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Touch by Touch

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Sherlock is standing in the largest room of his Mind Palace. The room is dedicated to John, it is crammed and in dire need of decluttering. Things have been happening so fast that Sherlock didn’t have time to do it. He just busily catalogued everything and stuffed it in every possible nook, shelf, and drawer. Now he is determined to sort and label everything in order to be able to quickly find the memories he is so fond of.

His Mind Palace has very few other rooms dedicated to people. He doesn’t have many people in his life. It takes a substantial amount of trust for him to even begin to relax around a person. There are his parents and his brother, of course, no matter how tumultuous their relationship has been. Sherlock has painstakingly built if not a friendship, then at least mutually beneficial relationship with Lestrade. He trusts Mrs Hudson and her motherly attitude comforts him. He trusts Molly as well but her pinning makes a closer friendship impossible.

He was living quite solitarily but one day, John crashed into his life and changed everything. They have got on like a house on fire since the very first day of their acquaintance. Their friendship was the fastest Sherlock had ever formed with anybody. Inexplicably, he was almost instantly comfortable with John’s presence in the flat.

Sherlock runs his palm over the flame of the tea candle sitting on the chest of drawers, feels the heat and smiles. He may have brushed off John’s obvious interest on the first day at Angelo’s but the small man began to inconspicuously dig his way into Sherlock’s until then non-existent heart.

Contrary to Sherlock, John is very tactile. He touches people around him in an unobtrusive way, Sherlock included. Sherlock opens the file cabinet and begins to fill the first drawer with memories of John’s touches, the first card being the first time John landed his hand on Sherlock’s shoulder as he was leaning to look at the computer screen. The touch completely derailed Sherlock’s train of thought. The only thing he was able to focus on was John’s palm and fingers lying easily on his shirt. He was hyperaware of the warmth seeping through the fabric. And above all, he was confused why he didn’t need to shrug it off. Why he didn’t mind.

The cards are quickly filling the drawer for the touches became a normal occurrence between them. There is a brush of hands when they walked side by side. John’s hand on Sherlock’s shoulder and John’s breath on Sherlock’s cheek when they peered into the microscope. A lingering of fingers when John handed Sherlock the phone. John grabbing Sherlock’s hand as they chased a criminal. A gentle probing of Sherlock’s arm when John checked him for injuries. A patting on Sherlock’s back when he solved a case.

And there is the memory of the day Sherlock realized that he craved it. That his day was incomplete without John’s touch. He was terrified by this thought. He turns the card in his fingers and still feels the aftershocks of it. He shut himself in the Mind Palace for two days then, opened every box with the past intimate or friendly experiences and compared them to John. John emerged as a winner of this internal battle. He was unique, incomparable to those meagre encounters Sherlock had had before him. Sherlock realized then that he wasn’t opposed to more substantial physical contact with John.

So, he started returning the touches. He also stood closer to John as they were preparing a meal or doing the dishes. He walked closer to him. He sometimes sat on the sofa with John to watch TV instead of sitting in his usual armchair. These memories fill the second drawer. Sorting through them makes Sherlock relive the self-consciousness, the tentativeness and the nervous anticipation of that time.

And John, as if he understood, became even more personal with his touching. Instead of a hand on the shoulder, it was a hand on the back of the neck or between the shoulder blades. Instead of centimetres between their faces, it was millimetres. Instead of pats on the back, it was a loose hug around the shoulders.

It turned out that John had indeed understood. Sherlock might be a genius at deductions and observing the causes and effects, but John was better at the emotional stuff. He waited patiently for Sherlock to warm towards him and when Sherlock began to touch back, he knew that he was doing things right. Later, he told Sherlock that he would have waited forever.

Before John, sex hadn’t interested Sherlock. From very few, scattered experiences he soon had found out that he couldn’t simply engage in these activities with anybody and that nobody was able to provide the amount of trust required.

Even with John, it took weeks to hug. Months to kiss for the first time. And another half of the year to have sex. Sherlock opens the wardrobe and goes through John’s jumpers. The ugly oatmeal, a bit itchy one John was wearing when they hugged. Sherlock touches the fabric and remembers the feel of it under his hands as he stroked John’s back. The cornflower blue cashmere one that enveloped Sherlock in the cocoon of softness when John was gently kissing him, his hand placed on the nape of Sherlock’s neck. And finally, the striped button-down Sherlock opened one button at a time when he slowly undressed John. Sherlock buries his nose into the jumper and inhales deeply and all that slow Saturday afternoon comes back to him in a flash.

Their first sex was nothing like the boxes hidden deep in the cellar of Sherlock’s Mind Palace. John was patient and careful and gentle and when he entered Sherlock, it was as if all their touches and everything they had together poured right into that moment. It was such a revelation for Sherlock that he started to cry in the middle of their lovemaking. John kissed his tears off and was a bit worried until he saw the look in Sherlock’s eyes and knew that everything was alright.

Sherlock blushes a bit when he opens the box with their experiments. When he became comfortable with their sexual life - it was a bit irregular because Sherlock was able to lose himself in a case for days or weeks but when he was bored, they wouldn’t leave bed for hours - John started carefully introducing new things, talking them through with Sherlock first. They tried some toys with more or less success. Sex in the shower was a success as well, so much that Mrs Turner’s married ones complained about the noise. John discovered very quickly that Sherlock responded well to John ordering him around a bit. Hell, when John pulled rank in the Baskerville military base, Sherlock was really grateful for his long coat. So they tried blindfolds and John tied Sherlock’s hands to the headboard once but Sherlock was insecure about the limited range of motion and they dropped it for the time being.

Sherlock closes the box and turns to the last item that needs to be tidied up. It is a thick envelope stuffed with photos. He doesn’t want to go through them but he has to. He opens a photo album and starts to put the pictures in there in an orderly fashion. Every photo comes to life as he takes it from the envelope and in every one is John being mad at Sherlock. John offended after their solar system argument. John strangling Sherlock after he punched him to provoke him to punch back. John disappointed when Sherlock insulted Lestrade or Molly. John frightened and upset in Baskerville.

Sherlock forces himself to look and properly examine each photo. He realizes that even though he is a terrible flatmate and most likely an equally terrible boyfriend, even though he disappointed John countless times, John stays with him. That John is angry and disappointed because he cares and worries about Sherlock. That John keeps him in check and he needs John in his life.

He closes the album and puts it to the shelf. Looking around the room, he notes with satisfaction that it is now perfectly in order with plenty of space for the future. He closes the door behind him. His steps echo through the corridor.

---

Sherlock resurfaces from the Mind Palace, blinks his eyes open and finds out that he is no longer alone on the sofa. John must have returned from the clinic and manoeuvred oblivious Sherlock because he is now sitting in the corner of the sofa, Sherlock’s head in his lap. He is drinking tea and smiles affectionately at Sherlock.

“Hi,” he whispers and continues to card through Sherlock’s unruly hair.

“John,” Sherlock exhales. “Marry me.”