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John Watson had loved Sherlock Holmes for as long as he could remember.

So long in fact that he couldn’t remember if it had been love at first sight, or more of a gradual infatuation. His interest might have been sparked as soon as his mother had read out the title. Or maybe, he’d known just from seeing the cover. To John’s young eye, it promised an adventure story about a detective with a funny name and a funny hat. Or, though John doubted it, perhaps he’d needed to hear the first few lines, the opening scene that set the stage for what was to come in each instalment, before he settled into his long-time love of the stories.

Harry liked them just as much as the next thing, and for their younger years humoured him in his interest. They passed many days running about as crime-solvers, before Harry’s willingness to play along faded.

Harry losing interest in solving mysteries was the start of something far more exciting—solving them with Sherlock Holmes himself. John thought of this as a fantastic upgrade, and was inspired to de-age his favourite character by a particular recollection of Holmes from the novels. As a young boy Sherlock had been dismissed by the police when he tried to convince them a simple murder was far more nefarious than it appeared. This injustice irked John greatly, and he enjoyed thinking that if he had been present things might have gone differently. As a result, his fantasies involved setting up a detective agency with Sherlock, which became the foundation of many daydreams.

John imagined a younger Sherlock was not much unlike the adult man, who was admittedly rather childish in many respects. De-aged Sherlock, at the age when he had solved his first murder, placed John as a few years older. As the senior member of their team, John got to know more about the world than Sherlock, and the adults were more likely to listen to him, which John rather liked.

As John grew older, his imaginary Sherlock Holmes aged along with him, and the difference between their respective ages remained the same. John grew to feel protective of this younger Sherlock, despite the actual Sherlock being many years his senior.

Even as he made friends with children his own age, John could never quite relinquish his first best friend. John was well aware that he had grown too old for imaginary friends, but would have argued that a literary character was different. If he were being honest, this was likely the first in a line of many excuses he made for himself in defence of his private, unwavering obsession.

John liked to think that Sherlock might have understood him; he had likely been friendless, somewhat strange, and perhaps a bit sad. While John’s mum had always brushed over the parts that had hinted at Sherlock’s past bad habits whenever she read the books out loud, John wasn’t an idiot. He was old enough to know about drugs, and what those sorts of skeletons in the closet might mean. John also knew that regardless of Sherlock’s vices and insecurities he would still be fascinating, and never boring.

The possibly unfortunate side effect being that no matter how old John got, he still wanted nothing more than to be Sherlock Holmes’ friend. His one confidante, an encourager of his genius, and his supporter in all things—and, obviously, around to let him know when he was being a prat. As a result, becoming the kind of man who might be useful to Sherlock Holmes was never far from his mind.

John had always known he’d follow in his father’s footsteps to enter the military. A large part of himself was unable to rebel against his father’s wishes—beyond later setting his sights on being an army medical doctor, rather than joining the infantry. If John imagined Sherlock would have needed someone to cover his back who was not unaccustomed to danger, and who had knowledge of medicine, well, John figured it was a pleasant coincidence.

John wasn’t the only fan of Sherlock Holmes, with the books being so well loved and known. A friend of his had once tried to bond with him over the series, which had ended with the friend being downgraded to casual acquaintance. The friend had hero worship in his eyes, but for all the wrong reasons as far as John was concerned. He admired Sherlock’s cold reason and detachment, his interest in the game and the puzzle above all else, and especially his disdain for other people. That had, of course, rubbed John up the wrong way; Holmes wasn’t a bloody puzzle-solver, John had argued passionately, he just liked drama and was a bit of a loner.

His friend had laughed at his overreaction. “Projecting a bit aren’t you, mate? And you don’t even have genius as an excuse.” John had laughed along with the joke at his expense, well in line with the usual digs they all engaged in. Besides it was true, he was a loner—always on the outskirts of a group, never best pals with anyone. It took one to know one.

That comment John could have forgiven. It was his friend later accusing him of having a crush on Sherlock Holmes that truly spelled the end of their friendship.

That bit of insight was too close to the bone, and ensured John’s later aloofness. With his Thatcher-loving military father and his sad queer sister, he had at first denied his interest in men. After that he simply intended never to act on it. A passing remark from a mate was more than enough to draw attention to an aspect of John’s interest that was relegated to wet dreams, and something John had not yet come to terms with.

Women and men both featured in his dreams and fantasies—the Timothy Dalton Bond years were particularly inspiring. But perhaps because his imagination was always rather fixated on Sherlock, John’s subconscious always fell back on his made-up friend. The physical attributes described in the novels came to life in fuzzy form, depicted differently by various illustrations—a hawk-like nose, razor-sharp cheeks, and the dark, curled hair—that often exaggerated Sherlock’s gaunt features. John found the usual renderings of him a bit garish; he prefered to imagine those features softer, gentler, along with his preferred version of the man himself.

John dated women and had feelings for men, but they all entered and promptly left his wank fantasies, unlike John’s envisioned Sherlock, who continued to evolve as the years passed. His mind kept returning to Sherlock for baser reasons; that imagined body—long and lean—and that silhouette of a face—intelligent eyes above a quirking mouth—and a sharp, wicked tongue within.

What John liked best was Sherlock’s eyes blown wide, mouth open, his tongue’s usual wittiness lost, mouth relegated only to forming his name. He wanted a Sherlock Holmes only barely hinted at on the page, one never seen before—vulnerable, private, and just for him. If John had ever overthought it, he would have been deadly embarrassed by it, especially given that most fans preferred to exaggerate Sherlock’s darker aspects. But a fantasy was allowed to be a fantasy, after all. And that’s all it ever would be.

John’s relationships with real people always inevitably failed, and he was well aware that the blame lay on his own disinterest. It was still troubling that he could maintain a lifelong obsession with a man who didn’t exist, when he couldn’t even fake interest in a living person for more than a few months. He still imagined the long term trajectory of his life ending with marriage and settling down, distantly planning to imitate his upbringing.

If a small voice still whispered about chasing criminals, examining corpses, and relaxing in the evening to the sound of violin, he felt he was allowed some simple pleasures in the privacy of his own head.

 

_______

 

John was stationed in Kandahar when Sherlock Holmes died. He wasn’t the first to learn of it, despite having preordered the novel. By the time John received it overseas, he was given a sympathetic look from the subordinate handling deliveries. News traveled fast, and everyone now knew it was to be the last instalment.

The murder was sudden, unexpected, and in a word, anti-climactic. Sherlock Holmes bested by a petty criminal—a simple cabbie turned assassin for hire. Holmes had faced innumerable adversaries, but none that weren’t thwarted within the span of a novel. Sherlock’s only overarching foe in the end was his own loneliness and desperate desire to prove he was clever, which as it turned out, drove him to enter into an unnecessary suicidal game of choosing the right pill. Not a single person could claim to have foreseen it. No one ever expected Sherlock Holmes to meet his end over a simple challenge.

Before this, if John had happened to run into the author on the street, he might have nodded in recognition or offered him a handshake. Now John would have a rather liked to give the man a black eye.

John was angry—rather, furious—for several reasons. He was angry about Sherlock Holmes dying, for one. That was also reasons two, three, four, and onwards. John also couldn’t fathom why someone would create a character who so clearly sought the appreciation of others, only to give him none. They had all willingly consumed a dark comedy about a lonely anti-hero figure, but John’s own version had grown so far beyond the constraints of its canon that he couldn’t accept that reality.

John was, and always would be, attached to the romance of it all—which he meant in the classic sense. A true romantic adventure story. Beyond Sherlock drifting into the occasional fantasy, John had never actually imagined them together as a romantic item. Even in his own mind, he didn’t know the first thing about how to flirt, seduce, or have a relationship with Sherlock Holmes.

Fans worldwide expressed their displeasure, and John was no different. He wrote a long, strongly worded criticism of the ending, which in no way helped, and which he then deleted almost immediately after. It ate at him, no matter what he did—why hint at Sherlock’s vulnerabilities, why show glimpses into the man’s potential, if only to throw it all away on a surprise death battle of wits? John knew the answer of course; the point was that Holmes’ tendencies should have put him in his grave years before. Sherlock had always been a ticking time bomb, a reckless disregard for his own well-being his only constant companion. Risking it all, just to feel larger than life. John hated him for it, but only because it had got him killed.

John had arguably always been overly attached, but his interest in the last Sherlock Holmes case went in a different direction. The answer to the pill game was of no interest to him, though everyone in the forums was obsessed with arguing about the mind games. To John, it seemed like just dumb luck. He was more interested in, as always, his own role in the story. The different times and places Sherlock Holmes could have been convinced to not be so bloody stupid seemed endless. John liked to think of all the things he’d say to him, having endless pretend conversations with him, though the conversation was mostly John cursing interspersed with persuasion.

John took to carrying the last novel in his front left-breast pocket. It was small enough to fit, and easy enough to slip out on brief breaks to reread the used, dog-eared pages.

He felt like he knew every bloody line by heart. He hated it.

He also couldn’t put it down.

John sort of wished he’d bought a thicker copy of it, though that only occurred to him once he was bleeding out into the desert, after having been shot through his left shoulder. He wondered if the hard copy would have miraculously stopped the bullet. Those few extra pounds might have been very well spent. If he’d had the presence of mind he might have laughed at that, or at least found it fitting that he was a goner so soon after his old friend had abruptly and fictionally died.

Delirious, John contemplated that if he were in a novel, there was an author out there writing him out. Even though he had never been a religious man, he thought that might be a god worth praying to. But with his resentment at Sherlock’s author boiling up inside of him even in his last moments, John thought he’d rather die than give any author the satisfaction of begging for his life. In the end he thought of Sherlock and what he could have been—really, what they could have been—before his grip on lucidity left him completely.

 

_______

 

John drifted back into consciousness to the sounds of a cart rattling down a hall, and the quiet clicks of a bolus of medication being delivered through a syringe pump. For a moment, he assumed he’d fallen asleep on the job at the army infirmary after a night shift. That was, till he realized he was prostrate in a hospital bed.

When he moved, pain shot through his shoulder, which explained the noise of the running medication. John had a feeling that soon he’d be quite thankful for that top-up.

John also had a feeling he wasn’t dead, but that he should try to wake up to be sure. He grunted, his out of use vocal chords protesting.

“You’re awake!”

Vision still hazy, John focused on the nurse at his bedside, who had been checking his chart, and was now standing at his elbow.

“The author let me live then,” John managed to comment, before bursting into a coughing fit. A cup of water was lifted to his parched mouth.

John learned from the nurse that he’d been out for awhile; a bullet had passed clean through his shoulder. Three others were dead. John didn’t ask who they’d been, perhaps still too amazed that he wasn’t one of them.

“Bill, do you know what happened to the book I had in my pocket? Did they keep it?”

It would be quite the thing if the Sherlock Holmes novel he couldn’t part with had saved him after all, perhaps shifting up in his pocket at just the right moment. John might just have to start believing in an author-god. In any event, John bet there was quite an impressive hole through it that he’d like to see.

“What book?” Bill asked, and even as out of it as he was, John could tell Bill thought it was the ramblings of a barely lucid man.

John felt himself slowly drawn under by the opiate, but still a flash of panic lanced through him. He was stupidly attached to that book, and he couldn’t imagine why they’d have tossed it—especially not if a bullet had passed through it before him.

“Sherlock Holmes,” John clarified, struggling to keep his eyes open. A look of confusion passed over Bill’s face.

“Never heard of it,” John heard him say before drifting off.

 

_______

 

That was the first time John got that response, and it wasn’t the last. No matter who John asked on the ward, no one had seen his book and—even stranger—no one had ever heard of Sherlock Holmes. At first John wondered if he was just being overseen by a particularly illiterate staff, but he soon learned the curious lack of familiarity with the Sherlock Holmes series went far beyond the confines of the ward.

John seemed to have woken up in a world where both a limp and a book series were all in his head. With an intermittent hand tremor to boot he was to return to London, discharged from his former position. He would need to see a psychiatrist.

All of this on its own would have been the worst news he’d ever received, but John found himself entirely focused on the disappearance of his novel, and the bizarre collective memory loss of the world.

John had tried an internet search as soon as he’d been able, but it hadn’t turned up anything. He’d gone to a bookstore to try to purchase a copy of the last novel, A Study in Pink, and once more found no one had ever heard of it. It was like it had never existed.

As a last ditch effort, John agreed to meet with Harry when she got in touch, already knowing the first thing he’d ask her.

“What book?” Harry responded, just like everyone else. She’d been fiddling with her purse strap, anxious within minutes of them meeting at the cafe.

Sherlock Holmes would have made a long list of conclusions from just that small motion, her hands twisting the leather. John imagined the man’s eyes narrowing in, before rattling off ‘gay divorced alcoholic, meeting with her crippled brother out of obligation rather than interest.’ John’s deductions, of course, were cheating. He already knew all of that.

“The Sherlock Holmes novels,” John said, not even sure what he was expecting any more. “You know, like the ones Mum used to read to us.”

“Mum read us loads of things.”

“Sure, yeah, but I kept reading them. You even played detective with me. You don’t remember this at all, do you?” John asked, thumb rubbing across the crease forming in his brow. Christ. Maybe he really did need to see that psychiatrist.

“What, you read now?” Harry asked, defensive. “What’s the book got to do with anything anyway? John, I swear to God, if you’re doing that thing where you test my memory— ”

He shook his head, hands splayed out flat on the table. He hadn’t tried anything like that in a long while, not since he’d actually been invested in Harry’s drinking problem. “No, Jesus, Harry. Never mind.”

“I’ll look it up and see if it sparks my memory, will that make you happy?” Harry pulled out her mobile, quick on the draw, her thumbs already moving over the keys.

John sat back, attention shifting to the quiet murmur of the telly on the wall across the room. There was a police investigation, apparently. Multiple, and oddly similar, suicides.

John thought that was rather a weird coincidence. A bit like the last book. The one Harry was claiming she’d never heard of.

On the screen, there was a press conference by the police investigating the case, with a grey-haired man and dark-skinned woman addressing the reporters’ questions.

Despite that being the exact descriptions of the police Sherlock had worked with, it was just a coincidence, John told himself, for the second time.

“See John, I just looked up ‘Sherlock Holmes book’, and nothing!” A phone stretched out towards him, the small screen showing exactly what John had already confirmed when he’d done the same search. “Why are you making up stuff about us as kids? Did you also hit your head or something?”

“Did I also hit my head when I got shot? Christ, Harry.”

“Well, what am I supposed to think? There’s nothing here.”

Harry’s focus returned to her mobile and John’s turned back up to the telly. The ticker running across the bottom of the press junket read “Inspector Lestrade and Sergeant Donovan”.

John squinted his eyes, but the text had already moved on to their actual statements. That couldn’t possibly have been right.

“Nothing here John—except some bloke’s website if you scroll far enough down,” Harry said.

“What bloke?” John asked, eyes still trained on the television screen.

“The Science of Deduction,” Harry read aloud. “Whatever the hell that is. Kind of sounds like something out of a story though, doesn’t it?”

“Give me that,” John said, grabbing the phone from Harry’s hands. It could have been a fan’s rendition of his site, John told himself. Fans had done that all the time. Or they had, back when the Sherlock Holmes series had actually bloody existed.

It was difficult for John to quickly browse websites on a laptop let alone a mobile screen, but he could gather that it was the personal blog of someone who was at the very least impersonating Sherlock Holmes, and doing an excellent job of it. Something a fan might have done—only, without the novels, there was no Sherlock Holmes to impersonate.

The man identified as Lestrade was still on the telly, blithely telling the audience not to commit suicide. It was the same one-liner many fans had chalked up to being ‘foreshadowing’ or some other such rubbish.

A hand touched his wrist. “You going to be okay, John?” Harry asked.

If his sister was worried about him, he must have looked a real sight.

John nodded once, quick. “Yeah.”

“Keep the phone, yeah?” Harry said, snapping closed the purse she’d been fiddling with. “I’ve got a new one in the mail, and I know you don’t have one.”

John looked at the back. The phone Clara gave her, John was about to note, but opted for tact instead. “Thanks.”

“Sure you don’t want to come stay with me? Won’t you get bored in one of those dreary bedsits?”

“No,” John said, still staring at The Science of Deduction, personal blog of Sherlock Holmes. Just then on the screen, all the reporters’ mobiles at the press junket went off.

John would have bet a large sum of money that the messages all read ‘Wrong’. That’s what they’d said in the book, anyway.

“Somehow,” he said, “I think I’ll find something to occupy myself with.”

 

_______

 

John had lost his career, some of his mobility, and essentially had his life completely flipped upside down, but he was in no way paying attention to any of that. He found that the most dramatic difference between his old life as an army surgeon in Afghanistan and his new existence in a shabby bedsit in London, was the evidence that Sherlock Holmes was a real person.

Sherlock Holmes had a website. A blog. It was esoteric, focusing on ‘deduction’ as Sherlock apparently still called it. The most recent topic of Holmes’ fascination was soil samples from different areas of London, and the combustion rate of different fabrics. The last post to the blog’s forum seemed to spell the end of his current tenancy at Montague Street, though it didn’t say where he was moving to. John didn’t remember that from the novel, but couldn’t tell if that difference meant something or absolutely nothing at all.

John ended up reading the entire website, most of it either over his head or too boring to ever enter it in the first place. While not amazed by the content, John found the diction to be uncanny. It was definitely him, the entire blog was absolutely without a doubt being written by no other than Sherlock Holmes. To John’s disappointment, similar to the literary version of the man, there were no photos of Sherlock anywhere.

John was confused, but above all, curious. If Sherlock Holmes lived and breathed, he wanted nothing more than to see what he looked like. However, John already felt like a bloody stalker reading the website of a man who had ostensibly never met him.

To meet Sherlock Holmes and be a total stranger to him would be an experience John wasn’t sure he’d enjoy. John was aware that while he’d always wanted to be something to Sherlock, it was entirely possible that Sherlock Holmes as a real person might not want to have anything to do with him. John imagined meeting him, and being seen straight through. Sherlock would dissect him, break him down into his parts, deduce everything about him—and then leave. John knew how it worked.

John also knew that Sherlock was lonely and broken, but how the hell did you get past the kind of barriers Sherlock had up around him? John would have said Sherlock was a difficult man to know, if not for the fact that he felt sure he knew him already.

John was also painfully aware that Sherlock would soon become involved in the suicides, if he wasn’t already, and would end up being the final one if something wasn’t changed.

John realised the differing factor, the only new variable, was him. The universe was rarely so lazy, therefore, for whatever reason, he was being given the chance to alter the events of the last novel.

Unfortunately, there hadn’t been specific dates in the book, and John’s lack of knowledge was driving him round the bend. Who knew when the idiot would let himself get taken away by a cab at his door. The fourth suicide could occur at any time, after which it was only a matter of hours between Lestrade asking Sherlock to come look at the body, and Sherlock becoming the next victim. John was well aware that the police wouldn’t release that information to the public fast enough for John to react, even if John knew how to react.

John might have fantasised about saving Sherlock Holmes, but now that he had the chance, he had no fucking idea what to do.

John kept waking up from nightmares, dreaming of Sherlock taking the pill, with John being only moments too late. In all of them John could see Sherlock bringing the poison closer to his lips, but he was always separated from him, too far away to stop it.

John spent several of these disturbed nights sitting and staring at his laptop. The Science of Deduction had fast become his most visited website, despite there not being much new content beyond how it was the brother if the ladder was green.

On one of these nights, with his desperation for a solution growing, John ran through all the possible strategies he could take. He could contact Sherlock, either through his blog, by phone, or by text, warning him somehow. The problem being, warn him of what and how?

‘Hi, not that you know me but, in a little bit you’re going to play a suicide game with a cabbie cause you’re bored, and I was wondering if you could maybe not?’ Right, yeah.

Alternatively, just send a single cryptic message—‘don’t get involved with the serial suicides’?

John couldn’t write that. Mostly because it would just make Sherlock more interested, the wanker. Besides it wasn’t exactly ethical to tell the only person who could catch the killer not to do so. More people would die if Sherlock Holmes didn’t step in. John just didn’t want him to be included in that number.

So, begging him off was out.

John considered, as his last possible option, contacting Sherlock’s overbearing, overprotective, and fairly rubbish older brother Mycroft. If Mycroft Holmes thought Sherlock was in danger, Sherlock would be put under strict supervision. This would however backfire spectacularly on John, by having himself meet the same fate. More likely than not, he’d get his head kicked in for knowing too much about Mycroft’s baby brother.

Except—for the first time, that train of thought had given John an idea, something he could actually reasonably do. At once it seemed obvious, and he kicked himself for not thinking of it before.

Supervision.

He didn’t have to convince Sherlock of anything yet. John could watch over the man himself, if he knew Sherlock’s progress throughout the timeline of events.

All John needed to know was whether Sherlock had seen the fourth suicide—the pink lady.

It might be a bit tricky to get that information out of him. To keep Sherlock safe John had to be interesting enough to be heard out. Maybe even interesting enough to keep Sherlock from feeling so bored, bored enough he’d die to prove himself clever.

That was a much larger maybe.

John settled on texting. Anonymous, painless, and Sherlock preferred it. Done.

John breathed in once, deeply. He was going to do it. He was going to text Sherlock Holmes.

He fiddled with the phone in his hand for a moment longer before typing out, slowly, with one finger: Found it yet?

John barely had to wait more than a few seconds before he had his response. Taking in another long inhale, he read the message.

Found what? SH

While John considered how to respond, another text followed the first, and then another.

Who is this? Grant? SH
Did your wife toss your phone out the window again? SH

John’s mouth quirked up at the side. Sherlock never could remember Lestrade’s name. John thought out his reply carefully. Better to answer the first question rather than the second.

The case

When there was a long pause, John thought to clarify.

The pink suitcase

This time only a second passed before John received a terse reply.

Wrong number. SH

John hummed. Did Sherlock actually not have it, or was he playing dumb? He had to be sure.

So you don’t have it then

Sorry, pink isn’t my colour. SH

John’s breath escaped in a rush, almost a laugh. Pink was certainly about to be his colour, John thought, but decided to leave it there. He couldn’t quite believe that he had actually texted Sherlock Holmes even if, much like the conclusion of the last novel, the conversation between them had ended anticlimactically. At least John knew Sherlock didn’t have the suitcase yet.

John still lived with the anxiety of the suicide looming around the corner, weighing on him all that night and into the next day. He had a feeling that it was all about to happen, and soon. That morning he took a stiff, brisk walk through Russell Square to get outside. Leaning heavily on his cane with each step, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was a day late.

Returning home to his increasingly depressing living situation, John wondered if he was maybe a bit delusional. He was in a loop of doubting his own sanity, and conversely, his creativity. Was he even imaginative enough to make something like this up to avoid the reality of his injury? And yet, wasn’t that the most reasonable explanation?

Just as John was considering facing his own life by performing a half-hearted job search, the mobile next to his laptop buzzed.

Who are you? SH

John’s heart kicked hard to the side in his chest.

Sherlock wouldn’t have texted back a wrong number a day later out of curiosity. Therefore, something John had said was now relevant.

Found it then?

John asked the question, and then checked the time. It was still early evening, meaning the opportunity to intervene was still on the table.

His phone vibrated twice soon after.

Tell me who this is at once. SH
If inconvenient, tell me anyway. SH

John’s heart had now decided to move up into the vicinity of his throat.

There was a certain thrill to being of interest to ‘SH’. John couldn’t help but want to keep that sharp mind turned on him. Time to up the intrigue.

Can’t you deduce it?

John was practically beaming. Sherlock couldn’t possibly guess who he was, because none of this made any bloody sense. In this universe, John shouldn’t have known anything. It was completely insane.

It also happened to be the most fun he’d had in years. If he was honest, possibly ever.

You knew about the case. The pink lady’s case. SH

John realised, belatedly, that in a normal situation the only person who could have known about the suitcase was the killer. John hadn’t thought of that before, but it was clear to him that it had of course occurred to Sherlock.

I’m not the murderer, he texted as fast as he was able, not that Sherlock had any reason to believe him.

Do people usually assume you’re the murderer? SH

John’s concern vanished, quickly replaced by amusement.

When he didn’t immediately answer, the phone buzzed in his hand another three times in rapid succession—alarmingly quick, considering the length of each message.

If you knew about the case, either you happened to be on the crime scene before the police and were clever enough to notice it was missing, or you’re the murderer. SH

However, if you were the murderer, you would know I’d found the case, seeing as I just texted the phone missing from it. SH

Which leaves the possibility of you as the clever, Good Samaritan. Or the killer playing dumb. SH

John felt a bit like laughing. Sherlock was texting out his thought process. John really had stumped him, unsurprisingly, if the man was stalling.

The Good Samaritan who didn’t report a dead body to the police?

A bad Samaritan, then. SH
With my number, apparently. SH

John did laugh then. He could admit, it was a delight to see Sherlock be wrong. Though, not that he was that far off. John typed out his next message at his usual glacial pace.

Sorry, no. I never saw the body. Any other guesses?

My stalker? SH

That hit a little bit too close to home for John, seeing as he’d been practically living on Sherlock’s blog, and had every intention of following him around that night. Rather than deny it, John decided to circumvent it.

I haven’t ever seen you either. You’ve used three guesses

That at least was true.

I didn’t realise there was a limit. SH
I’ve grown bored of this game. SH

John exhaled hard through his nose, wondering if that would be the end of the messages. John supposed he could only keep Sherlock interested in the impossibility of him knowing about the case for so long. It was, in a way, a cheap trick. Sherlock was more interested in people being truly clever.

John’s pulse sped up when he was proven wrong not a moment later, when his mobile vibrated twice more.

You’re not a Good Samaritan, a killer, or a stalker. SH
So, and I do hate to repeat myself, who are you? SH

John imagined the last three words had been typed with extra emphasis, bitten off and demanding, not that it made John any more likely to tell.

John now knew roughly where they were in the novel’s sequence of events, that Sherlock had already texted the cabbie. Which meant, technically, John had gotten what he’d wanted from the conversation.

He didn’t need to text Sherlock anything else. There was no reason to continue till he knew how to prevent Sherlock from taking the pill.

But—it was entertaining, goading Sherlock Holmes. John almost felt giddy just speaking to him, let alone actually knowing something that Sherlock didn’t. By the novels’ accounts, it rarely ever happened.

Besides, John had never been good at self restraint. Or being cautious.

Is it really necessary to sign your initials after every text?

John didn’t know what possessed him to ask. He felt like teasing Sherlock, just a little.

Yes, actually. It lets the receiver of the text know who I am. SH
Maybe you should try it. SH

John’s lips quirked. His index finger tapped out ‘I’m nobody’, shortly before his thumb backspaced, deleting each letter individually. The last thing Sherlock Holmes wanted was an unprompted sob story.

John looked at the message on the screen for a beat before deciding. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Maybe you should focus on who the murderer is then. JHW

John, feeling cheeky, couldn’t leave it at just that.

Don’t get murdered while you’re at it. JHW

There was a long pause, which made him wonder if Sherlock had really grown bored of their conversation after all, before Sherlock responded.

Giving me all three initials. Risky of you. SH

More or less risky than texting a known serial killer? JHW

Comparable, assuming you’re a nameless stalker. SH

Not nameless now. I’ve got three initials. JHW

Hmm. Got to run, the actual killer called me back. SH

I will find out who you are by the way, JHW. SH

I look forward to it. JHW

John’s face felt warm from all the smiling. Speaking with Sherlock had been just as engaging as he might have imagined.

John also wondered, a bit, if that comment towards the end had been intended as a threat, or…?

It had seemed almost like… flirtation. It was concerning that John couldn’t tell. John didn’t even know what voice to read the texts in. How did someone go about flirting with Sherlock Holmes anyway?

John put the mobile back on the desk. If the killer had called, that meant Sherlock was on his way to sit in a restaurant on a stake out, only to chase the cab and interrogate the man in the backseat rather than the front. John assumed there was still at least an hour before the drugs bust at Sherlock’s flat—assuming that still happened—before the cabbie came to pick Sherlock up later.

Though, who knew what might be different this time around. Might as well go keep an eye on Sherlock. In person. For Sherlock’s safety, of course.

John slipped the mobile into his coat pocket and, after brief consideration, had his gun follow after it. John didn’t hesitate long before taking the tube.

 

_______

 

As John approached twenty-two Northumberland Street, he spotted an Italian restaurant, just as described in the book.

John could just make out the outline of a man through the front window, a familiar silhouette, practically memorised since his infancy. Sherlock was sitting in the window seat, clearly meant for two, as if he was waiting for someone to join him.

The author had always described Sherlock as meticulously dressed, curled hair tamed, and thin enough to give the impression of tallness. Underneath the restaurant’s dim overhead light, John could see dark hair framing a long face with pale eyes, and a bone structure that drew the eye.

John felt the grip on his cane loosen as his lungs expelled a breath that never seemed to end.

At first, John was awestruck. His imagination had always been fuzzy on the details, ever-changing, bits and pieces of a face drawn from many that John had perhaps seen and admired. It was strange to see them all assembled together with an odd grace, in an unique arrangement of features that was somehow exactly what he had pictured.

John felt vindicated. He’d always known the illustrations were rubbish.

And then, a cab pulled up.

It occurred to John that he could dispose of the cabbie right then and there, if he could manage to catch him right after Sherlock did. If he played his cards right, they could nip the whole terrible affair in the bud.

When Sherlock jumped up from his table and dashed outside, John chased after him, attempting to keep pace while staying out of sight. Luckily his footfalls were light, and Sherlock was far too preoccupied with predicting the cab’s movements to notice any hanger-on.

Similarly, John was too preoccupied with Sherlock to realise he’d left his cane outside the door of the restaurant.

John was also too entranced with Sherlock telling the man in the back of the cab “Welcome to London”, when it turned out to be the wrong man, to control himself. To be specific, John giggled out loud.

Maybe it was hearing Sherlock’s voice for the first time, surprised by the deep timbre of it in contrast to how young the man looked, or perhaps it was listening to Sherlock’s delivery rather than reading it on the page. Either way, John let out the highest giggle he had at his disposal, and had to quickly duck back into the narrow side street from whence he’d come to hide in case Sherlock had heard him. By the time John stuck his head back out, the cab and Sherlock were gone.

Shit.

John was faced with three options. One, try to follow the cab. Two, follow Sherlock back to his flat. Or three, head them both off at the final destination, the Roland-Kerr Further Education College that the cabbie had taken Sherlock to in the book.

John decided to take his chances with the third choice. He had to believe the confrontation would be in the same place. The restaurant had been the same after all, and even Sherlock’s one-liner had been identical. John would be faster if he got to the college first. Maybe Sherlock would exhibit some actual intelligence this time around by pulling out of the game, instead of taking the damn pill. It’s not like the cabbie even had a real gun.

Despite not having the cash for it, John hailed a cab. Sadly, it was not one driven by a would-be genius psychopath. That would have been too easy. Instead he had apparently picked the most directionally challenged cabbie in all of London who also had a terrible fondness for the busiest roads in the city. John eyed the time on his mobile like a hawk as he watched the minutes tick by. He had no idea how long it would take for Sherlock and his cab to get to the college. When he finally arrived at the college, John paid without a word, lips pressed tightly together.

Stepping out onto the kerb, John found an entirely new reason to resent the author. There were two buildings, and John had no idea which one Sherlock was in. If the ride had been quick, he could have waited outside and watched to see when they arrived. Now he didn’t have that luxury.

Perhaps out of always favouring his left side, John made his selection, hurrying into the building, and down its long halls. John listened for any noise, any murmur of voices. He couldn’t exactly call out to anyone.

John rounded a corner and passed an open classroom door, and caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye, finally—but of course, through a window.

Fuck. Shit.

For the second time that night, John was separated from Sherlock Holmes by a pane of glass. He was in the wrong building, and they must have arrived almost moments before him, as they were still sitting at the classroom desk, talking.

John made to leave the room, to run to the other building in time, but at once they stood up. John watched on as Sherlock lifted the pill in front of himself, looking at it with a curious and terrible wonder.

It was all playing out in front of him, the exact frustrating and shitty ending that John had wanted to change, and he was still stuck. Physical distance was almost as bad as reading the words on the page.

Almost.

John’s hand twitched, aborting a tremor, before slipping into his coat pocket.

Sherlock’s arm reached higher, and John’s followed its movement in exact symmetry. As the pill gravitated closer, John focussed on his target and fired.

As soon as the deed was done, he ran. He had seen Sherlock’s head luckily turn towards the man who had just been shot rather than the window. As was the theme of the evening, John ducked around a street corner to watch from afar.

John considered returning to his flat, or a nearby skip to dispose of the weapon, but that measure of safety seemed unnecessary.

He wasn’t related in any conceivable way to anyone involved—how would anyone trace it back to him? Impossible circumstances made for perfect murders.

John should have gone back to his flat anyway. Only, he wasn’t even sure if he’d injured the cabbie, or killed him. He would make sure he’d done him in, and that Sherlock was alive and well, and then he’d go home. Maybe he’d even actually deal with his own life for a change.

Once the police arrived, one body was brought out on a stretcher, and the other on his own two feet. John approached the newly erected yellow tape line to get a closer look. Paramedics dealt with Sherlock briefly, and the man John had recognised as Lestrade from the press conference was talking to Sherlock, who sat on the back of an ambulance. Just as John decided he no longer had even a flimsy excuse to stay watching on, Sherlock’s eyes met his across the crime scene.

It felt like a current running through him, and John was immediately frozen in place, his body assuming parade rest. It should have been nearly impossible for John to see from that distance, but Sherlock’s brow was furrowed, offset by the intensity of the man’s unwavering stare.

As if in a daze, John’s childhood figure walked towards him, through a milling crowd of police officers. Lestrade tried to intercept him, but Sherlock disposed of him with a wave of the orange blanket around his shoulders, and bizarrely, with eyes never leaving John’s face.

John thought his heart might jump right out of his chest, but his body was still.

Sherlock stopped directly in front of him, and John didn’t move an inch. Curiosity still marked Sherlock’s features in the form of a wrinkle in his brow, and John found he quite liked seeing a visual tell on Sherlock Holmes. Facial expressions were certainly new.

Sherlock’s attention never drifted from him, that pin-sharp focus always on John. John recalled that in the novels, the case by case characters always squirmed under that scrutiny. John, on the other hand, was basking in it.

Sherlock’s lips parted as if to speak, before his mouth closed tightly again. John felt his head angle to the side, as if suggesting that he was all ears.

With his eyes still very much focused on John’s face, Sherlock opened his mouth once more, and this time words came out.

“You lied,” Sherlock Holmes said, as if it was a matter of fact, and more to the point, as if they knew one another.

The proclamation was followed by a slight dip forming in Sherlock’s chin, with the lower lip turning out into a pout. Just like when he had been texting him, John found himself wanting to laugh.

Lips turning up at the sides betraying his urge, John asked, “What?”

“My three supposedly ‘wrong’ guesses were Good Samaritan, murderer, and stalker.” Sherlock paused, as if he was allowing John time to betray his surprise.

Which John must have, as Sherlock’s pout changed into a crooked half-smile, before he said, “Turns out you were all three.”

John broke their eye contact for the first time by looking to the side. “Don’t know what you mean.”

“Don’t you?” The quip was asked with one eyebrow artfully arched in disbelief. “The gun-powder stains on your fingers say otherwise.”

John had the good grace to not turn over his palms and openly stare at his hands. He already knew Sherlock was most likely correct.

Unable to contain himself any longer, John snickered. The next thing he knew, he was in a fit of shoulders raised, fist covering his mouth, body-shaking laughter. Sherlock regarded him in open confusion for a moment before joining in with a deep, resonating chuckle.

So they stood at the side of the crime scene, till their laughter died down.

Sherlock bit his lip, looking down at the pavement and then back up. “Dinner?”

John barked another quick laugh at that. “You just went for dinner. Though, I suppose you didn’t eat anything.”

“Just met, and you’re already nagging me about eating?” Sherlock asked, head tilted to the side in a way that reminded John of a cat. “What kind of stalker are you?”

“I’m not a stalker,” John attempted to protest. He searched for any feasible explanation that didn’t make him sound exactly that, but came up short. “Would you believe me if i said that I just happened to be in the neighbourhood?”

“You give it away a bit when you start off with that,” Sherlock commented. ”Come back to my flat.”

“What happened to dinner?” John asked, joking, but also thrown for a complete loop. Once he had the lost reins on the terms of their interaction, he had lost them completely. “And why would I come back to your flat?”

“Because you fascinate me, John Watson,” Sherlock said. It was spoken in awe, leaving no doubt as to the truthfulness of the statement.

John’s head tipped back as he looked up into that perplexing and animated face. “How the hell do you know my name?”

Sherlock’s eyes lit up in delighted surprise. “So it is your name then?”

John, flummoxed, repeated, “How could you possibly know my name?”

“You’ll never know if you don’t come back to my flat. So, dinner?”

There was no denying it. Sherlock was fascinated with him, John realised, while simultaneously feeling his stomach sink. If Sherlock Holmes in this universe now lived past the last novel, that meant John didn’t know what happened beyond this point in time.

He’d never be able to impress Sherlock with his omniscience again.

John should have allowed himself the joy of the moment, remaining a mystery to Sherlock Holmes, even if it meant less continued contact. He ought to have disappeared into the night, never to be seen again.

Except, after having already been asked three times, John finally answered, “Starving.”

 

_______

 

Having Sherlock Holmes lead him up the stairs into his home at 221B Baker Street was something akin to being at a theme park. The illustrators had at least gotten that bit right, it seemed. There was a knife through the mail on the mantel, a hastily assembled chemistry set in the kitchen, god only knew what in the fridge, cigarettes stuffed into slippers, and the walls adorned with skull paintings—not to mention the actual skulls. It was the home of a true eccentric.

John was grinning ear to ear, feeling like a little kid in a candy shop. “Nice place,” he thought to mention, once Sherlock had ushered him into the living room, dinner never mentioned again.

“Do you think so?” Sherlock replied, with a small, pleased smile.

“Well, underneath all your things,” John joked. Looking around the room, he felt the difference between this lived in flat, and his sparse bedsit.

Sherlock’s hand fidgeted for a moment, before it picked up a single pen and placed it in a holder. Sherlock then seemed to regain control of himself, and promptly sat in his leather armchair. Sherlock motioned to the chair across, near where John was still standing.

John sat down as directed, easing his back against the plaid throw blanket. John hadn’t ever really focused on what furniture Sherlock had owned, but he certainly didn’t remember there being another armchair in the novels. It was rather cozy he thought, with both of them sitting on either side of a lit fireplace. Quite comfortable.

“So, how’d you do it?” John asked, his curiosity from earlier only growing during their trip to the flat. It was fitting that despite fancying himself rather mysterious with his texts about the case, in the end it was still Sherlock who had made the truly impossible deduction.

“Do what?” Sherlock feigned ignorance, laying rather large hands out across the padded armrests.

“Know my name. I only gave you my initials, and I’m not exactly named Sherlock Holmes.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sherlock’s hard stare from earlier returned, with John once again overly enjoying being the subject under his lens. John leaned forward, naturally drawn toward that attention.

“I mean that ‘John’ isn’t exactly straying too far from the first page of the baby names book. That, and I’m just some bloke.”

“Wrong,” Sherlock said simply, hands steepling beneath his chin in his signature, book-certified pose. “Though speaking of your name, what does the ‘H’ stand for?”

John sighed. He hated his middle name. “Are you going to tell me how you knew it was me, across a crime scene?”

“Are you going to tell me how you knew about the victim’s suitcase?” Sherlock returned, sharp as a whip.

John worked his jaw, as he worked over how he could ever reasonably explain that.

Sherlock slipped further forward in his chair, as if to crowd John for the answer, but then pressed him for something else entirely. “Humphrey?”

“Sorry?”

“Your middle name, John. Do keep up. Higgins?”

John huffed a laugh. “Going backwards in the conversation is hardly keeping up.”

Sherlock smiled at that, though it looked as though his mouth didn’t quite know what it was doing.

“Are we at an impasse then?” Sherlock asked, lips still trying to curve upward on one side. The question itself was all business, but the look on Sherlock’s face was all play. He still hadn’t moved back in his chair, and neither had John.

“Are you serious?” John asked. “You invited me back to your flat only not to tell me?”

Sherlock’s grin grew till it was no longer crooked in the slightest. “I’m willing to extend you the same courtesy that you gave me. Three guesses John, do use them well.”

“This isn’t a game.” Or at least, not one John felt liked playing. “Listen, it’s not that I wouldn’t tell you the answer to your question. It’s that you won’t believe me.”

Sherlock’s face, if possible, lit up even further, like a child’s on Christmas morning. It was truly a soft expression, and John still felt like pinching himself. He had always believed Sherlock would be like this, and seeing the truth of it made his chest ache.

“Try me,” Sherlock said, hands breaking apart to splay open, before resuming their steepled position.

When John only eyed him warily, Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Fine, I’ll start then. I’ll present the facts, as one should never reason without them. You seem to have known the details of Jennifer Wilson’s murder before it even happened, and I seem to know your name without ever having met you.”

John’s eyes narrowed, unsure of what to think. For a moment, he wondered if somehow Sherlock was self-aware, whether Sherlock perhaps knew that to John he was a book character.

“Do you already know... how I knew about the case?” John asked, tentative, shifting even further forward in the chair.

Sherlock mirrored his movement, drawing nearer, leaning his elbows on his thighs. Soon, they’d been practically on the floor. John found he was holding his breath.

“I,” Sherlock began, “haven’t the faintest idea.”

John laughed. “Oh.”

“Yes, ‘oh'.” They stayed in their relative positions, neither drawing back, nor moving closer together.

John realised they were truly at a stalemate as his resolve began to crumble. Sherlock was visibly desperate with the need to know. The man practically looked hungry for it, and John found he was struggling to deny him the answer. Even if it was guaranteed that John was about to become significantly less interesting as a result.

John breathed out once, then in again. “I knew about the case… because I already know about you.” It was as good a place to start as any.

“Intriguing,” Sherlock replied, voice lowered. “Do go on.”

And so John did. Sherlock, to his credit, was surprisingly patient with John’s bizarre explanation of growing up reading books about Sherlock Holmes, and the events leading up to Sherlock’s death in the last book.

“So, once you discovered I was real, you decided to change the ending of the novel,” Sherlock summarised, as if it was all perfectly within the realm of possibility.

“Are you mocking me?” John asked. “I honestly can’t tell.”

“I might have, under other circumstances,” Sherlock replied. “But, we’ve examined all the other possibilities. When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

“I thought I was all the other possibilities,” John quipped, remembering Sherlock’s earlier comment about him having ‘lied’. Sherlock chuckled, before his intent stare was focused on John once more.

“You are also an impossibility,” Sherlock stated. “Or, apparently, simply an improbability.”

“You’re the improbable one,” John insisted. “As I just mentioned, up until a few weeks ago you were a book character. To me, at least.”

“That’s a matter of perspective,” Sherlock said. He shut his eyes tightly while breathing out a long exhale, before continuing. “You see, as you were apparently growing up reading novels about me, I grew up reading a comic book series.”

Sherlock waited for John’s reaction with raised eyebrows.

“About…?” John prompted, feeling lost again.

Sherlock looked almost disappointed that John hadn’t understood whatever hint had just been given, which John felt was rather unfair.

“About,” Sherlock said with dramatic flourish, “Captain John Watson of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers.”

John attempted to ask what the hell he meant, but was prevented from it by his jaw dropping open and remaining that way for quite some time. Sherlock waited, once again, unexpectedly patient.

“That’s how you knew my name after seeing me,” John murmured eventually, thankful that he was already sitting down. “You’d seen me before.”

“Yes. An artist’s likeness of you, anyway. Luckily your face is as distinct in person as it is in print.”

John had never thought of his face as distinct, but that was rather besides the point. John felt Sherlock watching him with close interest as he processed their frankly unbelievable situation.

John supposed that Sherlock, with his quick wits, had been more prepared to learn that he was to John what John was to him. Both of them literary characters in reality, somehow.

“Let me guess,” John began, once he’d composed himself, “in the comic, like you, I died?”

Sherlock’s steepled hands lowered, and he seemed relieved that John was now catching on. “Yes, just like me in your novels. The serialization was meant to be about a doctor-soldier war hero, so of course you were killed in action, protecting and serving your fellow man. Queen and country, and all that.”

“Well, I didn’t. Die, I mean,” John said, wanting to kick himself.

“Yes, I can see that.” John felt thoroughly mocked by Sherlock’s sole raised eyebrow. “Though you were shot, in the left shoulder.”

“How did—? The book, of course,” John said, a part of him regretting that this situation didn’t allow Sherlock to do much showing off of his talent.

“While the shoulder I gathered from the book, your recent recovery from a psychosomatic limp I did not,” Sherlock remarked, as if reading his mind.

John took the bait. “All right, so how do you know that?”

“Because Angelo called earlier asking if I’d forgotten a cane outside the restaurant. He thought maybe it was one of my props. The length he described fits your height exactly.”

John, who didn’t think he could be shocked by anything else that evening, could only laugh at himself. It was true, even when he’d noticed the cane was missing, he hadn’t gone back for it, forgotten entirely. That was the Sherlock Holmes effect, he supposed.

The ridiculousness of it all at once caught up with him. It was truly, for the moment, more funny than overwhelming. He knew Sherlock from a book, and Sherlock knew him from—a comic book. About Queen and country.

“I’m sorry,” John said, barely containing his laughter, “but you read comic books about an army doctor in Afghanistan?”

“What?” Sherlock asked, defensive.

“Sorry, just—comic books about patriotism.” John snorted. That certainly wasn’t a Sherlock he was familiar with.

“Shut up!” Sherlock cried, cheeks pinkening. And as John had earlier suspected, it really was his colour. “They were—around!

John laughed a bit more, before deciding to let him off easy. “I’m surprised is all. I’m sure I couldn’t have been very interesting to read about,” he remarked, to soften the blow. “Boring really. A lot of desert to look at in that book, was there?”

“You weren’t. Boring,” Sherlock rushed to say, stilted, and still flushed.

“Wasn’t I?” John asked, amazed, and Sherlock merely shook his head. It was hardly a great compliment, but it was still a more flattering remark than John had been expecting. He felt himself grow a bit warm in the face himself.

“What was I like?” Sherlock asked, quick to change the subject. “In the Sherlock Holmes novels. Am I different?”

“Well, no, you were rather. Like this, I suppose,” John answered, vaguely. ‘Exactly how I imagined you’ didn’t feel like quite the right thing to say, considering.

“And you started reading the novels when you were young?” Sherlock continued, looking anywhere but at John. “And um... you kept up, all these years?”

“Yeah,” John replied, easily. “You’re—they, they were my favourites.” John cleared his throat, finishing with a rather pathetic, “Yeah.”

Sherlock jerked his head up from where he’d been inspecting something on his thigh, before his gaze slithered off to the side once more. “Might I ask... why you were so fond of them?”

John considered telling Sherlock that it was because the man’s life was riveting, or that John enjoyed the cases, or that his childhood nostalgia always drew him back in. But that wouldn’t be the whole truth of it, and if Sherlock Holmes was as good as John had always thought he was, he would know it in an instant.

Sherlock’s earlier unyielding interest had returned, and he was waiting for John to answer. To John’s alarm, there was something about sitting so near the person he had imagined himself in love with for decades, something that made John want to loosen his iron grip on those exact thoughts and feelings.

Maybe because it was all so unreal. Or, maybe because it was real—the situation too similar to two friends having a chat in front of the fire, leaning in, as if they’d known each other their whole lives. In the end, there was simply a limit to a stiff upper lip.

Sherlock’s hands fanned open in front of him as if to say, well?

John sighed, aggrieved. “Okay. Fine. To be honest, I in fact had a bit of a…” John trailed off, pressing his index finger to his lips, before biting the bullet. “Well. A crush.”

He delivered it playfully, intending it to be a light-hearted admission, in the hopes that Sherlock might find it a bit funny. He might even feel a little flattered, before the comment was brushed off. If Sherlock wanted to take the piss out of him a bit, John could handle that too.

John was prepared for that reaction. Resigned to it.

Instead, Sherlock’s blush deepened till it matched the colour of the pink lady’s suitcase, still lying out unzipped in front of the fireplace.

Sherlock made a noise that John could only describe as spoken gibberish while shifting slightly in his chair. An easily missed movement, but to John’s eye the man was practically squirming in his seat.

“Shit,” John said, feeling like a complete tit. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have—Just ignore that.”

“A...?” Sherlock’s mouth stopped moving almost as soon as it began, while his eyelashes fluttered several times.

“It wasn’t—really, I mostly thought about us being detectives. Or something. Like partners— business partners,” John rushed to clarify, blundering his way through his weak attempt. Christ, his flirting normally had a better exit strategy than that.

“Partners!” Sherlock said much louder than necessary, seemingly pleased at being able to speak a full word. “I can see why. You’d certainly be perfect for it.”

“You reckon?” John asked, not expecting such a pleasant turn of conversation so soon after he’d ruined their easy back and forth.

“Of course. I could use an army doctor. Besides, I like company when I go out. And I can’t exactly take the skull with me.”

“That’d be a bit sad, yeah,” John replied, mouth lifting back into its earlier smile, and Sherlock’s slowly responding in kind.

“So you had an interest in solving crimes,” Sherlock surmised, before clearing his throat. “And what, um, else did you want to do with me?”

“Loads of things. Mostly cases I suppose.”

“No John,” Sherlock said, blowing a breath out through his nose in a huff. “What did you want to do with me?”

“You mean,” John said, voice pitching lower, “When I had a crush on you?”

The look John received was the definition of mixed signals. Sherlock’s eyes were wide, almost afraid, appearing more like a deer caught in headlights than someone being seduced. But his head nodded in affirmation, and then again, for John to continue.

John didn’t quite know what to make of it. “Wasn’t just about the doing,” John said, not wanting to scare Sherlock off with his more explicit thoughts, even though Sherlock had asked. “What I wanted was... to see the real Sherlock Holmes.”

Sherlock seemed to relax, or at least enough for him to quip, “And who’s he?”

“I think I’m looking at him,” John said, speaking slowly, testing the waters. “But then, I can’t know for sure. Not unless…”

“Unless?” Sherlock asked, almost in a whisper.

With a healthy dose of fear, and thus a perfectly still hand, John reached out to grip Sherlock an inch above the knee. When Sherlock didn’t protest, John lowered himself to the ground. Their chairs were already practically pressed together so once he went to the floor, he was already at his final destination, kneeling between Sherlock’s thighs.

Sherlock didn’t react beyond spreading his legs further for John to fit between them, and his light eyes darkening, pupils like saucers. John, supplicated at the man’s feet, couldn’t help but think he probably looked rather pious. As his right hand mimicked his left in sliding up Sherlock’s thigh, John giddily thought he was quite done worshiping false idols.

“Tell me,” John said, hands slowing in their ascension up Sherlock’s leg. “Why did you really read those Captain Watson comic books?”

“I—well. As you may have noticed John, there are some parallels between us, and how we thought of each other’s characters,” Sherlock explained, his breathlessness and parted lips at odds with the imperiousness of the words.

John’s hands stopped in their path entirely, while his brows raised. Sherlock slouched further down in the chair, as if he could encourage John’s hands along without having to answer John’s question.

When it didn’t work, Sherlock scrunched his eyes shut in aggravation, before breaking completely.

“All right!” Sherlock cried out, “so I may have also had... a crush.

Sherlock’s delivery would have been equally appropriate for admitting he had a fungal growth, which John might have found funny, if not for the fact that he could hardly believe it.

John had been pushing Sherlock to say it, had even suspected it seeing as he was in between the man’s legs, but hearing it from him was something else entirely.

John lifted himself up from the ground, realising that going for a man’s crotch first thing might have been a bit backwards of him, and kissed the bottom lip he’d dreamed of for thirty years.Then, he kissed the top one. Then both, squarely, at once, and Sherlock Holmes whimpered into his mouth.

Sherlock’s mouth was initially slack against his, but Sherlock’s hands were like steel around his biceps, holding him close as he leaned over him. John continued to kiss like he couldn’t believe he was able to, and Sherlock slowly came to kiss him back. Even with that wet, panting mouth against his, John could hardly believe it. Even in his wildest fantasies, had he ever allowed himself to think Sherlock would be this responsive? This reactive to his touch? Had he ever let himself think Sherlock would want it this much, or want him this much?

John was leaning on the black leather of the chair’s arms, the soft worn thing squeaking with his ill-use of it. John drew back from those lips—god those lips—only to kiss that sharp cheekbone, the crease above the keen eyes, and the soft line of the jaw. Sherlock accepted each one with an expression of awe. Sherlock looked how John felt, and it made him ache.

John drifted down to his previous position, his hands returning to Sherlock’s thighs, feeling the bespoke trousers, and the heat underneath. A warm, real man, underneath all those trappings.

John began to undo Sherlock’s trousers, and Sherlock watched him, let him, in silence. Nothing could have been more surreal.

“I wanted to do this with you,” John said, answering Sherlock’s question from earlier, which was apparently enough to make Sherlock shudder beneath his hands. “I thought about taking the clever detective who was above it all, and peeling back the cool exterior. I thought about—making a mess of him.”

“Oh?” Sherlock murmured, barely audible, looking down at him now in nearly constant wonder. “What else?”

John’s brain was terrible at the moment, lust-addled, no filter. He kept returning to the idea of Sherlock always being distant from feelings and attraction, resisting all other advances his entire life—except for when they were from him.

”That you’d never let anyone, before,” John said, mouth getting ahead of his better judgment. “That you would be like this, but only ever with me.”

Sherlock swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing. John watched as the redness of his cheeks seemed to spread down to his chest, just visible at the opening of his collar.

Sherlock didn’t correct him.

“Oh my god,” John said. “Have you...?”

“I’ve never…” Sherlock trailed off, leaving John to fill in the blank.

“Never wanted sex?” John finished. He wondered if this was a very late in coming brush off, and guiltily removed his hands.

“No—no!” Sherlock protested, leaning forward as John drew back. “Never wanted it, with someone.” Sherlock turned away, a hand covering his still reddened from kissing mouth. He looked frustrated, embarrassed even. “Fantasies were… easier.”

Fantasies, John thought, he was familiar with. “What about this? Right now?”

This,” Sherlock replied, nearly groaning, “is a fantasy. Simply one come to life.”

Sherlock then reached down and grabbed John’s hand, returning it to where it had been groping him before.

“Me, too,” John said, squeezing his leg, and then feeling like an idiot, “I mean it’s all like a dream, for me as well.”

“Yes, you’ve made that quite plain,” Sherlock replied, smiling a bit at his expense, and looking rather smug.

Well, they couldn’t have that, John thought. “Speaking of your fantasies,” John said, growing bolder, “maybe I’ll get you to call me Sir next time, or Captain Watson, what with your army books.”

Sherlock spluttered, and then—“Next time?”

“Well, I thought we’d keep it simple for this time around,” John replied, and with a wicked grin, swiftly pulled down the trousers that were still partially open from his earlier enthusiastic groping.

Sherlock helpfully shimmied his hips, allowing the trousers to be pulled down to his thighs, low enough for John to lean in and nuzzle the black boxer-brief covered cock within. John’s lips traced the edge of the crown, and moved lower, barely touching, but feeling Sherlock grow harder against him, filling out as John continued. John was flattered to find the material was already a bit damp, and licked a stripe from root to tip through the pants to dampen it further.

Sherlock’s legs shook, but the man was perfectly quiet. John could feel Sherlock’s eyes on him, and looked up to find Sherlock biting his fist, staring back at him like he couldn’t get enough of seeing an invalided army doctor sucking him off in his living room.

John felt the pressure to impress, and the urge to draw sounds out from beneath the hand pressed against that mouth. John pulled on the elastic of his pants, easing them down past the now fully hard cock, joining the trousers around his thighs. John admired the view, the dark patch of unruly hair, and the cock flushed as pink as his cheeks, begging for John’s attention.

As smoothly as he could, John sucked Sherlock down like it was his last meal. As soon as he had taken as much of Sherlock into his mouth as was feasible, he drew back off again, and repeated the movement.

Sherlock was still silent beyond soft, sweet gasps, but his other hand not pressed against his lips was restless against his thigh. John took pity on it, tugging it towards his hair. The fingers against his scalp were hesitant, incongruous with the way John was currently holding his shaft while swallowing around the sensitive head.

John raised his eyes, wanting to see Sherlock watching again. He wanted to make Sherlock see it—his own cock disappearing in and out of John’s mouth, the messiness of it. Real, gritty, a bit sloppy, but perfect. John wanted to push the posh, prim man of his dreams to the very filthy edge, and—he knew just how he’d do it.

John pulled off, making a particularly indecent slurping sound, and raised his hand upwards. Sherlock, thankfully reading his intent, bent forward. John lightly outlined Sherlock’s lip with one finger, before Sherlock understood and obliged him by opening his mouth. Sherlock sucked on the digit, imitating what John had been doing a moment ago to his cock. Sherlock’s tongue lapped at the end of his finger, sending a sharp, heady desire through John that went straight to his own neglected cock.

“That’s it,” John murmured, voice like gravel. “Get it nice and wet.”

Sherlock made a small, choked noise in the back of his throat in response, and licked John’s finger one last time before letting it escape from his mouth with a pop. John allowed himself a moment to admire how debauched Sherlock looked before returning to his task, first licking at the full length of his cock, and then engulfing him once more.

As John bobbed his head, Sherlock’s hips started to shift in tiny circles, clearly wanting to thrust up into his mouth, but still restraining himself. With the desire to make that control fall to pieces, John reached lower to cup his balls, rolling them gently, and Sherlock at last moaned, loud and long.

Feeling impossibly dirty, John slid his slicked finger further along Sherlock’s perineum, before traveling along the crease currently pressed against the seat of the chair. Sherlock drew in a shaky breath above him, holding perfectly still as John’s finger pressed gently against his furled hole.

Sherlock’s silence transformed into gasping, shocked breaths, and finally, moans that made John’s blood run hot. All at once, Sherlock’s hips lost their tight movements, now pushing up into John’s mouth, and back against the finger lightly circling his entrance. Sherlock thrust back, hard, and on the first push inside, the tip of John’s finger just managed to ease its way past the tense muscle. Sherlock’s soft fingers tapped against John’s head, a universal warning and marker of success.

John tongued at his fraenulum one last time, drawing off just as Sherlock began to come in big, aching gasps of wonder. Sherlock was at last deafeningly loud in the quiet room as John’s hand worked him through his orgasm, which seemingly lasted for ages. By the end of it, Sherlock’s chest was heaving, pressing up against his completely ruined dress shirt. John was quite certain he had never seen anything sexier in his entire life.

“Did you think about that?” John asked, just shy of smug.

Sherlock took some time to gather himself before answering.

“In truth, it was usually the other way around,” Sherlock replied, his impossibly deep voice hushed. “What with my army books.”

“Oh my God,” John managed before he was pulling himself out of his own jeans in record time. He didn’t have it in him at the moment to feel any shame about wanking himself off onto Sherlock Holmes’ living room carpet, not if Sherlock Holmes was going to say that to him.

But Sherlock’s hands were flapping, signalling John to come up. John hesitated, having no idea how he would fit, and he was so close—but Sherlock’s hands had apparently relearned how to grip things, and were heaving him up from the floor.

There was space for one of John’s knees to rest on the chair seat flush with Sherlock’s leg, while he braced himself against the chair arm with one hand. John’s other hand was still uninterested in distancing itself from his cock, but did still when Sherlock began unbuttoning his own soiled shirt with shaking fingers.

“What are you doing?” John asked, breathless and already prepared to accept whatever Sherlock had in mind.

“You said you wanted to make a mess of me,” Sherlock said simply, as the shirt was removed to reveal even more of that pale, untouched skin.

Christ.” The man was going to kill him.

Once finished divesting himself of his shirt, Sherlock’s gigantic hand covered John’s around his cock. John let Sherlock take over, bracketing him with both arms as Sherlock began to set a brutal pace. John couldn’t do much more than thrust forward into that fist, which could impressively cover his entire length.

The angle of it must have been awkward for Sherlock, and it was rather fast and a little too hard, but Sherlock was looking at John like letting Sherlock pull on his cock over top of him on a semen stained shirt was a gift John had graciously bestowed. It was, in a word, perfect.

“Come on my chest,” Sherlock demanded raggedly, finally spelling out his intent. John genuinely shouted as he followed that exact suggestion, coming all over that unblemished skin.

When Sherlock released his hold on him, John stood back up on wobbly knees, and admired his work. Sherlock’s cock was still out, his trousers around his thighs, two sets of come drying on his torso, and his mouth and chin were still wet from sucking on John’s finger.

“You look fantastic,” he said honestly, and Sherlock giggled.

John found soon after that his knees really were quite unstable, and the ground looked terribly inviting. He always did get a bit loopy after a spectacular orgasm. As John kneeled down, Sherlock slipped out of his chair in synch, following John down onto the floor. They arranged themselves together on the carpet in short order, ending up lying down, sprawled out in front of the lit fireplace.

John’s foot hit the edge of the pink lady’s suitcase that the Met must have forgotten to confiscate, forcing John to remember the evening’s events. The events before the frankly fantastic sex. Namely Sherlock’s almost suicide, which John had only just managed to prevent.

The thought of Sherlock taking that pill had plagued him for months, driven him mad wondering what Sherlock could have been thinking. It occurred to him that he now had Sherlock at his disposal, to pick his brain however he chose, so long as Sherlock was in the mood to answer.

So John asked. “What were you thinking about, right before you were going to take the pill?”

Sherlock tilted his head towards John on the carpet, curls squashed against the rough material, making him look terribly young. Sherlock’s smile, which was a touch impish, only added to the effect. “I was thinking about JHW.”

John had a feeling he was being made fun of. “And that made you want to take it?”

“No, John, it made me hesitate.” Sherlock said it as if it was obvious, as he said everything, even when it was quite extraordinary. John slid closer, hand reaching out to cup Sherlock’s lovely, well-defined cheek, and kissed him for it.

“What were you thinking about?” Sherlock asked when the kiss broke off, turning fully onto his side to face John. “Before your death. Or, what was your death, in the version of events I’m familiar with.”

“You mean when I was shot?” John hadn’t thought about his own misfortunes for so long, it took him a moment to recall. “I almost begged for my life.”

“Did you?”

“No,” John said, truthfully. “I thought about you.”

John thought Sherlock might really mock him for that.

Instead, Sherlock was a silent for a minute. “Are you joking?” Sherlock asked finally, sounding very small.

“No, I did,” John insisted, and, wanting to return to their light mood, “I was thinking about how much of an idiot you were, getting yourself killed for no reason.”

In response, Sherlock narrowed his eyes, before flicking John’s ear, hard.

“Ow!”

“So,” Sherlock said, ignoring his pain, “I lived because of you, and you lived because of me. Neat.”

John snorted. Naturally Sherlock would see it that way. “You reckon I survived getting shot because of you? That is so—

“What?”

“Like Sherlock Holmes,” John said. He found he was rather glad of that fact, actually.

“William and Scott,” Sherlock responded, apropos of nothing.

“Lovely fellows, I suppose?”

“My middle names, John. Now your turn, JHW.”

John laughed, and realised he couldn’t remember ever having laughed this much in his life.

Well, he’d already given the rest of himself away. “The H is for Hamish.”

“Fantastic,” Sherlock declared, as if that was a perfectly natural response to a middle name. “You must be real then. I could never have made that up.”

John let a beat of silence pass before bursting into more of his signature unrestrained high giggles. And Sherlock Holmes joined him.

John thought he rather preferred being real than literary, so long as it meant his long-loved childhood companion and only friend miraculously existed with him, where their stories finally got the ending they deserved.