“Oi,” Lestrade said. “What’s that on your neck?”
“Huh?” John said. Sherlock leaned down closer to the corpse: 30 years old, neatly manicured nails, tennis bracelet, a faint whiff of Chanel No. 5. No obvious trauma; likely a domestic. Dull.
“Watson, have you got a love bite?”
From the other side of the body, Donovan snorted. Sherlock rolled his eyes and inspected the woman’s sunglasses, still perched on top of her head, embedded in her product-encrusted hair.
“What?” John repeated dumbly. “Oh, right. Er, yeah, I suppose.”
“What are you, a fifteen year old girl?” Lestrade said, repulsed and amused in equal measure. “Was it the redhead, then? From the pub?”
“Yes,” John said. “Must have been.”
Lestrade chortled. “I didn’t think you’d taken her home, you sure left in a hurry.”
John shrugged. “I don’t kiss and tell, mate.”
Sherlock pulled aside the collar of the woman’s shirt and peered at her neck, his eyes roving over her breasts and stomach and ending at her feet.
“Move,” he commanded, kneeling next to her ankles.
“What?” Lestrade said. “Oh, sorry - and what’s this about not telling? That’s certainly a new policy - “
“What, a bloke isn’t allowed to have a bit of privacy?” John countered.
“Well, cat’s out of the bag if he goes out looking like a bit of a tart - “
“This woman wasn’t murdered,” Sherlock said. “She’s not wearing any socks.”
Everyone stared at him.
“Beg your pardon?” Lestrade said.
“It was an accident,” Sherlock said. “She was naked when she died, and was dressed in a hurry afterwards. Her sunglasses are still on her head, which means they were placed there after she fell, and the shirt she’s wearing is brand new, she hadn’t even taken the tag off. Plus she isn’t wearing any socks underneath her trainers. Therefore, dressed by someone else.”
“So if it was an accident, why didn’t they just call it in?” Lestrade said.
It was like working with trolls, honestly. Sherlock sighed.
“Seeing that the trainers don’t go at all with the rest of the outfit, and the rest of it - the nails, the gaudy and overpriced furniture - shows that she cared very deeply about matching, it was clearly someone who wasn’t familiar with her style, probably an affair, possibly a client. He was in the house, she died, he didn’t want anything to do with any of it, so he dressed her, splayed her out on the floor, and made it look like she’d been attacked. No blunt force, though, no trauma to the neck; he’d have been better off making it look like a heart attack or a poisoning, that’s what I would have done.”
“How reassuring,” Donovan said wryly.
“So if she wasn’t murdered, how did she die?” Lestrade said.
Sherlock stood up, pulled off his gloves with a snap, and looked directly at John as he said, “Erotic asphyxiation.”
“Jesus Christ,” Lestrade muttered.
“That’s ridiculous,” Donovan said. “Even for you. People don’t - nobody actually - ”
“Haven’t you ever been on the internet, Sally?” Sherlock said primly. “John, we’re done here.” He turned on his heel and left the room, leaving John to make their goodbyes and follow him into the chilly afternoon air.
“Fucked to death,” John said as they stood on the kerb. “That’s a first.”
“Hardly,” Sherlock said. “Sex accidents are humiliatingly frequent causes of death.” He turned a critical eye to John. “Redhead at the pub, Lestrade said.”
“Oh, come off it,” John muttered. “You’re the one talking about erotic asphyxiation to Lestrade, I think I’ve got more to worry about.”
“It’s called research,” Sherlock said, throwing up his arm for a cab.
John shook his head. “Don’t get any ideas.”
“All right, so once we’ve washed off the crime scene scent, d’you want to order Thai, or - “ John said, before Sherlock slammed him up against the closed door to 221B. “All right, then.”
Sherlock stripped him of his jacket and dropped it on the floor, then pinned John’s shoulders to the door with his forearm and caught John’s lips in a rough kiss. He slid his other hand between their bodies and deftly undid John’s belt and zip.
“You know,” John said thoughtfully, “You’re not really convincing me that it isn’t the murder that gets you going.”
Sherlock stilled his hand and glared at him. “This has nothing to do with the case.”
John’s sighed impatiently, thrusting a little into Sherlock’s hand. “I know, you bastard, I’m teasing you, Jesus, just, fuck, Sherlock - “
“As you wish,” Sherlock said, continuing his ministrations and simultaneously unbuttoning his own trousers. “It was about Lestrade.”
“Er,” John said. “Greg? Really? I’m not going to stop you right now, but afterwards I’m going to be offended, just so you - “
“About Lestrade noticing,” Sherlock growled, running his tongue over the purpling mark on John’s neck. “This.”
John moaned as Sherlock sucked the mark again, hoping to make it deeper, darker, permanent. “God, that hurts,” he said, in the tone that Sherlock knew meant do it again. “So you liked that he saw it?”
“Obviously,” Sherlock said into his skin.
“And here I was embarrassed about it,” John said, slipping his hand into Sherlock’s pants and wrapping his hand around Sherlock’s cock. “He called me a tart, did you hear him?”
“You are a tart,” Sherlock said,
“Oi,” John said half-heartedly, squeezing just a touch too hard, and Sherlock groaned. “But he didn’t know it was you.” Sherlock stroked faster. “Oh, so that’s part of it? That you were right there, not an arm’s length away from me, and he had no idea that it was your mouth, your - “
Sherlock cut him off, closing his lips over John’s and swallowing his words, keeping them caught between them, pressed between his chest and the door to 221B. John was right: he liked to see John wearing his mark like a badge of dishonor, purple-green proof that Sherlock could make him fall apart. Sherlock slid his lips down John’s jawline and paused to suck at the soft skin of his neck.
“You’re like a dog,” John said, tilting his neck back to allow Sherlock more room to work, his teeth working at the oversensitive skin just below his ear. “Like a dog pissing on a fire hydrant.”
Sherlock bit back a growl; no reason to encourage him. He bit too hard at a tendon in John’s neck, and John gasped, pushing at his shoulders.
“Sherlock, come on, I’m going to have to wear a scarf for a week,” he complained. “Lestrade’s going to think I’m sleeping with a teenager.” Sherlock sighed and slid down his chest, sucking at his collarbone, his pebbled nipple, the soft flesh at his waist, leaving bright red marks in his wake. “Not that I was planning to shag anyone else, but you’ve certainly ruled it out, haven’t you.”
Sherlock grinned and swallowed John whole.
A half hour later, John fell asleep almost immediately - “No wonder you can’t keep a girlfriend, you’re an absolute stereotype,” Sherlock muttered; John just snored gently into Sherlock’s pillow - and Sherlock darted out into the kitchen and returned with a measuring tape. He was halfway down John’s chest, trying to determine whether a specific bruise would be classified as a rectangle or an oblong oval, when John opened his eyes and said, “What’re you doing.”
“Nothing,” Sherlock said. “Go back to sleep.”
“You’re measuring the hickeys you left on me, aren’t you.”
“Science,” Sherlock said vaguely.
“Right, then.” John stood up and snatched his pants up off the floor. “This is why I don’t sleep here.”
“Spoilsport,” Sherlock called down the hall at his bare, retreating bum, and John ignored him.
“You were right,” Lestrade said when Sherlock strode into his office as NSY a few days later, John trailing behind and nodding to various officers in the hallway.
“Obviously,” Sherlock said. “What about?”
“The woman in Islington, the one who wasn’t wearing socks. The coroner ruled it a suffocation, probably accidental. Not the business of major crimes, at least.”
“Pity,” Sherlock said. “Anything new?”
“The murderers of London have been quiet, fortunately,” Lestrade said, leaning back in his chair. “But I’ve got a robbery at a house in Notting Hill that you might be interested in.” He nodded at a file on top of the towering stack on his desk. “Filing cabinet in a hidden safe with a code known to exactly two people, both of whom were confirmed to have been on holiday in Malta. Alarm never went off, live-in nanny didn’t hear anybody come in or out, and the burglary wasn’t discovered until the residents came home and found the safe unlocked and totally empty.”
Lestrade shrugged. “They’re not saying.”
John snorted. “What, you’re looking for something and you don’t even know what it is?”
“The safe was in the bedroom of one of the prime minister’s chief advisors,” Lestrade said. “Apparently whatever was in the cabinet is of highest national importance. I’m assuming we’ll be taken off the case before long, but while I’ve got it - ”
“Can you get me into the house?” Sherlock said.
“Don’t see why not,” Lestrade said. Sherlock blinked expectantly at him. “What, now? I’m off in half an hour.”
“You’re better off taking us, mate,” John pointed out. “This way you won’t have to get the B&E charge thrown out afterwards.”
“Why do I have a feeling you’re right,” Lestrade said. He sighed and led them out of his office, grabbing his coat on the way. “By the way, John, isn’t that his scarf?”
John pulled the scarf around his neck a little tighter. “He’s hidden all of mine.”
“Right,” Lestrade said, and behind his back, Sherlock grinned.
“Sherlock,” John whispered, easing into Sherlock so slowly that Sherlock thought he might go mad. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, damn it,” Sherlock seethed into the pillow. “Would you move, John, honestly.”
“All right, Christ, just making sure, impatient bastard,” John muttered, thrusting a little deeper. “Oh, yes, that’s good. Is it - ”
“Yes,” Sherlock said. “Well, and no.” John stilled. “Well don’t stop, that’s certainly not going to make it any more enjoyable, are you a complete idiot or do you simply find joy in being incredibly thick at the least opportune moments?”
“Why do I put up with you,” John said, digging his fingers into Sherlock’s hip as he thrust forward gently.
“The sex,” Sherlock said between clenched teeth.
John laughed. “That’s only been the last month.” He rocked forward faster now, harder, and Sherlock wrapped one hand around his own cock, the pleasure-pain squeezing his eyes shut. “Before that?”
“Stupidity,” Sherlock gasped. “Don’t worry, it’s very common.”
“Your pillow talk leaves something to be - ah - desired,” John said. “We’ll work on that. Oi, budge up, I’m falling off the edge of the bed,” and he smacked the curve of Sherlock’s ass; Sherlock felt it like an electrical shock that radiated out from John’s fingers to the hair follicles on Sherlock’s head.
“Oh,” he said against his will, and John paused.
“What was that sound you just made there?”
Sherlock swallowed. Silence seemed the safest course, lest his traitorous tongue say something John would later use to torment him.
“Sherlock,” John said. “Do you like to be spanked?” He didn’t wait for a reply: before Sherlock could steel himself, John had slapped him again, harder this time, and Sherlock bucked forward, gasping incoherently into the bedclothes.
“Oh, there is a God,” John said happily.
The first thing Sherlock noticed when he woke up the next morning was that John’s arm was wrapped around his waist and John’s nose was buried in his hair and John’s cock was half-hard and poking his lower back. The sheet was tangled around their legs, and John was breathing steadily, and this was so much like - what was the word? oh, yes - so much like cuddling that Sherlock could think of no other term to describe it. He remembered watching John deep in post-coital sleep, remembered leaning his head on his hand and planning to wake John after just a moment - and now he was here, waking up all at once tucked up against John like they’d been doing this every night for their entire lives, which they most certainly had not.
The second thing Sherlock noticed was that someone had broken into their flat and was watching Arsenal-West Ham on the telly.
He disentangled himself from John, careful not to wake him, and pulled the duvet, discarded on the floor, around himself.
“You know, someone who lives in this flat is primed to shoot intruders on sight,” he said as he strode down the hall.
“And a good morning to you as well, Sherlock,” Mycroft said, not looking up from the television.
Sherlock threw himself into his own chair and glared at his brother. “What do you want, Mycroft.”
“I can’t come by on a Saturday morning for a social call?”
“You haven’t made a social call since the Thatcher administration,” Sherlock said. It was boringly obvious why he was there: no matter how much surveillance equipment Sherlock purged from the flat, there was always more to be found. He’d probably known weeks ago. The only question now was whether or not he’d run and tell Mummy, who would undoubtedly invite them for dinner. Intolerable.
“It’s unlike you to sleep in,” Mycroft said lightly. “Nearly ten o’clock. Late night?”
Sherlock scowled at the telly. Mycroft was trying to get him to admit it out loud: irritating, and ultimately useless. When Sherlock was eight, he’d maintained a sullen silence in Mycroft’s presence for a full month. He would happily do it again at 38.
“Any plans for the day?” Mycroft continued. “Or are you just going to laze around and wait for John to wake?”
As if on cue, John called from down the hall, “Sherlock?”
Mycroft raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, do shut up,” Sherlock snapped.
“I’m very happy for you,” Mycroft said. “This is truly cause for celebration, dear brother.”
“They will never find your body,” Sherlock hissed as John appeared in the sitting room dressed in only his pants.
“Oi, when did you - ” he said, looking between Sherlock, who pulled the duvet more tightly around himself, and Mycroft, who was still smiling so revoltingly that Sherlock thought he might vomit right then and there. “Um. I was talking to - er - “
“Not even worth the trouble of lying, John,” Mycroft said smoothly. “I apologize for interrupting your morning.”
“Right,” John said, rocking back on his heels. “I’ll just - yes, I’ll just go.” He turned and went back into Sherlock’s room, slamming the door and no doubt attempting to strangle himself in the bedclothes.
Mycroft stood up. “Is it wise for him to be sleeping in your room already? Things may be moving a bit fast.”
Sherlock glared so hard he thought he might get a headache. “Your level of surveillance is both disturbing and illegal.”
Mycroft smiled and picked up his umbrella. “Anthea passes along her congratulations.”
“Get out, Mycroft,” John shouted from the bedroom, his voice muffled. Mycroft crossed the room and paused at the door.
“I do hope,” Mycroft said slowly, looking at Sherlock like he’d never seen him before, “that you know what you’re doing.”
Sherlock slammed the door behind him so hard it nearly came off its hinges.
On a cool night in October, Sherlock turned to John and said, “Fancy a drink?”
“What, like a date?” John said, and then continued, “I mean, not that I - “
“No,” Sherlock said, and John visibly relaxed, which Sherlock bookmarked and decided to worry about later. “For a case. Dress sharply, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
An hour later, Sherlock and John were sitting at the corner table of a pub in Notting Hill, watching underage girls and strapping rugby lads vie for each other’s pathetic romantic attentions at the bar.
“This place makes me feel old,” John said, taking a swig of his pint and looking uncomfortable.
“Don’t be ridiculous, you’re not even 50,” Sherlock dismissed, scanning the crowd and hoping his homeless network’s information had been worth the 100 quid he’d paid for it.
“I’m 42, you dickhead,” John said. “These girls, though - “ He tried and failed not to stare as a twenty-something in an unnecessarily small dress that showed off her obviously fake breasts walked by their table.
Sherlock arched an eyebrow. “Charming.”
John cleared his throat. “All right, then, why are we here? It’s obviously not to enjoy the scenery.”
“One of the regulars of this establishment is a 28 year old woman named Claire Dawson. She is employed as full-time nanny and housekeeper by Stephen Milford, the owner of the safe that was apparently burglarized last month. Ms. Dawson claimed that she never left the house that evening, as she was tasked to remain in the home overnight, but my homeless network has been watching her for three weeks and determined that she regularly leaves the premises around 11 pm on nights when her employers are out of the house.”
“So she might be lying about having been home that night,” John concluded.
“And moreover, she might be involved in the crime itself,” Sherlock said. “This pub is a breeding ground for relationships between wealthy, powerful older men and the young women who are attracted to such men.”
John swallowed an overlarge gulp of beer. “You think she might have met someone here who used her to get into Milford’s house?”
“It’s possible,” Sherlock said.
“So what’re we here for?” John said.
Sherlock slid his untouched martini across the table to John.
“Oh, no you don’t,” John said. “No, absolutely not. Sherlock, I am not going to pretend to be some sort of - some sort of sugar daddy to question a witness.”
“You fit the profile perfectly,” Sherlock said. “Distinguished but aging, intelligent, going a bit soft round the middle - ”
“All right, that’s enough,” John interrupted, slamming his pint down on the table. “And why can’t you do it?”
“I’m not old enough,” Sherlock said primly.
“You’re four years younger than - forget it, give it here,” John said, grabbing the martini. “You owe me for this.”
Sherlock leaned close to John’s ear. “When we get home, I’ll pin you to the bed and ride you until you can’t see straight.”
John cleared his throat. “Right, then. Where is she?”
Sherlock nodded toward the blonde woman in a booth at the other end of the pub. “Get her talking about her employer. If she bites, intimate that you could pay her quite a lot of money if she were to allow you entry into the home. And do try not to blow our cover.”
John squared his shoulders, pasted a rather disturbing smile on his face, and marched off to talk to Claire Dawson. Sherlock watched him go, thinking of a soldier going into battle and smothering a smirk. Under the guise of going up to the bar for another drink, he followed close behind, positioning himself near enough to Ms. Dawson’s table to hear.
“ - here often?” John was saying. Oh, how pathetic.
“Once in a while,” Claire said demurely, which was an utter lie, Sherlock’s sources had said she came three times a week at least. “I live just down the road.”
“Oh, do you?” John said. “This is a, you know, a great neighborhood.”
“It is, isn’t it?” Claire said. Her laugh was tinkling and fake. “Bit out of my price range, though. I nanny for a politician who lives here.”
“Lovely,” John said. He sounded a bit stunned that such an easy opening had been dropped into his lap. “That’s very, uh - very interesting. He doesn’t mind you stepping out for a drink once in a while?”
“Oh, he and I have an agreement,” Claire said, her laugh piercing the room again. “We keep each other’s secrets, you know how it goes.”
John laughed now. “Have you got a lot of secrets then, poppet?”
Sherlock barely restrained an eye roll. He glanced over his shoulder; John was tucking a lock of hair behind Claire’s ear and she was smiling at him, her eyes innocent, the martini forgotten on the table.
“Just a few,” she said, her lips parting as John unconsciously leaned forward on his barstool. “Would you like to hear them?”
“Uh, yes,” John said. “I believe I would.”
Right, that was quite enough - Sherlock whirled around and stepped between Claire Dawson and the door, blocking her path and looming over her.
“Is one of them the fact that Stephen Milford asked you to be out of the house on the night of September the 21st and then requested that you lie to police about it?” Sherlock said.
Claire’s eyes widened. “How did you - what are you - “
“Was this the plan? I didn’t know this was the plan,” John muttered, taking a drink of his pint.
“So he did tell you to leave that night?” Sherlock said. “Come now, Ms. Dawson, you can either tell me or I can have you brought in on charges of perverting the cause of justice and, oh, shall we say conspiracy?”
“You’re Sherlock Holmes,” Claire said faintly, recognition dawning across her face. “Oh, fuck me.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Sherlock said. “So, would you prefer to talk here or in the presence of a police officer?”
“Look, I didn’t know there was anything going on,” Claire said. “He told me to make sure I cleared out overnight, and when I got back in the morning there was a mess in the bedroom. He said to call the police and tell them I’d been there all night but hadn’t heard a thing, and he’d take care of it. That’s all I know, all right? There’s no conspiracy, it’s not like that.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Sherlock said. “But I don’t imagine his children’s nanny and occasional lover would know much about it, anyway.”
Claire pressed her lips together tightly. “Fuck you.” She snatched her purse from the back of the chair and turned to John. “And you. Arsehole.” With that, she stormed out of the pub, her blonde hair swishing behind her as she fled.
Sherlock turned to John. “That was terrible. Have you got a lot of secrets, poppet? Honestly, have you ever been successful with women or have all your previous romantic entanglements been completely on accident?”
“Well, you sort of sprung the whole thing on me!” John said. “And anyway, I was trying to get her to talk about Milford, not trying to pull.”
“You didn’t do that very well either, did you,” Sherlock said.
John tilted his head back and drained the rest of his pint. “It didn’t matter, you were always planning to swoop in,” he said sourly.
“Well, I couldn’t very well let you take her home, could I?” Sherlock said.
“Is that jealousy I hear? At any rate, it worked,” John said as they escaped the loud, sweaty pub. “Got what we needed, didn’t we? She wasn’t at home, and what’s more, Milford knew it!”
“More like he planned it himself,” Sherlock mused. “Which means the entire break-in was a setup.”
“But for what?” John said. “Why would Milford want to make it seem like someone had broken into his house?”
“I haven’t the slightest,” Sherlock said. He held up his hand to hail a cab. “Let’s go home, shall we? You performed adequately, if not admirably, and I believe I promised you a thorough shagging.”
“Right you are,” John said.
They’d lost another day to the bedroom. John had had plans to do the shopping and Sherlock was in the middle of an important experiment with several live cockroaches that he’d absolutely sworn to John he was not keeping in the cupboard, but then Sherlock had barged into the loo while John was in the shower and told John he’d read on the internet that conditioner could be used as lubricant and they’d gotten a bit distracted. Now it was nearly dusk, and they were naked in bed, the sweat drying on their skin and several towels discarded on the floor, and John was thinking so hard that Sherlock could nearly hear it. John thinking while they were in bed perturbed Sherlock to no end; he picked up his phone and continued a text conversation with Lestrade that had begun before the distractions of the afternoon.
“Why are you doing this?” John said in Sherlock’s ear.
"Texting?" Sherlock said, not looking up from his phone. "Because Lestrade found a body in Elephant and Castle missing both big toes and with no other obvious cause of death."
"That’s got to be impossible, he’d have to be bleeding for days - no, I don't mean that," John said. "I meant - this." He ran a hand down Sherlock's ribs and splayed his fingers over Sherlock's hip.
Sherlock's thumbs froze over the keys halfway through a nasty message about the tendency of police officers to misplace detached extremities. John's hand was warm, and Sherlock thought about all the things he could say: because it was fun. Because John wanted to. Because he never had before and that was an unwise dismissal of relevant data.
He thought about what normal people would say: because I like you. How disastrously insufficient. He didn't like John. Sherlock didn’t particularly like anything. He loathed many things, and tolerated some, and needed others. John was something else entirely, something outside of everything else.
"Because the thing is," John said after the silence had, apparently, gone on too long even for him, "I'm starting to get worried it's because you think I'll leave if you don't."
"Don't be absurd," Sherlock said, because that was insulting, it was preposterous, it was just on the edge of the truth but it missed the crux of it entirely. He didn't worry that John would leave again; he was entirely certain John would, eventually, whether he sucked his cock every day for the rest of their lives or not. It was the exact opposite: it was that once he knew what it was to want John, once John became the bit of Sherlock's universe that stayed in its place on the days when everything else was consumed, he wanted all of John, for as long as John would stay.
“I won't, is the thing,” John said. “You don't have to do this just so I'll stay."
Sherlock’s tongue pressed against the back of his teeth. “That’s not why.”
There was a beat of silence, then: “All right. Just making sure.” John kissed the back of his neck, just a brush of lips, and Sherlock closed his eyes and saw the speckled blackness behind his eyelids and listened to John’s breathing, right in his ear, as it evened out.
“What will you do when the mystery runs out?”
Sherlock didn’t look up from the files Mycroft had handed him. Honestly, the British government was so dull; could they even go a decade without hiring someone who was obviously a spy?
“Get a new one, I suppose,” Sherlock said. “Are you telling me no one at MI5 realized someone was making actual photocopies of their personnel files? Don’t they even track who uses the bloody Xerox machine?”
“You’d be surprised how lax they are when it comes to office supplies,” Mycroft said. “And I’m not talking about the case. I’m talking about John.”
Sherlock arched an eyebrow. “Discussing my personal life again, are we? I thought we outlawed that in the early nineties.”
“You clearly haven’t thought through the ramifications of your ongoing entanglement,” Mycroft said, in the tone he generally reserved for shopkeepers and their father. “People are horrendously dull, Sherlock, you’ve been saying that for your entire life. Have you considered what you’re going to do when you inevitably get bored of him?”
Sherlock flipped the page over. Some of the documents had been in the possession of the prime minister just days before they were leaked to the Sun, he read, before skipping ahead to - ah, there was the interesting part, a second leak just two weeks later, the Prime Minister’s personal schedule given to the Daily Mail. Somebody was passing out state secrets like candy.
“I heard you,” Sherlock said. “I don’t intend to get bored. It doesn’t look like the two leaks were related.”
“They weren’t,” Mycroft said. “And neither of them were even particularly sensitive. Sherlock, you get bored of everything. This experiment with Dr. Watson is all well and good for now, but you do realize that most people would like to stay with one person for their entire lives?”
“I can’t see any reason John and I would need to separate,” Sherlock said. “Have you considered the possibility that the prime minister himself is the leak?”
“He’s got an alibi,” Mycroft said. “So, you’re saying that no matter how dull John is, no matter what he asks of you, you’re willing to give it?”
Sherlock arched an eyebrow. “I believe Charles Magnussen would say I’ve made my loyalties rather clear.”
“Yes, but committing a murder for someone is much easier than putting up with them every day,” Mycroft said. “Though I suppose if he hasn’t strangled you in your sleep by now, you may yet have a chance.”
“I’ll consider that your official blessing,” Sherlock said, standing up and dropping the file on Mycroft’s desk. “If you’re quite finished?”
Mycroft arched an eyebrow and leaned back. “My team believes the two leaks originate from the same source. I expect you to make catching the culprit your top priority.”
“Surely I’m too busy with my ongoing entanglement to be trusted with such an important case?” Sherlock said, flipping up his collar.
“I suppose we’ll see, won’t we?” Mycroft said. “And Sherlock?”
Sherlock paused in the door, gritting his teeth.
“Be careful,” Mycroft said, and Sherlock stepped into the windy road.
“Oi,” John whispered. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
Sherlock was entirely sure. Almost entirely. Most of the way entirely sure.
“Yes,” he said. “Are you ready?”
John took a deep breath. “As I’ll ever be.”
Sherlock nodded, then raised his hand to signal to the two members of his homeless network loitering near the front gates of 10 Downing Street.
“Oi!” one of them shouted. “Get out of my way!” He shoved the other man dramatically.
“What’re you playing at?” the second man yelled, a bit too loud, in Sherlock’s opinion, but it did the job: the security guards were looking around in confusion, breaking out of their end-of-shift stupor to attend to the commotion.
“Officer!” the first man said, waving at the guard nearest the gate that led to the side door. “Hey, I think he’s got a knife!”
The guard pushed off from where he’d been leaning idly against the fence and ambled toward the commotion, and Sherlock took the opportunity to quickly dismantle the lock and open the gate, heading for the employee entrance. As John hurried along behind him, he pulled a key card out of his pocket.
“Where’d you get that?”
“Out of Mycroft’s desk,” Sherlock said, tapping in the six digit code - Sherlock’s birthday, honestly, and they said Sherlock was the sentimental one - that made the door swing open. The shouting in front of the gate was reaching a fever pitch as Sherlock ushered John through the door.
The door shut silently behind them and they stood in the carpeted hallway, their eyes adjusting to the darkness. All was quiet; it was just before midnight, and the building was all but deserted.
“And you’re sure the prime minister isn’t home?” John whispered as they crept down the dim hallway. Sherlock’s ten-second loop of this floor’s security cameras wouldn’t last long; Mycroft, at the very least, would notice the virus running in the computer program within ten minutes.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sherlock said, counting doorways as they passed them. “If he were here, we would have been shot by now.”
“Lovely,” John said. “If we get shot you’re not getting any tonight, you hear me?”
“Don’t be melodramatic,” Sherlock said dismissively. “We’ve survived being shot before. Here we are.” He knelt down and picked the lock while John looked around nervously and muttered something about good in bed but can’t be worth this. Sherlock smothered a smile and opened the door to Stephen Milford’s office.
“What are we even looking for?” John said as Sherlock began opening desk drawers. “‘Anything suspicious’ was not the most useful descriptor.”
“Milford set up a break-in at his home for a reason,” Sherlock said. “Either as part of a significantly more serious crime, or in order to create a cover story for the disappearance of something he’d stolen.”
“But how will we know when we’ve found it?” John hissed, poking around the bookshelf. “And why would he hide it here, in his own office?”
“He thinks everything’s gone as planned,” Sherlock said. “No reason to think anyone’s looking. Well, that’s a bit inappropriate for work, wouldn’t you say?”
John peered into the desk drawer Sherlock had just pried open. It was full of handcuffs, nipple clamps, ball gags, and several other things Sherlock had only seen in the more extreme pornography he’d viewed. “What - oh.” John chuckled. “Our government at work.”
“Indeed,” Sherlock said, poking through it with one latex-gloved hand. “What reason would Milford have for keeping these in his office?”
“Perhaps he likes the risk of getting caught?” John said. “I can see the appeal there.”
Sherlock shut the drawer and raised an eyebrow. “Can you?”
John colored. “Not the moment,” he said, opening a cupboard and paging through the files inside. “I swear, you’re worse than a teenager sometimes - “
Sherlock’s phone buzzed, and he scowled darkly. “Seven minutes,” he snapped into it. “That’s all you could give me? I was expecting ten.”
“I had originally planned on five,” Mycroft said lightly. “Consider it an early Christmas present. I’ve already alerted security; I suggest you vacate the premises.”
Sherlock nodded toward the door, and John slammed the cupboard shut, going pale.
“How long do we have?” Sherlock said, sprinting back toward the entrance, John’s footfalls heavy on the carpet behind him.
“Thirty seconds,” Mycroft said.
“Fuck,” Sherlock said, dropping his phone back into his pocket.
“Fuck?” John said. “Fuck what, that doesn’t sound good, Sherlock - “
“Shut up and keep moving,” Sherlock said. They reached the door and Sherlock keyed in the code. “When we get outside, you’re going to go towards the park. I’ll go down Whitehall and we’ll meet at Trafalgar Square in fifteen minutes.”
“I don’t think we should split up, why don’t we - “
“Who’s going to explain Mrs. Hudson why we both got arrested for breaking into Downing Street? Go,” Sherlock said, pushing the door open and shoving John through it at the exact moment that a security guard sprinted around the corner, taser in hand.
John, bless his soldier’s instincts, ran full-out in the direction of St. James Park. Sherlock launched himself over the shrubs and landed hard on the pavement, barely getting his feet beneath him before he took off toward Whitehall. He heard shouting coming from the security gate and an alarm going off inside the house, and vowed to find a singularly cruel way to exact revenge upon Mycroft. Perhaps he could sign him up for an internet dating service.
Sherlock twisted through the alleys behind the Scotland office before he found a low fence that he vaulted over, glad he’d left his coat at home, and found himself expelled onto Whitehall. It was as empty as it ever was, and he shoved his hands into his pockets, pulled on the beanie he’d stuffed into his pocket, and walked with exaggeratedly large strides toward Charing Cross. He thought of John stumbling through St. James and dragged his attention back to the circuitous route he’d plotted, down to the river and back. He wondered if John had made it far enough away from Downing Street to shake off the perimeter they were undoubtedly drawing around the building; he wondered if the security cameras had ever been off at all; he wondered how many of the guards had been armed.
By the time he made it to Trafalgar Square, the wind buffeting him felt like pinpricks of ice. His eyes were wide open, scanning the brightly lit square filled with tourists still snapping pictures of the Christmas tree, looking for any sign of a black military jacket -
“Oh thank God.”
Sherlock spun around and found himself being dragged down by the back of his neck, warm lips crashing against his own so fast that he’d barely blinked before it was over, and John was standing there in front of him, one hand still on his neck, his face a mix of suppressed fury and stuttering relief.
“I was sure they’d arrested you,” John said, marching toward the street and hailing a cab. “I was sure they’d - are you all right?”
“Obviously,” Sherlock said.
“I’m getting too old for this,” John said as the cab arrived. Sherlock slid in and gave directions, and John slammed the door.
“John,” Sherlock began.
“Not right now,” John said. He reached over and put a hand on Sherlock’s knee, silencing him. Sherlock observed his fingernails: bitten down but clean, gripping tightly to the fabric of Sherlock’s trousers.
“You know,” John said as Sherlock locked the front door behind them twenty minutes later, “Sometimes I actually want to kill you.”
Sherlock opened his mouth, but before he could say a word, he found himself with an armful of John. John was kissing him, running his hands up Sherlock’s back, leaning his forehead against Sherlock’s; John was all around him, crowding him against the wall, taking up every bit of breathing room.
“This is not generally how domestic murders begin,” Sherlock said, and John laughed.
“I can’t believe we broke into Downing Street,” he murmured.
“There’s a first time for everything,” Sherlock said. He ran his hand through John’s hair, mapping the back of John’s head with his fingertips.
“And a last. You’re mad,” John said. “And so am I, I suppose.”
Sherlock thought he might be melting a bit under the heat of John’s gaze, the feeling like an itch deep under his skin. His pulse was rising and there were a hundred thousand deductions running through his skull, and when he kissed John he felt them all go quiet, like he was hearing them through water.
“Boys, do you want some tea?” Mrs. Hudson said, and John stepped back, his hands still tangled in Sherlock’s shirt but his lips frustratingly far away.
“Er,” John said, glancing at Sherlock. “We - er - “
“What were you doing out so late? Big case?” Mrs. Hudson said. She was standing in the hallway in her dressing gown, holding the kettle, looking unconcerned at the sight of her tenants devouring each other in the hallway in the middle of the night.
“Yes,” Sherlock said. “Very confidential.” He took John by the wrist and marched up the stairs.
“I think we’re quite all right without tea, thanks,” John called over his shoulder. “Good night, Mrs. Hudson.”
“Good night, boys!” she called. “Sleep well!”
John was grinning a little giddily as they stumbled into Sherlock’s bedroom, dropping shoes and scarves. “Well, I guess that’s the cat out of the bag.”
“Oh, come off it,” Sherlock scoffed. “She thought we were shagging years ago.”
“Suppose she wasn’t as wrong as we thought,” John said, his sweater joining the pile on the floor. They crawled into bed, hands pulling at t-shirts, legs tangling. John pulled off Sherlock’s pants and teased him, as he so often did, for leaving his socks on, and Sherlock rejoined that socks were last, that there was a system, and John hushed him with a nip to the inside of his thigh.
“I think you should drop this case,” John said. “You have no idea what you’re looking for.”
“So I’ll keep looking,” Sherlock said, white-knuckling the sheets as John’s breath ghosted over the head of his cock.
“You’re already on the government’s short list,” John said. He ran his tongue up the underside of Sherlock’s cock. “There are people who will take any excuse to get rid of you, Sherlock, and you’ve nearly handed them one on a silver platter.”
“Could we discuss this later?” Sherlock said in a voice that was not at all similar to a whinge. “After you’ve finished sucking my cock, perhaps.”
John looked up at Sherlock from the foot of the bed, his lips wet, Sherlock’s cock held loosely in his hand. “Once you’ve agreed that you’re not going to do anything else stupid to solve this case, I’ll continue.”
“You’re manipulating me,” Sherlock gasped as John ran his fingernails lightly along his thigh. “You’re using sex as a weapon.”
“Yes, I am,” John agreed. He kissed his way up Sherlock’s hip, his ribcage, his neck, before biting maddeningly on his earlobe. “Do we have an understanding?”
“John,” Sherlock said, and then John kissed him, and Sherlock wondered if everyone kissed like John kissed, like every press of lips was the answer to a question you didn’t know you’d asked: yes, and of course, and always.
“I was frightened,” John said as he wrapped his hand around both of them, his lips on Sherlock’s temple. “I thought they’d caught you, I thought you were gone again.”
Sherlock arched into John’s hand, head thrown back, and gasped, “I’ll never be gone, you idiot.”
And John laughed and said things he’d never said before, things he surely didn’t mean, whispered them into Sherlock’s neck as they rocked together, and as Sherlock’s orgasm washed over him like a wave, calming and steady, he didn’t say them back.
With Christmas came streets seething with tourists, passion-fueled murders, evidence washed away in rain, the occasional body frozen straight through. It truly was the most wonderful time of the year.
“You’re incredibly terrifying sometimes, you know that?” John said conversationally from the kitchen.
“Was I talking out loud?” Sherlock said, genuinely surprised.
John brought him a cheese toastie. “Aren’t you ready to go?”
“Go?” Sherlock said. He glanced down at himself; he was wearing a pair of bespoke trousers and one of John’s undershirts. “I suppose. Where are we going?”
“For the love of - Sherlock, the party’s tonight. At New Scotland Yard. The holiday party we said we’d go to? We talked about this at least three times. Today.”
“If you say so,” Sherlock said. “Does that mean I need to change?”
“This is boring,” Sherlock said. “Why’re we here again?”
“Because you ostensibly work for Scotland Yard,” John said. He was on his third glass of mulled wine, and Sherlock could imagine the sweet taste of his mouth. “You know they’re paying you now, don’t you?”
Sherlock opened his mouth, then closed it.
“Should’ve kept that to myself, clearly,” John said.
“There’s still no reason to be here if I’m not working.” Sherlock pulled out his phone and considered texting Lestrade, who was standing on the other side of the room, wearing a very unflattering sweater and flirting with a woman half his age.
“It’s a party, Sherlock,” John said, lifting a hand to wave at someone. “Can’t you try to enjoy yourself?”
Sherlock arched an eyebrow.
John sighed. “Of course not. All right, d’you want to deduce something? Go on. There’s got to be somebody here you’ve got something good on.”
Sherlock took a glance around the room. There was the man here who was in love with his deskmate, the couple who’d had a row on the way in, the commissioner’s wife who was embezzling from her company: all dull.
“Yes,” he said. “There is.” He leaned closer to John’s ear, so close that no one else could hear over the music and chatter and fake laughter. “There’s a man in the room who’s acting like he wants to be here, but he doesn’t. He wants to be at home, in bed, getting his cock sucked.”
John choked on his wine. Sherlock paused, leaned in until his lips were almost brushing John’s ear, before continuing, “He’ll make small talk for hours if he has to, but all the while, he’ll be imagining his fat cock sliding in and out of a pair of lips. He especially likes it when they’re on their knees.” John’s face turned pink, and Sherlock preened; he’d been saving that deduction for just such an opportune moment. “He likes them on their knees for him, neck aching and spit dribbling down their chins. He likes to card his fingers through their hair, likes to pull just a bit - “
“Jesus Christ,” John hissed, shifting from one foot to the other. “Sherlock - “
“ - likes to remind them that he’s in charge,” Sherlock continued, his voice barely above a whisper. “They like that, too. He’ll throw his head back and groan, and his legs will be shaking but he’ll keep standing, holding himself up until he’s so close - “
“Stop, honestly,” John said, crossing his arms in front of his chest, and Sherlock stepped in front of him to hide him from the room.
“ - and then he’ll pull away and take his cock in his hands, twist a few more times and come all over their face moaning their name,” Sherlock finished, a bit viciously.
“Oh, my god,” John croaked. “Have you been watching porn again? Because I’ve never - ”
“It happens in all of them,” Sherlock said dismissively. “There must be something to it. I need the data.”
John took a deep, calming breath. “You need me to come on your face for data.”
“Obviously,” Sherlock said.
John made a sound like the air being let out of a balloon.
“Right, then, I’m going to have a cigarette,” Sherlock said loudly. “John, care to join me?”
“Yes,” John said, a little dazed. “Er, no. You don’t smoke anymore.”
“How very inconvenient,” he said, and led the way out of the crowded room. Nobody watched them go.
They made it all the way to the fire stairwell before Sherlock shoved John up against the wall and cupped him through his pants.
“You’re a right bastard,” John said, writhing under his grasp. “We’re at a party full of police officers. You know we could be arrested for this?”
“I’d like to see them try,” Sherlock said, dropping to his knees. “I work here, apparently. Just keep yourself quiet.”
“Keep myself quiet when you’re - oh god,” John said as Sherlock unzipped his trousers and drew him out of his pants. “No, you can’t do this here, what are you - Christ,” he groaned as Sherlock took him into his mouth. “Sherlock, no.”
Sherlock popped off and looked up at John with wide, innocent eyes. “You want me to stop?” He looked around, peered around the corner and down the hallway, where the party was in full swing. “There’s no one around. No one to see you. They might hear you, though, if you’re as loud as you normally are - “
“Fuck you,” John swore, carding his fingers into Sherlock’s hair.
“Perhaps later,” Sherlock said, and swallowed John down. John wound his hands into Sherlock’s hair and choked off a moan as Sherlock ran his tongue from the base of John’s cock to the tip. Sherlock took one of his hands off John’s waist and used it to stroke him in time with the slide of his mouth, his spit lubricating his hand and his own cock growing harder in his trousers as John yanked on his curls.
“This is - so - incredibly - inappropriate,” John gasped. “I can just see the headlines - Sherlock Holmes caught blowing Bachelor Watson at New Scotland Yard Headquarters - they’ll have to fire you, and to think it was your first steady paycheck - “
“Mmm,” Sherlock hummed. He took John as deep as he could go, the head of his cock bumping against the back of his throat, and ran his hands up John’s thighs, letting his nails skate the skin at the base of his cock.
“Sherlock - Christ, I can’t actually - I’m not going to come on your face here - “
“Of course not,” Sherlock said, pulling off and stroking John rapidly, bringing him right to the edge. “That would be absurd. No, you’ll do that tomorrow.” He could hear a pair of heels tapping down the hall, but he was reasonably certain they were going the other way; he shifted on his knees, his own cock straining his trousers, and took John into his mouth again, his chin wet with spit.
“Sherlock, I’m, oh, I’m going to - “
“Oh my god,” Molly Hooper said faintly as John gasped and came down the back of Sherlock’s throat. Sherlock swallowed as John convulsed through the aftershocks.
Hmm. He quickly discarded several lies. Could he convince her she’d fallen and hit her head, and this was all a hallucination? No, that would require an actual blow to the skull; John wouldn’t approve.
“Um,” John said. “Hi.”
Sherlock eased away from John’s cock, carefully tucking him back into his pants. “Did you need something, Molly?”
“Er, I was just leaving, actually,” Molly said. “I sort of accidentally implied that I’d like Greg to ask me out, so I was going to go home, but this is so much more embarrassing, I’m so sorry - “
“No, it’s all right,” John said, fumbling with his zipper. “We should be the ones apologizing - “
“No, no, not at all,” Molly said. “It’s really not a problem - I mean, not that I enjoyed it - “
“I think it would be best if we all just pretend this never happened,” Sherlock said. “Have a lovely evening, Molly.”
“Right,” Molly said, backing into the door. “You too.”
The door swung shut behind her, and the patter of her feet faded into the sounds of the party. John pulled on the hem of his shirt. Sherlock cleared his throat.
“Don’t even think about laughing,” John said.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Sherlock said.
The next day, Sherlock peered over John’s shoulder as he paged through his email.
“Oh, god,” John said. “There’s one from Molly. Oi, gerroff, you’re bony,” he muttered, pushing Sherlock’s chin off his shoulder and opening the email. Sherlock skimmed it: good to see you, sorry about the end of the evening, happy for you both, really I am, thought you said last week you weren’t seeing anyone?
“Well,” John said, slamming the laptop shut. “Glad she’s not reporting us for public indecency, anyway.”
Sherlock pursed his lips and went back to his microscope.
“You need to stop investigating the little matter we discussed last month,” Mycroft said.
Sherlock curled into himself and scowled. “The supposedly unrelated leaks? Why, have your hopelessly inept government employees managed to figure it out?”
“It is being dealt with internally,” Mycroft said. “That is all I am at liberty to say.”
“Insufficient,” Sherlock said. “You know I’m close.”
“Too close, perhaps.” Mycroft sounded distracted. Sherlock wondered vaguely if Anthea was giving him a manicure.
“As I suspected. It’s someone high-ranking, someone a lot of people are looking to protect. People including you.”
“Leave it, Sherlock,” Mycroft said commandingly. “Or I’ll tell Mummy about the incident in the stairwell at Scotland Yard this weekend.”
“You repulse me,” Sherlock snarled. The door slammed shut on the case all at once: if Mycroft was turning to such base threats, he would undoubtedly make any continued investigation extremely difficult. Sherlock felt the day stretching out in front of him endlessly.
“Happy Christmas to you too, little brother,” Mycroft said.
“Whozzat?” John mumbled, rolling over and burying his face in Sherlock’s hair.
“No one,” Sherlock said.
“My best to John as well,” Mycroft said, and Sherlock slammed the phone down on the bedside table.
“Is today Christmas?” Sherlock said, watching the green lights of the bedside clock.
“Mmm,” John said.
“I didn’t get you anything,” Sherlock said.
“I would have been concerned if you had,” John said. He pressed a kiss to Sherlock’s shoulder. “Go back to sleep.”
Sherlock watched until the clock ticked over to 6:00 am before extracting himself from the bed and taking up residence on the sofa. It was going to be a long Christmas.
Sherlock was staring at the wall.
He’d been staring at the wall for a while - six hours, possibly, or seven. The wall had begun to stare back. The wood was holding its breath, the wallpaper layering over his skin and pinning him to the couch. He was taking breaths very far apart, suffered through only when it became a biological necessity. It was extremely difficult to hold one’s breath until one passed out, as Sherlock had learned at a very young age. Still. Perhaps worth another experiment.
“ - all right?”
The sound cracked like a gunshot through Sherlock’s skull, and he rounded on the perpetrator with eyes narrowed. “What?”
John raised his eyebrows from the doorway, a grocery bag dangling from his hand. “Are you all right? You’ve not moved since I went to work this morning.”
Sherlock bit back half a dozen deductions about John’s lunchtime BLT and his unnecessary purchases at Tesco and settled for turning back to the wall.
“Right,” John said. There was a clatter of bags being set on the floor, crackers going in the cupboard, milk in the fridge. “Have you eaten today?”
Sherlock didn’t answer.
Sherlock let his head fall back on the sofa cushion. “I don’t need food, John. I need work.”
John sighed. “Lestrade will be back from hols soon, and you’ll have plenty of work, I’m sure.”
“Lestrade,” Sherlock said nastily. “With his robberies gone wrong and second-parent kidnappings and obvious, easy-to-find exit wounds. Dull. I need something interesting.” He clamped down on a stray thought that tried to escape - the thought that the Milford fake break-in had been interesting, but seeing as John had forbidden him from investigating it, it didn’t matter.
“It’s the holidays,” John said. “Can’t we just let everybody live for a couple of days?”
“Not if it means my brain will rot away.”
“Yeah, this thing you’re doing? This is the thing I don’t like,” John said. “Will you eat beans on toast?”
Sherlock pulled his legs up to his chest and returned his attention to the wall.
“Right,” John said. He puttered around the kitchen for a while longer, crunching irritatingly on his dinner and making a cup of tea and being generally tiresome. Sherlock felt himself sink back into the sludge of his own mind, the colorless simulacrum that passed for the world when there wasn’t any work to be done.
“ - hear me?”
Sherlock blinked. John was peering down at him.
“Right,” John said, turning off the telly. “You haven’t heard a word. I’m going to bed.”
“Oh,” Sherlock said.
John walked to the door, then seemed to change his mind. He turned on his heel, came back into the room, and leaned down and kissed Sherlock, once, hard, on the lips.
“Come to bed soon, yeah?” he murmured, and then he was gone, and Sherlock was left staring after him, perplexed and annoyed and still suffocated by the weight of everything he wasn’t doing.
He laid awake all night on the sofa.
“Are you two having a row, then?”
Sherlock didn’t look up from the dead man’s severed ear. It had been done shortly before he died, had only just started to clot when he’d gone into rigor mortis. Intimidation tactic? Part of a ritualistic killing?
“You and John, that is,” Molly said. “It’s just that you’re all - prickly.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. “Prickly?”
“Yeah, you know,” Molly said. “Like how you are, sometimes. When you’re unhappy. And he’s not here, so I just thought - “
“John does not accompany me everywhere,” Sherlock said. “He’s - ” Sherlock paused. John had been gone when he’d woken, back sore from the sofa; there’d been a note stuck to his hand that said Sandwiches in the fridge. “He’s working.”
“I see,” Molly said. She watched as he inspected the man’s fingernails, his wrists. Smoker, right-handed, worked with chemicals. “So you’re not having a row?”
“How should I know?” Sherlock said crossly.
“Well, usually when you’re having a row with your boyfriend, both parties know,” Molly said, like it was obvious.
Sherlock dropped the man’s arm and stood up straight. “John is not my boyfriend.”
Molly opened her mouth. “I - what? I just - I thought - I mean, I saw - well, you know.”
“We haven’t ever discussed terminology.”
Understanding dawned on Molly’s face. “He’s got commitment issues, then? I’m not surprised.”
The conversation was getting away from Sherlock. “What do you mean?”
“It’s just,” Molly said, suddenly very interested in her file, “Well, he was married, and then there was the dust-up with the baby, and that ended rather poorly, didn’t it?”
“You could say,” Sherlock said icily. Mary’s betrayal and abandonment was a subject he didn’t dwell on; John had dwelled quite enough for both of them.
“Well, it would be difficult, wouldn’t it?” Molly said. “To trust someone. To, you know, be in a relationship again.”
Sherlock pressed his lips together.
“He’ll come ‘round,” Molly said sensibly, pulling the sheet back over the victim’s head. “The good ones do, I’ve heard.” She stripped off her gloves and dropped them in the bin, then led Sherlock to the door of the morgue. “I’ve got to get back to work. Did you get what you needed?”
Sherlock patted his coat pocket, filled with a sample of nail clippings. “I appreciate it.”
“Any time,” Molly said. She smiled tightly and wrapped her arms around herself. ”See you around, then.”
She turned and headed back into the morgue, the door about to slide shut behind her, when Sherlock said stiffly, “He kissed me goodnight.”
“Oh, in that case,” Molly said over her shoulder, “I suppose you’re going to be all right.”
It was nighttime again, and the flat was too warm and too loud, the water rattling the old pipes as John showered. Sherlock kicked off the nest of blankets he’d made for himself on the sofa and crossed to the window. He threw it open and let the wind blow through the room and the heat escape into the darkness. He stood at the window for a moment, taking deep breaths as the stale air circulated, papers fluttering on the desk and the curtains moving with the breeze.
Still smelled like cigarettes.
Sherlock flopped back onto the sofa and thought about which of the chemicals he had in the kitchen would make the best controlled explosion, and whether or not he could produce enough heat to sufficiently warm up last night’s Thai. The shower turned off. It had been on for nearly thirty minutes, and in earlier days Sherlock would have deduced that John was having a wank, but he only did that now when Sherlock was out of the house, and even then, not often. So, a long shower with no wank: John had had a bad day at work. His showers were generally efficient, mindful of water consumption, a leftover habit from his years in the desert, and he only took look ones when he’d had a day so bad he wanted to wash it off. How very literal John was, how predictable, how -
The door to the loo opened, and John padded down the hallway to the bedroom. “Don’t upset my underpants,” Sherlock called. Ever since some of John’s clothes had migrated to Sherlock’s wardrobe, his clothes had been eternally disrupted.
John muttered something that sounded like “Sod your pants” and slammed the bedroom door behind him. Sherlock scowled. It was days like these that he wondered why he’d decided to stop doing drugs and get a flatmate. It had something to do with Mycroft, he imagined.
Sherlock stared at the ceiling as John came down the hall and sat down heavily in his armchair. He picked up the remote control and turned on the telly; it was a football match, Chelsea - Southampton, neither of which John supported, but John set the remote down with a sigh.
Sherlock frowned. “Are you going to make supper?”
“Nope,” John said.
John stared stonily at the television.
“You’re angry with me,” Sherlock said. “Have you been talking to Mrs. Hudson?”
“What did you do to Mrs. Hudson?” John said, sounding tired.
“Nothing,” Sherlock said. “I simply pointed out to her that she needn’t make up an excuse as to why her toaster wasn’t working when it was obvious that she’d burnt it out trying to make toast while under the influence of narcotics in the middle of the night.”
John rolled his eyes. “No, I’ve not been talking to Mrs. Hudson. You’re a twat, though.”
They settled into uneasy silence. Chelsea scored; John sighed twice more. Several endless minutes stretched out between them. Sherlock wondered if they were, in fact, having a domestic. He couldn’t remember any of his and John’s normal fights being so very irritating.
“Are you going to order takeaway, then?” Sherlock asked finally.
“You know how to use a telephone, don’t you?” John snapped. “Order it yourself.” He stood up and stomped into the kitchen.
Sherlock sat up and watched him fill the kettle. “Is something wrong?”
John snorted. “Noticed, have you?”
“Well, if I’ve done something to upset you, I’ve already deleted it,” Sherlock said.
John slammed a mug down on the table. “The world doesn’t revolve around you, Sherlock.”
That was debatable. “If it’s not me, what is it?”
John was quiet for a long time. The water boiled, and John busied himself with making two cups. When the tea was steeping, John said, “There was a little girl.”
Sherlock stared at him.
“She - her mother brought her into the office last week with a cough,” John said, his eyes on the tea, his hands fisted at his sides. “I told her it was just a cold, sent her home and told her to come back in a week if it wasn’t gone. She died last night - pneumonia, they think.”
Sherlock watched the steam rise from the two cups of tea, side by side on the table.
“She was going to be two next month,” John said, irrelevantly, his voice hoarse.
“Serious infections can be hard to catch in children because they progress so quickly,” Sherlock said. “Last week she probably did just have a cold.”
“I’m aware of that, thanks,” John said. “I am a doctor.”
“And as such, you know that sick people die with extraordinary regularity,” Sherlock said. “Including children. I fail to see what’s different about this one.”
“Nothing,” John said, taking two sugars. “Nothing’s different.”
“Well, then,” Sherlock said. “Why are we discussing it? It seems very tedious.”
John whirled toward Sherlock, his face pale and furious. “Are you fucking kidding me? You’ve been having a sulk for nearly a week because not enough people have been murdered in interesting ways recently, but I let a child die last night and I’m tedious.”
“Do you expect meaningless platitudes from me?” Sherlock said. “If you want something in particular, John, just tell me.”
“If I want something? Christ, all I want is for you to be arsed to care about anything other than yourself for one bloody second!” John said. “That’s what you do when you’re in a - that’s what you do when you’re with someone. You listen when they need to talk, you’re just there for them. You don’t talk to them about the odds of children dying on their watch.”
“I never claimed to be a capable emotional caretaker,” Sherlock said. “If you’re looking for someone to coddle you, maybe you ought to go out and get yourself a girlfriend.”
There was a long silence. Sherlock stared at the fireplace, feeling the heat of John’s gaze but refusing to meet it. “Maybe you’re right,” John said. “Maybe I ought to do that.” There was a clatter, the sound of John shoving his feet into the nearest shoes, grabbing his keys from the tin. “Christ. I never should have - why did I think you would care?”
“I haven’t the faintest,” Sherlock said. “You should have known better.”
“Yeah, I should’ve,” John said, and then he was gone, his footsteps heavy on the stairs, the door to 221B slamming shut behind him, the two cups of tea forgotten in the kitchen.
“Did you smoke in here?”
Sherlock woke with a start, his phone clutched in his hand. It was late, much later than it had been when John had left: getting close to midnight, based on the level of noise in the street. Overeager New Year’s Eve revelers let off a firecracker a few blocks away, and sirens wailed in the distance. John stood in the doorway. He’d clearly been at a pub, had two pints, alone; his neck was sore from staring at the telly above the bar.
“Are we still having a row?”
“Yup,” John said, dropping his coat over the back of his chair.
“But you’ve come back.”
“I live here, you realize.”
Sherlock shrugged and picked up his phone.
John shook his head and said, “You know there’s a photographer outside? Hoping to catch you out celebrating the New Year, I imagine.”
“I saw,” Sherlock said, scrolling through his texts.
“Tried to get a quote from me, said there’s not been a Sherlock Holmes sighting in a while. Your admirers miss you.” John laughed a bit darkly. “It’s a wonder they haven’t caught us - well, you know. I suppose we ought to prepare ourselves for it.”
Sherlock considered saying that he’d never cared what the tabloids said and didn’t intend to start now, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort.
“You know,” John said from the kitchen, where he was rinsing out the untouched mugs of tea. “You ought to be glad I’m not interested in selling your secrets to the tabloids. I heard Janine made a tidy sum, and that was all lies. I bet they’d pay through the nose to know that Sherlock Holmes likes to be spanked.”
Sherlock stood up, the pile of newspapers at the foot of the sofa scattering to the floor.
John put down the clean mugs. “Oh, calm down, I wouldn’t actually - “
“Shut up, John.” He grabbed John’s laptop and performed three searches in quick succession, then slammed the laptop shut. “We need to see Lestrade.”
“We need to see him - now?” John said, but Sherlock wasn’t listening, too busy sorting out the details and running through scenarios and wondering how he’d missed it when the evidence had been right there, right under their nose and all they’d done was joke about it. Sherlock pulled off his dressing gown and laced up his shoes. “It’s the middle of the night.”
“Yes,” he said. “Now.”
“Of course,” John muttered, pulling on the coat he’d only just discarded. “Is this about the Milford case?”
Sherlock laughed and wrapped his scarf around his neck as he took the stairs two at a time down to the front door. “Oh, John. You have no idea.”
“No, I don’t!” John called from the top of the stairs.
Lestrade was on what was obviously his fourth cup of coffee when they arrived at NSY. “What’s all this, then?” he said as Sherlock walked into his office. “I haven’t got anything new for you, I told you this afternoon, it’s a holiday, Sherlock - “
“This is about something old,” Sherlock said. His mobile buzzed in his pocket. “Something old and ignored and very, very important.” He began texting rapid-fire, his thumbs flying over the keys as the path lit up in front of him, strobelights illuminating the key pieces of evidence, the last one falling into place most obvious of all.
“What’s he on about?” he heard Lestrade say to John.
“No idea,” John said. “Wouldn’t say a word in the cab.”
“The burglary,” Sherlock said, dropping his phone into his pocket, “of Stephen Milford’s safe.”
Lestrade blinked. “What, you’ve figured out who stole whatever it was he had in there?”
“No one stole anything,” Sherlock said. “It wasn’t a burglary. It was a leak.”
Lestrade looked from Sherlock to John and back to Sherlock. “Come again?”
“Stephen Milford is one of the prime minister’s top advisors,” Sherlock said. “He regularly has access to sensitive information - personnel records and private schedules, for example. Information that is supposed to be restricted.” He turned to Lestrade. “If you were the political opponent of the prime minister and you discovered an incredibly damaging secret about one of his chief advisors, what would you do?”
Lestrade blinked. “Sell it to the Sun?”
“Wrong.” Sherlock rolled his eyes. “John?”
“Er, I’d use it for blackmail, wouldn’t I?” John said.
“Obviously,” Sherlock said.
“You’ve been spending too much time with him,” Lestrade muttered to John.
“Oh, definitely,” John said.
“A scandal surrounding a single politician takes up space in the papers for a few weeks, but once the man in question resigns, the party washes its hands of the situation,” Sherlock said. “But if it comes out that a member of the prime minister’s party, one of his chief advisors, is leaking confidential information - well, that might very well be enough for a vote of no confidence.”
“So you think Milford was blackmailed into leaking information,” John said, frowning. “But how?”
“Erotic asphyxiation,” Sherlock said.
“Right, you’ve lost me,” John said.
Sherlock turned Lestrade’s laptop toward him and opened up a photo from a file from September, then showed John and Lestrade the image of the hastily-dressed woman. “Hannah Turner, age 31. Her death was ruled an accident by the coroner’s office: she died as a result of suffocation.”
“Right,” Lestrade said. “You said it yourself, it was an accident.”
“And quite an embarrassing one, too,” Sherlock said. “Did anyone ever come forward, did you ever find the boyfriend who so hurriedly abandoned her?”
“No,” Lestrade said, and shifted in his seat. “Didn’t seem worth pursuing, really, not compared to everything else going on. Hang on a moment, what’s she got to do with - ”
“According to her employment records, Hannah Turner served as the live-in nanny for Stephen and Pamela Milford for three years until Claire Dawson took over two summers ago,” Sherlock said. “And considering that Mr. Milford has a penchant for sleeping with the help and a veritable treasure trove of kink-related paraphernalia in his office at 10 Downing Street, it’s easily deduced that he was sexually involved with Ms. Turner, and that he was in all likelihood the boyfriend present at the time of her suspicious death. So easily deduced, in fact, that someone else has been blackmailing Mr. Milford with that very fact in order to force him to give away confidential information from the Prime Minister’s office.”
“So you’re saying he was blackmailed over a woman he didn’t even kill? He jeopardized the safety of the Prime Minister and millions of British citizens because he was embarrassed?”
“People have done worse to keep their secrets safe,” Sherlock said.
“So who’s blackmailing him?” Lestrade said.
“I have no idea,” Sherlock said. “But we’re about to find out.”
“How?” John said.
Sherlock tapped the pocket with his phone in it. “I’ve been in contact with the nanny. We already knew she was attracted to powerful older men; once I assured her I wasn’t going to turn her in for conspiracy, it was exceedingly simple to convince her to keep track of her employer and any suspicious visitors to his home. He asked her this morning to vacate the premises overnight.”
“Have you considered the possibility that he asked her to clear out because it’s New Year’s Eve?” Lestrade asked. “And anyway, we can’t go now, the whole force is out patrolling. It’s the fireworks are in less than an hour.”
Sherlock strode out of the office. “I don’t care how you get your officers together, just do it. Stephen Milford is about to leak another government secret.”
“What was that supposed to mean, attracted to powerful men?” John muttered as their cab pulled onto Holland Park Avenue. “Is she sleeping with you as well?”
“Who’s the jealous one now?” Sherlock said. “I may have led her to believe that I was open to the idea of a more personal relationship if she continued to be of service to me.” He sighed theatrically. “If only I wasn’t so busy with work. Let us out here, please. We’ll walk the rest of the way.”
As John fussed with his wallet, Sherlock caught sight of one of his homeless network on the corner.
“Any unusual arrivals?” he said.
“One went in the front door, two went around back,” she said.
Sherlock dropped a fiver into her cup. “Police on their way, you may want to clear out.”
“Happy New Year,” the woman called, gathering up her belongings and taking off down the street.
“So what’s the plan?” John said, jogging to keep up with Sherlock’s long strides down the road to Milford’s house. “We can’t exactly walk in the front door.”
“That’s precisely what we’re going to do,” Sherlock said. “Milford already has company, after all. He won’t notice.”
They climbed onto Milford’s front stoop and paused outside the door, their breath visible in the night air. The front windows were dark, and Sherlock could hear a telly playing in the house next door. He glanced down the block one last time; the street was hushed, the sounds of traffic muted by the trees and high walls of the twee neighborhood.
“So who do you think is going to be in there?” John whispered as Sherlock pulled out his lockpick.
“Probably a minor government official,” Sherlock said, turning the pick slowly until he felt the groove of the lock. “God, I hope it’s Mycroft. Will you shoot him for me?”
John snorted. “I’m not going to shoot your brother.”
“Why must you spoil all my fun?” Sherlock hissed as the lock clicked open. John froze as the door swung slowly inward, his hand buried in his coat pocket. “Stay here.”
“What? Sherlock - “
“Keep watch,” Sherlock whispered. “If anyone arrives before Lestrade, yell.” John frowned but turned his back to the door as Sherlock pushed it all the way open and stepped into the front hall.
There was a light on at the end of the hall, in the kitchen, and voices echoing down the long hallway. Sherlock crept down the hall, listening to John shut the door quietly behind him.
“ - anything you’re interested in,” a voice was saying: Milford, no doubt.
“You mean you don’t have anything that can’t be traced back to you,” a posh and enormously bored-sounding voice replied.
“Well, doesn’t your plan hinge on that? At least for now.”
“You knew we’d be here this evening,” the second voice said. “You knew what we wanted. Please do drop the act; I’m incredibly busy.”
“Robert, I don’t have anything,” Milford said. He sounded frightened and frustrated and resentful. “Please, give me another week.”
“I’ve given you plenty of time,” the other voice said. “You’re testing my patience. Don’t you understand how quickly I could destroy you, Stephen? Your wife and children are vacationing in Greece, are they not? Won’t it be a pity for them to come home and find you’ve been arrested for your mistress’s murder?”
“He didn’t kill her,” Sherlock said, stepping into the light.
Stephen Milford, pale and nervous-looking, gasped and gripped the edge of the table he was seated at. His blackmailer, Robert, a taller man with an impeccable suit, stood near the bar, a glass of brandy in his hand.
“Pardon me?” the tall man said. His nostrils flared furiously. He’d clearly not expected his performance to be interrupted.
“Nobody killed her, actually,” Sherlock said. “So I’m afraid you’re missing the crucial element of your attempt to blackmail Mr. Milford.”
Robert glanced from Sherlock to Milford and back, his lip curled. “Do you know who I am?”
“Someone powerful enough to send others to do his dirty work, but mad enough to want to do it himself,” Sherlock said. “In all likelihood, a politician.”
The man arched a disdainful eyebrow. Sherlock wondered if it was the right moment to point out that he was overdue for his regular Botox injections. “Stephen, did you hire this gumshoe to do your bidding? That was incredibly unwise. It hardly seems necessary to point out that he’ll be unable to extricate you from this mess of your own making.” He tutted patronizingly.
“Indeed, his abandonment of his ex-nanny on the floor of her bedroom was cowardly, but I believe you’re the one who’s been using that information to extort him into turning over confidential information about the Prime Minister.”
“How do you know about Hannah?“ Milford said faintly.
“I was the one who realized that her death was an accident,” Sherlock said. “You thought you were arriving at her home for another lustful evening away from your family, only to have her die before you’d hardly gotten started. More concerned for your own career than for the dignity of a woman you’d been involved with for years, you dressed her in the nearest clothes and left to be found nearly a day later.” Sherlock glanced at Milford, who was frozen with shock. “Of course, even without the murder charge, the scandal of a dead mistress is enough to dismantle your career. Probably wasn’t worth the treason, though. Pity.”
“This has all been very entertaining,” Robert said smoothly, “but I’m in the middle of a business transaction that doesn’t concern you, Mr. Holmes. If you’ll see yourself out?”
“Oh, I think I’d rather like to stay and watch,” Sherlock said.
Robert set down his drink. “You really wouldn’t.”
“Is this about the man you have in the garden? I hardly believe he’s a good enough shot to hit me through the window,” Sherlock said. He craned his neck to glance out the French doors that led to the small garden behind the kitchen. “In fact he’s hiding rather poorly in the bushes right now. You may want to consider hiring better help next time you go to blackmail someone. If you get the chance.”
“Your brother may not be afraid to throw his weight around, Mr. Holmes, but I think you’ll find that your threats have very little effect here,” Robert said. He glanced almost imperceptibly at the hallway behind Sherlock, and Sherlock pressed his lips together in satisfaction. Robert clearly wasn’t the type of man to leave a mess behind; his second hired gun would appear in the hallway and hold Sherlock at gunpoint while he fled out the front door - and directly into John’s waiting arms. Within minutes, Lestrade and his force would arrive. All Sherlock had to do was stall.
“Well, I suppose you are a man who knows something about threats,” Sherlock said casually. He heard the man behind him creep down the hall, his footfalls almost embarrassingly loud for someone trying to be silent. “If you weren’t using the information to reveal classified information, I might even be impressed. How many members of the prime minister’s inner circle are you having followed?”
“On any given day?” Robert smirked. “Nearly all of them.”
“You must know all sorts of fascinating secrets,” Sherlock said. “Tell me, how many sugars in the Chief of Staff’s coffee?”
His smirk soured. “If you think anyone will believe what you saw tonight,” Robert said, “you are very sorely mistaken. You may be a celebrity, Mr. Holmes, but that doesn’t preclude you from the possibility of falling victim to some tragic - accident.”
The cold barrel of a gun came to rest just below Sherlock’s right ear.
“Now there’s the threat I was expecting,” Sherlock said.
“Marcus, if you’ll escort Mr. Holmes out?” Robert said. “There’s a car waiting.”
Sherlock sighed. Admit defeat, take his time getting out, and wait for Lestrade to arrive; it was all so simple.
“On the other hand,” Robert said thoughtfully, “perhaps you should just kill him.”
Well. Perhaps not too simple.
“You’re clearly not as good a source as we were hoping for, Stephen,” Robert said to Milford. “Perhaps it’s best to just tie this one off. You’ll take the blame for shooting Mr. Holmes - he was breaking into your home, after all - and no one will ever connect you to the leaks. This actually works out rather nicely for you, don’t you agree?”
Milford’s eyes were very wide; it was clear that he was only just realizing that they were dealing with a madman. Sherlock was determining whether the man with a gun to his head would suffer more from an elbow to the solar plexus or the jugular, calculating the probability that Robert himself was armed, and planning his route back to the front door. John would be furious if he was shot again; they’d certainly be rowing if he came out of this case with a bullet wound.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Robert said. “Marcus, if you will?”
“Stop right there,” John said from the hallway. “Drop your weapon or I’ll shoot.”
“John,” Sherlock said. “You were supposed to stay outside.”
“Oh, for the love of God,“ John said, exasperated, “you’re welcome for not letting you get shot, you son of a - ” and that’s when the third man came up behind him and hit him in the temple with the butt of his pistol.
After John collapsed in a heap, everything happened very quickly.
Sherlock elbowed his own captor in the stomach and kneed him in the groin, then stomped on his hand when he reached for his gun. Robert bolted out the back door to the garden, leaving the French doors wide open behind him; Milford dove into the adjoining parlour and cowered behind an oversized chintz ottoman. John’s attacker was raising his weapon again when Sherlock swung around and clocked him in the side of the head, and he went down like a bag of meat.
Sherlock took the gun from the first henchman and counted the rounds. Five, which meant Sherlock could fire three into the doorframe and make it look like John had been shot at before shooting each of the gunmen in the kneecap, should be enough to get any charges thrown out. Before he could fire, a team of police officers burst in through the front door.
“You’re late,” Sherlock shouted as Lestrade followed them in and dropped to his knees beside John.
“Get a medic!” he yelled as his people pinned down the two henchmen. “Sherlock, are you all right?”
“Of course I am, don’t be stupid,” Sherlock said, feeling a little off balance as one of the officers cuffed the prone body of the man he’d been standing on. “Is - “
“Is the building clear?” Donovan interrupted. “Holmes, are you listening to me? How many were there?”
“There was a third, but he’s gone out the back,” Sherlock said. He nodded at Milford, lying on the floor of his own living room with his hands in the air. “This one reports to the Prime Minister, you might want to be careful with him.”
Donovan raised an eyebrow and followed the officer escorting Milford out the door. Around them, police officers were shouting into walkie-talkies; Sherlock had a dim impression of people outside shouting. Lestrade had his hand on John’s shoulder, and Sherlock could see blood pouring out of the wound on John’s temple. John still had not opened his eyes.
“He’s breathing,” Lestrade said, looking up at Sherlock, and Sherlock wondered why he was saying that, of course he was breathing, he was John, he was always breathing, he would always be breathing. But then somebody pushed Sherlock out of the way, and Sherlock realized that the medics had arrived, they were taking John’s pulse and looking at his pupils and saying something about how long he’d been unconscious, and Lestrade stood shoulder to shoulder with Sherlock as John was loaded carefully onto a stretcher.
“I’ve got his gun,” Lestrade said quietly. “He’s got to get a license for this thing or I’ll have to arrest him one of these days.”
“Noted,” Sherlock said, staring at John’s eyelids as he followed the stretcher out the front door.
“Go on, then,” Lestrade said as the medics lifted John’s stretcher. “Get in the ambulance.”
“What?” Sherlock said. “No, I’ll go in your car.”
“Are you sure?” Lestrade said. “If he wakes up - “
Sherlock whirled around. The voice had been quiet, and pained, and distinctly John’s. Sherlock pushed past a medic and climbed into the ambulance.
“I’m here.” He grabbed John’s wrist. In the background, he heard the faint sounds of fireworks going off in the surrounding neighborhood.
“Are you all right?” John said.
“I’m fine,” Sherlock said. “You’re the one who walked into the butt of a gun.”
John laced his fingers with Sherlock’s. “Long as you’re okay,” he said, and his eyes slid out of focus. Sherlock gripped John’s hand tightly and pulled it to his mouth, pausing when John’s knuckles were just out of range of his lips, the noise of the medics and the blaring lights of the police car suddenly coming into clear focus.
“See you at the hospital,” Lestrade said, and slammed the ambulance door.
“He’s going to be fine,” Lestrade said.
“Of course he is.” Sherlock didn’t look away from the television. A video of the tall man, Robert, being led away from his home in handcuffs was playing on repeat, the headline “Opposition Party Member Arrested in New Year’s Day Ambush” in block letters along the bottom.
Lestrade ran his hands through his short hair. “They’re transferring him to a private room, but they said he can go home after a few hours of observation. Oh, hello, Mycroft.”
“Hello, Detective Inspector,” Mycroft said. Sherlock sighed loudly. “Sherlock, shouldn’t you be at John’s bedside?”
“He’ll be unconscious whether I’m there or not,” Sherlock said. “You knew Milford was the leak.”
“I did,” Mycroft said.
Sherlock squeezed the plastic arm rest of the hospital chair. “So why did you put me on the case and nearly get John killed?”
“If you’ll recall, I took you off the case.” Mycroft tapped his umbrella on the tile floor ostentatiously. “But I involved you originally because it would have been preferable for the discovery to originate outside my office.”
“And, to be entirely honest,” Mycroft said, “we were curious as to why. Milford has been a party man for more than thirty years, there was no discernible reason for him to begin leaking government secrets.”
“Sex,” Sherlock said, watching as the leader of the opposition ducked into the back of a police car for the twentieth time. “It’s always sex.”
“You’re the expert,” Mycroft said. “The British government extends its gratitude to you and Dr. Watson.”
“How extraordinarily useless,” Sherlock said. “Good day, Mycroft.”
Mycroft tapped his umbrella on the tile once more. “Stop being a petulant child and go sit with him, Sherlock.”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” Sherlock snarled.
Mycroft sighed, nodded to Lestrade, and walked down the hall.
“Don’t be dull,” Sherlock said when Lestrade opened his mouth.
Lestrade shook his head. “I’ll let you know when he wakes up, yeah?”
Sherlock pressed his lips together and turned back to the television.
“What were you thinking?” Sherlock said as he walked into John’s hospital room two hours later.
John blinked at him. “Pardon?” From the chair next to the bed, Lestrade rolled his eyes.
“I told you to wait outside. I had the situation under control; I was seconds away from driving the blackmailer directly out the front door, where you would have been able to easily apprehend him. Instead you were compelled to directly disobey and follow me inside - “
“Disobey?” John said incredulously. “By disobey, do you mean come inside to stop somebody who was holding a gun to your head?”
“There wouldn’t have been any danger if you hadn’t shown up exactly when you did,” Sherlock dismissed.
“Well, forgive me for deciding not to stand by while you got shot,” John said.
“You’re forgiven, I suppose,” Sherlock said, folding his arms. “As long as you promise not to do it again.”
John opened his mouth, then closed it. “I swear to God, Sherlock, sometimes I - forget it. If you’re quite finished, you can see yourself out.” He turned away and stared out the window, his brow furrowed. “Go on, then.”
“I’m serious,” John said, not looking at him. “Get out, Sherlock. Greg, d’you mind?”
“Not at all,” Lestrade said, grabbing the sleeve of Sherlock’s coat and hauling him to his feet. Sherlock stared at the side of John’s head as Lestrade dragged him out of the hospital room, down the stairs, and out to the street.
Lestrade finally let go when they were standing at the kerb, and Sherlock pulled on the collar of his coat. “That was entirely unnecessary.”
Lestrade pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “What was unnecessary was you being an utter arsehole when he’s barely woken up from what could have been a very serious head injury. You’ve got the worst bedside manner I’ve ever seen.” He held a cigarette out to Sherlock, and Sherlock snatched it out of his hand before he changed his mind. Lestrade lit Sherlock’s and then his own, and Sherlock took a deep breath.
Lestrade blew out a puff of smoke. “How long have you been sleeping with him?”
“You’ve been talking to Molly.” Sherlock knew it was a mistake not to convince her she’d been hallucinating.
“Molly knows?” Lestrade said. “How does Molly know and I don’t know? No, nobody told me anything, I saw you in the ambulance. It was a bit obvious, mate.”
“Lovely,” Sherlock said tartly.
“I don’t need to ask how long you’ve been in love with him, because I already know that,” Lestrade said. “The answer’s forever. If you’re curious. But I always thought John was - well, it doesn’t matter what I always thought.”
It didn’t, so Sherlock didn’t reply.
Lestrade glanced at him. “How’d it happen, anyway?”
It had happened because John was drunk.
Well. John would say that, at any rate. He’d struck out at the pub again - “Third night this week,” Sherlock had called as John hung up his coat - and he’d stormed around the flat making too-weak tea and looking mutinous, slamming cupboard doors and cleaning his teeth ferociously.
“You’re being dull,” Sherlock said when John threw himself down on the sofa and crossed his arms over his chest.
“I haven’t - “ John said loudly, and then took a deep breath. “I haven’t said a bloody word, Sherlock. You can’t tell me I’m being dull when I’m being quiet.”
“Quiet is dull,” Sherlock said. He glanced at John’s clenched fists, his second-nicest pair of shoes, the tea steaming, forgotten, on the worktop. John hadn’t had sex in going on three months (a schoolteacher, she’d stood John up for their fourth date), and he’d been nearly all the way over Mary for the past nine.
(“If you’re not careful,” Mycroft had said lightly as they’d both watched John flirt with a nurse from the surgery at his birthday party a month before, “It shall happen again.”
“Sod off,” Sherlock said. “You weren’t even invited.”)
“Whatever,” John said sullenly.
“Four beers,” Sherlock said, sniffing. “The last purchased by Lestrade as you threatened to leave. And a shot of well whiskey too, my god. Don’t they pay detective inspectors better than that these days?”
John just glared harder.
“Really, next time you ought to just tell him you’d prefer not to waste your time,” Sherlock said. “You end up at home in a strop every time anyway.”
“Have you got a point?” John snapped. “Or are you just going to rub it in, then?”
“Mmm, probably just rub it in,” Sherlock said.
“You’re a shite friend. Absolutely the worst.”
“So do you want to have a shag, then?”
John continued to glare for a full six seconds before his eyes widened. “Pardon?”
Sherlock sighed. “Do - you - want - to - have - a - shag?”
John opened his mouth, then closed it again. “What, you mean - with you?”
Sherlock locked his jaw. John was drunk enough that they could both pretend in the morning it hadn’t happened. No way out but through.
“Yes,” Sherlock said tightly. “With me.”
“Er,” John said. He scratched the back of his head. “Are you taking the mickey, then?”
“No,” Sherlock said. “I’m entirely serious. I’m open to an arrangement.”
John blinked. “An… arrangement.”
Sherlock sighed impatiently. “Don’t make me spell it out, John. That would be crude.”
“Wait, all right, let me make sure I’ve got the hang of this,” John said. “You - Sherlock - that’s you - want to shag - want to shag - me.”
Sherlock thought about it. “Yes.”
“And you know what shag means.”
“Fuck off,” Sherlock said.
“Just checking!” John said. “Jesus. All right. Is this some sort of experiment?”
“No,” Sherlock said, then revised, “Sort of,” because really, wasn’t everything?
“Right,” John said. “Okay. Is this - do you feel, I don’t know, bad for me? Because this isn’t how mates show sympathy, normally - “
“If we’re going to have to discuss this at length, I think I’ll be rescinding the offer,” Sherlock said loudly, standing up and willing each of his blood vessels to remain unflared. “You’re very drunk and have misunderstood a joke, do attempt not to choke on your own vomit in our sitting room, have a good - “
“Sherlock,” John said, and Sherlock stopped, feeling a touch off-balance in an unfamiliar and wholly unpleasant way. “Wait.” He looked up at Sherlock. “Okay. If you’re having a go right now, filming this and, I don’t know, giving it to Mycroft for blackmail purposes - “
“Please do not mention my brother again,” Sherlock said. “And I can assure you we are not being filmed.” John raised an eyebrow, and Sherlock amended, “Any more than usual.”
“Christ,” John muttered. He passed a hand over his eyes and stood up.
“And I’ve got more than enough to blackmail you already,” Sherlock continued. “I needn’t have sex with you to obtain more.”
“Of course not,” John said. “All right, then.”
Sherlock blinked. “All right?”
“Have I got to track down a notary?” John said. “You know, I always figured - ”
“Do shut up,” Sherlock said, crossed the room in two large strides, grabbed John by the shoulders, and kissed him.
It was… acceptable. John tasted like their shared tube of toothpaste, and Sherlock kissed him harder, darting a tongue out and meeting his halfway. John reached up and twisted his hand in Sherlock’s shirt, holding on for his life, and Sherlock calculated the odds that John would wake up in the morning and never speak of it again, that he’d wake up in the morning and laugh Sherlock out of the house, that he’d wake up in the morning and be gone.
Sherlock shifted, sliding one hand to the back of John’s neck and the other to the small of his back, pulling him closer. They’d been close before, camping out in cramped cupboards as they waited for a suspect to return home, squeezed together in the back of a minicab with Lestrade in the third seat, strewn out on the sofa, their legs tangled in an uncomplicated way, laughing at a stupid comment Harry had left on John’s blog - and this was different, and the same. John smelled like cheap beer and Baker Street, Mrs. Hudson’s packaged biscuits and his shampoo, and Sherlock thumbed over a spot he’d noticed John had missed shaving earlier, the stubble rough against his skin.
“Bedroom,” John said in a strangled voice. “Now.”
“Yes,” Sherlock said, and they had stumbled in together, leaving socks and belts in their wake, and Sherlock knew he would never delete John sitting on the edge of Sherlock’s bed and looking up at Sherlock with dilated pupils, his mouth wet, like Sherlock was amazing, like he’d never noticed before, like it was the pink lady all over again, incredible - and then he laughed, the sound loud in the room, and Sherlock stepped back.
“What’s so funny?” he said between clenched teeth, his growing arousal aching.
“No, it’s just - God, you’re gorgeous,” John said. “I can’t believe we’re doing this. This is bloody insane.” He grinned at Sherlock, cheeky, his cock jutting up between his legs. “Now get over here.”
Sherlock joined him on the bed, and they touched, carefully at first and then greedy, searching, trying to find the spots that made the other moan, a battle of one-upmanship they were both going to win.
“God, have you done this before?” John said, arching his back under Sherlock’s hand. “I didn’t think you’d ever - ”
Sherlock bit gently on his nipple and earned a groan before replying, “You can learn quite a lot from the internet. As you would know.”
“Sod off,” John said, but it lost its heat in a drawn-out whine, and he rolled Sherlock over and climbed on top, their hands tangling for a moment as they sorted themselves out, and then they were both approaching the edge, John strung out on need and Sherlock on newness, and when Sherlock bit down on John’s shoulder, John breathed, “I’m going to come, fuck,” and then he did, all over Sherlock’s stomach, his hand stuttering on Sherlock’s cock, and Sherlock followed him a moment later, his eyes shut tight, riding it out silently.
Sherlock counted as John’s breaths slowed; his forehead was sweaty against Sherlock’s neck and his hand was still wrapped loosely around Sherlock’s cock.
“Er, sorry,” he said, and Sherlock fought his body’s urge to stiffen.
“What for?” he said.
“Er, I - well, I went first, and you - “
“And I went second,” Sherlock said. He wondered vaguely if there was a custom he was missing; the videos had been rather sparse in the post-ejaculation segments. “Is there a problem?”
“Well, it’s rude for me to - I mean, with women - ” John laughed. “And Christ, it was your first time and you lasted longer than I did, what does that say about me?”
It was a rhetorical question, so Sherlock didn’t answer.
“Right,” John said, and began to untangle his limbs from Sherlock’s. “Er, so, that’s - right. I’ll be going, then?”
Sherlock watched as he gathered up his clothes - the ones that had made it to the bedroom, at least - and held them in his arms. When he appeared to have everything, he shut his eyes and shoved his mouth against Sherlock’s quickly, a kiss that was over before Sherlock knew that’s what it was supposed to be. “Night, then.”
“Good night,” Sherlock said, and listened as John padded up the stairs to his own room.
The next morning, John slept in, and Sherlock waited impatiently for him on the sofa, fiddling with his phone and wondering if John had purchased a new toaster since he’d taken the last one to pieces. When John finally emerged from his room, looking slightly worse for the wear, Sherlock said, “Finally. Where’s the sugar?”
John stared at him. His hair was a mess; it was Sherlock’s fault. “What?”
“The sugar,” Sherlock repeated. “I can’t find it.”
“What - it’s in the sugar bowl, you arsehole, you’ve lived here seven years, come off it,” John muttered, going into the kitchen. “This is just you getting me to make you tea, isn’t it.”
“Naturally,” Sherlock said. John swore under his breath and brewed the tea, then set Sherlock’s cup down firmly on the table and slouched down in his armchair with his own. Sherlock sipped the tea and scrolled through the crime scene photos Lestrade had sent over of a double homicide in Chelsea; it was obviously the neighbor. Not even a five.
“No,” John said suddenly, and Sherlock looked up. “No, this is you saying nothing’s changed.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. “Has it?”
John took a long drink of tea. “S’pose not,” he said finally. He cleared his throat; Sherlock thought about the look on his face as he came.
Sherlock went back to his photos, scrolling through a set that were dull except for the fascinating sets of bootprints in the mud; size 10 women’s, overweight, not the neighbor. Perhaps a six. “Unless you wanted to do it again.”
“Oh, thank god,” John said.
“Bit more detail than I needed, mate,” Lestrade said.
“And to think I skipped the best parts,” Sherlock said, and Lestrade coughed on the smoke from his cigarette.
“Well, I’m happy for you,” Lestrade said, clapping him on the shoulder. “But you’ve got to stop being such an arsehole.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“In there just now,” Lestrade said, nodding to the hospital. “He’s waking up with a concussion and you’re biting his head off. Those guys could have just as easily shot him, and you - ”
“Precisely, which is why I told him he should have done as I told him and kept watch outside,” Sherlock said. “I fail to see what this has to do with any of the rest of it.”
“You do know why you shouted at him, don’t you?” Lestrade said. “It’s because you were worried. You were worried and frightened and instead of just bloody saying that, you lashed out at him. And I get that, I really do, but you can’t do that to him, Sherlock.”
Sherlock inhaled deeply, paper turning to ash at the end of his cigarette. “I didn’t realize when I accepted a cigarette I was signing up for a session with a psychoanalyst.”
Lestrade snorted. “Look. You care about him, right?”
“I believe that’s been established,” Sherlock said.
“Well, I can tell you from experience that caring about someone? Isn’t always enough,” Lestrade said. He dropped the last of his cigarette on the ground and ground it in with his heel. “He’s given you plenty of chances already, Sherlock. More than most would have. Don’t blow another one.”
“Greg called and said you’d spent the night in hospital - what happened?” Mrs. Hudson cupped John’s cheeks irrelevantly, and then put a hand to his head as if to feel for a fever. The cab ride from the hospital had been frigid; John had stared at the window and Sherlock had sent Mycroft a dozen texts with creative insults of varying levels of vulgarity.
“I’m fine, Mrs. Hudson,” John said. “Just took a tumble on a case.”
“Do you need anything?” she said. “Did they give you something for the pain at the hospital?”
“John doesn’t need any illicit narcotics,” Sherlock said, heading up the stairs.
“We’re all right,” John said, pecking her on the cheek. “I’ll let you know if we need anything.”
“You two running about in this cold,” Mrs. Hudson fretted, peering up from the doorway of her flat. “Did you two have a nice New Year’s kiss, at least?”
John snorted. “Yes, of course. You?”
“A lady never tells, John,” Mrs. Hudson called up the stairs.
“You lied to her,” Sherlock said.
“Well, I don’t want her to think we’re on the outs, do I?” John said, hanging his coat on the hook and heading for the loo. “Right, I need a shower.”
Sherlock sat in his chair as the pipes groaned. He pictured John’s socks mixed in with his in the drawers, a fresh shirt pulled off the hanger in the wardrobe, the blood-stained one balled up in the hamper. Hm. Maybe John would let him do a blood-splatter experiment on the shirt now that it was obviously ruined.
“Food,” Sherlock said when John emerged from the bedroom.
“You’re hungry?” John said. “Right, I’ll order something in, what d’you want, Chinese or - “
“We’re going out,” Sherlock said. “Put your coat on.”
“I’m tired,” John said. “I spent the night in hospital, I just want a cup of tea and a nap on the sofa.”
“I made reservations at the new place on Marylebone,” Sherlock said.
“Sherlock - ”
“Now, John,” Sherlock said.
John crossed his arms and glared at him.
“Please,” Sherlock said.
John sighed and picked up his coat.
When they sat down at the the small table in the back of the crowded restaurant, John picked up the menu, read it through, and put it down again. He sighed heavily. “Did you mean this to be a date?”
“A bit, yes,” Sherlock said.
“You realize you’re supposed to ask someone on a date, not strong-arm them into it,” John said, leaning back in his chair. He would be no help, that was clear.
“I thought it might be a good place to issue you an apology.” Well, there was that done. Sherlock glanced at the menu. When he looked up, John was staring at him.
“Well, go on, then,” John said.
“Oh, I have to say more. All right.” Sherlock cleared his throat. “I’m sorry for getting you a concussion.”
John folded his arms over his chest. “And then shouting at me about it.”
“And then shouting at you about it,” Sherlock agreed. “And also being an arse before that. Just in general.”
“Uh huh,” John said flatly. “Did Lestrade talk to you?”
“Yes,” Sherlock said.
“Right.” John snorted. “Figures. Let’s just eat and go home, all right?”
“There’s something else.” Sherlock picked up his glass of water and then put it down again, watching the bubbles float to the surface. “I don’t have a lot of practice at - at this, so if you’d prefer we return to our prior level of friendship so that you can be emotionally fulfilled by another partner, I’ll understand entirely.” He picked up his napkin and busied himself with putting it on his lap.
When Sherlock looked back up, John’s brow was furrowed.
“Just to be clear,” he said. “Are you breaking up with me?”
Sherlock frowned. “I believe I’m giving you the chance to break up with me. Am I doing it wrong?”
“A bit, yeah,” John said. “I’m not breaking up with you, Sherlock. We’re having a row. That’s what happens when people are, you know - together. It normally doesn’t involve so many guns and murders and trips to hospital. Unless you’re me, I suppose.”
“So you don’t want to sleep with someone else,” Sherlock said.
“No,” John said. “No, I don’t. You’re my best mate, Sherlock. You’re a right bastard half the time - ”
“ - all right, most of the time,” John agreed. “But no, I don’t want to sleep with anyone else. I love you, you know.” He said it like it was a fact, intrinsically true, immovable and permanent as John himself. “I’ve loved you as long as I can remember, and now somehow I’m bloody well in love with you, too,” John said, so vehemently that if Sherlock weren’t careful, he’d start to believe him. “Even though you’re absolute shite at relationships.”
“So we are in a relationship,” Sherlock said. “Molly will be pleased to hear it.”
“You’ve spoken to Molly?” John smothered a grin. “You’re like a teenage girl, I swear. Sherlock, this is how a relationship works. People have different needs, and you work through it together. Sometimes you shag, and sometimes you fight. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”
“Well, that’s good,” Sherlock said. “Because it certainly isn’t. I’m a high-functioning sociopath, and you’re a divorced ex-Army captain with an adrenaline problem and a habit of making poor decisions about - ”
“You’re not,” John said.
“ - whom you allow into your bedroom - not what, sorry?” Sherlock said.
“You’re not a sociopath,” John said. “Stop saying that. Go on, what was that about my bedroom and who I allow into it?”
Sherlock swallowed and tried not to think too hard. “You think too much with your cock.”
“Hang on a moment, are you complaining about what I choose to do with my cock?”
“No,” Sherlock said. “I quite like what you do with your cock, generally.”
“Are we ready to order, or could we use another moment?” the waiter said as he appeared around the corner.
“I think we’ll need a moment, actually,” John said. The waiter nodded stiffly and disappeared.
Sherlock pressed his lips together.
“Don’t you dare laugh,” John said.
They needed more than a moment.
“Sherlock,” John said.
Sherlock didn’t look up from his laptop. “Hmm?”
“Come to bed,” John said simply.
Sherlock didn’t bother to argue. He followed John to the bedroom and watched as John plugged in his phone, slid off his watch and put it on the bedside table.
“Aren’t you supposed to be resting?” Sherlock said, unbuttoning his shirt. “I’m fairly certain the doctors mentioned you shouldn’t be overexerting yourself.”
“You’ll have to handle all the exertion, then,” John said.
Sherlock shucked his trousers. “John, I’m being serious.”
“So am I,” John said. He reached out and put his hand on Sherlock’s waist, pulled until Sherlock was standing between his thighs. “You still haven’t given me that New Year’s kiss. What would Mrs. Hudson think?”
“I would prefer that she not think about this at all,” Sherlock said. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to John’s carefully, and somehow it felt like the first time all over again as he cupped John’s face in his hands gently, his skin stubble-rough under his fingertips. John made an impatient sound in the back of his throat and fell backwards onto the bed, pulling Sherlock down with him.
“You’re not going to break me,” he said. He grabbed Sherlock’s arse and arched his back, wrapping one leg around the back of Sherlock’s knee. “Come on, I’ll even let you leave a mark where people can see it.”
“Lestrade will have a field day,” Sherlock murmured, moving to worry John’s earlobe between his teeth.
“Not just Lestrade,” John said. “He told me they all saw you - ah, yes, there - kiss my hand in the ambulance.”
“I did not kiss your hand in the ambulance,” Sherlock snapped, biting a little too hard at the skin below John’s jaw. “I merely held it.”
“Don’t worry, he said it was very sweet.” There was a strangled laugh in John’s voice as Sherlock sucked bruises down the side of his neck, and John’s hips bucked against his.
“Is this makeup sex? I need the data,” Sherlock said,
“It’s about to not be if you keep saying things like that,” John said, and so Sherlock kissed him to shut himself up.
Later, as the sweat cooled and John tangled his hand in Sherlock’s hair, Sherlock said, “I feel the same.”
Sherlock readjusted; there was no way to get comfortable with his head on John’s shoulder. But if he moved too much, John might stop twisting his curls through his fingers. God, life was difficult sometimes. “What you said earlier. I feel the same.”
“Ah,” John said. There was a long silence, and Sherlock closed his eyes, concentrating on the feel of John’s fingertips against his scalp, the thrumming of John’s heart in his chest. “Think you might even say it out loud one day?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sherlock said.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” John said.