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{I love}

{I love you.}

John knows he does.

The words never come easily to Sherlock, John supposes. The words - the right words - never do come easily. They are earned, paid with the heavy gold of shared emotions, experiences, touches given and received. John doesn't mind. In this, he thinks, Sherlock is pretty much like any typical man. For once in his brilliant life Sherlock's right down amongst the common run - saying the words make him uncomfortable, probably. The man never talks about previous relationships. It's not 'his area.' Unfamiliar territory, perhaps completely uncharted for Sherlock. In this domain, the detective fumbles his way forward, groping but sure-handed for all that.

John just hadn't expected all the gestures. It doesn't seem very... well, very Sherlock, but then why should the man not surprise John in this as he does in his brilliant deductions? And anyway, John knows. He hears the word in Sherlock's every action. He sees it in the spaces between.

   {John. You... }

It's in the in-between moments, the small gestures. John, his arm in a sling of hideous blue cradled against his chest, cursing the fates that it is his dominant hand ('Again, dammit!' he mutters, and Sherlock grimaces). Angelo raises his eyebrows at it as they enter, but smiles as Sherlock matter-of-factly helps John out of the coat, lifting it from his shoulder and tugging the right sleeve away. The detective pulls the chair out for John, and when John sits, rests his hand on his shoulder before sitting across from him. And John smiles and thanks him. It's unexpected after all, but considerate. John appreciates the tact with which Sherlock had done it. It's what a couple might do. Except, they aren't a couple.

It's the first real unspoken whisper of Sherlock's feelings, the care with which he helps John with his coat, long fingers deft, sparing John pain or embarrassment. Looking back, John sees the gesture for what it is.

   {John, this thing between us... I...}

It's in the sudden domesticity. To his surprise, John finds he isn't doing all the cooking any more. Sherlock still gets sunk into his cases, and whether he cooks or even eats when John is out (like some shy cat), John has no idea. But sometimes when John comes home there will be something in the oven, something edible, and John sees (with ever-decreasing surprise each time it happens) that Sherlock is standing over the sink, peeler in hand and denuded root vegetables in a heap, ready for the boiling. (Still in his dressing gown some days, but why else would one create their own occupation if one can't dress however one likes for it? Thinking can be done in any attire.)

Sometimes when John is in and making dinner, Sherlock will help. Standing side by side at the sink as John passes the wet plates over, Sherlock drying and stacking ('I'm better at reaching the top shelves anyway,' he jokes and John can only smile crookedly at that). And sometimes they talk as their hands move in this most common of chores, but even when they don't talk, they exist in a bubble of companionship, each content to let the other be alone in their head. It's good.

And that very first time he sees Sherlock in the kitchen slicing carrots into rounds (not...experimenting?), when John expresses his surprise (bewilderment / shock / blank unflattering amazement) at Sherlock's making dinner, Sherlock only narrows his eyes at him. 'I can think just as well when I am doing something, and the more repetitive the action, the better it helps at times,' he says, and John has the terrible urge to catch Sherlock by the waistband of his drawstring pyjamas, pull him close and kiss him. He doesn't. They are not in a relationship. Not that kind, anyway. In spite of common assumptions.

Instead he only says, 'It's not that, Sherlock, I just... Well. That smells great. Thank you. I appreciate it.'

And Sherlock looks half-embarrassed by the compliment, but lifts his chin, a half-smile twitching up his mouth. 'Naturally.'

   {John, I think...}

It's there in the first kiss. Not after any great case - there is no danger, no adrenaline or emotional high pushing them together. It is not some Mills and Boon moment. Just an ordinary night - they've gone out for a bite to eat. John has long since given up on anything happening between him and Sherlock and so it comes as a surprise when Sherlock's steps slow on the street and John turns back to him. 'What is it?' he asks. 'Something about a case? Did Lestrade just text?'

And Sherlock stands still, looking down, and shakes his shaggy curly head like a baffled bull. 'No. Not a case. It's not always about the work, John.' His gaze lifts from the pavement to John's face and John's throat goes tight.

John can't move (what is - is he really - I don't believe it - Sherlock?) when Sherlock steps in close and rests a gloved hand on John's shoulder. The pale eyes flick over John's face, cataloguing, measuring. What Sherlock sees there relaxes some tension in his lean body - he melts, he bends his head down, hand sliding to the back of John's head as John tilts his head up (Sherlock, yes YES). Lips chilly from the winter air - a gentle pressure, a point of contact that warms as the lips move against John's.

And all too soon Sherlock pulls away. His eyes are closed, lids fluttering, and his teeth glint briefly as he collects the flavours from his lip, tests them, tongue briefly seen (and god how John wants to step back into him as he watches this). The bright eyes open. The deep voice is unsure, almost bewildered as he says, 'That... I think - I should have done that a long time ago, John.'

And John's laugh is a bright bird that flies free with the joy he feels. 'I wish you had.' And just like that, (so simple, why was it that simple?) they are together.

John and Sherlock.

   {I need you. I...}

It's the objects. It's the new tea pot, a real Brown Betty. Just like the one John's gran had when he was a child and having (very sweet) milky-white tea on special days in the warm cramped kitchen, one of his favourite memories. The tea pot is large and squat and as glossy brown as a chestnut. It's waiting on the sideboard one morning, next to a tin of tea. Fortnum and Mason's.

John says nothing about it to Sherlock, wondering a little at the unexpected appearance of it, but he makes a mug for himself and Sherlock. He carries it up to their shared room, where the lanky form is still curled into a nest of blankets, one bony foot protruding. John strokes the bottom of the foot and a half-yelp is heard, and Sherlock's sleep-tousled head emerges. 'Here,' says John.

And Sherlock takes the mug and sips, blinking, pink lips not-quite-smiling. 'Mm. Perfect.'

John smiles at his partner, eyes crinkling at the corners. 'Naturally.'

And the teapot remains inviolate, no matter what experiments are run.

   {I want to make you happy, want to see it...}

It's the unspoken understanding at times. It's the days when John has had a terrible day at work (god the bruises on the boy's arm, the greenstick fracture, not the mother thank god, whose eyes are full of terror that John will report this to services - outright lies when he asks oh so gently about their home situation, God people are hateful, why? Why?)

Sherlock knows. Of course he does, but he also knows when John doesn't want to talk about it, can't talk about it (not now god please don't Sherlock or I'll have to either go for a walk or break my knuckles on the wall).

On those days it's Sherlock who pulls John down to the sofa. John lays down, head in Sherlock's lap, in a reversal of their usual relaxed positions. John's eyes are closed, Sherlock's hand sifting carefully through the strands of his hair, thumb stroking the crease on his brow. Not speaking, only waiting. (And god how I need the quiet sometimes, oh god it's killing me when he does this, the feeling in my chest, hurts to contain it.) When John is ready to speak, Sherlock listens carefully, eyes on John's face, flicking to his hands, shoulders, reading the signs of tension. His long hand rubs at the base of John's skull until the muscles loosen and John sighs. If John doesn't talk, Sherlock doesn't push, doesn't ask. Sherlock knows, and just lets his presence speak for him.

   {You are always there for me, I want to do the same for you...}

It's the actions. When they are called in by Lestrade (and it is 'they' now - 'Will you and John come?') Sherlock is as irritating and lofty as ever. He whirls through the scene, giving pronouncements from on high and dealing deft verbal jabs at Anderson when the sharp-faced man annoys him. But when John and Sherlock walk away, their strides are perfectly matched, Sherlock draping an arm around John's shoulders to tug him against his side. Or tucking John's bare hand into his pocket, Sherlock's gloved thumb rubbing John's. Or resting his hand at John's back. Or simply keeping pace, shoulders brushing.

   {My companion, my partner, my lover. Together.}

It's in the touches. It's when John awakens with his heart in his throat (not so frequent these days the nightmares but the subconscious is a bitch and he'll never be free of them) and Sherlock's hand is on his shoulder (just the good shoulder, Sherlock, don't touch me anywhere else, I might punch you otherwise without knowing it).

Sherlock never forgets this thing, never deletes it, never touches him in the wrong spot when the dreams twist his lover into knots of strain. 'Sh, John, it's fine. You're here, home in England, you're in Baker street, just breathe, breathe, I'm here...' And Sherlock doesn't ask him about the dreams (pointless, you'll tell me if you want to, John), never complains about his disturbed slumber (god knows the man needs it, never sleeps enough). He is just there, and when John falls back to sleep, it's with the comforting pressure of Sherlock's touch on his shoulder. That is all he needs.

   {My anchor. What you do for me, I would do for you. You have no idea...}

It's the attention given him, the minute observation, Sherlock using all his considerable skill to unravel John, eyes intent from between John's legs as John's hands scrabble and twist up the bedding. Yes, there, just like that, Sherlock, though John doesn't actually need to say it, Sherlock sees, he observes. And the dark head dips down again and a cry is wrung from John as another finger insinuates its way inside, twisting gently through the spasms as John shakes apart.

And it's also in the way Sherlock lets himself be open, trusting John absolutely. He lets John in, allows himself the freedom to be unwound in exchange as John hitches a long leg up over his elbow and presses in, leaning in to nip and kiss the pale skin. It's in the way Sherlock lets his reactions play over his face, the eyes slumberous and aroused, then wide and frantic, mouth falling open, oh, Christ John don't stop don't stop don't- until his back arches and he can no longer control his movements or keep his eyes on John, all grace and wanton abandon as he is lost to sensation.

   {I will show you. All the ways I value you.}

It's there in the panic, the edge of the moment when life is in the balance. It's when the suspect has the unexpected knife and is struggling under John. John is trying to pin the man's wrists to disarm him (should have just punched him in the throat, stopped him fighting) and as they roll in the grit and filth of the warehouse floor the flailing hand strikes home, a lucky shot (just inside the bicep, brachial artery). Not too deep (doesn't have to be, bleed out in five without compression) but the bleeding just won't stop.

It's in the trembling breath as Sherlock kneels over him and presses as John gives him low-voiced terse instructions. Sherlock sees - the brilliant eyes skipping over John's features as if memorising, watching the colour fading - but he does not observe, not this time, he can't, the famous detachment is lost, utterly and forever. It's in the way Sherlock continues to murmur encouragement as they await the paramedics (where are they dammit), voice steady, even as the edges of John's vision go blurry and dark. And as John slips under, the voice finally breaks.


- not alone again don't john don't leave don't break my heart, you can't -

- john please -


And the last thought John has is, That's funny, I always thought that'd be my line.

{Without you I can't...}



It's there in Sherlock's presence, when John awakens in the hospital (sharp scent of antiseptic in his nose, oh not again, dammit) and his hand has lost all sensation. He panics and his eyes fly open before he remembers - no, the knife hit the other arm. And there's a peculiar snuffling noise at his hip, and it's Sherlock, upper body draped on the bed, head pillowed on John's leg at an awkward angle, sleeping. The weight of his hand on John's (uninjured) has cut off the blood and left him with pins and needles. That's fine. John withdraws his hand from under Sherlock's carefully and threads their fingers together. Squeezes (still here Sherlock).

{Love you. I love you.}

But John knows. The day he knows for certain is featureless - no cases, nothing to distinguish it from any other, except it is this day - the day he understands, the day he finally knows.

John is in the bathroom in the morning, and he rests his hands on either side of the sink. One has days like this, but this day John looks at his face. The creases on his forehead that won't ever leave again, the slight softness under the eyes that will only grow more pronounced as he moves forward into the future. The patch of white in his hair and the mixing of silver in with dishwater blond. A day when life catches up and throws one into doubt and uncertainty. Sherlock still has the ability to look like he's twelve at times, smooth faced and so perfect it twists John's heart (Jesus he's beautiful), but today it only makes him feel old and sad.

The sigh is hardly audible as he leaves the bathroom and moves to the kitchen to plug in the kettle, but Sherlock observes. He moves from the sofa, turns John around and leans him against the counter, bending in for a kiss, lips moving against the tautness of John's until they relax. Sherlock pulls away and his thumb traces the lines of his face. The laugh lines, the crease between John's brows. All the marks that represent the story of his life and experiences, written for all to see. But Sherlock doesn't say anything reassuring, he doesn't say, Don't be silly, John, you look the same as the day I met you. The platitudes John expects do not come.

Instead Sherlock staggers John, leaves him completely off balance, cracks him open as he asks John simply, 'Will you love me any less when I grow old and wrinkled?'

And John can only stare up at him a moment before he crushes Sherlock to him, presses his forehead onto Sherlock's shoulder like any child that needs comfort, wants reassurance, breath hitching just once. And then he kisses Sherlock, heart on lips and given freely into the other's keeping, because in spite of everything, every action, every touch, John has not known. Not for certain. He's been afraid that one day the brilliant eyes would look elsewhere.

But now John knows. Sherlock is there. He's in this for the long haul. They'll grow old and be together to see it and if John's eyes are stinging as he murmurs against his lover's skin his own declarations (of course not, how could you know, I never thought, oh god Sherlock, I love -), who can blame him?

Later, when John has pulled Sherlock up to their room and they are lying side by side, Sherlock speaks. 'It's not really my area,' he says.

John smiles. 'I didn't think it was. But you're brilliant at it. You're the best partner I could ever have. I never dreamt it.'

Sherlock lifts a shoulder, the smile slowly spreading on his face. 'Well. It wasn't my area. But now... I suppose I have a lot of love stored up. It needs expression.' He rolls over and presses his mouth to John's chest. 'You'll just have to suffer under the burden of it.'

John giggles and twitches away from the tickle of lips, and Sherlock grins up at him from under his tousled fringe. His chin tilts and he rests his cheek on John's chest, eyes half-slitted as he listens to John's heart. John runs a hand through the tangles, down and over Sherlock's shoulder. 'I suppose I will. I love you, too. God, but I do.'


{I love you.}

{love you.}