“So, can I ask you something?” Sherlock asks one day, when they are walking towards his house after school. John has asked so much of him by now, and he likes it, he really does; being shown attention in this way. Still, he wants to ask John things, too.
“Yes,” John says. His hand is on Sherlock’s back, between his shoulder-blades. It’s a poor position for guidance, but Sherlock likes that, because it means contact for the sake of contact. “What do you want to know?”
Everything, Sherlock wants to say. Everything, everything, everything.
“Favourite colour?” is what he says out loud. The chuckle from John’s lips is gentle.
“All right,” he says; apparently this was not what he expected. “Green, I think?” He says it like it’s a question. “Like, the sort of green of spring.”
“Yes.” Sherlock can almost taste it on his tongue, the fresh crispness of it.
“Do you remember?”
“Sort of,” Sherlock says. He can’t picture the colour vividly now, but he can remember the feeling of seeing it on the new baby leaves.
“What do you remember best?” John asks. “Of the colours?”
Sherlock hardly has to consider; he’s thought of this before.
“Brown,” he says, and John huffs out a breath in amusement; it is not something stunning to remember, but it was practical, the colour, and stable. “Anyway, we’re not talking about me.”
“All right, boss,” John says. Sherlock bites his lips to hide a smirk, and begs his butterflies to chill out.
For a while he ponders, considering what he wants to ask. Their footsteps on the pavement are in tune, and the sound of it lulls Sherlock’s brain into a trance of calmness. It takes a while, but then he realises just what he wants to know:
“You have a middle name?” he starts; he knows this from the records, and from hearing teachers call on John. For now, though, all it is to him is an H and a punctuation mark. He wants to know the fullness of it, just as he wants to know everything else; compile it inside of himself, and build up a world of the facts, splashing the insides of his eyelids with life again.
“No,” John, however, says. “No, no, no you don’t.”
“I hate my middle name. I am not telling you.”
It could be a grave disappointment, but John’s tone is light; it’s teasing. Perhaps he will tell Sherlock later, it seems to say, and when he does it will be a vote of confidence. It will mean something, then. Sherlock lets it go.
“All right,” he says. It is all right. He’ll take what he can get. Everything, everything, everything. Tell me it all.
“So,” he continues. “How about this: What is your favourite thing to do, that would be the same for the both of us, and what is your favourite thing to do that wouldn’t?”
“Music,” John says; he barely seems to hesitate. “That would be the same for the both of us, don’t you think?”
Sherlock thinks it probably would. “Yes.”
“Not listening to your crap, though,” John says. “All you seem to listen to is classical.” Sherlock, even if he tried, would not be able to contain his smile.
“Shut up,” he says. Then: “What about things we don’t experience similarly?”
For a while, John is silent. Sherlock isn’t compelled with the desire to know his expression then, because he’s fairly certain he can guess that John is simply thinking.
“Movies,” John says. “I think that’s something.”
“Hm,” Sherlock says.
“Do you know what we should do?” If Sherlock hadn’t been able to figure John’s thought processes out just from the direct connection, he would’ve been greatly helped by the mischievous tone of him, now.
“Movies?” he says.
John, it sounds like, is changing course, but then his hand comes out to clasp around Sherlock’s upper arm, and pull him in the same direction.
“Exactly,” John says. “Exactly that.”
Through necessity, Sherlock isn’t unaccustomed to being touched. Really, it is something that happens quite a lot, in a situation like his; he gets used to the feeling of other people’s hands holding onto his arm, pressing against his skin. He gets used to the idea of giving up his control to somebody else.
It’s different, with John.
It’s different not just because, for some reason, whenever it is John’s hand touching him, Sherlock’s heart beats just a little bit faster. The real reason here is that John touches him even when it isn’t necessary. Just because he wants to. Outside of Irene and his family, this isn’t something that Sherlock can claim to have much, if any, experience with.
It happens that afternoon in the movie theatre.
He is surrounded by the sensory inputs; the fabric of the chair beneath his fingers, the sound of people chewing, of loud action on the screen, the smell of food, and sweat, and a closed-off-room, the feeling of cold air to his skin, and then–
“Hey,” John says, through it all. “Hey, are you all right, let me tell you what is going on.” His fingers burrowing into the soft skin of Sherlock’s forearm, his body, his breath, all of it so closely slotted against Sherlock that he, that John, becomes the most overpowering sensory input of them all.
John tells him exactly what is going on, on the screen, through it all, and when someone shushes them, he chuckles, before moving in even closer and whispering it instead. Sherlock remembers movies from before the accident, but he decides that this, the closeness that is happening right now, is an experience quite a lot better than simply being able to watch the film on the screen would be.
It’s exhilarating. It is, for the first time, being so very close to having; no longer confined only to the space of desire.
It’s that, too. It’s Sherlock having to shift in his seat, and having to feel the entirety of his body flushing hot, when suddenly he is surrounded by the sound of moaning, and John, so very close to his ear, whispers, “I think you can guess what is going on there.”
Sherlock doesn’t have any experience with sex and other people, but in that moment, with John so close to him, he decides that he might want to. What he wants, even more than that, is for John to turn his head and kiss him.
“So, how was that?” John asks, once they make it outside. After the submersion of being inside the theatre, outside feels as open as ever.
Intimate, Sherlock wants to say. The most intimate thing I’ve ever done.
“Yeah, all right,” is what he actually says. John must realise the understatement, though; at least he chuckles heartily, and squeezes Sherlock’s shoulder.
“You liked it,” he says. Sherlock opts not to reply, and reveal just how much.
“Hm,” he says instead. “Are you going to follow me home?”
“I am going to follow you home,” John says. “Are you going to invite me inside?”
Sherlock smiles; with John, it seems, this isn’t an expression he has any control over. It overcomes him all of the time.
“I am going to invite you inside,” he says. John chuckles again. Sherlock decides he could happily listen to that sound forever.
John keeps a hand on him, even as they make it inside Sherlock’s home.
Going to the kitchen first, to grab some food, John’s hand stays on his shoulder, but as they enter the room it is removed quickly, too quick to slide off it like it usually would. John has met his family before, but his posture always straightens when they’re around, and he becomes composed; he touches Sherlock less.
“Occupying the kitchen again, are we Mycroft?” Sherlock says; it’s the process of elimination that allows him to know. “Cake, is it?”
“You know, you haven’t seen me for eight years, brother,” Mycroft says. It’s clear he’s putting on the kind of show they always do in front of other people. They are never vulnerable together unless alone. “I’m not fat anymore.”
Sherlock goes to the fruit bowl, feeling his way around, and picks out two apples.
“Well, brother,” he says, “I haven’t seen you for eight years, so you might as well be.”
Mycroft’s sigh is long-suffering. Sherlock grins. He turns back to where John was before, and hands one of the apples over to him. John’s touch lingers just a brief second longer than it has to, when he takes it.
“I’m rolling my eyes,” Mycroft says, but might not be.
“Oh, are you?” Sherlock says. Mycroft sighs again.
“I don’t know why you bother,” he says, to John this time. It could be hurtful, but it isn’t really meant to be, so it’s not.
“Well,” John says. At a loss for words, it seems, because that is all. Sherlock takes mercy on him, and finds his shoulder to push him towards the door.
“Anyway,” he says, to Mycroft. “Bye.”
“Hm.” Mycroft’s tone is nonchalant, but is so deliberately; Sherlock can tell, because he knows him. “See you.”
“Well, I won’t.”
He pushes John ahead of him for the last bit, and leaves the door open behind them, just to be annoying.
“You know,” John says, as they walk up the stairs towards Sherlock’s room. “He wasn’t actually rolling his eyes.”
“No?” Sherlock’s hand hasn’t left John’s shoulder yet, but John hasn’t shaken it off either, so probably he does not mind.
“He was smiling.”
“And you’re exposing him,” Sherlock says; he isn’t all that surprised, really.
As they make it inside his room, he hears John closing the door behind them, and goes to sit cross-legged on his bed. The mattress shift as he is joined on it, and then John’s hand is back on him, touching his knee this time.
“I do have reasons why I bother,” he says. “Just so you know.”
Sherlock smiles; John’s kindness, he thinks, could be the end of them both. It could burn the both of them up, slicking against them like flames. For some reason, this prospect doesn’t scare him. As long as he has it, he’s fine.
“Don’t state them,” he says. He allows John to take his apple from his hands, and hears that the sticker is being pulled off, before it is handed back to him. He takes a bite.
“No,” John agrees. “Wouldn’t be good to flatter your ego.”
“Shut up,” Sherlock says, around the food. John doesn’t laugh, but might be smiling. Sherlock asks him if he is.
“Yes,” John says. Then he does something that, for the first time in a while, makes Sherlock’s heart feel like it could stop. He takes Sherlock’s hand, and holds it up to press it against his cheek. His cheek that is protruding with the wideness of his beam.
Sherlock has done this before; felt people’s faces, to get a sense of how they look. It’s been rare, though; the experience of it is so intensely intimate, that there’s only a handful of people he’s found it important enough to do it with: his parents, Mycroft, Irene and Greg. And John, now, too.
He frees his hands from the apple, and says, “Can I?” Now he feels it when John nods.
“Please,” he says. “Do.”
Sherlock raises his other hand, his right, and puts that to John’s cheek, too; the one that was left bare. At first he lowers his hands so his fingers are held over the place where John’s amusement is evident. It doesn’t matter that Sherlock thought about sex and John just before; this is still more intimate than that.
“I’ve never seen you smile before,” Sherlock says. As he does, the one on John’s lips gets almost impossibly wider.
“How do you imagine it looks? How does it feel?” he asks.
“Wide.” Sherlock chases the edge of it with his index fingers. He follows it almost all the way to the side of John’s face, so it must be. “I imagine it reaches your eyes.”
“Right now it does,” John agrees.
Sherlock doesn’t reply, but moves up to John’s hair instead. He remembers what Irene told him: blonde, and short. But long enough to run his fingers through, which is what he does. They fill up the space between his fingers, the hairs, as he moves his hand from John’s forehead and to the place where they start falling out of his grasp.
Moving back then, he narrows the space between his fingers, and tugs a little; he can feel the resistance where John’s hair-follicles hold onto the hair. John sighs softly; maybe it feels good. Sherlock repeats the movement.
John’s forehead is a little short, Sherlock learns, and his nose is wider than his own. His eyebrows are bushy as Sherlock’s fingers run over them, the hairs a little coarse. His chin is wide and a bit square, and John smiles when Sherlock grabs it between his thumb and index finger.
It’s magnificent, to know the expressions on John’s face as they happen. It is beautiful, he thinks, to feel the evidence of his joy as he smiles and giggles, to have his fingertips and body know it like only his ears and brain did before.
He reaches John’s eyes last, and remembers what Irene told him – they have all of the colours. He feels the tautness of the skin underneath them, and knows that that means tired, dark circles.
“Close,” he requests; his voice is hoarse, he discovers, and as if in sympathy John coughs to clear his throat. His eyes close.
Sherlock runs his thumb over the eyelids, feeling the wrinkles of them. He feels it as they flutter beneath his touch, perhaps protesting it, but John doesn’t ask him to stop. Finding his eyelashes then, and tugging a little at them to know their length, Sherlock thinks that he could touch John’s eyes forever; this, he thinks, is awfully close to seeing, too.
“Can I do it to you, too?” John asks.
Yes, Sherlock thinks, I want nothing more. He thinks, I was wrong before. That was nothing. This is the most intimate thing I’ve ever done.
What he says is, “If you keep your eyes closed.”
He moves his hand to John’s cheeks, so he can still feel it when he smiles, but makes his own expression slack to meet John from its neutral stage.
The neutrality, however, quickly evaporates, as John touches his hair and earlobe and eyebrows, his temple and cheekbones, and the dip below his ear, and it becomes a poorly contained beam instead.
Along the way he starts mirroring John’s touches on John’s own face, until they are feeling each other in tandem.
“Have you created an image?” John asks. “Of me?” His voice, too, has become low and hoarse with the intimacy.
“Tell me,” John asks. I want to know it all, it feels like. Everything, everything, everything.
“You’re warm,” he says, which is not a very good description at all, and John smiles; Sherlock feels it under the plump parts of his fingers.
“It’s hard to imagine you. It’s like I have fractions, but there are pieces that are difficult to fit in. There’s an outline. But the most dominant feature is your warmth, because I feel that all of the time.”
John’s hands leave his face, but come down to tug at the fine hairs at the nape of his neck instead. He leans into it absentmindedly, and only discovers after doing it that he does.
“I like that,” John says.
“Hm. Your hair is blonde, and I imagine that, but I only know it because Irene told me.”
“Yeah?” John prompts.
“Your eyes, too. They have a mutation.”
“Central heterochromia,” John agrees.
“Yes.” Sherlock lets his hands fall too, to John’s shoulders, and places them there lightly. If he moved his thumbs, they could run over John’s collarbones through his shirt. He considers it, but refrains. At least for now.
“You talk a lot to Irene about me,” John says. His tone is so light with teasing that Sherlock doesn’t need to feel his lips to know the smile that’s on them.
“No more than normal.”
“Hm,” John says. “So I shouldn’t flatter myself? Think myself special?”
Sherlock bites his lips to hinder his giddy grin from reaching full capacity. This feels a lot like what he understands of flirting.
He licks his upper lip without thought, before he bites that too. His body feels suddenly heated, and somewhere in the back of his mind he recognises this as want; desire.
“In the grand scheme of things no one is really special,” he says. “Or everyone is.”
John’s laugh bellows in the room with its volume. The giddiness in Sherlock threatens to overflow and drown him, tainting everything with it; he would not mind.
“That’s such a you thing to say,” John says. He sounds, and oh God, this is where Sherlock’s heart doubles in size: he sounds fond.
“Problem?” he asks. John’s thumbs run over his neck, grazing the pulse-point of it, and Sherlock realises the heavy beat of his heart.
“Not at all.”
In another life, this would have been the time where they’d kiss. In another life everything would have been resolved here, and Sherlock would have had John for his own from then on until the end of time.
In another life, the door doesn’t open, and they aren’t interrupted. In this one, however, it does, and they are.
It’s Mycroft, of course it is. As he comes in, effectively ruining the moment, Sherlock is worried that this is it. That John will pull away his hand and his feelings and say, “Actually, this is not what I want at all.”
He didn’t have to be. Their moment was broken, and they don’t kiss, but as soon as Mycroft closes the door behind him, John leans in to press his giggles to Sherlock’s shoulder, and Sherlock has to marvel at how he ever secured the affection of a boy like John.
That evening, before going, John leans in to kiss his cheek, and Sherlock tries hard not to blush. That night, in bed, Sherlock realises something:
He is, quite effectively so, falling in love with John Watson.