Chapter 1: John's Dictate
“We’ll take the train,” John announced as he lowered the weekend broadsheet to his lap and folded it back into its (approximate) original state.
From his position at the kitchen table Sherlock didn't deign to shift his gaze from the object of his interest under the microscope.
“Yes, of course we'll take the … what?” His head snapped up and he regarded John with a sharp look.
“You heard me Sherlock. We will take the train,” John repeated in a tone that brokered no discussion.
Uncrossing his ( recently ) smoothly shaven! legs (Sherlock's thought process stuttered; when did that happen?) , John rose from his chair, drawing his short blue robe closed around him as he set the paper on the side table.
Sherlock regarded him with not a slight amount of suspicion. Yes, he conceded, he had been a bit (OK, very) distracted with his latest case (serial cannibalistic murderer, honestly who could blame him!) but what on earth had gotten into John in the meantime? He needed to study this new development very closely, but no need to alert John to his interest just yet.
“Yes,” he waved dismissively. “We will take the train.” Sherlock's focus returned to the substance trapped between the slides.
John crossed the room and headed to the bathroom. Before the handle had pronounced the door’s closure, John’s next words floated back to Sherlock. “And then the ferry.”
“What the buggering fuck?” Sherlock's thought process came to a standstill (and he never swore!).
Sherlock owed John. John knew Sherlock owed John. Sherlock did not know yet that he owed John, but he was going to. For the last two months they had followed leads (and John had followed Sherlock) all over London and the surrounding boroughs in an attempt to discover the identity of the individual whose tastes ran to the delicacy of human flesh. Every day, all hours of the night, every night. Any time the whim took him, Sherlock insisted on John's company, no matter what important (Sherlock had declared unnecessary) task John might have been engaged in at the time. Thankfully the case broke before John seriously contemplated taking certain measures to ensure he would not be woken at 2am for the third night in a row (booby traps weren't that drastic, were they ? ).
But now … now John was taking his revenge. This was going to be done at John's pace. Easy, relaxed, excessively drawn out, and it was going to drive Sherlock to certain distraction. What Sherlock also did not know was that John knew how much Sherlock wanted this new case. John grinned at his reflection in the bathroom mirror.
Outside the door, Sherlock huffed as he paced. Unbearable. Excruciatingly, horribly, wretchedly unbearable! First, having to endure a journey of overwhelmingly tedious proportions (a minimum of 24 hours to get from London to Algeciras by train) and now, a drawn-out bloody ferry ride to Tangier on what was most likely going to be inexcusably unpleasant seas and would most probably result in a bout of debilitating and humiliating seasickness for Sherlock. And how in god's name was John going to propose they travel from Tangier to Marrakech? By bloody camel? No, this imposition was not to be borne!
But the case, this new case. He paced back again. This extraordinary, fascinating, scintillating case. A house, designed entirely by its eccentric owner, built by no less than five hundred expert tradesmen in the heart of Marrakech. A house that had seemingly not only driven its owner out, but also to his quite unpleasant death. And a perfumer, a chemist no less - the very thought of the secrets that house could reveal, would reveal, was irresistible. He had to have this case.
Fine. Sherlock stomped off to his bedroom. If the only way he was going to get John to come along with him was for him to endure the monotony of the public transportation system, then so be it. Sherlock had a strong mind. Sherlock had an iron will. And if put to it, he could, with his single bloody-minded focus, achieve anything. Indeed, he could, and he would, he decided, survive the tediously mind-numbing journey of John's dictate.
As it was, Sherlock's resolve lasted all of ten minutes ...
Chapter 2: Not Cycling
“Hateful John, just hateful," Sherlock pronounced as he breezed into their compartment, wrenching his gloves off dramatically as he set himself (flounced, John observed ) , down onto the bench seat.
“Seriously Sherlock, the train was literally only two minutes late.”
“Another two minutes on an already hatefully long journey.”
“You did bring something to do, didn't you?” John asked cautiously, pulling one of the many works of fiction out of the tired duffle bag he had set on the floor at his feet and tossing it on the seat next to Sherlock. The thought crossed his mind that maybe he hadn't thought this idea out as well as he should have, was confirmed a moment later when Sherlock snapped.
“Brought what? You refused let me pack my violin!”
“Of course I did, it would have been less than appreciated by our fellow passengers." (Not to mention that John didn't think either of them would make it out of the carriage alive if John had to endure nearly two days of Sherlock’s artistic musings, breath taking talent notwithstanding.)
“Well you are going to have to think of something to do to keep yourself amused, because we are going to be here for a while.”
Sherlock sighed. Sherlock huffed. Sherlock whined. Sherlock fingered through all the (mind numbingly boring ) novels John had brought with him and Sherlock complained until John had finally had ...
“Enough Sherlock! You have to find something to do. Go for a walk (a stretch) , have something to eat (a bigger stretch) , go deduce some passengers, but nicely!" John waggled his finger at him. “I want to stay on this bloody train!”
Sherlock glared at John as he launched himself up off the seat and out through the compartment door in a flurry of woollen Belstaff. It closed behind him with a sharp bang. John winced. And then John began to worry. What had seemed like a brilliantly devised (spur of the moment) plan to get some downtime (real time) with Sherlock appeared as if it was already threatening to implode and take him with it. He ran a hand through the short hair at the back of his neck and groaned.
Why was he surprised? This was Sherlock. Brilliant, mesmerizing, captivating and the complete and utter pain in the arse that was, Sherlock. But John loved him. And not in the “I love that we do amazing/dangerous/adrenaline producing things together” way or the “we love each other like really good flatmates” kind of way, but the “I love you and would really like to spend the rest of my life knowing you, your body and your mind intimately, while still doing amazing/dangerous/adrenaline things and being really good flatmates.” John had known this since the beginning, since the moment he first saw Sherlock in the lab in Bart’s and wondered how the gods had seen fit to bring such fascinating creature into his life. He had known it then. And he had been content to wait. He was now done waiting … but maybe it would be prudent to alter his plans slightly? He wanted to end up fucking the man, not killing him!
Sherlock smiled to himself as he slipped out of the compartment and into the alcove at the end of the carriage where the air seeped in through incomplete seals and pooled around his ankles. Yes, he was bored out of his mind, he thought as he leant against the carriage door. Yes, he was probably going to start climbing the walls at some point very soon, but if he was going to suffer, so was John. John, his John … he knew John, his moods, his frustrations, the things that got him going.
But lately there was something different.
Yes. Shaved legs, that was different. Adding a different element to his bedroom repertoire? No, John hadn't had a date in weeks, or maybe that was months now? Sherlock shook his head, it was unlike him not to keep track of such things; maybe he had been a little bit more distracted by his cases than he had first thought? A newly found obsession with road cycling? Hardly, Sherlock scoffed, if the (slightly increasing; best not to point that out to John, he reminded himself) softness around his midsection was anything to go by. Skin irritation? No. To make massages more pleasurable? Who the hell was getting to touch John’s legs? Was John touching his own legs?
Frustrated by his inability to determine the motivation for John’s current hairless state, Sherlock pushed himself off the carriage door and turned to face the window, bracing his forehead on his arms as he leant in. Eventually other thoughts began to tug at his mind as he focused on the inky blackness of the countryside whizzing past. Grateful to put the puzzle of John aside for a while he began to focus his not inconsiderable mind on the case.
Chapter 3: Lean Lines
Back in their compartment, John had set aside his novel in favour of thumbing through the files he had downloaded to his phone before they left the flat.
The first set were the autopsy files Sherlock had forwarded to him. The information wasn’t extensive, a few scrawled notes here and there, but the story was consistent; blunt force trauma (close, personal) to the upper body and head, fracturing of the temporal and occipital lobes resulting in skull fragments lodged deep within the brain tissue. If there ever was such a thing as very dead, this was it. Three deaths in total over a two-week time period: the gardener had been the first to die, followed six days later by the tradesman (both in the main house in Marrakesh), and then the owner (perfumer, chemist) himself, in the apartment he held on the outskirts of the city. No photos in the files, so a trip to the morgue would be their first order of business upon arrival.
In addition to the autopsy reports, John had done some digging of his own. A handful of articles, an interview from a couple of years ago and a few grainy paparazzi photos was all that appeared to exist to tell the tale of what appeared to be to be a truly brilliant (if not a tad eccentric) man. Scrolling through one of the articles from, of all places, an inflight magazine (clearly not from one of the budget airlines John normally flew) , fragments of paragraphs caught his eye:
… as a child, he showed increased olfactory acuity, bordering on hypersomnia… sent to France for his schooling … snapped up by one of the top design houses before he was out of his teens ... rapid ascension established him as a serious player ... three years later set out on his own to open his very own exclusive fragrance house, customizing scent to individuals with the money to afford his services ...
Interesting, John thought, and then his thoughts came to a complete halt when he took in the photo of the man himself.
Mr Arnaud Guerin.
Stunning was the only word that came to John’s mind. Shot casually lounging against an intricately carved wooden railing in an (obviously) bespoke black suit, silk shirt and tie, one outstretched arm rested lightly on top of the railing, the other was hooked by an elegant finger in a belt loop. Staring straight into the camera, Mr Guerin, with his solid but lean lines, deep brown eyes and jet black, slicked back hair and flirtatiously predatorial smile was (had been, John corrected himself) the epitome of style and taste and pure unadulterated sex on two gorgeously long legs…
Some guys had all the luck, John sighed to himself, closing the file and tossing his phone into his duffel bag. Good thing the man was dead ... (momentary flicker of guilt) , otherwise he might have had serious competition for Sherlock’s attention (where had Sherlock taken himself off to?) . Somewhat assuaged by the lack of raised voices in the train carriage, John concluded that his erstwhile flatmate had found a way to entertain himself without causing too much trouble and figured it was safe to turn in for the night.
By the time Sherlock let himself back into their compartment an hour later, John had fallen soundly asleep. Having pulled out and made up both of their beds, John was now lying face down on the starched white sheets of the bed closest to the window, one (distractingly smooth, hairless ….) leg crossed up against the other, pyjama pants hitched up slightly at the bottom. Sherlock examined John’s bare feet (he really didn't get a chance to see them often enough, he mused), and then his eyes went back up to those shaved legs again. Sighing, Sherlock flopped down onto the bed opposite John’s, still fully clothed (suited). With the image of John’s legs still in his mind and the real thing just a few metres away, Sherlock put his chances of getting any sleep at slim to none.
And as usual, he was right.
Chapter 4: Distinguished Conversation
John woke the next morning to sun streaming in the carriage window and Sherlock studying him intently. “Good, you're awake, let's get breakfast.”
“Only just,” John muttered, squinting one eye awake. “Give me a moment, will you?”
Gathering a change of clothes from his bag, he took himself off to the (bloody tiny) washroom in their compartment to try and arrange himself into some semblance of a functioning human being. As he brushed his teeth and shook off the last remnants of sleep from his body he peered resignedly in the mirror at the bags under his eyes (a seemingly, depressingly permanent feature these days).
“OK you, let's go,” John announced, exiting the washroom. Sherlock jumped up from his position on his bed. “You know, you could have put the beds away while I was getting ready,” John shook his head wryly.
“And deprive you of the opportunity to look after both of us? I wouldn't dare,” Sherlock grinned at the back of John’s head as he followed him out of their compartment.
“Out of interest,” John queried as he held the door to the dining compartment open as Sherlock breezed through “will I be able to eat my breakfast in peace or will there be pitchforks at the ready?”
“Don't be so dramatic John,” Sherlock dismissed John's concerns with a flick of a slim wrist, at the same time casting a furtive glance around the carriage. “It was hardly my fault the irritatingly chipper, infuriatingly nosy vicar’s wife chose to sit down next to me last night while I was trying to enjoy a quiet double malt - I certainly had not encouraged her to do so. And I can’t possibly be held accountable for her reaction when I had finally had enough of the banal chatter and enquired whether she was planning to spend all night talking to me just to get out of having to spend any more time than strictly necessary with her husband”. And at that, Sherlock considered the conversation over and settled in to peruse the menu.
John glanced around the carriage, not in the least assuaged by Sherlock’s description of the night’s events. He didn't find anything to concern him on the faces of his fellow diners, but he did see a few casting second (and third) glances at his beautiful dining companion. John's chest puffed out a little as it did every time he was reminded of how fortunate he was to be the chosen company of such a gorgeously brilliant man.
Breakfast appeared quickly after ordering. As John reached across the table to snag the marmalade for his toast the thought occurred to him that he actually didn't know how the case had come their way; it was too far outside Lestrade's jurisdiction, so that left the other usual suspect.
“Mycroft gave you this case? God, this perfume business — it’s not a front for chemical weapons manufacturing, is it?” John asked between mouthfuls.
“No, nothing so sinister,” Sherlock replied, one eyebrow hitching up as he added sugar to his (pathetically small, cheap white, god how was he even going to fit any water in there ) teacup, “he just happened to be a fellow patron of the Diogenes Club and I am told they developed an acquaintance over distinguished conversation and expensive whiskey.”
Distinguished conversation my arse (John's thoughts were accompanied by a mental eye roll). Interactions occurring courtesy of Mycroft Holmes’ elusive club membership were either orchestrations of foreign government downfall or the indulgence of particular sexual fantasies; the true nature of the Diogenes Club. Not that John minded (the sexual fantasies bit that is), he just wished he could indulge himself a whole lot more. And he also wasn't keen on all the pretence; just call a spade a spade for fuck’s sake.
By the time breakfast had been cleared from the table, the landscape passing by the window had changed from rural to urban.
“OK, time to get our things together.”
“Why?” Sherlock's eyes narrowed.
“We need to change trains in Paris.”
“Just in Paris, John?” Sherlock's voice took on a warning tone.
“Well, we probably should change in Madrid as well unless we plan on going somewhere other than the south of Spain,” John smiled back, all teeth. “Don't look at me like that Sherlock, travel is an adventure, you just need to be flexible and adaptable.”
“As you do when looking for the right location to stash a body John ...”
Chapter 5: Beautiful Game
Upon learning of the upcoming (goddamit three! ) changes of trains, Sherlock was quite convinced that Dr John Watson’s days on this earth were becoming seriously numbered. However he found himself, as he settled into the compartment of their second train, pleasantly surprised (to say the least) .
“Yes, chess, what great observational skills you have,” John grinned cheekily at Sherlock as he finished retrieving the travelling set from his duffle bag.
“You don’t play chess.” Sherlock took one of the (obscenely cheap plastic) pieces and turned it over in his fingers, looking at it as if, in just existing, it was an insult to the game itself.
“Not yet, but you are going to teach me.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow and settled in. And teach John he did.
Sherlock was a firm proponent of the belief that the only way to learn was by playing the game; win, lose, advance, retreat, things only mattered if there was something at risk. And just as John had been such a quick study of The Work, he showed an equally remarkable aptitude for learning The Game.
First playing with pawns only, then adding the bishops, then the rooks, then the knights and so on, Sherlock added a new element each time John grasped the rules of each piece’s engagement. Usually such a tedious task would have driven Sherlock to distraction, but he found himself observing in fascination the way in which John's neural pathways established themselves with increasing confidence. First just in applying the rules and then in making their own connections along the lines of strategy.
At first, their play was punctuated by sounds of encouragement and agreement (and in John's case, a fair amount of exasperated muttering as his pieces were quickly and deftly extracted from the board by Sherlock’s elegant fingers and cast aside). But as the hours slipped away and morning became afternoon, the intensity of their battle increased, and Sherlock was forced to stop admiring John's mind and focus on ensuring that he continued to maintain the upper hand in the game.
“I can see now why you like this so much,” John glanced up to take in Sherlock calculating his next move.
“How so?” Sherlock’s studious gaze didn't leave the board.
“Well, it kind of feels like chaos and harmony at the same time. All these individual moves that seem like nothing on their own but at the same time every single one of them is crucial to the solution.”
At that Sherlock’s brows narrowed and he brought his hands up to steeple under his chin. “You never fail to amaze me, John.”
John felt his cheeks flush with pride. Why it was that Sherlock’s opinion of him mattered so much, he could never figure out, but matter it did.
“You're right, it’s the unexpected, the paradox and the fact that the solution is there from the very beginning, one only need know where to look,” he held John’s gaze. “But it's more than that. It's the beauty of a single move, the elegance to be found in a position and the sum of both players in creating a beautiful game.” Sherlock's eyes seemed to be glittering in an unfathomable combination of blue, green, and gold.
“And this,” John kept Sherlock’s gaze and he gestured to the board, “is this a beautiful game?” John surprised himself by realizing that so much rested on Sherlock’s answer.
“Ours is always a beautiful game John.”
Chapter 6: Too Snug
It was late afternoon by the time their train pulled into Madrid’s Atocha station. John had acquired an extensive assortment of snacks from the food cart that had come around to their carriage, so dinner wasn't really an imperative anytime soon. But a shower certainly was. Sherlock’s suit had begun clinging to him in rather unflattering places due to the creases and folds of travel and the (still remarkably) strong sun was not helping things either.
“So, where are we off to now, John?” Sherlock slung his weekender over his shoulder and draped the Belstaff over his forearm.
“Not too far, just around the corner - a little bed and breakfast.”
“Little”, as it turned out, was the correct descriptor for this entire area of Madrid. The streets surrounding the city's main train station were small and intimate, cobblestone alleyways and sandstone structures punctuated by wrought ironwork. Their home for the night was off a quiet little street, up a narrow flight of stairs and towards the back of the building; a tiny room with two single beds taking up nearly the entirety of the available floor space, and two huge shuttered doors that opened onto a lovely little courtyard below.
And it had a very decent shower.
Sherlock tossed his bag onto the closest bed and began stripping off his suit jacket and shirt before he had even made it halfway to the bathroom, presenting John, who had just turned from securing the balcony doors open, with the sight of his bare back disappearing into the bathroom, the door to which he left open.
When Sherlock emerged, clean and damp, and very naked from his very decent shower, John was fast asleep, face down on his bed nearest the balcony. Not one to feign modesty (bodies were bodies; tissue, muscle, transport) , Sherlock reached into his bag and shimmied into a pair of snug black boxers, all the while never taking his eyes of John’s — his John's — sleeping form.
He lay down, fingers laced behind his head, the tiny, narrow bed, creaking as he shifted, getting comfortable. The coolness of the disappearing sun started to seep into the room and he drifted off, letting sleep take him to a place surprisingly devoid of dreams but unsurprisingly comprised of thoughts of one (compact, muscular and utterly bewitchingly blonde) ex-army doctor.
Waking a number of hours later, in the type of syrupy lethargy that only exists on the other side of an afternoon nap, Sherlock rolled onto his side to take in John’s empty bed and the silence in the room (hmm, gone out? why was John never around when he wanted him? … wanted him?... he wanted him ...). A second later Sherlock was hit with a rush of blood to the head and one simultaneous a lot further south and single word echoing through his foggy (still goddam sleepy!) mind. Fuck. And fuck. And fuck and fuck and fuck, just for good measure. And just as he proceeded to voice those thoughts with a groan, the door to the room swung open and in, practically bounding, came the said same compact, muscular, utterly bewitchingly blonde (and now annoyingly chipper) ex-army doctor.
“You OK Sherlock?” John’s smile faded a little and his eyes narrowed as he took in the tail end of Sherlock's groan and his prone form. Dammit, not a good idea to be looking at Sherlock in his boxers while the man was awake to observe him doing so (no, far more appropriate to scour every inch of his nearly naked body when he had been sleeping, John thought wryly). John blushed at the thought of his previous thorough examination and very deliberately did not look at Sherlock's angular (and completely strokable ) hips jutting out from the tops of his (very snug, too snug!) boxers. Oh god, how he wanted that man .
“Oh yes ... good,” John turned his still (dammit) flushed face to the task at hand; the two grocery bags he was holding, all but completely forgotten in his (now rather confusing) return.
(Get it together Watson, you are meant to be the one calling the shots here) . John turned away from Sherlock and began arranging the spoils of his foraging (OK, fine, a trip to little market on the corner) mission on the small table near the balcony window.
“Hungry?” he turned back around just as Sherlock was in the process of making himself comfortable (still clad in only his boxers) in one of the tiny wicker chairs by the table. The sight of him trying to fold all his long limbs and torso into the tight space would have brought a smile to John’s face if Sherlock’s next words, spoken with a lick of his lips and staring right into the depths of John’s (soul) eyes hadn't been ...
Chapter 7: Now Them
They ate in silence, taking in the sights and sounds and smells of the courtyard below; all laughter and twinkling lights, warm darkness and fragrant jasmine.
“It's some sort of local festival,” John nodded at the world coming to life outside their window through a mouthful of tapas.
Sherlock hummed in agreement. Having initially opted for a strategy of offense as the best method of defending his heart from his new and traitorous emotions, he felt a whole lot more relaxed, and so was John, seemingly (as always) taking his emotional cues from Sherlock. But Sherlock knew that peace wouldn't last long if he didn't figure himself out, and soon.
It would be remiss of Sherlock if he didn't admit to himself that this newfound (undoubtedly always existing) attraction he had towards his flatmate/best friend/partner hadn't thrown his mind into complete and utter chaos. Cycling rapidly through the when, where, how, why and what-if, Sherlock began pulling all the pieces of John, now them, together in his mind.
Sherlock liked John. Intelligent (far more intelligent than the majority of the feeble-minded population). Dependable, loyal to a fault, utterly, adorably, flatteringly protective; wouldn't, didn't hesitate to take a life to save Sherlock’s. Practical; having a doctor on hand was always a good idea. A good companion.
Yes, Sherlock liked John. What was there not to like? But Sherlock didn't just like John because John had a brain. Sherlock didn't just want to have John on hand to shoot errant cabbies for him. And Sherlock didn't just need John because John could stitch up his wounds afterwards.
Sherlock, it seemed, loved John. In a way that he hadn't ever liked, wanted, or needed to love anyone before. Dr John Watson, through no fault of his own and certain no intention of Sherlock's had somehow, irrevocably, become Sherlock's whole life.
Sherlock loved John.
Now them .
And now Sherlock needed to figure a way through this, this, emotions stuff. A quick fuck in a dark alley - that, that he could do, had done. But this was John. John was not a quick fuck, John was a slow, deep, burning passion, a reason for living, for breathing and now the reason for everything.
Sherlock knew how to be himself; he’d had 33.25 years of figuring out how to be him. Now he needed to figure out how to be them. This required analysis, study, thought and attention; more analysis, more study, more thought and more attention than any of The Work had ever warranted. It excited him terribly and at the same time, scared him completely witless.
“You still with me?” John reached over and placed a hand near Sherlock’s on the table.
“Sorry, yes, just lost in thought,” Sherlock replied, brushing the crumbs from his mouth with a paper napkin. “Shall we take a walk?”
Chapter 8: Just Practice
Sandy, crumbly, grainy rocks. Smooth, shiny, pitted stones. Dusty, bumpy and lumpy. Sherlock traced their path with his finger over walls and railings. Structures strong and dependable, colours of earth and of warmth. Through cobbled lanes and courtyards, weaving in and out of warm, happy, slightly drunk people and haphazard displays of hastily but lovingly strung fairy lights, they walked, John talked, and Sherlock thought.
Sherlock found himself becoming increasingly fond of this walk, this town and in fact, of this whole public transportation, ridiculously long, potentially excessively germ-ridden journey. His fondness even extended to agreeing without (too much) complaint to eat a sorbet John procured from one of the shops lining the street as they entered the piazza.
John was absolutely sure that he had never been as in love with Sherlock as he was right now. Sitting side by side on a wooden bench, Sherlocks long legs sprawled out in front of him, his own crossed and tucked under, he watched Sherlock from under his eyelashes while he pretended to focus on the cone in his hand.
The warm honey glow from the lights strung across the piazza rounded the angles of Sherlock's face, smoothing the lines and taking away years from the face of his cherished companion. The same cherished companion who was, with the single-minded focus he applied to The Work, rotating his cone in his hand to examine the way each and every frozen crystal refracted the same light.
Beautiful, fascinating, compelling, extraordinary Sherlock.
“ So what do you make of it — the case?” John's question seemed to bring Sherlock’s focus back from the sorbet to the here and now. “The proximity of the murderer to the victims and the choice of weapon; a crime of passion?”
Sherlock pursed his lips. “Personal yes, passionate, no. The blows were close range but not erratic. No indication of loss of control. A vendetta, payback maybe, but considering their relative unimportance in the grand scheme of things, being service workers, I would say the first ones were just practice."
“Practice?” John’s lips curled into a grimace. “Practice for what?”
“Practice for Guerin, he was the important one.”
While uncomfortable at the thought of assigning relative importance to the lives (or deaths) of human beings, John conceded that Sherlock’s reasoning, as usual, was probably correct. “And motive? Money? He certainly didn’t appear to be lacking resources.”
“Considering the social circles he ran in,” Sherlock mused, “there could be any number of reasons, business most likely or a personal dalliance; he wasn't an unattractive man and as you are well aware, people tend to do quite stupid things in the name of love.”
John coughed slightly to clear his throat.
“Then there is also the house.”
Sherlock finished off the rest of his sorbet and took out his phone, bringing up a number of photos of the interior and exterior of Guerin’s residence. Adorned with intricate wall and ceiling carvings, gold inlaid mosaics, countless stained-glass windows, delicate lamps and patterned velvet banquettes; the house was as massive as it was magnificent.
“See the walls?” Sherlock pointed a finger at an example, the entire thing covered in objects of silver. “That's quite an extensive collection of antique Berber artefacts right there. Perhaps someone didn't appreciate their removal from what they considered their rightful owners.”
“Perhaps,” Sherlock scrolled through a few more images.
“Wait, what’s that?” John pointed to a series of intricately patterned arches of crimson and black framing a large rectangular surface adorned with a smallish human like (monkey?) skull at the end of the corridor. “It looks like a alter for sacrifices.” John suppressed a mental shudder.
“That, my dear John,” Sherlock’s smile extended into a huge grin , ”is the entrance to the laboratory.”
John leaned back as Sherlock put his phone away. He wasn't fond of the fact that it was Mycroft who had given them this case; and it wasn't just that he wasn't fond of Mycroft, he wasn't fond of the dead man or his over the top house either. I mean, who builds themselves this sort of place? Yes it was stunning, but it was also downright creepy. However, despite or perhaps in spite of his serious reservations, John knew Sherlock loved this, all of this, so John returned the grin.
Chapter 9: Rough Seas
“I think what they are saying is that it will be another few hours until they know whether the ferry can sail in these seas.” John returned from this third trip to the ferry’s customer service desk in the last hour and sank resignedly into the chair next to Sherlock.
“What do you mean you think that's what they are saying?” Sherlock snapped, looking up from his phone, as annoyed and uncomfortable as a person of six-foot stature, slumped unceremoniously in a cracked, faded plastic bucket chair, could look.
“Well I don't bloody well speak Spanish, do I? ” John leaned forward in his seat, his hands clenching his chino clad thighs and his back muscles pulling his polo shirt taught across his shoulders. “I'm sure with that giant brain of yours you could learn the language in about ten minutes and help us out. But no, you just can't put your bloody phone down for a minute. What is so bloody important that demands your attention right now?”
John's eyes narrowed ever further to challenge Sherlock’s impervious glare (he would not murder his flatmate in public, he would not murder his flatmate in public…), their standoff only broken when they were approached by a ferry service employee, clipboard and pen in hand. Overly friendly, overly smiley (and with perhaps a fatal deficit in the skill of reading body language), she asked brightly in imperfect but still quite understandable English , “survey on how you find ferry service today?”
“Not now!” they both barked back in unison, startling her eyes wide and causing her to scurry away immediately to seek refuge beside another passenger.
John rubbed the back of his neck, slightly (but not totally) apologetic for the outburst while Sherlock just scowled and went back to texting.
Less than 24 hours ago, Sherlock had come to the most extraordinary of all deductions; he, Sherlock Holmes loved John Watson. The desire to investigate that revelation set the nerve endings in his fingers tingling with a desire to touch, feel, stroke and explore, however right now in this very moment, the only thing his fingers were itching to do was to reach over and strangle the subject of his affection.
John! This was all John's fault! Stuck in this god-awful ferry terminal for the last five hours after another six-hour train ride, waiting for a favourable change in the weather pattern. And now, from what Sherlock could tell from his online research (not “playing,” John!) even if the ferry could exit the Algeciras terminal, there was little to no chance that it would be able to make it into the Tangier harbour in the next 24 hours. Suicide or homicide, he mused, were the only two appropriate methods of recourse in this particular circumstance .
“Attention all passengers." The terminal’s tinny and irritatingly loud speaker system came to life, yanking him back from his thoughts. “Please be advised that all ferry services between Algeciras and Tangier have been suspended indefinitely due to weather conditions in the Strait of Gibraltar.” Sherlock gritted his teeth and took in a deep breath through his nose. He knew what was coming next.
John started: “Right, then it looks like we will need to take the ferry to —”
“Ceuta,” Sherlock cut him off on the exhale. “Let’s go.”
Ceuta, the Spanish city on the north coast of Africa was the closest they could get to Morocco from where they currently were. While it was then still another 640 km to Marrakech from there, the unplanned change in their schedule presented Sherlock with the perfect opportunity to wrestle their travel itinerary back from John’s hands. That he was very much looking forward to. The ferry trip, not so much ...
Chapter 10: Bloody Awful
John found Sherlock on the portside outer deck, the strong winds at his back drawing his curls out to sea and his (trembling) hands white-knuckled, gripping the peeling white metal railing. It took John’s brain just one second more to register that the tremors were running through Sherlock's whole body, not just his hands.
“Oh God, Sherlock, you should have said something!” The sincere concern in John's voice carried above the sound of the wind rushing past Sherlock’s ears.
“What?” Sherlock looked up dimly from under the fringe lying limply across his forehead. “And deny you the pleasure of subjecting me to yet another tediously long, unfathomably unnecessary journey on public transportation? Why would I do that when I am clearly enjoying it so ...”
The remainder of Sherlock’s sentence was cut short as his stomach attempted to empty itself of absolutely nothing at all. Anything that had been in residence had exited his body the same way less than two minutes prior and Sherlock was profoundly grateful that John hadn't been present to witness that embarrassing demonstration of his transport’s weakness. This display was bad enough. Leaning back on his heels, hands still gripping the railing, he closed his eyes and rested his forehead on the railing. His head was jostled every few seconds by the ship’s movement, but he couldn't care to move to relieve the discomfort.
Seemingly encouraged into action by Sherlock’s limp form, John muttered a quick “wait here" under his breath before disappearing back into the ship the way he had come.
“Where is it that you think I could go?” Sherlock aimed his sarcasm at John’s back but fell well short.
John felt bloody awful.
Yes, Sherlock had been a pain in the arse, but no more than usual, and John certainly would never consider doing this to him on purpose. The purpose. The purpose of the journey had been to create marks in their memory, on their consciousness, in their hearts. Right now though, John wouldn't have faulted Sherlock if he thought that the purpose was just to torture him.
After some thorough searching and an overly animated but nonetheless fruitless conversation in which he tried to explain the nature of the issue to one of the wait staff in the restaurant, John finally spied someone who might be able to help him out.
“Here you go,” John announced upon his return, proffering his outstretched palm to Sherlock.
Sherlock pried his eyes open but the rolling waves simply served to encourage the rolling in his stomach, so he shut them both again tightly and just groaned. “Cyanide, perfect,” he muttered.
“No, not cyanide,” John drew out patiently. “Just chewable ginger, courtesy of the less than pleasant side effects of procreation.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow, encouraging one eye open to assist him in seeking the tablets from John's palm with his long fingers.
“Pregnant woman, morning sickness,” John answered the unasked question as he ran both palms down his thighs and backed up to take a seat on the bench behind Sherlock, still in the breeze but slightly sheltered.
After about five minutes of chewing, John was relieved to see the tremors in Sherlock’s body start to subside. Gathering himself, Sherlock pushed off from the railing and turned to lean his back against it, facing John.
“Deplorable human weakness,” he muttered, raking his hair back from his face, his eyes a little brighter.
For one tiny moment John was stunned into thinking that perhaps Sherlock was, for the first time, admitting to a personal flaw, but then he went on.
“It is generally agreed that hyperemesis gravidarum complicates only pregnancies in human beings.”
And just like that, Sherlock, his Sherlock was back. And John smiled inwardly as he knew they would never speak of this experience again.
Chapter 11: Mad Dogs
“Relax, try not to look so much like a soldier, John,” Sherlock muttered under his breath. “And for God’s sake don't look so gay.”
John harrumphed. He wasn't even in bloody uniform for Christ’s sake, but he conceded, (no need to call attention to his military service or his sexuality; same sex relations still being illegal in the country). Still, what exactly was there to draw anyone’s attention? Was it the polo shirt tucked in to the chinos? He knew he shouldn't have taken the salespersons advice; the shirt was far too pink and way too tight across his midsection! He tried to assume a “not military, not gay” demeanour but ended up looking loose, floppy and slightly drunk.
Sherlock, on the other hand, sailed up to the checkpoint flashing a smile at the scowling officer who examined his passport and then waived him through. John, to his chagrin, got to spend an extra ten minutes being interrogated by the said same officer on the reasoning for every trip abroad he had taken in the past five years. While he was being grilled, he glanced over to see Sherlock, leaning back against the rock wall, cigarette in one hand, face turned up to the sun, smirking; the bastard was smirking!
John clenched his fist, clenched his jaw, and tried to keep smiling. He caught a glance of himself in the scratched Perspex window of the checkpoint office and thought he looked a little insane.
“I don’t know why the hell they stopped me and didn't stop you,” he muttered as they finally let him go on his way with a “we’ll be keeping an eye on you” look.
Sherlock pushed himself off the wall, flicking the end of his cigarette onto the ground in front of him. “Oh John, they just think I'm an eccentric Englishman, you know, mad dogs and all that,” he gestured to his Belstaff and the still-burning-at-4pm sun before smirking again. “Or maybe they just didn't like your shirt.”
The limousine, long sleek and black stood out amongst the faded, dusty taxis. Sliding into the door held open by an equally long and sleek driver in an all-black uniform, Sherlock relaxed back into the soft leather seat. It wasn't often that he considered himself fortunate to be related to Mycroft, but this was certainly one of those times. He hadn't been particularly keen on calling in a favour so soon in the case, but desperate times called for desperate measures. And Sherlock was desperate to never have to follow John’s itinerary ever again.
Sherlock’s phone buzzed with a text message before John had even had time to take his seat.
I trust my driver was on time.
The jet will take you to the main airport in Marrakech. A driver will take you to the house to drop off your bags and then take you to the morgue.
How was the ferr y? (The smirk in Mycroft’s words was palpable).
Do let me know if you are in need of any other assistance.
(Piss off Mycroft). Sherlock shut off the screen and threw the phone onto the seat between them.
“Mycroft?” John nodded to the phone.
“Mycroft. Still just as annoying two and a half thousand kilometres away.”
John turned towards the limousine’s minibar and grabbed a foil packet. “At least he has quality nuts.”
Head back against the headrest and eyes lightly closed, Sherlock’s lips curled into a smile.
Chapter 12: Battle Dress
Truth be told, John was quite relieved to no longer be in charge of their transportation, but he sure as hell wasn't going to admit that to Sherlock. The journey by air had been pleasant but (thankfully) uneventful and a couple of hours later they found themselves being escorted by a houseman to their rooms in the house, located in the heart of Marrakech’s medina.
As they rounded the corner, the arch of the smooth stone hallway opened up into an open air courtyard and an elegantly suited man seated at an a small octagonal table in the middle, being served tea by another houseman.
Jesus fucking christ John swore under his breath. Not fucking dead!
Sherlock on the other hand, was practically vibrating, wringing his hands together with glee “oh, I had so hoped this would be the case" he whispered sideways to John all the while not taking his eyes off (the very alive, and very gorgeous) Mr Arnaud Guerin.
As they stepped out into the bright courtyard, John started mentally planning the man’s real murder.
“Very pleased to see that you are still alive, Mr …” Sherlock extended his hand, Guerin rose from the table to take it.
“Arnaud,” the equally graceful hand reached forward. “And you must be the illustrious Sherlock Holmes.”
“Arnaud,” Sherlock repeated, letting the beautiful name roll off his tongue as their elegant fingers wrapped around each other.
“Hi, John Watson,” John stated overly loudly (and hopefully quite obnoxiously) as he thrust his hand forward. It appeared to achieve its desired effect as Arnaud quickly released Sherlock’s hand and took a step backward.
“Yes, of course. Hello, Mr Watson.” The man was nothing if not polite. “I trust you had a pleasant journey. I imagine you will be wanting to freshen up, change clothes (of course he looked directly at John when he said that) before dinner?”
Arnaud then proceeded to reclaim his seat at the table and just like that, they were dismissed.
“So, not dead then,” John muttered as they followed the houseman up the stairs on the outside the courtyard to their rooms.
“Your powers of observation are, as always, remarkable John.”
“Don't be an ass, Sherlock, you know what I meant.” John bristled, “Are we being played? I don’t like being played. For god’s sake, even you thought that the first ones were practice for killing Guerin.”
“Does it really matter?” Sherlock stopped outside the door to the room the houseman had opened for him and turned to John. “It is after all the unexpected, the paradox that makes the game that much more interesting.”
John glared and took an irritated sniff.
Sherlock raised an eyebrow and fixed John with a look of not so innocent challenge. “You're not conceding the game already are you?” And with that he turned and swept through his doorway, leaving John to glare furiously at the door that closed between them.
John stalked through the door to his room, right beside Sherlock’s, and tossed his duffle bag on the floor by the bed. Restless, he paced the room, circling the brightly patterned rug.
Why was he alive? Stuff that. More to the point and John’s preference at this point in time, why was he not dead? It struck him that staying here, eating here, with him, did not bode well for their immediate or ongoing physical or (his) psychological well being. So why the hell were they?
And Arnaud. Arnaud. What sort of name was that anyway?
John’s mood did not improve when on a whim he took out his phone and proceeded to Google said name and the first search result that came up was from the Urban Dictionary :
Arnaud: derived from the word 'eagle ruler' in old french & old german (blah, blah!) BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, it's a name given mostly to very hot french guys who are ridiculously well endowed yet modest, romantic, brilliant & quite charming.
“Fuck,” he spat out, as he threw his cell phone at the bed, whereupon it proceeded to bounce off the well sprung (and probably exorbitantly expensive) mattress and slam into the door adjoining their rooms before thudding to the ground.
“Everything alright, John?” Sherlock’s voice floated smoothly from the other side.
“Dropped my phone,” came John's curt reply from between clenched teeth as he ripped his (very pink) shirt off over his head. He hurled it at the waste paper basket behind the door as he stalked into the bathroom for (it had better be) a long, relaxing shower.
The shower did wonders.
Time, John thought to himself, fixing his jaw determinedly, time to get this mission back on track. Now what was he going to wear? Of course, battle dress ...
Chapter 13: Shifting Ground
Both Sherlock and John emerged from their rooms for dinner at the same time, having been summoned by a houseman with a rap on their respective doors. And any thought that John had about challenging Sherlock intention to stay in this house went subsequently straight out the window, along with all his other thoughts.
John hadn't given any thought to how Sherlock was going to dress while they were in Morocco. If he had been asked, he would have assumed it would be the usual mix of silk shirts, bespoke suits and dress shoes that cost a bazillion pounds. So when Sherlock turned from shutting his door, John was, well … stunned.
Sherlock's beautiful long legs were clad in pants — linen, not wool — in a soft shade of coffee that John could only describe as delectable. His shirt was beige linen, sleeves rolled up to the elbows and polished mahogany belt matching his shoes highlighted his slim hips.
John was quite certain that his jaw had been hanging open even before he noticed the number of buttons on Sherlock’s shirt that had been left open, elongating his exquisite neck further than should be decently possible.
John snapped his jaw closed in an instant, determined that his increased attention (okay, yeah, arousal) not show on his face at least.
“Nice shirt,” was all he trusted himself to say, speaking directly to Sherlock's chin (he could not make eye contact, would not).
As usual, Sherlock was caught up in a dozen fractured lines of reasoning when he walked out of his room. As much as he enjoyed the game, the game he had dared John to quit, he was annoyed that he wasn't privy to any of the rules yet, rules clearly being dictated by Guerin.
Distracted by this annoyance, Sherlock practically ran into a (standing stock still) John when he turned from closing his door behind him. Hand still on the door knob, all thought patterns skidded to a very abrupt halt.
He blinked. And blinked. And blinked once more. He knew a greeting was probably in order (expected? required?), standard social custom and all that, but the necessary synaptic messages didn't seem to be making their way from his brain to engage the muscles in his tongue. He vaguely heard John mutter something (shirt?) before his brain exploded back into action, a hundred points of stimuli hitting it at once.
Shirt. Navy? No, royal blue. Sleeves rolled, collar open, sternocleidomastoid prominent all the way down to .... chest; chest visible, not ensconced in some form of criminally unfashionable woolen matter. Going down (yes please!): Pectoralis major. Rectus abdominis. External oblique. All delightfully prominent through the soft fabric of the shirt (how could he possibly have thought John was getting soft, softer yes, but not soft, oh God, and now he was getting hard ...). Further down (no, that wasn't helping, but he wasn't stopping now). Navy belt. White shorts (shorts!). Legs .... smooth, hairless again (why does that make him feel so weak at the knees?) leading down to trim ankles above boat shoes, no socks! Sherlock was completely taken by this version of John standing before him, a version that he had never thought to imagine.
He knew he had to say something intelligible, but all that came out, as he focused on John's feet was …. “umm, good".
“Yes, right then,” John snapped back into action, noting Sherlock's downward gaze. “Dinner".
Sherlock nodded. Dinner sounded far safer than staying right here.
Guerin was reclining, arms stretched out along the back of a red velvet chair, halfway down a long narrow sitting room. Lamps lining the floor were mirrored by lights on the ceiling, and the patterned tiles, a perfect match for the crimson, red and gold threads of the rugs beneath their feet.
“The house has several sitting rooms like this one,” Guerin began speaking as they approach, his eyes sharp, admiring on Sherlock. “I designed virtually everything here. You could call it an obsession.”
Sherlock didn't flinch under the gaze. He knew this game. A couple of moments pass in which John shifted his body slightly, but noticeably towards Sherlock, and then Guerin rose gracefully to his feet.
“You must be hungry.”
They followed Guerin to the end of the sitting room and out past a small alcove. Sherlock ran his eye over the Paul Jouve drawing and the pair of 19th century Syrian chairs as they passed. They entered a small dining room, and it was obvious that it rarely saw visitors. Everything was perfect, immaculate, untouched; a temple, a shrine. It was a beautiful place, but not a comfortable one.
“You have a fondness for Jouve,” Sherlock noted as he drew his chair out to take a seat at the table, directly opposite Guerin. John took the seat next to Sherlock.
Guerin’s eyes roamed possessively over the sketches on the wall and returned to Sherlock with a look of approval. “You are a fellow connoisseur of the arts, Sherlock?”
Sherlock studied the design on the table beneath his fingers before replying. “A connoisseur Arnaud? No. But I can appreciate things of beauty.”
He looked up as Guerin replied with eyes that darkened and glinted in the light as they drifted over Sherlock. “As can I.“
John was uncomfortable. So uncomfortable in fact, that it felt like he had indigestion even before he had started eating. The chair he was sitting on, the room he was in, this house, everything was making him ill at ease. And he was a soldier, he knows an enemy when he encounters one, and Guerin is most definitely that. He was not going to relax and he was absolutely not going to eat.
It was time to launch an offensive. “Correct me if I am mistaken Arnaud, but aren't you supposed to be dead?”
Guerin paused as a waiter entered the room to set down a large terracotta tagine in the middle of the table, alongside an equally large bowl of couscous.
Arnaud reached to remove the lid of the tagine and set it aside. “Yes, quite fortunate that one of my drivers bore a striking resemblance to me, don't you think?” his lips curled slightly at one end as he glanced at John. Motioning for Sherlock to pass his plate, he spooned a large helping of couscous and the chicken and apricots dripping in honey-cinnamon syrup from the tagine onto his plate.
“Not quite so fortunate for your driver,” John remarked dryly as Guerin motioned for him to do the same.
“True, but why look a gift horse in the mouth?” Guerin’s smiled but his eyes remained impassive as he awaited John's next parry, both of them gripping the sides of John's plate.
“Quite,” Sherlock remarked into the breach, breaking the impasse.
John glanced at Sherlock who nodded slightly and John released his grip on his plate. Guerin served John and himself and the meal (and the game it seems) was underway.
Chicken and apricot tagine: https://www.thespruceeats.com/chicken-and-apricot-tagine-2394703
Chapter 15: Making Enemies
“Do you know of any particular reason why someone might want you dead?”
“Plenty,” Guerin returned Sherlock’s question, long legs stretched out practically touching Sherlock’s.
They had returned to the living room and were seated low to the ground, around a small table, drinking coffee. The conversation during dinner never strayed far from the weather and memories of London (despite spending most of his time in a recluse-like state in this part of the world, it appeared that Guerin made frequent trips back to London). And although Guerin engaged John in a line or two of conversation, his attention never strayed far from Sherlock, seeking his opinion, sharing his thoughts and inching closer and closer with every word.
“One inevitably makes enemies if one is good at business. The belief that one can win and always be liked is entirely misinformed.”
“I agree, completely,” Sherlock took a sip from the ornate cup.
John had cast a suspicious glance at the coffee as it was poured into their cups, but he had taken Sherlock's cue that it was safe and started drinking himself. Not that it wasn't inconceivable, Sherlock allowed, the heavy spices in the dark coffee would easily conceal any trace chemical bitterness.
“But there must be those who dislike you more than others?”
“Absolutely,” John muttered under his breath.
Sherlock shot him a sharp look and John raised his eyebrows in mock innocence.
“You don't agree Mr Watson?”
How is it that Guerin addresses Sherlock by his first name but he gets “Mr Watson"?
“Maybe not liked, but I think that if you play a fair game then it is possible to be respected.”
“But where's the fun in that?”
And that’s about all John needs to know about the man. Case closed. He’s an arse, let's get back to London. But one look at Sherlock and he knew that they wouldn't be returning to the comforts of home anytime soon.
“I’ll need to look at your books, vendor contracts, financial accounts,” Sherlock stated.
Guerin nodded graciously, enticingly. “Of course. I will be back tomorrow morning and can take you through them. And perhaps a personal tour of my laboratory, if you are interested?”
John noted the desire in Sherlock’s eyes that he did not attempt to hide. As did Guerin. And with a self-satisfied smile, Guerin brought the evening to a close.
“Gentlemen, it has been a pleasure dining with you this evening, but it is late and I must be making my way back to my apartment.” Guerin moved to stand up, and in an act of uncharacteristic gracelessness, stumbled slightly and reached for Sherlock’s knees to steady himself. “Very sorry.”
Sherlock didn't flinch. “Anytime.”
John sniffed audibly, his nostrils flaring.
“I will be back tomorrow morning at 10am for your tour, till then, please do have a pleasant night,” and with that, Guerin took his leave.
All the more pleasant for your departure, John thought _________.
Chapter 16: So What
They walked the corridor leading to their rooms in silence. There were words, however… things that needed to be said. At least there were words that John needed to say.
Sherlock, on the other hand, seemed lost in thought and oblivious (or ambivalent) to the tension coursing through the blood in John's veins, pounding in his ears. Walking a few steps ahead, the fingers of Sherlock’s left hand gracefully trailed along the carved wooden railing.
“He wants you,” John threw the words at the back of Sherlock's head, challenging him to turn and deny it.
“What?” Sherlock did indeed turn, suddenly, abruptly, his body now less than a foot from John’s.
“You. Heard. What. I. Said. Sherlock. He wants you.” The words were clearly enunciated, despite being said through clenched teeth.
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed, his voice impervious. “So?”
Sherlock leaned forward, taking up more of John's personal space that he was comfortable allowing in his current state. Yet John refused to yield any ground.
“So?” John was practically vibrating at this point (breathe Watson).
“Yes, so? So, he wants me, it happens,” Sherlock's voice took on a sharp, impervious tone.
John glared back.
Sherlock had an indication before dinner that John didn't particularly care for their host (his pronounced fight response was one glaringly obvious clue), but had attributed this to the man’s resurrection (John had never appreciate being toyed with). But it had become abundantly clear throughout the course of dinner that John's issue with Guerin went far deeper.
Of course Sherlock knew when someone was flirting with him, what sort of imbecile did John take him for? His ability to read intent in the smallest of gestures, purpose in the slightest of non-verbal cues was how he could always predict what someone would do or say well before they did.
And of course he knew Guerin was trying to draw him in; eye contact far longer than necessary, frequent but accidental touches, words chosen deliberately to caress and entice. Guerin was the type of person who considered all those around him as prey, and right now, for whatever reason, Sherlock was his quarry. And currently it suited Sherlock to encourage his advances, to draw him in. What he needed was to understand the true nature of the game, and who better to reveal it than, clearly, one of its main players.
Sherlock had never been above prostituting himself, using his body, his looks, for a case. Merely transport. As far as he was concerned people attributed far to much value to the interaction of muscle and flesh, the exchange of bodily fluid. But, he conceded, that had been prior to the recognition of his feelings for John. Which went some way to explain why he had chosen to provoke John rather than bringing him into the game.
Sherlock had felt off his game throughout dinner. Each time Guerin had drawn him in, he had felt John stiffen and he knew that it was his complicitness, as much as Guerin’s advances, that was the cause of John’s distress. He had also been distracted each time he saw Guerin’s gaze flicker over John, assessingly. Not only did Sherlock need his whole concentration to be on the game, he didn't need (well, didn't want) John to attract Guerin’s notice.
Sherlock had also realised that while he was now quite sure of his feelings towards John, he had no assurance of John’s feelings. Yes, John liked him, was attracted to him, probably even loved him, but did he desire more? He had once, and Sherlock had effectively rebuked him.
Figuring out this emotional stuff, how to be them in the middle of a case, was proving to be far more difficult than he had estimated and all of a sudden, he was quite exhausted by it all. He took the breath he didn’t know he had been holding.
“He’s dangerous, Sherlock.”
“But danger doesn't bother you John,” and with that, Sherlock turned and walked off, leaving John standing in the corridor.
Chapter 17: Whose Side?
Standing alone in the corridor, John felt like he had whiplash. Barely 24 hours before, he had been reveling in Sherlock’s company in the piazza in Madrid and now, now it felt like everything he had thought they had created had been summarily dismissed.
As pissed off as he had been at Arnaud's advances, he had been sure that Sherlock’s responses had all been part of an act, contrived, and that he would soon be brought in on the game. But if Sherlock had been intending to, now would have been the time. Instead, Sherlock was in his room, alone, and he was out here, trying to figure out how it all had gone so spectacularly badly.
And he needed to seriously calm the fuck down.
John stood, leaning on the railing, for the best part of an hour, the intoxicating scent of the night-flowering tuberose drifting up from the courtyard below and enveloping him. The climate reminded him very much of his time in Afghanistan, intolerably hot days but refreshingly cool nights of inky blue skies littered with a million points of light. He always felt a measure of peace, sleeping under the desert stars, and again, the feeling settled in his bones, calmed his nerves, and cleared his mind.
Surveying the view of the Marrakesh skyline outside his window, Sherlock was tired, too tired to consider working all of this out with John right now. But there was one person for whom he had plenty of energy.
Your intelligence is wrong. SH
Two seconds later his phone pinged in response.
My intelligence is never wrong.
Guerin is alive. SH
I'm calling you. Make sure you answer. SH
Need I remind you that you are the one who prefers to text?
It's 11pm in Marrakesh, midnight in London, but Mycroft was, of course, still at the office.
Sherlock didn’t wait for a greeting, just for the sound that the call had been connected. “When were you planning to inform me that he wasn't the body in the morgue?”
“I thought you would figure it out for yourself.” Mycroft already sounded bored with the conversation.
“Mycroft. You have precisely 20 seconds, after which time I will be hanging up and chartering the next flight back to London. On your account.”
To Sherlock’s chagrin, Mycroft achieved it in 19.
“Let me get this straight. You had Guerin under surveillance for six months, and it took two dead bodies before you figured out that someone else was interested in him as well, and then you failed to prevent the third murder?”
“Let's just say we may not have our best people down there.”
“That's reassuring. So you know who was behind it? The agent who tried to prevent the last one would have information.”
“Sadly no, he's dead too.”
“Sadly he's dead or sadly you don't have the information.”
“Don't be sentimental Sherlock.”
“Whose side are you actually on Mycroft?”
“England's, of course.”
“Your people do know that John and I are here, don’t they? I don't want them whacking us by mistake.”
‘My people do not whack.”
‘They are aware of your presence.”
“Why are you even involved in this? Don't you have a war to start somewhere?”
“This is how we start wars.”
“Send me the file, the real file.”
“It's on it's way.”
Sherlock hung up just as a Mycroft induced migraine threatened to take over.
Chapter 18: Later John
It was 5am and John was annoyed. Annoyed in the way that one is when one has gone to bed annoyed, dreamt of vague, meaningless but nevertheless extremely annoying things, and been woken up by an extremely annoying, fully dressed consulting detective bouncing on the end of one's bed. So, thoroughly annoyed.
Turning from hugging (strangling) the pillow to his side, John threw himself dramatically onto his back, starfish style, one arm draped across his eyes. He didn't usually do dramatic, but he was annoyed, it was 5am and he was going to try dramatic on for size. He hoped desperately that at the very least it would be enough to make the bouncing mirage at the end of his bed disappear.
No. Such. Luck.
“Up John, it's time to get up.” Sherlock yanked on the covers.
“Nope.” John yanked back.
“We have five hours before we need to be back here to meet Guerin.” And with one strong flourish he whipped the covers completely free of the bed and deposited them on the ground.
Suddenly John was very, very glad that he had decided to wear pajamas to bed last night (and that his irritation was serving to dampen his usual morning wood). He sighed, now more resigned than dramatic. “Where are we going?”
And with that Sherlock knew he had him. Eyes sparkling, curls draping over his forehead, his large hands cradling John's head now just a few inches from his own.
“To the morgue, John.”
“Breakfast first, Sherlock!”
“Of course, John. Take your time,” Sherlock assured as he shimmied off (John) the bed gracefully and made for the door (how the bloody hell had he gotten in anyway?). “But be ready to go in ten minutes".
Last night's “discussion" was still consuming him, as he knew it was still bothering John. And when John showed up for breakfast in the courtyard, freshly showered, shaved (yes, the legs again!) he had the tell tales signs of concern and a restless night’s sleep etched into the lines on his face and the bags under his eyes.
Sherlock was sorry his actions had added to John's distress (after all, he wasn't an unfeeling sociopath was he?) and he knew they needed to talk, but not now; right now, today, they needed to Work.
Aside from the added worry, John looked very much today as he had last night; seriously fuckingly, distractingly, attractive. Same shorts, different shirt (thankfully no sign of the pink number, seriously what was the salesperson thinking?) but still the same, gorgeously compact physique of one loyal army doctor on display. It was nearly enough to motivate a second morning wank (good god, as if being that close to John's horizontal form earlier hadn't been stimulus enough!).
Sherlocks thoughts (fantasies) came to an abrupt halt as he realized that John was about to attempt something very unwise.
“Sherlock, about last night …” John started uncomfortably as he pulled the chair out to sit down.
“Later John,” Sherlock dismissed, slightly panicked. “Work now, talk later,” (with later preferably being sometime between “never” and “when hell froze over”).
John sighed, acquiescing, but with a look that told Sherlock they would be discussing the matter before the day was done.
Despite the conversation that hung between them, unspoken and stale, breakfast was altogether rather pleasant. A little outside their usual Baker street fare, the traditional Moroccan breakfast consisted of a fried egg, a wedge of cream cheese and a couple of olives, followed by sweet mint tea. Any qualms that John might have had about a lack of carbs was done away with when the French influence appeared in the form of a basket stacked high with croissants, pain au chocolat and a variety of other pastries.
“How long did it take before the bodies were discovered?” John asked, retrieving (another?) croissant from the basket; Sherlock had been finished with breakfast before they had arrived at the tea ( oh yes, last night’s lack of dinner was probably the cause of John's robust appetite).
Sherlock shook off the slither of guilt. “The shortest, a couple of hours, the longest a couple of days. The first body, the gardener, has already been interred but the other two, tradesman and driver should give us enough to work with though their skills were pretty badly damaged.” Sherlock rotated the empty gold and navy tea glass thoughtfully. “From the photos it appears that the autopsies weren't too extensive so the bodies should be largely preserved.”
“Theories?” John's voice dropped lower, in case the house had ears.
“Do you think Guerin just got lucky?”
“Too soon to tell,” Sherlock's eyes met John's and then cocked his head, “but it does seem awfully coincidental doesn't it, and the universe, you know, is rarely so lazy.”
Usually that sort of response would earn him a wry knowing smile from John, but not today, today John just looked uncertain. Uncertainty; that was the problem that was plaguing them both. Ordinarily Sherlock would have shared the new information from Mycroft with John. Ordinarily, Sherlock would have voiced his suspicion that Guerin hadn't acquired enemies just because he was “good at business”. Ordinarily he wouldn't be enjoying breakfast in a potential killers home (yes, he was 99% sure that Guerin was behind each of the murders, he just wasn't sure about the why yet). None of this was ordinary. Him, John, this, them, now; it was all strange and they were both off balance. He had to find a way to restore the natural order of things and he figured he had about a day to do it before everything went irreversibly sideways.
Chapter 19: Very Dead
The municipal morgue was located in a low red stone building bearing absolutely no resemblance to the type of medical facility Sherlock was used to, but as had been the sum of their experiences since arriving in Morocco, things were playing out a bit differently than expected.
A facility official greeted them as soon as they alighted from their taxi at the building’s entrance. Sherlock had earlier noted the flare of interest in John's eyes as he had instructed the taxi driver in French and now, engaged in a lengthy discussion with the very enthusiastic, rather young morgue assistant, Nassif, Sherlock was relishing the opportunity to show off a little more.
The corpses were being stored together in one of the autopsy rooms. They had been due to be released to their next of kin a couple of days ago, but a subsequent request (an order no doubt issued by Mycroft or one of his minions) had put a stay to that. As expected, the unlucky (incompetent) agent’s body wasn't here, no doubt spirited away by Mycroft. He tapped off a text message to Mycroft as they walked. He would be needing to examine that one too.
The roof low, the corridors narrow, dimly lit, ushered them towards the autopsy room. Two small windows sat atop one of the walls, not large enough to draw in any natural light and as a result, everything took on the eerie flatness of the clinical white light. Nassif had attempted to provide Sherlock and John with a pair of gloves upon entry but Sherlock eschewed them in favour of the ones he had brought with him. Silently handing John the second pair, he made his way round the two stainless steel autopsy tables in the centre of the room to the wall of cold chamber drawers behind it.
With a dramatic heave, he opened a drawer, sliding out body number one. Nassif reached for the second drawer and between the three of them they maneuvered the corpses onto the tables, directly under the bank of glaring fluorescent lights. For the next half an hour, Sherlock went back and forth between the two bodies and the tray of instruments on the workbench behind him. As expected, the preliminary autopsies had been nominal, the blunt force trauma to the skulls taken as a clear indication of cause of death, and with the bodies being kept below 4 °C (Sherlock checked the chamber gauge), the decomposition had been slowed. Plenty to work with.
Samples from various locations and organs were taken, deposited into small tubes and handed to Nassif to seal and label; a scraping here, an incision there, tissue, muscle, flesh, liquid. All meticulously catalogued by the attentive assistant who seemed very keen to assist the tall, dark, strange foreigner who spoke such beautiful French.
John sighed from his position leaning against the door; everyone, it seemed, was taken by Sherlock. Really though, who could blame them? Right here, like this, he was extraordinary, the vast expanse of his mind narrowing in on the smallest of details, the slightest of indices.
“What do you see John?”
John stepped closer, having been comfortable to leave Sherlock to his own devices, but now quite keen to provide his assistance.
“Apart from the fact that their skulls have been bashed in? I see… two bodies, early stage two decomposition; gasses evident in limbs and torso and accompanying bacterial discolouration of skin.”
“Yes, but what about the limbs?”
Muscle, sinew, bone, both bodies men had been strong and were still relatively lean in spite of the bloating … but there was something ...
John moved to take up a position between the two bodies, and Sherlock stepped back to allow him working space.
Something about the bloating ...
John pressed a gloved finger to the flesh on the upper right arm and then the top of the right leg of one of the bodies, comparing the bounce back rate.
That didn't make sense. No, not unless they had been stored standing up?
“Oedema in the legs is most likely pre-death.” John pronounced.
Sherlock smiled. He always enjoyed watching John in “doctor” mode; thoughtful, skilled, in command.
John reached for the hand of the same corpse. “Lesions ... dermatitis? Chemical irritation? ... What was it that these people did for a living?”
Sherlock flipped through the file on his phone. “Number one was the tradesman, and number two, the driver. Manual labour might explain the lesions, but not on the driver. And neither explains the excess fluid in their legs.”
“And take a look at the photos of the three of them,” Sherlock handed John his phone. “Notice anything else?”
“Not really, they all kind of look the same.”
“Yes, John, that’s the point . They are all tall, dark, muscular but lean - perhaps uncommon in London, but certainly not in this part of the world.”
John handed the phone back to Sherlock and leaned back against one of the tables. “So, correlation not causation. They may have looked like Guerin but that’s not why they were murdered? Still in close proximity to the man though.”
“ ... we’re done here,“ the snap of Sherlock’s gloves being removed reinforcing his words.
“The bodies? Sherlock, are you finished with the bodies?”John nodded between the bodies and Nassif who was looking expectant (and finally a little less like a besotted puppy, thank god).
Sherlock looked at John, uncomprehendingly. “Evidence, John,” the enunciation clear, the implication that John was an idiot, also clear.
John bit down on his exasperation. “Yes Sherlock, evidence, but also someone's family member, a family with traditions and customs that dictate that they should have been buried days ago.”
Nassif smiled gratefully at John as Sherlock took in both of them (a h, social norms). Sherlock's eyes flicked over the bodies a final time, he would have liked to keep them to play with a bit more but he knew better than to try that on John ( warm, decent John). “Yes, good, done”.
“So, back to the house then?”
“No John, I think we need to see the sights.”
“See. The. Sights?” John couldn’t help but speak each word clearly and carefully, quite sure he had heard Sherlock wrong.
“Yes, see the sights , isn't that what one does when one is travelling?” Sherlock’s eyes held a twinkle.
“Um yes, but aren't we supposed to be on a case? What about meeting Guerin at ten?” Suddenly John felt more than a little off balance.
“Guerin will wait, there are worlds to explore,” Sherlock dismissed John's concerns with a sweep of his hand to the (complete lack of) view outside the small windows.
John's reluctance had nothing to do with the idea that they were screwing with Guerin’s agenda, it was just that he was quite sure that Guerin was not a man who waited for anything and he was a little concerned that Sherlock’s read on him was a bit off. However he was not nearly concerned enough to pass up this unique opportunity to see the sights with Sherlock so he quickly shrugged it off and grinned back.
“Lead the way.”
Chapter 20: Deemed Worthy
“It has a world heritage listing,” Sherlock remarked to no one in particular and John specifically as he leaned over the front seat of the taxi to hand the dirham to the driver. “Merci.”
Comprising over 700 hectares of lanes, houses, souks, fondouks, activities and trades, the medina was the beating heart of Marrakesh from its retail front to its living core. As they traversed the covered alleyways lit by gaps in the misplaced roof slats, Sherlock and John found it difficult to walk even a block without being offered the opportunity to purchase one or several of anything and everything at "bargain" prices; colorful lanterns of embossed tin, reams of rich silk, ornate bridles for even more beautiful horses, and a multitude of leather goods. It was everything a traveler might want to purchase (and quite a few things that surely had never occurred to them to want).
The paths inside the market twisted and turned, following no discernable pattern but forming a map in Sherlock’s mind, an aerial view of a myriad of sights, sounds and smells. The further they journeyed deeper into its heart, the less perfect things became. Artifacts that had been lined up at the entrance in symmetrical colour blocks and patterns designed to attract the tourist eye gave way to the real medina, a place where the residents bought their goods amongst colorful reams of cotton dripping dye drying above their heads. It should have made him uneasy, this absence of pattern and reason, but Sherlock found it having quite the opposite effect, the colours and the sounds floating in and swirling around, stilling his usually frantic thoughts.
John had settled in beside him, loping along at a casual relaxed pace, the tense demeanor that had possessed him the night before and still a little this morning, now just an underlying whisper, not the entire movement. They did not speak, save to gesture to each other occasionally at something that caught their eye, John perfectly content that Sherlock knew exactly where they were going and equally content to follow him there.
John found plenty of things about Sherlock dead sexy, but Sherlock speaking French for the better part of the day had just claimed the number one goddam spot. That being said, Sherlock engaged in a very heated, very dramatic, very French argument with the proprietor of the dagger shop had the potential to derail all his lustful thoughts. So rather than risk the sexiness slipping through his fingers along with the item over which the argument was being conducted, John decided it was time to assist.
Putting his hand gently on Sherlock’s shoulder, John drew Sherlock’s attention away from the latest tirade being delivered at twice his usual deduction speed, giving it a distinct resemblance of rapid gun fire. Gun fire accompanied by very theatrical gesticulating (the fact that both the proprietor and Sherlock were matching each other shot for shot, gesticulation for gesticulation was a fair indication that the negotiation was going absolutely nowhere).
“Let me try?” John's inquiry was startlingly soft amongst the animation.
The muscles shifting under his hand tensing, Sherlock turned to John. For a moment, John had the feeling that removing something from the jaws of a snarling pit bull might be an easier task than withdrawing Sherlock from this “discussion” but to his surprise, Sherlock’s expression softened. He nodded silently before drifting off to the other side of the shop front, taking up residence on one of the well-stuffed poufs in the corner.
Once he had seen Sherlock settled in comfortably in his usual pose of staring at his steepled fingers, John turned back towards the proprietor.
“Hi, my name is John,” he extended his hand warmly. English was all he had, so English it was going to be.
“Hello, I am Ayoub,” a hand reached back in greeting.
“May we sit?” John indicated towards the other poufs placed round the small table, close to the ground.
“Please,” Ayoub smiled, mirroring John's gesture. “Tea?”
John smiled and nodded, then nodded in Sherlocks direction in encouragement. “Please, yes.”
Ayoub’s smile dimmed slightly when he followed John’s gaze to Sherlock, but seemingly content to let their argument rest with only a slight narrowing of his eyes, he turned to his assistant. His assistant who had, up until now, remained towards the back of the shopfront (no doubt slightly concerned by the previous heated goings-on), disappeared into the back of the shop and John took the initiative.
“They are very beautiful," his eyes roamed the myriad of daggers lining the walls of the shopfront, encircling them.
And they were. These were not the flashy offerings to be had at the stores towards the front of the medina; mounts of white metal and adorned with colorful stones. These were singularly beautiful examples of the characteristic traditional koummya dagger of the Berber and Arabic peoples.
“May we see?”
Ayoub’s smile broadened across his face as he stood up to unhook several from their place on the wall. All but one he lay on the table between them, the other, the one that had caught Sherlock’s interest, he placed in John's hands. John in turn, handed it carefully, gently to Sherlock.
Sherlock’s finger traced the embossed silver surface of the scabbard back and forth from the wooden hilt to its exaggeratedly upturned tip. His left hand gripped the smooth narrow, flared pommel. John stared, distracted by the hands and the dagger; so beautifully made for each other.
Sherlock himself appeared mesmerised by the path his finger was taking but eventually he lifted his head, eyes shining. “May I?” he made a gesture akin to unsheathing the dagger.
Ayoub smiled and nodded in agreement, the open admiration of his work serving to erase the last remnants of their disagreement.
Sherlock gently withdrew the curved, double edged blade from its sheath, displaying its lethal beauty. Relatively thin and utilitarian, the dagger was made to be both admired and effective. Sherlock continued to examine the dagger, twisting it this way and that, tracking the passage of light reflecting from the thick base to the thin tip as John and Ayoub partook in the mint infused tea and chatted in broken English.
Half an hour later, tea having being taken and the transaction having been made, Sherlock and John were walking out of the Medina, Sherlock in possession of the dagger and a certain sense of confusion at not knowing exactly how the deal had been engineered.
“I do not profess to understand the problem,” Sherlock’s brows came together, studying the dagger in his hands. “I knew its worth, what I was willing to pay and what he was willing to accept; which was the exact amount I ended up paying. But he just wouldn't take it from me in the beginning.”
John ran his hand through his hair, the heat of the day rising to bring a sheen to his forehead and prickle at his temples as they neared the uncovered entrance to the medina. “It’s an art form, Sherlock, a dance, a give and take of language, not a brutal battle of wits. Artisans like Ayoub want to know that you are worthy. They have spent hours, days, months creating, loving their work, and would rather miss a sale than have their work possessed by someone who did not appreciate the beauty.”
“Worthy,” Sherlock mused as he hailed the closest taxi, his eyes shining as he studied John, his John, his extraordinary John who had achieved what he had been unable to and in doing so given him something he would cherish forever.
John breathed deeply and smiled happily as he climbed into the back seat beside Sherlock.
Chapter 21: Cracks Appearing
Despite the sinking feeling that they were walking straight back into the lion's den, John was still humming happily when they entered the house. They found Guerin seated at the same table in the courtyard, drinking tea.
“Apologies for our tardiness,” Sherlock offered smoothly. “We were … unexpectedly detained.”
Guerin’s expression didn't change from the cool detachment he had been studying his tea with but his annoyance was clear. “Detained in the medina?” he sniffed the air inquiringly. “At least you possessed the basic sense to buy quality.”
Guerin turned to summon the houseman to remove the tea, and Sherlock took the opportunity to give John a sly wink.
Bloody hell, the realization crackled across John's brain. Sherlock was playing him. And with that single thought every fiber of jealousy that had coursed through his blood yesterday melted away. They still needed to talk about things, talk about them , but in the meantime, the game was bloody on!
Chapter 22: Doctor Watson
John hadn't quite known what to expect once they had passed through the entrance to the laboratory. If he had been asked his opinion he would have suggested that perhaps the “replication of medieval North African designs found in books” was a tad overdone and the “intricate Moorish patterns on the walls and ceilings” too busy. But since Guerin hardly acknowledged his presence as he waxed lyrical about his domestic masterpiece, John tagged along behind, simmering in his own interior design critic rage and giving the hideous monkey skull on the sacrificial table outside the laboratory door the evil eye and a very wide berth as he passed (Jesus fucking christ this place couldn't get any creepier ).
The laboratory was another thing all together and if Sherlock wasn't coming in his pants, right then and there, John thought he had to be close. Stark, clinical perfection; if there was such a thing as laboratory heaven, this was probably it (John had never seen an operating theater look so clean, nor a lab so well appointed - it put Bart’s and the entirety of the NHS to shame).
John ignored the tour being directed by their self appointed guide …..”research for fragrances... inspired by the musks and spices of Morocco... “ (blah, blah, blah) in favour of examining the multitude of bottles lining the walls. He did however continue keep one eye on Guerin. Just because John now knew what Sherlock was up to, it didn't mean he didn't feel any less homicidal every time Guerin reached over to touch Sherlocks arm in a “friendly French conversational manner”.
On one wall, steel shelves were lined with row after row of identically sized bottles holding captive all shades of deep orange/red, semi-transparent, slightly viscous liquid. Rosa damascena 98-70991-52 , one of the labels read. On the adjoining wall, larger bottles of a variety of shapes rested; liquids of crystal clear to warm golden brown. Jars of thicker looking substances on the bench surface.
Once Sherlock could no longer resist the draw of the impressive array of scientific equipment taking up the space on the long metal bench in the middle of the room, Guerin was left to himself, or more precisely to John (how red would the blood from Guerin’s nasal cavity look splattered on the gleaming white floor?).
Guerin walked towards John and the wall of orange and red, surveying his possessions. “There are over 300 chemical constituents of Rosa damascena or what you would call Moroccan rose oil. The majority are present in mere trace amounts, but each in own way contributes to the tenacity of the aroma. The composition changes continuously during the plant’s life cycle, varying between different parts of the plant and even between different populations of identical species. Hence the need for thorough scientific analysis; I don't just make perfume here, I'm a chemist. This is chemistry.”
Trying to put as much distance between himself and Guerin as he could, John distracted himself with some pieces of wood (chunks of trees?) lying on the bench in front of him. He picked up a egg sized piece to examine it more closely.
“Have a care, Mr. Watson.” Guerin came (slithered) up behind him. “What you are holding there is more valuable than gold. First-grade agarwood is one of the most expensive natural raw materials in the world, prices for superior pure material are as high as 1000 US a kilo.”
Ignoring his gut instinct to just punch Guerin in the nose, John made to ask him more about the strange smelling piece of wood before Sherlock interjected.
“Its Doctor Watson.”
John and Guerin turned to face Sherlock. Guerin sounding like he wanted anything but further explanation, and John looking fascinated.
Sherlock didn't bother lifting his head from his examination of a set of results having being previously produced by the industrial mass spectrometer, his eyes still tracing the multitude of fingerprint lines.
“It’s Doctor Watson, not Mr. Watson. You and I might both be chemists but John here is that only one who actually bothered studying and passing the exams and the only one who is actually recognized in the scientific community by his credentials. So it will be Doctor not Mister Watson.
John couldn't prevent the grin forming on his face and Sherlock’s eyebrow twitched slightly, as Guerin stiffened, the only acknowledgement that the shot had been a direct hit.
Chapter 23: This. Now.
Seemingly they had now taken up as much of Guerin's time as he was willing to spare. With Sherlock engrossed in the readings he was getting from the mass spectrometer, Guerin issued a demand (not so much to John as at John) that they join him for dinner that night at the restaurant on the front corner of the medina before tossing John a business card and stalking his way out of the laboratory without a backward glance.
As soon as the door clicked behind him, and before John could even glance at the card, Sherlock was up and off his stool with the lithe grace of a jungle cat, cool scientific inquiry replaced by a predatory appraisal and all of it trained on John.
Before John knew what was happening, Sherlock was advancing on him and he in turn was shuffling backward (trying desperately) to maintain some distance between them and allow his brain to catch up with the very abrupt change in proceedings and the sudden increase in temperature in the room (or was that just him?).
John’s journey backwards (goddammit it, okay, strategic retreat ), was cut short when the edge of the bench behind him dug into his lower back, the impact of which he couldn't quite muffle. “Oompf.”
Scrambling to maintain his footing, both metaphorically and literally, John grabbed frantically at the hard edge behind him and blurted out. “What are you doing Sherlock?”
“What does it look like I am doing John?” Sherlock purred into the foot or so of air between them, his head cocked to the side, his eyes zeroing in on John's and flicking down to his lips hungrily.
“What? Fine,” John couldn't seem to do anything but stutter, his voice an octave higher than he would prefer and his cock making moves to head in the same direction. “Fine, why are you doing it, then?” John focused on Sherlock's eyes to keep from straying to his (full, pouty, kissable) lips, desperately trying to keep his wits about him as his heart rate rocketed.
“Well, two reasons,” Sherlock replied smoothly, biting his (obscenely pink, need that on me right now) bottom lip. “One, because I think that Arnaud really wouldn't appreciate it and two, because I really, really want you to fuck me right now. Do you have a problem with that?”
John visibly blanched, as much out of surprise as the sudden jolt of arousal that hit him in the chest, and slithered hotly down to his groin. His vision blurred slightly and he desperately tried to remember why this shouldn't be a good idea ( it's a very good idea, a very good idea, his cock started to chant ).
No, he was a soldier and he would see this mission through. “Sherlock,” he tried for as warning a tone as he could manage though he was pretty sure that it came out sounding a lot more like a moan. “We need to talk ... last night ... everything!”
“Really John,” Sherlock leant in to run his nose up the side of John's neck to his ear, breathing in deeply (lick me please, please!). “Right now you want to talk?”
“No (whine), yes, no ... but we do need to talk.”
“Later, John,” Sherlock swiftly pronounced, placing his hands on either side of John's hips, bracing himself on the bench and effectively caging John in, as he attached his mouth to John's neck.
John ceased all protest.
Chapter 24: Oh Yes
Wanted John. Needed John. Had to have John. Right now . And that want, that desperate need had over-ridden every other coherent thought in his mind. Why had he felt the need to stake his claim as soon as Guerin had left the room?
Fuck Guerin. No one talked to John like that! Sherlock knew that John had a protective streak, but he wasn't aware of just how strong his own was until Guerin had started his condescending bullshit. And realizing that John had only been allowing it happen for the Work, for him, the resultant surge of lust had overwhelmed him.
Good god John tasted divine. Warm, salty, intense, combined with a lingering hint of the spices from the medina. Heady, the throbbing pulse under Sherlocks tongue matched his own, beat for beat.
Sherlock was pretty sure that he could spend the rest of his life, right here, licking and sucking the length of John’s neck and listening to him whimper, eyes closed, neck arched back, the shivers running through his entire body making Sherlock shiver in return at every point their bodies touched.
At the back of Sherlock's mind, there was a niggling worry that yes, John was probably right, that talking first was probably a good idea — a sensible, rational, practical idea. But when his teeth accidently grazed John’s pulse point and John growled — actually growled in response — his desire to see this through completely over-rode that concern.
And with John's eyes now open, his hungry tongue, teeth, mouth on Sherlock’s and his hands determinedly pulling Sherlock's shirt free from his pants, it appeared as if John was quite willing to let it go too.
“Off now,” John demanded into Sherlock’s open mouth as he abandoned Sherlock's shirt to pull his own off over his head. Sherlock scrambled to comply. Where initially he had been leading the way, he was now more than happy for John to take charge.
In the time it had taken for Sherlock to begin releasing the buttons on his shirt, John had reversed their positions, and now Sherlock found his back pressed against the bench, his belt being tugged open. As Sherlock slipped the last button free, his hands stilled. Sensing a corresponding stilling in John, he drew his eyes up, and found himself caught in John's startled gaze.
“Jesus, Sherlock,” his words came out breathy and slightly weak, his eyes drawn down the smooth planes of Sherlock’s chest to his lean abdominal muscles.
“John,” Sherlock breathed back, for all intents and purposes, as shocked at the path they were hurtling down.
“I want to, can I?” John's hands were begging to follow the same journey his eyes were taking.
(Slowly) gently he reached out to place his hands, fingers spread wide on the narrowest part of Sherlocks waist, and began to rub his thumbs back and forth across the skin spread tight across his bottom ribs. ( Smooth. Soft. Mesmerising ). Neck bent forward, breathing deeply, Sherlock’s eyes studied the path of John's thumbs intently.
An irresistible pull; the pressure of John’s palms increased as he stroked up towards his pecs, smoothing their way across his chest and nipples up to the junction of his neck (god the man was gorgeous, all lithe limb and sinewy tendon over lean muscle ). Sherlock tilted his head backwards, exposing the long line of his neck, his eyes closing as John stroked over his shoulders and down his upper arms.
Deeper (more) ; tracing his path in reverse, John's grip tightened on Sherlocks shoulders (firm, strong) rubbing the indents with his thumbs as his heart rate increased. His hands kept smoothing up Sherlocks neck, stopping to cradle his face (up this close he was truly breathtaking) . As Sherlock's eyes drifted open, John drew their faces together and breathed into an open mouthed kiss (home). Warm, wet tongue met warm, wet tongue as Sherlock returned the attention and his hands moved to John's face to mimic his hold.
Urgent, devouring (oh, yes, mine); in an instant, slow sliding, gentle caressing was replaced by a flurry of gripping hands, eager lips and thrusting tongues. John shifted his hold to cradle the back of Sherlock's head, fingers threading through soft curls while his other hand guided Sherlocks jaw this way and that. And Sherlock went with him, returning every thrust and parry and challenging John for more.
Chapter 25: Carrier Oil
Never had Sherlock been so grateful for John’s natural inclination to take charge. What he had initiated as a lust filled assault had transformed into something far deeper — intimacy — and Sherlock felt slightly out of his depth. (Stop thinking. Stop thinking. Stop thinking).
And whether it was the internal mantra or the dopamine starting to flood his brain (want more, more) , Sherlock found himself back on track, returning John’s ministrations .
Without breaking contact with his lips, John's hands travelled to Sherlocks hips and gripping, ( yes, yes ) hoisted him up onto the bench. Now he was able to get even closer (he really was a genius) , wrapping his legs around John’s hips and drawing him in.
Their breaths hitched in unison as their now completely hard erections came into direct (though still covered) contact with each other. Sherlock groaned deeply and began scrabbling at John's belt buckle, his own already undone, allowing easy access for John to unzip him and push his fingers down between the waistband of his pants and begin to stroke the ( oh, sensitive) curls, each follicle registering the path of John's fingers. Reflexively, he sucked in his stomach to provide John greater, easier access.
John's belt having been momentarily forgotten (distracted) Sherlocks fingers returned to John’s waist once more, twisting this way and that and (finally) managing to get the buckle free before the pads of John's fingers brushed against his shaft and he lost all focus. Lick, suck, nibble, their mouths continued as John's fingers explored.
“Shift up,” John commanded and Sherlock acquiesced, lifting his hips to allow John to drag his trousers, and with them his pants, down past his knees.
And then finally (perfect) John wrapped the strong, dexterous fingers of one hand around his cock and began stroking lazily, the fingers of his other, drifting over his perineum and across his balls which were desperately trying to shrink up into his body. Fuck, he definitely wasn't going to last very long (they needed …)
Lube . Both hands fully occupied, John's brain finally started going through the logistics. He was clean, he knew Sherlock was clean, okay, they could dispense with condoms. But lube was a must, lube was always a must ...
At that precise moment Sherlock reached backwards and snagged a couple of the brown bottles, sliding them back John’s way.
“Yeah, nope,” John shook his head decisively, pushing the bottles back towards Sherlock and crossing his arms.
“Carrier oil John, it makes a perfectly good substitute for lube, just like olive oil."
“Yes, maybe in a kitchen — well, no, not our kitchen,” John shuddered at the thought. “And definitely not in this house of hell!”
“You seriously think that Guerin’s grand plan is to kill us off through penetrative transmission of tainted avocado oil?” Sherlock raised one eyebrow dryly.
“I wouldn't put it past him,” John wasn't going to cede anything to that arsehole. “And no, before you even think about it, I'm not going to stand around here with my dick hanging out of my pants while you put that stuff through the mass spectrometer to prove that it is, in fact, safe. So it will be hands and mouths or we will both go without!.”
John stood, arms crossed, shirt off, between Sherlocks spread knees, his pants having slid down his hips beneath his erect cock. Sherlock sat, bare arsed on the metal bench, pants around his ankles and staring back at John with an equally unyielding expression And then, suddenly they both seemed to realise the absurdity of it all; them, still the same. Sherlock's nose started to wrinkle in an attempt to stifle the grin that was forming on his face and John snorted in amusement.
Sherlock was the first to crack, with a mock put upon tone. “Well, that wasn't what I originally requested, but I suppose it will have to do. It had better be good, though ...”
“Oh, it will be.” A wicked grin spread across John's face as his tongue passed over his lower lip.
Chapter 26: Blown Away
For the second time in the last five minutes, Sherlock was convinced that John was, in fact, a complete and utter genius.
What else could be deduced from the way in which John’s extraordinarily talented tongue had chosen the perfect path to travel from the base of his cock to the tip. And how else could the exquisite way in which John’s lips were now wrapped around his crown, cheeks hollowing with each gorgeously filthy slippery suck be explained? No other way than the work of pure, unadulterated genius.
To be clear, Sherlock had been on both the giving and the receiving ends of some pretty spectacular blowjobs in his time, but the one currently being delivered by the compact, gorgeous army doctor on his knees in front of him, blonde head bobbing energetically between his thighs, had just blown all the rest away and he hadn't even finished yet.
Sherlock had been pretty sure his carrier oil idea had been particularly enlightened and he had been a little bit disheartened that he wouldn't get the chance to feel John's deliciously thick cock sliding into him, filling him, taking him right now on top of this bench. But good God, this was just as good.
And as John took more of his cock in the warm wet heat of his mouth, his thumbs working the tops of Sherlock’s thighs in time with his sucks, Sherlock shifted closer to the edge of the bench, gripping it tighter. His stomach clenching and unclenching as he chased his orgasm, impulse control never being one of his strong suits.
It would be fair to say that sucking cock was one of John’s favourite sexual activities. That's not to say that the receiving of said sucking wasn't half bad either, it was just that frankly, nothing was a greater turn on than having a cock halfway down his throat while the recipient of the attention fell completely apart below (or in this case) above him.
And the fact that this was Sherlock. His Sherlock. Sherlock bloody Holmes Sherlock, whimpering around a series of yeses as his tongue licked and swirled, dipped and lathed was making it extremely difficult to delay his own gratification.
John considered that if he actually stopped to think about what he was currently doing, what Sherlock was allowing him to do, he would probably have an aneurism, so he resolved, he was definitely not stopping to think, not now. Instead he focused on the simplest of stimuli, the deep, musky smell emanating from Sherlock’s balls, the tightness of those dark pubic curls, the ridges and veins and the tight, bright head of his cock.
Releasing Sherlock’s cock and moving down over his tightening, retracting balls, John felt Sherlock clench as he shifted his pelvis up further, encouraging, begging John’s mouth to pay more attention. And when he pressed his tongue to the soft surface of his perineum (such a perfect expanse of skin and warmth and sensitivity) and caressed it, flicking, lathing over and over again, using his nose to nuzzle and stroke, Sherlock began to moan his encouragement in a manner that John knew he was close (fuck, yes).
Using his left hand to stroke Sherlock’s cock, now coated in a slick of saliva and precome, strongly from the root to the tip, John pressed his tongue further, harder against Sherlock’s perineum and reached between his own thighs to tug swiftly at his own cock, his resulting moan resonating through Sherlock’s groin.
Sherlock’s yeses got louder and louder and John's groans intensified as he pulled them both mercilessly until every muscle in Sherlock’s body seemed to clench and hot, thick ropes of come burst through John's fingers and across Sherlock’s tight, pale belly. John’s tongue and hand finally stilled as the aftershocks ceased wracking Sherlock’s body and then one, two, three more quick tugs and John was breathlessly joining him (oh, fuck yessssss).
Chapter 27: Evolving Relationship
Getting to his feet, John dropped his forehead to Sherlock's sweat soaked chest, eyes closed, trying to bring his ragged breath under some semblance of control. Sherlock in turn rested his chin on the top of John's damp head.
Once he was able to do more than just pant, John tilted his head to look up at Sherlock. "You know, this isn't really how I imagined this would happen," his eyes concerned, his tone serious.
Sherlock saw the depth of emotion in John's eyes and smiled back fondly, his eyes crinkling. "Were there more or less pieces of scientific equipment in your imaginings of our first sexual interaction?"
John snorted, Sherlock’s response providing all the assurance that while this might have changed some things, the rock solid foundation of their regard for each other was still the same. Yes, this was an unorthodox start, but they could figure their way through this so long as it was together.
“What?” Sherlock stalled for time as John stepped back. It looked like “the talk” was about to happen right now.
“Together, we do this together. This, you, me, us. That means you also need to let me in on the case.”
“And you also need to stop throwing chaos at everything.”
Challenge accepted. “And you can't keep trying to control everything, John.” Sherlock shot back (after all, he wasn't the only one with faults, was he?) .
“Agreed,” John nodded, holding his hand out to assist Sherlock off the bench and then thinking twice about it as he surveyed the remnants of their “interaction" still clinging to his palm.
“I got this,” Sherlock murmured as he slid easily off the bench and onto the floor stepping back into his pants and trousers.
By the time things were more or less back in their rightful place - bottles on the shelves, clothes on bodies and cocks tucked appropriately back in pants, Sherlock’s mind had started to turn back to the case.
Sherlock bent down to retrieve the business card that had slithered its way to the floor during their activities.
“I am thinking that with this…” John gestured vaguely to the lab, the bench, “that we will have officially overstayed our welcome?”
“I think that may have occurred the moment we arrived, but yes, now would seem like a prudent time to secure separate lodgings.” Sherlock pocketed the card and reached for his phone.
We need a new place to stay. Now. SH
Now, please, brother mine?
Since when have you known me to say please? SH
I assumed you might have developed some manners as a result of your evolving relationship with Dr Watson.
What do you know about the evolution of my relationship, Mycroft? SH
Please Sherlock, we had Guerin under surveillance for six months, you didn't think we wouldn't have bugged his house did you?
And really, carrier oil?
(Fuck, fuck and fuck! Was nothing sacred?)
Sherlock rammed his phone back in his pocket before Mycroft's last message came through.
A place with a double bed for the happy couple?
“Did you want to find us somewhere to stay then?” Sherlock threw the question out as casually as he could towards John.
John grinned back cheekily. “Wouldn't that be kind of like me taking control of things?”
Sherlock absolutely refused to look at John. “There may be circumstances where ... exceptions can be made.”
John fished happily in his pocket for his phone.
“Oh and John? Mycroft will be picking up the bill, so spare absolutely no expense.”
Chapter 28: Horror Vacui
“Shouldn't we take a look round Guerin’s office before we leave?” John slung his hastily packed (see violently stuffed) duffle bag over his shoulder and cast a glance behind him as they made their way down the long hallway to the front door.
“You've seen the lab. Spotless. There isn't anything here to see, otherwise he wouldn't have let us stay.”
“Fair point. Can’t say I'm not glad to be leaving. The whole place felt … oppressive.”
“Horror vacui John, from the Latin, also kenophobia from the Greek; the fear of the empty. It's the compulsion to fill an entire surface with detail. I suspect that, even though our friend Mr. Guerin is the architect, he can’t stand the amount of stuff either. Hence his need to live someplace else.”
“Horror is right.” John opened the front door, narrowing his eyes to pay the house one last long look of loathing as they emerged into the bright afternoon sunlight.
“Indeed. It’s an interesting term, first used to describe the suffocating atmosphere and clutter of interior design in the Victorian age.”
John gave him a strange look. “What do you know of interior design in the Victorian age?”
Sherlock considered that, slightly bemused. “You know, I really don't know, something must have gotten stuck. Curious.”
Sherlock tilted his head towards John thoughtfully at the same time as sticking out his hand to flag down a passing taxi (how the hell was Sherlock was able to summon a cab in the dusty streets of Marrakesh just as easily as he did in London?)
“So, this one?” John nodded to the business card that Guerin had tossed him and that Sherlock was now flicking back and forth thoughtfully across his ( infinitely touchable, totally caressable, what had he been saying again? ) thigh.
“Operations Manager. Business Partner. Sole business partner.” Sherlock flipped the card over, revealing the perfectly printed black lettering on the front.
“Right, so whatever Guerin is involved in, he is probably on it too.”
“You would think so, or at the least, she should know something about it.” Sherlock corrected.
John thought that one over for a minute. “French too?” (he really didn't need a double-shot of French smarminess to contend with, be it male or female).
“Egyptian actually. One Sandrine Elmahdy. Not that many Egyptian expatriates in Morocco, even fewer female business women I would imagine, but with Arabic the common language, it's really just a matter of working round the dialects.”
“And the prejudices,” John reluctantly conceded.
Chapter 29: Additional Insurance
Located on the outskirts of the city, the warehouse stood as the lone building in a vacant lot in a sea of vacant lots, surrounded by a lot of very vacant dusty land. They had passed a modern-ish looking shopping centre about five minutes earlier but apart from that, things were very, very … vacant.
And Guerin had no doubt given his operations manager a heads up about their impending visit because as soon as they arrived, they were ushered upstairs into an office with Ms. Elmahdy’s name above the door, provided with tea and asked ( though interestingly, not told ) to wait.
In contrast to the house they had left, the office was as vacant as the surrounding land. A desk, a few chairs and a rather bedraggled looking plant sat in the corner. No artwork, no personal Items, nothing to provide any insight into the woman who worked there, who effectively ran Guerin’s entire operation.
After about ten minutes of sipping tea (t ea without milk! ), John knew that Sherlock was about 30 seconds away from hacking into the laptop that was sitting on the desk when there was a knock and the door slowly opened.
“Gentlemen, it’s a pleasure,” the woman ( assumedly Sandrine ) proffered her hand first to Sherlock and then John who had risen as she entered.
Flat-footed, she wouldn't have been much taller than him ( see, he wasn't that short) , however as she currently was, in her black patent heels, she was closer to Sherlock in height. A black pants-suit, the jacket of which hung from her strong shoulders, was set off by a fitted lapis blue shirt. Slightly longer than shoulder length hair framed her tanned, lightly freckled face and ( warm ) brown eyes as she smiled at them ( mid to late thirties, attractive ).
“Arnaud has told me so much about you, I’ve been looking forward to your visit.” She took her seat behind her desk, crossing her legs as she leant towards them.
“Thank you Ms…” Sherlock started. John kept sipping his tea, just watching and listening ( slight American accent? ).
“Sandrine, you may call me Sandrine. And may I call you Sherlock … and John?”
“Yes, of course.”
John hummed in agreement.
“So, what is it that I can help you with? I gather that you are here to investigate the murders?”
“Why do you think it was murder?” Sherlock’s eyes narrowed slightly.
“Well, I'm no detective,” she glanced towards John, “or doctor, but I would venture to guess that head trauma of that magnitude does not happen by accident, and certainly not upon three different occasions. So either it is all one huge coincidence, or …” she held her hands out palms up.
“That doesn't seem to bother you very much,” John remarked ( hmm, not so attractive anymore ).
“Murder? Should it? The world can be quite a dark place, John,” she held his gaze “as I imagine you have already experienced. I can't say that I particularly like the brutal reality of the world men — and I do say men, because for the time being, they still hold most of the power — have created, but I am not going to shy away from it either.” Having said her piece, Sandrine eased back slightly in her chair, her gaze shifting to take both of them in now.
“No, quite,” Sherlock mused, steering the conversation back towards the purpose of their visit. “So what is it exactly that you do here?”
“Aside from the obvious?”
“No, by all means, include the obvious .”
Sandrine eyes flickered in amusement at the droll inflection. “Raw product. Refined product. Extraction. Import, export. We source plant matter and oil from all over the world; lotus from India, lavender from Bulgaria, rose from here in Morocco, borage from China and agarwood from Indonesia, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea. Anywhere that provides the best quality and has a reliable supply. Some are easier to come by, some more difficult. With an inflated consuming market, for example, agarwood is rarer and more valuable than gold at the moment.”
“So I have already been informed,” John remarked dryly. Sherlock snuck John a glance and smothered a grin.
“Other product challenges, apart from price?” Sherlock steepled his fingers under his chin thoughtfully, elbows resting on his thighs.
“Always. Variables in climate, soil quality and agricultural practices all play a part. But government policy, market performance, environmental quality and the efficiency of natural resource use have the most significant impact, it’s managing those variables that proves the most difficult.”
“You majored in resource economics then, not environmental chemistry.”
Sandrine tilted her head towards Sherlock, her eyes approving. “Very good. Yes, University of California, Davis. But enough about me,” her smile broad now, “would you like a tour?”
Sherlock looked at her feet, questioning her current choice of footwear.
“Don’t worry,” she assured him, “I do also possess sensible shoes,” Sandrine bent to remove a pair of steel-toed boots from her bottom drawer and pulled them on. “See?”
As they were heading out of the office, Sandrine leading the way, Sherlock noticed a subtle ( interesting ) change in the way her suit jacket now fell down her back as opposed to the way it had when she had first entered the room. Just as he was carefully reaching out a hand to see if he could ascertain the reason without her notice, she abruptly stopped walking and turned to face him.
“If you wanted to see my firearm, you should have just asked,” one eyebrow arched, as she held his gaze and reached behind her. She then placed a handgun gently in his still outstretched hand.
“That’s the thing,” she mused, picking it up again and replacing it in her waistband a moment later. “The more pronounced curve of a woman’s spine in heels tends to hide it better. The disadvantage for men, I imagine then, is that you always need to hide yours under ill fitting clothing.”
Sherlock stuttered and then coughed ( hideous, ill fitting jumpers to be precise ).
John regarded him sourly and thumped him ( a little harder than strictly necessary ) on the back.
“Why exactly do you need to carry a firearm?” John’s eyes narrowed.
“Why do you?” Sandrine returned.
“Wait, what? I'm not carrying.” John protested.
“No, not now, but you do, don’t you? And I carry mine for what I assume would be rather the same reason you carry yours. It provides some … additional insurance.”
Chapter 30: Wouln't We?
“Now, your safety is paramount, so walk where I walk and try not to stray. We wouldn't want you getting yourselves killed in an unfortunate industrial accident would we?”
Wouldn't we? John hadn't quite managed to get a read on Sandrine and the fact that she was the only one of them currently armed was making him more than a little uncomfortable. He didn't think that she had been a soldier despite the fact that she carried an Egyptian-made military issue Beretta Helwan 920, however he was quite sure that she knew exactly how to use it.
And as it happened, she appeared to pick up on his concern ( god, another bloody mind reader, that’s all he needed ).
“Don't worry, John, I will be leading the way. It would be a little bit difficult to shoot you in the back from the front, don’t you think?”
And then she winked — winked! John muttered under his breath. No, he did not feel very good about her at all .
She led them down a hallway and out onto a metal walkway overlooking the warehouse floor. The set up was … impressive. Larger than it looked from the outside, it was split into four different sections. At the far end, open racking took up the majority of the space, forklifts moving in and out. To the right, an enclosed, temperature controlled storage area and to the left another. And right below them, a large glass roofed area housed what appeared to be a control room, with numerous pressure vessels, a bank of computer screens and some very scientific, very busy looking people. John shot a glance at Sherlock taking in every minute detail.
“Let’s take a walk,” Sandrine nodded to the metal stairs leading to the warehouse floor.
They descended, Sandrine then Sherlock then John, carefully following the painted yellow walkway (unfortunate industrial accident? No thank you) all the way to the end of the building, stopping just short of the buzz of activity generated by the whirling forklifts.
“We purchase refined product from around the world, store it, test it and then ship it. We average about ten shipments of product a week, each averaging about a tonne. Now here,” Sandrine turned, indicating the enclosed storage area on their right, and the bottled contents displayed beyond the large glass window, “is where we keep the oil; between five and ten degrees Celsius at all times.”
With the exception of the containers of coloured liquids taking up room on the shelves, the brightly lit room looked eerily sterile; all steel and white tiles.
“Do you ever have any problems with customers?” John queried, peering further inside.
Sandrine regarded him for a moment before answering. “When one has customers, one always has problems. Wanting more than they pay for, faster than agreed. But nothing of note. We did have some issues initially when we took over the market from a number of other suppliers, but that was a while ago.”
“Issues, what type of issues?” Sherlock looked up from his examination of the sophisticated temperature control panel by the door ( silent incremental alarm, audible when the thresholds were reached ).
She simply shrugged. “Threats, promises. The usual. Nothing that resulted in anything … too foolish.”
( Foolish? ) Sandrine continued, ignoring Sherlock’s questioning gaze.
“We also purchase raw product.” She turned again to indicate the identical storage facility on the opposite side of the walkway housing containers of flowers, petals, buds and leaves, and a notably large amount of wood. “With the increase in spoiling rates, we are now the largest supplier of Agarwood in the world as only we are able to guarantee the quality. Again we store, test, ship…”
Sherlock frowned. “Spoiling? How?”
“Mainly fungal growth associated with mycotoxin production. It’s why it is always stored below 25 degrees Celsius and with a maximum of 5% moisture content.”
“Interesting,” Sherlock mused. “Gold that spoils.” He paused before shifting gears. “So how long have you known Arnaud?”
Sherlock’s change of topic didn't seem to throw Sandrine in the slightest. “About a year now. I first met him in Cairo when I was working for another production company. He was looking to expand and asked me if I wanted to join him to head up his operation. It seemed like a good offer.”
“ Seemed like, ” John stated under his breath. It wasn’t a question, but Sandrine answered nevertheless.
“Yes, well you never really know what you are getting into when you start, right? But it — he has been good ... to me.”
They came to stand in front of the glass roofed control room directly under the walkway. “And of course, we also produce as well.” We extract our own oil from Rosa centifolia, Moroccan rose.” Sandrine nodded to a series of piped silver vessels taking up the entirety of the back wall.
“Supercritical carbon dioxide extraction. Impressive, and expensive,” Sherlock eyes roamed approvingly, covetously over the equipment.
“Indeed. Solvent extraction is the dominant process in the perfume industry but of course it introduces chemicals into the oil. Carbon dioxide extraction is far more expensive but it offers superior oil — oil considered to be the truest to the original fragrance in the flower. The carbon dioxide is safe and can be completely removed from the oil after the extraction process is complete.”
“ Completely safe ?” ( John really wasn't going to let her off the hook on anything ).
“Well, like nitrogen, carbon dioxide in compressed form can expand quickly in the event of an accidental release, displacing oxygen and asphyxiating workers.” Sandrine was blunt to say the least.
“So not completely safe then?”
“No, hence the monitoring,” her hand flicked to the computer screens and gauges that held the attention of the lab coated inhabitants of the room.
“And what happens in there?” Sherlock pointed to the door at the end of the room with the less-than-inviting brightly orange biosafety hazard symbol adorning the door above a small window. “I am guessing something even less completely safe.”
“Sample testing for fungi, toxins, anything that would cause spoilage.” As if to demonstrate the point, movement on the other side of the door revealed a safety suit, gloves and eyewear being removed through the small pane of glass.
Sherlock turned back towards Sandrine. “So what do you make of the murders?”
“Make of them?”
“Yes, do you think Arnaud was the target?”
“It makes sense, why would anyone want to kill members of his staff? They were all very nice people but they didn't hold any influence that should bring them that sort of … attention .”
“You knew them?” Sherlock didn't miss the told you so tone in John’s question. If Sandrine did, she chose to ignore it.
Shaking her head. “Not personally. They did work in other areas of the business though. Picking up samples, ensuring chain of custody, that sort of thing.”
“Samples from where?” Sherlock was turning this new information over in his mind.
“Our suppliers, a range of different countries. We have so many now that I can’t get to all of them myself.”
“And why do you think they were murdered?” Sherlock determined that now was the time for his bluntness.
“Again, I'm no detective, but I think that the question you should be asking is why did someone feel they needed to be murdered.”
Chapter 31: No Clearer
Sherlock and John sat in silence for the first five minutes of the taxi ride back from the warehouse, watching the landscape evolve and densify through their respective windows as they closed back in on the outskirts of Marrakesh.
“She’s lying,” John announced finally, flatly, turning his body to face Sherlock.
Sherlock dragged his gaze away from the window. “Well, to be precise John, she didn't exactly lie , she just asked a different question.”
“She didn't exactly tell the truth either.”
“No, she didn’t,” Sherlock appraised, eyes narrowing, deducing. “You don’t like her.”
“And you do?”
“What’s not to like? I think that Mycroft would do far worse than to have her in his employ.”
John (begrudgingly) acknowledged that. “Not military though.”
“No, but likely had a relative serve. Father, or brother if she had one, would have been conscripted.”
“Knows her way around a gun and a multimillion dollar operation ...” John let the words hang.
“Yes,” Sherlock drew out the word, grimacing slightly. “What do you think the chances are of us getting back in there to take a better look?”
“Without it ending badly? I’d say slim to none. You saw the cameras ... everywhere, presumably motion activated. And sensors for the regulation of the storage environments would probably pick up latent body heat quite quickly and besides which, anyone could see us approaching that place from a mile away.”
“Mmm.” It was indeed a very strategic choice of location. Sherlock was impressed.
“OK, so what do we have then? Guerin, involved. Sandrine too, but we don’t know how. And we still don't know why the other three were killed.”
“No,” Sherlock lamented, his frustration starting to get the better of him. “I don’t like not knowing. I need to take a close look at all Guerin’s accounts. I need the results back from the two corpses and a copy of their travel records. And I need to get my hands on the dead agent’s body.”
Chapter 32: All Day
John punched the code into the keypad on the right side of the door and pushed it open. Usually not one to be swayed by opulence, he was nevertheless quite impressed at what could be acquired when money wasn't an obstacle ( thank you Mycroft ). The riad was stunning.
He drifted from one room to the next appraising the surroundings as Sherlock followed behind, humming in agreed appreciation. Yes, yes, this would definitely do , John thought as he surveyed the living room and its burnt amber walls. A low coffee table and Victorian armchairs sat upon throw rugs covering the tiled floors of maroon and teal. With an extensive range of wooden and silver artifacts gracing all available surfaces; large urns atop teak cabinets, trinket boxes and tea trays, the room had a distinctly Baker Street feel (ooooh, and there was a leopard skin rug … ).
Making his way into the kitchen, John spotted a small cardboard box sitting atop the table (welcome package?) . He turned the tag over just as Sherlock peered over his shoulder (more like a congratulations? package) .
Sherlock's eyes went wide as he lunged for the box which John deftly scooped just out of his reach, shielding it behind his back.
“Sit. And talk .” John pointed forcibly to one of the chairs and placed the box with a resounding thud on the table between them.
“It’s a ... little difficult to explain.” Sherlock sat and started to fidget, absolutely avoiding eye contact.
“I've got all day,” John said darkly.
Sherlock's words tumbled over each other as he gestured to everything and nothing. “He’s not just a perfumer. There's money, a lot of money, moving between international accounts. He's got links to dangerous people, very dangerous people. Well you kind of knew all that anyway. Mycroft has had him under surveillance for the last six months. OK, so you didn’t know that. The last agent was killed; realistically he could have just been incompetent, but still ... oh, and the lab may have been bugged.”
Silence. Sherlock shifted uncomfortably, trying to look anywhere other than at a very ropeable John.
“May have been or is?”
“Its, ah, difficult to say.”
“ No it most definitely is not Sherlock. May have been or is ?”
“ Is, okay happy now? Is ."
John was anything but happy, and his next words came out low and careful.
“So let me get this straight. You are telling me that there is a recording …”
“... and quite probably a transcript,” Sherlock interjected quickly (at least the prat had the decency to wince while he said it).
John started again, his words even slower. “You are telling me that somewhere in MI6 there is a recording and a transcript, of me talking about my dick ?”
“It would, um, appear so … ah ... in my defense, I did actually forget.”
“ This , Sherlock! This , is why you need to keep me in the bloody loop! Maybe if I had known more of the details of the case one of us could have remembered that the place was bugged before we started fucking around!”
“To be completely accurate John, there wasn't any actual fucking, hands and mouths as you said, not penetration.”
“Sherlock!” John's voice reverberated off the kitchen walls.
Silence. More silence.
Then Sherlock ventured. “Just out of interest, to what extent would you say this revelation diminishes the chances of any actual fucking occurring anytime in the near future?”
John took a long, deep breath through his nose, steadying himself with his hands spread wide on the table and leant forward towards Sherlock.
“Right. This is what is going to happen.” He stabbed a finger on the table. “I am going to go for a swim. You — ” he stabbed the finger towards Sherlock — “‘You are going to go over every inch of this place and ensure that Mycroft hasn't bugged it as well. Then when and only when you have scoured every nook and cranny, then you can come join me and then maybe we can discuss .... other things.”
All things considered, Sherlock considered he had gotten off quite lightly (though his chances of getting off again with John anytime soon might have lessened considerably as a result). While he would have been quite happy to give the place a cursory once over (w ho cares if Mycroft had it bugged? ), he figured John, in his current state of … well, “not-happy” would not be satisfied with anything less than a thorough going over. Besides, he conceded, it was possible that someone else other than Mycroft was watching them.
So scour he did, the amount of noise he made in direct correlation to his annoyance, but he did go over every “nook and cranny." And found (a bsolutely!) nothing but the type of dust balls that always stay hidden behind heavy furniture and some loose change that had wriggled its way down the back of one of the sofas. Now, he stood, in the archway leading to the pool, turning one of the dirham coins over in the fingers of his right hand while taking in the sight of a swimming trunk clad John (oh, that is a very impressive bulge) , eyes closed, floating, soaking up the sun.
He contemplated their current position ( well there were a couple of positions for contemplation). There was the case, currently frustratingly non enlightening, but far from stalled. And then there was them; passion in the heat of the moment, coherent thoughts overridden by hormones and biological incentives was one thing, but honest, straightforward, interpersonal relations was another. And if he was to be completely honest with himself, he thought, his eyes drifting over John again, it was more than a little fucking terrifying.
Chapter 33: Always You
By the time Sherlock had made it up to the pool, John had been drifting on his back in lazy circles for about an hour. Although it was in the direct path of the midday sun, the high concrete walls shaded just enough of the pool’s surface for him to weave in and out of light and shade. And his thoughts were just as contrasting. One moment he was overcome by the realisation that all he had ever wanted for himself, for them, was coming to pass, and the next, he was plagued by a slew of doubts that doing this, becoming them, in the middle of a case, was fraught with danger. But in those moments he consoled himself with the knowledge that this was them. And this, if there was to be a them, would always be their life; cases, danger. And he chuckled to himself as he considered that Mycroft's congratulatory gift of ( actual, legitimate, not carrier oil ) lube and very elegant SIG-Sauer P226R (which he had discovered when he had calmed down enough not to tear the box to shreds with his bare hands) was actually the perfect metaphor for their life now.
Sherlock had walked out onto the pool deck, his right hand held to his eyes, shielding them from the glare. Now he sat on the edge of the pool, pants rolled up to his knees, feet moving backwards and forwards creating slow ripples in the cool, clear water. John dropped to his feet and swam over to his boyfriend? partner? (who the hell cares, figure it out later) and hoisted his torso up onto the ledge alongside Sherlock, rivulets of water, running along the muscles of his folded forearms until they beaded in the light blonde hairs. And in the moment it took him to arrange his head so that it was comfortably resting on his forearm, he saw a measure of uncertainty creep into Sherlock's eyes.
John cleared his throat. “You know ... I don't really know how to do this either right?”
“Sex?” One of Sherlock’s eyebrows raised sardonically, but a slight contracting of his mouth seemed to suggest the facade could easily slip.
“Us,” John reassured, and then grinned. “Despite what you may have heard, I am not particularly good at discussing my innermost thoughts and feelings or navigating the emotionally tricky waters of personal relationships.”
Sherlock’s eyes crinkled as he snorted in amusement. Oh perfect, perfect John. How was it the world had deigned him fit to be gifted such a perfect creature as John Watson?
“So how is it then that we, lacking in the required fundamental skills, figure our way through this?”
“Dunno,” John grunted as he heaved himself out of the water to sit on the pool’s edge, feet dangling in alongside Sherlock’s. “But talking is probably a good start.”
Sherlock considered that idea.
“Fine, tell me then, why this?” Sherlock reached down into the water with his left hand to run it up John’s smooth, hairless shin and over his knee. Sherlock could feel the goosebumps form immediately and reveled in the accompanying shiver that rippled across John’s skin.
“Can’t you deduce it with that big, beautiful brain of yours?” John reached down to thread his fingers through Sherlocks and draw his hand up onto his thigh.
“Well ...,” Sherlock watched mesmerised as John traced his fingers down the back of his hand, over his knuckles to the tips of his fingers and back again ( how was it that just this, touching, felt so good?...)
Sherlock gave his head a shake. “Well, I ruled out road cycling.”
John looked at him in mock horror at the thought of skin tight lycra and shuddered, “ugh!”‘
“Well yes, as I said, I ruled that out. And as you did not seem to be suffering from any rash, inflammation, swelling, scaling, or abnormal tissue growth, I ruled out epidermal irritation.”
“Yes, and very glad to hear that too!”
“So that just left … um … touching.”
“Touching?” John tilted his head in question.
“Yes, John, touching,” Sherlock was now getting slightly annoyed. “Someone touching you. You touching someone. Touching.”
“Now I know you really are a genius,” John’s tone softened as he released Sherlock’s hand and threaded his fingers through the curls at the back of his head.”
“And who did you want to touch you?” Sherlock was starting to get lost in the feeling on his scalp and in the depths of John’s brilliantly blue eyes.
“You, always you,” John whispered as he leaned forward to capture Sherlock’s lips.
Intriguing by day, the medina was absolutely fascinating at night. The open space of the square, abandoned in the heat of the sun, was transformed into a world of frantic culinary diversity under a setting sun streaking red and gold on the horizon. Smoke from portable stoves drifted above makeshift food stalls, diffusing the light emitted by the bright yellow bulbs affixed to the trellises. Snake charmers practicing their art and monkeys on leads at the ready lined the pathways that weaved in between the vendors. Sherlock seemed to be completely in his element as they wandered between the stalls while John shot a threatening look at the rather large ( cunning bastard, I see you) cobra curled in rather close proximity to their passing feet.
Though probably not quite up to the hygienic expectations of the Food Standards Agency, the fare offered for consumption at the numbered stalls was fresh and plentiful. Bearing a remarkable resemblance to the usual layout of their fridge back home, steamed sheep heads sat alongside escargot soup, prawns and sausages stacked high. It occurred to John that perhaps he should be more concerned than intrigued but his hunger was making itself quite loudly known and it did look rather tasty.
“Pity we have a dinner date,” Sherlock mused as he leaned in to pay the sheep’s head a closer examination.
More than a pity , John thought, his mind wandering back to where all that wonderful poolside kissing could have taken them.
He was shaken out of his thoughts as a man in a white doctor’s coat (apparently the standard dress uniform of medina food stall operators) attempted to entice Sherlock to sample his ovine offering. “Stall 27, I take you to heaven.”
“If by heaven you are referring to the metaphorical state of intense pleasure rather than the literal depiction of the abode of a God or multiple gods, I can advise that I have already been escorted there once today and am hoping to repeat the experience again later tonight with the same guide, so thank you but no,” Sherlock returned with complete disregard for normal social convention and a lewd wink to John.
Oh God, he is going to be the death of me. John groaned as he rubbed the back of his neck, the current flushing of which had very little to do with the amount of steam emanating from the stalls around them.
The stall operator stared back in confusion and perhaps for the first time in his entire hawking career, stunned silence, while John smiled tightly, and hastily ushered Sherlock along.
Sherlock would have loved to have spent more time amongst the stalls ( oh, pigeon pie, I wonder what they do with the feet? ), but alas, their appointment with Guerin awaited.
Dinner was to take place on the rooftop terrace of the smooth vermillion toned building. Dusty day-time watering hole below, they ascended the tight wooden staircase to a perfectly pink, sandstone paved terrace above. Round wooden tables, surrounded by navy upholstered chairs dotted the tiles surface, while small concrete minarets lit by glowing lanterns lined the marble balcony railing.
Enough space for 30 or so diners, tonight there was only one. Sitting at table along the edge, their host raised a hand in greeting. Sherlock stiffened slightly as he took in the isolation of the dining arrangement. He had (erroneously it seemed) assumed that this dinner would be a more public affair and now felt slightly on the back foot. He was however, somewhat consoled by the thought of the SIG tucked into John’s waistband, hidden by his jacket. They crossed the tiled metre or so to the table and took their seats at the table.
“I trust you don't mind another intimate meal,” Guerin’s words definitely not a question. “I’m afraid I am not really one for crowds.”
John it seemed, couldn't help himself, and with an exaggerated look of innocence replied. “You don't strike me as a man afraid of anything.”
Guerin smiled, though Sherlock noted the way in which it failed completely to reach his eyes. “No, Doctor Watson, perhaps a poor choice of words on my part. Please,” he gestured to the bottle of red in the middle of the table as he raised his already filled glass to his lips.
Sherlock reached for the bottle and proceeded to pour himself and John a glass.
“I trust you had a satisfying remainder of the day?” the inflection impossible to miss.
Sherlock ignored the implication and let the first drops of the thick wine run over his tongue. French, bold, a exceptional vintage. “Yes, quite. Your Operations Manager was extremely enlightening.”
“Yes, Sandrine is invaluable, I wouldn't be able to run an operation of this scale without her.” Guerin eased himself back in his chair crossing one long bespoke suited leg over the other.
John regarded his glass. “Do all your employees come with their own gun?”
“Hardly,” Guerin laughed, and this time the smile did reach. “Or else three of them would probably still have their skulls intact.”
Sherlock noticed the sudden stillness in John and at the same time, mentally upgraded Guerin from largely to completely devoid of empathy. But Guerin seemed not to notice, continuing on.
“And it's not just Sandrine’s knowledge that I measure her worth by, she also has an extensive network of connections in lower levels of government within key markets. It is after all, those with minor roles in government who have the real power.”
“So, making signature scents for rich people then, that's not how you make your real money?”
“No,” Guerin concurred, as Sherlock took another sip of his wine. “That's just how I attract attention. The real money is to be made through the provision of the highest quality product. And I can ensure an unrivaled quality, far in excess of that determined just through just composition analysis. And that's what people are willing to pay a lot of money for.”
“Willing to die for?”
“Yes, perhaps that too.”
The Queen’s Gambit, one of the oldest known chess openings: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen%27s_Gambit
Chapter 35: Elementary Blunder
Sherlock had to give it to the man, Guerin was being polite to a fault, the brief display of annoyance he had displayed in the lab was nowhere to be seen (and it really was a nice suit, perhaps he would be willing to share the details of his … )
“I’m sorry, what?” Sherlock gave himself a mental shake.
“I was asking if you played chess, Sherlock.”
How had he missed the question and why was he being distracted by thoughts of finely woven wool and high thread counts? He studied the empty glass in his hand and glanced over at Guerin’s. Empty . John, ever observant gave him a concerned glance. Sherlock took a look at John's glass. Still full. Good but … oh damn.
“Yes, chess ... what a beautiful view,” Sherlock declared hastily, and perhaps a little too loudly, the legs of his chair clattering against the tiles as he pushed back from the table abruptly and strode to the terrace railing. “The view, John!”
John took his cue and excused himself to join Sherlock.
“I may have miscalculated,” Sherlock breathed quietly into the night air around them.
John leaned in closer, concern making a rapid appearance in his features. “What?”
“I may have miscalculated … the wine,” Sherlock pleaded, gripping the handrail a little harder to steady himself as his thoughts began to feel like he was pulling them through quicksand.
Now John’s concern made way for outright fear and a rather unhelpful flash of frustration. “Sherlock, people use the expression I may have miscalculated when they boil an egg a little longer than they intended, not when they didn't think their host was planning to kill them but now they do .”
“I. Made. A. Mistake.”
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck! John took in Sherlock’s rapidly contracting pupils and the tension in his body that was now seeming to ooze out of him. He had to get them moving, and fast. “Come on.”
Sherlock nodded, slightly slower than John would have liked, but at least he was still capable of comprehension and following direction. He placed one hand on the small of Sherlock’s back, turned him around and steered him back across the terrace.
“Thank you for dinner, but it appears that Sherlock may have eaten something earlier that didn't agree with him, so we will need to be on our way,” John proffered stiffly to Guerin as they approached the table.
Guerin’s features schooled themselves into a look of concern. “Oh, I’m very sorry to hear that. The food stalls, sometimes they are … not so good. Do you need me to arrange a car to drop you back to your place?”
“No, no need, we’ll be fine.” John was now practically shoving Sherlock towards the staircase. As they descended only John was in a position to catch the narrowing of Guerin’s eyes. Nearly imperceptible but definitely there.
With one hand on Sherlock, guiding him down the stairs, John’s other hand was reaching for his mobile and pressing the speed dial. While most times Mycroft annoyed the living shite out of him, there were other times that he was extremely grateful for his presence; this was one of those times.
“We need a doctor. Now. With access to a lab.”
“Is he alright?” Concern, for once, echoed clearly in Mycroft’s question.
“I don’t know. He’s been drugged. He’s still standing and talking but I don’t know for how much longer.”
“The medina … mosque,” John determined quickly after appraising their surroundings for the safest extraction point.
“Someone will be there in five minutes. Cold night.”
John pocketed the phone and proceeded to walk (drag) the increasingly loose limbed Sherlock into the shadows cast by the palm trees surrounding the mosque’s tower. The dark made them imperceptible to any but the most astute observers. Sitting down alongside Sherlock on the low stone wall, John started to notice the tingling in his extremities from his flight response. He clenched his fist in an attempt to rid his fingers of the overstimulation.
Then he took a closer look at Sherlock. Pupils constricted far to much for the ambient light, speech slurred, and now he was getting … handy and …
“John, John, John,” Sherlock repeated his name in varying sighing tones staring back at John's inquisitive eyes. He reached out with one long index finger to John's face, tracing a path down his cheek and back up again over and over again. “So beautiful. How are you so beautiful?”
Even though he knew it was just the drugs talking, John still blushed at the shyness of the tone and the gentleness of the touch. He reached over to cradle Sherlocks hand in his lap, index finger resting on his pulse point. Still strong, steady, good. Sherlock snuggled closer, and rested his head on John’s shoulder, continuing to mutter variations of “John” and “beautiful” to himself.
Every now and then, the palm fronds parted and slivers of golden light made their way down to them. Really, John thought, at any other time it would have been quite romantic, here, in the warmth, in the dark. And it seemed that Sherlock agreed, startling John with his next declaration.
“You know, John, I love you. John. I love you. I've always loved you, all my ….”
Sherlock head suddenly slumped off his shoulder but John managed to catch him before his entire body slithered to the ground. “No, no, you need to stay awake Sherlock. Stay awake, keep talking to me. Please.”
Sherlock just groaned, but at that moment, a figure approached from beyond the darkness and John instinctively reached beside him back for the butt of the SIG he had placed at the ready.
“Cold night?” a distinctly male, quintessentially English voice asked.
Chapter 36: Cold Night
“Thank Christ,” John visibly exhaled, untangling himself from Sherlocks long limbs. “Yes, sorry, cold night, thank you, please can you help me with him?”
The two of them managed to wrestle (good thing it was dark or this would look extremely dodgy) Sherlock into a semi standing position and bundle him into the back seat of the waiting Audi. “English,” a twenty-something kid ( god, they were getting younger and younger ) got into the front passenger seat and indicated to the driver to move off.
“We need a doctor,” John reached forward to grab a hold of the driver’s headrest to convey the urgency as Sherlock slumped bonelessly against the tinted side window.
“We have it covered, Dr Watson, just a couple of minutes,” “English” replied calmly, his eyes flicking reassuringly to John's in the rear vision mirror.
John inhaled for, it felt, the first time in about the last 15 minutes and lay a hand on Sherlock’s chest to monitor his respiration. Even, steady, for all intents and purposes he could have just been sleeping.
A minute later they turned down a tight, unlit back alley and pulled into a garage, the door shutting behind them, enclosing them in darkness as soon as the engine shut off. Then a door at the far end was opened by an older man dressed in scrubs with hair greying at his temples and in his beard. “English” and the driver carried (a now slightly snoring) Sherlock through the door and set him down on the small stretcher that lay against the wall and took up position in the opposite corner of the small, tinged with green light room, just watching.
The man (presumably the doctor) was Moroccan in appearance and had the reassuring presence of a field surgeon. The room itself was sparse but adequately stocked; no need for superfluous words or redundant equipment in this line of business; just the necessities for saving a life. The doctor proceeded to place a heart rate monitor on Sherlock’s index finger and wrap a blood pressure cuff around his forearm, the beeping of the monitor keeping time as he pumped up the cuff. “What do we know?” his eyes never left his watch.
“Liquid. Oral ingestion. 50 to 60 minutes ago,” John summarised rapidly. “Effects appearing after 15 to 20 minutes. Constricted pupils, slurred speech, lack of coordination. No difficulties breathing though. Best guess some type of ‘benzo.” John kept his eyes fixed on the doctor’s face, noting with relief when his expression softened.
“Vitals normal, steady. Can you tie him off?” He handed John a tourniquet as he reached for a syringe and a couple of vials.
John’s hands were completely steady as he tightened the band around Sherlock’s forearm. He flicked the crook of Sherlock’s elbow, willing one of the flattened, previously overused veins to fill out (there, thank god) . He brushed his fingers through Sherlocks fringe, up and away from his face and Sherlock, eyes still closed, lifted his chin and attempted to burrow his way into John’s palm.
John breathed again, cradling Sherlock’s face gently, as the doctor pressed the silver needle against the vein and it sank in unflinchingly, filling the vial with the bright red fluid of oxygen-exposed blood. The first vial full, he snapped a yellow cap on it, set it aside and attached another one.
“You can test here?”
“No, we will need a urine sample as well.”
John winced. He know that the only benefit of this urinary catheterization was that the patient wasn’t going to be awake to feel it. But he also knew that Sherlock would definitely be feeling it tomorrow.
Five minutes later, the urine sample taken had proven positive for benzodiazepines and the doctor had disappeared back into another room. John perched on the edge of the stretcher, and Sherlock, in his sleep, had sought him out; lying on his side, he was currently curled around John’s back. John rested a hand on Sherlock’s hip, his thumb moving in circles, calming them both. “English” and the driver were still propped up against the opposite wall, silent, however “English” had been texting someone ( Mycroft most likely ) for the last few minutes. The doctor returned and John stood.
“Take this. It’s Flumazenil,” he set a capped syringe in John’s hand. “He should be fine as it doesn’t appear to have been fast acting, but if he isn't fully conscious within eight hours, you should give him this.”
“Thank you.” John took the syringe in one hand and reached out to shake the doctor’s hand with the other. He hoped it conveyed the depth of his appreciation.
The doctor smiled and then nodded to the two in the corner to start moving.
An hour later, John was making his way back through the riad’s dining room of grey and brown to the large teak doors beyond where low, warm lamplight threw shadows on the walls and across a large four poster bed upon which Sherlocks body was now currently strewn. Breathing deeply, he stood in the doorway, one hand on the frame the other hand on canted hip as he watched Sherlock sleep.
Well this night hadn’t really gone according to plan . He rubbed the back of his neck. But then again, this was Sherlock and John wasn't sure that they had exactly had a plan, so really, what could he expect?
But at least Sherlock was safe. The drug should leave Sherlock with no lasting effects except for a bit of a gap in memory, and probably a head that felt like it had been jackhammered for the next day or so. That being said, John still wasn't going to sleep with the drug still in Sherlock’s system so he crossed the room and eased himself into one of the rounded armchairs, just as a text message containing a single word brought his phone to life.
Good, just as they had thought . John placed the SIG and the syringe on the table beside him. It was still going to be a very long night.
Chapter 37: What if?
The bedside lamp cast a warm glow over the room, softening the shadows, blurring the edges of the furniture and ghosting gently over Sherlock’s prone form. Sleeping now, on the side John and “English” had wrestled him on to (recovery position, not taking any chances), his shirt slightly hitched up to reveal pale (too thin) ribs steadily rising and falling. The small wooden clock on the wall ticked by the minutes, hours and John waited. He’d done this before, taken the watch - albeit in slightly less comfortable surroundings but with no less measure of alertness and concern.
The adrenaline helps, helps shut out the desire for sleep that keeps trying to worm its way into his brain, across his limbs. It was useful, valued, and necessary. But it was also choking him, constricting his lungs and inching its icy tendrils across his heart and squeezing tight. He shut his eyes and willed away the nausea. This is the flipside, the unpleasant co-morbidity of a deep seated love; the agonizing fear of loss.
(Get a grip Watson). He tried to shake the image of Sherlock, unconscious to everything being done to him on that stretcher in that room under the pale green light. And with it, he tried to shake the terrifying knowledge that if things had gone slightly differently, if he had taken a drink himself, that things could have, would have, ended in disaster. He suppressed a shiver and rearranged himself in the chair, using his physicality to try and ground himself in the here and now.
It’s the demon of the “what if”. He knows it’s not helpful. He’s been here before too. What if he hadn’t been in that position behind that stone wall in the desert that day? What if his patrol had been assigned to another area of the village? What if they had passed by five minutes earlier, five minutes later …? What if. What if. What if. His shoulder started to throb and he pressed two fingers roughly into the scar; to make it stop, to make it hurt more. Psychosomatic. An image of leaning against the wall, shoulder to shoulder with Sherlock at the bottom of the stairs at Baker Street flashed through his mind and then abruptly left him when …
His dreams were muddied, rapidly transitioning images. Getting into a cab, daylight. He’s texting. Texting whom? Texting why? John is next to him - no, in front of him. Driving the cab. He’s angry. Saying something. Shouting. He’s getting out of the cab, now it’s night. The cab is still moving. He doesn’t fall but then there’s Lestrade standing next to him; we thought you were gone for good. He stumbles over something on the ground. A body. John’s body. Blood, so much blood, on his hands, on his coat, in his hair. There is a scream. His voice. But not him. He lurches forward, a warm steady hand comes out to grab his shoulder. He screams again; this time he knows it’s him.
“Sherlock.” He hears his name being repeated over and over again, pulling him back from John’s body. “Sherlock, it’s alright, it’s just a dream. Can you wake up for me now?”
John. Strong, warm, loyal. John. He tried to open his eyes, move his hand, something, but everything was heavy. Suddenly, sharply, he had the urge to vomit. A pained moan escaped his throat and before he knew it, something soft was being shoved underneath his head, on the bed beside him. His whole body heaved painfully as he emptied the meagre contents of his stomach. Once, twice. And once more. His whole body went limp but could still feel John’s fingers on his shoulder, back, rubbing gently, soothingly.
“Mm, better,” he managed to get out before he slipped back into sleep again.
Chapter 38: Fucking Scared
The sound of Sherlock’s voice jolted John out of his doze, jarring his neck painfully. “Ow, what?’
“How long John, how long is this going to last?” Sherlock, eyes closed, whined from his position on the bed with a fluttering of his wrist to everything, nothing.
John groaned, running a hand along the back of his neck and winced. He knew he had still been awake at 6.30am when the night sky, past the heavy curtains, had begun to open up to the dawn, but sometime between then and ... (he checked the time on his phone) 8.09 am, he must have dozed off, only to be awoken now by a very disgruntled consulting detective.
“What exactly is this, Sherlock,” John rose wearily from the chair that had housed him for the night and crossed to the side of the bed, placing himself close — but not too close — to Sherlock’s petulantly flopping limbs.
“This John, is a head that feels like Molly is performing a cranial tissue examination on it, limbs that refuse to obey the simplest of commands,” Sherlock demonstrated by dramatically dropping his arm into the bed beside John. “And my dick, Sherlock eyes narrowed in accusation. Why does my dick hurt John?”
“In order?” John reached for Sherlock’s wrist, and finding the pulse point started to count silently. “In order. The headache and loss of motor control is due to the residual effects of the drug in your system, and the pain in your urethra, the result of insertion and removal of a catheter, which was necessary to determine exactly which drug you had been given.”
Satisfied with Sherlock’s steady pulse and his present acerbity clearly signaling the return of normal cognitive functioning, the residual fear for Sherlock’s safety was beginning to fade and John found himself starting to wind up. He got to his feet and started to pace the length of the bed while Sherlock’s eyes tracked the muscles clenching in his jaw and left hand.
“The drug, as it turns out, was Flunitrazepam — Rohypnol, if you actually wanted to know. So you are going to be feeling it in your brain, your body and your dick for another 12 hours or so. But this,” he sniffed sharply, dangerously. “What this is, is the result of your arrogance in thinking that you could outwit a psychopath all by yourself, and in doing so stress the fuck out of me, you inconsiderate arsehole!” the last word punctuated by a sudden cease in John’s movements and his furious blue eyes burning a hole into Sherlock’s.
Sherlock held his gaze for a few seconds as the anger in John’s dark blue eyes flared. “I'm sorry,” he whispered, averting his eyes to focus on the ceiling.
With those two hardly audible words, John’s shoulders fell and the tension that had held him hostage all night long seeped out to be replaced by a depth of weariness. “I know,” he sighed as he made his way back over to Sherlock’s side, reclaiming his position on the bed and drawing Sherlock’s hand into his lap. “I know you are, it’s just … it was, I was … just so fucking scared,” his grip on Sherlock’s fingers tightening.
Sherlock rolled over onto his side to face John and reached over to cover John’s hand with his. “I didn’t know, but I see now ... and I was too … I … actually can’t remember much, anything … that’s never happened, before, when …” his voice trailed off on a note of undisguised fear, his eyes not leaving their joined hands.
“It’s just the drug, and it will only affect your memory of last night, nothing more”, John reassured warmly as he stroked his thumb rhythmically back and forth across Sherlock’s knuckles. “Your beautiful brain will be back to its genius brilliance in no time.” He leant down to place a kiss on Sherlock’s hand.
Sherlock hadn’t wanted to hurt John and he certainly hadn’t wanted to scare him. That wasn’t the plan. But he had underestimated Guerin and it shook him to his core that he could have miscalculated so greatly. What if it hadn’t been just Flunitrazepam? What if John had drunk the wine too? What if ... an involuntary shudder racked Sherlock’s body as he closed his eyes to try and steady his (now shallowing) breathing and escalating pulse. John reached out to smooth the sweaty curls off Sherlock’s forehead and Sherlock burrowed into the touch.
They remained that way for a while, Sherlock’s eyes closed, face being warmed by John’s strong, capable fingers until John’s stomach started rumbling loudly. “Sorry,” John admitted ruefully with a slight grin, it’s been a long night and I didn’t really eat much at dinner…”
“S’good,” Sherlock mumbled. “Go get yourself something to eat .. and, have a shower, you smell,” his eyes opened and his mouth turned up at the corner as he gave John’s thigh a playful push to get him moving.
“Speak for yourself, but yes, food first,” he agreed, rising to his feet and heading out of the room. “And maybe,” John paused at the doorway, his eyes looking back to drift over Sherlock’s body. “Maybe if you are feeling up to it, you might like to join me in the shower after?”
John’s exhausted eyes held a twinkle and Sherlock grinned back at him, feeling some of the warmth returning to his body for the first time since he woke. He rolled onto his back and drifted in and out of a light sleep to the sounds of John pottering about in the kitchen.
Chapter 39: On Holiday?
Right. Breakfast. John ventured into the kitchen prepared for the daunting task of creating something out of what was going to need to be thin air since they had not had the time to go shopping since they arrived. He was pleasantly surprised therefore to find the cupboards and fridge quite adequately stocked. Mycroft.
He had heard “English” ( turns out his real name was Sebastian, no last name; never a last name, 25, schooled at Eton of course; it’s practically a bloody MI6 recruiting ground) moving about the kitchen after he had helped John carry Sherlock to bed; bringing them food then. John felt a surge of gratitude for Mycroft wash over him, the second in the last 12 hours. Annoying; this was beginning to become a bit of a habit.
Reassured by the daylight and the knowledge that Sebastian and his partner were watching over their riad with a couple of additional agents in rotation, John felt a whole lot better than he had in a while. Admittedly he had still stuffed his gun down the back of his pants before he left the bedroom, but he reasoned, that had more to do with keeping it secure than anything else, didn’t it ?
Something light; eggs, scrambled, and a couple of slices of toast, that ought to do it. John scratched at the stubble that was beginning to itch as it came in under his chin and down his neck, busying himself with the task at hand. Eggs cracking, pan smeared with butter sizzling on the hob, he started running over the situation that they now found themselves in.
For all intents and purposes, it did appear that they had managed to box themselves in to the case and to the riad. Going anywhere near Guerin’s house was definitely out of the question now and the warehouse wasn’t an option either. John wondered how they were going to move the case forward under these constraints. Though if anyone could do it, Sherlock could. Sherlock could probably solve the entire thing whilst relaxing in the bath … naked … warm water rippling around his long limbs as the tendrils of steam licked into his dark curls and John licked …. Fuck, the eggs were burning! Fuck, buggering fuck, fuck, fuck.
Tossing the pan, burnt eggs and all into the sink, John threw open the kitchen window and began to fan frantically. Hopefully they didn’t have a smoke detector in this place, his eyes darted nervously about the roof while his hands flapped rapidly; he seriously did not want to have Mycroft’s agents burst in to rescue him from a sexual fantasy induced cooking mishap. With the last of the smoke dissipating from the room, John resigned himself to finding something to scrub the pan and start again from scratch.
“Sending smoke signals John? You know the cell phone reception here is actually quite adequate.” John turned sharply to take in Sherlock leaning against the doorframe, one eyebrow hitched, his mirth belying the dark circles under his eyes, the strain in his face and his body.
Damn, how long had he been standing there? Still slightly flushed from his mental meanderings, John turned back to the sink and gestured, without looking, to Sherlock to take a seat. “Sit down before you fall down”.
Sherlock pulled the dressing gown he had put on over his clothes tight around his torso as he pushed himself off from the doorframe and padded barefoot over to the kitchen counter, pulling up one of the stools. The noise the metal legs made against the floor as he dragged the stool back far enough from the table to allow him to ease his body in sliced through his brain and he winced. The sharp intake of breath that accompanied his wince must have been audible as John gave him an appraising look over his shoulder before placing the pan back in the sink and heading out of the kitchen, back to the bedroom. He emerged a few moments later with two paracetamol in hand, placing them in Sherlock’s palm, fingertips easing themselves over his skin, before filling him up a glass of water from the bottle in the fridge and placing it in front of him.
“These will help,” John nodded as he turned back to the stove.
“Thank you,” Sherlock murmured, hoping that John knew his words were for more than just the receipt of the pills. He palmed the two white capsules into his mouth, chasing them with a sip of water. He let his eyes roam thoughtfully over John's form moving easily back and forth from the fridge to the stove and the sink.
Sherlock was pretty sure that John wasn’t aware that he was humming along with his activities and Sherlock was loath to point it out to him in case he stopped. Sherlock liked this John, this happily domestic John. John in his caretaking role. Admittedly, he also really liked John in his all-action, take no prisoners, out of his way, he's the muscle role as well. But this was nice. It was warmth, it was comfort, and it was home. And the fact that this time it was John who had set fire to something in their living quarters rather than him, tickled Sherlock’s fancy immeasurably.
The tickling was abruptly terminated though when John's phone pinged on the sink next to him. Spatula in one hand, he thumbed through the message with the other and upon reading, passed it to Sherlock.
Sending the files. How is the patient?
Sherlock’s face did that thing it did when he encountered Anderson at a crime scene.
Piss off Mycroft. SH
Much better brother dear? Do try and stay away from the wine today.
Sherlock was about to type a number of words that would definitely not make it past the autocorrect function on John's phone, when the front door knocker sounded.
As John was in the middle of dishing out the eggs and did not look like he was going to make a move to answer it, Sherlock huffed in annoyance (which he noted, John proceeded to ignore as well) and headed to the door.
He flung the door open wide and had just one thought. Mycroft.
Only it wasn’t his stuffily suited, condescending snooty pratt of an obnoxiously annoying brother standing in the doorway with a ridiculously goofy grin on his face, it was good god, a man dressed in quite possibly the most hideous of outfits Sherlock had ever had the misfortune to lay his eyes upon. If he wasn’t already feeling under the weather, just looking at this monstrosity would have been enough to put him there. Greying hair and a horridly orange tan were set off by a shirt that quite frankly looked like the entire state of Hawaii had thrown up all over it; bright orange and yellow hibiscus flowers fought for space alongside purple and blue pools of water and is that, oh my god it is, a turquoise dinosaur. And if that wasn’t enough, Sherlock’s mind still reeling at the vision presented by the top half of the man’s body, what greeted him when his eyes drifted further down to .. cut-off fraying denim shorts. Where was that memory-erasing Rohypnol when he needed it?
“What the hell are you doing here?” Sherlock snarled.
“Well, nice to see you too! I’m on holiday, would you believe?” Lestrade responded, shoving the laptop he had been holding at Sherlock's
chest and pushing past him into the hallway.
“No, I wouldn’t,” Sherlock retorted as he slammed the door behind him
Chapter 40: My Eggs
Sherlock followed Lestrade into the kitchen, not at all happy at the intrusion. And even less happy when, upon greeting him, John proffered Lestrade a plate of eggs and toast as well. “Those are my eggs.” Sherlock huffed.
“Actually they are our eggs, and there is plenty enough for Greg as well.” John slid the plate across the table to Lestrade.
“Cheers, mate,” Lestrade waved his fork in thanks.
John pushed another plate across the table to Sherlock with a tight warning smile to behave .
Sherlock took a few mouthfuls of his breakfast and then pushed the rest about his plate, trying to shut out the noise of John and Lestrade’s inane chatter about the abundance of sunshine, the lack of rain and all manner of other boring observations on the current state of the environment.
‘So, what brings you to this neck of the woods, Greg?” John finally asked around a mouthful of food.
“Oh you know,” Lestrade responded far too casually, keeping he gaze focused on his plate. “Heard that you might need some help so I decided to drop by.”
“I. Do. Not. Need. Any. Help,” Sherlock managed to get out between gritted teeth.
“Your brother does care about you, Sherlock,” Lestrade carefully (and perhaps a little unwisely) pointed out.
Sherlock declined to respond, his strop now reaching maximum velocity, and pushing back from the table announced “I think I will take that shower now.”
To his chagrin, John, the target of his statement, simply ignored him and went on eating.
“I said, I think I’ll take that shower now.”
“OK,” John finally looked at him, drawing the word out. “Go ahead.”
Sherlock fixed John with a look.
John returned his gaze with an are you kidding, we have company look of his own.
I most certainly am not kidding.
And so it continued for a number of seconds before Lestrade, took his cue to leave them to it. “You guys got a pool around here?”
John showed Lestrade to the pool area and then headed downstairs to the bathroom where Sherlock was banging about loudly.
“Back to being an inconsiderate arsehole again then, are we?” John regarded Sherlock rifling through his toiletries bag.
“Don't be obtuse John, you know why he’s here. Clearly he was sent by Mycroft to keep an eye on me.” Sherlock turned to face John, squaring his shoulders, obviously anticipating, encouraging a fight.
Jesus, for being a genius, he could sometimes be an absolute child. “Yeah, so?” John refused to rise to the obvious bait of the slur on his intelligence.
“So? I don't like people treating me like a toddler that needs a babysitter to go out in public.”
John sighed but then resolved — this was after all what he had willingly and knowingly signed himself up for when he embarked on a relationship with the man.
“Sit,” John directed as he moved himself over to perch on the edge of the enormous porcelain soaker tub in the middle of the bathroom floor. It took up the majority of the room.
For a minute it looked like Sherlock was going to refuse, his fit of pique completely engrained, but eventually he softened a little and made his way over to sit by John's side, eyeing him warily.
“Firstly,” John started, turning towards him but maintaining his distance. “No one thinks you need a babysitter, but we did have a bit of a rough night last night and I, for one, am grateful to have someone I trust, in a city full of people I definitely don't trust, around to lend a hand.”
As Sherlock considered the statement, John continued. “And if you hadn't noticed, this isn't exactly Baker Street and we aren't exactly surrounded by the familiar streets of London. Even if last night didn't go the way it went, it is going to help having another mind around to think through the strangeness.”
Sherlock regarded him dryly.
“Yes, even Lestrade's mind.” John retorted.
The side of Sherlock’s face curved into a slight smile.
“Now,” John declared, rising to his feet and stripping his shirt off over his head in one fluid motion. “I know I said shower, but what is your position on, or, come to think of it, in a bath?”
Chapter 41: May I?
Sherlock regarded John in the dim light of the bathroom with its silken grey tiled walls and smooth slate floor, patiently adjusting the flow of water into the tub — as patiently as he had dealt with Sherlock's only slightly unreasonable outburst. He knew he could be difficult — snappish, curt, dismissive and even downright rude at times, but here he was, John, his John, knowing all that and choosing him anyway. It was, he was, quite remarkable.
John rose to shed his shorts and pants, and turned his back towards Sherlock to toss them into the corner, behind the door. Sherlock's eyes roamed approvingly down the muscles of John's neck (upper, middle, lower trapezius) to his back; powerful, compact and toned. It read like a map of the man himself. Determined but restrained, strong and beautiful. His gaze caught briefly on the scar by John's left shoulder, but he discarded it for the time being (irrelevant. Later) .
Sherlock was relishing this first real opportunity to see John, all of John, and for once he was actually grateful for the inordinate amount of time John took to dress or undress. It drove him to complete and utter distraction when he was trying to usher John as quickly as possible out of the flat whenever the game was on, but now, now he was quite enjoying the time it was affording him for a surreptitious appraisal.
John bent to remove his socks and Sherlock drew in a rapid breath as the muscles in John's firm arse clenched and his strong thighs parted to reveal the shadow of his testicles and an impressively large, long cock (well it had to be if he could see that much from behind!).
Finally, registering the silence or perhaps the sharp intake of breath, John glanced over his shoulder as he removed his last sock and caught Sherlocks gaze. “Like what you see?” he grinned cheekily as he proceeded to turn around.
Thoroughly caught out, a blush spread high across Sherlock's cheekbones and intensified as John's ( yes, it was impressively large and long ) cock twitched and started to thicken.
“Forget it, it's just chancing its luck,” John dismissed, coming to stand directly in front of Sherlock.
Who was John kidding — there was no way in hell he was going to be forgetting this. Sherlock determined right then and there that an entire room in his mind palace was to be dedicated to this alone (and as such he scattered the last remnants of his knowledge of the solar system to secure the space).
And now, still perched on the edge of the bath with John’s groin at eye level, he had the best possible vantage point from which to perform a thoroughly in depth examination.
“May I,” he whispered, one hand already reaching out as he looked up questioningly.
Usually quite body confident, John's composure began to fray slightly as he took in Sherlock’s searing gaze and the elegant fingers now only inches away from his half hard cock.
He only just managed to exhale a breathy yes when those said same fingers gently trailed themselves down his length, which in response, twitched and filled some more.
Certainly he had never had anyone, not even a medical practitioner, pay this close attention to his dick, but Sherlock was Sherlock and he really shouldn't have been surprised. Sherlock began to map the entire landscape of his cock with the sensitive pads of his fingers; soft skin over firm tissue, every vein and ridge.
John stood stock still as Sherlocks fingers moved down to the base and circled through the tight curls, twisting and twirling southwards to finally reach his balls. He had a momentary concern in their slight lack of symmetry (there was a reason why John hung to the left ), but any slight physical difference went unremarked upon as Sherlock cupped them in his hand, measuring carefully their heft and their warmth.
It was all John could do not to drop to his knees on the tiled floor as Sherlock caressed and fondled, stroked and kneaded with his long elegant fingers.
“Jesus Sherlock, there can't be that much of interest there,” he managed to get out as his balls began to ache with the dull need for something more.
“As usual, you see but do you not observe.” Sherlock looked up into John's eyes, unflinchingly honest: this, all of you, is completely remarkable. Perfect. Beautiful. Remarkable.
Now John felt himself blush and had to look towards the ceiling to hide it. He certainly had never had anyone refer to him as beautiful before, but under Sherlocks gaze and with his unequivocal sincerity, he felt perhaps it could be true. His eyes returned to Sherlock though when his cock twitched again and a bead of precome appeared at the tip.
This development did not go unnoticed by Sherlock. He removed his fingers from the warmth of Johns balls to gently run them down the slit of his cock, proceeding to collect the drop on his forefinger and without warning (because God, he should have been given warning) bring the finger to his mouth.
John's groan was heartfelt and deep and for a moment he thought he might just come on the spot as he watched Sherlock, eyes closing, twirl his tongue around his finger, allowing his taste buds to catch on the bitterness … christ, did the man even know how erotic that was ?
Just then Sherlock's lips closed on his finger and he grinned slyly at John from beneath his inky lashes.
Goddam tease, he knew exactly what he was doing.
“But I haven't finished,” Sherlock began to protest as John gently removed his finger from his mouth.
“You can finish later, right now I need to taste that gorgeous mouth of yours.”
Chapter 42: This Time
This time it was slow, this time it was different, this time there was a sense of warmth, of the intimacy that was growing and developing between them and it was whiting out every other thought in Sherlock's mind save for how much he wanted, needed, loved John Watson.
After claiming his mouth, John pulled Sherlock to his feet. Standing now, both arms wrapped round John's strong back, his robed, shirted chest pressed up against John's bare skin — it was intoxicating.
Sherlock was good at this kissing business, but John was extraordinary. Sherlock swore he could feel John's heart and soul in each caress of their lips, each tangle of their tongues. It had never been like this before for Sherlock, it had never been like this at all. Perhaps it was because was them, Sherlock and John, together always, and now like this.
“Let's get you out of these.” John tugged gently at the tie on Sherlock’s robe and moved to the buttons on his shirt, pausing briefly to check his progress before catching, claiming Sherlock’s mouth, lips, tongue again. Sherlock stroked his hands down the corded muscles on either side of John's spine, feeling them tense and shiver in equal measure under his touch.
Sherlock felt a sudden loss of warmth as John, finished with his shirt and robe, reached for the button on his trousers. He was not erect, (not for the want of wanting), but John still was, and he wanted to feel that warmth again so he removed a hand from John's back and pressed it gently, firmly to John's groin. He reveled in the resultant bone deep groan his touch elicited.
“In the bath,” John promised, as he bent around Sherlock to shut off the taps, the tub filled with steaming water.
The last pieces of Sherlock's clothing removed, John motioned for Sherlock to get in and then slid down into the bath in front of him. The feeling of John, naked, settling back into him was overwhelmingly good and his nerve endings, at every point their skin touched, hummed in agreement.
John, eyes closed, stroked his fingers gently up and down the shins (only a bare amount of flesh between his fingers and bone) which pressed up against his sides. Fine sparse hairs, dark against pale, nearly opaque skin, glistened as the rivulets of water ran down them with each pass.
It was as close to complete bliss, John thought, as he had ever been. So close he could hear Sherlock’s heart at his back and feel every beat in the tiny ripples being created in the water. He leaned back further, resting his cheek against Sherlock's collar bone and they drifted, eyes closed, together for a while, warm and safe.
After a while, Sherlock stirred and his hands started to drift through the water to John's belly, down to his groin. John's erection had long subsided, but soon enough the blood began to pool there again, encouraged by the deft ministrations of Sherlock’s fingers. John turned his head to Sherlock, to study him, beautiful cerulean eyes still closed, as he brushed over every surface of John's cock, root to tip, committing it to memory or perhaps challenging himself to remember it all again just by feel.
John’s lungs filled deeply as Sherlock’s right hand began a stronger, deeper rhythm and his left hand came up to grasp the side of John’s head, encouraging him to extend, to bare his neck. John started to shift in front of him as the muscles in his legs and abdomen contracted with every stroke, every pass of Sherlock's hand. Sherlock bent his head to suck at John’s pulse point, licking, lathing and ravishing it with his tongue. John moaned, low and deep — not words, just sounds of appreciation, of encouragement. At the same time Sherlock’s thumbed over the head of his cock, he jerked to the touch, at the friction over the crown, and Sherlock bit down gently on John's neck, not to mark, but to keep him in place.
It was quite literally blowing John's mind at how dominant Sherlock was, possessing him without the need for much force. John did not struggle, didn’t want to struggle, just to submit to the pressure of Sherlock’s jaw and mouth, strong, unyielding. A sudden gasp and his balls were retracting, pulling him closer and closer towards climax, desperately chasing release. And then, when Sherlock’s fingers flicked as he tugged urgently, John came completely undone, white flashes of light bursting behind his eyelids, the bath water moving, splashing onto the floor. He came once, twice in the warm water, the semen washing over them and dissipating with his third and final release.
Sherlock eased his hand off John’s now softening cock and his mouth off his neck, and rubbed John's chest and nuzzled at his neck as the aftershocks shimmered and sizzled across his skin, drawing into goosebumps despite the warmth of the water.
John reached behind him, between Sherlock's legs, his hand hovering in question. Sherlock shook his head gently and whispered in his ear. “Can't, not yet.”
John nodded, understanding, and relaxed his head back into the crook of Sherlock's neck, as he panted raggedly and they lay there a while longer, John catching his breath while Sherlock simply breathed.
Chapter 43: Perfect John
Sherlock lolled back against the edge of the tub, dark curls at his neck drawn out into long wet strands against the white surface. Alone. He should have been completely relaxed, but his mind had started its frenetic whirring, the last of the drugs seemingly having left his system and he was enjoying the familiarity of hundreds of thoughts trying to find solutions amongst the evidence.
Chemical structures, chemotypes and biomass; fascinating stuff, this plant business and he wished he had more time to study it. Maybe when he was back in London with a bit of time between cases? Take agarwood, the perfume being the product of the trees internal defense mechanism to fend off pathogens; the aroma of antibodies ...
But he needed to focus on Guerin.
The figures in the bank accounts Mycroft had shared with him were certainly impressive. Where the money was coming from and where it was going would be important in understanding who the players in this game were, but the critical question now was; how was it being generated?
The bath water started cooling and he mused that was probably time he got out, lest he end up all waterlogged and wrinkled… waterlogged … a fragment of a sentence caught on a receptor - “ oedema ” and suddenly all his swirling thoughts coalesced into a perfect singular pattern. Simple. Elegant. Perfect. Perfect John. Of course! Why hadn't he thought of it sooner?
“John,” he called urgently into the bathroom air, eyes still closed. “John!” his eyes snapped open ( where was that man, he was here a moment ago .)
“Yes?” John appeared at the doorway, hands on hips, eyebrows expressing his clear displeasure at the curt summons (fully clothed? Maybe it wasn't just a moment ago … never mind) .
“Agarwood,” he declared, feet slipping on the smooth surface of the bath as he scrambled to find purchase and haul himself out. “John, the agarwood!”
Chapter 44: Who Indeed
The laptop was open on the kitchen table. Sherlock sat directly in front and John and Lestrade stood on either side of him. Sherlock tapped away quickly and brought up an image of agarwood.
“What, this whole thing, four bodies and counting, is all about chunks of trees?” Lestrade nose wrinkled as he scratched his head in disbelief.
See , John motioned to Sherlock. Chunks. Of. Trees.
Sherlock ignored him and continued, quoting pieces from the accompanying article.
“... heartwood of the aquilaria tree becomes infected with a type of mould (Phialophora parasitica) ... in response the tree produces the dark aromatic resin ... genus species occur mainly in South and Southeast Asia … high prices ... rapid depletion in natural forests … “
“This bit,” Sherlock tapped the screen with a long finger, “this is the important bit.”
“ Indonesia and Papua New Guinea have been the main suppliers but those sources have been depleting rapidly over the last year due to extensive spoilage ... to the extent that the species has been put on the CITES Appendix II as endangered. Efforts have been undertaken to increase the production of the infected wood by deliberately wounding the trees …” Sherlock’s voice trailed off as he looked up expectantly from John to Lestrade.
“So Guerin’s trying to increase production by deliberately wounding the trees?” John drew out the question.
“Oh John, do keep up. Creating more agarwood would simply make more product available on the market and result in a decrease in price. Now, if you were wanting to control the market and push the price up, you would need to …?”
“Destroy the product,” John finished his sentence.
“Exactly,” Sherlock exclaimed, clasping his hands together. “And that's what Guerin has been doing. He's been employing the same principle but instead of infecting the stock to create more, he's been infecting it to create less.
“Now, if Mycroft has seen sense to also provide the travel records ...” Sherlock logged on to the secure MI6 server. “Yes, yes he did. See, the dead men travelled only to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, the places where the stocks have been spoiling.”
“Yes, but just because they were there, doesn't mean that they actually did anything,” Lestrade remarked, straightening up to give his back a rest. “As you said, those are also the only locations the product can be sourced from. Perhaps they were just there to buy.”
“Perhaps,” Sherlock deigned to humor him for just a moment before he changed the image on the screen with a flourish. “But then we wouldn't have this ...”
John peered at the screen which was now displaying the dead men's liver and kidney biopsy results; toxic levels of Aflatoxin B1.
“We saw it in the bodies John, we just didn’t know what we were looking at the time.”
John ran over their autopsy in his mind. The bloating in the legs — of course — not the result of being stored vertically, but the result of hepatocellular carcinoma, liver cancer caused by aflatoxicosis. (Sandrine's words came back to him). … ”fungal growth associated with mycotoxin production”
“So, they aren't just testing for fungal growth in the laboratory, they are producing it as well,” John noted, all the pieces falling into place.
“Yes, and Guerin’s people are travelling to the source to infect it, spoiling what they don't purchase and establishing him as the sole reliable supplier. What he did not count on, or perhaps he just didn't care, was his people were also being exposed, but when they began to show signs of illness …”
“He killed them,” John concluded. “Because who is going to look at the liver of a person who has been bludgeoned to death ...”
“Who indeed?” Sherlock steepled his fingers under his chin and turned to catch John's eye, his sparkling.
John grinned back at the genius of a man. A tad distasteful to be delighting over four dead bodies he supposed, but a splendid deduction was a splendid deduction after all. And his boyfriend was a genius.
“OK, you two,” Lestrade chimed in. “Now that we know what he’s doing, how do we stop him?”
Chapter 45: Battle Plans
“And you figured this all out just by their legs?” John studied Sherlock’s face as they walked out onto the small paved terrace of the restaurant for lunch. “Brilliant. Amazing.”
“Your bath, their legs,” Sherlock shrugged, smoothing down the front of his navy button down self-consciously, trying for nonchalant but, as ever, utterly flattered by John's admiration. He wondered briefly, dangerously, if it that admiration was what made a deduction all the more satisfying and then shrugged it off. Sentiment.
The waiter showed them to their table, tucked in towards the back, framed by spindly palms and trailing magenta bougainvillea.
“ Well this is romantic,” Lestrade observed with a smirk as he took his seat to the right of Sebastian, Sherlock having extended the invitation to them both.
John coughed, but Sherlock just raised an eyebrow without bothering to look up from the menu. “You would be better served deciding what you are going to eat rather than commenting on the surroundings, Graham . And under no circumstances order the camel tanjia. I have absolutely no intention of spending the next four hours in your company, waiting for it to be ready.”
Sebastian glanced towards “ Graham ” questioningly, but did not comment. John just rolled his eyes.
Truth be told, it actually was a rather romantic setting, or at least would have been without the additional company of a New Scotland Yard Detective Inspector and an MI6 field agent . But Sherlock was going to need their assistance to take down Guerin, so dining companions they were required to be.
The waiter took their orders (Lestrade did not order the camel dish, choosing instead the chicken topped with raisin, almond and cinnamon spiked vermicelli), and they all settled into some light ( inane, boring ) conversation, in unspoken agreement to wait until the meal was served to discuss the matter at hand.
Seated on the other side of Sebastian, John took the opportunity to get to know the kid a bit better. He liked him; intelligent and quick with a witty rejoinder and a cracky pun. But when he felt Sherlock start to lean just a little bit closer, he discretely moved his hand from where it lay on his lap, under the tablecloth, to rest on Sherlock’s thigh in reassurance. Not competition. Not interested. Not ever. Sherlock visibly relaxed and went back to pretending to listen to whatever Lestrade had been saying.
The restaurant was relatively empty, save for their small group, and soon enough, the waiter was back with their food and an offer of wine, which they all politely declined.
Spearing a piece of chicken with his fork, Lestrade was the first to speak. “I dunno, destroying plants seems a little pedestrian for a man of Guerin’s …”
“Psychopathy?” John cut in, unable to restrain himself.
Lestrade gave him a curious look. “I was going to say sophistication.”
“Perhaps,” Sherlock offered, studying his own meal. “But then again, there is nothing pedestrian in averaging a 20 million dollar net profit month on month for the last eight months.”
“Bugger me,” Lestrade agreed.
“So,” John started, eager to get down to the business of planning Guerin’s demise. “We know what he did and how he did it, we just need the proof.”
“Yes, all we need to do is to link the strain in their lungs to the spoiled product. But to do that, we need to get a sample of the source fungi and that means we need to go back to the warehouse,” Sherlock stated simply.
“Oh yes, piece of cake,” John snarked. “Shall we just walk up to the front door and ask Sandrine to hand some over?”
“John,” Sherlock cut in sharply, his eyes narrowing at the obvious tension in John’s body. “Do you need a moment?”
“No, no,” John blew out noisily through his nose, trying to compose himself. His dislike of Guerin which, since last night, appeared to be bordering on outright hatred, wasn’t helping anyone. “I’m fine, please continue.”
John felt the intensity of Sherlock’s gaze for a moment longer and then Sherlock continued, looking back to the others.
In the end it was decided that John and Sherlock would retrieve the samples from the warehouse lab. Having been there before, their familiarity with the layout would be critical in ensuring the success of the mission. Sebastian and Lestrade were assigned to watch Guerin’s house and the other pair of agents (currently on rotation outside Sherlock and John’s riad) would stake out Guerin’s flat.
“What about Sandrine?” John asked, cognizant of the one other variable.
“Sandrine?” Lestrade queried.
“Guerin’s operations manager.” John clarified.
Elbows on the table, fingers laced together, Sherlock considered. “We don’t have enough people to watch her as well. We will have Guerin’s three locations covered so if she is involved, it is inevitable that she would turn up at one of them. It’s not ideal, but it will have to do.”
John wasn’t totally convinced, but he acknowledged that Guerin presented the bigger risk. Yes, it would have to do.
Chapter 46: You OK?
“You OK?” Lestrade and John stood at the curb in front of the restaurant as Sherlock settled the bill and Sebastian retrieved the car.
“Um, no, not really,” John admitted, rubbing the back of his neck ruefully. “Is it that obvious?”
Lestrade squinted back at him apologetically through the intensity of the early afternoon sun.
“Look, it’s been a long night,” John admitted. “And things really haven’t gone smoothly since the moment we got here.”
“I get it,” Lestrade nodded. “And you are navigating some seriously uncharted personal territory, it’s bound to get a bit rocky. I’ll make myself scarce this afternoon.”
John had always been rather fond of the Detective Inspector, never more so than right now. “Thanks Greg, I appreciate it, and you being here,” he smiled warmly. “And although Sherlock would never admit it, I know he does too.”
“Good God, we wouldn’t want him to start appreciating me,” Lestrade assumed a look of mock horror, “I’m not sure I’d know what to do with that.”
They both grinned and turned their attention back to the road just as Sebastian pulled up in the Audi.
Sherlock returned at the same moment and shot a questioning look at John. John smiled back reassuringly. He’d be okay.
Sherlock tapped his slightly dusty (tedious stuff, it kept getting everywhere) YSL Oxford impatiently against the passenger side door all the way back to the riad, reviewing the night's plans in his head. Over and over, breaking the actions down into their single components and piecing them back together; testing their assumptions, trialing their methods. He knew he was obsessing over what what was literally a five minute operation but after last night he needed this to go smoothly. He didn’t believe in luck (foolish) or the gods (childish) but it did feel like they (he) had been given a break last night. Chances were that was not going to happen again.
He looked over briefly at John sitting on the other side of the back seat, staring out the window, his eyes appraising everything they passed (ever the watchful soldier, even at rest).
He fell back into his own thoughts again. Despite the thoroughness of his planning and his belief that he had eliminated all the potential ways it could go wrong, he couldn't shake a pervasive sense of unease (so much of this case had felt off — he had felt off — was what had been happening between them distracting him from what he needed to do, interfering with The Work?)
Sherlock felt the tension forming in the base of his spine and starting to travel up to his neck, tightening muscles and causing the faint lingering headache to flicker to life, its sinewy fingers prising up and under the back of his skull. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, rolling his neck and arching his back away from the warm leather of the seat.
For the first time in his life it felt like he was in the middle of something he couldn't think his way out of.
Chapter 47: Not More
“Right ho, I’m heading out for a bit,” Lestrade announced as soon as Sebastian had dropped them off at the front door of the riad. Before he left, he re-confirmed the plan for Sebastian to return at 11 that night.
Sherlock who had been caught up in his own mind, glanced questioningly at the Detective Inspector. Lestrade ignored him and headed off down the street.
“What’s gotten into him?” Sherlock quizzed as John let them in the front door.
“I think he wants to give us some time to ourselves,” John responded.
“We need time to ourselves?”
“I think it would be good ...?” John turned to Sherlock and took a deep steadying breath. “Look, I’m sorry if I was a bit off at lunch. This, you… last night; it seems to have gotten the better of me.”
“Me too,” Sherlock admitted a bit reluctantly. “I can’t help wondering … if this …” he gestured back and forth between them, “is getting in the way ... ”
John steeled himself. He didn't want to ask the question, didn’t want to know the answer, but one thing he was not was a coward. “Do you want us to stop?”
The question hung in the air between them. It felt like minutes, but really it was only seconds. During that time though John saw the infinite calculations of Sherlock’s mind reflected in his eyes. John didn’t want to stop, god knows now that they had started he never ever wanted to stop. But he would, for Sherlock.
“You would do that?” Sherlock asked carefully, his eyebrows narrowing. “For me?”
“Yes,” John admitted, bracing himself further. “I would do, will do that for you. I know that The Work is more important than anything else.”
“No,” Sherlock stated simply.
“No?” There was a cautious note in John’s voice.
“No.” Sherlock’s tone was more resolute this time. “Not more than anything else, not more than us.”
Chapter 48: His Love
In the end, all it had taken was John's selfless offer for Sherlock to realise that he would never willingly give this (them) up. Back in Madrid, he had known that this would be a challenge for him, being them. But now that they were here, he wasn't ever letting go. And if he needed to be cleverer, to work harder at The Work, then that was what he was going to do.
He brought a hand up to John's face and gently cupped his cheek. John's hand joined his, resting on top, and Sherlock lowered his forehead to rest against John's.
“Let's go to bed,” Sherlock whispered against John's lips through closed eyes and a heart laid bare. Then he took John's hand.
In the bedroom, the mid afternoon sun turned the heavy black curtains a dusty orange as Sherlock pulled them closed, the dark decor tucking away the lingering threads of light and enclosing them in their own little world.
He turned to face John, standing at the foot of the bed, quietly, just their warmth of their breaths and the distant sound of traffic breaking the silence.
What do you do when you have found the one thing that has become more important than the most important thing in your life? How do you show them? What do you tell them?
Sherlock stepped forward, taking the last step that remained between them and cradled John's head in his large hands.
“I love you.”
John had felt the shift. The moment in the hallway when Sherlock had finally said yes to all of them, to everything. But hearing it said so reverently, with the strength of Sherlock’s full belief, he felt ... complete.
“I love you, too.”
(Let me show you) John brought his hands up and placed them carefully, reverently, on Sherlocks chest, breathing together. Without breaking their gaze, John's fingers felt their way down each of the buttons, easing them open. He then took each of Sherlock’s wrists in turn, releasing the buttons there too.
Sherlock shrugged, letting the fabric slide off his shoulders, catching briefly on his hands before sliding to his feet.
“You too,” he whispered into the gold and (a little) gray strands of John's hair, as he reached down John's back, pulling his shirt tails out and over his head as John raised his arms to assist.
Sherlock tossed the shirt onto the armchair and John took a minute to simply see, and in turn be seen, by this brilliant, enigmatic, gorgeous man. His love.
Chapter 49: Their Love
It was more than a little bit overwhelming, to be honest, to be standing there, having flayed his heart wide open and invited John on in. There was a tremor in his fingers and a murmur in his breathing that he had never felt before.
He knew John had seen it, because he felt it in the way that John picked up his hand and caressed his fingers. In the way that John gently eased his belt free of his trousers and undid the clasp. And in the way John carefully, ever so carefully drew his trousers and pants down and off until he was standing there, just as naked as his heart. He stood there, watching, blinking as John divested himself of the remainder of his own clothing and came back to him with a light, a love, a warmth shining in his eyes.
Already Sherlock was adrift in the depth of emotion of it all. And somehow, somehow John just knew, because he took his time, took his hand and led him over to the bed.
And kissed him.
John knew already this would be different. He knew from the way in which Sherlock's mind appeared to be slowing, the way his body was stilling and the hesitation in his eyes.
And to be bloody honest, John wasn't too far off being completely overwhelmed himself. So he drew on all he knew, all he had put into practice in the past when things had become a little too much; he slowed it down. For Sherlock and himself, he slowed it down. He focused on his own breathing and guided Sherlock to the edge of the bed, maneuvering them both until they were kneeling, back on their heels, in front of each other, the crimson bedspread rucking up between their knees.
Quiet, still. John didn't have the words to express what he was feeling, so he let the touch of his mouth, his lips and his tongue speak instead. And where John led, Sherlock followed. Leaning in to each other, lips on lips, cheeks and jaws. Kisses on necks, shoulders and collar bones. Tongues lathing lines of saliva up and down each others chests, fingers following the trails.
Soft gentle touches increased in intensity until the small distance between them became too much. John pushed himself up onto his knees, bringing Sherlock with him. Tongues tasted more strongly, fingers gripped more tightly, stiffened cocks rubbed against each other maddeningly until John broke away with a gasp.
“What do you want?”
“What do I … want?” Sherlock was momentarily, uncharacteristically confused.
“From me, here. I want to make you feel good … how do I make you feel good. What do you want?”
“I want all of you.”
Chapter 50: The Anchor
It was a sublime feeling of being utterly grounded but at the same time, floating away. There was no drug induced high like it (and he should know, he’d experimented enough). Drugs were good, they eased time and space and the incessant buzzing of his mind, but they came without an anchor. Here, right now, John, was the anchor he had always been missing.
And right now John had asked — not told him what he needed, or assumed what he liked but asked him what he wanted. And he had responded. “You, all of you.”
As John reached over to the nightstand for the lube, Sherlock eased himself back onto the bed, long lean legs splayed around John's strong thighs, his cock jutting out from the dark thatch of hair at his groin partially obscuring the view of John's, equally stiff. He studied the shifting muscles in John's legs as he retrieved the bottle and removed the seal.
“You really are astoundingly beautiful,” John stared in wonder at the man spread out before him, causing Sherlock to blush quite dramatically and glance away.
“None of that,” John admonished playfully, running a hand up over Sherlocks knee to the inside of his thigh and back down again, delighting in the way Sherlock's skin quivered under his touch. “I want to see all of you.”
Sherlock brought his gaze back to John just as John poured some lube from the bottle and tossed it aside.
John crawled up Sherlock’s body and kissed him quite thoroughly, before he reached down between Sherlock's legs and spread the now warmed liquid over his perineum and up and over his balls and cock. Sherlock sighed into John's mouth and John swallowed down the noise. Warm circles up and down, using his whole hand. And when Sherlock started to arch himself into John's touch, his sighs turning to moans, John slid down his long lithe body and knelt between Sherlock’s spread thighs.
Sherlock’s fingers threaded through John's hair as he mouthed at his groin, nuzzling the sweat dampened flesh as he circled his hole with one finger. Sherlocks hips surged upwards and still John circled and teased, circled and teased, before finally easing the tip of one finger inside. Sherlock groaned, deep in his chest, wanting more, and in an instant had pushed himself down fully on John's finger ( always the impatient git).
“Hey, slow down, I don't want to hurt you,” John managed to get out despite the burst of arousal that move had sent shooting through his groin.
“John,” Sherlock started, leaning up on his elbows. “If you do not stop teasing me and get all of that rather magnificent cock of yours in me right now, I can't be held accountable for my actions,” Sherlock shot out with an aroused growl.
“Fine,” John huffed amusedly.”Up on your knees then, if you aren't going to take it slow, I’m going to control the pace.”
Sherlock scrambled to comply, thrusting his arse in the air and leaning down on his forearms. “Fuck me now , John Watson,” he demanded.
As soon as John had started massaging his perineum and by default, his prostate beneath, all of Sherlock's sublimation had turned to an insistent need to be filled. (And oh fuck, the feeling of John finally breaching him with the entirety of his thick, gorgeous cock was exquisite).
The sudden feeling of too full (way too full) eased into a glorious stretch of stimulated nerves as John stilled, allowing him to fully relax. John rubbed his hands from his hip bones to his ribcage, caressing his skin with slippery hands.
“You let me know when you’re ready,” John hummed into the glistening skin covering his spine as Sherlock tested out a few rolls of his hips, causing John to growl deliciously in response.
“Move with me, John.” Sherlock’s words required no repetition as John, seemingly unable to restrain himself any longer started a long easy slide out and back in again.
And oh god, was that heavenly , John's cock touching every single part of the inside of him and ever so gently easing across his prostate. It wouldn't be enough once they got going but right now it was quite utterly perfect.
“I always knew your cock would be the perfect size,” Sherlock sighed between the push and pull of John's easy rhythm.
“Did you now?” John sounded amused. “Deduced that did we?”
“Absolutely,” Sherlock grinned into his arm. “With the way you walk and the quite remarkably large bulge it makes on your pants, it had to be perfect.”
“And what else did you deduce?” John quite liked this light hearted banter, tempering the gravity of the moment.
He heard Sherlock hum consideringly into his arm. “You like topping, though you aren't opposed to switching. You don't like pain but you do like it a little rough, so long as it's consensual. And ….” Sherlock paused for effect. “You absolutely love it when I do this.” And in that moment he eased himself nearly all the way off John's cock and thrust himself back on it sharply.
(Oh yes he did). The sudden impact of Sherlock's arse on his overly tight balls caused them to ache needingly. And Sherlock, quite delighted in his successful seduction proceeded to do it again and again, causing John to groan louder and louder in appreciation until he feel the light start to tingle behind his eyes.
Desperate for it not to be over as soon as it had began, and out of a desire to have his partner come with him, John grabbed hold of Sherlock’s hip with one hand and used the other to ease his neck down further, searching for … (there it was) just the right angle for John's cock to press firmly over Sherlock's prostate with each thrust. Sherlock’s whimpering became louder than John's groaning as he breathed “yes, John, more.”
John soon joined him in a chorus of “god, yes, fuck, Sherlock” as their rhythm picked up, faster and faster. Sherlock reached forward to brace himself on the headboard to get more leverage and there it was, the perfect combination of thrust and resistance.
John started to pant, sucking in ragged breaths of warmed air straight to his lungs. “Fuck Sherlock, I'm going to come, can you come with me?”
Sherlock nodded jerkily, sucking in air of his own. John reached round to grasp his cock and felt it give a strong twitch as he stroked him firmly from root to tip (definitely nearly there) . One, two, three more thrusts and John's steady rhythm began to falter. His balls pulled up close to his body and his abdominal muscles tensed, and suddenly he was there. He kept up the rhythm on Sherlock’s cock as he came, filling him with his come, and before John had finished his last stuttering thrust, he felt Sherlock tense beneath him and cry out. And then Sherlock was coming in ribbons over his chest and onto the bedspread below. John milked him though the last pulses of his orgasm before they both collapsed onto the bed, Sherlock on the come soaked sheets and John on Sherlock, shivering aftershocks wracking them in turn.
And when they finally stilled, when the shudders stopped racking their bodies and their gasping breaths had settled, John rested his head on the back of Sherlock's neck, the fingers of one hand threaded through his hair, the other tucked underneath Sherlock's chest and they lay there, catching their breath, made complete.
In a parked car
In a crowded street
You see your love
Thread is ripping
The knot is slipping
Love is blindness
- Love is Blindness - U2
Chapter 52: Sleep Now
John felt so close, laid out on his back, their breaths in tandem, that it almost felt like he had crawled inside Sherlock. It was bliss, but a bliss that began to feel a little less comfortable a couple of minutes later when the endorphins started to fade and the full weight of John's body made itself known.
“Shift,” he requested, rolling to the side encouraging John's softening cock to ease out of him and John to lay down beside him. He rolled over and lay there stretched out as John made his way to the bathroom and emerged with a warm wet flannel to gently clean them both of the beautiful mess they’d made.
“Thank you,” Sherlock breathed through heavy lidded eyes.
“I should be thanking you,” John grinned and he laid himself out beside Sherlock, one hand on his chest. “That was …”
“Spectacular?” Sherlock suggested.
“Absolutely fucking brilliant,” John corrected. “Just like you.”
Sherlock rolled towards him, burying his head in John's arm and threading one leg through John’s. He.drifted off to sleep to the sound of John muttering something about an alarm clock.
Chapter 53: Time Then
In the end John didn't need an alarm clock. He woke slowly around 10pm to dim light creeping through the crack under the bedroom door and the sound of Sherlock and Lestrade in quiet conversation in the kitchen. The damp prickling of hairs at the back of his neck told him that it was warmer tonight than it had been on other nights. He crossed the room and peeled back one side of the curtains, confirming that clouds had come in since they had gone to bed. It added a cloyingly humid feeling to the night, but also, and in their favour, it cut down on the ambient light.
John made his way to the bathroom for a quick shower, the five minutes of perfunctory ablutions an opportunity to create the mindset he needed for tonight. He emerged from the bedroom, dressed and ready.
Sherlock lifted his chin in greeting as John entered the kitchen and John felt Sherlock's eyes on him as he made his way to the refrigerator to pour himself a glass of water. Closing the refrigerator door, he turned and leant back against it, surveying the myriad of images littering the kitchen table and currently being poured over by Sherlock and Lestrade. High resolution surveillance photos of the exterior of the house and the warehouse marked with Sherlock’s handwriting lay alongside detailed sketches of the interior ( Sherlock really was leaving nothing to chance).
(Sherlock) . John took him in. As expected, gone from his eyes was any trace of the afternoon’s soft lanquidity, replaced now with the piercingly brilliant reflection of his mind at work, on a case.
Sherlock looked up; all good?
All good , John returned tightly but assuredly, and pushed himself off the refrigerator door to join them at the table.
He had it all planned (this was going to work).
Sherlock started going over the plans with John just as Sebastian arrived at the door, so Lestrade got up to let him in.
“So, we really are just going to walk up to the front door and let ourselves in,” John didn't keep his scepticism from showing, and Sherlock didn't bother hiding the roll off his eyes.
“Well, we could go in through the roof, but I doubt your legs would be long enough,” Sherlock retorted dryly.
John shot him a; really, we are going to do that now are we? look .
Sherlock ignored the look. “Clearly, we will have some assistance.” He turned towards Sebastian who had pulled up a seat alongside him. “Were you able override the security cameras at the warehouse?”
“They are finalising it right now.” He pulled his phone out and started to type.
“Make sure they keep the timestamp running,” Sherlock directed his instructions to Sebastian's bent head. Sebastian nodded.
Once Sebastian’s head had popped back up, Sherlock continued detailing the roles they all would be playing; John and he at the warehouse and Lestrade and Sebastian at Arnaud’s house.
“Have you checked the audio on the house,” Sherlock asked Sebastian, concentrating on not looking guilty as he tried unsuccessfully to avoid John’s gaze. Yep , not forgotten about that then.
“Yeah, it's still on,” Sebastian returned evenly. If he had been privy to their indiscretions, he clearly was not going to admit to it.
“So, while John and I are at the warehouse, you two keep an eye and an ear on his place. Are the other agents in position?”
“They are outside Guerin's flat, he hasn't left it all night,” Sebastian confirmed.
“Good, that's good,” John nodded. “Make sure you let us know if that changes. I don't want to be surprised.”
“Done,” Lestrade replied just as Sebastian's phone beeped.
Sebastian checked the message and looked up at the three of them. “The loop is in place, no one will see you now.”
“And the code for the security system?”
Sebastian slipped him a piece of paper.
Sherlock took a breath and nodded. “Time to go then.”
Chapter 54: The Breach
It was wet.
On their way to the warehouse the clouds had opened up and turned the streets into a slick river. Unable to drain fast enough, massive puddles forming in the gutters had started to creep towards the middle of the road.
They had gone through the plan (again) on the way, at Sherlock’s insistence. It wasn't complicated, in and out in under five minutes, but Sherlock seemed tense, more anxious than John had ever seen him on a case before.
“And we don't need Guerin, just the samples, so if he does turn up, make sure that you don't engage him,” Sherlock reminded them all.
“It’s all fine Sherlock,” John attempted to reassure him. Any assurance his words might have provided was blown out of the water a moment later when Sebastian's phone beeped.
“They've lost him.”
Sebastian and Lestrade dropped them off a few minutes walk from the warehouse and by the time they had managed to make their way to the front door, they were soaked to the bone. What was even more unfortunate was the water leaving traces of their progress as it ran off them.
Despite the fact that they now didn't know where Guerin was, Sherlock was committed through with the plan. He only needed five minutes.
John had questioned his insistence, but Sherlock had obstinately refused to consider putting it off. He knew he could end this case here and now. He just needed that evidence.
So Sebastian and Lestrade headed to the house while the other agents attempted to track down Guerin, who had managed to give them slip within the last hour (seriously, was everyone completely incompetent? was this the recruitment standard for agents stationed here? Maybe this is where they sent the ones who failed the entrance exam ...).
Sherlock had finally managed to get his seething under control by the time he punched the security code into the keypad to let them in the warehouse. They followed the same path they had taken on their visit; up to the first floor offices, down the hall, through the door onto the metal walkway and down the stairs to the control room, the whole building silent save for the steady low hum of the reserve lighting system.
It was quiet and they were alone.
Chapter 55: Trust Placed
The control room was exactly as they had left it the previous day, now just minus the scurrying of the lab-coated scientists; silver vessels still murmuring, processing, and monitors still tracking their progress. The computer screens cast a cool blue hue over the room.
With only one way in and one way out, the testing laboratory was a literal trap, so it had been decided that John would stand sentry while Sherlock retrieved the samples.
In position, gun at the ready, John nodded and Sherlock headed in, crossing quickly across the control room and through the first airlock door of the testing lab. He eyed the protective suit hanging inside the door but didn't want to risk the extra time it would take to suit up (John could berate him for his lack of safety sense once they were clear of this place).
He slipped in through the second door. Even dimmer than the lighting in the control room, it took a second for his pupils to dilate in the darkness of the lab. At the back of the room, behind the safety-enclosed working spaces, a series of storage units monitored relative humidity, temperature and oxygen levels. On the right side of the unit, numerous agar plates were open and exposed, and on the left the plates were sealed, complete.
Opening the left door, Sherlock selected four sealed plates and placed them in his pocket. He was tempted to review the files that he knew would be stored on the computers beside the storage units but they were (he checked his watch) already at the five minute mark.
He had what he needed, it was time they left.
Sherlock made his way out of the room and through the first door. He could see through the window that John was keeping one eye on the warehouse and another eye on his progress. Not clear yet, but he was starting to breathe easier.
He nodded at John through the small window to indicate that he had gotten what they came for, but as soon as he started to push the second door open, he saw a shadow move behind John. His breath stuttered and his voice paralyzed by the sickening sound of a blow being delivered, the door swung open fully just in time for him to see John fall limply to the floor of the corridor and Guerin lowering a fire a bright red fire extinguisher.
Sherlock had to act quickly. Knowing how Guerin’s last victims met their end, skulls crushed beyond recognition, he had no doubt about Guerin’s next move so he strode forward quickly to disengage his attention from John before he could swing again. “Sticking with your tried and true modus operandi I see,” he goaded with as much bluff as he could muster and was rewarded, to his overwhelming relief, by Guerin tossing the extinguisher. It clanged loudly on the concrete floor as Guerin drew a gun on him instead. He motioned with the gun for Sherlock to come and join him.
As he crossed the room, Sherlock studied John's body surreptitiously, not wanting to draw Guerin’s notice. He started to feel some blood course through his veins again as he caught the ever so slight slight rise and fall of John's chest.
“This way.” Guerin’s tone (and the firearm he held) brokered no room for debate.
Sherlock followed reluctantly (and for the time being, obediently) as Guerin directed him out the door. However, just before he exited, and out of the line of sight of Guerin, Sherlock removed one of the plates from his pocket and dropped it onto the toe of his shoe, the leather muffling its fall, before easing it to the ground. He slid it into place, and hoped his trust was not misplaced as he proceeded to walk in front of Guerin, not permitting himself to look back.
Chapter 56: Rainbow Unicorns
When John came to, he found himself face down, cheek pressed to cold concrete floor. Sticky; his first coherent thought as his brain cells stuttered back online. His second thought; unicorns? Rainbow unicorns he corrected, squinting as he tried to focus on the creatures swaying in front of his eyes (rainbow unicorns with silver horns).
“God that's appalling,” he groaned as he brought a hand up to the side of his head, wincing, eyes closed tight against the multicolored beasts and the pain he experienced when his fingertips found the edges of the wound and came away bloodied (well, that explained the stickiness).
“I was actually sleeping,” came the curt reply at his side.
John's hand froze and his eyes snapped open (not dead but also not alone). The adrenaline kick-started his sluggish system and his left hand was already reaching for his gun lying beside him when a strong hand snaked out to pin his wrist against his back. A sharp knee dug in painfully to his upper arm, causing his face to press into smooth fabric layered over muscle and tissue.
“Not so fast.” The words directive but the tone soft; he knew the voice.
“Sandrine?” his question was muffled by the fabric he was breathing in.
“You have a head wound,” came the acknowledging response as Sandrine gave his wrist one last press and removed her knee from his arm, shifting back onto her heels. “Take it slowly and kindly do not start waving that thing at me until you have regained complete control of your senses.”
His face now unencumbered by fabric, John focused to take in Sandrine in a t-shirt, pajama pants and rain jacket, crouched in her current position - safely out of out of reach of his hands and studying him with a look of both concern and annoyance. He knew the look. It was the one he found himself bestowing on Sherlock with alarming frequency. The dancing unicorns had finally settled back into the printed fabric which was now quite clearly Sandrine’s pajama pants.
“As I said,” she pushed herself to her feet, calf muscles tightening above sockless running shoes. “I was actually sleeping when you decided to get knocked out.”
“I didn't decide anything,” John spat out tetchily, pushing himself up off his stomach and into a kneeling position, unable to completely stifle the groan the action elicited. “Your boss decided to try and kill me.” He blinked in the fluorescent light, glaring accusingly at the fire extinguisher lying to his right and securing his gun in his waistband of his pants. “I don’t think he cares much for me.”
“Be grateful for that,” Sandrine turned to the emergency eyewash station hanging on the wall, wetted a paper towel and wrung it out. “If he cared more he would have made sure you were actually dead before leaving you here. Your boyfriend on the other hand ...” Her voice trailed off, with a far gentler tone than he had heard from her before.
Sherlock! Fear screamed through John’s neural pathways, delivering him an instant shot of adrenaline. Frantically he pushed himself to his feet, swaying dizzily with the effort.
“Stop,” Sandrine placed a steadying hand on his arm and pressed the wet towel against the wound on his head. “He’s not here, Arnaud must have him.”
The panic that was threatening to escalate was put on hold as his phone started vibrating on his pocket; Lestrade.
“John, Guerin just drove in.”
“He has Sherlock,” John stated bluntly.
“Oh fuck,” Lestrade exhaled.
Oh fuck indeed,
John agreed. He looked to Sandrine, “Hold on, we're on our way.”
“I’ll explain when I get there.”
Chapter 57: Redemption, Atonement
“Why are you helping us?” John asked, watching Sandrine carefully as he slid into the passenger seat of her Jeep.
Sandrine shifted in her seat, getting comfortable as she turned the key in the ignition and put the engine into gear. Not taking her eyes off the gloomy darkness of street as she steered the car onto the main road she shrugged. “Call it redemption. Atonement.”
“Why? You didn't do it.” John surprised himself when he realized he had voiced it as a statement rather than a question.
“You believe that?” She turned her head briefly towards him, her eyes questioning, before she diverted them back to the road.
“Yes ... I mean, I didn't at first, but I do now.”
“No,” she agreed. “I didn't do it, any of it, but I should have figured it out sooner, before the last one,” she admitted with a slight shake of her head.
“Why didn't you tell us yesterday, then?”
“I tried to - I thought you heard me. But, also, I didn’t really know if I could trust you.”
Fair enough , John conceded (the feeling had been mutual).
They continued on for a few more miles in silence, John's tension at the need to find Sherlock, to stop Guerin, beginning to vibrate through him. Then it occurred to him.
“Hang on, how did you know I was here? We didn't trip the alarm system.”
“No, but the plate someone wedged in the control room door let in just enough cold air to trigger the temperature alarm.” She paused a moment, then added with amused admiration, “he’s a clever one.”
John managed a slight smile. Yes, yes he is. His smile turned to a grimace with his next thought. Now he just needed to be clever enough to keep himself safe until they got there.
“How's the head?” Sandrine's voice cut into his reverie.
“Bloody sore, but I'll live,” he replied wryly, continuing to press the wad of paper against it.
“Good.” She gave him an encouraging smile. ”Now, how do you feel about being bait?”
Chapter 58: A Dragon
As much as he appreciated being alive, Sherlock was so not sure that the actual feeling of living was a particularly good one right now. Sitting as he was, tied to a high-backed wooden chair in Guerin’s office, his head felt like it had been split open and his tongue felt way too big for his mouth.
When they had exited the warehouse and Guerin had presented him with the boot of his car as his means of transportation back to the house, he had haughtily (admittedly unwisely, but he just couldn't help himself) inquired as to whether Guerin really thought he could keep him quiet if he placed him in there. Guerin’s response had been to poke him in the side of the neck while smirking “I think a barbiturate this time,” and that was the last thing that Sherlock heard or saw until he felt himself being dragged unceremoniously out of the boot in Guerin’s garage. Honestly, for a recovering addict, he had been drugged far too many times on this trip for his liking!
False bravado and indignant outrage aside, he was astute enough to concede that this really wasn't a good situation to be in. Here, on his own, in the house, with Guerin. No one to see him since Mycroft's surveillance cameras had been deactivated earlier (in preparation for this, no doubt). Lestrade and Sebastian were outside, but he couldn't be sure they knew that he was inside. And John, fuck! For all he knew, John could still be unconscious with a skull fracture or worse (not dead, not dead). The resultant chill through his spine at that thought made it feel like his neural pathways had frozen. No, he had to focus on this, here, now.
Guerin was sitting on the other side of his desk, regarding Sherlock carefully, the predatory gaze of the previous night's dinner replaced with a coldness that did not bode well. Sherlock knew that Guerin was done playing. Feeling around the inside of his mouth with his tongue, Sherlock hoped he had regained enough muscle control to be able to speak articulately; that skill was going to be vitally important in buying him enough time.
Guerin tapped out a message on his phone and placed it, screen up, on the desk between them. Sherlock took the opportunity to begin.
“The panther is an interesting choice,” he nodded to the wall to their right, the large Jouve drawing consuming nearly the entire canvas with its darkly ominous fur and liquid gold eyes.
Guerin stared at his phone a moment longer before tilting his head to the side to study Sherlock.
“In medieval bestiary, the panther’s smell attracts all creatures, but the savagery of their heads frightens them away. In order to catch their prey, panthers hide their heads as their smell attracts their prey within reach. All but the dragon are immune.”
“Fanciful,” Sherlock murmured, barely resisting the urge to roll his eyes.
“Perhaps,” Guerin responded, “but even you English are prone to fancy, are you not? King Henry VI used the panther for his badge, and other descendents of the House of Lancaster too.”
“You fancy yourself as a panther then?”
“Hardly, Sherlock,” he smiled, all teeth. “You should have realised after last night, that I am a dragon.”
There it was, the trickle of fear down his neck causing him to surreptitiously strain against the ropes binding his wrists. Sherlock focused on regaining control, slowed his breathing and resolutely pushed on. “So what is a dragon doing in bed with other dragons?” he asked calmly, focusing on keeping his tone flat, devoid of emotion. “Aren't they supposed to be solitary animals?”
Guerin’s eyes dropped to his phone again
), and then flicked back up to Sherlock. “I'm an opportunist Sherlock, and I get bored. And when a bored opportunist is presented with an offer he doesn't care to decline, he …”
“Murders people,” Sherlock finished, the note of disdain apparent.
“Please… moralistic sentiment? You disappoint me, Sherlock. Don’t you ever get bored?”
“Not bored enough to take someone's life.”
“Hmm, can you honestly tell me that you have never planned someone’s murder, not even as a mental exercise?” Guerin let the silence play out between them.
“There is a line,” Sherlock replied carefully, precisely. “Between thinking and doing.”
“I can assure you, from experience, that it is a very thin line. Perhaps you just haven't been bored enough … besides, killing isn’t even the best part.”
“And that is ?”
“That is destroying someone who trusts you implicitly.”
“Why destroy them at all?”
“Because that is where the real fun lies,” he smiled, seeing the flicker of revulsion Sherlock couldn’t quite repress. “The look of confusion, the dawning realisation. Watching the trust bleed from their eyes. Try it someday, you’ll see. I mean, take your John.”
Sherlock cut in sharp, goaded past his restraint, “What about John?”
Guerin didn’t have a chance to answer for at that precise moment, his phone began ringing and from the expression on his face, it was not who he was hoping it would be.
He lifted the phone to his ear anyway. “Yes,” Guerin answered cooly, keeping his eyes on Sherlock even as his attention drifted to the voice on the other end of the line. Sherlock strained his senses, but couldn’t hear what the caller was saying. Guerin’s expression darkened. “So?” He pursed his lips. “Just get rid of him.”
Apparently the caller wasn’t willing to oblige because Guerin grimaced. “ Fine , bring him to the house. The other one is with me.”
He ended the call and looked at Sherlock, the predatory glint had returned. “Speaking of your John...”
Chapter 59: Still Alive
As John listened to Sandrine, he couldn't help but be a little impressed. She was calm and determined, not about to be swayed.
“Arnaud,” she waited for a response, phone in one hand, the other gripping the steering wheel firmly. “I just found one of your two visitors in the warehouse, he’s alive, but barely.” Her eyes flitted to John quickly, then back to the road. “So? So , I don’t want him here. And I don’t want the police involved. You need to take care of this. I’m bringing him to you.” She let out a frustrated breath. This isn’t a debate Arnaud. I have looked the other way in relation to your other activities , but I am drawing the line at this. They are English. Probably government. There will be problems ,” she spat. “And what about the other one? He wasn't in the warehouse.”
She hung up and tossed the phone onto the backseat and looked at John. “He’s still alive.”
Chapter 60: Dramatic Effect
It took another 15 minutes for Sandrine to weave the Jeep through the maze of fractured, dripping streets to Guerin’s house.
Time to think. Time to plan.
Finally, they turned into the street behind Guerin's house. “Pull in right there,” John said, indicating the space alongside the Audi, obscured as it was behind a retaining wall.
Lestrade, sitting in the driver's seat, looked over as they pulled up and nodded in recognition. He took out his phone and made a call. A moment later a very soggy looking Sebastian came jogging back from his surveillance position. John waved them both over to the Jeep.
“Are you sure they're good?” Sandrine eyed them warily as she reached across John to fish a hair tie out of the glovebox and pull her hair back.
“Yeah, they're good,” John affirmed as Lestrade hopped in the back seat behind John, and Sebastian made his way around to the other side.
“Fuck, it’s wet,” Lestrade muttered. Sebastian huffed in agreement.
“This is Sandrine,” John introduced, turning in his seat to face the back. “Sandrine this is Greg Lestrade.” Greg extended his hand forward for Sandrine to shake, “and Sebastian,” John indicated.
"Moran," Sebastian jerked his head in greeting.
“Jesus, John!” Lestrade exclaimed when he had a chance to take in the amount of blood still flowing freely down the side of John's face, over his ear and down his neck.
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” John reassured him. “It only needs a few stitches. I just opened it up again for dramatic effect.”
“Consider the dramatic effect achieved,” Lestrade declared. “Guerin do that?”
“Yep, just before he grabbed Sherlock.”
Lestrade growled under his breath.
“Do we know where in the house he has him?” John asked Sebastian who still had his earpiece in.
“Nothing for the last little while, but Sherlock started off talking about a panther,” Sebastian raised his eyebrows in question.
A panther … a panther … he remembered seeing a panther somewhere on their way to dinner that first night … yes!
“The office. There’s a drawing of a panther in his office. Okay, this is what is going to happen,” John cut to the chase. “I’m going to be the bait. Sandrine is going to bring me to Guerin. We all get inside the house that way, with you hidden in the back.”
Sebastian checked his phone. “The feed is still down so we can’t see him, but he’ll probably be able to see us.”
“He will be able to see you,” Sandrine corrected.
John took a deep breath. “Not until the last minute, though. You two stay out of sight until we are with Guerin, I’ll keep our phone line open, just make sure yours in on mute.”
“If you don't mind me saying, this is quite frankly a bloody horrible plan,” Lestrade summed up.
“It's not ideal,” John agreed. “But there’s no other way to do it without tipping Guerin off, and putting Sherlock in danger … more danger than he is already in.”
“Are you sure he’s going to fall for it? You are going to have to be bloody convincing.” He looked to Sebastian for agreement, but Sebastian was in the middle of typing out a message.
“I’m good. She’s good,” John stated in approval.
“Alright then,” Lestrade took his first good look at Sandrine, unicorn pajamas and all. “Nice pants by the way.”
John regarded Greg curiously (taking the piss?) but he looked sincere. Sandrine smiled back and John started to wonder if the knock to his head hadn't been harder than he thought.
On their way out of the warehouse, Sandrine had stopped to retrieve some twine from the packing area. Now she was putting it to good use, turning John around to tie his hands tightly behind his back.
“Can’t they be looser? I am not going to be able to get out of these to help you if it goes wrong,” John started to worry.
“He will notice if they are,” Sandine tightened them some more. “This needs to look real.” She tugged on the rope, satisfied with the knots and turned him around. “Ready?”
“Ready,” John nodded. The others nodded too.
Lestrade and Sebastian proceeded to climb over the back seat as elegantly as two six foot men could be expected to do so and Sandrine reached over to toss the tarp over the both of them.
John took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders and grit his teeth. Here we go, he thought, as Sandrine started to march him inside.
Chapter 61: O.K.
Since receiving the call, Guerin had abandoned his seat at the desk and and had been pacing behind it, holding his gun. Sherlock knew this wasn't a good change. Calm and focused was always easier to predict than off-balance and erratic. Something had him rattled and it wasn't John's imminent reappearance. Sherlock was rattled too, he was 99 percent sure he knew who was bringing John and why, but that one percent kept nagging him (what if he was wrong?).
The phone rang again and Guerin ceased his pacing to set the gun down to answer it. He didn't say a word, but as soon as he hung up, he changed screens and pressed a button. In the distance Sherlock could hear the grumbling of a door being opened (garage). Sitting now, the anxiety seemed to have disappeared and the predatory gaze was back.
There was a knock at the office door and Sherlock tensed. Any relief he might have had at knowing John was still alive turned instantly to an all-consuming dread he knew was being reflected in his face. John, standing in front of an emotionless Sandrine, was unsteady on his feet, eyes hooded and unseeing. He looked about two minutes away from collapsing. Guerin on the other hand, looked delighted.
Sherlock could feel himself starting to panic, helpless to stop it (wrong, wrong, he was wrong again ). But just as he felt his brain cells starting to deprived themselves of oxygen, Sandrine pressed John forward to the chair next to Sherlock, and in so doing, rotated his body to face him. For all intents and purposes it was to display John's bound status to Guerin who took it all in greedily, but in the same split second, and without a change in stance or demeanor, John blinked.
Dash. Dash. Dash. Pause. Dash. Dot. Dash.
Sherlock read the “OK” instantly, and his breathing re-commenced, sharply, sippily. He focused on his relief not showing.
Sandrine shoved John roughly into the chair, tied hands digging into the back, his head drifted slightly to the side. She left him there and went to stand by Guerin’s side behind the desk.
“Okay, now what?” she nodded to Sherlock and John impassively.
In the end, it only took a moment. Guerin reached for his phone, Sandrine removed the gun from the back of her pants and pressed it to his temple, her other hand snatched his gun from the desk.
Guerin closed his eyes. When he opened them, he took in a now fully alert John and an absolutely seething Sherlock.
“So, is this where you kill me?” he demurred.
“Hardly,” Sherlock menaced. “You are not worth the time it would take me bury your body. She might have other plans, though.”
Sandrine didn't move a muscle, the muzzle of the gun stayed exactly where it was, pressed to Guerin’s temple until Lestrade and Sebastian entered the room and moved to secure him. Then she took a step back and crossed to the other side of the desk to untie John and Sherlock.
Sherlock looked at John, so very desperately grateful. He blinked.
Dash. Dash. Dash. Space. Dash. Dot. Dash.
John smiled back, a little grimly through the patina of blood on his face. “I’m okay. We're okay,” he whispered.
Chapter 62: Fabric Torn
Sebastian zip tied Guerin’s hands behind him, dragged him to his feet and ushered him to the door, gun at his back. Caught now, he was eerily compliant. Sandrine and Lestrade had already exited the room and Sebastian motioned for John and Sherlock to go ahead of him, which they did after Sherlock retrieved Guerin's phone from his desk and pocketed it.
Sherlock still hadn’t said anything to him, his eyes were sharp but his feet were slightly unsteady (adrenaline withdrawal). John rested his hand lightly, not quite touching, on the small of Sherlock's back as they walked through the door. Out .
They passed the table with the monkey skull and turned down the long hallway. Out. And away.
The sound exploded in John's ears. And for a split second there was the grit of sand beneath his boots and a metallic taste in his mouth, on his teeth.
And then his autonomic nervous system reacted, borne of instinct and muscle memory, throwing himself sideways at Sherlock and bringing them both crashing to the ground. Painfully awkward, his chest on Sherlock’s shoulder and Sherlock’s pelvic bone digging into his thigh.
Both their heads whipped back around to take in Guerin's body slumped on the floor against the remnants of the table, rivulets of crimson running down the wall behind him and the skull shattered at his feet.
John sprang up in an instant, casting a wary glance at Sebastian who stood, unmoving, gun lowered but finger in position.
John crouched down by Guerin's clearly lifeless body, but he still put two fingers to the pulse point on his neck. The fabric of Guerin's suit was torn where the bullet had ripped through his chest and dark crimson blossomed across the fabric further with each passing second.
“That wasn't the plan,” John hissed furiously at Sebastian (who the fuck shoots an unarmed, bound prisoner? ).
Sebastian stood still and replied simply. “I have my orders.”
Chapter 63: Puzzle Solved
At the sound of the gunfire Lestrade and Sandrine came running back down the hallway.
“God, what the hell happened?” Lestrade crouched by John. “Are you all okay?”
John nodded and then jerked his head towards Sebastian. Sandrine backed away warily.
Sherlock’s gaze flickered carefully between Sebastian, silent and watchful, and John kneeling angrily on the floor by Guerin's body. He dialed a familiar number.
“Fuck you, Mycroft,” he spat, getting straight to the point.
Mycroft’s response was cold, impervious. “You knew this was my operation when it started Sherlock, what made you think I wouldn't be the one to decide how it ended?”
“Guerin is dead,” Sherlock restated, just for good measure.
“Yes, I am aware,” Mycroft's tone did not change.
“He hadn't actually told us anything yet!”
Mycroft ignored the complaint. “You have the samples.”
Sherlock fingered the three remaining plates in his pocket. “Why did you send me here Mycroft?”
“To solve the puzzle. That's what you do. And that's what you did.”
“Not. All. Of. It.”
“Enough of it,” Mycroft clearly considered the conversation at an end.
There was silence for a number of seconds on either end and then Sherlock ended the call. As John and Lestrade looked at him with a dozen questions flitting across their faces, Sherlock ignored them all, retrieved Guerin’s phone from his pocket and made to the last sent text.
What do you want me to do with him?
John got to his feet, rubbing his slightly bloodied fingers on his jeans. “Well, this is a bloody mess.”
“Oh, I don't know,” Sherlock mused as they watched Sebastian make his way to the body, cut the zip ties with a knife, pocket them, and then leave the room.
Sherlock, John and Lestrade followed Sebastian to the next room and stood shoulder to shoulder watching Sebastian remove the cover from a pillow, detach a number of silver artifacts from the wall, and toss them in the makeshift sack.
“Thief breaks in. Guerin discovers thief. Tussle ensues. Guerin is shot. Body discovered the next morning when the first houseman arrives,” Sherlock stated impassively.
“Well, that does wrap it up nicely,” Lestrade frowned, unimpressed.
John couldn't help feeling that it had all just been one big setup, and he’d finally had just about enough of it all.
“You alright?” He kept his voice low and placed a hand on Sherlock’s shoulder, remembering that not two minutes ago he had thrown him violently to the ground.
Sherlock brought his hand up to cover John's, his eyes intense. “I'm fine. We should go now, though.”
John nodded, more that happy to leave Sebastian to cover up his dirty work by himself. More than happy to leave all of this behind.
Chapter 64: Marks Left
Sherlock spoke no further about the case, save to exchange a few words with the courier Mycroft dispatched to their door to collect the plates later that morning. John had looked towards Sherlock in query when he had shut the door after seeing the courier off, but Sherlock just shook his head, discarded Guerin's phone on the side table, and headed up to the pool area. John gave him his space.
Later while showering and shaving, John wondered if it was the nasty end to the case that had Sherlock unsettled. It had taken an unexpected turn, but truth be told. This whole journey hadn't really gone according to plan, the plan (John's plan at least) being simply to spend more time with Sherlock, getting to know him, and by extension now, them, better. Instead, it had hurt both him and Sherlock, and the marks left were destined to stick with them.
John was rummaging about in his duffle bag for a clean shirt when he came across the chess set, hidden at the bottom, forgotten for the last week. He smiled at the memory, and in that moment he realised that despite the marks, despite the hurt, John had no qualms, no regrets. Because for everything they were going to leave here, when they left they were taking something priceless with them. Them. A new them, a different them, but ultimately still them.
By the time Sherlock came back down, hours later, smelling of the starching sun and stale cigarettes, John had set the board up on the low table in the living room. The light streaming in through the window cast shadows where the pieces lay and captured the dust floating in the air around them. Sherlock's body looked tired, but when he spotted the board, John saw a little light creep back in. And so they played, late into the afternoon and early into the night. And Sherlock slowly began to come back to himself and to John. There was still something else there, catching Sherlock’s thoughts whenever he was in between moves, but he seemed content to play in silence, and John was content just to sit in the quiet everything of them.
Side by side at the bathroom sink, preparing for bed that night, John asked Sherlock if he wanted to leave for London tomorrow. Sherlock shook his head and suggested they take some time to catch their breath before they returned. John nodded in agreement and followed Sherlock to bed. Arranging themselves gently together, Sherlock's head on John's chest, they slept, quiet and safe in each others arms.
They ended up staying in Marrakesh two more days, content simply to pass the time in the sanctity of the riad and each other’s company. The rest of their vacation was therefore lived vicariously through Lestrade who, dressed in a series of similarly hideous Hawaiian shirts (they really should be illegal, or at the very least, burnt), seemed to be on some sort of self-imposed mission to tick off all the “top things to do” in the Lonely Planet guide to Marrakesh. He dropped in on them each day with stories abound and an equally large array of “expertly” bargained souvenirs.
Sherlock was at a loss to figure out how Lestrade had become an expert in well … anything, but he had to admit that the quality of the bolt of crimson, cobalt and gold silk (what on earth was he planning to do with that?) which had come home with him after one such trip did seem to indicate a certain amount of skill in the area. But for once (quite surprisingly, even to him) Sherlock did not feel the need to analyze it too deeply.
It might have had something to do with the air of domesticity that had blanketed itself around them since the night Guerin was killed. They hadn’t really talked (he hadn't wanted to talk) about the case, save for John asking how he was feeling as he rubbed ointment into his wrists and tsked repeatedly over the bruises littering his body from the trip in the boot of Guerin's car. He in return had sewn (to the best of his limited suturing ability) the gash on John's head and praised (with a fair amount of jibe) the thickness of John's skull for ensuring the wound wasn't worse. Truth be told, it felt nice just to have these few days to catch their breath. Sherlock knew that it was not always going to be like this (a good thing, too — he needed the work, craved the excitement) but right now he was content to let sleeping dogs lie, including the one nipping at the Achilles heel of his pride that he kept pushing back down.
So lie they did, in between bouts of languid exploration, discovering and rediscovering all the inches of each others bodies they had not had time to do before. John seemed rather taken with his arse (Sherlock had noted with amusement) and it was after one such episode of late on their last day, John lying behind him, naked, lazily stroking circles with his palm
(up the gluteus maximus, over the tensor fasciae)
that a text message came in on John's phone. Not caring to remove his hand from it's current ministrations, John reached across Sherlock’s torso for the phone on the side table and handed it to him.
It was Sandrine asking if they would like to join her for dinner that night — her place. Sherlock showed John the phone (yes?) and John nodded in agreement ( he approved of the idea, and of her) . Sherlock typed out the reply as the circles of John's palms grew wider, drifting now to the front (over the iliac crest) and down towards (again ? oh yes ). Sherlock turned quickly in John's arms and caught his bottom lip between his teeth in a low growl of agreement. Oh yes, they had time for this. Always for this.
“Travel isn't always pretty. It isn't always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you - it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully you leave something behind.” ~ Anthony Bourdain
Chapter 66: Hello Lads
They followed in Sandrine’s footsteps through the back alleyways of the medina and into the rows of souks beyond. Shopkeepers and passersby nodded at her in acknowledgement as they weaved their way through the crowds (well known, well liked).
Sandrine stopped to examine some fruit at one of the stalls jutting out from the stone walls, appraising and selecting some. Sherlock took the time to simply observe. It was still warm at five o'clock in the afternoon, but there was a gentleness to it, an ease in the everyday life and the sounds of the medina lingering in the distance.
John was standing close, not touching but still feeling each other. While so many things had fractured on this case, these past two weeks had assured Sherlock that John was, and would always be, right beside him. He listened to the steady chatter passing between Sandrine and the vendor, Arabic flowing gently, lyrically, and turned his head to take in John’s profile. He noted the gentle rise and fall of John’s chest and unconsciously his own started to mimic the rhythm.
“You two coming?” She tilted her head at them, pressing a jar (honey?) into the vendor’s palm and stowing her purchases in the colorfully woven bag she had draped across her chest.
Up a series of stone steps, down another back alley and they found themselves outside an ornate azure blue door, a weathered metal hand of Fatima adorning the knocker. Sandrine pushed the door inwards and they found themselves in foyer of her apartment.
“We’re back,” she called out as she slipped out of her shoes and crossed to the kitchen where they heard the sounds of cooking.
John shot Sherlock a questioning look. Were you expecting anyone else? Sherlock returned the look with a shrug (unexpected). They stowed their shoes by the front door and followed the sounds into the kitchen, coming to an abrupt halt at the sight of the greying hair and fading tan hovering in front of the stove, slowly rearranging the contents of a saucepan with a wooden spoon.
“Well hello lads,” Lestrade shot them a grin over his shoulder.
Sherlock didn't say a word, didn't react, as his eyes flitted from the kitchen to Greg. John wondered for a moment if that huge brain of his had finally short circuited.
“What’s the matter, cat got your tongue Sherlock?” Lestrade chided. “You didn’t think I was really spending all my time shopping for knick knacks, did you?”
John recovered his composure first and tried to stifle the smile that was pulling at the sides of his lips. “Hey, Greg. I didn’t know you were doing the honors tonight.”
Sandrine watched the exchange with some amusement and then turned to Lestrade. “How long,” she enquired, gesturing to the stove.
“Hmm, another 20 minutes or so?” Lestrade responded in the easy fashion of two people who had spent a fair amount of time together.
Sandrine turned to them. “Come on then, I want to show you something.” They followed her out of the kitchen and down the hall to a large window at the end. She hitched up her skirt and climbed over the window’s threshold out onto the fire escape outside and started up the stairs.
John put his hand on Sherlock’s arm as he moved to do the same. “You don’t think … “ John jerked his head back to the kitchen.
“Yes I do think,” Sherlock responded abruptly. “And since I really don't want to think about what Lestrade's genitalia is getting up to later tonight — absolutely no pun intended — I think that we should both stop thinking about it.”
John huffed in amusement. “Didn't take you for a prude,” he chuckled, and gave him a playful shove towards the window.
“Hardly,” Sherlock returned with an indignant sniff. “But having deduced within the first five seconds of entering the kitchen that they had shagged there earlier in the day, I am trying not to calculate the probability that the table we’ll be eating dinner on was one of the surfaces utilised for their activities .”
John grimaced (ew, fair enough) and followed his annoyingly long-legged (John had to hop a little to make it through) utterly brilliant boyfriend through the window.
Sandrine was already up and over the ledge of the roof before they had begun to make their ascent.
Expecting to be greeted by a view of the city, John was stunned (once he managed to hoist himself up over the top as well) to find the whole of the roof’s surface covered in planter beds and overflowing with a sea of colorful wildflowers. In the background, the low constant hum of ... bees, swarms of bees, buzzing in and out of a series of wooden bee hives which lined the back wall. John stepped forward to take a closer look at the beds and there they were, camouflaged by the petals, hundreds of round, fuzzy honey bees trying desperately to hold onto to the flowers swaying back and forth in the slight breeze.
He turned to look at Sherlock and was caught by the captivation he saw in Sherlock’s eyes; he looked positively giddy. John's heart swelled.
“This is my escape,” Sandrine brushed the back of her hand over the petals of one of the bright yellow poppies hanging over the edge of one of the planters. “Where I come to think while I watch them create,” she motioned to the hives.
“What will you do now?” John doubted there would be anything left of the business to manage once Mycroft's people had gone through it all.
“I really don't know,” she replied, still looking at the poppy next to her hand. “But I will be good, I'm pretty resourceful, didn’t you know?” She smiled at him and he smiled back.
John’s attention then returned to Sherlock. As he watched Sherlock take it all in, running his hands lightly over the weathered wood of the beehives, John was suddenly struck by an image of them, together, older, surrounded by the weathered stone fence of a small cottage and a line of bee hives just like this. He'd never thought he might want something like that, quiet domesticity, but with this extraordinary man by his side, he thought that he might like it very much.
“I should go help Greg finish up, but take your time,” Sandrine offered as she climbed back over the roof’s ledge.
Sherlock’s attention turned from the hives and he started rubbing his wrists absently. John began to be concerned that he was slipping into another headspace altogether. “You OK?” He took Sherlock’s hand and threaded his smaller fingers gently through Sherlock’s longer, elegant ones.
John knew that Sherlock still needed time to fully process the series of events that had seen them arrive at this place, in this point in time. So he stood there, shoulder to shoulder with the man he loved with all his heart and simply let the question be, let him be.
“The thing is,” Sherlock started finally, after minutes had passed, drawing himself back to the roof, to the present, to John. He couldn't push this down any longer. “Guerin fancied himself as something much greater than he was. As a great man, a great perfumer. But these John, these are the real great perfumers; the bees, along with the winds, the rivers and other things that carry and mix scents in space.”
“And they are beautiful ...” John turned so that they were now facing each other, his blue eyes curious but patient. “But that’s not what is bothering you, is it?”
Sherlock continued to feel more and more anchored in the here and now as the breeze lifted lightly at his back and his chest started to warm with John’s proximity.
“The thing is,” Sherlock started again, he detested repeating himself but it seemed like it was the only way to get this out. “This all didn't really go according to plan; pride comes before a fall, John.” He fixed his gaze on the horizon and the smoke tendrils beginning to emerge from the medina below, a little taken aback by his own admission of vulnerability. “And maybe I fancy myself as something greater than I am. Maybe this whole case has been a sign that I am owed a fall too.”
“Hey,” John reached up to gently cup his cheeks and turn his focus back to him. “Hey. Do you want to know the difference between you and Guerin? The difference is that you are human.”
Sherlock looked down into John’s honest blue eyes and wrinkled his nose in mock disgust, but there was a smile there too.
John continued. “Humans make mistakes and humans learn from their mistakes. We aren't meant to be perfect. How can we be, when we each moment we live, we live it for the first time, having never done it before? Yes, you are going to fuck things up, and yes, I am going to fuck things up. We are going to fuck things up together but together we are also going to fix them. Just like we did this time, just like we always do. And if there is a fall, we will be there to catch each other.”
Sherlock brought his hands up to cover John's, which were still cradling his face. Keeping his eyes open, he leaned down to kiss him, pouring everything he felt into the point where their lips caressed each other, and feeling all of John's emotion in return.
They stood there, on the roof, in the breeze, wrapped in the sound of the bees and each other until Lestrade summoned their “arses” for dinner.
Sherlock took one last look around the rooftop before he took John’s hand and they headed for the ladder. He believed John and he trusted John, but there was one thing he was sure that John was dead wrong about, because to him, the strong, loyal, army doctor standing right beside him was absolutely perfect.
“The real great perfumers are not perfumers, they are the bees, the winds, the rivers and other things that carry and mix scents in space.” ~ Serge Lutens
In the kitchen of a spacious, modern apartment in Soho, a solitary male figure sat at the kitchen table, rotating a yellow capped vial consideringly between his thumb and forefinger.
The apartment itself, all white paneling and stainless steel fixtures, was empty, save for a Tesco shopping bag on the sink and a tailored charcoal suit jacket hanging off the back of a chair.
A mobile phone sitting on the table buzzed to life. The man placed the vial on its side on the table, the bright red viscous liquid within running up and down the insides as it searched for equilibrium.
He answered the call. “Sebastian.”
“Hey Jim, I was just calling to see if you’d received the package.”
The vial finally ceased its rocking and rested with the handwritten label right side up:
This fic is a journey. A journey I took a long time ago, a journey I took Sherlock and John on, and a journey I took you on with them. It was also a journey I took myself on when I wrote it, never having written anything like it before; nothing this long, nothing this complex, nothing that I have been so invested in for such a long time. Scared to make a mistake, to not get it right, to not measure up to all wonderful writers in this fandom, I nearly abandoned it after the first few chapters. But with the help of my wonderful beta @88thParallel, who never left my side, I realized that the thing about life that we often forget, is that it isn't meant to be perfect - how can it be when we each moment we live, we live it for the first time, having never done it before?
And so I wrote it, and I hope that you like it.
While the inspiration for this fic was of course the extraordinary life of Serge Lutens, his beautiful house and his captivating words, this is not a story about Serge Lutens. This is fiction, pure and simple.
Finally, I am always and forever indebted to the wonderful @88thParallel for her support, encouragement, perfectly awesome beta-ing and the most gorgeous cover art for my beloved fic (https://archiveofourown.org/works/14837894)