Of all people, it was Mary who first broached the topic.
Sherlock had had plenty of surreal experiences in his life, but he couldn’t recall one that went quite like this.
“Sherlock?” Mary snapped her fingers in front of his face. “You alright? You looked like you stopped breathing for a minute.”
“I’m fine,” he lied, because how could he be fine with this, how could she be fine with this, yet here she was, sitting in John’s (inaccurate, correct to ‘the other’) chair across from him and looking like she had merely invited him over for dinner.
She hesitated. “I don’t want to pressure you or anything. No one’s demanding this. It’s just...an option.” She huffed out a breath and spoke quickly. “I know it’s a mad idea, and it’s not something I thought I would ever ask of somebody. I should probably go, we can pretend this never happened—”
“Mary,” he interrupted, “it’s not—” he swallowed and tried to think around the maelstrom his mind had become, “I’ll think about it.”
She nodded. “Take your time. Just know that, whatever you decide, you’re still our friend.”
“Thank you,” he said quietly. Mary left Sherlock alone with his thoughts. He leaned forward and put his head in his hands. When Mary had arrived, he thought she was going to ask (demand, warn) that he take a step back from her and John’s life. The cyclone of Sherlock had come back and upset everything. He understood that things had fundamentally changed; he was no longer part of the unit Sherlock-and-John. It had changed to Mary-and-John, plus Sherlock. He was prepared to accept Mary’s terms, when she proposed something that was quite the opposite.
To be invited in, it was too much. Mary had been so straightforward, as if it was simple. Mary said she thought it would be good for him and had the agreement of John—
Sherlock knew exactly what he was interrupting when he came back that first night. Knew that disrupting such an intimate event would make it easier for John to hate him. There were a thousand ways he could have shown himself; something private and solitary like he had done with the others. But he had chosen to throw himself into the middle of couples-only territory and damn the consequences, for him or for John, just to give John the excuse if he needed it.
But John, inexplicable creature that he was, had eventually managed to balance Sherlock-and-John with Mary-and-John, and Mary herself had taken the intrusion with good grace, even going so far as to befriend Sherlock. It was not an outcome Sherlock had foreseen.
Which was why this new announcement was so bewildering.
He gave himself three hours. He thought about it logically (pros and cons), intuitively (gut reaction, that unreliable instinct), and even researched online (far too complicated).
He thought about Mary and other women he had known. His mother, affectionate, doting, somewhat distant; Mrs. Hudson, maternal, quick-thinking, unafraid; Sally Donovan, acidic, suspicious, procedural; Molly, tender, foolish, resourceful; Irene Adler, manipulative, intelligent, superior; Mary, kind, clever, pragmatic.
He thought about John and his role in this.
At the end of the three hours, he texted Mary with an affirmative and proceeded to have a panic attack.
Two weeks later, he was in their sitting room (chosen because their home was familiar to the majority of those involved) with two fingers of whisky staring at the combined DVD collection.
“You look like you’re about to face the firing squad,” Mary said. She sipped her own glass of amber. “This is supposed to be fun.”
“Why are you doing this?” he asked. John was in the other room, but to Sherlock his presence was everywhere.
“Because he’s miserable.”
Sherlock looked at her. Her initial proposal had been rather scant on motive, focusing more on the practical side (step right up, all are welcome, none turned away).
“He hides it,” she continued, “and god forbid that he actually admit it, but he’s miserable without you. It’s almost worse than what it was, you know, before.”
Before he was alive. He looked at the small engagement ring on her hand. She followed his gaze and answered the unspoken question. “This isn’t a competition. This isn’t a last-ditch compromise to save our relationship. This is about sharing. John and I are strong, but he still needs you. There’s more than just my heart to consider.” She shrugged. “Besides, I bet it’s hot as hell.”
Sherlock choked out a laugh. If John had to pick anyone for a romantic partner, he was glad it was someone that kept him on his toes.
Mary took his glass as soon as he finished and asked, “How are you?”
“Terrified,” Sherlock said honestly.
“You won’t be the only one.” Mary pulled him up by the hand. “He’s probably worked himself into a state by now.”
He ran his thumb over her ring. “Mary.”
She saw the look on his face and was suddenly embracing him. “It’s all right. Say the word and you can leave.”
Her arms were around his neck and it felt natural to put his around her waist. “No, I…” He trailed off, unsure he knew what he was trying to articulate. Mary leaned back and took his face in her hands.
“Sherlock, listen. He loves me and he also loves you. This isn’t a trick. None of us would be here if we didn’t want to be. Now go in there and ravish my fiancé.”
He couldn’t stop a lopsided smile from appearing at the ridiculousness of it all. “I’m very glad you found him,” he told her.
“You found him first,” she said. She kissed his cheek and pushed him towards the closed bedroom door. “Make some fireworks.”
Sherlock took a steadying breath and opened the door.
John was sitting on the edge of the bed looking as keyed-up as Sherlock felt. He startled at the sound of the door, but relaxed as Sherlock closed it. “Hey.”
“John.” Sherlock couldn't seem to move. He took in John's appearance. The symptoms of nerves were clear, from the creases in his jeans to the slight dishevelment of his hair. Sherlock looked past that. Mary had clearly been a good influence on him; he still wore the jumpers, but they were of a better cut and material than before. When he lived with Sherlock, he allowed his hair to grow out; now it was as short as when they first met. He looked healthy and well-rested.
“Stop hovering, you git,” John said. “Come here.” He waved to the empty space beside him. Sherlock walked stiffly towards him and sat as if there was a bomb hidden underneath the mattress. “You look like you’re about to shatter.”
Sherlock turned just enough to watch John’s knees and not meet his eyes. “I was talking to Mary.”
"She's very direct."
“Cuts right to the chase, Mary does. Sometimes she even reminds me of—of you,” John said hesitantly.
“She said you—” Sherlock paused, picking from the revelations Mary had given. “She said you need me,” he said.
John chuckled softly. “She always ruins the surprise, too. Can’t keep a secret.”
Sherlock gave him a sidelong look. “You’re being very calm about this.”
John leaned back on his hands, putting the left one very close to Sherlock. “I’m nervous, sure. Didn’t think you’d come. I was worried that it was too late, or you would change your mind. All kinds of things. It took Mary to finally pull my head out of my arse and acknowledge it. Funny that.”
“So, do you? Need me?”
“Of course, you daft idiot. Why else am I here? It’s why you’re here, right?” John said it lightly, but Sherlock could hear the tension underneath.
He finally looked up at him. John had been chewing his lip (nerves, fear, of what?) and the look on his face was earnest and open. Sherlock still had the option to leave, and in the process would break more than one heart, including his own.
He was tired of hearts.
He abruptly leaned onto John’s shoulder. He felt John’s arm come around him and rest on his hip. “Is this really happening?” he asked.
John breathed into his hair. “If you want it to.” The arm tightened. “I’ve wasted enough time questioning myself. It’s a little unconventional, but so what. We’ve never done anything in the right order anyway.”
Sherlock swallowed. “And Mary?”
“She’ll be in later. She refused to be left out.”
“I can see why you like her.”
“I told you, she reminded me of you. But with more charm and tact, and fewer thumbs in the fridge.” John must have felt Sherlock tense up, because he added, “Doesn’t mean I can do without you, though.”
“How do you reconcile these feelings?”
“You’re not going to like the answer.” Sherlock shifted so he could see John’s teasing smile. “It’s not logical. It’s as if I look at Mary and it feels right being with her. And I look at you and feel the same thing. They’re different, but equal.”
“Sentiment,” Sherlock muttered. It wasn’t in his usual disparaging tones, more like he was trying to give a complex equation a simple name.
“It took a long time, and I’m not going to lie, it was easier when you were dead. No one questions missing a dead man. Then you showed up and...everything got complicated.”
“I apologize for that.”
John waved it anyway. “What’s done is done. And we’re here now.”
Sherlock became aware that his back was complaining at being bent at such an awkward angle. He considered his options. Lying down seemed far too presumptuous (then what did he think he was here for?) and sitting back might put them at square one. He compromised by twisting around so that their foreheads were resting together. It was an obvious invitation, one that John took quick advantage of. Even so, he was deliberate with his actions. He bumped his nose against Sherlock’s before pressing gentle kisses along his jaw. He found Sherlock’s mouth with his own, and all his doubts and fears dissipated. All the things they had been saying finally hit home. John would not be here unless he truly wanted to be with him; Mary would not approve unless she trusted both of them. Sherlock would not be here unless he meant it.
Soft kisses turned deeper as Sherlock responded. John pulled him in close, the hand on his hip now cupping his neck and his other hand on his waist. Sherlock realized that his own hands were fisted in the front of John's jumper (cashmere-wool blend, very good Mary). He must have made some sound when John bit his lip, as suddenly his lips were parted and a tongue was slipping past them. It was good and amazing and heady and too much too much.
Sherlock ripped his mouth away with a gasp and hide his face in John's neck. Unfortunately, that brought him closer to the smell and feel of his skin. He breathed deeply and tried to ground himself. If a kiss could undo him like that, how was he supposed to survive the rest of the night?
“Sherlock?” John asked. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, I…” He was momentarily distracted by the feeling of his breath warming John's skin. “It was a bit overwhelming.”
John paused while stroking Sherlock's back. “I don't think it's physically possible to go any slower without going backwards.” He tipped Sherlock back to look at his face. “What do you need?”
Need? What did he need? He needed John, that much was obvious. But it was occurring to Sherlock how much he wanted. In their time Before, Sherlock knew he wanted John, but was always a bit vague on the details. He had somehow convinced himself that John would never want the same thing (blind, stupid, false), so had been content with the status quo. They were as committed and dependent on each other as any declared couple anyway.
Now Sherlock was being allowed to take what he wanted, as much as he wanted. And to give back without rejection. John was free to do the same. (Sharing, Mary had said. Different but equal, John had said.) Sherlock wouldn't get a small part of John, or a part Mary would never see, but everything. No secrets.
Sherlock may have started to hyperventilate.
“Hey, hey, whoa. What's wrong, Sherlock? You need to talk to me,” John said. He was holding Sherlock's face in his hands, a mimicry of Mary's earlier actions.
“I need you,” Sherlock gasped. “All of you. I need to make you mine. And I need, god, I need to be yours. I need that, I didn't even know how much I needed it, please—”
“Sherlock, slow down. Nothing's happening if you pass out. Now, breathe.”
Sherlock did as instructed, closing his eyes and concentrating on his lungs. He felt his pulse slow under John's palms. He opened his eyes to see John looking intent, but not worried. “Better?” he asked. When Sherlock nodded, John pulled him close once more. “You’re thinking too much, you idiot.”
Sherlock hummed in response. This was...good, he decided. (Deep tissue pressure helped to alleviate stress, very good John.) They stayed like that for a few moments until John was sure he was calmed down. “Let’s try that again,” John said. “What do you need?”
Sherlock wrapped his arms around John and squeezed. “This is quite agreeable,” he said.
John huffed, trying to hide his exasperation. “Yes, it is. And while it's perfectly fine to stop at this, a little clarification on expectations would have been—hey!” He was interrupted by Sherlock biting at his neck. He let John feel his smirk against his skin. “So, that's how you what to play it, huh?” John ran his hands down Sherlock's sides and through luck or cunning managed to find the ticklish spots under his ribs.
Sherlock immediately straightened up and grabbed for John's hands, only for him to slip away and make for his ribs again. It felt spectacularly immature, this grab-and-dodge match they were having, but John was laughing and he felt himself smiling (“...supposed to be fun”), so he grabbed for John's upper arms instead and used his weight to push him onto his back.
John was still smiling, but his eyes had sharpened. “That's it,” he said. “Don't worry about doing something wrong.” He flexed his arms and looked down at Sherlock's hands still holding him with interest. Their faces were very close again. Sherlock claimed both the advantage and John's mouth, lowering himself so they were chest-to-chest. Their kisses were no longer gentle. Sherlock felt the hunger that he had kept hidden away for so long come to the fore. There wasn't any reason to hold back now. The same heady feeling as before filled his mind, but didn't overwhelm him. It felt like lightning in his veins. If this was what normal people felt, he thought, then he had grossly underestimated the power of sentiment.
But the most amazing part was that he felt John return the same hunger. John was grabbing at his back with the same strength, trying to kiss as much skin as possible with the same fervour. He inwardly cursed himself for waiting so long, for ignoring all the little signs, and for being more willing to throw himself off a fucking building instead of into a relationship.
Sherlock realized with annoyance that they were misaligned again. Their hips were still twisted sideways with their legs hanging off the bed. He pulled back (John chased after him, which pleased him to no end) and said, “Up.”
John blinked, then realized what he meant. He grinned as he pushed himself towards the headboard. “Look at you,” he said. “Going from blushing maiden to demanding lover in nought-point-eight seconds.”
“I'm always demanding,” Sherlock said as he followed suit. Ah, yes, this was much better. He let John feel his full weight on him as his hands roamed downward. He reached the edge of the jumper and slipped them underneath. John hummed into his ear as he then dragged his hands up, feeling the dry resistance of skin and the slide of muscle. He was concentrating on the skin being revealed, so he didn't quite focus on John's hands pulling his own shirt free until, instead of traveling up like Sherlock's did, he plunged them down.
He reared up with a hiss, which, of course, forced his hips down (third class lever, he had forgotten his physics). He froze; John's fingers kneaded the divots in his lower back, but otherwise he was as still as Sherlock was, waiting. It was harder to ignore John's wholehearted…enthusiasm pressing against his hip, as well as Sherlock's (biological reaction, it's fine, stop thinking).
When it was clear that Sherlock wasn’t panicking, just surprised, John smiled wickedly and slipped his hands to the front of his shirt to work at Sherlock's buttons. Sherlock watched John's face as he reached the last one and experimentally rolled his hips. “Jesus!” John blurted. “And I thought you were a tease before.”
And suddenly Sherlock was on his back. John had rolled them over and was now straddling him. He felt sharp pangs of arousal looking at him like this, debauched, but in control. “Now who's being demanding,” Sherlock said in a slightly unsteady voice.
“Just for that, I'm going to take my time,” said John.
“Yeah? What are you going to do about it?”
“Maybe I'll leave.”
John was unimpressed. “And go where?”
Sherlock thought a moment. “I'll go drinking with Mary.” John burst out laughing.
“She'll put you under the table, mate,” he said. His hands moved up Sherlock's chest, now exposed with his shirt parted to either side like an open book. He found himself arching into it. “Now, I don't know about you,” John said conversationally, “but I think a bit of undressing would make this go a lot easier. Shirt, trousers, even a sock or two—”
Sherlock interrupted by roughly pushing John's jumper up and nearly tangling him in it. While John was busy with arm and neck holes, Sherlock took the opportunity to press his face into John's stomach. He was, without a doubt, nuzzling him like a touch-starved lunatic. Skin hunger had always been just another type of hunger to control and ignore, and now Sherlock was thinking that maybe he should allow some leniency in that regard. Once John was free, he pushed Sherlock’s shirt over his shoulders and down his arms, and for the first time they were skin-to-skin.
John seemed to be savouring it as well. When he felt John run his fingers through his hair, Sherlock looked up. John's face was full of affection and Sherlock had to look down again before he thought too much about how long he had wanted that. “You're amazing,” John said softly.
“So you've said,” replied Sherlock. (Automatic response, but not the right one.)
John seemed to forgive it, because he continued, “Amazing that you're here. That I'm here. How many people get a second chance like this?” He breathed deeply. “We really are a pair of idiots, aren't we?”
“What's idiotic is that it took your fiancée for us to get here at all.”
John laughed at that. Sherlock felt his muscles contract under his cheek. “That was an unbelievably awkward conversation.”
“Then let's not have her wasted it then.” He looked back up and met John's gaze. The moment of truth. They both knew that they could walk away at this point and could remain relatively intact, but afterwards was another story. So John said the only thing that could break the tension without ruining it:
“Could be dangerous.”
Sherlock blinked, then started laughing. “Come here,” he said and pulled John down onto him by his belt. He mouthed at his neck while guiding John's hands towards his waistband. He in turn worked at John's belt buckle. They quickly learned that there was no elegant way to proceed, so they each divested themselves of trousers, socks, and pants (hesitating only a little) until they were both perfectly naked.
Nudity had never felt so important before. Briefly, Sherlock thought of Irene and how she wielded it like a weapon, but there was nothing intimidating or domineering as John returned to him. The Woman had no place here so he quickly banished her, and let his body curl around John's; face buried in his neck, arms over his shoulder blades, knee tucked up over his hip. “You're warm,” he said.
“Spectacular observation,” John teased. “Allow me to make one of my own.” And he repeated Sherlock's earlier motion by rolling his hips against him, causing his (hard, hot, very much present) cock to rub along Sherlock’s. He gasped and automatically rutted against it.
He regained a sliver of control and said rather shakily, “That wasn't technically an observation.”
“Shut up and kiss me.”
For once, Sherlock was very good at following instructions.
It became a haze of hands and hips and mouths and breath. They drove themselves mad with friction and murmured things like mine and yours and you came back and I came back for you. It was all so tender and forgiving that Sherlock almost couldn't imagine that it was genuine. But he was the liar and the thief in their messed-up relationship, and John was the steadfast barometer (keystone, conductor). He had no reason to doubt this. Slowly, he could feel them return to something familiar, where their whole world was each other and they were Sherlock-and-John once again. Finally, Sherlock drew in enough breath to stutter out, “John, please, I need—touch, please—”
“Yes,” John gasped out and, gripping onto Sherlock, rolled them onto their sides. Sherlock instantly realized why; John now had both hands free to reach for him. As John kissed across his shoulders, Sherlock arched into it, getting a view of the bedroom door for the first time.
Mary was standing there watching them.
He had no idea how long she had been there, he was so distracted. He froze, and John immediately noticed. “What?” He looked over his shoulder, then quickly turned back to Sherlock to say in a low voice, “You okay?”
Rather than answering, Sherlock took in her appearance. Mary had undressed and stood in a matching pair of black lace bra and knickers. Her expression held no outrage or jealousy, only mild amusement and soft affection. “And I thought giving you an hour was too generous,” she said.
“Mary,” Sherlock said, unsure if it was an acknowledgement or a plea.
“Shhh,” she said. She walked over and sat on the bed behind John. She seemed completely unaffected by their nudity. “It's alright, love.” Her attention turned to John and she cocked an eyebrow. “Having fun?”
“As much fun as a treeful of monkeys on nitrous oxide,” he replied. He snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her on top of him, making her laugh in surprise. John kissed her through her giggles, and Sherlock realized it was the same playfulness that John had treated him with. John did truly see them as equals in his heart.
Sherlock also realized that he was watching his best friend and his soon-to-be wife making out with a very distracting hard-on.
Mary must have noticed him shifting, because she pushed up and scowled down at John. “You're doing a poor job of making our guest feel welcome.”
“Well, maybe if someone didn't come in with more clothes for me to take off, I wouldn't have been interrupted.”
Mary rolled her eyes and looked at Sherlock. “See how he treats me? I'd be surprised if you ever come back after this.”
John laughed at that, and Sherlock allowed a hesitant smile to show. They were both so casual. Their banter was easy and natural, as if they had partners over all the time.
Sherlock didn't want to consider that. Fortunately, his train of thought was derailed in an unexpected manner; Mary darted in and placed a quick kiss on his lips. He was so surprised that he didn't react except to blink a bit stupidly. “Sorry,” Mary said, looking anything but. “It was too tempting to resist.” For the first time, she let her gaze travel lazily up and down his body. Sherlock thought he should be embarrassed, but hormones still filled his brain and took up any available room. “I was right; you two look good together.”
“Kinky little voyeur,” John said. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”
“And I won't if you don't get on with it.” Mary reached behind her and deftly unhooked her bra, tossing it over the side of the bed. John growled and sat up to nuzzle her breasts.
“You minx!” he said, a little muffled.
Mary pushed him back again. “Me, later. Sherlock, now, before he gets bored and shoots something.”
Sherlock finally found his voice. Their obvious ease with him being there went a long way to relaxing him as well. “You shoot the wall one time…”
John mock-scolded him. “You're a menace, you know, even skarkers and shagged out.”
“Hm, half right,” Sherlock replied.
John turned to Mary. “See how he treats me?” he echoed.
“Go!” She swatted at him and moved off John to the side. John rolled towards Sherlock and started running his hands over him again. “Alright?” he asked.
Sherlock took stock. “Yes. I'm still sure about this.” He met John's gaze and, seeing only encouraging acceptance, kissed him, fully aware of Mary settling in over John's shoulder.
Mary-and-John. Sherlock-and-John. He could somehow be both without breaking either (hypothetical, yet to be tested). The least Sherlock could do was uphold his end of the arrangement. It was turning out to be ludicrously easy.
They kissed and touched and teased in a truncated version of their earlier actions. Hearts were once again set to racing and breaths to panting. John pushed his hips into Sherlock, startling a gasp out of him. Sherlock pulled him in tighter to find that friction, and John allowed it as his hands gripped hips and arse and thigh. “Let me touch you,” he said into Sherlock’s mouth. He nodded and pulled away to create the (needed, necessary, hateful) gap between them.
In the brief moment before John took him in hand, Sherlock realized that he had taken a very passive role this evening. It was unusual behaviour for him, and he wondered if this was a sign of the so-called maturity that Mycroft had suggested. Then John pulled a long stroke along his cock and all such thoughts left him. Trust, his overwhelmed mind gasped out. He was placing trust in John and Mary both to lead him through this unfamiliar land and come out the other side unscathed.
But not, he thought as John started a maddening rhythm, unchanged.
John was murmuring again. In between kisses and curses, Sherlock heard words like fantastic and gorgeous and wanted you so long. Sherlock’s voice seemed to have fled once again and his hands twitched in helpless desire. He couldn’t even ask what to do, or what John wanted. John knew to ask for him though. “Do you want me to come with you?” Sherlock whined in answer. Yes.
John laced his fingers through Sherlock’s and reached down to gather both their cocks in their combined fist. Skin slipped against skin as John led him in a rhythm that had him bucking into it. It was rough and hard and driving, and Sherlock was soon on the cusp of orgasm. “Close,” he panted. “Need more.”
John’s fingers tightened and Sherlock threw his head back, fruitlessly trying to find an outlet for his pent-up energy. Movement caught his eye; Mary was half-leaning over John staring intently at them, clearly aroused. She met his gaze. Sherlock had no idea what she saw in his face, but she seemed to know what was needed. She reached over and placed her hand on his flank, squeezing hard.
It was like completing a circuit. Not Mary-and-John, Sherlock-and-John, as two separate entities. It was Sherlock-and-John-and-Mary. Whole and feeding off each other. Sherlock’s body suddenly shuddered as his orgasm washed over him. He heard John follow moments after, and abruptly there was nothing except heavy breathing.
“Didn’t I promise you fireworks?”
Mary’s voice brought them back to the present. She was still stroking Sherlock’s side. He found his limbs were heavy and his mind was (fearfully, wonderfully) slow. He was more instinctual than he would normally be, which is how he explained to himself why he nuzzled his way under John’s chin to kiss his neck. John’s arms hugged him tight, despite the mess between them. “Brighter than the Fourth of July,” John murmured into his hair. He tipped Sherlock’s face up to look at him. “You alright? You’re quiet and it’s weird.”
Sherlock managed a grin that was likely more dopey than he intended. “Accounting for the imprecise nature of language, I am perfect.”
“Yup, he’s fine.” John grinned back at him. He leaned in to whisper, “As much as I would like to spend hours over you, there is someone else needing my attention.”
The whispering was moot as Mary was still curled around him, and nipped at his ear. “After watching all that? Too right,” she said.
“Of course,” Sherlock said, still trying to find his equilibrium. He started to move away until John added, “You can help, if you want.”
Sherlock stared with wide eyes. John wanted him to—what? He wasn’t sure he was ready for whatever John had in mind.
John clarified before he had another breathing crisis. “Nothing too intense. She, um, she likes to be watched.” He glanced back at her with a cocked eyebrow. “And who better to do that than the most observant man in any room?”
Sherlock swallowed. “Alright.”
They cleaned up. It was the intermission before the second act. It was efficient, affectionate, and often interrupted with kisses. Both Mary and John made sure that Sherlock didn’t feel extraneous, including him in their touching and laughing. Eventually, Sherlock was lying on his side mirroring Mary while John was in the toilet (medical professional, obsessed with hand washing). They were both naked with a space between them that was intimate without touching. She propped her head on her hand. “What’re you thinking about?”
“You are unlike any woman I’ve met, and I don’t know why.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
She leaned over and kissed him again, a closed-mouth press of lips (tender, welcoming) to his. He wasn’t well-versed in this type of expression, but he tried to convey similar sentiments (gratitude, acceptance). He had the dangerous thought that he could get used to this.
John returned with a glint in his eye at seeing them. He slid his hand up Mary’s calf, across her knee, and drifted along her thigh. “You alright?”
“Could be better,” she said and pulled him down for a filthy snog. “There, better already.”
“I’ll start working on ‘fantastic,’ then,” John said. He slid down Mary’s body, leaving a trail of kisses across her collarbones, between her breasts, towards her navel. She writhed languidly and stretched one hand out. Sherlock caught it and twined their fingers together, the same way they had been with John’s. The whole evening was made up of reflections, Sherlock mused. He gently kissed her knuckles as John reached his destination. Sherlock felt her fist clench around his at the first swipe of John’s tongue, and Sherlock realized that John had (again) suggested the perfect activity for him.
Mary was open and uninhibited with her reactions, and Sherlock drank it all in. Her eyes closed and her mouth opened and her back arched and Sherlock was allowed all of it. “Incredible,” he murmured against her fingers. She turned her head to him and smiled. Her pupils dilated even further when she met his eyes (enjoyment, arousal), so Sherlock did what he did best. He sat up slightly and let his clinical razor-blade side take over. He pushed all the sex-softened parts to the background and simply looked at her, like she was a victim, like she was suspect, like she was a predator.
Sherlock had never observed himself when he was observing others, so he couldn’t say what changed in his expression. But Mary blinked and her eyes widened. “Oh,” she breathed. In his peripheral vision, Sherlock saw John briefly look up and grin, mouth wet, before returning to nuzzle at her mons pubis. Mary twitched, and Sherlock created and confirmed a hypothesis when John repeated the movement and she moved in the same way. “Clitoris,” he said. “He’s licking your clitoral hood, isn’t he?” Mary slowly nodded, caught up between the attention of the two men. Sherlock took in the rest of her body, watching her skin flush and her breath quicken. He prodded the small black koi fish tattoo on her hip. He touched a scar on her thigh (“Chicken pox,” he said) and another one on the inside of her elbow (“Burn, possibly a straightener or curling iron.”) He inspected her fingernails, still curled around his hand, and when he identified her hand lotion from the taste of it, she jerked again. “Hm, he’s sucking on your labia minora now, right?” John hummed in approval, causing Mary to writhe more forcefully and grip the sheets.
Sherlock looked at her face and recorded every gasp and snarl and moan. He watched her lips as she bit them to stifle herself, and her grip on his hand was turning her knuckles white. He let a touch of a feral grin emerge and said, “John, she’s close.” John made a sound that was likely a laugh, because of course he would know if Mary was close or not. Sherlock was rather glad that John wasn’t drawing this out. He was started to lose his hold on his objective persona. Easier to limit it to the Work in the future. He let himself soften and leaned in close to Mary. “You look fascinating when you’re falling apart,” he said.
Mary cried out as she climaxed, pulling both John and Sherlock towards her. Every muscle tensed up before releasing explosively, like a beautiful seizure. John rubbed his hands along her thighs and stomach to help her come down. Mary nuzzled against Sherlock and petted John’s hair as she panted out, “My boys.”
“Yours already, huh?” John said. He wiped off his mouth and crawled up the bed. Mary pulled him down for another messy kiss. “That was lovely,” she said. “Thank you,” she added to Sherlock.
He ducked his head, suddenly shy now that the action was over. “My pleasure.”
They settled into a silence of heavy breaths and softly rustling sheets. Sherlock felt goosebumps run along his arms; the heat and sweat of sex was starting to cool, and so was his confidence. The feeling of complementary pieces was fading. Mary and John were comfortable with each other, and knew how to care for each other afterwards. Sherlock just felt cold and exposed.
“Budge up.” John’s voice interrupted his thoughts. He was pulling down the comforter, and Sherlock rolled to allow it to slide past his hips.
“I should go,” he said to the ceiling. Both John and Mary stopped to look at him.
“Uh, if that’s what you want,” John started, “but I—we were kind of hoping you’d stay. If you want to, I mean.”
Sherlock stared at him. John eventually looked up and met his gaze, so Sherlock could tell he wasn’t lying or trying to spare his feelings. “Why?” he asked.
John half-laughed, a little exasperated. “We weren’t really intending this to be a one-off thing.” He paused to give Sherlock a significant look, hoping he would get it without John having to explain too much.
Mary came to his rescue. “We like you, Sherlock. And if this arrangement means less misery all around, then I’m on board. What do you think?”
Sherlock took in their expressions. Mary was honest and prepared to accept whatever his decision was. But John was caught between stoicism and fear (the soldier trying to adapt to the worst before it’s even happened), something Sherlock had seen on him only a few times. He could see John’s worry that he would walk out and pretend it had never happened (stop leaving stop leaving).
Sherlock examined himself. He wasn’t prone to introspection or instinct, but even he could tell that if he turned his back on this out of some misplaced sense of self-preservation, he would regret it. He knew regret, had experienced it several times, but had decided it was a useless sensation. There was nothing he could do about the past. But he could affect the present.
He nodded. “Alright,” he said, and tried to ignore how welcome their identical relieved smiles made him feel.
Sherlock woke up with a start. He was in an unfamiliar bed with sunlight coming in from the wrong angle, and for a moment he forgot where he was. Then he heard a snuffle from behind him and recalled the previous evening. He was currently hugging the edge of the bed on his stomach facing the far wall. He could smell John on his pillow. There was a weight on his ankle; John’s foot, a small possessive gesture that Sherlock decided he might like.
He rolled over to see John curled around Mary, both of them facing away from him. He watched them as the uncertainty from days (weeks) earlier crept up on him again. He was an extra part intruding on Mary-and-John, something irrelevant and unnecessary, save for when John wanted a taste of his old life. Would he break them and hurt them like he did with John? It was possible (probable, more than likely), but he didn’t want to. He wanted to actively prevent that, instead of standing from afar watching the fallout like he usually did.
He wondered, not for the first time, if he should have returned at all.
“Go back to sleep,” John’s muffled voice said. “I can bloody hear you freaking out. Take the weekend off for once.” He reached back without looking and, after fumbling for a moment, grabbed Sherlock’s wrist and pulled it across himself, covering his and Mary’s bodies. Sherlock adjusted from his suddenly disturbed position to line up better with John’s back. They fit well like this. Sherlock nosed at the soft hairs on the back of John’s neck and felt him press against Sherlock more fully. He forcefully shut down his earlier anxious thoughts, and simply relished the new (exciting, terrifying) sense of Sherlock-and-John-and-Mary.