they're strapping you down so that I can have my filthy way with you."
"Stop it, John," moans Sherlock. "You're getting me excited." Even in breathy mode, his voice carries, and the paramedics' jaws swing collectively towards the floor.
John turns a fascinating shade of maroon. It harmonises brilliantly with the stripes on the Union Jack cushion.
"Terribly sorry," he sputters to the onlookers. "It's the concussion." Sherlock, pleased to have thrown John off his game, trots placidly over to the stretcher and lies down.
"No trouble, Mister…" says the ginger paramedic. He nods his head, and the other two begin securing Sherlock to his temporary bed.
"Dr Watson. Call me John."
"No trouble, John. I'm Theo." The two men shake hands. "Pete, my mate – how's that for a popular term? – is as big a handful as this one."
"I doubt that," says John.
Sherlock settles into a pose of angelic tranquility.
John came back for me. He came back. Despite his usual impatience with repetition, Sherlock allows himself the indulgence of mentally repeating this sentence five more times.
In the ambulance, John wedges himself next to Sherlock's stretcher so that they can talk. Theo and the other paramedics plaster themselves against the walls until John has space to recline, his face and Sherlock's almost touching.
"You didn't answer my question," murmurs Sherlock.
"You need help," says John. He squeezes his eyes shut and pinches the bridge of his nose, as though not sure what to do.
"Then help me," Sherlock begs. "Keep me with you. Don't send me away."
"It won't work."
"How do you know?"
"Because it's happened before," snaps Sherlock. The blond paramedic shoots him a look, but Theo stares him down. Embarrassed, the blond lowers his gaze to Sherlock's heart monitor.
John opens his mouth to ask what happened, then hesitates.
"Mycroft," he says.
"Not just him. Also my mother. They both felt it would be best if I were hospitalised. She had legal guardianship over me, of course, but he was the power behind the throne even then."
"How old were you?"
"Oh, Sherlock. What happened?"
"I killed my father."
Now it's John's turn to let his jaw pivot towards the floor. "How is that possible?" he wants to know.
"I told him of my mother's infidelities. No one else seemed to notice them, but they were as clear as the state of Sally Donovan's knees. I felt it would be for the best if he knew. People have a right to know the truth, John." Sherlock plucks a morose pizzicato on the sleeve of his dressing gown. "Drowned himself. Rocks in the pockets. That's how we knew it wasn't a mistake."
Ignoring the blond paramedic, John puts a protective arm over Sherlock's chest. "I don't care what you told him. It wasn't your fault. You were a child."
Sherlock turns his face towards the wall, but John, not for the first time tonight, takes him by the chin and forces him to meet his gaze.
"Listen to me. He should gone to counseling or filed for divorce or taken up with the woman from the chip shop. He was your father. He should have done anything but what he did."
"How delightfully plebian of you." Sherlock cracks a dry smile. "In some social classes, the behaviours you mention are not an option."
"They're always an option," insists John. "What's not an option is killing yourself and leaving an eleven-year-old boy to deal with the aftermath. What you did to him was excusable, understandable. What he did to you was not."
"Possibly," says Sherlock. He's never thought of it this way before. He feels a bit nauseous, but that may be due to the concussion.
"So then what happened?" asks John.
"One day, I was collecting samples for a study of xylem and phloem in vascular plants. Conifers, specifically. I was cutting pine saplings behind the house, and the knife slipped."
When the army doctor frowns, the furrow between his brows runs especially deep. Sherlock traces the furrow with a long finger.
"So. The pain was what, a distraction? You stopped thinking about your father."
"Not entirely, but it helped me feel … detached. It helped me focus on something other than grief. For a moment, I was able to be a body, rather than just a brain. Do you know what it's like, living inside this brain? Being this brain?"
"No," says John, shaking his head. "I can't imagine."
"At its best, it's transcendent," Sherlock admits. "Other times, it's like the inside of your skull is taken up by a hamster on a rickety wheel. It doesn't eat, doesn't sleep, just runs. The only thing keeping it awake is the incessant racket of the wheel, but as long as it's awake, it has to keep running, which is what's making the racket in the first place. It knows it's not getting anywhere, but it has no idea how to stop."
"And the cut … made it stop."
"Yes," breathes Sherlock.
"So you did it again. Somewhere it couldn't be seen."
"Left armpit. I always reused the same place, to allay suspicion. It's difficult to see if you're not looking for it. More so, after the hair grew in."
John thinks back to the boy at the clinic. "And the mark on your upper left arm. It's not a vaccination scar…"
"It's a cigarette burn. Whenever it healed up, I'd put another one on top of it. Less noticeable that way."
"Where did you get cigarettes?"
"Father, at first. He left a drawer full of them. Then vending machines. Petty larceny. That sort of thing."
John groans, not in a good way. "Why did they section you?"
"Mycroft came home on break and noticed the marks where I'd been cutting. He told my mother, and then the two of them made a case to the family doctor that I was trying to kill myself."
"But you weren't."
"Of course not. Who kills themselves with a series of shallow cuts to their left armpit? It's ludicrous, John. I wasn't trying to hurt myself; I was trying to help myself."
"You were grieving," says John. "You were an eleven-year-old boy, and you didn't know how to grieve, and that's what you came up with."
Sherlock steeples his hands and frowns. "Perhaps."
"'Perhaps,' bollocks. Definitely. And then they sectioned you, and as far as you could tell, you were sent away for grieving. In fact, that may be exactly why you were sent away: for daring to express an emotional state in front of your upper-class mother, who resented you for sussing her out, and your emotionally remedial brother, who blamed you for your father's death."
"Emotionally remedial." Sherlock snorts. "That's not what people usually say."
"What do people usually say?"
"'Schooled at Eton.'"
In the hospital waiting room, Sherlock lies sprawled across four plastic chairs. His head is in John's lap. No doubt the two of them would be on the receiving end of the bovine stares of the other visitors, if these were not already directed, as one, toward the blaring communal television, with its inane offerings of cat-like bipeds from outer space.
"I need to know that you are going to be safe," says John, quietly, "and that there is no chance of you ever doing anything like this again. So this is how it's going to be.
If you feel like self-harming, you will put down the razor, or the needle, or the dodgy fugu – whatever you plan to wreck yourself with – and instead, you will tell me. If I'm not with you, you will call me, text me, get a taxi, or walk to where I am. If this is not possible, you will contact Lestrade. Failing that, you will contact Mrs. Hudson, and if need be, you will contact your brother. You will handcuff yourself out of reach of any dangerous objects if you have to. But under no circumstances will you rid me of my best friend. Promise me that."
At the mention of Mycroft, Sherlock visibly tenses. "John, I hardly think…"
"Fucking promise me."
"I promise," says Sherlock.
"I also need to know that you'll do whatever it takes to get better. If it would help you to be admitted to hospital, you need to go."
"I've already told you. It won't help." Sherlock scratches distractedly at his upper back. "I'm an adult now."
"What does that have to do with it?"
"It means I'm at the height of my powers. Imagine Leonardo da Vinci, not in a terribly good mood, being held captive by a pack of demented toddlers. How long do you think they could hold him?"
"It depends on whether he'd promised his boyfriend he'd stay."
"Mm," concedes the detective.
John watches him. "You're touching them, you know."
"The scars on your back. As soon as we started talking about hospitalisation, you started pawing at them."
Sherlock continues fidgeting. "Where do you think I got them?"
After the CAT scan checks out, and Sherlock is found, miraculously, not to have a fractured skull or even pneumonia, they go home. Dawn is just breaking as they sink onto Sherlock's small bed.
Hours later, Sherlock wakes to find himself wrapped up in his flatmate. John's cheek is pressed against the taller man's back, warming parts of it that still have healthy tissue instead of scars. His knee is parting Sherlock's thighs. But the thing that the detective notices most is that John sleeps with his hand over the center of Sherlock's chest, as though it is unfathomably precious.
As though something there is worth guarding.
Chapter 12: The Offer
Warnings: Still references to self-harm. Also, men going at it.
It's not John's first time waking up with someone on top of him. It's just the first time that person has been Sherlock.
That the person pressing him into the mattress is the world's only consulting detective is something John suspects before he even opens his eyes. For one thing, there seems to be rather a lot of leg – much more leg than any of John's women friends have had – pressed firmly into the tight space between the doctor's femurs. For another, the tongue making probing inquiries into John's ear is as pointed and clever as wit, and the hand in John's hair seems to be fingering something from Bach. Also suggestive is the fact that a murderous cheekbone woke John a moment ago, raking itself against the side of his face.
All in all, there is a great deal of corroborating evidence to indicate that the person lying on John is his flatmate, notable for his elegant frame and domineering bone structure. Proof, however, comes in the form of the long, slender, highly insistent erection asserting itself against the doctor's hip.
"Sh'lock," murmurs John. "What are you doing?" Sleep has rendered his brain as soft and woolly as his wardrobe.
Sherlock's voice is espresso laced with Muscovado sugar: rich, strong, dark.
"I'm initiating intercourse," he says. "You prefer foreplay, do you not?"
John's eyes fly open. "Sherlock."
"Don't worry; I'll give you time to take off your clothes."
"Look, can we …"
"Yes, John, we can. All of it. I'll prepare myself to receive you, and then we can get started. Unless you want to prepare me yourself."
Sometimes Sherlock says things that make John feel like he's just swallowed half a litre of his own spit. Now is one of those moments, and he coughs helplessly against Sherlock's shoulder for a good minute and a half. Once he's stopped, the detective props himself up on both elbows and studies his incredulous face.
"Ah." Sherlock sighs. "You're thinking it's not on. That's unfortunate, John. The success of the endeavor absolutely requires the interest of both parties. It's not like curling up on the sofa together to watch Mister Who, where one of us can be bored to distraction and beyond."
John has given up correcting him in matters of popular culture. "Sherlock. Look at me."
"I am looking at you. You are interested. Rather, your body is." Still lying on top of his flatmate, Sherlock rocks his hips once to acknowledge the impressive length that is prodding him in the stomach. "Good?" he asks. "My making the distinction, I mean. It's not the kind of nuance sociopathy lends itself to."
"A … bit good, yeah," says John. "Although I'm starting to wonder whether you truly are sociopathic, or whether you just said that to annoy Anderson. Clara says..."
"The two states are not mutually exclusive," Sherlock points out. "All right. References to Anderson aside, I'm determined to enjoy this morning. If you won't indulge my interest in penetration, you may as well indulge my interest in deduction."
John is not sure what is more peculiar: that Sherlock views deduction as a substitute for foreplay or that John whole-heartedly agrees.
Sherlock puts on his deduction face. It involves a slight frown flanked by cheekbones like flying buttresses. "Before you found the lab book, you took precautions that would allow us to copulate" – at this, John begins drowning in drool again – "so you don't find the idea of sex with a man inherently repellent. You're currently hard, so even after the last couple of days, you don't find the idea of sex with me repellent. In fact, you actively want it, which is what all the choking and sputtering is about. An unusual tell, but a tell nonetheless. How am I doing?"
"Haven't missed anything," croaks John. Sherlock is looming over him like a deranged Caravaggio angel in a robe from Harvey Nic's.
"So you want to fuck me, but you value something else more. Fidelity to another partner? Obviously not. There isn't another man in your life, never has been, and there's barely a woman. Your attraction to Sarah is weak, which is fortunate, given how you end your evenings at her place. You dated her largely because she expressed interest in you. You were sexually frustrated – I fancy I had a hand in that. You were also flattered. However, given a choice between spending time with her after work yesterday and checking in on me, you chose me, because you care about me, even when you're angry."
"You're not jealous of Sarah?" John raises his eyebrows in wonder at Sherlock's newfound emotional maturity. It's not as though he's got the whole "not being jealous" thing sorted himself.
"At this point? Where would be the logic in that? You've chosen me. Your primary needs in a relationship are sex, love, and danger. I can provide you with all three in a way that no one else can, least of all Sarah. Also, of the two of us, I have better hair and a more – what did you call it? – 'ridiculously plush' arse."
John's eyebrows reconfigure themselves into a fond, appraising wince. "You arrogant sod," he says.
"That's accurate sod, captain."
"Both," admits John.
"So. You're physically attracted to me, you care about me, you're not interested in anyone else, and you were previously anxious to take up sodomy. Stop wriggling, John, you'll work yourself up into another coughing fit. I haven't yet taken into account that your original instinct was for me to top you, and my current offer, which is still on the table, is to let you be the active partner. Would you accept if I offered a change of position?" Sherlock seems to be scanning John's retinas for information. "I thought not."
"Yeah," says John. "I'm interested, really I am, but…"
Sherlock places a finger to John's lips. "Shhh. Don't give it away; we're almost there. Hmmm. It's not just your jealousy over the lab book: something changed after you found me in the bath, and you're not willing to fuck me now. Stop drowning in drool every time I say 'fuck': it's distracting, and I don't know CPR. All right. What induces John Watson to sharply deviate from a prescribed course of action?"
Sherlock ponders this in silence for five seconds, then gives a sharp intake of breath. "John."
"That's … that's rather sweet."
John groans. "What are you deducing now, you impossible man?"
"What's holding you back is the same thing that made you wait before shooting the cabbie. Strong moral principle. You're concerned that I feel obligated to sleep with you to thank you for saving my life. Oh, John." Sherlock buries his face in his flatmate's short hair and helps himself to the scent.
"Can I hide anything from you?" John wants to know.
"Probably not," says Sherlock. "I know I don't have to provide you with intercourse for rescuing me; if that were true, you'd have had me several times already. Listen. I know I'm difficult. When I gave you my list of shortcomings, I didn't tell you I was going to fall for you and try to off myself in the bath. I expose you to kidnappings. I keep you up at all hours. I can't give you children. I don't always give you pleasure outside of bed, so let me give you pleasure in it."
John strokes Sherlock's back. "You … elate me," he says. "In bed and out of it. But you're so vulnerable that it's terrifying. I know you haven't had much practice at the romantic part of relationships yet, but the idea that death strikes you as a reasonable response to my going over to Clara's … it hurts, Sherlock. I can't manage without you, so it's frightening to realise that emotionally, you're about twenty-one years younger than you look."
"Ah. It is strong moral principle. My recent volatility frightens you, and you don't want to do anything to push me over the edge."
"Yes. Full-on sex would be a big step for us, and it's not a step that I want to take while you're in crisis. I can't take advantage of you like that." John presses a kiss to Sherlock's cheek. "I need to know that you are rock solid before we make these kinds of sweeping, intimate changes. If we had intercourse, and it triggered you to hurt yourself, it would destroy me."
"We've waited, John. I'm not a patient man, and I've waited for you for months."
"I know. I have too. You're worth the wait."
And then Sherlock is kissing John's nose, his cheek, his throat, his T-shirt-clad chest. John makes a strangled noise, but Sherlock shushes him.
"Let me," he says. "I won't do anything you don't want – all of you, not just your body. We'll just do the sort of things we've already done. No sweeping changes. Let me take care of you."
John takes a deep breath and lets him.
"Beautiful," murmurs Sherlock. He rubs his partner's temples with strong, clever hands until John relaxes into the touch. John lifts his head, and Sherlock paints a long stripe up John's throat and chin with his tongue. He runs a hand over John's olive shirt, then gently gnaws at his good shoulder. John feels his body come alive wherever Sherlock touches him.
"You've said that to me before," he says, stroking Sherlock's hair. "It's a bit hard to get used to."
"I've meant it before, and I'll continue to mean it. You're so beautiful to me, John."
Sherlock breathes softly against John's ear. John groans and turns to kiss him. The kiss starts out closed-mouthed and chaste, but doesn't stay that way for long. John wants something deeper, and Sherlock parts his lips and lets John in.
Oh, God. I'm gone. I'm done. Anything he does to suggest that he's open to me – part his lips; unbutton his shirt; spread his thighs; leave the damned fridge door ajar, probably – it turns me half-blind with want.
John uses his tongue to demonstrate to Sherlock what he would like to do to him, but Sherlock already knows.
"None of that," teases Sherlock, breaking off the kiss. "This is like the thing with you sucking my nipples, isn't it? I'm on to your metaphors now."
"Your mouth," says John. "Give it back." He grasps Sherlock's face in both hands and holds it steady while he plunders him. Sherlock moans. It's a primal, sexual sound, and it hits John's body like oxygen. He feels it reverberate against his own tonsils, and he swallows it down like air.
Without warning, Sherlock dismounts and arranges himself on his side on the bed, facing his partner. When John grunts a protest, Sherlock takes him by the waist and reels him in close, then continues the kiss. He wraps a long, possessive leg around John's hips and arse, as if to keep him from going anywhere.
"Feel me," murmurs Sherlock. "Feel how much I want you." John loosens the tie on Sherlock's dressing gown and pulls the fabric back, exposing him. He looks down at where his lover is hard and twitching and naked, then runs his thumb over the swollen head. Sherlock cries out.
John regrets not taking off his T-shirt and sweatpants before now. His cock is fully erect for his lover, and it fights against its fabric cage.
"Lift up," asks Sherlock, and when John does, Sherlock works his sweatpants down just enough to reveal his shaft and balls. John feels simultaneously freed and trapped. It's going to be difficult to move his legs like this.
"There," says Sherlock. His voice is sex and dark mischief. "I have you where I want you. More or less." He reaches into the top drawer of the beside table and produces the lube. Then he distributes it liberally over John's leaking cock, making sure to touch John everywhere.
"O-oh, God," stammers John.
"What are you praying for?" Sherlock asks. He works his agile thumb up and down John's sensitive underside.
John pants and thrusts. "That you'll keep doing that," he groans.
"Do you like it?" Sherlock asks.
"Good," says Sherlock. He bends his head to lick John's nipple through the T-shirt. When this hardens, he latches on, suckling. He never once stops pleasuring John with his hand.
"Sherlock … do you think…"
"All the time, John." Sherlock slides his own cock against his lover's, then gathers them both up in a loose fist. He thrusts against John, providing him with friction that is at once maddening and perfect. "Is this what you wanted?"
What I want, thinks John, is to be up to my balls in you. I want to bend you over the kitchen counter and take you, and then I want to fuck you on every horizontal surface in this entire street. And then I want to revisit those places with you and let you fuck me.
Sherlock quirks an eyebrow at John's unvoiced thought. "Well. Won't the lunchtime crowd at Speedy's be surprised."
"Oh, please, fucking please." He thrusts into Sherlock's fist.
"I can make you come like this," Sherlock says, as John's vision starts to go fuzzy around the edges. "It's well within my abilities to make you come whether you want to or not. But I'm not going to force you. Will you give me your consent?"
"Yeah," breathes John. "Do it. I want it. I want you."
Sherlock snaps his hips, setting up a rhythm. John's cock is slick with lube and precome, and his breath is coming out in feverish gasps.
"So good," babbles John. He throws his head back and closes his eyes. "You feel so fucking good against me. How do you get me this excited? I want to be with you, Sherlock, always. I want to find a thousand ways to be with you."
"You will," says Sherlock. John feels the ridge of his lover's cock head rubbing against his own; feels every curve, every line of his shaft; feel his soft skin and the hardness it sheaths. It's like heaven, if heaven is made of pleasure and heat. Feeling Sherlock, John's nerves crackle and sing.
"When you come," Sherlock instructs, "open your eyes. I want to look at you. I want you to see what I'm offering."
Thrusting frantically into the flesh prison Sherlock has made for him, John nods. "I'm close. I'm very close now. I can't…"
"No," agrees Sherlock, "you can't. It's stronger than you are. I'm going to make you feel, John. You make me feel so many things, and now I'm going to do it to you." Still clasping their slippery cocks together with his dominant hand, Sherlock uses his other hand to pin John's frantic wrists to the pillow. "Come for me."
Every one of his molecules is invaded by hot, relentless pleasure. No, not invaded – replaced. Raw and trembling, he opens his eyes. Under Sherlock's care, he is becoming something other than what he is, something made of sex and light and energy. The last thing he sees before the world dissolves around him is a pair of silver eyes. They are looking back at him with tenderness, with sweetness, with undeniable love. John has time to gasp, "Sherlock" only once before pulsing, shuddering, and spilling over his lover's hand. Sherlock moans and murmurs and sobs John's name, and then he is spilling also, coming hard and fast in the space where their bodies meet.
Afterwards, Sherlock cleans both of them up in a fit of uncharacteristic domesticity and returns to John's arms.
"Do you know what it's like to want someone?" Sherlock asks, staring at the ceiling.
"Yes. I think everyone past the age of puberty knows."
"Not something. Someone. Not sex, but a specific person."
"Yeah." John nestles into Sherlock's side.
"It's ... overwhelming. Really, it is. I had no idea. Sex is nothing in comparison. I can supply myself with orgasms; I generally don't, but I can. I can't supply myself with you. There is only one of you, and you are everything to me.
"That thing you won't let me say," he continues. "I feel it. I feel it all the time. Heart hammering, lump in my throat, skin prickling, backs of my thighs lighting up, brain racing, breathless, unable to concentrate. You told me to let you know once I sorted out what my feelings for you were, but now you don't want me to say it, because you don't trust me to mean it. It will take me a while to prove to you that I'm no longer suicidal, I'm not presently concussed, and I'm not a child."
"So where does that leave us in the meantime?" asks John, resting his head on his flatmate's shoulder.
Sherlock gives a huff of determination. "If you won't let me tell you what I feel for you, I will show you. I just did. I will keep on showing you until it's enough. Until you get it."
"And after I get it?" John wants to know.
Sherlock gives John one of his rare, real smiles. "Then you can show me."
Chapter 13: Boyfriend
Warning: Sexual content. But then, it said that on the tin.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
By four o'clock the next day, John has saved two lives and threatened to end another.
The first person John takes care of is a 10-year-old centre fielder named Laura. Fresh from a lunch visit to an American friend's house, she's covered in hives, and her eyelids and lips are swollen up like small bananas. Her eyes are glassy, her breathing is touch-and-go, her consciousness flickers like a small candle, and her blood pressure is through the floor. John pumps her full of epinephrine, then questions the friend's father, the man who brought her in, while she stabilises.
I must be picking up some deductive skills, thinks John. After a few minutes' questioning, he traces the illness to a bowl of homemade chili. Apparently, Americans will put peanut butter in anything.
John types notes into his handheld. Anaphylactic shock, brought on by allergic reaction to unexpected peanut proteins in Tex-Mex. He stays with the small footballer as she comes around, then tells her a joke about a three-toed sloth. It makes her roll her eyes like a miniature Sherlock. Eventually, her parents arrive. Once she's shaken off the shock and the abominable attempt at humour, John bundles her off for observation. She'll recover.
The second person John brings back from the brink is a 23-year-old courier from Camden. He's not a scheduled patient. He secures himself a place on the roster by wrapping his Vespa knockoff around a pole in front of the surgery as John is gazing out the window, eating lunch. Then he starts bleeding out on the pavement. Direct pressure isn't enough. Waiting for the ambulance to arrive, John stitches him up where he lays. If the rider were to die right in front of John as he finished his sandwich, Stamford would never let him hear the end of it.
Friendly, uncomplicated Stamford. Solid zero on the Kinsey scale. Best not to tell him about the sandwich. I'd never hear the end of that either. What I'd hear would be the resounding thud of him falling clean off his park bench.
The sandwich itself, an avocado and cheese number with a whimsical sprinkling of pine nuts and an extravagant layer of basil, is not the issue. Like most of John's mates, Mike favours bacon and eggs on toast, but he isn't adverse to a little metrosexuality on a bap. No, what John won't be able to discuss with Stamford is that he fished the sandwich out of the store display this morning based solely on a dirty thought. The words "creamy yoghurt dressing" on the package had reminded him of creamy, thick ejaculate streaming out of his creamy, gorgeous boyfriend, and suddenly, he was in no condition to examine sandwich labels.
I want it. I fucking want it. I want to suck Sherlock off. Why now, when I'm trying to keep the relationship on an even keel and avoid anything new? That's what Harry's counselor told me to do when she was in recovery: avoid anything jarring, anything that might set her off. Fuck. Is it new if he's already done it to me? That means it's not entirely new, right? Merciful hell. It felt fantastic. Sometimes I think I can still feel it. He swallowed, too. Leave it to him to be high-maintenance everywhere but bed. Oh, God. I want his dick in my mouth so badly I can hardly see.
By the time the motorcyclist is sorted, John is flushed and aching with thirst and ready to visit the drinks machine on the second floor. It's a poor substitute for his dark-haired lover, but then, so is rest of the universe. John checks in with Sarah, then heads towards the lift.
Right, Watson. Any self-flattery here? Oh, yeah, like wrapping your lips around his pretty, pink cock is going to rock his world. Cripes. You've never even sucked anyone off. You might be terrible at it. You probably will be terrible at it. He might not even want it right now. Wait until you've actually done it once or twice before deciding you've cornered the market on Doc Watson's Ruinous Blow Jobs, the Downfall of Sensitive Men.
In the real world, the world that contains lifts and drink machines and drab mouse-coloured carpet, the pretty, brown-haired occupational therapist coming down the hallway gives John a wave.
"Afternoon, Caroline!" he warbles. Actually, it may be more of a gargle; thoughts of Sherlock have been making his mouth water. "Won't get many more days like this, I reckon."
Caroline beams, as though something about John's facial expression meets with her approval. It appears that his tongue has been getting some air. He hastily retracts it. Hoping he now looks more like a doctor and less like a man improvising oral sex, he continues making his way down the corridor. He is striding, to the extent that anyone with such short legs can stride.
Best to remember, this is Sherlock I'm dealing with. He gets unstable in a high wind. Just watching crap telly knocks him off his rocker. Would he even have gone to meet Moriarty if I hadn't let him watch so much telly first? All those paternity test shows and detective programmes, they unhinge him. "The annihilating mediocrity," he says. I really should lock that thing up.
One of the building custodians sees John and nods. "Dr Watson, all right?"
"All right, Dan. You?" The custodian gives his assent and scuttles off.
Yeah, I'm fine. Except I'm thinking about sectioning the telly. Also, I'm trying to work out the ethics of giving head to my emotionally inexperienced flatmate, who by default is also my patient, because the bugger refuses to see a G.P. It's all right; he promises me he's no longer suicidal. How's the wife?
John wonders if it's possible to section himself. Outside the lift, he pushes the up arrow.
Maybe he's been sucked off so many times by so many men that it won't even strike him that we haven't done it yet. Great, now I'm trying to rationalise giving him stealth head. No. Keep it honest. I need to maintain some boundaries until I know he's stable – stable for him, anyway – but maybe we can work out together where those boundaries are? Must make him go to someone else for medical care, though. I'm too close.
And yes, he's going to know I haven't gone down on him before. Deletions aside, he's the most observant man on the planet. No getting anything past him except the need to eat and sleep and buy more beans.
At this point, the lift doors open. Inside is a smarmy, unctuous City type with the wristwatch of a minor potentate and the grin of a crooked estate agent. He looks vaguely familiar.
"Don," he says. "Don … Wilson?"
"John Watson. Hello, Sebastian." John hasn't seen Seb Wilkes since the Blind Banker case, nor has he wanted to. Not after Seb called Sherlock "freak." Of course, lots of people call Sherlock that, but to John's ears, it sounds slightly nicer when Sally Donovan says it.
"What are you doing here? I just stopped in to see my lawyer. You know how women are, the little vixens. Always crying 'rape.'"
John doesn't answer the question, and Sebastian doesn't care. Narcissism radiates out from the man in all directions.
Unaware that he is making his conversational partner nauseous, Sebastian presses on. "You were working with Sherlock. Still 'colleagues,' I take it?"
John stabs the button for the second floor with his finger. Hearing his lover's name come out of Seb's mouth hits him hard. He's pretty sure he saw "Wilkes" go flashing by when he thumbed through the index of Sherlock's lab book.
"Not exactly," says the doctor, his lips set in a thin line.
"That's a relief, then, isn't it? Somebody like that. Who'd want …"
I would. I would want him, and I do. All of him.
John struggles not to mentally add, At least, whatever fuckers like you have left.
"Actually, yes," he says. "The change in our relationship is a relief. To both of us, I imagine. He's my boyfriend."
Some people crack their knuckles before a fight. John cracks his neck. If Sherlock were here right now, he would see Just give me a reason, you poncy git, hovering in Lucida Sans over John's head.
Sebastian's soft, trust-fund-cushioned life has not given him the tools he needs to accurately assess the threat implicit in John's wide-legged stance, his raised chin, or the thin muscles flexing in his jaw. He laughs.
"I can't believe it! He got to you? You. I would have pegged you as straight."
John's eyes are slits. The only thing that could make them narrower now is an allergic reaction to peanut-butter-infused chili.
"I don't think you'll be pegging either of us as anything. It's none of your business. And by the way, if you ever call him 'freak' again, I will hurt you."
"Easy, now. No harm meant. All in fun. Isn't that what good chums say?"
"It's what cowards and dimwits say. I knew people like you in school. Bullies. A waste of oxygen."
"Really?" Sebastian's face falls easily into its default sneer. "I suppose there may have been people like you at Cambridge, although I can't say I knew them. Funny little plebes in cardigans, with no money or family. Had you been invited to attend, which I'm quite certain you weren't, you would have been considered quite pedestrian. Not Sherlock, though. Everyone knew he was something special."
John doesn't care what any man in an ugly, expensive suit says about him personally, but the dig at Sherlock is a serious miscalculation on Seb's part. John's whole manner changes. Before, he was gearing up for nothing more serious than a pub brawl; now it's guerilla war. Carefully, methodically, he uses his back to block the security camera, then reaches behind himself to hit the stop button. The lift shudders to a halt.
"What are you saying?" he asks, pleasantly.
Seb is airy and flippant. He's a toy poodle unaware that it's being stalked by a timber wolf.
"Oh, everyone enjoyed Sherlock, just so long as his mouth was occupied. And I do mean everyone. Your boyfriend was quite the toast of the town." Seb lowers his smirking mouth to John's ear. "Ask him if he remembers his nickname. The Cambridge Bicycle, we called him. There was no one who didn't get a ride."
Effortlessly, John reaches out his left arm and grabs Seb by the throat, then pins him to the lift wall by it. Seb flails and claws at the squeezing hand, but this only results in more pressure on his windpipe. After a few seconds, the suffocating man lets his hands fall to his sides in capitulation, and John eases up just long enough to allow him to suck in air. Of all the sounds Seb has made during their brief acquaintance, the desperate rale is the one John finds most satisfying.
John's voice is calm, conversational. "Did Sherlock mention that he has friends highly placed in the Metropolitan Police? Or a brother who can make you disappear off the face of the earth? Or a personal knowledge of eighty-nine foolproof ways to dispose of a body?"
Seb's eyes go wide. He shakes his head.
"Good. Because none of that matters. All that matters is that Sherlock's short, cardigan-wearing boyfriend spent two years in Afghanistan and can kill you where you stand."
Seb moves his lips, but no sound comes out. He is the colour of a poinsettia.
"Really, Seb. You're the most gratifying audience. You didn't know I was in Afghanistan, did you? Of course not. You're not like Sherlock. Nothing like him, in fact. You can't look at people and tell – well, anything really. You're not fit to kiss the soles of his overpriced shoes. Now. Let's see how effectively you apologise."
John loosens his grip again, but only slightly. Seb practically hacks up a lung.
A bit not good, thinks some distant part of John's brain. This is immediately followed by
"Sorry, John." Seb's speech is punctuated with coughs and gasps. "I mean, Doctor Watson. Please, I didn't mean it. I'm so sorry."
"Oh, you don't need to tell me. You need to tell my lover. Get my phone out of my right front trouser pocket, and if you try anything, I will send your balls through the ceiling as my personal gift to the roof."
Seb reaches for the phone, removes it with a delicacy unexpected in a man who has nearly been strangled, and offers it to John.
"Get Sherlock's number and dial it. Then hold it up to my mouth."
Sherlock picks up. "John." Coming from him, the word sounds exotic and solid and dark, as though hand-carved from mahogany. "How many times have I told you to text?"
"Sorry, sugar crumpet. My hands are busy. I have a friend of yours here. Would you like a word?"
"A friend," repeats Sherlock, mystified.
"All right, a sleazy, cowardly arse-monkey not fit to lick the bottom of our refrigerator crisper drawer."
"Oh," replies Sherlock. "Which one?"
"The one you're growing the foot fungus in."
"No, which rump-simian or whatever you said?"
John nods at Sebastian, who holds the phone up to his own mouth.
"Sh-sherlock?" sputters the captive.
"Oh, Sebastian, it's you. Did my flatmate put you up to this? His hand's around your neck, isn't it? Yes, yes, I can hear it."
As Sebastian continues his litany of "sorry," John can't help but notice that Sherlock's breathing quickly into the phone.
"John." Impossibly, the Voice, always baritone, is down an octave. Any lower, and only elephants would be able to hear it. Sherlock clears his considerable throat.
"You're being almost unimaginably butch," he observes.
This may turn out to be a lovely day after all, thinks John.
An hour later, John is lying on his back in his own bed with Sherlock wrapped around him in a manner that is suspiciously evocative of snuggling.
"So he's not pressing charges?"
"Nope. Too scared. Plus, who would have believed him? I was wearing a cardigan."
"Pity. I would have enjoyed watching you strangle him further during the court case. You're usually so … affable, John."
"Yeah, well. You've been rubbing off on me."
"I like rubbing off on you," announces Sherlock, shifting his hips. "Anyway, you're rubbing off on me. That case today? Pancuronium bromide."
"Yes. Or paralytic, depending on how large the dose is. Hard to detect, but not impossible, not with my methods. Next stop: cardiac arrest."
"So that's how McNaughton did it. How did you figure it out?" John twines his fingers in his lover's hair.
"Well, he is a doctor. It's how you would have done it." If John didn't know better, he would say that Sherlock was nuzzling his neck.
"What makes you think I wouldn't have simply gouged out Silverton's eyes and then performed a complementary castration on him with my knee?" Silverton had been seeing McNaughton's wife.
Sherlock gives an impatient snort. "Captain Watson would have done that. Doctor Watson would have used pancuronium bromide."
"Good to know," replies John.
There is a silence. As usual, the self-proclaimed sociopath is the one to break it.
"So, captain. I understand that you defended the tattered shreds of my virtue today. How ever shall I repay you?" Sherlock has the unmitigated gall to gaze coquettishly at John through long, dark lashes.
John puts his arms around his flatmate, then presses the tip of his nose against the other man's. Sherlock's breath is soft and warm.
"I have some ideas," John murmurs.
The sandwich, if you're so inclined, is available at Pret A Manger.
Thisisforyou has created the most amazing T-shirt design. It advertises John's remarkable talents as described in this chapter. She says, "If I ever meet anyone who laughs because they know where it came from, I am going to marry them." If you'll excuse me, I need to go find her so I can laugh.
Chapter 14: Paid in Full
Warning: Men going at it. Although I think of that as a good thing.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John lies on his back with Sherlock wrapped around him like an Armani-clad kraken.
"Excellent," says Sherlock, thrusting his hips. "You've determined a method of payment. Does this mean you're finally going to claim me? I've made myself ready."
"No, it bloody …" John rubs his stubbled jaw. "What do you mean, you've made yourself ready?"
Sherlock smirks at him.
"You can't be ready," says John. "You're completely dressed."
"You see, but do not…"
"Trust me, Sherlock: given the day I've had, you do not want to finish that sentence."
"Then tell me how I prepared myself for you. Go ahead and deduce it."
John groans. "You are fucking impossible."
"And you participated in a land war in Asia. Impossible is not a word you're qualified to use."
In answer, John tips the other man onto his back and straddles one of his thighs.
Enjoying the attention, Sherlock stretches and curves, like a cat in indolent sunlight. "What are you doing?" he asks.
"Looking for evidence." John unbuttons his boyfriend's cherry-red shirt, then pushes the sides of it apart, uncovering the alabaster skin beneath. Being allowed to do this, to reveal Sherlock's body for his own pleasure, is still new to him. He sucks in his breath, momentarily lost in the snowy flats of his lover's chest and belly.
John's distraction does not escape his bedmate. Even on his back, the taller man is wry and cocksure. "Think, John, think," he prods.
"How am I supposed to do that when you're built like this?" John runs his hands over the curved collarbones, then teases one rose nipple into hardness with his thumb. Sherlock is pale except where anatomy has given itself over to luxurious pinkness: his mouth, his nipples, his as-yet unexposed cock. His lips are soft and lush, and John is fully aware of the plush curves he's lying on. For a man whose emotions are jealously guarded, Sherlock's body is a cornucopia of unexpected generosity.
Sherlock gives John an appraising look. "Do you know that you're leering? I shudder to think what you'd look like right now if you actually liked men."
"I like you," counters John. To demonstrate, he buries his face in the furry intersection where Sherlock's arm meets his torso.
"John. That tickles." Sherlock shakes with silent laughter.
Undeterred, John rubs a cheek in one thrashing armpit, then another cheek in the other armpit. When he lifts his head, he is wearing Sherlock's sweat like a trophy. It adorns his face in two decorative stripes.
"What are you doing?" Sherlock wants to know.
John smears the sweat around with his fingers, anoints his nose and throat with it, then breathes in deeply, enjoying the scent.
"Harvesting," he says, grinding against Sherlock's trapped thigh. "Our talk on the phone got your adrenalin flowing, didn't it? I should know better than to hurt random ponces for being hideous to you, but it pleases you that I don't. Did you touch yourself? Not during the call, I mean, but after. Yes, yes, I think you did."
"I'm not answering that," says Sherlock, attempting to unseat John with his knee. "Get off. For God's sake, you reek."
Using the pressure of his thighs to immobilize Sherlock's leg, John remains planted firmly on top of it. He presses his boyfriend's wrists to the bed with one hand, and Sherlock stops struggling.
"I smell fantastic," corrects John. "This is how I'm going to wind up smelling anyway, so why put it off? Anybody within two metres of me is going to know exactly what we've got up to. I smell like you on heat."
"Males don't go on heat," says Sherlock, impatiently. "They go into rut."
I'll teach you patience, thinks John, you ridiculously sexy man.
"Male?" he inquires. "Let me confirm that for you. I'm excellent at sex checks. Won't take but a minute." Letting go of the captive's wrists, he grips Sherlock's thickening sex through his trousers, then grabs his belt buckle.
"John," Sherlock pants. "Joooooohn. John!"
Whatever argument Sherlock wanted to make, it now consists of moaning his lover's name in varying intonations as the man in question struggles to free him from his trousers. Sometimes he stretches the vowel out; sometimes he clips it off. It's like the perverted cries of Samuel Morse.
John makes short work of Sherlock's armaments – belt buckle, button, zip. He pulls his lover's trousers off fast and rough, as though unwrapping a Christmas present. He wants to work his boyfriend's cock through the slit in his boxers, but at this point, it's too stiff to comfortably fit. Instead, he slowly pulls the boxers down until the waistband is resting on Sherlock's slender thighs. When the swollen flesh springs into view, he strokes it with a calloused hand.
"In my opinion? You're a biological male," says John. "Oh, God, yes." He spits on the crook of his thumb and index finger, then uses it to moisten Sherlock's coronal ridge. The slit, already glistening with pre-come, doesn't need lubrication.
Sherlock grits his teeth and arches up into John's touch. "Yes, thank you, diligent employee of the NHS. How can I ever …"
"Shhh, I'm deducing. You thought of me and touched yourself, but you didn't let yourself come. Is that what you meant by preparing yourself for me? No, that's not it. You wanted my cock inside you. Arousing yourself would leave you pliant and relaxed, but that in itself wouldn't be enough to …"
John blinks twice, then bites his lip. "You didn't," he says.
Sherlock raises his chin and stares at John in silent challenge. Then he crosses his arms over his exposed chest.
"Raise your hips," orders John. "I'm going to feel you." As Sherlock thrusts off the bed, John works a hand down the back of his pants, then parts the extravagantly rounded cheeks. He slides a finger down Sherlock's cleft until he finds what he is looking for: the flared base of a silicone toy lodged firmly in his flatmate.
"Ohhhh, God…" says John, his voice trailing off.
"Let you live?" prompts Sherlock, helpfully.
"Please," mutters John. It wouldn't do to be ungrateful for the bounty that is his deranged, sensual boyfriend. His cock twitches at the thought of what Sherlock has done, and his trousers suddenly feel overwhelmingly ill-tailored in the front. He fingers the base of the toy. "This thing…" he ventures.
"Yes," says Sherlock. His voice is dusky and dripping with sex. "I picked the toy that most closely resembled you in terms of girth and width, then let it penetrate me."
"It's so big, John," he continues. "It's the largest one I own. I've never tried it before. I could barely accommodate it."
Scrambling for purchase, John inadvertently presses the base of the toy, rocking it. Sherlock throws his curly head back and groans at the intrusion.
"Oh, God," says John. He withdraws his hand. Sherlock sinks back into the bed in a state of rakish dishabille. He looks triumphantly ravished, and they haven't even kissed yet.
John shakes his head. "Incredible. I don't fucking believe…"
"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
"And when I examine the impossible, I notice it consists entirely of you, you glorious lunatic."
Sherlock makes as though to remove the toy, but John restrains his wrist.
"Leave it in," he says.
Sherlock quirks his upper lip. "Is that an order, captain?"
"Yes. If you take it out, I'm going to flip you over and fuck you hard, and I don't want our first time together to be like that. Now let me suck you off."
"Your mouth," says Sherlock. Realising that the toy has just been reclassified as a debauched form of chastity belt, he clenches gingerly around it. "Your utterly filthy mouth. Do you diagnose your patients with that mouth?"
"You'd be surprised what I'm willing to do with this mouth." John fumbles at Sherlock's boxers, trying to slide them all the way down his legs, but Sherlock traps his hand between strong thighs.
"Don't," says Sherlock. "Leave them where they are. The shirt also stays."
"What is it with you and keeping clothing partly on?" John asks. An image of Sherlock, much younger, touching another young man in the back seat of a car pops into his head.
Or perhaps he's shy, thinks John, because of his back.
"Don't look for the simple answer," says Sherlock. "It's nothing to do with clandestine, adolescent fumblings. It's nothing to do with my scars, either, so you can erase that from your mind."
John bypasses the opportunity to point out that he can't. "What, then?"
"It's because I don't want there to be a disconnect in your head between Clothed Me and Stripped Me. I want you to see this shirt when we're out in public and know that, underneath, I'm naked, waiting for you, just as I have been since virtually the day we met. And John? I will keep practising for you."
"Oh, fucking hell," says the army doctor, running a hand through his short hair. "Do you have to be such a distraction? I'll fuck you when I'm ready, not before. Now teach me to suck you."
"Is that really what you want?" asks Sherlock. "This particular assignation is meant to be a reward for you, not me."
"For a deductive genius, you ask a lot of questions," John replies. "Yeah, it's what I want. Honestly, I thought about it off and on all day."
Sherlock nods his assent. John kneels between his knees.
The first contact between the doctor's lips and the detective's cock is a kiss. John places it lightly on the frenular delta, the triangle of ruby flesh between the glans and the foreskin. Sherlock shivers. Encouraged, John flicks out his tongue and tentatively licks him.
Sherlock lets out a quiet moan. "More," he whispers.
"Tell me what you want," begs John, between increasingly elaborate licks.
"You," manages Sherlock, as John takes the head into his mouth.
Courting is over, thinks John. Let's get down to business. He begins tasting his lover in earnest. He laves the glans and tastes the salt and desire there. Then he works his tongue down Sherlock's length, getting him wet. He has no idea what he is doing, but Sherlock seems to enjoy the moist heat and pressure.
"Good," he murmurs, while his hands flutter helplessly at his sides. "Yes, ohhh…"
John takes one of Sherlock's balls into his mouth and sucks it. The taste is earthy. It makes John think of forest and the musky dens of animals and dark hollows that wait under fallen trees.
"Mmgh," says Sherlock, as John turns his attention to his other testicle. "John. John. Are you quite certain you don't want to roll me over and put it in me? I'm told I have the most spectacular arse."
"Hush now," says John. He returns to licking the shining head, then stops to tongue the slit. Here the taste is salty, like sea air. John looks up and takes in his lover's blown pupils, the pink flush spreading over his chest and cheeks, the trembling at his throat. Watching Sherlock when he's like this reminds John of seeing Halley's Comet on a dark, windswept beach as a young teen. He's witnessing something rare and beautiful whilst steeped in salt.
"Fucking want you," pleads Sherlock, clawing at the sheets. John's mouth goes slack at the realisation that his thrashing must be making the toy move inside him, touching him everywhere.
"You have me," says John. He takes as much of Sherlock into his mouth as he can, then pulls up, dragging his tongue along the sensitive underside. He sucks at the head, then takes his boyfriend almost to the root again.
"Yes, God, yes," cries Sherlock. He doesn't need teasing now, he needs consistency, and John is determined to give it to him. He sets up a steady rhythm of sucking and licking where the tender skin is most sensitive. As Sherlock groans his appreciation, John's head bobs up and down. He revels in the communion between his mouth and his lover's sex, and he relishes the flavour of the velvet musk.
After a few minutes, John's tongue slips, and its silken underside caresses the blunt head of Sherlock's cock. Without meaning to, the slender man bucks his hips.
"Oh," he says, eyes wider than John has ever seen them in the absence of a case. "No taste buds … on the underside. You're smooth there, just like I'm … ungh … smooth where you're … ohhh … licking me. Do it again."
Happy to oblige, John obeys. Anything to be permitted to continue to do this, to give Sherlock this intimate pleasure. Still licking and sucking, he reaches an exploratory hand down between Sherlock's legs and cups his balls. They are hard and tight and drawn up against his body.
"John," breathes Sherlock. His hips are undulating and his torso is rising off the bed. His voice sounds slightly panicked. "John, you'll want to take your mouth off me … John, I'm …"
John looks him straight in the eye and sucks. Hard.
"… having an orgasm," Sherlock gasps. Then he's whimpering and throbbing and flooding John's willing mouth with the evidence of his enjoyment. When he's finished coming, he falls back against the pillows, utterly wrecked. One of his hands comes to rest, upturned, on the pillow. The other clutches John's good shoulder.
Before Sherlock can say another word, John crawls on top of him and pointedly swallows. Then, in case the message is lost on Sherlock, he slowly, deliberately licks his lips.
"Oh, God," mutters Sherlock, amused and spent and emphatically not bored. "I've created a monster."
John bites his ear in agreement.
This chapter is offered with love and respect to AfroGeekGoddess. Also, at the prompting of Atlin Merrick, anarion, arianedevere and I all agreed to use the sentences, "Courting is over. Let's get down to business," in a fic. This is my entry.
Chapter 15: Of Love and Legible Foreheads
"John. Talk to me. Also, move over. I don't know how someone your size is capable of taking up all the space on the sofa, but that is exactly what you're doing."
When his flatmate doesn't budge, Sherlock wedges himself between John and the armrest, then bumps him to one side with what, for a slender man, is a surprisingly ample hip.
"There's nothing to say," John reports. "I'm fine."
"You're trying to put boots on your bare feet."
Bugger. Here we go. "It's not that cold out."
"Let me clarify. You always wear socks, because they're easy to come by in civilian life and you get blisters otherwise. Today, you're in such a hurry to get away from me that you're foregoing the socks. Despite this judicious time savings, you're not making much headway, because you are attempting to shove your left foot into your right boot."
John says nothing, but does let go of the boot. It thuds to the floor.
"Won't talk, captain? In front of you is a plate of rapidly cooling toast, which, despite years of experience in making said delicacy, you incinerated. You were hoping to salvage it with apricot jam, but you reached for the wrong container and then doused it with mango-onion chutney from last night's takeaway. This despite the fact that I've been adhering to strict labeling rules ever since that debacle with the human cellulite in the tapioca tin. Conclusion: you're upset."
John jabs his thumb and index finger into the inner corners of his closed eyes. "Do you have to do this right now? Can't you just be, I don't know, peacefully oblivious for once?"
"About some things? Yes. Until you interfered, I was peacefully oblivious about labeling items in the fridge. About you being upset? No. Particularly because it has to do with me."
"How do you figure?"
"You left the bed without talking to me or making the smallest gesture of physical affection, despite the fact that we were intimate last night. This morning, I have not had the benefit of your usual attentions: kissing, embracing, pinching my arse. In other words, you're avoiding me. You have refused to make eye contact this entire conversation. Unusual for a man who usually – what is the term? – eye-fucks me into the floor. Again, avoidance. Now you are trying to sneak out the door two hours before you have to be at work, without the benefit of socks or breakfast. All signs point to you being upset with me. Do you want to tell me why, or shall I keep going?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Then I will. You remember the programme on slightly-less-than-usually-crap telly about the dogs bred to have specific placements of forehead wrinkles? Ones that spell words in Chinese ideographs?"
"Pugs. Sorry, why are you on about pugs?"
Shelock arches a meaningful eyebrow in John's direction.
"Oh, right: I'm a pet now, and a wrinkly one with a legible forehead at that. Excellent. Thanks so much, Jim, for clearing that up."
"I'll thank you not to compare me to someone who hurt you."
Of course, thinks John. He doesn't mind that the man is a homicidal lunatic. He only cares that Moriarty laid hands on me. Me, specifically. Gangly bastard's barely got any moral sense, but what he has is targeted directly at Dr John Watson, RAMC. He's possessive, and he thinks he owns me. It's a bit not good on so many levels, including this: like an imbecile, I have to find the whole thing hot.
Unwilling to acknowledge the folie à deux that is the core of their day-to-day life just now, John keeps his voice crisp. "I'll thank you not to call me your dog."
"I'm obviously not saying that."
John glares. "Obviously."
"I'm merely pointing out that the wrinkles above the bridge of your nose are abnormally expressive. They spell out whatever you're feeling. Right now, they say 'anger and guilt.' You may as well purchase a neon sign in Piccadilly Circus. You're angry with me, but you don't feel justified in your anger. In order to feel more justified, you're trying to provoke me into verbally mistreating you. You'll have to try harder."
"Still not willing to tell me what's going on? Let's review yesterday. You went to work, you roughed Sebastian up in a lift for calling me 'Bicycle,' and you came home and blew me."
"I 'blew' you? How much crap telly have you been watching? Also, what channels?"
"Fine. I don't care what linguistic register we conduct this interview in, John. You fellated me to the point of climax in a performance enhanced by the circular breathing skills you picked up in your former role as a clarinetist."
"I'm glad clarinet was good for something." John picks a No. 2 pencil off the coffee table and uses it to tap out an agitated rhythm on his lower incisors.
Sherlock seems to be debating whether or not to bring up the likelihood of an oral fixation. He decides against it.
"You were upset with Seb," he points out, "because he was disrespectful to me. What you've been attempting to hide this morning is that you are also angry with me for slutting it up and generally getting a leg over from here to Whangamomona. Or, if you prefer a posher dialect, behaving in such a way as to leave myself open to charges of slatternly conduct. Although your jealousy is real, you recognise on some level that your attitude is ludicrous."
John feels something firm, small, and cylindrical on his tongue. It occurs to him that he's just bitten the rubber off his pencil. He spits it out onto the coffee table.
"My attitude is ludicrous? Mine. My attitude. You have to admit your history is a bit unusual for anyone who cannot play electric guitar."
Sherlock weaves his pale fingers through his dark curls. "Fine. I had sex with 183 men, when clearly I was supposed to be saving myself for you, the 184th. Where's the logic in that? I've never met anyone remotely like you, John. How was I supposed to extrapolate your existence? Nothing in the data suggested that there was a short, skilled, somewhat belligerent army doctor in my future, or that he would take so infuriatingly long to show up."
John rubs his freshly shaved jaw. "If I'd shown up sooner," he begins.
Sherlock waits. Waiting is something John has taught him, with mixed success.
"Would you have stopped?" John asks. "Would there have been others, or would you have stopped. At me."
Sherlock rolls his silver eyes, then closes them in frustration. John has the impression of two 20-pence coins rolling down the street and disappearing into a grate.
"What is the point of asking? You're positing a timeline that doesn't exist. If you had shown up sooner, would you have been interested? Which earlier version of me would heterosexual, health-conscious, highly educated, socially responsible John Watson have wanted? The sectioned adolescent? The twenty-something junkie? The thief?"
John explodes. "All of them," he says, stabbing his now dilapidated No. 2 point-first into the coffee table. Half of the pencil snaps off and goes sailing into the chess set, where it takes out two pawns and a bishop. The other half remains clenched in John's fist.
"Fucking all of them, all right?" he continues. "Whatever you are, whoever you are: that's what I want. It's just … for fuck's sake, how does someone like you end up with Sebastian's dick in his mouth? You're better than that, Sherlock. You're beautiful and brilliant and so much better than that."
Sherlock's face goes strangely frail, as though his delicate bone structure has turned to spun sugar.
"Ah," he says, in a voice stripped of intonation. "You knew Sebastian and I engaged in oral sex, so you decided to perform oral sex on me, thinking it would make you even. The Game is on, then. If that's all you were trying to accomplish, you needn't have bothered. He never reciprocated. Does that ... does it please you?"
"Stop," groans John. "Please stop. It's not why I did it. I can't help that it makes me sick to think of you with him. With anyone, really. I know it's unreasonable of me. I try to put it out of my mind, and yet ... Oh, God, don't answer this, but how did they touch you? I could just look it up in the book, but I don't want to. Did they use their hands, their mouths, their cocks, their medieval torture implements? Did they just lie there while you did all the work? That would be worse, actually. I don't know why, but it would."
Sherlock's expression softens. "It worries you to think that, in a state of vulnerability and self-disregard, I let a number of men use me as a sexual plaything. That's why it would be worse. You're concerned that I got hurt. Don't feel badly; I'm flattered. Your first thought, days ago, was that I was an emotionless degenerate who used others as data points. As Sally succinctly puts it, a freak. What if you're right on both counts?"
"Don't. Just … don't. You're not emotionless, and you're not a freak."
"What do you care if I am?"
"Because I love you, you idiot. I know I haven't told you, but there it is. You're demanding and maniacal and mad as a lark, but I'm in no position to judge, because I am hopelessly, helpessly in love with you. I have been since the moment you opened your mouth at St. Bart's."
As if reenacting that moment, Sherlock lets his mouth go very, very open indeed.
"Oh shit," groans John. He buries his head in Sherlock's shoulder. "That's torn it. I wasn't going to tell you yet. Please don't go off the deep end. You're not exactly stable, and I have no idea what you're capable of. I couldn't stand it if…"
"What?" John murmurs. His voice is muffled by his flatmate's T-shirt.
Sherlock picks up the smaller man's chin in one hand and stares at him. "You've told me. Before this, you've told me."
Sometimes when Sherlock is touching him, John feels like time is palpably, visibly slowing down. It's like being in a kung-fu movie where the whole budget has been spent on special effects.
"How…" John stares into eyes the colour of ghosts, of memory. He licks his upper lip.
"You tell me all the time."
"It's that obvious?"
"Yes. You love me. I know. You never stop telling me."
John rubs a rueful hand over the back of his own neck. "You would notice, you daft bugger. I have other words in my vocabulary besides 'amazing,' 'extraordinary,' and 'fantastic,' you realise. I just don't have much reason to use them around you."
Sherlock waves the idea away with a dexterous hand.
"I'm not talking about what you say. You've developed two new smile lines during our time together, solely from beaming in my direction. In bed at night, you insist on sporking me, despite the fact that it would make more sense, given our relative sizes, for me to spork you."
"Spoon, Sherlock. For God's sake, it's spoon."
"Even so. You continue holding me, even after you're asleep. Yesterday, I offered you a sexual favour, anything you wanted, and you opted to give me pleasure whilst taking none for yourself. If someone offers you money to spy on me, you refuse. If someone tries to kill me, you shoot them. If someone disparages me, you half-strangle them in a lift. Why do you think I stopped forcing the issue of whether we loved each other or not? I already knew."
"Right, then," says John. "Glad I've caught up."
"You always do," says his flatmate. He moves to press a kiss to John's hair, but John intercepts him and kisses him on the mouth.
"Superb," says Sherlock. "Now all you have to do is embrace me and pinch my arse, and we'll be off to our usual start."
In bed that night, John is still ambivalent.
"When I asked how someone like you ended up blowing Seb and people like him…"
"You're still thinking about it," says Sherlock. "I've been listening to you do it."
"Yeah. I want to know what led you to that extreme, but I don't want to know, you know?"
"All right. I'll wait until you're asleep, then tell you."
"How will that help?"
"I calculate that 54% of you wants to know, and 46% of you doesn't. There's a tone of voice I sometimes use with you that has a 52% chance of waking you up. It's close enough."
"All right," says John, huddling against his lover's back. For long minutes, they lay in the dark, nestled as close as two individuals can be without actually interlocking.
Like cutlery, thinks Sherlock, sleepily. Like two pieces of indeterminate but highly compatible cutlery. He eases back against his lover's body and lets John's quiet breathing regulate his heartbeat.
Chapter 16: Parchment
Warning: Here comes Sherlock's past. If I were to give you a summary of potentially objectionable material here, it would be roughly as long as the chapter. Expect triggers for everything.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I hope I am being quiet enough for you, John. Wake if you like; sleep if you like. Either way, you are with me, and you love me, and that is more than I could have hoped.
How do I tell you this? Narrative for dramatic effect eludes me. This is a bedtime story, so I may as well start with "once."
I have been distanced from my own story for so long that I hardly feel like I'm in any position to tell it. Once what? Once, there were people whose brains were small, and a boy whose mouth was big? Once, there was a school in which all the other students were Anderson, and nobody, to my everlasting regret, was you? Once, there was me, short and slight and different and unfathomably maladroit, and I was hated and hunted and run to ground like a fox among dogs? Yes. I suppose so.
In the wild, the isolated creature is the one ripest for attack. There are no disadvantages to disemboweling it. Its peers will not defend it in life or avenge it after death. During the timeframe I'm discussing with you, I am that creature.
My youngest self is mentally quick and socially oblivious. At first, I am cheerful, if self-contained. I practice Bach fingerings on my thigh, underneath the desk. Topology interests me, and I begin knotting my tie a different way every week; Cavendish, Hanover, Kelvin, as the mood strikes. At lunchtime, I save up drinking straws and fashion them into stellated icosahedrons, which I keep inside an abandoned custodial closet. My mother is a dancer, and I trap mice during break and teach them quadruped versions of the five basic positions of ballet. They are confiscated from me before we can begin work on Swan Lake. The other students find my peculiarities insupportable, and they make their feelings known with fists and feet.
Like love, hatred is a reagent. It first hollows me, then fills me, then refashions me from the inside out. Trapped in the cocoon of my classmates' loathing, I undergo metamorphosis. I stop eating, because students are always most violent outside of class, and a trip to the cafeteria invites mayhem. In order to protect at least one flank at all times, I begin walking down the hallway with my body flush with the wall. This looks odd and solicits more abuse. I become fluent in a number of languages, looking for the one that will best express vitriol. None are adequate to the task. I cut class and hide in the library, researching poisons, weapons, explosives.
On the day that the headmaster accuses me of cynicism, I look it up in the dictionary at home, then weep: not because I am insulted or ashamed, but because the existence of this word in a reference book means that there are others like me on earth. It is my first inkling that I am not utterly alone. For a long time, this definition remains, for me, a rare spot of hope, and I turn to it so often that the page falls out.
In the meantime, the student body is comprised of bulls, and I am decked out in crimson pants. The abuse is constant. Years later, people will ask why I don't know things a schoolchild would know: dinosaurs, the Norman Conquest, the solar system. Didn't I learn anything in primary school? And the answer, which I do not deign to give, is yes, of course. But not those things.
It's easy to be vicious. You know how people are, John. Ninety-eight out of a hundred will do whatever is easy, and the other two are idiots who only want to do what is hard. You and I are those idiots. You would have been my saving grace, my source of companionship and freedom and light, but schools like the one I attended exist to screen you out. Your family was lower class, and I gather that your parents spent most of their time attempting to rein in Harry whilst you raised yourself. People like that have neither the time nor the energy nor the knowledge to research scholarships, and at my school, you would have needed one just to order lunch. I desperately needed you, but you were not there.
When I was eleven, I murdered my father, betrayed my mother, and mildly discomfited my brother. As you know, I was horticulturally inclined, and whilst taking cuttings of plants, I began, inadvertently, to take cuttings of myself. Everyone else had been taking cuttings of me for years, but somehow, when I did it, it was unacceptable. I was bundled off to a private facility for the warehousing of well-heeled mistakes.
What cocaine was to the recreational drug scene in the '80s, antipsychotics were to the pharmaceutical one. Shots of Thorazine, which were my introduction to the mechanics of shooting up, were used to treat schizophrenia, mania, psychosis and "explosive behavior," which is a psychiatric term for uncontrolled displays of emotion. At the facility in which I now found myself interred, crying and yelling and pulling one's own hair were swiftly countered with treatment. I'm sure it's difficult to believe, but I was a sentimental and expressive child, and Thorazine put an end to my outbursts. It also made me numb: unable to care, unable to complain, and, more than ever, unable to fight back.
Other patients found my newly acquired docility … convenient. At the time, juvenile psychiatric facilities contained all sorts of inmates, from victims of abuse to sex offenders. Clinically distinct populations were not always separated. The scars on my back are enduring relics of that time. Other consequences lack a visual component.
The hospital provided me with the thorough grounding in criminal behavior that has been the cornerstone of my professional life. I wish I could say that I am grateful.
I am nothing if not a quick study. Everything that was done to me, I learned to do myself. Such is the nature of treatment. And finally, once I had perfected my ability to smoke and cut and self-inject and generally lie back and think of whatever country my tormentors wished, I was considered well enough to go home. But a manor containing two disgruntled family members and a great many servants is not, technically speaking, a home. It's merely a house. So I went to Eton.
Sherlock becomes aware of John's chest heaving against his back. His hands, which have been quietly clasped around Sherlock's waist, are now clutching at his T-shirt.
"You're awake," says Sherlock. "Have you been awake long?" He reaches his hand back to stroke John's cheek. His fingers come away wet.
John doesn't talk, only sobs.
Sherlock struggles to find words appropriate to the situation. He thinks of the time his flatmate comforted him for setting fire to the hair on his knuckles while trying to persuade the gas hob to boil water.
"There," he says. This is something that would-be comforters generally repeat, so whilst he abhors repetition, he says it again. Neurotypical people find this adverb soothing. But John must not be altogether neurotypical, because he cries all the harder.
All this weeping is for me, Sherlock realises with a shock. I can't cry, except when manipulating witnesses. He knows it's not something I can do for myself, so he's doing it for me. He's lending me his tears, the same way he lets me borrow his phone.
Shuddering, John hangs from Sherlock's shoulders like a loose coat in a high wind. Relying on instincts he didn't know he had, Sherlock takes his flatmate's hands and presses them to his chest, as though doing up a clasp against ill weather. Then gently, hesitantly, he moves his hips back and forth. This has the effect of rocking John like a boat upon water.
"You daft bastard," snuffles the other man. "You complete nutter. Are you trying to soothe me? Mycroft, take a photograph. You are."
"I'm not trying," observes Sherlock. "I'm succeeding. Exhibit A: you have regained the power of speech. Exhibit B: you have concluded your emotional outburst, despite the absence of antipsychotics. What I'm wondering now is whether it would make you more or less overwrought if I were to reconfirm that I love you."
"I love you back," says John, wiping his eyes on the back of Sherlock's T-shirt. "God, I love you so much. I want to find everyone who's ever laid a hand on you and ... well, you won't want for subjects at the morgue, that's for sure. How many years have you run around calling yourself a sociopath, you great, squishy romantic? You're terrible at it – sociopathy, I mean, not romance. You're a disappointment to knife-wielders everywhere. Were you self-diagnosed? If not, be sure to get your money back."
"No, I had help. Besides, you're hardly one to judge."
"How do you figure?"
The corners of Sherlock's mouth drift up. "How many years have you run around calling yourself a heterosexual, person who screams my name during orgasm? You're terrible at it – heterosexuality, I mean, not orgasm. You're a disappointment to skirt-chasers everywhere. Were you self-diagnosed? If …"
"No," snorts John, interrupting his soliloquy. "I had help. Help from Aldershot to Kandahar. You know, for someone who can just delete his own memories, you have remarkable recall for the things I say. Just as long they don't involve Tesco, you're on it."
"You have no idea." Sherlock raises one of John's hands to his lips so that John can feel him smiling. He kisses it, and when John sighs in response, he moves to take one of the blunt fingers into his mouth.
"None of that," says John. "I'm still trying to figure out who I need to murder on your behalf. Tell me what happened at Eton."
"Very little," shrugs Sherlock. "For one thing, I was pretty much affectless by then, which was an advantage at Eton. For another, I met Julien there, and he took me on as a special project. His father was the head of the Deuxième Bureau, and Julien let it be known that any interference with me would result in unfortunate consequences."
"His father was head of what?"
"The French equivalent of MI5."
John shakes his head. "I'm glad somebody had your back. Why did he look out for you?"
"He was like you."
"Loyal? Protective? Valiant?"
"Possibly, but that's not what I meant. He fancied my arse."
John swats him on the curvature in question, then goes still.
"You're thinking," says Sherlock.
"Yeah. Was it … all right with him? You were both awfully young. He didn't hurt you?"
"He didn't hurt me," confirms Sherlock.
"He loved you," says John, trying to understand.
"Love is not part of Julien's repertoire. He's like …"
Every muscle in John's body tightens, and Sherlock feels it. A bit not good, he thinks.
"Not like I am," corrects Sherlock. "Like I was, before I met you. Exactly like I was. He was good for me, really. He didn't love me, or act like he owned me, or get histrionic over me. We were just two similar, under-supervised young people who enjoyed fucking."
John remains rigid, and not in the manner Sherlock would prefer.
"John, stop. Relax. Trust me. I'm with you, now."
"Sorry," says John. "It's just … sometimes I start thinking about your experiments. I don't want to be one of them. If that's all I could be to you, I'd take it, but I wouldn't be happy about it. I know you wouldn't intentionally lie to me about this, but you admit you have no prior experience with romantic love. How do you know this is it? How do you know you're not going to wake up next week and realise it's something else?"
"I don't see what else it could be. I'm intimately familiar with all the other emotions, so by the process of elimination … oh, hell. That's not helping, is it? Fine. I love you, John. I'm sure of it."
Sherlock reaches behind him and places a hand on John's hipbone. He grasps it like a handle.
"This … burning? This sense of purpose? This determination to write your name on my body, on my heart, in every corner of my neural net? You can't imagine the depth of my feeling for you. I swear to you, John, if this is not love, then there is no love on earth."
"That's good," says John. He nestles softly against Sherlock's back, all tension gone.
Sherlock grins. "Does that mean that you'll fuck me?"
John nips the back of his neck. "This again. Get another GP and I'll fuck you. I don't fuck my patients."
"So now I don't get anal sex unless I turn myself over to the NHS? Blackmail doesn't suit you, John."
"Maybe not, but it suits you fine, doesn't it? Sally's right; crime gets you hot. What can Moriarty give you that I can't, eh? I'll give you everything, cardigan or not. I'll get an ASBO for you. I'll commit blackmail for you. I'll lay out the bodies of your enemies on the pavement like a tomcat stacking up mice."
Sherlock groans. "You are the worst possible flatmate. You learn my kinks, you keep me in a perpetual state of sexual desire, and then you make it clear you won't put out."
"Fine. Don't get another doctor. You'll just have to do without my resplendent cock breaching you and servicing you and filling your arse with spunk. See if I care."
Sherlock considers this. "Is Sarah taking new patients?"
"Oh, God. This is a rivalry thing, isn't it? You just want her to see you naked."
"Absolutely. I can be rather imposing unclad. If seeing me in my glory doesn't put an end to her fantasies of wooing you back to her lair of sofa-imposed chastity, nothing will."
"You're making me forget that you haven't told me about uni yet. How did you go from just Julien to …"
"Being the belle of the ball? I grew."
"I grew. Six inches. The summer after sixth form. I became…"
"I was going to say tall. There was more of me, so that it was easier for people to decide if they liked what I had to offer from further away."
"So, yeah. Fucking gorgeous. And I suppose you became lithe and lightly muscled all over, the way you are now? And your skin got even paler and your throat got longer and your arse filled out?"
"Possibly," admits Sherlock. "John, you're dripping drool down the back of my neck."
"So you went off to Cambridge," says John. "And suddenly, instead of scorn in everyone's eyes, you saw…"
"And nobody was offended by how bright and quirky you were, because it's all right to be bright and quirky at Cambridge. It's a status symbol there. You'd picked up a bit of charm and suavity and sexual confidence from Julien, the cosmopolitan lothario of sixth-form, and you followed him to uni. Suddenly, people wanted to be with you, instead of as far away from you as possible. And it became…"
"A game. Of course. The question becomes, how many of them can you get to bed you? The thickies, the norms. No offense John, but even at Cambridge, that's the bulk of who's there. Dullards. Simpletons. And after years of them controlling you, you begin to wonder – how many of them can you control? How many of them will beg for it? How many of them will crawl for it? The arrogant ones? The 'straight' ones? The professors? The Nobel laureates? The foreign royalty?"
"With that body?" John scrapes his upper teeth against Sherlock's shoulder in a gesture of possession. "Fucking all of them, I'd imagine."
"Almost all of them. There was one in particular who wasn't interested. He was smart. A scholarship student. Those are the smart ones, John. He had no family connections, no money, nothing. He dressed abominably and worked in the dining hall twenty hours a week. He was brilliant."
"So when Julien said that I was a bit of rough, and your type…"
"That's what he meant. I always had my eye on the scholarship students, because they were cocky and tough and used to surviving on their wits and up for just about anything. They weren't concerned about preserving their family name, because there was nothing there to preserve. They weren't concerned, full stop. You don't find that among the legacies."
"So you fucked …"
"Rather a lot of people."
"I'm gay, John. Just because I trash the flat on a regular basis doesn't mean I'm not gay."
"And you're not concerned about the lack of data?" Belatedly, John slaps a hand over his own mouth. "Why am I asking that? The last thing I need is you discovering that there's a whole other gender to have sex with."
"No, I'm not concerned. The bulk of intercourse involves either pushing a cock into someone or letting them push a cock into you. I've covered both options in detail. There's sex between women, of course, but I was never a candidate for that."
"That's an ... interesting perspective."
"May I ask a question? How did you not die? Hepatitis, HIV. Isn't it dangerous having a different dick up you every day?"
Despite the fact that John is not in a position to see him do it, Sherlock arches an eyebrow. "Just because I'm desperate to have your cock in me doesn't mean that I'm primarily a bottom. Contrary to what Seb may have told you, I'm usually a top."
John gives his earlobe a meditative lick. "Still. Not very safe."
"Safety does not rank high on my list of priorities. It never has, which is just as well, because I've never had it. My first ten or so partners were rather gentlemanly, and they used protection for my benefit. As I became less discerning, I acquired the reputation that Sebastian described to you in the lift, plus the accompanying nickname. At that point, any prospective bedmates could be relied upon to slap a condom on every erection that hove into view, purely out of self-preservation."
"And the drugs?"
"God, yes. The drugs. Do you have any idea how many drugs you can get when you are young, willing, and – their word, not mine – 'pretty'? So many drugs, John."
"It's a miracle you didn't die."
Sherlock picks at his fingernails. "Miracles presuppose the existence of a benevolent diety with supernatural powers. Have you seen evidence to support the existence of an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful creator? Wouldn't this creator's supposed magnum opus, a demonstrably bad, ignorant, and impotent world, undermine this hypothesis? My continued existence is not miraculous. It's merely unexpected. Above all, to me."
John brooks no argument. "Your existence is miraculous. To me, it is. You're completely amazing."
He runs a hand down Sherlock's side, just to make sure he is actually there. When his palm reaches the back of Sherlock's thigh, he stops. The skin there feels different to everywhere else. So soft, so smooth, so fine. It's as if neither Sherlock nor anyone else has ever thought to hurt him there. It feels … untouched, and John knows that if he were to look at it, he'd find it white and unmarked by scars. A blank page. A story waiting to be written. Parchment.
This chapter is for Skyfullofstars.
Chapter 17: Lullaby
Warnings for ambiguous consent and men getting it on.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sherlock wakes to find his flatmate's hand planted squarely above the consulting detective's heart, as though in unconscious mimicry of Holmes's makeshift polygraph test. From Sherlock's point of view, this version of the do-it-yourself, biology-based lie detector is an upgrade. During the last implementation of said testing instrument, he and John were clothed, and much data was lost. Now they're naked and pressed back to front, in grand spork fashion. This is a potential boon to science.
With so much adjacent skin, it would be easy for John to simultaneously check Sherlock's chest, shoulders, waist, arse and thighs for vital signs. Pulse and respiration are the same everywhere, but Sherlock's temperature and perspiration levels differ from place to place. He's drier on the backs of his hands, moister under his arms, cooler at the brow, and hotter between his thighs. Armed with this information, John would now know more about Sherlock than anyone ever has, but for the fact that he is completely and utterly asleep.
It's the rhythm of John's breath, soft and warm against the back of his flatmate's neck, that gives him away. Each gust contains a different message. One says, "Rest." Another says, "Safe." Another says, "Love." John dozes, and his cock dozes too, its unaroused form nestled cozily against his flatmate's behind. Being held like this feels romantic and chaste, and the detective heaves a contented sigh. Three months ago, he had no idea that his sighs – those harbingers of annoyance, of petulance, of incredulity at the ceaseless stupidity that encumbers the earth – could be contented, but with the addition of John to the household, they often are.
For once in his life, Sherlock feels as though he could go back to sleep. He lets his muscles go limp and settles back against his beloved. He doesn't weigh much for a tall man, but all the weight he has, he lets John bear for him. This has unintended consequences.
As Sherlock shifts against him, John starts to get hard.
Sherlock feels John's cock twitch and decides that it will soon return to its neutral state.
It encounters Sherlock's lavish backside and apparently likes it, because it stiffens, pokes, tries to uncrook itself. The two men are pressed together so tightly that it would be impossible to slip a piece of paper between them, let alone a rapidly filling prick. Still sleeping, John prods Sherlock in the arse and moans. The sound contains desire flecked with complaint.
It would hurt John to stay like this, cock forced downward, humbled against Sherlock's insolent flesh. Contrary to everything Sherlock has ever said and believed about his own mental make-up, it bothers him when John hurts. John got a paper cut last week, and Sherlock experienced it as a stab in the eye. He's no longer in any position to quibble with his boyfriend over what is or isn't psychosomatic.
So Sherlock scoots his hips forward a bit, giving John's growing erection as much space as it needs to spring free. As soon as it has righted itself, its owner leans forward and makes a highly uncharacteristic noise. The sound is low and gruff and possessive. Sherlock's eyes widen, and before he can make a retort, he finds himself yanked back into position, his arse flush with John's hips.
Sherlock has heard John make a number of vocalisations during their time together. Meaningful coughs: sure. Undignified giggles: certainly. Vehement swears: oh, God, yes, and often before breakfast. But never before has he heard him flat-out growl, as he does when Sherlock pulls away, then grunt with satisfaction, as he does once he has Sherlock pinned again.
Whilst John himself is still out cold, his massive cock is now standing guard. This third flatmate is, at present, digging into Sherlock's rather cushiony behind. Just the right buttock – not in between the cheeks, thank heavens, because that would be untenable. Impossible, even. The consulting detective would have no choice but to lie back and let himself get fucked into Ash Wednesday by his desirous boyfriend.
Because underneath his etiquette and professionalism and morality, that's what John wants, isn't it? To hold him down and take him? To spread his legs and work him open and hold court within his trembling body?
Perhaps. Perhaps not.
For most of his life, Sherlock has done whatever he wants, and he expects others to do the same. That John has yet to shag him on the kitchen table leaves the sincerity of his desire open to question. Prior to this nascent romance, the army doctor has availed himself only of women, and it annoys Sherlock that he has nothing to offer in this arena. Whilst on the surface, Sherlock is a creature of contradictions – sinews and silk, planes and curves, hard words and lush lips – the reality is much less complicated. Mentally and biologically, he's 100% male, and the thickening rod between his legs is only making him more identifiable as such by the minute.
How can he want me? Sherlock thinks. I'm nothing like his previous conquests. He's also different to mine. It's either a bad sign or a good one. After all, those dalliances didn't last. For both of us, our previous partners weren't enough. Is this enough?
Moaning, John thrusts against the smooth skin of his arse.
It certainly feels like enough. It feels like heaven, actually, but a low rung of it: one relying on frot and dispensing with penetration. John is breathing harder now. His lips part against the back of his lover's neck, seeking more oxygen, and his cock ruts blindly, seeking more of Sherlock.
Physically, John has no idea what he's doing. Morally, neither does Sherlock.
What am I supposed to do? Does he want me to wake him? I don't want to wake him; I want to learn about him. What liberties might John take without the hobble of consciousness? If it weren't for the filter of his misplaced and somewhat inconsistent professionalism, what would John Watson do with me? To me?
Sherlock groans, and John, still sleeping, answers his groan and continues rutting.
Frustration is a paralytic. Curiosity is a much more enticing motivator.
Sherlock knows he's not supposed to perform tests on John without John's consent. Subterfuge annoys the test subject. But this is John performing tests on him, isn't it? Clearly, the army doctor's body is trying to figure out how to sheathe itself in Sherlock. The angle is wrong, there's no lube, and he hasn't even found the cleft yet. But he is experimenting, and if there's one thing Sherlock hates, it's an aborted experiment. He shudders, then stills himself and lets his drowsing flatmate explore him with the blunt head of his cock.
If John intended to smell of tea and chamomile today, he's forgotten. The scent emanating from him now is feral. He smells like sex and desire and ownership, and a guttural language of pants and grunts issues forth from his mouth. Sherlock can't help it: he grinds back against John, and John actually snarls. Up until this moment, Sherlock didn't even realise John had a snarling mode, but here he is, vocalising like a thing with fangs and fur. He sounds like a wolf guarding a particularly succulent piece of meat.
"Mine," snaps John, grabbing at his flatmate.
Who belongs to him? Is he dreaming of one of his women? To Sherlock's eternal mortification, the question of who has slept with whom, and how, has recently captured his attention.
John's cock. Where did his paramours let him put it? In their mouths, yes. Between their breasts, surely. Between their legs, for certain. Where else? Did he take any of them anally? Were they up for it? God knows I am. I hardly ever come from being penetrated, but if John's offering, I'm gagging for it.
As far as Sherlock is concerned, his boyfriend can put his dick anywhere he wants, as long as it's touching him.
John. Whatever you can think of, I consent to it. Do you want to tie me up? Drip wax on me? Gag me? Fit one of your testicles in my mouth? Perhaps not, but I'd let you. There's nothing I wouldn't let you do.
Sherlock must have had an involuntary spasm at the thought, because John throws a practised leg over him and immobilises him with it. Having secured his flatmate in this fashion, he goes back to thrusting. The taller man may not be exactly where John wants him, but he's close.
Sherlock aches to reposition himself and help John along, but that would ruin the experiment. Science usually helps him get his mind off something troublesome: for example, his demanding prick, which is throbbing in air. He thinks of chemistry.
Pancuronium bromide. Competitive acetylcholine antagonist. Steroid. Binds with the same receptors as nicotine. Like John, it increases salivation, perspiration, heart rate. It slows the breathing and relaxes the muscles. This is also typical of John. It really is something he might kill with, were he not slowly killing me with this instead: the feel of him, hard and heavy against my skin like a Glock with a chambered bullet.
So much for chemistry. Sherlock thinks of biology.
Contents of human ejaculate: half a billion spermatozoa. Acid phosphatase, amino acids, antigens. Vitamin C, citrate, enzymes. Fibrinolysin, flavins, fructose. Phosphorylcholine, postaglandins, zinc. A surprising amount of sugar for something that tastes sour. A surprising amount of acid for something with the slipperiness of an alkaline. Enough DNA to build an army of Johns. All of which I want in me, courtesy of his dick. The chemical compounds, I mean, not the army.
All right, yes. If it's made up of Johns, then the army.
John has Sherlock bundled up in limbs now – one arm thrown over him, a leg pinning him, and another arm cradling his curly head. A few misfiring brain cells make him clutch and jolt. When his sleeping fingers involuntarily contract, his thumbnail makes contact with his flatmate's sensitive left nipple. This rises to soldierly attention. Still snoozing, John flicks it again.
Sherlock hisses at the slight pain, but doesn't move away. He's still checking to see what his dozing, pulsating flatmate wants. As for what he himself wants: obvious. He looks down at his aching cock and groans. It's stretching towards John's grasping fingers like a plant towards sunlight. The tip is red and smooth and coated in a clear gloss. It's weeping, probably out of frustration. Sherlock doubts that anything short of contact with John's mucous membranes will make it happy.
John, please. Either let me have you or fuck me already. My body: take it. It's yours. It's been yours to do with as you will for months. Why can't I have you? Your half-baked references to professional standards make no sense. You won't engage in intercourse with me until I've found another doctor, but you began trying to have it off with your boss on day one, and you blow me as though it's required for board certification. Damn it. You're killing me by inches. Just finish me off.
If anyone had told Sherlock three months ago that he would want someone the way he wants this man, he would have called that person an idiot. These days, the only one he's distinguishing with that sobriquet is John. The army doctor cheerfully returns the insult and often throws in a complimentary "imbecile." Either way, the tones the two men employ sound suspiciously like the ones anyone else would use when saying lover/sweetheart/honey badger/sexpot.
The bastard. He's asleep, but he's doing this on purpose. With all his shimmying, he should have found his way in by now. It's just like him. Dragging himself all over me and not…
Sherlock's mental diatribe ends there, because John has found his cleft and is now unceremoniously parting his cheeks with his positively equine prick. The taller man gasps as it asserts itself against his perineum. The tip is sloppy with desire, and the head is poking out of its sheath. In a fit of sympathy, Sherlock's foreskin retracts.
There must be something to what John says about mirror neurons, Sherlock thinks. In John's presence, he can feel them unfolding like morning glories at dawn.
It is clear to him now that wakeful John and sleeping John are not the same person. Wakeful John is unwilling to fuck ever-so-willing Sherlock until the latter gets independent help for his mental health issues. Sleeping John doesn't give a damn for the NHS; he's just trying to get the angle of penetration right. Wakeful John is considerate. Sleeping John thinks pre-come is a reasonable substitute for lube. Wakeful John asks. Sleeping John is intent on taking, and Sherlock does not have the willpower to say no. In fact, yes is screaming out of his pores, his fingertips, and the roots of his chestnut hair.
Sherlock's nerves twist and sing. The sexual geometry is entrancing. He shivers against the weighty cylinder of John's cock, the twin Platonic solids of his balls. This is his lover, clever and feisty and ready to put a bullet in anyone who so much as sneers in his direction. John's body, ripe with seed, is pressing against him.
John. The anticipation is killing me. Push me over and mount me. Couple with me. Be my mate, in all senses of the word.
As if he hears this, John cants his hips, then comes to rest with his cock nudging his flatmate's hole. Sherlock moans. It's the first time he's felt John pressed against his entrance like this, and it's maddening. He tingles and clenches against his lover's tip.
Oh, God. You're almost fucking me. Almost isn't good enough. Are you going to take me dry? Do it. I want it. Have at me.
Dazed with lust, Sherlock gazes down again at his cock – red, exposed, glossy, its slit stretched and leaking. John has him completely turned on. Without being touched, the taller man's prick jerks optimistically against his stomach.
Equally optimistic, John does a slow, burning grind against him, seeking entrance. His teeth scrape the back of Sherlock's neck.
Sherlock whimpers and shifts. He wonders what it is about being an instrument of John's pleasure that is turning his blood to lava and his bones to ash. Although it's unlikely that John's teasing will bring him to orgasm, he'd rather be teased by John than satisfied by anyone else.
You want to come, don't you? You're so close, but you need something more. You can't breach me like this; I realise that now. The angle is wrong; there's no lubrication; and without preparation, I'm much too tight for your gargantuan dick. But I'll give you something all the same. Come for me, my love.
Sherlock clenches his toned arse as hard as he can. He's immediately rewarded with a ragged gasp. John can't quite penetrate him, but given Sherlock's powerful muscles, he's confined by hot, impatient flesh all the same. Add to that the ticklish twitching of his lover's needy hole, and it's enough to send him howling over the precipice.
"Sherlock," he cries, awake now, as his flatmate milks the climax from him. "Fuck, oh fucking hell, Sherlock, you're…"
Infuriating? Sexy? Making me come?
Sherlock never learns what he is, exactly, because John is rendered speechless as he shudders and bucks and drenches his boyfriend's backside with spunk. Some of it ends up just inside Sherlock, and the rest ends up on him.
"Oh, God," murmurs John. "Just ... oh, God." He alternates this name with Sherlock's for the next minute and a half.
It takes him three minutes to open his eyes and two more to focus them. Once he has his ocular systems online again, he is treated to the sight of his lover, lips red, pupils blown, chest heaving, cock completely hard, punching buttons on a purloined phone.
"What are you doing?" John wants to know.
"What do you think I'm doing?" asks Sherlock, irritably. "I'm ringing the NHS."
Holy smokes. Someone hugely important to me has just come back into my life after a nine-year hiatus. To make things as surreal as possible, we're taking a road trip to Ikea because her Mom asked her to pick up a lifetime's worth of furniture there. There is exactly one set of circumstances that could induce me to go to Ikea, and this is it. Anyway, I'm extremely distracted. If this chapter came out a little rough around the edges, that's why.
Also, if there's anyone on earth who hasn't read Atlin Merrick's brilliant "Suck," please do yourself a favor and read it now. Nowhere will you find a more stirring treatise on John and Sherlock going at it while one of them is sound asleep.
Chapter 18: Slate
A waiter gently lowers a plate containing a mouthful of foie gras, with its attendant trappings of braised konbu and crab biscuit, in front of the man in the custom-made Lanvin suit. The latter stubs out his cigarette on the plate, the ash adding to the garnish. Technically, it's forbidden to smoke here, but the owner recognised the eccentric billionaire as he walked in and tossed all his other customers, including the young Baroness Montagu of Kimbolton, onto the street. The sign on the door, written in a hurried scrawl, reads, "Sorry, closed for a private function."
"You are sure of this," says the man, polishing off the morsel.
"Of course," says the one who is not eating. He is absent-mindedly rubbing his pale thumb over the ring finger of his left hand, as though there were something on it. There isn't.
"Ah, yes," sighs the Parisian. "You are certain, always. It is one of your Saxon charms. Still, it is rather a lot of material, is it not?"
"Quite." The thin nostrils flare. "Thank you for reminding me."
"I am surprised to find you defensive, chéri. Many men would feel pride. In the past, you have felt pride."
A long finger circles the rim of a water glass. "My past has become an encumbrance."
"Has it really? In your line of work, the past contributes to the present. I know you. You have benefited professionally from the information afforded by your … let us say, liaisons. If you require this knowledge again, will you be able to get it back?"
"I don't know," says the man in the cobalt blue shirt. He mouths the words gingerly, as though they are in an unfamiliar dialect. He shrugs. "I doubt it. There's no existing data on what happens if I free up this much space at one time."
"But you are willing to take that risk."
The waiter brings a few spoonfuls of mock turtle soup decorated with gold leaf. The Frenchman sips it in silence.
"I told you I had."
"Yes, but this? Beige lint on your coat, when you've never worn such a hideous shade a day in your life, dieu merci. And you smell like … I hate to say this, mon trésor, but you smell like shaving gel. Not a bad scent, I admit, but cheap. Would you even know where to buy something so common? Of course not. You use soap and a brush, when necessary, but your skin is so lazy it barely makes whiskers. You would never have applied the shaving gel yourself; your soldier left the scent on you when he embraced you last. If you were to take off your scarf, would I see where he has bitten you?"
"I thought so. I knew things were serious as soon as you refused to go to our usual restaurant. So: Angelo will make the dagger-eye if you are not with your lover. Also, you look better fed than usual. There is a bit more meat and muscle. Normalement, you cannot be … what is the term, bottomed?"
The plump lips twitch. "I believe you'll find that it's arsed."
"Yes. You cannot be arsed to feed yourself. Someone has been feeding you. The fact that you have acquiesced means it is someone whose opinion you value. I do not have to point out that this narrows the field énormément. "
The Englishman's applause is sardonic. "You have gifts. Shall I give Lestrade your number?"
"I do not have to be a detective to see this. This man is all over you, Sherlock."
There is a silence. Sherlock returns to fidgeting disconsolately with his ring finger.
"What?" asks Julien. "You disagree? Bon dieu. That is what this is about. He is not … all over you, is he? Not entirely. Not everywhere."
"Julien, I strongly recommend that you shut up."
"Or what? I bring this up for your own good. You are desperate to fuck him; I can see that. He has not had you yet, and you want to give him what? The full virgin experience? My, my. He's chosen well, your soldier. Even the first time, you were magnificent."
Sherlock grabs Julien's wrist and pins it to the tablecloth. "I'm warning you," he says.
"Do not be angry with me," says Julien, evenly. "I am many things, but I am not your enemy. If I disregard your warning, it is because what you are proposing is preposterous. It is dangerous personally, and it is dangerous professionally. Honestly, I do not know if you will be able to withstand it."
"You? Yes. Let me tell about you. What kind of man deletes 184 lovers, just to please Johnny-come-latest?"
"I'll only rid myself of 183," says Sherlock. He releases Julien's wrist as a prerequisite to folding his arms. "John is 184."
"Ma foi," exclaims Julien, after checking his own jaw to see if it's still attached. "What has become of my pretty skeptic? You say 'John' as though it were the twelfth name of God."
"Yes, well. When I ask John for something, I get it. So not really the same thing."
"My frozen prince," Julien murmurs. "What has happened to you?"
Sherlock turns his head towards the window, as though hiding half his face will make him more difficult to deduce. "Obvious," he concedes.
"I see. John has happened to you, so love is no longer the last resort of fools and confidence men. Sherlock, plenty of men have happened to you. 183 of them, over a long period of time. Has it occurred to you that by deleting them, you will be tampering with twenty years of your life?
Sherlock sighs. "Twenty years, two months, three days. You should know how long I've been sexually active. As you like to remind me, you were there."
Julien shakes his head. "You are talking about manipulating the majority of your existence for a man you've known less than a year. You hope to wipe the slate clean. We all hope for this in moments of weakness, but it is not possible. What has happened has happened. The slate will remain dirty, mon ange. All that will change is that when you have need of this slate and the facts it contains, you will not know where to look."
Sherlock pinches the bridge of his nose. It's a gesture he has picked up from the soldier. For a moment, Julien wonders if the little blond has picked up gestures too; if he steeples his fingers, waves idiocy away with an impatient hand.
"It makes him sick," says Sherlock.
"Thinking of … me. With other men."
The consulting detective may be having trouble getting the words out, but his companion has no such difficulties. "Is that why he hasn't fucked you yet?"
"Possibly. He's said a few different things. I believe my history is part of it."
Julien inclines his neck. "He does not wish to be written up in your magnum opus, the laboratory book."
Sherlock delivers a smile that isn't. "Not especially, no."
"I will never understand your English obsession with virginity. As your royals have proven, it is a poor bargain. What matters is experience."
"What matters …" Sherlock chews one finger, then bats at the air in frustration. "I don't expect you to understand it. I hardly understand it myself. But what matters is John's happiness. Mine, to some degree, but definitely his."
"If this is a practical joke, you may consider it a successful one."
The detective shakes his shaggy head. The waiter brings a tiny cube of salmon poached in licorice gel, and Julien chews it thoughtfully.
"You would do this for him? Wipe out twenty years of your life?"
Julien gazes at the man he considers to be his once and future lover. Sherlock stares back with the unblinking certainty of a convert, or an addict. "There's nothing I wouldn't do for him," he says.
"Would you clean the sink?"
The other man emits a snort, and for a moment, he looks like the old Sherlock, wry and unimpressed. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves."
"I must say, this is very poignant. You used to say love makes a person stupid, and now you offer proof. "
This time, Sherlock's smile is brief but real. "I'm disappointed in you, Julien. Mrs. Hudson assures me that in the popular literature, Frenchmen are extremely romantic."
"That is why they call it fiction, chéri. So. You are besotted with this man. Does he share your lunacy?"
"He's killed for me. He's tried to die for me. I suspect he's fond of me, yes."
Julien swears under his breath. "Putain. Barking mad, and willing to supply you with crime scenes. No wonder you are in love."
At this recitation of his lover's virtues, Sherlock affects a modest blush.
"You do realise," Julien comments, "that you will no longer know how to solve perhaps half of your cases."
Sherlock lets out a long breath. "John can fill me in on sexual issues as they pertain to crimes," he says, after a pause. "There's a lot of repetition among criminal acts. I don't need to have had oral sex with half of Cambridge to recognise the signs of fellatio on the putting green."
Julien helps himself to a bloody-looking mess that turns out to be confit of umbles. "You've often said that love makes one weak."
"That was a case of theorising before I had all the facts. Affection has made me more resilient."
"And what of your sexual prowess? Are you willing to give up your mastery, your excellence? You are not the kind of man who enjoys being mediocre."
"So initially, I'll be at his mercy in bed," drawls Sherlock, looking immensely comfortable with the idea. "Tell me that's not your most compelling argument."
"What about when he leaves? You aren't the only person who gets bored."
"He left you once already, did he not? After he found your data."
"That only makes him more interesting. How was he able to walk out on me, even temporarily? I have information on 183 people, and I haven't the foggiest. Leaving has always been one of my fortes, and I still have no idea how he did it. It doesn't matter. He won't do it again."
"Let's imagine that he stays," says Julien, ignoring Sherlock's dry rejoinder of "Let's." "Given the life you lead, he will be a target."
"He's shorter than average. He grew up surrounded by alcoholics. He was pumped full of shrapnel before I ever met him. Tell me, when has he not been a target? He may as well be wearing a bull's eye jumper."
"Yes, and from what I have seen of his wardrobe, he would like that." The espresso arrives, and Julien stirs a lump of sugar into it. "You know, chéri, these things are nothing compared to the dangers he will face if he becomes an integral part of your life."
"And knowing that will make me more effective. It has to. I can't afford to slip up now. If anyone tries anything on him, I'll rip them apart."
Sunlight streams in the high windows of the basement flat.
"That's the last time I date someone with a pot-bellied pig," groans the small, brown-haired woman, stirring her tea. "How's boy genius?"
John clears his throat in a display of wounded dignity. "It used to be that when you said that, you meant me."
"That was before you met your clever boyfriend."
Hearing the last word, John reassembles his face into an expression that, were he not a decorated Army veteran, could only be described as dreamy. "Brilliant," he says. "Gorgeous. Mad as a rabid dog."
Clara swats him with a paper napkin. "Is that supposed to be a good thing?"
"Hell if I know. I like what I like." Short, calloused fingers reach for a biscuit.
The hostess appraises her ex-brother-in-law with a speculative eye. "There's no way to say this delicately, love, so I won't try. Are you two having it off?"
"Good God," sputters John, choking on his Jammie Dodger. "Why does everyone want to know that?"
Clara smiles. "I'm going through a dry spell – stop making that face, you wicked man – and want to live vicariously. Humour me."
John is willing to say virtually anything, provided his ears are allowed to go red around the edges as he does it. "We've done quite a few things. We haven't fucked, if that matters."
"Only if it matters to you."
John runs a hand over his lips. "Then yeah. It matters. Shit."
"Has he been tested?"
"Mm. He's got a new doctor. Well, he's had two new doctors. The NHS set him up with someone, and they fired each other on the spot. Now he's seeing somebody Stamford knows. He's brusque and rude and Sherlock almost likes him. Anyway, he's fine. Don't know how, but he's got a clean bill of health. I'm guessing one of the containers of toxic waste he keeps under the sink has wiped out any microorganisms."
"And he loves you?"
John nods. "It's a bit of an acquired taste for him, but I think he's getting the hang of it."
"So when do you think you'll … you know?"
"He's working on a case right now. Russian sex trafficking. Nasty business, that. There'll be a raid day after tomorrow. Fuck. Sorry, it's not exactly common knowledge."
"I'll try not to tip off the Mob." Clara takes a bite of her biscuit.
"Yeah, good. See that you don't. Anyway, he's got the case. It'll be the Baker Street Festival of Chastity until that's over with."
"Even with Valentine's Day coming? Bloody romantics, both of you."
"Especially with Valentine's Day coming. He hasn't much use for holidays. Thinks they're a creation of the greeting-card-industrial complex. I want to get him a present, though. Something he'll really like."
"I'm having trouble imagining what this madman of yours likes. Except for you, of course."
John grins. "Trust me, you don't want to know. I could tell you, but you'd have to delete it."
His companion inclines her head. "I take it that's something people do in the Army?"
"No, it's something he does, the daft bugger. Or something he used to do, anyway; hasn't done it in a while. He's found a way to free up space in his brain. It's quite the show, I can tell you."
"Not sure I follow."
"He thinks of his brain as a hard drive. Hard drives get ... full, yeah? He's immensely intelligent and he can remember virtually anything he sets his mind to, but there's only so much space in that skull. If something doesn't matter to him, he chucks it."
"What does he chuck, exactly? What sorts of things?"
"Things that are stupid," announces John in a Sherlockian drawl. "Things that are wrong. Popular culture. Politics. Astronomy, it used to be, though he's changed his mind about that. Things that relate to emo- ..." John's voice trails off.
A pair of brown eyes go soft with worry. "You'll have to be more specific."
"It's why he's thirteen bloody years old. I've told you how he is: he's raw and erratic and completely out of his depth with anything that's not crime. He's got no filter and no social graces and everyone thinks he's a psychopath. This is why, Clara. He's deleted over half his life. It wasn't relevant to him, and he deleted it."
The two of them stare at each other, biscuits forgotten.
"Shit," Clara agrees.
Chapter 19: Begins with A
Warnings for references to the sexual experiences of someone who was not of legal age at the time. Also implied incest and drug use.
No one sees the bullet. No one except Sherlock.
Theoretically, the raid is over. The small business owner, a scraggly fellow whose nose has been remodeled by cocaine, is being frogmarched down the steps of his so-called massage parlour by Officers Taylor and McAfee from CO14, Clubs and Vice. Several people from Homicide, Sgt. Donovan included, are just pulling up in a patrol car to check reports that the flat contains the body of a worker who succumbed to starvation.
"Took them long enough," snarls Sherlock, watching the proceedings from perhaps ten metres away. He's leaning a territorial hip against a parked Vauxhall Astra. "Sun's already six degrees above the horizon. I told them to come at dawn. It's the ideal time to catch sex traffickers. They're active at night; sluggish by day."
"Like you, you great vampire," mutters John. His breath hangs in the February air.
"I'm always active," claims the detective.
"Not once a case is over. You've been awake for three days. I give you half an hour before you're face down in the dirt."
"You're on," Sherlock starts to say, when one of the windows of the brothel flies open.
"Bastards," shrieks a voice. Sherlock looks up to see a woman in an oversized West Ham jersey lurching around on the second floor in a drug-fueled rage. There's something small and dark and mean in her right hand.
"Fucking bastards!" she screams. "Give me back my husband!"
Gun, thinks Sherlock. Russian Baikal self-defense pistol. Designed to disperse tear gas. Rifled barrel: new. Modified – why? To hold…
Sherlock watches, his mouth open in a silent scream, as a 9mm bullet makes its way towards John's head.
Just before impact, there are wings. Huge, enveloping, grey wings, one on either side of John's body, and then something barrels into him like the HS1 out of St. Pancras. It's not a small something, like it was when John got shot in Kandahar. It's a large something, hard and swift and inexorable as fate. John hits the pavement, and the protective weight comes down on him like an avalanche.
For a moment, he lies there, face down, sandwiched between hard brick and his pointy-hipped flatmate. His hands and knees are killing him, and his skull is rattling from where it just connected with the ground, damp from the recent rains. His view is obscured by the grey wool of a familiar flowing coat.
John takes this opportunity to say words a Hackney bouncer wouldn't know. He's often thought it would be a miracle if his last words ended up being something that spectators could tell his mother.
Sherlock dismounts. For a moment, his flattened partner feels a surge of relief, until long fingers, fluttering with anger and fear, reach into the back of his waistband and extricate the Sig Sauer. There's a click as he snaps the safety off. For once, Sherlock's not asking anyone to fetch him what he needs.
"Drop your weapon," he roars. The sound bounces off adjacent buildings.
John gingerly shifts his head and locks eyes on Sherlock, who is glaring at the second story of the bordello. His face, drained of blood, makes a clear target over the top of the Vauxhall. He's holding the gun, but has forgotten to aim it.
"Sherlock," warns John. He tries to push himself up onto one knee, only to fall back down when the world shifts into reverse.
"I'm not afraid of you fucking cops!" shouts the West Ham fan.
"Freak, get down!" yells Sergeant Donovan, somewhere on the other side of the car.
"Do I look like a police officer?" bellows Sherlock. "Drop your weapon or I'll shoot you where you stand, you imbecile!" He braces both arms on top of the Vauxhall and aims the Sig at the looming window.
"Fucking get back here," orders John. He rolls on to his side and yanks Sherlock's trouser leg. Sherlock is so sidetracked by fury that he doesn't bother to protect the haberdashery.
"Why?" screams the woman, oblivious to anyone but Sherlock. "Fucking loony! You just admitted you're not even a cop!"
"Because you nearly shot my boyfriend, you deranged tart!"
The woman boggles. She seems to be taking in Sherlock's public school hair, his expensive coat. Then her eyes turn to John, dirty and wet and slight and fetal on the bricks.
"Posh toff like you sticking your head up over a car for him?"
"What does it look like I'm doing?" hollers Sherlock at the top of his lungs. "Yes, him! Who the hell else would it be?"
Neighbors appear in the surrounding windows, trying to get a visual to match the abundant audio.
"Shit," says the West Ham fan, setting down the Baikal. She gives Sherlock the appraising look of someone who's found a kindred nutter. "Someone's got it bad."
"That was brilliant," says John as the taxi pulls away from the kerb. Having regained his breath, he's propped up against the door of the cab. Sherlock's curly head rests in his lap. He can still hear the woman, who is herself now in custody, roundly abusing everyone involved in the capture of her man. One of her choicer sobriquets is "cunting, pissing, wank-faced fuck baskets." John files this away for future use.
Sherlock, never especially polite, is yawning and talking at the same time. The distortion from the yawn makes for a kind of Doppler effect in his speech. "When I made her drop her weapon?" he asks.
"No, when you threw yourself on top of me and started feeling me up. Donovan just about died."
"Honestly. I wasn't 'feeling you up'; I was ascertaining the extent of your injuries."
"Mm." John gives his own assessment. "Patient has sustained haematomata to both hands. Slight laceration to the occipitofrontal area. Multiple patellar abrasions. Prognosis good, except for major wound to patient's dignity, secondary to boyfriend's fucking hands all over his crotch."
Sherlock rolls his eyes. "I didn't just put them in your crotch. I was …"
"Thorough? Yes. You certainly were. Face, neck, shoulders, gut, and the next thing I know, you're trying to get my belt off there on the pavement so you can evaluate the contents of my pants. For God's sake. How long have you been thinking of me as your boyfriend, by the way?"
Sherlock raises a lackadaisical eyebrow. "Did I say 'boyfriend?' I must have meant Lestrade."
"Lestrade wasn't there, you clot."
The amateur thespian places a solemn hand over his heart. "Our love is such that I carry him with me," he observes.
"Right. That's it." John launches a full tickle assault on his cabmate's sensitive armpits. Sherlock quickly abandons his pseudo-romantic pose for one involving jerking, flailing, and a sort of squealing that can only be produced by a natural baritone.
The cab driver maintains a bored and judicious silence. It's not his first day in the East End.
"That's better," says John, once Sherlock is in a state of panting, gasping, utterly handsome dishevelment. He runs a hand through Sherlock's thick curls. "Woman knew what she was talking about. Cunting fuck bucket, you are."
"Basket," corrects Sherlock. "And she was addressing the Metropolitan Police, not me. She liked me. Would you stop wriggling? You're a terrible pillow."
"Of course I'm wriggling. I'm sore, damn it. You drilled two holes in me with those bloody hipbones of yours."
Sherlock looks up at him, pale eyes glinting like fireflies.
"When you fell on me," specifies John, mostly for the benefit of the jaded cabbie.
"Mm," Sherlock says, voice husky, and John knows exactly what that massive brain is doing with the image.
It's a long ride back to Baker Street.
"Lorry," murmurs Sherlock, head still ensconced in John's lap, knees folded up against the cab door. His hands form a pointed mudra over his broad chest. "Overturned. Carrying chickens. No. Cornish game hens. Just south of St. Paul's."
Before John can ask how he knows that, give him a bit of a chance to show off, his flatmate's eyes are closed. His breathing is slow and even.
So pale, thinks John, gazing down at his beloved's face. It's like an elaborate scrimshaw, all curves and ivory and the thin etchings of his black lashes.
I never used to have a kink for pale. When did he convert all my kinks into a 3D representation of himself? All it would take would be for him to grow another leg, and I'd be looking pityingly at bipeds.
Sherlock's eyes flicker behind lids too fragile to shut out the light.
John swallows. Correction. I wouldn't be looking at bipeds at all.
"Good night," says John. He cards a hand through his boyfriend's unruly hair and leaves it there, so that Sherlock can feel him in his sleep.
Deletion Queue, 13 February 2012
Date: 3 December 1990
Experimenter: Richelieu, Julien de
Location: Woods behind the cricket grounds
Length of equipment: obvious
Ideas for further study: Try it on him
Peculiarities: A bit young for all this
Rating: Impossible to judge, as there are no comparable experiences at this time.
Date: 16 March 1991
Experimenter: Richelieu, Julien de
Location: Sofa, violin instructor's office
Length of equipment: 20 cm
Results: Soreness, lint
Ideas for further study: Repurpose tub of hydrogenated vegetable oil from cafeteria for use as lubricant
Peculiarities: Displays a lack of emotion similar to my own
Rating: Impossible to judge, as test subject has not participated in previous experiments of this type.
Date: 3 October 1993
Subjects: Fitzpatrick, Byron; Fitzpatrick, Hugo
Location: East Asian Reading Room, Cambridge University Library
Experiment: Multiple penetration by twins, fraternal
Length of equipment: 15.6 cm, 16 cm
Ideas for further study: Ring up their cousin Johann for a four-way
Peculiarities: Retrieved Byron's sperm with pipette. Under microscope, it demonstrates very low motility. Possibly infertile. Irrelevant, as likelihood of current choice of partners getting pregnant is zero.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Date: 12 November 1993
Subject: Wilkes, Sebastian
Location: His room. An uninspired choice, to say the least
Experiment: Fellatio as a means of obtaining cocaine
Length of equipment: 13.2 cm
Results: The sex was as tedious as the surroundings. Cocaine, however, shows promise
Ideas for further study: More cocaine
Peculiarities: Narcissistic personality disorder, as characterised by an inability to laugh at anything but own jokes
Rating: 2 out of 10
Date: 6 January 1994
Subject: Trevor, Victor
Location: Cambridge Institute of Astronomy
Experiment: Examination of effects of oral and anal sex on a sentimental mind
Length of equipment: 16.2 cm
Results: Subject states he is in love with me; wishes me happy birthday
Ideas for further study: Try several more iterations of this, then call it off
Peculiarities: See: results
Rating: 7 out of 10
Date: Today and ongoing
Laboratory partners: SH, John Watson
Location: 221b Baker St.
Experiment: There is no experiment. I want you out of this cab and in my bed. Fuck me, John. I can't wait any longer
Length of equipment: Formidable
Ideas for further study: Everything. All of it
Peculiarities: Is the love of my life
Rating: No prior memories of intercourse in database. Therefore, no comparisons are possible
"Wake up," says Sherlock, shaking John by the shoulder. The taxi bumps up against the kerb in front of Speedy's. "We're there."
John blinks. "Must have dozed off. I was … dreaming. Something about you."
Encouraged by his recent confiscation of John's gun, Sherlock reaches into one of John's coat pockets and fishes out his wallet. "Was I brilliant and mercurial and devastatingly handsome?"
"No, you were a great git in an overcoat. And you did ... I don't know. Something I didn't want you to do."
"That hardly sounds like me" is the detective's verdict. He jogs around to the cabbie's window and showers him with John's bills.
"I meant to tell you not to do it, but I forgot, and you went ahead and did it. And you said something."
"Said something, did I? That sounds like me." Sherlock opens John's door and pulls him off the seat. He briskly manhandles him into a standing position, then slams the door behind him.
"Ta," says the cabbie. He drives off, leaving the two of them in the middle of the street.
Sherlock grasps John by the arm and steers him to the front door of 221b. The soldier is still fuzzy with sleep. "You said …"
"Very interesting, John, but I'm sure it can wait." Sherlock begins plunging his hands into every crevice of John's clothing, checking for keys.
"No, it can't. You said there were two things in your life." John squints, trying to remember. "One was experiments." He gives a surprised yelp as Sherlock's hands stray dangerously close to some of his favorite nerve endings.
"Found them," says Sherlock, extracting John's key ring from his left front jeans pocket. "What was the other?"
"It was A-something. Something beginning with A."
For reasons that aren't clear to Sherlock, his right hand is shaking so hard the key doesn't make it into the lock. "Aggravations?"
The detective thinks of his work week: starvation, stabbings, mutilations. "Atrocities?"
Sherlock groans. "Tell me it's not Anderson."
John shakes his head to clear it. "Adventures. That's it. You said that experiments are when you act on things, and adventures are when things act on you. And then you kissed me, and you told me which one I was."
John beams up at Sherlock in stunned wonder. "I'm an adventure," he says.
Sherlock cocks his head in surprise. "You are," he says. "I never realised it before, but you are."
"I know," says John. He places his steady hand on top of his flatmate's trembling one and opens the lock.
Chapter 20: Protium
Money-back guarantee: This chapter is rated M for men rampantly at it. And no, I'm not going to call it a warning any more.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The solar system. Nobody explained why it mattered, or Sherlock would never have deleted it. It could have provided an illustrative model of what to expect between him and John.
There are forces in the universe that cannot be circumvented. The earth goes around the sun. The moon goes around the earth. Sherlock goes around John Watson, and the two of them have been going 'round and 'round the subject of how or when to combine their bodies for months now like two hormonally addled rabbits.
So it's unexpected when John looks at him, right after the raid, pacing and jittering and practically bouncing off the furniture, and says, "You know, we don't have to do this. Not if you're not ready."
Sherlock is not given to random fits of merriment, but the idea that it's possible for the two of them to continue without fucking each other through the parlour floor makes him laugh out loud. Is he manic and swerving and Heisenbergically uncertain? Yes. Is John solid and stable and patently ready to connect? Yes. Well, then. The thought of them not being together in every conceivable sense, starting immediately, is an affront to Niels Bohr.
"Ready?" Sherlock runs an agitated hand through his thicket of curls. "Look at me. Do you see this groove I'm wearing into the rug? We can't keep on like this. I can't keep on like this. You're positive and I'm negative and you can't stop electromagnetic force; all right, yes, you can, but not with any materials we have in the flat, not since last Tuesday, and anyway, John, you know what I'm saying: it's completely inadvisable to keep the electron and its proton apart; it's a terrible mess and you think you can do it safely but you can't."
Shit, thinks Sherlock. There's no way he understood any of that.
"Thank God," says John, already striding towards him. "I thought you'd never ask."
John is usually so easy-going and affable that it sends a thrill through Sherlock's nervous system when he isn't. Now, for example. Methodical, determined, serious as a heart attack, the former soldier advances on his flatmate and corners him against the kitchen table. For once, Sherlock Holmes lets himself be put to rout. He braces himself against the wood and slouches down to John's height in case the latter wants access to his face.
"Spread your legs, gorgeous," says John, "or I'll spread them for you."
It's been a long courtship. Both of them know by now that Sherlock will place his hands on his pretty hips and roll his eyes, like a man who has something better to do. Both of them realise that John will surely, swiftly, kick those enormous feet apart, then use his pelvis to commandeer the space between Sherlock's thighs. The fact that they're aware it's going to happen doesn't make it any less stimulating for either of them when it does.
And then John kisses him. No matter how often it happens, and it happens quite often, Sherlock finds himself surprised by John's methods. He had previously thought of kissing as a perfunctory agreement entered into by lips alone, but that's apparently not how they teach a man to kiss in the RAMC. John uses one hand to set up base camp in the small of Sherlock's back, then lets his other hand go on patrol in the wilderness of Sherlock's hair. He pulls Sherlock close and plunders his mouth. Sherlock groans with pleasure.
The way John's hips grind against him, territorial and fierce, don't bode well for any further obstacles to their intimacy.
"John," murmurs Sherlock, pulling his head back. "You're driving me mad. Utterly, barking mad. That's one tick madder than usual." He's not sure what's driving him to more extravagant distraction – the sensation of John's hardness mapping out terrain along his inner thigh, or the knowledge that there's more to touching than this, and John is dead set on having it. All of it.
"You started it," says John. He drops his gaze to Sherlock's mouth, and Sherlock, who has spent a lifetime not caring what anyone wants, lets his jaw drop as though that glance were a direct order from the law of gravity.
Sherlock has the strange sensation of being aware of each of his own taste buds as John's tongue enters him again.
"Mmgnh," he says, a minute later. "How do you do that?"
"Do what?" asks John, all innocence.
"Enhance my nervous system. Expand it. Extend it." Sherlock lifts his hand off John's back so he can inspect what's going on. Like much of his body, it's shaking like a willow branch just before lightning strikes. And the surrounding calm, pervasive and charged and dangerous? That would be John, the one person with the ability to make Sherlock abandon his head and take up temporary residence at points further south.
Sherlock's intelligence is ruthless, obsessive, outwardly directed. John reroutes it. Under his care, Sherlock feels, well, everything. His furtive toes curling inside wool socks. His tender nipples hardening against the inside of his shirt. The prickling in the backs of his thighs where they stutter against the table. Everything decelerates, and he's a plant in a time-lapse film, feeling its way in slow deliberation towards the sun. Faced with John's penetrating warmth, everything opens: Sherlock's blood vessels; his pupils; his capacious mouth, eager to harbour the other man's tongue.
He's used to being aware of the human body, but with John's attention on him, the body in question is his. He couldn't be more attuned to it if it were face down and naked at the center of a crime scene, covered in an army doctor's fingerprints and all lit up with Luminol.
"I love you," John pants. He has to force himself to disengage from Sherlock's lips in order to get the words out. "That's how. Do you understand that? Feel me. No, not there. Here." He moves Sherlock's hand off his erection and pulls it up, under his shirt, so that he can touch the thundering heartbeat.
"A likely hypothesis," answers Sherlock, as his heartbeat syncs up with the one against his fingertips.
"Likely?" John moans. He bites his flatmate's cheek with reproof and desire. "You're the other half of my fucking soul. Ask the lunch crowd at Speedy's. Ask anyone in this postcode. Ask the scores of people who've seen me chasing all over London after you. Nobody actually thinks I'm trying to catch criminals at this point; they all just think I'm scoping out your arse."
"I'm not asking those idiots. Eyewitnesses are notoriously fallible." Sherlock caresses the hair on John's chest.
"I see." John slips affectionately into Sherlock's speech patterns. He raises his head in an imitation of his partner's imperiousness. "You hold yourself to a higher standard of proof."
"Of course," says Sherlock.
John reaches down and uses Sherlock's belt loops to take control of his hips. He pulls him forward. "I'll give you proof," he says.
It's not an offer, the detective realises. An offer is something you can turn down.
Sherlock swallows. "A demonstration? Hands on?"
John breathes into Sherlock's ear. "Everything on."
Sherlock turns his head and gives the space between John's lips a thoughtful lick. "That would be … illuminating."
Lying on his back in bed in a state of partial dress, Sherlock is amazing. He's smart – that much is a given – but he's also responsive and focused and achingly hot. He's everything John Watson could have hoped for in his first time having penetrative sex with a man. John just didn't think his partner would be this vulnerable. If anything, he thought Sherlock would be undressing him with his teeth.
"Are you all right?" John asks. He's naked and kneeling between two long, lightly muscled legs. He strokes his boyfriend's quivering thigh. "You seem a bit wound up."
Sherlock's eyes are wide and he's shaking with unguarded lust. The vibrations are strongest where John is touching him. "Of course I am. Please, John. I'm offering you my body and you haven't taken it yet. For God's sake, why are you not in me?"
"Because you're still wearing pants," John points out. "Do you want to take them off?"
Sherlock pulls his dark silk boxers down about an inch closer to his hipbones before giving up. The outline of his cock is extremely visible, due to its hardness and the clinginess of the material, but he's having trouble exposing himself any further. He bites his lip. "You do it."
Something about Sherlock's shyness in the face of an activity he's engaged in many times before gives John pause.
Is he role-playing? Definitely not. In role plays, he chooses something that makes him less vulnerable, not more. Emperor, not bejeweled harem boy, though the latter would suit him. Is he worried about the, erm, size issue? He's not used to bottoming.
Even in the privacy of his own head, John Watson cannot bring himself to say, "the sheer girth of my invading cock."
Maybe, but he's been practising. John can bring himself to think about Sherlock's recent experimentation with dildos of Watsonian proportions. He's thought about it often, to devastating effect. It's one of the few things that carried him through the last few nights of case-induced abstinence.
Is he just rattled by the near-shooting? It's possible. He doesn't mind when people shoot at him, but it infuriates him when they take a shot at me.
John sucks in his breath. Or maybe this just means something more to him than the blow jobs and hand jobs and the brain jobs and everything else we do to each other on a daily basis.
"I want to make love to you," says John, "but only if you're up for it. Otherwise, it's not love. Tell me what you want, and I'll give it to you, even if it's just a back rub."
Sherlock's cheekbones are splashed with crimson. "Sleep with me," he says. "That's what I want. It's all I've wanted for months now. Just do it, John. Don't make me talk about it."
"All right. Promise me… promise me that if anything isn't right between us, you'll tell me. I need to know. If there's something you don't like, I'll stop."
"Of course. Just…"
"More kissing first?"
John beams. He straddles Sherlock and puts a steadying hand under his neck, then slowly, thoroughly explores the inside of his mouth with his tongue. Sherlock moans, already harder.
Sherlock smells good. His scent is dark, spicy, brutally seductive. When they first met at St. Bart's, Sherlock had been wearing cologne. He abandoned it one hot day months ago after finding John in the laundry room, breathing deeply, his face pressed into a shirt drenched in the other man's sweat. Sherlock had just chased down a serial killer in it. It was before the two of them were together, if such a time ever existed. Sherlock had been so turned on, he'd forgotten to smirk.
The corollary to John's kissing is that he has to drag his erect cock over his boyfriend's shivering, mostly naked body. Can't be helped. Everything is connected. If John's head and shoulders and arms move, nothing below the waist is going to stay still. And because Sherlock's own genitals are at the same level, they bear the brunt of the undulation.
Sherlock is panting now, as though storing up oxygen for the combustion to come. Peering at his partner through lowered lashes, he takes one of John's hands and places it on the waistband of his boxers. The look on his face is sheer want.
It's appropriate that what Sherlock is asking requires John to go to his knees again. Not as a slave, but as a supplicant.
"What?" says Sherlock. He props himself up on his elbows to find out what's taking John so long.
"I'm grateful," says John. "You're … oh, God. I feel lucky just being in the same room with you. Do you trust me?"
"With my life."
"Then let me get you out of these clothes. I need to touch you."
John pulls his lover's boxers down far enough to reveal the dark trail of fur below Sherlock's navel, then stops. He gently noses it, inhaling the musk. Sherlock's erection, eager to get on with it, taps him on the chin. Clearly embarrassed by his own display of wantonness, the detective groans and falls back against the cushions.
"You don't have anything to be shy about," says John. "Do you have any idea how magnificent you are?" He pulls Sherlock's boxers lower. The long, slender shaft springs free, eager for John's attention.
John places a kiss at the base of it. "Stunning. So gorgeous." He works the boxers even lower, then licks a stripe up his partner's tightening sac.
Sherlock squirms at the sensation of John working his tongue along the seam between his balls. "Oh, God, John. It's just a body. It doesn't ..."
"It does matter. It matters to me. All of you matters to me. Your brain, your cock, the way you take your coffee. No, listen to me, Sherlock. There's no one like you. You're a great, soaring Gothic cathedral, and everyone else on earth is a council flat."
Sherlock strokes his flatmate's short hair. "It's just transport," he mutters.
"Then use it," says John, grinning. "Give me a ride. That's what it's for, right?"
Sherlock gasps. John's fingers, newly slick with lube, are inside him.
John's hands have two modes – one for surgery, and one for typing. The surgical mode is deft, precise, targeted, sure. That's the mode he's currently employing within Sherlock's body. The man being finger-fucked is considering whether or not he loves John so much that he'd actually let him use the typing mode when a wave of pleasure hits him, and his torso twists up off the bed.
"What are you doing?" Sherlock demands.
"Priming the engine," reports John. "Feel good?"
"Yes," says Sherlock, gritting his teeth. "For fuck's sake. Stop fishing for compliments and have at it."
John raises both eyebrows like a man in need of a shock blanket. "Sherlock Holmes. Are you begging for my cock?"
Sherlock doesn't dignify this with a response. Not a verbal one, anyway. His hips, he's mortified to observe, roll and shift to milk more pleasure from John's hand.
"Right," says John. Fingers still deep in his boyfriend, he strokes the sensitive rim with his thumb. "How do you want it?"
"On my back." Sherlock can't verbalise why. John knows anyway.
"And they say romance is dead," says John. He ducks his head to place a kiss on Sherlock's inner thigh. "It's all right. I want to look at you too."
And then John rights himself and Sherlock feels the tip of John's cock against his entrance.
Once the chain reaction between the two of them starts, it proceeds quickly. One moment, Sherlock is looking up at John's face, panting and desperate and radiant. The next, John is inside him. Sherlock sucks in his breath as the swollen glans enters him, feels the stretch and give as he's breached for the first time by the man he loves.
"Oh, God," says John. "You feel fantastic. Are you all right? Please be all right."
John's arms shake with the effort of holding himself back, not seating himself in Sherlock fully.
He wants so badly to fuck me. Is afraid of hurting me. It doesn't take a genius to deduce that.
But how to explain that John's presence never hurts, that the only thing that John has ever done that left him flayed and gutted and gasping for air was leave?
"Good," manages Sherlock. "Come closer." And before John can overthink it, he wraps his arms around John's waist and pulls him in.
Oh God. I'm fucking Sherlock. He's brilliant and astounding and glorious and unexpectedly tight, and I'm up to my aching balls in him.
"John?" Except for where the sex flush is marking him, Sherlock is pale and opalescent and so many damn shades of blinding white that it's like looking at the sun. "Where do I put my legs?"
"Sweet mother of ..." Pleasure goes through John like a ripple through water as Sherlock's back half rears up to meet him. "Anywhere. Sexy beast like you can put them wherever the fuck he wants."
At Sherlock's perplexed look, John relents. "Put this one over my good shoulder. You've got long femurs; we need to keep them out of the way if I'm going to give it to you good and proper. Wrap the other one around my waist."
Sherlock is quick to put this plan into action. This change in the geometry of their fucking has John coming in at a slightly different angle. Sherlock apparently likes it, because he throws his head back and bellows with lust.
Sherlock's gravity is inescapable. Again and again, John finds himself pulled into him, his hot center, his molten core.
"Kiss me," orders Sherlock. "I want your lips on me. Can you do that without pulling out?"
"Yeah," says John. "Just don't throw your head back so much. You're all neck."
"You love it," counters Sherlock. He takes John's face in his hands and kisses him.
And now Sherlock's tongue is in John and John's cock is in Sherlock, and John has never felt more whole in his life. Together, they're a wedding ring, an ouroboros, something eternal and lasting and real.
The love they make is frantic. "You didn't tell me," John groans.
"Tell you what?"
"That you'd look like this during sex. Guh."
If John's thrusting hadn't made Sherlock forget where his eyebrows were, he'd raise one now. "I have no idea how I look during sex."
"Then let me fill you in. Amazing. Hot. You're just ... ball-drainingly beautiful with a hard cock in your arse." And it's true. Sherlock is always slightly luminous, but with John pistoning into him, he's damned near incandescent.
"With your cock in my arse," gasps Sherlock, as John touches him somewhere deep and sweet. "Fuck me, John. Please fuck me."
"I am fucking you. And when I stop, I'm buying you a mirror. You should see yourself."
"I can see myself. Your pupils are like dinner plates. They're reflecting half of London."
John rocks into him, letting his thrusts go gentle and shallow. "Will you do something for me?" he asks.
Sherlock writhes with embarrassment. The sensations are enough to almost tip his partner over the edge. "Really, John. I don't need to …"
"I know you don't need to. I want you to. Touch yourself for me. Let me see you give yourself pleasure."
Sherlock reaches hesitantly between the two of them and grasps his own maleness. He gives it an inquisitive tug.
"How does it feel?"
"Mmmm," says Sherlock. He's so far gone, he thinks this is an answer.
"Yeah," says John, thrusting a little harder. Sherlock's body feels like it was custom-made for him. He's only ever had one bespoke possession in his life, and it's his boyfriend. "So hot. Show me how to touch you."
"I don't know how to touch me," says Sherlock. "Nobody does. The only one who ever has is you."
It's not the literal truth, John knows, but it thrills him to hear his lover say it.
"Work the loose skin over the head," says John, happy to pull rank on him. "Ungh. Now pull it back so I can see the pre-come. Are you wet for me? Ohhhhh, yes." John watches with lust and admiration as his lover masturbates himself with his own silken foreskin.
Sherlock is well aware that people see him as controlling John. Nobody sees the ways in which John controls Sherlock, or how much Sherlock likes it. They see Sherlock demanding John's phone. They don't see John demanding Sherlock's arse, or Sherlock willingly surrendering it. They see Sherlock out in front, and John chasing after. What they don't realise is that John is actually in front, and Sherlock is behind by roughly the circumference of the earth.
John is fucking him with strong, steady strokes. He pushes himself into Sherlock, pulls out halfway, rests a moment while Sherlock slides a hand up his own shaft, then pushes himself all the way in again.
It's three-quarter time, thinks the violinist. The rhythm he's fucking me in: it's a waltz.
Sherlock looks up into dark blue eyes and realises he will forever more associate that colour with everything warm and safe and right.
"I'm close," he moans. "John, please. I'm so close."
"I know. Come for me, angel. Let me see you."
Sherlock comes undone. The orgasm surges through him as though he were a natural conductor for it, the silver to its electricity. His head tilts back, his muscles twitch, and for a moment he's lost and falling. Then John pushes into him, hard, and he's found again, earthbound and naked and helpless and coming on his own chest. He bears down on John's cock, his body instinctively wanting to be closer, and John cries out and pulses deep inside him, filling the scientist's body with something warm and unstoppable and intimate.
Later, Sherlock will call it DNA. John will call it love.
I had to laugh at Evenlodes Friend's suggestion that the language used in the last chapter was not necessarily representative of the speech of West Ham fans, but rather the fans of Tottenham Hotspur. Shout-out to inconcvbl for impromptu beta work.
Chapter 21: File Not Found
Like pretty much anything I write, including grocery lists, this contains references to sex.
It takes Sherlock about fifteen minutes of sitting on the sofa with a two-week-old copy of the Guardian, idly gazing at the results of a skirmish between Arsenal and Aston Villa, to realise that something is very, very wrong.
An hour previous, things seemed spectacularly Right. For one thing, John had finally shagged him. It had gone more smoothly than Sherlock expected. Despite it being his first time, he'd felt no pain. He'd experienced only lust, joy, and connection as the two of them were pulled more firmly into each other's orbits.
He's not entirely clear on how other people celebrate the loss of their virginities – arbitrary construct, why should the first time have its own idiom and not the second, the third, the forty-fifth? – but his own festivities had consisted of running off to the sitting room to work on a series of emails from French serial killer Michel Richet. A colleague at the Département de la Sûreté had texted him about it during the morning's goings-on. Although Sherlock heard the text come in, he'd temporarily classified it as Not Important, given the fact that his flatmate was at long last ploughing him into the mattress.
Afterwards, Sherlock had said, "I love you" and "Text?" in rapid succession, then checked John's face for a reaction. Things with John were either "all fine" or "a bit not good." John, utterly sated, had given him a bemused smile and swatted him on the arse, which Sherlock took to mean the former. Excellent. Sherlock was glad to have an outlet for his mania.
The text had pointed him to the confounding emails from the so-called Bête de Bordeaux. The killer had escaped from La Santé Prison three days before, and he'd been bombarding Le Monde with coded files and fiendish puzzles ever since. A cryptanalyst with the Département had translated the first file into a Jack the Ripper-style taunt. However, there had been no progress since then, and the body count in Aquitaine continued to rise.
Translating emails from French serial killers isn't Sherlock's jurisdiction – technically, he has no jurisdiction – but he expects that it will keep him from turning post-coital cartwheels in front of Speedy's until his hands bleed. Also, solving the mystery will almost certainly elicit more intercourse from his now bisexual boyfriend. It's been well established from almost the moment they met that accurate deductions, particularly those which result in the preservation of human life, get John Watson hot.
Sherlock starts John's laptop and looks at the emails. He stares at them for five minutes. Nothing happens.
Sherlock Holmes doesn't speak any French.
The detective chews the inside of his lip. Did I speak French yesterday? I did. I'm sure of it.
When drumming his fingers on the coffee table fails to restore his multilingualism, Sherlock pushes down his panic and prepares to run the emails through online translation software. It may not catch all of the killer's nuances, he thinks, but surely it will catch some. That's when he notices something else.
Crime doesn't interest him.
Suddenly, it all seems dark. Too dark.
All those silk scarves and claw hammers and furtive knives pulled under the stairs? Depressing. Not my problem. Let the police do their own jobs for once. It's not as though I need the work.
Muttering under his breath, Sherlock ambles out to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. The process is complicated by the fact that the intermittent tremors he's been experiencing ever since returning to the flat have moved to his right hand. Also, he's never made tea – proper tea, devoid of added toxins or hallucinogens – in his life. Still, with information gleaned from watching John, he makes two mugs of the stuff, then carries one off to the sofa to help him think.
He picks up the newspaper and immerses himself in the question of whether or not, at a recent game, Arsenal captain Robin van Persie intentionally elbowed an opposing centre back in the face.
Sport. Why has it never interested me? There's something to it. It's relaxing. Distracting. How pleasant to have an interest in common with everyone else.
At this point, a horrible thought enters his head.
John loves the Work. He'll complain about a case when it interrupts his access to sporking, but generally, he's just as geared up about their out-of-bed adventures as his flatmate is. John's idea of courtship involves moonlight chases through Hyde Park and scaling the fence in Kew Garden and pulling a gun on anybody who makes a wrong step in his boyfriend's direction. As far as he's concerned, a hot date involves ballistics and darkened alleys and judicious applications of Luminol. Diamond-edged wit and eidetic memory and pyrotechnic displays of intellectual synthesis are practically an engagement ring.
If, for whatever reason, I can no longer provide John with those things, to what degree will he still care for me?
Although not especially logical at the moment, Sherlock's hard-drive brain, which is hemorrhaging data pointers right and left, has enough logic left to decide this:
John mustn't know.
John staggers into the kitchen. His legs are still wobbly – possibly due to psychosomatic injury, but probably from holding him up at the precise angle necessary to plunge dick-long into Sherlock a few hundred times.
Oh, God. He let me fuck him. I love him more than anything, and he let me fuck him. I'm the luckiest man on earth.
You're not the first, counters a voice in his head. It sounds like Sally Donovan, which is a comfort, because if it sounded like Sebastian Wilkes, John would need to go shoot up a lift.
No, retorts John, but I'll be damned if I'm not the last. Anybody lays a hand on him, they'll be down a hand.
John's recent policy has been that when life hands him lemons, best practice is to lob them at his boyfriend's adversaries until the hand grenades show up. He takes a moment to work on his Donovan impression.
"I like it," he calls to Sherlock. "I get off on it. The smarter the deduction, the more I get off. And you know what? One day, just tagging along won't be enough. One day, NSY'll be standing around your arse, and John Watson will be the one shagging it senseless."
"Glad to hear it," responds Sherlock. He seems distracted, and not in a good way.
John marches into the sitting room and interposes himself between Sherlock and the window. He places his hands on his hips. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing," says Sherlock. His right hand is trembling.
Shit. He's been shaking off and on since we got home. And here I thought it was lust. Flatter yourself much, Watson?
"I'm standing in your reading light, and nothing's the matter? Shouldn't you be chewing me out? What are you reading, anyway?"
Sherlock guiltily folds up the newspaper, but not before John can see the headlines.
"Arsenal," says John. "I hadn't pegged you as a fan."
"Just so long as you do peg me," replies Sherlock.
John regards him, stone-faced.
"That was a joke, John. It's a popular way of diffusing social tension, is it not?" Sherlock takes a sip from his mug, then offers it to the standing man.
John stares. Coming from Sherlock, attempts at humour and willingness to share do nothing to relieve stress. They exacerbate it.
"Since when do you do puns?" John sniffs the hot drink, expecting to get a whiff of peyote or lighter fluid, but nothing about it seems off. It looks and smells like PG Tips.
"It's tea." Sherlock looks genuinely puzzled. "Don't be angry. I made you one as well. It's on the counter."
Off the top of his head, John can think of four things that the bespoke lunatic he shares his life with doesn't do. He doesn't write Christmas cards, wear shirts that fit, or display day-to-day manners that differ markedly from those of an angry bear. Most of all, he doesn't make tea, although if he did, chances of him remembering to make some for John would be slim, if not actually starving.
"Right." John squares his shoulders, then presses his fingers to Sherlock's throat and begins palpating his lymph nodes. "No swelling," he says. He touches the back of his hand to Sherlock's forehead. "No fever. You're your usual temperature, a vampiric 36. And don't tell me I need a thermometer to tell if you've got a fever or not. I know what you feel like by now."
"Wouldn't dream of it," says Sherlock. John's inclined to interpret this sudden lack of interest in scientific testing instruments as a put-on, but Sherlock looks up at him with an expression of lobotomized calm.
"Shit," says John. He grasps Sherlock's wrist. Pulse seems all right. "You're … I think you're sick. Do you want to go to the hospital?"
"Because you're making tea and reading the sport section and trying to make jokes – trying, mind – and you're not looking at those emails and your hand is shaking." John takes a deep breath. "You're not you, Sherlock."
Sherlock avoids John's gaze. "I feel perfectly normal."
"Normal. Yes. That's the problem. I'm telling you, you're not right."
"So you want to take me to hospital because I'm normal? That should go down a treat. 'People with aneurysms, step aside: normal man coming through.'"
"Still snarky. Good. That bit's you." John sits down next to his boyfriend and puts a hand in the small of his back. Sherlock hesitates, then leans into him. He seems to consider putting his head on John's shoulder, but decides against it.
"Tell me what's wrong," orders John. "Is this about the sex? Did I hurt you? Is it a problem that I didn't make you come with just penetration? I'm willing to work with you on this. I want to work with you on this."
"No," says Sherlock. "It's not the sex. The sex was brilliant. You're brilliant. It's just …." He looks down at his hands. In the army doctor's experience, this is where people look right before breaking up with him.
John tries not to panic over his egotistical flatmate calling him brilliant. He fails.
What is this? This sudden interest in basic cookery and the FA Cup? Is this your way of acting out your disappointment in me as a lover? Are you showing me that the way I had you was so dull, so obvious, so lacking in finesse that it turned your Mind Palace into a Derp Shack?
Sherlock lets out a defeated breath. "I don't know. I'm not … right, as you say."
"No, you're bloody well not," says John, shaking his head. "We just had sex. For some people, that might mean teatime, but you? When you're in a good mood, you show off, which is why you decoding those emails would have made sense. When you're feeling comfortable and relaxed, you shout about the idiocy of everyone who's ever worked for law enforcement, so that would also have been OK. At the very least, I'd expect you to be calling out deductions about the state of your hair and it being consistent with you being shoved back and forth across the pillow on the end of my dick. You're not doing any of these things. It's freaking me out."
Sherlock looks at John in mild astonishment.
"How do you know me this well?"
John gives an impatient shrug. "You see everything. I see one thing. It used to be medical school. Then it was the war. Now it's you, so don't think for one minute that you can bullshit me about this. You're sick, whether the A&E can pick it up or not. Sickness makes us not behave like ourselves. One way to tell when a mouse has toxoplasmosis is that it seeks out cats."
Sherlock frowns. "And I seek out popular culture and household chores."
"Apparently," says John. "Shit. I should just send you to Tesco's with a list while we wait for this to blow over."
"How very practical of you." For the first time since they began the conversation, Sherlock gives a faint smile.
John runs a hand over his face. "Practical: that's me, all right. Listen. Do you have any idea what's wrong with you?"
"No," concedes Sherlock. "It's like one of those dreams where you're searching for something. The nightmare isn't that something is missing; it's that you can't think what it is."
"That's not like you at all," groans John. "You not being able to think? Fucking hell. That's it. I'm taking you to your room, and you're going to write up what we just did in that damned lab book like the arrogant sod you are. Come on. It'll cheer you up. You'd best give me at least an 8, too, if you know what's good for you."
A flicker of curiosity passes over Sherlock's pale face. "What lab book?" he asks.
Chapter 22: Fidiot's Wake
References to sex (yay!) and the annihilation of the self (boo).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sherlock notes that there are stages to John's breakdown. The first stage involves John calling him a fucking idiot until his speech slurs, at which point it starts coming out as "fidiot." Sherlock would be glad that they were now solidly in the second stage, if it weren't for the fact that John looks wrecked.
"Name," demands John. Sherlock is sitting politely on the sofa. For once, John is the one using furniture for something other than its intended use. He's plunked himself down on the coffee table and wedged his short legs between Sherlock's long ones so that he can face his patient while he diagnoses. He's already taken Sherlock's pulse three times, and the last time, he failed to let go of Sherlock's wrist. Sherlock doesn't mind.
"Your name, berk. And do not tell me 'Berk,' or I'll..."
Sherlock doesn't wait around to find out what an ex-army doctor does when angry. Results on that are conclusive. "Sherlock Holmes."
"No. Nice try, but you're not getting my middle name. Suffice it to say, it's exactly what you'd expect from people who came up with Sherlock and Mycroft. Although at least it's not Hamish."
John exhales. "That was vain. Good. Parts of your personality are still intact. What day is it?"
"Monday, the thirteenth of February, 2012."
"Where are we?"
"221B Baker Street. Really, John. Do keep up."
"Now you're just being an twat. Who's the prime minister?"
"I don't see how that's relevant."
"That's you, all right. Anybody else would get marks off for that, but coming from you, that's excellent. What did you do last week?"
Sherlock shrugs. "Narrow it down. Seven days is a long time."
"Fine. Last Wednesday."
"Wednesday, the fifth of February. 11:03. We were chasing the Battersea Batterer down that alley behind the chip shop. 11:04. You weren't used to your new boots, and you stubbed your toe and fell on him. 11:05. I hit him in the face for not providing you with a more comfortable landing place. 11:06 …"
"Yeah. Let's try another date. The fifth of January."
"Night before my birthday. 20:32. You took me to Angelo's. You usually order the spaghetti aglio e olio, but you were concerned – unnecessarily, I might add – that I wouldn't let you suck me off in the cab afterwards if you had garlic brea—"
"Right, yes, that's January sorted." Sherlock is pleased to observe that John is squirming in his makeshift seat. "Fifth of December."
"19:11." Sherlock hesitates. "You called me from the surgery. I wanted you to text, but you couldn't, because you were busy strangling someone in a lift."
"Who was I strangling?"
"You heard me. Who was I strangling?"
"John, I advise you not to make any admissions of guilt. Mycroft has re-bugged the flat."
John goes very still. "Shit. You don't know, do you?"
The look on his face says more than "a bit not good." It says, "a bit fucking disastrous." Sherlock's first impulse is to lie, to obfuscate, to cover things up so that John will reposition his face.
Can I save this? Can I redirect his attention by scuffing my shoes on the carpet, letting a static charge build up and then zapping him with it, maybe with my lips?
"What does it matter?" he hedges.
John says nothing, just tightens his grip on Sherlock's wrist until his hand turns the colour of chalk. After a few minutes, John slumps and lets go.
"No idea," says Sherlock, finally. He shakes his head, but the information doesn't return. "And it has to do with you. I always remember everything to do with you. How do I not know this?" Sherlock wraps one of his curls around his fingers and yanks with frustration.
"I think I understand," says John, prying the curl out of his flatmate's hand. "I want you to answer the following question without getting offended. How many people have you slept with?"
Sherlock's answer is immediate. "You."
"Me," reiterates John.
Sherlock has no idea where his flatmate is going with this. Uncertainty makes him snappish. "Yes, John, well spotted. Are you waiting for kudos on taking my virginity? Very well: congratulations. The Freak finally let somebody get it all the way in. I'll have Mycroft throw you a ticker-tape parade."
John doesn't rise to the bait. "Me and who else?"
Sherlock sighs. "Are we including fantasies? Fine. You and Enrico Fermi and the young Sir Isaac Newton. Although I'm…"
John won't like this. I don't know why he won't but he won't.
"I'm losing interest in the other two," Holmes admits.
"Fuck," says John.
John slides to his knees in front of Sherlock's bedside table and starts tossing things out of it, not looking to see where they land. The pocket torch hits the bookcase. The lube hits Sherlock. The latter would be shouting "Ow" in his usual overdramatic fashion were he not distracted by pride over the fact that the bottle is five-sixths empty.
"Sebastian," John demands. He's not about to let the need to ransack the furniture stop his interrogation. "Come on, you've got this. Tell me who Sebastian is."
"Saint," hazards Sherlock. "Tied to a tree, shot full of arrows. In that order."
"Stop guessing. You never guess. Victor."
Sherlock groans. "That's not even a name, John."
"Yes, it is." John fishes a flask of distilled water out of the drawer, judges it not flight-worthy, and deposits it on the floor. "Victor."
"Winner. Champion. A word used in the military alphabet to signify the letter 'V.' For heaven's sake, be careful with that. That's the last of the Luminol."
When not talking, John's mouth is set in a straight line. "Like you even know what Luminol is right now. You read it off the side of the bottle, didn't you? Don't answer that. Mycroft."
"Ugh," says Sherlock. He doesn't have to think about that one. "An insufferable prat, fond of cake. Can you not say his name in our bedroom? I was planning to continue to have relations with you in here."
"Correct. Julien." John pulls out the hydrogen peroxide and sets it down. The drawers are empty now.
Sherlock hangs his head despondently. "A method of preparing carrots," he offers.
"Damn it," says John. "All right. I need to know where the lab book is. If we can find it, maybe we can jog your memory, get some of this information back. Focus, Sherlock. Do you have any idea where you put it?"
Sherlock thinks back to entering the flat earlier this morning. He had mostly been aware of the smell of sexual arousal generated by himself and John as they negotiated their way to the bed. But underneath that scent, there had been a light undercurrent of smoke.
"I think," says Sherlock, "I may have burnt it."
John scratches around in the fireplace with the poker, then sits down heavily in his armchair.
"You burnt it, all right. That's part of the cover over there."
"I don't know why you're so upset about this," says Sherlock. He's leaning against the back of his armchair, hunching his shoulders and staring into the fireplace.
"I know you don't." John moves to Sherlock's chair and sits down in it. He motions for Sherlock to lie down in his lap. Sherlock sits gingerly on top of John and then spreads himself over him like a blanket. He ends up with his neck draped over one armrest and his long legs spilling over the other.
"Let me break this down for you," says John. "You're the first guy I've been with, right? My first boyfriend. But I'm not yours."
"That's what this is about," says Sherlock, slowly. "I've been with other people. I don't remember them, but I have. That's what's in the book. Did I … did I cheat on you?"
"No," says John, "Not at all. You didn't know me then."
"But you're angry. Did I give you something? A disease, I mean."
Sherlock frowns. "How many people was it?"
John tells him.
"A hundred and what?" asks Sherlock.
"Eighty-three. Eighty-four, including me."
"Right. Well, I think we can safely include you. I remember that much. So I … got around."
"A bit, yeah."
"It doesn't make any sense," says Sherlock. "Who'd want to sleep with me? No offense, John, but most people aren't that crazy."
John twines his fingers in Sherlock's hair. "None taken," he says. "A lot of people wanted to sleep with you."
"But why? Because of my interpersonal savoir-faire? It's not as though I know anything about human relationships that don't end with an ice pick between the eyes." Sherlock makes sure to wave a hand between himself and his lover to illustrate "interpersonal." That kind of awkward, oblivious gesture usually sends John to his knees, but John isn't having any of it.
"I don't have time to stroke your ego right now," he says, firmly. "Look in the mirror for thirty seconds and figure it out."
Sherlock's back goes rigid. He turns his face towards the kitchen and folds his hands over his stomach.
"That's why you had sex with me," he says. "Because of how I look. Thank you, John. It's best that I know."
"No! Just … no. Do not disengage from me, Sherlock; I know when you're wandering off to your mind palace to avoid me, and I won't have it. We had sex because … look. The two of us, we belong together. You're a genius and I'm insane and I'm utterly smitten by you and I'm not getting any younger and spending my entire daily ration of energy on not nailing your arse to the mattress was Wearing. Me. Out. That's why."
"And if I weren't a genius," mutters Sherlock, picking at his sleeves. His right hand trembles.
"Don't say that," says John. "You are."
"But if I weren't." Sherlock tries to get his feet under him so that he can stalk off, maybe find a sufficiently shroud-like sheet to flounce around in, but John catches him by the waist and pulls him back down.
"Stop it. I would make you do the shopping and love you anyway."
Sherlock struggles. "You said…"
"Hold still, damn it. I don't care what I said. You're what matters to me, and if anything happened to you, I would love you with all my heart and soul and body, and if that didn't work, I would find something else to love you with and love you harder, you dipwit, because I don't know how to do anything else. Do you understand why I'm angry?"
"Of course. I slept with 183 people. My promiscuity makes me a poor candidate for a long-term, monogamous relationship. I'm sorry, John. I don't know what I can do about that now."
"Wrong. Completely, utterly wrong. I'm not pissed off because you fucked 183 people; I'm pissed off because you deleted them. Do you even speak French any more?"
Sherlock shakes his head. "How did you know?"
"Because you didn't translate those emails. Just now, when you said 'savoir-faire,' your accent was horrible. One of your lovers – probably Julien – must have taught you French. You deleted him, and it's gone. What else is gone, Sherlock?"
Sherlock is silent.
"I knew it," says John. "It's all gone. Everything your lovers taught you is gone. Unfortunately, that's a huge part of your personality, your knowledge, your life. All you've got left is how to make tea and read the football scores. I taught you that."
"John, I hardly think…"
"Let me finish. Do you know what the worst part of this is? I know why you did it. You deleted these people for me. You did it because I was weak and jealous and couldn't stand thinking of you with anyone else."
Sherlock blinks. "I thought I dreamt that," he says. "You said it made you sick, thinking of me with other men. But it didn't make any sense, because I haven't been with any other men. Except you say I have, so I must …"
"This," says John. "This is what's tearing your brain apart. I think you've told it to retain all the data about me – which is flattering, Sherlock, really, it is – and chuck all the data about everyone else. Everyone you had sex with, that is. You still remember your brother, which is good, because if he had touched you like that I would slit his throat with a butterfly knife.
"But some of what you know about me doesn't make any sense unless you also know about the others. You remember that I almost killed Sebastian Wilkes, because I'm in that memory, but you're trying to forget, because Seb's in it too. The whole thing is one big ball of 'does not compute,' and it's left you confused and shaking and out of your mind, and I think you're getting worse. Well, fuck that."
Sherlock boggles. "'Fuck that?' Is that your advice? Because whatever my past accomplishments may be, I'm not sure I know how to put this idea of yours into practice."
"Fuck it," repeats John. "Bollocks. Nuts to this. I won't let you destroy yourself for me. Not by bathtub, not by bullet, not by deletion, not by anything. You are going to be my lover, and you are going to be yourself, and you are going to fucking live. I am not going to let you turn yourself into a blow-up zombie sex doll for me, all body and no brain. Now get off me and go sit on the sofa."
John takes a deep breath. "Because that's where I first saw you lose parts of your life, sugar crumpet. And that's where you're going to get your life back."
Special thanks to my fierce, smart, witty friend inconcvbl, who has been with me since chapter one. It's a pleasure to know you, lieutenant.
Chapter 23: Aspiration
As always, expect references to sex. I can't seem to delete it from my mind palace.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John Watson, MD, runs yet another differential diagnosis before coming up with the same conclusion he's already reached six times: this makes no fucking sense.
People can't delete themselves into oblivion. Human anatomy is not designed so that people can work themselves into a corner where they must both remember and forget the same event whilst the resulting paradox brings their frontal lobes crashing down around them. On the other hand, there are a lot of things that people can't do, and in their short time together, John has seen his boyfriend do most of them. He can cross his ankles behind his head, he can see a murder in a grain of sand, he can piss off Mycroft like nobody else, and if anyone can delete himself, it's Baker Street's resident polymath, Sherlock Holmes.
The stubborn army doctor sits on his makeshift seat, facing the nexus of all his love and patience and desperation head on. "Try," he urges. "I need you to try."
"I'm trying," groans Sherlock. Although his mouth is complaining, his body is still obediently stretched out on the sofa, just as John arranged it after discovering the remnants of the lab book containing Sherlock's sexual history. His head is tilted upward and his long limbs are draped over the side closest to the window. He's paler than a nicotine patch, and he's jiggling the armrest because the tremors have spread to his legs. "I've been trying for hours now. Let me sleep, John."
"Fucking no. I'm telling you, the exhaustion is a symptom. When people find themselves in extreme states – too much time buried in snow, too much time underwater – they want to drift off, stop trying. It's not safe. Stay with me until we get the amnesia reversed."
"For God's sake, let me rest. I'll deal with it later."
"You're not going to deal with it later. We don't have that long. Try it again." John bites back the please, for me. If the deranged genius has stumbled upon a way to mentally implode like a black hole, John is damned if the man's last coherent memories will be of him begging, "Don't leave me" from his perch on the coffee table.
"Sleep," repeats Sherlock. It's been at least an hour since he's said a word containing more than two syllables.
John keeps his voice even and unshaken, like his trigger hand. "If you go to sleep, will there be anyone left to wake up? How long do we have, exactly, before you stop being you?"
The detective rubs his eyes, then peers at John, as if surprised to find him still there. "We don't know that's going to happen."
"Yes, Sherlock, I think we do." At times like this, John wishes he knew the man's middle name, the better to berate him with. "What did you tell me about that film I made you watch?"
"That the writing was bad and the acting was worse. Also, blasters can't make noise in space." Sherlock's silver eyes widen. "Although that sounds … good right now. Great, in fact. Why don't we…"
"Sherlock Holmes, that is the least you thing I've ever heard. Do not tell me you want to waste another two hours of your life watching Star Wars with me, or I will have you admitted to hospital so fast your vertebrae will spin. Although it won't do any good, not unless they have an expert xenobiologist on staff. Honestly. Who covers spontaneous self-induced amnesia in medical school?"
John can't bring himself to mention "associated cascading brain damage, offered up by a self-diagnosed sociopath as an early Valentine's present." That'll look great on the medical charts, he thinks. His and mine too, after he drives me permanently spare.
"No one," mutters Sherlock. "When all this is over, you can teach a class."
"When all this is over, you can give me back the five years you've taken off my life with this. No, do not take that literally. I want you to live forever, you git, and I want to be beside you when you do. Right. You said you put that film in your twenty-four-hour cerebral recycle bin because it was so bloody awful. Then you brought it back because you're a sentimental idiot and it reminded you of me. Your bin – and God only knows what that means, neurologically speaking – can hold things for up to twenty-four hours. That means we only have a few hours left to get your memories back. Think, Sherlock. How do you access deleted memories? How do you restore files?"
"I don't know. I'm coming undone. So many of the things I must have known before are ..." Sherlock holds up his empty hands.
John's heart sinks at the sight of his boyfriend acting out "gone." "Let me guess," he says. "One of the things you've forgotten is your method for getting memories back."
"Damn it," grits John. "The one area where you have a sense of privacy, and it comes back to bite us on the arse. You never let me see you restore anything. You're secretive about it, like a cat. You're more than happy to show off your bits, your opinions, your desire to play the violin at 3:00 am, just not your restoration process, because you're never that keen on admitting you've made a mistake. Shit. I wish I'd seen you undelete that film. It would help us figure out what to do next."
Watching Sherlock hang his head to indicate "for everything," John clenches his jaw so tightly that it takes effort to unclench it in order to talk. "Bollocks. I didn't tell you to apologise; I told you to bring this stuff back. Try wiggling your toes."
"No, that only works when getting rid of things. Really, this feels wrong. I shouldn't be lying down. Being on my back like this only helps me delete."
"Then for God's sake, get up." When Sherlock is slow to respond, John manhandles him into a sitting position. "Listen. Whatever you do, do not erase anything else from your brain. Keep everything exactly as it is until we figure out how to fix you, all right?"
"I don't think it's under my control any more. It's all crumbling. I kicked a pebble, and it started an …" Sherlock looks quizzically at his partner.
"Avalanche," says John, quietly.
"Yes. Can't stop it. Just let me sleep." The curly head droops, and a pair of alabaster eyelids fall shut.
John snatches a glass of water off the nearby desk and splashes the man's infuriating face with it. A bit late, he wonders if it was, in fact, water. With a mad chemist in the house, you never know.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" sputters Sherlock, now fully awake. "Why is it so important that I get these memories back?"
John looks at him in amazement. Bingo. Irritation. Three-syllable words restored.
"We've been over this, and we'll keep going over it until you get it. They're you. These memories are you. They're what you're made of."
Sherlock kicks at the carpet like a five-year-old whose shoes are tied too tight. "But I don't have to be made of these things you describe, these foolish behaviours, these addictions, these mistakes. I can help you. I don't care about crime anymore. I don't have to drag you into the line of fire every time some idiot gains possession of a handgun. Why not do what you're trained to do? Open a small surgery, and I'll be your assistant. We'll stop killing people and start keeping them alive. You can have a different life, a better life."
John draws a deep breath.
"Stop it," he snaps. "Fucking stop it. Did you just offer to be my receptionist? Don't think for a minute that I want that, and don't ever dismiss what we do. We keep people alive by destroying monsters."
"I am a monster," reports Sherlock. "I don't remember much, but I remember that. It's all I've ever been. Let me go, John. Let me be something else for you. Everyone else can see me for what I am; why can't you?"
"Because everyone else is wrong, all right? You're not the broken version of a normal person; you're not the slag version of a normal person; you're not the genius version of a normal person. You're the correct version, the only version of Sherlock Holmes. How you are – how you really are, underneath this sickness – is fucking brilliant. If you ever hear me suggest otherwise again, fucking hit me. Give me a hard uppercut to the jaw."
"I'm not doing that," says Sherlock. "You'll see it coming, and I enjoy having teeth."
Don't laugh, thinks John. It's serious; don't laugh, but Sherlock is looking at him with repressed and desperate mirth, so he laughs, and Sherlock does too, until they're both giggling like a couple of shellshocked lunatics riding through no man's land in a hail of mortar fire on the bike they stole from the C.O.
"You're not giving up without a fight, are you, captain?" Sherlock murmurs.
"No," says John, somber again. "You're the most important thing in my life, and I'm going to get you back. We're doing recon now. No man left behind. Tell me what needs to happen for us to complete the mission."
Sherlock bites his lip. "Comfortable," he says. "If I'm going to bring things back, I think … I need to be comfortable."
"But not lying down."
"Stay there," says John, though Sherlock doesn't seem to be in the mood to go anywhere. He runs to Sherlock's bedroom and brings back a bottle. Sherlock quirks an eyebrow at him.
"Pervert," says John. "I'm not fucking you with this. I just want to rub your back. You're all hunched up and you need to unwind." He sits down in the middle of the sofa, legs spread out on the cushions in front of him, then pats the space between his thighs invitingly.
"Closer," he says.
With some hesitation, Sherlock manoeuvers himself into the space that John has created for him and drapes his legs over John's. The two of them sit facing each other, closer than an arm's length apart, limbs entwined.
John carefully works Sherlock's robe down over his shoulders, baring them to the light. He pours some of the bottle's contents into his right hand, then rubs his palms together to get its temperature up. John remembers the two of them buying the stuff – half-lubricant, half-lotion – on a field trip to Covent Garden. Sherlock had wanted something ridiculously expensive containing silicon, essence of yuzu, and possibly eye of newt, and John hadn't seen why they couldn't just toss each other off with gun oil now that Sherlock's previous bottle of lube was gone. Then John had found this, smooth and creamy with an almond oil base. He'd rubbed some on the inside of Sherlock's wrist, where the blood circulating near the skin would warm it and release the scent. After taking it for a test run under a shrub in Hyde Park, both of them had agreed that it rendered male anatomy even more than usually delicious.
As the scent of the almonds rises, Sherlock makes an appreciative hum.
"I told you this was better than that yuzu glop," says John.
"And I told you it was better than rubbing one out with something designed for the rifle range." Sherlock winces as John presses into his shoulders with lotion-cooled fingers. Then he sighs and relaxes into John's touch.
"Feel nice?" says John.
Sherlock doesn't bother to fight. "Yes." He lets his head drop forward so that his forehead rests against John's furrowed brow, where the ever-present subtitles in his wrinkles spell out, "Come back, you idiot. Come back."
Oh, thinks Sherlock. That's … that's brilliant.
John is touching him. John is pressing his capable hands into the aborted wings of Sherlock's shoulder blades and everything feels good. Smells good too, hot and sweet, like the two of them giving each other pleasure. Sherlock feels like his flatmate is giving him something else by rubbing him – necessary electrons, maybe? But that makes no sense, because he is the electron, and John is the proton, the centre, the hub. Sherlock is a swallow, crazily dipping and swooping, and John, warm and solid, is the nest. And now their legs are interlaced and their foreheads are pressed together and their bodies are steepled like a pair of hands. Because whether or not there is a God, there's still prayer, and whether or not there's an answer, there's still the question, and that's what he and John are together, something questioning and aspirational and sacred and secular. He loves John, and John loves him. There's anger sometimes, but underneath that, there is love, and the anger comes from the love; of course it does; obvious; everything comes from it.
And the way their bodies are folded together is familiar, of course it is, because this is the position they were in the first time John breathed into him and brought him to completion. As if John could ever not bring him to completion. Shadow is evidence of light. The very existence of this man had been implied his whole life, if only he had taken the trouble to deduce it.
And now John is kissing him, and as John's breath flows into his body, Sherlock thinks of all the ways in which John gives him his love. Tea-making John, bickering John, appreciative John, bantering John, combative John, John roughing up Sebastian in a lift.
Wait. Sebastian. Oh my God. Sebastian.
Sherlock pulls his mouth away. "John?"
"I think," says Sherlock, "I'm starting to remember."
All my appreciation goes to the fine, sexy people who made the following art:
Sherlock remembering by Youcantsaymylastname
Sherlock being sorry for everything by wemustneverever
John saying stop it by wemustneverever
Sherlock describing himself as a monster, also by wemustneverever. (You spoil me!)
Aspiration is an amazing word. It means breath. And desire. And the object of that desire. And taking water into the lungs. And a medical procedure for taking things out of the body that shouldn't be there. Yay.
Chapter 24: Theseus and the Minotaur
Warnings: Drug references. Profanity. Greek mythology.
Promises: Men going at it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Once upon a time, there was a palace. Its sole inhabitant was a prince of hybrid nature. It was said that his was the body of a god, with skin like moonlight and hair the colour of a Cretan night, joined to the mind of a monster, twisting and cavernous and deep.
He had not always been monstrous. As a boy, he had lived happily with his vizier-like elder brother and their parents, a proud king and a winsome queen. A water god was jealous of their happiness, and he sent a bull, white as bone, to seek the queen's favour. The queen was smitten by her beastly suitor and accepted its advances. Upon hearing of his wife's infidelity, the king threw himself headlong into the sea, never to be seen again by anyone but the starfish. It was murmured among the subjects of the kingdom that the one who had given the king the deadly news was the young prince, for he had the ways of a scientist, and it was his nature to be honest.
The people of the kingdom grew wary and afraid, lest their secrets also be discovered and revealed by the sharp-eyed regent.
"Dull," said the prince.
Shortly after the king's death, the queen fled to the kingdom of a new lover, and the elder prince set forth to conquer new territory far from his parents' tainted bed. Slowly, the young prince grew half-savage in the desolate wilderness of his own home.
It had been the king's wish that the young prince would marry, and for a time, it seemed to outsiders that he would. A year to the day after his father's death, the prince began to build additions, lavish and shimmering, onto the palace. No one was ever seen entering the building, but the sound of hammering was heard well into the night, and the palace grew ever larger. The people of the kingdom whispered that new rooms were being built to entice a suitor, someone who could provide their fierce young ruler with companionship and comfort. Only among the old fishwives was it muttered that the additions were being raised to keep suitors out.
But the prince heard none of this talk. Holed up in his citadel, he turned his back on grief and built a library containing the knowledge of Alexandria, a laboratory distilling life to its chemical essence, a moratorium laying bare the shrouded mysteries of the dead, and an observatory yielding all the secrets of the stars. Scholars from distant lands were sometimes allowed to visit these rooms, while the prince, sequestered, played his violin. Stories of the prince's brilliance made their way to all the kingdoms of the world.
To the prince, however, this was not enough. His mind was vast and restless and beset by questions, and even the largest palace could not house all of his alchemies and imaginings.
One night, as if by magic, the prince leveled a slum in order to make room for new type of aqueduct that intrigued him. His subjects had had enough. Over the course of a week, they built a strong wall around the palace to keep their regent from appropriating any more land. Local villagers began to seek out a champion, one who could rout the prince from his fortifications and put an end to his extravagance.
The prince, however, was stubborn and arrogant. Instead of delivering himself up to the people, he began tunneling downwards.
For days he worked, never eating, never sleeping. He built hanging gardens, limpid pools, vaulted rooms, and corridors without measure, but none of these could hold his interest. Midnight would find him hunched in his alchemical laboratory, performing experiments by the light of phosphorescent cave plants. Without tending, the gardens were soon overtaken by nightshade, the pools turned to swamp, the rooms sank into pits and dust, and the corridors twisted like the fingers of one who has taken arsenic.
The prince stayed in his underground world so long that he forgot the palace. As his surroundings became more dangerous, he retreated further and further into the outcroppings of his labyrinth, a bull-headed man, naked and alone, wild and bellowing.
Young men and women came seeking the savage prince. Some hoped to kill him, while others hoped to conquer his heart. By either method might they gain dominion over the palace, which was toasted in all corners of the world. None succeeded, however, and their bodies lay unmourned in the cul-de-sacs built by the master of the maze.
Then, one day, a soldier came. He was small but strong, and he was more than a match for the minotaur in fierceness and bravery.
"Hullo," said the soldier.
"Tiny fool," said the minotaur, he of the feverish eye and flaring nostril. He pawed the ground with one of his enormous feet. "Why have you followed me here? It will be your death."
"Death doesn't frighten me," said the soldier, "and neither do you. I've heard you are ingenious, and I've come to listen to you talk. Also, this cellar you've built is extraordinary."
"You think so?" The minotaur frowned. "That's not what people normally say."
"I'm not most people," said the soldier, "and I'm not all that interested in normal."
At that moment, the earth shook itself and roared. The palace, long-forgotten by the minotaur, was caving in on the two of them.
"Ah," said the minotaur. "We will both die." Although he had never feared death, the timing was inconvenient. It was not every day that he had someone to pay attention to him.
"No," said the soldier. "With your cleverness, you can find your way around the dangers we face, and I remember where the palace is. Come with me at once. We need to regain the sunlight." And with that, the soldier grabbed the minotaur by his pale, long-fingered hand and ran.
"'Lock, come on," orders John. "Stay with me."
"Don't you have a princess to run off to?" Sherlock asks, mind still in the labyrinth of his dream.
"Of all the …" John pinches the bridge of his own nose. "The only princess here is you. Stay awake. What do you see?"
Pale eyes blink away sleep. "A short, exasperated man in an even shorter robe."
"Right. Let's start over. Tell me about Sebastian."
"Yes. You didn't kill him for me, but you thought about it, and you came home with his blood under your fingernails. It was like getting ..." Sherlock thinks back to a film night between John and Clara at the flat. He had groaned through it, but paid attention anyway as part of a longitudinal study on the pastimes of army doctors. "Long-stemmed roses when you did that. Ten. One for each finger."
"What else do you remember? What about the auction a few months ago?"
Sherlock stares. There is a furrow across John's brow, and he's fairly certain he himself put it there. He traces it with his thumb, as though the thread of it will lead him to the missing memory.
"Come on," says John, "You've got this. I was with you. There was a book bound in human skin. I was afraid you were going to bring it home and put it on the coffee table. Tell me what happened."
This is futile. The only human skin I remember from that night belongs to John, and it was bunched up between his eyebrows like it is now.
"Annoyance," remembers Sherlock. "You were irritated by my lack of interest in grade-B science fiction, and frustrated that we hadn't had sex yet. I solved the Victoria Robinson case, and you kept staring at my chest."
"Erm, yes. Not the synopsis that I would have made, but yes. Now think. Somebody touched you. Who was it?"
"You. You threw your arm around my waist. It was … nice."
John presses on. "Not until somebody else touched you first. Someone kissed you. Who was it?"
"You were jealous." Sherlock is pleased with the memory. "You wanted me, and you didn't want anyone else to have me. It was written all over you."
"Right, keep your knickers on; I was jealous. Stop thinking about us and tell me who else was there."
Sherlock frowns. "I don't know."
"Fuck," says John. "Here goes nothing." And before Sherlock can ask what he means, John's mouth is connecting with his, and it's warm and soft and good. Clearly, John is seeking the missing information with his tongue. There's a clumsiness, but also a sweetness, not like with…
"Julien," gasps Sherlock. He pulls his head back. "You went with me to Julien's."
Delighted, John grabs him by the face and kisses him again. He seems to be using Sherlock's cheekbones as a steering mechanism to insure maximum mouth delivery. "Excellent," he says, as Sherlock recovers his breath. "What can you tell me about Julien?"
"He's French. He used to have Oliver Cromwell's spike."
"Good. Very good. Speak French to me, posh boy."
"Embrasse-moi plus fort."
John grins. "No idea what that means, but I like the sound of it."
"'Kiss me harder,'" translates Sherlock.
They stay up all night. As John touches him, Sherlock can feel the dendrites unfolding in his head, reaching out to the surrounding brain cells, forming a silken rope to lead him out of his self-inflicted amnesia.
"Who was after Julien?" John wants to know.
"The lock-picker." Sherlock can't think of the name at first, but when John kisses his mouth open, the detective sees bent coat hangers, paper clips, a credit card, a bicycle spoke. "Erik."
"Nice. After Erik?"
"That prat." John runs his fingers over the inside of Sherlock's left arm, where the needle marks are, and the fine hair stands to attention. "Ah. Apparently, I learned a great deal from him. Did you know that people trading sex for cocaine usually inject intravenously? Subcutaneous administration makes for hideously unattractive skin, which is a barrier to obtaining more cocaine."
"Fucking Seb," mutters John. "He's a dead man. I'm going to smear the walls with him, and whatever remains is going straight to the bottom of the lift shaft. Right. Who was next?"
"I just wanted to be sure you were paying attention. I wouldn't fuck him if he were the last dickhead on earth. After Seb came the chemistry don. No, no, the violin tutor. Lawrence."
"Fine," says John. Trying to elict more memories, he strokes the place under Sherlock's chin where the violin rests as he plays for him in the evenings. "Keep going."
Sherlock does. One memory leads to another, and he follows a trail of breadcrumbs that leads him out of confusion and into the arms of the last person on the list.
It's finished. They've run past the hanging gardens of Victor and the slough of Seb; the carnival ride of the Fitzpatrick twins and the pits of Pete, and now they lie tangled and whole on the sofa, blinking in the morning light.
"We're going to talk about this deletion thing later," warns the army doctor. "Don't think we're not."
"Then let me rephrase that as a question," says Sherlock. "John?"
"You already know my answer," says the other man. "Absolutely. Yes."
Sherlock moves to scoop him up off the furniture, but John stays his hand.
"Bed's too far. I want you here. That is, if we can all fit." He gestures towards Sherlock's formidable arse, which he has taken to calling the Monument.
The owner of said posterior snorts and plucks the large, rectangular cushions off the back wall of the sofa, then dumps them on the floor, creating an adequate workspace.
He strokes John's face. "It might hurt," he admits.
Now it's John's turn to snort. "As much as the medically disastrous case of blue balls you're giving me by not doing it? Doubt it. Take this off." This last command is punctuated by John's fingers tugging at the belt of Sherlock's robe.
Whoever invented robes, Sherlock decides, as John renders him almost instantly naked, was a genius. He pushes his lover down and straddles him with his strong thighs, then begins kissing a trail from John's jaw downward. When he encounters John's robe, he works it open with his nose and lips and continues.
"Argh," says John. Sherlock's only made it to his belly, and he's already half-hard. "We're not doing your clothing kink right now. Strip me and fuck me already."
"Bossy," observes Sherlock, but he works John into a sitting position and divests him of his clothing anyway.
"Too right," says John. "It's my first time, and I expect to be rogered properly naked with a cushion under my arse. You owe me."
"As you like. I can't refuse an order from a superior officer." Sherlock plucks a small jacquard cushion from under the coffee table, then notices it's covered in fleurs-de-lis. He drops it as though it were made of fire ants.
"What's wrong with that one?"
"Nothing," says Sherlock. "The houndstooth will be more comfortable." He grabs the English cushion off the lamp table and slides it under John's obliging pelvis.
That was close. If I have sex with him on top of something Julien gave me, John will never forgive me.
"Good save," says John, grinning. "You're right, I don't really want to fuck on that one right now."
He breathes into Sherlock's ear. "We'll fuck on it later."
Sherlock has never seen anything more gorgeous than John Watson offering himself up for a thorough rogering.
He lies among the cushions Sherlock has commandeered for him – one for his head, one for his hips – with lips and thighs parted. Sherlock is not surprised to see John's wandering tongue make a brief appearance, eclipsing his top incisors.
"Yeah," moans John. "Like that."
Sherlock works two long, lubricated fingers in and out of his mate. "This is the most of me that's ever been in you," he murmurs.
"You'd be surprised how much of you is in me," pants John. "I think there's one lobe of my brain that's just you, to be honest."
"Good. I'll use it as a backup system."
"Don't you dare," says John. "Ungh. What are you doing to me?" He's completely hard now.
"Whatever you want," says Sherlock, adding more of his hand.
"Shit," gasps John, arching his hips. "You've got a map of all my nerve endings tacked up on a wall somewhere, haven't you? Covered in ink and photographs and half-a-ball-of-twine-oh-God-Sherlock."
"221C," notes the detective. "Linen cupboard. Do you want…"
"Fucking yes already," says John, because this is how adventures start, with a Want to…? and a feverish assent. "Get on top of me. Don't make me wait for this."
Sherlock does as John commands. Time slows down as John exhales, then opens for him, takes him in, shelters him with his body. As Sherlock presses his flesh into the paradise of silken heat that is John's core, he sees his sandy-haired lover looking up at him like he is the last word in brilliant.
"Guh," groans John, filled to the brink with his flatmate. "Is that really your dick? It's perfect. I don't know what I've done without it. Promise me we'll fuck on every piece of furniture in this flat."
Sherlock feels hot all over. He bends down to kiss the smaller man on the mouth, even as he continues to plumb his depths. The kiss is sweet and eager, and not without a quick experiment.
John giggles, and Sherlock feels the vibrations in a very sensitive place. "For God's sake. Did you just flip your tongue over?"
"Half a turn," says Sherlock modestly, fingering one of his partner's nipples into hardness.
"Ungh," says John. "Crazy scientist. I've always liked them smart, but who thinks to create a Möbius strip through kissing? Daft bugger is what – oh fucking hell."
John breaks off because his flatmate is treating him to long, smooth strokes with a little shudder at the end. The army doctor throws his head and shoulders back in a gesture of abandonment. His cock, gleaming at the tip, shudders with anticipation. His body is broadcasting everything it needs, and Sherlock is more than happy to deliver.
"That's good," groans John. Sex makes him garrulous. "Baby, sweetheart, that's so good. Keep fucking me, I need it, I need you inside me, all the way in, yeah, like that." John wraps his legs around Sherlock's waist and urges him on with his heels like a member of Her Majesty's cavalry spurring his horse.
Sherlock rears up on his elbows so he can watch the gathering ecstasy flicker over John's face. "I love you," he says, soft and low. "I've never loved anyone but you. I'd touch your shaft now, but you don't want that, do you? You want to see if I can please you without it."
"Went to all the trouble of getting your expertise back, might as well use it," manages John. "Mmmgh. Give it to me. Fuck me with your voice, your brain, your genius – oh God, your utterly magnificent genius cock. Get it all the way up me; I want to feel you. Are you going to come in me? Do it. Please, I want you. Fill me up, 'Lock."
Sherlock does not spend a lot of time thinking about his looks, but inside John, he feels beautiful. Separated, they are two fractious men with scars on their backs, but together, they are radiant, a tessellation, something out of Escher. They're beyond speech now, but not beyond words, because John is covered in them. Sherlock can see the white sans-serif fonts radiating from every part of him, and they say fuck me, never leave me, pour yourself into me; I know you, I accept you, I love you. Looking at him when he's like this is like staring into the direct sun.
And now they are pressed nerve ending to nerve ending, and it feels fantastic. So many nerve cells touching, perhaps 145 km of them all together, enough to make a long chain leading out of the darkness as John works his warm fingers through the labyrinth of Sherlock's hair. Knowing he likes it rough, Sherlock bites his partner's good shoulder, claiming him, marking him as his own. As John twists in pleasure, they become a double helix – two bodies spiraling desperately out of control, bound up in each other's limbs. Then John captures his lover's mouth in a kiss, and his cries of "Sherlock" reverberate against the other man's tonsils. Sherlock thrusts into him once, twice, and it's enough to make John come hard and fast in his arms. The bonelessness is good, the clenching is brilliant, but more than anything, it's the knowledge that John loves him that pushes Sherlock naked and trembling into the sunlight.
This chapter goes out to AfroGeekGoddess, who is working on the splendid S/J fic "After Love." She makes the English language sing. Thanks to the always inspiring Atlin Merrick for helping me understand why Sherlock is bullish, and to Calico Crow for mentioning Möbius strips. Shout-out to resident physicist quirkies.
Huge and heartfelt thanks to Youcantsaymylastname for this extraordinary drawing of Minotaur Sherlock.
Chapter 25: Always 1895
Warnings: references to murder and torture.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sherlock Holmes, consulting spork, wakes to the reminder that John's hair is much like John. Short. Bristly. Honey-coloured in the afternoon light. At least partly straight. And, if its ticklish incursion into a certain consulting detective's nostrils is any indication, hell-bent on achieving physical union with Sherlock.
Woken by an indignant sneeze against the back of his neck, John yawns and wriggles backwards and wraps his boyfriend's right arm around himself more tightly. Sherlock thinks of an adrenalin junkie buckling himself onto a favourite rollercoaster.
"You still here?" John wants to know. "I thought I dreamed you."
Sherlock chews meditatively on the back of John's ear. It seems like the sort of gesture that should help him think. It does.
"Nightmares? Has your PTSD returned?"
"Ha. I like dreaming of you. You're not exactly Afghanistan."
"Really," drawls Sherlock. It seems an open question.
John rolls over onto his back and inspects his flatmate. Sherlock raises an eyebrow, inspecting him back, and John giggles.
He's devastating after an orgasm, Sherlock thinks, taking in the sight. Boneless. Stubbly. Expansive. Happy. I want to keep him like this forever.
Sherlock can't tell if this is train of thought is all fine or a bit not good. He's about to inquire when John interrupts him.
"Got you a present," he announces.
"You've already given me a present." Sherlock draws his partner closer and gives him a pointed shift of the hips.
"Is that your official diagnosis?"
"Yes. I got you a present anyway. A real one, not one consisting of my arse."
"Argh," groans Sherlock. "Valentine's Day. I should have … I meant to…"
"In your own daft way, you did. Stay here. It's my turn."
John wanders off to the attic bedroom and returns with a small, rectangular package. When he comes back, Sherlock is in an upright position on the sofa, muttering about the cold and the inconvenience of a certain army doctor absconding with all the heat. Technically, most of the heat was John's to begin with, but use of the third-person possessive with John seems unnecessarily restrictive. Sherlock continues to think of his flatmate and his belongings with the first-person possessive: mine.
John sets the gift on Sherlock's consulting lap. The detective has to focus hard on the gift to keep said lap from offering John his second consultation of the day.
Paper: the kind used on medical exam tables. Tape: applied between 40 and 48 hours ago. Ribbon: lacking. Folding technique...
John grins. "You noticed. Filched it from the surgery. Not the present; just the wrapping. Don't get your hopes up. It's not an eyeball."
"Eyeballs are boring," says Sherlock. "I'm onto gallbladders now. Well, well. Petty larceny. Given your predilections so far, I can't say I'm surprised. Are there any crimes you won't commit on my behalf? Flatmates should know the worst about each other."
The broad, Watsonian shoulders rise in a shrug. "No limits that I've noticed. Should there be?"
"No." Sherlock tilts his long neck back in invitation, and John, towering over him for once, leans down and kisses him.
The kiss finished, Sherlock opens his mouth to tell John that nobody's ever given him a Valentine's Day present before. He gets as far as "I never…" before John cuts him off.
"Stop," groans John. "Just stop. Do you have any idea how pronounced and … varied my virginity kink is? All your 'I nevers' go straight to my limbic system. Here you are, trying to show me how emotionally remedial you are, and I just want to throw myself on top of you and shag you blind. If we're ever going to get you off the sofa, you need to stop turning me on."
Sherlock blinks as the implications of this undiscovered interest hit him. Clearly not all of the variables that make up the equation that is John have been solved for. "I'll take that under consideration," he manages, throat dry.
"Do," says John. "Come on, open it."
Sherlock undoes the package. There, in the mid-February light, sits an ancient notebook with a crumbling, blood-red cover. It's the one he and John first saw months ago, among the rows of dark cabinets standing like sarcophagi at Julien's murderabilia auction. The name scrawled on the top edge of the book is Holmes.
Sherlock feels a buzzing in the vicinity of his larynx.
"Hang on, did you just squeak?"
"In the average adult male, vocal folds are about 21 mm in length. Yours, if I had to guess, must be a metre and a half. It shouldn't be possible for you to squeak. Shall I put this new development in my blog, or is it going straight to the Lancet?"
Sherlock refuses to ruin what's turning out to be a magnificent day by giving John recommendations on where to put it. "Do you have any idea what this is?"
"Something you wanted."
"And beyond that?"
"Beyond that, so what? You saw it at the auction and you fell to your knees in front of it and started hyperventilating. It was … you were … beautiful."
"So you don't know. Surely you …"
"I wasn't looking at the book, idiot. I was looking at you. You were … not bored. Do you have any idea how breath-taking you are when you're not bored? You were excited. In your element. Possibly in love. To tell the truth, it was all I could do not to reach into your trousers and stroke you off onto the glass. I was jealous over it for, well, months, but when I thought of how much you liked the damn thing, I had to try and get it for you."
"John Watson, you're…"
"Amazing? Fantastic? Extraordinary?"
John plants a kiss on the top of Sherlock's curly head. "Well spotted," he says. "Your powers of observation are uncanny. Listen, why don't I make a few deductions about your present for you? I'll get everything wrong, you'll have your usual orgasm over how oblivious I am, and there'll be cheese and biscuits for afters."
"You're welcome to get me off again, but I hardly think you'll need to persuade me with biscuits. Go on, deduce for me. You're more able than you think."
John plunks himself down next to Sherlock on the sofa and takes back the notebook.
"It's old," he says. "Oh, quit smirking." John points to the top edge. "The name here is written in a fountain pen. It's blotchy where some of the ink spilled out."
"Good. What else?"
"It's old enough for pen technology to be iffy, but new enough that we're not dealing with a roll of papyrus. The cover is leather, whereas now it might be plastic. It looks mass-produced, so it's post-Industrial Revolution. The whole thing is sort of crumbly. Kinda old but kinda new equals … 19th-century?"
"Correct. And it is mass-produced. Check the back."
John flips the notebook over and reads the name imprinted at the bottom out loud. "J. W. Butler."
"An American paper company operating out of Chicago. The company was formed in the 1840s, but this type of binding didn't become popular until the 1880s. These factors both support and refine your guess."
"I never guess," John intones, flaring his nostrils. His eyes channel a sort of rakish lunacy.
"When you suck in your cheeks, is that meant to be an imitation of me? Because it looks preposterous."
"Not answering that, princess." John runs a finger over the name scrawled on the top edge. "Your colonial cousin?"
"I wish. Open it."
John opens the book. "Architectural drawings. Doodles, anyway. That's odd."
"A real architect … I may be wrong, but wouldn't a real architect use drafting paper? This guy seems like he's just brainstorming, and not competently. This isn't precise draftsmanship. It's sketchy. It's slapdash. He's an amateur."
"What makes you think the author is a man?"
"He'd have to be, wouldn't he? Look at the state of his writing."
"That doesn't prove the author is male. With that level of illegibility, we could just be dealing with a ..."
"You're insufferable, you know that? Do you think hospitals set aside time during grand rounds for field work in penmanship?"
"I think nothing of the kind."
"Fine, smart arse. Even if he is a doctor, he's still likely to be a man. Hardly any 19th-century medical schools took women."
"You're on fire. What else?"
"No, it isn't. Where's this door leading?"
"Nowhere. Brick wall. I told you he was an amateur."
"And this stairway?"
"Well, it's meant to go to the first floor, obviously." John flips a page. "Except he hasn't actually drawn where it comes out."
"Which means it goes…?"
"Nowhere, I guess."
Sherlock nods. "What's this mark?"
"Well, again, it doesn't make sense. He's drawn the symbol for door, but it's in the middle of a corridor. It's like he's put it in the floor. Who puts a … hang on." John bites his lip. "Oh, shit. That's what you're saying. It's a trap."
"Say someone falls through the trap door. Where do they end up?"
John rifles through the notebook. "Bank vault."
"Very strong, very secure, very heavy. At that time, people generally installed vaults in the basement, since that's where gravity wants heavy objects to be. This vault is not far from the master bedroom. In fact, it's smack in the middle of the second floor. Note that there's a gaspipe feeding directly into it. Where do you expect to find the handle on an old-fashioned bank vault door?"
"That bastard," mutters John. "The outside."
"I told you you were able."
"Yeah, but I thought you were talking about blowjobs."
"You're skilled in multiple disciplines," clarifies Sherlock. "What's this space here?"
"Well, it appears on the third floor, second…" John flips the pages. "First, ground floor. Basement. It's not very wide. Not wide enough to be a room, anyway. Why's he keep putting it in? It's almost like…" John claps a hand over his own mouth. "Fuck. Just … fuck. It's a chute. He's connected all the floors with a chute to the basement."
"Why would he do that?"
John looks Sherlock in the eye. "Because that's where he dumps the bodies."
Delightful. John is utterly delightful. Sherlock lets out a long, shaky breath. "If I were to kiss you on the mouth right now, would that be…"
"Messed up? Yeah. It really would."
"Ah." Sherlock leans back, hands fidgeting in his lap.
John grabs him by the shoulders and snogs the spit out of him.
"So you've never heard of Dr. H. H. Holmes, the Monster of 63rd Street?"
"Catchy title, but no."
"Before your time, I suppose. He was charismatic, elegant. A doctor. A ladies' man. A sociopath. He built a hotel the length of a city block in Chicago, complete with all the amenities: bank vaults that doubled as gas chambers. A basement stocked with vats of acid and quicklime. A crematorium disguised as a glass-maker's furnace. Torture implements of his own design, including a so-called 'elasticity determinator.' They say he was inspired by Poe, who was, after all, interested in methods of punishment. It's just as likely he was inspired by Procrustes."
John gives a low whistle. "This elasti-whatsit. The rack?"
"Exactly. There were acres of windowless rooms, each offering a slightly different environment in which to die. Holding it all together were trap doors, secret passages, stairs leading nowhere, and the chute into the pit. The neighbors called it the Castle. The prosecutor called it a labyrinth." Sherlock frowns. The castle-labyrinth combination reminds him of something, but he can't think what.
John's voice brings him back to earth. "How many casualties?"
How very like him, muses Sherlock. Even strangers who've been dead for over a hundred years are considered comrades-in-arms.
"Estimates vary. Some say twenty; others ten times that. No one knows for sure. He told the story differently every time he was asked, and his murder castle blew up under suspicious circumstances while he was awaiting trial in 1895. Even if it hadn't blown up, he didn't entomb the bodies on site. Instead, he stripped the skeletons with lime and sold them to fellow medical professionals. One of his coups was getting almost 200 dollars from Hahnemann Medical College for the skeleton of his pregnant mistress. He also set his best friend – his only friend – on fire for the insurance money. The man was alive at the time. Holmes later said the victim was closer to him than a brother."
John shakes his head. "Bit of a dick move, that."
"The prosecutor thought so. Interestingly, even Holmes had his limits. As far as we can tell, he never harmed his wives."
"His wives? How many did he have?"
"Three, I think, all living and still married to him at the time of trial. He never laid a hand on any of them. As the trial progressed, the only time he cried was during the testimony of wife number three." Sherlock shrugs. "Sentiment."
"I'm glad they caught the bugger."
"They almost didn't. The police had their share of Andersons even then. Holmes left fingerprints everywhere, but nobody was looking for them. The only reason he went to trial was that he bragged to someone about his plans for the insurance swindle. The man loved an audience."
"You're sure he's not a cousin?"
"Of course. 'Holmes' was a nom de guerre. His real name was more pedestrian." Sherlock wrinkles his nose. "Mudgett. I wouldn't have kept it either."
"Sherlock, I'm joking. He's nothing like you. On a bad day, you're obnoxious, but not like that."
"What makes you think I'm not?"
"Everything. You help people. You've helped me. Not with the milk, obviously, and some of your ideas need work, but you give me a reason to be glad that Afghani bullet didn't land a bit to the right. Name someone who's a better person than you are."
"Yes, well, you would say that. I don't count; I've completely addled your brain with sex. It has to be somebody who doesn't have you jacked up on dopamine and pheromones and oxytocin 24 hours a day. Donovan? Anderson? Your brother? We all have our issues. Even Mrs Hudson was pleased to have her husband sent to the electric chair."
"Yes, and I'm the one who put him there. Although I appreciate your optimism, I don't share it. Just before you met me, I was starting to get …" Sherlock stretches out his fingers and stares at the spaces between. "Bored again. Reckless. If I don't have a project to keep me busy, I'll invent one, even if all I have to work with are syringes and hand grenades. H. H. was the same way. I could very well be him."
"No." John's bottom lip juts out, and Sherlock is temporarily derailed by his resemblance to a bulldog. It's more charming than it has any right to be. "You're a better man than you realise."
"I admit I'm better than I have been, but that's largely due to your presence. It's not due to any merit in myself."
"Why do you doubt it? It's a known phenomenon. The fact that you're in my life, that you're here to observe me, changes my behaviour. You know what they say about quantum mechanics."
"Do I look like I know what they say about quantum mechanics?"
Sherlock sighs. "You wouldn't think that merely observing parts of an atom would change the way they act, but evidence says that it does. An observed electron tends to behave like a particle. An unobserved electron is more likely to act like a wave. Similarly, an observed consulting detective …"
"Behaves like an arrogant tosser, yes. But you're my arrogant tosser, and you're sexy and amazing and jaw-droppingly brilliant. I wouldn't trade you for anything. Also, the point is irrelevant. I'm not going anywhere."
Sherlock looks down at the small, fierce man nestled against him on the couch and feels something interesting, something not far removed from the lightness and giddiness of love. It reminds him of the time he used the sharp end of a compass to poke a hole in one of Mycroft's mylar birthday balloons. He sucked out all the helium, then spent the next five minutes trying to prevent his chubby, toddler limbs from floating away.
"Lucky," says John, as if reading his mind. "Anyone with any taste in men would want to be right where I am, next to you. I'm lucky."
Ah. That's sorted. Sherlock pulls his flatmate closer and rests his chin on his blond head.
There's only one thing that doesn't make sense. The detective would just as soon not ask, but curiosity gets the better of him.
"How did you get the notebook?"
This chapter goes out to ancientreader for her prowess in textual analysis. Madame, I salute you.
A special shout-out goes to anarion for her witty, sexy Johnlock fic Show(case) and Tell," which answers the question, "What would John stroking Sherlock off against glass look like?" It would look smoking hot, that's what.
Thanks also to verityburns for taking time away from being the absolute master of the novel-length Sherlock fic to offer a much-needed Britpick.
The title of this chapter is taken from the poem "221B" by Vincent Starrett, which reads in part, "Here, though the world explode, these two survive / And it is always eighteen ninety-five."
Chapter 26: Glow
Warnings: References to violence and murder.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sherlock's eyes bore into John from under a fringe of dark curls. "You didn't," he says, in a voice that implies the opposite.
Not sure where the conversation is going, John nonetheless straps himself in for the ride. "Might have," he says, raising his chin. "Depends on what you're on about."
Theft, most likely, thinks John. All it takes is for me to steal a bit of packing tape from work to wrap his present with, and he thinks I'm into grand larceny. Not that he'd object to that.
John sometimes suspects that Sherlock was originally attracted to him in his capacity as a sort of walking crime scene. Civilians are typically horrified when someone, even a bloody awful cabbie, bleeds out at their feet; Sherlock, pupils utterly blown, chalked it up to "strong moral principle" and asked John to dinner. It's been clear for a while that Sherlock enjoys his flatmate's dual role as member of Her Majesty's Army and breaker of Her Majesty's laws; selfless healer and ruthless shot. John's women friends, for the most part, didn't realise that schism was there. Sherlock not only recognises it, he gets off on it.
Oblivious to these deliberations, Sherlock grips John by the chin and studies him as John looks him over with equal rigor. "No," breathes the detective.
Use his methods. Pale – OK, he's always pale – short of breath, eyes wide, fast pulse discernible through his fingertips. Excited? No. Aghast. Cripes, what does he think he sees? Not crime, obviously, since that would just be turning him on.
John escapes Sherlock's grasp and leans back against the armrest of the sofa, arms crossed over his chest. "You know, for a man who's comfortable with maggots in the cheese drawer… strike that. For a man who puts maggots in the cheese drawer, you look fairly worked up. If you want to know how I got the plans for the Murder Castle, why not ask?"
Sherlock draws his knees up to his chin. He stares straight ahead, a Scottish king haunted by a hallucinated dagger.
"Perhaps you believe this has escaped my notice," he says, his voice hollow, "but Julien's one of the richest men in the UK. If something's on offer anywhere – white market, grey market, black, ultraviolet – he can afford it. You have few possessions…"
"Yes, well. I'd have more possessions if I didn't share living space with someone who has no understanding of what belongs in a microwa—"
"Don't interrupt. I sincerely doubt Julien was interested in your spy films or your vintage Boba Fett doll – I don't care what the marketers say, it's a doll, John – or your well-thumbed, late-1980s issues of Club International. I know what he would have wanted from you. It's the same thing he wanted from me. The question is, what were you prepared to give him?"
Realisation washes over John like a rogue wave over Brighton Pier. "You're jealous. You. Mister 'I Lack Trivial Human Emotions.' You're actually jealous."
"I'll hurt him," promises Sherlock. "If he so much as looked at you with his sunglasses off, I'll harm him in ways that haven't been invented yet."
The doctor is incredulous. "Sweetheart," he begins. "Angel. Sugar crumpet…"
Undaunted by the endearments, Sherlock forges ahead. "In fact, I may hurt him if he kept them on. Perhaps your assignation took place al fresco? You don't have an exhibitionist streak – never any sign of a tan above the wrists – but he does; oh yes, he certainly does. The beaches in St. Tropez saw to that."
"This," says John, shaking his head. "This is where everything should have been nipped in the bud. This is exactly how I felt when I found the lab book with all your lovers in it. I got way ahead of myself, and now you're doing it."
Any protestations to the effect that the detective is misinterpreting the situation are currently lost on him. "Point taken: I hurt you. Is this how you take revenge? Well played. There were no lovers in that book. You are my lover. The only one to whom the word could possibly apply. Ever. The rest were transport. Experiments. Data. Practise. And you…"
"Stop there," says John. "I believe you. I didn't months ago, but I do now."
Sherlock begins applying agitated fingers to the tight knot in the belt of his own robe.
"And you're doing what?" John asks, reaching out to still his partner's wrist.
Sherlock struggles half-heartedly, then lets the captive hand go limp. "You're mine. Not just your computer, your phone: you."
"God," says John. "If there isn't a special category for us in ICD-10, there really ought to be. Folie à deux, maybe? Do people still say that?"
"If you're waiting for me to apologise for my possessiveness, you'll wait a long time. I deserve to know everything about you, this included. Show me." Having given up on the knot for the time being, Sherlock appears to be trying to extricate a pale shoulder from the folds of his robe. John readjusts the rumpled clothing to protect his boyfriend's insubstantial modesty.
"Show you? Show you what?"
Sherlock gives John The Look. Not the one that says, "You and I both know what's going on"; the one that says, "Do keep up."
"How he touched you," he groans. "What he did with his hands. Where he put his mouth. How he entered you. What it was like, giving him what belonged to us."
John sucks in his breath. It's a while before he exhales. "Right. You've been spending way too much time hanging around the Met. You're what now, an anatomically correct doll? I can't believe you want to know this."
"'Want' presumes an expectation of pleasure. I demand it. Did he start it, or did you? Either way, stop torturing me and get on with it. The sooner I find out which portions of his body made contact with yours, the sooner I can eradicate them from the earth."
"You do know," says John, "that this is completely out of line. You're willing to … what? Dismember one of your oldest acquaintances over this?"
"It's a start."
"And I suppose both our skulls wind up on the mantelpiece."
"Of course not," corrects Sherlock. "Not yours. Never yours. His."
"That's illogical," John points out. "I'm the one currently in a relationship with you. Any anger you have should be directed…"
"I don't care if it's logical. I could no sooner put a hand on you if I thought you didn't want it there than I could swim the English Channel using two packets of crisps as water wings." Sherlock presses his right thumb and forefinger to the inner corners of his eyes. "I don't have breadth of experience, as far as sentiment goes, but I'm developing a great deal of depth. Do you have any idea what I feel for you?"
"Yeah," says John. "I'm pretty sure I do. Don't leave the couch, and don't take off your clothes. I'll be back in a moment."
John heads to the bedroom off the kitchen and returns fully dressed in jeans and a red flannel shirt. He plucks his wallet out of his back pocket and pulls out a banknote. "Here," he says, proffering it to his flatmate.
Sherlock Holmes is the only man John's ever met who can direct an imperious puff of air through his nostrils and make it sound like despair. "Leave it on the table," he says, dully. "I believe that's traditional."
"Do you want to understand what happened or not? Stop gearing up for a wobbly and listen. I didn't fuck him, and in case you're keeping score – sod it, I know you're keeping score – he didn't fuck me either. I bought the book."
"He didn't f—"
Sherlock crawls into the space between John's thighs and curls up there, looking for all the world like an Irish wolfhound who has mistaken itself for a Pekingese. Ignoring John's grunts of protest at the sudden weight, he rests his shaggy head against John's chest. "Thank … well, I don't know whom to thank."
"Crazy atheist. You can thank me." John moves to brush an errant curl away from his boyfriend's face. It seems to have become stuck on a cheekbone. Dislodged, it bounces like a spring. "Why would you think I would fuck him?" he asks. "I don't even like men."
"I keep forgetting that. Possibly because you call my name when you ejaculate. Listen, you can't fault me for assuming…"
"As I say, you don't have a lot to barter with, and I wouldn't put it past Julien to go after you. My interactions with him are based in part on rivalry. Game-playing. Showing off. It's the closest people like us get to friendship."
"There are no people like you," says John. "Despite your delusions of sociopathy, you have empathy. You have guilt. You have 'strong moral principle,' by which I mean love, even if it's strangely expressed and directed almost entirely at me. I don't think Julien has any of those things."
"So when he contacted you…"
"He didn't contact me. I contacted him. His number was in my mobile. You phoned him, Sherlock. From my phone. Typical. Brain the size of a planet – you can stop frowning, I don't expect you to get the reference – and you've no idea where your phone is."
"I know where my phone is. I prefer yours. It smells like you."
"I really hope that's not true."
"It is, but that's beside the point. You found my ex's number in your phone. You knew I called him last week, and you were aware that I kept this information from you." Sherlock checks his pulse. He seems surprised by the revelation that he's still alive.
"You know, for a 35-year-old man, you're exceptionally … macabre? Gothic? I don't run around committing murders on a daily basis."
"No," agrees Sherlock. "That would be dull. I prefer surprises. Really, John. Why did you let me…"
"Let's just say I have uses for you. Alive. I'm not a necrophiliac."
"And that's actually it." As is sometimes the case, Sherlock's question lacks the rising intonation that would differentiate it from a statement. John has never been able to determine whether his speech patterns are a result of being posh or just naturally oblivious.
"Of course not, you great numpty. It's … I trust you around other men now, that's all."
"And you're not going to ask what happened."
"Because I see how you look at me. I know you. You wouldn't betray me like that. Whatever happened happened, and I trust it wasn't sex up against the Aston Martin."
"Certainly not," huffs Sherlock. "He loves that car."
"Anyway, I would have got you the notes on the Murder Castle before, but I didn't understand what it was, I was too jealous of Julien to see straight, and I doubted I had the cash for it."
"The proposition invites doubt," agrees Sherlock. "How much did he ask for it?"
The detective goggles. "Extraordinary. That bastard."
"I don't mind. For you, I would have paid twice that. You do realise I'm ethnically Scottish? If a willingness to spend a tenner on you is not true love, I don't know what is."
"Cultural stereotyping is beneath you, John. No, don't say, 'You could be beneath me.' The way you twitch your lip gives away your plans for innuendo." Sherlock begins to talk a mile a minute. It's as if he's being paid by the syllable. "Don't you see? Julien could have named almost any price for these plans. They're a relic of America's most infamous 19th-century sociopath, the New World equivalent of Jack the Ripper. The media coined the word 'multi-murderer' just for him. Before his trial, people on that side of the Atlantic had no need for such terminology. That's how unusual it was for a civilian to kill dozens of strangers for his own amusement."
"Neither good nor God were a factor. These plans are invaluable. We have almost no other artifacts from Holmes's life, because the castle in which he conducted his homicidal experiments blew up while he was facing trial out of state. He must have seen to it, either through a killswitch or an accomplice. The statements he gave at the trial, to the press, to his publisher – they were self-contradictory, self-aggrandising flimflam designed to perplex and amaze a gullible public. The architectural plans that you procured for me are working documents, not advertisements, and as such, they're in a position to offer rare insight into the mind of one of the founding fathers of serial murder. For people interested in homicide, this isn't the equivalent of the resurfacing of a lost Vermeer; it's the discovery of a lost cache of Van Goghs with a Hieronymus Bosch for garnish. Yet Julien gave the plans to you for the price of a pack of contraband cigarettes and pocket lint. Why?"
"Dunno. Swayed by the power of young love?"
"Exactly the opposite. He knew…" Sherlock takes a deep breath, as though hoping to distill fortifying nicotine from the air. "He knew I was going to delete all memories of sexual experiences not stemming from my relationship with you, and that this would effectively erase him from my life. He wasn't charmed by my affection for you, or you for me; he just didn't want to be forgotten. It would be too much like losing. He never loses, John. He set you up. He gave you the book knowing that I would inquire about its provenance, because he wanted you to have to explain to me that you weren't my first."
John frowns. "Hang on. Go back to the beginning. He knew you were going to delete him?"
"And he knew this because…"
"I told him. He's the only…" The scientist searches for the correct terminology. "…entry from the lab book I've kept in contact with. I wanted him to know so that he wouldn't spoil it by popping back up. So bloody much for that."
"Shit," says John. "Sherlock, this has to stop."
"Define 'this,'" says his flatmate.
"How about I use it in a sentence? You don't ever get to do this again. From now on, when we have a problem, we work it out together. You don't stalk off and distance yourself from me, mentally or otherwise, and you don't put me in the position of being the last to know what's going on with you. You certainly don't erase the core of yourself and leave me the husk because you think it's the only way I'll be able to properly love you. It's not."
"Distance myself?" says Sherlock. "You left me. I wasn't the first. I would never have left you first."
"I know, and I won't do it again, but it's not the same thing. If you weren't, erm…" Now it's John's turn to cup his hands into a makeshift satellite dish as he searches for the right words. "… emotionally delayed, you'd get that. I went to Clara's. You've tried to obliterate yourself twice in the time I've known you. Whole other level of meltdown, Sherlock."
"I wasn't trying to obliterate myself this time. I was trying to be what you wanted."
"You are what I want," John specifies. "This was all a miscommunica—"
John stares at his flatmate. Gorgeous, he thinks. Eyes like liquid mercury. Legs like eloquence. Arse like the bottom half of a G clef, and yes, I do remember band practise, thank you very much. He's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. No wonder he's had offers.
"Yeah, no," John admits. "Your foray into mass deletion was many things, including a monumental cock-up on both our parts, but it wasn't a miscommunication. When I told you it made me sick to think of you with other men, I meant it. It was greedy and selfish of me. I'm sorry. I didn't think of how my saying that would affect you. You have my word: I never thought you'd try to delete everyone else from your memory banks, and it definitely never occurred to me that the resulting holes would turn your brain into Swiss cheese."
Sherlock snorts. "My brain is hardly cheese."
"It is," says John. "Usually it's a nice camembert. Dense, but tangy. Malleable. Quick to mould itself…"
"Yes, thank you for that. I rejoice that the youthful John Watson chose to focus his talents on combat, not metaphor. As poets go, you make an excellent soldier."
John whacks Sherlock fondly with Julien's fleur-de-lys cushion. Sherlock wrests it away from him and bonks him on the head with it.
Once the giggling dies down, Sherlock's face grows serious. "I'd like to propose a moratorium."
"What on? Your studies on gallbladders, I hope. Find a body part with an inoffensive smell and study that. Hair, for instance."
"Grow yours out, and I will. I want to make things up to you, John. What would you say to…" Sherlock hesitates. "A month without deletion."
"To start. If I can stand it, longer. We'll have to evaluate results as the experiment unfolds."
"No, I mean a whole month? How often do you usually delete?"
"Daily. Sometimes hourly. During Christmas, it's by the minute. It depends on how many trivialities I'm forced to endure."
"That's what I thought. What will happen if you let all these, ah, trivialities stay in your head?"
"I don't know. I haven't tried it before, not on this scale. I'm used to making room for what's important."
John rolls his eyes. "Except you have no idea what's important, because you've deleted everything that would give you a sensible basis for that decision."
"You're important. The work is important. Everything else is a grey area."
"You told me once that if you clogged up your neurons with trivia, you wouldn't have any way of maintaining your encyclopaedic knowledge of crime. If you stop deleting, will it affect the work?"
Sherlock's gaze is steady. "Will it affect us if I don't?"
John blinks. "You recognise that there's an us. Not just you in love with me, me in love with you. Us."
"All of London recognises there's an us," replies Sherlock. "I know this isn't something you're demanding. I don't feel like I'm caving in to an ultimatum on your part. I'm offering. Perhaps it will help the work. There are things relating to the human element that escape me. I don't like when things escape me. It's unpleasant."
John kisses his partner on the cheek. "I accept your offer. Try it. Run the experiment. We'll regroup after a month and see how it went. But don't do it for me. Do it because you want to see what will happen."
John is rewarded for this appeal to his flatmate's curiosity with a radiant grin. "What do you expect will happen?"
"I'm not sure. What will you be like, at the end of the month? Will you be like us? Us normal people, I mean, with our funny little brains all packed? Or will you be yourself, but more…"
"You're already human. What I'd like is for you to be able to be more comfortable with that status. Right now, you take pride in being that rare individual who's actually failed a Turing test. I'm not going to pretend I haven't thought about this, this trade-off you've made between being utterly brilliant and being, well, whole. I know you're going to change over time, but I want it to be because you've added experiences, not subtracted them.
"The deletion of the dribs and drabs of daily life … it's limiting you, Sherlock. You have one of the greatest brains the world has ever known, and it's being held back by the emotional development of a thirteen-year-old child."
"Oxymoron," mutters the object of John's attentions.
"Beg your pardon?"
"Thirteen-year-old child. You realise that when we met, everyone described me that way? Not Sally; she always preferred Freak. But to the rest of the force, I was a child. Lestrade called me that at the drugs bust. You heard him."
Sherlock doesn't have to say "obvious" out loud. His eyebrows are effusive on the subject.
"You just said I was thirteen. That's not a child, that's an adolescent. While correlation does not establish causation, we need to examine the hypothesis that even in the short term, my exposure to you has brought on a leap in my emotional age."
"Erm. That's one way of looking at it. A spectacularly daft way of looking at it, to be precise." John feels a tug on the outer corners of his eyes and realises he's smiling.
"It's your way of looking at it. I'm … ugh, I'd rather not use this term, but according to you, I'm now emotionally pubescent. That means I'm adapting, John. I don't like to admit to deficits of skill, but I like having them even less. You've demonstrated to me that there's an issue with my processing of sentiment, and that it has negative consequences for us both. If you keep working on me, I'll learn."
John nuzzles Sherlock's head. "Be glad to teach you. I suspect you could teach me a few things yourself."
"Undoubtedly." As is sometimes the case, the detective's smirk is audible.
"This is scary for me too, you know. You've had some amazing men. I don't know that I can compete. There's the danger you'll want something I can't give you, or you'll miss them, or you'll realise that I'm not Niels Bohr."
"I'd just as soon you weren't Niels Bohr. According to the older dons, he was a terrible kisser."
"I hope you're joking."
"I never joke."
"Right. Or guess. Or snore. Or…"
John is unable to finish his list due to an obstruction of his oral cavity. It consists of Sherlock's tongue.
That night, they curl up in bed. The room is lit by the series of small, impromptu glow sticks that Sherlock made for his lover with the last of the Luminol.
"You know what this reminds me of?" says John. "This time I was driving a Jeep on the outskirts of Kandahar late at night. There was a thunderstorm. It was the week before I got shot. Rain was so bad I could barely see the road, not that roads there are all that great to begin with. After the rain stopped, out came an enormous cloud of fireflies, and suddenly, I was riding through them. I'll never forget it. It was like flying through the Milky Way."
Sherlock presses back against John, looking for a way to fit more snugly in his arms. He finds it. "They say the Milky Way galaxy will one day collide with the Andromeda. Imagine it. One big galaxy instead of two small ones. Provided, of course, that Andromeda's transverse velocity falls within certain parameters."
"I'll keep that in mind. When?"
"In about four billion years."
"Looking forward to it. Might not be anything on telly that night."
John takes the scruff of Sherlock's neck in his teeth. They lie companionably in silence until the homemade glow sticks extinguish themselves.
"We're all right now," hazards the detective. "You've made peace with your prototypes. The men who should have been you but weren't."
"I'm not sure I've made peace with them, but I value their place in your history. Can't argue with quality. They helped make you what you are, and what you are is …"
"Fantastic," quotes Sherlock. "Outstanding. Extraordinary."
"Yeah. That doesn't mean I'm not sending these people down a lift shaft if they show you any disrespect."
"Gallant," says Sherlock. "I'm sure women love that."
"No," says John. "They all think I want to shag my flatmate."
"Yeah," says John, pushing Sherlock onto his back. "I do."
Thanks to maggie conagher – author of, among other things, the brilliantly cracky "Love in the Time of Dinosaurs" – for watching my back, and to thisisforyou for doing such a wonderful job with teen!Julien in "Once Upon a Time." Much appreciation to ephemeral violet for the reminder that the media coined the term "multi-murderer" for real-life killer H. H. Holmes. And gratitude to arianedevere and strangegibbon for British vocabulary advice.
Chapter 27: Love and Death at the NT
Warning: drug references.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sherlock's incoherent bellow bounces off the concrete balconies of the National Theatre and startles a murmuration of starlings out of the nearby plane trees overlooking the Thames. The birds swerve, then hang for a moment like musical notes against the vellum-coloured sky. Blind to anything but homicide, Sherlock slinks back and forth in the cordoned-off area around the dead man, face down in a pool of something brown and dodgy on the NT plaza.
Watching the proceedings from a distance, John Watson, MD, and Detective Inspector Gregory Lestrade lean back against the metal barrier that discourages passersby from tumbling into the river.
"Thanks for this," says John. He and Greg are close enough to hear Baker Street's reigning lunatic shouting, but not close enough to make out any words.
"Gets him out of the house, doesn't it? God, look at him." The superfluity of encouraging John to cast his eyes upon his flatmate, who has hopped the police tape and is pacing about in corybantic splendour, is apparently lost on Greg. "Doesn't like the look of that corpse, does he?"
"Likes the corpse just fine," says John, who's used to providing the public with illuminating subtitles for Sherlock's behaviour at this point. "Doesn't like Anderson. Thinks he should have been able to spot what this means without help."
"And deprive Holmes of the chance to strut around South Bank like a rabid peacock? Not our Anderson. He's a giver, that one."
Both men watch as Sherlock stalks up and down the pavement in a flurry of furious wool, hands gesticulating independently at forensic specialist Anderson and DI Dimmock. When his coat impedes some of his more advanced gestures, he rips it off, tosses it on a nearby café table, and carries on waving his arms with the subtlety of a crewman guiding an F-35 onto an aircraft carrier through pea-soup fog. Although unimpressed by the dead body, the hapless Yarders flinch at the live one.
"Sorry," says John. "He's wound a bit tight these days."
"Cold turkey's a bitch," sympathises Lestrade.
"He told you?"
"Nah. I noticed as we were leaving the flat. No patches on him. Shirt that tight? I ought to be able to see nicotine patches from space."
"He's got patches, all right," says John, absently. "They're just not on his arms."
Fifteen seconds pass before Watson realises what he's said. "Er. Despite my best efforts, he's still practically injecting nicotine into his eyeballs. It's deletion. He's off his deletion."
"That thing he does where he clears out all the stuff he doesn't want in his mind. Anything that annoys him. Anything he thinks is stupid or 'irrelevant.'" John allows himself a small, Sherlockian nostril flare for emphasis. "He's stopped doing it. He's off it for a month. Hasn't erased anything since the week before last."
"Daft git. Didn't know what it was called, but I've seen him do it before. Mostly after holiday parties." Lestrade shudders. "How's he doing with the ban?"
"Good days and bad. Harry called the landline Tuesday, and when he wouldn't pick up, she left a long message about uterine fibroids and menstrual cramps and I don't know what else. It took a while to peel him off the ceiling after that."
"I bet. Gory, yeah, but not his thing."
"No," confirms John. "Really not."
"Honestly, I'd expect him to be doing worse. Not a pretty thing to see a bloke stripped of his defense mechanisms."
"Yeah. This has been his major protector, this erasing thing. It's also one of the reasons he needs protecting in the first place. He doesn't have a lot of perspective, so he erases anything that might give him some. Until now. Now it's all streaming in. He's not entirely sure what to do with it."
"Hope you're running interference for him."
John cocks his head at the American football metaphor. "You mean keeping people away so they don't overwhelm him? I've tried. Haven't had much success. It's as if people can sense he's not deleting, and they're telling him everything he's never wanted to hear. I walked into the kitchen the other day, and there was Mrs. Hudson, telling him about the time she and her late husband Gary broke the bed. I made her go downstairs. Then Mycroft came by, and Sherlock started asking for Mrs. Hudson back."
"Cripes," says Lestrade. "Don't let the Yarders know. They'll all want to talk to him about Christmas '07."
"Famous, is it?"
"Yeah. Ask anybody. His own fault, really. Who shows up at a party in a police station – the police station, not whatever they've got in East Watchet – coked to the eyebrows on Class A drugs? Him, that's who."
"I take it there was some kind of … homicidal rampage."
"Worse," mutters Greg, his tone dark. "In comes Sherlock, utterly blasted, and there's Mr. CSI, drunk as monkeys, standing under the mistletoe, saying, 'I've always fancied you.' Himself: 'Obvious.' Next thing you know, they're grinding to some pop thing. Not even Vivaldi, mind you, so you know he was really off his head. I had to scrub my eyes with a loo brush after."
"Mr. CSI," says John, slowly. "Are you talking about … someone from forensics?"
"Yeah. What? No. Not Anderson, for crying out loud. Abernathy. Joe Abernathy. Little Scottish guy. Transferred to Liverpool."
John breathes a sigh of relief. "Thank God. Not that he transferred. Just that he wasn't ..." The sentence trails off, if not unthinkable, then unspeakable.
"Why does everyone make assumptions about him and Anderson? It's possible to hate someone without sleeping with them first. Not that you'd know, to hear my ex tell it." Lestrade squints out over the Thames.
"Sorry," says John. He shakes his head in condolence.
"S'all right," says Greg. "Not everything works out like it does in the movies."
Greg leans back against the raised, cast-iron pedestal of a Victorian lamppost. It's bedecked with two large, dark, open-mouthed fish. They're tangled up in each other in a way that reminds John of himself waking up with his boyfriend. He briefly wonders which fish is responsible for making off with the blankets.
The DI runs a tentative hand through his silver hair. "So. You and Sherlock. None of my business, but …"
"Ohhhh, yes. Definitely. We are." The army doctor watches as his boyfriend ensconces himself at a café table and begins acting out some kind of dispute between two pieces of cutlery. The detective's lean muscles show through the thin cotton of the aforementioned shirt, and his dark curls are a magnet for the February sun.
"I didn't finish," the detective inspector points out.
"You don't have to. How are you going to finish the question so the answer's not yes? Good luck with that."
"In that case, you and Sherlock? Heard you're getting me Spurs season tickets. Cheers, mate. My birthday's next week."
John snorts. "Greedy bastard. You'll be lucky to get dinner at Angelo's, and he gets that for free. You don't seem surprised about us, by the way."
Greg nods in the direction of the lanky consultant, who has just lined up two café tables and spread his coat over them. "Despite what he says, I am a detective. A good one. You've been licking your lips at him since day one."
"I don't lick my lips at him!"
John can't help but notice that Sherlock is now lying face down on the adjoining tables, thrashing like a landed fish. He's either acting out the death throes of the deceased or illustrating his afternoon plans vis-à-vis Anderson.
"Right." Lestrade rolls his eyes. "Friendly bet: take a look at the CCTV footage at the Yard. If you can find one clip where you're in a room with him for five minutes without French kissing the air, I'll get you season tickets. You're a brave man, John."
"So is he," protests the man in the donkey jacket. "I'm not all sunshine and treacle."
"Sure. There's the bits made of kittens and hand grenades." Greg pauses. "You're good for him. You have no idea what he was like before he met you. I've seen him do things. Crazy things."
"No doubt. He does six crazy things before breakfast. That's when he actually bothers to eat breakfast." It dawns on John that the ache in his shoulders means he's been following Sherlock's progress all afternoon not just with his eyes, but with his whole body, like a man engrossed in a tennis match. It further dawns on John that he's been doing it for months. "Wouldn't give him up for the world. Don't bother to warn me, Greg. I know how he is."
"I'm not warning you. I'm congratulating him, the jammy bastard. Whatever he comes up with, I'm sure you can handle it."
"Tell Harry. We went to dinner with her last night."
"After that phone call, he still went out with the two of you? He's got it bad."
John grins, thinking of the West Ham fan. "It's been mentioned."
"Can't see your sister giving out relationship advice," says Lestrade. "Thought she just went through a messy divorce."
"That's never stopped a Watson. Put four pints of Newcastle in her, and she's queen of the agony aunts. Halfway through the evening, she follows me into the men's loo to dress me down for being with him. There I am, trying to take a piss, and she's yelling over my shoulder, 'He's not right!' Every other bloke in there ran for the door."
Greg shakes with silent laughter, then wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. "If Harry's coming, remind me to skip that dinner at Angelo's. What'd you tell her?"
"He's right for me. He is, Greg. That brain that frightens everyone off? It's amazing. He's amazing. There's nobody like him. He's literally one of the wonders of the world. I get up in the morning and pinch myself. It's like waking up with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon."
The army doctor does not add, "If the Hanging Gardens of Babylon had a Nobel prize-winning arse." Greg's probably noticed the accoutrement in question, but if he hasn't, John's not going to be the one to enlighten him.
"Mmm?" The sandy-haired man watches his lover roll off the café tables and spring to his feet. He's got the instincts and quickness and sensory sharpness of a creature used to living in the dark. With his mad hair and lithe limbs, he makes John think of something only recently trapped in the wilds of Borneo. Something with every intention of going back.
Feral, thinks John. Sometimes things revert. Feral dogs, feral cats. Whatever we are, the rest of us, he's the feral version of that.
Greg clears his throat and points at his own mouth. Sheepishly, John reels his tongue back in.
Sherlock strides towards the two of them. "Home, John."
"That's it?" complains Anderson, jogging along behind him. "Just as I expected! He's not human, Lestrade. No consideration for the victim."
"I have every consideration for the victims," says Sherlock, making sure the plural is not lost on the assembled company. "That's not one of the victims, that's the killer, you prat."
The forensics specialist points an enraged finger at the dead man as Dimmock saunters up. "How is that the killer?"
"Anderson, if you become a barista with the sole intention of murdering theatre-going pensioners with poisoned coffee, my advice to you is not to absent-mindedly lick the spoon out of a gluttonous fondness for cappuccino foam. Actually, no. Go ahead and lick it."
Anderson turns to Lestrade with a constipated expression. "Are you going to let him talk to me like that?"
"Don't look at me," says Greg. "He talks to everyone like that." He gives John a significant glance.
"You're on your own," says John, putting up his hands. "I'm his blogger, not his handler."
"You're rather more than that," says Sherlock, with one of his patented looks. It's not the "We both know what's going on" look. It's not the "Do keep up" look. It's a "We're going to fuck against a wall when we get home" look, and it instantly becomes one of John's favourites.
Dimmock gapes. Annoyed, he reaches into his wallet, takes out twenty pounds, and passes it to Anderson. "I'll pay the rest later," he mumbles.
"Ah," says Sherlock, brow crinkling. He looks from John to Dimmock and back to John again. "We're out." It occurs to his boyfriend that he's quoting something he heard on daytime telly, probably during the deletion ban. "I thought we were out already, given the full-body search I offered you outside that brothel in Barking, but the Metropolitan Police are not the last word in astute. You don't mind being out?"
"S'fine," says John with an expansive shrug. "Be my guest."
Lestrade rolls his eyes. "Excuse me, lovebirds, but does anyone want to tell me who this stiff supposedly killed?"
"He's killed at least four other people," announces the consultant. "He chose elderly victims in the hopes that the symptoms leading up to their deaths – blurred vision, mobility issues, incontinence – wouldn't raise suspicion. Check local death records. The poison was an organophosphate-based herbicide. Atrazine, most likely. Contraband now, but he has access to a store of it left over from before it the ban. Family has a maize farm in Cornwall. He could easily have —"
Sherlock stops. He seems to be sniffing the air. "John. There's a plastic flask in your left jacket pocket."
"Sherlock," protests the accused. His flatmate is undeterred.
"Wavy bottle. Distinctive shape. Fifty-millilitre container. Judging by the sloshing sound it makes when you shift your weight, it's half full. How long have you been carrying lube through Greater London?"
"Since I started dating someone who gets bored easily," says John. "Get your coat."
John points towards the café tables. "Go." Sherlock trots off, the picture of motivated obedience.
Dimmock holds out his hand in front of Anderson. "Give me back my twenty," he demands. "I'm not paying out. Watson tops."
"Piss off," replies Anderson. The two of them head towards the nearby police car, arguing over matters of finance.
"Right," says Lestrade, as Sherlock fights to extricate his coat from where it's caught between the café tables. "If you tell anyone I said this, I'll kill you, but do you have Mycroft's number?"
"Thought you'd never ask," says John. He scoops a matchbook out of Lestrade's pocket, then jots eleven digits on the back.
Lestrade nods and shoves the article back in his pocket. "Ta."
"Not asking," says John, conspicuously blasé.
"Not telling," replies Lestrade, rubbing the matchbook with his thumb.
"What's this?" says Sherlock, rejoining them. His coat's billowing around him, and the collar's turned up.
"Football scores," says John. "You wouldn't be interested."
"Nothing we'd want to burden you with during the deletion ban," says Lestrade.
Sherlock gives both of them a sharp glance. "Thank you," he says. "Come on, John." He grabs his partner by the waist and begins steering him towards Waterloo Bridge.
"Bye, Greg," shouts John over his shoulder.
Jammy bastard, thinks the DI, although it's no longer clear to him which one of them he means. John falls behind, and Greg can hear Sherlock telling him to "Stop staring. And no, they don't give Nobel prizes for that."
"Might do," says John. "I don't think it's doing anything for world peace, but physiology is a category, you know."
Their voices are swallowed up into the general hubbub. Greg watches them disappear around a corner, then opens his phone and begins typing in digits.
A/N: This chapter is presented to my oldest friend with my deepest affection and admiration. I'd accompany you to IKEA any day.
Shout out to strangegibbon for pointing out that it's not Tottenham Hotspur, it's Spurs. Thanks to AnotherFangirlHere for explaining that British mobile phone numbers have eleven digits.
Oh. My. God. I'm going to go back and delete this chapter, because this collage covers all the essential plot points, only it's funnier. Anarion came up with the idea and the pictures; Ariane DeVere roleplayed Dimmock and came up with the idea of table flailing; and Atlin Merrick was technology guru and head table flailer. Nobody was arrested during the making of this, which goes to show that Sherlock's opinion of the Metropolitan Police as a sleepy bunch may have some basis in fact. Thank you so much, ladies.
Chapter 28: Control
Life is full of experiments, and this chapter was one. I'm not at all sure it worked! When I first saw the story in my head in August 2011, it stopped with the preceding chapter, and that still seems like a natural stopping place. Perhaps it's best to consider this chapter as an extra, rather than an integral part of the story.
Promises: BDSM themes and toppy!John.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John is incredulous. It's perplexing that a man who has seen everything from firefights in Helmand to Mycroft doing battle against a child's birthday piñata can still feel astonishment, but that's the emotion that his eyebrows are signaling in semaphore.
"Who sixty-nines in an alley?" he demands, storming into the sitting room of 221b, hot on his flatmate's heels. "Who, exactly?" Given the events of an hour previous, either these questions are rhetorical, or John is quoting from a particularly memorable edition of the News Quiz on Radio 4.
"Apparently? Not you," replies the detective, in a tone of voice not at all indicative of a blazing sulk. As he shrugs off his coat, he takes a moment to appraise his partner, who is propped up against the hideous wallpaper, trying to catch the breath he lost while legging it out of Southbank. Based on how John's carrying himself, the only things preventing him from launching into a major strop are (heaving chest) exhaustion and (tightness in back of the jaw) a private inclination to find the whole thing hilarious. This is not the first time Sherlock has seen this look.
The detective tosses himself belly-first onto the sofa. He can feel the sulk he's not currently having sending out tendrils beyond the realm of the merely ornate and into the baroque.
"No, Sherlock, really," says John, once he can speak again. "'Vertical sex,' I said. 'One of us keeping watch,' I said. 'You with your huge coat,' I said. Not the two of us going at it face-first on the pavement along a route that taken by hundreds of thousands of vehicles a day, particularly when it's clear that one of them is going to be a car full of Yarders who know us personally." John groans. "Actually, after this afternoon, 'personally' doesn't begin to cover it."
"Dull," mutters Sherlock. Normally, he'd have one eyebrow cocked and loaded, but at the moment, he doesn't have the energy. It's a terrible day. John is annoyed with him, there's lint tickling his nasal passages, he's awash in undeleted data, and it's hard to make himself understood with a mouthful of cushion.
"No, Sherlock. Not dull. Certifiable. God. No wonder Greg's come up with alternative uses for a loo brush."
Sherlock rolls petulantly onto his side. He has to bend his long body into a Spanish diacritic in order to keep all of it on the couch. "Oh, yes. We're uncomfortable with exhibitionism now." He lets out a frustrated puff of air; it plays in his fringe and then moves on. "The skull watches us all the time."
"The skull is dead, Sherlock," says John. He sounds like someone holding forth on the Tooth Fairy. "You do know that the skull is dead?"
Sherlock rolls his eyes. "Now who's being ridiculous." The question may or may not be addressed to the skull.
John inspects his flatmate's face. Whatever he sees there prompts him to set up shop in the space between Sherlock's chest and knees. A renegade curl has been making encroachments upon a pale eye; short fingers push it back, neutralising it. The only thing allowed to encroach upon Sherlock in John's presence is John.
"All right, what is it?" the army doctor asks. "You seem off."
"Don't harrumph me. I know you. You were doing all right, and now you've crashed. Too much…?" John waves his hands in front of his face to indicate furnishings in Sherlock's mind palace.
"Information," complains Sherlock, filling in the missing word. He says it the way someone else would say "bedbugs." "No, not even that. Mere sensory stimulation. There's nothing informative about a never-ending tide of idiocy. It's not signal, it's noise. It's constant, the universe is made of it, and I haven't deleted any of it in ten days, fourteen hours, and …" He stops to check his watch. "Thirty-two minutes."
John leans back against Sherlock's stomach. "Go on," he says.
Despite his mounting frustration, the detective registers the sensation of John's solidity against his abdominal muscles as pleasant.
"There's no order to it," says Sherlock. "It's pouring in, and I have no way to control it. Sometimes I can manage, but at the moment…"
"You feel like you're losing your mind," finishes John.
Sherlock nods emphatically. Sometimes he feels like whatever mind he has is being replaced, bit by bit, by the small, wheedling minds of others. "How is that the killer?" whines the Anderson in his brain. Honestly.
John places a kiss on top of Sherlock's head, then strokes the spot where his lips were, rubbing it in. "Welcome to life on earth, sweetheart. It's like that. Human beings are constantly bombarded by input, and most of us can't control it. Any of it. We certainly can't decide to forget it, the way you can. Have you ever heard, 'Don't think about a white bear?'"
Sherlock scrunches his eyes shut, checking to see if eyelids form an effective block against irrelevant quadrupeds. They don't. "Bears? Setting aside the issue of 'round and 'round the garden, what significance can they possibly have? I hope you don't expect me to become an expert on anything as inconducive to homicide as bears."
"I'm not talking about bears as a murder instrument, you numpty, I'm talking about bears as a thought experiment. Most people, if you tell us not to think of a white bear, we can't do it. Bears pop into our heads as soon as we hear the sentence, and the whole thing snowballs from there. We end up mildly obsessed with the buggers simply because we're trying to forget them."
"We get by all right."
Sherlock presses his thumbs into the inside corners of his eyes, but the colours and patterns and the blistering tedium that is the core of everything that isn't John or crime remain.
"The data," he says. "The constant avalanche of data. What on earth do you do with it?"
"We deal with it. We accept it. Sometimes," John admits, "we don't notice it. Or we forget it – not intentionally, just … naturally, although those are usually the things we want to remember." The sandy-haired man bends down to nuzzle his flatmate's neck. "I might forget, for example, which of your toes has the beauty mark on it."
Sherlock frowns. "It's a mole, John. The fact that it's not malignant doesn't make it aesthetic."
"It is aesthetic, you twonk. It's the most aesthetic toe in W1. Ask anyone. It's the Marilyn Monroe of toes."
"John. What are you doing? Let go of my foot." Sherlock's protestations are to no avail. In no time whatsoever, his flatmate has divested him of his left shoe and is busy tickling the arch of his foot through its sock.
Sherlock flails, and it's a near thing that he misses John's teeth.
"Tell me which one it is," John demands, grasping the second largest toe and wiggling it back and forth. "Is it this?"
"Argh! Yes! Let go of it!" John relents, and one by one, the detective's muscles unfurl. Oddly, he feels more relaxed than before the attack.
"It staggers the imagination," complains Sherlock, "that people think of me as the strange one."
John is busy wrestling off the other tightly laced shoe. "Yes, well. You've often said people aren't very observant."
"They aren't." Sherlock stamps at the armrest with his one shoeless foot. "No wonder they don't need memory management techniques. Virtually nothing seems to penetrate the average person's fog, so what on earth would they have to delete? Whereas I see everything, John. All of it. You have no idea."
"I live with you," says John. "I have some idea."
"I'm not sure you do. The input I'm subjected to – it's relentless. Anyone can say something monumentally stupid at any point, and if I don't get rid of it, it careens around the inside of my skull like a ball bearing in a pinball machine. Without the option to erase these things, I'm not in charge of my own head. I'm not sure I can even finish out the month. I want control back."
John studies Sherlock.
"Take off your socks," he says.
Sherlock does. It's only once they're both lying in a heap on the coffee table that he thinks to ask, "What was that?"
"That was you not being in charge," says the soldier. "All right, so you're overwhelmed. Did you feel the same when you got off coke?"
"John," the detective protests.
The army doctor is undeterred. "I didn't ask who your commanding officer was, I asked if you felt the same when you got off coke."
"Right, then. You're not losing your mind; you're gaining it. Let me remind you, you have the option of deleting. You're just choosing not to take it. This is an experiment, and it's one you came up with on your own, so you might as well suck it up and finish it."
Sherlock sighs. "I hardly think…"
"I know, love, but I do. All right, this doesn't feel like a good thing right now, but I assure you, it is. What you're going through isn't tissue death; it's growing pains. You deserve more, Sherlock. You have the right to be a whole person, and you'll never pull it off if you keep chucking out every experience that you don't like. But yeah, it's going to hurt. It's like exercising a weak muscle. You're being stretched in ways you're not used to."
"I rather thought that was you." Sherlock permits himself an ironic lip twitch two clicks short of a smile.
"Ha ha. Nice innuendo, and no, I don't want to hear anything about 'in' or 'you' or 'end.' You're not going to distract me from the issue at hand. You can't have control back. You never had it. You're just used to the illusion of it, because you delete everything that's not consistent with that illusion. Nobody's ever taught you how to deal with being at the mercy of the world around you."
Sherlock is no longer too tired to cock an eyebrow. "Is that one of your pick-up lines, Mister – excuse me, Doctor Three Continents? Because it needs work."
John shrugs. "I call it as I see it. Coping with a lack of control is a learnable skill. Do you think eighteen-year-olds from Surrey show up in Afghanistan with an inborn ability to function with bullets flying past their heads? Of course not. They learn to deal with it. The lucky ones, anyway."
Interesting. John is interesting. More so than bears and relatives and even crime scenes, and he has a tendency to make Sherlock's throat go dry.
"Are you proposing to offer me instruction?" asks Sherlock.
"I don't see anyone else here, do you?"
"No." Who else would there be? John's the only one who's ever stayed.
John rises to his feet and points from the shoulder. He's indicating the hallway. "Upstairs. Attic bedroom. Go."
Sometimes, when John's talking to him, Sherlock's ears start ringing slightly, as though a bomb's gone off. It's very difficult to say no to John when this happens. He goes.
Sherlock's been pacing in what used to be John's room for fifteen minutes before the other man walks in and closes the door behind him. The resulting click shouldn't make Sherlock feel penned in, but it does, and the hairs along the backs of his thighs prickle. He also notes that John's scent has changed in the intervening quarter of an hour.
Tea, Sherlock registers. The domineering bastard took the time to make himself a cup of tea, then drank it. He can smell it on him. He could probably taste it on him too, but John's not giving him his mouth.
"Sit down," John orders, clearly used to taking command. When Sherlock doesn't, his flatmate advances on him, backing him up against the bed. Out of surprise as much as anything, Sherlock topples backwards onto his own capacious arse.
This is new. Sixty-four percent of his previous commands have consisted of counterintuitive directives on social situations. "Smile at Greg for bringing you the hideous Christmas sweater, Sherlock." "Don't smile at the man with the rag full of chloroform, Sherlock."
None of these experiences have prepared the seated man for this level of bossiness when they're on a mattress. Of course, John's not on the mattress. Both of his feet are firmly on the floor.
"You seem bent on holding me captive for some reason," remarks the detective. "As your prisoner, don't I get something first? A safeword? A phone call to my lawyer? A cigarette?"
"Safeword," repeats John, bemused. He runs a territorial thumb over his partner's lower lip, pressing down on it, exposing the gums and teeth. Sherlock finds the gesture unsettlingly intimate. "So that's what you're into now. Safety."
The hour's getting late, and darkness is pawing at the windowpanes. Sherlock watches it pool in the cleft of John's chin. He shakes his head. "No."
John says nothing. He wedges his left foot between Sherlock's two and kicks his legs apart, then moves forward. Sherlock's pulse elevates slightly as John brushes against his inner thighs. He wants to move forward, but the soldier has a hand against his throat and is using it to guide his head back until their eyes meet. As he looks up, Sherlock wonders if John usually feels as he does now – vulnerable, transparent, open to scrutiny.
"There's two ways to do this," says John. His eyes are an unwavering navy, always the same uncomplicated colour, never this rushing around from hue to hue like Sherlock's. "There's complicated, and there's simple. Complicated involves equipment. Riding crop. Handcuffs. Rope. It's amazing the things we've got lying around."
Sherlock manages a tenuous smirk. "I'm well acquainted with those items, captain."
"That's why you're not getting any of that." John lets this sink in, then speaks softly against Sherlock's ear. It's not the softness of a lover; it's the softness of an M16 agent breaking down the defenses of an informant. "All you're getting," says John, "is me."
The air in the room feels like it's just dropped five degrees, so why is Sherlock's body heating up? He swallows weakly against his flatmate's firm palm. "This isn't …"
"Like me?" John gives a low chuckle. It's not especially soothing. "You know Harry drinks, so you think you know everything about me. How long have you known me?"
Not long, thinks Sherlock. Not long enough.
John's thumb gentles Sherlock's neck. "Let's get this straight. There are things about me you don't know, and parts of me you're not going to see every day. Not unless I think you need them."
He's killed people, thinks Sherlock. He's killed people for a living, and he's got his thumb against my carotid.
Sherlock thinks about telling John to stop.
Telling John to stop would be dull.
"All right," he says.
"All right, what?"
Sherlock leans back against the bed on his elbows, torso tilted up. "You drive."
Sherlock is aware that he's physically striking. He knows how darkness makes itself at home in his hollows – the dip under his zygomatic arch, the indentation of his philtrum, the concavity of his jugular notch. That effect should be especially strong right now, with one side of him bathed in apricot light from the lamp on the bedside table and the other side wreathed in smoky shadow. His soldier boyfriend should be comparing him favourably to a lunar eclipse over the Hindu Kush, all solitary radiance and strange, divided beauty.
If John gives a damn how pretty Sherlock is, he's not showing it.
"It would be very easy to gag you," he says. He gazes pointedly at yesterday's T-shirt, lying on his foot locker, then looks back at Sherlock. "You'd like that. It smells of me. I could stuff it in your mouth, and you'd taste it."
Sherlock's tongue makes a brief appearance, licking furtively against one of the corners where his lips meet. When he realises he's doing it, he retracts it. He can feel his pulse picking up speed, a fact that is doubtless being advertised against the thin skin of his long, white throat.
"But where's the challenge in that?" John asks. "Anyone can be quiet because they're physically restrained from making noise. What I expect from you tonight is your complete submission, and I expect it without physical coercion."
Sherlock goggles at this. Surely he has given John no reason to anticipate his full cooperation in this.
John raises his chin – of the two of us, he has the better chin; it's square and strong and brooks no argument – and issues his next order. "Unbutton your shirt."
No wonder they made a captain of him, thinks Sherlock. I'd have made him a bloody general. Uneasily, he does as he's told. His pupils must be the size of small moons by now.
"Open it," says John, as though the shirt were an envelope and Sherlock the letter.
Eyes fixed on his partner, Sherlock pulls the shirt apart, baring himself to John's steady gaze.
Does John like what he sees? he wonders. At this point in the proceedings, it's unusual for John not to be harping on about the deltas above Sherlock's clavicles, the indentation of his navel, the faint tiger stripes shadowing ribs eight through ten. Usually he likes how I look, but does he now?
Averting his eyes, Sherlock notes a dawn-coloured flush spreading over his pectorals. He moves to take off his shirt entirely.
John's voice is full of calm authority. "Did I tell you to take that off?"
Sherlock shakes his head.
"Then don't. You will do exactly what I tell you, and nothing else. Take off your belt."
Sherlock is mortified to note that his fingers, as he strips himself of this article of clothing, are clumsy with lust. He's off balance. John looks from the belt to the bed and back to Sherlock again. The slender man takes the hint. As he places the belt on the bed, he has the ludicrous sensation of putting down an ante in a poker game too rich for his blood. He realises, a bit late, that it's in exactly the spot John designated with his eyes.
"Unbutton your trousers."
Sherlock does. This time, instead of continuing to strip, he puts his hands on his thighs and waits with his hands fluttering like small birds. He's had to put the right hand significantly closer to his hip so as not to touch his own stirring maleness through the fabric. John hasn't given him leave to touch it.
"Turned on, aren't you?" says John. His voice isn't unkind, but it's not kind either. "Lick your right thumb."
Sherlock licks. He tilts his head back as he does it, his eyes mapping out territory between submission and defiance.
"Attitude," says John. "Let's see how much of it you have after you stroke your nipples for me."
Sherlock tries to say something, anything, but nothing comes out. With John watching, he runs his wet thumb over one nipple. It comes to a point instantly, a small pink arrowtip hard for his lover. Then he does the other. He's certain he looks debauched and wanton by now, but John makes no mention of his looks, not allowing Sherlock even that much power.
"Unzip," he says. "I'm not here to pay attention to your mind."
Long, pale fingers scrabble at the zip. Sherlock would like to right himself in his trousers, but he's uncertain about the consequences. How is it that his flatmate has him so whipped that he daren't put a hand on himself?
"Wearing pants today," observes the soldier, as part of Sherlock's body manages to make itself even more obvious inside his clothing. "You're at an angle, I see. Can't be comfortable."
Sherlock bites his lip. John leans back in his chair and studies a hematoma under one of his fingernails. A minute goes by, then two. The sandy-haired man seems to be under perfect control. Sherlock hears ragged breathing, then realises its his own.
John looks back at Sherlock, who has all he can do not to writhe on the bed. He takes him in from head to toe, lingering pointedly on his midsection.
"It's jammed halfway down your trouser leg. Does it hurt?"
Sherlock shifts uneasily, then nods.
"It's difficult for you, offering yourself up, isn't it? Get used to it."
Sherlock shivers. Is this something he's going to make me do on a regular basis?
"You're thinking too much. Trousers. Down."
With a small groan, Sherlock eases the waistband over his hips, then waits for the next directive.
"Did I say stop? Take them off. I want to see more of you."
Sherlock finishes pulling down his trousers, then steps gingerly out of them, being careful not to trip. If John wants him on his knees, he'll tell him.
Hesitantly, Sherlock walks the few steps to John's chair.
"Pretty," says John. "You do realise you're falling out of your pants?" He nods at Sherlock's erection, which is making its way out of the slit in his clothing.
Sherlock doesn't move, but he can feel his cheeks burning. Carnal urges. Embarrassment. Both.
John examines Sherlock against the soft, grey fabric of his boxer briefs. Sherlock can feel the ghost of his breath as he talks.
Touch me, John, I want you so badly, I ache for you, lick me, put your mouth on me please.
"You're slouching. Why are you bent over? Is there something you want down here? Stand up straight."
Sherlock bites off a low moan, then does as he's told. Moving back and forth has forced his hardness entirely out of its fabric prison. Naked and needy, it glistens at the tip.
"Don't you look nice," says John. "Pink and white like a birthday cake. I have my mobile on me. I ought to take a picture. Or maybe I should wait until you're completely retracted for me? Pull your balls out."
Sherlock adjusts himself.
"Shaved," comments John, looking at where his boyfriend is petal soft. "You do get bored, don't you?"
The question is not rhetorical. Sherlock nods.
"Some day, I'll make you shave for me everywhere. Easier to get you slippery that way, and I like you slippery. Pull your foreskin back. I want to see you dripping and ready for me."
183 men. Sherlock's had 183 men before this one, and none of them have made him feel this raw, this naked, this desperate, this alive. Slowly, he eases the skin back over the tender head, exposing it.
To his enormous shock, John takes his mobile out of his jeans pocket and actually takes a picture. Then he puts it back in his pocket.
"Interesting," says John, "the way your cock lines up with my lips when we're like this. It would be so easy to push yourself into my mouth. Is that what you're thinking about, me giving you head? Because I assure you, that's not happening." Sherlock's eyes flicker to the left in deference, but the organ in question twitches with need.
"You can look away," says John, "but you're going to have a difficult time convincing me you're not thinking about feeding me your dick when you're throbbing. How much does it grow in length when you're this keen? Three times its normal size? Four? Four, I should think."
John deliberately cranes his neck closer to Sherlock. Unable to help himself, Sherlock moves to meet him with his hips. Immediately, without there being any contact, John crosses his arms and leans back in his chair.
"Ah ah," he chastises. "Where do you think you're going? Did I tell you to fuck my mouth?"
Sherlock shakes his head miserably.
John stands up. "Lie down on the bed and spread your legs and think about how pushy you were. Don't touch yourself. I'll be back later."
Sherlock stares with amazement as John makes for the door.
"Oh, and Sherlock?"
The whirring in the detective's head comes to a complete stop.
"You can handle this," says John. A moment later, Sherlock hears his boyfriend open and shut the door to the street.
Sherlock moans in agony. Forty minutes have passed. His partner still isn't back, and he's been confronted the whole time with the sight of his own aching hardness twitching against his stomach as he lies on his back in a cloud of arousal and thinks of his lover.
Want, thinks Sherlock. Only it's less a thought than a message encoded in his heartbeat. Want John, want John, want John.
It's torture not to stroke himself. He's dying to take himself in hand and give himself over to thoughts of his boyfriend's lips, tongue, hands, sex. But John would know. John would smell it on him, satisfaction instead of urgency, and no amount of pleading, "I thought of you, of you only" would make him see reason. John would see, and John would not touch him, and his desperate heart would beat its verb-object combination in vain.
And so Sherlock waits, shirt unbuttoned, cock and balls obscenely presented to a man who isn't there.
At 19:04, John comes back. He smells of beer and other men's cigarettes.
He stands in the doorway, appraising Sherlock's offered body. "What would you say if I invited someone else back with me? Would you accept it?"
Sherlock tenses but doesn't argue. Whatever John wants.
John walks to the bed. "My, you do have a submissive streak. Coming right along, you are. In case you're wondering, I'm not going to share you. No one gets to touch you but me." He slips a proprietary hand between Sherlock's thighs, and the detective shudders for need of something more. Desire for tactile stimulation has left him half-mad.
"Still gagging for it," observes John. "You know, you wouldn't be in such a state if you'd asked me to fuck you during the case. You should have begged for it, Sherlock. You should have come to me on your hands and knees and pleaded for it while you still had the chance."
Sherlock mentally concedes the point.
"You like that idea, don't you? My cock in your arse. Me mounting you, using you for my own pleasure. Coming inside you. Does that get you hot?"
Sherlock nods. His lower lip is slightly swollen. He's been biting it for the last half hour.
"Get your legs further apart," says John. "It's the least you can do to welcome me home."
Compliance is swift. John climbs on top of the bed and kneels between Sherlock's parted limbs.
"Close your eyes. I'm going to touch you. Guess where. Don't tell me whether you're right or not. I'll know."
As Sherlock quickly finds out, the issue isn't so much where John's going to touch him, but how, and with what. He feels the proprietary touch of lips against his throat, right where his pulse is closest to the skin. Afterwards, he can tell John is settling back on his haunches, but he's unprepared for the sharp scrape of a fingernail across the arch of one foot. While he's still adjusting to that, a tongue swipes along the inside of his thigh. The sensation of John's head between his legs is both intimate and not intimate enough, because there's no attention being paid to his cock. Next there's John's hair, soft, unexpected, feather light against his torso. When teeth graze his nipple in the eyelid-imposed darkness, it's all he can do not to cry out.
"Unexpected sensory input isn't bad," observes the soldier. "You just need to learn how to take it."
Sherlock shudders with the strain of holding himself back, and John breathes into his ear.
"Can you do that for me, Sherlock? Can you take it?"
Eyes still closed, Sherlock nods frantically. YesJohnYesforyouYesalwaysYes.
John positions himself over Sherlock's body in a manner reminiscent of the sex act Sherlock tried to instigate on the pavement earlier that day. John's knees are on either side of Sherlock's shoulders, and his breath is warm against the taller man's shaft.
"Most of the systems of the body are designed to interact with things," says John. "The respiratory system craves oxygen. The digestive system craves food. But this?" John blows lightly on the tip. "This craves me. No wonder I'm fond of it. I look at you, and your pulse rate goes up. I kiss you, and you twitch in your pants. I fondle you, and you spring an extra half a foot of cock. You can't control it, and you can't hide it. This is how your body asks for permission to connect with mine."
Sherlock quietly throbs. Please, John.
John shifts on the bed. Eyes still shut, Sherlock hears the clink of his lover undoing his belt, then the thud of it falling to the floor. He can hear John manoeuvring his cock out of his jeans. Sherlock is aware of the musk of it just before the tip of it presses against his sensitive lips.
"Kiss it," says John.
Sherlock purses his lips. The kiss is chaste. If John had meant, "Suck it," he would have said as much.
"You feel like you want control?" says John. "You don't. You never have. I'm going to get off you now, and you're going to roll over."
Two hours ago, if John had told Sherlock, "I'm going to get off you," Sherlock would have demanded he say those words again in a different order. Now he simply rolls over, demanding nothing, offering everything. It's bliss.
Sherlock lies on the bed with his face pressed against the pillow. His weight is borne by his shoulders in the front, and by his knees in the back. John's worked the grey boxer-briefs off, and he's binding the prostrate man's hands behind him with the aforementioned T-shirt. His touch is rough, insistent.
"Ever used a spreader bar?"
Sherlock shakes his head.
"Cuffs at the knees; bar in between. Keeps your legs apart. Nice for beginners, but with you, it'd be redundant. I already know you'll spread for me."
Sherlock inclines his head, astonished that he missed all this. His desire for John is overwhelming – worse than the need for nicotine, worse than the need for coke. He wonders if he'll survive it.
There's the sound of gel squirting out of a bottle, and then his lover's chilly, lube-slicked index finger asserts itself against his rim.
"Beg for it," orders John.
Sherlock's voice is hoarse with disuse. "Please, John. I've been waiting so long. You have no idea how much I'm aching for it. I need you. Have me."
John starts working him open with his hand. "Tell me why you want me to fuck you, and maybe I will. You need me inside you to get off?"
Despite the gracelessness of the idiom, Sherlock feels like any number of things might get him off – John saying these utterly unhinged things to him, John looking at him, John being in the same room, John breathing in and out.
"I need you inside me to get you off. That's what I want; for you to take pleasure in me. I'll make it good for you, John, I promise. Fill me. Let me take care of you."
John Watson is nothing if not a brutal tease when he wants to be. He puts the tip in, and as soon as Sherlock gasps with gratitude, he removes it. He lets his erection come to rest on Sherlock's back, lets him feel the heft of it, runs it down the cleft of Sherlock's upturned arse.
"I don't need you to take care of me," says John, "and I don't need to be in you to get off. I could do it like this. I could push your cheeks together and rut against you, then come against your hole. You wouldn't be able to feel anything but the friction, and not where you want it. If you want me to fuck you, you'd better make a more convincing case."
Sherlock tries to explain. He can hear himself babbling now, going on about how it feels when John takes him.
Semen … it was used as ... invisible ink … World War I … every man a pen ... when you're in me it's like … writing yourself inside me with ink no one can see … you're deep, John, so deep … A breach in me all my life … a gap … it was for you ... a placeholder … somewhere for you to insert yourself once we finally met … you're in me further than anyone's ever gone … please John … need you … fuck me … be my centre … be the core of me
It's enough. "I love you too," says John, knuckles deep inside his boyfriend. "Hold still."
While it occurs to John that Sherlock would probably like him to come up with a new adjective, the fact remains that fucking Sherlock is magnificent.
John presses into his flatmate's willing, sensuous body, and it's fortunate for Mrs Hudson's nerves that they're doing this on the second floor, because Sherlock is yowling like a sex-starved cat. He seems to want it hard, and John obliges, pistoning into him with abandon. Sherlock pushes back against John in time with each thrust. He's so far gone now that he's pleading for things he already has, like an arseful of amorous flatmate.
"John, fuck me, please, take me, use me, fuck."
"I'm already fucking you," says John. "Hang on."
John knows Sherlock thinks of his own back end as some sort of cosmic joke. There he is, brain the size of a planet and a bum to match. Given the constraints of testosterone and caloric intake and Saxon heritage, there's no way it should be as plush or lush as it is, and there are times when the man actually seems to feel self-conscious about it. Which is why John finds himself saying, "God, you've got a beautiful arse" as he pushes into it again and again.
And now Sherlock is wriggling under him and speaking in tongues and begging John to make him sentient, which makes no sense whatsoever, because Sherlock is the most sentient person John has ever met in his life, but John says, "OK, I will, here you go, yes."
This is not how they usually do it. Usually, Sherlock has an unimpeded view of John's face.
It's a curious phenomenon that when one sense is compromised, another rises to the fore in order to compensate. Being face down, Sherlock can't see John, but he can certainly feel him. And this is what being rogered nine ways to Monday by the other half of his soul feels like.
It feels like being loved and known in all ways, some of them resoundingly Biblical.
It feels like being a variable in a differential equation that someone has finally made the effort to solve.
It feels like the friction of their bodies is causing some of John's electrons to be caught up by Sherlock's protons, and vice versa.
It feels like Sherlock's heart is trying to leave his body via his throat, such that John will have to catch it and pass it back to him, mouth to mouth, like the egg yolk in that Japanese film John made him watch.
It feels like being one of two very slippery, frantic puzzle pieces.
It feels like every chunk anyone ever took off Sherlock only served to make him a better fit for John's personality, John's body, John's infinite capacity for attachment.
It feels like redemption.
It feels like his head is coming loose and something moving at roughly 300,000 km per second is shooting out his fingertips.
It feels like John is the current, and he the conduit.
It feels like John has just bitten him on the back of the neck.
And now John's hand is wrapped around his beloved's prick, and he's murmuring, "Feel it, it's not too much, that's it, I told you you could handle it," but that depends on the definition of handling it, because as far as Sherlock can see, it's handling him. His nerve endings are turning to copper wire before the lightning of John's love, and he has no choice but to let this electricity enter him and seek the shortest pathways to ground: his fingers, his toes, his tongue, and godYespleaseYes his aching balls and oversensitive cock. The pleasure is crucifying.
"I love you," he gasps, just this side of coherent.
"Do you understand what you are to me?" says his partner. "Everything, Sherlock. Fucking everything."
The English language dissolves around them, leaving nothing on Sherlock's tongue except the name of his beloved, his lover, his love. As sensation binds them together, Sherlock cries out, aware of nothing but John pulsing inside him, writing his name so deeply inside his body that it can never be erased.
"How did you know I like that?"
"Like what, you beautiful, fucked-out angel? Getting your rocks off?"
"That," says Sherlock, looking over his own shoulder to where his hands are still bound.
"You would, wouldn't you," says John. He pulls out of Sherlock and unties him, then gently pushes him over onto his side.
"It's that obvious?"
"Of course it's obvious. Shirts."
Sherlock frowns. "What shirts?"
"Your shirts," specifies John. "First time I saw you, you were sauntering around in something that pinned your nipples flat. I thought maybe it had shrunk in the wash, but it's not one shirt, it's your whole wardrobe. Nobody wears clothing that tight unless they get off on it."
John turns off the light, then lies down behind Sherlock and pulls the blankets over both of them. He puts an arm around him and pulls him backwards, out of the wet spot. Sherlock heaves a contented sigh and goes boneless against him.
"Yeah, really. God knows it's not practical to wear things that inhibit range of motion in your line of work. You like it. The binding, the pressing, the sensation of being trapped. Also, you like showing off your body, and the tight shirts work with that fetish too. I'm surprised you don't go around kitted out in full PVC."
"It's impossible to find anyone in Savile Row who'll work with PVC."
They lie pressed against each other in the dark.
"That was … good," allows John. This line has become the centrepiece of his imitations of his flatmate.
"It was amazing," responds Sherlock.
"You're not deleting," says John, modestly. "The least I can do is give you something to remember."
I could grow old with you, thinks Sherlock, although he's not sure if the words are part of his own inner monologue or if he's just deduced them from John. I could give myself to you, mind and body both. I could live with you for the rest of my life and never want to forget a minute of it.
Sherlock looks back over his shoulder, but it's too dark to see his partner's expression.
"Did you say something?"
Sherlock means to say "No," but what comes out is "Not yet." He suspects John already knows how he feels, even without an explanatory halo of sans-serif fonts.
"Mmmhmm," says John, as if agreeing wholeheartedly to something his flatmate hasn't said. He licks a stripe up the back of Sherlock's neck, soothing the area where he bit him. "Sleep well, sugar crumpet."
Despite his usual insomnia, Sherlock knows for a fact that he will.
Thanks so much to Quend for her wonderful depiction of Sherlock besieged by undeleted information.
I'm deeply grateful to everyone who left feedback on this, whether on fanfiction.net, where it was originally published, or here. This idea grabbed me by the frontal lobes back in August, and it was eight months before it let me go. Thanks for coming along for the ride.