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Paparazzi

 

John cranes his head around to look not behind him but, as Sherlock has taught him, into the reflection of a nearby car window. “Don’t look back,” he says, facing forward again, still walking, tightening his grip on his latte. “They’re still there.”

Sherlock makes a sound of frustration, the lines framing his chin deepening. “Paparazzi,” he says with disgust, as though the word leaves a film of filth on his tongue. “Let’s get a taxi.”

“It’s eight blocks,” John protests. “And they’ll catch up and surround us the moment we stop.”

“It’s eight blocks to Baker Street,” Sherlock counters, ignoring the latter argument. “Who says we’re going home?”

“Aren’t we?” John takes a sip, still walking quickly.

Sherlock glances at him, a hint of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Hungry?”

John is hungry; he’s forgotten all about dinner as the case wound up. Art heist involving a Japanese smuggling ring; at least this one was interesting. Sherlock has been complaining of boredom and the unimaginative and petty level of crime in London of late. “Starving,” he says, and his grin fights its way to the surface. How could he have forgotten? They always go out after a case is solved.

“Good,” Sherlock says briskly, but John thinks he looks pleased. He stops abruptly and raises an arm. A taxi begins to pull over but can’t get past the car in front to edge fully into the proper lane.

As John predicted, the reporters catch up within ten seconds of their having stopped.

“Dr Watson! Mr Holmes, a word, if we might?” one tries, immediately shoving a furry microphone into John’s face while someone else points an even larger one at Sherlock’s.

“No comment,” John says instantly, hoping to forestall the question. He looks at the taxi; it’s still stuck.

“Mr Holmes,” a reporter begins, holding out a recording device inches from Sherlock’s face. “It’s been a month since Dr Watson moved back in – you must be happy about that!”

John doesn’t usually let them get so close to Sherlock if he can help it. He pushes the recording device away and inserts himself between Sherlock and the eight or nine, which at this distance feels like a mob. “Back off, please,” he says, barely masking his frustration.

“What’s it like?” Another one, undaunted, herds even closer just over Sherlock’s right shoulder, neatly avoiding John. “Are you two back to normal? Just as close as you were before Dr Watson’s divorce?”

Sherlock says nothing, as is his custom. Before John can open his mouth to tell the lot of them off, a woman in a particularly eye-wateringly bright blue blazer gets off her own question to him: “What was the real reason for the divorce, Dr Watson? Are the rumours of the child’s parentage true?”

“Yes, the baby was dark-skinned,” John says dryly. “She could hardly have been mine, could she?”

This draws most of the attention from Sherlock. Several jaws drop and suddenly all the furry mics are in his face alone. “Who’s the father?” one of the men asks.

“You’d have to ask my ex-wife. I wasn’t there,” John says, almost snarling. “Please excuse us.”

“And what about the rumours about the two of you?” the same man asks, unrelenting.

“The ones regarding the nature of your relationship,” a female near the front supplies helpfully, her microphone nudging forward. “Any truth to that? The speculation has been thick for years, and now that you’re living together once again – ”

“Look,” John says loudly. “We are friends. And that’s all. How many times do we have to tell you this? Every single time we’re stopped on the street, someone has to bring this up. We’re friends. Nothing more. Do I make myself quite clear?”

“John,” Sherlock says quietly, from behind him.

John turns and sees that the taxi is waiting. “Excuse us,” he says abruptly, and Sherlock makes him go first, allowing him to get away from the swarm before sliding into the car after him and pulling the door firmly closed.

“Antonio’s,” Sherlock says to the driver, and that’s it for the duration of the drive. His face is closed and impassive, eyes directed at the glass of the windows rather than at John, and John decides to leave him alone. Sherlock is good at signalling when he doesn’t wish to speak, and as John would prefer to share the taxi and the fare both, he’s learned to zip it when Sherlock gets like this. He’ll likely thaw again over dinner. He usually does.

***

Later, at home, John is brushing his teeth. The door to Sherlock’s bedroom is open and he can hear the sounds of fabric rustling lightly as Sherlock changes for bed. When he’s finished that, he comes to stand in the doorway behind John, wearing his old blue dressing gown over his pyjamas, the one that John secretly likes the best, arms folded across his chest.

“Why do you keep telling them that?” Sherlock asks.

Their eyes meet in the mirror. John frowns at him in it, trying to figure out what he’s talking about. (Oh. Is this about the reporters? Maybe.) “Wha - ?” he asks around his toothbrush. “’At we’re ’ust friends?” He bends and spits out the toothpaste, running the cold water and rinsing his mouth. When he straightens up, he sees that Sherlock hasn’t moved, still waiting for an answer. So that was the right question, then.

“You could just not say anything,” Sherlock says quietly.

John feels and sees his brows furrow. “Do you really think that would help?” he asks. “They’re never going to leave us alone, you realise.”

Sherlock’s mouth purses slightly. He looks down at the floor for a moment, then says, “It was just a thought. Say what you like.” He retreats from the doorway into his bedroom.

John makes a confused face at himself in the mirror. (What the hell was that all about?) He rubs a hand over his cheek and decides his stubble can wait until the morning. It’s not as though he’s about to kiss anyone. His pillow has yet to complain. He stows his toothbrush in the cup where they always put their toothbrushes and remembers coming over here when he was still living with Mary and seeing Sherlock’s blue toothbrush all by itself. He likes it that his old red one is there keeping it company again, each toothbrush leaning against its own side of the glass, the way tulips do when you put them in a vase. One was lonely. Two can keep each other company. Sherlock was lonely without him. And something about this is still bothering him. John goes to the doorway and leans an elbow against it, above his head. Sherlock is sitting on the side of his bed, changing the bandaging on the cut he received on a bit of chain link fence during a foot chase yesterday.

“Do you want me to just refuse to comment?” John asks. Obviously if Sherlock brought it up, he’s not happy about it, somehow. “I can, if you really think it would help.”

Sherlock shrugs; he’s gone non-communicative. “Do as you like,” he repeats.

John stays where he is. After a moment of silence, he asks, “Would you like me to do that?”

Another shrug. “I’ve got it.”

“Sure?” John tries. “I don’t mind.”

Sherlock’s hands still on the bandaging. Then he surrenders and says, “If you like, then.”

John goes over, feeling somehow as though he’s been permitted entrance into forbidden territory. He knows that Sherlock’s quite capable of patching himself up – he even applied a tourniquet himself once, when he was in Romania during those two terrible years when John thought he was dead. But if one has a doctor handy and willing, why not, John figures. He sits down on the side of the bed and has a look at the wound. “It’s healing, but still quite deep,” he observes. “I should disinfect it again.”

Sherlock accepts this without complaint. “If you think it necessary.”

Formal wording, John thinks, but then, Sherlock often uses unnecessarily formal wording. The pyjama pant leg is rolled up to Sherlock’s bony knee, his well-muscled calf drawn up for John’s access. Sherlock’s medical supply kit is sitting open on the bed. John reaches for the iodine and some cotton. Sherlock already knows it will sting; there’s no need to warn him. He flinches slightly as John pressed the cotton wad to the wound but otherwise doesn’t react. John holds it in place while reaching for a roll of cotton bandaging. The silence between them has turned companionable somehow, the tension dissipating. “Here,” John says. “Cut this. A four-inch section should do, I think.”

He holds up the roll and Sherlock fishes out the scissors and cuts obediently. John removes the iodine pad and gets out the polysporin, dabbing it gently into the cut before sealing it over with the bandaging. Sherlock watches him, alert stillness draped around him like a garment, but he says nothing.

“Hold,” John says, and he does it. John cuts sections of medical tape and secures the bandage in place. “Sorry,” he says apologetically. “You’ll lose half your leg hair when that comes off.”

Sherlock is dismissive of this. “I’ll do it in the shower.”

“Not for a few days, you won’t,” John warns. “Well – maybe tomorrow morning; I’ll want to change it.” He rolls the pant leg down.

“I can look after it,” Sherlock says. He puts his leg down again, withdrawing.

John looks over at him, seated beside him on the bed. “Everything all right?” he asks carefully.

For a moment Sherlock doesn’t answer. Then his chin ducks once. “Yes. Fine.”

“Sure?” John is curious; he still feels that something is off between them. It feels easier, less tense, but his sense that Sherlock is unhappy about something hasn’t changed. “Is this about the reporters?”

“I said it’s fine,” Sherlock repeats, not looking at him.

John hesitates. “Well – if you’re sure,” he says dubiously, and shuts the medical kit, stowing it under the bed where Sherlock usually keeps it. Sherlock doesn’t respond to this, but John hadn’t thought he would. He gets up and goes to the loo, shutting off the light and closing the door, then moves to the other doorway. “Good night, then,” John says.

“Good night.” Sherlock’s voice is just as contained and expressionless as it was before. John pauses for a moment, wondering if he should try again, pry it out of Sherlock, but he decides against it. If Sherlock wants to talk about it, presumably he will. Meanwhile, there’s nothing he can do about it.

***

“Dr Watson!” the reporter shouts insistently, blocking his way to leave the crime scene. “Has the case been solved?”

John glances back, but Sherlock has been trapped by his own reporter. “Yes,” he says. “Obviously I’m in no position to release the details. You’d have to speak to the police.”

“But Peter Darby’s suicide was a murder?”

“Again, that’s a question for the police,” John says, though he knows Lestrade wouldn’t care. “Excuse me. Let me through, please.”

John feels rather than sees Sherlock join him, his silent presence tangible just over his shoulder. “Let’s go,” Sherlock says, his voice discreetly low.

“Mr Holmes! Congratulations on the case!” the same reporter tries, his microphone now aimed over John’s shoulder. “Will the two of you go out to celebrate?”

Sherlock is obstinately silent, but John feels something uncertain coming off him in waves. Should he say something? “Let us through, please,” John repeats.

“Same question, Dr Watson,” another of them says, the mob pressing in ever closer. “Will the two of you dine out somewhere now, or is it back to Baker Street?”

There’s nothing overtly wrong with the question, but it’s the insinuation in the tone. “I imagine we’ll eat dinner somewhere at some point,” John says dryly. “Even Sherlock Holmes needs to eat sometimes.”

This gets a general laugh, but that’s not enough, evidently. “But you’ll be eating together?” a man with a ridiculous purple bowtie presses. His taste matches that of the lady with the bright blue blazer from a few days ago perfectly. Perhaps he should suggest they meet, John thinks. Their children would be born with headlines on their foreheads.

“No comment,” he says instead, the anger unmistakeable now. “For the last time, will you please stand back and let us through!”

There are murmurings but the pack parts to let them escape. Sherlock stays a pace behind him, which is a turn-up for the books. “Sorry,” he mutters, just loud enough for John to hear. “I should speak to Lestrade or something. This is becoming ridiculous.”

John shrugs. “It’s a pain in the arse, but they’re not really doing us any harm.”

Sherlock doesn’t respond for a moment as they walk toward the main street to get a taxi. “Suit yourself, then,” he says after awhile, then raises his arm to hail a passing a cab.

It’s worse at the restaurant. Somehow word gets out and by the time they’re halfway through their meal, a crowd has gathered outside the front windows. They’re seated midway back in the restaurant, well away from the windows, but soon enough one or more of them will come in. “What should we do?” John asks, with a furtive glance at the windows. “Just ignore them?”

Sherlock beckons to their server in lieu of responding. The server hastens over. “Get the owner,” he orders.

“Certainly, sir.” The server ducks his head and scurries off, and a moment later the owner appears.

“Mr Holmes! What is it?” Robert is already nearly wringing his hands. He’s always so grateful when they dine there, has been since Sherlock got him off a false accusation of sexual harassment.

Sherlock touches his serviette to the corner of his mouth and puts it down. “Robert, there are paparazzi outside. If your staff decide to seat any of them, please keep them well away from us. Or better yet, don’t let them in.”

“We won’t let them in,” Robert promises, with a worried look toward the door. He leans in. “And tell you what – you can leave through the kitchen. I’ll call you a cab once it’s time.”

“That would be much appreciated. Thank you,” Sherlock says. Robert nearly bows and goes off to the front door to speak to the maître d’, hovering like an anxious father.

“This is ridiculous,” John says angrily. “Can’t we even eat dinner in peace?”

“You realise they will hound us until they think one of us ‘slips’ and accidentally gives them some dirt,” Sherlock says seriously. He picks up his glass of wine, evidently having finished with his meal.

John shakes his head. “Why is it so complicated to understand? We’re friends and flatmates. People do that. Have flatmates.”

Sherlock shrugs philosophically. “Most men your age would be married,” he says, careful with his tone of voice, obviously not meaning it as a shot against John’s failed marriage. “And homosexuality is apparently still shocking for the tabloids, at least when it comes to persons in the public eye.”

“Most men ‘my’ age?” John repeats, plucking out that line. “What about you?”

Another shrug. “Not applicable. Are you finished?”

He’s diverting, John knows, but he looks down at his plate and notices that it’s empty. “Oh. Yes, I suppose so.”

Sherlock pushes his plate over a few inches. “Do you want the rest of mine?”

He ordered the same thing, gnocchi in pesto sauce, and it was delicious, but John shakes his head. “No, but thanks. It was good but that’s a lot of carbs.”

“Then let’s go,” Sherlock says, and stands up swiftly. He pulls his coat on in a swirl of wool, picks up his wineglass and drains it.

John finishes his own wine, picks up his jacket and gets his arms into it as he follows Sherlock into the kitchen. Sherlock makes a token effort to pay, but Robert immediately dons his wounded act and they drop the issue at once. “The taxi?” Sherlock asks.

“It’s waiting,” Robert promises, and unlocks the kitchen door.

It’s begun to rain so they hurry into the car. Sherlock gives the address, then sits back and turns slightly toward the window. He’s still bothered, then, John thinks. Well: he’s bothered, himself. This nonsense is getting out of hand. And the thing is, he’s probably overreacting to them, but sometimes he wants to snap at the press that they’re not helping.

He’s known for some time – ages, if he’s honest with himself – that he was always hoping that perhaps things would eventually evolve between them, given time. But being constantly forced to answer questions about it publicly, it’s never going to have a chance. Sherlock’s lips compress in contempt and disgust any time anyone mentions it, which is hardly conducive to eventually softening him to the idea that perhaps making an even larger exception to personal relationships than the exception he already makes in having a best friend, could be worth it. John thinks it could be well worth it, at any rate. He glimpses it sometimes – something he thinks he could easily interpret as interest on Sherlock’s part, or even just curiosity where once it would have only been disinterest and dismissal. They’d had a case once, not long after he’d moved back in, where the victim had not been suffocated as the police had initially thought, but died in an auto-asphyxiation accident. The autopsy had revealed a personal vibrator lodged in his anus and Sherlock had shown a much greater level of interest in the entire thing than he ever would have in the past.

“Do people really find oxygen deprivation – stimulating?” he’d asked, genuinely curious.

“Some people do, evidently,” John had replied dryly. “Though it’s generally considered rather dangerous.” He’d thought Sherlock would drop it then, or make some sort of joke, but he’d asked another question instead.

“And the – ” He’d coughed delicately. (Was he embarrassed? John hadn’t been sure – Sherlock is so rarely embarrassed about anything.) “The device found in his – ”

“Prostate stimulator, I’d say at a guess,” John had said, not making him say it. He’d shrugged. “They’re not bad, as toys go. Most people prefer the real thing, or so I’ve heard.”

That had shut Sherlock up for a long time. He’d abruptly stopped asking questions and had fallen into a tight-lipped silence. John had thought about teasing him a little and suggesting he give it a try, himself – just for scientific enlightenment – but he didn’t want to push his luck and risk actually offending Sherlock or hurting his feelings. He does have feelings, as John has finally realised, to his own chagrin.

He cringes sometimes at the way he used to speak to Sherlock at times in the past – even the very recent past, as though Sherlock were nothing more than his brilliant mind. Of course he knew that; he always knew that there was more to him: his witty sense of humour, which is all but unknown to most. His occasional flashes of thoughtfulness so profound that John wonders at himself for ever having thought him a cold, unfeeling machine. These moments of thoughtfulness are fleeting, to be sure, and rarely repeated in the same way, but they do exist. And somewhere, beyond even all of this, there’s a heart and a soul. It’s there in the violin (unless it’s the sawing one gets when Mycroft is paying one of his unwelcome visits), and it’s there in the openness of Sherlock’s face that John gets to glimpse more often now that he’s back at Baker Street, usually late in the evenings as they sit by the fire and just chat, or sometimes over dinner. Yes: at home, when they’re doing something domestic and normal together. That’s when Sherlock relaxes the most and drops most of his façades. He laughs more than he used to, his eyes crinkling up in the way that John has always secretly loved.

Personally, John has always known that he could go that way – be in a relationship with a male, specifically if that male were Sherlock, but it hacks him off when people assume. And they generally do, with two blokes living together, don’t they? And with his failed marriage so recently behind him on top of that, the speculation is ten times stronger than it used to be. He moved back in with Sherlock and apparently he should have taken the opportunity to announce their nuptials right then and there. If there was something to announce, John would have been irked enough. The fact that there isn’t just feels like adding insult to injury. And Sherlock hates it so much that he doesn’t even respond to them.

John sighs.

“Oi,” the cab driver says suddenly. “Ain’t you two that detective and ’is partner?”

Sherlock’s eyes meet the driver’s warily in the driving mirror. “What if we are?”

“Sherlock ’olmes, that’s it!” the driver proclaims. His eyes flick over to John’s face and he chuckles. “Wait’ll I tell Billy! That’ll shut ’im up about taking Paul Robbins and ’is ladyfriend the other day. You know 'oo I’m talking about, right? The bloke what’s got the cooking show on the telly – did a special about pork roasts that the wife was watching last week.”

John has never heard of Paul Robbins. “Sorry,” he says. “Not familiar.”

“Ah, never mind,” the cabbie says. “But I’ve got the real celebrities, right ’ere, 'aven’t I? You two coming from a crime scene, then?”

“Just dinner,” Sherlock says shortly. “And perhaps we could have the rest of the drive in silence. If you wouldn’t mind.”

The last courtesy is new; the old, pre-St Bart’s Sherlock never would have bothered, John thinks.

“Oh, dinner, is it?” The cabbie’s grizzled brows rise speculatively. “That’s ’ow it is, then? The wife thought them papers got it wrong, but maybe she ain’t as daft as all that after all!” He chuckles again.

“For God’s sake, we’re only friends!” John says loudly, angrily. The cab pulls up in front of Baker Street. He takes out his wallet and pays only just over the fare.

“Oi, what’s this, then?” the cabbie protests, looking at what John’s given him.

“Teach you to keep your nose out of people’s private business,” John snaps, shutting the door. He all but stomps across the pavement to the door of the flat, heedless of the rain pouring down on his head.

Sherlock is silent behind him as he fishes for his keys, neither reproaching nor supporting him, nor giving him his keys or stepping around him to get the door himself. Just standing there, in the rain, saying nothing as John finally shoulders the door open and lets them both inside.

***

John is occupying himself with making dinner, which is roasted chicken with roasted potatoes and a simple green salad which he’s currently preparing. Sherlock is reading through cases on his website on his laptop at the kitchen table and occasionally commenting on them or reading them out for John’s opinion. He hasn’t said anything for awhile, though. John rinses off a handful of spinach leaves to add to the romaine and says, “So have you chosen one yet?”

“Hmm?” Sherlock’s voice is vague, his eyes still on the screen of his laptop, which is giving his face a bluish glow. “Sorry, what?” He looks up over the screen at John.

“I just asked if you’d picked one yet,” John says, thinking to himself how blue Sherlock’s eyes look, the pupils readjusting to the less brilliant light of the kitchen and expanding in his light-blue irises. Sherlock’s eyes have as many moods and incarnations as he himself does.

“Oh. No, not yet.” Sherlock closes the laptop. “Sorry, should I be helping?”

John smiles at him. In the old days, Sherlock never would have asked, though he would generally do it if John directed him to. They’re both more courteous to another now, at least around the house. “I think I’ve got it about covered it, but you could set the table, if you like.”

“Sure.” Sherlock gets up, takes his laptop to the desk, then comes back and opens the cupboard. “It smells delicious,” he comments, getting out plates. “Chicken?”

John makes a sound of affirmation. “With salad and potatoes.”

“Roasted?” Sherlock asks hopefully.

“Yes. I know you like them that way.” John can’t help but feel slightly pleased. He’d known before the wedding that Sherlock more than tolerated his cooking, but he’d never said so that directly – or publicly – before.

Sherlock makes an approving sound. “Do we have any wine?”

“There’s still that bottle of sauvignon blanc that you bought last week,” John says. “We were still finishing the pinot noir and never got to it.”

“I’ll open it,” Sherlock decides. He goes to the fridge to get it out.

“Get the cucumber while you’re in there?” John requests, cutting cherry tomatoes in half.

Sherlock comes back with it and looks over John’s shoulder at the salad. “Nice,” he comments. “Would you like me to make that dressing you like with the sesame oil?”

“That would be great,” John says. The reason he hadn’t asked is because he assumed Sherlock would. They have their small traditions and this is one of them. Sherlock gets out the small glass bowl he always uses for this, then moves around John to retrieve the oil, a bottle of wine vinegar, and herbs, then stands beside him, whisking it all together as John slices cucumber and tries not to feel too happy. He is happy. It’s only the paparazzi and the noise they’ve brought into everything that puts a damper on how glad he is to be back here, at Baker Street with Sherlock, where he belongs. As long as they don’t talk about that, everything will be okay.

The timer beeps for the chicken and John takes it out to rest. Sherlock gets two wine glasses off the highest shelf in the cupboard and pours the wine as John tosses his dressing into the salad. He puts everything on the table and they eat and talk about their next case and everything is companionable and right between them again.

That night, Sherlock allows him to change the dressing on the cut on his leg again, and when John finishes, he puts his hand briefly over John’s and says “Thank you, John,” and John feels as though his entire chest is dissolving.

“Any time,” he says, only realising later that it’s an echo of something Sherlock once said, though he can’t quite place the memory.

***

Someone in the paparazzi manages to capture a photograph of them walking over a bridge in Regent’s Park. They had stopped for approximately five minutes as Sherlock had told John animatedly about a case once he’d had, before he’d met John, wherein a woman had poisoned her husband, then managed to push him out of their rowboat without anyone noticing. He had vividly pictured the story, which had apparently taken place on a Saturday afternoon in August eight years earlier, with the husband vomiting and the wife casually manoeuvring him out of the boat and into the water without a soul managing to notice what was going on, and John had been laughing. For a moment, he’d placed his hand on Sherlock’s forearm where it was resting on the rail of the bridge and that’s the precise moment that the photographer had taken the photo: John laughing and touching Sherlock, Sherlock’s face open and filled with merriment, the lines around his eyes and in the bridge of his nose deepening in laughter. It looks like the poster for a romantic comedy starring two men in mid-life, searching for love, John thinks cryptically. The truth is that he would have secretly loved the photo if it had been anywhere but in the Daily Mail. If it had been a photo that one of their friends had taken and sent them as a gift – if they were in a romantic relationship, of course.

Sherlock sees the paper and the photo and the stupid, speculative story (which cited that ‘neither of them could be reached for a comment’, though of course no one ever tried) and goes into a bad humour for the rest of the day, withdrawing with his laptop to his room. It’s a Sunday and he doesn’t come out all day. When John tentatively knocks at his door to ask if he’s hungry around supper time, Sherlock grunts and says that he’ll be out in a little while.

When he does come out, John looks up from his chair where he’s checking his facebook and tries for a light smile. “I thought we could order in,” he says carefully, not wanting to rock the boat.

Sherlock thinks about this for a moment, his lips pursed, then nods. “Chinese?” he asks brusquely.

“Sure.”

“I’ll go and get it.” Sherlock goes and puts his shoes on, not asking if John would prefer to go out, as he usually would. John doesn’t say anything; just lets him put on his coat and go.

He sighs to himself. This tabloid stuff is ruining everything. He thinks of calling Lestrade, but what could he do? Technically the press have a right to go where they want. They’re not breaking any laws, and God knows that real celebrities, the big ones, certainly get worse. He’d just never thought that Sherlock, and by extension himself, would get to this point in terms of warranting this sort of fame. It’s become a problem. Witness all of today: they could have started a new case (the last one only took two days and John thinks that Sherlock was almost disappointed by its ease) or done something fun together, as they occasionally do on weekends. Perhaps he should suggest a trip out of the city, but if they’re followed it would be even more dreadful, and besides, there’s the tricky question of what sort of room to book.

He hears the door downstairs and quickly rearranges his face into something less worried, getting to his feet and going into the kitchen to get some plates. They’ll probably just eat in front of the telly or something. Maybe they could watch a film, John thinks. That would be nice. Though how much nicer would it be, he thinks to himself, if he could take their plates away when they’ve finished eating and come back to the sofa and pull Sherlock into his arms, or watch with Sherlock’s long legs draped over his lap as he massages them or just runs his fingers along them as the film plays. Maybe they would kiss a bit and have to rewind to find out what the important character said that they missed, having got too absorbed in each other. And after that, they’d go and get ready for bed together, and after that

“John?”

John snaps back into reality. Sherlock sounds confused. He whirls around. “Sorry!” he says, louder than he meant to. “You startled me.”

“You were just standing there,” Sherlock says, still puzzled, his brow furrowed. “Are you all right?”

John feels like an idiot. “Yes, of course,” he says hastily. “Sorry, I was just – thinking.”

It sounds lame and Sherlock looks unconvinced. But all he says, dubiously, is “All right. I got the egg rolls that you like.”

“Great,” John says, and now it sounds forced. “That’s great,” he says, trying again, and this time it sounds better. “Thanks.” He smiles at Sherlock and Sherlock returns it partially before going to take his coat and shoes off. John gives his head a shake and focuses on serving them both portions of everything.

“I thought perhaps we should watch a film tonight,” Sherlock says from the doorway as he hangs his coat. He comes back into the kitchen. “What do you think? I believe you haven’t quite finished your indoctrination of my cinematic knowledge base yet.”

He’s smiling and this is meant to be a light joke. John can’t help but smile stupidly back. “Good idea,” he says, and means it. “Eat on the sofa?”

“Perfect,” Sherlock agrees, and it is.

***

It goes on this way. Nearly every time they leave the house, a small throng of paparazzi appear at some point, often waiting right outside the front door. Or a large throng. John is furious and snaps out “No comment!” nearly every time now, not hesitating to shove through the crowd. One time he makes the mistake of reaching back and seizing Sherlock by the wrist to pull him away from an aggressive pair whose microphones are actually touching his face. A dozen flash bulbs go off and they’re cited as “Out and About and Holding Hands!” in one of the tabloids the next day. No one seems to care that John’s face was contorted with anger in the photo, that it’s Sherlock’s wrist he was holding, or that Sherlock looked more surprised than anything else as John had yanked him out of the mob. Either way, all of it is stressing them both out; Sherlock looks more strained than ever with each new assault and John is at his wits' end. Something is going to snap any day now and he doesn’t know what will happen when that day comes.

Finally, it happens: one day they’re returning home from having picked up takeaway (curry from the tiny place on Marylebone) and there’s a knot of them waiting outside the flat. The inane, stupid questions begin at once, starting with their dinner.

“Good evening, Mr Holmes, Dr Watson,” a young, pretty blond reporter coos at them. “I see you’ve just picked up dinner. Cozy night in, is it?”

“Will you be staying in for the evening, then?” Another one, a balding man in his forties asks, jabbing a recording device near Sherlock’s chin.

There are a number of others, all chipping in and overlapping one another. John slaps at the recorder. “No comment!” he says loudly. “No comment! Get out of the way, please!”

“Mr Holmes,” the blond at the front asks, blinking large, innocent blue eyes at Sherlock, “can you just confirm for us whether or not you and Dr Watson are actually in a relationship?”

This is one of the only times in recent history that anyone has actually asked this question without just making the assumption, and somehow it causes a hush to fall over the group. Sherlock reaches the front stairs of the flat and stops in front of them.

“No,” he says, loudly and very clearly, and John nearly drops the bag of curry he’s carrying in surprise. Sherlock never responds to the questions! “No, we are decidedly not in that sort of relationship, and if you continue this line of questioning you will certainly destroy our friendship as well. I am going to say this only once: John Watson would never, ever consider engaging in a romantic relationship with a person such as myself. He is neither homosexual nor romantically inclined in my direction. If you must impugn someone’s private life, impugn mine, but leave John Watson out of this. Do I make myself clear?”

The reporters stare at him with the same level of shock that John is currently experiencing. Did I just hear that right? he wonders, dumbfounded. It certainly sounded like Sherlock just said that – no, did he? Yes, he did! John suddenly realises that he’s been a complete idiot all this time. He pushes through the still-recovering mob, drops his curry on the pavement, seizes Sherlock by the lapels of his coat, and kisses him. Hard. Sherlock doesn’t kiss back, exactly, but he doesn’t resist it, either. The cameras go off, so many of them flashing that John figures he would be half-blind if his eyes were open. They’re not. His mouth is mashed against Sherlock and even with Sherlock’s lukewarm/half-hearted response, it’s still the best thing he’s ever felt. He lets go of Sherlock’s right lapel at one point and flips the lot of the paparazzi off. They photograph that, too, and they don’t leave. John breaks off the kiss but stays close, his lips nearly touching Sherlock’s. “Let’s go inside,” he says, moving his lips as little as possible.

Sherlock manages a nod, and turns to unlock the door. John retrieves the curry and hastens in after him, carefully locking all of the locks before turning to face Sherlock, his heart beating nervously in his chest. (What if he misinterpreted Sherlock’s words after all?) But Sherlock isn’t looking at him. He’s walked to the foot of the stairs, one gloved hand on his waist, the other arm straight out and supporting his weight against the banister post, his head bowed forward.

John feels his stomach drop. He doesn’t know what to say.

Finally Sherlock breaks the silence. “Well, I don’t know what that was supposed to accomplish, but whatever it was, it certainly undermined what I was attempting to achieve,” he says, extremely stiffly, then starts up the stairs, not looking back.

What? (Oh, shit.) John scrambles after him. “No, Sherlock – wait!” Sherlock doesn’t stop, striding directly into the sitting room. John follows and arrives to Sherlock taking off his coat.

“If it was meant to be a gesture of support, I suppose I should thank you,” he says in that same cold tone. “Though I hardly require your pity.”

John blinks, trying to keep up. “What? No! Are you daft? That wasn’t – ”

He stops. Sherlock isn’t looking at him. “Then what was it?” he asks. His voice is quieter but no less edgy. “I have heard you state dozens of times over that you and are I only friends, that you’re not gay, that we are only flatmates and colleagues and on good days, best friends. Kissing me undermines your own message, which has been unvaryingly consistent.”

“Sherlock,” John says firmly, trying to establish a foothold in the conversation, “I never said anything about what I or you or – or we might want. Just what we are at present.” He stops to gauge Sherlock’s reaction to this, almost afraid to look, but Sherlock doesn’t say anything, just looks warily back at him. He’ll need to say more, then. “Look – er, I never – I mean, today was the first time I’ve ever thought you might – but I might not have understood what you meant, exactly, and I don’t want to assume – ”

Sherlock’s mouth moves a little and he blinks several times, obviously processing this. Then he says, slowly, “What are you asking, John?”

“I’m saying I never thought you might want it to be – er – more,” John says, very frankly, and tries not to cringe when he hears the words aloud. Cards on the table it is, then. “I – I guess I’m asking if you do. I mean, I didn’t think you did – but I could be very wrong about that. Am I? Are you – interested?” He holds his breath without meaning to.

Sherlock blinks again. “Are you?” he counters.

John makes himself say it, squaring his shoulders. “Yes,” he says, and it’s completely direct and unvarnished. “I am. Have been for – well, some time, if you want to know.”

Sherlock’s lower lip presses upward in that stubborn expression he gets sometimes. “Then why didn’t you ever say something to that effect?” he asks, sounding exasperated.

“I don’t know! I didn’t think you would ever want that,” John says, bristling. “It’s not as though you ever made it seem like it would be okay to just – I don’t know, tell you that!”

“John,” Sherlock says, as though explaining something to a particularly thick four-year-old, “you are the one who has dated woman after woman, even marrying one, and you are the one who has consistently denied any relationship between us in public. How was I supposed to ascertain from your behaviour that you were, in fact, interested in that sort of thing?”

John feels his nostrils flare a bit. “Well, I am, all right?” He didn’t mean it to sound so defensive, but it just comes out that way. They’re squared off, facing each other like duelling opponents, and it’s high time Sherlock finally declared what he was thinking or feeling about all this. “So what about you, then?” he demands.

Sherlock’s shoulders hunch forward a little, as though in self-protection. “I don’t imagine that a relationship with me would be anything like what you’ve – you’re a romantic; of course you’ll have imagined situations that I could never fulfill or live up to, and it would all – that’s why I always thought it was for the best, that we just go on being friends, as we have. I can content myself with that well enough. There’s no need to jeopardise what we – ”

“Wait,” John interrupts. “So you are interested?”

Sherlock actually reddens and looks away. He mumbles something inaudible that John misses.

“Sorry, what was that?” he asks, turning an ear toward Sherlock, crossing his arms over his chest at the same time.

Sherlock clears his throat. “I said, ‘so it would seem’.” He’s still looking over at the desk, though not at anything in particular.

John exhales in relief. Thank God. “But then why didn’t you kiss back properly out there?” he wants to know.

Sherlock glances over at him, his cheeks still pink. “I didn’t want our first kiss to be a publicity stunt,” he says quietly.

John shakes his head. “It wasn’t,” he tells Sherlock. “I just wanted to counter the point you were trying to make, that I would never want to be with you. I don’t ever want anyone thinking that about you, not ever. Especially not when I’ve wanted you so very, very much.”

Something that could be called suspicion crosses Sherlock’s face, just a shadow flickering over it. “Have you?” he asks, not quite looking all the way at John.

John takes a few steps forward, not stopping until he’s standing right in front of Sherlock. “Yeah,” he says, and looks up into Sherlock’s eyes. “I have.” He clears his throat. “So, er, I guess I buggered up our first kiss. I don’t suppose you would give me a go at a second one?”

Sherlock’s lip press together, making him look self-conscious. “If you want,” he says, eyes flicking up to John’s and immediately skittering away again. “I always thought it would happen here, at home, if it were to ever happen one day.”

John smiles. His throat is constricted. “So did I,” he says. He moves closer still and puts his hands on Sherlock’s narrow waist. Sherlock is trembling very slightly, only just perceptibly. John looks up into his face. “Are you – nervous?” he asks softly.

He expects Sherlock to deny it, but Sherlock’s brows come together. “Not – as such,” he says with difficulty. “Just – very concerned that this – I still think that you’ve over-romanticised it, or me. I don’t want to – ”

“To what?” John asks in a murmur when Sherlock stops, his eyes on Sherlock’s lips.

“… ruin everything,” Sherlock says, but his own eyes have dropped to John’s mouth. “But with you standing right there, it’s – I – can’t seem to think clearly – ”

“Then stop thinking about it,” John tells him, looking up into his eyes again. “This could be good. Really good. Trust me.”

“I always trust you,” Sherlock says honestly, and John can’t hold back any longer, his heart swelling to twice its size at these words.

He feels his eyes half close as he lifts his chin and puts his mouth on Sherlock’s, carefully, carefully, because this moment feels so very fragile and tenuous. There’s a moment where everything hovers in one place, their lips touching, and then Sherlock’s shoulders release and the breath rushes out his lungs and nose, and their mouths open jointly, allowing one another entrance. They stand there, lipping at each other’s mouths and John thinks it’s the best thing in the world, that he could do this for years. He moves a hand to the back of Sherlock’s neck and draws him down even further, finding Sherlock’s tongue with his own. Sherlock makes an unidentifiable sound but his reaction is unmistakeable: he presses immediately closer to John, his hands lifting from their light grip on John’s upper arms so that his arms can come around John’s back. They kiss for what feels like at least ten minutes, neither of them wanting it to end, restarting it every time the other was about to draw away. Finally Sherlock lifts his chin, breathing hard, and John lets him have a break, kissing his throat and along his jawline instead. They’re pressed together chest-to-chest and John can feel Sherlock’s pulse hammering in his rib cage. “I love you,” John says into his neck. “I should have told you years ago.” He kisses Sherlock’s earlobe and feels Sherlock shudder, his arms tightening around John’s shoulders.

“I – didn’t know it could feel like this,” he says hoarsely. He turns his face downward, his lips in John’s hair, pressing, and John lifts his face and finds Sherlock’s mouth again. After a long while, Sherlock breaks away and speaks again, still breathing heavily. “John – ”

“Yeah?” John moves back just far enough to look up at him.

“You’re sure about this?” Sherlock asks, very seriously. His hair is messy from John’s fingers, his lips red and obviously kissed-looking, cheeks flushed, eyes dark pools. The very look of him makes John want to drag him off to bed, but it’s probably considerably too soon for that, given Sherlock’s probable lack of experience in that area. “I just mean – I hope you know what you’re getting into. That I’m not – whatever most people want, or…”

John smiles up at him, caressing Sherlock’s back with his thumbs. “Based on the beginning, I’d say it’s quite promising so far,” he says, and means it. “Look, Sherlock – I don’t know what you’re so worried about. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re not very – I mean, if you haven’t had a lot of, well, experience with – certain stuff. I don’t care at all about that. And I know you. Obviously I don’t know what you’re like in a relationship, but neither do you, so we’ll figure it out together. Just tell me what you need, what you want, and try to be nice about it. I’ll do the same, and we’ll work it out.”

Sherlock doesn’t look convinced. “What if we need or want different things?”

“Are you concerned I’ll turn out to have a voracious sexual appetite?” John asks, mostly joking, but there is a real concern there on his own part, given Sherlock’s nonexistent sexual history.

Sherlock swallows visibly. “No,” he says, averting his eyes. “That’s – not something I would say that I’m concerned about, per se.”

The colour in his cheeks has deepened, and John feels his trousers become two sizes too small at the implications of what Sherlock has just said. “Thank God,” he says, with heartfelt sincerity.

Sherlock gives a (self-conscious) laugh, but his arms tighten even more. John leans into it, pressing himself to Sherlock’s body, his hands rubbing up and down Sherlock’s back. Sherlock turns his face into John’s neck and kisses it, then unzips John’s jacket and pushes it off his shoulders and onto the floor. “You’ll have to show me everything,” he says, his hands crawling up the back of John’s buttoned shirt. “You know I don’t – that I haven’t – ”

John does know, ever since he brought up the subject of Janine (with no small amount of trepidation, back when he’d first moved back in and they’d hashed out everything regarding Mary, Magnussen, and all the rest of that mess) and what she’d claimed in the papers. He’d been shocked to find out that nothing had happened, whatsoever – neither with her, nor with anyone else, Sherlock had disclosed, sounding a trifle aloof but John had realised that he was slightly embarrassed about the entire subject and had tried his best to be as sensitive as possible. However, when it comes to this – being with another bloke, he’s no expert, himself. “It’s going to be a bit of an experiment on both sides,” he says, thoroughly distracted by the fact that Sherlock’s hands are on his arse and squeezing, yet there’s also something almost reverential about the touch. As though he’s been waiting for a very long time to do this and still can’t quite believe that it’s permitted, that John could still change his mind about the entire thing. The thought makes him want to turn the reverence the other way, peel Sherlock’s clothes off him and lavish adoration on every part of his body, show him how much he’s wanted, desired, needed. Loved.

“Good,” Sherlock says in response to what he’s just said, his voice a bit muffled against John’s neck. His teeth graze John’s collar bone, his lips following, and John is thrumming with arousal, his fingers balling into fists in the back of Sherlock’s too-tight shirt at his waist, where it’s actually loose enough to grab onto. “Because,” he adds, his voice low and smoky and incredibly, unbelievably sexy, “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

John can only respond with a pained noise as Sherlock’s teeth close around his ear, only hard enough to make him sound like a complete liar in terms of not knowing what he’s doing. He makes a desperate effort to find his voice again. “Take your clothes off,” he says.

Sherlock makes a sound of agreement that resonates directly into John’s ear. He moves away and starts unbuttoning his shirt. His eyes are on John’s fingers where he’s unbuttoning his own shirt. He pauses, then says, going to work on the cuffs, “I don’t want to ruin the mood, but I really don’t know what to expect, or what you should expect – you know that my only experiences have been – solo,” he says, putting it as eloquently as possible.

John shakes his head. “Don’t you get it yet? I have no expectations, as long as you really do want this, want to try this with me.”

Sherlock blinks at him. “I do. I’ve wanted to – try it, at least – for a long time. A very long time. I just – I never knew if it would even work, or whether you would – ”

“Hey,” John cuts in gently. “It’s going to be fine. I promise. I don’t care if you – er – get there in thirty seconds or if it takes three hours or if it never happens at all. Just as long as you’re not uncomfortable, or stop liking it. And if you do – we’ll figure that out when we get there. Okay?”

Sherlock’s lips press together again, but he nods. “All right.”

John nods at his trousers. “Get those off you,” he says, stepping out of his jeans and underwear.

Sherlock hesitates for one second, his eyes seemingly stuck around John’s crotch. Then, looking more self-conscious than ever, which doesn’t fit with the way his lips were on John’s neck just seconds ago, he undoes his trousers and steps out of them and his underwear delicately. His shoulders are tense as he straightens up.

Nevertheless, John can’t help but stare. Sherlock looks like a Greek god carved out of marble. There are faint scar lines crossing his abdomen and upper thighs, one on his left shoulder that he wants to ask about, but he’s perfect regardless, utterly beautiful. The scar in the centre of his chest requires no explanation and makes John’s own chest ache to see. Sherlock’s skin is pale as moonlight, firm musculature rippling beneath the surface. And he’s hard, his cock flushed as darkly as his cheeks, and John feels he can hardly breathe. “Good God, you’re – ” He stops, the words choking in his throat.

Sherlock looks as though he feels spectacularly awkward. “What?” he asks, a tendon in his neck straining.

John moves toward him without thinking of it consciously, his hands needing to touch Sherlock so badly that he feels physically compelled to do it. “Gorgeous,” he breathes.

Sherlock lets out a shaky breath and reaches for his face and the kiss is even deeper than the earlier ones were, their bodies coming together, the need to touch and be touched clearly equally deep on both sides. And John perversely both loves and hates that no one has ever touched Sherlock this way before. He deserves this as much as anyone else does – perhaps even more. And the thought that he never thought that John would want it, that all of the paparazzi questions were insulting to him and cementing the fact that John would never ever want this sort of thing - the misunderstanding hurts like a wound in the chest, filling him with the desire to erase the hole of wanting without hope that Sherlock must have been feeling all this while, even as he doubted himself, his ability to respond or participate the way other people do. They kiss and kiss, swaying together, there in the middle of the sitting room, hands rubbing over each other’s backs and then arses, and perhaps it’s partly because of Sherlock’s inexperience that it feels novel for John, too, as though he’s never been this intimate with anyone before.

As they go, their height difference begins to manifest itself as a slight problem. “Sofa?” John suggests. Going directly to the bedroom seems like a biggish step when they’ve only just barely started…

Sherlock looks over at it. “Bare skin on leather,” he says, not quite protesting, just pointing it out as a practical concern.

“Hmm. Yeah. Okay.” John looks around, then reluctantly disentangles himself from Sherlock’s arms and goes to get the blanket from the back of his chair. He spreads it out over the sofa, then sits down. “Come here,” he says, holding a hand out to Sherlock.

Sherlock comes obediently over and sits down beside John. “This works,” he says, turning to face him.

“I’m so glad you approve,” John says, smirking. It only takes a bit of arranging themselves, but then John gets his arm around Sherlock’s shoulders and his mouth back on Sherlock’s, his left hand instinctively doing what he would have done with a woman and settling on Sherlock’s right pec. (Oh. Whoops. But – actually, that’s fine, really. That’s good, too. Just not what – never mind, he tells himself. It’s all good.) He lets his thumb rub over the stiffening nipple and Sherlock clutches at his shoulder, then his chest, his hand splayed out flatly against it, then reaches over and grips at John’s rib cage. John leans in even closer, running his hand along the outside of Sherlock’s thigh, then stops just shy of his cock. “Can I – ?” he requests, wanting the official green light first.

Sherlock swallows audibly and manages a nod. “Please,” he says, hiding his face in John’s throat, and John feels nearly overwhelmed by the fierce need to – he can’t even put it into coherent words in his head. Protect. Love. Defend. Give everything to this man, this vulnerable person in his arms. And so the first time he touches Sherlock’s cock is with a pained lump in his throat and a sense of wonder so profound that he feels like it’s his own first time all over again, only this means so much more than that ever did. It is his first time. The only one that ever mattered. Sherlock’s legs and arse tense as John’s fist closes around his cock and begins to stroke it, and after a moment he lifts his face and puts his mouth on John’s, kissing fiercely, hungrily, his hand gripping at John’s thigh. He’s trembling, his cock pulsing and twitching in response to John’s touch, his breath ragged against John’s cheek. He moves his hand closer to John’s cock. “Sh – should I – ?” he gasps out, but John shakes his head.

“No – just enjoy this,” he says, pressing his lips to Sherlock’s forehead. Sherlock gets out a nod in response; it seems he can barely speak, his hips pushing his cock harder into John’s fist. John takes the (unconscious) hint and tightens his grip, stroking harder, faster. It’s only a few minutes before Sherlock is thrusting wildly, panting hard against John’s jawline, his entire body jerking, and then he comes hard, so hard that John nearly comes just from witnessing it, his muscles all tightening at once, his fingers clenching around John’s thigh painfully, his come spurting onto John’s forearm four – no, five times before his body goes slack, wracked by aftershocks. John feels it as a nearly spiritual experience, being the instrument of this enormous happening in Sherlock’s life, being permitted to have made it happen, to have witnessed it. No one else is ever, ever allowed to touch Sherlock. Sherlock is his now, and always was.

Sherlock lifts his face from where he dropped it onto John’s shoulder, his forehead shining with sweat, his lips parted. The look in his eyes is so intense that John shivers. He can practically taste the strength of Sherlock’s orgasm in the kiss that follows, and now Sherlock’s hand curls around him, much less hesitant than before. “I want to – it’s your turn,” he says, his lips still touching John’s. “I’ve always wanted to – can I try it with my mouth?”

John feels his cock twitch at the very suggestion. “God, yes,” he says immediately. “You don’t have to do that, but – ”

“I want to,” Sherlock says. His curls are falling damply over his forehead and he pushes them back, raking his fingers through them, and John thinks weakly that he’s never seen anything so sexy in all his life. “Please. I really want to.”

And now he’s begging to be allowed to blow him. Please don’t let this only have been an absolutely fantastic dream, John thinks as he hastens to agree. He turns and brings his right leg up, bent at the knee, and Sherlock gets himself in between John’s thighs and takes his cock in hand. His lips follow soon after, just kissing along the shaft, and John can’t think when anyone else has last touched him with this much obvious wonder and sense of novelty, or even privilege at being allowed to do so – and John recognises the very feeling he just had with Sherlock. His heart swells again at the thought that they’re experiencing this the same way, both of them slightly uncertain as to being allowed to do this after so many years of being careful and filtering and never letting the secret out.

Sherlock takes three-quarters of John’s cock into his mouth in one go and John stops thinking rational thoughts. It’s absolutely phenomenal, and again, somehow it feels more intimate than it has with anyone else before. He can barely remember the last time someone went down on him. Mary hated it and always preferred they just have intercourse, if she was in the mood for anything at all. Did she try it once, just to oblige him? If she did, it was just for a little while, not long enough to finish him off that way. Never mind about all that. Sherlock certainly intends him to get there; that’s certain. His hands are on John’s chest and exploring his balls respectively, the latter tugging and prodding experimentally, responding whenever John reacts vocally. There’s a slight pause at one point and then Sherlock resumes sucking with fervour, his nose almost buried in John’s pubic hair, his throat opening around the head of John’s cock and it’s so good that John almost doesn’t want it to ever end. But then the fingers that were pressing into his perineum return, creeping further back. John is so absorbed in basking in the sensation of Sherlock’s incredible mouth on his cock that he barely notices until Sherlock’s long middle finger starts rubbing at his hole. He’s already so close that the slight shock of this isn’t really shocking so much as just adding to the overall wash of sensation. The finger slides in, wet with Sherlock’s saliva, and John gasps. Maybe Sherlock did experiment a little after that one case, then, he thinks blurrily, the pleasure mounting rapidly. The finger plunges in and out of him and all John can think is that he had no idea how good that could feel when it’s someone else’s fingers and not one’s own (which is also pretty good, frankly), but then all thoughts flee from his mind as Sherlock presses his finger into his prostate. Blinding white pleasure blooms from the spot and his cock thrusts hard into the recesses of Sherlock’s throat and stays there as the orgasm hits like a tidal wave, his hand holding Sherlock’s head down onto his flesh as he comes. He is suspended in it, the pleasure so intense that it’s nearly pain, a white wall of light behind his eyes, and then it passes, leaving him to thrust weakly, helplessly into Sherlock’s mouth as the last of it passes, his cock still leaking. Sherlock’s tongue is swirling around his cock, swallowing down every drop of it.

John’s head falls back, his entire body spent. “God,” he says, when he can speak, still panting. “You – are amazing. Come here. Come here.

Sherlock releases his cock at last and pulls John’s other leg up onto the sofa before settling his weight carefully onto John, both their bodies relaxed and heavy. “I love you,” Sherlock says now, kissing his neck, the bullet scar at his shoulder, his chin. “You said it before. I should have said it then. But I do. I love you.”

“I know,” John says, reaching up to touch his face. “How could I not, after that?”

Sherlock smiles. “Good,” he says. He kisses John on the mouth once, then turns his head and lays it on John’s shoulder. “Then there’s only one question.”

“Oh yeah?” John asks, trailing his hands lazily up and down Sherlock’s back. “What’s that?”

“When do we make the ‘happy announcement’ for the press?”

John goes still. “You’re joking,” he says.

He both hears and feels Sherlock’s chuckle. “They already think we are. They definitely will after today, with you kissing me like that.”

John thinks about it. “What exactly do you mean by ‘happy announcement’?”

Sherlock props himself up and looks at him, still smiling. “It can be anything you want. Or, and surprisingly, this thought only just occurred to me after you kissed me – we could get restraining orders against the entire lot of them. My brother would arrange it if we asked.”

John raises his eyebrows. “I never thought of that,” he says. Then, “Do you want that?”

“It’s up to you,” Sherlock tells him. “Or we can… make repeated spectacles of ourselves until they lose interest.” His eyes spark at this, and John realises that he’s let himself in for a lifetime of new and potentially disastrous public behaviour on Sherlock’s part. And by association, his own.

He feels the grin practically split his face open. “Let’s do that,” he decides.

Sherlock all but purrs in response, sounding like an immensely satisfied, overgrown housecat. “Done,” he proclaims. “Let’s make some headlines, then.”

*