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Shatter the Darkness (Let the Light In)

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It is a dark pre-dawn late in January. The sun is still an hour away from the horizon, and hazy light from a street lamp across the way casts a ghostly, lambent glow in a rectangle falling from the window of a bedsit.

Erratic, raspy panting disturbs the silence of the room.

John wakes up convulsively. He is clammy with cooling sweat, and draws in his fist to bite hard at the thick pad at the base of his thumb. He gathers up the smothering echoes of staccato gunshots, the blood, the screams, the dust; and pushes them down, down, until they are locked tight in a trunk at the very bottom of his mind. He deflects those images with sheer will, not ease. He reminds himself to breathe.

When the paralysis has faded, and the shaking come and passed, he unclenches his teeth. The clear indentations of incisors and molars on the heel of his hand will fade throughout the day. Until they are refreshed in the next dawn.

He sits up and awkwardly pulls himself to his feet, grip tight on the bedside table, and fumbles for his cane. Stiff and splintered, he lurches towards the shower to wash off the sour residue of the night; to cudgel his body into facing another empty day.

 

He flicks his fingers through towel-dried hair as he lowers himself to the straight-backed wooden chair in front of his desk. The sky has lightened, but it is not yet dawn. His laptop sits in front of him; it does not beckon. Not the empty blog (“Nothing ever happens to me.”), nor porn, nor the Internet's funniest cat videos. It is as gray as his life.

From the drawer he pulls his SIG, the cool weight comfortable in his hand. He lays it on the desk for a minute, fingers resting gently on top, and then, with a fluttering tap, he lifts his hand again to reach for his ammo. He ejects the magazine, punctiliously loads it, pushes it in with a solid click, and chambers the first bullet. As he does every dawn, he slides the barrel into his mouth. Slow. Deliberate. He allows it to be messy, doesn't try to fold the interior of his mouth away in order to keep the weapon dry. His lips caress, his tongue curls against the bottom of the muzzle. He touches it with cheeks, palate, teeth and saliva. All the way back, until it nudges coldly against his uvula, nestles between his tonsils.

After months of this, he's learned to bypass his gag reflex. His throat relaxes, opens to an old friend.

The flavor of steel bites against indifferent taste buds. The slick taste of gun oil bleeds through his mouth. He doesn't deep-throat the gun. This isn't a sexual thing. He aims it competently. It is tilted fractionally downward against the back of his throat, targeted steadily at the base of his skull. The most fatal blow, for a mouth-shot. Then, jaw lax and receptive, he waits.

Is it today? When he chooses to stop fighting? Gives up the gossamer facade he holds up throughout the day? He's not sure why he bothers with a pretense at all. The chip and pin machine is indifferent to whether he's cheerful or gloomy. Harry can't interpret his expressions from the bottom of her current bottle. Ella is no more than an assigned veteran therapist: her brand of caring is professional and turns on and off like a spigot for one hour per week.

It is the sad truth, cutting and indomitable, that there is no one in his life. No one vivid. No one warm. No one who’d mourn. Well, Harry would mourn of course, by drinking still more, but otherwise wouldn’t be affected. Most days he feels that he walks through London encased in a bubble, nothing touches him; he is isolated. Detached. Reality keeps receding into a blur, filled with fluttering paper dolls of people that he cannot touch. Really, there is nothing to even say goodbye to that he has not already lost.

He waits, eyes closed. He slides his tongue gently on the muzzle, blood-warm now, lets the inner surfaces of his lips rest against the trigger guard. Gun oil has filled his mouth with the pungency of sorrow and memories.

 

Today is not the day.

John opens his eyes, lets them drop briefly closed again. He does not know if it is bravery or cowardice which keeps him going, and he curses both. The SIG slides out. A tiny strand of saliva joins man and pistol for a moment before it snaps and drops, lying along wet, cooling steel.

Though it was steady five minutes prior, John’s hand spasms again as he wipes his mouth. He gives himself a minute, head bowed prayer-like, gun under his trembling fingers on the desk.

He draws a wavering breath, and begins the ritual. Disassembly. Magazine out. He snaps the slide to empty the chamber: click, eject. The bullet that might have drilled through his spinal cord is popped out, to roll innocently on the desk. Slide off, barrel out, spring assembly: check. He takes his box of tools out of the drawer and pulls out his brushes, his cloths, the solvent and oil. The pieces of the gun and the tools to clean it are laid, neat and orderly, across the desk blotter. He can spend up to 45 minutes cleaning his service weapon, and often does.

Because what else would he do with his time?

He dips his brush in solvent and begins. The slow drag across the interior of the slide, scooping into the grooves of the slide rails; the push in through the muzzle of the barrel, the gentle twist, reminiscent of intercourse; an in and out that never culminates in ecstasy (It could, it could, his deviant brain sings, in the instant before the bullet is discharged, you would feel like you never have before, John, it would be worth it). He drips a tiny bit of oil on all the moving parts, rubbed in delicately with the sensitive edge of his forefinger. And then the cloth, the final rubdown, when his hands always linger, feeling the unyielding contours of familiar metal, tracing the shape of the gun, checking every dip and angle and scratch.

He obliterates every trace of his morbid morning kiss.

When he is done, he sits for another minute, just breathing. And then he cleans his desk and puts everything away.

 

 

John limps down Regent Street, hand tight and resentful around his cane. It is painfully cold, but he doesn't shiver. It's a sign of pride. He just keeps every muscle tensed. His shoulders are hunched and he looks stolidly ahead; his inclination is to stare at the ground, but that's too much like defeat, which he'll only admit to at dawn.

The lunch crowd has dispersed from the pavements, thankfully, and John is no longer being jostled by other passers-by.

“John.”

It doesn't even register.

“John Watson.”

John does stop at that. Could someone possibly be calling him? Who on earth knows him here in Central London?

“It's me. Mike,” says a rotund, bespectacled gentleman standing in the doorway of an antique shop. “Mike Stamford.”

John smiles politely, but bells aren’t ringing in his memory.

“I know. I got fat.”

Oh. Oh, yes. Lord, it's been nearly fifteen years. “Mike. Of course.”

They shake hands and smile awkwardly at each other for a bit. Mike wants to know what John's been doing with himself.

The short answer is Getting shot.

Mike buys him a coffee and then drags John into the antique shop. “Twelfth Anniversary,” he says proudly. “Got to get the wife a little something.”

“Ah,” says John. He grimaces and hopes it will pass for a smile. “Congratulations.”

“Got anyone special?” Mike asks as he thumbs over a ghastly collection of patinaed brass puppies.

John examines an old phonograph player and begins to flip through mildewed records. “No. No.” It sounds abrupt. “Haven't been back very long,” he hedges.

“Where are you staying?” Mike wants to know.

“Godawful beige bedsit, for now,” John replies before he can filter himself.

Mike laughs sympathetically. “Alright mate,” he consoles. “At least you're here in London. I know there's no place you'd rather be.” He looks around, reaches past piles of Mardi Gras beads and grabs a framed Abbey Road poster. “All you need is some decoration stuff to jolly the place up. The wife swears by it.”

John squints at the picture through the scratched, foggy plastic that takes the place of proper glass. “Yeah. Right.” He laughs, thin and rusty from disuse. “Maybe something else.”

Mike collects a mushroom-shaped teapot with two matching mugs for the wife and then begins a game of foisting the most dreadful things he can find on John.

A pink lamp with plastic ‘crystals’ dangling round the circumference.

A plastic statue of Ganesh, minus two arms and with a broken trunk, stuffed into a birdcage.

A ventriloquist dummy that had been repainted by someone with the artistic ability of a hyperactive two-year-old.

A moth-eaten faux zebra rug, stained and ragged.

A fake tree decorated with dyed feathers and glued over with grubby, molting birds.

John hasn't laughed in a long time, and his heart is lighter, unfamiliar, as they round the last dimly lit enclave and head up towards the register.

Mike grabs a red pillow with marabou trimmings and tosses it at John as he plunks down his teapot.

“Mate, you've got to get something.” His round face beams, Geordie lilt gentle and teasing.

John grimaces a bit. “Alright, then...” He looks around. There's a long bookshelf near the counter made of water-damaged pressboard. It's dusty, like everything else, and there's a tattered spiderweb in the back corner. John stoops to look at the very bottom shelf, as if there might be something interesting there that no one else found because they weren't crawling around on hands and knees. He sticks his head behind the legs of a seven-foot wooden giraffe with a broken ear. There, on the bottom shelf, is a shoebox filled with time-stained tatted anti-macassars, a dented desk globe, a pile of lucky rabbit's feet, and a scrambled cluster of cheap Chinese enameled lamp-shaped jewel boxes.

In the very corner is a real lamp, gracefully shaped, with a spout for pouring oil. Or perhaps that is where the wick goes; he isn’t sure. The cap on top is a crescent moon, swiveled so that the horns point up. It has a slim chain leading to a looped handle and John is instantly enamored. The matte iron is extremely dull next to the glittery glory of the mass produced lamps beside it, but John thinks that renders it more meaningful. He can relate to these scratches and ingrained dirt. Damaged, like me. He pulls it solicitously out and lurches back up.

He grins at Mike. “Alright, then, mate. I'll take this.”

 

first lamp

Mike looks confused. “That's not decorative. It's not even colorful. Why don't you get one of those others?”

John wrinkles his nose. “I don't want one of the others. Besides, it looks functional. I'll get some oil on the way home, see if I can light it up. Or some incense, perhaps. It'll add atmosphere.”

Mike good-naturedly shrugs his shoulders. He is not really invested.

They part ways outside, Mike heading back to Barts now that his lunch-break is over, and John limping back to the bedsit via several shops. He gets lamp oil, a wick, and a slim package of Nag Champa incense in case the lamp part doesn’t work out.

He feels more alive today than he has in months, and he grimaces, wry and sad at himself for getting so excited over a dirty old metal lamp. How pitiful is his life?

But he doesn't let himself dwell on that.

Chapter Text

 

John closes the door to the bedsit with relief. He doesn’t think of it as home, not in the least, but it is warm and has a place to sit down. He puts his bags on the desk, one steaming gently from the fish and chip van around the corner. He sheds his jacket and hangs it conscientiously on the hook behind the door.

He plans to refurbish the lamp with the kit he uses for his gun. Sharing tools between the gun and the lamp feels laden with meaning, which he simultaneously savors and attempts to ignore. He doesn’t understand why he finds the lamp so compelling. Cast iron isn’t one of his favorite materials, and candles and incense are something he associates with former girlfriends rather than using them as a meditative tool. But he can almost feel electricity buzz, when his hands caress it; can feel a tug running from his fingers through his arm to his heart. A warming spark that fills him with life, extrinsic for so long, and an unnamable yearning. It speaks to him, in a language he doesn’t understand, but whose musicality sings in his soul. And lately his soul has been so dark, such a husk, that he doesn’t want to challenge this feeling. Just basks in the lamp’s vivifying current, and pushes questions and scepticism to the back of his mind.

John takes his time, assiduously avoiding the caustic thought that he is making ritual out of the lamp. He sets out the fish and chips, an uncharacteristic extravagance meant to commemorate the nebulous thrill the lamp generates in him. He sets the lamp carefully on the desk blotter and, pulling his cleaning kit from the drawer, arranges that beside it. Then he begins to eat.

It is almost like how he remembers morning masturbation: the slow, self-indulgent way he enjoys the food; gazing at the pointed horns of the moon on the cap of the lamp. He rolls the smooth, flaky flesh of the fish over his tongue, and breathes the aromatic air of vinegar until his whole head and chest are saturated with the flavor. He swallows water from the little cup next to the sink. He hasn’t bought a drink; after all, it is very hard to eke out room and board on a military pension. He finishes the last chip, soggy now, and ties the paper cone back up in a plastic bag to prevent the smell from pervading the bedsit.

Now he lines his gear up, as if this is the moment he’s been building up to. He sets the lamp in the center of the desk in front of him. Rust clings to the grooves inset along the body and spout. Decades of lamp oil, gunk, dirt, human oils and discarded skin cells, soot, who knows what.

He runs a finger along the seductive curve of the spout, eyes closing, focusing on the cool metal, textured and pitted. He can trace the wandering line that makes a vine, weaving its way past the little cap, blooming into tendrils as it heads for the handle. The handle rises on a graceful arc, the vine transforms to scales and terminates in an open-mouthed snake, or perhaps a dragon.

John opens his eyes and picks the lamp up with both hands. It begins to warm under his touch. He places his index finger over the sharp horns of the crescent moon and presses down, relishing the sting of their points. He opens the cap, lets it dangle by its delicate chain, and peers inside. It is too dark to see much, of course.

He feels inside with his finger. Sticky grime, much like the exterior.

He likes the solid weight of it, the way it fits in his hands, its sensual curves and lines.

He puts it down again and adjusts his desk lamp a bit. Already, just from handling it, he feels he’s got his five pounds’ worth. Between the lamp and the fish and chips it’ll be beans, bread, and pot noodles till his next veteran's check. But that’s alright. At least he didn’t have to buy a bunch of cleaning materials.

John dampens a cleaning patch with solvent and sweeps it slowly all over the lamp, until the room is redolent with the stinging pungence of kerosene rather than fish and chips. He lets it soak in for a few minutes, just staring meditatively, and then breaks out a copper brush, gently scrubbing to loosen the debris that time has adhered to the carved surface. Black and rust and gray flakes and bits begin to accumulate around the lamp. He gets what he can on the inside, too, even poking the muzzle brush down the spout of the lamp, pistoning it through until the opening becomes less clogged and passage is unhindered.

The desk is a mess when he is done, and he’s completely sacrificed a hand towel to the proceedings, now foul with dirt and oil. Used cloth patches fill half the desk bin, and John’s fingers and nails are nearly as filthy as the cleaning supplies. He brings the whole affair to the bathroom and washes what he can in the sink, until the water runs clear.

Now he’s ready to oil it. ‘Season’ the iron, as his grandmother used to do with her skillets. It is thrifty, practical, and somehow appropriate to use his gun oil for the purpose. He tilts the little bottle over the lamp, allowing drops to fall here and there, over the handle, down the horns of the moon, into the groove of the vine. He uses the side of his finger to smooth the oil around, until the lamp damply shines. He selects a microfiber cloth to sacrifice for the event.

And now he rubs.

He leans back in his chair, eliciting the groaning squeak that heralds a shift in position, and holds the lamp gently cradled in his right hand. He runs his fingers first along the long sides of the spout, circling the hole in the center, the lid dangling to the side, and then over the curve of the handle. It is like stroking a lover, he thinks. Or his gun. Actually, more often than not, there’s no difference between the two. He follows the caress with the slick cloth, focusing intently, rubbing gloss and shine back into the lamp. He pushes hard. Elbow grease is needed, psychologically if not actually. He forces the oil into the pitted metal. He polishes with fervor and dedication, vision, a little bit of obsession, and an intense emotion wavering between love and ferocity.

While John is thus occupied, there is a soft susurrus, little more than an exhalation. John glances curiously toward the door, wondering what it could have been. He shrugs mentally and goes back to polishing the lamp.

It takes another fifteen minutes until he’s satisfied. All traces of rust and dirt are gone, and the old lamp softly gleams. The intricate tracework of vines and abstract patterns are vivid, and feel seductive under his blackened fingers. Even the points of the horned moon catch and hold the light. John holds it up and admires it. He leans forward to reach for a cone of incense when,

“I’d really rather you didn’t.”

John fumbles the lamp and whirls around, falling sideways out of his chair as he does so. The fall is controlled, and he has the desk drawer open and his gun out almost before he can properly look at the unknown and uninvited man he finds sitting on his bed.

The gun is unloaded, but John hopes the intruder doesn’t know that. He doesn’t have time to pull out his ammo box and load the magazine. His hand fails to shake, and he sets the lamp gently down to hold the grip of his SIG with both hands. He points steadily at the stranger’s forehead. “What the fuck? Who are you? How did you get here?”

The man subtly scoffs. Eyes the same pale silver as stars are intent, flicking rapidly up and down his body, seeming to catalog everything about him. He shows no fear of the weapon in John’s hands. His dark hair is longish, wildly curling and tousled. His skin is fair, smooth and white as moonlight. He says nothing, just stares back as John takes him in, heart pounding. He doesn’t move.

The stranger is showing a lot of skin. He sits on the bed, leaned back against the wall, and his legs are pulled up. He rests his chin on his knees, arms loosely clasped around them. Gauzy trousers come to an embroidered cinched-in end at the gentle swell of his calves. The fabric is sheer gray, and John can discern the rounded curve of arse and hips to either side of his ankles. His feet are shod in soft, curling slippers of purple and gold. There are gold bracelets on his wrists, and embossed leather bands around slim-muscled biceps. Tiny jewels flicker in his hair, and rusty henna patterns his hands and the tops of his feet.

John licks his lips.

“Who are you?” he asks again. He rises to one knee, and keeps the gun pointed at the stranger.

The man shakes his head in evident disappointment. “Pedestrian! Tedious!” he mutters. “Sherlock. My name is Sherlock. But that’s the wrong question. It’s not going to get you on the right track. Come on,” he encourages, as if he is a teacher dealing with a rather slow student.

“How did you get in here?” John asks. He rises to his feet, not noticing that he doesn’t lurch.

Sherlock nods at the gun. “We both know that’s empty. Really. You can relax. Do you plan on bludgeoning me with it? I’m here because you called me. So unless it’s what you wish for, I’m not here to hurt you.”

Even though John is the one with the (empty) gun, he does not quite feel like he is in control of the situation. He jerks his chin to the side, “Get off my bed. Move slow!”

Sherlock gives a rather Gallic shrug and eels off the bed, keeping his eyes on John. God, is he lithe. A cropped vest, deep purple embroidered with gold and flashing jewels, couldn’t possibly close across his smooth chest and barely reaches his bottom rib. His torso is endless; there’s more henna around his abdomen and a purple jewel sits in his navel. A thin trail of dark hair leads down to the broad, embroidered waistband of his ridiculous trousers. John guiltily jerks his eyes back up to the man’s multicolored gaze when he realizes he’s ogling.

Sherlock smirks at him and continues to wait.

“Why are you dressed like that?” John asks stupidly.

“This is my loungewear, and all I ever get to do is lounge. For gods’ sakes. Is your brain really that ossified? Those things need exercise, you know. How long has it been stagnating? Your whole life? Is it hopelessly atrophied?” He glares at John, fingers twitching in the gauzy fabric of the ballooning trousers. “I can see that you’re trainable. Clearly you’re a doctor. Just as obviously recently invalided home from military service. Afghanistan or Iraq?”

“What?” John is starting to believe this stranger’s assessment that he is stupid. Who the hell breaks into a man’s house just to insult his intelligence? John begins to slip from battle-ready to a kind of alert bemusement.

“Afghanistan or Iraq? Those are the two wars your country is fighting right now where you could get a tan.” He gestures with his eyes to John’s wrists, where the sleeves are rolled up out of the way of polishing. There’s a distinct tan line across his wrist bones. “That’s a military-issue cane, a service weapon, a veteran’s cheque at the corner of your desk. This is not magic, John Watson.”

John gapes at him. “How do you know my name?”

“Look. May I move? Do you feel comfortable that I’m not about to rob or murder you? Certainly I would have made some sort of effort by now, if that had been my intent.” He moves anyway. John steps back, keeping his distance, but not complaining, keeping the useless gun raised.

The man strolls over to the desk, slinky and swaying. John stares. There must be some sort of layering under the sheer trousers, and John is somewhat disappointed (and mortified) to realize that he cannot see any detail in the groin area. That sumptuous backside faces John, who can count all six knobs of his lumbar vertebrae.

The stranger bends over the desk, lifts the envelope and says, “Name, John Watson.” He carelessly drops the envelope and picks up John’s mobile. He turns it in his hands for a moment, then says, “You’ve got family, but you won’t go to them for help. You’re clearly strapped for cash,” he non-judgmentally indicates the pitiful bedsit and John’s frayed jumper, “but you’ve got this expensive mobile. Obviously a gift. “Harry Watson”, just as obviously family. Probably a brother, as this is a young man’s gadget. You've got problems with him: maybe you liked his wife, maybe you don't like his drinking.....”

John blinks in surprise, and doesn’t realize he’s lowered the gun a bit. “That’s just fantastic. How brilliant. You got all that from one envelope, a phone and a look around the room, did you? That... was amazing. ” For an unguarded moment, a vivid grin lights up his gray face, and Sherlock’s eyebrow lifts in surprise.

“Do you think so?”

“Of course it was. It was extraordinary. It was quite extraordinary.” John is still wearing an open, delighted expression.

“That’s not what people normally say,” Sherlock says, a little uncertain.

“What do people normally say? Get out of my flat?”

Sherlock narrows his eyes into slits, but then flashes an almost-smile. “No. More like, Shut it and grant me my wish already.”

It takes a minute for that to fully sink in.

John’s smile slowly fades into suspicion. Right. How had he ever managed to relax his guard with this... very singular... stranger on his turf? Wouldn’t his therapist have a field day, with all her harping on his trust issues, to know that he was even letting the man speak, much less wander about, without becoming territorial and aggressive.

But even if ‘Sherlock’ had triggered (funny word to think, with his hand wrapped steadily around his gun) a defensive instinct, John thinks he’d still let him stay, without kicking him out or calling the police. Just because it is something. Something is happening to him at last. Someone has penetrated the isolation in which he’s lived for the months. Of all the monotonous, monochromatic, oppressive days since he’s been shipped back to England, today stands out. In the middle of the toxic haze that forms his life stands this intriguing mystery man. He fairly glows against the background of despair. The miles of milky skin and carnal grace; his utter, misplaced confidence in invading the flat of a traumatized soldier; the odd intensity of him, in his eyes, his focus, his bearing; the complete lack of fear; the provocative, entirely outlandish garb, which really could only be termed a ‘costume’. How was John permitting this?

Wait. What?

John’s brain comes full circle while Sherlock impatiently waits. He looks at the freshly restored, lovingly polished lamp on the corner of the desk to Sherlock, decked out in his fancy dress, and something clicks.

John leans against the wall and stares at Sherlock. “What? Are you supposed to be some kind of genie?” He begins to giggle. He just can’t help himself. “Of course you are. Of course. Look at that costume. God, it’s fantastic.” His laugh is sweet and infectious, and Sherlock, again to his surprise, finds his mouth curling at the corners.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Sherlock leans around the desk and pulls open the top drawer. He plucks out the ammo box and tosses it to John without looking at him. 

“Feel better with ammunition?” His voice is rich and low. “Now you can shoot me if you need to,” he smirks. 

John does feel better. He’s shared a laugh with this beautiful escaped lunatic, and something is happening to him. He fields the box out of the air and swiftly loads the magazine, snapping it into his gun. He chambers a bullet before tucking the gun against the small of his back. “Thank you,” he says without sarcasm. 

Sherlock acknowledges, and dismisses, the comment with a flicker of his eyelids. He pulls John’s stethoscope from the top drawer and slides it through his fingers. “I noticed this when you grabbed your weapon,” he says, examining it curiously. “I’ve seen these, but never got my hands on one. May I?” 

John blinks, surprised. “Ok,” he says slowly. 

Sherlock puts the earpieces in his ears and his eyebrows immediately go up. John grins. Sherlock taps the diaphragm and nods at whatever he hears. He places it on his own chest and listens intently. He holds it against his throat and swallows. He listens to his lungs. He stoops and places it over his stomach and then does an amazing shimmy (Jesus Christ, is he a belly dancer, too?) and looks satisfied. 

“Interesting,” he judges, finally. 

John suppresses a smile. “Yeah. O-kaaay.” What is he to make of this man? And how did he get inside? He takes two steps over to examine the door of the bedsit, but the interior bolt is still engaged and the door still locked. “Leaving aside the medical experiments for a moment. How did you get in here?” 

Sherlock looks annoyed. “You brought me here. How else could I have got in? Your one window is obviously painted shut. There can’t be a window in your bathroom, as it’s towards the interior of the building. Given the proper tools, I could pick the lock on the door, but that wouldn’t help against the slide bolt. I suppose I could have been hiding under your bed. But how would I have got there in the first place? You see? Dead end logic. Ergo: I came in with you.” 

John shakes his head, bemused. 

Sherlock gives an exaggerated nod at the lamp. “You. Brought. Me. Here.” 

John snorts. “What, you came out of the lamp?” 

Sherlock raises a patronizing eyebrow and tilts his head. “Yes, Dr. Watson. When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” 

“Because I was polishing it, then? That’s how it works? Rub the lamp and a genie comes out? You must think I’m mad.” 

“No, I do not think you’re mad. Stubborn and obtuse, certainly. Lonely, yes. Suicidally depressed, up for debate. Not insane.” 

John gritted his teeth. “I didn’t ask you to psychoanalyze me.” 

“No. You’ve got someone else to do that, don’t you? I do hope you’re not paying out much, because whoever it is, you obviously haven't been cured of your psychosomatic limp.” 

“What? How did you know--?” Conversation with this man leaves John reeling and confused. 

Sherlock impatiently huffs. “Your desk calendar shows an appointment with Dr. Thompson for Wednesday. You’ve got a cane here, but haven’t limped since I came out.” He flickers his fingers over his chin for a moment, thinking. “For that matter, I haven’t noticed your hand shaking, either, which it was doing intermittently at the antiques shop and on the way home. Is it excitement? Is it danger that you crave? There definitely seems to be a correlation. I’ll need more data.” 

John eyes widen and he hunches in a little. He’s not comfortable with this clearly mental stranger reaching inside his head like that. “Just. Forget about that. If you’re from the lamp, show me, then,” he challenges. 

Sherlock pulls an exaggerated moue. “I hate it in there. Dull! Can I come right back out?” 

“Do I need to rub it again?” 

“It is only necessary to want me.” Well, there was a loaded double entendre. But John could see that wasn't what the svelte man before him intended, and he shoved the lascivious, inappropriate thought aside. 

“Ok, then. Yeah,” John figures that’s easy enough: just call him back. If it should come to that. Which he very much doubts, of course, because it’s completely irrational. 

Sherlock is looking at him narrowly. “However improbable, remember? Here, I’ll show you.” 

John watches, alert and faintly amused. And something very odd happens. The air around his ‘guest’ turns hazy, like the rippling over hot rocks in Afghanistan. So with the shimmer around him, Sherlock holds his gaze, and then... fades. And when John just begins to perceive the line of the window through his body, he vanishes completely with the same subtle susurrus. 

John blinks. He looks suspiciously around the tiny room, but clearly Sherlock hasn’t hidden under the bed or ducked into the bathroom. He’s quite simply disappeared, and John watched it happen. It is improbable, but evidently not impossible. 

He walks over to the desk, noting as he does that Sherlock was right: he isn’t limping at the moment. He picks up the lamp with a steady hand. It is cool, and heavy, and feels good in his grip. He weighs it briefly, then lifts the little cap and stares inside. “Are you in there?” he asks quietly, feeling foolish beyond belief. There’s no answer. 

John pokes his finger inside, wiggles it to explore the distant edges of the inner chamber carefully, in case Sherlock is somehow shrunk down and actually lounging around down in there. He rolls his eyes at the influence of his formative years spent watching I Dream of Jeannie, and wonders uncertainly if this is just a PTSD hallucination spawned from that more idyllic time. Actually, he thinks, a hallucination might be easier to accept. 

The lamp is vacant. Of course it is. The walls are slightly oily, with a pleasing lack of grit and grime. He squints down the spout, and sees nothing. Just to be complete, he drops to his knees in front of his bed. The only thing there is a flat box that houses military papers and sundries. He looks in the tiny bath. No Sherlock in the shower. He walks over to the door and leans back against it, absently caressing the lamp. 

“Ok.” He says, wondering if he’s finally succumbed to mental breakdown. “Come back.”

John hears the expected, rustling, whisper of a sound. The air shimmers, he can see the faintest outlines of a slender man, the sparkle of gold bangles; and then it’s Sherlock, whole and opaque, standing there smirking. 

He gives a little shiver and then dips his head to stare adamantly into John’s eyes. “Believe me, yet?” 

“Why didn’t you answer me?” 

“I can’t, when I’m inside. It’s... different. I’m aware, off and on. Most of the time, I float. Or maybe sleep. It’s pathologically boring. Sometimes I can tune in, learn about the current era. It’s random.” 

John frowns, a bit overwhelmed and bewildered. What Sherlock is describing sounds like hell, really. Also, and more importantly, bullshit. He remains unconvinced. 

“Do it again.” They go through three more iterations, and after that Sherlock is thoroughly annoyed. Going back into the lamp seems to agitate him. John wonders if it is because he fears he won’t get back out. 

“No more! There is no new data here. What else do you need?” Patrician features are drawn up into an impatient snarl. 

John ignores it. “Can I touch you?” he asks, feeling that it is presumptuous and inappropriate to ask. He’s abandoning his British reserve. But everything about this situation is bizarre, and he wants to know

“Fine. Do what you need to.” Sherlock does the shrug thing that involves all the muscles of his torso. They stretch and slide under his skin, and John licks his lips. 

John warily approaches Sherlock for the first time, and is distantly relieved that he isn’t attacked. He’s much taller, and John has to tip his head back as he closes in. Sherlock seems to enjoy the height difference, straightens his spine and looks down his nose instead of inclining his head. John goes military stiff in response, and defiantly holds that provocative stare. He stands for a moment, and they are only inches apart. Sherlock’s strangely slanted eyes are astonishingly light, an ethereal sea color tinted with challenge. John finally drops his gaze, and sees the pulse flutter at Sherlock’s neck. 

When he reaches out to touch, he surprises both of them by aiming for Sherlock’s waist, rather than arm or hand or even face. Milky skin is taut and warm, stretched pleasingly over firm and limber muscle. John’s palm is on the edge of Sherlock’s stomach, and there is so little meat under it that John’s short fingers can curl around to his back. He has the odd urge to feed the strange man up a bit. He looks down at what he’s grabbing; the henna tracework is partially obscured by the heel of his hand. A small mole is just above his thumb; he brushes up fractionally to feel its gentle bump. Just a couple small whisks back and forth, savoring the small imperfection. 

His lizard brain makes him want to reach out with the other hand, provide symmetry, and pull this lissome swizzle stick of lean muscle against him. Wants that dark head to drop down. Wants to smell the base of his neck, lick his way up to an ear, decorated with a droplet earring of amber jewels. Wants to taste and feel and smell. He licks his lips. His hand flexes, denting the warm flesh underneath it. 

But then Sherlock steps back, and Johns hand falls to his side. The loss of contact leaves him feeling curiously adrift. “Real enough for you?” Sherlock asks. It’s meant to sound sarcastic, but comes across as more hesitant and a little breathless. 

“Right. Well, yeah. I suppose. I don’t know what else you could be. I figure that if you’re a figment of my imagination, that’s still safe enough.” 

“I’m not anybody’s figment,” Sherlock retorts. “I grant you a wish. That’s what I do.” He looks unhappy when he says that, and John feels the discordant ring of something false and begrudging. 

“You don’t like granting wishes?” Not that he believes he’d get a wish granted. This is merely a theoretical conversation. 

“Well, it’s hardly fulfilling Work, is it?” Sherlock says snidely. “Except in the strictest sense of the word.” 

What? Oh. Fulfilling. John laughs briefly, and Sherlock frowns at him. “Well. I guess I wouldn’t know. Hasn’t anyone wished for world peace?” 

Sherlock gives him a look. “Obviously not, as your war wound can attest. I can’t grant wishes like that. They’re a personal thing. There are limits to even what I can do.” 

“What if you wanted to wish that your enemies had taste buds in their arseholes?” John says, after a moment’s consideration. 

That surprises a crack of laughter out of Sherlock. “I might could manage that. Do you have many enemies?” 

“No, no. I was just asking.” 

“Well. Whatever it is, you might want to think on it for a while. Usually, when I grant a wish, the beneficiary winds up unhappy.” He pauses, a feral smile ghosting over his face. “Or dead. So... have a good, long think.” He’s looking around the room while he speaks, and tugs the desk drawer out again. 

“I’ve seen these,” he says to John, removing and opening up his laptop. “It contains many books and other, newer media forms, correct?” 

“The Internet,” John replies. “If you can dodge your way through the porn, it can be educational.” 

“I’d like to look through it, while you sleep,” Sherlock’s long fingers play delicately with the lid. “I’m aware of this time period, of course, but there’s a lot of detail I need to catch up on.” 

John blinks. Slowly. Sherlock’s still there, one slim hip relaxed on the edge of the desk, sheer gray trousers floating around the curves of his flesh. There’s a fold in the skin of his stomach, as he twists to look at the laptop, and John’s eyes linger there longer than they should. Guiltily, he looks at the screen, grinding mental teeth at his unseemly lust for a stranger in his home. 

He logs on, with Sherlock looking curiously over his shoulder. He blocks the view while he taps in his password. Sherlock hisses in frustration. “What are you doing?” 

“Typing my password. It protects my account. I am setting up a Guest account for you.” Sherlock has a calculating expression on his face. John gives him a dirty look. “Forget about it, ok? Here, I’ll pull up Google, and you can just cruise around.” 

When John comes back from showering and brushing his teeth, Sherlock is reading headlines in the Daily Yell. He rolls his eyes. “I’m not sure whether that’s going to give you the most accurate insight into our times or not,” he muses. Sherlock flicks his eyes sideways briefly, taking in John’s expression, his bearing, the robe over his pyjamas; the damp lips and fleck of overlooked toothpaste. He doesn’t respond, just goes back to reading. John silently plugs the machine in for him, assuming that Sherlock may be on longer than the scant two hours the battery will support. Sherlock continues to ignore him, scrolling rapidly through the articles. 

John turns off the light and settles in to bed by the blue glow of the screen. “Need any help?” he asks, yawning. Sherlock grunts at him, which he takes as a No. John is tired. It’s not so very late, but he presumes it’s the need to process. He wonders at himself that he can just nod off like this. Vulnerable. In pyjamas! With a stranger in his room. But, he has tucked the gun under his pillow, loaded and ready. And Sherlock no longer registers as a danger to his instinct, for whatever bizarre reason. John doesn’t believe that he’s a genie. That’s irrational. Preposterous. Although he had certainly done a foolproof disappearing act earlier. Perhaps an insane magician? A David Copperfield gone off the grid? But whatever he is, he has shaken John’s gray, moribund life, breathing vitality into the room; and that, along with the element of risk, is worth keeping him here. 

He looks at the man through his eyelashes. Sherlock is silhouetted against the laptop, outline limned in blue. One hand is scrubbing through his hair, wildly tousling the locks, and the other is increasing in pace as he taps out letters on the keyboard. He’s picked up the touchpad right away, damn him, and within the space of 20 minutes seems to navigate with ease and confidence. John sighs in disgust. It had taken him longer than that with his laptop, and he’d had the advantage of having actually interacted with a computer before. 

Sherlock has pulled his feet up to the seat, and balances the laptop on his knees while he reads. His eyes dart back and forth intently. His cheekbones are sharpened by shadows, and the soft glow renders the line of nose and jaw both brittle and fragile. 

John watches the stranger surf until he slowly sinks into sleep.




Chapter Text

John wakes suddenly the next morning. He does not twitch, nor does he gasp. He holds his breath, waits to see what triggered him. He is momentarily baffled to realize that he hasn’t had a nightmare. No shaking, no sweating, no pounding heart and residual fear. There is a soft rustle of fabric to his left, and a deep, mellifluous voice says, “John.”

John’s eyes snap open, and immediately focus on the man hunched on his bed. “No need to fear, John,” the man continues firmly, with very posh inflection. “It is only I.”

John blinks. That’s rather grandiose grammar for first thing in the morning. “Ahem,” he coughs. The man is sitting sideways on his bed, leaning against the wall, balancing John’s laptop on his knees. His legs are bent over John’s, bridging his calves. Between the two of them, there is no extra room in the tiny single bed. John pulls himself to sitting, hitching up pyjama bottoms as they threaten to drag down.

“Sherlock,” he says, recalling the unreal night before. His voice is thick and rusty with sleep. “What are you doing in my bed?”

Sherlock looks mildly exasperated. “The chair was beginning to numb my posterior,” he explains, as if this should be obvious. “Hence, the mattress.” He looks back to the screen open in front of him.

“Have you been reading that all night?” John asks.

“Of course.” Sherlock responds.

John shakes his head, and scrubs his hands over his face. “Okay,” he concedes. He scratches his neck, and stretches, deep and efficient. “Okay.” He can’t think of anything else to do, so kicks Sherlock’s feet aside, and swings out of bed. It is only when he reaches the bathroom that he realizes he hadn’t made use of, or even needed, his cane. He attends to the typical ritual of morning ablutions, and then shaves around a bemused smile.

 

The next two days are rather slow and dull. Sherlock hangs around the bedsit devouring lord-knows-what-and-sundry on the laptop. John becomes mildly bored, and finds he’s trudged off to the Tesco Express around the corner more often than usual, licking his lips until they’re chapped worrying about the budget. But he has to stock up on the rapidly depleting supply of tea and milk (no Englishman could live without it). In spite of continually consuming tea, Sherlock hasn’t eaten any food yet, for which John is both grateful and worried. His meager budget is not meant to handle this kind of strain. He continues to use his cane on the trips outside, although he finds his leg is paining him less than usual.

Sherlock is sitting in his preferred location, crouched against the wall on John’s bed, laptop balanced on his knees. John makes a couple mugs of tea. (He makes it much more frequently, now that he has someone to share it with.) He’s had to buy another mug, bought at the same antique shop where he found Sherlock’s lamp. (Which was unnecessarily sentimental, but there you have it.) But this not eating thing has him edgy.

“Sherlock!” John says, finally, holding the fresh mug of tea just out of reach. Sherlock, not looking up from the laptop, grabs for it ineffectually several times before huffing in exasperation.
He looks up at John with narrowed eyes, blazing with impatience. “What?”

“Take a break. I want to check my email. I have an appointment tomorrow, so I have to have made a blog entry, or the whole hour will be one long lecture. And you. You need to eat something. Don’t you?”

Sherlock shrugs. “Not hungry. I’m catching up. There’s a lot to catch up on. Particularly the sciences. I’ve read your blog. It’s possibly the dullest thing on the internet.” A sarcastic inflection infuses that chocolate baritone, “Nothing happens to me. Look, I’ve made an entry! Walked through Regent’s Park today. Drinks with old mates. Pedestrian! Why do you bother?”

“I have to. It’s a condition of my therapy.” John stops and presses his lips close together. “Never mind. It’s none of your business. But... eating is! It’s been over two days, and all you’ve had is tea--”

Sherlock pins him again with a flat gray stare. “I told you, you should stop seeing that therapist. She doesn’t understand the first thing about you.” He leans forward while John is distracted, and snatches his tea.

John grinds his teeth. “And you’re such an expert after squatting in my bedsit for all of two days?”

Sherlock fluidly rises to his feet, tossing the laptop carelessly towards the pillow. “Yes, obviously. I watch you while you sleep. I know what you dream about. I know your fears,” he pauses, complacent. “I know the desires that shame you.”

John can’t help it. Blood begins to rise in his ears, he can feel its heat. Oh, god. He knows. Knows that John can’t stop thinking about his skin, how smooth and warm it was under his hand, that first night, when he was allowed to ‘touch’. The quickly suppressed impulses he has to grab the man, and just. just. rub him everywhere on John’s body like some sort of human flannel. Until every part of his anatomy has touched every place on John’s. Until their every nerve thrums from the caress of skin on skin. Just. Not even sex. That, too, of course. But just. Touching. John finds his hands are often balled into fists, to prevent himself from touching. His skin crawls in longing for it. How long has it been? Since he was touched in any way but the cool, impersonal guidance and healing of doctors and psysio? Years. Three, four five, he can’t even remember.

And the sexual fantasies. Well. How could he not? John’s never been actively bisexual, but he’s long been aware that he fancied men more than most. Here’s the most attractive man John’s ever been around. Lounging about his flat. Sprawled on his bed. And nearly naked, dressed only enough to accentuate his graceful frame. For goodness sake, half of what’s covering him up isn’t even clothing, but only patterns of henna. John wants to trace those trails with his tongue. Press into them with his thumb. Pull aside the barely-there trousers and see how far down the designs extend. Do they curl and swirl around the patch of pubic hair John’s imagined? Idle over his hips and down to the globes of his arse? If John were to follow them with his mouth… how close would he get to Sherlock’s cock? To his center? What noises would he make, feeling that warm, wet tickle? Jesus Christ, John. Drop it. Stop!

Sherlock moves even closer, until there’s scarcely room for a sheet of paper between them. He ducks his head down and says, not even lowering his voice, so that it rumbles and shivers through John’s body, somehow more arousing in it’s matter-of-fact presentation than it would have been if he’d whispered, “You dream about me at night. I can watch it happening. You dream so loudly I can hear you. I know what you’re ashamed of. You want to bend me over and take me, don’t you? Bite me, claw me, spill your seed across my skin and in my mouth, hold me down until you’ve taken all you desire.” He pauses for a moment, and John stares back, riveted and dazed and shocked to his core. “You want to hear me gasp, and moan, and grunt with the fullness of you….”

Fucking hell. Those were… visceral words. John wasn’t aware of thinking these precise things, but he sure as hell is now. Holy… hot, hot oh Jesus, what is he supposed to do? Sherlock’s saying all that, and there his body is, mere inches from John’s eyes. He can see the lift and fall of Sherlock’s chest, the subsidiary quiver after each steady beat of his heart. A pink nipple beckons at eye level. Now the frangible bones of his wrists seem to solicit restraint. John has a flashing vision of the ivory form, whipping beneath him, straining and intense; green eyes sparking… but never free.

There is no blood in John’s head anymore. It’s all dropped straight down to his cock, leaving him dizzy and prickling. He sucks in air and pushes Sherlock away, resisting the urge to hunch over and sidle off to hide by standing stiffly at attention. He tears his eyes away and stares resolutely beyond Sherlock’s arm at the flat beige wall. “No!” he chokes. “I don’t—”

“Shame is a ridiculous waste of time. Energy, as well. That’s another thing your therapist is failing to communicate to you.” Sherlock says as an aside, and then continues, “I can deduce your character: good.” He almost spits that out. “It’s why you haven’t forced me out of the flat, or called an asylum for someone to fetch me.” He smirks at John’s expression. “I know you’ve thought about it. And I know your life is so lonely and empty that you don’t really want to.

“You have no friends. You have no Work. Before I came, you were close to ending it all, weren’t you? You don’t just clean your gun. You dream of using it, don’t you? On yourself? It’s your last escape. You hook your finger around that trigger regularly. Before I came, you probably did it daily, didn’t you? (A ritual, perhaps? Those seem to comfort you.) And you’d wonder if you were going to pull it.”

That last sentence echoes in John’s head. His erection precipitously recedes, and John can feel can feel the cold prickle of fear and humiliation, knows his face is white and stiff, and his heart pounds, ineffectually, double-time. Sherlock frowns at him, and looks a little uncertain for the first time. “I’m not judging you, John. I’m just proving that I know you better than your therapist.”

John clenches his fists. Do not panic. Do not panic, he shouts into the rushing static of his mind. Oh, god, what the fuck kind of timing is this? He dreads it, the debilitating pandemonium of fear and useless adrenaline that his therapist attributes to his PTSD. And now in front of a witness! What a stupid thing to set him off. Although this is the first time he’s been so intensely aroused, just by a few words, and then so utterly shredded immediately after.

He feels short of breath, but forbids himself from hyperventilating, tries the deep breathing his therapist taught him for these panic attacks. He digs his fingernails into his palms, counts the eight little crescents of pain, tries to ground himself. His internal voice is tiny and weak: You are not under attack. You are not in danger. God, he hates this, the overwhelming fear. The desire to fight. Or flee. Being filleted inside while all his external casing is shaking and wired. He straightens his shoulders. Fight it. Fight it. It’s nothing but the endocrine system gone haywire. Not real.  He tries to pace, to work off the frantic overload of adrenaline, but his body’s too shaky to command. He sits on the bed, but pops back up again, unable to rest.

John’s eyes are wide open, but have ceased sending signals to his brain. He only registers the buzzing, jittery light of the overhead fluorescent, so bright it’s like sandpaper on his awareness. He jolts prodigiously when Sherlock lightly touches his shoulder, and sucks in a gasp that falls just shy of a scream.

Sherlock snatches his hand back. “I--,” he hesitates uncharacteristically. “Not good?”

John blinks, and blinks, fighting with everything he has. He breathes slowly. Sherlock’s eyes are wide in front of him, and John focuses on that, the little twist of fear and compassion in that face. He keeps breathing, in and out, fixed on the crystalline gaze in front of him, balling and relaxing his fists to release the adrenaline. Almond eyes, mossy green at the center, transforming into dark-ringed blue, and the smallest spot of brown, like a misplaced freckle. The world slowly fades back in as he looks up at Sherlock, who hovers nervously before him. He straightens out his fingers deliberately, and takes in a long, silent breath. “Bit not good, yeah,” he agrees quietly, a little hoarse. He turns away and takes the few steps to the desk, looking blankly through the window at the drizzly street below. His skin is clammy and disgusting. He wipes his palms on his thighs, and wishes for privacy.

“I just wanted to--” Sherlock begins.

“Enough.” John says. “Stop. I don’t need to hear all of your deductions. Some things.... There are some things you just don’t need to say.”

Sherlock frowns a little, and then makes a scoffing noise. “Well, it’s all true. And it’s not like you’re contemplating suicide today--”

“Sherlock!” John rebukes. “Enough!” He jams his trembling left hand into his pocket and turns toward the kettle, pouring hot water over dried noodles. “Just. Shut up and eat.” He shoves the cup at Sherlock, plastic spoon stuck inside.

Sherlock hisses and fumbles the hot plastic, so John quickly hands him a stack of takeaway napkins for a buffer. Sherlock looks at the dried noodles with a certain degree of horrified fascination. “This is food? Usually things improve with decades of change. But this--?”

“Shut up and eat,” John repeats. But the remains of the panic attack lurch away, and he has to conceal a smile at Sherlock’s expression. He beats Sherlock to the bed and snatches up the laptop. “No more Internet until you’ve eaten your soup.”

“Who are you to say so?” Sherlock grumbles under his breath. But he sits next to John on the bed and begins to tentatively poke his spoon into the cup, body radiating astonished indignation.

John checks his email.

Sherlock reads shamelessly over his shoulder.

John tilts the laptop away, and Sherlock shifts slightly closer, wedging himself against John’s side in order to read.

“Jesus, Sherlock. Do you have no concept of personal space at all?” John laughs, secretly reveling in the warm press of flesh against his arm and hip. He smells of skin, and heat, things John hasn’t been exposed to in too long. He is also uniquely redolent of spices and oil, tantalizing and pungent.

Sherlock looks at him blankly. “What is that?” he asks.

John tosses his head back with a gusty sigh, and then holds his other arm out in demonstration. He swings it in a half circle. “See? From here to your fingertips. That’s your personal space. Other people can’t barge in on it. It’s primary school stuff, Sherlock.”

Sherlock drew in his eyebrows. “What about mating? I’m quite sure you mortals have to--”

“You have to be invited in, Sherlock. Christ. And what’s this about ‘mortal’?”

Sherlock shrugs, and John can feel the ripple of his body from shoulder to knee. “I am not ‘mortal’, therefore I needn’t abide by your more arbitrary social strictures.”

Since John doesn’t actually want Sherlock to move, is soaking in the body heat and taction of their arms and thighs, he just rolls his eyes and turns back to his computer. “Of course you’re ‘mortal’, Sherlock.”

Sherlock ignores him and takes a reluctant swallow of the pot noodles. He shudders delicately, and John grins again. “No Internet...” he reminds him. Sherlock slides his eyes sideways until he’s staring obliquely at John. The emotion in them is equal parts resignation, fondness and fury. John grins back, begins to giggle, and a slow smile breaks out on Sherlock’s face, starting in his eyes, twitching one corner of his mouth, and gradually lighting his whole demeanor.

John is breathless with laughter (and something else he will not name). “Oh, god. Oh, god. I’ve found it. How to keep you in line. Withholding Internet privileges. Your kryptonite.”

Sherlock’s small smile fades into blank incomprehension. “My what?”

“Never mind. Just eat your soup and let me catch up here.” John looks back though his recent email, feeling inexplicably contented. The horror and disgrace of his secret lust and suicidal ideation being exposed is pushed deliberately into a dark corner of his mind. He scans through spam, deleting patiently, until he arrives on a note from his sister. He opens it. “Oh, shit. I completely forgot,” he mutters.

Sherlock cranes his neck, the nosy git. “Your brother wants to meet tomorrow?” he murmurs.

“Not my brother,” John grumps. “But. Yeah, I agreed to it last week. I’d forgotten.”

“Harry Watson isn’t your brother? What? A cousin?” Sherlock seems discombobulated. “I thought the phone must have been from a brother....”

John gives Sherlock his own sidelong, amused glance. “What? You never get anything wrong?”

Sherlock looks stiff. “Rarely.”

John grins. “You weren’t far off. Harry is short for Harriet.”

“Your sister?” Sherlock snorts. “Huh. Always something.”

“Don’t let it keep you up nights,” John comforts, tapping out a reply for Harry.

“May I come?” Sherlock asks, uncharacteristically tentative.

“What? For coffee with Harry?” John is surprised. “I swear, it won’t be interesting at all.”

“Getting out will be interesting.”

John leans away a little and runs his eyes from Sherlock’s bejeweled locks down to his bare, hennaed feet, unable to prevent himself from lingering over lean pectorals and faintly ridged abdomen. He licks his lips. “You can’t go outside in that get up,” he says. “For one thing, you’d freeze. You’ll never fit into any of my clothes. I might be able to get something for you to wear at Oxfam, if you need it,” he offers hesitantly.

“No need,” Sherlock replies. “I can deal with that. Not a problem.”

“Yeah? Got a wardrobe in the lamp, have you?” It’s the first time he’s mentioned it in two days, the topic being so bizarre and uncomfortable. He actually doesn’t want to know if the gorgeous man next to him is lying.

Sherlock shrugs again, and John watches pale skin move across rangy muscle. “It doesn’t work exactly like that. But I can dress appropriately.”

“Well, in that case, you’re welcome to come with.”

 

John’s blog entry for the week is, “Be careful what you wish for.” Sherlock snorts, and reclaims the laptop after pitching the empty polystyrene soup cup in the room’s tiny bin, expressing his disgust with theatrical abhorrence.

first genielock mindpalaceofversailles

Chapter Text

John wakes up, nose twitching. He irritably turns his head a little to the side, and gradually realizes that it’s hair, soft against his skin, teasing the sensitive flesh of his upper lip. Each breath puffs a curl away, which returns on the inhale to catch in his stubble and invade his nose.

He lies very still for a moment, cataloging sensations. It has been, well, honestly, years since he’s been in this situation. A warm body is pressed close to him.

Obviously Sherlock succumbed to sleep at some point in the night. John is surprised it hadn’t woken him up. Clearly he’d ripped the sheets and duvet out from where they’d been tucked against the wall, and made a nest for himself underneath them, curled up, perforce, tightly next to John.

John looks cautiously at the foot of the bed. One elegant, henna’d foot is exposed by the wrecked blankets. That, and the feathery shock of curly black hair against his skin are all that is visible.

Humid air flows rhythmically into the pocket of his neck, Sherlock’s chin propped companionably against John’s shoulder. He has an arm and a leg thrown over John, who woke up mirroring that position, so they are quite entangled. John knows that, as a decent human being, he should slowly withdraw, and give the man some space to sleep. And John is a decent human being.

But he is also very lonely.

All these years, covered in skin that has only known the clinical, impersonal touches of doctors and PTs. A tiny net of goosebumps skims over him and he licks his lips, beset by conflicting desires. His nostrils flare as he sucks in Sherlock’s unique smell: warmth and dust, sandalwood and smoke.

Sherlock's impatient dissection of his lust the day before flashes through his mind. He does. Oh, he does want this man. His skin craves touch so much he can almost feel it as pain, can feel shaking need inside so intense and roiling that he finds he's repressing nausea and shivers. He recalls med school days, and the psychology class where they'd covered skin hunger and 'failure-to-thrive' syndrome. Having a name for it, however, doesn't change the ferocity of his compulsion to touch. To be touched.

John holds his breath, and smooths his hand slowly under the duvet, feather-light, around Sherlock’s gently canted shoulder, and ghosts down the sensual line of that beautiful, warm, vital body until his hand is wrapped around the narrow blade of Sherlock’s hip, thumb barely stroking in the hollow of it, fingers resting on the fleshier rise of his arse.

John turns off his brain, very deliberately. All the thoughts about what he's doing, and why, are shoved down deep, wrestled into confinement, choked in isolation so that none can spill over. Right now, he will only feel.

John turns his head and gluttonously, cautiously, buries his face fully in thick, cool hair. His erection is hot, pounding with the increasing rhythm of his heart. He can feel the individual cells in his blood, surging into his cock like whitewater until flesh is taut, near splitting with the pressure.

He savagely smothers the internal voice crying, Stop! What are you doing? This is molestation!

But he doesn’t stop, instead turning a little bit more, until his cock brushes the curve of Sherlock's hip. Ah! Fuck. Oh god, jesus. He shudders, feels the rough brush of Sherlock's embroidered waistband against the tender skin of his cock through the twisted opening of his pajama bottoms. He licks his lips and freezes for a moment. One of Sherlock's hairs is now caught between his lips, and he tongues it in a little circle in his mouth before pushing it back out. God, he wants to consume the man. Assiduously blank, he stealthily moves his hand away from Sherlock's hip, rolls away enough to slip his fingers into his pajama bottoms, pulls his cock out. He gasps silently at the touch. Yes, that is good. Yes. His hand stays still, Don't move, don't move, don't wake him. John has no plans, it is only that his ethics have gone blind and mute, swallowed in the tsunami of cravings too long repressed.

Sherlock sighs a little. Shifts minutely, and his waistband again brushes the head of John's cock. He can feel everything. The stiffened fabric. The raised threads of the embroidery. The cool, glassy discs that are tiny mirrors, sewn into patterns. So much texture. John sneaks his hand onto Sherlock's waist, holding him lightly, feeling the heat, the resistance of living flesh under his hand.

He squeezes his thighs together, just a tiny bit, and feels the drag of knurled fabric across the vein on the underside of his cock. In spite of being hard enough to hammer nails, the most sensitive parts of his length are still covered by stretched foreskin. He shivers with the need to slide it down fully; to feel that dry, sensual slither, the fireworks burst of acute pleasure that will come when it’s fully retracted and he can access... he needs to.... He presses just a little harder, uses the pressure to help shift the frustrating veil of skin, exposing his frenulum to the tickle of cloth and thread that catches on the corona and teases his glans.

Yes! Again, Yes.

He nearly chokes, shaking, trying to hold in the outward huff of air that will dispel some of the accrued tension. His hand closes more tightly on Sherlock’s waist, rocking it a little, but not pulling him around to meet John, belly to belly, because that would wake Sherlock up, and John is fairly sure he doesn’t want Sherlock to wake up. You’re twisted! you’re twisted, his brain shouts. But it cannot be heard over the roaring in his ears, and the flood of sensation, the heat of the man next to him, the gentle tackiness of bodies that have been pressed together under heavy blankets for some duration, the combined smell of the two of them, den-like, that puffs out of their blanket huddle whenever John moves.

His fingers trail down, creep slowly downward, gently surfing the crest of Sherlock’s hip, reveling in the smooth resilience of human skin. In a journey of mere inches, John experiences years, savoring and exploring, and his hand opens up as it reaches the swell of luscious arse. It ends up shamelessly nestled in the crease under Sherlock’s bum, fingertips aiming at the meridian which hides his center.

John breathes in lightly, and nudges his cock again against Sherlock’s hip. He tilts his head downwards and buries his face in Sherlock’s hair. The exotic residue of incense and remaining smoke, clinging after his cigarette last night, fill his nose, and he knows that the potential for this smell always making him hard in the future is inevitable and dangerous. John’s skin is becoming flushed, and light sweat begins to dampen his body. He wants to groan, but stuffs it back, limits himself to infinitesimal movements of his hips, eyes tightly closed as if in denial, trying to repress the rippling frisson of pleasure that ricochets through his body.

Stop it. Stop, he tells himself. But he cannot control it. His brain tries to rationalize; to say Well, Sherlock climbed into bed, and tangled his limbs around me, it must therefore be ok. And he’s appalled at himself for such a sick justification. But the electricity sparking from his cock is too overwhelming to ignore.

Sherlock sighs deeply, moves his head, and John feels momentary dampness, as if the inside of his lip scraped across John’s shoulder. And oh. Oh! John comes back to himself with a jarring drop. What is he doing? He can no longer ignore the trust and vulnerability implicit in being relaxed enough to drool a bit on your partner. It is an innocent and captivating notion, and John can admit that he is violating that confidence in the most basic and despicable of ways. He cringes back and rolls over, suddenly frantic to get out of bed, to get away from what he's been doing.

Exiting the bed is a production, however, because the space he’s allotted is so tiny, and he has to do a three point turn. Just as he lifts the duvet, in order to slip out, Sherlock makes a grumpy, throat-clearing noise behind him. He mutters something unintelligible, and strikes out to grab John high on his ribs. John freezes.

Sherlock growls again, and tugs John back until they are nestled together. “Subtlety is not your forte, John,” Sherlock husks, head tilted up so that his breath curls around John’s ear. “You’re quite impossible to ignore. Your ethical agonizing has awakened me. Guilt! What a useless thing.” He budges John down a bit, until his head is tucked under Sherlock’s chin, and his bum settled unmistakably in his lap.

John gasps, draws in a long breath, for protest, for explanation, for the purpose of bolting, he doesn’t really know. Sherlock cuts it off via the simple action of slipping his hand down to John’s crotch and casually fisting his cock.

John sucks in a sharp gasp and then chokes on his own saliva.

“Might as well complete the thing, John. Or you’ll be useless all day.”

“Oh, god, Sherlock. I’m so sorry--” he wheezes.

“Shh!” Sherlock hisses. He snakes his other arm under John’s neck, fumbles for a moment, and then presses his palm firmly across John’s mouth. “Be quiet.”

Oh, Jesus. What is this, every wet dream he’s ever had? Sherlock presses John’s head back against his chest, knobs of his collar bones poking into John’s skull; and John can feel his own teeth, under the squashed slide of his lips. Sherlock insinuates a thigh between John’s, propping his legs open, and walks his fingers down the shaft of his cock, slips inside the pajamas and teases across his bollocks, lifts and warms each testicle. John tries to groan, his mouth opens, and Sherlock slips two fingers inside, pressing down on his tongue. “Shh,” he says again, but it doesn’t sound as irritated this time. “I’m going to finish you off. Shouldn’t take very long.”

John is humiliated, but doesn’t actually say Stop. Sherlock closes his hand around him again, and John wildly jolts. He can hear Sherlock’s smirk. Long fingers squeeze almost painfully, but don’t move for a minute. The fingers in his mouth stroke his tongue, and John automatically closes his lips and tries to suck. They are big, though, and he can’t get a good enough seal for strong suction. Sherlock’s fingers have no flavor, but he can feel their dry texture, their strength, their impatience, through all of his mouth.

He jerks again, can’t prevent the arch of his back, pushing his arse back for more contact. He loosens his thighs, and allows Sherlock to open him up a little more, leg heavy and hot, gauze of his trousers silky between his own. His instinct is to press back even more, to spread his knees wide, push back until his arsehole is exposed to Sherlock’s consideration; to push until it stretches open from tension alone. Before he can do more than have that single, horrified thought, Sherlock yanks his hand up, sliding the sensitive foreskin around the glans, pinching it lightly across the tip for a minute, before pulling it all rather roughly back down.

John keens, writhing, and his arm flies backward, flailing, until it lands on Sherlock’s hip and grabs tight. Sherlock rubs his fingers across the sharp edges of John’s bottom teeth and digs his chin into the top of his head. He repeats the maneuver. John starts to breathe in short, gasping pants. Oh, god, he’s close. It’s so hot, his skin cannot contain the conflagration, it will peel away, leaving only nerves; and he can feel every cell of smooth flesh, each fiber of muscle, each filament of hair against his back. Sherlock pulls on his foreskin again, and John begins a nonverbal, babbling moan. It’s been so long, so long, and he hasn’t even had any fantasies this good in many years.

He bites and sucks helplessly at Sherlock’s fingers, tongue desperate to get involved, and thrusts his hips as much as he’s permitted, within the confines of Sherlock’s body and tight fist.

But there is an alarm going off in the back of his head. Something isn’t right. What? Wait...

But Sherlock tugs, and twists, and forcefully wrests the foreskin down and rubs his thumb hard across the glans, and John can’t hold on to rational thought at all anymore, he’s shaking and incandescent and almost... almost...

Sherlock drags his fingers out of John’s mouth, pulling his bottom lip open as they move down, and grabs his jaw hard enough to leave finger-shaped bruises on either side, and leans up to breathe into John’s ear, hot, wet tongue plunging unceremoniously inside, and his knee jerks up to push against his bollocks, and John comes explosively.

He’s a gasping, shaking, gibbering mess, is what he is. When he does finally regain the ability to speak, all he says is, “Oh,god. Oh, god. Sherlock! Oh, god. Fuck.” And molten aftershocks of pleasure shake him, and he has to roll his lips in very tightly to prevent the lump in his throat from turning into tears. Or, worse, sobs. He can’t do that: can’t let go to that extent, must shove it down lest his walls break irreparably.

Sherlock retrieves his limbs and pulls away, wiping his hand on the sheets before rolling over to his back.

And the ‘wrong’ thing clarifies in John’s mind.

“You’re not hard,” he says, stupidly.

“No, John. I’m trying to sleep.” Sherlock replies irritably.

“But... But, that means. Oh, my god. You’re not--”

“It means nothing, John. Your moral crisis was tedious and loud enough to keep me awake. Now you are happy, I am happy, and I can go back to sleep while you shower. We all win.”

John can’t even turn around, he’s so mortified.

Sherlock pushes him out of the bed. “Go! John. Get in the shower. It’s fine.”

John staggers a bit to gain his balance, and turns around. But Sherlock has closed his eyes. He looks completely peaceful, insofar as his expressionless face gives that impression. He cracks an eye and rolls it. “Tedious, John. Shower.” He gives him a half smirk, and flops over again. He sleeps solidly for the next 2 hours.

jillandsarah handjob

Chapter Text

John sits at his desk, staring blindly out of the window, tapping his fingers quietly, but vehemently, on the blotter. His laptop is pushed to the side, and there’s a mug of tea cooling to his left. He's just back from a walk that he began over an hour earlier. Well, less of a stroll and more of an uncontrollable nervous breakdown with a certain degree of forward momentum that translated into walking as fast as he could. He’d brought his cane, as if his crippled sense of self-worth required a crutch; and now the heel of his hand feels tender and bruised because of the distress with which he'd clutched the handle. He keeps prodding it with his other fingers, focusing on the dull ache, recognizing that he is trying to punish himself by inflicting this small hurt. He curls his fingers in and digs his nails into his palms. 

The walk hasn't done anything to assuage his conscience. He wandered aimlessly around the neighborhood, beating himself mercilessly over putting Sherlock in that position; skin heating and crawling alternately as he recalled every detail of the morning. The heat and strength of bone and muscle and skin, rubbing against him from neck to toes; and the melting lassitude of it, a strange syrup of arousal and contentment and an undeniably desperate frenzy. The wave of relief and lust that had flooded him when Sherlock first slipped his hand into John’s pajamas to capture his cock. And the shame. The cold, heavy weight of shame that threatens to eviscerate his self-esteem. What he has done is so egregious, so wrong, so unethical that he can't stand himself. He molested someone in his care, not to put too fine a point on it. 

John glances back at the man on the bed. Now that John is gone, he sprawls indolently across every inch of it, both feet poking out of the duvet, one arm thrown over his head, and the other resting on his stomach. His chest is very pale in the dappled shadows of the room, and John recalls the prickle of sparse wiry hairs against his shoulderblades, the flex of lean muscle as Sherlock's arm pistoned, wanking him off only in order to get him out of the bed. Oh, jesus, the overstepping of boundaries and betrayal of trust is enormous. 

He knows this, and yet his body doesn’t care: around that hard burden of shame in his gut, the rest of his body hums, alive, sated and stimulated. 

As he sits there, he finds himself wondering about Sherlock: his history and his personality. He’d been awfully phlegmatic about the morning’s debacle, which is an odd response to waking up to a near-stranger rubbing one off on your hip. How is it that he is so comfortable being used? John really knows nothing about him, other than he appeared in his bedsit claiming to be magical. And either he is, which John can’t let himself believe (because, really, what next? Fairies? Flying?), or he isn’t, in which case his disappearing act is impressively foolproof. 

John lets his gaze rest on the muted black lamp, still on the corner of the desk. He reaches out and rubs his thumb briskly along the spout. It is cool and heavy and … simply too bizarre to believe. He shakes his head at his fancy. 

John has let him stay with surprisingly few reservations, this tall stranger. Sure, there is a component of loneliness and attraction, but his instincts say it’s more than that. He’s been attracted to dangerous people before, and it didn’t stop him from rational defensive behaviors. But Sherlock inspires none of that, only acceptance and curiosity. (And arousal, dammit. He needs to eradicate that). He’s happily shared his space, his resources, his food, even, and on such a strained budget that they can hardly both continue to survive on it for more than a few more weeks. John determines that after a sincere apology (which isn’t enough, of course, but what else can he do?), he’s going to have a sit down with the man and question him thoroughly. Assuming he doesn’t flee the flat as soon as he can. 

He hears Sherlock wake up, lazily stretching and humming deep and contented, like a cat. John resolutely stares outside, to give the man some privacy. He can discern from the faint reflection in the window that Sherlock is sitting up. 

“Would you like some tea?” he offers without turning around, and hesitant guilt flavors his words. 

Sherlock huffs. “Stop being tiresome, John.” 

John swivels around, and opens his mouth to argue, but stops for a moment, arrested by the sight on his bed. The vest is gone, the corner of the sheet is twisted around slim hips such that he appears naked. He scrubs his fingers through his hair as John watches, and it bounces in a fluffy halo around his head; a chestnut anemone, moving in currents John can’t perceive. Sherlock's piercing eyes glow nacreous in the slanted morning light, flat and reflective, and one thick eyebrow is lifted. John refuses to let his gaze travel; can't let himself dwell on the banded muscles of his torso, highlighted and emphasized by wandering designs of henna. Sherlock long fingers scratch absently at his nearly smooth chest, and John does not, does not, watch small pink nipples point in their wake. 

He stares at his fisted hands for a moment, then looks back up. “Sherlock. What I did. I'm so sorry. I can't even-- It was so inappropriate--” 

Sherlock shoves to his feet, sheet falling away to reveal wrinkled gauze, and John grinds his teeth against the physical memory of the abundant textures within that wide waistband. “John, I said it was fine.” He stretches, and John can hear the muffled snaps of popping vertebrae. “I am not bothered in the least, nor should you be.” 

John stands up as well, angry. “No! Nope. It's not fine, Sherlock. Jesus. That was not ok! I took advantage of you while you were asleep, for god's sake. It was molestation pure and simple and I ought--” 

Sherlock looks exasperated. He sighs noisily and takes two steps forward, doubles up his fist, and slams it hard, directly into John's diaphragm. His full weight is behind that punch, and John’s eyes fly wide as he stumbles back, off-balance and falling. 

Even breathless and folding up in pain, John's reflexes kick in, and he grabs the arm that hit him, twisting it instinctively around and up behind Sherlock's back; so that Sherlock is swung around and immobilized against him, back to chest. Simultaneously, John reaches up to lock his other elbow around Sherlock's neck. It happens so fast that they are still falling, and tumble to the floor in a tangle of limbs. 

Sherlock lies very still, on top of him, while John's brain catches up with his muscle memory and his body strains for air. The sharp ridges of Sherlock’s shoulderblades bite into John's chest, and his head falls back, relaxed, over John’s shoulder, soft hair curling around his ear. It's only a few seconds before John realizes what he's doing, and lets go of Sherlock's neck with an embarrassed recoil. He pushes him off, so that Sherlock can free his trapped arm. 

He wheezes for a moment, as the paralysis slowly releases his diaphragm. When he can catch his breath, “Oh, fuck,” he says. “Wait. I mean--” 

Sherlock sinuously twists until he is sitting tailor fashion. He rubs his hand across his Adam’s apple, and grins, broad and bright, at John, face alight and more open that John has seen before. “There. Do you feel better now? Have I met your need for punishment and abuse? Or do you want another?” 

“What?” John is bewildered. This is not what he expected at all. He pushes himself to an elbow and looks up at the strange, faun-like creature sitting next to him. 

Sherlock leans down until they are nose to nose. In John's mind, imaginary air leaps with imaginary sparks, and his eyes are trapped like little metal filings in the magnet of Sherlock's gaze. Those eyes are clear and guileless. “Do you. Need me. To hit. You. Again? Or are you alright with this?” His breath is warm and slightly sour from sleeping. “Can we move on, now? I'm telling you: It. Did. Not. Bother. Me. I don't know what else to say to get it into your tiny little brain. For gods' sakes, how do you mortals function constrained as you are by your ridiculous morals? Let. It. Go.” 

John shakes his head a little, more bemused than actually listening, and Sherlock twitches the corner of his mouth in a prelude to a smile. “Good,” he says, as if John had agreed. “Now. A shower, if you don't mind. I am eager to see what the world is like today.” 

Keeping his mouth shut, John shows Sherlock the hot and cold taps, just in case, pointing out shampoo and conditioner, and then sits uncomfortably in front of his laptop, attentively reading his spam, and trying not to wonder if the henna will wash off. 

When Sherlock exits later, he is damp and bare, except for a towel twisted carelessly around his hips. The henna, John notes immediately, does not wash off. Sherlock leans against the door and says, “You have questions.” 

John tries to get his tongue under control. “Yes, I do,” he answers. “But you need to put on some clothes first. I can’t talk to you practically naked.” 

Sherlock looks down at himself, lifting a hand to rub across his chest. “I’m no less covered than usual.” 

“Right. Fine. That may be true--” It is, in fact, true. With the exception of what his vest covers, and Sherlock has that off half the time anyway, there’s nothing exposed to John that he couldn’t look at straight through the gauzy trousers Sherlock normally wears. “But you need clothes anyway. It’s a towel, Sherlock! You can’t have a serious talk in a towel.” 

Sherlock rolls his eyes, a tiny flick that expresses volumes of facial expression, as if he is a minimalist, conveying an entire painting in one brush stroke. The air around him shimmers and gleams, John’s eyes are dazzled and he can’t quite focus, and then... Sherlock is covered from neck to toe in a sleek, closely fitted charcoal gray suit, with a deep aubergine shirt whose buttons strain across his lean chest. Shiny black shoes encase his feet, much more moderately pointed than his curly slippers; and the only skin John can see skims fine-boned hands and a sultry vee at his neck, dipping lovingly down around his collarbones and framing the delicate hollow of his throat. No drawn designs in sight on his slender hands. His hair has been tamed a bit, still curly, but sitting smoother, closer to his scalp. 

John swallows hard. 

“Jesus, Sherlock. We're going for coffee with my sister, not to the theater. That’s a bit overkill, isn’t it?” 

Sherlock smirks. “Why do you say that, John? Because the way I dress affects you?” 

John flushes. “No...” he protests lamely. “Just... casual would be fine.” 

Sherlock looks down at himself, smart sophisticated suit and all. “This is casual,” he replies. “No jewels,” he smooths his hand over his belly as he speaks, and John suddenly wonders if he’s taken out the small jewel that nestles there. “No tattoos. Cotton and wool. Simple.” 

John has to laugh. “Well. There is that. You'll want a coat, before we leave, though. It's below zero out there.” A cold front blew in overnight, he just read on his laptop. 

“Of course. But first, your questions.” Sherlock flings himself energetically onto the bed, bouncing back a bit and pulling up his legs. The cosmopolitan image is lost in pointy knees and elbows, but much is gained from the vibrancy and interest in the laser focus directed now at John. “Go on,” he encourages. “Ask.” 

“Yeah. Ok.” John says, glad it’s become brisk and businesslike. “You claim to be a genie-” 

“I am a genie, John,” Sherlock interrupts. As if to prove a point, he languidly gestures with one hand and it suddenly bears a cigarette, smoke trailing sideways in keeping with his motion. It’s got the same long filter he’s used before, and John has a flashing mental image of Sherlock in the Roaring Twenties, where his slim beauty would be especially suited, haughty ennui sculpted on his face as he holds court. 

“Right. A magical being who grants wishes, then?” 

“Exactly. One wish. A single wish. Think carefully before you tell me.” Sherlock sucks in smoke, releasing it only to pull it lazily back in through his nose. John looks away. 

“That’s impossible...” but John’s voice is a little wavery at this point. Sherlock just transformed himself from naked to clothed, in what appear to be very expensive clothes no less, right in front of John’s eyes. Not to mention the cigarette. 

Sherlock smirks at him. “Obviously not. So what’s your next question?” He carelessly taps ash over the edge of the bed. 

“Oi!” John protests. He stands to retreive the other mug and tosses it to Sherlock, who catches it gracefully, one-handed. “Use that.” He sits back down and worries his lip, thoughtful. “How can you possibly have that power?” 

“Ah! Very good. The short answer is, I don’t know. Unfortunately, I was paying less attention to the ritual than I would have done had I known it would be successful. Spells and alchemy. My opinion of it at the time was similar to your own, and yet... here we are.” 

“Wait. You mean this happened to you?” 

“Did you imagine I was born this way? Full grown with the ability to grant wishes and live in a lamp? Of course not. I participated tangentially in a ritual for which I had nothing but disdain. I went with the intent of deriding my rival and proving that alchemy was no more than the vehicle of fools and dreamers. To my eternal sorrow,” and here, he grinds his teeth, jaw muscles bunching and twisting; and an expression that’s less sorrowful than tortured flashes across his face before it becomes flat and controlled, “I was wrong. It is rare indeed that I am wrong, but I chose a monumentally bad time to demonstrate such poor judgement.” 

John works his way though this story. “So, you had a rival, and he used … alchemy and spells … to make you like this?” 

“Indeed. You have summed it up quite well.” 

“What happened then?” 

“I will not discuss that.” Sherlock is utterly expressionless, and his voice gets growlier, rough and angry. He puffs on the cigarette again, and allows the gently wreathing smoke to conceal his face. 

John purses his lips and nods his head. Clearly that’s a painful topic: No Trespassing. He can wait. And ask different questions. God, this is fully insane. “Right. You said earlier that planting tastebuds in the arseholes of my enemies was fine, but not world peace.” 

Sherlock gives a twitch of approval. “You were listening. Yes, that is true. The scope of your wish is actually quite limited. It can’t involve others beyond certain small things, can’t change natural laws such as physics and time, things like that.” 

“So... what if I wanted wings?” 

Sherlock looks thoughtful. “I could do that. Functioning ones? Yes, I believe I could. Is that your wish, then?” 

“No! Jesus. No, I don’t need a great hulking pair of wings. Umm, what if I wanted someone dead?” 

“No, can’t be done. I can’t make others die, disappear, fall in love....” 

“So there are definite parameters.” John is getting interested, and forgets to treat the topic like it's hypothetical. “Could you cure my injury?” 

“Which? The shoulder wound? Because the other’s already working itself out,” Sherlock smirks. “I’m not sure. Partially, perhaps. It’s something that already happened, and I cannot change the past.” 

John chews on the inside of his cheek. He can’t help the feeling that this is a game, like a pub quiz. They are both enjoying themselves, he thinks. “What about living forever?” 

“Although I paradoxically seem to be cursed with it myself, I cannot bestow extended life on others.” 

John’s can’t help but note the bitterness with which Sherlock says ‘cursed’, but they have a rhythm going, and he doesn’t want to derail it. “Infinite wealth?” 

“Not infinite, but certainly as much as you determine. That’s a common wish.” 

“Huh.” Here is an important fork in the road. John takes it without hesitation. “What wishes have you granted over this, I don’t know, how long has it been?” 

Sherlock ignores the latter part of the question. “What you would expect. Those relating to greed, and jealousy, love, insecurity. Sexual satiation, revenge, wealth, fear.” He takes a long drag of the cigarette, pulling the cherry right down to the filter, and then lets it droop along his knee. “Sentiment,” he sneers. “They are all inspired by sentiment. Petty. Short-sighted. Human.” 

John treads carefully. “Who was your last ... um ... grantee?” 

Sherlock smiles, a surprisingly fond and genuine look on his face. “Mrs. Martha Hudson,” he says, and even his voice reflects a deep affection. “That would be 33 years, 9 months and 17 days ago. I wonder if she’s still in London?” 

John immediately thinks that if they can find this woman, he will have some confirmation about the rationality of Sherlock’s existence. “Perhaps we can look her up,” he suggests diffidently. 

Sherlock snorts. “You just want proof that I’m not at best insane, and at worst a charleton.” 

“Well,” John shrugs and grins. “Yes.” 

Sherlock pushes off the bed, knees and elbows flying before he recomposes himself into a sleek and elegant man. He is clearly finished with the interrogation. “Let us be off to meet with your sister, then.” 

John reaches for his jacket. “Get yourself a coat,” he reminds him. 

Sherlock does his blurring at the edges routine, and never entirely vanishes, but as he resolidifies, his outline is markedly different. He wears a sweeping overcoat which flares dramatically behind him whenever he moves. A blue cashmere scarf is wrapped around his neck, and supple black gloves cover his hands. “Will this do?” he asks, in a tone lightly seasoned with sarcasm. 

John simply nods, and goes to get his own jacket. It is bitingly cold outside, and he shoves his hands deep into his pockets. Sherlock does not seem to be affected. John supposes that a coat as long as a blanket may have that consequence. He can feel his own thighs slowly freezing, icy air sifting quickly from thin skin down into the bone. 

He surreptitiously checks himself out in the first plate glass store front they pass. He is wearing sturdy khakis, a rust-colored jumper, and a wan green, miserably unflattering canvas coat. He hasn't ever felt insecure about his appearance before. But now.... Now Sherlock is striding along beside him, dressed to kill, posh and superior in every way, and John hunches his shoulders forward a little, frowning at the cracks in the pavement. He feels drab and unattractive. Great. Like that even matters. 

He will have to work hard to subdue the nigh obsessive attraction he feels for this fascinating enigma. He shoots a quick look up at his companion. Sherlock isn’t merely walking, he’s prowling, utterly involved in the people and scenery around them, unabashedly staring and analyzing. John reflects that Sherlock honestly does seem unaffected by the gratuitous wank, and sighs in relief. 

It is good not to carry that burden, for the moment, because enduring an hour with Harry requires a lot of energy.

Chapter Text

Sherlock is vibrant as they enter the Tube. It is midmorning, so it is nowhere near as crowded as during commute hours, but the car they're on is nearly full, and Sherlock's eyes are flickering over the people around them so fast and relentlessly that he almost appears to be having a seizure. John grins, tucking his cane close against his leg.

“Enjoying the Tube, then?” he asks.

“I've been here before, John,” Sherlock replies absently. “Thirty-three years ago. Much has changed, of course, but not as dramatically as you might expect.”

“The ‘Mrs. Hudson’? What did she wish for?” John asks, intrigued. He was still in primary school! Think of that.

“Her husband was on death row.”

“Yeah? You stopped him from being executed?”

Sherlock tilts his head, looking down at John, who is swaying gently, grasping the strap to keep his balance. The pale, angular face is expressionless and his eyes are cold: “Oh, no. I ensured it.”

John blinks, surprised. “She wished her husband dead?”

“She tried. We had to work around the constraints of the wish, of course, and a lot of it turned out to be nothing but legwork. It worked out in the end.”

“But, that’s horrible.”

“It's much more common than you think. For example, see that woman there?” He indicates, by pointing with his chin, a middle aged woman belligerently taking up two seats, using shopping bags and an umbrella to keep the hoi polloi at bay. Her fat fingers flash with diamonds, and designer sunglasses cover her face. Her mouth is drawn down into a forbidding frown, but John can't tell who she is looking at, if anyone.

“Mid-forties. Married straight out of the schoolroom, to a man at least 15 years her senior. He allows her to shop, to keep up appearances, but it's only through lines of credit at the stores. Very controlling. That is why she's here on the Tube, of course. She’s trying to stockpile her cash allowance. If you look closely, you can see yellowed bruises under her watch, and her right cheek shows the characteristic swelling of an old black eye. Her makeup is enough to hide the bruising, but not the shape of her face. He beats her.”

John peers at the woman in fascination. Until Sherlock pointed out these things, he'd have just thought she was a poncy, forbidding woman who was miserable being stuck with the dirty public. He can make out the slight lack of symmetry in her cheekbones, and the bruises on her arm are very faint. He shakes his head in wonder, looking back up at Sherlock. “Really?” he asks. “That's amazing.”

Sherlock continues, never looking away from his subject, “I imagine she has two children: that would be the bourgeois husband aping his betters in seeking an heir and a spare; and both are at boarding school. One of those bags contains school uniforms, I recognize the ties to be of Eton, a school centuries old, even in my day. There is ink on her fingers, and a card shop bag sticking out of her purse: she is left-handed and was writing letters to her boys. The bruises are on her left wrist as well, sharpest on the inner side, meaning he grabbed her when she tried to hit back, so she's not a coward. See the broken nails on index and middle fingers? She struggled.”

John looks at the woman with new respect. As a doctor, he has of course encountered many cases of domestic violence. But he wonders if this one wouldn’t have passed under his radar, the signs that Sherlock was reading were so subtle. “Yeah, ok,” he says. “But why do you think she wishes him dead? Do you... I don't know... hear that somehow?”

Sherlock looks back at him, eyebrows lifting in a small sign of approval. “Very good, John,” he says. “Good question. No, I cannot ‘hear’ anyone's wishes, thank the gods, as it would be tedious in the extreme. I am far more interested in facts.

“See the bag by her feet? It’s from a chemist. She went through its contents in her lap just a moment ago. Pellets for dealing with household rodents, an anti-nausea and an anti-diarrheal. I imagine she's been slowly poisoning him over several weeks, and they are treating the symptoms with the medications I've mentioned. The fact that she's got a new box of rat poison indicates that she's on the second go-round. She probably won't be caught. It's very neat, and an excellent strategy for getting out of an abusive relationship.”

“That's. Good god. That's--”

Sherlock interrupted him. “Given the timing, I'd say the husband began to abuse the boys over the Christmas holidays. She tried to defend them, and things became steadily worse.”

“We have to stop it. We have to tell someone--”

“Why?” Sherlock looks genuinely curious. “She's hoping to rid the world of a violent, unpredictable man who has no qualms about hurting women and children. He's not a loss.”

John is speechless for a moment. The train lurches to a halt, and the woman gathers her packages and leaves. John watches her mingle with the crowd and vanish. She is limping a bit.

Sherlock nods to himself. “Lamed. That means there's a lot more damage that we couldn't see. Not unexpected. I suspect bruising of organs, perhaps some cracked ribs.”

John squeezes his cane in sympathy, bumping softly into Sherlock as the train starts up again, and says, fascinated and astonished, “That was incredible.”

Sherlock looks down at him, reserved and a bit stiff. “Do you think so?”

“Yes. Oh, yes. I don't know of anyone else who can see what you do. You'd make an incredibly sharp detective, you know.”

Sherlock's expression softens, although he doesn't do anything so gauche as smile. “Thank you,” he finally says.

John smiles back at him, and feels a knot in his chest loosen, just a wee bit, and the anguish from that morning recedes just a little more. “It's only the truth,” he protests. “You've got an amazing talent for observation. It's a pity you can't make a career out of it.”

Sherlock's face freezes at that, and a small moue of distress flashes almost imperceptibly across it. He shifts his weight and stares out of the window, at the flashing lights of the tunnel. “Yes,” he agrees.

They are silent for the remainder of the ride.

After a freezing five-minute walk from the Tube station, they get to the coffee shop, Sherlock barging in ahead of John, eyes bright and engaged. He pauses a moment, just over the threshold, and John almost crashes into him. He puts up his hand, pushing against the gray-clad shoulder at eye-level in front of him. “What’re you doing?” he asks, amused. “Move, you great oaf. It’s cold out here.”

Prodded, Sherlock prowls forward, his burning glance taking in all the patrons in the shop. He heads unerringly towards Harry, who is petite with short blond hair, like her brother, and dressed in a somewhat rumpled business suit in rust with a white shirt. Her face is lined, she’s several years older than her brother, and decades of hard living have left their mark. She’s animated enough, though. Perhaps because she’s mostly finished her coffee. There’s an empty espresso cup pushed to the side.

“You must be John’s alcoholic sister,” is the first thing Sherlock says.

John thumps him, hard, with an elbow. “Shut it, Sherlock,” he hisses. “I’m not going to be able to take you anywhere.”

Sherlock's eyes dart around her face and body, reading information like a book. “And a Sapphist as well, I see.”

The woman at the booth looks up at Sherlock with a forbidding stare, and then shifts it to her brother. “John,” she says in a dangerous voice. “Who the hell is this? I didn't think you had any friends.”

Sherlock pulls off his scarf and shrugs out of his coat like he's about to perform a lap dance, and slides gracefully into the booth. John takes off his jacket and thunks in next to him, leaning the cane against the back of the bench. “Hi, Harry,” he says wearily. Spending time with Harry always involves walking on eggshells, as she came into the world with a very concentrated dose of the Watson temper. “Ta for that. I do have friends, you know. This is Sherlock. Um...” John trails off, having no idea what Sherlock's last name is. Neither he nor Harry make a move to embrace, or even touch hands.

Sherlock bypasses polite chitchat and reaches for Harry's coffee, bringing it close to his face and sniffing experimentally. “Ah!” he says. “Whiskey. As I predicted. You are, however, less inebriated that I would have guessed.” His gaze flickers over her again. “A flask in your breast pocket, I see.”

“Piss off,” Harry says too loudly, frowning at him. “It’s certainly none of your business. Johnny, why the hell did you bring this poncy git?”

“His name is Sherlock. Harry, you’re making a scene,” John says tightly and quietly. He reaches forward to pull Harry’s coffee towards himself, to see if it’s spiked or not, but Harry grabs it back. There is a brief, undignified struggle, and much of the drink is sloshed out on the table. Harry regains possession.

There is enough ‘coffee’ on John’s hand for whiskey fumes to rise to his nose. He leans across Sherlock to grab some napkins, and begins to clean up the mess. It’s rather a metaphor for his relationship with his sister, now that he thinks about it. “Really, Harry?” he asks. “It’s barely after lunch, and you have to go back to work. This is why we’re meeting at a coffeehouse, for god’s sake. I thought after Clara, you’d decided to go on the wagon.”

Harry shrugs carelessly. “I’m fine, Johnny.” She grins and touches the tip of her nose with first one forefinger and then the other. “See? Legally sober. I can pass any test you set for me. It’s just a little nip. Christ, you’re such a stick-in-the-mud. She pierces Sherlock with a gimlet eye, same deep blue as her brother’s. “Next time, genius, keep your mouth shut about it. Did your mother raise you in a barn?” She pauses to defiantly sip the coffee in her mug. “Now. Just so I know whether or not I’m gonna have to pound on you: What did you call me? Saffy... something?”

“Sapphist,” Sherlock supplies helpfully. “A woman who is sexually active with other women.”

 

John drops his hand to just above Sherlock’s knee and squeezes, hard enough to hit the nerve and make him jump. “Enough,” he says, “or I’ll leave you at home next time.”

Sherlock looks injured and begins to sulk. He stares outside.

Harry chokes and sputters for a moment, and then begins to laugh. “Christ, John. What are you doing with this wanker?” She sprawls against the back of the booth, arms out to both sides along the bench. “I think I like you,” she says to Sherlock. He appears unimpressed with that revelation “No, really,” she insists. “Sapphist. Who the hell says that? I've never even heard that word before.”

Sherlock opens his mouth to elucidate, but she waves her hand in dismissal. “No, no, I don’t really care.” She leans forward to continue, stops short of planting her elbows on the table, and gives a disgusted look at the pile of soggy napkins on the table. “Ugh. Johnny! You spilled it.” Her gesture indicates that she expects John to clear off the table.

He looks at the mound of sodden, reeking napkins, and stands up. He pulls a five pound note from his wallet and hands it to Sherlock. “Here. Go to the counter and ask for two small coffees. Give them this. Also, if you don’t mind, dump these in the bin as you go.” He scoops up the sodden pile and drops it in Sherlock’s hands, grinning at the disgusted look on his face when he does so. Serves him right, for provoking his sister with the alcoholic Sapphist comments.

Sherlock obeys, distracted by the opportunity to explore more of modern times, or whatever it is that interests him so much. John scoots in front of Harry once again.

They sit in awkward silence for endless minutes. There isn’t much in John’s life that he can talk about. I’m not suicidal these days because now there’s a possibly magical genie living in my flat just doesn’t seem like a good conversational opener, and certainly not anything he wants to share with his sister.

“So, tell me how things have been,” he tries.

Harry rolls her head on her neck. “I’ve got a new girlfriend,” she announces slyly.

John is not surprised to hear it. If ‘tomcat’ were female, it would apply to Harry. “Is that so? Who is she?”

“Her name’s Melissa. She’s in the Army, just like you. But not broken.” Harry’s hand flies up at that, covering her lips, and her face twists in apology. “Oh, Johnny! I didn’t mean--”

Sherlock comes back in time to hear her, and looks disdainful, but holds his tongue. He hands John a small mug, coffee gleaming darkly within. John stands up and allows Sherlock to slip into the booth before sitting back down.

Sherlock leans forward, resting his chin on steepled fingers. He stares, unblinking, at Harry. “She’s taller than you, with long black hair and olive coloring,” he says, rich baritone taking on the already familiar cadence of deduction. “Stronger than you, too, I’d predict. Short nails. Prefers to be on bottom, if you happen to be lying down. Somewhat rough in her upbringing and habits; so you represent, even the sot that you are, a step up in the world for her. A bit overweight. And you are aroused by controlling all of that, aren’t you? She could knock you down in a fight, but she doesn’t, and you like the illusion.”

Harry gapes. “How can you possibly know that?” But she looks less offended than intrigued.

John takes a sip of his coffee. It is undoctored, just the way he likes it. He raises his eyebrows at Sherlock and murmurs, “Cheers.” Sherlock blinks acknowledgement at him, then turns back to Harry.

“There’s a lipstick mark on the top edge of your collar, which indicates that your partner was standing next to you, with her head inclined at a bit of a steep angle when you embraced, so: taller than you. The particular shade of orange would suit only an olive complexion, but other than that, it was a bit of a shot in the dark. There’s a long black hair on your shoulder, obviously not yours or a pet: must be the new partner. There are scratch marks just under your collar, there, which are broad and shallow, indicating that the nail was blunted, softened by the pad of the finger. The size is a guess, but I can see you’re an insecure dominant, so it was a good one. And an alcoholic such as yourself would only be a prize for an uncertain social climber,” he pauses a moment, fingers flicking a rhythm over his chin, and then continues, in a more aggrieved tone, “I would not, however, have predicted Army. Always something.”

John’s mouth splits in an open, amazed grin. “That was bloody brilliant, Sherlock!”

Harry narrows her eyes, “Yeah, that was a good trick.” A grin like John’s creeps over on her face. “You’re an arse. But John’s right. That’s bloody nifty. Wouldn’t you be fun at a party.” She jerks her head at her brother, and flaps one lazy hand. “Smart aaaand pretty: lucky boyo. Where’d you pick this one up, Johnny?”

John dodges that question. “Where did you meet Melissa?” he asks instead.

“Bloody gym, what do you think?” Harry grins lasciviously. “Free show in the showers, every day! And there’s a lot of Melissa. She can bench press 10 stone! So I offered to let her try it on me.”

Conversation drags in fits and starts, desultory. Sherlock doesn’t bother to get involved, instead occupying himself with the passers by in the street. John can practically feel him observing and analyzing, as if a gentle current runs through the point where their arms touch.

Harry finishes her coffee and digs in her purse for a cigarette.

“Harry, you can’t smoke in here,” John chides.

Sherlock’s head snaps around and he gives John a quick glance, eyebrow lifted. He looks at Harry, the pack of cigarettes, and then thoroughly checks out the shop, noting the lack of smoke, lack of ashtrays, and discreet No Smoking sign near the register. He hums thoughtfully. “Where do the people smoke, then?” he asks John.

“Outside,” John answers. “Some clubs and pubs. Your own flat. That kind of thing.”

Harry looks narrowly at Sherlock. “Have you been living under a rock?”

John quickly intervenes, rather than admit that the last time Sherlock wandered in London it was 1980. “He’s been out of the country.” Well, it sounded better than He’s been in a lamp.

Sherlock, eye on Harry’s pack of smokes, pushes back their half-drunk coffees and begins to herd John out of the booth. “Let us be off, then. Come, we’re done here.” John barely has time to grab his cane, Sherlock hurrying him into his jacket, before he and Harry are swept outside. Sherlock turns to Harry right away. “I’d like one of those, if you don’t mind.” His tone implies that she will of course ‘not mind’ and not only that, she’ll be quick about it.

Harry looks bemused, then a flash of contention crosses her face, and then she shrugs and taps a Lark out of the soft pack in her hands. She hands it over, and Sherlock takes it delicately, nimbly twisting it around as he examines it from all sides. He runs it under his nose and closes his eyes, inhaling. “Tobacco, clove, hints of cocoa and carob.” He smells again, and looks surprised. “Sugar?” He touches the tobacco end to his tongue. “Huh.”

Harry stares at him like it’s a side-show act. And then, Harry guffaws. She laughs so hard she’s bent over double, snorting on the inhale. “Jesus fucking … . Johnny. Who is this? Freaky ponce.” She can’t stop for a while, and their odd trio attracts amused stares from other people hurrying by. Her laugh trails into a giggle, high and sweet, and for a moment, she sounds like a soprano version of her brother. Sherlock is nonplussed.

“Harry. Just-” John doesn’t actually know what to say. Sherlock holds the cigarette near his mouth in an obvious invitation to be lit, and Harry, trained by many nights in pubs, automatically reaches up and lights it for him. It takes her several tries, and Sherlock finally captures her hand to hold it steady, while he draws in air, until it’s lit.

“Heeey,” says Harry, brilliant with an idea. “You can smoke in clubs.”

John looks at her, rolling his eyes at the non sequitur. “Yeah,” he confirms. “You know that.”

“And I’m going to a club! This weekend.” She gives Sherlock a companionable shove on the chest. He takes an offended step back. “You should come.” She laughs again and looks at her brother. “Bring your poncy friend. He can slum. It’s a masquerade! And you can meet Melissa.”

There is no way in hell that John is going to play dress-up and hang out at a gay club on costume night to watch his drunk sister paw at her newest girl-toy. He opens his mouth to say so, but Sherlock gets there first.

“A club for Sapphists?”

“Wha-?”

“God, Sherlock. Yes, a gay club. Men and women both, I imagine.” John draws in breath to give their excuses and is again interrupted.

Sherlock exhales smoke thoughtfully, reaches out and splays his hand on John’s shoulder, surprising him into immobility, and says, “That sounds very... interesting.” He glances at John, down and sideways so that chalcedony eyes are half-hidden by lashes, and his look says, clear as day, John, do let’s go.

John purses his lips and furrows his brow a little, signaling back, Seriously? This is Harry we’re talking about. It’s bound to be a disaster. Not to mention it’s theme night at a gay club.

Sherlock turns his head to look at John straight on, and his hand twitches on John’s shoulder. But I want to. Think of all the different people there will be to watch. And I haven’t been out in so long....

John’s shoulders slump a little, and his eyes crinkle at the corners. Yeah. All right.

Harry starts laughing again. “Fucking hell, John,” she snorts. “It’s like you’re married or something. When did you decide to swing the other way?”

John is frozen, flashing to the rub-off earlier. “What? No-”

“Look at you. I just watched you have a whole conversation. Ha! No words. Don’t think I didn’t see it.” She giggles again, clenches her fist, and bangs it hard on Sherlock’s shoulder. He looks haughty and quizzical. “I’ll see you Friday, then. The Wharf. Bye.” She turns without further ceremony and strides back to work.

John zips up his coat and shoves a fist into his pocket, cane held loosely in the other. “Well,” he begins.

Sherlock arranges his own coat and scarf, and gives John a half-smirk, half-smile, having won the silent debate to his satisfaction. “Where to now?” he asks, willing to concede power on the heels of his victory.

John sighs, and then smiles back. Sherlock’s cheeks and nose are tinted pink from the cold, but his lips are as pale as wax. He pulls again on his cigarette, the lines of his body confident, effortlessly projecting unconventional chic. I am so outclassed, John thinks. But he shrugs and says, “I thought we might go to Barts and visit Mike.”

Chapter Text

Barts is no more than a kilometer away. They walk companionably, John only leaning lightly on his cane, musing on how glad he is that they got off relatively lightly with Harry. Promising to go to a fancy dress night, though - he can’t imagine what possessed him. Well. Actually, he can. He glances sideways at his companion, who is hungrily scrutinizing all the people and places that they pass. His eyes shine, his bearing is vibrant, and John feels somehow smug that he’s able to give Sherlock this opportunity. He looks around with new eyes, himself, enjoying the life and the colors, all the movement and urgency a city of 13 million people has to offer.

The day would be gorgeous, but for the biting cold: unusually sunny for London in January, with a blue, blue sky. John has to keep pulling a tissue out of his pocket to wipe his nose, and his eyes water in the sharp air. Sherlock seems unaffected, perhaps because he is snuggled in his glamorous coat. John looks at it longingly out of the corner of his eye. His treacherous brain spins out a fantasy, in which Sherlock would suddenly turn around, grab him by the shoulders, and pluck him from the stream of humanity pounding the pavement. He’d hold John snug under his chin; pull him forcibly into the warmth within the wings of his coat, until only his eyes were free. John can almost feel the heat. Can almost smell the humid air within, redolent of skin and wool, coffee from his breath, and the faint residue of tobacco and incense that he’d come to associate with Sherlock.

He thought of tilting up his head, feeling the cool sharp line of Sherlock’s jaw graze his temple. Sherlock looking down now, hands shifting under the warm coat, burrowing closer to John’s skin; tight, perhaps, against his vest, hot palms and cold fingertips, spanning the width of his back across his shoulder blades. Sherlock would bend down a little more, rounding the spine John’s hands were sculpting, and sultry breath would ghost across jaw and ear.

It would only take a minute turn of his head, and they would be mouth to mouth. Sherlock had nothing so vulgar as chapped lips, so they would be smooth against John’s rough; warm, and mobile. With the barest twitch of muscle, a press of lips could become a kiss, undemanding, but not gentle. Focused and determined. John would rise to the balls of his feet, guided by Sherlock’s hands on his back. Dragging up the front of Sherlock’s body as he moved, the friction of their mouths creating the only hot point in the biting cold.

John’s ears flush, and he comes abruptly back to himself at the crosswalk light across from Barts.

Sherlock gives him a sidelong lovat stare and raises an eyebrow. “Is that your wish?”

“Uh,” inelegantly. “What?”

“Is that your wish? You’ve been wishing, inside your head. You’re very easy to read, you know. You wish I would kiss you, perhaps warm you up at the same time.” He quirks the corner of his mouth, expression a mixture of seduction and caustic tease. “I’m certain I can do both. But is that your wish? You have to be explicit.”

“What? Christ. I--” John isn’t cold anymore, seared instead by sudden mortification. He tightens his grip on his cane, balls his fist in his pocket and curls his toes, desperately waiting for the pedestrian signal to flash green. “No. No. I wasn’t-- What makes you think--. God. No. Fuck.” He keeps his eyes on his feet, but can feel Sherlock’s assessing gaze and knowing smirk.

The light changes, at last!, and John charges ahead, barely leaning on his cane at all, while Sherlock saunters in his wake. John doesn’t look at him again until they are in the elevator heading for Mike’s office.

“Mike is the guy who made me buy the lamp,” he explains awkwardly.

“Yes, I was aware,” Sherlock says simply. “I watched you buy it. An overweight man, known you since secondary school, getting a gift to celebrate 12 years with his wife.” John shakes his head. Little bits of evidence are piling up to support the entirely improbable conclusion that Sherlock is exactly what he claims to be. The idea that a lunatic magician was lurking in the shadows of an antique shop, listening in on Mike and him, is almost as ludicrous as believing in genies. John shoves all these thoughts to the back of his mind.

“That’s him,” John agrees. “I thought we might say hello.”

 

The wind up trailing Mike all over the hospital. They settle briefly in his lab, where he’s setting up some grad students with PCR experiments. He explains DNA to an engrossed Sherlock, while John fidgets with beakers and smiles over them both. Sherlock demands a thorough tour of the lab, radiating fascination, pale eyes shining. Mike amiably obliges, finding slides for Sherlock to examine under the microscope, doing a little experiment with titration, separating several blood samples in the centrifuge. Sherlock devours it all, and his cheeks are tinted with passion when he finally turns back around, recalling that John’s been in the room the whole time.

John grins at him. “Like it, do you?” he asks.

Sherlock immediately affects a repressive expression, as if unwilling to be caught excited and thus exposed. “It’s quite absorbing,” he admits stiffly.

Mike checks his watch. “I’ve got to get to the morgue,” he says. He smiles his open, honest smile at Sherlock. “It was a real pleasure to meet you, Sherlock,” he says, and offers his hand.

Sherlock stares at it blankly, and ignores it. “The morgue,” he repeats. He waits expectantly.

Mikes grin widens. “Would you like a tour of that, too?”

Sherlock regally tips his head toward the door, evincing that yes, he’d like to wander around amongst the corpses for a while. John follows the pair, tall and fat, like Abbott and Costello, feeling both indulgent and overwhelmed.

Sherlock is... a mess of contradictions, and John can’t wrap his head around them all. Is he actually a genie? It seems more and more likely that something supernatural is involved. He had faded entirely out of view multiple times, after all! The clothing, the cigarettes, the knowledge of what happened in the antiques shop, where John would swear he and Mike had been alone, save for the proprietor. Given these curious things. What if he can possibly accept it, and move on - then what? What does that mean about Sherlock? John metaphorically reels at the concept of being confined to a lamp for so long, decade after lonely decade, until centuries, possibly, had passed. To exist for no other purpose than to be used. To grant that single wish, and then, spent, be consigned back to the lamp.

Did he have no moral say in the wish? What if it ran counter to his principals? Well, John admits., morals do not seem to play a big role in Sherlock’s personality so far. But purpose! Sherlock fairly exudes purpose. His walk is quick and certain, he had stalked around the lab as if it were designed solely for him. His interest in Mike’s work, in scientific investigation is sincere and profound. How long has it been since he could express this facet of himself? Is it even a facet? What if it is the majority of his person? Repressed for decades, or even centuries. To continually catch glimpses of what he wishes to observe, but be ‘put away’ before he can ever get close enough to study it. It must be like living upstairs from a candy shop.

And not only that, not only is Sherlock accustomed to being consumed, for his ability to grant wishes, his own aspirations meaningless and unobtainable, but John is thinking of him in those same terms. Certainly, and to his shame, it has an overlarge sexual component. But even that, Sherlock interprets as a wish: John craves sexual gratification with me, that must be his wish. He shudders to think what that implies, for both of them, and blinks hard at the floor. He would keep his inappropriate lust fully under lock and key, he swears to himself. And, thinks a more distant part of his mind, What about when you do make a wish? And you lose him forever? What happens then?

John struggles with the conflicting desire to let Sherlock loose on the modern world, to let him fly and study and be free... and the darker, more heated inclination to keep him for himself. He can’t even let that thought out enough to verbalize it.

“Oh! Hello!” exclaims a flustered young woman as they enter. “Mike, you brought some friends.” She flutters while standing completely still, which is a good trick, and looks nervously from one to the other. Her eyes catch on Sherlock, and hang up there, her mouth dropping open a little while she drinks him in. He returns the look dispassionately, dismisses her, and begins to check out the room, heading immediately for the body laid out on the slab.

The gaping young woman turns her head to track him, having evidently entirely forgot about Mike and John. John frowns, and obeying an urge he doesn’t want to name, steps forward, conveniently between Sherlock and her line of sight, and holds out his hand. “John Watson,” he says. “And that is Sherlock. I hope we’re not interrupting?”

Molly’s lab coat is stained, and she’s clutching nitrile gloves in her hand, and the corpse on the table is partially opened, so this is a reasonable question. John pulls his hand back, belatedly realizing she’s just been preparing a cadaver. Molly jerks her attention from Sherlock and blushes fiercely red. “Oh, oh! No. I mean. I’m just doing an autopsy.” She looks shyly over at Sherlock, whose nose is nearly pressed to the opened up sternum. “Would you like to watch?”

Sherlock straightens up immediately and without pause says, “Yes, very much so, thank you for the offer.” He slips out of his overcoat with one of his subtle shimmies, and both John and Molly watch with poorly disguised fascination and longing.

Sherlock strides back over to the victim, folding his hands behind his back. He stands very straight, and seems incredibly tall, compared to the three others in the room. “Now,” he says. “What exactly are you doing here?”

Molly stammers and stutters her way through an explanation (48 year old man, sudden, unexplained death, found in his bedroom by one of the house staff, the family has requested an autopsy to rule out unnatural causes).

Mike says, “I came down to see if it would be a good case for one of my lectures.”

“Because,” Molly inserts, “it’s a mystery, see? We’ll have to investigate the body and the lab results to determine the cause of death.”

Sherlock is riveted. “All right then,” he says. “Show me.”

The three begin a macabre dance around the table. John contributes from time to time, but mostly he watches Sherlock glow; contemplates him, engaged and unfurling. He can sense the full force of Sherlock’s focus and curiosity completely bypassing him, directed at the puzzle on the slab.

After two hours, most of the internal organs have been removed and placed in dishes on the counters around the walls; samples removed for testing; blood drawn and sent for the toxicology report. Sherlock flits around the room, to peruse the reports and peer at the parts they’ve removed from the body, examining everything under the microscope, John helps to set up slides and petri plates for the purpose, and explains what he can remember of autopsies and procedure. Occasionally, Sherlock’s face lights up with a flashing (morbidly inappropriate, but nonetheless sincere) smile.

Molly scrounges up a hand lens for Sherlock, upon his request, and he moves around the body, wielding his magnifying glass with flare and dedication, inspecting fingers, hair, eyes, mouth, feet. Molly and Mike both treat him with fond amusement, as if he is a child prodigy, but John is taken with his intensity and captivation. Sherlock is not playing, he is driven: this is not simply a way to pass the afternoon.

Molly places a call to the Met to report their progress. Mike takes notes and photos. Sherlock begins to look through the clothing and personal effects in evidence bags on the bench. John goes up to the cafeteria to get coffees for everyone.

 

When John returns with the coffee, there’s a new person in the room. He hesitates just inside the door, staring at the silver-haired stranger. Sherlock sees him there, and steps over to hold the door open for him. His eyes are on the other man. “He’s a detective inspector, John. He investigates murders. It’s interesting.” Sherlock daintily lifts a coffee out of the tray John’s holding. “I assume this one is for me? Yes? Thank you,” and he swirls back to the group by the lab bench.

John makes his way there more slowly, reluctant to interrupt police business. He’s intrigued. Although he’d studied here, done rounds and residency at Barts, he’d never autopsied a potential murder victim and then dealt with the police. He stands just outside the circle, hesitant. Sherlock darts a glance at him, steps back, and with no more than an adjustment of a foot and the twist of a shoulder, suddenly has John included in the conversation.

The detective inspector looks up and smiles. He seems tired, with shadows under warm brown eyes, but he holds out his hand. John puts his coffee into it, and the man looks surprised. “Oh,” he says, “I was, erm, just going to introduce myself.”

“Yes. Well. I’m Dr. Watson,” it seems more valid to use his title, here in the morgue. “You’re welcome to the coffee. I’m sure you need it more than me.” He mentally slaps himself for saying that. He might as well have said, You look like shit, here’s a pick-me-up before you drop.

The DI laughs. “Thanks, mate,” he said. “I’m Greg Lestrade, DI.” Mike takes the tray from John, who holds out his hand again. This time, they shake.

“Nice to meet you. Please call me John.”

But Sherlock interrupts. “Let’s get back to the victim, please, Lestrade,” John grimaces at how his eagerness has made him brusque. “What will your next step be, in order to find the murderer?”

Lestrade says, “Well, it’s not clear this is a murder. Sir Benjamin Sambourne-Reifferscheidt is an important man, and I was called in when he was found to rule out foul play. He had... many resources, and there are some who think the new wife was just a fortune-hunter. However, unless you find anything here, we’ll write it off to natural causes.” His fatigue speaks for him, shows his disdain of the hysterical rich, determined to place blame, who drag him from work he considers valid in order to chase after shadows.

Molly says, “There are some small bruises on the neck and wrists. Could be from anything. Well, actually, the ones on the neck are probably fingerprints. Um,” she consults her clipboard of notes. “We also documented very faint evidence of hemorrhagic gastric mucosal necrosis, which could have numerous causes. We’re waiting for the test results now.”

Sherlock barely waits as long as is socially acceptable before protesting, “It is undoubtedly murder.”

“I beg your pardon?” Lestrade is surprised.

Sherlock sweeps over to the table, and turns around, looking both frustrated and excited. His figure sways there, tall, lean and elegant, an easy focal point in the room. John doesn’t want to look at anything else. Sherlock smirks a little; “what must it be like in your tiny little brains?” he questions rhetorically. John can see him gearing up for a production, and smiles as he leans back to rest against a lab bench. He wonders what amazing observations Sherlock is about to demonstrate now.

“Why don’t you tell us what makes you think so,” John prompts.

Lestrade looks angrily confused, but does Sherlock the courtesy of remaining silent, waiting for him to elucidate.

Sherlock wastes no time. “What we have here is a man in late middle age who was recently married.” He reaches for the evidence bag on the side bench and holds out two rings. “See this one? A wedding ring. Not even scratched. Obviously new. Nothing inside. Now,” he he holds the other up, hands impossibly fine compared to the thick heavy band between his fingers. “This, on the other hand, is at least 10 years old. You can see from the indentations on the corpse that he was accustomed to wearing it on his left-hand ring finger. The inscription inside reads “Mine Always. We may assume this is not a previous wife, since it’s not a traditional wedding band. As a matter of fact, it’s hand-hammered, unique, and shows great care and artistry... definitely made by a master craftsman. The dead man didn’t make it himself, there are no burns or stains from a jeweler’s studio on his hands. Possibly was made by a long-term lover.”

“There’s evidence that this man was with a lover immediately prior to his death. Look at this,” he bends over the corpse and snaps open his borrowed magnifying glass over his jaw. He waves Lestrade over and points, “See this faint cut? And the tiny marks there? This man was shaved, very soon before his murder... by someone standing above and behind him. It is impossible to cut oneself at this angle: the slice is slanted from the chin towards the forehead.” Sherlock demonstrates how the second party would have wielded the razor. Lestrade bends to look at the little marks, appearing mystified. Sherlock drums his fingers on the cool metal table. “But it was done with care, that’s obvious. Again: a lover.”

Sherlock doesn’t give Lestrade more than 30 seconds to look before he hauls on the corpse and rolls it onto its side. “Look at his hair. It’s stiff with creme, isn’t it? So, clearly, he’d recently had a shower and shave. Now,” he slides his hand upwards along the man's neck, until all five fingers are buried at an angle in his hair. “Feel this. Go on! You can put on gloves.” He waits impatiently as Lestrade snaps on a pair. “The finger tunnels are marked with stiffness on the inside, very clear paths. There was a hand in this position for some time, as the creme stiffened, either supporting or holding down his head. The latter is more likely, as holding someone down is an easier position to maintain without shifting around.”

John, watching Lestrade, begins to see the change of a convert come over his face, his initial vague impatience slowly replaced with dawning admiration and understanding. “All right, then,” he says. “What else?”

“The fingerprint bruises,” Sherlock says immediately. “See? Here on the neck.” He folds his hand around the neck, and John comes closer, to hover with the others; there is the faintest pattern of red, four on one side and one on the other. “This was a very large hand, as large as my own. Six foot one or two, then. The index finger mark also has a smear of fine powder, such as is a byproduct of grinding and finishing metal. It reacts like silver in a simple test, supporting the theory that the lover is a jeweler.”

“Amazing,” John murmurs.

“The wife is a little thing,” Lestrade inserts. Sherlock nods as if he’d already known that, and moves on.

“Look at the cuffs that were on his wrists.” He reaches for the evidence bag again, and holds out two wide black bracelets made of braided leather decorated with worked metal rings, cut neatly through. “This is the work of the same artist as who made the ring, I’m sure, the designs on the loops here are characteristic. It’s been worked together under heat, too: the metal is fused and the cuff could only be removed by destruction... there is no release. They had to be cut off. Now,” he heads back to the corpse and lifts a wrist. “The bruising here is apparent only over the wrist bones, and is sharper at the front edge. The cuffs were being used as restraint, he was bound and pulling. Likely consensual: you can see he’s worn these cuffs for years. The decorative rings along it have the advantage of being a good point to hook to a rope or slim chain. Also, from the scratching on the interior of the loops, you can see that they’ve been used repeatedly in this fashion. Bondage with some degree of ownership, then.” He looks at Molly, “We haven’t yet examined the anus, but I believe you’ll find evidence of penetration, perhaps semen inside.”

Lestrade looks considering, and Molly giggles in embarrassed shock. Mike is taking notes, as calmly as if it is a lecture, and John flushes a little at the factual way Sherlock mentions gay sex and bondage. Oh, god.

“Here. Under this fingernail,” Sherlock lifts the left hand. “It seems to be cosmetic paint, to cover facial blemishes or some such. But look how dark it is. I deduce that the lover was male and also a Moor.” He stops and corrects himself. “...Black.”

“So what do we know?” He looks at Lestrade, eyebrows up. Lestrade cocks his head and waits. Sherlock can’t stop for long, his observations are busting out at the seams. “We know this man has a long-term male lover, a Black, and we know he’s recently married to a small woman. Immediately prior to his death, he had a shower and ritual shave, in the company of said lover, and probable sex. What do we need to know now?”

The pause is heavy. John says, since Sherlock seems to be waiting for an answer, “How he died?”

“Exactly,” Sherlock smiles briefly at him, and whirls back around. “How did he die. I noticed two very faint bruises here,” he touches the hinge of the man’s jaw, “and here, on the other side. Someone forced his mouth open. Whether it was part of the sexual play or not, we cannot deduce. However, I can smell,” he leaned down, prying open the dead man’s mouth, and sniffing enthusiastically, “a faint residual odor of bitter almonds.” he pulls off his glove and swipes his finger along the inside of the dead man’s cheek, then touches it delicately to his tongue, “Yes, I can taste it --”

Christ, Sherlock!” John interrupts, grabbing Sherlock’s wrist and jerking his hand away from his face. “What the hell are you doing?”

Sherlock looks startled and confused. “Confirming my suspicion,” he answers, but he sounds less haughty than uncertain.

“Not by tasting a blooming corpse, you’re not,” John says tightly. He drags Sherlock over to the emergency eyewash station and holds the lever down. “Rinse your mouth out right now.”

“John. I couldn’t possibly have ingested enough to -”

“No. Nope. Rinse. Right now.” Sherlock darts a look back at the slab, where Lestrade, Molly and Mike are all standing in varying aspects of shock and disgust, back to John, whose face is set in angry lines. He rinses and spits a couple of times. “Fucking hell, Sherlock,” John shakes his head and grabs a couple of paper towels from the dispenser. “There are other ways to test for cyanide, if that’s what you’re implying.”

Sherlock wipes his mouth and dumps the towels in the bin. He gathers the dignity he’d just lost and goes back over to the table. “You can also see that the hue of the skin is quite pink,” he says, as if nothing happened. But he flicks a quick, questioning look at John, who nods minutely, Go on, it’s alright now. “I have noticed that in a cyanide poisoning before. I don’t know why-”

Mike interjects that cyanide kills by inhibiting cells in the body from consuming oxygen, and thus leaving the blood supersaturated with it, even after death. Sherlock listens avidly, and nods when he’s done.

He turns to Lestrade. “Anyone who works metals has cyanide around, so acquiring it wouldn’t be a problem. After the ‘tests’ have confirmed that it’s cyanide, all you need to do is find the jeweler lover. Perhaps he stands to benefit somehow by the death? An inheritance? Or perhaps it is pique that he’s been replaced by a woman. Determining the motive is up to you.”

There is an extended pause, almost a vacuum, when Sherlock stops the rapid-fire torrent of observations.

“That’s fantastic,” John murmurs.

Sherlock gives him a quick, bright look. “Do you know you say that out loud?”

John’s stomach flutters, and his posture straightens in protest. “I’m sorry,” he begins.

“It’s ok. It’s... fine.”

“How do you know all this?” asks Lestrade. “Not that I’m saying you’re right, but....”

Sherlock says, “It’s obvious, isn’t it? How can you you not see? Well, you see, but you do not observe. I simply observe.”

Molly says, “He’s right about the unusual pinkness of the skin. I should have noticed that.” She looks up at Sherlock, who is standing at her shoulder, and her eyes are soft with hero worship. “It is an unusual side effect of cyanide. The toxicology report won’t test for that, it isn’t standard. But I’ll call the lab and tell them to set that up.” She gnaws on her lip, while Lestrade leans over the corpse and sniffs at its mouth. “I wouldn’t have noticed some of this,” she admits, gazing at Sherlock again. “You’re amazing... what you do is... really incredible. I- You... You can come back any time.” She turns back to Lestrade. “The hemorrhaging in the stomach lining would be consistent with cyanide.”

Mike straightens up and puts away his notebook. “Good show, mate,” is all he says, but he grins as he does. “You in forensic sciences? You ought to be, if not. This case will make for one interesting lecture, that’s for sure. I’m glad you happened along. Let me buy you a pint sometime, eh?” He looks back at John, “You too, John. It’s been too long.”

When they leave, Molly tries to shake Sherlock’s hand, and he again appears confused and annoyed by the gesture, Mike smiles genially, and Lestrade looks somewhat calculating. Sherlock has a bounce to his stride, as he flips on his coat and scarf, almost swaggering to the elevator. John has to take several quick steps to catch up to him.

“Have a good time, then?” he asks, pushing the elevator button and grinning up at the man standing next to him, virtually vibrating with excitement.

Sherlock looks at him, incandescent. “I had no idea,” he says simply, and his eyes go out of focus, staring inwardly. “I had no idea.”

And that’s the last John gets out of him, throughout the brisk walk home.

 

Chapter Text

When they walk into the flat, John removes his coat with a shiver and moves immediately over to the radiator to turn the heat back up. He hears the soft shirring of fabric behind him, and turns to see Sherlock whipping off his scarf, pulling his gloves off lightly, finger by finger. He's unfairly beautiful, looks like he's in the middle of a glamorous photo shoot, and John swallows against the sudden flood of want in his mouth. He leans back against the warming radiator, possibly because his knees are weak, although he'd never admit it.

Sherlock tosses his gloves and scarf onto the bed, and undulates out of his coat. John tracks his movements, noting that everything about the genie is length, strength, power and grace. For all his harsh lines, he does not come across as rugged or sharp, instead reading as sleek,  the blunt, expansive planes of cheek and jaw oddly rendering him soft and smooth when combined with his exuberant hair and glowing skin.

Sherlock stretches, arms outflung, and arches his back. John licks his lips, suddenly ruefully aware of how distressingly average he is, the wrinkles on his face, the lack of elasticity to his figure since returning from the Army; the scars, one still red and shiny, devastatingly written across his chest and back.

Sherlock shimmers, and when the air resettles, he's once again dressed in his his genie garb, complete with jewelry, curling slippers and henna tattoos.

John makes a concerned face. “It's still pretty cold in here, Sherlock--”

Sherlock just shrugs and drifts forwards until he's right in front of John, eyes bright turquoise now, and intent. “John,” he says, and reaches up to rest two fingers very lightly on the hinge of John's jaw. “John. I just want to say... I'd like to tell you....”

John waits, holding his breath, world narrowed down to eyes like tropical seas and two featherweight gentle points of warmth on his face.

“Today was... something different. It was... good.”

John rests his own hand on Sherlock's wrist and he cannot stop himself from tracing the hard cords of forearm muscle, looking down to see dizzying lines of henna disappear under his own unadorned hand. He wets his lips again, viscerally aware of new a new tension between them.  “You were amazing, Sherlock. I've never seen anyone do what you can do. Really --”

His words trail off as Sherlock steps closer, deliberate and confident, and curves down until he is so close that tendrils of his breath comb through the evening stubble around John’s jaw.  John waits, motionless but buzzing with anticipation.

“Thank you.”  It is no more than an exhale against John’s lips.  And then Sherlock kisses him.  And words are something John can no longer recall.

Sherlock's lips are cool on John's damp ones, and a bizarre contrast to the warm metal that supports him. They merely rest against his own, improbably soft and enticing;  the fingers at his jaw barely touching... applying no pressure. Mouths evanescently adjoined, they stare at eachother for a moment longer, turquoise and navy and all the depth and meaning of the universe, pitching and reeling and intoxicating.

John closes his eyes before he falls down, and inhales, slow and slight, as if air drawn in will work as a vacuum and pull Sherlock harder against him. His hand skates around Sherlock's elbow, climbs his arm until it catches and lingers on the tooled leather cuff around his bicep.

Sherlock stirs at last. He slips his fingers around the point of John's jaw, under the ear, drawing little trails of sparks on his skin, until they burrow into his hair, stabilizing his head so that Sherlock can lean in harder; and his mouth begins to move, and for all John is aware of the room, he could be floating in outer space.

They brush their lips together, back and forth, and John echoes the motion with his fingers on stiff leather and supple skin. Sherlock begins to nibble, just a tiny hint of teeth, of warm moisture, as delicate as the designs that adorn his body. John reciprocates with nips of his own, tentatively draws the lavish angles of Sherlock's top lip into his mouth, with quick, light licks, tiny pulses of suction.

Sherlock makes a sound, almost inaudible, and the muscles under John's hand jump.

For long moments, they don't step any closer, joined at only those three points, focused only on lips – no invasion yet; just superficial flexing of muscles, dancing with tongue-painted outlines, ephemeral flashes of teeth. John is straining forward from his seat against the radiator, and Sherlock curls around him, breathes into his mouth.

John hums, a combination of need and delight, and Sherlock responds, a breathy acknowledgment and shifts to clasp both his hands around John's neck, long fingers spreading to engulf the entire back of his head, and tilts it slightly to the side, to fit them better together. And then he presses his thumbs against John's jaw, coaxing his mouth open, and finally, finally!, the rough-smooth texture of his tongue is inside John's mouth, winding around his own, sinuous in an echo of the fluidity of Sherlock's body when he moves.

Arousal zings through John's abdomen, which he valiantly ignores. Instead, he pushes his tongue back against Sherlock's rubbing until he can feel the bumps of tastebuds, poking at the delicate webbing at its base, wandering to the side to explore teeth then palate.

John has dropped his hands down to Sherlock's hips, he is not even aware of when he did it, and pulls him in closer, spreading his knees to pull Sherlock between them.

And all the time he is aware of getting shorter and shorter of breath, breathing having become unimaginably dull, and kissing such a better expenditure of his time. They've developed a rhythm now, like a dance, back-and-forth-and-suck-suck-suck. John slides his hands around Sherlock's waist, feeling for the dimples at the base of his spine, drowning in the extravagance of acres of taut, living skin. And.

And Sherlock straightens. He slips his hands from John's hair and lets one rest on his shoulder, the other dropping to his side with a soft clatter of bracelets.

The look at each other for a moment, faces still close, eyes still vague, heavy and heated. John licks his lips, tasting of Sherlock, and twists half his mouth into an uncertain smile. “Right.” He has to scramble to recall what Sherlock had last said, since entire civilizations had been built and fallen during the unexpected kiss. “You're welcome?”

Sherlock doesn't respond to the words. But his cheeks are pink, and his lips as well, shiny with moisture and well-used. John looks at his sternum, exposed by the cropped vest, and twining veins of henna tremor with his thudding heart.

Sherlock backs up and whirls away, sweeping the laptop off the desk as he does so. He flings himself onto the bed and opens it up.

John fingers his own swollen lips. Evidently that's it, then. “Pot noodles?” he asks. It's evening now, and he's hungry. “Toast? Beans?”

Sherlock looks up with a hastily erased expression of disgust and shakes his head. “Not hungry, John.” There's a significant pause, as he goes back to the laptop, then he looks up and belatedly says, “Thank you.”

“Yes, well. I know it's not much --”

Pfft,” Sherlock both indicates his boredom and dismissal of the topic.

John potters about as he waits for the kettle to boil, and eventually settles in the straight-backed chair with his noodles. He eats without speaking, and stares at Sherlock. He sighs, and picks up the sole paperback in the flat, deciding that rereading it is the best use of his time. But he keeps sneaking glances past the covers, assessing the man on his bed, and thinking, giddy as a teenaged girl, He kissed me! Oh my god, he kissed me!

Sherlock is thoroughly sunk into surfing. Studying. He is very intent about it, eyes darting back and forth as he reads with fervor, almost desperation. After several hours, having got himself ready for bed, John finally says, “You can take a break, you know. It’ll all be there in the morning.”

Sherlock glances up, eyes assessing, and a frenetic feeling emanates from him. “Perhaps. But at some point, I won’t be here any more. I do have a deadline, John.”

John is quiet for a minute and Sherlock goes back to his reading. “I’m not kicking you out anytime soon,” he offers gently.

Sherlock flicks his glance back to John. “When you make your wish, John. I return to the lamp. There is no predicting how much time will pass before I can come back. Nor how much time or freedom I’ll be given when I do.” And with this cool, emotionless assessment, he is immediately reabsorbed in the laptop.

John sucks in slow breath, as the magnitude of that offhand statement sinks in. If he were to accept Sherlock at face value: What kind of hell would it be, condemned to a formless, gray, half-awareness. Called forth randomly, briefly, to serve the will of a stranger. To supply their greedy, selfish desires, and then be banished again. For years. Tens of years. Centuries, perhaps. John has never asked Sherlock how old he is. If Sherlock has any interests... how can he pursue them? It was teasing on a magnitude John had never considered. Taunting with an entire life. Here, here’s a subject/person/place/philosophy that fascinates you. Ha! You don’t get to explore it! Back to the ether. It was exquisite torture, this level of slavery.

“What are you reading up on?” he asks.

“Forensics, right now. Anatomy. Chemistry. Well-known, unsolved crimes.” Sherlock answers while still reading.

John licks his lips, then rolls them in, biting at the flesh between his teeth. “How old are you, Sherlock?”

Sherlock looks up again. “That depends entirely on how you calculate it, John.”

John waits, but Sherlock doesn’t add anything. “Right. Ok. How do you calculate it?”

“I was 34 when it happened,” he says. “That was... November of 1781; so 231 years, 3 months and 17 days of being a genie, making me approximately 265 years old.”

John stares, aghast. “Two hundred.... Oh, Sherlock.” There's a long pause, in which Sherlock switches his attention back to the laptop, but his eyes don’t move, and his face is strained. “You said this morning that an alchemist did this to you.”

“I was arrogant,” Sherlock mutters to the glowing screen. “I was a fool. I allowed myself to be.... manipulated. Trapped.” He twitches his hand and now holds a cigarette, trailing smoke hanging weightless around his fingers. He pulls deeply on it, holds smoke in his lungs like an old friend, before reluctantly letting it escape, to thin into the still air of the flat.

He is slender and ethereal lounging there, very nearly naked and skim-milk-blue in the light of the screen. He’s a fucking fantasy made of moonlight and sin, and John licks his lips again. He cannot take advantage. He can not take advantage. Spontaneous kisses aside.

John rises and moves to sit on the foot of the bed, closer and more comfortable... but not too close. “Can you tell me more about it?”

“In my time, I was a student of alchemy. The new sciences. Mathematics and physics. I... became too proud. Too confident. I made enemies, and I did not take them seriously. One such was James Moriarty, who was deeply involved the occult as well as alchemy. He was ever after me to join forces with him. He thought that together, with our superior intellect, we could make undreamed of breakthroughs. I had no interest in his unrealistic goals.”  Sherlock fidgets and shivers, and his free hand rises to his curls, tugging inattentively.  His eyes dart around the room, fall back to his cigarette, and he pulls in another lungful of smoke.  It seems to calm him.  John waits for him to continue.

“He challenged me one day. His terms were that I be the subject of his latest experiment. A man of hard sciences myself, I scoffed at his conviction that he could wreak magic through ceremony and ritual. So I agreed, certain that his public humiliation would be my reward. He had been a thorn in my side for some time, claiming that the focus of alchemy was to prolong the natural span of life, to transmute the basic nature of things rather than, as I believed, to further the study of the world that already existed around us.”

Sherlock pulls furiously at the cigarette, and his other hand is clenched, white-knuckled, in the bedclothes by his thigh. Gold bangles twist and glint in the light, clatter as they slip down towards his elbow, then back to his wrist as he drops his arm. He carelessly taps the ash to the floor over the edge of the bed. John disapproves, but doesn’t comment. He edges closer, facing Sherlock, pulls up one leg and props himself on the other hip, resting his weight on his uninjured shoulder.

“So he designed his ritual, and I mocked him openly in front of his followers. I even helped him acquire some of the more obscure ingredients, so certain was I of his failure. He asked me what it was I feared the most. And like the thrice-damned fool that I was, I told him.” Sherlock sets the laptop to the side, snapping down the lid, and pulls his legs up, tightening himself into a rigid oval of a man. He drops his head to rest on his knees, and looses a soft sigh.

 

 

Without the glow of the laptop, it is dark in the room, save for the yellow light falling through the window onto the desk. The cherry of ash hovers, glows and bobs, and John thinks that Sherlock’s hand is shaking. And because he is a doctor and a caretaker, and a decent human being, in addition to being a broken soldier, John lays his hand against against the nape of Sherlock's inclined neck, feeling stretched skin, and the bumps of vertebrae under his fingertips. He imagines comfort flowing across the point of contact, and sweeps his hand up and down a few times.

“What did you tell him?” he asks quietly.

“Slavery. Bending to the will of another. To have to follow the rule of an inferior mind.” He laughs hollowly, and lifts his head to look at John. A briefly snarling smile flashes across his face. “And that’s what I got.  Years -- ” his voice breaks off.

John brushes his hand to the ball of Sherlock’s shoulder, and clenches briefly before sliding down the slender arm, catching on the leather band, clinking through bangles, and then taking hold of Sherlock’s long fingers. He squeezes his hand. “I’m sorry,” he says. It’s utterly inadequate.

Sherlock stares at their joined hands, and the squeezes back, very lightly. “I set myself up for it.”

“So what happened?”

“I don’t remember very well. I was smug. Moriarty was jumping around, doing his parody of an incantation, and his followers were all stoned off their heads. I thought I would be leaving soon. And then.... I don’t remember. Then it all disappeared, for a long time, I think. And then he called me out. Out of the lamp. His wish. So predictable!  His wish was that I be his slave, for the remainder of his natural life. Then he would pass me to his followers.”

John chews on the inside of his cheek and shakes his head.  He says, trying to conceal his shock and disgust, “Oh. Sherlock. I don’t even. I don’t--”

Sherlock slants him a glittering look in the faint light. “It was only for a number of years. He never wished that I wouldn’t kill him. Only one wish, you know. You must be careful how you phrase it. He was usually excessively cautious, but I watched very closely for an opening, of course. I poisoned him with his own lead: painted my body with it.

“After that, I was passed around within that cult for, oh, perhaps 140 years.”

“Christ. Sherlock. I’m so sorry.” John’s chest feels tight, with pity and adrenaline, and anger at an injustice he cannot right.

Sherlock straightens up, dropping his legs to sit tailor fashion, back straight and long. “It does no good to rail against Fate, John. It is a waste of time and energy. I learn what I can, whenever I’m able, and that’s the best I can do.”

John's brain catches up with him a moment later. “You painted your body with it?”

Sherlock looks desperately, ferally defensive. “Yes,” he says shortly.

“He – . You – . He was ingesting it off of your skin?”

“He liked to bite.”

Oh. Sherlock,” John's eyes sting at the thought. “He --” he doesn’t know how to finish that thought.

“Of course he used me sexually. Don't be naïve. What better way is there to demean your enemy? And by the wish that I myself had granted him... I had to submit.”

“I’m so sorry. God, I’m so sorry, Sherlock. I didn’t know. Please, tell me that was the only time.”

Sherlock snorts. “There have been more than a few, who wished for me before they thought better of it. I am, however, a double-edged blade.”

John turns Sherlock’s hand over in his own, and drags his forefinger along the life line.  His hands move up, with a doctor’s knowledge and sorrowful confidence, to linger on something he noticed several times before: he strokes the side of his thumb over tiny pinprick scars at the inner elbow, not entirely obscured by henna’d designs.

At his quick, sidelong glance, Sherlock scowls.  “It was not always frowned upon, John.  And was the only escape I could employ.”

John sits, cringing internally with guilt at his carnal fantasies, at the selfish liberties he had taken only this morning. The thought that other people, nasty, dirty, immoral occultists who already had reason to hate Sherlock, had compelled him to... what had Sherlock said earlier? “...Bend me over and take me, bite me, claw me, spill your seed across my skin and in my mouth, hold me down until you’ve taken all you desire. You want to hear me gasp, and moan, and grunt with the fullness of you....” and at the time, he’d thought it was the hottest thing he’d ever heard. Now, in this new light, it’s a nightmarish recitation of forced sex, and he’s sick, just sick.

Silence falls, thick and uncomfortable. John takes his hand off of Sherlock’s arm, wondering if what feels like intimacy to him is interpreted as domination or abuse to Sherlock.

Sherlock snags the laptop back up and opens it. He quickly loses himself again in the stream of information, face blank and intent. He is clearly finished with the conversation.

John gets up, a little stiff from the awkward position he’d been sitting in, and pads to the bathroom, more for something to do to stem his anguish than out of necessity. He spends long minutes leaning on the sink, head dropped down and eyes shut tight against the pressure behind them.

When he returns, Sherlock slides towards the end of the bed, leaving room for John to climb in and lie down, which he does. He lies still beneath the blankets, arms crossed under his head. He watches Sherlock through slitted eyes, taking in his concentration, the leashed energy of him, the desperation to acquire information before it is all snatched away again, and his heart wants to break.

“Sherlock,” he begins. He’s going to make a promise, he thinks. Something other than another apology. Some romantic drivel about forever, and sacrifice, perhaps.

Tchshh!” Sherlock cuts him off with a hissing, impatient sound. “Go to sleep, John. I’m reading.”

And that is that. But John is awake for a long time, watching the beautiful enigma curled at the foot of his bed. His body is a lean whip, shadowed with trailing vines of henna, highlit here and there with the muted flash of glowing stones.  He has shed his vest, and the horizontal lines of arm bands, bracelets and trousers segment his body, emphasizing breathtaking physical beauty.

And John despises himself for gazing at the pale chest, pink nipples casting tiny shadows from the glow of the screen.

But when he sleeps, that is what he dreams of. Of rescuing Sherlock from a dark, evil shadow, and bringing him back to his bedsit. Of soothing healing ointment over broken skin and dark bruises, until Sherlock arches beneath him. Of tracing marks of restraint with gentle hands, and then lips and tongue; feeling the heat under his mouth where milky skin blooms red. And the heartbeat below him speeds in time to his own, the body shifting and rising, head tilted back, light eyes closed and vulnerable throat arched, yielding, desperate.

He dreams of pushing his body down against Sherlock, whispering panted promises, trying not to add to the bruising as he holds down those fragile wrists. Laving his way up the proffered column of neck, teething the lobe of his ear, flicking the amber ear-drop with his tongue. And dreams of Sherlock gasping into his hair, babbling blurring acquiescence, legs spreading to capture his thighs, until the heat of their erections mingle and rub. “You’re mine. You’re mine. I’ll always keep you safe--”

 

Sherlock looks up from the article he’s reading, when John starts to mumble and twitch. He licks his lips repeatedly, and his hands fist in the covers. He’s protesting, expounding on something, but the syllables are too slurred to comprehend. Sherlock nudges him sharply with his foot several times, and John eventually rolls over and settles back down.

In the very small hours before dawn, Sherlock shuts the laptop for the last time, yawning tremendously. He’s been awake for too long, slept for mere hours last night, and even he needs a catnap now and again. He scoots up the bed and pulls the covers back enough to slip in between John and the wall. It’s a tight spot, but Sherlock is slender, and John is small, and they can fit.

He stares at the ceiling, as warmth from John seeps slowly into his cool skin, the smell of him stronger when it escapes the confines of the blankets. Sherlock wiggles onto his side, and John falls toward him, drawn to the dent in the mattress.  Carefully, bemused by himself, Sherlock weaves their bodies together, until they fit like puzzle pieces.  John is warm, and feels strangely like security in his arms.  Sherlock sighs, and goes to sleep. 

Chapter Text

“We should look up Mrs. Hudson,” Sherlock announces into a contented morning silence as they enjoy their tea.

John looks over at him, eyebrows raised.  Sherlock sprawls elegantly on the bed, just barely upright enough to drink, the laptop balanced on one knee.  John holds his mug in both hands, equally appreciative of the warmth and tableau in front of him.  “What, now?  D'you know how to find her?”

“I expect she's still in Westminster at 221 Baker Street.  We can call up a cab and be there within an hour.”

While John is impressed with the evidence that Sherlock has already memorized the modern maps of the city, he still has to snort.  “Sherlock, we cannot take a taxi to Central London.  It'd cost a bloody fortune.  Which, it may surprise you to learn, I don't have.”  His mobile face folds into a frown as he ponders the state of his finances.  Not only does he not have a fortune, he's pretty sure he doesn't even have enough to pay for cover charges and a couple drinks at the club tonight.  Actually, he knows nothing about the club and its prices:  it could be high end, or Harry slumming.  He pulls in a corner of his lip and chews on it.

Sherlock stares him over, eyes glinting sage in the morning light.  “We haven't enough money,” he states.

John is uncomfortable.  Sherlock is a guest, although an uninvited (and atypical) one, but nonetheless, British manners dictate that he not discuss money problems, or otherwise be anything but a welcoming host.  He worries the crease in his trousers, eyes sliding sideways.

“The five pounds you gave me yesterday was the last note in your wallet,” Sherlock observes.

“I have more in the bank,” John protests.  He doesn't add that it is barely enough for rent and utilities.

“Do you wish for more money, John?” Sherlock is peculiarly intent.  “However much you want.  You know that you can.”

John's heart stops beating, and an unexpected surge of adrenaline floods his body, such that he almost spontaneously chokes.  The idea is... abhorrent.  It translates, in the more emotional depths of him, to a cold-hearted trade:  this warm, amazing, beautiful man for a pile of cold money.  What good will money do me if I’m all alone again? a quiet part of him whispers.  That thought is too much, goes too far, and John glosses over and ignores it.  But.  “No!  No.  No, I do not wish for money.  Stop asking me these things.  Are you trying to get rid of me?”

Sherlock lifts an eyebrow, but says nothing more, and John thinks he looks relieved.  He does not answer John's question, but leans over to set his empty mug on the floor.  As he comes back up, he straightens further, until he is lifted up on his knees, scooting around until he is centered on the bed, back facing John at the desk.  And he bends over.

Oh, jesus fucking christ, what are you doing?  John's mouth goes dry, and he clutches convulsively at his mug to prevent himself from reaching out to touch where he has no right.  Sherlock's body curves like a sine wave, crested by the lush contours of his arse, and a golden, slanted ray of morning light shines on him like a bizarrely pornographic christian postcard.  John can see straight through the gauzy pants, for once, lit as they are.  See the mysterious, inviting crevice dividing his buttocks, and the heavy weight shadowed between his legs.  Fucking hell.  What.  What?  Jesus, Mary, mother of god, help me.

Sherlock, head inclined to almost touch the mattress, runs his long fingers through soft curls still disarrayed from sleeping, and shakes them vigorously.  He uses a sweeping motion, ending with a decisive flick, and from his hair spill the tiny jewels that flashed there.  Although John has a hard time moving his hungry stare from Sherlock's round arse, from bone-white skin, peppered scantly with little moles, stretched over knobs of vertebrae;  he realizes that the display is not put on for him, but rather for practicality in assembling the precious stones.

“Guh,” is the most articulate thing John can muster.

Sherlock sits back on his heels, knees spread wide around his treasure, and tosses his head, looking over his shoulder at John.  He has a small smirk on his face, but it is also slightly flushed, and his eyes are turquoise again, darkened with something.  Perhaps it isn't all for practicality, after all.

John swallows nervously.  “Ah.  What's this, then?”

“We'll find a pawn shop,” Sherlock says, and if his voice is deeper and perhaps cracking a little, John is in no shape to notice.

“Ah.  Right.  Yes?”  John is sure his blood pressure is fluctuating dangerously, namely because all of that commodity is currently plummeting towards his groin.

“Come see if I’ve missed any,” Sherlock commands.

John rises like a puppet and moves awkwardly over to the bed.  Oh, jesus christ, the long inward curve of his lower back, the two dimples glowing with light and shadow.  John bites his lip, holding his breath as he slides his hands into Sherlock's hair.

The scent of sandalwood and tobacco is shaken loose, rising in the warm air, as John's fingers comb through, seeking out other small bits of amethyst, ruby, tourmaline and emerald.  Sherlock rises under his hands, pushing into what is quickly turning into a caress.  John steals a glance at his face, and sees that his eyes are closed, relaxed, a pleasured, contented expression on his face.  He dumps his small handful onto the bed between Sherlock's spread knees, and lets his other hand drift down Sherlock's neck, bumping down the hillocks of his spine to rest on the fabric of the vest, between his shoulder blades.  Is this an invitation?  It looks like an invitation.  But he cannot make a move until he is certain.  “Sherlock?”

Sherlock opens his eyes and drops his head back, eyes mercuric and slumberous, lips slightly parted.  He blinks slowly, like a cat, and draws himself up to his knees again, which makes him a few inches taller than John.  “John,” he twists his upper body so that they face one another, and John takes a deep breath, as if about to dive off the high board.  He flattens his hand on the nubby embroidery of the vest, but refrains from guiding the genie closer to him.

The genie does that all on his own.

Bangles softly chime as he lifts his arm to the back of John’s head, bringing him in for a kiss.  Sherlock hums right away, an almost bass vibrato that John can feel through his lips as a bold mouth descends on his own.  This is no tentative kiss, such as they shared last night.  Sherlock does not waste time with subtle explorations, but licks his way into John’s mouth without hesitation, hands firm on either side of his face, tilting his head as he deems necessary to heighten his pleasure.  

John feels slack, at first, lovely and loose, and the confident, wiggling heat of Sherlock’s tongue fills his mouth, bullies his own tongue aside, and explores the cavity as if checking it over to move in.  He sucks and nibbles, bites John’s tongue when he tries to reciprocate, and hums the whole while, a resonant soundtrack to a kiss.

John sags against him, hands going immediately to Sherlock’s waist.  He is obsessed with that waist, the supple, lengthy torso, where henna designs ripple and shift with every sinuous movement.  Breathless, moaning grunts escape him, as Sherlock sucks on his tongue, and he tries to guide the lithe body around, so that he can blanket himself in all that hot skin.

Sherlock abandons his mouth and moves on to his jaw, biting down the line of the bone, impatiently rearranging John so that he can suck under his ear, chewing a line of red marks down the sternomastoid muscle, until he’s foiled by John’s shirt and jumper.

John leans helplessly forward, hands whispering dry and enthralled as he sweeps them from hips to ribs, traveling over the base of Sherlock’s spine to the flat, contracting muscles of his stomach, pushing aside the vest to brush against svelte pectorals, the points of nipples, fragile skin leading to the soft black hair of Sherlock’s armpits.  John’s head has fallen back, he stares from slitted eyes;  his groin is pulsing insistently, cock eager and ready.  He pulls at Sherlock’s hip again, to line them up, but his gentle tugs are resisted.

Sherlock delivers a last, aggressive kiss to his neck, just under his jaw, fingers tight against John’s scalp, and then pushes him away.  When John opens his eyes, Sherlock is staring back at him, flushed, breathing fast.

“Why--” John begins.

Sherlock scowls, and glides quickly off the bed.  John spares a moment to wonder how he can be so graceful, how it is that he hasn’t gotten tangled up in his own endless legs and fallen over.  The gentle clink of gold bangles competes with John’s shaky, annoyed sigh.  “Sherlock--”

Sherlock ignores him and heads for the loo.  “Pawn shop, John,” he reminds him.  And then he nonchalantly picks up John’s toothbrush and proceeds to brush his teeth.  

John fists his hands a moment, indecisive, conflictingly frustrated and amused.  Finally, he shakes his head and bends to scoop up the little pile of jewels.  He wraps them carefully in one of his gun-cleaning cloth patches and tucks it in the inside pocket of his jacket.

When Sherlock reappears, he’s wearing a black suit, with a gray shirt, dramatic coat already on.  He slings his scarf around his neck and pulls gloves out of his pocket.  His analytic gaze flickers across John, in his ancient canvas coat, and he frowns a little.  “Do you not have anything warmer?”

John shrugs and stands up straighter, ramming his fists into his pockets.  “I’m fine.  It’s usually not this cold.  I’ll be fine.”  His manly projection is somewhat diminished as he grabs his cane, vaguely ashamed.  He fumbles the door open before he says anything else stupid, stepping into the hall and waiting for Sherlock to pass through so that he can relock the door.  Sherlock scoops up his lamp before leaving, sliding it into one of his capacious pockets, and passes through the door after John.

He glances around the shabby hallway and the visible portion of the bedsit as he waits for John to lock up and his lip curls.  “These accommodations are abominable.”

“Oi,” John says, straightening up and dropping his keys into his pocket.  “Don’t knock it while you’re stuck here.”

Sherlock twitches, as if he’s repressing a rebuttal, but says nothing as they head outside.

They walk to a pawn shop near the tube station, and when John lays out the stones Sherlock adds his earrings and bracelets to the pile.  Disconcertingly, John finds he has to stifle an uncomfortable, hot surge of possession which makes his fingers twitch to grab the bracelets back.  He likes seeing them shift up and down slender forearms, exotic, masking and revealing the brown tattooing that so fascinates him.  He averts his eyes.  It’s not his business, is it?  Besides, he comforts himself, the leather cuffs remain.  And for just a second, he allows himself to remember last night, and the feel of the stiff leather under his fingers.

They walk out with £3,200.  John tries to hand it over to Sherlock, who gives him a disdainfully amused look and whirls away.  “Let’s get a cab, John,” is all he says, flagging one down as soon as the doors jingle closed behind them.

Sherlock holds the lamp on his lap once they are settled in the cab.  They slouch in their seats, watching London cross the windows.  John relaxes into the heavily heated air, and the musty, human smell of the taxi hardly bothers him.  Sherlock strokes the lamp, long fingers gentle and nimble.  He turns and lifts it, cradled in his hands, stroking the spout with both thumbs.

John swallows.  It’s erotic.  And he knows his response is inappropriate.

Sherlock’s face is expressionless, and John is suddenly shaken by his tragedy once again.  He folds his hands in his lap and thinks about wishes.  Whatever shallow thing it is he might want for himself, how could it possibly hold a candle to having freedom, having a life, having the ability to pursue your passions?  Can money stack up against that?  Losing a limp, or a scar?  Curing his alcoholic sister?

He picks at a hangnail, licking his lips and glancing sideways at the black lamp, held so carefully in gloved hands.  A tiny, beautiful prison, crafted of iron, made up of designs instead of bars, and guarded with a snake. He should be free.

John’s gut clenches as he thinks of the ways he’s taken advantage of Sherlock in the past few days, and swoops when he considers that Sherlock could possibly decide to stay.  If....  If.  But then, his thoughts present with painful logic, why would he possibly stay if he’s been liberated?  Why would he stay for John?  Average.  Old.  Broken.  Why would he stay where he was reminded of his past?  He is so smart, so talented, so beautiful - and young, really.  He can go anywhere and do anything.  And likely will.  He should.  He deserves it.

But the id in John vehemently protests that outcome, whispers insidiously that he must keep Sherlock.  That it’s not his responsibility to undo the spell.  No one in fairy tales does that;  they take their wish.   What if he wished for Sherlock to stay with him?  Does that make him no better than Moriarty?

He’s abusing his thumb with his teeth when he returns from his thoughts.  He raises his eyes from the lamp and sees Sherlock staring hard at him, analyzing everything from the arrangement of wrinkles on his face to the set of his body.

John bites the proverbial bullet.  “Sherlock,” he says quietly.  He drops his gaze to his hands, twisting the handle of the cane.  This is final, and it hurts, and he already feels so lonely and dull and gray that he wants to weep.  “Sherlock, I wish--”

“John!” Sherlock says, startled, and he swings around fully, lifting a hand to stop him.

“I wish you to be free.”  And John shuts his eyes, in case Sherlock is going to disappear in a puff of smoke or something similarly cliched;  and if his lashes are wet, he ignores it.  

A leather-covered hand shoots out and clamps over his mouth.  “Mon Dieu, John!”  The hand jerks his head around until they are face to face, Sherlock staring at him with shocked, angry eyes.  They are a deep, roiling silver now, framed by short sooty lashes and thick eyebrows.  “Shut up,” he hisses, as John lifts his arm to pull away the silencing fingers crushing his mouth.  “You idiot!”  He is white with horror, and breathing raggedly.

Two things, John, and heed me well.  The first, and this is the most important, never make a wish without discussing it with me.  I am compelled to grant it, no matter how poorly it may be phrased.  Bad things have happened.  Do you understand?”  Sherlock’s brows are drawn down, and his expression is truly fierce.

Adrenaline is rushing through John, and he knows his own face must reflect his trepidation and surprise.  He has one hand wrapped defensively around Sherlock's wrist, cold fingers just brushing a strip of warm skin.  He nods.

Sherlock’s hand loosens, but remains across John’s mouth.  He slumps back a little on the seat, and his voice returns to its normal rumbling tone.  “The second thing is that, no matter how well-intentioned (and I do appreciate the sentiment, John) wishing to unbind me will not work.  Mrs. Hudson...  We tried that.  Mrs. Hudson and I.  There is no way.”

“Oh,” John says weakly.

Then the cab veers over to the curb, and John juggles his cane and pays the driver from his newly fattened wallet, while Sherlock eels out to the pavement.  He stands there, looking around, his lamp resting on his palm like an offering.  His face is blank and controlled, but John can feel leashed energy emanating from him.  He’s looking intently at everything that has probably changed from the last time he was on Baker Street, from new storefronts and modern vehicles to the CCTV cameras on every corner, which seem to swivel and stare at him from their square black eyes.

With a start, Sherlock pulls back into himself and closes his fingers around the lamp.  “Still Speedy’s,” he mutters, and sets off for the black door to the side of a red awning, with the gold numbers 221 on it.  He clatters the knocker with authority then steps back to wait with John, rocking on his heels, hands clasped around the lamp behind his back.

It is almost a full minute before the door is opened by an elderly lady in a purple dress.

Sherlock smiles, honest and open and happy, an expression John has never seen before, and shows her the lamp.  She catches her breath and stares at it, arrested, and then throws her arms around him.  “Oh, Sherlock.”  She clutches him tightly for more than a moment, and John can see that Sherlock is getting restless, but he waits patiently, patting her awkwardly on the shoulder.  

When she lifts her head again, her eyes are wet, and mascara is smudged on her cheeks.  She holds Sherlock’s face in both hands and wags it gently.  “I thought I’d never see you again,” she tries to scold, but her voice wavers.  “Come in, come in.”  She looks around Sherlock to see John, standing at attention on the pavement.  She holds her arm out to him as well.  “You, too, love.  You, too.  Come in and have some tea, and tell me all about it.  I’ve just taken biscuits out of the oven, so we can have a nosh as well.”

Once inside, and settled in a fussy little parlor, Sherlock concisely brings his old master up to date.

She keeps dabbing at her eyes and patting his hand.  “I was simply heartsick when I lost you in that robbery, Sherlock dear.  Just heartsick.”  She turns to John, who has been quietly observing their reunion.  “I made my wish, you see,” she gestures to encompass the flat where they sit.  “And I just couldn’t send Sherlock back into that lamp.  He was to stay with me.  But there was a break-in only a few weeks after that.  And... his lamp was stolen.”  She wrings fragile hands together and looks at Sherlock remorsefully.  “You were out when it happened, dear.

“And you never came back.”

“I believe that is part of the power of the lamp,” Sherlock muses, objective and dispassionate.  “To be impelled to move on once a wish has been granted.  There have been many occasions where an owner intended to hold on to the lamp, to pass it on to progeny, or some distant kin.  But something always happens, once the wish is granted.  I move on.  I may not be used, but I always move on.”

They are quiet for a minute, pondering that, and John sighs.  Well, there goes his alternative plan.  Sherlock meets his eyes, and a corner of his mouth turns down.  Of course he knows what John was thinking.

When Mrs. Hudson has drunk her last sip of tea, and the chocolate biscuits are no more than crumbs on a plate, and memories of the old days have been thoroughly hashed over (mostly by Mrs. Hudson and John;  Sherlock leans back in an overstuffed floral armchair, hands together against his chin)... when a silence falls at last, Sherlock leaps to his feet.

“Well, Mrs. Hudson. I see that you are feeling a financial pinch and thinking of letting out the flat upstairs.  If you had discussed your wish with me prior to voicing it, of course, I would have suggested the means to support yourself in addition to the building.”  He pulls his mouth to one side and gives John a pointed look.  “However, since you did not, and are currently in need of tenants... John and I will take it.”

Mrs. Hudson at first looks defensive, but then says fondly, “There’s your amazing brain at work again, isn’t it?  I’m not even going to ask how you knew that.   But really?  You’ll take it?”  She looks speculatively between John and the genie.  “I -- I need the income, or I wouldn’t ask --”

Sherlock impatiently grabs John’s arm and pulls him up so suddenly he lists to the side on his bad leg.  “Come along, John.  Why don’t we look it over?”  John grabs his cane and taps up the stairs behind the man;  an impatient, mesmerizing force of nature who has turned his life upside down in less than a week.

John is very impressed by the flat above, already furnished, spacious and grand yet successfully projecting cozy and unpretentious.  He couldn't dream of renting such a place in Central London.  Sherlock reaches into John’s back pocket, cool as you please, and pulls out his wallet.  He hands £2,000 pounds to Mrs. Hudson, who twitters and flutters, but tucks it away in her pocket nonetheless.

“There’s another bedroom upstairs,” she says.  “If you’ll be needing two.”  There’s an element of vulgar curiosity in her eyes, veiled as best she can, but Sherlock ignores her entirely.

“We’ll be back this afternoon, Mrs. Hudson, to move in,” he states.  And pulls a dazed John behind him, to get a taxi back to the horrid beige bedsit for the last time.

It only takes John an hour to pack up everything he owns.  Sherlock carries one bag, and the lamp, while John packs his army duffel and uses his cane with his free hand.  Now it is done, and they are back in 221B Baker St. by the time the sun sets.  

John successfully doesn’t think about the risk in leaving his seedy, stable bedsit to go live in a flat he can’t possibly afford without magical assistance, to live with a man who could vanish at any moment.

boastsalot genie

Chapter Text

When they return to Baker Street, Mrs. Hudson, unnaturally red hair wispily afloat around her head, cheerfully hands over the key, and shoos them up the stairs, beaming and clucking. Sherlock drops his coat over the back of a faded armchair, rather pointedly deposits his lamp on the dresser in the downstairs bedroom, and then flings himself onto the sofa, hands tented against his lips.

John hovers in the kitchen, indecisive, and then heads up the stairs for the secondary bedroom, duffel over his right shoulder to balance out limp and thrice damned cane. He feels... strangely let down. But now there are two beds available, and, of course, they should use them. But the distance that it implies leaves him empty, and a little lonely, and he's glad to sit on the single bed upstairs for a bit. He gives himself a few minutes to brood, and then straightens his shoulders, gives a short nod, and stuffs it all back down. It's fine. Of course it's fine.

As a matter of fact, some of the things that had happened in the narrow bed back in the government flat were occasionally not fine at all, and he bitterly imagines that Sherlock feels relief.

But he kissed me last night, his more factual self interjects. Even if it did just seem to be a bizarre and intimate thank you for the day's excursion, for the opportunity to explore and study and... expand. And then, this morning. God. This morning. John presses his hand against his crotch, pushing against his cock as though he can forestall the flooding of blood there.  Sherlock, this morning, arched on the bed, tongue dominant and demanding, the taut smooth feeling of him between John's hands. Like holding a dream, or an anthropomorphized whip of leather and silk. So hot, so tight beneath the callused press of his fingers.

John's cock is fat and heavy, and has the inclination to become harder yet, to be put to use, and so he quickly rises from the bed. Dwelling on this serves no good purpose, and he's been up here long enough. He joggles his legs while standing, to shake everything back into place, as if he can shuffle the blood back into arms and legs where it belongs. He grabs his bag of toiletries and carries it down to the shower. Sherlock may have kissed me, he tells himself, but he also told me about years of sexual abuse, and it's not ok to pursue him. It's just not done.

His leg twinges in response to his frustration, and he can feel the deep furrow between his eyebrows expressing his mood as he limps down the stairs.

Mrs. Hudson brings them roasted lamb and veg for dinner, and agrees to eat with them at John's invitation. “Thank you for the meal,” he says, surprised and pleased. “I feel like I've moved into a five star B&B.”

“Why thank you, dear.” She grins as he takes the tray from her hands and begins to hunt for dishes.  He’s delighted with her, thinking that his new landlady is quite the charming elderly elf.  She chides, “It's just this once, you understand. I'm not your housekeeper. And you don't have to worry about privacy, either,” this with an arch look and a shameless segue to Mrs. Turner’s ‘married ones’ next door.

Sherlock pushes his food around on his plate, seeming a million miles away, and leaves John and Mrs. Hudson to talk without any input on his part. She is an easy conversationalist, however, so it's no burden. Mrs. Hudson recounts her previous experience with Sherlock.

“I found him at an estate sale,” she reminisces. “A flat down the street, actually. The owner had just passed away, and no family left, so they sold it all.  I actually went in looking for a tea service.  But then I saw the lamp, and I loved it.” She puts down her fork and leans to give Sherlock a quick hug. “There you have it. Fate had plans for me.” Sherlock tolerates the hug with a somewhat pained expression, but flashes a fragment of a smile back at their new landlady. “It was perfect timing,” she continues. “My Harold was threatening to return to London, and I was afraid that it would soon become... unsafe for me.”

“Yes?” John encourages. “Sherlock told me a little bit about it.”

Mrs. Hudson recounts how he tracked down her murderous husband, gathered crucial evidence of his drug dealing and subsequent murders, and arranged for him to be captured in America with enough documentation to ensure he wound up on death row.  All without using her wish. “I tried to, my dear. But it seems there are limits.”

John nods and grimaces. “Yes, I'm aware of that.”

“Ah.”  She smiles sadly. “Did you already try to wish him free, then? You seem like the type of nice young man who would do that.” John chokes on his water and has to cough into his napkin; he isn't often called a 'nice young man'. Sherlock raises an eyebrow, looking distant and superior, and Mrs. Hudson radiates sympathy. She pats Sherlock on the shoulder. “We just have to believe that there's a greater purpose.”

Right, John thinks sourly. He exchanges a speaking, cynical glance with Sherlock. Like my getting wounded and invalided serves a greater purpose. Like Sherlock being enslaved and abused for more than several lifetimes serves a purpose. But he keeps his mouth shut.

Mrs. Hudson asks about their plans for the evening, and John irritably reports that they are committed to a fancy dress party. “I'm not sure how we'll manage costumes-”

Mrs. Hudson laughs, “Oh!  It’s obvious, isn’t it?”

Sherlock smirks, and John is the only one in the dark.

“What?” he asks, half frustrated and half smiling.  “Have you got some spare outfits in the cupboard, then?”

“Don’t be more obtuse than you have to be, John,” Sherlock rumbles.  “We’ll be a genie and a soldier, obviously.  Which we actually are.  So finding clothes for ‘dress up’ should not be a problem.”

Ah.  Right.

Mrs. Hudson flutters out, hugging them both and fussing over Sherlock's lapels before giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. “I'm so happy for you, dear,” she says, low, not meant to be overheard. “He seems such a nice young man.” Sherlock gives a noncommittal hum and hurries her out the door.

John goes upstairs to get into his standard issue camouflage, complete with beret and dogtags. When he returns, Sherlock is again lounging on the sofa, but is now back in harem pants and cropped vest. To John’s surprise (and sheepish relief) the jewels and bangles and earrings reappeared along with the vest and henna and curly shoes.

He wonders about that. How can the same jewels reappear all the time, and yet be traded for money? Will they disappear from the safe of the pawn shop owner?  Did Sherlock produce funds in the same fashion in the 80's?  That might explain why Mrs. Hudson hadn’t accounted for money when she’d wished for ownership of the building on Baker Street.

For a moment he stands quietly, leaning on the door.  Sherlock has not acknowledged his presence (deliberately or not, John is not quite sure).  One velvet slipper dangles from his toes over the edge of the sofa, and his other leg is bent a bit, to place the sole of his foot firmly on the armrest.  His hands are clasped, barely grazing his chin, bracelets fallen down almost to his elbows, marking the boundary of mehndi on his hands.  

The purple vest has fallen open, indecorously framing his taut, rangy torso;  the warm tones of the wandering henna, curling around his sides, tracing up his ribs and nuzzling up to his scantly furred navel, compliment the pale pink of perfectly rounded nipples, the amethyst in his belly.  John licks his lips.  Everything about the man is so pale, so long and lean, so very strong.  He is the most graceful conduit of solidly supple sinew and heat and blood that it has ever been John’s diffident pleasure to devour with his eyes.

He draws a sharp breath when he realizes he’s measuring the shape and weight of the heavy mound delineated on Sherlock’s closed thighs.  He clears his throat, and pale eyes slowly open, staring at him sidelong, as if Sherlock can’t be bothered with the energy to turn his head.  “Shall we go?” John asks, proud that his voice doesn’t crack.

Sherlock’s brow twitches, and he doesn’t speak, merely stands up and glides into his coat, wrapping his scarf and buttoning it up to his neck, gradually concealing his genie clothes.  John experiences a reeling moment of disorientation:  mundane superimposed over surreal.  The jarring concurrence leaves him equally aroused and disconcerted.  He has the galling thought that Sherlock is out of his league in either form.  

They are quiet as they leave their new flat, and Sherlock quickly flags down a taxi. John gives the address to the driver and settles back, tucking his cane against the door.  He stares at their reflections in the window;  a genie and a soldier, albeit the curled shoes and bare henna’d ankles under the coat render one of them an apparently exotic flasher.  John, in his uniform, feels distinctly normal in comparison.   Which is good.  It may be the only normal thing about tonight.

They are winding through empty, filthy streets in a run-down industrial area of the London docks, but John’s thoughts catch on gold bracelets and henna’d hands instead of the dangerous part of town.  He thinks of how long it has been since he’s been dancing, since he’s heard the nickname Three Continents Watson.  He wonders if Sherlock knows how to dance.

Sherlock gazes out the taxi window and gives every impression of memorizing their route.

They arrive at The Wharf, and the cab drops them off in front of a very high chain-link fence, topped with angled barbed wire.  It surrounds an expansive gravelled lot, filled with cars and weeds, and the strange sight of half-costumed, half-bundled up clubbers.  A dark warehouse squats in the center of the enclosed space.  Muffled bass thumping from inside confirms their destination.

They tramp past the gate person and stand in line to get in, huddled and stamping against the bitter cold.  The cover charge is exorbitant, given the dilapidated condition of both the neighborhood and the club, but John has decided to let go of such considerations for the night.  He looks around for Harry, but can’t find her in the human crush; mostly his view is limited to chests and shoulders, and the dramatically made-up faces of women.  He pats his back pocket, feeling the reassuring weight of his phone, set on vibrate, and relaxes a bit.  They’ll find her.

It’s hot inside, air heavy with smoke and human humidity.  John shrugs out of his coat, helps Sherlock out of his as well.  “Can you stick them in the lamp?” he asks curiously.  It would certainly be convenient if they could stash and retrieve stuff there all night.  He nearly giggles at the thought of how he might have abused that ability ten years earlier.

Sherlock shakes his head.  “Too far away,” he explains.  “I cannot access it from here, can’t even feel it.  No, I left it safely home at Baker Street.”

John reminds himself again that he’s not counting pennies and pounds tonight, and goes through coat check, pocketing the receipt.  Sherlock is now practically naked, and John feels that all eyes in the vicinity are devouring him.  He tries to control his bristling.  Certainly he can neither blame them, nor stop them from staring.  It isn’t as if Sherlock is the only person there more revealed than concealed by his outfit.  But he is certainly, John thinks without bias, the most striking.  He sways as he walks, an unconscious response to the music, and the bracelets around slim wrists glimmer and chime.

A woman’s voice sings so call me maybe, as they press their way into the massive space where everyone is dancing.  It’s as large as an airplane hanger, black-painted and disappearing into the distance.   He keeps one hand on Sherlock’s shoulder, so as not to lose him in the crowd, and watches Sherlock while his wide eyes dart rapidly over the other clubbers.

They are surrounded by more men than women, which isn’t unusual for a gay club, if John recalls correctly.  And certainly the men are far more colorful and outlandish in their costumes than the women are, many of them tottering around on 6-inch platforms, with bouffant wigs and outrageous hats.  Sherlock, in his flat genie slippers, is far from the tallest man in the room.  He actually seems rather muted, composed more of skin and dull flashing jewels than iridescent fabrics and glitter.  In all, it’s an amazing panoply of creativity, sex and elaborate dress.  John is mostly confused, but can pick out several interpretations of Cher and Lady Gaga, for certain.  A lot of the women he sees are dressed as dominatrices, professors and their kittenish students, or gangsters with their molls.

Sherlock’s expression is riveted, tracking not only the costumes, but also the behavior of the couples.  Everywhere he looks, there are men dancing, kissing, and rutting on one another, and women doing the same with other women.  Judging from the look on his face, Sherlock appears to be in some sort of cultural anthropology heaven.

John feels miserably uncomfortable, not because he’s surrounded by frotting homosexuals, but rather because they’re doing things he wants desperately to do to the man at his side.  Since John has never really married himself to the label of heterosexual, feelings that don’t correlate to it are less disturbing than they could be.  But he finds such compelling lust a disconcerting companion. This overwhelming want, and the urge to do something about it immediately, is almost frightening, after so many years of isolation.    And he can’t help but recall how Sherlock seems to blow hot and cold whenever he does make a move, and he’s confused about whether or not it would be welcome.  His grip on the cane tightens.

Sherlock watches as a man near them, a ginger bizarrely turned out as a vampire, licks a stripe up the back of a man evidently costumed to be his thrall.  He wears a collar, and the vampire holds the leash tight in his hands.  There’s a clown over there, so androgynous as to be completely unidentifiable, with a man dressed as an African primitive beside him.  Her.  Whichever.  Alice in Wonderland simpers by, and King Arthur grabs her (him?) by the waist and begins a determined grind to the pulsing beat.

Wildly waving laser lights in all colors slow down, then vanish as the song ends, and giant disco balls descend, scattering glittering fragments of white light over the entire room.  T-shirts and teeth now glow, and John realizes that black lights have been turned on.  Sherlock steps away, and John jolts and follows, reluctant to let him out of his sight, in case they should never find each other again.  The club makes him nervous.  It is far, far more vast than the pub-like places he’s gone to with Harry in the past.  There are easily 500 people dancing right now.  He spares a moment to wonder how Sherlock must be processing this, if John himself is having so much trouble.  Surely his experience of giant crowds writhing in the dark must be limited?

Sherlock reaches out a long arm and tugs him along in his wake.

John is fascinated, and surprised, when he shifts his gaze from the sea of dancers back to his companion, to note that the henna tattoos are glowing faintly yellow under the UV lights.  Oh, lord have mercy.  The luminous lines stretch and retract, twine and dance as Sherlock gracefully twists through the crowd.  He cannot lift his eyes from the small of Sherlock’s back, netted in yellow, hips rippling in more of a dance than a walk.  It’s hypnotic, and beckoning, and John follows, as helpless to resist the lure as a charmed snake.

John is shoved and jostled more than a few times, simply because of the sheer numbers in such a finite space;  although there are a those who see his cane and apologize, stepping carefully aside.  Which he hates.  But he is far more intent on the men who are lurching into Sherlock.  A man dressed as what can only be an old fashioned circus strongman brushes up against him and it looks aggressively deliberate to John.  Sherlock is shoved off balance and the man catches him, large heavy hands splayed wide across the waist that obsesses John.

The obtruder’s skin is nearly ebony, disappearing against the dark backdrop of the giant warehouse;  and as he holds Sherlock, John is struck by their contrast, black hands spread over alabaster.  John’s instinct is to leap forward and push the man aside, get his hands off, OFF.  But Sherlock is cocking an intrigued eyebrow, seems fascinated, and so John keeps his fist at his side, teeth clenched, leaning on his cane.

The man slides one hand down to grope Sherlock’s arse, the other gliding up his stomach to rest on his chest.  He says something that John cannot hear, and Sherlock's expression morphs to disdain.  He twists aside with a condescending flicker of his eyes, and John happily, and quite roughly, shoulders his way past the large man, feeling relief and satisfaction at Sherlock’s rebuff.

The whole incident takes less than a minute, but John wants to rub his hands over the skin that has been touched, erase the foreign oils and unction, to clean and recalibrate the genie as his own.  His rueful, unverbalized thought, is that he hasn’t touched that arse, that he’s waited, as a gentleman should....  Oh, wait.  No, he hastouched it.  On the morning of his immoral and uncontrolled rutting, and the memory of it leaps to center stage in his mind.

God dammit.

John is so focused on these thoughts, blindly following glowing trails of henna on milky blue skin, that he bumps into Sherlock from behind when he stops and turns around.

“I see Harry.”  Sherlock’s deep voice cuts straight through the music;  he doesn’t need to shout.  He jerks his head towards the side of the room that John assumes must contain the bar.  

John nods acknowledgment, not attempting to make himself heard over the pounding bass, and they weave through a hundred more people before he can see the giant bar.  Bottles of liquor shine like colored ice, lit with glittering halogens and arranged as art on glass shelves.  Bartenders, mere silhouettes in tight black, dance back and forth, pouring and serving, smiling into the chaos.  John has a better view once they’re closer to the bar, and is finally able to spot his sister.

“Unimaginative,” Sherlock grunts, breath washing warm around John’s ear and curling into his hair and down his neck.  John has to agree.  Although, since he’s wearing more or less the exact same thing, he has to wonder what that renders him.  Harry is dressed as a soldier.  So is her date, a tall, overweight girl who is wearing her standard issue.  He can tell from the line of his sister’s body that she’s already had more than a few, and he frowns, steeling himself for an uncomfortable and awkward evening.

Harry leers at him, having caught his fixated focus on the rear end of his companion.  Her grin is loose and twitching:  she is well on her way to hammered.

Her lascivious stare switches to Sherlock, and she whistles, long and loud and obnoxious.  Sherlock looks mildly confused.  Harry leans back against the bar and grins.  “Fucking hell!” she unabashedly goggles.  “If you didn’t have the wrong parts under all that delicious skin, I’d take you home and tie you down.”  She boorishly circles around him.  She leans over and shouts into John’s ear, “Bloody hell, Johnny.  He’s got an arse like two halves of a cantaloupe.  Uhnf!  So very round and juicy.”  She makes a move to pinch it, but Sherlock twitches himself out of her reach.

The soldier behind his sister bites her lip, looking angry and hurt, and drops her head so that her face is concealed.

“Shut up, Harry,” John says tightly.  Right.  This is why he hadn’t wanted to come.  He shoots an apologetic look up at Sherlock, whose face is blank, and frowns again, edging his way forward until he stands slightly in front of his companion.

Harry laughs, although the music rises to a crescendo at that point, rendering her laugh bizarrely silent.  She turns and waves over a bartender, a young woman with long, straight blond hair and a no-nonsense expression.  John can tell, because experience with Harry is a guide, that the woman has been chatted up repeatedly by his drunken lech of a sister.  But she remains professional, and John recalls that Harry tips very well.  Always hopeful, his sister Harry.

He orders a gin and tonic for himself.  Sherlock requests a whiskey, speaking directly into his ear, mouth brushing against the cartilage and voice so deep and throbbing that, in spite of the background noise, John can feel it reverberate clear to the base of his spine.  His limber body is arched toward John as he speaks, and John watches the glowing traces of henna rearrange themselves as he coils, and catches a brief glint from the jewel in his navel.  Oh, jesus fuck. This night may very well be the end of him.

John still feels amazed, when he pulls out his wallet, to be flush with cash for once. He’s kept 200 pounds, tucking the remainder away with his gun, now (hopefully) safely at Baker Street.  Harry indicates that they should follow her and catches the arm of the unhappy woman standing behind her, the soldier who is presumably Melissa.  “We’ll go where we can talk,” she shouts at John as she passes him.  John and Sherlock grab their drinks and follow.

Chapter Text

Outside the main room, and down a long, poorly lit hallway, are swinging double doors marked “Lounge”.  The music is much less obtrusive in this darkened room;  as they enter, John thinks he recognizes Lyle Lovett.  People are stretched out and piled up on chaise lounges, giant chairs and sofas upholstered in dirty crushed velvet and animal prints, long padded benches in the shadows along the walls.  There are tables to one side, swamped in groups of people ranging from dark emo, sprawled silently in their angst, to those raucous with drink and celebration.  Harry spies a high table with three tall stools, and hurries over to claim it.

Harry and Melissa sit, and John, feeling chivalrous, guides Sherlock toward the remaining seat, stealing the opportunity to place his hand around the lean resilience of those tantalizing oblique muscles.  However, he rather immediately regrets seating the man, as Sherlock on the stool is several inches taller than he was before.  Ah, well.  Next time he’ll plan on that.  He turns to the unassuming woman at his side.

Her face is soft, features nondescript, and long hair is caught in a ponytail over her shoulder.  She looks vaguely Mediterranean with minimal makeup, except for the orange-y lipstick that Sherlock had pointed out on Harry’s collar the day before.  She’s taller than he, and heavy, made heavier by the bulky nature of her uniform.  He can see the wear of active duty in the fabric and seams, and wonders how long she’s been back from her tour.  His eye catches on the patch bearing her name and he is surprised to read ‘Watson’.

“Are you Melissa?” he asks politely, only having to raise his voice a bit, and not yell, thank god.  He’ll be hoarse before the night’s out, if they stay in the other room.  He hasn’t shouted captain’s orders all day for quite some time, and he’s out of practice.

Melissa smiles and nods, sketching a salute.  “Yes.  Harry’s told me so much about you.”  

John grins.  “Ah.  It’s all lies, I swear.”  

There’s an uncomfortable pause, while they both try to think of something to say.  Harry smirks and waits, pulling on the pint in her hand.  Sherlock appears to ignore them all, instead bright-eyed as he assesses and deconstructs the people around the room.

“So.  You’re a Watson, too, then?” John asks.  Melissa looks at her name patch and blushes, florid and unattractive.

“Oh.  Well.  Um.  I didn’t want my real name visible, so I just made a.  A.  Um,” she stutters, and scratches blunt fingers lightly on the patch.  John notices now that it’s just rough-cut fabric, written carefully in Sharpie and hastily sewn over the correct location.

Fucking hell.  Poor lovestruck sod.  John mentally shakes his head and prepares for a worse evening then he had anticipated.  This pitiful, insecure girl.  He gloomily predicts that Harry will chew her up and spit her out before midnight.

John is getting no help from either Sherlock or Harry, which is unsurprising.  Dammit.  Melissa is not hisdate, he shouldn’t have to work this hard for conversation.  “Been back long?”

Melissa nods again.  “It’s been 10 days, now,” she says.  “I have a month of leave.  I met your sister right away.”  She moves her calf-eyed gaze to his sister.  “She’s been my rock, since I returned.”

John nods, because he understands how unsettling returning to civilian life can be.  Even without being devastatingly wounded.  He flounders.  “So.  Ah.  You much for dancing, then?”

Melissa shrugs, and that’s the end of that conversation.  Uncomfortable silence blooms again.  John looks around, desperate for a topic.  “Well, your adjustment should be helped by this table, seeing as how three quarters of it are in uniform.”  God, what a dumbarse thing to say.

Melissa laughs a little, and slightly oniony breath clouds around John.  “Yes, we had it easy finding a costume, didn’t we?  I’m not big on dressing up, anyway.  Your sister says you’re a Captain in the RAMC?”  Of course, she can see that on his uniform.

John’s hand tightens on his cane.  He’s barely used it all night, only for support on the more uncertain footing of the gravelled lot outside.  He lifts it slightly, “Invalided out,” he says.  Norah Jones begins to croon Come away with meas John gulps half his gin.

Sherlock looks Harry over.  “Why did youchoose to be a soldier?” he asks.  “Is it a projection of your power?  Have you had a secret longing to be in the wars?  But no:  that’s obviously not a problem for females in this century.  An effort at intimidation, perhaps?”

Harry pulls her shoulders back and snarls at him, but the anger is a facade.  She’s in the happy phase of being drunk.  “Yeah, you git, why don’t you tell mewhy you chose to be a blooming genie?”

“Because I amone.” Sherlock replies calmly.

Harry falls off her stool laughing.  She seems to think that Sherlock’s comedic stylings cannot be topped, and leans against the table to toss back the remainder of her pint.  “I’m for more.  Anyone?”  She doesn’t wait for an answer, but wheels towards the smaller bar in the lounge.  Then she turns back around and, catching Melissa by the shoulder, pulls her roughly down the few inches that separate them (Melissa squeaks) and snogs her crassly.  She opens her eyes halfway through and looks at Sherlock.

John cringes and mutters, “Jesus, Harry.”

Sherlock watches the display with interest, but his face remains blank.  If the kiss is a challenge, it goes unanswered.  When Harry leaves, Melissa looks away, face flaming.  Sherlock leans down to John, and although the music doesn’t dictate such a need, he still tugs him close and holds his jaw in one hand, mouth against his ear.  “So this is... fine?  Acceptable in this time?  I know that sodomites are no longer felons, but I had no idea they could....  Gather in these numbers.  Be so obvious.  Dress... like this.”  His eyes slide sideways to a man clad in outrageous eyewear and very little else in the way of clothing except for bodypaint and some very obnoxious and precarious boots.

“Surely even in yourday there were certain clubs?” John asks.  As a doctor, he’s very aware that nature will out, regardless of society’s restrictions.

“Indeed, but they were very illegal, very small.  Men wore masks.”

John has to repress a shiver at the thought of an 18th century Sherlock, hair longer and in a queue (would he have worn it powdered?)  Tight breeches and a mysterious silken mask across his eyes.  Oh, fuck.  Tension and heat snake up from the base of his spine, but he shelves the thought.  Perhaps he’ll pull it out later.  In the upstairs bedroom.  When he’s alone.

“It’s... still frowned upon by a lot of people,” he answers.  “There’s a lot of prejudice and discrimination.  But in most places, it’s no longer outright illegal to be gay.”

Sherlock nods, and goes back to people watching.  An eyebrow lifts minutely when he sees Harry waiting at the bar, and John tracks the object of his gaze.  His sister is talking to a very lushly-endowed ginger dressed as, well, John can’t really tell.  But there’s a lot of skin showing.  Harry laughs, and slings her arm around bare shoulders.  Her hand quickly migrates southward until it’s resting on the curve of the woman’s arse.  Her gesture is enthusiastically returned.  Melissa sees it and looks down at the table, hunching over her drink.

“Here we go again,” John mutters under his breath.  He makes a rueful face at Melissa and waves vaguely towards the bar.  “I’m sorry,” he begins.  “Harry--”  There’s really nowhere to go with that, so he trails off.

Melissa just shrugs.  “I--.  It’s alright.”  She fiddles with her dogtags and shakes her head a bit, shrugs again.  “It’s alright.  I’m just going to.  If you-- .  I’m going to find the loos, ok?” And she slides off her stool and rather lumbers away, face averted.

John purses his lips.  “Goddammit.”

Sherlock leans towards him.  “Are you surprised?  Your sister shows all the signs of a serial adulterer.  That would be why she’s no longer with the woman who gave her the phone, right?  Alcohol encourages her to wander.  In a very indiscriminate and public way, I might add.”

John runs his tongue across his teeth.  “Yep.  Bloody hell, and she has to do it again tonight.  We shouldn’t have come.”  He takes the last swallow of gin and pushes the cup away on the table.  “This is going to be a disaster.”

“Why?” Sherlock pushes away his own glass, still mostly full and glowing a ghostly blue under UV lights.  “Her issues with her lover are no affair of ours.”  He looks thoughtfully at the double doors, as Melissa slumps her way through them.  “That woman has no spirit.  Your sister requires a submissive partner, yes.  But one with pride.  Not a feeble pudding such as that one.”

Christ.  John catches his breath at the frank tone in which Sherlock mentions submission, and envisions Sherlock, kneeling proud at his feet, of shadows and light striking off bowed neck, arrogant and strong.  Another picture, more a feeling, slips in behind it, of himself in that role, and his stomach dips, and for a moment he’s engulfed in the tingle and burn of arousal.  

Sherlock slides off the stool, and runs an absent thumb down his sternum, watching John closely.  “Let’s go back to the other room and dance.”  

The short sentence echoes, a meaningless collection of syllables in John’s head, obscured by his sudden, visceral fantasy.  He blinks and licks his lips and replays Sherlock’s last comment.  Dancing.  He gestures a little with the cane.  “Oh.  Ah.  Sherlock.  I don’t really dance.”

He gets a limpid look in response.

Sherlock’s mouth twitches slightly to the left, his version of a smile, and says, “Well, then, you can just watch.”

Buggering fuck.  John looks back at the bar, where Harry is now snogging the ginger, wipes his hands on his pants as if wiping off responsibility, and follows that slinky dimpled spine out of the lounge and back into the thundering deluge of music that is the main body of the club.

Light dances across the heaving crowd within.  They move almost as an entity, in surges and eddies, lit erratically in alien light, guided by thumping bass and hemmed in by by wailing treble and crooning vocals.  Sherlock pauses for a moment, eyes darting around, finding a space that will accommodate them, and then pulls John behind him to occupy it.

John follows a bit reluctantly.  He feels stiff, and for a moment philosophically ponders how he and Sherlock are physically represented through the fabrics in which they’ve covered (or uncovered) themselves.  Sherlock’s are ethereal, flowing, unbound by natural law, while John’s khakis are stiff, protective, try to maintain their shape in spite of external force.  He works his jaw and tries to loosen up.  He really, really, doesn’t want to look like an ass;  like the old guy who forgot how to do this an eon ago.  He cracks a wry smile as he briefly remembers which of the pair of them is actually the old guy, but loses it again as his nervousness kicks in.  Two gins haven’t relaxed him quite enough.  He hooks his cane through a loop on his pants.  It’s in the way, but not enough to actually trip him up.

It’s hot in here, and humid, surrounded by hundreds of vigorously dancing bodies, and John wipes his forehead.  Sherlock whips off his vest, handing it to John with a questioning look.  John rolls his eyes, but takes the proffered scrap of fabric.  It folds up small enough to slip it inside a cargo pocket with room to spare.  He unbuttons his own shirt, exposing the threadbare sleeveless undershirt and dog tags underneath, and sighs at the cooling relief.

Sherlock, apparently having conducted sufficient observation of the natives in their habitat, throws his head back and closes his eyes.  The music is not too offensive, and Sherlock wiggles hips and shoulders in an excellent approximation of everyone else in the club.  Except that he’s shirtless, and light bounces off of him the same way the moon lays a path across still black water.  Oh, god.

John needs to stop staring and start dancing.  He bites his lip and tries to access Three Continents Watson.  His moves may be a wee bit dated, but they’re not too bad.  It’s hard to work out the stiffness of hips and spine after so many years of rigidity, though, and he focuses on himself for a time, trying to move to the rhythm, and smooth out the jerkiness of thrust and sway.

A song or two later, feeling more comfortable, even slightly smiling, he opens his eyes again to check for Sherlock.  And oh, what a sight he is.  His skin is blue, under UV lights, crawling with motion from the henna swirls and dots that squirm upon it, glowing yellow and surreal.  Miles of opalescent flesh are stretched tightly over a frame of nothing but bone and muscle and sinew.  John’s riveted by his thinness, by the enormous personality which actually occupies barely a rubber band’s worth of horizontal space.  Except for his arms.  Endless and boneless and more graceful than John could everimagine being.  Sherlock extends them from his body, and they move through the air like the fanned, flirtatious tail of a fish;  they stretch and curve, now over his head, now sweeping to the side, and his torso follows where they lead.  He moves like the letter S’, and for a man composed entirely of hardness and angles, he’s sheer visual decadence and John slows, drinking him in.

Sherlock’s eyes open lazily, revealing fathomless pupils outlined by a vivid shining iris, locked on John.  Now that Sherlock has ensnared his audience, his dance changes deliberately.  His hips snap to one side, pause, and then the other.  His fingers change, become a fringe on the end of his arms, and the man begins to belly dance to the driving, dark, industrial beat of the song.  There are no vocals to compete with the show, and the strange juxtaposition of such a sinuous ancient dance with the foreboding gothic ambiance of the song to which he twines brings John to a fixated standstill.

Sherlock holds his stare and dances:  a saucy slave performing for his owner.  His arms move, inundated with grace and expression, fingertips fluttering.  Shadows dart like fishes as his torso undulates, rib bones appearing and vanishing as his chest and belly vie for ascendency.  Sherlock tosses his head and twirls, weaving through the air as if the music were a solid thing, and he nothing more than deconstructed molecules, shifting and sliding through the space in between the throbbing beats, the tangible wall of sound.  Sweat glistens across his body, limning it in glitter, and John’s prurient absorption catches momentarily on the dark shape of hair dampened in tender armpits, just below the cuffs of leather on his upraised arms.

Goosebumps wash over John, followed by languid heat, and his cock hardens in spite of his best efforts, held tight and awkward in the stiff fabric of his army khakis.  Sherlock dips and rolls, every movement beginning at his core, or his fingers, or his feet, and rippling through all the flesh and muscle and breathtaking beauty of him.

While John licks his lips and struggles with uneven breath, the music slows to a heartbeat, and Sherlock turns a spin into a backwards dip that has him arched into half a backbend, arms languidly above his head, wrists poised mere feet above the ground.  A slim leg is braced behind him, curled toe of a velvet slipper softening a firmly planted foot, gold thread glittering in the flashing light.  Glowing henna gleams across his taut, flat belly, framed in the curve of his bottom ribs, and John watches long muscles twitch and stretch beneath decorated skin, the jewel in Sherlock’s navel glinting in a strobe of light.  Sherlock’s head is cocked up, and he eyes John down the length of his arced chest, and rises effortlessly, agonizingly slowly, back to standing, arms and shoulders moving, sliding, dancing as his hips begin a rapid jiggle, and he does a quick shuffle around, mouth barely quirked, stuttering hips causing the ripe curves of his arse to bounce and wiggle alluringly behind their diaphanous curtain.

A small crowd has formed around them, other dancers ceasing to move and circling the belly dancer in their midst.  John is aware, peripherally, of laughing, clapping hands, wolf whistles and catcalls.  He ignores it, until a discordant movement catches his eye, which he drags reluctantly from the show before him (the dance done for him, and no other, gleaming achromic eyes and subtle beckoning smirk broadcasting an unmistakable signal).

Before John can properly discern what’s distracting him, a large man leans out of the admiring circle and grabs Sherlock around the waist, hands slipping and clawing over sweat-slicked skin.  Sherlock’s eyes widen impossibly in a frozen moment of distress, and John is moving before he even registers the fear flashing across that face, before his head is pulled to one side and the bungling bully begins to slobber on Sherlock’s long neck, pulling his hips back into a boorish grind.

John takes two strides forwards, pushing forcibly to get through as the observers mill uncertainly, and breaches the space around the two struggling men.  He grabs the back of the man’s head, fingers getting a solid grip in his hair, and jerks back sharply, shifting his weight back at the same time, to pull the man off Sherlock.  Sherlock ducks and spins at the same time, working himself out of a grip that has loosened from surprise.  John wrenches the man down to his level and hisses, “Back off now, Jack, or I’m taking you down.  Do you understand me?”  And his dominant hand is wrapped hard around the man’s throat, fingertips digging into his carotid hard enough to induce dizziness.

“Fuck you,” is the elegant, gasping response.  He twitches for a minute, clearly deciding if it’s worth the fight or not.  

“Try me,” John growls.  Adrenaline is singing in his veins, arousal having quickly transformed, and he feels powerful enough to fly.  He hopes this mountainous fool wants to fight, and he lets a manic grin rise, cold and fierce, as if to encourage his decision.  The man is drunk and aggressive, but not suicidal, so he snarls and backs away, fighting his way through the jeering crowd until he disappears.

John turns back to Sherlock, sees him wiping at his neck with a shudder and frighteningly blank face.  John steps up immediately and rubs the elegant contours of his neck with open palm, soothing and cleaning both.  In his concern, he forgets to worry about boundaries, and presses closer to Sherlock, more or less embracing him, his other arm slipping around Sherlock’s narrow back, stroking up and down his spine, pressing him close.  Sherlock’s head droops, and John presses his mouth to his ear.  “You alright?” he asks.  Sherlock quivers once, nods, and plasters himself to John, who has to shift a foot to brace himself so they don’t stagger backwards.

For the remainder of the song they stay like that, tightly intertwined, swaying gently but not really dancing, ignoring the crowd around them, whose attention has dispersed now that the show is over.  John can’t keep his hands still.  They roam over the back of the man he holds, bare and hot and so sweaty that callused fingers glide.  He sweeps from neck to sacrum, fingers spread wide so as to catch it all, feeling furrows between ribs and the bump of a mole.  With every stroke he urges Sherlock closer, and Sherlock hums against his ear.  John clasps his neck, sharply bent to place his head so near John’s, and massages the trapezius, running from shoulder to the smooth dent in the back of his skull.

The twitching of hips against his belly catch John’s attention, and he can feel an answering erection prodding at him, only the fabric of his undershirt and the gauze of Sherlock’s trousers between them.  John imagines he can feel the heat of it.  He holds his hand tighter on the back of Sherlock’s head, turning it slightly to nuzzle in the damp hair behind his ear.  “You alright?” he asks again.  “Is this ok?”

“He only startled me,” Sherlock rumbles.  His voice is firm, but he makes no effort to move away, and his cheek rests against John’s hair.

John begins scattering biting kisses down his neck, breathing fast, sucking in the heat and salted musk of him, the smell of exotic spices stronger than the astringent sting of atmospheric fog being pumped through the club.  Each driven, licking kiss is meant to cover, to reclaim what he irrationally feels is his, what was violated by the brutish stranger only minutes before.

Sherlock fingers his chest, slips his hands up to his shoulders and into the sleeves of his overshirt, pushing it down his arms a bit, and then he just holds on, kneading his biceps as John sucks a mark above the sharp collarbone under his mouth.  John is not above tensing those muscles to give Sherlock a better handhold;  they are round and hard he’s always been rather proud of them.  Long fingers shape and caress and probe there with appreciation and characteristic focus.

Sherlock shifts, and then there’s a long, hard thigh pressing between John’s legs.  He surges forward, helpless as the tide, canting his hips until the damp, heated muscle is firmly nestled under his bollocks, and he nudges back with hip and belly, rolling against the shaft he feels growing there, the physical reward doubled when he knows he shares it.  The heat of the crowded dance floor is suddenly meaningless compared to the blaze rushing through his veins, and he presses his open mouth to a curl of henna, tracing up a rigid pectoral.

“Oh.  God, Sherlock,” John pants, and his hands drop to clasp Sherlock’s waist, scooping upward, under his arms, spanning narrow ribs, still heaving from the effort of the dance.  His thumbs dig into the hollow of armpits, which John finds himself unreasonably, well, fetishizing.  “We have to stop.”  He shakes with need as he skims the tickle of fine hairs, and a droplet strikes the webbing between his fingers.  He brings his hand to his mouth and licks it.  It tasteslike Sherlock smells, hot and humid, salty and spicy and stimulating.  A strange mixture of human with dusty, distant and foreign.  He shudders.

Sherlock lifts his head, and his eyes are bright, his lips are wet and parted on broken breaths.  “Oh.  We.  We should dance,” he says, for the second time that night.  

John realizes that their feet are firmly planted, although their hips are rocking to the thundering beat.  He stills and huffs a strained, desperate laugh.  “Youcan’t go anywhere.”  He moves back a bit, to demonstrate to Sherlock his predicament.  While John’s combat uniform holds his cock more or less against his body, the loose, fragile fabric of Sherlock’s trousers can do no such thing, and tent obscenely and obviously around a very vertical, bobbing erection.  John looks down consideringly, suddenly aware that his mouth is actuallywatering, which he always thought was a figure of speech.

John begins to giggle.

Sherlock frowns.  “Well.  We’ll be here for a bit, then,” he says, deep voice cutting through the music.  Then, to John’s surprise, he is whipped around, and suddenly Sherlock is tight against his back.  The voice says, in his ear, “So.  Let’s dance.”

And then Sherlock begins to dance.  Just as he had before, undulating and rippling, only this time John is held against him, and every roll of the hips behind him drags a cock against the small of his back.  Sherlock’s hands skim from his shoulders down to his wrists, and pull his arms away from his sides.  “Like this,” he breathes.  And John gets the most intimate belly dancing lesson of his life.  Briefly, insanely, he envisions Sherlock’s stiff cock as a gear shift,  upshifting too rapidly for him to acclimate, and he sinks back into the lean body behind him, allows both the lissome hips behind him, and the living thing that is the music, to fuse to his flesh;  to influence his movement, the rhythms of his body, directing his heartbeat and the rush of his blood.

He grinds back with enthusiasm, and the deep darkness of the club makes it all okay, renders them private in a room with hundreds of people, and John can shed his inhibitions as easily as Sherlock's rhythmic swaying body is coaxing him to lose his stiffness and reserve.  Until John is moving as smoothly as his partner, until they are a single organism, functioning in the noisy currents of ocean that makes the club around them.

Sherlock pulls John’s overshirt off at the end of the song, dragging it down his arms and elbows, and stopping enticingly, with it caught around John’s wrists.  “Let’s go have a seat,” Sherlock whispers in a sudden vacuum of sound between songs.  John tugs at his shirt, and after a millisecond, Sherlock lets him go, is left with John’s shirt in his hands, which he holds strategically in front of his crotch.  John has to laugh, and tows Sherlock behind him, hurrying gracelessly, stride wide-legged to accommodate the interference in his trousers, toward the hall that leads to the Lounge.

They spill into the room;  so much more quiet in here except for the low murmur of voices and whatever crooning is floating from the speakers, competing with the rumbling vibrations of the disco area down the hall.  Sherlock immediately guides him to the left, towards the darkest corner of the lounge, a place well-strewn with oversized, overstuffed furniture.

They wind up toppling onto a stained purple and black zebra patterned chaise with a high back and one rolled arm.  It’s back is to the middle of the room, and offers a very real sense of privacy, tucked as it is behind a column.  John falls back and shoves his cane onto the floor when it pokes into his bum.  He pulls Sherlock down on top of him.  “Come ‘ere,” he mutters, and begins a kiss.

They’re already as warmed up as they’re going to get, and there’s nothing teasing about the kiss, no slow exploration, no finesse.  Their mouths meet, open and licking, teeth and tongue, cheeks hollowing for suction.  John stretches back against the one arm of the chaise and wiggles beneath Sherlock, who is surprisingly heavy for such a reedy man;  he shifts and aligns them, taking a moment to just enjoy the force and the feel.  Sherlock drops John’s shirt on top of the cane, and pulls a leg over John, so that he’s straddling him, spread thighs perforce keeping John’s shut tight.  

John surges up beneath him, pushing, vying for control, refusing to submit, and Sherlock bites his lip sharply, surprising him into stillness, and rubs against his thigh, exhaling rich groans not heard but rather perceived as rumbling vibrations through the thin ribbed fabric that is all that’s between them up top.  John drags his nails down Sherlock’s damp, naked back, jerks his head to the side to free his mouth and latches onto Sherlock’s neck... that neck... made to be laved, and nibbled and worshipped.  He explores the suprasternal notch, sucking in the tiny pool of sweat, tasting salt, and something that recalls the iron of the lamp, before kissing the prominent knobs of the clavicle to either side.  

He slowly ruts, hands firm on Sherlock’s hips, lost in a heady sea of sensation, inelegantly marking the smooth skin of Sherlock’s neck with the day’s stubble, having lost the ability to coordinate anything more discriminating.

Sherlock props himself up on his arms and arches his back, lifts his hips so that his buttocks roll upward, canted at a ridiculously sensual angle to his body, and it’s an invitation John won’t, can’t, refuse.    He grabs that succulent flesh, squeezing and rubbing, raw and vulgar, just following the barbarous dictates of his body, crying out to possess, to revel.  He uses his double handfuls of arse to put Sherlock where he wants him, tugging and pulling until their cocks are aligned, and John, whose instinct is to spread his legs, has to make do with squeezing them together instead, which surprisingly heightens the sensations in his groin.  And the swooping desire in his belly stings, filling his gut, hot and sharp-edged;  painful and dangerous and addictive.

“Sherlock,” he groans, pushing up his knees so that Sherlock has to curl to keep his mouth on John’s neck, where he’s assiduously sucking love bites.  “Sherlock--”  Sherlock breaths in his ear, hot tongue folding the lobe into his mouth, and the fine hairs on John’s body lift in an electric salute.  Mouth open, John shivers under the delirious onslaught, his mind staggering back to stare at the pair of them squirming on the couch, at himself grunting and bucking, at Sherlock, lean muscles flexing under sweaty skin, spine rolling in abandoned pleasure.  And he is grateful, with almost blasphemous ecstasy, to be allowed to hold this beautiful manifestation of all his fantasies.

Now Sherlock, as if to prove himself gritty and real, rotates his arse in lazy circles, so that John’s fingers are worked lower and lower, until they press the sheer fabric into the seam between his cheeks, until his fingers burn with a more intimate heat; and he explores for budded resistance.  When he encounters it, small and sinful, Sherlock gasps loudly and tosses his head.

And this is the moment when John expects for it to end.  Sherlock’s had a distinctive and unbroken pattern in the week they’ve known each other.  Like a waltz, two steps forward, one step back, and John thinks now he’ll break away, skin flushed and eyes blown, but break away nonetheless, pull back and shut down.  And jesus fuck but John doesn’t want that to happen.

He tries harder, plunges his forefinger further down that crack, and rubs indelicately against the smooth skin that separates scrotum and anus, pressing hard, seeking to stimulate the prostate externally (he knows these things, he’s a doctor) and a small part of his brain lectures him like a mother, telling him to stop, back off, to let Sherlock take this at whatever pace he needs.

But John needs, too.  

John needs, and the demanding fire shivering under his skin is incandescent, and thank god Sherlock is pliant and willing, gyrating and rolling on top of him like a fucking porn star.  John’s cock is trapped in the middle, swollen and twitching, throbbingagainst the ever-dancing hips of his genie, whose eyes are closed, now, head dropped until their foreheads touch, lips brushing and catching on teeth, but nothing so polished as kissing is happening any more.  Only the hot wash of breath between them, vocalized with murmurs and profanity.

John grinds against him again, finger a metronome in the center of Sherlock’s bum, and fuck me he can feelthe pucker become a divot, smoothing out into an inviting little hollow.  And so John rubs, mapping the unfurling margins;  a hundred screaming Afghanis couldn’t tear him away.  It’s hypnotic, and he’s in flameshe wants to stick something into that slowly developing hole so badly he’d trade anything in his possession for it.  But don’t wish.  Don’t you fucking wish, John Watson.  Because you can have what you want, I know it...  Without a wish.  Without losing him.

There is the rough abrasion of fabric scraping across his cock as Sherlock smears his hips over John’s, dragging him to the edge before he’s ready.  He reaches up to wet Sherlock’s lips with his tongue, because his own are dry with panting, and gets a shattered sigh for his trouble.  How does he have this?  How did he get this?  His right hand keeps gliding along Sherlock’s side, so slippery with sweat he could be oiled.  But his left hand....  

Sherlock lifts again, pressing against John’s fingers, legs spreading wider, arse cocked up so far John would worry for the integrity of his spine if he had any blood left in his brain at all.  But he doesn’t, it’s all roaring on the surface of his skin and clamoring in his cock.  And his finger sinks in.  Actually sinks in, through the layer of fabric.  Just a bit.  But John knows, he can tell.  And Sherlock makes a mewling noise, pushing upward so that his nipple nears John’s mouth, who leans up to catch it in his teeth, debauched in the taste of Sherlock, of sweat, the feel of the pert nub against tongue and lip.

Sherlock gyrates again, and John sucks hard, head tilted to the side, to give himself the luxury of nosing his armpit, feeling the tremble in Sherlock’s arms as he begins to lose control;  and he can hear Sherlock’s panting given voice, unh unh unhoh Johnand his hand moves to Sherlocks ribs in time to feel a sudden outbreak of goosebumps...

and Sherlock is shivering and gasping into his neck, arms like noodles, convulsing against an orgasm, and John can feel the pulsing of his arsehole against his fingertips, through the filmy fabric he’s got shoved just inside the rim;  

and he spreads his knees and comes like a fucking jet, the painful zings of semen sizzling through his cock and searing his belly under the fabric of his trousers, and at that moment there is nothing around him except for Sherlock, trembling and panting in his arms, the writhing weight of him, and the flood of heat and release and euphoria in his body.

Yes, fuck yes, Sherlock, jesus, how did you.  You.  You’re amazing.  You gorgeous fucking thing.  Sherlock.  Oh.” And John shudders with aftershocks, continuing to stroke and push against the cleft of Sherlock’s arse, the juddering pulse of his heart felt as strongly there as he can feel it through their chests, through the twitching cocks that separate their abdomens.

The torrid breath at his neck morphs into a kind of a laugh, after a few minutes of lying there, and Sherlock nuzzles under his ear like a demanding cat.  John rearranges Sherlock’s trousers and begins to stroke his back in long, calming sweeps, enjoying the dip and curve of his spine, the sharp jut of shoulderblades.

John fidgets a bit against cooling, sticky semen.  “I can’t believe we just did that,” he laughs incredulously.  He lifts his head and looks around.  To his relief, there are no voyeurs, and no one seems to have taken any notice of the couple who just thoroughly surpassed the boundaries of snogging on a sofa.  He moves a little, and slides his hand between them, feeling the sodden bits on Sherlock’s trousers, and against his skin, gently curling his fingers around a softening cock.  “We’re a mess,” he says, eyes bright.  “Too bad you can’t get a change of clothes from the lamp.”

Sherlock frowns, but it’s just for show.  “Ha--”  His voice cracks, and he has to stop and clear a gravelly throat.  John waits, grinning.   “Hand me my vest,” he says at last.  John pulls it out of his pocket, with a lot of extraneous squirming, just to watch Sherlock’s face twitch in response, and hands it over.  Sherlock lifts his hips and scrubs the wet spot.

“Alright,” he sits back, and John rises up onto his elbows.  “It’ll do.”  He shivers, suddenly, the aftermath leaving him chilled, and reaches down for John’s overshirt.  “I’ll wear this.”  He doesn’t wait for permission, but appropriates the thing, rolling the ridiculously short sleeves up a couple turns.  John can see that it will go down at least to his hips, and cover the worst of the come stain.  He doesn’t mind.  His own indiscretion will be well concealed by the camouflage pattern of his uniform.

He pulls Sherlock back down, with a slurred “C’mereand kisses him again.  Now that the sharp edge of rampant desire is sated, he can kiss they way he wants to.  He breathes on Sherlock’s lips, giving light sipping sucks to each in turn.  “You’re wonderful,” he whispers, and slips in his tongue, seeking out Sherlock’s, now taking the time for lazy exploration.

On the other side of the sofa, voices escalate jarringly from background murmur to a grating cacophony, and he hears the sharp crack of breaking glass.  A familiar voice rises in a screeched curse, and John’s romantic interlude for the evening is cut short.

justgot1 genie

Chapter Text

Fuck,” John says with feeling, pushing Sherlock back.  “Goddammit.”  He sits up enough to look over the back of the sofa and indeed, there’s Harry at the bar, Melissa on one side and the heavily padded ginger on the other.

John hauls himself to his feet and irritably goes to diffuse his sister’s drama, a situation in which he’s had too many years’ experience.  He shoves the damp, crumpled vest into a cargo pocket as he circles the chaise, but entirely forgets the cane lying on the floor next to it.  Sherlock drifts on his heels, strikingly mussed and beautiful;  in spite of the camo service shirt, sleeves awkwardly short, buttoned at the bottom to hide his stained trousers, but only concealing half the wet patch.

Harry, like her brother, is sans overshirt, wearing only a tight black vest.  She’s nose to nose with Melissa, shouting.  As John comes close enough to discern more than tone, acidic words taint the air.

“... you pathetic, sodding bitch.  Jesus fucking christ,” Harry pokes her finger hard at the false name sewn over her real one on Melissa’s uniform.  “Watson,” Harry laughs, cutting and cruel.  “Watson, my arse.  I can’t believe I brought you with me, Watson.  What a sniveling little beggar you are.  You’d just crawl for me, wouldn’t you?  Where’s the challenge in that?”

“Stop, Harry,” Melissa’s voice is raised, but shaking, as if it’s hard for her to yell.  “Stop talking like that.  I know you’re just... drunk.  I know why you’re kissing ... her,” she points over Harry’s shoulder at the redhead who’s been avidly crowding up behind Harry in order to hear every word.  She’s got her hands wrapped around Harry’s waist, and curled up underneath her breasts in a gesture both possessive and blatantly sexual.  “You don’t want that,” Melissa wretchedly pleads.  “You want me.”

The ginger steps around, and pushes Melissa, who’s a good 5 inches taller and outweighs her by several stone.  Melissa is taken by surprise, and staggers back a step, knocking into a stool, which falls with a clatter.  John’s eye is drawn to the puddle of drink and broken glass at their feet.  Harry’s doing, no doubt:  she has always been a fan of the dramatic gesture.

Melissa regains her balance, and flings a loose fist at the ginger.  “Stay away, you harpy,” she cries.  “Look what you’re doing, you slut.  She hasa girlfriend.  She...”

Harry steps forward at this point and slaps Melissa hard in the face, tugging the redhead behind her simultaneously.  “Yeah, you wish... ‘Watson'” she sneers.  She puts two fingers on the hopeful and inappropriate name tag covering Melissa’s on on her uniform.  “You grovel.  You have no spine.  You can’t even fuck worth a damn.  Just go home.”  She swings around and momentum carries her right into her brother.

“Harry!” John growls, grabbing both her wrists.  “What the fuck is going on here?”

Harry breaks away with enough force to send her reeling back into the bar.  “Fuck you, man,” she shouts.  “And the horse you rode in on.”  Then she catches sight of Sherlock over John’s shoulder, intently minding the scene, and laughs until she’s breathless.  “Yeah, the horse you rode in on,” she wheezes.  “We’re outta here.”

John lets her and the ginger go.  Melissa is trying to mop the remains of a flung drink off her face, and looks more miserable and unattractive than she did an hour earlier.  John grinds his teeth.  Yes, just another night out with Harry.  This is not the first time he’ll be consoling her date and sending her home alone in a cab.  He takes Melissa’s elbow and guides her gently to an empty chair.  “Come on,” he says.  “Let me get you something to drink, and then I’ll call you a cab.”

Melissa bursts into tears, and drapes herself all over John, who stands rigid under the onslaught, tentatively patting her padded shoulder and trying not to breathe in her stale breath.  He finally deposits her in a chair and turns to get her something caffeinated, when he bumps into Sherlock, who is directly behind him.  Sherlock lifts an eyebrow, and a little tic at the corner of his mouth is the only emotion or opinion he shows about the whole affair.  He turns to keep pace with John as he goes to the bar.

“The horse you rode in on?” he asks slyly.  John gives him a repressive frown, but can’t quite stifle his snort.  He relaxes minutely, suddenly aware of how not alone he is.

John waves at the barkeep, who doesn’t have far to come, as she was standing there when the fight went down.  “How about a Coke for my friend, yeah?  And then we’ll send her on home.”  The woman hands the soda to John with a muttered “on the house” and relief evident in the lines of her body.  John face folds momentarily into wry acceptance, and then he’s back at the table to comfort Melissa.

Both he and Sherlock remain standing, so as not to get too drawn in.  But Melissa hangs on John’s shoulder anyway, sobbing about Harry and strength and abandoned promises.  John pats her back, but his focus is on Sherlock.  Oh, fuck, he thinks.  I had sex with that man not seven minutes ago.  What is my life?  And Sherlock reads it all in his expression, of course, and smirks back.

When Melissa has slurped up the remainder of her drink, John helps her to stand.  “All right, Melissa.  Time to go.  Here,” and he digs into his wallet and hands her 50 pounds.  “Go get yourself a cab, alright?  I’ll find Harry and tell her what a git she is, and collect our coats, and then we’ll be out, too, in case you haven’t found a cab yet.  Yeah?  Alright?  Sound good?”

Melissa stares at him dully for a few beats, then folds her fingers around the note.  “Yeah,” she agrees.  She lurches forwards and folds John into a rough hug, which he endures, but makes his skin crawl all the same.  He catches Sherlock making an abortive movement, as if to shove her away, and that makes him feel better.  While he knows academically that he’s touch-starved and needy with it, contact from strangers makes him recoil, generally, and he never reaches out on his own.  His gaze lingers on his tall companion, and he corrects himself.  There is one undeniable exception.

Once Melissa’s out of the way, he hands the coat receipt to Sherlock.  “Go get our coats, ok?  And I’ll find Harry.  I’ll meet you outside.”  Sherlock takes the ticket, and the few notes that John has wrapped around it, and melts into the crowd.  John sighs and squares his shoulders, pushing his way back through the main dance hall looking for his sister.

It takes fully a quarter of an hour before he spots them, his sister and the redhead.  They are frotting against one another near one corner of the room.  Harry has her uniform shirt tied around her hips, and the vest under it is hiked up to just under her breasts.  Sweat shines on both their bodies, where they aren’t pressed skin to skin, and John feels a sudden, intense disgust at what he and Sherlock had just done.  

Does it look like this, to strangers?  A vaguely repellant grind of pallid flesh, inappropriately showcased in a public venue?  There is nothing, from John’s current perspective, of the heat and passion that had flooded him and Sherlock.  A voyeur cannot witness the whitewater of feelings, of chemicals and firing neurons which render such an act beautiful to the participants.  What he is now approaching appears, to an outsider, no more than a drunken, horny maul, and his mouth twists when he gets there, grabbing Harry’s shoulder and then quickly stepping back so she wouldn’t let fly a fist.  

“We’re leaving,” he says tightly, as soon as her eyes focus on him.  “Melissa’s gone home in a cab, Sherlock and I are leaving, and you’re on your own.  Don’t expect we’ll ever do this with you again.”

Harry is too drunk to care about having ruined a chance at reconciliation with her brother.  Instead she shouts, “What?  You sent that lame bitch home?  Goddammed arsehole.  She had my keys!  And my bankcard!”

John laughs.  “Serves you right, Harry.”  And with that he swings away and fights through dancers from whom all mystique has been drained, and now look like nothing more than hedonistic inebriates, undressed in lewd costumes, looking desperately for a good time.  He is relieved when he hits the arctic air of the outdoors, and looks around.

The usual crowd stands clustered outside, smoking or snogging.  The pungent, unique aroma of pot hangs heavily over one group, and John’s hairline moves as his eyebrows twitch.  These kids today, no sense of self-preservation.  Sherlock is not among the people scattered there, so John wanders into the parking lot, heading for the gate.  Perhaps Sherlock has already summoned a taxi?

Deeper in the darkened lot, he sees no one, but hears a truncated shout from behind a white delivery van.  Senses immediately on alert, he weaves through cars in that direction, keeping to the shadows to be sure he isn’t seen.  He hears the exhalation of someone who’s been punched, all the air inside released in one painful huff, and there’s a grunt and a choked but recognizable laugh.  Gravel is scuffled by heavy boots, and a body is thrown up against the van, rocking it gently on its wheels.

John edges around the side, arms up and fists ready, knees bent and body low.  He doesn’t know what he expects, but it certainly isn’t Sherlock, fighting off five men all dressed in black.  Well, four.  The fifth is standing away a bit, back to John.

Sherlock’s skin is ghostly against those dark jackets, and John notes irrelevantly that he’s lost both John’s shirt and his slippers, bare feet stark and bleached against unforgiving gravel.  He’s pressed against the van, held by a man on either side, but kicks out viciously with one leg, scoring a hit in the solar plexus of one attacker, who crouches for a moment, struggling for breath.  The man in front of Sherlock punches him in the face, vicious and determined.  Sherlock’s head snaps back and hits the top edge of the open bay door with a crack;  but he manages to wrest free an arm and throw an elbow to good effect, judging from the colorful curses one of the men lets fly.

John creeps forward now:  he’s silent, because surprise is a weapon, and jerks back the watcher by the neck, fingers pressing hard and without pity at his carotid.  The man passes out quickly, having never made a sound, and his companions are none the wiser.  Solar plexus man is still dizzily trying to regain his feet, but he’ll need to breathe first.

Sherlock makes eye contact.  The side of his mouth is swollen and smeared red, and blood trails sluggishly down from the crest of his eyebrow, but he’s alert and seems to be enjoying himself more than being frightened.  He whips forward and smacks his head with a sickening thwack into that of the man trying to choke him, dropping him like a stone and freeing himself from all but two.

Solar Plexus weaves to his feet and his eye catches on John.  Before he can warn his companions, John kicks hard to the side.  He aims directly, without pity, at the man’s knee, can feel it dislocate under the sole of his boot, and his opponent falls with a keening shout, curled around his injury.  Just as the remaining two men cop on to the fact that there is someone behind them, John sees Sherlock eel out of their grasp;  spinning and kicking, he ruthlessly stabs at one of them with stiffened fingers to his throat.  The man staggers back, trips over the body of one of his cohorts and falls heavily to his back, silently clutching his neck and no longer focused on the fight.  He rolls to his side, curled around himself.  The doctor in John worries about a dislocated larynx;  the soldier, however, is satisfied that the man is down, and will stay down for some time.

The sole man standing whips out a gun.

“Stay still, you fucking poofters,” he begins in a Geordie accent.  But his hold on the pistol is unskilled, and it isn’t even aimed yet, so John lunges forward, catches his arm and twists it back, quickly taking charge of the weapon.

“What the fuck are you doing?” John hisses around his shoulder, for the man is taller than he.  “What’s going on here?”  He jerks up on the arm and the man in his hold arches his back to lessen the strain and whines a little.

“Little shit,” he growls.  “I weren’t told there’d be two.”

Sherlock wisely takes several steps back, picking his way carefully, soft feet over sharp stones, to stand free from the shadow of the van, now littered with four bodies in varying degrees of unconsciousness or collapse, several moaning and stirring.  “Who didn’t tell you there’d be two?” he questions.  “You were sent here specifically for me?”

The man laughs rudely.  “Aye.  The genie poof.  You’re easy enough to find.”

“And who sent you after the genie poof?” Sherlock inquires serenely.  John keeps a tight hold on the man’s arm, gun pressed implacably to his temple.  The man spits, although it doesn’t come near approaching Sherlock’s long feet, now blue with cold.

Dislocated Kneecap speaks up.  “Shuddup, ya tit,” he gasps.  “Don’t say nothin’.”

John spins around so that Kneecap can see the gun.  “Stay where you are,” he warns.

Sherlock presses on.  “Who? Who knows about me? Who sent you? And... why?”

“Not fer us to ask why,” John’s captive sneers.  “Maybe he just fancied a taste?  He said he was a fan.  Who cares?  He had the brass, we din’t ask no questions.”

John looks over at the van, side door gaping black in the shadows.  Rope and fabric were fallen half out of the doorway, mute evidence that they intended to bundle the genie within, tie him up, and put a bag over his head.  “Where were you going to take him?”

The man under his hands said, “Dunno.  We was gonna get a phone call.”

“Shuddup, Lew!” says the other.

Two of the men on the ground begin to stir, and John looks over at Sherlock.  The odds are not good, even though they’ve now got a gun on their side, and it seems that more information is not forthcoming.  John tips his head at Sherlock, Have we got all we need here?  Sherlock nods minutely For the moment.  Better go.  Sherlock scoops a soft heap off the ground that John suspects is their coats, ducks around the side of the van and heads for the road.

“You.  On the ground,” John says, poking with the gun.  Lew obligingly drops, but still snarls at the ignominy of the position.  John backs up a few steps, gun held steadily in front of him.  “Lie on your stomach, hands behind your head.”  Lew does, and John feels antsy.  One of the downed men begins to stand, muttering and disoriented.

“John!  Come on!” Sherlock shouts.

John backs up until he’s at the corner of the van.  “I will shoot you if you follow us,” he warns, and his voice is cold and empty.  He’s killed before, he’s got no objection to killing again, and that comes through in his tone.

He looks to his left.  Sherlock stands at the lot entrance, next to a cab with one open door.  “John!” he calls again.  John gives one last glare at the crew on the ground and then spins and sprints towards the cab.  

He’s light, he’s running like the wind, and he doesn’t even feel the gravel shift beneath his feet.  He recognizes this high as the one he’d get during a firefight in Afghanistan.  He’s floating, and he’s simultaneously someone in a movie and also vividly real.  His heart is pounding hard but steady.  Everything about him is steady.  He’s like the aimed barrel of a gun, solid and strong and ready to direct lethal force, and every inhale is like a drug, filling him with fierce joy and purpose.

Sherlock’s body, barely covered, gleams like a beacon, and John runs easily towards it, most of his focus behind him, engaged with the threat, ready to turn, to fight;  ready to kill, even.  Because ahead of him lies the prize, and he’ll battle anything for it, although he’s not crass enough, even in his subconscious, to put it in those terms.  But he will win that, by god.  Sherlock will belong to him and no other, if he cannot be free on his own terms.

John reaches the cab, and Sherlock swings in ahead of him, John crowding from behind, hands rough on smooth, frozen skin, thrusting against its living resilience.  The hand with the gun, safety engaged, pushes against his back;  and the outline of the gun at the small of Sherlock's back is the most erotic thing John’s ever seen, and his breath leaves him in a gasp, and his cock is hard and raging even before he’s turned to shut the door.  He looks back, and there’s a single man already in the aisle between the cars, who by the blue glow at his ear is on the phone;  and Sherlock says, voice breathless with laughter and adrenaline, “221 Baker Street, and quickly.”

The cab pulls away with a jolt, tires spinning for a moment in the gravel, spraying a satisfying kickback, and John sucks in a breath to ask what the hell just happened, but...

Sherlock launches himself at John, shoving the coats to the floor and grabbing John’s sweat-glossed shoulder, crooking sharp fingers behind his neck, and pulling him in for a kiss.  And John is lost in the hot, sleek copper of Sherlock’s split lip, in a dizzying, drowning kiss.

It is hard, and elated, as sharp-edged and electrifying as their recent encounter.  John fights back, mouth stretched in a grin, leans back to pull Sherlock on top of his chest, sliding the gun down to press along his lavish arse, catching under those glorious buttocks with the hard edge of steel, and Sherlock bucks back into it with a groan, then a snicker, and the tongue licking his mouth retreats in heat and laughter.  But the ensuing bite on his lip is sheer lust, and John can’t hold him in tight enough, slicks his hand across bare skin over which he feels complete, barbaric ownership...wants to fuck him now.

“‘Ere, now!” The cabbie swerves as she admonishes.  “Not in my cab, you don’t, young men.  I’ll have you sitting right and proper, if you don’t mind, until we get there.”  And she reaches back with a rolled up magazine and swats the hand on Sherlock’s bum, miraculously not noticing (or perhaps she ignores it on purpose) the gun.  “I’ll pull over, now, and kick you out.”  Her voice is so maternal and admonishing that it penetrates the haze of lust and adrenaline.  Sherlock turns to glare, and John’s eyes open to see the profile of an older woman, plump and smilingly wrinkled.

She looks nothing like their landlady, but commands the same immediate, nostalgic respect, and Sherlock and John disentangle themselves, flashing wry, laughing, frustrated looks at one another.  John leans down to swipe the bundle of coats off the floor, and tosses Sherlock’s into his lap.  “Better cover up, you’ll catch cold,” he says gruffly.  His eyes linger on Sherlock’s nipples, pink and pinched tight, taut against snow-white skin, mottling with new bruises; and he sighs in disappointment as the coat swallows up dancing lines of henna.

“What do you think that was all about?” John asks.

Sherlock shrugs and stares out his window, “I don’t know,” he muses, and does not offer anything more.  John examines the gun, and then stows it away in his pocket.

They are silent until they arrive at Baker Street, and the cabbie grins impishly as she takes their money.  She winks.  “Have a good night, boys,” is all she says;  John represses the inclination to salute.

Inside the door, in the chilly hallway of 221, John turns to Sherlock again, hungry and unsated, despite of the crust of semen chafing his belly reminding him of what happened in the Lounge not an hour earlier.  He maneuvers Sherlock until his back is to the wall, and tugs his head down to get a better look at the cut clotting over above his eye, and rub his thumb across the swollen, discolored side of his lip.  “I need to take a look at this,” he murmurs.

Sherlock turns his head and sucks John’s thumb boldly into his mouth, tonguing it indelicately before biting it between his teeth.  John huffs and presses closer, just as Mrs. Hudson’s door opens.

“Oh, Sherlock.  John.  You’re back earlier than I expected.”  She eyes them, shrewd and amused as they pull apart in the little foyer.  “Have a good time, then?” she teases.  “I won’t keep you, dears.  I’m sure you have better things to do than chat with me in the hallway here. But a gentleman stopped by earlier, Sherlock.  Said he was an old friend of yours, and wanted to leave you this note.”

Sherlock stiffens perceptibly.  “An old friend?” and his voice has dropped a full octave;  he sounds like rusty water running over a rocky creek bed.  There’s an undertone of fear, but mostly it’s pure, uninhibited curiosity.

“Why, yes,  he was a very polite young man,” she says.  “A bit shorter than you, thin, pale skin, dark hair.  Snappy dresser.  I tried to ask how he knew you, but he wouldn’t say any more, just handed me the note.  I never even got his name.”  She waits after this delivery, watching Sherlock expectantly, clearly hoping he’d open the note and satisfy her curiosity.

Instead, his face grows blank, and he wheels for the stairs.  “Thank you Mrs. Hudson,” he tosses over his shoulder.  “I’ll let you know if I need anything further.”

John makes an abortive apologetic gesture towards her, before following Sherlock up the stairs.  Mrs. Hudson gives a resigned little flutter of her hands before turning back to her own flat.  She recognizes when she’s been thwarted.

In the flat Sherlock shrugs out of his coat, letting it drop to the floor, and begins to examine the envelope under the kitchen light.  John stoops to pick up the coat, hangs it on the hook behind the door with his own, and then stands to the left of Sherlock’s shoulder, watching him study the paper.  He notes the developing bruises around thin wrists and above pointed elbows, worries about the livid patches growing dark across that pale torso, the blossoming evidence of vigorous combat with multiple partners.

“Later, John,” Sherlock says, flinching away from John’s fingers, ghosting up the marks on his side.

Sherlock squirms away from John’s assessment to grab a knife out of the kitchen drawer, and for once John isn’t caught by the poetry of his body, but rather the intense focus radiating from him;  and John finds that his own heart is beating faster, and he isn’t surprised to notice that he’s holding the gun ready, at his side.

Sherlock carefully opens the envelope and draws out a single sheet of paper, thick and textured, heavy and expensive.  Sherlock deliberately turns his shoulder so that John cannot see.

What John can see, is the sudden, shocked jolt when Sherlock reads the few lines, and the harsh intake of breath, before he slowly, carefully folds it back up.  Without looking at John, Sherlock bolts back to his bedroom, but John is right on his heels.

The light snaps on, and John hears a shaky exhale.

“What is it, Sherlock?” John asks.

“My lamp.  

“John.  It’s gone.”


What?”  John shoulders Sherlock aside and enters the room, gun up now, alert as he hadn’t been moments before.  “Are you sure?”  He scans the room, neat and empty but for a few clothes fastidiously stacked on the dresser, strangely old-fashioned shoes beside them.  He steps silently to the wardrobe and flings open the door.  No one.  Under the bed is barren as well.

“Yes,” Sherlock sounds shell-shocked.  “I can’t feel it, John.  It’s gone, and I can’t feel it.  It’s not in the building.”  He makes a gesture, as if calling out his cigarette and filter, but nothing happens.

He stands, staring at the dresser, and a shudder so full-bodied it’s almost a short seizure overtakes him.  John looks at him, worried, but calculates that it’s far more important to investigate the rest of the flat for intruders before comforting Sherlock.  “Go sit down,” he says, nodding towards the living room.  “I’m going to look around.”

The flat is empty, and John pauses upstairs long enough to get out his own, familiar Sig, loading the magazine and jamming the clip home with a click, chambering a bullet before engaging the safety.  He tucks it in the back of his trousers as he crosses the living room.  Sherlock is sitting on the sofa.  The bundle of clothing from the dresser in his bedroom now sits on the coffee table;  there is a small, ornamental box in the middle.  Sherlock stares at it intently, fingers together against his chin, twitching and scraping at his skin.  His knees bounce arrhythmically.

John pivots from the kitchen, where he was going to make some tea, to sit beside Sherlock instead.  “What is this?” he asks, nodding toward the collection on the table.

“Clothing.  Shoes.  A box of powdered lead,” Sherlock replies tonelessly.

John does a slight double-take, and stares at the small box again, a very uneasy feeling squirming to life in his stomach.  “A box of lead?” he repeats.  He looks again at the shoes, narrow, made of dried, cracked discolored leather, surmounted with a large, tarnished square buckle.  The clothes, folded as they are, seem faded and musty as well.  John can smell age and mildew from where he sits.  “Sherlock....  What is this?” he asks again.

“They’re mine.” Sherlock clenches his hands into one twisted fist, tendons and veins pop along wrists and forearms at the pressure, and his skin becomes stark red and white where he grips.  “From before.  From... that night.”

John is silent for a moment before the penny drops.  “Oh, jesus,” he exhales.  “That night?  The night?  Fuck.  Sherlock, what does this mean?”

Sherlock shakes his head, lips pressed so tightly together that they vanish.  “I killed him,” he mutters, nearly inaudible.  “It's Moriarty.  Is it Moriarty?  How can it be Moriarty?  Who else can it be?  But.  I killed him.  With lead from that box.”  Breath judders into his lungs, too shallow, and his face is momentarily ghastly with a more sickly cast than his usual untouched alabaster.  The smear and trail of blood stands out in stark contrast.

“Are you... safe right now?  Can you... be pulled back into the lamp?”  John has a bizarre urge to quickly handcuff Sherlock to the sofa, to keep him protected and nearby.  His heart is beating too fast, and he finds he craves a fight, needs a raw confrontation right now to get rid of the choking, burning sensation of adrenaline crawling on his skin.

Sherlock shivers.  “You are the only one who can compel me in or out of the lamp.  Until you’ve made your wish.  Or you’re dead.”  He looks sidelong at John now, and his eyes are slate blue and hard, closed off.  

His pupils are pinpoints in the dim light.  John automatically checks for shock, reaching out and to place his hand across the skin of Sherlock’s forehead, avoiding the small wound, and then resting his fingers at the hinge of his jaw.  He’s cold, clammy and jittery, but his pulse is within normal range.

He gets Sherlock’s coat off the hook and drapes it over his shoulders.  “Here.  It’s not warm enough in here.  Put this on.  I’m making you some tea.” John moves briskly towards the kitchen.  “What did the note say?”

He can hear the creak of the sofa as Sherlock shifts position, and the rustle of paper as he draws the envelope out of his pocket.  Then it’s drowned out by the rattle of water going into the kettle, and John presses the lever down before going back to Sherlock, who is drawing the paper sightlessly between his fingers.  He holds a damp flannel in his hand, and sits in front of Sherlock, pulling his fringe back and examining the wound.  He begins to dab at the gummy blood striping his temple and cheek.  “Go on, then,” he prompts.

Sherlock opens his mouth, but is interrupted.  They both jump when John’s phone rings, buzzing and chirping raucously in his pocket.  “Fuck!” John tries to stifle his shout.  “God.”  He quickly fishes out the phone and looks at the screen.  No name.  He swipes it on.  “Yes?” his voice is clipped and cautious.

“Hi.  This is Detective Inspector Dimmock of New Scotland Yard.  Have I reached John H. Watson?”

What?  “Yes, you have.”  John’s posture straightens into military form, unsure what’s going to be asked of him.  It’s well after midnight, so it can’t be good.

“You have a sister, Harriet E. Watson, is that correct?”

John frowns and relaxes a bit.  Fucking hell.  Damned if he’s going to pull her out of the drunk tank tonight.  “Yes,” he replies warily.

“I’m afraid....  I’m very sorry to tell you that....  This is never easy.  But.  We’ve found your sister’s body.  We need you to come down and give us a positive ID.”

genielock2 mindpalaceofversailles

Chapter Text

John’s world shrinks to a pinprick, bright and painful like a wound.  Any warmth leeches instantly out of the flat, and he meticulously rearranges his feet, so that they are exactly shoulder-width apart, toes precisely aligned at the border of the shadow cast by the coffee table.  He sets the cooling flannel, rusty with Sherlock’s blood, carefully down and takes a deep breath.

“Excuse me?” he says tightly.  

The man on the phone clears his throat, and both discomfiture and apology bleed through in his tone.  “We’ve found your sister’s body, sir.  Outside a club near the Canning Town docks.  Can you meet us at the morgue to identify it?  I mean... her.  Can you come identify her?

John mechanically takes note of the address:  Barts.  Of course it’s Barts.  He disconnects the call and sinks back down to the sofa.

Sherlock is very still next to him.  His fingers are pressed together against his lips, no longer kinetic.  He turns his head a little and looks at John sidelong through arctic eyes.  “Your sister?” he rumbles.  He’s clearly heard part of the conversation.

John nods numbly.  “He said they found her....  They found her....”  He takes in a frantic breath.  “I didn’t even ask, Sherlock.  I forgot to ask what--”  There’s a tremor in his hand, and he traps it against his thigh with the other.

Sherlock makes a humming sound and twists around; his fingers resume flicking. He is still pale, and his face shines with the shock of discovering the lamp was stolen.  But John can't be arsed with sympathy for Sherlock and his lamp:  right now, he’s just trying to breathe.

An instant later Sherlock leaps to his feet, stepping up and over the coffee table to pace agitatedly.  “This cannot be coincidence, John.  These three events... four events... must be linked.”

John nods again, barely hearing.  

Harry.  Oh, christ, Harry.  

He sits with his elbows planted on his knees, wrists limp, head hanging down, staring blindly at his shoes. His stomach churns and the acid presence of bile rises in the back of his throat. Harry can't be... gone. She's all he had left in the world, such sodality as that may have offered. The last of his family snuffed out, no more than a brash flame in a windstorm.  He is unanchored, and sorrow crashes over him in waves, visceral and crushing.

Dead. Not only dead, but murdered. Oh, god. Did it hurt? Was she scared? Did she die fast or slow? How could he not have asked?  He's been in the war long enough, a doctor long enough, to be able to imagine many gruesome scenarios, and he aches at the thought. No one deserves that. And, oh, especially not his big sister;  regardless of her many grievous flaws.

He scrubs his hands across his face, pressing hard on his eyes, willing the stinging prickle behind his lids to recede. The whole front of his face burns with the need to cry;  it is a feeling familiar from his nightmares, and he fights it down with the same stoic determination. He sucks in a choked gasp, a shuddering breath that is not a sob. Is this his first breath since the phone call? Possibly. Probably.

What had she been doing? He hadn't even asked. Outside the club, the Inspector had said. Was she out for a smoke? Had she started another fight? Harry was pugnacious at best, when that intoxicated. At worst, she was as indiscriminately violent as their father had been.

It crosses John's mind, razor-edged in guilt, that he had thought more than once that she might end up like this;  paying for her addiction in coin other than the tatters of her marriage, and he's stricken to realize that he's glad it wasn't a car accident, that there are no innocents involved. Harry has always been destined to go down in flames;  he's lectured her about it for years.

John castigates himself over the occasional hope in the past that something bad would happen; just damaging enough to make her want to clean up. He'd wished, a formless desire, taboo and unspoken, that she'd be in a smashup where she'd be sufficiently hurt to stay in hospital long enough to detox. Or that she'd get a jail stint more severe than overnight. He'd even considered that a mugging, as she staggered the streets late at night, would serve.

Just... an event that would teach her something.

But he'd never wanted this.

If he'd stayed at the club.... If only he hadn't stormed off, disgusted with her behavior.... If he'd been there, could she be alive right now? Drunk and obnoxious, yes, but breathing? Could he have prevented it? This kind of thought is unhealthy, he knows, but is also aware that it will haunt him forever. He left her there, both of them angry, and now she'll never come home.  He digs his fingernails into the wrist of his shaking hand, tries to ground himself.  Wants to punish himself.  His toes curl inside his heavy boots.

Sherlock’s muttering runs over him like static, the occasional word breaking through:  ‘Moriarty’, ‘kidnapping’, ‘murder’.  Jesus.

Sherlock’s pacing is infuriating, his self-absorption deeply repugnant, his very presence in the room an affront.  “Shut up,” John hisses.  John’s skin is so thin he’s nothing but a raw, agonized nerve.  He leaps to his feet, skin crawling. “Shut.  Up.” He moves so that he is in the way when Sherlock reaches the arc of his pacing.

Sherlock still wears his coat, and it wings open at his sudden stop, inches from crashing into John, revealing an unexpected stripe of skin, bone-pale and vulgar with nascent bruising.  Sherlock’s wild eyes drill into John, and he looms close, clasping John’s shoulders loosely between his hands.  Bare toes press up against the sides of John’s boots.

“John.”

John snarls at him, and knocks his hands away with more force than necessary.

Sherlock’s eyes flicker across him in a disjointed, thoughtful kind of way, but then glue themselves back to John’s, chalcedony and bright. “This must be connected, John.  A break-in, the theft of my lamp, attempted  kidnapping and now murdering your sister -- that strains probability.”

John chokes when Sherlock casually includes murdering your sister with his list of events.

“It.  Must be.  Connected,” John repeats, through tightly clenched teeth. He leans forward aggressively, shoves his face up into Sherlock's space, and feels satisfaction when Sherlock falters, hums with malicious pleasure at the confusion that momentarily clouds his expression.

“John?” Sherlock sounds puzzled and nervous.

John steps forward, forcing Sherlock's retreat, crowds in until they are chest to chest with Sherlock backed up against the desk. “You're saying that my sister is dead-” he seizes Sherlock just above his elbows and viciously constricts his grip. He wants to leave red marks. He wants to leave bruises. He wants to crush those narrow bones into grit. He shakes the genie, and he's growling like an animal. “She's dead... because of you?  Because of your fucking lamp?

Sherlock's eyes are very wide, and colorless now. There is no color to him at all. Even the henna is gray. “Yes,” he says. “I don't think it was coincidence. She was a... tool.  A means to an end.

“But John. John. I know you've thought something like this would eventually happen. And you didn't even like her.  Not for years. It's part of the plan to get the lamp.  It’s only logical-”

John shouts, no words, just an brutish explosion of denial and rage, and he flings Sherlock away so hard that he has to scrabble at the desk to remain upright; and John lifts his arm, clenching his fist.

Sherlock recoils, throws his own arm up in front of his face, and tucks his head behind his hunched shoulder.

This is the man who took on five others earlier in the night, with fierce joy and no fear.

Cowering on a desk.

They remain, a frozen tableau, for shatterable, crystalline seconds, and John suddenly perceives himself as an observer might, and is suffused with shame and disgust. Stiffly, he uncurls his fingers;  the muscles of his arm feel balky and old. “She is my sister, you bastard. My sister. You think that's the same as losing a bloody lamp?

Sherlock lowers his own arm, but remains canted over the desk. His eyes are blown wide, but nothing moves except his chest, pumping panted air through open lips. “I know it isn’t,” he says softly, at last.

John turns away, and he's drained. He's rubbery and weak and hollow and he hates himself. “I'm sorry,” he breathes on an exhale, suddenly exhausted with the flood of emotion.  He walks to the window and leans his forehead against the cold glass. It fogs under his breath, and perhaps that is why the street below is so blurry.

After all, it is not Sherlock who has killed his sister. It is not his fault.

Jesus, and John had almost hit him. Like a wounded animal, striking out at the nearest target. John, who likes to think of himself as a protector and a healer. He holds indisputable power over the genie. He is, whether acknowledged or not, the Master in this farcical fairytale relationship, and he knows that is why Sherlock cringed away rather than fighting back.

And really, that hardly makes him any better than Moriarty was, does it? With a word, or a gesture, or probably even a thought, John can banish Sherlock back to the lamp. Can make him... do things. Can utterly control him. And look what he's done.

When he turns around, Sherlock has moved to the other side of the desk, and at that defensive maneuver, John is filled with self-contempt. “I'm sorry,” he says again, holding his hands away from his sides, palms up, fingers outstretched, to demonstrate that he's not going to hit.

Sherlock gives a little nod and seems to relax a bit. “I made you angry,” he states.

John snorts, and feels a little of the weight and darkness lift from him.

“Are you better now?” Sherlock asks.  He sculpts his face into mordancy and raises a sardonic eyebrow, as if chastising John for his base lack of control;  but pulls his coat closed over his chest, as if to add another layer of armor.

John shrugs and rolls his head to the side, neck popping loudly. “Yes. No. I don't know, Sherlock. I mean. No! Harry's dead, and-” he doesn't have anywhere to go with that and just lets it fade, thin and drifting, absorbed into the tension of the flat.  The silence stretches, brittle and fraught.

John words stumble, slow and muted, over the uneven percussion of his heart. “If it's just because of your lamp. If that's why -- Then it's because I wanted you here. With your... stupid pants and your... dumb eyes. And the dancing, for god's sake. And I. Because I was lonely and pathetic. If that's why she died...” John just stops, and stares at the floor between his feet, face flaming, and hands constantly cycling into fists.

Sherlock moves silently to him on bare feet, and tentatively guides him back to the sofa. “Don’t be like this, John  I know it...   I know you...”  he stutters to a halt, and sinks down beside John; his hands knead his own thighs in a distressed fashion.  “While I fear I may have inadvertently brought this upon you...”

John shakes his head, once, sharply.  “Don’t.”  It can’t be, because Sherlock is the best thing, perhaps, that’s ever happened to him.  And Harry’s life cannot, cannot be the price he has to pay for that.  “What if I... Could a wish bring her back?” he asks slowly.

Sherlock’s eyebrows come together, and his mouth turns down in clear denial.  

And John knows the answer to this.  They’ve even talked about it.  It’s impossible.  And furthermore, he is aware he probably wouldn’t have chosen it anyway;  he shamefully tucks that last secret, ugly thought far into the back of his mind. Because making any wish means he would lose Sherlock.  And if it ever came to a choice between Sherlock and Harry... .  He doesn’t want to damn himself by thinking of it.

Sherlock watches him silently for a moment, lips parted to speak, but decides to hold back his comment.  The air is thick with quiet turmoil.  Dazed and lost, John stares determinedly into Sherlock’s eyes, swallowed in his pupils.  If only he could stay here, drink in solace and affection.  

But he is likely projecting that, he tells himself sourly.  Seeing what he wants to see, no more.  Sherlock confirms that when he next opens his mouth.  

He leaps to his feet in a flurry of coattails and stalks a few short arcs around the room before stopping and bouncing frenetically on his toes, hands fidgeting with the flaps over his pockets.  “John,” he says.  “We should not tarry. We need to figure out if it's Moriarty.  (How can it possibly be Moriarty?)  Did he kill your sister?  Perhaps the body will tell us--”

John cuts him off with a sharp twitch of his shoulder.  “Stop,” he says.  But it’s weary rather than furious.  He stares at the tiny silver box on the coffee table, winking cheerily in the firelight.  The tumbled pile of ancient clothes, shoes and gleaming box of powdered lead remain where Sherlock dumped them, eons ago, before the phone call. John feels a sudden, sharp sensation of guilt.  This collection represents a clear and menacing taunt:  the fusty outfit that Sherlock had worn on the fateful day of his entrapment in the lamp, the sneering reminder of the lead that Sherlock thought had killed Moriarty.

John is reeling from the news about his sister, and has every right to be, but he recognizes that it doesn't give him leave to blame or abuse Sherlock for being engrossed with his missing lamp.  The lamp is only the manifestation of a greater loss:  security, stability and freedom inasmuch as he can have it.  His calamity is potentially as great as, if not quite parallel to, losing a sister.  Possibly worse, really, if he considers the ramifications of being snatched and enslaved again.

Sherlock follows his gaze, and his face twists and darkens. Quick as a snake, he bends, his arm flashes out, and the whole ensemble goes flying to the side, landing haphazardly on the floor halfway across the room. The little silver box clatters and remains stubbornly closed.

“Let’s go.”  Sherlock pulls John off the sofa. He marches him the few steps to the door and begins to stuff him into his coat.  “Let’s go see your sister.”

And John lets himself be steered out the door and thence into a cab, when summoned, only coming out of his little trance when Sherlock brusquely asks him for the address given to him by the D.I. from the Met.  

“Nine Prescot Street.” John glances at long, dirty feet sprawled on the nasty floormat of the cab, and is bemused.  His gaze travels up to his companion’s face.

Sherlock looks distinctly roughed up.  Bruises show stark on his forehead and jaw, and slow-oozing blood is forming a scab that’s too big for the cut on his temple.  His lower lip is split and swollen and his hair is wildly tousled, still anomalously scattered with flashing little jewels.  His coat is buttoned to the chin, scarf snugly wrapped around his neck.  Bracelets rattle under the cuffs, but below that are naked calves and bare feet darkly streaked with grime and blood.

“You’re barefoot,” John points out, stupidly.

“Yes,” Sherlock drawls, sarcastic.  “Lost my slippers in the fight.”

John knows better than to ask why Sherlock hasn't dressed himself in the clothes left in exchange for the lamp. “But.  Why didn’t you change in the flat?  Into clothes from the lamp--”  He waves a vague hand to indicate magic.

Sherlock makes a frustrated noise.  “John, you’re not thinking. I know you’re upset, and your brain isn’t working as optimally as it can, even given its natural limitations. But surely you realize that I can’t get to the lamp. This is it. Nothing else from the lamp. If I go, if I access it... I’m trapped. The lamp has a new owner: and it’s not you. I'm only here with you now because I was elsewhere at the time they took it.” His hand twitches and his mobile mouth contorts in frustration. “I could use a smoke,” he grumbles.  But of course no long filter appears between his nervous fingers.

John looks at the genie, nude under the coat save for some jewelry and a pair of sheer trousers.  “We’ll find an Oxfam,” he says, looking foolishly around as if one will be on the next corner, and open at 2am.

Sherlock purses his lips and pyramids his fingers;  he gazes dismissively through the window.  “Not important right now, John.”

John draws in a breath to argue that it is important.  He’s quite sure there’s a rule against being barefoot and half-naked in a morgue.  But... his mind touches on Harry, cooling and still and dead... and he figures they’ll be allowed in no matter how they’re dressed.

Instead, he sits quietly, and the window reflects back his memories of Harry.

Although she had been truly awful tonight, and honestly, had been for many years, the thoughts flooding his head present her other side.  The teasing, laughing older sister she had been:  clumsily patching him up when he was hurt, pouring milk for his cereal, bravely standing next to him in front of their raging father.

He remembers an incident in his early teens, one of the first dates he’d ever had.  He’d biked with the girl to the discount movies (he’d picked Indiana Jones) and they ate hot dogs in the lobby.  John thought it had been fantastic.  But Sammy Jo, heartless with the casual acid of adolescent girls, spent the following week laughing to everyone at school about the pathetic excursion, disparaging both his wealth and his taste.  John was mortified.  Harriet tracked Sammie down and although she never told John exactly what had happened, Sammie became abruptly and mysteriously mum after that, denying that she ever said any such thing.  John’s dating life had slowly improved.

And that relationship with his sister --  two neglected kids, fighting for each other -- that had gone both ways.  John got in plenty of scraps for Harry as well, defending her right to go out with whatever sex she chose, even though slut, freak and lesbo were among the nicer names she got called.

Even when her life began to unravel under the poison of liquor, John still loved her.  They didn't say it, didn’t show it -- there were no hugs or sentimental words -- but this imperfect familial relationship was all they had in the world, and John was warmly happy when Harry settled down with Clara.

Alcohol is a demon, however, and Harry was losing this one battle, out of all those her bellicose nature hurtled her into.  It made John so angry:  angry and helpless.  He could hardly bear to be around her anymore, witnessing Imposter Harry -- Drunk Harry -- take over his sassy, clever sister’s life.  

But there was never anything he could do to stop that, and it had been a relief to go to Afghanistan and stop trying.  He’d avoided her as much as possible since then, her toxic presence was steel wool on the wounded spirit with which he’d returned from battle.



They enter through the A&E, the only entry open at this hour, and Sherlock’s attire is not drastically dissimilar to anyone else’s there, dressed as they are in pajamas, or night club clothes, or jackets painted in blood or vomit.  A child moans, clutching a pillow to her belly, white-faced and scared, and her parents hover.  She is quickly escorted back, which is good, John considers, as she’s probably well on the way to a burst appendix.  She is barefoot too, he notices.

When John gives his name to the harried nurse at reception, a slight little man is beckoned over.  He solemnly shakes John’s hand.

“Dimmock,” he introduces himself.  “Detective Inspector in Homicide.”

“Dr. John Watson,” John replies, feeling detached and surreal in the familiar surroundings of Barts.  “And this is Sherlock...” he doesn’t know how to finish the introduction, so lets it trail off.  He thinks of the bare feet.  “He’s with me....” To provide emotional backup, is what he means, but he can’t choke that out.  Can’t admit that he needs it.  Also, he isn’t entirely sure if that’s why Sherlock is here:  curiosity, yes, and the need to put together pieces of a puzzle.  But something as mundane and human as comfort, John’s not so sure.

Dimmock is small, giving the appearance of a child in adult’s clothing.  His face is smooth and bland, although his eyes are sympathetic, and John wonders how often this scenario plays out in his work week.  He offers to shake Sherlock’s hand as well, but Sherlock just stares intently at him, eyes roaming from head to toe, and then turns his attention back to the waiting room.  Dimmock looks briefly disconcerted, but indicates that John should follow him.  “This way, please.”

He doesn’t offer platitudes, and John doesn't know if he’s grateful or miffed.  He’s done the same thing, of course:  being a doctor means that there are times when you have to break bad news to family, and it’s an art that Dimmock hasn’t mastered.  John walks down the hall as if the very air were viscous, and he has to push through it for each step.  Sherlock is soundless beside him, and John feels the brush of an arm against his own, brief and noncommittal.  He decides to interpret it as reassurance.

They know where the morgue is, of course,  It’s been not quite two days since they’ve been there.  The young woman from the other day is there as well.  Molly, was it?  She looks wrinkled and tired, as if a long shift had suddenly expanded exponentially.  Her gaze skips over Dimmock and John and latches onto Sherlock.  “Oh,” she squeaks, surprised.  “Hello.  It’s you again!”  Sherlock stares at her, expressionless, and she flushes to the roots of her mousy hair.  “Ah.  Yes.  Why--?”  She finally notices John, and then looks at Dimmock as well, and John can see pieces falling into place in her head.  “Oh.  Oh!  Wait-- are you?”  Her fingers over her mouth, she just waits, staring at Sherlock with very wide eyes.

“John is here to identify his sister,” Sherlock says impatiently, when no one else answers quickly enough.  “We were told she was murdered earlier this evening.”

John makes a sound, he can’t help himself, it escapes like a smaller version of the puff of air that comes out upon a physical blow.  It hurts, it really does hurt, to hear those words.  Sherlock tilts his head at him, seems confused.  Not good? he telegraphs with a turned down corner to his mouth and a guilty cast to his eyes.  John looks down, shifting his jaw back and forth.  Bit not good, is the obvious response.

Sherlock steps closer, the hem of his coat swinging against John’s legs.  He says nothing more, just stands there, and John takes some comfort in the faint, brief contact.

Molly bites her lip at John for a moment, brown eyes swimming in sympathy, and then turns to the slab behind her.  There is a black body bag on it, zipped shut, and she waits, hand on the zipper, looking at John.  “Are you ready?” she asks, sweet and clumsy.

John straightens until he’s in rigid military posture, hands stiff by his sides, head up and eyes straight ahead.  He dips his head in an abbreviated nod and moves to stand across the table from her.  Sherlock follows, close by his shoulder, and his presence is warm and solid.  John consciously, silently, lets out all the air in his lungs as Molly pulls the zipper down, because he doesn’t want any material there so that he cannot suddenly shout, or cry.

The edges of the bag part.  It seems so slow, but the online function of his brain knows that is only his interpretation.  Molly is not prolonging this.  The black plastic opens like theater curtains, drawn back by the velvet ropes of Molly’s small hands, and the face that is revealed...

… The face that is revealed is not what he was expected.

It is not Harry.  Not Harry’s blond hair, nor the nose she curses that is so similar to his own.  This face is not lined with hard living, and is not defiantly clear of makeup.  John rocks back on his heels, dizzied for a second, and he braces one hand on the cold metal of the table for support.

Sherlock scoffs.  “That is not Harry Watson,” he says immediately.  “It is her girlfriend Melissa.”

Chapter Text

“That is not Harriet Watson. It is her girlfriend Melissa.”

“What?” Dimmock says, caught completely off guard.  

John is silent, so stunned that he can’t think what emotion to feel:  relief, shock, anger, sorrow....

Sherlock repeats, “This woman is not Harry Watson.  John?”

John slowly shakes his head, feels the grating of cervical vertebrae and muscle that has been held with such fearful tension for the past half hour.  “No,” he confirms.  “It’s Melissa.  Um.  I don’t know her last name.  Not my sister.”

Sherlock reaches into the bodybag, and gently touches the side of Melissa’s head, turning it left, then right.  There is a sickening gape in her throat, slit deeply, viciously open, although the blood has been cleaned away.  Her head rolls easily under Sherlock’s guidance... no rigor mortis yet, so dead less than 3 hours... and the motion causes the chasm in her throat to move and flex like a grotesque mouth.

Bile rises hot and swift to the back of John’s throat, and he has to struggle to impose his Army doctor persona over that of the brother, flayed raw by guilt and worry.  As everyone assimilates this new information, Sherlock pulls away the bag some more and begins to lift and examine Melissa’s arms and hands, unperturbed by the fact that he is handling a nude, recently warm, dead body.  John swallows hard and diligently focuses on the hesitant D.I.

“Not your sister.”  Dimmock repeats.  He is not very quick on the uptake, it seems.  Molly stands there, gloved hands an inch away from her mouth, shocked and fascinated.  Her eyes dart between John, who feels brittle and distant, and Sherlock, who is rapidly moving down Melissa’s body, pushing the bodybag to the side as he does.  Her puzzled gaze lingers on his feet, on the uncovered calves visible under the swing of his coat;  however, in spite of obvious concern and confusion, she doesn’t say anything.

“But,” Dimmock complains.  “The bank card.  The keys.  There’s a health club ID on the keyring that says Harry Watson.  The name on her shirt says Watson.”

“And yet,” Sherlock interrupts, posh accent brimming with disdain, “She is not Watson.  So that question is answered.  The next question is...” he looks up and waits for anyone to jump in there and fill in the blank.  No one does, and Sherlock gusts a showy, frustrated sigh.  “Where is the real Harry Watson, then?”

John jerks and quickly fumbles his phone from his pocket, dialing up one of the three numbers he has in his contacts list (Harry, Mike and his therapist).  It goes straight to voicemail, and he shakes his head at Dimmock while leaving a brief, urgent message for Harry to call him.

Dimmock looks back at Sherlock and suddenly seems to realize that a ragged, half-dressed man is pawing ungloved at his corpse.  “Oi,” he protests.  “Don’t touch it.”

Sherlock looks up and narrows his eyes, which is as telling as a good adolescent eye roll.  “Don’t tell me you have been trained as a forensics analyst or a coroner,” he begins.  “You’re not even noticeably qualified to be an inspector, evidenced by such baseless assumptions about the identity-”

Dimmock finds a bit of backbone.  “No.  Stop.  You stand back.  Both of you.  Actually, Dr. Hooper, you can cover her back up.”  Molly steps forward and apologetically rearranges the bag;  the zipper is loud in the echoing room as Melissa’s desecrated body is hidden from view.

“Well.  I’m sorry to have called you down here,” Dimmock says to John.  He seems painfully awkward and stiff with embarrassment and anger.  “Do you have any information on this woman, then?”

John shakes his head again, snapping from a fugue of confusion and worry back into the present; into this very real space, occupied by these very solid people, even the dead one.  The dead one who is not his sister.  It’s as if what he’s been drawing into his lungs for the last 40 minutes hasn’t been air, but now suddenly he can breathe... and Harry isn’t dead.  She’s a drunk, and she’s an arsehole, and she’s not dead.  And John can’t even hate himself, in this moment, for his relief that it’s Melissa, and not Harry in that bag.

“I, uh,” he dredges through his interactions with the poor woman earlier in the evening, trying to think of anything useful.  “She said she went on leave about... a week and a half ago?  She’s in the Army.  Ah.  I imagine that if you take off that 'Watson' tag you’ll likely find her real name under it.  They met at the gym you’ve got the card for.  Um.  That's all I've got. You’ll have to find Harry to get more, I’m afraid.”

“You may be sure that we will,” Dimmock snaps.  He takes Harry’s number and address, and John and Sherlock leave; Sherlock with a longing look at the bodybag, and Molly with a longing look at Sherlock.

The woman at the desk dials up a cab for them, and John and Sherlock wait under the awning, both of them shivering in the unrelenting cold. “Sherlock, I'm going to send you home in this one,” John says when the black car pulls up. “I'll get another: I’m going out to Harry's flat.  But you should go home.”

He means because Sherlock has no clothes.

Sherlock skewers him with his eerily pale stare, the fluorescents of the entryway painting his skin an unnerving fungal green and washing the tint from his eyes.  “Harry is not at her flat, John.  You know she isn’t.  A brash woman with a power complex like that would always go to her liaison’s home in order to dominate and mark that territory.  She needs to prove herself all the time, doesn’t she? Also, she’s not very trusting.  It’s obvious that one of your parents was occasionally abusive when you were children … likely while under the influence of drink.  You and she have the ‘us against them’ solidarity that speaks of the need to band together for survival in your formative years.  She wouldn’t invite a stranger into her home, although she’s comfortable enough fornicating with one.”

His delivery is staccato, enunciation crisp, and his breath forms smoke signal puffs in the air as he speaks.  He fishes his leather gloves from his coat pocket and smooths them over thin fingers.  “I know you’re worried about her, but there’s nothing to be done until she makes contact, as we don’t know the woman with whom she left.”

Sherlock ends the discussion by sliding into the cab. John follows, frowning and unsettled.

They are silent on the way home.  John pays the cabbie when they get back to their new flat.  £20.  Christ.   20 pounds, and they could have walked.  He guiltily looks down at Sherlock’s cold, abused feet.  No, no.  Of course they couldn’t have walked.  But he’s abruptly aware of the fact that their income is composed solely of his pension once again.  No more pawning magically regenerating precious stones and metals.  They will likely have to move back to a bedsit, if they want to stay in London.

As Sherlock pulls the key from the pocket of his greatcoat, John is unexpectedly swamped in a black waterfall of distress; he's overwhelmed and buffeted and there’s simply too much to take in.  He pinches the bridge of his nose and squeezes his eyes shut, concentrating on slow, deep breathing to stave off a panic attack. The perception that his life is utterly out of his control, that he's no more than a twig in a raging river, leaves him literally staggering, and he grabs onto the door frame as he passes through. But he fights through it, closing a door he can't see, turning blindly up the stairs, putting one foot above the other and just breathing, breathing, breathing and shaking... until he's reached the top, and the world comes into focus once again.

His brain is spinning.

In barely a week his life has been turned completely upside down.  It had been gray and hopeless before, and not necessarily worth the trouble of maintaining breath and a beating heart.  It had been cripplingly lonely and bleak.

And in this surreal, brief period, he has come to life again, with the ferocity of a long-numbed limb recovering in an endless flare of pins and needles. There has been color, and life and yearning. Stimulation. The edge of danger, the thrill of which he'd never thought to balance on again.  He’d begun establishing a connection with someone, and feeling hope about the future.

And the last two or three hours has utterly obliterated all of that.

Finding Sherlock outside the club, surrounded by ruthless men and yet struggling successfully against them, bold and strong, had been, quite frankly, exhilarating.  But what followed....

What followed was like getting shot all over again, and John feels the same hypnagogic disorientation that had subsumed him then, as he’d fought the numberless days of fever succeeding his wounding. His concern is depleting him: the shock of his sister's 'murder' and current unknown whereabouts eating at his equilibrium. What is happening with Harry?  Is she dead right now?  In danger?  Simply out of touch? Is it somehow John’s fault? He is filled with repulsion and anger at seeing what has been done to Melissa, and guilt at his relief that it didn't happen to Harry.

And on top of this chaos of deleterious emotions, he doesn’t even know how to respond to the theft of Sherlock’s lamp... doesn’t even fully realize what the loss entails:  money, sure, but that’s manageable, that’s minor; instant wardrobe changes, again, small stuff.  Is this the end of his time with Sherlock?  Of whom the least can be said that he’s the catalyst back to the land of living for John?

What does losing Sherlock mean for John?  For Sherlock?  He’s only just begun to accept that Sherlock... actually is what he said he is.

They have entered the living room, and Sherlock pulls off his scarf, the tail of it flicking John near the eye, and slips out of his coat; he doesn't check, but thrusts it carelessly behind him, expecting that John will be there to hang it up, which he does mechanically, alongside his own.

John notes a boot-shaped bruise coming up on his lower back.  He involuntarily puts his hand forward, hovering over purpling skin, but Sherlock whirls obliviously away and flings himself out on the sofa with a stifled groan of discomfort.

John looks around the flat and pulls the gun from his pocket, saying quietly, “I’m going to check the flat.  Stay here.”

Sherlock looks mildly derisive and says, “Don’t bother John.  No one’s here.  They got what they wanted.”

John does not say, “Obviously they didn’t, because they don’t have you.”

Regardless of Sherlock’s prediction, John obeys the dictates of his training, and sweeps each room, vigilant and thorough.

The flat is empty.

In a few minutes he is back in the living room, standing near the sofa.  Sherlock is stretched out full length, in nothing but his gray trousers.  One hand toys with his lip, and the other arm is laid across his eyes.  His ribs are slightly arched, thrown into relief by the stretch, and John’s professional eye assesses the bruising and gooseflesh distorting the rusty henna tattoos.

“You’re going to freeze to death like that.” John snaps his mouth shut, completely surprised by the words that came out.  “I mean...” His eye falls on the disordered jumble of clothes that had been scattered on the floor. He doesn't imagine Sherlock would abide wearing that ancient ensemble, no matter how cold the flat. He surprises himself with an intense, possessive fury at the thought that Sherlock might.  

Not because it would mean that John no longer has a half-naked genie in his flat, but because it would imply that Sherlock belongs to someone else.  To the last man with whom he'd worn those clothes. Someone malicious and cruel who had demonstrably hurt him many times and should in no way be allowed to touch Sherlock ever again.

John swallows, a rude gulping sound that ripples into the silence in the room.

Sherlock languidly removes his arm and opens his eyes, so clear and piercing and argent;  like holes torn through space, like searing starlight.  

“Start a fire,” he suggests laconically.

John presses his lips together, but turns nonetheless and does as suggested.  It is gas, with fake logs.  John finds the flue and the valve key and the box of matches on the mantle.  He wonders briefly if Sherlock tried, perhaps, and if he’s been foiled by the modern technology.  Or maybe this particular arrangement has been there since the 80s. Doesn't matter. He doesn't mind doing it anyway.

The flames lick, orange and yellow and comforting, in spite of their less than organic origin, and John kneels there, allowing himself a moment to relax and go blank.  But he doesn’t take more than a few seconds, shoving to his feet and turning around.

Sherlock is staring at him. “John.  I know why Melissa was killed.”

John feels his whole system stop, and then jolt into gear again;  off rhythm, out of sync.  “What?” he asks.  “How-”

Sherlock bounces up and sits on the sofa arm, facing John, folding his knees up like a gargoyle, and rests his fidgeting hands on his feet, toying with a toe, tapping his thumb on his anklebone.  John stares for a minute at those long, slender appendages.  The meandering patterns of henna are brutally interrupted and obscured with evidence of the struggle at the club.  Besides mild bruising apparently derived from battling barefoot, and those on top of the foot, scattered and ugly, there are abrasions and one lurid haematoma from being stomped on rising to the surface.  John makes a note to get some ice on that;  swelling in the feet, with its narrow cluster of fragile bones, is no picnic.  There are small cuts on the edges and, he imagines, on the bottom as well, acquired via running across sharp gravel.

“Wait,” he says, snagging the flannel abandoned on the table from before they got the phone call and heading for the kitchen. “Let me take care of that while you tell me.”  

He rinses out old blood and grabs ice as Sherlock says, “Melissa had your name, your sister’s name, on her uniform, didn’t she, John?”

John comes back to see that the medkit is still on the little table from earlier, when John hadn’t had time to use it on the cut on Sherlock’s temple.  “Yes,” he says, standing at Sherlock’s shoulder, tipping his head back to the light.  “Go on.” He presses the damp cloth against the dried blood on Sherlock’s temple to soften it up, holding that brilliant brain clasped between his two hands.  Sherlock makes a soft noise, but does not pull away.

“So she was identified as Watson right there for all to see,” Sherlock continues, irritably pushing at the flannel as it drips down his cheek. “And your sister called her Watson at least three separate times, very loudly, while they argued at the bar, poking that same nametag whilst she did. Anyone would have assumed Melissa was actually Watson.”

“I didn't think of that,” John says slowly. One hand is cupped under Sherlock’s jaw, and John feels him swallow before beginning to speak, and he tells himself it is not a caress when he slides his hand back, under Sherlock’s ear, half on his neck, half in his hair.  Sherlock lets him take the weight of his head, staring at him with his intense eyes, and John is somewhat dismayed by this enormously inappropriate timing; for he is thinking about the warmth of skin underneath cool silky hair, and his body is remembering the frantic and satisfying chaos of need and satiation in the club, the slick of hot skin under his hands, the almost painful edge of desire swooping through his body - his cock - and the shuddering, pliant mass of Sherlock, limp and heavy on top of him in the aftermath, smelling of sweat and rust and sex.

So John stands frozen, lost in that memory, and Sherlock twitches an eyebrow, as if he knows what John is thinking (he probably does) and continues, “The detective mentioned that Melissa had three other items belonging to your sister:  a bankcard, a keycard for their gym, and the keys to Harry’s car and flat.”

John takes a harsh breath and comes back to himself, back to a present that is not so much about lust and physical joy as it is about dread.  He remembers Harry shouting invectives at him because he had sent her girlfriend home with Harry’s belongings.  John had thought it drearily ironic at the time:  well-deserved retribution.  He chews on the inside of his cheek as he grabs ointment from his kit, carefully coating the laceration and covering it with a plaster.

“In the club, you spent significantly more time with Melissa than you did with Harry.”  Sherlock’s voice is blurred and muffled as John holds the flannel to his split lip.  “You talked to her, she... embraced... you.  You got her a drink and gave her money for the cab.  Whereas to Harry, you were either hostile or evasive.”

“Alright,” John says slowly.  “I can see why someone might assume that out of the two, it was Melissa that was my sister.”  He sits down, and pulls one of Sherlock’s feet into his lap, swiping at the grime that has mixed with dribbles of blood to become black and scabby.  Sherlock doesn’t so much as twitch, showing no sign of discomfort, and offers no resistance as John examines the damage.  It is wide-ranging, but all of it fairly mild, and John concentrates only on cleaning and disinfecting, turning the frangible limb in mindful hands, and traces his thumb lingeringly along the instep as he finishes, oddly soothed by the contact.  “You think someone wanted to murder Harry Watson.  Specifically Harry.  And that they were watching me in order to identify her.  And this has something to do with you and the lamp and... all this.”  His gesture encompasses the haphazard pile of clothes on the floor.

“Yes.”  Sherlock lifts a hand to fist in his hair, tugging sharply.  His eyes flash up before dropping back to John’s careful probing.  He hums, almost inaudibly, as John applies a single plaster to his foot, taking the other up in his hands.

This one is worse, henna almost entirely eclipsed by dirt and bruising, haematoma vivid over the metatarsal.  John manipulates it to check for compression fractures, but although Sherlock’s breath catches, he thinks it is simply the result of a heavy boot coming down on unprotected and vulnerable feet.  John feels a simmering rage at those who had dared to go after what his primitive self identifies as his.  Sherlock is his.  His genie.  His friend.  His to protect, and to care for.

These thoughts sift through his head, but his hands remain gentle, practical and trained, cleaning away dirt.  The henna, he is interested to see, does not fade or disappear under his ministrations.

“You asked earlier, John, if a wish could bring her back.  We’ve had this discussion, of course, and you knew already that the answer was no.”  Sherlock peers at John’s lowered eyes;  he can feel the heat of that scrutiny burrowing through his forehead as he keeps his face stubbornly down, over Sherlock’s foot.  “If it had been Yes.  If there was something I could have done...”  Sherlock pauses, and John glances up through his lashes to catch uncertainty flare across the unique features before they are schooled into impassivity once again.  “If it had been possible, John, and if it had been your sister.  What would you have done?”

John’s hands tighten involuntarily, and Sherlock jolts, grunting at the pressure over traumatized flesh.  John guiltily loosens his grip, pushes the foot away and leaps up; jitters over to stare at the fire.  “I.  I don’t.  That’s not really a fair question, Sherlock.”  His fists are balled at his sides, and his lungs feel calcified, and he feels adrenaline rising to the surface, stores not depleted after all.  He can only take short, sharp breaths.  

“That’s not fair,” he says again.  Because it isn’t.  Because he is fully aware that if he made the wish, Sherlock would vanish.  Even before the lamp had been stolen, Sherlock would have vanished. Mrs. Hudson had tried, and yet she couldn’t keep him after she made her wish.  And what John wants more than anything is to keep him.  Wants to keep Sherlock, and all his energy, vivacity and fervor.  The fierce fascination John feels for him far exceeds lust and is dangerously out of the bounds of friendship.  He’s never felt as connected to another being as he does with Sherlock, and the panic of losing him abrades the social indoctrination of a lifetime, which demands that if he can save his sister’s life, than he should do so.

He whirls and growls at Sherlock.  “I don’t know,” he says at last.

Sherlock hesitates, and then says, quiet, but very steady. “John. You can wish to know where she is.  Right now. I can do that. It is within my power.” He sucks in a quick breath, as if to continue speaking, but instead stops abruptly. His base-level fidgeting has stilled, and he watches John intently.

Ah, jesus. John stares down at the fire and saws his teeth against each other, back and forth, grating and grounding. A part of him cries out in vexation. What did he do to deserve being put in this position? Why does it seem as if he was given Heaven, but the fine print all spelled Hell? He leans an arm on the mantle and clicks his thumbnail against that of his index finger: click, click, click.

“No,” he says finally. And with that one world, his entire body relaxes. “No. It's not worth the risk.  I think you're right, that she's with that ginger.  The risk.  I can’t...”

When he turns around, Sherlock’s eyes are wide and glow brightly green in the dim light of the fire and a single floor lamp:  they are so feline and alien.  And addictive.  Sherlock wets his lips, and John is drawn to study the pink bow, the shadow of a crisply defined philtrum and patrician nose.

“Alright.”  Sherlock says.  “Well, that's fine then.” His voice is flat, but his body broadcasts relief, shoulders relaxing, and hands running briskly along his shins, curling protectively around his toes. “However, it is a reasonable assumption that whoever stole the lamp could have predicted that you would respond by making a wish: what if they think that you would immediately wish for Harry to be alive, unhurt and safe?” He cocks his head at John, and his eyes burn into him, magnetic, and John has to stop striding the small room and come stand in front of the genie once more.  

“What would have happened?” Sherlock prompts.

“You’d have gone back into the lamp,” John is feeling his way, slow and hazarding the guess, theories pulled out by Sherlock’s vehemence. “Because once you grant my wish, you get sucked back into your lamp.”

Sherlock nods, and John’s world contracts to black pools of pupils, banded with green.  “They would have had me,” he agrees, calm, unemotional.

Suddenly, John is filled with anger, his guilt and agitation lashing out.  He whirls away, kicking at a chair as he does so.  “All this is about you!” he cries.  “You.   Melissa is dead, and it was supposed to be my sister, and it’s because of you!  They.  They tried to kidnap you, and when we got away, they killed Melissa, murdered Melissa, because that was their second chance to draw you out.  Right?  Am I right??”  The rage in him is spilling over, and he actually stalks over and grabs Sherlock, shakes his shoulders.  “That poor girl.  Just trying to have fun on her leave.  Risking her life for freedom in Afghanistan, only to come home and.  Look what happened to her!  She didn’t deserve it.  No one deserves that.”  Ragged breath chokes him, and he sees Melissa, with the sad, shocking slit in her throat, superimposed over Sherlock’s widened eyes and battered face.

“What?  You’re so valuable, so special that it’s worth killing to have you?”  He says this even though not three hours earlier he himself would have happily killed to protect and possess him.

Sherlock’s face freezes, and his body is rigid under John’s grip.  He jerks back. “I am highly valued chattel.  Nothing more,”  he bites out.  “And.  And I am vincible, in this way.  I am compelled... .  There is nothing I can do.”

And behind that waxen, expressionless face radiate waves of pain so intense that John sinks to his knees next to the man, tugging him from his perch on the armrest to the seat, and his hands coast down chilled arms to curl around the leather bands that stop their slide, and his head drops as he lets go of his anger.  Sherlock is right, and of course, none of this is his fault.  There was murder, yes, and it is due to Sherlock, yes.  But only because the goal of the killer was to violate Sherlock, to enslave him again.  

John thinks of the pitiful pile of 18th century clothing on the table behind him, of the taunting box and the threat implicit in its presence, of the centuries of tracking and hatred that is flaunted through their delivery.

And he can imagine the fear that Sherlock must be feeling, concealed though it may be.  Thinks that this is no situation for anyone to endure, and particularly not alone.  He sighs, and his fingers ghost over skin and muscle beneath the hard edge of leather, run down over pointed elbows and jangling bracelets to clasp hennaed hands.  “I’m sorry,” he says.  “I know it’s not your fault.  I’m just....”  He doesn’t finish, but instead plays with slender fingers, rubbing his thumb against the delicate webbing between them.

He pushes to his feet and steps back.  He looks at the clock and it’s nearing 4am.  “We should go to bed.  Harry won’t answer until mid-morning at the earliest, I’m sure.”

Sherlock looks wretched;  tired and beat up.  The dirt and the bruising has dulled his luminous skin;  his jaw softens as he slumps to the side and stretches out again on the cushions, head on one end and feet digging into the other.  He has only the faintest hint of dark stubble under his skin.  His frown makes his chin recede, and John is unexpectedly struck by the notion that he's an ordinary man. Just an ordinary man. Attractive, yes, but as likely as anyone else to be caught in poor light, an unflattering position. An ordinary man, with an uncommon brain, bound in extraordinary circumstances.

John awkwardly clears his throat, and turns around to head for the stairs.  “I’ll just,” he hesitates and twitches a shrug.  “Goodnight, Sherlock.”

He hears a rustle behind him that indicates that Sherlock has shifted and risen, and feels long fingers wrap around his arm.  “Don’t go upstairs, John,” Sherlock says against his hair.  He is not whispering, but his voice is low and rich, and it vibrates through the air until it crawls, hot and provocative inside John’s ear, bypasses his brain to dive directly into his chest.

John slants a look up, into Sherlock’s face over his shoulder.  He thinks of the gun in his pocket, and of the danger Sherlock is in.  It is irresponsible to be so far away as upstairs.  He may be needed.  

Is this what Sherlock is asking for?  Protection?  Is he scared, off balance because of the exposure of his vulnerability?  Or is he asking because they have spent a week nestled in each other’s arms, tangled together like puzzle pieces, slotted pain against pain, bleak loneliness lessened through empathy and physical proximity?  Or is it desire, frustrated lust, the need to finish what began in the cab, only this time on a soft bed, behind locked doors, without spectators?

In the end, Sherlock's motivation doesn’t matter:  John will take what he can get.  He nods, and they silently get ready for bed.  John has fresh clothes in his bag upstairs: a clean vest and pants.  When he gets back down, Sherlock emerges from the bathroom stark naked but for tattoos and ornamentation, hairs on his abdomen ruffled and glistening with the recent application of water.  Cleaning off the crust of semen left there from the Lounge in the night club, John thinks, flushing to his ears.  He brushes past John without meeting his eyes, and John stops in the loo to brush his teeth and clean himself as well, swiping his own smutched belly.   Sherlock’s trousers are gently dripping over the curtain rod, oddly intimate and domestic.  John recalls the vest wadded up in his pocket and pulls out the bedraggled, wrinkled mess.  He soaps and rinses it in the sink, hanging it thoughtfully next to the trousers.

Sherlock is in bed when John comes in, curled on his side, facing the wall;  the duvet is pulled up to his shoulders, showing only the knobs of his neck, and the edge of one ear through his hair.  John switches off the light and climbs in beside him, lying stiffly on his back, unsure of his purpose.  This is the first night they’ve gone to bed at the same time.  Until now, John was always fully asleep when Sherlock nested against him under the covers.

As John lies there, nervous and uncomfortable, he dwells with deep mortification on the scene at the desk earlier, when he'd raised his fist to Sherlock, and the man had cowered back. John knows, in a deeply rooted way, what it feels like to be on the other side of a menacing fist. Knows from his childhood how it feels to be threatened, to feel powerless and afraid. And he also knows, from watching Sherlock during the fight with the kidnappers, that Sherlock could withstand him if he chose.  After all, he'd taken out three men, exhibiting measurable ferocity and skill: one small, crippled pensioner wasn't going to offer too much of a challenge.

So why didn't he stand up for himself? John toys with the notion of affinity, or affection, but drops that thought as the desperate dreams of the delusional:  it can only relate to John's position as Master over the lamp. John wonders, ill at the thought, how often Sherlock has been unable to fight back. How often has he been abused – physically, emotionally … sexually? He's already admitted these things happened – starting with Moriarty and occurring off and on; right until the present, John thinks, sour with shame.

At this point, in six days, John has molested him (no matter whether Sherlock said he was bothered or not John has to call a spade a spade), physically threatened him, and, he realizes bitterly, thinking of the exotic beauty next to him in the bed, continually objectified him.

In spite of the strange circumstances, in spite of Sherlock having no choice but to stay, to accept John's will, that doesn't make it ok.

So. John vows to do better. “Sherlock,” he whispers, digging his fingers into his thighs and staring hard at the ceiling. “Sherlock, I'm sorry.”

There's a faint grumble next to him, and John hears hair slither on the pillow as Sherlock turns his head. There are several beats of silence. “Ah,” Sherlock says at last. “You are feeling guilty over me. Physical violence? Sexual predation? As yet unverbalized fears that the uncivilized part of you is taking advantage of my helplessness?”

John chokes a little, spends some time coughing to cover his surprise. Well. Yes. All these things. Sherlock's amazing brain has enumerated his anguish in mere seconds. Lord knows what he observed to make him come to the correct conclusions. The pacing of John's breath, perhaps. The pattern of movements since he lay down. The flicker of his eyes as he stares at the wall. “Yes,” he admits. Such things are easier to concede when it is late, and dark.  “All that. Sherlock-”

“I've told you before, John,” Sherlock does not sound gruff, although John thinks maybe he is trying to. “Your guilt is tiresome. You think I can't protect myself?” He sounds strangely gentle, actually, and leans up on one elbow to look down at John's face, dimly lit by the glow of unfamiliar street lamps. “John. I've exacted retribution from almost anyone who's ever hurt me. It... takes time.  Sometimes too long.”  Shadows curtain glittering eyes, and John reaches up to hover a hand near his shoulder, showing silent support.  He doesn’t touch, though, and Sherlock continues, “But I'm not helpless. Pardieu. I am smarter than these dullards by orders of magnitude. You think I cannot figure out a way? You are not taking advantage. I would let you know.”

But John recalls the needle scars and thinks he's hearing a varnished version.  However, he does not argue.

Sherlock collapses back onto his pillow with a whoomp. “Now. I'm tired. Go to sleep.”

Five long minutes pass, and John slowly relaxes, exhaustion overriding the awkward climate of moral ambiguity.  Sherlock finally huffs, and rolls over, begins pushing and arranging John, until he’s on his side, playing little spoon, pulled into the curve of Sherlock’s naked body, one arm jammed under his head, and the other curled around his chest.  Bracelets clink together as they are worked under the pillow.

“There,” Sherlock says at last, settling with a sigh that ruffles John's hair and tickles his ear, making him shiver slightly. “I like you here.”

John's heart skips a beat, and he's quite still for a moment. “I like to be here,” he breathes, after a long pause.

John is drowsily ecstatic, and he slumps back into Sherlock’s cool embrace, pulling his top leg forward so that Sherlock can weave his own into the space in between.  The give each other comfort as well as heat, and reaffirm that they have each other, still, in spite of the efforts of an unknown agency;  believing, in order to be able to rest, that they are safe, at least for the duration of the night.

John slips into sleep, warm and surrounded, and does not dream.

Chapter Text

John wakes up slowly the next morning, warm and serene. If he could have, he's sure he'd be purring. His eyes slit open reluctantly, in case it's residual bliss from a dream and John doesn't want to chase it away too quickly. The room is filled with slanted yellow light:  an early hour, then. There's a clock by the bed that reads 8:39.

Long fingers play under his vest, carding through the hair on his chest, and the heated presence at his back is rumbling: Sherlock is voicing his contentment. John murmurs, just to let Sherlock know he's awake, and rocks back a little, pressing acknowledgment into the body behind him, but doesn't move further. He's engaged in the feeling of crisp, sensitive hairs, pushed and pulled against their follicles:  tickling, prickling, teasing. Sherlock's hand flattens, strokes him in a firm sweep from clavicles to belly and back again, and John sighs with pleasure, leans his chest forward into the hard, slim hand.

Curious fingers walk up his sternum and probe his scar before moving down to toy with his nipples, but that's less exciting, and John twists a little to get that dactyl exploration back where he wants it: in the thicket of chest hair. Sherlock huffs at his back, but doesn't argue, only tangles his fingers in and tugs. John shudders, and his cock begins to awaken, growing turgid and heavy, caught in his pants.

Sherlock pulls impatiently at his vest, and John wriggles so that it can be whipped off over his head. He winds up on his back, Sherlock leaning over him on one elbow, the other hand loosely holding both his own against the pillow, over his head. “Good morning, then,” John husks, and grimaces at the rust in his voice. Sherlock's eyebrow goes up, and crinkles fan out from his eyes in a smile that doesn't reach his mouth. He silently drops his head under John’s chin, breathing humid and hot against his skin. He noses little paths hither and yon, relaxed, without intent, and John's breath comes quicker, makes a little sound.

“You like this,” Sherlock observes. He opens his mouth and lips at the sorrel fuzz across John's pectorals, tangling his tongue there, giving little pulls.

John groans, and figures that's answer enough. Sherlock tips his head and licks at a brown nipple, pulling the bud between his teeth in a gentle bite. John continues to pant, but says nothing.

“And this does not arouse you.” Sherlock doesn't seem to judge that statement, just releases John's wrists and moves slowly down his body.

“Yeah. No. Sorry,” John's always felt obscurely embarrassed that he doesn't leap through the ceiling when someone plays with his nipples. As if that makes him sexually inferior or something.

He can feel the movement of a smile against his navel. Sherlock bites gently at the softened belly beneath his mouth, laves a sloppy, wet trail along the arrow of hair, sweeping it all in the wrong direction, and goosebumps flash across John's body. “Ung,” he says, elegantly. God that gets him. How does Sherlock know?

There's a flurry of movement, and then Sherlock is crouched above him, knees to either side of his thighs, duvet a tent over his shoulders. His eyes are turquoise this morning, electric and unique, and his lips are flushed pink from friction. John reaches up, to clasp that angular, alien face in his hands, but Sherlock ducks back down and continues where he broke off, evidently set on combing John's treasure trail with his teeth. John winds his fingers into Sherlock's hair, instead, ignoring the few gems that spill onto his belly.  But he doesn't guide Sherlock's head, only leaves his hands in thick curls.  Sherlock reaches the band of his pants and bites his way over to one hipbone;  disregarding the blatant hint of John jouncing his hips and turning them to follow those amazing lips.

Sherlock sucks a small bruise just inside the iliac crest, and John moans, fingers tightening, body rising. “S-Sh-Sherlock,” he stutters.

But Sherlock leisurely finishes making his mark, and then nimbly edges John's pants down until they're trapping him just below the crown of his erection. Hot breath floods over the sensitive head, and John spasms under the hold Sherlock has on his hips. He is fully hard, cock surging in an effort to meet Sherlock's lips, and with a quick adjustment, Sherlock slides his foreskin fully back, still only breathing against taut skin. He turns his head, and soft curls drag across the glans, and John lurches again. “Jesus,” he breathes. “Fuck. Sherlock. Unghah.”

He brings up his knees, wedging one into the opened vee of Sherlock's legs, and puts his feet on top of Sherlock's, pushing down for leverage, utterly forgetting the bruised and battered state of those long, slender appendages, envisioning only the delicate tracework of henna vining from ankles to toes.  Sherlock starts, is momentarily static, and then grinds down against John’s knee with enthusiasm. John is delighted to feel an answering erection, dragged across the skin of his leg, and recalls with zeal that Sherlock is completely undressed. John can feel the soft skin of his bollocks, the wiry hairs there tangling against those of his leg, the stiff base of his cock.

Sherlock curls down, contorted, the henna patterns on his belly writhing and folding in as he nearly doubles upon himself and laps at the slit of John's erection, sucking in the fluid there and then adding his own, liberally coating thin skin with saliva, and John trembles. “Sherlock. Oh, god. What are you-. Are you going to-. Please.” He releases Sherlock's head, afraid he'll do something rude, like shove it down into his crotch, and grabs hold of ribs instead, high under the arms, reveling in the feeling of whipcord power, of hardness and strength. Sherlock undulates, and that ripple moves through John's hands, and his cock fights against the band of elastic, and John grunts, frustrated. Sherlock licks again, sucking soft kisses on the exposed skin, skipping to the side to nuzzle into John's belly, darting teasing fingers into his pants, slowly lowering them with a sawing motion that is so electrifying that it feels on the edge of too much.

“Sherlock. Sherlock....” John shifts, so he can rub his thigh against Sherlock's full erection. It is awkward, and he's balanced on one hip, body oddly torqued, but Sherlock's gasp and unintentional bite are reward enough. John slides his hands down until he can feel the dip of Sherlock's waist, holds it hard in his hands, squeezing to enjoy the feel of uninterrupted limber muscle writhing under sleek skin, and he helps impose rhythm on Sherlock's maundering grinding. Thus Sherlock ruts against his leg for long moments, sucking erratically on the edge of John's glans, lips brushing insanely across the sensitive frenulum.

Then he breaks away, and pulls John's pants off in a rushed motion, dropping them blindly behind him. The duvet falls away from his shoulders, and catches on his waist, and for a moment they are a tangle of legs and arms and failing balance, and the world spins.  When John knows up from down again, Sherlock is nested between his legs, lips hard against his own.  He worries about his stale mouth, but Sherlock's tongue is wet enough for two and slides in, bossy and assured, and John just relaxes and sucks on it, intoxicated by the weight of Sherlock holding his body down.

Sherlock mutters something into his mouth, but John can't discern the words, is beyond words anyway, and the kiss devolves into something more like a ravenous attack, sharp bites, almost painful suction, fingers pressed adamantly against his jaw. John squirms under Sherlock, clenches his thighs around Sherlock's waist, and thrusts against the hardness he feels there.

Sherlock pulls back and pushes John's head to the side, bites along the line of his jaw, drags his teeth and lips through the heavy morning stubble that textures his face, rasps himself against the scratchy surface like a cat in catnip.  His smooth chest barely brushes the hair of John's, and the twin sensations, one so aggressive, and the other so light, put John on the edge of orgasm, until he's moaning and growling, and curling his fingers hard into whatever part of Sherlock's anatomy he has in his grip.

But Sherlock pushes up, and he's got one hand on each bicep, is holding his whole weight on those two bruising points, and looks at John with ardent, heavy-lidded eyes. His cheeks and jaw are bright red and abraded from John's scruff, and his lips are lush and gorgeous. “Wait,” he pants.

And John wants to roll his eyes and scream in frustration, because this is it, isn't it? This is the point at which Sherlock pulls back, goes cold, changes the subject and ducks out. But he just bites his lip hard, and holds himself very still, ignoring the throbbing of heated blood, because he is not going to be an arse about it. Sherlock has every right to draw any boundaries he pleases, and John clearly remembers swearing to himself only hours ago that he would never take advantage of the man.

But it is hard not to be shaking.

So he lies there, shaping fists in the sheets - punishing the sheets - but tries to smooth out his face, tries to blank it.  “You,” he sinks his fingers into the mattress until his fingernails dig back against their beds.  “You need some space.  Some time,”  he suggests, being preemptive, prophylactic (if he can allow himself the bit of gallows humor).

His gaze is fixed on the bony geometries of Sherlock’s shoulder, and although he knows this conversation will go better if he looks at Sherlock’s face, he cannot bring himself to do so, for fear of seeing rejection, or pity, or disgust.  Perhaps, fear.  All these things are bad.

“John.  I...”  Sherlock’s voice is not angry.  It’s wrecked.  Broken; and John surges up to a sitting position, urging Sherlock back until he’s sitting as well, facing John, seated on his heels.

“Oh, Sherlock.  I’m not going to push.  It’s fine.”  Right now it is actually not fine.  But it will be.  As soon as the blood evacuates his cock and begins to feed his brain again.

Sherlock on his heels in front of him is not as effective as say, putrefying wounds, in accomplishing this goal.  He is so long, endlessly long, folded like pale origami, and he’s naked.  Sunlight gleams yellow, adding warmth to silvery skin, and lines and dots of henna crawl like fire across hands and forearms, highlight the scant curve of his hips, trail and tangle across his belly, circle his navel like a guidelines for a exploring mouth.  The steeply angled beams catch in the embossed patterns of his armband, emphasizing the delicate artistry worked therein, and John is overcome with the glamor of it.

Sherlock sits upright, hands flat on his thighs, and does not attempt to conceal the joining of his legs, wiry hair there inkier even than that on his head, penis darkened and erect, emerging from the thin collar of his foreskin.  John cannot help but stare.  Last night he had politely looked away from Sherlock’s nudity, as much as it had been hard to resist.  He had never seen Sherlock’s cock before.  It was long, like the man himself, which was unsurprising, but also... elegantly, pleasingly, impossibly slender.  John had never seen an erect penis so slim.  Well, his experience wasn’t vast, but he’d seen plenty of porn, and there were always cocks involved with the women he’d been focused on;  and porn industry being what it is, those organs were usually massively thick and veiny.

Sherlock’s is smooth, a dusky rose, purple where it peeks gleaming behind the foreskin, and not much more than two-fingers wide.  And John wants.  He wants that.  He wants to weigh it with his tongue, to curl it inside his fingers, inside his mouth, inside his body.  To feel it, in every way he can....  The henna designs encompass the priapic column as well, John notes.  The color of the ink is darker here, a deep brown that is almost black, and tendrils of henna seductively curl around the shaft, pert dots and commas spiral upwards terminating in a ring under the flared head.  Oh my god.  It is both unnerving and deeply intriguing.

He blinks rapidly and looks away.  Jesus fuck, does he have no control?  No compassion or honor?  He tugs the pillow and jams it firmly over his thighs, shifting to mirror Sherlock’s position.  His heels dig into his arse, and he presses into them, seeking bruises and the dull hurt that can bring him out of his phallic fixation.  He grabs the other pillow and tosses it into Sherlock’s lap.

He takes a deep breath and works his jaw, trying to release tension.  “We need to talk. Sherlock.  We need to - I need to understand what you want.”  John releases a prolonged, frustrated sigh.  “You’re sending off some seriously mixed signals, here, and I’m terrified of reading you wrong.  I don’t mean to take advantage of you, you know.”  He licks his lips, fidgeting.  This is hard.  “I’m aware of your history.  I mean... you told me.  And I want you to know:  I’m not going to be like that.  I worry that.  I worry that you probably aren’t attracted to me, which is fine, by the way.  It’s fine.  You don’t owe me anything.”

Sherlock holds up a hand to cut him off, and then folds both of them carefully on top of the pillow, smooths out the wrinkles and then begins to toy with the bracelets on one wrist.  He does not look at John.  “John,” he begins.  But his voice is rusty and he has to stop and clear his throat.  “John,” he tries again, smoother now, voice as creamy as butter and cinnamon and mellow whiskey;  and John has to forcibly drag his attention back to cerebral matters.  “You know that since I’ve been in the lamp, I have been unable, for the most part, to make my own choices.  And in certain episodes have had choice... violently... wrenched from me.”

He hooks his fingers under the bracelets and twists, marking white lines across the bones of his wrist that quickly transform to red.  There is an extended, vibrating pause.

And John’s heart aches.  His chest is brittle with pity, empathy and foiled rage.  He does not feel that it is appropriate to touch.  But he lays his hands palm up on his pillow, fingers gently curled, an unspoken invitation for Sherlock to slip his own in there, if he wishes.

He does not.

“Moriarty was the worst, objectively,” Sherlock says, monotonous.  He faces the window, doesn’t look at John as he speaks, and John wants to stroke his thumb along the sharp cheekbone, the heavy eyebrow, the soft line of his jaw.  “Not only because of the creativity in his violence and cruelty, but because...  Because I fought against it.  I still thought there could be a way out.  Every binding, every punishment.  Every humiliation.  I believed I could get out of it.  And he would.  Sometimes.  Other people.  Those in his cult.  Or if he...”  Sherlock’s halting exposition dwindles to a bare breath, delivery becoming abrupt and fragmented.

John intuits that Sherlock is saying Moriarty whored him out, had him service on display, and jerks back in denial and revulsion.  His ears are buzzing with contained and impotent fury.  He is shaking and desperate to lash out, beyond sickened.

Sherlock still doesn’t look at him.  His skin is paler than usual, the bruises on his face stand out like soot, and he looks heartbreakingly fragile.  John wants to enfold the man - an exposed nerve of pain - in his arms, draw him not only into his arms, but into his skin, in his body, to be a both physical barrier and any other kind of mental or emotional armor he can offer.

But Sherlock isn’t finished yet.

“When I was called from my lamp the first time, I... was dressed as you’ve seen me.  A caricature.  An ignorant Westerner’s sexualized image of an Oriental djinn.  And that became my ineludible role.  Moriarty made his wish as soon as I was out:  that I must serve him in every way, every thing he said.

“It was the first wish I’d granted, obviously.  It came naturally - literally irrepressible.  My body and mind bent to it, and I could feel alien power, seething with a single focus - and I could not stop it.  I tried, but it rushed through me, flooded me, and I granted that wish.  

“It was like fixing cold shackles around my soul, my will.”  Sherlock closes his eyes for a moment, a line of pain appears between his brows.

“He... took his pleasure upon me.  He could even prevent me from crying out, although he demanded that seldom enough, as screaming fed his sadistic nature.  I soon learned to suppress it on my own, however.  He was... brilliantly malicious... adept at inflicting pain beyond merely physical.  He could.  He could demand that I enjoy it.”  His voice has gone hoarse again, and so quiet, as if distancing himself from the past even in the act of describing it.

John grieves.  A few, hot tears escape, for Sherlock;  because the man can’t or won’t cry for himself, because John’s heart aches so much he can’t bear to house it in his chest.  He keeps silent, controls his breathing, but he cannot stop the welling up of sorrow, and sympathy, and anger.  Droplets merge at the corner of his mouth and spread salt along his tongue, and he has the fleeting thought that pain should taste more bitter, more biting than this.

Sherlock doesn’t look up.  John hadn’t thought he would.  Admissions such as these cannot be made while maintaining eye contact.  He lets the tears drop unheeded off his chin, and stretches his hands incrementally closer to Sherlock, still offering support.

“So I don’t...  John.  I don’t want to be in a position where I...”  Sherlock reaches forward and places just the tip of his index finger at the tip of John’s, and stares at the point where they’re connected.  

John grabs a corner of the sheet and swipes his face, careful not to jostle the weight of Sherlock’s finger atop his own.  “Oh, Sherlock.  I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.  I can’t even imagine...  I don’t know how that feels.  And I'd like to kill them all for you.  They were bastards, Sherlock.  Every one.  It should never have happened to you.

“But I hope that you know-”  John stops short and swallows against guilt, because, why should Sherlock know:  it’s not like John’s been a shining example.  “I hope you know that I would never do that to you.  I... You never need to offer me sex.  You don’t owe me anything, and I have no right to ask it of you.  And I won’t.  I swear, Sherlock.  I won’t.  I would hope you could trust me.”  He’s resigned, however, to the idea that Sherlock won’t.  Because of what he’s done in the past, and shame chokes him, stabs at his guts, and his free hand clenches into a fist.  He presses down harder on his heels, stares at the curly fringe hiding Sherlock’s downcast face.

He bites the bullet and speaks honestly:  raw, painful truths.  Because it’s important.  Because it may prove to Sherlock that he can be trusted.  “Look.  It seemed like you were into the sex, in the club.  But then:  you go hot and cold so fast!  I imagine that you probably aren’t actually attracted to me.  I think you’ve been put in an untenable situation, and you’re just trying to make it as... smooth... as possible.  It seems like you’re doing this because it’s what I want.  And...  Please.  Just.  Don’t, Sherlock.  Don’t do that.  I’ll leave you alone,” God that’s a difficult thing to say, and he quails at the thought that Sherlock will take him up on it, that he’ll leap at this opportunity.  But he has to offer.  He has to.  “I’ll leave you alone.  Or.  I’ll give you hugs when you need them.  Or.  Whatever you require.  Whenever.  But only if you want it.  Ok?  I promise.”  His speech is choppy, verging on incoherent, but his heartfelt sincerity is evident.

Sherlock looks at John through thick, short lashes.  He worries the sheet next to his knee, and gives a sneering, weak laugh.  He is trying to maintain his dignity.  “I’m not a damsel in distress.  I could usually retaliate, you know.  Starting with Moriarty:  painting my body with lead.  I am not weak.  I cannot be used for so long without being able to find their vulnerability, without being able to exploit it.  I am vengeful.  But John,” his finger taps John’s once and then curls back around his own thigh.  “John.  It’s not that I’m not attracted to you.  I am.

“I know that you’re different.  Like Mrs. Hudson, rather.  I know that you care.  That using me for your gratification is not what you want.  You’re discrepant from the others, and I... find you fascinating.  And.  I am beguiled by this time period.  The amazing things you have here are so compelling.  The... research that is all accessible on the internet, and the prodigious progress of science.  The... cars and phones, and.  It’s incredible, really.  I want to stay.  Gods, I desperately want to stay.  But I don’t think the lamp will let it be so easy.  I don’t think we can just ignore the wish for thirty years, even if you were inclined to.  The lamp finds a way.”

“We’ll find the lamp, Sherlock,” John promises fiercely.  “We’ll get it back.  And if we can’t just let it sit... we’ll figure out how to word a wish.  To make you mortal again, or change history, or whatever we can do.  I won’t let you go back to that.  And... you don’t have to pay for staying here with sex, you really don’t.  I know you like this time, and I’m fine with,” he gags a little on the lie, “fine with just being your friend.  Your flatmate, or whatever.  I will not impose.”

Sherlock gives a wry, empty twist to his mouth that’s meant to emulate a smile.  “Yes, well.  Obviously.  And as for outwitting the lamp:  certainly you can dream.”  It is revealing that he uses the singular pronoun.  Sherlock has surely given up on that front.

“As for a sexual relationship.  I will admit that it’s been a very long time.  And I want... that.  I want... you.”  He reaches out, and blazes a burning trail down John’s neck and across his shoulder, sweeping his thumb across the hard, crinkled tissue of his scar.  “I want you.  But I haven’t been in control of this kind of thing in so long.

“John, it’s made me... understandably leery.  I can’t.  Just yield.  I.  I won’t crawl.

Sherlock’s lips are parted, and his eyes are dark, and his hand wraps around John’s shoulder, hot as a brand.  He rises to his knees, and John mirrors him, so they kneel face to face, with only inches and fallen pillows between them.  John puts his hand on Sherlock's waist, as he did that first night, feels it warm and resilient under his fingers.  He slips his other hand up to Sherlock’s chest, spreads his fingers out across Sherlock’s heart, and says, “But I will, Sherlock.  If that’s what you want.  If it’s about control-” his voice drops,  “I will crawl for you.

Sherlock stares at him silently, calculating.  But John can feel his heart speed up under the heel of his hand, kicking against his palm.  Sherlock drags his tongue across his lips, and his eyes flare bright, intense.  John waits, lets his fears go, and his shame, and his worry.  Kneels in front of Sherlock, and waits to see what he will do.

Sherlock puts his hand over John’s on his heart, and leans down, until their heads are pressed together.  His eyes are open, but he’s not trying to look at John;  his gaze is cast downwards.  He rubs his long fingers against John’s own, weaves them into the spaces in between, does the same with the hand on his waist, and then pulls them both away.  He wraps them behind John’s back, holding each in a gentle, but unbreakable grasp.

Sherlock pins him in his knowing stare.  “You’ve wanted me since you first saw me.  You dream of it at night, I can hear you.  I can tell by your breathing that you dream of sex with me.”

“I don’t mean to,” John protests, without much vigor.  “That’s not my wish.”

“I didn’t say it was your wish,” Sherlock says impatiently.  “I know it’s not your wish.”

John sucks in air, twists his wrists against Sherlock’s grasp, wildly considers the man before him:  completely nude, but for winding ink, the bangles on his wrists, the jewel nestled in his navel, the leather across his biceps.  Sherlock is still, nonjudgmental, allowing John’s starving stare to pool over him.

John doesn’t try to break away.  His blood is rushing through his body with the force of a freight train, he can feel his skin quiver with each pulse, and his cock is quickly rising again.  “What do you want, Sherlock?” he murmurs.

“You.”  Sherlock catches both wrists in one hand, and brings the other up to John’s jaw, holding it still.  His breathing is uneven, and he pulls back so that their eyes meet, both sets hungry and afraid.  “I want you.”

And then he jerks John forward, squeezing his wrists painfully, and presses their lips together, smears a messy kiss across his cheek and bites at his lower lip.

John has some difficulty focusing on the kiss, his heart is beating so fast, and he’s dizzy, breathless, cannot get enough air.  Sherlock is a giant magnet, and John leans in, pliant and juddering both, thrumming with excitement and the unknown.

Sherlock fishes John’s tongue out with his own and administers a short, bruising suck, reminding him of what’s going on.  John lets his head fall back, lets his jaw grow lax and allows Sherlock a moment to plunder, to posses and map and own his mouth.  He arches his body languidly forward, pressing hips, belly and chest against the looming, superheated man in front of him.

His mouth is wet, his chin is wet, evanescing in the cool air when Sherlock moves on to his jaw, turns his head so that he can more easily access his ear, nibbling the sensitive cartilage, and tonguing the lobe.

John’s blood sings in his veins, and he opens his eyes to slits, sees the bright yellow flash of a topaz on Sherlock’s bent head, and then closes them again with a hiss and a full body frisson as Sherlock sucks through the stubble of his jaw, scrapes his teeth down the corded muscle of his neck.  

He moves down to explore John’s scar, the spread and texture of it, with a hard, implacable tongue.

John jerks against the hand holding his wrists tightly against the small of his back and tries to twist his shoulder away.  “No-”

“No,” Sherlock growls, at the same time.  “No.  I want to know you.  Your history,” he breathes, rubbing his nose against that raised knot of flesh, “shows in your skin.”  He strings sharp bites around the ball of John’s shoulder and sucks a bruise onto his bicep, below the RAMC tattoo that’s been there for so many years that the black ink has faded to blue.

John pulls again against the restraining hand at his wrists and is surprised at how strong Sherlock is:  his lithe, ethereal looks are misleading.

Sherlock hums with approval at the shift and bulge of his bicep as he pulls, and drops his free hand to probe and caress that round muscle, growling softly.  “You’re so hard here,” he says, “and here,” his voice laughs without laughter and he twists his hips, rubs his thigh against John’s erection, but then cants him backwards, tugging at his wrists, leaving John straining for contact.

Sherlock strokes the shadows delineating the definition of his arm and says, “Here you’re hard.  Unyielding.  Accustomed to carrying the weight of your comrades, the weight of the responsibility you feel....”  He touches the tattoo.  “Here is the mark of your brotherhood:  you used to belong.  That was the bedrock of your strength, and you were honed against the crags and sand of the desert, brutally molded by battle.”

John twitched in his hold, uncomfortable - nearly flayed.  Sherlock drags his fingers back to John’s scar.  “And here is the dissolution of that chapter:  a ragged end to the part of your life which best suited you.”  He digs in the corner of his thumbnail and draws a red mark in John’s skin, from tattoo to scar, which he circles neatly, and then scrapes his map in an arc down to John’s belly, loops around his navel, relentlessly engraving his plat through the crisp hairs that surround it.  “And here,” he splays his hand wide, and it’s so long it covers half of John’s torso.  “Here is some softness.”  

John stiffens, instinctively sucking in his belly, and his face flames.  “Oi-”

Sherlock doesn’t allow him to pull away, looks in his eyes, expression focused, searing.  “Do not hide John.”  He flexes his fingers in, hard, presses through the thin layer of fat that has been developing over his belly since being shot.  “What is soft here represents your loss, your sorrow and your isolation.  This is you feeling broken, useless.  Yet, it is layered over solid character.”  His fingers massage and sweep, and John rolls his abdominals under them.  “It is this softness that has created a space for me,” Sherlock whispers.  “It is this scar that brought you to my lamp.”

He pushes until John falls back, clumsily straightening out his legs, and pulling his hands free.  Sherlock follows him down, lays his weight, dense and hard across John’s body;  and John has trouble breathing, because of the pressure on his chest, but he doesn’t complain because the feeling of being so constricted, of being so owned, of being tightly held in this bubble of time is too exquisite to challenge.  Although he’s fought all his life, now he cannot, and he relaxes, goes limp under the man above him with the shining eyes, the intent face, the slowly rolling hips.  He feels as if he’s sinking through the mattress.

He strokes down Sherlock’s back, cupping the jutting wings of his shoulderblades, brushing his thumbs up into hair growing damp with sweat, drawing a smooth caress down the long, narrow back, holding onto ribs and spine and waist with a remotely panicked submission.  He understands that Sherlock is trying to tell him that... he is actually liked, even desired, just for himself.  That in spite of their situation, their roles, the vast differences between them (looks, status and intelligence:  all areas where John feels he falls short) that Sherlock is attracted to and affected by who John is at his core.  And there is little that is more arousing than that.

“Sherlock,” John begins.

But Sherlock just wiggles downward.  John shivers beneath the damp heat of the mouth charting down his chest, lifts his body to increase the contact between him and Sherlock, twists his hips from side to side to feel the bristles of his body hair catch against plush lips and the faintest shadow of stubble on Sherlock’s own jaw.  He catches Sherlock's shoulders and digs his fingers in, holding hard, distractedly noting the sleek feeling of taut skin smoothed over muscle and bone, the shift and twist of long arm muscles as Sherlock pushes himself up to hover over John’s stomach, and then drops down without warning, until his nose is inches from John’s bollocks.

Sherlock works his thighs apart with insistent hands, until he’s uncomfortably akimbo... exposed more than he wants to be.  He tries to close them, and Sherlock growls again, lunges up his body and puts a knee across each thigh, inflicting bruises, brutal in his silent demand that John stay still.  He captures John’s wrists again and pulls them above his head, tucking his fingers under the edge of the headboard.  “Hold on here,” he commands.  “Don’t let go.”

John is delirious with arousal now, and curls his fingers hard around the thick wooden plank.  He lifts his head and strains for Sherlock’s erection, pointed at his lips as Sherlock bends over him, but still not close enough.  “Please,” he rasps.

Sherlock, genius that he is, knows immediately what John is requesting, and scoots closer, knees spread wide to lower himself to John’s mouth.  That beautiful, slender cock rests just on his bottom lip, hennaed designs blurring at such close range;  and John can smell semen, and musk, and arousal twisting through the appealing, organic odors that he associates with Sherlock and the lamp.

It’s a first for John, as so many things with Sherlock are, but he feels no hesitation, only heat and burn, when he opens his mouth, allowing Sherlock to slowly feed in his cock.  John looks up, meets Sherlock’s ardent eyes, and stretches his tongue along the bottom of Sherlock’s erection as it slides slowly across his lips, nudges beyond carefully controlled teeth, and bumps the palate of his mouth.  Spicy, and bitter, and sweet: so surprising.  John closes his lips and begins to suck, knowing what he likes to see when getting head, keeping eye contact with Sherlock up the long, long pale length of his body, chin making a sharp shadowed line in the angled light of the morning.  He hollows his cheeks, and the face above him flushes, pouty lips form an ‘oh’, and John thrusts against nothing.

Sherlock rolls his hips back, and then forward again, a lazy motion that contrasts with the fierce expression on his face;  and John sucks, relaxes, tastes and shivers with his power as they continue.  Blowing a man is messy, he ponders abstractly, as saliva slips out the corners of his mouth, accumulates on the slide under his bottom lip.  He tries to swallow, but Sherlock won’t pull out, just keeps on with the gentle movement, never too deep, never too hard, but relentless and greedy.  John toys with the strung skin of the frenulum under the glans, pokes the spongy tissue of the crown with his tongue, explores the slit and it’s unique flavor, never breaking gaze with Sherlock, who is bent over, grasping the headboard with one hand, other wrapped around the base of his cock as he rocks it in and out of John’s mouth.

John bows his back, feeling nothing more than purely sensuous, tightening the arc of his arms as they arch over his head to terminate under the headboard.  Sherlock makes a low noise, on the edge of control, and slides his fingers up his cock until they brush against John’s lips, trace the stretched circle of his mouth, dragging through saliva, rubbing himself and John at the same time.  Two fingers slip into the corners of his mouth, stretching it more, and press against his teeth, forcing his jaw wider, loosely circling his cock as he continues his slow roll.

John moans underneath him, and hot blood rushes through his erection causing it to dance, the fine hairs on his body stand out, electric, as goosebumps rush over him.  He licks Sherlock’s fingers, straining to open wider for him, lifting his head to push himself further onto Sherlock, bearing down until he gags and coughs.  And Sherlock is murmuring above him, “Good, John, so good, your mouth is unbelievable, I want you like this always, open for me; I want to penetrate every orifice you have, and own them all...”

He shudders hard, and pulls back so that John’s mouth is empty of all but his fingers, which makes John whine a little, and he sucks on them harder.  Sherlock’s eyes are silver-rimmed black above him, and he’s panting as much as John is.  He says nothing, but slithers back down John’s body, sweeps his tongue from root to tip as he bypasses John’s cock, and noses against his bollocks, nibbles on the delicate, wrinkled skin there, sucking first one, than the other testicle into his mouth like a connoisseur, testing for firmness, symmetry, elasticity.  John grunts loudly, a noise surprising in the quiet room, and pushes reflexively against Sherlock’s face.  “Sherlock-!”  His fingers begin to cramp in their desperate hold of the headboard, and his thighs are protesting at being splayed so widely, Sherlock’s shoulders uncompromisingly holding them open.

Sherlock bites at his buttock, just behind his bollocks, remonstrating him to stay quiet and still, and John moans again, softly, out of his mind with pleasure and novelty.  Spidery fingers glide, damp, from his lips and lift his bollocks, move them aside to reveal his arsehole, and John feels warm breath there for the first time in his life.  “Oh.  God.  Sherlock.  What-”

But Sherlock has an agenda, and he ignores John’s breathless, garbled words.  He works his hands under John’s arse, lifting, tilting, spreading him open until he’s agonizingly laid bare, and then licks without hesitation.

John recoils in shock, body lifted off the bed from heels to shoulderblades, and sucks in a ragged breath.  “Oh fuck.  Oh, fuck,  You can’t- Sherlock.  What are you doing?

Sherlock only rumbles, and continues lapping at John’s anus, shameless and driven.  John groans and writhes against the feeling of heat, and wet, of the slithering invasion of agile muscle, deliriously exploring the most forbidden of locations.  “No.  Fuck.  Yes.  Sherlock, Christ-”  And while he pants and mutters, Sherlock patiently teases the budded sphincter until it relaxes, smooths out, invites ingress.  He probes it with his tongue, and John shouts in surprise as he is first penetrated, intends to pull away, but instead pushes closer, bearing down so that his body welcomes Sherlock, pulls him in deeper.

There will be bruises on his thighs, on the cheeks of his arse as Sherlock holds him open, holds him canted for easier access, and John is floating on the filthy sucking noises, on obscene guttural growling, on the pull of a mouth (the tongue is a very strong muscle, he thinks hysterically), the wriggling invasion that has him cross-eyed in confused, shamed pleasure.  “Oh, god, oh god.  Fucking.  Christ-”  John unwinds numb fingers from over his head and reaches down to thread them through Sherlock’s hair.

Sherlock stops abruptly, lifts his head, chin and cheeks gleaming with his own saliva, lips licentiously red and swollen with his efforts and glares at John.  “Do not move your hands, John.  Put them back.”

John stares in surprise, and quickly returns his hands to their death-grip on the headboard.  Through a haze of lust, he remembers that Sherlock wants to be in control, has explicitly said so, and needs to define the parameters of their encounter.  That is fine with him.  He sinks back, passive and willing.  Sherlock relaxes, his tension only obvious in retrospect, and quickly wipes his face with his hand.

“Is there oil?  Do you have oil, John?”

John draws a blank for a moment, brain swimming in eroticism.  The sting of Sherlock's finger sinking into his arse recalls him to his meaning.  “Ah!  Yes.  Er, lubricant?”  It’s hard to speak when he’s so wrecked.  “My med kit, Sherlock, in the living room.”

Sherlock straightens up on one elbow, slowly slides the one finger back out of John, who clenches after it, wants the feeling of penetration and taboo again.  Sherlock smirks, although sarcasm is difficult to attain when he is flushed with arousal.  He looks like the ideal lover for either sex... red cheeked, moist, with shining eyes and mussed hair, heart-shaped mouth open to accommodate rapid breathing.  “Stay here,” he commands, and his voice is so deep, resonant and rich that John trembles again, wracked with a longing to be pinned down by that body once more.

He nods, wordlessly.  Lays spread out with the tingle of cooling air against his most private parts while Sherlock eels off the bed, saunters to the living room, mouthwatering and graceful erection leading the way.  Henna hugs the globes of his arse, and swirls in circles and dots around the dimples were the swell of his buttocks begin;  and more than just the sway of hips alone when he walks, there’s a full-body sway in effect, snake-like and hypnotizing.  John licks his lips and swallows against the flood of saliva in his mouth.

Sherlock is back in a moment, holding the med kit to John.  “Get what we need,” he says.  

John pulls out a foil packet, unsurprised that Sherlock hadn’t recognized its utility, and tears off a corner.  He retrieves a condom as well.  “Here’s the lube,” he says.  “And a condom.  Um.  Here, let me?” (He’s not sure how much condoms would have figured into the gay lifestyle of the 18th century, but neither of them thought to use one for oral, so he’s thinking not much.)  He waits cautiously until Sherlock nods, and then pulls his other arm, aching from strain, from over his head and leans up, opening the condom and reaching out to Sherlock’s cock.  Sherlock hums as he does it, deep and salacious.  Rolling a condom on someone that isn’t himself requires concentration, like trying to do a common task with his non-dominant hand.  He has to focus, leaving a small space at the tip, and smoothing it down as he goes, obscuring delicious and tantalizing designs, until his fingers are stroking through coal black pubic hairs.  He can’t stop himself from exploring, slipping his hands down to cradle heavy bollocks, rolling and squeezing.

But Sherlock soon tips him back down, spreads his legs wide again, works his knees under John’s thighs and tucks Johns hands palm up, one under each knee, so that he’s bound to be still again.  John tugs on his hands, to test if he can retrieve them, but Sherlock kneels down hard, pressing them into the bed, and says, “Be still, John.”

So John is still, and those bewitching fingers are quickly coated in lube, which is drizzled down his crack as well, and massaged impatiently in.  “I want to fill you up,” Sherlock rumbles, almost as if he’s unaware that he’s speaking.  “I want to know you from the inside.  I want to fuck you now.” And John is breached unceremoniously with a finger, which doesn’t hurt, because he’s already been tongue-fucked and... fingered.  And even though he’s an anal virgin, he doesn’t feel full enough, he wants that elegant cock pushing inside him now, marking him as territory, and that’s an awful thought for a soldier, but he knows it’s true, and he pushes against Sherlock’s finger, making a dissatisfied noise.

Sherlock recognizes his discontent, and his eyes smirk, although his face is wiped of expression, showing only focus.  A second finger works in, and they slide and twist, and John’s lips begin to dry out because his mouth is open, and he can’t stop gasping, little mewling noises intertwined with each breath.  There is no sensation he’s experienced prior to this that is comparable to being stretched open, feeling the press and slide;  pushing in, when nature has only designed a function for out.  And he had no idea he’d be so sensitive, that the nerves there would register the slide, the slick friction, and delight in it.  He curls his fingers around Sherlock's grinding knees and huffs, pushing his body as close to Sherlock as he can.  “More.  Sherlock.  More"

Sherlock pulls back and then pushes in again with another, hooks and twists them right away, screwing into John until he strokes against his prostate, and John arcs off the bed again,  mouth wide in shock, jerking against the restraint of Sherlock's pinning knees.  He tosses his head and groans, and Sherlock looks dangerous and on the edge of control.  “Sherlock,” he hisses.  “Yesss.  Yes-”

Sherlock twists and pushes and strokes again, and John stares at him with pupils nearly eclipsing the iris, writhing as he’s permitted, choking on sensation, overwhelmed.  And this addictive torment continues until John is whining, high pitched and embarrassing, if he weren’t too wrecked to notice it.

Sherlock pulls out his fingers, wipes them carelessly on the sheet, and grabs John’s thighs, pulling him closer, up the incline of Sherlock’s lap, leaning forward so that the head of his cock is aligned with John’s opened hole, and John mutters through gritted teeth, “Yes.  yes.  Sherlock.  Do it.  Do it.  Fuck me now, dammit.  Sherlock--”  And he wraps his legs around the tensile strength of Sherlock’s waist, clumsy but sure.

The pressure of Sherlock's cock is peculiar and devastating and feels so good that John is ready to weep, but cries out instead, and he feels Sherlock pushing into him, stretching him out, opening him up, exposing everything he is, and everything he wants, and he’s shattered, jerking against Sherlock’s hold, uncoordinated in his ecstasy, and blinks desperately against the blur and dampness in his eyes, mingling with the salty sting of sweat.  His skin is so hot it will split open, his body will split open, but Sherlock leans forward, balancing himself on his elbows, placed to either side of John’s head, and kisses him...

Kisses him, open mouthed and nearly cruel;  John’s eyes are rolling back in his head as Sherlock undulates his hips:  in to the root, and languorously dragging back out, against the pull of John’s body, sinking and retreating agonizingly slowly, and his tongue fucks John’s mouth at the same time, never careless, every movement deliberate and...

John is in anguish of ecstasy, doesn’t even try to kiss back, just opens himself to Sherlock, to take what he wants and what he needs, and John’s never been so glad to give in his life;  knows that he will always give to this man, anything he needs, whatever he wants, and the cost is immaterial, because John’s life was worth nothing when they met, and he can’t imagine a world without him, he would be lost, he’d be so lost... .

Sherlock sucks on his tongue, and shifts his hips, and hits the sweet spot, and his belly is pressed to John’s, and the friction on his cock is just right, and John wails, louder than he’s ever done, he’s in pieces, and he spasms against orgasm, ripping his face to the side to gasp and heave, skin so sensitive to touch that it might as well be missing.... He’s flayed with feeling, spurting out sex and emotion and commitment and need between their bodies, and drops slide into his hair that may or may not be sweat, and he can’t move his arms at all, and that adds to the feeling:  he’s soaring, he’s in free fall, his stomach flutters with it, and this much sensation can kill a man... .

Sherlock continues to pound, face reddened and concentration distorting his exotic features.  John’s legs fall entirely to the sides, limply laying against the mattress, like someone cut the wires between his brain and his muscles, and he’s obscurely surprised that he can be this flexible.  Sherlock seems to gain what he needs in John’s sudden pliancy and goes rigid over John, fingers curled under his shoulder, and buries his head in John’s sweaty neck, hoarse noises torn from him as he finds his own completion.

Chapter Text

John wakes an hour or so later, disoriented and rattled by a bewildering pounding.  He jerks, finding himself draped across Sherlock’s chest, nose in one armpit, tickled by hair, smelling the morning’s sweat and the leather cuff wrapped around his bicep.  Sherlock’s arms clamp down, stilling his instinctive jump, and he hears, so low it purely vibrates, “It’s someone at the door, John.”

John nods to show he understands, and quickly slips out of the arms, the bed; the cool air of the bedroom is an affront after the warmth they’d created, tangled beneath the duvet.  He pulls on his trousers, grabbing his Sig from the bedside table, and gestures for Sherlock to stay back.  He pads silently to the flat door, alert, awash in adrenaline, remembering the fantastic tsunami of events the night before:  the attack in the parking lot, the missing lamp, the items from Sherlock’s past, the body in the morgue that was not his sister.  There are a number of very serious, very real dangers that could be on the other side of the flat door.  Although it is odd for any one of them to be rapping out a warning.

The knocking sounds again, this time accompanied by a warbling, “Woo ooh!  Boys!  You have a visitor!  Aren’t you awake yet?”

John relaxes a bit.  Ah, Mrs. Hudson.  He tucks the gun in his waistband at the small of his back, opening the door cautiously and is confronted with her wrinkled, smiling face.  “Good morning Dr. Watson,” she chirps.  She stares unabashedly at his bare chest, and John flushes a little, rubs a hand on his head to tame his hair.  “Ah.  Yes.  Someone’s here?”  He glances past her, but the part of the stairs he can see are empty.

Mrs. Hudson nods, bright-eyed and curious.  “Yes, he’s just down in the foyer.  He says he’s a distant relative of Sherlock’s?  His name is... Mystron Holmes.”

“A relative of Sherlock’s,” John repeats in a flat tone.  He gives Mrs. Hudson a sharp, incredulous look.  “How can Sherlock possibly have a relative?”

Mrs. Hudson moves her hands in an embarrassed, flustered way.  “Oh.  I-” she peeks nervously down the stairs and bites her lip.  “I didn’t think-”

There’s movement at the corner of the landing and a tall, imposing man appears.  He’s holding something long and thin in his hands, and the light of the window comes in behind him, shadowing his face.

“Stop,” John says.  His voice is cold, hands steady around the Sig he’d pulled out so fast he can’t even remember doing it.  Mrs. Hudson turns her head and squeaks, seeing the gun.  She takes several hurried steps back.

The man on the stairs stops, freezing completely;  but the line of his body broadcasts that he’s doing it solely for John’s delicate sensibility, not out of fear.  “Hmm,” he says, and the impatience expressed in that short sound is so like Sherlock that John blinks.

There’s a rustle inside the flat, and behind his back Sherlock asks, “What is this?”

“He says he’s a relative of yours... Myron Holmes,” John answers.  Sherlock sucks in a quick breath, and John stiffens even more, watching the man on the stairs down the nose of his gun.  Long fingers curl around his shoulder, spasming with bruising force before loosening up and pushing John forward so that Sherlock can peer around the door.

The four of them remain immobile for long moments, staring at one another, and Mrs. Hudson has both hands in front of her mouth, panicked eyes shifting between the Sig and the stranger.  “I’m sorry,” she quavers.

“I have bona fides,” the man says carefully, and Sherlock’s hand twitches on John’s shoulder where he’s left it.

“Indeed,” Sherlock responds coolly.  “Come in, then, and tell me about them.”

John aborts a movement of protest, and backs up, allowing the man to proceed into the living room.  Sherlock dismisses Mrs. Hudson with an annoyed flap of his arm, and shuts the door smartly in her face.  He turns to face the man, “Myron Holmes, you say?”  His voice is suspicious, overlain with a veneer of polite disinterest.  John remains in the door of the kitchen, keeping a clear shot, gun steady.

The man looks at John first, gray eyes tracking the length of his bare torso, the meandering red lines that Sherlock had etched into his skin, the small dark bruises from his mouth and fingers;  then he turns to scan Sherlock, wrapped like a mummy or a child in the white bedsheet.  His gaze is as devouring and intuitive as Sherlock’s, and John finds himself wondering if there isn’t some truth to his claim of kinship after all.  They are almost the same height, both tall and lean, with cutting intelligence, and a cerebral predation curls off of both of them like fumes from ammonia.  He feels uncomfortably certain that the man has noticed the stubble rash on Sherlock’s pale cheeks, and successfully put two and two together.

“I am Mycroft Holmes,” the stranger corrects, holding out a slender hand adorned with a heavy, old-fashioned signet ring.

Sherlock glances briefly at the outstretched hand and dismisses it with a pronounced disregard for social convention.  He twitches his shoulders under the sheet, and nods at one of the chairs in front of the fire.  “Have a seat,” he says crisply, “and tell me about these bona fides.”  Sherlock lounges in the chair opposite and stares at their visitor, challenging and lazy, hunter’s instinct blatantly draped in detachment.  

“And you,” Mycroft says, leaning forward intently, “I believe you to be Sherlock Holmes.  Am I correct?”  He seats himself primly, and John sees that the long thin stick is an umbrella, a prop which he twists between his palms, distracted.  John shifts slightly to the left, butting against the door frame, the rattle of glass in the sliding door startling him a bit as he leans.  Both men disregard him and his weapon, which he lowers, but does not put away.

Sherlock shrugs and does not commit himself to an answer, eyes flitting rapidly over Mycroft, busy analyzing what data he can observe.  “You know enough about me, I apprehend, to realize that Mycroft is a family name.”

“Your short-lived elder brother, yes,” Mycroft responds.  “I am descended from your other brother, Sherrinford. Thirteen generations, now.  I have paperwork.”  He reaches, slowly, with an amused glance at John’s gun, into his inside jacket pocket and pulls out a bundle of papers.  He holds them out to Sherlock, but is ignored.  With a breathed Tsk he sets them on the table next to him instead.

“You look quite like him, actually,” Sherlock says, briefly sounding a little lost.  Then he visibly cloaks himself again in hauteur.  “Much older, of course.”  That’s a jab, and Mycroft winces ever so slightly.  “A bit heavier about the waist.  Fond of desserts, are we?  I always told Sherrinford he was too drawn to rich foods.”  A very faint pink stains Mycroft’s cheeks, but fades quickly, as if willfully suppressed.  Sherlock appears gratified with his well-aimed shot.  John rolls his eyes, keeping careful control of his gun.  I could believe they’re related.  They’re behaving like brothers, for god’s sake.  Although Sherlock’s prickly response is clearly an emotional defense at the dumbfounding news that he may have relatives.

“The family has been looking for you for a very long time,” Mycroft continues, disregarding Sherlock’s childish salvo.  “My many-times great grandfather had portraits of you, of course, and there’s the family story about the... mishap... that you suffered, leading to your ultimate disappearance.  We had this...” he fans the bundle of papers and pulls out one that’s very old, on filthy parchment that’s become so soft it’s like fabric, draping over Mycroft’s aristocratic fingers.  On it is a detailed drawing of a lamp, and John doesn’t have to step closer to recognize it.  Mycroft pulls a small book from another pocket and flips carefully through it.  Again, time is woven into the bindings, the red linen cover dark and stained in dirt and oil and age, the pages within blotchy from unconstrained ink, filled with script and sketches.  He nods towards the floor to his left, at the scattered clothing Sherlock had strewn there a lifetime ago.  “The description of that very ensemble has been passed down for generations.”

Sherlock is static, nothing moves until he blinks, slow.  There’s a long pause.  “How did the family know about the lamp?” he asks at last.

Mycroft nods a little and settles back into his chair, umbrella placed meticulously in the crook of his knee.  He crosses his hands on his thigh.  “Sherrinford was much younger than you at the time, of course.  A mere 15 years old, he didn’t have as many resources then as he’d command later in his life.  Your father, as I understand it, was quite ill, and died not long after you disappeared.”

Sherlock inclines his head as if this doesn’t surprise him.  Mycroft flicks his eyes to the little journal, and says, “My impression is that you and Sherrinford weren’t terribly close.  He was young, and tagged along, and pestered you in your laboratory.  But he loved you, rather revered you, actually, and always skulked around the curtains when you had your colleagues in for debates.”

Sherlock’s lips purse slightly, but it’s the only move he makes.  His eyes go a little unfocused as he remembers.

Mycroft looks satisfied.  “Therefore, when you left to conduct your challenge with James Moriarty, Sherrinford knew, more or less, where you were going and why.  A debate over the magical aspects of alchemy, as I understand it?”  Mycroft raises one eyebrow, looks simultaneously supercilious and intrigued.

“He claimed he was going to transmute lead into gold, essentially through sorcery,” Sherlock acknowledges.  “Which I knew to be ludicrous.  He had a certain number of cultish followers, whom he wished to be in attendance at the time.  It turned out that... gold was not his endgame.”

Mycroft leans forward.  “Family history is scant on this point,” he says.  “Sherrinford managed to track down a member of that cult, which took a number of years.  He bought this drawing,” he taps the parchment on the table with one pedantic finger, “and then, once he’d come into the title and his money, paid a very large advance in order to obtain the actual lamp.  Unfortunately the man whom he’d cultivated turned up dead shortly thereafter, so the drawing is all we’ve got.  However, Sherrinford was told you’d become a... slave to the lamp, somehow;  that you’d been granting wishes, that you were utterly under the control of-- ahem.  That Moriarty had become your Master.”  Mycroft peers at Sherlock with a touch of what might be sympathy, but it’s quickly erased.  

“Sherrinford was still quite young,” Mycroft says on a sigh,  “and did not know how to best use the power behind his name, did not know how to draw around him a team of men he could trust.  He... lost you.  Moriarty died some years after that, under shrouded circumstances, and although Sherrinford attempted to acquire much of his estate, he never found the lamp.  He didn’t know where to continue looking for you.  But he never stopped.  And when his sons were old enough, he told them to search as well.  And thus we have sought you for generations.”  Mycroft taps his umbrella once, sharply, on the floor between his feet, which seems to be a signal that he’s done with his tale.

John thinks to himself, His little brother, who he never saw again.  A young man who’d evidently created a geas spanning generations to search for his big brother.  So sad.  Sherlock’s shoulders move, and John can see that his hands are fidgeting, picking at one another under the sheet.  His face is impassive, but his body language suggests uncertainty and wistful nostalgia.  He leans back in his chair, slumping as if exhausted, working a long, slim arm free of its binding and scrubs a hand fiercely against his face.  “Sherrinford,” he mutters.

Mycroft stares as Sherlock is revealed from the sheet: the intricate designs on his hand, the leather cuff, the bruises against his chest from the fight at the club, the bruises on his feet.  But he does not comment, not on these the Eastern flair nor the obvious remainders from a vicious fight.  He simply waits.

“How did you find me?” Sherlock asks.  He flicks his fingers back and forth across his chin, then pulls his other arm free of the sheet to clasp his hands together in front of his lips.  The sheet falls open to his hips, and Mycroft blinks.

“Perhaps,” he suggests in a strained voice.  “You might like to find a pair of trousers first.”  He slides a look at John as well.  “I seem to have caught both of you... unexpectedly.”  

Sherlock frowns at him, and the warmth John had seen at the mention of his brother fades into ice, as Sherlock visibly withdraws emotionally.  He huffs, flinging himself to his feet, and stalks towards the bathroom, sheet dropping precariously with each step until it slides off completely just as he vanishes within.

Mycroft looks at John who stares right back.  “Would you like a shirt?” he prompts.

John smiles, tense and wary, and fondles his gun.  “I’m fine, thank you,” he answers.  “I’ll just stay here with you.”  Although Sherlock seems to accept the fact that Mycroft is family, John still doesn’t fully trust him.

“Are you afraid of me?” Mycroft asks.

“No,” John answers calmly.  “You don’t seem very frightening.”  He strokes his thumb against the grip of the Sig and resettles his shoulders against the doorway.

“Ah.  The bravery of a soldier.  Bravery is by far the kindest word for stupidity, isn’t it?”

“And how do you know I’m a soldier?”

“I’ve read your file carefully, Dr. Watson.”

“Huh,” John replies, suspicious and bemused.  There was a file on him?  And if there was, how did this man come to access it?

“Might I inquire as to how you came by the lamp?  You are noticeably not a man of means-”

“Oi!  That’s enough, no need for insults.  And who said I have the lamp?”

“I am merely interested in how you’ve managed to restrain yourself from... utilizing the peculiar properties said to be inherent in the lamp.”

“If you’re asking if I’ve wished or not, that’s none of your business.”  John’s tone is flat and uninviting.

“Obviously you have not wished.  I’d just like to let you know that there will be repercussions if you do.”  Mycroft’s voice holds both warning and icy threat.

“And how do you know what happens if I make my wish?”  Is it possible that Mycroft has the lamp?  Is he pushing for John to wish?

“We have had many years to study legends and anecdotes on this phenomenon, Dr. Watson.”  Mycroft stares at him, grey eyes like Arctic slush.  “I am concerned about your relationship with my relative, that is all.  I find that, in spite of the short time I’ve known of him, I...” there is an almost imperceptible flash of incredulity, “worry about him.  I want to make it clear to you that...  There are people who feel deeply invested in his well-being.”

John is speechless.  Did he just get the ‘you hurt my family and they won’t even be able to find pieces of you in isolated ditches deep in the countryside’ speech?  From someone who’d only known about the man he’s protecting for less than 24 hours?

Sherlock strides back into the room, gauzy trousers and nothing else on.  It’s actually a step more naked than he’d been in the sheet, and John stifles an inappropriate giggle at his audacity.  The genie throws himself on the sofa and ripples into a more comfortable position, arranging himself like an indolent cat, maintaining a provoking stare at Mycroft the whole time.  Clearly the emotional armor is back in place.  Mycroft looks back dispassionately, although John sees a slight tic at the corner of his eye.

“You can put the gun away, John,” Sherlock tells him, gesturing with a languid hand, pale arm outstretched.  “We’re not in danger here.”  Sunlight catches on gold, tracks a glittering band around his delicate wrist, and thin shafts of light create chiaroscuro from the henna patterning his skin.

John nods and tucks his piece back into his trousers.  Mycroft makes him uncomfortable, but he does seem dedicated to aiding and protecting Sherlock.  “Tea, then?” he offers with reluctant hospitality.

Mycroft toys with his umbrella.  “Tea would be lovely, thank you.  Milk and three sugars.”

Sherlock snorts something uncomplimentary that includes the word ‘waistline’.  John shakes his head and goes to fill the kettle.  There is silence in the living room for the entire six or so minutes it takes to prepare the tea.  When John returns, he has the disquieting notion that Sherlock and Mycroft have been conducting a intense conversation under the guise of staring hard and silently at one another.  He awkwardly clears his throat to distract them from one another and distributes the mugs of tea, to Mycroft’s quickly concealed disdain (does he expect fine china?) and sits in the remaining chair, kicking it a bit so it makes a circle with the sofa.  Mycroft shifts as well, and now the three of them are all cozied up for a chat.

“How did you find me?” Sherlock asks again.

“I programmed the lamp into image recognition software many years ago.  The inverted crescent moon on the cap, and the handle formed into a dragon-like serpent make it quite unique.  I input your portraits as well, although none of those have been detailed enough to register you.  Due to my... minor... position within Her Majesty’s government, I have... access... to CCTV.”  

His tone is so stilted and pretentious that John has to grin.  Minor position my arse, he telegraphs at Sherlock through a smirk and wiggle of his hairline.  Pompous tosser, Sherlock responds by digging his shoulders sharply into the chair and wrinkling his nose.  Clearly having found himself a relative does not mean they will be the best of friends.

Mycroft leans back, fussily extending then recrossing his legs.  “Your arrival here yesterday triggered all kinds of alarms, since you were waving the lamp around so very conspicuously out there in the street.  Visual confirmation showed that you bore a striking resemblance to family paintings, enough to merit a visit in person.”  Mycroft runs a disapproving eye over the sheer trousers.  “Although your clothing seemed a bit more conventional yesterday.”

Sherlock rolls a Gallic shrug and makes an exaggerated moue, expressing comical sadness.  “Alas, I have lost that suit and this is all that remains to me.”

“We’ll go to Oxfam-” John begins.

Sherlock flings out an arm to shut him off, and he nurses his tea in embarrassment for a moment, feeling like a failure of a caretaker, feeling the weight of Mycroft’s judgemental stare.

Mycroft moves on.  “May I see the lamp?” he asks.

“No!” say Sherlock and John simultaneously and emphatically enough to raise Mycroft’s eyebrow.

“Indeed?” is all he says, but calculations are clearly racing behind steely eyes, and John shifts subtly onto one hip, so that his gun can be quickly and easily accessed, and places his mug on the table.  Mycroft’s interest in the lamp makes him jumpy;  he feels that Sherlock can only safe when the lamp is in his hands.  Even though Mycroft is confirmed as family, now, and does not seem terribly threatening.  Although the potential is there, in so much leashed power, and John would be a poor soldier indeed to turn his back on such a tiger.

Mycroft looks again at Sherlock’s bruises and says, “I presume your refusal has something to do with the altercation you were in last night?  At least three, no, four different men?  What happened?”

Sherlock dismisses the question.  “That is none of your concern.”

Mycroft says patiently, “Sherlock, I assure you, it is my concern.  You have been the concern of our family for nearly 250 years.  I am not a man of insubstantial power and means, and I can pledge you the full weight and support of the British Government, in addition to your own, not inconsiderable, fortune and resources (to which I shall soon allocate you access), in aiding you with any problems you may have.”

“The British Government does not care about my problems,” Sherlock says, diverted.

Mycroft smiles thinly.  “As an unofficial proxy of the British Government, please accept my assertion that it does.”

Right, John thinks.  Minor position.  This man exudes so much authority that it is not a surprising revelation.

“How did my brother ever produce progeny so poncy?”  Sherlock flounces back to a seated position, and begins to prod at a bruise on his chest.

“You are satisfied with my antecedents, then?”

Sherlock appears to grind his teeth.  “Yes.  You look too much like Father and Sherrinford to be anyone else’s get.  I recognize the way you think.  You know too much to be anyone else.  Plus, you’ve got the ring.  So, still Marquess of Lewes, then?”

Mycroft nods.  “Still seated in Holmes House in south Wessex.”

Sherlock’s face thaws momentarily in memory, hand dropping limply into his lap, and Mycroft says, “You are welcome any time,” to which Sherlock’s expression closes over again, and he shrugs his indifference.  But pain, and a certain longing, lingers in the tightness at the corners of his eyes.

There’s a hesitant tapping at the door, and Mrs. Hudson’s voice is outside, indomitably cheerful.  “Woo ooh, boys, hallo?”

John stands and moves to open the door, tucking the gun away before he does so.  Mrs. Hudson looks first to his hands, and then peers beyond him to see Mycroft and Sherlock, both staring politely over at her.  “No one shot yet, then?” she chirps, poking gentle fun.  “That means it’s a fine morning.  And is Mr. Holmes actually family, Sherlock?”

Sherlock makes a face, but doesn’t answer.  Mycroft rises to his feet and smiles at the landlady.  “I am something of a nephew, ma’am.”  He sketches a shallow bow.  “It is a pleasure to meet you...” he pauses, since he hasn’t actually officially met her.  Sherlock is stubbornly silent, so John steps in and says, “Er, right.  Mrs. Hudson, this is Mycroft Holmes.  Er, Marquess of... somewhere.”

John lingers on the idea of Sherlock in the peerage.  He would have been the Marquess himself, back in his own time, if John understood Mycroft’s story.  Which he did, of course, it was fairly simple.  It is easy to imagine Sherlock in rich, noble surroundings, with servants and obeisance, and John feels a bit ill over the travesty of such a man being enslaved for literal lifetimes.

“Oh!”   Mrs. Hudson’s eyes go wide, and then she simpers, bobbing in a small curtsy.  “Well, a pleasure to meet you, too, my Lord.”

“Mr. Holmes is fine, Mrs. Hudson,” Mycroft remonstrates.

Sherlock rolls his eyes.  “Yes, Mrs. Hudson.  No need to kiss up.  Now what is this about?”

“Oh!”  Mrs. Hudson looks down at her hand, clutching around an envelope.  “A nice young gentleman just came to deliver this to you, dearie.  You are certainly popular lately.”  

Sherlock jolts to his feet and steps directly across the coffee table, making a beeline for the envelope, which he snatches out of her hand.  “Did you recognize the gentleman?  Same one from last night?  No?  Very well then.  Thank you, Mrs. Hudson, I certainly appreciate it.”  He turns her around and hustles her towards the door.  “Do you have any biscuits?  Perhaps you can bring some up in a while.  Or scones or something.  Yes, thank you.  Please be on your way.”  He shuts the door behind her with a decisive bang and turns around.  “John.  It’s another one.”

“Another one?”  And suddenly John remembers that there had been an envelope last night, something within which had shocked Sherlock, but he’d forgotten about it after receiving the call about Harry being dead in the morgue.

He shoots a look at Mycroft, whose bland expression belies the sharp curiosity in his eyes.  Hmm.  Perhaps they want to wait for some privacy before opening it.  “Ah.  Er.  Sherlock.”

Sherlock ignores both of them and takes the envelope over to the window, to stare at it in the light.  “Same stationary, same handwriting as the last one.”  He slides the heavy paper out of the envelope and John crowds up to his side to read it too.  If Sherlock is feeling apprehensive, it doesn’t show through his excitement at having a new clue.

The writing inside is done with an old-fashioned fountain pen, letters scriven with uneven consistency as the ink ebbs and flows.  It is absorbed into the linen lines of the paper, and for a moment, John is simply caught by the art and beauty of carefully crafted longhand before he can decipher the spiky, backslanted script.

Sherlock, darling boy,

I have missed playing with you so very much, dear Toy.  It’s really been too long, don’t you think?  And I must say, the Lamp is not as much fun when you’re not in it.  I hope you’re enjoying the Bundle I left behind last night.  I understand you may be short on attire, and pray this will still fit you.  Ah, such Memories!  

Do you recall that small knick in your thumb, as you cut the Mugwort for The Ceremony?  I do Apologize if there’s still a Bloodstain in your vest, dear boy.  You’d think I’d have found the time in the past Century or so to get around to it!  I’m just Lazy, I suppose.  Do be careful of the Lead, my dear.  I understand it can be downright Unhealthy if you don’t have my particular Constitution.  Well, that’s not really an issue, as we both know you can’t Hurt yourself even if you try, don’t we?  (Hanging one’s self is such an Undignified way to go anyway, isn’t it?)

I do miss you so, you Succulent Boy, and I rather Madly want you back.  You’re simply wasted on that dull Army Puppy you’ve been obliged to consort with.  Does he treat you as I did?  I worry that you don’t have the Excitement... the Challenge... that you crave, sweet thing.  You need a strong Master with a Firm Hand, and I imagine you’ve found none better than I in all these years, have you?  Discard your Ordinary little Pet, darling, do.  Surely he wants to go hug his Sister (now that he knows she’s not in that Morgue!) or something Human like that.  Let him make his stodgy little Wish, and then come back to me.  I’ve made so many plans for us:  I’ve waited for so very long....

With greatest Anticipation,

James Moriarty”

Sherlock fits the heavy sheets of paper back together, very precisely matching the folds, and tucks it back into the envelope.  He appears to be holding his breath, and finally releases it in a sharp, stifled gasp.

John fights a creeping chill at the contents of the letter.  “Sherlock,” he whispers, with suppressed horror.  “Is that?  Those things he said...  Are they true?”  His brain is on ghoulish repeat:  Hanging one’s self is such an undignified way to go... hanging... hanging.

“All of them,” Sherlock replies tonelessly.  “The handwriting is a distinctive match as well.  It must be....”  They stare at one another for a drawn out moment, and nothing either one of them is thinking is good, both lost to the queer, jubilant insanity that seeps from every threatening line of the missive.

There is a gentile cough behind them, and they turn to see that Mycroft has risen, stands leaned on his umbrella like a dapper, three-legged figurine.  His eyes are very sharp.  “May I be of assistance?” he inquires mildly.  John makes an abortive movement, as if to step in front of Sherlock, to protect, to absorb a blow, and Mycroft looks amused.

Sherlock says,  “It is but a minor affair, Mycroft.  Nothing that need discommode you.  We do not require help.”

Mycroft looks at them both consideringly, and then at the pile of clothing on the floor.  He weighs his thoughts for a minute.  “Sherlock,” he says finally.  “There cannot be too many individuals who know you well enough to send such a letter.”

Sherlock’s raises a defiant eyebrow, and Mycroft lifts his own in a mirroring gesture and gives a brief roll of his eyes.  “That was high quality paper, the watermark visible through the light of the window, Sherlock.  Hand scriven with an expensive, heavy nib.  The letters were formed in an old-fashioned style and the sheer number of capitalized words in the middle of the sentences indicates that the writer is channeling syntax from the past century at the least.”  

Mycroft turns a growl of frustration into a condescending sigh.  “Just as we have kept an ear out for you, dear Uncle, so we have continued monitoring the name of Moriarty.  The bulk of his fortune was mysteriously claimed shortly after his death, and there have been whispers through the centuries.  

I have found you.  It is not unreasonable to assume that others have as well.  You have before you the full might of the British Government.  I ask you again:  May I be of service?”

Sherlock wheels around and stares down at the street below, tapping the paper in his hands against the sill in a staccato rhythm.  His back is rigid, and the swelling and discoloration that marks him is starkly lit, darkly discordant paired with the diaphanous trousers.  He flexes his shoulders, and hard muscle twitches under fair skin, expressing his misgivings.

John turns to face him, keeping Mycroft in his peripheral vision, and puts his hand on the small of Sherlock’s back, fingers spread wide, pressing into the heat of him, offering solidarity.  He strokes up and down, moving closer, longing to pull Sherlock fully into his arms, but restrained by the presence of Mycroft, stiff and proper with his superfluous umbrella.

Sherlock’s hair is particularly unruly, after their very... energetic... morning, followed by hard sleep.  Curls wave medusa-like above his forehead, and his eyes are wide, color subdued into gray this morning, and somewhat glassy with shock.  John slides his open hand across Sherlock’s shoulder, down a long, cool arm, bumping over leather then gold, rubbing his thumb affectionately over the prominence of a wrist bone and finally squeezing slender fingers before dropping to his side.

“You think this is from Moriarty, then?  The original one?” he murmurs.

“There are things in here only he could know.”

“But.  You said it’s been 231 years.”  The number is scored indelibly on his brain, he couldn’t forget it.

Sherlock says, with some degree of sarcasm, “Well, he was seeking an elixir to extend human life.”

John looks up at him seriously for a moment, face drawn down in soft lines of solicitude.  He wishes he could pull the man into his embrace, hide him behind the armor of John’s own skin, conceal his vulnerability.  But they have a visitor.  He tilts his head towards Mycroft, patiently waiting in the middle of the room, raises his eyebrows in a question to Sherlock.  Shall we tell him?  Trust him?

Sherlock closes his eyes, statue-still, and finally draws a deep, wavering breath.  John waits, itching to touch, wishing there was something he could fight, now, to protect the strained, beautiful man in front of him.  After a moment Sherlock turns, regal in his near nudity, tall and assured and contained.  “Mycroft.”  He balances thoughtfully on one leg, the other drawn up just enough to trail his toes across the top of the other foot.  “The family’s been seeking me for all this time.”

Mycroft nods somberly.  “Indeed we have.”

“So has another.”

“May I presume that it’s James Moriarty’s cult or kin?”

“You may presume that it’s James Moriarty himself.”  Sherlock shows momentary disappointment at Mycroft’s stoic lack of surprise.

Mycroft thoughtfully taps a well-manicured nail on the shiny black stone of his signet ring.  “Last night, I could find no current information on that name.  His estate and holdings in Ireland are long since dissolved.  And yet... you hold there in your hand an epistle from him?  Yes?”

“I do.  With facts included which are known only to him and myself.”

“Right,” John interrupts.  He leans one hip against the desk.  “231 years.  Did anyone hear me say that?”

Mycroft slides an amused glance at John.  “So we did.  And yet here is Sherlock himself, 231 years on, against all intellectual predictions, flying in the face of science.  It follows, therefore, that someone else could do the same.  Clearly it’s not impossible, merely... highly improbable,” and for just a minute, he and Sherlock are in smug accord.

“You say you have access to those cameras on the street,” Sherlock says quickly.  Mycroft nods assent.  “Could you see who came here last night?  We... Someone delivered a message to Mrs. Hudson.  And... Someone broke in.  It must, of course, be related.”

Mycroft looks very serious.  “They broke in?  Were you here?”

John shakes his head.  “We got back quite late last night.”

Mycroft eyes Sherlock’s bruises once again, and then tracks the marks left on John from the morning’s efforts, and seems to accept that it was a late night indeed.  “I will get that information to you expeditiously,” he says.

They’re interrupted by a brisk tap at the door, and unexpectedly, Mycroft is the one who answers.  Disconcerted, John and Sherlock observe the confident entrance of an attractive brunette, with keen, dark eyes, dressed in a tailored suit.  She saunters into the room, high, sharp heels clicking on the floor, glances at the two half-dressed men by the window without blinking, and turns to Mycroft.  An overcoat is draped over her arm, and she holds it out.  “Sir,” she says.  “If you’re to make the 10:30 with MI5, we’ll need to be leaving now.”

“Of course, my dear,” Mycroft replies, pompous features softening into a not-quite smile.  “What should they ever do without me to sort them out?”  The pair enacts a smooth exchange of umbrella for coat, an obviously well-practiced dance between them.  She adjusts the coat on his shoulders as he shoots his cuffs.  “Did you bring the-”

The woman flips out a small package from somewhere in the vicinity of her cleavage and hands it over.  Mycroft turns to Sherlock.  “I have a phone for you,” he says, moving across the room until he’s standing in front of his many-times great uncle.  “I’m sure if you need help figuring it out, that Dr. Watson here can help,” he doesn’t actually sound entirely convinced, and John growls at him a little.  Mycroft’s mouth twitches in a prelude to a smirk, pleased with his barb.  “My direct number is programmed in there, should you have need of me.  I took the liberty of putting Dr. Watson’s number in as well.”  He hands it to Sherlock.  “Texting and data streaming are enabled and limitless.  I trust this will come in handy.

“I must go.  I’ll let you know as soon as I have analyzed CCTV records from last night.  Perhaps I could be so presumptuous as to assume that I need to continue to be on the lookout for the lamp?”

Sherlock looks recalcitrant, as if caught out by an adult in a lie, but John isn’t surprised that the shark-like intelligence of the man in front of them has successfully extrapolated that the lamp was stolen.  John wants to laugh, but the situation is far too serious and surreal for that.  He balances on his toes, ready for whatever may happen, and gets a sidelong, knowing look from the British Government.

“Perhaps it would ease you to be made aware at this juncture,” Mycroft twirls his umbrella, “that I have no need for wishes.  I have sufficient resources without magical assistance.  Your lamp is safe from me.”

Sherlock doesn’t show measurable relief, but he does relax marginally.  “I’ll call you if I need you,” he says, putting the phone on the desk behind him.

Mycroft nods formally at both of them, then and turns around, herding his assistant ahead of him.  At the door he looks back at Sherlock, with the shadow of a smile, and says, “It is my pleasure to meet you at last, dear Uncle.”

Sherlock simply stares.  The door closes softly behind them.

As if drawn by a string, both John and Sherlock hurry over, opening the door to hear two sets of footsteps leaving the lower staircase.

Mycroft’s voice floats up, “Very interesting men, my Uncle Sherlock and that soldier fellow.  They will bear watching.  Upgrade their surveillance to Level Three.”

“What?  Who?”  Which is a surprising question from such a competent, lethal-looking woman, one who could speak so casually about meetings with MI5.

“Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.”

Chapter Text

John begins to giggle as the front door latches behind Mycroft Holmes and his strangely distracted assistant.  “Oh.  My.  God.  Sherlock.  Your nephew?  He can’t be real.”  He reels back into the living room and collapses in an armchair.  “The British Government.  Oh sweet Christ.”

Sherlock’s shoulders lower, making it clear that until now they’ve been up around his ears with stress.  His eyes warm up and a slow, rare smile begins on one corner of his mouth, grows until he’s transformed:  light and happy.  “Life has become very odd,” he agrees.

John snorts with mirth, and buries his head in his hands, struggling for control.  “Oh, god,” he gasps.  “The umbrella!  MI5!  CCTV.  What is my life?!

Sherlock laughs, too, and John finds it remarkable that it’s the first time he’s heard it.  A deep, baritone rumble of delight.  The sound fills him with warm honey and tingling bubbles, and his giggles die off as he sits, elbows planted on his knees, staring at the vision in front of him.

Sherlock’s head is tipped to the side, tilted down, and his smile has drawn long arcs of happiness in the wrinkles of his skin from eyes to jaw, radiating to his temples.  His mouth is open, chin pulled back, softening the angles of his face, rendering him younger, more innocent, less damaged.  His plush lips curl away from his teeth in a charming bow and the exotic slant of his eyes crinkle, lashes dark, framing irises currently gleaming jade.  The deep peal of his laugh trails into an inelegant choking snort.  This sets John off again, pulled away from his absorption in the beauty now sprawled in the chair opposite.

As they wind down, each relaxed in his chair, having released an unacknowledged amount of tension, the room is lighter for it.

“So,” John says.  “I just met the family, then, yeah?  I gotta say, your, uh, nephew, is-”

“A poncy git,” Sherlock immediately supplies, grinning again.  “Which isn’t to say he can’t be useful.”

John nods somberly.  “Bit poncy, yeah,” he agrees.  “Definite family resemblance,” he teases.

Sherlock jerks back, offended.  “Our only resemblance is that he bears the family ring and my brother’s journal.”

“Oh, come now,” John laughs.  “Same height, same build,” Sherlock looks set to interrupt, but John hurries on, “You’ve both got connected ear lobes, and everyone knows that’s genetic.”

They are interrupted by a strident ringing, and John jumps up to run into the bedroom and collect his phone.  His heart thumps with sudden fear, and he fully expects to see his sister’s name on the caller ID.  Instead, it is listed as Name Not Found.  He swipes the connection and brings it to his ear.  “Hello,” he says cautiously, voice short and strong.

“Oh!  It’s the pet,” croons an Irish lilt back at him.  “With his own phone.  Sherlock must have been teaching you tricks.  Or, well, I guess in this case, it would be you teaching him, given that he’s not acclimated to all this technology.  Which explains why I have to go through you,” the last sentence is said in a harsh growl, all the trill and laughter (crazy as it was) subsumed in a cold rage.  “You have something of mine, Dr. Watson, and I want it back.  This is the only warning you’ll get.”

“We’re on to you, James Moriarty,” John retorts, all cold steel.  “We’ll get the lamp back, and you’re not getting Sherlock.  We’re not afraid of you.”

“Oh, pish!  Of course you are.  Sherlock, at least, isn’t a dribbling idiot.  And even you have figured out who I am.  You can’t be a completely vacant,”  Moriarty retorts.  “Make your wish, dog, because... well... it’s so easy to put a dog down, isn’t it?  When they’re no longer useful.  Make your wish, Johnny-boy.  I’m sure it’ll be something entirely without use or imagination.  Make it quickly,” and here he takes on a childish, chilling singsong quality, “Daddy’s getting impaaaatient!”

Dead air presses against his ear.  The call has been disconnected.  John lowers the phone and stares at it, noting the white-knuckled grip he has around the casing, the rapid, thunderous pounding of his heart.  Outside, in the alley, it begins to snow.

Sherlock stands in the doorway, and John looks up at him, quelling the rage that’s shaking him apart inside.  “That would be Moriarty,” he says.

Sherlock steps closer, until he’s able to put two elegant fingers on the screen of John’s phone.  “Of course it is.”  He pauses, and John is close enough to see a sweep of goosebumps flare and disappear over his skin, but he doesn’t move, still as a mannequin.  “Of course it is.  How could I have ever thought I would be free of him.  I just-.  Just.  Of course.”  Sherlock heaves a shuddering sigh.

John tosses the phone on the messy bed and slides his arms under Sherlock’s, winding them around his shoulders and pulling himself close, until his head leans on Sherlock’s chest.  “He won’t get to you,” he promises.  A stupid, naive promise that he does not have the ability to guarantee, but is certainly willing to die trying.  “He won’t.  I won’t let him.”

Sherlock remains rigid in his arms.  John strokes his fingers along the warm length of the nape of Sherlock’s neck, calluses catching on the impossibly soft skin hidden under his curls.  “Sherlock,” he murmurs.

And Sherlock melts, no longer stone, his body again flexible and responsive, and his head droops down until his face is pressed against John’s hair, breath warm and tickling against the crest of his ear.  Long arms wrap hesitantly around his own shoulders, and Sherlock takes a deep breath.

John runs his hands down that long, bare back, gentle, mindful of the bruising, spreads his palms and fingers wide to maximize the heat exchange, trying to comfort and warm the cool skin against him.  While Sherlock sighs and relaxes against him, he skims his hands up and down, over straight, narrow shoulders, down upper arms to sharp elbows, over the prominent plates of his scapulas, curving around his ribs, briskly rubbing the thin skin covering the sensual dip of his lower back, against the edge of the genie trousers, which are still damp from last night.

“You’re cold,” he says at last.  Sherlock mumbles nothing and burrows closer into his hair, and John smiles a bit.  “Go take a shower, you impossible angel.  Warm up.  I’ll try to find something you can wear long enough to get to Oxfam.”

He continues with the gentle hug, growing half hard in his trousers, and steadfastly ignoring it.  Sherlock stirs after a moment, and pulls back.  He looks at John, eyes clear and hard, face impassive;  he has become remote again, losing the soft, wounded man he was for only a few brief moments earlier.  John mourns the loss, but concedes that it’s more useful to have someone with a fellow soldier mentality, here, on the brink of war as they are, so to speak.  Sherlock spins around and heads for the small bathroom, and John’s eyes linger on the dimples to either side of his spine, admires the prowling gait until he passes through the door.

John locks his arms behind his back and strides to the window, pressing his forehead against the cold glass, watching snow fall on the bins below in the alleyway.  He sighs, and fog billows across the glass, following the path of his breath, before fading away.  John pulls back.  So much has happened in the past 24 hours that it feels as if days have passed, and John has yielded to it with the surreal acquiescence of a dream, but realizes he needs to process, and quickly, to get a plan together.

The inner wall groans and rumbles as the hot water is turned on, and the splash of water makes a soothing domestic background as he wanders to the kitchen and sets the kettle for fresh tea.  Mrs. Hudson must be baking something downstairs, the warm aroma of pastries is curling through the vents, and John closes his eyes as his stomach growls.  He needs to find a Tesco or something, and stock the pantry.

The first order of business must be finding Harry, of course.  He settles into a straight-backed chair at the small table there and pulls up her number on his phone.  There is no answer, nor rings either, before it goes straight to voicemail.  It is probable, since this is a common scenario with his sister, that it has simply run out of juice.  He groans in frustration.  How is he to know if Harry’s just being irresponsible, perhaps only now waking up in the house of the woman she’d picked up last night?  Or if she’s in danger, dead or kidnapped by Moriarty and his goons?

He’s betting on the former, only because they’ve heard from Moriarty twice today, and his only mention of Harry was to tell John to go give her a hug.  That didn’t sound like code for ransom or anything.

John putters through a morning routine, soothed by it, and warily answers the door when Mrs. Hudson knocks, introducing herself with her characteristic gentle hoot.  He smiles as he pulls it open, seeing her alone on the landing.  She’s holding a steaming plate, piled with scones, and John is sure they’re cranberry.  Melted glazing is dripping into small pools on the paper doily beneath them, and John’s mouth waters;  he feels sharp hunger.  “Oh!  Mrs. Hudson,” he breathes in delight, grin huge.  “You’re a saint!”

“Oh, it’s nothing, dear.  I’m just so sorry to have had to interrupt you boys this morning,” Mrs. Hudson waves off his thanks.  “I’m so glad you and Sherlock have found each other.  And now he has family!  Just think.  Now, mind you,” she hands over the plate, “it is just this once.” She smiles over her shoulder as she turns back down the stairs.  “I’m your landlady, not your housekeeper.”

Sherlock enters the kitchen just as John is searching out some plates, dressed in the long satiny bathrobe that had hung on the back of the door.  He has shaved, John notes, the faint dark stubble gone as if it had never been.  His hair is weighted with water, curls longer, snakelike on his neck, wetting the collar of his robe.  He hooks out a chair with his ankle and seats himself sedately.  “Mrs. Hudson?” he asks, nodding at the scones.

“Mmm, yes, I’m in heaven,” John says.  He puts two on a plate and shoves it over.  “Here.  And I’ve got tea ready, too.”

John steadily devours three heavy scones, having burned through quite a number of calories since last night, what with the dancing, the fighting, the terror and suspense, and the radical sex.  Sherlock picks at his, generally disassembling it into crumbs rather than ingesting;  but some makes it in.  He licks a glistening spot of glaze from the sharp delineation between lip and philtrum, and John’s stomach lurches with desire.  He quickly looks back down at the table.

“What now-?” he begins, but is interrupted by yet another knock.  John’s eyes narrow and he mutters, as he heads for the door, something about it being Waterloo Station and having not had a single visitor for months and months, and now they’re quite literally falling from the sky.

He’s got his hand on the pistol, opens the door with caution, stepping well back once it’s unlatched.  The brunette PA is there, scrolling down her phone.  She looks up with mild surprise, as if John’s the one who visited her.

“Er.  May I help you?” John asks, confused, alert, on the balls of his feet.

She switches the phone to one hand and offers him several shopping and garment bags that had been resting on the floor near her feet.  “For Mr. Holmes,” she says, then focuses her attention back on the screen and drifts down the stairs before John can think of what to say.

John stares after her, perplexed, garment bags with a very recognizable name from Savile Row draped over his arm.

“What did she deliver?” Sherlock asks over his shoulder, and John starts.

“Um.  Clothes?”  It’s getting more and more surreal.  He turns around, and Sherlock scoops the loot out of his arms with a considering hmmm, taking them off to the bedroom.  John trails along, and watches in surprise as Sherlock shakes out several sharp suits and shirts, unpacks ties, shoes, socks and pants, vests and pyjamas.

He drops his robe with no sign of self-consciousness and immediately begins to dress.  His body is curved like a question mark, henna bright against alabaster skin, and dark hair echoes that shape, curling down the long, arched neck.  John is caught breathless at the stretch of his spine, the surprising bounty of his arse, the only part of Sherlock composed of bounce and sass.  Lightly muscled thighs taper into shapely calves, raised now, one after another, as Sherlock covers narrow feet with long black socks.  

His grace and balance are exquisite, and John is reminded viscerally of the club, and Sherlock’s impromptu, and very erotic, belly dance.  Recalls that body expressing rhythm and sensuality as one smooth, coordinated, glorious muscle:  the twining, the weaving, bending and balance and talent.  John runs his tongue around his teeth, so that he doesn’t inadvertently leave it hanging out of his mouth in dumb, drooling desire.  The trousers are next, sleek and expensive, and Sherlock pulls them on without preceding them with pants.  He leaves the flies gaping, so that John can see, if he were so rude as to peek, the rich dark curls which fan out there.

John shifts his weight nervously from one foot to the other, as Sherlock stoops to grab a shirt.  He is not sure if he should leave or stay.  But the suits are amazing;  like a magic trick, they had arrived unexpected and out of thin air.  “So, this must be Mycroft’s doing?”

“Naturally.  I suppose he saw my lack and had his assistant fill it.”

“How on earth could he have gotten your size?” John wonders.

Sherlock buttons up a crisp, forest green shirt that fits over his skin like a glove and fastens the slate-colored trousers over his hips.  He raises an eyebrow at John.  “I was fairly exposed, John.  I’d assume he took note of my dimensions while we spoke.”

“What?” John stutters.  “Who can do that?”

Sherlock looks at him with pity.  “John,” he says.  “You see, but you do not observe.  It is no great trick to determine measurements from a visual examination.”

“Guess not in your gene pool,” John grumps.

Sherlock slides on the jacket and sits to put on supple black shoes.  John tries not to swallow his tongue.  “Um,” he says as Sherlock stands again, giving himself a once-over in the wardrobe mirror.  “You look... very nice,” which is a hideous understatement, and John’s face begins to heat up.  He quickly moves to the window, to look out and cool his face.  “Looks like Mycroft did a bang-up job estimating your... measurements.”

Sherlock is polished and cosmopolitan in his suit.  He’s spurned the tie, top two buttons left undone, highlighting the smooth white of his throat.  The inviting hollow of his suprasternal notch is framed in dark green and curls.  He’s still wearing the earrings, jewels still scattered in his hair, and when John turns to look at him he grins.  The juxtaposition of affluent urban male and sensual genie is both amusing and arousing.

John moves forward and puts a hand on Sherlock’s shoulder.  “The, er, earrings go pretty well with the shirt, Sherlock, but-”

“Ah,” is Sherlock’s immediate response.  “Of course.”  He swings to the mirror and removes the amber drops, and begins combing through his hair to pick out the jewels.

“Let me,” John says, soft, and Sherlock darts a quick look at him before moving to sit on the bed.

“Thank you,” he says.

John frowns at him, laughing.  “I’m not that short, Sherlock.  You don’t have to sit.”

Sherlock simply smirks and dips his head.  “I am merely trying to make it more accessible for you, John,” he murmurs.

John teases through the damp hair, pulling out cold stones as he goes, until there is a small pile in Sherlock’s waiting palm.  “Guess we should check the bathroom for strays,” he says, frankly marveling that they aren’t all in the bathtub drain.  He gives a final check, and feels Sherlock’s smothered laugh travel through his touch.  Sherlock’s other hand, resting on his knee, is still marked with henna, startling and exotic paired with the suit, and John smiles at the thought that this bit of his genie heritage cannot be erased, that he knows of.  He folds Sherlock’s fingers over the tiny jewels and rotates his arm to trace the detailed artwork on the back of his hand, until it crawls up his wrists and disappears under sharp cuffs.

“You look... very good,” he says, only realizing once the words are out that he’s now said it twice.  Sherlock tilts his head back, smug expression on his face.  They stare at eachother for a minute, and John gathers the courage to move between his knees, to stoop until his face hovers over Sherlock’s upturned one, admiring the heavy curve of his brows, and the sharply angled planes of his cheek and jaw.  John drifts lower still, until their lips are brushing, a warm connection of damp, sensitive skin.

Sherlock tosses his handful of stones into a curve of the duvet and wraps both hands hot around the backs of John’s thighs, thumbs nudging boldly into the crease under his buttocks, holding him still for the kiss.

John sways closer, buzzing from the electricity generated by Sherlock’s proximity; his nerves sing and his blood roars.  His fingers slip into damp, cold hair, threading through it until they find the body-warmth below, massaging against parietal and occipital bones, directing Sherlock’s head back to an angle which suits him.

Sherlock’s lips are mobile against his own, never still, sipping at him with insistent demand, confident and accomplished.  John lets himself fall, dizzied and winded, gulping for air between bouts of intense, clinging reciprocity.  He licks messily at Sherlock, tracing the defined edge of his philtrum, tasting the sapid corners of his mouth, until Sherlock opens up to let him in.  His tongue is slyly tempting, plays a coy game of hide and seek, and John pushes inside, questing and compelling.  The wet heat is elemental, and John exults in that primal space, pushing against the twisting muscle that is Sherlock's tongue, claiming the contours and textures of his mouth.

Sherlock contests his possession, pressing up until their lips seem contused from the action, and the swelling lends sensual plushness to their osculatory scrimmage.  John’s hands curve under Sherlock’s ears; he presses his fingertips against the points of Sherlock’s jaw, digging into that sharp corner, holding Sherlock as motionless as he can, taking every advantage of the softness under his lips.

But Sherlock does not play passive: he tears his mouth away to bite at John’s chin, rasps his teeth through echinated stubble.  Then he becomes sidetracked, nibbling a bruise into the base of John’s neck.

John gurgles an inhale, and his grip slides down to Sherlock’s shoulders, closing strongly against the frail bone of his clavicle as he roils with the deep, discrete sensation of pain/pleasure.  He briefly envisions the room as a photo with a shallow depth of field, Sherlock and himself in focus, and the rest of the world fuzzy and indistinct.

Sherlock leans back finally, dropping his head to stare at John through hooded eyes, blazing green.  His cheeks are pink, his lips are shiny and debauched, delicate skin scratched and rosy from contact with John’s morning beard.

“Sherlock,” John says.  And his voice is raspy and cracked with passion.

Sherlock rearranges his grip, fingers curling around John’s waist, cool against his bare skin, and he loses his train of thought, bracing himself on Sherlock’s shoulders.  Sherlock nuzzles against the fur of his chest, nosing and licking into it while clever hands count his ribs, trace the fold of his belly, rise to caress the keloidal flesh of his shoulder, scratching around the starburst scar as he sucks little marks below it.

John follows the urging of Sherlock’s hands, tipping forwards until he has to kneel one leg on the bed between Sherlock’s thighs.  He rubs his face in Sherlock’s damp hair, and a frisson fragments his sigh of pleasure.  “Sherlock,” he gasps.  “Wait.  Sherlock.  You’ve just got dressed.”

And Sherlock huffs a small laugh, scoffing at him, verdigris gaze teasing and luminous.  “So I shall get undressed.  And dressed again.  Certainly that should not confound me.”

John helps, unbuttoning tiny buttons while Sherlock sheds his jacket and opens John’s trousers.  John stumbles back as his trousers and pants both slide from the lever of his cock and gracelessly shakes them off one, then the other leg.  Naked and anticipatory, he watches hungrily as Sherlock lays shirt and jacket carefully across one corner of the bed.  The leather cuffs and gold bracelets are still on him, and John nearly giggles at the thought of such whimsy under that sophisticated suit.

Sherlock arches back onto the bed, scooping his trousers, socks and shoes off as he goes, body a ripple of pale flesh and coiling muscle.  Feline eyes glow at him as Sherlock wiggles to the top of the bed and lounges against the pillow.  He watches John intently, and John flushes all the way to his ears, but can’t force himself to look away.

Sherlock raises a knee, and drops his hand to his crotch, skirting around the darkened length of his erection, toying in the hairs curled provocatively around it.  He strokes  down his cock and gives a low, vibrating hum.  His eyes are very dark, contrasting with the pallor of his skin, the abraded flush of his cheeks.  His fingers are light, teasing the shaft, tracing a path from base to crown, pinching along the sides of the foreskin veil until it is retracted, revealing a lewdly shiny glans.  He tugs a little, straightens himself out, and exhales sharply, giving a little grunt.

The overhead light is bright, and harsh, and John can see every pale freckle and dark, random mole.  The henna over Sherlock’s knuckles squirms as his hand gently moves.  The musical clink of gold as his bracelets scrape across the hair around his navel is louder than their breathing.  John takes a step forward, until his knees are jammed against the mattress, and sucks in air like an Olympic diver getting ready to jump.

“Come here, John,” Sherlock’s deep voice purrs, seductive and irresistible.

“I-  Sherlock-”  They just did this five hours ago.  How can he need it again so badly?

“Come here, John,” he says again.  The leather band around his bicep flexes and jumps with the twists of his arm.

John places a knee on the bed, leans over, and over, and stretches, until he is propped, palm against the wall over Sherlock’s shoulder, face a breath away.  He can smell the fresh scent of shampoo, clinging to dark, tangling curls.  He stares, tongue caught between his teeth.

John is familiar with Sherlock’s chest, as it’s been on display since they met.  Dusted with fine hairs and cut, it’s sharp and unyielding in its beauty, like the rest of Sherlock.  He broadens unexpectedly, given the slenderness of his hips and waist.  John’s eyes seek out his nipples, pinched into nubs, a dark pink, and he sucks in a lungful of air that feels too warm, hypoxic.

Sherlock hums and raises his arms, cock snapping back to his abdomen with a vulgar slap.  He stretches sinuously, tilting his head back, the cords of his throat thrown into relief, framed by upstretched limbs wrapped in wide leather bands.  The soft dark patches under his arms highlight the paleness of his skin, its fine texture.  John can see blue veins lying under it.

Sherlock stares a cocky challenge at him, caresses his own chest, scraping luxuriously over his nipples with a tiny sigh, and then arrows his hands down to his hips.

John is frozen, tongue exposed.



Sherlock’s long fingers angle off of impossibly slim hips, resting around the warm jut of iliac crest, and frame his groin.  He is smooth and white except for the slender, pink column curved upwards against his belly.

John shakes himself back into his body, bypasses Sherlock’s expectant face, and noses into his hair instead.  He can feel the strands, soft and cool, pressing into forehead, cheek and chin.  He turns his head to lip the crinkled edge of Sherlock’s ear, exhaling gently into the whorl of it.  He feels Sherlock shudder and gasp under him, although they aren’t yet touching anywhere but at their heads.

Sherlock drawls, “Come on, John.  You wish you had me like this, don’t you?  Press me down.  Touch me however you like.”

John can feel that wish, pushing behind his eyes, and he buries it firmly in the back of his brain.  He licks the helix of Sherlock’s ear.  “No,” he murmurs.  “This morning, you-” he dips his tongue into the antihelical fold, tracing around the scapha;  and Sherlock’s ear tastes of soap and skin.  “You want to be in control.”

Sherlock keens under him, quiet, nearly imperceptible, and slithers down against the pillows, pulling John on top of him.  “I want to feel your weight,” he breathes.  He writhes under John, gyrating his flat chest against John’s, sighing in pleasure as the crips hairs there tease his own nipples.  “Rub yourself on me,” he says, eyes dark and colorless with carnality.

John cannot say no, climbs over the genie and hovers there push-up style, rocking back and forth to drag the hairs of his body across Sherlock’s sensitive skin.  Sherlock groans, and his spine rolls, and he twitches his hips up so that their cocks bump and shudder over each other as well, John’s bollocks bouncing over Sherlock’s twitching erection, drawing up from the tangled tickle of stiff pubic hair.

John is unabashedly panting, skin prickling and hot, less from sensation than from the idea that he’s doing this to Sherlock, making him flushed and intoxicated, growling and gasping under the brush of John’s body.

Sherlock’s arm flashes up, catching John around the back of his neck, and pulls him into a fierce kiss, all invasive tongue and clashing teeth, saliva a hot pool on the flexing floor of his mouth.  John lets his body fall, Sherlock responds with a guttural Oomph that trails into a stuttered fricative when John tears his mouth away, pressing down with his hips and chest.

He reaches desperately for the foil sachet on the nightstand, torn from the dawn, and hurriedly squeezes the remainder of the lubricant onto his hand.  “Open your legs,” he commands, so immersed in sensation that he forgets to consider Sherlocks peculiar sensitivities, forgets the conversation they’d shared.

Sherlock freezes, catalyzed into marble at John’s thoughtless imperative, and his thighs clamp together tightly.  John shuts his eyes to Sherlock’s unguarded expression, grinds his teeth and silently castigates himself.

“I’m sorry.  I”m sorry.”  He rolls to the side, on his back, head lower than Sherlock’s on the pillow, deliberately aiming for submissive posture.  “I didn’t think.  How about... you come over here, yeah?”  He twists his head on the pillow and opens his eyes to see Sherlock looking at him sidelong.  The first frost of shock has passed, leaving his eyes clouded in its wake, but he’s still flushed, still trembling, lips parted as he seeks air.

For a short stretch they’re just stationary, breathing; and Sherlock passes the time by reading John’s mind through his irises.  

John lies flat and nonthreatening, lubed hand lifted off the duvet while Sherlock decides what to do about it.

At last, Sherlock blinks, pink tongue wetting his lips, and breathes, “I said I wanted your weight on me, John.”

“You sure?” John has to ask, although everything in him is screaming to leap on top of the man now, to take until he owns him all, until every piece of him is branded with John, John’s body printed on him in ink as indelible as the henna seems to be.

Sherlock turns and grabs John’s far hip, tugging him over, and that is enough for John.  He fits himself to Sherlock’s body more carefully this time, aware that Sherlock’s cocked one leg to the side, and he nestles into the space made for him.  He brushes his lips to the round resilience of the deltoid muscle over Sherlock’s shoulder, tongues the skin there, makes a low humming in his throat, meant to soothe.  He seduces a path across sharp clavicles, licks the suprasternal notch, sucks gently at the throb of the carotid pulse.

Sherlock jerks his hips impatiently.  “John.  I am not made of glass.”

John grins and bites harder.  “No,” he agrees.  He skims his right hand down Sherlock’s arm, tangles their fingers together and raises them up by Sherlock’s head, pressing their hands down into the pillow.  His left hand he works in between them, gliding between heated skin and fluttering muscle until he can wrap it around both cocks.  He is startled at the intimate comparison he can make between them, his own ruddy and rude, Sherlock’s delicate and bewitching.  The greased glide of the pair through his fist is almost as enchanting as the sensations registered through his own, comparably boorish, cock.

Sherlock groans, deep and velvety, free hand flying to the small of John’s back, stroking the dip there, massaging over the humps of his buttocks, pulling him close as he grinds upwards into John’s busy hand.  John’s anus twinges, still a bit raw from before, and he pushes into the discomfort, relishing the memory.

They blunder together in a blind kiss, mouths open in a metaphor for the link between their bodies and their minds, tongues darting back and forth without discernment or finesse.  John tucks his nose beside Sherlock’s, gasping, and gives up on his mouth, just breathing in Sherlock’s short huffs of breath, skin tingling at sharing something so primordial.

He releases their erections, to Sherlock’s frustrated growl (long fingers dig punishingly into the dents of his vertebrae), but only to explore the crease of an outflung thigh, to wiggle behind drawn bollocks, to work between the calescent globes of that deliciously rounded arse, rubbing at the smooth seam between his legs until he finds the hole that breaks it.

“Ung, John,” Sherlock’s eyes fly open, and his dazed stare is cast towards John’s intent face.

“Is this ok?” John asks tightly, straining for control.

Sherlock nods, moves his body, opening his legs wider, and pushes himself into John’s fingers.

“Yes.  Oh, yes.  I’m gonna make you feel so good,” John croons, mouth on autopilot as he deliriously focuses on his fingers, pushing against Sherlock’s opening, rubbing smooth the wrinkles there.

“Yes.  Gods.  Ok, John.  It’s good,” and if Sherlock sounds surprised, then John is in no condition to register that, and has to file it away for later.  He sinks in a finger, still slick with lube, and Sherlock is torrid and stretched around it, velvety walls of his anus soft against the skin of John’s finger, as plush and slick as the interior of his mouth.  He works it in and out, finding a rhythm that works for his hips as well, pushing with his toes to maintain the cadence while his middle finger joins his first.

Sherlock arches and gasps, hand scrabbling up John’s back and wrapping around the ball of his shoulder.  “John.  Oh!”

John drops his head to the hollow of Sherlock’s neck, breathing air warmed by his skin.  Sherlock’s jaw is smooth against his temple.  He cannot reach Sherlock’s prostate from this position, but that is not the point.  He pushes his fingers in and out, rubs his cock over Sherlock’s, feels the feathery slide of his bollocks, and slowly increases his pace.

Sherlock scratches through his hair, damp with sweat, and their skin glides as if they’ve oiled more than just their cocks.  The sucking pop of air pockets created and smoothed out are a counterpoint to the slap of John’s hips, the groans and hisses of them both as they chase release.

“Sherlock.  Ah fuck.  You’re so-” John mutters into Sherlock’s skin, feeling the pressure build, and his vision’s gone, no point in opening his eyes, they’d be rolling all around in his head.  “Sherlock.  You’re fucking glorious-”  and he loses all sense of rhythm, is just jamming his body hard against Sherlock, shoving his fingers inside him as deeply as he can, feeling the shudder and pulse against him;  the smell of sweat and soap and musk is going to drown him.

And Sherlock gives a cry, and there’s the obscene sensation of slippery heat, surging scalding between their bellies;  and Sherlock arches and shakes under his body, fingers closing hard around his hand, head tossing against the pillow.  And all John needs is one last push, one push through the viscous soup between them, a hedonistic roll of his hips, smearing his dick through that fluid, Sherlock’s cock still twitching alongside it, twisting his fingers between willing, opened legs, and

John comes.

And collapses.  Shaking and vague.  He gently pulls his fingers free and wipes them carelessly on the sheets.  Tremors are still shocking though Sherlock, who turns his head to bury his face in John’s hair.

When John catches his breath and regains control, he lets go of Sherlock’s hand, hauling his wobbly body up onto his elbows with a grin.  “Well,” he says fondly, “I guess you’ll need another shower.”

Sherlock’s eyes are still soft, he looks relaxed and well-worn.  John feels intense protectiveness run through his veins, stiffen his resolve like iron, and he dips his head for a slow kiss.  The flash of a gem catches his eye, and when he looks around, he can see the tiny stones, strewn among the tangled bedclothes, and he laughs.  “That may be the most decadent thing I’ve ever done....  I’ve never had sex in a literal bed of precious stones!  You’re brilliant, Sherlock.  Shamefully beautiful.”

John eventually sits up, flushed and happy and satisfyingly sated.  He grins at Sherlock.  “I’ve gotta go shower, too.”  He rubs his thumb across Sherlock’s swollen bottom lip, continues along the line of his jaw and circles his ear.

“Yes,” Sherlock agrees, rather insultingly.  But John doesn't object to the honest assessment, not pretending to himself that he smells fresh, by any means, having not bathed since before going to the club the night before.  Stale smoke and sweat are still clinging like oil to his hair, and his skin is itching from stubble, and semen gums up the hollow of his navel, plasters his hair to his belly.




The phone is ringing when they step out of the steam.  John hurries into the bedroom to answer it, still toweling his hair and patting his face.  Sherlock looks consideringly on as he swipes it.  The number is again not recognized.  “Hello?”  John braces himself for another conversation with Moriarty.

“Johnny!  It’s Harry.  God, please, you have to help me!”

“Harry?” he asks.  “Harry!  Are you alright?  Where are you?  What happened?”  He doesn’t even have it in him to be angry about last night, he’s so relieved to hear from her.

Sherlock wraps his arm around John and holds him pinned to his hip.  His head is bent down to hear what Harry says, and soft hair brushes against John’s face, warm breath puffing against his neck.

John is only momentarily distracted by that casual, possessive hold.

“They’ve got me in the fucking stir, John!  Sod it all these bloody, mother-fucking goat cocks say I’m being held for bloody murder.”

Considering the context, John thinks, indecorously and ghoulishly hysterical, that she should have chosen a less appropriate adjective for that last noun.  But the morgue humor only lasts for a second.  

“What?  Murder?  The hell you say.  Harry are you sure?  Are you talking about Melissa?”  His posture stiffens as his voice drops into the familiar cadence of command.

Sherlock casts him an avid look and then presses his head still closer, standing behind John now, with both hands trapping his hips, fingers hooked tightly into the iliac crests.  Although he has no idea why, John tilts the phone slightly away from his ear, so that Sherlock can better hear.  The fingers spasm briefly on his hips in what ‘might’ be a thanks.

“Fuck it all, Johnny.  Murder!  Murder.  They say Melissa’s dead.” Harry’s aggression suddenly dissolves into tears, and she snivels and chokes incomprehensibly into her end for several beats.

“Harry,” John says again.  “Harry, stop crying.  Just.  Tell me where you are and I’ll come over, and we’ll sort this out, yeah?”

 

Chapter Text

John dresses quickly, locating a tie to go with a plain blue button up.  He knows he has to look sober and responsible if he is to bail Harry out.  The more respectable the better.  He spares a brief moment in jealousy of Sherlock, who can lounge about like a fucking courtesan in wispy fabric, gems and ink all day long, and yet, at a moment’s notice, manage to look intimidatingly professional with no effort at all.  He is, however, glad the man will be at his side in what promises to be an ordeal.

The female sergeant working the desk has them escorted to the cell where they have Harry.  She is flung out on the cot but lunges up as soon as she realizes the footsteps are stopping at her door.

“Johnny!” she cries, rushing towards him.  The holding cell in which she’s locked is crisp and white and mercilessly lit.  Harry looks like they’ve likely picked her up after leaving the other woman’s house:  hair unwashed and, as usual, without makeup.  The unmistakable smell of pubs and clubs wafts from her clothes and her hair.  A raging hangover is written in the lines of her face and the bags under her eyes, and her complexion is pallid and faintly green.  She is dressed in last night’s costume, uniform jacket rolled up on the cot for a pillow.  The hand she thrusts through the bars towards her brother shakes continually, although John cannot discern whether it is a result of fear or alcohol poisoning.

He clasps her hand between his own, and looks at her with a conflicting blend of pity, protectiveness, anger and disappointment (he manages this combination well, as it’s the predominant set of emotions he’s experienced around his hedonistic sister since she started drinking and rebelling at the age of 14).  “Harry,” he says.  “Oh, Harry.  Tell me what happened.”

Harry takes a shaken, shuddering breath, eyes swimming in tears that haven’t fallen, and her nose reddens in front of John’s eyes.  “It’s Melissa.  They say that.  Melissa is-”

“I know, Sis,” John says, squeezing her hand.  “I saw.  Last night, I saw what happened.”

“You saw it happen??  Johnny-”

“No!  No, I didn’t witness it.  I saw her afterward, Harry.  They called me in-”

Harry doesn’t follow that thought through to its logical conclusion, too absorbed in her own drama to consider its impact on John.  “Melissa was murdered last night, Johnny.  Murdered!  And this morning, when I got home, they.  This man.  He arrested me.  Said I did it.  Said he had witnesses to a fight- assault...”  The tears begin falling now, and Harry pulls back her hand to wipe them away, but Sherlock catches it before she can get it back through the bars.  He examines it carefully, ignoring the angry, confused glare she gives him as he straightens her fingers and flips her wrist over to see her palm.  He releases her without saying a word, and puts both hands behind his back, attitude one of disdainful patience.

Harry scowls.  “You have to get me out of here, Johnny.”

“Yeah.  I’ll try, Harry.  But this isn’t as simple as a drunk and disorderly, yeah?  I don’t think it’s a matter of paying a fine and scheduling a court date.”

Harry sneers at him a little.  “I didn’t do it, John,” she whines.  “You know I didn’t.  You have to fix it.”

John tightens his jaw and looks over Harry’s shoulder at the cold, white tile wall.  Of course he has to fix it.  He always has to fix all Harry’s problems.  Or else stand back and watch her crash and burn, which has also happened a lot in the past 20 years.  He’s intensely disgusted with his sister’s self-absorption and self-pity.  Her girlfriend has been brutally killed, for goodness’ sake, and she doesn’t appear to be thinking about that at all.

But then she says, sniffling, “Oh, Johnny.  I feel so sick about it.  I’m so-.  She was a good person, you know?  Better than me.  I.  I know I didn’t treat her right, and she deserved better than me.  And now she’s dead, and I know.  I just know that it was my fault,” Harry looks up at him then, and her eyes are red and swollen, streaming trails of water and guilt.  “I know I was an utter twat to her.”

“Yeah, Sis.  I know,” John reaches through the bars and awkwardly pats her shoulder.  Whether he’s agreeing to her personal assessment or her sorrow for Melissa he’s not too sure.  A neat, pressed linen square appears by his arm, held in graceful, hennaed fingers, and John smiles a little as he takes Sherlock’s proffered handkerchief and passes it to Harry.  “Here.  Harry.  I know, ok?  I’ll go see your arresting officer and... arrange bail.  I don’t know.  See what I can do.  You just.  Wait here...” he trails off a little lamely, as he recognizes the irony of asking her to wait.  Like she’d be able to wander off if she wanted to.  “Right.  We’ll be back shortly.  Buck up, then.”

Harry blows her nose hard and wipes off her face.  She looks over John’s shoulder at Sherlock, tall and remote.  She grimaces in embarrassment and nods faintly.  “Yeah, alright.”  She keeps the hanky.

They sit in an uncomfortable waiting room for twenty minutes, surrounded by dull plastic chairs and angry, upset or dejected people.  There are well-thumbed and very dull magazines in a rack on the wall, and a sludge-dispensing coffee machine next to that.  John sits military straight, readying himself for battle, and Sherlock lounges next to him, long legs stretched outwards, defining a personal territory that no one cares to breach.  His arm is laid over the back of the chair next to him, also claiming his space.  John smirks a little at the body language, and it amuses him to see the crowds of people unconsciously obeying Sherlock’s directive, glancing at the empty seat and then turning away to find some other place to settle.

Eventually, John’s name is called, and the pair follows another officer to an elevator and thence up three floors.  They are guided through a busy bullpen area and shown to a desk.  The man who looks up is familiar.

“Detective Inspector Dimmock,” Sherlock greets.

The little man stands up.  He does not look surprised, but he does seem a bit apprehensive.  He runs a fussy hand through thin, receding hair.  “Er, yes.  I thought I might see you this morning.  Er.  Go ahead and sit down, will you?”

There is only one chair in front of his desk, so John gestures to an empty one nearby.  “May I?” he asks politely.

“Ahem.  Yes.  Of course.  Sorry.”

John suppresses the urge to roll his eyes.  This man is so self-effacing... a rather unappealing characteristic in someone of his position.  It could work to John’s advantage, however, so he makes no comment, simply swings the chair around and places it next to the other.  He and Sherlock sit after Dimmock does.

“Would you mind telling me why you’ve arrested my sister?” John says.  He’s careful to keep the belligerence out of his tone, because he doesn’t want to alienate the man.  He is still, however, commanding and sharp, the voice he uses with subordinates who have committed an infraction.

Dimmock, predictably, shuffles nervously in his seat before inflating himself with false bravado.  “Well, obviously, Mr. Watson, it’s because I believe your sister did it.”

“That’s Doctor Watson,” Sherlock corrects mildly.  Dimmock sneaks a startled look at him, and then focuses on John again.  He doesn’t acknowledge the correction.  “I inspected the club last night, sir, and interviewed the bartender there.  Your sister was seen in a physical altercation with the deceased, yelling, pushing and hitting.  In addition to battery, she was overheard provoking and denigrating the victim.  After the argument, after you sent...” he checks his notes, “Melissa DeRoma... outside, your sister disappeared.  As a matter of fact, you disappeared as well.”  He stares at them suspiciously, “Perhaps you were accessories.”

Sherlock scoffs.  “Were your eyes open at all when we were with you last night, Detective?  John was quite clearly distressed about news of his sister’s death-” there is a wealth of sarcasm and disdain at Dimmock’s shoddy detection there, “and utterly shocked when the body was revealed to be Melissa.  He is patently not a part of the murder.

“In addition,” Sherlock pops up and begins to pace back and forth in the tight space behind his and John’s chairs.  His hands fly out gracefully as he talks, and his voice is loud enough to attract the attention of most of the bullpen in their quadrant.  Slowly, the noise level drops, until all the officers are staring at him.  Sherlock ignores this.

“Your deductive technique is demonstrably shoddy.  Last night, during my admittedly cursory examination of the body, several things were immediately conspicuous.  The most important of which (and one would really hope your own training would prepare you to notice such a prominent feature of a murder, and not find it necessary to leave that to your pathologist), is the angle of the fatal cut.  Melissa’s throat was slit, obviously by a very sharp, very thin blade  which made a clean cut, no tears in the skin.  The incision was steeply slanted upwards, indicating an assailant who was a minimum of 6 inches taller than the victim, measured from her shoulder.  The person who grabbed Melissa was right-handed, you can see fingertip bruising on the right side of her jaw:  the assailant stood behind her, grabbed her chin to turn her neck, and sliced quickly, from left to right, and very deep.  The left tendon was severed.  There were no marks on the body to indicate a struggle.”

Sherlock speeds up, each sentence is so rapid it is hard for John keep up.  His delivery is  staccato with emphatic, posh diction.  John stifles a laugh, watching while Dimmock seems to shrink in his seat as if each revelation is hammering him down.  His soft dark eyes dart frantically from Sherlock to the other officers around him who do not pretend to do anything but listen.

Sherlock continues, brutally relentless,  “Harry Watson is left-handed, like her brother, something I’m sure you can ascertain in less than one minute by handing her a pen.  Also, Harry hasn’t showered since leaving the club last night:  she still reeks of it and is wearing the same clothes.  Slitting an artery is a messy business, no matter how professional you are.  Blood sprays everywhere, and yet, Harry is clean and so are her clothes.

"From the marks on Melissa’s upper arms, one may assume that she was moved, using her arms, following the murder.  The bruising is deeper and more delineated at the bottom of each mark, which shows that she was lifted, presumably to toss her into the skip where you found her.

"You will also notice, if you actually take the time to observe, that Harry is a petite woman, standing at 5’3”.  Melissa was 5 inches taller than her, and outweighed her by almost 4 stone.  Even if Harry could have lifted that dead weight, she would have used the center of gravity of females (their hips).  When someone is clasped at that distance above the ground, you may assume that they’re being stabilized against a chest:  men’s center of gravity is their chest, and it is therefore obvious that Melissa was braced at the chest-height of a man who is likely around 6’2 or ‘3, going by the spread and intensity of her bruises.

“That is a full-size skip, judging from the photo there,” Sherlock points at the file in front of Dimmock.  “To access the opening in that skip, the body would have had to be lifted over a 5 foot wall.  Also, Melissa was... quite solid... I’d say around 11 stone:  the man who could toss her corpse up and over a 5 foot skip wall would have been well-built:  heavily muscled, frequent workouts with weights, thick neck and possibly steroids.”

Sherlock stops and leans on the back of John’s chair.  John looks up, catching the sharp line of his jaw, and Sherlock looks down at him and smirks.  He is glowing, vibrant and innervated on his own brilliance.  John raises his eyebrows in an unspoken encouragement for more.

Sherlock obliges him.  “One of the reasons Harry was dating Melissa is because of their size discrepancy:  it made Harry feel powerful to have implicitly-given control over someone who could have physically dominated her at any given time, if the permission had been revoked.  Melissa was a member of the armed forces.  She was not naive, active military, deployed at least once, and had been trained, one must assume, in combat.  There is no way that she could have been attacked by such a smaller woman without the job having been, if successful at all, tremendously messier.”

Sherlock indicates the file on the desk in front of a very uncomfortable Dimmock and says, “I’m sure it notes in your report that the fingers that turned Melissa’s jaw broke her skin;  there are crescent marks there from fingernails.  Only half hour ago I looked carefully at Harry’s hands, and there appears to be no blood or skin residue under her nails.  It is possible you can check for DNA?  Some modern test?  But mental comparisons drawn from memory show that the nail marks in Melissa’s skin are less curved and broader:  again, likely a man.

“As a matter of fact, the neatness and rapidity with which this murder was carried out indicates a high level of experience.  A contracted killer, perhaps, or another member of the military.  It is most certainly not the work of an emotionally compromised alcoholic secretary.”

Sherlock stops, and swings around to glare disdainfully at Dimmock, who has shrunk more and more as the speech continued.  Sherlock leans over his desk and taps smartly at the opened folder with photos of Melissa’s body in situ.  “Your case will go faster, Detective, if you’ll take my word as gospel.”

There’s a short, gurgling laugh quickly stifled behind them, and John turns around to see the silver-haired man who had been present at the morgue when they’d been there with Mike Stamford.

“Dimmock.  Hand me that file.  I’ll take these gentleman into my office.”

Dimmock’s face flames, and he looks stubborn and defensive both.  “But, Lestrade, I’ve-”

“Dimmock.  Just do it.”

With poor grace, Dimmock hands over the file, and Lestrade laughingly gestures towards an office near the center of the bullpen, enclosed in glass walls.  “Step in my office, won’t you?”  He leads the way, opening the door.  “Coffee?  No?  Don’t blame you, it’s rubbish.  Alright.  I didn’t expect to see you so soon.  Actually, I didn’t expect to see you again at all, but I certainly remember you from the morgue.”  He stares up at Sherlock with a grin.  “I believe I told you then that this could be a career for you.  You want a job, you just let me know.”

Sherlock stares back, impassive, but his eyes are luminous, fingers twitching behind his back.  John can tell that he’s high on deductions and electrified with it.  Feeling considerably more relaxed now, John smiles to see Sherlock in his element.

“Detective Inspector Lestrade, is that correct?” Sherlock’s deep voice flows out, and settles richly into the room.  “You may remember that I am Sherlock Holmes, and this is Dr. John Watson.”  

Lestrade’s eyes flick over to John, and he grins at him with the same weary delight he’d shown in the bullpen.

“Dr. Watson, good to see you again.”  He casually indicates the chairs on one side of his desk.  “Have a seat, gentlemen.  If I understood what I overheard correctly, then, Dimmock is holding your... wife?... responsible for this?” and he lays the file on his desk as he lowers himself into the chair with a sigh.

“My sister,” John quickly corrects.  Lestrade’s eyes dart to his ringless left hand and then back to the file.

“He’s an idiot,” Sherlock says suavely.  He fiddles with the scarf loosely draped around his neck and looks carefully at Lestrade.  “Do those... CCTV... cameras cover the nightclub?”

Lestrade holds up his hand, requesting silence, and thumbs through the report for a few minutes, familiarizing himself with the case, and then looks at him sharply.  “Only the front of it, unfortunately.  We did check.  Nothing unusual there.”

“Ah.”  Sherlock leans back in the squeaky chair and picks at a tear in the plastic upholstery.  “Very well.  Did his bumbling investigation turn up anything else?”

“Not that the report mentions,” Lestrade says.  “I think your contribution out there in the pen was a lot more detailed than what I’ve got in here.  Could I please have you go over it again, while I take notes?”  He gives a tired smile and scrubs his hands over his face.  “That’s the second time I’ve seen you dismantle evidence so quickly and thoroughly.  And you say you’re an amateur?”

Sherlock says, offended, “I have spent my entire life cultivating the art of observation.  I would by no means qualify myself as an amateur.  Most people see, but they don’t observe, and what they see are the most superficial of details.  As a matter of fact, the impenetrable ineptitude of your average man is so overwhelming that he often doesn’t even note that.  He typically sees what he wants to, even when all evidence is against it.  It really is a remarkable feat of denial and fantasy.  I, on the other hand, am a scientist, and am interested in gathering the facts, and only the facts, before I try to formulate a theory to explain them.”

“Ah, you’re a scientist.”  Lestrade leans back as well, and pulls a mug of coffee off the desk.  He takes a swig and grimaces violently.  “Oh, hell, that was piss.”  His face drawn into an expression of disgust, he works his jaw a few times as if that’ll disperse the taste of old, cold coffee from his tongue.  Sherlock and John wait, John trying to smother a grin.  He likes the detective, with his warm, interested eyes, and they way he’s so impressed with Sherlock.  Anyone who’s impressed by Sherlock is a friend of John’s.  “What kind of scientist?” Lestrade asks.

There is a pause, as Sherlock considers.  John waits, too, curious.  Surely Sherlock can’t say Alchemy.  “Chemistry,” he replies.  “But I have been reading up lately on forensics and crime analysis.”

Lestrade shakes his head.  “We really could use you.  You want the paperwork for a job, you just let me know.”

Sherlock looks disdainfully out into the bullpen area.  “I am certain I could not tolerate working among all these cretins.  But if you’d ever like to consult with me, you are welcome to give me a call.”

“Great.  Give me your number, then.”

Sherlock darts a panicked look at John, who recalls that Sherlock doesn’t really know anything about using his phone.  He finds where Sherlock’s number is stored and reads it to Lestrade, who looks curious, but doesn’t comment on the fact that Sherlock doesn’t seem to know his own phone number.  John takes Lestrade’s card and slowly types his information into Sherlock’s list of contacts.

They're even, now, he muses.  Both with three contacts apiece, and John wonders how sad is his life that he’s only got as many contacts as a man who has been trapped in a lamp for over 200 years and only been out in the modern world, filled with strangers and danger, for a week.  He sucks on the inside of one cheek and decides to let that thought go, as it will benefit no one.

Lestrade lets them leave an hour later, after Sherlock has walked him through all the deductions, using the photos in the folder, both from the morgue and from the crime scene, to support the observations he’d made from memory alone.  Lestrade shakes his head in bewildered admiration a lot, as one after another of Sherlock’s deductions is supported by the recorded evidence.

While Sherlock talks, John goes downstairs with another officer, who has been told to let Harry go.  Harry isn’t best pleased with the news, which is odd, John thinks, because there’s really not much negative to be found in You’re no longer a person of interest in the murder we’re investigating.

He takes her out front and gives her some of their precious reserve of cash, waving over a cab.  They wait, both shivering in the biting cold.  “You shouldn’t go home, Harry,” John says slowly.  He tries to think of a good reason, without saying, There’s a murderer after me and Sherlock, and you might get caught in his web.  There is no need to panic her, she’s already distraught.  “I know you and Clara broke up, but how about you go stay with her for a couple days?  I think she’ll be good for you.  You must be shocky, and you shouldn’t have to deal with this on your own.  And, Harry.  You need to... you need to sober up.  This is a very serious thing you’re caught up in, Sis.  Let Clara help you.”

Harry looks like she’s about say something flippant, or bitchy, but visibly suppresses it.  She’s still for a moment, then leans forward to hug her little brother.  “Oh, Johnny,” she chokes into his coat collar.  “Do you think she’ll see me?  I want to.  I need her so much, but....”

John stands stiffly in her arms, thinking how odd it is that he can melt in Sherlock’s embrace and yet when it’s family, he’s rigid and can’t wait to step away.  He smooths his hand over her hair.  “I think you won’t know until you try, Harry.  This is certainly a good opportunity for you to... try to change your life and dry out for a while.  And that’s all Clara ever wanted from you.  I’m glad we could get you out of jail, but, god, it would be really nice if you could learn a lesson from this.”

“I’m gonna try.  I swear, I’ll really try.”

“Good, Harry.  That’s.  That would be so good.  Maybe you can clean your life up, for Melissa, for Clara, for yourself, even.”  He presses a kiss on her forehead and pushes her back a little, the cabbie staring impatiently at them out of the window.  “I think you can do it.  And I love you, too.”  This is not something they say aloud to each other, and they both stare at the cracks in the pavement.  “Call me whenever you need to, yeah?”

Harry gives a jerky nod and doesn’t say anything else, climbing into the cab;  but John feels a bit hopeful as they pull out into the street.  He stands there for a minute longer, fingering lint in his pockets and blinking snow out of his eyelashes before swinging around and hurrying back into the warmth and bustle of New Scotland Yard.

Sherlock meets him in the lobby, pulling him around again and heading towards the cab queue outside.

“All done then?” John asks stolidly, easily adapting to the new direction.

“Indeed.  Lestrade is... tolerable.”

“That’s great that he wants to offer you a job,” John says cautiously.  “But Sherlock, you don’t have any... papers or anything.  No ID.  You couldn’t work anywhere officially.”

Sherlock shrugs, “I am not concerned about that.”

“Well, you should be concerned about that, you great git.  Once we get your lamp back, and... and you’re stabilized... you’re going to want a life.  If we’re to stay in Baker Street or, if you want to move somewhere else,” not an option he wants to mention, but he feels obligated, “you’ll need some kind of income.  I’m going to look for locum work, but I'm not sure-”

Sherlock interrupts him, turning incredulously to stare at him through the mist of falling snow.  “Why would I want to move out?”

“Uh, I’m just saying-”

Sherlock flaps a gloved hand at John.  “Income won’t be a problem.  Mycroft evidenced that my family is clearly doing just as well as, if not better than, it was in my own time.  Plenty of discretionary funds.”  He tips his head up and squints at the gray sky, blinking as snow pelts his face.  His breath is like a tiny metaphor for London fog, and he shakes his head at last, looking back at John.  White sticks to his eyebrows and eyelashes, and decorates his curls as the jewels had done before.  He frowns a bit and remonstrates, “But John, I hope you know better than to make plans for the future.  The odds that we’ll recover the lamp, and that you’ll be able to keep it even if we do, are extremely low.”  This is said briskly, with Sherlock looking away, into the street.

“No-”

“Hrmph.”  Sherlock pulls open the door of a cab and swiftly disappears inside.  John follows, brushing snow off his shoulders and ruffling it out of his hair.  The cloudlike puff of his breath fades into nothing as he pulls the door closed behind him.

“Sherlock-”

“Shhh,” Sherlock puts his hand over John’s on the seat, squeezing once and then letting go.  “Let me think.”

And they both stare out the windows into the white-shrouded streets of London as they return to their flat.

John chews over how uncertain the future is, and how desperately he wants a future with this man, and swears he’ll figure out something.  With he and Sherlock, and presumably Mycroft Holmes, all working on it, surely they can come up with a way to make it work.

Chapter Text

John leaves the flat the following day around noon.  They’re out of milk, and even though there are boxes of tea in the cupboards, tea without milk is simply not on.  Sherlock mutters at him, distracted, when he notifies him of his errand.  It is odd to see Sherlock dressed as he is... formal and modern and more human in his sharp suit.  John finds himself checking Sherlock’s hands frequently, the elaborate henna designs, speckled and swirling and flaring across pale, narrow fingers and wrists, are comforting for some reason.  Perhaps it is confirmation that he didn’t dream the past week, and the shimmer in his blood reminds him that it was the genie version of Sherlock that he first fell in love with. Shit.  Did he just use the “L” word?  He shreds that thought, tramples it with little brainy feet, and sweeps it under the rug at the bottom of his mind.  

Unlike the genie, Sherlock-in-a-suit isn’t bound to him.  Sherlock-in-a-suit can walk out the front door and have his own life, be successful in that endeavor, and won’t need John, the broken soldier.  His innate elegance and exotic appeal are highlighted by the Savile Row suit and John depressingly considers the competition he’s likely to have once Sherlock is released into the world.  Honestly, he doesn’t see that ending well for himself, in spite of Sherlock’s assurance in the cab on the way home from the Met.  John is not petty or selfish enough to wish that such a brilliant person (brilliant in every way... he’s clearly a literal genius, his skin is luminous, his mercuric eyes piercing, devouring, even;  but also, he glows, he burns, the intensity and purity of his personality is diamond-bright and enough to incinerate innocent bystanders) shouldn’t have a partner as scintillating and superior as himself.

So the henna that escapes the modern, vented cuffs of his suit seems like a timer, counting down until John loses him.  As the ink fades, so too will Sherlock’s dependence on John.  

John hopes the rusty designs are permanent.

Of course, all these thoughts are based on the premise that John gets the lamp back and is able to find a wish that will free Sherlock.  He likes to think on this path, because the other scenarios are too dire to contemplate.

John looks around and realizes with surprise that his musings have taken him several blocks away.  Indeed, the Tesco Express is right there.  He has hardly even registered the biting cold.  The wind is kicking up into quite a storm and driving icy particles of snow into his skin and his eyes.  It really is quite a miserable day.

Leaving Tesco soon after with his three shopping bags, John has a sudden, startled realization.  He’s not got his cane.  He notices this when he finds he can carry more than his usual number of bags, doesn’t have to do the shuffling dance that comes with arranging his cane on his weak side, keeping the groceries from tangling in his legs and cane and tripping him up.

When did this happen?  He recounts the events of the days before, recalls bringing the cane to the club, but not having it at the fight (because that would certainly have been useful).  He left it in the club?  All the myriad events that happened since then have passed in adrenaline and fear and exhilaration... and his leg never even twinged.

It buckles a little, once his attention is focused on it, but John stubbornly ignores the pain, vehement in his denial, furious that it should hurt again.  He walks straight, stomping extra hard on his capricious leg, challenging gods and heavens to strike him down again, because he won’t go there.

He’s so defiantly focused on his newly mobile leg that he doesn’t really notice when a white van pulls around into the alley half a block in front of him.  Looks like a typical delivery van, so it earns no more than a peripheral glance.

As he’s crossing the alley, he hears a loud banging from the far side of a skip, and a voice cries, “Help!  Help me-.”  It’s choked off, and there is a crash, and a rippling, echoing metallic thud, as if a body were thrown into the side of the skip.  John immediately ducks left, pressing himself up close against the building on the same side as the skip.  He’s not fool enough to yell confirmation and offer assistance:  he doesn’t want to give the unknown attacker warning of his presence.

“Help!” the voice calls out again.  John lowers his groceries silently to the slick, snow-covered setts, rough-cut pavers uneven from centuries of use and weather.  His body hums with potent anticipation as he cautiously, quickly side steps until he can edge around the corner of the skip.  The alley seems painted on celluloid, flat in the queer way adrenaline sculpts surroundings during danger.  There’s a strangled sound, and John steps around-

BAM.  

A bare-knuckled fist plows directly into his temple, he can feel each knobby little bone of it, from eyebrow to hairline.  John pulls back, shaking his head, immediately lifting his right arm in a block and jabbing out with his left.  He tags his assailant, not hard enough or direct enough to do any damage, but scores the opportunity to actually check out the scene.  There are two men, as he’d surmised... but they are both facing off against him.  

It is a setup.

John spares a fraction of a second to dwell on the wry humor that he’s apparently being mugged.  He has all of 4 pounds 50 in his wallet, and frankly, they’d have been welcome to it.  Too late for such negotiations now.

The man who hit him first is a giant, towering over John by perhaps 10 inches, and built like a tank.  His eyes are flat, an indeterminate shade in the snowy brume of the alley;  but his deadly intent is communicated just fine.  A fixed grin embellishes his otherwise inscrutable face, and John quails a little.  He knows that expression:  it’s the face of a man who is willing to kill, who has committed himself, for whom remorse will never slow his hand.

It occurs to him, suddenly, that this isn’t a mugging.  Obviously not.  How blind he is!  This has to do with Sherlock and Moriarty.  It must.  He doesn’t recognize Tank, but he matches Sherlock’s deduction of Melissa’s killer precisely.  He looks again, and thinks the smaller guy might be the one from the club parking lot who had a gun, the Geordie called Lew.  Suddenly the white delivery van nearby has new meaning, and John remembers the rope and fabric that had been visible through its open doors when Sherlock was fighting off the potential kidnappers.  This situation has gone from pear-shaped to fully disastrous.

Shit.

Tank kicks, and John grabs at his boot, hoisting it higher and to the left, dumping him onto the pavers.  The big man rolls with it, and his partner steps into the space he vacated.  This smaller man brandishes a billystick, which he wields with professional economy, and the next few moments are filled with the muffled thwack thwack thwack of hard wood on layers of coat.  John can do little more than block and dodge.  He is grateful it’s winter, and he is wearing layers enough to absorb the blows, because otherwise he is pretty sure he would have broken bones by now.

Eventually, John is able to grab the stick and twist it from the man’s hands, but at the same time Tank kicks his compromised thigh.  Although there was nothing wrong with the leg to begin with, it has undeniably been weakened through months of compensation, and the blow is brutal enough that John staggers, knee going weak and numb.

Lew dives in again, shouldering him in the gut, taking him down in his moment of weakness.  He manages a good clout across the man’s face and there’s a satisfying hiss of pain;  the red blooming under his beakish nose is the only bit of color in the grayscale backdrop where they fight.

John goes down hard.  He tries to fall on his shoulder, absorb the blow, but his remaining foot slips on ice and snow, and he flies back instead, head cracking into the sharp corner of the skip.

It is the end, and he knows it.  He should be shouting now, trying to rally help, but he doesn’t:  he is caught in the surreal world of battle, and it is hard to disengage.  Also, there is nothing but civilians out in the street, totally unprepared to participate in a skirmish of this magnitude, against a likely killer.  The men fighting John might be military, trained like him, and he wouldn’t wish that on some poor housewife who might heed his call.  He will not drag anyone else into this mess.

He doesn’t yield, however.  John hauls himself back to his knees and disregards the wet heat slicking sticky trails through his hair.  He uses the skip as a brace, and punches out with his dearly acquired truncheon, giving the smaller attacker a wicked thrust behind the kneecap.  The man grunts and goes down, but now Tank is up and kicking again, which means John, still kneeling, is at a disadvantage.  Even with the baton, his range is shorter than the extended leg of the tall man.  He gets a boot in the face, the brunt of which is thankfully caught on brow ridge and cheekbone, rather than a straight crunch to his nose... and smacks against the skip again.

He flails blindly with the billystick, vision temporarily disconnected, has a dizzy moment where he thinks the driving snow has become a blizzard, everything gray and white and meaningless.  But no, that’s just the blow to the head.

John throws himself to the side, pushing away with his toes and elbows, utilizing the slick surface of snow and ice to help him slide, and rolls over, lurching to his feet.  The two men have moved apart, now they form a V with him at the point, and they are closing in.  John sinks down, gripping the baton, and launches himself at Tank.  They grapple, John trying to use the size discrepancy to his advantage, slithering down out of the man’s arms, aiming a punch here at his kidney, there at his groin.  It’s not a winnable battle.  

Lew closes in behind him, grabbing his face, forcing his eyes closed.  John kicks backwards and Lew shouts Fuck into his ear.  Large, frigid hands wrap around his neck, and Tank’s thumbs dig inexorably into his throat.  It only takes a few seconds before John is dizzy, going limp, dammit.  The billystick is wrested from his fingers, whirled irritably around, and strikes him hard on the temple.

John’s eyes roll back, and, briefly the hands wrapped around his neck are supportive rather than murderous before he is dropped unceremoniously in the snow and rolled onto his stomach.  All his resources are diverted to his autonomic system, fighting for oxygen through a bruised trachea, but he does recognize the bright, narrow pain of a zip tie around his wrists as they’re wrenched behind his back.  There’s the shreekk of tape, and a ripping sound, and duct tape is slapped over his mouth.  After that it is a blur of breathing through his nose, runny from the cold, and John passes out before he is tossed into the back of the van and carted away.

***

Sherlock arches his neck against the stiffness that’s settled there from so many hours hunched over the laptop.  He rolls his head, rolls his shoulders, looks around the empty flat and rolls his eyes.  Where is John?  Surely he said he was just running out for a few things.  The room is lit more by the lamps on the inside than sunlight;  even at this hour, the skies are dark and threatening, and snow veils the view from the window.

Sherlock checks the time.  2:43.  He is not certain when John left, but he is sure it has been well over an hour.  He stands and stretches, a much less theatrical and sensuous effort now that John, with his oft-extruded tongue poking appealingly from between thin lips, is not around to appreciate it.

He wanders to the kitchen for tea, but is perversely disinclined to make any himself, feeling annoyed at John’s continued absence.  He checks his phone, a fumbling affair because he is still not really sure how to use it.  Eventually he finds the ‘phone’ function and ascertains that he has not missed any calls.  His eyebrows come down, and he pulls in one side of his mouth to chew on, wondering what’s going on.

Could John have encountered an old friend?  It happens, of course.  That’s how he came by Sherlock in the first place.  Perhaps the queues at the market were quite long?  Sherlock bites the corner of his thumbnail, gaze hazy and distant.  What silly little theorems.  John is responsible, he would have mentioned it if here were going to be gone for such a length of time.  John likes Sherlock.  Likes him so much, in fact (and this is so novel to Sherlock that he took note of it right away), that he very much arranges to not be separated from him for any length of time.  Even to the point of settling in the same room, if they should happen to have an option, quietly reading his book or drinking his tea, simply enjoying their silent companionship.

Restless, Sherlock abandons the kitchen, not quite as cozy when John is not in it puttering around, and moves to the front window.  Cold air falls through the glass in a steady flow, and he holds his hands out as if to catch it, feeling the chill sift through his fingers.  He peers down at the street.  The snow isn’t falling so hard that everything is obscured, but it is certainly muted; the cars are going by more slowly, and there is no one on the pavement.  Certainly no diminutive soldier, solid and reliable and reassuring, bearing food and comfort and stability.

Sherlock frowns at his sentimentality, and throws himself back on the sofa.  John is a grown man.  He’s a soldier.  He should be in no danger.  It is foolish for Sherlock to worry.  He opens the laptop again, and goes back to his search, trying to follow scientific breakthroughs on the extension of life, trying to trace the Moriarty genealogy, trying to find any trace he can of his psychopathic stalker through the centuries.

He finds nothing.

A more natural darkness begins to seep through the windows, and Sherlock sees that it’s 4:30.  He clenches his teeth.  This can be nothing good.

It suddenly occurs to him that he can call John on his phone.  Sherlock hasn’t been in modern times long enough for that to be instinctive, when so many years of his life simply required that he wait, or go out searching, if he wanted something.  He thumbs his phone on again, and this time he more quickly finds the correct menus, discovers that he is adapting to the interface, and can more intuitively navigate.  He locates John’s number, the first contact above Lestrade, Greg and Mycroft Holmes.  John is only listed as John, and that makes Sherlock pleasantly warm.  It seems like the approbation of the digital age that he doesn’t have to distinguish his John from any others by attaching a last name.  John is simply, and always will be, John.  That is enough for Sherlock, and it is enough for his phone.

He grimaces at that romantic flight of fancy and connects to John’s number.  He presses the strange, flat rectangle to his ear as he has seen John do.

It rings three times.

“Hellooo, darling!  What ever took you so long?  Is your pet so trivial?  Did you not notice that he was lost?”

Sherlock stifles the sharp gasp the voice on the other end inspires.  He won’t give Moriarty the satisfaction.  The cooing menace raises the hairs on Sherlock’s arms, the back of his neck, and a cold flash of fear thrums through him.  His fingers clench on the phone, bony and bloodless.  This is bad.  Very bad.  Bad on such a visceral level that for a moment, just a fraction of a second, Sherlock wants to fling the phone away and hide.  That voice.  Raking over his skin with false warmth, whispering horrible things, the words as painful and piercing as whatever instruments he would select to use on Sherlock’s body.  The reptilian chill of completely insane eyes, eagerly drinking up pain, panic, hopelessness.

“Moriarty,” is all he says, pulling himself back together with brutal discipline.  His tone is lazy and assured:  he fights to make it so.  “How very... unpleasant... to hear from you again.  I’d hoped you long in the ground, at this point.”

Moriarty giggles flirtatiously, and Sherlock feels the sharp jump of nausea, clawing up the back of his throat.  “Oh, you,” Moriarty trills.  “You never had enough confidence in me, dear boy.  You should have known,” his voice goes suddenly manic and rough, “I will never let you go.  Never.  There isn’t a rock far enough away in the world for you to hide under.  You belong to me.”

There is a prolonged silence, and Sherlock shuts his eyes and breathes slowly and silently through his mouth.  Moriarty isn’t so quiet, and Sherlock can hear lewd, ragged panting.  A door slams in the background, and a male voice says something indistinct.  Moriarty literally snarls, the sound moving as he must move the phone away from his face, and Sherlock hears the distinctive sound of an open-handed slap, likely across someone’s face.  Sherlock flinches, and Moriarty shrieks, “I told you not to bother me.”  Another slap.  “Now get out of here before I throw you in there with him.”

Moriarty puts the phone back up by his face, but takes a moment to control his rage.  At last, he simpers, “So sorry for the interruption, my dear.  So hard to find good help these days.  As always.”

“Where is John?”

“John?  You mean, your broken toy soldier?”

Sherlock growls.  He can’t help himself.  “What have you done with John?”

“Well.  He’s perfectly safe with me.  Do you not trust me?  After all these years, Sherlock.  I’m so disappointed.  Did I not take good care of you?”  The saccharine, sing-song quality of his voice makes Sherlock’s skin crawl.

Moriarty continues, apparently oblivious, “No, I haven’t hurt him much.  Yet.  I was just hoping that I might hurry that wish along.  You know.  That way I get two for the price of one, don’t I?  And it will be so much more satisfying if he can be the cause of your return, won’t it?  You know, I was going to give you my address.  Play a nice little game of hide and seek:  I do so like to watch you dance.

“But I’m thinking I’ll have some fun with your pet, first.”

“Don’t.  Hurt him.”  Sherlock’s chest is tight, his throat closed up, and it’s an effort to say the words, an effort to infuse his voice with a growling challenge rather than a plea.  The hatred, however, is easy enough to manage.

“Well now, Sherlock.  You are powerless, you puling recreant.  We both know that I can do whatever I want to do!  Don’t we?  I’ll just go get started now, shall I?  Why don’t you make yourself pretty?  I’m sure you’ll be popping by very soon.  And Daddy does miss you so.”

Sherlock has to swipe several times at the phone before he’s sure the call is disconnected.  He stares for a disjointed moment at his hands.  They’re shaking, the palms damp from fear.  He lurches towards the bathroom and gets there barely in time to heave up his breakfast, clutching the cold porcelain of the bowl with desperation.  Cold sweat prickles all over his body, and as he stands back up he sees himself in the mirror over the sink, sickly and pallid, with huge eyes.

Sherlock knows what Moriarty can do.  He knows it.  And the thought of John, helpless in his power, is as terrifying as if it were himself trapped there instead.  However, he doesn’t have the luxury, the capability, of wishing himself back to the lamp to save John.  

Only John can wish him back.

He rinses his mouth and heads back for the living room.  What shall he do?  What can he do?  He doesn’t have the first idea where Moriarty could be.

After the first flood of panic, Sherlock remembers his newfound relative, and selects his number on the new phone.  It is answered right away.  “This is Mycroft.”

“Mycroft.”  Sherlock’s voice is hoarse and thin.  “Moriarty has John.  He has the lamp.  And John.”

***

John wakes up a bit, tossed from side to side in the van.  He is disoriented, all he can discern is pain and darkness, and he has a very upsetting minute or two where he thinks he is back in Afghanistan, bleeding into the dirt, the heavy, arid dark of a moonless night blinding him.  Eventually, the rattle of the van recalls him to the present, and he quits spasming against his bonds, swallows the saliva choking him, and takes personal inventory.

He’s lying on a hard, cold surface, back uncomfortably arched over his aching arms.  Tied hands, check.  Bound feet, check.  He sucks in a wheezy thread of air through his nose and regretfully notes that his mouth is still taped over.  He’s pretty sure there’s a bag over his head, but it could just be that they’ve tossed him under a blanket.  The hazy recollection of his fight in the alley becomes gradually more clear, and he can pinpoint the places on his head that have been struck.  His stomach lurches with each sway of the van, and he is overcome with vertigo in spite of being prone.  His ears buzz, and all he wants to do is go to sleep.  Unfortunately, these are all signs of a robust concussion  His leg throbs, but that’s the only other damage.

They have pulled the zip cord on his wrists very tight, he deduces from the cold, swollen feeling of his fingers.  Circulation is interrupted, which is a bad thing.  His feet are not quite as critical.  He listens hard, but can hear only the bump, rattle and scrape as they pass over the road.  Otherwise it is quiet:  not talking from the two men who attacked him, nor radio, nor any sounds of city or traffic.  He surmises they have left London, which is not good news.

The passage of time is immeasurable.  John manages to work the bag (or whatever) off his head and is irritated to realize that it is still dark in the van.  In spite of having removed the fabric over his face, air doesn't get much fresher or easier to obtain, and he wonders glumly how likely it is that he will die from asphyxia before they ever get him to their destination.  He rolls to the side to free his hands and tries to work the tie around his wrists loose, but finally stops on the judgement that he is doing more harm than good.  He can’t feel his hands at all, now.  He optimistically gropes around, but doesn't find anything useful.  Certainly not scissors or a knife.  There must be a partition between him and the cab where the drivers are, as no one has commented on all his recent movement.

He slides in and out of consciousness, sluggishly grateful that the van seems to be heated.  While he is noticeably cold, he comforts himself with the thought that it would be a damn sight worse in an unheated lorry or boot.

He wakes again when the vehicle jolts to a stop, skimming across the floor a foot or so to connect unpleasantly with a vertical surface.  His head again, dammit.  He tenses, listening hard.  There is a sudden cessation of sound as the engine is turned off.

He hastily considers his options.  He will kick out at whoever opens the door.  If he can do that, bring them both down, (presuming one hasn’t conveniently departed) then... well....  He cannot run away, but he can flop around like a damn landed fish until he finds some kind of knife or blade or sharp-edged rock whereby he can cut through the ties on his hands and feet.

It is a wildly optimistic plan, and counts on so many unlikely scenarios to succeed that it amounts to little more than a wish on dandelion fluff.  But it is all he’s got.  And now that his first burst of panic is over, he steels his resolve.  He may die if he stays, so therefore it is fine if he dies trying to get away.  He hears the mutter of voices outside, then the click and slide of the van door being opened.

Fucking hell, it’s the door on the side behind his back:  his feet are oriented in the wrong direction for kicking out.  He stays limp instead, and when rough hands grab him, slams forward with all his strength, cracking his already abused head against the head of the man he privately designated Tank.

There’s a muffled grunt.  But John didn’t have any leverage, and the blow wasn’t enough to incapacitate.  He is slapped, hard, on the face, wrenching his head to the side, and the night goes warm and red for a moment as his eyes spin in his head.  He is dragged out of the van and slung over someone’s shoulders while he’s still trying to stabilize the world.

He struggles as much as he’s able, but can do nothing to deter the man who carries him.  He gets a gruff, “Oi!  Stop it, or I’ll drop you on your blooming skull, don’t think I won’t.”

John actually doesn’t think he won’t, and subsides a bit, decides it wasn’t helping anyway.  He’s brought across a wide, snowy sweep of stairs, with impressive stone columns at the top, and crosses a threshold which shows the delineation of slate flags and rich wooden floors.  John cranes his neck to look around, but his view primarily consists of the thighs of the man carrying him.  He sees a pie-shaped entry table set with an enormous floral arrangement, and the reflection of a chandelier in a grand mirror.

Hanging upside down makes breathing more arduous, and John dazedly watches little spatters of blood drip from the cut on the back of his head, blooming into grisly roses on wood parquet.  His vision begins to darken as he struggles to breathe, air sucking with strained wet sounds through his nose.  They go down a flight of stairs, through a darkened corridor, and eventually into a small room, like an emptied janitor’s closet.  John is dumped on the floor, and only just manages to twist to take the brunt of his weight on his hip rather than his head.

He immediately squirms to sitting, and glares up at Tank whose head is near the lintel of the door:  several inches taller than Sherlock and would outweigh him by two stone, all solid muscle.  He’s about John’s age, face rough and accustomed to presenting a blank affect.  He has the posture, haircut and vigilance of a soldier.

John mumbles angrily behind the tape, telling him what a shit kidnapper he is, if he can’t take care of his prisoner until he gets to his destination, and how badly he fumbled the gagging and hand-tying bits.  Almost as if he understands, the man leans forward and ruthlessly snatches the tape off.  John hisses involuntarily, and is fairly certain that more than one layer of skin came off with the tape.  If he’s lucky enough to escape, he’ll be rewarded by not having to shave around his mouth for a month.

“Tired of listening to your snot,” Tank says laconically.  Before John can respond, he steps back and pulls the door shut;  the unmistakable snick of a bolt lock echoes in the room.

John leans his head against the cold, concrete block wall and just breathes for a moment, blessed air, and with it comes awareness, and with that comes all the myriad aches and pains he’s acquired since this morning.  He wishes he knew what time it was.  He wishes his hands were untied.  He wishes he had three wishes from Sherlock, instead of just one, and could use the first to wish himself home right now.  He would be an idiot if he weren’t scared.  John’s impromptu analysis of the situation is that he’s in deep shit.

He only gives himself a couple of minutes to stabilize, and then starts, painstakingly, trying to maneuver his bound hands under his arse, moving stiff legs through the small space between his elbows.  He manages, finally, to bring his hands to the front, untangling them from clumsy feet, and swears to himself that if he survives this, he’s going to start yoga, because a bit more flexibility would really do him good right now.

Tank left the light on, so John can see his hands just fine.  They are a deep red, and numb.  It will hurt like a bitch when blood starts flowing again, but no permanent damage yet.  He pushes himself up against the wall and looks around.

The room is very small, perhaps one by two meters, and completely bare of furnishings;  simply a floor, four walls, a door and a light switch.  The ceiling overhead looks solid, so John assesses that the only egress will be the door.  He eventually sits back down against the wall the door opens back to, thinking perhaps he can brace himself against the wall and slam the door on the next person to enter.  It’s a long shot, but he hasn’t got anything else.

He waits.

And waits.

***

“Mycroft,” Sherlock snaps into the phone,  “Can you....”  He chokes on his intentions for a moment, having never said these words on his own behalf, they are angular and unpleasant on his tongue:  “Can you help me?”

Mycroft absorbs this with aplomb, perhaps he doesn’t realize how monumental the request is.  “I need more information, Sherlock.  You’re certain it’s Moriarty?  Did he contact you?  How long has John been missing?”

Sherlock makes a frustrated noise and slams his hand on the back of the armchair before whirling away and stalking to the window.  “I called John’s phone, and Moriarty answered.  We had an interesting conversation, during which he confirmed his identity and said he was holding John.  He is threatening violence and refusing to give his location so that I can make a trade.”  His hands fist, one around the phone and the other digging crescents into his palm.  “John left the house around noon.”

Mycroft hums thoughtfully.  “I’ll get a team on it right way, Sherlock.  We’ll comb the CCTV footage to see where he disappeared and go from there.  We did record the man who came to Baker Street last night, but he wore a cap and a heavy coat:  there’s not much to be learned there.  I’ll have screen shots delivered to you very soon.”

Sherlock ends the call and slips the phone into an inner jacket pocket.  Nervous energy has him pacing, he’s been doing it for what seems like hours.  Around the chairs.  Over the coffee table.  Looping into the kitchen; which makes him feel very stressed, because John isn’t there making tea.  Back to the windows to look outside and see if anything has changed.

He sits aggressively on the sofa and scrubs his hands through his hair, perhaps with the notion of  brushing away the energy and tension.  The low table in front of him holds both letters from Moriarty, the first one and the one from yesterday.  He takes deep, meditative breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth.  He has to concentrate.  He has to focus and defer his emotional response if he’s going to help John.  So Sherlock spends some time breathing, taking the feelings of fear, and anger, and hopelessness and folding them away, storing them in a closet in his head.  They won’t help.

When he’s calm, he looks at the letters again.  The first one is short and to the point.  

Dearest Sherlock,

It’s been too, too long, don’t you think?  I’ve missed you so, my Fractious little Slave.  One can only Hope that you’ve spent the Interim learning some Discipline.  I had some things around that you Left behind all those Years ago, and I thought I’d trade them for something you have of Mine.

See you.  Very Soon.”

Moriarty was the only Master who’d specifically referred to him as Slave, and Sherlock grinds his teeth;  his stomach roils with emotions until he carefully pushes the feelings away, divorces himself from them.  This, he learned to do because of Moriarty, after all, and he doesn’t overlook the irony that he needs that skill again now.  

Suddenly Sherlock regrets his time with John, the cracks that have developed in the armor he had developed out of necessity in his life as a genie.  Now is not the time to feel human, with soft, bruisable tissue and delicate feelings.  He must be a machine.  An automaton.  He will survive, he will get vengeance, and he will.  get.  John.  back.

There are no clues to be garnered from the letters.  They are merely evidence that Moriarty is as unbalanced, vicious and obsessive as he ever was.  Sherlock’s fingers have knotted his hair, and he realizes that he’s pulling on it frantically;  perhaps the pain will distract him from his frustration.

Some time later, Sherlock scoops up his phone, wraps his scarf around his neck, pulls on soft leather gloves, and bundles up in his coat.  He leaves the house in a swirl of determination, pausing to poke his head in Mrs. Hudson’s door and tell her that John is missing and not to let anyone in nor answer the door.  He shuts the door on her questions and pockets the key, heading for the Tesco John had mentioned.  He’ll go crazy waiting on Moriarty to call and taunt him, and Mycroft can surely contact him if he uncovers actionable information.  Meanwhile, there may be some clues along John’s last route.

The walk is calming, and he welcomes the stinging cold, the biting wind, the freezing dribble of melting snow on his forehead and down his neck:  it allows him to externalize.  His eyes dart around the street, cataloging everyone, everything, any possibilities, anything that stands out.  This time, the changes in the modern world don’t intrigue him, he merely notes them and moves on.

Sherlock catches a little flurry of excitement in a narrow alleyway near the Tesco Express, and heads immediately for it.  There are three ratty, homeless children clustered against the wall several meters inside the darkened entrance.   Sherlock notes with surprise that dusk has fallen, and he has to strain a bit to take in what light there is.  The street lamps have been on all day, due to the snow, but don’t penetrate too deeply into the narrow alleyway.

“Hello,” he says, stalking over to the group.  The tallest, a rather mangy boy dressed in little more than layers of hoodies, bolts immediately, but Sherlock is ready, and collars him neatly.  He grabs the girl by her braids, and the youngest child stands nervously just out of reach, finger in its mouth.  Sherlock eyes the spilled groceries from the Tesco bags.  Milk, tea, biscuits, eggs.  The kind of things John had headed out to get.

The boy is struggling against his grip, so Sherlock gives him a little shake.  “I’m not going to hurt you, and I have no intention of getting you in trouble.  If you will stay still long enough, I can give you some reparation for your time and information.”

The boy stops and stares suspiciously up at him.  His skin is bleached with cold, but freckles stand out clearly, and short pale lashes surround sharply clever eyes.  “Wot information ye want, then?” he asks.

Sherlock nods and releases his grip on both the older children.  They immediately step out of reach, which he cannot blame them for, and shows evidence of their intelligence indeed.  He puts his hands in his pockets and stares levelly back at them, nodding his head towards the bags on the pavement.  “A friend of mine,” he begins, “left to go shopping earlier today, and he’s since been kidnapped.”  He saw no reason to pull his punches or blunt the story, these were clearly street children, and he knew this would not be the worst tale of woe they’d come across.  “You may take the shopping, of course, since you found it fairly.  But I’d like to know if you’ve seen anything that could help me find my friend?  Strangers?  A fight?  Unusual vehicles?”

While the children confer, Sherlock examines the alley.  It’s narrow enough that only one car at a time can fit through, and there’s a skip inset only a few meters further down.  The snow has lightened up since the afternoon, and Sherlock can discern tyre tracks.  They are dusted with new snow, but still sunk at a lower level than the snow around them, and darker, because the tracks under them packed the snow into a clear ice, the blackened stone bleeding through.  Sherlock brushes away the fresh snow with a delicate touch, but there’s nothing he can learn from the tracks except that the vehicle pulled in past the skip, came to a stop, and then reversed back out.  It hadn’t been parked there too long, as both forward and reverse tracks have the same amount of snowfall in them.  

There are faint marks leading from the tyre tracks to the skip, and Sherlock squints in the dim purple aura of twilight.  The kids come up, holding the groceries, and Sherlock gestures them back, rising from his squat and turning around.  “Anything?” he asks calmly.

The leader shakes his head.  “Sorry, sir.  The milk’s mostly frozen, so they must’ve been ‘ere for a while, yeah?  We only got here 5 minutes agone.”

Sherlock reaches into his pocket and pulls out a few pounds and a couple jewels.  “What’s your name?”

“Wiggins, sir.”

Sherlock nods at him.  “Wiggins.  You’ve been helpful nonetheless.  For your trouble,” he hands over the notes and the stones.

Wiggins looks at the stones in his hands.  “Cor, wot’s this?”

Sherlock shrugs.  “Jewels.  You can pawn them, can you not?”

Wiggins grins, and his crooked teeth shine in the gloom.  “Sure I can.  Thank you sir.  Can we do anything else for you?”

Sherlock looks at the three bright, interested faces, and schemes flow through his mind like a river.  Having connections with the homeless underworld would not be a bad thing in the future, if he is able to track down Moriarty and subsequently begin on a real life.  “I live at 221B Baker Street,” he says.  “If you remember something, learn any details about the kidnapping, or hear the name Moriarty, then please come around.  Otherwise, stop by next week, I might have something else for you.”

The kids grab their bags and scurry off, and Sherlock crouches again, tracing marks of a struggle to the back corner of the skip.  Sifting through the snow, he finds evidence of blood, but has no way of discerning if it’s John’s or one of his assailants’ (two, he can tell from the shuffling line heading for the vehicle marks).  The volume is not significant, so he is not too worried, although it is not a good portent for the hours that have followed.

Having exhausted what he can learn from the alley, he hurries back to the flat.  Time to see if Mycroft has found anything.  Or if there has been another message from Moriarty.

His phone rings as he enters the sitting room, and he stares at the screen.  Mycroft Holmes.  He swipes cautiously, and holds it to his ear.  “Yes,” he says.

“Sherlock, we tried John's phone, but unfortunately, the GPS feature has been disabled. We have been able to trace John’s path to Tesco and back about half a block before we lost him.”

“An alley with a skip, yes,” Sherlock says curtly.  “Likely some kind of van.  Two assailants.  John was lured in there:  they must have called out, perhaps pretending a mugging or an altercation.  Knowing John’s morals, he would have responded to strangers in distress.  He set the grocery bags down near the entrance of the alleyway and snuck along the wall until he rounded the skip.  There he was attacked by two men.  John was overpowered after a struggle and dragged between them and thrown in the vehicle, which then departed from the way it came, without turning around.”

There is silence from the other end of the line.  “Ahem.  Perhaps,” Mycroft sounds uncomfortable.  “You ascertained these details in person, I assume?”

“Indeed.  I retraced John’s steps and found the abandoned groceries.  The snow is not yet so deep that it covers all evidence of the scuffle.  What do you have to add to it?”

“A white van, two men in the front, no windows, tag obscured with mud (deliberate).  We’re tracing its route now, and best guess is that it headed out of town.  Isolating the van, however, will be a tedious process and will take another hour, at best.”

Sherlock growls.  “I fear we cannot take too many hours, Mycroft.”  The familiar name slips out and sounds odd, in this modern era.  Sherlock is suddenly lost in a tangled web of past and present and all the miserable, blurred years in between.  He takes a deep breath, holds it for a moment, and then lets it stream silently out.  “I have every reason to believe that Moriarty’s threats are genuine.  He... is not patient.”

Mycroft doesn’t have anything very encouraging to say in response to this, and rings off with the promise to call back as soon as they have more information.

Sherlock sinks to the sofa and curls up, facing the cushions on the back.  He closes his eyes and blanks his mind against the memories of what Moriarty could do.  He won’t think of it.  Can’t think of it.

There’s a timid knock at the door, and Mrs. Hudson’s thin voice carries through.  “Sherlock?  Dear?  Have you found John yet?”  The door opens, and Mrs. Hudson’s sensible heels tap as she crosses the room.  There’s the thunk of a tray set on the coffee table, and the cushions dip when she sits near his knees.  A wrinkled hand pats him sympathetically on the thigh, “Oh, dear, Sherlock.  Try not to take on, so.  I’m sure John will be back soon.”

Sherlock is inclined to twitch himself free, but remains rigid instead.  He says nothing.

“He seems like a very responsible and determined young man.  Smart, too.  He’ll be fine, Sherlock.  Home before you know it.”  The hand continues to pat.

Sherlock jets upright and swings around to face the gentle landlady.  He brusquely indicates the bruising on his face from the club fight.  “There were five of them then, Mrs. Hudson.  One of whom you actually let into this flat!  I would say they certainly have the advantage.  I do not even know where they’ve taken him or what condition he is in.”  His voice rises unacceptably as he speaks, and he cuts himself off abruptly.

Mrs. Hudson cringes guiltily for a moment and stares at her hands.  “I’m so sorry, Sherlock.  I feel simply dreadful over it.”  Sherlock dismisses her apology with a shrug of one shoulder that implies that he’s not going to hold a grudge.  Mrs. Hudson gives him a hesitant smile and delicately brushes the contusion on his temple.  “He’s a soldier, dear, don’t forget.”  But she doesn’t have anything else to add to that, so simply directs him to the tray.  A mug of tea steams invitingly, but the plate of lasagna makes him feel queasy.  He picks up the tea and holds it tightly between his hands.  “Thank you,” he says.  It comes out sour and reluctant.

She leaves after that, quiet and unassuming, and he’s relieved when the door clicks shut behind her.  Clutching the tea, he drifts to the window, looking down on the darkened street.  There is nothing he can do now except wait.

The tea is too sweet, and doesn’t have enough milk, and Sherlock misses John fiercely.

Chapter Text

John jerks awake, body flaring with panic, when he hears rustling outside the little cupboard in which he has been immured.  He is slumped in the corner behind the door, abused head cradled in the right angle of the walls.  His eyes snap open and for a moment everything is glowing and overexposed in the jarring light of the overhead fluorescent.  Its raucous drone transitions from background noise to the forefront, and through it John hears the lock click open.  He  quickly straightens out his back and pulls his knees close to his chest, pressing his bound hands into his stomach.

The door opens rapidly and John kicks out with both legs, giving it as much leverage as he can, as soon as it opens.  There’s a loud thud, then the door snaps back, hitting John’s feet again.  He scuttles to the side, hoping to see that he’s managed to inflict some damage.

It is Lew, and he has a hand wrapped around his shoulder, glaring as hard as he can at John.  Tank sniggers out in the hall.  John hasn’t meted out more than a bruise.  But because he’s feeling ornery, he rolls a little on his spine and kicks out again.  Lew is an idiot, hasn’t thought to move back out of reach, and howls when John’s shoes smack into his kneecaps.  He goes down.

Tank leans placidly against the door jamb, gun pointed at John, and says, ignoring his whimpering, cursing partner, “Are you done, yet?”

John assess the situation and then reluctantly nods.  “For the moment, yeah,” he agrees.

Tank leans forward and grabs Lew by his belt, yanking him backwards and into the hall, showing no emotion.  “I’m gonna free your legs,” he says.  “I want you to lie down on your stomach.  You try anything, I shoot you someplace where you won’t bleed out too fast.  Understand me?”

John nods, and falls over to the side.  He rolls stiffly onto his stomach, awkwardly cambered over his arms.  His swollen wrists shriek sharp pain at him, and he has to keep his feet up, bent at the knee, because there’s not enough room in the closet.  The cool concrete floor feels good on his flushed face.  His ankles are grabbed briefly, and when they’re released, they fall apart at last.  He rolls over and humps his way back to sitting.

Tank fills the doorway, jerks the gun at John.  “Stand up, slow, and come with me.  Boss wants to see you.”

John pushes against the wall as he struggles to stand.  Vertigo strikes him in nauseating waves, and the light above seems to flicker randomly.  His head hurts like a bitch, but he thinks the bleeding has stopped.  (At any rate, he doesn’t feel goo down his neck.)  “Gotta piss,” he mutters.  And he does.  It’s not urgent yet, but anything to have the tie cut off his hands.  

Tank continues to stare at him expressionlessly.  “Not now, you don’t,” he contradicts.  “Boss first.”  He takes three steps back, casually stepping over Lew, who is gasping, curled around what John sincerely hopes are dislocated patellae.

John staggers out, slowly, stiffly putting one foot in front of the other.  His face is furrowed in concentration, Walk, don’t fall; Walk, don’t fall.  He goes down the hall to the left, following the implicit commands of the competently brandished gun.  Tank stays out of reach behind him.  And John certainly isn’t going to be running anywhere:  he can barely walk.  Down the hall, up a narrow flight of stairs, old and stone.  He fumbles the doorknob at the top.  It is hard to make his numbed fingers answer his brain, and he must use both hands to turn the knob enough to release the catch.  

Down another hall, through a vast, surprisingly modern kitchen, then they wend their way through several other rooms (John doesn’t know what rich folks would call them:  who needs more than one parlor?) and finally into a large, dark-paneled office.  A tall executive chair is behind a massive desk directly opposite the door.  All John can see is the back of it.

He snorts, softly.  Really?  It reeks of sophomoric drama.

The chair slowly spins around.  A lean man occupies it, pale skin accentuated by black hair and eyebrows.  Black eyes stare at him hungrily.  “So, this is John Watson.” the man says.  He gestures theatrically at a chair next to John.  “Please have a seat.”

John doesn’t reply, just raises his eyebrows.  “Ah.  A social visit, then?” he asks pleasantly.  He holds up his purpling hands.  “Care to take this off, if that’s the case?”

“Oh, certainly.  Let it not be said that I am not a good host.” The man waves lazily at Tank.  “Sebastian.  If you will.”

The unmistakable pressure of the muzzle of a gun appears on the back of his neck, steady and hard.  “Lift your arms up.”

John complies, holding them just above his shoulder, and there’s the schkk of a switchblade next to his ear.  The tie is cut in one painful jerk, and John pulls his hands back bloody.  Fucking butcher, he thinks to himself, as he flexes his fingers and rotates his wrists.  There’s a long cut on his right wrist.  Although he doesn’t believe that Tank… Sebastian… did it maliciously.  For one thing, he doesn’t seem to have emotions.  For another, John knew his flesh was so swollen that it would have been hard at that point to access the nylon tape.  He presses the laceration against his coat, notes that Tank… Sebastian… has stepped back towards the door.  He trusts in the man’s aim and doesn’t attempt to bolt.

“I am James Moriarty,” the man on the other side of the desk says, standing up.  He leans forward, planting both hands on the surface, and glares at John.  “And it seems you have something that belongs to me.”

John grinds his teeth, and his headache spikes with the movement.  “Nope,” he retorts.  “I most certainly do not.  Actually, I believe… that you’ve stolen something from me.”

Moriarty’s glare vanishes, and his face smooths out, eyes crinkling happily at the corners.  “What?  Have I?  To what could you possibly be referring?  Could it be…” and he steps around the desk, saunters over to nearby built in bookshelves.  There, displayed alone on a shelf at waist-level, is the lamp.  Moriarty picks it up and croons at it wordlessly, spiderlike fingers caressing the stem, the bowl.  He flicks the cap off by snapping at the horned moon on top, and then strolls back over to John, lamp dangling from a single finger through its handle.  “This?  Is it this, Dr. Watson?  Because if so, I beg to differ-”

John explodes out of his chair, shoulder launching into the unprotected belly of the smug bastard, snatching at the lamp to use as a weapon.  He twists it easily out of the man’s surprised grasp and immediately strikes out at him, expecting a bullet in his back at any moment.  He tries to aim his attack so that they fall slightly around the corner of the desk, offering minimal protection from the gun in the doorway.

He gets in one good knock at Moriarty’s face with the iron lamp before he’s hauled back by his coat and the gun is jammed into his neck so hard he’s afraid it might kill him by simply spitting him on the muzzle.  He flails behind his head with the lamp, aiming for Sebastian’s head, but his arm is grabbed and brutally twisted.  “Drop it,” Sebastian says, toneless.  And John does, dammit, he has to.

Moriarty is hissing on the carpet, pale hand to an even paler face.  Sebastian kicks John behind the knees, forcing him to drop down, and has his head by the hair with the hand not holding the gun.  “You ok, boss?” he asks tersely.

Moriarty staggers to his feet.  There’s a purple swelling already blooming across one cheek, the skin split open there, red trailing down; and John feels viciously pleased.  Moriarty lunges forward and kicks him in the stomach as hard as he can.  There is something vaguely foolish about such a slim, delicate man, dressed in an absurdly expensive suit, clearly fastidious, trying to be a brutish bully.  But there is nothing funny about the burning pain in his gut.  Moriarty kicks him again, directly over a rib this time (which may well have cracked it, but that is preferable to the organ damage that could have resulted from an identically placed blow in his unprotected belly.)

Moriarty looks around the office and then points to a wooden chair.  “Tie him up,” he snarls.  “I’m going to get started.”

John’s blood runs cold, literally, and he can feel the sudden whitening of his face, skin prickling with it as if he were still outside in the driving snow.  There was a good chance this would happen in retaliation, and he knew it;  he took his chances based on the fact that Moriarty would want to hurt or kill him regardless of whether or not he made an attempt at freedom.  That, and it is hard not to make every effort to fight, to get away.  Passivity doesn’t suit John at all.

Sebastian pulls the gun away momentarily, before returning it in a professionally savage clout to his temple, where he’d been hit before.  John goes down like a stone.  

He does not believe he was out for long, and when he slowly wakes back up, he is unsurprised to find himself trussed in a chair, to the right of the desk, near the window.  Where had they been hiding the damn rope?  Fresh blood flows from the aggravated wound on his temple, and he blinks to keep it out of his eyes.

He’s shivering, and realizes, with foreboding, that his coat and shirt have been removed.  This can’t be good.

Moriarty leans on the desk mere feet in front of him and grins, an expression more frightening because of the complete malevolence in his eyes.  His tongue darts out, almost as if he’s tasting the air, and John is uncomfortably reminded of a snake.

But he won’t show fear.  “Can’t blame me for trying,” he says, making a rueful face.  “So clearly we disagree on who has a right to the lamp.  Where do we go from here?”

Moriarty’s tongue flickers out again, and his round black eyes slowly blink.  He holds out his hand, and Sebastian lays the opened switchblade on his palm.

Fuck.  

Oh, fuck.  Fucking hell.  

This is going to… suck so very much.  John takes a deep breath, wincing against the protest from his rib.

“You’re bad, Johnny-boy,” the insane man sings.  “You’re wrong, the lamp is mine.  Sherlock is mine.  You were wrong to contradict me, and you were wrong to attack me.”  He moves closer, bending down until his breath, disconcertingly redolent of bubblegum, washes across John’s face.  “I’m going to be sure everyone knows how wrong you are.”  He flickers out with the open knife, starting at John’s shoulder.  Skin parts roughly on either side of the blade, which blunders through the bulk of his scar and rips quickly down, across his chest to the ribs on his other side, just above where the rope is bound around his middle.

John makes a loud, gurgling noise.  He had planned to remain quiet, but Moriarty struck so quickly, and with so little warning, that he hasn’t had time to prepare.  Bright pain blooms in the wake of the blade, and he can’t take his eyes off it, assessing the cut with his doctor’s knowledge.  Deep enough to bleed freely, but could be worse.  Will definitely need stitches here and there.  Should be more painful, but adrenaline is flooding his system so intensely in response to that knife that John is not even sure he would feel it now if Moriarty suddenly decided to cut off a finger.  Oddly, his teeth begin to chatter, and the anticipation is making it worse.

Moriarty sighs a giggle and slashes at his other side, to make an X.  “You were wrong, John, and now I’ve marked you for it.  Look at that.  Everyone will know.”  He stands back, face repulsively sated.  He leans forward and swipes a finger in a wiggling wave through the two cuts, smearing the blood around.  He presses hard, pulling at each edge of rent flesh as he encounters it.  Then he steps back and slowly, staring at John’s widened eyes, puts that finger in his mouth.  When he pulls it away, there’s still an obscene red streak on his bottom lip.  “Oh, Johnny-Boy,” he breathes, illuminated.  “We are going to have such fun.”

 

***

 

Sherlock flings the handful of CCTV printouts to the floor near the fire.  They’d been delivered by a nondescript man in sober, dark clothes, face competently impassive.  He’d commented that Mr. Holmes himself would be stopping by in the next hour, turned precipitously and eased back into the rear seat of the sedan parked illegally in front of the flat.  They’d rolled silently off into the dark.

Mrs. Hudson stopped by with tea and dinner, and he’d flung it into the sink.  She’d huffed over that, but Sherlock thought he’d been controlling himself very well by throwing it into the sink instead of all over the wall like he really wanted to.

Examination of the CCTV stills proved that the mysterious visitor to the flat was indeed difficult to make out.  Sherlock could superimpose Moriarty over that silhouette bundled in coat and cap, caught blurry and from an awkward angle.  The height was right, and the serpentine curve of his body as he mounted the stairs.  But he could just as well have been Wiggins, or any one of several members in the bullpen at the Met, or, well... there was frustratingly insufficient data with which to narrow down his identity.

The men in the front seats of the white delivery van were too hard to make out, although the driver was clearly unusually tall.  The van itself Sherlock was fairly certain was the one from the club parking lot, which didn’t surprise him.  He flipped through each still, showing the route of the van.  From Melcombe St. to Gloucester Pl. to Marylebone Rd....  Sherlock followed in a mental cab, street after street until they’d evidently lost the van as CCTV cameras became more scarce.  Heading west.  Hmmm.

Sherlock flips open the laptop again.  Moriarty’s old estate is in that direction, an hour outside the city.  It is currently owned by Lord Stewart Crowley, an ancient, sickly gentleman whom Mycroft had said he knew personally from frequent encounters in Parliament.  No relation at all to Moriarty, and they had dismissed him from their investigation.  He wonders how near death the old man may be;  how susceptible to persuasion, to the tantalizing idea of an extended life.

Sherlock can’t stand the thought of sitting, his body is vibrating in tune with his mind, his skin is crawling with the need for action, his heart stutters and races at the thought of John under Moriarty’s hands.  He wants to scream, and run, and fight… he is filled with a barbaric, murderous intent, his stomach clenched, his blood thrumming, electricity surrounding him in a crackling nimbus.

He leaps to his feet, casting the laptop to the side, and begins to wrap himself up for the outdoors:  coat and scarf and gloves.  He darts into the bedroom to retrieve both cash and the gun from where John has stashed it.  He quickly figures out how to chamber the bullets from the box of ammunition and make it ready.  He drops the piece in his pocket and leaps down the stairs 3 at a time.

“Sherlock?” Mrs. Hudson slips through her door and meets him in the small foyer.  “Are you leaving?  Have you heard from John?”

“Yes, I am leaving.  No, I haven’t heard from John.”  He rushes up to her and clasps her between both long hands, easily enveloping the fragile balls of her shoulders.  “I have an idea, Mrs. Hudson, and I will see if it comes to fruition.  If my… Mycroft should come by, then tell him to contact me on the phone.”  He stares at her intently for a moment, sharp blue eyes probing glaucous brown, then leans in to give her a quick kiss on the cheek.  

When he pulls back, her face is soft with sympathy and surprise.  She gives him a little push on one shoulder.  “Get on with you, then,” she says smiling.  “Go find our John and bring him home safe.”

Sherlock wheels around with suitable dramatic flair and leaps over the steps to the pavement, waving over a cab at the same time.  He enunciates the address quite clearly and shoves a hundred quid up front to stall the man’s protests.  As the car pulls out, Sherlock gazes blindly through the reflections on the window, street lights passing by like shooting stars and shops like supernovae, drumming anxious fingers on a well-tailored knee.

Long before they have left the city limits he hears a series of chimes from his phone and quickly pulls it out.  The screen advises him that he has received a message from John, and he spends a moment figuring out how to access it.

What a stubborn little pet you picked.  But don’t worry.  I’m sure you’ll be here soon.  

There are two small, pale squares below the text, and Sherlock presses lightly on the first with his forefinger.  An image springs open, and he bites his lip so hard and suddenly that it splits under his teeth, adding the disorienting iron taste of blood to the picture in his hand.

It is John, seated in a chair in a rich looking room, the warm glow of a fireplace behind him to the right.  His eyes are half open, but dazed and unfocused.  Blood matts his hair and covers one side of his face, the white of his eye is startling and gruesome in its frame of vivid red.  He is bare-chested, and there are distinct, deep lines crossing over in the center, like a foreshortened X, from shoulder to opposite rib.  Rows of dark rope below the cuts show that there’s been enough blood, enough time, to have soaked through the fibers.

Shakily, Sherlock opens the second image.  In this one, John has been cut free.  He lies on the floor like a broken marionette and a large boot rests on the side of his head, holding it mashed into the rug.  One arm is still twisted behind his body, but the other drapes over the floor, and his hand rests on top of a very familiar lamp.

The phone chimes again, and the new message reads, What do you think he’ll wish for, Sherlock?

Sherlock takes a shuddering breath, and the air feels heavy and humid on his tongue, sticking cloyingly to the insides of his lungs, making him slow and vulnerable.  It has begun.  He knew it.  Knew this was the inevitable conclusion, and feels utterly sick that John has to be a part of it.  His mind wanders over the days he has known the man:  damaged, courageous, warm... such a fascinating juxtaposition of nurturing and violence.  

Sherlock ponders the ways they both have changed because of each other’s company.  Sherlock has opened up, found some hope and optimism, discovered things about himself that he had either never known or had thought lost forever, beaten down, ruthlessly excised.  Through John, he has discovered a world he never knew existed, one filled with exciting puzzles and warm, lovely esteem.  He has found a singular joy in his body that he had previously never experienced.  He has even found joy in the body and intimacy of another.

And John.  John has gone from wishing to die, from feeling useless and hopeless and broken, to being able to walk, run, fight;  to having a companion and a purpose.  John needs to take care of someone, it helps him to function smoothly.  He’s made to protect, to admire, to chivvy, to adore, to love.  They fit.  Their tattered edges sift together and in the mix become whole, transcendent.

It was too good to be true.  Of course it was.  When has anything in Sherlock’s hundreds of years gone right?  The thought of Moriarty living through those centuries, slithering his manipulative, sadistic way through decade after decade is so loathsome as to nearly enervate Sherlock.  That snake has finally come back to him, with an obsession which is not only undiminished, but seemingly has been cultivated and amplified over the years.

Sherlock drops fragile lids over dry, burning eyes and knits himself back together, invests himself in his facade so that these useless, incapacitating emotions cannot hinder him.  He has John’s gun, and he has his own brain.  This is all.  The gun he cannot use until he is facing Moriarty, so he must use his intellect at this time.  One breath.  Another.  He flattens his free hand over his thigh and imposes relaxation on his body.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Be the machine.  Be cold, and sharp, and calculating.  Be a tool, a weapon.  Let vengeance be all he can feel.

Breathe.

Sherlock can close his eyes and see that fireplace behind John.  See it as it was over two hundred years earlier.  The heavy stone and elaborate carvings are unchanged, although the items on the mantel are new, and he knows he is heading to the right place.  

The cab crawls deeper into the night, pointed west, eventually leaving behind the lights of London.

 

***

 

Still smacking his lips, as if John’s blood is a fine wine, Moriarty steps back and smiles broadly.  He pulls his phone out of a pocket and faces it towards John.  “Smile for the camera, little pet,” he coos.  John stares at it for a minute, then the flash flares and John blinks slowly to floating purple spots and swirls.

He says, because he can’t think of any other way of taunting his crazed captor, “If you’re planning to send that to Sherlock, you’re out of luck.  He doesn’t know how to use his phone yet.”

Moriarty rolls his eyes and props himself on one hip like an adolescent with attitude.  “Honey, I have faith in that man’s brains, if nothing else.”  He looks around.  “Now, let me see…” he stoops to pick up the lamp from the floor and grins again at John.  His face is eerily painted by the thin line of blood arrowing off his cheek.  He hasn’t even swiped at it, and John wonders if it has even registered with him that he has been hit.  “Sebastian, I want him lying on the floor, if you don’t mind.”

There’s a grunt behind him, and the now-familiar schkk of the switchblade, and the ropes around John begin to pull and tug.  As soon as they have fallen away, John leans forward, and is smacked in the temple again for his trouble.  He simply falls the rest of the way, and scarcely hears Moriarty’s exhortation to keep him down.   Suddenly there’s a giant boot on his head, pressing it to the floor, and agony floods him so quickly he’s certain he will vomit.  He gags on bile for a blind minute, rapidly swallowing to keep it down.

Moriarty’s dainty feet shuffle into view, and he squats down so that John can roll his eyes up enough to see his face.  He’s smiling.  “Well,” he says brightly.  “That went well, didn’t it.  Just one last thing-”

John stares through slitted eyes while Moriarty grabs his hand and puts it over a familiar shape.  “Here’s your lamp, little pet.  Are you going to make a wish?”  John opens his eyes wider to see, and there’s another flare of light as the camera’s flash goes off again.  “Ta for now, my dear.  I’ve got some things to get ready.”  Moriarty wanders out of the office, whistling an overloud and jaunty disco tune, and Tank’s boot is solid and uncompromising on John’s head, pressing cruelly against his wound.  He lets his eyes fall closed.

He feels distantly concerned that if they don’t stop hitting him in the head he might suffer irreversible concussive trauma.  There must be a fluorescent light in the hallway; it sings a discordant, buzzing cacophony, interpreted through his jittery skin, and he lets it morph into a lullaby, red with agony, and for a while he sleeps.

He doesn’t know how long it is before he wakes up again.  Moriarty has bounced back into the room, looking gleeful and excited.  Sebastian stands at the corner of the desk, alert and watchful, gun held steadily in his hand, pointed skillfully at John.  He looks away from it, and starts to push himself up, stopping at the pain before he can even prop himself up on one elbow.

“Well, Sebby… go help him!  I need him in the bedroom, now!”

Wait.

What?  Sweet Jesus, is this where the torture is headed now?  Although taking it to an actual bed seems strange.  If Moriarty's planning on raping him, it will be about power, not about lust.  A bed seems discongruent. Oh, god.  Oh, god.

Sebastian hauls him up by his belt, which is degrading, but ultimately successful.  He’s propelled into the hall behind Moriarty, who is so excited he is practically skipping.  John finds he’s having trouble keeping himself balanced over one foot long enough to take an unsupported step.  Each jolting footfall shakes his pectorals, and a clear, burning hurt reverberates through his chest.  He can feel the sluggish warmth trickling in little rivulets down his stomach.  The cracked rib that Moriarty kicked acts like an overtightened corset, aborting each breath as he takes it via the effective technique of flaring pain.

Up an endless flight of stairs.

Down a long gallery, hung with family portraits and no doubt expensive but quite pedestrian art.  John shuffles along, panting, Sebastian's hand gripping his bicep to keep him upright and hurrying along.

Moriarty turns around and walks backwards, clapping his hands once in excitement.  “I found a lovely girl,” he begins, checking over his shoulder to direct himself into a narrower hall.  “I think you’ll quite like her.”  He turns back around in time to find the doorway he sought.  He unlocks it with a key taken from his pocket and traipses through.  “Come on, I want you to see!”

Adrenaline spikes again, and John can suddenly stand under his own power.  A girl?  What the hell?  What does Moriarty intend to do with a girl?  His looks quickly around the room as they breach the threshold, and his gaze locks on her.  She really is a girl.  A teenager, and scared out of her mind.  She has long dark hair, and giant black eyes in a cat-like, triangular face.  She’s huddled behind a chair in the far corner of the room, and her tea-colored skin pales several shades as John watches.  He is sure that he can’t be a sight to inspire confidence in anyone, much less an inexperienced kid.

Moriarty turns to John.  “I found her at Camden,” he confides,  “in a booth.  She does such lovely designs, you just wouldn’t believe.”  He glides over to the terrified girl and clasps his hands behind his back.  “Now,” he says, and his voice has gone cold again.  “I expect you to get him ready for me, just like I told you.”  She begins to cry, and he casually backhands her, so that her head swings into the wall behind her.  “Stop it,” he hisses.  “Or I will kill you either way, do you understand?”

She gabbles something, and he drags her forward, pushing her towards John.  “Do it,” he commands.  He then grabs John by the chin, smirking into his eyes.  “And you, little pet.  You let her do what she needs to, or I will cut off her toes one by one while you watch.  I’d do her fingers,” he says in an offhand, breezy tone of voice, “but she’ll need those for later.  

“You. Try. Anything. and I switch my attentions to her.”  His tone is abruptly flat and utterly empty and John feels the truth of his words with a chilling certainty.

John stands straighter and pulls his shoulders back, ignoring the stab of pain from flesh and bone.  “I understand.  You sadistic bastard.”

Moriarty’s fist flies out again, and the girl shrieks as she’s knocked to the ground.  “See?  You behave badly, and she gets the punishment.  Clear enough?”

John sucks in an appalled breath.  “Crystal, sir,” and he gives a sharp nod.  Moriarty gives him an indescribable, wide-eyed look, and then beckons Sebastian to follow him out of the room.  “Stay by the door, Sebby,” his voice floats back as the door closes and locks behind them.  

John and the girl are left alone in the bedroom.  John lowers himself stiffly to his knees, energy seeping back now that there’s someone who desperately needs his help.  He makes an abortive move to touch her cheek, resting his hands open-palmed on his knees instead, trying to be as unthreatening as possible.  “I’m sorry,” he says quietly.  “So sorry.”

She gasps and sniffles and scrabbles backwards until she’s crouched against the side of the bed.

“Listen,” he says.  “I’m not going to hurt you, alright?  It must be pretty obvious that I’m in the same boat as you.  So.  Let’s.  Um.”

She wipes her eyes with a shaking hand and nods her head a little.  Her bones are as delicate as a bird’s, and he cringes to think how easily she could break.

“Good.  Ok.  I’m John.  I’m a doctor, actually.  Maybe that’s comforting?  ‘Do no harm’?”  She continues staring at him.  “Right.  What’s your name?”

“Aditi Singh,” she says finally.

“Aditi.  Nice to meet you.”  He looks down at his hands, filthy with his own blood, and doesn’t offer to shake.  “Have you been here long?”

“For.  Um.  For a few hours?”

John nods, relieved she hasn’t been in the hands of that monster for too long.  “He kidnapped you from the Camden Markets?”

“I.  I was painting mehndi.  Henna.”

John’s stomach sinks, and cold foreboding turns his body momentarily to stone.  “That’s why he wants you here?”

She gives a short nod.  “I’m to clean you up, he said, and make sure you wear his costume, and then do my designs on you.”

Christ,” John says with feeling.  “Fucking hell.”

Chapter Text

The en suite is huge, a vast and pretentious layout with too much gold and marble:  heavy-handed baroque.  There is a sunken tub large enough to hold 8 people, a glassed in shower box with four shower heads, a heated towel rack and warmed tiles under John’s feet.  Aditi fidgets nervously behind him and he immediately dampens a flannel in cold water, wringing it out and pressing it gently to the bruise forming on across her face.

“You have to wash up,” she whispers, looking agitatedly at the blood drying on his body.  “I can’t draw until I… can see your skin.”

“Alright,” John soothes.  “I will.  Why don’t you get that thing I’m supposed to wear, and I’ll… do something about all this.”

Aditi steps out, and when she returns she’s holding gauze and stiff velvet sewn with tiny round mirrors and curled slippers and John knows exactly what it is that is folded in her arms.  He rolls his lips in, pressing them harshly together to keep from spitting out curses.  There is no need to frighten the girl more than she already is.  The bedroom and bathroom have no windows, there will be no escape for them except through the locked door guarded by the Tank.  For now, it is best to go along with Moriarty’s deranged instructions.

He examines the cabinet behind the mirror, and finds an unexpected pharmacy, all the little bottles made out for Stewart Crowley.  Ethyol, Adriamycin, Oncovin, antibiotics, narcotics for pain, sleep aids.  It appears that the owner of this house, Mr. Crowley, is a cancer patient, and John files that information away in case it can be used to his advantage.  He helps himself to some pain meds, nothing so strong that it will blur his mind or reactions, just something sufficient to continue functioning.  He takes a quick shower, hissing as the warm water flushes out his wounds, the sting of it cutting sharp through muscles and nerves, red water swirling around the drain at his feet.

For a moment, just a moment, he lets himself feel overwhelmed:  he looks downwards, pinching the bridge of his nose hard, and tears burn behind his eyelids.  But he quickly washes that away, and makes his shaking way out of the shower.  The pain medication has begun to soften his violent headache, but can’t do anything about the room going in and out of focus, or loss of balance resulting from the concussion.  John wraps a towel around his waist and heads back to the medicine cabinet.  Slowly, he begins to use plasters and steri-strips to bring together the edges of the lacerations on his chest, hand and head.  He mops up the blood, staining fluffy white towels red and ugly, and then dropping them on the floor in a small show of defiance.

He has to stop and lean on the counter for a minute, gasping shallow, painful breaths, the cracked or bruised rib blaring its infirmity at him with every motion.  He glances again at the pain meds, but knows better than to render his mind too hazy.  He shakes out the clothes and rolls his eyes.

“Fucking hell,” he says again.  He steps gracelessly into the sheer harem trousers, grey, like Sherlock’s, with the same embroidery at the waistband and cuffs.  He can’t help but check in the mirror to see if his package is visible, not that it matters much at this stage.  He’s lucky, he supposes, that he’s not required instead to be fully, vulnerably, naked.  Aditi can be thankful for that small stroke of fortune, at least.  He groans as he struggles into the vest.  He’ll have to get Aditi to help bind those ribs up tight, so he can move a bit.  The vest is midnight blue, heavy velvet, shot through with gold embroidery and tiny round mirrors.  The damned slippers match, and he uneasily considers how impeding they’d be in a fight.  He puts them on anyway, and glimpses himself in the mirror.

He looks an idiot, he thinks… nothing like Sherlock, tall and lean and elegant.  John is merely a man in an unfortunate costume, sinewy but for the encroaching softness of his belly, body hair obtrusive and interrupted by many rows of steri-strips and plasters, blood soaking through a bit and bruising beginning to show.  His face is ghostly and clammy with exertion, the shadows under his eyes almost green.  He shakes his head a little.  What is this vanity?  Who cares?

He grabs a large roll of gauze and heads out to the bedroom, stumbling over the curled toes of his ridiculous slippers.

Aditi has trouble pulling the bandage tight enough to be useful, afraid of his groans, fearful of hurting him.  Finally, she gets it right, and he quickly ties it off, lying carefully on the bed and closing his eyes.  “Tell me when you need me to move,” he says.

Aditi murmurs something, and gets her brushes and pots ready.  John, to his shame, slides into sleep soon after she begins, the tickling of her brush dimly penetrating his awareness as she paints henna onto his hands and feet, obnoxious slippers tossed to the floor.

He wakes later, a glance at the clock telling him it has been almost a full hour.  He huffs out a shocked breath, and darts a look at the girl working on his abdomen.  She narrows her eyes at him.  “Don’t move, please, or you’ll mess me up.”

John looks back at the clock, appalled that he’s slept, and more appalled that he’s slept for this long.  “Have they been back?”

“No.  I told that… that man… um… it normally takes me about two hours to do the full mehndi.”

John holds up his arms and stares in shock at his hands.  Intricate, tiny patterns coat his fingers and palms, dancing in flowers and sunbursts and coils, trailing up his wrists all the way to his elbows.  She’s even drawn across the top of the bandage on his hand, seamlessly integrating it with his skin.  His hands are transformed.  No longer the small, square, common hands he’s stared at all his life; now they’ve become elegant.  Fine.  Delicate and rare works of art reminiscent of Sherlock’s.  “This is amazing,” he breathes, forgetting for a second about anything else.  “You’re very good.”  

“Yes,” the girl agrees sadly.  “I suppose that’s why he took me.  Do you…” she looks at him, at his battered face and stained bandages.  She gives a hitching sob, and stubbornly blinks away tears which render her large, dark eyes luminous.  “Do you think he’ll let me go?  Will I get to go home?”  Her voice rises and cracks, and John sits up, ignoring the protest from his head and ribs.  He gathers the girl into a loose, one-armed hug, careful not to mar her work, and pats her hair.

“I think so, honey,” he lies.  “It’ll be ok.  I.  I’m sure there are people looking for us already.  Just… keep your head down, yeah?”

She takes a few shuddering breaths, and then asks him to stand up so she can do his back.  John does so slowly, and determines that he’s going back for another painkiller after this, fuzzy mind be damned.  He’s stiffened over the past hour, and has to squint in order to see through the thick, roaring aura of his headache.  Small fingers turn him this way and that, pulling the vest out of the way, painting more rusty designs around his hips and swirling across the dimples of his lower back.

John tries to think of a plan.

The door opens before anything useful comes to mind.  It’s Moriarty, prancing in behind Sebastian, grinning maniacally.  “Oooooh,” he breathes.  “Just look at you.  Turn around for me.”  

An elderly man stands in the doorway, staring at John with hollowed, hungry eyes.  He closes the door behind him and leans on it, looking wretchedly fatigued.  John assumes that this must be Crowley.

“I said, turn around for me!” Moriarty repeats.

John glares.  Moriarty makes a move for Aditi, who squeaks and sidles behind John.  He can hear her terrified, serrated breathing and to offset her hysteria he takes a long, calming breath of his own.  He blanks his face and turns around in a slow circle, seeking to cloak himself in the calm of battle.  Moriarty touches him, touches him, cold fingertips poking at the henna patterns, knocking loose bits of dried powder, pressing against his bandages, raking red tracks down his biceps.  He giggles.  “Well, you’re no Sherlock,” he grinds his thumb into the scar on John’s shoulder, and a couple steristrips pull free.  “But I suppose you can dance for me.”

John can’t help but give him a skeptical look, and Moriarty pulls an exaggerated surprised face.  “Do you not know how to dance?  Don’t worry, Little John,” he laughs, high and soft.  “It will come with the territory.  Now, tell me, which do you prefer?”  

He turns to Sebastian, who has a small bag in the hand not holding the gun.  Moriarty reaches inside and pulls out two lamps, dropping the bag negligently on the carpet.  John’s world narrows down to the two metal objects in his pale, pale hands.  

He should not be surprised.  He should not, but he is.  Everything stops.  His breath freezes in his lungs;  cells fat with hemoglobin and vitality are now arrested in his veins;  his ears cannot hear, his eyes cannot blink.

The first lamp is Sherlock’s.  John knows it intimately.  But the other.  There is another.  It is smaller than Sherlock’s, and a bright bronze rather than matte cast iron.  It is shiny and plain, the only decoration being filigree at the stand, and an extra strip vining from the base to the spout.  Ludicrously, John thinks that polishing around that thin wire would be an irritating endeavor.  Someone’s clearly done it, though, since the lamp is softly gleaming.

“What-” he rasps.  “What is that?

Moriarty looks at him with feigned disappointment.  “Come now, Johnny.  Surely you’re sharper than this!”  He shakes his head mournfully to himself.   “Honestly, I’d have credited Sherlock with better taste, I really would.”  He swings the brass lamp from one finger.  “This one is for you, you dullard.  Unless you’re willing to call Sherlock here?”  He holds out the other.  “One simple wish, and you can trade places.  Wish yourself wealthy and at home, hmmm?”  He raises an eyebrow at John and flashes a hollow smile.  “You can be a fat cat, Dr. Watson, if you just walk the other way.”

John simply stares at him.  He’s tempted to spit on the man, but he can feel the heat from the girl behind his back.  She is shaking, huddled against him as if that will save her.  He cannot defy Moriarty and put her at risk, especially for such an empty gesture.   

He straightens his shoulders and his spine, ignoring the instant, acute objection of his rib.  Both in a bid to stall for time, and to better understand the process (because if he can understand it, he can possibly interfere with it), he asks, “How are you planning on getting me inside that thing?”  The shining lamp swings hypnotically in front of his gaze, pivoting gently from left to right.

“Oh, it’s likely much too complicated for you to understand, my dear,” Moriarty sings.  “Just know that it involves me and Lord Crowley, here.  Why, you’ll be a savior.  Just imagine.  I should think that’s what you doctor fellows like the most.  Saving someone’s life.”

“Just get on with it,” the old man says.  His voice is thin, as ephemeral as his looks.  But there is no warmth in his eyes.  No compassion or regret.  Only self-righteous eagerness.

Moriarty suddenly tosses both lamps at John, who instinctively moves to catch them.  He grits his teeth as he fumbles them, terrified he’ll accidentally activate Sherlock’s.  He desperately thinks of… his eyes light on Moriarty’s shoes… shoes.  He thinks of black shoes.  Black shoes.  Red foxes.  Summer grass.  Anything but Sherlock.  He is not calling Sherlock.

Moriarty holds up his phone.  “Pose for your portrait, Pet,” he says.  John stares stolidly at Moriarty, mind resolutely blank, one lamp in each hand.  Moriarty sighs when his pictures are done, as if disappointed that John won’t play with him.  He takes the lamps back, dropping them carefully into the bag Sebastian proffers, and heads for the door.  “Come along, then.  Let’s go get this ceremony started.  I’m sure Sherlock will turn up soon enough on his own.”  He turns to glare at John.  “Sherlock never believed I could do this, you know.  He lacked confidence.”  He laughs, thready and wild.  “I assume that you do, Dr. Watson.  I’m sure you know exactly how successful this will be.”

 

***

 

Sherlock is staring through the windows of the taxi into the unrelenting blackness beyond when his phone, still tight in his hand, chimes again.  He swipes it immediately, to find another message with a picture.

I expect he’ll want to wish himself out of this.  Don’t you?  I look forward to seeing you VERY SOON, Sherlock.

John is cleaner than he was in the other photos, blood washed up a bit and wounds held together with plasters and gauze.  More striking than his injuries, however, is his dress.  A short embroidered vest.  Loose, sheer, mid length trousers.  Slippers with long, curled toes.

Sherlock sucks in a stunned breath, aghast.  This....  This.  He never saw this coming.  Threats and torture and abuse, yes.  Possibly murder.  But never this.  Never the centuries of slavery that Sherlock has had to endure;  never imposed on John.   Hands painted with henna hold two objects in front of him.  Two lamps. One is recognizably Sherlock’s, matte and black.  The other is a tacky brass affair.

One for each of them.  

There’s another chime, and this one has text only.  

Do you like my new lamp?

and

Oh!  I managed to find the Aquilaria resin without your help this time.  The Internet is such a wonderful thing.

Moriarty’s obscure reference is not lost on Sherlock.  This particular manifestation of the resin of the Aquilaria tree is one of the more exotic items Moriarty had used in his ritual involving Sherlock those many years ago.  It was an essential ingredient, and Sherlock has never gotten over the fact that he had helped Moriarty locate enough for the ceremony on that fateful day.

He is fiercely angry that John hasn’t wished himself back to Baker Street, escaping this impossible situation.  Sherlock is ensnared, has been, always will be:  there is nothing John can do to save him.  But John.  John can leave.

John losing his life, or even worse, losing his death and his freedom:  there is nothing he can do for Sherlock that would make that sacrifice worthwhile.  At best, they’ll both be trapped in their lamps, bound to Moriarty or his minions.

Sherlock realizes, with faint embarrassment, that he’s gasping, fingers squeezed tight around the phone, a subsonic moan lacing stuttering breaths.  The cabby looks back at him in the rearview mirror, vaguely uneasy, and Sherlock shuts his mouth, bites his tongue, and closes his eyes.  He must get there soon.  Moriarty is a showman.  Surely he won’t start without an audience.  “How much longer?” he asks the cabbie.  

The swarthy gentleman shrugs.  “GPS says 20 minutes.”

“Very well.”  Sherlock rubs his eyes, then begins to chew on his thumbnail.  “Don’t go all the way to the drive.  Drop me off at the end of the lane.”

The cabbie, with a hundred pounds in his pocket and the promise of more to come, nods comfortably.  “Shall I wait?”

“Please,” Sherlock responds optimistically.  Either he’ll succeed, and he and John can be free….  Or he’ll fail, in which case the waiting cabbie will no longer be his affair.

He scrutinizes the picture on his phone.  There’s a thick wrapping around John’s waist, and Sherlock’s eyebrows draw down in concern.  Was he cut more?  What happened there?  He catalogues all the bandages, stomach churning as he thinks about the injuries underneath, lips drawing tight together in fury.  He learns by chance how to enlarge the image, and examines the henna on John’s hand.  The ink continues over a bandage, joining gauze and skin.  Who had done that work?  Surely not Moriarty.

He briefly closes his eyes, teeth grinding, but quickly fixes them again on the picture.  Sherlock is ashamed of how his breathing quickens at the sight of John in that revealing outfit.  His arms are hard and defined, the bulge of his bicep enticingly pressed against the velvet of the vest.  Designs curve around the balls of his shoulders, creep up his neck.  Part of his scar peeks out behind the garment, crumpled plasters and trickling blood only adding to the rugged strength he displays.  

John’s expression is harsh, unyielding, his character adamantine in such dire straits, and he wears the silly costume with defiance and barely restrained aggression.  This is the body Sherlock had so recently traced with his own hands, with his tongue:  the gentle curves of John’s chest;  hard muscle still under his belly;  legs strong and sturdy, in contrast to the diaphanous fabric which fails to conceal them.

He touches the screen gently with a fingertip.  Hang on, John.  I’ll be there soon.

Fifteen minutes later his phone dings again:

Are you coming?  Of course you are.  We’re going to have SUCH FUN, Sherlock.  Don’t be late!  But make sure you are completely alone.  Because if anyone comes with you, I’ll just slit Little John’s throat right now.  We’ll see what happens to you when I rub the lamp after that, hmmm?

It is not until Sherlock reads that sentence that he remembers he could have, should have, called Mycroft once he was certain of his destination.  He would berate himself for failure, but it is too late now.  He will not risk John’s life for backup from someone he has only met once.  Moriarty’s threat is unambiguous:  Sherlock must come in alone.

 

***

 

Sebastian indifferently shuts the door on Aditi’s frightened face, leaving her locked alone in the bedroom.  John is again prodded to follow Moriarty, who surprisingly dons his coat and gloves.  “We’re going outside,” he comments, as if John had asked a question.  “I need a pool.”

John’s not sure what to make of that statement, so he leaves it for the moment.  The four of them make an uncomfortable procession through the house and out through massive french doors onto a patio that must be in the back.  Light spilling from the windows shows the patio, snow-covered furniture making shapeless blobs and casting eerie shadows.  The grass below the steps is hidden in a blanket of snow, and the blackness beyond is complete but for small fires glimmering in the distance.  They head for those lonely lights.

The pool terrace is made up of wet, grey flagstones, massive and icy.  Someone’s evidently been out to sweep them off;  the snow has stopped falling, only a flake or two floating its lonely confused way here and there.  The pool is decorative, large enough to qualify as a lap pool, long and narrow, strangely bereft of ice.  An open-front cabana beckons temptingly from the far side, where several braziers burn merrily and orange light flickers around stone columns, tendrils of comfort licking the slicked step leading inside.

John is shoved along, Sebastian’s gun nudging impatiently at his neck whenever he slows to gasp or blink back his vision.  The slippers on his feet are sodden from the snow, and clammy against his skin.  Shivers rack him continually, for he is nearly naked in the frigid, windy weather.  His jaw aches from clamping down on chattering teeth.  The partially enclosed space ahead of him appears welcoming and warm, and John longs for it with an absurd optimism.

John slips once on the ice, twisting his knee, but it isn't enough to distract from the pulverizing tempest of his headache, or the savage rack of cold.  Moriarty flicks an expressionless glance at him and simply says Restrain him now to Sebastian, who pushes John into a puffy lounge chair.  The dichotomy is disorienting.  His hands are wrenched behind the chair, and he cannot prevent a low cry of pain as all the bandages on his chest are pulled awry, and his rib grinds and pulses in protest.  He is quickly and efficiently bound, arms agonizingly wrapped around the circumference of the wide back and zip tied together.  Sebastian roughly secures his hands to the chair legs, further straining his chest.  He won’t be moving anytime soon.

The skeletal old man, Lord Crowley, limps his way up the single step to the little shelter and sinks, groaning, into a seat very close to another of the braziers.  He’s bundled from head to toe in furs, nothing much visible except for dull eyes and sunken cheeks.  He watches John with an uncomfortable lust, and tracks Moriarty with something approaching veneration.

Moriarty opens a large chest and begins to set up what will obviously be an elaborate ritual, peeling off posh leather gloves in order to draw what John assumes are alchemical symbols on the floor of the cabana.  He moves outside and paces the perimeter of the pool, drawing symbol-filled circles, setting out fat pillar candles in red and white and black at each face of it.  Next he digs up a large flask and begins to sprinkle the contents inside their perimeter.  The liquid rolls and beads reflectively with the unmistakable sheen and behavior of mercury.  

John stares incredulously.  “That shit will poison you, you know,” he wheezes conversationally.  

Moriarty doesn’t even spare him a glance.  The next thing looks like salt, sprinkled in studious patterns, and the remainder flung into the pool.  Moriarty does look at John after that, and gives an empty smile, chucking the heavy glass container into the pool with a splash.  “Salt water,” he smirks.  “That’s why there’s no ice.  It’s still just as cold, though,” his lip curls and his black eyes gleam.  “So you should enjoy that fire while you can.”

John is actually not enjoying the fire.  It isn’t nearly enough, and what little heat it puts out dissipates before it reaches him.  His shivering is doing as much damage to his cuts, bruises and concussion as being manhandled by Sebastian had done.  His skin is turning blue, which nicely compliments the color scheme of the damn genie costume, but isn’t something a doctor wants to see.  Even his eyeballs feel frozen, and each inhale burns the inside of his nose with the sensation of dry ice.

Moriarty turns back to his trunk and pulls open a little silver box, slinking his way to John.  He upends the contents, some type of powder, directly onto the flames, which go yellow and leap high at the contact.  The unmistakable odor of sulphur fills the air, and John struggles not to cough.  “Oi, mate,” he needles, not seeing the point in holding back now.  “Couldn’t you have picked something sweeter?”

Moriarty stares at him for a long minute before laughing delightedly.  “Aren’t you a brave and foolish thing?”  He smiles, feral and cold.  “That, mate, was sulphur, which, with mercury and salt make up the three philosophical elements.  With sulphur, mercury and salt I shall bind your soul, your spirit and your body.”  He pulls both lamps out of his coat pockets, tosses Sherlock’s with painful accuracy onto John’s lap, flourishes the brass one, and minces to the large circle he’s drawn at the head of the pool, setting it down in a ring of candles there.  

“With earth, air and flame, I shall call upon the Power to do my bidding, and with water I shall transform thee,”  his eyes are fever bright, reflecting the dancing flames of the small fires.  He licks around his mouth, tongue a darker triangle passing swiftly over pale, narrow lips.  “I shall sever you from your essence, with bone and herb and crystal, sweep your vitality in the direction I dictate.  Infuse it into a new host,” he slants an emotionless look at Lord Crowley, who gazes back with hope that is degrading and nakedly avid, “with the same mechanics by which I shall incarcerate you in that lamp and sublimate you to my will.”

John is simultaneously enraged and terrified.  He jerks at his bound wrists, fear and adrenaline making him wild and senseless.  He growls, loud and animal:  he’d gnaw his arms off for freedom at this point, base instinct adjuring him to get loose, to neutralize this threat.  He struggles until the plasters across his lacerations pop loose, and blood is the only thing that warms him, in thin trickles catching in the fur of his chest, wending down to catch in the gauze around his ribs.

Moriarty laughs.  His face is ravenous, cheeks flushed with fanaticism.  “Yes,” he whispers, bending closer to John.  “Yes.  Fight me.  Don’t give up.  Show me what I will soon take, show me your spirit, your foolish bravery, your lust for life.”  He nudges the brazier closer, too close, mere inches away, until John’s arm begins to redden, motley, from the heat.  

Moriarty drops yet another powder on the flames and acrid, resinous smoke fans over John’s face.  He coughs it in, lungs straining, and he can feel something in the smoke affecting his brain as well, skewing his perceptions.  His thoughts slow as an unnatural haze filters over the scene, and he’s caught in Moriarty’s round black eyes, mired in a foul molasses of insanity and avarice.

A few more useless yanks at his bonds and John slumps backwards, mouth open, helplessly gasping in more smoke, dizzy and dissociated and frighteningly numb and lethargic.  

“Very good,” Moriarty croons.  “Lovely, very nice.”  

Moriarty’s pupils are huge, and John notes with dismay that the two of them are most certainly drugged.  Shadows take on a more solid dimensionality, reaching across the floor to stroke his painted feet, to tug at the mirrors on his vest, flicking him with brumal fingers to offset the burning heat on his other side.

John stares at the henna patterns across the blued tops of his feet.  He has one last, mournfully sober thought:  he knows what he should have wished for.  All this time, so many opportunities.  How many times has Moriarty handed John the lamp and told him to wish.  Three?  And now, although it rests right on his lap, his hands are bound and he cannot touch it.  He wonders what would have happened if he had… .  

So he shouts in his mind, I wish that Sherlock could be the Master of the Lamp.  

Nothing happens.

John coughs on the smoke, and his head droops down.  Nothing happened.

There’s a brief flare of light, from the fire or the camera, John cannot discern which.  The world is spinning, and he fights vertigo.  Sebastian looms through the smoke like a devil, handing something to Moriarty.  “It’s all ready for you, Master,” he says, and his voice has the cadence of ritual, which pulls John down deeper, swaddled in fear and acceptance, confusion and regret slowly slipping away.

 

***

 

Sherlock jumps at another soft chime from his phone.  With controlled hands, he opens it:  a pale blue square rests innocuously in the center of an otherwise empty message.  This picture shows John in a chair.  His hair is bedraggled and clumped, his vest is skewed, chest bleeding again, soaking dark into the bandages around his ribs.  His eyes are wide, pupils enlarged in spite of the flash, and smoke swirls heavily to his left.  His stare is glassy, dissociated, and Sherlock has a vivid sense-memory of the resinous smell of the Aquilaria, pungent and cloying, remembers how it drained him of stability and motivation, the shapes swirling in the smoke suddenly less real, everything less immediate.  

And he knows.  He knows, and he burns with it;  fear and fury, until his skin will split trying to contain it.  He asks the cabbie again, face feral and taut, “How long?”

The cabbie pumps the gas, riskily increasing speed given the conditions of the road.  “Five minutes,” he replies.  

“Set me down out of sight of the address,” Sherlock reminds him.

The cabbie nods and continues to drive.

Sherlock holds his breath the entire time.

The cabbie finally pulls over, nestled in a graveled drive leading into a pasture.  “GPS shows this is just around the bend.”

Sherlock already has the door open.  He shoves another wad of notes at the driver.  “Wait here,” he commands, and takes off at a jog, thin smooth soles of his city shoes slipping on the icy road.  He moves to the graveled verge and runs lightly on his toes, silent.

The imposing manor looms to his right as he crests the bend in the road.  Lit rooms shine like beacons inside;  landscape lighting shows the facade, follows the winding entrance, highlights trees and shrubs so that the place looks like a fairyland.  The old estate is quite transformed from the last time Sherlock saw it.  Ancient spruce trees line the drive, and Sherlock slips from trunk to vast trunk, staying in black shadows, eyes and ears hyper alert.

He had recognized the little cabana in the last picture.  Knows it too well... it was the last place he ever saw as a free man.  It is painfully clear what Moriarty intends, and Sherlock has John’s gun out of his pocket, pulls the glove off his hand with his teeth so that he can hold it steady, aim and fire with assurance and accuracy.  He hides it in his pocket, primed and ready, finger curled around the trigger.

He does not feel the cold.

He rounds the corner of the giant estate, makes for the grounds in the back where the pool lies.  Snow crunches softly under his feet, and he curses the weather.  He drifts closer, and hears a voice in the dark, reaching out to him the same way the flames beckon, flickering and surreal in the endless expanse of these giant lawns.  The only illumination comes from candles and the three glowing coal fires in the little house.  It is a new moon (of course it is, damn these rituals), so there is no light from that source.  Sherlock leans around the trunk of the nearest tree, and takes careful stock.

John is slumped in his chair, to the left of center, strangely lit by the fire, appearing to be only half a person, his other side lost in darkness.  His head is drooping; he is possibly unconscious.

There’s another person sitting on the right.  Not bound.  His head is propped on his hands, which are resting in their turn on his knees.  His bulk is due to furs, rather than physiology.  Sherlock scans the cadaverous face beneath its fur cuff hat and dismisses the man as the sickly Lord Crowley, current owner of the estate.

So, Crowley’s involvement is voluntary.  This information doesn’t surprise Sherlock, but there is not much he can do with it.  He seems unlikely to be a threat, although Sherlock can’t be sure he doesn’t have a firearm.  He’ll keep half an eye in that direction.  Moriarty stands on the step, midway between the columns, silhouetted against one of the braziers.  He’s stage center, and this deliberate choreography is ludicrous to Sherlock.

Moriarty throws his arms wide and shouts, “Sherlock!  Come up, come up!  It’s been so very long, my pet.  But I always knew we’d get here.”  He summons with both hands, tawdry in his overdone theatrics.

Sherlock walks forward.  There is no more point in subterfuge.  Damn the crunchy snow, for giving him away.  “Moriarty,” he says.  Now all his fear has morphed to rage and he is the tool, the weapon he needs to be:  focused, intent, murderous and unhindered by morals.  “You must let him go.”  He gets halfway down the pool, close enough to be bathed in firelight, red candles at his feet.  

Moriarty smirks at him.  “What?  No greeting?  No protestations of how much you’ve missed me?”

Sherlock snarls.

“Oh, and I have missed you.  Yes I have.  Missed you, and what I could do for you.  To you.  Or really, more to the point… what you could do for me.  Sherlock.  It is such an honor that you’ve deigned to attend yet another of my little rituals.”

“What do you think you’re doing?” Sherlock infuses his question with snark and disrespect.  “Still playing games?  After so many years?”

Moriarty frowns, an expression of playful disappointment on his face.  “Have you forgotten already, Sherlock?  Or perhaps you never figured it out.  This,” he throws out a hand to encompass the house, the fires, the pool, “is the protocol by which I create longevity.  You… what happened to you… that was just a lovely side effect.  Now I know, of course.”  He nods his head to the wizened old man on his right.  “Assuming Lord Crowley can hang on for another few minutes, I’ll have him youthful and energetic in no time at all.”  He grins, and light gleams oddly off his teeth so that for a moment they look like fangs.  “And Johnny, too, of course.  Johnny gets youth and longevity, too.  He just has a … slightly higher price to pay.”

Sherlock growls, and takes two steps forward, stopping when Moriarty flings out a palm.  He’s been trained for too long not to let it affect him.

“What if we threw a virgin into the mix, Sherlock?  Could you stand in for that?”  His laughter is cold and sharp;  shards of it fall to the stone under his feet, brittle and cutting.  “I mean, I know you’re not a virgin now, of course.  We made sure of that, didn’t we?  And wasn’t that so fun?  I cherish that moment, Sherlock, I really do.”

Sherlock is frozen in place, he can’t move, and Moriarty’s words fall on him, piercing, paralyzing, taunting and cruel.

“Are you no longer virgin if it was involuntary, Sherlock?  Did you ever learn to like it, after me?  What have you given to John?”

John’s head had snapped up when Moriarty first bellowed Sherlock, his eyes clear and his body taut, ready for action.  The smoke-induced daze seems to have receded.  John lunges forward with a roar, mouth open, teeth bared.  The heavy lounge chair screeches several inches across the floor before stuttering to a halt.

Sherlock pulls his hand from his pocket and produces the gun, aims it steadily at his enemy.

Moriarty laughs.  “John.  Johnny-Boy!  Your knight has come.  Look at this.”  His sweet voice drops an octave, becomes hissing and cold, “Remember this, John.  Mark this failure.  And tell Sherlock what that little red dot on your chest means.”

John looks down with dismay.  Indeed, an LED sight is obvious over his heart.  He growls in frustration.  “Sherlock, there’s another man here.”  He tips his head to the shadows on the left of the pool.  “Somewhere over there.  The laser on my chest means he’s got his weapon aimed at me.”

Sherlock’s eyes, shining in the dim light, flicker sideways.  He can see nothing, but the little red pinpoint dancing across John’s chest.  It floats from the blood-stained bandages up to his forehead and then back down.  The message is clear.

“Put down your little gun, Sherlock,” Moriarty sings.  “It is over.  We can kill him now or later, but you are here, and that’s all I need.”  He peers at his old slave.  “I’ve missed you so, I really have.”  He laughs and sucks on his index finger, hanging the weight of his hand from his teeth.

The old man behind Moriarty speaks up.  His voice is withered, petulant, worn through with long-term sickness.  “Get on with it, man.  I’ve no desire to sit out in the cold all night.  Do what you promised to do.”

Moriarty shoots him a venomous glare, quickly suppressed into a fixed, supercilious expression.  “Of course, my Lord.  Wouldn’t want to keep you waiting.”  Sherlock is familiar with that tone of voice.  The old man won’t survive to see dawn, he’s certain.

Moriarty glides over to John, and the red light remains fixed on his chest.  “Gun,” he reminds Sherlock kindly.  “On the ground, if you don’t mind, my dear.”

Stiffly, furious, Sherlock bends to place it near his feet.

“Kick it away, you foolish boy.”  His high tenor, laced with Irish warmth, is disorienting.  “No tricks.”

Sherlock complies, agonized.  Moriarty produces a knife from his pocket and holds it against John’s throat.  John jerks once, pulling against his bonds, but his hands are clearly tied around the back of the chair.  A thin black line appears under the blade, darker than the shadow under his chin, and John goes very still.  Sherlock cannot see his eyes, but he can feel the intensity of his stare.

“Kneel,” Moriarty rasps.  He points to the far end of the pool.  “There, in the circle.  Be careful not to muss my lines.”

Sherlock’s eyes dart around the pool area, but there is no help in any quarter, no tool, no bright ideas that wouldn’t leave John dead before he could implement anything.  He moves confidently to the circle, stepping carefully over alchemical symbols decorating its boundary.  He’s mere inches from the foot of the pool, and slashing, visceral memory makes his blood ice, one quick shiver wracks his body.

Moriarty snatches up Sherlock’s lamp, from where it’s been balanced on John’s lap, and then drops it into one coat pocket.  He grimaces toothily at Sherlock in what may have originally been intended to be a smile, but now is now redolent of dark, uncontrolled passion.

He slices the rope tying John’s hands to the chair, but leaves the zip tie tight around his wrists.  He forces John to standing, pushing up against his neck with the knife, slipping through the thin trail of blood already there.  John struggles awkwardly to his feet.

Moriarty pushes him to one side, and John has to hurry to step around the bulk of the chair before he trips over it.  His face is pallid, sheened with strain.  But his expression is fierce, and Sherlock knows his partner is prepared in spite of his discomfort.

If only he can manufacture a plan!

Moriarty sneers at the old man and has him take his place in a circle on the long side of the pool.  He shoves John to his knees in the place that mirrors Sherlock’s, opposite him across the dark water.  Moriarty has the ugly brass lamp in his hands now, and moves to the unoccupied side of the pool, facing Crowley, smiling and triumphant.  He steps into his own marked ring and sets down the lamp.  He bends to a small chest at his feet and begins to sprinkle herbs and powders over certain symbols.  Incongruous, cheerful whistling accompanies his actions as he completes his preparations.

 

***

 

A brazier in the pool house flares up and smoke roils out, pungent and thick, creeping heavily around the pool like fog:  menacing, overwhelming.  It sinks around John’s hips, rises to his shoulders, slides stinging tendrils inside his nose and mouth.  Moriarty is murmuring to his left, the old man to his right, rigid and covetous, huddled in his obscene furs.

Sherlock stares across the pool at John, distraught, anguished.  He is mere meters away, but it might as well be the ocean between them.  The temperature doesn’t affect John anymore.  His skin is thoroughly frozen;  the peril of the situation so much worse than inclemency that it’s not even worth registering.

The old man coughs, and Moriarty glares at him.

The red sight stays steadily trained on John’s left breast, targeting his heart with a sniper’s accuracy.

A small line of fire has risen around Moriarty’s circle, sulphur strong in the air, and Moriarty grins.  “Sebastian,” he says conversationally.  “On my command, you need to toss John into the pool.”  He looks around at his strange, frozen audience, two kneeling and furious, one amorally desperate to extend a life that seems already gross and attenuated.

“You recall, do you not, Sherlock?  After all, it was right here, this very spot.  Not too much has changed since that night, has it?”  Moriarty swings his head to the side to give Sherlock a heated stare.  The soft Irish lilt is obscene, emanating from features sculpted by firelight into something inhumanly reptilian.

Another handful of powder is scattered, and the ring of flame around Moriarty leaps momentarily higher, casting writhing shadows across his face, pits of black around his eyes, hair wild, mouth a grotesque maw before the light dies back down.  “Total immersion, John,” he explains, licking his lips.  “A symbolic drowning, don’t fear.  You’re not as much use to me dead, after all.  Although, and please keep this in mind, it’s not absolutely necessary for you to live.  

“A baptism, if you will, beginning your new life, with a new Master.  All the elements must be combined to work such powerful magic.  Water, air, fire, earth,” he clunks his heel on the slate flagstones.  “And sulphur, mercury and salt to bind you, to transform you,” here he includes Lord Crowley in his singsong oration, “to ensure the manifestation of your fate.”  He stoops to the chest, grabs a box, and casts the contents into the pool at his feet.  The water bubbles, greasy and foul.

Moriarty squats gracefully on his heels.  “And now, the symbol for completion…” he holds a wand of chalk, and the brass lamp gleams, eldritch and bilious in his hand as he leans forward….

 

***

 

Sherlock does know this ritual, and he tightens his muscles, ready for movement.  The red light disappears from John’s chest as a large shadow resolves at the periphery of the light.  A huge man prowls over to John, and stands just outside his circle, staring at him, coiled and alert, awaiting the direction to push.

Sherlock looks at John, really looks.  John is staring right back, and his soul seems to shine through his eyes, pain and weakness shucked in the face of his dedication to Sherlock.  His innate decency, his strength of will, are predominant and enticing.  

He is ready for whatever message Sherlock should send him.  And Sherlock is ready too.  He blinks.  An eyebrow twitches.  There’s the tiniest jut of his chin.  John.  On my signal, you must jump.

John blinks back.  A corner of his mouth lifts, falls.  His question is unmistakable.  Jump?  In there?  What bloody good will that do?

On my mark, Sherlock insists, communicating through the cant of his body.  He listens to the incantation he could never forget, waiting for the moment.

“... and mercury for transition.”  Gleaming silver drips from Moriarty’s fingers.  “Vitality from one to another.  Freedom from one to another.”  He grinds bone and crystal under his shoe, dips the brass lamp into the pool and rises to his feet, holding John’s future lamp, dripping fire, in both hands, raising it above his head, knee-deep in smoke, and his round black eyes are consumed with madness.  “Sebastian-”

But Sherlock snarls, and launches himself forward, John matching him move for move from the other end, and there are twin splashes, synchronized bodies, unified in motion and intent, strangely graceful.

The lamp slips from Moriarty’s hands and he screams in frustrated fury.  Sebastian quickly lifts his rifle, aiming at the pool.  The old man staggers, curls over, sinks to the icy rock behind him, and two gunshots ring out.

Moriarty and Sebastian fall. Weakened fire licks, intrigued, at the cuff of one man’s bespoke trousers.

Figures in black slink from the periphery, closing in on the pool.  Mycroft’s face coalesces out of the night, pinched, worried and angry.

Waves rock the pool.  The water is black, impenetrable.  There are no bodies to be seen within.

Chapter Text

John floats in the dark -- a weightless, drifting, womb-like sensation.  He’s not sure if his eyes are opened or closed, but he can hear the beat of his heart, strained and slow.  He feels no pain.  Except for pervasive cold, he feels… nothing, cannot even orient himself by gravity.  The haze of his surroundings has spread to his mind as well:  his concern is blunted, his thoughts sluggish and dull, his being is curiously acquiescent, nonjudgmental, submissive.

He does not know why he is here.  He cannot remember what happened moments before, and has no idea what to expect next, if anything.  It simply does not matter.  He floats.  Nebulous.

Tha-thump.  Tha-thump…  tha… thump…

An image flashes in his mind, like a disjointed vintage reel film, crazed and sepia and out of focus:  a tall, slender man, full of grace and strength and beauty, dressed in exotic fabrics, layered with paint and jewels, curling his body towards John with a discordant expression of concern.  But the conceit fades away, after a brief spark of light, and John passively lets it go.

Tha

thump…

thump…

An echoing clunk, and something that might be a voice, a slither of vibration through the element surrounding him.  John thinks briefly about his body:  he has one, does he not?  Perhaps he should move it?  But that effort is beyond him.  

He thinks that he might have come to rest on a surface.

Tha…

thump

That’s my heart he thinks with clinical detachment.  This can’t be right.

His chest does not rise and fall, a petrified part of a static body.

Tha

The echoing noises become more frantic, and John is rocked by a sudden external force, a crystalline, shattering commotion….  But he’s focused on his heart:

...thump

He is violently grabbed, jerked and pulled, but he ignores it as a petty consideration.  His heart… is…

thu mp

Quiet.



***



The first thing John sees when he opens his eyes is Sherlock, leaning intently over him.  He opens his mouth to say I dreamed of you but all that comes out is a series of wretched wheezes and a startlingly painful fit of coughing.  Sherlock’s eyes dart to the side, and a straw is soon pushed between his lips, which is less than helpful, because he’s trying to recover his breath, so he turns his head away until he regains control.  When he drinks, he discovers that it is water, tepid and nasty, but welcome all the same.

He hacks again and brings a hand to his throat.  Rudely bright fluorescent lights blind him from panels over his bed.  The walls are white, the room gently animated with mechanical beeps.  An IV drip runs from a stand over his head down to his hand.  He is in hospital.  “Intubated?” he rasps.

Sherlock nods, but says nothing.

John’s eyebrows knit.  He can’t remember a damn thing.  Why is he in hospital?  Sherlock looks frightful, hair matted on one side and thoroughly untamed on the other.  His face is drawn, colorless but for the yellowing bruising on one side.  John’s eyes coast downward over bowed neck and sharp clavicles, noting that Sherlock is in a hospital gown, blankets wrapped around his shoulders.

“What-?”

Sherlock pokes the straw between his lips again, and says impatiently, while John drinks, “They had to fish us both out of the pool.  I’m fine.  Fine.  You, on the other hand.  Well.  You’ll be fine as well.”  He shifts the polystyrene cup to his other hand and then rests gentle fingers on John’s chest.  His eyes pearly with exhaustion, he looks ghostly.  “Your heart stopped.  They had to resuscitate you.”  

John struggles to remember.  He recognizes the telltale euphoria of narcotics in his system, which doesn't help with recall.  “Pool….”

Sherlock lifts his hand briefly to John’s head, strokes so gently over his hair that he can’t be sure it happened, before sitting back in his chair.  “You don’t remember?  The doctor said you likely wouldn’t for a while, because of the concussion.  It was last night.”

Now that Sherlock mentions it, John is aware of an oceanic pain in his head.  Thankfully, the narcotics render that inconsequential.  “What happened, then?” he croaks.

Sherlock leans forward again, face intent, and slips his fingers under John’s heavy hand, scooping it into his own, seemingly unperturbed by the intimacy of the gesture.

“Moriarty’s men got you, when you went for the shopping.  They-”  he stops short, and John watches the rapid bounce of his Adam’s apple as he swallows.  “They… hurt you a bit.  Before I could get there.”

John sluggishly catalogs his body.  Head.  Chest.  Hurts to breathe.  The hand in Sherlock’s feels tight when he flexes his wrist.  He dredges through the black mire in his mind, but… still nothing.

Sherlock continues to talk.  John closes his eyes and lets that stunning voice--warm, accented, rich as melted chocolate--rumble across his skin and soothe his restless, inchoate thoughts.  He sleeps, hand secure in the mute amity of Sherlock’s long fingers.



***



John is back in Baker Street, where Mrs. Hudson has come upstairs at least four times a day, delivering tea and soup.  She claims that she is not their housekeeper, and John is inclined to agree:  she is more like their mother.  He spends rather too much time lying on the sofa, waiting for his head to recover.  He feels odd when he changes the dressings on his chest, touching the black stitches over vicious cuts with dumbfounded fingers.  Tortured.  He was tortured.  He shakes his head at himself in the mirror.  Healthy color is returning to his face, after so many days home from hospital, although the left half of it is still greenish and swollen from all the blows to his head.

The pain is only sharp when he moves quickly, so he drifts through the flat.  But his gait is smooth.  His leg is strong and stable;  Sherlock jokes that it has finally met its quota of danger and is back up to par.  John just hums noncommittally.  But he believes that Sherlock may be right, and Sherlock knows he believes, so that is enough.

John’s skin is painted in henna, with a strange blank space on his right hand where the bandage had been.  The work is detailed, delicate and very beautiful.  His hazy recollections of the young girl who did it are growing more complete.  Sherlock tells him that Mycroft had returned Aditi Singh to her family, unharmed.  A sweep of the mansion had revealed the terrified captive locked in the bedroom, as well as the body of a man dumped in a basement hallway, knees blown and a neat bullethole in his forehead.  John understands that the latter was Moriarty culling dead weight, and is very thankful that the girl survived.

Sherlock tells him how Mycroft had followed Sherlock to the pool, using a GPS signal on his phone, although he was nearly too far behind to be of help.  Moriarty and his henchman are dead.  

“Sebastian...” John remembers Tank’s real name and frowns.  

Sherlock nods.  “Colonel Sebastian Moran,” he agrees.  “Used to be with the British Army, just like you.”

John’s lip curls. Sebastian was a violent, disturbing man, and John wants no commonality with him. He remembers very little of the ceremony at the pool, having been high on the Aquilaria smoke in addition to bruising and swelling of the brain. Sherlock told him a bit about it, how Moriarty’s experimental protocol had been carefully crafted for John alone, had not accounted for two bodies in the pool, and two lamps. When Sherlock cast himself into the water at the same time as John, all the parameters of the experiment were too warped to function and the spell had backfired by melting both lamps into slag rather than imprisoning John into the one Moriarty had intended for him. “We’re free,” Sherlock concludes. His voice is monotone, but his eyes burn and shimmer.  

John puts his hand on Sherlock's, weaves his decorated fingers in between the longer, more clever digits of his companion.  The henna markings on their skin don’t match, yet are complimentary.  He smiles and strokes his thumb in circles on the knob of Sherlock’s wrist.  “You’re free,” he repeats.  “Sherlock, it’s amazing.”

Sherlock does nothing more than close his eyes.  Then he curves forward, until his head rests lightly on John’s shoulder, and he says, mouth muffled by the sweater John is wearing, “Yes.  Free.”  

John tilts his head so that they’re pressed together, gently still, careful of his headache.  The nausea and dizziness have subsided, the swelling in his brain gone down, but blunt trauma takes a while to heal, regardless.

Sherlock’s hair is warm and aromatic against his cheek, tickling in his nose, and he feels tension seep out of him at the contact.



***



It has been two weeks since his release from the hospital, and Baker Street is beginning to feel like home.  Mrs. Hudson contributes to their feeding, but Sherlock’s idea of stocking the kitchen is calling out for curry whenever John complains that he can’t go for two days without eating, dammit, he’s trying to recover.

He has already finished the plate of biscuits Harry and Clara brought several days prior.  They are his favorite: homemade and crumbly, recalling fond memories of being very small, with his sister, watching cartoons after school.  Harry was very pale, with deep shadows around her eyes, and John was never so pleased to see signs of detox, although he deeply regrets her need to mourn Melissa.  She grumbled and evaded when he asked about it, but Clara smiled and said they were going to a support group and that things seemed promising.  

They left behind a soft new jumper for John and a pack of Larks for Sherlock, which John hid as soon as they left.  He’s recently got Sherlock to try nicotine patches instead of smoking, and he hopes that will stick.  Also, the the blank, flesh-toned circle slapped on top of intricate henna never fails to amuse him.  Now, if only Sherlock will stop using so many at once.

Mycroft has stopped by several times, pompous and reserved as always, immaculate in his stuffy brown suits.  His concern for and curiosity about his newfound relative are subtle, but evident.  Although he and Sherlock often spend these visits staring acrimoniously and silently at one another, John has seen a lot of paperwork exchange hands.  Sherlock is now the proud possessor of a documented and marketable past, and a fat bank account.  

Mycroft doesn’t stick around long enough for thanks, even if that is what Sherlock might have intended to do, which is doubtful.

One afternoon, Sherlock comes back with a violin, and parks himself next to the windows, playing slow, sad strains of music that make John’s skin shiver and crawl at the beauty, the richness, the lament and the joy.  He lies on the sofa, eyes squinted against the light, and watches Sherlock’s silhouette, swaying and sawing, utterly removed from the mundane.  They never speak of it, but Sherlock makes it routine, playing softly when John’s head pounds too loudly for rest;  or breathing hurts;  or coughing causes his cracked rib to howl until his vision is floating red blotches shot through with sparks of pain.

Sherlock seems bored by the quiet, and often leaves John in the flat.  He’ll breeze back home in the afternoons, vibrant from his excursion, cold air radiating from his coat, smelling of food vans, exhaust, strange perfumes, the dank must of winter leaves.  He is exploring his city.  

Lestrade calls once or twice, and Sherlock runs out to meet him at the Yard, or at the morgue, returning to the flat hours later, electrified, telling John the details of the cases so quickly and excitably that his words stumble over one another and blur together in his delivery.  John grins, excited for him, pleased beyond words that he’s found his niche, that he’s getting the recognition he deserves, that he’s being fed the puzzles for his mind which are as important as the more prosaic nutrients that John must regularly insist his body needs.

John is up and about these days, although he still must move cautiously because of the ribs.  He will remove his stitches in a few more days, and the angry X slashed across his chest looks like a ragged comet-tail trailing from the starburst of his bullet wound.  Sherlock will touch it, at night, when John changes into his pajamas… fingertips gentle and apologetic, eyes burning with guilt and something that looks like fear.  He’ll unfold his fingers and place his hand flat, palm pressed against John’s heart, seeming reassured by the steady tha-thump within, and John wonders if he’d felt it at the pool, when the beating had slowed, struggled, and died.

They sleep as they always have, tangled in one another, although Sherlock has to curl carefully around John, since he is generally only comfortable flat on his back.  Sherlock’s gusting breath in his neck, waving the hairs around his ear, is reassuring and familiar.  Even after many showers, with the lamp a lump of molten metal ghoulishly displayed on the mantel in the livingroom, Sherlock still smells of incense and spices, of oil and rust, in addition to his very human warmth and skin.

Their henna is unfaded, even after so long, which John is beginning to wonder about.  Sherlock has had a shower every day, he is as finicky and meticulous about cleanliness as a cat.  John… not so much, lately, as it is painful and difficult.  But even so, the ink applied so diligently by Aditi should have faded by now.  John licks his thumb and rubs it briskly across the back of his other hand.  Nothing.

Sherlock sits across from him, perched in his armchair by the fire.  He is staring hard, trying to make John read his mind and go brew him some tea.  John knows what he wants, but is amused to ignore him.

“I believe it’s permanent now, John,” he says.  

John looks up in surprise, ceasing the scrubbing motions of his thumb.  “The henna?”

“Yes.  Well.  Mine certainly is.  I’ve tried removing it with soap, water, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol and exfoliants.”  He pauses and holds his arms before him, staring at the jarring sight of deeply detailed henna covering his hands, extending from the gray cuffs of his suit.  He throws his head back, staring at the ceiling, and John looks at the henna crawling around the sides of his neck.  Just as vivid as it has ever been.  John puts his hand to his own neck, as if he can feel the vibrancy of the markings there.

Sherlock tilts his head back down and casts him a luminous look, sidelong and serious, hands pressed together in front of his chin.  “It is… profoundly fortuitous… that more of Moriarty’s spell didn’t take,” he says quietly.  “I could only surmise that our premature and simultaneous entry into the pool would foil the flow and efficacy of the ritual.”  He’s silent for a moment.  “It was the only thing I could think to try,” he admits.

They’re both quiet, staring down at their laps.  John bites his tongue and suppresses a shudder.  So close.  So fucking close.  He can’t even think about it.  Permanent tattooing is a small price to pay indeed.

Sherlock suddenly jumps up, gives John an unexpected smirk, slips off his suit coat, and begins to sway.  He is wearing a white shirt, bordering on indecently translucent.  John can see the shape of his nipples underneath, the darker shadow lining down the center near his navel.  His trousers are soft over his slim waist, flat belly, and tattooed hands rest on effortlessly swiveling hips.  “I’ve got more than a few remnants of my time as a genie,” he says.  And rather than painted in the shadows with which he has always spoken of his incarceration before, now his face is light, open in such a way that it broadcasts amusement.  He blinks his feline eyes at John;  they are green with interest, absurdly light in the dim room, framed in short sooty lashes, held at their exaggerated tilt by impossibly angled cheekbones, as exotic as anything John’s ever seen.  Invitation is clear in his gaze, and John cannot help but rise from his chair.

“Yeah?” he asks, stupidly, breathlessly.  “What else have you got?”  Although what he’s got is clear, the hypnotizing movement of his hips and sinuously twisting body is making that quite obvious.  Sherlock scrutinizes John thoroughly, eyes traveling saucily from top to bottom and back again.  Then he snaps one hip to the side, planting his feet flat on the rug, rolling his spine until his shoulders swing, twisting his head on a neck that is all limber sinuousness.  

For several minutes he does a dance, rhythmic and beautiful in the silence of the room, utterly anachronistic in his sleek suit and sophisticated leather shoes.  But John’s riveted to the flash of his hennaed hands, the ripple of clavicles, bone and hollow, the mesmerizing bob of his throat, as vivid green eyes savagely pin him in place:  a helpless, ardently prurient observer.

Sherlock glides closer, whisks his body until he’s behind John, hips pressed to the small of John’s back, hands stroking down the woolen front of his jumper.  Soft curls tickle his cheek as Sherlock lowers his head and whispers.  “And you, John?  Can you dance as well?  You’ve got the henna….”

Long, hard fingers crawl around his waist to tangle in the beltloops of his khakis, and Sherlock’s metronomic thighs are tight against his arse as he is moved in slow circles.  John tries to relax, a challenging prospect since sudden lust has hit him with unstoppable momentum, but the painkillers certainly help him to loosen up, allow Sherlock’s hands to guide him.

However, he feels no different than he ever has dancing.  Except that he is gasping for breath because of the rib, a duller pain, now, but still, there.  He is no more limber, flexible, or knowledgeable about belly dancing than he ever was.  He frowns, laughs, and colors in embarrassment from his few attempts at jerking his hips in a lame simulacrum of Sherlock’s skillfully carnal dance.

He pulls to a stop, dropping his chin, feeling the bandages catch on his vest, and snorts.  “Sherlock.  I most certainly did not turn into a genie when I dunked myself in that damned frozen pool.”  

Sherlock hums a little, trails his palm down John’s arm until he can capture John’s hand and bring it up to his shoulder, kissing his knuckles lightly.  “I will have to teach you the old fashioned way, then,” he murmurs.

John turns in his arms, feeling uncertain.  There has been very little touching since hospital, excluding their sleeping arrangements, which are comforting, but not in the least sexual.  He tilts his head, wanting to ask, but afraid, so afraid, of what the answer might be.  For the past week, Sherlock has hardly been in the flat, although he has been attentive to John’s needs, and gravitates to the room where John is when he is going to throw himself down for a sulk.

He has money now, John knows.  A tremendous amount.  He had nearly choked at the beginning balance Mycroft had mentioned was in the account, with monthly stipends of nearly as much deposited from a trust fund.  Sherlock will not have the title, which does not bother him in the least, as he never wanted it, but he is certainly invited to share in the fortunes of his family estate.  

Lestrade has already invited his input on two puzzling cases in the past 10 days.  Although Sherlock is consulting gratis in this case, since income no longer matters, it is satisfying and fulfilling and a career, for god’s sake.  Talk about landing on your feet.

By comparison, John feels old.  He feels old and used.  He shuffles around the flat, limp-free but wheezing for breath, and the effects of the concussion occasionally crest and break and crash over his head if he moves too fast, slamming him with angry, roiling pain.  

The henna may be permanent, but it traces tentatively around a body that is looser than Sherlock’s;  softening, scarred, blemished on the skin as he is in the soul.  John is no more than a man who considers death as an alternative to slogging on.  A man who cringes in a clamoring panic because of nothing more than memories of battle.  A man who responds to a shoulder wound by limping.  Whose hand is too sporadically tremulous for the surgery with which he could support himself.  A man living off a scant army pension.  Who is as common as dirt.

What can Sherlock -- lissome, wildly intelligent and educated, aristocratic, talented and beautiful… what can he possibly want with John now that his freedom is assured, now that he has a meaningful life laid out before his feet?

The henna.  The ability to dance.  Those are the only remnants of the man who once arguably belonged to John.  John doesn’t want ownership, really he doesn’t.  He is not that depraved.  But he has to admit to himself that he misses it, the certainty that Sherlock could not go anywhere else while his back was turned.  He finds himself genuinely confounded that Sherlock ever returns:  bounding up the steps in the afternoons and flinging himself through the door of their flat, demanding tea, and overflowing with his observations of the day.

But Sherlock has no idea all this is going through John’s head.  

Sherlock pushes him back, arms extended, and frowns over John’s shoulder at the fire behind him.  “I wonder,” he muses, head cocked to the side, balanced on a gracefully curved neck, one eyebrow up.  “I wonder what other attributes remain of that time.”  He closes his eyes, as though examining himself internally.  “John, would you try a wish?”

John splinters inside, struck with the sudden fear of losing Sherlock in such a way.  He shivers into tiny toothpick shards of muscle and tendon and bone, rigid and fragmented.  “No,” he protests, so low it’s hardly more than a breath.  “I know the lamp is destroyed.  But.  But.  It can’t be safe.  What if…”

Sherlock drops his arms and taps a thumb thoughtfully across one bony hip, thud, thud, thud.  “You thought of a wish at the pool,” he says.  “I saw you thinking, felt… something.”  His eyes narrow at John until they’re only slits of light.  “What did you think of?”

John remembers.  His memory of that evening is more or less completely restored, all except for when they dragged Sherlock and him out of the pool and those first days in hospital.  He locks his jaw and looks stubbornly to the side, eye to eye-socket with a bizarre skull of some kind of cow that Sherlock had swept in with several days earlier.  He mutely shakes his head.

Sherlock hrumphs.  “John, I believe it’s perfectly safe, and you can be certain I wouldn’t risk being in a lamp again.  I’m just curious if there is any power left in me.  Go on, say it.”  He pokes gently at John’s arm and allows one thick eyebrow to crawl slowly up towards his hair.  The dare is plain.  

John frowns again.  “It was.  I had wondered if I could somehow make you your own Master.  Of the lamp, you know.”  He carefully words it without the word wish anywhere at all.

Sherlock thinks on that one for a moment, then nods decisively.  “Not a bad ploy.  Mrs. Hudson and I never tried that.”  He looks at John and his expression relaxes from focused query into something softer, and one corner of his mouth lifts up.  “It’s quite generous, John.  Thank you.”

John flushes and shrugs.  His final wish had not worked anyway, without his being able to speak or touch the lamp.  They will never know, now, if it would have been successful.  And hopefully Sherlock won’t ever find out what a difficult decision that was to make.  Well, not once their lives were on the line, of course.  But the choice to give him freedom, with the likelihood that he would leave John, was nothing short of wrenching.

There is a stretched silence, both men staring at the ragged carpet.  Finally, Sherlock says, “Go on, then, John.  Say it as a wish.  Let’s see what happens.”  He sounds impatient, filled with scientific spirit rather than human timidity.

John swallows and rubs his head.  The headache is back, sloshing gently around his eyes, throbbing through his temples until he feels woozy and confused.  John says, tangling up his words, cottony and stupid with fatigue, injury and the hazy fear of being left on his own, “I wish you to Master my Lamp.”

Oh.  Oh, fuck.  He did not just say that.  Stupid.  Freudian.  Sub-fucking-conscious.  He opens his mouth to retract, but stalls at Sherlock’s shocked inhale.

“That is not the wish we just discussed,” he says, lingering in cold disdain over each word.  John just widens his eyes, speechless and humiliated.  Sherlock’s fierce expression smooths out a moment later.  “Thankfully, there seem to be no wishes left in me.  Nothing,” he sighs.  “I can do nothing.”

Then he grabs John’s biceps, nettled, fingers closing in on firm muscle, and shakes John sharply, seems to have forgotten John’s injuries.  “I can master you without making you a fucking slave….”

“What?”  John gasps, headache dissipating under a flood of adrenaline.  “No.  No!  That’s not what I meant to say-”

Sherlock slowly raises a single sarcastic eyebrow.  John watches his pupils expand, growing until they are merely limned in color.  He moves quickly, hand shifting to cover the front of John’s neck.  “But I think you did.”

John inhales for denial, but Sherlock squeezes, frowning, making an annoyed hush.  He looks at John, looks, as if John is a corpse to be deduced.  His eyes rapidly flicker around John’s face and body, holding him perfectly still through his grip on his neck.  He darts a look around the room, from the sofa piled with pillow and blankets, the empty tea mugs on the coffee table, to the jacket which hasn’t come off its hook in two weeks.  Narrowly observes the desk under the window, scattered with his new identity papers, a file from Lestrade, the flat rectangle of his phone and his new laptop.

He pulls John closer, so that John has to crane his neck to keep eye contact with him.  Sherlock’s face is controlled and serious, and his thumb strokes across John’s escalating pulse, pushing in just a little too hard against the skin of his carotid.  “Stupid,” he growls.  “I’ve been so stupid.  How could I have missed it?

“We need to talk,” he declares, and swings John around, hand bumping over cervical vertebrae, still holding firmly, pushing him inexorably through the kitchen to the bedroom that they’ve shared.

He stands John at the side of the bed, knees pressed to the mattress, large, hot hand wrapped from ear to ear across his nape.  “I haven’t been paying attention,” he says, moving closer, so that his body just touches along John’s back.  He holds John’s shoulders again, loosely.  John could move if he wanted, but he’s frozen, waiting, thrumming….  Sherlock dips his head and breathes across John’s ear, and when he whispers, John can feel the wet swipe of tongue or lip.  “I thought you needed to be alone, to heal.”  He slides his hands down John’s arms and weaves their fingers together.  “I’ve been feeling guilt over drawing you into this mess.  I’ve been giving you space, and you’ve completely misunderstood that, haven’t you, John?  I neglected to include all the variables in the equation.”

John stands ramrod straight, balanced perfectly over his own feet, rigid with uncertainty and shame and anticipation.

“Being left alone was the last thing you needed, wasn't it John? You're a classic case for abandonment issues,” Sherlock continues his murmur, the words slipping down John's spine like poison, reaching inexorably for the fear he hides most assiduously.

Sherlock's lips vibrate against the thin skin of John’s neck as he speaks, teeth pressed for a flashing moment against the tendon stretching from ear to shoulder.  “I’ve never met someone so alone… who didn’t choose to be.  Your comrades abandoned you after your invalidation.  Your parents abandoned you through abuse.  Your sister abandoned you by choosing spirits and hedonism instead.  You’ve had too much time to think, and your basic insecurities are drowning you.  You expect me to leave.”  

Sherlock draws John’s hands to the small of his back, close between their bodies, and drops a kiss low on his neck, sucking and pulling, so John can feel the birth of a bruise.  “You keep touching your scars, both the old and the new.  I see you watching me, beguiled and tragic.  You’re comparing us, aren’t you?  And falling short in your own estimation.  

“Even the blank space on your hand, where the henna didn’t get painted because of the bandages.  Even that you take as a sign that you are inferior to me.”  Sherlock briefly squeezes his hands around John’s, strokes a thumb across his palm.  “I can see how uncomfortable my family connections make you.  The discrepancy of our assets makes you feel unsure.  And now you find that I’ve got a life, means of employment, guaranteed income.”

Sherlock turns John again, steps against him until he falls, seated, on the edge of the mattress.  “How little you must think of me,” he growls.  Pink patches spread across high-cut cheekbones and his eyes gleam nacreous and offended.  “You assume that all I need you for is financial security, housing?  An unsought remainder to keep me warm at night?  Now I understand your inability to stop dwelling on the Master/Slave dynamic.  It’s not ownership which interests you.  Not dominion over another person.  It’s commitment.  Voluntary or not.  The root of all your fears is abandonment.”

Sherlock stares at John, who feels as stripped nude as a rabbit being prepared for a spit.  His skin is tight, cold, and his ears roar in the wake of Sherlock’s painful revelations.  This has happened before, dammit.  Sherlock has done this to him before, and John clenches his fists and his jaw, struggling with the overwhelming urge to escape, fighting off  an encroaching panic attack.  He won’t do it.  Won’t go there.  He blinks rapidly, sucks in air, breathes deep, ignoring the twinge from his ribs.  

So what?  he asks himself.  So what if Sherlock knows these things?  So what if he knew them even before John?  John is certain, in this one thing he is certain, that Sherlock is not going to use it against him.  Not going to hurt him.  Sherlock’s observations are not poison.  Rather, if John can just get himself in the right headspace, they could be more akin to draining a wound.  Giving him freedom and room to heal.

Sherlock nudges against him, and he scrambles backwards on the bed, until he’s kneeling in the center, torn between the need to fight back and the urge to yield.  Sherlock crawls onto the mattress in front of him, lowering to his heels, hands reaching out to wrap around John’s wrists.  He holds tight, and John is grounded by that grip, by the intense face only inches from his own.

“If I owned your lamp, John,” Sherlock rumbles.  “I would keep you forever.”  He stops and sighs.  “What makes you think I won’t when you’re not bound to me that way?”

He lifts John’s wrist to his face, opens a sinfully sculpted pink mouth, and fixes his bite across John’s racing pulse.  Hot and wet, lips fold around thin skin, and Sherlock’s cheeks briefly hollow as he sucks.  John is mesmerized by the piercing eyes, the tamed curls of his hair framing flawless skin.  He shudders at the shocking caress of tongue on his skin.

“I have no intention of working out in the world without you, John.  I need you with me.  I need your skills as a doctor, as a soldier.  They’ve already proven invaluable.  I need you as an assistant and… as a… friend.  I.  Working on these cases with Lestrade:  it’s dangerous.  You love that.  We… love that,” he bites hard at the base of John’s thumb, and John’s mouth parts, gasping, in response.  “You’ve got your gun, and I need you at my back.  I trust you.”

“John,” Sherlock husks.  “You are a good man.  I’ve met few enough of those in many lifetimes.  It makes me… angry… to observe how little value you place in yourself.  Your generosity, your commitment.  Your love is very pure, very selfless.  Your need to protect, to nurture… is unquenchable.  You are strong, your moral compass is irreproachable.  You glow with righteous violence like a… a paladin.”  Sherlock uses his hold to pull John forward until they are chest to chest.  “You are addictive.  How could you possibly think I would give such a thing up, once I’d found it?”

John moves his lips, realizes his tongue has been housed atop them for some time, and reels it back in just as Sherlock lowers his head, holding John still with an uncompromising hand across the back of his head.

John whimpers a bit, he knows he does, and can’t even find it in himself to cringe, at the beginning of the kiss.  Sherlock is insistent, impatient with John’s efforts to reciprocate.  He pushes, bullies, works John’s jaw open with a darting sortie.  He presses John close, sliding both arms around him, holding hard enough to add the arousing tingle of imminent pain from his recent wounds.  Pulls him upwards into the kiss, tongue brutally determined, twisting around the interior of his mouth like the belly dancing counterpart of the rest of Sherlock’s body.  Flittering over teeth, sleek on top of his own tongue, probing, soothing, invigorating all at once.

John slumps in surrender, skin violently sensitized, so that his jumper, his trousers, the soft fabric of his vest become almost unendurably abrasive.  His arms drop to his sides, head lolling back, mouth receptive and body acquiescent.  Sherlock growls, basso and broken, into his mouth, and a mirroring shudder runs through both their bodies, goosebumps passing back and forth like a communicable disease.  Sherlock’s approval radiates in a smug, focused, driven aura, his hands molding John into the vessel he needs.  And John burns with it.

Fingers catch on his belt, bump over, and curl around the rise of his arse, cupping under the overhang of his buttocks and pulling fiercely upwards, grinding John into Sherlock’s groin.  Sherlock groans in time with John, and repeats the motion, once, twice, rhythmically, and then over and over until they are outside of time, lost to sensation, the sensual cadence like being tossed by waves in a dark ocean.

John’s enervated arms regain mobility and incitement at last, and he embraces Sherlock, sleek and undulating.  The iron muscles of his arse flex and stretch under John’s covetous hands, and he is again diverted by the thought of this bouncing, exuberant portion of Sherlock’s anatomy, so different from the lean, asture lines of the rest of his morphology.  John clutches and kneads, pulling the stiff column of Sherlock’s erection ruthlessly into the soft, welcoming flesh of his belly, the rigid square of his belt buckle.

John’s own erection is lower, worked into the dip of Sherlock’s thighs, nudging up against his pubis like an exclamation point on each sentence that is their grind.  John catches Sherlock’s exploratory tongue, suckling forcefully, licking it with his own.  He mumbles his thoughts in words that remain unarticulated, and Sherlock hums back as if he knows what John is trying to express.

After forever, and John is frankly astonished that the light in their bedroom is still that of afternoon, that hours haven’t passed and transformed their world into night… Sherlock pulls back and begins to manoeuvre John until he is oriented properly in the bed, lying on his back with his head on a pillow.  He tugs John’s jumper and vest off as he lays him down, careful of the bandages underneath, and stares at him intently when he is exposed.  In between swaths of white, the fur on John’s chest stands up, doing its job, trying to warm his suddenly chilled flesh in the cool room, and his nipples peak into tips.

Sherlock runs a casual, proprietary hand across John’s pectorals, leans swiftly down to plant a kiss over the bandage covering his scar, tracing the X with his lips, solemn and ceremonial.  “You got this because of me,” he comments, flashing a look up at John.  “How should I ever think it makes you ugly or flawed?”  He moves his mouth across skin mottled purple and red over the damaged rib, and then noses down the arrow of hair leading into his belt.  “I want everything about you, John.  I will keep it all.  You mustn’t fear that I will leave.  I need you.”

And with this clearly stated promise, John relaxes for the first time in weeks.  Not the inertia of exhaustion, of drugs, of the cessation of fear, but a deeper relief from stress and the uncertainty he has carried around for decades.

Sherlock begins to open his belt with his teeth, gets frustrated halfway through, and finishes the job with his hands while John softly snorts.  His trousers and pants are unceremoniously dragged off, catching on his shoes until Sherlock makes a wry face and removes them as well.

Sherlock is still in his suit, lithe and sharp.  His shirt strains across his chest when he sits back on his heels and works off first one shoe, then the other, lifting partway on his knees, bent enticingly backwards as he attends to his task.  The extraneous clothing is swept to the floor, thumps ignored, and Sherlock’s stare locks back on to John.  

He crawls up the bed, stopping at John’s thighs.  He presses them into the mattress, and John can only think that his hands are so long they cover two thirds of John’s femur.  His thumbs draw little infinity symbols on the insides until John begins to open up, unfurling at the promise of pleasure, and Sherlock’s face smooths out in satisfaction.

Sherlock shifts his position until he is crouched between John’s knees, coaxing his legs further open, knees up, feet pushing hard against the mattress, slipping then tangling in the duvet.

John can’t catch his breath, dull creaking of his rib, tight stretching of his stitches.

Sherlock scoops both hands under his thighs, wiggles upwards until he’s cupping buttocks, then, embarrassingly, pushes up and out, opening him up;  and John can feel cool air on his anus.  Sherlock draws back and looks satisfied, wipes one hand across his jaw, watches John and licks his own thumb, slowly moving his eyes down the length of John’s body, taking in every detail.

John briefly squeezes his eyes closed, holds still for the examination, pushed apart and opened up.  All of him is exposed, while Sherlock, barefoot, still wears shirt and trousers, tented with his erection.  It should be unfair, unbalanced.  But it… isn’t.  It is bolstering, in a strange way.  And a relief to leave everything in Sherlock’s knowledgeable hands.

Sherlock leans back in, noses through the body hair that is free of bandages, lips at it, pulling gently, moving from John’s chest to his belly.  He runs his hands down John’s sides, etching his hungry skin with fire, matched by his burning gaze.  John’s cock is heavy, turgid, rushing with hot blood and impatient desperation.

John grabs at Sherlock’s forearms and then grins, delighted to feel the hard ridges of the golden bangles under tailored cloth, to hear their musical clatter.  He quickly skims his grip upwards, searching for the feel of the leather armbands under the Egyptian cotton, and licks his lips when he finds it.  Sherlock’s right eyelid drops into a brief, deliberate wink, and he flexes his arm in John’s grip.

“You like this,” he smugly reports.

“Yes,” John gasps, beyond shame.  His fingers barely fumble as he races to undo buttons at cuffs and collar.  Sherlock stretches obligingly forward, floating over John, elongating and undulating his spine as John hurries to divest him of the shirt.  At last it is open, satiny skin underneath so pale that only the barest pink blush differentiates flesh from fabric.  That, and the faint dusting of soft black hairs, the languid trails of henna, the sharp horizontal delineations of gold and tooled leather.

Sherlock moves back to his knees, wriggling out of the shirt and tossing it carelessly to the floor.  John pushes himself up, following Sherlock’s torso as if they are connected by a very short string.  As he rotates to sitting cross-legged, fabric is suddenly pressed against his exposed anus, both startling and arousing him.  A distant expression passes over his face, but instead of recoiling, he presses down, and his eyes flare in pleasure.

He grabs Sherlock by his hips before he can settle back down, digs gun-callused thumbs into the delicate artistry of the ink highlighting their jut and sway, then pulls upward, straightening Sherlock’s body until his fingers tangle in the soft black patches of hair in Sherlock’s armpits.  Sherlock arches and preens under his hands, head tipping to one side to smolder down at him, arms limber and gracefully stretched above his head.

“You are insanely beautiful,” John whispers appreciatively, and then snaps his jaw shut with a painful clack.  He growls, what else can he do, and drops his hands to Sherlock’s trousers, unclasping them, and then tongues along the vines of henna as the soft hiss of the zip sounds in his ears.  Sherlock isn’t wearing pants, of course, and John drops the trousers as soon as Sherlock’s cock is free.  They fall, unhindered, to Sherlock’s knees.  But John isn’t paying attention to clothing anymore.  

He nibbles an inky leaf, sucks a hennaed swirl, traces the tattoo from the sharp edge of Sherlock’s hip to the opened crease of his groin.  He inhales spicy musk, rubs his face on crisp hairs in a frenzy of self-indulgence, breathing in such warmth and sex and Sherlock that he can taste it.  His cheek presses to the alluring hennaed patterns on the swollen shaft of Sherlock’s sex, he has to wiggle awkwardly and scoot himself backwards, crouching low over his own knees, to lave the soft skin of Sherlock’s scrotum, incautiously sucking in one round, ripe testicle.  “I’m mad for you,” he mumbles vaguely.

Sherlock bucks and groans, hands grab unapologetically on either side of John’s head and wrench him inwards, smashing his face against lovely, primal skin and hair.  He sucks harder, tongue swirling, and feels the hot pulsing of the erection against his forehead as Sherlock begins to grind.

John presses one hand flat on the mattress for balance, jams the other between tightly clenched thighs until he can press two fingers into Sherlock’s perineum, massaging for the prostate in short, hard circles.  He can feel his own arse lifting, back arching, ignoring the twinges from his injuries, body heated and prepared for sex.  He spreads his knees as he sucks, rocking back and forth, humming to the flesh in his mouth.

Sherlock jerks him back then, wraps one pale hand around his cock, and points it at John’s mouth.  John stares up at him as he glides forward, slow and steady, lips brushing teasingly over silken heat, moving down, down the slimly-engorged column, until his nose is pressed to the flat skin of Sherlock’s abdomen.  He swallows around him, and flashes for a moment to the gun, only a month ago, that used to fill his mouth in such a way, cold and final and unyielding.  He is able to find brief irony in the fact that he can go down on his partner without gagging because of all those empty, frightening months of loneliness and despair.  

Sherlock doesn’t give him time to ruminate, begins driving into him with strokes that are long, powerful and leisurely.  One of the hands on his head slips down his neck, along his spine, stretching him as it strokes, emphasizing the dip before the arch of his arse, sliding without hesitation into the divide there, seeking out and pressing against the hole he intends to use.

John groans and plunges backward, teeth briefly unveiled and scraping Sherlock’s cock.  Sherlock doesn’t complain, continues with his thrusting, dropping his hand to cup John’s throat, feel it working around his cock, thumb sliding through the saliva that escapes his lips.  And the other hand works his anus, pushing and rubbing, circling and spreading, invading until John is spit, with Sherlock at either end, and his vision goes hazy with need and astonishment, skin heating, fever-hot, electrified and twitching, knees spreading wider, lower, cock slapping his belly and bollocks swaying heavily in counterpoint to his rocking.

Sherlock is hot in his mouth, hot in his arse, he tastes of salt and bitters and every warm spice, and John pushes forward until he can no longer breathe in an effort to get closer, to envelop more, to merge their bodies and their souls and never, ever leave.

Of course, that cannot happen, and Sherlock pulls back before John quite turns blue, pulls away with a pop, and an elastic string of saliva joins them, stretching thin before breaking away.  

“Turn around, John,” Sherlock orders, voice rusty and broken.  “Just like that.”

John does, easily acceding to orders, shuffling in a clumsy circle until he faces the headboard, arse to Sherlock, twitching one leg around Sherlock’s knees, spread out before him.  The bed dips and there’s the slide of a drawer, a rustle and ragged sound, and in a moment, fingers cold with lube stroke upward from his bollocks.  They tease along his perineum, quickly find his anus and push, brusque yet coordinated and assured:  circle and poke and soothe and dip and enter.  One finger and then another, pistoning and tugging and stretching, stretching John’s body wider with a delicious slither and sting.  

John rocks back and forth, pulsing and flexing, mindless in his pleasure, lost in trust, yielding and submissive to Sherlock’s guidance.  Sherlock’s other hand is heavy and firm on his hip, thumb sunk in the dimple of his back, conducting his body in a symphony of ecstasy.

John stares at his own hands, braced against the pillow.  They are alien and glamorous with the carefully wrought designs.  He thinks of Sherlock’s view, the twisting, sinuous lines of henna slipping and sliding around John’s hips as he writhes, curling around his shoulders, decorating his neck.  But the image is quickly subsumed.

He can now only think with his cock, with his arse, brainless with it, melted by his own heat.  He chokes off a whine when Sherlock’s fingers slide out, oblivious to the slight burn and pull of tender flesh.  Sherlock huffs and spanks across John’s hip, stilling his movement while he lines himself up, slippery and insistent, pushing his way inside John without further fanfare.  

And John shivers under him, nerves jittering and quivering, burning and blaring under his skin, the fullness overwhelming and satiating at the same time.  He cannot move, but for the tremors, stuttering “Sh- Sh-” and breaking off with a serrated groan.

Sherlock pushes all the way inside, John can feel the throb and twitch of his cock against the soft inner walls of his arse.  When he’s fully seated he stops, thighs gently prickling against the backs of John’s own, and both hands soothe down his flanks, curl around the wings of his hips, spider to the creases of his thighs and urge them further apart, following him lower.  The spread of his legs eases the pressure, the strain, until his body feels lust again, rather than shock.

Sherlock has twined low over his back, murmuring not-words against his neck, into his dampening hair, and begins to fondle his softening cock, tug on his scrotum until he reheats, refills, until he tosses his head back in growing bliss once again, to have his mouth caught by Sherlock’s own, and the murmurs fade into messy, authoritative kisses.

Sherlock begins to thrust, rippling against John, balanced on one arm, sucking on his lip, then his ear, then biting the back of his neck as John’s head drops down, bucking back against his partner, graceless in comparison to Sherlock’s domineering dance, and uncaring all the same.  John’s body echoes his mind, resists when Sherlock pulls away, sucks him back in with desperate, sharp pleasure when he returns, pulls him into John’s heat, and he can feel Sherlock’s cock piercing his very soul... harder, erratic and frenzied.  

John turns his head, swimming through viscous air, shuddering with imminent release, body too hot and too cold, and strains his eyes to look at Sherlock, pale and panting, sheened with sweat and gorgeously surreal.  The golden bracelets sing as he jerks at John, too hard, too fast;  John isn’t ready, doesn’t want it to end-

Sherlock cries out, a breathy sound, escaping his control, low and rough and musical and wanton.  He locks into position, John can feel the jolt, the flood of heat, the near-pained, drawn out groan from the rivened man on his back.

And he looks down his chest, down the curve of his belly, sees the shiny, strained head of his cock pummeled to and fro between strong fingers, white skin overlain with rusty designs, and his testicles tighten, pull inward, his body hums and thrums and burns and begins to shake.  He falls forward onto his elbows, gasping, choked sounds falling from open lips, head pressing sweaty into the pillow as he roars with a completion so overwhelming and thorough that for a moment it is indistinguishable from pain, the shivering flood of love and lust gathering in his groin and pouring out in scalding bursts of semen, striping the bed, the underside of his jaw, the hairs of his belly and the white bandages across his chest.

Sherlock pulls slowly out, and John can feel the warm dribble of fluid begin to seep down his perineum.  The spongy head of Sherlock’s cock is rubbed through it, spreading the liquid around, and then pushing it back inside his opened hole, plugging John back up with Sherlock’s softening arousal.  Out, and dribble, and in, until at last its simply fingers doing the task, and then Sherlock falls beside him, pulling him to his side so that he can rest his knees and elbows.  

John pliantly molds himself to the lean chest behind him, slides his hand into the sticky, decorated fist of his lover, pulls his arm across John’s waist, snorting a bit as he avoids touching his wet, debauched bandages.

Sherlock presses his sweaty cheek against John’s, dragging hedonistically through rough stubble before withdrawing enough to bite him sharply at the juncture of neck and shoulder.  “I do not wish to own you, John Watson.  We belong to each other.  Now and always.”

And John is filled with such joy and awe and incredulity that he has two false starts before he can articulate.  “Yes,” he says, his smile shining and broad.  “Yes, that is my wish.”