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the lingering taste of orange juice

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God, but it was intoxicating.

Sherlock didn't think he'd ever been so simplistically and straightforwardly happy. Happy wasn't a word he generally used to describe himself--ever. But that was the word, wasn't it? Joyous, jubilant, delighted, thrilled glad elated ecstatic, yes, all of these, more than these.

It was better than any high he'd ever known. It wasn't even in the same league.

Oh, god, he was invincible, he could do anything, go anywhere, right now he could solve any case in the country--pull the Lamplugh file! No, the torso in the Thames case, wait, get the Jack the Ripper files, he could solve them all, he could. Just now, he could do it.

He was going to vibrate right out of his skin in a half-second. His stomach was doing loop-de-loops, and his chest: oh, it was like pain but it wasn't, not really, it was more like expansion, like things had gotten too big for his ribcage in this wonderful, ridiculous, ballooning sort of way.

It was the heat of a thousand moments culminating in one great flash of starburst and sunlight and it was John.

John Watson, formerly of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, retired Royal Army Medical Corps trauma surgeon turned part-time general practitioner, part-time personal physician, part-time blogger, medical expert, bodyguard, tea-and-toast-pusher, 1.69 meters tall, blond hair, blue eyes, forty-two years of age, once divorced, stop: now, standing in the kitchen of 221B, holding Sherlock's bicep in his hand, keeping him tethered to the earth.

It was John, who had carefully pried the mug from Sherlock's fingers--frozen in anticipation, in want, in that daring hope he was never able to fully crush--it was John, who had said, "That's quite enough of that, don't you think?"

And brushed his mouth against Sherlock's, gently, softly, slowly, a whisper of nerve-endings and it takes between thirty-four and one hundred and forty-six muscles to kiss someone.

That's what John was doing: kissing Sherlock.

*

It started a month ago.

Well, not really. If you wanted to follow the trail back, the falling-domino-momentum of how this moment came to be, it started seven years, nine months, fourteen days, two hours, and fifty-three minutes ago, when Mike Stamford (of all people) made an off-hand comment about how maybe Sherlock would be better off with a flatmate--someone to share expenses with, you know, and maybe make a friend.

Sherlock snorted. Friends, ugh.

But then Stamford had gone to lunch and brought back a walking contradiction dressed in a blue checkered shirt and a psychosomatic limp.

And Sherlock looked up at his outstretched hand, mobile presented, and thought, oh.

Well, it wasn't actually that easy, was it? No. Never was. What actually happened was that Sherlock looked up and saw a man with lapis lazuli eyes who had handled a firearm within the last twenty-four hours (easy--gun oil residue on the inside of his right wrist, grip on the cane says left-handed). Military by his stance, but discharged, therapist, unemployed, medical man with a tremor--only one conclusion: an illegal handgun and a self-destructive daydream about where he might aim it.

That was just not on.

Even Sherlock, who was himself typically only interested in a body after it was dead, felt his stomach clench uncomfortably around the deduction, and well, it was worth a shot, this flatmate business, wasn't it? He could use a man with an illegal firearm, really, and an assistant, someone to deal with the duller aspects of detective work. Even if it didn't work out, he'd have tried. "Sometimes," Molly once told him primly, "all we can do is try."

(Molly had been answering to Sherlock's painfully obvious disdain for her continuous attempts at finding a romantic partner. The lesson seemed transferable.)

But this man said, "fantastic," followed Sherlock at a run, and moved right into Baker Street. In return, Sherlock made sure he occasionally had cause to aim the illegal handgun at an entirely more appropriate target.

After that, it was more or less running downhill, free-fall, going-to-bed-warm-and-waking-up-with-a-fever, alight with the possibility and promise that was John Watson.

*

Anyway, a month ago, Sherlock got smacked in the face with a hubcap.

Kellan Wright was the scum of the earth, Sherlock decided as he went down. He was a small-time drug dealer with a newfound preference for knifing cops who caught him at his trade. The Met was tied up in knots over the case--three officers down in the last six weeks, one dead.

As in all situations, there were pros and cons as to how things were playing out.

The obvious pros were that the hubcap was no longer attached to a car, and if Wright were desperate enough to pick up an abandoned hubcap to use it as a weapon, he didn't have anything fatal tucked into that jacket.

The con was that Wright swung hard, clipped Sherlock in the temple, and Sherlock dropped like so much dead weight. Further up the alley, he heard Wright abandon the hubcap with a clatter and make his exit. Damn.

"Christ, Sherlock, say something, are you alright?" John was on him in a moment, only ever a few steps behind, dropping to his knees, both hands already moving Sherlock's hair out of the way to see better.

"Ngggfffine," Sherlock answered.

John giggled. It was probably all adrenaline and panic over seeing Sherlock hit to the ground, but all the same, John giggled.

Sherlock cracked an eye open to glare at him. John was doing that half-grin, half-grimace where he smiled but his eyes worried.

"Text Lestrade," Sherlock instructed, wincing and slightly breathless. It hurt. It hurt more than he would've expected, actually: his face throbbed where Wright made contact and his hips and shoulder blades radiated pain where he'd landed. "Wright will go back to his girlfriend's flat, the address is in the file, but he'll go on the move. Lestrade has an hour, at the outside, to catch him there."

One cool hand left Sherlock's face. The other remained, John's thumb dragging smoothly over a cheekbone, the pads of his two fingers pressing on Sherlock's temple where the hubcap had scraped along.

Sherlock felt the familiar heat surge in his abdomen again at the touch: hope strung taut between head and heart as in all the quiet moments between them, when Sherlock sometimes thought he got the clues all mixed up and thought maybe John felt something too.

He held his breath, not wanting that thumb to stop its arc across his cheek.

"Open your eyes now, let me have a look," John said, as he finished tapping out the message to Lestrade.

Sherlock complied, letting John examine his pupils, the back of his head, the bones of his face. John's intense focus and cool hands on him melted his insides into something smooth and liquid and heated. John kept a running commentary on his findings and when he was finally satisfied, he stood, offered Sherlock his hand, and pulled him to his feet.

And didn't let go.

John left his hand firmly curled around Sherlock's and led him out of the alley to the main road to catch a cab. Sherlock was sure John would feel his pulse, beating a tattoo against his palm.

"I hate it when you do that," John muttered, keeping his grip tight even as Sherlock hailed a taxi. "As often as it happens, I don't enjoy watching you get attacked."

"I'm not hurt," Sherlock pointed out, going for reasonable and ending up closer to defensive. John's hand around his was making it hard to stay calm. "It just took me by surprise. You said yourself, not even a concussion. At worst, a bruise tomorrow."

"That's not the point. The point is, you go off after these criminals and you don't even stop to think. So he surprised you. What if he'd surprised you with that knife he's been killing people with, or a gun, or whatever else?"

Sherlock didn't bother to answer. This was an old argument they re-hashed every few months. John always thought he'd won the latest round, right up until Sherlock did the next reckless thing.

They took the cab ride in silence.

Holding hands.

John shifted to lace his fingers between Sherlock's, like wrought-iron, clamping their palms together fiercely. Even if Sherlock had been opposed to the hand-holding (which, although he was confused, he wasn't opposed), he doubted his ability to actually get his hand back from John's anyway.

John kept his grip on Sherlock until they were back at Baker Street. Sherlock's palm, when John finally released it to get out of the cab, felt damp and warm and a bit lonely.

They climbed the stairs and hung their coats. John went to put the kettle on; Sherlock picked up a stack of papers just for something to do with his now-very-empty hands. For a moment, he thought they were going to pretend nothing unusual had happened. Perhaps John didn’t think anything unusual had.

But then John came back to where Sherlock was standing, took him by the forearm with one hand to get his attention and then reached up to touch his temple again with the other.

"You are okay, though?" he asked. He was standing close, too close, closer than usual. His pupils were dilated. What Sherlock would have given in the moment to be able to take John's pulse: then maybe he would’ve been able to make sense of it.

"Yes," he managed. His voice ached. A lot of him ached, actually. His stomach, his sternum, maybe. The insides of his elbows, inexplicably. His head, definitely.

John rubbed that thumb again over Sherlock's cheekbone, like he'd done in the alley. "Don't do that to me anymore. I've already had to watch you die once, Sherlock, don't make me do it again."

That was hardly playing fair. He'd apologized for that. Repeatedly. He could keep apologizing for it, but it had the potential for being rather a lot of time wrapped up in apologies for them to apparently not make a difference.

Besides, that wasn't important here.

What was important here was that John was touching his face in a non-medical capacity after having held his hand for a twenty-minute cab ride and Sherlock couldn't take his pulse to find out what it meant.

Sherlock opened his mouth but couldn't think of a single thing to say. Don't stop seemed a bit too near the line and kiss me was crossing it. Stay would maybe work but I love you definitely wouldn't. No, not at all. None of what Sherlock wanted to actually say were things John would want to actually hear.

After a moment, John smiled--more to himself, it seemed, than anything--and went to see to the kettle.

*

Looking back, he should have seen the signs long before the Wright case.

It was just that he wrote off so many of them, the signs, as the product of wishful thinking. After all, John had repeatedly insisted he was not gay. He'd married a woman, for god's sake, even if all John had gotten out of it was a divorce and a disappointing paternity test.

Sherlock, for his part, had gotten a bullet to the chest, but that was neither here nor there.

He probably deserved it, really. If he'd thought for even one minute to be suspicious of Mary, he'd have seen it. But John deserved at least one good thing in his life after everything Sherlock had put him through, and Mary made John happy. He didn't want to stick his nose where it didn't belong. Isn't that kinder?

Kinder? No, no, Sherlock. That wasn't kind.

All the same, the signs were there.

He just hadn't trusted his own senses. He couldn’t.

Sherlock had eliminated the impossible: John may have had affection for him, but it was impossible to suppose John could be capable of romantic or sexual attraction to him. Not only did John's proclivities not extend to those of the male sex, but Sherlock himself was rude, caustic, dismissive, and self-centered, where John's preferences had previously focused on somewhat softer, caring women. He dated women in nurturing roles: a teacher, a dental assistant, and even Mary was a nurse. When John discovered Mary's true nature, their marriage suffered an enormous blow.

When the results of the paternity test came back, the bond between them was permanently severed.

That was also a strike against Sherlock: John hated dishonesty. He could forgive a great many faults, and had, over the years, but dishonesty was not among them. Mary's lies, both regarding her past and the infant's paternity, had earned her John's resentment and scorn and ultimately hatred where he had once loved her. And hadn't Sherlock orchestrated one of the greatest deceits of John's life?

He had, he remembered it as though it were yesterday. He remembered it every day and constantly. Sherlock could still hear John shouting his name, ringing in his ears.

He had jumped, and everything else that went with it.

Thus, whatever remains must be the truth: John cared for Sherlock, possibly even cared quite deeply for Sherlock, but would never care for Sherlock the way Sherlock cared for him.

So Sherlock couldn't and didn't trust anything that could have been construed as a sign. Not when Sherlock wanted so fiercely for them to be there. He wanted John's touch to linger, he wanted the air between them to feel heated. He wanted John to want.

There were so many moments Sherlock had pulled himself back from, berating himself, angry and ashamed that he was unable to restrain his emotions. He manufactured experiments to have something to say in the empty spaces, he pretended his phone vibrated when the silent glances dragged on too long, he justified each and every extraneous touch John laid on him as normal, simple acts of friendship and close living quarters.

So he was quite surprised, in the month after the Wright case, by how very quickly things seemed to escalate.

For Sherlock, it began with the hand-holding.

*

Roughly a week after the Wright case, Sherlock immersed himself in a study regarding the growth of dermatophytic onychomycosis under various environmental factors.

Mostly, this involved doing disgusting things to the mugs and then looking at the results under the microscope lens. Sherlock's scientific experiments may have occasionally lacked the stringent standards employed at proper laboratories, but bathtubs under consistent use weren't exactly sterile environments anyway. Better to replicate the standards under which the research would actually be useful, all things considered.

Besides, having diseased toenails out on the table always made John huff and order out for Indian, and Sherlock rather liked the curry John got from Saffron Tandoori.

Sure enough, when John came home from the clinic and took in the sight of Sherlock at the table with the seven sets of toenails and accompanying mugs, he heaved a great, put-upon sigh and gripped the back of one of the kitchen chairs. "Sherlock."

"Mmm."

"Sherlock, what did we agree about using the mugs we drink out of for things other than drinking?"

"I don't believe we agreed to anything at all," Sherlock answered, pointedly not looking up from the microscope. "You expressed your great dislike of my using the mugs for scientific experimentation, which I acknowledged. That acknowledgment was not in any way an agreement to stop using the mugs for scientific purposes when they are the only viable vessel for discovering the growth rates of onychomycosis under certain circumstances."

In fact, there had been an agreement about not using the mugs for things other than drinking, but Sherlock knew if he insisted there hadn't been, John would do the work on his own and convince himself that he'd somehow interpreted that conversation incorrectly. What needs must.

John hung his head for a brief moment as he appeared to be doing just that. "In the future, can I have at least one mug that's off-limits for experiments? I like my tea without the taste of toenails."

Sherlock looked up from the microscope and watched him for a moment, the neat lines of his shoulders, the hint of biceps under his shirt, the pattern of the hair on his crown. "Of course," he said, trying to keep the fondness out of his voice. "I left your RAMC mug in the cupboard."

Okay, so that was a bit obvious, but John lifted his head and beamed at him exactly the way Sherlock thought he would, crinkling the corners of his eyes.

"You're a madman," John said, and he didn't bother keeping the fondness out of his voice. Sherlock ducked his head back to the microscope to hide the flush threatening his cheekbones; that tone always made him feel like his organs had been suddenly rearranged.

It doesn't mean anything, Sherlock reminded himself.

John puttered around with the kettle behind him, making his mug of tea.

But just when Sherlock's organs seemed to have re-aligned themselves back into their original positions, John reached over and slid his fingers into Sherlock's curls, ruffling them, sending shock waves like electricity down Sherlock's limbs and, embarrassingly, straight to his groin. John clearly did not know a single thing about sensitive follicles. He carded his fingers through Sherlock's hair for a few moments, as though putting the curls out of order particularly pleased him.

Sherlock held his breath, praying he wouldn't give himself away.

"Thanks," John said lightly, unaware, twisting a curl in between his forefingers as he took his hand back, before wandering into the sitting room. "Indian tonight?"

*

Four days after the onychomycosis experiment, Sherlock stumbled into an international drug-smuggling ring while investigating the suspicious death of a man and his five cats. It was only after John said, "it's almost as if the cats aren't at all relevant, isn't it?" that Sherlock realized the cats weren't relevant and in fact it had more to do with a cache of tainted cocaine.

John hated having Sherlock on drug cases.

He would never say so, but it was obvious. He became anxious and irritable, with a tightness across his shoulders and around his mouth. Even at Baker Street, in the long stretches of waiting for the next thing to happen, he was up to thirty percent less likely to make tea and a full fifteen percent more likely to yell.

It didn't seem to manifest in a worry that Sherlock would use--he never, for instance, asked Sherlock to roll up his shirt sleeves or went through his sock index while Sherlock showered--but rather it seemed to be an ambiguous concern over Sherlock's general well-being, as though drug smugglers were somehow more dangerous to him than run-of-the-mill serial killers.

Bearing this in mind, Sherlock had to tread carefully through the last stages of taking down the ring, because he had a plan and it was not going to make John happy.

It involved an empty warehouse, John's gun, and Shezza. It did not involve phoning the police.

So it presented a neat little problem: how to involve John Watson without telling him about the details of the plan. He needed to be able to catch the men with a stash of cocaine large enough to implicate the international network behind the London smugglers before they had the chance to destroy it or make off with it. It was a bit sensitive, and after all, Sherlock was not quite the (quick, competent, and decisive) crack shot John would be, if the need arose.

He sent John a text: an address, a time, and "will be dangerous." John did not respond, which meant that the text had more than likely been received and acknowledged and begrudgingly accepted, because when John refused he liked to kick up a fuss and make a show of it. Then it was simply a matter of putting a bit of baby oil in the roots of his hair to make it look unwashed, rubbing a bit of dirt onto his face, and digging out a set of positively filthy clothing from one of his boltholes.

By the time he slipped into the doors of the warehouse, he was no longer Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective. He was Shezza, an addict gone too long between hits, his hands trembling with desperation.

He found the smugglers--three of them, exactly as anticipated--in a far corner of the warehouse, smoking cigarettes and listening to a static-y radio. Sherlock was purposefully noisy as he approached, scraping his feet along the floor, snuffling.

"Gentlemen, we have a customer," a snide voice sounded.

Sherlock wiped his nose on his sleeve and cleared his throat. He made his voice small, slurring out the vowels as best he could. "I-I-I was told, I know a guy, he said to come down here and you could help me."

The group laughed. "Yeah, that's the business we're in, helping people," another said, a barrel-chested man with a mustache that hadn't been in style since 1983.

From there, it was only a matter of some feigned negotiations, baiting the group, waiting for the appearance of a small plastic bag of white powder out of a large locked box filled with similar bags, and--for god's sake, John, be here already--a lunge across the room. He rammed into the mustachioed man, wrestled him to the ground, let himself be overpowered--John, where are you--wrists pinned, joints scraping against the concrete--

"Stop. Now. Let him up."

Sherlock couldn't suppress his smile. He couldn't see John from his position, but he imagined that he currently looked like a be-jumpered teddy holding a handgun. Oh, but this group was in for a surprise.

One of the smugglers, a tall, lithe man, stepped forward, raising his own firearm to meet John's. Expected; every group of international criminals had a gun among them these days. "Who're you? This pissing rat 'ere tried to steal from us," he said, nudging Sherlock's head with his boot while his colleague kept him pinned to the ground. "I think we'll do whatever we like with 'im."

"I'll give you to the count of three," John offered. The group laughed. "One."

Sherlock's captor shifted his weight, laying his forearm across Sherlock's windpipe.

"Two."

The third smuggler rose to his feet and fiddled with his jacket, probably pulling out a knife.

"Three."

There was a pause.

John fired.

For a brief moment, a forearm crushed into Sherlock's neck, robbing him of his breath, but in the next second he was rolling away. Someone was screaming and shouting. The man who had had the gun was on the floor, clutching his hand to his chest.

"Hmm," John frowned. "I missed the finger I was aiming for."

Sherlock hauled himself to his feet. John looked amazing: gun in hand, face trained into passive disinterest, forest green cardigan. "Shame," he said, breathlessly apathetic. "We'll have to arrange for some additional practice."

The thing about seeing a colleague's finger shot off by a short man in a cardigan is that it tends to subdue a person, even if the finger in question was not the intended target. They each put up a minimum of fuss when John pointed the gun at them again and asked them to please put their hands behind their backs and wait for Sherlock with a few sets of handcuffs appropriated from New Scotland Yard.

From there, it took another two hours to wade through the mess of calling the police, giving statements, and deflecting paramedics, before John and Sherlock finally spilled together out of the warehouse.

"Here, hang on a minute," John said as they trundled past the exit doors. From the shadows, he produced a large black bin bag. "Noticed you'd left this. Thought you might want it. It's too cold in January to go without."

He reached in and first pulled out Sherlock's navy cashmere scarf. Instead of holding it out for him to take, John reached up himself and twisted it around Sherlock's neck, his fingers pausing for a moment on the fringe to make sure it was artfully arranged.

Sherlock's breath was coming in short and he didn't think it had anything to do with the barrel-chested man's forearm having been on his windpipe two hours prior.

"John," he said, although he had no idea what was meant to come after that.

John didn't answer. He only reached back into the bin bag and pulled out Sherlock's coat. "Take off that jacket, now, it's disgusting."

Sherlock did, though he oddly did not feel his hands moving. John held up the coat so Sherlock could turn and shimmy his arms into it. He settled it onto Sherlock's shoulders and rested a hand on his shoulder blade. "That was brilliant, you know that? Mad, but brilliant."

John was a considerate human being. He was a doctor, a caretaker by nature. Sherlock wasn't special--taking care of people was something John did nearly without thinking. He badgered Sherlock constantly about the mundane things, the sleeping and eating and yes, apparently, even whether he remembered his coat.

It doesn't mean anything at all.

*

He thought, later that night as he unfurled his scarf from his neck, thinking about the look on John's face when he'd wrapped it there to begin with, that he might possibly be going crazy.

Because in the cab on the way home, John had pressed their thighs together and looked at him with something akin to desire and Sherlock's stomach had tripped over itself in shock.

But that was impossible.

Remember the truth.

*

The truth is an amorphous and unpredictable thing.

It was half-two in the morning and Sherlock had been lying on the sofa for hours, thinking, searching. The drug smuggling case had been over for days and this was the first interesting thing to come into the inbox in weeks. It was a fantastic story about an unsolved disappearance now thirty years old, a locked safe buried in a swamp in Louisiana, and a skeleton key.

It had all the trappings of an Anne Rice novel, but the client had passed a rigorous background check (courtesy of MI6--Mycroft owed him a favour) so Sherlock took it on.

It was only a mind game, really. The crime scene, if there really was one, was decades old, and the suspects long since dead. He had only the information the client had e-mailed to him and although the record was extensive, he couldn't actually be sure of anything. Was the original police report accurate? Were the original witnesses credible? Not to mention the total lack of forensics done thirty years ago in Louisiana.

Three hours ago John had nudged his shoulder until Sherlock opened his eyes, and then promptly presented him with an egg and a piece of toast with a glass of orange juice. He checked the clock. "It's nearly midnight."

John had nodded. "You haven't eaten anything all day and all you had last night was an egg roll. No, don't try to lie to me, there weren't any new dishes in the sink and we both know you wouldn't wash them and put them away if you'd had anything."

That was a decent deduction. Sherlock had frowned.

"Is there tea? Eating this late is only going to make me tired."

"If you finish that orange juice. It'll even out your blood sugar." John had sat in his armchair, turned a little toward him, and folded his arms. Just another bit of care-taking, like bringing along his coat the week before.

Sherlock had eaten, telling John about the experiment he'd like to run about the corrosive effects of Louisiana swamp water on various materials between bites, and John had grinned and said, quite firmly, "There will be no swamp water in this flat as long as I'm here."

That more or less settled it: Sherlock would have to appropriate a lab room at Bart's.

After Sherlock had cleared his plate and finished the juice, John made him a cup of tea and Sherlock settled back onto the couch to continue thinking through the case.

But the orange juice had made his lips a bit sticky, making it very difficult to concentrate. He caught himself distracted, twice, wondering how different the lingering taste of orange juice was when tasting it from inside another person's mouth. He wondered how tea would taste in someone else's mouth.

Without a doubt, not an experiment John would consent to.

Sherlock turned, facing into the sofa. Half-two. If he wanted to make this an all-nighter, he was going to need more tea. Eating that late always made him tired. He would need some tea.

Just as he resolved to make coffee instead, he was pulled out of sleep--sleep, he'd fallen asleep--by a gentle pressure in his hair, right beside his temple. There was something larger and warmer than him standing where his back faced out to the room and then there was a blanket being pulled over his legs, but he was too drowsy to turn and confront whoever it was and besides it was cozy and comfortable and whoever it was anyway was making it more cozy and comfortable, so who cared.

Except then a hand smoothed away the hair from his face, and there was that gentle pressure again and this time Sherlock recognized it for what it was: a kiss, dropped into his curls.

I've gone insane, Sherlock thought, or I'm still dreaming, because the hand and the smell and the larger-warmer-feeling all belonged to John.

John, who was a care-taker but not, all told, a particularly physically demonstrative individual. John, who in the last month had held his hand and played with his hair and brought him his coat and who now kissed him on the head, was not the sort of man who plied his acquaintances with such performances. He was more of a brisk-handshake sort of man. This behavior simply didn't comport with what Sherlock knew about John.

He'd certainly never done anything like that before to Sherlock.

"Good night, Sherlock," the person-who-couldn't-be-John said very quietly, in John's voice.

Sherlock kept his eyes closed, but pressed his face back into the cushion to hide his wild smile. If it was a dream, it was a good one, and he wanted to keep it as long as he could.

*

It was maddening.

Sherlock spent half the time positively floating on the wings of possibility, remembering every lingering touch and shared laugh. The other half the time he felt suffocated, smothered under the weight of his traitorous emotions, this sentiment that John would find so off-putting. It wasn't possible to have anything more. He needed to stop wanting it.

He wished John would stop it, these little touches and long glances and affectionate words, would see what it was doing to Sherlock and just stop, because Sherlock didn't have the strength to ask him to.

John persisted, though, and in the month since the Wright case, Sherlock lived with a handful of chrysalides attaching their cremastral hooks in his stomach and large intestines: a delicate, fluttering feeling, cautiously undergoing metamorphosis into something bigger, preparing to take flight.

*

All of which culminated in John Watson, standing in the kitchen of 221B, softly kissing Sherlock.

John was solid and warm and real and kissing Sherlock.

It was nothing like flying. Sherlock had done the flying thing: stretched out his arms and taken the leap, lodging his stomach in his throat. No, this was something else entirely.

This was more like crescendo: the build and build and build and instruments joining in until the entire orchestra was loudly proclaiming that music was alive and well and so too was Sherlock. His ribcage was a cacophony of percussion in six-eight time and John was kissing him.

John tasted like orange juice.

And his lips were a bit dry.

And he hadn't shaved since yesterday.

And it was incredible.

"What?" Sherlock asked against John's mouth, muffled, which was not a question that really made sense but which was the one that slipped out.

He felt it when the corners of John's lips tugged into a grin against his own. "Are you surprised?" John responded. Teasing? It hardly mattered; John was kissing him again and what a perfectly inadequate word that was for the movement of mouths and the sly swipe of John's tongue against his bottom lip before breaking away.

Sherlock blinked, once, twice, and took a step back to lean against the worktop for support.

So that's what he meant by the hand-holding, Sherlock thought, a bit stupidly, as he stared at the totally unpredictable person in front of him.

John was flushed, a bit of red creeping up his neck and curling around the tops of his ears. He sort of half-grinned, rubbed a hand along the back of his head, licked his lips: the quintessential John Watson tells for nervousness mixed with excitement, sudden shyness mixed with courage.

"Is that . . . " John began. He cleared his throat. "Is that alright?"

"Alright?" Sherlock repeated, incredulous. "It's obviously alright. But I don't, er. That is to say, you are. Interested?"

John let out the breath he'd been holding, his grin growing wider. "Course, of course I am. Interested. In you. How can you not have seen it?"

"You are. In a non-platonic relationship?"

He laughed. "Right. Yeah, I'm interested in everything. All of it. Being together. Bit of romance. The kissing, yeah, and uh. Sex? If you are, that is."

Sherlock had the sudden vision of what John might look like with that shirt unbuttoned, leaning back onto his sheets, that grin sliding toward wicked, and suppressed a strangled sort of noise. "You're not gay," he said reflexively, and immediately wished he hadn't, because seriously, why did he have to bring that up just now?

But John did not seem deterred. "No," he agreed amicably, as if that were not a rather pointed obstacle to what interested-in-everything constituted. "I'm not. But it's not black and white, people aren't always, you know, one or the other. And I thought, if I don't just get on with it and stop worrying about what to call it, I'm going to miss out, and I have done, you know, and I don't want to anymore. So, yeah, okay. Yeah. I know what I want, and it's you, as much of you as I can possibly have, all of it. And whatever that makes me, okay. I'm that."

Sherlock stared.

It couldn't really be that simple. Nothing was ever that simple.

And yet. John's face was broad and open, smiling gently, waiting for a response, lifted towards Sherlock's, seeking eye contact. His voice had not wavered, his hands did not tremble, his shoulders did not curve inwards. He was strong, confident.

John wanted him. All of him. All of it.

Sherlock held out his hand.