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The Things Love Can Do

Chapter Text

The air that day was so latent with fog you could barely see through it, and the sky was orange, Sherlock remembers, but so faintly so, that you hardly knew whether or not it was an illusion.

There are two pivotal moments of his life; moments that change everything. The first one is the day with the orange sky; the last thing that Sherlock ever sees.

The second is the day he meets John.

__

It’s the first day after the summer holidays. Sherlock comes into the kitchen after taking a shower, and hears Irene talking to his dad already before he fully enters the room. This is a routine: Every first day of school for the last five years, regardless of how much they’ve communicated during the summer, she appears at his house and walks with him to school

This might be the last time it happens, though. They’re starting year 12. Next year she will be off to college in Manchester, and Sherlock will be – well, he doesn’t know for now.

“There’s toast,” his dad says. Irene, however, interrupts that thought:

“We need to get you dressed first, though. Big day today.”

Hearing both of their voices, means that Sherlock is able to situate them in the room. Irene is across from him at the table, and his dad is a little to her left; Sherlock’s right. He walks up to the table, and leans on it with his palms around the edge of it.

“Are you my babysitter?” he asks. Irene hums.

“I’m your fashion icon,” she says. Sherlock feels the need to scuff, and does.

“Your dad is rolling his eyes at me,” Irene continues. So, they both agree; she’s silly.

“As he should,” Sherlock says. He lets his hand travel along the table until it hits the edge of a plate, and finds a still warm piece of toast on it. He doesn’t need to ask if there’s butter on it, because he can smell the sweetness of it, as it must be melted down the bread. “Why is it a big day?”

“New year.”

“Same people.”

“And new people,” Irene says. “And older versions of the same people. You never know what might happen.”

Inappropriate choice of topic, Sherlock thinks, with his dad in the room and all. Irene seems to care very little.

“I think you should stop talking,” he says. He wills the heat in his cheeks that might mean a blush to go away.

“I think you should surrender to my vision,” Irene retorts. She sure sounds chirpy. Sherlock supposes he doesn’t have much of a choice. Irene rarely has ideas that she doesn’t succeed in carrying out.

Shrugging, and knowing that Irene will interpret this correctly as a sign of him giving in, he allows her to have her way; it’s easier, at the very least.

Seconds later there’s a warm, slender hand around his upper arm, and he’s being pulled out of the kitchen. Gently, at first, but as he picks up his pace, she does too, and simply tugs him along up the stairs. She’s not guiding him; not in his own home. Probably she’s just making sure that he doesn’t run away.

As they make it into his room, he goes to sit on the bed. He listens to the sound of his closet door opening, followed by the gentle swoosh of fabric being thrown about, and the occasional clank of the hangers hitting each other.

“How was Paris?” he asks. The noises don’t stop, but are muffled behind the sound of Irene’s reply:

“Sweaty. Beautiful. Possessing an excessive amount of colourful handbags.”

Sherlock chuckles.

“Hm,” he says. He tries to lie down on his bed, but as he does he is pulled back up by Irene’s hand to his wrist, and a pile of clothes is being pushed into his arms.

“Put this on,” Irene says. “How was Italy?”

She allows Sherlock to sort through the pile in his hands himself. He quickly finds a pair of trousers in there, and stands up to tug his sweats off and put those on. He isn’t shy in front of her; it’s nothing, as she says, she hasn’t seen before. And, besides, she’s rather uninterested in the whole aspect of his gender.

“Sweaty,” he says. It was; so damn hot all the time. Sherlock spent most of his time drinking water and borrowing restaurant bathrooms. “Black.”

Irene snorts and titters. Pulling his T-shirt off over his head, Sherlock smiles while it is hidden behind the fabric; he can say these things to her without her getting worried. He grabs his shirt from the pile, and feels from the buttons on it that it’s a button-up. Putting it on, he starts with them at the neck and works his way downwards.

“You now, you’re tan,” Irene says. Her voice arrives from Sherlock’s left, a little in front of him, so she is probably sitting on his desk chair. Or the desk; it would be just like her to do that, and mess up his papers to be annoying.

“Am I?”

“Yes. Broader, too.” She sounds like she’s considering something.

“Broader?” Sherlock asks. “Are you saying I’m getting fat?” He’s halfway down his chest with the buttons, and struggles a little to find the one above his lower rib.

Irene’s chuckle is just a huff of breath, but her tone, when she speaks, is airy and light in the way tones get when people are smiling: “No. I’m saying you’re getting attractive.”

“Oh,” Sherlock says. He doesn’t feel embarrassed here; she’s stating it like fact. “Are you jealous?”

An actual laugh now. Sherlock smiles, too. He has missed her.

“I don’t need to be,” she says. “I’ll have you know that I am also, in fact, very attractive.”

“Are you now?” Sherlock says.

Finished with the buttons now, he turns around to fetch the last bit of clothes. Feeling that it’s a jacket, he decides to leave it be; they don’t need blazers on the first day, and he’s certainly not going to suffocate in the heat still oppressing them just for Irene’s sake. If she’s right, he doesn’t even need it.

“Yes.” Her voice comes from higher up, so she’s standing. Sherlock stands, too.

“Lucky us, then,” he says.

She snorts, and takes a hold of his arm. Like that, they walk downstairs.

__

The first day of school is always hectic. Old people are finding their way to their new classrooms, and new people are simply trying to find their way anywhere.

Sherlock is bumped into several times but, as is custom by now, Irene stays by his side and holds his arm, going as far as to follow him to his classroom. On a normal day he wouldn’t let her; he likes to be as independent as possible. First days are exceptions, though.

Irene leaves him eventually, in front of his room. Most of his classes he has with a group of other blind kids, but there are some subjects where he’s been allowed to sit in on the regular class. The fact that he can’t see the blackboard is entirely made up by his excellence – he’s not just flattering himself; he really is the cleverest person in the whole of the school.

“I’ll come get you for lunch, shall I?” Irene asks, before she goes.

“All right, mother.”

Irene snorts, and gives his cheek a pat in farewell, going with the joke. Sherlock pretends to push her away, but doesn’t actually care all that much.

Sighing, he listens to her footsteps receding, before he turns back to the classroom door. And so it begins, he thinks: another year. The wheels keep turning, and nothing is ever new under the sun.

__

He’s wrong.

Irene, as promised, does pick him up for lunch, and they go to sit at their usual cafeteria table, in the farthest left corner from the food. It’s true that the rest of Sherlock’s senses are heightened in his blindness, but also, he just has a good sense of smell; the assault on the sense can quickly get a little too much.

Sherlock puts on his darkly tinted glasses, to avoid scaring any of the newbies. Who ever said he wasn’t considerate? Irene’s body presses into his side, as they sit close on the table bench.

At first, when Greg appears at their table, Sherlock doesn’t realize that he isn’t alone. He simply grunts upwards around his food, when Greg pats his shoulder and settles down next to him.

“I have someone with me,” Greg says, then. For Sherlock’s benefit. Sherlock turns his head slightly in Greg’s direction, because whomever Greg has with him hasn’t spoken yet, so Sherlock doesn’t know where to look to pay them attention.

“New guy,” Irene says. She must be studying at him. Looking him up and down probably, if Sherlock knows her right.

“John,” the new guy – well, John – says. Sherlock startles just a little; he’s heard that voice before. It belonged to someone who bumped into him earlier. He recognises it from John’s hasty apology.

John. The word like the sound of gold. The shiny flare of it; Sherlock remembers. He doesn’t know why the name makes him feel like this; warm and buzzing. It’s a word that he wants to claim instantly, to hold, inside of his chest.

Irene’s body shifts away from Sherlock’s side, upwards. She probably raises herself to shake John’s hand.

“Irene,” she greets. “You’re attractive.” Sherlock smirks, but bites his lip to hide it; this is for his benefit, too.

“Oh,” John says. It’s taken aback, but when he speaks again it is more deliberate: “Oh.”

“Ha!” Irene says. “No. I’m gay.”

“Right.” Confused now, John seems to be. Sherlock blames him, but only a little; Irene can be a challenge.

“Yes.” Irene reappears against Sherlock’s side. “Anyway. This is Sherlock.” She pats her hand to Sherlock’s shoulder.

“Yes,” John says. Sherlock feels the intensity of eyes watching him; it’s a very distinct feeling that he’s grateful to be able to discern. “We’ve met.”

Sherlock turns his head in the direction of John’s voice, so it will appear like he’s looking at him. That’s always the best reaction, at first. It’s not always that he cares but, for some reason, he does right now. He wants to make a good impression.

Still, what he says in reply is, “Have we?”

“I bumped into you earlier?” Sherlock shrugs. “I could have sworn you looked straight at me. Or were you so far off in your own world you went momentarily blind?”

Greg stiffens a little against Sherlock’s side at the word. Irene, however, must be trying to stifle a chuckle, judging by the way her chest shakes against Sherlock’s upper arm. Sherlock doesn’t actually mind; in fact, he feels himself smirking.

“Mm,” he says, deliberately keeping it ambiguous. He makes sure to be looking in John’s direction, before he takes his glasses off, slowly. As soon as his eyes become visible, he hears the sound of John inhaling sharply.

“Oh, shit,” he says. Irene snorts, in amusement.

It doesn’t pass his notice how John doesn’t apologize immediately. Somehow, it makes his smile broaden; he’s used to being coddled, treated like his blindness is something people have to apologize about, and as quickly as possible, so they can cease being confronted with it.

“Startled?” he asks. There’s the sound of the bench’s legs scraping over the floor, and when John’s voice comes again, it’s lowered to Sherlock’s eye-height; he’s sitting.

“Surprised,” John corrects. “Unexpected.” Not actually a sentence, but for once Sherlock doesn’t feel the need to huff in dismay.

“You’re looking at my eyes now, to figure out if I really can’t see,” he says.

There’s a very distinct feeling to people who are either taken aback or lying: their body becomes taut, their muscles tense, and the air around them feels firmer, somehow. Usually they also hold their breath; only for a single second or so, but Sherlock is meticulous in his deductions.

“No,” John says, but there’s a challenge in there.

“You just lied,” Sherlock says. The firmness disappears. John sounds like he’s smiling, when he speaks:

“Yes,” he says. A bit hesitant but amused. “How did you know?”

“Your body tensed up and you stopped breathing,” Sherlock says. Rattles it off, really, like it’s a simple matter of fact. He’s acutely aware that he’s moving into the kind of territory that normally leaves people either freaked out or irritated. Somehow, he doesn’t want John, this new, unknown boy, to think ill of him.

John is quiet for a while. He’s probably looking at Irene or Greg. Irene has, previously, informed him that this is the usual reaction: uncomfortable disbelief, directed at someone else, like he needs them as translators or can’t be spoken to. He’s worried he’s messed this up, already.

Then John speaks:

“Brilliant,” he says, and Sherlock has his world turned upside down.

“Excuse me?” He couldn't have heard wrong but then maybe John didn't speak the truth.

"I said brilliant," John says, however, and disputes that idea. "Amazing. Do you always do that?"

Sherlock smiles, wide and big, without meaning to. He can't imagine how John's expression must look, but the air around them suddenly feels buzzing, loaded with energy.

"Have to do something, don't I?" he says. John chuckles then, far more jolly than the comment deserves, and the beauty of the sound almost startles Sherlock.

"It's good to meet you," John says. Shifts again, Sherlock feels.

John hasn't met anyone blind before, Sherlock can tell. Probably he's holding out his hand for Sherlock to shake. Sherlock takes a chance and raises himself so he can reach out for where it might be; his fingers hit warm flesh, and he smirks a little. John's hand curls around his, warm and firm.

"Impressive," he says. Sherlock feels giddy with it.

“John,” he says, in greeting, and the word melts on his tongue, sweet and warm. John chuckles again, just a single huff of breath. His hand hasn’t left Sherlock’s yet.

“And you?” he asks.

“Sherlock.”

“Sherlock,” John repeats. In his voice, Sherlock thinks, it sounds like music.

Chapter Text

Irene walks him home that afternoon, and stays for dinner.

Before it, they lie on Sherlock’s bed, in his room. This is the position they’ve always shared: Irene’s head on Sherlock’s pillow, and Sherlock’s feet next to it.

He understands that it’s sometimes easier to tell someone something when you can’t see them, despite the fact that they can’t see you either way. He remembers, from back before the accident.

“Tell me,” he requests.

“Tell you?” They are sharing a block of chocolate, and Sherlock feels it handed to him. He takes it.

“About John,” he clarifies. He probably doesn’t have to; Irene probably knows. She just likes to tease him.

Which is what she’s doing when she says, “John?” as if the use of his name is somehow indicative of Sherlock’s interest in him. Sherlock pushes his foot against her head shortly, in revenge.

“That is his name,” he says.

“’That is his name’,” Irene mocks, but then takes mercy on him. “What do you want to know?”

Sherlock settles into the mattress better. He throws the chocolate back in Irene’s direction, knowing that she’ll find it if she doesn’t catch it first.

“How does he look?” he asks.

“Hm,” Irene says. Her hand comes up to touch the muscle in Sherlock’s lower leg, slack from the way he is holding it. She pushes at it a little, and it morphs under her touch. Sherlock just want her to get on with the speaking part of things. “Attractive.”

He groans, and pushes at her with his foot again. She chuckles.

“Come on,” he demands.

“All right, all right.” She sounds amused. “He’s blonde?”

“Yes? Short or long?”

“Short,” Irene says. “Like, five centimetres or so? Err, his eyes are sort of, like, multi-coloured? I think they were blue and green. Maybe a bit of brown, too?”

Yes. Sherlock remembers that as a thing. Central heterochromia. Multiple colours of the iris.

“Yeah?”

“Tan,” Irene continues.

“Vacation or natural?”

He’ll never be able to see John, and the image his mind can conjure up will have nothing on the actual image of him. It’s been years now, since Sherlock lost his sight, and there are things that are starting to disappear from his memory. How exactly did purple look? What about the soft, orange lighting of a candlelit room in winter? Doing this as a sort of mental exercise, is a way to keep the visions clear in his memory.

“Vacation, I think,” Irene says. “He was wearing a watch, and he was paler underneath it.”

Sherlock smiles; some of that is Sherlock training her to notice, but he has to be honest: most of it is just her being a clever fuck.

“What about his body?” he asks. He’s glad for Irene’s position at the other end of the bed, meaning she can’t see him, when his cheeks heat with a flush. Irene snorts and presses her finger into Sherlock’s leg, so it twists involuntarily under her touch.

“Why don’t you ask him out on a date?” she asks.

“Shut up.” Sherlock is aware that he’s whining. “Just tell me.”

“I don’t know, short?” she says. She’s losing interest, Sherlock can hear, but she continues a little further anyway: “Shorter than you, anyway. Sort of … sturdy? Calloused hands.”

Sherlock imagines it in his head. They are mere fragments of information compared to the real image, but it’s certainly enough for his brain to go on with. He can easily use this to compose a picture. Hundreds of pictures, in fact, all varying just a little. It could become his new hobby, perhaps.

“Is that enough for now?” Irene asks. “I want to tell you about all of the cakes they had in Paris.”

Sherlock smiles to himself. “Yeah, that’s enough,” he says. “Tell me about the cakes, then.”

She does.

__

John becomes Greg’s friend, it seems. At least Greg, for the following week, brings John with him to lunch every day.

During this time Sherlock learns several things about the new boy in their group: First of all, he goes to the same biology class as Greg and, in addition to this, is a rugby player on the same team.

Secondly, he seems to find all of them very amusing, which is rather a novelty for them all. Sherlock has rarely known a person to laugh so freely before, and especially not around him. It doesn’t seem forced but, Sherlock thinks, it could be a sign of a shortness of laughing matters in his life.

He doesn’t ask if it is. In fact, he doesn’t ask very much, because they are rarely ever alone together. Mostly their encounters happen during lunch, and there Sherlock always has Irene and Greg on either side of him.

So, he imagines instead. He listens to John’s voice speaking, and, just occasionally, lets it lull him into relaxing his muscles in a way they hardly ever are while out in public. It could consume him, that voice.

He imagines what it might feel like to have John’s hand on his arm. He imagines and imagines and imagines. Until, one day, he doesn’t have to imagine anymore.

 

It’s Irene’s doing, of course it is. She asks Sherlock to meet her in the courtyard after school, so they can hang out, but she never arrives.

John does, instead.

“Sherlock,” he says, already from far off.

Sherlock, who had been leaning against the brick wall behind him, instantly straightens. In the midst of the confusion of students walking home, he can’t pinpoint the direction from which John’s voice came from, but moments later he hears it again, only about two meters away now:

“Hey,” it says. Sherlock adjusts his position, so he is turned towards it.

“Hello.”

“Hi,” John says, repeating himself. Sherlock doesn’t think him stupid for it. “Irene got held up. She caught me in the hallway and asked me if I could follow you home.”

Sherlock resists the urge to groan or roll his eyes dramatically. Of course she bloody did. Really, he should have been able to figure her plan out. This is exactly the kind of thing she’d do. She is, possibly too much, invested in Sherlock’s potential romantic life.

“I don’t need to be followed home,” he says. He feels the need to make this clear; the idea that he does grates on his nerves. Not John, though; this isn’t his fault.

“I didn’t think you did,” John says. This is rather surprising. “But I’m not sure I dare to defy her.”

Sherlock smiles a little, and hears John snorting softly with amusement. He’s by Sherlock’s right side now, not very far away. Sherlock can almost feel the heat emanating from his body. John smells like something fresh, this up close. Like the air after rain, Sherlock decides. Like a cleansing.

“She can be deadly,” he concedes.

“That’s what I thought,” John says. “So: Can I walk you home?”

“All right then,” Sherlock says.

Really, he feels a lot more up for it than he might let on, but he’s not about to go showing and telling all up in John’s face yet. He’s unsure whether the appropriate reaction would be to later thank or take revenge on Irene.

He fishes his walking cane of his back pocket, and unfolds it in his hands.

“I’ll use this, though,” he says. Despite his intrigue, he’s not quick to let go of the control and let someone else guide him. He likes to have it, himself. If not anything else, then for practise, too.

“Suit yourself,” John says. Doesn’t sound affronted though. Sherlock takes that as a good sign.

As he starts moving, he feels the warmth that he now knows as John’s body beside him move with him. He stays nearby, John does. Sherlock isn’t sure if it comes naturally to him to walk closely to people, or if it’s for Sherlock’s benefit. Surprisingly, he wouldn’t even really mind if it was the latter.

“So,” John says, after they exit the school gates and are free from the mass of all of the students.

“So,” Sherlock copies.

“I’ve always wondered, right?” John starts. He sounds excited, walking next to Sherlock; full of energy. Sherlock almost has his breath taken away just by listening to it. “How do you shave?”

Well. That’s unexpected.

“How do I shave?” Sherlock repeats.

“Yeah.” John sounds completely unabashed. “I mean, the blade is sharp, and the Adams apple is hard to get around, even for me, and I have finesse in my fingers. And proper eyesight.”

Sherlock almost smiles. It feels good to be spoken to like this, so unapologetically.

“You’ve always wondered this?” he asks. He hears John snorting beside him, and suddenly a hand nudges his shoulder, just a little.

“I’ve sometimes wondered this.”

“You’ve sometimes wondered?” Sherlock clarifies. “You’ve stood in the mirror, shaven yourself, and though ‘Gee, I wonder what I’d do if I couldn’t see the blade right now, or my face, or anything’?”

John chuckles, and this time Sherlock can’t help his smile. The sound buzzes in him, waking the tingling in his fingertips from slumber.

“Yeah,” John says. It sounds almost joyous.

“No, you haven’t,” Sherlock says. He can’t entirely keep the amusement out of his voice. His shoulder is hit again, this time when John bumps into him a little; clumsily enough for it to probably have been an accident.

“Maybe I have,” John argues. “Maybe that’s a thing that I’ve done.”

“All right,” Sherlock says, but in a tone that makes it clear how much he does not believe in that idea. John chuckles, again. The sound is no less beautiful for its constancy.

John grows quiet for a moment, and tenses up a bit beside him. Sherlock feels it in the shift of the air. At first he’s confused – he hasn’t said anything that could be interpreted in an unlucky way – but then his cane hits a step in front of him, where the pavement levels up, and he understands.

He walks over it without problem, but John, who has never been with someone like him before, was probably worried he’d trip over it.

“How long were you watching that for?” he asks John, when they’re past it. John’s huff of breath is almost embarrassed.

“Are you that good or am I that predictable?” he asks.

“A bit of both,” Sherlock says. Probably true, too. John hums.

“Modest,” he comments. Sherlock shrugs, knowing that he will see it.

“Hm.”

“I’m very impressed by that, by the way.”

That he comes out, just like that, to say it, is a marvel to Sherlock. His deductions have been very little appreciated before, and when they have been, it has certainly never been this vocally. It aches a little in his chest, and he isn’t sure why.

“That’s because you’re less clever than me,” he says.

He almost isn’t surprised, any longer, when John reacts by laughing. This one is loud; bellowing into the street and echoing a little between them. Sherlock could play that sound on repeat.

“You’re probably right,” John concedes. Sherlock, honestly, isn’t so sure. Talking to John feels a little like being left in the dark about something John has realised a long time ago, and finds obvious.

They’re silent for a while after that, but it isn’t uncomfortable. The tangible feeling of John’s weight walking along next to him invokes a sensation of calmness in his chest he so rarely feels. Over the sound of their footsteps, getting more and more in tune as they walk along, he can hear John’s breathing; steady and soft.

“Why did you change schools?” he asks, after a while of this.

“Hm?” John sounds like Sherlock’s words pulled him out of deep thought.

“You’re new here. Why did you change?” Sherlock repeats.

“Oh. You know, just because. It’s the sort of thing that happens.” There’s a brief moment of silence; it seems almost hesitant. “We move a lot. My mum does business,” John continues then.

“Hm.” Sherlock doesn’t have much else to comment. There’s an edge to John’s words, though. He can’t quite figure out what it’s supposed to mean.

There’s another thing: moving a lot, means possibly moving from here; moving away again. It’s too early, probably, for Sherlock to get a slight tinge of sadness at the thought. But then early is an entirely made-up construct, and it seems Sherlock’s brain hasn’t gotten the memo about it.

“You know,” John says, interrupting his thoughts. His hand lands on Sherlock’s shoulder, and Sherlock’s heart nearly skips a beat. He thought that was a myth. “I’m glad that I did. Change to here, that is.”

“Oh. Why?” Sherlock might know something of the answer. His pulse can be felt in his wrist when it starts becoming elevated at the thought.

“You’re interesting,” John says.

He sounds like he might be smiling, but Sherlock can’t know. He has a hard time thinking, either way, with John’s skin pressing so closely to his own; everything becomes about that patch where parts of their bodies are pressed together. He doesn’t shake the hand off, despite how intense the feeling is, and he thinks maybe John understands this as acceptance; at least he squeezes it shortly.

“That was a compliment,” John says, interrupting his thought process.

Sherlock tries to press his lips together to stop his smile. “It was?”

“Yes.” John is silent for a moment. After a brief pause he adds, “Sherlock.” Sherlock wants him to say it again; say his name. It still sounds beautiful when he does; like it should have lived on his tongue all along.

“Thank you,” Sherlock says. He means much more than that. Somehow, unlike himself, he believes John’s words. John squeezes his shoulder again.

Sherlock stops walking, and turns towards him. For a while, it seems, they stand there: John’s hand on his skin, neither of them speaking.

“What was that for?” he asks then. He twitches his shoulder under John’s hand, to let him know what he means.

“I’m not quite sure.”

“Well.” Sherlock supposes that’s a fair enough reply. He shrugs, trying to let this be known. “All right.”

There’s a pause where neither of them say anything, and the silence between them feels like a void for them to fill with stories and honesty, like that. Sherlock wants nothing more, but is also overwhelmed, so he says,

“What’s the number on the house we’re next to?”

John’s hand falls slowly from his body, and the moment is broken. Sherlock wishes he hadn’t spoken, or that he could reach out and pull the moment back over them, like a cylinder or a duvet.

“A hundred and fifty-six,” John says.

“I’m next.” Sherlock had been so caught up in their conversation that he almost forgot that their walk was supposed to end somewhere.

“Fifty-eight?” John asks. Sherlock nods. There’s a moment of silence again, and Sherlock doesn’t know what it means.

“Let’s go then,” John says. He doesn’t put his hand back on Sherlock’s skin, but their arms brush several times with their closeness as they walk the next seven steps until they are in front of the gate to Sherlock’s home.

John is silent for a while, so eventually Sherlock fishes his keys out of his pocket and turns to his gate, slowly finding the key-hole and inserting it. He doesn’t twist it yet, but turns back, so his head is turned in John’s direction.

“I’ll see you tomorrow?” he tries. He wishes he could reach out to touch John’s face, just so he could feel the expression on it. John remains silent for just a moment too long, and Sherlock’s frustration clouds him. So many things happened just now, and for one of the first times since the accident he feels like he’s rushing after the world to keep up with what is happening in it.

“Or not,” he says. “Since I can’t actually see. You know, non-verbal communication doesn’t work that well with me.”

He does twist the key then, so the gate unlocks and he can push it open. He keeps the key in his hand, but lets the gate go, so it will stand gaping wide in front of him. He can’t see this either, but he can know it. He doesn’t know John.

“Sorry,” John says. Sherlock doesn’t leave him, but only hums non-committedly. Then John’s hand comes back to rest on his skin, this time on his upper arm, and the air goes out of him. He turns his body fully back, so they are facing each other.

“I’m smiling,” Johns says. It makes Sherlock smile, too, despite his intention not to. He exhales.

“All right,” he says.

“Yes?”

“Yeah.”

“Good.” John’s hand leaves his once more. The conversation feels bigger than it was. He feels it when John takes a step back; he’s saying goodbye.

“Bye, then,” John says, and proves Sherlock right.

“Bye,” Sherlock says. He steps inside the gate, finally, and allows it to close behind him.

As he starts walking along the steps up towards the house, John calls after him:

“I’m still smiling.”

When Sherlock flips two fingers at him, John laughs so loudly it rings in Sherlock’s ears, even while they are this far apart. He smiles to himself for the rest of the afternoon.

__

The following day John keeps him in the cafeteria a little longer than the others with a hand to his upper arm and says, “Can I follow you home again this afternoon?”

He does, and this time Sherlock doesn’t take out his cane, unfolding it in front of him, but, acting braver than he feels, puts his hand into the crease of John’s elbow. John doesn’t comment, but he puts his hand very shortly on top of Sherlock’s, and Sherlock thinks that’s good enough, too.

Chapter Text

He’s still thinking of John that night, around the dinner table.

Vaguely, in the back of his mind, he records what is going on around him. Since everyone is talking, they are easy for him to place in the room. Mycroft, he knows, is directly to his right side, which is really mostly evident by his loud chewing. Perhaps Sherlock is biased against him, but surely not many people apart from their parents can actually stand that?

He’s thinking of this, and of the way John’s hand touched his upper arm that afternoon, and is generally quite caught up in the thought process, which is why he at first doesn’t notice when he is spoken to.

“Sherlock?” his mum says.

“Hm?”

“We’re talking about uni,” she says; her tone makes it evident that she’s repeating it. Ah. Sherlock scoops in a mouthful of food for the first time in a while, and uses the chewing to cover for his lack of reply. Judging by her sigh, she is quite capable of deducing this fact.

“We have to talk about it at some point,” she says.

“We have talked about it.”

In fact, Sherlock thinks, that is all they ever do. It’s not that he doesn’t want to go to uni, or, for that matter, that he’ll have any trouble at all getting into the school he wants to go to. Mycroft would argue that he is cleverer than Sherlock. Sherlock would argue that, if Mycroft can get into Cambridge, then nothing should be easier to do for Sherlock than exactly that, too.

The thing it is though, is this: He’d like to do something else first.

Half his year is going away. Travelling, taking some time off to work. What is done during the year off isn’t really the important thing here. What is, is the principle of things. That Sherlock could be able to do that, too.

“People don’t usually travel alone,” his dad says. “I didn’t.”

“Who says I’ll have to be alone?” Sherlock asks. For a moment, no one replies.

“Irene is moving straight on,” his mum says then.

Sherlock grimaces. She says it, because she thinks Irene is his only friend. She’s probably right, too.

But there must be options, he thinks. Will he really have to move straight on, just because she does? And even if there isn’t, why couldn’t he go alone?

Well, he thinks. Because it’s a terrifying concept. But they don’t need to know he’s thinking that. If they did, they’d never let him go at all.

“I’m eating,” he says, instead of replying. This time everyone around the table sighs.

“Sherlock.”

“Mum,” Sherlock says. If he can’t argue, at least he can shot the conversation down. He keeps eating.

“Can’t we talk about it, at least?”

“Mum,” Mycroft says, too. To stop her. Sherlock is caught between feeling grateful for the interruption, and annoyed at the tone of Mycroft’s voice; as if Sherlock cannot stand up for himself.

“Are we done eating?” he asks. Putting his fork down onto his plate, he pushes away from the table with his feet, and gets just about ready to stand and leave. Normally he’d stay for a while, but currently he wants nothing more than to be freed from having these conversations once more.

There’s silence for a while. Sherlock understands, that’s the worst thing. That he’s probably upsetting them. But it’s the only option out he sees. Mostly, he just wants to be let go.

“Yeah, all right,” his dad says.

He leaves without pushing in the chair behind him.

__

He’s only alone in his room for twenty minutes before his door opens, and someone walks inside. By the tread of their steps on the floorboards, and the avoidance of the creaky one, it is easy to deduce who it is; Mycroft.

He could pretend to be asleep. He’s already conveniently lying on his bed, and it would allow him to avoid this; the conversation that he’s sure is coming.

The thing is, he isn’t in fact stupid at all. He isn’t in fact without understanding about exactly why his parents disagree with his desire to go, far away from them, and out where there’s no safety net. It’s just that his hatred for the fact that it has to be like this far overshadows that.

“You know,” Mycroft says. Sherlock listens to it, as Mycroft shifts on his feet; the wood beneath them creak, and the denim of his fabric slides together, creating an almost scratchy sound. “You won’t even be able to see any of the world even if you visit it.”

Sherlock has to inhale swiftly, and press his lips together, to avoid either laughing or snapping at him. It’s a joke, meant to be comforting; it’s their common language, and normally Sherlock might smile when he was almost certain Mycroft had looked away, but today he is on edge and not exactly in the mood.

“Shut up,” he says; while it is without venom, it is also without laughter.

The bed dips beneath him, when Mycroft sits down on the edge of it. Sherlock can feel the presence of his body by his own leg.

“It’s not actually about that,” he continues. More, it is about the freedom to choose.

“No, I know,” Mycroft says. His tone, almost melancholy, makes Sherlock believe that he does.

Closing his eyes, he pinches the bridge of his nose, and attempts to breathe in slowly, letting the air travel all the way down to his stomach, and filling him up. Mycroft, by the sound of it, copies him. Maybe that is the extend their brotherhood can reach; the same mannerisms in stressful situations.

“They’re just trying to protect you, though,” Mycroft says. Only four years older than Sherlock, and he still speaks like one of the adults. Still; Sherlock thinks he detects just a bit of sarcasm in there.

“Oh,” he groans, deliberately making his tone exasperated, “Are you going to start, too, now?”

Mycroft’s snort is soft, before Sherlock feels the warmth of a flat palm patting him gently on the shin.

“Just try to be a little kinder, yeah? You’re upsetting mummy.”

Sherlock scoffs, and rolls his eyes. “You’re upsetting her more,” he says.

There seems to be a significance in the silence that Mycroft gives him in return, but Sherlock can’t quite pinpoint what it is. Instead, he turns away, and lets that be hint enough. Just for good measure he adds,

“Anyway. You should leave my room now.”

For a few moments Mycroft doesn’t, but stays. Then he gets up from the bed – it groans in protest beneath the shifted weight of the both of them – and does go.

His pause in the doorway, before he closes it softly, Sherlock thinks, is just a little too long to be accidental. He’s not quite sure he knows what it means.

__

John follows Sherlock home consequently for the next week, every single day. Sherlock makes sure to mention to him that, you know, he is actually capable of finding his own house, but when he does, John just chuckles softly and squeezes Sherlock’s arm where he is holding him. It’s hard to know what he means by this, but Sherlock thinks it might be something along the lines of not doing this solely for Sherlock’s benefit.

He holds the idea of that inside of his hands; cradles it, as if it were a fragile flower he needed to protect. He thinks of it sometimes, when he is alone in his room, after John has dropped him off. If it shows on his face, he doesn’t think anyone notices.

During the second week of this arrangement, on a Tuesday, Irene walks along with them.

“Invite me in for dinner,” she demands, once they stop outside of Sherlock’s gate.

His reaction is composed of nothing but a shrug and a nod. Absentmindedly, he hands his keys to her, and feels it as she grabs them from his grasp. The gate jostles on its hinges as she unlocks it, but opens with nothing but the faint sound of the air moving. She requests this, sometimes, so Sherlock isn’t majorly surprised by the demand.

What is, however, surprising, is that John follows her line of thought:

“Invite me in, too?” he asks.

Coming from him the request is somewhat nerve-wracking but, at the same time, it is not. For he is simply John, and while Sherlock hasn’t known him for long, John has never made him feel uncomfortable.

“Yes,” he ends up saying. It must be good enough, because John’s footsteps sound on the gravel as he walks past Sherlock and through the gate.

Irene is ahead of the both of them; He knows this because he can deduce it, but also because John tells him, as they make it inside. Sherlock is entirely sure this is somehow a part of a plan of hers. His outwards reaction, however, is to simply shrug.

“Do you want the tour?” he asks. John is not close enough for Sherlock to feel his presence, but at the question he hears the sound of John’s feet – without shoes, he can tell – on the floorboards, walking the few steps towards him.

“Maybe later,” he says. “Show me your room?”

Sherlock does.

Once inside, he sits on his bed, his feet over the edge; his posture a little stiffer than it would be usually. He listens, without saying anything, to the sound of John walking around it, taking it all in, in a way Sherlock can’t even himself.

It feels strangely vulnerable; like showing someone your upper back, the part of yourself you can hardly touch or see, and so doesn't know what looks like. It feels a lot like letting someone else know you better than you do.

He can follow John’s movements around his room in his head; he hears the creaking of the floorboards to the right of him, and knows that John is by his closet. He can imagine the smoothness of the wood vividly, the way it’d feel under his fingertips; his mind emulates the sensation.

John moves on quickly, probably because there isn’t much to look at there. There are two steps, and then he’s to Sherlock’s left, where his desk is. He doesn’t ruffle through any of the papers on it; either because doing so would mean Sherlock would have to clean up, or because he feels it would be an invasion of privacy.

“What’s this?” he asks suddenly; the sound of it is almost startling in the quietness of the room. He chuckles then, almost embarrassed, as he must realise his mistake.

“I don’t know,” Sherlock says, but makes his voice light; he does not mind. “What is it?”

“It’s,” John says, hesitating a little, “braille?” The word is like a question on his lips, the pronunciation sounding just slightly off, like the word is dusty in his vocabulary from being only sparsely used.

“Why did you ask if you already know?” Sherlock is genuinely curious.

The sound of John’s footsteps once again across his floor is followed by the slight bounce of the mattress, as John joins him on it. It seems, from the swiftness of the movement, that he is mirroring Sherlock’s position.

“I wanted to hear you talk about it.” John’s voice is by his side now; a little lower than his own, with his relative shortness. It is a strange request, and Sherlock feels blooming with it.

Something is handed to him then; a book, square and hardback. Sherlock’s hands recognise it instantly, and it is comforting in them. They wrap around it almost in reflex, and Sherlock runs his fingers over the front of it, reading the words with his fingers: It is the Iliad.

“What do you want to know?” he asks.

“Show me,” John says. “How you read.”

Sherlock does. He opens up the book on the first proper page, and finds a sentence to run his finger over; the words appear instantly in his brain as his finger runs along. It took time to get to this place. It took frustration.

“The wrath do thou sing, O goddess, of Peleus’ son, Achilles, that baneful wrath which brought countless woes upon the Achaeans,” Sherlock reads, saying the words out loud as he does.

He intends to read on, but then his hand is joined over the letters, and John’s presses against it. He stops his from moving.

“What are you doing?” he asks. He argues with his cheeks to stop them from blushing, but might be unsuccessful.

“Is this T?” John asks. Apparently he doesn’t notice.

Sherlock is forced to find John’s finger with his own, to feel where he is pressing.

“Yes,” he says. He can’t be sure, but John is by the first sentence, so it seems the most likely possibility.

He could push John’s finger away, just enough to feel under it, to be certain. He could ask John to guide him to the letter, and press his finger down onto it. He does neither. Instead, he withdraws his hand; careful to do it without haste, so it won’t seem strange.

“Is it difficult to learn?” John asks. Voice still chirpy; oblivious.

“Why? Are you planning on doing that?”

John’s huff of breath is gentle, disturbing the air next to Sherlock’s ear slightly.

“Maybe not,” he says. “I’m not sure I could.”

Sherlock doesn’t know what to say to that, so he remains silent. After a moment, the mattress gives beneath him once more; it feels as if John lies down on it. Their bodies, however, do not touch.

“Are you lying down?” he asks.

“Yeah,” John says; hurried in apology. “Sorry.”

Again, Sherlock doesn’t reply, but instead lies down on the bed, his back to the sheets. He doesn’t know if he is mirroring John until the back of John’s hand touches his lower arm lightly, the knuckles of it felt clearly against his skin, and John’s voice sounds not far from his ear, as he speaks:

“I am sorry,” he says. “I’m new at this.”

“I know,” Sherlock says.

He ponders John’s hand against his skin; maybe it is to get his attention. Maybe it is to create a sense of contact between them, an artificial recreation of the feeling of sharing eye contact; Sherlock remembers the sensation of that, still. Opia, they call it: the ambiguous intensity from looking someone in the eye.

“Is it all right?” John asks. “Do you mind my questions?”

Sherlock does not have to ponder this. Still, he allows for a moment of silence, so his reply seems considered still:

“No. I don’t mind.”

“Good,” John says. The word seems to take on a deeper meaning, a new life, on his tongue. The knuckles of his hand run over Sherlock’s arm once, twice, and Sherlock could almost be fooled into believing that this is a caress.

“You can tell me if you do,” John adds. “If you want me to shut up.”

Sherlock folds his hands on top of his stomach, considering this. He doesn’t think he does want that; John’s ignorance isn’t ugly, it isn’t naïve, and it is not rude.

“Okay,” is what he says.

For a while all the sound in the room is of their shared breathing; in tandem, almost, by now. Sherlock feels it in his stomach, in his chest, as the air is pulled down, before it runs past his lips in a soft caress on the way back out.

“If you could do anything,” John starts then. It feels as if he moves and turns, and when Sherlock stops being able to feel their skin pressed together, he knows that he has. “What would you do?”

Easy question to answer, Sherlock thinks. He’s already thought about this one.

“I’d travel,” he says.

“Travel?”

“Yes. I’d be free and unconfined. I’d do stuff on my own, without supervision or help. Like–”

“Traveling,” John finishes for him. “Hm. I get that.”

“But you don’t feel the same?” Sherlock asks. John’s tone tells him as much. “What would you do?”

“Oh, I agree about the last part,” John says. “Making your own choices. Maybe,” he says, trailing off. It seems as if he just had a thought. “Maybe I would like to travel, actually. I’d just like it, if it were actually my own choice.”

Ah. Probably, Sherlock thinks, this is about the excessive about of moving around John has been subjected to. He’s surprised when, in some ways, this means that John is able to, in a way that many people just can’t, understand where he is coming from.

“Well,” Sherlock says. “Seems like we’re in the same boat.”

“Hm.” This time, when their skin touches, Sherlock is almost sure it’s John’s lower arm to his upper one. “Seems we both know impossibility quite well.”

“Yeah,” Sherlock says. Impossible. Most of the time he worries that is what his dreams are. Most of the time he believes it, too.

When John doesn’t reply, and they fall into silence, he turns his head in John’s direction. He imagines what it would be like to watch him, and see the thoughts painted on his features. He imagines what it would be like to watch him, period.

John must see some of this painted on Sherlock, because next he says,

“I’m saying this because I feel you should know.”

“Yes?” Sherlock asks.

“I’m smiling.”

Sherlock laughs; he turns his head away to let it out, surprised and loud, and, as he does, he hears the sound of John’s chuckles mingling with his. He reaches out to find a part of John’s body, his shoulder, his knee, and pushes at it to signal his annoyance. John simply laughs again.

This is something, Sherlock thinks. He doesn’t know what that something is, but it stands clearly in his mind as a thing, an event, a being, outlined against the mushy grey of the rest of his experiences; this is a flash of colour, the unique.

Their moment is broken when Irene enters, but it lives on in Sherlock’s mind palace, played over until the tape is thin. It doesn’t matter: it feels like they will have plenty of moments, new and fresh. Sherlock can’t wait.

Chapter Text

“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.”

“What?”

“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–

John.

“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.

“Sort of.”

“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.

“Warm?”

“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.

Chapter Text

To the rhythm of Sherlock’s falling in love, time passes, and the season changes. Sherlock feels it in the sudden chill of the air, biting your cheeks in a way it doesn’t during summer, and hears it in the way people talk about the colours of the world changing. From green and gold, there are now a myriad of them, more varied.

The week before the autumn break, John is gone for three out of the five days.

It makes Sherlock a bit on edge, because he doesn’t know why it is happening. He tries calling, but gets no answer. He comforts himself with the knowledge that John, at least, doesn’t pick up when Greg or Irene calls him either; this is not just about Sherlock, then.

Still, it is worrying. For the break he, Greg, Irene, and Sally, Irene’s new friend, are going away to Irene’s parents’ cottage. John is meant to go too, but for a long time none of them are sure he’ll come.

They’re surprised then when, on the day of their leaving – the first Saturday of the break – John shows up at the train station, as if nothing had happened at all.

Sherlock has, for the occasion and the busy train station, let go of his usual refusal to be guided, and so has Irene firmly planted on his left side, as her hand is placed securely around the inside of his upper arm.

John, when he arrives, appears on Sherlock’s other side, and mirrors the movement of Irene’s hand against Sherlock’s right arm. He doesn’t say anything, but maybe he shared a look with Irene, because moments later her hand squeezes Sherlock’s arm, before it falls off it, and Sherlock feels the presence of her body retreating.

“Hey,” John says; it’s soft and, it seems, just for him. It blooms a bit in Sherlock’s chest; the privacy of the moment, and the fact that he is the one John shares it with.

“Hi,” he says. “We weren’t sure you’d come.”

“No,” John says. Sherlock has become apt at picking up on vocal tones, although he’s not always apt at understanding why they are coded with the emotion that they are. John’s current tone, he understands as something like resignation. “I wasn’t either.”

“Are you all right?” Sherlock asks.

“Sure,” John says. While a positive reply, it isn’t exactly coded with conviction. “Our train is coming.”

As they walk, John guides him gently through the mass of people, nudging him a bit when he needs to step to one side. Sherlock ruminates over John’s reply. The subtext of a word is hard to pick up on when you can’t see a face.

“You know,” he says to John, as they continue walking, “it isn’t completely fair.”

“What isn’t?”

“I can hear that you’re not telling me the whole truth,” Sherlock says. “But I don’t have enough data surrounding what you say to be able to deduce what you actually mean.”

He hears air being blown out of John’s nose; the softness of it leads him to believe that it is in amusement rather than annoyance.

“That’s not really fair, no,” John agrees.

They make it to the train-door, and with a hand still to his arm, John helps him step inside wordlessly, before nudging him gently through an opening that is probably a door, and down what must be the aisle. Apparently there’s only room for four people around a single table, so, John tells him, the two of them sit on the opposite side of the aisle from the others.

“You don’t want to talk about it?” Sherlock asks. As they sit down, next to each other, John’s hand leaves his arm, but falls to the seat between them instead; Sherlock can feel knuckles being pressed into the side of his thigh.

“Not really, no,” John says. “Later. Not now.”

“Okay.”

“But,” John goes on, “I could tell you my expression? I don’t want to say words out loud just yet, but I’m sure you could infer things from the knowledge.”

“Yes,” Sherlock says. And what a beautiful suggestion. He lets his own hand fall down next to where he feels John’s is. His knuckles fit into the gap between John’s. As John pushes back against him with his own hand, they become further slotted together.

“All right,” John says. “My expression was … deliberately neutral?” The way he says it, it sounds almost like a question.

“Okay.” Sherlock can definitely infer things from that. There’s something going on. John won’t talk about it yet, but maybe, Sherlock thinks, he will later. “What about now?”

Again, a huff of air.

“Now I’m smiling,” John says.

Sherlock smiles too, at the thought.

“Am I amusing?” he asks. This time John’s chuckle is audible, albeit quiet enough to not disturb the rest of the passengers.

“Yes,” he says. “You’re amusing.”

They’re so closely slotted together, that it doesn’t do much difference when John suddenly moves the last inches or so between them closer, and rests his head on Sherlock’s shoulder. It’s still enough to make Sherlock’s heart do a slight jump; in surprise, and with the butterflies he suddenly feels, flapping about so enthusiastically you should think they were in a competition about it, and the prize was something like John Watson’s affections.

“I’m a bit tired,” John says. From this position, his voice is so close to Sherlock’s ear, that Sherlock can hear the low rumble of it. “Is it okay if I sleep on your shoulder?”

“Yeah,” Sherlock says. “Of course.”

John shifts in his seat, appearing to be getting comfortable, and settles in against Sherlock’s side once more. It doesn’t take long for his breath to get heavy and slow. He must only be fast on the track to sleep yet, though, because just before his breaths become quiet snores, his hand on the seat between them moves, and he intertwines their fingers.

Sherlock is no longer falling, he thinks. He has fallen, hard. And this is getting close to gaining something back.

It doesn’t take long until John’s soft snores lulls Sherlock into sleep with them. As Sherlock nods off, it is with John’s hand between his fingers, and John’s name on his heart.

__

The first evening, all they do is settle in with their stuff, buy some junk food, and go almost straight to sleep. Irene and Sally take Irene’s room, and the rest of them, Sherlock, John, and Greg, all sleep together on the living room floor. Sherlock doesn’t help, but sits on the couch and listens as the two other boys bring out the mattresses from the main bedroom and the spare room.

Greg is between he and John, which Sherlock is honestly grateful for. In slumber, he is sure he would lose all the inhibitions currently keeping him from being too overt around John. Not that he thinks John would mind terribly much; there are just better ways to make it happen.

Vacation with the group, it would seem, involves a lot of fruit-eating, sun-tanning, and board games. On the first day, that is the general gist of what they do.

On the second day, they go to the beach.

While it is autumn, it is not yet too cold to get in the water; at least not if you’re a daring or free spirit. Irene is, but then Sherlock already knew that.

“You’re a wuss,” she tells him, when he declines going in, but she nudges him playfully and squeezes his arm, so Sherlock doesn’t really mind.

John, it would however seem, is a brave soul as well. As Sherlock sits on the towel that Irene has laid out for him, John appears by his side; he announces himself for Sherlock’s benefit.

“You’re not going in?” he asks.

“Yeah, no,” Sherlock says. “Why would I do such a thing?”

“I don’t know,” John says; it sounds almost infused with joy. Only then does Sherlock really realise how without happiness John appeared to be the day before. He wishes it would never have to be that way.

“It might be fun?” John continues. Sherlock has his doubts.

“Hm,” he says. “I’ll slip.”

“Not if I help you, you won’t,” John says. He says the words like they’re a melody, and his voice is lower than usual; absentmindedly Sherlock recognises this as teasing.

“Well,” he says.

“And I’d like it,” John says. Sherlock tries to pretend that that isn’t all it takes for him to be convinced.

It’s worth it, he decides almost instantly, anything is made worth it by the way John slots himself against Sherlock’s side, and holds him around the waist, as they begin their descent into the water. It’s bloody freezing, of course it is, and the chill instantly running through Sherlock makes his fine hairs stand on end, and his nipples harden, but he doesn’t even really mind.

The stones beneath his feet are, indeed, slippery, but when he has John to lean on, he doesn’t feel like he’s about to fall. Instead, he feels steady, supported; secure.

They make it out to the sand eventually; the water is up to around Sherlock’s waist by then. John’s arm lets go of him, and moments later Sherlock hears a bit of light splashing; it would seem John is either swimming or attempting to stay afloat.

Before Sherlock can mirror him, Irene appears at his side. She grabs his arm, and announces herself that way; Sherlock is able to match the feel of her slender hand to her.

“Look who comes when it’s loverboy calling,” she says. Mumbles it to him, in fact, so John, at least, won’t hear.

Due to the contact between them, and the heavy feel of the presence of her body, Sherlock is easily able to place her. Meaning he is also easily able to direct the splay in the right direction, when he brings his hand down to the water, and splashes it towards her face. Judging by her disgruntled outburst, he succeeded.

“Hey,” she warns, but then she chuckles, and squeezes Sherlock’s arm. It’s a gesture of affection. Sherlock doesn’t really mind her comment at all.

“Shut up,” he says, nonetheless.

“All right.” She sounds amused, as if the words are at the front of her throat, pushed there by the chuckle looming behind it.

“It’s lovely,” she continues. She lets go of Sherlock’s arm, but nudges him with what feels like the sharp edge of an elbow instead. She’s really rather too pleased about the possible development of Sherlock’s romantic life.

Sherlock feels her hands on his shoulders, before weight is added to them. She uses him as a support to jump, it seems, before her legs encircle his hips from behind, and he feels her on his back.

“Go,” she says then, jumping back off, and pushing him forward a bit in the process. “Let him hold your hand, or whatever.”

“Yeah,” Sherlock says. “Don’t you have someone to woo, too?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Irene says. It’s clear from her teasing tone, however, that she absolutely does. This Sally gal and her might have something going on.

For a moment, Sherlock listens to the sound of her retreating, as the waves she makes around her as she moves, sound further and further away. Then he goes to find John.

Said person, John, is only just far enough away for him to have been unable to hear Sherlock and Irene’s conversation. Probably, Sherlock thinks, it was in attempt to allow them some privacy.

“What’s going on?” John asks. It appears that he moves, by the sound of it, and by the feeling of small waves lapping against the skin of Sherlock’s stomach. Sherlock feels the presence of John’s body moments before he feels John’s hand gently placed to his shoulder.

“Irene is going to woo Sally,” Sherlock says. Not exactly the central point of their recently over conversation, but perhaps he shouldn’t relay that to John. How would that go? ‘Oh yeah, we just talked about how I’m really quite into you’? No; probably not.

“Hm,” is all John says.

Moments later his other hand comes up to Sherlock’s free shoulder. Sherlock realises what’s about to happen the moment before it does; John jumps to his back, in much the same way that Irene did just before. He, however, stays there.

“So,” he says. “Travelling?” He shifts a bit on Sherlock’s back, settling in, it seems, as his legs snake around Sherlock’s waist and his arms encircle Sherlock’s neck. Sherlock tries very much to pretend that this isn’t making the butterflies in his stomach up their game considerably.

“Indeed,” he says.

“Where do you want to go?”

He honestly hasn’t thought much about destinations yet. He’s ruminated over the options, of course, but in reality it’s more the principle of things that are important to him; that he can travel, if he wants to.

“Somewhere with stunning scenery,” is what he actually says. John, damn him, laughs, and presses the sound into the back of Sherlock’s head. Sherlock is pleased; he wants that sound pressed into every inch of his skin, edged there permanently, until he is covered by it.

“You’re funny,” John says. Sherlock grins. He tries to keep his breathing calm when John’s fingers run over his collarbone once, twice, five times, before his hand, now a palm, settles over it.

“Thank you,” he says.

“Hm.”

John lets go of him, and jumps down from his back. Sherlock feels a little sad to lose the warmth of him, and the closeness, but then John says, “You do me,” and puts Sherlock’s hand to his shoulder, probably to signal what he means, and Sherlock thinks it’s really rather all right.

He uses John’s shoulders for support. Jumping and being caught is being made easy by the weightlessness that comes with being in the water. As he does jump, John’s arms are ready to catch him, as his hands become planted on the underside of Sherlock’s thighs.

Only after his chest is securely slotted against John’s back, does Sherlock realise that this is exactly what he’s been craving for weeks, if not months; feeling John this close to him, their skin pressed together so firmly that Sherlock is able to get an image of his body, that is as clear as it will ever be possible for him.

He does it before he has time to think about it and change his mind; he shifts in his position, releasing John’s waist from between his legs, but turns himself so he is against John’s chest instead, and puts his legs back around him. John’s hands, after a moment, come up to hold lightly onto his hips under the water.

He’s taller than John in this position. Well; he’s always taller than John, he’s come to gather. But like this he can place his chin easily on top of John’s head; as long, that is, as John is looking straight ahead.

He doesn’t continue to. Instead he looks up, and Sherlock has to pull back a bit.

“What is this?” John asks. His thumbs create circles on Sherlock’s hips. Goosebumps run over Sherlock’s skin, as a shiver surges through him. He feels his nipples hardening a bit; it isn’t sexual, but from the chill of it.

“Do you mind?” Sherlock asks. He’s surprised to find that his voice has been lowered a few octaves. He clears his throat. He buries his fingers in John’s hair, which allows him to feel it when John shakes his head. This is the closest they’ve ever been yet.

“I, eh,” John says. “I need to tell you something.”

“Okay?”

John is silent. Under his hands, Sherlock feels John’s head shifting about a bit, but otherwise he can’t figure out what is going through John’s head. He seems hesitant, though; like the air around him is dense, and he has a hard time pushing through.

“Expression?” Sherlock asks. When he can’t deduce it, at least he can ask.

John remains silent, but his breathing comes out more insistent now, as if he is just on the edge of speaking. Sherlock can feel the air blown out against his own chin and then, when John shifts a little, on his own lips. Their foreheads are nearly touching, now; Sherlock has moved closer in without thinking.

He licks his lips. The moment after, John kisses him.

There are hands on his jaw; John’s. And lips, oh, lips pressed firmly against his own. Harshly. As if the touch is born from hunger. Or desperation.

He doesn’t have time to kiss John back. He is frozen; for several beats. Caught off-guard by the surprise of it. By the time he comes to his senses, and realises that he could return the kiss, John has pulled back away.

He smiles. As the realisation of what just happened spreads through him, a warmth does too. John, he realises, wants him back.

“I’m sorry,” John says then, and Sherlock’s world shatters. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

People say that dread feels like a stone swimming in the acid of your stomach, weighing you down with its heavy weight. To Sherleck, it feels a bit like all of the butterflies from earlier have died, and become a weight pulling him down, hardening his previously soft skin.

“What?” he says. His voice sounds unfamiliar even to himself. John coughs, as if to clear his throat.

“We’re being watched,” he says. Sherlock has really never disliked him as much.

“What?” he repeats. It’s more insistent this time; he’s getting angry. It’s the loss he thinks is happening, souring the once so sweet taste of John in his mouth. “What is happening?”

“I’m sorry,” John repeats.

“Yeah, you said that.”

His legs slip off John’s body. John still holds onto his hips as Sherlock regains his footing where he stands; Sherlock hates him a little for that, too. How dare he be kind in the middle of this rejection?

“Stop touching me,” he says. John’s hands leave him instantly, as if Sherlock’s body suddenly became slicked with flames. Maybe it did; it feels a bit like it. Only not in the good way.

“Is it because I’m a man?” he asks. “Or is it because I’m blind?”

“No,” John says; for the first time in a while it’s without a pause of hesitation before it. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like I don’t want you. At all.”

Sherlock pauses. His breathing is heavy, he realises; his heartbeat, when he focuses on it, is frantic in his chest. It feels like the emotions raging in him has kick-started every part of him. He swallows, and tries to calm back down.

His fingers come up to pinch the bridge of his nose almost on their own accord, bending his arm with it. Making sense of what just happened seems almost impossible to him. There’s something going on, clearly, but more than ever he feels the effects of being shrouded in darkness. It leaves him there, too; doomed to feel like he’s running behind something on wheels with only his legs to help him, unable to keep up.

“What, then?” he asks. “What did you mean?”

It seems John takes Sherlock’s questions to mean that he’s allowed to come back in, and touch him. At least he steps closer by a few feet, and buries his hand in the crease of the elbow of Sherlock’s still-bent arm. Sherlock lets it fall to his side, so John’s hand becomes wrapped around his straightened-out elbow.

“I, eh,” John begins; again with the hesitation. “I’m a bit confused right now. There are a lot of things going on.”

“By all means,” Sherlock says; he’s still annoyed, but feels the intensity of it seeping out of him slowly, “go on keeping me in the dark, why don’t you?”

John inhales. Then he exhales. Sherlock listens to it all in silence.

“Just give me a bit more time,” John says. “Please. I will tell you. Just–”

“All right,” Sherlock says, interrupting him. All he wants, at that very moment, is to be alone for a while. He needs this to be over, now, so he can get some time to think, and regain his footing.

He’s not sure if it is all right, really. Because, right now, he doesn’t know what it is. But he also remembers, somewhere in the back of his mind, that John is never cruel. He wouldn’t do this, Sherlock thinks, if not for a good reason.

“Is it?” John asks. This time it’s Sherlock who takes a moment to breathe in, and exhale again.

“Yeah,” he says then. He allows his voice to lose some of the hardness he infused it with moments before.

John sighs shakily, and presses his forehead into Sherlock’s temple momentarily; Sherlock feels the hard scull of it being pressed against his own.

“I’d still like to be alone,” Sherlock says. “Just– I need a moment.”

“Yes,” John says. It appears he straightens; at least his forehead disappears from Sherlock’s. “Of course.”

It’s weird, and quite a bit awkward, really, as John stays by his side, helping him get out of the water. None of them say a word before Sherlock feels sand beneath his toes, and the gentle wind, cold against his wet skin, spinning itself around him.

“Thank you,” John says, after Sherlock has gathered his clothes and his walking cane.

Sherlock hums and nods, but leaves without replying; he wouldn’t know what to say.

__

That night, they all sit on the living room floor, passing a bottle of white wine between them. Sherlock doesn’t particularly like the taste, but it’s better than red anyway, and after the day he’s had, he really wouldn’t mind getting a bit tipsy on the alcohol.

They haven’t talked about it yet, he and John. Part of that may be that they haven’t really had a chance to be alone since that afternoon, and it might not be a conversation they should have while interruptions are likely. Part is that Sherlock deliberately has been staying away from John, as much as it is possible, while trying to sort through his own feelings.

He’s able to understand, that’s the worst part. It means that he’s upset, while knowing that he maybe shouldn’t be, or while realising that the thing that has brought the upset over him, probably isn’t without a justification.

He does get a little drunk, but he’s nearly sobered up already by the time he brushes his teeth, and gets into bed. He sleeps in the main bedroom, that night; mostly, it’s to avoid having to lie next to John, still wanting to kiss him, and press their bodies together, while knowing that John may not want that, too.

That whole thing becomes rather futile then, when the door to the bedroom creaks open after twenty minutes of him being in the bed, and John’s voice reaches him.

“Can I come in?” he asks.

Sherlock is turned towards the door, and knows that his face will be visible from the crack between the door and the doorframe. He nods then, without saying anything; despite his lingering annoyance, this, it seems, is a thing he can’t decline.

The mattress dips beneath him, as John must lie down on it. There’s a gentle tug to the duvet; almost in question. Sherlock scoots back a bit, so more of it will be free, and feels it when John joins him beneath it. It means they’re close; so close, in fact, that Sherlock can feel the warm air exhaled from between John’s lips on his face.

He’s pretty sure John is watching him. There’s a feeling, impossible to put a finger on, that lets him know it. It’s a bit as if your skin knows you’re being watched, and tenses up slightly in the face of it. It’s insistent, anyway; impossible, Sherlock thinks, to miss.

John might speak now, he thinks. He waits for it; holding his breath a little bit, and feeling the nerves of his skin tingling, rushing to the surface.

John doesn’t, however. It seems he won’t. When, after quite a while of waiting, Sherlock is sure of this deduction, he huffs in frustration, and turns around. The duvet he pulls up to his ears, and buries himself beneath.

“Wait,” John says.

“I can feel you watching me,” Sherlock says.

“I know.”

Beneath them, the mattress dips and groans a bit, as John scoots in once more, and this time curls himself around Sherlock’s back. His hand he places, almost tentatively, on top of Sherlock’s arm.

“Okay?” he asks.

“Are you going to talk, or what?”

John chuckles. This up close, it is breathed against the fine hairs at the nape of Sherlock’s neck. It causes shivers to run down Sherlock’s spine; he’s not sure if they’re in pleasure or not.

“I’m sorry I kissed you,” John says. As he does, he places a new one to the back of Sherlock’s neck. It’s a contradiction that leaves Sherlock more confused than he’s been even up until this point.

“I mean, I wanted to kiss you,” John says then. Sherlock’s heart skips a beat; this is the closest to a confession they’ve been yet. “I still want to.”

Oh. Sherlock breathes out the sound.

“I just didn’t want it to happen like that,” John continues.

Sherlock doesn’t dare say anything, in fear of ruining what might be going on right now. John wants him, he realises; that is essentially what he’s saying right now. John wants more than just kissing, even; he wants something that can happen in a certain way. Like romance, Sherlock thinks.

The tension leaves his body. John must feel it; at least he pushes his nose into Sherlock’s neck, and rubs it over the skin there, before he kisses it again. Sherlock is on fire now, certainly; and this time a fire of the good kind.

“I wanted it to be more of a collaborative experience,” John says. Sherlock smiles and is, really, quite enamoured with him.

He turns around. John’s arms seem to be waiting for him to; as he settles back down, turned towards John now, one of the arms rests along his own, as the hand on it removes a strand of hair from his forehead.

Sherlock can feel the tip of John’s nose against his own. It means he knows where he is.

He moves in. Lets his nose slip along John’s, until the tip of it reaches John’s cheek, and pushes his chin forward so their lips will meet.

John stops him. With two fingers pressed gently to Sherlock’s lips, he pushes him back a smidge.

“Wait,” he says. The word, however, is soft in his mouth; gentle and tender. Unlike earlier, the rejection doesn’t make the sick feeling of worry grow in Sherlock’s stomach.

Especially not when, as if enchanted by the ability to do it, John turns the fingers, and runs the plump edge of one of them over Sherlock’s bottom lip. Sherlock lets his lips part, so John has better access. He wants so much; he’s nearly overcome by it.

“What?” Sherlock asks; it’s so much like an exhale of breath it’s barely audible. John must hear though, because he replies:

“I really do have to tell you something.”

“So tell me something,” Sherlock says.

John, once more, seems to be caught up in hesitation. This time he moves in, and presses his forehead against Sherlock’s. There’s a desperation to the gesture, Sherlock feels. And not one of desperate want; a far worse kind, it seems.

“Sherlock,” John says; for once, it doesn’t sound good in his mouth. It sounds, almost, like an apology. Sherlock spoke too fast, it seems; worry creeps into his stomach now, stirring up the acid of it, and making him feel like he’s being etched.

“I’m leaving,” John says. Sherlock’s entire chest falls in on itself.

“What?”

“I’m leaving,” John repeats. “I’m moving away.”

Loss, Sherlock thinks, the knowledge of it, feels a lot like your lungs are being squashed, until air is out of reach, and every bone pokes you with their sharp edges.

“I’m sorry,” John says, but Sherlock has stopped listening.

Chapter Text

The next morning, when Sherlock wakes up, he expects to be alone.

He’s surprised then, when what he wakes up to, is John’s hand still on top of his chest. A flat palm now, pressed to the slight dip in the middle of his chest. John will be able to feel his heartbeat, Sherlock realises.

The thing about his blindness is that it means he doesn’t have a concept about light and how much of it there is. Or, in other words: without a watch, he can’t know what time it is. He feels well-rested, but surely, if it was late, John wouldn’t have stayed in the bed with him?

“Morning,” John says; revealing that he, too, is awake. His voice is hoarse; groggy. Sherlock wonders if he looks the way he sounds; not fully geared up yet, not fully done. Like a sketched drawing. Private.

“Hi,” Sherlock says.

“You know,” John says. The mattress moves beneath them as he comes in closer, until Sherlock feels a part of him pressed against his own shoulder. He’s lying on his back. If he turned to his side, their faces would be aligned just like yesterday.

Yesterday. Sherlock is overcome by the memory. His chest feels a little tighter, as he remembers the almost suffocating silence between them last night. He hadn’t known what to say. John probably hadn’t known what to do about that.

“Your hair is a bloody mess in the morning,” John finishes.

Maybe it’s an attempt to lighten the mood between them. Or an attempt at solidarity; John tells him what he can’t know. Either way it makes Sherlock smile and chuckle. He allows it to crawl onto his face, and to be shown off; allows John to know that it’s there, still, despite it all.

“Thank you,” John says. His tone lower, rhythmic; almost sombre.

“For?”

“Pretending we’re all right,” John says.

Oh. Well. They’re diving right into it, it would seem.

Sherlock doesn’t know what to say. Is he pretending? Not entirely, he doesn’t think. They could be all right. He wants them to be.

Maybe John is leaving, he thinks. He thought about that last night, too; lying on his side, with John’s breath landing upon his neck in the soft exhales of slumber. Maybe John is leaving, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do anything at all.

It would mean having something only to have it be taken away. Sure. Sherlock has thought about that. He’d do a lot, he thinks, go through a lot, just to have John for a little while.

He turns to his side. He was right; it means they’re nearly perfectly aligned again. Especially when John moves in closer. So close, in fact, that their chests are almost touching.

“I’m ready,” he says. As he does, John’s hand comes up to remove a strand of hair from his forehead. It stays there afterwards, as if John has suddenly found himself unable to stop touching. Sherlock leans into it, to let him know that it’s okay.

“What are you ready for?” John asks.

“Talking,” Sherlock says. The night helped him sort that out. He doesn’t want them to part because they can’t say the words. “I’m ready to talk.”

__

As it turns out, it is early. Well; early when you’re a bunch of teenagers on holiday anyway. As he and John venture outside, in search of some privacy, Sherlock is cocooned by the gentle, slightly cold air of the morning surrounding them.

There’s a stillness to it, the air; a stillness that is different from the way it is during the day. It’s fresher, somehow, like the clarity of a new perspective. Sherlock finds the idea mirrored in himself.

They go to the beach. The same one that they went to yesterday. As he takes off his shoes, and feels the sand beneath his feet, Sherlock ponders the massive difference a day, and even just a few hours, can make. When John kissed him, and proceeded to pull away, Sherlock was confused. He didn’t know what he wanted, or how to ask for it.

He feels like he knows something now.

There’s a wooden bench by the edge of the beach, where forest meets sand. Its surface has been smoothed over by years of weather; Sherlock feels it beneath his fingertips, when he runs them over the wood between their thighs.

John isn’t sitting as close as he could but, Sherlock thinks, maybe he will in a bit.

“It’s my mum, of course,” John says. “Her job gave her an assignment abroad. We’ll need to move.”

There’s a moment where all the sound between them is John drawing in a breath; there’s a desperation to it, Sherlock think. It’s drawn in quickly like it’s needed, but then pushed back out shakily, barely staying in for a moment, as if it wasn’t what was wanted after all.

“Again,” John adds. Sherlock won’t say anything to that, because he doesn’t know what he could.

What he does instead, is move the hand still drawing patterns along the veins of the wood, and allow it to draw a pattern on the back of John’s hand instead. There’s a small scar at the spot between his thumb and index finger; the thinness of it, tells Sherlock that it’s probably made by paper.

Beneath his fingers, John turns his hand around. It’s an offering. Sherlock takes it and is, for once, the one to make the move, as he intertwines their fingers and let’s them slot together right there, on the bench between them. He squeezes; it’s what he can do.

“How long?” he asks. “Until you’re leaving?”

“Five weeks.”

Wow. Sherlock swallows. There’s a duality there somewhere; five weeks is so much more than he thought he could have yesterday, when he thought he might have miscalculated, and would get nothing at all. It is still so much less than what he wants.

“Will you come back?” he asks.

This time he can predict from John’s shifting, that he is moving closer. He wishes getting accustomed to it wouldn’t have to go like this. As John presses what feels like his forehead, firm and curved, into Sherlock’s shoulder, Sherlock wishes none of it would have to be like this.

The movement means hiding, even when Sherlock can’t see him. It’s reply enough then, in itself. Still, John goes on:

“I don’t know,” he says. Sherlock purses his lips. It’s all so overwhelming, he doesn’t know what he feels.

Then John presses a kiss to Sherlock’s bare shoulder, and Sherlock knows that whatever he could get, no matter how small, would be enough.

John is eighteen soon. He’s standing right there, on the edge, between being able to make his own choices, and not yet having the ability to stand on his own. He doesn’t have to move. There are issues of money and housing, Sherlock knows all of that, even if he rarely experiences the pain of that for himself, but in essence John is free to choose.

And then he is not. Because there are the practical aspects of things, but there is also fear, and there’s a responsibility that he knows John won’t be able to shake. It’s part of why he likes him. Even when it leads them to this.

“I guess this means things are impossible after all,” John says.

It’s an emotional thing to say; he probably only does because he’s upset, because this is sad and overwhelming. Because fear can sit in your veins, even when you’re young.

Maybe it’s an emotional thing to say, Sherlock thinks. He still thinks it’s true.

__

They keep on holding hands as they make their way back to the house. John’s fingers are warm between Sherlock’s own, and comfortable, as if they belong there. They could belong there, Sherlock thinks. He wants them to. Some things are impossible, but this, holding hands, is not.

The house, when they enter it, seems more filled now than it did when they left. Technically the same amount of people must have been present, but now they’re awake as opposed to sleeping, and their presence seems more insistent than before. It’s the sounds, perhaps, of them moving around and softly chatting to each other; the only indicator, for Sherlock, that they’re there, when touch isn’t happening.

As they enter through the garden door, John’s fingers loosen on Sherlock’s hand, as if he’s attempting to retract. Sherlock, by now, feels confident enough in John’s affections to let him. There are reasons, probably, unrelated to lack of desire or shame in the face of people knowing; both of them, two of Sherlock’s strongest fears.

John’s hand doesn’t leave him entirely. It disappears from between his fingers, but, moments later, lands on his shoulder instead. A contact that won’t necessarily be perceived by the others in the same way as hand-holding would, but one that Sherlock understands to mean the same; comfort. This is the kind of duality, he knows, that queer kids learn to navigate quickly.

“All right?”

It’s Irene who asks. Sherlock nods, once.

The toaster makes a sound, as the toast must finish, and the kettle is beginning its boil. Someone opens and closes a fridge door; Sherlock recognises the sound.

“Well,” Greg says. “You two look a bit like death.”

John clears his throat, and gives Sherlock’s shoulder a squeeze. Sherlock shrugs it, beneath his hand.

“I have something to tell you guys,” John says.

“Getting married?” Irene asks. Someone takes a bit of the toasted bread. Probably her. Sherlock presses his lips together.

“Not exactly,” John says.

Sherlock isn’t angry. And, most of all, he wants to be a support to John.

He still can’t stand having to listen to John’s confession again.

He whispers an apology in John’s ear, and leaves for the bathroom, before he has to hear the words once more. As he goes, John’s hand falls slowly off his skin; staying on him as long as possible, before Sherlock has travelled too far away from it for it to reach.

__

He goes to the main bedroom again, and lies there on his back, with his hands folded over his stomach. He thrums a pattern there, and tries to think, as the occasional breeze travels in from the open window and over his cheeks.

It doesn’t take long for someone to enter. Through the open window, he hears the sound of Greg and John chatting outside, and deduces that it must be Irene coming in to see him.

This theory is confirmed when the person joins him on the mattress, and Irene’s slender hand is placed on his shoulder.

For a while, neither of them speak. Instead, they share a long silence, and an understanding. More than anyone, probably more than even John himself, Irene understands how much Sherlock feels for him. Some of it because they’ve talked about it. Some of it because she’s his oldest – and until recently only – friend.

“Five weeks,” Sherlock says. He knows she’ll understand.

“Yeah, I know,” she says. “John told us.”

“Hm.”

Sherlock hears her shifting. Before her breath was exhaled against his shoulder. Probably, she has turned to her back, mirroring his position.

“I’m sorry,” she says. Her voice sounds father away, not so close to his ear, so he was right. He thinks about that, instead of the implications of her words.

“Hm,” he repeats. It seems, for a while now, he’s been without articulate words. All he has is wild emotions and confused thoughts.

Silence surrounds them once more.

“You know,” she says then, “John is in love with you.”

Sherlock can’t help the twitch his fingers and heart both do. It’s the first time someone has said this out loud, about John. About them, he thinks. It’s the first time it’s been verbally confirmed by someone, and has been more than his own hope and desire.

“How do you know?” he asks.

“The way he looks at you.”

Sherlock smiles, just a bit. Seems only fitting, doesn’t it? All of the things he can’t know.

“Which is?” he prompts.

“Like you’re the centre of the room,” Irene says. “Always. Even just before.”

Oh. Sherlock ponders the possibility, the idea of it, for a long time. After some, Irene leaves again, but he has enough going on inside of his brain to keep him occupied without her.

He knew John liked him, of course. He knew John wanted him, in one way or the other; he wasn’t entirely sure which. But this; this is something entirely different.

This is something made from the fabric of the stars, surely. This is something strong enough to invoke courage.

__

That night then, when John once again comes into the bedroom and joins Sherlock in the bed, Sherlock turns to him, and moves in close enough for their noses to touch.

“Come back with me?” he asks, because he’s done being scared of doing something about this. “When we go home. Come back to my place?”

“Sure,” John says. “Yes.”

Sherlock finds John’s hand lying on the pillow between them, and grabs it in his own. He intertwines their fingers, and turns the hand around, so he can press his lips firmly to the back of it.

“We have a little over a month, right?” he says.

“You don’t have to–“ John breathes in deeply. “I’m not assuming anything. Things have changed now.”

He’s a kind, kind man. And one prone to misdiagnosis. Sherlock wants to; he did before and he wants still. He wants to, whatever that might entail, as long as it involved John.

“A month,” he repeats. John inhales once more, but sharper this time. Then he presses his lips to the back of Sherlock’s hand, too. They’re curved in a smile, and Sherlock thinks that might be what John is trying to show him.

“Five weeks,” John corrects him then. It feels like a verbal agreement. Sherlock smiles.

“Oh,” he says; teasing a bit now. “My bad.”

“Yeah,” John says; he’s teasing too, it sounds like. The word is lighter, infused with an energy that has been gone for the last day or so. “Your bad.”

“Hm,” Sherlock says.

John presses yet another smile into the skin of Sherlock’s hand, and then he moves in close, puts his arms around Sherlock, and hugs him firmly, putting his legs around Sherlock’s, until Sherlock is entirely engulfed by his body.

It makes him feel less shaky, and more complete, than he has for a very long time.

Five weeks, he thinks. Thirty-five days, that is. Eight hundred and forty hours, fifty thousand and four hundred minutes. Fifty point four grand. It’s all about perspective, perhaps; fifty point four grand is a lot of time.

He wants to fill it all with John. And John, he thinks, will let him.

__

Two days later, when Sherlock walks into his own bedroom again, and closes the door behind him, John is with him.

As Sherlock’s dad picked him up in their car earlier that evening, John joined him on the backseat.

They’ve been all but glued to each other’s sides for the entirety of the rest of the trip. Even then, as the middle seat between them separated them, their hands met on it.

In front of Sherlock’s dad, only their little finger’s touched, but after a while John’s overlapped Sherlock’s, and started caressing the small knuckle with its fingertip. Sherlock dipped his head and bit his bottom lip, to try and subdue his smile.

And now, here John is, in his room with him. Once more. But since they were last here, a lot of things have changed.

Sherlock sits on the edge of his bed to take off his shoes. By the sound of his desk chair protesting, he assumes that John does the same.

“You know, I like our friends,” John says. It’s a bit laboured, which means he’s probably moving about. “But it’s still good to be alone again.”

“Alone?”

“Yeah,” John says. “You don’t really count as a person, don’t you know? Since you can’t see me, and all.”

Sherlock snorts. “Ha-ha,” he says, but is actually quite amused.

John makes a noise that means roughly the same, before he stands back up and comes closer. Sherlock turns his head upwards towards him, as John’s hands land on his shoulders. The thumbs on them caress the dip above Sherlock’s collarbone. He feels warm and tingly with it. The butterflies are definitely trying their hardest right now.

“Stand up,” John says.

Sherlock does, which means that he’s very up close in John’s personal space. There is barely an inch of air between them. Their thighs are pressed together. Sherlock has to use John’s shoulders to steady himself.

“Put your arms around my neck,” John says.

“What are you doing?”

His own voice is strained by the chuckle in it. Despite his verbal protest, he does as he’s told. He thinks he can imagine what John is doing. And he’s certainly on fire now, with it, and jittery with excitement, but the nerves he expected to be here are absent.

“When I kisses you, was that your first?” John asks, and confirms Sherlock’s suspicion. He couldn’t for the life of him do anything to contain his grin.

“You’re not laying the groundwork for a particularly romantic start of our story with that,” he says. John chuckles. He keeps chuckling, as he lets his palms rest on Sherlock’s jaw, on either side of it, and lets his thumb run across Sherlock’s cheeks.

“Was it?” he asks, repeating his question from before.

“Yes.”

“Hm.”

John’s nose rubs over Sherlock’s cheek, by the side of his face, before his lips are pressed there too. Sherlock’s heart is racing. He could turn his head, and they’d be kissing. He could catch John by surprise, and take it right now.

But he doesn’t have to. That’s the best part. John is about to give to him exactly what he’s been wanting for ages now.

“I’m sorry I stole it,” John says. This up close, Sherlock can almost feel the rumble of John’s voice in his own chest. “Can I have this one?”

Sherlock is entirely made up of the flames slicking up his skin now. He’s John’s art piece, made only of John and the desire for him. He = a smouldering ball of jittery energy. He = a black hole of want, drawing everything in, until he’s consumed it all, like the hunger, yearning, lust consumes him.

“You don’t have to ask,” he says.

John takes his hands, and puts them on his own cheeks. Sherlock can feel the plumpness of them, and knows that it means a grin on John’s lips. They’re warm too, which must mean a flush.

He moves the hands downwards, down where he wants his lips to go, and rests a thumb on John’s bottom lip. It moves as he does, before teeth grazes against the thumb, light enough to be nothing but a tease.

“Feel where I am,” John guides.

Sherlock does. He moves in, so their noses are aligned, twists his head so he feels the tip of John’s nearly reaching his cheek. He can feel John’s entire face against his own. For once he is satisfied with the amount of John he can feel.

And then not. He wants more.

John’s fingers graze his neck, just above his pulse-point. He knows how fast his heart beating; can feel it in the tips of his own fingers, in his chest, even inside of his own skull. John will be able to feel it, too.

All he says, though, is, “You have two freckles here.”

Not exactly what Sherlock would think of as a catalyst. And yet it is what makes him move the last inch closer, and press his lips against John’s.

This is different. Different from anything he’s done, but also different from the way John kissed him last time.

This is gentle. Tender. Patient. John’s hands stay on his cheeks, holding him in place, as he meets Sherlock halfway and presses their lips together, soft but firm enough to be felt.

Science says that two things are never actually touching at all. Science can prove it: there will never actually be a complete lack of distance between two things; it is there, the distance, although it is tiny. A fraction of a fraction of a fraction. Zero point infinite zeroes one.

John shifts his head a bit, traps Sherlock’s top lip between his own, and parts his own a bit more. John grazes his tongue against Sherlock’s, and doesn’t care when, at first, their teeth clank together. John does it again. John presses their bodies closer together, so close, in fact, that Sherlock is sure that there’s no space between them at all.

John defies science.

Sherlock copies him. Let’s himself explore, makes it firmer, let’s John know that it’s all okay. That he wants it all.

He wants, even, the way John moments later pulls away, but stays by Sherlock’s cheek, and lets the sound of his low, rumbling giggle travel over the heat of Sherlock’s flushed skin. Sherlock joins him, sharing the laughter with him, because this is something they’ve been waiting for, for so long, and it is so wonderfully delightful.

“You all right?” John asks. The laughter is in his voice, back, as if it had always lived there and never left.

“What do you think?” Sherlock asks. John chuckles once more. “I am just fine.”

“Hm,” John says. He must be smiling, Sherlock thinks. Instead of asking, he checks; with his fingers, with his face, still pressed so close he can feel the movement of John’s cheeks beneath it.

“You look dishevelled,” John says. His hands are now in Sherlock’s hair, and he’s moved back a bit, probably watching him.

“You mean good,” Sherlock says. John snorts, but it’s in amusement.

“Bloody marvellously lovely,” he says. Sherlock smiles, and bites his lip, and wants him.

“Kiss me again?” he says. John moves back in. Their noses are touching. Their lips are close.

“I thought you did just fine kissing me,” John says.

So, Sherlock does it again.

Fifty point four grand, he thinks. How not at all enough.

Chapter Text

One and a half weeks later, John is back in Sherlock’s bed.

They’ve settled in quickly. Part of that may be due to the fact that everyone knows; their parents, their siblings, and all of their friends. Irene and Mycroft in particular have been teasing Sherlock happily about it.

Most of it though, Sherlock thinks, is probably due to the fact that they were already there; ready outside the door, with all of their stuff packed, to move into each other’s bones and hearts as soon as the chance arose.

That’s what it feels like, Sherlock thinks; like John has carved out figures of himself, and put them inside of Sherlock, where they grow, and grow, and grow, until they fill every part of Sherlock’s existence. Everything, everything, everything. That is what he wanted. For now, it feels like he’s got.

Currently John is making him lie down on the bed, on his back, and firmly planting headphones over his head, so that they cover his ears.

This is what John mentioned, back what feels like years ago, but is really only a little over a month since. When Sherlock asked what they could experience similarly, this is what John said: music.

So now John is putting headphones on them both, and letting the sound of the music travel into both of their ears. Sherlock thinks he’s a bit silly, but also that he’s very, very lovely.

“Close your eyes,” John tells him. His face is by Sherlock’s cheek, so his voice is close enough to be heard over the music. Sherlock turns his head to where John’s is, so their faces are aligned, and their lips nearly touch.

They do brush against each other just the tiniest bit, as he says, “I can’t see either way.”

“It’s the experience,” John says. “You have to listen with your eyes closed. It makes you more immersed.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes, but smiles. He didn’t realise, but before they got together, it seemed there existed a barrier between them. One that made John hold back. But since their first kiss, John’s general excitement has been nudged up several levels, and it feels like he’s much more ready to share; stories and touches both.

“All right,” he gives in then, because John is rather sweet like this. “A bit pretentious talk there, but fine.”

As he turns his head back, John presses a smile to his jawline, before mumbling, “Shut up.” Sherlock simply settles in, and closes his eyes.

It’s true what John hypothesised; it does make him more immersed. As the sounds and words reach him, dancing through his brain, he is suddenly more aware of them than ever. Every little note on the piano, every nuance of the voice, all of the smallest details, suddenly become clear to him.

It feels like he’s taken out of himself, almost. He lives inside the world of the music and then, when John puts a hand to his chest, inside the world of John.

He’s drawn partly back in to reality when he feels, rather than hears, John move beside him. He must be sitting up.

This is confirmed when John’s hand takes his own, and pulls it upwards, until soft lips can be pressed to the inside of his wrist.

It’s so much more intense, he feels, having John’s touch on him, when that is practically all he can sense. In many ways his ability to hear stands in for his ability to see, and allows him to anticipate where people will be coming from next.

He can anticipate nothing. All he can do is give in to the sensation of John’s touch, without knowing where it will go or where it will come from.

John kisses from his wrist up his arm. He grazes his teeth gently over the fragile skin on the inner parts of Sherlock’s forearm. The first time it happens, Sherlock nearly jumps in surprise. The intensity is unlike anything he’s ever experienced before.

Before he was entirely inside the music, and away from the real world. Now it feels like he’s hyperaware of his own existence.

It’s almost a bit too much; a bit too overwhelming. Which, perhaps, is why the next ting he does, is giggle.

It’s John who pushes the headphones off him. As he does, everything suddenly becomes clearer again. Sherlock can hear John’s own chuckle, and in-between it his breathing, which makes him able to place John in the room again.

“What?” John asks. He sounds more amused than annoyed, though.

“Sorry,” Sherlock says. “It’s just a bit intense, is all.”

“Oh.”

Sherlock reaches out with his hands, placing them on John’s cheeks, so he can feel the expression on his face. Like Sherlock expected, it’s a smile.

John’s reaction is to move once more. This time Sherlock is able to hear it when he shifts, and can anticipate, a moment before it happens, that John is going to sit astride his lap. After he does, he puts his hands on top of Sherlock’s upper chest. His fingertips caress Sherlock’s collarbone.

“Good intense or bad intense?” he asks.

“What do you think?” Sherlock asks. He’d say that’s fairly easily deducible.

“Hm,” is all John says, but Sherlock feels how his cheeks lift further under his fingers with a smile.

“Maybe we should blindfold me one day, so I can experience it too, then,” he continues.

“You could just close your eyes.”

“Yeah,” John agrees. “Blindfolding is funnier though, isn’t it?”

“Kinky.”

“Mm.”

Sherlock feels it against his thighs and under his hands when John shifts. He comes down to Sherlock’s face, so Sherlock has to let go of John’s. Not that he minds, terribly. Because then John rubs his nose over Sherlock’s temple, before he presses a few kisses there, too.

“Irene said that you look at me like I’m the centre of the room,” Sherlock says.

“Does she, now?” John says.

His kisses travel from Sherlock’s temple, across his cheek, and towards his lips. He’s flirting, Sherlock realises. He could bathe in the way John wants him. He thinks they could live like this forever, survive on this; nothing but their desire for one another.

When John’s lips finally reach his own, Sherlock is ready to meet him and kiss him back. He lingers, a bit, and then a bit more. He holds onto John’s jaw gently, and doesn’t mind at all when John takes the liberty of teasing him.

“Yes,” he says, when John eventually pulls back.

“Hm,” John says. “She’s probably right. You kind of are.”

“Are you trying to seduce me?” Sherlock asks. He never expected he could have something like this; something as easy and carefree as the way John makes him feel right now.

“Yes,” John says. “Can I take your shirt off?”

“You can’t shag me yet. I’m not ready,” Sherlock says.

“Okay. I just want to kiss your chest. Can I do that?”

Sherlock snorts, but nods. When John pulls the shirt off him, so very gently, and starts kissing along his collarbones, Sherlock feels a little breathless. To be loved like this, he thinks, is a marvel to rival even the existence of the universe.

John, it seems, covers every single inch of his chest. From his collarbones, to his ribs, down over his stomach, and back up to his nipples. He stays there for a while, as if he becomes so fascinated he has to discard his original plan, and spend the rest of his time there.

It feels good. It feels so bloody good, in fact, that Sherlock gets a bit aroused. The wave of it rolls through him softly but steadily, until it reaches his abdomen and becomes the familiar, gentle ache.

He’s not ready to do anything about it yet. He wants John; in every single way that word can be applied. But there are also still things that make him nervous just to think about.

They have a time limit. Sherlock tries not to think about that now, but they do. On one hand he wants to rush through all of the things he wants to do, making them happen as quickly as possible, because waiting is a luxury you have only if you have the luxury of time, too.

On the other hand, he knows he has to respect his own boundaries. And, besides; John would probably never let them rush into anything.

As he thinks all of this, John moves back to his ribs. This time, however, he grazes his teeth over a spot above Sherlock’s left ribcage, and begins sucking.

“What are you doing?” Sherlock asks.

He puts a hand on top of John’s head, but doesn’t push him away. He quite likes the sensation. He also quite likes the idea of what this will give him: a love bite to remember John by.

“I’m marking you,” John says, as he pulls away. He dries off Sherlock’s side with his hand. “You’re mine now. It’s the law.”

Sherlock chuckles. He lets it be that, for now. A fond joke, instead of a reminder of a time where they won’t be together.

With his hand on John’s cheek, he guides John back up to his face. When John arrives, he greets Sherlock with a kiss to his forehead. Sherlock keeps both of his hands on John’s face, to be able to feel how it moves beneath his fingertips.

“You’re aroused,” John says. Sherlock snorts. With no preamble, it sounds rather unsexy and ungraceful.

“Yeah,” he says.

“Want me to do something about it?”

Sherlock bites his bottom lip to try and subdue his grin a bit. He has very little success. He feels how John smiles too, beneath his fingertips.

“Another time,” Sherlock says. To John he feels like he can. “I’m not quite ready yet.”

“Okay,” John says. Like Sherlock knew he would.

He gets off Sherlock’s body then, and lies by his side instead. Sherlock follows him. He turns to his own side, so their faces are still aligned, and intertwines their legs down by the other end of the bed.

“I didn’t sleep that well tonight,” John says.

“Why not?”

“I had a fight with my mum.”

Oh. For most of their time together, Sherlock has felt overcome by fondness. But just below that, if you tipped him a bit, you’d find all of the melancholy, waiting to be exposed.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asks.

He hopes for John to say no. It’s a merciful illusion, the one they’ve constructed to avoid thinking too much about it. He’d like to stay in it for a while. The tension John has with his mother is entirely constructed by them having to leave, Sherlock knows. Talking about their fight is talking about that.

“No. Actually,” John says. Sherlock is relieved, but tries not to show it. “Let’s not. Sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize.”

“Hm.” John kisses him along the underside of his chin. It seems he’s trying to bring the good mood back. “Let’s nap instead. I’m a bit tired.”

Sherlock allows the change of subject. In fact, he welcomes it with open arms. Those same arms, he puts around John, as he brings their foreheads close, and sends John a smile he knows will be seen.

“All right,” he says. “Expression?” He’s unsure where John is. If he’s sad, then Sherlock doesn’t want to sleep and leave him alone with it.

“You can feel it.” Only partly, Sherlock can, against his own face.

“Tell me your interpretation,” he says. He can, in fact, feel it when John’s face shifts, in a way he thinks is probably a smile.

“You’re a very lovely person,” John says. Sherlock doesn’t know what he did to change John’s mood to this so suddenly. If he could, he’d do it always.

“That’s not an expression,” he says, nevertheless. John’s snort is soft, but still audible to Sherlock’s close-by ears.

“I’m fond,” John elaborates.

“Good,” Sherlock says. He’s smiling too, now. John presses his lips around Sherlock’s top one anyway, despite the fact that their teeth clank together with it, until Sherlock is able to subdue his smile enough to kiss back. “Me, too.”

“Thank you,” John says.

“Sure.”

“Let’s go to sleep.”

They do. Sherlock turns around in John’s arms, because he sleeps best with John curled around his back, and his soft snores exhaled against Sherlock’s neck.

He is nearly asleep by the time he feels John’s lips press against said neck. John probably thinks he actually is.

At least, Sherlock doesn’t think John expects him to hear when he, moments later, whispers, “I miss you already,” into Sherlock’s skin.

Sherlock keeps his eyes closed, and pretends to be sleeping.

__

They don’t talk about it then. They try to hold on to the last bit of pretending, before reality catches up.

For a while they mostly succeed. There are slip-ups, of course, like the one that day, where one of them will mention it and the way the sadness is knocking on their door will become more insistent.

And it’s there; they both know it, even if they don’t talk about it. Sherlock has been an expert in the art of forgetting and pretending for a long time though; he’s able to will it into the shadows most of the time. Mostly, John’s skill is on level with his own, but he’s still more prone to the occasional slip-up. But then, Sherlock thinks, John is the subject of their parting. He will be the one going. Sherlock is simply the object that it happens to.

It gets harder as time passes though, to pretend. And when there’s one and a half weeks left, they can’t escape it anymore.

They go out in the evening. For a walk around the neighbourhood.

As he walks along with his hand in the crease of John’s elbow, Sherlock contemplates the idea that partners start to exist in symbiosis after a long enough time together. Or else, he thinks, this is just a thing that they’re completely in tune about.

The thing is, that it’s an unspoken agreement between them. Sherlock doesn’t know where it comes from, but as they walk along, he knows that they’re both aware what kind of conversation they’re about to have.

They stop at a playground. There’s a bench, John tells him, but it seems strange to go this far just to sit there. They go to the swings instead.

It’s a cliché, Sherlock knows; a reminder of being a child recognised by most people. And here they are, in the middle of a situation that belongs decidedly outside of the realms of childhood.

They’re on the cusp; in the middle of two juxtapositions. Sherlock wishes for the security of either one of the definite categories, but knows that it’s outside of his reach. There’s nothing he can do about it.

“I’m… not sure what to say,” John starts.

They’ve been silent for a while. Probably both caught up in thought. They aren’t even touching, as they’re on different swings. All Sherlock has to go on right now is the sounds.

“I guess,” Sherlock says, “that sometimes we can’t actually do what we truly want.”

It’s what he’s been thinking, for quite a while. Since John first announced he was leaving, almost. Saying it now, is made easier by the fact that he doesn’t have John’s skin close to him. It makes it easier, at least, to be upset with him.

Sherlock knows that it isn’t really fair. That this isn’t really John’s fault at all. His knowledge can’t entirely protect him from his emotions.

“That’s sad,” John says. Sherlock hums.

“But isn’t it true?”

John is silent for a long time. Sherlock can’t imagine what he’s thinking. He doesn’t even have any idea of whether John is watching him; he’s too caught up in his own thoughts to be able to feel if the familiar pinprick of sensation is there or not.

The only thing he has to go on is the slight creaking of the swing’s hinges, probably meaning that John is swinging it about a bit.

“I wish I didn’t have to go,” John says, eventually. To Sherlock, it sounds a lot like defeat. It means: but I can’t make that come true.

“Yeah,” he says.

A tiny part of him thought that maybe John wouldn’t go after all. That he could change the outcome of their situation, fixed though it may have seemed. That maybe John, brilliant as he is, would be able to overcome the impossibilities laid before them.

John is his strength, Sherlock thinks. And if John can’t defy the impossible, then what hope is there for Sherlock to?

“You’re strong, though,” John says. “Maybe you’ll be the one of us to defy expectations.”

Sherlock isn’t so sure. He thought he was; ready to go out and do what even his parents thought he shouldn’t. Now it seems like perhaps the seemingly impossible is in fact exactly that.

He’s been considering applying for university for next year. John is the bravest, strongest person he knows. And if even he can’t go after what he wants, then it must be completely out of reach for Sherlock. The realisation, feels a bit like betrayal.

He doesn’t say this though. He couldn’t; John would try to talk him out of it. Instead, all he does is shrug.

“What about us, then?” John continues.

In the context of this, Sherlock isn’t sure he wants to hear the rest. He walks backwards a few steps, and lets his feet leave the ground, so he is pushed through the air. He continues swinging, because it’s something to do.

“What about us?” he asks.

“I’ll try to come back.”

“Good.”

There’s a pause, long enough for a deep inhalation of breath. Sherlock knows, because he does one himself.

“But I don’t expect you to wait for me,” John says.

For the first time ever, Sherlock is actually angry with him. If he’s honest, he knows it isn’t just this. That it’s the whole thing. But this is something he can hold on to, and go with.

Maybe you should expect and demand more, Sherlock thinks. Maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess if you did. Maybe you should stop assuming idiotic things, like the idea that I could ever want anyone else.

He doesn’t say any of it. He presses his lips together instead, and keeps his mouth shut.

“Do you want to see other people?” John asks.

Sherlock has never wanted anything less in his life. Maybe that’s what John wants, though. Maybe being in love isn’t stronger than his desire for affection elsewhere.

Again, Sherlock stays silent. The only thing he does, is swing the swing higher, kicking out his legs more, without caring about the way the hinges protest.

“Sherlock?” John says; insistent now, and not in a good way.

“I don’t know,” Sherlock says. It comes out curter than he intends it to, which maybe is exactly as curt as he feels.

John sighs. It’s loud enough for Sherlock to hear even over the noise the swing’s construction makes around him. The pebbles beneath them make a crunching sound; John must be standing.

“Sherlock, stop swinging,” he says.

For a moment, Sherlock considers defying him just because he can. In the end, however, he doesn’t. Instead he stops the swing with his feet, bringing it to an abrupt halt, and stands up.

“Over here,” John says, to Sherlock’s right.

He takes a few steps in that direction, but not enough for them to meet entirely. That’s John’s doing. Sherlock hears him coming closer by the stones crunching, before he feels the warmth and presence of his body close by his own chest.

“Okay?” John asks, and waits for Sherlock’s nod, before he takes the last step in, to make their chests touch.

“Zip up your sweater around me,” he says.

It’s a strange request, but Sherlock does as asked. The sweater is large; he stole it from his dad. It’s large enough to fit them both inside, it turns out, but only just. Like this, his own arms are free, but John’s are trapped around his waist. Sherlock puts his own around John’s, just as John’s head rests on his shoulder.

It feels like a sad thing, somehow, standing like this. Maybe it’s the strangeness of it, or the fact that they have to be entrapped before they’ll hold each other close like this. But there’s something teasing, something fond, to it, too. There’s a duality in it then, that fits everything else Sherlock is feeling.

“I don’t want to see other people,” John says. Without meaning to, Sherlock breathes a sigh of relief. “But I don’t know if that’s fair to say. If it’s fair to expect the same from you.”

Sherlock’s anger has entirely evaporated by now. He’s also become used to the instability of his own emotions. One thing is true though, no matter what: his affection for John.

“Do you really think I could want anyone else?” he asks.

John’s lips are pressed against his shoulder, so he feels it when they curve just slightly upwards. John kisses it, then, and Sherlock knows that tenderness is back.

“That’s almost a marriage proposal,” John says. Sherlock smiles, just a tug of his lip’s corners, despite himself.

“I’m not in the mood to be amused right now,” he says. Fondly, however.

“No.” John kisses his neck then, and the underside of his jaw. He’s shorter than Sherlock. While they’re trapped, this is what he can reach. “Let’s go home. I can sleep with you tonight, right?”

“Of course.”

“Good. Unzip me.”

Sherlock does. Before they start their journey back, he grabs onto John’s cheeks, and presses a firm kiss to his lips. It’s all he knows to say.

__

That night, in bed, Sherlock pushes himself into John’s arms, until they come up around him and hold him as tight as they can. His head he tucks under John’s chin. They’re as close as they possibly can be.

Maybe, Sherlock thinks, it isn’t true that people are each other’s halves. He doesn’t feel halfer; he feels fuller instead, so full, in fact, that his paper-thin skin almost can’t contain it.

“Will this ruin us?” he asks. “Would we have had a better change if we’d met another time?”

John presses their foreheads firmly together. Sherlock listens to him breathing. Maybe you’re only each other’s halves when you’re forced apart, and are both left with open wounds from the ripping.

“Not if I have any say in it,” John says. If Sherlock could smile, he would have.

“Will you fight for us?” he asks.

It’s a joke about the cliché of it, but John’s tone is serious when he replies:

“Yes,” he says. Maybe, Sherlock thinks, clichés are just truths worn thin from usage. Thin enough that you can no longer recognise the accuracy of it. “I will.”

“Good,” Sherlock says. Because perhaps fighting is, in fact, all they’ve got.

“You know,” John says, “I can’t say the words. I don’t want to, not like this.”

Sherlock knows which words he means; there is really only one option, isn’t there? One option, three words. He’s felt them for the longest time now. But he doesn’t want to say them either; not when they’re tinted with the sadness of this.

“I understand,” Sherlock says.

“But I feel them.” John’s voice is almost a whisper, then. He says it like it’s a secret, but not one of shame. One of necessity perhaps, because bringing them out into the open will only make this that much more heart-breaking.

Still: it’s the first time Sherlock hears them. For a long time he didn’t think he ever would at all, let alone with someone as brilliant as John. There’s a sadness to this, but also an air of the miracle it is to be in love. To love someone.

Sherlock is upset, but he’s also, in the middle of this, happy. In awe, in fact, of the way John loves him. So he smiles. And then he kisses John’s lips softly, before he says,

“I feel them, too.”

John smiles, too. Sherlock knows because it’s pressed into his skin, as always, as if John could make the happiness it entails seep into Sherlock’s pores and bathe him in it.

“You’re a very beautiful person,” John says.

Sherlock thinks about all of the anger and frustration that have been living inside of him for a long time now. He thinks of how John hasn’t been blind to it; how John has seen even that part of him. How, he thinks, can John still think he’s beautiful then?

“So are you,” he says, because perhaps that is the most beautiful quality of them all.

“You can’t see me,” John says.

He’s wrong. Even when Sherlock had his sight, he never saw anything as clearly as he sees John. It’s not about the way he looks. It’s about the way he is.

“Yes,” he says. “I can.”

John breathes for a moment, as if he’s thinking. Then he chuckles.

“Yeah,” he says. “You’re right. You can.”

__

That’s the best thing to happen for a while.

Time passes quickly when you don’t want it to. That is a universal fact. Sherlock hoped that, perhaps, it wouldn’t apply to them, here.

He was wrong.

One and a half weeks later, John leaves. Sherlock says goodbye to him in the airport, and is absolutely silent during the entire ride home. He has nothing left to say.

When he gets home, he goes to Mycroft’s room, and stands in the doorway until he feels Mycroft’s eyes on him.

“Will you help me apply to Cambridge?” he asks. “For next year.”

Mycroft doesn’t ask why, or says he’s sorry. Sherlock is grateful. Instead, he is silent for a long time, before he says, “Okay.”

When Sherlock left John at the airport, it felt like he left his seemingly impossible dreams there, too. He doesn’t intend to go back and pick them up.

Chapter Text

Sometimes someone accidentally moves some of Sherlock’s things. Sometimes he goes to a spot, and reaches out his hand, looking for something, only to realise that it isn’t there.

The funny thing is that there’s always a brief moment, where it’s hard to remember what was removed. It’s difficult to re-imagine: what was it that was once in the space that is now inhabited by nothing?

And more than that: sometimes, it is so hard to re-imagine, that he starts doubting if his idea of what was is true, or if the thing that is, has always been absence instead of presence.

Three days after John got on the airplane, he still hasn’t called. His number will be changed, so Sherlock can’t call him first. He could email, of course. He could write a letter. But none of that will be like hearing John’s voice.

He is shocked at how drastic his mental image of that, of John, is fading into paleness. But then he did say John felt like warmth, and warmth is always quick to go once it does. Warmth, Sherlock thinks, is one of those things that are only true for a while.

He doesn’t talk in the car on the way home. He’s silent that evening around the dinner table. He’s silent that night, too, when Mycroft comes into his room, and sits on the edge of his bed without saying anything for a long time. He’s silent back in school, even. When Irene tries to talk to him, he gets up, and walks away.

He doesn’t know what he could say, that’s the thing. That everything feels like it’s heavy? That he’s scared? Scared that, when John left, he did it for good? Scared that John won’t ever come back?

That he regrets, more than anything, loving John without saying it? That all of their reasons not to seem ridiculous now?

No: he can’t say any of that. Not out loud. It would only make it too real.

So, instead, he says nothing at all.

__

On the fourth day after John’s departure, Irene catches up to him as he walks home.

They don’t talk, at first. Irene announces herself, but after that, all the sound between them is their breathing and their in-tune footsteps landing on the pavement for a while.

The air between them feels heavy too, just like everything else these days. Sherlock thinks it’s probably because Irene is upset with him. He’s been rude. He knows it, too, which doesn’t exactly make it better.

“You know,” she says, after a long time of silence, “Mycroft told me you’re giving up travelling.”

Of course he did. Sherlock purses his lips. Mycroft has always been meddling and overbearing.

“That’s not his place to say,” Sherlock says.

“Is that really the important part here?”

Maybe not, Sherlock thinks. But it’s the only one he can bear to talk about. Without thinking, he quickens his pace, but Irene’s steps beside him only get quicker with his own. She’s not going to let him leave this time, it seems.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he ends up saying.

“You’re giving up your dreams, Sherlock.”

“I said I don’t want to talk about it.”

“John would hate it,” Irene goes on.

John would have talked him out of it, Sherlock thinks. John would, and would, and would. Maybe he would even have held Sherlock’s hand, or kissed his cheek, and told him not to be scared.

“Yeah, I know,” he says. “That why I didn’t tell him. Besides,” and this is the important part; the part that makes it all the way it is, “he isn’t here now, is he?”

“Oh, Sherlock,” Irene says. Breathes it, more like. In empathy or in pity. Sherlock thinks the latter. Sherlock thinks he wants anger rather that sadness, because he’s trying to protect his heart.

She stops walking, too. Sherlock stops with her, but only for a while.

“Please,” he says. “Don’t.”

She’s quiet. All Sherlock hears, now that they’ve stopped, is her breathing, slightly elevated. It probably means she’s angry with him. He doesn’t have the capacity to care much.

After some moments of this, he gets enough. He begins walking once more; his steps forward also take him away from her.

“You’re being an arse,” she says, after him. He knows it’s true. For a moment, he considers apologizing.

In the end he says, “Then I’ll leave you alone,” instead, and continues walking. She doesn’t follow.

__

It takes John a week to call, in the end.

Sherlock is asleep when he does. Lately he’s been taking to keeping his phone as close by his head as possible, so he’ll be able to hear it if John calls. He’s in Amsterdam, but maybe he’ll be unable to sleep too sometime, and finally contact Sherlock.

Sherlock wakes up instantly from the loud ringing. He’s only confused for the briefest of seconds; he’s been waiting for this for what feels like so long, his mind immediately recognises what is happening. He reaches out. Finds the phone. Grabs it. He picks it up.

“John?” he says.

“Yes,” John says. “Yes. It’s me.”

Sherlock chuckles. He doesn’t mean to. In fact, he means to be upset; about how long it took. About the unnecessary waiting. But he can’t be. The effect of John’s voice on his system is immediate. Warmth rushes through him, as if John is exactly the remedy he’d been waiting for all this time.

John chuckles, too. They chuckle, and chuckle, and Sherlock only realises he’s crying, too, when a tear falls into his earhole and makes it wet.

“John,” Sherlock repeats. The word is even more beautiful now than the first time he heard it. Now that he has John here, again, speaking to him in soft tones.

“Sherlock,” John says. As if he feels the same.

Sherlock smiles. Alone, in his bed, in the middle of the night, he smiles, and bites his lip to try and regain some control over his own facial expression.

“I miss you,” he says.

“I miss you.”

Sherlock sits up in his bed, with the duvet still around him. He needs it, the movement, because the sudden energy John’s voice infuses into him is threatening to burst him if he doesn’t. If he focuses too much on it.

“How are you?” he asks.

“Better, now,” John says. He huffs out a breath. “I’m outside. I haven’t gotten a new phone yet. This is– I’m calling you from a payphone.”

“It’s the middle of the night,” Sherlock says. “And even later where you are. It’s–“

“Four am,” John says, interrupting him. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“Why?”

“I was thinking of you.”

Sherlock smiles, again. Even his fingertips feel energized. He has to get out of the bed; it surges through him that strongly. He gets up, and goes to stand by the window, before he opens it, and lets the cold air come in, dancing over him in a light breeze. He’s stopped crying, for now.

“It’s cold,” he says. “Are you warm enough?”

John is silent. Sherlock hears the sound of air being shifted about on the other end of the line, though.

“What?” he asks.

“I was grinning,” John says. Sherlock, it seems, won’t be able to stop grinning as well for the rest of the night. He keeps doing it.

“Why?” he says.

“Do you want to be flattered?”

“Yes.”

“I just remembered exactly how fond of you I am,” John says. “And how fond of me you are, too.”

John defies science. He makes Sherlock do that too, it seems. Sherlock’s grin, although it should be impossible, grows in size and earnestness. Relief and love, it seems, is the best cocktail of them all.

He remembers something, then. That, for the first time, he isn’t the only one who can’t see the others facial expression.

“I’m smiling, too,” he says, so John will know. John chuckles, again. Sherlock presses the phone closer to his ear, to be able to hear all of the nuances possible of it.

“You know,” John says, “this is the first time we’ve had an interaction and experienced it with the same amount of senses.”

It’s true. It’s strange too, Sherlock thinks. Usually he knows John will understand, because John can see his expression. He can see the fondness in his movements. He can guide them both in the right direction. Now, he thinks, they’re both fumbling.

“Do you like it?” he asks.

“I’d rather be without it,” John says. “I’d rather be with you.”

Sherlock breathes in deeply. It feels like he’s living life on an edge currently, but not one that tips over into danger. One that sits between glee in the face of being in love, and pain in the face of the same. He’s accustomed to the weight on top of his chest by now. It appears, although not in full strength, at the reminder. For now, the presence of John’s voice is enough to keep it at bay for a while.

“Do you remember how you felt the first time you realised you’d die?” John asks then. His tone has gone quiet. Sherlock rests his forehead against the frame of the window.

“Yes,” he says, because he does.

“The fear?” John says. “The loss?”

“Yes.”

“I feel like that.”

Sherlock closes his eyes. The only difference it makes, is it lessens the tightening in his throat a bit.

“I make you feel scared?” he asks.

“No,” John says. “No, not that at all. You make me feel the opposite of scared.” Sherlock doesn’t know what that is. Safe? Or courageous? “I mean that being without you makes my chest hurt.”

When Sherlock was a young kid, before the accident, he fell on the playground, and scraped his knee really badly. He was crying, but trying not to. Mycroft, who had been with him, got down on his knees before him, and held tightly onto his shoulders.

“Listen to me,” he said. “This is what you do. You look up.” Sherlock did. “You breathe in.” Mycroft held a hand to Sherlock’s stomach, to feel it when he did as requested. “You squeeze your eyes shut.” He demonstrated, and Sherlock copied, over and over, until the urge to cry went away.

Sherlock does it now. He looks up, even though he can’t see. He breathes in; deeply, and repeatedly. He squeezes his eyes shot. He doesn’t cry. He does it again. He doesn’t cry.

“Me, too,” he says, with his voice under control.

“I’m sorry.”

Look up, breathe in, squeeze eyes shot.

“Me, too.”

Look up, breathe in. Look–

“Do you think loss feels stronger when you’re young?” he asks. Will it always be this bad, he means. Will I always be this consumed by missing you?

“You’re not losing me,” John says.

“I’m losing you a bit.”

John is silent. Sherlock is silent, too. It doesn’t mean they’re smiling this time.

“Yes,” John says. “Maybe. But I think love feels stronger, too.”

Sherlock’s breath hitches. Audibly. He doesn’t mind, because he thinks he wants John to know. Love. Loss can sit in your veins when you’re young, but so can this, he thinks. John might be right. He’s utterly consumed by it. He wonders if he’ll always be.

“John, I–” He said he wanted to say it. He said it to himself, lying awake long into the night. I love him. I’ll tell him. I love him.

“I–” Can’t say it, it turns out. Not like this. Dropping to his knees, and then all the way down to the floor, he sits against the wall under the window and folds his legs up in front of himself. He feels like a failure.

But John, oh John; John says, “I know. I know, Sherlock. Me, too.”

Sherlock leans forwards, so his lips touch his knee. He drags them over his own naked skin, in an almost-kiss, like he wants to drag them over John’s. He tries to remember what it was like. John’s skin beneath his own, sliding gently against him.

“Let’s make a deal,” John says.

“What kind of deal?”

“When we see each other again,” John says. He sounds less sad now. “We say it out loud.”

“Why not until then?” Sherlock asks. He’ll get himself together. He’ll make them take further shape, polish them up, and get them ready for offering. He’ll wrap them up like a gift. He’ll do it soon.

“Because I’m scared,” John says. “And I need something to entice me.”

This isn’t the words, Sherlock thinks, but it’s a love confession either way.

“Like me?” he asks; because he might be beginning to understand.

“Like you,” John agrees. Sherlock smiles against his knee, and presses the phone closer. This is something he can do.

__

John might be his drug, he thinks. John is in his syringe. John is pushed into his veins, and John infuses him with new life when he feels like everything has turned out bleak.

Or, in other words: he stops being just as angry. He begins speaking again, at the dinner table, and to Irene and the rest of their cafeteria table.

Irene is less quick to allow him back in than all of the rest. Sherlock understands; she’s the one who bore the brunt of his frustration. He understands that he needs to apologize, too.

Three days after John’s first call, he gets Greg to help him find her, before leaving them alone together.

“Hey,” he says. She doesn’t reply.

They’re outside, on the field behind their school where people sometimes sit on the grass. He doesn’t have his cane out, but he can gather approximately where she is from Greg’s earlier explanation, and goes to sit down.

“A little to your right,” she says, as he tries to sit. He doesn’t let his face show his smile, because she’d hate it. He still feels it.

“Good?” he asks, after taking a step in the requested direction.

“Yeah.”

He sits. As he does, he feels the blanket she must have lain out under the palms of his hands. He realises that she made sure his clothes didn’t get messy. He won’t mention it, but he appreciates it anyway.

He tugs at the grass in front of him instead of speaking for a while. She isn’t better. They’re too similar to be any good at this kind of stuff.

“I told him, you know,” she says, eventually. “He called, earlier today, to say hello. I told him you’ve given up on what you want.”

Sherlock should be more upset than he is. It’s personal, and not her place to say. Somehow, he isn’t really upset at all. He can’t figure out why.

“Okay,” is all he ends up saying. She pauses for a moment.

“Okay,” she copies, then.

“Anyway,” he says. “I want to apologize.”

“Yeah?”

“For being, as you so poetically put it, ‘an arse’.”

“All right.”

“I’m sorry.”

Silence, again. But Sherlock feels the pinpricks of being watched dancing across his skin. And he knows her; she’s not silent when she’s angry. Meaning he’s probably forgiven.

“Accepted,” she says after a few moments, and confirms this. “Are you done, then? Being angry with me, too? Can we be friends again?”

“Yeah, I’m done,” Sherlock says.

“And?”

Sherlock does smile, then, just a little. He allows it, and allows her to know.

“We were never not friends,” he says.

“Good.” He hears it when she moves, and can feels it when she gets up, and comes over to stand beside him. “Let’s go to the pool,” she says.

__

Sherlock stays under the water for as long as possible. It surrounds all of him so thoroughly that he almost can’t feel it. Moving his legs and arms, he fights to stay under. His breath, he lets out in small bursts that he knows will turn into bubbles.

It’s peaceful, down here. All of the sounds of the world are muffled. He hears nothing, feels nothing, smells nothing. As always, sees nothing. There are no sensory inputs disturbing him. He could live like this, he thinks. Just existing, completely cocooned.

With the water surrounding him, he feels like he’s undergoing a cleansing. Like he’s been provided a quick break from it all. Cliché. True. Both of those statements real.

When his lungs complaining gets too much, he kicks with his legs, until he’s carried upwards and breaks through the barrier of the water’s surface. Every single sound of the pool breaks through to him too. Someone laughing. A child squealing. Water lapping against the pool’s side.

“You drifted,” Irene says, by his side. He isn’t surprised; he expected her to be there. “You’re close by the edge now.”

They pull over to it. He lets his elbow rest on top, so he’s kept above the water easily.

“Better?” Irene asks.

“Much.”

“Good.”

Water laps against his stomach. The child has stopped squealing, and is giggling instead. Someone carrying a conversation walks past them next to the pool.

“You know,” Irene says, and draws his focus back, “you’ll be fine. The two of you.”

“You think so?”

“Yes.” Her voice is gentle. “And either way, Sherlock: you can blame this on a lot of things. Including John. Including me, even, if you need to take it out on someone. But you can’t blame it on love itself.”

“Since when did you get so wise?” he asks. Because she’s right. Because that is exactly what he’s been doing, while alone, during the worst of his nights.

“I’ve always been wise,” she says. “You’re just not good at listening.”

“Right.” Sherlock would be affronted, if not for the fact that she might be right. “So how about you?”

She chuckles. It’s been a long time since he’s asked her about herself. He only then realises.

“Me and Sally snogged the other day, didn’t we?” she says. “And I’m in love with her.” Sherlock smiles, to himself. He expected as much. He’s still happy for her.

“Is she in love with you, too?”

“Yes,” Irene says. There’s no doubt of the truth of it; Sherlock can hear the happiness in her voice. He hates himself a little for not realising it sooner.

“I’m glad,” he says.

“Don’t get sappy.” She splashes him with some of the pool-water. Not enough to be annoying, but enough to be a statement. He snorts.

“You should have told me,” he says.

“You should have asked.”

“Yes,” he agrees. Because it’s the truth. He should have.

“You know what else?” she asks.

“What else?”

“You should ask John, too. He needs you, just as much as you need him.”

Sherlock halts right there, in the middle of the pool. His brain stops, for a moment. He takes it all in. ‘Like you,’ John said. Sherlock thought he knew the shape of it. But it was pixelated then. A smudge. It starts becoming clear now; he begins understanding it fully.

“I’m not sure I realised,” he says.

“I thought you were the clever one,” Irene says. He splashes her with the water, directing it towards her face. Because she’s teasing him. Because he’s realising something, and it might be good.

“I’m going to swim a lap,” Irene says. The water swashes as she moves away.

“Wait,” he says after her.

“Hm?”

“I know we’re not emotional hugging people, but–”

He’s engulfed by her arms around his neck, holding him close. He hugs her back. It feels good to be held, and to be held in a way that is unrelated to he and John. He is not alone, he realises. And: there are other parts of life that can be good. And: far more people than he ever thought could understand him do.

“I know it’s not the same,” she says. It’s by his ear, where her face is as well. “But you have me, too.”

“I know,” he says. “Now I do.”

“Good. I won’t confess my undying platonic love for you, though.”

Sherlock smiles. For the first time since John announced his leaving, it doesn’t just make him feel less weighed down. It makes him feel hopeful.

“Good. I won’t confess mine either,” he says. Irene’s smile is pressed into his neck, before she comes up to kiss his forehead.

“Now go,” he says, and listens to it as she swims away from him.

Making his way along the edge of the pool, he gets out where they got in, and grabs his cane and his clothes. He’ll be making it home now. He has something important to do.

__

He doesn’t make it home. As the chilly air from the outside first collides with his skin, he pulls out his phone. John has a phone of his own now, and Sherlock has its number. He means to call it, but doesn’t make it, before the automatic voice tells him that he’s got three missed calls. They’re all from John.

He knows from earlier that that the swimming bath has a park area outside, and that there are benches in it. With some trial and error, he finds one, and goes to sit down. Not until then does he call John back.

John picks up almost immediately. Sherlock has remembered what Irene told him earlier; that John now knows. Probably he’s been waiting for Sherlock to call back.

“Sherlock,” John says. He doesn’t sound as happy as he did just last night, when they talked again.

“Hi.”

“Do you have time to talk?” So there’s a planned inquiry in the wake. Sherlock doesn’t mind it. He would have, maybe, just a few hours ago, but something inside of him has been shifted now.

“Yes,” he says. “I have time.”

“Okay.”

“Where are you?” Sherlock asks, before John can go on. He likes the knowledge. It makes the physical distance between them seem a little less wide.

“I’m in a park,” John says. Sherlock smiles, just a little. Maybe there’s some symbolism in that.

“Me, too,” he says. John is silent, but Sherlock can hear him breathing; it’s even and soft.

“On the grass?” John asks. Probably, all he’s doing is indulging Sherlock. Or dragging out the time before their conversation has to become about what is actually on his mind. It’s a technique they’ve both perfected over the last many weeks.

“No, on a bench.”

“Hm.” John breathes in. Sherlock copies him, and makes his own mirror John’s, until they’re breathing in tandem. “Can I ask you something?” John asks.

“Yes.”

“Can you tell me why you wanted to travel in the first place?” he asks. “Just that. For now. I just need to know.”

Ah. This is what Sherlock knew they’d get to, of course. He expected more upset. That maybe John would be annoyed in the face of Sherlock’s failure. But he doesn’t sound that way, at all; rather, he sounds defeated. Like everything has diminished in size; his voice and strength both.

Well; not everything. The fear, perhaps, has only been strengthened. Maybe Sherlock isn’t the only one.

“Because,” Sherlock says, and breathes in. “Because I wanted to be normal. To do something normal. For once.”

It’s John’s turn to breathe in now. Slowly and heavily. As he exhales the breath once more, it’s almost a sigh.

“Normal,” he says. Like he disagrees.

“Yes.”

“You’re so much better than normal.”

No, Sherlock thinks. No, that’s you. You’re the incredible one here. You’re the one with all of the power, and all of the strength. And then. And then maybe, maybe, maybe, you’re not. The only one, that is.

“What’s that?” he asks. And John; John says,

“Extraordinary.”

Maybe, maybe, maybe, I am too, he thinks. Maybe all it takes to be strong, is for one other person to need you to. He’s silent; waiting. He knows there’s more. He knows where this is going. He knows, he thinks, what John will say.

“So can I ask you why you don’t want to travel any more?” John asks, and proves Sherlock right.

“It wasn’t about want,” he says.

“No.” John says it like he already knew. Sherlock breathes in, and gets ready.

“Because I thought it’d be impossible, after all,” he says. “Because I got scared.”

John is silent for a long time. Sherlock has never said it out loud before. He feels it in his heart; the heavy beat of finally voicing something that is irrevocably true. It was a creature inside of him, and now he lets it go; throws it out, and slams the door. Removes its power over him.

“Thought?” John asks. Sherlock closes his eyes, because John was right; he’s immersed, like that. He closes his eyes, and blocks his free ear, because he wants to be entirely present in this.

“I don’t know anymore,” he says. The door is locked now. The creature won’t come back.

“I never asked,” he goes on. I was too busy hoping we could continue to live in our illusion, he thinks.

“Asked what?”

“You,” Sherlock says. “What you want. Not moving, I assume?”

“It’s not the moving,” John says. Because in so many ways, after all, they’re the same. “It’s the lack of control. And freedom.” He breathes in, heavily, as if this means something. As if he’s the one letting his own creature go now. “I want to be a little less normal,” he goes on. And Sherlock thinks, you already are; you’re already brilliant. “And a lot more free.”

Sherlock can’t see John’s expression. But John, he remembers, can’t see his either. Perhaps, right now, Sherlock is the one with the most experience. Perhaps he may have to be the one to guide them, too. He thinks, with John’s help, he can.

“Do you think I could do what I truly want?” he asks.

“Yes.” There’s not a hint of doubt in John’s voice. Sherlock, by now, knew not to expect it.

“Then couldn’t you, too?” he asks. Couldn’t we do it together?

“Well, you’re the hero,” John says.

“The hero?”

“The dragon-slayer.”

Sherlock smiles. He didn’t expect to, during this, but then John is always a surprise. And, Sherlock thinks, almost always right.

“And what is the dragon?” he asks.

“Fear,” John says, like he’s thought of this. Like he sees this with total clarity. “You slay the fear.”

Look up, breathe in, squeeze– no. Not this time. He wants to feel it. He allows the tear that wants to fall to begin the trajectory down his cheek. Then let me, he thinks. Then let me take care of yours.

“You’re the soldier, then,” he says. Because maybe he’s John’s strength, too. But John will never not be his.

“Really? And what do I slay?” John asks.

“The doubt.”

It sits between them, in their silence, and it grows. The knowledge that they can. Able, Sherlock thinks, is a good word. The knowledge that they are able.

“Do you think I could do what I truly want?” John asks. Sherlock smiles, because this is the part he didn’t realise would come. The part he was missing all along. But he now he gets it.

“Yes,” he says. There’s not a hint of doubt in his voice.

Chapter Text

Thinking, Sherlock ponders, is easy. Mentally deciding to do something, is far more easy than bringing it into action. But also, it is the beginning. It is the catalyst of action; needed, therefore, to bring things about.

During their conversation, Sherlock makes a mental choice. It takes him two more weeks to actually start bringing it to life.

On a Tuesday night, Mycroft appears in his room.

To start with, all Sherlock notices, is the sound of his bedroom door opening, and the changed direction of the air around him, letting him now that it remains so. It’s easy to deduce what is happening; neither his parents nor Irene ever preface their conversations with this. Mycroft always does.

Sherlock had been reading, sitting on his bed, propped up against the pillows behind him. For a while, he pretends to continue, although he’s so aware of the sensory inputs of the room that his focus on the shapes beneath his fingertips diminishes to nearly zero.

“You can come in,” he says eventually. Words like that are usually the closest they come to verbal, honest communication. Sherlock knows to read between the lines because, to speak with Mycroft, he often has to.

Mycroft doesn’t reply, but Sherlock hears the faint click of the door being closed once more, and then the floorboards creaking lightly, as Mycroft’s socked feet – Sherlock can deduce so –make their way across.

As Mycroft sits on the edge of his bed, Sherlock puts his book away to his side, and sits up straighter. It means they’re closer, too. He can feel Mycroft’s hip against his bent knee.

“Are you all right?” Mycroft asks. For a moment, Sherlock is surprised. Mycroft is never like this. But perhaps, he thinks, this is a thing, too, that can change.

“Yes,” he says. Because he is. Because if they’re about to be honest, then Sherlock can partake.

“Hm,” Mycroft says.

As he does, Sherlock shifts, until he is mirroring Mycroft’s position on his bed; feet and legs over the edge of it, and backs straight. He’s sure they’re an image, like that; brothers in action and in looks.

“Do you think it was the accident?” Mycroft goes on. “That stopped us being as close as we used to be? Or would that have happened either way?”

They’ve never talked about it before. He was seven when it happened. Before it, Mycroft was Sherlock’s best friend. After, it was like something had changed. Sherlock couldn’t bear it; that Mycroft still had the thing that Sherlock had so brutally lost.

Sherlock blocked him out. For a long time, Mycroft kept trying, but eventually he had to give up. As they got older, they started being able to be around each other more, but it never really was the same.

“I don’t know,” Sherlock says.

“I wanted so badly to fix it,” Mycroft continues.

He’d always done that, before. Swept in and helped Sherlock, whenever something went wrong. More than a loss, the accident was the first time that Sherlock’s childhood mind really realised that, Mycroft too, was human. It was the first time he realised that strength is not ever-present. None of it was fair, including the way that Sherlock thought of the knew-found knowledge as a betrayal.

“I could never really forgive myself for not being able to,” Mycroft goes on.

Mycroft was his strength, back then. And to find out that the epitome of his own resilience was, in fact, nothing but a human being had been heart breaking. When it was Mycroft.

When it was John.

But he was wrong. Being strong doesn’t mean you never fail, or are never scared at all.

I forgive you,” he says. Because he realises now. Because, it turns out, he and Mycroft are more alike than he ever thought.

Mycroft’s hand touches his shoulder, and his arm curls around Sherlock’s upper back. Sherlock leans into him. Like he used to. And Mycroft runs a hand over his hair, like he used to, too. They were close when they were kids. Maybe, after all, they can become close again.

“You should forgive yourself, too,” Mycroft says. It’s not often Sherlock likes admitting that he’s right. But he is now.

“Hm,” he says.

“I helped you apply to Cambridge,” Mycroft says. “I’ll help you with your real dreams too, if you want. Cambridge can survive another year without you.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Sherlock says, but his voice is groggy with his emotions. “Someone has to make up for the stupidity you bring.”

Mycroft laughs. Sherlock will never say so out loud, but he loves him. So he laughs, too; because it feels a bit like relief.

“You’re not as funny as you think you are, you know,” Mycroft says. It means that the heavy conversation is over, but Sherlock still lets his head stay on Mycroft’s shoulder for a while, and Mycroft doesn’t remove his arm yet.

“Neither are you,” Sherlock says.

Mycroft snorts. “Hm,” he says. “You’re not so bad after all.”

“Nope,” Sherlock says, and moves away, but he’s smiling; he lets it be shown, and lets Mycroft know, for once. “Too sappy. You should leave now.”

“All right, all right,” Mycroft says. Sherlock hears it as he does move away from the bed. “You’re the bravest of us all, you know,” he says, when it seems he’s by the door. “But you’ll always be my little brother.”

Sherlock throws a pillow after him, and listens to it when the door closes, but in reality he doesn’t really mind. Maybe, he thinks, that’s all right. Maybe being little and being brave do now have to be two mutually exclusive things anymore.

__

The next evening, Mycroft helps him research his options. It becomes real then, in a way Sherlock honestly never thought it would. Suddenly his dreams are no longer a faint, smudged outline, but something clear and actually possible.

It seems that, for John, the same is true. That night, in bed, Sherlock calls him just to listen to his voice for a while.

“You sound tired,” John tells him.

It’s a whisper, and only just audible to Sherlock’s ears when he presses the phone close. John sounds tired, too, he thinks. There’s something intimate about that. As he burrows himself into his own mattress, and pulls the duvet up to his ear, he could almost be fooled into believing that John was actually here with him.

“Yeah,” Sherlock says. His voice, too, is made the lowest it can be, while still being audible.

“Are you in bed?”

“Mm,” Sherlock confirms.

“Me, too,” John says.

Sherlock imagines it. John in his boxers, and the T-shirt he always wears in bed, because he says the duvet cover to his naked skin disturbs his sleep. The way John’s entire body will be warm, from having been covered for so long. The way the bags beneath his eyes will feel deeper, if Sherlock puts his fingertips to them, than they do in the morning.

He misses it. So much so, that if he could, he would crawl through the phone to him, just to be in it again.

“Do you know what I did today?” John asks.

Sherlock remembers the time he would latch onto any information John gave him, because it might be the last. He still latches onto it, but not because he’s frightened of the absence, anymore. Simply, now, because he enjoys the presence of it so much.

“No, what did you do today?” he asks.

“I got a job interview,” John says. “I think I’ll get it. It means I can earn money, and save up, and–”

He trails off, but Sherlock thinks he can deduce the rest. Do it all, it is. Slay the doubt away.

He grins. There’s simply no way he could contain it. He’s surprised at the strength of the pride that wells up in him, at John’s words. It sits there, warm and occupying the part of his throat that the terrifying emotions used to.

“You’re quite brilliant,” he says, and John laughs.

“Yeah, I know,” he says. Two weeks ago he might not have meant it. Sherlock is sure that he does now. “You’re quite brilliant, too.”

“I haven’t even told you my thing yet,” Sherlock says.

“What’s your thing?”

“I’m doing some research,” Sherlock says. “Well. Mycroft is helping be doing it. There are all these options of loosely organised travel for people who are visually impaired.”

“Really?” John says. “I didn’t even know that.”

“Me neither.”

“Well,” John says. “You’re definitely brilliant then.”

Sherlock snorts. Despite their being apart, this feels like one of their happiest moments yet. There is no darkness looming in the horizon of their lives. Now it’s only light.

After the accident, Sherlock spent a long time thinking he’d never feel again. But these emotions are so vivid, so strong, that it seems he grows larger just to be able to contain some of them, and even then, they push against his insides with their strength. He felt empty for a while, but this is the opposite of that.

“Do you remember when said you think love might be stronger when you’re young?” Sherlock asks.

“Yeah, I remember,” John says.

“I think ours would have been so anywhere. And any time.”

“Ours?” John asks. He sounds like he’s grinning. Like the happiness is all-consuming for him, too.

“Come back to me and I’ll say it,” Sherlock says. Come back to me, and we can do whatever you want. How’s that for enticing? Come back to me, and we can have it all.

“All right,” John says. And then: “I will.”

Sherlock believes him.

__

And even then, with all of the things Sherlock now knows he’s capable of, he’s still young. Or, in other words, he needs to tell his parents.

He does so one evening, around the dinner table. He waits until the end of the meal. It means he’s caught up in his own thoughts for a large part of it, and that he hardly listens to what is going on. They’ll forgive him, he thinks.

He got the letter this morning. From Cambridge. Written in braille, especially for him, it told him that he got in. For a second, as he read it, he was drawn in. It would be easy, just going. But he doesn’t want easy any more.

He hasn’t bought a ticket for the trip he wants to go on yet. It costs money, but with the savings he has, and the part time job he should be able to secure that summer, he will be able to do it all from his own pockets, if he needs to.

He’s drawn back into the situation, when Mycroft’s knuckles hit his thigh under the table, and he realises that everyone is beginning to finish.

“Wait,” he says, and the sounds of moving stop. “I have something to tell you.”

“All right.” It’s his mum who says it. Sherlock hears it, when she sits back down, and the chair’s legs are pulled across the floor as she settles back in.

“What’s going on?” his dad asks, and reveals that he is still there, too.

“I, eh,” Sherlock starts. “I applied to Cambridge.” He hears it when several breaths are drawn in, most likely in excitement. “And I just got in.”

“Sherlock,” his mum exclaims, in joy, but Sherlock holds up his hand and shakes his head.

“Wait,” he says. “I’m not done yet.” Silence falls over the table again. There’s a tenseness there, that even Sherlock is able to feel, despite the fact that he can’t see any of their expressions.

“You’re not going?”

It’s his dad who asks. He’s always been the most normal of them all. Sherlock knew, even from a young age. But, possibly, he’s also the most emotionally intelligent one. In some ways, Sherlock is reminded of John.

“No,” he agrees. “I’m not going. Yet.”

“Oh.”

“There’s this organisation that organises travels for people with visual impairment. I can work for a while, and earn the money to pay for a trip.”

“Yeah,” his dad says.

“It’s possible. And it’s what I want. I know you might be worried, but–”

“We’re not worried,” his dad interrupts him. Oh. Not what Sherlock expected at all. They have seemed to be pretty much against it before. This is not the reaction he anticipated.

“You were,” he says.

“Yes.” It’s his mum this time. “We were. But we’ve talked about it. And your approach has changed. You’re sensible about it. So why shouldn’t you?”

Sherlock smiles. He can’t not. This is a better outcome that he could have ever imagined or hoped for.

“So you’re not upset with me?” he asks. As he does, the chair across from his screeches again, as it is pulled out, and someone makes it across the table to him. It’s his dad, he feels, when he’s being enveloped by his arms.

“No,” he says. “Of course we’re not upset with you.”

Sherlock is relieved. Even with all of his newfound strength, he’s not sure he would have handled it well, if his parents had been disapproving of his decision.

“Mum?” he prompts, as his dad lets him go, because she hasn’t spoken yet.

“No,” she says. “Not upset. Let’s talk, though.”

With her hand between his shoulder blades, he lets himself be guided into the living room. He can’t figure out what kind of conversation they’re about to have. He was always most worried about her reaction. She’s the one of his parents he’s most like. She’s where he gets his intelligence from. And everything that comes with it.

“You went straight on,” he says. “I mean, to uni. And I’m like you, right? I was worried you’d be… disappointed.”

They make it to the couch, and both sit down. Sherlock feels her by his side. Her hand remains on his back.

“I’m the opposite of disappointed,” she says. “I’m proud of you.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Sometimes it’s okay to be something other than clever, you know. That’s not the only value you have.”

Sherlock thought it was for a long time. That was how he defined himself. Sherlock Holmes: A clever man. Sherlock Holmes: Someone to inspire strength.

Sherlock Holmes: A valuable human, no matter what. He considers it. And, for once, thinks it might be true.

“Thank you,” he says. She squeezes his shoulder, as she squeezes him close.

“Sure,” she says. “How about John?”

“How about him?” Sherlock asks.

“Will he come with you?”

Sherlock has thought about it, more and more, while trying to fall asleep after talking to John. He doesn’t expect it, but it would be wonderful. Having John there, with him. Not having to be apart any longer.

“I don’t know,” he says. “We haven’t talked about it.”

“But you’re all right?” she asks. “The two of you?”

More than all right, Sherlock thinks. We’re better than we’ve ever been. So good, in fact, that we might have a shot at the long run.

“Yes,” is what he says out loud.

“You know,” she goes on, “when I married your dad, a lot of people thought it was because he grounded me, and pulled me down to a calmer level.”

“Yes?” Sherlock says.

“Actually, he’s the foundation that makes me able to climb higher. And then, you know, in reality he’s the most brilliant out of the two of us.”

“I recognise that,” Sherlock says. John doesn’t want to make him more average. Together, he and John can reach the higher levels of extraordinariness.

“I thought you would,” she says. And then: “He can stay, you know. If you want to invite him over.”

Sherlock, well; Sherlock wants exactly that.

“Thank you,” he says. “I will.”

__

That evening, he walks into the garden, and sits on the grass, pulling pieces of it out of the ground, as he calls John. It doesn’t take long before John picks up, and his gentle voice reaches Sherlock through the phone. It sounds better, tonight, than ever before.

“Hello,” he says.

“Hi.”

“I have something to ask you.” He’s been thinking about it for a long time. It’s a new revelation.

“Yes?” John says.

“I’m not just the dragon-slayer, am I?” Sherlock asks. He thinks he knows this now, too. That John thinks he’s brilliant. But that John loves him still, even when he isn’t.

“No,” John says, and confirms this. “You’re not just the dragon-slayer.”

“Thank you,” Sherlock says. Because, no matter his conviction, he needed to hear it said out loud.

“You’re more than what you do for me,” John goes on.

“So are you,” Sherlock says. Because John is his strength, but John is a human being, too. And Sherlock would love every single version of him.

“Hm,” John says. “Yeah. I’m not just the soldier.”

Sherlock grins. Relief, that day, feels like letting all of the pain and fear go; every last inch of it, until all he is, is yellow-burning glee.

“You could be a soldier,” he says.

“Why?”

“It’s hot.”

John laughs. It’s loud, and carefree, and Sherlock loves the sound almost as much as he loves John. He joins in, because he can. Because, after all, they’re in love.

“Do you think maybe I could shag you when I come see you?” John asks.

“Yeah, I think maybe you could,” Sherlock says. He wants it. He’s been wanting, for a long time now. To sink into John’s skin, against it, and let himself feel every single inch of the pleasure. He’s brought himself to it many times. He wants it with John, now, just like he wants everything else with him.

“Hm,” John says. Low, like the desire sits in him, too. “Do you know what I did?”

“No?”

“I earned enough money for a cheap return ticket to England.” Happiness is like a wave surging through him. It is a thing to reach his fingertips, and his toes. It covers all of him. It is a lot like the feeling of relief.

“Do you think it’d be all right if I came to see you?”

“Yeah,” Sherlock says. “Yeah, I think that’d be more than all right.”

Chapter Text

In the car, as Mycroft drives him to the airport, Sherlock keeps touching the space between his own fingers.

He lets them dance in the cold air, when he puts his arm out the car window. He folds his own two hands together and rest them in his lap. He does it all again. They’re empty, save for the air between them, and himself.

Twenty minutes later, they’re not.

Twenty minutes later, John’s skin is beneath his fingertips. John’s cheeks, and his smile, and then; John’s whole body against him, as he pulls Sherlock in, holds him close, so close that Sherlock thinks they could almost become one, and laughs, and laughs, and laughs.

Sherlock kisses him, to taste the sound.

“Your brother is watching,” John says. “And everyone else.”

But he still kisses back, when Sherlock presses their lips together again. Sherlock has missed this. He’s longed for it. Having it is so much better than all of his imaginations and memories combined.

“I don’t care,” he says. “I’ve missed you quite a lot, you see.”

John grins. Sherlock feels it beneath his fingertips and his lips again. Never, he thinks. I will never be able to live without this again. John’s hands are on his lower back, pulling him in close, as if he too, wants to diminish the distance between them until it is zero. As if he wants to, once again, defy what scientists tell them should be possible.

“Well,” he says. “Aren’t we lucky that that makes two of us?”

“Is it luck?” Sherlock asks.

“What else?”

“Love?”

John throws his head back to grin. Sherlock is encircled by his arms. Sherlock touches the wide-spread lips with his fingers. Sherlock has never felt it surging through him as strongly as this: love.

“You’re brilliant,” John says.

“And?”

“I love you.” John tries to kiss him. John fails, because Sherlock is smiling too widely. John giggles, and tries again, until he succeeds.

“I love you.” John says it into his ear. John puts his hands up under Sherlock’s shirt, to his naked back. John wants him back.

“I love you.” John drives his hands into Sherlock’s chest, pulls out his heart, and places it back behind his own ribs. John takes better care of it than Sherlock ever did.

“In an airport?” Sherlock asks.

“Everywhere.”

“Come love me in my bed,” Sherlock says. He grabs John’s hand, and takes a step back, pulling John with him. “Come love me in my home.”

“And you?” John asks.

“Impatient.”

“Have I not earned it?”

Sherlock walks back in, and intertwines his hands with John’s. They land between their chests, above their hearts. Like a symbol. Like it’s saying ‘our hearts are as intertwined as our bodies’. Like they were made for this.

Their lips, when they meet, do it with tenderness. They’ve had pain. They’ve had desperation. They will have that again, Sherlock thinks. But this; this is the moment of truth. This is the gentle affection they deserve by now.

“I love you,” he says. Because it’s the truest statement he could make about himself. John puts their foreheads together.

“I know,” he says. And then: “Thank you.”

Sherlock kisses him again. He gives John his lips. He gives John his softness. He gives John his truth.

He gives him everything else.

__

The first night, they’re alone in the house. Mycroft drives them home, and leaves again. Their parents are away on a weekend holiday. It’s all for them; Sherlock knows. He does not have the capacity to be bothered.

John wants to take a shower. Sherlock wants to join him. Well; he wants to never be without him again, more like.

John is wearing a sweater. Sherlock feels the fabric of it, beneath his fingertips, as the two of them stand in the bathroom, on their feet, across from each other.

John is no longer wearing a sweater. Sherlock takes it off. He grabs the hem of it, and pulls it upwards, with his knuckles grazing the tee that John is still wearing underneath. Over a chest, over shoulders, and away from John’s arms, which are raised in the air, to aid Sherlock’s efforts.

“Sensual,” John says.

“Yes.”

“What if,” John starts, as his hands come over to hold Sherlock’s hips, and his fingers travel across the low of Sherlock’s stomach, before they grab onto the button on Sherlock’s trousers, “I do this?”

“Sure,” Sherlock says. He allows John to unbutton him, and zip him down. As he steps out of the clothes, he holds onto John’s shoulders for support. He’s still holding onto John, when he bends down, to pull off his socks.

“Romantic,” John says.

“Hm.” Sherlock straightens himself out, so their faces are back aligned with each other’s. “Does it have to be?” They could do slow and sensual. He’s not sure that’s what he really wants.

“Does what have to be?” John asks. Sherlock knows him well enough by now, to know that he is entirely teasing.

“You want a lot of words said out loud today,” he says. As he does, the shirt he is wearing goes too, by his own hands, over his own head, so he is down to his boxers.

“Aren’t we tired of not saying them?” John asks. Yes, Sherlock thinks. He could write a novel of all of the things he’s wanted to share, and will.

Fingertips intertwine themselves with Sherlock’s, and pulls him back in. Against his chest, he feels naked skin. Meaning John took his shirt off, too.

He’s only missing his jeans, before he’s as unclothed as Sherlock. Sherlock decides to help him with that. He expected to be more nervous, but this, with John, feels like nothing but an extension of things they’ve already done. There is nothing terrifying about it.

“Sex,” he says, as he pushes John’s jeans down and off him. “That’s what I’m talking about.”

“Oh,” John says, “Is it?”

“Hm.”

“Can I take your pants off?”

Sherlock grins. They’re getting right to it, it seems. But then all they’ve done is waiting. For the moment they’d be apart. For the moment they’d be back together. For a time where all of this was possible. It seems only fair to stop the waiting now.

“Yes, you can take my pants off,” he says.

John does, slowly, as if this is a moment he wants to savour and remember forever. It is just his naked body, Sherlock thinks. But then it’s not that, at all. It’s the culmination of all of their history up until this point, and all of the trust that they share. So he allows it; allows John to take it slow, and take his time.

John hums, when they finally go. Like he’s pleased. Sherlock’s blood rushes both to his cheeks, and to his groin, where he’s sure John’s eyes are currently occupied. It’s thrilling.

“You’re watching me?” he asks.

“Yes,” John says. Hands turned into flat palms roam over Sherlock’s upper chest, as he does, and down over his stomach, before they reach his shoulders once more. “Is that okay?”

“Yes,” Sherlock says. It is, really, far more than.

“Good.” John leans in to kiss him, but not on his mouth. Below his jawline instead, and up to his earlobe, which is taken in between John’s two lips, and gently sucked on. When he speaks again, it is directly into Sherlock’s ear:

“You’re a very attractive man, you know.”

Sherlock chuckles. John does, too; Sherlock feels it, as it is pressed into his cheekbone. He wishes his skin could soak up the sound, and keep it, so he’d always have his very own supply.

He wants more. The gentle ache of desire is beginning to surge through him. He wants to press himself into John’s hands, and be touched by them, gently, until he is the one who has grown tender from all of their love.

So John’s pants go, too. Sherlock is the one to reach out, and push them down. He can almost hear it when the fabric hits the floor beneath them, and feels it when John shifts, to step out of them.

It doesn’t make a difference. It would, if Sherlock touched him, but he isn’t doing that yet. Without the direct confirmation of touch, all the change that has been made in Sherlock, is the knowledge that they’re now equally undressed again. But he can’t see it. So his reaction is not the same as John’s.

“Are you ever sad,” he asks, “that I can’t experience you the way you experience me?” He will never be able to look at John’s body, and feel hot all over just from watching it, like it seems John can with him.

“No,” John said. Because he is far more wise than even Sherlock himself. “Just because you experience me differently, doesn’t mean it’s less valuable.”

“You’re a clever man,” Sherlock says.

“Hm.”

“Expression?”

John sniggers. Their faces are so close, Sherlock would only have to turn his head an inch or so, to be able to swallow the sound out of him. He doesn’t; he wants to hear it all.

Fingers grab his own then, and his hand is lifted to John’s neck, where they are pressed against the pulse-point. Sherlock feels the gentle thump of John’s heartbeat, as the blood that makes him as alive as he is right now, runs through him. It’s faster than usual, the beat.

“Nervous?” he asks. John, still by his earlobe, now bites it gently.

“No,” he says. “Just kind of intense, is all.”

Sherlock wonders if it’s always this way: love. If it’s always this entirely consuming. Does everyone feel like their bodies are alight with flames, slicking up their bones, and making everything alert and warm and good? Does everyone feel like they become more alive with it? Like it breathes new air into their lungs, and makes their hearts beat again?

“Are you aroused?” he asks. Because he is. Because that’s what the intensity means for him.

“I’m getting there.”

“Me, too,” Sherlock says.

“Yeah, I know,” John says. He’s teasing. He’s fond. How Sherlock was ever lucky enough to have this, and get to become accustomed to it, he will never know.

“Then let’s get this shower over with,” he says.

__

They’re still wet, and probably soaking his sheets, when they get into his bed, but Sherlock doesn’t care. He’s done, for this moment, caring about anything other than John’s skin against his own.

He sits on top of John’s thighs. His hands, he lets travel over John’s upper chest, across the dip in the middle, over his collarbones, and down to his nipples. John feels stronger than Sherlock realised he was. His own hands are moving over muscle now, and grabbing at it. It makes the heat surging through him get even more fervent.

“Are you all right?” he asks. Because he hasn’t asked yet. Because he wants to know. “In general, I mean?”

“Hm.” John shifts a bit beneath him, but doesn’t appear to want to go anywhere. “I’m more than all right.”

Sherlock beams. To himself, mostly, but so that John can partake too, by watching it spread.

“Good,” he says. He touches the dip on John’s chest again. “I like the way you feel here,” he says.

“Yeah?”

He leans down, to kiss John’s right nipple. “Here, too” he says. Then his left. “And here.”

He touches his arms, and his chest, and his thighs, too. He grazes teeth against his shoulder, and the lowest of his ribs. He maps him out, like a cartographer. Like John is the most important study of his life.

Moving down over John’s body, his hands reach John’s stomach. It’s softer than the rest of him, and rounded. He leans down to press his lips to it, open-mouthed, before he grazes his teeth over the skin there carefully. He loves this part of John too, just like he loves everything else.

“And here,” he says. John’s fingers grasp at his hair, and pulls a bit. Other than their conversation, the room is silent, so Sherlock is perfectly able to hear the way John’s breath has gone deep and heavy. He can deduce what it means, too.

“Sherlock,” John says. It’s beautiful, once more. It’s strained, but with desire.

“Yes?”

“Just so you aren’t startled: I’m aroused. For real now, I mean.”

Sherlock grins. He knew, of course. It was easily deducible. But he adores John for telling him.

“Oh?” is what he actually says. He doesn’t move further down. He could. He could swallow John down, and he would be allowed. He could catalogue every single inch of John’s skin with his taste as well as his touch.

Instead, he moves back up, and catalogues John’s lips instead, when he kisses him. He’s not scared, now, but he might still need a little collaboration.

John’s hands are on his waist. John’s hands are on his hips. John’s hands are on his buttocks, grabbing them, and pulling him in close, as he kisses Sherlock with fever.

Sherlock has to gasp, once the friction is finally there. He’s been on the edge of full-blown arousal for so long now, that it takes nothing more than the first touch before the gentle simmer all over his body becomes the ache of insistent tightening instead.

“Me, too,” John says.

“You, too?”

“It feels good,” John clarifies. They might as well be one person, by now, Sherlock thinks. When John speaks, it is so close by Sherlock’s mouth that the words might as well have come from there.

“Do it again,” he says.

John does. He pushes Sherlock close, and causes friction for them both, as their hard cocks rub together. Against each other’s groins. Rutting, desperate, wanting more. When they groan, they do it simultaneously, and into each other’s mouths.

It makes them both snigger, too.

“I’ve imagined this, you know,” John says.

“What?” Sherlock is getting breathless, when he speaks.

“Everything,” John says. Everything, everything, everything. It seems Sherlock is not the only one. “Sometimes I’ve imagined watching you touch yourself.”

Sherlock feels so close already. He’s hard, and leaking. All of his muscles are tightening up, it seems, and it’s all directed at the place in his abdomen where he knows it will culminate, if only, if only, if only, John would just touch him a little more.

“Sometimes when I’ve touched myself, I’ve imagined you watching,” he says. John chuckles again, into his jawline, but it’s guttural and throaty with desire.

“What do you want now?” he asks. Fingertips travel over Sherlock’s heated skin, towards the dip between his buttocks, and the place where he really wants John to go. “This?”

“Yes,” he says. A bit too fast, maybe, a bit too eager, but John will forgive him. John, he thinks, might feel the same. “Something else first though.”

“Oh?” John asks.

“I’m not going to last. I need to–“

“All right,” John says, interrupting him. “Okay.” His hand is shifted. It follows Sherlock’s body, moves around it, until it is splayed across the low of Sherlock’s stomach instead. “This?” John asks.

Sherlock’s entire body prepares to be touched. Every single one of his nerves appears to have rushed to the surface of his skin, and taken residence there, making him tingling and hot. He nods.

John touches him. He’s barely wrapped his hand around Sherlock, before Sherlock moans out a breath, and buckles into him. Oh! It’s so good. He moves, closer. Wants more. Chases it.

“John,” he gasps. John is smiling. He feels it against his chin. John presses a kiss there, too. He moves his hand.

Sherlock catalogues the touch. Outer foreskin, inner foreskin, frenulum – God! John’s thumb across his glans, then, and Sherlock moans, as his hips buckle into it of their own accord, chasing it. Back down, gently, then firmly, up on a twist, and reaching Sherlock’s most sensitive part again. John knows what to do. Sherlock’s pleasure is already building.

“You’re positively captivating,” John says.

Sherlock touches him back.

He finds John’s body under his own. Finds John’s hip, moves his hand, not to tease but to find his way around, and finds Johns pubic hair.

“Please,” John says. Sherlock wraps his hand around John, too. He mirrors John’s movements; it must be what he likes. Downwards, his fingers a firm circle, gentle over the most sensitive area. A thumb over John’s glans.

Up, and twisting, quicker movements now, they’re getting close. Breaths heavy. Sherlock whimpers. Doesn’t mean to. But it’s building, it’s tight. It’s all over.

John is buckling up into his touch, just as Sherlock is buckling into his. They’re sweaty. He can feel it. John’s sticky chest. But smell it too, in the air between them.

John’s breath is hot on his neck. His lips meet it, and bite, carefully. Oh! He says it out loud. “Oh!” He didn’t know he was sensitive there.

“Sherlock,” John breathes out.

“Hm?” It’s strained, now.

John giggles. John kisses his chin, heated, absentminded. Open-mouthed. Sherlock’s hand is moving inconsistently now, he realises, but he’s losing his focus. Everything is beginning to clench. Climb.

“No, just that,” John says. And then, God, he grabs the both of them in his hand, and moves them together.

Sherlock focuses all of his attention on grabbing onto John’s hair, and leaning into him. He breathes against John’s neck. It’s climbing, and climbing, and climbing, his pleasure. He’s close. He groans into John’s shoulder. He bites.

He’s sweaty. Flushed. Heart beating, faster than it should. It’s right there, the peak. He’s almost there, almost

“John,” he whimpers.

“I know.”

John twists his hand. Finger over Sherlock’s glans, then a tight circle. Wanks him off, up, down. And there, there it is.

“Do it,” John says. Grip firm, does it again, there, there, there

Oh!

Sherlock reaches his peak. All of his muscles clench and clam down for a second. Two, four seconds. He groans as he spills himself into John’s hand, and the waves of pleasure roll over him.

He collapses into John’s chest, and kisses his neck. John ruts against his thigh, once, twice, and then–

“Fuck.”

It’s John who says it, as he spills himself against Sherlock’s skin. Their DNA meeting, mingling. Sherlock wants more. When John groans out his pleasure, Sherlock kisses the sound out of him. He wants to know how it tastes.

“Wow,” John says.

“Indeed.”

They’ve barely stopped kissing, before they’re laughing instead. Maybe it’s the surprise at their own intensity. Maybe it’s that they’re overwhelmed. Maybe it’s just that happiness has crawled in, and taken residence inside them both. It feels good, Sherlock thinks, either way, to laugh his joy into John’s skin, and have John do the same.

He rolls off John, and onto his back. His breathing is heavy, labored. Pulse still frantic, as excited as Sherlock himself. He’s sticky. With sweat, and come, and the two of them, mingled. John doesn’t seem to mind. At least he follows, rolling onto his side, and continues to touch his palm to Sherlock’s chest.

“I’m very fond of you, you know,” he says. Breaths heavy in-between it, he too is affected. His teeth graze against Sherlock’s shoulder. He bites.

“Is that so?”

“Yes. L-word fond of you, in fact.”

Sherlock snorts out his laughter. Turning his head, he puts his lips where John could kiss them, but John doesn’t. He kisses Sherlock’s forehead instead.

“You can say it now, you know,” Sherlock says.

“Isn’t that a bit cheesy? In the middle of shagging, and all?”

“We’re allowed cheesy,” Sherlock says.

“Hm.” John shifts. He takes Sherlock’s hand with him, as he gets out of the bed – Sherlock hears and feels it. Before he lets it go, he gives the palm of it a kiss. Certainly, Sherlock thinks that is cheesy enough.

A zipper is opened, by the sound of it, and there’s some rummaging around. Then John’s steps make it back across the floorboards, and back to him. He sits astride Sherlock’s thighs this time, and leans down to kiss both of his collarbones. Sherlock is getting his senses back. Coming down.

“You’re a very,” John says, and kisses Sherlock’s nose, “very lovely person.”

It’s good enough. It’s far better than, in fact, because it’s theirs. It’s them.

It’s a strange feeling, in this place. The one of love. It’s like settling in to an already created, ready-made space; it feels as if this is what has been set out for him all along. He belongs here, he thinks, in this very place, just slightly dipped below the surface; he belongs in love, but only when it is with John Watson himself.

“You, too,” he says. Because for a moment it’s okay just to feel. He doesn’t need to articulate. “What did you do?”

John presses a bottle into his hands. Sherlock can guess what it is.

“We don’t have to,” John says.

“Oh, no,” Sherlock says. He tries to spread his legs, but it’s difficult, with John sitting on top of them. “By all means.”

“I haven’t done this before,” John says. “Tell me if I do something painful.”

“Yes.”

“This is probably a good time, though. You’re relaxed. You–”

Sherlock grins. John is lovely, he thinks. And not the only one who feels a bit like he’s fumbling.

“What?” John asks.

“We’re talking rather a lot.”

“Hm,” John says. He crawls off Sherlock’s legs, and, when Sherlock spreads them enough to make room for him, in-between them. “I’m trying out this thing called honest communication.”

“Ah,” Sherlock says. “Haven’t heard of it.” He says it, because it feels good to laugh, in his bed, with John naked next to him. It feels good to have both, simultaneously.

His legs are nudged further apart by John’s gentle hands, before they run up his thighs. The position he’s in is vulnerable. More so, than any he has experienced yet. But he trusts John. So all he does is spread his legs some more, and get comfortable.

It is, indeed, fumbling at first, and a bit difficult. It takes some time, but after a while John’s first finger is in, and Sherlock is already throwing his head back against the pillow. Trying to move in a way that will fill him up further. He’s surprised by the sudden emptiness he feels; the craving, for John, inside of him.

“All right?” John asks.

“Mm–hm. Curl it,” Sherlock says. He’s read about this. He’s nothing, if not a meticulous researcher.

“What?”

“Your finger. Bend it.”

John does. It’s instant, the way the desire flares through him. He gasps, and grabs the headboard behind him. John does it again. Sherlock tries to move into it further.

“Second–“ he tries, but John is already there, ahead of him. For a moment it feels mostly uncomfortable, but this time Sherlock quickly adjusts. When John curls both of the fingers now, he understands why this is something people do.

John curls them again. He twists them. Moves them around. Teases Sherlock, relentlessly, Sherlock thinks. Makes room for the third one. He adds that one, too.

Sherlock wasn’t hard before, but he is now, already. The yearning, the craving, is far more intense than it usually is. Every time John grazes his prostate, it feels like a lightning of ecstasy passes through him. He’s sweating. His hair is sticking to his forehead. He looks desperate, probably. He is.

“This is very international sex, you know,” John says. For a moment, Sherlock doesn’t catch on at all. He’s far too occupied elsewhere in his brain. With John. John, John, John.

“What?”

“Both your sexual partner and our sexual aids are from all around the world.”

Sherlock has never been as happy as he is, in that moment. His laughter echoes in the room, and John’s is pressed into his hip, and John’s fingers are inside of him, and John is so gentle with his heart.

“You’re an idiot,” he says. John will know what it truly means.

“I’m very turned on,” John says, as if correcting him. “Are you ready, do you think?”

Sherlock nods.

“I think you should do it,” John says. “So I don’t hurt you.”

They shift. John retracts his hand, but is there with open arms when Sherlock crawls over to him, and settles in his lap. For a moment, he puts his hands to John’s cheeks, just to sense the fondness that is almost touchable in them.

“Hi,” he says.

“Hey.”

This is different than before. Before was frantic. They do it slowly, this time. It means he’s more aware.

He sinks himself down onto John, and takes his time. He expected it to be mostly uncomfortable. It isn’t. It feels like his body has finally gotten what he never knew it craved. John’s hands steady him. His breath is exhaled against Sherlock’s shoulder, in whimpers. It means this is as good to John, as it is to him.

“Yes?”

John laughs; tries, at least. It’s breathless. Turns into a groan, when Sherlock moves. Is pressed into Sherlock’s shoulder. Like John tries to muffle it. Sherlock wishes he wouldn’t.

“Yeah,” John says. Like it’s way more than. “Just right.”

It doesn’t take very long from then on. Their foreheads touch, as Sherlock starts moving. He moans into John’s mouth. He feels desperate for more. The way John fills him up, hits his spot so brilliantly, makes Sherlock’s muscles feel weak.

John seems desperate, too. His nails claw at Sherlock’s back. His teeth dig into Sherlock’s shoulders, carefully. His breaths are barely breaths but groans instead. He’s warm. Sweaty. His hair is damp when Sherlock grabs it. His cheeks are heated, as if flushed. Sherlock finds him sexier than ever.

He stops being able to move. He’s too caught up in all of the sensory inputs. John all around him. John inside of him. John, a part of him, more than ever. As John must notice, he shifts them both, so Sherlock is on the bed on his back, and does the work.

There’s a metaphor in that. Sherlock shouldn’t think about it now, because this is just sex, and bodies, and hormones, and pleasure. But it’s them, too. It’s the way they work.

He finds John’s hair, and pulls him down by it. He kisses him. He smiles into it, presses his joy into John’s skin. When he pulls away, he chuckles.

“Oh,” John says.

“Hm?”

“That feels good.”

Yes, Sherlock thinks. Yes, it does. He grins.

He’s still grinning when he spills himself and comes. Untouched. With John’s name on his lips. He feels himself clenching, rhythmically, around John inside of him, until John follows him over the edge.

“You’re a lunatic,” John says, into his chest. And then he laughs, too.
__

John stays for a week. And Sherlock learns him all over again.

John still wears clothes when he sleeps, because he says he needs to, but he likes it when Sherlock is naked beneath the duvet.

John likes touching him, constantly, even when it isn’t sexual. If Sherlock asks him to, he will read to him at night, out loud, as he runs fingers through Sherlock’s hair. He holds Sherlock’s hand, even when they’re out in public. He holds Sherlock close, even when he’s fast asleep.

John gets grumpy for at least an hour every morning, because he’d rather be back in bed. The first time they try to buy something at a self-service checkout, John walks out after half a minute, and leaves Sherlock behind. On the third night, he has a nightmare, and keeps Sherlock awake with his trashing for two hours.

John is a human being. John is sometimes really annoying. Sherlock is desperately in love with him still.

__

Change is a concept Sherlock knows intimately. Because it’s what you do when you’re young. Because he’s had things, and then lost them. Because he’s lost things, and found them again.

On the last day, they go back to the playground where they had their lowest time. There’s change in that.

This time, when Sherlock kicks out his legs, and makes himself fly high, it’s not to avoid the conversation looming between them. It’s because he wants to. Because it’s fun.

“Brilliant,” John says, in a twisted voice, as if he’s running commentary. “A champion. This is a record being made, for the highest swing ever seen.”

“Shut up.”

“Oh! And the champion himself is a modest man. He does not desire the praise a record as this must surely acquire.”

“I’ve changed my mind,” Sherlock says. He stops moving, so the swing will slowly stop its course too. He feels the curve it makes getting smaller. “I actually don’t like you at all.”

“Have you guys seen his butt though, it’s really cute?” John continues. Sherlock considers throwing a shoe after him. He doesn’t, but flips him the bird instead, as soon as it becomes safe. John simply titters.

He comes over, as soon as Sherlock’s movement through the air stops. Sherlock’s fingers are around the metallic cable that the swing is hanging by. As John stands before him, his fingers curl around Sherlock’s hands, enveloping them.

“Are you going to wax poetic about my butt?” Sherlock asks.

“Only if you wax poetic about the military career you want me to pursue, just because it turns you on,” John says.

Sherlock runs his foot up John’s ankle, under the edge of his trousers, instead of replying. If John is going to flirt, then he can, too.

“You know,” John says, “I’m leaving tomorrow.”

“Yes.” Sherlock will miss him. Immensely. Desperately so. But he also doesn’t hate it as much as he did before. He doesn’t worry it’ll be the end, this time.

“I’ll finish my exams in Amsterdam,” John goes on.

“Mm–hm.”

“Work and save up money during the summer. Then come back.”

The opposite of the end, that. Sherlock tries not to hope too much, but it’s difficult, when John talks like it’s already certain. The two of them. For the long run. Sherlock can’t imagine a world in which he wouldn’t love him, anyway. If only John will continue to do the same, they have a shot.

“I’m leaving, though,” he says. He bought the ticket yesterday. He wants to pay for it himself, but for now, his parents helped him with the funding. “Making us part again.”

“Not if I come with you, you’re not,” John says.

Sherlock closes his eyes, briefly. He’s wanted this, in secret. For John to come. But he hasn’t wanted to ask, and guilt him into it. He grins. There is no guilt here. This is all John’s own desire.

“Do you want to?” he asks, still.

“Yes. I do. That counts as freedom.” Sherlock removes his hands from under John’s, so he can reach out and hold on loosely to the shirt-fabric above his chest instead. “Do you want me to?”

“More than anything,” Sherlock says.

“Well. I guess that’s that sorted, then.”

Sherlock stands up, and lessens the space between them. He pull John close, by his hold on John’s shirt.

“I guess that’s that sorted,” he says.

He doesn’t wait for John to kiss him first.

Chapter Text

When Sherlock wakes up, it is to the feeling of a fingertip running down the bridge of his nose.

He’s dragged out of slumber slowly, and allows a beam to dawn on his features, as wakefulness dawns on his mind. John must notice, because he breathes out softly, and taps the tip of Sherlock’s nose.

“Hi,” he says.

“Hey.”

“Do you remember,” John begins. It sounds like he’s been awake for quite a while. His voice doesn’t contain the grogginess of his usual waking ritual. “That you asked me about my middle name once?”

“Yes,” Sherlock says. He does. It’s over a year ago now, back at the very start. John hadn’t told him. Because he hated it, he said. Sherlock thought the name, if it was ever given to him, would be so as a sign of confidence.

“Do you still want to know?” John asks.

So it is a sign of confidence, Sherlock thinks. He turns to his side, so their faces are aligned, and he can rub his nose against John’s.

“Yes,” he says. “Why now, though?” Nothing particularly special has happened between them in the latest couple of days.

“Well. It’s a very ugly name,” John says. “I’m easing you into the ugly bits of me.”

Sherlock snorts. He knows a bit of those, already, he’d say. He’s gotten to, over the last couple of months. He’s never been more enamoured.

“You could never be ugly at all,” he says. Because they aren’t, in fact, ugly at all, the bits. They’re simply a part of him, and Sherlock, too. They’re both people prone to the occasional frustration. But they learn. They’re also both people who are good at apologizing.

“Sometimes when you won’t realize, I drink juice straight out of the carton,” John says, as if this is a counter-argument. Sherlock snorts, and shakes his head, but he is, really, treacherously fond. “Sometimes I do it while you’re in the room.”

“Tell me,” he says. “The name.”

John kisses his cheek first, and his eyelids, forcing Sherlock to close them. Then he speaks:

“Hamish,” he says.

Sherlock ponders. Not ugly at all, the name, he thinks. But doesn’t it always go like that? Other people are far more rational than yourself about your flaws.

He chews on his lower lip for a while, as if he’s considering it. Puts on a show. Makes it dramatic. Then he turns away, and out of John’s arms.

“No, you’re right,” he says. “That’s too ugly. We can’t be together anymore.”

When John laughs, he does it into Sherlock’s neck. He kisses the skin there too, then bites it, gently. Curls himself around Sherlock’s back, puts his hand up under his shirt. Touches his nipple. Touches his collarbones. Touches his chest, right over his heart.

“You’re maddening,” he says.

“You love me.”

“Yes.”

They’re in Paris. They’ve been traveling for one and a half months now. Out of their own pockets. Together.

“Do you love me back?” John asks.

“It’s possible.”

“A lot of things are possible, aren’t they?”

Sherlock smiles, to himself. John knows what he’s saying. John knows what they’ve done, together. John is the catalyst, and the receiver. Sherlock is, too. The figures of John, that lived inside of him to grow, have never been this large before.

Sherlock was right when he said their love would be strong anywhere; it’s been strong all over the world, now.

“Yes,” he says. And now he believes it. “They are.”