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Pyrrhic Victory

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John’s eyes snap open, the haze of a half-remembered dream fading away as his eyes struggle to adjust to the dark room.


Rain tapping against the windowpane, cabs shushing past on wet pavement, headlights striping the walls in amber: he can’t have been asleep long. The previous evening bubbles up in his mind slowly. A finished case, an uncharacteristically silent cab ride.


Sherlock, subdued in the wake of victory. No grandstanding. No palpable aura of smugness radiating from narrow limbs and kaleidoscopic movement.


Sherlock, in John’s bed.


Hands folded neatly over his chest, fingers laced with precision. Dressing gown over shirt and trousers, feet bare and pale in the dim light, crossed neatly at the ankles.


“Sherlock. Mm. Wha--? Case?” His mind struggles to spin into gear, his diction betraying him, words smudged with sleep.


Gaze fixed to the ceiling, Sherlock’s words emerge lazy and unhurried, but his consonants are clipped and sharp enough to cut. “Excellent, you’re awake.”


John runs a hand over his face, scrubs over his scalp as if the friction will awaken dimly flickering brain cells. “Mm. What’s going on then? New case already?”


He glances around him, casting about for the trousers he shed earlier. Wonders if they’re good for one more go before he does the washing. His other pairs: well, the casualties of previous sprints through sewers don’t bear thinking about right now.


Sherlock drags his attention from the ceiling as if it fighting the inertia of a physical weight. Pale eyes alight on John, pinning him in place. His heart rate picks up with a stutter.


“No.” Inscrutable as John’s ever seen him, perfectly still in the watery light of anemic street lamps, gaze fixed and unmoving. “I need you to kiss me.”


John goes still, while his heart thumps against his ribcage with such abrupt force he feels light-headed. He licks his lips. “Excuse me?”


Sherlock’s brow furrows in a scowl. “I’m certain you heard me perfectly well.”


John’s breath escapes, somewhere between a laugh and a choke. “Sherlock, you can’t just -- you don’t think.” He pauses, licks his lips. “You don’t think that requires some explanation?”


Sherlock’s gaze returns to the ceiling, equanimity restored, voice bored. “An experiment.” A long index finger taps once against his folded hands.


“Sherlock, we talked about -- I’m not here for experiments. Why would you even? Wait, no, don’t tell me.” John rolls to bury his face into his pillow, heaving a sigh of exasperation. He breathes into cotton and cheap polyester filling as he envisions the possible reasons for this experiment, running the gamut from horrifying to humiliating.


Sherlock sneers. “Are you quite finished with your obligatory moral outrage? Come, John -- don’t turn prim on me now.”


“I think you’re rather missing the point.” John’s fingers clench in rumpled bedding. “I’m not kissing you for a bloody experiment.” He cringes as soon as the words are out of his mouth, wishing he hadn’t qualified that last bit quite so clearly.


Sherlock’s gaze returns to him, eyes flicking over him dismissively. “Very well.” After such preternatural stillness, his explosive movement is startling as he swings long legs off the bed and stretches to his full height in one smooth motion.


John lets out his breath with something like relief. “Oh. Okay then. Right.”


His back to John, shoulders stiff and upright enough to put the Queen to shame, Sherlock straightens the collar of his dressing gown and sleeves with sharp flicks of his wrist.


As he begins to stride out of the room, John’s eyes narrow at the abrupt capitulation. “Wait.”


Sherlock freezes just outside the doorway.


“Where are you going?”


Sherlock doesn’t turn around. “Even you must be capable of deducing this one.” He pauses a moment before beginning again, voice utterly nonchalant. “To find a more... willing volunteer. You know how I feel about my experiments.”


John sits up, blankets tumbling around him. “You must be joking.” He rubs an eye with one hand. “You’re not seriously telling me that you’re going to go pick up a complete stranger in a pub at... half four in the morning for an experimental snog.”


Sherlock’s nearly invisible in the darkness of the hallway, face a pale smudge as he glances over his shoulder, but John can sense the disdain directed his way nonetheless. “Please, John. Don’t tell me you’re concerned about my virtue.”


John collapses backwards onto his bed again and sighs, draping an arm across his eyes. “Come back here, will you?”


There’s a long moment of silence before he hears Sherlock approach, footsteps nearly inaudible, even in the stillness of pre-dawn. The bed dips.


John shifts his arm from his eyes to see Sherlock sitting on the bed, facing away from him. His shoulders are hunched forward, a marked contrast from his earlier carefully correct posture.


John sits up again, scooting a bit closer, and brushes his fingers against the fabric of Sherlock’s sleeve. “Fine. Just. Will you tell me what this is all about?”


He forces himself to meet Sherlock’s eyes. A fragile, silent moment spins out, and he thinks Sherlock might tell him something sincere. Instead, he lifts one shoulder in a casual shrug. “If I told you, it wouldn’t be... sufficiently rigorous.”


John closes his eyes, briefly, and lets out the breath he’d been holding. “All right then.” He has a moment to wonder why, why does he do anything this man asks before he opens his eyes to meet that pale gaze once again, and a voice in his head whispers “you know why.”


He leans forward, his palm sliding up Sherlock’s arm to rest on his shoulder. He squeezes, briefly, then leans in and brushes his lips across the corner of Sherlock’s mouth, already moving away even as he registers smooth skin and warm breath and body heat.


Sherlock swallows, then turns to glare at him. “Not acceptable.”


A flare of indignation lights in John’s chest. “I’m sorry, would you like to be more specific in your bizarre and inappropriate requests?”


“Did you mistake me for your grandmother? Like you mean it please, John, we haven’t got all night.”


John briefly wonders what other pressing plan Sherlock’s got in the works after he ticks sexually confuse flatmate off his list. It’s likely a toss-up between abusing his violin and categorizing the properties of frog legs in acid.


He sighs. “You’re not wearing poisonous lip balm or something, are you?”


Sherlock rolls his eyes like sullen teenager. “Do I look like I’m wearing lip balm?”


“That’s not a no.”


Sherlock groans, as if John’s the unreasonable one. “John, I’m not going to poison you or subject you to any mind-altering substances. Can we just get on with it?”


“Well, don’t act so put out. It’s not an unreasonable suspicion.”


“Please. I’ve apologized for that repeatedly.”


“I’m pretty sure it was just the one time, but fine.” He scrubs his palm against his pajama bottoms and stares at Sherlock’s profile. “This would be easier if you’d actually face me.”


Sherlock, now suddenly obedient, crooks one leg onto the mattress and turns toward John.


John licks his lips. “I need to brush my teeth.”


Sherlock huffs. “Your breath is fine. You brushed before bed, you didn’t eat anything particularly aromatic this evening, and it’s irrelevant to me besides.”


“Um, well. Okay then.” And then, inanely: “Here we go.”


John slides closer still, and when he’s only inches away, lifts a hand to ghost lightly across Sherlock’s jaw.


Sherlock’s utterly still, watching him expectantly as John leans forward, slow and measured. He brings his mouth to brush lightly against Sherlock’s, the barest touch. He can’t handle that piercing gaze at this distance, so he closes his eyes. He moves his lips carefully over Sherlock’s, who’s so still he barely seems to be breathing.


He pulls back just far enough to speak, and is about to ask if that’s enough when Sherlock’s hand comes up between his shoulder blades to keep him from retreating. Somewhere, far away, John’s brain offers up “well then.”


Before thoughts can get in the way, he slides his palm up Sherlock’s jaw to tangle fingers in his hair, and cups his free hand at the nape of his neck. This time, he pulls Sherlock into the kiss, and doesn’t hesitate. He nips at that bottom lip, and then slides his tongue into that mouth.


Sherlocks jumps as if he’s just been shocked, and his hand tightens in John’s t-shirt.


Then he’s kissing John back, mouth hot and slick, teeth clicking as he pulls John closer. He’s warm, so warm under John’s hands, and his tongue is sliding into John’s mouth, now.


John groans, and then Sherlock is pulling away. He’s already off the bed and spinning away before John can catch his gaze. The tails of his dressing gown float behind him as he strides out of the room. He tosses a “thank you John, that was quite informative” over his shoulder.


John is left dazed. He calls after rapidly disappearing footsteps. “Wait, Sherlock! What? That’s it?”


No answer.


John collapses backwards with a groan. He’s well and truly fucked now.




Sherlock descends the stairs with the precision of a metronome. His stride is perfectly even, his bare feet silent on old, creaky boards. His fingers trail lightly over the banister, his breathing measured.


His heart pounds hard enough to nearly throw him down the stairs, but his knees don’t shake.


He intends to meditate in the sitting room, to lie on the sofa with three -- no, four -- nicotine patches while he considers this problem. This... final problem.


Instead, he detours to the kitchen, plucks a tumbler from the sink -- divested of its latest experiment this morning, perfectly safe now -- and swipes John’s stash of Macallan from its hiding place behind a series of chemistry texts, which he only drinks on special occasions because he not only fears winding up like his sister, but even the thought that anyone might consider that possibility. Absurd.


He moves across the darkened kitchen and through the sitting room, hesitating in front of the window. He nudges the curtain aside with his glass. IOU stares back at him. He doesn’t blink.


Vicious rage builds in him with startling speed. His vision turns hazy as he imagines gouging his fingers into weak flesh, warm, coppery blood slipping between his fingers -- bones snapping, life snuffing out beneath his bare hands.


How dare he? How dare Moriarty take his life away? Take John from him?


He nearly flings the glass against the wall before he remembers John upstairs, surely still awake in the dark. The temptation to turn and climb the stairs two at a time, flee back into John’s bed is nearly overwhelming. But no.


His fingers tighten on the glass instead, and he takes a deep breath. A second, then a third.


He drops the curtain. He reaches his armchair in two long strides, collapsing into the cushions and pulling his knees to his chest.


He uncaps the bottle and pours two fingers of whisky with care. He lifts the glass, staring at his hand. There it is -- his body betraying him. A fine tremble through his wrist, ripples shivering across the surface of the liquid. He downs the evidence in one gulp and drops the glass to the floor, hitting the carpet with a muted thunk.


Well, the experiment was nothing if not conclusive.




The plan will go on.