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Pieces of Eight

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"John."

John didn't look up from the pages of his book. That tone of Sherlock's was most often used for offenses like removing the fingertips in their gherkin jar from the top shelf of the refrigerator, where he had endeavored to keep anything truly edible, or straightening the desk, or having used the last of the milk, an action that always and immediately sparked a ravening craving for a nice cuppa from the good consultant. But John hadn't done any of those things in at least forty-eight hours, and Jim Hawkins had just set himself afloat on the Hispaniola. It was his favorite part of Treasure Island, except, perhaps, Silver's opportunistic charm.

"Quiet. Reading." John couldn’t quite perfect Sherlock's tone of consummate boredom, but he liked to think that he was getting close. Sherlock flopped onto the end of the sofa, his bony arse right on John's feet. John was tempted to move, but Sherlock would never move from that spot, not if he put himself there, no matter how uncomfortable. And John had finally found a most comfortable angle for his knees, and he didn't intend to shift any more than Sherlock did. Right, then. John turned a page.

Sherlock made that sound. It wasn't quite a "tut," nothing so genteel and well-formed. It was, in fact, quite American-sounding in its bluntness, its wordless sarcasm. John turned another page, digging his shoulders more deeply into the cushion. Limp psychosomatic or not, the truth of it was that comfort, real stationary comfort, was something hard to come by. The last hour, while Sherlock was updating his website, might have been among the most perfect in recent memory. John wasn't giving it up easily.

And yet.

"What did you mean by that particular exhalation?"

“You do know that’s a book for children? A poorly-written, unimaginative, shallow book for children?” Sherlock rested one elbow on John’s bent knees, as though John were a side-table. His face was pleasant, conversational.

"You do know you're a soulless husk of a donkey's left bollock?" The musket fire had begun again. He always felt quite bad for Redgrave and the sailors. So many regular men lost over the machinations of a few.

"Now, John," Sherlock said, "you know quite well my position on the soul and so impugning my everlasting essence is rather ineffective. But designating me as a sinister testicle—" He drummed his fingertips once on John's left knee, and the long, thin digits stuttered a strange and unnerving hollowness that ran all the way up John's thigh. He only barely avoided rubbing the sensation away. Letting the brat know he'd made reactions was only a way to encourage him. Though by now, Holmes was likely monitoring his irritation via the beat of his blood. John tucked his chin closer into his chest. Sometimes Holmes could see the pulse under his jaw. John had made a habit of looking for a particular muscle spasm in Sherlock's right shoulder, just below the shoulder blade. It happened furiously enough to fluttered the very fine fabric of his shirts, though John had yet to fully identify the cause.

Holmes continued, "—designation as the sinister testicle—John, have I touched a nerve?" He looked fantastically delighted.

"Stevenson is a great favorite of mine." Another page.

"But you're smarter than that." The emphasis: not as smart as he could be, not half so smart as Holmes, but smarter than average. The backhanded compliment.

"Not reading it for my intellect." Jim Hawkins acting honorably in the end, in spite of fear, never mind that he was only a boy.

Sherlock leaned further over John's legs, nearing the book but not touching it. "Nor your libido. Nothing even remotely titillating. Look. You're not even excited about the plot." Another near touch, this time in the area of his chest, where the book just hovered.

"I've read it thirty times. Of course I'm not excited about the plot." That was the point. He did glance up at Sherlock, though. "Also—libido? Stevenson? Even you're not perverse enough to get off on that." Delightfully PG story, full of adventure, pirates with mouths full of rotten teeth and heads full of mad tales—maybe that was the point. Distract one from the libido. Stevenson wasn't a well man, and wasn't that the trouble of boys everywhere. He tried not to think how long it had been since he'd had a good shag. Long, and not that long, at the same time. There was that lovely woman—lovely, if unimaginative—from the library, and if one wasn't getting any regularly, any sex was good sex. But it'd been a long while since he'd felt like his bones had been liquefied, since he'd felt dazed and confused for hours afterward, the kind of sex that ruined books and sheets and broke furniture. The kind of sex that couldn’t really be talked about after.

“So how could you possibly stand to read it again?” Sherlock’s tone was oddly patient for him, only vaguely tinged with insistence. Of course, it was a slow week in the consulting business. Likely another of his strange games with himself. Still, the question was one John felt compelled to answer as well as he could.

"This is what I used to imagine when I was a boy, running away to sea or to the desert." John scratched his ear, one nail catching on a bit of shrapnel scar, just a tiny mark that had to be felt to even note. "I suppose I got my fair share of the latter part." He glanced up at Sherlock, who sat with his fingertips tented. "Didn't you? Imagine things, I mean. You'd be burnt to a bloody crisp in a desert." Even Sherlock, high-functioning sociopath extraordinaire, must have had his share of daydreams.

"No, John. I don't 'imagine'. I know. Or I do not know, and then I discover." His hands broke apart and he leaned in closer. "Explain." He folded his arms across the tops of John's knees. "Unearth the mysteries of the simple cult of boys for me, John."

"Wanker." John looked back into his book.

"Yes, I know that is part of it, due to the particularly volatile hormonal nature of the teenaged person. But I meant this." He tapped the back of the book. Not unkindly.

"For someone so perceptive, your insistence on the literal is rather annoying." Another page. Long John Silver trying to juggle mutiny, treachery, and the windy side of the law. Not literally, of course, and he had to stifle a grin at the literal imagining, adding in the parrot for good measure, the squawked "pieces of eight" at each upturn.

"Yes," Sherlock said. "That. Whatever has prompted your ridiculous expression. How can something you have gone through a score of times already be anything less than perilously dull?"

John sighed, closed the book around his fingertip so that, if—when—Sherlock bored of the discussion, he could get back to his spot. "It's not about finding out what happens. Not after the first read. After that, it's about wishing you were Jim Hawkins, even though his life is actually completely dreadful—his father dies and his family's business is likely ruined and his mum will be left alone and in all probability of the era, they'd be destitute in six months without the treasure. But because Hawkins got out and had adventures and he didn't piss himself, not once, in the whole damn game of it, and you'd like to think, to hope, that, at twelve or so, you wouldn't wet your trousers at the brink of death, either." And one liked to think that that was what war was really like—a grand adventure, and not something that everyone pissed himself over. But that was maybe a bit too dire for the circumstances, and it was never really worth it to try to have a conversation like that with Sherlock.

Sherlock made a thoughtful sound. "Strangely well-put-together response for you." He inched closer, nearly sitting on John's ankles now. "Is that all?"

He tried a bit of a grin. "And it gives you something to talk about when you're wanking with some mates at sleep-away camp." He shrugged. "Because everyone had read it." He opened the book again, looked down. "Less awkward that way."

Sherlock arched an eyebrow. “Thought that was frowned on.” The implication: John followed rules. John was a good soldier. Camper. Flatmate. Always there in a pinch, shoes tied and hair combed.

“It's war, Sherlock. Make do with what you've got. And before you ask, yes, sleep-away camp was war, as far as we were concerned.” The spirit of competition turning ruthless, the rubbish food, the inability to get any real sleep.

“Yes, bit of a late bloomer, weren't you?”

“How can you tell that?” He realized he’d just admitted it as soon as the words were out of his mouth, but now, there wasn’t much to gain in denying it. Sherlock was smug and superior, regardless. And he’d hit the nail on the head. John hadn’t had so much of a sign of a whisker until nearly nineteen.

Sherlock settled, somehow, even closer to John. It wasn’t really possible, but it felt like he was sitting halfway up John’s shins. “It's in the way you carry yourself. Confidence in your abilities, but with the appreciation of a man who hasn't always had them. Not as a doctor, of course not, because everyone knows that is acquired knowledge, that one must work very hard at, but as a man. You know your business now, especially now that you've done with that ridiculous limp, and you carry it like you appreciate it, as well you should. But if you'd always been a great strapping lad—and you've grown tall enough by the standard of the Britons, though not by the Scots or Saxons, which is one reason you feel more at home in London than you would somewhere quieter, in the north, with its strains of Viking blood, despite the fact that you really are hopeless as a cosmopolitan—and if you'd always had that rather useful steadiness and coordination, you'd walk like an arrogant fucking bastard.”

“Like you, you mean.” John opened his book again.

“Like me.” That pleased look.

John expected that would be the end of it, and sooner or later—hopefully sooner, because his left foot was starting to go to sleep—Sherlock would get up. Except he didn’t. And he kept talking.

“Did you really have literary discussions while palming some other lad’s prick?” Sherlock’s lean weight closer to him.

“Absolutely. Politics, too.” Another page. Pretending not to feel the blush that was surely creeping up his neck. Which made no sense: Sherlock talked about everything with curiosity or disdain or a mixture of both, but he never tittered, never teased, not like a normal person. He didn’t see the point. John breathed through his nose. “We had an excellent working theory on how to resolve the mine strikes equitably, even in the dismal climate of Thatcherism.” Page. Juggling Silver’s disappearance with the labor disputes of eighties Britain. Not thinking about wanking. Not thinking about the panting adolescent frenzy, how delightfully wrecked after five furious minutes. How long it’s been. Not thinking about Sherlock’s face, just on the far side of the tattered cover, asking him about it.

“Your theory wouldn’t have worked,” Sherlock said, and the hands that had been resting across the tops of John’s knees were splayed halfway down John’s thighs, and Sherlock was holding himself up, as though to see over the book. John raised the book higher, kept it between their eyes. “But that speaks admirably of your abilities to multitask.” Sherlock’s long fingers felt like they reached from seam to seam across the tops of John’s trousers.

John swallowed behind his book. “I am useful that way, I’ve been told.”

“At sex, John?” A flicker of amusement. Though he had commented on the one very pale hickey the librarian had left on his upper shoulder while John was trying to dress for the day and Sherlock was, rather predictably, ignoring the purpose of a closed door.

John lowered the book to try to glare. He was certain he failed because Sherlock hadn’t moved his hands, though he had sat back a bit, no longer looming over him.

“You’re not explaining very well.” Another drum of Sherlock’s fingers, but instead of it feeling like it echoed hollowly in the bone, the rolling tap curled inward, heating the muscle of his thigh. Christ.

“I am trying to read.” He turned another page, didn’t know what had happened on the spread before. He knew, but he didn’t remember reading it just now.

Sherlock’s thumbs slid half an inch on the fabric. “But I have asked you to talk about it.” Therefore: John should talk about it.

John should talk about it. Or. John raised his chin. “What aspect, exactly?” Sherlock’s whole torso rested against his legs. John hated to do it, but he had to move. It meant he lost, of course, but losing to Sherlock was something that he’d become rather used to. He sat up, swiveled, his knees popping. His shins felt chilled at the loss of contact.

John moved, but Sherlock didn’t sit back. Nor did he stay in the place he had been. Instead, he inched closer, so as to look over the pages of the book, or to look at John’s body, or to simply be in the literal center of the conversation. “The pleasure you get in such a thing.” No definitive: the book, the conversation, or the sexual act. Sherlock speaking imprecisely: never an accident.

“Sherlock.” An exasperated gesture. “You know.”

Sherlock only waited.

John considered sitting there, in complete silence, for the rest of the night, or week, or until Lestrade called with some gruesome and impossible case because that would be the only thing that would get Sherlock to let go of this. Of course, that would mean Sherlock won on this count, as well, by whatever definitions he’d invented for this game, and John knew that. But there was pride at stake. Pride, and a strange tendril of tense hope, curled low in his spine. And, well. Worst case scenario, Sherlock wouldn’t think any more or less of him. It didn’t occur to the man to do so, not for anything like having the common decency not to try to get off with one’s flatmate under the most ridiculous auspices of conversation ever.

John put the book down, the often-bent covers splaying to hold his place, only a very little ways from the end, and settled into the back of the couch, his shoulder nearly touching Sherlock’s. “Well. It’s nice to have a lead-in,” John said. “Something normal people do. An easy step into conversation.” He lifted his left arm, threw it around Sherlock’s shoulders, let his forearm dangle in an approximation of ease over his collarbone. “Hey, mate. That were a larky read.”

Sherlock’s pale eyes rolled. Yes, of course, the deliberately inappropriate plural. And—“Larky, John? Really.” But he didn’t shrug off the arm.

“Re-enactment, Sherlock. You asked for an explanation.” He had a sneaking suspicion that there would be very little similarity in how the past and present measured up, though the knot in his stomach was familiar. The knot in his stomach, the near-itch in his palm, so near the narrow width of Sherlock’s chest, the fine fabric of his shirt, the uncertainty—still. Keep calm. Carry on.

Sherlock was now looking at his hand, dangling there. “I did, didn’t I.” His voice quiet, bemused.

John breathed a little more, somehow encouraged, reminded of how little it had taken then, so many years ago, to say go on without saying a word, without really acknowledging it. And Sherlock has always been very bloody good at walking away from things he wasn’t interested in. So.

“And assuming your literary opinion is the same—”

“—it’s not, but go on.” Sherlock seemed to settle in a little closer.

“Shut up, please. Assuming your literary opinion is the same, then one is obliged to make some sort of appropriate threat to establish credibility.” John inched himself a little higher on the couch, and Sherlock slouched a bit, which was good, because it wasn’t yet to the point of being in someone’s lap. The shifts, though, necessitated moving the hand on Sherlock’s shoulder, sliding it across the back of his neck—a brief stroke through the curls at the nape—and Sherlock’s head followed, until he was looking at John. That was unnerving, as a direct look from Sherlock always was, but somehow pleasant, too. “Something like, ‘I’d yank someone’s bloody bollocks out through his fucking nose for crossing me like that.’ Because the book is full of double-crosses.” Because having someone spill at school the next year that one had had one’s hand in someone else’s trousers—when that someone else wasn’t one of the fourth form girls—had rather disastrous consequences.

“Well, for that I’d have to agree.” Sherlock looked very seriously at him. “Actual loyalty is exceedingly rare in humans.”

John remembered, of course, the incident with Mycroft, with the cabbie, with any number of general and specific incidents from the past few months, disarmed for a moment by Sherlock’s gravity.

“Of course,” Sherlock went on, “it’s anatomically impossible—” One of Sherlock’s hands lifted, perched in a budding gesture, and the last thing John actually wanted to hear about right now was why that was anatomically impossible.

So he put his mouth on Sherlock’s, and though Sherlock did continue to attempt to say because—, he gave it up for licking at John’s closed lips.

John pulled back a fraction of an inch, startled by Sherlock’s apparent acceptance (and amplification). He grinned, trying to hold fast to the set-up. “Right for tongue? Good show.” He pushed himself up on his knees on the couch, kneeling beside Sherlock, rather enjoying feeling taller for just a bit.

“ ‘Larky,’ John.” Sherlock’s voice, dry as a bone, but he was watching John’s mouth, and his hips lifted minutely, the lie of his trousers adjusted.

John swallowed hard, kept going. He leaned in, finally let himself put one hand on Sherlock’s shoulder, bracing himself so he could reach with the other, a quick skim down Sherlock’s shirt-front, then resting solidly across the zip of his trousers. He pressed, and Sherlock’s eyes slitted slowly. “Come on, then. Take care of it.” He slanted his mouth across Sherlock’s again, and there was Sherlock’s tongue, sliding hard and wet across John’s, while he arched into John’s palm, biting hard at John’s lips when he dared to move his hand.

The small spark of hurt made John grin. He yanked Sherlock’s shirt free from his trousers and then open from the bottom up, only a few buttons’-worth, just enough to get at his fly, work it open one-handed. Pushing his fingers into the waistband of his pants, he curled them around Sherlock’s prick, held his hand still, only squeezing gently while he shifted, resting one knee between Sherlock’s, trying to find enough balance.

Sherlock, it seemed, was not particularly interested in balance, shoving one hand up under John’s t-shirt and the other into his corduroys with no grace at all. He bit again, and John couldn’t help clutching at Sherlock’s hair, pulling his head back.

“Bloody my lip and we’ll be in it for fighting.” He was close to laughing, exhilarated.

Sherlock’s eyes flashed at the tug against his scalp. “Then don’t bloody stop.”

John kissed him again, and Sherlock’s teeth still scraped at his lips, but he didn’t bite this time as John worked his prick carefully, inside the confines of his underwear, and John wondered at himself for not just stripping them both off and going at it properly, but Sherlock clutched at him tightly, nearly desperately, and all of the angles were absolutely wrong and wholly perfect. He wanted to look at Sherlock, bare him, but every time he inched back at all, Sherlock dragged him closer, kept his mouth, jerked him rough and frantic.

There was nothing to do but pull Sherlock with him as he leaned, tipped himself backward, pulled Sherlock down on top of him. They were a brief flurry of limbs for a moment, John trying to straighten his legs, Sherlock trying to move without letting go of John at all.

“Easy,” John panted. “Christ.” And then Sherlock was on him, a demanding rub and arch and bite, and John gave up and made a fist in Sherlock’s hair and yanked him back until John could get in a position where nothing was going to be damaged permanently. Sherlock’s thigh pressed against his groin, his mouth hot and hard on John’s neck, and John shoved a hand down the back of Sherlock’s shirt, scratched.

Sherlock made a thick groan against John’s neck, teeth pinching down at the end of it, and John bit back a hiss. “Quiet,” he said, “you’ll get us caught,” and Sherlock hitched against him harder, one hand reaching for John’s wrist, pinning it to the arm of the sofa. His long fingers met, overlapped around John’s skin, his grip unexpectedly firm.

Fuck.” That was new for John, and that was vaguely surprising, given everything, and he was going to say something about manacles or leg irons (somewhat hysterically clinging to the pirate trope), when Sherlock bit his lip again, stinging sharp. This time, Sherlock’s tongue in his mouth was tinged with copper, and John shoved up, tipped them off the couch entirely.

Sherlock, to his credit, only hit the floor and rolled, knocking them into the legs of the coffee table, and later, John thought, he’d be impressed that neither of them had bashed his head in on a corner of it. But right now, all there was was to stay on top of Sherlock, to grind harder against him.

Sherlock’s open trousers had shoved down a bit, his pants askew, and John could feel the head of Sherlock’s cock rubbing against his stomach, little points of heat and velvet. Just to move a few articles of clothing—but there was no time.

John muffled another groan in Sherlock’s neck, one hand buried still in Sherlock’s hair, not exactly pulling, only grounded, except when he was pulling, when Sherlock was digging his nails into the skin above John’s hip, his breath a ragged pant. Sherlock’s body tensed, and he didn’t quite make a sound, or if he did, he pushed it into John’s throat, and John felt a pulsing slick across his stomach. Then John was on his back, pinned to the carpet by Sherlock’s palm on his shoulder, Sherlock’s body over his, Sherlock’s hand in his trousers again, absolutely none-too-gentle, still rocking against him hard enough that John would likely have carpet burn on his shoulderblades, his lower back.

He lunged, managing to connect with Sherlock’s mouth, to pull him closer before Sherlock shoved him down again, held him there. Sherlock’s fingers tightened on his prick, his eyes locked on John’s, even this close, even as he sucked hard at the raw spot on John’s lip. Of course Sherlock would kiss with his eyes open, searching, grayly savage, insistent.

Jesus.

Sherlock didn’t pull back, not right away, and he let his hand smear through the spunk now spattered on them both, almost thoughtfully. John inched up just enough to be able to haul his t-shirt off, offered it first to Sherlock, who wiped himself cleanish before handing it back to John. Sherlock’s shirt was all the way open, missing two buttons. One had rolled nearly under John’s armchair. Sherlock didn’t fix his clothes at all, only unfolded himself far enough to lurch back onto the couch, to reach for John and tug at him until he followed. Sherlock stretched his long legs out across the couch, leaving John with nowhere else to lie but on top of him.

With his shirt off, John could see faint red half-moons where Sherlock’s fingers had been, and the slight throb in his neck suggested that there would be a fairly spectacularly purple spot there, if he felt like his legs would get him in front of a mirror. God, it felt good.

Sherlock was regarding him with a strangely quiet-looking satisfaction, like he’d found something unexpected, something hidden, something ever-so-secret. John was willing to allow him that. Then Sherlock spoke. “That wasn’t very subtle, John.” He was nearly back to his regular bored tone, but John could feel the thump of his blood under skin.

“That’s what you said about Stevenson.” John reached half-heartedly for the copy, couldn’t quite reach it. Instead, he shoved his way between Sherlock’s body and the back of the couch, Sherlock’s arm somewhere at his side, propped in a lot less space than he generally favored, but it wasn’t half-bad. He exhaled again. “So what did you want from me, given the circumstances?” His left arm was tucked under him, which made the only available position for his right across Sherlock’s bare chest.

“This. Mate.” He sounded like he was smiling. John couldn’t quite bring himself to look. Then Sherlock was stretching away, and John hoped he wouldn’t get up but he steeled himself against that anyway. Sherlock didn’t get up. He settled the book across his own ribs, open to the page John had stopped at, holding it up with one hand.

John reached, tilted it so he could see, and this seemed as good a time as any to pick the story back up. He was two-thirds of the way down the first page, distracted by the feeling of his tongue on the broken skin of his lip, when Sherlock said, “Turn.”

John glanced up. “What?”

“I’m done with these pages. Turn to the next.” Beneath John’s hip, Sherlock’s fingers twitched a little.

John made himself as heavy as he could. “I’m not. So hold your horses.” Sherlock was reading it. It made him strangely giddy.

Sherlock huffed a breath, enough that John felt it across the top of his head. “I’m going to read these two pages six times before you’ve done with them once.”

“Likely.” John kept reading, or trying to. It was hard to concentrate, even on the climactic scene, with the sweat beading between them, his heart still slowing.

“It was a good explanation,” Sherlock said. It took John a moment to understand that Sherlock wasn’t talking about the book.

John was glad his face was turned toward the book. “You didn’t need an explanation.” Sherlock Holmes never needed an explanation. The things that he actually needed explanations for (“Not good?” “Bit not good.”) were things he never really listened to.

“The experience, then.” A touch of uncharacteristic hesitation.

With difficulty, John tilted his head up, glanced at Sherlock. “Well. That sort of thing was the best part of being fourteen.” Much better than the spots and the voice cracking and the fact that one’s clothes never quite felt like they fit.

“I see why.”

John pushed himself up higher. It sounded nearly wistful. Sherlock was never wistful, except occasionally in the hospital morgue (“The space, John!”) and when thinking about Anderson in the advanced stages of venereal disease.

John opened his mouth, on the verge of telling Sherlock that he had, of course, been through puberty himself, but he stopped. Of course Sherlock’s adolescence was nothing actually like that. Private school, tutors, never actually having friends.

Instead, he settled back against Sherlock’s chest. “Happy to explain it again if you like.” He turned the page, somewhat surprised he’d actually said it out loud.

Sherlock’s ribs rose and fell under him. “Indeed,” he said. And John was nearly through the last page when Sherlock announced that finding Long John Silver would be no great task. John gave up trying to actually read through the last page, but Sherlock didn’t put the book aside. He used his long fingers to push the pages back to the beginning of the book, to page one. John rolled one carpet-roughened shoulder against the nap of the couch, stretched as well as he was able without actually moving.

Sherlock made another impatient noise. “Page, John.” Despite just proving he was quite capable of holding the book and turning the pages one-handed.

John nudged another page across the plane of Sherlock’s breastbone, another and another, not needing to look at the print to follow the old sea-dog’s song, Jim Hawkins’s fear and fascination. He was committing other things to memory.