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Out of the Woods

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Out of the Woods

 

The flirting starts about the same time that John starts laughing again.

They begin concurrently, though it takes Sherlock longer to confirm inwardly that the flirting part is, in fact, that. He subtly checks the date the first time it happens: approximately four weeks after the entire fiasco with Eurus. They’d just solved a crime, only their second since they started working again, and Sherlock said something about the look on the perpetrator’s face when Lestrade cuffed him, and John threw his head back and laughed, a freely joyful laugh with no trace of the heaviness or bitterness that’s generally coloured it since… Sherlock doesn’t even know how far back it goes. The point is that it was a good laugh, a real laugh, and everything from that day forward is noticeably better. Not just between them – in the work, around the house in general – but also between them. After he laughed, John had shaken his head, playfully punched Sherlock in the arm and said Yeah, that was great! What are we doing for supper? Ordering in or going out? And Sherlock had tried his best to hide how pleased he was by the light punch – John had not touched him any way, casual or otherwise, since that unspeakable day in Culverton Smith’s hospital – and suggested Indian. John had agreed, said he was changing into dry shoes first, and then they could go.

Since that night, everything has been better. They take cases, usually chosen together, and they generally solve them. John moved back into Baker Street to help repair it and then just never seemed to leave again. They eat together, sometimes cooking, sometimes going out, and after the first week or two, they started playing games again the way they used to, long ago. As for cinema, John has now dedicated the entire Marvel Universe to Sherlock’s study, so it appears they won’t run out of films any time soon.

There is an air of relaxedness between them that has possibly never been there before, not to the same extent, Sherlock muses. John stayed for a few months after Sherlock was shot, but they both knew it was temporary. At least, no one ever said so, but Sherlock was always conscious of a certain reserve about John, an air of taboo subjects that Sherlock instinctively felt he was not to ask about, and therefore didn’t. He’s not sure what’s changed, but somehow he feels somewhat certain that John is here to stay this time. They’ve talked about most of what needed to be talked about. John’s apologised for blaming him for Mary’s death and for that day in the hospital, and Sherlock’s made amends of his own. The Whitneys keep Rosie most of the time and John seems more or less content with this. They’ve had Rosie at the flat two weekends since the Eurus business, but otherwise John seems content to let them have her. Since the death of their son, the Whitneys have been especially devoted to Rosie. It’s a subject they don’t discuss much, but Sherlock also senses that it’s not off-limits. He could ask if he wanted to. Perhaps he will sometime. Meanwhile, he’s cautiously, privately rejoicing in the frequency of John’s smiles, the warmth that’s returned to his tone, even his sense of playfulness. He’s even started making bad puns again, something they used to do before Sherlock’s enforced disappearance. It was something of an ongoing joke.

It feels, Sherlock thinks to himself, like a miracle. This is one thing which he will not do, however: comment on their changed dynamic. He know what he wants – has wanted for ages, it seems now. He knows equally well that he would never, ever ask for it, never bring it up. It’s his own secret and must remain one. Meanwhile, he’s cautiously happy to feel the shift in their friendship. It feels like the best of the old days, with a hint of something… new. He’s not sure what the new part is at all, but he rather likes it. It’s related to the laughter somehow, he thinks, but doesn’t get much further in his musings until partway through their next case.

They’ve just caught the accomplice and handed him over to Lestrade, who says something about how quick they were, and John says something a bit sarcastic to do with how Sherlock deduced the accomplice’s identity based on a watch strap and the angle of light coming in the bathroom window (which Sherlock still thinks was fairly impressive) and Lestrade rolls his eyes and says, “Well, there you have it,” and John throws back his head and laughs, then agrees heartily.

Sherlock doesn’t understand. He looks back and forth between them, hoping that John in particular will give him a hint. “I don’t understand,” he says. “Was that not – good? I mean… it worked.”

John shakes his head, still smiling, but it seems that his face has grown rather fond. “No, you genius. It worked brilliantly. It was more than good; it was great. You just make we mere mortals wonder why we even came along for the ride, you know?”

He swats Sherlock in affection, on the arm, but then his hand stays and pats the same place, as though soothing it. A complete oxymoron, Sherlock thinks, looking at John’s face rather than his hand. “You know why you come,” he says in some perplexity. “I need you, John.”

Lestrade throws John a look which Sherlock fails entirely to understand, and John clears his throat and fleetingly hugs Sherlock with the same arm he just hit him with. “Yeah,” he says. “I know.” He turns back to Lestrade. “So, d’you want us back at the shop, then? To wait for the owner?”

“That’d be great,” Lestrade confirms. “I’ll take Donovan and start on the warrants so that it’s all official. Let me know if you need back-up.”

“Will do,” John says, and with that, he propels Sherlock toward the street with that same arm on his back.

Sherlock wants to crane his head to look back at it. Is John flirting with him? The idea is mind-boggling. John has said, repeatedly, that he isn’t gay. He married a woman, though he hates to be reminded of Mary now. He dated woman after woman before that, and no men, to Sherlock’s knowledge. It can’t be flirtation. Is John trying to establish dominance, then? If so, if he needs that, then Sherlock can shrug and allow himself to be propelled anywhere John wants him to go. (Besides, he knows very well that he would let John establish dominance in a number of unmentionable situations as well. That’s never been an issue.) He looks at John as surreptitiously as possible as they walk. John’s expression is one of determination and mild humour.

His arm drops once they near the street, however, directing Sherlock to get them a taxi. Sherlock does, and goes around to the far side to get in and give the address of the shop. The driver pulls away and Sherlock glances sideways at John. Now that Lestrade isn’t there, John isn’t touching him in any way. Perhaps his theory that it’s meant to be a show of dominance is the correct one, then: he wants people to take him seriously, not see him as merely a sidekick or helper. Sherlock thinks that he surely established that with his wedding speech, but perhaps that wasn’t enough. He did say it again just now, though: I need you, John, but that seemed to have resulted in John and Lestrade exchanging those odd looks rather than reassuring anyone of John’s importance. He sighs.

John hears it and Sherlock feels him turn his head toward him without looking. “Everything all right?” John asks, the question light.

“Yes,” Sherlock says automatically, then searches for an accompanying statement to lend it weight. “I hope the owner comes back at the time his schedule suggests.”

“I’m sure he will,” John says immediately, as though assuring him. “And if not, we’ll wait. We’re rather good at stake-outs.”

“True,” Sherlock concedes. He turns away from the window and lets their eyes meet. “Assuming he does return at four, however, we’ve got him.”

John smiles. “Chinese?” he suggests, meaning after, and Sherlock agrees. He turns back to the window and notes that his pulse has increased slightly. Ridiculous. It’s not a date. How can you date someone that you already live with? Besides, John isn’t gay. He’s said so.

***

Nonetheless, Sherlock becomes conscious that nearly every time they’re in public, every time there’s an audience, John seems to become somewhat territorial about him. He doesn’t mind it in the slightest – quite the opposite, in fact. He doesn’t want John to become aware that he’s doing it lest he stop, however, so Sherlock continues to feign ignorance whenever John touches him. Meanwhile, he wonders how that could be made to extend into their private life, too. He’s known for years now, since before he had to go away, how he felt about John, what sort of thing he never would have allowed himself to give voice to in terms of what he secretly wished could come to be between them. John was already set on his terminal mission of marrying Mary when he returned to London and Sherlock knew better than to try to stop it. Then she died, and despite everything that had happened, Sherlock went on fondly believing Mary to have been the genuine love of John’s life. That lasted until a month or so after that mess with Eurus took place and some cryptic comments of John’s caught Sherlock completely off-guard, leading him to ask, and John told him about the folded shirts and the texting affair-that-never-was and the fighting, the guilt that played into her death. The doubts he had even while proposing, the fear of being alone again if he didn’t propose and she moved on.

Nevertheless, it’s a long leap to presume that not wallowing in grief over Mary could possibly lead to John wanting something along similar lines from him, and Sherlock knows it. He knows that it must be delicate ground: John and his latent attraction to certain types of men, quite possibly including Sherlock himself. Sherlock is still unable to determine to his own satisfaction whether he thinks that John is attracted to him or merely possessive of him, and if John is attracted, whether or not he’s aware of the fact. So he waits in silence and steadily observes every time John touches him in some way, trying to catalogue the precise nature of the gesture and determine any significance therein.

At home, however, John is more careful, but Sherlock can sometimes manoeuvre the situation to present John with other opportunities. Oddly, the flirting (if it is that) happens the most when the extremes of John’s character are brought on – the ferocity of Captain Watson blazing in righteous fury, competence and strength radiating from his every pore, or else the oatmeal-jumper softness of John in the heart of domestic life, responsibly bundling away a bag of rubbish before coming to set a cup of tea down beside Sherlock, or draping a blanket across his shoulders and then kneeling to light the fire. Sherlock thinks that he doesn’t know which extreme he likes more, until the day he realises that what he loves best is the very juxtaposition of the two. Sometimes John will switch rapidly from one to the other, wrestling a criminal down to a dirty alley floor, snarling with a knee in the unfortunate’s back, then getting up as Lestrade & Co. arrive to take over, his tone abruptly softening to Let’s go home and get you out of these wet things, his hands even gentler on Sherlock’s shoulders and back as they urge him toward the nearest street to get a cab. Sherlock finds it knee-weakening in the extreme, and replays the transition over and over again in his head later.

One day, a crime scene presents him with the opportunity to test the levels of John’s jealousy, see if that still works on him. They’re in Lambeth, double homicide, interviewing the neighbours when one of them makes eye contact with Sherlock that lingers a little too long, then drops to his mouth, then lower to his torso before flicking almost insolently back up to his eyes, and Sherlock eyes the man and recalibrates, playing back the last thing the witness just said: I’ll let you know if I think of anything else. How late will you be around? Sherlock blinks, then says, “Probably quite late, depending on our progress…”

The neighbour gives a slow smile, one corner of his mouth smirking. “Well, you know where I live,” he says. “And I’m always up late.”

Before Sherlock can think of how to respond to this, John clears his throat from his left and bulls in. “Yes, thanks, that’ll do,” he says, muscling himself in between Sherlock and the witness. He puts an arm around Sherlock’s back and forcibly begins tugging him in the direction of the house. “Come on, they found something near one of the bodies that you should see,” he says, his voice lower, clearly meant for Sherlock alone and to exclude the neighbour.

Sherlock lets himself be steered away, but looks back over John’s shoulder. “I’ll let you know if I need you,” he tells the neighbour, mostly for John’s benefit, then adds, to John, “I hadn’t finished talking to him.”

“Oh, please,” John says crossly, his arm still around Sherlock’s back. “He doesn’t know anything; he was just flirting with you. Wasting your time when you need to be thinking about the case.”

Lestrade chuckles when they come in. “Saw you found yourself a fan out there, mate,” he says to Sherlock, jovial despite the blood bath he’s currently kneeling in.

John does not remove his arm. “Sometimes we have a little trouble telling the difference between sincerity and flirtation,” he says dryly, though his hand pats Sherlock’s back at the same time, as though secretly trying to reassure him about the playful nature of his teasing at the same time.

Sherlock looks at him. “I was aware, but it doesn’t mean that he didn’t see anything,” he says mildly. “I’m not entirely dense.”

Several fake coughs are deployed by Lestrade’s forensics team at this. Sherlock decides to ignore them. Lestrade’s mouth twitches and his eyes meet John’s, but he decides not to comment. “All right,” is all he says. Then, “John – show him the mobile, would you?”

John takes him to the kitchen table where the evidence is being logged, and picks up a bag containing a mobile phone. “Here, look at the call log,” he says, and Sherlock’s attention refocuses on the case itself. It’s difficult with John still standing as close as he is, but he isn’t bothered whatsoever.

The case turns out to have deeper layers than Sherlock initially thought. He makes a connection to a meat-packing plant just outside the city and spends two hours stuffed into an alcove with John, their bodies touching in too many places, though thankfully nowhere that would betray him. When Lestrade texts to say that the employee in question was apprehended on the motorway on route to the plant, Sherlock relays the information to John in a mix of relief and slight disappointment. They leave the culprit to Lestrade and go home, where Sherlock surreptitiously shuts himself in the bathroom and runs the taps on full as he desperately yanks his trousers down to free the shameful erection he’s managed to keep hidden until now. He has a frantic wank over the bathroom sink, avoiding his own gaze in the mirror and trying to keep his ragged breathing quiet enough that John won’t hear it in the kitchen, where he’s currently ordering them dinner. He thinks of being stuck in that alcove with John in a different position, their bodies lined up face-to-face, imagines feeling John’s hardness pressing into his own. That does it: he comes in splatters over the sink and counter, his breath choking in his throat, then gasping out as his body shoots out a last round. He sags against the counter for a moment, breathing heavily, then meets his own eyes apprehensively in the mirror as he cleans away his mess and washes his hands. It’s only natural, he tells himself silently in the mirror, the water still running. His inner monologue sounds defensive. Everyone has impulses.

He shuts off the water and dries his hands. His colour is still a little high, but perhaps John won’t notice. He opens the bathroom door and goes to find John in the kitchen, see what they’re eating tonight. Indian, they said, but he let John choose the specifics.

John glances at him when he comes into the kitchen. “All clean?” he asks lightly, his eyebrows a little too high.

Or perhaps it’s just an innocent question. “Yes,” Sherlock says, but as he says it, he notices that one of the tea towels is askew. Mrs Hudson never leaves them that way. Suddenly he wonders if John was similarly affected by their enforced proximity and resolved matters the same way at the kitchen sink. His eyes meet John’s and John holds the gaze steadily, almost too much so, as though daring Sherlock to put his unasked question into words. He doesn’t. Instead, he clears his throat. “What did you order?” he asks, and if his voice comes out a little higher than usual or a little bit strained, John doesn’t comment on this, either.

The food comes, chana masala and chicken korma with soft, piping hot naan and heaps of fragrant basmati, and they sit on the sofa and eat together. John’s foot rests against his ankle on the coffee table the entire while and no one says anything about that, either. Sherlock’s newly-alert body notices and won’t stay entirely quiescent, restless and wanting, wanting enough that Sherlock already knows that the incident in the bathroom won’t be the last of its type for the day. He doesn’t even know precisely what he wants from John; he only knows that he wants, terribly and unrelentingly. He doesn’t dare put it into words, probe to see if it might be a real possibility. It’s simply too dangerous.

They talk about the case and the day instead, and after a little while John shifts and says he’s going to put the leftovers in the fridge, and after that the brief contact does not resume. Sherlock wonders if this is deliberate or if John never noticed in the first place.

***

The case stretches out into the following two weeks. Rutherford, their presumed perpetrator, proves to be far wilier than anyone expected, and evades them repeatedly. It’s one of their first cases working so directly with the Yard and Sherlock rapidly tires of the endless procedural tedium and Lestrade’s team in general. And Lestrade himself. There are compensations, however: John is well aware of his boredom and is particularly nice to him, keeping up a steady stream of sarcastic quips under his breath meant to make Sherlock laugh when he shouldn’t, and touching him endlessly, in small and believably innocent ways.

One day Sherlock is in the break room, pouring himself yet another cup of the Yard’s terrible coffee when John comes in, never far behind him.

“Is that fresh?” he asks.

Sherlock frowns at the machine that produced the vile liquid. “No idea.”

John comes over. “What, no clever deduction?” he teases. “Can’t tell when it was made from the most recent fingerprints on the brew button or something?”

Sherlock smiles reluctantly. “All right, fine,” he says, studying the machine. He feigns a look of deep concentration, then says, “Based on several variables that are frankly over your head and not worth my time to bother explaining – ow! – I deduce that this particular pot was made at 2:24pm.” He smirks at John, but says, “You don’t need to hit me every time I point out that something is beyond your comprehension.”

John shakes his head, smiling. “I’ll do it until you stop doing that. Come on: explain.”

Sherlock doesn’t budge. “No.”

“Sherlock.”

Sherlock points at the pot, where someone has scrawled 2:24pm on its side in white marker. “Right there.”

John peers at the coffee pot and begins to laugh. “You cock,” he says, without heat. “Fair enough: I could have just looked and seen that for myself. Pour me one, would you? I’ve brought the file on Rutherford’s financials, thought you might want to take a look.”

“Okay.” Sherlock pours a second cup of coffee and John comes around him to put the file down on the counter, opening it to the page he wants Sherlock to see.

“Look, these dates here,” he says, and Sherlock bends to squint at the fine print, his elbows on the counter. John mirrors his pose, their upper arms touching from top to bottom, and Sherlock has to concentrate to pay attention to what he’s saying, the numbers and dates fading in importance in contrast to the warmth of John’s arm, his distracting proximity. John doesn’t move away until Donovan comes in, complaining that he made off with the file, and they both straighten up then. Sherlock adjusts his jacket and tries to act as though he hasn’t been caught in the act of something forbidden, but Donovan is more interested in the file, anyway. He picks up his coffee and is hyper aware of the fact of John’s hand on his back, guiding him back to Lestrade’s wing.

Finally, after endless hours of bad coffee and terse discussions about leads that go nowhere, they get a break and narrow down the general area of forest which their perpetrator seems to be hiding in. Lestrade finds a cabin to rent and he, Donovan, the new sergeant whose name Sherlock has forgotten, and Daryl or David or whatever the new forensics’ person is, along with Sherlock and John, drive down to camp out in said cabin. They leave early in the morning and arrive just before noon.

“Who’s staying where?” Donovan wants to know, dropping her bag on a table in the spacious main room.

Lestrade brushes this off. “There are at least six bedrooms, some with multiple beds. We’ll all have somewhere to sleep. We can sort it later. Meanwhile, everyone come and get a map of the local area. I want you in teams. Donovan, you can take Daryl and head to the south ridge, here. Parkins, you and I will cover the area to the east. Sherlock and John, I want you to head to this area in the north. That’s the suspect’s exit route, so if we don’t get him first, you will. Mobile reception’s going to be spotty so I’ve got radios. We’re going to do this old school. I also hope you’ve brought your wellies like I said; it could get muddy out there. We’ve got some air support but they won’t come in until we’ve got a better idea of where Rutherford is headed.”

Each team equips itself with flashlights and maps and other supplies that they brought along, then head out immediately. Sherlock falls into step beside John. “So, it’s this way, then,” he begins, just to start conversation, and John nods his agreement.

“Yes, for about four kilometres,” he confirms. He glances at Sherlock. “You going to be warm enough?”

“Of course.” He dismisses this. “And I’m wearing the boots, like you insisted.”

“It’s not meant to be a fashion show,” John says practically. “They’re meant to keep your feet dry.”

Sherlock casts a look at John’s knee-high wellingtons as they walk. “Are they meant to be that high?” he asks innocently.

John’s brow furrows. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. Never mind.”

John’s frown deepens. “What’s wrong with my boots?”

“Nothing,” Sherlock says again. “They’re fine. Your knees should be amply protected in case of any metre-deep puddles we encounter.”

John grins and shakes his head. “Don’t even start.”

Sherlock snickers. His own boots come only halfway up his calves. “Have it your way, then. I just hope you can run in them if need be.”

“I’ll be fine. Besides, it’s more the mud I’m concerned about than puddles,” John adds. “I brought one of the blankets, though. We could be waiting for awhile.”

Sherlock checks his phone. “I’ve still got a signal, though it’s not very strong.”

“Good,” John says. They fall silent then, making their way through increasingly dense forest, instinctively making as little sound as possible. When they’ve reached the access road which Lestrade thinks Rutherford could use for his getaway, they stop. There is a ridge slightly above the road that will afford them some cover, so John spreads out the blanket and settles himself on his front to wait.

Sherlock hesitates, looking down at him. “Should I stand watch, in case he approaches from another side?” he asks. He could decide this for himself, but John is the one with far more practical experience in non-urban terrain, and is particularly bright when it comes to tactical analysis of this sort.

John shakes his head, though. “No. Look at the forest behind us: it’s far too thick. He’d have to take the road, especially if he’s in a hurry. Get down here.”

Sherlock looks around, surveying, and decides that John is right. “All right,” he says, and carefully arranges himself beside John, not too close, but the blanket is only so large. Without Lestrade and company around to make it seem funny or something, it feels oddly… he doesn’t know how to put it. But as the silence of the forest deepens around them, it occurs to him rather profoundly that there is no one he would rather be on a stake-out with, no one whom he would rather have at his side, warm and reliable and trustworthy. John radiates it, possibly entirely unaware of the aura of confidence in his own competence that he projects. Then Sherlock thinks of something John said, several weeks back, We’re rather good at stake-outs and has the secondary realisation that this confidence extends to both of them. As a unit. For some reason, this makes him shiver.

John feels it and looks at him. “Getting cold?” he asks. “I did tell you to dress warmer.”

“No, you asked if I would be all right,” Sherlock corrects him. About an hour has passed. “I’m fine.”

“You’re shivering.”

Sherlock does not point out that his involuntary movement had little to do with the cold settling around his body despite the wool of his Belstaff. The forest floor is damp and half-frozen, cold seeping up through the blanket. “It’s fine,” he repeats, with less conviction.

John shifts over so that they’re touching all down Sherlock’s right and his left. “Practical,” he says, justifying it, then unfolds the map and changes the subject before Sherlock can comment. “If he’s lurking around the southern ridge here, Donovan and Daryl should find him pretty quickly. Of course, Daryl’s kind of a big lug – he could scare Rutherford off from miles away.”

Sherlock gives a snort of laughter. “True.” His stomach gives a rumble of hunger that’s plainly audible. “Did we bring anything to eat?”

“You mean, did I bring anything to eat,” John corrects him, but reaches for his backpack without moving away. “You’re in luck: it so happens that I did.” He brings out a packet. “Sandwich? We’ve got roast beef or ham and swiss.”

Sherlock ponders. “Which would you prefer?”

John shrugs. “Either one. You want to go half-and-half?”

“Perfect.” Sherlock accepts half of a ham sandwich and bites into it. The sharp edge to the air has whetted his hunger and the sandwich is good. John has a special knack with sandwiches, he thinks, and says so aloud. John responds affably, his body relaxed against Sherlock’s. The roast beef is equally good, leftover from Mrs Hudson’s Sunday roast and elevated with a touch of Dijon, the bread fresh and soft. It’s difficult to remember that they’re not just off having a picnic, but waiting for the perpetrator of a double homicide along with a string of thefts and frauds and a trail of victims of one sort or another. How nice it would be, Sherlock thinks, and how easy, to finish his sandwich and then turn inward to John, put his arm around his back and pull him in, form a cocoon of warmth, their legs twining together on the blanket… the warmth of John’s body is extremely enticing and he craves more of it fiercely.

“There are apples and granola bars, too, and a thermos of water if you’re thirsty,” John tells him, and Sherlock snaps out of his moony reverie.

“You’re brilliant. I applaud your foresight,” he says, and John hums a pleased sound in response.

They’ve just finished their apples and are passing the thermos back and forth when Sherlock hears something. He stops short, gesturing at John to do likewise, and they both listen. There it is: footsteps on the road, jogging but uneven, and within a few seconds, the sound of huffing breath, nearing exhaustion.

They’re on their feet in seconds, guns drawn, and leap down the ridge just as Rutherford rounds the bend and comes into view. Sherlock says his name and they’re running. Rutherford shouts and tries to veer off into the trees, but they’re on him before he can even leave the road. He may be exhausted, but he’s still strong, and desperation lends strength to his twisting, kicking limbs. It takes both of them to subdue him, John sitting on his back, Sherlock kneeling with a knee on the back of his head as they wrestle his arms back and secure them with Sherlock’s cuffs.

“Didn’t know you had those with you,” John pants, as they jerk Rutherford to his feet. “I was just going to use a zip tie!”

“Please.” Sherlock smirks. “I always have them with me.”

John gives him a look that’s full of something dark and unspoken, but their current triumph is what prevails. “Do you want to do the honours?” he asks.

“Certainly.” Sherlock takes Rutherford by the chin and jerks his head upright. “Alan Rutherford, you are under arrest for the murders of Shelby Carmichael and Daniel Edwards. This is a proxy arrest on behalf of New Scotland Yard. They’ll give you the proper reading of your rights. A helicopter will be by shortly to collect you. We can pass the time waiting one of two ways: either you can cooperate, or John can knock you out. Which will it be?”

Rutherford glares. “Fuck you, Holmes. You two’ve already sprained my wrists.”

Sherlock looks at John. “That’s entirely possible,” he allows. “John?”

“Let’s tie him to a tree,” John decides, so they do it. They’ve collected their things and are waiting patiently when the helicopter drops onto the road and takes Rutherford off their hands. They’re congratulated and left to make their way back through the woods to the cabin to report to Lestrade.

It’s already dark when they get back and they’re greeted with cheers and applause from Lestrade’s team, and everyone tells their version of the afternoon. Donovan and Daryl never even saw Rutherford, and Lestrade and Parkins heard something but couldn’t decide whether it was a deer or their perpetrator.

“Anyway, it’s already dark, so we thought we’d make a night of it and stay here,” Lestrade finishes. “We’ve got steaks and beer and the cabin’s already rented, so why not?”

The idea is actually appealing. The case has been running for weeks now and it feels good to have it done at last and to relax. There’s no hurry to get back to London for once. Sherlock looks at John and sees the same sentiment there, so he nods. “Sure. Why not?”

John gives him an approving look, pats him on the shoulder and says, “Let’s see about that beer, then.” He ambles off in the direction of the fridge, stopping to exchange a few words with Daryl, who is unpacking the steaks and examining them.

Lestrade asks Sherlock a few more questions about the arrest and more of the case details fall into place.

“Oi, Steve. Get over here and help me with these potatoes,” Daryl orders Parkins, seemingly having appointed himself in charge of dinner.

John comes over with two bottles of beer, proffering one to Sherlock, so he accepts it. Suddenly the atmosphere has turned rather pleasant. Lestrade says he’s going to light the fire, which he does with Donovan standing over him and critiquing, and Daryl sets Sherlock and John the task of making a salad. They divide the vegetables and prepare them over at the table, out of the way of the men at the stove. It’s easy enough; everything is practically ready already. John empties two bags of pre-cut mixed greens into a large salad bowl as Sherlock slices cherry tomatoes in half. John rubs button mushrooms clean with a damp flannel, then passes them over to Sherlock to slice. John adds a generous amount of dressing, gives the whole thing a toss, and then Parkins comes over to collect it. He inspects it with an impressed air and says, “Wow, you two even cook well together.”

The comment draws derisive snorts from the rest of the team, which Sherlock notes that John studiously ignores. “It’s just a salad,” he says, shrugging it off.

John crosses his arms. “I’ll have you know we both cook rather well, in fact,” he states.

Parkins and Daryl exchange a look. “I believe it,” is all Parkins says, but Daryl snickers.

Sherlock chooses to ignore them both. There’s nothing specifically malicious in the looks or the laughter, but he’s always wary of it having the wrong effect on John. “Let’s go sit down,” he says, nodding toward a comfortable-looking, well-worn sofa.

John agrees and they go and sit down, taking their beer with them. To Sherlock’s pleased surprise, John sits quite close to him, as close as they were in the forest. Both sets of their legs are propped up on the coffee table and crossed at the ankles, their bodies slouched comfortably together. Sherlock is still a bit chilled and the warmth of both John and the fire is nice. He’s more aware of John than he is of the amiable conversation in the room, and feels privately that John is similarly aware of their physical proximity, yet is keeping up a light stream of chat, both to Sherlock and to everyone else in turns on the surface. It’s happening, Sherlock thinks, draining his beer and trying his best to remain carefully casual. They just can’t acknowledge it directly or else it will fall to pieces. But it’s happening. Something is, at any rate.

Lestrade appears with two fresh beers just at the right moment and takes their empty bottles away. He comes back and sits down on the armchair opposite, talking over the case, and neither of them moves except to sip now and then. “The steaks are almost ready,” Lestrade says. “Donovan’s even got garlic bread on the go.”

“Sounds great,” John says, and Sherlock agrees. The walk and the cold air and the adrenaline, coupled with the successful completion of a weeks-long case is all coalescing into a pronounced hunger despite John’s sandwiches several hours ago and he finds himself looking forward to dinner in pleasant anticipation, though he’s in little hurry to get off this sofa with John, either.

They get up and dutifully trot through the queue at the counter, collecting steaks, baked potatoes, garlic bread, and their own salad, plus fresh bottles of beer, then return to the sofa. Everyone else comes and finds a place among the comfortably-aged furniture in the sitting area, eating off their knees. Donovan tried to suggest they sit at the big table, but the idea was quickly shot down.

“God, I’m starving, and I did next to nothing today,” Parkins comments, and they all laugh and agree.

“It’s the cold and the walking,” Lestrade says sagely. “Great job on the steaks, Daryl. You’re hired!”

More laughter. “Would have been better on a barbeque, but I did what I could,” Daryl says modestly.

“Hidden talents, mate,” John says, lifting his bottle in acknowledgement.

They eat and everyone drinks rather a lot, Sherlock included, and John as well, he notices. He feels simultaneously relaxed, yet almost jittery with – anticipation? Expectation? Wariness? Hope? Impossible to say, he determines, and lets the inner wording go. The room is warm with the fire and everyone is content and easygoing. Sherlock wonders who brought the beer and why they brought so much of it. It was likely Daryl, he decides. He probably took one of the cruisers into the nearest village and went to a store before he and John even got back. They were the furthest away; there would have been time. It doesn’t matter. He’s lost track of how much he’s drunk.

Someone’s brought out marshmallows to toast over the fire. Lestrade asks if they want to come over and roast any, but they both decline. “I’ve got what I need right here,” John says lazily, holding up his beer and swirling the liquid in it around in circles. Sherlock feels inwardly very pleased that John declined, too. He’s content as anything to stay precisely where he is, with John’s compact form pressed up against him, their feet and legs touching on the coffee table, too. The other voices around them are loud and jovial, but Sherlock notices that both he and John are rather quiet, both of them throwing out the occasional quip just often enough to not have their quietness remarked upon, but not engaging further than that. He can feel the warmth of John radiating into him, and his skin is alive with want for more, a hunger gnawing within him to turn ever so slightly and put his arms around John, bury his face in his hair, put a knee possessively over John’s lap and pull him to himself… the thoughts are so loud, it feels audacious to be thinking them in such proximity to John. He can feel his pulse thudding in his ears, his chest, at the very root of himself, deep within his pelvis and collecting in his testicles.

Lestrade comes back from a visit to the kitchen, carrying a bag of something which proves to be candy, soft gummy shapes of some sort. “Catch,” he says to Donovan, and tosses one toward her face. She reacts quickly and catches it in her mouth, and everyone cheers, Sherlock included, to his own, semi-detached amusement.

“Oi, over here,” Parkins calls, so Lestrade throws one at him, fastball-style, and Parkins misses it. “That wasn’t fair!” he protests. “Do me again!”

“Nah, you’ve had your turn, mate,” Daryl says. “Over here, boss.”

Lestrade throws it deliberately high, but Daryl reaches up and grabs it from the air, causing Donovan to applaud him. “John,” Lestrade says next. “No hands! That’s against the rules.”

“There are rules?” John asks, and misses as Lestrade chucks the candy at his chest. Sherlock briefly imagines bending over him to eat it directly off his jumper, but refrains. John’s small hand finds the candy and puts it absently into his mouth, and Sherlock realises he is staring, watching John chew. Abashed, he reaches for his beer and takes a long sip.

Lestrade says his name, so he swallows and says, “Sure. Try me.” Lestrade tosses, a good throw this time, and Sherlock only has to move a little to catch it in his mouth.

“Nice one!” Daryl says, sounding impressed. “More hidden talents over here.”

“Greg actually threw it somewhere near his face,” John comments dryly. “That helps.”

This gets an Ooo of reaction. “That sounds like a challenge,” Lestrade says, smirking.

“I’m normally quite good at this, if you want to know,” John retorts.

Lestrade grins. “All right, it’s officially a contest now,” he announces. “On your feet, you lazy lugs. First person to catch five wins fifty quid from the petty cash. Look sharp, Parkins!”

Sherlock looks at John and they reluctantly struggle to their feet, Sherlock swaying a little on his. That would be the beer, he thinks vaguely. He and John go around behind the sofa to position themselves for their turns in the silly game and he already feels colder without their proximity. He catches several and so does John, and then Lestrade starts making it more difficult.

“This could be either of yours,” he says to Donovan and Parkins. Another gets thrown almost directly up in the air. “Free for all!” Daryl darts into the middle of the circle and jumps, snatching it out of the air with his mouth. They’re all laughing, Sherlock included, and then Lestrade throws one in their direction. “Let’s see who gets this,” he says, launching it up toward the ceiling.

Sherlock jumps, but so does John, who puts his hands on Sherlock’s shoulders, either to propel himself upward or attempt to hold him down, but the result is that they end up jumping into one another rather than straight up. The candy hits Sherlock in the cheek, but at the same time his face collides with John’s. It’s impossible to say precisely how it happens, but when they land on the floor, somehow John’s mouth is on his, his hands still on Sherlock’s shoulders. It’s magnetic, impossible to resist – Sherlock is kissing back as strongly as John is giving it, both their mouths opening at the same time, and John’s tongue in his mouth. His arms are around Sherlock’s shoulders and Sherlock’s seem to have locked themselves around John’s back. John’s mouth tastes sweet, of candy and beer, and Sherlock cannot make himself stop kissing him.

“What – whoa!” Donovan says loudly.

“Took them long enough,” Daryl smirks, possibly to Lestrade.

“Get a room, you two,” Parkins says, though it’s good-natured.

Sherlock barely hears them. He and John break apart, startled by both the reminder that there are other people in the room as well as by the sudden kiss, heat flooding Sherlock’s face. He lets go of John belatedly and John swallows, his gaze stuck to Sherlock’s.

Parkins and Daryl are suddenly there, herding them out of the sitting area and toward the rooms. “Let’s put them in the same room,” Daryl is saying. “Do these doors lock, boss?”

“Yup, I’ve got the keys right here,” Lestrade says, chortling and hurrying over.

“Wait, what’s – ” John is trying to protest, but Sherlock can’t seem to recover long enough from the shock of the kiss to muster speech. They’re surrounded on all sides, Donovan smirking at them.

“Lock them in one of the rooms with only one bed,” she says to Lestrade, who is still chuckling.

“Get their bags,” he tells someone, and the next thing Sherlock knows, he and John are being shoved unceremoniously into one of the bedrooms, their bags pushed in after, and then the door is pulled shut and locked from the outside.

“Sweet dreams!” the others call through the door, then retreat, laughing and clearly exchanging high fives.

“Assholes!” John shouts back. He thumps on the door. “Let us out!”

“Nah, mate, this’ll do you good!” Lestrade’s voice promises. “See you in the morning!”

Sherlock glances at John, then turns and looks at the room they’ve been shut into. It’s small, with the bulk of the floor space occupied by a double bed. He doesn’t know what to say.

Neither does John, seemingly. He’s pointedly avoiding Sherlock’s gaze now. He clears his throat, then does it again.

Sherlock is the opposite of sleepy, his body quivering with the awareness of what just happened. They kissed. Somehow, they kissed. They were playing the game and then they collided and just started kissing, as though it had been successfully held back all evening and suddenly came spilling out at the slightest nudge. It’s been there all day. More than that: it’s been with them for months. He can still feel John’s mouth on his. “Well,” he says, speaking for the first time since the kiss. “It seems we’re stuck here for the night.”

John rubs his eyes, still obviously avoiding his gaze. “This is ridiculous,” he says flatly. “They have no right doing this to us. Forcing us to – ” he stops, not elaborating.

Sherlock searches for something to say, but the words just don’t come. The beer is slowing his brain and it occurs to him again that he’s definitely rather inebriated. Finally he shrugs. “I guess we should just go to bed, then.”

John doesn’t answer for a moment. There is a single chair and he stoops to pick up both their bags and sets them on it. Then he nods. “I guess so,” he says gruffly, and Sherlock can’t tell what he’s thinking at all.

He moves past John and clumsily undresses with his back to him, his fingers slow and heavy with drink, yet he’s also incredibly aware of his body’s less than relaxed state and doesn’t want John to see it. He strips down to his underwear, folds his clothing and leaves them on the windowsill, then gets quickly into the bed. It’s a double bed, not particularly large, pushed up against the wall.

“Budge over, there,” John says over his shoulder, so Sherlock shifts closer to the wall.

He furtively watches John step out of his jeans and wonders if the reason John’s got his back to him is because he’s in a similar state. He is burning with the need to kiss John again, put all ten fingers into his hair and devour his mouth, lie on top of him and feel John against himself. Or pull John onto him: yes, better still. He buttons his mouth and keeps it firmly shut as John switches off the overhead light and gets into the bed next to Sherlock, lying on his back. They lie there in silence for several minutes, Sherlock aware without asking that John is as hyper-aware of their proximity and near-nudity as he is.

“This is ridiculous,” John says again, keeping his voice down. His upper arm is just barely touching Sherlock’s under the blankets and this smallest of touches is electrifying.

“Yes,” Sherlock agrees, speaking to the dark above his face. “Agreed.”

Several more minutes go by. Sherlock’s genitals have grown full and hard in the charged silence, his underwear bulging invisibly in the dark beneath the covers due entirely to the kiss and to John’s current proximity. His fingers twitch against the sheets. He shifts, uncomfortably aroused and trying to think of what to say that could possibly persuade John into not being so defensive and just – letting something happen.

Beside him, John shifts, too. “D’you think they’re just – hanging about, listening to see if we – ?” He stops again.

“Yes.” Sherlock says shortly. “Indubitably.” Is now the moment? He hesitates, then takes a deep breath. “John…”

John’s hesitation is palpable, and then suddenly it snaps. “Right, sod the lot of them, then,” he says, his voice low and urgent. He moves faster than Sherlock can predict, reaching for his face in the dark and they surge together, the kiss feverish with need and unstoppable.

Sherlock stifles a moan of relief and need combined. He pulls John onto him as their mouths bite as one another’s, and it feels so good he could practically cry. They’re both drunk enough to not be overthinking this, and John is surging against him. Their erections are pushing together through the thin cotton of two pairs of underwear and Sherlock hears himself making rather undignified, breathy noises of need in his throat, his arms tight around John’s back. They writhe against each other, kissing hungrily, and it feels almost painfully good, the friction growing and collecting between them. They’re both panting into the kiss. Sherlock rolls them over, the ancient mattress creaking beneath them, but it doesn’t matter. He’s on top of John and John’s hands are on his arse, squeezing and pulling him hard against him as they rock together.

John breaks off the kiss, breathing heavily. “Take – take these off,” he gets out, his voice hot and half whispered in Sherlock’s ear, his lips catching on Sherlock’s earlobe as he tugs at the waistband of Sherlock’s underwear, and Sherlock agrees breathlessly. They struggle out of their underwear and John reaches between them and curls his hand around Sherlock’s erection. Sherlock gasps, but John shushes him. “Quiet,” he reminds Sherlock, panting against his lips, his hand rubbing and squeezing, and Sherlock feels himself swell helplessly in response to John’s touch. He’d thought he was about as hard as he could get, but his body cannot help but respond to John’s touch, his penis growing even larger and stiffer than before.

He turns and buries his face in John’s hot neck, sucking at a patch of skin and simultaneously reaching down to find John’s erection, touching it at last, at last, and it jumps and moves against his palm as he caresses it. He loves the slide of the delicate skin, the moisture gathering at the tip. He gathers all of John into his hand, testicles as well, and rubs and squeezes and John makes a deep, heartfelt sound of guttural pleasure. “Quiet,” Sherlock murmurs in turn, then puts his mouth back on John’s. The kiss is wet and even hungrier than before. John lets go of Sherlock’s penis and climbs onto him and begins thrusting, his hips pumping in a steady rhythm that makes Sherlock gasp in lungfuls of air that come choking back out in little noises that he is helpless to prevent, his body jerking up to meet John’s thrusts, his penis stiffer than a rod as John’s rubs against it. The sounds are high and desperate and he winds his legs around John’s and rubs them together, too, needing as much contact as John can give him. John’s mouth is on his throat now, biting, then he sits up and grasps both their penises together with both hands and jerks them hard, even their testicles rubbing together. John’s breath bursts out sharply and he makes a loud sound despite himself, then stripes of hot wetness pulse onto Sherlock’s chest and stomach, John’s fist flying over them both. There’s another splatter of release and then John slumps forward, exhaling hard into Sherlock’s neck and ear.

Sherlock is trembling, his entire body taut with frantic need, legs jerking against the sheets. “John – ” It’s a whisper, gasped out, and John pulls himself together and makes a reassuring sound under his breath. “I – ”

“Yeah – it’s okay – come on,” John pants in a whisper, his chest heaving. He shifts sideways a little, his legs still tangled with Sherlock’s, and reaches for his erection again. Need jangles throughout Sherlock’s frame and he pushes shamelessly up into John’s fist, almost whimpering. John kisses him hard, his lips and tongue sucking at Sherlock’s, jerking Sherlock hard and fast and it’s perfect – it’s not enough – it’s – Sherlock’s body rises off the sheets and into the air as the orgasm crashes over him. A single shout leaves his throat and then John claps a hand over his mouth, but it doesn’t matter, he’s exhaling, moaning against it, his breath coming hot and hard as his body spasms and spasms, the intense sweetness of the pleasure overwhelming his senses and bursting out of him in juddering heat. His hips are twisting and thrusting into John’s fist even as he fills it with his release and keeps thrusting, pushing into his own wetness until the clenching spasms stop, leaving him breathless and weak, aftershocks of pleasure rippling throughout his frame.

He lies where he is, still trembling, John lying on top of him, their penises touching as they soften together, still sensitive and twitching, their legs twined together. John is exhaling into his hair and Sherlock is still gripping his back, stroking the skin and squeezing, particularly the firm roundness of his arse. He can’t stop touching John as he comes down from the high, and after a little, John lifts his head and kisses Sherlock again, their tongues stroking and pressing together as though they’ve done it thousands of times before.

Eventually they stop, shifting wordlessly into a slightly more comfortable position, John draped over him, his head on Sherlock’s shoulder, and in a fog of hazy contentment brought on by the orgasm and too much beer both, a heavy sleep washes over Sherlock.

***

He wakes with a start, unfiltered sunlight streaming in through the window and into his face. They haven’t shifted; John is still lying mostly on top of him, and he’s drooled on Sherlock’s bare shoulder.

John wakes a moment later, equally startled. “Wha – Jesus,” he says thickly, his voice scratchy. He pulls himself gingerly off Sherlock, their skin stuck together in several places, and deposits himself on the sheets next to him. “Fuck,” he says, staring up at the ceiling. He looks at Sherlock as though searching for confirmation that everything that transpired last night did, in fact, occur. Whatever he sees on Sherlock’s face seems to convince him. A hand comes up and he rubs blearily at his eyes. “Jesus,” he says again, with feeling. He pushes himself into a sitting position, his back to Sherlock.

“Good morning to you, too,” Sherlock says a bit testily, put off by John’s response to the entire situation. So much for his private hope for them waking together, perhaps a little abashed by how quickly last night came about, but overall quite pleased, maybe even pleased enough for a repetition of the events of last night. It seems not, however.

John looks back over his shoulder at Sherlock. “Sorry,” he offers, a bit lamely. “I just – ” He stops.

Sherlock waits, but John doesn’t finish whatever he was going to say. He wants to touch John, but refrains. “What?” he prompts eventually, breaking the silence that’s formed between them. He can hear the others already awake, moving around the kitchen and main room. Despite how pleased he is about what happened, he can’t help but grimace at the thought of their reactions. Perhaps this is where John is stuck. He can smell bacon and coffee, and John’s stomach rumbles audibly.

John pauses for a long moment, then shakes his head. “Let’s not do this here.” He gets up and reaches for his clothes, scattered on the floor where he left them, takes them to his bag and to swap for clean ones.

Sherlock silently shifts to the edge of the bed and gets out, too. John passes his bag over, setting it on the bed. “Thank you,” Sherlock says stiffly.

John glances at him, seems to debate saying something, but decides against it. They dress themselves in silence. John waits until Sherlock is fully clad before squaring his shoulders and rattling the doorknob. To his surprise, it isn’t locked. He opens it without looking back at Sherlock and strides out into the main room, evidently heading for the bathroom, his toothbrush in hand.

Sherlock takes his time about following; clearly John is keen to put space between them. Perhaps he merely needs time to process what happened. Perhaps he’s simply feeling awkward about Lestrade’s team knowing what happened and dreads having to explain something he can’t even put into words yet. John isn’t good with this sort of thing, he reminds himself, then hears the dubious answering thought that he is little better, himself. A fine pair, he thinks sourly, inspecting the fine layer of stubble that’s grown overnight. He rubs it and thinks about shaving, but John is in the bathroom. They should have talked before going out there, but John circumvented any chance of that. There’s nothing for it, then. Sherlock sighs and goes out into the main room to face the music.

Parkins is setting the table and the rest of them are in the open kitchen, cooking and moving about, preparing breakfast. Parkins looks at him and grins. “Look who’s awake,” he says, loud enough to attract the others’ attention.

Lestrade looks up from the stove, where he’s briskly moving something about in a pan. “Hey,” he says jovially. “I suppose congratulations are in order, then!”

Sherlock pinches the bridge of his nose. “Is that coffee ready?” he asks, ignoring Lestrade.

Lestrade smirks, but jerks his head in the direction of the coffee maker. “Help yourself, mate.”

The bathroom door opens and John comes out. Steadily avoiding his gaze, he passes Sherlock to go into the bedroom.

“What, no good morning kiss?” Parkins asks innocently, nodding toward Sherlock.

“Fuck you, Parkins,” John returns, disappearing into the room.

“Told you we should have left the door locked,” Parkins says to Daryl, who guffaws.

Sherlock goes to the coffee maker and pours himself a cup of coffee. He can feel Donovan’s eyes on him as he adds sugar to his cup. Finally he says, under his breath, “What.”

Donovan pauses long enough to make him flick his eyes up to hers once, briefly. “Nothing,” she says casually. “Only, you’ve got something on your neck…”

Sherlock’s fingers go instinctively to it and Donovan laughs through her nose. “Stop that,” Sherlock says crossly.

“Okay. But we all heard you, you know. You in particular. I would think that thanks would be in order. You’ve been wanting this since the day you turned up in Lauriston Gardens with him.” Donovan gives him a pointed look, then moves off, collecting a plate of sausages and carrying it to the table.

Sherlock waits for John to come out of their room, then slips in to collect his own toothbrush, shutting himself in the bathroom to brush his teeth and inspect the damage to his neck. There are several marks, actually, and he remembers John making them quite clearly, in spite of the beer that’s currently causing the dull thudding in his head. He does not regret a single thing that happened last night, and hopes rather profoundly that John doesn’t, either. He spits and rinses his mouth and toothbrush, then emerges back into the main room.

Everyone is already sitting down when he comes back from putting his toothbrush away and the only available chair left is next to John, to his private pleasure. John studiously ignores him as he sits down, taking a long sip from his coffee. The group tactfully doesn’t say anything, but Sherlock is keenly aware that they’re all thinking about it. The conversation is kept carefully light as they eat. Sherlock doesn’t taste a thing. John’s quietness beside him is the only thing he’s aware of. Is this regret, then, or does he just need time?

After breakfast, Sherlock dutifully takes a turn washing up, then waits until everyone is moving around, packing their things into the two cars before cornering John inside their room when he goes to get his bag. John looks up from zipping his and says, quickly, “I’ve just finished. I’ll get out of your way – ”

“No. Wait.” Sherlock closes the door behind him, unable to put this off until they’re home. His heart is pounding.

John looks almost panicked. “What are you – ”

“Last night,” Sherlock cuts him off. “This room. This bed. I need to know if you regret what happened.” His voice is harsh and jerky, but he can’t get the words out any other way.

John opens his mouth, then stops. “I didn’t want to discuss this here,” he begins, but Sherlock rejects this.

“I need to know,” he repeats. He would swallow but his throat is too tight, too dry. “John. Please.”

John looks at him then, his eyes wide, mouth still open, and then his face softens. “No,” he says. “I don’t regret it. I just – I wasn’t sure what, er, what we were thinking about it. I just – I thought we would wait until we were on our own to discuss it. Process it. Whatever.”

Sherlock’s jaw tightens. “Does it need processing?” he asks. “That sounds ominous.”

John exhales. “I thought it did need a talking about, yes,” he says. “But the short version is that I don’t regret it. At all. It was – good. Yeah. Really good.”

Sherlock feels cautiously eased by this, but scowls in spite of himself. “Then why have you been avoiding me all morning?”

John shakes his head, his mouth open, but the words take longer to come. Finally he says, “Maybe you don’t need to process it. I do. Okay? It’s – fine. It’s all fine. I just – would rather talk about it when we get home. Okay?”

Sherlock’s frustration returns. What can he say to this, though? “Fine,” he says, trying to mask his disappointment and failing utterly. He picks up his bag and strides from the room. He hears his name when he reaches the doorway of the cabin and doesn’t turn back until he’s stepped through it. “What?”

John comes over, puts both hands on Sherlock’s face, and kisses him firmly on the mouth for a long second, right there in the doorway. He releases Sherlock and searches his eyes for a moment, then smiles.

Both the kiss and the smile warm Sherlock to his core and he tries not to let his heart soar. Caution is still required, but he nonetheless feels better. He puts on a studiously neutral expression and carries his bag to the boot of Lestrade’s cruiser. Lestrade is hanging about but Sherlock endeavours to ignore him.

Lestrade, however, refuses to be ignored. “I saw that,” he says under his breath.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sherlock attempts to pass him but Lestrade grabs onto his arms and impedes his progress.

“Yeah, you do, mate. I saw that.” Lestrade grins broadly. “I’m tickled for you, if you want to know. God knows it’s been waiting long enough to finally get off the ground. If the morning after’s a little rocky, just give it time. You’ll sort it.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Sherlock says, rolling his eyes, but he can’t quite help the pleased smile that’s trying to form at the corners of his mouth.

Lestrade releases him, the grin not fading. “Ah, knock it off. You know you’re over the moon. Sure sounded like it last night, at any rate!”

“Shut up,” Sherlock says, scowling, and gets into the backseat of the cruiser, slamming the door on Lestrade’s laughter. The far door opens and Sherlock risks a look over as John climbs in. Their eyes meet for a moment and John smiles again. Sherlock turns his head toward the window as he smiles back, unable to prevent it. John says that things are fine. That he doesn’t regret it. And he kissed him again. Sherlock wants rather badly to believe it, so he cautiously lets himself exhale and try to relax.

Lestrade gets into the passenger seat as Donovan drums her fingers on the wheel, waiting, and drives off before he’s even got his seatbelt on. “About time,” she says. “Some of us have got actual lives waiting on us back home, you know?”

“How nice for you,” Lestrade retorts, but there’s humour to it. “Things still going well with Alan, then?”

“Well, we’re not the wonder twins back there, but I like him,” Donovan says, glaring into the rearview mirror at Sherlock.

He ignores her, and settles into his seat for the three-hour trip back to London, and tries to pretend he isn’t thinking over every single minute detail of the previous night, committing it to memory with intense, obsessive detail.

***

John is silent all the way back to London, only speaking when Donovan or Lestrade address him for some reason. Sherlock does not try to engage him. John said that he needed time to process; therefore Sherlock does not bother him on the trip back. It’s a relief when they finally reach Baker Street, getting their bags from the boot and going inside. Mrs Hudson isn’t home from the looks of it, or else she’d have come out to say hello, and wouldn’t that have made everything more awkward? Sherlock is glad of the silence as he climbs the stairs, hyper-aware of John’s presence behind him.

When they get inside the flat, John finally speaks, pulling off his coat. “I’m half-asleep,” he says. “How are you feeling?”

Sherlock hangs up his coat and steps out of his shoes, setting his muddy boots down on the mat. “A little hungover,” he admits.

John nods. “I figured,” he says. He squares his shoulders a little. “Here’s what I’d like to do, if you’re willing: let’s have a glass of water and take a nap. When we wake up, we’ll take showers and then I’d like to go out.”

Sherlock looks at him in frank surprise. “Out?” he echoes. “Out where?”

John smiles, just a little. “Out for dinner, I thought,” he says. “You wanted to talk, didn’t you?”

Sherlock opens his mouth to ask why they can’t just talk here at the flat, then shuts it again abruptly. John clearly has a plan. “All right,” he says instead, blinking and trying to go with it. “Whatever you like.”

John’s smile grows into a real one. “I’d like to take you out,” he says, and there’s a softness about his eyes and mouth that Sherlock has only glimpsed on a handful of occasions in the past, and it makes his heart flutter strangely.

“I’m not objecting,” he says, trying not to sound awkward. That was hopeless. He clears his throat and tries again. “That is… that would be – nice.”

John ducks his face to hide his smile, but not quickly enough for Sherlock to miss it. He turns and goes into the kitchen, pouring two tall glasses of water from the tap, then fishes a bottle of paracetamol out of the fruit bowl. He beckons with a flick of his head, so Sherlock trails after him and obediently holds his hand out to receive two tablets as John taps them out of the bottle. Next John presses a cool glass at him and Sherlock raises it to his lips and drinks, swallowing down the medication. “Good,” John says, just approvingly enough to make Sherlock’s skin tingle. “Now go and sleep. We have reservations at seven, so there’s lots of time. I’ll see you in a bit.”

Sherlock blinks and tries to organise his tongue into speech. “Okay,” he gets out, and realises that that was his cue. He tears his eyes off John’s throat as he swallows down his water, turns and makes for his bedroom. He thinks he won’t sleep, but the warm embrace of his bed pulls him in and surrounds him, his aching head cradled in the softness of his pillows. He is asleep within seconds.

***

When he wakes, the house is still quiet and the pounding in his head is gone. The sleep refreshed him. Sherlock checks the time. It’s half-past four: good. Plenty of time. He slips into the shower and washes off the remnants of last night with John, the woodfire smoke from his hair, the damp, mossiness of the forest floor from his skin. Afterward, he wraps a towel around his waist and styles his hair so that the curls will set properly. He shaves meticulously, then brushes his teeth and applies his expensive aftershave. He catches his own gaze in the mirror and admits inwardly that he is nervous. John wants to have dinner. Something they do on a daily basis, yet somehow extremely elevated this time. Dinner and talking. What does John want to say? Is it to be a gentle letdown, telling him that while the previous night was enjoyable, it was a mistake and not to be repeated? That now that it’s happened once, John has realised that it would never work between them? That the flirting was only ever meant to be a joke, that he never should have let it get all the way out of hand like it did last night? Sherlock meets his own, apprehensive gaze in the mirror and his gut stirs uneasily. He turns away.

He made reservations, Sherlock muses, switching off the bathroom light and going into the bedroom, nude save for the small towel. He opens his closet and ponders what to wear. John must have made the reservations in the car, from his phone, all without Sherlock noticing. It took planning, then. He sat there in the back of the cruiser and quietly planned this: decided on dinner, chose a restaurant, made reservations. Sherlock’s gut churns still more. This is important. That much is certain. He hems and haws, then hears the door downstairs open, John’s footsteps on the stairs. He isn’t still asleep upstairs, then: he went out. Sherlock takes out a pair of black wool trousers, but his attention is focused on the sound of John’s steps approaching.

“Sherlock?” He’s there, right outside the bedroom, his voice soft, in case Sherlock is still asleep.

“Yes?” Sherlock turns, holding the trousers on their hanger in front of him.

“Can I come in? Are you – ”

“Come in,” Sherlock says, despite his state of dress.

The door opens and John stops halfway through it. “Oh, sorry, I can – I can come back wh – ”

“It’s fine,” Sherlock interrupts, though he is extremely conscious of his bare torso.

John’s eyes skate down over it almost nervously. He swallows. “Er – I just wanted to see if you were up yet. I take it you just showered. That’s all I wanted to find out.”

Sherlock nods. “It’s all yours.” He hesitates. “Did you go somewhere?”

John’s face relaxes now. “Just – out on a quick errand,” he assures Sherlock. “I wasn’t gone long. Only half an hour or so. I came to see if you were awake but you were still sleeping, or I would have told you.”

“It’s fine,” Sherlock says hastily. Half an hour: that was probably why he woke, then. Subconsciously he must have heard John’s footsteps outside the door, or the front door downstairs. “There’s plenty of hot water left.”

John smiles. “Great. I’ll, er, just hop in there, then.” He pulls the door closed behind him and goes into the bathroom from the corridor, then reaches into Sherlock’s room to pull that door closed, too.

Silly, Sherlock thinks. He could have just gone through the bedroom. This feels ridiculous: they’re being tremendously careful and polite. It doesn’t match all of John’s warm-voiced teasing in the past month or so, the constant touching, their coziness on the sofa last night, and particularly not their rather uninhibited sex. For a moment he remembers vividly John sitting up, straddling him, and jerking them both off jointly, the hot spray of his release landing wetly on Sherlock’s chest and stomach as he came. He can feel himself stirring at the very thought of it and looks down to see a slight rise beneath the towel. “Stop that,” he mutters to himself, even as the sound of the shower turning back on emanates from the bathroom. “This is no time for that.” He wills his body to calm as he gets dressed, though at least the arousal is a distraction from the nervousness. He pulls on the black underwear he likes best on himself, the wool trousers, silk trouser socks, and then the aubergine shirt John has commented on in the past. He contemplates, then adds the jacket that matches the trousers, a slim-fitting two-button one of his preferred style, cutting sharply in to fit his narrow waist. He examines himself obsessively in the mirror until he’s satisfied that he looks as good as he possibly can, then takes himself to the sitting room to check his email and pretend he’s not fixated on the time. And everything else.

John takes his time in the shower, and when he comes out, he’s wearing only a towel, too. Usually he wears a dressing gown, Sherlock thinks, though his brain has semi-frozen as he glances up over the Sunday paper when John comes down the corridor, turning off to jog up the stairs to his room. He clears his throat and makes himself wait.

When John comes down, he’s also wearing a suit, the black one he bought for the death of an elderly aunt sometime last year, paired with a midnight blue shirt that Sherlock has noticed sets off his eyes perfectly. It’s open at the neck, which is unusual for John and makes him look uncharacteristically relaxed and debonair. “Ready to go?” he asks lightly, adjusting one of his cuffs with a casual air, and Sherlock finds that he forgot to breathe for a second or two.

“Yes,” he manages, and gets to his feet. They put their coats on and go downstairs. John flags down a taxi successfully on his first try and neither of them remarks on it. Sherlock slides into the backseat after John. “Where are we going?” he asks, his curiosity overwhelming him and temporarily drowning out his nerves.

John smiles, leans forward, and says, “Hutong, please. At the Shard.”

“The Shard!” Sherlock repeats, as John sits back. “You got reservations at the Shard this afternoon?”

John looks immensely pleased with himself. “Your brother owed me a favour,” he says modestly. “I called it in.”

Sherlock feels his eyebrows rise nearly to his hairline and can’t think of what to say in response to this. If John actually willingly spoke to Mycroft, that alone speaks volumes. “Goodness,” he says mildly, trying to respond casually. “What sort of cuisine is it? It sounds vaguely Asian.”

“It is,” John tells him. “Chinese, but gourmet. I’ve pre-reserved a Peking duck.”

Sherlock’s mouth waters just upon hearing it. Peking duck is one of his favourite dishes in the world. Many restaurants require it to be ordered in advance, however, which means that they almost never eat it, with their rather spontaneous schedules. The duck is served either sliced or shredded, sometimes pre-wrapped in crepes, and sometimes served pre-assembly with the crepes on the side. “You managed to get a Peking duck on the same day?”

John smiles again. “Your brother’s reach goes frighteningly far, it would seem,” he says. “Are you hungry?”

“Starving, now,” Sherlock replies truthfully, and John is pleased. They chat about the menu until they arrive, which is a safe and enticing topic, keeping at bay the larger issues John apparently wants to talk about.

They’re led to a table for two at the end of a long row of tables for two – apparently one only comes to Hutong with a singular friend at a time, Sherlock notes – and are seated at the very end, an isolated table in the corner where two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows meet. No other tables are visible from where they are: they’re in their own world of themselves and a vast sprawl of the London sky by night all around them. John looks out at the view admiringly. “This isn’t so bad,” he says, which is a stunning understatement.

“I wonder who my brother is blackmailing to get this sort of treatment,” Sherlock comments, but he’s aware that his heart is beating rather quickly. The table is undeniably romantic – incredibly so. “Did you request this particular table?” he asks.

“I did.” John opens his menu, avoiding eye contact. “I read about it in one of the reviews I saw. Shall we decide what we’d like to eat?” he proposes, neatly changing the topic.

“You seem to have it all planned,” Sherlock says, but opens his menu anyway.

“Only the duck,” John assures him. “And I might have ordered a bottle of wine. I’ve heard their cocktails are quite good, too.”

“Trying to get me drunk again?” Sherlock asks lightly, but John frowns a little.

“Actually, no,” he says. “We’ll come to that. But a drink or two won’t hurt.”

“We definitely drank more than one or two last night,” Sherlock says dryly, and John laughs.

“That we did. What do you think of the crispy prawn rolls?” he asks and Sherlock agrees, and silently allows the subject of last night to fall by the wayside.

“Those sound delicious. Are we sharing them?”

“Let’s, and let’s get another starter, too. You choose,” John instructs, so Sherlock scans the list of offerings.

“The king crab with tofu, or the pork belly with cucumber?” he suggests.

“Your choice,” John says firmly, so Sherlock chooses the king crab.

Next they decide on the spicy fried rice with prawns and a side of pork dumplings. No sooner have they closed the menus than a server appears to suggest cocktails and take their order. With his guidance they choose cocktails. The menus are whisked away and the server disappears. John leans forward, his elbows on the table, and Sherlock’s stomach gives a flutter that has nothing to do with hunger, the nerves returning in force.

“Is this where the talk starts?” he asks, unable to mask his nerves. “It’s a rather pricey way to let someone down gently, if that’s what this is meant to be.”

John smiles, that same gentleness in his eyes. “It’s not,” he says. “It’s not that at all, Sherlock.” He takes a deep breath, then says, “You’re not the only one nervous about this, either, now that it comes to it. It’s just – it’s so important. I wanted to get it right.”

Their cocktails are served almost so obsequiously that they don’t notice. Sherlock pulls his toward himself but doesn’t drink. “Okay,” he says, his voice still betraying him. “So then – what is it, John?”

John does take a long drink from cocktail, as though steeling himself. “That’s delicious,” he says, then twines his fingers around the stem of the glass and takes another deep breath. “For the past month or so – maybe longer – I think it’s been pretty obvious that I’ve been flirting with you, or trying to. And I think you’ve flirted back, at least sometimes. At least I thought so.”

Sherlock waits warily. Does John want him to admit this? “So it’s seemed to me, too,” he says cautiously.

“Right,” John says. “So: that wasn’t an accident. I was very much trying to, Sherlock. I was trying to push the limits, see how far it could go before either you commented on it and we had to talk, or it just – crossed the line by itself.”

Sherlock frowns a little. “And – last night wasn’t that? I thought it crossed several lines, rather significantly.”

“Oh, it did,” John assures him. He stops as their appetizers are served. They cut into the steaming hot prawn rolls and pork dumplings and begin to eat. “The thing is,” John says, holding up a piece of dumpling on his fork as though inspecting it, “I never was sure how serious any of it was to you. For all I knew, it could have just been the way we joke around. Let Lestrade and them think whatever they want. Or sometimes I even thought, maybe that’s just how our friendship is now: safely platonic, so that it doesn’t even matter if our feet touch or we’re in each other’s space. I didn’t know what you thought about any of it.”

“Nor I you,” Sherlock reminds him, and finally samples his cocktail. It’s blue and made of rum, curacao, lime, grenadine, and possibly several other things he’s forgotten from the menu’s description and is exquisitely good. “I had no idea what you were thinking.” He takes a bite of a prawn roll, which is almost too hot to eat, but so delicious that he does, anyway.

“Right,” John says. “So then the problem was that last night happened before we ever talked about any of it and now we’re in this strange place where – that – happened, but neither of us knows what’s what.”

Sherlock simultaneously frowns and chews the rest of his bite, then swallows and takes another sip of his drink. The fire of alcohol glows in his gut and lends him courage. “This morning,” he begins slowly. “You didn’t precisely seem happy about what had happened. There was profanity. It… wasn’t the reaction I was hoping for, if I can say that. I still don’t understand, if it was something you wanted.”

“Yeah,” John says. “I know.” He pauses, a bite of food still on his fork. “It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy,” he says, though he’s frowning in thought. “It was that I wasn’t happy about the way it came about.”

Sherlock thinks of the afternoon in the forest, side-by-side on their fronts on the blanket, then their closeness on the sofa in front of the fire, Lestrade and his team fading into the background, nothing mattering but John’s proximity, the heat of him all along Sherlock’s right side. “I didn’t mind it,” he says slowly, hoping that the admission won’t cost him rather dearly.

“It’s not that,” John says quickly, as though reading his mind. “I loved last night. All of it. It’s just that I – okay: this will be simpler if I just say it right out. I don’t know what you’ll think of me, or – but I have to say it.”

“Please,” Sherlock requests, dabbing at his mouth with his serviette and pushing away his empty plate. He takes another sip of his cocktail. “I want to – get to the heart of the issue here.”

John nods. “Well, here it is, at least for me,” he says. He reaches out and puts a hand on Sherlock’s wrist, and it’s warm and dry. “What I didn’t want was for all that flirting to just lead to us having sex,” he says, very frankly, and his eyes turn an even deeper blue in the light of the lantern on the table and the midnight of his shirt. “I wanted it to be more than that. A whole lot more.”

Sherlock finds he cannot breathe all of a sudden. His mouth opens, but nothing comes out. He inhales with difficulty. “More – what do you – ” The words are stuttering and difficult to force out.

John’s fingers tighten on his wrist. “I mean that I’m in love with you,” he says, his voice so gentle that it almost hurts to hear, and Sherlock feels as though his chest is dissolving. John’s eyes find his, his lashes golden in the lamplight, his face terribly earnest. “I mean that, Sherlock,” he says, the velvet of his voice turning husky. “I’ve been such an idiot. It’s taken me so long to just acknowledge it for what it’s always been – and it has, Sherlock – it’s always been this. I’ve always wanted it to be so much more. There was so much to get past, so much blocking this from finally happening, not least of all me, everything I’ve done to you, everything that’s happened – but that’s the truth. I was waiting for the time to feel right before I said something concrete. I didn’t just want it to lead to meaningless, drunk sex. That’s why I reacted the way I did. I had these ideas of it building up to the point where nothing could hold it back anymore, not – not waking up to Lestrade’s team laughing at us, having overheard us in something I would have hoped would be incredibly special – and private – for us both. It was like it turned into a parody of what I had in mind.”

He stops for a second, and Sherlock manages to speak. “But it wasn’t,” he says urgently. He turns his wrist and takes John’s hand, gripping it. “It wasn’t meaningless. Not to me. I’ve wanted that to happen so badly and it didn’t matter that Lestrade and the rest of them were there. I didn’t even care. I mean – this morning was – but I thought that once it had finally happened, even if it took a ridiculous amount of beer to get us there, that at least we’d be past the major hurdles.”

“We are,” John assures him, smiling. “But I still wish it could have been more romantic. I wish I had been more romantic about it, especially last night, while we were – yeah. I wish I’d made it nicer, all around. I know that was your first time; you’ve said before that you hadn’t – and I wish I’d made it better for you. So I’m trying to backtrack a little, get you to tell me that you feel the same way about me, and then we can do this properly at last.”

Sherlock smiles back. “I do feel the same way,” he says, the confession coming out low and almost abashed. “I know – it felt like we were constantly dancing around it and the only rule of the game was that we couldn’t acknowledge it directly. But – I do, John. I always have. There have been so many times when I wished I could just – do something. Touch you. Hold you.”

John swallows visibly and puts his other hand around Sherlock’s and Sherlock responds immediately by putting his other hand over that. John opens his mouth to speak, but just then a tremendously polite throat is cleared, and they let go without embarrassment as their server announces the arrival of their duck. John serves them both as Sherlock pours the wine, and they eat slowly through the delicious entrée, talking through all of the unsaid things of the past several years. Mary is dealt with and disposed of. They talk about Culverton Smith and that day at the hospital, about the blame, about everything that happened with Eurus. They go further back and talk about that day at Bart’s hospital, and the snipers. There are apologies and explanations, but it’s all fine now, Sherlock thinks, his heart feeling lighter than ever before.

“When did you know, though?” he asks, pouring the last of the wine into their glasses. “I knew that things had changed, somehow, but I’m not clear on when or why that happened. There was that whole, awful period after Mary died, and then on my birthday things got better. But then Eurus happened, and somewhere after that, things seemed to shift. What happened, John?”

John shakes his head and smiles a little. “You would think it must have been a big thing or something,” he says. “But in fact, it was… tiny. The smallest of things. I came home from the clinic one day and you were sitting at the table, at your microscope. Usually when I come home and you’re in the middle of something, you’ll say hello or make some sort of sound to show that you know I’m there – usually – but otherwise you’ll go on with whatever it is and your greeting is a bit preoccupied.”

Sherlock is listening intently. “And – what happened that time?” he asks.

The server appears then, wondering about dessert and coffee. They order cappuccinos and the chocolate tart with mandarin sorbet and the man disappears again. John turns back to him and smiles, a beautiful, dreamy, gentle smile. “You smiled at me,” he says. “You looked up from the microscope and smiled, almost as though you’d forgotten I was coming home and it was a really good surprise. Your whole face smiled, no filters or restraint: it was just clear that you were really happy to see me. I felt like my entire heart was swelling up like it was fit to burst, and I just knew then. I saw it all, all of the ways I’d tried to hide it from myself over all these years, all of the little lies and rationalisations I’d used to try to explain it away. It all just fell away and I knew without a doubt that I’ve been hopelessly in love with you for years. From the very start, if you want to know.”

Sherlock’s throat is closed and it won’t clear when he tries. “John – ”

John gets to his feet, comes around the table, and holds out both hands to him. “Come here,” he says, his voice still so gentle that it could carve holes in Sherlock’s chest and hollow him out utterly.

He has no choice but to go to John, who draws him gently into his arms, there in their private corner, all of London surrounding them, and kisses him. The kiss is exquisite, John’s lips warm and soft and firm in equal measure, his hands on Sherlock’s waist as Sherlock holds onto John’s shoulders, and then his arms come fully around Sherlock’s back and Sherlock gives in and wraps his own around John’s shoulders and gives himself entirely over to the kiss. Dizzy euphoria swirls around him, warmth pervading his senses.

John pulls back after a little and puts both hands on Sherlock’s face, his thumbs moving gently over Sherlock’s cheekbones. “There’s so much more of that to come later,” he promises, and leads Sherlock back to the table.

They’re just in time for the arrival of dessert and coffee. The chocolate tart is delicious, offset perfectly by the tangy mandarin sorbet, and the cappuccino is foamy, a dash of cinnamon bringing a hint of sweetness to the espresso.

Once they’ve finished, John insists on paying, though Sherlock tries to protest. “This time, at least, let me,” John says. “After this, we can split, if you want. Or whatever you like.”

“It just makes sense,” Sherlock says, though he subsides. “I have more money. It’s a trust; I don’t even use it except for our modest expenditures, and keeping myself properly clothed when needs must.”

John’s eyes glint at this. “I’m filtering my instinctive response to that,” he says, as the server puts his card through the machine.

Sherlock glances at the server, and refrains from saying that he wishes John wouldn’t hold back. However, it seems fairly certain that a repeat of last night is in the works, so he can be patient. At least briefly, he thinks, watching the way John’s mouth moves as he says something to the server about how delicious their meal was. The server beams at them both and wishes them a good night, then is gone.

John stands. “Shall we?” he asks, just the right note of casualness there in his voice, yet it’s not enough to entirely mask the underlying anticipation there, and this alone warms Sherlock and reassures him.

He pulls on his coat and follows John out of the restaurant to the lifts. John kisses him again in the lifts, then again on the pavement just before they get into the taxi. They manage to restrain themselves during the ride home, their fingers linked tightly together, but as soon as they’re inside, John turns to him and pushes him gently up against the wall, the same one they leaned against after chasing Jeff Hope’s taxi that first night, laughing until their sides hurt. He should have kissed John then, Sherlock thinks as their mouths meet again. The suction of John’s lips on his is incredibly addictive, his lower lip caught between John’s, a tantalising touch of his tongue there, and then John pulls back again.

“Let’s go upstairs,” he murmurs. “I’ve got another something planned.”

Sherlock touches his own tongue to his lower lip almost subconsciously. “What is it?” he asks.

John’s smile seems to be connected directly to Sherlock’s gut. “You’ll see,” he promises. He nods toward the stairs. “Come on.”

Sherlock follows him dutifully upstairs and looks around. Nothing looks any different, at any rate, but then he was also right here in the sitting room right up until when they left. He turns to John, the unspoken question on his lips.

“I just have to run upstairs,” John says, pulling off his coat and hanging it up. He nods at Sherlock. “Take off your coat. Jacket, too. I’ll be right back.”

“Okay,” Sherlock says, the question still in his voice but he lets it go. He removes the stipulated items of clothing and his shoes and waits, standing in the middle of the room and unsure as to what to do with himself.

John is good to his word and returns immediately, though. He’s taken off his suit jacket, too, and is carrying something. He holds it up. “Recognise this?”

Sherlock does, immediately. It’s a CD of Brahms waltzes. Specifically, it’s the collection he used for teaching John how to waltz for his wedding to Mary. He got rid of it the day after. His throat grows tight, seeing it in John’s hand, but he nods. “Where did you get that?” he asks, the question sticking in his throat.

“That used CD shop on Marylebone,” John says, coming closer. “I wanted this evening to be properly romantic, not just – what last night was. I looked everywhere in your collection for it this afternoon and couldn’t find it. I wanted it to be the same one. I looked on your ipod, too, but I remembered that it was a CD. So I popped out after my nap and had a look at that little shop, and they actually had it! I was stoked that it was the exact same one, so I bought it and came home.”

“That’s where I sold it,” Sherlock admits. “I didn’t want you to see it in the bin or something. Though you were away on your honeymoon at the time.”

John’s eyes are welling over with understanding. “I see,” he says softly. “I’m glad I got it back. I’d like the chance to redeem it for you. For both of us.” He holds up the disc. “May I?”

Sherlock nods, not trusting himself to speak, and John goes to the CD player, barely-used anymore, and fits the disc into the tray. The first waltz comes on, the A-flat Major (solo piano version), and he comes back to Sherlock.

“Dance with me,” he requests, so Sherlock goes into his arms.

It’s been ages since they danced together, yet it feels the same as it did before. The only difference is that John’s entire body is poignantly more familiar now, intimately so since last night. Sherlock’s heart is in his throat, the romantic music stirring up waves of bittersweet nostalgia. He loved teaching John to dance, far more than he ever should have, and he kept it to himself in rigidly-guarded secrecy at the time. Even now it’s difficult to not automatically put up a front, but after the first minute or so, he manages to let go and just dance with John. John remembers well, leading with authority, looking up into Sherlock’s face, neither of them saying anything, Sherlock’s heart pounding so hard that John must feel it through his skin, their hands where they’re clasped, or his back where John’s hand is resting.

They waltz for three songs, then John moves closer, abandoning the formal structure of the waltz and pulling Sherlock directly into his arms, swaying to the music rather than dancing. Sherlock closes his eyes and puts his cheek down on John’s head, into the softness of his hair, and lets everything that he feels for John, everything that he’s desired for so very long in intense privacy, wash through him like a flood. His arms are wrapped possessively around John’s shoulders and he feels as close to him as he felt last night, in the aftermath. It’s he who makes the first move this time, ducking his face to find John’s mouth again, and they kiss even as they shuffle in a vague approximation of dancing. John puts both his hands on Sherlock’s face and cradles it, and Sherlock moves his arms so that they’re circling John’s back instead, their mouths open, tongues pressed together, moving sensuously in tandem, and arousal spreads through Sherlock’s frame like wildfire. He tugs John’s shirt out of the back of his trousers, dying to touch his skin directly again, and he’s warm, so very warm.

John responds with a deeply appreciative sound into Sherlock’s mouth, then pulls back and says, his voice low, “Yes – anything you want, Sherlock. I’m all yours.”

Sherlock kisses him again in lieu of words, several times, then says, his voice low, “I didn’t know – I didn’t know how good it could be. How good it could feel. This is – everything, John. I – ”

He stops, but John kisses him anyway, their mouths closed, and murmurs, “I know, love. I know. I’ve never been as happy in my entire life as I am right now. This feels like – the impossible made possible. A dream come true.”

“I love you,” Sherlock says, his voice low and unsteady, and John pulls his mouth back and kisses him passionately, still holding his face. It’s hungry, fuelled by years of unfulfilled longing and a current need to express all that which neither of them could express before. They’re not moving anymore, just holding each other tightly, hands gripping one another hard enough to leave marks. Sherlock is hard as a rod in his trousers, too, but this almost seems secondary – at least until John moves his hands directly to Sherlock’s arse and squeezes hard. Rational thought dissolves into chaos in Sherlock’s mind as his arousal goes from elevated to acute, his legs nearly giving way in its heady influence. He’s pressing himself into John unabashedly, gasping as John’s mouth finds his throat, sucking hard. He can feel John’s answering hardness pushing into his hip and thigh and wants to climb him like a lamppost.

John breaks off the kiss, panting, his breath hot on Sherlock’s lips. His fingers are slipping the buttons out of Sherlock’s shirt with dextrous ease, working downward, and when he reaches the waistband of Sherlock’s trousers, he looks back up into his eyes and kisses him again, a hard suck at his lips as he unbuttons Sherlock and unzips him, a hand slipping down to cup him in his underwear, and Sherlock’s oxygen punches out of his lungs with force.

“John – ” He has to touch John – he already is, his hands grabbing and squeezing whatever they can grasp, one on John’s perfect arse and the other gripping his ribcage, uncoordinated and rendered clumsy in his need. John’s shirt is half-unbuttoned and hanging out of his trousers.

John smiles into his face and strokes his face with the hand that isn’t currently down his trousers. “Bedroom?” he asks softly, and Sherlock nods quickly, anticipation washing through him in a dizzy wave.

Somehow they get down the corridor – Sherlock’s memory of this is hazy later. He remembers John steering him inside and closing the door, though, and their clothes are shed rapidly, four hands stripping away the layers to reveal one another at long last. Naked, John kisses him again, their erections bumping clumsily and sparking Sherlock’s nerve endings like electricity every time they touch. When the edge of the bed hit the back of his legs, Sherlock realises that John was guiding them over. He scrambles backwards onto it, tugging John with him, over him.

John settles himself onto Sherlock and smiles dreamily down at him. “I love you, too,” he says, stroking an errant curl back from Sherlock’s forehead. “And I want tonight to be whatever you want it to be. Provided that you let me make you feel as good as I know how.”

“You did pretty well with that already last night,” Sherlock points out. “It was the best night of my life.”

This makes John smile. “Was it?” he asks, touching his thumb to Sherlock’s lower lip. “I’m glad. I want tonight to be even better, that’s all.”

“It already is,” Sherlock tells him, and John lowers his head to kiss him again. They’re moving together instinctively, touching everywhere, and Sherlock lets his hands wander freely, trying to touch as much of John as possible.

John moves his mouth to Sherlock’s sensitive throat and kisses it repeatedly. “I just want to make you feel good,” he murmurs. “That’s all I want. Can we do that?”

Sherlock manages a breathy acquiescence to this, and John makes a satisfied sound into his skin. “As long as you – let me do something for you in return,” he gets out, and John lifts his head to look into his eyes.

“Of course,” he promises, and strokes his cheek. “I’ve just – I’ve needed to touch you for so long. There were days when I practically had to sit on my hands to keep them from reaching for you.”

“You shouldn’t have,” Sherlock says. “I wish you hadn’t.”

“In retrospect, so do I,” John says, a bit wistfully. He kisses Sherlock again, then says, “But we’re out of the woods now. Quite literally. We’re here. In your bed together.”

“Our bed, now,” Sherlock offers as a counter, and John nods and kisses him again, again, again.

They roll over and over on top of the blankets, bodies twined together and undulating, John’s hands firmly on Sherlock’s arse and back. He pushes the blankets out of the way, then reaches for Sherlock’s aching erection and begins to kiss his chest at the same time. It feels extremely good, the two points of sensation vying for his attention, though the hand on his penis is definitely winning out. John is stroking it gently, lovingly. “I love feeling you get even harder in my hand,” he says, looking up into Sherlock’s eyes.

Sherlock only narrowly manages to suppress a groan. “It – feels – good,” he says jerkily, half holding his breath and trying not to make any untoward sounds. This is insufficient. “Really good,” he amends.

John smiles at him. “Have you got lube there somewhere?” he asks. “I bought some this afternoon, just in case, but I’ve left it in the kitchen…”

“I have some.” Sherlock reaches back blindly toward the drawer of his nightstand and fumbles until his fingers seize upon the small bottle.

John takes it from him and puts some in his hand, rubbing it between both palms to warm it, then starts touching him again. It feels so much better with the slide of lubrication that Sherlock’s legs twitch the instant John’s fingers close around him again. John notices, of course, and smiles again. “Feel good?” he murmurs, and Sherlock can only respond by nodding, his teeth digging into his lower lip. “Good,” John says, his voice half a whisper. “I want you to feel good.” He kisses Sherlock’s chest again, his tongue curling first around one nipple, then the other, then works his way down Sherlock’s torso. His hand is tugging gently at Sherlock’s testicles now, fingers pressing into that sensitive place behind, and Sherlock feels himself grow impossibly even harder.

He’s in heaven, sensation washing over him, but nothing could have prepared him for the shock of John’s mouth on his penis, and he loses control of his self-restraint and shouts out when it happens. John starts at the base of it, his head turned sideways to kiss his way up the length of Sherlock’s shaft, his tongue following in a long drag upward to the head, and then his entire mouth closes around Sherlock and he sucks, his tongue cupping it from below like hot, wet velvet, and that’s when Sherlock cries out, a spasm running the length of his spine and curling his toes. “John!” he gasps out, without knowing that he was going to. He almost feels that he should reject this, push John’s head away, but doesn’t know why. It’s as though it’s too much, that John shouldn’t be doing this for him, that he doesn’t merit this.

John looks up at him with his mouth still full of Sherlock’s erection, then slides off, kisses the tip of it obscenely, then asks, “What? Do you not – is this not – all right? Do you not like it?”

Sherlock’s penis gives a visible throb before he can even answer, wet from root to top and palpably missing the heat of John’s mouth. “No – I – I just – ” Words fail him; he is stammering and not saying anything.

John’s eyes are too much to bear. He waits, then says, “It’s all right, you know. To let someone to do this for you at last. You deserve it, Sherlock. And I want to. I want to so badly. Want to make you feel good.” He reaches for Sherlock’s right hand with his left and weaves their fingers together. “So – do you like it? Does it feel good?”

Sherlock struggles. “It – yes,” he says plainly. “I’m sorry. I don’t – I don’t know why I’m – being like this.”

John smiles, though. “May I?” he asks, very gently. “I really want to, Sherlock. If you feel self-conscious about it, though, we don’t have to do this. I want this to be what you want.”

Sherlock swallows. He squeezes John’s fingers, then gets out, “If you really want to, then …”

John smiles again. “I’m dying to,” he says. “Thank you.” With that, he pulls Sherlock’s flushed-bright erection to his mouth and begins slower this time, placing soft kisses along the shaft and around the head. When he kisses over the slit, Sherlock feels himself seep out a spot of liquid in response, to his own embarrassment, but John licks it away and Sherlock’s thighs jerk again at the incredibly sensual feeling of John’s tongue on the most sensitive part of him. It doesn’t stop there; John touches his tongue all over, tasting him, then extends it into longer licks interspersed with those same, small kisses.

It feels so good that Sherlock wants it to go on forever, though John was correct in assessing his self-consciousness. He gasps heavily when John finally begins to suck again, his head bobbing over Sherlock’s crotch, and Sherlock’s penis is harder and bigger than he’s ever experienced before, flushed a shade completely different from his torso, his testicles standing out from his body, heavy and full. He’s moaning, he realises, hearing himself in the room, the back of his free hand covering his eyes, and John responds by increasing his speed, his hand following his mouth now. He pauses in his rhythm for a moment, then slides his mouth all the way down to Sherlock’s abdomen, his throat opening to allow Sherlock down it. At the same time, he moves their joined hands to the back of his head and lets go, indicating that Sherlock should push down on his head. Panting, Sherlock does it – he grasps John’s skull with both hands and thrusts wildly up into the flexible heat of John’s throat, his pelvis lifting clear off the sheets. John’s fingers probe further back, and then suddenly he slides one directly into Sherlock’s body, eased by the lubricant, and the sensation forces all of the others to coalesce into a single, bright point of focus. He comes, shouting, both hands clamped down in John’s hair as he pumps upward in a long, final push as his body erupts in streams of heat directly down John’s throat, his arse spasming around the intrusion of John’s finger. Pleasure floods his entire being and streams out of him, his throat hoarse, the orgasm wracking his frame from head to toe.

When he comes to himself, Sherlock discovers that his legs are wrapped around John’s thighs and arse, his fingers still tangled into John’s short hair, and John is holding him tightly, both arms around him, his head turned sideways on Sherlock’s stomach. “Wow,” Sherlock manages, his chest still heaving. “That was – utterly phenomenal. That was the best thing I have ever experienced. You are incredible, John.”

John turns his head and smiles up at him. “I love you,” he says. He kisses Sherlock’s belly and shifts up his body to kiss him on the mouth again. The hardness of his erection bumps into Sherlock’s thighs and leaves wet marks as he moves, and Sherlock has to touch it again.

He reaches for it as they kiss, deeply and with a lot of tongue, and John moans into his mouth, hips twisting and pushing into Sherlock’s grip. “God, fuck yes, please,” he breathes, his forehead on Sherlock’s, his breath hot on Sherlock’s lips. “Just like that – oh – oh! Fuck, f – ”

His forehead contorts as Sherlock squeezes ands strokes him to the best of his ability. He wants to stop and get the lubricant, but it seems that John is close and the last thing he wants is to deny him or cut into the momentum, so he licks his palm wetly instead and goes back to what he was doing and John moans even more loudly. “Is that – is it – ” The unfinished question comes out somewhere between speech and a whisper, but John understands and nods, his face full of feverish need.

“Yes, yes, yes – don’t stop, it’s – fuck – it’s so good!” John moans again, then gives a sudden, hard thrust into Sherlock’s fist and fills it, his breath gusting out in bursts as his penis spurts and spurts again.

It’s extremely erotic to Sherlock. He isn’t entirely sure what to do with his palmful of John’s release, which is leaking out onto the sheets, but he also doesn’t want to stop touching John yet in case it isn’t completely finished, so he continues stroking him with his palmful of come and John moans again and his body jerks again, another burst of wetness adding to the rest. When he sags onto Sherlock, Sherlock knows it’s finished, and surreptitiously wipes his hand on the edge of the sheets.

John lifts his face from Sherlock’s shoulder and strokes his hair back from his forehead again. “Thank you,” he says, his face full of sincerity. “I didn’t even mean to come so soon into this. But we’re not finished yet. The night is young.”

“Good,” Sherlock says, meaning it profoundly. “I don’t ever want to stop, if you want to know.”

This makes John laugh. “Neither do I,” he admits. He kisses Sherlock with conviction, several times, then says, “Let me get you a flannel. I came all over you.”

Sherlock looks down at himself in surprise and sees that John is correct: it wasn’t just his hand; John’s release is also on his stomach and ribs and streaked up his arm. “Hurry,” he says, as John is already climbing off him.

“I’ll be back in two seconds,” John promises, and he is. He moves them over, away from the sticky spot, and settles himself on his side beside Sherlock, cleaning his skin and hand and then turning his face in to kiss his palm over. Sherlock, impatient with the cleaning, takes the flannel and tosses it in the direction of the bathroom, then pulls John to him and kisses him again.

It is, without a doubt, the most intimate, romantic, and overall best night of Sherlock’s life. He and John lie together under the blankets John rescued, kissing and touching gently until they both grow hard again. John has Sherlock turn onto his side facing away from him, and gently massages at his hole until he can fit two fingers inside with ease. Sherlock confessed how much he liked it when John did it before, so John offered to do it again. His fingers within Sherlock feel nearly as good as his mouth did on Sherlock’s erection, and he says so, feeling audaciously vulnerable as he puts the intensely private thought into words.

John kisses his back, his fingers still twisting and moving within him. “I’m so glad,” he says. “God, Sherlock, your arse – I’ve been fantasising about it for years, though I refused to acknowledge it in the morning. I’ve dreamed about touching you this way. I always hoped you would like it.”

Sherlock looks back over his shoulder, as coquettishly as he knows how. “Did you dream of fucking me?” he asks, feeling his cheeks flush as he asks it. God knows he’s dreamed of John doing that, though he never thought it would happen.

John leans over him to catch Sherlock’s earlobe between his lips. “I did,” he confesses. “Honestly, Sherlock, I’m up for absolutely anything. If you want to fuck me, you absolutely can. If you want – I don’t know, anything. It’s all on the table.”

“But you want to fuck me,” Sherlock posits, wanting confirmation.

John removes his fingers and hugs Sherlock to himself, kissing his neck and shoulder repeatedly. His body fits perfectly into the curve of Sherlock’s, his erection slotting itself neatly into the place where Sherlock’s cheeks divide. “God, yes,” John murmurs into his skin, his words hot. “I can’t even tell you how much I want that.”

Sherlock twists back even further so that he can look John in the eyes for this. “So do I,” he says, the words stark and laid bare. “I’ve imagined it so many times, John. In a closet at the Yard. Over the kitchen table. On the sofa. Here in my bed. Anywhere. I’ve fantasised about it. Touched myself thinking about it: you, inside me, bending me over. I’m not – averse to trying it the other way, too. I’d like to. But this – I want this, John. So – please. Please.”

John makes a slightly desperate sound and a tremor runs through his entire body, his hips jerking forward, his penis nudging at Sherlock’s testicles from behind. “Fuck, yes,” he almost whimpers, and reaches back, scrabbling for the lubricant. “I’ve seen your charts,” he says in a rush of exhalation. “I know you’re clean – and I’m – I was tested, and I haven’t – ”

“I know,” Sherlock interrupts him. “I know you are, John. You don’t need to – just – ”

He sounds as desperate as John does, but it doesn’t matter, because John is breathing so hard he’s nearly hyperventilating, his pulse thumping through his chest and into Sherlock’s back. They both want this badly and there’s no need to try to play it down or pretend otherwise. Not anymore. John slicks lubricant over himself, then slides his fingers back into Sherlock, testing. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he breathes. “You’re tight – I don’t – ”

“It’s fine,” Sherlock says, his eyes closed tightly. “Please, John!”

He feels John nod rather than seeing it. John pulls his fingers out. “Like this, on our sides?” The question is breathy, and Sherlock nods.

“Yes – if that – works,” he pants, his voice shredded with need.

In response, John holds Sherlock open and fits the head of his penis to the right place, then gives a long, steady, careful push.

It’s tight – it’s agonisingly tight. Sherlock’s entire face is condensed in reaction to it, yet it’s also immensely satisfying to feel John within him. His breath is shaking. John reaches around and strokes his chest.

“Okay?” he asks, his own voice shaking. He’s all the way inside, the girth of his penis stretching Sherlock in ways he’s never experienced before. “Are you in pain?”

Sherlock wants to lie, yet also specifically doesn’t want to lie to John. “A little,” he admits, though it’s already lessening. “Just – give me a moment.”

“Okay,” John says hastily. “Do you want me to – ”

“No! Don’t – just stay right there,” Sherlock requests. He finds John’s hand and grips it. “I love having you inside me,” he says after a moment or two, the confession sounding a bit small. “It’s – I love it.”

John kisses his shoulder again. “I love it, too,” he murmurs. “God – the way you feel around me – so hot, so – and just being joined to you like this, Sherlock – I can’t – ”

“I know,” Sherlock says, his eyes still closed. “I love you.”

John presses his forehead to the top of his shoulder. “I love you, too,” he says, his voice unsteady.

The pain stops pulsing at last and slowly Sherlock’s muscles release. “Okay,” he says eventually, his voice just above a whisper. “I think you can – move now.”

“Sure?” John asks. He reaches lower to stroke Sherlock’s penis, which has softened somewhat. It grows stiffer again the instant John touches it, however.

“Yes,” he says. “Please.”

John starts, then, experimentally, pulling out very slightly and pushing in again, increasing as he goes, until he’s rocking steadily in and out, his penis gloriously hard within Sherlock, and after a few minutes of this, it begins to feel good – very good, Sherlock amends mentally. Between John’s hand between his legs and the steady glow of warmth building within him, the pain dissipates completely. Soon the warmth blooms into golden pleasure, spreading through his body, soaking into his organs and skin and filling out his penis until it’s as hard as it can be. Soon they don’t have enough leverage on their sides and Sherlock turns more onto his front, John’s leg straddling him as he thrusts, his hand on Sherlock’s penis never faltering. Their bodies are slapping together and John is cursing under his breath, saying his name, his voice rising in a steady crescendo. “Fuck, fuck – God, Sherlock, you’re incredible – have I ever said, you’re so – you feel so good, fuck – ”

Sherlock puts his face down in the pillows and moans wholeheartedly, not even trying to restrain it. “More, please!” he begs, and John shifts his angle slightly and grabs him by both hips and drives into him. The shift produces even more of the pleasure – so much so that it doesn’t even matter that John let go of him. He reaches down to correct that, but Sherlock pushes his hand away. “No – I can – ” he babbles. “Do what you were doing!”

“Okay!” John understands and grips Sherlock’s hips again, pounding into him, and Sherlock grabs at his penis and jerks it unrestrainedly, hard enough to give himself friction burns were it not for the lubricant easing the way. John plunges deeper and deeper into him, all caution gone now. They’re both panting and moaning and swearing and then Sherlock is flying, the pleasure spiking sharply and suspending his breath. Light explodes behind his retinas and his back stiffens, his erection jerking in his own hand, John’s hand closing around his, then reaching back to cup at his quivering testicles as they unleash stream after stream of release. The pleasure is so thick it could choke him, drowning him as he shakes through the orgasm, electricity wracking his entire frame as his penis erupts uncontrollably.

Sherlock can feel himself clenching around John’s penis and gasps out, “Now you, John! You can let go now – ”

John makes a sound very much like a whimper, half-breath, and thrusts four more times before his body spasms and floods Sherlock with his own release. His hips are jammed into Sherlock’s arse, frozen in place as he spatters Sherlock’s insides. He gives another thrust or two, weakly, then pulls himself out and collapses onto Sherlock’s trembling form.

They lie there in a tangled, sweaty, panting heap, surrounded by the scents and mess of sex, and Sherlock thinks that he has never felt so fulfilled in his life. “Holy shit,” he mumbles weakly, and still on top of him, John laughs. “What?” Sherlock asks.

“I’ve never heard you swear so much as just now,” John says, twining his legs around Sherlock’s all the more. “I like it. It’s hot.”

Sherlock chuckles. “There’s never been so much call for it,” he says, the words lazy and semi-slurred against the pillows.

“Mmm.” John agrees, his arm tightening around Sherlock’s middle. “Pity you threw the flannel so far. We could use it right now.”

“Hmm.” Sherlock doesn’t rise to this. “If you think I’m going to move right now, think again.”

John snickers, and peels himself off Sherlock’s back. “Oh, fine,” he concedes, and goes to retrieve it.

They clean themselves off again, Sherlock pushing himself onto his back to watch John. “You’re phenomenal, you know,” he says, blinking through his lashes at John.

John smiles, a little self-consciously. “You liked it?” he asks, almost shyly. “I’ve never done that before. Not with – but you know that already.”

Sherlock reaches for his face and kisses him for a long moment. “Neither had I,” he says. “But you knew that, too.”

John puts his hand over Sherlock’s. “Only you, from now on,” he vows, and Sherlock kisses him again. The kiss goes on, and this time it’s John who throws the flannel away in favour of pulling Sherlock into his arms, shifting down in the bed and reaching for the blankets. It’s the happiest moment of Sherlock’s life to date. He never wants it to end.

***

He wakes with sunlight streaming in through the window and John’s hair in his mouth, and smiles. He thinks of what they did last night, then of every sexual act he’s ever heard of that they haven’t tried yet, but will, and his smile grows. John is snoring lightly, and this only makes him feel still more affectionate. Brunch, Sherlock thinks vaguely. They could go out, but that would mean getting dressed and potentially not touching each other for longer than he’d frankly care to right now. Therefore: brunch at the flat. Possibly here, in bed. Sherlock revises that: crumbs in the sheets. Unacceptable. Brunch in the kitchen. Naked. Yes. His arms are still around John and he attempts to remember what’s in the fridge that he could make for John. An omelette, perhaps, with cheddar and broccoli and herbs. With sausages on the side. And bacon. And coffee. And toast. They’ve got that French loaf from the bakery on Marylebone, next to the used CD shop. Toast with that wildflower honey, and butter. Lots of butter. They’ve got those coffee beans from the boutique in Camden that they’ve never tried. He’ll grind them himself and brew it in the French press. And fruit – what’s brunch without fruit? He’ll cut oranges into quarters and feed them to John, let him lick the juice from his fingers, and – have they got strawberries? For a moment Sherlock panics, then realises that he’s being stupid.

John chuckles sleepily into his chest. Sherlock looks at him, startled to find him awake. “I can hear you thinking, you know,” John says, before he can ask. “What are you plotting?”

Sherlock lets out a long breath and realises that he’s being somewhat obsessive. “Just brunch,” he says. He tightens his arms around John’s shoulders and back. “I want to feed you. Naked.”

John lifts his head, smiling. “I like it,” he says. “What else were you thinking? Say, before brunch?”

It’s unapologetically overt, and Sherlock loves it. “Well, I did have a few ideas,” he confesses.

John’s smile has turned predatory. “Do share,” he invites.

Sherlock smiles back. From now on, this is how things are going to be. Yes: this is more than acceptable. It’s everything he’s wanted since the day John walked into the laboratory at Bart’s Hospital. “I’ll show you,” he promises.

And he does.

*