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Love, In Five Acts

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John does things… enthusiastically. He’s a bit of a tiny whirlwind, with his thousand-watt smile, his clear eyes, the bright, golden fringe that falls across his forehead when he bounds up to Sherlock in the corridor after geometry and grins. There’s something to his laugh: the edges of it, soft and a little bit frayed, like the pages of a book that’s been read too many times. There’s something to his voice: round and warm and smooth, a liquid thing that makes Sherlock’s insides unpleasantly active.

He’s extremely (overwhelmingly, completely, indubitably) beautiful. Sherlock is maybe a tiny bit in love with him.

“Hey, Sherlock,” John says now, leaning his shoulder up against the lockers next to Sherlock’s open one and smiling cheerfully. He’s got his backpack slung over one shoulder, and Sherlock sees an assortment of textbooks and crumbled rugby uniform articles shoved inside. “ I know something you don’t know .”

He says it in a sing-song voice that, if coming from anybody else, would have sent Sherlock into fits of horror. As it is, he finds it simply cute, and that’s quite disheartening. He’s losing his edge. He’s going soft.

“Unlikely,” Sherlock says, pretending like he’s fishing for something Very Important in his locker, and can’t be bothered to meet John’s eyes. “You told me I was a genius this morning.”

“Oh, and that remains true,” John says affably. They’re both in Year Twelve, but while John is there because he’s supposed to be, Sherlock is there because he has at least two years more intelligence than anybody else his age. He’ll be going to uni at sixteen, compared to John’s eighteen; it’s a fact that John likes to fixate upon, praising Sherlock until he cracks and helps John with his homework. “But this fact doesn’t have to do with how smart you are.”

Sherlock shuts his locker, swinging on his own backpack as he turns to look at John. John is staring up at him, grin split wide across his face, and for a moment, Sherlock forgets to breathe.

“Well?” Sherlock asks a bit thickly. “Are you going to tell me or not?”

“Next Friday,” says John, pushing off of the locker in one smooth move and stepping close enough to Sherlock that Sherlock can feel the heat radiating off of him, “is Valentine’s Day.”

He says it grandly. He says it like Sherlock should find a single particle within himself to care.

Sherlock knows he’s furrowing his brow in utter confusion; can’t help it.

“Um,” he says eloquently. “What. Why. Does that matter.”

John pulls a face of mock tragedy, cuffing Sherlock in the shoulder and letting his hand linger a little to brush some lint off the collar of Sherlock’s coat. “Where’s your sense of romance?” John asks him playfully.

Sherlock thinks that perhaps John Watson has lost his mind. “John,” he says slowly, blinking a few too many times in an attempt to sort out all the thoughts running through his head. He clutches his geometry textbook to his chest like a shield. “Do you know who you’re talking to?”

There’s a second of silence. John’s hand is still very definitely touching Sherlock’s shoulder—his index finger is tracing tiny, swirly circles on the fabric. Sherlock can hear his heart thundering in his brain, his blood pumping through his veins—

Suddenly John looks up glowingly, his smile stretched just a bit too wide. “Of course I do,” he says, and Sherlock winces at the volume of his tone. “Sherlock fucking Holmes,” he says with a breathy laugh, stepping back hastily. He points awkwardly at Sherlock, double-handed finger guns that release a slightly hysterical laugh from the back of Sherlock’s throat. What the actual hell is going on.

“Yes,” Sherlock says as John backs away, still beaming in that way that’s becoming more and more unsettling as the seconds tick by. “Ok, then.”

***

John and Sherlock don’t see each other over the weekend. John has rugby practice, and Sherlock has… well, making things blow up in the makeshift lab John help him set up in his bedroom in Year Nine, and drinking tea that tastes bad because he’s not good at making tea, and trying to read Hemingway for a class, and debating over whether or not it would be considered overzealous to text John even though he’s going to see him in two days.

In the end, John texts him. So that’s alright.

Monday comes, and Sherlock makes his way through the drove of identically-dressed students making arses of themselves in the hallways, pushing and shoving with his head down and his sharp elbows out until he reaches his locker. He glances around halfheartedly; John was supposed to meet him here this morning, just as he meets Sherlock at his locker every morning, but it’s no rare occasion for him to be late, and Sherlock isn’t in the mood to make eye contact with anybody who isn’t John. He fiddles with his lock impatiently, jerking the door open.

Out spill roughly a billion paper hearts.

Sherlock stares.

They cascade from his locker in a red, fluttery pile, littering the floor and the tops of his shoes. They’re small, but very in size, ranging from about the size of a ping pong ball to the size of an apple—and on each, written in careful, blocky script, are… words.

YOU’RE SWEET

XOXO

TRUE LOVE

BE MINE

Sherlock feels his cheeks flame with heat as he drops to his knees and begins scooping up the hearts in careful handfuls, piling them back into his locker. He tries not to read them any closer than he already has; inevitably, he’ll come across the one that must bear the punchline to whatever cruel joke this is, and he doesn’t think he can handle much more public embarrassment today. Already, students are beginning to ogle him as they walk by in packs, laughing and pointing. The flame extends to the tips of his ears.

Finally, all but one of the hearts is stowed in the bottom of his locker. He stares at it, hating himself even before he picks it up and slips it carefully into the pocket of his jeans.

I LOVE YOU

***

John doesn’t show up at Sherlock’s locker, and so reluctantly, Sherlock heads to class.

All throughout the day, he scans his classmates for any signs of out of the ordinary behavior, but comes up empty. Nobody acts any different than they ever do around him: mildly disdainful, but never reaching levels of outright provocation because it’s common knowledge that John Watson and Sherlock Holmes are thick as thieves, and John has the best right hook in the whole school.

This whole thing is utterly, maddeningly mystifying. Sherlock loathes being mystified.

They don’t have any classes together this year, but John doesn’t show up at Sherlock’s locker after school, either, and Sherlock finds himself feeling considerably more dejected than he thought he would. It’s just that… well, John is obviously the very best part (the only good part) of Sherlock’s day, and it’s very, very easy to miss him.

He sends a text as he begins the short walk home.

Are you ill? -SH

no sorry just late today and then busy with practice :)

Sherlock stares down at his phone. Stares down at the three little dots that blink up at him after this last text and then, tauntingly, disappear.

This doesn’t sound like John. Not his John; his John always goes into lengthy, wordy explanations for everything, and makes sure that he sees Sherlock at least once a day when they’re at school.

Peculiarly, Sherlock feels like crying. He stomps his feet a little, pockets his phone, and doesn’t.

***

Tuesday morning. No John.

Sherlock opens his locker as tentatively as if a hungry lion is crouched in wait on the other side. When nothing immediately jumps out at him, he opens it slowly the rest of the way, and peers inside.

Empty but for his own clutter, as per usual. Well, except for the crumpled paper hearts on the floor, but he thinks that he’ll delete them as soon as possible, anyway.

Sherlock scoffs under his breath as he grabs his chemistry textbook and shoves it into his backpack. Whoever decided to play a prank on him is obviously a slobbering idiot with no talent and less imagination, and Sherlock should be glad that they gave up after yesterday’s debacle.

He ignores the heart burning a hole in his pocket, and heads to class without getting to say hello to John.

***

There is a box of chocolates sitting on Sherlock’s desk when he gets to class.

And not just any chocolates. It’s the ones he found in a store in London last summer, lavender and honey, shaped in delicate bee molds that get every single detail right. There’s a pale pink ribbon tied around the box, and tucked under the edge is another of those infernal paper hearts. YOU ARE THE BEE’S KNEES, it reads.

Sherlock hesitates, just staring. He can hear his heart thumping in his ears, so loud that he’s sure everyone around him is aware of it as well. This doesn’t make sense. Why would someone… no one would go to this much trouble to make Sherlock look bad, he doesn’t think. So why, then, is it happening? To him ?

Snatching the box up quickly, Sherlock turns and stumbles out of class, not slowing his trajectory until he gets to the bathroom. He shuts himself in a stall and sits on the loo, staring at the chocolates in his lap like they’ll be able to clarify any of this for him.

He texts John.

Where were you? -SH

ugh slept late again

u ok?

Sherlock laughs, slightly hysterical again. What a question. Is he ok? He really isn’t sure.

Fine. Will you be around this afternoon? -SH

John takes so long to answer that Sherlock’s convinced he’s writing him a novel before the message finally gets through:

yep. your locker?

Sherlock’s tempted to tell him just to forget it. It isn’t like John to be less than enthusiastic about meeting Sherlock. It isn’t like John to make Sherlock ask.

Never mind. Have to get home and study for a test I forgot about. See you tomorrow. -SH

Sherlock sends the text and then tosses his phone down upon his backpack, heart still clenched painfully. It’s happening. Just what he’s always been terrified of from the moment John Watson smiled at him across the gymnasium and didn’t look away; just like everyone has always told Sherlock it would.

John is getting tired of him.

And Sherlock can’t even fault John for that.

***

Sherlock has thirty-two missed texts from John and seven missed calls on Wednesday morning. He is aware of this fact, and yet he chooses to ignore it; if he focuses on it too intensely, he might begin feeling regretful, and regret is not a good place to be when one is attempting to stew in a fugue of self-pitying blackness.

So when he comes upon John—John, with his tousled hair, with his strong shoulders, with his presence that nearly knocks Sherlock off of his feet with how much he longs to reach out and touch —it is with a deeply morose look from under his lashes that he says: “Hi.”

“Hi,” John says back, breathlessly, and then, “Sherlock,” and then he hugs him.

“Oh,” says Sherlock.

“Sorry,” says John, face mashed into Sherlock’s bony shoulder so that his voice vibrates against Sherlock’s skin in a way that makes him shiver. “I was just worried. And you looked sad.”

“I wasn’t sad,” says Sherlock automatically, even though he really was, very much, completely sad. His hands come up of their own accord and settle on John’s waist, warm and firm beneath the thin fabric of his striped shirt. John’s hair brushes his cheek. “But I don’t… mind.”

John laughs in Sherlock’s arms. “Good,” he says. “Answer your fucking phone.”

“Sorry,” says Sherlock meekly. His lungs are beginning to feel light and full, and he knows there’s a giddy smile spread across his face. It’s just that he’s an enormous idiot, clearly John isn’t getting tired of him or he wouldn’t be hugging him, clearly Sherlock is just stupid.

“It’s fine,” John says, sighing a little bit. The longer they stand like this, the closer John melts into him, and he wonders idly if they can just stay this way forever. “I’m just glad you’re ok.”

And Sherlock is absolutely positive that he’s smiling now—smiling like a fool, big and wide and gaping. He buries his face in the top of John’s hair, more to hide his idiotic expression than anything, but with the added benefit of getting to take in big, full gasps of John Scent without being creepy about it.

“Um. Delivery for Sherlock Holmes?”

Sherlock’s first reaction is to pull away, and then promptly curse himself when he does. There’s a guy standing there looking awkward, a bouquet of roses in his hand, staring at John and Sherlock with his eyebrows raised. When he makes eye contact with Sherlock, he sort of… shakes the roses at him, and Sherlock snatches them away impatiently.

“Yes, thank you, goodbye,” he snaps as the man turns on his heel and walks away.

Every bit of relaxation that Sherlock felt hugging John has been dragged out of him, replaced with enough tension to give him an instant headache. He glares down at the roses like they’ve personally insulted him, and hopes that his splotchy blush hasn’t spread to the back of his neck for John to see.

“Well,” says John, and there’s a note to his tone that Sherlock can’t quite decipher, that Sherlock has never heard before. “Would you look at that.”

“I’m looking,” says Sherlock sharply, but with soft enough edges that he knows it won’t offend. Tucked between the petals of a rose is another red paper heart: YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. Simple, he thinks, but—and here he alternates between wanting to die on the spot, and beam big enough to crack his face—annoyingly effective.

“Any idea who sent them?” John asks. He sounds remarkably casual about the whole thing, as if Sherlock receives bouquets of gorgeous flowers from people every day of his life.

“None at all,” Sherlock says. The petals are soft where they brush his fingers, and the scent of the roses is deep and cloying in just the way that he loves. The flowers are a deep, dark shade, almost the colour of blood, and Sherlock is entirely too pleased with this development.

“Do you like them?”

Sherlock wants to say no, I hate them, flowers are stupid and so is romance and I hope I die alone but instead he can’t stop a tiny, tiny smile from flitting across his lips, and so he says nothing at all.

***

Thursday comes, and with it a small knitted bee, nestled between a water bottle and his English textbook inside his locker. The paper heart reads: I LOVE YOU, HONEY. Sherlock is too charmed to worry about how this person is breaking into his things.

***

On Friday, John wishes him a happy Valentine’s Day in the morning, and then nobody mentions it a single time more to him.  

But.

But.

But. There are two tickets to see Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House that night tucked in the top of Sherlock’s backpack, which he finds once he gets home. Stapled to the corner of the tickets is another paper heart: YOU MAKE MY HEART DANCE.

Sherlock is gawking, and he can’t stop. He’s been dreaming about going to see this ballet since it was announced last September—quietly tracking the rare videos and photos the dancers he follows on social media posted and salivating over every glimpse of lavish costumes, stunning choreography, long limbs and dazzling smiles. He has been pining for this ballet, the kind of pining he’s good at, the kind of pining that involves knowing that the object of your desire is something you will literally never have.

But now he does.

Whoever this mysterious person is… Sherlock’s stomach lodges itself in his throat. Whoever this person is, they clearly know him better than he thought anyone did.

He rings John before he can think about it, fingers fumbling at his mobile with a clumsiness born of half panic, half rapturous excitement.

“Hello?”

“John, ” Sherlock cuts in breathlessly, dropping bonelessly in the middle of his bed and staring up at his ceiling. There are a couple of burn marks up there, evidence of last weekend's experiments. “John. John.”

John laughs softly, the sound fuzzy over the speakers, and Sherlock sinks into the sound as his eyes drift closed. “Everything ok?” John asks.

“John, I need to ask you a question,” Sherlock says, still a bit out of breath. He’s getting the tickets sweaty and wrinkled with the force of his grip, and so he drops them onto his stomach and presses his newly freed hand to his forehead.

“All yours,” John says amicably.

“If someone asked you on a date, but you don’t know who that someone is and—oh god—and you don’t actually know that you’re meant to go with them, maybe you’re meant to bring someone , which would be stupid to go to all this effort if that were the case but people are stupid —I just mean. That. Would you do it?”

John is silent for a very moment, nothing but the sound of his quiet breathing filtering over the line and into Sherlock’s ears. Sherlock doesn’t open his eyes.

“Sherlock,” John says finally, voice low and slow and a little bit unreadable. “Did somebody ask you on a date?”

“Please don’t answer a question with a question, John, you know I hate that, especially when I’m in a state of panic,” Sherlock snaps.

John’s voice immediately gentles. “Ok,” he says, “Sorry, yeah, I… well. I really think it depends on whether you want to go or not. I mean, if you want to, and you’ve got your mobile on you and it’s in a well-populated area and it’s all safe, then, yeah, I think you. Should.”

It’s Sherlock’s turn to fall into silence, and he appreciates that John lets him stay there for as long as he needs.

It’s just that… it’s just that he’s suddenly feeling quite sad about all of this.

Because the one person he can think of that he wants most for this to be from—the one person that he wants most to go to a ballet with, to get chocolate and flowers and cute bees and sweet notes from—is the one person who’s encouraging him to go on a date with somebody else.

“Thank you, John,” Sherlock says, after realizing that the silence has gone on for quite long enough. He still hasn’t opened his eyes; the tickets are still balanced across his stomach. “I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“Yeah, of course, Sherlock,” John says. There’s a smile in his voice, and it makes Sherlock feel equal parts better and worse. “Have fun.”

***

It takes Sherlock the better part of an hour to decide on what to wear, but eventually he settles on slacks and a dark blue button up that his mum bought him for Christmas because she said it would bring out his eyes. He turns his curls into a work of art—all soft, silky things—and pulls on his coat, and ties his scarf, and calls a cab.

His mum and dad are gone for the weekend, of which he has never been more grateful. After a bit of deliberation, he texts Mycroft, Going out. Bow St, London WC2E 9DD, UK. Make sure I’m not brutally murdered. -SH because at least his idiot brother is useful for something, and, trying to slow the thundering of his pulse, he settles back into his seat. 

Sherlock really, honestly cannot tell whether he’s excited or dejected or just plain terrified. He cannot believe that he’s doing this. Throwing caution to the wind for something as asinine as flattery, pinning a ridiculous amount of hope on a few tiny gifts and somehow conveniently forgetting that it isn’t the love of his life that’s going to be waiting for him at the ballet when he gets there. Probably it will be nobody ; probably, this is all a prank, and Sherlock is a fool, and he’ll go home tonight and curl up in bed and watch television by himself and feel bad.

The cab stops. With shaking hands, Sherlock pays, and climbs out onto the pavement.

It hasn’t really snowed since January, and so there’s nothing more than a chill in the air, hanging bright and heavy and turning Sherlock’s breath into little puffs of ice. People walk into the theater in groups of two and three; arms liked, hands clasped, besotted smiles stretching their cheeks wide. Sherlock finds it delightfully ironic that they’re all going to see one of the most tragic love stories enacted on this holiday.

“Sherlock.”

Sherlock’s eyes are so wide that he feels them burn in the cold air. Every thought, every breath, every movement stops: he can do nothing but stare.

“I… John?”

John smiles at him, but it’s small and tight. Nervous. He shifts from foot to foot, hands buried in the pockets of his green coat, and it might just be the chill but Sherlock could swear the he’s blushing. “Hey, Sherlock,” John says softly.

“John… I…” Sherlock still can’t make his brain work again. He feels dizzy and short of breath and overwhelmed, and he just wants… wants…  “Do you have a date? Here? Tonight?”

John steps closer until he’s just a few inches away from Sherlock, and his hair is deliciously tousled as he looks up and smiles. He rubs a hand on the back of his neck awkwardly as he does so, and the entire picture is so precious that Sherlock almost bends down and kisses him right there. “Well,” says John, and his voice is low, his voice is almost a murmur, John is murmuring at him , “I’m hoping I do.”

“Oh,” says Sherlock dully, and then “ Oh, ” with more feeling, because of course John would be here with somebody else from school other than Sherlock, somebody pretty that he’s waiting for, somebody whose name is Karen or Ashley or Chrissa, and, oh god, Sherlock thinks wildly, he has no idea what is face is doing, probably something stupid and revealing—

John grabs him by the wrist, stopping Sherlock before he can turn tail and run out into the road. His thumb is pressed precisely where Sherlock’s pulse races, and when John feels it, he hauls Sherlock in even closer. Breath heavy, Sherlock is helpless to resist.

“Sherlock,” John says, voice bare and desperate in a way that Sherlock’s never heard before. His eyes shine like stars in the moonlight, and Sherlock takes a step closer and John does too, and then they’re kissing and Sherlock absolutely, completely stops thinking.

John kisses very well. John kisses so well that it’s completely a non-issue that Sherlock has never kissed anybody before, sort of pulling Sherlock in, and touching him, and, and, and. Oh, god. Sherlock clings to him with all of his might and parts his lips because that seems like a good idea, and John makes a tiny noise into his mouth, and Sherlock’s soul absolutely ascends.

Sherlock becomes aware that he’s saying something: Sherlock becomes aware that he’s saying John’s name, over and over and over again between delicate, fond kisses and sharp gasps of air. He takes in a shuddering gust, and John kisses him on the corner of the mouth and lingers there, one palm around Sherlock’s wrist and one cradling the back of his neck.

“Yeah, Sherlock?” he says, low and soothing and almost adoring, pressing their chests and abdomens together.

“John, I know that this is probably terribly redundant,” Sherlock whispers, voice quivering in the space between them, “but I need you to tell me that everything that’s happened this week was you, and that I’m not going insane.”

John laughs softly. “You aren’t going insane, Sherlock,” John assures him. He kisses Sherlock’s cheek, and Sherlock wonders if John can feel the heat of Sherlock’s emotions through his skin. “It was me, love.”

Sherlock’s spine melts into a puddle of goop inside him, leaving him draped and curled and molded around John. He breathes out: long, low, slow. A release.

“Ok,” he whispers unsteadily. His hands are around John’s waist, just like when they hugged earlier in the week, and he kneads gently at John’s skin. John sinks into him. “Why?”

That hadn’t been what he’d meant to say at all, but once it’s out of him, he finds that he doesn’t want to take it back. He really, truly does wonder.

John pulls away and Sherlock makes a small noise of protest, but the besotted expression on John’s face makes up for the lack of complete contact. “Because,” John says, grinning in that self deprecating way that Sherlock always wants to kiss off of his face, “I’ve been in love with you since Year Nine and I finally decided to stop being an idiot and do something about it.”

Sherlock stares. And stares. And stares. Becomes aware that he should probably do something other than stare. Doesn’t.

“It’s ok if you don’t feel the same way,” John rushes to explain, looking suddenly terrified, and no, that won’t do, “It’s perfectly fine if you don’t, I… god, I’m sorry, I really just. Did this all kinds of the wrong way, didn’t I?”

“John,” Sherlock hisses at him. He curls his fingers into the collar of John’s jumper, peeping out from under his unzipped coat, and tugs him back in. “Shut up.

“Mmpfh,” John says, and kisses Sherlock back.

***

The ballet is beautiful. The ballet is spellbinding. The ballet is everything Sherlock had dreamed of.

Sherlock doesn’t really pay any attention to the ballet.

Instead, he’s aware of John next to him, warm where he presses against Sherlock’s shoulder and thigh, and John’s fingers curled in his, and John’s enchanted smile and John’s perfect wonderful amazing brilliant lips that Sherlock intends to begin kissing when they get out of here and never, ever, ever stop.

Juliet is dying onstage, and Sherlock can barely spare her any attention at all. Instead, he leans close to John, pressing his lips to John’s ear.

“John,” he whispers. John squeezes his hand lightly, an acknowledgement, and Sherlock smiles. “I love you, too.”