"Oh," Mrs Hudson said, sadly and fondly, upon finding John sitting on the floor of the kitchen with his back against the cupboards. "You poor dear. Up you get, now. It'll be much more comfortable in the chair. It does get better, you know."
"I know." John rubbed both hands down his face. It was more comfortable in the chair. His back protested the few minutes he'd spent on the floor.
"I'll just make us some tea." Mrs Hudson disappeared into the kitchen. John sat in the chair and felt numb. He felt a lot of that, these days.
Mrs Hudson returned from the kitchen bearing two mugs of tea. She put one down on the end table and rubbed her hand in soothing circles on John's back. "That's all right, dear. You just let it out."
"Sorry." John took a deep breath and held it for as long as he could, then expelled it in a burst. "Sorry, sorry."
Mrs Hudson took the chair opposite and held her mug with both hands. "You don't have to apologise to me. I know what it's like." She looked down at her mug for a few seconds, then up again. "I quite missed Bill, you know. People always asked why, what with him being a serial murderer and all, but it wasn't as if I ever stopped loving him." She took an exploratory sip of her tea.
John flexed his hands and stared at the carpet. "I just keep...forgetting. I'll just, I don't know, be doing the washing up or the hoovering or reading or something, and then I'll wonder, Where's Sherlock been all day?" He felt the skin around his eyes going stiff again and blinked several times. "Just now, I was, I was about to yell at him that I told him to take out the rubbish two days ago."
Mrs Hudson put her hand on John's knee. "It'll be all right. You love him. That's all right."
John didn't have the heart to tell Mrs Hudson that it wasn't like that. Losing a husband and losing a best friend were different. Weren't they?
"John?" He could hear Harry blinking from the other end of the phone. He couldn't blame her for being surprised; he hardly ever called. "John, how are you? How are you doing?"
"I'm fine," John replied, even though that word had become meaningless to him. It was something he said to keep people from pitying him too much. "I mean, I'm all right. You know. Getting along." He took a deep breath. "How're you?"
"Come off it, we both know you didn't call me to talk about me. What's going on?"
"Oh, I just." John realised he was pacing, which was stupid when he was on the phone in the flat. He sat down. But his legs felt restless when he was sitting down, so he got up again. "How, how did you know that you're gay?"
"I dunno, how'd you know that you're straight?" Harry drawled; it was the same answer she'd given their parents, when she'd come out as a teenager. There'd been venom and raised voices then, but not now. "Why d'you ask? Oohhh, is there something you're not telling me, Johnny? Some bloke?"
"No, no. There's no bloke." Which wasn't a lie, since the bloke in question was dead. "I just...I mean, were you always sure, or did you wonder?"
"'Course I did." Now Harry sounded less playful and more impatient. "Everyone does. No one really just wakes up one day and thinks, 'Well, that's it, I'm queer! Looking forward to my lifetime of ostracisation!' I spent ages trying not to look at girls and trying to see boys as, like, something really hot and something I wanted to spend loads of time around. Never happened."
"Right, of course," John mumbled.
"You're questioning. You are." Harry sounded very sure of herself, but then, she always did. Even when she was wrong, Harry always had conviction. "Never met anyone I could call a zero on the Kinsey scale other than you, so he must really be someone, eh, to turn your head. Who is he? Can't believe I haven't heard about him be--"
"I have to go," John blurted out, and hung up on her.
It did get better, a little, once he moved out of 221B Baker Street. It felt more like something had actually changed. John no longer kept expecting Sherlock to come waltzing up the front steps; he didn't wake in the middle of the night wondering if that was Sherlock on the roof; he didn't turn to address a man who wasn't there.
He did have nightmares. A few of them were the usual ones having to do with hot days and cold, sparkling nights and sand and blood pouring through his fingers and the smell of body armour melted to flesh, but most of them were new. Most of them had to do with Sherlock flinging wide his arms and falling; Sherlock, his face covered in blood and his eyes staring sightlessly up at the sky; Sherlock, falling forever and ever, and John never able to reach him.
Once, he dreamed that he was back in Baker Street, and Sherlock was there waiting for him. "It was a trick," Sherlock said. "Wasn't it brilliant?" And then he kissed John, and John opened up like a bird taking flight. Sherlock was warm and smelled like wool and tea and London air. He held John close and whispered in his ear. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It had to happen." And then somehow they were in bed, because it was a dream and dreams are just like that, and Sherlock was naked and flushed pink and John was trying very hard to think of how to tell Sherlock that he had never done this before, not with a man at any rate.
Then he woke up.
Then he wanted to forget about Sherlock, but he couldn't do that any more than he could forget about Afghanistan.
"It's all right," she said. "It happens sometimes."
John rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. He sighed.
"Want to just snog for a while?" she offered.
"No, it's all right." John pushed himself into a sitting position. He ought to feel more humiliated, but he found that he didn't really care. He didn't even know her name. Hillary? Noelle? "I'll just go."
"They're just...not interesting," John said to his glass. In the other chair, Mrs Hudson's knitting needles clacked and clicked. "God, they're just so boring." He stopped. He sounded like Sherlock. He knew the flat above sat empty. Mrs Hudson said that Mycroft paid the rent. John could move back any time and stay there for free, but...no, he really couldn't.
"You just need some time, that's all," Mrs Hudson counselled. "Takes some people years, to move on."
John seethed. God, it wasn't like he and Sherlock had been a couple.
Yes, you were, that little Irene Adler voice said in his head, and John wanted to break things. Fuck her.
But men hadn't gotten any more attractive, in the interim. They just...weren't women. And they were still boring.
"Sorry," John told Mary. She was very sweet and unbelievably patient and understanding about John's traumas and even believed him about Sherlock, and that was why it wasn't fair, it really wasn't, that he wasn't all there. "I'm just not ready for anything long-term right now."
Sherlock came back one rainy April afternoon. In telling the story later, John wanted to say it was a worse day or a better day, but really it was just another grey day in a series of grey days. He went to work (clinic on Gloucester Road, a GP again; hip hip hooray). On his lunch break he went for a walk. He sat in a park for a bit and ate his sandwich. Then he went back to the clinic and wiped more runny noses and doled out more arthritis medication and assured a fidgety young woman that no, she didn't have cancer, even if it was a 64% match on WebMD.
Carol poked in her head around four, close to the end of John's shift, and made an apologetic face. "Just so you know, this next one looks like he might be homeless? Specifically requested a male doctor, so it might be...you know..." She waved her hand in a vague but eloquent gesture around her pelvis. "Sorry 'bout that."
"S'aright." John sat up a little bit straighter and tried to look fresh and knowledgeable. "All part of the job." He actually liked the homeless cases, a little bit. He liked to think that he was checking in on Sherlock's network. Taking care of business.
"You're a peach. What we did to deserve you, I'll never know." She scurried off. A minute later, the door admitted a stooped, swaying figure wearing what looked like four shirts and two jackets, and perhaps two pairs of trousers as well. The sole of one shoe was coming off, so that it flopped as the man walked, and the other one had no laces. An enormous reddish-black beard covered most of his face, and the rest was obscured by a wool hat pulled most of the way down his forehead. Surprisingly enough, he didn't smell too badly. Well, when he said too badly...
John cleared his throat. "Hello. What seems to be the trouble?"
"John," the man rasped.
Something hot shot up John's spine, drawing him up out of his chair. "What--who--"
The man leaned forward. "John, it's me."
John looked into those blue eyes and knew, and then he was barely able to leap forward in time as Sherlock collapsed into a dead faint.
"Dehydration and malnutrition." John replaced Sherlock's chart and gave him a beaming smile. "I told you so."
Sherlock rolled his eyes. He was almost too long for the hospital bed that contained him, and with that beard and the tangled rat's nest that had become of his hair, he looked like some mythical mountain man. But he was also pitifully thin, all the more obvious now that he wasn't shrouded in eighteen layers of clothing. "I want to go home."
John grasped the rail of Sherlock's bed. "It's just for the night. They just want to drip some fluids into you. You know, vitamins, minerals, that sort of thing."
Sherlock snorted and flung his face to the side, away from John. If they'd been at home--home! it could finally be that again!--Sherlock would have rolled to face the back of the couch, or flounced out of the room entirely. But here in the hospital he was tethered in place by the IV. John looked down at Sherlock's hand, where the clear tube slid in under the skin. Did Sherlock's hand look bonier, the knuckles more pronounced? Was that new scarring on the fingers?
He wanted to reassure himself that Sherlock was here, that he was really back and alive and that he was going to move back into 221B and fill up all the holes that had erupted in John's life. He wanted to do that by holding Sherlock's hand. Just for a minute, a brief press of body to body. But that was...well, that was a bit gay, wasn't it? Not the carefree naiveté of youth, and not the grim flinging away of stoicism when death lay just after the sunset. This would be something deliberate.
Fuck it, John decided. His best mate had just come back from the dead. He could decide whether or not it was gay tomorrow.
Sherlock jerked, at first, when he felt John's hand on his. He looked up at John, questioning, and then down at their touching hands. Then, slowly, he turned his hand, so that they could thread their fingers together, and he smiled.
"What's all this?" John asked, bewildered, as a series of three burly, unidentified men showed up at 221B Baker Street without fanfare or introduction and began to move in boxes and bags. "What--"
"My things" said Sherlock, from his seat on the couch. He was clean-shaven and dressed in one of his old suits, which now fit him a little loosely around the waist and chest. His cheekbones were still too pronounced. Even his hair looked exhausted.
One man passed with an armful of garment bags. Then another. John watched the men file into Sherlock's bedroom. "I gave those to Oxfam."
"And Mycroft bought them from Oxfam."
John's head whipped around. He stared at Sherlock. "Mycroft knew."
"Of course he knew." Sherlock, at least, did not sound happy about it. "Mycroft knows everything."
"Wait, so." John stomped over to where Sherlock was sitting on the couch, his arms sprawled over the back. One of the men--one of Mycroft's men--went on shelving books. "So you mean to tell me that your brother, who you don't even like, and who sold you to Moriarty--"
Sherlock opened his mouth. "It was--"
John was pretty sure he was going to punch Sherlock. It was overdue. When Sherlock had first returned, John had been too overwhelmed and concerned about his health and well-being to be much upset. But now that they were moving back in to 221B, now that Sherlock was revealing the finer details of his sprawling plan, John was discovering that he was a bit stung to have been left out of it. Sherlock had brought John along on cases just because he liked having someone to talk to, and now he couldn't be bothered to tell John when he wasn't dead?
"A bit stung" didn't really begin to cover it.
But he was also very, very glad that Sherlock was back.
"--part of the plan," Sherlock finished, and then John kissed him.
It was a quick little thing, just a press to the corner of his lips. It didn't last long enough for John to start panicking. When he pulled away, he saw that Sherlock couldn't have looked more poleaxed than if John had hit him. John enjoyed that, and he enjoyed even more that he'd been the one to put that expression there.
Then he did hit Sherlock. Gently, on the arm, because Sherlock was still recovering, after all, and then an open-handed thwap to the top of his head. Sherlock had the temerity to look outraged about it.
Mrs Hudson poked her head in. "Oh, it's so good to see you boys together again," she sighed.
The egg rolls and crab rangoons were still crispy. John bit into one knowing that it would scald him, and he wasn't disappointed. Sherlock poked through the fried rice with his chopsticks, looking for and picking out the barbecued pork, and for once John didn't have the heart to scold him. Sherlock was frowning, like the tasty little porcine bits presented some kind of riddle, and John bubbled over with happiness.
Sherlock put the carton on the coffee table. "You kissed me," he declared. Then he paused. "Earlier. That was a kiss, wasn't it?"
John's heart plummeted into his stomach. He set down his own carton. "Yes, that's the usual term for it, yes."
"Then you hit me."
The two men stared at one another for a few heartbeats. John had to remember to breathe.
Finally, Sherlock said, "Was that your way of saying you'd like to pursue a BDSM relationship? Because I'm not--I don't think I'm really equipped--"
John dropped his plastic fork in his haste to wave both his hands in front of his face, as if that had the ability to actually stop the words coming out of Sherlock's mouth. "No, no, no! Christ, no." He mashed the heel of his hand against his forehead. "I. I. Um. Don't really know what I meant by it, really. Well, I knew what I meant by the hitting," he added. "I meant that I was angry with you."
Sherlock had relaxed a little through the course of John's stammering spiel and picked up the carton of rice again. John fished for his fork and found it, then decided he'd rather have a new one.
"Are you still angry with me?" Sherlock asked.
"Yes." John stabbed a crab rangoon with his new fork, more for something to do with his hands than a restored appetite. "I reckon I'm going to be angry with you for a good long while."
"Ah." Sherlock didn't seem to be eating much of the fried rice, either, just swirling his chopsticks around in it. He gave John a sideways glance. "But you'll stay."
"Damn straight. Even though you bloody well don't deserve it, God knows, but I want it, so. Well. There you go." John bit into his crab rangoon with finality.
Sherlock stirred his rice around some more. "And the kissing?"
John swallowed his chunk of crab rangoon without chewing and coughed. His eyes watered. "Y-yes?"
"Usually--that is, in my experience--kissing is a statement of intent that carries with it certain connotations." Sherlock said this very slowly, as if he had to think of each word before he said it. John put his carton down again. He didn't think he wanted to be holding food for this. "You stated that you weren't aware of your intent at the time, but it's, the standard intention is..."
It dawned on John that this was really, really not Sherlock's area. He swallowed. "Yes. That is, the standard intention, mine are, yes."
Sherlock still wouldn't meet John's eyes, but John didn't miss the movement of his throat as he swallowed. "I am not averse to this. In fact, I would say that my intentions are...similar."
John put down his carton. "I'm going to kiss you now, okay?"
Sherlock froze like a rabbit in headlights, so John had to physically turn his face towards him. Then he pressed their lips together. It was weird and not comfortable at all, more akin to John's first fumbling schoolboy kisses than anything else. Had Sherlock really never done this before? How did a grown man--but, well, Sherlock was atypical in every other way, so why was John so surprised? He kept at it until Sherlock made a noise that might have been distress. Then he backed away, trying not to pant. "How was that?"
Sherlock licked his lips. "Okay."
John let out his breath and took another deep one. "Okay."
"I've never done this before." John tried to keep his gaze above Sherlock's collarbone, which was difficult when they were both naked and sitting on Sherlock's bed.
Sherlock raised his eyebrows. "You've never had sex before?" He sounded extremely dubious about that, and for good reason, because John had had occasion to complain to Sherlock about his lack of sex life when Sherlock kept running off his girlfriends.
"No, I mean--with a man. I've never done this with a man."
Sherlock uncrossed his legs and crawled over to the side of the bed, testicles swinging, whereupon John immediately decided to examine the ceiling. "It can't be that hard," Sherlock said, voice muffled as he rummaged for something on the floor. "Millions of men do it."
John heard typing. "Are you--are you looking this up on the Internet?"
"Yes." Typpity typpity tap. Tap tap tap. "Some research might--"
"No. Stop. Stop stop stop. Come back here." John crawled over and, not knowing where else to touch, settled for grabbing Sherlock's shoulder. "We don't need a tutorial, I just, I'm nervous, that's all."
Sherlock looked over his shoulder at John, his gaze sharp. "Well, it's not as if you've never done this before at all," he snapped, and John's heart stuttered and sank. Sherlock huffed out a sigh, shut his laptop with a click, and backed up until he was on the bed again. "Well?"
It occurred to John to wonder if he wasn't the only one who'd been doing a lot of questioning. Shame burned hot in his throat. "Look, we don't have to--"
"Don't." Sherlock drew himself up, still taller than John even sitting on a bed, and glared at John. John had rarely seen him this fierce, not even when he was facing down Moriarty next to a swimming pool. Sherlock had looked collected, then; confident. Now Sherlock buzzed with indignation. "Don't you dare." Then he leaned forward, cupped John's face in his hands, and kissed him.
And oh, it was unfair how quickly Sherlock learned. Where the last kiss had been clumsy and unerotic, this one sent warmth chasing down John's body in seven seconds. Sherlock still tasted like fried rice; John was certain he still tasted like egg rolls. But it was a good kiss, a very, very good kiss, and John felt himself relaxing under it, like a caramel melting in the sun.
They lay down and kept kissing that way for a minute or two more, and then Sherlock broke it off to examine the rest of John. He lingered over the scar a little bit, but he'd seen it before, no doubt stored it in his mind palace with a single glance. He inspected John's cuticles, his calluses, and the soles of his feet. John found it endearing, but not particularly arousing. His penis remained soft. Sherlock hummed and stroked his fingertips up the inside of John's arm. The featherlight brush made John's toes curl. Sherlock smiled and did it again, and John shivered.
Sherlock put his head on John's shoulder. His chin was very pointy. "What do we do now?"
"Well, ah, you can try to make me hard?" John glanced down. "Or I can try to make you hard."
Sherlock actually thought about it, which John wasn't sure boded well for the rest of this encounter. "I want to try you," he declared at last, and without further ado he scooted his way down the bed until he was at eye-level with John's penis. John barely had time to yelp, "Teeth be careful!" before Sherlock opened his mouth and put John's cock in it.
It was a little weird. People--all right, girls--didn't usually try to go down on John when he was still soft, and Sherlock clearly didn't know what he was doing. There wasn't any rhythm to his suction at all, and--
John winced. "Go easy a little, please."
Sherlock obliged, and he used his hand to cover what of John's cock he couldn't get in his mouth. Shortly thereafter his rhythm improved, and he began to go deeper. There was something to be said about going to bed with the most observant man in the United Kingdom. John's body began to take note that something sexy was going on here. A few minutes later he was really getting into it, his hips making abortive little thrusting motions, and then Sherlock stopped.
John opened his eyes and managed to refrain from whinging. "Something the matter?"
"Tired." Sherlock cracked his jaw and eyed John's cock, now standing proudly at attention, wet and shiny with spit. "This requires a surprising amount of stamina."
"Huh." Well, that was something John wouldn't take for granted again, he supposed. "Er, want me to try you, now?" Sherlock was still soft.
"If you wish."
John didn't, really, but he supposed it was only fair. They switched places, Sherlock making himself comfortable on his back, and John took Sherlock's penis in his hand. It was longer than his, which was only fair given Sherlock was also taller, and about the same girth. He wrapped his fingers around it, feeling clumsy and strange from this angle, and started stroking. Slowly, Sherlock's cock stiffened and grew erect, and Sherlock's breathing changed. John looked up. Sherlock was flushed down to his collarbone and biting his bottom lip. It looked pretty hot, actually.
John decided to say it out loud. "You're hot, you know."
Sherlock looked startled. "Thank you," he said, uncertain. Had no one ever complimented him before? That was mad. John knew Sherlock was attractive, and he was straight! Sort of.
Sherlock was now quite hard, so John took a deep breath, wrapped his lips around his teeth, and went down. Much too far at first, too fast, and he nearly gagged. He backed off and settled for taking in just the head and a bit below it. This really was much harder than it looked. John wrapped his hand around the rest of Sherlock's shaft and started bobbing his head, making sure to use his tongue around the glans, and to keep it nice and sloppy. That was how he liked it, anyhow, and Sherlock didn't seem to disagree, given his laboured breaths.
John felt pressure on the back of his head: Sherlock's hand. He tensed, but Sherlock didn't shove or pull; he just left his fingers there, warm on the curve of John's skull. It was...nice. Intimate.
"John," Sherlock said through his teeth.
"Mmm?" John looked up. Sherlock stared down at him, bewildered.
"I," Sherlock started, "I think I'm--"
Oh shit, Sherlock was going to come. Should he pull off? Spit or swallow? John loved it when they swallowed, any sane man did, but he wasn't sure he was so keen on trying that out now, he rather wanted to nerve himself up for it--
The decision was taken out of his hands as Sherlock came with an inelegant little grunt, and oh God that was foul. John pulled off, spitting, and Sherlock spurted two more times, one landing on John's jaw and the other landing who knew where, probably on the duvet.
"Gah. Ack. Gah." John spat again, oh God, the taste was still there. Would it be incredibly bad form to leave and wash his mouth out right now? "Jesus."
Sherlock had gone boneless on the bed, eyes closed. "Muh," he said.
John sighed. "And now I suppose you're going to be totally useless." He peered down at his erection. It'd wilted a little from the lack of attention, but it hadn't lost all interest. John closed his hand around it and wanked a few times, to get it back up to speed.
"Come here." John looked up; Sherlock had opened his eyes to narrow slits and lifted his head just a little. He jerked his chin up in another clear command: Come here. John rolled his eyes. Trust Sherlock to be a bossy virgin.
He crawled up the bed to lie next to Sherlock, who rolled onto his side, clearly wanting to watch (but not wanting to help, apparently; how very Sherlock). John positioned himself so that he was facing Sherlock but also had plenty of room to work. He made his strokes fast and hard, as he did when he wanted to get off and go to sleep, and Sherlock watched with such keen interest that it was unnerving. John closed his eyes.
"John," Sherlock said, right in his ear, and his hand closed over John's, warm and dry. John opened his eyes, gasped, and came.
Well, he thought, afterwards, that was a little gay.
"How was that, then?" John asked, once they were cleaned up (more or less). Sherlock had resumed his starfish pose on the bed, this time on his belly, eyes closed.
"Not unbearable," Sherlock replied, which John decided to take as a compliment. He opened his eyes and looked at John.
"Not unbearable," John agreed, and smiled.