John’s phone was buzzing. When he cracked open one eye, he saw that it was threatening to vibrate clear off the bedside table. He grunted and tried to reach for it, only to find that he was completely restricted from any movement at all. Sherlock had taken up the entire bed, had even crowded him to one edge, but all four of his limbs were locked tight around John’s body. Sherlock lay half atop him, face mashed between his shoulder blades, the deceptive weight of his whipcord body successfully pinning him to the mattress. John let out a distressed gurgle.
“Sherlock, let me get my phone.”
A grunt. A tighter entanglement.
“It could be important.”
“It’s half ten on a Thursday morning,” Sherlock replied, voice dark and rumbly. “If the surgery wanted you, you would have been called hours ago. If it’s Harry, she’ll be hungover and desirous of alternately sobbing into your ear and verbally assaulting you for imaginary trespasses. If it’s a wrong number, I will have gone cold for no reason. Let it go to voice mail.”
With a resigned sigh, John let himself go slack, and in turn Sherlock loosened his grip but took the opportunity to snuffle into the nape of John’s neck. The phone stilled, and after a long moment during which John’s eyes drooped back down and all he could feel was Sherlock’s humid breath on his neck, there was a loud beep. He had a voice mail.
“Leave it,” Sherlock mumbled over his pulse point. A hand crept down John’s chest and settled over the bit of extra that had gathered about his navel in the year since he’d been invalided. John tensed, but he felt Sherlock’s body slump against his, content.
Directly after a case, Sherlock was always more amenable to sleep. And John did so love to indulge him.
The voice mail, it turned out, was from Mike Stamford, informing John that some of their old mates from Bart’s were in town for a conference — trauma surgery, and Mike was being circumspect in not specifying, but John wasn’t so out of the loop that he hadn’t heard it was on — and they were getting together for a pint or five this evening if he’d like to join them.
John set his phone down beside his cup of tea when Mike wrapped up an awkward voice mail goodbye. The toast sprung up and John retrieved it, but paused at the butter. Dry toast didn’t appeal to him; he settled for half his usual portion and sat back down before spreading it across the surface of the bread. It barely reached crust to crust. “Must buy margarine,” he muttered.
So, the lads were back in London. Other than Mike, he’d not seen them since they’d been loosed from their residencies. He’d last heard Nigel had landed himself head of neurosurgery in some shiny hospital in Wiltshire, while Chapman hied off to Manchester following another one of their classmates, Veronica Mulligan, who had family up that way. As for Dennis, John had no idea what he’d managed to make of himself, the barmy tosser.
Suddenly he felt a sharp longing for people he’d not thought of in years, and then, hot on the heels of that thoroughly irrational pang, a wave of disquiet overtook him. John wasn’t a surgeon anymore; he was barely a doctor, diagnosing sniffles and the natural progression of old age when he was diagnosing at all. And he hadn’t thrown a ball around for ages. He spent most of his time chasing a brilliant madman around London, content to be his Boswell — and he felt vibrant, alive, young and hale when he did it.
John shook his head to clear it, and Sherlock chose that moment to saunter into the kitchen, satin dressing gown open to reveal the willowy stretch of his naked body underneath. He scraped a hand through the wild mess of his hair, then plopped down beside John and swung his head round to look at him with imploring eyes. John huffed out a noisy sigh and stood to put more bread in the toaster and pour another cup of tea.
“So what inspired such vigorous woolgathering?” Sherlock asked when John set the mug in front of him. John pressed his lips together.
“Can’t you deduce it for yourself?” he asked. “Or would that be beneath your notice, like tea and toast?”
Sherlock blinked and drew back. He turned away from John and lifted his cup, but he held it at his lips and didn’t drink. Everything in John’s stomach flipped over.
“Sorry, I’m sorry,” he said, pulling his chair in closer to Sherlock’s. Sherlock’s gaze skittered back to him for a moment before settling some middle distance straight ahead. “Some old friends of mine are having a bit of a get together and I was wondering what I even have in common with any of them anymore.”
“I knew it was the voice mail,” Sherlock said, “but I didn’t have enough other evidence.”
John smoothed a hand down the back of Sherlock’s head before letting it come to rest on his neck.
“I shouldn’t have snapped,” he said. “I’m just a grumpy bugger, pay me no mind.”
Sherlock glanced up at him, a small, crooked smile rearranging his face. He raised his mug and let it clink against John’s.
“No bother,” he said.
John darted in and landed a kiss on the side of Sherlock’s nose. He could feel Sherlock’s mouth stretching wide to accommodate the grin he couldn’t contain.
“You’re going,” Sherlock said when John sat back. “You want to see them again, even though you’re apprehensive. Two of them, not including Mike — no, three, and you’re surprised to find yourself missing even the arsehole of the lot.”
The clack of the toaster punctuated Sherlock’s deductions and John fetched the bread and butter without grumbling.
“Spot on, as ever, Sherlock,” he said. He picked up his own neglected toast and shoved a corner into his mouth.
“‘Everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia,’” Sherlock quoted, and John cocked his head to level a fond smile at him. He could never quite suss out what Sherlock knew, what he’d read, what he considered worthy of taking residence in that dirty great brain of his. Apparently the solar system was out, but philosophical fiction about the vagaries of love and the human condition was in. He watched Sherlock scrape a generous dollop of butter onto each slice and then wait for it to melt before spreading it. When Sherlock slouched like that, he created the illusion of having a modest belly complete with dear little rolls, but eventually he’d straighten or get up and be all devastating flat planes again. John’s ruminations were disrupted by a twitch of the quiescent prick nestled below the belly in question. “Why my dear John, I do believe you’re flirting with me.”
John laughed and turned his gaze back to Sherlock’s face, which was schooled into an expression of exaggerated innocence with a dash of scandal, right hand splayed on his collarbone as if to clutch some pearls.
“Woolgathering again, I’m afraid,” John admitted. “But you are terribly distracting when you wander around like that, in just your dressing gown. A man can only take so much.”
Sherlock pushed his chair back from the table and let his legs fall open and the dressing gown slip from his shoulders. The slow spread of his mouth into a wicked, toothy grin lit John’s blood more than the body laid bare before him. He sank to his knees like a supplicant and Sherlock buried a hand in his hair with a groan.
“‘The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it,’” he murmured. John flicked his eyes up to meet Sherlock’s, which had darkened to a clear green. A splash of pink had interrupted the pallor of Sherlock’s cheeks, and his bow lips had parted to accommodate the sudden shallowness of his breath. John’s heart shuddered and his cock filled, and he pushed his nose into the line of hair beneath Sherlock’s navel. He felt Sherlock use his other hand to stroke across his shoulders, and John endeavoured to be as close to him as possible, to be singular in communion with his lover.
Thankfully, Mike had chosen a sleepy pub masquerading as a restaurant in West Smithfield, not far from Bart’s but unfashionable enough to put off students and other crowd-makers — they were not the young men they had once been, and John, for one, could no longer tolerate loud hordes in a crush while he tried to enjoy a pint. He made his way around the pub until he found them at a back room table, unencumbered by other customers.
“Oi, look who’s here!” Chapman stood, and God, John had forgotten the blinding nature of his grin and how bloody stout he felt standing near that gangly frame — 6’4’’ if he was an inch, but not much broader than a beanpole. Where once he’d had a carefully coiffed puff of hair, he now wore it in thin, neat dreadlocks, tied back. He looked quite dashing, but then again, he always had. John didn’t even get out a greeting or a glance at the rest of them before Chapman had him smothered in a bearish embrace befitting rugby players. John wasted his last breath on laughter and locked his arms around Chapman’s ribs to squeeze him too hard in turn. There were laughs round the table, and cheers, and the clink of glasses.
Finally Chapman released him with a thump to his back, and a big hand closed over his to give a robust shake.
“Nige,” John said in greeting. He couldn’t seem to stop smiling, and neither could Nigel, who’d gone silver haired and soft round the middle, but looked as powerful and self-possessed as ever, as if he owned everything they could set their eyes on. He looked exceedingly well. “You utter wanker.”
“Johnny, you total prick.”
Laughs and back thumps and John sat down just in time for the waitress to come for his order.
“Guinness as usual, Johnny boy?” Dennis asked from across the table, hand in a basket of chips. His hairline had receded well behind his ears and he kept what was left closely shorn, a rusty fuzz. By the flush of his nose and the half-mast droop of his eyelids, John could tell he’d already had a few, while the others were likely working on their first. John favoured him with half an absent smile before he craned his neck to look up at the server.
“Sure, Guinness is fine, thanks,” he said. The waitress nodded and then she was gone.
“So,” Dennis said with a clap of his hands. He threw his elbow to the side and caught Mike in the ribs. “Mike’s been telling tales of Dr. Watson, war hero. Can you set the record straight? Don’t lie, now — you were sitting on your arse in some posh hospital in Northern Ireland bandaging skinned knees, am I right?”
John drawled out an inarticulate nonverbal sound, eyes wide, and he saw Mike shaking his head in a bizarre hummingbird-type series of movements: rapid to the point of frantic, but not moving overmuch. He was trying to signal John without signalling Dennis. But of course Mike wouldn’t have said anything; Dennis was full of shite, as usual, and John tapped Mike’s ankle beneath the table to let him know. He calmed and sent John a grateful look before mouthing “cheers, mate,” and lifting his glass to him.
“Den, have you ever tried not being a complete prat?” Chapman reached one of those impossible arms across the table and cuffed him about the ear.
“No, it’s been working out for me so far,” Dennis said with a cheeky grin that had once been charming to a certain set of sad women who seemed exclusively attracted to arseholes.
“That so, Den?” John asked. “Popular bloke at home, then? Married?” Dennis scowled while the rest of them dissolved into gales of laughter. “Two point three kids, house in the country?”
John’s pint arrived and he took a long draw, then wiped at the foam leavings with the back of his hand. Nigel shifted at the head of the table and smiled in the indolent, proprietary way he had.
“Dennis here is twice-divorced and shooting blanks,” he said. Snickers rose up around the table.
“Yes, yes, I am an ugly bastard, but I make more money than God,” Dennis declared, and raised his glass high as if to the man himself before draining it and slamming the glass back down on the table. “What about you, Nige? Tell Johnny what happened to your pretty wife.”
“Oi,” Mike interjected. “We’re here to have a good time, catch up. No need to get nasty, Den, Christ.”
Beside him, John caught the shake of Chapman’s head, and he produced his wallet from his back pocket.
“Well I’ve got a great wife,” he said, “and two girls.” He slid a picture, a bit battered around the edges, towards John. John picked it up. A familiar dark-haired woman with delicate bone structure and bright blue eyes had her arms around a small child and a toddler, beautiful and wild-haired both.
“Veronica Mulligan,” John said, and Chapman was smiling that smile again, the one that eclipsed everything else in the room.
“Yeah,” he said, sounding both smitten and chuffed.
“You lucky shit,” John said and slapped him on the back. “Always knew it’d work out for you, mate.”
“Aye, Chappie here always had good taste,” Mike said. “As I recall, you even stepped out with my Anjali once or twice before she decided she could no longer resist my charms.”
More laughter and Mike and Chapman reached over the table to knock their glasses together.
“There’s no competing with your raw animal prowess, Stamford,” Chapman said, and Mike dipped forward in a gracious bow. “A body needs to know when he’s outclassed so he can pack it in with some semblance of grace.”
“Of course, of course,” Mike said.
“Got kids, Mike?” Chapman prompted.
“Oh, aye,” Mike replied. He fished for his own wallet. “Just the one boy, I’m afraid.” The picture was passed around of a solemn little boy around six years old, small with wispy black hair and big, luminous brown eyes— he favoured Mike’s wife in looks, and privately, John thought it a blessing. “Name’s Arthur.”
“Good lad,” John said. He’d met him once when Mike brought him to Bart’s to pick something up. Quiet little thing, but clearly the apple of his father’s eye. Nigel peered at the picture intently.
“Got a few myself,” he said. “Thirteen, nine and four, all boys.”
“Blood hell, Nige, you’d have had the first while we were still at Bart’s,” Mike said, aghast. “You never said.”
Nigel shrugged and took a draw of his pint.
“Not much to say, really,” he said. “Knocked a bird up, see the kid twice a year. All around shite situation, really.”
“Got himself a real family in no time, anyway,” Dennis put in. Nigel reached around Mike and thumped Dennis hard on the neck.
“Watch yourself, Den, or you’ll get home black and blue,” he said.
“Can any of you buggers remember why we invited this turd?” Chapman asked with a wave of one big hand.
“Alright, alright,” John piped up with a quelling gesture of both his hands. “Shut it. We invited Dennis because every circle of friends has to have a punter around to make us look better, and he’s ours, right?” Dennis flicked two fingers at him. “Now how ’bout another round?”
“Here, here,” Chapman said, and contorted enough to peer behind him into the other room and signal the waitress.
“What about you, Johnny?” Nigel asked. “Whatever happened with that lovely chit you had — what was her name? Mary? You were pretty serious about her, as I recall.”
“Oh.” John blinked. He’d not thought of Mary since the early days of his deployment. “That’s been over for, Christ, eight years. Turns out, she didn’t much fancy marrying me.”
Chapman sent him a frown of sympathy.
“It happens to the best of us, mate,” he said. “Anyway, the ladies always liked John Watson even if they towered over him in heels.” He bumped John’s shoulder, and John sent him a rueful half smile before he met the twinkle in Mike’s eye. Sherlock. John nodded at Mike and drew himself up.
“As it happens, lads, I’m quite well settled, thanks.” He poured the rest of his pint down his throat to ease the flutter in the vicinity of his diaphragm. He’d never had to explain Sherlock and Sherlock’s decided maleness to anyone from his life BS — Before Sherlock. He wasn’t in contact with almost anyone from then, other than Harry, and she was too wrapped up in herself to notice her baby brother’s newfound appreciation for the male form. Even Mike, whose acquaintance he now had only because of the occasional professional overlap at Bart’s, had taken the “news” with aplomb and never remarked upon it. He was a good bloke, Mike Stamford. Anyway, John wasn’t ashamed or anything so preposterous, he was just… wary.
“Yeah?” Nigel arched an imperious brow at him. “Wedding pending, though?” He nodded at John’s bare ring finger. “What’s she like then? Drop dead gorgeous, I imagine — I never knew how you managed to pull those perfect women, John, tetchy little wanker like you.”
It was Nigel’s turn to get thumped. He hissed and rubbed at his shoulder when John’s blow landed.
“Army training, mate,” John said, one shoulder lifted in half-hearted apology. “And yeah, drop dead gorgeous, just my type.”
Another round of pints showed up and they occupied themselves draining their previous glasses. John thought he was off the hook, but, as ever, Dennis happened.
“So come on, Johnny boy, we want stats. I’m talking bra size, measurements, does the carpet match the drapes, the whole deal.”
“Bloody hell,” Chapman muttered, and Nigel rolled his eyes.
“This is why your wives leave you, Dennis,” Mike said. He turned back to John and leaned in just a bit. “You don’t have to listen to this arsehole, John. Anyway, we haven’t even talked rugby yet.”
“No, no, Mike. It’s fine.” John met Dennis’s eyes straight on. “Stats — about six foot, I’d say, black hair, curly, gigantic brain and no tits to speak of, but really, a fantastic cock.”
The table was silent. Dennis’s thin gash of a mouth went colourless even as his ruddy face flushed further. Nigel glanced at Mike, who watched John with a curious mixture of compassion and admiration. Beside him, John could see the beginnings of Chapman’s smile.
“You’re taking the piss,” Dennis said at last. “Fine, I won’t ask about your bird anymore. Bloody rugby it is.”
“Oh, I’m not taking the piss, Den,” John said. Adrenaline had made his breath quick, and he pushed down the jangle of nerves to tell the truth without a quaver in his voice. “I imagine he’s a lifelong affliction, Sherlock Holmes, and one I’m quite happy to have. I’ve nothing to hide.” He took the first draw of his new pint without breaking eye contact. Dennis did, scowling into his own lager.
“Good lad,” Chapman said and slapped John on the back again.
“Hold on here,” Nigel said, holding his hands up as if to stop traffic. “You’re telling me that you, John Watson, notorious puller of every beautiful woman in the greater London area, have defected to the bum brigade?”
“Now see here, Nigel—” Mike began, straightening as if preparing for battle.
“Come off it, you tosser,” Chapman chimed in. “I swear you’re as bad as Dennis half the time.”
“Not every beautiful woman,” John said. Hell, he’d barely slept with ten the entire time he was at Bart’s, and once he’d met Mary, that was the end of the parade for him. “I think your memory’s gone wonky in your old age, mate.”
“The question stands,” Nigel said. “How does that even work, John?”
John sighed and tried to think of what to say, but Dennis decided to fill the silence.
“Yeah, Johnny boy. I’d like to know too. What, did you just wake up one day and say to yourself, ‘sure would like a nice fat prick up my arse today’?”
Chapman slapped a hand over his face and groaned. Mike muttered an uncharacteristic curse under his breath and shifted away from Dennis. Even Nigel shook his head, expression darkening.
“That is not what anyone’s thinking, mate, not even this arsehole,” Nigel said. “He’s just trying to get a rise out of you, as always.”
John clenched his jaw. “That’s the thing, isn’t it?” he said after a tense, hot moment passed in silence. “The fundamental difference between telling people you’re in a same sex relationship and telling people you’re in a heterosexual one: people automatically think about what the queers do in bed and then pass judgement on whatever wild imaginings they’ve conjured. Christ, Den, do you have any idea how insulting that is? How demeaning?”
“Look, I’m just trying to understand—”
“Try harder,” Chapman said. “Besides, you weren’t this much of a shit when we saw old Chas Raleigh at the conference earlier, and he’s gay as a picnic basket.”
“Wasn’t this pissed, either,” Mike added.
Dennis rolled his shoulders inward and looked small. He wouldn’t meet John’s eyes.
“Yeah well,” he said. “Chas Raleigh’s always been gay, hasn’t he? Nothing new there. I just want to know how a formerly straight bloke goes from pussy to prick with nary a break in his step.”
“Well, I’m sure it wasn’t easy, Den, for Christ’s sake,” Chapman said. “And what’s to say Johnny’s not one of England’s great bisexuals? In any case, the whole business isn’t ours to mind, now is it?” He turned to John. “Now how ’bout that game last Friday, eh John?” He tapped their glasses, and John felt the brittle smile on his face melt into something that felt better. The tension in his chest eased.
“No, I’ll answer the question,” John said. Suddenly, it seemed very important that they know the truth of it. “Wouldn’t want either of these old bastards to expire of curiosity, now would I?”
“I would like to state for the record that I am wildly ashamed to be seen in public with such wankers,” Mike said, glass raised.
“Noted, Stamford.” John grinned at him. “Gentlemen, the answer is simple.” He raised his glass and clinked it against Mike’s. “I fell in love.”
John was well and truly pissed when he arrived back at 221b some time after midnight. After the initial hiccup of his revelation, things smoothed out and they got to talking about rugby and the old days and hideous surgeries they’d performed, and Dennis even managed to refrain from accusing John of secretly lusting after any one of them. They’d parted with a sloppy group hug that turned into a sloppy scrum, and they all made empty promises to email each other. One by one they got into cabs and went their separate ways.
“Sherlock!” John called up the stairs. Then, in an exaggerated whisper, “Shh, Mrs. Hudson’s sleeping.” He tiptoed into his own flat and closed the door behind him. Sherlock was on the sofa and appeared to be cleaning his friend the skull with a shammy. He was clad in pyjama pants, a t-shirt and the ubiquitous blue dressing gown.
“John,” he said without looking up from his task. “You’re inebriated. Come here, my feet are cold.”
John shuffled over and let Sherlock rearrange himself so his bony white feet were pressed into John’s belly underneath his shirt and jumper. John clasped his hands over them and held them there through his layers. Sherlock’s feet were indeed quite cold, but John found he liked the bulby little pads of those toes curling into his alcohol-heated skin.
“Just tipsy,” John whispered.
Finally Sherlock looked at him from beneath his lashes. “Of course,” he drawled.
“Hey. Hey.” John tapped at Sherlock’s ankle until he tipped his face up again. “I told the lads about you. Told them how brilliant and gorgeous you are, and they were all jealous.”
Sherlock smirked. “I’m sure you had to beat Mike off with a stick,” he said.
John batted Sherlock’s icy feet away, pushed his legs open and crawled on top of him until he was sprawled face first on Sherlock’s chest.
“Yes, I did, and I won.”
John couldn’t see anything with his eyes smushed into Sherlock’s pectorals, but Sherlock shifted and John heard the clank of the skull being set down on the table. Then Sherlock’s arms were around him, tight and warm, fingers sifting through his hair.
“I’m glad,” Sherlock said quietly.
“Do you ever think about it?” John asked.
“What, Mike Stamford? No, never, not in a million years, thank you very much, John.”
John propped himself up and peered into Sherlock’s incredulous face. “No, no, not that. I mean why me. The why of us, together.”
“I have never known you to be a maudlin drunk, John,” Sherlock said. He softened the words by rubbing down John’s back.
“I’m not maudlin. I’m just… unsure, sometimes, why you want me. I’m not like you, you know.”
“And if you were, surely we’d have burned London down to rubble by now, and then where would we solve crime?”
John smiled and leaned into a kiss, or fell into it, depending on one’s point of view. Sherlock let him plunder his mouth with haphazard kisses before he pulled back.
“They weren’t envious, your friends,” Sherlock told him. “They were sceptical, and then they — they gave you a bit of shit about it.”
John swallowed and sat upright, and Sherlock followed.
“I wasn’t ashamed,” John said. “I was proud.”
John’s vision went a bit bleary, and he felt tired. Sherlock’s spindly hand took his own.
“Let’s go to bed, John,” Sherlock said, and tugged him along behind him up the stairs.
Sherlock undressed him in silence, with exaggerated care. They were left naked and looking at each other, Sherlock long and lean, muscles sleek and hip bones sharp, John soft and short and arseless before him. John wanted to feel the expanse of all that buttermilk flesh against him, wanted to merge with this fey creature before it slipped away from him forever.
“Touch me,” John whispered, and pulled Sherlock’s hands to his chest. “Touch me, touch me, touch me.”
Sherlock pulled his hands from John’s grip and stepped toward him, cupping his face.
“Have sex with me,” John murmured. “I need you.”
“You have me, John Watson.”
“I am, John, I am.”
Sherlock folded John into his embrace and bore him down onto the bed. He plastered them together, nose to nose, chest to chest, convex to concave, flaccid penis to flaccid penis, thigh to thigh. He held on tight. He didn’t let go.
Just before he dropped off to sleep, John heard Sherlock slip into his ear one more recitation: “‘If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than because he was he, and I was I.’”
John would not remember it when he woke, and Sherlock would not remind him.