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The night that John finally becomes his, Sherlock lies beside him in bed for nearly an hour, simply observing.

Sexual satiation makes John drowsy, apparently. He lingers in stage one of the sleep cycle, always jerking awake before he can progress beyond it, then closing his eyes again and promptly returning to stage one. Stubborn, perplexing behaviour. It suits John perfectly.

Everything that Sherlock knows of John’s sleep habits he’s learned from deductions. It’s an impressive amount of knowledge, of course, because Sherlock’s powers of deduction are impressive, but it’s not the same as data that is observed—which he has now been given the opportunity to gather.

Sherlock never thought he could have this: John in his bed, drowsing contentedly only inches away, as though there’s never been any question that he belongs here.

Sherlock’s adoration is practically a physical presence in his body, a sort of parasite in search of an acceptable environment to colonise. In the years he has known John, his lungs have been affected, his stomach, his vocal folds, his brain, and of course his heart, which is affected now as he watches John wrinkle his nose and snuffle and turn his face into Sherlock’s pillow. Sherlock’s chest feels tight, his heart aching under the increased pressure.

Ridiculous, sentimental. There’s a whisper of Mycroft’s voice in his mind, but Sherlock shoos it away as he always does.

Beside him, John jolts from stage one again, but this time instead of returning to it, he rolls to his back and blinks at the ceiling.

“Sorry,” he says muzzily. “Didn’t mean to just—”

“It’s fine,” Sherlock assures him.

John stretches, his lower back lifting minutely off the bed. The bedsheets dip below his pectorals, exposing the tops of his areolae, but stop before the nipples themselves. Sherlock didn’t get to examine those earlier. He has no idea if they are sensitive, if touching them would make John arch in pleasure or grimace in discomfort.

“Ugh,” John groans, sitting up. “I need the loo.”

When he leaves, Sherlock feels like a train removed from its track: useless, directionless. He crawls into the now Johnless space on the bed and inhales deeply.

He smells John—cheap shampoo, musky aftershave, an Irish breakfast tea, and Mrs Hudson’s lemon tarts—but also himself, noticeable now only because of its contrast to John’s less ubiquitous scent. Fitting, Sherlock supposes. He is aware of himself most strongly when John is present.

The noise of John urinating filters through the closed door between the toilet and Sherlock’s bedroom. It’s surprisingly comforting. Sherlock wraps the sound around him like a cloak, burrows into the knowledge that John is mere metres away and coming back shortly.

Sherlock doesn’t retreat to his previous position, and it doesn’t occur to him that there is anything wrong with this until John returns and simply stands beside the bed, staring down at Sherlock as though he’s puzzled by what he sees.

His posture, his tense shoulders, suggests he feels awkward. His hands are curled in fists in front of his thighs, which are wet where he wiped his hands dry after washing them. He’s fighting the urge to cover himself, as though Sherlock didn’t have his mouth on John’s penis an hour ago.

At least, Sherlock reflects, he seems to realise the impulse is irrational.

“Erm,” says John, and his fists tighten. Sherlock is reminded of knots in a rope. Nooses. Cerebral hypoxia. “Not sure if you’d rather I bugger off upstairs or—”

“Stay.”

Sherlock doesn’t mean to say it. Well, he does, but not so straightforwardly. He is trying to decide how to take it back without actually taking it back when John’s shoulders relax, his fists unknot, and he climbs back into bed. On Sherlock’s side, this time. Or at least what, five minutes ago, had been Sherlock’s side.

John wraps the sheets around himself and rolls onto his stomach with his head turned, facing Sherlock. His eyes close.

Sherlock will never be able to know every thought that passes through John Watson’s head. There is an entire world, fields of unfiltered impressions and mounds of partially formed ideas, that will never give themselves away in John’s expression, and thus Sherlock will remain ignorant of them. Unfortunate, distasteful, but out of his control.

“Mm,” John murmurs, his voice heavy with sleep. “Your pillows smell good.”

The parasite of adoration worms its way into Sherlock’s oesophagus, and he struggles to swallow around it.

If you leave me, he thinks, I will crumple like a paper cup, not empty, not entirely, but close enough that there’ll be nothing for it but to crush and bin me like the other useless things.

But he says none of it, of course. Just concentrates on remaining still and quiet as John finally drifts into the second stage of sleep.

*

Sherlock makes tea the following morning so that when John is finished in the shower, a steaming cup—strong, no sugar, a splash of semi-skimmed milk, exactly as John prefers it—is waiting on the table.

John sits with a startled look—understandable, since Sherlock making tea without being bullied into it is nearly unheard of—but says nothing aside from a murmured “Thanks” as he scoots the cup closer.

Sherlock inclines his head and finishes making his own cup—also strong, two lumps of sugar, and rather more than a splash of milk—before he sits as well, taking in John’s appearance as he does.

Freshly showered, obviously, although his hair is already very nearly dry. John’s jumper is tidy, not a wrinkle nor speck of lint or hair to be found, and he smells overwhelmingly of toothpaste. An uncharacteristic amount of time and attention spent drying and grooming himself. Indicates nervousness, avoidance.

Then John clasps his hands with a sigh, interrupting Sherlock’s mental deductions, and says, “I’m having second thoughts,” and Sherlock understands devastation to a degree he had not thought possible.

And suddenly Sherlock is in the bedroom again, less than two hours ago when John’s cold toes tucked themselves beneath his ankle and John sighed in his sleep as though the whole world had been righted by that single unconscious action, and Sherlock wanted to build an entire room in his mind palace for this moment—and had done, and retreats into it now. Although now Sherlock isn’t lying in the bed, but drowning in it, waves cracking over his body like whips. Salt stings his eyes and water floods his throat.

Then he feels John’s hand on his arm, hears John’s voice saying his name again and again, and realises John is kneeling beside him, his face open and pale with alarm.

“Sorry,” he says, when Sherlock blinks dumbly at him. “Christ. That’s what I get for not thinking before I open my fucking mouth. I didn’t mean that like it sounded.”

“You’re having second thoughts,” Sherlock recalls. His lips feel numb. He is overreacting, he knows. He is acting every bit the drama queen that John has more than once accused him of being, but he cannot seem to stop.

“Second thoughts as in concerns, not regrets.”

“Concerns.” The word echoes in his mind like ripples in a pond. “What concerns?”

“Well, for starters, we live together. We’ve been friends for years. And not just friends, mind, but best friends. We’re colleagues. Adding sex, a relationship, it’s just—” John sighs, deep etchings of gloom on his forehead. “It’s a lot, and if something goes… badly, then we lose a lot.”

Those sound more like regrets to Sherlock than concerns. But he can see from the way John licks his lips, staring off over Sherlock’s shoulder, that he has more to say, so Sherlock remains quiet. Waits.

Finally, John says, “Not to mention, you know, the last long-term relationship I had wasn’t exactly rainbows and happily-ever-afters.”

Sherlock knows. Mary’s betrayal is the perpetual gap in John’s armour, her death the weight on his shoulders that makes his shadow loom.

“And,” John continues, “I can’t do that again. Especially not with you, Sherlock, I just… can’t. I want a healthy relationship. And we… I mean, we can have that, yeah?”

Have a “healthy relationship”? Sherlock tries to conjure an image of one, does a quick scan of all the dusty crannies of his mind palace, and finds nothing. Doubtful he can attain something if he has no point of reference.

Sherlock is bleeding. He’s gone into battle in nothing but his thinnest dressing gown and yesterday’s pants. Stupid. Stupid thing to do, of course John would have second thoughts, of course John doesn’t want to be romantically or sexually attached to another sociopath with no concept of a “healthy relationship.”

“Sherlock?”

Hide it, Sherlock thinks, at all costs. Cover the wound, do not let him see that you are bleeding out right here in the kitchen over tea, you complete clot.

“Of course,” he says. Although panic still buzzes in his thoughts, his voice is calm, composed. “If anything, our history gives us an advantage. We’re flatmates—I know the worst of you, and you of me.”

Sherlock is still building the argument in his mind—quickly, stacking large stone atop large stone, hoping the weight will keep it all from toppling even if he hasn’t anything to hold them together—but John shakes his head before he can say anything further.

“It’s fine. I’m not really looking for some sort of defence. I just….” John licks his lips again, clearly giving his words a great deal of thought. “I just wanted to tell you my concerns. I was lying in bed this morning imagining all the ways this could crash and burn before it’s even started, and I don’t want that. I really, really don’t want that. So I thought, you know, importance of communication and all that—”

“Communication is part of a ‘healthy relationship,’” Sherlock guesses.

John nods, looking pleased, and some part of Sherlock hops about on its hind legs, happy to have got it right.

“Exactly. So if we’re going to give it a go, if we’re going to sleep in the same room and kiss and act like a couple and all that, I want to be sure we’re careful about it. Yeah?”

“Yes,” Sherlock agrees, and vows to be very, very careful indeed.

*

Both the OED and Dictionary.com define healthy (adjective) as “possessing or enjoying good health or a sound and vigorous mentality” as well as being “conducive to health.”

Sherlock ponders that far more than any of the rubbish that searching “healthy relationship” on Google turns up. Endless articles tossing about words like “respect,” “trust,” and “equality” that Sherlock can’t fathom being of any help to anyone and certainly not to him. He’s a detective; he thrives on concrete data, not abstractions.

But, although the dictionaries are more direct and thus more clear, they aren’t especially helpful either.

After all, John needs danger. That hypothesis has been proven again and again throughout their friendship, as has the fact that John is drawn to Sherlock because of the danger of his work. But repeated encounters with danger are not “conducive to health.” Therefore, John cannot be seeking the sort of “healthy relationship” implied by the definition of healthy.

The contradiction creates an impasse. Sherlock spends an hour in front of the computer, dozens of tabs open in his internet browser, trying to push past it.

Fact: John wants a healthy relationship.

Fact: John’s relationship with Mary did not fit his definition of a healthy relationship, likely because Mary: 1) lied to him about her identity, 2) nearly murdered his best friend in order to continue lying to him, and 3) purposely withheld crucial information about her past even after supposedly coming clean.

Conclusion: To avoid contributing to an unhealthy relationship with John, Sherlock can never: 1) lie to John about his identity, 2) harm John’s friends, and 3) purposely withhold crucial information.

John no doubt is primarily concerned about the final item, since Sherlock has on occasion withheld crucial information (and, during one such instance, caused John two years of grief), but complying with all three is doable, Sherlock thinks.

And if there are other stipulations, Sherlock will surely learn about them in due time, from John’s comments on other couples or his comments on their own burgeoning relationship.

It’s fine. The bleeding is staunched, the wound sufficiently dressed and hidden. As long as Sherlock is careful, as John said and as he intends to be, everything will be fine.

*

Sherlock moves John’s clothes from the upstairs bedroom into the downstairs one. In part because he knows John would not appreciate being left to do it all himself, and in part because the idea of John’s belongings continuing to exist so far from Sherlock’s is abhorrent.

Besides, John said ‘if we’re going to sleep in the same room.’ And they’ve slept together in Sherlock’s room every night since then, even during the nights when Sherlock doesn’t actually sleep but instead lies motionless beside John and breathes him in like a cloud of cigarette smoke. So it would be absurd to continue keeping their clothing on different storeys of the flat. Sherlock is certain of this.

He has to throw out several shirts, four pairs of trousers, and a selection of socks and pants to make room for all of John’s clothes in his wardrobe and chest of drawers. But he considers it a worthwhile sacrifice just to be able to see John’s jumpers hanging beside his own dress shirts, John’s pants nestled in a drawer with his own.

“Did you do something to all my clothes?” John asks that evening, standing in the doorway to Sherlock’s bedroom while Sherlock undresses for bed. His tone says he knows the answer to his question but for some reason wants to hear Sherlock verbalise it.

Sherlock obliges. “Moved them down here with mine. It hardly seemed practical, you continuing to climb the stairs every morning to get dressed and every night to get undressed if you’re to continue sleeping down here.”

When John’s first response is to blink owlishly and peer at Sherlock as though he’s done something utterly unfathomable, it occurs to Sherlock that he might have been wrong-footed after all. The word unhealthy flickers in and out of his thoughts.

But John doesn’t appear upset or angry, just taken aback. “Oh,” he says. “Thanks.”

Sherlock relaxes and settles down on the bed, watching John paw through the drawers and sift through both Sherlock’s clothes and his own in search of his pyjama bottoms.

The rush of the pleasure he gets from the scene is immense, more potent than cocaine, and it lingers for days.

*

John has birthmarks on his right thigh, his left calf, and the big toe of his left foot: all caramel-coloured, circular, uninteresting except for their potential use as identifying features.

He also has a mole on his back to the right of vertebra T10, and another a bit lower where the waistband of his pants sits just above the swell of his arse. Individual freckles dot his legs in various places, and there’s an isolated burst of them on his right bicep.

There’s a faded scar on John’s left ankle: a pale two-centimetre-long sliver where it appears the top layer was stripped from his skin. “Harry dared me to shave my legs when I was about eight,” John says when Sherlock asks. “Pressed too hard and shaved off a bit of skin. An awful mess, that was.”

There are also dozens of other tiny, barely noticeable scars that John is apparently ignorant of. Sherlock pokes at a miniscule patch of discoloured skin behind his knee, on the top of his foot, just below his ribcage, and John shrugs, utterly unconcerned, and says, “Dunno. Could’ve been anything, really.”

And then, of course, there’s the scar on his left shoulder. Shot from behind by a sniper several metres above him. The bullet passed through his shoulder, shattered the bone, and grazed the subclavian artery. It became infected afterwards, quite badly so, and left the skin gnarled and mottled. The scar is large, “ugly” according to conventional ideas of attractiveness, somewhat resembling a fat spider waiting at the centre of its web, but Sherlock adores it beyond measure.

Sex becomes an exercise in worshipping it. When he gets John’s shirt off, Sherlock likes to climb on top of him and kiss the scar, run his tongue over the damaged skin, and suck gently at the raised scar tissue, colouring it an angry pink.

Time slows. Sherlock’s face grows wet with his own saliva, his body aches from being bent over so long, and beneath him John becomes a squirming, panting obstacle to his exploration.

“Christ,” John says through clenched teeth. “If you could, maybe, put your mouth a bit lower—or your hands, I’m not fussy—”

Sherlock does better, and slicks up his arse so he can sit on John’s cock.

John’s penis is average-sized, albeit much larger than Sherlock’s, with only the slightest upwards curve of the shaft and loose, pliable foreskin. Certainly not intimidating by sight, but to have it inside him… it feels huge, thick and long and hard as steel. And John—well-mannered, supremely cautious of hurting Sherlock—goes still and pliant while Sherlock adjusts, giving Sherlock the opportunity to touch and taste his scar without interruption.

Even when Sherlock gives in and starts to ride him, keeping to small stuttering motions so he doesn’t completely lose himself in the pleasure of it, John remains mostly still, staring up into Sherlock’s face with his eyes and mouth wide with awe.

Sherlock paws at his shoulder, lifting it a little so he can stroke the entrance wound. He pictures the bullet’s trajectory, the near-instantaneous fracture of flesh and bone, the continuous spill of blood afterwards. He doesn’t believe in miracles, of course, but this—that John survived to meet Sherlock and kill for Sherlock and let Sherlock sit on his cock and admire his scar—is the sort of thing that must make others believe in them.

He still hasn’t got his fill of the scar when John is shrugging off Sherlock’s grip and surging upwards, flipping Sherlock rather impressively onto his back. John’s cock slips out in the move, although Sherlock barely even manages a groan of disappointment before it’s being pushed back in.

“All right, enough of that,” John says with a laugh. “You can play with my scar all you want after we’re done.”

Acceptable, Sherlock decides, although he suspects he’ll still have to settle. ‘All you want’ is… rather a lot. He wants to know John like no one else ever has, and to have him in ways John has never let himself be had.

John is staring down, watching his cock disappear into Sherlock’s arsehole, with an expression of such rapture and captivation that Sherlock feels like a treasure, golden and rare. He bends his knees and brings them to his chest, baring himself as much as possible, inviting John to keep looking at him like that, to always look at Sherlock like that.

“Anything to say before I fuck you into this mattress?” John asks, still staring.

“Please,” Sherlock answers, and within seconds, he’s being fucked so hard he can’t form words at all, only deep grunts and throaty “uh, uh”s while he drops his knees and does his best to wind his entire body around John like a vine.

He wraps his legs around John’s waist and tugs him down so he can cling to John’s shoulders, muffle his cries in John’s neck. The penetration is shallower this way, the angle more awkward and possibly (Sherlock realises a moment too late) less satisfying for John, but John allows it, holds Sherlock close even though it means he can’t thrust properly, that he can only hump at Sherlock’s arse like a dog.

Several times, the crown of his cock catches on the rim of Sherlock’s hole, nearly slipping free again before John manages to shove it back in, filling Sherlock with the never-ending burn of that initial penetration, the feeling of so full and too much.

“That’s it, love,” John tells him, panting. “God, I’m so close.”

It’s the “love” that does it. It breaks Sherlock open, reduces him to wailing helplessly into John’s throat and clutching desperately at his sweat-wet back. It’s perfect. It’s so perfect it hurts. It cuts him like a strip of silk.

After Sherlock has come—long after John has, with John’s mouth on his cock and John’s come leaking from his arse—John goes to fetch a wet flannel while Sherlock drifts, half-dazed.

The term “afterglow” is, for Sherlock at least, an utter misnomer. His post-coital physical and mental states aren’t glow-like at all, but instead rather dim, like a dense cloud of smoke. He lies cradled in its murk, listening to John rummage through the bathroom cupboard.

“Christ,” John says suddenly. There’s a flinch in his tone that promptly scatters Sherlock’s afterdim. “You scratched me.”

Sherlock is on his feet in an instant, hurrying to investigate. He finds John peering over one shoulder into the mirror. Someone has indeed left a series of long scratches on his back, and although Sherlock has no memory of doing so, the position of the marks—the space between them matching perfectly the space between Sherlock’s fingers when his hands are splayed—proves that he did.

Sherlock comes closer, spellbound by the sight: the raised pink lines on either side of John’s spine like wings, beginning just below his scar. John allows Sherlock to swivel him round and examine them. There is no blood, no indication of lasting damage, although they are puffed-up and irritated, the top layer of epidermis scraped off. Sherlock looks at his hands and find flakes of it beneath his fingernails.

The evidence of Sherlock’s ecstasy has been written on John’s skin, as real as the bullet wound on his shoulder, albeit less permanent. Satisfaction swells between Sherlock’s ribs, curls around his sternum.

He trails his hands down John’s shoulders, lifting his palms before he reaches the marks so he is simply tracing the shape of them with his fingers, envisioning how they were made. When Sherlock was clutching John’s shoulders, senseless with pleasure—as was John, apparently, since he’d not known until just now that he’d been scratched.

Sherlock realises that it is perhaps not good—even unhealthy—that the sight of John injured by Sherlock doesn’t inspire horror or regret, but satisfaction that runs as deep as the Thames. In fact, he should apologise for scratching John, however inadvertent it had been. That’s what normal people do, isn’t it? Apologise when they’ve hurt someone?

He takes his hands away and rubs them awkwardly against his thighs. “Apologies. I didn’t realise that I’d… that is, I had no—”

John laughs, the sort of laugh that Sherlock typically enjoys—it means that Sherlock has succeeded in bringing a beam of light to his thoughts, as John often does for him—but this time the sound only puzzles him.

“It’s fine,” John says, shaking his head as he half-turns. There is genuine delight in the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. “Kind of nice, actually. Being hurt during sex, that is.”

I can hurt him in a sexual context, Sherlock thinks, surprised, and it is, apparently, acceptable.

After filing that away for further consideration, he leads John eagerly back to the bed and proceeds to eat John’s arsehole for over an hour, until John’s cock is hard enough for another go. Then he climbs on top of it and rides it until John is moaning and shaking and gripping Sherlock’s hips like a vice, like not even death can convince him to let go.

*

Lestrade summons them to a crime scene the following morning. A child gone missing during the night, her bedroom in violent and blood-spattered disarray: suspected murder.

It’s dull. Obvious. Sherlock has a fairly good idea of what happened from just speaking with Lestrade over the phone, but arriving at the scene, seeing a photograph of the missing girl while the distraught parents stand huddled together and weeping, confirms it.

“Abducted by her birth father,” Sherlock says, handing back the photograph. “Who, I suspect, didn’t realise until very recently that he had a child. Hence the abduction. She was probably injected with a strong sedative and then a portion of her blood removed by syringe. The blood isn’t so much spattered as it is dripped strategically, and not even the most violent struggle would be enough to tip a desk of that size entirely over. Apart from the blood loss, he’ll have left her unharmed.”

“Birth father!” the man says, looking dumbfounded. His tears seem to have frozen on his face. “What—”

“In terms of eye colour, brown is the dominant gene,” Sherlock says. “You and your wife have blue eyes, but your daughter has lovely brown ones. They had to have come from somewhere, and they certainly didn’t come from you. So: birth father. You know his name, I assume?” he asks the mother, who gives a small nod, staring very determinedly away from her husband. “Excellent.”

Case solved. Simple. The police need only get the man’s name from the mother and then locate him. Sentiment has made him stupid; he won’t have gone far from his own home, if he’s even left it at all. Sherlock’s assistance isn’t needed any longer, nor does he want to provide it. Kidnapped children are not cases that he enjoys, certainly not after the last one.

“Jesus,” says Lestrade, while the crowd of surveying police officers flutters into motion around them. “That was…”

Child’s play, Sherlock thinks. Hardly worth my time, and nothing your team shouldn’t have been able to manage.

But John is beside him, a soothing presence, and Lestrade looks harried, unshaven and over-caffeinated—under a great deal of pressure to solve this quickly, either mother or father is related to someone important at the Met—so Sherlock says nothing. Besides, there’s still the matter that brought him here, even when the case held no appeal and was mostly solved before Sherlock had even put on his coat.

“Quick,” John offers, filling in Lestrade’s silence.

“Might’ve been a new record, yeah,” Lestrade agrees. “Thanks. We can take it from here, I think.”

Lestrade rubs his face with a sigh and then—yes—looks at Sherlock.

Sherlock waits.

There are, he knows, countless indicators of the change in his and John’s relationship currently visible on their persons:

John carries himself stiffly, avoiding large spine and shoulder movements so he doesn’t irritate the still-stinging scratches on his back, and Sherlock has the careful, not-quite-limping gait of a person who’s just enjoyed multiple rounds of vigorous anal intercourse.

John smells clearly of Sherlock’s shampoo, has scuff marks on the knees of his trousers and stubble burn on his neck, and his hair has the dishevelled, faintly oily appearance of having been repeatedly stroked, grabbed, and tugged.

Not to mention, John’s lips—and, he presumes, his own, although he can’t see them at present—look freshly kissed, the wrinkles on his collar indicate he’s recently stretched his neck to reach something taller than him, and the lapels of Sherlock’s coat still bear indentations from the grip of a strong, insistent pair of hands.

Yet Lestrade’s gaze lingers on none of these details. In fact, Lestrade doesn’t seem to notice them at all.

“Sherlock,” John says, touching the sleeve of Sherlock’s coat. It’s a tender, familiar touch. A dead giveaway on its own that Lestrade again fails to see.

Disappointment, bitter as low-quality coffee. Lestrade won’t mark the frankly momentous change without assistance, apparently. Less subtle, then.

How best to introduce it into conversation? John Watson, my…?

Oh, Sherlock realises. They haven’t discussed appropriate labels. Boyfriend? Lover? Partner seems the most accurate, encompassing the whole of their relationship, but it is also the most ambiguous. Not ideal.

“Sherlock,” John says again, this time a hint of steel in his tone. “Greg said they can handle it.”

Sherlock notices now that Lestrade’s eyebrows are raised, his expression becoming one of faint alarm under Sherlock’s steady stare. Beyond him, Donovan is speaking with the mother, who is crying more softly now, while her husband paces a short distance away. Yes, Sherlock is quite content to let Lestrade’s team deal with that. Sherlock can alert them to his new status as John’s boyfriend-lover-partner another time.

So he allows John to lead him from the house, his hand still gripping Sherlock’s sleeve.

On the pavement outside, John finally lets go with a sigh. “That went a little quicker than I’d imagined.”

He looks distinctly put-out by that, and a splinter of guilt wedges itself in Sherlock’s thoughts. He really needn’t have come, he supposes. All he’s done is shower sparks on John’s incredibly flammable danger addiction only to then stamp the fire quite effectively out.

But before he can respond, John shakes his head and continues. “Ah well. That was brilliant, by the way. You knew from half a glance at one photograph that that man wasn’t her biological father.”

Of course Sherlock did. It was obvious, wasn’t it? One needed only a basic understanding of genetics to see it, which John certainly possesses.

Still, pleasure blooms like bacteria at the praise. Sherlock’s skin feels warm, his head light, and he has to drop his chin to stop the toothy, insipid grin that threatens to form.

“Coffee?” John asks, nodding to a Starbucks across the street.

It’s not their usual post-case fare, of course, but perhaps chips at not quite half ten aren’t practical.

“Yes,” Sherlock says.

The Starbucks is crammed with people, the queue so long it winds between the tables. John, always uncomfortable in a crowd, stands close to Sherlock. Their arms press together from shoulder to elbow, and Sherlock would only need to turn slightly and bend forwards to curl around him.

For several minutes, Sherlock allows that thought to linger. Imagines himself as the earth to John’s sun: drawn to him, warmed by him.

Would you find it objectionable, Sherlock thinks, if I referred to you as my boyfriend? Even if it’s not your preferred label, you’ll surely agree it’s not inaccurate, yes?

He pictures the shape of the word on John’s lips. Easy to do after years of John hedging around inquiries about Sherlock’s sexuality and romantic history. Like that first dinner at Angelo’s. ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’

“A bit sad, wasn’t it?” John says, jarring Sherlock unpleasantly from his thoughts. “The case, that is.”

“Sad?” All of Sherlock’s cases could be considered “sad,” this perhaps even less so than the others. After all, the mystery is solved, the child will almost certainly be returned without significant harm, the parents— “Ah. The mother’s adultery, you mean.”

John’s lip turns down, and he inclines his head. “Yeah.”

The queue moves quickly, and they shuffle forwards along with everyone else while Sherlock considers his response.

John’s unfailing loyalty is, in Sherlock’s estimation at least, among his most notable qualities. Of course the idea of a person cheating on their spouse is upsetting to him. Offensive to his very solid moral principle. If his marriage to Mary were any indication, John himself would remain faithful no matter how dysfunctional and unfulfilling the relationship had become.

That thought gives him pause, lingers in his mind like a blood stain on white.

“Sherlock,” John says, nudging him forwards, and—oh. The queue has moved again, putting them nearly at the front of it.

“What can I get started for you?” a barista asks. Short, blonde-haired, female, midtwenties, and terribly chipper. Not significant enough to observe beyond that, so Sherlock pays her little attention as he places his order.

“Just a filter coffee for me. Tall. And—” He considers John: expression, posture, the quality of his sleep the previous night, and of course his personal taste. “—espresso macchiato for him. Semi-skimmed, just the one-ounce shot of espresso. Tall as well.”

“Exactly what I had in mind. Brilliant sod,” John says with a smile, and again Sherlock has to duck his head to avoid returning it.

Sherlock pays, then watches John while they wait for their drinks to be made. He’s adopted a parade rest position, although he appears anything but at rest. His jaw is clenched, his shoulders tense, his gaze darting from person to person. Sherlock wonders if he even consciously realises he is scanning the coffee shop for threats, or if it is purely instinct, as ingrained in him as the need to blink.

When their drinks are finished, handed to them by the same chipper barista who’d taken the order, they sit at a two-person table to the left of the entrance. It’s small enough that their knees knock against each other, and when John takes the touch a step further and interlocks them, one of Sherlock’s knees between his and one of his between Sherlock’s, affection makes a thick knot in Sherlock’s throat.

If it wouldn’t disturb you or get us thrown out, he thinks, I would crawl beneath this table and lay my head on your knee.

Then John snorts in amusement and spins his cup round so Sherlock can see there is writing on it.

A phone number, to be precise. Then, below the number: Geri

“I can’t remember the last time I got one of these,” John says. One side of his mouth is still quirked up in amusement, although Sherlock sees very little that is amusing about the situation.

“A woman’s number?”

He sounds jealous, he realises, although he isn’t. Of course he isn’t. Why would he be? The barista—Geri, evidently—is too young by John’s standards, and in any case, he’s already established that John is loyal. So loyal in fact that even if some part of him wanted

No, Sherlock thinks, not now.

Rather, he is concerned more with the fact that again someone has missed the very obvious signs that John is neither romantically nor sexually available. Sherlock mentally relives his and John’s time in the queue. Sherlock ordering and paying for John, John standing closer to Sherlock than is socially acceptable for just friends, John’s body angled in Sherlock’s direction.

Alarming that she missed them, although not as alarming as Lestrade missing them as well. That his and John’s relationship isn’t written on their bodies like Sherlock thought—hoped—it was. That his biases are influencing his observational skills. That at this moment a pretty barista named Geri is envisioning that John might return her interest, that she will soon be sitting in her flat with her two dogs, no, her dog and her flatmate’s cat, when her mobile rings—

“—at her if you could, thanks,” John is saying, and the world outside Sherlock’s mind blinks back into focus. He meets John’s gaze, and John smiles a bit stiffly. “All right?”

Of course. That is what Sherlock should say, obviously, and what he means to say. But instead, he answers, “They can’t see. Lestrade, the barista, no one has been able to see that you… well, that is, that you and I—”

“Well, not everyone’s a genius like you.” John shrugs as though it’s of no consequence. As though it doesn’t matter a whit to him if strange women continue to give him their numbers or his friends fail to recognise his new relationship. “Although, to be fair, I think the barista’s figured it out by now. You’ve spent the last two minutes glaring at her like you want to set her on fire.”

Has he? Sherlock doesn’t remember that at all, but he must have done. When he glances at her now, he finds her looking considerably less cheerful than before and seeming quite determined not to look in their direction at all.

“Ready to go?” John asks.

In fact, Sherlock has done little more than set his cup on the table, and John certainly can’t have already emptied his either. But they hardly need to stay here to finish them, he supposes, so he nods, and they leave.

And when John does finish his coffee, he promptly bins the empty cup, and the barista’s number along with it. Sherlock makes sure of that.

*

John favours oral sex, in terms of both giving and receiving. Not strongly—manual sex, intercourse, and frottage satisfy him just as well—but enough so that his preference is as obvious to Sherlock as his military background.

This suits Sherlock perfectly fine. To have his cock sucked or his arse licked is enjoyable, albeit no more or less than any other sexual act, and there is little he loves more than spreading John out like a map and trailing his tongue over the ridges and valleys of John’s body.

For instance: John’s back, now. Sherlock can see the bones and muscles shifting beneath the skin like tectonic plates as John squirms, arches, tries to coax Sherlock’s mouth where he wants it. Sherlock laves his scar and then licks down John’s spine, counting each vertebra as he passes over it, imagining he is capable of touching the spinal cord itself, so vulnerable despite being so protected. He would keep it safer than his most sensitive experiment.

And then, because John is impatient and greedy, Sherlock dips between John’s thighs and eats his arsehole, suckles at his testicles, until John’s need is satiated enough that Sherlock can explore another minute or two uninterrupted.

Later, after John has come down Sherlock’s throat, John rolls to his side, boneless and drowsy with contentment, and nuzzles senselessly into the pillow while Sherlock curls around his back and measures the space between each of John’s ribs with his fingers.

“Disappointed that they’re gone?” John asks in a half-slur, rocking lazily back into Sherlock’s own cock, which is hard but not distractingly so.

Sherlock lays a tender kiss to John’s scar. “Hm?”

“The scratches you left on my back. Are you disappointed they’re gone?”

They’ve not faded entirely, actually, although the marks are so faint—thin streaks of skin only very, very slightly darker than the rest—that they might as well have done. It’s only because of the time that Sherlock has spent charting John’s back up close, and that Sherlock knows what to look for—in fact, he has the pattern of them stored permanently in his mind palace, and traces it behind his eyelids as he falls asleep—that makes them noticeable to his eye.

But John’s question….

“Why would I be disappointed?”

John turns. Tries to, anyway, although Sherlock is lying so close and holding him so firmly that the only part he manages to turn is his head. There’s a bit of dried drool at the corner of his lip, which Sherlock kisses wetly away.

“Because they were marks that you made,” John says, in the same voice as when he unearths some new element of popular culture to be astounded that Sherlock isn’t familiar with. “Because you’re a possessive git and you marked me and, erm, you’re looking at me like I’m crackers now, so…. Never mind.”

John settles back down, looking abashed. His ears pinken faintly.

His embarrassment is utterly unwarranted—even though he was mistaken, he’s just given Sherlock an idea.