"Right, then," Sherlock said briskly one evening, looking up from his microscope. "I'll need you out by the thirtieth."
"Sorry, I -- sorry?" John just managed to catch his mobile before it hit the floor.
Sherlock made a sort of wave with his head that suggested that he hadn't thought clarification would be necessary, but he'd provide it if he had to. "I suppose Mrs. Hudson would refund a portion of your rent if it were sooner, but doesn't it seem more practical to vacate the premises at the end of the month?"
A dull ache started up in John's leg, but he had enough pride to walk upright to his chair and sit in it slowly. "But why do I need to vacate at all? Sherlock, if I have some habit that you can't live with, the usual thing is to talk to me so I can --"
"There's nothing you need to change, John." Sherlock was bent over the microscope again, apparently giving his full attention to a set of slides he'd collected of dog saliva. "This arrangement is simply no longer optimal for me. I'm sure Mrs. Hudson can provide boxes for you, as you've already discarded the ones you brought with you."
As if John were a tradesman, someone he bought his shirts from! This arrangement is no longer optimal. John fumed as he dragged his duffel from under his bed.
He wasn't the one who poured plaster of Paris down the drain or tortured the violin till all hours of the morning. No one had ever complained about sharing living space with him. He was an ideal flatmate, damn it. He didn't even snore.
And he'd thought they were friends.
The first day, he was too stunned to react any further. After that, his pride rebelled at the idea of saying, I can't afford to live in London without you or I don't think being alone is good for me.
"Never mind, dear. You'll find someone else," Mrs. Hudson said, holding his hand with one hand and patting it with the other. John didn't feel up to explaining that it wasn't like that, and anyway he was off balance; he'd expected her to reassure him that this "little domestic" would blow over in no time, not to hurry him out like this. "To tell you the truth, I wondered how long it would last. He's so -- well, he's a love, but he can be difficult. And you want someone stable. Anyone can see that." She was still holding his hand, so when she walked to the door, he had no choice but to follow. "Do come for a chat sometimes, though. If you'll phone first, we'll just make sure he's away."
He found a place at last -- a wretched little bedroom with a sink and a hotplate, where hypos littered the tiny, dry garden and the stairs always smelled of sick. Quiet, though. No music or shouting to interrupt his sleep.
He'd lived in worse places as a student, and of course a soldier didn't care where he kipped. It wasn't the surroundings so much as the tedium.
He tried not to be home much. He took long walks when the weather was decent and rode the Underground to random places when it wasn't. He did press-ups and knee-bends. He took as many hours as the clinic would give him, trying to fill his time with flu vaccines and Saturday night brawl victims. Anyhow, he could use the money.
It took two days for the nightmares to come back and four for the limp to settle in, ten before his body stopped flooding with anticipatory energy every time his mobile chimed.
Sarah had quickly awakened to the problems of trying to date a subordinate, but he went on five very nice dates with three very nice girls, any of whom would certainly go out with him again if he asked them to.
It was exactly the sort of life he'd anticipated for himself when he'd been invalided out. He surely hadn't been expecting the weird and exciting life of Sherlock's flatmate long-term, he told himself. He didn't need that level of daily adrenaline. He'd better not, because ordinary people didn't get to live like that.
Nineteen endless days after he moved out, his mobile chimed. Have break-in. Nothing taken. Something left. Come at once. SH.
Oh, thank god.
Sherlock was in high spirits. "Can't tell you how long it's been since I had a puzzle worthy of my sustained attention -- wait. Do you see it? The bricks, the bricks, John!"
The case wasn't particularly exciting. They only chased one fellow, and only for two blocks, and he was alone in his bolthole when they found him and came quietly when shown Sherlock's mold culture.
Sherlock's mood took one of its familiar plummets as the pieces fell together. "This wasn't what I had hoped for at all," he said, kicking at the pavement like a spoilt child at the end of a birthday party. It should have been comical, but he was glaring at John, and John, whose spirits had lifted incredibly at the challenge, the danger, the nearness to something extraordinary, felt chilled and aggrieved, as though it made the slightest bit of sense for Sherlock to blame him.
And he'd left his cane behind somewhere.
The next summons came while he was actually out on a date. But as it wasn't going well -- he didn't know which was worse, how boring she was or how boring she seemed to find him -- he felt no qualms about paying for their coffees and bidding her a hasty goodnight.
Lestrade seemed surprised when John showed up at the scene of the theft. "Glad to see you. Between you and me, he's even more unstable than he used to be. Badgered a very promising recruit right out of the force. She went to seminary, if you can believe that. See if you can get him to eat something, will you? He's no good to us if he can't think straight."
Donovan was so shocked that she dropped her torch. "Thought you were well out of it," she said, "Don't tell me you've gone back to him."
He was saved from having to explain that it wasn't like that, or that he was now on call rather than residential, by the whiz of some kind of projectile past his head.
He'd been playing around with the idea that perhaps Sherlock had tossed him out as a way of shielding him from danger -- it didn't seem much like Sherlock, but it made some sort of sense -- but that theory was blown to bits when Sherlock shouted, "John, come on," and ran toward the source of the danger.
Still, much too soon there was nothing left but the ritual brilliant explanations and bullying of Forensics. Sherlock fell into a sullen silence after that, breaking it only when they took the stair back up to street level: "You've been doing calisthenics."
John shrugged. Truth was, there was only so much television a person could watch, especially when the only place to sit was the bed, and he'd found that falling asleep before dark was very bad for him.
"Well. Good work," Sherlock said, and loped off to Baker Street without another word.
The cases interfered with his work at the clinic, both directly (by pulling him away from a shift with a few obscure words and an urgent summons) and indirectly (by leaving him exhausted, or bruised to near immobility, or hung over with involuntarily consumed drugs). He was worried about their effect on Sherlock, too. The man seemed even less stable than he'd been in John's Baker Street days. The time between mood swings shrank down to seconds; Sherlock could be sent into giggles by the smallest thing, but he could also stop in mid-sentence and send John off home with a barked word.
The day John's belt had to go on a smaller hole, Sherlock looked him over and then dragged him up Charlotte Street and into a restaurant that smelled like butter and sage, where he ordered an enormous dinner and ate nothing. Lacking a fridge, John ate most of the leftovers for breakfast next day. He vaguely remembered reading about people keeping food cool on windowsills, but this must have been in a world without pigeons. Still, while it lasted, it was a nice change from tomato-and-cheese sandwiches.
"Why do you keep coming back, if I'm putting your work in jeopardy?" Sherlock asked.
"Where else can I have this kind of fun on my budget?" They were clinging to the sharply sloping windowsills of the chapel at St. Wilgifortis, trying to see through the stained glass to find the one worshipper with red hair.
"Hm. Yes," Sherlock said.
When Lestrade and his crew showed up, Sherlock was so abusive to them that John was embarrassed. He shrugged at Lestrade behind Sherlock's back, and Lestrade shook his head darkly, but the missing chalice was both antique and mostly gold, so his hands were tied.
Cramps in John's hand almost led to a dangerous prescription mistake, and Sarah called him into her office and asked him to think carefully about whether he was well enough for practice. On his way out of the clinic, the zip parted company with his coat. His mobile said, Need help soonest. SH.
The UCL library was a nice change from places that were wet, cold, or miles apart, but it had to be said that it was not very well-lit at this time of the night. "Hang on a moment and I'll see if I can turn some lights on so we can find the volume that doesn't fit," said Sherlock.
John ran his hands along the shelf, and when Sherlock came around the corner, still looking for the switch, he said, "How about this one?" -- apparently it was easier to make a cloth cover look old than to make one feel old, and medical students did a lot of library research.
Sherlock squeezed both his shoulders in the dim row and hissed, "You're --" and then let go so fast he nearly knocked John over, and finished, "very nearly adequate," and took off at a run.
The forgers who'd planted the false reference work had a plan B that involved bullets. John had run very fast indeed in his life, but not for some time, and he left behind another cane -- the fourth this month, and the last in the clinic's lost and found -- and still didn't quite avoid the bullet that creased the back of his hair.
"Well? Coming?" Sherlock said at the door of 221B, as if he'd forgotten John didn't live there any more, and as John hurried to catch him, the sight of the old ugly wallpaper and the new layer of papers on his chair sent a pang through him, and then he felt the sole of his boot catch on the top step and peel away from the upper, and he thought, I don't know if I can bear this, and Sherlock said, "This is intolerable."
He was pacing the room, in high dramatic mode -- sitting, standing, petitioning heaven, face in hands. "I used to be able to think, John. My powers of concentration were unrivalled. Even you saw a bit of it, at the beginning: if I had something to occupy my mind, I couldn't be distracted by the need for food or sleep or -- I was the master. My body served my mind, not --" He whirled on John, coat flying. "And there is nothing extraordinary about you at all! Or at least, there must be, but I've given it the full powers of my intellect, and I'm unable to identify one single reason why, out of all the men and women in the world, you --"
The rest was lost against John's mouth.
The force of it threw John's shoulders back against the door, and a split-second later the back of his head hit the wood with a crack that made his ears ring. His lower lip throbbed in time. He felt behind him for balance, and Sherlock spun away, still shouting: "And you -- you don't even notice. Your little mind is perfectly free to continue in its tiny daily thoughts, completely untroubled by --"
That was when John's little mind caught up, and he said, "Holy christ, that was meant to be a kiss. You kissed me."
"Yes!" shouted Sherlock. "And it didn't help at all!"
John licked blood off his lower lip, and Sherlock made a high, angry noise and put his elbows and his forehead on the wall.
"You ... were ... trying it on," John said in an experimental spirit.
"I believe that's the term, yes."
"You ... have a sexual interest in me."
Sherlock's arms collapsed, and his answer was muffled by the wall. "It's so much worse than that."
John rubbed his forehead. Sherlock had a -- Sherlock wanted -- no, he'd said it was worse than that. What would be worse, in his mind? A romantic -- Sherlock had a romantic interest in him? In John Watson and his tiny little mind? Was he insane?
John looked at Sherlock, at the way his hair had tumbled forward to hide his face. Maybe John was insane.
It would be like going to bed with a tiger, a racecar, a bloody tsunami. It would be the most dangerous thing he'd ever done.
It'd be fantastic.
"All right," he said.
" 'All right'?" Sherlock turned his head without raising it from the wall. "That's it? An incredibly complicated situation with a thousand variables, nine hundred ninety-nine of which end in complete and utter disaster, and your incisive reply is --"
"All right, yes, let's do that," John clarified.
"Do you even have any idea ..." Sherlock trailed off.
"No, and I'm betting neither do you." He went and turned Sherlock away from the wall, and Sherlock fell back against it, looking at John the way a normal person would look at a scorpion. "We'll figure something out," John said, and pulled his head down.
This kiss was less percussive, less painful, less unexpected, and more -- god. More soft, more sensual. Sherlock turned them around again and leaned into him, with the coat, almost a third party in the kiss, spreading around him and enclosing him. Sherlock kissed him as if his mouth were hands, touching and smoothing him, careful of his split lip, lush and slow. John heard himself making a sound, and Sherlock heard it, too, and moved closer, body to body. Under John's jacket, Sherlock's hand came to rest over his ribs, spread wide in that hidden space like a mark or a promise.
"I thought you hadn't --" John said weakly when Sherlock moved to kiss along his jaw.
"I have," Sherlock murmured. "But not like this."
Sherlock's mouth was soft on the side of John's neck, and his hands were slow and steady, unbuttoning John's cardigan and shirt and reaching inside like a person lifting something fragile and expensive out of its protective layers of tissue. John had certainly seen him be this careful with objects, but he hadn't thought it was possible for him to take this much care with people. With a whisper of sound, John's jacket, cardigan, and shirt all slid off his shoulders and onto the floor, and Sherlock's warm arm came between his back and the wall.
Sherlock's knee nudged his legs apart and slid between them just as his face rasped against John's, and John was abruptly conscious of the long-fingered muscular maleness of him. It sent an unexpected spike of longing through him, nothing like he'd ever had before. He reached inside Sherlock's coat, grabbing inelegantly to bring him closer. Sherlock's breath came out in a huff. Very slowly, he pressed John back against the wall, carefully, as if he were ready at any moment to leap away again at some signal visible only to him. Very slowly the warmth and weight of him came down, and the rapid lift of his chest against John's, and finally his cock against John's hip.
It made John shiver. "God," he muttered, and his hands got hold of Sherlock's hips, the thrilling double handful of his arse, and pulled him closer.
Sherlock's cock was hard, seriously hard. From the outside it almost felt like something inanimate -- surely nothing on the human body was meant to be that unyielding? -- but Sherlock's breath went in through his teeth, and his hips under John's hands made a very familiar twisting thrust before he could control himself.
"God, yeah," John said.
"John." Sherlock's voice was almost a whisper. John opened his eyes, but Sherlock rocked back just enough to get his hands on John's cock through his trousers, and John shut them again with a whimper.
Button, zip, boxers all yielded to Sherlock's skill. Sherlock turned his hands over, palm out, running down over the front of John's hips and thighs and up again, and all of them slid down. And Sherlock went to his knees.
"I've still got boots on." John's voice was a wreck.
Sherlock looked up at him. His face was flushed, and his changeable eyes looked very dark. His voice wasn't much better than John's. "I know."
At the first hot embrace of Sherlock's mouth, John let his full weight fall back against the wall. Lips, tongue, hands, breath -- everyone had those, so how could this be so different? It was unbelievable, perfect, devastating.
He looked down for a moment, but a moment was all he could take of Sherlock's pale lashes fanned out over his cheeks, his absolutely gorgeous mouth wrapped around John's cock. "Slow down, slow, slow -- Sherlock," he said shakily, "do you want me to come right now?"
And somehow there was almost no interruption in the sensation, Sherlock using his hands and pressing John's cock against his face as he pulled in a huge breath and said, "No -- yes --" and then it was too late to stop it, and John was vaguely aware of Sherlock diving back in as if he couldn't bear not to swallow every drop.
John needed something to hold him upright on his shaky legs nearly as much as he needed Sherlock's mouth on his, and he pulled him urgently up. He had to overcome some gentlemanly reluctance to get him to open his mouth and let John taste -- there it was, god, proof that he wasn't imagining this whole impossible thing. "Sherlock," he slurred drunkenly, "god, you're amazing." Sherlock's trousers were distinctly damp when John groped at his cock through them, and Sherlock groaned, deeper than human voices were supposed to go, and then began to struggle.
"Upstairs, let's -- oh," because John had finally gotten his flies open, finally gotten to skin, and Sherlock was shuddering against him, breathing hotly, and upstairs sounded wonderful but they weren't going to make it this time.
He couldn't match Sherlock's mysterious skill, but he didn't need to. Sherlock's cock almost leapt into his hand, and before he could even get his bearings, Sherlock bit down hard into the meat of his shoulder and shuddered into climax without a sound.
The sting of it woke a dozen other aches. It was four o'clock on a work morning, and he was mostly naked and bitten and covered in another man's come and still bleeding a little from both a split lip and a bullet graze on his scalp. His nerves were singing. He felt fantastic. He began to laugh.
Sherlock pulled back, frowning disapprovingly, and John grabbed his arms, still snickering: "No, don't let go -- you're the only thing keeping me from falling -- you've destroyed me, Sherlock, I'm not even joking," and he reached for his jeans and nearly overbalanced.
Sherlock pinned him with a firm hand on his good shoulder and leaned back. John could see him taking in the wreck of his former flatmate. His mouth quirked up at one corner.
"This is your fault," John said, poking him in the ribs. He was still almost completely dressed, the bastard. Even still had his coat on. "You're the one who's going to have to put me together so I can go home."
Sherlock's grip on his shoulder tightened, and Sherlock bent and bestowed a soft kiss on his mouth. "Don't be an idiot," he murmured. "This is your home."