The cornfields give way to flat plains.
John doesn’t know what to say to Sherlock. Sherlock never attempts to initiate a conversation.
They will have to talk about it before they reach Phoenix. John isn’t sure how long he has to work out what he wants to say.
Sherlock drives. John keeps his eyes closed.
They stop at a petrol station for dinner and fuel. They park next to the tire inflating pump. John wordlessly hands Sherlock a hot dog and a banana and Sherlock doesn’t complain about the food.
“Are you planning to drive all night?” John asks.
Sherlock looks at him.
“If you want a coffee or something,” John adds.
“How much longer do we have to drive?”
“Half the country,” Sherlock says, “A few more days.”
“Okay,” John says. And that’s it.
John unwraps the gauze from his arm and looks at his hand. The swelling has gone down but it still looks horribly red. There’s not much blood on the bandages though. He examines the neat stitches on his forearm in the mirror. No sign of infection.
The soap stings when he takes a shower. It’s worth it, though; to get the last of the dried blood off his skin.
Sherlock is laying in bed on his side with his back facing the other bed when John emerges from the bathroom. John runs the towel over his hair and rewraps his arm in dry bandages.
He climbs into his bed and turns off the light. He lays on his back and looks at the thin rectangles of light on the ceiling from the streetlamps. Sherlock’s breathing hasn’t gone slow or deep yet—he’s still awake.
“What does it feel like?” John asks quietly.
A rustling of sheets. John can see the gleam of Sherlock’s eyes in the half-dark when he turns his head. “Why?”
“I don’t understand it,” John says, “I don’t understand why.”
A stretch of silence. Then: “It feels like invincibility. So much energy, just running through your entire body. A fleeting moment of happiness.”
“Are you not?” John says, “Happy that is.”
“I’m very rarely happy, John.”
“Oh,” John says. Perhaps he should feel hurt.
“In university, it was the only thing that gave me the illusion that I had friends of any sort. Chemical friendships, if you will. For an hour or two, I would actually care about people and even if they didn’t like me, the drug convinced me otherwise.”
“Oh,” John says again, quieter.
“I started because I was bored. Then it was about the euphoria. Then it was about staving off loneliness,” Sherlock shifts and the sheets rustle again, “Then it was just because I was a junkie.”
“And now?” John asks, “Why now?”
“Energy,” Sherlock says, “Keeps me awake better than caffeine. It keeps me happier too. I’ve only been using a tiny dose each time—it’s not enough to pull me back to where I was before. I wouldn’t do that to you, John.”
“There’s no such thing as not enough.”
Silence. John turns on his side, towards Sherlock.
Sherlock breathes out. And then he says, softly, “Okay. Goodnight, John.”
It’s not really an answer. But John can finally close his eyes and sleep.
The flat plains get drier and drier until the expanse of land outside the window becomes dirt and cacti with rocky hills that are flat on top. They buy cheap pairs of sunglasses at a petrol station and Sherlock turns up the air conditioning in the car.
“Sherlock,” John says as they eat fast food in the car, “I don’t know any Spanish.”
“That’s fine,” Sherlock replies, “I know enough.”
“If what you say is true, that there are multiple players jostling to fill the power vacuum—” John sets aside his overdone hamburger, “We’re outsiders. We’re at a disadvantage. We don’t have the manpower and we don’t have the time to set up a reputation or recruit.”
“We don’t have to do any of that. We can just support the boy who inherited the distribution from his dead father.” There is disdain in Sherlock’s voice, “I doubt we’ll be able to run it into the ground any more than he already has. If my sources are correct, he spends most of his time in nightclubs and partaking in what he’s supposed to be moving.”
“Oh,” John looks down, “Sherlock, I wish you told me more of the plans. I’d like to be on the same page once in a while. That’s all.”
Sherlock glances at him. “How’s the arm?”
John looks down at it, “Fine. I’ll take the stitches out when we get to Phoenix.” He looks back up at Sherlock, “Wouldn’t want our potential clients to think that we were weak.”
“You’re hardly weak, John.”
“Thank you,” John says, “I think.”
When John crumples up the wax paper that had been wrapped around the burger and shoves it into the paper cup of soda, Sherlock says, “I suppose this makes me a consulting criminal.”
John bumps him in the arm with an elbow. He tries for a smile. “I think I liked your other career better.”
They’ve turned the light off. John is on the brink of sleep when Sherlock pulls him back into consciousness: “Yesterday you asked me what cocaine was like.”
John opens his eyes. Why was Sherlock bringing this up now?
“I think I have a metaphor that might make more sense than my abstract description yesterday.”
John rolls over onto his side and looks at Sherlock. “Okay,” he says, “I’ll bite.”
“I expect using cocaine is very similar to what having great sex must be like,” Sherlock says, “With all the endorphins and the oxytocin. Though in cocaine’s case, it mostly affects dopamine levels.”
John is suddenly wide awake.
“The metaphor still stands,” Sherlock adds.
“You’re not speaking from personal experience though.”
“No.” John can tell that Sherlock is annoyed. “I’m not a virgin though, if that’s what you were wondering.”
“No,” John lies.
“Multiple occasions,” Sherlock says. Defensive, maybe, John can’t really tell from the flat tone, “Every time it was both tedious and unfulfilling. I don’t particularly have the desire to try it again.”
“Has no one—” John starts, then stops. How could he phrase this?
“Induced an orgasm?”
“That’s—” John says, “—a bit clinical, but yes.”
Sherlock’s silence answers perfectly well. And then he says, “I always found masturbation to be more effective.”
Jesus. John’s mind helpfully supplies him with an image of Sherlock twisted the sheets, hand fisted around his cock. He pushes that down.
“A lot of sex is finding the combination of the right person at the right time,” John says, “It’s not just about the physicality.”
Sherlock doesn’t respond. And then he says, “Persuade me, then.”
John swears he hears an innuendo in there but he’s half certain that it’s just wishful thinking. “What?”
This is—this is actually insane. John swallows dryly.
“Um,” John starts. He tries to think of an ex-girlfriend who was blonde and short—opposite of Sherlock. “There was this one girl back in secondary school—we knew each other for ages. She lived down my street and I remember we had this rendezvous spot down by the river that was hidden from view. We hid a blanket under this rock nearby.”
“Unsanitary,” Sherlock mutters.
“It was really exciting at the time,” John presses on, “Half the time we had no idea what we were doing so we just did whatever felt good. I remember at the beginning I was half terrified that she would bite my, um, penis. But she got better and I got better too.”
“Eloquent,” Sherlock says.
“She figured out that I really um—” John doesn’t even know what he’s saying any more, “—I really liked it when we were just naked and sunning ourselves on this rock. And she would just run two fingers over my cock and it’d take half an hour of her relentless teasing to get me up. And she’d just sink down and ride me, god she’d be so slow and drag it out for so long.”
Sherlock doesn’t say anything. But John knows he’s not asleep. Fuck, he’s starting to get aroused, talking about this.
“It wasn’t always about sex though,” John says, “We’d talk for hours about stupid things. I failed spectacularly every time I cooked her dinner but she kept coming over anyway. Sometimes it was great just touching elbows while we studied for our A-levels.”
Silence. John can’t help it, the images in his mind are slowly morphing: his knees touching Sherlock’s as they watched something terrible on the telly, putting up with all the greasy takeaway because they’re both too tired to cook. His hands on Sherlock’s hips, slow slide down the length of his cock into tight heat—Jesus Christ.
“Where is she now?”
John doesn’t know if he’s surprised that Sherlock fixated on that particular aspect of the story. “Not sure. I fell out of contact with her after I got deployed.”
Silence again. John doesn’t touch his half-hard cock. He wills it to go away.
“Thank you,” Sherlock says softly.
John doesn’t know what Sherlock’s thanking him for. “Good night, Sherlock.”
The palm trees in Arizona surprise John when they first arrive. The temperature climbs as they near noon and John keeps his sunglasses on. It’s a dry heat though—easier for sweat to evaporate. Better than Philadelphia.
“Hotel?” John asks, “You figure out how to get an introduction and I’ll start combing for apartments.”
John is cutting his stitches at the desk in the hotel room with his gun on the table when the door clicks open with a beep and Sherlock enters. John snips another piece of fishing line and tugs the plastic from his skin, “Do you know where he is?”
“Yes,” Sherlock says, taking off his sunglasses and retrieving his gun from his back pocket. He places both on the dresser. “He’s not entertaining any visitors.”
“Not even with an introduction?”
“Especially not with an introduction. He’s paranoid about his father’s old colleagues trying to take advantage of him.”
John snips at another stitch. “What else do your sources say?”
Sherlock folds his hands behind his back. “Ah,” he says, “You won’t like it.”
John stops pulling his stitches and looks up at Sherlock, “Why? What is it?”
“He has a predilection for hiring male prostitutes.”
John doesn’t move for a long moment. Then he says, “No.”
Sherlock moves towards the window and looks out, “It would be me, of course.”
“I know,” John says, “We’ll find a different way.”
“John,” Sherlock says, “We don’t have much time here. Every day, the other crime lords circle above. You said it yourself, we have no reputation and no time to recruit.”
“There has to be a different way,” John insists.
“Let’s be realistic. His father died two weeks ago. The spread of his territory is too substantial to be ignored. All of the players have been in negotiations with each other the moment that shot was fired. Already the borders of his territory have come under dispute and the smaller ringleaders have started to chip away at his empire. The son has done nothing to stabilize his influence—he has been drowning himself in alcohol and anonymous sex,” Sherlock turns to look at John, “Meanwhile, the wolves are closing in. Everything could topple at a moment’s notice.”
John rubs a hand over his mouth, eyes fixated on the table.
“All I need is thirty minutes alone with him,” Sherlock says, “Thirty minutes to convince him that all we want to do is help him for a tiny cut of the profit. Thirty minutes and everything is set in motion for Moriarty’s network to find us.”
“Sherlock,” John says. It comes out as a plea.
“You know that it’s true,” Sherlock replies, quietly, “This is the only way.”
Sherlock tells him that according to his sources, the heir—Daniel—exclusively uses two male escort services. Neither of them have adequate security and it barely takes an hour for Sherlock’s password-guessing program to log in as the administrator on both.
“Someone’s been scheduled for tomorrow,” Sherlock says, “I’ll need more fitted clothes.”
“We can spare maybe two hundred.”
“Fine,” Sherlock agrees without looking up from the computer screen, “I’ll need a second opinion. Tomorrow morning?”
John runs a finger over the mostly-healed cut in his arm, staring blankly at the edge of the table.
John looks up. Sherlock is looking at him.
“Tomorrow morning,” John agrees.
Sherlock fixes the cuff of his sleeves as he looks at himself in the mirror. The suit accentuates his long legs and thin torso.
John picks out a pale green tie that brings out the colour of his eyes. Sherlock ties it and stares at himself in the mirror, his voice barely above a murmur as he says cryptically, “Green means go.”
“I don’t want you to,” John says, half a pace behind Sherlock, hands shoved into his pocket, “I can’t follow you there.”
Sherlock’s eyes meet his in the mirror. John wonders if Sherlock can read everything on his face.
“I’m sorry John.”
Sherlock’s roots are already growing in dark. John will have to trim it and redye it. He reaches out and touches the patch of hair he had missed. It’s been maybe a month and a half since that night they left London—it feels so much longer.
Sherlock doesn’t move away, just watches him in the mirror. “I threw away the cocaine.”
Surprise? Relief? If nothing else, John is glad. “Good. That’s good, Sherlock.”
Sherlock’s expression doesn’t change. He looks away.
“Thank you,” John says and it’s completely inadequate to convey everything he wants to say.
“Do you ever miss Baker Street?”
Sherlock looks down the street before they make a left turn. “I don’t think about Baker Street.”
“Right,” John says. He forces a smile even though Sherlock isn’t looking. “Onward, then.”
“Be careful,” John says.
“Of course,” Sherlock says and shuts the hotel door after himself.