Just a night out with the lads, John had said. Sherlock had not deigned to acknowledge the unspoken invitation or subsequent departure of his flatmate.
It’s only after John leaves that Sherlock unfolds from his place on the sofa, steps onto and over and off the coffee table, and then watches John march away from 221 into the promising dusk of an early October evening.
His blue robe puddles in soft folds by his ankles, and moments later he emerges from his room buttoning his cuffs.
Jacket, coat, scarf, gloves.
Stairs, door, taxi.
After all, he knows where John is going.
This is not the first time John has escaped the petulant airs of 221B and soaked his troubles in a couple of pints, softened the edges of a rough day in the company of friends.
Well, Sherlock says ‘friends,’ but really. Five blokes that indulge in team sports, getting together weekly to talk footy and act like ruggers – an otherwise completely deletable bunch if not for the fact that about once every four weeks, John prefers their company over Sherlock’s.
Sherlock settles into his usual shadowed nook, watches John enter the pub, scan for familiar faces, completely fail to observe Sherlock where he sits, the idiot, and then with a great raising of eyebrows and upwards tilting of chin establish Pub Contact with his Pub Herd.
The louts make room for John at their table, and Sherlock rankles at how easily the ranks split and part for him, how quickly he is accepted into the fold.
The fact that these soft men with jovial faces, reddened noses, puffy chins, dull eyes and overly moist, flapping modes of speech should count John as one of theirs is intolerable. Every sign and cue indicates their alpha machismo, and yet their clustering, grouping dynamic marks them as soft targets, sheep, and how can they not see?
They are letting a wolf into their midst.
He is so very good at camouflage.
His jumper (wool, ha!), his hair civilian shaggy now (six weeks since the last cut), his faded jeans (multiple washes, prewar wardrobe, a preserved favourite article of clothing, why?) and his sensible boots (engineer style, cheap knock off).
No jewelry, no watch. No items of status, no badges of honour, no (visible) identifying marks.
John, with his easy, clean slate smile and his open expressions and his restless tongue and quick way with stories, all so natural as to seem unpracticed.
What’s infuriating is that it is unpracticed; it’s an unaffected trait. John doesn’t even seem aware that he’s deflecting suspicion and doubt and fear. This is a man who has held the lives of men in his hands, who has taken the lives of others with those same hands, and who has looked death in the eye and returned.
John’s never told Sherlock, but Sherlock knows about the two and a half minutes without a heart beat.
And with all those little folds of experience and corners of reality and effects of causality tucked into the creases of John’s brain, the creases of John, here he is, talking to some utterly unnecessary human beings about everyday, mundane, tedious things.
Sports. Jobs. Relationships.
Sherlock hunches lower into his seat, really settling into the sulk now. He can feel it fill him like cold steam, and he doesn’t even try to stop it. Doesn’t want to, either; it’s completely deserved and justified.
John is being ridiculous.
Sherlock glowers as John laughs at some insipid attempt at humour, and it must be insipid, coming from a twice divorced accountant whose wives have a habit of cheating on him with his boss.
It’s enough to induce nausea, and Sherlock is about to make his exit when a ripple through the happy-hour fabric of the pub makes him stop and look again. Three new men have entered the establishment.
Sherlock’s eyes dart over their forms, cataloguing: heavy muscle, dense from use, hair buzzed short, backs straight, shoulders back, chins raised and steady. The first one has dark brown skin and a lighter line runs along his neck to disappear beneath the shirt he wears as if it is a foreign costume. The second is pale and freckled, coltish but with a lean intensity. The last is tan with Mezoamerican features prominent in the proud lines of nose and cheekbones. The way their eyes casually check corners, lines of sight, and exits is telling: American, military – Marines, Sherlock concludes. Here on leave, then. Worth a look, but not interesting.
No, what’s utterly captivating is John’s reaction.
His flatmate’s mouth drops open, his eyes widen, his brow wrinkles, his eyebrows lift, the curls of his hands slacken.
The pub isn’t so noisy that the disbelieving greeting doesn’t carry to the intended ears. The first man’s head snaps around, and after a moment of mirrored shock, a laugh explodes from a wide and smiling mouth. “Watson?” And now all three Marines are staring – and then they are homing in on John, and Roderick booms, “What the fuck are you doing here, man? How you been?”
John laughs, good natured, rises to shake hands, and is instead almost hoisted bodily into the air by a bone-crushing hug. “Jesus, Rod, let go!” he wheezes. “Madison!” The freckled man claps John on the shoulder fondly, and then says loudly (and how their voices carry), “Don’t know if you ever met Ketler?” with a cheeky grin.
John is looking at the last newcomer with even greater surprise. “Kettle?” he asks incredulously.
A proud brow arches. “In the flesh.” He smirks. “But you may want to add a ‘sir’ on the end while you’re at it.”
John just grins up at all three of them.
Sherlock, meanwhile, is having a near fit of indecision in his corner. These men promise a much better night of entertainment than John’s usual pub faire, but while he knows that his invitation to join the usual swill is a standing offer, he’s not sure John would include him in this pack.
And it is a pack – three dangerous men recognizing and welcoming one of their own, albeit far removed by time and events.
“You’ve gone civilian!” Madison exclaims just then, tugging at the longer strands of John’s hair, the ones that almost curl at his nape.
John grimaces but nods, batting Madison’s hand away.
“Where’d you get shot?” Roderick asks. “Man like you doesn’t quit the force.”
John rubs his hand along the back of his neck. “Left shoulder,” he says, and there’s a bashful grumble about it. “It was the infection that clinched it, though.”
The three Americans nod like this is the most normal conversation to have while Sherlock reels from the concise and non-deflecting way in which John had answered. Sherlock only knows as much about John’s military past as he does because of his observational prowess (and fine, yes, nosiness), since nothing will shut John up faster than a question about Afghanistan.
John meanwhile, recovers enough to introduce ‘the boys,’ as the usual pub lot are termed. Sherlock processes John’s tone, behavior, responses, and concludes:
John is hoping to join up with the three newcomers. He’s going to follow them wherever they head next. Or perhaps they will follow John – it’s hard to decide who is more taken with who; all three burly men take every opportunity to clap John on the shoulder or poke him in the side or playfully ruffle his ‘too-long’ hair.
And John is letting them.
Sherlock realizes he’s never thought of John as a tactile creature, but under these rough shows of camaraderie he seems to glow.
It’s never really occurred to Sherlock to consider what John lost when he left the army. Granted, he now has an idyllic life – cases and adrenaline filled chases and Sherlock to keep him from suffering the crippling effects of boredom (not that the good doctor is always appreciative of this) – but he had obviously carved a similar situation in desert sands and canvas.
“We ship out tomorrow,” ‘Rod’ is saying, and Madison jumps in with, “So we need to get abso-fucking-lutely wasted, man,” and Ketler is standing at ease while interaction roars around him.
“Got any tips?” Madison asks, and John grins and shakes his head.
“Sorry. Boring civilian now. I wouldn’t know where to start – I don’t do all-nighters anymore.”
Sherlock doesn’t miss the way the trio’s eyes light up with mischief. (He also doesn’t miss the way John refers to himself as boring. Boring? Boring? Impossible!) He’s watching, though, as three buzz-cut heads tilt and angle subtly, holding an unspoken conversation.
Rod smiles wide. “Want to change that?”
Sherlock decides to intercept them as they exit the pub. He had left as John made his (well-received) excuses and said good bye to his second rate friends.
Now, after ducking out the back and navigating a set of disgusting alleyways, he walks up to the pub, busy with his phone, and just about bumps into one they called ‘Ketler’ before he looks up.
Sherlock blinks, and his eyes find a very surprised John, and he wears a bit of puzzlement out in the open, for John to see, before he tucks it away again. “John?”
“Who’s this then?” Madison wants to know, giving Sherlock the once over, efficient threat assessment hidden therein.
“I’ve been texting you, John.” Sherlock allows the smallest dose of petulance to colour his words.
In a daze, John lifts his phone from his pocket and sees the four alerts. Just as Sherlock expected, John doesn’t read them, doesn’t check their send times, and simply looks at Sherlock with a complex mixture of weary resignation and eager anticipation. “Case?” he asks.
Sherlock blinks, momentarily taken aback. “No.” He frowns. “Of course not.” Sherlock never fetches John for cases – he lets him catch up as he can as a punishment for not being around when it starts. Unless he’s on a date – Sherlock may have interrupted three or so of those by now. For the good of the cases, of course.
With a huff, Sherlock stuffs his hands into his pockets, still ignoring the others. “You said you were going to the pub. I decided I’d join you.” He finally looks at the others while John finishes gaping at him, and Sherlock notes their moles, scars, tan lines, callouses, stains, grit, wear patterns, scuff marks. “Not the crowd I was expecting,” he adds wryly.
“Oh, yeah – um.” John makes the introductions, using proper names. “Everybody, my flatmate and friend, Sherlock Holmes.”
“The one from the papers?” Ketler asks. “The one with the hat?”
Sherlock turns the wince into a narrowing of the eyes.
Ketler quirks his lips into a thin smile. “Thought you looked familiar.”
“Well, I rather think you look like –” Sherlock stifles a yelp as John kicks him. He glares at the doctor, who bears a grim smile. It communicates rather a lot, including that if Sherlock wants to tag along, he’s going to have to play by John’s rules. He nods imperceptibly, which earns him a startled look from John, followed by an almost bashful sort of pleasure.
The fact that it’s rather difficult to tear his gaze from John’s is perplexing – but strangely familiar, if he’s being honest.
“So what’s the plan, men?” John wants to know, seeming to manage the art of looking away quite easily, leaving Sherlock blinking in the aftermath. He swallows and looks to the rest of the group. There don’t seem to be any objections to his presence, which is convenient (though unnecessary, once he has John’s blessing, really).
“We were planning on getting trashed at that bar, but you don’t think it’s the right place for us?” Madison tilts his head sideways.
John shakes his head. “Quiet pub, full of regulars…they’ll cut you off before you get halfway to indecent.” He grins.
“Boo,” Madison says. “Hiss.” Rod slaps him upside the head.
“Shut up, Mads. So where do we start our adventure?”
Sherlock is not quite certain how they end up at the party. Not a party really. A kegger, yes. That’s the word.
(He’s also not quite sure when it became difficult to find exact words or walk straight unassisted. It may have been the fifth establishment.)
He blinks blearily, trying to think back.
The first pub had been a harder sort of place, one John had never been to, Sherlock could tell – not that he’d needed to deduce that fact, since he’d been the one to do a quick search on his phone and suggest a logical (nearby) starting point to the crawl. That little bit of usefulness had paid off in quite a bit of acceptance from the three Americans, and Ketler had even given him a sliver of a smile.
Three pints apiece, there, to ‘rev the engines,’ Madison – Mads had said. Sherlock had abstained.
The second pub had been crowded, full to the rafters. More pints, and then roughhousing of a sort. Stories half-told, “Remember when –?” interrupted by, “Oh god, yes yes! The look on his face!” and the like. Slapping of shoulders. Sherlock had nursed a measure of whiskey, content to observe John in this, his (previous) natural habitat. The sheep at the local pub hadn’t electrified John’s being like this – every time John glanced Sherlock’s way he positively beamed.
The third pub had involved food of the greasy variety at some point, and John had fallen almost out of his chair laughing about something – hard to remember now – ending up almost on top of Sherlock, in his lap, really, and had insisted Sherlock join in the next round of shots since Sherlock had saved him and John was buying.
Sherlock had looked at that face, flushed from laughter and alcohol and felt the disdainful ‘no’ wither in his throat. “Alright,” he’d said. His body was transport, not temple, after all. The wet sting of the clear liquid had slicked fire down his throat and settled coal-like in his belly.
Looking at John, Sherlock had been surprised to find that glow was not alone inside – some sort of shifting heat had taken up residence already, and four ounces of inebriation both calmed and agitated it.
John’s face as Sherlock set the shot glass down had been dazed – and surely not from drink? After all, the good doctor could hold his own with Lestrade – and then John had turned to talk to Teapot – no Kettle, yes (ridiculous name) – and left Sherlock to try and puzzle out what part of him tipping his head back and swallowing one pour of liquor could possibly have been the cause of that odd look.
Sherlock had decided to repeat the experiment, this time paying attention to John’s reactions in particular.
This necessitated partaking of more alcohol to test John’s reactions, as well as observing John’s own imbibing methods closely, and Sherlock found himself measuring and quantifying the clench and release of John’s throat as he drank down some amber variant of intoxication. The accompanying bob of his Adam’s apple was fascinating, strangely expressive, as if each movement added nuance and suggestion to John’s words and laughter.
John’s mouth grew more and more relaxed as the night marched on, and while Sherlock had always found it an excellent indicator of John’s mood, he’d never found it so utterly captivating before. Perhaps he’d never let himself – or maybe he’d cloaked that impulse in scientific observation –
Sherlock blinked and shook his head to clear the chaff from his thoughts. He realized he had yet again lost the train of the conversation, deaf to words and inflection and tone, as he watched John’s mouth shape itself around air given meaning by his throat – those precise lines of his lips, fastidious in their daily movement, now lax, loose, sloppy in their diction, and it took Sherlock an embarrassingly long time to recognize and label the swelling tide of heat and electric synaptic overload storming inside himself.
Sherlock made it to the lavatory before his arousal became a more obvious obstacle to nonchalant movement. After a moment, he splashed cold water on his face and gave himself a stern look in the cloudy, greasy, bio-hazard of a mirror. If he hadn’t had an unexpected erection to deal with, he might have taken some samples for perusal at a later date.
Instead he had to work through the implications of his first erection in years that didn’t fall into the safe and easy-to-dismiss category of nocturnal penile tumescence. (Granted, those incidents had been cropping up more frequently since engaging in a flat-share, but Sherlock had chalked it up to proximity, sharing domestic space with another warm body, a familiar one at that. The transport was living tissue after all, and not immune to presence and touch – but none of it meant anything, and Sherlock certainly didn’t encourage or indulge).
But Sherlock was awake now, a bothersome fuzziness behind his eyes offset by the pleasant buzz of his brain soaking in his alcohol-laden blood, and now distracted further from his study of John Watson by, inconveniently enough, John Watson.
He snarled and hung his head, breathing heavily. How the hell was he supposed to catalogue the doctor’s reactions if his own kept getting in the way?
And how long had this been building? Sherlock had never been one for fleeting attraction, baseless – and base – fancy. He’d counted himself lucky to have avoided such entanglements – entanglements that choked or fell apart, often messily. His chosen profession played out the results of such outcomes for his viewing on a near weekly basis – so when exactly had his brain decided to cast aside logic and reasoning and succumb to hormones and physicality?
In his mind’s eye, John’s easy laugh and not-so-easy trust rewrote his face in notes of light, his gaze a heated azure. Sherlock closed his eyes at the pang that accompanied the vision, the sudden and certain knowledge that whatever this had started as, it had grown unchecked for far too long, had spiraled and entwined, was blooming now, bearing fruit, an irrefutable show of want.
And then, the real horror, of course, was the knowledge (gleaned through the misfortune of his youth) that it was possible to want something so much, so badly, that it could be lost without ever being had or achieved. Success, control, power – quantifiable things fell into this category.
And now this, somehow.
After several minutes of refraining from even thinking of touching the aching arousal between his legs, Sherlock’s head cleared. He could almost feel the sulk settle between his thighs, sullen like Sherlock was after days with no case, no stimulation –
Another few minutes of calm oxygen exchange, and Sherlock rejoined the group.
Of course, all that happened what seems like ages (and not hours) ago, and Sherlock now finds himself sprawled on a ratty couch somewhere, caught between wanting to pay attention to whatever it is that’s going on with the table and the cups and the little white ball and indulging in the recent memory of seeing John’s lips accommodate a beer bottle.
Movement slurs and sound swirls past, and then John is laughing, and Sherlock drifts back up to the surface, lets his eyes blink open, and it turns out John is up at that little table, and John is laughing as he removes the small, white ball from a cup, lifts the cup and places his lips to the rim, tilts his head, and works his throat.
Sherlock can tell he’s staring, transfixed, but cannot cease the blatant fascination as his mind, suddenly in cahoots with his body, theorizes about that mouth, those lips, and how they might change their shape to accommodate Sherlock, how differently they would move, drinking from Sherlock’s mouth, how similar they would appear, wrapped around Sherlock’s –
He doesn’t realize he’s groaned out loud until Mads thumps him on the shoulder. “Someone’s having a hard time keeping up,” he laughs, and a moment of panic at being discovered, his newfound (yet not new-formed) desire revealed, blunts the edge of Sherlock’s arousal, but in the next moment he realizes the Marines think he’s a lightweight.
Well, compared to them, yes.
It has, after all, been years since he engaged in this kind of behavior, and his diet does not afford him a buffer of protein or lipid weight to counter the sudden saturation of alcohol in his system.
“Hey, you alright?”
He doesn’t realize he’s closed his eyes again until he opens them to see John, suddenly close, a hand pushing curls away from Sherlock’s forehead for a diagnostic touch. Sherlock manages to keep from pushing into that warm palm – but only just.
“Fine,” he snaps – or tries to. It comes out a little plaintive, and John’s blue eyes soften at the sound.
“Feeling left out?” John asks quietly, and Sherlock suppresses a shiver at the note of care and the absence of pity or mockery. John is always trying to take care of Sherlock, but it seems like the last vestiges of distance have dissolved in tepid beer; there’s nothing professionally removed about the way John looks at him right now, and Sherlock almost blames that look for the ache inside his ribs – but he knows better. Rod had not been gentle when he yanked Sherlock back from the edge of the curb as a lorry barreled past outside pub number four.
“Of course not,” he says, sounding much more like himself, but John grins all the same, eyes bright again.
“Come on –” Sherlock finds himself being hoisted from the couch, “– there’s water over here by us.”
“John, this isn’t necessary –” but it is inevitable, Sherlock realizes, as John firmly leads him over to the crowd of more dedicated drinkers by the table.
“Sit,” John says, depositing him on a stool. A moment later a cup of cool water is in his hand. “Drink.” Sherlock takes a sip to show willing, and John beams at him, easy, open, and Sherlock wonders if he can blame the answering flush in his cheeks on being thoroughly tipsy.
“Watson!” Rod bellows. “Get your ass over here or you forfeit!”
As Sherlock’s head clears just a bit, he takes more note of his surroundings. He’s still not sure exactly where they are (perhaps a basement?), but he notices that there are now more military types about, drinking, yelling over the music, and generally partaking of some decidedly disorderly conduct.
He turns his gaze to the table where John and Rod are taking turns throwing small white balls at cups in front of each other.
John throws right-handed, despite moving the cups and catching the ball with his left as necessary. Sherlock is reminded of John’s skill with the Browning, and as he thinks this, John manages to land his shot into one of Rod’s cups without touching the sides. There’s a splash of beer and the small spectating crowd responds with ‘whoops’ and ‘aw yeahs’ and the like.
John makes a bashful bow, and Sherlock can’t wrap his mind around how the man wears ‘harmless’ even as he beats the Marines at what must be their own game.
Rod lifts the cup with the ball, downs the beer in it, then takes aim and throws the ball across the table. It bounces, and John makes a swipe at it, but misses, and the ball pops into one of his cups, catching the edge and beginning a rapid spin along the inside edge of the cup, just above the edge of the beer.
Swift as he has no right to be (not with that much alcohol inside him), John ducks low, pouts his lips, puffs out his cheeks, and blows, hard. The ball floats out of the cup, and John snatches it in his left hand before it can land in the neighbouring cup. While the crowd cheers, Sherlock breathes his way through a sudden dizziness that almost feels blood loss related. It appears his blood has better places to be than his brain right that second.
The watching crowd laughs, claps, jibes good naturedly. “You must have had plenty of practice,” someone quips from the crowd, and John laughs and shakes his head, and then Kettle, leaning quietly against the wall by Sherlock, grins and adds, “Not even a little rusty.”
“Fuck you, Kettle!” John laughs, lining up his next shot –
“Again, you mean?” Kettle quips –
– and John’s shot goes wide.
Sherlock’s mouth drops open before he can stop it, and the snap as he closes it is audible. For a moment he thinks John’s going to be angry, going to fire off one of his quick-fire denials that he always seems to have ready, just in case – but then John just laughs, shakes his head and says, “Bastard!” fondly. “Made me miss, you wanker.”
Sherlock doesn’t hear the rest because he’s left the room and stumbled into the loo and is gripping the sink, himself caught in the grip of something that hurts past the ache of arousal.
He understands that alcohol can modify behavior and mitigate empirical observation, but he also understands John Watson.
Or, he thought he did up until this moment.
John has never, in all their time together, missed an opportunity to remind the world that he is not gay.
He leans against the wall beside the sink, and after a moment, slides down to sit on the floor, caught up in re-evaluating the myriad moments he has spent watching John and drawn the wrong conclusions.
He’s still there when John finds him. “Sherlock?”
Sherlock barely glances at him. “You won.”
“Obviously,” John chortles, crouching to get down to Sherlock’s level.
“You’re not gay.”
“…No,” John agrees, and Sherlock can hear the caution creep into his voice.
Sherlock closes his eyes, thinks about want and loss, and adds, “But you’re not straight either.”
The silence is long and complicated and Sherlock wishes it would stop existing. It’s a massive quantum field of flux, all the possible outcomes crowding into the space between John and Sherlock, and Sherlock finds he’s growing nauseous from the push-and-pull unpredictability of it all.
“Actually, I am,” John says finally, and Sherlock expects him to shout or leave, but instead he adds, “most of the time.”
Sherlock finds he cannot properly modulate his breathing or pulse, which is inconvenient to say the least. He wants to say something clever and cuttingly true, but when he says, “You and Ketler,” it comes out as a question, a plea for clarity, and he hates himself no small amount in that moment as those words escape him, vibrations upsetting air molecules before fading away.
The lights above them hum incessantly, insult to the injury done by their sickly light to the normally hale tone of John’s skin, the wholesome blue of his eyes undercut by grey brightness.
John is making a disturbing habit of surprising Sherlock, because instead of any of the projected behaviours he has envisioned, John is turning to put his back against the wall next to Sherlock. He slides down to join him. There isn’t much space, so they are right up against each other, thighs and hips and shoulders pressed firmly together.
He tips his head back against the wall as if the ceiling tiles have something useful written on them, and he sighs.
Sherlock holds his breath and tries not to stare at John’s throat.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” John says finally. “It took a lot of combat time to build the – the thing between us. All of us. Friendship, at first, I guess, then something a lot deeper and less definable.”
“You weren’t even in the same units.”
“No, but sometimes things just happen,” John shrugs. “For whatever reason, my team worked with Rod’s pretty closely for a while. I patched Mads up once,” and his face greys over at the memory, but then it’s gone and Sherlock is trapped by a feeling akin to awe at John’s ability to adapt. “And…”
John purses his lips. “It sort of just – happened?”
Sherlock levels a calculating look at him, trying for his usual nonchalance. “Adrenaline and stress reactions, the first two times,” he says, because it’s obvious and it fills in the gap John is trying to leave, “and after that the excuse got a little thin. You were ‘together’ – for certain values of that term – for,” and Sherlock tilts his head as he considers John, his face, the shift of his shoulders, before he concludes, “approximately three months.”
John huffs a solitary laugh. “Yeah.” He frowns. “Death on the doorstep made distinctions a lot less important. It never felt serious, because there was no future to it. It was just –”
“Convenient sex?” Does that mean John had merely tolerated the experience for the neurotransmitter payoff? It’s not an unfamiliar concept, certainly not where Sherlock is concerned, but the idea won’t settle in his thoughts, not with John at its epicenter. John with his – his Johnness.
Sherlock winces at the inanity of the thought, and also at its truth. And what does it say about him, this lapse in austerity, this (not so momentary) sentimentality? How long has this been brewing? And now John has changed, or rather, Sherlock’s understanding of him has shifted, and Sherlock isn’t sure what any of this means or changes. Isn’t sure if he wants it to mean or change anything.
Why at all?
Perhaps this conversation has been waiting to happen, waiting for them to get drunk together – not that either of them are beyond their wits with drink. Just loose and comfortable and operating slightly outside their usual boundaries and parameters. It’s thrilling. It’s terrifying.
John is nodding, but he says, “It wasn’t just about getting off, though. There was a lot of trust, there. More like friends with benefits, although that’s not something I do. Um, usually.” His grin is wry and a little self-deprecating. “Too much distance, or not enough. Both of which are hard to maintain.”
John sighs next to him, as if some weight has been released, but also as if some secret has been revealed – and Sherlock feels the shift happen this time, feels a click shiver down his spine as he properly considers John – John with his love of cozy evenings in, despite his craving for adventure, with his pub night escapes, hours spent purposefully away from Sherlock. John, with his tea and his jumpers and his spy film marathons. John who always asks if Sherlock will join in, despite everything, shaping their cohabitation into something domestic and warm.
(It’s always bothered Sherlock that he doesn’t find that as hateful as he should.)
That warmth lodges in his throat now, and Sherlock pulls his knees up to his chest. He knows something unspoken is being confessed, but whether it’s the drink, the hour, or his own proximity to the situation, he finds he cannot parse it.
And as the comfortable beer buzz fizzles away, Sherlock becomes more and more aware that there will be a time After this conversation, and the possibilities for fallout are legion and depressing. Those he can parse, and he cannot see any where John is not aghast at his over-sharing behaviour.
The thought makes Sherlock morose enough that his awareness of his waxing (because, John) and waning (because, Ketler) arousal fades, and he’s simply caught in the trap of his thoughts once more, running through the evening to find salient points to bring up should John wish to pin any of this exchange on Sherlock’s interfering.
Which is ridiculous – he’s favoured observation over manipulation tonight. No interrogation techniques employed at all.
But there’s always the chance John won’t see it that way, and that might be the end; John might leave.
That decides it: Sherlock resolves to drop the issue, to let it fade into (hopefully) drunken obscurity – for John, at least. Sherlock may yet delete this fresh and torturous knowledge, this revelation that John is slightly less out of his reach, yet nowhere near enough to grasp.
And then, because alcohol apparently strips what little control he has over his mouth away, Sherlock blurts out, “But you did with him.” And then, even though he can feel the tension mounting, his treacherous mouth lets slip, “You’d go back if you could.”
He isn’t even sure if he’s talking about Ketler or the Army. The ambiguity is atrocious and he’d certainly never allow it under normal circumstance, but here they are and there it is.
John’s face falls, and Sherlock looks away, horrified, nauseated by his lack of control, by his continued blundering.
“Sherlock, I –”
“John, stop –” Sherlock lurches to his feet, aiming for the exit, because if he cannot stop himself, he can at least remove himself, limit the damage – but John is fast and beside him before he can get the door open.
“No, you stop and listen!” John takes a deep breath. His left hand is against the door, holding it shut, and Sherlock lets his hand fall from the handle. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you tonight, but I am not actually trying to make you feel like the odd one out. You heard what you heard about Ketler – about me – and you put it all together, and now it’s all bollocksed up, and I don’t actually know what I said to hurt you, but it’s obvious I did, and I’m sorry.”
Sherlock needs distance now, at any cost, before he ruins everything, so he lets a sneer twist his mouth. “As if you could hurt me.” The words are chalk dust in his throat.
John’s eyes flash, and the anger does a good job of covering the pain, but Sherlock still sees it, and finds that it lances into him as well. He hadn’t been expecting that. “Fine. Be a bastard then.” John glares up at Sherlock, who tries to feel triumphant instead of bereft at the appearance of that rare resentment. “At least tell me why you have been staring at me all night,” John says hotly. “Why are you making this so difficult?”
“You started it,” Sherlock manages around his clenched jaw. “Tell me, what was it that was so fascinating about me taking that shot in the third pub?” His lip curls, all plans for escape, for avoidance forgotten, because suddenly he needs to know, needs the solidity of fact in this charybdisian vortex of emotion. “Was it the incongruousness of my behavior? Was it amusing to see me adhere to social rituals?”
“What? Wh– No! Sherlock –” John bites his lip and runs his right hand through his hair. “That’s not it at all.” The fact that he doesn’t ask for clarification is very telling.
“Then what, John, what? And why?” He steps forward into John’s space, hates how heat thrills through him at the site of John looking up at him. Hates how it ignites longing and urgency and hope of all things inside him, at a cellular level it seems, where his mind cannot defuse and dismantle it. Hates how those things carve room for their opposites, inviting rejection, hesitation, despair.
“Dammit Sherlock, leave it, just for once!”
“No.” He wishes he could. What a world that would have been.
John grinds out, “Sod this,” a furious mutter, and then Sherlock’s back hits the wall as a hand twines into his hair, and then lips are pressed against his, hard, aggressive and demanding and Sherlock’s own lips part before he’s even processed the push of John’s tongue, and then it’s inside his mouth, warm, wet, whiskey and beer and John’s exhales and –
John pulls back. “There,” he says. “That’s what. And that’s why.” His face takes on a sullen set, at odds with the rouge of his lips, wetness he doesn’t wipe away. “So. Now you know. And everything’s ruined. Happy?” He steps back, turns as if to open the door, then jumps when Sherlock curls his hands around his biceps.
Sherlock leans in and brings their lips together, his movements smooth and almost dreamlike despite the reverberations of shock and nerves and adrenaline he’s weathering internally. His approach is slower than John’s, but much more thorough, and when John’s lips part with a half-swallowed moan, Sherlock invades John’s mouth, tasting, savouring, licking in as far as he can, sliding along John’s tongue, letting his teeth catch at the slightly softer swell of John’s lower lip before sucking on the upper, then delving in again with an articulate flex of his tongue.
He ends the kiss, breathless, dizzy. He feels inebriated, but the tingling in his skin feels more like a pleasant version of electrocution than the loss of sensation from alcohol poisoning. He can feel his own pulse moving in the hypersensitive flesh of his erection.
Now that his entire being isn’t focused on tasting John Watson, Sherlock notices his hands have migrated to cradle John’s head and curl about his waist. He’s slotted a thigh between John’s legs, and they are pressed together from thigh to hip to shoulder once more, albeit a good deal more firmly.
John is panting, looking dazed once more, and Sherlock sighs shakily as he begins to undo the tangle that is them. He stops when he feels John’s hands tighten around his waist. “Really?” the doctor asks with a raised eyebrow, as if to ask if Sherlock really thinks taking a step back now negates the full-body assault that came before.
Then John bites his lip, looks down, then glances up and asks, “Really?” once more, this time as if to request confirmation for what just happened.
Sherlock ducks his head down to breathe in the heady scent pooling in the crook of John’s neck while he still can, pushing back in with his body while it still seems allowed, and the flare of contact must be as obvious and sense-obliterating for John as it is for Sherlock, because they both share a stuttered breath.
Sherlock nods in answer at last, head still tucked into John’s neck, but John guides him to face him again with a soft, leading touch. “I need to hear it, Sherlock. We’ve both been drinking tonight, and what just happened was pretty intense, but what happened before that was pretty rough, so I need to ask if you’re sure, because I was serious about the distance thing, I can’t do it. I’m no good at casual, and –”
Oh. That explains the girlfriends, why none of them lasted, even the ones Sherlock never actually bothered –
“Sherlock, I –”
“John.” Sherlock tips his forehead to touch John’s, and his forehead is damp with exertion, and the air around John is a perfumed mess of desire and adrenaline and promise. “Despite imbibing this evening, my faculties remain uncompromised.” His lips twitch, and movement ignites memory, and he bites his lower lip at the sudden rush of remembered touch. “I cannot say that I expected this, but believe me when I say this is very much…wanted.” It feels like he’s eviscerating himself with a meat cleaver, but he adds, “And reciprocated.” Because it’s true, and oh, it became the truth so cautiously and quietly for all it costs to say, for all it took him so long to see.
John releases his captive breath, eyelids fluttering shut, and Sherlock finds he’s run out of words and thoughts, and need rushes in to fill the vacuum. John’s mouth is willing recipient, eager participant, and soon Sherlock finds he’s being pressed back until his shoulder blades are against the wall again as the doctor grows more demanding, his hands gripping and stroking and slipping –
Sherlock shudders as John’s fingers ghost along the very definite outline of Sherlock’s arousal. John’s gasp is soft, half laugh, half surprise. “I had no idea,” he murmurs almost into Sherlock’s mouth.
“You’re not very observant,” Sherlock manages between hitching breaths. Best not to mention that it had slipped his own notice until tonight as well.
John palms Sherlock’s erection and grins at his choked off moan. “I don’t know. I think I’m noticing something here, bit of a trend.”
“Oh god, spare me your deductions – ahh!” The blaze of sensation as John simultaneously squeezes Sherlock’s cock and licks a stripe up the side of his neck is relentless. It doesn’t seem to fade, but lingers, a glowing filter through which the rest of reality pales. It is, quite suddenly, vital to touch as much of John as possible.
“Sherlock,” John asks, breathless, “what are you doing?”
Sherlock’s hands never pause in their attack. “Isn’t it obvious?” John’s shirt tails come free, and Sherlock gets his hands on the heat of John’s skin, and it travels up his arms, along his own skin and nerves and muscle fibres as if it were electric in nature, pooling deep inside, feeding his arousal and fanning his urgency –
He freezes as John’s fingers wrap around his cock, somehow, inexplicably inside his trousers, past the final barrier of his pants. He hadn’t even felt John undo the closures. He hadn’t even felt him move.
The lavatory door locks, and the sound of it is somehow smug.
“Who’s unobservant now?” John almost purrs, voice low, a throaty exhale, as he pulls from base to tip slowly.
Sherlock manages a choked noise, slumping back against the wall as John’s face lights up with pleasure, as if Sherlock had articulated the most exultant of praises and not a strangled sob. John repeats the touch, friction transforming into a cascade of sparks, and Sherlock swallows hard. “Oh,” he manages, and if he had the focus for it, he’d hate the way his voice cracked. All he can manage is a blush though, and it doesn’t stop at his cheeks, prickling down his neck and along his collar bones.
“Look at you, all flushed,” John murmurs against the open v of his shirt, less buttoned than Sherlock remembers. He quivers as John scrapes his teeth just above his sternum. “God, your skin –” he punctuates with a lick, and then Sherlock’s shirt falls completely open, and he doesn’t hear the end of the sentence because everything whites out as John closes his mouth on his left nipple –
“…….breathe, Sherlock,” John is insisting, and Sherlock gasps, feeling empty, vacant, absent, because the heat of John’s hands and mouth are removed from his flesh, no longer anchoring him to the wall. A chaste kiss to the lips is a fleeting flare of warmth, and Sherlock looks up with dazed eyes at John. “Alright?” John asks, and Sherlock honestly doesn’t know.
Touch has never factored highly into his experiences, and he simply doesn’t feel qualified to answer.
“Did any of that hurt?” John asks after a moment.
“Did any of it feel good?”
“All of it.”
John kisses him soundly then pulls back. “Should I stop, or do you want me to keep going?”
Sherlock bites his lip, trying to get his breathing under control. “Don’t stop.”
Breathing becomes slightly more challenging when John’s lips find his again, tongue licking inside, hands stroking neck, chest, waist, hips. Sherlock can feel his heartbeat, as loud as panic, and the speed keeps building as John nudges his thigh up between Sherlock’s thighs. He cannot stop the whimper, and there is no way John doesn’t feel and(or) hear it.
John pulls away with a wet sound, and his eyes when he looks up at Sherlock are dark, pupils blown wide despite the grey wash of fluorescent lights. John’s breathing is very rough for someone who has been keeping all attention focused away from their person.
“God Sherlock, you should see yourself. In fact –” John steps to the side so Sherlock has an unobstructed view of himself in the dingy mirror over the washbasin. He looks a mess – hair disheveled, skin blotched and fevered with red. Sweat is ruining his shirt. He’s about to explain to John that perspiration and flush look better on John than his own complexion when his breath catches.
There are bite marks on his chest.
John’s bite marks, red against his skin. Sherlock runs a finger over them, and finds himself hoping that they linger long enough to be measured with his calipers. Why hadn’t he thought to bring them with? Next time.
Sherlock closes his eyes and tries to resist the overwhelming flood of – something. John’s hands are skimming up his sides. John’s lips are touching the marks left by his teeth. John’s nails are dragging down his skin, and Sherlock has the presence of mind to push back against them, letting them bite deeper, ploughing red into his pale.
He has the sudden and irrational wish to have all his skin tilled by John’s fingers, and the want emerges as a groan, and John kisses him again and begins to talk:
“Earlier you were watching me drink. I prefer draft, but I switched to bottles to test a theory.” Sherlock is trapped in the ebb and flow of John’s voice and touch. “The look on your face when I took that first sip…” John shivers and sighs. “Tell me,” he says, then sinks to his knees and looks up. “Am I right so far?”
Sherlock’s hands fall to John’s shoulders for support.
John’s fingers are tugging suggestively at Sherlock’s trousers and pants. “Do you want me to stop?”
Sherlock shakes his head, overwhelmed.
John grins up at him, then pulls until Sherlock’s trousers and pants are pooled at his ankles. He shudders as cool air hits overheated skin, dewy with sweat, slicked by pre-ejaculate. After a moment, Sherlock realizes John is just staring at him, and he feels, for a moment, acutely self-conscious, standing half naked in the gents’ with his flatmate on his knees in front of him.
“I never thought I’d see this part of you,” John confides softly, but he isn’t looking at Sherlock’s obvious and aching erection, but rather up into Sherlock’s eyes. That earlier, indefinable flood is back, and this time it crashes over and into Sherlock, irresistible, and he falls to a crouch in front of John and wraps his arms around him, and kisses him, and kisses him, and his breathing is uneven and inefficient, but it isn’t boring, and John is kissing back, clinging right back despite the ceaseless storm of Sherlock’s movements growing more wild and frantic, because Sherlock is suddenly aware that there are words he should be saying, and he can’t, he can’t –
“Sherlock,” John whispers, and then his hand is around Sherlock’s cock, and Sherlock’s head tips backwards sharply with a moan, and then John bends low and –
Oh god. “John.”
Heat, saliva, pressure, slick, push, pull, overwhelm –
“Oh god, John –”
The strobe of sensation, touch and void, builds and builds and does so quickly, geometric in acceleration: chill absence – hot pressure – cool abandonment – wet suction–
“John, please –”
Sherlock’s tone must contain a key, because it unlocks a noise from the vault of John’s chest he’s never heard or thought to imagine. It’s soft like a whimper, but emerges as a high pitched keening hiccup of sound, distorted by Sherlock’s cock, half swallowed by John’s accommodating lips sealed tight.
As he continues to look down, he realizes John has his own hand down the front of his trousers and pants and is moving in time with his mouth’s attentions to Sherlock. He bats Sherlock’s hand away when he attempts to assist, and for a moment Sherlock is perplexed and concerned and unsure – why would John not want…? – but a moment later, it doesn’t matter, because John takes Sherlock almost all the way in, running both hands now up the inside of his thighs. One hand cups Sherlock’s balls, while the other slips back to press against his perineum –
Sound falls away sharply, and light floods in, a sharp electric touch of too much please more more swamping every nerve and every thought and every part of Sherlock. It cycles down into the physical, the clenching of muscles, the near cessation of respiration, and Sherlock shakes and writhes and shudders through every cresting wave of pleasure.
Oxytocin, he thinks fuzzily. Dopamine. Blinding light all around, sharp wetness at the corners of his eyes, aching copper in his mouth.
John licks into Sherlock’s mouth and winces. “You bit your lip,” he murmurs into the sweaty tendrils of hair by Sherlock’s ear. He kisses the lip in question, softly.
“I – I?” Sherlock pants and tongues the lip in question. He closes his eyes. “Don’t worry, I’m clean,” he mumbles, and hates the apology in those words.
“Sherlock,” John breathes, exasperated, fond, “you think any of this would be happening without a condom if either of us had something communicable? Remember the food poisoning case?” Sure hands tuck Sherlock in and away, reset fabric and fly and buttons.
Of course, Sherlock thinks muzzily. Blood samples. Mycroft always gets involved with blood samples. “I don’t think this is what my brother had in mind when he interfered,” Sherlock declares.
Another kiss, and only then does Sherlock notice the lack of drying semen. His eyes snap up to John’s. He’s grinning.
John’s grin widens. Sherlock frowns and looks down at John’s still noticeable (if hidden) erection. “And you haven’t –”
“Not yet, no.” Again that grin, and Sherlock huffs in annoyance as John rises easily to his feet and Sherlock sinks lower in gravity’s grip. He grunts when John hoists him to his feet then pulls him in for a deep kiss. Sherlock startles when he tastes the bitter traces of himself in John’s mouth. Oh god, he really did, Sherlock thinks, and that thought mixes up with an entire evening spent watching John drink and swallow, fixating on John’s lips and their uses and proclivities and –
The afterglow of arousal flares, just slightly, laconic but existent. Sherlock groans into the kiss, and John breaks away with a smile. “It’s late,” he says.
“Technically it’s early,” Sherlock counters. He frowns – it doesn’t seem up to his usual caliber.
John flaps his hand at him, good natured. “Home?” he suggests – and there’s something smoldering about the way he says it that turns Sherlock’s hazy interest sharp and alert. He blinks, surprised. He hadn’t known it could be like that – or perhaps the transport is making up for lost time?
“And your friends?” he asks before he thinks of Ketler in the context of John ampersand Ketler –
“Mostly passed out by now.” John laughs. “They never could keep up with me.” He seems to notice the measure of doubt Sherlock cannot keep from his face. “Besides,” he adds, “I’d rather take you home –” Sherlock shivers pleasantly, “– and then to bed.”
Something swoops inside the pit of Sherlock’s stomach, and it’s all he can do to nod. He reaches to take John’s proffered hand, not trusting limbs shaky with an improbable mixture of satiation and rekindled desire – and if Sherlock nearly walks into the door on the way out, John has the good grace not to mention it.
The furniture in the main room has been colonized in their absence, each soft space covered in a different sprawl of brawn. The early wipeouts are discernable by the black ink marks labeling them as such on their faces, arms, and in one case buttocks.
John spins around, and so does Sherlock, his movements tethered to John’s by a firm grip. Sherlock watches as John lifts his chin and frowns a question at a near-incapacitated Mads.
Mads cackles and gesticulates drunkenly from his spot on the nearest sofa. He swipes a hand through the air, nearly managing to swat Sherlock on the arse. “Get some!”
“Good night, Mads,” John says pointedly, but there’s a smirk in his voice and a smugness in the quick squeeze he gives Sherlock’s hand as they turn to head home.