This is not supposed to be possible, Sherlock tells himself as he stares out the window of the cab, not possible at all. His heart is racing and he’s struggling to keep his breathing controlled; each inhalation brings tantalising wafts of the scent – a mix of tannin, gun oil and deep woods – that is uniquely John’s but is now emanating from his own skin and sending his senses into overdrive.
This is not who I thought I was, not how I thought I worked, not … just not ….
He shakes his head. The loss of his words, the fracturing of his train of thought, is enough to convince him that this is real; not just a figment of his imagination brought on by days without sleep, the after effects of partial asphyxiation, and falling just over six foot onto a hard wooden floor. Even in the depths of the cocaine lows he’s never found himself unable to think before and there can only be one explanation for this sudden, distressing, aberration:
The doctors, the psychologists and the psychoanalysts were wrong. They misdiagnosed a child’s coping mechanism when the world hurt too much for a rare medical condition and no-one, least of all him, has ever questioned it.
How stupid he has been! How idiotic! He’s allowed his pride in the fact that he believed himself to be other - set apart from the masses and their sentimental, hormone driven ridiculousness - to blind him to the fact that he isn’t broken at all. He just hadn’t ever found the person who could switch him on before; because he hadn’t yet found John.
John. The man who says brilliant when everyone else says piss off. The man who doesn’t flinch when he finds eyeballs in the fridge, who giggles at crime scenes and, somehow, seems to instinctively understand what Sherlock means despite what he’s actually saying and doing. The man who makes Sherlock feel alive in ways he hasn’t felt since he was a very small child.
And the man … oh God, the man who has been taken from him and might, even as Sherlock wills the cab to go faster, be being removed from the world altogether, before Sherlock has a chance to tell him how extraordinary he is.
Had they known, these thieves of his future, what they were taking? Had they observed what he, in his enforced naivety, had not? Had they understood what their actions would do, realised the effect the maelstrom of feelings the loss of John has called up inside him would have? Sherlock drops his head into his hands, clutching at his temples in an effort to regain some control, trying to marshal the emotions he has no frame of reference for and to re-dress himself in the Sherlock Holmes he’s spent years perfecting; the Sherlock Holmes that does not feel and therefore cannot be damaged by the feelings or actions of others.
As the cab moves free of the traffic and picks up speed, the knowledge that he is almost where John is allows him to find the calm inside that he so desperately needs. Rapidly he bundles the strands of fear, desire, desperation, and concern away into the room of his mind palace that is - already, when did that happen? – exclusively John’s before closing, but not locking, the door. He will return once John is safe and he is alone and he can try to rationalise, to explain, to understand, to … He grits his teeth and forces the door closed once again and then brings himself back to the world so fast it leaves him dizzy. The emotions are still there, signalling from a corner of his mind like a persistent itch, but they are subdued enough that he can focus.
Three minutes later, when he steps out of the cab and slinks into the tramway he looks as calm and unruffled as usual; not even Mycroft could tell that his world has just been turned upside down.
John’s head hurts, his mouth is dry and, as he tries to force his eyes open and finds himself thinking, I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more, Toto, he realises he’s at least partly concussed. A problem which he pushes to the back of the seething cauldron that is currently his mind when a voice from the darkness - one he recognises from the Chinese circus - begins spouting off crap about books and him being Sherlock and then he remembers exactly how he ended up …. Where the hell is he?
A moan from his left tells him quite succinctly that poor Sarah has been, quite literally, caught up in this mess as well. If he wasn’t so convinced that it was going to get them both killed he’d have giggled himself stupid over the fact that a gang that was intelligent enough to smuggle antiquities into the UK without getting caught weren’t capable of performing even a perfunctory search for a person on google. Definitely concussed, he thinks when the world lurches as he tries in vain to find a way of explaining that this really is a case of mistaken identity without sounding like he’s making pathetic excuses.
And where is Sherlock? Did they get him too and just leave him or… Oh God, John realises frantically, they think Sherlock’s me! They don’t think he matters! What if they’ve already killed him, simply because he was in the way? The nausea from the head wound surges again at that thought and, for a moment, John thinks he’s actually going to vomit. Instead he’s distracted by the bastards picking Sarah up and depositing her in front of the bloody arrow contraption. Heaving in a gasp of air, intending to say what he’s not sure, he can suddenly smell of coffee, formaldehyde and the strangely enticing mix of orange zest and malt that is Sherlock’s shampoo and rather than speaking he finds himself thinking, Oh dear Lord, how hard did they hit me that I’ve started hallucinating smells?
Concentrate, he orders himself as he makes another, desperate, attempt to convince the smugglers that he really doesn’t have the fucking pin or whatever the hell it is they are so keen to kill for. He’s rapidly running out of words and hope when Sherlock’s voice comes out of the darkness and a small part of him wants to sob with relief. Except the sand is still pouring, and Sarah is still about to be pierced by four foot of wood and metal, and he’s trying to get to her, but he’s falling and … somehow, he’s managed to knock the frame and very nearly kills Sherlock instead.
And then it’s over and they’re safe and in his relief he finds himself saying something inane to Sarah about the next date being better, even as he’s thinking that there won’t be a next date because if he can’t have Sherlock he doesn’t want anyone.
Sherlock is completely in control right up until the point he actually touches John and realises that the tang of copper in the air he can practically taste is coming from the bloody wound on the left side of John’s head.
‘Just a head wound. They always look worse than they are.’ John’s slurring his words slightly and trying to get up even though Sherlock’s barely got half the knots undone.
‘Stay still, John,’ he commands and John freezes under his hands. ‘Better,’ he murmurs, although he’s not sure if he’s asking or telling and neither, it seems, is John, who makes a strange half noise in the back of his throat and then nods slightly.
In the background he can hear Dimmock talking to Sarah and he’s aware of other police officers filing into the place, spreading out, searching for clues. He tunes them out, focusing on the soft drag of John’s breath – slightly too fast for normal respiration but far too slow for a panic attack – the way his eyelids are fluttering, and the slight twitches of his mouth. It’s taking all of his will power not to just lean down and press his nose to John’s temple, press his lips to the pulse in John’s neck and …. At that moment the final knot comes undone and he pushes those desires way, concentrates on helping John to his feet, chaffing at his wrists to get the circulation going again.
‘How do you feel?’ It’s Sarah, appearing beside them and offering John a soft smile. A smile that shrieks in Sherlock’s brain like fingernails down a blackboard and he’s hard pressed not to snarl and shove her away. He settles for sharing a smile of his own that really isn’t a smile at all and runs his hands over John’s arms. An action that earns him a look of confusion from both of them which he answers by stalking away towards the mouth of the tramway, trying as he does to clear his nostrils of the scent of himself that’s now rolling off John in waves and making him want to … well, to do everything, all at once.
Except, does he? Really? He knows, objectively, that the scent changes in both of them are products of the feelings they are developing for each other, rather than the other way round but this intensity is, not frightening exactly but … Oh who is trying to kid, it is frightening! Frightening in the way he trusts it implicitly, frightening that everything about this situation is telling him that this was meant to be; that he and John are meant for each other.
But can it really be true? And even if it is, does it really matter? Because at this point he still has a choice.
Does he really want to be bound body and mind, tied to one person for ever more? Glancing over his shoulder he sees John still occupied by Dimmock and Sarah, so he ducks into a patch of deeper shadow and retreats into his head. That John’s scent has changed so noticeably, and completely in tandem with his own, means he doesn’t have the luxury of waiting until they get home to think about things. If he isn’t going to pursue this he has to decide now, before his instincts overwhelm his reason.
He blinks rapidly as he opens the door in his head and the last two months, the entirety of the time he has known John, floods into his consciousness. He feels his mouth curl into a smile of its own volition as he notes all the little things that John has brought into his life that he hadn’t known he was missing; the way John’s smile lights up his whole face and how warm it makes Sherlock feel, knowing he’s been the one to put it there; all those cups of coffee and slices of toast that he hadn’t known he both wanted and needed, and the fact there is always honey on the toast despite Sherlock never having mentioned liking it and there having been none in the flat when John moved in; the sense of joy that bursts in his gut when John freely offers praise of his skills; the jolt of pleasure and something more visceral that floods through him every time they laugh together, eyes locked and pulses racing.
And that indefinable sense of being safe, being home that being with John gives him, has been giving him from almost the first moment they met.
Sherlock swallows hard, trying to ensure none of his thoughts show on his face as John and Sarah walk past him, falling into step behind them as John ushers her toward a taxi. Because now he knows with full certainty that he wants to bond with John, wants it very badly indeed.
Yet he’s ignored all the signs until now, refused to accept what had been obvious from even a cursory examination of events and that was so unlike him it made his breathing hitch. Why had he lied to himself for so long? Why had he chosen not to notice anything until this evening? Because there are no guarantees this will work the bit of his mind that always sounds like Mycroft points out. Because this is only the beginning of what could be a very long process and there is no way to know if your mutual attraction will blossom or implode. No way to know if you’ll actually complete the bond. Which is enough to make Sherlock feel sick.
If they start this and it doesn’t work then John will leave and he … he can’t bear that. No. Just no! Losing John isn’t to be thought of. Which is what will happen if they decide to try and complete the bond and they fail; no friendship survives something so cataclysmic, no matter what some people might say. After all, he’s watched it happen first hand. He saw Mycroft lose the one person he’d come to rely on after …
Sherlock shakes his head again, forcing those particular memories down and away. He will not think of that, of him. Not now, not ever. And he won’t risk what he has with John either. He’ll just have to stay silent, hold the feelings inside and ignore the tantalising promise in the scent of only man he’s ever, honestly, called friend and now, apparently wants to call …
‘… were you hurt, Sherlock? Sherlock!’
‘What? Oh! Finally ready then?’ He blusters at John. Who is now at his side, looking at him steadily, face a mix of tiredness and worry that makes Sherlock instinctively soften his tone. ‘I’m not hurt, John. Just thinking. Let’s go.’
John’s face clears slightly and he nods, wincing at the movement and Sherlock finds his stomach clenching uncomfortably at the look of pain in John’s eyes. He reaches out as he sees John sway, one hand slipping under John’s elbow, the other steadying his lower back and John leans into the hold with a sigh that makes Sherlock’s mouth go dry and his hands tighten involuntarily.
‘Should I be insisting on a visit to hospital?’
‘Not unless you want my eternal enmity.’ John angles his head up slowly, shooting a lopsided grin at Sherlock. ‘I can’t think of anything worse than A&E on a Friday night.’
‘Home it is then,’ Sherlock murmurs, pulling his eyes from John’s lips long enough to steer them both towards their cab. John hums his consent, face relaxing once they’re seated, somehow right next to one another; Sherlock’s arm all the way round John’s back, good side of John’s head resting on Sherlock’s shoulder.
‘Don’t go to sleep,’ Sherlock mutters, fighting the urge to bury his nose in John’s hair and just breathe him in. ‘You’re probably concussed.’
‘I think I am.’ John’s voice is a little deeper than normal, a slight tremor to his words. ‘Because you smell … your scent has … I must be imagining …’
His voice trails off and he lifts his head again, looking up at Sherlock with wide eyes, tongue flickering over dry lips. Sherlock realises he’s mimicking the action when John’s pupils follow the motion, dilating slightly as they do. Sherlock means to be strong, to resist his own desires and to agree that John is delusional from the injury but what actually comes out of his traitorous mouth is, ‘Yours has too.’
‘So you …’ John blinks, swallows and then lowers his head to Sherlock’s shoulder again, burying his nose in Sherlock’s chest and pressing a shaky hand over Sherlock’s heart. ‘These feelings … This isn’t just me then?’
‘No. I ...’ Sherlock can’t find the words, instead giving in and lowering his nose to John’s hair, filling his lungs with the scent that called to him the minute it hit his nose all those weeks ago at Bart’s and now - smelling even sweeter, mixed as it is with his own – telling him so emphatically that this is really happening and will continue to do so. If he allows it to.
If … is there really an if? His rationality may be telling him not to risk what he already has, not to damage the best thing that has happened to him since his seven year old self turned his back on human frailty, but his heart is very clear about what it wants and his body seems to be firmly under its control. He arms snake more firmly round John’s body, fingers sliding under John’s coat and jumper, stroking, making him need to feel, to map, to …
‘Oh God, Sherlock.’ John’s voice is deliciously rough. ‘We shouldn’t …’ His hands slip inside Sherlock’s coat, contradicting his words as they move over Sherlock’s chest, probing the gaps between his shirt buttons. ‘But I want … I want this, want you, so very much.’ He pauses and Sherlock can almost hear the thought ping into John’s head. ‘Hang on. I thought you didn’t … When you said you couldn’t ... I thought you just meant that I wasn’t … and yet ....’
Sherlock feels John’s nose begin nuzzling the exposed edge of his left collar bone, inhaling deeply before shifting so he can look straight at Sherlock. His breath is coming in hard-edged gasps.
‘You do want me, you feel the attraction too. You have to, for your scent to have begun to change.’ John’s eyes are uncertain, the cleft between them deepening as he frowns. ‘So what was all that about, back when we first met, Sherlock? The whole married to my work, all just transport, not capable of forming emotional attachments spiel? I never bought it, you know. I thought it was one of your rare attempts to be kind, letting me down gently because you didn’t want me. Except now you clearly do. So I need you to explain, Sherlock. I need you to tell me why you said what you did and whether you really want to go down this road? Because … I need you to be sure.’
John drops his head again, so Sherlock can’t read his face but his fingers start circling Sherlock’s shirt button, not undoing but fiddling and this one, tiny, act of nervousness pushes all of Sherlock’s own fears right to the back of his mind. He pulls his hand off John’s stomach and cups John’s jaw, gently urging his face back up.
‘I wasn’t trying to be kind, John. I was telling you the truth.’ John opens his mouth, but Sherlock presses a finger over his lips. ‘Let me finish, please. Yes, I knew you’d jumped to the wrong conclusion. And yes, I could have corrected you. But I didn’t. I didn’t because … because I didn’t think it would matter, since nothing would ever happen that would contradict your belief. But it matters now because it has and it’s you and you don’t believe I’m serious. Yet I am.
‘I need you to understand that I genuinely didn’t think my body was capable of doing this. That I genuinely believed I wasn’t capable of the emotions required. I … I’m sure I can get hold of the medical reports if you want to see them. But tonight! Tonight when I found you were gone and then in that tramway, when I thought for a moment I wasn’t going to be in time …’
Sherlock closes his eyes briefly, trying to reorder his thoughts into something resembling coherence out of the storm of sensations.
‘… Something changed, John. I was able to recognise what has been happening to me, to us, all along. I’ve been ignoring the signs because I thought they weren’t real but they were. They are ....’
He pauses, watching John’s face, watching his words register in the minute fluttering of John’s eyelashes, the slight tightening of his jaw, the shallowness of his breath.
‘I want you, John. I think I’ve wanted you from the beginning and I … God help me, I want us to try. Is … is that enough?’
John’s hands tighten their hold on Sherlock’s shirt.
The word is little more than a susurrus as John exhales but it is spoken and that is enough. Sherlock moved to capture it with his mouth before he’s thought about his actions, only reining himself in when his lips are millimetres from John’s.
‘Not here,’ he says, gritting his teeth as he pulls back, the mewl of loss issuing from John’s throat making him absurdly happy. ‘I won’t do this in public.’
John squeezes his eyelids together before looking past Sherlock and out of the window. His hands are now completely still but they remain tangled in Sherlock’s clothes. ‘No, I don’t suppose you will. Well, we’re almost home, anyhow.’
‘Good.’ Sherlock’s tone is so emphatic it startles a laugh out of John and the tension between them changes, taking on an edge of need that Sherlock has never experienced before. If it was anyone but John eliciting such a response from him he would be terrified by the intensity of it.
As it is, by the time they’ve pulled up at 221B and paid the cabbie Sherlock is practically vibrating with the desire to touch John in a manner he’s never, ever, wanted to touch anyone else. Judging by the way John’s hands are shaking as he unlocks the door, the feeling is more than mutual. Yet John clearly has done such things before. With a variety of people who, given most of them were women and from the few things John had said about his previous relationships, none of them were chosen for any biological compatibility; which would indicate John has never expected to find anyone to bond with.
Except that idea is patently absurd. How could a man like John not think an alpha would want him? Or was the idea of belonging to an alpha in that way so abhorrent to John that he’d actively avoided it until now? Maybe he’d initially been so repulsed by Sherlock physically that the thought they might actually end up like this, in the first stages of the bonding process, hadn’t even occurred to him when he’d said he’d move in. What if …?
‘If you don’t stop thinking for minute you’re going to give yourself a migraine.’
John’s in front of him again, fingers entwining warmly with his own as his mouth curls in a cautious smile. ‘I can practically hear the panic ricocheting around in there.’
‘I am not panicking,’ Sherlock huffs, wondering whether it’s John’s pheromones that have caused him not to notice the transit from street to living room or if he is actually being overwhelmed by his own emotions. ‘I’m simply … How do I put this? ... I just …’
‘Ask me,’ John interrupts, thumbs rubbing over the backs of Sherlock’s hands. ‘Take a deep breath and ask me about whatever it is that’s got you strung tighter than your violin.’
Sherlock looks at John, really looks at him, and his throat closes off. How can this man want him? John is kind, caring, warm. He makes an effort for people and he is good. A genuinely good man who does what the thinks is right at any given time and damn the consequences. Whereas he … If there is any label that he can apply to himself which is actually true it most certainly isn’t good.
‘Why?’ Is what finally comes out of his mouth. ‘Why me?’
‘You … you really don’t know, do you? You see through everyone else in seconds yet you have no idea how they see you.’
John is looking at him as if he’s the eighth wonder of the world and Sherlock feels the still unaccustomed warmth in the pit of his stomach that John’s admiring gaze always generates.
‘You’re mesmerising, Sherlock. Everything about you is mesmerizing; how you think, what you do, why you do it! There’s something in you that calls to me – calls to other people too, despite your best efforts on that score – something that makes me want to be the one who makes you smile, makes you laugh. I want to get into that head of yours and for you never to be able to get me out again. I ... I’ve never met anyone like you, Sherlock, anyone who could fire me, bring me to life, the way you do. I never expected to find anyone I cared about like this, never mind anyone I wanted so badly and it frightens me. Just as much as I think it frightens you. But …’
John’s mouth quirks as he steps right into Sherlock’s personal space.
‘You said dangerous and here I am and this … taking this step is far more dangerous than just shooting some deranged cabbie or getting kidnapped by a bunch of murderous Chinese smugglers. Because if this goes wrong, if you decide this sort of thing really isn’t for you then I … I’ll have to leave and … I’m not sure if I could cope with giving you up.’
‘Me? You think I’m going to change my mind?’
John checks at the incredulity in Sherlock’s voice but then squares his jaw and speaks again.
‘Yes, you, Sherlock. You, who until tonight, didn’t think they were physically capable of bonding. You, who clearly wasn’t even going to mention you’d noticed my scent change until I spoke of yours. You, who tells people you’re a high-functioning sociopath to keep them so far past arms length they may as well be on the next continent! Even if we ignore the fact that you’ve never tried to push me away, not really, I still can’t see how … How someone so fucking smart, someone who gets bored at the drop of a hat and views 99% of the human race with complete distain, could possibly maintain an interest, sexual or otherwise, in a mentally unstable, scarred ex-soldier who can barely hold down a locum job at a GP surgery, never mind keep up with you when you’re in full flow!’
John’s chest is heaving, his eyes glistening but he doesn’t move away; doesn’t step back to give Sherlock room to think, to breath.
‘Yet I don’t care. This change …’ He inhales deeply. ‘… in both of us. This is real. You’ve said you want to try and I believe you mean it. I know what I want, so I’ll take what you’re offering and as for what happens next … I’ll trust to hope. I’d be a fool not to.’
‘John, I … you …’ Sherlock stares into John’s eyes, heart pounding as those words run through his head on loop. He knows - can feel it in himself - that if he does this now, if he lets himself go, there will be no turning back from it, no turning away. But John, despite what he’s just said, John can change his mind. And when he realises just how little Sherlock knows about the pleasures of the flesh, realises exactly how inept Sherlock is at expressing the feelings he’s forgotten he’s capable of ... will whatever it is John’s feeling be enough to keep him here, keep them together?
John has been being absolutely truthful, Sherlock knows - just as he knows he wants to be John’s in every possible way - but still something is niggling at him, telling him not to trust the certainty. There must be something else, something he hasn’t factored in that is making him nervous still, something ... John tilts his head, watching Sherlock intently, and the movement causes the dried blood round his wound to glint dully in the moonlight.
The head wound! Of course!
John is, currently, compromised. There’s a chance that the injury has affected his thoughts and his emotions, that none of what he’s feeling now is real.
‘Your head.’ Sherlock inclines his own, eyes roaming over the bloodied bump. ‘You’re hurt, remember.’
‘I’ve wanted you since the moment I first laid eyes on you, Sherlock.’ John’s smile is as gentle as it is knowing. ‘A bit of pistol whipping isn’t going to change anything.’
‘From the … Oh!’ Sherlock is aware he’s gaping ridiculously at that revelation. Surprisingly he doesn’t care.
‘Yeah, well, I’ve said my piece now.’ John’s fingers are tightening round Sherlock’s as he speaks. ‘And I’m finding it increasingly difficult to just stand here and look at you. So please, either kiss me or tell me to piss off.’
Sherlock tugs on their hands, pulling John flush to his chest, before letting go and cradling him; one hand at the nape of his neck and the other tight round his waist. John’s hands fly inside his coat and up his back immediately, the heat of his palms bleeding through the thin fabric of the shirt, making Sherlock shiver with pleasure and lust.
‘I may be a more than a little rusty, so you’ll have to bear with me,’ he murmurs, watching John’s pupils dilate fully as his voice rumbles through them both.
Then, finally, when the need to taste has burned away all the remaining fear, burned away all the doubt and incinerated every other thought in his head, he drops his mouth to John’s and kisses him.