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He’d thought he’d come back and have everything be just the same, that’s what makes the whole thing so detestable. He’d thought it would be just the same.

Sherlock straightens his suit jacket in the mirror, brushing dust off his shoulders. John’s getting married next Monday. The room upstairs has been empty for over a year.

Stupid, Sherlock thinks as he continues to sweep off imaginary dust with more intensity than necessary, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.

*

There is a Greek myth known as the torment of Tantalus. When Tantalus died, he was sent to the deepest circle of Hell and hung from a tree overlooking a lake. Whenever Tantalus bent to drink, the water would recede from him. Whenever he reached for fruit, it, too, would pull away.

The word ‘tantalize’ comes from his name.

*

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen.

*

John and Mary joke that they’re far too old for stag parties, and when they say this over dinner in almost perfect unison and then turn to look at each other with crinkly-eyed smiles, delirious with their own symbiosis, Sherlock imagines launching himself across the table and wiping the smug smirks off of both their faces. But even that wouldn’t change anything, wouldn’t stop this terrible, perverse train from barreling forward down a track that Sherlock had no say in determining, let alone even realise he was on.

John, him, the criminal underworld. That’s how Sherlock saw it in his head, even now: everything else is superfluous. He would come back, John would be overjoyed, and eventually, it all would have come together on its own. It had seemed that way. Inevitable.

John’s uni friends absolutely detest him. They squint at him and grasp his hand too tight and say “so you’re that dodgy detective John was all torn up over, right?” and ask him repeated questions about football and rugby even after Sherlock’s made it clear he doesn’t care. Even Molly and Lestrade only manage awkward conversation, though that is, in part, his own fault. He is like a blemish you try to smooth over, a flare in the photograph where the sun shone too brightly, causing everyone else to squint.

“I’m so glad you could come, Sherlock.” Mary places her hand on Sherlock’s back, between his shoulder blades. “I know John says that this isn’t really your thing.”

*

 “Off the patches again?”

John is so cheerful, conversational, smiling at Sherlock even though he’s chosen to excommunicate himself from the party in favor of smoking cigarettes. He stamps the butt out beneath his boot heel. “Not nearly as satisfying.”

“Are you going to be coming back inside?” He sounds so hopeful. He’s staring, bare-faced at Sherlock’s profile, but Sherlock dares not risk a glance back. “Molly says she thinks she’s got an answer for you about the hypothermic corpses.”

Sherlock stands for a while with his hands in his pockets.

He pulls out another cigarette.

*

It would be doing himself a disservice to pretend he’d never thought about it, to act as though there weren’t moments where the mere thought of it kept him going: sewing himself up in a shack in France, struggling against his bonds while tied to a chair in Tibet, waiting for hours for a suspected murderer on a freezing cold roof just outside of Moscow. The thoughts were little more than ‘When I get home, perhaps’, and idle musings about the sounds John would make if he’d put his hand there, his mouth there, but God, they were there. They teased at the edges of his mind and he had to shut everything out against them. Anything more would have been too much of a distraction. Would have made him too much of a fool.

*

Sherlock calls John when he doesn’t answer his texts asking him to come out on cases. He doesn’t answer the calls, either. Sherlock will call twice in quick succession and his second try will always jump straight to voicemail.

From: John Watson

                Sorry, been busy with the wedding. How’s your speech coming?

Sherlock deletes it.

John is hateful.

*

John gets married. It is like tearing his heart in half.

There are snags, because it is Sherlock, and with Sherlock, there are always snags, but the snags do not change the vows, the rings, the honeymoon, the new place in Sutton. They are snags because snags are minor hindrances that stutter progress but never stop it, they are only snags because John is happy and they are happy and Sherlock is so sick of their smug happiness that he wants to snap every single one of their necks.

He never would have asked, naturally. Not for something that he doesn’t need, even though the now-certain denial of it causes him to press half-moon indentations into his palms whenever he forgets to pay attention.

Mycroft sits down next to him. He opens his mouth, and Sherlock is out of his chair and across the room as fast as he can be without attracting attention.

He tells himself that this was what he wanted, that this was what he did it all for. For John to be happy. For John to be free to live his life the way he wanted. But he knows it’s a lie. He did it so that John could stay on with him like he always had, so that they could be together, so that everything would be the same as it had been at the beginning.

They used to walk without space between them. Their shoulders used to brush. Their eyes would always find each other. If something happened to John on his way home from Tesco, Sherlock would be the one to hear about it, even if it was mind-numbingly mundane and if it were anyone else he’d rather have drilled holes in his head than be bothered with it.

John dances with Mary and his eyes are on her, as they should be.

Sherlock drinks wine.

*

For five days, Sherlock locks himself in his flat and does nothing but solve cases via email – everything in his inbox, even the boring ones.

                     Confront your sister about the will; It’s your neighbour after you’ve all left for work; your husband is having an affair; your boyfriend is having an affair; your boss is cheating you and framing you for his crimes; yes, and he has a second family in the south of France, near Angouleme.

He keeps the curtains drawn so the light can’t get in. With the more interesting cases, he asks the clients questions, and he takes vindictive pleasure in tormenting everyone who annoys him with less than satisfactory replies.

*

John comes back. He does not contact Sherlock right away.

This makes it worse.

*

And then John texts him, and it says, “You haven’t got any interesting cases on, have you?”, and Sherlock almost shouts himself hoarse when he calls Lestrade and demands to be let in on something fun.

Lestrade asks, “Why now? I’ve called you twice this month, you know,” and Sherlock does not answer but grits his teeth and snarls about his time being wasted.

Lestrade, naturally, figures it out.

*

After the case John is breathless with laughter and amazement, as he often is, and he smiles at Sherlock as they stand in a small pool of light given off by a lamppost.

“How is, um… Baker Street?”

“The same,” Sherlock says, even though it is terribly, achingly different. “Do you want to come back? I’ve got some Thai leftover in the fridge.”

John hesitates before he answers. “Nah, it’s late. I best be getting back to Mary.”

*

Sherlock’s saved the papers from his pre-Fall media frenzy. Sometimes he likes going through them, comparing. Reading the different headlines, the different names.

Boffin Sherlock Holmes. Bachelor John Watson.

*

They’re peering around a corner, and Sherlock does it without thinking – he reaches out and takes a hold of John’s hand. He squeezes it, still not thinking. John squeezes back.

 “I think he’s gone.”

But they hesitate a moment longer – poised to run, John’s thumb running itself experimentally along the length of Sherlock’s – and it’s there, in that moment, that Sherlock finally knows.

*

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen.

                               Assistance required. Immediately. Mitcham if convenient

                               if inconvenient

                               -SH                                                                                                                                                       

He finds a skip to lean against and presses his hand against the wound, hot blood coating his fingers. For years, this was the way that he assumed he’d go. Not this, exactly. But attacked by a criminal, nothing between him, London, and the game but his body, life seeping out of him and onto the road as he contemplates his last mystery. He was supposed to be surprised that he’d made it this far. He should have died in his late twenties.

The fact that he’d let this prediction change even for a moment is a sign of how soft he’d allowed himself to get. He’s glad he’s here, at least. In London. How he dreaded being killed somewhere while he was abroad. Tibet. Germany. Terrible places to die, in his opinion.

He’s losing consciousness when he hears the car pull up, the door slam, the footsteps running towards him. He thinks someone’s come to finish him, off, which is just as well. There will be more evidence pointing Lestrade to a trio of killers as opposed to one man with a perpetual alibi if there are two attacks on the autopsy.

“Sherlock—Jesus, Sher—” The hands on his face are warm and rough and panicked. They lift his bloody hand off his own wound, and he swears.

Sherlock’s eyes find John’s face. “You came back.”

*

He wakes up in the hospital, feeling achy with bandages all over his torso, but otherwise very not dead. It had hurt him more recovering from falling off St. Bart’s. John watches Sherlock wake with eyes wider than Sherlock’s ever seen them. He’s leaning towards Sherlock so much that his forearms on the bed are supporting more of his weight than the chair he’s in.

Sherlock’s hands go to his face to check the growth of his own stubble. “It’s been nearly five days. Why are you here?”

“Well, um.” John actually reaches out and takes hold of Sherlock’s hand. He speaks to the foot of Sherlock’s bed, the back of his neck turning red. “I thought I’d lost you all over again. So.” He swallows. He looks at the floor. His thumb runs over the knuckles of Sherlock’s fingers.

Sherlock is almost happy he’s been stabbed.

*

John brings Sherlock soup while he’s recovering, and changes his bandages for him. The soup is better than John ever could have made on his own, but neither of them mention it. When John’s hands smooth themselves over the planes of Sherlock’s chest, Sherlock has to close his eyes and hold his breath to keep himself from giving everything away.

*

John’s back presses up against the length of Sherlock’s torso as they wait in a wardrobe for a blackmailer to come in and incriminate himself. A sliver of light falls through the crack in the doors onto John’s face and the small space grows very hot, just from their breathing. John has his gun in his hands.

“Do you hear that?” John cocks his head to the side and redoubles his grip on his gun. He sinks down on his knees into the slightest crouch, pushing further in to Sherlock’s body. “I think he might be coming.”

Sherlock’s fingernails dig into the wood paneling to restrain himself from resting his hands on John’s waist.

*

Sherlock fills the fridge with as many body parts as he can in an attempt to convince himself of how happy he is that there is no one in the flat anymore to tell him not to. Arms in the crisper, a whole chest occupying the middle shelves, feet in the freezer, several forearms crammed into the lower shelves next to a six-pack of John’s favourite beer.

He gets hungry.

*

They go to Angelo’s after a case, for old time’s sake. Angelo notices John’s wedding ring and refrains from getting them a candle.

Their knees brush against each other under the table.

Neither of them do anything to correct it.

*

Their next case takes them into the Thames in an attempt to find the murder weapon – an old rifle Sherlock is convinced was used regularly in historical reenactments. They were waist deep in it and sopping when John gave up and decided to force Sherlock under the water, and Sherlock, spluttering, had splashed John without mercy until both of them, breathless from laughter, decided that they ought to give up the ghost on the Thames hypothesis and follow another lead.

Sherlock closes the case just as the sun is setting, and Dimmock takes one look at them before sending them home. They’re both still damp, muck from the river clinging to their clothes, hair, and skin, and when they get back to 221B, Sherlock offers John the first shower. John strips to all but his boxers right in the kitchen.  Sherlock’s glance lingers only fractionally longer than it ought.

He brings his and John’s wet clothes down to Mrs. Hudson’s to be washed. She checks the pockets, finds John’s wedding ring. She hands it to Sherlock for safekeeping.

John still has some of his old clothes at Baker Street, so Sherlock folds them up and leaves them outside the bathroom door.

After some contemplation, Sherlock places John’s wedding ring atop the small stack of clothes.

He does not think of John in the shower, hot water and suds sluicing down his body, small hums of appreciation curling in the base of his throat.

*

When Sherlock gets out of the shower, John’s wedding ring is sitting on the kitchen table. John is on the sofa, flipping idly through one of Sherlock’s women’s magazines.

“You’re still here.” He fiddles idly with the draw string of his pajama bottoms.

John looks up. “Good deduction, yeah. I took the liberty of ordering some takeaway.” He’s smiling through every word he says.

Sherlock swallows. “Alright. Yeah, um—good.”

He sinks down onto the sofa next to John and starts to towel off his hair, shaking it dry. When he sits back up he can feel it sticking out in all directions.

John’s smile extends to his eyes, and the wrinkles around them when he squints seem more defined than they used to be. “You look like a bloody sheepdog like that.”

Sherlock purses his lips to keep himself from smiling back. He does not do a very good job of it. “Yes, well.” He tries to think of a retort, but he can’t. They’re sitting far too close to each other.

“I didn’t say it was a bad thing.” John dips his head, embarrassed, and then raises his gaze and nods like he’s trying to be encouraging. “Are you going grey at your temples?”

“No.” Sherlock’s reply is quick, pointed, not even pretending it isn’t a lie. “If either of us is getting old, it’s you. Think of how ancient you looked with that mustache. What will you do, grow a beard next? Maybe get yourself some glasses?”

Their knees touch each other. Sherlock has his left arm stretched out in front of him along the back of the sofa so that the pad of his thumb just barely grazes the upper crest of John’s back.

John licks his lips. Sherlock suddenly forgets whatever it was they’d just been talking about.

John leans more of his weight into Sherlock’s hand. Sherlock swallows. He pets his thumb in the shortest of strokes up to the nape of John’s neck and back down again. John’s eyelashes flutter. When he exhales, the sound is shaky.

“I should be getting home.”

But he doesn’t move, and they sit there, Sherlock testing his ability to pet at John’s back, and it takes every ounce of his willpower to suppress the urge to reply: You already are.

“Joh—” Before he can even finish the word John is on top of him, sudden, desperate, hands fisted in Sherlock’s wet hair, whining high-pitched moans into Sherlock’s mouth. Their hands fumble, over-eager, along each other’s bodies, and Sherlock’s come to rest against John’s waist, pulling him closer as if it is necessary for them to be fused together, as if the closer they got the less likely John would be to leave. Sherlock finds that if he grips John too tightly, John will cry out – voice deep and breathless and filled with pleasure – and grip back, just as tight, until they are both kissing and holding and thrusting against each other as if they are afraid to let the other go.

The takeaway arrives. They both ignore the buzzer and instead fumble their way to Sherlock’s room, trying to undress as they go and barely managing. Sherlock does not get his shirt off until he is pinned to his own bed, John astride him, their erections rubbing against each other as Sherlock hips stutter in involuntary, abortive little thrusts. John runs the backs of his fingers just barely up the sides of Sherlock’s torso and Sherlock laughs, ticklish, inspiring John to do it again.

“Look at you,” John says, grinning as Sherlock squirms. He ducks down to kiss gently at Sherlock’s navel, and Sherlock groans.

What a supreme irony it is, Sherlock marvels, that Tantalus must have crossed the River Styx after he died. That he was surrounded by water mere moments before he was overcome with unquenchable thirst for it.

*

He wakes up at 2am to find John looking at him. This is disconcerting, as he’d been expecting to find John asleep.

He’s propped up on his elbow. His face looks like an evacuated city in the subtle orange of the lamplight; the hollows of it creased and dark and worn.

It takes a long moment of their gazes drinking each other in before John manages to speak. When he does, he looks down, like he can’t bear it. “Let’s forget this ever happened, alright?” He fiddles with the sheets, rolling them between the pads of his fingers. “You can delete it, can’t you? You have, with—”

John seems unable to finish the sentence. Sherlock watches him. The shadow of stubble growing in on his cheeks is tinged with grey.

Sherlock’s deleted space. He’s deleted universes. Of course he has the ability to delete one evening with John.

“You can tell her I needed help finishing paperwork,” Sherlock says. “That that’s what kept you.”

John crawls out of bed, pulls on his clothes. John favors his injured shoulder even when he’s putting on his shirts. His hands seem so delicate and small, doing up the buttons.

He leaves Baker Street without another word.

*

“Any corpse will do, Molly.”

He beats the body of an 80-year-old man with a sedentary lifestyle with his riding crop until he feels like he can no longer lift his arms.

He does not bother to invent a scientific reason to have done so.

*

He knows the colour of John’s toothbrush (red) and the sounds he makes in the mornings (a variety of groans and grunt in a semi-regular pattern dependent upon his sleeping position) and how long he likes his showers (19-22 minutes, mood and weather permitting, otherwise, 8). He doesn’t even want to know these things. He wants to clear his hard drive of John completely but he’s stuck there, like a virus. Even the direction and curve of the swirl of his hair at different lengths.

As if he’d ever be able to delete an evening. The evening. The night he learned what John’s lower lip tasted like and the sound he made when his right ear was nipped at and how far his thighs spread apart and that he liked Sherlock pleading and how the underside of his tongue contrasted with the flat of it and that he felt things differently in his shoulder wound and what kind of imprints his teeth made on Sherlock’s skin and more and more and more and more.

*

Sometimes, for a moment, when they’re running around London after someone mad, everything falls away. John will turn to him as they run through and alley and their eyes will meet and it will all stop, just there, John’s eyes flicking to Sherlock’s lips and Sherlock smiling like John is the only person in the world. The stars are out and Sherlock wants to show John that he learned one constellation.

But John halts it, and he looks away, and he touches his wedding band and smiles at a happy memory Sherlock cannot see. It’s an anchor, and they turn the corner and leave the alley as if nothing extraordinary between them had ever happened before.

(“Cetus, John.” He takes one step forward. “I learned it for you.”)

*

John still comes over for dinner after cases, sometimes, when he comes on cases.  One evening, over pasta, he reaches across the table and brushes his thumb against the corner of Sherlock’s mouth. Like he didn’t even have to think about it, like it was second nature. He brings the pad of his thumb to his mouth and sucks.

“You had a bit of sauce,” he says, like Sherlock’s heart isn’t thrumming against his chest so hard that it almost hurts him.

 

*

“Sherlock?” Molly pulls at several loose threads on her shirt sleeves. This is the thing about Molly, she’s so hopelessly tedious and predictable and boring. “Are you, you know. Are you alright? How have you been doing?”

Sherlock sips his too hot coffee. “Perfectly fine.” He cringes. “God, does this not have any sugar?”

*

John perches on the edge of the coffee table across from Sherlock. He is back at Baker Street. They are so close that their knees do not brush together but interlock. The distance is enough to remain chaste, but it causes a flush to rise to Sherlock’s cheeks anyway.

“Come on,” John says, and Sherlock leans forward. The cut isn’t bad, or deep – head wounds always look worse than they actually are – but John prods at it anyway, cleaning around the edges of it, mouth sewn up in concentration. Sherlock watches for as long as he can bear, John’s tongue darting out of the corner of his mouth and his concern weighing itself in the air between them, and then closes his eyes, breathing heavy. His fondness is a physical ache.

“It’s not that bad.” John’s fingers probe upwards to brush up against Sherlock’s hairline, several inches above where Sherlock knows the wound to be. “Mostly superficial. Might put a bandage on it.” Sherlock keeps his eyes closed, focuses on the softness of John’s fingers and the gentle press of them against his skin. “God, how did you survive without me?”

Sherlock drops his head and looks up at John from under his eyelashes. “Is this the part where I tell you I missed you?”

John laughs, and the fingers of his right had run straight into Sherlock’s hair, petting him. Like it’s second nature, like he hasn’t even noticed. “Wouldn’t hurt, yeah.”

John doesn’t get up to get the first aid kit from under the sink. He sits, he cards his hand through Sherlock’s hair a few times more, just enough for Sherlock’s eyes to droop as if drugged by affection and for him to lean his head into the touch. And then, as if just realising what he’s doing, John stands abruptly and walks to the door. He zips his jacket up to his chin, twirls his hands by his sides a few times before stuffing them into his pockets. He says a hurried goodbye that Sherlock doesn’t hear.

Sherlock smiles.

He retreats from the edge of the sofa and lolls his head onto the back, feeling more warm blood seep out of his cut and drop to his eyebrow. He’ll clean and bandage it himself, when he can be bothered. He got quite adequate at it, while he was away.

*

Even if he could – cut John out, remove him like a cyst – he wouldn’t. He never could.

*

He invites John over for a Bond night because he’s finally got a copy of Skyfall on DVD. Sherlock puts on John’s favourite shirt and spends nearly an hour doing his hair, feeling like an idiot but not being able to stop himself from darting back to the mirror to check every other minute. John comes over with a case of beer and they’re barely a half hour into the movie when they start gravitating towards each other, John’s fingers playing with the curled hair at the back of Sherlock’s neck and their thighs pressed flush up against each other like they’re fighting for space.

Sherlock shifts, he wiggles down in his seat. He stretches his neck, undoes a button of his shirt, and sighs with a sound like a moan as he stretches.

John moves his hand down and begins drifting the back of his fingers up along Sherlock’s side. Sherlock’s sure that neither of them have been following the film in the slightest since the title sequence. On screen, the man with the scar caresses James Bond’s thighs.

“God, bugger it,” John finally says, and they both fall off the sofa in their eagerness to kiss. Sherlock’s moan is real and throaty and full when he feels how hard John is, when he wonders how long John’s been sitting there like that, when he wonders if John thinks about him when he’s touching himself, when he’s with Mary.

“You don’t want her,” Sherlock says, and he’s astonished that the words are falling out of his mouth like this but he can’t stop them, it’s like poison. “You wish you wanted her.”

John bites Sherlock’s lips. He growls. “I married her.”

Sherlock finds John’s nipple under his shirt and he pinches it, hard, enough for John to double back and gasp out in sudden pain-pleasure. “Only because you thought you didn’t have me.”

John doesn’t say anything to that.

“Tell me. Say that I’m the best thing that ever happened to you.” He shoves his knee, almost too rough, between John’s thighs and lets John rut against it as he clings to Sherlock’s shoulders. He does, eyes almost glazing over before he screws them shut. John looks wrung-out like this, mouth open and letting out small, ‘ah’ing cries with every thrust. “Say it!”

“You are, God, you—” He kisses Sherlock’s neck and he bites it and he can almost feel the bruise forming on his neck in that moment, it’s so rough, and it’s as though all other thought has whited out of his head – “You are you—” John’s thrusts become frantic, rabbit-like and frenzied, and they’re fully clothed on the floor when John cries out and goes boneless on top of him.

“Fuck,” he says, after a minute of silence where had Sherlock pretended all he wanted. “Fuck.”

*

Sherlock is walking through London alone, looking for a member of his homeless network, when he spots John through a florist window. He’s buying an enormous bouquet.

Sherlock stops. He waits around at the next street over for twenty minutes until he’s sure that John is gone, and then goes into the shop himself. He walks around it, looks at all the flowers. The shop girl asks if he needs help with anything and he says no, leaving shortly after.

*

He has terrible dreams that cause him to wake up with his chest aching, like there’s a hole there.

Nothing even happens in them. John putters around Baker Street. Sometimes, Sherlock kisses at the nape of John’s neck.

Waking up alone is worse than purgatory.

*

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

*

They’ve both drunk an entire bottle of wine apiece when it happens again. It’s Mrs. Kelley’s fault, he hadn’t been to her restaurant in ages and she’d just got a new vintage in from France and she hadn’t remembered meeting John, so. They’ve made it back to their kitchen and Sherlock is reaching up into the cupboards, trying to find another bottle of anything because why not, and John’s hands very confidently curve their way around Sherlock’s sides, sliding across the bare skin where his shirt has come untucked when he extended his arms.

Sherlock stops searching for another bottle. He turns around, and John buries his warm face in Sherlock’s neck.

When they kiss, it’s like they’re drinking each other in.

Neither of them bothered to turn on the lights so they stumble in half-darkness to the sofa where they first kissed, Sherlock pushing John down upon it so that Sherlock can fall to the floor and settle between John’s knees. “Oh, my God,” John says as Sherlock starts to undo his belt, and his hands go to the leather, Sherlock’s hair, and Sherlock’s shoulders before finally returning again to the sofa cushions.

It doesn’t take long for Sherlock to loosen his jaw and tease John enough into thrusting involuntarily, and then he takes one of John’s hands and places it on the back of his head. He looks up and John from under his eyes and John groans, loud and wanting. “Oh my God,” he says again, and he thrusts into Sherlock’s mouth, making his eyes water.

*

They’re in a library when it happens for the first time in a long time.

“We think you and your boyfriend are a very cute couple,” says a shy librarian who can’t be more than twenty-two. “All of us do, I mean. We didn’t see you in here for a while and we thought—well, um. Just. Best wishes to you both.”

Sherlock feels as though someone has lit a fire in his gut that cannot be extinguished. There is a whole new sort of pleasure in the assumption that Sherlock never could have expected, never would have even dreamed.

John doesn’t deny it, either.

Sherlock stops at the library more often, just to be smiled at.

*

John falls asleep on the living room sofa a matter of minutes after sitting down on it. Sherlock finds him a blanket, he perches on the edge of the coffee table so as to watch him sleep.

And this: this is almost better, this is almost more. That John would come up to 221B and fall asleep on the sofa where Sherlock could sit and run his fingers through his hair instead of going straight home. The he’d curl up under a blanket here like it’s a habit is infinitely more intimate than all the places he had ever kissed.

*

The fourth time is quick, as though it’s not even a question. They enter Baker Street still half running, out of breath and laughing.

“God, you—”John says, voice high, and he reaches out to grab Sherlock’s shoulder to stop him from continuing up the stairs. Sherlock turns, eyes bright, hair tousled, smile still lingering on his features. “You’re brilliant, you’re—” John’s hand is still on Sherlock’s shoulder.

With less than a second of hesitation John surges forward with a muffled whine, eyes closing as he presses Sherlock up against the wall and kisses him, licking his way into Sherlock’s mouth. Sherlock’s reeling, still catching up, one hand against John’s face and the other resting itself against John’s waist in a way that is too-stiff, like if he is rougher John might realize what he is doing and draw away.

But he doesn’t; John is aggressive and ready and half-hard, biting on Sherlock’s lower lip every time he pulls away to breathe, to marvel at Sherlock’s face as though amazed that it’s something that’s really there. “You’re amazing,” he says, voice low, and it is the middle of the afternoon and they are frotting at the bottom of the stairwell.  “I can’t stop—thinking about you—it’s like you’re—everywhere—you—” He punctuates each statement with a rough kiss, the shadow of his stubble rubbing against Sherlock’s cheeks. “—your hair and your—your bloody coat—I think about—what you’re up to—everything—Baker Street—what your—face looked like—”

It’s the loudest quiet they’ve ever been; with each utterance John dives back towards Sherlock’s mouth to kiss him more and just the sound of his breathing is cacophony. Sherlock’s eyelids flutter and his head falls back, John kisses at his neck and then drops to his knees.

“John,” Sherlock says, but then John rubs his face against Sherlock’s crotch with naked affection and he loses all ability to speak.

John seems to be talking to himself more than Sherlock, making short work of Sherlock’s belt and trouser buttons. “You don’t know what it’s like, do you? With you—swanning about with your—deductions—and the—sounds you make, God—you’re—unforgettable—”

He mouths at Sherlock’s cock through his pants, tongue undulating up the length and then sucking on the wet fabric. He looks up at Sherlock with the spit-soaked, stained cotton stretching out of his mouth, and Sherlock’s hips jut forward off their own accord. John laughs. “Greedy little thing, aren’t you?”

“I know—I know what it’s like, I…I…” He groans, fists his hands into John’s hair. John pulls Sherlock’s pants down out of the way and takes the head of Sherlock’s cock into his mouth, suckling on it so that Sherlock goes boneless. He slides down the wall, one hand going frantic in John’s hair as he uses the other to try and hold himself up.

“Jesus, stay standing.” John runs his hands along Sherlock’s bare thighs. “It’s the only job you’ve got; God, look at you.” He laps at one of Sherlock’s balls and Sherlock almost sobs from the pleasure of it.

John undoes his own trousers and takes himself in hand as he starts sucking Sherlock off in earnest, and Sherlock pounds his head three times against the wall, losing himself completely.

John hums around Sherlock’s cock, hesitating at the head so that he can run the tip of his tongue along the glans. Sherlock comes, winding his hand so tightly into John’s hair that John whines.

“We can’t not do this,” John says, after he’s finished and they both sit, spent, on the floor. “We can’t. I can’t. God help me.”

*

For all the world, it’s better than cocaine.

*

John says that he cannot come out on the case tonight because he and Mary are going out to dinner for their anniversary. Sherlock texts back, saying that he can suggest a place.

                No, Sherlock. Keep out of this. I’ve already made reservations.

Reservations. It’s easy enough to figure out where they’re going after that.

He lets them get forty minutes into dinner before barging in, collar turned up, hands shoved in his pockets as he surveys the table.

“Mary. Lovely to see you. Sorry to disturb you, but if you don’t mind, I’ve got to borrow John.”

John is glaring daggers at him. Sherlock doesn’t bother to meet his eye.

“Sherlock, I told you, I’m not—”

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t of utmost importance, Mary, I assure you—”

“Sherlock—”

“But really, when it comes to the safety of London, and, might I remind you, this is John’s livelihood—”

Mary’s been watching the whole thing with a look of light amusement on her face.

“Of course he can go, if that’s what he wants to.”

“Mary,” John says, attention turning to her, “you don’t have to—“

“I know I don’t have to. But, just… go on.” Mary smiles and nods her head, twirling her fork and knife between her fingers. “Go save the world. It needs you.”

There’s a long pause, and John reaches towards his back pocket, looking reluctant. “Oh, don’t worry,” Sherlock says, “I have your bill covered. The restaurant owner owes me a favor.”

Mary laughs. “Do you know every restaurant owner in London? Do you seek them out?”

“Only the ones worth my while.” He turns to John. “Are you coming?”

John’s expression goes soft, he stands, and he kisses Mary’s fingers. “I’ll see you at home,” he says.

Mary smiles.

*

John forgets his favourite red cardigan at Baker Street, draped over the back of his chair.

Sherlock is not sentimental but he finds himself passing by that part of the flat more often, and if the back of his hand grazes against the soft fabric as he goes, well, it’s not as though anybody will ever know.

*

More accessible, perhaps, than the fable of Tantalus is the mathematical fact of the exponential equation. A curve that grows closer and closer to a graph’s axis, but never touches it. They grow closer and closer until Sherlock could almost die from the pain of it, from the irrepressible and unsatisfiable urge to touch without ever touching.

Of course, to the naked eye, the curve and axis grow so close that the distinction between touching and not touching becomes very hard to designate. We know that the two lines are not touching simply because the hard data says it to be true.

In fact, eventually, you could say that there was no difference between touching and not touching at all.

*

“Sherlock.” Molly tugs at her hair. “Do you, um. Do you want to talk to me?”

“Almost never, unless you have something useful to contribute. Have you?”

“No, I mean—about—”

“Excellent, I’ll take that into consideration.” He stands up, crosses the room to get his coat. “Might not be coming by next week, been bullying Lestrade into letting me go after this serial killer for weeks, I think I’ve just about convinced him. Afternoon!”

*

John and Mary must move so easily around each other. Sherlock knows what it is like to share a house with John and he feels like he is caving in with envy for it: John eating breakfast across from her every morning, John opening and closing drawers as he looks for an outfit, John burning or pinching his fingers in something and bringing them to his mouth as a gut reaction. He imagines Mary putting on a pearl necklace and John telling her she looks beautiful, he and Mary making dinner together in their kitchen, both of them doing the dishes and flicking the suds at each other, giggly as school children. It’s not even the sex that he wants the most. It’s the nothing. It’s the being able to lean over John’s shoulder whenever he wanted and make fun of the title he’s come up with for the newest case.

He can see John saying, “It’s just easier, staying in my old room after a tiring case and getting some rest, that’s all,” and worse than anything he can see Mary believing it, Mary smiling, Mary kissing him first on the nose and then on the lips and then deeper, and John’s hand going up to cup her breast and then hip before lifting her into his lap and then—

*

John is kissing Sherlock against the doorframe of Sherlock’s bedroom, trying to work his wedding band off behind Sherlock’s back.

“Keep it on.” Sherlock bites on John’s lower lip. John pulls back.

“Keep—?”

“I want you to keep it on.”

Sherlock hoists himself upwards and hooks his legs around John’s waist, forcing John to carry him. John’s right hand goes to Sherlock’s thigh but his left threads itself into Sherlock’s hair, holding their heads together as they stumble towards the bed. Sherlock smirks, grinds his body against John’s torso so John can feel how hard he is. He can feel the hard metal of John’s ring pressing into the back of his skull.

*

John walks into Baker Street unannounced laden down with shopping bags. “Just thought I’d pick some things up for you,” he says, bringing them into the kitchen and placing them down right next to the beakers Sherlock’s been working with all day. “Seeing as you’re so bloody bad at taking care of yourself.”

Sherlock looks at them, looks up at John. John is studying the old scratch on the table. “Thank you.”

“Would you mind if I stayed and watched some telly?”

Sherlock shrugs, gestures to the living room as if his answer is obvious, and twists a knob on his microscope. He counts out 600 seconds in his head, watching John out of the corner of his eye, before getting up and going over to join him.

He shoves his bare feet under John’s thighs. John doesn’t act like he minds in the slightest.

Posture, eyebrows, set of the jaw – he’s had a fight, obviously, not about Sherlock or he’d be far too guilty to come to the flat.

A small child starts crying on screen. John straightens. He shifts his legs for the first time, as if Sherlock’s feet have finally started to make him uncomfortable, and when the child does not stop crying immediately, he changes the channel.

He runs his index finger between his lips.

“It’s you, isn’t it? Mary’s perfectly capable.” (If it were Mary, obviously, he would have stayed to try and comfort her.)

John turns up the volume until it’s blasting.

He rests his hand on Sherlock’s calf.

*

Sherlock sees it as John’s bending over a corpse in an abandoned warehouse, trying to determine the time of death. A small, purpling bruise peeking out from the corner of his collar.

He cannot stop himself from snarling as he next speaks. “I can take it from here, John.” He is short with John for the rest of the case and tells him nothing superfluous. John’s confused, but accepts it without real complaint. Sherlock throws enough causeless tantrums that determining when one has a source has got to be near impossible. John rubs idly at the mark once or twice, but probably just because it aches a little. Sherlock doesn’t think he’s let on, otherwise.

*

Two days after Sherlock’s seen the bruise, he gives in, putting on leather trousers and going out to a club so that he can lounge against the bar with his top four buttons undone. It takes him all of twenty minutes to find somebody, some young, blonde boy asking him if he wants a drink. He’s short with full lips and a wiry frame, the posture and stance of someone who used to be a dancer. He’s two years out of university, ethically non-monogamous, and between jobs. The callouses Sherlock feels when the boy reaches up to brush the hair away from Sherlock’s temple tell him he’s learning how to play guitar, poorly. He’ll do just fine.

Sherlock interrupts whatever the boy is trying to shout over the roar of the music by leaning over and putting his mouth to his ear. “Small talk’s so tedious when I don’t care and you just want to get off. How about you just shut up so we can go back to my flat and I can fuck you until you forget what day it is, hm?” He hesitates before pulling away, breathing heavily, and then, as if testing his own boldness, he lays a hand on the boy’s hip and bites at his ear. “Do you like bruises?”

The boy’s pupils dilate and his lips part as Sherlock pulls away, leaving his hand stroking along the kid’s waist and lower back in order to coax him closer to Sherlock’s own orbit. “Sure. I mean, um, yeah, yes. Cool. Um, what’s your name?”

“Irrelevant. And there’s no need to tell me yours.” He doesn’t want to know it. He doesn’t think he could bear to know it.

He can fuck and bruise this stranger a way he never can with John, he can linger on his way down his chest and make sure that every kiss is forceful enough to break blood vessels, push into him so that each thrust elicits a shout. Sherlock puts his hand over the boy’s mouth to muffle the cries and turn the sound of them deeper. It makes him harder, the closer it manages to approximate John’s voice, cracked and gone reedy under pressure.

He is dissimilar enough from John that Sherlock cannot forgets that it’s not him, cannot fool himself even for a second that this young, unmarred chest almost half John’s size is anything but, but towards the end, as he loses himself in fucking, he closes his eyes and bites down on the back of John’s neck, angry and longing for it. He comes and he doesn’t believe it, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter.

*

The next morning, Sherlock sends a deliberately blurry text of a half-closed wound to John with the caption “need your medical opinion.”

It takes John ten minutes to respond. Sherlock imagines him doing so, leaning over the table towards his phone while he breakfasts on toast and coffee.                                                                                                           

                Is it urgent?

Sherlock taps his foot with hummingbird impatience, thinking. He’s put on his best suit, with the shirt that John likes.

                For an experiment.

Two minutes.

                I’ll be there in a bit.

He holds his mobile to his mouth to cover his smirk. He doesn’t do a very good job of it, but nobody’s watching.

*

John times his arrival perfectly; Sherlock could not have planned it better. His steps are perfunctory when he first shows up, climbing the stairs with business to attend to with neither frantic urgency nor leisure in mind. Sherlock can almost feel John’s heart skip a beat when he answers the door, the way his mouth drops almost unconsciously open and his eyes flick down to take in the way the fabric stretches across Sherlock’s chest.

He licks his lips, and it’s forgotten. He smiles, they go to the kitchen. Sherlock has already taken the feet out of the fridge. He’s laid them out on the kitchen table, something John used to always complain about, but John doesn’t live here anymore.

“You should really have some sort of sheet out,” John says, right on cue. “I don’t know, something. We eat off here.”

“We eat off plates.”

“Yeah, but still, really.”

John’s use of the word ‘we’ makes Sherlock want to tug on his earlobe, to bite it, to run his hands up John’s torso and take him apart.

Sherlock’s invented a few questions, one he knows that John can answer but will take a fair amount of detail to do so, just in case he needed to stall. He’s about to ask the first one when the boy emerges from Sherlock’s room like it’s an art form. His hair is tousled, and he stretches, yawning, displaying his body like he knows that it longs to be looked at. He’s not wearing anything, which is better than Sherlock could have even dreamed. He is immodest, inherently sexual, almost more so in daylight. Sherlock can feel the back of John’s neck grow red from a meter away.

“Is this your flatmate?” The bruises are mottled and blatant on the boy’s pale skin.

“Colleague,” Sherlock corrects, gesturing to the feet as if they’re an explanation. “Help yourself to coffee.”

“Mmm, thanks,” he says, and to Sherlock’s delight he goes for John’s favourite striped mug, trapping it with his fingers. Sherlock watches in his periphery as John tracks it, looking and trying not to look all at once. “Sorry about having a bit of a lie-in. Should have warned you. I’m always, you know. Tired.”

Sherlock cannot keep the smugness out of his smile. He brings his head forward in a bow of mock-sympathy. “Of course.”

John audibly swallows, and the boy, with an open-mouthed smirk, actually gives him a once-over before sauntering out of the room. Sherlock asks John the first of his invented questions.

When John says ‘what’, his voice is two octaves lower than it usually is and he has to shake his head like a dog trying to rid its ears of water.

*

The second the door closes, John bullies Sherlock away from the table and up against the wall. His hands go to Sherlock’s shoulders and they grip him tight enough to bruise, and, like a habit, one of his knees slips between Sherlock’s thighs. “Who was that?”

Sherlock closes his eyes, leans his head back against the wall, and smiles. “Haven’t the faintest,” he says, and he’s so happy, he’s so, so deliriously happy. “Didn’t even know his name.” And John shakes him so that his whole back ripples against the wall and he arches up with the pleasure of it, satisfaction warm and hot in his stomach. “Why? Are you angry with me?”

John shakes, steps closer, pressing them both against the wall so that Sherlock can arch in earnest against his body. God, he’s already hard. “Angry? I’m—” He releases Sherlock’s shoulders so that his hands are free to crawl into Sherlock’s hair and tug.

“You’re one to talk.”

The room stills, John’s heavy breathing seizing up for a moment before he pulls Sherlock’s hair again, harder, hard enough for Sherlock to cry out, voice gone high and young. John keeps his left hand in Sherlock’s hair, massaging his scalp while giving himself better access to Sherlock’s neck so that he can lick, nip, and suck at the skin while undoing his belt, clumsy, right-handed. He pulls it out of the loops and Sherlock nearly moans at the sound, at the way John’s tongue runs so wet over his fresh bite marks.

“Give me your hands.”

“John, you can’t seriously think—”

“Hold them out to me.”

Sherlock complies. His legs are shaking. “You know, I can get out of a belt binding in approximately—”

“I know.” He pulls the belt tight around Sherlock’s wrists. “But you won’t. You won’t even try.”

His cock hurts from how much he wants it. He swallows. He tries to wet his dry lips.

“Bed,” John says, and Sherlock nearly trips over himself in his rush to get out of the kitchen, he squirms against his bedroom door when he doesn’t have the patience to try to open it properly and when he falls into bed, he doesn’t even spare a passing thought to how considerate it was that the boy had made it up again before he left, new sheets from the closet and everything.

John takes Sherlock from behind this time; he fucks with abandon and holds him hard enough to bruise and refuses to touch Sherlock’s cock even though he begs and he begs and he begs and he begs.

“God,” John says as he’s about to come, intoning a word with each deep thrust, “no,” and Sherlock can barely hear him over the sound of his own groans, but he can hear him, “fuck, you’re—”John’s hands scramble across Sherlock’s back, take hold of his shoulders, his chest, reach out for hands he cannot grab because they’re bound; he can’t decide where to anchor himself— “mine.”

*

John doesn’t stop after the first time. He turns Sherlock over to face him and rebinds his hands above his head.

Sherlock’s face still carries a high flush, his hair matted down with sweat. His voice is hoarse from the sobbing. “Are you wondering if it was as good with him as it was with me?”

There’s a suggestion about himself that John acknowledges by meeting Sherlock’s eyes.

They can kiss at this angle, and John is such a good kisser. He’s flowered bruises with his hands and mouth all up Sherlock’s thighs and torso, but here he is gentle, here his tongue rolls out to caress the underside of Sherlock’s upper lip and his hands cup the sides of Sherlock’s face like he’s something worthy.

“No,” John says, smoothing Sherlock’s hair out of his face and running his thumbs over Sherlock’s lower lip, “because I know it wasn’t as good with him as it is with me.”

And that, in a way, is an answer.

John doesn’t stay and sleep. He goes, as he does, but before he goes for good he comes back from Tesco with a carton of milk. Sherlock has put his clothes back on. His eyes linger on John’s belt and his hands shake, just looking at it. John will think about today every time he puts it on.

“Can’t believe you can’t even do your own bloody shopping,” John says, and he hesitates before kissing the corner of Sherlock’s lips as way of saying goodbye.

*

He has paperwork to complete at the Yard and he doesn’t even bother to hide the evidence of his possession. He hasn’t been working for five minutes when Lestrade closes his office’s door.

“Sherlock,” he says, sitting back down at his desk. “What are you doing?”

Sherlock flicks his gaze upward and lifts a half-completed form for Lestrade to look at. “Paperwork. I’ve made clear several times my opinion of the utter uselessness of it, but for some reason—”

“Sherlock.”

Sherlock hates himself for the flush that threatens at the back of his neck. He looks back down. “It’s not any of your concern.”

*

Mycroft arrives on a rainy Sunday, unannounced and uninvited, as always. “I have a case for you.”

“I don’t care.”

He taps a long finger against the handle of his umbrella. “It’s in Brussels.”

“I extra don’t care.”

Mycroft sits down across from him in John’s chair. “Leave the country, Sherlock.” He crosses one leg over the other and cranes his neck. “Let two people be happy for once in their lives.”

“I always found happiness to be the idiot’s priority, didn’t you?”

Mycroft sighs. He pulls a small paper bag out of his briefcase and hands it to Sherlock. Raising an eyebrow, Sherlock peers inside.

It’s a pregnancy test. Gingerly, he lifts it out of the bag with his index finger and thumb. There is a plus sign on the small, digital readout. “But that’s impossible.”

“Not impossible, little brother.” Mycroft’s eyes dart across Sherlock’s face, almost waiting. Sherlock stares at the pregnancy test.

Mary wouldn’t have told him. John would have seen the box in the trash and gotten curious. Maybe he figured Mary was just hopeful. Perhaps John had never even told her. God, that’s a thrill. Sherlock shifts in his chair, thinking.

He’d have to have seen it, of course. Or figured it out. And oh, he can see it, unraveling in front of him like it’s being projected on film, John and Mary yelling at each other on opposite ends of the kitchen, John furious, Mary with her arms crossed, bitter and cold, saying the words “really, John? As if you, of all people, have any right to be lecturing me on loyalty?” And that’s why John hadn’t texted him all week, why John hadn’t come to Baker Street to stay after it all came to a head. 

But John has every right to lecture on loyalty, that’s the thing. Mary has just had John’s priorities mixed up this whole time.

Sherlock cannot stop a smile from unfurling itself on his face.

“Really, now, Sherlock. Show some emotional maturity for once in your life.”

Sherlock steeples his hands against his lips, still smiling. “You may go, Mycroft.”

*

It’s been a while since Sherlock’s dealt with a good serial killer and it’s the best case that he’s had in ages. He pulls open the cab door as they’re leaving Scotland Yard, ecstatic, still high from it, and is halfway to seated before he realises that John is not behind him.

He steps back out onto the street. John is still at the corner, the sidewalk, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

“John?”

“Hi,” he says, as if they haven’t just spent the better part of 52 hours together.

“Are you—”

“I’m going to go home.”

Sherlock steps toward him. John darts around and jumps into what had previously been Sherlock’s cab, slamming the door.

Sherlock’s black mood descends on him faster than anything.

Mycroft comes and picks him up in one of his posh, anonymous cars.

He goes to Brussels.

*

He goes alone to a murder scene that Lestrade is keeping tight-lipped about only to discover that it’s one of the dullest that he’s been tricked into going to over the course of the entire past decade.

“What am I even doing here, Lestrade? This is child’s play. The teacher had an affair with her student, he got jealous, killed the husband, I’m sure he’s hiding somewhere, petrified, as we speak. This shouldn’t be something you need my help for. It’s an insult that I’m here.”

Lestrade grabs Sherlock by his upper arm and steers him around the corner into the murder victim’s sterile kitchen. “I brought you here to show you that you’re hurting people.”

“Hurting people? Honestly, if I—”

Lestrade puts his hands on his hips. “You know exactly who I’m talking about.”

“So what if I do? You’re saying that you think that I’m going to kill someone? Or that she’s going to come and kill me?”

“I’m saying—” Lestrade stops, gesturing at the air as if it’s going to provide him with the right words. “I’m saying that people have feelings, Sherlock. That maybe this isn’t all about you.”

“Of course it isn’t. And it’s not about you, either.”

“What makes you think this has anything to do with me?”

“Oh, don’t be an idiot, you wouldn’t be speaking to me at all if your wife hadn’t left you for an overweight P.E. instructor and slept with half her coworkers on her way to it.”

“Sherlock—”

“Stay out of my personal life, Lestrade, and I’ll stay out of yours. And next time you want to waste my time, perhaps ask me out to coffee instead of luring me out to Croydon with the promise of something actually interesting.”

*

He stops at a shop on his way back to Baker Street and chain smokes three packs of cigarettes.

*

John rubs at the mark Sherlock’s left on his neck. “Fuck, Sherlock, look what you did.”

Sherlock, stretched out on the bed, does little more than raise an eyebrow. “You weren’t complaining much when I gave it to you.”

“Complai—Sherlock, come on. How am I supposed to hide this from Mary?”

It’s one of the first times he’s actually said her name in his presence. His doing so makes Sherlock’s stomach contract. “Take a sudden liking to turtlenecks?”

“Of course you couldn’t take this seriously. She’s my wife, I can’t just—”

Sherlock closes his eyes and throws an arm over his face. “How unfortunate it is that this isn’t even remotely close to my problem.”

*

It is Mary’s idea to have Sherlock over for dinner. She says that it’s criminal that she barely gets to spend any time with her husband’s best friend. “I barely know you,” she says, and Sherlock cannot tell if her interest is well-concealed competitiveness, or genuine.

The entire ordeal is an exercise in self-flagellation. The flat alone is like a shrine to their form of perfect, quiet husband/wife domesticity. Her rings have diamonds in them. They sparkle something awful.

While eating dinner, she reaches out, takes John’s hand in hers, and holds her cheek out for a kiss. John looks so smug about it, smiling close-lipped with his mouth full like he’s on some sort of sitcom from the fiftes, bumping his face against hers in a mere performance of intimacy as though the reality of it is something so familiar to them that the mere motions are enough to satisfy for now. It’s nauseating. It’s nauseating.

Sherlock is a wonderful actor. He sends tight, wrinkly-eyed smiles across the table at the both of them and does everything he can to keep himself from holding his silverware far too tight.

He doesn’t eat, but he rarely eats. John assures Mary that it’s not an insult to her cooking in the least.

When he leaves, John stays, and he can just imagine the two of them sitting together on the sofa, Mary’s feet curled up under her, the two of them talking about how they think it went, John assuring Mary that yes, of course Sherlock liked her.

Mary hadn’t looked pregnant in the slightest. Easy enough to explain, obviously, but still – Mycroft could have been wrong. He could have been lying. He’d never actually said anything at all.

Sherlock wonders.

*

John comes to Baker Street in the middle of the afternoon the next day. Sherlock opens the door and only manages to say “What are you—” before John has grabbed onto him, a litany of “I’m sorry”s spilling out of his mouth with every kiss. Are you apologising to me, Sherlock thinks, or to Mary?

It’s easier, however, to avoid the thorny questions and to let John carve him open. The danger of John’s uncertainty is not worth the loss of what little Sherlock currently has.

They weren’t supposed to happen this way. “God, Sherlock,” John says, thrusting into him, “I’m a tit, I’m awful, I’m so sorry—”

*

“It was the lover.”

John jumps as though he’s been burnt. “What?”

Sherlock peels his gloves off, furious, swearing under his breath because Damn Lestrade, damn him, even if he hadn’t known, he must have known.

“The lover. A fellow professor. Can’t believe I didn’t think of it before.”

“Sherlock—”

“Leave me alone, John, I can handle the case myself from here.”

He hails a cab and jumps into it before John has the opportunity to follow him.

*

Sherlock had never wanted, before John. That was the thing. They all thought that John had tamed him, taught him manners, taught him empathy. But the fact of the matter was that he had been tethered at the edges while made more furious in essentials; he was just as dangerous with his force and his fury sharpened into a finer point.

He’d kill for John. He’d kill for him.

*

Sherlock stops John while John’s making himself a sandwich to lift up John’s arm and kiss his wrist. “Your hands are so small.”

John looks away, tips of his ears turning red, wrenching his arm back. “Yeah, well. You snore.”

“I do not snore.”

“Yes, you do.” He finishes preparing his sandwich with a small flourish and turns to look Sherlock head-on, hands on his hips. “You talk in your sleep, too. You make really weird deductions.”

Sherlock lunges for him, chases him around the kitchen table, and pins John’s hands by his sides before he kisses him, fitting John’s balled up fists comfortably into his palms.

“Alright, you mad bastard,” John says against Sherlock’s lips, “but you do snore.”

*

“I love her,” John says in bed, idly, propped up against pillows and working his wedding ring around the base of his finger. “I do love her.” He thinks Sherlock is asleep.

Sherlock keeps sleeping.

*

John comes over early. He almost never comes over early. It’s before eleven, and Sherlock didn’t even have to ask.

He’s brought his laptop. Sherlock sits across the room, pretending to reassemble bone fragments while watching John type up a blog post. He finishes it, lets it sit for a while, waiting for comments, and then gets halfway through a second one which he saves to a draft. He surfs the internet for a while. When John had been living with him, Sherlock had known his precise surfing order, but it’s not something that he can be quite certain of, now.

Around three, Sherlock picks up his violin. John moves to his old chair to listen. He applauds politely at the end. “That was wonderful, Sherlock.” Sherlock doesn’t say anything.

John fishes out a novel from under the sofa as if he knew that it’d be there all along. He reads it cover to cover as Sherlock redoes an experiment on acidity that he’d come up with while he was still at uni, wasting a perfectly good hand that Molly had given him.

“Do you want to get dinner?” Sherlock asks at six, his voice cracking from disuse and uncertainty.

“Nah, I was thinking I’d just reheat the risotto from the other night. Unless you, I don’t know, set it on fire, or something.”

“It’s still in the fridge.”

John takes a shower. He makes himself dinner. He kisses Sherlock on the forehead. He goes home.

Sherlock eats the remainder of the risotto curled up in John’s chair, a Bond film on in the background that he doesn’t pay attention to.

*

The moment Sherlock is down there, lapping at John’s hole, he knows that John’s never had anything up his arse before. He draws his middle finger into his mouth, making it slick with spit, and John nearly cries as he arches up into it as Sherlock presses it inside. He kisses and licks John’s balls as he starts moving his finger in and out in minute thrusts. He looks up to take John in: his sweaty face, tortured expression, flushed chest, leaking cock. “You could come just from this, couldn’t you?” Sherlock asks, reaching for the lube to help ease his second finger in.

John’s whole body is shaking, legs trembling at Sherlock’s side. He curves his free hand around John’s thigh and kisses it, open-mouthed, gentle, slow. John is beyond words. He arches and keens without Sherlock even moving.

Is this it? Sherlock thinks, moving slowly as he seeks out John’s prostate, brushing against the insides of him. Is this mine?

*

Mary waits for him outside Speedy’s. She hands him a cup of coffee that’s gone cold as if they had arranged to meet there.

“He looks at you like he loves you,” Mary says, and, to her credit, Sherlock still does not know how much she knows. She straightens, and looks Sherlock right in the eye as if waiting for him to deny it. “You know. The same way he looked at me.”

“He didn’t marry me.”

Mary narrows her eyes and smirks. It is almost sad. “No,” she says. “He didn’t, did he?”

*

Tantalus received eternal punished for stealing the nectar of the Gods.

Sometime, a time far from now, Sherlock bends—

*

“Well,” John says, doing his shirt all the way up to the top button. “I best be off.” He putters around the flat, lifting papers and clothes without really searching for anything underneath them, reaching into his pocket and putting his wedding ring back on his finger. He shrugs on his jacket and puts his hand on the doorknob, looking over his shoulder to give Sherlock a brief, terse smile before he leaves.

“Don’t go,” Sherlock says from the sofa, sudden, his voice ragged. His hands shake as if they cannot believe his own daring.

“Please, don’t go.”