"Well," John says a few minutes later, "I'm off to sleep in my own bed." And he rolls and plants his feet on the floor, pausing a moment to ruffle one hand through his hair. He looks over his shoulder at Sherlock, who's still sprawled half on top of the duvet. "You don't mind, do you?"
Sherlock arranges his expression into one of blank indifference. "Of course not. Why would I mind?"
"Just checking. It's only polite." John pushes himself off the bed with a weary, self-satisfied sigh and bends over to retrieve his clothes. Sherlock watches him go, and then closes his eyes to better remember the expanse of John's back, broken at the shoulder by an angry red snarl, and the delectable curve of his arse.
John is back in Sherlock's bed the next night, but he doesn't stay there. The night after that is spent chasing a suspect across half of London, but the one after that John once again makes his appearance in Sherlock's bedroom--and then his exit.
Once is an isolated incident; twice is suspicious. Three times is almost certainly a pattern. John stays long enough for the afterglow to wear off, but not long enough to be in danger of falling asleep. Why doesn't John want to sleep in Sherlock's room? Privacy? No; John may be needlessly conservative at times (by Sherlock's admittedly very lax standards), but generally speaking, once bits of one's anatomy have been in someone else's orifices, privacy ceases to be an issue, especially of the sleeping kind. Could he dislike Sherlock's room? Sherlock gives this one serious thought. Is it too cold, maybe? Or is it the Wanted posters on the wall? The stuffed cobra? John doesn't disapprove of case-related paraphernalia in the rest of the flat, but perhaps he dislikes it in the bedroom? John has been known to object to stranger things.
This requires further investigation.
The first thing he needs to establish is whether or not John objects to the environment, or to the act itself. (Surely John doesn't object to Sherlock himself? The thought causes a little ache to twist and bloom under Sherlock's ribcage. He sets the thought aside. Concentrate on one hypothesis at a time.) This is easily accomplished by pinning John up against the wall by the staircase, kissing him soundly, and then half leading, half wrestling John up the stairs. John does not object. John chuckles into their kisses and says things like, "Impatient, aren't we?" and "Slow down, Sherlock, we have all night." But they don't have all night. Well, they do, but Sherlock is testing a hypothesis. Sherlock waltzes them past his room and into John's, and John makes a small noise of surprise.
"Objection?" Sherlock pants.
"No, just--we don't, usually, in here," John murmurs, but he allows Sherlock to push him down on the mattress.
Afterwards, John sighs and turns himself so that he's facing Sherlock, gives him a sleepy smile, and closes his eyes. Sherlock stares at the wall over John's shoulder and thinks. John usually sleeps on that side of the bed; he's observed the depression in the springs and the pattern of wear in the sheets. Sherlock has no objection to taking up residence in John's room--his own room is larger, and is mostly used for storage already, and the thought of being able to store yet more pleases him--but he is curious. What is it about Sherlock's room that John doesn't want to sleep there? Is it something that Sherlock can alter? Or does John merely prefer familiar surroundings?
Then John suddenly twitches awake, in the manner of a man who perhaps did not mean to fall asleep, and blinks several times. "Sherlock? S'matter?"
"Nothing," he says, but he is filled with a sudden misgiving. John has never invited Sherlock into his room. John would, in all likelihood, be too kind to ask Sherlock to leave now. Could that be it? Is that what it is? Sherlock squashes the frantic little voice; it's not helpful. He's not thinking clearly. He sits up and suppresses the urge to shake his head like a dog. "I'll just--go now, shall I?"
John blinks. "If you want," he says, and Sherlock can't tell if it's the if you want that means you don't have to or the one that means I would prefer it if you went, but I'm too nice to say so. Sherlock isn't very good with these subtle cues, and he is suddenly furious at John for employing them, and at himself for being so irrationally irritated. Best to leave, then, before he escalates this into a domestic dispute out of sheer pique, and he swings his legs over the side of the bed and goes.
His sheets are cold as he slides between them, and Sherlock steeples his hands and stares at the ceiling. He will not jump to conclusions. He needs more data.
Sherlock makes a list of all the things in his room that might be causing John to not want to sleep there. It is very long. Items on it include:
1. It is too cold. (Sherlock frequently leaves the window open, because he finds the fresh air bracing and conducive to thought, but perhaps the average human being might find it a bit nippy.)
2. The decor is a bit unconventional. (Sherlock's walls are plastered in Wanted posters and newspaper and magazine clippings detailing various unique and often gruesome crimes. One bookshelf of several is devoted entirely to relics of past cases, up to and including a stuffed opossum; a small sailboat with the name Gloria Scott painted on the side; a spool of twine and several twisted fragments of metal; a horseshoe. His floor has a tendency to be strewn with books, tools, and various other detritus--feathers, seashells, old coins, whatever--although recently he has cleared a very wide path, to be traversed by people snogging too furiously to really take care where they are stepping.
3. Sherlock's bed is not the correct firmness. (Sherlock prefers a medium firmness, while John's is a bit firmer. Perhaps too firm. A too-firm mattress forces the spine to bend at the hips and shoulders, leading to discomfort in the mornings, and John is a side sleeper. Sherlock thinks that sleeping in his bed will rather benefit John.)
4. Sherlock snores. (Sherlock does not snore. He has several audiorecordings of himself in slumber to prove it. He has, however, been known to talk in his sleep; from what he can tell, he appears to be deducing in his dreams. He can only approve of what he sees as his brain making the best use of its time.)
So on and so forth. Sherlock eliminates the possibility that John is allergic to his sheets (they are cotton, and a higher thread count than John's) or that John is a bedwetter (he certainly would have noticed). He is forced to acknowledge, reluctantly, that John simply might not want to sleep in Sherlock's bed, for whatever reason, whether it's simply an attachment to the familiar (possible, even probable) or an aversion to sharing a bed (but why? And is this something Sherlock has the power to change?). Sherlock even seriously considers calling Sarah and asking her whether she'd noticed this strange proclivity of John's, but he is fairly certain that John never got farther than the lilo with her. Would Harry know? Could this be a habit acquired in childhood?
No; he will test one variable at a time. If the results prove inconclusive, then he'll resort to outside investigation. So, first, he shuts the window.
John doesn't notice, naturally, until the sweat has cooled on their bodies and he gets up to go. He slips on his pants and stands there blinking a moment, his hands on his hips. Then he turns to Sherlock and pronounces, "You closed the window."
"Yes," says Sherlock, instead of Obviously. Then, because these things always seem to warrant further explanation, he explains, "It was a bit drafty."
"Christ," says John. "I was beginning to wonder whether you were a penguin or something. Well, it's nice, anyway; I was afraid I'd freeze my bollocks off." And he puts on the rest of his clothes and leaves.
Not the window, then, but Sherlock leaves it shut anyway, since it seems to please John. And he certainly doesn't want John to freeze his testicles off.
Item two requires a great deal more preparation. He shuts the door against John's (unlikely) intrusion and makes sure to make a great deal of noise as he carefully removes his villainous Who's Who. This is not without precedence; John will not investigate so long as Sherlock makes a sufficient amount of noise (according to John, it's when Sherlock's been quiet too long that he begins to worry). He clears the floor, heaping some of the debris in one corner and binning the rest. He's less certain what to do about his shelf of trophies, and at last settles for hiding some of the more unsavoury or unsettling objects, which by John's standards (so far as Sherlock can ascertain) includes anything with eyes or that once had eyes.
John notices as soon as he sets foot in Sherlock's room, even though he's going backwards, and Sherlock is obscurely pleased at John's power of perception. In fact, John breaks off the kiss and pauses, both his hands underneath Sherlock's shirt, to say, "Sherlock, did you clean?"
Is John going to state the obvious every time? Because if so, this will get very tiresome. Sherlock mouths John's ear and says, "Yes." Then, because it's expected, "It was getting a little cluttered."
"Oh my God," says John. "I should buy a lottery ticket. Mark this day on the calendar. Something." He turns and captures Sherlock's mouth in his, and kisses him so fiercely that Sherlock is a little dazed afterward. "I think this calls for a reward," he says, breathlessly, and then shoves Sherlock onto the bed.
Afterward, Sherlock reflects that he might tidy more often, if it always shows such spectacular results. But not too often, or the novelty will wear off for John. He will experiment, and find the optimum frequency with which he should clean.
"And you took everything off the walls," John observes as he buttons his trousers. "Almost don't recognise the place now, although I can't say I was very keen on having America's Most Wanted staring at me."
"Did it bother you?" Sherlock queries, stretching lazily.
John shrugs. "I got used to it." He bends and drops a kiss on Sherlock's forehead. "'Night," he says, and leaves.
"I don't snore," Sherlock announces. He is sitting in his chair, legs stuck straight out in front of him, ankles crossed. John is at the table with his laptop.
"Yes you do," John replies without even looking up from whatever he is doing. His ability to keep up with Sherlock's conversational revolutions has improved. This pleases Sherlock; he can't forever be explaining himself. "I've heard you."
Sherlock whips his head around. "When?"
"I came home the other day and you'd fallen asleep at the table while waiting for some bacteria to incubate or something. You were snoring." John pecks out a few more letters with something approaching smug relish and clicks "send."
Sherlock rolls his eyes. "That was based entirely on my positioning, John. In the normal course of events, so long as I am horizontal and comfortable, I do not snore."
"And how do you know this?"
"I've taped myself," Sherlock replies. "Mycroft was being insufferable," he adds, at John's raised eyebrow.
"Okay then," John says agreeably. "You don't snore. Very good for you."
But John still doesn't stay.
John hasn't even noticed that his mattress is firmer than Sherlock's and pronounces them both equally comfortable. John does not object to the smell of Sherlock's detergent, the threadcount of his sheets, or the size and shape of his pillows. In desperation, Sherlock calls Harry, who is extremely drunk and mistakens Sherlock for someone else and attempts to apologise for last night. He calls Sarah, who says, "Oh, thank God, did you two finally shag and get it over with?" and confirms that no, John never made it past the lilo.
Perhaps this calls for more drastic measures.
John does not object to handcuffs. (The leather kind, not police-issue. Sherlock doesn't want to hurt John. At least, not without explicit permission.) Nor does he object to being headcuffed to Sherlock's headboard. In fact, he enjoys it all a great deal, if one takes the ecstatic moans as evidence, which Sherlock does. Sherlock files this away for future reference. (What else can he introduce? Gags? Blindfolds? Candlewax? And, he is surprised--but pleased--to note that he himself would not mind being restrained. He suspects that John would like to see Sherlock tied up and at his mercy. The thought makes something new and red-hot curl low in his belly; the image is one he won't be able to shake for days.)
Afterward, Sherlock flings one arm across John's midsection and pillows his head on John's chest. John is still panting, his chest rising and falling beneath Sherlock's head; he can hear John's heart pounding, then gradually slowing. He likes it.
"All right." John sounds slightly dazed and wondering. "All right." He rattles the cuffs. "You can let me go now."
Sherlock traces one finger around one of John's nipples. He counts two breaths before he answers. "I don't know. I rather like you like this."
"Sherlock." That's John's warning voice, the one he uses when he thinks Sherlock's being willfully obtuse about why dead birds in the kettle are bad.
"But it would bother your shoulder eventually, I suppose," Sherlock drawls, switching to John's other nipple.
John rattles the cuffs again, more forcefully this time. They're cheap, flimsy things from an adult shop; John could tear straight through them, if he really wanted to. "Sherlock."
That tone of voice is new. Sherlock looks up. John is tight-lipped and narrow-eyed. It takes him a moment to realise that John is furious, and perhaps also a little. . . afraid? He's not sure he's ever seen John genuinely frightened; he's not sure what it would look like, other than a steady hand and a sure eye.
"This isn't funny," John says, and his voice is so flat and cold that something ancient and familiar tightens in Sherlock's chest. "Now let me go." Silently, Sherlock reaches up and undoes the handcuffs, and then retreats to the edge of the bed as John sits up, rubbing his wrists. He doesn't look at Sherlock as he gets out of bed, finds his clothes, and leaves.
Sherlock stays curled on one side of the bed, staring at the space where John was. He's angered John. Why? Did John object to being restrained all night, or being restrained all night in Sherlock's bed? Or was he merely angry that Sherlock hadn't listened? But Sherlock never listens. More likely, then, that it's one of the former two, and Sherlock still isn't sure which it is.
Maybe he'll give Harry another call tomorrow. Sherlock dismisses the thought; he no longer feels inclined to investigate. Mostly what he feels is tired.
He closes his eyes and lets himself sleep.
Sherlock wakes in the middle of the night feeling cold. He crawls under the sheets and closes his eyes, but sleep won't come. There is something heavy in his chest, something that will crawl up into his throat if he lets it. He thinks about going downstairs. He can work on his experiments, or he can play his violin. (No. Playing the violin will wake up John, and John is already angry at him. Maybe he can play some music that John likes. Will that be an appropriate compromise?)
Instead, he slips on his pants and pads down the hall. The door to John's room is closed, but not locked, and Sherlock eases it open, peers inside.
John's bed occupies a corner in the very back of the room. There is just enough room for Sherlock to crawl in beside him, though he wakes John up in the process.
"Whuh? Sherlock?" John lifts his head from the pillow, already striving for full wakefulness, as if Sherlock would wake him in the middle of the night only for matters of life and death. Which, granted, they usually are. "Whazit?"
"It's nothing," says Sherlock. "Go back to sleep."
"Nkay," John says, and settles back in. Within minutes, his breathing is deep and regular again. Sherlock stays awake for longer, watching John.
John is already awake and watching him the next morning, which Sherlock finds vaguely unsettling for reasons he can't quite articulate. That in itself is enough to dumbfound him, and so he just watches John back.
"So," says John.
"Mmm," Sherlock agrees.
John rubs his eyebrow with his thumb. "Is, ah, is there any reason you crawled into my bed in the middle of the night last night?"
Sherlock plucks at the seam of his pillowcase, then stops himself. The voice in his head that sounds like Mummy says Don't fidget. "I was cold."
"Ah." John takes a moment to absorb this. "Listen, I--"
"I'm sorry," Sherlock blurts out, and is promptly horrified at himself. John, for his part, is shocked into silence by the apology--which is one of the reasons Sherlock rarely, if ever, apologises; they are much more effective when they're rare. And so Sherlock goes on, "You were angry. Last night."
John's face softens. "I was." He blows out a sigh. "When I ask you to let me go, you're supposed to let me go. That's how it works. Otherwise, how can I--"
"You never stay," Sherlock says, and is this going to keep happening? Is he going to keep saying things like he has no control over his own speech? How can he make it stop?
John looks as surprised as Sherlock feels. "What?"
"After," says Sherlock. "You never sleep in my bed."
"Is that what this is about?" John scrubs one hand over his face. "Oh my God, it is, isn't it? That's why you shut your window, and cleaned your room, and asked me to sniff thirty different brands of detergent." He still has one hand over his face, and he's chuckling, and Sherlock feels muscles in his shoulders unwinding that he hadn't known were tense. "Why didn't you just say something?"
For once, Sherlock finds he has no answer.
But John does. He lets his hand fall, smiles helplessly at Sherlock, and says, "Sherlock, I was in Afghanistan. I have nightmares. I feel better if I have my back against something." He jerks his head back, indicating the wall behind him. "Your bloody big bed is in the middle of the room, and I wasn't about to ask you to rearrange the furniture just for me. It's not that I didn't want to. But you--I didn't realise it was so important to you. I'm sorry."
Now that it's been established that Sherlock can ask John things and John will simply tell him the answer (Stupendous! Marvelous! Amazing!), Sherlock's mind is crowded with so many questions that he hardly knows what to ask first. (How did your parents die? What is it like to kill someone? What's your favourite colour? Have you ever eaten frog? Do you love me?) And so, in keeping with his role in this conversation so far, when Sherlock opens his mouth what tumbles out is, "What about me?"
John's eyebrows shoot up. "What about you?"
"Can you have your back up against me?" Now that the words are out of his mouth, Sherlock finds he rather likes the idea: him, curled around John's back, protecting him from dreams of blood on sand.
"Oh. Well. I suppose we can give it a try." But John's mouth is pursed unhappily. "I--it--I can get rather. . . violent. I don't want to hurt you."
"You won't," Sherlock promises. "And if it doesn't work, then I'll move the bed. Or start sleeping in here. Although your mattress really is too firm," he complains.
John laughs. "And now I see why you were so concerned about my lumbar vertebrae." He leans forward and kisses Sherlock, just a friendly peck on the lips, and Sherlock marvels at how easy and spectacular this is. "All right, then, you nutter. Christ. Well. At least now I know you don't snore."