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Diamonds For Tears

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DIAMONDS FOR TEARS



'Cos when you're sleeping right next to me

I know you're the one

So when I hear you calling my name

Why do I turn away and run?

I guess that's why it's raining diamonds

Sweet happiness in tears

Crying heaven shed your diamonds

Diamonds for tears

~ Poets of the Fall - Diamonds for Tears



Chapter One - What Happened Last Night?



The mid November sunshine peeked into the rooms of London's finest and only consulting detective.


Sherlock lay entangled in the silk bed sheets, his hair sprawling on the soft pillow beneath his head. His eyes fluttered, still battling the decision to open up to the new day or just give in and sink back into dreamland. He made an attempt to lift his head, but the simple action caused pain to shoot behind his eyes. Groaning, he rested his forehead back onto the pillow and inhaled deeply.


He tried to unwrap himself from the sheet that held him like a cocoon, but the only thing he achieved was to roll to the edge of the bed until he ended up on the floor with a loud thump.


What the hell? Sherlock grunted, mentally cursing the whole universe. Finally, finding a loose end of the sheet, he managed to free his upper body, stretching his arms with a lazy yawn. His bladder persistently demanding his attention, he untangled himself from the rest of the linen and, supporting his weight on the bed, pushed himself up to a slightly wobbly standing position.


He looked around and suddenly froze on the spot. His bed was not empty; it was full of a soundly sleeping, messy-haired, apparently naked John Watson. Sherlock's eyes widened in shock. John? Is this a dream?


The urge to piss was too much to bear, so, putting aside the confusion for a moment, Sherlock gave in to the call of nature and headed to the bathroom.


He emptied his bladder with a quiet groan of relief and flushing the toilet, moved to the sink and looked into the mirror. Compared to his usual standards, he had to admit he looked terrible. The mess of curls, the still sleep-lidded, hangover-glazed, pale blue eyes, the pillow creases on his cheek; this was not how the great detective usually looked. Wondering what had made him achieve this state of hellish dishevelment, he realised that the gears of his mind had slowed down too. His head felt clouded by thick fog and finding his way to his mind palace required all his strength of concentration.


Grabbing the plastic container of painkillers out of the bathroom cabinet, he fished out two pills and swallowed them with a groan. Closing his eyes and rubbing his temples, he made an attempt to navigate through the foggy hallways of his mind, stumbling from wall to wall, almost blindly, frantically searching for the room of short-term memories.


***


Again, why did I let you drag me into this?” Sherlock groaned, shifting his weight back and forth from left to right, apparently feeling out of place. Parties weren't his cup of tea. Give him a clever murder, a mystery to solve, but God forbid he should be asked to socialise.


“You know very well. Greg and Molly are our friends, and if a friend asks you to be their groomsman, let alone best man, you just can't refuse.”


Sherlock let out an inaudible sigh. “I could.”


“Yes, Sherlock, you could,” John snorted.


The detective raised a brow, sensing the reproach in his companion's voice.


“You still don't get the meaning of friendship, do you?” John groaned, seeing the question in Sherlock's eyes.


“You are my friend,” Sherlock noted innocently.


“Yes,” John replied patiently. “And how do you feel about it? Why do you consider me a friend?”


Sherlock felt like he was back at school as he struggled to answer the question.


“You accept and tolerate me,” he started tentatively. “You are ordinary, but not boring.” His voice became more confident with every word. “We share common interests. You are there when I need you. You listen and talk to me, you make me smile. You trust me like no one else. You are adorably naive and honest and caring. You wear those ridiculous jumpers, write awful poetic letters to your girlfriends, read boring and unreliable papers..." Sherlock considered his words for a moment. “But, actually, I like that. You care about what others say and think, though you worry too much about them. You enjoy the thrill of the chase, you need the regular dose of adrenaline just as I do. You are the only one who can communicate with my brother, and you are not afraid to defy him. You are brave and adventurous. You make me tea, do the shopping, buy milk... you are… ” A strange realization hit him.


What?” John raised a brow.


"How obvious! Why have I not seen it before?" Sherlock felt the glow of triumph appear on his face.


John cast him an impatient, inquiring look.


“You are what I always needed. You are the company I want forever.”


The intimate confession brought colour to John Watson's cheeks. Well, with you being probably the worst flatmate one could ever have, no one else would be able to put up with you,” he laughed nervously, passing the moment of intimacy with a joke.


Sherlock furrowed a brow. “Why would I want anyone else to try? I've just said you are the one I want.”


Uhm, forget it,” John averted his gaze, looking down at his shoes.


Sherlock gave him a quizzical glance.


John took a deep breath before speaking again. Getting back to your original question. Lestrade and Molly asked us to participate in their wedding, because we are their friends. Also, Lestrade asked me to be his best man, there was no way we could have said no.”


That may be, but I still don't have to like the idea.”


Sherlock!”


“I don't see why they need me ; you’re the one they wanted to take part in this boring ceremony! They could have left me out of it.”


“You should feel honoured to be offered a role, especially with your infuriating attitude. Having helpers, who are usually friends of the couple, is traditional, and, as such, one is not supposed to question it.”


Sherlock groaned. “That's so ridiculous.”


***


Sherlock's eyes snapped open in revelation. Lestrade and Molly's wedding reception!


The pieces of the puzzle finally clicked.


The celebration that despite his reluctance and lack of enthusiasm, he had had to attend, even more, participate in. (John getting him the chemistry equipment that Sherlock had wanted for so long had seemed to be the right price of tolerating tedious social events.)


He had never planned on staying long; an hour or two, maximum, then he’d planned to sneak out when no one noticed, leaving the explanation up to John. He had been sure that his friend would have been able to come up with a believable lie. The only problem with his scheme had been that John, being Lestrade's good friend, had taken his role very seriously and had not let Sherlock out of his sight.


Might he have figured out that I was planning a daring escape ? Am I that transparent? Sherlock frowned.


This time John had dictated the rules and had insisted on staying until late—or rather early morning—which had consequently led to becoming drunk by the end of the party. Very drunk, indeed. No matter how many rooms and hidden corners Sherlock visited in his mind palace, he just couldn't come up with any memory of having been that drunk before. Now he had new experiences to store concerning this crazy state of mind and body.


He never understood the benefit of being drunk, why people preferred that state. In his opinion, it was a useless, stupid thing that clouded reasonable thinking, made people act stupid, and do unconsidered, reckless and awkward things. Also alcohol initiated unhealthy processes in the body, resulting in a loss of control. Losing control over the mind and body was an unacceptable option, a repellent idea.


However, last night he had apparently lost the fight against alcohol—Lestrade and John had to do with that too—and no matter how his mind had tried to rule his system, Sherlock Holmes ended up displaying all the symptoms of drunkenness.


He groaned at the shameful memory.


Due, he presumed, to the effects of alcohol, he could remember only bits and bobs of the night. The partial amnesia was extremely frustrating; but what bothered him the most was not knowing what had happened during the night that had resulted in a naked John Watson ending up in his bed, next to his own similarly nude body. One didn't have to be a genius to tell what that situation usually meant, but in Sherlock Holmes' case, it wasn't that evident by far.


Splashing some cold water on his face, he took a deep breath. Unusual events require unusual measures. He needed to go under, digging deep in his mind to find out why he had woken up with John by his side this morning.


Being a genius, Sherlock had the advantage of being able to control his mind in ways that normal people could not. With the proper recollection technique of the subconscious, he could recover the lost or suppressed memories. For a limited time—which usually varied between 1 and 24 hours, depending on the circumstances—his mind preserved the imprint of every impact and impression, converting them into memories that either were approved for further storage or faded into his mind's recycle bin. However, being able to control his mind, he was able to retrieve this fragmented information. The only disadvantage of the subconscious memory—besides the short retrieval period—was that it felt like watching a film from an armchair; one could see the events, but the actual feeling was indistinct, rather a narration than real, experienced emotion.


Sherlock almost never used the technique, though. Along with being an exhausting and difficult exercise, it had harsh side effects, including excruciating headaches, rapid heartbeat, and sudden changes of body temperature.


He had been warned not to overload his brain with such extreme actions. The body, not being able to tolerate the impact after a while, could give up and shut down the most affected organs, leading to coma or even death.


Sherlock used the method only twice in his life and had vowed to do it again only in a serious emergency. The first time, he had been too young for the procedure, but the need of the thrill had been too strong to give a damn about warnings. The other time had been ten years ago and had been inevitable; when your own father is accused of first degree murder, you don't think twice. And now, here he was, on the threshold of a third time. He hoped this one was still below the limit of his abilities. It had to be .


Most people wouldn’t risk the dangerous technique just to find out the reason they were in bed with their best friend, but Sherlock had recently been experiencing perplexing feelings for John, and he just couldn't pinpoint what they meant. The revelation of wanting John Watson as his companion forever had just doubled the frustration he felt not knowing what was happening to him. He knew that his already splitting headache was going to double the torture, but he needed to find out for sure.


Locking the bathroom door to have fully undisturbed privacy, he pulled on his dressing gown and faced the mirror again. The reflection of a determined man looked back at him. Let's do it. He braced himself, then got to work.


Grabbing a couple of towels from the rack, he placed them into the bath before climbing in. The thick, fluffy material provided some layer between the cold enamel and his warm body and would also help protect him in case heavy shivers wracked his limbs during the procedure.


Sherlock climbed into the bath and settled his lanky frame in the small space. Taking a deep breath and arranging his hands into his trademark thinking posture, he let his eyes fall shut. Silence enveloping him, he focused with every nerve on sinking deep into his mind, deeper than ever before.


A few minutes passed, and the only motion he made was an involuntary frown when he still hadn't entered the desired level of mind control.


The recycle chamber and the room of temporary memories were in the dark, cold basement of his mind palace, the place that Sherlock normally didn't go. Two times he had experienced the hell that those rooms meant, two times he had been lucky.


A heavy shiver ran through his body, and his lips twitched. He was on the way . The neurons of his brain sizzled with the forceful data retrieval; he could feel the high speed of information transfer as electric signals surged through the highway of his mind. Pictures flashed up before his mind’s eye, snippets of moments expanding into whole scenes—scenes that would have seemed to be highly unlikely to happen a few years ago and which brought a warmth to his cheeks. His eyelids quivered rapidly as his eyes mimicked the movements of REM sleep.


Drinking—dancing with John laughing uncontrollably drinking more kissing John touches and flirtatious glances someone putting them in a cab fumbling with the key at 221B stumbling up on the stairs while laughing loudly—


He barely noticed his  body convulse, his lips tremble severely, his veins throb in his temples.


The walls of the room of temporary memories shook around him as in an earthquake. Sherlock stumbled and reached for the imagined shelves as support. What is happening? He had not experienced this physical response on either of the previous occasions.


In the sitting room, he takes John in his arms for a quick, drunken dance


The basement room's walls shook again, more violently this time. Sherlock could hear the cracking in the old paint of his memory’s walls. This is not good. Too much strain on the palace. His body trembled against the cold bathtub, blood streaking down from his nose. I must get out of here.


But he was in the middle of revealing the content of the most recent recycle box before it was transferred to the recycle chamber, he couldn't leave without retrieving what he came for. With a deep breath, he gritted his teeth and dug deeper in the content of the brown paper box the white A5-sized cards faded into sepia as time had passed by. Touching the discoloured papers, Sherlock could tell he didn't have much time until the recycling phase started.


—the dance ends in kissing they get into his bed passion, more kissing, handjobs


The basement shook again and the whole room groaned, the paint falling off the wet clay walls with a loud cracking sound. Losing balance, Sherlock fell against the old desk at the wall, knocking off the boxes piled up there. The sepia sheets flew around, rustling. Shoving the papers with the memories he needed into the pocket of his suit jacket, he got on his knees and crawled in the direction of the door. The lights quivered, sizzling, and the room shook once more. Just when Sherlock made it out of the room, a shelf cracked and fell, blocking the entrance.


Panting heavily, his eyes snapped open. For a fleeting moment, he didn't know where he was. The agonising pain consumed his head. His skin felt like it was burning, his hair was drenched in cold sweat. His veins throbbed against his skull and temples so intensely that he thought they would rip apart at any moment, a stroke ending his existence right there. His stinging eyes tried to focus on something around him, blocking out the spinning of the room. Gazing at the shower curtain, he concentrated on calming his breathing. The image of John and him entangled in each other flared in his mind, and, despite the pain, a faint smile of satisfaction played at the corner of his lips.


The procedure is done. I did it. And I’m still alive.


A tired, weak laugh emerged from his chest. It was the hardest thing he had ever done, but he had made it. His mind palace had stubbornly tried to prevent him reaching his goal for some reason, but he had succeeded. However, Sherlock realised that—whatever else might happen—this was his last visit to the room of temporary memories. The fallen shelf had blocked the door for good. More than three visits was too risky anyway, so perhaps this whole disaster had done him a favour, ensuring that he never opened its door again.


The heat in his head was calming down slowly, and he noticed the low temperature in the rest of his body. Drenched in cold sweat, he shuddered heavily. He was badly in a need of a warm bath. Discarding his clothes, he turned on the hot tap, letting the hot water envelope his cold body. When, after a few minutes, he finally gathered the strength to stand up, he reeled in dizziness and nausea, his mind buzzing, as if millions of ants were parading in his head. The combination of the after-effects of his trip down memory lane and the hangover was not a walk in the park, yet at least he was now aware of what had happened during the blurry hours of the night before.


Drying himself, he wrapped a towel around his waist and sat on the toilet lid and breathed in and out slowly to ease the battle in his stomach, mentally swearing he would never let himself end up in this humiliating state of drunkenness ever again. After about twenty minutes that felt more like hours, he deemed himself able to stand and breathe without the urge to throw up or faint and, slowly, stumbled back into the bedroom.


John didn't register his movements and noises; he was still sleeping deeply, snoring occasionally. Sherlock swallowed a few pills to cure his headache and slid under the covers, lying on his back. The exhaustion of the roller coaster memory ride made him unable to think and the sickness the of hangover was taking its toll, so, closing his eyes, he let sleep overtake him again.


***


Two hours later, Sherlock woke again, feeling much more human. In the first moments of consciousness, he wondered if he had just dreamt everything concerning himself and a certain ex-army doctor, but, glancing at the other side of the bed, his doubts were dismissed. John was lying on his stomach next to Sherlock, snoring quietly; his exhaled breaths fluffing the sandy hair over his forehead. Cute , Sherlock's lips involuntarily curled into a soft smile. He had never paid such intense attention to his flatmate's hair, but now he found the sight endearing. And ever so sexy.


Cute ? Sexy ? God. Since when did he care about the chemical defects and electric surges caused by physical attraction; he groaned to himself mockingly. What's going on with you, Sherlock Holmes? You're getting pathetic.


Letting his eyes shut, his thoughts returned to the events of the previous night.


***


After a couple of glasses of champagne, creamy punch and shots of liquor, both men were completely pissed and apparently completely uninhibited. Sherlock danced a couple of dances with Molly to her great delight, while John and Lestrade shared stories of the Yard and the army.


When Lestrade finally cut in, whisking his newly wed wife away, Sherlock lost balance and stumbled into John, grabbing the other man's shoulders to prevent his fall.


“When did the room start to spin?” he slurred, his hand gripping John's arm tightly.


“Actually I lost count after Greg's Grenade Cocktail,” John stuttered before they both started giggling uncontrollably.


The song changed, and Sherlock shrieked like a girl. “John, you must dance with me!”


“Sherlock, you're crazy,” John giggled. “I can't dance.”


Sherlock sneaked his arm around John’s waist, and John's eyes widened.


“What are you doing??”


Experiment, my dear Watson, experiment!“ Sherlock pulled him close, their bodies pressing against each other.


This is…ridiculous…" John laughed, clumsily trying to keep up with the ethereal moves of the detective's long limbs.


After the initial tension, John’s body seemed to relax into the warm, comforting embrace of his flatmate, and he easily followed the steps of his mentor.


“You were wrong,” Sherlock smiled at him mischievously. “You can dance. No more arguing about it.”


He slid a hand down John’s back, tracing a line down over the soft fabric of his suit and coming to rest on his arse. John jumped a little in surprise, but didn't break their close contact.


Swaying slightly to the rhythm, they stared at each other, smiling giddily.


***


Ignoring the symptoms of his hangover, Sherlock spent part of the morning thinking, analysing the situation, pondering how he was at such ease with the night's events. How was it that he didn't regret them? Or feel repulsed at having been weakened by the effects of alcohol and acting like an ordinary person, giving in to such primal instincts? The answer to all these questions was lying next to him.


You are what I always needed. You are the company I want forever. He recalled his earlier confession. He hadn't been aware of the real depths of his attachment to his flatmate until last night. Glancing at the naked skin of John's arm, shoulder and back where the crumpled sheet had fallen away, his mouth felt suddenly dry. He tried to retrieve the memory of the feeling of John’s soft skin under his lips, the warmth and power of the buzzing nerve endings, his hand pushing into the sandy hair, the slightly spiky strands between his fingers, only to come to a distant recollection of the moment, lacking the real sensation just an image, a scene from a film. But Sherlock was never content with indirect perception, he needed empirical proof; especially where his friend was concerned. The chance of reliving the feeling was offering itself on a silver plate, he just needed to reach out. He couldn't resist, the temptation was too strong and too much. Hesitantly, he reached toward John's head, his heart speeding up in anticipation. For a moment, his hand stopped in mid-air as he noticed the slight quiver of his fingers. Emotions . His body didn't lie. However much he seemed to be composed and in control, his human shell gave him away he was scared. Scared of the new feelings and their control over him and of John's reaction when he finally woke up.


What if he refuses me, proclaiming last night's events a dreadful mistake?


John had already stated many times that he wasn't gay, strongly protesting against the mere idea. Last night, they had both been under the influence of alcohol; their passionate journey may have just been a crazy result of the hydroxyl molecules taking over.


Sherlock cringed at the possibility that John was going to declare the experience a terrible trip to the dark side, something to forget.


But Sherlock didn't want to delete this file from his hard drive, not at all. Having got a taste of this brand new experience, he found himself eager to repeat it instead of burying it in the deepest cellar of his mind palace.


Warmth stirred in his chest every moment he recalled the events from the night before. What does it mean? Why does everything I usually despise suddenly appeal to me, evoking emotions and thoughts that I have refused to engage in all my life? What is this nonsense? Has Sherlock Holmes, the only consulting detective in the world, given in and become just like everyone else, taken over by chemical defects? How could this have happened? The one thing he had always distanced himself from, the trap he had avoided falling into for so long, seemed to have caught up with him.


The revelation was utterly disturbing. It was kind of schizophrenic, his personality suddenly splitting in two. He still wasn't interested in love, sexuality and attraction in general, but if he thought or looked at the man sleeping beside him, something stirred inside him, sending a strange surging buzz through his body, speeding up the blood in his veins, accelerating his heartbeat, making his skin tingle and mouth go dry. All frustratingly mysterious and unknown reactions to Sherlock Holmes. Overwhelming, uncontrollable, consuming.


John Watson had turned his precisely organised life upside-down, knocking his emotionless world off kilter.


Rolling onto his side and propping himself up onto his elbow, Sherlock ever so cautiously touched John's hair. He needed this physical contact; after last night he was yearning for John's closeness more than ever before. Drugs, cigarettes, none of these would be enough to dissipate this thirst; this man was what he needed and craved. The only problem was the uncertainty of the other party's willingness to participate in this new game.


What if John never wants to see me again? What if he moves out of 221b or, even worse, disappears from my life for good?


Sherlock didn't know if he could handle that. John Watson had become his addiction, the drug that helped him to function, the light in his life, the equal company of his every day. He refused to entertain the thought of losing it all.


The soft strands under his palm felt ever so comforting. Sherlock felt as if every single hair elicited a slightly different sensation. Not only he was stroking the sandy strands, but they also caressed the sensitive cells of his own skin. It was a simple act, but to him it was something extraordinary.


John stirred and Sherlock pulled his hand back like a child caught doing something forbidden.


Reluctantly, John blinked his eyes open, lazily stretching his body under the sheets. His sleepy eyes meeting the ones gazing into his, his breath stopped, confusion and alarm flashing in his dark blue eyes.


"Sher-Sherlock?" He stammered, his cheek flushing in embarrassment. Casting a quick glance at his flatmate's naked torso under the sheet they shared, he groaned quietly, before letting out a frustrated sigh. “God, what the hell happened last night?”


Sherlock stared at John, trying to read him, to figure out what was on the doctor's mind in that very moment. “Something not good?” He asked tentatively, his neurons sparking furiously with the possibility of so many different answers.


“Actually, this splitting headache is definitely not good,” John groaned painfully, rubbing his temple. “You don’t look half as bad as I feel. How is that possible?” He narrowed his eyes. “Don't tell me that being a genius is accompanied by a high tolerance of alcohol.”


Sherlock shrugged. “My mind was focused on other things. There didn’t seem to be any point to dwell on feeling miserable.”


“Oh, thank you very much for the sympathy.”


Sherlock stared at him expectantly. He hoped for John finally saying something that would give away how he truly felt about what had apparently happened between them the night before, something that could reassure him that despite this unexpected development in their friendship, John would still stay with him. From John’s evasive remarks so far, he couldn’t tell what was on the doctor’s mind. And that was alarming. Is John deliberately avoiding revealing his approach on last night’s happenings?


Sherlock’s chest tightened anxiously.


John licked his lips and, with a deep breath, said, “You’d better tell me. I might not remember much of the night’s events, but I can recall that it was you who dragged me onto the dance floor and started this. In every way.


That wasn’t good. Why was John suddenly so wary to share what was on his mind, what he thought? This was not the John he knew, not the man who always acted on his feelings.


“I wanted to dance with you,” Sherlock muttered, searching John’s face for a tiny sign of his emotions.


“Just to be clear, are we talking about dancing dancing or dancing as an euphemism?” John gestured at them and the bed.


Sherlock gathered all his courage to say, “Both.”


***


It was way past 2am, but the party was still in full swing, to the great delight of the newly wed couple. It seemed the combination of Lestrade's colleagues and Molly's friends resulted in a loud and energetic bunch. People were still filling the dance floor, swaying and singing to the music, apparently enjoying themselves a great deal. The majority of the guests were pretty pissed, thanks to the free bar, and John and Sherlock were no exceptions. Anderson and Donovan were more than tipsy too, which thankfully resulted in them behaving much better toward Sherlock than usual.


Something tells me that everyone has had a bit too much drink here,” Sherlock drawled, swaying John closer to the darker edge of the dance floor.


What a brilliant deduction!” The doctor grinned. “Sherlock Holmes, I'm truly amazed.”


You always are, my Watson,” Sherlock slurred, looking into his friend's eyes. “But I love hearing it from you. Say it again.”


I'm truly amazed by you, Sherlock,” John smiled. “I'm blown away by your brilliance. You're fantastic, fascinating and…often a real bastard. But! You're still the biggest smartarse and most amazingly annoying prick I have ever met.”


Beaming at him, Sherlock slid a hand lower on John’s backside. Even through his alcohol-dazed mind, he was pretty sure that what he was doing was not generally considered an act of friendship. But he didn’t dwell on it. Despite the layers of clothing, the warmth of John’s arse made his skin tingle.


Leaning closer, Sherlock muttered into John’s ear. “You feel so good in my arms.” He tightened his hold, his hand unconsciously squeezing John’s buttock.


John pressed his body tightly against his Sherlock’s, causing the detective's heart to thump fast in his chest. Staring into Sherlock's eyes and glancing at his lips, John leaned in and brushed his mouth against Sherlock’s in a swift, hungry move.


Sherlock didn't pull back, but responded clumsily without thinking twice. After the initial tentativeness due to his inexperience, he followed John’s lead, quickly getting the hang of things.


“God, you’re fucking dangerous,” John muttered into the kiss.


“But you're still here,” Sherlock breathed into his mouth.


Pulling back for air, John's nose touched Sherlock's chest, seeming to breath Sherlock in. He whispered, “Jesus, you make me crazy, Sherlock.”


Not good?” Sherlock raised a brow.


John let out a muffled sigh and smiled at the detective. “Very good, actually.”


Sherlock's mouth curved into a mischievous smirk. “In that case, would you be up for another adventure?” he drawled, suggestively squeezing John's  bum.


John's eyes widened, fire burning in his dark eyes. “Oh, God, yes.” He licked his lips.


***


“Oh,” John said, unease visible on his face.


Sherlock raised a brow. Oh? That's all? “What do you mean by that?”


“Nothing. I ” John mumbled awkwardly, avoiding Sherlock’s look, and turned his head, apparently searching for a clue revealing how far they had gone the night before. "Uhm, what—?"


“Yes," Sherlock replied even before John could have finished the question. "We obviously had sex. No penetration though, if you are concerned about that part."


John went deep red. “Thank God,” he muttered half audibly.


Sherlock furrowed a brow. Would penetrative sex with him be that much of a crime? Something to be ashamed of? Of course, it would. He was a freak, no one—not even John—would do that with him .


John's reaction confused him. According to Sherlock’s memories, the doctor had been more than pleased by his interest and been a willing participant in the previous night's activities. Yet, now he acted as if Sherlock's confession had been something unexpected and shocking. Maybe what had happened was something not good after all...


Confusion was such a hateful state of mind, like a malfunction in a computer. His mind couldn't resolve the issue, all the data was contradictory. Feelings , Sherlock spat in disgust. No logic there. It appeared he had been wrong about John's approach to the night's events, the doctor had done everything under the effect alcohol, nothing more.


Sitting up, John ruffled his hair and rubbed his face. “I really, really need some painkillers and a shower.”


Sherlock watched him leave the bedroom, a lump forming in his throat. His fear was real. John apparently didn’t approve of what they did last night. He had to be disgusted with what had happened and was certainly going to leave him. The reserved attitude was a clear sign.


I’m going to be alone again. Maybe that’s what I deserve. The freak isn’t entitled to anyone’s company, especially not someone special like John Watson.


He bit his lip hard, desperately trying to fight the tears welling up in his eyes.

Chapter Text

 

 

Say you will or say you won't

Open your heart to me

Now or never, tell the truth

Is this real, is this real?

Whenever you're around, I can't fight it

You get under my skin the way that I like it

And I can't take anymore

Tell me what you want from me or leave me alone

'Cause I'm all caught up and I'm losing control

~ Evanescence - Say You Will



Chapter Two - Say You Will


John let the water hit his face, his hands supporting him against the cool tiles of the bathroom wall.

 

I slept with Sherlock, he groaned. How could that happen? I’m not gay!

 

It was so surreal.

 

With eyes closed, he recalled the fragmented, blurry memories of the night before and the very vivid ones from this morning. He vaguely remembered dancing with Sherlock, giggling and unabashedly flirting all the way, then there was a large gap, and the next thing he could faintly recall was Sherlock's alcohol-bathed lips covering his, while long, wiry arms encircled him. The rest of the night was nothing but a cavalcade of faded images and hazy impressions.

 

John wished he could have remembered exactly what had transpired between them. Sherlock-married-to-my-work-Holmes having initiated their tryst seemed so unreal and unexpected.

 

But what felt even more unreal was that—concluding from those hazy little snippets coming back the night before—John had willingly played along and seemingly enjoyed their inebriated trip on the wild side.

 

Why? Why did I agree to have sex with Sherlock (already Sherlock and the word sex in the same sentence was more than ridiculous)? John ran a hand through his wet hair in utter frustration, staring at the different shades of green tiles as if expecting them to answer his questions. I’m not gay, his mantra started again. I’m not interested in men!

 

He applied a generous amount of his mint-scented shower gel to his arms and vigorously massaged the forming foam on his skin, scrubbing away the remaining evidence of last night’s activity.

 

We’re not lovers or friends with benefits! I like him and enjoy his company, but that doesn’t make me want to end up in bed with him! Even if he’s damn gorgeous, a little inside voice added.

 

Right . John pressed his lips tight, frown lines appearing on his forehead. He couldn’t deny that he found Sherlock attractive right from the start—because, seriously, was there any other person on Earth who had such mesmerising eyes in which one could see the whole universe with its every single galaxy and that pulled you in with such irresistible, magnetic force that made you reel even after only one glance; or such perfectly sculpted cheekbones under the smooth, alabaster skin that could have filled even Michelangelo with utmost envy?

 

Listening to the detective’s long, rapid-fire deductions and losing track in the whirlwind of words and giving up on finding his way back, John often caught himself getting distracted by Sherlock’s aesthetic appeal and wondering how could a man be that beautiful. During these times, John couldn’t pay attention to the meaning of the words tumbling out of that artistically shaped Cupid bow—that many women could certainly be envious for—but let himself be lulled by the delicious rumble of that unmistakable, velvet baritone. His eyes followed Sherlock’s every notion—the easy, catlike moves, the soft thump of feet, the graceful gestures of the delicate hands, the elegant tilt of head—drinking in the mesmerising sight. Every so often, he felt the urge to smooth the stray hair away from the man’s pale forehead and dive his fingers into the soft, dark curls that gracefully crowned the head that was the home of the constantly buzzing, brilliant mind.

 

There was nothing wrong about appreciating someone’s beauty, John told himself whenever his look lingered a little too long on his flatmate’s alluring features. It didn’t mean he was gay.

 

We’re nothing more, but good friends . Best friends even, he reckoned, though he couldn’t tell which category Sherlock sorted their friendship into in his mind palace.

 

The bond they’d formed after a relatively short time was stronger and deeper than most of John’s friendships. He couldn’t tell why had he been drawn to the man so much right from the start, but there was something about Sherlock Holmes that—apart from the bewildering brilliance—intrigued and captivated him. John had been astounded at the immediate trust he developed for Sherlock and at how quickly their friendship grew into a comfortable companionship. Living with Sherlock, having him around almost all the time, spending time with him on and off case, sharing everydays’ domesticity felt natural by now and John couldn’t imagine things being any different. What they had was good, and—after the hard times that had fallen on him after his discharge from the army due to his injury—John finally was content with his life.

 

Except for his lack of success in finding a girlfriend.

 

John still went on dates, but with Sherlock’s possessive nature and demand for John’s undivided attention, they usually ended in disaster. John often consoled himself with the thought that had he even managed to get a girlfriend, he might not be able to maintain a relationship with his insufferable, selfish flatmate around. Still, not even his bad luck in dating could have explained what had happened the night before. John surely wouldn’t have taken advantage of his friend and use him a substitute for a girlfriend.

 

But he was only one side of the coin. What were Sherlock’s reasons, why did he seduce me? John wondered. Sherlock Holmes wasn’t interested in sex. John could never decide though if the detective refused to act on the primal desires only because the act distracted him from focusing on the Work, or because he was asexual by nature. He could hear Sherlock reprimanding him, ‘Seriously, John, why does it matter?! Why should everyone be put in quaint little categories? What is the point of all those labels?’ Sherlock might be right, still John wondered and, after the night before, was inclined to go for the first option, though with Sherlock, one could never know. The man was a real mystery, the eighth wonder of the world.

 

The only possible explanation seemed to be the excessive amount of alcohol. It couldn’t happen any other way.

 

John groaned and massaged his temple, trying to alleviate the terrible headache. He had been drunk many times in his life, but last night took the cake. He had never been so wasted to have no recollection of what happened during his pissed state. Well, there’s always a first. Honestly, he was rather glad he didn’t remember much; it was less embarrassing this way.

 

The effect of the fast-acting painkillers had already started to kick in, but the pain behind his eyelids was still too much present to dwell further on the night before.

 

No matter how awkward this could be, they needed to talk. They couldn’t live with each other under the same roof without clearing the situation. John needed to know Sherlock’s motivation and how would that affect their future. He just hoped that such a crazy interlude wouldn’t put a wedge in their friendship. Sherlock was important to him, he didn’t want to lose him for a silly, drunken mistake.

 

***

 

Entering the living room about ten minutes later, scrubbing absently at his wet hair with a towel, John found a blue dressing gown-clad Sherlock facing the window and torturing his beloved violin with loud, angry notes.

 

“Sherlock,” John tried to get the man’s attention in a quiet, composed voice. “We need to talk.”

 

“I'm busy,” Sherlock gave a curt reply without making a move to face him.

 

“I see,” John acknowledged with a resignated sigh, dropping the wet towel on the back of the armchair. Sherlock had apparently withdrawn into his shell, refusing any kind of communication. John knew very well that it wasn’t worth trying to push for more, so he grabbed the morning paper and settled onto the sofa, trying to distract himself from the nagging questions.

 

But Sherlock didn’t seem to grant him even the chance of some peaceful reading, starting a new piece on the violin, full of high notes. John bit his lip with a frown, feeling like the father of a petulant child. Sherlock was apparently sulking again, and, surely, like always, he ensured that others couldn’t enjoy serenity either.

 

“Sherlock, this is really childish!” John threw the paper onto the coffee table eventually, having enough of the screeching concerto. “We should talk!”

 

The detective stopped playing and lowered the instrument with a huff.

 

“You don't want to,” John concluded. “Fine. But I do.” He took a breath. “Last night...” Sherlock tensed at the words. “I don't know what to make of it.”

 

Sherlock shifted, but didn't turn around.

 

“Why did you seduce me last night?” John asked firmly, not beating around the bush. Though he was afraid of the answer, he couldn’t procrastinate asking the question.

 

Sherlock, as ever so often, only shrugged, his face perfectly blank.

 

“Sherlock! For once, give me a normal answer, please. You know, one with words.”

 

The detective kept plucking at his violin, pouting and not intending to breaking his silence.

 

John sighed loudly once again, his patience ebbing, and shook his head helplessly.

 

“I can't do this,” he groaned eventually. “Text me when you're finished sulking and are willing to talk.” He grabbed his jacket and stomped out of the flat.

 

***

 

After walking aimlessly through the nearby streets, John eventually ended up in a coffee shop, nursing a cup of strong coffee (as still having been a bit hangoverish, getting a pint was out of question). Sitting at a window table, he watched the people passing by in the street, occasionally taking a sip of his hot drink. Out of the suffocating rooms of 221B, spared of Sherlock's drama-queen attitude and feeling more like himself after the stroll in the crisp November air, he could finally think without his head threatening to split into pieces and assess the situation he had got himself into in merely twelve hours.

 

The image of Sherlock watching him wake this morning popped into his mind, and John couldn't help cracking a tiny, affectionate smile. The mesmerising, bright, universe-coloured eyes fixed on him, the tousled, dark curls falling onto the high forehead, the perfect rosy lips curved into a rare, carefree smile. John swallowed hard at the memory.

 

That closeness had felt so damn right. Waking up beside Sherlock, his beautiful face being the first thing to see, greeted with that precious smile was amazing. John’s heart still fluttered at the memory. Under other circumstances, he would have relished the experience, snuggling up to the genius, savouring the feel of the warm skin and soft hair against his palm and inhaling Sherlock’s lovely scent.

 

God, that’s not how a straight man should feel about his male friend , he sighed exasperatedly.

 

What was he feeling for Sherlock, after all?

 

During the time by the detective's side both as an assistant and friend, they had forged a bond, a strong, unique companionship that went beyond the usual boundaries of friendship. It was a rare, special connection based on mutual trust, respect, acceptance and devotion, something John had never had with anyone before. An exhilarating bond that turned his days warmer, brighter, and made his life worth living again. He had a reason for waking up in the morning and looking forward the to each day, knowing that he mattered to someone. Even if that often meant fetching things or unknowingly being involved in the ridiculous experiments of his infuriating flatmate. Unlike many others, Sherlock didn't see the invalid ex-soldier in him, pitying him, but considered him a valuable man, relying on his opinion and skills. The detective had entered his life when he had needed help the most. Without him, John Watson might have not be alive. Sherlock Holmes saved him from making a grand mistake and gave him a purpose. And John Watson was eternally grateful for all that.

 

For a long while, John had thought that his growing affection toward Sherlock stemmed from this sincere gratitude and admiration, and it was nothing more than deep friendship forged between two men who had gone through both hardship and excitement. Yet, he had slowly begun to realise that there were more to it.

 

Sherlock became his home, providing the familiar comfort, stability, safety and—despite his arrogant, many times arsehole-like behaviour—care.

 

They both needed someone that understood them like no one else and accepted them with all their flaws, and they found that person in each other. They both were faulty, broken men in some way, but they each found solace and understanding in the other, like a stray dog taken in after long years.

 

So, Sherlock was not just a simple friend, and not even the term best friend could cover the bond they had. Maybe that was the reason why people often assumed that they were a couple—they saw the signs of their unique connection and mistook them for something more.

 

Irene Adler, he sighed. She was the first to make him wonder about Sherlock and himself.

 

‘We are not a couple,’ John had protested.

 

‘Yes, you are,’  Irene had replied with a knowing smile.

 

Maybe in some way they were. The strong bond between them could make them a ‘couple,’ not in a romantic way, though. Humans were social beings; everyone needed a partner, friend, soulmate, you name it, to lead a happy life. It didn’t need to be sexual. What if Sherlock was this companion for John Watson?

 

But that still didn’t explain why had he suddenly found himself unaffected by the beautiful woman, even when she stood stark naked in front of him. That was unlike Three Continents Watson. More disturbing was the fact that he sent lingering glances toward Sherlock at the same time and experienced the unmistakable signs of jealousy of the Woman whenever she had got the detective’s attention. It was plain to see that Sherlock had been intrigued by and drawn to her, and John hated that. He hated how their dynamic had been disturbed by a third party (was it how Sherlock felt about John’s dates too?). He loved the life the two of them shared, and he didn’t want to lose that or change it in any way.

 

The more time had passed and adventures they had gone through, the more John had felt his affection and attraction deepening toward his friend. He had started longing for physical closeness—more than just fleeting touches or sitting close, but not close enough, to each other. Often when their hands accidentally brushed, John wished to pull Sherlock’s hand back and envelope it into his own, relishing the comforting warmth. Sitting at his laptop with Sherlock leaning over his shoulder to peer at the screen, his warm breath tickling John’s neck, John wanted to grab the long arms and wrap himself in them while Sherlock’s chin would have rested on the top of his head. Whenever they were lounging on the sofa, watching telly, John wanted to close the gap and snuggle against his friend, leaning his head back at Sherlock’s shoulder. Sometimes, after a successfully solved case, high on adrenaline, he felt inclined to press a celebratory kiss onto Sherlock’s pale cheek, showing his pride and admiration in a way that words could not express.

 

It’s not sexual longing , John told himself, plainly just the need of physical comfort from another person. Knowing that someone cares, that I’m not alone.

 

But Sherlock being Sherlock, oblivious to sentiments and the meaning of friendship, surely didn’t harbour similar longings about showing affection, John had reminded himself.

 

And now? His prayers had definitely been answered last night; even more, he had apparently received more than that he had wished for. A lot more. Will things change between us, and if yes, in what way?

 

I’m not gay, but I…I care for him a lot. Could he feel something like that about me too?

 

He stared into his half empty cup.

 

‘I wanted to dance with you,’ Sherlock had said so himself. Also, he had admitted having been engrossed in something less mundane than his hangover. ‘My mind was focused on other things.’  Did those other things include John?

 

John shook his head. Whenever Sherlock intentionally got involved in something out of his area, there always was some hidden motive behind it. Deception, manipulation, experiment.

 

He didn't do sentiment, and he most certainly didn't feel the urge to fulfil sexual needs, so the only plausible explanation was the scientific approach. An experiment. John bit his bottom lip bitterly. It must have been just a bloody experiment. The bastard. That's why he hadn't wanted to talk about it.

 

Downing the remains of his coffee angrily, John leapt out of the chair and darted out of the shop. He was mad at himself for not having seen it right away and making a fool of himself by believing even for a minute that what had happened could have been real.

 

Sherlock-fucking-Holmes will pay for this , he gritted his teeth.

 

***

 

Sherlock needed to get his mind off of the nagging thoughts of John's intentions and the tormenting doubts the night had evoked. He hated this feeling. He hated that he had become weak and let himself feel at all—look where it had led! The image of Mycroft's gloating grin haunted him. 'Look at you, Sherlock, you've failed. You're just as pathetic as other people. You let sentiment take over. I'm disappointed in you.'

 

Tightening his lips in distress, Sherlock doubled the bow's pressure on the strings at the thought, wringing some angry notes out of the violin.

 

John’s dying footsteps still echoed on the stairs when Sherlock turned his head toward the door, his eyes fixing on the doorframe like a sad, abandoned puppy. He didn't want to admit it, but he was scared of the proposed talk. Postponing it to save himself from the inevitable misery seemed to be the only thing to do.

 

He hated not knowing things. He wanted to know John's views on the subject, yet he was afraid to hear John telling him once more that he wasn't gay and that last night was just a stupid mistake caused by inebriation, nothing more. Once the words were out, they became real and not amendable. A stab into his heart. Why did I let myself end up in this situation, he admonished himself. But what really bothered him was the fact that he couldn't be angry with himself for the way the evening had turned out after all. Why? Why am I not horrified about everything that happened?

 

Because it is John , the answer hit him, clear as day. John was the reason for all the strange sensations affecting his transport, infecting his mind and soul, awakening his dormant heart. Feelings . Strange, unknown, unexplained feelings, doing odd things to his body, prompting new chemical reactions in his system.

 

But what feelings were they? The satisfaction of their comfortable companionship having grown on him, magnified into something more, which could ebb once the magic of novelty was gone? Real love in its romantic meaning or just heightened admiration or deep infatuation with the only man who truly accepted him, who could see his true self and still want to be by his side, caring for him?

 

Whatever they were, he couldn't let go of them. It felt like they were a missing part of him that he had finally found. Feeling like that about John felt more than right.

 

But, obviously, John didn't share the sentiment about him, his words gave it away. ‘Last night...I don't know what to make of it’ and ‘I can't do this ’ echoed in Sherlock's mind. He recalled the doctor's detached, unusually quiet attitude earlier that morning, which—added to his frustrated, on-edge manner just minutes ago—was enough evidence for him to see that what he was dreading was true. John didn't feel the same about the previous night and had no intention of revisiting the experience. And on the top of that, he was certainly going to leave him after everything that had happened. Was it worth it?

 

He, Sherlock Holmes, had just made a fool of himself. Because of some appealing chemical reaction. He had been weak, letting his guard down, foolishly engaging in something he had never known, and then, assuming for a mere moment that his friend hadn't regretted it, he had even entertained the possibility of pursuing this new dynamic further. He was such a fool. ‘ Caring is not an advantage ,’ he remembered Mycroft's warning. He knew that very well. Still, in one weak moment, he’d let himself be swept away by his despised humanity.

 

“I'm such an idiot!” Sherlock growled loudly in utter frustration, and he grabbed his mug on the little side table and tossed it vehemently against the kitchen's door frame. The ceramic broke with a loud crash, the tiny shards flying around, the Earl Grey tea splashing against the frame, painting dark shapes on the green wallpaper.

 

His limbs trembled, anger buzzing in the nerve endings, and he just couldn't sit still. Jumping up, he started pacing around the room, high on self-reproach. His mind raced, images of the night before and this morning flashing with high speed, evoking contradictory feelings in a fraction of a second, making him dizzy. His head felt like it would explode under the contrast of anger and affection, the different emotions overwhelming his body with so much force that he thought that his veins would rip apart under his skin.

 

“Nooo!” He roared, his hands cradling his head, shutting his eyes tight. “What is happening to me?” He whimpered wearily.

 

He needed distraction. He needed something to alleviate the noise and chaos in his mind. The sweet clarity and peace that his seven percent solution offered was ever so tempting. Sherlock could almost feel the blissful heat spreading through his veins and his mind calming, his focus becoming deliciously sharp, his thoughts crystal clear. Despite the strength of his craving for this honed serenity, Sherlock couldn't let himself fetch his secret stash and take that powerful relief. He hated that his promise to John and the thought of disappointing him was still binding him. How pathetic I am, he sneered.

 

Picking up his violin eventually, he played some loud, vehement, stray notes, before the sound gradually calmed into an an improvised, sad, slow melody.

 

***

 

Music helped Sherlock to compose himself and face the inevitable that was coming, so he was shifted back into his usual aloof self by the time John returned a few hours later. He was immediately aware of his friend's presence, of the familiar sound of the doctor's feet pounding on the stairs, and from the man's heavy, fast breathing, he could instantly tell that John was furious. Sherlock stopped playing, but didn't turn around.

 

“Fuck it, Sherlock,” John's enraged voice filled the room, “how dare you!?” Sherlock could envision the rage, John’s nostrils flared with the intensity of his anger. “You indifferent, arrogant prick! Does anyone matter to you at all? Is there one sodding person in this entire fucking world who you consider more than just an object to experiment on? You've already conducted experiments on me without my knowledge, drugged me, manipulated me, misled me in order to prove or disprove a point. I told you that was unacceptable, and yet, what do you fucking do?! How could you? How could you do that to me?!”

 

Sherlock turned around slowly, without saying a word. Facing his flatmate, he regarded him with a blank face, studying every tiny part of the man's expression, trying to deduce an explanation for his sudden rage.

 

Sherlock's calm attitude and silence seemed to anger John even more. “Fuck you, Sherlock, you don't even have anything to say?! You bloody machine, you–”

 

“I didn't want to interrupt the lovely tirade you delivered; it was quite entertaining,” Sherlock remarked calmly, a barely noticeable smile playing at the corner of his mouth.

 

John growled, his eyes filling with disdain. His fist was just an inch away from the pale face, when Sherlock's arm blocked the blow. Sometimes martial arts skills proved to be useful.

 

“You can't even give me the satisfaction of punching your smug face, can you?” John hissed through his teeth.

 

“Not until I know why you want to break my nose.”

 

“Stop pretending to be oblivious. You know very well what I'm talking about.”

 

“I hate to disappoint you, but I really have no idea.”

 

“You want me to say it out loud? Well, okay. You experimented on me last night! That’s all it was, right? Just one of your fucking games.”

 

Sherlock's expression froze in horror. Now John's fury made sense. He stared ahead, processing the situation, blinking heavily as he sought the words to explain, to assure John that he was wrong.

 

“Sherlock!” John called for his attention after a long moment of silence.

 

Sherlock’s focus snapped back to the room, and he sighed heavily. “John, I…” He tried to speak, but couldn’t get the words out.

 

“Tell me the truth, Sherlock!” John’s jaw clenched, and his expression mirrored desperation and anger. “Just once, be honest with me.”

 

“You are wrong.”

 

“Pardon?”

 

“You are mistaken. It wasn't an experiment.” Sherlock gently laid the violin back in its case.

 

“Of course not,” John huffed in disdain. “Stop lying. I'm sure you find this bloody entertaining, but this is fucking humiliating to me.”

 

Sherlock held John’s gaze without a flinch, making sure to keep his expression impassive, but open and unchanging.

 

John blinked, and his brow furrowed in confusion. “It wasn’t?”

 

Sherlock sighed and rolled his eyes, feeling suddenly really awkward. “Oh, do keep up, John. Don't make me repeat myself; it's so dull.”

 

“But...You’re not interested in this sort of thing and… you didn’t want to talk about it earlier…I thought...”

 

“Oh, John, how many times do I have to remind you to see and observe? Sentiment and sex are not my area, so talking about them—especially if the situation is unclear—is a bit difficult for me.” He bowed his head and added timidly, “You were so distant all morning that I thought you didn't approve of what happened; you keep saying you’re not gay, after all. I wasn't ready to face your pity and rejection.” Glancing at John again, Sherlock could see the flush of shame creeping into his cheeks.

 

“So it was real?” John asked hesitantly.

 

“Obviously.”

 

“Oh.”

 

That annoying little word once again , Sherlock frowned. He could never tell what was behind it, which was really frustrating.

 

The two men stared at each other for a moment in uncomfortable silence, before John let out a relieved sigh. “I'm sorry...” He ran his fingers through his blond hair nervously. “I was confused, and when I suggested we talk about what happened, you refused to do it, so knowing you, the most convenient answer seemed to be the experiment. I shouldn't have said all those horrible things, I'm sorry.”

 

“Apology accepted.” Sherlock said quietly.

 

“If you could…” John shifted in unease. “If you could delete them from your mind palace…”

 

Sherlock nodded absentmindedly and dropped down into his armchair, his thoughts already far ahead.

 

“Are you going to leave me now?” he risked the fearful question eventually.

 

John knitted his brows in horror. “Leaving you? Why?...Oh, my God, you think–” his face turned white, the answer seemingly dawning on him. “No! No way!”

 

Sherlock blinked rapidly, trying to process John’s answer. “So you’re not…”

 

“No! I’m not going to leave.” John sat opposite him. “How could you even think…?” he wondered incredulously, rubbing his nape.

 

“All the signs pointed to this plausible outcome,” Sherlock muttered, both disconcerted and relieved that his deductions having been wrong.

 

“You’re really an idiot sometimes, you know,” John smiled softly.

 

Any other time, Sherlock might have retorted with some arrogant remark, but now his mind was occupied with pondering the result of the equation of their night plus John’s intention to stay plus his newfound approach on emotions and where that could lead to.

 

Though letting himself be exposed to the despised feelings was frightening, the experience of having John closer than ever was intriguing, something that Sherlock was eager to revisit.  



***

 

John had never been happier for Sherlock saying ‘obviously’.

 

Last night was real, not an experiment. What does it mean then? Does Sherlock feel sexual desire for me? No, that’s impossible, he isn’t interested in sex, he’s above the needs of the body.

 

He might not be interested in sex, but you are, John, a voice inside said. Would you like to have a second round with him?

 

I’m not gay. I’m not drawn to him sexually.

 

Liar , the voice huffed. Then why did your heart make a little leap at that word?

 

For emphasis, once again, I’m not gay!!   John snapped.

 

But you’re still attracted to him, longing for his touch and proximity. You love him.

 

Shut up!! John pursed his lips tight, clenching his fist.

 

“I don't intend to,” Sherlock’s firm voice stated.

 

“Huh?” John blinked owlishly, his startled eyes snapping at the detective. Could he have said things aloud?

 

“You might eventually ask if I intend to delete the memories of last night. I don't.”

 

John’s expression eased, relieved that his words were not heard outside his head.

 

“What we did last night,” Sherlock uttered tentatively, suddenly embarrassed, “that was…good. Actually, I, uhm, would like to revisit the experience, if you are amenable.”

 

John froze, thinking he misheard the words or simply that his brain was playing tricks on him, and that he had fallen back into the mental exchange with that little voice.

 

Could Sherlock really reconsider his approach on sex and finally want to give in to his suppressed human side with desires and instincts?

 

The prospect of a repeat of last night’s experiences was both tempting and frightening. Feeling Sherlock’s closeness and touches again was tempting, but…what would that make the two of them? And himself?

 

What’s happening to me? Why am I suddenly having doubts about something I’ve never questioned about myself? I’ve never been sexually interested in men, I was always convinced that I’m 100% straight (not to mention, my parents would have been totally outraged if their golden child had come out gay too). What has Sherlock done to me? Could I be a latent bisexual, just haven’t been aware of it this far? Harry is gay too, maybe it’s a family gene.

 

John had never been more confused in his life. Part of him wanted to have sex with Sherlock again, and remember it too, but another part hit the breaks, calling for a halt. He couldn’t bear losing Sherlock and his friendship if that arrangement didn’t work.

 

He chewed his lip nervously. “Look, I...don’t think that’s a good idea.” The smile faded off of Sherlock's face. “I'm not sure I could handle a ‘friends with benefits’ situation.”

 

“What benefits?” Sherlock raised a brow, looking uncharacteristically clueless.

 

“When two friends add sex to their relationship without romantic feelings, that's what people call 'friends with benefits',” John explained, watching the gears turning in Sherlock’s head, the long eyelashes fluttering in the process. Damn, he’s beautiful.

 

“The thing is that–” He trailed off. This was the moment of truth; it’s now or never .

 

Sherlock eyed him intently. “You what?”

 

John inhaled deeply, nervously licking his lips. His heart was beating wildly in his chest. “I think… I think I have feelings for you.” There, it was out, no more turning back. He was anxiously waiting for the ground to shake and crumble under his feet.

 

“You... what?” Sherlock kept staring at him, his eyes widening incredulously.

 

“Don't make me repeat it, you heard me fine the first time, you berk,” John grinned nervously, clenching and unclenching his fists agitatedly.

 

Sherlock sat motionless, still staring at John. “Please?”

 

Why did Sherlock have to do this to him, making him say again something that wasn’t easy to do the first time either? John groaned, but gave in. “I said I think I have feelings for you, you stupid git. Satisfied now?”

 

“You said ‘you think’—what does that mean?” Ignoring the mocking question, Sherlock raised a brow, apparently still processing the information.

 

John sighed loudly. “Right,” his gaze dropped onto the carpet. “This is not easy for me. I…” he took a deep breath, gathering courage. “I’m not gay—” Rolling his eyes, Sherlock opened his mouth to interject—probably that everyone heard that statement thousand times already—but John held up a hand with a stern look. “Please, let me finish.” Sherlock pouted, but pursed his lips obediently. “So, I’m not gay, that’s what I keep saying, but maybe things aren’t all black and white,” John said thoughtfully.

 

Sherlock squinted at him, slightly tilting his head in wonder.

 

“I’ve always found you attractive, right from the first moment, but…” John rubbed his nape in unease, before letting out a perplexed laugh. “I feel so ridiculous telling my flatmate that he’s sodding gorgeous and I’ve kinda had a crush on him for some time…”

 

Sherlock stared at him incredulously. “You think I’m appealing?” He asked tentatively, searching his friend’s eyes closely.

 

Shock flashed through John, and his heart sank realising how unsure and oblivious Sherlock was under his facade of utmost confidence.

 

“Appealing?” he echoed unbelievingly. “Sherlock, you’re beautiful! How can you not see what everyone else can?”

 

“No one has called me beautiful before. I was always just the freak.”

 

“Those people around you must have been blind. You’re gorgeous—and this is a man saying so, who had considered himself straight all his life! Mind you, Sherlock, you make me question my sexual orientation!”

 

“What do you mean?” Sherlock jerked his head.

 

“I think I’m having an sexual identity crisis,” John snorted with a chuckle. “Ridiculous. All my life, I was interested in women, had countless dates and many relationships, I even earned the nickname Three Continents Watson, and then... I meet a brilliant, though insufferable, beautiful man, and I suddenly find myself completely enthralled by him, until I realise that my admiration toward him might have turned into more… something I can’t name, but what certainly is more than I should feel for... you…”

 

The last syllable was a mere whisper, turning Sherlock’s breathing noticeably faster.

 

“I’m not sure who I am anymore,” John confessed bashfully, casting his eyes down. “I’m not gay, but—with these feelings about you—I’m not sure I could call myself straight either.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I could say bisexual, but, damn, I don’t find other men attractive, don’t have the urge to date someone of my own gender. It’s just you!” he burst out exasperatedly. “I’m pathetic,” he chuckled bitterly.

 

“On the other hand,” he continued, “we both know that you’re not interested in romance, don’t do feelings. So while for other people the ‘friends with benefits’ situation could be a go, for me…” John sighed sadly. “Having these feelings, while you don’t… I don’t think I could do that. I don't want to be just another substitute for drugs or cigarettes, a convenient distraction.”

 

Silence fell on the two for a moment.

 

John expected Sherlock to acknowledge his reasoning with a single nod and suggesting forgetting last night and go back to where they had been before, then leaping out of his chair to stride into the kitchen to check on his current undergoing experiment. He was already preparing to feel sorry for himself for feeling miserable, when Sherlock’s quiet baritone broke the silence.

 

“When I suggested repeating last night, I didn't mean having you just for intercourse.”

 

“What are you saying?” John jerked his head and searched the quicksilver eyes intently.

 

“You wonder why I seduced you last night and why I don’t intend to delete what happened from my mind palace. There’s only one answer to both: knowing you are not gay, that tedious social gathering with loads of alcohol was my only chance to have you.”

 

John’s eyes widened. “You... you’ve been thinking about being with me...?” Not-interested-in-sex-Sherlock having been pining for him seemed so surreal.

 

Sherlock nodded shyly.

 

“How long?” John gaped at the detective.

 

Sherlock shrugged, casting his eyes down. “Since Irene Adler…”

 

That meant almost a year! John made a mental calculation.

 

John cleared his throat and licked his lip uncomfortably. “Have you—?”

 

“No,” Sherlock interjected before John could finish the sentence. “I didn’t sleep with her. She would have been amenable, but… no, I wasn’t interested.”

 

John’s eyes narrowed. “Did she propose to…?”

 

“Let’s say she offered her services in case I needed them.”

 

“And you didn’t take the chance. Why? She was beautiful, even intriguing for you.”

 

“Why?” Sherlock averted his penetrative gaze at John. “Even you should have noticed that—unlike you—I’m unequivocally, one hundred percent gay. And even if I wasn’t, she's not…”

 

John swallowed hard, never breaking the eye contact. “Not what?” He could swear his low voice was wavering.

 

Sherlock bit his lip and inhaled sharply. “You.”

 

John’s breath caught in his throat. What is Sherlock saying?

 

“You, John Watson, you are the only one I want, the only person I need. I have always been on my own, never needed anyone, never felt affection towards anyone. I have always considered myself strong enough alone. But then you came into my life, and ever since that first encounter in the lab, you've been affecting the way I view things,” the words tumbled out of Sherlock’s mouth. “I've found myself starting to care about you, listening to you, doing things to make you smile... You've became important to me.

 

“So I deduce that the ‘friends with benefits’ construction is not an option in our case,” Sherlock cracked a little smile. “As both parties contradict the no emotions part.”

 

“Are you serious?” John still couldn’t wrap his head around what was going on.

 

“You should know by now that I rarely joke, especially if it’s about you,” Sherlock raised a brow in mock admonishment. “Do you remember what I told you that night? I said that you are what I always needed, the company I want forever. I meant it then and I mean it now.”

 

John’s heart skipped a beat at the solemn tone. It felt like a proposal.

 

This was getting more and more unreal. He should pinch himself to see if he wasn’t dreaming.

 

“I want you in every way.” Sherlock’s deep, sincere baritone sent a shiver down John’s spine.

 

Has Sherlock just asked me to be his boyfriend?   John reeled, feeling suddenly lightheaded. This must be a dream, it can’t be real.

 

“You're suggesting that we...?” he tried to breath.

 

“Obviously,” Sherlock stated seemingly nonchalantly.

 

Again, that word, John noted mockingly. How he hated it. Probably as much as Sherlock liked saying it. The git.

 

“Why?” Finding how to breath again, John uttered quietly after a moment of silence.

 

“Why?” Sherlock raised a brow.

 

For a genius, the detective could be really slow at uptake at times.

 

“Yes, Sherlock, why ?” John prompted with narrow eyes. “You don't know what love means. You don't understand the concept of a relationship; you're ignorant and oblivious to what being involved with someone really means and requires. You’ve only just seemed to get around to accepting me as your friend. So while I'm flattered by your idea, I don't think that's what you really want.”

 

“You want to convince yourself of that? Try harder,” Sherlock countered with a brittle smile. “You aren’t worried that I don’t want this, you are scared that I do. You don't believe you could be an equal partner to me. You doubt that I could ever feel something for you.” His gaze never left the doctor's. “But you are so wrong.”

 

“You’re right. I’m not sure about you being able to have…” John searched for the right term, even though he didn’t know either what the proper word was. “...those kinds of feelings for me.”

 

God, having such a conversation with Sherlock wasn’t easy. It felt like talking to an eight-year-old child. You could never know how to say things so that he’d understand.

 

“You always said that emotions are not your area; you’re oblivious to feelings. But even if you might develop any, I’m dubious that I could ever fit into your life like that. The Work is your life, you're married to it, remember? Your words precisely. No one could ever be that important to you. Not even me. So, if I agree to…”

 

Again, what’s the right thing to say, John wondered. It was worse than the game ‘Taboo’.

 

“...start dating you, I am going to want more than just crumbs of your attention.”

 

“I have never thought that there could be anything or anyone else beside the Work that would take control over me and be that important,” Sherlock spoke fiercely with bright eyes. “But—and listen carefully, because I will never say these words again—I was wrong.”

 

John blinked and gulped hard. Sherlock wasn’t someone to admit making mistakes, so doing so now spoke volumes.

 

“You came and turned my meticulously arranged world upside down. You and the Work are what matter to me, what I would do anything for. You complete me, you are my conductor of light, my partner-in-crime, my friend, and I don't want to be without you. Apparently, a romantic relationship is the deepest connection between two individuals, body and mind.” Sherlock’s mouth curved into a smile of awe. “I have never even considered starting one with anyone before, but now, I want to have that with you.”

 

John was stunned at his friend's reasoning. He had never thought of love like that. “Uhm, Sherlock, that's all about feelings, which are not your area.”

 

“I used to pretend to have no heart, detached myself from emotions that could have hindered my focus on my work, but...” Sherlock nervously ran a hand through his hair. “Since you came, I am not the person I used to be. Day by day, I had to realize that—when it comes to you—I can't keep ignoring forever the fact that, by default, I'm a human being with feelings. You are changing me. I try to shut out the world of emotions, but when it's about you, I can't anymore. Which is ridiculous, because you are just an ordinary man wasting the capacity of his mind, constantly caring about others' opinions, yet it seems I just can't withdraw myself from your power...”

 

Maybe you don't try hard enough, John said with a look.

 

Maybe I don't want to, Sherlock's eyes replied.

 

“Romantic feelings might not be my area, and I may need time to learn what love is all about, but for you, for us, I want to give it a try.”

 

John gulped at the last words. Sherlock would be ready to change for me? To revise some of his principles for me?

 

And what about me? Can I fall in love with a man? Can I form a romantic relationship with Sherlock? Can I be attracted to him sexually too?

 

John’s world was suddenly a cavalcade of insecurities, doubts and confusion. He didn’t know what to say, he feared hurting Sherlock with some inappropriately chosen words.

 

Sherlock must have sensed his inner battle and need of encouragement, because he noted desperately, his pleading gaze burning John’s skin. “I need and want you, John.”

 

They gazed at each other, communicating silently for a long moment, before John spoke again. “Just for the record, I'm still most likely not gay.”

 

Sherlock snorted. “Oh, John, will you ever get tired of saying that? It's really very boring.”

 

“For you, it might be boring, but it's true. I'd appreciate if you and the world would finally stop trying to convince me otherwise.”

 

“I have never said you were gay John. Nevertheless, if you were, I'd be okay with it. ”

 

John huffed. “Just don't go singing.”

 

Furrowing his brows, Sherlock gave his flatmate a clueless look. “Singing?”

 

“Doesn't matter. I don't want to burden your mind with theatre stuff,” John giggled.

 

“I don't care about your orientation,” Sherlock said. “You could be bisexual, pansexual, multi-sexual or whatever, as long as you're with me.”

 

John took a deep breath. Whatever his reply would be, it was going to change their dynamic and life. If he said no, he would live with regret all his life long, wondering what if. Not to mention, breaking Sherlock and pushing him back into the ‘caring is not an advantage’ mindset for good. Saying yes could give Sherlock a chance to be fully human and happy, even if only for a little while if things weren’t going to turn out as they wanted. Also, John would have a chance to figure out his feelings for him and see if they could work as an item.

 

“So you want us to become a... couple. ” It was rather a statement than a question.

 

Sherlock nodded, his universe-coloured eyes bright in anticipation.

 

John had to gather all his willpower to hide the thrill—and anxiety, to be honest—that Sherlock's nod elicited. He inhaled deeply, bracing himself to utter the life-changing reply.

 

“Fine, let's give it a try.”

 

No turning back now.

 

Sherlock's mouth curved into a wide, happy smile, something John hadn’t seen before. Sherlock was about to lean in and kiss him, but a moment’s apprehension had John stopping him.

 

“No, Sherlock. If it's a relationship you want, not just occasional sex, we're taking it slow. Baby steps.” John needed Sherlock understand that they were about to enter a serious field, and it wasn’t a game. Sherlock raised his brow perplexedly. “Nothing physical for a while. This whole thing is so sudden; I need time to come to terms with whatever is going on between us. We talk, get to know more about each other, go on dates—see if we can make it work. I want both of us to be sure about this thing between us when the time comes to take it to next level.”

 

***

 

Sherlock was both relieved and disappointed. He was excited that John had agreed to give their relationship a try, but he wasn't enthusiastic about going slow. He wanted to feel John's warmth against his body in the morning, to feel safe and content. But it looked like he would still have to wait for that. Then again, a 'maybe' was better than a 'no,' and John was definitely worth it, so he had to accept the ultimatum.

 

“As you want,” he agreed obediently.

 

John gave him a warm, satisfied smile. “Good.”

 

“I should get dressed,” he added after a moment of silence, but didn't move. It was apparent that there still was something on his mind.

 

“Out with it,” Sherlock looked at him expectantly.

 

“Uhm, are you sure that…that we didn't have...” He stammered in embarrassment.

 

“Penetrative sex?” Sherlock finished his question casually.

 

John sighed at the sterile tone, “Yes. We both were very drunk, I can't even remember everything. Are you one hundred percent sure?”

 

“I am,” Sherlock cut in firmly. “I do remember everything now.” Seeing his friend's confusion, he added with a sigh, “Memory recovery technique.”

 

“You mean you can remember things that you can't remember?” John stared at him incredulously.

 

“Don't be alarmed, John,” Sherlock reassured him. “It's just a one-time thing, I rarely use it.”

 

“That's bloody fantastic,” John beamed. “ You ’re bloody fantastic.”

 

Sherlock shifted at the unexpected praise, his mouth curving into a sheepish smile. He could never get tired of hearing John complimenting him.

 

“How does it work?”

 

“It's an extremely deep meditation process, digging down to the vaults of the mind palace,” Sherlock explained. “Everything is stored there, even events that happened while you were unconscious or in a mentally limited state like drunkenness. Just pictures though, no feelings. There’s always the trouble with feelings,” he scoffed, “they require consciousness.”

 

“Amazing.”

 

The awe on John’s face, as always, warmed Sherlock’s insides. Like rays of sunshine after cold, rainy days. Again, Sherlock realised that he couldn’t exist without John anymore. The doctor wasn’t only his conductor of light, but the very sun in the sky of his life.

 

“Well, the whole process is not that amazing.” He knew he was going to crush that beautiful smile on John’s face, but he couldn’t hide the truth. “As a matter of fact, it's extremely exhausting and dangerous. After a few times, there's the possibility that it could do serious damage. Eventually, it can kill you.”

 

Alarm shadowed John's expression. “How many times have you done it?”

 

“This was the third,” Sherlock said quietly.

 

“You... you risked your life...” John stammered, his eyes widening.

 

The detective nodded.

 

John gaped at him with the mixture of anger, fear and gratitude on his face. “Why? Why did you want to know so badly what happened last night?”

 

Sherlock was trapped. “Isn't it obvious?” he uttered quietly, averting his look to the floor.

 

John gently touched his friend's arm. “Yet, I want to hear you saying it,” he whispered.

 

Sherlock looked up, his expression ever so innocent and young. “Because I think I also have feelings for you.”

 

John stared at him wide eyed, apparently finding it hard to believe he was hearing these words from him. Sherlock didn’t blame him, it was unbelievable even to himself.

 

He had never exposed himself to anyone like this. John was the only one Sherlock had ever trusted so deeply to open up and let himself taken by the torrents of emotions. If there was anyone Sherlock was willingly expose himself to danger, pain, even death, it was John Watson. Sherlock felt he owed him since the first day, when—only after barely a day of knowing each other—John shot that cabbie to save him. John could have left him dealing with the situation on his own, but he didn’t. He had probably realised already that Sherlock needed someone to save him from himself.

 

So, while Sherlock didn’t know what exactly it was that he felt for John, he knew it was a ‘first day’ thing, if anything like that existed at all.   

 

A happy glow lit up John's eyes, and he opened his mouth to say something, but Sherlock cut in with a smile.

 

“Don't make me repeat it, you heard me fine the first time.”

 

Recognising the words he had uttered earlier, John laughed. “You bastard.”

 

Sherlock ignored the comment and drank in the sound of John’s happiness. It was the most beautiful sound in the world.

 

“Unless you have some case to work on,” John shifted nervously, “what about going out somewhere? Our first date?” He blushed a little at the last bit.

 

“I'm game,” Sherlock smiled, not minding that his face likely lit up with anticipation.

 

“Good,” John gulped, looking both nervous and excited. “Just give me some time to get dressed.”

 

Sherlock nodded and retrieved his violin. “I'll be here.”

 

 

Chapter Text

In my life there's been heartache and pain
I don't know if I can face it again
Can't stop now, I've traveled so far
To change this lonely life

I wanna know what love is
I want you to show me
I wanna feel what love is
I know you can show me

 

~ Foreigner - I Want To Know What Love Is





Chapter Three - I Want To Know What Love Is



Climbing the stairs to his room, John could hear Sherlock playing a beautiful melody.

 

I’m on the verge of dating Sherlock Holmes. I must be crazy, he thought with an antsy smile.

 

He had dozens—if not at least a hundred—dates behind him, but right now he felt like a teenager going on his first date. In some way, it was a first date ever. His first date with a man, his first date with Sherlock. A first date with someone who he already really cared about. Still, it was a date, its mechanics couldn’t be any different from the ones he had had, could it? So why was he so jittery? Was it for being seen in the company of a man? He’s with Sherlock in public most of the time, so that shouldn’t be something new. Hence the couple jokes, he reminded himself. Even the papers implied that there was something between them: ‘Confirmed bachelor, Dr John Watson, often seen in the company of Sherlock Holmes.’ Thank you very much. He still felt utter discomfort at articles like that, starting  the rumours and painting the wrong picture of him. Not mentioning the dirty looks and remarks from his mother at those few times they met or talked after. His mother never seemed to be thrilled at his living arrangements with Sherlock in first place, she never really approved of the detective, and once the tabloids published articles, indicating that John Watson might have homosexual tendencies, she was convinced that Sherlock was the devil in human form that intended to lure her son to the dark side, claiming his soul.

 

John had come to ignore his mother’s judgmental remarks for long—he had had practice when Harry had come out—but they still hurt. A mother should stand by her children, even if they were attracted to their own gender, or committed murder (had his mother known about him killing someone for Sherlock the very first day met, she would have been totally outraged and horrified, and no one could have convinced her that her son hadn’t been in a sinful, atrocious relationship with his flatmate). John had always wished to have parents that weren’t supportive only if things went their way, but even when their children followed their own will. The only person he could count on was his sister. He wondered how would she have reacted if she had known that her baby brother was about to date a man. He could hear the delighted squeal in his mind.

 

Stifling a little smile, John opened his closet. What was he supposed to wear? He browsed through his not so extensive wardrobe, scrunching his nose at every other item. His clothes might have been suitable for a normal date—meaning, a date with a woman, where he didn’t need to feel insecure—but not for going out with Sherlock, who was not only the first male partner John had had, but also a man who always looked as if he had just left the catwalk in a fashion show for Spencer Hart. Wearing his casual jeans, shirt and jumper combination during the everydays was nothing to bother about, but on a date… He just couldn’t bring shame upon them with his shabby look.

 

After a few minutes of contemplation, John eventually picked his only fancy suit (the only one he owned beside the mandatory black one, which fit every occasion) and a shirt that he hadn’t worn yet, a gift from Harry for his birthday).

 

His fingers trembled as he buttoned the yellow shirt. Chill, Watson, he scolded himself. It’s just a date. You know, when two people who like each other go out and have fun. Right, only that one of those people was a conservatively raised, probably straight man with PTSD and trust issues (add sexual identity crisis there), while the other was an eccentric, mysterious, posh git, oblivious to emotions and romance. Not the finest combination.

 

I think I also have feelings for you. ’ Sherlock’s words still echoed in his ears. Can it be really true? Could Sherlock really have feelings for me? What if it’s just a childish infatuation or heightened affection with its excitement, mistaken for some deeper feeling, but that is nothing more than a sudden whim, a phase that—once the novelty and exhilaration diminished—would eventually end, and he would seek the needed thrill elsewhere? What if he gets bored of the romance nonsense and dumps me?

 

John raked his fingers through his hair, exhaling soundly. I have never been this nervous before a date.

 

Adjusting his navy suit jacket, he checked his reflection in the full length mirror. God, this is ridiculous, he wrinkled his nose. Though yellow and dark blue should have matched, somehow these shades just didn’t feel right. What did Harry think when picking this colour?

 

Grabbing another new shirt from the wardrobe, a baby blue one, he changed as quickly as he could with his restless hands. Seriously, Watson, you’re worse than a woman.

 

The second version of his outfit seemed to be fine, so John could let out a sigh of relief.

 

Shoes . He moved to the next item on his mental checklist. Rarely wearing formal attire these days, it took him some time finding his black dress shoes.

 

He quickly applied a few drops of cologne, before giving a last glance over to his reflection. Christ, am I really doing this? He shifted. You can’t be such a coward, Watson, get your shit together , the soldier in him admonished. He took a deep breath.

 

Right. There’s a mission to accomplish. He turned on his heels, bracing himself.

 

***

 

Walking down the stairs, he heard Mrs Hudson's familiar voice from the sitting room.

 

“I know what it feels like, you know, I have this terrible pain in my hip.”

 

“Afternoon, Mrs Hudson,” John entered the room. “You're feeling okay?”

 

“Good afternoon, dear!” The landlady turned to him with a wide smile. “Oh, look at you, you look dashing! Are you going out?” she gushed.

 

John shifted uncomfortably, cracking a little embarrassed smile. “Uhm, yes.”

 

He saw Sherlock squinting at him from the sofa. He wondered if he only imagined the detective’s eyes widening for a moment and a muffled groan leaving his lips.

 

“Poor Sherlock,” Mrs Hudson lamented.

 

Sherlock frowned slightly, staring at the ceiling.

 

“What's wrong with him?” John wondered out loud.

 

“He’s having a bad headache. I'm not surprised though, hangover and exhaustion aren’t a good combination. Too much work and an unhealthy lifestyle takes its toll. But why am I telling this to you? You’re a doctor!”

 

John shifted, wondering how much she knew about the night before. “You know how stubborn he is. But don’t worry, I keep an eye on him.”

 

“I am here, you know!” Sherlock snapped, rolling his eyes.

 

“John, your presence in this house is truly reassuring,” the landlady continued, ignoring Sherlock's reprimand. “I remember him before you. I worried about him constantly.” Sherlock rolled his eyes. “But now I know you take good care of him.” Still ignoring Sherlock, she smiled at John. “This is how it should be. You were worth the wait.”

 

A blush crept onto John's cheeks.

 

“I’ll bring you some coffee and biscuits in a minute,” she winked enthusiastically.

 

“Thank you, Mrs Hudson, but there's no need–”

 

“A cup of coffee won't hurt either of you. Just a minute!” She hurried downstairs.

 

John smiled and turned toward the detective. “Are you okay?”

 

“I'm fine,” Sherlock waved off his concern.

 

“If you'd rather skip our date–”

 

“She's making a fuss out of nothing, as usual,” Sherlock huffed. “I'm good, and we're going out,” he stated firmly.

 

“Okay,” John smiled. “Are you going like that?” he smirked in amusement, seeing that Sherlock was still bare-footed and wearing his trademark blue dressing gown.

 

Sherlock cast him a sideways glance, but didn't reply.

 

Sighing, John walked into the kitchen and poured a glass of water for himself. Dating Sherlock would likely be as difficult as simply living under the same roof as him. However, for some reason it amused rather than infuriated him. So far.

 

“Actually, I think I'm really in need of Mrs Hudson's coffee,” he massaged his temples. “Weddings are dangerous.”

 

“Not dangerous enough,” came the baritone voice from the doorway.

 

John jumped a bit, almost spilling his water onto his shirt. Sherlock was like a cat sometimes, sneaking around silently and then scaring the crap out of him.

 

“Oh, I think they’re more than dangerous enough. You go to a party to celebrate with the couple and have fun, but then end up in bed with an infuriating genius.”

 

“Hmm,” Sherlock considered his friend's words. “In that case, you're banned from further wedding parties. Especially looking this sexy,” he growled as he took in the sight of John.

 

Again, John came close to pouring the glass of water over his clothes. He didn't have a chance to reply as Mrs Hudson reappeared with a tray holding two cups of steaming coffee and a plate of tea biscuits.

 

“Some strong coffee for my boys,” she smiled, putting the tray onto the kitchen table, “I bet you need it after last night,” she said with a wink.

 

John almost spilled the water for the third time that day. Not tempting fate further, he put the glass down next to the sink. As he snuck a quick glance at Sherlock, he saw the detective had also frozen for a moment, eyes wide.

 

“Erm, we’re…” Embarrassed, John started to apologize, though he didn't know what to say exactly. He didn’t dare to even think about what she might have heard last night. Now, the lack of memories was even more humiliating.

 

“Don’t worry, dear,” Mrs Hudson smirked, “it happens. I know how it is—a good night out, all that alcohol and fun.” John and Sherlock exchanged puzzled glances over their coffee cups. “Especially at a wedding reception,” she continued, sighing nostalgically. “The inspector and Molly, they make such a lovely couple. I'm so happy for them. And it was so nice of them to invite me too. I thought I’d have to wait for you two to get married to go to a wedding again,” she pouted.

 

John felt his face flushing beet red and almost spit out his coffee. Eventually, with difficulty, he swallowed the liquid, burning his tongue in his haste.

 

The idea of their landlady already planning to attend their wedding, while he was still unsure about the nature of his feelings for Sherlock, and furthermore his own sexual orientation, made John feel particularly uncomfortable.

 

Sherlock had been stirring his drink mechanically, a bored look on his face. Only when the landlady mentioned marriage, did he stop, raising a brow.

 

Noticing his look, embarrassment flashed across Mrs Hudson's face. “Not that I want to hurry you. All I'm saying is–”

 

“Mrs Hudson, don't you have things to do?” Sherlock asked her sharply.

 

“Oh, you’re busy. I'm so sorry,” she apologized. “Just one thing, next time you come home drunk, please be a bit more quiet.” She smirked again and left.

 

“O-okay, that was embarrassing.” John fidgeted with the spoon in his coffee.

 

“I find it rather funny,” Sherlock grinned, before disappearing back into his bedroom.

 

“Funny? You find it funny?” John called after him, finishing his coffee. “I don’t even dare to ask why.”

 

“For some reason, she has been convinced that we are not simply flatmates, but in a romantic relationship like her neighbour's tenants,” Sherlock replied while getting changed. “And after this morning, I think I can say she’s got it right. The funny thing is that she, an old lady with little discernible brain activity, has long seen what we, the detectives, have not.”

 

With a fond expression, John stared at the delicate coffee cup in front of him. Sherlock, as usually, seemed to be right. Mrs Hudson was like a mother to them both, caring and affectionate.

 

She must like each of us a lot, and what is better than seeing two people one loves getting together? Very logical. In this modern world, gender is not an obstacle anymore, and Mrs Hudson—despite her age—was a modern woman with open and enlightened views.

 

John wondered how well the landlady knew Sherlock. Did she know about his “girlfriends are not my area” or “I’m married to my work” principles?

 

“John?”

 

The doctor jolted out of his reverie. He looked expectantly at the detective standing in the doorway.

 

“So?” Sherlock prompted.

 

John blinked, taken aback by the sight in front of him. Sherlock wore a silky, royal blue shirt with black tie under the expensive, tailored black suit. “So what?” He asked, gaping, his throat a little dry.

 

Sherlock frowned. “Oh, John, do keep up!”

 

“It's not easy when you’re standing there looking totally fucking gorgeous.” John swallowed hard, not taking his eyes off of the detective.

 

Sherlock just stood there, blinking in surprise, seemingly at a loss as to how to respond to the unexpected compliment.

 

“Uhm, you mean—you...” he stammered, his face blank. “I didn’t know what I was supposed to wear— I’m not certain this is–” he stammered nervously, taking a fleeting glance at his attire.

 

Sherlock’s attitude awoke the butterflies in John’s stomach. He knew very well what being nervous on a date meant: being afraid of making a fool of yourself, doing or saying something stupid that could scare the other person off, dreading that they might not find you attractive, fearing rejection. The chance that Sherlock might have felt this way made John’s heart beat faster. He had never even dared to dream that he could elicit such feelings in his friend, the very person who had claimed to be married to his job. The prospect of being the subject of Sherlock’s affection and desire filled his whole being with tingling warmth.

 

“It’s fine,” John’s mouth curved into a warm, reassuring smile. “You look amazing,” he breathed in awe, before an abashed look flashed through his face, realising he was complimenting a man on his looks. Even if that man was Sherlock. Especially if that man was Sherlock.

 

Not like praising the detective was something new. But never on his appealing looks. Suddenly, John felt like being back in his teens, learning what dating was like. As a matter of fact, he was learning again, this time about what dating someone of his own gender was like .

 

“Uhm, you don't look half bad either,” Sherlock cleared his throat. “I mean...”

 

John laughed at the adorable attempt of praise. “It's okay, I got it.”

 

Sherlock Holmes very rarely complimented others; he wasn't a man who knew how to express appreciation. So the fact that he tried it for John at all spoke volumes. It was worth more than the grandest of compliments.

 

“Thanks,” John smiled sheepishly.

 

“You are welcome?” Sherlock murmured perplexedly, apparently unsure about what he was supposed to say.

 

He was so cute. Cute? Sherlock? John, you’re really affected by him. Girls are cute. Not thirty-something men.

 

Ignoring the mocking voice, John grabbed his coat. “Come on, let’s go!” He smiled mysteriously. “You'll like it.”

 

“Are you taking me to a triple murder crime scene?” Sherlock asked eagerly, slipping into his trademark coat and following John down the stairs.

 

“Noo,” John prolonged the vowel. “We're not mixing work and private life.”

 

Sherlock pouted. “That's why I always considered romance and dating boring. No excitement there.”

 

John raised a brow. “No excitement? You couldn’t be more wrong. Getting to know one another is bloody thrilling. Not talking about the physical aspect. You liked that too, that's what you said.”

 

Sherlock groaned. “What does it matter, if I'm banned from it?”

 

John rolled his eyes. “We agreed, Sherlock. I need time. I don't want us to ruin this...” He searched for the right term, apparently, not sure what to call their status, “'thing' that is so new between us by building it only on sex. I might be an egoist, but I don't want to be the one you throw away once you get bored by the physical side.”

 

Stepping outside and hailing a taxi (John still couldn’t believe Sherlock’s luck with cabs; the detective could magically summon one whenever they needed a ride), Sherlock retorted sulkily, “You know that you are important to me, is that not enough?”

 

“That's good to know, but, no, not enough,” John replied once they were sitting in the cab. He whispered their destination to the driver so that Sherlock couldn't hear it and turned back, lowering his voice. “Importance and love aren’t the same. We both are still figuring out what is this thing we’re feeling for each other. I want us both to be sure about our feelings before we get there again.”

 

“Should we sign a contract or testimony before having sexual interaction again?” Sherlock reprimanded.

 

John’s heart sped up a bit, and he gave a panicked look at the driver. “Shh! We're not bloody alone here, if you haven’t noticed!”

 

Sherlock shrugged. “I don't mind.”

 

“But I sodding do!” John countered. “I don't intend to discuss our private life in the back of a taxi.”

 

Sherlock took a good look at the driver, then said in a lower voice but with a smug smile, “Should he blackmail us with what he heard, I know how to handle that. His wife and wealthy father-in-law wouldn't be thrilled to know that he is secretly seeing a man.”

 

John sighed in defeat before chuckling quietly. “I'm not even asking how you know that.”

 

Sherlock grinned and looked out of the window, watching the city buzzing around them. “So what is this place we're going to?”

 

“Deduce it, Mr Consulting Detective!” John gave him a mocking glance.



***

 

Of course, Sherlock couldn’t dismiss a chance at showing off, especially in front of John. He always felt his chest filling with warmth and happiness seeing the pure, genuine pride and awe on John’s face and affection in his dark blue eyes whenever he delivered one of his masterful, flawless deductions. Ever since Sherlock had first witnessed John’s reaction to him drawing the conclusions, he kept looking forward impressing his friend again and again, earning that bewildering look and appreciative, beaming, leg-shaking smile.

Sherlock braced himself for the challenge with a suppressed, tiny smirk and, checking the street outside, opened his mental map of London. Locating their current place (end of Shaftesbury Avenue to A40), he recalled the potential venues and landmarks in a cab-ride distance. Given that the mystery place was John's idea and it was a date, as a gentleman, John wouldn't let his date pay the fare; hence they were supposed to go somewhere that John could afford.) That eliminated restaurants (they had just eaten), tourist sights (boring), night clubs (too early), shops (boring, again) and theatres (too early for an evening performance, too late for a matinee). This left him with about two dozens possibilities. John said it was something he would like. That reduced the potential places to six.

 

“Is it a building?” He sneaked an inquiring glance at his companion.

 

“It's not a guessing game,” John laughed. “But okay, I’ll give you a clue: it’s a building.”

 

“Good,” Sherlock acknowledged contently and resumed his thinking process. Parks and the riverside were off list too. At Holborn, he snapped out of his reverie and announced unceremoniously, “The Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons.” John's eyes widened in shock and he gaped at his companion. “You don't need to say anything, your look confirms that I'm right,” Sherlock noted smugly, seeing John’s shock.

 

“This can't be,” John stammered, his eyes wide. “You must have bloody heard me when I told it to the cabbie.”

 

“I didn't,” Sherlock grinned in satisfaction.

 

“You couldn't possibly have guessed it without some sodding trick. There must be something...”

 

“I never guess,” Sherlock spat with an indignant glare. “It's all about mind work.” He pointed at his head before explaining his deduction. “I doubt that you could get us a pass to enter the Central London Country Court or Royal Court of Justice, so the only plausible place in that area is the Hunterian Museum.”

 

“Fantastic…” John gaped at him incredulously, apparently not even that annoyed that he’d been found out.

 

***

 

The College and exhibition weren’t foreign to John. He used to enjoy hanging around in the museum during his uni days, studying the wide array of specimens, instruments and remains on the large, tall shelves behind the shiny glass walls, taking notes and photos. After graduation, he still came back for visits both out of his own scientific interest and to see ex-classmates that became members of the College.

 

Surrounded by the glass cabinets filled with treasures of medical history, Sherlock turned into an excited little boy, pure joy and excitement etched on his face. His silver-blue eyes lit up in bewilderment, his x-ray gaze focused on the different items on display. John watched him like a parent did their child, a small, happy smile lingering in the corner of his mouth, his eyes bright and warm, love apparent in his gaze.

 

Standing in front of the dentures belonging to Sir Winston Churchill, John noted with a chuckle, “Had you been from Victorian times, I'm sure your dentures would be on display here too.”

 

“Probably,” Sherlock agreed casually. “Have you considered what will happen to you after you die?” he asked contemplatively, gazing at the old bones.

 

“I can't say I believe in heaven, but I don't really exclude that option. There must be something after death, some place you see your loved ones again.”

 

“I meant the body, the corporeal side of our existence.”

 

“As a doctor, I am completely aware of the processes that occur in the body after death, but I have never dwelt on it.” John’s furrowed his brows, feeling uneasy at the direction their conversation was heading to.

 

“I have. Once I die, I want to donate my body to science,” Sherlock said without a flinch, as if casually commenting that it was going to rain.

 

John swallowed hard. The information shouldn’t have surprised him, given that Sherlock’s life was about science; yet hearing him stating that aloud felt odd and somehow eerie. John never liked thinking about Sherlock and death in the same sentence, dreading how it would affect him, shattering his whole world. Squirming uncomfortably, he licked his lips. “I see.”

 

Sherlock must have perceived his unease. “I believe you'd better be in the know about my intention, now that our relationship status is changing,” he noted quietly, averting his gaze to the ground. “In case something happens to me.”

 

“No, Sherlock, don't...” When he had said that getting to know more about the other was what they needed to do before taking things to next level, John hadn’t meant learning about his partner’s last will. He refused to think about a life without Sherlock.

 

The genius huffed. “Why not? People getting dejected and withdrawn when the topic of death, either their own or that of a loved one, arises is so dull. It's nature, just a stage of human existence. You, as a doctor, should know my wishes and act accordingly.”

 

“This is one time I envy your ignorance toward sentiment.” John pulled a bittersweet smile, his voice heavy and low. “We ordinary people avoid the topic because we hate the thought of our loved ones leaving us and never coming back. As for our own death, no one likes to think of how limited their existence is and that there's a point when everything ends. Simple, human weakness.” He watched as Sherlock processed the words in silence. “That's love. Loving someone makes you protective of them, and you can't even bear to think of them hurting, suffering and eventually dying. You want them around forever, healthy and happy, and you refuse to imagine life in any other way. So you talking about your provisions concerning your death is something I'm not really keen on listening to.”

 

“You started it with mentioning my dentures on display,” Sherlock remarked lightly.

 

“Of course, everything always is my fault,” John laughed, nudging him playfully.

 

Their good mood restored, they strolled through the rest of the exhibit.

 

“I doubt that this is the way your dates normally turn out—discussing death during a museum visit, that is—so... thank you.” Sherlock said when they eventually left the building.

 

“You're welcome. Actually... this is the best date I have ever had—because I had it with you.” John cracked an embarrassed smile. Saying these words were strange, but true.   

 

A hand brushed against his tentatively, and John jolted at the warm the touch he had craved so often for a long while. His mouth went dry.

 

You’re just about to hold hands with your boyfriend in public, a little voice reminded him.

 

John gulped, his throat tightening. I can do it. I want to do it.

 

Inhaling deeply, he squeezed Sherlock’s long fingers softly, pulling them into a tender hold. It felt so right.

 

Sherlock instantly eased into the touch, the warm fingertips pressing against the back of John’s hand reassuringly.

 

“You and your sentiments,” he drawled quietly, his perfect lips curving into a tiny, fond smile.

 

“Oh, well, this is what you get, deal with it,” John returned the smile, tightening his hold around the detective’s soft hand, enjoying the comfort and joy of this new kind of connection to his friend. Boyfriend , the inside voice corrected him. The term was still terrifying, but also thrilling.

 

Sherlock quirk a brow. “You know that I'm up for a challenge.”

 

“You’d better be,” John grinned. “Now, what about dinner?”

 

***

 

They settled at their table in their chosen restaurant a short time later, but Sherlock didn’t discard his Belstaff, despite the warmth inside.

 

“You okay?” John searched the pale face with a soft smile.

 

“Why wouldn't I be?” Sherlock replied casually, slight nervousness tainting his velvet baritone. He wasn’t going to admit being uneasy.

 

“You’ve still got your coat on. It’s not cold in here,” John pointed out.

 

“And what do you deduce from that?” Sherlock raised a brow in interest. Though he wasn’t looking forward to the discussion itself, he did want to hear John deduce. He often got it wrong, but Sherlock always felt a swell of pride at hearing John try.

 

“You need to feel secure. You've entered a territory you aren’t comfortable with, and you need to cling onto something you feel safe with.”

 

Sherlock squirmed, gazing at the menu on the table, “My hat’s off, John, you're learning.”

 

John’s mouth curled into a small smile at the praise he apparently hadn’t expected, and he took a swig of his beer as if gathering courage to speak what was on his mind.

 

“Sherlock, this is new and scary for both of us. I feel like I’m jumping into a pool without knowing if I can swim, and it frightens me. But I'm taking the risk and willing to jump because I believe in you; I trust you not to break my heart. And if I know you like I think I do, you feel the same way about me.”

 

Sherlock's eyes locked with his. The warm light in John's eyes pulling him in, Sherlock couldn’t help but letting himself fall into the deep blue sea that promised safety, comfort, love and home. It was a free fall, but Sherlock Holmes had never been someone to give into fear.

 

He was always willing to taking risk. He dared fate many times. The fiery, dangerous dance with cocaine, the steamy, engulfing affair with nicotine and the intoxicating, thrilling game of the chase—Sherlock Holmes and the black angel of death crossed paths on and off. It taunted him, teased him, rarely too close, but often near enough to brush its dark, cold, feathery wings against Sherlock's cheek and leave an impression. The angel flirted with him endlessly, not aiming for an easy, quick fall, but leading a passionate dance until the flame took and burned him.

 

Now the risk manifested in going under in the unpredictable waves of the bottomless, mysterious sea of the feeling called love. While Sherlock joined the deadly waltz with the angel of death without much thinking, almost recklessly, jumping into the flames of romance scared him. After decades of apathy and suppressed emotions, pretending life was easier that way, he now allowed himself to feel and expand the use of his senses, letting them explore previously forbidden depths and territories.

 

The idea of following emotions instead of rational thinking made Sherlock feel uncertain and vulnerable. Exposing himself to love was a leap into the unknown.

 

As if John could read his thoughts, he smiled reassuringly, telling Sherlock to trust him.

 

The sea might be endless and consuming, but if it was John waiting down there for him, Sherlock desired to dive as deep as possible.

 

Sherlock took a deep breath and shrugged off the famous coat.

 

“I know it won’t always be an easy ride,” John tentatively brushed his hand against Sherlock’s, “but if we both want this in earnest, we can work it out.”

 

Sherlock nodded, resting his hand on the table so that his little finger touched John's.

 

A moment later, Sherlock’s hand jumped at the unexpected buzz of his phone.

 

John withdrew his hand quickly, his cheeks turning pink, and started to browse the food menu to hide his embarrassment.

 

“Mycroft,” Sherlock announced with a frown and tossed his phone back onto the table. His brother always found the most inconvenient moment to bother him.

 

“You're not going to answer it?” John looked up.

 

“Nope,” Sherlock popped the 'p' and grabbed the menu. John’s wide eyes stared at him in utter surprise. “I'm on a date,” Sherlock smirked. “He can send a text, and I'll decide if it's important enough to spare him a minute to call back.”

 

John couldn't hold back a chuckle, before averting his eyes back to the menu.

 

Sherlock didn’t understand why he found that little chuckle so adorable, but he couldn’t stop staring at the blond man with a bewildered and slightly amused grin in the corner of his mouth.

 

This John Watson sitting opposite him was so different from, yet still the same as the everyday John. The formal attire—John owning a fancy suit was so unreal when usually the best outfit he wore on dress-up occasions was the suit jacket, shirt and jeans combination—turned him into a different man, even more handsome and alluring, the baby blue shirt emphasized those shimmering indigo eyes, while the navy colour contrasted the golden hair under the warm orange lamplight. Still, there was the same captivating smile, the arousing habit of licking those thin, pink lips, the adventurous spark in those beautiful big eyes.

 

Memories of John sneaked into his thoughts—the first moment at Bart's, the first chase, shared laughters, John shooting the cabbie to save him, the compliments at the crime scenes, the Semtex vest at the pool, the arguments and lazy evenings in the flat… everything connected to this ordinary man.

 

Actually, the more he thought about John Watson, the more he realized how wrong he had been about him. John might be an ordinary human being considering his mental abilities, but in other terms, he was special. Special for Sherlock. In his eyes, Dr John H. Watson was the perfect companion, best friend and colleague, a man who accepted him with all the quirks and flaws and tolerated his moods and strange habits. John was his guardian angel, moral compass and guiding light when he was lost in the unknown territories of being human. John saved him many times from embarrassment, awkward situations and becoming the target of people's sarcasm and cruelty.

 

John Watson was an extraordinary man, disguised under the cover of an average man.

 

Sherlock's mouth curved into a proud smile. Yes, I'm on a date with him.

 

“What?” John looked up from the menu, grinning curiously. “Why the big smile?”

 

“You.”

 

“Me? Is there something funny about me? Sherlock Holmes, if you're playing games with me, I swear–”

 

“You're so suspicious, John!” Sherlock pulled a sulking face. “That's not nice.”

 

“I just know you. So why are you smiling about me?” John looked at him expectantly.

 

“Because I realised how lucky I am. Being your date.” Sherlock’s eyes locked John’s. Losing himself in the midnight blue irises, the world ceased to exist for a moment.

 

“I’ve never thought we could end up on a date,” John admitted dropping his gaze to his glass. “I was strongly convinced of my sexuality; and there was also you making it clear that first time at Angelo's that you weren’t looking for any kind of attachment.” He mused, tapping lightly on the side of the glass.

 

“I didn't lie, John.” Sherlock’s voice was ever so serious and honest. “I wasn't looking for any kind of relationship, affair or you name it. The Work was my full-time partner; I didn't need or want anyone else. But...” he trailed off, his chest heaving under the heavy surge of emotions. He gulped, fighting the lump in his throat. “...then you came.” John’s look snapped up at him again. “That evening at Angelo’s… I couldn't have known how our partnership would turn out—would you stay, or would you leave after a few days under the same roof as me? As you’re aware, I’m not the kind of person others stick with for long. So, no matter how interesting and attractive I might have found you then, I couldn't risk opening up and letting you close.”

 

“When did you change your mind?” John searched his eyes tentatively.

 

“Before the end of that very same night,” Sherlock replied with a meaningful gaze. “Shooting a man to save the life of someone you had met only that day, especially if that someone is as infuriating as me, is more telling than anything. That was when I knew that, though you might get angry with me later for all the stupid, dull things that come up in any flatshare, you wouldn't leave. You needed me and our adventures just as much I needed you.”

 

“I still need you.” John took Sherlock’s hand in his tentatively.

 

Sherlock found himself liking the intimate touch, it felt so natural. He wondered how could he have missed it in the past. Perceiving the slight tension in John’s hand—the embarrassment of touching a man in public—he covered John’s hand with his, relishing the comforting skin-to-skin sensation.

 

“What if…this new arrangement might not prove to be functioning between us?” he asked carefully.

 

John stared at him for a moment thoughtfully, biting his lip. “I don’t want to think about that possibility.”

 

“Regardless, it’s a plausible question. Will you leave me if we can’t make it work?”

 

“I don’t want to leave you.”

 

Sherlock acknowledged the reply contemplatively, registering the unsaid words.

 

“Don’t dwell on the worst outcome, please,” John pleaded, his eyes boring into Sherlock’s and his thumb lightly caressing the hand in his. “Let’s focus on exploring this new thing and trying to make it work.”

 

Though he was still a bit anxious about the worst-case scenario, Sherlock had to agree with John.

 

There is no point in wondering what if. We will make this connection work. I’m going to do everything to ensure that John doesn’t have a reason to leave.

 

He nodded with a faint smile.

 

This will be the biggest case of my life. And I will solve it, even at the cost of my life. I can solve anything; I am Sherlock Holmes, after all.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four - Sweet Like Chocolate



Finding a way in the dark
Ain't so hard when you're close to my heart
You are there when I'm feeling alone
All I need is for you to come home

You're sweet like chocolate boy
Sweet like chocolate
You bring me so much joy
You're sweet like chocolate boy

 

~ Shanks & Bigfoot - Sweet Like Chocolate




After their first date, Sherlock had become intent on expanding his database with anything related to the issues of the heart—eagerly (and a bit nervously) diving into the sea of new experiences, exploring new horizons, learning things he had deleted from his mind palace or hadn't bothered to store at all.

 

A certain ex-army doctor had the power to form him into a new man, and—to his own surprise—Sherlock didn't mind it. For John, he was ready to think twice about the world of sentiments and envelope himself into the blanket of emotions so that they could find comfort under it together.

 

Sherlock didn't choose to change because he was required to do so in exchange for gaining John's heart—he already had a large piece of that, after all—or for any appreciation from outsiders. He merely did it because he wanted this new, blooming thing between the two of them to work, expanding into the most magical experience in their life. He wanted to be worthy of John Watson's affections and didn't want the man to feel shame about being with him. John Watson deserved all the love and appreciation in the world, and Sherlock had resolved to do everything in his power to make his boyfriend—who had saved him in so many ways—happy. He owed John so much, and Sherlock Holmes always paid his debts.

 

He conducted research about relationships in general and same sex ones in particular, studying their romantic elements, emotional and psychological sides, and social aspects, along with the key points of this different dynamic. He was inclined to snap his laptop closed many times by the infuriating, dull people and boring, brain-draining content and drag himself back into his own deliciously intelligent and satisfying reality in 221B. He often contemplated turning towards his seven percent solution (or at least a handful of cigarettes) to forget those pathetic human beings and their mundane love issues. At these times he remembered once again why he had despised this area all his life.

 

His whole focus on the new territory, Sherlock intended to quickly gain full understanding of this field he had never been interested before, but which had suddenly gained unexpected importance.

 

The most difficult thing he had to face was refraining from engaging in physical intimacy with his boyfriend. The more he thought about the new development in their relationship and in his own feelings for John, the more intrigued he became at exploring the physical side of their new arrangement. Which he wasn’t allowed to. And yes, he realized the irony in being miserable about not getting something he had despised all his life.

 

With all the memories of their night together stored deep in his mind palace—some vague recollection of John's lips on his, hand in his hair, breath on his skin—Sherlock longed to touch and be touched, sober this time, and to be able to remember everything in colour, rather than only black and white.

 

Before, when he had decided that the sexual aspect of being human—the bare act of sharing bodily fluids and getting physical with another's body in strange and disgusting ways—didn't provide any benefit to the mind and, thus, was irrelevant, he had considered sexual interactions utterly pointless. He had never felt the urge to reconsider his view on the issue; no one had made him think twice about it. Until John Watson. It was insane how much the veteran army doctor—an ordinary man with ridiculous everyday habits, interests and a simple mind—had been able to turn his meticulously organized world upside down. And what was even more insane was that he, Sherlock Holmes, had let him do so not only without any protest, but rather willingly.

 

Now, engrossed in research, Sherlock dug through the internet for books and videos, studying the extensive selection of material on sex, his eyes widening in interest, disbelief and wonder at certain images and paragraphs.

 

He resolved to conduct an experiment on the things he learned but, to his chagrin, exploring sex required that John agree to terminate the no-sex period and take things to the next level.

 

Being close to John, but not close enough, his gaze lingering on the object of his desires but not allowed to do anything about it, was ever so frustrating and tormenting. The proximity of the forbidden fruit, tempting, teasing, pulling him in and pushing him away, tried Sherlock's willpower. When standing near John, he often caught himself wondering what would happen if he closed the distance and claimed John's inviting lips in a kiss.

 

Sherlock had ignored his body's needs for years and given his transport only the most basic necessary maintenance. At puberty, he had been curious about what the reality was behind the theoretical knowledge. Thus, on a nice summer afternoon, behind the closed doors of his room, he conducted an experiment on the issue. The whole act had been terrifying, disgusting and messy. Tugging at his prick, touching himself like that, had been repulsive. Panting and his heart beating wildly, panic had seized him before his flushed, erect penis convulsed and spurted the white fluid of semen all around him. He had never felt more shame in his life. The loss of control invoked panic, the far too repulsive nature of the act had been too much for the young boy. As a result, he resolved not to do it ever again. The mere thought that someday he should do this in front of someone else, a stranger, along with other things that sounded even more disturbing, had been enough to dissuade the young Sherlock Holmes from engaging in anything sexual.

 

Years later, as a university student, he had surrendered and given sex another chance, but his point of view hadn't changed much from his earlier conclusion.

 

Yet now his point of view had crucially changed. Blame a certain ex-army doctor. In that drunken haze a week ago, with inhibitions and rational thinking thrown aside, enveloped in the magic of his flatmate's company and attention, he hadn't had a chance to dwell on his reservations about sex. Too much alcohol in his veins, too much temptation and a too-attractive friend, and his mind had gone neutral, the control switch turning off. Analysing the events of that night, Sherlock was surprised to realise that he had been the one initiating things and being the dominant party. The suppressed desires breaking to the surface, he mused. He still couldn't imagine sex with anyone else, but John, at least, made him want, made him desire.

 

However, even though his attitude toward sexual activities seemed to take a turn for what people considered 'normal,' he still felt apprehensive at touching himself. Despite being turned on after his little fantasies, he couldn't bring himself to seek release on his own. Frustration filled him, waking the receptors in his mind. When daydreaming turned into a nightmare, Sherlock would get up, growling in tension, and retrieve his violin to calm his body and mind.

 

***

 

These were the times when John was awakened by some sorrowful melody coming from downstairs, mercilessly sneaking into his room.

 

When the sad notes encircled him, sleep always left John for good. Staring at the ceiling, he could envision the tall, skinny man's silhouette in the moonlight filtering through the windows of the sitting room, beautiful and begging to be embraced, touched and loved. John often wanted to get up and walk down to him, toss aside his self-created rule, and just pull his gorgeous boyfriend into a passionate kiss; but then he would remember what the whole point of this abstinence was, and how he would regret this weakness the next day. Biting his lip, he always rolled over, burying his face into his pillow, silencing a frustrated growl and whimper as the sound of Sherlock’s own frustration surrounded him.

 

He so wished he could give Sherlock what he wanted, what they both wanted, but he just didn't want to mess up this new, fragile thing between them. He wanted it to be the real deal, the one he had been waiting for all his life, but looked for in the wrong places. He had to tie up all the loose ends of his love life and past self-assessment, everything he had believed about himself for decades, and soothe his current insecurities and fears in order to start this new chapter in his life. When you had had no doubt that you were completely “straight,” realising that your heart could be taken by someone of the same gender was a slap in the face, an ironic intervention of fate. It made you start questioning yourself, doubting whether anything you had been sure in your life had ever been true, and wondering who you really were. He needed time to overcome these issues and regain his self-confidence before throwing himself into the beckoning waves of the beautiful, deep ocean of their love. He just hoped that both of them would be strong enough to hold on till then.

 

***

 

“I'm full,” John muttered, taking a swig of his drink. Having just had a huge portion of lasagne at Angelo’s, he doubted he would be able to move for the next hour. Occasionally, Sherlock had nicked a few forkfuls of the enticing meal, but that hadn't changed much about the fact that he felt utterly done.

 

John enjoyed his dates with Sherlock, but couldn’t help fearing he’d grow a belly if they spent every third evening in a restaurant, especially at Angelo’s, who was a master of delicious Italian food and definitely didn’t spare anything for his favourite customers.

 

“However you should brace yourself and defend our honour; here comes dessert,” Sherlock said, spotting Angelo from above John's shoulder, approaching them with two small plates.

 

John groaned. “Why me?”

 

“Because you are used to eating more.”

 

John rolled eyes and sighed.

 

“Hope you enjoyed the main course, gents. Here's a special dessert for you, on the house,” Angelo winked and placed two large pieces of chocolate fudge cake covered in thick chocolate sauce with strawberries and whipped cream on the side. It was truly mouthwatering indeed.

 

“What you said about me defending our honour, you didn't mean it, did you?” John started hopefully. He wasn’t sure that he couldn't eat one dessert, let alone both.

 

“Why would I have said that if I hadn't meant it?”

 

“That's what I was afraid of...” John sighed and scooped a tiny bit of the cake with sauce onto his spoon. Tasting it, his face morphed into real pleasure. “Oh my God...” The cake was soft and rich in flavour, melting easily in his mouth, while the sauce was the finest, most spectacularly chocolatey Belgian chocolate he had ever tasted. The combination was utterly sinful and incredibly delicious indeed.

 

Sherlock just watched him, gulping at the sight of his boyfriend's delight and squirming a little in his seat.

 

“You must try it, it's heaven,” John muttered, cutting a piece of his own cake and offering it to Sherlock. He was aware of the flirty gesture that surely could make people talk, but he didn’t care. Three Continents Watson enjoyed flirting, after all.

 

The detective didn’t seem to be strong enough to decline the scrumptious treat. His sweet tooth , John smiled affectionately.

 

Sherlock cleaned the spoon extended to him, licking off the last drop of sauce as he hummed in appreciation.

 

“He didn't lie about treating us with something special,” John remarked. “So you still opt for my sacrifice?” He could see the uncertainty in the grey-blue eyes, and before the detective could reply, he offered Sherlock another spoonful of dessert. Sherlock couldn't refuse the temptation and eagerly accepted the food.

 

John hadn't seen anything more sensual than Sherlock devouring the heavenly dessert from his hand. There was something very sexy about feeding chocolaty stuff to Sherlock Holmes. The man indulging in such an ordinary, dull aspect of life—like enjoying the wonders of food, which was almost always utterly beneath him—mesmerized John. It was such a rare sight that, had he had a mind palace, he surely would have stored the image there. The appreciative sounds leaving the detective's throat also were something to relish and remember. The sexy growl went straight to his groin, making him squirm in his seat. John was tempted to lean across the table and capture his companion's chocolatey lips in a slow, exploratory kiss.

 

He gulped nervously, reminded again that it was a man he had these thoughts about. While the idea of kissing a man had no effect on his body, the thought of kissing Sherlock made John’s heart speed up.

 

He hazily remembered their first kiss at Greg and Molly’s wedding party, but couldn’t recall what their lips meeting felt like.

 

What if I kissed him now? What would that perfect Cupid’s bow feel like against my lips? Would it be any different than kissing a woman? Would it feel rougher, rawer? Would I enjoy it more than kissing a woman?

 

The idea of kissing Sherlock was both scary and exciting, which meant danger, John’s secret drug.

 

But it didn’t matter how much John Watson thrived on adrenaline, he wasn’t ready to take this step yet.

 

He was sure that his dilating pupils gave his thoughts away. And, surely, Sherlock wouldn’t be Sherlock Holmes if he couldn't read his every notion like an open book.

 

Sherlock licked his lips seductively and gave John a sheepish smirk, his cheeks tinting with a rosy colour and his quicksilver eyes sparkling mischievously in the candlelight.

 

John groaned almost audibly, swallowing hard. His body apparently reacted on its own as his trousers became less comfortable in a certain region with every moment.

 

“You're messy,” the sinful baritone rumbled in his ears, and Sherlock’s long index finger brushed his connection-craving, sauce-covered lips softly.

 

Sherlock's breath hitched at the connection, and his eyes searched John’s intently.

 

John couldn’t resist continuing the sexy game, despite being in a restaurant filled with people. This is just some innocent game , he assured himself, staring back into Sherlock’s waiting eyes.

 

Sherlock must have perceived his resolve, as he slipped his finger between John’s soft lips cautiously.

 

John’s insides trembled, and he breathed with more difficulty. His instincts told him to let his eyes fall shut and concentrate only on the sensation, but the need to see his beautiful boyfriend doing unexpected things to him was stronger. His dark eyes locked with Sherlock's lust-filled ones, and he eagerly sealed his mouth around the soft pinkie, before swirling his tongue around the warm flesh.

 

The rosy colour tinting the detective’s face turned into a deeper shade of pink, and Sherlock growled quietly, the sound sending a shiver down John’s spine.

 

Jesus , John’s breathing turned shallow, and his heart thumped loudly in his chest. He stifled a groan at the pooling heat in his groin. He didn’t expect becoming this aroused by this little sensual contact. Not with a man, not while sober. He must stop it before things become more embarrassing. Releasing the slender finger with a little pop, he couldn’t help but notice Sherlock’s disappointment.

 

“Uhm, thank you,” John muttered hoarsely, still reeling from the incredibly sensuous moment. If merely sucking Sherlock’s finger was such a powerful, overwhelming thing, what would fondling and teasing his cock be like? Had he not become that drunk so that he couldn’t remember a thing from their night together, he would have known. But in that case—considering his issues with his sexual orientation—he probably hadn’t even agreed to have sex with Sherlock.

 

Now, the mere idea made him both uncomfortable and curious. Apart from their one night together, he had never touched a man, never felt inclined to engage into anything sexual with his own gender, not even in a threesome. Those few times he had had sex with more than one partner, the extra person had always been another woman. Also, while many of his fellow soldiers in the army opted for one or several of their mates to satisfy their sexual needs, John had never thought of turning to that solution, regardless of his high sex drive. He had often masturbated to get release and shamelessly flirted with the female soldiers visiting the base or joining their unit for a mission, which, thanks to his irresistible charm,  led to fierce shags in bathroom stalls, storage rooms or, if he was lucky, the partner’s room. His nickname wasn’t Three Continents Watson for nothing.

 

He had never thought that a man could elicit the same arousal in him that a woman could. But Sherlock apparently could. Again, he wondered what that meant for his sexuality. What did his lack of interest in other men apart from Sherlock make him? Could he be gay for only Sherlock? Or could he be bisexual when feeling attraction and desire only for a certain man?

 

“You're welcome,” Sherlock’s husky drawl pulled him back from his thoughts. The deep baritone caressed his ears, reaching his core, and John was utterly done. He squirmed uncomfortably, his prick hardening painfully in the prison of his tight trousers.

 

This was plain torture. But John knew he couldn’t let his willpower waver. He had to be adamant and go through with what had been planned. He had to accomplish sorting out his issues and coming to terms with who he was now and what he wanted from the future. He had been a soldier, after all.

 

Risking a coy glance at Sherlock, John noticed the lovely flush on the pale face. The fact that the little scene of food porn affected both of them the same way brought a little smirk of satisfaction into the corner of John’s mouth.

 

Realising that his hand was still holding Sherlock's, John squeezed the back of the elegant hand, before tenderly sliding his fingers between the delicate, long ones. With a deep breath, he finally looked back at Sherlock, taking in the beautiful face.

 

“Angelo was right, this dessert is heavenly,” he uttered, his voice still hoarse, as he stared deep into the universe-coloured eyes. ”We could go for it more often.”

 

“Is that a promise?” Sherlock's hopeful, tentative look bore into John’s..

 

“Once the diet period is over, definitely.” John smiled softly.

 

“Dieting is hateful,” the detective snorted.

 

“But sometimes necessary and beneficial.” After a short pause John added, ignoring Sherlock's grimace. “Do you trust me?”

 

“Of course I do.” Sherlock rolled his eyes.

 

John nodded. “Then be strong and patient for me. Please.”

 

“I don't have any other choice, do I?”

 

John squeezed and kissed the hand in his. “I'll make the wait up to you, I promise.”

 

“That was not a question,” Sherlock noted flippantly.

 

“You git.” John laughed and took a few sips of his drink, feeling the weight of Sherlock’s intense gaze on him all along. “What are you staring at?” he inquired eventually.

 

Sherlock tapped his fingers on his cheek, his chin resting on his palm. He didn't even blink when answering. “Isn't it obvious?”

 

“Okay,” John sighed before rephrasing his question. “ Why are you staring at me?”

 

“I'm thinking.”

 

John's look demanded more explanation.

 

Sherlock took a breath, his face mirroring the 'oh-you-ordinary-people-what-is-in-your-funny-little-brains' expression. “I'm thinking about you. I wonder why romance is so important to you. It's just a stupid chemical defect, a useless thing. Why are you so enthralled by it?”

 

John's look softened. “Love makes your life brighter. It's so powerful, a turmoil that pulls you in, and you can't break free. You need the other person like air or water; you ache for them, you feel the hunger in your guts, your veins, your mind, your whole being, and the only person who can ease the thirst is your lover. When you are near them, your whole body tingles, your blood surges through your veins like fire. You crave their touch so much it hurts. But a simple touch is not enough. Every cell of you screams to become one with them, until you can feel their heartbeat as your own, and you don't know where you end and the other begins.”

 

“I must say your poetic side has significantly improved,” Sherlock noted nonchalantly, with a tiny smirk at the corner of his mouth.

 

John snorted. “I see you haven't grasped a thing I said,” he sighed. “Okay, let's demonstrate it. Close your eyes.”

 

“Come on, John, I'm not–”

 

“Just do it,” John insisted impatiently.

 

Sighing, Sherlock shut his eyes.

 

“Imagine you've just received a call from Lestrade about a mysterious triple homicide. The most interesting, clever murder spree in months. Your heartbeat quickens, your mouth goes dry, adrenaline rises in your system. Your whole body tingles in anticipation when you arrive at the crime scene. Then suddenly, your eyes catch a figure in the shadows, and you know it's the murderer. Your heart is in your throat, and you can't suppress the urge to sprint after the fleeing man, even though you know you might get hurt. You're chasing him through the streets, out of breath, your limbs aching, but you don't care. The thrill of the cat-and-mouse game floods your body, making you high, and all you can think of is the moment you finally have your hands around his wrists, clicking the handcuffs on.”

 

The story ignited a change in Sherlock's breathing and the way his eyes fluttered under his eyelids before finally opening.

 

“Being in love is like being part of a never-ending chase,” John concluded with a small smile.

 

Sherlock stared at him, blinking ocasionally, absorbing every word.

 

John smiled a little at the thought that the genius was most likely storing everything he had just said into the new room labelled 'Romance' in his mind palace. Maybe teaching Sherlock things about love was not a hopeless mission.

 

Once they had both finished their desserts and downed the last of their drinks, the pair thanked Angelo for the brilliant dinner and giddily set out for a stroll in the crisp autumn night. John kept brushing his arm against Sherlock’s, occasionally touching the gloved hand (and smiling inside at the adorable blush in Sherlock’s cheeks). Keeping his distance, when all he wanted to do was throw himself onto the tall man and kiss him senseless, was more and more difficult, but he had to hold on to his resolve.

 

“Thank you for the great evening,” he smiled at Sherlock when they were back in the sitting room of 221B, before retiring for the night. “That was a lovely date.”

 

Sherlock returned the smile sheepishly, his eyes shining bright. “The pleasure is all mine.”

 

A moment of silence fell on them as the two were standing face to face, unsure what to do next. The memory of the heated minutes in the restaurant still vivid in their minds, they both longed for more of that intoxicating intimacy. The tension in the air palpable, the weight of unspoken words, unmade moves, missed touches, unshared kisses was heavy in the room; it had never been more difficult to say a thing.

 

Two pairs of emotion-clouded eyes locked in an intense gaze, silently communicating in the darkness that fell like velvet around them. There was nothing else but the two of them, bathing in this sea of emotions that was still so new, so utterly dazzling and intoxicating. They didn't need to label the feelings; that didn't matter. It was not simply what other people called love, but much more and different, something very special that neither of them dared to voice yet. But it was there, becoming stronger and deeper every day.

 

“Well, then... Good night, Sherlock,” John broke the silence eventually, shifting coyly. He took a few hesitant steps closer, before hugging the detective carefully. Sherlock’s warm, sinewy body against his felt so good. They just seemed to click like pieces of a puzzle. John wished he could wrap himself into the man and never let go.

 

“Good night, John,” Sherlock breathed into the blond’s ear, his voice heavily tinged by emotions. He nuzzled into John’s hair and inhaled deeply.

 

Pulling back reluctantly, already missing their closeness, John held Sherlock by the biceps, and, leaning in, breathed a tentative kiss on the gorgeous cheekbone. Breaking away, he flashed Sherlock a small, happy smile. “See you in the morning,” his voice rumbled hoarsely in his throat. His touch lingered on the taller man's arm, reluctant to break away. “Sweet dreams,” he added quietly, pulling his hands back slowly before leaving the room.

 

***

 

Sherlock shivered when the sweet contact broke, feeling like he was being robbed of something so essential that what was left was only a painfully burning wound. He let out an inaudible whimper, watching John walk out of the room. Still dazed by the intimate little gesture, he stood rooted for a long minute, savouring the memory. Folding his arms, he placed his hands right over the spot where John had held him a moment ago. It might be only a trick of his mind, but he thought he still felt the warmth the man's palms had left on his biceps under his own.

 

The kiss still lingering on his cheek, he smiled happily. Sweet dreams, John.

 

Though, there hadn’t been a case involved (but food, which Sherlock usually wasn’t enthusiastic about), Sherlock found the evening one of the most enjoyable times of his life. He hadn’t experienced such an exhilarating feeling like what filled his body during that little episode of John feeding him that scrumptious cake.

 

Remembering John's flushed face and dilated pupils, Sherlock's heart thumped faster. Unlike their night together, this time he could recall the feelings and reactions that John elicited in his body: strange tingles buzzing in his limbs, his throat drying, heart pounding hard, delicious heat blooming in his crotch, his face heating up…

 

Sherlock swallowed hard at the memory. Having gained a fair share of theoretical knowledge on sex recently, he could recognise the signs. I was sexually aroused, his eyes widened. So this is what it feels like. This is what I must have felt when having sex with John that night.

 

He bit his lips, warmth enveloping his cheeks. While he had been disgusted by his body’s reaction when experimenting on it during his youth, now everything was different. Sherlock had to admit that he came to like those sensations, even though they deprived him of the needed control over his body. Briefly, he wondered if he would have felt the same with anyone or if was it only John, but as soon as he pictured someone else in his boyfriend’s place, his interest in sex was gone. So it was only John, he concluded.

 

John Watson, you’re the exception of many things in my life, Sherlock smiled sheepishly. I didn’t have a best friend before you, I’ve never needed a boyfriend, I despise sentiments and sex—unless it’s you.

 

And now that he got a taste of what magic John could do to his body, he definitely wanted more of the sensation, more of the doctor.

 

***

 

John stared at the ceiling, lying under the covers in the darkness of his room. The only light was the faded moonlight filtering through the curtains. Resting his head on his arm, he reminisced on the past hours that he had spent with Sherlock on their date, not investigating a case, but purely focusing on each other just for the sake of being together. John hadn't been this happy in a long time. Ever since the night that resulted in them starting a new phase in their relationship, he often had wondered if this thing could work between them. He had had his doubts every so often, but tonight the misgivings faded, and, for the first time, John really did believe that they could be something.

 

John still could feel the soft lips against his fingers, along with the delicate finger in his mouth. His pulse quickened and his breath got heavier at the mere memory. Sherlock’s aroused look in the candlelight at Angelo's was burned into his brain forever. He gulped at the delicious image, his cock immediately twitching in need of attention. God, it was the second time in the evening that Sherlock had had an arousing effect on him! John felt his cheeks heat up in embarrassment at the discovery.

 

Licking his bottom lip automatically, John’s hand tentatively hovered above his groin. He inhaled sharply, wondering if what he was about to do was right.

 

The sudden noise of his phone vibrating on the nightstand broke his thoughts. John jumped as if caught in mischief, his heart beating fast against his ribcage. Gasping loudly, he reached for the mobile. A message from Sherlock.

 

John suspected that his ears turned pink at the embarrassment of what he had just been about to do thinking about the very sender of the text message. He wondered if Sherlock had any idea of what he had interrupted.

 

His breath and heart calming, John raised a brow curiously and opened the text.

 

I probably shouldn't say it, but I've never cared for dating and all that nonsense. Until tonight. I found tonight surprisingly satisfactory. Which means I'm amenable to repeating it. Soon? SH

 

John smiled happily. He had been apprehensive of Sherlock not getting the hang of romancing and thus would be feeling miserable during their dates. Luckily, it didn't seem to be that way. ‘ Satisfactory’ , John chuckled. Typically Sherlock.

 

Glad to hear that, he tapped out. Looking forward to it. :-)

 

The answer came immediately. John imagined Sherlock staring hawk-eyed at his mobile, waiting for his reply. The hidden, subtle intimacy of their date had apparently had its effect on both of them. Sherlock seemed to have indulged in the flirty touches and looks with double intensity, and now he craved more. John had to admit that despite the rule he had set, he enjoyed dancing on the edge, teasing, but not actually giving in. Kind of a foreplay, building up to the real thing.

 

Brilliant. Tomorrow? SH

 

John laughed quietly. Someone was eager.

 

Sounds good. :-) We could take a walk in the park and have lunch somewhere.

 

John found it amusing how excited he was about their date. He hadn't felt like this since he was a teenager.

 

Perfect. Sleep tight, John. SH

 

You too.

 

John was tempted to put ' Dream of me ' at the end, but he suspected that would just wind up the detective. Instead, he just typed ' See you tomorrow .' He waited a few minutes in case Sherlock texted back, but the phone remained silent. Putting it back onto the nightstand with a happy sigh, he resumed his earlier position on his back.

 

But now, with Sherlock's eager text messages, it was impossible to resist temptation. Closing his eyes, John squeezed his attention-thirsty member through his PJ bottoms, his breathing getting shallow. Teasing himself with his palm through the soft cotton for a little while, his thoughts wandered to his eccentric, infuriating detective. He wondered if Sherlock was lying in his bed as well or had found something to occupy himself with. John doubted that the man would indulge in the same sort of action as he did, but there was always room for the possibility. He imagined his gorgeous boyfriend touching himself under the expensive covers, the long, slender fingers enveloping the flushed erection.

 

The unfortunate effect of his inebriation during their one sexual interaction was that he couldn’t remember what Sherlock looked like stark naked. John couldn't recall what Sherlock's cock—its length, girth, colour or taste—was like. Damn, alcohol was really bad for his mental health, he cursed. All he had to rely on in his fantasy was imagination. With the man being tall and skinny, with skin of alabaster and hair dark and curly, John reckoned that Sherlock had the same features down there as well.

 

He pictured the detective’s pale, delicate fingers wrapping around the long, graciously slender erection, stroking from the curly dark pubic hair to the pink head with sensuous, effective moves while gasping and moaning as the sensation got more intense. John groaned, his own hand moving faster on his own hardness. Somewhere in his fantasy, the roles got reversed and he found himself imagining that Sherlock stroked John instead of masturbating. He could hear his name murmured in that unmistakable, deep baritone, and his mouth went dry.

 

“Sherlock...” John panted, nearing the climax. Fantasy Sherlock smiled at him beautifully, before sending him over the edge with a masterful stroke. John muffled his cry as he came, his chest heaving and his heart pounding against his ribcage. Sherlock gave him one more of his dazzling smiles before disappearing, leaving John alone.

 

John immediately felt colder, longing to get the warmth back.

 

Panting, he opened his eyes, but, to his biggest disappointment, he stared at the ordinary ceiling instead of the universe-coloured eyes. Misery filled his heart at missing something that he hadn’t truly had, yet that felt so right and vivid. He regretted his abstinence rule more than ever.

 

His body slowly coming off the high, John sank back into reality. Registering what he had been doing in the past minutes, while cleaning himself with a tissue from the drawer, his cheeks flushed deeply, the heat of shame spreading through his body.

 

I’ve got off while thinking of a man, he groaned abashedly. And I enjoyed it. Christ, that’s not John Watson! I’m not sexually attracted to men, so why did I like jerking off while thinking of someone of my own gender?

 

Because it’s not just any man, it’s Sherlock , argued a tiny voice that was quickly drowned out by his past.

 

His imagination provided his late father’s hateful comments as if the man was still around. ‘We didn’t raise a fag or, even worse, a freak ready to fuck anyone no matter the gender! John, you’re not worthy of the name Watson! Why did I do to deserve such abnormal, sick children like you and your sister?! You’re a shame to the family!

 

John bit his lip hard enough that his teeth left a mark in the delicate flesh. He desperately swallowed the tears threatening to break onto the surface, his chest tightening painfully.

 

Shut the fuck up!! He clenched his fists and inhaled sharply, his nostrils flaring. You have no right! he spat mentally, his glassy eyes burning in rage. How dare you??

 

He wanted to shout out loud, ease his fury, but he couldn’t risk Mrs. Hudson or Sherlock hearing him and checking on him, so he muffled his cries into his pillow.

 

Some minutes passed until he eventually calmed down, but the little interlude totally exhausted him.

 

This wasn’t how this evening was supposed to end. John ran a hand through his hair. What if it happens again?

 

His father’s imagined intervention didn’t help John figure out his sexual identity and where he was standing in his life, but on the top of all that, he was scared of losing Sherlock by denying him what seemingly both of them wanted.

 

What should I do? Should I seek professional help?

 

He hadn't visited Ella for a while, not since before that game-changing night.

 

Should I see her? Do I have the strength to let her in on this romantic relationship with Sherlock?

 

Talking to her about Sherlock in general, how the madman turned his life upside down, had been easy. But talking about Sherlock as a romantic partner, well, that didn’t seem like a walk in a park.

 

John sighed helplessly. Let's sleep on this. He couldn’t call until Monday for an appointment anyway. Yawning, he rolled onto his side and, with his mind on their date, dozed off slowly.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five - Hurricane



I'm caught in a hurricane
I'm leaving here dead or alive
And I know that I’d be willing to feel the pain
If it got me to the other side

~ Theory of a Deadman - Hurricane




"John, dear," Mrs. Hudson's cheerful voice called from the stairs. "You have a visitor."

 

A visitor? the two men exchanged glances. No one came ‘round Sunday mornings. Most certainly not to see John.

 

Sitting in his armchair and reading the paper, John was still dressed in his bathrobe, as was Sherlock, who lounged in his leather chair lazily.

 

"We're not expecting anyone, Mrs. Hudson, send them away," the detective shouted before resuming his regular thinking position.

 

John sneaked a narrow glance at him, disapproving the lack of manners in the man’s tone. While Sherlock could be the epitome of mannerisms, often he was downright rude, one couldn’t believe they were two sides of the same man.

 

"Sherlock, dear, be a little nicer to the lovely guest," their landlady scolded the detective in her motherly way as she entered the sitting room.

 

Both men turned their heads towards her, Sherlock seemingly displeased.

 

"I really don't want to disturb, I just wanted to see John for a minute," another female voice came from the doorstep, kind and jingling, and the next moment a blonde woman in high-heeled white boots, black skinny jeans and white V-neck top walked into the room. “Hi, John.”

 

John rose from the chair slowly, searching the woman's face. She was familiar, but he couldn't put a name to the face.

 

“Jennie,” she helped him out, smiling.

 

"Jennie? Jennie Mitchell?” John's eyes widened in realization and surprise. “Oh my God, I'm sorry that I didn't recognize you at once! How long has it been? Eight years?" He pulled the woman into a tight hug.

 

"Ten, actually." She returned the embrace. "But you're still looking good. Sexier even," she winked.

 

"Nah,” John chuckled in embarrassment, catching Sherlock casting her a killing look from the corner of his eyes.  “But you're just as young as ten years ago."

 

A blush crept onto the visitor's cheeks.

 

Sherlock pulled a disgusted face, his eyes eagerly scanning the intruding blonde, probably for clues for some belittling deduction. He frowned. "Plastic surgery can do wonders," he noted aloud in triumph after a moment.

 

John thought he would die of shame right there. Sherlock , he pleaded mentally.

 

Mrs. Hudson squealed in shock, voicing what was on John’s mind. "Sherlock! That's really inappropriate–”

 

"Mrs. Hudson, would you please make us a cuppa? Your tea is incomparable." John endeavoured to shoo the landlady before she could make things more awkward.

 

She sighed. "But just this once. I'm your landlady, not your housekeeper. "

 

"I am really sorry, my flatmate–” John started to apologize to his long not seen friend, but Jennie stopped him.

 

"No worries," she smiled. "It's okay. Actually, he’s right. I had plastic surgery. But not for those reasons he implied." She looked at Sherlock with a piercing glance. "I was in a bad accident three years ago. I survived, but my facial bones needed correction, which resulted in a slight change in my looks too. So don't feel bad for not recognizing me at first."

 

Giving Sherlock an annoyed glance, John led Jennie to the sofa. He hated getting into awkward situations because of Sherlock, and now that an old friend was involved, his discomfort doubled. “I'm so sorry, it must have been a difficult time for you.”

 

“Yes. But it’s behind me now, and I'm fine,” she flashed a smile.

 

Mrs. Hudson re-appeared with a tray and placed it onto the coffee table. “Enjoy some tea, dears. Nothing better on a Sunday morning.”

 

“Apart from some quiet time,” Sherlock noted sharply, and too loud for John’s liking.

 

“Sherlock!” Mrs. Hudson exclaimed in horror and immediately fled out of the room, probably to avoid witnessing more rudeness from the detective.

 

John shifted, feeling his face flush at Sherlock's untactful remark.

 

“I really don't want to ruin your quiet morning,” Jennie squirmed.

 

“Thank you,” Sherlock commented contentedly, giving her a look that telegraphed that he expected her to rise and leave.

 

“Don't listen to him,” John said abruptly, before sending a murderous look in Sherlock's direction. “He's a bit antisocial on Sunday mornings.”

 

“Oh, I understand,” she laughed. “Been there myself, too. Anyway, I can’t stay long, I’m having lunch with a friend in Soho—the one that showed me your blog, actually,” she smiled coyly. “I'm in the city for a while and wanted to see you. Maybe we could have lunch or dinner sometime for old times’ sake?”

 

“That would be nice,” John smiled, staring into the brown eyes.

 

“Remember, John, you are quite busy the upcoming week,” Sherlock chimed in sharply. “And the weeks after.”

 

“We will find a time for catching up, though,” John reassured Jennie, without even glancing at his flatmate.

 

The woman stood and smiled apologetically. “I must go now, but will call you sometime.”

 

“Right, here's my number.” John scribbled it on a piece of paper. “It’s not the same that I used to have.”

 

“Thanks,” she smiled. “It was lovely to see you again.”

 

“Likewise.”

 

Rolling his eyes, Sherlock groaned in disgust.

 

“Bye, John. Mr Holmes,” she flashed a polite smile at the detective, before stepping out of the flat.

 

As soon as the door closed, John turned to Sherlock, anger creeping onto his features. “Thank you for being the biggest arse in front of an old friend of mine! You really know how to humiliate people!”

 

“I don't like her.” Sherlock grunted. “She was hitting on you.”

 

“Hitting on me? You're out of your mind! She was just friendly, which can't be said about you.”

 

But you're still looking good. Sexier even, ” Sherlock imitated the visitor's sweet voice. “ Maybe we could have lunch or dinner sometime for old times’ sake?” He huffed in disgust. “You should have said no, you're dating me.”

 

“You're jealous,” John chuckled in realization. “You're bloody jealous.” On one side, Sherlock’s rudeness was utterly annoying, but on the other hand, John felt quite flattered by the ‘sociopath’ detective’s fierce jealousy.

 

“Me?” Sherlock snorted, looking completely affronted by the simple suggestion. “Don't be ridiculous.”

 

“You are!” John smirked and sat on the arm of the man's chair. “Come on, she's just a friend.”

 

“Now.” The detective’s voice was gruff.

 

“Pardon?” John’s brows pulled up high in his forehead.

 

“You used to date her,” Sherlock spat.

 

Mouth agape, John stared at him. He should have known that Sherlock would find out about their past. “Yes,” he admitted. “But that was a long time ago. I haven't even seen her for ten years.” He put a hand onto Sherlock's shoulder and leaning closer, murmured into the man's ear. “Now, there's only one person I'm interested in, and it's a bloody arrogant, insufferable consulting detective.” Pulling back, his look met Sherlock's for a moment, before the man turned his head away, continuing to sulk like a child.

 

John sighed. Establishing a relationship with Sherlock wasn't going to be an easy ride. Now he was glad to have set the not getting physical rule; anything intimate and sexual would just complicate things. First, they both needed to get to know each other on an emotional level, to learn what to expect from the other and how to deal with the problematic situations that would arise. John had the feeling that he had the more difficult task, handling Sherlock Holmes' possessive, ignorant attitude.

 

First lesson: Sherlock is definitely the jealous type. He didn't openly admit it, but he managed to express it every possible way. A heated, dirty look, a gesture of disapproval and contempt, an indignant complaint, words dripping possessiveness, irritation and attention-seeking—Sherlock was a master of all of them.

 

John found himself facing a big challenge. But he never feared proving that he could handle difficult situations. He hadn't been a soldier in vain. Sherlock Holmes might be a hard nut, but John H. Watson was a tough man too. He would not let the young, inexperienced man defeat him. He might give him a long run for his money, but John swore, he would not let himself be defeated.

 

“Too bad you're in a sulking mode again, as I had hoped we could have a nice Sunday afternoon together, we were supposed to have another date...”

 

From the corner of his eye, John could see Sherlock's head almost unnoticeably turning toward him, thinking twice, then sneaking a glance of the doctor. John did his best to hide his satisfied smirk. Years of living with the insufferable detective taught him how to handle the man, what little tricks he could play to coax something from Sherlock.

 

A quiet huff left Sherlock's throat, but the ball he was curled into didn't move. Anyway, John knew it was only a matter of time now before the prospect of some fun time together would make Sherlock get over his sulk and come to him. He picked up the paper and immersed himself in it to wait. He didn't have to wait for long. About twenty minutes later, a shadow fell onto his paper. Looking up, John saw Sherlock completely dressed, coat and scarf too, giving him an expectant look.

 

“So are we going out or not?” Sherlock prompted him impatiently. There were no sign of jealousy on the handsome face anymore.

 

John's mouth quirk into a small smile, and, folding the paper, he stood. “Thought you'd never ask. I'm starving.”

 

“Chinese? Italian?”

 

“What about something different?” John's eyes shimmered mysteriously.

 

“Whatever. I don't eat after all,” came the aloof answer.

 

“This is where you're mistaken. If you're on a date with me, you can't skip eating. Try to remember that!”

 

Sherlock pouted. “Fine,” he sighed unenthusiastically. “I'll have a bite, are you satisfied?”

 

John smiled proudly, sliding into his coat. “That'll do for now.”



***

 

Sherlock entered the flat briskly. He couldn't wait to tell John about the case he had solved and finally spend some time together. Being thrilled at the prospect of some quiet, non-work time with someone, even if it was John, was weird and so very unlike Sherlock Consulting-Detective-Married-to-His-Work Holmes. Still, ever since the two had taken their relationship up a level, and Sherlock got the taste of how pleasant and satisfying dates with John could be, he rather looked forward to the times they could spend together as boyfriends. For tonight, he had a suggestion he hoped John would like and could hardly wait to share the idea with him.

 

“John?”

 

There was no sign of his flatmate being home. However... coat on the rack, still slightly warm to the touch, so it hadn't been there for long yet. Sniffing, he wrinkled his nose—a sweet perfume, definitely a woman's. Actually, it was one particular woman's, Sherlock realized with despair. The same scent that had lingered around the room after that Sunday visit by John's old “friend.” Looking around, he spotted the beige coat laid onto the arm of the sofa. Checking the kitchen, he found two mugs on the table, one still with some dark liquid in it. The ceramic was lukewarm to the touch, indicating that it had been there for less than fifteen minutes. He couldn't hear any noise from the bathroom, which left only one place where John and his guest could be.

 

Fury and contempt rose in Sherlock’s chest. He had never let these sentiments take over him before his new emotional arrangement with John, had always refused to acknowledge their existence and power, but now...This woman woke the sleeping monster in him.

 

Climbing the steps two at a time, he stood in front of John's room, staring at the dark oak door. Suddenly, he felt pathetic and preposterous. This wasn't him, not Sherlock Holmes, the great consulting detective, master of deductions. The man eavesdropping at his flatmate's door was rather a weak, ridiculous creature, driven by some useless chemical defect, a victim of pure chemical reaction. Utterly pitiful. Why was he letting himself get humiliated by these despicable defects? He inhaled deeply, before answering the burning question.

 

You have just encountered one of those aspects of being human that you have tried to distance yourself from the most,’ Mycroft's voice called from a dimly lit corner of his mind palace. The man emerged from the shadows, twisting the umbrella he was leaning on. ‘But you cannot run and hide away from emotions forever. Brother mine, you are human, too, no matter how much you pretend you are not. You have fallen into the trap that everyone else does. For the first time in your life, you're in love. Mummy would be happy to learn about it, you know? Her baby boy, finally exploring emotional attachment.’

 

Piss off, Mycroft,’ Sherlock scolded his mind palace brother quietly, disliking the mocking tone.

 

Mycroft laughed. ‘You don't mean that. You were the one summoning me for answers, after all. Face it, you need my advice.’

 

If I wanted to seek advice about sentiments, it definitely wouldn't be from you. What do you know about love?? You and I are alike; neither of us has ever ventured into that territory before.’

 

You don't know everything about me, brother dear, and it's best like that. Yet, how do you think people would react, to learn that you're still a virgin? You would get yourself exposed and face disbelief, laughter and mockery. But you're safe with me. Think about that, whenever you need advice or an answer.’

 

Sherlock grunted and left his mind palace. But there was one thing Mycroft said that he couldn't get out of his mind. ‘ You have fallen into the trap that everyone else does. For the first time in your life, you're in love.’  

 

Love? Sherlock tasted the words on his tongue. Could my feelings for John be love indeed?

 

Sherlock Holmes being in love sounded ridiculous at first glance, but ever so intriguing when looked at more deeply.

 

He remembered his confession to John after that intoxicated night. ‘ I think I also have feelings for you.’  If jealousy and all those additional, powerful, burning emotions he felt right now were linked to love, he had definitely fallen into that trap.

 

His musing were interrupted by a loud, shameless groan from the room. There was no doubt that it was John's voice. The groan was followed by quieter moans and a female voice. “You like that, do you?” There was no question, it was their Sunday-visitor.

 

“Yeah, that's... so good...” John moaned in pleasure.

 

Hands clenching into a fist, Sherlock bit his bottom lip hard, muffling his cry of rage. Frozen in the spot, his mind was in overdrive. His hard drive's decoder programs, which were always lightning-fast processing logic and data, didn’t seem to be able to handle the input of sentiments and translate them into processable data.

 

What is happening to me? He blinked in confusion. My mind has never failed me before.

 

Glancing at his hands, he could see the tremors in his fingers. Emotions. Why can’t I detach myself of them? His brows pulled together. How can those stupid chemical processes take over my transport? So improbable.

 

He tried to focus on calming his breath and nerves to think clearly, but couldn't overcome the cascade of different reactions of the parasympathetic nerve system. The fact that the voices haunted him from the other side of the door didn't help.

 

He later couldn’t remember how he managed to tear himself away from the landing and drag himself back into the sitting room. Sitting in his armchair, he stared at the Union Jack pillow opposite, a glass of whiskey in his trembling hand. He remembered the incident in Baskerville, when he had experienced the same symptoms. He had faced fear then, fear of not being able to trust his eyes and mind. Now he felt that immobilising fear once again, but this time for a different reason—betrayal. He finally had let his guard down, opened his heart, taken a chance on emotions, put his trust and heart into someone else's care, and now it seemed he had lost. What hurt the most was that it was John, of all people, who betrayed him and broke his trust. Seemingly, the ladies' man couldn't resist the temptation of an old flame and had rekindled the romance.

 

Sherlock didn't know whom he could trust anymore. He had thought that John was the perfect companion, a trustworthy friend, the only person toward whom he could feel deep attachment, but apparently the man was just like anyone else, weak and driven by instincts. Sherlock’s cheeks burned and a hot tear slid down his face. Sherlock Holmes crying, he huffed in utter despair. How pathetic. Swiftly, he brushed the back of his hand against the hot skin, wiping away the evidence of his weakness, and took a large swig of the amber liquid.

 

I shouldn't have let myself be taken in by these bloody sentiments. He stared at his glass. I always said they are on the losing side. But I didn't listen. He emptied his drink and tossed the glass against the fireplace. It shattered loudly, and the fire flared for a moment with the last drops of the spirit. I should have stuck with alone, he grunted. Alone protects me, alone is reliable and predictable. No broken trust, no betrayal. Anger still burning inside, he fished out a cigarette from his hidden stash and lit it. He knew John hated and disapproved of his smoking, especially in the living room, so defying him felt more than right after what he had heard upstairs.

 

He couldn't stay in the flat any longer, knowing that John and his “friend” were only one floor away, engaged in some pleasant activity. Grabbing his coat, he slammed the door behind himself and fled the house.

 

***

 

John thought he heard a door slam hard downstairs. “I think Sherlock is home.” He jerked his head, propping his arms up on the bed. “He’ll look for me; I should probably go down to see him.”

 

“We're done anyway,” Jennie smiled and climbed off of his hips.

 

John groaned rolling around, flexing his muscles. He was shirtless, wearing only a pair of jeans and socks. “I really needed this, thank you. I don't remember the last time I had a massage. My shoulder has been so sore recently, I had already considered visiting a masseur at the clinic.”

 

“I'm glad I could help. That's what I do for living, after all. And helping a good friend is always a bonus.” She buttoned her black trousers and smothered her green cashmere jumper. “But I advise you to have your shoulder regularly treated, the injured muscles need extra attention to avoid pain.”

 

John finished buttoning up his shirt and tucked it into his jeans. “Thank you, Jennie. I owe you one.”

 

“A dinner then?” She flashed a smile at him as they left the room and headed downstairs.

 

“We'll see what Sherlock is planning for tonight, okay?”

 

“I don't want to meddle into your life, but you're a bit too dependent on him... ”

 

John sighed. “It's complicated.”

 

“Are you two...?” She tested the waters with a tentative smile.

 

John blushed. “Something like that.”

 

“Oh. Now I understand his behaviour on Sunday. He must have considered me a potential threat,” she chuckled. “I didn't know you were interested in both sexes.” She looked at him, widening her eyes.

 

“I'm not,” John protested quickly, his face flushing. He was glad that descending the stairs, she couldn’t have a good look at him, so didn’t see him blushing.

 

Here we are again, even an ex of mine assumes I’m gay. Splendid , he snorted.

 

“It's...it’s just him,” he added immediately, dismissing the idea of generally having a thing for his own gender. He silently cursed himself for how sheepish his tone sounded. “I can't explain it, but that's the truth.”

 

“So if he wasn't in your life, you'd still date women?”

 

“Possibly. Probably.”

 

“Okay,” Jennie smiled, stopping at the landing of 221B. “You know, for a moment, I was scared that the reason we didn't work out was that you were swinging both ways.”

 

“I can assure you, when we were dating, I thought I was 100% heterosexual.”

 

Entering the sitting room, John looked around, but didn't see his flatmate anywhere. “Sherlock?”

 

The smell of tobacco hit his nose. Sherlock smoked in the room. He rarely does so, mostly because he knows that I don't approve. We agreed on the nicotine patches. He spotted the bottle of whiskey on the small table beside Sherlock's armchair. Smoking and drinking? What's going on? What had happened that made him reach for these crutches?

 

“Looks like he's not home after all,” Jennie stated.

 

“He must have dashed away as soon as he got home. Probably he has some important case to work on.”

 

“So that solves our problem about dinner,” she pulled a smile.

 

John returned a half-hearted one, somehow not really liking the gloating-like tone. He disapproved of her suggestion of Sherlock being a problem. He wished the man would come out of his room, proving her wrong.

 

Do I actually expect Sherlock to turn up and ruin my dinner plans with Jennie—just like he did with my dates before—and allow the two of us to go out instead? Remembering the times when Sherlock had messed up his dates, a little, nostalgic smile curved in the corner of his mouth. This time it wasn’t a date, just an innocent reconnection with an old friend right, ex-girlfriend, John corrected himself at the mental image of Sherlock furrowing his brows still…John just realised how addicted he was to Sherlock’s company, especially now that they were boyfriends. No matter how long he had not seen Jennie and given that catching up with her, reminiscing the nice memories would have been nice, his heart didn’t seem to be in spending time with her. He wanted to be with Sherlock instead, even if they would have just lounged in the sitting room in silence.

 

Oh, Sherlock, you have really taken over my life.

 

John sighed, facing the fact that his flatmate was out somewhere. He wasn't entirely sure about what was going on, but knowing Sherlock and his antics, he reassured himself that there was no point in sitting home and waiting for Sherlock to turn up. The madman could text him anytime he needed him, after all, and he usually did. He opened a new message and sent one to Sherlock. 'Where are you? What are you up to? Out with a friend tonight, will see you later'.

 

“Okay, let's go,” he agreed, hoping that Sherlock would be able to keep himself out of trouble for one night.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Six - Warzone



In our house, I hate that place
Everywhere I walk I see your face
Try to erase a memory with a flame
And hope I never see you again
Standing here, in this burning room
You know the end could never come so soon

~ The Wanted - Warzone




“So ten years, I can't believe it.” John looked at Jennie opposite him, his fingers tapping on his wine glass idly. “You used to work in a bank, how did you end up becoming a massage therapist?”

 

She shrugged. “I got bored by the office work. I wanted something different. Helping people. So I enrolled myself into a course, and that's it.”

 

“Wow.”

 

“Wow? It's not that big of an achievement.”

 

“You surprised me, that's all. You didn't complain about your job when we were dating; actually, you were hoping for a promotion, so I never expected you to leave the business.”

 

“People change,” she shrugged.

 

“Yeah, they do,” John agreed in a quiet voice, immediately thinking of himself and Sherlock.

 

“Just like you,” she stated as if reading John’s mind. “Not job-wise though, as you're still in medicine, but... Suddenly choosing dick over tits, that's a big step...”

 

John swallowed his first reaction of indignation. “I've already told you,” he pursed his lips, hating to repeat himself,  “it's just Sherlock, not men in general.”

 

“Okay, I get it, but still…” She didn’t seem to let the issue go, which irritated John. He squirmed in his seat and bit his bottom lip to control himself not bursting out and telling her to deal with her own business. “You lived all your life being a ladies' man and then you suddenly fall for a man. I can't imagine how could that happen if you're not at least bisexual. Otherwise either you lied to yourself all of your life by chasing women, while being gay, or you’re lying to him now, while still being heterosexual. So which is it?”

 

“Jennie, you over-complicate the whole issue,” John grunted. “Why should I label myself?” He huffed with some edge in his voice. He felt utterly uncomfortable discussing his sexuality with someone, even if the other person was an ex. He was still unsure about it even himself, after all. “Does that change anything for the better? I'm entirely content with my life without labels.” Now he understood why Sherlock hated them too. “I still like women, appreciate their beauty; I'm still attracted to the fairer sex, but I'm not interested in them at the moment, 'cause I have someone in my life. And the fact that that person is male doesn't matter. You can label me whatever you want for yourself, I don't give a fuck. I don't label myself, and I can live with that.” Part of him wished he could believe what he was saying, but he still had inside battles about his sexuality and the sudden change in his life.

 

“Sorry, I didn't mean to upset you,” she glanced at her glass sheepishly. “So you and your flatmate are an item?”

 

“Something like that, but not officially yet,” John relented. “We're just in a very early stage of our relationship, everything is very new and formidable, so we don't want to come out as a pair yet. There's still time for that.”

 

“Do you love him? I mean, are you in love with him?” She tilted her head curiously.

 

“What kind of question is that?” John chuckled coyly.

 

“A perfectly plausible one, once you’ve suddenly switched teams.”

 

“That's cheeky, you know?”

 

She smirked. “Sure. That was one thing you liked in me, if I remember correctly.”

 

“You've got a point,” he admitted with a laugh of defeat, quirking a brow.

 

“So? Are you?”

 

John was trapped. What should I answer? Can I answer this question at all? John bit his lip.

 

Jennie stared at him expectantly, and John knew he couldn’t evade the reply. But, shit, this is difficult!

 

Is it? a little voice asked. You’ve gone through the soul-searching, forget that this once and say what’s on your mind! Listen to your heart!

 

As if that’s so easy, John sighed.

 

You’re afraid , the voice concluded.

 

Brilliant deduction, Sherlock! John scoffed, realising that he’d addressed his boyfriend only after finishing the sentence.

 

He’s always on your mind, the annoying inner voice gloated. What can we tell from that? Admit it, finally, Watson! Don’t be such a coward!

 

Oh, shut up!

 

Staring at the rim of his glass, John replied slowly. “Yes. I believe I am.” God, what a relief it was to say that out loud. Terrifying, but good.

 

“You don't know for sure?”

 

“I do.” He looked up at her with an earnest expression. “You know, my relationship with Sherlock has never been simple. He made my world turn around one hundred eighty degrees, making me question myself many times. He has had me under his power from the very beginning, and I didn’t know what hit me, what was happening inside me.  I developed a crush on him within the first week of sharing the flat, but for a long while I couldn't tell what that really was—the novelty, his brilliance, his eccentricity, the fact that he plainly ignored social conventions and had no inhibitions about telling uncomfortable truths to one's very face…” The words—every syllable tinted with affection—tumbled out of John’s mouth, finally breaking free. Admitting his feelings for Sherlock aloud was kind of therapeutical.  “Needless to say, he was beautiful. As time passed and I got to know him better, he grew on me and became the most important person in my life. I have seen sides of him that no one else has and...”

 

“You fell in love with him,” she finished the sentence with a dreamy sigh.

 

John was certain that his cheeks tinted with pink. He pursed his lips, gazing at his plate contemplatively. I believe I did, he repeated his earlier answer.

 

“Tell me more about him,” she prompted, sipping her drink languidly.

 

“Well, Sherlock... He's a genius. He can tell your life just by looking at you. He observes all those tiny little details that others don't. The police regularly ask for his assistance when they get stuck. Which is always, as he would say.” John chuckled fondly.

 

“So he solves cases for them?”

 

“For them or other clients who turn to him for help. Provided he finds the case interesting.”

 

“Meaning one can die or get jailed if he decides the matter isn't stimulating enough for his brain?”

 

Sensing the irony in her tone, John's eyes narrowed.

 

“No, meaning cases that could be solved by the police themselves,” his tone immediately turning protective. “Those cases, he finds boring.”

 

Jennie nodded contemplatively, her features turning serious. A moment later the smile was back on her face and she raised her glass. “Let's drink to you two, then.”

 

“Cheers.” John clinked his glass to hers.

 

Sipping the wine, he checked his phone for a text or call from Sherlock, but there was nothing. Unusual . He hoped that everything was okay with the detective and that the only reason Sherlock hadn’t replied was a lack of time rather than because he was seriously injured or kidnapped.

 

Their meals arrived, so they started to eat.

 

“You already know my deepest secret, so what about you?” John asked between two forkfuls. “What about that plastic surgery?”

 

Jennie squirmed uncomfortable. “I don't really like to talk about that. That's a part of my life I'd like to forget.”

 

“Sorry.”

 

“It's okay. You’re not like everyone. I had a car accident, was badly injured, and the only solution was to have facial surgery with bone and muscle correction. It took me years to heal to the point that you see now.”

 

“It must have been hard.”

 

“You want to know the worst part? It wasn't the surgery or the treatments, but the fact that people didn't recognise me. Constantly reminding them who I was, fearing their reactions, that was the hardest thing. It felt like being a ghost, losing part of my life, because people still associated my name with my old look and couldn't move on. I lost people I thought were friends because they thought I was just some beauty freak going under the knife for better looks, not believing my accident, thinking it was just a cover story.”

 

“I'm really sorry.”

 

“Thanks. You were always different from others, that's why I dated you. I'm sorry that it didn't work out.”

 

“Me too. My life was very complicated then; it was my fault. Family crisis, career decisions, joining the army... I think it just wasn’t the right time for us.”

 

“You know, I’ve been thinking a lot. If you hadn't left for the army, could there have been a chance for us?” She looked him in the eyes.

 

John sighed, squirming a little, before replying quietly. “I assume...probably yes.”

 

She nodded. “Too bad it's too late now,” she muttered sadly.

 

“I'm sorry,” John said, uncomfortable at the direction this talk was heading.

 

“Believe me, so am I.”

 

“Are you seeing anyone now, by the way?” John inquired, hoping for a ‘yes.’ He dreaded the possibility that Sherlock could have been right (again) and that she had hit on him, hoping for some rekindling of the old times.

 

“Yes,” she smiled, “he's a nice guy, he loves me deeply, but he's not you.”

 

John felt the relief spreading through his body.

 

“I'm not the same man I was ten years ago either,” he smiled, the tone aiming to shatter the image of the perfect, desirable man in her imagination.

 

“More mature, wiser and experienced. Who would say that's worse?” Jennie smirked.

 

“And more impatient, having more quirks, flaws and old bones.”

 

She laughed, but didn’t comment.

 

“So, what are you doing in London?” John changed topic, not keen on continuing the risky conversation. “Where do you live now?”

 

“I’m on a business trip, but I saved some time for visiting old friends too. A few years after you left for Afghanistan, I moved to the States. I live in Philadelphia now.”

 

“A lot’s changed in your life since we last met indeed. But from the sound of it, you're on the right track now, and I'm happy for that.”

 

“Thanks, John. So what is this crime-solving thing that you're doing with Sherlock Holmes like?”

 

***

 

All that Sherlock wanted was to be alone, but most importantly, away from Baker Street. He badly needed something to distract himself from the disturbing imaginary scene of John and that woman having intercourse in John's bed, and make him forget John Watson and his betrayal, but cocaine wasn’t an option this time. He wanted to anesthetize instead of sharpen his mind and see the painful truth more clearly. He needed to numb the hurt and distract himself from the thoughts of John and his “friend.” Friend , he sneered. Obviously . Heroin or morphine was the more plausible and tempting solution, but, to his chagrin, his secret stash of the latter was in his room, and acquiring either from a connection would have taken up too much time. He couldn’t wait; his tormented feelings released their deadly poison into his bloodstream, taking over his body and mind with every passing moment, turning him into a dead man walking.

 

What do ordinary people do when they want to escape from their problems? Alcohol. Stopping in the first pub on his way, he settled onto a stool at the bar and ordered a double whiskey.

 

His phone chimed in his pocket, signalling an incoming message. John , he frowned. Reading the text, he snorted and deleted it furiously right away. Out with a friend? Ha! So they not only fucked, but also were spending the evening together. Sherlock felt utterly sick. Downing the whiskey, he ordered another double, then another and another, until he was drunk enough that the bartender refused to serve him more.

 

“You don' know who you'r’ talk’n' to...” he slurred heavily, leaning over the wooden surface, propping his head with an arm. “I'm the only colsu— conlu— con— something detec— detective in the world...”

 

“You would be surprised what excuses I have already heard here,“ the bartender—named Joe according his nametag—noted. “Even more creative ones than yours, and you know what? They hadn't got far with those either. So, sorry, mate, but you've had enough. More than enough, actually.”

 

Sherlock pouted. “I h’v’n't...I need it.. I nee’ to fo’get...”

 

“You've accomplished that,” Joe grinned. “You already forgot how much is enough. You'd better go home and sleep it off.”

 

“No— no home... I d’n't wan’.. to see... he's, he's there... no..”

 

“Look, you're drunk, but even if you weren't, we're closing, so you have to leave. Some fresh air will do you good, you'll see everything in a different light. Come on.” Joe helped him up from the stool and escorted him out.

 

“Come on, Ireeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeene, oh, come ooooooooon...” Sherlock burst out singing (as much as it could have been considered singing in his pissed state). Damn John and his favourite songs.

 

“That's Eileen, mate,” Joe corrected the lyrics.

 

“No sense— I dunno any— I—...whatev–” His stubborn mind countered even in inebriation. He looked up at the bartender with heavy-lidded eyes. Once outside, Joe entrusted the security guard to catch a cab for the man and send him home. “I don’ wan’... to… home,” Sherlock resisted. “Alone... prot—protest me...” He shrugged the guard's hands off him and stumbled away from the man.

 

“You can't even walk straight.”

 

“Nut yo’r bus’nesssss!” Sherlock leant against the wall, wobbling slowly ahead. “I don’ need... anyone...” His voice faltered.

 

“Okay.” The guard held his hands up. “As you wish.”

 

“I wisssssh,” Sherlock said stubbornly, darting ahead, staggering, totally off-balance.

 

The security shook his head in disapproval.

 

Surprisingly, Sherlock managed to lurch through the alley, humming and singing to himself all the way, until he eventually disappeared in the darkness.

 

***

 

By dessert, John was checking his phone every minute, getting more anxious with each passing moment. It wasn't unusual for Sherlock not to contact him for a half day when having a case, but they hadn't had anything on the radar in the morning, and the detective would have certainly let him know, if something came up. John couldn't help having a bad feeling. The slammed door, the bottle of whiskey and the smell of smoke pointed to the conclusion that Sherlock had been upset. Also, the fact that he left the flat and had yet to text or call was alarming.

 

“You're really into him,” Jennie noted.

 

“What?” John looked up from his phone, apparently puzzled.

 

“You keep checking your phone the whole evening to see if he messaged you. That's devotion.”

 

“I'm sorry, but I just feel that something is not right,” he replied in a serious voice, eyes clouded with worry. “He can easily get into trouble...”

 

“Call him, then you’ll know.”

 

John smiled gratefully, his face lighting up. “You don't mind?” Jennie shook her head with a reassuring smile. “Thanks.” John pushed the speed dial and waited for an answer, but the only response was the voicemail. Sighing, he listened to the detective’s unique voicemail greeting until the beep signalled to leave a message. “Sherlock, it's me, what's going on? Where are you? I need to know you're okay, haven't heard from you all day. Please call me, or text me. I'm home soon, I hope to see you there.”

 

“Sherlock Holmes is a lucky man,” Jennie smiled. “And you're a great boyfriend.”

 

John had déjà vu. Jeanette, an ex-girlfriend, had used the same words when he had cancelled on her for the sake of Sherlock that unforgettable Christmas. The implication of being the detective’s boyfriend hadn't felt right back then, though John hadn't protested against it. He didn’t know why; he must have got tired of correcting people all the time when they assumed that Sherlock and he had been a couple.

 

“I’m not so sure about that, but I’m trying,” he noted with a half-hearted smile. “I’m sorry, Jennie, but I really need to go home now. I have a feeling something’s not right.”

 

“Sure.” Jennie gave him an understanding smile. “Thank you for your company today. I’ve had a great time.”

 

“Me too. Again, thanks for the massage; my shoulder feels much better.”

 

“You're always welcome. I'm here for a couple of months at least. Do you think we could still meet some time?” Jennie asked on their way outside. “I can give you another massage.” She winked.

 

“Sounds good. We’ll see,” John smiled, holding the door for her. “Keep in touch.”

 

A taxi outside had just dropped off some passengers, and Jennie waved the cabbie to wait. “What about joining me for the ride?” She turned back to John. “We're going in the same direction for quite a way.”

 

“No, thank you. I'd rather walk.”

 

“As you want. Good night, then. I hope Sherlock is fine. I'd gladly have a chat with him, too, next time.”

 

“He's not the chatty type, or too social either, as you could see.”

 

“Well, once he knows I'm not here to steal you away from him, he might change his mind,” Jennie laughed.

 

“Doubt it, but with Sherlock, one never knows.”

 

“Night then, John,” Jennie gave him a kiss on the cheek.

 

“Night, Jennie.”

 

The woman climbed into the cab, waving goodbye as the car drove off. John sighed and checked his phone again. Nothing . He just hoped that Sherlock would be waiting for him at home.

 

***

 

Walking up to 221 Baker Street, what John noticed first was the darkness in the flat. So no hope that Sherlock had stayed up. Unlocking the door quickly, he entered the eerily silent house. Mrs. Hudson must have been sleeping, and there was no sound coming from upstairs, either. John climbed the stairs as fast as he could in the darkness, not bothering to turn the lights on. Reaching the landing of 221B, he silently prayed that Sherlock was in bed, or sprawled on the sofa, sleeping soundly.

 

Entering the sitting room, he immediately saw that the sofa was empty. Sighing, he walked to the detective's room and, cautiously turning the doorknob, peaked in. The bed was unmade. Sherlock wasn't home. John's worry doubled right away. He was inclined to call Lestrade or Mycroft, but it was 2 a.m., when neither of them would have appreciated a late night call. John checked his phone again—still nothing from Sherlock. Please be alright, he prayed. Returning in the living room, he sagged onto the sofa.

 

What could have happened? Has Sherlock gone on a case on his own? Has something happened to him? Is he hurt? Is he unconscious, that’s why he doesn’t text or call back?

 

John ran his fingers through his hair anxiously. Why didn’t Sherlock let him know about the case (if it was a case)? Surely, that was nothing new, the detective often disappeared without a word, following the hot trail like a bloodhound, but John hoped that with their new status, Sherlock might be more considerate and fill him in on his plans and whereabouts. We will need to talk about this, John made a mental note, before grabbing his phone and contacting his ignorant boyfriend.

 

Sherlock, I’m worried. Please let me know you’re okay. JW

 

Pulling a blanket onto himself, he fixed his stare at the door, waiting for his phone to chime with a reply or his ringtone to go off, but there was nothing.

 

This was going to be a long night.

 

***

 

John groaned in pain when he woke up next morning, his neck sore from the uncomfortable position he had ended up in on the sofa. Yawning, he squinted at the sunlight filtering through the windows. The flat was silent—too silent for a certain genius’ presence. Was Sherlock still out? Flexing his limbs and muscles, he set out to check the detective's room, but he was disappointed again, peaking into an empty room. He went down to Mrs. Hudson, but she hadn't seen Sherlock the day before at all. Calling Lestrade, Greg told him that he hadn't given Sherlock any new cases, so the detective wasn't on the trail of something that was part of the DI's cases. Thus, unless it was a private case, Sherlock was missing due to personal issues. The last resort was Mycroft. Unfortunately, he had no information on his brother either, which was a bit odd given the fact that Mycroft generally tracked all of their moves. Anyway, he promised John to check the CCTV footage and let him know if he found anything.

 

About forty minutes later, John's phone rang. Given the blocked number, he suspected—and hoped—it was Mycroft, and, luckily, he was right.

 

“Dr Watson? We found him.” The familiar voice was grim and reserved.

 

“Thank God,” John exhaled in relief. “Is he okay?”

 

“I think so,” Mycroft answered curtly.

 

“Where is he?”

 

“Regent’s Park.”

 

“Regent’s Park?” John raised a brow. “What is he doing there?”

 

“At the moment, he's sleeping. Apart from that, I cannot report on his activities. Do you want me to collect him?”

 

“No, I'll get him. Thank you for your help.”

 

“I'll send you his exact location in a text. I'm not asking why he spent the night on a park bench, but you two better sort out whatever it is.”

 

“Would you believe me if I said I don’t know the reason either?”

 

“Well, as we’re talking about my brother here, I can’t entirely rule that out,” Mycroft grunted and ended the call.

 

John stared at his phone for a long moment. Sherlock spending the night in Regent’s Park? What the hell was going on, he wondered as he grabbed his coat and dashed out of the flat.

 

***

 

Walking briskly through Regent’s Park, John couldn’t stop wondering what had made Sherlock sleep in the park, under the open sky on a cold November night. What had happened? Why did Sherlock ignore him and stay away from home?

 

Turning round the next corner, he spotted a lump on a bench along the path about thirty metres away. Sherlock . John jogged toward the motionless heap. As Mycroft reported, Sherlock was still sleeping, curled up in a ball, his Belstaff tightly wrapped around him. John sat onto the edge of the bench and touched the dark curls cautiously. “Sherlock... Hey...” He whispered softly. Sherlock stirred and opened his eyes slowly, squinting at the bright light. “Sherlock...” The detective turned his head toward the origin of the voice. John searched his features intently.

 

“Go away,” Sherlock rasped, closing his eyes again.

 

“Sherlock, it's me, John.”

 

“Go away!!” the detective insisted, more forcefully this time.

 

The stale smell of the alcohol on Sherlock's breath hit John. Sherlock has been drinking. That’s odd...

 

“Sherlock... what's wrong? Why are you...?”

 

“Leave me alone!!” Sherlock bellowed, sitting up and pulling away from John as much as possible. “I don't want to see you, don't want to talk to you. Just fucking piss off!!”

 

John gaped at him, trying to figure out what made the detective turn to alcohol and spend the night in a park and, on the top of everything, why he was so angry with him. “Sherlock?” He spoke quietly and cautiously. “Just tell me–”

 

“Which part of the leave me alone did you not understand?” Sherlock hissed, his eyes burning in hatred.

 

A shiver ran down John’s spine at the cold, hateful look directed at him. Sherlock had never looked at him with such animosity, and John had never thought that there could ever be a day when he would. The deep abhorrence in those quicksilver eyes was a stab in his heart.

 

“I'm not leaving until you explain why you’re this furious with me.” John switched to soldier mode, swallowing the lump forming in his throat at the hurt he felt.

 

“You don't have a clue?” Sherlock laughed maniacally. “Of course, why would you—your brain is ever so ordinary,” he sneered. “You betrayed me!”

 

“What are you talking about?” Ignoring the insult, John narrowed his eyes. “I don't get you.”

 

“Sure, you don't,” Sherlock huffed, getting up from the bench and starting to walk away.

 

John followed him. “Sherlock, come on, let's go home and discuss whatever is bothering you...”

 

“What’s bothering me is you!” The detective shouted, whirling around, his coat swirling wildly around him. “Just. Leave. Me. Alone.” Giving John another killing look, he inhaled sharply and turned away. Striding aggressively toward the entrance of the park, the dark tail of his Belstaff billowed after him dramatically.

 

John stood rooted in his spot, watching Sherlock walking away.

 

What was happening to them? Why was Sherlock this furious with him? What had he done to earn the man's contempt and hatred?

 

He couldn't wrap his head around it. He wished he could clear the situation with him, but, under the circumstances, that would be wishful thinking until Sherlock decided to finally talk to him again. He knew that the only way to handle a furious Sherlock Holmes was to give him time and space to calm down. No matter how much he would have liked to follow him and settle the matter, he had to refrain from that for both of their sakes.

 

Sighing, John walked back to the bench—where his infuriating boyfriend had spent the night—and dropped onto the wood that still held the warmth of the upset detective. Rubbing his face, John stared at the path ahead vacantly.

 

His phone's ringing shook him out of his reverie, and, for a moment, butterflies rose in his belly at the possibility that Sherlock might have thought twice and decided to speak to him, but they died in disappointment as soon as his eyes fell onto the caller ID on the screen.

 

“Hi, Greg,” he greeted the man without enthusiasm, leaning back on the bench.

 

“Hello, John. Is Sherlock with you? He's not answering his phone.”

 

“No,” John replied sadly.

 

“John, are you alright?” Worry tinted Lestrade’s voice.

 

The doctor could envision the DI narrowing his eyes. “Yeah,” he chuckled bitterly.

 

“Mate, you really don't sound like it.”

 

“You deserve your rank, Greg, being able to tell when something's off.”

 

“What's wrong?” The genuine worry was plain in the inspector's voice.

 

“I wish I knew,” John sighed, staring at the ground.

 

“Is it Sherlock?”

 

“Bullseye,” John laughed bitterly.

 

“What has he done this time?” Greg inhaled deeply.

 

“He's bloody furious with me for some unfathomable reason. He got drunk last night, spent the whole night in Regent’s Park, and when I came for him this morning, he refused to talk to me and stormed away.”

 

“Do you have any idea why might he behave like that?”

 

“No. We were perfectly fine yesterday morning, and I hadn't seen him between then and when Mycroft alerted me about him sleeping in the Regent’s.”

 

“Something must have happened during that time,” Greg contemplated. “Were you in touch?”

 

“Not really. I was with a friend, while he was out on the case with you. I sent him a text in the evening, checking on him, but he didn't even reply.”

 

“As long as he was with me, he was fine. I'd say he was in a good mood. The case was satisfying, he was pleased.”

 

“Good to know.”

 

“It must be one of his fits. Don't worry, John, he'll calm down soon.”

 

“I hope so. It's pretty irritating, having him behave like that.”

 

“You know, I'm utterly surprised you’ve been able to put up with him without such drama for so long,” the DI remarked with genuine awe. “The patience medal is yours, John.”

 

“Ta,” John laughed in misery.

 

“If you happen to be able to talk to that arrogant prick after all, let him know that I have a promising case for him.”

 

“Sure. Thanks for listening, mate.”

 

“Don't mention it. What are friends for?” Greg’s smile was evident in his voice. “And don't worry, he'll come around.”

 

John nodded. “Cheers.” Closing the call, he opened a new message and typed ' Lestrade has a case for you. ' Opening another new text, he wrote ‘ Can we talk? Please? ', but discarded the message before sending.

 

Now, John was the one who badly needed a pint.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven - Forever And A Day



The complicated ways of life
Can cut you like a knife
Sometimes anger is not the way
And you regret the things you say.

 

'Cause you know I'd cross oceans to find you
And you know I can't live without you
And love is all that matters anyway
Forever and a day

 

~ Saliva - Forever And A Day

 

 

John was sitting in a pub, nursing a pint, when his phone rang. As so many times in the past 24 hours, his heart fluttered at the possibility of Sherlock calling him, ready to talk. But it wasn’t him. On the other hand, according to the caller ID, it was a person John didn’t expect at all. He stared at the phone for a few seconds, wondering whether to answer the call; he didn’t need more drama right now.

 

“Hello?” he picked it up eventually, bracing himself for the conversation.

 

“Hi Johnny!” the familiar voice jingled from the other end of the line. “How are you?”

 

“I’m okay, Harry,” John lied, his tone tired and even. Given his complicated relationship with his sister, John didn’t feel like engaging into details of his current mood. “What about you? Is everything alright?” His eyes narrowed in wonder. Harry and he weren’t the best siblings—John always thought it was due to the both of them being rather stubborn and temperamental, and as the saying went, there wasn’t enough room for two cooks in the kitchen—their relationship had been a rollercoaster ride. They didn’t really keep in touch; there were only a few phone calls and one or two encounters per year, and even those were quick and not overly affectionate.

 

“I’m fine.” John could hear the rare happiness in her voice. “Really fine. Johnny, could we meet?”

 

John raised a brow in surprise. Harry rarely sounded so joyful, and the fact that she wanted to see him was also unusual.

 

“Look, I’m–”

 

“Please, Johnny, it’s important!”

 

“Well, my life is a bit busy these days…unless you’re free now...?”

 

“Now? Perfect! Where should we meet?”

 

John was about to give her the address of the pub he was currently sitting in, when a voice stopped him. Is that a good idea? Meeting a recovering alcoholic in a pub? He shook his head. No . So he suggested the coffee shop on the other side of the road.

 

Almost an hour later, the familiar figure showed up at John’s table in the coffee shop.

 

“Hello, Johnny!”

 

John looked up from his phone, the breath caught in his throat. The woman in front of him was nothing like the image he kept in his mind. Unlike the miserable, unkempt, middle-aged woman he had seen so often in the past, the Harriet Watson standing in front of him was a lively, attractive one, with shoulder-length fair hair, bright hazel eyes and dressed in a beige coat, smiling at him broadly.

 

“Harry?” He emerged with a bewildered smile to hug her. “You...look good,” he complimented her with wide eyes.

 

“Thanks, Johnny,” she smiled and took the seat opposite her brother.

 

“Could I get you something—coffee, tea, juice?” John offered.

 

“No, thanks, I’m fine,” she settled in the chair.

 

“Seriously. I’ve never seen you this…” John searched the words, still taken by surprise.

 

“Alive?”

 

“Actually, yes. You seem to have found back to life. You look happy.”

 

“I am,” her cherry lips curled into a broad smile. “I really am. That’s why I wanted to see you. Johnny, I should have told you earlier,” she blushed, “but I wasn’t sure that I could make it and if things would work out…”

 

John drank in the rare sight of his happy sister, suddenly all his troubles with Sherlock fading.

 

“Johnny, I got married,” Harry looked into his eyes, beaming. “And I’m pregnant.”

 

“What?” John gaped at her, a happy smile lingering in the corner of his mouth.

 

“Yes, you’re going to be an uncle,” she giggled.

 

“Oh my God, that’s fantastic!” John rejoiced. “How far along are you?”

 

“Four months,” she announced sheepishly, unfastening her coat to reveal her rounding belly under the amber tunic-like sweater.

 

“Amazing,” John breathed in awe, the whole situation feeling like a dream. “Tell me about your spouse, who is she?”

 

“Oh, she’s the prettiest and cleverest woman in the world,” Harry gushed. “Her name is Kayleigh, and she’s a lawyer.”

 

“A lawyer?” John’s brows furrowed in surprise. He had never expected his sister be with such an intellectual person.

 

“Crazy, huh?” Harry giggled. “I met her after an AA meeting; she was picking up her sister. My car broke down, and she offered me a ride home,” she reminisced fondly. “After that, she came for her sister more often and we kept talking. Then, one day, she came even though her sister didn’t attend the meeting due to the flu...she came just to see me. That evening ended in a date,” she blushed. “After barely a year, she proposed to me, and we got married a month later. This April, that is.” She dropped her look at the table. “I’d have wanted to have you at the wedding, even being my witness, but... after Clara, and all the unlucky attempts of having a new relationship, I was wary...I didn’t know what would you say, and if it happened to turn out being a failure again, I couldn’t have stood to face you…”

 

“Harry, I’d never have judged you,” he said quietly, licking his lip. “One cannot predict if a relationship could work on the long run.” Just like his with Sherlock .

 

“You’re the only one in our family who has accepted me being a lesbian,” she gave him a tiny, warm smile.

 

“I should have stood by you when you needed support,” John bowed his head regretfully, recalling the times when their parents—especially their father—lashed out at Harry for her coming out.

 

She pursed her lips, before noting matter of factly, “I’m not saying I didn’t hold a grudge against you for not saying a word, but I understand. You always were the better child, the favourite; you didn’t want to defy them and risk being disowned too. It hurt, but I don’t blame you,” she added sadly.

 

“The irony of life is that I might eventually end up in the same boat with you,” John laughed quietly.

 

“What do you mean?” Harry narrowed her eyes.

 

John sighed, tapping on the side of his coffee cup nervously. He didn’t know if he could fill her in on his situation, or if he wanted to at all. Harry would understand him though, maybe even help him.

 

“The thing is,” he took a deep breath, “that I…” He licked his lips anxiously. “Sherlock and I…”

 

A suspicious, surprised smile crept on Harry’s face. “Gosh, you two finally got together!” She squealed excitedly.

 

“Not so loud!” John hushed her and took a sip of his coffee to dismiss the uncomfortable feeling in his stomach.

 

She grinned elatedly. “Come on, Johnny, spill it!” She sat forward, leaning on her elbows on the table, watching him expectantly with a curious glint in her big, hazel eyes.

 

John inhaled deeply, flexing his bad hand. “It’s complicated. Nothing you expect.”

 

“A Watson never goes for something easy. Especially if it’s about love.”

 

John contemplated the words. She was right. Their lives were never ordinary, and where romance was concerned, their histories proved they weren’t like any other everyday person’s.

 

“I don’t know where to start…” he mumbled.

 

“Maybe the beginning would be a good idea,” she joked with a wink.

 

“Very funny. If I knew where that was, do you think I’d be so confused?”

 

“Hmm, knowing you? Yes.”

 

John sent her an admonishing look.

 

“As I said, it’s complicated,” he sighed and told her their story and his issues. Harry listened patiently, refraining from interrupting and cracking jokes.

 

By the end of his long speech, John felt much lighter. Confiding Harry in the most insane chapter of his life and his deepest emotions and insecurities without the constricting fear of being despised or judged had a cleansing effect on him.

 

“Oh, Johnny,” she cast him a compassionate look. “I can’t tell you what’s going on Sherlock’s mind, or help you with getting over the insecurity that Dad’s arsehole attitude evoked in you, but I can tell you this: you don’t have to feel bad for having non-platonic feelings for Sherlock. When I realised that I had a thing for girls, I also was confused about myself and dug up information on the topic, and chatted with others, learning a lot about sexual orientation. I figured out that sexual and romantic attraction are two different things, and while I feel both for the same gender, for some people, the attractions are separate.”

 

John furrowed his brows. “Slow down,” he interrupted, trying to process her words. “What is the difference between sexual and romantic attraction? I always thought they were the same.”

 

Harry smiled softly, suddenly being the big sister to her little brother. “I’ve been there too, not knowing the depth of sexual orientation. Sexual attraction is the desire to get into sexual contact with someone, while romantic attraction is deeper, the desire to be in a relationship with the other, being affectionate with them, it’s being in love. While the two usually overlap, they also can exist separately.”

 

“So you mean that I don’t have to be gay to have feelings for a man?” John concluded, trying to add two and two.

 

“Exactly,” she smiled. “One can be in love without feeling sexual attraction to the other person.”

 

Am I sexually attracted to Sherlock? John wondered. The memory of their night together and his little wanking session at the thought of the detective after their first date sneaking into his mind answered the question. John had tried to deny it, but eventually he had to face that he lost. He was not only in love with Sherlock, but felt sexual attraction toward him too. So no matter how appealing the possibility of being in love without sexual attraction was, John had to finally admit that he was drawn to Sherlock Holmes both romantically and sexually.

 

Harry must have sensed what was going on in him, because she put a reassuring hand on his arm and murmured softly, “But that’s not how you feel, right? You fell for him in every way, didn't you?”

 

Pursing his lips as if fighting tears, John stared at the wooden table and nodded. The tension that had strained his chest ever since starting to wonder about his feelings and sexual identity aimed to break to surface.

 

“It’s okay, Johnny. That’s not the end of the world. You don’t have to be ashamed for your feelings. You’re still the same man, nothing less,” Harry squeezed his arm.

 

John bit his lip, before inhaling sharply. “That makes me bisexual, doesn’t it?” He noted in resignation. “Even if it’s only Sherlock.”

 

“Probably,” Harry smiled. “But that’s just an invisible label, not tattooed on your forehead.”

 

John groaned and downed the remainder of his coffee. “That doesn’t make it easier to deal with.”

 

“I know. But you’re strong. You’ll manage it. And you have me. I’ll help you if you need it.”

 

“I don’t deserve that. I wasn’t always there when you needed me,” John muttered bitterly.

 

“You were caught in the middle. I understand, and I forgave you. Let’s focus on the present. I’d like to repair our relationship, Johnny. I’m not the same woman I used to be. Kayleigh has changed me for the better, taught me how important family is. I want my little brother back. I want us to be good siblings, being part of each other’s life. That’s why I wanted to meet you. I would like you to be my baby’s godfather.”

 

John gaped at her. It felt like a dream. This Harry definitely wasn’t the old Harriet Watson, but a more mature woman.

 

“Harry…” he was too stunned to say more.

 

“I mean it, Johnny. Please, give me a chance.”

 

John nodded, swallowing the lump in his throat. “Yes.”

 

A heavenly glow lit up her face and happy tears welled up in her eyes. Emerging, she pulled her brother in a hug above the table. “Thank you,” she sniffed. “You have no idea what this means to me. I promise you won’t regret it.”

 

The tears kept at bay broke to surface, and John couldn’t hold his emotions back any longer, but caressed his sister’s back lovingly.

 

“And yes, I’d gladly be your child’s godfather,” John smiled broadly once they parted and sat back on their seats. “It would be an honour.”

 

“Thank you,” Harry smiled back gratefully and added, “I’d like Sherlock to come with you to the christening, of course.”

 

Sherlock , John sighed. “If he’ll talk to me ever again…” he rolled his eyes, remembering why he ended up in the pub on the other side.

 

“I hope he’ll come to his senses. If not, I personally go to Baker Street and kick his arse,” Harry winked. John chuckled. “Now, you should go home and make him talk.”

 

John nodded. He had given Sherlock enough time to recover from his fury, now he had to face the inevitable encounter. Saying goodbye to Harry, he promised to stay in touch and set out toward the nearest tube station.

 

***

 

Climbing the seventeen steps up to their flat, John mentally prepared himself for the face-to-face talk with Sherlock. Maybe, after how nicely things turned out with Harry, I will be lucky with this conversation too. Inhaling deep, he entered the room. Sherlock was nowhere in sight. Stepping further inside, John walked into the kitchen to find the detective sitting at the table, peering into his microscope.

 

John took a deep breath. “Sherlock...” He spoke cautiously, flexing his trembling left hand. “Could we talk?”

 

Sherlock didn't even spare him a glance. “You'd better start looking for a new place to live,” he said coldly.

 

“What?” John frowned, narrowing his eyes incredulously. “What the fuck is going on with you?” he burst out, the forced calmness evaporating at once. “Tell me, 'cause I sodding don't understand!”

 

You don't understand?” Sherlock whirled around, his eyes burning with the fire of hatred, the same hate John had seen in the park. “How could you do that to me ? I believed and trusted you!” he shouted, winding up more and more with each moment. “You knew that romance and sentiment were not my area, that I am inexperienced in that field. You made me believe, gave me hope, but you were just playing a game with me! You set the rule of physical abstinence, yet needed to get laid so badly that you jumped in bed with the first willing woman!”

 

“What the hell, Sherlock?” John shouted exasperatedly, feeling like he’d stepped into another reality. “I haven't cheated on you... I could never do that... where did you get this crazy idea from?”

 

“There is no need to deny it, I heard you,” Sherlock hissed, his eyes burning. “I heard enough—too much, actually.” He strode into the sitting room, his blue silk gown swishing after him dramatically.

 

“Heard me? What are you on about?” John followed him with a frown. What Sherlock was saying didn’t make sense.

 

“You want details? Alright.” Sherlock’s look cut like a knife. “Yesterday, when I got home, you were not out here. All the evidence pointed to the fact that you were not alone, but in the company of a certain woman. I went up to your room and–” He closed his eyes for a moment as if gathering strength to go on. “Standing there, I heard things that I wish I hadn't... Do you need more?”

 

John stared at him in disbelief. “Oh, God...” His whole body was quivering from the realisation of what Sherlock was referring to.

 

“Precisely,” Sherlock sneered, sinking into his armchair.

 

John ran a hand through his hair. “Sherlock, listen to me closely–” He inhaled deeply, finally in the know. “This whole thing is a bloody misunderstanding.”

 

Misunderstanding ?” Sherlock snorted with a bitter laugh, contempt tainting his voice. “Oh no, there's no misunderstanding. I heard everything loud and clear.”

 

John flexed his bad hand nervously, knowing that from Sherlock’s point of view, that intense rage was utterly justified. In retrospect, John realised that he shouldn’t have agreed to the massage, especially not in the flat. I didn’t think; I’m such an arse.

 

Now he had to convince the detective that no matter what conclusion had the clues solidly pointed at, nothing untoward had happened. John knew it wasn’t an easy task, especially given that Sherlock’s emotions were also involved this time. Now John could agree, sentiments were dangerous.

 

“I don't doubt that you heard things, but you came to the wrong conclusion,” he said in a composed voice. “What you heard and what you think happened are two different things.”

 

“Don't try to mislead me, I know what was going on,” Sherlock spat.

 

“What you think you know is not the truth,” John stated firmly, looking Sherlock in the eye.

 

“You fucked her, that's the truth!!” Sherlock bellowed. “You so bloody needed the release that you couldn't resist... You betrayed me!”

 

“That's what you think about me? Really?” Now it was John's turn to shout. No matter how much he wanted to have a mature conversation, discussing the problem in as restrained a way as possible, Sherlock’s assumption was just over the top, and John lost it. “You honestly think I could do that to you? That’s so low of you.”

 

If there was an accusation John never expected to hear from Sherlock after all they had been through, it was betrayal. How can he doubt my loyalty and faith even for a second? John clenched his fists so hard that he was sure the marks of his fingernails would last. Exasperation tightened his chest, threatening to crush his wildly beating heart that was already bearing the wounds of the multiple stabbings delivered by Sherlock’s sharp, cruel words. While John had been hopeful about survival when badly injured in the past, now he knew he was dying. Sherlock used the perfect weapon to cause a fatal injury.

 

John breathed in deeply, trying to control his rising anger. Sherlock, I believed you when you said you meant this relationship, that you had feelings for me. But apparently, you don’t have the most important thing that a relationship needs: trust.

 

“It doesn't matter what I think. I heard everything,” Sherlock’s always warm and velvet baritone was colder than Arctic ice and cut like a sword.

 

“What you heard was nothing but a reaction to a massage!” John yelled, practically feeling his eyes flashing in fury. No, he wasn’t going to let Sherlock crush the last bits of his pride and innocence. Once a soldier, always a soldier. “Jennie came over and we started talking. She asked me how I was, and I told her that my shoulder had been giving me pain recently. She revealed that she worked as a massage therapist and offered me a massage. Actually, she's pretty good at it, so what you heard was my reaction to that.” Sherlock gaped at him. “That's the truth. Though you’ve already decided that the only truth is what you believe, so I shouldn’t waste the energy to explain to you what happened,” John sneered, his nostrils flaring. The weight of Sherlock’s stare on him felt like a ton of steel.

 

Heavy silence fell on the room for a moment before John added, somewhat composed, “I'd never cheat on you. How could you even think I could?” he bowed his head bitterly.

 

From the corner of his eyes, he could see Sherlock staring at the wall over his shoulder, blinking rapidly. The detective’s arms hung motionless at his sides, not daring to make a move. John could practically see his mind race with the new information, assessing the situation.

 

“Everything seemed to click and—” Sherlock muttered eventually, before his voice faltered and he closed his eyes in shame.

 

John inhaled deeply, his features softening. How was it that he couldn’t be angry with the genius for long, even if he wanted to? The oblivious, innocent child in Sherlock always had that effect on him.

 

Knowing how Sherlock felt about being wrong, John cut him some slack. “I understand,” he said quietly and sighed. “I just wish you'd have come to me instantly, rather than disappearing and making me worry.” He ran a hand through his hair and added, “You can't be jealous of every woman I talk to.”

 

“But she was your ex...”

 

“The keyword is was !” John snapped. “She's the past, you're the present.”

 

“But—why do you turn to others for things? Why don't you ask me?” Sherlock blinked innocently, genuine wonder filling his sad eyes. The sight made John’s already tormented heart sink.

 

You? For a massage? The mere idea sounded ridiculous.

 

“You might be a genius, but therapeutic massage isn’t your expertise, unlike her.”

 

“Therapeutic massage?” Sherlock huffed. “Come on! That’s what erotic massage is called these days?”

 

John's eyes widened. “No, she doesn’t–”

 

“Yes, she does. Come on, John, how could you not notice it? The voice alone gave it away.”

 

John rolled his eyes incredulously. “You're mistaken. I know her, she’s not like that...”

 

“Oh, here we go again,” Sherlock growled, rubbing his temple in frustration. “Seriously, how can you be this stupid? It's plainly visible that she just wants to get you back.”

 

John flinched at the word 'stupid'. Sherlock called other people stupid and imbecile—that was nothing new—but he had never called John stupid before. “She doesn't,” he countered, hurt tainting his low voice. “She said it herself. She knows about us, and she has a boyfriend, too.”

 

Oblivious to his partner's distress, Sherlock raised a brow. “And you believe everything that people tell you? Really, John, I thought if there's something that you have benefited from our partnership, it's the shadow of doubt. Hiding in plain sight is the best tactic. Saying one thing but intending to do the opposite is a common misleading method.”

 

“I see,” John braced himself after a moment of pondering, his quiet voice akin to the ominous quiet before the storm. “Maybe I shouldn't believe you, either, when you say that you have feelings for me, you being the master of lies and manipulation.” His eyes narrowed menacingly. “Maybe you're misleading me, too. So what‘s your game this time? What’s your sick reason behind engaging in a relationship with me? What study is worth playing with my emotions, huh?”

 

“You should change therapists, this current one is failing to do her job,” Sherlock's quiet tone dripped of sarcasm. “Your trust issues need to be more efficiently taken care of.”

 

“If I had problems with trusting people, it's doubled ever since you entered my life!” John sneered through gritted teeth. Once the words were out, he knew he’d gone too far.

 

Sherlock froze. “You don't trust me, is that what you’re saying?” he asked with a sharp look.

 

“Sherlock, I—” John started to apologize, but the detective silenced him with a wave of his hand.

 

“Don't.”

 

“Let me explain—I didn't—”

 

“I said don't,” the grey-blue eyes flashed at him.

 

“I fucking don't care what you said! I don't want you to come to the wrong conclusion from a slip of the tongue...”

 

“Slip of the tongue?” Sherlock glared at John with narrow eyes. “Mistaking a syllable or letting a swear word out is a slip of the tongue. Saying you having difficulty in trusting people since befriending me is definitely not.”

 

John sighed exasperatedly. This ‘conversation’ definitely wasn’t going into the right direction.

 

“I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that. It's just that you wound me up, and I lost it...”

 

“Anger is a powerful weapon, you know.” Sherlock's look pierced him. “Revealing things that one wouldn't say out loud voluntarily.”

 

“Fine. I might have some trust issues with you, but not what you’re thinking. It's just about little things. I'm leery of trusting you with the safety of your experiments, especially the ones involving me—often without my consent; I don’t trust you to remember domestic things that you find too boring to keep in mind. Not to mention that I may never know when you get in trouble when on a case due to your recklessness and obliviousness to danger.”

 

Sherlock stared at him contemplatively. “I don't like you seeing her. She is up to something.”

 

John groaned. “Talking about trust, you also have issues in that department!” He fixed his eyes at the detective's face, reminding him the other night's jealousy fuelled drama.

 

Sherlock sat in front of his microscope with a frown, pretending to concentrate on a gruesome-looking sample on the slide under the lens. “Because I can see beyond the surface and notice something you don't want to?” He turned his head, giving John a piercing, confrontational look. “You're still affected by your old emotions toward her and refuse to see what her real intention is. You should be thanking me for saving you time and pain.”

 

“Thanking? Jesus—you're accusing a friend of mine of plain nonsense, and you expect me to be grateful for that?”

 

“Your narrow-sightedness is pathetic. I'd have expected your observation skills to have improved by now. Your thinking is considerably affected by sentiment; you wouldn't see that she was a murderer even if it was written on her forehead,” Sherlock sighed in resignation.

 

“Shut up, Sherlock! Just shut the fuck up!”

 

The detective shrugged. “Just watch her.”

 

“You're just bloody jealous,” John grunted.

 

“Me?” Sherlock looked up from the microscope with an offended look. “Oh, please.”

 

“You are. Last night's drama was telltale evidence of that.”

 

“That was a temporary malfunction. My system needs to adapt to handling feelings alongside the work of the mind. It won't happen again.”

 

“Good,” John sighed in acknowledgement.

 

“I don't understand what you saw in her though,” Sherlock noted. John frowned at the remark, shifting. “You have terrible taste in women.”

 

“Hey!”

 

“What? It's true. Don't make me list names.”

 

“You never remembered any of my girlfriends’ names,” John pointed out.

 

Sherlock ignored the comment. “They all were pathetic, dull and boring.”

 

“Should I have asked out Irene Adler?” John sneered.

 

Sherlock slightly flinched at the name. No matter what went through his mind, he kept his face blank. “No point in that. You're out of her league.”

 

“Sure, I am,” John clenched his fist with a snort. “Unlike you . You definitely were her league. I don't even understand what you're doing here with me —a boring, stupid man. You should have been with her—great minds together. I'm just a fucking consolation prize.”

 

“John...” Sherlock startled, apparently realising that what he had just said had gone too far.. “You—”

 

“Save it. I really don't want to hear it. As the matter of fact, I don't want to hear anything you say now.” Turning his back on him, upset and tired from their round of insults, John walked to the coat rack and grabbed his jacket. “Shadow of the doubt, that's what you wanted me to learn from you? You got it; I'm starting to doubt that I have ever been more to you than a booster for your fucking enormous ego.” With that, he stormed out of the flat, slamming the door. It looked like, for the second time that day, a nice long walk in the city was in store.

 

***

 

Sherlock glared after John, his unfocused, wide stare lost in the sitting room. His lips quivered slightly as anger welled up in his chest, threatening to erupt like a volcano in any moment.

 

Sentiment! What a hateful part of humanity! Life would have been easier and less complicated if emotions hadn’t influenced every decision and infiltrated even the dullest action.

 

With a deep growl, he swept the beakers containing different liquids off the table, the glass breaking with a loud crash, and jumped up from the table and swiftly strode into the sitting room. He couldn’t care less about what the chemicals soaking the kitchen floor could do to the lino. Actually, he considered it a retort to John’s last words.

 

Sherlock rubbed his temple, trying to alleviate the painful buzz that the flashing, nagging, taunting thoughts and contradicting emotional reactions caused. Groaning loudly, he dropped down on the sofa, curling up into a ball, burying his face into one of the cushions.

 

He still found hard to accept that his deduction about John and Jennie had been wrong (not that he wasn’t happy about it); all the clues pointed to that very conclusion. Would he have double checked the adequacy of his deduction if John and him hadn’t been involved? Could jealousy blind him so much that he failed to approach the matter without being unbiased?

 

Sherlock, you’re lost, a little voice noted. Sentiment has taken over you. You’re pathetic. How could you let it happen?

 

I didn’t , he grunted, scrunching his nose. These annoyingly powerful emotions had never asked for permission.

 

Look at you, Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft sneered in his mind, you’re nothing better than any of those boring people. Influenced by sentiments. I’m disappointed in you.

 

Fuck off, Mycroft! The detective gritted his teeth.

 

Truth hurts, brother. Love made you weak and narrow-minded.

 

Leave. Me. Alone! Sherlock hissed, covering his ears with his palm as if that blocked out Mycroft’s voice. How he hated that Mycroft meddled in his life not only in reality, but in his mind palace too. He wished so often to find a way to block his annoying brother out of his head.

 

Once again, Sherlock felt the need to turn to his secret stash of cigarettes and channel his anger and frustration into the sweet flush of nicotine in his body. But remembering John’s disapproval of him relapsing, Sherlock reckoned that his flatmate smelling the odour of smoke when coming home would just add on to John’s grudge against him, and Sherlock didn’t need that.

 

Crazy, how he affects my life , he rolled his eyes. I have never cared about what people thought or said about me or did because of me. I still don’t care, unless...it’s him.

 

Sherlock sighed.

 

He hated that John was so protective of Jennie, refusing Sherlock’s doubts about her and trusting her so blindly. Sherlock couldn’t tell why, but he didn’t trust her; there was something off about the woman. You’re just jealous , John’s words echoed in his head. Sherlock frowned. Maybe I am, but that still doesn’t mean I am wrong . But even if she was an angel without ulterior motives, Sherlock didn’t like her disturbing their still blooming romance. She started a ripple in the sea of their relationship the first moment she showed up in 221B, and she would keep spreading until she caused a storm.

 

She’s good, Sherlock admitted grimly. S he managed to get us fighting. But she picked the wrong enemy in me. I’m not giving John up. He clenched his fists, a flash of cold, hard steel lighting up in his faded grey-blue eyes.

 

John is mine. I need him, he thought with an eight-year-old boy’s petulance. I cannot be without him anymore. He is my rock, shelter and light. I would be lost without him.

 

But what if he doesn’t want me anymore? He probably hates me now and will certainly leave. Panic rose in Sherlock’s chest. Whimpering, he buried his face even deeper into the pillow until he was unable to breath. Maybe I should end everything here and now, wrapping myself in the serenity of my seven percent solution, the lack of oxygen prompted bad advice. His chest tightened at the contempt-filled words that John spat at him before storming off.

 

Surrendering to the easiest way out was not an option, Sherlock dismissed the idea of overdosing. Not anymore. Not when there was still a tiny bit of chance that John could forgive him and they could go on building this thing between them. Sherlock could be an egoist, but he needed to see what they could become and get a taste of all those things that romance offered and he had rejected. He wanted to explore more of those sensations in his body while having sex and experiment on the new, intriguing field.

 

The need for air was too much, and Sherlock instinctively pushed himself back from the pillow, gasping heavily.

 

I can’t lose him.

 

For the first time in his life Sherlock Holmes was ready to do anything to keep another person in his life and save whatever they had.

 

***

 

John dashed out of the house, anger filling his whole being. The day—except for the encounter with Harry—seemed to be about nothing more than having quarrels with Sherlock, which he hated. Hardly had they started dating, they were already having serious rows, more than one a day, actually. It was frightening.

 

Soon, he found himself in Hyde Park. Watching the birds and squirrels, strolling around, John aimed to clear his head, to sort out the thoughts whirling in his mind. The new Harry, the revelations about his sexual orientation, Sherlock’s accusation, their heated row and the rash, hurtful words—this was too much. His whole body was tense with emotions, threatening to explode at any moment. John badly needed release.

 

Taking off his coat, he tied it around his waist and sprinted out on the path in front of him, channeling his frustration into a spontaneous jog.

 

Sherlock bloody Holmes, you turned my life upside down in every fucking way. I hate that I love you this much. I hate that I can't get you out of my head. I hate that I'm so addicted to you. I hate that I can't imagine my life without you anymore. But mostly, I hate that I don't really hate any of this at all.

 

Sherlock might be rude and imprudent, but John loved him. But does Sherlock really love me? Is he determined and devoted enough to this thing with me, the ordinary, boring ex-army doctor? Is he ready to face the downs of a relationship? Is he able to trust me enough, overcoming the new, vehement sentiment called jealousy before it could poison our love?

 

And what about me? Am I ready for the downs as well? Is Sherlock—is any man—worth it to me? Am I able to look past not only Sherlock’s foibles, but my very gender and commit to a relationship?

 

Remembering his talk with Harry earlier that afternoon, he was inclined to say yes. He wanted to say yes.

 

Sherlock’s gender doesn’t matter. I love him, and that’s all that matters, right? He could be a blue alien, and it still wouldn’t make a difference.

 

Except it does , a little voice said.

 

And it makes everything more difficult, John sighed. I’ve finally found a matching partner, someone I care for more than anyone ever, someone I’m willing to die for; the only catch is the very gender of that person. I’m an open-minded person, I don’t mind others having a same sex partner even my sister is a lesbian! but how is that if it’s me, it freaks me out?

 

I just want to be happy, is that such a big thing to ask?

 

His breath became ragged from the increasing speed and intensity, his heart thumped loud and fast in his chest.

 

What if it’s too late; what if our relationship is over before it’s barely started? John wondered, wiping the sweat rolling down on his forehead with the back of his hand. Sherlock’s cold words echoed in his head—’you'd better start looking for a new place to live’, and John’s hand involuntarily clenched into a fist.

 

No, this relationship can’t end yet. Especially not like this.

 

Had he been someone who didn’t believe in working hard to achieve things, John would have given up on the two of them by now, sparing himself the energy, patience and time invested into the 'dating Sherlock Holmes' project. But John Watson was a fighter. He didn't give up on things easily, and he most certainly wasn't ready to admit that he failed with Sherlock. The efforts might cost him more frustrating, annoying, even hurtful moments, but—especially since realising his feelings for the genius—he was ready to take that it all for the two of them.

 

After about half an hour of running, out of breath and all sweaty, he stopped at a junction of paths. He felt much better now that the initial tension had left his body. Composing himself, he put his jacket back on, covering his sweat-soaked shirt and jumper, and walked to the nearest tube station. Once he got to Baker Street, he was his usual self again, ready to face Sherlock.

 

Climbing the stairs, John stepped into the dark sitting room, then jumped immediately as he switched the light on.

 

“Hello, John,” Sherlock greeted him unceremoniously, sitting in his armchair, his fingers steepled under his chin.

 

“Jesus, Sherlock,” John gasped, “you scared the shit out of me! Why are you sitting in the dark?”

 

“Thinking,” Sherlock stressed the 'k', staring blankly at John's armchair.

 

“Couldn't you do that with the lights on?”

 

“Why?” The detective shrugged.

 

“Why? So I don't get bloody heart failure when I come in, that's why!”

 

Scanning John with those sharp, observant eyes, Sherlock raised a brow. “You are perfectly fine. No problems with your heart. Slightly elevated heart rate from the alarm, but that's normal.”

 

“Being scared to death by one's friend,” John was wary of using the term 'boyfriend', not knowing Sherlock's approach to their earlier confrontation, “is not normal.”

 

“Friend?” Sherlock picked the term over, raising his brow even higher. John thought that he had seen disappointment flickering in the grey-blue eyes, but maybe that was only his imagination. “So that's what we are now?”

 

“You tell me,” John gulped, clenching his hand. “After the incident earlier, I don't know if you–”

 

“John–” Sherlock inhaled deeply, staring at his feet. “I know that the way I reacted in the past 36 hours was not good. I'm sorry. I didn't intend to hurt you. It's just...I got confused—”

 

John sank into his armchair. “I shouldn’t have accepted her offer,” he spoke slowly and quietly, staring at his hands. “I could have avoided all this—”

 

Tensioned silence fell over the room.

 

“I should be flattered by your intense jealousy…” John sighed eventually. “But, after all this time, everything we've been through together, all the life and death situations, I thought you trusted me. It hurts that you don't.”

 

“How could you not know that my trust in you is endless?” Sherlock demanded, leaning in, his indignant voice echoing in the room. “You know what you mean to me, I've already expressed it, though you know I'm not good at sentiment. You know that you're my anchor, my guiding light, you keep me right and sane. I'd be lost without you. How can you say that I don't trust you? I— I admit, I was wrong about about that thing yesterday, but— my excuse is that I was affected by emotions that I despise. How can you wonder about my trust in you just for one single mistake?”

 

“Because it bloody hurt! It hurt me as much as you thinking I was fucking Jennie hurt you! I know jealousy is a strong, destructive feeling, but even then, accusation of betrayal is something big. We’ve known each other for almost two years now. I have always been loyal to you, no matter what. So when you doubt me, I wonder whether you have ever been aware of all that. I even killed a man for you, that's something I wouldn’t do for just anyone. After all that, do you think I'd turn my back on you?”

 

“I'm sorry!” Sherlock cried exasperatedly, flailing his hands. “How many times should I apologize to you? I was distracted by my feelings, didn't think clearly, and came to the wrong deduction. I'm sorry! Should I sink onto my knees and beg you for forgiveness? You want that?” He was on his knees the next moment, his glassy eyes pleading into John's. “I'll never forgive myself, if this stupid incident broke what we have. I need you to forgive me. Please!”

 

John's heart tightened in his chest. He had never seen Sherlock that desperate. Tears gathered in the corner of the detective's beautiful eyes, threatening to escape and wet the pale cheek.

 

“Oh, Sherlock...” He bit his bottom lip in surrender and shook his head. “You're going to be the end of me...”

 

“Does that mean that you forgive me?” Sherlock's hopeful look burned deep into John.

 

“Yes.” John smiled warmly. He saw relief flashing through Sherlock's beautiful features. “Will you forgive me too?”

 

“Yes!” Sherlock mumbled excitedly, his glassy eyes lighting up and his mouth curving into a happy smile.

 

“Come here!” John pulled Sherlock up into a loving hug.

 

He felt Sherlock shaking in the embrace, the tension in the detective’s body finally breaking free. John had never seen Sherlock so distressed. The detective clung to him, his long, bony fingers gripping his checked shirt, while his face was buried into John’s shoulder.

 

“J’hn…” Sherlock’s muffled voice was like a child’s whimper, seeking confirmation of their parent’s reassuring, protective presence.

 

“It’s okay,” John soothed him, tentatively squeezing the man’s warm back. “We’re fine.”

 

We will be fine. I’ll do what I can about it.

 

***

 

John’s warm hand slowly caressing his back, the strong arms wrapped around him in a comforting hug and John whispering softly into his ear calmed the raging storm of fears and insecurities in Sherlock’s chest. He clung to the short man for dear life, not wanting to let go. After the things they had shouted at each other in the heat of the moment, Sherlock was truly anxious of John calling it quits and terminating their romantic relationship after it had barely started.

 

For Sherlock, John giving up on him would have meant that Sherlock Holmes was not worth fighting for, he was just a hopeless cause that not even the greatest ordinary person and best man on Earth intended to give a try. Proving the hypothesis that Sherlock was a freak and meant to be on his own, in his own world for all his life.

 

But, John didn’t condemn him for that fate, didn’t humiliate him. As the good man he was, John forgave him once again. Sherlock couldn’t help but be amazed at the beautiful example of humanity John Watson was. The man who could be both the dangerous, loyal soldier, killing and saving lives in the name of the Queen and Country, and the warm-hearted, everyday civilian, in need of love, who kept failing at maintaining relationships and battling with trust issues. And as the latter, he was just like so many ordinary men, but still the only one for Sherlock. The one and only Sherlock Holmes had strong feelings for, the one and only he was ready even to sell his soul to the devil for.

 

Humanity. Forgiveness. Trust. If there was something to learn from their conflict, it was the fact that trust was a sensitive topic for John. Sherlock made a mental note to keep that in mind.

 

Sherlock sought comfort in his boyfriend’s embrace, inhaling John’s scent--the mixture of wool, aftershave, beer, pub food--deeply. Boyfriend . He was relieved that he still could address John by that term (no matter how cheesy that was), after all that had happened between them.

 

‘We’re fine’, John soothed him, and Sherlock smiled happily against the doctor’s shoulder. We are fine, he repeated. And I’ll do anything so that we stay fine.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight - After the Rain



Everyone needs, everyone hurts
Everyone feels the weight of the world sometimes
But don't let the wind sweep your heart away

'Cause even the roughest waters cleanse
So when they come again
Let them serve as a reminder
You can always know that

 

~ Aaron & Jeoffrey - After the Rain




“I need your help.” John gazed out the familiar window—where he had addressed his problems at so many times in the past—pretending that talking about his issues would be easier without meeting the expectant look of his therapist. The November rain hit the glass vigorously, and this time John was glad being in the dry shelter that was Ella’s office.

 

When he had called a week before, Ella—hearing that the matter was urgent—had agreed to fit John's appointment into her busy schedule as soon as possible.

 

John didn't know what would he have done without her. She was a solid point in his life; someone he could turn to without being indebted to, someone to whom—despite his trust issues—he could confide his problems. Naturally, there were things he couldn't have told even her, no matter how much he wanted to get them off his chest. He had been reluctant to talk about his feelings for Sherlock, to admit that he had fallen for someone of the same gender, but it was time to change that.

 

“What is the matter, John? You said it was pressing,” Ella's voice was warm and reassuring.

 

Sighing, John tore his stare away from the windowpane and—still uncomfortable with looking at her—averted his gaze to his bad hand clenching in his lap. “Where should I start? It's— it's about Sherlock and I. We— um...”

 

Ella waited patiently, not feeding him the words, though she surely must have known what he was on about.

 

“We're dating,” John finally blurted out, exhaling soundly, a slight blush covering his cheeks.

 

She took in the news as if it had been something utterly commonplace and smiled calmly. “Congratulations, John. I'm happy for you.”

 

This wasn't the reaction John had expected. “Um, thank you?”

 

She smiled warmly. “You might think the news should surprise me, but I must tell you that I've expected this for a long while. Ever since you two have known each other, you talk about him with utter devotion and unconditional loyalty. It has been plainly obvious from day one that what you two have is not a conventional friendship. You might have never admitted feeling more than friendship towards him, but it was written on your face.”

 

John gaped at her. Had they really been that transparent? Relief spread through his body. “It's not that easy though,” he sighed and confided in her his insecurities. Ella listened carefully, occasionally jotting down some words on her notepad. “The problem is me, and I fear I might mess it up.” John rubbed his neck bitterly.

 

“I see,” she replied evenly as she lowered the notepad.

 

John clenched his hand, waiting for the final verdict. Having just bared his soul, his most hidden secrets, he was sitting there ever so exposed, ready to take whatever Ella was going to say. He was utterly tired of pretending to be strong under the weight of the issues of his involvement with Sherlock, battling with his emotions. Whatever she was going to tell him, it would be liberating.

 

“Your wish to keep distance is perfectly normal, given the evolution of your relationship.” Ella spoke softly. “Neither of you is the epitome of an ordinary person—especially Sherlock, he's quite the contrary—and you both have your issues and family influence to deal with.

 

“From what you told me, Sherlock has an unusually antisocial personality, probably originating from his childhood and mainly resulting from pressure by both family and society. He likely interacted with a community that, due to his extraordinary intelligence, treated him differently than is usually done with a child, which isolated and alienated him from normal life. He must have been a lonely child despite having a sibling, which just made coping that much more difficult. When you hear that emotions are destructive and something to despise all your life, breaking those socialised norms takes a lot of time and strength. On the other hand, once this person learns what the things they always denied are really like, they desperately want to make up for the wasted opportunities. This sounds like the case with him, in which case it's completely normal and understandable. The only trusted company he used to have was his mind, and now suddenly there's someone, flesh and blood, to fill the void of the subconsciously yearned-for company. With his abnormal socialisation, he might not know what is the expected and desirable behaviour, the answers to the easiest questions.”

 

It was shocking how much Ella could perceive Sherlock's personality without having met him. John found himself agreeing with everything she had said.

 

“You definitely have to be patient with him, if you want this relationship to work. He needs your help, guidance and understanding.”

 

John nodded.

 

“Good,” Ella smiled. “As for your socialising issues, your parents favoured tradition and values, hence the strict raising of both you and your sister; your choice of career as a soldier is a pretty good example. People with conservative views are not supportive of liberal concepts like same-sex relationships, thus your parents didn't approve of your sister's sexual orientation and marriage. In their eyes, homosexuality was outrageous and disgusting, something that a Watson was not supposed to tolerate. When your sister refused to change, they disowned her and stopped caring about her, which also could have added to the problems of her marriage that eventually led to divorce.”

 

The first quarrel in the family about Harry's sexuality was still vivid in John's mind. Their father's yelling echoed in his ears, the words 'filthy cunt,' 'repulsive freak' and 'evil disguised in female form' burned in his memory forever.

 

John swallowed hard, flexing his shaking hand.

 

“You always were the better child, the obedient son that they could be proud of—until you showed support towards your sister. That's where your relationship with your parents cracked. When you were deployed to Afghanistan, they didn't like that you agreed to be stationed outside of the UK, and your mother blamed you for not being here when your father died during your absence.”

 

John nodded, pursing his lips with great force.

 

“You haven't really spoken to her since then, as far I recall.”

 

John shook his head.

 

“I believe you are subconsciously affected by your parents' attitude, even though you are your own man now,” Ella concluded softly, leaning forward. “Homosexuality is considered a crime in your family, and you just can't get rid of the subconsciously coded homophobia. However, you also believe in the freedom of choice.

 

“You joined the army to break out of the suffocating environment of your family—the same reason your sister moved out quite early. Your love toward your parents and the need to break free from their narrow world kept battling inside you, even as you suppressed the feeling. Once you'd grown up and became a self-confident man, you stood up for yourself. Which doesn't mean that, occasionally, you don't feel remorse for not being the poster boy for obedience. With a background like yours, it's completely normal.”

 

John was astounded how accurate her words were, and wondered why he had never thought of all this before. Suddenly, many things clicked and gained new clarity.

 

“Needing time to adjust to this new phase of your life, facing the fact that you can be attracted to and have sexual interest in someone of your own gender, is understandable. With decades of hearing that what you feel now is wrong and shameful, you can't expect to be able to jump into this new way of living in a few days. As you yourself have realised, it takes time. You have to overcome the conflict of those opposite views and assure yourself that what you're feeling is not a crime. You must keep yourself aware of this whenever doubts arise. In time, the attacks of remorse will occur less and less, until they cease totally. Just keep reminding yourself that you're a good man and there's nothing to be ashamed of.”

 

A great sense of relief filled John as she spoke, though he still had worries. “I just fear that Sherlock will get impatient and—as he easily loses interest in things—will get bored of waiting and break up with me.”

 

“You need to talk with him. Tell him why you can't jump into anything physical just yet and that you need his patience and support. If he truly has feelings for you, he will understand it.”

 

John sighed. “I really do hope so. What if I give in, but then realise I'm still not ready?”

 

Ella twirled the pen between her fingers.

 

“That shouldn't slow the progress, but you might feel depressed after the lapse. Should that happen, don't break down and dwell on it. Always get up, brace yourself and fight on. You won't succeed otherwise.” Ella took a discrete look at the clock.

 

John, knowing his time was up, smiled and stood. “Ta.”

 

“You're always welcome, John. I'm glad your life is shaping nicely. Soon you won't be needing me at all.”

 

“Well, with an insufferable, strangely wired boyfriend like Sherlock, don’t expect to get rid of me that easily,” John chuckled, reaching his hand toward her.

 

Ella's smile widened. “Good luck, John,” she said as she shook his hand. “If you need me, I'm here, just call.”

 

“You're the best, thank you.”

 

Leaving the office, John felt much lighter.  He had been ashamed of his issues, thinking he was a psychiatric case, but Ella didn’t make him feel like that for even a second. Talking to her felt less and less like a therapy session, and more like a conversation with a friend who cared about his well-being and intended to help without judging him. Again, he was astonished at her spot-on statements about Sherlock without having ever met the detective. What more could she tell about him if she ever met the man , John smirked.

 

The rain had already stopped, but its refreshing scent was still lingering in the air. John inhaled deeply.

 

We’re going to make it. We must be able to. Now that he gained some insight of Sherlock’s motivation, along with the source of his own issues, he felt more confident about the future. Knowing the ‘why’, now he could focus on the ‘how’—how to defeat their demons and make this thing between them work. John Watson, the soldier, never surrendered in a battle. John Watson, the doctor, never abandoned a patient. John Watson, the boyfriend, would never give up on his partner and their love.

Subconsciously coded homophobia , he scrunched his nose. Thank you, dear parents.

 

John always considered himself an open-minded person, he had never had a problem with homosexuality (as he had told Sherlock, it was all fine), so learning that his parent’s views had subconsciously affected him after all was a shocking revelation. He shuddered at the word ‘homophobia’ and himself in the same sentence, shame filling his chest.

 

No, I won’t let it win. I’m an adult, my own man. I can get rid of these shackles. He squared his shoulders, pulling the captain posture, and bit his lip in determination. I want to be with Sherlock, and no one can stop me, especially not the ghost of my father or some overrated social conventions. Imagining his parents’ reaction to his involvement with Sherlock brought a gloating smile on his face. I’m in love with a man, and I will make this relationship work, even if you don’t like it.

 

Stating this without regret, even if only in his mind, was liberating. John’s heart beat faster at the thought of being on the right track to resolving his issues and breaking free of his insecurities.

 

Passing by a clothing store, he glanced at the shop window, finding his reflection smiling broadly.  

 

You need to talk with him ,’ Ella’s voice echoed in his head. John knew it was inevitable. But why was it so difficult? He couldn’t get rid of the shame that his issues and their reasons elicited, and he was still afraid of Sherlock’s reaction once the man learned what heavy secrets John was hiding inside. What if he doesn’t understand it? What if the talk ends in another fight?

 

John bit his lip nervously. He needed to find the right time for the conversation, which, given that the other party was Sherlock with his mood swings and distractions, didn’t promise to be an easy task.

 

***

 

Sherlock strode in the lab of St. Bart's without bothering to knock.

 

Molly jerked her head, hovering above a set of vials on the counter. Recognising her visitor, she smiled brightly. “Sherlock. How nice to see you–”

 

“I presume you had a satisfying time on your sex holiday in Mallorca from which you’ve just returned,” Sherlock noted with feigned interest. ”The tan, lighter colour in your hair and three pounds extra weight suggest that you spent a fair amount of time on the beach, indulged in Spanish cuisine and cocktails and engaged in sexual activities at least two times a day.”

 

Molly gaped at him, her cheeks flushing. “I— I didn't gain that much..”

 

“You did.”

 

“I don't dare to imagine how could you know about the frequency of my sex life..”

 

“Was it incorrect?”

 

“No,” she smirked sheepishly. “Quite spot on.” Sherlock smiled smugly. “How did you know?”

 

“I didn't,” he shrugged with a flippant grin. “It was a lucky guess.”

 

She giggled. “Guess? Sherlock Holmes never guesses.”

 

He raised a brow mysteriously, to which she replied with an amused smile.

 

“So what do you need?”

 

“Do you have any active virus or bacteria culture?” Sherlock asked nonchalantly as if asking for a cup of sugar. “Rhinovirus, enterococcus, Salmonella enterica...?”

 

Molly narrowed her eyes, inquiring timidly. “What are you up to?”

 

“An experiment,” Sherlock shrugged.

 

“It doesn’t involve humans, does it?”

 

Sherlock gave her an indignant look, saying ' really, you think I'd do that? '

 

Molly’s expression conveyed ' you don't want me answer that '.

 

“Does John know about you planning to bring infectious organism into the flat?” she asked cautiously.

 

“Why does he have to be in the know on everything?”

 

“Maybe because he's your flatmate, living under the same roof with you, sharing the same rooms, thus exposed to your risky experiments?”

 

Sherlock huffed. “No worries, he'll be fine, I’ll see to it.”

 

“I'm not giving you anything serious,” Molly stated. “But I might have something mild for you to take.”

 

Better than nothing , Sherlock noted, following the lab tech to the refrigerator.

 

***

 

Climbing the stairs up to 221B, Sherlock could tell that, once again, John wasn't alone in the flat. The sound of animated chatter punctuated by occasional laughter coming from the sitting room—a female voice along with John's—was enough to alert Sherlock to brace himself for a scenario that he wasn't going to like. John's company undoubtedly was the blonde woman that Sherlock disliked with every fibre of his being.

 

Entering the room, he immediately spotted the two sitting on the sofa—too close for his liking.

 

“Sherlock!” John turned happily. “I was wondering where you've been.”

 

“Oh, really?” Sherlock grunted under his breath, deliberately refusing to look toward the sofa. One glance at the delighted, smiling pair was more than enough. He hung his coat on the rack and strode into the kitchen.

 

“I see you have company, so I doubt you've been missing me that much,” Sherlock scoffed, when John appeared in the doorway of the kitchen and tossed a little bag onto the counter with more force than intended.

 

“Stop being a drama queen! This jealousy is already yesterday's news,” John frowned.

 

“Jealousy?” Sherlock huffed, opening the cabinets, searching for something. “Just stating the facts.”

 

John sighed, a hint of amusement lingering on his face. “Sure,” he smirked, quirking a brow. “I can tell when you're under the influence of the green-eyed monster, there’s no use denying it.”

 

“You should go back to your guest, she must be missing you,” Sherlock grumbled, opening the fridge.

 

“This is getting ridiculous! I thought we settled this issue yesterday. We agreed, no more jealousy of her. Or have you already deleted that, too?”

 

Sherlock didn't say a word, but closed the refrigerator door with a thud.

 

“Oh, why do I bother at all?!” John waved a hand helplessly. “You never listen. Even if you did, you're too stubborn to do as I ask.” His nostrils flared. “Just one thing though—could you please refrain from being an insensitive prick while Jennie is here? I don't feel like being in the middle of a war zone.” With that he turned on his heels like a soldier and strode back into the sitting room.

 

Sherlock stared blankly at the counter. John was angry with him. Sherlock gritted his teeth. He hated when John held a grudge against him. Especially if it happened because of a woman. They had had their fair share of arguments due to John's dates, and just when Sherlock thought that era was finally over, the annoying female factor struck again. His hand clenched into a fist. No matter what they had resolved on the matter the day before, he didn't like the way John insisted on maintaining his connection with this woman. They didn't need her intervening in their dynamic, especially now that they were in the beginning of something new.

 

Tiptoeing to the doorway, Sherlock pricked his ears.

 

“Don't judge him too harshly,” he heard John's voice. “He just isn't a social man, as I’ve already said. Especially if it involves the women in my life.”

 

“I understand,” Jennie giggled. “I'd also be jealous of anyone even only talking to you if you were my boyfriend. I just hoped he would ease up a bit once I made him see that I'm no threat to him.”

 

“Well, that's Sherlock, always suspicious.”

 

“Too bad. I really would have liked to get him know a bit better. All those things I read of him—I'm in awe.”

 

“He would be really flattered to hear that,” John chuckled. “Boost his ego.”

 

“Well, he has it coming. Are you sure that you can't persuade him into that dinner?”

 

“He wouldn't be thrilled at the prospect of such a tedious thing, I'm afraid. I know him. He barely eats, and the idea of the three of us spending hours around a table in a restaurant isn’t his idea of fun. Believe me, it'd be utterly awkward—you wouldn't want to experience that. Sorry.”

 

“Me too. So that leaves the two of us again. Friday then?”

 

“Fine by me.”

 

“Great.”

 

Sherlock bit his lip in disgust so hard it almost bled. If this was war, he would fight for John . He had to do something. His gaze travelled over to the little bag on the counter, and the gears turned in his mind. An idea forming in his head, his eyes lit up and his mouth curled into a little smirk.

 

A minute later, he walked into the sitting room with a insincere smile on his face, carrying a tray with three glasses of orange juice.

 

“I'm such a bad host; I haven't even said hello,” he apologized, earning a look of utter surprise from John. “John always scolds me about the lack of my manners, but I just can't bother about such niceties when working on something.” Putting the tray onto the coffee table, he flashed a smile at the woman, offering her a glass. “So please—have something to drink as an apology.”

 

“Oh, thank you. That's nice of you.” Jennie glanced at John as if saying ' he's not as bad as you painted him '.

 

“I'm not good at making tea, and I don't drink alcohol when on a case, thus the juice,” Sherlock excused. “This is even better for a toast.”

 

“A toast?” John's eyes widened in bewilderment.

 

“Yes, John, don't be tedious, you know what a toast is. The act of raising a glass and drinking in honour of or to the health of a person or thing. As your friend,” he glanced at the blonde woman, “seems to have become a regular visitor in our home, due to her acquaintance and history with you, a welcome drink is in order, I presume.”

 

John gawked at Sherlock as if he couldn’t wrap his head around what was happening.

 

Jennie stared at them both, astonished, not expecting this kind gesture after all given what John had told her about the detective earlier. “Th-thank you,” she stammered in surprise, taking a large gulp of her drink to overcome her surprise.

 

“Yes,” Sherlock agreed as he grabbed a chair from the desk—the client one—and sat opposite the two. “This is something I don't do normally, so do appreciate the gesture. And don’t be flattered, no, it's not for you, but for John, as, unfortunately, he has some past history with you. Were you just a woman from the street, no ties to my boyfriend ,” he emphasised the last word, “I wouldn’t bother.”

 

John almost choked on his juice. “Sherlock!” He reprimanded him in a hiss.

 

“What?” Sherlock wondered innocently.

 

John buried his face in his hand, completely devastated.

 

“It's okay,” Jennie laughed. “At last, someone’s not beating around the bush. I appreciate it.”

 

John peaked over his fingertips warily. “Are you sure?”

 

“Yes,” she smiled broadly. “Actually, being an exception to Sherlock Holmes is utterly flattering. I'm honoured.”

 

“Let's drink to that, before the feeling changes,” John remarked, squinting at his boyfriend.

 

“Welcome, Miss Mitchell,” Sherlock said.

 

“Thank you, Mr. Holmes.”

 

“To friendship,” John proposed.

 

“To the lovely memories of past and future,” Jennie added. After a large gulp of juice, she asked eventually. “Are you working on something exciting?”

 

“Obviously. I won't take a case otherwise.”

 

“I'm dying to hear the details,” she prompted with interest.

 

“I don't share information of a case in progress,” Sherlock said dryly. “You can read about it on John's blog once it’s solved.”

 

“Alright, I understand,” Jennie smiled sweetly, before changing subject. “Sherlock, there’s something John and I would like to ask you. I would be endlessly pleased if you agreed to have dinner with us sometime.”

 

“I don't partake in such tedious social activities. It’s a waste of my precious time.”

 

John gave her a look of ' I told you so. '

 

“But, maybe this once, I’ll make an exception,” Sherlock added contemplatively, glancing at his boyfriend. “If John wants this dinner to happen.”

 

John's jaw dropped, as if he was hallucinating things. Gaping and blinking fast, all he could force onto his tongue was “Okay.”

 

Jennie cheered in satisfaction. “Fantastic! What about tomorrow? Or the day after?”

 

“I'm not available in the upcoming three days,” Sherlock said plainly. “Saturday.”

 

“Good for me.” She smiled broadly, before glancing at John for approval. The doctor shrugged.

 

“So that's settled.” Sherlock grinned and, swinging his long legs, emerged from the chair. “If you’ll excuse me, I have an experiment to supervise.” He bowed his head toward the two and walked back into the kitchen.

 

Both Jennie and John watched him striding out with his panther-like grace.

 

***

 

“And you told me that he was a douchebag who abhorred socialising,” Jennie reprimanded as she looked at John in wonder.

 

John shrugged helplessly. “Believe me, you've just witnessed Sherlock being completely unlike himself.”

 

“Well, that means I'm a lucky one.” Jennie smiled and stood. “I have to go. It was nice to see you again. Looking forward to that dinner in a few days.”

 

Me, not so much, John mentally noted bitterly. Something told him that they were heading into a bleak storm. “Take care,” John nodded, distracted by his nagging thoughts of Sherlock's mysterious behaviour.

 

As soon as Jennie was gone, John strode into the kitchen, but found it empty.

 

“Sherlock?” He headed toward the man's bedroom. “Are you there?” He knocked on the door lightly.

 

The answer to his question came from the bathroom—the shower being turned on. Sighing, John pondered what to do. Entering the bathroom wasn't an option with all the steam and scent of Sherlock’s shower gel filling the room, not to mention the proximity of the man’s stark naked, wet body. John didn't need more torment than he already had. Get a grip, Watson, he chastised himself. Inhaling deeply, he turned on his heels and sat at the kitchen table, near enough to notice when Sherlock exited the bathroom.

 

While waiting, he thought back to the past half hour, trying to understand what had really happened there. Just a few days ago, Sherlock had been actively hostile toward Jennie; even today, when arriving home, Sherlock's jealousy was plain as day. What could have changed in the few minutes between their talk and Sherlock's grand entrance? He couldn't figure it out. He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he didn't notice Sherlock coming out of the bathroom.

 

“John?”

 

He jolted, jerking his head toward the deep voice calling him. His heart immediately skipped a beat at the sight in front of him. Sherlock stood only a meter away, his hair still damp and tousled, the lovely, stray dark curls falling onto his forehead. His slightly flushed porcelain skin was still wet, and, if John squinted, he could see the droplets of water tracing the lithe body. All that kept Sherlock from standing there naked was a towel wrapped around his narrow hips—low enough for John to have a glimpse of the dark trail of soft hair below the navel.

 

John gulped reflexively, his mouth suddenly drier than the Afghan desert. If he had had any doubts about being sexually attracted to Sherlock before, now they were surely gone. The sight in front of him was definitely exciting. He wished he could close the distance and touch that glistening pale skin, feeling Sherlock’s heart beating under his touch and blood rushing through the man’s veins.

 

Shame overcame him at the thought, feeling uncomfortable at his gay attraction for his flatmate. Which was insane as Sherlock was now his boyfriend, after all... God, this is not easy, John sighed. It feels quite schizophrenic.

 

“John?” Sherlock called to him perplexedly. “Alright?”

 

“Um, yeah,” John mumbled, trying to compose himself. He cleared his throat. “Actually, I wanted to talk with you.”

 

“Yes?” Sherlock cocked his head, waiting.

 

“Erm, could you put on something, please?” John clenched his trembling hand under the table uncomfortably. He couldn’t form a coherent thought with the tantalising body in front of him.

 

“Is my lack of clothing bothering you?” Sherlock smirked, relishing his boyfriend's squirming.

 

“Please?” John ignored the provocative question, clearing his throat awkwardly.

 

“So my nakedness has an effect on you,” Sherlock's smug smirk got wider.

 

“Of course it does!” John admitted eventually, his nostrils flaring as he tried to calm his breathing. “You know that very well. So stop being a dick and get dressed.” It took all of his willpower to avert his stare from the sinewy torso and focus on the flippant face.

 

“Hmm, do you really want that, or would you rather see more?” Sherlock teased impertinently, his hand playing with the knot of the towel at his groin.

 

“Sherlock!” John jumped up from the chair, looking away. The whole situation was getting more ridiculous. “You don't listen to me at all! Which part of get dressed did your allegedly brilliant mind not understand??”

 

Sherlock shrugged with a pout and turned to leave. “Not only allegedly,” he grunted, dropping the towel, baring his firm bum mockingly, before entering his bedroom.

 

Sighing, John retired to the sitting room; however, now he was the one in need of a shower, and a cold one at that. Opening the window, he inhaled the cold, autumn air, hoping it would help him out of his misery.

 

Though he had deliberately averted his gaze from Sherlock, his helpful mind provided a made-up image of the naked detective. John scoffed. Despite the cold air infiltrating the room, his heartbeat was still a bit faster than normal and the bulge in his pants was still noticeable. Damn. Now he would have been really grateful for a working method of how to will away one’s unwanted erection.

 

Ever since his talk with Harry—he was still amazed at how nicely his sister’s life shaped up—John often thought about what his sexual attraction for Sherlock meant for his sexuality. He knew that he was still interested in the fair sex, and had he not fallen for Sherlock, he surely would have pursued that attraction. But he was undeniably in love with the detective, so that must have made him bisexual. He had tested the word out every so often to make peace with it and accept the label, though he was still wary about whether he could be interested in any other man but Sherlock. Surely, he appreciated the beauty of the male body or how sharp or sexy men looked in the right attire, but that wasn’t lust, only normal appraisal. He never had felt any sexual attraction to another person of his own gender. Until Sherlock-bloody-Holmes. Could he be straight with Sherlock as the exception? Was there a term for that?

 

Once composed again, he settled into his armchair, his thoughts back to the strange encounter between Sherlock and Jennie. He still couldn’t figure out what had he witnessed. The whole exchange felt like a surreal dream. Well, kind of a nightmare.

 

***

 

Sherlock’s look followed John, and he grinned triumphantly. One didn’t have to be a detective to see how affected John was by Sherlock’s lack of clothing. John could deny his attraction to him, but the clues pointed toward the very opposite.

 

The wide-eyed look that John gave him when Sherlock came out of the bathroom gave away everything. John had stared at him like Sherlock was a sumptuous buffet table and John hadn’t eaten for days. It was such an unusual experience; Sherlock had never seen anyone looking at him with that intensity. Most people were interested only in his intellectual prowess, and no one had taken the effort to look behind that and see the flesh and bone human in him, the one with desires and feelings.

 

But when John looked at him as he was now, gulping hard, Sherlock’s skin tingled under the hungry gaze. It felt like John was about to devour him right there with one look. And how much Sherlock wished that would happen! He wanted John to explore him, both with those deep blue eyes and his soft touch, to pay him attention like no one had done before. He wished to finally revisit what they had done that drunken night that he dreamed of ever since then, to fill his black and white subconscious memory with colour and feelings.

 

What if he dropped the towel? He toyed with the idea. What would John do? Would he turn away in embarrassment or stare at him transfixed, unable to look away? Part of Sherlock was inclined to experiment on the matter, longing to find the answer, but the other half of him refused to humiliate John.

 

Sherlock’s fingers tugged at the knot of the towel with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

 

John’s mouth twitched and his hand clenched, apparently fighting to keep a straight face, before bursting out, complaining about Sherlock’s lack of clothing. Sherlock pouted and mockingly dropped the towel, putting his bare arse on display before he strode into the bedroom.

 

The cool air brushing his body, Sherlock shuddered, his skin tingling, thirsty for John’s touch. John doubtlessly was sexually attracted to him, it was plain as day, even if he was reluctant to admit it. Sherlock could read him, every look, the tiniest movements, every twitch of his limbs or that kissable mouth, the almost inaudible change of depth in his voice. John might have been uncertain of his sexual orientation, but Sherlock was sure that John desired him. He just had to wait until John was ready to accept it. Sherlock had never met a more difficult challenge, but he was more than ready to take it on.

 

A short time later, dressed in his pyjama bottoms and shirt under his beloved silky, blue gown, he joined John in the sitting room, dropped himself down into his chair and looked at his boyfriend expectantly. “So what was that you wanted to talk to me about?” he asked nonchalantly.

 

“What are you up to?” John demanded point blank.

 

“Sorry?”

 

“About Jennie. A few days ago you were a fire-breathing dragon. Even today, when you came in, you were rude at best. Then, all of a sudden you become the poster boy for host of the year. Why?”

 

“Oh, John, one cannot figure you out,” Sherlock sighed reproachfully, giving him a disapproving glance. “I'm so tired of the unpredictable nature of ordinary people. You reprimand me for not being kind to her, then do so for being nice. Make up your mind, for God's sake!”

 

John eyed him with reservation. “I can't help but thinking that there's some hidden motive behind this sudden cordiality of yours, but can't put my finger on it.”

 

“Seriously,” Sherlock complained in tedium, throwing up his arms, “what do you want from me? You asked me to give her some credit and not consider her a threat to us, and when I do, you make me account for my behaviour.”

 

“The kindness, you really did it for me? No hidden motive there?” John wondered quietly.

 

“Obviously,” Sherlock huffed, crossing his lanky legs. “I’d do anything for you in order to make this new relationship work.”

 

John bit his lip. “It's just so unexpected and so very unlike you.”

 

“Me being a bastard all the time, it’s unbelievable that I could show a nicer attitude?” Sherlock laughed, his eyes twinkling.

 

“In a nutshell, yes,” John agreed with a contemplative smile. Their looks meeting, the two men burst out in laughter. “We're so utterly ridiculous.”

 

“Uhm, yes,” Sherlock approved the insight after considering the pros and cons of the statement.

 

“So you did mean that dinner in three days?” John double checked.

 

“I agreed to it, didn't I?”

 

“Yes, it's just...” John squinted a bit, “so out of character for you.”

 

“Dear John, this whole relationship thing is out of character for me. I perceive there will be more things I will engage into in the future that are unlike me, so get used to that.”

 

“You've got a point.”

 

“Of course I do. That's nothing new,” Sherlock smiled innocently.

 

“Oh, you sodding prick!” John laughed.



Chapter Text

Chapter Nine - Hate That I Love You



You know exactly what to do

So that I can't stay mad at you

For too long

 

And I hate how much I love you, boy

I can't stand how much I need you

 

~ Rihanna - Hate That I Love You





The next few days had John thinking on Ella’s words. He did need to talk with Sherlock about his reasons for avoiding sex.

 

When they had agreed to start a relationship, he had told Sherlock that he needed time to come clean with their new status and himself. Since then, John had pondered a lot on the issue, but never felt confident enough to share his thoughts with the detective. The idea of letting Sherlock see his insecure side brought the heat of shame to his cheeks. But after his latest session with Ella, John knew that he had to tell his boyfriend the real reasons behind the proposed abstinence. Sherlock being that intensely jealous of Jennie, he could need some reassurance that John’s reason for rejecting sex with him wasn’t because John was involved with her.

 

John squirmed, the topic making him uneasy. Talking not only about sex, but gay sex—even more gay sex with your flatmate—was beyond awkward.

 

Sooner or later, we have to talk about it. He bit his lips, knowing that they can’t avoid the issue forever. Sherlock needed to know the truth, before his genial mind came up with its own far-fetched explanations .

 

John imagined several scenarios of bringing up the matter, but they all ended up in failure. Because how could you just slip into a conversation about your sex life--or rather the lack of it--with your boyfriend who was clueless, but still very eager to have sex? Over breakfast, on the way to a crime scene, during lengthy hours Sherlock spent in his mind palace, or in the midst of some romantic moments? Also, the opportunity was majorly influenced by the detective’s state of mood. John had already learnt that there were signs suggesting that the moment was not the best to start a conversation about an uncomfortable topic with Sherlock.

 

John licked his lips nervously. Why was this so difficult?

 

***

 

Saturday rolled around quickly, and John found himself more restless than he’d been during the days before. With the dinner with Sherlock and Jennie right around the corner, he couldn't dismiss his nervousness. The detective acting so out of character wasn’t promising either. What bothered John even more was the fact that Sherlock seemed to be completely relaxed—the ominous silence before the storm.

 

The ringtone of his phone shook John out of his reverie. His stomach knotted at seeing the name blinking on the screen.

 

“Hi, Jennie, what's up?” he answered, trying to hide his unease.

 

A weary, hoarse voice came from the other end of the line. “Hey, John. I'm afraid I have to cancel our dinner tonight,” Jennie coughed loudly. “I must have caught something. I'm terribly ill, I can barely breathe and have a fever, so I'm condemned to bed rest for a couple of days.”

 

John exhaled quietly and flexed his free hand without being aware of the move. He was wary to admit it, but relief spread through his body at the cancellation. The idea of this dinner hadn't felt right ever since Sherlock theatrically approved it. The new boyfriend, an eccentric detective no less, and the ex-girlfriend sitting at the same table, playing friends, felt odd and awkward. John had wished several times over the past few days that, realising that the whole thing was pointless, Jennie would drop the idea.

 

His mouth curved into a smile. “I'm sorry.” He did his best to suppress his delight. “Just get plenty of rest.” He wondered if he should have offered to see her as a doctor and make sure she had the right medication, but given the circumstances, he wasn't really keen on stepping onto that hot roof, exposed to suggestions of rescheduling and such.

 

Such a coward, he scolded himself. And what about the Hippocratic oath? Shame on you, Doctor Watson, you're not worthy of your title.

 

“I'm sorry too. I was so looking forward to this dinner,” Jennie sniffed. “Looks like we’ll have to postpone it.”

 

“All you should concentrate on is resting and recovering.” John deliberately avoided commenting on the suggestion.

 

“Right, talk to you later,” she agreed in a faint voice.

 

“Sure, get well soon.” John put his phone down with a wide smile on his face.

 

“What are you so delighted about?” Sherlock strolled into the kitchen with two shirts in his hands. “Blue or burgundy?” He nodded at the clothing. “I can't decide. It would be easier, if I knew what colour you and she will be wearing.”

 

“Neither,” John smirked with bright eyes. He felt like a weight had been taken off his shoulders.

 

Sherlock raised a brow. “You mean I should wear white? Hmm, probably the best choice, kind of neutral, not conveying any meaning.”

 

“No, I meant you won't be needing to wear a shirt tonight.” John hadn’t been so glad about a change of plans for a long while. Part of him felt remorse for being happy about a friend’s illness, but that feeling was nothing compared to amount of relief filling him.

 

Sherlock stared at him utterly confused. “You can't possibly suggest that I go naked? That's against public dress code–”

 

“You didn't bother about the dress code for the Palace,” John reminded him teasingly.

 

“I doubt a sheet is acceptable either,” Sherlock mused aloud. “Also, I don't believe you'd approve of me joining you in nothing but a sheet.”

 

Oh, believe me, I would so approve it—right in your bedroom. John froze at the bold thought. Well that was a bit new, though not completely unwelcome.

 

“You don't need to bother with what to wear tonight because we're not going anywhere.” He shifted, trying to sound unaffected.

 

“I thought we had that dinner with your friend–”

 

Sherlock blinked in confusion, and John couldn’t stop staring at the long, dark eyelashes that fluttered like delicate wings of a butterfly.

 

“Y--yes,” John stammered in distraction, trying to tear his gaze away from the mesmerizing sight, “but she's just cancelled it. She's ill.” John was unable to suppress his smile.

 

“You're happy about it.” Sherlock furrowed his brows in wonder. “Doctor Watson, that's utterly unprofessional and unethical of you.”

 

“Shut up, you git.”

 

“Okay,” Sherlock started slowly, assessing the situation. “She's unwell, and you are glad for that. What did I miss?”

 

“I realised that this dinner was a bad idea in the first place.” John rubbed his nape remorsefully. “I just can't picture you two at the same table. I should have been more empathic and seen what it would mean to you. I–” He sighed. Admitting that he had been oblivious to Sherlock’s feelings about the dinner proposal wasn’t easy, especially given that usually he was quite the opposite. “Yes, I’m glad she cancelled it. I wouldn't want you to feel awkward and out of place, pulling off something that was forced on you. It'd be utterly selfish of me. I'm sorry.”

 

Sherlock flashed a soft smile at him. “Good.”

 

“Good?” John quirk his brow. “That's all you can say?”

 

Sherlock shrugged. “You don't have to feel remorse, as I wasn't going through with this tedious dinner anyway.”

 

Now it was John's turn to pull a confused expression. “What? But you agreed to it in the first place...”

 

“Seriously, John, do you know me as a man who would engage in such dull social activities? Especially with an ex of yours? I'm deeply offended.”

 

John gaped at him, suddenly feeling like the whole world had gone mad around him. “What are you implying?” His eyes narrowed, dreading the words that would leave those perfect lips.

 

Sherlock laughed. “You know my methods, John. Always one step ahead, that's the key. Had I not had a plan for derailing this event, do you think I would have approved such a ridiculous idea? I thought you knew me better.”

 

And that was when it hit John. That little time between him scolding Sherlock for being jealous and the man's entrance as the perfect host... The birth of some twisted plan in the detective's mind. John felt dizzy at the prospect of what horror he would learn in a moment. What was Sherlock always telling him? Think! Listing the facts, he tried to connect the dots. Sherlock probably must have heard them talking about the dinner, that was plain as day. What else? Drinks. Jennie being sick. Oh. My. God.

 

Horror spread through him as he gaped at Sherlock. “You...” His breath became ragged at the alarming revelation. “Christ... tell me you didn't..”

 

A deep laughter rumbled in Sherlock's throat. “My Boswell is learning,” he remarked proudly, a smug smirk playing at the corner of his mouth. “I'm pleased to see that you're finally using that brain of yours. You're pretty smart, it's a real shame you keep hiding it.”

 

“Jesus, you infected her– The juice– You– you bastard!” John yelled. “How could– how could you– Christ, I can't believe– you're a– Oh, God, I don't have the words...” John faltered in horror as the pieces of the puzzle clicked slowly. He was desperately inclined to reject the horrifying conclusion forming in his head, but unfortunately it was real, there was nothing to do about it.

 

“I don't understand you!” Sherlock retorted with an indignant look. “A minute ago, you were happy about her being sick and now you’re outraged!” he shouted back.

 

“That's completely different! My happiness was just a reaction to a supposedly random event, but you actively did something! Oh, Jesus, you prepared that right here, in the kitchen! Exposing us to some bug... Have you thought of the odds of us becoming infected as well?!”

 

“Don't exaggerate, I was utterly cautious. I'm a graduate chemist, in case you’ve forgotten. I know how to treat chemicals and samples safely.”

 

“What was it? Where did you get it from?!”John demanded, his patience running out. “It must have been Molly, who else. What did she think?” Hissing, John ran his fingers through his hair. “God, what did you bribe her with to hand over some infectious virus to you?”

 

“Calm down, your act is getting boring and annoying,” Sherlock grimaced.

 

A moment later he was rubbing his aching jaw, not looking nearly so smug anymore.

 

John blazed with anger as he pulled his hand back with a gasp, flexing his fist. Sherlock's jaw was just as dangerous as his exquisite cheekbones.

 

“My method might not have been the best, but needs must,” Sherlock remarked wryly.

 

John's chest was still heaving when he noted in a quieter tone, “You could have just said ‘not interested,’ cutting things short.”

 

“I could have, but I didn't,” Sherlock stated matter of factly, staring ahead.

 

“Yes, you didn't,” John gritted his teeth. “What more, you lied to my face!” he yelled. “I asked you if there was any hidden motive behind your kindness with the drinks–”

 

“I didn't lie,” Sherlock snapped furiously. “I never said there wasn't. 'I’d do anything for you in order to make this new relationship work,' my words exactly. Learn to pay attention!”

 

“You bastard!” John's eyes burned in fury. Sherlock had tricked him. Again. “You fucking cock!”

 

“Hit me one more time, if it makes you feel better. But I don't regret a thing.”

 

John was inclined to take up the offer and punch the detective hard, channelling his anger—oh, how much he did want that, but... Sherlock stood in front of him like a lamb in the slaughterhouse—calm and unflinching, ready to take the blow—and John just couldn't go through with it.

 

“I meant it, John,” Sherlock noted quietly. “I’d do anything to make our relationship work.”

 

John clenched his hand, staring at Sherlock. Anything , e ven if it's not good— that spoke volumes. John realised how much Sherlock wanted to have a relationship with him; he was ready to take any risk, even if his actions met with John's disapproval.

 

“You can't help being jealous, can you?” John risked a softer, but still bitter glance at Sherlock. The detective rolled his eyes. John exhaled loudly. “It's flattering in a way. No one has ever done something so extreme for me out of jealousy. But please, refrain from killing someone for showing interest in me or smiling at me. And definitely don't bring any infectious viruses into this flat in the future.” John's brow pulled low in warning.

 

“Bacteria, John. It was bacteria.”

 

John groaned. “Spare me the details, please.”

 

“Don't worry, it's nothing serious.” Sherlock waved a hand. “She will be okay in a week.”

 

“Oh, what a relief!” John sneered. “I'll have a talk with Molly, though. She should know better than let stuff like that be taken out of the lab.”

 

“Leave her alone, I persuaded her.”

 

“Don't make excuses for her! She's a grown woman; she should have been aware that what she did was wrong. Jesus, I feel like a parent scolding his child.”

 

Molly still had a soft spot for the detective; she was ready to do anything for him. And Sherlock wouldn’t have been Sherlock Holmes if he hadn’t been aware of it and hadn’t taken advantage of her affection.

 

Sherlock sighed and grimaced. “I take full responsibility.”

 

“Hell, you’d better do!” John stood with a weary expression. “Damn, I need a drink now.” He narrowed his eyes. “I do hope you disinfected the glass.”

 

“Don't worry, I disposed of it, just in case.”

 

“Thank God,” John said, letting out a breath of relief.

 

“Before you ask, I used gloves, and both the pipette and vial are clean.”

 

“Thank God... Still, if I get sick in a few days, I'll know why.” John shot a warning glance at his infuriating boyfriend.

 

“You would be ill by now, had you caught it by chance,” Sherlock reassured him plainly. “The incubation period has already expired.”

 

“Christ, this is the most ridiculous thing I have ever experienced, let alone heard!” John sighed, pouring himself a large shot of scotch. He really needed it now. “No one would believe me, if I told anyone about it.”



***

 

They didn’t mention the sabotaged dinner in the next days, and the incident slowly faded into the past. They didn’t hear from Jennie, which John was secretly glad for. Sherlock and he needed some time without her after all that had happened recently. Their life had been a whirlwind since she appeared. They fought more than before, said terrible things, and hurt each other deeper than ever, and John hated that.

 

Sitting in his armchair on a nice late November Saturday morning, John relished the peace and indulged in reading the daily paper while sipping freshly brewed Earl Grey tea.

 

His recent row with Sherlock was still vivid in his mind, and he wasn’t keen on repeating that. He wanted their old, comfortable companionship back, the fun atmosphere of their lovely first date before Sherlock’s jealousy ruined everything. Falling a little bit deeper in love with the man with every day, John was eager to go out on a date with the detective again; not on a case, rather just enjoying each other’s company. Remembering that dinner at Angelo’s—especially the arousing moments of feeding that scrumptious cake to Sherlock—a tiny, coy smile lingered at the corner of John’s mouth. Since the talk with Harry, John had often thought of the sexual aspect of his relationship with Sherlock, adjusting himself to the realisation that he was sexually attracted to a man. And in love with said man, he smiled giddily. The revelation still sent a shiver through his body. He was as excited and scared, as if he was a teenager falling in love for the very first time. In some aspect, he was; it was the first time he was in love with someone of his own gender. But what was the same was the need to take things slow; this time for more than one reason.

 

Maybe this weekend, John mused, abandoning the lengthy article about the recent issues with the NHS. Maybe we could finally spend some time together again, going on another date or just watch movies. Maybe I could finally get the courage to talk with Sherlock. H e took a sip of tea wistfully.

 

Maybe, maybe, maybe . He pursed his lips. What a hateful word. It implied both joy and disappointment, taunting with both possibilities, making one believe and cling to the illusion of hope.

 

“Pack your bag; we're going away for a few days,” Sherlock interrupted his pondering with the words as he strode briskly into the sitting room, energy radiating from his every move.

 

Looking up, John lowered the paper. He would never finish this article and learn what shit the British healthcare system was on the verge of this time . “A case?”

 

“Obviously,” Sherlock frowned, giving him his well-known 'seriously, why-do-you-ask-something-that-evident' look.

 

“I'm sorry, but you have to do this alone,” John said as he closed the paper and looked at Sherlock. “I’m off this weekend, but I have to work on Monday.”

 

“No, you don't,” Sherlock said casually, flipping through a stack of papers on the desk, frantically looking for something.

 

John knit his brows together. “What have you done?” He narrowed his eyes, suspecting more foul play.

 

“Hmm?” The detective's attention was still on the pile of papers, determinedly searching for a certain document.

 

“Sherlock!” John threw the folded newspaper onto the floor and leaned forward. “Would you listen to me just once when I'm talking to you?”

 

Sherlock sighed in surrender. “Don't worry, you still have that dull job,” he pouted with a shrug. “I just booked you some days off.”

 

“Booked me some days off?” John’s incredulous stare followed the detective walking casually over the coffee table. Anger rose in the doctor’s chest.

 

“Oh, John, stop being boring and echoing my words!” Annoyance flashed through Sherlock’s face. He gathered a pile of papers from the floor beside the sofa and flipped through the pages hastily. “If you want details, I called the surgery and told them that you had a family emergency, and thus had to leave London for a few days.”

 

“Damn it, Sherlock, this must stop right now!” John yelled. “It's beyond the line of privacy. Who am I kidding, you never knew what that meant!” Sherlock tossed the papers back into the corner and blinked at him innocently. “You can't just intervene in my life whenever you feel like—save it to that hard drive of yours! You're not my secretary or PA to arrange things for me. I'm perfectly capable of managing my life on my own, thank you!”

 

“I just wanted to spare us the time,” Sherlock noted resentfully in a low, sulky voice.

 

“Jesus, that's not how things work!” John jumped to his feet, flailing his hands. “You should have told me about it and asked what I thought!”

 

Sherlock grimaced and rolled his eyes. “It's a case, John. Of course, you'd have said yes.”

 

“Not if I had been otherwise engaged—like working. But of course, you don't know what being employed is like! That's too mundane for you! Unlike Your Highness, ordinary people like me do need jobs.”

 

“You ought not have to work!” Sherlock snapped. “The cases pay well, we could live on that money. Your employment at that dull clinic is not required.”

 

“No, don't even think about that,” John's eyes flashed wildly. “I’m not going to leave the surgery just to please you. I need to practice my profession. That's what I signed up for; no way that I'd quit that. Not even for you.”

 

Ever since he had resolved to study medicine and train to become a doctor, John knew that this was something he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Helping and saving people, trying to fix what nature and life damaged; putting the happy smile back onto people's face instead of the tears of pain and fear. He had been the happiest man when he’d received his diploma and been officially allowed to practice.

 

Though John had been thrilled to work as a locum GP, the monotony soon had taken its toll on him. As if it had been fate, a chance meeting with an ex-classmate who specialised in military medical service had opened up new horizons. With the need for his veins to be filled with more adrenaline that his profession solely could have provided, the idea of becoming an army doctor had wormed itself into his mind, intriguing and tempting him with a new level of thrill. The prospect of dancing on the edge every day, while using his medical knowledge to help injured soldiers, had been too alluring to reject.

 

Once he had been discharged from duty after that fateful injury, all John Watson had left was a restricted medical profession. He had to make peace with the fact that he wouldn’t ever be able to perform surgeries, so working in an adrenaline filled A&E department or trauma ward was out of the question for good. Still, John hadn't been able to abandon his life’s purpose, so as a fully qualified GP, he could begin anew as a locum doctor, covering GPs on leave. Now Sherlock was suggesting to him that he abandon the last bit that defined him. John clenched his hand, flexing his once again protesting muscles.

 

The tension-filled stare burned between them. Sherlock eventually broke the gaze, exhaling quietly. “I must have been under the false impression that you enjoy taking part in the cases.”

 

“I love what we do, but–” John ran a hand through his hair, a bit calmer. “Don't ever ask me to abandon my real purpose. I would never ask you to give up being a consulting detective.”

 

Sherlock acknowledged the words with a little nod. “All I asked for was a few days off,” he reasoned quietly, resuming the search in the stock of paper on the desk. “Your presence at the clinic is not essential on those days, while it is for me. You would have agreed to join me, if you were free, after all.”

 

“Maybe. Probably. But you just can't act on assumptions! What if I had other plans or something important on those days? You can't make decisions for me. It's my life!”

 

“I’ve been under the impression that since we're...” Sherlock murmured, puzzled, avoiding John's gaze. “Since I am your you know...”

 

“You’re my boyfriend, but that doesn't mean you’re allowed to meddle in my life without asking me.” Not seeing the tiniest sign of recognition on the genius’ face, John shook his head helplessly. “I see I still have to introduce you to the rules of a relationship—all the do's and don'ts.”

 

Sherlock scoffed.

 

John watched him silently for a good moment. The detective's lack of basic understanding about privacy was both annoying and amusing. A little, affectionate smile sneaked into the corner of his mouth. “You're impossible, you know.”

 

Sherlock cast him a tentative glance. “Not good?”

 

“A bit not good, yeah,” John chuckled. He just couldn't be mad at Sherlock for long. “Luckily for you, I didn't have anything important scheduled for next week, so I could have some days off.”

 

“Good,” Sherlock flashed him a content smile and, grabbing the very paper he was looking for, whirled out of the room.

 

“That doesn't mean that you can get away with intervening in my things again, you know!” John shouted after him. He walked over to Sherlock's room and leaned on the doorway. “So what is it about?” The detective was buried halfway in his wardrobe, leaving his flatmate without an answer. “Sherlock, you're flooding me with information, slow down, I can't follow you,” John continued sarcastically. Sherlock disentangled himself from the clothes on hangers and shot John a perplexed look. “Yeah, that's exactly how I'm feeling too,” John commented on Sherlock's expression. “But unlike you, I can't read others' mind, so you should communicate with me in the old-fashioned way—you know, talking.”

 

“I'm not a mind reader,” Sherlock grumbled, apparently bored by hearing this assumption for the umpteenth time.

 

“Neither am I. So what’s this case about? Where are we going?”

 

“Epping. Lady Beresford requested my assistance. She is convinced that someone intends to murder her. So we are paying her a visit to investigate.”

 

“An old lady thinks that someone wants to kill her—that's not unusual, especially if she's wealthy. What makes the case interesting enough for you to take it?”

 

“Attempted poisoning!” Sherlock grinned, his blue-grey eyes bright in excitement. “We don't have time to waste!” He zipped his suitcase with a loud noise. “Hurry up, John! Our taxi will be here in 20 minutes.”

 

Taxi? Of course, using public transport would be anathema to Sherlock Holmes. He’d rather pay a fortune for an hour and some long cab ride than take the Tube. Not as if that mattered, he could afford it after all.

 

Knowing that he wouldn't acquire more information about the case while Sherlock was otherwise occupied, John turned and, jogging up the stairs into his room, packed his duffel bag with quick efficiency. If there was one thing that he learned during his service in the army, it was how to pack your stuff quickly. He still couldn't get Sherlock's recent meddling in his life out of his head; he couldn't believe that someone could have been that oblivious to social norms and basic manners.

 

Exactly five minutes later, with the bag over his shoulder, he joined Sherlock in the sitting room.

 

Sherlock looked up at him impressed. “Five minutes, hmm, good job, Watson.”

 

“You had any doubt, Holmes?” John smirked mockingly. “You might have forgotten that I used to be a soldier.”

 

Sherlock grinned, his voice turning low. “Not for a moment, John, believe me, not for a single moment.”

 

The huskiness tinting the deep baritone and the glint in those green-blue eyes sent a pleasant shiver down John’s spine. Sherlock Holmes is flirting with him. And, apparently, he had a thing for military stuff, John smirked.

 

Sherlock jumped on his feet, and, grabbing his small suitcase, walked swiftly to the door. “Come on, our cab will be here soon!”

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Ten



We will find a way to erase the past
Stay with me, stay with me

In my arms you'll be fine
I'll never let go
All you've lost will come again
Just stay here with me
Never look back, never again it's over
Everything ends here in my arms

 

~ Dead by April - In My Arms



“This place looks like it was copied from an Agatha Christie novel. I wouldn't be surprised if the culprit was the butler,” John chuckled, taking in the sight of the Victorian mansion once they got out of the cab and Sherlock paid the fare.

 

“Don't be ridiculous,” Sherlock gave him an indignant look as they waited at the front door of the mansion. “That'd be far too predictable.”

 

“Exactly. That's why he could get away with it.”

 

“Mr. Holmes?” An elderly woman opened the door for them, palpable relief in her jingling voice. “Thank you so much for coming!”

 

“With a potential murder in the cards, how could I have stayed away?”

 

She laughed at the assumed joke. Only John knew that Sherlock wasn't kidding.

 

“He means thank you for having us here,” John butted in, clearing his throat quietly.

 

“Oh, Doctor Watson, it's nice to meet you! I enjoy reading your stories. I'm not familiar with this modern technology, but I always ask my son to print them for me.”

 

“Thank you. I'm glad you like them.”

 

“Pointless exchange of tedious compliments,” Sherlock muttered under his breath, rolling his eyes at the niceties.

 

“Pardon?” Lady Isabelle turned to him.

 

“You mentioned a poisoning attempt on the phone,” Sherlock diverted, shifting impatiently. “Could we talk about that?”

 

Her smile fading, her look turned troubled and grim. “Of course. Come inside.”

 

Stepping into the dimly lit hall, decorated with vintage pieces and large paintings on the walls, John felt like he had been dropped into the Victorian times. The feeling doubled when a man in his early forties dressed in butler attire came to see them.

 

“Bernard, take the gentlemen's luggage into their rooms,” Lady Isabelle ordered him. “And bring us some tea.”

 

“Yes, madame.” Bernard obeyed and left with the guests' baggage.

 

She led them into a big, bright, cosy room with cream-coloured wallpaper and a large, luxurious fireplace. They took seat on the comfortable sofa with gold-patterned upholstery, while their hostess sat in the armchair opposite them. John squirmed a bit, feeling out of place as always when he dropped into the world of rich people. The satin fabric underneath his bum made him anxious not to move, fearing he’d cause damage to the expensive furniture. Drinking tea suddenly felt intimidating—he feared that he might spill the dark beverage onto the costly upholstery. Sherlock, on the other hand, was completely at ease. Of course, to the spoilt, posh git, this scenery was nothing new to him.

 

Lady Isabelle filled them in on the incidents that made her believe that someone wanted to take her life, and she answered the questions that Sherlock impatiently interjected. John recognized the moments when the detective wanted to just leap out of the room, impatient with the unimportant bits of her story, and the moments when he heard something apparently notable.

 

“There's nothing worse than scandal in a family, but if someone I have considered one of my own wants to murder me, they have to pay for that,” she said sharply. “I’m counting on you, Mr. Holmes. If you are as good as I’ve heard, you'll find that person.”

 

“I am that good.” Sherlock straightened himself cockily and gave her an indignant look, offended by the mere assumption of the opposite. John barely suppressed a laugh as Sherlock acted like a peacock, showing off. Actually, Sherlock often paraded around with his head high, chest puffed, slender, lithe body moving gracefully, exuding self-sufficiency with his every move. John never knew whether to be appalled at the smug, god-like attitude or let himself be stunned by the man’s mesmerising beauty. Always the extremes, that’s Sherlock Holmes. Was it because of his geniality that he experienced everything on a heightened level? Determination, despite, admiration, fear, joy, insecurity, sadness, happiness—Sherlock was affected deeper than others, and though he tried to hide it, John could see it.

 

“I hope so,” she smiled sweetly. “I don't invite just any sort of people into my house.”

 

John snorted internally at the remark dripping of superiority. The woman looked like a harmless, lovely old lady at first glance, but a posh, calculating person hid underneath the charming attitude, ready to strike like a viper. Someone that others better be careful with.

 

***

 

“I can see why someone wants to get rid of her,” John said as they walked to their rooms in the wide, richly decorated hallway.

 

Sherlock smiled. “You noticed it too. Good.”

 

“Of course, I did. She was plainly threatening you, for God's sake!”

 

Sherlock’s smile softened as he perceived the protectiveness in John’s voice. With their recent nasty rows, the subtle implication that John still cared for him warmed Sherlock’s heart.

 

“She just hinted at some cards she believes she is holding up her sleeves. Not a wise move though,” he smirked. “This gives us a glimpse into her personality and colours the picture. The more we know about her, the clearer we will see and the closer we get to our man.”

 

“Or woman,” John added, stopping at their rooms.

 

“Or woman, yes,” Sherlock agreed wryly.

 

“Any theories yet?”

 

“Ten, at the moment. But I need more data.”

 

“You never cease to amaze me,” John stared at him in awe.

 

Sherlock shifted sheepishly, a faint blush creeping into his cheeks. He could never get enough of John’s praises and he hoped he'd never grow too used to them.  

 

“I’m lucky to be the boyfriend of a brilliant man like you,” John continued with a warm smile.

 

Sherlock relished the softness and honesty in John’s voice; he had craved it like thirsty soil yearned for rain.

 

“No. I’m the lucky one to be with you,” he countered and added in a murmur, dropping his gaze in unease. “There’s no other man who would be so patient and tolerant toward me as you.” Sherlock shifted, remembering the most recent incidents that tested John’s patience.

 

John’s mouth curved into a faint smile. He was about to comment on the words, but Sherlock stopped him.

 

“I tell you a secret.” Sherlock smirked with a wink and lowered his voice. “There’s no one else I could ever want.”

 

“I’m not the poster man of the perfect partner, but...” John muttered, his cheeks turning into a rosier colour. “If it matters, the feeling is mutual, Mr. Holmes.”

 

Sherlock’s eyes locked with John’s, drinking in his partner’s elated, sincere look. What wouldn’t he give to claim those kissable lips right now.

 

Refraining from the temptation to touch and explore—physically and emotionally—was hateful. Sherlock Holmes wasn’t used to waiting for what he wanted. Whatever information, clue or evidence he intended to acquire, he went great lengths to get them as soon as possible. He preferred playing the game by his rules. Following someone else’s terms obediently was anathema to him.

 

Sherlock glanced at John’s lips before his look snapped back to the dark blue eyes, wondering if the doctor was tempted to kiss him too.

 

“See you before dinner, then,” John cleared his throat, breaking the moment, and he tore his gaze from Sherlock.

 

Hmm. Definitely affected.

 

“Remember to put on suitable attire,” Sherlock noted quietly, turning the doorknob of his room.

 

“I know. I still find it weird to dress up in formal wear for dinner,” John chuckled. “For you, posh boy, it’s nothing new—you often wear a suit at home too.”

 

Sherlock scrunched his nose. “I don’t recall you ever complaining about that. As the matter of fact, the way you usually look at me suggests that you enjoy the sight. Am I wrong?”

 

“Finding you damn appealing in those perfectly tailored clothes, and my point of a suit being impractical to wear for home—especially with your experiments—are two different things.”

 

“What are you suggesting I wear in the flat, then, Doctor Watson?” Sherlock cracked a mischievous little smile, lowering his voice a bit.

 

John swallowed hard. “It’s not the right time for this. Let’s focus on the case.”

 

Sherlock pouted and sighed. “See you in an hour.” He opened the door of his room, but before disappearing inside, turned back and winked at John. “I’m not giving up on that question, though.”

 

***

 

A loud scream broke the silence of the mansion. Sherlock bolted out of his room with wide eyes—shrugging on his trademark coat—and immediately bumped into John.

 

“What was that?” John stared at Sherlock wide eyed, adjusting his jacket that he had put over his suit haphazardly when he heard the scream.

 

“Don't make me state the obvious, John, we don't have time for that.” Sherlock's storm-coloured eyes sparkled ominously in the faint orange glow. Turning on his heels, he sprinted toward the end of the corridor that led in the direction of their hostess' room.

 

John followed him, dashing through the hallway, his steps thumping hard on the creaky old floorboards. By the time he reached the top of the stairs, Sherlock—being faster with his long legs and panther-like body—was nowhere to be seen. John wondered which way he should go, but before he could take another step, a black-clad figure appeared from out of nowhere, and dashing toward him, bumped into John forcefully, almost knocking him off of his feet.

 

“Get him!” Sherlock shouted, turning up from nowhere and running after the black tornado.

 

Reclaiming his balance, John sprinted after the fleeing phantom with Sherlock in tow.

 

They hit a dead end, and Sherlock smiled menacingly at their target. “Seems like there's no way out now.”

 

The figure, quickly assessing the options, hurled themselves at the window on the right, and—smashing the colourful vintage glass—jumped out into the garden.

 

“Damn, miscalculation,” Sherlock berated himself quietly. John could see the gears turning in his head, the inside GPS recalculating his actions.

 

A moment later, Sherlock was at the window, ready to dive through the ruined frame.

 

“Sherlock!” John grabbed the detective's arm immediately in panic. “Are you out of your mind?” Horror filled him as his eyes fixed on the bold genius.

 

“John, we have no time to waste!” Sherlock's eyes were burning with the thrill of the chase. “Let me go!”

 

“You know, stairs were invented for a reason!”

 

“There's no time for that,” Sherlock countered vehemently, prying the short fingers off his arm. “You can use them, if you want.” With a shrug, he leapt into the darkness with the easy grace of a cat.

 

“Sherlock!” John shouted, scanning the garden for his infuriating partner. Damn you, Sherlock, if you got hurt— Spotting the lanky figure, John exhaled in relief. The bastard. Sherlock grinned briefly up at John, and ran after the fugitive into the forest that encircled the mansion. Shit , John cursed, and climbed up onto the windowpane carefully, watching out for the protruding shards. Taking the jump effortlessly, he landed on the wet lawn with precision. His mouth curled up in a half-smug smile. He still had it; all the strenuous training in the army hadn't been in vain.

 

The first signs of nightfall closing in, John knew there was not much time to catch their suspect. Scanning the dusky forest for a glimpse of Sherlock's lanky silhouette in that trademark billowing coat, John dashed after the detective.

 

“Are you sure that th-this is the way he fled?” John panted, catching up with Sherlock minutes later.

 

“Positive.” Sherlock ducked under a thick branch, scanning the woods. “There!” He exclaimed triumphantly, pointing to a flash of movement in the distance on his left.

 

John followed him, battling with traps of thorny, dry twigs on bare bushes and the wet blanket of autumn leaves. Soon, Sherlock was far ahead, just a small silhouette in the gloomy forest. Damn those long legs . Looking around, John couldn't spot either the fugitive or Sherlock anywhere near.

 

“Sherlock?” He shouted, scanning the distance. “Sherlock!”

 

A muffled, annoyed voice came from a few meters ahead. “Here...”

 

Following the direction, John found Sherlock sitting on the ground with a hurt look on the face. “Are you alright?”

 

“Fine,” Sherlock grunted.

 

“Could have warned you not to dash around carelessly with the thick, slippery undergrowth all around, but knew you wouldn't listen.”

 

Sherlock gave him a dirty look, arising from the ground with a muffled hiss.

 

“You sure you're okay?” John eyed him suspiciously. Something was off in his companion's posture.

 

Sherlock dusted off his coat. “No. I lost him,” he grumbled.

 

“That's it for now then,” John stated matter-of-factly, keeping an eye on the man’s expression, watching out for the tiniest wince, ready to be of help if the injury was too painful. “We won't find him in the dark without a torch.”

 

“You should have had one on you,” Sherlock pouted petulantly.

 

“Sorry that I didn't consider a torch an appropriate accessory to dinner attire,” John scoffed, rolling his eyes.

 

“By the way… you look... “ Sherlock cleared his throat sheepishly, glancing at John’s suit under the black, leather jacket. “Good... “

 

John felt his cheeks warming despite the cold November air. Sherlock’s weak attempt at complimenting his looks felt like the grandest praise ever. The detective voiced his appreciation of John once in a while, but never of his outfit.

 

“Um, th-thank you,” John muttered shyly, avoiding Sherlock’s eyes in embarrassment.

 

The detective nodded slightly. “There's a torchlight app on my phone.” He rummaged his pocket and pulled out his iPhone, but grimaced as soon as he turned the phone on. “Low battery. We won't get far with it.”

 

“Don't even try blaming me for that too.” John cast him a warning glance. “I'm not your PA.”

 

Sherlock was about to retort, but his face contorted in pain as he took a step ahead.

 

“Are you okay? What’s wrong? And don't tell me that nothing because I won't believe it.”

 

“It's just a minor injury, I'll survive,” Sherlock gritted out through his teeth.

 

“Aha,” John uttered sarcastically. “Sit down, let me see it.”

 

“It's not–”

 

“I said sit.” Captain Watson came to surface, firm and authoritative. With a sulky sigh, Sherlock lowered himself onto a large stump nearby and straightened his hurt leg. “Use your phone to give me some light.” John, in doctor mode, rolled the leg of the expensive tailored trousers up, revealing a swollen, purple ankle. Sherlock, holding the mobile above his leg, grunted in pain when John's skilled fingers pressed on the discoloured area. “Looks like a nasty sprain. You won't be running around for days at least. It's already pretty oedematous, so it needs rest and some compression,” John delivered the grim diagnosis as he loosened the shoelace to alleviate the pressure on the swelling.

 

“It will be fine by tomorrow,” Sherlock argued.

 

“Am I the doctor, or are you?”

 

“You medics always exaggerate the length of the healing period.”

 

John held up his hands. “Fine. Just don't complain when you realize that the world does not run according to Mr. Sherlock Holmes’ rules.” Standing up, he fished his phone out of his jacket. “Damn, no coverage.” He frowned at the screen. “We won't be able to find our way out of the woods in this bloody pitch dark and with that hurting ankle of yours. I might be able to find my way out to get help, but I’d never be able to find you again, and I won’t leave you here alone. Looks like we have to spend the night here. I’ll get us some help in the morning.”

 

“I'm just hurt, not an invalid,” Sherlock snorted indignantly. “I'm perfectly fine to go with you.”

 

“On that ankle?” John laughed cynically. “You won't be able to stand on it without seeing stars, let alone walk. And if you think I'm exaggerating, be my guest. But you'll be eating humble pie later.”

 

Sherlock sank into sulking silence, closing his eyes. John sat down beside him with a sigh. Sitting in complete silence for what felt like forever, he wondered what was going on in that brilliant head of his boyfriend’s—was he processing the case and arranging the latest bits of information in his mind palace, or simply sulking and testing John's patience? Turning his gaze upon the man, John took in the silhouette of the exquisite face nearly engulfed in the darkness. Even under the black velvet of the night, Sherlock's prominent features demanded attention, the masterfully sculptured cheekbone and jaws refracting the faint rays of the silver moonlight. The delicate, ebony eyelashes rested majestically on the pale skin, providing a fine contrast. Could there be any circumstances under which this infuriating man was not beautiful? he pondered in awe. As if caught in mischief, he startled when Sherlock's rich baritone cut the silence.

 

“Stop it.”

 

“What?”

 

“Staring.” John could hear the disdain in Sherlock's voice. “It's annoying.”

 

He couldn't help the amused little smile on his face. He should have known that Sherlock would have picked upon that. As if a sixth sense, the man could register things without seeing them happening. It was amazing and frightening at the same time. John had resolved many times that he wasn't going to be surprised at these quirks of the detective, but he always found himself failing, falling into the trap of the one and only Sherlock Holmes. Sighing, he tore his gaze away from the appealing sight and stared at his own hands.

 

“Only good?” John wondered aloud.

 

“What?” Sherlock squinted at him.

 

“You said I look good. That’s all?”

 

A little smile ghosted at the corner of Sherlock’s lips. “More than good. Alluring. Utterly handsome. Enticing.” His weary voice dropped an octave. “You look gorgeous in that suit, but I’d rather peel it off of you to reveal the real beauty…and worship you in every way possible.” John’s heart skipped a beat, his throat going dry. “Satisfied now?”

 

“Sherlock… I–”

 

“I know,” the detective sighed, closing his eyes once again. “Not good.”

 

“No, it’s good. More than good, just–” John licked his lips uncomfortable. Tell him.

 

“Don’t worry, I understand,” Sherlock sighed in resignation. “But you asked, and I couldn’t hold back the truth.”

 

“I’m sorry,” John murmured regretfully. “I–” Tell him now!

 

“It’s okay,” Sherlock whispered softly.

 

“Sherlock…” John sneaked his hand into the detective’s and squeezed gently. He wanted to tell Sherlock about the revelations he had come to at Ella’s, but… He couldn’t. Sherlock being in pain was not the best time for a serious conversation, also John wanted to see his boyfriend’s face when talking to him, which was impossible in the darkness enveloping them.

 

Sherlock blinked, looking at John with heavy-lidded eyes.

 

“Look at us,” John laughed. “Two idiots on a chase in the autumn forest in fancy attire. Not what people normally wear suits for.”

 

“Our life has never been what people consider ‘normal’,” the weak baritone cut through the darkness.

 

“True,” John agreed. “And I’m not complaining, because that’s how I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

 

“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Sherlock smiled weakly.

 

“How are you feeling?” John asked after a moment of comforting silence.

 

“Fine,” came the not convincing reply.

 

John suspected that the swelling on Sherlock's ankle must have doubled by now, along with the throbbing heat and the mixture of dull and sharp pain getting more and more present in the injured region. He let out a laugh.

 

“What?”

 

Chuckling on, John's look met his. “After all this time, you thinking that you could fool me about medical issues is still ridiculous.” A frown played at the corner of Sherlock's mouth. “I'm a doctor, remember? I’ve seen sprains of all kind, at least a dozen every week. So you expect me to believe that you are feeling fine with such a nasty one? I'm offended to be underestimated this much. Especially by you.” Sighing in defeat, Sherlock averted his look to to ground. “You don't have to keep the mask of invincibility on while around me. I thought you already knew that,” John noted softly, tentatively reaching for Sherlock's hand.

 

“I'm a grown man, I can handle pain. I won't break because of some dull sprain,” Sherlock remarked stubbornly.

 

“Smiles of happiness and tears of pain don't make you weak. I wouldn't think any less of you if you showed signs of vulnerability. You wouldn't be any less my hero.”

 

“John, I've already told you that heroes don't exist and–”

 

“I know. If they did, you wouldn't be one of them.” John smiled softly. “Yet, you’re mine in many ways.”

 

Neither of them spoke for some moments. Eventually, Sherlock sneaked a tentative glance at his partner and sighed loudly. “You're right.” John glanced back at him inquiringly. “I'm not fine,” Sherlock winced, adjusting his position.

 

John pursed his lips together grimly. “You must have badly stretched the ligaments. Your foot should be elevated to relieve the tension and take off some weight. Come, sit on the ground and let's prop your foot up on that log. That will ease the blood flow and decrease the swelling.”

 

Supporting himself on John, Sherlock lowered his body onto the thick blanket of autumn leaves, wincing in the process whenever pressing his foot was too much to bear. Eventually, he managed to settle into a comfortable position, resting his back against the tree.

 

“You'll feel better like this,” John reassured him. His face closer to Sherlock's, he couldn't help but notice the plum colour of his lips and the slight chattering of his teeth in the pale moonlight. The chilly autumn night, the cold ground underneath and the shock of the injury had taken their toll. “Come here,” John nestled behind him, wrapping him in his warm embrace. He felt Sherlock melting into him. “You're impossible, you know,” John's playfully noted in Sherlock's ear. “You often turn your collar up in the city regardless the weather, and now, in the chill of the woods, it's still untouched.”

 

“Why should I look cool in the middle of a pitch-black forest?” Sherlock questioned, hinting at John’s comment in Baskerville.

 

John chuckled at the reference, and the fact that Sherlock had stored his mocking, but otherwise unimportant, remark, warmed his insides. The man who didn't consider the solar system significant enough to memorise and carefully chose what information to store in his mind palace, had saved John’s teasing comment on his looks.

 

“For me?” he suggested with a warm smile. Sherlock's mouth curled into a tiny, tired smirk. He turned his collar up, adding extra warmth to his neck, shutting out some of the chill of the late November night. “Try to sleep a bit; that'd do you good,” John whispered, resting his head on his boyfriend’s shoulder.

 

“Can't,” came the instant answer. “My body is overwhelmed by a cavalcade of distinctive and contradictory sensations,” Sherlock muttered, his eyes battling the urge to close. “I'm so exhausted...”

 

“I know. That's the effect of the trauma of the injury. It'll pass. You should sleep a bit.”

 

“Help me,” Sherlock pleaded like a child. “Talk to me.”

 

“Okay,” John nodded, tightening his hold around the quivering man and started a story from his army days.

 

Soon, mouth slightly open, Sherlock was sleeping peacefully. John relished the rare situation. Sherlock's warmth and weight against him, the distinctive scent of his coat and hair—it felt so natural, so right. Holding him was like coming home, ever so comforting and satisfying. John never wanted to miss this feeling. He needed it, he craved it, just like Sherlock did the thrill and adrenaline.

 

Stranded in the pitch-black forest, waiting for the morning, cradling an injured and sleeping Sherlock in his arms, John had time to think.

 

His life had turned upside-down in the past few years. Being discharged from the army, finding a new home in London and a new friend in Sherlock, until that friendship turned into something more and made him question many things about himself.

 

Shattering the image of yourself that you had held onto all of your life was a slap in the face, but on the other hand a liberating discovery. Accepting the truth that went against the beliefs and principles of your upbringing wasn’t easy, but John was ready to acknowledge the change and deal with the consequences. For himself, for Sherlock, for the thing they could become.

 

The man in his arms changed his life in many ways, and John didn’t regret any of it. He glanced down at the dark mop of curls wistfully. Oh, Sherlock, I wish you knew what you mean to me. I wish I could show you. He ran a fingertip along the detective’s cold cheek, savouring the feel of the prominent, sharp cheekbone under his touch.

 

“I’ve never felt anything like this for a man,” John whispered softly, barely realising that he had slipped into saying out loud what was on his mind. “You’re the first. No, you’re the only one . I could never fall in love with any other man.” He spoke freely, knowing that Sherlock was asleep and couldn’t hear him. “I shouldn’t have with you either,” he sighed. “I didn’t want to. I didn’t think it was possible. I have always liked women, had never fallen for a man. Though you were intriguing from the first moment, I never thought it could be anything other than friendship between us. I had good mates before, so with you, it shouldn’t have been anything different. But, you infuriating git, you had an unexpected effect on me, something I couldn’t draw myself out of. For so long, I had thought it was an infatuation with your brilliance and the thrill I craved, but then...I had to realise there was more of it. I was just too afraid to admit it. I’m in love with you, Sherlock. I think I have been ever since I met you. You, with the desperate need for care and human interaction, even if you won’t admit it, you should know how much I love you. I want to tell and show you, but…” John bit his lip, desperately wanting to bare his soul, but not finding the strength to do it. Tears of shame and being weak welled up in his eyes. “I want to tell you why...but I can’t. Not even while you’re asleep.” He snorted bitterly. Disgust filled his chest, hating how weak he was.

 

That’s because deep down you know that what you think you feel is wrong , his father’s stern voice came from nowhere.

 

No , John countered, this isn’t wrong. I’ve never loved anyone like I love him.

 

You’re delusional, the voice spat. This isn’t my son. This Sherlock Holmes is the devil in human disguise; he should be wiped off the surface of Earth. Contempt dripped from the imaginary voice of John’s father.

 

He’s not! John instinctively tightened his hold around Sherlock. He’s far better than you or any other man .

 

John Hamish Watson, you’re not worthy of the ‘Watson’ name. You and your sister are a shame on our family. Had your mother and I known that you’d turn out such evil persons, we would have aborted the pregnancies.

 

How can you say things like that? John’s eyes welled up. We’re not a monsters. I’ve always been a obedient boy, with good grades and exemplary behaviour, why do you have to abase me like this?

 

But you’re a monster, a mistake, a freak. My son shouldn’t fancy cock and my daughter pussy. If you do, you’re not my children. I despise you, you filth.

 

Hot tears streamed down John’s cheeks. How can you do this to me, Dad? I’ve always loved you and looked up at you. Why do you hate me? I’m still the same John I was, nothing’s changed. Loving Sherlock doesn’t change a thing .

 

It changes everything, his father snarled, before fading away.

 

John shut his eyes tightly and bit his lip so deep that the flesh tore and droplets of blood emerged from the fresh wound. The salty tears running down his face burned his skin.

 

Was loving Sherlock really such a crime?

 

While, normally, John could handle emotions and be the good partner in a relationship, now, for the first time in life, he was lost and scared. Finding that you have feelings for someone of your own gender and venture into a relationship with the said person was a new thing for him, a challenge he faced with extra nervousness. He didn’t want to mess it up. But he most certainly was on the right way to do so.

 

Life had thrown at him too many issues to deal with these days that, all together, seemed to be more than he could cope with. The new approach on his sexual orientation, the feelings for Sherlock, figuring out this new relationship with the man, fighting the demons triggered by this new turn of events, Jennie turning up, Sherlock’s intense jealousy, John trying to maneuver between his old friend and new boyfriend—all that pressure was too much, and John thought he’d slowly go mad. He felt like a trapped animal, slowly being crushed under the weight on his shoulders. As a soldier, he used to be in control, confident in his actions, psychologically stable and having nerves as steel, but now...too many emotionally conflicting issues defeated him, and he seemed to have lost his confidence and become a ticking bomb, all the frustration and desperation threatening to explode at any moment. He hated it, not only because of being weak, but hurting others. Like Sherlock. John remembered all the nasty things he had shouted at Sherlock during those recent hateful rows, and though the detective had it coming and retorted with similarly nice phrases, John felt bad about them.

 

The stakes were high; and John knew he had to do his best to manage the problems with a satisfying outcome and get out of this trap before he turned into a shell of himself.

 

“I’m sorry. You deserve better than this, better than me.” John murmured, burying his face into Sherlock’s neck, inhaling the man’s comforting scent. The weight of the detective’s body against his was ever so reassuring, a safe haven in the storm of his insecurities, a rock in the flooding river of his constricting emotions. The thick wool of Sherlock’s Belstaff touching his cheek absorbed John’s tears and offered comfort, slowly lulling the distressed doctor into sleep.



Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven - Sanctuary



Somewhere to love somewhere to breathe
Somewhere to call my sanctuary
Here in the dark I can be strong
Knowing that nothing can hurt from now on

  ~ Delta Goodrem - Sanctuary



The early morning light licked the naked crowns of the trees, reflecting on the rain-soaked leaves and undergrowth. The autumn mist wrapped the forest into a big cocoon, spreading the chill on the ground. John stirred, shivering badly. His hair and clothes wet from the night's downpour, he felt like he had been sitting in a pool for hours. As if compensating for the cold, something heavy but warm leaned against his chest, alleviating the bite of chilly air and providing some comfort. Blinking his eyes open, he remembered all that had happened the evening before—the chase, Sherlock's injury, the necessary decision to spend the night in the woods, the mental quarrel with his father. He looked down at the sleeping detective snuggled against his chest, his breathing laboured and body trembling. Moving a hand to the pale face, John realised the reason why Sherlock was radiating that delicious warmth—he surely had fever. His cheeks were burning and teeth were chattering heavily. They needed a roof above their heads and dry clothes as soon as possible.

 

“Sherlock,” John whispered against the heated forehead, nudging him gently. “Wake up, we must get out of here.”

 

Sherlock's eyes opened slowly, and his dazed, glassy gaze met John's worry-filled eyes. Along with the consciousness, the pain in his ankle must have returned as well as he reluctantly pulled a bit away with gritted teeth.

 

“We should get you into bed very soon,” John's doctor mode resumed.

 

“Finally,” Sherlock smirked wearily. “However, your timing couldn't be any worse.”

 

John stretched his numb limbs, a smile lingering in the corner of his mouth, seeing that Sherlock still managed to joke amidst the pain. “How are you feeling?”

 

“Splendid,” Sherlock groaned, touching his hurting leg.

 

John arose from the ground and checked his phone. “Still no signal,” he frowned. “I’ll go and get some help. Hopefully there's some coverage closer to the mansion.”

 

“I'm going with you.”

 

“Don't bloody start. You're sick, we wouldn't get far with you in this state. You're staying here. I'll be back as soon as possible.”

 

Sherlock sighed in surrender. He must have been in too much pain to counter any longer. Leaning back against the tree, his eyes shut closed. “Go,” he breathed in resignation.

 

“I'm coming back soon,” John squeezed his boyfriend's arm reassuringly. “Hold on!” He shrugged off his jacket and draped it over the quivering man, hoping it would add a little bit of extra warmth. “I’ll be back as soon as possible,” he whispered. The miserable sight of the usually lively detective saddened John, and he couldn’t help but do what his mother always did when he was sick as a child—he tentatively placed a little, comforting kiss on Sherlock’s forehead. The feverish skin scorched his lips. Alarm filled John’s chest—both as a doctor and a friend. Sherlock needed help soon. His fever in the wake of that terrible downpour was worrisome, especially given that he was still wrapped in soaked clothes and lying on the wet ground in the chilly weather. Not to mention his ankle injury that should also have been treated. He would be lucky, if he hadn't caught pneumonia.

 

Sherlock’s eyelashes fluttered at the kiss, but he seemed to be too weak to open his eyes properly.

 

John hated leaving the sick, injured and freezing man there in the cold, wet forest all alone, but there was nothing else that he do. He just hoped and prayed that his phone would get some tiny little signal soon so he could call for help.

 

Dashing along the path in the direction of the Beresford mansion, dry twigs and leaves crunched under his feet and raindrops fell onto his hair and face from the branches above. Running as fast as he could, his ragged breath was visible in the chilly air. He felt like he was back in an early morning jogging session ordered by an insufferable commander in the army. Had the situation been different, John might have enjoyed this exercise—given that their trainings during his military days had always taken place on the base, never in the countryside. John always liked the excitement and challenge the field provided, thus he had been thrilled to participate in the missions on the frontline.

 

Checking his phone, he frowned at the lack of signal still. He should have been close, though. Their suspect had fled in this direction, obviously being familiar with the area. That meant civilisation, which equalled mobile service.

 

The forest ahead got thinner, and John soon reached a clearing that was cut by a dirt road. He took another look at his phone. Still nothing. He grunted. Now there was one more reason to love central London.

 

Running his hand through his damp hair, he looked around in both direction of the road, squinting to spot any vehicle coming this way. He was already pondering which way to set out and try his luck, when a tiny red spot appeared on the eastern horizon, approaching slowly. Yes ! To draw attention to himself, he started waving at the car animatedly. Noticing him, the driver slowed down and skidded to a halt.

 

“Hey, young man, are you lost?” A silver-white-bearded, elderly man looked out of the window, tipping his hat as a greeting.

 

“Could say so. My friend had a little accident in the forest—nothing serious, just a sprain, but he can't walk. We had to spend the night there in the storm, and now he has fever... I need help bringing him back to the mansion we're staying at...”

 

“The Beresford mansion? You're lucky, my friend, I work there,” the man smiled broadly. “Barnaby,” he introduced himself. “No worries, we'll get you two there.” He pulled his Land Rover over to the side and got out.

 

John exhaled loudly in relief. “Ta. I'm John. So you work for Lady Beresford?” he asked as they walked back to the woods.

 

“Yes. In the stables, taking care of the horses and also doing occasional repair work around the house. For an old man like me, it's the most suitable work to do.”

 

“How long have you been working there?”

 

“More than twenty years. I'm kind of an accessory to the estate,” Barnaby laughed. “Know every corner in the house and around. Lady Isabelle appreciated my work enough to keep me even when I couldn't do everything I used to. She’s a good person.”

 

John smiled. “Yet, I'm sure not everyone shares your admiration toward her. There are always people disagreeing with some decisions. One cannot humour everyone.”

 

“I know what you mean. Her elder son, Patrick, thinks that she’s too cautious and afraid of following this modern world, just because she prefers the beaten path instead of taking risk.”

 

The old man didn’t mind sharing information of the family, which John thought could be useful for their investigation. “Do they quarrel a lot?” he inquired cautiously.

 

“Occasionally. But he always has to face that there's no point in that. Lady Isabelle is a strong woman.”

 

“And the younger son? Do they have differences too?”

 

“Oh, not really. Gerald is a good lad. However, Lady Isabelle isn't much fond of Mr. Gerald's current girlfriend. She thinks that the girl only exploits him. She has warned him several times now, but he doesn't listen.”

 

Poor Barnaby didn’t notice how much he was spilling about the family, John thought. Lady Isabelle surely wouldn’t approve it, but for them, it came in handy.

 

“And the staff? Does everyone like her?” John pried further.

 

“I think most of us like and respect her. But of course, there are always the exceptions. You know, how it is—conflicts about money, preferences, work quality, lies, secrets... just the usual stuff. So, you are guests of Lady Beresford?” The old man narrowed his eyes contemplatively.

 

“Yes. She invited us for a few days.”

 

“I see,” Barnaby nodded, pondering.

 

“What's that?” John wondered, perceiving the man’s surprise.

 

“Nothing. It's just strange,” the old man rubbed his beard. “She never has guests. I don't remember her inviting anyone to the mansion ever since Lord Beresford died. Three years, that is.”

 

John contemplated the words in silence. I'm not surprised, he thought, remembering the woman's remark the day they had arrived. ‘ I don't invite just any sort of people into my house’.

 

Apparently, whoever intended to get rid of her must have been an insider.

 

***

 

John could barely wait to get back to Sherlock; he was anxious of the condition he might find the detective in. He hadn’t been away for long, but Sherlock’s state had already been alarming when John had left him.

 

Once Barnaby stopped the car, John jumped out and immediately rushed to his boyfriend's side. He found Sherlock curled up into a ball, leaning halfway against the tree--trying to save as much heat as possible, shivering heavily. John’s heart sank at the sight.

 

“Sherlock,” John called softly, crouching beside the shaking man. Cupping the detective's death-pale cheeks in his hands, the heated skin proved John’s fears right; Sherlock had a high fever. This isn’t good , he thought as he bit his lip fearfully and gently tilted Sherlock’s head toward himself, caressing the hot face with his thumb. “I'm back. I've got help.”

 

Hearing John's reassuring voice, Sherlock endeavoured to crack his eyes open, but it seemed that even that little motion felt like too much effort. His trembling hand moved and covered John's, seeking comfort in his presence.

 

“I've got you, you'll be okay,” John murmured into Sherlock's ear. “Come, stand up, dear.” He gathered his sick boyfriend into his arms, pulling him up into a standing position. “Let’s get you out of here.”

 

With Barnaby's help, they got the injured detective back to where they’d left the Land Rover. John sat Sherlock in the vehicle's back seat, scooting beside the barely conscious man. Wrapping his arms around Sherlock, John kept rubbing the man’s shaking arms and chest all the way back to the house, trying to channel a bit of warmth into the cold body. Hold on, we’re not far!

 

Once back in the Beresford residence, Lady Isabelle—now acting both as an angel and mother in one—insisted on the two having a bit of rest after the chilly episode, providing them everything they needed. Hot tea and their rooms’ heating turned up were beneficial to them in their exhausted state.

 

Although they had been given separate rooms, John stayed with Sherlock in the detective’s room; he just couldn't leave the sick man on his own. Once they entered the room, John switched immediately into doctor-mode and gave Sherlock some pills to bring his fever down before filling the tub with lukewarm water and escorting the shivering man into the bathroom. Undressing him carefully—refraining from sneaking glances at Sherlock's intimate bits and staring at the fine, sinewy body—he carefully helped Sherlock into the tub.

 

Sherlock let out a low groan as the warmth enveloped his cold-conquered, still hot body, closing his eyes and letting his head lean back against the enamel surface. The chattering of his teeth subsided slowly, and his cheeks acquired a healthier colour. With his swollen, discoloured foot resting on the edge of the tub, Sherlock gritted his teeth in obvious pain.

 

“Thank you.” These were the first words that had left Sherlock's lips since the forest. His tired, washed-out blue eyes glanced at John, his lips curving into a tiny, barely noticeable smile.

 

“There's nothing to thank me for,” John uttered softly, caressing a pale hand.

 

Sherlock's gaze fell on him. But there is. For caring about me , the glassy, fever-heated eyes countered.

 

John’s thumb squeezed Sherlock’s fingers. The fact that there had hardly been anyone caring about this brilliant man saddened and angered John. What was wrong with people? How could they not see what a precious person Sherlock Holmes was under the facade? If someone took the effort to see beyond the rudeness and arrogance, they would find that the detective was just like any other person, hungry for love and care.

 

Always. I’ll always care for you , John thought as he  held Sherlock’s feverish gaze for a long moment.

 

“I’ll be back in a minute.” He rose, letting go of the detective’s hand. “Fetching you some clothes.”

 

Sherlock nodded weakly and, leaning back, shut his eyes once again.

 

***

 

About an hour later, wrapped in his dressing gown and tucked under the comfortable duvet in the large, double, walnut canopy bed, Sherlock rested his head on the fluffy pillow and stared at the ceiling.

 

“This is unnecessary,” he growled tiredly, rolling his glassy eyes disapprovingly. “We have a case to solve, I can't waste precious time by lying in bed. I'm fine!”

 

“Fine, my arse,” John snorted. “You have a fever, in case you hadn't noticed! Not to mention that nasty sprain.”

 

“Just a minor rise in my temperature, that's not the end of the world!” Despite being sick, Sherlock was still well enough to protest.

 

“I'm not having a row with you. I'm your doctor, so you do as I say, like it or not. If I have to, I'll tie you to the bed,” John affirmed strictly.

 

“That's definitely an option to pursue later,” Sherlock smirked weakly, his voice hoarse. “Lestrade's handcuffs could finally come handy.”

 

“You know, stealing stuff from the Inspector is a bit not good,” John laughed.  He remembered the time when he had realised that Sherlock had a thing for pickpocketing the DI. He was annoying, he recalled Sherlock's reasoning.

 

John deliberately ignored Sherlock’s obviously sexual suggestion of using Lestrade’s handcuffs. Sleeping with Sherlock was still a touchy topic. John still hadn’t been able to talk with the detective about the real issues for holding back on the  sex, and then there were his father’s recurring, haunting, contempt-filled comments, making things even worse. Though, with John’s high sex drive and his deepening feelings and attraction toward Sherlock—the longing to kiss the man senseless, to explore the lean body, to bring them to shattering climax—the wait  was less and less bearable. John wished to have the full experience of being a couple: kissing, touching, cuddling, sharing a bed and having sex. He wanted the intimacy of being in love.

 

“He had it coming,” the weary baritone interrupted his musing.

 

John blinked, clueless for a moment about what Sherlock was talking about. Oh, Greg’s handcuffs!

 

“I'm sure, he did,” John noted sarcastically. He wasn’t keen on continuing this exchange. “Now, sleep a bit.” He patted the Sherlock's duvet-covered leg lightly. “You need rest. I’ll check on you in an hour.” He was already about to leave, when he heard the detective murmuring something under his breath. “Hmm?” John turned his head and looked back at Sherlock over his shoulder.

 

“Stay with me,” Sherlock mumbled tiredly, looking at John with puppy eyes.

 

John couldn’t say no to that pleading, innocent look. Also, he wasn’t supposed to refuse a sick man’s need of company. He was a doctor after all.

 

With a little nod, he kicked off his shoes, discarded his jumper and settled on the top of the duvet beside Sherlock.

 

“Sleep, dear,” he whispered softly, tentatively caressing Sherlock's unruly curls. It was the first time he let himself indulge in such an intimate action with the detective. A little thing, almost nothing, but still John felt like he’d won the grand prize.

 

“Mmmm,” Sherlock purred quietly, seemingly loving the affectionate gesture.

 

John smiled at the adorable reaction and kept petting the silky hair languidly. Sherlock purred again once in a while, until the sound was replaced by soft snores. John’s mouth curled into an affectionate smile. Sherlock was like an innocent child when he sleeping. Especially when being sick. There was no trace of the cocky man; he was just like any other human being, vulnerable and in need of protection.

 

With the frown lines smoothed out on his face, the pink lips parted a little, the dark eyelashes fluttering once in a while, Sherlock was beautiful, despite being sick. Ironically, the fever-induced rosy shade in the detective’s pale cheeks finally gave him a bit of healthier colour.

 

John couldn’t be more grateful to Harry for her reassuring, eye-opening words that made him finally be able to accept that he had non-platonic feelings for a man, which left him with what people called ‘bisexuality’. Though John would rather label himself ‘straight with one exception’ or ‘Sherlock-sexual,’ Sherlock surely would frown at these terms and give a lengthy speech about the pointlessness of labels, one which John could actually agree with, even while hoping to be spared the rant.

 

Labels or no labels, John was sure that he was in love with Sherlock. The last—and actually, the first—time he was in the same bed with the man, John had had no idea how he felt about the detective. Now, things were different, and John was certain of his feelings. How things could change in a few weeks!

 

John took a loving look at his peacefully sleeping boyfriend, drinking in the sight. He wished to run his fingertip along the masterfully sculpted face, the sharp cheekbones and elegant jaw, tracing the line of the soft, dark eyebrows, delicate nose and that perfect Cupid’s bow. John licked his lips and swallowed hard, fighting the urge to capture those lips in a kiss.

 

You’re a fucking aberrant, repulsive freak! John immediately jolted away from Sherlock like a frightened animal and plastered himself against the headboard, blinking rapidly and gasping loud. I’m abhorred by you! You’re a shame to the family. Why did God punished us with such ungrateful children? I wish you hadn’t been born at all.

 

John shut his eyes so tight it hurt. Leave me alone!! his mind screamed. Why do you have to do this to me?? Why? Heavy sobs shook his body, while hot tears streamed down his cheeks. He didn’t want to wake Sherlock, the detective shouldn’t see him like this. John couldn’t face him asking questions right now and he definitely didn’t want Sherlock worry about him.

 

Adjusting the duvet, John got out of the bed as quietly as possible and walked into the bathroom.

 

Looking into the mirror, the same weary, distressed face stared back that he had seen so many times after his nightmares. Inhaling deeply, he ran a hand through his hair exasperatedly, fighting the urge to tear the strands in despair.

 

He splashed some cold water on his face, hoping it would help him look less like a zombie.

 

What now? When visiting Ella, he hadn’t known that the intensity of remorse and the panic attacks would get worse. The more intimate thoughts he had about Sherlock, the more tortured he felt. How long could it go on? If it’s like this when I think about kissing him, what awaits when I decide to have sex with him?

 

Watson, you have to fight , another voice called, but unlike the hateful, terrifying tone of his father, this was soft, caring and encouraging. John’s eyes widened in surprise. Sholto? He hadn’t heard his voice for so long, not since returning to London after his discharge.

 

‘Watson, you know what I admire about you the most? You’re a fighter, you never give up. I’m so proud and honoured to have a friend and fellow soldier like you. Promise me that you’ll never change. Always keep fighting.’

 

John bit his lip, his eyes welling up at the memory. He missed James Sholto, his best friend in the army.

 

You’re strong, Watson. Fight on. Make me proud.

 

John blinked the threatening tears, before bracing himself with renewed confidence and giving a soldier-like nod to his reflection. Message received, Sholto.

 

He quickly changed into his pyjamas and brushed his teeth, his thoughts on James all along. John Watson had made a promise, and he wasn’t going to break it.

 

Returning to the room, he stopped beside the bed, standing on the side where he had had recently lain. He made a sudden decision and slipped under the duvet instead of lying on the top.

 

Before settling down to sleep, he touched Sherlock’s forehead lightly, cautiously checking the man’s temperature. Still too warm, John frowned, not liking that Sherlock’s fever hadn’t diminished. Despite that, he was hesitant to wake the man, who was running on far too little sleep as it was.

 

With an anxious sigh, John laid onto his back, folding his arms under his head and staring at the ceiling. Assessing Sherlock’s condition, he made mental notes for the man’s treatment plan, drawing up a few different scenarios. Of course, the best option would have been being back in London, where John could fetch the right medicine and conduct the needed examinations for a proper diagnosis, but he knew that Sherlock wouldn’t agree on abandoning the case for the sake of dealing with the breakdown of his transport. John couldn’t help but crack a half-amused smile at the mental image of Sherlock protesting. The doctor wondered, though, how long Lady Beresford would tolerate having a sick guest in her house, when that certain guest was supposed to be accomplishing an assignment that included keeping her out of harm’s way. Her mansion wasn’t a private hospital, and she wasn’t Mother Teresa. John feared her reaction, seeing how two-faced she was.

 

His thoughts briefly wandered to his issues with the meddling ghost of his father, before going back to James again.

 

***

 

Sherlock stirred in the middle of the night at the nagging urge to empty his bladder. His senses waking, he felt an unfamiliar weight on his shoulder and waist. Recalling the last memories of the evening, he remembered having been tucked in bed, and that—at his request—John stayed with him, caressing his hair. Now they were in a completely different position. John’s head rested in the crook of Sherlock's neck, his arm draped around the detective’s torso in a warm embrace, while his leg casually rested on Sherlock's calf. They hadn't been this close since that drunken night.

 

Sherlock didn't want to break the unexpected, ever so comfortable situation—not when all he yearned for was to be physically intimate with John. Even the urge of nature couldn't compete with John Watson. It was just his transport after all, something to which he had never paid much attention, unless it was inevitable. It was all just a matter of mind over body.

 

Ignoring the discomfort, he focused rather on the delicious feeling of being in the arms of John. The heat of John's body enveloping his already unhealthily warm transport—38.4 C, he reckoned —wasn't the most comfortable thing, but if that was the price of finally having him this close, he was more than willing to pay it. The weight of another body against his own was such an unknown sensation; Sherlock didn't remember when anyone ever—including his own mother—had held him like this. The intimacy this action provided was ever so appealing and comforting. John giving him this little moment of happiness made Sherlock fall a little more.

 

John's even breath caressed his ear like the gentle, warm summer breeze. Sherlock smiled at the occasional little snoring noises, finding them utterly endearing. John was drooling on him; there was a damp spot on his T-shirt. Sherlock wondered what he was dreaming about. Now he wished to have the ability to see other people's dreams—more precisely, John's dreams. He could make such good use of that—indulging in the happy ones, and intervening in the nightmares to grant his partner a peaceful rest. John would never have any more of those night terrors when he bolted, panting, covered in cold sweat, with utter fear and horror in his dark eyes. Or, if he had the power to channel dreams into another person's brain, he could plant only happy dreams into John's mind, preferably ones involving himself.

 

John shifted, and Sherlock thought that this was the end of the blissful intimacy. But instead of stirring awake, he just scooted even closer, pressing his chest tightly against Sherlock's back. His arm encircled Sherlock's waist more possessively, his hand ended up resting on the flat, muscular stomach. Had he been naked, John's touch would have met his bare skin instead of his shirt, Sherlock thought wistfully. This new position was even better than the previous one, and he didn't know if he could ever miss out on sleeping like this from now on.

 

Of course, life didn't let him enjoy their snuggle, as no matter how much he fought against it, his full bladder made itself known with unbearable intensity. Cautiously and reluctantly, he disentangled himself from the soundly sleeping doctor. Tossing the melted ice-pack from his ankle aside, he watched John's peaceful expression for any sign of waking. But John didn't notice his bedfellow leaving, just nuzzled his face into Sherlock's pillow and carried on sleeping contently.

 

Sherlock hobbled into the bathroom, wincing every now and then, his injured foot hurting with every step. After finally getting rid of the discomfort caused by his full bladder, he took a glance in the mirror. He looked terrible—unkempt, messy, sweat-stricken hair, dark circles around his weary, faded eyes—so very unlike the image of the great detective. Facing the residents of the mansion like this tomorrow would just undermine my reputation, he grimaced.

 

Limping back to the room, he settled back into the bed beside his still peacefully sleeping bedmate. The moonlight, filtering through the large window, fell onto the doctor, bathing his face in its magical light. His grey-blond hair was shining like silver and gold, giving him the ethereal look of an angel. Sherlock had never seen him more beautiful. Drinking in the sight, he wondered what would happen if he kissed John now. Would he wake? If so, would he reprimand me for breaking the rule, or let me get away with the little mischief? John valued promises, regarding their violation a crime. Being aware how important and crucial this certain vow between them was to him, Sherlock reckoned that John would be disappointed in him. On the other hand, John was just a human being, prone to failure and temptation, and knowing how desperate Sherlock had been to revisit physical intimacy with him, he might reconsider his approach. Sherlock wasn't sure which would have been the more likely scenario. Yet, he had never been famous for obeying rules or for restraining from doing things spontaneously, and certainly, and this situation wasn't the time to start doing so. He could always blame his feverish state for his actions.

 

Cautiously scooting closer to his boyfriend, he sneaked his arm around the sturdy, pyjama-clad torso, watching John's features for any sign of stirring. John didn't notice anything; his chest rose and fell peacefully in his sleep. A bit bolder, Sherlock snuggled closer, shortening the distance between their bodies. He could smell John's scent and feel the warmth of the compact body—it was heaven. He couldn't help but stare at John, intently studying the handsome face. He loved watching John, he couldn't get enough of the lovely sight. His gaze fell onto the delicate eyelids with the sandy sweep of eyelashes hiding the beautiful, warm navy blue eyes underneath, the very eyes that could worship or kill him with one look. Watching the rapid movements underneath the eyelids and sensing the change in the man's breathing, Sherlock concluded that John was right in the REM sleep phase, the period of dreams.

 

John shifted suddenly, and Sherlock thought that he would be discovered in a moment. He held his feverish breath anxiously, biting his bottom lip. John mumbled incoherently. Sherlock couldn't make anything out of it, until the muttering became more articulate and John breathed his name. Sherlock jerked his foggy head, wondering if it had only been the fever playing games with his mind, or that John was indeed dreaming of him. As if in answer, John muttered his name again, accompanied by a low moan. Sherlock's face heated, and his breath caught at the unexpected scene.

 

Was John having intimate dreams of him? This was more than he had hoped for. What could be a better chance to sneak a little kiss than this, when the subject of your affection is dreaming of you?

 

Tentatively, he leaned in, his heart beating wildly in his throat, his breath lingering on John's face. Ever so cautiously, he closed the gap between them, his eager mouth brushing against John's dry lips. He was prepared for John's eyes to snap open and glare at him, but that didn't happen. Instead, after a moment, he kissed him back slowly. Sherlock's eyes widened in surprise, but he didn't pull back.

 

The magic lasted only for a few moments, but for Sherlock—having yearned this contact for so long—it felt more like hours. But Sherlock knew it was a bit not good to kiss someone without their permission, so he ended the contact with a sigh. John's REM phase apparently ending, he entered another cycle of sleep, snoring quietly. Licking his lips to savour the memory, Sherlock stared at the sleeping form of his boyfriend, storing every little millisecond of the accidental kiss in his mind palace. Sickness and tiredness soon overwhelmed him, and his eyelids dropped happily as sleep took him over.


Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve - When You Say Nothing At All



It's amazing how you can speak right to my heart
Without saying a word, you can light up the dark
Try as I may I can never explain
What I hear when you don't say a thing

 

~ Ronan Keating - When You Say Nothing At All



John was the one waking first the next morning. Blinking his eyes open, he started, facing the white T-shirt damp from sweat and bearing Sherlock's rich scent right against his nose—with the still sleeping detective underneath, of course. Assessing the situation, John realised that, sometime during the night, he must have snuggled up to Sherlock, ending up resting his head onto the sinewy chest. Fearful of waking his bedfellow, at least until he figured out how to handle the scene, he didn't make a move. His head against Sherlock's ribcage, he could hear the rhythmic, reassuring thud of the detective's heart, and suddenly all he could think about was how he needed to hear this beautiful sound for the rest of his life. Finding himself in Sherlock's embrace, John felt like this was where he belonged. The closeness was so comforting and empowering, he didn't want to miss it anymore.

 

Of course, his happiness had to be clouded by his insecurities, namely his father’s loathsome remark about John’s involvement with someone of his own gender. But this time John didn’t let the haunting ghost ruining the nice morning. He retorted with a sod off and fixed his concentration on reality, which at the moment meant realising that he was having a prominent morning erection. No wonder, after that heated dream he’d had, he thought, his lips curved into an embarrassed smile. In his dream, Sherlock's pyjamas hadn't been soaked in sickness sweat, but the consuming heat of passion and intense sexual activity with him. John had experienced the most satisfying release in the wake of Sherlock's soft touches and eager kisses. He thought he could even feel the kiss on his lips for real at one point. It was amazing.

 

Disgusting freak, the mental voice of his father was back, but John refused to be weak. Pressing his mouth in a tight line, clenching his hands, he focused on fighting the symptoms of the panic attack looming over him. Go to hell, he growled. I’m not letting you ruin my life.

 

The bright side of the distressing moment was that the problem of his hard-on seemed to have been solved. Discomfort didn’t help maintaining an erection, and John never thought that someday he would be thankful for this biological effect. Shifting a little, he created some distance between their groins just to be safe, when Sherlock stirred and cracked his eyes open a bit.

 

“Morning.” John looked up at him, trying to hide his passing distress behind a sheepish little smile.

 

***

 

Sherlock blinked heavily, his sleep-dazed eyes struggling to focus. He still felt under the weather and, once again, he cursed his fragile transport turning against him. Despite the energising sleep he had had snuggled up to John, he felt like he’d been hit by a truck, weak and sore. His mouth was dry, fever having taken its toll, rendering his body a useless, pitiful mess. His ankle throbbed in sharp pain, and his skin still felt overly warm, while his throat burned in the desperate need for hydration.

 

Cracking his eyes open, he found John gazing at him with a tiny smile. What a glorious morning , Sherlock rejoiced, suddenly all his misery forgotten. He would suffer dozens of colds and pneumonia, if this sight greeted him every morning in return.

 

Opening his eyes fully and taking a closer look on John’s face, his delight ebbed. There was some tension etching the doctor’s features, a flash of distress tinting the midnight blue eyes, and Sherlock could tell from the involuntary, subconscious twitch of John’s mouth that the man’s smile wasn’t entirely genuine. Remembering that stolen little kiss during the night, Sherlock wondered nervously if John had noticed anything.

 

He was already prepared for being told off, but instead of starting a speech of disapproval, John only asked, “How are you feeling?”

 

“There is no need to play the doctor on me,” Sherlock groaned, snapping back into reality, the words coming out with a raspy edge. The mucous membrane of his mouth and throat threatened to split in dehydration in any moment. It was pure hell. He swallowed hard. Grabbing the glass of water that John had placed on the bedside table for him, Sherlock swallowed the liquid frantically. Once he sated his need for hydration, he wiped his mouth and stated firmly, “I intend to carry on the investigation, no matter what, and I won't stay in bed even if you order me to.”

 

“You're impossible,” John grunted. “Let me check your temperature.” He placed his hand onto Sherlock’s forehead. “Not as high as last night, but I reckon you still have a slight fever. Probably around 37.8. Any pain in your chest or head?”

 

“It doesn't matter.” Sherlock's shrugged. “I'll be fine.”

 

“If I didn’t know that the reason for your illness was that night in the forest, I would say you’d contracted that bacterial infection you played with the other day.”

 

Sherlock let out an indignant growl at the mocking tone. Glancing at John, he perceived the amused glint in the doctor’s eyes. “You would like that, huh?” he grumbled sullenly. “Being right about how incautious my actions are.”

 

“Honestly? Yes,” John concurred with a tiny gloating smile playing at the corner of his mouth. “The consequences might teach you a lesson.”

 

“Thank you very much for your compassion,” Sherlock sneered, pulling the duvet over his head in a prominent sulk.

 

***

 

John snickered. Sherlock Holmes could be a big child at times. Still, John had to admit that, while it could be damn infuriating and patience testing, he found this side of the detective adorable. There was an endearing innocence and vulnerability about Sherlock’s childish behaviour.

 

“You’ll be lucky if you haven't caught pneumonia,” he kept talking to the bundle of the consulting detective. “How’s your ankle?”

 

A muffled grunt came from under the duvet, indicating that Sherlock found tedious the analysis of his well-being.

 

John shrugged. “As you wish. You can sulk all day, but then you definitely won't solve this case.” He knew that mentioning the Work could lure Sherlock out of his brooding.

 

He didn’t have to wait long. Tousled curls peeked out from under the covers, followed by a set of piercing, washed-out blue eyes.

 

“I'm not sulking,” came the indignant grunt.

 

“Oh, yeah.” John snorted and added sarcastically, “And I’m Steven Moffat.”

 

“Who?” A storm of confusion ruffled the blue eyes, the angular face peering out above the edge of the duvet.

 

“Doesn't matter,” John sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He would never get used to the fact that Sherlock Holmes and popular culture were not acquaintances, let alone friends.

 

Tossing the covers back with a frown, Sherlock swung his long legs over the bedside. “Has it ever occurred to you that if you enlightened me about your beloved, though pointless, references—which you expect me to be familiar with, by the way—I might expand my knowledge on them to your delight?” Standing up and putting weight on his injured foot, he immediately winced and gritted his teeth in pain.

 

John froze at the huffed words tainted with accusation. Sherlock might be right. John had never given any explanation of the allusions he used, given that he had never seen the genius being inclined to delve into lessons on the world of entertainment, politics, or tabloid gossip that ordinary people talked about every day. John had never assumed that Sherlock Holmes, the man averse to such dull things, would be interested in a recap of pop culture.

 

Blinking, he searched Sherlock's features with narrow eyes. “Would you really like that?”

 

“No,” Sherlock grunted, scrunching his nose in disdain. “But you seem to be obsessed with them, so I should get myself familiar with them, if I want to follow you. You keep telling me that we should get to know each other better in order to make this relationship work. How do you expect me to do that, if you keep me in the dark?”

 

John nodded. “You're right. I'm sorry. I just never thought–”

 

“Assumptions!” Sherlock huffed, limping toward the chair that his clothes were draped over. “You still haven't learned that the basis of a hypothesis is always facts.” He shook his head half-heartedly, his unruly curls bouncing. Slipping out of the sweat-soaked T-shirt, exposing his bare torso, he asked casually, “So who is he?”

 

John was oblivious to the question asked. The delicious sight of Sherlock’s naked, sweat-glistening, muscular torso was too distracting. After his heated dream, Sherlock's closeness and the intimate position they had woken this morning had had its effect on John in every way.

 

He wasn't sure how long he would be able to keep his hands off Sherlock, rejecting physical intimacy. Thought it wasn’t as if it was entirely John’s choice. Those hateful, haunting remarks of his father’s ghost triggering PTSD-like symptoms and disturbing his mental peace was quite a put off.

 

With his recent panic attacks, John found the need to talk with Sherlock about his issues more and more pressing. Maybe opening up to the man would help him to get out of the dark woods.

 

Turning his head away uncomfortably, trying to resist temptation, John cleared his throat. “Did you say something?”

 

“Keep up, John!” Sherlock reprimanded, buttoning up his white shirt. John liked him wearing white—not as much as the like purple though; the shirt of that shade that Sherlock owned was pure sex on the slim, sinewy torso—the lack of colour made the contrast to the dark curls more pronounced, accentuating the detective’s beauty. “I asked who that man you mentioned was.”

 

“Oh. Moffat?” John inhaled deeply, composing himself. “He's one of those people you would call a criminal mastermind.” Sherlock raised a brow in sudden interest. “He is a scriptwriter and producer of telly shows, like the one I watch. The one you like to keep referring to as 'the guy with a bow-tie',” John's mouth curled into a tiny smile. “He likes messing with the viewers’ heads and tormenting them with angsty and dark storylines, playing at the audience's emotions and devotion to the characters.”

 

“A man pulling the strings and playing god,” Sherlock mused aloud. “Sounds like Moriarty.”

 

“Well, I must admit I find that allusion quite accurate,” John agreed with an amused smirk. Sneaking a glance at his boyfriend, he found that Sherlock was almost fully dressed. The pair of black, bespoke trousers perfectly enveloped the curves of that fine butt. John had cursed the tailor many times for the masterful work, disturbing his mental peace and confidence, evoking lustful thoughts and irresistible temptation.

 

No, Watson, you must be strong , he reminded himself. But his body hardly obeyed when it pertained to the gorgeous Sherlock Holmes. He just hoped that Sherlock was too occupied to notice the more prominent signs of his arousal.

 

Disappearing into the bathroom quickly, John stood under the cool spray of the shower. His thoughts still on the issue of intimacy, he wondered if sleeping together—just sleeping, no sex—would work. He had enjoyed the feel of Sherlock's body against his this morning; its warmth and the sensation of the regular thumping of his heart was ever so comforting. Would Sherlock be amenable to sharing a bed with him? This little change could be another step toward breaking the walls he had deliberately built between them, and could help with sorting out his issues.

 

His issues. Instead of coping with them, getting on the right track, he felt like he was sinking deeper into the swamp of his insecurities. It shouldn’t be like this. Maybe I should see Ella again, ask for advice.

 

Drying himself and getting dressed, he entered the room again to find Sherlock limping back and forth, muttering under his breath in frustration. Not beneficial to the ankle injury, the doctor in John noted immediately.

 

“What am I missing?” Sherlock grumbled through gritted teeth, his eyes flashing wildly in annoyance. “I am certain that I have seen and heard everything I need, yet I still can't connect–”

 

“You should rest that foot of yours,” John advised, unable to refrain from acting like the doctor he was. “It'll swell up again. Not mentioning that you still have fever.”

 

“Who cares?” Sherlock snapped, waving his hand dismissively. “There's something more important to deal with now!”

 

“As you wish. But don't complain me later when the pain kills you!”

 

Sherlock huffed theatrically.

 

“You don't have to listen to me,” John noted sarcastically. “Actually, you're not the only patient ignoring my advice. The last one ended up with one leg shorter than the other, after he disregarded my suggestion to see a specialist about some acute pain in his foot...”

 

Sherlock froze, and John could see the gears turning swiftly in the genius’ mind. “Of, course!” The detective exclaimed in revelation. “But what's the motive?” He pondered aloud.

 

“Care to share?”

 

“Hmm?” Sherlock sat down into the chair at the window, taking up his trademark thinking position.

 

“Would you fill me in? You know, I'm not a genius.”

 

“Later,” Sherlock dismissed his request curtly. “I need to think.”

 

John sighed, giving up. When Sherlock withdrew into his mind palace, there wasn't much John could do, so he decided to go for a walk around the house.

 

***

 

When John returned some time later, the scene hadn’t changed. He found Sherlock still trying to connect the dots while pondering loudly. But at least the detective had stopped pacing and was sat in the armchair by the window.

 

“Knowing the who, but not the why, is the most irritating thing ever ,” Sherlock grumbled, running his long fingers through his tousled curls in endless frustration.

 

“Maybe you should take a little break,” John suggested, sliding out of his jacket sitting on the bed. “That might help.”

 

Sherlock groaned at the idea, rolling his eyes. “I can't. My mind is full of noises and voices, the pieces trying to match in a thousand different ways. I just cannot dismiss the sounds.”

 

“Come here,” John patted the mattress beside him. Sherlock cast him a quizzical look. “Move your arse,” John nudged him with a grin. Sherlock limped over to the bed, apparently wondering what John was up to. John smiled reassuringly, “Lay your head into my lap.” Sherlock's eyes widened at the suggestion. “I won't chop your head off, if that's what you fear!” John laughed.

 

Sherlock did as he was told, too mesmerized to protest. John's fingers dived into the sea of silky curls. Sherlock's eyes fell shut immediately, and a moan escaped from his throat. John's fingertips gently massaged the overheated scalp that hid the genius' unstoppable, loudly whirring hard drive, until the unwell detective eventually went pliant in John’s lap, seemingly able to let go of the questions he was supposed to answer.

 

John watched him finally relax, enjoying the soft moans erupting from Sherlock's throat and admiring the rare bliss and serenity on the sharp features. Changing position, he lifted the head with angelic curls, which earned a indignant groan from Sherlock, the multi-coloured, dazed eyes looking up at him reproachfully.

 

“Come,” John slid up on the bed and lay on his side, reaching out for Sherlock. Confused about his partner's intentions, Sherlock gaped at him, not daring to make a move. “Let's get more comfortable,” John suggested. “You're still ill, you need some rest.”

 

“It's only middle of the afternoon,” Sherlock countered, but he scooted beside John.

 

Propped up on one arm, John sank his fingers into the dark hair once again. He kept drawing circles on Sherlock's scalp, alternating light pressure and languid squeezes, occasionally entangling into the ebony strands. The detective curled up on the bed like a cat, relishing the ministrations.

 

“You're so damn beautiful...” John breathed, taking in the sight. Hit by a sudden urge, he bowed down and placed a little kiss onto the pale temple.

 

Sherlock's moan got deeper, and he arched his body against John's chest. John's heart beat faster at the sensation of the velvet skin under his lips and the noises rumbling in Sherlock’s throat. He couldn't resist, but breathed another kiss onto the soft flesh with the pulsing artery underneath. It was intoxicating.

 

But the bliss of the moment didn’t last long. John’s body went rigid and his throat tightened when the deep, hate-filled voice calling him name suddenly filled his head. No, not again, John squeezed his eyes tight.

 

As if sensing that something was wrong, Sherlock shifted and turned in the embrace, but before he could say a word, John’s lips were on the detective’s feverish forehead. For a second, John wondered if Sherlock had taken the pill that he ordered him to, but the thought faded quickly, when he felt Sherlock’s hot breath tickling his neck and the man’s large, heated hand cupped his cheek and caressed it tenderly. John’s body eased under the touch.

 

John breathed one more kiss onto the pale forehead, before peppering Sherlock's hairline with tiny, languid kisses, coaxing those cute purring noises from the detective’s throat. Smiling fondly, his lips dived into the forest of the dark curls, nuzzling the silky hair and inhaling its sweet scent. Sherlock moaned loudly and squirmed against John, seeking contact desperately.

 

Feeling his body reacting to the closeness and heated moment, John suspected that they were slipping into dangerous territory. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, but given his issues, giving into temptation wouldn’t be a good idea.

 

Pulling back from the mass of curls reluctantly, John rested his forehead against Sherlock’s. Their mouths just a centimetre apart, they breathed each other's air in silence, neither of them daring to move. Eventually, Sherlock tilted his head a little and edged a tiny bit closer toward John’s lips.

 

John’s heart thumped fast in his ribcage. Do it! You want to. He wetted his bottom lip hesitantly. He wants you to too. What are you waiting for?

 

Tilting his head in the right angle, John eventually leaned a millimetre closer, his lips parting slightly of their own accord.

 

John, it’s not a crime, both Ella and Harry encouraged him.

 

It is , the stern voice thundered in his head. I didn’t raise you to snog blokes. You’re a savage. Men like you ended up hanged or chemically castrated in the past. So how is this not a crime?

 

It’s love! Harry snapped at their father viciously. Sure, you never knew what it was! Love knows no barriers.

 

Watson, fight on. Fight for your love. You can do it, James assured him.

 

“No!” John pulled back from Sherlock, gasping heavily. It was too much. His head felt like a battlefield. For the first time, he understood what Sherlock meant by the loud noises and voices taking over his head. It was insufferable.

 

Startled, Sherlock searched John’s features anxiously. “John?”

 

***

 

‘Lay your head into my lap.’ Sherlock thought he hallucinated the words. John suggesting this intimate contact couldn't be real. No, that must be my feverish mind playing a trick on me, Sherlock dismissed the alluring idea. But then John encouraged him again, and Sherlock realised that it wasn't just an illusion, and for some unfathomable reason, John suspended the no physical intimacy rule and deliberately initiated the unexpected contact.

 

Sherlock's heart beat faster, and he reckoned his temperature rose in excitement. He stared at John, searching the blond's face for an explanation, wondering where the trap was hidden, but all he could see in John's open expression was genuine care and warmth. The clear, dark blue eyes and soft smile persuaded him to make a move, and Sherlock couldn't refuse the invitation. John pulled him in like a magnet, and Sherlock couldn't resist the force of physics. Sitting on the edge of the bed beside John, he carefully rested his head on the jeans-clad thighs, still ready to pull back in any moment in case John thought twice and figured it wasn't a good idea. But as soon as John's fingers dived into his hair, the detective's apprehension dissolved and all that mattered was the blissful moment where only the two of them existed. It was one of those moments when Sherlock couldn't give a damn about the reasons and consequences.

 

His body eased under the tender caresses and his eyes fell shut of their own accord. The warm fingertips brushing against his scalp elicited a heavenly sensation and Sherlock realised he was moaning quietly only once the sounds left his lips. The simple touch could have been nothing more than a comforting form of contact to people with a regular sex life, but for Sherlock it was the most intimate thing. With his non-existent love life and self-proclaimed sociopath lifestyle, he had experienced such physical contact only when his parents had been affectionate with him as a child. Already back then, Sherlock had been aware that his scalp was peculiarly sensitive, so whenever he had been distressed or scared, the only thing providing comfort was caressing his head, just like John was doing now. Well, not quite like that. John's touch was so much more than a simple gesture of comfort. It was a promise of care, safety and unspoken love, a reminder that there was more of the craved intimacy ahead and a plea for patience and faith until the time would come.

 

Sherlock let out an indignant groan when his head got suddenly separated from John's warm thighs, his eyes fluttering open reluctantly and reprovingly staring up into the doctor's eyes smiling at him. There was nothing about John's features that indicated the end of this magical arrangement, but then why did he break the contact?

 

He watched John's moves with slight apprehension, unsure of what was going on. Please, don't play with me like I’m a doll that you can throw away once you don't feel like cuddling any longer. Don't give me a taste of heaven if, in the next moment, you leave me lying on the cold ground.

 

Finding John not leaving him hanging, only changing position, the tightness eased in Sherlock's chest. Thank you. Then John reached out for him again, and Sherlock's stomach filled with tiny butterflies fluttering their wings. He still was not convinced that this whole scene was nothing but a dream.

 

' You're still ill.' Sherlock wasn't sure if it was his mind reasoning or John stating the obvious out loud, the voices blended into one another too perfectly to distinguish them. But then John's voice broke through the haze of his feverish mind, insisting that Sherlock needed rest, and Sherlock finally realised why John honoured him with the unexpected gift of intimacy. Now, for once in his life, Sherlock was utterly thankful to his transport for the tedious breakdown rendering him a feverish mess. If this was what granted him John's gentle care, Sherlock wanted to prolong the maintenance period as long as possible.

 

Snuggled up to John, who was now lying behind him, the warmth of the compact body enveloped Sherlock like a soft blanket, and though his system was already overheated and he found it harder to breath in the double heat, Sherlock eagerly welcomed the embrace. He would rather burn up than refuse what he longed for. It would be an acceptable way of dying.

 

Ahh! Sherlock's heart jumped in his ribcage and his feverish breath caught in his sore throat when John's fingers waded through the sea of his curls and drew little circles on his sensitive, burning scalp, occasionally gently tugging at his hair in the process. God... The loud whir of his mind slowly transitioned into a soft murmur of ' John, John, John ', shutting everything else out. Sherlock had never felt such a blissful serenity. He went completely pliant in his boyfriend's arms, moaning elatedly and arching his back against John.

 

John whispering “You're so damn beautiful” into his ear sent a sweet shiver through Sherlock's body and his heart into a faster rhythm. John ... The warm, soft lips that Sherlock craved brushed against his temple, and a deep moan of pleasure escaped his throat, shaking his core. It wasn't a kiss on the lips, but it was enough to render Sherlock a quivering, burning mess.

 

Was this the turning point? Could they finally cross the line that John had drawn and take what they both apparently wanted?

 

John tensed against him, as if he suspected what Sherlock was considering. The reaction startled Sherlock, and his heart skipped a beat. Something was wrong.

 

Did John come to the same realisation that Sherlock had? John was not an idiot, he surely could see where these moments of comfort could lead to. He was the romance expert after all. Was it the decision that made him tense? Obviously. Did John decide to give in and take the leap or keep to his resolution and call this little interlude to an end? Probably the latter , Sherlock thought bitterly. There was obvious proof in John's body language.

 

He needed data. He turned over to study John's features and make a deduction, but as soon as they were face to face, the doctor's warm lips pressed a kiss onto his forehead as if trying to convince him that John meant every little move. Sherlock's breath hitched, his feverish, confused mind raced with questions like 'do you really intend to go further' or 'is this real'. Nervousness taking over him, Sherlock couldn't force even one syllable onto his tongue, and so he just caressed John's cheek tenderly, feeling the man easing immediately under his touch. Sherlock expected John apologising and announcing retreat, but on the contrary, John kept kissing his forehead, seemingly having no intention to stop.

 

Could this really be the moment? Sherlock's breath accelerated and his heart fluttered in rising hope.

 

John's eager lips wandered into his hair, and Sherlock was done. Moaning loudly, he arched his body against John, desperately seeking contact. Oh. His heart started to beat faster as soon as he registered John's body reacting to his moves. So delicious, so thrilling, better than any case.

 

John's forehead resting against his, Sherlock inhaled John's hot breath, drinking in the fire burning between them. Their lips lingered dangerously close, the closest since that drunken night, and Sherlock's pulse quickened, his mouth going dry. All he wanted was to feel John's lips pressing against his, claiming him, marking him. Nothing else mattered. Kiss me , he begged, his gaze fixed on John's inviting lips. But John didn't make a move, and Sherlock found it utterly frustrating. You don't want to? Have I misread the signs? No, you could have pushed me away and stopped this, but you didn't. You want it, just as much as I do. Then what are you waiting for?

 

The confusion and impatience slowly took their toll on Sherlock, and he almost whimpered in exasperation. Unable to bear the silent torture any longer, he carefully inched closer toward the slightly parted lips he craved to claim, encouraging John to make a move, and smiled to himself when, mirroring his action, the doctor shortened the distance between them. Sherlock's heart beat wildly with every millimetre that John closed between them, his body tingling in anticipation. It's finally happening , he rejoiced when John's mouth was only a hair’s breadth away from his.

 

But before their lips could meet, John pulled back with a gasp, jolting Sherlock out of the dazed anticipation. Sherlock’s eyes fluttered open with a start, confusion and disappointment whirling in his chest as he looked up at John with a silent, desperate sigh, offended that life once again sabotaged the so-awaited moment. But as soon as his eyes caught sight of John’s face, his frustration was immediately replaced with worry, and his chest tightened at the deep distress he saw in the man’s features. The glassy, panic-filled eyes avoided meeting his look and stared unfocused at the other end of the room.

 

“I’m sorry,” Sherlock sighed remorsefully, his voice strained and low, noticing John swallowing hard, seemingly trying to fight whatever was upsetting him. “I thought...” he bowed his head, but the words got lost in his throat. He was wrong once again. How preposterous was that? He’d thought his deduction was  flawless—dilated pupils, heavy breathing, rising body heat, growing hardness, all these signs were proof that John hadn’t been unaffected by their closeness and had intended to close the distance between their lips. And yet, he didn’t. Stupid sentiment just disturbed reasonable thinking. No wonder Sherlock always resented it. And despite that, he was driven by feelings at the very moment too.

 

”I– I crossed the line,” he stammered abashedly. “Forgive me, please.”

 

“It’s not you,” John mumbled thickly. “It’s me...”

 

“Don't,” Sherlock’s look snapped up, his eyes fixed on John. He couldn’t bear to hear John’s self loathing as he took the blame on himself again.

 

John’s weary eyes finally met his. “I–” The single syllable came out as a mere croak. John closed his mouth and opened it to try again, but Sherlock hushed him, wrapping an arm around the upset man, tentatively squeezing John’s back. “Shh. We will get over this, together.”

 

A sudden wave of exhaustion hitting him, Sherlock reckoned that his temperature flared up again. His eyes fell shut, and he breathed in with effort.

 

John’s soft, cool palm touched his cheek. “Your fever’s rising again,” the doctor’s apprehension-tinted voice called. Sherlock frowned, an unimpressed groan erupting from his burning throat. Brilliant deduction, Doctor!

 

“Obv’sly,” he mumbled, laying his head on John’s chest.

 

“Sleep,” John’s voice rumbled under Sherlock’s ear, and the detective didn’t need to be told twice this time.



***

 

When John woke the next morning, the other side of the bed was empty. Propping himself on his elbows, he saw Sherlock curling up in the armchair where he had begun to sit when he wanted to think. Judging from the iconic thinking position, the detective was deep in his mind palace, oblivious to the world around him.

 

John rubbed his neck and sat up. Remembering the circumstances under which he had fallen asleep last night, a shadow of apprehension flashed through him. He couldn’t procrastinate any longer, he had to tell Sherlock about his visit with Ella and fill him in on the truth about being reluctant to engage into physical intimacy with him.

 

With a quiet sigh, he got up and padded into the bathroom. He badly needed a hot shower to ease the tension in his body.

 

Once he returned from the bathroom, feeling a bit better, Sherlock had apparently finished the maintenance of his mind palace and, for the sake of variety, paced the room agitatedly. John feared that if the detective kept doing this, Lady Beresford was going to deduct the cost of a new carpet from Sherlock’s fee.

 

“Morning,” he greeted Sherlock, his mind already drawing up the versions of how to approach the awkward subject.

 

Sherlock jerked his head and, ignoring the social nicety, perused John with narrow eyes. “What is it?” he asked outright.

 

“Hmm?” John snapped his gaze to the detective.

 

“You look troubled.”

 

“Right,” John took a deep breath. There was no turning back. “I need to talk to you.” He licked his lips nervously.

 

Sherlock looked at him with his familiar penetrative gaze. “What have I done now?” He sighed, studying every millimetre of John's face.

 

“What? No, there's...” John had no clue what Sherlock was referring to. He immediately felt sorry for the man looking for the fault in himself. Ella surely would have diagnosed a bad case of self-blame in Sherlock's case, had he ever paid a visit to her. “Why do you think it's you... wait a moment, is there something you did that I should know about?” Seeing Sherlock thinking hard about the answer, John shook his head, dismissing the answer. “Anyway, forget it, there's something important I want to talk about.” He took a deep breath, bracing himself to approach the sensitive issue. “I visited my therapist the other week. I– I wanted her advice on... this, um, issue...”

 

“I know,” Sherlock noted without a blink of surprise.

 

John frowned. “I haven't told about it to you yet. How–?” Horror spread on his face. “You didn't actually…?” Sherlock's silence and his neutral expression was enough for him to see what he wished he hadn’t. “Sherlock.. tell me that you didn't snoop on me... tell me that I'm mistaken...”

 

“You're mistaken, John,” came the mocking reply.

 

“Damn you, you prick, how can you be this oblivious to the whole–?!” John snapped, feeling once again hurt by Sherlock's ignorance of his need for some privacy. The man would never learn. They had been there so many times, and Sherlock was still—deliberately?—crossing the line of not good again and again. “Oh, no, I don't need an answer, you’ve made it very clear...”

 

“John–”

 

“No, I don't want your apology, I have had too many of those already,” he said coldly, striding over to the chest of drawers. Grabbing his duffel bag from the chair, he shoved his garments into it with vehemence.

 

Sherlock watched his moves with shock and fear in his now wide blue eyes. “What are you doing?” His voice was low and tinged with alarm.

 

“What does it look like?” John spat angrily, pulling up the bag's zip forcefully. “You're the great detective, deduce it!”

 

“John, I'm–”

 

“No, don't dare say that word again!” His brow jerked up sharply, the menacing look cold in his indigo eyes. “I swear if you apologise again, I'll punch you in the face. You always think you can just apologise, and everything is all better.”

 

“Please, let's talk about it,” Sherlock pleaded, his apprehensive eyes following John's every move.

 

“No, there's nothing to talk about! I’ve had enough of you completely ignoring all kinds of privacy. I’ve tolerated your nosiness and violation of my private sphere, but this was the last straw! Snooping on my therapy sessions! How could you?? No, I just can't put up with it any longer.”

 

Panic flashed through Sherlock's ice-blue eyes. “John...”

 

“Save it, Sherlock.” John grabbed his jacket. “I always suspected that we wouldn’t be able to make a relationship work. I was right.” Pursing his lips, he stopped at the door for one more moment. “I can't do this. You used to meddle into my things before, but ever since we started dating, you've completely taken over my life, intervening whenever you feel like. I'm not your marionette doll that you can move around as you like. It has to stop.”

 

“John, please...”

 

John shook his head wearily. “I'm sorry, Sherlock.” With a loud sigh, he walked out of the room, leaving a terrified man behind. Passing through the hallway, he stumbled into Lady Beresford.

 

“Mr. Watson!” Noticing the bag in his hand, she cast a perplexed glance at him. “You're leaving?”

 

“Yes, Lady Beresford, I've been suddenly called back to London. I'm sorry. Thank you for your hospitality, though.”

 

“I should be thankful to you and Mr. Holmes for having been willing to come here and help me.”

 

“Do you mind if I ask for someone to drive me to the station?”

 

“Of course, Barnaby will take you there.”

 

“Cheers.”

 

***

 

‘I’m sorry, Sherlock.’

 

The words cut like a cold, sharp knife, leaving a gaping, burning wound in its wake. Sherlock immediately felt the pain down to his core, through his lungs and heart, making his breathing difficult and rendering his chest so tight that he thought the pressure would crush the vital organs sheltered by his ribcage.

 

Frozen to the spot, Sherlock stared wide eyed at the door, his intense, pleading gaze almost setting the woodwork on fire. No... John... Don’t… His eyelashes fluttered rapidly as his mind processed the happenings, decoding and interpreting every moment.

 

‘I always suspected that we wouldn’t be able to make a relationship work. I was right. I can't do this.’  Sherlock flinched at John’s words, deep fear gripping his heart. No, he couldn’t mean.. his brain countered, refusing to accept the crushing meaning of the words. Don’t say this, Sherlock begged, his eyes welling up and facial muscles twitching in desperation. It’s not over, we are not through, right? He bit his lip anxiously, the frown wrinkles getting more prominent on his forehead. This cannot be the end, when we have barely started it…

 

He remembered John’s smile when the doctor had agreed to date him, the admiring, affectionate looks John had given him the past weeks, the happy moments they had shared, and Sherlock’s heart wrenched at the painful prospect that those would never happen again.

 

Staring blankly at the door, his mind’s eye still seeing John dashing out without looking back, Sherlock felt a heavy shiver running down his spine. The room suddenly felt much colder, and not only from the drift coming in from the hallway. Glancing down at his hands, Sherlock found them trembling uncontrollably. Sentiment , he huffed bitterly and blinked to dismiss the tears forming in his eyes. Look at you, how weak you are , he chastised himself, pursing his lips in a tight line. Pathetic .

 

‘I’ve had enough of you completely ignoring all kinds of privacy. I’ve tolerated your nosiness and violation of my private sphere, but this was the last straw! Snooping on my therapy sessions! How could you?? ’ The harsh words were still echoing in Sherlock’s mind, and he once again cringed at the edge in John’s voice. Legs threatening to give out under him, he blindly sagged down onto the bed, still staring at the door, as if doing so would make  John reappear and call his hasty action a mistake in the heat of the moment.

 

I’m sorry, Sherlock’s mouth twitched in distress, the weight of John’s words, the anger behind them, slowly sinking in. I truly am. I didn’t intend to upset you. I... He sighed helplessly, finding the right words failing him even in his mind. He bit his lip so hard it almost bled, but he didn’t even flinch. This pain was nothing compared to the hurt he felt inside.

 

I’m a freak, they are right. He swallowed the desperate tears in despair, hating everything he was and everything he could never be for John. I don’t function like everyone else, I’m oblivious to social conventions and ignorant to the way my actions affect others. I’m nothing but a failure of nature, fate, God, or whatever, whoever is responsible for me being in this world, he huffed bitterly, burying his face into his hands, hot tears prickling his eyes.

 

I’m not meant to either be cared for by or to care for anyone, let alone love them. I’m fated to be alone, I always knew that. But you, John, you came with your ugly jumpers, simple mind, ordinary lifestyle and sentimental nature, and I thought that maybe I was given a chance after all. Maybe I can change for you and learn how to be human just to make you happy, make you smile, make you being proud of me. Because, God, how I love to see that proud glint in your eyes and that happy smile; those times I feel like being worthy of living, like I matter, if not to the whole world, but only you, that’s enough. I so wanted to be someone important to you. I wanted to be your only one, like you are to me.

 

His mouth twisted and a hot tear escaped his eye, rolling down his fever-heated cheek and landing in his clammy palm. I’m nothing you can be proud of, he squeezed his eyes and wiped his wet cheek. I just bring shame on you. I’m sorry.

 

‘I don't want your apology, I have had too many of those already.’ John’s contempt-filled voice was ringing in Sherlock’s ears, and he shuddered at the lingering feeling of the doctor’s flashing, cold look piercing his skin.

 

John… Just give me one more chance. Please. We cannot let ‘us’ end like this. This thing we have cannot be over because I was an idiot and messed it up. He inhaled sharply, wincing as the cool air drifting in from the hallway prickled his sore, hot airways. Sentiment was an unknown territory for him, a maze he couldn’t find his way out of, a puzzle he couldn’t solve. How was it that he could loathe people, but didn’t know how to love someone?

 

He had only wanted to show John that he mattered to Sherlock more than his own life, to give John the happiness he deserved, but he didn’t know how. Sherlock thought that if he took a peek into the therapy records, he could see what John needed to be happy and then give it to him. He also recently suspected that there was something John hadn’t told him, probably because he felt ashamed, and Sherlock needed to know what it was to figure out how to help him.

 

He ran a quivering hand through his hair. Achieving his goals, he  always had his own ways, where only the result mattered. End justifies the means, Mycroft always said. I guess, I learned the lesson well, Sherlock blinked wearily. He breathed with difficulty, every intake of air feeling like cutting his burning mucous membrane with a sharp razor-blade. Sherlock was certain that his fever had already breached the point of 38 degrees.

 

Maybe my methods weren’t the best, but I swear, John, I never wanted to hurt you.

 

For the first time, Sherlock wished he could ditch the case he was working on and go after John. But even if he could, there was no point doing so as it was obvious  that John didn’t want to talk to him.

 

Sherlock frowned and, fishing his phone out of the pocket of his suit jacket, opened an empty text message.



Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen - You Are The Reason



I'd climb every mountain
And swim every ocean
Just to be with you
And fix what I've broken
Oh, 'cause I need you to see
That you are the reason

~ Calum Scott - You Are The Reason




John leaned against the luxurious car's window, staring in the mirror at the retreating sight of the manor as they drove farther and farther away. Despair filled him, a cavalcade of emotions strained in his chest. Anger and annoyance battled with his deep affection and compassion for Sherlock. Yet, the love he felt just couldn't overcome the overflowing frustration of his invaded privacy. Rubbing the bridge of his nose bitterly, he watched the countryside passing by.

 

What was going on with them, he pondered tiredly. Could they mend their still forming relationship, was he strong and adamant enough to do that? Could he overcome the problems and give them one more chance, or was this the end?

 

John bowed his head wearily. He couldn't tell; right now he couldn't even think clearly. All he knew was that he needed some time and space away from Sherlock.

 

His phone vibrated in his pocket. It must be Sherlock , he thought, and ignored the signal. The text message alert went off many more times, but John refused to check them. He didn't need more vain apologies and empty promises. Only on the train back to London, his fury ebbing, did he risk looking at the unread texts. He was right, they were all from Sherlock. Twelve messages, actually.

 

John, I'm sorry. Please, forgive me. - SH

 

I should have realised that my actions hadn't been good. My bad. - SH

 

I'm willing to do anything to make it right. Anything. - SH

 

Please, forgive me. I won't do it again, I swear. - SH

 

I'm so sorry. I do mean it. Please, forgive me. - SH

 

I'm the greatest arse in the whole world, but you are the only one who can save me from becoming worse. Give me another chance, please. - SH

 

There's no excuse for what I have done, but I wouldn't have done it if you weren't important to me. - SH

 

I didn't have the right to violate your privacy like that, I realise now. I'm so sorry. - SH

 

Please, give me one last chance. Please. - SH

 

I understand that you don't want to talk to me now. But please think about giving me another chance. - SH

 

John? - SH

 

Please. - SH

 

A bitter smile flashed across John's face. Sherlock, the man who never apologised, had said sorry three times and used the word 'please' seven times. This must be some kind of a record. But John still couldn't bring himself to reply him. He needed time to think.

 

***

 

Sherlock had never been so anxious to finish a case. Without John, and with their row on his mind every other minute, he found it hard to concentrate on the matter at hand. He was jumpier and, more morose than ever, his discontent and rudeness were rising exponentially. Firing snarky remarks at the inhabitants of the mansion, scoffing and grunting, he even gave Lady Isabelle a hard time. The difference between the detective with his blogger by his side and the frustrated man on his own was plain to see.

 

He didn't emerge from his room, except when it was vital to the case. Trying his best to shut his misery out and be the detached, emotionless man he used to be before John Watson had come into his life, he spent hours drawn back into his mind palace, lying on the large double bed where another body had enveloped his in sweet comfort not that long ago.

 

Even though his brain focused on connecting the dots and moving around the pieces of the case at hand until they fell into place, John's ghost still haunted him. His presence lingered in the rooms; Sherlock kept seeing him standing in the corners with arms crossed, mouth set in a hard line, sadness and disappointment clouding his features. Sherlock frowned in dismay, shaking his head to dismiss the intruding, nagging image, and endeavoured to fix his attention solely on the work. He wished for his comforting seven percent solution, boosting the efficiency and clarity of his thinking.

 

His temperature rose again and a dull, burning pain developed in his chest. He hadn't felt that miserable for a long time. Rolling onto his side, his head resting on the pillows, the familiar scent of John hit his nose and Sherlock instinctively grabbed the pillow and buried his face into the soft cover.

 

Why , he asked himself, inhaling the remains of John's aftershave lingering on the linen. Why do I have to feel like this? He always knew he was better off detached from sentiment. Even Mycroft had regularly warned him that he should not get involved. Why didn’t he listen to him, why did he let his guard down and become weak? He had tried, and all it earned him was heartache and deterioration in his mental performance. Hateful.

 

Maybe it was still not too late to retreat. Maybe John ending this thing, whatever it was, was the best outcome. Sherlock Holmes wasn’t meant to get involved with anyone, he wasn’t a man of sentiments and didn’t know how to navigate in the world of romance. His world was reason and science, where everything was clear and logically linked and two and two was always four, regardless of the day or mood.

 

Caring isn’t an advantage , Sherlock reminded himself, running a hand through his hair in frustration. It only leads to pain and heartbreak . Emotions had nothing to add to mindwork, they only disturbed his focus, slowed him down and distracted him from thinking clearly. Sentiment had no benefit on efficiency, so what was the point of pursuing it? Even if it was about John. Especially if it was about John.

 

Just look at you, the inner voice taunted, you are dwelling on your pathetic feelings right now instead of working on the case at hand!

 

Sherlock flinched, realising the truth in the mocking words.

 

Having feelings for John was a distraction. Reason advised he had better get rid of it. He still had a chance to rethink this, refrain from reconciling with John and go back to the comfortable and less complicated life before this detour into the world of romance. He could say he tried and it wasn’t his cup of tea (even if it had been him to initiate this arrangement in first place) and close this short chapter of romance in his life. He could consider these days a daring experiment, a venture into the unknown, and then close the case with the conclusion that the hypothesis was right and Sherlock Holmes and romance weren’t compatible. Or even easier, he could delete their attempt at a relationship with all its ups and downs, every memory that could haunt him and the hurtful longing for something he hadn’t really had. It was a tempting solution—a relatively quick and easy, but definitely permanent, way out.

 

Pinching the bridge of his nose, he let out a silent sigh. Did he really want to do that? Could he do that? Could he let go of every precious moment, every soft touch, admiring look and radiant smile, could he bury the warm feeling of mattering to someone special? Would the work and undisturbed concentration be worth it? Would the return of the sharply focused, yet detached, cold detective make his life more satisfying than the occasionally distracted man with a little, happy smile tugging in the corner of his mouth and heavenly warmth in his heart?

 

He bit his lip in dismay, desperately tugging at the corner of the pillow. The answer could be a simple yes or no, but the decision wasn’t that easy at all.

 

If John truly wanted to, if he really meant to break up with him for good, Sherlock would allow it even if it was the hardest thing he ever did, even if it killed him. Though deleting data from his mind palace wasn’t as dangerous as the subconscious memory retrieval, it took time and effort. The memories of the time John had been his boyfriend were not simple data, they were a piece of Sherlock’s heart, a short, but incomparable period of his life when he felt like he was someone who mattered and—despite common belief—could be cared for. Letting go of this ephemeral happiness wasn’t enticing. Still, forgetting everything was better than fighting the reappearing longing for something they almost had, wasn’t it?

 

Sherlock stared ahead contemplatively. Wasn’t it? His mind pushed for an answer. Losing the memory of the most precious moments of his life? Would it be better?

 

Sherlock groaned exasperatedly. No, losing the memory of their short-lived attempt at romance wasn’t acceptable even if it saved him the recurring pain of longing. If he had to live without John’s affection, he should have the memories to cherish at least.

 

‘I always suspected that we wouldn’t be able to make a relationship work. I was right. I can't do this.’ Not able to forget John’s fateful words, the heavy weight of every syllable felt like it would crush Sherlock’s shoulders. His mouth twitched and his hands clenched in despair by his sides. The ache doubled in his chest and his heart wrenched at the thought that he had messed everything up so spectacularly. John would never forgive him; he had made his point about privacy clear so many times before. This time, Sherlock had gone too far.

 

Panic rose in his body, facing the devastating combination of fear, guilt, self-loathing, and helplessness and realising that he didn't know how to handle them. Having been asocial and withdrawn all his life, he lacked the skills for coping in such a situation. He had never experienced such excruciating emotional pain, both his body and mind desperately screaming for alleviation.

 

I told you not to get involved, Mycroft sneered in his head. But you didn't listen.

 

“Leave me alone,” Sherlock pressed his flushed face into the pillow exasperatedly, trying to stifle an erupting sob.

 

I did my best to protect you, little brother. I taught you how to save yourself from heartache. You used to do so well. But then you decided to go against everything you learned, and where did it take you? Look at yourself, Sherlock. You are a shadow of the confident genius, just a pitiful mess. All because you decided to let yourself engage in sentiment, Mycroft scoffed in disdain. Look where have you ended up. Was it worth it? You're just as pathetic as those ordinary people. Our intellect destined us for higher things, why are you so desperate to throw that away? Did you think Doctor Watson would always persist in being romantically interested in you? Who are you fooling? The doctor has always been a ladies' man; he never stops stating that he's not gay, so his interest in a man would not hold for long. You are just an exciting detour, nothing more, an experiment as you prefer to say.

 

“Go away,” Sherlock whimpered, his tears soaking the still John-smelling pillow against his face.

 

You heard your brother. John's silhouette appeared a few feet behind mind palace Mycroft. Both Sherlock and I would appreciate if you went back to bothering your minions.

 

Mycroft sighed, twisting his umbrella. Truth hurts, doesn't it, he noted with a sarcastic smile. I just want to protect him.

 

He doesn't need protection. Not by you , John countered in confidence.

 

You are wrong, Doctor Watson. He needs it more than ever. Mycroft quirk a brow.

 

“Fuck off, Mycroft!!” Sherlock growled loudly.

 

Mycroft shrugged and walked out of the room, leaving a contemplative John behind.

 

“John…” Sherlock murmured in a strained, pleading voice, holding onto the presence of the man. “Tell me we’re not over. Please.”

 

It’s not that easy. John sighed, flexing his left hand.

 

“I need you! I can’t lose you…”

 

I’m still your friend...

 

“Friend?” Sherlock frowned. “That is it then?”

 

Yes. No. I don’t know, John shifted. You hurt me. Again. I don’t know if this thing could work between us . We would just hurt each other, and I couldn’t bear that.

 

Sherlock reached for John, but before he could touch him, the blond disappeared.

 

“Don’t! Don’t leave me here too!” Sherlock bit his lip, desperately trying to blink away the hot tears that unnoticeably sneaked into his eyes. Mind palace John abandoning him as well was too much, it felt like Sherlock wasn’t worthy of the man’s presence even in his head.

 

‘We would just hurt each other.’

 

Sherlock shuddered, his body shaking on the bed. Was someone tampering with the heating? His lips trembled as he pulled the bedcover over himself. He had never been so cold, deprived of all kind of heat. Icy hands gripped his heart and his limbs felt the land of chill.

 

‘We would just hurt each other.’ The words encircled his neck like a snake, pressing tighter with each syllable, leaving Sherlock breathing harder with every moment passed. Thinking back to the time they had spent together as boyfriends, Sherlock remembered the occasions they had hurt one another, realising that indeed the frequency of conflicts had increased since they started dating. Romance was a minefield, where one could set off a mine any moment and find themselves racing with time to figure out how to deactivate the ticking bomb. One word, some misunderstood sentences, a wrong action was enough to make waves on the sea of their still blooming relationship, especially given that both of them were temperamental and stubborn. They had often argued and pushed each other’s buttons in the wrong way before they’d even started dating, so it wasn’t like they had been free of drama before.

 

But John was partly right, having feelings for someone heightened the pain and turned their actions more violent and vehement. Sherlock could still feel the intense anger, fear and possessiveness he had experienced when he’d thought that John had slept with Jennie; the taste of bile was still vivid in his mouth recalling the destructive emotions.

 

Could he endure emotional pain again and again whenever he and John happened to have a row? Could he bear hurting John, the only person who truly mattered to him? Could he go through the pain that John’s words might cause him?

 

If that meant the two of them would keep their blooming relationship and building it, if John was still willing to give them a chance, Sherlock was ready to take any pain.

 

He couldn’t lose John, the only man who could see the human rather than the freak in him, caring about him more than anyone ever, expressing romantic interest in him, honouring him with his affections. John Watson might be a distraction to Sherlock’s work, the subject of the sentiment he had always despised and detached himself from, but he was everything—without him, Sherlock couldn’t exist anymore. If this was a war of the mind and heart, for the first time ever, Sherlock’s mind had to surrender.

 

Shivering heavily, fever engulfing his body, Sherlock climbed under the duvet and wrapped his arms around himself, wishing it was John holding him. But that might never happen again, the sad thought flashed through his mind, and he curled up into a ball. Breathing in John’s reassuring scent from the pillow, he drifted asleep slowly with the image of the blond man on his mind.

 

***

 

Next morning, Sherlock woke with a sore throat, running nose and burning pain in his chest, while his temples throbbed with a dull ache. His fever had returned and now he shivered heavily. That night in the cold forest, soaked to the bone, had its effect. Ignoring his sickness, he resolved to focus his attention on solving the case as soon as possible and returning to Baker Street and to John to sort out their issues. John’s not replying his texts wasn’t promising, though. He still must be angry with me. Running his hot hand through his tousled hair, Sherlock sighed helplessly. Grabbing his phone, he once again typed a message, taking a chance. He had nothing to lose.

 

John, I'm aware that what I did was inappropriate, and I am truly sorry. I can't change what I did, can’t delete it, but am willing to do anything to make it up to you. Please, give me one more chance. - SH

 

All he could do now was wait. But while he waited, he could at least try to focus on the case. After what seemed like an eternity, taking every tiny piece of information into consideration in every way, while fighting the headache, the bothersome burning in his throat and chest and the fever-induced shivers running through his body, Sherlock's droopy eyes suddenly lit up in revelation. After a loud sneeze, he exclaimed in relief, “What an idiot I am! It's plainly obvious!”

 

***

 

An hour later, having wrapped up the case, Sherlock was sitting in a cab back to Westminster, half content and half anxious. Every moment nearer to the flat felt heavier, filling him with nervous anxiety. What if John doesn’t forgive me? What if he refuses to talk to me? What if John isn’t even there?

 

Biting his lip, he leaned against the car's window. The buildings passing by slowly lulled his feverish mind into a half-conscious state, his eyelids falling shut. Sickness taking its toll on his body, he felt extremely exhausted and weak. He just wished to be back home and hibernate until he was healthy again. He longed for John's tea, reassuring presence and caring touches.

 

Finally, standing outside 221B Baker Street again—the place that he never wanted to return to so much ever before—Sherlock stared at the exterior of their flat, pondering what was awaiting him in there. With apprehension in his stride and his injured ankle still hurting, climbing the seventeen steps had never felt more exhausting.

 

Once entering 221B, only silence and the dancing dust in the air greeted him. Tossing his suitcase into a corner, he called John's name, but no one answered. From the state of the flat, he could tell that John hadn't stayed there in the past 24 hours. No water-droplets in either the kitchen sink or on the inside of the kettle, dry surfaces in the bathroom, lack of John's toiletries on the shelf and, if that wasn't enough, the linen in the upper bedroom indicated that no one had slept in the bed last night. Sherlock's heart beat faster in panic. Could John have left for good?

 

Checking the doctor's wardrobe and drawers, Sherlock exhaled in relief. John's clothes were still there, so he couldn't have completely moved out yet. Supporting himself with a hand against the door frame, he leaned onto his arm wearily, staring at the unmade bed.

 

What was happening to them? Did John's words mean the end of their new relationship? Or was it more, was even their friendship irrevocably broken? What if this was the end of their story?

 

Limping downstairs, he shrugged out of his coat, letting it fall onto the floor, and wobbled into his room. Without bothering to undress, he dropped his exhausted, burning body onto the bed. His throat was killing him, sickness was clouding his mind and all he wanted was sinking into a mind-numbing sleep. Yet, before dozing off, he opened the messages app again.

 

I'm so sorry. Please, come home. - SH

 

***

 

When Mrs. Hudson entered the apartment an hour later, she could immediately see that something wasn't right with her tenants. The silence was deafening, even though Sherlock had got back not that long ago. The sitting room was empty and dark with the curtains closed. She scrunched her nose at the stale air. Putting the plate of biscuits that she had brought for her boys onto the kitchen table, she opened the heavy curtains, letting the late autumn afternoon sunlight shed a warm, orange colour onto the floor. Opening the window, she let in some fresh air, frowning quietly that the two men still considered her their housekeeper. Stumbling onto Sherlock's coat lying in a heap on the carpet, she mentally scolded the young man half-heartedly. What would the boys do without her, she sighed. Sherlock's mother should definitely have been grateful to her for putting up with her son and taking care of him as if he had been her own.

 

Smoothing the expensive wool, she hung the coat onto the peg beside the door, before tiptoeing quietly to Sherlock's bedroom. With the room's door ajar, she could peek in without a noise. A tiny smile appeared at the corner of her mouth at the sight of Sherlock curled up in a ball on the bed, fully clothed, snoring quietly. Noticing how the slender body was trembling in cold, she retrieved a blanket from the chair and draped it over the shivering man.

 

***

 

When Sherlock woke later and found himself under the blanket, his face lit up in relief. John . Limping into the sitting room, he noticed the changes immediately. His heart thumped at the delight of his friend's return. Then he spotted the plate of biscuits on the table and knew that he was wrong. The joy on his tired face faded, replaced by bitterness and hurt. Mrs. Hudson. The urge to toss the plate against the wall was tempting, yet he knew he should be grateful for the gift, and nibbled a cookie absentmindedly. He wanted to shout out for Mrs. Hudson to bring him tea, but his throat hurt too much. Yet the need for the warm liquid was too much, so he had to surrender and make some himself.

 

Minutes later, wrapped in a blanket, he sagged onto the sofa, sipping something far from proper tea. At least it was warm and calming. Having taken a tablet of paracetamol, he hoped to dissipate the annoying symptoms of his cold. Closing his eyes, his clouded thoughts were once again back on John and him, analysing the situation and assessing the potential outcomes. He couldn't accept that they were over just like that. Over before having the chance to start it properly at all.

 

Long hours ticked by slowly in silence. Evening turning into night, darkness fell onto the sitting room. The streetlights awakened the shadows enveloping Sherlock’s curled-up form on the leather sofa. He kept his stare fixed on the door, waiting for John to enter and stare at him timidly, shifting a little, before eventually breaking the silence. He prepared for the rebuking words conveying hurt and disappointment, feeling the heavy weight of watching and waiting for the fearful sentence of death or life to be delivered.

 

Having thought of his actions ever since John had left him in Epping, he admitted that what he had done was questionable indeed. He had never really considered how his ways of acquiring information could be that despicable, especially if it concerned John. He had always believed that their strong bond of friendship—and now the new status they dabbled with—loosened their ties of this social construct. Seeing John as his only friend and the only one he trusted, he had thought that entitled him to skip the formalities and official routes to act on what he thought was the man's behalf.

 

Time passed by. The clock struck midnight, then one and even two o'clock on the threshold of the new day, but John didn't show up. Sherlock anxiously glanced at his watch, pursing his lips and steepling his hands. His every fibre was on alert to the sound of the front door and any movement coming from the stairs that could indicate John returning home.

 

The fact that John had never answered any of his texts, and recalling his venomous words of 'I just can't put up with it any longer,' rendered Sherlock more and more distressed. What if John never comes back? What if he abandoned me just as everyone else always had? Panic engulfed him at the prospect of ending up alone again, losing the only warmth in his sterile life. He couldn't refrain from reaching for his phone and composing another message.

 

John? Where are you? Come home, please. - SH

 

I am willing to accept any punishment for what I did, just don't leave me. Please. - SH

 

Talk to me, please. I need to know that you are still around. - SH

 

I couldn’t bear if you left me. I couldn’t endure if you shut me out of your life for good. - SH

 

Please. Please. Come home—SH

 

The pang in his heart was too much to bear soberly. Like an inmate in death row, Sherlock crawled into his room ever so slowly. Without turning the light on, he retrieved the sleek metal box from its hiding place and popped the cool lid open just to be greeted by his old friends. A couple of vials and unopened syringes lay in the secret box, the sight so tempting and seductive. It had been a while since he had turned to this kind of release. Since John had been part of his life, he hadn't needed this liquid distraction. His long, hot fingers caressed the smooth surface of the plastic vials, knowing the sensations their content elicit in his system, so uplifting and soothing. He recalled the delicious warmth rushing through his veins, the world suddenly turning brighter and more focussed. Licking his lips, his breathing got heavier at the mere memory. He craved happiness, he needed to numb this pain inside his chest and forget this nagging misery.

 

Sighing in anticipation, he rolled his sleeve back and grabbed a syringe out of the metal box. Unwrapping it, he opened a vial and drew some of the liquid. Tears stung his eyes as he laid back on the bed, ready to start the journey to relief. Shame and desperation battled in him at the action he was about to take. He knew that John would despise him for shooting up again, but he just couldn't deal with the powerful, devastating emotions whirling inside, burning his cells so painfully. He wasn't strong enough. Not without his... boyfriend? Friend? Colleague? Someone he used to know?

 

The syringe felt hot and heavy between his trembling fingers. Yet, the prospect of experiencing peace and equilibrium was too tempting. He inhaled deeply and clenched his hand to expose his vein.

 

***

 

John was lying awake on his side on the bed in the Lestrades' dark guest room. After Molly and Greg had got married, the two had bought a three-bedroom terraced house on Drayton Road in Harlesden. Now, to John's delight, he had moved from the DI's sofa in the sitting room into a proper bed in a little guest room when he occasionally needed to get away from his flatmate in Baker Street.

 

When he had shown up at Greg’s door, all tense, John had been sure that the DI knew immediately that something had happened between his friends again. Greg had already grown used to John coming to him for shelter when Sherlock ruined his date or the two had some terrible row and John needed to be apart from the insufferable detective. John could tell that the inspector didn't like them arguing, but he knew Sherlock’s eccentricities and could relate to John needing space after such incidents. Molly, of course, even without knowing any details, showed genuine compassion to John, assuming that Sherlock had hurt him as inexcusably as he had done her many times in the past. She had been ready to call Sherlock and reprimand him for his behaviour, but John had asked her not to. He hadn't wanted them to know about the recent change in their relationship and the appearance already of a crisis in that still-forming bond—if it was still in the game after all that had happened.

 

The moonlight caressed his weary face. His phone in hand, John stared at the five new messages, re-reading them along with the earlier ones one more time. He sighed. Desperation radiated from the most recent texts, just like the previous twelve that afternoon. He could tell that Sherlock was miserable and, despite what had happened between them, it hurt.

 

Sherlock was important to him. John undeniably had strong feelings toward him, more solid, empowering ones than he had ever felt toward any women in his life. He was in love with the man. But Sherlock's strange attitude toward privacy, his blatant disregard, was less and less tolerable, and it drove John up the wall. The recent violation of his medical information confidentiality was the last drop in the glass. John felt that he would have strangled Sherlock, had he stayed with the detective that night. He needed time and space to think and figure out what to do.

 

Yet, the man's desperate messages didn't help. John's tentative fingers hovered above the reply button many times, before pulling back. He didn't know what to say. Staring at the screen fading to black, he wondered what Sherlock was doing at this late hour—or early, depending upon how one viewed it. Was he in the middle of some crazy experiment, phone at hand, waiting for him to reply? Was he playing the violin at the window, scanning the street for him? Or was he just like John, lying awake in his bed, staring at his stubbornly quiet phone, hoping for a little chime?

 

John gulped at the lump forming in his throat, his eyes squeezed shut in order to hold back the tears welling up behind his lids. He just couldn't stay mad at his arse of a boyfriend for long, he realised. His feelings for the eccentric man were too profound to ignore. No matter how much he wanted to hold a grudge against him, or how much his mind tried to convince him to think straight and just admit that Sherlock would never change—and so it would have been wiser to call this relationship quits for the sake of his own peace—John just couldn't stop his heart from beating wildly whenever he thought of Sherlock.

 

Sod it, he groaned, flipping off the duvet and sitting up. Running his hand through his hair and rubbing the bridge of his nose, he grabbed his jeans and shirt and got dressed swiftly. Throwing his toiletries and pyjama shirt into his duffel bag, he walked into the kitchen quietly, and, scribbling a note to Greg and Molly, exited the house.

 

The cold morning air hit his face, and he felt refreshed and ready to face the new day with all its challenges. His breath visible in the dark, he shivered a little. Glancing around, he had no idea which way to go to catch a cab. The chances of finding a cab at this early hour were probably small, so, yanking his phone out of his pocket, he entered the address into the public transportation route planner. He wondered if there was any 24-hour service there. If there wasn’t, he was screwed, as the first daytime bus wasn't going to show up before 4am. He couldn't believe his luck when the results came up. N18 to Trafalgar Square was a direct route to Baker Street. He murmured silent thanks to God above and set out with the swift walk of a soldier, following the suggested direction to the bus stop on Tavistock St. Checking his watch, it was 3:05am, and according to the planner, the next bus was due in three minutes. It seemed like fate was on his side this morning, which he considered a good sign.

 

My silly detective, I'm coming home, he smiled. Being certain of his intentions concerning Sherlock, he saw that whatever might come, they had to solve it together—because for John Watson, breaking up and leaving just wasn't an option.

 

The red double-decker in sight, John waved a hand, and the vehicle pulled up to the stop. The driver smiled a 'morning' at him and, closing the door, drove on. John touched his Oyster card to the reader and dropped down onto an upper-level seat in the front. Due to the early hour, there were only a few people on the bus, so he had plenty of seats to choose from. Watching the city still slumbering, a few hours apart from the night giving its place over to daylight in a rosy transition, was a relaxing experience that John always loved after his night shifts. Only the golden streetlights broke the thick-woven, black blanket of night like glittering gemstones on the dark velvet display in a jewellery store's window.

 

After the thirty-minute ride, he arrived at Baker Street, just a few blocks away from 221B. The anticipation of being with Sherlock again soon sent him into a casual jog. Getting to their building, he found the flat's windows dark, which suggested that Sherlock wasn't in the sitting room, or wasn't home at all. John dismissed the latter as in the light of the man's recent texts, Sherlock wouldn't have left the house.

 

John took the stairs two at a time to their flat. Once entering the dark sitting room, he found it empty, no sight of his boyfriend there—not on the sofa, nor in the armchair. He was probably in his bedroom, he reckoned. John hazarded that he'd find Sherlock staring at the ceiling rather than slumbering as he ought. Sherlock and sleeping weren't the best of friends.

 

John tiptoed to the door in question quietly and carefully turned the knob. Peeking into the dark room, he could discern a tall figure sprawled on the bed, the curious lamp light filtering through the window reflected on the exquisite cheekbone. Entering the bedroom cautiously, horror flashed through John as he noticed the position Sherlock was lying in—one long, pale arm exposed to grant access to the syringe beside him on the white sheet. With an inaudible, sad sigh, John sagged onto the edge of the bed, taking the metal box into his hand. He knew very well what he was holding there. The box and its contents, along with his own guilt, burned his skin like vicious acid. Looking at the pale, angular face, the closed eyes and light pink, almost colour-drained lips, remorse filled John's heart. Sherlock had turned to drugs. John's stubborn silence had convinced Sherlock that he had lost John for good, hence this state in which he was lying.

 

The mattress creaked as John moved to fetch and dispose the syringe. Sherlock stirred and, cracking his eyes slightly open, let out a tiny sigh. “You're not here...,” he whispered quietly, turning his head away.

 

“Sherlock,” John called softly, covering the pale hand with his. “I am here.” Sherlock still had a fever, he noted.

 

“John?” The glassy eyes widened in disbelief and utter confusion.

 

“Yes, I'm here,” John reassured him. “I had to come home to you. Actually, I should have done it sooner...” His voice trailed, glancing at the syringe on the covers.

 

Sherlock sat up and stretched out his bared arm toward John. “I didn't do it,” he rasped, showing his intact skin. “I wanted to, I was drawn to, but I couldn't,” he bowed his head. “I couldn't bear the thought that you would hate me even more, if I did it.”

 

John picked up the syringe and took a closer look. Sherlock was right, the liquid was still in the barrel. John gaped incredulously. “Sherlock...”

 

Sherlock let out a resigned sigh. “I know, save it, John.” His delicate fingers ran through his dark curls. “I've disappointed you. I'm sorry–”

 

“You surprised me.” John's mouth curled into a barely there smile. “But positively.” Sherlock gave him a confused glance. “When I saw this,” John cocked his head at the syringe, “beside you, I was honestly convinced that you had shot up. So realising that, luckily, I was wrong, is the best surprise ever. I'm so proud of you that—despite the strong temptation—you didn’t do it.”

 

Blinking slowly, Sherlock took in John’s presence. “Why are you back?” His tentative, wavering voice cut the silence. “I got the impression that–”

 

“I was furious, I really was. But you kept messaging me, sounding genuinely desperate, and I realised that, despite everything that had happened, I had to come home to you because...”

 

Sherlock stared at him openly and expectantly, and he looked ever so young and innocent. “Because?” He echoed softly, his glassy eyes sparkling in the dark.

 

“Because I love you,” John whispered, letting his guards down and finally uttering the words he had never told any other man before. After that night together, he had confessed to having feelings for Sherlock, but had yet to say those three words.

 

Sherlock blinked heavily, his dry lips parting on their own accord. He stared at John for a long minute that seemed like forever. “You what?”

 

“I love you. I can't deny it anymore. I always knew you were special to me, and that I had developed feelings toward you, but only after this recent row did I realise the depth of these emotions.”

 

“You... love ... me?” Sherlock gaped at him, as if the word had been completely alien to his ears.

 

John chuckled. “Yes, you silly, git.”

 

“Like... you are... in love ... with me ?”

 

“Yes,” John smiled, feeling a warmth throughout his whole body at the confession and Sherlock’s response.

 

“Why?” Sherlock tilted his head, searching his flatmate's eyes.

 

“Why?” John laughed, taken aback by the question.

 

“Yes, why? I am not a loveable person, I am rude, obnoxious, ignorant and selfish. People hardly bother to tolerate me, let alone love me. Why do you?”

 

John smiled. At least Sherlock was aware of his flaws.

 

“Because despite being a prick, you’re brilliant, beautiful, brave and caring. Yes, you are, don't even try protesting!” he added when Sherlock frowned. “I have seen it many times. You like denying it, but you do have a heart. And I feel honoured to have had the chance to see glimpses of it. And mostly, because you saved me. I had lost any zest for life after having been discharged from the army, and if it hadn't been for you, I wouldn't be here now.”

 

Sherlock watched him thoughtfully, seemingly processing the words in his mind palace. “Does that mean that you're staying?” He asked in a hopeful, but tired voice.

 

“You’ll have to kick me out yourself if you want me gone.”

 

Sherlock's mouth curled up into a weak, but happy smile for the first time that day. “So, are we still a…couple?” He asked tentatively.

 

“More than ever,” John took the pale hand and caressed the soft skin. “Of course, it doesn't mean that I'm not angry for what you’ve done. We will have to talk about that later.”

 

Sherlock nodded remorsefully, before a loud sneeze shook him.

 

“You’re still sick,” John remarked.

 

“Thanks for noting the obvious.” Sherlock blew his nose with a frown.

 

“I'd better take care of you now. Knowing how you tend to ignore your body's signals, I doubt that you looked after yourself once I was gone.”

 

“I made tea...” Sherlock laid back onto the bed. John raised a brow in appreciation. “Before you get your hopes up, that won't happen again,” Sherlock added curtly.

 

“That's not what I’d hoped for.”

 

“Revisit the issue once you tried the remnants in the sitting room.” Sherlock cocked his head.

 

“I see.” John laughed and stood.

 

Sherlock grabbed his hand. “Stay with me please.” His voice was a bare whisper, his eyes pleading in the darkness.

 

“All right.” John nodded warmly and, taking off his shoes and jumper, climbed beside Sherlock. Lying on his side, he wrapped his arms around the feverish, thin torso, pulling the duvet over them. Sherlock eased into the gentle embrace, John's warmth and weight against him the most reassuring thing he had ever experienced. Snuggling against the back of Sherlock, John rested his head on the top of the sinewy shoulder, his cheek melting against the man's hot neck. John could hear the swooshing sound of blood underneath Sherlock's pale skin. It was the most beautiful lullaby he had ever heard.

 

Pressed against each other so tightly, they fell asleep at the first light of the new day.




Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen - I Love You



I love you. I love you.
Is all that I can say.
I love you. I love you.
The same old worlds I'm saying in the same old way.

 

~ Frank Sinatra - I Love You



When waking, Sherlock thought for a moment that John coming back to him and forgiving him had been just a fever-induced dream and he now had to face the day alone again, without any motivation to exist. Without John, life was colourless and dull, not even cases and experiments could ease the misery.

 

Rolling onto his side, his arm fell onto the mattress and his eyes popped open. The sheets were still warm and the duvet half-turned—someone definitely had laid in them and got out of bed not that long ago.

 

The gears turned in Sherlock’s cold-clouded mind, and he remembered John appearing at his bedside around dawn that day, horror painting the handsome face thinking that Sherlock had shot up. Though, to give the doctor credit, Sherlock hadn’t been far from doing so. He had needed all his willpower to say no to the siren song of his secret stash.

 

‘I'm so proud of you that—despite the strong temptation—you didn’t do it.’ he remembered John saying, and happiness and warmth filled his chest. John being proud of him was an exhilarating drug—a worthy and healthier replacement for the powerful chemicals he so recently had avoided.

 

But there was one thing he still couldn’t believe being true: John telling him that he was in love with him. Even if the rest of the reunion hadn’t been a dream, this confession must have been. John saying ‘I love you’ to him was too wonderful to be true. They were dating, that was true, but John had never said those words before. He wasn’t gay, he had insecurities about his sexuality, so there was no way he had said what Sherlock thought he had heard.

 

Even if he had only dreamt the confession, John was back, and apparently, had spent the night in his bed, so Sherlock still had plenty to be happy about.

 

***

 

“You haven't told me about how you solved the Beresford case yet,” John noted as he took a bite of the toast with lemon curd. “Who was it?”

 

Sherlock, tightly wrapped in his warmer beige dressing gown, squirmed in his seat, sipping his now delicious tea eagerly. Though he still had a fever, John had agreed that he could sit at the kitchen table while having breakfast, so that he didn't lie on his back all day long.

 

“Sherlock? Who was it?” John prompted.

 

“The butler,” the detective muttered uneasily, his voice raspy.

 

John's eyes widened in amusement. “You must be kidding me.”

 

“Nope.”

 

John laughed out loud. “The butler!” He shook his head incredulously. “That's so... cliché.”

 

“Precisely.”

 

Chewing on the toast, John looked to be mentally revisiting the case, trying to fit the new information in with the old. He was adorable when he tried to understand Sherlock’s mental processes, and Sherlock deeply appreciated that he even tried. Most people just shrugged and asked for the answer, rather than even bothering to think it out for themselves. Even though John usually got it wrong, he at least tried.

 

Apparently he came up empty this time, though, for he eventually asked, “How did you figure it out?”

 

“Remember you scolding me about not taking care of myself and mentioning that patient with the shorter leg?” John nodded. “That was when I realised what was bothering me. I knew that I had seen something important, but couldn't pinpoint what it was. Until I thought about your comment.” Talking seemed to become an exhausting action as well, as a nagging cough burst from his sore throat. “Shorter finger! When that dark-clad figure escaped through the window, he grabbed the window frame. His ring finger on the left hand was shorter than it should have been. The same damaged hand I had recognised the other day, when the butler served us tea.”

 

“But why would a butler want to murder his employer? He wouldn't receive any benefit from her death, not a notable amount at least.”

 

“He could have,” Sherlock countered. “If he played his cards right, he could have got everything.”

 

“How?” Confusion flashed over John's face.

 

The familiar feeling of fond exasperation filled Sherlock. “You still haven't figured out, have you? He is Lady Isabelle's son.”

 

John gaped at him. “Son?”

 

“Illegitimate son. Thirty-five years ago, the young Miss Isabelle had an affair with one of their servants and got pregnant. She wasn't allowed to keep the child; it would have reflected badly on the family. So they put the baby in the care of an orphanage. Once grown, the boy learned about his mother's identity. He had never had anything, while his mother lived in luxury, had a family and never showed interest in finding the child she had given up. So he swore revenge and took the job of the butler in Lady Isabelle's residence. She never knew who served the morning tea to her.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“He was clever. He had planned everything in detail. All he needed to do was to give a little push to the dominos. His excellent manipulation skills were his pass into the world of riches. Lady Isabelle had no one else but her two sons, so if they were out of the picture, once she was dead, he would be the next in line. First, he had to wake conflicts between the children and their mother. Isabelle's disapproval of Patrick's investment ideas and Gerald's choice of girlfriend were a great base to provide the sons with a motive for murder. Of course, before killing her, he had to get rid of the two men. That would have happened by some accident, which I believe he could have easily executed.”

 

“Blimey. He could have killed us, too, for snooping around and being a threat to him,” John mused as he buttered his toast. John flinched a little, and Sherlock wished, not for the first time, that he could read John’s mind. Was it worry for Sherlock that upset him, or only worry for himself? It was unnecessary, whichever it was.

 

“Don't be so dramatic.” Sherlock scrunched his nose, the urge to sneeze tickling his nostrils. “He was not that clever.”

 

John frowned. “You can't be sure of that. What if he had been? What if I had woken to the sight of you lying in the pool of your blood with glassy eyes? He could have poisoned us easily, just a drop of strychnine in our tea–”

 

“But he didn't!” Sherlock snapped. Why did John insist on thinking of things that would never come to pass? “No point in dwelling on the what ifs.”

 

“You don't get my point, do you?” John smiled bitterly, his look fixed on the rim of his teacup.

 

Sherlock went silent, searching his mind for any clue of what John might have been on about. Nothing bad would have happened. The butler wasn’t so rash as to call extra attention to the events in the Beresford manor. There had been no need to worry.

 

“Sometimes I just can't decide whether to envy or loathe your oblivious attitude,” John admitted with a sigh. “But there's one thing I'm fucking sure about: I couldn't bear losing you.” His indigo eyes finally raised from the cup and met Sherlock's, his look determined. “Not now that we–”

 

Ah. That made sense. Sherlock bowed his head. “I... I know,” he rasped.

 

“You don't,” John snorted. “Jesus, Sherlock, you have no idea what it feels like worrying about you! You're reckless, impulsive, ignorant and a sucker for adrenaline, which I both love and hate. The possibility that you could get into trouble, where I can't save you, is terrifying. Whenever you're out of my sight, when we're on a case, I can't push the thought away that you might get hurt or, worse, killed.”

 

Sherlock’s body trembled with frustration. “I'm sorry, that's who I am! An adrenaline junkie, a danger addict. I can't change that. But you knew that from the start.”

 

“I bloody did. That's part of why I fell for you. Still, I can't stop worrying about you when we're apart.”

 

Sherlock pursed his lips. “Even if we're cross with each other for some reason?”

 

“Especially then.”

 

Sherlock drew in a deep breath. “John... I might have already said it in my texts, but not aloud... I'm sorry. Please, forgive me for having invaded your privacy; what I did was unacceptable.”

 

“It really was.”

 

“I'm sorry. Just give me one more chance. I promise I've learnt from my mistake, and it will never happen again...” Sherlock willed his face to show every ounce of sorrow and remorse he was feeling.

 

“It'd better not,” John agreed, taking a sip of his tea. “You can use the get-out-of-jail-free card only once.” Sherlock furrowed his brows. “Doesn't matter,” John said. “I forgive you this time, but if you once again–” Sherlock's felt relief flood him, before a loud sneeze shook him. “I don't insist on you staying in bed, but you still need rest,” John noted. “Settle on the sofa, I’ll fetch you some vitamins and LemSip in a moment.”

 

Sherlock was about to protest, but when John glared at him, he decided he was better off keeping his mouth shut. He moved to the sofa, curling up against the cushions.

 

“Here, drink this,” After a few minutes of waiting, John handed a mug of steaming, lemon-scented liquid to Sherlock. The detective scrunched his nose as the drink burned the tip of his tongue. “Be careful, it's hot.” Sherlock shot him a 'no kidding' look and moved to putting the mug aside. “No, you have to drink it while it's hot,” John advised, stopping the move. Sherlock's face contorted in a heavy sneeze. “Here,” John handed him a tissue. “I'm putting a pack here onto the table if you need any. Don't be a lazy prick; reach out for them.”

 

Sherlock blew his nose loudly, rolling his eyes at John. John acted as if he didn’t know how to take care of himself. “You're enjoying this, aren't you?” he asked, reproach in his nasal voice.

 

“What?” John pulled his brows up, adjusting the blanket Sherlock had covered himself with.

 

“Me being ill, and you playing the doctor with me.”

 

“No. Yes. I'm not happy that you're unwell, but I have to admit that I like taking care of you.” He passed the mug back to Sherlock.

 

“No. What you like is that I'm less of a threat to the flat or anyone while being bed-bound.” Sherlock took the mug unenthusiastically and took a cautious sip.

 

John laughed. “Well, that's a point, too. Still, I prefer the healthy version of you, so do as I say and rest. I’ll ask Mrs. Hudson to put some ginger in your tea.” Fetching Sherlock's laptop and phone, he placed them beside the tissues onto the coffee table. “Here, to entertain yourself. No experiments, or anything involving being up on your feet. You need rest.”

 

Sherlock groaned. How did anyone stand being ill? And he still thought John was enjoying his state a little too much, despite his protestations. “Boring.”

 

“Beneficial.” John retorted, patting Sherlock's shoulder. “Take care. I will call you later.”

 

***

 

John made sure that Sherlock had everything he needed before leaving for work that afternoon. He had made plenty of tea for him to drink while John was away, stocked him up with tissues and provided the advised dose of paracetamol tablets and LemSip satchels. He had even asked Mrs. Hudson to bring some food and make sure that Sherlock ate it.

 

When he arrived home around 3am after a tiring out-of-hours shift, he was surprised to find Sherlock awake.

 

“You're still up.” John flashed a tired, surprised smile at him, shrugging his coat off.

 

“Obviously,” came the raspy reply in that low baritone that always made his mouth dry. Sherlock was sitting in his armchair, violin in hand. The long fingers lingered on the precious body of the instrument, caressing the shiny, fine wood sensuously, like a lover's skin. John might have been slightly jealous of the instrument.

 

“How are you? Do you still have a fever?”

 

Sherlock groaned at the tedious questions. “37.6, not the end of the world.”

 

John nodded contemplatively. “Better than it was. Good.”

 

Strolling into the kitchen, he turned the kettle on and checked the stock he had left for Sherlock that afternoon. Almost the whole contents of the thermos-flask were gone along with a couple of paracetamol tablets and a satchel of LemSlip. His mouth curved into a satisfied smile. Preparing two cups, he made fresh tea and returned with the cups into the sitting room.

 

“I see you’ve been a good boy,” he smiled, handing Sherlock a mug. “Here, freshly brewed.”

 

“The only security measure missing was an armed guard at the door,” Sherlock snorted hoarsely.

 

“All for your sake. I want you to be healthy again,” John reasoned, settling into his chair.

 

Neither of them spoke for a few moments.

 

“John…” Sherlock started slowly eventually, nervously tapping on the side of his mug. “There is something I– I need to ask you.”

 

“Is everything okay?” John narrowed his eyes in apprehension, wondering what unsettling thoughts the detective had in his mind this time.

 

“The night you returned…” Sherlock began, ignoring the concerned inquiry. “I– I think I might have heard you saying something, but…” He cast his eyes down. ”I wonder if– if that wasn’t only my feverish imagination…”

 

“I think I said quite a few things,” John smiled. He had a sneaking suspicion to what the detective was referring.

 

Sherlock groaned quietly, seemingly dissatisfied with the answer. “I asked why you eventually came back,” he hinted. “And you said…”

 

“I said what?” John teased, very sure now what Sherlock wanted to hear. He couldn’t help letting him squirming a little after all the mess that the man had caused.

 

Sherlock raised his brow uncertainly. John saw the disappointment flashing through the detective’s face, and the teasing went out of him. The man seemed to be still vulnerable and affected by John having walked out on him.

 

“I don’t know,” Sherlock whispered resignedly, his sad eyes trained on the rim of his mug.

 

John sighed and gave in. “That conversation definitely happened. And as far as I can remember,” a small smile played at the corner of his lips, “among many things, I said–” Sherlock’s hopeful, pleading eyes snapped up to John’s face, eagerly waiting for him continuing. “some words that I’ve never said to any man before.”

 

Sherlock stared at him motionless, not even breathing. John thought he could hear the loud thumping of the man’s heart.

 

“You mean–?” Sherlock moistened his lips.

 

“Yes,” John affirmed. “You heard me right. That wasn’t a dream. I love you.”

 

Sherlock swallowed hard, blinking rapidly as always when his mind processed information that he found hard to believe.

 

***

 

As John delayed answering Sherlock’s question, the detective concluded that he must have just imagined John saying those three words. The blond teasing him instead of replying straight gave Sherlock the impression that whatever John had told him that night had been nothing bearing much importance, rather than what his fevered mind remembered. It had been just a figment of his imagination—some pathetic, wishful thinking, a hallucination of his feverish mind, nothing more.

 

He stared at the rim of his mug resignedly, reality crushing his hopes.

 

You’re a fool, how could you think even for a second that he could be in love with you? He might have feelings for you, but they certainly can’t be romantic love. Attachment and attraction, yes, but not love. He isn’t gay. He never will be, not even for you. He might have a stronger bond to you than friendship, but it could never be romantic love.

 

The intimate dream John had had of him in Epping and the few minutes of tenderness including a trail of kisses on Sherlock’s neck and hairline must have been just a special bedside manner that John rewarded him being ill. No more importance there.

 

John sighed and began speaking in a serious tone, the words spiking hope in Sherlock’s heart once again. His stomach tightened and the lump was back in his throat.

 

You’re pathetic , Mycroft scoffed in Sherlock’s mind. He turned you into a wretched, weak human. Look at you, you’re almost begging for his affection! I pity you, Sherlock. This is not you.

 

I take it as a compliment, Sherlock retorted defiantly. I’m glad if I am not who you want me to be, who you think I should be.

 

John was talking to him, but, this time, Sherlock’s mind was lagging behind. Decoding John’s words had never been more difficult. Sherlock didn’t want to make the mistake of misinterpreting what John was saying. John might have perceived his mental battle, because eventually, he said the words that Sherlock was convinced by now had been only a trick of his imagination.

 

I love you.

 

Sherlock’s mind buzzed like a hive, the neurons sizzling with impulses, transmitting the chemical and electrical signals that John’s words triggered. Sherlock was shocked to find that these few words held more importance to him than any new, crucial information in a murder case could offer.

 

His heart pounded against his ribcage with such speed that Sherlock thought that the organ would rip his chest open and jump out of its restraining cage at any moment. Certainly, he sneered, as if that approximately 300 grams of muscle could tear up the thoracic wall of firm muscles and ribs. Honestly, Sherlock wouldn’t have been surprised if it could. The organ having been nothing but a motor for his transport for decades, deprived of romantic emotions, could easily take compensation for the neglect and come to life with extra vehemence.

 

No one had ever spoken those words to him. Why would anyone have? He was a freak after all, nothing more. There was nothing to love about him.

 

Sherlock had never expected anyone saying ‘I love you’ to him in a romantic context. No, not in any context. Expressing sentiment was never a thing in the Holmes family. Sherlock couldn’t remember ever hearing his parents telling him they loved him, though it had undoubtedly occurred at some point, probably, when he was a child. Showing affection was beneath a Holmes; it was a sign of weakness, Sherlock had learnt at a young age. Life seemed to spare him the remorse for expressing his emotions in words—being different, he had never been a target of romantic feelings. He had never been worth being loved.

 

But apparently one of the 7.6 billion people in the world—65.64 million in the UK and 8.788 million in London—found him worthy of his love.

 

John loves me! Blood was singing in Sherlock’s veins in heavenly joy, his body filling with a warmth he had never experienced before. Me, Sherlock Holmes, the freak, the arrogant, insufferable man. John Watson. Loves. Me .

 

Not even solving the most difficult and clever case had ever elicited the bewildering feeling that was filling his chest. How can it be? His mind raced to answer the important question. The (self-proclaimed) sociopath that abhorred sentiment and its influence on life—whose life was only about the work, keeping his always whirring mind stimulated enough to not go mental from boredom—wasn’t supposed to become that elated by the most dangerous sentiment.

 

Sherlock had learnt at the beginning of his career that romantic love was the most vicious motivator and destructive force in life. It turned loved ones against each other, corrupted reasonable thinking and took control out of one’s hand. While being in love could give extra strength to perform incredible feats, that increased energy could also be channeled into violent behaviour.

 

He hadn’t considered love in any other context. If someone might have said that one day the thrill of being loved by someone would top the excitement of solving cases, Sherlock would have retorted with an indignant sneer. Nothing could matter more than the work, the stimulation of his mind, the feeding of the insatiable beast. Certainly not a chemical defect like love.

 

How wrong he was!

 

John loving him was even more exhilarating than the work. John being in love with him was a miracle, and though Sherlock didn’t believe in miracles, now he was grateful for this unexpected and undeserved gift.

 

Sherlock desperately wanted to say that he was in love with John too and mean it, but he still couldn’t figure out the nature and depth of those feelings. What he felt had no previous record in his mind palace, and despite his research and personally acquired and daily updated data on the matter, he was wary to come to a hasty conclusion. He couldn’t make a mistake with a wrong deduction; there was too much at stake.

 

Mycroft was right, Sherlock wasn’t who he used to be. The man he used to be was lonely and lived in a black and white world. The Sherlock Holmes now wasn’t lonely anymore, and vivid colours painted his world. John gave meaning to Sherlock’s existence, filled his cold days with warmth and showed him how caring wasn’t a disadvantage.

 

John Watson , Sherlock savoured the name dreamily, his heart taking a double thud at every syllable. The only person that mattered. After the whole Jennie fiasco and the privacy incident, Sherlock realised that if he had to live without John Watson, he didn’t want to live at all. He craved John’s company. Without him, he couldn’t function properly. John completed him, made him feel alive, gave him purpose. Sherlock needed John like he needed air. Even moreso, for breathing was boring, while John was anything but. Even the fact that he pretended to be dull was fascinating, because Sherlock saw it for the mask it was. And it made him wonder why John felt the need to present that mask to the world. Not that the disguise hadn’t come in handy when everyone underestimated John, much to their detriment.

 

Could John be that ashamed for being a discharged soldier, believing that he was nothing more than a useless, broken man, that he wanted to hide behind the facade of the average, uninteresting person he thought he was? Sherlock hated how low John tended to think of himself at times. The doctor should be proud of the valuable asset he had been to Her Majesty’s military service, the brave, skilled man he had been—and in Sherlock’s eyes still was—instead of burying him like a shameful reminder of his broken career. If it was for Sherlock, he would show off John, telling everyone what a great man he was. Certainly, that would earn many sharp, disapproving glances from the man in question, but Sherlock wouldn’t care less, it would be worth.

 

Sherlock had seen through the mask from the beginning, and he had yet to grow tired of trying to understand the man. From the first moment they had met, John intrigued him more than any puzzle. In the first week of living together, Sherlock had been certain that, by the end of the fourth week, he was going to crack the Watson case, exposing the doctor’s past to the last tiny detail and disclosing the man’s every secret. But both to his annoyance and awe, Sherlock had been disappointed, as not only had he not acquired answers to his questions about Dr Watson, but each piece he had uncovered had led to more puzzles to solve. While normally that would have frustrated Sherlock beyond limit, with John, he had found it an exciting, enjoyable challenge. He could go his whole life without completely unravelling the mystery that was John Watson.

 

Sherlock couldn’t be grateful enough to fate for guiding John onto his path. He had never believed in destiny or any higher being like god or other power, but, for the first time, his scientific approach wavered, because there must be something out there that had arranged for them to meet. It couldn’t have been a mere coincidence; the universe was never that lazy.

 

I love you.

 

Sherlock shivered at the beauty of the moment, his heart that was virgin to romantic emotions overflowing with heavenly joy. His whole being longed to kiss the lips that cradled the invaluable confession, responding with a non-verbal expression of the still-unnamed affection he felt for John, but he had to restrain himself of doing so. Though he craved to bring more intimacy in their blooming relationship, taking what was promised him and ending his torment, Sherlock had to respect John’s wish and wait. Waiting, what a horrid word. Sherlock Holmes hated waiting, he wanted everything at once, take use of them and move on once they fulfilled their purpose. Anyone, but John.

 

“You– It was–” Sherlock stuttered, many variations of a reply flashing through his overloaded mind. The memory of the rest of the conversation of that night came back to him, every word gaining even more importance now that Sherlock could be certain that none of those had been just a product of his imagination.

 

John nodded with that beautiful smile of his, the indigo eyes sparkling. “Yes. It was real.”

 

John reached out to rest his hand on Sherlock’s knee. The warm touch sent an electric jolt through Sherlock’s body, while making the trouser-clad skin tingle at the very spot.

 

“I love you,” John repeated softly, his affectionate look burning Sherlock’s eyes.

 

Sherlock couldn’t look away even if he wanted to. The genuine emotions in John’s midnight-blue eyes pulled him in, paralysed him, and all of his mind chanted was ‘ he loves me, he loves me, he loves me ’. He wanted to burn this image in his memory forever, storing the moment on his hard drive with several back-up copies in different folders, on different sections of the computer in his mind.

 

He opened his mouth and closed it, unable to find the words to say.

 

John flashed him a reassuring little smile, while squeezing the bony knee. “It’s okay. You don’t have to say anything.”

 

Sherlock bit his lip with a frown. John, how can you be this selfless? Not expecting anything in return. I couldn’t be like this, if I were in your shoes. I’d press for a reaction, wanting to hear the words too. I’d demand a proof that my emotions are returned. Why don’t you? Why are you not selfish like I am? Can you see that I’m still not ready to say it back yet? That I want to, but can’t?

 

“Take your time,” John murmured softly. “We both need time to sort out our issues and come clean with ourselves and each other.”

 

John was always so understanding where feelings were concerned. I should learn from him, Sherlock sighed.

 

The hot beverage, the medicine and the illness taking effect on him, Sherlock’s eyelids got heavier and he couldn’t suppress a little yawn. Tiredness came over him once again, and suddenly, hitting the bed was ever so tempting.

 

“You should go to sleep. It’s late and you’re still ill,” John noted, his doctor side taking over once again.

 

Sherlock nodded weakly, letting John taking the mug out of his hand and nudging him to stand.

 

“Come, I’ll tuck you in,” John suggested in a gentle, concerned voice. While the concern would come off as patronising from anyone else,  especially by Mycroft, in this very moment John’s attitude was anything but irritating. Sherlock rather liked the doctor’s undivided attention and tenderness.

 

John’s hand slid to the small of Sherlock’s back, giving him a little push toward the bedroom, and Sherlock arched into the little touch like a cat, barely suppressing a little purr. The thought of parting from John for the night was unbearable. Sherlock wanted to curl up against the man, feeling John’s warmth, inhaling his scent, hearing his heartbeat.

 

When they entered Sherlock’s bedroom and John gently pushed him to sit onto the bed, Sherlock pleaded like a child, staring at John with heavy-lidded eyes, “Staaay with me...” Even through the haze of exhaustion, Sherlock could perceive the doctor’s reluctance. John was apparently pondering how could he gently refuse Sherlock’s request in order not to get them into any uncomfortable situation, exposed to temptation. But Sherlock needed to feel John close, to relish his comforting presence. “Please.” He blinked his eyelashes and pulled a puppy dog look that, as far as he knew, people usually couldn’t resist. Manipulation was a good friend of Sherlock Holmes, and their collaboration was always fruitful.

 

Always , Sherlock smiled triumphantly when John sighed and gestured at the bed, pulling back the duvet a little. “Scoot over a bit.”

 

Sherlock made room for his boyfriend with a content smile, watching John silently undressing to vest and pants, before slipping under the duvet beside him.

 

John folded an arm under his head, lay on his back and stared at the ceiling. Once John settled, Sherlock scooted closer and snuggled up against the blond’s compact body without a morsel of guilt and rested his head in the crook of John’s neck.

 

Sherlock fell asleep in less than a minute with the memory of John saying those three little words on his mind.

 

***

 

To John's relief, Sherlock's temperature returned to normal over the next few days. The sneezing ceased and the deep coughs became less frequent, indicating the detective was on the road to recovery.

 

John didn’t end up in Sherlock’s bed once the detective got better, for various reasons. One night, Sherlock fell asleep on the sofa and John didn’t want to wake him; another time, John was out with mates till late; yet another night, Sherlock was engrossed in some experiment and spent the night in the kitchen with his microscope.

 

But that didn’t mean that John didn’t wonder if Sherlock would initiate sleeping together (like literally sleeping). The detective apparently had a thing for affection and comfort when being ill, and John found it adorable.

 

During those few times they shared a bed, John realised that he actually liked the comforting closeness during the night and seeing Sherlock's face the first thing in the morning. The thought of reliving the experience again and again, sneaking more intimacy into their budding relationship, was more and more tempting. Not only because John’s presence could be beneficial to Sherlock when he was ill, but also because the intimacy might better help John in defeating his demons.

 

Could they keep up this sleeping arrangement as a routine even when Sherlock wasn’t under the weather? Should he bring up the suggestion?

 

The more he thought about it, the more he couldn’t dismiss the idea. So one evening, he sat down on the sofa beside Sherlock with the intention of interviewing the detective about the matter.

 

“There's something I want to ask you...” he started tentatively.

 

Sherlock looked up at him inquiringly, his brow twitching warily.

 

“You’re aware of my... um, reservations regarding physical intimacy with– with the same sex... and my therapist's view on the issue...” John stammered uncomfortably. Was this talk really a good idea?

 

Sherlock flinched, reminded of their earlier confrontation concerning privacy borders and what that had resulted in.

 

“Though our time in Epping wasn't uneventful, there was something I truly liked and...  Jesus, I'm not good at this stuff...” John laughed nervously. Sherlock's quicksilver eyes watched his every motion like a hawk. “What I mean is... I liked sleeping with you. Sleeping, like literally sleeping, just holding each other... So I thought that maybe... if you're amenable that is, we could...” Done. Now, there was nothing but waiting for Sherlock’s answer. He bit his lip in anticipation.

 

Sherlock squinted incredulously at the suggestion. “Oh.”

 

John squirmed at the reaction. “I might have misinterpreted the signs, though.” He averted his gaze from Sherlock in embarrassment. “I just– I had the impression that... I know that you like having your space, especially where your bedroom is concerned, but... I thought that since you aren’t so keen on the lack of physicality in our relationship... maybe we could have this...”

 

“No.”

 

“No?” John trained his eyes on the floor and clenched his fists.. There was a reason he was hesitant to put himself out there.

 

“No. You didn't misinterpret them.”

 

John’s head whipped back up to look at his partner. He needed a moment to realise the meaning of the words, before letting out a sigh of relief. “So you...?” He searched Sherlock's face for confirmation. His eyes twinkled in the dimly lit room, and a mischievous smirk played at the corner of his perfect lips.

 

“Obviously.”

 

“Shit, you scared me,” John chuckled, the adrenaline of anxiety still buzzing in his system.

 

“You see, but don't observe,” Sherlock scolded him playfully.

 

“So you wouldn't mind it?” John prompted reassurance, ignoring the little remark.

 

“Of course not! Actually, I also contemplated initiating this development.”

 

“Oh, good. Really good.” John licked his lips. “So, um, how should we…? I presume you don't intend to join me in my room...”

 

“Correct observation. Maybe you're not that hopeless.” Sherlock grinned. “Without question, my room is more convenient and cosy.”

 

John admitted that he was right. There was no doubt that Sherlock's bedroom provided more comfort in every way. With direct access to the bathroom and easy connection to the centre of the flat, not to mention his more comfortable bed, it was undeniably the only reasonable option.

 

“Right.” He nodded, seeing the matter settled. “I'm having a shower,” he said, not knowing how to approach the question of when to start this new arrangement.

 

“I expect to see you in my room afterwards.” Sherlock cocked his head at him, perfectly understanding what was on John's mind.

 

Even if John had wanted to, he couldn’t have stopped the grin if he tried. “I wouldn't miss it for anything.”



Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen - What’s Left Of Me



Now I'm broken, and I'm fading
I'm half the man I thought I would be
But you can have, what's left of me

 

~ Nick Lachey - What’s Left Of Me



Sherlock was kneeling in front of his mahogany wardrobe, busy with rearranging his neatly organised shoe-boxes in the bottom, when the faint creak of the bedroom’s door informed him that John had finished showering and was ready to retire for the night. Even before emerging from the depth of his wardrobe and looking at John, Sherlock could tell from the slow and uneven thumps of the doctor’s footsteps that John was a bit apprehensive of this new arrangement, even though he had been the one who had suggested it.

 

Sherlock didn’t blame him. He tried not to show it, but he was just as—if not slightly more—anxious at the change in their domestic routine. For him, letting someone into his private sphere, crossing the boundaries of intimacy, was ever such a big step. Never during his thirty-something years had he ever let anyone so close to see the real Sherlock Holmes, the one made of flesh and blood rather than a cold, detached machine consisting of metal and wires.

 

Caring is not an advantage , Mycroft’s words, like a well-studied law of physics, still echoed in his mind whenever sentiment was concerned. Sherlock had learned at a young age that he could count only on himself in life—his mind and exceptional intelligence. People didn’t know how to handle anyone who was different, they couldn’t understand them, hence they rather turned to coping mechanisms like avoiding them or calling them freaks and weirdos.

 

First, it had hurt. A lot. Sherlock remembered when the other kids had started chanting ‘freak, freak, freak’ when passing him in the school yard between the lessons in the first term of grammar school. At the beginning, he hadn’t understood why they acted that way and had swallowed his crocodile tears on the way home, feeling like a monster that everyone wanted to stay away from. As usual, it had been Mycroft, the wise, elder brother who comforted him, explaining to young Sherlock how they were different from others and how that wasn’t a bad, shameful thing.

 

Later, when being older enough to fully comprehend the dynamics of society and the world around him, Sherlock had accepted that he would never be like other, ordinary people, and there was no point in trying to fit in. People with higher intellect weren’t supposed to blend in with the crowd, Mycroft had reasoned, ‘ Be proud of who you are, Sherlock. It’s a gift.’ The elder Holmes’ advice was still ringing in Sherlock’s ear. ‘You and I are above the dull, slow-minded, average people; our intelligence designates us to a higher purpose than they could ever achieve. Don’t let yourself be affected by their brutal ridicules. You are worth more than them.’

 

Mycroft opening his eyes, Sherlock’s childhood had ended abruptly. Understanding who he was and what being different meant for him, he had found himself on the road to adulthood much earlier than a child was supposed to. He had been barely ten when he accepted being the odd one among other people and started building walls to save himself from their cruel attitudes. Mycroft had been his only company for years, until he left for boarding school and later university, leaving teen Sherlock on his own.

 

‘I don’t need anyone, never! Everyone just uses you, before you’re left abandoned, ending up in pain, broken and drained. I don’t want to feel like that, never again!’ He was back in time, feeling the fierce desperation and anger rising in his chest, tasting the salt of his hot tears mixing with the bitter stomach acid he had thrown up in his agitated state, hearing his screams and muffled cries. He saw his parents staring at him in shock, their eyes filled with fear and concern.

 

Fearing for their son, his parents had taken Sherlock to a psychiatrist that had diagnosed him with borderline paranoid and schizoid personality disorder with additional episodes of depression. First, he had been prescribed antidepressant and sedatives and had had to attend regular counselling,  but once his parents had found out that Sherlock wasn’t taking his medicine and had been uncooperative with the psychiatrist, they had turned to more serious measures for the sake of their child (at least that was what Sherlock had kept hearing), and the young boy had been institutionalised for three weeks.

 

Sherlock still vividly remembered the white, sterile walls of the institute, the irritating smell of antiseptic and bleach, the fluorescent lights looming over them in the wards, while the corridors were enveloped in disturbing semi-darkness. His shoes had creaked on the lino, while the wheels of an old tea trolley had screeched rhythmically from behind him as he had been escorted to the designated room that he had had to share with three other boys. Sherlock would never forget them staring at him with blank faces and dull, vacant eyes. He still could feel the shudder that had run through his body.

 

The day he had crossed the threshold of the institute, he had met a few new friends that became his only trusted and loyal companions for long years: drugs. First, he had swallowed them unwillingly, but after the first week, slowly becoming dependent on the new stimulus, Sherlock had found the effect quite preferable. He had still loathed the counselling sessions, but seeing how easily he had been able to mislead the doctor by pretending to be a cooperative patient and giving the right answers to his questions, his time at the institute wasn’t horrid. After three weeks, Sherlock had been released with an adjusted medication plan and scheduled monthly counselling. His views might not have changed, but he’d had something to numb his contempt toward the world, and specifically toward Mycroft for abandoning him. Sherlock would never be able to forgive that.

 

Sherlock had found solace and distraction in his medication, taking multiple doses at once to escape into the comforting new reality of a drug-induced serenity. Acquiring the craved pills had been child’s play. He had then been introduced to illegal drugs during his time at university.

 

Even during his university years and after finding his way back to life after drugs, Sherlock hadn’t sought others’ company. He hadn't seen the point in having another person around 24/7, adjusting his way of living to someone else's habits and expectations—he had shivered at the ridiculous, repulsive idea—and wasting his precious time by running the pointless rounds of social etiquette.

 

Sherlock wasn’t a social being, and he didn't mind it.

 

Until John, no form of bond between humans had had any appeal to him. Sherlock hadn't intended becoming a victim of that despised trait of being human.

 

And look where you are now, Mycroft's cynical voice remarked. Voluntarily going against everything I taught you, little brother. You're getting soft.

 

Shut up, Mycroft, Sherlock barked internally.

 

The detective was astonished how quickly he had found himself trusting the doctor. John seemed to be his perfect companion, and Sherlock wanted to create the bond with him that he hadn’t expected to share with anyone ever. He still might battle with his insecurities, but he needed John in ways he had never needed anyone before. John Watson had already unnoticeably become part of him. He was Sherlock’s heart, moral compass and guiding light. Sherlock had let him in without realising it the moment he had asked how John felt about the violin.

 

And now he was about to take the next step and let John into his bed by his own volition, simply because he longed to do so. The thrill made his skin tingle. From what Sherlock gathered, John sincerely wanted to engage in this new intimacy level, despite his issues that hindered them having a relationship that included sexual intimacy.

 

Life was promising, and Sherlock finally looked forward to the future with hope.

 

“Sherlock?” John’s timid voice called to him from beyond the haze of his thoughts.

 

Sherlock blinked fast, wondering for a moment where he was, before John’s attention-seeking harrumph pulled him back into reality. He jerked his head toward his soon-to-be bedfellow, sitting back on his heels.

 

“Are you alright?” John searched Sherlock’s face intently, eyebrows furrowed.

 

“O-of course,” Sherlock stuttered, still a bit dazed. “Just zoned out a bit.” He cleared his throat.

 

“If you’ve– changed your mind.” Bowing his head, John shifted uneasily and licked his lips.

 

Sherlock looked at him in earnest for the first time since snapping back to reality.

 

John chewed on his bottom lip nervously, looking away, his sandy eyelashes fluttering like a bird’s wings. Clad only in pyjamas—not the usual T-shirt and pants or cotton pyjama bottoms composition, but a new chequered flannel set that one wore when they needed to look decent—John was standing in the doorway, shifting sheepishly from one tartan slipper-covered foot to the other, seemingly uncertain of how to approach this new situation. Adorable , Sherlock smiled to himself.

 

A faint blush coloured John's cheeks, and for a moment, Sherlock wondered if he had said the words aloud.

 

Sherlock couldn’t dismiss the impression of a shy, little boy tentatively approaching the girl he liked in pre-school. He could easily picture a five-year-old John Watson standing in front of a little brunette with pink-ribboned pigtails, clutching his plush rabbit’s ears and staring at his feet bashfully. Sherlock’s lips curled into an affectionate smile at the endearing image. If only he had met John when they were children! They could have been inseparable friends and spend almost their whole life together. Sherlock found the idea was truly intriguing. Would they have started dating in school? Would John have been ready to act on his feelings for Sherlock at such a young age?

 

“You're staring,” John blurted out, breaking the heavy silence.

 

As if burned, Sherlock hastily tore his gaze away from John's pyjama-clad form and dropped it to his thighs guiltily. Was staring at John an improper thing? Did it made him uneasy?

 

“I–” John mumbled, licking his lips.

 

“I–” Sherlock started at the same time.

 

John's bright, warm eyes met his, and they both burst out in sheepish laughter.

 

How much Sherlock loved the rumbles of their laughter, fusing into one beautiful, unique symphony. Suddenly, he was utterly envious of their voices merging, dissolving into one another and born again in a single new, powerful sound—the precious closeness that he longed for.

 

Maybe he didn't have to wait for long now. John sharing a bed with him could be a start, leading to the desired next step in their relationship. Hope was all that Sherlock had. He knew he mustn't push John, but it was more than a test of willpower. Damn sentiment and human desires—I knew they were grits in the lens , Sherlock grunted.

 

Once their laughter died down, John shifted again, clenching and unclenching his hand. “It’s still not too late to–”

 

“No,” Sherlock swiftly dismissed the suggestion, his focus snapping back. “I want you here,” he stated firmly.

 

John’s posture eased immediately. His features softened, the nagging apprehension fading from his face, and those lovely lips curving into a little, relieved smile.

 

“Good,” John muttered, his dark blue eyes brightening up and meeting Sherlock’s coyly. “Because I want to be here too,” he said, his smile widening.

 

The content, elated smile filled Sherlock’s insides with such blissful warmth that he could cry out in happiness. He was going to wake up beside John every morning from now on. The mere thought was exhilarating.

 

“I– I have made some room for your clothes,” Sherlock gestured at the open wardrobe with an excited stutter, glancing up at John sheepishly. “I'm afraid you still have to keep your wardrobe upstairs as not all the articles of both of our clothing fit in here, but–” His rambling faltered at the shock in John's wide eyes.

 

“Y– you want me to... move in here?” John gaped at him incredulously.

 

“Not good?” Sherlock blinked owlishly, anxiously wondering if he had done something wrong once again. He desperately needed a list of all the actions that John considered 'good' and 'not good'. Being in the dark was utterly frustrating.

 

John chuckled. “Well... I... when I suggested us sharing a bed, I never thought that you would ask me to move into your room...”

 

“It's the only logical step.” Sherlock noted matter-of-factly.

 

“Actually... it is. It's just...so sudden,” John laughed, astonishment still etched on his face.

 

Sherlock tilted his head a little, taking in the sight. John’s surprised and unsure look was utterly endearing. The man who was not unfamiliar with relationships gaped at him as if he suggested something that John had never heard of. It was slightly comical. Had he rendered Three Continents Watson clueless? Sherlock smirked and, unfolding his legs from under himself with ease, rose from the carpet.

 

“Not sudden enough,” his voice dropped an octave.

 

If it had been up to Sherlock, they would have taken this step right after John had agreed to date him. Sherlock wanted John, all of him, and he hated that the doctor called for a halt without any chance of reconsidering his decision. When Sherlock Holmes wanted something, he did everything to acquire that. And the most annoying part was that John apparently hadn't been bothered by Sherlock's sulk and desperate attempts to make the doctor change his mind.

 

His eyes piercing John's, Sherlock took two tentative steps toward the doctor, putting them in arm’s reach of each other. John didn’t seem to be able to look away, so Sherlock let himself get lost in the velvet midnight blue eyes, counting every gold fleck and silver spark in the dark irises that pulled him in with a force of a black hole.

 

Gorgeous .

 

The vibrating tension enveloped them like a heavy blanket. Sherlock could hear John inhaling sharply in the heavy silence, and he swore that if he listened closely, he would be able to make out the erratic rhythm of their pounding hearts. Reaching out a slightly trembling hand, he cautiously touched John’s tartan-clothed chest as if fearing electric shock. John swallowed hard and instinctively arched into Sherlock’s touch.  

 

So beautiful, exposed like this.

 

His hand sneaking up to John’s neck, the soft flannel warm from John’s skin felt nice and reassuring under Sherlock’s palm, much like the doctor’s jumpers. Sherlock slowly slid his fingers over to John’s pulse point and his eyes blew wide immediately at the thrilling sensation of John’s blood pounding fast underneath the soft skin. So powerful, so raw, he groaned, and there was no way he could refuse to have a taste of that precious spot. His curious lips brushing against the exposed, tantalising point where the fuel of the doctor’s body rushed through with the loudest sound, and Sherlock’s heart thudded in his ribcage in the same wild rhythm. Sherlock inhaled heavily, the sensation making him all heady. The proof of John being alive was right under his nose, and it was utterly fascinating.

 

John moaned quietly, and Sherlock felt the man’s body shuddering against his. Interesting . He smiled and his mouth latched onto John’s pulse point once again, unable to hold back. The taste and scent of John’s skin and the swooshing blood under his lips and tongue was bewildering. Intoxicating .

 

John squirmed under him, whimpering weakly, his sturdy fingers gripping Sherlock’s arms tightly. “Stop...please...”

 

Sherlock froze, realising that he had misinterpreted John’s responses, mistaking the muffled noises and weak wriggle for signs of pleasure. Inconsistent reactions , he groaned, berating himself for coming to wrong conclusions. Unpredictable human emotions. He frowned. Why can’t everything work like the world of science? One plus one always equals two—that’s a fix rule. Why can’t human reactions to intimate stimuli be the same? That would make things less difficult.

 

He reluctantly detached his mouth from John’s neck, only pulling back a centimetre, but enough to immediately feeling sorry for himself. Sexual intimacy not being his area, the little moments when he actually found himself enjoying the unexplored aspect of being human were thrilling little trips into the unknown. Since he had realised that John Watson meant more to him than anything and got a glimpse of how close they could get to each other, all he wanted was discovering every inch of John’s body, cataloguing the man’s every moan and tremble under his touch, reaching new heights and level of being high. He wanted to get lost in John until every cell of their bodies fused into a new entity and he didn’t know anymore where he ended and John begun.

 

Certainly, Sherlock was well aware of the ‘do not cross’ line that John had set—how could he forgot about it when the doctor reminded him time after time—but, as usual, he wasn’t keen on following the rules. Ironic how their relationship was alike to a crime scene—everything he wanted was beyond that yellow cordoned line, and he got dirty looks and scolding remarks whenever he tried to enter the forbidden territory. While many crime scenes were luckily open to him due to Lestrade needing him, the one with John was unfortunately a strictly guarded area to which not even the DI’s badge could grant him access. The key to the most intriguing field was John Watson himself who, to Sherlock’s chagrin was worse than Mycroft and denied him entrance as long as he saw it fit. Still, Sherlock had to cooperate and not cross the yellow-taped border, even if he found it one of the most difficult things he ever had to do. He knew that John was aware of his frustration and understood his impatience, still the guilt he felt seeing the sad, admonishing glint in the doctor’s eyes left a bitter taste in his mouth. He trusted me, and I failed again, his mind repeated over and over ashamed of being weak and disappointing John.

 

Maybe I am weak indeed , he pondered. Because it’s about him, because I can’t be without him, because he’s more important to me than my own life.

 

Pulling back fully—though every inch of his body cried out at doing so—Sherlock faced John tentatively, remorse heating up his cheeks. Instead of looking into the doctor’s eyes, Sherlock’s gaze fell on John’s lips, unable to bring himself to meet the disapproving, downhearted look in the indigo eyes.

 

“I– I shouldn’t have–” he stammered, shifting bashfully. He deserved John’s scorn; the man could be righteously mad at him. But the expected reprimanding words never came.

 

Surprised at the lack of a disapproving comeback, Sherlock carefully lifted his head as if he feared facing a snarling monster and being burned by the flaming, unearthly look of the beast. But instead of fire, he found saltwater—John stared back at him with glassy eyes, and Sherlock’s throat tightened at seeing the deep distress in the dark irises.

 

He was mistaken indeed, John’s squirming and whimpers were definitely not the reactions of pleasure. Did I hurt him? Sherlock blinked, startled. He was certain that the area he had gently fondled wasn’t supposed to hurt under that light stimulus, but what if he had got more carried away than he thought?

 

“I’m sorry.” He blinked rapidly, the nagging thoughts racing in his mind, trying to find out where he had gone wrong. He didn’t really know what was he sorry for, but it didn’t matter. Whatever it was, it upset John and that was something Sherlock couldn’t let happen. Though apologising couldn’t undo actions, he hoped that it could at least minimise the damage.

 

John smiled weakly, pressing his lips into a thin line. He apparently wanted to say something, but couldn’t find his voice.

 

“John…” Sherlock inhaled deeply, but once his boyfriend’s name left his mouth, his mind went blank and all the words he wanted to say got lost in his throat. He wanted to promise John that he would be stronger in resisting temptation, but what eventually rolled off his lips was nothing like that. “I don't know how long can I endure this,” he breathed resignedly, pressing his forehead against John’s with half-closed eyes. He heard John sighing quietly and opening his mouth to reply, but Sherlock cut in before a faint syllable could leave John’s mouth. “No, hear me out,” he asked in a slightly muffled, half-pleading voice. “I need to tell you this before I go mad.” The last word was nothing but a quiet growl. “I never expected to say this, but the destructive sentiment of desire that was locked away tight in a secluded corner of my mind has broken free, overwhelmed my transport and, like a sneaky virus, infected my hard drive.” The words poured from his lips. “I always knew that lust and emotions were dangerous, distracting, useless factors, but... You knocked my world off kilter, pulled me into your universe with an enormous force, and I'm not the same man I used to be. However, those hours of that night might be blurry and fragmentary, but you introduced me to the flames of passion and desire, showing me a new kind of high and making me revise my point about sexual activities. You gave me a taste of something I never knew,” he confessed, his eyes closing of their own accord.

 

Shutting out the visual world, all he felt was the accelerated thumping of his own heart, rhythmic pulsing of the veins under his temples and heavy, quick breaths sucked into his lungs.

 

“But now that I long for more so badly, you’re keeping me at arm’s reach, denying me even a tiny morsel,” Sherlock growled desperately. “It's killing me, can't you see it?” He broke away from John, running a hand through his hair in frustration and biting his bottom lip so hard that he wouldn’t have been surprised if it started bleeding.

 

“Just give me a little more time yet,” John breathed bitterly, clenching his hand. “Please.”

 

“Time,” Sherlock huffed. “So dull. You've had weeks by now to come clean. Plenty of time to decide if you want to take a chance on me.”

 

“It's not about wanting you or not, you know that I do—God, how could I not?” John burst out exasperatedly. “It's about me and how my life has turned around 180 degrees since I’ve known you! You read Ella's report of my recent therapy session, so you should know all about that.”

 

Sherlock squirmed at the reminder of his recent inappropriate action. Part of him still didn’t regret what he had done, he needed to know what was going on in John’s mind.

 

“I have to deal with the fact that everything I had been so sure about myself suddenly changed, and I'm about to turn my back on all I’ve known,” John went on agitatedly. “I want to be completely confident of myself when we take things to next level. Do you understand?”

 

Straightening his posture, Sherlock nodded unenthusiastically. Certainly he understood, he wasn’t imbecile. Whether he could accept it and wait endlessly without seeing the end of the proverbial tunnel, he didn’t know.

 

“Bear with me a little more, please.” John’s hand sneaked to grab Sherlock's and squeezed it lightly.

 

Sherlock sighed tiredly. “I can't promise anything.”

 

John’s glassy eyes lit up. “From you, that's enough.”

 

The hurt fading from John’s face and replaced by a little smile, Sherlock’s chest eased too, the worry slowly leaving his body.

 

“Do you still want to share a bed with me?” Sherlock asked uncertainly after a moment of heavy silence. “Because if you have changed your mind, I–”

 

“I want to sleep beside you,” John nodded determinedly.

 

Relief spread through Sherlock’s body. He already feared that John would withdraw his suggestion.

 

“If you still want me to, that is,” John added tentatively, searching Sherlock’s face timidly.

 

“Of course, I do!” Sherlock replied without hesitation, slightly offended that John might expect any other answer.

 

John smiled in relief. “I must warn you, I'm a restless sleeper, and I also snore occasionally.”

 

“That's a risk I have to take, I'm afraid.” Sherlock shrugged with a barely noticeable smile, pulling back the bed cover. He would undoubtedly take any risk anytime if that meant that he could be with John.

 

“Anything I should be aware of? Bedfellows should know the worst about each other,” John smirked with twinkling eyes.

 

Sherlock smiled fondly, perfectly getting the hint in John’s way of phrasing. Potential flatmates should know the worst about each other , Sherlock had said, after mentioning his habit of playing the violin at ungodly hours when he’d met John for the first time.

 

“Hmm,” he feigned thinking, climbing into bed. “I believe I have a thing for stealing the duvet and violating personal space.”

 

“I'll be sleeping with a criminal, nice prospect.” John huffed playfully, grinning in genuine amusement.

 

“According to the acquired information on you, you love danger.” Sherlock looked at him, cocking a brow flirtatiously and sticking out the tip of his tongue.

 

***

 

John shuddered at the word danger rolling off that pink tongue. Gosh, he wanted to feel that tongue running along his lips, tasting and teasing him. He longed for the warmth and the light press of Sherlock’s mouth against his like he had dreamt that night in Beresford Manor. He had often since recalled that dream kiss, as vivid in his mind as if it had been real.

 

He understood Sherlock’s impatience and frustration about keeping his distance, and God knew how much John wanted to touch his beautiful boyfriend and take what was his, but his father’s contempt-filled voice sneaking into his head whenever John eventually found the courage to venture into letting Sherlock close shattered the moment, crushing John’s hopes into tiny pieces. John stood up every time and went on fighting, but the failures overcame him, and he wondered if he could ever win and get what they both wanted.

 

Sherlock’s mouth on his neck was a glorious feeling, the soft, warm lips savouring his pulse point was an exhilarating sensation that sent tingles through his body and heated up his groin. John knew that he should let Sherlock indulge in the sensual moment, not crossing the line they had drawn, but as fallible of a human as he was, he hoped that maybe this one time could be an exception, maybe this time the demons would stay away. But they hadn’t.

 

When Sherlock broke away apologising, the worry and confusion John saw in the detective’s multicoloured eyes wrenched his heart. John wanted to tell Sherlock everything in that moment, but he just couldn’t form the words. Being painfully aware of how difficult the situation could be for Sherlock, John’s heart cried for his boyfriend. Sherlock, the man new to romance and still learning how to deal with the vehement, not always logical emotions, didn’t deserve this distress. But there was nothing John could do; it wasn’t like he had asked for his father to haun and lecture him. He kept trying to resolve his issues to finally be a boyfriend for Sherlock for real, taking their relationship to the next level where there were no more barriers. Oh, how he wanted that! Not being able to act on his desires caused real pain, and John thought he would go insane from not allowed to touch the man he lusted after.

 

The urge to defeat his father’s demon became more and more pressing. I managed to make peace with being attracted to a certain person of my own gender, I should be able to deal with the ghost of someone who never could love me unconditionally and only wanted me if I could be the perfect— in his eyes —son , John reasoned. Unlike with Sherlock.

 

Turning the bedside lamp off, John settled beside his boyfriend and pulled the expensive duvet over himself.

 

“My bed definitely looks better with you in it.” Sherlock beamed at him, lying on his side, propped up on an arm.

 

John giggled. “It feels really weird though. Me in your bed, so close to you... surreal.”

 

Sherlock raised a brow. “Not good?”

 

“Better than good,” John laughed. Sherlock, the confident, arrogant detective being unsure of himself was one of the cutest things ever.

 

Sherlock nodded contemplatively and, rolling onto his back, gazed at the ceiling intently as if he was seeing it for the first time.

 

Did he understand what I meant? John wondered, having not expected Sherlock’s silence.

 

“Sherlock?”

 

“Hmm?”

 

“You know what I meant, right?”

 

“Of course, I’m not imbecile,” Sherlock snorted, but didn’t stop staring at the ceiling.

 

“Good,” John licked his lip, still perplexed by the lack of his boyfriend’s enthusiasm.

 

For a moment, the only sound in the dark room was their rhythmic breathing.

 

“Have you ever–?” Sherlock's murmur broke the loud silence eventually.

 

“Have I ever what?” John glanced at him inquiringly. He had already lost track of Sherlock’s train of thought; not as if that was anything new.

 

“Thought of what it would feel like? Us, in my bed, like this.”

 

John let out an inaudible sigh. So that was the reason of Sherlock’s silence, his brilliant mind was musing on the situation.

 

“Not before that night,” he confessed. “I didn't dare to imagine it, because I didn't want to feel even more miserable than I already did. I knew I wasn’t supposed to have such intimate thoughts of someone from my own gender, especially not my flatmate and best friend who would never return my affections. That was enough to dismiss any developing fantasies. I didn't want to get more hurt.” He added after a beat, “But since that night, God, yes, I did.”

 

“I haven’t stopped thinking about it since then either.” Sherlock turned his head toward him with an open expression, his stormy blue eyes twinkling sincerely in the moonlight filtering through the curtains. Clearing his throat, he asked tentatively, “I’m not unwell anymore, but... would you hold me while we sleep?”

 

The sheepish look on Sherlock’s face was so adorable that John couldn’t say no even if he had wanted.

 

“Come here,” he replied with a smile, opening his arms.

 

Scooting closer happily, Sherlock snuggled up to him and buried his head into the crook of John's neck. John closed his eyes at the magical sensation of the mop of silky curls brushing against his cheek.

 

Silence fell over them once again.

 

“I think we will never have to ask for a twin room ever again when away on a case. What do you think?” John murmured a minute later. Getting no answer, he glanced down at Sherlock and his mouth immediately curled into a loving smile at the angelic sight of the sleeping man in his arms.

 

Relaxing into the soft pillows, he stretched his back and legs against the firm mattress underneath. Sherlock's bed definitely was a lot more comfortable than his own, but that wasn't any wonder with the Holmes' budget at hand. The lithe body in his embrace, radiating reassuring warmth, just added extra comfort to the quality product.

 

What is that silly superstition regarding sleeping somewhere for the first time? Count the corners of the room and pay attention to your dreams that night because they will come true.

 

As long as they aren’t nightmares, I’m game. He smiled. Having slept in the same bed with Sherlock in Epping, he had been free of tormenting dreams. Had he remembered this silly ritual then, he would have anticipated that pleasant dream scene coming true more than anything. He wished that making love to Sherlock could have been more than just a satisfying vision.

 

Had Sherlock been aware of him pondering about such pointless matters like dreams and superstitions, he would surely have scoffed at him with a wrinkle of his nose. Even if it included him. Especially if it included him.

 

John defiantly counted the corners, just in case, a smirk lingering on his face. Who knows?

 

***

 

The next days saw Sherlock's strength returning slowly, which meant that he once again stopped taking care of himself and just shrugged when John reprimanded him for his obstinacy. John had to face the fact that Sherlock had indeed recovered and gone back to the careless, ignorant prick he usually was. Meaning things were back to normal.

 

Or better than the old normal. John woke up in Sherlock's bed every morning now, the long arms draped around him in a possessive, octopus-like embrace. He had never expected Sherlock to be so cuddly and physically expressive, not in the light of the image he had projected of himself. This Sherlock in his arms was nothing like the man he had written about in his blog. John started to suspect that the detective played up on the image he presented of him in the case entries. John had known for a while that the aloof, calculating, cold man just a cover, a disguise to live in this difficult world, but it was nice having such incontrovertible proof.

 

John enjoyed seeing this new side of Sherlock. He relished the heat of proximity greeting him in the morning and the comforting weight against his body before falling asleep, the silky feel of the dark, unruly curls against his cheek, the lovely scent of Sherlock lingering around him. He savoured the reassuring rhythm of Sherlock's heartbeat against his, the most beautiful music in the world. He loved that the first thing he saw with the new day was the spark in those beautiful universe-coloured, sleepy eyes staring up at him in adoration such as he had never noticed in any of his girlfriends. All that was incomparable to anything he had experienced before.

 

The nightmares about war ceasing, John finally slept peacefully without tossing and turning and waking up drenched in cold sweat. Their presence was beneficial to each other; Sherlock tended to get a regular, refreshing rest in his partner's embrace, breaking the habit of not retiring into his bedroom for nights and missing out on sleep for long periods. Even if he wasn’t tired and sleepy, unless there was some important experiment or case to deal with, he followed John to bed every night, snuggling up to him, taking in the so-craved closeness. He often appeared to doze off just by listening to John's heartbeat, while other times he brought work to bed and sank into his mind palace with his head resting in the crook of John's neck.

 

The only downside of this arrangement was the nagging physical temptation and the ghost of a dead man taunting John mercilessly.

 

After the more frequent panic attacks with the voices in his head, the need to tell Sherlock about the depth of his issues became was more pressing.

 

“I need to talk to you,” John stated one evening as he sat down opposite Sherlock in front of the fireplace.

 

Apprehension flashed through Sherlock’s face, apparently fearing being told off for something once again, and he lowered the book he was reading.

 

“Don’t worry, this time it’s not about you,” John assured him. “Well, in some way it is, but... not like that... I mean not like when I’m angry with you—”

 

Sherlock raised a brow quizzically. His pointed, impatient stare rendered John even more uncomfortable.

 

“Will you point out what is on your mind sometime in this century?” Sherlock prompted in a slow, slightly teasing tone. “Or even better, in this decade. We are short of time.”

 

“Alright, alright,” John stopped the smartarse comment, throwing up his hands. Talking about his emotions, especially his psychological issues, which concerned sex, wasn’t easy.

 

Filling anyone in on what was going on in his mind, revealing his fears and phobias, wasn’t John Watson’s forte. No one had ever known about his insecurities or the hurt that strained his heart. Even as a boy, he had never shared his deepest feelings with anyone. Being insecure and afraid was a weakness that shouldn’t apply to a Watson. As a child, John had heard his parents saying enough for a lifetime. Turning to them for advice or understanding had been out of question. As for Harry, she had lived in her own world that completely differed from John’s, and with her buoyant, careless attitude, she hadn’t been the person he could trust with his insecurities and definitely not someone to seek advice from.

 

People tended to show their charming, attractive side to amaze their romantic partners; similarly to the world of animals where males showed off in a mating ritual to look appealing to the females. John was no different. He wanted his partner to be proud of being with him, to admire and desire him, not to be ashamed and pity him for being a broken man with psychological issues. He couldn’t bear Sherlock looking at him with disappointment and sadness in those sharp silver blue eyes.

 

Bracing himself for the inevitable, John cleared his throat. “You know that I visited Ella the other week,” he started, looking at his sock-clad feet and the carpet underneath back and forth, not able to bring himself to meet Sherlock’s eyes. Sherlock squirmed in his chair, and John knew that he was about to interject, apologising again for his mistake of having been too nosy and crossing the line of privacy. “Don’t say a word,” John held up a hand and closed his eyes for a moment, indicating that he wasn’t up for discussing that topic again. Sherlock staying obediently silent, John took in a breath, and risked a tiny glance at his boyfriend.

 

Sherlock’s penetrating, curious and slightly anxious gaze was fixed on him; the detective’s eyes shimmered in a golden light in the reddish-orange glow of the dancing flames in the fireplace. Mesmerisingly beautiful. John had to mentally kick himself to not let himself get distracted by the sight.

 

“You know what she told me,” John said carefully, trying not sounding accusatory, and averted his look back at the carpet as if that had been the most interesting thing he had recently seen. “You know about my parents’ strict views and... and how that affected Harry and me…” He swallowed hard, gathering courage to go on. “My parents, especially my dad, never accepted homosexuality... and when Harry came out, I was... the child they flooded with their expectations.”

 

From the periphery of his vision, John perceived Sherlock crossing his arms with a frown. For a moment he wondered if Sherlock was bored by his speech or, once again, just chose this form of expressing his despise for the majority of human race.

 

Hoping for the latter, John inhaled deeply and continued, “They never forgave Harry for bringing shame on the family, on the Watson name.” He turned his look toward the fireplace, staring impassively into the crackling flames. He felt not only the heat of the fire, but Sherlock’s gaze on his face. “I’ll never forget the day when dad practically threw her out of the house—the loathsome words he yelled at her, the pure contempt and hate in his eyes and utmost rage contorting his face,” John reminisced, feeling the hot tears gathering in his eyes. “My mum always stood by his side, she never contradicted him. She didn’t even flinch when dad slapped Harry and... said that she wasn’t their daughter anymore…” He swallowed hard, the resurfacing anger and hurt forming a lump in his throat. “I– I just stood there... unable to do anything…” His voice cracked and he could feel his hand trembling heavily. “I should have– I should have stood by her… done something, but…” John bit his lip hard, but the tears broke free, rolling heavily down his cheeks.

 

From the corner of his tear-clouded eyes, he could see Sherlock leaning toward him, and then all John knew was the detective’s hand covering his, the pale thumb squeezing his skin soothingly.

 

“I’m getting my punishment for that,” John mumbled hoarsely.

 

“No one’s punishing you for that,” Sherlock whispered comfortingly, crouching beside John.

 

“He is,” John blurted. “Ever since we’ve–” He pressed his eyes closed shamefully. “He keeps haunting me…”

 

Sherlock’s arms wrapped around him tentatively, and John jolted for a moment at the unexpected, comforting gesture, before leaning into the embrace, savouring Sherlock’s soothing warmth, familiar scent and the sound of the man’s heartbeat close to his ear.

 

Sherlock pulled him tighter and rested his head on the top of John’s.

 

“Everything will be okay,” John heard the low baritone murmuring softly into his hair, while Sherlock’s large hand caressed his back.

 

“No, nothing will be okay!” John sobbed against his boyfriend’s chest. Saying ‘everything will be okay’ was like putting a plaster on a gaping wound. That wasn’t the way to solve his problem. “You don’t get it…”

 

“Do I not? Then explain it to me.” Sherlock’s voice was maddeningly calm, and John couldn’t decide whether to find it annoying or reassuring.

 

What if Sherlock doesn’t understand? What if he just rolls his eyes and laughs? A man hallucinating voices, that’s not the strong John Watson that caught his interest. He might not want me like that.

 

Extracting himself from the embrace, John shook his head and got on his feet.

 

Sherlock stood too, seemingly puzzled at John pulling back abruptly. “John…” he started tentatively, reaching out for the other man, but John pushed him away and turned to leave the room. He felt like he’d suffocate if he stayed any longer.

 

“John!” Sherlock’s low voice now had a firm edge, demanding John’s attention. The detective’s fingers grabbed his gently, urging John to stay. “I’m not letting you walk out on this,” Sherlock declared.

 

John stopped and turned around slowly. He was too weary to fight.

 

“Talk to me,” Sherlock pleaded softly.

 

John pursed his lips. Glancing up at Sherlock, he found the steel blue eyes staring at him encouragingly.

 

“You’ll think I’m going crazy,” John said, then inhaled deeply, clenching his fist. “And, actually, you might be right, I probably am.”

 

“I doubt it. You think too clearly to be mad,” Sherlock noted with a hint of smile.

 

John snorted weakly and sagged back into his armchair with a deep sigh. Sherlock sat back into his as well and, leaning on his elbows, watched the other man intently.

 

“Will you still want to be with me if I’m crazy after all?” John cocked his head toward Sherlock.

 

“I am here, and I have been here with you since we met; I believe that should answer your inquiry,” Sherlock claimed nonchalantly, not even blinking an eye.

 

John couldn’t miss the cheeky glint in the detective’s universe-coloured eyes. Under other circumstances, he would have retorted with a ‘prick’ or ‘bastard’, but his current mood was far from feeling like joking.

 

“My father’s haunting me,” he started, trying to keep his composure this time and shut out the heavy emotions. “I keep hearing him in my head.” He swallowed abashedly, deliberately not looking at Sherlock. “Ever since you and I… got together–” He bit his lip nervously. “He’s the reason why we–” He raised his gaze reluctantly to Sherlock, who was staring at him with narrow eyes. Despite the intent gaze, John couldn’t detect any sign of Sherlock registering the meaning of his words. He sighed. The man was a genius, why couldn’t he ease the situation and understand him without John needing to say a word?

 

“He’s the reason why we can’t–” Shit, why is it so difficult? John licked his lips uncomfortably. He’ll think I’m nuts.

 

Sherlock furrowed his brows in confusion. Damn, his aloofness is infuriating.

 

John inhaled sharply. “Why we can’t be intimate.” There it was. He prayed that Sherlock finally got the meaning.

 

The penny finally seemed to drop as the detective’s eyes widened and his lips parted with a little ‘oh’.

 

John breathed in in relief. “Ella said it’s the subconsciously coded homophobia,” he explained as he wrung his hand awkwardly. “My parents’ views planted in me as a child and have been influencing my life since. Apart from the PTSD episodes, I’ve never had any hallucinations, until now. I can hear him cursing me, calling me hateful names, blaming me…” His chest tightened at the memories. “Whenever I want to make a move, or even if I just think of getting close to you, he appears in my mind…” he gulped with effort, his face heating up in shame.

 

Sherlock just stared at him motionless, and John knew that, as usual, he was processing the words he had heard.

 

He inhaled tiredly. He finally had it out. It was liberating. Now, only if Sherlock would say something.

 

“I–I’m–” Sherlock blinked eventually, his expression still unreadable as it usually was when he faced something that his mind couldn’t find an immediate answer to (especially if feelings were involved). “Sorry,” he blurted out after what felt like an eternity, taking up his usual thinking posture. John could see the washed-out blue eyes losing focus as the thoughts raced in that genius mind.

 

“I didn’t know,” Sherlock stated the obvious absentmindedly. “I was under the impression that you were still stubbornly insisting on keeping distance for some inconsequential reason. Had I known, I would have been more… understanding?” He glanced at John for confirmation.

 

“You couldn’t know; I didn’t say anything. I wanted so many times, but I just couldn’t bring it up,” John admitted regretfully. “I was scared and ashamed. I’m sorry.” He bowed his head. “But what I said is true: what if I’m going mental?” He deliberately didn’t mention the other voices in his head. “I don’t know how long can I live like this.”

 

Sherlock bit his lip, pondering. “There must be a solution.”

 

“Oh, yes, me ending up in straight jacket in an asylum!” John snapped, throwing up his hands.

 

“You know that I didn’t mean that!” Sherlock retorted with a sharp glance.

 

“Sorry,” John frowned, running a hand through his hair in frustration. “It’s just...I’m so tired of this shit…When I suggested us refraining from sexual intimacy, I did it because I needed time to figure out things and wanted to see if we can make things work without complicating them with sex and stuff. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this,” he waved a hand, sighing wearily.

 

“I find it difficult to ask this,” Sherlock muttered reluctantly, breaking his thinking position and dropping his hands into his lap, “but I need data to try to find the best method to help you. Tell me about those panic episodes. In detail.”

 

John’s brows pulled up high in horror. “No,” he refused the idea, protesting desperately. “You can’t– No. Please. Don’t.”

 

“I know it could be… overwhelming ,” Sherlock said compassionately, uttering the last word carefully, “but I want to help you.”

 

“I’m sorry,” John shook his head firmly, dismissing the suggestion as he looked away. “I can’t. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not you… I just can’t tell you.”

 

Sherlock sighed in surrender. “Fine. Then tell her .”

 

John turned his head back toward his partner, gazing at the serious, compassionate, quicksilver eyes for a long moment, before nodding numbly. The urge to go back for another talk with Ella had grown stronger with every day. She was the last chance for his sanity.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen - Going Under



Now I will tell you what I've done for you
50 thousand tears I've cried
Screaming, deceiving and bleeding for you
And you still won't hear me (Going under)

Don't want your hand this time I'll save myself
Maybe I'll wake up for once (Wake up for once)
Not tormented daily, defeated by you
Just when I thought I'd reached the bottom
I'm, dying again

 

~ Evanescence - Going Under



For the second time in less than two weeks, John was sitting in the comfortable armchair at the familiar window in the cosy office. He hadn’t been such a frequent visitor of the place since the early days after his discharge, fighting his PTSD and trying to adjust to his new arrangements while battling with the temptation to end his misery by putting a bullet into his head. He had thought those days long behind him, but here he was again with a another battle to face.He bit his lip, gazing at the bare branches of the oak tree outside through the window.

 

He was aware of Ella waiting for him to start speaking and he knew he should do so, but as so often in that chair, he didn’t know how.

 

“What’s troubling you, John?” Ella asked compassionately, searching the man’s face in sincere worry. “You sounded desperate on the phone. Is it your relationship with Sherlock?”

 

“No. Yes. Kind of.” John clenched and unclenched his hand. “I’ve come to accept having feelings for someone of the same sex, or at least admit being love specifically with Sherlock, but…” He inhaled deeply, then frowned wearily. “I think I’m going insane.”

 

Ella tilted her head inquiringly. “What do you mean?”

 

“My parents’, especially my father’s, homophobia keeps haunting me. I know you said this will cease with time, but...it’s just getting worse,” John sighed exasperatedly and filled the therapist in on his shameful secret. “I don’t know what to do; this is killing me.” He clenched his fist so hard that his nails almost cut his skin. “I try to fight it, but...I’m not strong enough…”

 

Ella gazed at him contemplatively. “You’re strong, John,” she said softly. “You’re one of the strongest people I know,” before adding in a firm, convinced, almost suggestive tone, “and that’s why you will be able to overcome this.”

 

John held her confident gaze for a moment. “I hope you have an idea as to how, because I have no clue,” he noted resignedly, throwing up his hands.

 

“I do. But you won’t like it.”

 

“I’m ready to do anything to stop this carousel of horror in my head that’s in the way of my happiness,” John claimed with the resolve of a soldier, his eyes burning relentlessly.

 

Ella nodded with a tiny, proud, satisfied smile at the corner of her lips.

 

“This could be one of the hardest things to do in your life.” She looked at John warningly, her smile fading. “But if you’re as strong as I believe you are, you’ll be able to do it.”

 

***

 

John was sitting in his armchair, gazing with unfocused eyes at the thick beam of the setting sunlight licking Sherlock’s chair and the burgundy-patterned carpet. Lost in his head, completely oblivious to his surroundings, he didn’t register another person’s presence, until a soft, warm hand met his cheek in a feather-like touch and jolted him out of his reverie.

 

A quick, quiet gasp left his throat, before his lips curved into a little, relaxed smile and he leaned into the delicious, familiar touch. The warm palm against his cheek, fingers caressing his skin like the purest velvet felt so right that John suddenly found himself purring in delight. He never wanted to miss this touch; he needed it like air, craved it like the danger he thrived on. He wanted the delicate fingers exploring his body in sweet, eager caresses, making his skin tingle and setting his core on fire, rendering him more alive than he had ever been. He would have sold his soul to the devil to indulge in this intimate touch forever.

 

“Was she any help?” the familiar baritone asked, startling John.

 

The moment was too nice to last, John noted bitterly at the meaning of the question. He covered the hand on his cheek with his before answering in a bare murmur, “We’ll see,” and  turned to face the other man with a half-hearted smile.

 

Sherlock nodded with lips pursed, his crystalline eyes twinkling in hope.

 

John squeezed the pale hand affectionately, appreciating that, this once, Sherlock didn’t push for the answer. John didn’t want to elaborate on Ella’s suggestion, before giving it a try.

 

“I believe in you.” Sherlock’s universe coloured eyes bore into his, the open, sincere look warming John’s chest.

 

I believe in us , John gazed back at Sherlock. And I’m ready to do what I have to.

 

***

 

This was the hardest game he had ever had to play. John wished to acquire a joker card and avoid accomplishing the task that was heavily looming over him without going through hell.

 

“Let me go with you,” Sherlock said quietly, watching John struggling with buttoning his shirt.

 

John shook his head. “You’d better not.” He fumbled with a middle button and snapped, realising that he had misbuttoned the shirt.

 

“Let me,” Sherlock offered in a low, soft voice, stepping over to him.

 

John swallowed in distress and allowed the detective to help him. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been this perturbed. He felt like voluntarily putting his head in a guillotine.

 

“It’s–it’ll be difficult enough on my own,” he stammered in a wavering voice, his stare fixed on the curtain, while Sherlock’s long fingers re-buttoned his shirt with steady movements. “Your presence would be oil on fire.” From the corner of his eye, he saw Sherlock purse his lips with an almost unnoticeable nod. “It’s nothing to do with you you, don’t misunderstand,” John added quickly, before Sherlock could come to a hasty—and wrong—conclusion once again. “I appreciate the offer,” he gulped hard, the lump growing in his throat and stomach tightening more with every moment, “but everyone has demons that they must face alone.”

 

“You don’t have to fight on your own anymore,” Sherlock murmured, his steel-blue eyes concentrating on the last button.

 

John’s heart fluttered, and he averted his dumbstruck look back at Sherlock. These words sounded like a ceremonial promise and a tacit confession of love. The younger man still didn’t meet his eyes, his stare still fixed on John’s chest.

 

“I mean, two people dating are supposed to be there for each other,” Sherlock reiterated, shifting slightly. “I know I am prone to messing up things where sentiment is involved, but...I still want to be someone you can count on—in any situation.”

 

Sherlock hazarded a tentative glance at John, his large hand now laying flat on John’s chest.

 

“I know. You are.” John covered the pale hand with his, catching Sherlock’s shy look. “You always were, and come what may, you always will be,” he said, his voice hoarse from emotions. “I trust you with my life. Just as you can trust me with yours.”

 

Sherlock gulped, apparently battling with all the things he wanted to say. “John…”

 

The alluring innocence was on the detective’s face once again, and John cursed the situation that thwarted him from acting on his emotions. He wanted to wrap his arms around Sherlock and kiss him, but...he had a mission to accomplish first. He tenderly squeezed the hand under his. “I know you want to help me, but this is my war,” he whispered, searching the quicksilver eyes. “Do you understand?”

 

Sherlock nodded with a stony, defeated expression. “I do, but I still don’t like it.”

 

“I’m sorry,” John sighed. He was grateful to Sherlock—the man who supposedly lacked compassion—for wanting to stand by his side in this battle, but John couldn’t bear the thought of his boyfriend, the person who mattered the most to him, being humiliated too. Sherlock was too vulnerable where romance and sex were concerned; John didn’t want him getting hurt.

 

“For now just wish me luck.” He flashed the detective a half-hearted, nervous smile and released Sherlock’s hand to grab his jumper.

 

Sherlock snorted, his eyes following John’s movements.

 

John still felt the contemplative gaze on him as he donned his coat and scarf.

 

With a sharp, silent inhale, he turned to Sherlock one last time, anxiety flaring up in his chest once again.

 

“Will you?” he asked, his voice nothing but a bare choke. The weight of his duty was heavy on his shoulders, and he couldn’t dismiss feeling like an inmate on his way to the execution chamber.

 

Startled, Sherlock snapped his eyes to him, and John’s insides trembled at the genuine compassion on the man’s face. John was barely able to hold back a tear, seeing the deep exasperation and helplessness in the detective’s face.

 

“I would do anything for you,” Sherlock choked, fighting the raw emotions. “So, good luck, John.”

 

John’s face contorted in desperation and he threw up his hands in silent anger. There were too many things he wanted to say and do, but his shackles held him in place.

 

Eventually, he stood on his tiptoes with a helpless groan escaping his lips, and softly kissed Sherlock on the cheek. “Thank you.”

 

***

 

Taking a couple of steps had never felt so difficult. His feet feeling like a ton of steel, each move was a challenge, his forty-metre trek transformed to forty kilometres by his reluctance. The chilly wind hit his face, but John didn’t even notice it.

 

What if Ella is wrong, and this ‘encounter’ doesn’t change a thing? What if I can never get rid of the voices? What if I end up in a mental asylum?

 

The thought of not being able to touch Sherlock without remorse and accompanying panic attacks was unbearable. Loving him couldn’t be that much of a crime to earn a punishment like that. That was unacceptable.

 

Sherlock . Seeing the despair in the detective’s eyes had been utterly painful, but John couldn’t let him come along and witness everything. John hadn’t told Sherlock what Ella suggested he do, he couldn’t bear looking into the grey-blue eyes knowing he might fail the task. Luckily, Sherlock hadn’t pressed the issue, which John found odd, but was grateful for.

 

The last steps to the simple grey gravestone were the hardest. John was inclined to turn on his heels and go back to the cemetery’s entrance, but Sherlock’s ‘I believe in you’ echoing in his ears gave him strength to do what he had to do. His sanity and future with Sherlock depended on it.

 

Had he not experienced hell recently due to those hateful remarks in his head, facing his father’s grave wouldn’t have been so distressing. John had visited the grave only once, when returning from Afghanistan; his strained relationship with his father, and his mother holding a grudge against him for not being there when his father had died, hadn’t motivated John to do so. He surely wouldn’t have come now either, if it hadn’t had pivotal importance.

 

Inhaling deeply and clenching his hand, he averted his gaze from the name on the headstone, carefully, as if the black letters could burn him. He stared at the dates for a moment. That much was a human life. Just numbers on a cheap headstone, he snorted bitterly.

 

Swallowing hard, he turned to look at the surroundings to compose himself and regain courage to do what he had planned, when he caught sight of a plainly dressed boy around fourteen at a nearby grave watching him. John’s heart sank at the terrible thought of losing a parent at such a young age. His father might have been an arsehole, but John still had him when he’d been a child. He frowned at the conflicting emotions of love and hate battling in his chest again.

 

He gave the boy a sympathetic nod of greeting, but the kid just looked at him impassively, before turning his head away from him. When John glanced in his direction a few seconds later, the boy was nowhere to be seen.

 

John pondered the strange encounter for a moment, before, reminding himself why he was there, he turned back to the grave.

 

“Um, Dad,” he stammered, the title like vicious acid burning his tongue. “I– I suppose we have an unresolved issue,” he said in a detached, soldier-like manner, straightening himself. “I believe you know what I’m talking about.”

 

Talking to a gravestone felt ridiculous. Sherlock surely would mock him if he could see him now.

 

“This is stupid!” He shook his head and laughed at the absurdity of the situation, clenching his hands once again. “I don’t even believe that you can hear me! Even if you did, you wouldn’t listen. You never did!” He burst out, raising his voice desperately. “You never cared what others wanted. The only thing that mattered was what you had in mind! Did you ever ask what Harry or I wanted in life? No! We could be lucky if our intentions matched your wish by chance. You never really cared about us! You never really cared about me !” John’s nostrils flared, the suppressed anger finally breaking free. “Just like many other children, I wanted to be like my father when I grew up. I ignored your harsh, strict nature and cherished the happy moments we had together. But once I started to express my own will as a teenager, you stopped being the loving father figure.” He pursed his lips at the bitter memories.

 

“I wanted you to love me, was it such a big thing to ask?” John cried, fixing his piercing, glassy stare at the gravestone. “Why couldn’t you? Why couldn’t you, unless I did what you expected? Honestly, I think you didn’t really love me even then; you probably only felt satisfaction at ticking another item off your to-do list!” John’s eyes welled up and he bit his lip to fight the urge to weep.

 

He shook his head as if that could ease the pain and alter the past.

 

Love , John noted. Suddenly, his desperate need for love, his lengthy date history that earned him the moniker Three Continents Watson, made sense. He just wanted to be loved, to feel the affection and care that he had never received as a child.

 

“You always were a selfish man,” John spat. “You wanted the world going around according to your wishes. You tried to plant your views and beliefs in your children, so that we would live the way you considered right. You expected Harry and I to oblige, but didn’t consider that we were our own people, that Harry would have the courage to defy you. I’ll always be grateful to her for opening my eyes. I was a good boy, playing by your rules and expectations for years, but that’s over,” his bottom lip trembled. “Hear me? Over ! And I don’t care if you approve of my actions; this is my life, not yours! I want to live it the way I choose! And if that means engaging in a relationship with a man, then so be it!” John didn’t notice that he’d started yelling. He didn’t care; there was no one around him in the cemetery anyway, and if there was, sod it.

 

“I love him, and I want to be with him !” Tears rolled down his cheeks. “After so many years of searching, I finally found someone I love unconditionally and who cares for me more than anyone else. A parent should be delighted at their child’s happiness. Why can’t you ?” A heavy tremor shook his bad hand, and John couldn’t muffle his sobs. “Just because he’s a man?” He swallowed the hot tears. “He’s still a human being with a heart! A brilliant one, actually. If you ever loved me just for a second, just a tiny bit, let me have this relationship!” He fixed his pleading, pointed stare at the gravestone. “Please! Let me be happy! This,” he pointed at his head, ”can’t go on. You can’t want me going insane and end up in a mental institute. A Watson in an asylum—that can’t be what you want! Your name disgraced.” John raised a brow suggestively. “You can’t be that selfish even in death.”

 

“If– if it makes you feel better, everything you said is noted,” he went on bargaining. “I accept you consider me…,” he swallowed awkwardly, unable to let the words pass his lips, “...what you called me, and you can gloat at me, if th-this...thing with Sherlock doesn’t work eventually...but, please, let me try and—if it’s not meant to be—learn from my mistakes. Please…

 

John licked his lip desperately, before nodding at the gravestone and turning on his heel to leave. “You know,” he stopped after a step and looked back over his shoulder. ”I believe there’s one way I take after you,” he mused. “I can be selfish too. I don’t care what anyone thinks about me being involved with a man, and I won’t let anyone take away the happiness he can give me.”

 

***

 

Sherlock was tapping nervously on the black, leather cover of the steering wheel of the (on Mycroft’s account, of course) luxe, white hire car. He could have asked for one of his brother’s business cars, but Sherlock hated being indebted to Mycroft; also, they didn’t suit the purpose.

 

He was watching the house with walnut painted walls and a tiny garden in the front for about half hour, though it felt like two.

 

Hundreds of thoughts were buzzing in his head, driving him crazy. He knew that what he was doing was probably not good, but he couldn’t help it. Seeing John in so much despair and not being able—or allowed—to help rendered him restless, and he couldn’t just sit and wait in the flat. He had to do something.

 

He didn’t know what Ella had suggested John do that made the doctor so distressed, and—after that privacy incident that had almost driven him and John apart—he didn’t want to risk John’s rage and disappointment once again by spying on him (John wouldn’t forgive the same mistake one more time), but he had promised John that he could count on him, and Sherlock was ready to prove it. John might need him; if for nothing more than comfort after accomplishing whatever he had to do. Sherlock swore to be there for John, and if that only meant being a shoulder to cry on, he was fine with it.

 

Pursing his lips, he tapped at the small of his back, feeling the revolver tucked in the waistband of his trousers. Just in case . He promised that John wouldn’t have to fight on his own anymore, and he meant it literally. He was ready to kill for John.

 

Being in the dark about John’s intentions, there was nothing else for Sherlock to do but follow his boyfriend. Getting busted in a hire car had a lower chance than in Mycroft’s black, sleek, beauties that John knew far too well, so Sherlock could trail John’s taxi with less fear of getting noticed (he had a plan B as well, in case John used public transport to wherever he was heading).

 

When the taxi had stopped at the cemetery’s, everything had become clear, Sherlock hadn’t needed much time to connect the dots.

 

He had carefully followed John through the cemetery, moving noiselessly like a leopard and hiding behind trees and ostentatious gravestones. When John had eventually stopped in front of an insignificant, plain headstone, Sherlock had hesitated between sneaking closer and watching from afar. He knew that John wouldn’t approve invading his privacy, but needs must. He had to know what was happening in order to be there for John in the most helpful way, but for that he needed data on John’s feelings and thoughts. John might not be able to open up face to face, so Sherlock thought that he could help by eavesdropping, and thus taking that weight off of John’s shoulders.

 

Sherlock had sneaked closer and hidden behind a large nearby crypt, settling in perfect hearing distance.

 

The sad details of John’s family life had hit Sherlock heavy in the guts. He knew that John wasn’t on good terms with his sister, but the doctor never spoke about his parents and childhood. Sherlock had never assumed that John’s silence could be reasoned by anything else than being a rather private man. John didn’t deserve such a distraught family life.

 

The frown on Sherlock’s face had turned into sweet surprise and his heart had beat faster when John had burst out ‘I love him and I want to be with him!’ The blond hadn’t professed his feelings about him with such vehemence before. The desperate truth had made Sherlock’s insides tremble and heart pound fast in his chest. John, John, John, his heartbeat had chanted frantically and he hadn’t been able to stop blinking, still unable to believe that such an amazing man like John Watson could love him. He had wanted to rush over, pull his boyfriend into his arms and kiss him with all of the devastating feeling he had nursed unknowingly in his heart for a while—love.

 

Sherlock had inhaled sharply at the rush of emotion. Love. He had been pondering for some time his feelings for John, but until that moment, he couldn’t have been sure.

 

I am in love with John Watson . His lips slowly had curved into a happy, radiant smile, and he had to restrain himself from jumping in joy and relief at the discovery. John loved him, and he loved John! Life suddenly had gained importance, and the world had shifted into balance.

 

Fidgeting in the luxurious leather seat, Sherlock’s eyes were still fixed on the house he had following John to after the cemetery, anxiously waiting for John to finally exit. Having realised the depth of his feelings for his boyfriend, seeing John go through so much emotional pain was antagonising.

 

Sentiment , he gripped the wheel hard disdainfully. Why is it so complicated? Why is love accompanied by hurt?

 

‘Dear brother, I told you not to get involved,’ Mycroft’s reproachful voice entered his mind.

 

Shut up, Mycroft! Sherlock spat and turned on the radio to lull his mind, but the sappy love songs didn’t help.

 

What is taking so long? Is John okay? Sherlock nibbled his lower lip nervously, wondering if he should go and snoop around. His fingers twitched, and he resumed the anxious tapping on the steering wheel. What wouldn’t he give for a cigarette now!

 

The door of the house finally opened up, and Sherlock instinctively shifted, his heart beating faster in the anticipation of spotting John in the entrance. He moved a hand to the car’s door, his fingers itching to push it open.

 

When the familiar figure of John Watson dashed out of the house, Sherlock tore open the car’s door and swiftly got out. He was inclined to cross the street over to John, but wary of John’s reaction, he dismissed the idea. All he could do was wait for John to notice him.

 

***

 

John saw the great surprise on his mother’s face when he had showed up unannounced on her doorstep after the visit in the cemetery. It had been a long time since he had last seen her. As expected, their conversation quickly devolved into her blaming John, pointing out once again how she didn’t approve of her son living with Sherlock Holmes and how the man was a bad influence on John. From there, it was just a step to move onto the tabloids’ implications of John and Sherlock’s connection being more than platonic.

 

“I’ve had bloody enough of you and dad telling me how to live!” John yelled at her, his patience lost. After the emotionally exhausting visit in the cemetery, he was more sensitive and agitated. “It’s my life! Mine!” Mrs Watson stared at him in horror, apparently not expecting her son’s outburst. “All my life, you and dad dictated the rules and expected me and Harry to follow. But those days are over! I’m not a little golden boy doing as you wish anymore!”

 

“I see that,” she remarked with quiet loathing.

 

“What was that?”

 

Mrs Watson shrugged, glancing at him in contempt. “You’re not the boy we raised. You exchanged the good, noble life for sin and disobedience. Just like your sister. I’m ashamed of you.”

 

That was enough for John to snap.

 

“Stop it! Stop that fucking bullshit!” he shouted, his lips trembling in rage. “We’re not bad people just because we don’t share the same views as you. A child follows their parents’ advice and teaching, but adults are entitled to have their own opinions about the world! You’re too narrow minded if you fail to see that! Neither Harry nor I are criminals that you should be ashamed of. We just think differently and are more open minded. That’s not a crime!”

 

Mrs Watson huffed and shouted back, “How dare you talk to me like that?! If your father could hear you now, he’d roll in his grave.”

 

“Right,” John nodded. “Cue the topic. Honestly, I don’t care! He’s been making my life miserable over the past few weeks, just because he’s as much of a narrow-minded person as you are!”

 

She gasped in horror. “H-how. Dare. You?” she hissed with eyes flashing like lightning. “Y-you ungrateful–”

 

“What should I be grateful for??” John yelled, feeling the muscles twitching in his neck and vein throbbing heavily under his temples. “What? For making me feel a freak because I happen to have my own will as every normal people does? For giving me sleepless nights of wondering why my father couldn’t love me? For feeling remorse for expanding my mind and trying to live in this modern world? For not being able to love someone freely because I know you two wouldn’t approve it?? Tell me!”

 

Mrs Watson just gaped at him, shocked by the vehemence and rage in her son’s attitude.

 

“Thought so,” John nodded knowingly. “Besides, there’s something you should know,” he added harshly. “I’m in a relationship with a man! I’m in love with him, and I’m not ashamed of that!” His mother’s eyes went wide in horror, and she muffled her cry with her hand. “And I fucking don’t care if you and dad approve it! So don’t even try to change my mind, you won’t succeed!”

 

She had pressed her lips in a tight line, before spitting in contempt, “It’s that detective you live with, isn’t it? I knew he was evil itself; I’ve told you! He possessed you, taking over your mind...that’s not real, you should fight him–”

 

“Nah,” John laughed. “The only time I fight him is when we’re wrestling for dominance during sex!” The utter horror on the elder woman’s face and seeing her squirm was too much delight to miss it. “But you’re right, he’s possessed me with his love and care that I’ve never received from anyone ever. He’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

 

“You’re delusional,” she muttered utterly mortified, her limbs shaking in terror. “What did your father and I do to deserve children like you and your sister?” She shook her head in disbelief. “You’re a shame on the family.”

 

“Really? Then why don’t you disown me too, just like you did with Harry?” John retorted sharply, glaring at her. “To cleanse the family name?” He had sneered through gritted teeth.

 

She stared back grimly and nodded. “You know what? I believe I will. I have to.”

 

That was it , John thought after storming out of the house, striding along the pavement outside the building that once had been his home and that he’d probably never  see again.

 

He was tired, so very tired. The heavy outbursts had taken their toll. He set out toward the end of the street, not really knowing where he was heading to. Anywhere, just away from here. Back to Sherlock in Baker Street. Reaching the crossing, he looked around for any approaching cars when he spotted him .

 

Sherlock , he panted in confusion, wondering why was he seeing his boyfriend just on the other side of the street of his childhood home. He can’t be here, it must be just an illusion, a trick of my mind. Blinking hard, John took another look at the figure standing awkwardly beside the white luxury car in that trademark coat, with hands in the large pockets, but the image didn’t change. It was him. Why? How? The questions raced in the doctor’s head as he slowly strode over him.

 

“Sh-Sherlock?” he croaked in disbelief, stopping in front of the tall figure.

 

Sherlock shifted slightly, biting his bottom lip guiltily. “I’m...sorry,” he muttered slowly, casting down his eyes in remorse.

 

With the turmoil of feelings and the emotional exhaustion, at that moment, John couldn’t care less about how Sherlock knew where he was; actually, after everything that had happened that day, he was rather grateful for his boyfriend’s presence.

 

He nodded in a soldier-like manner, acknowledging Sherlock’s apology. From the corner of his eyes, he could perceive the detective sneaking anxious glances at him. John knew he owed some explanation to Sherlock, but he couldn’t do that right there and then.

 

“Let’s go home.” His hurried suggestion was a mixture of plea and instruction wrapped in the firm tone of Captain Watson.

 

He felt Sherlock’s gaze following him as he briskly walked over to the passenger door of the car.

 

***

 

They didn’t speak a word during the ride back to Baker Street. Sherlock sneaked a few sideways glances at John once in a while, always finding the doctor in the same position: staring out the window with pursed lips.

 

Tension, anger, distress, resignation, exhaustion warred for control in John’s body language. Under other circumstances, Sherlock would have snapped at John to stop the cavalcade of thoughts in his mind because it was irritating, but now wasn’t the case. He pondered how he’d become so soft. John . It was only because it was him.

 

This heavy silence looming over them in the car was suffocating.

 

Sherlock felt helpless, and it was tearing him apart. Being helpless was one thing, but being helpless about John was torture. Sherlock wished the doctor would talk to him. He wished he could console John, even if only by listening. His fingers twitched on the steering wheel ever so often, wanting to reach over and place a comforting hand on his boyfriend’s arm, showing that what he had said about always being there for him was true.

 

But the car wasn’t the right place for a talk. Driving required his focus, so he knew John wouldn’t start a serious talk until they got to Baker Street. Sherlock couldn’t do anything but wait till they got home.

 

***

 

Sherlock followed a slow-climbing John up the stairs to the flat, and he could swear he heard the shorter man exhaling with a tiny whimper as he entered their safe haven. Sherlock stopped in the doorway, shifting apprehensively, wondering how to approach John about what had happened.

 

“John…” he mumbled to John’s back, but trailed off, not knowing how to continue.

 

John’s body went rigid, then started to shake. Sherlock carefully closed the distance that separated them and hesitantly hovered a hand above a sagging shoulder, part of him still scared that his touch might be unwelcome. Squeezing John’s arm tenderly, the muscles tensed under his palm for a moment, but eased as soon as Sherlock kept rubbing his hand up and down the bicep. John leaned into him, his back lightly pressing against Sherlock’s ribcage, muffled sobs vibrating into the detective’s chest. Sherlock instinctively wrapped his arms around the distressed man, covering him like a soft, warm blanket. John turned slowly in the embrace and, circling his arms tight around Sherlock’s waist, buried his face into his boyfriend’s chest. Sherlock held him wordlessly, resting his head on the top of John’s and caressing the doctor’s back soothingly.

 

They stood in their coats, clinging to each other in the middle of the sitting room as if the world had stopped around them.

 

When they eventually parted, John’s eyes were puffy and red from tears. Sherlock tentatively wiped away a wet trail on the man’s cheek, the skin soft and hot under his touch. John stared at him with an unguarded expression, and Sherlock swallowed hard at the deep affection in the glassy, midnight blue eyes. ‘I love him’ , he recalled John’s words in the cemetery, and he could clearly see those feelings in his boyfriend’s gaze.

 

Sherlock opened his mouth, then closed it, uncertain of what to say. He wanted to ask many things, but was scared that he might slip into ‘not good’ territory and upset John.

 

“Would you like a cup of tea?” he asked to break the silence, his voice low and unsure.

 

John nodded with a hint of a smile, and Sherlock disappeared in the kitchen, shrugging his coat off on the way and dropping it onto one of the kitchen chairs.

 

While the kettle boiled, Sherlock prepared the cups, fiddling with the tea bags nervously before putting them on a tray. Glancing in the direction of the sitting room, he saw John settle into his chair in front of the fireplace, flexing his hands.

 

Once the tea was ready, Sherlock strode into the room and handed one mug to John before taking a seat opposite him.

 

“Ta,” John muttered, enveloping the warm porcelain.

 

They were sipping their tea in silence for a few minutes, before John spoke in a tired voice, “Thank you for being there for me today.”

 

Sherlock stared at him with a puzzled expression. This wasn’t what he expected. He was prepared for to John reprimand him, not for him to express his gratitude.

 

“Are you not angry?” he blinked incredulously.

 

“For following me?” John raised a brow calmly. Sherlock gulped hard at being caught red handed. “I don’t know how should I feel about that, honestly,” he rubbed his temple. “I told you that I wanted to go alone, but who am I fooling, I should have expected you following me. Maybe I would have done the same if I had been you. I don’t know. Anyway, in the end, I was glad to see you on that street. I needed you, and you appeared; it was like a wish coming true.”

 

Sherlock inhaled in relief.

 

“I take it you...h-heard me in the cemetery,” John swallowed hard, staring at his lap uncomfortably.

 

“I did,” Sherlock admitted quietly.

 

John nodded. “Ella told me that the only way I could deal with the demon of my father was by by facing my parents and telling them about my feelings.” His monotone voice occasionally wavered as he spoke. “I wasn’t sure I would be able to go through that, but there was no other option, I had to try. But I needed to do it alone. I wasn’t sure I could have handled you seeing me break down.”

 

“I…” Sherlock was about to say ‘invaded your privacy again’, but the words didn’t come out. It was like they were soaked in some vicious acid and would burn his tongue if spoken out loud. “I’m...sorry,” he mumbled a heartfelt apology instead going into details.

 

“It’s fine,” John muttered, and Sherlock was still having a hard time believing John’s acceptance. John was going to forgave him that easily?

 

“Maybe what happened was for the best,” John mused. “Now you know my deepest secret, and I didn’t have to go through the torture of telling it to you. Also, having been oblivious to your presence, I could speak freely without feeling awkward. Luckily for you, I was too distressed to presume you followed me.”

 

Sherlock squirmed a little in his seat, reminded of his almost not good action.

 

“John, I–” he inhaled deeply after a moment of contemplative silence. “I’m sorry about your father...you deserved better.”

 

John bit his lip. “I’m sorry you had to learn all of that...That definitely shouldn’t be part of the great Captain Watson package,” he noted bitterly.

 

“You aren’t worth less because your father is the biggest idiot on Earth.” Sherlock leaned forward, catching John’s look. “It is not him that makes you who you are, but your actions. And from where I’m standing, I can tell that you are an extraordinary, smart and audacious man,” he spoke softly, gazing into John’s sad eyes. Then he added with a tiny, warm smile, “I’m proud of you for being strong enough to face his grave and bare your heart.”

 

A tiny spark of gratitude flickered on John’s face as he returned the smile, his indigo eyes shimmering in the infiltrating streetlight that came to life with the dusk falling over the city.

 

Sherlock drank in the sight, having missed John’s smile. He hated to shatter the moment, but he needed to know what happened in the Watson house. “I assume the encounter with your mother wasn’t a delightful episode either,” he started reluctantly. “You obviously were upset when you left...”

 

John nodded, licking his bottom lip. “It-it didn’t go well,” he said flatly. “She didn’t understand. The short version: she disowned me, just as she did Harry.”

 

Sherlock’s eyes widened in horror. How could a mother disown a wonderful son like John? Is that woman mental? This is outrageous. He gaped at John, before finally blurting out, “Such an idiot.”

 

His face must have given away all the degrading thoughts about Mrs Watson, because suddenly John burst out giggling.

 

Sherlock jolted at the unexpected reaction, blinking at John, before his mouth also curved into a smile, and soon he joined his boyfriend in giggling.

 

“No offense, John, but your parents are utter idiots.”

 

“None taken,” the doctor grinned. “I wholeheartedly agree.”

 

“I’m relieved that you didn’t turn out like them,” Sherlock stated, swinging a lanky leg over the other, leaning back in the leather chair. “That would have crucially changed the development of our connection,” he pondered with a pitiful expression, before adding with a pout, “which would have been tremendously unfortunate.”

 

“Agreed,” John took a breath and stood slowly. “Though it’s still early, I guess I’m going to bed soon. This has been an exhausting day.”

 

Sherlock nodded and leapt to his feet. “I’m joining you.” John looked at him quizzically. “I’m tired too,” the detective reasoned without even fluttering an eyelid. “Worrying about you is quite exhausting. Also, you...um, might need some comfort…” he trailed off sheepishly.

 

John smirked. “Brilliant observation, Mr Holmes.”

 

Sherlock smiled back coyly. He had been wanting to hold John close all day long The doctor deserved that after everything he had gone through. Their earlier hug in the middle of the sitting room was proof.

 

“I badly need a shower,” John remarked, rubbing his nape. “I’ll be with you in five minutes.”

 

Sherlock watched him turn around and take a few steps into the direction of the bathroom, before suddenly calling after him, “John!”

 

The doctor stopped and looked back over his shoulder. “Hmm?”

 

“Do you think you succeeded?” The detective searched John’s face intently. He couldn’t retire for the night before getting some insight on the matter. John’s therapist had better be right about the benefit of this method of psychological problem solving; John going through such a difficult time was terrible enough, any additional distress lacking significant purpose would just deepen his misery. And Sherlock hated seeing John suffer.

 

“You mean the challenge Ella gave me?” John reiterated. Sherlock flashed him his infamous ‘obviously’ look, waiting impatiently for the answer. “I hope so,” the doctor said. “I feel much lighter for sure.”

 

That’s a good sign , Sherlock noted with a tiny smile. He hoped that slowly but surely they would reach their goal and their relationship could become a real romantic relationship, including sexual intimacy. That he longed for sex still seemed surreal, but the idea wasn’t revolting any longer. As a matter of fact, since realising that he was in love with John, the idea of having sex with him intrigued the detective even more.

 

John smiled and headed into the bathroom. Sherlock stared after him thoughtfully. At least they shared a bed, even if it meant only recharging their energies beside one another, forming a new routine, getting closer both emotionally and physically. It was a brand new thing for Sherlock, something exciting to explore. He wouldn’t have been Sherlock Holmes if he hadn’t even considered experimenting on the influence of sleeping with someone in the same bed. The fact that the potential subject was an ex-soldier with PTSD-induced nightmares was just a bonus (which of course he would never mention to John).

 

By the time John returned, Sherlock was already in bed. The doctor climbed in under the duvet, scooting closer to Sherlock, who immediately wrapped an arm around the doctor, resting his hand on John’s stomach. The little spoon—as he had learnt from John during one of the first nights of their new sleeping arrangement—tightened the embrace, plastering himself against Sherlock’s chest. They lay like that without a word, the only sound in the room was their breathing. Sherlock thought that John had already dozed off when the blond’s voice suddenly called to him.

 

“I probably should have confronted my parents about their shit parenting earlier, but, honestly, I’m glad it happened with you in my life,” John muttered drowsily. “As a boyfriend, I mean. I had someone special to fight for; you gave me strength to do it.  And after all the shit today, I have someone to comfort me...”

 

“Always,” Sherlock whispered into John’s hair, pressing a tiny kiss to the blond strands.

 

John purred, before snoring quietly a few moments later. Sherlock smiled to himself. While most people complained that their partner’s snoring obstructed their sleep, Sherlock found John’s quiet snoring reassuring, like a lullaby. With the man’s heartbeat added, the two created a lovely duet that lulled the usually restless detective into sleep.

 

Soon Sherlock’s eyelids got heavier. The day’s stress took its toll on him too. Worrying about John was exhausting indeed. Adjusting his head in the crook of his boyfriend’s neck, Sherlock yawned, ready to welcome sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen - The End Is Where We Begin



The stars in your eyes,
If you believe in death you're certain to die.
If you believe in love you're always alive.
You're always alive.
You're always alive.

Here I am.
Waitin' for one last chance,
'Cuz this time we got, nothing left to lose,
And everything is ruined.
But the end is where we begin.

~ Our Lady Peace - The End Is Where We Begin



John stared at the blinking cursor in his blog entry about the Beresford case. It had been a while since he had written anything in his blog; while sorting out his issues, he hadn’t been in a state of mind to deal with his online case diary. Stress and creative writing weren’t best friends. Sure, he could have written out his problems and feelings for therapy reasons, like Ella had originally suggested so long ago, but these were too shameful even to think about, let alone put into words. Then there was the fact that even if they were stored in a special folder on his laptop, he had to contend with a damn curious and too often bored detective around who didn’t even blink an eye when snooping on other people’s private stuff. Seeing the sentences in black and white on the screen right there in front of him would have just made everything more real and pressing. John hadn’t needed to be reminded of his bashful weakness.

 

What he hadn’t been able to do in writing, he had eventually accomplished in saying out loud. Even though John couldn’t remember everything he had said in the cemetery and his mother’s house in the heat of the moment, he felt stronger and relieved of the burden he had carried for too long.

 

He hadn’t attempted anything more intimate with Sherlock than snuggling against him for the night, even though he was dying to see whether his father’s ghost had stopped haunting him. He might have won the battle by confronting his parents, but he wanted to win the war too, and for that he needed to be completely sure about himself. He had increased his therapy sessions, seeing Ella every other day, working on assuring his confidence in his newfound sexual orientation and revisiting old and learning new exercises to handle any of the potential panic attacks.

 

John was looking toward the future with much more hope than a week before.

 

After what felt like ages, he finally got himself to open his laptop and click on ‘Compose a New Entry’ on the website of his blog. Still, words didn’t come easily. He had started the first sentence three times now, always ending up deleting it with a frown.

 

Suddenly, the ringtone of his phone startled him.

 

Could it be Sherlock needing something again?

 

The detective had gone to see Molly in the morgue about an hour ago, in dire need of some organs for his current experiment. John hadn’t pried on what Sherlock was after exactly, he really didn’t want to know why the detective was attempting to turn the kitchen into Frankenstein’s lair. John was actually happy to spend some time on his own and update his blog in peace, without Sherlock nagging him for things.

 

The name flashing on the display was something John didn’t expect. Jennie . He bit his lip in sudden unease, wondering what to do. They hadn’t talked since she cancelled the dinner plan due to—thanks to Sherlock’s machinations—being sick. John’s chest tightened in remorse for not having been a good friend by checking on her since then. But knowing what had really happened and that his boyfriend was the reason for her illness, John had felt too awkward to see her.

 

But he couldn’t ignore her any longer; she was a friend, after all.

 

“Hello,” he answered the call, trying his best to hide his reluctance.

 

“John, hey, how are you?” The familiar voice jingled. “Haven’t heard from you since–”

 

“Sorry, I’ve been busy,” John cut in before she could get into details, putting him into a more uncomfortable situation. “How are you?”

 

“I’m fine now, thanks. Busy with work too.” There was a short pause on her end, and John suspected she felt awkward about how to approach the thing she wanted to tell him. “John, I need to ask you a favour.”

 

There it was.

 

“What’s that?” John wondered loudly, having a bad feeling about the nature of the favour.

 

“I don’t want to talk about it on the phone. Can I see you?”

 

John sighed. So much for having a peaceful morning all alone.

 

“Right,” he gave in; not as if he had had any other choice. ”Come to Baker Street.”

 

“Thank you, John! I’ll be there in half hour!”

 

Swiping the red button to finish the conversation, John stared at his phone with a troubled expression. Was inviting her to the flat after all that had happened a good idea?

 

He couldn’t help but feeling that dark clouds were gathering over 221B once again.

 

***

 

“I wouldn't ask you, if it wasn't pressing,” Jennie searched his eyes pleadingly.

 

“I don't know...” John rubbed the bridge of his nose.

 

“Please,” her look was desperate.

 

“Why not Sherlock? That would be the most convenient solution.”

 

“They think that you are my boyfriend...”

 

“Why would they think that?” John furrowed his brows.

 

Jennie bowed her head in embarrassment. “One of these men has been hitting on me hard since the beginning. The only way I could reject him without endangering the success of my project was saying that my boyfriend is here with me. Apparently, someone in their circle saw us having dinner the other evening, so when they asked about it, the most convenient answer was–”

 

“Jesus,” John grunted. As if life wasn't complicated enough. Knowing Sherlock's intense jealousy of her, Jennie's idea was anything but good.

 

“They’re insisting that I bring you along tomorrow. I tried to make an excuse that you can't make it, but they didn't accept it. I had to give in, if I wanted to secure my project with them.”

 

“Can't you tell them that you dumped me for Sherlock and bring him along?” John joked awkwardly. “He could assess the situation and make his observations first hand.”

 

“John!” Jennie giggled half-heartedly.

 

“I know, sorry,” the doctor replied.

 

“I wish I weren't this much trouble, I'm sorry. But I need you both. Please.”

 

“I could try, but...” John ran a hand through his hair. “I can't promise anything.”

 

“Thank you.” Jennie's face lit up in hope.

 

“He might not like it though–”

 

“How true. I already don't like it,” the confident baritone called from the door.

 

John bowed his head with a sigh. Busted.

 

“Hello, Sherlock.” Jennie greeted the detective cautiously.

 

***

 

Sherlock clenched his hand in a fist at the familiar voice. How he loathed that voice! Even though he knew he had no reason to be jealous after the latest developments in his relationship with John, he couldn’t stop the burning contempt rising in his chest at the presence of the woman. He didn’t trust her.

 

Deliberately ignoring Jennie, Sherlock strode over to John with a grim expression. “Elaborate,” he snapped curtly.

 

“You have a case offer,” John explained. “But let Jennie fill you in on that; she needs the help, after all.”

 

“No,” Sherlock dismissed the answer impatiently. “The me not liking it part.”

 

John shifted uncomfortably. “You should listen to her first–”

 

“No,” Sherlock growled, staring sharply into John's eyes. “ Tell me.”

 

“John is supposed to pretend to be my boyfriend,” Jennie's tentative voice interrupted them.

 

Raising his brow, Sherlock turned his head toward her. “What?”

 

While the woman’s mere presence annoyed him, her suggestion was over the top and Sherlock could hardly restrain himself from turning into a bloodthirsty beast. The hallucination of the hound in Baskerville had been nothing to what violent creature he could turn into.

 

“It's for the case,” John explained hurriedly.

 

Sherlock's brow twitched, casting a quick glance at him. Kind John, always finding excuses for others.

 

“That's right,” Jennie confirmed. “Sherlock, I need your help—both of yours.” She glanced at John before looking back at the detective. “Hear me out, please.”

 

Sherlock's piercing stare didn't leave her face as he read her mercilessly. “Two minutes,” his voice cut the uncomfortable, tense silence. Picking up his mobile, he set the timer for the determined time. “Then, I'll decide if it's worth the sacrifice.” He dropped into his chair.

 

Jennie nodded in surrender. “I'm having a meeting with potential business partners tomorrow evening, but I can't help suspecting some foul play on their part,” she started and told him about the case.

 

Sherlock listened with utter disinterest, staring ahead. Nothing she said could excite him to the level to take her case. Not even if it was a ten.

 

Soon, the timer beeped, cutting Jennie’s monologue short.

 

Sherlock rested his chin on his stapled hands, not saying a word for a long moment. Eventually, he turned his head toward her, unimpressed. “Boring.”

 

John inhaled deeply. “Could you still–?”

 

“No.” Sherlock jumped up, deciding the discussion was over. “And you shouldn't think about it either.”

 

Jennie bit her lip exasperatedly. John gave her a 'wait a minute' look and followed the detective into the kitchen.

 

“It might not be an exciting case, but, just one time, make an exception and take it. Please.” John looked at him with puppy dog eyes.

 

No, John, don’t you dare to use those eyes on me for her . Sherlock grunted.

 

He hopped on the kitchen chair and skimmed through his notes in the notepad beside his microscope. “I'm busy.”

 

John sighed and sat opposite him. “We both know the real reason why you refuse it.”

 

Sherlock squirmed. John knew him too well.

 

“I understand that you feel uncomfortable about the situation, but you surely know that you have nothing to be apprehensive about, right?” John asked.

 

A low growl left Sherlock's throat. John’s hand slid onto his thigh and the detective shuddered a little under the warm touch. If John wanted to manipulate him, he certainly knew the right way to do it.

 

“Sherlock, look at me,” John’s pleading voice asked, and Sherlock couldn’t refuse, but he obeyed unwillingly. “You know that I'm not interested in her anymore. I only have eyes for you, you silly git. But she’s my friend, and I want to help her. Just one last time, please?”

 

Sherlock shot him a tentative glance. “I don't want to watch you and her–”

 

“I know, but it will only be an act, nothing more. You don't have to be worried. You believe me, don't you?” John smiled. Sherlock nodded slowly. “Good. Now, come and hear the details.”

 

Re-joining Jennie in the living room, the woman looked at them expectantly, wringing her hands anxiously.

 

“Sherlock's taking your case,” John announced with a reassuring smile.

 

A relieved sigh escaped Jennie's lips, her face lighting up. “Thank you so much!”

 

Sherlock dropped back into his chair with a resigned expression. He’d lost. He couldn’t say no to John. You are weak, Sherlock, he berated himself. Love makes you weak. But he didn’t care, if that meant having John and his love for himself.

 

He turned his attention to Jennie with a barely audible sigh. “Now, elaborate.”

 

***

 

Jennie was talking animatedly about her project to the two men—both around their fifties, dressed in perfect businessman attire—sitting opposite her and John at the table in a fancy restaurant. The men listened closely, apparently seriously considering the execution of her ideas.

 

John nursed his glass of wine, trying not to look utterly bored. He couldn't resist glancing at Sherlock—looking damn handsome as always—a few tables away every once in a while, occasionally sending him a tiny smile. He hoped no one noticed it though—a man flirting with a stranger, while dining with his girlfriend and her business partners, would certainly earn contempt from outsiders.

 

He trusted that Sherlock could make the observations and deductions needed to solve the case by the end of dinner, and they finally could drop this act. Behaving like the boyfriend of someone else than Sherlock felt so damn wrong. Putting his arm around Jennie and giving her enamoured looks made John uncomfortable, even though it wasn't an unknown territory. The touches and words that had warmed his insides ten years ago made him cringe now, but he had to play along for a little longer. What made him especially awkward was knowing that Sherlock had to watch them and put up with him flirting with someone else. John felt like cheating on his partner, despite the whole thing being only an act. He hated to think about what Sherlock was going through; he felt genuine sorry for his boyfriend.

 

Now he hated the idea of agreeing the plan and felt an idiot playing along. Great, Watson, you’ve messed it up one more time. Never again, he swore.

 

***

 

Listening to the conversation through the earpiece linked to a mic hidden in the clasp in Jennie's hair, Sherlock made twenty-five observations, drew thirteen conclusions and came up with four theories so far—all supporting the woman's suspicion of something being off. Yet, no matter how much he tried to focus on the case, his gaze kept sneaking back to John, drinking in the blond's figure.

 

He rarely had the chance to see John in anything but jeans, button up shirt, jumper and his beloved black jacket, so the man dressed in a dark blue, sporty suit was a delicious sight for his eyes. If only John was sitting beside him, staring at him with his dreamy look, while listening to his deductions. The navy colour emphasised the doctor's indigo eyes and blond hair, and Sherlock wished that he could get lost in both right now. The scent of John's aftershave still in his nose just made his longing even worse.

 

Sherlock was wondering if John felt the warmth of his gaze, when the blond suddenly looked his way and flashed a tiny smile at him. The dark, sparkling eyes fixed on him for a long moment, a pleasant shiver ran through Sherlock's body. John licked his lip—damn, he certainly knew how that move affected him—and Sherlock swallowed hard, heat pooling in his groin. He inhaled deeply to compose himself and emptied his glass. Did he only imagine it, or did John really wink at him with a nervous smile before turning his attention back to Jennie and their company?

 

The warmth in his chest got quickly replaced by silent anger when Jennie didn't stop touching John and flirting with him shamelessly. Sherlock pursed his lips and clenched his fist, restraining himself from hurling the glass he was holding at the floor. He recalled John’s reassuring words, saying how this was just an act and there was nothing he should worry about, still... Jealousy flared up higher, boiling his blood and igniting his killing urges. Seeing John being affectionate and flirty with someone else hurt too much. It was a cruel game, one that Sherlock hated to play. He needed to get to the final deduction as soon as possible.

 

He inhaled deeply to dismiss the violent emotions and, squinting, studied the men with renewed focus, looking for the tiniest of clues he might have overlooked. He analysed the conversation bit by bit, double-checking every word for something that could prove his theories. One of the businessmen said something and laughed, and, suddenly, everything clicked into the right place. A hint of a smug smile played at the corner of Sherlock’s mouth, but faded as quickly as it appeared. Jennie joined in laughing, before sneaking her arm around John's shoulders and kissing him. It was just a peck, but, for Sherlock, it was enough to see red.

 

Tossing his napkin onto the table, he strode over to the other table with gritted teeth.

 

“Excuse me,” he cleared his throat, “but I believe it's time to get my boyfriend back.” His voice cut the cheerful atmosphere like a knife, bringing chill and tension in its place, and he glared at Jennie.

 

Everyone froze around the table. The businessmen gaped at him, wondering what was going on.

 

“Sherlock...” John muttered under his breath, squirming.

 

“What is he talking about?” One of the men asked, looking expectantly at Jennie.

 

“I believe there must have been a little mistake when introducing this man here.” Sherlock put his hand on John's shoulder possessively, before Jennie could even open her mouth. Taking revenge on her far too satisfying, he gloated without a speck of remorse. Whoever had come up with the ’revenge was sweet’ statement was utterly accurate.

 

“He is undoubtedly in a relationship,” he went on correcting the assumption, “but his partner is not her, but me.” He smiled broadly, while nudging John to stand. “Sorry, for the inconvenience,” he flashed them a really-not-sorry grin.

 

“Is that some sort of joke?” The elder man squinted at Jennie.

 

“I assure you that no one is joking here,” Sherlock noted sharply, his dark look piercing the man's.

 

“Miss Mitchell, is he telling the truth?”

 

Jennie bowed her head. “Yes.” Her voice was a bare whisper.

 

The other man stood. “Then I believe we don't have anything to talk about here anymore,” he announced coldly.

 

“But–”

 

“Do you really think we would work with someone lying to us?”

 

“It had nothing to do with the project!” she cried desperately.

 

“Doesn’t matter. We value honesty above anything.”

 

Sherlock laughed out loud. All eyes fell on him. “Sorry.” He held up a hand, hardly able to hold back his snicker.

 

“What’s so funny, Mr...?”

 

“Oh, how, impolite of me—I haven't even introduced myself! The name is Sherlock Holmes. And aren't you a bit of a hypocrite to talk about honesty in the first place?” He raised a brow.

 

Both John and Jennie stared at him clueless.

 

“I don't know what's going on or what you're aiming at, but we're not obliged to tolerate your attitude, Mr Holmes.” The two men turned to leave.

 

“You certainly are, Mr Jensen. You don't want me to list all your projects including foul play, do you? All the enterprises built on lies and deception.”

 

“How dare you!” The elder Jensen glared at him.

 

“Truth hurts, doesn't it?” Sherlock smirked contently.

 

“What do you want? How much?” The younger Jensen prompted through gritted teeth.

 

“Do not think that I would reduce myself to your level!” Sherlock looked into the man's eyes in contempt. “Never. All I want is the both of you to get out of my sight,” he snarled. “Now.”

 

The two men shifted and glanced at Jennie and John, seemingly expecting them to interject.

 

“This is a one-time offer, and the clock is ticking,” Sherlock barked impatiently.

 

The Jensens cast him one more killing look, before turning on their heels and striding out of the restaurant.

 

Sherlock was left alone with John and Jennie, the three of them standing there in awkward silence.

 

“Come on, John,” Sherlock muttered curtly and turned to leave.

 

Jennie’s hesitant voice stopped him. “Sherlock–”

 

Sherlock tensed at the prospect of one more conversation with her, when all he wanted was getting as far from her as possible. He didn't want to hear her dull apologies. He stopped in his tracks, but didn't move to face her.

 

“I believe this business has fallen through, right? My suspicions were true,” she concluded flatly, before adding, “Thank you for proving it and sparing me a mistake.”

 

Sherlock didn't know how to react—he both felt offended and pleased. The lack of apology irked him, but the thank you was a nice surprise. His shoulders hunched, and he inhaled deeply, before slightly turning toward the woman.

 

“I would say gladly, but that would be a lie.”

 

Jennie laughed wryly. “Compared to the Jensen brothers, you're an honest man. I appreciate it.”

 

Sherlock took a breath. Emotions were dangerous and destructive. He couldn't dismiss the urge to mark his territory and protect what was his. The fall of the dominos of sentiment started once he had admitted his feelings for John, and the chain reaction was unstoppable. Love induced possessiveness and jealousy, which was followed by distrust and a grudge toward any third party threatening the equation, which inevitably led to conflict and an explosion of the built-up anger. Right now, the last domino wobbled on the table, dangerously close to ending the game.

 

“Do you?” The detective's voice was cold and hard as steel. “Then you will like this too—leave John alone.” He glared at her with narrow eyes.

 

John's eyes rolled up high before glancing back and forth between his companions.

 

Jennie bit her lip contemplatively. “If that's what he wants too?” She looked at the man in question, waiting for an answer. “John?”

 

“Why?” John groaned desperately, looking back and forth at the two. “Why is it always me caught in the middle?”

 

Sherlock watched him intently from behind a mask of indifference. He couldn’t show how anxious he was for the doctor’s answer, how much it could affect him. He didn’t want to please Jennie by showing signs of his vulnerability.

 

Behind the poker face, he followed every little twitch of muscles on John’s face, the tiniest notion of the indigo eyes and curve of his thin lips that could give away what the man thought. Sherlock couldn’t deny that he feared that John would refuse to break his recently re-discovered friendship with the woman that had been his ex. John was too much of a good man and friend.

 

He’s my boyfriend, he loves me. He wouldn’t choose her over me, Sherlock calmed his anxiety.

 

“Right.” John rubbed his temples, squirming slightly, before taking a deep breath, he looked at Jennie with a resolute expression. “For the sake of all the three of us, I think it'd be the best, if we didn't see each other for a while.”

 

Sherlock had to restrain himself from crying out in happiness and jumping in triumph. His lips curled into a gloating smile, and he straightened himself with unadulterated smugness.

 

“I see,” Jennie acknowledged the decision with a sad smile. “Looks like we always have to say goodbye.” She paused for a moment. “Well, it's been nice seeing you again.”

 

John nodded, smiling weakly. “Take care.”

 

“You too.” Flipping her blonde hair, she looked up at Sherlock. “You won, Sherlock. Congratulations for successfully boycotting a friendship.”

 

Sherlock snorted. “The game has never been about that,” he stated with an edge in his deliberately calm voice. “You knew the rules perfectly well. You were aware of the risks—you are not a dumb woman. You played and lost.”

 

She watched him thoughtfully for a moment. “Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. Depends on where one views it from. You think you've won, but is that truly so?” She cracked a cynical smile. “Think about it.”

 

Sherlock's brow flinched and the hateful feeling of doubt welled up in his chest. Jennie was too confident, and such level of assurance was never a good sign. What had he missed?

 

She took a step closer, her look piercing his. “You might have got rid of me, a potential competition for John's attention, but he lost a friend and you’ve just gained a new reason for conflict. I doubt you earned a gold star for that. John isn't happy with you meddling in his social life, dictating who should he be friends with. I was never a threat to you, but you're too insecure in this relationship to believe it. You're still frightened that he might leave you for a woman, so you’d rather sabotage an old friendship. Good job, Sherlock. Celebrate your 'victory'.” She gave him one more wry smile, then nodded at John and walked out of the restaurant, her heels clicking on the floor.

 

Sherlock blinked, staring ahead. He had underestimated Jennie. She was far cleverer than he had thought. His thoughts raced and anger flared up in his chest. He had let emotions take over him, and where did it lead? John must hate him now.

 

The weight of remorse suffocated him; he badly needed some fresh air. Oblivious to John calling for him, he turned and stormed out of the restaurant.

 

***

 

It felt like watching a film that you were a part of, but were unable to interact with. John regarded Sherlock and Jennie, the two playing a verbal match, and witnessed the dubious victory. He was torn between the two people he was close to, not knowing whose side he should take. He was fond of Jennie, she was one of those women that he would have liked to keep as a friend after they’d parted. And then there was Sherlock, the man he loved, the most important person in his life.

 

Maintaining a romantic relationship wasn't Sherlock's area, and John knew very well how inexperienced the detective was with emotions. Being in love for the first time was overwhelming, and Sherlock—being a genius—experienced everything in heightened intensity, so the level of jealousy that he harboured was more powerful than normal people felt. Though, Jennie was right when pointing out that Sherlock sabotaged their friendship, John could understand Sherlock's reasons and couldn't be mad at his boyfriend.

 

He wished he could keep in touch with Jennie, though, but his relationship with Sherlock was more important than reminiscing the old times. He would choose Sherlock over any friendship without a doubt.

 

Outside the restaurant, John anxiously scanned the surroundings for the familiar silhouette. He spotted Sherlock on the other side of the road, striding towards the park's entrance.

 

“Sherlock!” he shouted, but his call was ignored. John sprinted over, dodging the traffic, eventually catching up with the man at the park-entrance. “Wait!” He grabbed the detective's arm, finally stopping him.

 

“Please, don't,” Sherlock's muffled voice pleaded. “Spare me the speech, I know what you're going to say.”

 

“No, you don't,” John countered firmly, not letting go of Sherlock's arm.

 

“Try me,” Sherlock laughed bitterly. “We have been there before, there is nothing new you can say. 'Sherlock, you can't intervene in my life, even if you're my boyfriend', et cetera, et cetera. She is right, you are angry with me–”

 

“Shut up!” John shouted, shaking the arm he was gripping.

 

Startled by the violent tone for a moment, Sherlock blinked and bit his lip.

 

“We need to talk,” John reiterated, firmly pulling him over to a bench nearby.

 

Sitting down, neither of them spoke for a few seconds, just staring ahead into the darkness.

 

John flexed his hand nervously, looking for the right words. “I'm sorry,” he murmured eventually. From the periphery of his vision, he noticed Sherlock's eyes widening at the unexpected apology. “I shouldn't have agreed into this act. I was aware of your feelings about the whole situation, yet ignored them. I wanted to help a friend so much that I disregarded the apprehension of my partner.” John bowed his head in shame. “I'm a terrible boyfriend,” he exhaled bitterly, remorse dripping from his voice. “I don't know what I was thinking when I agreed to this. I feel bad enough, and I fear to even think about how you must have felt in there, watching–” His voice faltered, his throat tightening. “You have every right to be mad at me now, I deserve it.”

 

Sherlock was still wrapped in silence, and he hadn’t moved since John started to speak.

 

“Sherlock?” John turned his head toward him, anxiously searching the shadow-hidden face. “Say something, please.” The man’s silence just fuelled his misery; it was worse than Sherlock shouting at him. He could deal with the latter better than being condemned to the detective’s intimidating silence.

 

Sherlock blinked, but said nothing.

 

“Tell me I'm an idiot, or anything, just say something...”

 

“You're an idiot,” Sherlock spoke eventually, his voice hoarse and barely more than a whisper.

 

John laughed in relief. “You're right, I am—the biggest one ever.” His hand tentatively sneaked over onto Sherlock's. “I didn't want to hurt you. I'm so sorry. Can you forgive me?”

 

“John...” Sherlock murmured, looking at their hands. “It's not your fault.”

 

“It is. I agreed into this and even persuaded you to join in despite your resistance.”

 

“You were just you, always wanting to help others,” Sherlock shrugged.

 

“Sod it, Sherlock,” John burst out helplessly. “How is it that I make a mistake and you still find reasons to defend me instead of being mad at me?”

 

“It is not you I'm holding a grudge against. You—just as I—were only an oblivious player of her game,” Sherlock stated, before letting out a sigh. “I'm sorry for... you know...”

 

John nodded, being aware of what Sherlock referred to. “Normally, I don't approve of you deciding for me, but this time I must agree. It’s best if I don't keep in touch with her. All I want is to focus on our relationship.” He caressed the hand he held tenderly.

 

Sherlock’s expression suddenly darkened. “You will hate me for this,” he started throatily, his tone suggesting he had something in his mind that he knew John wouldn’t approve. He took a deep, controlled breath, “but after all that happened in there, I must do it.”

 

Bracing himself with a silent sigh for whatever Sherlock was up too, John intently searched the dark, sea-coloured eyes. But before he could dwell too long, Sherlock's lips crashed hard against his. John couldn't register what was happening. The kiss barely started before it ended, leaving John doubting that it happened at all.

 

Blinking hard, he gaped at Sherlock, who was already collected as if nothing happened.

 

“She kissed you. I couldn't let that kiss linger on your lips,” Sherlock reasoned, answering John’s unasked questions. “I'm sorry, I went against your wish, but… I'm a possessive, egoistic prick.” He shrugged with a hint of smile. “Which reminds me of the experiment I left for the sake of this dinner, so...” He arose from the bench with a quiet sigh.

 

John gaped at him, his mind taking time to process the words—he had a feeling it was eerily like those times Sherlock did the same.

 

The first thing that hit him was the lack of the appearance of his father’s ghost. John bit his lip in suppressed joy, reluctant to believe that he might finally have got rid of the tormenting demon. On one hand, getting closure with his parents could eventually earn him success, but on the other, the kiss was nothing but a flash, not enough even to register, which could trick his brain and his insecurities. There was nothing to celebrate yet.

 

Secondly, Sherlock kissed him. John reeled with the thrill of the moment, unable to pinpoint how he felt about it. He should be affronted by Sherlock going against the rule, but he had longed for deepening the intimacy with him for a while now, so part of him rejoiced at the stolen kiss.

 

She kissed you. I couldn't let that kiss linger on your lips.’ Sherlock’s explanation echoed in his ears. Erasing someone else's kiss just to prove ownership—that was both irritating and romantic. Especially from Sherlock.

 

He likes to be the dominant one in everything he does, John smirked. That was something to remember for the future.

 

The momentary warmth of the brief kiss still lingering on John’s lips, a shocking revelation hit him. He didn't feel anything when Jennie kissed him, but with Sherlock... even though it quicker than a flash of lightning, Sherlock's kiss left a sweet tingle on his mouth.

 

It’s him. The person that makes my legs turn weak, my heartbeat fast, my throat dry in want. There’s no woman that could make me think twice. If that makes me bisexual, or even gay, I don’t care. I’m willing to be even gay for him.

 

“John, hurry!” Sherlock's petulant voice pulled him out of his reverie. “If the experiment fails because of you, you will get me the next samples.”

 

John's mouth curved into an amused smile and followed his partner.

 

***

 

John blaming himself instead of lashing out at Sherlock for crossing boundaries was surreal and unexpected and awoke a strong feeling in the detective’s chest he couldn’t dismiss—it hurt. John was not responsible for Jennie’s little game. Certainly, John playing her boyfriend was a stab in the heart, but Sherlock still couldn’t put the blame on the doctor for being an empathetic, caring man—one of the reasons why Sherlock had fallen in love with him.

 

How is it that I make a mistake and you still find reasons to defend me instead of being mad at me?’ John had said, and Sherlock’s heart skipped a beat, his mind screaming the same about himself.

 

Why does John need to be so annoyingly human, so humble, pleading guilty even he wasn’t to blame? Sherlock wondered exasperatedly, John’s self-loathing distressing him. Another example of how being human can be a destructive burden, causing pain and throwing off one’s balance of inner peace, he reminded himself. Compassion-induced sentiments weren’t fortunate, they mostly elicited hurt and enveloped both people in the heavy, dark blanket of sorrow. Sharing someone else’s feeling of being down was not beneficial for him, just a useless distraction, nothing more.

 

Sherlock had rarely lowered himself to show empathy toward anyone. Until John. How can such an ordinary human being have so much influence on me? How can John be this precious?

 

Sherlock still couldn’t see why was he so lucky to have John, when he was the most infuriating, arrogant and rude man in the world. ‘One shouldn’t question the good things coming their way, but be grateful and accept them while they can’ , he’d once read in a fortune cookie. He wondered why the wisdom had stayed with him; he usually deleted such silly things.

 

John , the answer provided itself. Eventually, everything led to John—every newfound feeling, every tiny change in his behaviour and point of view, every new thing he had despised before but now willingly did for John Watson. The doctor changed his life in many ways, and Sherlock never wanted to go back to his old life without John. John was his conductor of light, his moral compass, his rock, his conscience, his heart—his everything, his life. His complementing other half. No, John was him, his whole being, without him Sherlock wouldn’t exist anymore. He was nothing on his own. He owed John his life and his life being worth living.

 

I am his and he is mine. Mine , he growled, remembering Jennie kissing John. Sherlock couldn’t let her mark John with that obnoxious kiss. Hot fury rose in the detective’s chest at the image of the smiling woman possessively wrapping her arm around John after that hateful kiss. There’s no one else allowed to kiss John Watson, but me! John might have been Three Continents Watson, but that belonged to past now.

 

Sherlock was well aware of what he’d risked with his kiss, but he couldn’t care less. There was only one objective in his mind: erase the memory and the tiniest trace of Jennie Mitchell’s kiss from John’s lips.

 

The moment Sherlock’s had mouth crashed against John’s, rough and possessive, the exhilarating sensation of triumph spread through his veins, the surge of blood warming every centimetre of his body. He. Is. Mine , he growled with a smug grin.

 

Though, he had wanted nothing more than to indulge in this forbidden form of intimacy, Sherlock had been aware of slipping into the ‘not good’ territory, which John wouldn’t approve. He had already crossed the line with the kiss, he didn’t want to upset his boyfriend more by going further.

 

He had expected to see disappointment and the flash of silent anger in John’s midnight blue eyes when he’d pulled back, but all he had perceived was confusion and surprise. Good, Sherlock noted in relief, and taking advantage of the unexpected reaction, he had quickly stood and changed topic, silently pleading that John wouldn’t revisit the issue. He couldn’t bear another row. He would certainly flip out if John started lecturing him about their agreement.

 

He let out a breath of relief when John said nothing and eventually followed him.

 

In that moment, everything was fine. The Jennie Mitchell case (in both meanings) was solved, he had ascertained the nature of his attachment to John by defeating the rival party, reclaiming what was his, and John didn’t start a fuss. Furthermore, viewing the bigger picture, John had fought the war with his parents’ demons and was on the way to healing, which filled Sherlock with hope for finally introducing sex and every other form of intimacy in their relationship.




Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen - Save Me From Myself


You save me
Save me from myself
There is no one else
I'd lean on
Save me
You save me from myself
There is no one else that sets me free

~ Michael W. Smith - Save Me From Myself



Dropping down into his armchair after a busy morning shift, John stretched his legs leisurely, moaning quietly at the revitalising pull of muscles in his limbs. Leaning back, he shut his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

 

Sherlock was out somewhere, so John was alone in the flat. A great opportunity to do a bit of work on his blog. John hoped that he could finally finish the post about the Beresford case, especially given that with an adrenaline craving colleague like Sherlock Holmes, he could never know when they’d end up with another case.

 

Colleague , John smiled fondly, remembering the first time Sherlock called him that. The madman had opted for ‘assistant’ first, but after John kept expressing his dislike of the title and correcting the detective, Sherlock had eventually surrendered and introduced him as his colleague. How far had they come from that time! Colleague turned into friend (being Sherlock’s friend, only friend actually, was an utter honour that still warmed John’s heart whenever he thought about it), best friend indeed, and now boyfriend.

 

Remembering moments in the stages of their friendship filled John’s chest with warmth, pride and happiness. The nearly two years that he had spent with Sherlock were the best of his life. He missed the army days—the adrenaline, alertness, acting quick, killing the enemy and healing his comrades, being a trauma surgeon—but he wouldn’t trade his life with Sherlock for that era. Sherlock made him whole (even if his life as a doctor lacked some part), made him a person whose life was worth living. John Watson, ex-army doctor, colleague and boyfriend of Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective.

 

Boyfriend , he smiled, his heart skipping a beat at the still unfamiliar term. With everything that had happened recently, John had grown to fully accept the fact that his romantic partner was a man and didn’t care anymore if that labelled him gay or bisexual. All he cared now was being a partner to Sherlock in every aspect. But to achieve that still required a final step.

 

John had high hopes that success wasn’t far. He looked into the future with confidence. He trusted that his work with Ella was going to pay off and that he could erase the last remains of his insecurities of having sex with a man. God knows, I want to make love to Sherlock, to worship that lean body and bring him to ecstasy , he sighed.

 

Recalling the chaste moment of Sherlock’s lips plastered on his, John groaned desperately. He wanted to kiss Sherlock so badly, feeling the warm, plush lips under his. He desired to pull the detective into a frantic, deep kiss, until they both were gasping for air.

 

Faint remorse and shame welled up in his chest out of nowhere, making him squirm. John swallowed hard, recognising the signs of a looming panic attack. He pursed his lips in a tight line. He had been doing so good so far, he wouldn’t let himself relapse.

 

Fortunately, the ghost of his father didn’t make an appearance, which was reassuring; it was just the shameful feeling that engulfed him.

 

No, worries, Watson, just do what you learned , he assured himself and turned to the mental and breathing exercise Ella had taught him.

 

A few minutes later, he was calm again. You did it! A happy smile appeared at the corner of his mouth. He might still fall, but at least now he had a weapon to fight with.

 

John turned his focus back to the blog entry with renewed enthusiasm and resumed typing. Finding the satisfying flow of writing, the tip of his tongue peeking out, he slowly, but diligently pushed the keys, filling the entry box with words.

 

He couldn’t tell how much time had passed before a shadow fell on the laptop screen. Startled, John looked up, finding Sherlock standing beside his chair. He hadn’t noticed the detective coming home.

 

“Hi.” John blinked at him.

 

“Stand up,” came the curt reply.

 

“I'm busy,” John protested. “I have been writing this entry for days, I want to finish it.”

 

“That's not important,” Sherlock stated nonchalantly, yanking the laptop out of his boyfriend’s hands and putting it onto the mantelpiece. “Stand,” he repeated, sneaking his hands into John's and pulling him up with force.

 

“Sherlock!” John protested in disapproval and slight offence. “What are you–”

 

“Hush, John.” Pulling him over to the mantelpiece, Sherlock released one hand long enough for his fingers to dance briefly on the touchpad of John's laptop. A slow melody of a waltz filled the room. “Dance with me!” Sherlock's beautiful baritone pleaded quietly, his crystal clear, silver-blue eyes staring intently into John's indigo ones. John's hand trembled as Sherlock's fingers slid between his, the soft pads leaving his skin tingling. “Oh, please don't look at me like you didn't hear me right. I know you did.” Sherlock huffed in a half-whimper. “And before you reject me with some dull excuse, let me remind you how you deny almost all form of physical intimacy with me. So humor me with this one dance at least!”

 

Under the weight of truth in Sherlock's words, John couldn't bring himself to point out the fact that he couldn't dance. With a barely noticeable nod, he eased into his partner's embrace, swallowing the lump in his throat. Humiliation was around the corner, just a few moments until Sherlock was going to find out what a terrible dancer John was. But with the genius being right about the lack of intimacy, John couldn't hurt him even more by refusing his entreaty.

 

A tiny smile appeared at the corner of Sherlock's beautiful lips at John's surrender. “When did you last dance?” he asked after the first few steps.

 

John blushed. The cat was out of the bag. “I don't remember. I have never been good at dancing, but you must have noticed that by now.” He bowed his head in embarrassment. “I'm sorry to disappoint you. I believe you should find another partner if you want to dance–”

 

“Don't be ridiculous,” Sherlock frowned, tightening his hold around John’s hand. “You might not be a Fred Astaire, but that doesn't mean you're hopeless.”

 

“Fred Astaire?” John's eyes widened. “You know who he is?”

 

“Of course.”

 

John needed a long moment to overcome his surprise. Sherlock Holmes, the man ignorant to anything but what could be useful for the work, was familiar with an icon of entertainment. John had to gather all his strength to refrain from letting out a chuckle. But following his partner's lead, he had to face another shock: as opposed to him, Sherlock was a great dancer.

 

“You're good,” he looked up into the green-blue eyes in awe. “Why have I never known about this?”

 

“You never asked.”

 

John laughed. “Where should I have even suspected that you had an affinity for such an ordinary activity as dancing? You, Sherlock Holmes, the man above everything that people normally do?”

 

“I’ll tell you a secret,” Sherlock whispered in that low, velvet voice that sent a shiver down his spine. “I’ve loved dancing ever since I was a little boy. I used to do ballet in boarding school, while the other boys played rugby or football and attended formal dance classes in senior school. You may wonder what fascinated me about this kind of artistic activity? It's a cavalcade of graceful moves orchestrated in a perfect symphony, like a violin concerto or a game of chess—a masterfully created choreography.”

 

John nodded, muttering dreamily, “Like you playing the violin.” He had always admired the long fingers’ graceful dance on the delicate instrument—it was a mesmerising and utterly soothing sight. “Did you go out for dancing after senior school?” His curiosity piqued.

 

“I hit some clubs during my university years, and I’ve been to some places when I was high,” Sherlock answered blankly.

 

“You haven't danced since we’ve known each other?” John asked incredulously.

 

“Not really. A few times at family events.”

 

John gaped at him. “That must have been terrible. Missing something you love that much. You should have told me...”

 

Sherlock chuckled. “And what was I supposed to say? 'Would you like to go out dancing with me?' Seriously, John. How would Doctor 'I'm Not Gay' Watson have reacted, had I suggested that?”

 

“You're right,” John gave in with a sigh at the admonishing tone. “Especially when Doctor Watson has two left feet.” A quiet, embarrassed laugh left his throat.

 

“I could teach you,” Sherlock offered tentatively.

 

John chuckled. “I truly appreciate your faith in me, but I doubt that you’d have any success.”

 

Sherlock cocked a brow at him with a frown. “Want to bet? As I said, you're not hopeless. Just look at us now. We're dancing.”

 

You are dancing, I'm just trying to follow your lead.”

 

“Whatever,” Sherlock dismissed the remark with the scrunch of his nose. “Some lessons and a bit of practice, and you'll be astounded with what you can achieve.”

 

“I will be astounded if I can achieve not stepping on your toes,” John laughed, watching his steps from the periphery of his vision.

 

“Oh, John, how can you be so full of contradictions?” Sherlock huffed fondly, a little smile playing at the corner of his mouth.

 

John's gaze met Sherlock's eyes. “You mean?”

 

“You are so confident and adamant about so many things, while totally oblivious about others,” Sherlock gushed, his eyes twinkling in the golden light of the flames in the fireplace.

 

“Well, that's a human trait. Knowing you’re good at things gives your confidence a boost, but being aware of doing poorly in other areas makes you vary and list those as points of weakness.”

 

“That's stupid,” Sherlock snorted. “The lack of dancing skills doesn't make you weak. You're still the strongest and bravest man I know, regardless of having two left feet.”

 

John gazed up at him, their bodies swaying slowly in one place. Sherlock's faded blue eyes locked onto his stare immediately, drinking in the sight.

 

“Don’t make me into a hero, I’m nothing like that,” John whispered, the merrily crackling fire becoming a lovely vocal to his quiet voice.

 

Sherlock raised a brow. “Stop borrowing my lines, John. It’s annoying.”

 

John couldn’t suppress a tiny chuckle. “Stop contradicting yourself.”

 

“You’re definitely irksome at times,” Sherlock muttered petulantly.

 

John suspected that his smart comeback must have both hurt Sherlock’s pride and appealed to him. People usually retreated after Sherlock’s snarky and offending remarks, but not John. He had never hesitated to counter the detective since day one, which he was sure was one of the things that drew Sherlock to him.

 

“You twat,” he grinned, deliberately missing the next step and stepping onto Sherlock’s foot.

 

Sherlock gave him an indignant look, furrowing his brows. “Really, John? I thought more of you. This is childish.”

 

“Childish?” John laughed heartily. “That’s coming from you?”

 

“Whatever it is you are implying, I don’t like it.”

 

“Oh, look at you!” John couldn’t stop grinning. “That’s what I was talking about.”

 

Sherlock’s mouth twitched sulkily.

 

“God, Sherlock, what did you do to me?” John stared at his boyfriend with awe, immediately registering the clueless twinkle in the deep turquoise irises bathing in the golden light of the fire. “How is that I seem to be fond of even of your irritating petulance?”

 

The answer was clear. Love. He was in love with Sherlock Holmes. It still sounded strange and implausible. He had never felt such devotion and unexplained trust toward any of his past girlfriends.

 

John gazed up into the twinkling eyes, taking in the shades of blue blending into each other in the thin ring around the pupil that was as dark as a black hole and radiated the same intense energy, pulling John in, making him unable to look away. The closeness was exhilarating, and John breathed harder, his heart beating faster in his chest. They hadn’t been this close for for any extended period since that night. Their bodies must have unnoticeably gravitated toward each other as they danced, because John suddenly found his chest lightly touching Sherlock’s, and his thighs kept brushing against the detective’s.

 

It would be so easy to kiss him , the thought flashed through John’s mind. To wipe that annoying and amusing sulk off those inviting pink lips and finally claim what supposedly was his.

 

Heavy silence fell over them, the rising tension palpable in the air.

 

“Sherlock,” John muttered hoarsely, “it's still early at this stage of our relationship, but—for future reference—I want to ask something of you.”

 

His warm breath lingering on John's face, so close but yet so far, Sherlock watched him intently. “Yes?”

 

John took a moment to answer; he still found the issue awkward. He hoped his partner wouldn't notice his embarrassment, but who was he fooling? Taking a deep breath, he carried on.

 

“Knowing about your... um, issues in the past, I'd like you to... to have yourself tested.”

 

The moment broken, Sherlock pulled back a little, raising an eyebrow. “Tested?”

 

Frowning at the detective's oblivious, blank look, John broke away from the embrace, horror spreading on his face. “Jesus, Sherlock, even you should know about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases!”

 

“Sex has never been my area.” Sherlock shrugged.

 

“But drugs have!” Seeing no understanding on his boyfriend's face, John's eyes went wide. “Sherlock!! Seriously, you don't know the dangers of drug usage?! Oh my God...” He covered his face with his palms. Breath normally. “Don't tell me you were this careless when using those fucking substances... Tell me you have never used shared needles . ..” The silence on the other side was everything but reassuring. “Sherlock?” John stared at him in horror.

 

“I don't know...” Sherlock whispered tentatively and bowed his head in something akin shame. “There were times when I woke up in an alley or some den, having no recollection of what happened...”

 

John felt his body shaking at the revelation. He didn't know what he was more angry with—Sherlock or the circumstances he had been under that led to drugs. “Jesus, sweet Jesus,” he muttered, breathing heavily. “Look at me,” he commanded firmly. “First thing tomorrow, you take your sodding arse to the clinic and get tested. I’ll drag you there if I bloody have to. Understood?”

 

The look of Captain Watson brooked no argument, so Sherlock nodded.

 

“Can't hear it,” John prompted, eyes like steel.

 

“Yes,” Sherlock answered quietly like a scolded schoolboy.

 

“Oh, Sherlock,” John sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “I often wonder how your mind works, but times like this, I really don't want to know.”

 

“You're disappointed in me.”

 

“No, I just feel sorry for you.” John looked into the sad eyes. “I'm sorry for everything you went through that made you look for happiness in the wrong places. I'm sorry for the wasted chances, for the people not realising what a treasure you are, for the whole world not valuing the vulnerable, precious human being in you.“

 

“Oh,” Sherlock blinked owlishly, apparently taken aback by John’s words, unable to form a sentence. “I don't care what people say, the only one whose opinion matters to me is you,” he murmured when finding his voice eventually.

 

John nodded knowingly. Sherlock had always been ignorant to others' point of views. Sometimes John did truly envy this ability, and occasionally he wished to be able to disregard what people thought.

 

“Right. I'd better go to bed, it's been a long day,” he said quietly. “You coming?”

 

“Not yet. I still have an article to finish,” Sherlock answered absentmindedly.

 

“Okay. Just don't stay up too late. Remember, you're having a test in the morning.”

 

Sherlock groaned at the prospect, sagging down into his armchair.

 

“You'd better get used to the idea, as it's something I'm bloody not willing to let go.” John gave the infuriating man a warning look from the doorway of the kitchen. He could still hear Sherlock's indignant muttering when entering the bedroom.

 

Running his hand through his hair, he leaned his back on the door. Part of him was anxious of the results of Sherlock's STD test. With the man's history of reckless drug usage, the risk was real. John shuddered at the thought of how careless Sherlock had been in his days of addiction. All he could do was pray that it hadn’t yielded serious consequences.

 

***

 

Not moving from his chair, Sherlock stared blankly ahead, oblivious to his surrounding. His chin resting on one hand, his index and middle finger tapped rhythmically on his cheek, following the pace of his thoughts like a metronome.

 

He was certain he couldn’t have been infected through sexual activities, but he couldn’t be certain of the transmission via drug usage. He had been clean a while before John had entered his life and he most certainly hadn’t relapsed since the doctor had become his flatmate, colleague and friend. Sherlock hadn’t felt the need to turn to substances to dissipate the greyness of his world, not with John around. And John becoming the most important person in his life, the one he wanted to impress, please and make proud, Sherlock didn’t want to see the disapproving and disappointed look on the doctor’s face just because he was weak and surrendered to the siren song of the syringe in the hidden metal box.

 

John’s horrified expression popped into his mind and the sharp words echoed in his head, ‘Seriously, you don't know the dangers of drug usage?!’

 

Of course, I do, don’t be obtuse , Sherlock huffed to himself. He certainly knew the risks of sharing needles, but with his mind screaming for stimulation—for something that turned the excruciating boredom into the fierce dance of his brain’s synapses firing—he hadn’t given it much thought in the past. All that had mattered was achieving the mental state where he could be rid of the urge to tear his hair out in the agony of tedium or escape into sweet oblivion when the scorn of other people was too much.

 

He hadn’t thought about the possible consequences until now. He was healthy, there was no reason to dwell on the past. Had he contracted any disease, the symptoms would have already made an appearance. Unless it was HIV, Sherlock admitted reluctantly, the terrifying possibility looming over him. He didn’t have an extended knowledge on the disease, only the basic facts. HIV’s clinical latency phase could last years during which people didn’t produce any symptoms, but were still able to transmit HIV to others. John was rightly anxious, Sherlock might have been infected years ago and was now carrying the virus.

 

Sherlock’s eyelids flinched and his mouth twitched slightly at the thought.

 

The memory of the unadulterated rage flashing in the indigo eyes and the sharpness in John’s voice sent a shiver down Sherlock’s spine. He had rarely seen John that angry. The doctor had been mad at him for many things before, shouting at or scolding him for various reasons, but it was the first time Sherlock registered the desperation and utter worry in John’s outburst.

 

No, he couldn’t be infected, Sherlock firmly dismissed the idea. The test would prove him right.



***

 

John kept his promise indeed and accompanied Sherlock to undergo the STD tests next morning. Of course, Sherlock grumbled all the way there and brooded in the waiting room at the clinic, finding the whole process pointless, even though he himself had admitted to being careless with his needle usage in his junkie periods. Eventually, John agreed to take to the test too, just to shut Sherlock up.

 

The whole screening was done in less than an hour, and they were told the results would be back in a few days. Pretending to be Sherlock's physician, John asked that the results to be sent to his number to avoid any deceit on Sherlock's part. So John wasn't surprised, when two text messages from the clinic arrived three days later. His stomach did a flip as he opened the message. He was 98% certain of himself being clean, but what made him anxious was Sherlock.

 

Dr. John H. Watson: all tests negative . John involuntarily let out a relieved breath. Not that he had expected anything else, he had always practised safe sex with his partners, but using protection wasn’t 100% fool proof.

 

He opened the second message, swallowing hard. Sherlock S. Holmes: positive for HIV, all other tests negative. Please make an appointment for consultation. John bit his lip and pressed his eyes shut, processing the information with a heavy weight on his heart. Damn, Sherlock... How could you have been that reckless?!

 

How should I tell him , John wondered, rubbing his face with his hand. Though being a doctor and having been taught how to deliver bad news, to do this certain task was more difficult than ever. Of course, the possibility of the results being incorrect was there; yet being aware of Sherlock's history, the odds of accuracy were more probable.

 

“Sherlock,” John spoke seriously that evening, when the detective returned from the Yard. “Our results are back.”

 

***

 

Sherlock already knew what John was going to say.

 

“I'm infected.” It was a statement rather than a question. His face didn't show any emotions; he acknowledged the news with the utmost calm and dignity.

 

“You'd better not be!” John burst out angrily, clenching his fist. “Though you'd deserve this sentence for having been a sodding careless idiot, I strongly hope that there's a bloody mistake and you're okay, otherwise you won't have to worry about how to live with it, 'cause I will kill you myself!” His eyes flashed in a mixture of fury and desperation, his look cutting like a sharp blade. Turning away from Sherlock, he braced himself over the desk, panting in anger.

 

Sherlock stood frozen to the spot as if fearing that a mere motion would aggravate John even more. He hadn’t seen John so angry for a while and hated that he was the reason the doctor was in such a fury. Searching for the right words, he opened and closed his mouth, but his vocal cords failed him.

 

Inhaling deeply, John faced Sherlock again, pulling the posture of the confident and audacious captain. “Right. Now we're doing it like this: I make an urgent appointment for you to redo the test, because no matter how likely the result is in your case, I bloody refuse to believe that you're HIV positive. Not when we're finally dating and–” His nostrils flared as he battled to keep his anger in bay. “Just no. Sod it, I want to fuck you in the near future!”

 

Sherlock blinked fast at John’s filthy choice of words, his mouth going dry. The exclamation held a resolution that sent his heart into a frantic pounding. John hadn’t expressed his intention of having sex with him since that drunken night, and Sherlock had begun to wonder if John wanted him that way at all.

 

He was still speechlessly staring at John when the doctor dialled a number and pressed his lips into a thin line as he waited for the other side to pick up.

 

“Yes, hi David, it's John Watson... yes... look, I need to ask a favour of you... no, I'm okay. It's–” John shifted, avoiding Sherlock's look. “It's a friend... yes... he just got the STD test results, and I'm afraid there could be a mistake... yes. Could you see him?... Yes. Fantastic. We will be there. Cheers!” Dropping his phone back onto the desk, John turned his stern look back at Sherlock. “You have an appointment for tomorrow 2pm.”

 

“Thank you,” Sherlock muttered inaudibly, watching John nodding grimly and padding into the kitchen. “What if I really am?” He treaded warily after the blond and faintly voiced the thought that had flashed through his mind the night before, his gaze timidly following John’s every move. “What if the results are correct?”

 

The silence that fell over them was deafening. Sherlock could hear his own heartbeat, blood swooshing loudly in his veins.

 

John tightened his grip on the kettle, biting his lip, and Sherlock didn’t need to look closely to detect the tension radiating from John’s every notion.

 

“You’ll have to take medicine then,” John eventually answered through slightly gritted teeth, “and be extra careful with open wounds and stuff, so as not to infect others.”

 

“I didn't mean that aspect,” Sherlock muttered. He was well aware of those consequences, even if there were many other things he was oblivious to. “What– what will happen to us?” His eyes tentatively searched John’s face. Being ill would make him damaged goods, how could John want him like that? “Will there still be an us?”

 

John inhaled deeply and pursed his lips. “You being ill won’t change my feelings toward you, you stupid dick,” he growled. “I am fucking furious at you right now for having been such a colossal idiot to expose yourself to infections; I just can't bloody believe how you could have been so wasted... But...even if you had fucked up your life with such sodding recklessness, I still love you.” John’s voice softened for the first time since the devastating revelation.

 

Sherlock’s insides trembled at the honest declaration.

 

Looking up into his eyes, John reached for him and intertwined their fingers. “I can't help it, I'm in fucking love with you,” John laughed half-heartedly. “And if you thought that I'd leave you because you're ill, bloody forget it! Nothing could make me do that. Not Moriarty or any other fucker or a disease. Nothing.”

 

Sherlock inhaled sharply, his chest becoming heavier with emotions. How did he deserve such loyalty, care and, most importantly, love?

 

“If the verdict is that– that you indeed are ill, we will face that together,” John held Sherlock’s look and tenderly caressed the detective’s hand. “We’ll just have to be extra careful. Don't think that I'll give up on having sodding spectacular sex with you just because you're ill. No, I'm still planning on fucking you in umpteen ways, until you can't remember your bloody name and ache all over,” he raised a brow with a suggestive smirk.

 

“I'll take you up on that,” Sherlock smirked back half-heartedly.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen - No More Heroes



When the waves are crashing down
Pulling you to sorrow
I will sail you back to shore
When there are no more heroes
Over under, near or far
I'll walk right beside you
Standing here with open arms
When there are no more heroes

 

~ Westlife - No More Heroes



The pale, long fingers, now like a skeleton's, merely skin and bones, gripped his tightly, holding onto him for dear life. John needed all the willpower to keep the threatening tears at bay. Sherlock shouldn't have to see how hurt he was.

 

Sherlock coughed heavily, his skinny body shaking on the hospital bed. The heart monitor beeped rhythmically on the side, speeding up a little at the painful contortion of his lungs. “John...” He croaked weakly, his washed-out blue eyes desperately catching the doctor's. “I'm sorry,” he whispered barely audibly, the words taking all his energy. The pneumonia was too much for his weakened body.

 

Ever since they had learned that Sherlock was HIV positive, John had taken extra care of him, supervising his medication and monitoring the progress of the illness. But he wasn't God, couldn't protect Sherlock from life itself. Once the HIV progressed from the clinical latency stage into AIDS, John was aware that the upcoming period was going to be the hardest time of their lives. Sherlock produced the symptoms of the final stage of AIDS—he often had high fever and severe chills and night sweats, regular coughing and breathing problems, persistent headaches and high levels of fatigue, but the most saddening features of the disease were the ones that affected his mental abilities. Concentrating, thinking, even speaking seemed to be more and more difficult as time passed. He had memory problems, forgetting the time or day, and extreme mood swings, and his interest in the world had generally lessened. He also failed to recognize people—Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade—and John dreaded the day when he was going to be the next one who became a stranger to Sherlock. Pneumonia, one of the opportunistic infections during the final stages, took its toll, destroying the last fighting cells of Sherlock's immune system. Both men were aware of the tragedy looming over them.

 

“I know.” Gulping back the hot tears, John held the detective's weak gaze and caressed the luminous skin cautiously. “I forgive you. For everything.” He abandoned the plastic chair and sat onto the edge of the bed to shorten the distance between them. “I love you so damn much,” he whispered, his heart breaking in two at the sight in front of him. The face of the man he loved the most in the whole world was nothing like the great, famous Sherlock Holmes'. The once so gloriously handsome face turned into a mask of the living dead—the grey skin stuck to the protruding facial bones, his faded blue eyes got lost in the translucent hollow of their sockets, the perfect cupid’s bow drained of all colour and plastered over his teeth. He was a horrible sight to look at, but John could still see the beautiful, brilliant man he had fallen for underneath the terrible facade.

 

Sherlock's dry, paper-thin lips pulled into a tiny, genuine smile, his eyes shining brightly. “I love you too,” he mumbled back almost inaudibly. “Forever...” His chest heaved with a lungful of breath, and his tired eyes dropped shut. The bony fingers tightened around John's hand one more time, fighting against slipping away, grabbing their anchor. But the cruel disease triumphed once again—the exasperated grip eased, and the thin hand went limp in John's. The heart line on the monitor went flat and the beeping changed into a constant sound, alerting the medical staff of an emergency.

 

John bolted up in bed, panting heavily. He needed a moment to realise that he wasn't in a bright, white hospital room, but Sherlock's dark bedroom. A hand sneaked up on his arm, warm and soft, and the beautiful baritone he loved so much broke the night's silence.

 

“It's okay, you're safe. It was just a nightmare. Everything is fine.”

 

John's heart raced, while cold sweat rolled down on his back and his lungs felt like they were  ripping apart under the intensity of his breaths. Sherlock's face came into view, looking at him reassuringly, hushing him tenderly, and John had never been so happy to see the genius' beautiful features. He shuddered at the horrible image of his dream and the uncomfortable feel of his pyjama shirt drenched in cold sweat, sticking to his torso like a second skin. Another shiver ran down his spine, and he whimpered quietly when Sherlock’s hand moved away, immediately leaving John yearning for the comforting warmth.

 

Sherlock climbed out of the bed and returned a moment later with a clean T-shirt retrieved from his drawers. “Here, put this on.” He handed the article to John.

 

Exchanging a look with him, John nodded thankfully and slipped out of his soaked shirt. He towelled himself with the used clothing before putting on the dry cotton top. It was a bit tight and short, but suitable for a night. The thought that this piece of garment had hugged Sherlock's torso, touched the soft skin many times, before covering him now, was exciting.

 

“Are you okay?” Sherlock checked, wrapping an arm around John and resting a hand on the doctor's right shoulder.

 

John nodded, his heart still racing as if he had run a mile. They fell back in bed, and Sherlock automatically embraced him, pulling John’s still slightly shivering body against his chest. Sherlock’s heart beating in reassuring rhythm against his back calmed John, and the doctor slowly relaxed against his boyfriend.

 

“Do you want to talk about it?” Sherlock asked in a bare whisper, his warm breath tickling John's neck comfortingly.

 

John shook his head, biting his lip. “I can't.”

 

“Fine. I just wanted you to know that... I'm here to listen.”

 

“Thanks,” John covered Sherlock's hand resting on his stomach with his own. Relishing the soothing physical contact, his eyes drooped, and John slipped into a beneficial sleep.

 

***

 

Working morning shift the next day, John agreed to meet Sherlock in his office and take an hour’s break to visit his colleague, David, in the sexual health unit.

 

“Thanks, Sarah,” John smiled at his colleague, grateful for taking his place for that hour. “I owe you one.”

 

“It's okay,” she returned the smile, glancing at Sherlock standing silently in the corner of the waiting room.

 

“Doctor Watson, you're leaving?” An elderly woman perched on one of the plastic seats reached for him, panic etched on her wrinkled face. “I need to see you.”

 

John flashed a kind smile at her. “I have to pop out for a short while, but will be back. Doctor Sawyer is in for me, so you don't need to worry, Mrs. Peters. She's a skilled doctor too, so if it's your turn while I'm out, you will be in good hands.”

 

“No offence, Doctor Watson, but I'd rather wait until you're back,” she eased back into the seat, ready for the extra wait. “I believe you that she's good, but I don't want any other doctor than you.”

 

John smiled broadly, her loyalty warming his heart. “As you wish, Mrs. Peters, I'll be back soon.” Nodding at Sarah, he joined the unusually patient Sherlock, and the two briskly walked out of the room.

 

“I have never thought that patients actually liked you,” Sherlock noted in awe.

 

“Why, thank you,” John laughed teasingly. “So you think I'm a shit doctor.”

 

“No! Surely you are a skilled one, I have never doubted that. I just thought that it's just business, patients in and out, without forming any emotional attachment toward you.”

 

“Most of them are like that, but there are some that need the human touch, some kindness to trust their doctor with their problems. And I'm open to returning their friendliness, so both of us are happy.”

 

Ten minutes later they were sitting in the waiting area of the sexual health care unit, where a few people were waiting already. John glanced at his watch; they still had approximately five minutes until their appointment with David. Sherlock sneaked a few glimpses at the patients, deducing the nature of their problems. His brows knitted, and he shuddered at some of his discoveries.

 

“Are you okay?” John asked.

 

“I don't know,” Sherlock forced the words out in horror.

 

“What's wrong?”

 

“I have the utmost urge to delete some things I've just deduced,” Sherlock cringed, before adding quietly. “That red-haired woman and her partner have an unhealthy addiction to public sex, they can barely keep their hands to themselves right now. From the look of that blonde, she has a sick habit of masturbating with anything at hand, which has earned her several trips to A&E already. That skinny, teenage girl has low self-confidence, so she sleeps with anyone who makes her feel like she matters, and now here she is diagnosed with some sexually transmitted infection. Again, I remember why I have never felt the urge to pursue sex.” He shuddered again.

 

“You know it's not always like that,” John whispered. “You liked that one time we– you've been pestering me for sex ever since then.”

 

“Yes, but that's you. Yet all these things people do make me sick.”

 

“So that's the main reason why sex is not your area.”

 

Sherlock's silence gave the answer away. John took the pale hand and squeezed gently. “You don't have to worry, we will never do anything you don't like or are not comfortable with. I promise.”

 

The door they were waiting in front of finally opened up, and a brown-haired man, slightly taller than John, with a neatly trimmed beard and warm chocolate eyes greeted and beckoned them into the tidy, bright room.

 

“John, how nice to see you!” he exclaimed, dropping down behind his desk.

 

Once David and John had their obligatory long-time-no-see-how-are-you exchange (as always, boring the hell out of Sherlock), the bearded doctor pulled the computer's keyboard closer and opened the clinic's database. “Let’s see.” Typing in Sherlock's personal data and NHS number, he pulled up the detective's patient file with all the information of his last visit. Clicking on the link to the test results and checking the document that popped up, he raised a brow. “May I see the text you got?”

 

“Sure,” John pulled out his phone and, opening the message, gave the mobile to David.

 

The doctor read the text and jotted down some numbers onto a block of notes before entering them into a search box.

 

“I believe I have good news for you,” he said as he  turned to the two men a moment later. “Mr. Holmes is clean. The positive result belongs to another patient named Holmes. The reference numbers seem to have been mixed up, and the wrong result was sent to you.”

 

The heavy weight lifted from his heart, John exhaled loudly and a broad smile spread across his face. Exchanging a glance of relief with Sherlock, he saw that even the detective’s look mirrored withheld glee.

 

“Still, I'd like you to repeat the test, just to be sure.”

 

“Of course,” John agreed at once before Sherlock could say a word. “Ta, David.”

 

“No problem,” the doctor smiled. “Friends help whenever they can.”

 

***

 

Sherlock felt the comforting weight of John’s hand on his arm as they walked back in the waiting room. Turning his head, he found John looking up at him with a beaming smile, the deep blue eyes twinkling in utter happiness. The other patients in the waiting room certainly must have had the impression that they had received good news. The nature of it—given the place—was obvious. At least, obvious to Sherlock.

 

“I have to go back to work,“ John said, glancing at his watch. “See you at home.”

 

Sherlock nodded in acknowledgement. He didn’t like that he was supposed to spend the day alone, missing John’s company, but there was no point in arguing about it. John had already made it obvious many times that his job was important to him, even if Sherlock failed to see how dealing with tedious problems like digestive issues, sprains or flu could be satisfying to a doctor with greater skills. John was worth more than tending domestic wounds and treating colds or chickenpox.

 

John shifted a little, and Sherlock could tell that he was hesitating between hugging him and squeezing his arm. Sherlock himself couldn't decide which he could handle better with the people around. He was both relieved and disappointed when John eventually went for the subtle option and lightly caressed Sherlock’s lower arm, flashing him another little smile, before turning on his heels and rushing away.

 

Sherlock let out a silent sigh and walked down the corridor to the elevator. Hardly had he reached the lift when his phone vibrated loudly in his pocket. Had John decided to swap his shift and spend the day with him after all? Sherlock’s eyes lit up in anticipation, but all his hopes were crushed when he saw the caller ID on the mobile’s screen. Scrunching his nose, he grudgingly swiped the green button.

 

“What do you want?” he barked, while stepping into the lift.

 

“Good day to you too, brother mine,” Mycroft gushed mockingly.

 

Sherlock grimaced in disdain at the tone. Mycroft was perfectly aware how his sarcastic, sugary attitude annoyed Sherlock, and he deliberately used it against him anytime the need arose.

 

“It was good until you ruined it,” Sherlock scoffed, trying to keep his voice down with others around him.

 

“Oh, I know,” the elder Holmes brother laughed, and Sherlock could picture him leaning back in his chair, indulging in the moment. “Learning that you’re not an HIV carrier is good news, after all.”

 

Sherlock narrowed his eyes and hissed through gritted teeth, “You fucking cock.” The elderly woman beside him cringed, her eyes going wide in horror. “Don’t pretend you haven’t heard anyone cursing before,” he glared at her, before—finally reaching the ground floor—exiting the lift and vigorously striding through the main lobby and out the door.

 

“These aren’t the manners our parents taught you; mother would be appalled to hear you,” Mycroft tsked, apparently enjoying the situation.

 

“I truly doubt that spying on others, especially a sibling of yours, is something they taught you and would be proud of,” Sherlock growled, his eyes burning in contempt.

 

Mycroft laughed, seemingly unaffected by the insult. “I’m not spying on you, only watching out for you. Is intending to keep my baby brother out of harm’s way a crime?”

 

Sherlock groaned in annoyance and amended his pace, his coat billowing after him. “Fuck off.”

 

Another rumble of laughter came from the other end of the line, inciting Sherlock’s anger. “I’m seriously offended by your distrust. You could have entrusted me with the test results right away—I could have sped up the process and delivered the correct results. You could have spared yourself the fright.”

 

“Show your power off to your minions, I don’t need you pulling strings for me. I am perfectly capable of handling my life.”

 

“Yes, I can see that. Perfectly capable of almost ruining it,” Mycroft noted wryly, slight bitterness tinting his voice. Sherlock pressed his lips together with utmost force, fighting the urge of unleashing the built-up rage on his beloved brother right in the middle of the streets of London. “I’m not your enemy, Sherlock, no matter how much you think the opposite,” the elder Holmes brother said quietly, the mocking tone replaced with genuine sadness. “I want to help you.”

 

Sherlock huffed, his steps slowing down. The patronising tone was tedious. He hated how often he had to endure that.

 

Mycroft sighed and continued, “I have had the records checked; your results are unequivocally negative. You don’t have to undergo the test again.”

 

There it was again, Mycroft knowing everything better. Though Sherlock wasn’t too keen on wasting his time on paying the clinic another visit to repeat the test, he didn’t want to give his meddling brother the satisfaction of Sherlock accepting his help.

 

“So is the whole government office knows about my visit?” Sherlock snapped resentfully. “How nice.”

 

“I have a few select trusted employees to answer such personal inquiries. What do you think of me, Sherlock? I have a reputation to maintain. Spreading the news of my little brother being a potential HIV positive patient because he had been a careless junkie would shed a bad light on my name.”

 

The bastard. Sherlock clenched his fist. “Oh, certainly, we wouldn’t want that to happen,” he sneered. “Sharing a surname with a junkie must already be humiliating enough,” he pressed the emphasis on the certain word. “I apologise on the behalf of our parents.”

 

A loud, sharp sigh came from the other side of the line. “Sherlock…”

 

“Is there anything pressing you want to tell me or can I finally resume living my shameful life?” Sherlock sneered, the edge in his voice could easily cut a thick log into two. In his mind’s eye, he saw Mycroft shaking his head in disapproval as always when he had to deal with Sherlock’s petulance, and his mouth curled into a gloating smirk.

 

Considering the silence an agreement, Sherlock nodded with an accomplished smile. “Then go and pester your minions. Have a good day.” He had never felt such elation in swiping the red button on his phone.

 

Glancing around, Sherlock took in his surroundings for the first time since he left the clinic. He had been too occupied with fuming at Mycroft to register where his feet had taken him. The Criminal Court on his left told him that he was heading toward St. Paul’s. Good. He could need a little walk after this morning, clearing his head. He shivered a little at the chilly air sneaking through the gap between his shirt and scarf, caressing the exposed skin of his neck, and pulled his coat tighter, fastening the top button to shut out the cold.

 

Only now did he notice that he was still gripping the printed test result that rather looked like a sheet of paper retrieved from the rubbish bin than a document of a recent medical examination. He hadn’t noticed that he had unleashed his anger with Mycroft on the paper in his hand, crumpling it.

 

His phone jolted alive in his other hand once again. Without even looking at the screen, he automatically accepted the call and barked, “What is it now? Could you not leave me alone for a minute?”

 

There was a moment of silence on the other end, before the familiar voice stuttered in shock, “Sherlock?”

 

Sherlock’s eyes went wide in horror and his face flushed in embarrassment as the identity of the caller dawned on him. “J-John?” he stammered, mentally cursing himself for not checking the caller ID and assuming that it was his annoying brother once again. “I–”

 

“I thought you’d be in a better mood now that...I didn’t expect you being all flirty and such, but… I definitely wasn’t prepared for–”

 

“No, John, it’s–” Sherlock could feel his face flush despite the chilly air. “It’s Mycroft’s fault,” he grumbled. “He called before you and…”

 

“Did you have a row again?”

 

Sherlock wrinkled his nose. John knew him too well.

 

“He’s intervening in my life,” he excused petulantly, immediately passing the blame on his brother.

 

“Tell me something new,” John sighed, and Sherlock could picture the amused smile at the corner of the blond’s mouth. “Whatever, I didn’t have time to talk to you before I left. I wondered if you would like to have some take away for dinner? I could fetch it on the way home. Maybe a bottle of wine, too.”

 

“Sounds nice,” Sherlock agreed, blushing more at John’s romantic gesture.

 

“Thai? Chinese? Mexican?”

 

“Surprise me,” Sherlock replied, his voice involuntarily dropping deeper.

 

“Right,” John’s shaky voice suggested that he was affected by Sherlock’s sensual drawl. “I need to go now,”  John inhaled soundly. “See you later.”

 

Before Sherlock could utter a word, John hung up and the line went dead.

 

The prospect of having a lovely dinner with John in the sanctuary of their home after the fright that had taken its toll on both of them was utterly appealing, and Sherlock couldn’t wait to finally spend a quiet, cosy evening with John, eating and drinking and gazing the fire. The last time they’d had some quality time together felt like ages ago.

 

The temperature seemed to have dropped another couple of degrees, and Sherlock’s hands threatening to turn to ice, so he pocketed his phone and fished out his leather gloves, slipping into their warm haven.

 

The crumpled sheet of paper was still in his hand, being a survivor of his vehemence and the elements of the winter weather. Sherlock took a look at its content for the first time. It read Sherlock S. Holmes in bold letters in the section of patient details and said ‘STD, HIV negative’ in the results’ column underneath. He took a shaky breath, remembering the terror he had seen in John’s eyes from the moment the text message had arrived, the fear and desperate denial he could register in his every move, every twitch of his mouth, every clench of his hand. Sherlock couldn’t rid himself of the nagging feeling of helplessness that seized him when he’d seen John tossing and turning during the night and jolting awake from the nightmare, shaking and drenched in cold sweat. All that because of him.

 

Sherlock shuddered—unable to tell if the reason was the painful thought or the cold December air—and shoved the crumpled document into his coat pocket and set out down the street, aimlessly, letting his legs taking him anywhere.

 

He had never cared much about his wellbeing; his body was just transport, a protective shell of the essence of his existence. He hardly paid attention to its maintenance (especially not before John), and whenever he experienced fault in its functioning, he dismissed it with a shrug and dealt with the issue only when it became truly pressing. But then John had come into his life, and Sherlock couldn’t continue neglecting his health; John took care of that. Part of Sherlock liked that attention, his wellbeing mattering to someone (not Mycroft who nagged him about it mostly to annoy him), and though he complained, he obeyed his doctor. Allowing John be the one to examine and treat him and give him orders about his health was the least distasteful choice. But the stakes had been raised since they had started dating—John was extra anxious of his health now, and Sherlock was beginning to see that if he wanted to build a relationship with John, he had to compromise and minimise the chance of John worrying about him because he was an ignorant, stubborn prick. Love was dangerous indeed, changing people and influencing their actions.

 

The possibility of being HIV positive had affected Sherlock’s approach of life in a way he had never expected. Though he loved tempting and facing danger every day, he had never had such a vivid taste of the fear of dying. Facing the imminent, unchangeable death sentence and being one step closer to perishing was like a blow in the guts, it opened his eyes to recognise his own mortality and how his suffering and slow death could tear apart the person closest to his heart. I shall never let John go through that hell , Sherlock promised himself. John jolting awake and shaking in his arms, his wide eyes flashing in utmost fright, the silver-licked strands of hair matting and the compact, strong body covered in the nightmare-induced cold sweat was an image that Sherlock could never forget. John having nightmares was nothing new, Sherlock knew he was still affected by the horrors of war, but John having nightmares of him and because of him was different. He felt somewhat responsible for the man’s fitful sleep.

 

Sherlock wasn’t sure what was real anymore. Was visiting John’s doctor friend only a dream that would shatter when waking, leaving him facing the dreadful reality of being HIV positive, or was this whole illness fiasco a nightmare or a hallucination of his restless mind?

 

Stumbling absentmindedly through the streets, he ended up in the gardens of St. Paul’s Cathedral and sagged down onto one of the benches. His thoughts were back on the test results in his pocket. It wasn’t a dream. His breath was visible in the cold as he exhaled loudly. The meaning of what was happening slowly sank in. He’d got back his life, his name had just been removed from the list of death. (Though, he still had to redo the test to be safe, after that conversation with his brother, he could be assured of being clean indeed. Mycroft wouldn’t have risked his precious reputation by not being thorough enough and giving him false news.)

 

Being ill might have been a fleeting fright, but the impact of the feelings it elicited lingered on.

 

His thoughts wandered back to his conversation with John.

 

‘What will happen to us? Will there still be an us?’

 

‘You being ill won’t change my feelings toward you. I still love you. I can't help it, I'm in fucking love with you. And if you thought that I'd leave you because you're ill, bloody forget it! Nothing could make me do that. Not Moriarty or any other fucker or a disease. Nothing.’

 

Sherlock’s cold-kissed lips trembled at the confession and the memory of the utmost earnestness in John’s tone. People suddenly became so honest when there was a life at stake. But what about him? Was he able to bare his heart to John, especially now that the alarm was called off?

 

You have to do it, the inside voice said. You were lucky this time, you got a new chance, use it! There might not be another one.

 

Sherlock blankly gazed at the people passing by, his thoughts on John and him. He knew that John loved him, the doctor had told him those three little words a few times by now, but Sherlock had never revealed his emotions to John. He had always been aware of how much John meant to him, but since they had started dating, he had experienced new, powerful feelings for the man that he had never known. He had no data about what being in love was like, so all he could do was proceed slowly and gather evidence to support the hypothesis that what he was feeling was love indeed. For someone so inexperienced in romance like Sherlock, seeing and understanding the signs wasn’t easy, but John proved to be a patient partner (partly because of John needing time to adjust to the new situation too) and Sherlock had plenty of time to investigate one of the most baffling cases of his life. John admitting his love for him in the cemetery was an eye opener, and though there was still many things he didn’t know about love and romancing, all the clues led to the conclusion that the strange feelings taking over his body and mind—both satisfying and waking his thirst for John’s attention and closeness—couldn’t be anything else but what people called ‘being in love.’ Now all he needed to do was to let John know, let him hear those words.

 

***

 

The clock was ticking the seconds painfully slow, every move of the second hand felt like forever. Sherlock paced the sitting room restlessly, jolting at every tiny noise sneaking up from downstairs, hope rising in his chest. John was supposed to have arrived home an hour ago, and that included the detour to their favourite Thai food restaurant to pick up their dinner. Sherlock strode to the window, peeking out into the dark street, searching for a certain figure, but he couldn’t see anyone, not even a stray dog. He tossed back the curtain with a frown. Having resolved to talk to John that evening, finally telling him those words, Sherlock had planned everything. Sharing some nice wine—a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon he had picked from one London’s luxurious wine shops—while lounging on the sofa after dinner would be the perfect setting for revealing what was on his heart. But he hadn’t considered John altering his carefully thought-out plans by being late.

 

What could John be doing for so long? Sherlock dropped down into his armchair with a scowl. He would kill Lestrade if the DI had talked John into having a pint now. The detective’s long fingers danced vehemently on his phone’s screen as he composed a text and pressed send.

 

The silence in the flat was deafening. Sherlock could hear the rhythmic sound even of his own breathing. Time had never passed so slowly.

 

Why was John not answering? Sherlock bit his bottom lip, tapping his steepled fingers underneath his chin. The theory that John was in some pub seemed more and more likely. Sherlock glanced wistfully at the coffee table that was now devoid of the clutter of papers, magazines and other pile of documents, but was nicely set with napkins, cutlery, two glasses and a candle waiting to be lit.

 

The stairs creaked and Sherlock’s heart skipped a beat. He jumped up and strode to the door, but the hope crushed in his chest when he met Mrs Hudson in the doorway.

 

“Mrs Hudson,” the name came out as a growl as he grimaced in disappointment.

 

“I brought you some freshly made biscuits.” She blinked startled, apparently realising that she had chosen the wrong time to visit her tenants.

 

Huffing, Sherlock tread back to the window and, picking up his violin from its case, started to play a loud piece, ignoring the landlady.

 

“Ooh, how nice!” Mrs Hudson squealed, and Sherlock didn’t need to turn around to know that she discovered the set coffee table. “You’re surprising John!” She giggled excitedly. “That’s so lovely...and romantic,” she added the last word dreamily.

 

Sherlock rolled his eyes and pressed his lips tight, trying to refrain from snapping at her, and doubled the pressure of the bow on the strings instead.

 

“I remember those times when I waited for my husband with a surprise at home,” Mrs Hudson reminisced. “Those evenings usually ended with hot–”

 

“Mrs Hudson!” Sherlock cut her tirade, shuddering at very idea of learning the intimate details. “Don’t you have something to do?” He asked pointedly.

 

She blushed slightly, and her lips curled into an apologetic smile. “Sorry, I don’t want to disturb; you surely have still things to do before John arrives.” She added after a beat, “I leave the biscuits here.”

 

In the periphery of his vision, Sherlock saw her placing the plate onto the coffee table.

 

“I’ll let you get ready,” she cajoled conspiratorially. “John might be home at any moment and you surely shouldn’t keep him waiting; he’ll be hungry and–”

 

Sherlock lowered the violin and turned around. “Mrs Hudson!” The suggestive glare and edgy voice conveyed the message clearly.

 

“Sorry, dear,” she stammered. “I’m leaving. Enjoy your evening.” She winked and headed downstairs.

 

Sherlock exhaled loudly, laying his violin back into its case. He couldn’t wish for a better landlady than Mrs Hudson, but fussing about him like a mother was truly tiresome at times.

 

Hearing voices from the stairway, he pricked his ears and then froze. It was Mrs Hudson and...John! Sherlock’s heart took a leap at the familiar, precious drawl. Am I presentable? He stepped over to the mirror above the fireplace and checked his look. His wild curls had a nice shine of the new balsam he had acquired, matching the bright shades of blue of the silk dressing gown above the white dress shirt and designer trousers. The voices died down and the sound of certain footsteps came closer, so Sherlock shrugged the gown off and tossed it into his chair before hastily smoothing his shirt.

 

He had just turned toward the door when John entered the room.

 

“What’s going on?” John inquired in wonder, putting down the bags and unzipping his coat. “Mrs Hudson acted a tad strange, practically pushing me upstairs, saying I should hurry...are you okay?” Sherlock was immediately beside him, tugging at John’s parka. “Sherlock?”

 

“Yes?” Sherlock muttered with slight nervousness, focusing on taking the coat off of John, who was just standing rooted to the spot, seemingly clueless to what was happening.

 

“What are you doing?” John harrumphed, his gaze following Sherlock’s every movement.

 

Sherlock felt the weight of the confused gaze on him.

 

“What kind of dull question is that?” He moistened his lips, trying to hide his rising nervousness. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m helping you out of your coat.”

 

“Why?” John raised a brow, watching Sherlock hanging the olive parka on the peg next to the door.

 

Sherlock furrowed his brows and sent John a quizzical look. John held his stare, watching him more intently. Oh, why ? The meaning hit Sherlock, and he bit his bottom lip, wondering how to answer that simple question. Eventually, too embarrassed to tell the real reason, he shrugged. “Why not?”

 

“Why not?” John laughed. “Because that’s so unlike you! Mrs Hudson’s also acting strange. What’s going on, Sherlock? Have you two conspired something against me?”

 

“No. Why would we?” Sherlock huffed. Why did he have to reason his actions?

 

“No idea,” John shrugged. His look caught by the set coffee table, his brows pulled up high and his eyes narrowed in suspicion. “What have you destroyed?”

 

Sherlock blinked, offended. “Why are you–?”

 

“Maybe because you’re unusually attentive?”

 

Sherlock snapped, throwing his hands. “I don’t understand you! You reproach me when I’m an ignorant prick, but then are suspicious if I’m helpful. What should I do to please you? Make up your mind!” He whirled around and was about to walk into the kitchen, but a strong grip on his arm stopped him.

 

“I’m sorry,” John’s remorseful voice was a bare whisper in the heavy silence. The grip on his bicep loosened and melted into a tentative caress.

 

Sherlock bowed his head, his look lingering on the sturdy hand.

 

“I’m an idiot,” John muttered, stepping closer. “I thought...Shit, I don’t know what I thought.” He looked up at Sherlock, taking in the the sight in front of him. “Look at you, you’re so beautiful this evening; I haven’t even noticed.” The unadulterated awe in John’s stare sent a shiver down Sherlock’s spine. “And that…” John gestured toward the set table, “you really caught me off guard.”

 

“I…” Sherlock started, but his tongue didn’t cooperate to finish the thought.

 

John flashed him a soft smile, before grabbing the bags from the floor and heading into the kitchen. “I’ll heat up the food a bit. Would you pour us a drink? I believe we still have some cheap wine from the other week.”

 

Sherlock suppressed a knowing smirk and fetched the bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from out of the fridge. “You mean this?”

 

John’s eyes widened. “God...This–”

 

“Not exactly cheap wine, but…will it suffice?”

 

“Suffice?” A laugh erupted from John’s throat. “Jesus, this is...one of the finest wines, costing more than my monthly salary...of course it does…”

 

John stammering in surprise was something Sherlock could never get tired of watching. It was both amusing and endearing.

 

“Good,” he smiled contently and strolled into the sitting room to fill their glasses.

 

A few minutes later John joined him with the takeaway boxes. “Is this a date?” he smirked, noticing the lit candle on the table.

 

“Would you mind?” Sherlock raised a brow, smiling suggestively.

 

John returned one of his most beautiful smiles. “Not at all.”

 

Sherlock smiled contently and took a seat on the sofa, watching John plate the deliciously smelling, steaming food.

 

“Would you like to watch something while we’re eating?” John cocked his head toward the telly.

 

Yes, you, Sherlock almost blurted, but then just shrugged indifferently. He’d rather have a little chit-chat between bites than staring at the tedious programmes on telly or DVD.

 

John must have perceived his lack of enthusiasm as he sat beside him on the sofa and took his glass. “Silence it is, then. Unless you feel like putting on some music.”

 

Sherlock was inclined to agree. Some soft, quiet melodies could actually be helpful with his planned confession and dismiss any awkward silence.

 

“If you don’t mind?” He sought confirmation in John’s eyes, a hint of smile playing at the corner of his mouth.

 

“Of course not.” John smiled, his dark eyes twinkling incredulously as if asking ‘how can you assume I’d mind’.

 

Sherlock grabbed his phone and, after some tapping, the rhythmic beat of a slow song filled the room.

 

“Really?” John jerked his head in surprise, recognising the song. “You have other music than classical on your phone?”

 

Sherlock’s cheeks felt a bit warmer. “Obviously,” he croaked abashedly, avoiding John’s stare.

 

“Aha.”

 

There was some genuine amusement in John’s voice that piqued Sherlock. Unable to resist peeking at his boyfriend, his tentative look immediately met John’s intrigued stare. John watched him with open interest, his eyes shimmering brightly. Sherlock swallowed hard at the alluring image in front of him, and he would have given anything to be allowed to kiss John.

 

“What? People have a variety of genres on their phone,” he reasoned quietly, taking his glass of wine.

 

“People? Yes. You?” John grimaced, grabbing his fork and squinting his eyes doubtfully. “Well..”

 

“I have shocked you; you will get over it,” Sherlock remarked nonchalantly and took a sip of his wine.

 

“You’ve just surprised me,” John uttered sincerely, dropping the teasing tone, while starting to eat. “Positively. I’ve never thought you’d be interested in anything but the posh, classical compositions. Never expected to find out that you listen to anything else.”

 

“Your fault,” Sherlock murmured, gazing at the rim of his glass.

 

John swallowed the food and laughed, and Sherlock indulged in the lovely sound, wishing he could trap it into a jar and keep it for the sorrow-filled days.

 

“As everything always is,” John snorted, picking up his glass and taking a sip of the burgundy liquid. “Mmm, it’s heavenly,” he breathed in awe.

 

Sherlock’s chest filled with pride. He’d wanted to surprise John with the quality wine, knowing the man certainly hadn’t had chance to enjoy such expensive stuff. He aimed for coaxing the sweet noises of indulgence from John’s mouth and revelling in the delight of knowing that he was the recipient of those guttural sounds of pleasure. If only he could relish those sounds in another aspect as well, he sighed.

 

“Oh, you git, wipe that smug smile off of your face,” John grinned. “You knew very well that I would like it. Who wouldn’t? By the way, when I suggested having takeaway tonight, I surely didn’t expect this,” his look fell on the nicely set table. “You truly surprised me, second time in the evening.”

 

It’s still not the end of surprises . Sherlock bit his lip nervously, remembering the idea of confessing John his true feelings tonight.

 

“What else do you have in store?” John chuckled, shoving a forkful of rice into his mouth.

 

If you only knew .

 

Another song played on the phone, and John burst out giggling, almost choking on his food. “Seriously, Sherlock? You listen to boy bands?” His eyes sparkled in amusement.

 

Sherlock blinked, clueless to the reason for John’s reaction. What was he aiming at? He recalled the name of the artist of the song played, but couldn’t see what was wrong with them.

 

“I believe they are not boys, but grown young men,” he pointed out.

 

“It’s the term for bands of young male singers,” John explained, the amused smile still lingering in his eyes.

 

Sherlock raised a brow at him, still not seeing why should he be embarrassed by having songs from so called ‘boy bands’ on his phone.

 

“Nevermind,” John dismissed the issue and resumed eating.

 

Sherlock hated being treated like a child who couldn’t understand adult talk. But what he hated more when it was John refraining from explaining things to him, assuming Sherlock wouldn’t understand.

 

“Don’t do this, you know I detest being treated like an imbecile,” he growled, narrowing his eyes.

 

John sighed in surrender and put down his fork. “Boy bands with their young members and trendy looks are targeted toward teen audiences, and young fangirls often go crazy for their favourite boy of the band.”

 

Sherlock processed the new information in silence.

 

“So it’s embarrassing to you that I might find some appeal in such songs,” he wondered, glancing at John.

 

John squirmed. “No, it’s not. It’s... rather funny.”

 

“Funny?”

 

“So unlike you,” John smiled. “The posh guy, the genius detective, indulging in something so...outside of his usual.”

 

“I despise repeating myself, but this is all your fault,” Sherlock pointed out casually.

 

“Really?” John leaned back with a grin, folding his arms, intently staring at Sherlock. “And how exactly is it my fault?”

 

“The lyrics, John,” Sherlock’s look pierced John’s. “They remind me of us.”

 

***

 

John didn’t expect this answer. His grin faded as the meaning of Sherlock’s words hit him in the gut. The idea of Sherlock paying attention to the lyrics was endearing. Since when did the detective become so sentimental?

 

With the newfound insight, John listened closely to the song playing, reminding himself that these words had the power to capture Sherlock’s attention and made him discover new horizons in music.

 

It was you who showed me how, Brought me back to glory, Through hopelessness and darkest days, It was breath you gave me. And through it all, And through it all, When you're tired and you stumble I will carry you, When starlight falls, my love will guide you home, You'll never be alone, When there are no more heroes.

 

The song ended, but John couldn’t speak, let alone move. He only stared ahead, fighting the emotions the revelation elicited. The lyrics were beautiful on their own, but the thought that Sherlock found himself being irresistibly drawn to them, considering the words describing their life, Sherlock’s feelings, overwhelmed John. Now he understood why Sherlock had  taken his precious time to concentrate on the lyrics. Through the songs’ lyrics, the man who was inept at expressing emotions, especially romantic ones, found a way to voice his deepest feelings.

 

John needed all the strength to resist crying. Pressing his mouth in a tight line, he gulped hard.

 

“John?” Sherlock’s tentative voice pulled him back into reality.

 

John looked at Sherlock, but immediately wished he hadn’t. The fear that he might have said something not good was plain to see on the detective’s beautiful face, and it wrenched John’s heart.

 

“You’re amazing…” John croaked and pulled Sherlock into a loving hug.

 

“John...” Sherlock’s tentative baritone caressed his ears. “There’s something…”

 

John’s chest tightened at the seriousness of the mesmerising voice. Was there anything that Sherlock was hiding from him? Was it the test? Might Sherlock have received new information on the results? Could he be infected after all? No, John didn’t want to hear that. Not now. Not after having caught a glimpse of Sherlock’s feelings for him. Couldn’t he relish that moment a little longer, was it too much to ask?

 

“No, please don’t,” he pleaded. “Whatever it is, not tonight, please.”

 

Sherlock sighed against him, his warm breath tickling John’s neck as he muttered, “Fine.”

 

John’s eyes fell shut in relief and his fingers slid into his boyfriend’s soft curls, savouring their comforting feel. The unique smell of wool, aftershave and the fine scent of Sherlock’s skin sneaked into John’s nose, immediately clouding his mind and evoking physical reactions in his body. The embrace wasn’t enough, he needed more.

 

There was no more time to waste.

 

Pulling back, he found Sherlock staring at him, the universe coloured eyes shimmering in the candle light. The golden glow followed the masterfully sculpted face, refracting on the sharp cheekbone, and John couldn’t resist tracing the light’s journey with his fingers.

 

“Gorgeous,” he breathed in utter awe, drinking in the sight of the only man who had unnoticeably managed to steal his heart. “How can you be so perfect?”

 

And how could I ever handle missing this, missing you? He groaned, the mere thought causing physical pain.

 

Sherlock breathed heavily, his lips parting a little.

 

The moment John’s gaze fell on the inviting, pink flesh, he felt like falling into another dimension; time stopped and the outside world ceased to exist. He could only focus on the slightly trembling lips under his stare. So close, yet not close enough. He craved touching them, tasting them, feeling them. His exploring fingers slowly trailed down on Sherlock’s cheek, tenderly caressing the freshly shaved, pale face, the soft and smooth skin bearing the heady scent of expensive aftershave before stopping hesitantly above the perfect cupid’s bow. John inhaled sharply and licked his lips nervously, his heart beating faster. Glancing up at Sherlock’s steel blue eyes sparkling as silver, he made the decision that he had flirted with for so long, but hadn’t been strong enough to make. Until now. Even if the sky fell on them or the ground shook and crumbled under their feet, John wasn’t going to waver.

 

His fingertips hovered above Sherlock’s lips, and John held his breath for a moment before flesh finally met flesh. Sherlock shuddered under his feathery touch, and a barely audible moan left his throat. John’s heart stopped a beat at the sensual reaction. He’s so wound up, if this tiniest touch elicits such a raw response. John breathed in awe, understanding the depths of Sherlock’s longing.

 

The pad of his finger traced the line of the incomparably masterful cupid’s bow, sending another shiver through Sherlock’s body, before travelling onto the plush bottom lip, caressing the soft flesh. Beautiful .

 

John looked up into Sherlock’s eyes, finding the man’s pupils blown wide, the silver blue iris being nothing more than a thin ring around the black orb.

 

“I love you so much,” he blurted without thinking in the heat of the moment. “I can’t–” He glanced back at the quivering lips and gulped hard. “I can’t hold back any longer…” he muttered throatily, running a hand through his hair.

 

His fingertips gave one more squeeze to the attention-thirsty lips, before replacing them with his mouth.

 

The kiss was nothing but a tentative and cautious, feather-like brush of lips and ended before either of them could take in what had transpired. John immediately missed the sweet contact. Opening his eyes, he found himself under Sherlock's penetrative gaze, the man apparently looking for a clue that John had no regrets and was amenable to repeating the kiss.

 

It was only Sherlock, nothing else mattered in that moment. Every fibre of John’s body cried for finally expressing the depth of his feelings, the purest love John had ever felt.

 

John closed the distance wordlessly and captured Sherlock’s warm, slightly quivering lips in a proper kiss, his arms slipping around his boyfriend’s slim waist. He waited for his demons to resurface, but his mind was quiet. John smiled to himself. Love conquered all. John Watson was in love with Sherlock Holmes with every ounce of his being, and it was the most powerful weapon to defeat any obstacle in life.

 

John had never felt so alive and free; like a weight had rolled off his shoulders and the heavy chains that tied his hands broke.

 

He melted into Sherlock, relishing the long-craved closeness. It was amazing how perfectly their mouths fit; as if they were made for each other, the matching pieces of a puzzle. The softness of Sherlock's lips, their taste, the way they moved and moulded against his was exhilarating; John didn't know how could he ever exist without that incomparable sensation.

 

***

 

Sherlock's heart was drumming wildly in his chest. The kiss he had been waiting so long for. The colour painted his black and white captions of that certain night, making the memories come to life, filling them with sensation. The thrill of being intimate with John, the closeness he had craved for a long time that it felt like eternity.

 

Moaning, he eased into the kiss, clumsily copying John's every motion. There was still a lot to learn in order to measure up to such an experienced partner, and Sherlock did his best to be the perfect student. He stored even the tiniest movement in his mind palace—all the angles, strength of pressure, lick of tongue, bite of teeth—to become a worthy lover to John. He couldn't bear if John left him because he was inexperienced and didn't meet the standard that Three Continents Watson was used to.

 

Breaking away for air, they both panted heavily. Sherlock blinked rapidly, as if his hard drive had just been rebooted. “Does it... are you...?”

 

“For once, it's not obvious to you?” John smirked with shimmering eyes and breathed another butterfly kiss on Sherlock's mouth.

 

“Are you suggesting that the period of physical abstinence is over?” Sherlock's eyes shone brighter than stars.

 

“I believe that's the correct observation, Mr Holmes,” John grinned.

 

“In this case... may I–” Sherlock shifted uncertainly, his eyes dropping to John's lips, then back to his eyes. “May I kiss you again?”

 

John nodded happily. “Please.”

 

Sherlock hadn’t seen him beaming like that since the night they’d chased the cabbie. He loved that smile, fed on it. Not wasting a second, he eagerly pulled John into a tight embrace and, pressing his mouth firmly against the blond's, moved his lips and tongue according to the data he had gathered.

 

The kiss started slowly, discovering the new sensation of their lips meeting, making themselves familiar with each other, but the fire couldn’t be kept at bay for long. Soon it was eager sucking and nibbling, vehemently devouring each other’s mouth, exploring unknown heights of their connection.

 

God, this was brilliant. Sherlock had never expected kissing to be this powerful and exhilarating. The sensations of the different textures under his tongue, the alternating pressure of the hot, wet lips on his own, the unchoreographed, spontaneous dance of tongues, while blood raced in his veins underneath his burning skin, putting his body on fire. It was intoxicating. Better than drugs. Better than anything.

 

Did sexual intercourse feel like that, too? Every cell of your body on fire, while your heart drummed in your throat? Wanting to bury yourself into your partner and never part? Being on such an amazing, indescribable high? God, if it was, he wasn't surprised at John having such a high sex drive.

 

Once the need for air couldn’t be ignored any longer, they broke apart breathlessly. Sherlock always said breathing was boring. Now he added ‘inconvenient’ and ‘hateful’ to the list. He wished he could kiss John for hours without bothering about the tedious needs of the body.

 

“Are...you...okay?” he panted, searching John’s eyes.

 

“Yeah…” John nodded, resting his hands on Sherlock’s hips.

 

Sherlock continued staring at him, still waiting for the answer to his real question.

 

“Oh, you mean…” John finally understood what Sherlock was aiming at. “Yes,” he smiled softly, “I am. No more demons.”

 

Sherlock could hardly hide his excitement at the meaning and promises that the statement held for them.

 

“Brilliant,” he smiled broadly, gently placing his hand on John’s chest. He wanted to ask where would they go from here, but was too scared of the answer. He leaned in for another kiss instead, and to his greatest delight, John didn’t push him away, but welcomed his lips eagerly.

 

This time, there was no trace of clumsiness in Sherlock’s kiss, he confidently moved his lips against John’s, cataloguing every millimetre of his boyfriend’s mouth.

 

“I wouldn’t mind snogging you for hours, but let’s finish dinner first,” John murmured with a tiny smirk when he eventually pulled back, panting.

 

Sherlock huffed in disinterest, his lips still hovering above John’s. Tedious needs! How could he care about dinner when he finally could kiss John instead?

 

“I’d hate if all your efforts in setting up a nice date went to waste,” John continued, then added, “You’ve barely eaten yet.”

 

Sherlock wanted to protest, saying he wasn’t hungry (or at least not for a meal), but John stopped him, holding up a hand. “Spare me the ‘I’m not hungry’ nonsense! You haven’t eaten properly for days!”

 

Sherlock rolled his eyes. John’s habit of keeping track of his nourishment once again proved to be utterly annoying.

 

“Don’t ruin our date. Eat with me, please.” John’s bright eyes pleaded him.

 

It was clear as day that consuming the meal on a dinner date was important to John, as if it was an essential part of a successful ritual. No matter what an idle thing Sherlock considered eating was, he couldn’t disregard the childlike delight twinkling in John’s eyes.

 

“Fine,” he sighed, giving in eventually.

 

They consumed the now lukewarm food, sitting side by side on the sofa, their crossed legs touching and arms occasionally brushing. Sherlock couldn’t tell if the extra warmth in his cheeks was a result of the wine or John now and then resting his hand on Sherlock’s thigh and squeezing it a little with a sheepish smile.

 

Sherlock soon found himself devouring his food with unusual relish, though he couldn’t pinpoint if the catalyst of the rare act was John’s elated smile whenever Sherlock shoved a spoonful of curry into his mouth or his body taking over and demanding a supply of energy.

 

By the time they cleaned their plates, the battery of Sherlock’s phone was dangerously low, so he had to turn off the music, leaving them enveloped in silence.

 

Languidly sipping the fine wine, curled up on the sofa, cuddled against each other, Sherlock felt like time stopped and they were wrapped in a bubble of bliss. John’s delicious closeness, the feel of his heartbeat and rise of his chest against Sherlock’s back was magical.

 

“Is there any more left in that bottle?” John slurred, raising a brow.

 

Sherlock held up the apparently empty bottle and frowned. “Nope.”

 

John pouted and put his glass aside.

 

With a little shrug, Sherlock dropped the bottle and his own empty glass onto the carpet and lay his head back against John’s chest. John’s arms immediately wrapped around him and the doctor’s chin rested on the top of Sherlock’s head, into the bed of his curls.

 

“Mmm,” Sherlock moaned contently, finding the position utterly appealing and comforting. His eyes fluttered closed, letting his other senses take over to indulge in the exhilarating moment of serenity and happiness.

 

“John...I must tell you something,” he mumbled after a few minutes of blissful silence. “I love you.” He expected John to shift behind him, but the man didn’t make the tiniest move. “John?” Sherlock angled his head to catch a glimpse of his boyfriend and was presented with the cutest sight he had recently seen—John was sleeping peacefully with his lips parted and breath fluffing Sherlock’s hair. Sherlock smiled fondly and snuggled back against the warm body, his eyes falling shut.

 

When starlight falls, my love will guide you home, You'll never be alone, When there are no more heroes, Sherlock hummed the lyrics, slowly drifting asleep.



Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty - Favourite Time Of The Year



My world is filled with cheer and you
This Christmas Lights twinkle all around
But your eyes outshine the town
They do, this Christmas

 

~ Patti LaBelle - Favourite Time Of The Year




5 days before Christmas

 

John loved this season. He enjoyed striding through the ridiculously shiny streets of London, drinking in the sight of the holiday decorations, smelling the lovely sweet and spicy scents in the coffee shops.

 

The first Christmas he spent in London after returning from Afghanistan had been an empty, lonely, depressing one. He hadn't even celebrated it; there was no tree or lights, only darkness in both his room and soul. Thinking back, he wondered how he had survived those weeks. He had been ready to die; the very idea of ending his aimless, broken life had seemed so tempting, such an easy solution. Then, miraculously, he found meaning in life again when he met the most arrogant and ignorant man he’d ever known and moved in with him. His days had gained purpose again. John always felt like he’d been reborn after Sherlock entered his life; like he’d been given a second chance. He was forever indebted to the world's only consulting detective for saving him. This gratitude might even have been the foundation of his feelings for Sherlock, the reason why he had been drawn to the man from the very first day.

 

The second Christmas after Afghanistan, the first one with his new flatmate, had been eventful in many aspects. Irene Adler stirred up their dynamic, her power over Sherlock causing John's jealousy to flare up for the first time. In retrospect, John found that he should have been grateful to her for making him realise that what he felt for Sherlock had not been an illusion.

 

This year, with the change in the nature of their relationship, John waited eagerly for the holiday season. He looked forward to celebrating it with Sherlock as a couple, even though he was aware of the man's ignorance toward holidays. Still, he resolved to do everything to make this Christmas a lovely and memorable time for both of them.

 

So, on a cold, mid-December morning, John was standing in the middle of the sitting room, entangled in a web of little sparkling bulbs while Christmas songs played on the radio.

 

Sherlock strode into the room, obliviously immune to the holiday cheer. As his glance fell on John, he didn't say a word, only wrinkled his nose and strolled over to the sofa.

 

“Thank you,” John noted in a mocking tone, to get his attention.

 

“What for?” Knitting his brows in confusion, Sherlock turned, his blue gown whirling around him.

 

“Offering your help.”

 

“I didn't,” Sherlock blinked in confusion.

 

“That's exactly what I meant,” John said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “And just for your information, that's my tea,” he cocked his head at the mug that Sherlock took a large sip from.

 

“I know,” came the nonchalant reply.

 

John rolled his eyes and, letting out an indignant sigh, returned his concentration to the fairy lights enveloping him. He didn't understand what experiment could have required a set of fairy lights; he wasn't too interested to learn it, either. The only thing he wanted to know right now was the reason why the infuriating detective couldn't have put them back tidily afterwards.

 

“If you ever touch these anytime again, I will kill you,” he grumbled, battling with the entangled sets. The only reaction he earned from Sherlock was an amused snicker. “Once I–,” John hissed and looked up to see Sherlock standing a foot away and snapping a picture of him with his phone.

 

“Sherlock!” he bellowed. “Delete that immediately!” The detective’s snicker turned into a giggle as he swiped his finger across the screen. “Sherlock,” John continued menacingly, trying to kill his boyfriend with a look. “Put. That. Bloody. Thing. Down!”

 

“You look like a grumpy hedgehog! There. You have our Christmas card for this year! I reckon Lestrade and Molly would find it funny.”

 

“Sherlock!!” John got onto his knees, crawling toward the man as briskly as the restraints of the web of lights around his torso allowed.

 

Sherlock kept backing away as he laughed. “I believe a video would be even better.”

 

“Don't you dare!”

 

“Say 'happy holidays', John!”

 

“Sod off,” John growled, reaching for Sherlock's feet.

 

Sherlock feigned horror. “That's the way you Watsons wish merry Christmas?”

 

“No, that's the way Dr. John H. Watson tells his insufferable flatmate that the party is over,” John growled, yanking Sherlock's feet. The detective fell onto the carpet with a loud thud, the phone slipping out of the long fingers. Now it was John's turn to laugh. Groaning in pain, Sherlock cast a dirty look at him. Fishing the phone up from the floor, John swiped the screen a few times, before snapping a picture of Sherlock rubbing his backside. “Now this one I’ll upload to my blog.” He tapped the display, smirking mischievously.

 

Bony fingers sneaked around his wrist, digging into his flesh.“Give it back,” Sherlock snarled, his lithe body wrestling with John's sturdy one.

 

“You bloody wish.” Stretching, John held the gadget out of the detective's reach.

 

Hurling himself at his boyfriend, Sherlock knocked John over, pinning him to the carpet. “Give it back,” Sherlock growled, his steel-blue eyes boring into John's threateningly.

 

John snickered. “Now that you've tasted your own medicine, you don't like it that much, huh?”

 

“Shut up!”

 

Throwing Sherlock off balance, John flipped them over, pressing his arm against the brunette's throat. “Who did you order to shut up?” he growled with flashing eyes, Captain Watson taking over.

 

There was an immediate change in Sherlock's posture underneath him. The detective's pupils dilated, the thin, almost unnoticeable blue ring darkening around them. Moistening his lower lip with the tip of his tongue, Sherlock stared up into John’s eyes.

 

“I believe that was evident,” he rasped under the weight of John's arm on his trachea.

 

“Oh, you think you’re funny,” Captain Watson sneered, straddling him and pressing harder against the alabaster neck.

 

A loud clearing of throat came from the door.

 

Dropping his soldier persona, John bolted and jerked his head. The colour drained from his face, and he froze immediately, seeing the man in the door-frame with an agitated Mrs. Hudson in tow.

 

“I'm sorry, I couldn't stop him,” she excused in embarrassment.

 

Sherlock lifted his head and peeked out from behind John. Realising the identity of their unexpected visitor, he groaned in dismay.

 

“The boys are playing,” Mycroft gushed sarcastically, twisting his umbrella. “How sweet.”

 

“It's not... what it looks like,” John countered awkwardly, struggling against Sherlock to disentangle himself from the naughty position.

 

“Mycroft,” Sherlock growled, holding tight onto John's wrist, keeping him in place. Dropping his head back onto the carpet, his indifferent gaze travelled to the ceiling. “Don't believe John, it is exactly what it looks like.” John cast him a horrified look. “To what do we owe the displeasure of seeing you here?”

 

“Can I not visit my little brother without a reason?”

 

“No,” Sherlock huffed. “Yet, you do. How unfortunate.”

 

Mycroft sighed. “Would you please take up a decent position while I'm here?” He quirked a brow, uncomfortable at the rather suggestive pose the two men were engaged in.

 

“Nope,” Sherlock uttered defiantly, popping the 'p', tightening his hold on John's wrist.

 

John suspected he was going to have bruises on his skin by the next day. Brilliant , he sneered, Sherlock was using him to aggravate his brother. Glancing at the British government, he couldn't decide which of the two of them felt more ill at ease.

 

Seeing that any attempt to have a normal, adult-like conversation with his brother was futile, Mycroft rolled his eyes. “Sherlock, I believe I don't have to remind you that your attendance at this year's Christmas dinner is not negotiable.” His business-like voice made John feel like he was slumping in the middle of a discussion in the building of MI6. Sherlock groaned in dismay, grimacing theatrically. “You might have got away with your absence last year, having been in the middle of a case, but there's no acceptable excuse this time.”

 

“Would my death be a fair enough reason?” Sherlock grumbled.

 

Mycroft's brow pulled up high. “Don't upset Mummy,” he warned him and, without saying goodbye, sauntered out of the flat.

 

“Don't. Ever. Do. This. To me. Again,” John hissed, looking daggers at Sherlock. Breaking free out of the man's hold, he climbed up onto his feet.

 

“What?”

 

“Sod it, Sherlock; don't play dumb. You know very well what I'm talking about!” Still tangled in the web of fairy lights, he focused on freeing himself. “Humiliating me like that! Projecting a sexual aspect on something that had none of that in the first place, and putting me into an utterly awkward situation.”

 

Sherlock lifted a brow. “Awkward? It was fun,” he grinned. “Pushing Mycroft out of his comfort zone is always priceless.”

 

“You are such a sodding dick.” John shot him a glance of disapproval. “Enjoying other people's discomfort... I just can't...”

 

“He’s  not ‘other people’, he’s my brother. Believe me, he would have done the same, had he been in my shoes.”

 

“Jesus, you are one twisted family.” John covered his face with his palm. “Still, if you don't give a fuck about him, then you should about me!”

 

“I do,” Sherlock looked back at him in innocence.

 

“Oh, really, you do?” John asked sarcastically. Finally managing to peel the lights off of himself, he hung a set on the mantle. “My fault that I haven't updated my understanding of the ways of showing one cares since meeting you.”

 

Silence fell over the room. Sitting on the worn carpet, Sherlock didn't move to stand, just stared ahead, deep in thought. John sneaked a few glances at him while arranging the fairy lights on the mantelpiece, but Sherlock didn't move an inch. John wondered what was going on in the genius' mind. Sherlock often withdrew into his mind palace after their arguments, leaving him alone in the heavy silence. John wished he could have peeked into his thoughts at times like that. He wondered if Sherlock was thinking about what he said, whether he was admitting that John was right or denying him. John knew that he had a point in what he said. But he was sure that the term 'care' meant something different to Sherlock than it did to him. He could have done with a thesaurus of Sherlock Holmes if he had wanted to know what the man actually meant.

 

“Sherlock? Hey,” John shook the man's shoulder gently. “Come on, we have things to do.” Sherlock blinked at him. “We need to get the tree. Come on, get yourself together.”

 

“Dull,” came the utterly unenthusiastic answer.

 

“I don't care what you say, you're coming with me. No point arguing. I’ll give you five minutes.” John smiled. A childlike, whining Sherlock Holmes wouldn't spoil his holiday mood.

 

***

 

John—now wearing a Christmas jumper—walked into the room five minutes later, finding Sherlock settled in his chair and fiddling with his violin. “Come on, let's go.”

 

Lowering the instrument, Sherlock looked up. “What. Is. That?” His eyes narrowing in horror, he poked the red jumper with white reindeer and snowflakes pattern with the bow.

 

Glancing at the piece of clothing in question, John stated, slightly offended, “I sodding don't care if you like it or not, I'm wearing this today.”

 

“Oh, no,” Sherlock argued, dropping the bow and bolting out of his chair. “Not around me. It’s utterly hideous. You should return it to the shop and sue them for breach of good taste.”

 

“Is there anything in my wardrobe that you actually like?” John burst out, fed up by Sherlock's constant criticism. “Not everyone can spend a fortune on designer clothes. I fucking don't care what others think because I like my stuff and feel good in them. So whoever has a contradictory opinion can just sod off.”

 

Sherlock blinked at him, stunned by the unexpected comeback. “The black jeans,” he said after a moment of silence. John gave him a look of confusion. “One item I like in your wardrobe, the black jeans,” Sherlock reiterated. “Accentuating your fine arse, it gives you a sexy look.” John blushed. “There are more than that, if you want to know. The black and red checked shirt, your leather jacket, those unbelievably red pants...”

 

“Wait.” John's eyes widened. “How do you know...?” Sherlock averted his gaze, admitting his guilt. “Oh, of course, what a stupid question!” The realization hit him. “I shouldn't be surprised that you’ve snooped around in my stuff..”

 

“I'm...”

 

“No, don't say it, we both know you're not sorry at all,” John noted half-bitterly, not knowing quite whether to be angry or amused.

 

“I had to see them since you kept teasing me with glimpses of them.” John raised a brow, not getting what his boyfriend was aiming at. “Underwear might peek out from under one's trousers when bending or crouching down,” Sherlock explained, seeing the man's clueless look.

 

“You git.” John suppressed a laugh, the truth dawning on him. “I'm insane to put up with you...”

 

“Might be, but you have this irresistible affection toward me...”

 

“Which doesn't mean that I’ll let you control me, Holmes.” The spark of excitement flickered up in Sherlock's blue eyes as always when Captain Watson was present. Noting the change in his look, John played on with more confidence. “The jumper stays, no more debate.” Sherlock gulped, obviously revelling in the arousing effect of the soldier mode. “Now move, Holmes,” John commanded, relishing having a bit of power over the stubborn man, “there's a mission to accomplish.”

 

Inhaling deeply, Sherlock frowned and grabbed his coat.

 

***

 

“Letting yourself be taken along by the holiday mood doesn't hurt, you know,” John encouraged his boyfriend on the way to the market.

 

Sherlock huffed. “Holidays are tedious.”

 

“How can you say that?” John wondered, totally clueless. He didn't understand how some people couldn't share his excitement and enthusiasm about this season. He loved Christmas, the preparation, the whole atmosphere, the secret shopping for gifts, the mystery and unique mood that belonged to this particular holiday. “This is the most exciting time of the year!”

 

Sherlock grimaced. “Even a case that is only a two is more intriguing.”

 

John shook his head helplessly. “What kind of Christmases did you have had as a child?” he wondered sadly.

 

“Dull,” Sherlock replied curtly. “My parents never cared much about the holiday. Mother didn't waste her time taking part in any preparation; she considered her work more important than any festivity. Father never contradicted my mother; he approved of her ways. So tedious. Christmas was nothing special in the Holmes household. December was just like any other month. Christmas Day was the only day out of the ordinary, when gifts were exchanged and the family sat down for the traditional dinner—the most awkward, embarrassing and boring thing, which we still have every year.”

 

“That's...” John couldn’t find the right words to express his dismay. “Terrible. A child never experiencing the wonder of Christmas, all the excitement and happiness... I'm so sorry.”

 

“Don't be. I don't miss it. As a man of science and logic, I can understand my mother. The holidays are wrapped in sentiments that have no use in our work. The Work is my life; everything else is inferior to it.”

 

“You shut so many wonderful things out of your life, thinking like that.” John shook his head sadly.

 

“Anything that's of no use to my job is unimportant, thus just a waste of time.”

 

“We're going to change that. I'll show you how lovely Christmas can be.”

 

Sherlock raised a brow, unimpressed. “I am perfectly fine with how I view this social construct and don't have the urge to change it.”

 

“Do you know what Christmas is about at all?”

 

Sherlock shrugged. “Probably tedious sentiment, as usual. Not important.” He waved his hand.

 

“Shit, Sherlock, how can you say it's not important?!” John's eyes widened in horror. “Love is the most important thing in the world! Neither you nor me would be here without it!”

 

“Don't romanticise it, John. It's just a chemical reaction. Due to the biologically coded instinct to reproduce, humans would procreate even without sentiments. It's basic biology and sociology. It has nothing to do with emotions.”

 

“Jesus,” John ran his hand through his short hair. “I really should have a talk with your parents. How could they have planted so much bitterness and apathy in you? Depriving you of the joys of childhood and creating a grey, lonely world to grow up in?”

 

“I have never felt the urge to participate in the tedious activities of other children,” Sherlock protested. “I would have died of boredom. My mind's speed was incomparable to theirs even back then. My mother did what was the best for me.”

 

“The best?” John blurted out vehemently. “Isolating a little boy from other children of his age group, alienating him, just because he's more intelligent than the others? That's bloody stupid! No wonder other kids started labelling you a freak, making you their target.”

 

“You don't have the slightest idea of what being different because you are smarter than others is like!”

 

They stared at each other in silence for a moment. Locking their eyes, John could see how Sherlock realised how belittling his words might have sounded. Knowing that Sherlock didn't mean to hurt him, John ignored that interpretation.

 

“I might not, but I still can imagine how difficult and lonely your childhood must have been. But that's past, what we have here is present and... if you want, there's a future together. I care about you more than anyone, so... I want you to be happy and enjoy life in its fullness. I want to share the joys of Christmas with you.”

 

Sherlock's lips trembled.

 

“Let's make a deal,” John suggested. “If, at the end of the month, you still find that the whole holiday thing is not your cup of tea, I’ll accept it and won't push you further. But until you know what it's really about, don't refuse it. Consider this as an experiment; you like those, after all.”

 

John could see the gears turning wildly in Sherlock's mind, contemplating the odds of the Christmas case.

 

“Right,” Sherlock snapped back into reality. “I'll take this experiment. But if I don't like the result, don't pester me with it anymore.”

 

John rewarded the decision with a bright smile. “I promise.”

 

Sherlock nodded and took a deep breath of the mid-December air, bracing himself for the inevitable.

 

“First of all, you must change your attitude toward the holiday, give it a purpose,” John started. “While it was just another day when you were a child, now you should consider it as the celebration of love. Let it be about the people you care about.”

 

“You.”

 

“Yes, me, but there are others too,” John raised a brow suggestively. It still surprised him how oblivious Sherlock was to the people who liked him despite his flaws and unbearable manners.

 

“Mrs. Hudson,” Sherlock suggested.

 

“And Molly and Greg.”

 

“Who?” Sherlock gave him a perplexed look.

 

“Lestrade, you moron!” John laughed.

 

“Ah.”

 

“I'd say Mycroft too, but I know you'd protest against that.”

 

Sherlock huffed. John suppressed a smile, knowing that deep in his heart, Sherlock did care for his sibling, even though he kept it hidden.

 

“People give presents to their loved ones at Christmas to show they care. You give and get, that's part of the excitement.”

 

“Excitement?” Sherlock laughed bitterly. “We always got such dull things for Christmas. Nothing a child with our intellect would be happy for. Socks, scarves, gloves, sometimes books, which we hardly opened because we had no interest in the topic. The...” His voice faltered for a moment, pain flashing through the silver eyes. John could perceive that there was something that Sherlock kept back. “There was a time when I actually liked the present that I got, it was a book about endangered animals when I was eight. I'm sure that was a mistake though. So the only excitement about gifts was which of us got the uglier garment or more boring book.”

 

“I really don't understand your family. A child should experience the magic of the holiday, sitting under the Christmas tree with bright, sparkling eyes, rosy cheeks and thumping heart, wondering what is hiding in the nicely wrapped boxes. I'm sorry that you have never had the chance to feel that.”

 

Sherlock gave him an amused smile.

 

“What?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“Sherlock!”

 

“You know that the way you're talking about this whole extravaganza is quite poetic?” Sherlock grinned. “Your skills have improved a lot since those emails.”

 

Of course, John knew what he referred to. Sherlock had read his emails to his girlfriends and even dared to voice his opinion about his wording to a client, humiliating him once again. The bastard.

 

“You cock...” John grunted half-heartedly, his cheeks flushed. He smacked Sherlock playfully on the arm.

 

“It was a compliment, I thought you would be delighted about it,” Sherlock blinked innocently, raising a brow.

 

“Oh, yes,” John laughed, once again amused at how Sherlock could twist his words in his favour. It was both infuriating and funny, but in the end, John couldn't be angry at his partner any longer.

 

Walking side-by-side in silence for a moment, John got back to their earlier conversation.

 

“I still can't believe that you have never had a real Christmas as a child. That's so sad.”

 

“It doesn't matter anymore,” Sherlock said quietly. “I haven’t bothered with Christmas ever since I left the family house.”

 

John's eyes widened in horror. “You mean.. You haven’t celebrated Christmas in the past, what, twenty years??”

 

“Twenty-two precisely. Except for last year, when we were already living together and you did all the decorating and organized the little gathering.”

 

John blinked incredulously. He just couldn't believe his ears. If what Sherlock said was true, he was the loneliest and saddest human being in the whole world.

 

“I'm definitely the best thing that could have happen to you,” he blurted eventually.

 

“You are. But not for endeavouring to evoke my appreciation for a holiday with a fat, white-bearded man and an evergreen plant, heavily adorned with every sparkling object found in the whole household.”

 

Grimacing, John shook his head. “You're stubborn, but I won't say hopeless. I'm not giving up on showing you how beautiful this time of the year can be.”

 

Sherlock pouted. “I tried.”

 

John laughed. “I can't let you go on missing the magic of Christmas.” He took Sherlock's hand. “You deserve to know what it's like.”

 

“I appreciate your intention, but... There's really no way for me to pass on this, is there?” Sherlock asked hopefully, though he knew there was no way that he could get out of this trap.

 

“No,” John grinned.

 

With a sigh, Sherlock visibly braced himself for the inevitable. “Right, let's do it then. The Christmas experiment is a go.”

 

“Great,” John beamed. “First we get the tree and put it up. Afterwards we'll deal with the gifts.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-one - Angel of My Life



The night, I saw your face.
Was the night, I began to live
My heart, Were full of doubt.
And now, I'm strong enough
To keep, with living my life.
With you, I feel so alive.
You changed, My life in one night

 

~ Crimson Signs - Angel of My Life




Entering the market, John took a look around the huge stacks of trees.

 

“What size are we looking for?” Sherlock's hawk eyes scanned the supply.

 

“Let's have one near ceiling height.”

 

Sherlock mentally calculated the exact measurement. Eliminating the ones not fitting the option, he strolled further into the forest of trees, before stopping in front of a certain one.

 

“What do you think?”

 

“Perfect.” John smiled contentedly, glancing up and down the chosen tree. It had the right height and width, was nicely trimmed and emitted a heavenly scent.

 

Once they paid and the tree was all tied up, Sherlock eyed the green giant suspiciously.

 

“Any idea how to get it home?”

 

“I doubt that it'd fit in a cab, so my guess is on foot. You hold one end, I’ll take the other.”

 

“Very precise, Doctor Watson,” Sherlock noted mockingly.

 

“You have a better idea, Mr. Holmes?”

 

“Okay,” Sherlock sighed in surrender. “At least Baker Street is not that far.”

 

“Which end do you want?” John asked, glancing at the plant's bottom and top back and forth.

 

“This is getting ridiculous,” Sherlock grumbled. “You take the bottom since this whole thing was your idea.”

 

“Okay,” John leaned down and gathered up the trunk, while his flatmate hoisted up the slender top. “You got it?”

 

“It prickles,” Sherlock complained, fishing his gloves out of his Belstaff's pocket before grabbing up his end to begin the trek home.

 

“Don't be such a whiny git. Just hold it tight; we'll be home soon.”

 

“Easier said than done. You keep breaking the sync with your small strides.”

 

“Not everyone can have such impossibly long legs,” John sneered. “If you think I can't keep up with you, let's change places—I lead, you follow.”

 

“No way, I'll not bear the frustration of slow speed because you set the pace. Also we would look even more ridiculous than we already do.”

 

“Quit whining and keep walking.”

 

“I'm telling you, I won't do this again next year.”

 

“Sherlock..” John started losing patience. “Shut up.”

 

The hardest part followed once they got to Baker Street. With Sherlock at the lead, he was the one to open the front door. Fumbling with the key, he loosened his hold on the tree, which resulted in the weight heavily falling onto John, making him almost losing balance. The bigger challenge was still coming. The large tree and the narrow hallway were just not compatible, so it took some twisting and turning, along with cursing and grumbling, before they managed to carry their new flatmate up the stairs.

 

“Sherlock! Would you please lift it a bit more? My mouth is full of needles.”

 

“I'm trying! Can't help that Victorian architecture hadn't taken into calculation that, one day, some crazy men would decide to drag up an oversized fir tree to the first floor!”

 

“We're getting a smaller one next year,” John swore, spitting the needles.

 

“It wasn't me who wanted this enormous one in the first place,” Sherlock noted defensively, pondering how to manage to get the tree into the flat.

 

“Thank you for blaming me for trying to make up for your missed Christmases.”

 

“Just to remind you, I didn't ask for that,” Sherlock pushed the door open. “Place it down and move over to the other side.”

 

“I think I won't have to bother about shaving in the upcoming days, the sap did the trick.” John rubbed his chin, once they’d settled the tree onto the floor.

 

“Good thing I like my doctors clean shaven then,” Sherlock retorted with a  grin.

 

“Have you told that to our new flatmate here too?” John eyed his friend suspiciously.

 

“Seriously, John, plants can't hear or think. Oh, wait, was that meant to be a joke?”

 

John sighed and walked into the bathroom to get rid of the sap on his hands. When he returned, he found Sherlock sitting at the desk in front of his laptop, the abandoned tree lying in the middle if the room. “The tree won't put itself up, you know,” he noted sarcastically.

 

“Of course not,” came the short reply from the desk, but Sherlock didn't make a move that indicated that he was going to do something about it.

 

“So then?”

 

“What?”

 

“I need a little help here, hello?”

 

“You did it on your own last year, can’t you do the same now?” Sherlock didn't even look up from the laptop.

 

“First, I didn't do it on my own, Mrs. Hudson helped as you were busy with Miss Adler.” Jealousy tinted John's voice. ”Second, we've agreed to do this together.”

 

Sherlock finally looked at him with a sigh of surrender, a tiny smile playing at the corner of his mouth. “I was right.”

 

“Yeah, we know you’re almost always right, but what are you referring to now?”

 

“You were jealous.”

 

“Of course, I was! She’s your perfect match.”

 

Sherlock stood and walked up to John. “No,” he said simply, looking deep into inky blue eyes.

 

“No? But she’s exceptionally smart and cunning, beautiful, sexy—your female counterpart. Don't tell me that you weren't mesmerized and drawn to her. I saw you grieving her.”

 

“She's the only woman I have ever felt attraction toward, but it wasn't sexual. I was affected by her clever mind and the way she played games with people. She was an intriguing challenge, a mystery to explore. You are,” Sherlock gazed at him, his baritone dropping an octave.

 

“I’m what?” John wondered aloud.

 

“My perfect match.” The velvet voice, rumbling deep in the fine chest, caressed John's ears, turning his legs to jelly. “Apparently, according to researchers, opposites attract. We just click. Your ordinariness and my brilliance.”

 

John couldn't help but let out an amused laugh at Sherlock's unabashed confidence. “So basically, the idiot and the genius make a scientifically valid pair.” Sherlock knit his brows together at the phrasing. He was about to make a remark, but John stopped him. “No, it's okay. That's true, I'm an idiot compared to you. Just an average bloke with an average brain. But that's fine. Imagine, if we both were geniuses. That'd be hell,” he laughed at the idea, “we’d have killed each other in a day!”

 

The prospect was too intriguing to dismiss it entirely, and Sherlock couldn't help but withdraw into his mind palace to play out the scene. After a few moments, he pulled back, shivering at the visual.

 

“Sherlock? Are you with me?”

 

John's voice shook him back into reality. He sighed in relief. “No. That wouldn't be a compatible scenario. That wouldn't be the John I met and forged an unbreakable bond with. No, you—the doctor with an ordinary mind and ugly jumpers—are my true match. As a matter of fact, you're pretty smart in your own way. You're a surgeon, after all; knowing the name of each and every bone, muscle and organ in the human body, both in English and Latin, and having the knowledge and skills to fix our faulty transports. You might be an idiot compared to me, but you're my clever idiot.”

 

The compliment, coming from the man who never uttered any word of appreciation to anyone made a tiny blush colour his cheeks.

 

“So do I meet to your standards?”

 

“That was what I've just said; keep up, John!”

 

The doctor smiled. “Alright, my genius. We have things to do, so lift that curvy bum of yours off that chair and help me put up the tree! And before you start protesting again, you've agreed to the Christmas experiment, remember?”

 

Sherlock groaned. “Do you have to remind me of one weak moment in my life all the time?”

 

“Yes,” John grinned broadly. “As many times as you keep forgetting your promise. You know, if you actually gave yourself a chance to enjoy this, it would be much easier.”

 

Jumping to his feet, the tail of his silky gown whirling in the motion, Sherlock pulled a wide grin, faking the best 'I'm so excited' look he could.

 

John laughed. “This would be your enthusiastic face? It's rather creepy.”

 

“Nothing pleases you!” Sherlock huffed half-heartedly. “What do you expect of me?”

 

John shrugged. “Some genuine joy and interest, you really wanting to give this thing a try. For me.”

 

Sherlock contemplated the words for a moment and nodded. “For you.” He rather stated then asked.

 

“For me and for yourself. For us. I would like our first Christmas as a couple be a special one, something to remember. And as I've told you before, I would like you to experience how wonderful this holiday could be, to be part of the magic you’ve missed so far.”

 

Sherlock's gaze fixed on John, his mind processing every single word and the sentiment behind them. Realising how much it meant to John, he resolved to do his best to grant his wish.

 

“That's what boyfriends do,” he concluded aloud in a serious tone. “Make their partner happy, even if it involves doing mundane things.”

 

John smiled warmly. “Yes, actually, that's what they do.” Stepping closer, he circled his arms around the thin waist. “And you know what? If you succeed at the Christmas experiment, you get something in appreciation for your efforts,” he encouraged with a wink, licking his lips promisingly.

 

Sherlock wrapped his arms around John's shoulders, pulling him close, relishing the touch of their bodies, their warmth comforting one another. An embrace, this was the most he could get for a while, until proving to be worthy of more.

 

“What do you have in mind?” He raised a brow.

 

“Something you will like,” John teased, his eyes twinkling.

 

“A gruesome murder case?”

 

“Better.”

 

“What could be better than a clever murder to solve?”

 

“Well, I can think of a couple of things... “

 

“We both know that we don't have the same concept of 'things we like'.”

 

“Seriously, do you have to over-analyse everything?” John laughed. “Actually, I do know that you'll like this one.”

 

“So confident of yourself.”

 

John smirked mischievously. “I am.”

 

“Right, so if it's not a murder case, care to enlighten me of this spectacular reward that should motivate me?”

 

John winked at him wickedly and standing on tiptoes, whispered into Sherlock’s ear.

 

“Are you serious?” Sherlock searched the sparkling, dark blue orbs for confirmation, once John pulled back.

 

“I am.” John grinned.

 

***



“But what about your resolution? You keep saying you need time, how can you be sure that you'll be ready to...?” The prospect of finally having sex with John was tantalising, but Sherlock didn't want to get his hopes up and end up all disappointed eventually.

 

“It's been a long while since we started dating. I keep visiting Ella; I think we’re getting somewhere.” After a beat, John added with a tiny smile, “I’m finally able to kiss you without remorse, if that’s any indication.”

 

That was true. John had had a long bumpy journey behind him starting with that night they had fooled around completely drunk, gone through hell, but fought like a soldier and achieved victory so far. But the last battle was still waiting ahead. Could John defeat the last line of his enemies too?

 

Sherlock was both hopeful and scared. What if John failed that final fight? Sexual intercourse was different from a simple kiss. What if the subconsciously coded homophobia won over him? No, he shouldn’t think of that. He has to trust John; he does. John was relentless.

 

Licking his lip, John looked away and, as if he was aware of Sherlock’s internal monologue, said quietly, “I refuse to be the broken man with ridiculous mental issues. I want to be able to touch you without cringing. I want to love you !”

 

God, how much Sherlock wanted that! With his second control HIV test having proved to be negative too, there was no more obstacle between them except for John’s issues.

 

Sherlock gulped hard. What he had just been promised was worth more than anything else in the world. A piece of paradise, a taste of bliss, a promise of what followed. If he had lost hope of taking things to the next level between the two of them, now he was reminded that the future was still bright and held plans for the item they slowly but surely were forging together.

 

John ran his hand through his hair. “I want this first Christmas we spend together as a couple to be something to remember. Let's forget the past, and let me show you how wonderful this season can be.”

 

The cavalcade of emotions—gratitude, love, happiness—suddenly filling Sherlock's heart was more overwhelming that he could handle. Feelings betraying his body once again, his eyes welled up.

 

“I...” He opened his mouth, but no words come out. He wanted to express everything that was happening inside him, but his tongue and vocal chords wouldn’t cooperate, leaving him gaping like a fish.

 

Sensing his internal battle, John gave him a soft smile, squeezing the sinewy back reassuringly. “It's okay,” he said gently.

 

Sherlock leaned into the embrace, feeling like he had finally found his place in the world. Safe and loved. He never wanted this moment to end. The weight of John's head pressing against his shoulder, the man's warm breath tickling his neck, Sherlock smiled.

 

“It will be fun, you'll see,” John murmured. “Just give it a chance. Please, do it for me.”

 

Anything for you , Sherlock thought as he slid his arms around John's waist. Anything. Even indulging in this tedious holiday.

 

***

 

“Back to the experiment,” John said to lighten the mood. “Let's decorate the tree.” Sauntering to the abandoned green plant in the middle of the room, John looked around contemplatively. “So where should we put it?” He could see the gears turning in that scientific mind, ready to calculate the width and height and other factors. “No, save the mathematical accuracy, just take it easy and point at the spot you would like it the most.”

 

Sherlock exhaled loudly and closed his eyes for a moment as if reconfiguring his perception software. “At the end of the sofa, in front of the window?” He suggested quietly.

 

“Good thinking. That was what I was going to suggest too. I’ll get the tree stand, and we can set it up. Till then, could you find some Christmas music?”

 

Sherlock sat in front of the laptop and after a few clicks, some classical piece played, slow, solemn violin and piano melody filling the room. Hearing the first notes, John raised a brow.

 

“No. That's too serious. We need something more cheerful.” Joining Sherlock, he pressed the mouse button a few times, till he found the right playlist on Youtube. The first seconds of “Jingle Bells” echoing around the room, a pleased smile curled up at the corners of his lips. “Like this.”

 

Sherlock gave him a 'seriously?' look, seemingly unimpressed by the choice.

 

“You'll see, this fits better. Now, come and help me.”

 

With an audible groan, the detective stood and moved to John's side. The two carefully pulled the large fir vertical, Sherlock grimacing and grunting all along, the needles prickling his skin.

 

“Hold it for a moment.” John moved to retrieve the stand, and the plant's full weight came down on the detective.

 

“John!” Sherlock protested with wide eyes as their newest flatmate decided to bestow upon him a bear-hug, leaning onto him with full force.

 

John whirled around at the cry for help, finding a tree-covered Sherlock lying on the floor. The sight was so absurd and hilarious that he couldn't help but bursting out in laughter.

 

Sherlock looked daggers at him, endeavouring to escape from under the spiky enemy. “This is not funny,” he grumbled.

 

“I'm sorry,” John kept chuckling, pulling the grumpy man out of the hold of his evergreen attacker. “I told you to hold it, I thought you had it,” he explained in defence.

 

Sherlock flashed a sarcastic 'thank you very much' look at him, before beginning to shake the needles off of himself. “Silly thing, bringing a tree into the flat,” he huffed, taking a few steps away from the fir once he got rid of the needles. “Trees belong outside, not in a first floor flat on Baker Street.”

 

“It's tradition. A symbol of the holiday.”

 

“A dying tree? Because you are certainly aware that it's almost dead? From the moment it's cut off, there's no more nutrition flowing through the vessels from the root to the trunk, and with the lack of hydration, it dies slowly.”

 

John realised that he had undertaken something nearly impossible when resolving to introduce Sherlock to the wonders of Christmas. The detective's adamant resistance was enormous and instinctive. But John Watson wasn't the type to surrender. Sherlock once told him that he was his conductor of light, and now John intended to be true to that role and bring a warm glow into the man's colourless life.

 

“Sherlock?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Just shut up.” John grinned and tossed a bundle of fairy lights at Sherlock's chest. Plugging them into the extension cord connected to the nearest outlet, the little bulbs lit up in Sherlock's hands, bathing him in golden light.

 

Gorgeous . John drank in the sight. Sherlock looked like an angel fallen from heaven. The sharp cheekbones stood out more prominently, his eyes sparkled like diamonds and the dark curls shone ever so graciously bathing in the golden light. John needed all his willpower to resist throwing himself at Sherlock and devouring him right there on the carpet in the middle of the sitting room.

 

“John?” Sherlock called impatiently, the petulant voice shaking him out of his reverie.

 

“Sorry, zoned out.”

 

“I asked, how do you want these?” Sherlock glanced at the lights nestled in his hands. “Is there a pattern you expect me to follow or may I put them on as I like.”

 

“Erm, I usually... no, do it as you want. This is your Christmas now.”

 

Nodding, Sherlock turned back to the tree, apparently making some mental calculations.

 

“There's a ladder for the upper part,” John cocked his head at the door, where a medium ladder was leaned against the wall. “But I guess, it's better if I deal with the upper half–”

 

“What an incapable idiot do you take me for?” Sherlock frowned. “I am a grown man. I can certainly manage the task. Climbing a ladder is not rocket science.”

 

“As you wish. But don't blame me if you fall.”

 

“I truly appreciate your faith in me,” Sherlock noted mockingly, retrieving the ladder and setting it up next to the tree.

 

Humming the melody of “White Christmas,” John started dressing the lower part of the tree in golden fairy lights, occasionally taking a glimpse at his stubborn boyfriend. His mouth curled into an affectionate smile, seeing Sherlock's concentration on placing the lights onto the upper branches, biting his cupid bow in the process.

 

“It prickles a lot,” Sherlock whined, giving a look of contempt to the fir and endeavouring to keep his distance from the needles. “How is that it doesn't hurt you?”

 

“Years of practice,” John's muffled voice came from under. “One learns where to touch and hold it to minimise damage.” He was ready to fetch their first aid kit any moment, prepared that Sherlock would acquire some wounds in action. Sherlock in a foreign situation held dangers, so it was better to be on alert.

 

“Fuck,” a grunt came from the top, making John jerk his head.

 

“You're okay?”

 

“Do you think I'd curse if I were?”

 

“Come down, it's easier here,” John suggested softly.

 

“No, I can do it,” Sherlock steeled himself stubbornly.

 

“Put these on, before your skin gets all scared,” John teased, handing him the leather gloves, which he took from the detective's coat. Sherlock eyed the accessory for a moment, then, taking them, slipped into the protective layer.

 

They worked without a word, the only sound in the room was the Christmas compilation playing on John's laptop. John kept glancing at Sherlock from time to time to see how he was doing. To his surprise, the detective stopped complaining and was entirely focused on the job at hand. He was like a big child discovering things that he had never been allowed to try before.

 

“Yo-hoo,” Mrs Hudson's unmistakable cooing voice broke the comfortable silence.

 

“Mrs Hudson!” John jerked his head toward her, smiling warmly.

 

“Oh, what a beautiful tree,” she stared at the fir in awe. “I remember, my husband bought one like this in the first year of our marriage. Haven’t had one this big since then.” She placed a tray onto the desk. “I brought you some freshly made gingerbread cookies.”

 

“Ta, Mrs Hudson, that's really kind of you.”

 

“How did you manage to bribe him to help you?” the landlady whispered to John, seemingly surprised at Sherlock's participation in tree-decorating.

 

“Just used my irresistible doctor charm,” John laughed.

 

“You truly are the one for him. He would have never let anyone talk him into things like this. You should consider yourself special.”

 

“I do.”

 

“I saw him when he was on his own; it was not a pleasant time. I genuinely feared for him. Then you came, bringing light into his life and saving him from himself. And you’ve continued ever since then. Thank you.”

 

“My pleasure. I believe we crossed paths because we both needed someone to save us. I needed him just as much he needed me. And I'm telling you, I don't intend to leave him on his own anytime.”

 

Mrs Hudson's eyes were bright with happiness. She couldn't help but kiss John on the cheek, before leaving the room.

 

“What was that?” Sherlock's sharp voice called from close.

 

John turned with a grin, finding the detective standing right behind him. “Are you jealous?”

 

“Of Mrs Hudson? Don't be ridiculous. Should I be?” His eyes narrowed.

 

“Of course not, you berk,” John giggled. “She was just happy to see you taking it easy.” Grabbing a cookie, he offered it to Sherlock, who captured the piece with his mouth.

 

John watched him in amusement, taking in every nuance of Sherlock's face. He loved these rare occasions, when Sherlock let himself loosen up, cherishing the moment. The pure, childlike innocence and genuine pleasure on the remarkable face were the most heartwarming things John had ever seen. Making Sherlock's beautiful, perfect lips curve into that earnest, radiant smile was a goal John had set for himself day after day. He longed to see Sherlock happy, making those gorgeous, colour-changing eyes light up in delight and hearing the laughter rumbling in that pale chest. Day after day, he was more and more convinced that he was head over heels in love with Sherlock Holmes, and anyone judging him for that could fuck off.

 

“Have one, it's luscious,” Sherlock murmured, his mouth full of the third cookie.

 

Sherlock Holmes and his sweet tooth , John mused lovingly. The genius nibbling on another piece of the gingerbread treat, John stood on tiptoes and bit off half of the cookie held between those sensuous lips. Sherlock stared at John with wide eyes. John swallowed the piece quickly, and burst out laughing at the shocked expression. “You wanted me to try it.”

 

“You little thief,” Sherlock growled playfully, chewing on the remains of the spicy cookie and grabbing John by the arm to pull him close. His shimmering eyes stared into John’s, and before John knew it, Sherlock’s mouth plastered against his in a fierce kiss.

 

“I know what...you’re doing…” John hummed into the kiss as Sherlock sucked on his bottom lip.

 

“Obviously…” Sherlock breathed against John’s mouth. “Kissing you...even you...can see that…”

 

“You prick!” John playfully smacked Sherlock on the chest and forcefully pushed the man away.

 

Sherlock blinked and pouted, reaching for John once again, but John shook his hand off with a mocking glare.

 

“Jooohn,” Sherlock drawled, fluttering his eyelashes and flashing John a sweet smile.

 

“Don’t!” John braced himself not to waver, trying to keep the strict expression on even if that was the hardest thing with the charming look on Sherlock’s face.

 

“I didn’t mean it like that…You know I’m impressed by your intelligence…” Sherlock raised a brow suggestively. “My conductor of light,” he whispered huskily as his fingers tenderly encircled John’s wrist.

 

John huffed and laughed. Though Sherlock wasn’t an expert on relationships and romance, he definitely knew how to manipulate his partner to seek forgiveness.

 

“I hate you,” John grumbled, giving Sherlock a sideway glance.

 

“No, you don’t,” Sherlock smirked, the smug confidence on his face irritating John.

 

“And why are you so certain of that?”

 

“I can feel your pulse,” Sherlock murmured with a glint in his eyes and a triumphant smile at the corner of his mouth.

 

“Ah, you...you insufferable git!” John laughed, unable to keep the straight face and pretend to be annoyed with his boyfriend.

 

Sherlock’s eyes lit up, and he leaned in to steal another kiss, but John pulled away.

 

“We have a tree to decorate,” he looked into the disappointed eyes pointedly. “Stop being a distraction and sabotaging the work!”

 

“It’s not me,” Sherlock muttered petulantly under his nose.

 

“You say something?” John started decorating the tree with a roll of red pearl-chain garland, walking around the tree and gently laying and hanging the chain on the branches.

 

“Not me,” Sherlock scoffed, his look following John.

 

“Fine,” John shrugged, acknowledging that he wouldn’t get any answer. “You don’t have to reply.”

 

Sherlock growled. “The distraction. It’s not me. It’s you.”

 

John stopped and eyed Sherlock thoughtfully before he eventually winked and cracked a little teasing smile. “Focus, Holmes, focus.”

 

Sherlock snorted and slouched down in John’s chair, eyeing their prickly, green flatmate.

 

A minute later, John stopped in front of the halfway decorated tree, smiling proudly. “I think we're getting there.” The lights and garland up, all they needed to put on were the tinsels, baubles and smaller ornaments. Sneaking a glance at Sherlock, he could see the man still eyeing the fir with a critical gaze. Probably listing the asymmetrical parts and calculating how to correct the mistakes. “But it's time for a break.” He smiled and strode into the kitchen.

 

***

 

Oblivious to John’s words, Sherlock pulled over the closest box of Christmas decoration and, popping off the cover, gauged the arsenal. Fumbling among the delicate ornaments, he froze when he found a tiny, brown, clay puppy hanging from a hook.

 

Sherlock stared at the bundle of red-brown fur nestling in a gift box under the Christmas tree. His eyes welled up, panic and utter terror running through him . Mycroft's warm gaze on him just made everything worse, and Sherlock would have liked to scream as loud as he could to shatter the nightmare. But it wasn't a dream: Mycroft was still standing at the tree, the shiny box with the little dark-haired creature at his feet.

 

Don't be scared, Sherlock, he won't hurt you,” the elder Holmes brother smiled reassuringly. “Come on, hold him.” He pulled the box closer to the seven year-old boy. The reddish bundle moved and a pair of sleepy, brown eyes peeked at them.

 

Sherlock bit his lip and, his tears spilling, he bolted and ran out. Once in his room, he threw himself onto the bed and sobbed heavily into his pillow. Minutes later, the door creaked and, from the noise of light footsteps, Sherlock knew that Mycroft had entered the room and sat on his bed.

 

Lockie,” the tender voice called, before a hand touched his back cautiously. “I'm sorry. I know this is difficult for you, I know what you feel, but–”

 

No, you don't know anything!” Sherlock faced his brother, his face red and eyes puffy from crying. “It's not you who’s being left behind!”

 

Mycroft sighed, his expression mirroring guilt and helplessness. “I have to do this, there's no other option.”

 

There is! Stay! There are schools here too!” Sherlock grabbed his brother's hand, holding it for dear life. His eyes, still wide in panic, pleaded with Mycroft. “Please!”

 

I can't. But I will still come home for the holidays and summer, remember that! I brought you that little puppy to keep you company while I'm away. You two will be good friends.”

 

I don't want it, I want you!” Another desperate tear appeared in the corner of his eyes.

 

I'm sorry, Lockie,” Mycroft bowed his head sadly. “I'm leaving, even if you don't like it. It's up to you how hard you make it for yourself.”

 

I hate you!” Sherlock shouted. “Go and never come back! I don't need anyone!”

 

Lockie...”

 

Don't you ever call me Lockie again!” He pulled the pillow over his head, sobbing loudly.

 

The door opened again, and Sherlock heard his mother's faint voice speaking to Mycroft through the pillow. Mycroft must have agreed to whatever she had suggested, because the talking faded and silence fell over the room.

 

“I don't need anyone ever,” Sherlock mumbled through the hot tears, his heart breaking in his little chest.

 

Sherlock's eyes watered at the memory, staring at the little clay puppy in his trembling hand. As an adult, he understood that Mycroft had had to leave for that boarding school; but back then, only seven years old, he had felt betrayed by the person that was his whole world. Until that Christmas, he and Mycroft had been best friends. Mycroft read to him, taught him things, helped him with homework; they spent lots of time together, rode their bikes, explored the neighbourhood. Mycroft was the only one Sherlock trusted and had a strong bond with, so his leaving felt as though the world had ended.

 

The sobs ceased after a while, and Sherlock lay numb and silent on the bed, the ache still raw in his young heart. Something like a whimper caught his attention. Cracking his wet eyes open, he saw the little puppy a metre away on the bed, the sad noises coming from the little pink mouth. For a moment, Sherlock braced himself to ignore the tiny creature, remembering that he hadn't wanted any substitute for Mycroft, but the puppy let out another heartfelt wail. Sherlock rolled onto his side and reached a hand out toward the reddish-brown bundle of fur.

 

You are like me. Lost and alone.” The puppy crawled closer and licked Sherlock's hand. “I'm sorry for making you feel unwanted. But from now on, you're not alone,” he caressed the little head before gathering the puppy into his hands. “We’re here for each other. And I will never let you down. Not like humans do each other. I promise.”

 

That was where Sherlock's strained relationship with Mycroft and inseparable friendship with Redbeard, the Irish Setter, had begun. Sherlock blinked the incipient tears away, tightening his hold around the little ornament.

 

“Let's have some tea,” John's voice broke his reminiscing. Sherlock flinched like a thief caught red handed. Seeing the strained look in the detective's eyes, John asked quietly. “Are you okay?”

 

“Sure,” Sherlock managed a faint smile and took the cup from John. Taking a sip, his brows pulled up high at the unexpected taste. “Is it rum?”

 

John smiled. “Yes. Thought to create a festive taste. Do you like it?”

 

Sherlock took another gulp, focusing on to distinct the flavour. “Hmm, not too bad. Do you want me getting inebriated?”

 

“Well, if you end up tipsy after such an insignificant amount of spirit, you have the lowest tolerance to alcohol in the whole world,” John laughed. “Which we both know isn’t true,” he referred to their drunken night with a little wink. “What did you find there?” He cocked his head at Sherlock's closed palm, taking another sip of his tea.

 

“Nothing special,” Sherlock shrugged and moved to sneak the ornament back into the box, but John grabbed his wrist.

 

“Let me see.” Prying the long fingers off the little thing, John's mouth curled into a small smile. “Oh, so cute. Hang it on!”

 

Squirming, Sherlock put his mug down and dropped the clay figure back into the decoration box. He didn't want to be reminded of that certain Christmas. John wanted him to be cheerful and enthusiastic about the holiday; he definitely didn't need a reminder of the day when Mycroft broke their strong bond, a memory of why he hadn't celebrated Christmas once grown up.

 

“If you excuse me, I must use the bathroom,” he said evenly and walked out of the room briskly, before John could ask anything.

 

Once in the reassuring shelter of the bathroom, he leaned back against the door, shutting his eyes. He knew that John didn't understand the reason for his sudden change in behaviour, but Sherlock just couldn't bring himself to tell him the reason right now and ruin the lovely day. The fact that—though Redbeard had became a friend for life—the holiday represented Mycroft's betrayal and the beginning of solitude from that Christmas on. Nothing to celebrate.

 

He flushed the toilet and opened the tap to keep up the appearance that he indeed was using the bathroom, and, taking a deep breath, braced himself to face John again.

 

Entering the room with a plastered smile on his face, he grabbed John's parka from the rack.

 

“Let's have some fresh air.” He slipped the puffy coat on the doctor, before reaching for his Belstaff. “I feel like getting some mulled wine.” With John gaping at him in wonder, Sherlock added. “You wanted me to indulge in this holiday. Let's do that. According to the web, the Christmas Fair in Hyde Park is something not to miss.” He tied his scarf. “I will even pay for you to take a ride on the carousel.”

 

John laughed. “Don't you dare. I'm not making a bloody fool of myself.”

 

“Now who's sabotaging the holiday fun?” Sherlock grinned mockingly.

 

“You prick,” John grumbled half-heartedly.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-two - The Heat Is On



Give me the price to pay
To stay in this game you play
Although your game is strong
Move on, the heat is on

~ The Isley Brothers - The Heat Is On



John came home after his morning shift on Christmas Eve, happily whistling a festive tune . Having the next few days off—the clinic honoured his hard work that year, not even putting him on emergency shift for Christmas—he was looking forward to spending the holidays alone with Sherlock. Celebrating their first Christmas as a couple made him utterly giddy. Engulfed in holiday spirit, he kept humming “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas” while jogging up the seventeen stairs briskly.

 

“Sherlock?” He shrugged off his puffy coat and hung it beside Sherlock's Belstaff. The cold having penetrated to his bones, the warmth of the flat had never felt more comforting. The only thing that would have made it more perfect was a cup of tea and Sherlock's embrace—but the impossible genius was nowhere in the room. “Hey, Sherlock, I'm home.” Rubbing his hands to warm up, he walked into the kitchen to turn the kettle on, but the sight that greeted him stopped him in his tracks.

 

Wearing an apron and plastic safety goggles, holding a pipette, Sherlock was bending over some bowls, beakers, cylinders, tubes and plates scattered on the table, which was filled with baking ingredients instead of the usual army of chemicals.

 

“What are you doing?” John gaped at him, his lips curling into an incredulous smile.

 

“Hello, John.” Sherlock didn't break his concentration on the task at hand. Watching the notches of the measuring cylinder like a hawk, he poured something that looked like sunflower oil into the glass, biting his bottom lip in intent focus on the process. Determining the proper amount of the yellow liquid, he straightened himself with a satisfied smirk.

 

“What's got into you?” John laughed, amusement dancing in his blue eyes. “The only thing you have ever made was tea and toast—and often failed at those simple tasks, too. And now you're baking?”

 

“I was bored,” Sherlock shrugged. “You have been nagging me about the holidays, so I did some research and realised that cooking could be something along the lines of experiments, so I decided to give it a try.”

 

“What's it going to be?”

 

Sherlock glanced at the recipe in the cookbook on the counter for help. “Christmas cake.”

 

“Hmmm, sounds nice,” John licked his lips and scooped up a bit of dough. “It's quite good,” his eyes widened in surprise, tasting the sweet stuff. “Maybe it needs a bit more sugar and cinnamon.”

 

“It has the exact amount of the required ingredients.”

 

“That doesn't mean that one couldn't improve it according their own taste.”

 

“You mean yours.” Sherlock raised a brow.

 

“You like it like this?”

 

“I can't say.”

 

“You're saying that you haven't tried it yet?”

 

“With the proper amount of ingredients and methods of preparing, it should be fine, so there's no need for empirical examinations.”

 

“The point of making dishes—besides nutrition—is pleasing your taste buds and enjoying the meal. The preferences of the people writing the recipes are just that—their preferences. We are all different—some like it hot, some hate spices. Food should match our taste, so making little changes to the original recipe doesn't hurt.”

 

Scooping another bit of the dough, John offered his messy index finger to his partner. “Your turn.”

 

Searching John's eyes, Sherlock leaned closer and took the slender finger into his mouth carefully.

 

John watched mesmerized as his finger disappeared through the perfect cupid bow. That evening at Angelo's some weeks ago came back to him, recalling the sensation of his mouth wrapped around Sherlock's chocolate-covered finger. The feeling of the warm tongue on his skin sent a pleasant shiver down on his spine. His breathing speeding up, he gulped, never taking his look off of the captivating lips.

 

Humming loudly, Sherlock sucked off the sweet, spicy mass, taking his time, relishing the intimate contact, eliciting a groan from John.

 

“So... what do you think?” John gasped distractedly.

 

“You really want to know?” Sherlock whispered hoarsely and leaned closer, his hot breath lingering on the shorter man's face.

 

John had the feeling that their conversation wasn't about the cake anymore.

 

The genius' heavy-lidded, darkened eyes fixed on his lips, and John couldn’t dismiss the desire to claim those luscious pink lips in a deep kiss.

 

“So, what do you think?” he murmured when he pulled back.

 

“I love kissing you,” Sherlock breathed hoarsely with half-lidded eyes.

 

“Good,” John grinned, running a finger along his boyfriend’s perfect cheekbone. “But I meant the dough.”

 

Sherlock pouted before admitting in a bare mutter, “It's quite delicious.”

 

“Let's put it into the oven then, shall we?” John suggested with a happy smile, pulling back. Once the cake was buried in the heat of the oven, he took his look around the mess in the kitchen. “I'm having a shower,” John announced. “You deal with the clean up.”

 

Sherlock scrunched his nose and dropped down onto a chair. “That's no fun,” he muttered under his breath.

 

“Did you say something?” John's eyes sparkled in amusement. Sherlock sent him a petulant look, pouting like a child. John could hardly hold back a grin at the cute sight. “Okay. As it's Christmas, I’ll make an exception, and I might be willing to give you a hand. But I badly need a hot shower first. I’m frozen.”

 

Patting Sherlock’s arm, he made a beeline for the bathroom, craving the hot water to defrost his bones.

 

Having a shower had never felt so blissful. John closed his eyes and let the water cascade down his face and body, revelling in the comforting warmth. Again, he started humming a Christmas melody, swaying to the rhythm. He was happy. The happiest he’d been in a long while. He had Sherlock, his partner in crime, his best friend, his boyfriend, his everything. Life was good. He still needed to work on his issues, but he was hopeful. Finally it looked like the world was not against him, but with him, and the future seemed to be brighter than ever.

 

Rubbing the shower gel into his skin, he moaned at the lovely sensation and, his imagination taking over, pretended that Sherlock’s hands were on him, the delicate violinist fingers working the vanilla shower gel into his pores, sensuously massaging his skin. John moaned and leaned into the imaginative touch, desperately wishing for more. He wished Sherlock could read his mind and would tear up the door, join him in the steamy bathroom and explore his wet, foamy skin for real while kissing him hungrily.

 

The fantasy was enough for his body react—his face flushed, his cock hardened and his body burned in fire, the cold of the outside world gone in an instant. He had never felt such an urge to wrap his hand around his prick and jerk himself to ecstasy.  His pulse sped up at the thought that only the wall separated him from Sherlock; all he needed to turn the fantasy into reality was to shout out for Sherlock. God, how much he wanted that! But the fear of his lurking demons ruining everything was stronger so, letting out a loud, exasperated groan, John opened his eyes and faced reality.

 

Patience, Watson, the inner voice comforted him. John smiled half-heartedly. Yes, his beautiful, fucking brilliant boyfriend was waiting for him on the other side of the wall. They still had time to explore their love.

 

Turning off the shower, he grabbed a towel and dried himself, his mind’s eye seeing Sherlock frowning at the mess in the kitchen and reluctantly starting to clean up. John chuckled. Sherlock would need his help.

 

He got dressed quickly, arranged his hair and brushed his teeth, before entering the kitchen.

 

Sherlock snapped his gaze at him immediately, abandoning his phone that he had been engrossed with. John wondered if Sherlock was aware of moistening his lips once the detective’s eyes met his.

 

“Right,” John harrumphed, running his hand through his hair, which earned an apparent gulp from Sherlock. “Where were we?”

 

Sherlock blinked at him as if he suddenly found himself in another reality.

 

Enjoying Sherlock’s sudden lack of words, John strode up to the sink with a confident smile. “Cat got your tongue?” He smirked, glancing at Sherlock.

 

Sherlock furrowed his brows, returning an indignant look.

 

“I can see you were waiting for me with the clean up,” John remarked, taking a look at the dirty bowls in the sink. In his peripheral vision, he could see Sherlock grimacing. Damn, even that was alluring! Damn it, Sherlock, you made me fall hard!

 

“You said you were going to help,” Sherlock pouted.

 

John laughed. “And of course you’d take on that opportunity!”

 

Sherlock raised a brow petulantly.

 

“Fine,” John turned back the sleeves of his checked shirt. “Let’s do this. To make it interesting—what about mixing duty and fun?” he cocked his head at Sherlock.

 

The detective tilted his head curiously. “What are you suggesting?” he eyed John suspiciously. John could see the gears turning in the brilliant mind, trying to figure out what he was on about.

 

“A game of 'Never Have I Ever' with a slight tweak. Instead of drinking, if one has done the proposed action, they have to do some cleaning.”

 

Sherlock contemplated the idea in silence. “Hmm,” he muttered wryly, seemingly finding some fault in the proposal.

 

“You should be thankful that I intend to help you clearing up the mess you made, after all. But if you don't like it, be my guest and do it on your own,” John held up his hands.

 

“Again, John, you come to the wrong—and hasty—conclusion,” Sherlock admonished his partner. “Considering that this is the best option I could get, I'm inclined to accept your suggestion with a slight modification.” Now it was John's turn to pull an inquiring expression. “If one had done the proposed action, they do some cleaning and drink.”

 

John laughed out loud. The great Sherlock Holmes indulging in mundane treats! This was really Christmas. “Deal.”

 

Sherlock retrieved a bottle of red wine from the fridge and poured some into two glasses. “Let's do some pre-drinking as a start.”

 

Sitting around the messy kitchen table, they took a sip of the lovely burgundy nectar.

 

“Never have I ever rode a motorcycle,” John started the game.

 

Sherlock grimaced and took a sip. Grabbing a bin bag from a drawer, he threw some rubbish into it.

 

John licked his lips, the image of Sherlock in biking gear speeding up his pulse. “When did you do it last?”

 

“After graduation, before moving to London.” As if reading John's mind, Sherlock quirked a brow at him suggestively. “I'm amenable to go for a round sometime, if you want.”

 

The mere idea of pressing against Sherlock, holding him tight, while the adrenaline of speed ran through in his veins was enough to make John's throat dry in anticipation. “God, yes.”

 

“Never have I ever sang in front of an audience.” Sherlock stated, taking his turn.

 

John took the bin bag from Sherlock and tossed more rubbish into it. “Karaoke bar on a friend's stag do. Lots of alcohol. Probably not my finest hour.” Sherlock contemplated the answer in silence, not averting his stare from his flatmate. “No, forget it,” John stated firmly, seeing the idea forming in Sherlock's brilliant mind. “I don't intend to make a fool of myself again. Now, it's my turn,” he dismissed the issue, moving on to the next round. “Never have I ever tried to guess someone's password.”

 

“This is not fair!” Sherlock exclaimed with an indignant look. “You know the answer...”

 

John snickered. “There is no rule that one can't go for a statement that they already know the other did. So go, drink and clean, dear!”

 

Sherlock took a swig and, collecting a few dirty bowls and beakers from the table, walked over to the sink. “What goes around, comes around,” he muttered sulkily. Once finished with the task, he wiped his hands and slumped back onto the chair. “Never have I ever called someone the wrong name during sex.” His voice was as casual as if he was talking about a shopping list.

 

John's eyes widened. “Sherlock!” He burst out laughing. The question was both outrageous and hilarious.

 

The detective shrugged. “As I perceive, the purpose of this game is to learn more about the other players. I'm merely collecting information on you.”

 

“Collecting information?” John shook his head, not able to suppress a grin. “You berk, it's revenge for the no to the karaoke suggestion, huh?”

 

Sherlock pulled the perfect poker face, his fingers played on the side of the wine glass languidly. “Rules are rules. I'm waiting for your answer.”

 

“You cock.” John grimaced. “Okay, yes, I have. Satisfied?” He took a huge gulp of his wine, emptying the glass. He moved to do some more dishes, but Sherlock's bony fingers gripped his arm, stalling him.

 

“No. Details.”

 

“No way. That's private. I don't intend to talk about the embarrassing stories of my love life with you.”

 

Sherlock raised a brow, intrigued. “Stories? So there are more than one.” His rosy lips curved into a mischievous smile at the revelation.

 

John's cheeks tinted with a rosy colour. “Drop it,” he croaked and rose to occupy himself with some more of the dirty kitchenware.

 

“I hesitate to remind you, but there are rules...”

 

“Now you're acting like you know anything about the rules,” John laughed mockingly. “Nice try.”

 

“I don't see why are you so shy about it.” Sherlock rolled his eyes, while grabbing another bottle from the fridge and opening it. “It was probably a 'Christine' instead of 'Emily'—nothing world shattering.”

 

John stopped in his motions, biting his lip. “You're right—nothing world shattering,” he turned and looked Sherlock in the eye. “Because moaning your male flatmate's name while shagging your girlfriend is not a big deal.”

 

“Oh.” Sherlock blinked in surprise, gaping at John like a fish. The sight was a compensation for the embarrassment John felt. “You mean–”

 

“Yes. Are you satisfied now ?”

 

Sherlock's mind still seemed to be on overload, because the man didn't move; only the motion of his eyes and eyelashes gave away that he was still there. “When?” he asked in a low voice.

 

“Last Christmas,” John admitted quietly, sitting down and pouring himself another glass of wine.

 

Sherlock nodded, understanding the implication.

 

Now that the cat was out of the bag, John saw no point in being secretive about the issue anymore. He even felt a bit of relief.

 

“You were overly occupied with The Woman,” he murmured, staring at his glass. “Jeanette just dumped me because of you... apparently, she thought I was a great boyfriend—to you... I was lonely and miserable. Next day I met this girl and slept with her on the first date. She refused to see me after that I moaned your name when I climaxed… Not blaming her, actually.” John smiled bitterly and looked up at Sherlock. “Now you know.”

 

“I'm sorry,” Sherlock mumbled, barely audibly.

 

John pursed his lips. “Well, things like that happen. I'm okay, don't worry.”

 

“No, not only for that. I saw, but didn't observe. I failed to notice how you felt then and ever since.”

 

“Not your fault. I could have said something too, but didn't. We're quite the pair.” John chuckled. “Now my turn. Never have I ever measured my penis.” He raised a brow challengingly.

 

“Seriously, John? That's a ridiculous question.”

 

“Not more ridiculous than the previous one. So, have you?”

 

The detective grunted and took a sip of his drink.

 

John laughed, his eyes widening in amusement. “I knew it!”

 

“Just for science,” Sherlock grumbled, squirming uncomfortably.

 

“Sure. And?” John grinned, biting his bottom lip expectantly.

 

Sherlock glared at him. “This is preposterous.”

 

“As though you pressing for an answer to the previous question wasn't, huh? I told you what you wanted to know, now it's my turn—come on, spill it!”

 

“Do you require an exact number, or just a position on the scale of under average—average—above average?” Sherlock huffed, taking one more swig of his wine.

 

John's mouth dried. He didn't expect Sherlock to be this analytical and provide exact measurements to his mock question. But there was no way back. He had stumbled into dangerous territory, but dancing on the edge was thrilling. This was a game, after all—a game in many ways.

 

“Go for the exact number,” John decided, filled with mischief. Butterflies fluttered in his belly and heat pooled in his groin. The reaction both surprised and scared him. How was it that he got this excited at the thought of a penis, without feeling weird or ashamed?

 

Sherlock's eyes met his. The thin stormy-coloured ring encircled the detective's dilated pupils, the dark orb shimmering in the kitchen light. John licked his lip involuntarily.

 

“Four and half inches,” the deep baritone murmured. Sherlock's heated gaze burned into John's eyes.

 

John swallowed loudly, his heart skipping a beat. The average size of a flaccid human penis was 3.5 to 3.9 inches. “That's... impressive.”

 

Sherlock shifted and, leaning close, sneaked his hand onto John’s thigh.  “Let me impress you more.” His hot breath caressed John's face.

 

“Sherlock...” John mumbled hoarsely, mesmerised by the heated gaze.

 

“Please...” The detective tilted his head, slowly moving his hand higher on John’s thigh. His husky voice was only a bare whisper. Golden sparks flared up in Sherlock's dark eyes, scorching John's.

 

John inhaled deeply. Sherlock's intoxicating scent infiltrated his nose—the ocean-fresh aftershave, flour and ginger, smoke... Smoke? John bolted, jerking his head toward the oven.

 

“Shit!” He grabbed a mitten frantically and opened the oven's door cautiously. A heavy cloud of smoke and the sickening smell of burnt food hit his face. “Christ… Oh, fuck...” he cursed loudly, coughing, and turned on the ventilation hood above the stove quickly, hoping to prevent the fire alarm switching on.

 

Sherlock eyed the burnt cake morosely, scrunching his nose. “Brilliant. All my work has gone to waste.”

 

John sighed. “Well, this baking pan will take time to get scrubbed clean.”

 

Sherlock frowned and sagged back onto the chair.

 

“Okay, let's make a deal,” John suggested. “You clean up the rest of your mess, and I will handle the pan.” The detective didn't seem to care much about the idea; he looked like a child whose toy was just taken away. “I'm sorry for the cake.” John felt genuine compassion for the man. Sherlock finally did something that was out of his comfort zone, and it was destroyed before he could even check the result. That wasn't much of a boost for his motivation. Sherlock didn't show any sign of hearing him; only the flash of his obsidian eyes signalled that he was aware of John's words. “But it's not the end of the world. You know what? We're going to make another one together. Hmm?”

 

Sherlock's head moved slowly toward him. John saw the gears turning in the genius' mind as Sherlock contemplated the idea. Eventually, the mop of curls bounced lightly as Sherlock nodded tentatively. John smiled softly.

 

“I'll be quite generous with you. You can ask one more question and if you catch me, sod it, I'll take over all the dishwashing this one time.”

 

Sherlock's long eyelashes fluttered as he squinted at John, wondering where was the catch in the suggestion. But all he saw was John's smiling, open expression.

 

“Never have I ever got a tattoo,” Sherlock tried with a shrug.

 

John started gathering the dirty utensils to wash.

 

“You did?” Sherlock's eyes widened, the well-known calculating light flashing through his silver-blue iris.

 

“Did you really expect a 'no'?” John furrowed his brows in surprise.

 

“Maybe.”

 

“Come on, deduce me,” John glanced at the man over his shoulder expectantly, while scrubbing a bunch of spoons.

 

“You did it in the army, obviously.” Sherlock's penetrative gaze burned John's body. “To symbolize being a member of the troop, the bond to your fellow soldiers, but most importantly fidelity and loyalty to your duty. It's the same RAMC badge that you have on your coffee mug, with the motto 'In Arduis Fidelis' in Latin, 'Faithful in Adversity'.”

 

Dropping the clean spoons into the drying rack, John turned and leaned on the work top. “Correct. Though, it was an easy one.” Seeing the detective's eyes narrowing pensively, he smiled. “You're wondering if I still have it, and, if I do, where it is.”

 

“You do. You're too committed to your past; you would never deny those years in the army. Leaving was not your decision, hence you treasure every memory of the time spent as an army doctor. You still would go back, if there was a chance. Also, tattoo removal is a pricey procedure, which—on army pension—you couldn't have afforded, even if you had wanted. You're not a person of regret. You take whatever life throws at you with your head held high. The army days are part of you, tattooed not only on your skin, but on your heart, too. You wouldn't get rid of the symbol of something that determined your life.”

 

John couldn't say a word, Sherlock taking him once again by surprise. Amazing how the detective could see through him.

 

“Now, the only question is where it is,” Sherlock mused aloud, scanning John's body with his trademark piercing look. John swallowed uncomfortably, biting his lip. “Normally you're not a show-off guy, so I doubt that it would be somewhere easily visible to anyone. From the few times I saw you half-naked—coming out of the bathroom in nothing but a towel—I certainly would have noticed anything unusual about you.”

 

Did Sherlock check him out whenever he was half naked? John's heart sped up at the thought.

 

“So that leaves only two options,” the detective continued. John shifted in embarrassment under Sherlock's penetrating gaze. “If my deduction is correct, will you show me?”

 

“Given the fact that we're together, it's unavoidable that you’ll see it eventually, so...” John cleared his throat.

 

Sherlock smiled contently. “Your left hip.”

 

“I shouldn't be surprised that you figured it out,” John shook his head in amusement. He had already given up wondering how Sherlock came to his conclusions.

 

“A tattoo of this kind is more of a memento than a fashion choice, and, like that, it's put somewhere the person can see it; thus, buttocks are out of question. The left side is a sentimental decision; with the heart there—which is actually not completely valid, as you know as well; the heart is situated a bit toward the centre—people consider it to be the better side.”

 

“Amazing. You deserve a prize.” John put his glass down onto the counter. Unbuckling his belt and undoing his fly, he pushed his jeans and cotton briefs a bit lower on the left side, revealing the neatly drawn RAMC badge on his hip.

 

Sherlock's breath got caught in his throat at the glimpse of the exposed flesh. “May I?” He looked up at John hopefully.

 

John nodded slowly, and Sherlock leaned closer to examine the tattoo. “Meticulous work,” he murmured appreciatively. “Accurately drawn, spot-on colours, quality ink.”

 

John could hardly bite back a moan at the sensation of Sherlock's hot breath tickling his skin. His heart skipped a beat when the long fingers brushed his tattooed flesh in a feather-light touch, tracing the outline of the masterful artwork. John inhaled sharply and pressed his lips together in a tight line, trying to suppress a moan. Sherlock's pads followed the curve of the snake in the middle of the badge, and John's skin tingled at the tender caress. His heart rate speeding up, he knew he was on the brink of losing control—second time that afternoon. A part of him wanted to stop Sherlock before things escalated too far, while another voice nudged him to enjoy the moment.

 

Sherlock looked up, and their eyes met in an intense gaze. Those beautiful eyes—sparkling stars in the velvet, night sky, a glimpse of the multicoloured universe. John felt like drowning into them.

 

“Sh–”

 

“Please, don't,” Sherlock pleaded. “Let me have this moment. Please.”

 

The begging look in those innocent eyes reached the very bottom of John's heart. It was too much. The voice in his head once again told him to face his demons like a soldier and not retreat because he was scared.

 

His hand slid soothingly into the mop of Sherlock's dark curls, while his eyelids fluttered closed. He could tell that Sherlock stilled for a second under his touch, taken aback by the unexpected comfort. John continued petting the genius' head, reassuring him, and he felt Sherlock settled back into his perusal. The warm fingertips resumed their journey on John's hip, tracing the pattern of the tattoo languidly, again and again. The sensation was quite soothing, and John relaxed into the touch. No one ever had paid such attention to his tattoo before; John was sure the artist would be proud to know that his work earned such admiration.

 

The fingers suddenly retreated, and John exhaled sadly, already missing the contact. But before he could open his eyes, another—similar, but different—sensation hit him; some wetness added to the warm touch. John's breath hitched, and his eyes popped open in surprise. Looking down at Sherlock, his lips parted of their own accord at the sight that greeted him. Replacing the fingers, now it was Sherlock's tongue that traced the outline of the ink art, slowly and sensuously.

 

“Jesus,” John gasped, his heart beating wildly at the erotic sight. His cock strained against the cotton underwear, seeking attention. His fingers moved on their own, tugging Sherlock's hair tenderly. A deep groan rumbled against his hip in return, before the tongue swirled on the tingling skin. John arched against the counter at the sweet sensation. The long fingers tugged at the waistband of his jeans, pulling firmly, until the piece of clothing surrendered and slid down the muscular thighs, pooling around John's ankles. Sherlock's arms like snakes wrapped around him—his hands exploring, squeezing as far as they could reach—while the plush pink lips peppered his abdomen with soft, languid kisses. John shivered, his whole body tingling in pleasure.

 

The demons that kept him from exploring physical intimacy with Sherlock chose that very moment to taunt him, put him off and convince him to think twice, but John didn't let them overwhelm him this time. He had denied himself these past months, letting the doubts and confusion taking over, but this was the end. Sherlock had respected his decision and endured rejection from time to time and was still here, not giving up on him, on them. John's feelings for him had grown deeper and more defined, proving to be solid enough to know that Sherlock was the one he wanted by his side come what may and that this love was real. Their relationship had been tested in many ways in the past months—their trust, loyalty and love questioned through communication problems, jealousy and health issues—but always coming out stronger. John had no reason to doubt that his decision to start a relationship with Sherlock was right. And through the difficulties, he had learned more about himself and eventually made peace with his past, focusing on the present and future. Sherlock had taught him how to view life from a different perspective, revealing new aspects and pointing out things he hadn't noticed or paid attention to before.

 

“Sherlock...” he murmured, his throat dry. His hand dived deeper into the tousled curls, pulling and squeezing. The detective groaned against his partner's belly and nibbled on the hot skin, while his large hands massaged John's arse and explored his thighs. John's chest rose and fell heavily at the tell-tale signs of his building arousal. Sherlock's lips travelled down to John's stomach, exploring his belly button, before tracing the trail of the soft, sandy hair leading downwards and disappearing into the doctor's briefs. “God, Sherl–” John's muffled voice, like a solo artist, joined the duet of heavy breaths. “Christ!” He cried out when suddenly Sherlock's delicate fingers were on his cotton-covered, rock-hard cock, caressing him through the thin layer of underwear. His eyes widened and stared down at Sherlock, hesitant to believe that this was truly happening. Sherlock's look met his, and John had never seen the man look so beautiful. The dishevelled curls, heavy-lidded eyes, flushed cheeks and pink lips in such a delightfully sensual composition were so breathtaking that John's length twitched under the detective's touch.

 

“John...” The sultry voice had never sounded more dangerous.

 

John groaned, heat pooling in his groin. God, he was so close, though Sherlock had barely touched him yet. I'll be coming in my pants in no time, like a innocent school boy . “Sher– I...I won't last long...” he panted.

 

“Is everything all right?” Mrs. Hudson's voice came from the sitting room. “The stairway reeks of something burnt...”

 

John and Sherlock jolted as if lightning had struck them and broke apart instantly. Yanking his jeans up, John hit his head on the cupboard above him. Stifling his growl, he whirled toward the sink to hide his open trousers and the deep flush on his cheeks. Sherlock didn't have time to crawl back onto his chair, so all he could do was crouch on the floor, halfway under the table.

 

Their landlady appeared in the kitchen's doorway. “Boys, what’s this–”

 

“Hello, Mrs. Hudson,” John tried to sound casual, sloshing the dishes under the running water. He didn't look at the old woman, pretending to focus on the task at hand.

 

Mrs. Hudson shot a strange look at Sherlock on all fours on the floor. “Sherlock? Is everything okay?”

 

“Yes. I'm just... looking for something,” came the muttering voice from under the table.

 

“Just carefully, my dear. You do keep breaking things, and the splinters might be still around.”

 

“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson,” John answered on his flatmate's behalf.

 

“There's this burnt smell around...”

 

“We're sorry,” John glanced at her above his shoulder, the flush now gone. “Sherlock forgot about the cake in the oven...” An indignant grunt came from the floor, but John ignored it and went on. “You know what he is like when working on an experiment. I was in the bathroom for a few minutes and when I came back, the cake had already burnt.”

 

“Oh, dear. I'll bring you some cookies when they are ready,” she gushed emphatically. “I will be back soon.”

 

The two men let out a relieved sigh in unison when the landlady's footsteps quieted.

 

Wiping his hand, John tucked himself in his jeans and slumped down on the chair.

 

Sherlock sank back on his heels. “'Sherlock forgot about the cake in the oven'?” He glared at John. “Thank you very much.”

 

“I had to come up with something! Besides, it's true.”

 

“No. You're just as much to blame.”

 

“She wouldn't have believed that. Unless you’re suggesting we tell her about us—which we agreed not to do yet.”

 

Sherlock sank in contemplative silence for the next minute, staring ahead without even blinking.

 

“Sherlock?” John looked at him expectantly, searching the beautiful face for a tiny sign that the man was still present. When he found none, he rose with a sigh and resumed the washing up. Sherlock apparently was lost in his mind palace, so there was no point trying to make him talk.

 

John didn't even know what was he supposed to say to Sherlock. What happened in the past half hour had caught him off guard and, once again, turned his world around. He could still feel the warm touch, the hot breath, the pressure of the luscious mouth on his skin, the sensation burnt in the flesh and imprinted in his brain forever. Recalling the mesmerising sight of Sherlock at his feet—the tousled curls, heavy-lidded, obsidian eyes and obscenely pink, glistening lips—worshipping his tattoo and exploring his body, was enough to make his cock stir in his pants again. John wasn't sure how he should feel about Mrs. Hudson interrupting them. Who knows what could have happened if she hadn't appeared. Sherlock didn't seem to intend to stop his ministrations, and John had doubts that he would have had the willpower to push the man away—not after the forced abstinence for long months; not once he finally seemed to have defeated his inner demons and be ready to take things to the next level with Sherlock. The prospect that they could be a real couple—with all the aspects of a relationship—at last, filled John's heart with heavenly happiness.

 

“Get dressed—we're going out,” Sherlock's casual tone calling from out of blue made John jump.

 

Calming his breath and pounding heart, John glanced at the detective over his shoulder. ”One of these days, you'll give me a heart attack,” he scolded playfully. Sherlock frowned. John dismissed the issue with a slight shake of his head. “Whatever. Going out? Are you aware that it's Christmas Eve tonight?” Sherlock rolled his eyes. And? “Going out on Christmas Eve—it's quite sentimental,” John noted with an amused smile.

 

“Your fault.” Sherlock shrugged, getting to his feet and standing behind John. Sneaking his arms around the man's waist, he nuzzled John's neck.

 

John tilted his head instinctively, melting into his boyfriend's embrace. “So, where are we going to?” he murmured. “Just so I know what to wear.”

 

“Angelo’s,” came the muffled answer.

 

“Spending Christmas Eve in the very restaurant where everything began—sentiment again. What's wrong with you, Sherlock?” John laughed affectionately.

 

“You,” Sherlock smiled. “But you're the right kind of wrong.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-three - Love Me Like You Do


I'll let you set the pace
'Cause I'm not thinking straight
My head's spinning around
I can't see clear no more
What are you waiting for?

~ Ellie Goulding - Love Me Like You Do


The lovely scent of pine and mouthwatering smell of scrumptious Italian food in the air, holly-decorated candles flickering on the tables, the restaurant was a perfect setting for a holiday dine-out. Sitting at their usual table, Sherlock gazed at John's firelight-caressed face with a languid, content smile as he listened to his companion's animated storytelling of a treasured Christmas childhood memory.

 

“Are you okay?” John searched his date's eyes.

 

“Why wouldn't I be?” Sherlock raised a brow.

 

“You haven't interrupted me or criticised a thing, not even once, which is very unlike you.”

 

“John–” Sherlock took a breath. “Remember the first time we were here?”

 

“How could I have forgotten that?” John laughed. The fairy lights sparkling in the window behind him painted his silver-blond strands in a golden glow. “The most awkward time I have spent in a restaurant.”

 

Sherlock gave him an offended glance. This was really not what he wanted to hear when asking. John being a romantic, Sherlock expected some sentimental nonsense about what a milestone that evening had been for them.

 

“Don't look at me like you didn't know,” John chuckled. “You were fully aware of how that looked, still enjoyed it, you sodding git.”

 

“I never told Angelo that you were my date,” Sherlock protested.

 

“Yet you never countered either, when he brought us a candle.”

 

“It would have been useless; he is utterly stubborn.”

 

“Oh, that so reminds me of someone,” John grinned teasingly.

 

Sherlock wrinkled his nose.

 

Their banter was interrupted by Angelo coming up to them with a bottle of red wine.

 

“The best quality for my favourite customers.” Smiling wide, he filled the tumblers with the burgundy liquid. “It's said to be beneficial to potency,” he winked mischievously.

 

John's face flushed in embarrassment, his look dropping to the glass in front of him.

 

“Thank you for the important information,” Sherlock noted wryly, a half-amused smile playing at the corner of his mouth.

 

“I see why you like him,” John noted once Angelo left. “He's just as outspoken as you.”

 

“He is one of the few people that doesn’t consider me a freak,” Sherlock noted quietly, tapping his finger on the glass, before looking up at John timidly. “Remember when you asked me if I dated anyone?”

 

“Sure. You thought I was coming on to you and said that you weren't looking for any of that kind of stuff, considered yourself married to your work.”

 

“Exactly. Well, would you ask me again, I–” Sherlock placed his hand on John's tentatively. His deep and slightly hoarse voice wa