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“Ten years, John. You can understand my concern.”

John heaves a sigh. He can already picture the conversation that will inevitably take place once Mycroft’s sleek Mercedes deposits him back at the flat.

Mycroft stands, offers a hand; John stands, shakes it.

“I can’t promise anything. But you’re right. Ten years is a long time.”

“He’ll listen to you,” Mycroft says, with a silky note of finality. Anthea -- well, today her name is Emmeline -- is waiting at the door.

“Your optimism is refreshing, Mycroft,” John says over his shoulder, and wonders how he’s going to convince Sherlock that it is, in fact, a good idea to visit a doctor for a physical more than once a decade.

* * *

“We know literally dozens of doctors, Sherlock.”

This is not what John expected. John expected an argument, likely a futile one. He expected to text Mycroft later in the evening to report a total failure.

What John did not expect was that Sherlock would actually agree to have a physical exam without much protest, waving it aside as if it were a request to borrow a laptop or buy milk. He also did not expect that Sherlock would demand a particular doctor for the job, and only one particular doctor at that.

“Yes, and most other doctors are idiots,” Sherlock is saying. “Why, exactly, do you think I haven’t had an exam in years? I don’t expect a run-of-the-mill physician would possess even half my knowledge of the human body. My time is valuable. Why waste it seeking an amateur’s opinion on my health?”

John clenches his jaw. “Sherlock, you do realize you just insulted most of my colleagues, not to mention my entire profession -- “

“I’ve agreed to an exam. Why should it matter to you if I specify the terms?”

“Because I can’t examine you, Sherlock!”

“Why on earth not?”

John rubs his forehead. “You’re my -- best mate, you know that, and I’d have to -- you know what goes on in a physical exam, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable -- “

“You’re a doctor.” Sherlock seems utterly unperturbed by John’s increased agitation. “You are, by your own admission, a very good doctor. I’ve observed you for a long time and I must agree. I trust both your skill and judgement. I know you to have the ability to be impartial when it comes to medicine, because I’ve observed that as well. You’ve treated my injuries in the past. I believe you would treat me as you would any other patient in an exam room, would you not?”

John sighs. “Yes, of course, but that’s not the issue, I don’t want -- “

“Tell Mycroft you’ll be performing my exam at St. Bart’s, tomorrow morning. That should suit him well enough,” Sherlock says, opening the day’s paper. “Yes, of course I know it was Mycroft. And tell him it’s his Christmas present. I do hate purchasing gifts.”

* * *

John motions to the scale in the corner, businesslike. “Right, this’ll be quick. Just your pants on, we’ll get your vitals. If you want, I can leave while you --”

“No need.” Sherlock’s stripping to bare skin, sliding off his dark wool trousers and handing them unceremoniously to John. This is both awkward and strangely comfortable at the same time. They are flatmates, after all, but somewhere along the line they’ve carved out a deep well of familiarity that John finds both reassuring and unsettling. In Afghanistan, John was accustomed to seeing his army mates in various states of undress, but that was a regular part of the day; this is, as with most things Sherlock, an anomaly.

Sherlock’s holding out a tailored, crisp shirt, looking impatient. He’s long-limbed, vulnerable; all pure naked planes of smooth, pale skin, long hands and long, flexed toes, gooseflesh rising on his bare arms. Black boxers.

John’s used to bare-chested Sherlock, fresh out of the shower; flashes of flesh are fairly normal in their routine, but this -- all of Sherlock -- is new. Stripped of a tailored shirt and trousers in a cold exam room, Sherlock looks... undeniably real. John so often forgets that his flatmate’s otherworldly, alien brain is housed in a perfectly human package.

Actually, a perfect human package, in John’s opinion.

John feels himself flush, clears his throat. He deposits Sherlock’s clothing over the back of a chair. “Right, okay. Ruler’s against the wall.”

Sherlock steps back to the wall, all ribs and wiry muscle, chest rising and falling as he watches John reach up above his head to read the ruler. “Six feet, one-half inch,” Sherlock says. “I could’ve told you that. I fail to see the point in this.”

“You haven’t had a physical in ten years, Sherlock. Ten years.”

“I’m well aware of any changes to my health in that period of time, and none have been worth noting on a permanent record.” Sherlock steps onto the scale; John adjusts the balance. “You do realize Mycroft enjoys making me jump through hoops purely out of spite. It’s a hobby of his. One-forty-nine, just write it in --”

But the weights continue to slide, and John smiles to himself. Sherlock is wrong.

“One-sixty,” John says, unable to suppress a grin.

Sherlock stares, shoves John’s hand to the side, readjusts the weights himself. He steps off the scale, shooting John an irritated look. “Sit up here,” John directs, patting the exam table.

“All your fault,” Sherlock mutters, complying with an annoyed huff.

“It’s a good thing, Sherlock. By any chart you’re still underweight. If anyone’s getting fat these days, it’s bloody well not you.” John reaches for his stethoscope, places one hand on Sherlock’s smooth, narrow chest. He feels Sherlock’s eyes flick over him, a quick glance, shoulders to hips.

“True.”

John shakes his head, rolls his eyes. “Thanks. Bastard.”

Sherlock’s deep rumble of a laugh is amplified through the stethoscope, thrumming in John’s ears underneath the percussive, steady thump of Sherlock’s heartbeat.

Their eyes meet briefly; Sherlock’s look is soft, disarmingly fond.

John’s done hundreds of physicals, even some for friends and acquaintances, but never before has he felt a shift like this: a wrenching awareness of his own fingers against flesh, the sheer intimacy of breath and heartbeat. For one jolt of a moment, for the first time during an exam, he is not a doctor.

This is exactly what he was afraid of.

“Inhale,” he says, hearing his own voice rough and shaky in his ears, beyond the underwater thump and hiss of the stethoscope. His own heart is pounding, filling empty spaces between beats of Sherlock’s heart, a disconnected double rhythm. Sherlock’s chest rises and falls under John’s hands.

“Everything all right, I presume, Doctor?”

John realizes he hasn’t spoken, drawing out a long minute of silence between them, his head still full of Sherlock’s breath and heart. Full of the dawning realization of Sherlock’s trust, an odd, precious thing, given freely to John alone.

Trust that Sherlock has not given to anyone in ten years, or longer, as far as John can guess.

At this moment John’s internal alarms go off rather violently and he steps away, nearly tripping over himself in the process. “Fine, fine,” he stutters, busying his hands with finding a medical implement, any implement really, anything that will hide the slight tremble in his hands that kicked in right about the time he realized he was in grave danger of violating every last precept of the doctor-patient ethics code.

“All normal,” John continues, turning around; he’s grabbed not one, but three random tools in his panic. Sherlock’s watching him placidly; he raises an eyebrow. John remembers in the nick of time that put some clothes on, would you? is not something a doctor would say to a patient, and swallows the thought.

“Just, uh. Reflexes. Eyes, throat -- you know.” John gestures awkwardly with his handful of tools.

“All at once? How efficient.” The corners of Sherlock’s pale eyes are crinkled with bemusement. John has never wanted to simultaneously throttle and kiss someone so much in his entire life.

He lets out an exasperated breath. “You’re not making this easy for me.”

“Nonsense.” Sherlock slides back on the table, offers his knee. “I’ve been an entirely cooperative patient.”

John shakes his head, pockets the penlight and tongue depressor, and steps in close to Sherlock to rap his knee with the hammer, an automatic gesture. Sherlock’s calf twitches just as automatically. All normal. John decides to repeat this to himself as a mantra for the duration of the appointment: normal. Everything is perfectly normal --

“Normal,” Sherlock says, as if reading his mind. “My reflexes are normal, if not above average. But I’m sure you already knew that.”

“Procedure, Sherlock.” John taps the other knee, watches the fluid line of Sherlock’s calf kick faintly. He feels Sherlock’s eyes on him again, despairs of what must be going on inside Sherlock’s brain at the moment. He must know John is unnerved. John desperately hopes Sherlock can’t guess the reason.

“You’re nervous,” Sherlock says, right on cue. If John didn’t know better, he’d think Sherlock sounded almost apologetic.

Thankfully John already has his penlight in hand, and nothing proves more effective in silencing his flatmate than the excuse of shining a blinding light into his all-seeing pale eyes.

“You’ve never needed glasses?” John says. “I hope you’ve had your vision tested at some point. I can’t thoroughly check it here.”

“Never needed glasses. You haven’t answered.”

“Open.” Sherlock obeys; John gently probes with the tongue depressor. “I should carry one of these with me,” he says wryly, peering into Sherlock’s throat, shining the penlight once more. “Shut you up once in a while.”

Sherlock’s “Sod off” is quite clearly communicated despite his inability to speak.

“And I’m fine,” John lies. “Now -- you have to stand up.”

John steps back as Sherlock shifts himself off the exam table, muscles in his shoulders working under creamy skin. Normal, John repeats to himself. Have done this hundreds of times. Sometimes on a daily basis. Just another body, just another patient. Just --

Sherlock is standing very still.

Now would be the time for John to tell him to drop his pants, as in any other exam. John’s heart is loud in his ears, nerves singing a screeching wail of impending disaster.

And then, suddenly: clarity.

John was a good soldier; an excellent soldier, really. Primary reason being that at a certain point under pressure, his nerves have no hold over him; they dissipate, leaving a remarkable sense of calm. This eerie tranquility floated him through the worst of shootings and injuries and atrocities, his hands always steady, always sure. Calm during any storm.

Sherlock’s put him up to this, John thinks. And Mycroft together. There’s a reason, a motive. They’re testing John, pushing his limits. At best, it’s a childish experiment; at worst, they’re prodding at his feelings for Sherlock, feelings he’s tried doggedly to conceal since they met.

Sherlock is looking at him, brow furrowed. John hesitates. He prays, for a moment, that he’s wrong, that there are no suspicious circumstances behind this bizarre event.

“I can stop now,” he finds himself saying in a hushed tone. “We don’t need to do this, Sherlock. We can get someone else.”

“Thank you, John, but it’s quite all right.” Sherlock’s stance is all impatience, now. His long, bare toes flex, a telling signal. Bored.

Well, John thinks, straightening, lifting his chin. If Sherlock wants a doctor, that’s what he’ll get.

“Drop your pants,” he says firmly.

Sherlock complies, but John doesn’t avert his eyes. He holds Sherlock’s stare evenly before stepping forward, taking in the entirety of his naked flatmate.

Sherlock’s hipbones are deep outlines, the shadows and planes of his body sweeping shoulder to ankle, now uninterrupted. Graceful, lithe; it seems every part of Sherlock is long, slender. Including his cock. God.

John can handle it.

And he does.

“I’m going to check you now,” John says quietly, clinically. His hands are chilled in latex gloves; there is almost no space between the two of them.

Suddenly Sherlock takes a deep, shuddering breath; his eyes flutter closed. “Mycroft,” he spits, between gritted teeth.

This is the very last word in the English language that John expects to hear from Sherlock at this precise moment. “What?”

Sherlock’s eyes open again, and they’re furious, flashing, eyebrows drawn together in a harsh line. He stumbles away from John, fists clenched, which would look dead intimidating if he wasn’t completely naked.

“This is Mycroft,” Sherlock looks angrier than John’s seen him in ages. “He put me up to this, he knew I couldn’t go through with it --”

“He did what?” At the sight of Sherlock’s fury, John’s own anger has vanished, leaving him with the all-too-familiar sense that he has no bloody idea what’s going on.

“He offered me military security clearance, highest level,” Sherlock rages. “I’ve been after him to do it for years, and this was the contingency, this exam, and he knew I’d ask you --  manipulative bastard --” and Sherlock, who almost never swears, describes his brother in terms so colorful that John’s ears turn scarlet.

“Hang on,” John interrupts at last, trying and failing to ignore the glory of Sherlock’s nakedness in motion before him. “This was a setup.”

“He knew you wouldn’t say no if I asked.” Sherlock looks chagrined. It’s a look John’s rarely seen; John’s not sure if he likes it.

“But why, Sherlock? What could Mycroft possibly stand to gain by setting us up to do this?”

“He -- damn, this is what he wanted, isn’t it? No choice now but to tell you.”

“You could -- you could put some clothes on,” John says in a small voice, but Sherlock isn’t listening. John still can’t look away, his brain hovering somewhere in the space between fantasy and nightmare.

“He suggested I wouldn’t be able to ask you for an exam,” Sherlock continues, rounding on John with an emphatic gesture, “that we couldn’t have a doctor-patient relationship, because we have feelings for each other.”

The bottom drops out of John’s stomach.

John crosses his arms defensively, swallows hard. “So you were proving him wrong.”

Sherlock is still pacing. He scrubs his hands through his curls in frustration. “What? Yes. But now he’s done it, I’ve had to tell you about it, I hate being manipulated --”

“You don’t, then.” John is peeling off his gloves unconsciously, wondering if he can drink himself into oblivion quickly enough to erase this entire exchange from memory.

“Don’t what?”

“Have, er, feelings. It’s -- Christ. Never mind. Why don’t you put some clothes --”

Sherlock stops at last, faces John. His look is one of such vulnerable intensity that John’s mouth drops open.

“I didn’t say that,” Sherlock says, voice low.

“You, er --” John is frozen. He’s still wearing one glove.

“It’s all right, John. It’s clear that you could go through with this, but I couldn’t. Thus, not reciprocated. I understand.”

“What?”

Sherlock gestures at the door; he seems to be looking everywhere in the room but at John. “You can wait outside. This won’t change anything, we’ll just keep on as usual. Don’t let it bother you.”

“No -- Sherlock. You’re --” John sighs. “You’re wrong.”

“What do you mean, I’m wrong? I can’t be wrong. Nothing will change.” Sherlock’s gathering his clothes.

“You’re wrong,” John says, and wonders why his voice sounds clear and strong when inside he’s damn near wrecked. All on the line, then. “About the feelings. My feelings, for you. I, er -- the exam. It was --” He stops himself from saying hard, because -- not helpful. “Difficult.” He swallows. “I told you it was difficult, you even noticed I was nervous, did you not pay attention?”

Sherlock’s gaze threatens to consume John entirely. “I have never not paid attention to anything.”

“Then why was I begging you to get another doctor? You bloody well ignored me, Sherlock. You can see everything else -- why couldn’t you see that I nearly lost it, trying to do your exam just now? Or is this just a trick, as well? You and Mycroft, together, trying to get me to admit that in all my career there’s only been one person I couldn’t examine, because --”

“No tricks.” The words are hard, between clenched teeth. “I was trying -- I was focusing, do you see? I was concentrating. Mind over matter --”

“Well your mind -- your bloody brilliant mind -- was too busy to notice everything, then,” John says mockingly, and he isn’t even sure why he’s angry -- is he angry? He’s stepping toward Sherlock, who’s just told John he has feelings for him, for God’s sake, and why does this feel like they’re both coming unhinged --

“You’re not my doctor,” Sherlock breathes.

“What?”

“You’re fired,” Sherlock says, and something like understanding is dawning in his eyes.

“Fired.”

“Obviously.” Sherlock reaches out a daring hand, probing, experimental, and his fingers graze John’s jaw. John flinches, hard. “Otherwise, it wouldn’t be right if I did... this.”

And with shocking purpose he crushes his mouth to John’s, fingers sweeping the edge of John’s cheek and sliding into the cropped hair at the back of John’s neck. John swallows a gasp as Sherlock’s tongue seeks his mouth and everything goes sort of fuzzy and terrifying, and then, once again: clarity. Floating, marvellous clarity with Sherlock twining around him: naked, long-limbed, impossible Sherlock.

John grins into the kiss, and kisses back with everything he’s got.

* * *

To: Mycroft Holmes

Enclosed you will find the paperwork for one complete physical examination of Sherlock Holmes. He is in perfect health. Specifically, his stamina is remarkable.

In the future, however, he will not be a patient of mine. I have arranged to transfer his medical records to the office of a trusted colleague.

Hope you enjoy the chocolate.

All best,
Dr. John H. Watson

p.s. Have also enclosed a bill from St. Bart’s for itemized expenses pertaining to the exam. A bottle of medical-grade lubricant will need to be replaced. JHW