John has always enjoyed the sensation of being inside a library. Something about the hush that permeates the space, the unique scent of old books, the simple joy of sitting surrounded by stories and knowledge — John loves it all.
He wanders through the rows, eyeing the numbers on spines until he finds the correct section. Luckily, this library is well stocked, and he ends up with four tomes in his arms in a few minutes.
Satisfied (at least for now), he strides down the aisles, emerging into an open space dotted with tables and sofas. Only a few students are here, it being afternoon on Friday. Which is exactly why John has chosen to come here now, so he can spread out his things on a large table and not disturb anyone, or be bothered by babbling study groups.
However, the largest table is already occupied. Normally, that would be a slight inconvenience for John, but the student sitting there happens to be—
“Sherlock,” he greets.
Sherlock doesn’t move. John takes a moment to affectionately examine the focused crease in his forehead, the pencil stuck behind his ear, and the rather feverish way he seems to be reading the open book before him.
Only when John sits down adjacent to him does Sherlock register his presence.
“John!” he says, mouth going round in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“Needed to do some research.” He accepts the kiss on the cheek Sherlock gives him.
“You know this is a university library,” Sherlock points out. “You need a student ID to get in.”
“Not when one of the staff here is a fan,” John smirks. “Plus, I told him I’d name a character after his mother.”
Sherlock chuckles and rolls his eyes, but then starts to shuffle his papers a bit, giving John some space on the table.
“So how’s the essay coming?” John asks.
“Not bad.” Sherlock goes back to reading his book, simultaneously sending his fingers flying across the keyboard of his laptop. “I’m almost done.”
“I’ll be quiet, then,” John smiles, amused. He opens one of his books, and starts flicking through it. After a while, his notebook, tablet, and several pens join the mess on the table.
They work in silence for a while at their separate pursuits, surrounded by the sound of flipping pages and scratching pens and tapping fingers at keyboards (the breakneck pace at which Sherlock types never fails to impress John).
After nearly an hour, John pauses to take off his reading glasses, rub his eyes, and massage his hand. As he does so, he marvels at the atmosphere. This is… comfortable, familiar, as if they’ve done this a hundred times and now take it for granted. In reality, they’ve only worked side by side like this a handful of times, and always in one of their flats rather than in public.
Smiling at the easy camaraderie and confidence in their relationship they have developed, John turns back to his work. He’s hit a spot of writer’s block, and decided this morning to set aside the actual draft, and instead shift to finishing the outline for the third act of his story. He’s doing this by hand, because at this point, anything to get his creative juices flowing once more is welcome.
And it doesn’t help he spent the morning reading reviews of Murder in Marylebone. Since it’s been out for over five months now, there’s been plenty of time for online reviews to pour in. The everyday readers too, not just the advance readers.
Which means more criticism.
Trying not to think about it any longer, he skims his work before realizing that it’s been several minutes since he has last heard Sherlock writing anything down. He looks up to find his boyfriend leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed. When John meets his gaze, he grins.
“Finally noticed I’m still here, did you?”
“I’m not that unobservant,” John chuckles, flipping his notebook shut.
Sherlock lifts his eyebrows. “Aren’t you?”
“Hey!” he nudges Sherlock, though he isn’t truly offended. “I was focused.”
“What have you been working on?” Sherlock eyes his notebook.
“Ugh, this stupid draft,” John sighs and digs his fingers into his temples.
Sherlock grimaces. “Is it not going well?”
John shakes his head. “Not really. And,” he sighs heavily, “I spent the morning reading reviews of Marylebone.”
Sherlock raises his eyebrows. “I take it they weren’t good ones? Why would you do that to yourself?”
“Because I’m an idiot, apparently.” He lays his head on the table. “And a predictable, unoriginal, boring writer.”
“You are no such thing,” Sherlock says. “Your writing is strong, your characters well-formed, and your plots detailed.”
“Okay, but you’re my biggest fan. And rather biased for an entirely different reason.”
Sherlock chuckles softly as he puts a gentle hand on John’s. “John, everyone has their own biases and histories when they read a novel. Or do anything I suppose. Everyone’s personal experiences inform each decision in their life. So do not let a few negative reviews of your book discourage you. Nothing, not even novels by the most lauded and distinguished writers are universally adored.”
“Since when are you so smart about people?” John sits up again and regards his boyfriend, who’s wearing a sympathetic but slightly exasperated look on his face.
“I may be awful at social interactions, but I am not oblivious to how the minds of humans work.”
“Well, either way — thank you for being so encouraging. Where were you when I wrote all my other books?”
“Reading and enjoying them,” Sherlock says, blushing.
John grins at that. “For which I’m glad. Otherwise, I might never have met you.” He turns his hand over under Sherlock’s to squeeze it. He has to admit, Sherlock looks rather dashing right now, his hair in disarray, the sleeves of his button-up rolled to just past his elbow. John can’t resist stroking his thumb across the back of Sherlock’s knuckles.
The pink in Sherlock’s cheeks intensifies at the touch. “Well… I don’t know about that. You mentioned you did research by observing at Scotland Yard once, didn’t you?”
John tilts his head. “Yeah, what about it?”
“I… I actually wanted to work there when I was younger. I almost became a detective.”
John’s jaw drops. “And you’ve neglected to tell me this?”
Sherlock smiles, a little sheepish. “I think I mentioned it once. But it was a brief diversion, really. I was easily bored as a child. Still, had I followed on that path, we might have met there.”
“You haven’t changed much in the regard of easily bored, darling.” Sherlock rolls his eyes, but he’s clearly biting back a laugh, so John continues, too curious not to probe further. “So you were going to basically be Sherrinford when you grew up?”
Sherlock chuckles, ducking his head. “Yes, I suppose. I was just a child when I thought I might study forensics. I thought that for years.”
“What started that?” John asks, curious. “And why’d you change your mind?”
“There was a strange case I read about in the newspaper,” Sherlock says, his eyes drifting to the side as he recalls. “I was… ten, I think? A boy drowned in a pool, even though he was a skilled competitive swimmer. I thought it was odd, and that something had to be key evidence, but…” He shrugs. “No one took me seriously, even my parents. No one even let me in to the police station, let alone the crime scene, so I had to drop it. But that experience, failure as it was, did begin my fascination with crime-solving. I read books about it, watched true crime documentaries. Eventually, as a teen, Mrs. Hudson got me interested in your novels, which, of course, led me to you.”
John smiles, affection for both Sherlock and for Mrs. Hudson welling up within him.
Sherlock continues, animated now with John as his captive — and captivated — audience. “And by the time I was heading into university, some of the — well, magic I suppose, had worn off. I’d found chemistry, and…” He shrugs again. “The rest you can infer.”
John nods. “Well, I know you’re a brilliant chemist, but I think you’d be a brilliant detective too. You could be in any profession, and you’d be brilliant.”
Sherlock cocks an eyebrow. “I don’t have any profession at the moment.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” John says. “I’d say a full time student is a profession. Besides, looking at you right now, you’re like a handsome — I don’t know, Victor Frankenstein, concocting genius creations.”
Sherlock frowns a bit. “But wasn’t Frankenstein a student of anatomy and…” His eyes widened, almost comically, then. “And biology! Oh! That’s the link I’ve been missing!”
He practically throws himself across the table in his haste to get his notes back in hand. John watches, somewhat bewildered as he goes on about the biological fermentation of some compound (or something like that; John only comprehended every other word, if that). He watches Sherlock babble on, scrawling notes and then typing at the speed of light on his laptop.
“Where did I put that pencil?” he asks, a bit manic.
John bursts out laughing. “Behind your ear. Been there since I got here.”
Sherlock’s face sets afire.
By the time Sherlock has finished his essay, the sun is setting. As he gathers his books and papers into his bag, he catches John’s eye.
“Would you like to come back to mine tonight?” His voice comes out slightly shy but also eager — which is wholly endearing.
John grins. “Are you propositioning me, Detective Sherlock?”
Sherlock fidgets with the strap of his bag. “Can it rightly be called a proposition when we’re in a committed relationship?”
“No,” John says with a chuckle, “I just enjoy teasing you.”
Sherlock grumbles, but is smiling, and he allows John to take his hand as they depart the library.
In the streets, they pause and deliberate on the pavement for a moment before deciding to simply order takeaway when they get back to Baker Street; neither feels like combating weekend restaurant crowds.
“John!” The call makes John spin around, seeking the source of the familiar voice.
“James!” he says, something in his gut tugging at him at the sight of the man in spite of himself. “Fancy seeing you out and about!”
James approaches them on the pavement, his usual dashing smile on his face and a pair of Tesco bags in his hands. Sherlock, John notices, drops John’s hand when the three of them come to a stop facing one another.
“How are you?” James asks.
“Fine. Sorry, I know I’m meant to be staying in touch with you—”
James shakes his head. “Don’t worry, I trust you’re working. Besides, you’re a far better client than some when it comes to keeping me in the loop.”
“Well, that’s good to hear.” John tries to resist preening at the compliment. After the bad reviews, he could use some — any — validation.
Sherlock makes a discreet noise beside him, and John startles. “Oh, right, sorry. Sherlock, this is James Sholto, my editor for the Sherrinford books. James, this is my boyfriend, Sherlock Holmes.”
James raises his eyebrows as he shifts the bags to one hand and shakes Sherlock’s hand. “The famous Sherlock? I’m glad to finally meet you.”
“Oh, I… Thank you.” He shoots John a glance as if to say you’ve talked about me to your editor?
“I’m glad I bumped into you,” James addresses John. “I was going to call you tomorrow to see how the new manuscript is coming.”
John’s knee-jerk reaction is to panic. He’s barely written a word today, not counting the possibly-horrible outline, not to mention the disastrous page (singular) he created yesterday. “Not that well at the moment, actually,” he admits.
James’ mouth forms a sympathetic, but slightly stern, moue. “Well, don’t forget that I need the completed first draft next month.”
John resists the urge to groan, barely. “I know.”
James appears to sense his distress, because his expression shifts more kind now. “What’s the issue you’re having? I’d be willing to take a quick look over the weekend. Maybe a second set of eyes would help?”
John feels a flash of irrational irritation. Not at the offer for help, but that James would assume Sherlock, who he knows full well is John’s boyfriend and fan, hasn’t been any assistance. Then again, James has hardly looked at Sherlock. A surge of protectiveness wells up within John, and he finds himself casually reaching out to touch Sherlock’s shoulder.
“I’ve got all the help I need at the moment right here. If I haven’t worked it out by next week, I’ll send it to you. And I should have the full draft done by the deadline next month.” He winces inwardly as he says this; that promise likely will necessitate several sleepless nights in the coming weeks.
James nods, unruffled by the frustration John knows he’s let seep into his words. “I can work with that.”
They fall into silence. John rubs his hand down Sherlock’s arm, then drops it back to his side.
“John tells me you’re a chemistry student, Sherlock?” James asks, a little abruptly.
Sherlock nods jerkily. But the motion doesn’t appear to stem from discomfort at being put on the spot, as John might have expected, but from something else less easily identified.
“How did you two meet? Seems you’d run in rather different circles.”
“I’m a fan of John’s work.” Sherlock’s reply is rather stiff.
“Do you write?” Somehow, John senses this isn’t as innocent a question as it could be. Is Sholto somehow… testing Sherlock? That doesn’t seem like him.
Sherlock straightens his spine. “One does not have to be a writer to be able to appreciate good writing.”
“No, but it certainly helps in picking up on… nuances.”
John clenches his jaw, but stops himself leaping to Sherlock’s defense. The man can fight his own battles, right?
Sherlock gives James a tight, insincere smile. “And you, Mr. Sholto? Do you write?”
“No,” he admits, “but I am a professional developmental and copy editor.”
Sherlock’s false smile widens. “Well, as they say — those who can’t write, edit.”
“Well,” John cuts in. He doesn’t quite know what to make of this conversation, but does know he doesn’t want it continuing. “We’d better be going. And you probably need to get that shopping home, yeah?”
James nods, his smile now fake as well. “Yes. We’ll talk soon, John.”
John spins on his heel and strides away, Sherlock on his heels. When they’re on the corner, seeking an obliging cab, Sherlock clears his throat.
“John, I… ah, feel I should apologize. I shouldn’t have spoken that way to your editor.”
“It’s fine,” John says, and finds he means it. “I’m not angry. Though I’m a little upset with James. I’ve no idea why he felt the need to — well, have whatever that was, that exchange with you.”
Sherlock raises an eyebrow, as if he has a good idea of what that exchange was, but he doesn’t say anything. Before John can ask, a cab pulls up, and they get in. By the time they pull back into traffic and are rounding the corner, Sherlock reaches for John’s hand.
“It’s really okay?” he asks.
John interlaces their fingers and nods. “It is. He was being… unnecessarily assertive, though I don’t know why. I don’t blame you for defending your right to have an opinion on my books.”
“Speaking of that, what did you mean by having all the help you need?”
“Well, I was thinking you could look at my draft later. Just see what you think.”
Sherlock stills, and John glances at him. His eyes are wide and gleaming with an avid enthusiasm. “I don’t believe there’s a way for me to agree emphatically enough,” he breathes, voice quivering with barely suppressed excitement.
John chortles. “Well, good.”
Sherlocks turns to gaze out the window, and John can tell he is watching the city go by, probably willing the cab to move faster. John beams at him.
Captivating, clever, and caring, John thinks, then is proud of his alliteration. How did I get so lucky?
John can’t remember the last time he felt so anxious. Perhaps upon seeing a letter in the mail from ACD Publishing about his manuscript for his first book, Felony in Finchley, and being terrified to open it.
However, watching Sherlock read his manuscript is giving the sight of that envelope a run for its money.
“John,” Sherlock murmurs absentmindedly as he scrolls through the document, “please stop pacing.”
John sighs and sits down next to him on the sofa. “Sorry.”
He peers over Sherlock’s shoulder, and sees with another jolt of nerves that he is only a few pages from the end. In an attempt to keep himself still, John sits on his hands.
Sherlock takes his time reading — John can tell by the speed of his eyes — but it seems like actual days have passed by the time he reaches the end of the document and lowers the lid of the laptop. He turns to the side to face John, and laughs when he fixes his gaze upon him.
“You look ready to burst out of your seat, John,” he says.
“I’m excited to know what you think!” John replies defensively. “So? Put me out of my misery!”
Sherlock smirks and sets the laptop on the table, then leans back against the sofa cushions. “I like it.”
John’s jaw drops. “That’s all you have to say?” he exclaims.
“Of course not.” Sherlock’s expression turns cheeky, that grin accompanied by a glint in his eye. “I have plenty of feedback.”
“Well, tell me!” John swats at his arm lightly, making Sherlock giggle. He reaches out and catches John’s hand, squeezing it.
“I like your new protagonist. She’s quite savvy and capable, yet she doesn’t strike me as a Mary Sue. She’s rather impulsive, which I’m sure will backfire on her at some point in the future. As for the plot… it’s rather Hitchcockian, isn’t it?”
John blinks. “You know Hitchcock? You’ve never struck as a fan.”
Sherlock shrugs and colours a bit. “I read an interview once where you said you like his films, so I watched some.”
John grins. He’s always amused when Sherlock lets slip how much a fan he’s been of John for years, watching and reading interviews, generally following John’s life from afar. “Did you enjoy them?”
He shrugs again. “A bit.” Clearly a bit self-conscious, he turns his gaze to the closed laptop. “I did have a question about the housekeeper, you know.”
They launch into a discussion of motivations and backstories and characterization, which lasts nearly an hour. John is surprised to find it’s — effortless, talking like this with Sherlock. Certainly, they’ve been better about communication in general since New Year’s, but this is the first time John has opened up this much about his new manuscript. Up until now, Sherlock’s near-insatiable curiosity about it has been sustained by small scraps of information. So this abrupt divulgence of the entire story should make John feel vulnerable.
After all, he normally hates this stage of writing. It’s the most revealing part — other than after the book is published and reviews flow in, of course. John dreads these early bits, dreads anyone seeing him tearing his hair out over plot and character development and bloody adverbs.
However, with Sherlock, he doesn’t feel self-conscious. Sherlock feels as passionate about John’s writing as John does, and his observations and suggestions are detailed, thoughtful, and helpful. Certainly, he has some suggestions for improvement, but John finds that he loves every single one.
When the conversation peters out, John shifts closer and briefly presses his lips to Sherlock’s.
“What was that for?” Sherlock asks, blushing.
“Because I wanted to,” John says, “and because you’re very helpful.”
“Well,” Sherlock says, looking pleased, “I suppose it’s repayment for earlier. If you hadn’t said that thing about Frankenstein…”
“That? That was nothing!”
Sherlock shakes his head. “It was the nudge I needed, the revelation of an aspect of the essay’s subject I hadn’t explored yet. I think it made the overall paper stronger. You may not be a particularly luminous genius, John,” he says and meets his gaze, “but you’re intelligent in your own right. And you’re excellent at stimulating genius in others.”
“Gee, thanks,” John replies with a laugh.
“No, John, I mean… you’re a conductor of light,” Sherlock concludes, his tone earnest.
John softens at that. It’s an odd compliment to be sure, disguised by an almost-insult, but he knows Sherlock doesn’t mean it in a disparaging way. And honestly, it’s one of the most romantic things Sherlock has ever said.
“And you’re the brightest thing I’ve ever known, Sherlock Holmes.”
Sherlock grins, and for a moment, John forgets his self-doubt.
The doubts creep back, though, as always.
Sherlock and John don’t speak of the earlier encounter with Sholto for the rest of the evening, but just as John is sliding into Sherlock’s bed, he cannot stop himself from bringing it up one last time. He couldn’t stop thinking about it over dinner, and knows if he doesn’t say one more thing, sleep will elude him.
“Listen, I really am sorry about James earlier. I know I apologized already, but… You should know he’s not usually like that.”
Sherlock hums. John frowns. “What?”
He shrugs and settles back into the pillow. Sherlock’s sleep habits are frankly appalling, but John has found that during the nights they spend together at one of their flats, Sherlock is more inclined to at least lie down and rest.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Sherlock asks.
“Isn’t what obvious?”
Sherlock huffs but doesn’t elaborate. Then, he speaks, “So why does he need your manuscript so soon? Isn’t it not to be published for over a year?”
John doesn’t want to drop the Sholto issue, but also doesn’t want to press if Sherlock is unwilling to discuss his deductions. “Well, yes, it’s a ways out. But there’s a lot of moving parts, especially in the editing stages. And the design and marketing and all. The sooner I get the full thing ready, the sooner it can be polished and made into a real book. I could get into the finer details, but…” he rolls onto his side to face Sherlock, “it’s late for a discussion like that.”
Sherlock nods, but a crease remains in his forehead. “And James is your editor?”
“Yeah, has been for the last four Sherrinford books, and for A Night in Norbury. He jumped at the chance to publish this new one.” John watches Sherlock carefully as he continues, “He’s very understanding and competent.”
“I’m sure. He’s also attracted to you.”
John freezes. “Wh… what?”
Sherlock fixes him with a stare that would have made anyone unused to him cower. “Why else do you think he was so short with me? And his body language when he interacted with you… Well, it was an elementary deduction, really.”
John takes a moment to parse this. Sholto has never been anything but professional with him, if a little familiar. But John has always considered that to be because of their years-long working relationship rather than… something more.
“Are you attracted to him?” Sherlock asks then, and more surprise jolts through John. The Sherlock of only a few months ago would certainly not have had the confidence to ask such a question.
John considers. “Only in an abstract sense, I think. He is very handsome.”
“I could tell you thought that.” Sherlock glances down, the faintest flicker of insecurity at last visible on his face. John cups his cheek.
“Nothing’s ever happened between him and me, Sherlock,” he says. “I never thought about it much, and besides, I have you now.” He shifts closer until their lips are a breath apart. “I’ve never felt like this with anyone else. So don’t be jealous.”
Now, Sherlock bites his lip against a smile. “I’m not jealous.” It would have sounded like a defensive retort were it not for the look in his eyes — shy yet sincere.
John beams at him. “I’m glad. And I’m glad you felt comfortable enough to ask me about him.”
“You’re welcome,” Sherlock murmurs.
John cannot resist turning his head a bit, just enough to bring their mouths together in a gentle kiss. Sherlock returns the kiss immediately, and something in it tastes of relief. John, spurred on by this observation, pours all his affection into their contact; Sherlock should never have to doubt him, and if John has anything to say about it, no one — not even people like James Sholto — will make Sherlock feel unsure again.
“You’re much prettier than James, you know,” he comments into Sherlock’s neck. “And cleverer, and better.”
“John,” Sherlock chuckles. “You’re overcompensating.”
“Sorry.” He tilts his head up to meet Sherlock’s gaze again. “You just deserve to feel confident, all the time, no matter what.”
Sherlock’s cerulean-and-steel eyes sparkle in the dim light. “So do you. Which reminds me—” He pulls back far enough to discourage further kissing, at least for the moment. “I don’t think you should read any more reviews of your books.”
John’s face heats. “I want to know what my readers are thinking,” he mumbles.
Sherlock fixes him with a stern look. “When you’re in the midst of drafting your next book? John, you can’t afford to damage your self-image right now, as it appears that affects your ability to write.”
“I only wanted to see how Marylebone was being received…”
“John.” Sherlock scowls. “You’ve already read dozens of reviews. Don’t think I’m not aware. Please, take a break from that and focus on creating.”
Anxiety still tugs at John, but he knows Sherlock is right: No author is universally adored, and a small percentage of bad reviews means nothing in the grand scheme of things. John is creating the books he wants to, and mostly enjoys doing so.
And considering his books have brought this wonderful man into his life, he has no cause to feel badly about them. And if this wonderful man thinks him worthy, maybe he is.
“You’re right,” he says. “I should focus on the new book. But…” he trails off, smirking in that way he knows will make Sherlock flustered, “for now, I’d rather focus on you.”
As he expected, Sherlock turns red. “Oh?”
“Yes, now come here.”
He tugs Sherlock into his arms, their mouths meeting in a kiss laced with affection, and sets out to make both of them forget their stress and insecurities.