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Say Something

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PART I — PROLOGUE — January 1997

Say something; I'm giving up on you.
I'd be the one if you want me to.
Anywhere, I would have followed you.
Say something... I'm giving up on you.

10 January 1997

Dear Sherlock,

I'm writing this because you refuse to answer the phone, and, to be honest, I'm almost afraid of what I might find if I come around to your flat. I've been terrified for months that one day I would walk in the door and find your lifeless body on the floor. I told you time after time that Liam was destroying you... I just never told you how literal that fear was. Even though I may not be as observant as you are, I've seen the marks he left on you, and I've seen how much it hurts you some days just to walk. You may think you're so impenetrable, but always know that I see you.

I'm trying not to dwell on the fact that you ended us because I said I love you. Sherlock, how did you think this was going to end? If I had one wish, only one thing that I could will into being, it wouldn't be that you would agree to be mine and mine alone, it would be that you would see how utterly worthy of love you truly are. I just don't understand why you let Liam convince you of otherwise, or that it's a form of weakness to want to be wanted. You are stunningly brilliant, breathtakingly beautiful, enigmatically funny, and unerringly kind. Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

You were never just a shag (or a 'fuck' as you would say) to me. You never owed me anything, and I never expected anything in return for spending time with you. You told me once you used to believe in 'making love', but don't anymore. If you take only one thing from the short time we had together, please know that every move we made came from the deepest part of my heart, and that to me, there was always a difference between fucking and making love.

When I really, truly think about how hard it was for me each time you left, never knowing what you might be walking into when you returned home, I realise that my dread and fear and utter sadness must pale in comparison to your own. Please know that it is with a heavy heart that I respect your decision to end things with me, and I hope you will someday think of our time together as a bright spot in the darkness. More than this, I hope you will some day find the light -- if not with me, then with a man who deserves you and all you have to offer.

Yours, always yours,

Victor

Chapter Text

PART II

MAY 1996

Victor was well and truly fucked.

He’d known about his end of term chemistry paper for well over a month. He’d known that it made up nearly half of his final grade. He’d known all that, and yet, had put it off and off and off until he had less than 36 hours to write one of the most important papers of his life.

Victor was an artist, a musician. He was no scientist, and never intended or pretended to be. He had taken a chemistry course this term for the sole purpose of fulfilling his science requirement, and had thought that it would be easy enough material since he did have some vague knowledge of the periodic table of elements, water being two hydrogen and one oxygen, and so on and so forth. How very wrong he was.

So here he was, a day and a half from his paper’s due date, and not a single sentence written. Desperately, he took to the library, hoping to find inspiration in its tall shelves of dusty books, and failing miserably. He let his head fall down to the table he was sharing with his mate, Lucy, and let out his most pathetic groan.

Lucy, sat across from him, leaning her chair back on two legs, staring at the ceiling, ‘I know,’ she said suddenly, ‘Why don’t you get your father to give the dean a call, and tell him to excuse you from writing the paper? Tell him to name a new chemistry lab after you or something in exchange for passing marks?’

Victor snorted, ‘You know my father would never agree to that, Luce. He’s all about earning what we have, and work ethic and other such rubbish. I’ll save myself the lecture, thanks, and just write the damn paper myself.’

‘Well, you best get off your lazy arse and go find some books, then,’ Lucy said with a laugh, letting her chair fall back down to the floor with a thud, ‘Cos I’d hate to have to cancel your art showing next month due to you no longer being a student and getting booted from the university.’

‘Very well,’ Victor groaned, ‘Just make sure you save me a seat at dinner later; I’m going to need my strength to get this whole paper finished in,’ he looked at his watch ‘Thirty-five hours and twenty-two minutes. Wish me luck, I suppose,’ he said, getting up from the table.

‘Luck!’ Lucy called after him, her laughter ringing in his ears as he made his way to the science section of the library.

The topic of his paper was to chose one of the deadly toxins found in nature, and explain its effects, on the human body. It was dry, unpleasant research, and the photos that accompanied the text were often gruesome and unsettling. Victor had no such stomach for looking at corpses and the bloated, disfigured faces of those unlucky souls who had fallen victim to all sorts of poisonings.

He scanned the titles printed on the cracked spines of the books on the shelf before him, and reached for the one that said ‘A History of Poison’, thinking that that seemed like a good place to start, when he was startled to find his hand brush against long, pale fingers that retreated quickly as the contact was made, as if he had been physically injured by the touch.

‘Oh, pardon m-’ he started automatically, but broke off when he turned to face the owner of said hand.

It belonged to a tall, thin boy about his age, with a mess of brown curls, and startling blue-grey eyes. Victor had seen him around campus, but had never spoken to him. He examined the boy, taking in the clench of his jaw, and the way his right hand curled into a fist, as if trying to physically recoil as much as possible from the accidental touch, as he brought his left up to wrap around it. He noticed the callouses on the middle three fingers of the boy’s left hand, the kind one usually only got from playing some sort of stringed instrument, and what appeared to be a fading bruise on his inner wrist.

‘Oh,’ he said again, ‘Hi.’ He felt very stupid at that moment, desperately wishing for something more interesting to say, but words seemed to fail him. The boy said nothing. Victor noticed the hitch in his breathing, but he did not turn and walk away, which was both awkward, and encouraging, so he decided to plow on.

‘So you’re looking for books on poisons, then, too, eh? For Professor Moore’s chemistry class? I’m left scrambling now, trying to find a good one to write about for the term paper. Dreadful stuff, though, isn’t it? I can’t decide which one to write about; they all seem pretty nasty,’ Victor said, knowing that he was rambling, but unable to stop himself.

The boy seemed startled by the direction the conversation had taken, and hesitated a moment before wetting his lips, and clearing his throat, ‘Erm... No,’ he said hesitantly, ‘I actually — well, I mean, I’ve already — I mean... No. I took chemistry my first term here. I actually needed the book for research for an experiment I’m working on at the moment.’ The boy ducked his head, his shoulders tensed, as if waiting for Victor to verbally attack him, though Victor didn’t understand why.

‘Wow, that’s pretty impressive,’ Victor said honestly, ‘I’m quite envious that you seem to have an aptitude for this stuff. It’s certainly not my area of expertise. I’m more inclined for artistic endeavours, you know, like painting or playing piano. By the way,’ he said suddenly, ‘Do you play the guitar or violin?’

If the boy was showing signs of being uncomfortable before, now he looked downright startled. He cocked his head to the side, and stared at Victor, as though studying him, or really seeing him for the first time. Victor shifted in place, feeling as though he were under the lens of a microscope. He began to wonder if he had crossed some sort of line when the boy let slip the faintest ghost of a smile.

‘Violin,’ he said, raising his eyes to meet Victor’s, ‘I’ve played since I was a small child.’

‘Of course!’ Victor exclaimed, ‘I love the violin. I’ve played piano since primary school, but I always wanted to learn a string instrument. I was thinking possible the viola, since there never seem to be too many viola players. I’m Victor, by the way.’

‘Sherlock,’ the boy replied, ‘Can I— Can I ask how you knew? About the violin, I mean.’

‘Sherlock,’ Victor repeated, ‘Well, nice to meet you, Sherlock. I just guessed about the violin, honestly. I just noticed the callouses on your fingers,’ Taking a chance, Victor gently reached for Sherlock’s hand, and held it, palm up, and ran his fingers over the aforementioned callouses, as he continued, ‘People usually only get them if they are used to playing some sort of stringed instrument, and most people play the guitar, or violin. Not too many viola players, as I said, same goes for the stringed bass. I supposed I could have said cello as well, but just didn’t think of it.’

‘That’s quite an impressive deduction,’ Sherlock commented quietly, his hand tense in Victor’s, but he did not pull it away, ‘Very logical. I can appreciate the hypothesis.’

‘Spoken like a true scientist,’ Victor teased gently, ‘No wonder you took chemistry your first year, and run experiments. I don’t suppose you have any suggestions for the best toxin to write 20,000 words on by tomorrow?’

‘Botulinum,’ Sherlock replied immediately, ‘I think you will find a plethora of useful information on the topic. My first ever experiment was on the effects of botulinum on the human nervous system.’ He suddenly glanced at the wall clock behind him, and then slowly disentangled his hand from Victor’s. ‘I’m afraid I must be going now. I have an... Erm... Appointment I must keep. It was nice to meet you.’

Sherlock turned to leave, leaving a slightly confused Victor in his wake. He took a moment to come to his senses, then quickly grabbed the book that had started the whole interaction from the shelf.

‘Wait!’ Victor said, taking a few steps toward Sherlock, ‘Don’t you need this for your experiment?’

‘Apparently not as much as you do,’ Sherlock replied, again allowing himself a small smile, ‘Page 264 to 323 is all about botulinum. Also, try ‘the Manual of Botulinum Toxin Therapy’ and ‘Botulinum Neurotoxin and Tetanus Toxin’ from two shelves down. I believe you will find them exceedingly useful.’ And with that, he walked away slowly, without another backwards glance.

‘Thanks, Sherlock,’ Victor called after him, watching the retreating form exit the library. He turned back to the shelf, and found the other two books Sherlock had recommended, and added them to his pile.

Tonight, he would meet Lucy for dinner, then sit down and write his paper. Tomorrow, he would move onto a far more interesting topic.

He couldn’t wait to learn more about the curious case of Sherlock Holmes.

Chapter Text

PART III

MAY 1996

FROM THE DIARY OF SHERLOCK HOLMES:

23 May 1996

Botulinum.

Funny isn’t it that it would be botulinum, of all things, that inspired my latest obsession? I feel as though things have come full circle — five years ago, I was madly researching botulinum when that boy drowned, and here I am again, pondering botulinum because of another boy I can’t get out of my head.

It’s so irrational that he keeps wandering into my thoughts.

Victor. That Victor keeps wandering into my thoughts.

V-I-C-T-O-R.

I need sleep.

SH

~*~

28 May 1996

I make myself sick.

What utter foolishness is it that keeps driving me back to the library? There is absolutely no logical explanation why I’ve been acting like such an arse. There is no reason that Victor should return to the library either, now that his paper is complete. No reason at all.

And yet...

I keep hoping that one of these days...

Utter foolishness.

I still need sleep. Liam had better not have guests over tonight who require my attention. Truthfully, I’m still quite sore from the last few nights, and it’s getting harder to conceal the bruises now that the weather is turning warmer.

Maybe I will return to the library just one more time. Tomorrow will mark one week from first we met. That’s a reasonable amount of time for a control group. If nothing else, this can be called a social experiment, and then I’ll move on... Unless... Maybe he’ll be there tomorrow.

Utter, utter foolishness.

SH

~*~
Sherlock laid sprawled across the sofa, his hands resting palms down on his abdomen, his eyes closed. Every inch of his body ached. He tried focussing on his breathing so he could work up enough energy to get up. Last night had been particularly rough, and it had taken him hours just to will himself out of bed, and onto the sofa.

He knew he should eat something, as it had been over 48 hours since his last meal, but the idea of having to prepare anything edible seemed like a Herculean task he was just not yet willing to undertake. He could probably go another day or so before he became too lightheaded to function, so hopefully he regained some strength before then.

Liam had come home past midnight with three friends (though they certainly didn’t look like the Oxford sort, so who knows where he picked them up) who were all drunk, high, horny, or some combination of the three. Liam had called Sherlock to the parlour where they sat with their drinks in hand, and the moment he had stepped into the room, he knew what was expected of him.

He hesitated in the doorway, but this seemed to be the wrong thing to do, because Liam glared at him, and beckoned him to come over. Reluctantly, Sherlock obliged, and within ten short minutes, found himself on all fours, being fucked senseless right on the living room rug. The men laughed as they forced his face into the rough carpet, or when they moved him to the coffee table, stretching his limbs to the point of pain as they held him down, so he couldn’t have gotten away from them even if he’d wanted to.

Upon reflection, Sherlock could honestly not say why he never told Liam no even though every fibre of his being rebelled against engaging in such acts with men he didn’t even know. Perhaps it was because he knew that to refuse to do so would cause massive embarrassment to Liam, and that Liam’s reputation mattered to him above almost all else.

He had refused once, the first time that it was ever suggested to him. Vehemently. And Liam had left, and stayed with some other mates for a week before deigning to answer Sherlock’s increasingly frantic calls. Sherlock had apologised profusely, and Liam had explained how much he would enjoy seeing Sherlock with other men. Sharing that interest with Sherlock had made him feel extremely vulnerable, and how hurt he had been that Sherlock didn’t seem to care about Liam’s sexual preferences and interests.

Later that night, Liam came home with a stranger, and watched as Sherlock struggled to orally satisfy him, eventually joining them on the bed, and taking Sherlock from behind. It had been uncomfortable and unpleasant, and it was only the beginning. Liam had promised that it would get easier the more times he did it, but he had been wrong; if anything, it became more painful with each appointment.

Sherlock lifted his hands from his stomach, and examined them in front of his face. Long, finger shaped bruises encircled his wrists again, and he groaned. The weather was becoming warmer and warmer, and it was getting harder and harder to hide these types of marks. He made a mental note to stop by the shop for some long sleeved button-up shirts, thinking that the button cuffs would prevent the sleeves from riding up his arm and revealing his shame.

He took a deep breath, and gritting his teeth, hoisted himself into a sitting position. His overly stretched limbs screamed in protest, but he forced himself to pull his t shirt over his head. He looked down at his chest, and saw more bruises and bite marks, mentally cataloguing each one, and hypothesising how long each would take to heal. He estimated within 5-7 days, they should be faded enough to no longer look intentional.

Now clad in only his pyjama pants, Sherlock finally decided to make his way to the kitchen and throw together some sort of meal. He walked slowly, stiffly, into the decent sized eat in kitchen, and pulled a loaf of bread from the breadbox. Toast seemed like the perfect solution, being quick and easy, and requiring little to no effort to make.

He shoved the bread into the toaster, and leaned heavily against the counter, pondering what to do for the rest of the day. At that moment, he wanted nothing more than to eat his toast, and return to bed for the next twelve hours, but then he remembered his idea to return to the library and see if he might casually run into Victor. It really was a foolish notion, but he decided it was one with indulging, if only so he could put his idiotic interest to rest.

His toast popped just then, as he decided once and for all to forsake his bed, and venture out into the world. He ate it dry, not wanting to waste another moment, knowing that his resolve was not the strongest, so the slightest disruption or obstacle was apt to derail his plan altogether.

Dressing nearly proved to be that obstacle. Sherlock hissed in discomfort as he dropped his pyjama bottoms, and worked boxers and then trousers over his hips. Recalling his earlier observation about the bruises around his wrists, he rummage in the wardrobe for a suitable button-up shirt. The one he was able to find was a slightly heavier fabric than what would be considered seasonally appropriate, but it was a shade of dark purple that would be distracting enough to artfully conceal any marks that might raise unpleasant or uncomfortable questions.

It was still quite painful to move, but Sherlock found he was now highly motivated. His legs and back screamed in protest, but step by step he forced himself to make his way to the university library.

It was because of this struggle that it seemed only natural that at the end of his journey, he should find his reward — Victor — so when he found the library nearly empty, it was as though someone had suddenly turned the volume up and the picture down. Feelings of embarrassment and foolishness flooded him as he stood awkwardly amidst the tables and shelves. He took several deep breaths, focussing instead on the smell of the old books, instead of the hot waves of unfamiliar emotion that swelled up within him.

Finally feeling slightly more under control, he turned to leave after letting his gaze sweep (hopefully? Idiotically.) across the room one last time. Satisfied (or rather, dissatisfied) that Victor was not hiding behind a stray cart of books, or shelf, he turned decidedly on his heel, ready to lay his case to rest.

Of course, at that precise moment, he was no more than two steps into his determined stride that he collided directly into Victor, sending the boy stumbling backwards.

As Victor grabbed the side of a table to right himself, Sherlock felt a flare of warmth deep in the pit of his stomach, which well overtook the pain in his ribs from the impact.

‘Sherlock!’ Victor exclaimed, ‘Sorry about that! I was just in a bit of a rush to return these before I get assessed a late fee.’ He held out the books in his hands and Sherlock saw the book they had both originally been searching for, as well as the two that Sherlock had recommended. He felt a bit of a thrill at the validation from knowing that Victor had taken his advice for his paper.

‘How did your paper end up working out?’ Sherlock asked, ‘You were cutting it pretty close there, if I recall.’

Victor laughed, ‘Brilliantly, actually. Thank you so much for the recommendation; it was just perfect. Though I’m still fairly certain there isn’t a science medal in my future, at least I passed the course. Now onto bigger and better things, I suppose.’

‘And what might those things be?’ Sherlock queried, a small smile playing at his lips. It was so easy, so surprisingly easy to feel open and free around Victor, and that alone made him feel uneasy, because there was no logical reason for it.

‘Well,’ Victor replied, almost shyly, ‘I have an art show coming up next month at a cafe near here. They’re actually doing a whole showcase on my paintings, and quite a few will be for sale. I’m actually pretty nervous about it, so I guess that’s two things — painting frantically, and worrying excessively.’

‘I’m sure your show will end up being very successful and impressive,’ Sherlock assured him honestly, though not completely sure why, seeing as he had no idea what Victor’s artistic inclination was. However, he found that he wasn’t too bothered by the scientifically unsupported statement when Victor broke into a broad smile.

‘Thanks!’ He said, his appreciation appearing genuine, ‘Actually, Sherlock... This might seem... Well, I mean, you don’t have to, but... Would you like to be my guest that evening? It’s two weeks from Friday, at the Cornerstone Cafe, around six. If you can’t make it, that’s alright too.’ Victor drummed his fingers against the cover of the book, and Sherlock noticed that the pattern of his finger movement directly mimicked the playing of piano keys. The observation almost flew from his mouth, but he held it in, partially because he didn’t want to alienate Victor just yet with his deductions, and partially because — for the first time ever — he wanted to keep that simple little fact to himself, like a secret he and Victor unknowingly shared. Sherlock bit his lip, momentarily enchanted.

‘I... Are you sure?’ Sherlock asked, suddenly feeling embarrassingly insecure, ‘I don’t really know much about art, and I’m sure you’ll be far too busy to have to be bothered with entertaining me.’

‘Sherlock,’ Victor said seriously, ‘I would love it if you would come with me. And yes, I will have to spend some time trying to convince the other guests that my paintings are worth spending money on, but that won’t be the entire evening. I just... I would really like to get to know you better.’

‘Okay then,’ Sherlock heard himself agree, before his brain had a chance to catch up. ‘I think I would like that as well.’

~*~

29 May 1996

He came back. We talked again. I have to admit that I was secretly worried that the Victor in my mind would far surpass the Victor in reality, but how wrong I was.

I do think that he has to be one of the most intriguing individuals I’ve ever met.

SH

Chapter Text

PART IV

JUNE 1996

The first week and a half of June passed in a blur. Sherlock continued his barely passable facade of wandering into the library in hopes of seeing Victor, pleased that on five out of six visits, he did end up running into him there — though thankfully no longer literally. He had begun to wonder how someone with so much obvious talent and quiet confidence was so very physically uncoordinated. Victor, though proving to actually (thankfully) be brilliant, and had a charmingly earnest and kind personality, couldn’t seem to walk more than a few feet without clipping the corner of a shelf, or stumbling over thin air. Sherlock wondered if he was always like this, or if it was something about their interactions that threw Victor so off guard. He wasn’t sure which was the answer he was hoping for

It had also been a blessed respite from appointments with Liam’s various associates. Sherlock enjoyed the quiet evenings in their flat. When it was just him and Liam, they sat together on the sofa, reading in silence, or ordered takeaway, and watched telly. It was all very domestic. And the sex was wonderfully intimate; it had been some time since Sherlock had been fucked by just Liam, without having to concern himself with putting on a show for anyone else. He revelled in the ease and simplicity of it.

On the other nights, when it was just him alone in the flat, he spent his time curled up in bed, reading the books he borrowed from the library when he met Victor there. He and Victor had spent many days wandering the shelves. He recommended several texts to Victor about different scientific studies he was interested in at that time, and it surprised him to no end when Victor would return a few days later, and ask Sherlock about various elements of the experiments, and how it directly related to Sherlock’s interest. For someone who was a self-proclaimed scientific novice, Victor was very rapidly becoming well-versed in chemistry and biology, and Sherlock suspected he was doing it just for him. The thought caused a warm glow deep in his belly, though he didn’t quite understand why.

As a return favour, Sherlock accepted any recommendation of books that Victor had to offer, though he admitted to preferring fiction and fantasy, which to Sherlock all seemed bizarre and fanciful. Growing up, he had adored the classics, such as Treasure Island, or Robinson Caruso, or King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, but that all seemed like it could be fit into a historical context — they were stories of believable people in believable circumstances, having imaginative, but believable adventures. When Victor recommended the Lord of the Rings to Sherlock, he had picked up the thick volume with trepidation, and flipped through, confusion knitting his brows together.

(‘I don’t understand,’ he said, ‘Why would this grand council entrust the world’s most powerful piece of jewellery to a creature that is three feet high? Wouldn’t they worry a full size human would just pick the halfling up with one hand, and carry it to wherever they wanted to put it in the end?’)

However, Victor was forcing himself to stumble over chemical compounds, and rate of decay, and homeostasis, and thermodynamics, so Sherlock supposed he could suffer through wizardry, volcanos, and an undead, ghostly army.

Finally, it was the night before Victor’s art show, and when he left the library with Sherlock, he reminded Sherlock of the event with what could only be called sheepishness, again giving Sherlock the opportunity to decline the invitation. Sherlock actually laughed at the idea that he could have forgotten, and assured Victor he would meet him at the library at half five, and they could venture to the cafe together. Victor broke into a broad smile at the sound of Sherlock’s laughter, and quickly agreed to the plan, and then they parted ways, Sherlock stealing glances over his shoulder to keep an eye on Victor’s retreating form.

So pleased was Sherlock with the way he left things with Victor, that it took him a moment for his brain to catch up to his eyes when he entered his flat. He almost walked past Liam and the other man lounging in their sitting room until Liam spoke.

‘Sherlock!’ He called sharply, ‘Don’t be rude.’

Sherlock started, and turned, regarding Liam and his associate with dismay. He went to sit next two Liam on the sofa, and eyed the stranger in the armchair cautiously. He was considerably older than both Sherlock and Liam, probably closer to his mid-forties. He was dressed in sharp, but casual clothes, and held himself like someone who was accustomed to being accommodated. He did not seem too impressed with Sherlock’s lack of social graces.

‘Sorry, Liam,’ Sherlock apologised, biting his lip, ‘It wasn’t intentional; I wasn’t paying attention.’

‘Dreaming up some mad new experiment, I bet,’ Liam replied condescendingly, stroking Sherlock’s hair like a parent soothing an unruly child. He turned to the other man, and explained, ‘Sherlock seems to think he’s going to be the next Albert Einstein with all these little experiments and lab notes. He spends hours in the chemistry lab doing Lord knows what, hiding away from the rest of humanity. I keep telling him he needs to spend more time with actual human beings, and less time mixing chemicals, and dissecting frogs. Honestly, I don’t know what kind of person would be happy spending all their time in a dirty lab.’

‘You used to spend quite a bit of time there with me when we first started dating,’ Sherlock replied before he could help himself. Liam’s fingers tightened on his hair, and he winced slightly. He didn’t dare turn to look at Liam, and just stayed silent and still until Liam released him, and resumed his patronising petting of Sherlock’s head.

‘Well, love,’ he said with a smile that didn’t quite meet his eyes, ‘That was when I was trying to win you over. Now I have you, so I don’t need to sit through endless lectures on tobacco ash, or deer anatomy, or whatever other bullshit strikes your fancy at any given time.’ His tone was teasing, but Sherlock could hear the underlying hardness of his words, and lowered his gaze to the ground.

‘Right,’ he said quietly, and swallowed hard, hurt piercing his chest.

The stranger spoke up then, with a laughter that might have been genuine, but the for cutting words that followed. He snorted and said, ‘Well, now that you have him, what do you intend to do with him, Harrington?’

Sherlock darted a glance his way, and tried to block out the way the other man was leering at him. He leaned into Liam’s side slightly, as if to hide, but Liam shrugged roughly, dropped his hand from Sherlock’s head, and stood up with a laugh.

‘Funny you should ask,’ he said, and turned to rummage in something on the floor beside the sofa out of Sherlock’s sight, ‘Because, Sherlock, I arranged a bit of a surprise for you tonight. I know we talked some time ago about exploring some other, ah, interests, and Phillip here was kind enough to make some arrangements for a whole new experience for you.’

Sherlock’s heart sank, but he tried his best not to show it.

‘What kind of experience?’ He asked reluctantly. Liam turned swiftly, and glared at him when he heard his less than enthusiastic tone, and shoved what appeared to be a large duffle into Sherlock’s lap.

‘You’re being rude again,’ Liam warned, and left the room quickly. Sherlock heard him heading towards the kitchen, but before he could ponder that too thoroughly, the man Liam had called Phillip spoke again.

‘You should look inside the bag, boy,’ he said, and Sherlock bristled at being addressed as such, but his morbid curiosity got the better of him, and he pulled back the zip.

The first thing he pulled out looked like a short black belt, but with a thick silver ring in the middle. The next was a a bundle of rope, followed by four black leather cuffs. At the bottom of the bag was a black and red leather flogger, and what appeared to be a silver pole about three feet long, with a circle on each end. Sherlock wasn’t sure how all these items were going to be used, but he felt a sick sort of knot in his stomach because he knew it wasn’t going to be something he was likely to enjoy.

Liam returned then, carrying a wooden kitchen chair with him. He regarded Sherlock impassively, nodding towards the rope still in his hands.

‘So have you deduced it yet?’ Liam asked, and Sherlock heard the definite taunt as Liam used one of his own words back at him. Sherlock looked down at the rope in his hands, and shrugged helplessly.

‘You want to... To tie me up?’ He guessed, trying and failing to keep his voice from wavering. Liam and Phillip laughed again, though this time it definitely sounded cruel and mocking.

‘Harrington, he looks like he might wet himself,’ Phillip said standing up, ‘You best tell the boy what you intend to do to him before he passes out. Though,’ he said thoughtfully, ‘That might be fun in its own right.’

Liam snorted and turned back to Sherlock, ‘Yes, Sherlock, I would like to tie you up,’ he said, making his voice sound low and slow in an imitation of Sherlock, ‘Have you ever heard of strappado bondage?’

‘You mean like how they tortured Machiavelli?’ Sherlock asked faintly, his pulse racing. He stood a glance at the rope again. It didn’t seem strong enough to actually hoist him off the floor.

‘Look at how pale he just got!’ Phillip crowed, and Liam snorted again, rolling his eyes, and snatched the rope from Sherlock’s hands.

‘No, Sherlock, I’m not going to dangle you from the ceiling and drop you,’ he said as though Sherlock was being exceptionally dim, ‘Though Phillip was kind enough to install a pulley on the ceiling to secure you, you won’t be leaving the ground.’

Sherlock didn’t know if he should be relieved or horrified, so instead he stayed silent, and watched as Liam stood on the wooden chair, and ran the rope through a metal pulley that had been screwed into one of the wooden beams on the ceiling. Sherlock wondered briefly if this would cause problems with the landlord, but dismissed the thought, knowing that either Liam’s charm or Mycroft’s money would be sure to smooth any ruffled feathers.

‘There!’ Liam said, pleased, as he hopped down from the chair, and pulled on both sides of the rope to test the strength of the pulley. He turned to Sherlock, who was still sat frozen on the sofa.

‘Sherlock,’ he said, a note of warning in his voice, ‘You didn’t thank Phillip for taking the time to set this up for you.’

Sherlock wanted to protest that it wasn’t something he had asked for in the first place, but knew that would cause more problems than it was worth, so instead he turned to Phillip, and mumbled, ‘Thank you, Phillip,’ hoping that would be enough to satisfy Liam.

It wasn’t.

‘There’s a better way for you to say thank you, Sherlock,’ Liam said pointedly. Sherlock nodded, and lowered his gaze to the floor again. Liam gave him a slap on the behind, and leaned to press a kiss into Sherlock’s temple, and whispered, ‘I can’t wait to see you tied up, hot and helpless... Please, love,’ as he pushed him gently towards Phillip.

Sherlock crossed the room until he was directly in front of Phillip, and lowered himself between the older man’s thighs. He swallowed hard, trying desperately to squelch the growing feeling of nausea and unhappiness, and gingerly began undoing Phillip’s belt.

Phillip shifted in his seat, spreading his legs farther apart to give Sherlock better access as he pulled Phillip’s cock from the confines of his trousers. Sherlock grasped it in one hand, and lowered his mouth to the head, doing his best to block out the unpleasantness of what he was about to do.

He worked his mouth up and down Phillip’s cock, only flinching slightly when Phillip buried his hands into Sherlock’s hair, and began fucking his face in earnest. Sherlock wished he could close his ears to the other man’s groans of pleasure, and compliments to Liam over how good Sherlock was at his task. He hated when Liam’s visitors felt the need to praise Liam for Sherlock’s performance; it made him feel as though he was just the means to an end, like his autonomy had been stripped from him.

While Sherlock was otherwise engaged with servicing Phillip, Liam had slipped behind him without Sherlock noticing until he felt Liam’s arms encircle him, his hands smoothing over Sherlock’s shoulders and chest. Sherlock moaned slightly at the gentle touch, which in turn made Phillip voice his pleasure at the vibration. Liam began working the buttons on Sherlock’s shirt, removing it swiftly, and throwing it across the room. Sherlock had only a moment to adjust to the cool air against his skin before he felt Liam grab his wrists and pull them behind his back. Unable to turn, due to Phillip’s grip on his hair, he made a sound of protest in his throat, but this only resulted in more noises from Phillip.

Unable to move from his position between Phillip and Liam, Sherlock closed his eyes, and tried to simply disengage from his current predicament, but this again proved to be impossible, because moments later, he felt something soft but sturdy encircle first his left wrist, then another on his right. It seemed as though Liam had secured one set of cuffs around his wrists, and clasped them together, because moments later when Liam released Sherlock from his grip, and stood to admire his handiwork, Sherlock tested the cuffs, and found them quite unmovable.

‘Take a break, Phil,’ Liam said then, and waited for Phillip to release Sherlock’s head. Sherlock desperately wanted to wipe the drool and precome from his chin, but was not able. Phillip smirked at him, and wiped his hand over Sherlock’s face, smearing it further, and pushing Sherlock back, so he fell on his backside on the floor.

‘Ready to dress the boy up then, Harrington?’ Phillip asked, his voice low with desire, ‘Do you think you know how?’

‘I’m sure I can figure it out,’ Liam replied, somewhat haughtily, and picked up the leather device with the silver ring. ‘Sherlock, open your mouth.’

‘Liam, what...?’ Sherlock asked, straining slightly against the cuffs, and struggling to rearrange himself on the floor so that he might be able to stand. ‘I don’t-’

‘Sherlock!,’ Liam snapped sharply, ‘Rude again. Is it truly your goal to embarrass me at every turn?’

‘No, of course not,’ Sherlock replied, stung, ‘I just- I mean- What does that thing do?’

‘It doesn’t do anything,’ Liam said, annoyed, ‘It goes in your mouth, and keeps it open so you can still give a blow job. Honestly, I don’t know what’s gotten into you; you’re acting like you’ve never had sex before. You’re the one who said you were amenable to trying new things.’

Sherlock wanted to say that when he had shyly mentioned this to Liam two months ago, he had meant that it was something he had naively hoped they would explore together, and at their own pace. Instead, he closed his eyes in defeat and opened his mouth wide for Liam. Moments later, the silver O-shaped ring was forced behind his teeth, and the strap impatiently tightened behind his head. He could no longer speak or close his mouth, and drool ran humiliatingly from his mouth through the ring. His eyes widened in panic as his gag reflex threatened to overwhelm him when his tongue convulsed at the new intruder.

‘Relax, Sherlock,’ Liam instructed, more gently this time, ‘Just swallow. You’ll get used to it. Besides,’ he said more quietly, ‘You have no idea how absolutely wretched you look right now. Feel,’ and he came up behind Sherlock, and rubbed Sherlock’s bound hands against the front of his trousers. He was incredibly hard, and Sherlock moaned pathetically at the touch.

Liam pulled Sherlock to his feet, and guided him over to the rope dangling from the pulley on the ceiling. Sherlock saw him grab one end of the rope, and then he slipped behind Sherlock again, and began fiddling about with the cuffs on Sherlock’s wrists. He pulled away after a few moments, and gave the other end of the rope and experimental tug. Sherlock felt his arms being pulled upwards from behind his back, causing him to bend forward. It was not a comfortable position in the slightest, and he gave a cry of protest.

‘You’ll be fine, boy,’ Phillip said, from somewhere behind him. Sherlock heard him hand something to Liam, and the next thing Sherlock knew, there were hands — not Liam’s — working his trousers and boxers down past his hips. From his uncomfortable vantage point, Sherlock watched them fall to the floor, and Phillip’s hands scoop them up, tugging them gently so Sherlock lifted each foot in turn to step out of them.

Now completely nude, and trussed up like a stuck pig, Sherlock felt incredibly exposed. Liam pulled again on the free end of the rope, and he was forced to bend over further. Upside down, he watched Liam pass the rope to Phillip, and come to kneel beside Sherlock’s feet. In his hands were the other two cuffs, and the metal bar. Before Sherlock could even make a sound, Liam had both cuffs fastened around his ankles, and made quick work of securing the bar between them. He was now completely immobile, his arse spread wide open facing Phillip, a small puddle of drool collecting on the floor beneath him from his open mouth. He had never felt so humiliated in his entire life, and if he hadn’t been afraid of asphyxiating, he would have wept.

Phillip gave the rope another tug, and Sherlock was forced to bend even further, even going so far as to try to balance on the balls of his feet to try to alleviate some of the strain from his shoulders.
Phillip and Liam stayed silent for a moment, watching his struggle, and then Phillip said huskily,

‘You were absolutely correct, Harrington; he looks wrecked. And we haven’t even started. Good God, what on Earth did you do to deserve such a beautiful and eager slut like this?’

‘I spent three months wasting four days a week in a goddamn chemistry lab,’ Liam replied with a laugh, ‘Believe it or not, he was a virgin when we met.’

‘Damn,’ Phillip said enviously, ‘Lucky bastard. I bet he was amazingly tight that first time.’

‘Still is,’ Liam said lazily, ‘Just wait. You’ll see.’ He came around the front to face Sherlock, and knelt down to give him a kiss on the cheek, ‘Still good, love?’

Sherlock just stared at Liam, unable to speak, and probably for the better. Liam continued,

‘So one of the points of this position is to use this,’ he said, and showed Sherlock the last item from the bag, the red and black flogger, ‘Please, Sherlock. Phillip is very handy with a flogger. When you’re bent over and helpless like this, I just want to watch him completely take you apart before I fuck you,’ Sherlock lowered his gaze, which Liam took as some sort of acquiescence, because he stoked Sherlock’s hair and said ‘I love you... Thank you so much for doing this for me.’

Sherlock closed his eyes, wanting to hang onto those words for just a moment longer, and he nodded. Liam kissed him and murmured again, ‘Thank you,’ again before resuming his place behind Sherlock.

The flogger must have changed hands then, though neither man gave a warning before the first blow, and it was only the whistling of air past the flogger that gave Sherlock a hint brace himself. Even so, nothing prepared him for the feeling of fire crawling up his arse from the impact. He had barely enough time to recover from the first blow when a second landed, and then a third. Several more followed. By the eighth and ninth blow, he was crying out without shame, spit flying from his open mouth. By the thirteenth, tears had formed in his eyes, threatening to slide down his face. By the twenty-first, he was sobbing.

‘P’eese, p’eese ’Iam,’ he cried through his gag, but there was no respite. The flogger bit cruelly into his ass and thighs and back, and either Phillip or Liam kept a strong hold on the rope so that he was forced to stand on the very tips of his toes, his shoulders absolutely screaming at the strain. He squeezed his eyes shut, tears still streaming from his eyes.

After thirty- or forty-some blows (he’d lost count), he felt someone roughly grab him by the chin, and the head of a penis force its way past the O ring and into his mouth. He immediately choked on the intrusion, but it made no difference. He looked up and saw Liam, his head thrown back in pleasure. Liam wound his hands tightly into Sherlock’s hair, and began fucking his mouth slowly, as if he was savouring each and every inch of his cock sinking into Sherlock’s exposed throat.

He heard the flogger drop to the floor with a clatter, and was momentarily grateful. Given that Liam was in front of Sherlock, he supposed it should have come as no surprise when he felt Phillip grip his hip with one hand, and heard him spit into the other. The head of his cock press against Sherlock’s entrance, and Sherlock cried pathetically around Liam and his gag, knowing that being breached with no preparation, or adequate lubrication was extremely painful. Though it certainly wasn’t the first time he had been fucked like this, it was bound to be no less unpleasant.

He was right. Though Phillip seemed to try to ease in, it still felt like an invasion, and his ravaged skin burned where Phillip’s fingers dug into his hips. Phillip gave him no time to adjust, only drove his cock home again and again.

Between Phillip’s assault on his arse, Liam’s assault on his mouth, and the strain in his shoulders, Sherlock was genuinely worried he might pass out from the pain or lack of oxygen, a fear that proved to be valid when he felt the blood pounding in his ears. He tried to protest, tried to get someone’s attention, but both men were paying him no mind as they fucked him harder and harder. He felt himself bouncing roughly between them, and he had the strangest feeling of being a shuttlecock during an especially vigorous game of badminton. He remembered playing with Mycroft when they were children, though Mycroft didn’t really enjoy it because he was too fat to chase after the shuttlecock like Sherlock was. Sherlock pondered this memory dizzily, until he felt his consciousness slipping from his grip.

The blood in his ears roared. Mycroft sulked as Sherlock scored on him yet again, throwing his racket away in disgust.

Everything else went black.

Chapter Text

PART V

JUNE 1996

Victor woke the morning of the fourteenth with a fluttery feeling in his stomach, the kind of nervous anticipation one gets right before a sudden drop, or giving a speech in public. Tonight would be his first art show in which pieces of his work would actually be for sale. The idea that something he created could feasibly be purchased for actual currency, and go to live in the house or office of a complete stranger was staggering, to say the least. It made him feel... Legitimate. As though he had somehow crossed a line from being the little boy who doodled in the margins of his text books, to something more substantial.

And there was another reason for Victor’s anxiousness — one far less adult-sounding — that made his cheeks feel hot if he thought about it for too long. Tonight would be his first time seeing Sherlock outside of the confines of the library. Victor was almost embarrassed to admit how much time he had spent hanging around the dusty shelves in hopes he might run into Sherlock again. He had not been disappointed; almost half a dozen afternoons and early evenings had been passed in Sherlock’s company.

In all honesty, he wasn’t quite sure what it was exactly about Sherlock that he found so intriguing. By all rights, the last person on earth he should have found interesting would be an anti-social scientist, but Sherlock was so much more than that. He was a walking conundrum — a chemist who played the violin, a genius who was baffled by simple social interactions, a loner who spent his free time trying to steal cadavers from the hospital, just so he had someone to talk to. Victor loved to see Sherlock’s mind at work — he had a razor sharp wit, a lovely, dry sense of humour, and an extensive, and sometimes antiquated vocabulary that was oddly refreshing, and seemed out of place coming from a twenty-year-old uni student. Sometimes Victor could almost picture Sherlock in a velvet smoking jacket and mahogany pipe, sitting by a roaring fire, writing his memoirs.

Yes, there was something about the mad scientist who had just about single-handedly saved Victor’s chemistry final, and Victor was cautiously intrigued. He had dated casually the last few years, both males and females, and though all interactions had ended amicably, they had never felt worth investing serious time and energy into. His first priority was his art; his second was his music. Somewhere after that came his studies, and his friends and family, and so on. It wasn’t that he didn’t value the people around him, because he did, very much. It was more of his art gave him a sense or purpose that he had previously been lacking, and while his work wasn’t all that mattered, it certainly ranked high on the list. Girlfriends and boyfriends tended to not understand this sentiment, which is why he had never pursued them too actively.

Somehow, Victor sensed that Sherlock would understand the importance of having your life’s work as your foundation without taking it personally. He hoped very much that he was correct.

~*~

The day passed in a bit of a blur. Victor had already delivered his pieces to the cafe the night before, so all he had to work on was himself. He wouldn’t like to admit how many times he changed his clothes, and contemplated getting a fresh haircut for the evening. Sherlock was always impeccably dressed, usually in fitted jeans, and a sharp button-up shirt. At first Victor had thought a dress shirt seemed out of place being worn at the library, but the more he got to know Sherlock, the more natural it seemed; Sherlock himself always seemed just slightly out of place, but still unapologetically present.

In the end, Victor opted for a simple heather grey and white striped button-up shirt, a black tie, and charcoal waistcoat, over dark jeans. It seemed both professional and artistic enough for the venue, and that he wouldn’t feel under dressed next to Sherlock. He decided against the haircut, but did give himself a quick shave. In all honesty, he was just trying to waste time until it was finally just after five, and he could leave to meet Sherlock at the library.

He walked swiftly through the courtyard, until he could see the library in the distance. As he neared, he was finally able to see Sherlock, perched on the steps, reading a book. He slowed slightly wanting to take in the sight. Sherlock was wearing his purple dress shirt again, and his brow was furrowed in concentration as he read his book, turning pages every few seconds. Once Victor was close enough, he read the title on the spine of the thick volume, and laughed.

Sherlock was still working his way through the Lord of the Rings, which Victor had only barely managed to convince him to try. It seemed that the fantasy world of Middle Earth was too ludicrous for Sherlock to comprehend, and several times over the past week Sherlock had hounded Victor with questions such as ‘Why on earth would the walking, talking trees think they could go to war? Wouldn’t these creatures just light them on fire and be done with it?’ or ‘How does this elf-woman think she is going to become mortal to be with her human counterpart? Surely it’s not like a switch she can just flip on a whim?’ Victor had done his best to patiently explain the nature of Elves and Men, and Ents and Goblins, and whatever else Sherlock grilled him on, hiding his smile throughout it all. He had never met someone so baffled by a bit of imagination as Sherlock.

‘Sherlock!’ Victor called once he was within range. Sherlock looked up in alarm, but then relaxed when he saw who had shouted his name. Victor noticed he was always on guard when approached, as though he wanted to be as inconspicuous in public as possible — a tall order indeed.

‘Good evening, Victor,’ Sherlock greeted him somewhat stiffly. He glanced at the page number in his book, and closed it with a thud. He placed the book in a small satchel at his side, and looked up at Victor with a small smile. ‘Shall we?’

‘Yes!’ Victor replied enthusiastically, and extended a hand to Sherlock to help him up. Sherlock hesitate only a moment before accepting it. His hand was strong and warm in Victor’s.

Victor privately wished he didn’t have to let go.

~*~

The art show was a surprising, booming success.

Victor had had reasonably low expectations from the start. He was largely unknown, save for his friends and family, and perhaps a few peers from the university, and he had never tried to sell his work before. Considering his highest hopes were to inspire some conversations, and maybe sell one or two pieces, he truly couldn’t have imagined things would go as well as they did.

Out of the fifteen paintings he had displayed, only six remained, and he had already been approached by three or four individuals who hadn’t found exactly what they were looking for, but had been impressed enough to ask him if did commissions. He happily jotted down their contact information in his diary, and thanked them for their interest. Lucy, who had been running the till, was flushed and smiling with surprise as well.

‘I can’t believe it!’ She whispered happily, ‘Congratulations, Victor, this is better than we could have ever imagined. And your friend seems to be enjoying himself as well.’

She was right; Sherlock did seem to be having a good time. When they had first arrived, he had hesitated at every turn, staying mostly silent, and hovering slightly behind Victor’s right elbow. Victor, sensing his unease, made a point to introduce Sherlock to every person who came up to say hello and wish him well. Sherlock had seemed shocked and delighted to be included.

At the current moment, he was leaning casually against a wall, chatting animatedly with Victor’s cousin Timothy. Timothy was a few years younger, and intent on studying to be an environmental engineer when he got to university. As Victor neared, he heard Sherlock detailing a study on the rate of decay of organic material based on current soil oxidation levels or some other such biological function that Victor didn’t quite understand. Victor leaned in next to Sherlock, and tried to listen attentively, but some of the words spilling from Sherlock’s mouth sounded so impressive, Victor wasn’t entirely sure he wasn’t making them up on the spot.

‘Oh, hello again, Victor,’ Sherlock said, taking a breath, ‘Your cousin was just telling me of his future career plans. It sounds like it will be a fulfilling and vital occupation.’

‘Thanks, Sherlock!’ Timothy responded, glowing with pride, ‘I’m taking Biology and Chemistry for my A levels now. It’s not easy, but it’s terribly interesting stuff, isn’t?’

‘Well, I think so, Timothy, but I’m not sure your cousin would agree,’ Sherlock teased gently.

Victor snorted, ‘Well, luckily, the world has the likes of you to keep it in experiments,’ he said fondly. ‘Sherlock would you like to grab something to drink now that things have slowed down? I feel as though we’ve barely spoken all evening.’

‘Of course,’ Sherlock agreed dutifully, ‘Best of luck to you in all you do, Timothy. This world needs more scientists.’

Victor lead Sherlock over towards the queue to order, and said quietly, ‘I’m sorry I haven’t been able to spend that much time with you tonight, Sherlock, it was far busier than I anticipated. I hope you weren’t too bored?’ He stole a glance at Sherlock, and relaxed slightly when he saw Sherlock’s shy grin.

‘Not at all,’ he replied honestly, ‘Your friends were all very welcoming, and I have to say, for someone as young as he is, your cousin was endlessly entertaining. You are very fortunate to have such a strong support system.’

‘I am,’ Victor agreed. ‘Thank you again for agreeing to come tonight. It was great to see you set against something other than a bookcase.’

‘That was part of my motivation for coming as well,’ Sherlock admitted, and glanced at his watch. Victor watched him pale slightly, and swallow hard, the carefree air slipping away, and being replaced with something much heavier. Sherlock sighed, and shook his sleeve back over his watch quickly, and said regretfully, ‘Apologies, Victor. It seems that the evening went quicker than I was anticipating. I have a... I should be going,’ Sherlock stopped by one of the tables, and picked up his satchel, and turned to face Victor. He smiled, ‘Thank you again for inviting me; it was truly enjoyable.’

‘Oh. Okay then,’ Victor replied, surprised by the sudden turn of events, ‘Give me just a moment, and I’ll go say goodbye to Lucy and see if she needs me for anything else.’

‘Victor, you don’t need to leave with me,’ Sherlock said quickly, looking embarrassed, ‘This is your night; I don’t want to interrupt. I didn’t mean- I don’t expect you to-’

‘Sherlock,’ Victor said gently, ‘I’ll walk you back to the library, and then come back and help them clean up. Almost everyone has left anyway; they can do without me for half an hour.’

Sherlock still looked embarrassed, but nodded silently, and stared uncomfortably at the floor while Victor made his way over to Lucy and let her know he was going to walk Sherlock out. She winked cheekily at him, and he rolled his eyes.

~*~

The June night air was surprisingly cool, and Victor shoved his hands into his jeans pockets, just trying to keep pace with Sherlock’s long legs without having to jog. He was hoping Sherlock would slow down just a tad, because he knew it was only a matter of time before he tripped over nothing again if they kept their current pace up. He had never been an especially graceful individual, but something about being in Sherlock’s presence made him so on edge that he kept doing things like running into shelves, or dropping books several times in a row in the neat and quite library. Victor shuddered to think what Sherlock thought about his newfound clumsiness.

Sherlock had been quiet and pensive since leaving the cafe. Something was weighing heavily on his mind, and Victor couldn’t think what might have caused the sudden shift in his demeanour.

‘Sherlock, is everything alright?’ He asked finally, wishing he had even a fraction of Sherlock’s skill with languages so he could better articulate what he was feeling inside.

Sherlock took a few more steps without speaking, then forced a smile, ‘I’m fine, Victor. I just wish I could have stayed at the cafe longer. You really don’t have to walk me the rest of the way if you want to head back and see if you can score one more sale.’

Victor shook his head, ‘I’d rather spend more time with you. Plus, honestly, this evening went better than I could have dreamed. I never would have thought more than a few odd people would be interested in purchasing my work. It really is surreal.’

‘You should be incredibly proud,’ Sherlock commented quietly, ‘I have to admit, I’m quite envious of the support you have from your loved ones in pursuing your passion.’

‘Thank you,’ Victor replied honestly, ‘That means a lot.’ They walked a bit farther in silence, though this time it was a bit lighter, until Victor shyly asked ‘May I see you again? Maybe dinner next time? I was hoping to spend more time with just you tonight, but obviously that didn’t work out.’

Sherlock was silent for a long pause, and Victor saw a debate raging in his eyes before he said ‘Yes, I think I would like that very much.’ He looked anxious, but pleased nonetheless.

‘Good,’ Victor grinned, ‘I... I find you incredibly interesting, Sherlock. I’m glad we met.’

‘I am too,’ Sherlock told him with a smile, ‘Thanks to botulinum.’

‘To botulinum,’ Victor repeated with a laugh, glad that the tension seemed to have eased.

They continued on in a peaceful silence until the library loomed in the distance. Sherlock regarded it reluctantly, and slowed his pace just a touch. The closer they came to their destination, the slower Sherlock walked, until they were almost upon the library, but covering hardly any distance at all.

Sherlock finally gave up the charade of walking, and stopped at one of the benches lining the walkway, and took a seat. Victor followed suit, unsure of what was happening, but also not wanting the evening to end. Sherlock stared down at his hands for a moment, then cleared his throat.

‘Victor, I want to thank you again for an interesting evening, It was fun,’ he began, still not looking at Victor, ‘But on second though, I think I will have to decline your offer for dinner. I just... I mean... It’s just not a good time for me.’

‘Sherlock,’ Victor said, stunned, ‘I thought we were having a good time getting to know each other. I really... I like you a lot.’

‘I like you too, Victor,’ Sherlock admitted in a voice that was barely a whisper. The look on his face was so regretful that it made Victor’s heart clench painfully. Victor’s eyebrows knit together in confusion.

‘Then why...?’ He asked, but Sherlock cut him off.

‘It’s just not a good idea, Victor,’ he said in frustration, ‘I shouldn’t have... We shouldn’t... I’m just honestly not someone you should waste time on right now. I wasn’t thinking before, I’m sorry.’

‘Getting to know you has never been a waste of time, Sherlock,’ Victor argued, ‘I’m sorry if you feel that way, but I sure as hell don’t. I think you’re one of the most brilliant, interesting people I’ve ever met, and I could talk to you for hours without getting bored. I love listening to you explain microbiology, and advanced physics, and how you knew the librarian was having an affair with the caretaker. None of that, not one single moment, would I consider a waste.’

Sherlock didn’t respond, but his eyes suddenly looked very bright. Victor took a chance, and took Sherlock’s hand in his. He brought it softly to his lips. Sherlock’s eyes widened, and — encouraged by this — Victor leaned in to take Sherlock in his arms, intending to lay a gentle kiss on his mouth, but he never got that far.

Sherlock jumped backwards so quickly, he actually fell from the bench to the hard ground. For a mad moment, Victor felt as though the entire world had tipped off its axis, and they had reversed roles, because falling was usually his job. Sherlock’s arms windmilled wildly, and upon impact, his face screwed up in pain — a gross overreaction compared to the slight bump. None of this was what caused Victor to gape in shock and horror, however. The reason for that was far worse.

As Sherlock sent himself reeling back, he had shouted — actually yelled — at Victor, fear and pleading in his voice, that Victor had never heard before. He’d sounded positively feral — broken. It stopped Victor in his tracks to hear his normally subdued, articulate friend react in such a primal manner.

Please, he had cried. Don’t.

It didn’t sound like a simple request against Victor expressing interest. It sounded like Sherlock was begging Victor not to hurt him.

Victor stared, mouth still half open, not really sure how to react or what to say, but it really didn’t matter in the end.

Sherlock, cheeks flushed bright red with humiliation, regarded Victor for one long moment, looking as though he wished he could physically pull his words from the air between them to recall them. Seconds later, he sprang to his feet, and took off at a dead sprint, leaving Victor staring, heartsick, after him.

Chapter Text

PART VI

And I am feeling so small
It was over my head
I know nothing at all...

JUNE 1996

Sherlock woke alone with a start, his chest tight with anxiety, like pins and needles behind his clavicle. It took him a moment to remember why, but when memories of the night before flooded back in, he groaned loudly, and rolled over, burying his face in pillow.

He. Was. Absolutely. Mortified.

Why on earth he had thought it would be a good idea to pursue any type of friendship with Victor was beyond him. He had learned long ago that confusing social entanglements were not something that he was especially good at, and truly, it was so bizarrely uncharacteristic of him to become so infatuated with anyone at all, much less someone he’d met by chance in the library of all places. He had not literal idea why he had allowed himself to go down that path, and now he was severely regretting that decision.

Additionally confusing was the progression his interactions with Victor had taken — from shy conversation, to casual flirting, and then escalating to Victor leaning in to kiss him. It left a raw feeling deep in his stomach, where all he heard was Liam’s voice murmuring in his ear the only reason a man would ever want you would be to fuck you. It hadn’t seemed like that was Victor’s motivation at all. Sherlock had watched him carefully — so carefully — and all he had seen in Victor’s eyes had been genuine interest, or so it seemed. However, it was hard to ignore the niggling voice inside that whispered that it could all be part of a clever ploy to gain his trust. He groaned again, this time in frustration, because none of it made sense.

And yet...

Somewhere deep inside, in a quiet little crevice of his mind where his other thoughts couldn’t quite reach, Sherlock replayed the part where Victor had called him brilliant and interesting and said that he actually liked spending time with Sherlock, and that he didn’t mind Sherlock telling him about his interests, or whatever bullshit struck his fancy as Liam would say. It was completely foreign to him to hear that his presence was actually something enjoyable, and not just something to be tolerated in the hopes of getting something in return.

Sherlock rolled back onto his back, and groaned a third time, but this time it was due to physical discomfort rather than mental. His back, arse, and thighs were still a multi-coloured rainbow of blacks, blues, purples, and reds. It was hard to say where one wound ended and another began. Unlike when Liam or his associates left marks on him — usually only a few left in the heat of the moment — the beating he had received from Phillip had been intentional, each mark deliberate.

Liam had woken Sherlock yesterday morning with gentle kisses, and a steaming cup of coffee, sweet and black. He had thanked Sherlock again for the night before, but made no mention of his loss of consciousness other than commenting that ‘next time we’ll have to make sure you enjoy yourself enough to stay awake’ as if Sherlock had merely fallen asleep out of boredom. Sherlock had actually apologised for passing out, which Liam accepted with another kiss before climbing into bed, and taking Sherlock in his arms. It was those quiet, sweet moments that made everything else feel as though it was worth it.

Mustering all his willpower, Sherlock forced himself to roll from the bed, despite his body rebelling furiously against the movement. Mornings were always the hardest time to convince his aching body to move. He made his way to the bathroom, and washed his face and brushed his teeth, careful not to look too closely at his reflection in the mirror. Phillips words came back to him, about him looking ‘wrecked’, and in the harsh light of the bathroom mirror, he was half inclined to agree.

Sherlock had barely made his way down the hall to the kitchen, when he heard a knock at the front door. He frowned. It was highly unusual for someone to be visiting the flat at this time of day — Mycroft or Mummy came obscenely early in the morning; Liam’s associates typically came obnoxiously late at night, and only when he was home as well. He tried deducing who it might be, settling most likely on the landlord, or a lost letter carrier. Whoever it was knocked again, so he wrenched open the door with great annoyance.

Of course, it could never be someone as innocuous as the post master, that Sherlock could merely slam the door on again. Of course the person standing there was Victor, holding two paper cups of tea, looking immensely uncomfortable, but determined. Of course Victor would be the one to take Sherlock by surprise, because when didn’t he.

The hot feeling of embarrassment welled up in Sherlock’s chest again, and he crossed his arms in front of him, and leaned against the door frame.

‘Victor,’ he greeted him evenly, but made no move to invite him inside, ‘I never gave you my address.’

‘Yeah, sorry,’ Victor said sheepishly, ‘You mentioned once that you lived in this block of flats, so I knew I was at least in the right place. Then I ran into your neighbour, Mrs Martin, and she said you live here. With... With your boyfriend.’ He looked up at Sherlock, his gaze full of unasked questions, but not accusing in the slightest.

Sherlock was quiet a moment. He was surprised again that Victor had been able to actually pinpoint his address from just mere snippets of conversation, and stored that fact away in that reptile part of his brain that held onto the idea that Victor actually cared, actually listened to him. He took a deep breath, before replying.

‘Yes. I live here with my boyfriend, Liam. We have been together about a year and a half,’ he said, and stared hard at the ground, waiting for Victor’s anger and indignation at being mislead.

It never came. Victor sighed, and Sherlock glanced up, and saw the hurt in his eyes, but he did not take it out on Sherlock. Instead, he shifted slightly, held up the cups of tea, and asked, ‘Can I come in? Can we talk? Please?’

Sherlock considered this briefly, but ultimately decided there was no way in hell he was letting Victor enter the flat. There were too many things out in the open that would undoubtedly lead to questions Sherlock had no interest in answering, the least of which was not the damn pulley Liam had agreed to let Phillip drill into the ceiling. Additionally, he did not know when Liam was due to return, and the last thing he wanted was to have him come home to find Victor in the flat.

‘No,’ he said finally, but continued quickly when he saw Victor’s face fall in disappointment, ‘I’ll come out. Just let me get dressed. You wait here.’

He closed the door without looking for a reaction from Victor, and quickly made his way back to the bedroom. As quickly as he could, he changed from his pyjamas bottoms and t-shirt to his usual jeans and button-up shirt. He realised too late that he had answered the door still in the short sleeve shirt he had slept in; it was highly likely Victor had seen the abrasions around his wrists from the cuffs two nights ago. He groaned to himself as he tied the laces on his shoes, and made his way out of the flat.

Victor was still standing where Sherlock had left him, and looked up with a small smile when he heard the door open and saw Sherlock come outside.

‘Thank you,’ he said sincerely, and passed Sherlock one of the cups of tea, ‘It’s not very hot anymore, I’m afraid. Playing detective took me a little longer than I anticipated.’

‘It’s fine, Victor, thank you,’ Sherlock said, accepting the tea, but not drinking any, ‘There is a park nearby that we can walk to.’

Victor nodded, and they made their way down the street towards the park. Sherlock didn’t know what to say, and it seemed like Victor, despite his request to talk, seemed to be at a loss for words as well.

They had passed through the entry gate of the park, and began walking down the long, winding paths gravel scraping from beneath their shoes, before Victor finally spoke.

‘So,’ he said uneasily, ‘You have a boyfriend.’

‘Yes,’ Sherlock said guiltily, ‘Victor, I never meant to... I didn’t... I am sincerely sorry for being misleading in any way. I simply... I enjoyed our conversations. And your were kind. I understand that things between us can’t continue, and that I am entirely to blame. You... You are truly very talented, Victor, and I wish you all the best.’ He fiddled with the plastic lid to his tea, and distracted himself by taking a few sips. It wasn’t hot, as Victor had said, but it was still quite good.

‘Don’t I get a say in that decision?’ Victor asked, anger creeping into his voice for the first time, ‘I didn’t come find you just to find our your relationship status, though that was quite a shock, I will admit. I came here, because, Sherlock... What happened last night? And I don’t mean you backing out of dinner, which you have every right to do. And I’m sorry if I was being too forward when I tried to — you know, kiss you — I shouldn’t have done that. But you just looked so... So sad. And like you’d never heard anyone say they liked spending time with you before, which is completely mad to me, because it’s quickly become one of my favourite things in the world. But aside from that, what the actual hell caused your to launch yourself off the bench like that? I just don’t understand.’

‘Victor, can we please not talk about that?’ Sherlock asked, a note of pleading in his voice, ‘I shouldn’t have reacted like that, and I’m quite embarrassed about it.’

‘Sherlock, please, talk to me,’ Victor begged, his eyes bright and full of concern, ‘Please, just help me understand.’

‘Victor...’ Sherlock replied, his voice trailing off, ‘I told you. I have a boyfriend.’ He stopped walking, and stared hard at the ground, bracing himself.

Uncomprehending, Victor just shook his head, and said ‘I heard you when you said that. And I understand. And if you can’t go on to date me, I also understand. But what about last night? I’ve never heard you yell like that. You sounded like you were in pain when you fell; far more pain than you should have been in from just a small tumble like that. Sherlock, you sounded terrified. You sounded like you expected... Expected me to... And you have those marks on your wrists... I know you usually wear long sleeves, which I always thought was unusual, but then I figured it was just you, and it just seemed to fit, but I saw... When you answered the door, it looked like...’

‘Victor,’ Sherlock repeated gently, ‘I have a boyfriend.’

It was the closest Sherlock had ever come to admitting out loud that what was happening between him and Liam was less than normal. Having never been in a relationship before, he had nothing to compare it to, but sometimes he had to wonder if the dynamic between him and Liam was typical of what a romance should be like, and then furthermore, if it was perhaps what a romance between two males was like, thinking that between members of the opposite sex, there were bound to be some differences in how they treated each other. It was something he quietly pondered every so often, but tried not to focus on, because he’d learned from an early age that comparison was merely the breeding ground for contempt.

‘Oh. Oh, Sherlock,’ Victor breathed, the look on his face full of horror, ‘Do you mean... I mean, does he... Are you... Does he hurt you?’

‘I don’t want to talk about that, Victor,’ Sherlock replied quickly, ‘What I share with Liam is private, and I will not reveal details of our private life together. I owe him that much.’

‘Owe him,’ Victor repeated in disbelief, ‘Sherlock, you know that you don’t have to- I mean, that there are ways out, resources? If he is hurting you, or making you feel unsafe. There are charities-’

‘I don’t need charity,’ Sherlock spat angrily, ‘I am fine. I am merely conveying to you that I am in a committed relationship, that sometimes... That is sometimes unpleasant. But he loves me. And I love him. And that is all that matters. He has been very good to me. Please respect that.’

‘But Sherlock,’ Victor said quietly, looking as though he very might wanted to reach out and touch Sherlock, but that he didn’t dare, ‘Love shouldn’t hurt.’

Sherlock had no response to that, so he merely downed the final dregs of his tea, and continued on silently down the stony path.

Chapter Text

PART VII

And I will stumble and fall
I'm still learning to love
Just starting to crawl

JULY 1996

Life went on.

Despite his best efforts, it seemed Sherlock was not able to stick to his plan of quietly disentangling himself from Victor. He had tried, and tried mightily to stay away for all of a week and a half, but then found himself wandering back to the damn library in hopes of another chance meeting, and most of the time, he was not disappointed. Victor had returned every day he was able for this exact reason.

It was as if the art show, and the morning after had never happened. Sherlock stoutly refused to talk about it, even going so far as immediately leaving without a word any time Victor brought it up. Victor quickly learned that there was no point in challenging Sherlock’s denial if he wanted to spend any sort of time with him, so he reluctantly dropped the issue, and forced himself to be content with keeping things light and airy; he continued to listen attentively as Sherlock detailed his latest experiments and escapades, and in return, he twisted Sherlock’s arm to get him to read more of Victor’s favourite works of fiction. (The Little Prince was especially entertaining to watch Sherlock read. When he got to the part about drawing sheep, he looked so baffled and disgusted that Victor was genuinely waiting for him to launch the book across the room.)

Yes, life went on.

Unfortunately, that also meant that Sherlock’s life behind closed doors also went on. Though Victor was never allowed to comment or question about it, there were many — too many — times that he saw Sherlock enter the library before Sherlock saw him, and it was physically painful for Victor to watch the way Sherlock carried himself as though he was expecting to be assaulted at any turn. Some days he walked in ramrod straight, as though fighting the urge to collapse in pain. Others, he looked so exhausted that Victor wouldn’t have been surprised at all if he fell asleep right on the table they shared, dark shadows under his bloodshot eyes. Once, Victor watched from across the room as another man approached Sherlock, leaned over and whispered something in his ear that caused Sherlock to immediately curl in on himself, and stare determinedly at the ground until the other man sauntered off with a chuckle. Sherlock never mentioned any of this, so neither could Victor.

It was infuriating to be so impotent.

It begged the question what was worse: having Sherlock in his life and seeing what was happening to him, but being unable to do anything about it, or turning away and not having him at all, but at least not having to witness this slow destruction.

He could ponder all he wanted, but ultimately Victor knew that he would never turn away, until the bitter end.

However, one day he couldn’t stop himself, despite their unspoken agreement. Sherlock had shown up cradling his left wrist, and when he moved, his sleeve slipped and showed just a flash of angry red lesions across his pale skin. Sherlock himself seemed... Off kilter, as if he was hanging on to his careful composure by the skin of his teeth. There was a vulnerability in his face that broke Victor’s heart.

Carefully — so carefully — he reached across the table and took Sherlock’s uninjured hand in his, and gave it a squeeze. Sherlock looked wary, but did not pull his hand away.

‘Sherlock,’ Victor said quietly, ‘He’s destroying you.’

‘I’m fine Victor,’ Sherlock replied automatically, like he always replied, like he had been replying to anyone who had asked for the last year. Victor’s blood roared in his ears, and he closed his eyes briefly and swallowed hard before speaking again.

‘And your wrist? That’s what, fine too? You deserve so much more than this, than him,’ Victor said, trying his hardest to keep his frustration from creeping into his voice, not entirely successfully.

‘You have no idea what I deserve,’ Sherlock said despondently, which in itself was alarming. It seemed he didn’t have enough left in him to muster his usual indignation.

‘You deserve to be loved,’ Victor said simply, ‘And you shouldn’t be ashamed for wanting someone to love you. But what you and Li- you and him have is not love. You don’t try to ruin someone you love.’

‘He,’ Sherlock replied. When Victor shot him a look of confusion, he continued, ‘It’s he, not him. What you and he have.’

‘Yes, Sherlock, because that was the point I was trying to get across, you know, just searching for a grammar lesson,’ Victor said, though his lips twitched as he tried to suppress his grin. He sighed, ‘I just... I think about you. Often. And I worry about what is going to happen to you every time you leave here.’

‘I appreciate your concern, Victor, but I assure you... It’s unnecessary. Some days I cope better than others. I just seem to be having an off day today,’ Sherlock gently pulled his hand from Victor’s, but looked him straight in the eye, ‘Thank you for caring, though. It means a lot.’

The mask that Sherlock always wore was slipping back into place, and there was nothing Victor could do to prevent it. It was like trying to hold on to the last glimpse of light from the setting sun.

‘Please,’ he said, desperate to get a few more moments of authenticity from Sherlock, ‘Let me help you.’

Sherlock paused, the look on his face both thoughtful and surprised, ‘You already do. Help, I mean. Just by being here,’ he said as though he had only just realised it himself, ‘Though honestly, I don’t know why you bother. But... Perhaps I was too rash before. Victor,’ he continued, his tone suddenly shy, ‘Would you still like to have coffee with me?’

Victor did.

~*~

And so began their new normal. They would still meet up at the library (Sherlock had very adamantly refused to let Victor come around to his flat again), but from there, they would venture out to the local cafe where Victor’s art show had been, or to a nearby bistro for lunch, or a few times, even back to the park, where they would wander the path in amicable silence, or sit on a bench and talk for hours. Victor still loved hearing about everything and anything Sherlock cared to share with him; Sherlock, on the other hand, seemed to focus solely on learning everything about Victor. He wanted to know about his childhood, whether he had had any pets, what courses he had taken for his GCSEs, when he first learnt the piano. Sometimes Victor felt like he was being watched from under a microscope, like Sherlock wanted to observe him from a cellular level. It wasn’t an entirely bad feeling.

‘Do you think your parents named your younger brother Jonathan Michael after the brothers in that faerie book you forced me to read?’ Sherlock asked one day, quite out of nowhere.

‘Faerie book?’ Victor asked, puzzled, ‘Oh, you mean Peter Pan? I didn’t force you; you demanded my copy of it when you heard that quote about death being a great adventure,’ he was quiet for a moment, thoughtful, ‘I actually have no idea if that’s where his name came from. I know it’s one of Mum’s favourite books, but she never mentioned it.’

‘Oh, for God’s sake, Victor,’ Sherlock said in exasperation, ‘Did you truly not realise that all three of you have literary names? The younger brother, Jonathan Michael, from the faerie book, the older brother, Alexander James, from Treasure Island?’

Victor frowned mulling this revelation over in his mind, ‘Well, what about me? I don’t know any characters named Victor Henry.’

Sherlock snorted, ‘You’re not going to like it, but... Ever heard of Frankenstein?’

~*~

After several weeks of coffee, lunches, and daytime strolls in the park, Victor got up the courage to ask Sherlock to dinner again, but this time Sherlock accepted, and did not change his mind moments later. They made plans to meet at a nearby restaurant that was casual and affordable, but just the idea of having dinner with Sherlock was exciting in itself. To Victor, it felt like taking a huge step in the right direction. He hoped Sherlock felt the same.

Though Victor was immensely pleased with the progression of his friendship with Sherlock, he couldn’t help the uneasy feeling that it was perhaps a bit... Taboo. Sherlock was still steadfastly committed to that arsehole boyfriend of his, though he had not uttered a single word about him or their relationship since his near slip up in the library weeks earlier, though, thankfully, most of his injuries seemed to have subsided. Victor, who was raised on honour and integrity, felt no small amount of guilt in aiding Sherlock in his infidelity, but he was also raised with a strong moral compass, and the idea that love and kindness were universal, so he justified it to himself that Sherlock’s relationship was the epitome of unhealthy, and abusive. Most days he was fine with that, and just wanted to be there for Sherlock in whatever capacity the other man would allow, but some nights he went around and around with himself, and the position he was putting Sherlock in.

The night they finally met for dinner, was like something out of a film or romance novel. The restaurant was cheerful and lively, the food was superb, and the conversation was intriguing and meaningful. Victor thought Sherlock never looked more radiant — for once, he looked completely uninhibited, and the life and laughter in his eyes was enough to make Victor want to cry. It was perfect in every way; the first date they would never get to have.

When it came time to pay for their meal, the smiling waitress dropped the check directly in the middle of the table.

‘I usually hand it off the the boyfriend,’ she said with a wink, ‘But in your case, I think I’ll just let you two fight over it so you can make up later.’

Sherlock and Victor laughed, and though Victor reached it first, Sherlock snatched it from Victor’s hand and threw his credit card down on the table. Their waitress winked again and took the bill and the card back to her register.

‘Sherlock you didn’t have to do that!’ Victor protested, but Sherlock make an impatient shushing noise, and rolled his eyes.

‘It was all of twenty pounds, Victor, relax,’ he instructed gently, ‘Your company is worth far more to me than that.’

‘It won’t... Cause any problems for you, though, will it?’ Victor asked anxiously, ‘You know, if- if he sees the charge?’

Sherlock’s face betrayed the faintest hint of sadness at the reminder of the life that awaited him back at home, but rolled his eyes again, and said, ‘My finances are none of this business, just as his are none of mine — or so he keeps telling me. Anyway, my billing statements go directly to my older brother, and given his penchant for stuffing his stupid face, I doubt he’d think anything of a restaurant charge at that amount. He probably goes through twice that for just himself on a daily basis.’

‘You sound so fond of him,’ Victor remarked sarcastically, though he was quite surprised to learn of the brother Sherlock had never mentioned before, ‘Is it just the two of you? What’s his name?’

‘Mike- sorry, it’s Mycroft now,’ Sherlock replied with a sigh, ‘He was recently hired by some low level government official as errand boy, so now he thinks he’s set to be the next PM. I give it five years — either he breaks down completely and goes to work as a barista, or he works his way to running the MI6.’

‘Wow. So two geniuses in one family, then,’ Victor said fondly, ‘Your parents must be over the moon.’

‘No,’ Sherlock said flatly, but did not elaborate. Thankfully at that time, the waitress returned with Sherlock credit card.

‘You boys have a wonderful evening,’ she said sincerely, ‘It’s been a pleasure.’

Victor and Sherlock thanked her, and got up to leave. Once they were back out in the cool night air, Victor turned to Sherlock and smiled.

‘She was nice,’ he remarked, meaning the waitress. Sherlock nodded

‘She was,’ Sherlock agreed, ‘She has a homosexual son that you remind her of. I noticed her watching you, even when she was tending to other patrons. She worries about the life he has set before him, but after watching us tonight, she is hopefully he can find... Love,’ he finished uncomfortably, as if he wished he could have left that last part off. He stared down at his shoes as he and Victor made their way through the town.

‘I’m sure he will,’ Victor said quietly, after a few moments, ‘You never know when someone will come along who will change your life, you know?’

Sherlock nodded, as they approached a bench set under a lamp post. Night had fallen, and the sky was dark above them. Only a few stars were visible beyond the ambient light from the city. Victor motioned towards the bench, and he and Sherlock sat, regarding the night sky.

‘Some day,’ Sherlock said suddenly, ‘I think I would like to move to the country, where you can actually see the stars at night. Once I’m old and grey, and my work is done, I think that would be a nice way to live out my days.’

‘The country!’ Victor exclaimed with a laugh, ‘Sherlock what would you do in the country? Become a farmer? You get bored without commotion after ten minutes.’

A farmer?!’ Sherlock repeated, wrinkling his nose, ‘Victor, can you see me raising pigs?’

‘Yes,’ Victor said, in mock seriousness, ‘At least then, you would have something to occupy your time with, other than driving the locals mad. ‘Old Man Holmes’, they’d call you, ‘the one with all the pigs’, and knowing you, you would create a new type of bacon hybrid or something, and have routine explosions coming from your little cottage.’

‘I despise bacon,’ Sherlock said seriously, ‘Maybe cows instead. Or chickens. Or bees. Bees are quite important to the local ecosystems you know. Plus I could keep you in honey for your tea.’

Victor stared at him, suddenly shy, ‘H-honey for my tea?’ He asked, his mouth suddenly dry, ‘You want me to be there with you?’

Sherlock looked embarrassed, and stared down at his hands for a moment, then looked directly into Victor’s eyes.

‘Victor,’ he said quietly, ‘You know I am with Liam. And I intend to stay with him. However...’ he drifted off, the look on his face both vulnerable and defiant, ‘However, I can’t deny that there is something about you that... That intrigues me. And I can’t seem to get you out of my head, no matter how hard I try. I don’t want you to think less of me; I have never once in the last year and a half been unfaithful to Liam. I’m not that type of person.’

He stared up at Victor imploringly, as if begging him to believe that he was not an adulterer.

‘I know, Sherlock-‘ Victor started, but Sherlock cut him off, his words coming out in a rush.

‘I just... There’s just something I would like to know, because I keep thinking about it,’ Sherlock continued, ‘For weeks now. And I think that I won’t be able to move on until I know for sure, because there is a chance that all this agonising is in vain,’ he broke off for a moment, and seemed to steel himself, and swallowed hard, ‘Victor, can I- I mean, could I- I mean may I,’ he groaned, and took a deep breath before starting again, ‘Victor, may I kiss you?’

Not wanting to actually speak, and abruptly end the dream he was currently in the midst of, Victor nodded mutely. Sherlock wasted no time, and leaned in until his face was mere inches from Victor’s. He raised a hand to Victor’s face, and gently — so gently — cupped his hand against Victor’s cheek. He brushed his lips over Victor’s once, twice, three times, before kissing him softly.

The intimacy of it was like nothing Victor had ever experienced; it actually took his breath away. He returned the kiss, unsure at first, but then firmer and more urgent until both he and Sherlock were breathing heavily, and when they finally broke apart, the look Sherlock was giving him was as though he had just truly seen him for the first time.

Victor opened his mouth to speak, but Sherlock beat him to it.

‘Well, shit. Not in vain after all.’

Chapter Text

PART VIII

Say something, I'm giving up on you
I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you
Anywhere, I would've followed you
Say something, I'm giving up on you

AUGUST 1996

Monday morning, the telephone rang shrilly, startling Sherlock awake. He swore quietly under his breath, and looked over at the clock on the nightstand. It was only eight-thirty in the bloody morning, and the only people who called this early were Mummy or Mycroft, neither of whom he had any desire to speak to at the moment. The ringer screamed again, and he groaned angrily before stomping over to the where the telephone sat on his desk, and snatched it up, barking ‘Yes?!’ into the the handset, his other hand already poised over the receiver to disconnect the call as soon as possible.

‘Oh! Hello? Is this Mr Sherlock Holmes?’ A woman’s voice that did not belong to Mummy asked in surprise at the harsh greeting, ‘This is Genevieve Trevor, I believe you know my son, Victor.’

‘Oh. Oh. Oh my goodness, my apologies, Mrs Trevor, yes, this is Sherlock,’ Sherlock stuttered into the phone, suddenly wide awake, ‘Yes, I am friends with Victor. He is my friend.’ He was repeating himself like a damn idiot, but there was nothing he could do to control his rambling in the wake of his nervousness.

‘Ah. Yes,’ Mrs Trevor said, sounding polite, but certainly as if she was questioning her son’s judgement, ‘Well anyway, as I’m sure you know, Victor’s birthday is coming up at the end of the week, and we just received news that his older brother, Alexander, will be coming home to visit from Aberdeen, and younger brother, Jonathan will be in from Bristol, so we were thinking it would be a lovely surprise for Victor if we threw a small party for him with his brothers and a few friends. I just got off the phone with his friend, Lucy, and she mentioned I should make sure to call you next. I know it’s short notice, but do you happen to know if you might be free to join us Saturday night around six?’

‘I would love to, Mrs Trevor,’ Sherlock said honestly, though very surprised, ‘Thank you very much for thinking of me.’

‘Of course, Sherlock,’ Mrs Trevor said, sounding slightly more at ease, ‘From what Lucy said, you’ve become one of Victor’s best friends.’

She went on to give Sherlock more details for the party on Saturday, and he listened halfheartedly, but truthfully his ears were too full of the echos of something he had never heard before. She had said that he was Victor’s best friend. Sherlock mulled this over, while he jotted down Victor’s parents’ address, thanked Mrs Trevor again, and hung up the phone.

Best friend. He’d never had one of those before.

He found he didn’t half hate the idea.

~*~

It was something of a seriously unhappy coincidence that the end of the week brought about Victor’s birthday on Saturday, because Friday happened to be Liam’s birthday as well. Sherlock passively contemplated how two such different people could have birthdays so close together, but then shook this thought off with the same contempt he viewed astrology and numerology: fanciful nonsense that was rooted in pandering to the weak-minded.

Much harder to ignore, however, was the fact that Liam did in fact have a birthday coming up, and Sherlock had no earthly idea what to get for him. He had even gone so far as to ask Liam point blank what he would like as his birthday present, but Liam had shrugged indifferently and said he would let Sherlock know once he had a better idea.

The ‘better idea’ came about the evening of Liam’s birthday. Sherlock had resigned himself to a quiet night in whilst Liam was out to dinner and drinks with some mates. The exclusion from the event had stung momentarily, but deep down, Sherlock was not that distraught. It was nice to have a night to himself. He had just settled back on his bed with another borrowed library book that Victor had claimed was one of his childhood favourites — the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe this time — when he heard the door to the flat fly open, and a thundering of feet enter. From the sounds of the chatter now in the sitting room, Liam had brought most of his party back with him.

A feeling of dread washed over Sherlock, and it proved to not be in vain when Liam summoned him moments later.

‘Sherlock,’ Liam called from the sitting room, ‘Come here, please.’

Sherlock closed his eyes for a brief moment, and took a deep breath. A tight knot was forming in his stomach, but he knew better than to refuse. He exhaled sharply, and rose from his sitting position, and went to the other room meet Liam.

Though he had expected to find more than just Liam waiting for him, nothing could have prepared him to find six guests lounging in various states of sobriety and undress in their living room. He darted a quick look over to Liam, who was pouring himself a drink by the bar. Liam caught his eye, and smiled, extending his hand warmly towards Sherlock. Sherlock obediently went over to him, and allowed Liam to wrap a possessive arm around him, and press a kiss into the side of his head. His heart was pounding so furiously that he was surprised Liam didn’t hear it. Perhaps he did, but he certainly didn’t comment on it.

‘Gentlemen,’ he addressed the room at large, ‘This is my boyfriend, Sherlock. He’s a bit shy. He’s never had this much attention on him before, so please be patient. Sherlock,’ he said, taking one of Sherlock’s hands in his own, and giving it a gentle kiss, ‘Remember when you asked me what I wanted for my birthday?’

Sherlock nodded silently, understanding exactly what Liam was implying. He raised his eyes to meet Liam’s, and when he saw Liam raise his eyebrows, he took that as confirmation of what was expected of him. He lowered his gaze to the floor, pulled his hand from Liam’s grasp, and raised his hands to begin unbuttoning his shirt.

Liam’s guests whistled and clapped, much to Sherlock’s humiliation. Several of them already had their own shirts untucked, and trousers undone. Sherlock focussed stubbornly on the floor, and shrugged his shirt off his shoulders. Liam pulled it the rest of the way off, and threw it haphazardly in the corner. He gestured to Sherlock’s trousers, and, reluctantly, Sherlock began to undo his belt.

‘He doesn’t look to pleased about it, now does he?’ One of the men called out to Liam with a laugh, ‘We’ll just have to show him what he’s missing.’

Cruel laughter erupted from the room, and even Liam smirked when he replied, ‘Just you wait, Dan. He secretly loves it. You’ll see. He’s a screamer when he comes.’ More hoots, hollers, and laughter.

Sherlock’s cheeks burned with humiliation as he slid his trousers down his hips. He was not wearing any boxers, as per Liam’s usual request, and this did not go unnoticed.

‘Hey!’ Another man said, pointing, ‘He’s not even got any pants on. Guess you were right about him being an eager slut, Harrington.’

Sherlock grabbed his trousers, and began to fold them, but Liam snatched them from his hands impatiently, and tossed them to join his shirt in the corner. He gave Sherlock a bit of a push towards on of the men sitting in an armchair, and pressed down on Sherlock’s shoulder, coaxing him to his knees.

‘Crawl over there, and show Geoff how good you are,’ he instructed, nudging Sherlock with his shoe. He leaned down and whispered in his ear, ‘Thank you, love. Make me proud.’

It felt as though these times were the only time Liam called him love anymore, but even so, the term of endearment made Sherlock feel a warmth in his stomach that he terribly missed, so he nodded, accepted Liam’s kiss, and obeyed, crawling across the floor to the man he called Geoff, doing his best to tune out the laughter and cat calls.

Geoff was leaned back in his seat, his trousers wide open, legs spread, and was stroking his cock. He watched Sherlock hungrily, as Sherlock crawled towards him like the wretched beast he was. He wasted no time entangling his fingers in Sherlock’s hair, and forcing his cock deep into Sherlock’s throat. He fucked Sherlock’s face brutally, as the rest of the room watched and jeered as Sherlock gagged and choked against the assault.

And that was only the beginning.

It wasn’t long before the others, jealous of the attention Geoff was receiving, pushed and pulled Sherlock every which way, demanding his services. Sherlock barely had time to catch his breath before another cock was forced down his throat, and then another. At one point, someone had pushed a bottle of whisky to his lips, and tilted it backwards, until the vile stuff ran down his chin, down his throat, and onto the floor. They forced his head down to the ground, and make him lick it up like a disgraced dog. Then they started again, even going so far as to push him until he was deep throating the neck of the bottle. Sherlock’s throat was burning, and his head was pounding from the assault and the alcohol.

He had certainly been involved with rowdy bouts of sex with Liam’s guests before, but this was at a whole new level; this was wild and animalistic. He could sense that the group was actually out of control, and felt as though they might literally tear him apart. And Liam sat in the center of it all, laughing, and drinking, and accepting the others’ pats on the back and compliments at having landed such a beautiful slag.

‘Liam, please,’ he had cried at one point, but the others just silenced him with another blowjob, and he realised that help would not be forthcoming.

The next time the bottle was pressed to his lips, he accepted it without protest, hoping that inebriation would help him survive this night.

A few moments later, he felt several pairs of hands rearranging him onto his hands and knees, and then someone spreading and spitting on his arse. The next moment was agony, dulled only by the booze singing through his veins, when someone buried their cock to the hilt in one brutal thrust. He screamed from the pain, the laughter of Liam and his friends ringing in his ears. Tears flowed from his eyes freely, as the dick in his arse fucked him like a piston.

They took turns, like horses on a carousel. And Liam just watched. Sherlock didn’t understand what kind of birthday gift this was, if he wasn’t even going to partake.

Sherlock was well drunk now, and incredibly thankful for it, because the intoxication made him feel as though he was not actually present, as though he was a part of the scene, but not actually involved in the action.

From across the room, he caught sight of Victor’s copy of the Little Prince sitting on an end table. He forced his blurry vision to focus on the cracked yellow spine, remembering their afternoon chatting and laughing about the absurdity of it.

(‘It’s supposed to be sad, Sherlock,’ Victor had said, ‘When he gets bitten by the snake and goes home to his planet to be with his rose. The idea is that he naively thinks that death is the way back to what he knows.

It’s not sadness, Victor, it’s meant to be a celebration,’ Sherlock argued, ‘He has completed his adventure across the galaxy, and realises now that the very best adventure of all would have been to stay where he was loved and happy.’)

‘Harrington!’

Sherlock was shaken from his reverie by one of the group calling for Liam, who rose from his seat on the sofa like the benevolent, bashful king, set to address his adoring subjects.

‘You’re doing so well, love,’ he said, staring down at Sherlock, who was not doing well at all. His head was positively swimming from the alcohol, and he could barely hold himself upright. Luckily there was another cock in his arse that was fucking him in earnest now, distracted by the exchange between Liam and the other man, and rough hands gripping his hips to do the job for him.

‘Harrington, I had a thought... Given that it’s your birthday, don’t you think it’s only fitting that your boyfriend here should help you with your birthday bumps!’ The man — not Geoff — continued with a laugh, ‘How old are you anyway?’

‘Twenty-two,’ Liam replied, laughing as well, ‘Well, you’re certainly welcome to try. I don’t know how much he can take though.’

‘Much more than this, hopefully! We still haven’t determined if he’s a screamer as you say,’ Geoff interjected, and the rest of the group cheered.

‘Birthday bumps, then we make the slut scream,’ The first man said decisively, ‘Thanks for arranging this little show for us Harrington, it’s been well worth it.’

Liam smirked, and raised his glass in a mock toast. Sherlock just stared, not quite understanding what was going on.

The man behind him withdrew from his arse, but the relief was short lived. The man who had been so keen on the idea of ‘birthday bumps’ held Sherlock in place on all fours by keeping a cruel hand woven in through his hair, and another just below his arse.

Sherlock couldn’t turn his head, so he heard the whistle of the belt before he actually felt it.

Someone from behind him had brought their belt crashing down against his bare arse. The pain as sudden and intense, and Sherlock cried out against it, but he could do little to get away.

‘That’s one,’ the man holding him in place said with a chuckle, ‘But you drunk arseholes are going to get me with that damn belt if you’re not careful. Next time use the cane.’

Someone produced a wooden cane from behind the sofa, and Sherlock realised that this had been part of the plan all along. There was more laughter and comments about ‘birthday bumps’ to Liam, and he did nothing to dissuade them.

The impact and subsequent pain from being stuck with a cane rather than a belt was even worse. There was no give, so Sherlock felt the blow in his bones. He cried out pathetically, and reared like a beaten animal, but to no avail. Several more blows came raining down upon him, and the man holding him counted each out loud. Each was met with hoots and hollers from the rest of the crowd, and there was a cruel pause between each blow as the cane switched hands, as everyone wanted to get their turn.

After blow number thirteen was dealt, one of the guests said thoughtfully, ‘You know... When I was growing up, it was ‘birthday kicks’, not ‘birthday bumps’... So maybe we should try that. You know, give this slag a good well rounded experience!’

More laughter, and Sherlock found himself roughly pushed to the floor, and the group surrounded him.

They chanted the numbers for fourteen to twenty-two like mad footie fans as they kicked drunkenly at him. Sherlock curled into as tight a ball as his aching body would allow, but it did little to spare him the pain from being used as a human football. He had never heard of this bizarre tradition before; birthdays in the Holmes household were usually solemn and dignified, the most festive part being a chocolate cake that Mummy would allow exactly twice per year — on his and Mycroft’s birthdays only. There had certainly been no birthday bumps or birthday kicks, or any of this savage nonsense.

One to grow on!’ The man next to Geoff cheered once they finally reached number twenty-two, ‘Harrington, give him once to grow on!

‘I’m not going to kick him, Charles,’ Liam said disdainfully, and for a moment Sherlock felt warm gratitude wash over him, but it fled as soon as Liam continued speaking, ‘Hand me the cane.’

The blow from Liam somehow stung so much more than the ones before it, because this one was laced with betrayal. After, he threw the cane from him with a flourish, and was enveloped by the many hands patting him on the back and ruffling his hair.

‘Back to the party?’ Yet another man asked, and Liam nodded his consent.

The sexual assault recommenced then, but this time, Sherlock could not contain his cries of pain, or even his tears, as he was jostled one way and another, jarring his bruised (and possible broken) ribs, and his badly beaten arse and thighs.

It went on, and on, until finally — blessedly — the guests seemed to be wearing down. Most of them had already climaxed either in Sherlock’s mouth, or on his face or chest. It was disgusting, and Sherlock did his best to wipe it off of himself with his own shirt that was passed to him with a sneer.

‘We still haven’t tested your theory, Harrington,’ one of them reminded Liam with a smirk. Liam snorted, and shoved him out of the way.

‘Watch,’ he said simply, and knelt down behind Sherlock, removing himself from his trousers. Throughout it all, Liam had stayed mostly clothed, which was both surprising, but also gave him an authoritative and powerful air compared to his nude and drunken associates.

‘Are you okay?’ He murmured in Sherlock’s ear, gathering his badly beaten body into his arms. Sherlock just stared up at him, still sickeningly inebriated, as well as in excruciating pain.

‘Liam,’ he groaned, head heavy, feeling as though he was underwater. He nuzzled into Liam’s side, and Liam kissed the side of his head.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this drunk before, love,’ Liam said with a chuckle, ‘You really are magnificent. Fine way to celebrate, isn’t it?’

Sherlock didn’t quite agree, but he was suddenly so tired he couldn’t find the words to argue. He just leaned into Liam, and moaned softly as Liam kissed him gently on his face and neck. He felt himself being lowered to the ground on his back, and he found it was a relief to be braced against a solid surface, even though it made the room seem to spin every time he closed his eyes.

He felt Liam spread his legs, and line himself up, and made only the faintest noise of protest when Liam pushed in. He was incredibly sore, and it burned, but after a few moments, the familiar movements from the familiar body above him brought about a sense of comfort and home. It was as though the other six men in the room didn’t exist, and it was just the two of them again. He missed this.

Liam gently grabbed Sherlock’s knees, and pressed them into his chest to get a better angle, and apparently it had the result he wanted, because Sherlock’s breathing grew heavier and faster, until he was positively panting. Finally, it felt right.

Sherlock could tell that Liam was nearing completion as well, as the thrusting grew faster and harder. Liam reached down, and took Sherlock in his hand, and within moments, Sherlock was unabashedly moaning, pushing back against Liam with all his might. He was right there, at the brink, about to topple over when-

Everything stopped. Liam pulled out abruptly and let go of Sherlock’s cock, kneeling back on his heels with a grin as he watched Sherlock’s eyes fly open in surprise and desperation.

‘Miss me?’ He asked cheekily as Sherlock keened incoherently at the loss of the stimulation and friction, ‘Want me to keep going? Ask for it. Beg.’ He re-entered Sherlock, but only an inch or so, fucking his shallowly enough to maintain his own erection, and drive Sherlock absolutely mad.

‘Please,’ Sherlock panted, trying to push back and take more of Liam’s cock in him. He reached for his own cock, but suddenly there were several sets of hands — Dan’s, or Charles’, or Geoff’s, or one of the others’, it really didn’t matter — holding him down, and securing his wrists on either side of his head. Sherlock nearly sobbed in frustration, trying to twist his body out of their grasp, and chase down his orgasm, but he found he was quite immobilised.

Liam, still grinning, circled his hips cruelly, thrusting a little deeper this time, and laughing at Sherlock’s anguished cry.

Beg,’ he said again, brushing ever so slightly against Sherlock’s prostate. ‘Please what?’

‘Please fuck me, Liam!,’ Sherlock cried, completely disgraced, his words slurred, and his head spinning, but not even caring. He just needed this to end, needed to feel good after so much pain, ‘Please, fuck me harder. Please let me come. More, just finish it. Please.’

The room erupted in laughter, and several of the men surrounding them clapped Liam on the back again, and Liam drove home. He gripped Sherlock’s hips brutally, and someone else grabbed Sherlock’s cock. It only took a few strokes before he was crying out loudly again, and then coming hard, humiliation flooding him as he felt his own semen cooling against his stomach.

Liam followed suit a few moments later, and when he pulled out, Sherlock rolled onto his side, and curled in on himself, hating absolutely everything.

Chapter Text

AUGUST 1996

Sherlock woke the following day, still on the floor of the sitting room, with a splitting headache, and all of thirty seconds warning before he knew he was about to be sick. He raced towards the bathroom, but only made it as far as the bin in the kitchen before he vomited spectacularly, the whisky from the night before burning his throat a second time as it came back up. He hadn’t eaten in days, so it was just torrents of sour alcohol, and bile that spewed from him, and he felt actual tears forming in his eyes from the hurt.

He heard Liam make his way down the hall, and looked up to see him leaning in the door of the kitchen watching him.

‘How’s the hangover?’ Liam asked with a smirk, ‘You were so smashed Sherlock, I’ve never seen anything like it. No wonder you never drink.’

Sherlock wanted to say something cutting back to him, but only managed a feeble groan before another round of nausea hit him, and he vomited into the bin again. Liam came over and knelt down next to him, and laid a hand on his back.

‘I’ll get you some water and paracetamol,’ he said, pressing a kiss into Sherlock’s hair, ‘Go take a shower and clean yourself up, and I’ll meet you back in bed.’

Sherlock nodded, and weakly struggled to his feet, and stumbled down the hall to the bathroom. What he wanted, actually, was to take a bath, but he didn’t want to leave Liam waiting, so he washed the blood and dried semen from his body quickly, trying to stay as detached as possible. He scrubbed as hard as he could, until his skin was pink from the effort, doing his best to avoid the sore spots on his chest, back, and arse.

When he was satisfied that he was clean enough, he exited the shower, and made his way to the sink to brush his teeth. It was only then that he reluctantly observed his reflection, and was not really all that surprised to see the dark bruising that covered both sides of his ribs. He turned his back to the mirror, and looked over his shoulder to see another landscape of bruises, and a bite mark over his right shoulder that had actually broken the skin. He groaned, knowing that the human mouth was a breeding ground for bacteria, and that he would need the wound cleaned to stave off infection.

He finished brushing his teeth, and rummaged under the sink until he found some antiseptic, gauze, and bandages. Liam would have to assist him on this matter; there was no way he could adequately reach to do it himself.

He returned to the bedroom to find Liam stretched across their bed, hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling. Wordlessly, he crossed the room, and sat hesitantly on the edge of the bed before handing Liam the antiseptic, gauze and bandages.

‘There’s water and paracetamol next to your side, love,’ Liam said, pointing vaguely towards Sherlock’s bedside table. He yawned widely, and stretched as he sat up, and glanced down at the items Sherlock had shoved into his hands.

‘For my shoulder,’ Sherlock said quietly, as he reached for the water and medicine. He popped two capsules into his mouth, and drank the entire glass of water as quickly as he could without becoming sick again. He felt as though his mouth was full of sand, so it was a welcome relief. He turned his back slightly to Liam, and pointed to the bite mark.

‘Ah,’ Liam said, and poured some of the antiseptic into the gauze, and ran it gently over Sherlock’s injured shoulder. Sherlock hissed in pain, and gritted his teeth, but gestured with his left hand for Liam to continue. After a few more passes, the pain dulled significantly, and Liam pulled the paper off the bandages, and used several to cover Sherlock’s shoulder.

‘Thank you for last night,’ he said finally, ‘It was a great birthday. You were amazing.’

‘Really?’ Sherlock asked, despite himself, feeling foolish and self conscious, ‘I didn’t... I mean... It was a lot, Liam. I mean, look at me.’ His voice sounded very small, as he waved his hand over his multi-coloured torso.

This was the closest he had come in months to arguing with Liam about his wishes regarding sex, and he braced himself for an epic row, but instead, Liam just kissed him softly, and held him tight.

‘I know it was a lot, but you handled it all beautifully,’ he said huskily, ‘I know they got a bit... Out of hand, but you... You were truly magnificent, Sherlock. I love you so much; I’ve never had anyone who would do for me the things you do.’

‘I love you too, Liam,’ Sherlock all but whispered, still feeling unsettled, but closer to normal, ‘I just want you to be happy. With me.’

‘I am, Sherlock, I promise,’ Liam reassured him, and kissed him again, gathered him in his arms, and pulled the covers back over them both.

Sherlock fell asleep in Liam’s embrace, and thought maybe things were getting better after all.

~*~

They together woke several hours later. The clock read 11:49, which was considerably later than Sherlock was accustomed to getting up. Liam rolled from the bed with a groan, and glanced at the digital alarm clock as the numbers changed to read 11:50.

‘Well, fuck me,’ he groaned again, stretching his arms wide above his head, ‘I’ve got to be off to catch the train to my parents’. Are you sure you’re okay with staying here alone tonight? It’s just that they have some sort of family event planned, and they get funny about guests.’

‘It’s fine, Liam,’ Sherlock said, sitting up quickly, ‘I’ll probably just head over to the library for a bit, then make it an early night. I’m still a bit... Sore. You know.’

‘Thanks for understanding, love,’ Liam said, kissing Sherlock’s cheek, and within twenty minutes, he was off.

Sherlock did not move from his spot on the bed, still trying to process the last 24 hours. He felt embarrassingly emotional, and he could not understand it at all. He wasn’t sure if it was the sex, or the number of people he’d had sex with, or how he could feel that the events from the previous night had taken place uncomfortably close to being completely out of control. Or perhaps it was how Liam had not stopped his friends when Sherlock had cried out for him. Whatever it was, Sherlock felt again like he was approaching tears, which was something he detested, so he focussed instead on getting himself ready for the train ride to Victors’ parents’ house in Kent. He would have to leave in just a few hours, and he was nowhere near ready to be seen in public.

~*~

Dressing was the same chore it always was after a particularly rough night with Liam and his guests, but this time was even more difficult, because Sherlock had decided to pull one of his suits out for the occasion — he even wore a tie, forcing his fumbling fingers and aching ribs to heel as he wound it deliberately around his neck. He watched himself closely in the mirror as he did this, making sure that his face betrayed no signs of the agony he was experiencing. He turned this way and that in the mirror, making sure all his injuries were sufficiently covered, then opted to remove the bandages from his back when he saw the outline the left through his shirt. He only hoped the wound would not reopen and give away his secret.

He debated making his way to the shops yet again in search of a gift for Victor, but he had been there every day since Mrs Trevor called to invite him, and nothing seemed good enough. The words best friend continued to ring in his ears, but truthfully, upon further reflection, Victor had become so much more than just a friend. There wasn’t a word to describe Sherlock-and-Victor, Victor-and-Sherlock. They just were.

And were not.

More and more, Sherlock found himself imagining a life with Victor, completely free of the shadow of his and Liam’s relationship. He imagined it would be a life full of music, and art, and literature, and light; that it would be gentle and equal. He pictured them living in a tiny flat, sharing takeaway on the sofa, watching some shit telly... Falling asleep in the same bed. It was sentimental and quixotic, and truthfully, highly unrealistic. Sherlock did realise that he was dangerously close to putting Victor on an unattainable pedestal, viewing his kindness as saintliness, but it was still nice to dream.

He did his best to remind himself that his relationship with Liam had also started slowly and sweetly. Liam had also indulged his interests, and called Sherlock brilliant and amazing. Things had been amazing for almost a year; it was only the last six or seven months that things had become complicated. Sherlock wasn’t sure what had changed, and it was endlessly confusing for him to try to sort it out in his own brain.

He owed Liam so much — he had been there for him during one of the most lonely and vulnerable times in his life. If it hadn’t been for Liam, Sherlock was fairly certain he would have never made it through his first year of university. The first few months of loneliness and uncertainty had been excruciating — his quiet, sheltered life with Mummy and Daddy and Mycroft had left him woefully ill prepared for socialisation with his peers without the constructs of social obligation hanging over the heads of the sons and daughters of Daddy’s business associates, or Mummy’s high society friends.

Sebastian Wilkes had found him this way — his father worked for Sherlock’s, and their mothers had decided they should be close friends when they heard both boys would be studying at the same university. Neither boy was too thrilled at this idea, and their interactions were always uncomfortable and humiliating for Sherlock. Seb would have Sherlock perform his little trick for all his friends, and then stand back in amusement as they hurled abuse at him.

Until Liam.

Liam had found him intriguing, and had shown genuine interest in Sherlock. He had sat with him, listened to him, spent time with him. Filled his lonely nights with companionship. He was Sherlock’s first love — in all senses of the word. For the rest of his life, even if they were not together, Liam would always be his first boyfriend, the one he first lived with, the one he lost his virginity to. They would be forever intertwined.

And, damnit all, Sherlock was just not ready or able to walk away from it. Even for Victor.

But, Sherlock was perhaps the selfish boy his family had always told him he was, and he was also not yet able to walk way from Victor either.

If he was smart, he would have let things be that first day at the library. Or the night of the art show. Or any day or night following, but he was never one to let things be. Something in him that always moved him to pick at scabs until they bled.

And so, he swung his suit coat around his shoulders, straightened his tie, and walked straight-backed with no hint of physical discomfort out the door.

Onward to Victor.

Into battle.

Chapter Text

PART X

And I will swallow my pride
You're the one that I love
And I'm saying goodbye

AUGUST 1996

The Trevors’ home was beautiful.

It was a large, sprawling estate, but it wasn’t ostentatious and imposing, like Holmes House, with its high ceilings and marble floors, and pretentious busts of long dead historical figures atop gold gilded pedestals, instead opting for a quiet class and high quality, much like Victor himself. His father was an architect, and his mother was a paediatric nurse. Both made a decent living, but rather than showing off their wealth with physical trinkets, they invested in their time and money into making sure their three sons were given every opportunity to grow and experience all life had to offer.

Victor’s older brother, Alexander, was living in Aberdeen as a writer for a local newspaper, and also pursuing his first fiction novel on the side. He looked very much like Victor in the face, but his hair was much longer, held back in a ponytail, and he had wire rimmed glasses that gave him a cool, intellectual look. The younger brother, Jonathan, was at the University of Bristol, pursuing a degree in music and education. Like Sherlock, he favoured the violin, but would occasionally play the piano with Victor when he needed a duet partner. Despite having relatively right-brained professions themselves, Sherlock watched enviously as Mr and Mrs Trevor watched their boys discussing their latest artistic pursuits with identical looks of pure adoration and enchantment on their faces.

The train ride from Oxford to Kent had been relatively uneventful, despite being delayed over forty minutes leaving from the station for some sort of issue with the line. Sherlock had paced the platform anxiously, knowing that he was cutting it dangerously close to being late. In the end, he arrived at the Trevors’ residence at nearly seven o’clock, and was absolutely burning with embarrassment at being so late.

None of it mattered however, when the door swung open, and Victor’s flushed and happy face broke into an even wider smile when he saw Sherlock standing on the door step.

‘Sherlock!’ He exclaimed, overjoyed, ‘I can’t believe it; come in! How the heck did you get here?!’

‘By the world’s slowest train ride, apparently,’ Sherlock muttered uncomfortably, ‘Victor, I’m so sorry for my tardiness. There was a massive delay leaving the station, and then I had to wait again to catch a cab here.’

‘Sherlock, it doesn’t matter at all. I’m just so glad you’re here,’ Victor said, pulling Sherlock into a tight hug. Sherlock gritted his teeth fiercely, but refused to let any noise of pain cross his lips. When Victor pulled back, Sherlock managed to rearrange his face into a shy smile, and followed sheepishly as Victor pulled him quickly into the sitting room. Sherlock immediately spotted Victor’s friend Lucy perched in an arm chair and smiling, across from the sofa where two other boys who could only be Victor’s brothers sat laughing. An older man — presumably Victor’s father — stood leaning against the fireplace mantle with a drink, looking as though he was the one who had just told whatever joke it was that made the room laugh, and an older woman that Sherlock could only assume was Mrs Trevor, sat in a matching armchair next to Lucy, watching the room at large with an expression so full of love, Sherlock could almost feel it coming off of her in waves.

‘Mum!’ Victor called as he entered the room, ‘Mum! How did you get Sherlock all the way out here? How did you even get in touch with him?’

‘I have my ways,’ Mrs Trevor replied cheekily, and winked at Lucy, ‘A little bird told me how close you two had gotten, so I thought it would be a nice surprise for your two best friends to spend the weekend.’

Sherlock’s stomach fluttered momentarily at the words ‘spend the weekend,’ as he hadn’t thought to pack any additional clothes, but he shrugged the anxiety off as something to be dealt with at a later time.

‘Thank you for inviting me, Mrs Trevor,’ he said formally, extending a hand to her, ‘I truly appreciate it. Your home is beautiful.’

‘We’re happy to have you, Sherlock,’ she said warmly, standing and shaking his hand, ‘And please, call me Gen. We’re so glad you could make it.’

‘Thank you,’ he said again, not sure what else to say, ‘I apologise for being so late; my train was delayed nearly an hour because of some issue on the line.’

‘Yes, that was my train!’ Lucy exclaimed with a laugh, ‘Some damn cows were on the tracks and refused to leave... We were stuck there for over half an hour while the conductor and ticket takers had to try to usher them off! In the end, the police had to pull up with their farmer, and herd them back home. It would have been a great laugh, but it was like a furnace on the train.’

The room laughed again, and Sherlock was briefly reminded of the cruel laughter from the previous night, but he shook his head slightly, and forced himself to stay present. Mrs Trevor left the room to go check on the food, as Victor lead Sherlock over to his father.

‘Dad, this is Sherlock,’ Victor said to the man by the fireplace, ‘He’s the one who helped me with my chemistry paper.’

‘Ah, the scientist!’ Mr Trevor said with a smile, ‘I’ve been meaning to thank you for helping Victor with that paper. Complicated stuff, but at least now it’s over and done with. That was very kind of you, Sherlock, Victor was quite lucky to have met you.’

‘Thank you sir,’ Sherlock said, feeling slightly overwhelmed, and out of place. Victor seemed to sense this, and guided him over to the sofa where his brother were sitting. Somewhere from the other room, Mrs Trevor called for her husband, and he gave Sherlock one last smile before exiting to go assist his wife.

‘Alex, Jon,’ he said, ‘Sherlock.’ The brothers didn’t seem to need much more explanation than this, but exchanged a knowing look, and both extended a hand to Sherlock, which he shook in turn.

‘We’ve heard quite a bit about you, Sherlock,’ Alexander said with a smile, ‘It’s good to finally meet you.’

‘Yeah, nice to meet you,’ the younger brother, Jon piped in, ‘I’m glad we got the chance to all get together.’

‘Likewise,’ Sherlock replied, as Victor pulled him down to sit on the sofa next to him. He wrapped an arm around Sherlock’s shoulder, and pulled him in close. Sherlock leaned into the touch easily, and rested his head lightly against Victor’s shoulder.

‘I still can’t believe you’re here,’ Victor murmured in his ear, ‘This is incredible. Thank you so much; this made my night.’

He kissed Sherlock’s cheek just as Mrs Trevor re-entered the room to announce dinner. Sherlock sat bolt upright, watching her uncertainly. Though her eyes widened in surprise, she smiled, her face still full of fondness and joy.

‘Well,’ she said with a light laugh, ‘I guess ‘best friend’ was putting it a bit mildly then, wasn’t it? Anyway, boys — and Lucy — dinner is ready, if you all want to go wash up and meet us in the dining room.’

~*~

Dinner was superb, and followed by cake and gifts, and talking late into the night before everyone retired to their respective rooms, Lucy taking the guest room, and Victor leading Sherlock back to his room. If Mr and Mrs Trevor found this at all inappropriate, they said nothing. They had been wonderful and accepting of Sherlock, and made a special effort to include him in the conversation, and even ask him about his experiments once Victor mentioned his interests. Mrs Trevor was as quick witted and brilliant as they came, and she and Sherlock had a spirited conversation about several new discoveries in the human health field. All in all, it was one of the best nights Sherlock had ever had.

‘Your parents seem... Exceptionally kind,’ Sherlock told Victor once they got to his room. He looked around, taking in the dark blue walls, the tasteful decor, the baby grand piano in the corner. It was modest, simple, and artistic, and Sherlock could see why Victor would have loved growing up here. He smiled when he saw a photo of Victor as a child, grinning toothily from his Mum’s lap, his arms wrapped possessively around her neck.

‘They’re great,’ Victor replied honestly, ‘I’m extremely lucky to have them. They’ve never stood in the way of any of my pursuits, but also never hesitated to let me know if they thought I was making a poor choice. They never let me just skate by; I always had to earn what I had. In fact,’ he said with a grin, ‘It was trying to avoid a lecture from my father on hard work that drove me to the library that day we met. I didn’t want to let him down by failing my term paper.’

Sherlock nodded, also grateful for the work ethic Mr Trevor had instilled in his son.

Victor sat down on the settee, so Sherlock went to join him. He felt suddenly very aware that they were alone in Victor’s room, and that the rest of the household was likely asleep in their own beds. He cracked his knuckles absentmindedly, trying to settle down just a touch. Victor reached over, took his hand, and brought it to his mouth, and laid a soft kiss across the back of it.

‘Thank you for coming tonight, Sherlock,’ he said, ‘You really made tonight special. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday.’

‘It was my pleasure,’ Sherlock replied honestly, ‘Thank you for including me. You’re correct; you are very lucky to have such a welcoming family. It was quite nice to get to know them.’

They sat awkwardly for a few more moments, when Sherlock impulsively scooted closer to Victor on the settee, and gave him a shy kiss on the cheek. Victor looked at him in surprise. It was unusual for Sherlock to initiate anything, though he was always more than willing to accept and reciprocate Victor’s kisses.

‘Victor, I- I would like... Hm,’ Sherlock said hesitantly, biting his lip, ‘Victor, I didn’t bring you a present. I searched the shops repeatedly, but nothing seemed good enough.’

Victor laughed lightly, ‘That’s okay, Sherlock, I told you; being here with me tonight was about the best present you could have given me.’

‘What if I would like to- To give you a gift now? So to speak?’ Sherlock asked shyly. When Victor looked at him curiously, he sighed, and dropped to his knees before the settee. Victor’s eyes flew open wide, and Sherlock took that as a sign of encouragement. With practised hands, he made quick work of Victor’s belt, and was about to undo his trousers, when Victor’s hand shot out and grabbed him by the wrist.

‘Sherlock, are you sure?’ He asked, concerned, though Sherlock noted that his breathing was far heavier than it had been, and his eyes were dark with desire, ‘You really don’t have to.’

‘Please,’ Sherlock asked, looking Victor straight in the eye, ‘I want to- To show you what you mean to me.’ He undid Victor’s trousers with a few quick movements, and eased them and his pants down his hips, ‘I’ve been told... I’ve been told I’m quite good.’

With that, he made a show of licking the palm of his hand like Liam usually liked him to do, and used it to coax Victor to full hardness. Victor gasped and flexed his hips, bringing one hand to his mouth to cover the noise. Sherlock drank in the sight with greedy eyes, then — without breaking eye contact for a second — took Victor in his throat down to the root.

Victor saw stars. It was a good thing he had had the foresight to cover his mouth, because the noise that just left his throat would have surely brought a stampede of people flying into his room to see if he was being attacked. And it was very much like an attack, though in the very best way.

Sherlock worked Victor’s cock with his throat, and his tongue, and his hand steadily, the way Liam had showed him, for once grateful for the experience he had garnered, because the sounds coming from Victor’s muffled mouth were positively delectable.

Whether it was due to Sherlock’s superior skill, or Victor being caught off guard by the sudden turn of events, or some mix of the two, the blowjob didn’t last long at all. Within a few moments, Victor was panting, his free hand gripping the cushion of the settee, his head thrown back in pleasure. Sherlock thought it was one of the most intriguing sights he had ever seen.

Shakily, Victor removed his hand from his mouth, and gasped, ‘Close, Sherlock, I’m- I’m close. I’m going to- I’m-,’ and Sherlock buried his nose in his pubic hair, taking Victor’s release deep in his throat, loving the strangled moan that Victor let out as he climaxed.

Sherlock kept Victor in his mouth for an extra few seconds, making sure to suck him clean, like Liam always instructed him to, and then rose to his feet, and threw himself back down on the settee next to Victor. He wiped his mouth discreetly on the back of his hand, but Victor seemed unable to notice, as he was still panting heavily, his head laid back against back of the settee, his eyes closed. Sherlock used this opportunity to stare at him, drinking in every detail. When Victor finally opened his eyes and turned to look at Sherlock, his face was full of appreciation, and wonder, and some other emotion that Sherlock was not yet willing to name.

‘Thank you,’ Victor said softly, still regaining his breath, ‘That was amazing.’ He reached over, and put his arm around Sherlock, not caring that his trousers were still opened and down around his knees. He shifted closer to Sherlock, and kissed him gently. Sherlock leaned into the embrace, and swallowed his smile, not wanting to appear too pleased with himself.

They sat there for a few more moments, and once Victor’s breathing regulated, he stood to pull his trousers back up, and turned to Sherlock, who was still sitting contentedly on the settee. Victor pulled him to a standing position, and lead him over to the big four poster bed. He gently pushed Sherlock back against the plush navy bedding, and hooked his finger through one of Sherlock’s belt loops suggestively.

‘Now it’s your turn,’ he murmured in a voice so low, it shot straight to Sherlock’s groin.

It took every ounce of his self control to pull back from Victor’s hands, and prop himself up into a partially sitting position.

‘It’s fine,’ Sherlock said, his voice betraying only the slightest hint of panic, ‘You don’t have to.’

‘I want to,’ Victor insisted, smoothing his hands down Sherlock’s thighs, ‘ Right now, I want nothing more than to see you come apart. I might not be as... As good as you are, but I am highly motivated, and a fast learner.’ He brought his hand up to Sherlock’s shirt, and started toying with one of the buttons.

This time, Sherlock pulled back abruptly, and rolled away from Victor until he was out of arm’s reach. Victor sat up straight, startled, and hurt coloured his cheeks. Sherlock just stared at him silently for a long moment, his mouth open, as his brain desperately searched for something to say to make everything alright again, but he couldn’t think of a single thing. He was reminded of the night of Victor’s art show, when he had been taken by surprise when Victor kissed him under the lamplight. Victor had looked just as shocked, and Sherlock had felt just as guilty and foolish.

‘I’m sorry, Sherlock,’ Victor said finally, ‘Of course you don’t have to... Do anything. Or rather, let me do anything. I shouldn’t have pushed. But please know, I would never do anything to harm you.’

‘I know,’ Sherlock replied wearily, ‘It’s not that. Or you. It’s just... Well... You know I’m with Liam.’

Victor nodded, though he appeared to be baffled as to why Sherlock’s relationship status was being brought up now, rather than earlier in the evening when Sherlock had gone down on him. Sherlock sighed, realising that he owed Victor more of an explanation after everything they had been through.

‘I just... I would prefer not to remove my shirt. I have several... Marks on my chest and back from other... Endeavours, and I know they would be unpleasant for you to see. You know I didn’t... Do what I did earlier because I expected you to return the favour. I just thought you would enjoy it,’ Sherlock admitted awkwardly.

‘I did,’ Victor assured him hurriedly, ‘I don’t feel obligated or anything of the sort. I just... You said you wanted to show me what I meant to you, well... I just want to do the same. I don’t mind seeing... Marks from your- From him. I just want to see you.’ He reached toward Sherlock, like he wanted to lay a reassuring hand on his shoulder, but then stopped himself as though he wasn't sure if he was allowed to anymore.

‘Victor...’ Sherlock said quietly, ‘I don’t want you to see what... I don’t want you to look at me differently.’

Victor stayed silent, his hand still extended towards Sherlock, palm up and open, as if in offering. He and Sherlock both stared at it, until he dropped it uselessly to his side, and clenched it into a fist, ‘I would never,’ he replied finally, ‘Sherlock, I... Please. Trust me.’

Sherlock raised his eyes to Victor’s tormented face, and sighed, the words ‘very well’ getting so stuck in his throat so he wasn’t sure if Victor even heard them. He retrained his gaze to the floor, and reached up, and loosened the tie from around his neck, and slid it through his collar. Carefully, deliberately, he set it on the bed next to them, bit his lip, and closed his eyes. He raised his trembling hands to the buttons of his shirt, and undid them one by one.

Victor held his breath as Sherlock slowly removed his shirt with stilted and reluctant movements. He wondered briefly if he should tell Sherlock to stop after witnessing his obvious discomfort, but his heart was clenching so painfully that he never got the chance. Once Sherlock finished with his buttons, he stiffly shrugged the shirt from his shoulders, and turned so his back was facing Victor.

It was all Victor could to do not cry out.

He had never seen someone so very badly beaten in real life. Sherlock’s pale skin was absolutely covered in bruises and welts. His right shoulder had a jagged wound that was undoubtedly a bite mark, and what Victor could see of his ribs were covered in angry splotches of purple and red bruising, layered on top of fading green and yellow. Just above the waist of his trousers, there were deliberate, raised bright red weals that had most definitely been left by some sort of cane or crop.

When Sherlock had said ‘some marks’, Victor had been prepared for a few hickeys, maybe a bruise or two to indicate a bit of rough, but nothing like this. This looked as though someone had actually, intentionally tried to destroy him.

Almost of its own accord, Victor’s hand uncurled itself from a fist, and reached out to touch Sherlock’s ruined skin. Though Sherlock was still turned away, Victor heard just the slightest hitch in his breathing. He was tensed rock solid when Victor gently laid his fingertips on Sherlock’s back.

‘Sherlock,’ Victor breathed, his heart all but breaking, ‘I’m so sorry.’

Sherlock didn’t turn, and didn’t relax. ‘May I put my shirt back on now?’ He asked tersely. Victor nodded, knowing Sherlock couldn’t see him, but he must have sensed Victor’s acquiescence, because he pulled his shirt back over his shoulders, and in quick, angry movements refastened the buttons.

They sat in silence for a long moment, before Sherlock turned back to face Victor. His jaw was set, but his eyes were achingly vulnerable as he spat, ‘Is your curiosity satiated now, Victor? Or would you like to see the marks on my lower half as well?’

Victor shook his head, still feeling as though he might be sick. Sherlock looked as though he was torn between laughing and crying, so instead he leapt to his feet, and reached for his necktie, angrily winding it back around his collar.

‘See?’ He hissed, refusing to meet Victor’s eyes, ‘This. This is exactly why I didn’t want you to see. You can take that stupid wet-eyed look of pity off your face. You promised it wouldn’t change the way you look at me, and yet... And yet you sit there and stare at me like I’m... I told you this would happen. I wish you were better at hiding your disgust, Victor,’ he finished, but this time his voice was shaking, and he brought one hand to cover his mouth, his face both angry and embarrassed as tears sprang into his eyes. Victor watched him try desperately to regain his composure, squeezing his eyes shut and biting his lip, his tie still hanging loosely around his neck.

Victor rose from the bed, and took Sherlock in his arms as tightly as he dared after seeing the state of his ribs. He pushed a kiss into Sherlock’s hair, and held him close, tears filling his own eyes, though he was significantly less embarrassed by them than Sherlock was.

‘It’s not disgust,’ he murmured vehemently into Sherlock’s ear, ‘It’s not. Sherlock, it would never be disgust. I’m just so sorry. I can’t believe that he did that to you, and I can’t believe you’re able to function at all with that many injuries. That you’re even able to walk is amazing, much less anything else. That one man could inflict so much damage on someone he claims to love is beyond reasoning.’

Sherlock pulled away and shrugged awkwardly, still not looking. Victor in the eye. ‘It wasn’t just him, to be fair, I guess. It was a... A group, and things got a bit... Carried away.’

‘I could kill him,’ Victor swore, ‘I could fucking kill him, Sherlock. I’m so sorry.’ He felt foolish that he kept apologising to Sherlock, but he was so very at a loss at what he should say, still unable to comprehend that someone would intentionally subject someone they loved to this... Torture.

Sherlock finally raised his eyes to Victor’s face curiously. Whatever he saw there seemed to ease his earlier anger, and he did his best to smirk as he resumed retying his necktie.

‘It would be a very dull murder,’ he said, his hands still shaking, but this time only slightly, ‘Plus Liam’s family owns one third of the real estate, and half of the drug traffic in northern London, so there’s a good chance they would bury you before Scotland Yard even had a chance to catch wind of the crime.’

‘I don’t care,’ Victor replied, his voice full of a quiet rage that Sherlock had never heard before. ‘Sherlock, I would kill him in his sleep tonight, if you said it would keep you safe.’

Sherlock turned to Victor, and pulled him into a tight embrace, not giving even the slightest hint that he had to be in excruciating pain, and murmured in his ear, ‘Stop, Victor. This is just foolishness. I’m fine.’ He pulled away slightly, and then, with just the slightest hesitation, asked, ‘Would you like me to leave for the night? I understand if you need some time to... Digest all this,’ he motioned vaguely to himself, and then to the space between him and Victor.

Victor leaned into the embrace, and brought his hands to rest lightly on Sherlock’s back, trying by all means not to cause him more pain, and responded:

‘Stay.’

So Sherlock did.

Chapter Text

PART XI

Say something, I'm giving up on you
And I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you
And anywhere, I would have followed you
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Say something, I'm giving up on you

SEPTEMBER 1996

FROM THE DIARY OF VICTOR TREVOR

02 September, 1996

What a weekend. I don’t think I could be any more exhausted if I’d’ve swum the English Channel, then followed it up with a brisk stroll up Everest. Sherlock and I went to stay with my parents again for the weekend. I think Mum really likes him. He brought her a book of medical remedies used in the 1700s at the children’s homes, and they spent a surprising length of time discussing their impact on modern medicine. I tried to follow, but ended up hopelessly lost. I didn’t much mind, though, because after she thanked him for the gift, she gave him a hug and a kiss on the head, just like she does with me and my brothers, and he didn’t protest one bit. It was really nice.

We spent most of Sunday wandering the woods, and I showed Sherlock the old forts I built with Alex and Jon when we were small, and somehow we ended up engrossed in finishing the one by the old blackthorn tree that Alex used to tell Jon and I was haunted. I imagine we looked pretty ridiculous, carrying logs and branches through the woods at 20 and 21 years old, but my god, I haven’t had that much fun in years.

And then, of course, once the fort was built...

Well, I’ve never experienced a blowjob in the woods before, and apparently I didn’t know what I was missing, because it was sexy, and unexpected, and just a bit dangerous. In other words: incredible. (Is that crass, to write about that here? I don’t think so, since this is personal, so it’s not quite like a kiss and tell, but it still feels funny to see those words in print.) Then, of course, there was the three hour train ride back to Oxford late Sunday night, under that blanket...

Sherlock never fails to surprise me, maybe I should just leave it at that.

Note to self: I’ll have to tell Lucy to burn these pages in the event of my untimely demise.

Victor

~*~

The summer wound down slowly, but at the same time seemed to fly by. It seemed that it had just been Victor’s birthday in early August, when suddenly, it was time to flip the calendar page to September. It was only a few more weeks, and it would be time to prepare for term to start again. Victor was alternating weekends at his flat in Oxford, and spending weekends in Kent with his parents. It was nice to get to spend time with them, and his younger brother before the new term started again in a month.

What was even better was the times Sherlock was able to sneak away to Kent with him. He didn’t dare ask, but it seemed that his boyfriend was spending more time away from their flat, which meant Sherlock was free to spend the night more often. He would come over as soon as he was able, holding a leather overnight bag, and smiling shyly on the front steps, and then leave days later. It was a welcome escape from reality for both him and Victor.

Victor’s parents were both becoming quite fond of Sherlock as well. He bonded with Victor’s mum right away over biology and other scientific-type endeavours that Victor didn’t quite understand, but was happy to listen to them debate. And when Sherlock had shown up with a surprise book for Mrs Trevor, Victor half expected her to ask him to move in.

Jonathan, Victor’s younger brother, was also becoming quite attached to Sherlock as well. As soon as Jon heard that Sherlock played the violin, he wasted no time discussing various techniques and arrangements with him, even going so far as to shove his own violin into Sherlock’s hands and ask him to play. Sherlock, momentarily taken aback by the sudden turn of events, hesitated for just a second, then gave the bow an experimental pull across the strings before breaking into a moving, somewhat sad piece that Victor identified as Chopin, though he couldn’t quite place the opus. Jonathan had been delighted, and excitedly asked Sherlock to bring his own violin down next time so they could play together. Sherlock agreed.

Inspired by this, on the nights Sherlock was not able to get away, Victor found himself returning to his piano, and piecing together a composition of his own. It had been years since he’d composed, but lately he seemed to have too many emotions rattling around his brain that he just couldn’t articulate, and music always seemed to help with that.

~*~

September continued to blow by without a care for how very much Victor wanted time to slow down. He wanted to savour his time with Sherlock, his quiet solitary nights at his piano, his weekends with his parents and Jon before real life set back in. Before he knew it, the first day of autumn came and went and, despite the still present warm weather and sunshine, it felt as though winter was right around the corner.

The final weekend of September, and the final weekend Victor would be able to spend at his parents’ before the start of term, Sherlock announced he would be able to make the train in after all. He was originally planning on staying in Oxford with his boyfriend, much to Victor’s disappointment, but it seemed that something had came up that meant he would be available after all. Victor happily hung up the phone, and let his parents and Jon know Sherlock would be staying over again.

When Sherlock arrived hours later, he was toting his usual overnight bag, and also a beautiful cognac coloured leather violin case. He held it up awkwardly, and explained, ‘I promised Jonathan,’ before setting all his parcels down with a thump, and giving Victor a tight embrace.

‘I’m glad you could make it,’ Victor said sincerely, ‘Are you sure it won’t... Cause problems?’

‘Don’t worry about it, Victor,’ Sherlock replied evasively, ‘It will all be fine eventually.’

Victor nodded, not sure what that meant, but knowing Sherlock well enough to know when he was stoutly refusing to supply any more information. He reached down and helped Sherlock carry his bag and violin to his room.

~*~

Victor’s parents and brother were delighted to have Sherlock over again, and when Jon eagerly suggested they play a duet on their violins, it was actually Mr Trevor who suggested they retire to the sitting room for the performance. As Sherlock excused himself to retrieve his instrument from Victor’s room, Victor turned to his father and mouthed the word ‘thanks’, knowing that Sherlock was still unsure of whether or not he had Victor’s father’s approval.

Sherlock reappeared moments later, and he and Jon debated briefly over what to play before settling on a Mozart sonata. Victor sat in his armchair, riveted; despite their very first conversation being about their instruments, Victor had never actually seen Sherlock’s violin.

When Sherlock pulled it from its case, Jon actually gasped.

‘Sherlock!’ He exclaimed, ‘Is that a Strad?’ When Sherlock nodded, Jon continued in awe, ‘Oh, wow! Those are really really rare, and quite expensive! You must be really good to have one of those!’

Sherlock just blushed furiously and tapped his bow anxiously against his leg, ‘Well, shall we, Jonathan?’

Jon lifted his bow, and moments later, they both began to play. Victor watched Sherlock, completely entranced. After the first few nervous notes, Sherlock closed his eyes, and leaned into the music, not even needing the sheet music in front of him. He’d been good when he played Jon’s violin, surely, but the familiarity with which he held his own instrument was like witnessing a transformation, or a rebirth, or some other such nonsense. Sherlock, lost in his music, was free in a way Victor had never seen. It was as though an enormous weight was lifted from him, and he was one with the sweet, slow melody he was playing.

When the piece was finished, Sherlock opened his eyes again, and blinked a few times, as though he had momentarily forgotten where he was, and stared at the ground self consciously as Victor and his parents applauded lightly. Jon beamed, and gave Sherlock a pat on the back.

‘I knew you had to be good to have an instrument like that!’ He said earnestly, ‘That was great, Sherlock! We’ll have to do this again some time.’

‘Thank you, Jonathan, I think I would like that very much,’ Sherlock replied shyly.

In the end, they played three more songs together, each one more enchanting than the last.

~*~

Later that night, when they finally retreated to Victor’s room, Victor watched as Sherlock changed into his pyjamas, trying not to be too conspicuous. In his hand, Victor held a bottle of wine they had secreted away from his father’s wine cellar, and he set about opening it, and pouring it into the first cups he was able to find when he darted into the kitchen, which happened to be coffee mugs.

‘Sherlock, your playing was superb,’ he said sincerely, handing Sherlock his mug, ‘I could have watched you for hours.’

Sherlock shrugged noncommittally, and said ‘It’s been awhile since last I played... It was good to know I hadn’t forgotten how,’ he swallowed some wine, humming in appreciation at the flavour, then nodded towards Victor’s piano, ‘How about you? I’ve never heard you play your piano... You got a show out of me, care to return the favour?’

Victor hesitated for a moment, then agreed. Sherlock pulled the covers from Victor’s bed, and curled up on the floor in front of the piano, looking very much like caterpillar in a cocoon. He brought his drink to his lips, and watched Victor expectantly.

Victor downed his own wine, trying to steel his nerves. He settled his hands on the piano keys, letting his fingers stroke gently over the familiar keys. He glanced down at Sherlock curled up on the floor, both hands wrapped around his mug, watching him eagerly. Sherlock caught his eye and smiled encouragingly.

Victor took a deep breath, and began to play.

When Sherlock first asked him to play, his first thought had been to bang out something from his repertoire of classical music, since that was usually what he showcased when asked to play something, but somehow that didn’t seem like the right thing to do. He felt the weight of the moment, and decided to take a leap of faith.

He started playing the song he had composed for Sherlock on the lonely nights he was in Kent, and Sherlock was home with his boyfriend in Oxford. It started off simply, with just a few tinkling notes, but gradually crescendoed to forceful, sustained chords. He closed his eyes, as muscle memory took over from the hours he had spent perfecting the progression of notes. Victor poured every ounce of feeling — his sadness, his fear, his resolve, and his heartache — into those notes that reverberated around the room. If he could transform the music into something corporeal, he imagined it would be waves crashing against craggy rock face; he felt as though he were being dashed to bits.

And then, it was over. The final notes faded, but Victor did not remove his fingers from the keys. He found he was breathing heavily as though the simple performance had sapped all the energy from his body. He glanced over at Sherlock, and found him staring at Victor, eyes wide, his forgotten drink halfway to his mouth that hung partially ajar.

‘That was incredible,’ he said quietly, ‘Victor, you are a wonder.’

Victor actually blushed, and mumbled ‘thanks,’ suddenly feeling very self conscious.

Sherlock frowned, his brows knit together in concentration, ‘I don’t recognise the melody, though,’ he said thoughtfully, and Victor could almost see him flipping through a mental card catalogue of all the songs he knew.

‘Erm... Well, you wouldn’t,’ Victor admitted sheepishly, ‘I wrote it.’

‘Amazing,’ Sherlock remarked sincerely, ‘I always wanted to compose, but all my violin tutors refused to teach me.’

‘I could show you sometime,’ Victor offered, ‘It’s really easier than it sounds; what I usually do is pick a topic, and try to convey how it makes me feel, if that makes sense.’

‘It does,’ Sherlock agreed. He finally took another sip of his wine, then looked at Victor curiously, ‘What was the topic of the piece you just played?’

Victor’s breath caught in his chest for a moment before he swallowed hard, and stared down at his hands still resting on the keys, and said ‘you,’ so quietly he wasn’t sure Sherlock heard him at first, until he heard rustling as Sherlock threw the bedclothes from his shoulders, and all but flung himself onto the piano bench seat next to Victor.

‘Thank you, Victor,’ he murmured, his voice husky, ‘You never cease to astound me. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve to have you in my life.’

He leaned in, and kissed Victor — softly at first, but then it was as though a fire had been lit between them. There was tongue and teeth and hands, noses bumping, breath heavy. Victor lowered his mouth to the side of Sherlock’s neck, kissing him urgently, but being careful not to leave any marks. Sherlock was panting, and trying desperately to reach his hand inside Victor’s pyjama pants, when suddenly they overbalanced, and went tumbling off the piano bench onto the floor. The bench clattered to the floor beside them, creating a loud ruckus. The two boys froze when they heard Mrs Trevor’s voice at the door a few minutes later.

‘Boys,’ she said tiredly, ‘Give it a rest. You’re going to wear yourselves out.’

‘S-sorry, Mum!’ Victor called, laughing hysterically, ‘We’ll go to bed now, I promise.’

‘Good night, Victor,’ she said pointedly, ‘Good night, Sherlock.’

‘Good night, Mrs Trevor,’ Sherlock replied, stifling his own laughter.

They heard her footsteps fading down the hall, and both boys burst into fits of laughter. Victor struggled to catch his breath, and said between gasps, ‘You know she absolutely thinks we’re shagging in here now, right?!’

‘Maybe we should then,’ Sherlock replied, his eyes twinkling, ‘I’d hate to be a disappointment to yet another mother.’

‘Very funny,’ Victor said with a snort, but then noticed that Sherlock was no longer laughing, instead gazing at him intently. The laughter faded, and Victor looked directly into Sherlock’s eyes, ‘Are- are you serious?’ He asked, ‘I was just joking... You know you don’t-’

‘Don’t have to,’ Sherlock finished impatiently, ‘Yes, I know, Victor. I have never acted under any sort of feeling of obligation when we have been intimate. I’m merely stating that if you so desire, I would be amenable to intercourse.’

‘Amenable to intercourse,’ Victor repeated hollowly, ‘That really sounds like it’s something you want then, doesn’t it? Sherlock, I never pushed the issue, because I know it’s not something you enjoy, and I don’t want you to tolerate something just for my benefit.’

‘Trust me, Victor, with you, it would not be something I simply tolerate,’ Sherlock promised him, his cheeks red with embarrassment, ‘I don’t know how to... Ask. But, I would like to- To experience... That with you. With you... I believe I would enjoy it.’

Victor hesitated another moment, and Sherlock let our a frustrated groan. He extended his hand to Victor, and lead him over to the bed, then reached up and tugged on Victor’s shirt gently. Victor did nothing to resist as Sherlock pulled it up over his head, and tossed it casually aside. He pushed Victor back on his bed, and began trailing kisses down his chest.

Sherlock reached down to the waistband of Victor’s pyjama bottoms, and raised his eyes to meet Victor’s, silently asking permission to continue. Victor, still torn between hesitance and desire, carefully raised his hips, allowing Sherlock to pull his pyjama bottoms down, and throw them aside, and suddenly he was fully nude before him.

Sherlock continued to lavish attention on Victor’s body, and brought his right hand up to stroke Victor’s cock until it began to come alive in his hand. Victor’s breathing came heavier, and he propped himself up on his elbows to watch as Sherlock coaxed him to becoming fully erect. Without hesitation, Sherlock swallowed him down, moaning quietly around Victor’s cock as if he were thoroughly enjoying the sounds coming from Victor’s mouth as a result of his oral skills.

A few moments later, Victor was achingly hard, and Sherlock sat up suddenly, letting Victor’s wet cock slip from his mouth. Shyly, he knelt up on the bed, and pulled his own t-shirt over his head. As always, there were fading wounds on his chest, and arms, and back, and he watched Victor’s eyes as he took them all in. Though it was certainly not the worst round of injuries Victor had seen on Sherlock, they were no less jarring, and Victor clenched his fists to control the urge to go hunt down the bastard who had left them.

‘Sorry,’ Sherlock muttered self consciously, mistaking the true source of Victor’s upset, and looking as though he were fighting the urge to cross his arms defensively in front of him. Victor watched him shake his head slightly, as if to dislodge the though, and instead opted to let his hand drift to his pyjama pants. He looked to Victor for direction, and when Victor nodded breathlessly, he tugged them off his hips, and let them join the growing pile of clothes on the floor next to Victor’s bed.

He took himself in his hand, and stroked a few times, before he turned shyly back to Victor, and asked, ‘Would you prefer... Would you like me on my front or my back?’

‘I want to see your face,’ Victor said hoarsely. Sherlock settled back on the bed, and spread his legs slightly. Victor crawled over between Sherlock’s legs, and reached across him to the bedside table, and pulled lube and condoms from the drawer there.

Sherlock smirked, ‘I thought you weren’t expecting to fuck me,’ he teased easily. Victor flinched at Sherlock’s uncharacteristic vernacular, but forced a smile.

‘Just because I wasn’t expecting it, doesn’t mean I didn’t want it,’ he replied honestly, ‘Sherlock, I’ve literally dreamt of this.’

‘Did you wake up hot and hard?’ Sherlock asked throatily, the words spilling in a filthy jumble from his mouth, ‘Imagining your cock buried deep in my ass? Did you roll over and finish yourself off, right in your pants? Or did you come in your sleep, and wake up wet and sticky? Because, Victor,’ he said in a voice so low, it was almost a growl, ‘I have. Thinking of you.’

Victor let out a strangled groan at Sherlock’s arousing admission, and brought his hand down to stroke his cock in time with Sherlock’s words. When Sherlock was finally silent, he flipped open the top of the lube bottle, and poured some over his fingers. He let his fingers trail down, across the underside of Sherlock’s cock, and perineum, and rested them teasingly at his entrance.

‘You don’t have to,’ Sherlock breathed quickly, ‘You can just- I mean, I don’t mind. I’m accustomed to-’ but he broke off abruptly after one look at the surprise and sadness on Victor’s face.

That admission nearly took Victor’s breath away, and his heart clenched painfully. Sherlock immediately looked as though he wished he could take the words back when Victor instinctively pulled his hand back, and the look on his face was so heartbreaking, Victor simply bit his lip, and swallowed hard before asking Sherlock, ‘May I?’ To which Sherlock replied ‘yes’ so quietly, Victor thought it may have just been an exhale, and he almost hesitated again, but then he took his index finger, and slowly — so slowly — pressed it into Sherlock, and watched, mesmerised, as Sherlock arched off the bed the moment Victor curled his finger slightly.

Gently, tenderly, like he was unwrapping a very precious present, Victor opened Sherlock up with one, then two, then three fingers. He used his other hand to stroke Sherlock’s cock, and would occasionally lean over to hungrily kiss his mouth.

At long last, after Sherlock had taken three of Victor’s fingers without resistance for some time, Victor pulled his hand out, and reached back down to the bed for the condoms and lube. He rolled a condom on his erection that was almost painfully hard, and squeezed a generous amount of lube into his hand that he worked up and down the length. He positioned himself between Sherlock’s spread thighs, lined up carefully with his entrance, and stared intently into the eyes of the beautiful man before him.

‘Are you sure?’ He asked again, the faintest flicker of doubt still lingering across his brow.

‘Please, Victor,’ Sherlock whispered, and gripped Victor’s shoulders tightly as Victor pushed into him excruciatingly slowly.

Victor took his time breaching Sherlock, sinking into him inch by inch, not wanting to take a second for granted. The closeness was incredible. Once he finally bottomed out, he didn’t move for a long moment, just relishing the feeling of being one with Sherlock.

‘Are you okay?’ He asked huskily, his gaze alternating between Sherlock’s face, not wanting to miss a single reaction, and also being completely enthralled with the site of himself buried balls deep in Sherlock’s body.

‘Yes,’ Sherlock breathed, pushing back against him just slightly, causing them both to groan at the sensation. ‘Yes, I’m good. Move, please, move,’ he all but begged.

Victor pulled out almost to the tip, and then thrust back in. And then he did it again. And again. By this time, they were both breathing heavily. Victor braced his hands on either side of Sherlock’s chest, and held him tightly as he increased his speed. Sherlock had not released his hold on Victor’s shoulders, and he had thrown his head back, arching off the bed, and pushing back to meet Victor’s thrusts.

It was almost embarrassing, but after a few minutes, Victor could already feel himself nearing completion. He looked deep into Sherlock’s eyes, not wanting to miss a second.

‘I’m sorry, Sherlock, I’m not going to last much longer,’ he panted apologetically. ‘You just. Feel. So. Amazing.’

‘It’s fine. I’m fine. It’s fine,’ Sherlock promised him, the words tumbling from his mouth in a senseless cascade of assurances, ‘Oh my god. Victor. Please.’

Victor braced himself on one arm, and, not breaking his pace at all, reached down between their sweating bodies, and took Sherlock’s cock in his hand. He did his best to stroke him in time with his thrusts, and while it wasn’t a perfect rhythm, it must have been good enough, because as Sherlock’s cock hardened, he felt his arse tighten around him as well.

‘You’re getting tighter,’ Victor murmured in Sherlock’s ear, ‘Come for me, Sherlock. I want to feel you from the inside.’

That tiny bit of dirty talk, coupled with the wonderful friction from Victor’s hand, was enough to tip Sherlock right over the edge. He came hard, and with a strangled cry, shooting his release between their bodies.

‘You now,’ Sherlock begged, his voice barely more than a whisper, ‘Please. You now.’

Seeing, hearing, and then feeling Sherlock climax was exactly enough to bring Victor to completion. As he felt the muscles of Sherlock’s arse ripple around him, and his come hot against his stomach, Victor drove home one last time, his orgasm pulsing deep into Sherlock’s body.

He stayed in that position for a long moment, still revelling in their closeness, trying very hard to ignore the tears that sprang unbidden into his eyes. Deep in the throes of post-coital bliss was not the time for grand proclamations; Sherlock barely tolerated sentiment when they were walking down the road, much less when they were in such a very vulnerable and intimate state.

Instead, he simply ran a hand over his face as if he was merely wiping sweat from his brow, and he looked down at Sherlock, and was positively astonished to find his eyes looking suspiciously wet as well.

‘Sherlock, what’s wrong?’ Victor asked urgently, ‘Did I hurt you? Are you okay?’

Sherlock didn’t answer, just threw his arm over his face so it was covering his eyes, and Victor saw him force himself to take deep, slow breaths. Panic mounting, Victor shifting slightly, slipping out from Sherlock’s body.

‘Sherlock...?’ He asked again, truly at a loss for what had went wrong, and what he could or should do to make it better. He instead removed the spent condom, and dropped it into the bin next to the bed. He laid down carefully next to Sherlock, and placed his hand gently on his arm. Sherlock took several more deep breaths before sounding like he was able to speak without breaking down.

‘It’s fine, Victor. I’m fine,’ Sherlock said finally, removing his arm from his face. His expression was unreadable, but he reached up, and grabbed Victor’s hand, squeezing it tightly as though it was the last tether keeping him on Earth.

‘Then what...?’ Victor asked, not sure how to finish his question without putting Sherlock off even more.

Sherlock sighed.

‘Nothing of consequence,’ he replied quietly, ‘It’s just that... Sometimes... Sometimes I just wish things were different.’

Victor nodded, gathering Sherlock into his arms, and stared mutely at the ceiling. The warm, fuzzy feelings of contentment were gone, and replaced with a sharp ache around his heart.

He knew exactly what Sherlock meant.

~*~

29 September 1996

I wish things were different too. More than words can express.

I feel as though my center of gravity has shifted, and I don’t know if I’ll ever catch my breath.

Victor

Chapter Text

PART XII — EPILOGUE — September 1996

Say something, I’m giving up on you
Say something...


30 September 1996

Dear Victor,

I write this aboard the train back to Oxford, the memory of last night

Am I supposed to thank you for

Are sausages really an appropriate breakfast the morning after one

Last night was great, but I don’t think we sh

DAMN YOU FOR THE THINGS YOU MAKE ME FEEL

I feel incredibly lost; all I want right now in life is to

The idea of going back home after what we just

How can I miss you when I’ve only just left y

I never knew sex was supposed to feel like th

I think I lo-

I will miss you until we are together again.

Sherlock