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Till Death Do Us Part

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John sat in his red armchair, frowning across at the consulting detective perched on the chair opposite, an expectant smile on his face as his tapped his fingers together beneath his pale chin.

“Sorry, what?” John muttered, and Sherlock huffed, bouncing out of the chair to begin pacing across the rug beside him.

“I’m beginning to think it would be more expedient for me to wear a microphone,” the brunette snapped, flitting his hands in irritable gestures through the air. “Record everything I say so you can just play it back instead of making me constantly repeat myself.”

“Well, maybe if you didn’t talk at Mach 10,” John countered, and Sherlock spared a moment to sneer before returning to his pacing.

“Fine,” he snipped, put-upon as always, and John rolled his eyes, “I’ll go through it again. You remember that murder-suicide last month? The lesbian couple up in Camden?” He paused, waiting for John to nod. “And the one the month before? Couple in Notting Hill; husband was a prominent plastic surgeon?”

“Yes,” John replied warily, eyes narrowing at the detective.

“Well,” Sherlock said, twisting back toward him as he reached the window, a spark in his eyes that never boded well for John’s sanity, “it turns out there was another one back in August, and one before that in May.”

John blinked, brow furrowing. “And you think they’re…connected?” he supposed, and Sherlock sniffed, rolling his eyes to the ceiling.

“Well, of course they’re connected,” he muttered imperiously, softening a little as John folded his arms, unamused. “Four murder-suicides in the past eight months?” he said, lifting his brows, and John tipped his head in concession.

“It’s a little odd, I’ll give you that,” he admitted, “but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all connected. I mean, they’ve been pretty big news.” He looked up, eyes tracking Sherlock as the man went back to his pacing with a grumpy huff of breath. “Some of the coverage could have just given them the idea.”

“Wow, copycats!” the brunette pronounced with sarcastic grandeur. “That never occurred to me!”

John levelled a look at him, and Sherlock sighed, shaking his head as he dropped his face to the ground, pinching at the bridge of his nose.

“Yes, they could have all been inspired by the recent news coverage,” he allowed, albeit begrudgingly. He then brightened, a smile quirking up half his mouth as he turned to fetch a file from the table by the window. “Or,” he clipped, tossing the folder to John, who caught in fumblingly against his chest, “it could have something to do with the fact that they all saw the same marriage counselor at some point in the three months prior to their deaths.”

John snapped his eyes up, gaping in surprise at the smug face, and then turned his attention to the file in front of him, opening it on his lap. “These- These are consent forms,” he said, flipping through the clipped and stapled pages. “Contact information. Self-assessments!? Sherlock, these are supposed to be private!” he blustered, picking up the top few pages and flapping them in the air. “How did you get these?”

“Immaterial,” the detective muttered, flipping a hand, and John dropped his face into his palm, grinding at his temples to ward off the already building headache. “The point is, they were all fine.”

John lifted his face, letting his hand fall away to reveal his frown. “What?” he questioned, and Sherlock hissed a sigh, at John’s side in a single stride as he snatched the file up.

“Look at their forms,” he said, flapping the self-assessments of the second couple down at him. “There’s nothing out of ordinary, nothing to suggest even significant trouble in the marriage, let alone imminent violence. They’re all fairly well-adjusted couples dealing with minor problems: one works too much, the kids moved out, he slept with his secretary-”

“I would hardly call that minor.”

“Which one?” Sherlock replied, frowning in genuine confusion, and John just let it go, closing his mouth and waving the man on. “Now, look at Dr. Wagner’s notes on their sessions,” he said, flourishing out a different packet of paper and passing it down, and John just stared, blinking at the scratchy black handwriting.

“You have his notes!?” he spouted, looking up at the man in bewilderment, but Sherlock only tipped his head, scanning over his face like he always did when he didn’t understand John’s reaction. “Sherlock, seriously,” he continued, taking the pages, “how did you get these? You can’t go breaking into any more offices; there’s only so many times a ‘tall man in a long dark coat’ can be seen fleeing the scene before someone puts it together.”

“Your unfailing faith in our civil servants is as charming as it is naïve,” Sherlock replied, and John blinked, frowning down at the paper as he tried to puzzle out how to feel about that, “but, for the record, I didn’t break into his office. He invited me.”

“He invited you!?” John blurted, mouth dropping open. “What the- You just told me you think this man’s a serial killer!”

“No, I didn’t,” Sherlock retorted, and John huffed in frustration.

“Well, fine, you think he had something to do with it, then.”

“No, he’s definitely a serial killer,” Sherlock amended, and John’s headache spiked, “I just hadn’t told you that yet.”

John blew out a steadying breath, looking up at the detective, and something in his face must have conveyed his thinning patience, because Sherlock dropped his eyes away, swallowing and shuffling a small step back before continuing.

“I called him last week,” the man explained, rolling a pale hand in the air. “Said I was looking into counseling services”—John snorted, Sherlock silencing him with a glare—“and his name had come up. He invited me to drop in for an informal meeting, to see if we ‘clicked’, I believe was the terminology used.”

John quirked a brow, waiting for Sherlock to continue. “And?” he prompted, leaning forward in his chair. “Did you click?”

“I never click,” Sherlock muttered, turning away to perch on the arm of his chair, and John ducked a quick smile down to his knees, “but I did take pictures of his notes while his assistant was getting me a cup of coffee; he had the doctor’s old journals stored in his desk. What do you notice about them?” he added, bobbing his head at the paper in John’s hand, and John sighed, lifting the pages in front of his face.

He squinted at the words, shifting the sheet back and forth until he found the sweet spot, and then dropped it back down again, looking over the top toward where Sherlock was snickering.

“You need glasses,” he chuckled, smirking at John’s narrowing eyes.

“You need to shut up,” he snipped back, and Sherlock laughed, John once again lifting the paper as a barrier between them. He frowned, reading over the words, and then flipped through another few pages, finding a pattern across the words that started the familiar combined wriggling of excitement and dread in his stomach. “They’re the same,” he remarked, heart leaping with pride as Sherlock smiled, dipping a nod of approval, “and they don’t make any sense. From this, they sound like-”

“They’re about to go on a homicidal rampage?” Sherlock surmised, smiling slightly, and John nodded, lowering the papers back to his lap. “Two of the couples saw other therapists after him, and those doctors have wildly different findings, nothing even half as violent as what Dr. Wagner suggests.”

“So, you think he’s targeting the couples he counsels?” John supposed, and Sherlock nodded, rising from the chair and beginning to pace again.

“He picks troubled couples, couples with problems that could, under the right circumstances, be considered motive for murder, and then demonizes them in his notes so that, if anyone ever were to come looking, they would only find evidence to support the murder-suicide theory, not reason to suspect his involvement. The first two cases were in different jurisdictions; I barely found them, there’s no way they would ever make the link.”

“But you did,” John interjected, and Sherlock slowed his steps, flashing a soft smile. “So,” John clipped, leaning forward over his knees as he folded his hands together, “what’s the plan? Don’t suppose you found anything else useful when you snooped around his office?”

Sherlock shook his head. “He didn’t even have journals from his previous office there; all I have are his notes on the latest two couples,” he said, waving a hand behind him to the folder, and John frowned.

“Latest?” he echoed as Sherlock resumed pacing. “You think there’s going to be another murder?”

“Stands to reason,” Sherlock replied, apparently unconcerned. “With his pattern of escalation, it seems most likely he’ll strike before Christmas.”

John stared at the detective, his heart quickening. “We have to warn them!” he urged, rising to his feet, Sherlock stopping at the window across the room. “His patients! We have to tell them they’re in-”

“Not necessary,” Sherlock interjected, waving a dismissing hand, and John’s mouth dropped. “He’s only working with one couple currently, so it’s safe to say they’ll be the targets.”

“So, what? You’re just gonna dangle them out as bait!?” John spat, shaking his head in disgust. “They have a right to know, Sherlock!”

“They do,” the brunette replied, strangely calm under the circumstances, which only served to frustrate John further.

“What do you mean they do? You told them and they still wanna go along with this!?”

“That remains to be seen.”

“Oh my god, Sherlock!” John exclaimed, arms cutting quickly through the air. “Why can’t you ever just answer a bloody question!?”

“I did answer your question,” Sherlock replied, eyes flashing even as his tone remained impassive. “I don’t know if the couple’s going along with it or not because you haven’t answered mine.”

“Yours?” John muttered, rattling his head perplexedly. “What are you talking about? What question do I-” He stopped, entire body seizing to a halt as his eyes scanned over Sherlock’s face, looking for confirmation.

Sherlock blinked, eyes skittering away from John’s as he bit his lip, hands twisting together in front of him, and that was answer enough in Sherlockese.

“No,” John said flatly, and the detective gusted out a breath, stepping toward him.

“It’s the only way!” he urged, hands outstretched plaintively. “The Yard can’t authorize a sting operation, and we have to catch him in the act!”

“Of trying to kill us,” John supplied, and Sherlock briefly closed his eyes with a wince of frustration.

“Well, yes, but it’s not like he’ll actually manage it,” he muttered, and John gaped at him, shocked he was actually hearing these ridiculous rationalizations.

“Sherlock, he’ll know who we are!” he exclaimed, and Sherlock threw his hands up, turning away. “He’ll plan for it!”

“So we’ll plan better!” Sherlock countered, and John just blinked, head shaking dumbly a moment.

“Sherlock, I am not marrying you for a case!” he bellowed, and Sherlock started, looking over him in bemusement.

“What? No, of course not,” he sputtered, rattling his head, and John’s shoulders wilted a fraction in tentative relaxing. “We’re already married,” Sherlock added matter-of-factly, and John couldn’t hear anything for a second, the floor tilting beneath him.

“What?” he croaked, and Sherlock shrugged, scratching at the stitching on the back of his leather chair.

“I set it up several months ago, shortly after I…returned,” he murmured, flicking glances to John up through his lashes, and John’s legs went numb.

“You-You set it- What!?” he demanded, and Sherlock sighed, teeth grating over his lip again.

“It was after the Whitley case,” he explained without explaining anything at all, and John probably would’ve requested a paper bag to breathe into if his tongue hadn’t swollen up to choke him. “When it looked like the chief superintendent was going to try and charge me for impersonating an officer. If we were…together, you wouldn’t have to testify against me.”

John floundered, mouth moving with senseless creaks and clicks as he wondered just how much was wrong with him that that made a certain amount of sense. “I could’ve just lied!” he spluttered, waving an arm at the obvious, and Sherlock straightened up, head tilting with a frown.

“Under oath?” he questioned, and John shook his head at him, dumbfounded.

“Of course!” he exclaimed, and Sherlock blinked, startled. “How could you- I shot a guy for- DID YOU JUST FUCKING SHUSH ME!?”

Sherlock froze, eyes blinking as his lips slowly closed. “No,” he muttered, and John twisted away with a snarl, running a hand back through his hair as he paced the length of the room.

“How could you do something like this? No, wait, don’t answer that,” he muttered, waving a hand back at the man. “It’s because you’re Sherlock bloody Holmes and you can do whatever the hell you want, everyone else be damned!”

“That’s not-”

“Seriously, though, how?” John interjected, spinning back to him. “How could you do that without me knowing? I mean, surely there’s a-a form I have to sign or something.”

Sherlock twisted his fingers in front of him, a swallow bobbing down his throat. “Our, um, family lawyer is…not exactly adverse to-”

“You forged it,” John presumed, and, wordlessly, Sherlock nodded. John hissed a huff through his nose, shaking his head. “You forged it,” he repeated, planting his hands on his hips as he nodded down at the carpet. “Forged my signature on a marriage- WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU!?” he cried, feeling only marginally guilty when Sherlock flinched. “You can’t just-just do things like that, Sherlock! You didn’t even tell me!”

“Well, no,” Sherlock murmured, shuffling a toe on the carpet, “but you never would’ve agreed to it if-”

“AND THAT DIDN’T MEAN ANYTHING TO YOU!?” he railed, and Sherlock startled a step back. “The fact that you had to lie to me didn’t at all clue you in that, maybe, just maybe, THIS WAS A BAD IDEA!?”

“I really think you’re-”

“And what about Mary?” John interjected, and Sherlock closed his lips, jaw stiffening. “I was still with her during the Whitley case.”

Sherlock did not reply, just shuffled his feet on the floor, eyes cast down.

“What if I’d proposed?” he challenged, and Sherlock blinked, but the movement hitched slightly, as if he’d almost cringed. “You know I was planning on it. What if we’d stayed together, gotten engaged, and then got a call informing us I was a bigamist?”

“I would never have let it get that far.”

“Well you’ve let it go pretty damn far now!”

“John-”

“Don’t ‘John’ me!”

“I’m sorry, alright!?”

John stopped, anger faltering at the look on Sherlock’s face, a sort of desperate helplessness he hadn’t seen since- Since the bomb. His eyes narrowed in suspicion, Sherlock glancing over his face before the man huffed, clearly frustrated, but the emotion in his expression didn’t falter.

“Whether you believe it or not, I am sorry. I was going to tell you, I just- Well, it never really seemed like the right time,” the man continued, smiling weakly when John scoffed. “Look,” he said, stepping toward John on the rug, “I’ll take care of it as soon as this case is done. It’s not like anyone else knows; I already told Dr. Wagner that we’ve kept it a secret to keep it out of the press.”

John’s stomach clenched, a visceral reaction to the reminder of just how high the stakes were.

“And I didn’t give him any specifics, so you can make up whatever you like as far as problems go. I could have some sort of venereal disease, or maybe you cheated on me with Kate Beckinsale, or-”

“I’d never cheat on you, Sherlock,” John snipped, unthinking at first, and then snapped his eyes up, meeting Sherlock’s puzzled expression. He cleared his throat, swallowing as he shifted his weight between his feet. “I- No, Sherlock, this is insane! We can’t just-”

“Please?”

John stopped, lifting his chin to find the detective fixing him with what he thought was a sincere expression, the emotion carefully restrained in a way that screamed authentic Sherlock, but it still burned bright in his eyes. John breathed a sigh through his nose, shaking his head faintly, his fate already accepted by the less stubborn parts of his mind. “You know, just because you only say that twice a year doesn’t mean I’ll agree every time.”

“What are you talking about?” Sherlock clipped. “Of course it does.”

John laughed in spite of himself, Sherlock smiling along with the sound, and then he just looked at the man, biting at the inside of his cheek as he considered. “As soon as this case is done?” he asked, and Sherlock instantly brightened, nodding eagerly. John hesitated a moment longer, more for posterity than anything else. “Fine,” he huffed, and Sherlock beamed, “but let’s just stick to the truth, alright? We’ve got more than enough problems already without dragging Kate Beckinsale into it,” he muttered, smiling as Sherlock laughed, and, though it was still a terrible idea, John couldn’t quite bring himself to regret it.

*****

“So, John,” Dr. Wagner said, smiling across at him as he bent up an ankle to rest on the opposite knee, yellow notepad laid over his leg, “why don’t you tell me a little bit about what’s been going on with you and Sherlock?”

“Er,” John murmured, hands gripped together in his lap as he sat alone on the brown leather couch, eyes skittering between the doctor and the door, “shouldn’t-shouldn’t Sherlock be in here too?”

Dr. Wagner smiled, shaking his head of dark grey hair as he adjusted his wire-framed reading glasses. “I prefer to talk to my couples separately at first, get an idea of what problems you perceive as individuals before we reconvene. People tend to be a bit more hesitant to speak out when their partner is right there.”

“Right,” John muttered, unable to argue the logic of the point, and also unable to say he felt uncomfortable with the man being out of sight for extended periods of time. Who knows what he could be getting into? “I just- I’m not sure-”

“He can’t hear you,” Dr. Wagner interjected, bobbing his head toward the door. “I’ve tested it myself. He’d have to have his ear pressed to the door, and, I assure you, Justin would never allow that. He’s been with me for six years; he knows how things are run.”

“No, I-I’m not worried about…” He trailed off as the doctor raised a brow, apparently not fooled, but, though on his radar, that still wasn’t his primary concern. “I just don’t really know what to say,” John settled on, and Dr. Charles ‘Call me Chuck’ Wagner smiled, folding his hands in his lap.

“Whatever you feel like saying,” the man supplied, and John barely refrained from rolling his eyes. “Whatever you think you need to get off your chest.” He paused, clearly waiting for John to begin, but nothing came to mind, and, after a long moment, the man leaned forward, steady smile firmly in place. “If you’d like,” he began, tipping his head, “I could prompt you a bit at first. There are a few things Sherlock mentioned when he first came in that I feel would be good places to start.”

John swallowed down the twist of anxiety in his stomach, jerking his chin in a quick nod. “Yeah, er, alright.”

Dr. Wagner smiled, nodding before turning a page back in his notepad. “I understand you and Sherlock were married shortly after he returned to London, correct?” he began, and John nodded, clenching a fist. “And, prior to that, you thought him to be…dead?” The man blinked up at John, brow furrowed curiously, and John opened and closed his mouth a few times, not knowing quite how to explain something that sounded so ridiculous when put like that.

“Um, yes,” he answered, eyes focused down at the coffee table between them. “For three years. I-I saw him- I was there when he-”

Dr. Wagner lifted a hand, sparing him the necessity of saying it, and John shook out a sigh of relief before reminding himself this man was still most likely a serial killer. “That must have been very traumatic,” the man supposed, and John only nodded down at his knees. “Did you seek any sort of counseling at the time?”

“A bit,” John muttered, shrugging a shoulder. “I saw my old therapist a few times, the one I had when I came back from Afghanistan. I stopped, though, when I started dating Mary,” he explained, and then started, not sure quite why he’d said all that, admitted so much.

The doctor only hummed, scratching a note on the yellow paper, and John’s muscles tensed as he restrained himself from leaning forward to read it. “So, this Mary,” he said, shifting his glasses as he looked back up, “she was your last relationship before Sherlock, correct?”

John nodded, toes curling and flexing inside his shoes.

“And how did that end?” Charles asked, and John’s stomach swept up to his throat and back.

“I- Well, she- When Sherlock came back, we just-”

“Fell apart?” the man offered when John faded off, smiling sympathetically as he nodded. “And why do you think that was?” he pressed, leaning forward with an inquiring look. “It’s my understanding that you and Sherlock were not intimate”—John cleared his throat to disguise a choke—“before his...departure, so I presume it was not simply a case of picking back up.”

“No, I- We-We weren’t,” John confirmed, shaking his head and hoping he never heard the word ‘intimate’ again in his life. “We just—Mary and I, I mean—didn’t…work. Not after Sherlock came back. I was always gone, and- Well, she said she understood, but I don’t think she did really. Not that I blame her,” he was quick to add, lifting a hand to stall the assumption. “I mean, who could put up with that? Having a boyfriend who leaves in the middle of the night because his old flatmate needs help figuring out if it’s possible to break into some lawyer’s house in under three minutes?” He blinked, snapping his face up in alarm. “You-You can’t tell anyone that, right?” he muttered, and Dr. Wagner laughed, shaking his head.

“Not unless there was a crime committed,” he said, lifting a brow, and then smiling as John blinked impassively at him. “So, you were living with Mary at the time, then?” the man presumed, making another note when John nodded. “Sounds as though it was quite serious.”

“I suppose,” John murmured, twitching a shoulder, his spine beginning to stiffen as he sensed the conversation diverging into dangerous. “I mean, we’d talked a bit about marriage, but- Well, things were different after Sherlock came back,” he said matter-of-factly, the truth of it no longer stinging. “We talked about it. It was a pretty mutual breakup, really.”

“So, you don’t blame her for the dissolution of the relationship?” Dr. Wagner asked, and John shook his head.

“No, it wasn’t her fault at all. Sherlock- Well, he’s not exactly an easy person to get on with. No one’s been able to put up with it for very long.”

“John,” Dr. Wagner said, tone softening a little as he laid down his pen, unfolding his legs to lean forward over his knees, “do you think it’s possible you might blame Sherlock for the end of your relationship with Mary? Or any of the others, for that matter?”

John blinked, lips dropping apart as he stared at the man, unable to rationalize the kindness in his eyes with the brutality of the crime scene photos, and maybe it was that sliver of doubt planted in the back of his mind that prompted him to reply. “I- No,” he muttered, shaking his head as he frowned thoughtfully down at the carpet. “I mean, yeah, most of them left because of him, but-but he didn’t do it on purpose; he-he wouldn’t…” He faded away, breaths quickening as he followed the swirls of the wooden coffee table, his mind reeling in sudden epiphany.

All those phone calls in the middle of the night, a sudden urgency for what turned out to be a minor task. And he never remembered their names, not ever, not even when John made him repeat it half a dozen times before they came over. He’d just assumed Sherlock was careless, thoughtless, but what if it wasn’t that at all, what if he’d actually been thinking very carefully about every single step?

“John?”

John started, blinking up to the doctor, who smiled softly, leaning back in his chair.

“How about we just move on from that for now?” he offered, and John nodded, swallowing as he centered. “I did a little bit of research after Sherlock said you two kept your relationship a secret from the press. I must admit, I’d never heard of you before then,” he said, tipping his head apologetically, but John dismissed it with a small smile, “but I found your blog, and it was…highly informative.”

John tilted his head, quirking a brow at the hesitation, and Dr. Wagner smiled, shifting his weight a little on the chair.

“You don’t talk about yourself much,” the man said, and John frowned, still puzzled on where exactly this was going. “On the blog. I mean, you are, of course, writing the story, but you tend to gloss over your contributions.”

“My…contributions?” John echoed, and Charles nodded.

“You always put yourself in a passive role,” he explained, rolling his hands over in the air, “very rarely going into any detail about what you personally did throughout the course of the case. We hear a lot about what Sherlock did or said or deduced,” he added with a flick of his brows, “but very little about you. Unless, of course, you’re referring to a theory you believed that he later proved wrong.”

John did not reply, merely watched the man, waiting for the point to become a little clearer.

“I wonder if, perhaps, this reflects not only how you see your own involvement, but how you think Sherlock sees your involvement,” Dr. Wagner added, and John frowned, still uncertain.

“I-I don’t understand,” he murmured, and Charles smiled.

“John,” he said, leaning forward once again, “do you think you might feel a little…taken for granted in this relationship? Like Sherlock maybe isn’t as appreciative as he should be?”

John’s mouth dropped, jaw shifting in stunned silence. “I-I-” he stammered, but Dr. Wagner cut him off by standing, crossing toward the door.

“I think that’s probably a good place to start next session,” he said, passing John a smile over his shoulder. “I’ll go grab Sherlock. There are a few policy things I need to go over with both of you before you go.”

John nodded, beyond speech at the moment, and, as the man passed through the door, he blew out a breath, closing his eyes and gripping tight over the front of the cushion. His heart leapt at the low rumble of Sherlock’s voice—unintelligible, but coming closer—and he lifted his face to the door just as the detective passed through it, grey eyes immediately snapping to John’s.

Sherlock’s brow furrowed instantly, his head tilting as he searched over John’s face, and John quickly dropped his head to his lap, swallowing through a thick throat.

Yes, this had definitely been a terrible idea.

*****

“Okay.”

John turned, halfway up the stairs when Sherlock came blowing in after him, fixing John with an intense stare as he tossed shut the door.

“What is it?” the detective snapped, and John frowned, tilting his head down at him. Sherlock huffed, rolling his eyes as he unwrapped his scarf, tossing it over a hook before following with his coat. “You haven’t said a word since we left Wagner’s office,” he expounded, and John turned, starting once again up the stairs.

“That’s not true,” he countered, pushing into the living room, Sherlock’s footsteps quick on the stairs behind him. “I told you I didn’t want to order sushi.”

“Yes, but that’s all you said,” Sherlock snipped, narrowing his eyes at him from the doorway as he stopped to watch John flick on the kettle, pulling tea down from the cupboard. “Something happened during your conversation with Wagner,” he surmised, and John paused, breathing out a sigh at his cup.

“Nothing happened, Sherlock,” he said sternly, but the brunette only scoffed, the floor creaking as he approached.

“Let’s pretend for a moment that I am an internationally renowned consulting detective to whom it would be fruitless to attempt to lie. Oh, wait!”

“I said nothing happened,” John snapped, gritting his teeth as he twisted away to the fridge for milk.

“But you’re lying!”

“Yes, alright, I’m lying!” John exclaimed, whirling on the man, and Sherlock blinked, bumping back against the counter as he startled. “I’m lying, you’re right, you’re always right, but can I not- Can you just let me do that for once!?” he implored, hands shifting in the air in front of him. “Can I just not talk about something I don’t wanna talk about?”

Sherlock stared at him a moment, and then frowned, his face slowly sinking into confused creases. “Why?” he asked, and John sighed, shaking his head exasperatedly down at the experiment-littered table. “We’re going to have to talk about it eventually, so why put it off?”

“Because I don’t want to talk about it right now!” John barked, but the man ignored him, stepping closer across the kitchen.

“But that’s such a waste of time,” he contested, and John puffed a frail laugh of little amusement, pinching his fingers over the bridge of his nose as he closed his eyes. “And it’ll be awkward now until we talk about it. It’s not as if you don’t want to tell me at all.”

“It doesn’t work like that, Sherlock,” John said tiredly, shaking his head. “Sometimes people need time to work up to things.”

“Work up to what?” Sherlock muttered, and it would’ve been charming if it wasn’t so infuriating, how utterly oblivious the smartest person in the world could be sometimes. “What could you have to work up to? Is it something bad? Did I do something?”

“I don’t know, did you?” John countered sharply, but Sherlock’s brow only furrowed in further confusion. John sighed, dropping his face to the ground before turning once again toward the fridge. “Just forget it,” he murmured, opening the door to a rattle of jam jars, but the floor creaked again behind him with Sherlock’s closing steps.

“So it is something I did,” he supposed, and John’s grip tightened on the door handle.

“Sherlock,” he said in sharp warning, but the detective cut him off.

“Are you moving out again?”

John whipped his head around, the door falling away from his hand to close with a muffled clatter of glass. “What?” he said, turning back to the man. “No, of-of course not. It’s just something Dr. Wagner said,” he muttered, shrugging in a quick twitch. “It just…got under my skin, I guess. It’s stupid.”

“Probably,” Sherlock replied, half his mouth curling when John looked up, “but I’d still like to know.”

John looked at him a moment, hesitating, and then hissed out a breath, shaking his head down to his shoes as he shifted them on the linoleum. “He just- We were talking a bit about Mary,” he began, and Sherlock’s jaw twitched so quickly, John was half-convinced it had just been a trick of the light, “and then previous relationships in general, and- Sherlock,” he said, lifting his face to firmly meet the man’s eyes, “if I-if I ask you something…will you tell me the truth?”

Sherlock blinked, his lips pressing shut as his jaw shifted, but he did not reply.

“Sherlock?” John prompted, and the brunette looked away a moment before lifting his chin again.

“Of course,” he murmured, and, though John wasn’t sure how much he believed him, he knew that was the best he was going to get.

“Did you- And not just with Mary, I mean ever, with any of my previous girlfriends. Did you…try and break us up?” he asked tentatively, suddenly nauseous with nerves.

Sherlock didn’t move, just stared at him a long moment, and then, almost imperceptibly, his fingers twitched where his hand hung at his side.

John’s lips dropped apart, and Sherlock blinked his eyes to the ground a moment, a silent admission. “Oh my god,” John breathed, sliding a step back. “Oh my god!”

“I didn’t do much,” Sherlock defended, and John just gaped at him. “Nothing that wouldn’t’ve happened eventually anyway. I mean, I was bound to need your help in the middle of the night at some point, I just…accelerated the timeline a little,” he explained, quirking a shoulder with a sheepish tilt of his head. “It’s not as if you were serious about any of them.”

“That’s not the point, Sherlock!” John railed, and the detective dropped his gaze again. “And, besides, I was serious about them! Or at least about Mary!”

“No, I didn’t do anything with Mary,” Sherlock urged, lifting a hand at him. “I swear, I-I didn’t interfere with that at all.”

“Why not?” John snapped, arms flailing out at his sides. “I mean, you ruined everything else! Why not sweep the board!?”

“Ruined?” Sherlock echoed, shaking his head faintly. “I didn’t ruin anything. Things were never going to work out with those women, you know that.”

“They could’ve!” John spat, but Sherlock only shook his head.

“You know they wouldn’t’ve. You were always going to put this first.”

“Put what first?”

“This!” Sherlock exclaimed, waving a hand out at the surrounding flat. “All of it! The thrill of the chase, the blood pumping through your veins-”

“Just the two of us against the rest of the world,” John finished, and Sherlock’s lips drifted shut, his eyes turning curious. “Except it wasn’t the two of us, Sherlock,” John said, head shaking in bitter resignation. “You left. You left, and then it was just me, and god forbid I want someone else in my life before that happens again.”

“Again?” Sherlock questioned, tipping his head with a frown. “What are you talking about? I’m not faking my death again.”

“Maybe not,” John allowed with a shrug, “but it’s only a matter of time before something happens. You disappear, or die for real, or- I don’t know.” He dropped his face, shaking his head at the kitchen floor. “I don’t know what it’ll be, but I know it’s only a matter of time, and I don’t- You can’t be the most important person in my life, Sherlock,” he said softly, lifting his eyes to Sherlock’s searching grey ones. “Not anymore.”

Sherlock’s eyes shifted away, his face pinching in something not unlike pain. “John, I-I understand that you-”

“No, you don’t,” John calmly interrupted, shaking his head as Sherlock looked up at him. “You don’t understand. I lost everything when you left. You just had to fetch your own phone from your pocket,” he spat, and Sherlock’s eyes snapped up, mouth dropping open in affront.

“You’re serious,” he said, voice breathy with disbelief. “You-You really think- How?” he implored, shaking his head. “How can you possibly believe that!?”

“Because you left!” John cried, taking a step toward the man as he whipped an arm through the air. “You let me think you were dead for three years, and then you just come back like nothing ever happened, like I’ll just be here waiting to grab my gun and follow you out the door! You took everything for granted, still take everything for granted, just like Dr. Wagner said!”

“Dr. Wagner?” Sherlock spluttered, taken aback. “You mean the man we’re investigating as a potential serial killer?”

“That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a point,” John countered, and Sherlock’s mouth dropped, eyes blowing wide. John huffed, rattling his head as he turned, heading out the side door of the kitchen toward the stairs. “Just forget it,” he muttered, batting a hand back, but Sherlock was across the room in a blink, grabbing his wrist and spinning him to a halt.

“You think I didn’t care!?” he challenged, cold fingers slipping off John’s sleeve. “You think it didn’t haunt me every single day? All those things I said; all those things you said? They were going to kill you, John; I didn’t have a choice!”

“Great,” John snipped, throwing his hands in the air in defeat, “now I’m the asshole for not being grateful.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“Then what do you mean, Sherlock?” John snarled. “Because for all your explanations, all the stories and ‘thirteen possibilities’,” he snapped, curling his fingers around the words, and Sherlock guiltily dropped his eyes, “you never told me why. Why it had to be that way, why you couldn’t say something, anything!”

“You know why.”

“No, I DON’T!” John exploded, slamming his hand down hard on the table, rattling the beakers Sherlock had half-filled with various disconcerting liquids. “I don’t know, Sherlock, because you never told me, and not everyone can read bloody minds!”

“I couldn’t watch you die!” Sherlock spouted, and John blinked, anger flagging in surprise. Sherlock stared at him a moment, breath puffing past his lips, and then he blinked, turning his face away as he swallowed. “I-I knew you’d come back,” he muttered, flipping a hand weakly in the air. “After you saw Mrs. Hudson. I knew you’d be there, and I-I knew about the snipers, and I just- I tried to find a way out of it,” he said, lifting his chin as he shook his head. “I did, but, once he’d killed himself…” He faded away, shrugging a shoulder helplessly as he stared away again over the kitchen. “I wanted to tell you,” he continued, glancing up through his lashes. “I lost track of how many emails I half-wrote, but-but I hadn’t found them all yet. I hadn’t gotten rid of Moriarty’s network, and if they got even the slightest hint that you knew… I couldn’t risk it,” he said softly, shaking his head at his shoes. “Not that, I-I couldn’t risk that.”

John stood there a long moment watching the man, watching every flick of his lashes as he blinked at the ground, every twitch of his fingers as they hung limply at his side, and just couldn’t find it in him to be angry anymore, couldn’t find the energy left to be bitter, because he had known why, if he was being honest with himself, but something about hearing it, about witnessing Sherlock form the words he knew hadn’t been easy for him, lifted the remaining burden from his shoulders, and he sighed, shuffling his feet on the linoleum. “Well,” he muttered, tipping his head, “when you put it like that.”

Sherlock looked up tentatively through his lashes, and then smiled, a fragile thing John more boldly returned. The detective then dropped his eyes again, biting lightly at his bottom lip. “I-I’m sorry about Mary,” he murmured, lifting his chin, but John just shook his head.

“It wasn’t your fault,” he replied, and Sherlock lifted a brow. John smiled, puffing a small laugh through his nose. “Okay, you were a contributing factor,” he amended, and Sherlock smiled, “but… Well, it wasn’t you, really.” He shrugged, tucking his thumbs into the pockets of his jeans. “She knew things would be different, that I’d want to come back.”

“You didn’t have to.”

“I know,” John assured, nodding softly, and Sherlock simply stared at him a moment before dropping his eyes with a small smile. John sucked his lips over his teeth, rocking back on his heels in the awkward silence. “So,” he clipped, Sherlock tilting his head expectantly, “our first fight as a couple.”

Sherlock blinked, brow furrowing in confusion a moment, and then laughed, John chuckling along as the brunette leaned back against the counter. “First of many, I’m sure,” he teased, eyes bright as he smirked. He then sobered somewhat, fingers shifting where they gripped the edge of the counter. “Actually, about that,” he muttered, eyes flicking between John and the table. “I-I noticed Dr. Wagner watching us when we were talking to him at the end. I think- I think he found our demeanor…odd.”

“Our demeanor?” John parroted, and the toe of Sherlock’s shoe began tapping against the ground.

“Um, yes,” the brunette murmured, a swallow bobbing down his throat. “I-I mean, I suppose it could be explained by the lingering awkwardness of your conversation with him, but, for the meeting next week, I imagine he’ll want to discuss the more…sensitive aspects of our relationship.”

John tilted his head, frowning confusedly, and Sherlock just stared at him a moment before sighing, shifting his weight between his feet as he ran a hand back through his hair.

“We-We were sitting fairly far apart on the sofa,” he explained, rolling a hand in the air as he avoided John’s eyes, “and we weren’t- We didn’t appear-” He shifted his hands helplessly in the air, mouth caught open, and John finally understood, eyes blowing wide.

“Oh,” he croaked, clearing his throat, hand twitching against his thigh, “and you-you think he…noticed?”

Sherlock nodded, mostly down to the floor as he bit his lip. “I-I don’t- I mean, you- We don’t have to-”

“No, I- That- We should figure that out,” he replied, clipping a quick nod, and then just stared at the ground, waiting for Sherlock to take the reins. The detective didn’t appear up for the task, however, and, after a long moment, John blew out a breath, closing his eyes to steady himself before lifting his chin. “Okay, well,” he started, and Sherlock peered up through his lashes, “we’re gonna be sitting on the sofa, right?”

Sherlock eyed him warily a moment, and then nodded slowly.

“Okay,” John said, swallowing down most of anxiety as he took a deep breath. “Okay, let’s-let’s start there, then.” He lifted his face, bobbing his head for Sherlock to follow as he moved past him into the living room, and, after a moment and a raised eyebrow, the brunette followed. John grabbed the client chair, spinning it around to face the sofa instead of the armchairs, and then waved Sherlock toward the piece of furniture. “Sit down,” he prompted when the detective hovered, and he tentatively complied, settling awkwardly on the edge of the sofa. John smiled, quirking a brow at him. “You don’t have to be nervous,” he eased, but Sherlock only snapped up a glare.

“I’m not nervous,” he spat, and, though John flicked his brows skeptically, he let it go, shuffling past Sherlock’s knees to sit on the sofa beside him.

“Okay, so,” John chirped, slapping his hands over his knees as he turned to the detective, “whadya wanna do? Like, all that…holding hands, arm-around-”

“Do you normally do all of that?” Sherlock inquired, frowning as he tilted his head, and John shrugged, turning his eyes to the coffee table.

“Not really,” he replied. “Not in front of other people, anyway. I mean, I might- Do you mind?” he asked, turning back to Sherlock as he shifted his arm toward the man’s shoulder, and Sherlock shook his head. “I might do something like this,” he said, stretching an arm across the top of the sofa behind Sherlock’s back, close, but not quite touching the detective.

“Subtle gesture of possession,” Sherlock remarked, nodding faintly as he turned his head away toward John’s hand. He then twisted back, blinking expectantly at John’s face. “What else?”

“Um,” John murmured, leaning back against the cushions as he thought, though decidedly not about why his heartrate had picked up. His eyes tracked up the space between their legs, and he shifted slightly, slowly shuffling closed the gap. “We probably shouldn’t be so far apart,” he explained, pressing their bodies together lightly from hip to knee, and then Sherlock moved toward him, increasing the pressure and flipping John’s stomach. John sucked in a breath, eyes fluttering shut, and then blew it out, swallowing through a thick throat.

“What am I supposed to do with my hand?” Sherlock asked, lifting his arm in front of him, the limb left without a place to rest now that the space between them had been eliminated.

“You could just put it on your leg,” John offered, waving his free hand down at the detective’s black trousers, “or we could- Here,” he muttered, gingerly lifting his hand to take Sherlock’s hovering wrist. Slowly, more for his own sake than any presumed discomfort of Sherlock’s, he lowered the back of the man’s hand down, settling it on his denim-clad thigh, just above the knee. He then moved his fingers around, laying them gently atop Sherlock’s palm, his thumb resting over the brunette’s wrist, and, though he was nowhere near as adept as Sherlock at discerning such things, he thought he felt the man’s pulse quicken.

For a long moment, no one spoke, John lifting his eyes through his lashes to find Sherlock staring transfixed down at their hands, and then the detective blinked, his face suddenly hardening to impassive.

“It’s not exactly comfortable,” he muttered, and John smiled, happy for the reprieve.

“You get used to it,” he replied, Sherlock lifting his eyes with a frown.

“Get used to it?” he parroted. “We only have a week.”

John smiled, releasing Sherlock’s hand a moment as he grabbed the remote, quickly flipping through the channels until he found something suitable, but the detective’s hand lingered on his leg, immobile until John laid his fingers over it once more. “I guess we’ll just have to practice,” he replied, voice easy enough, but his heart was pounding in his ears as he gripped Sherlock’s hand tighter in his own, and then rattling his ribs when the man smiled at him, twitching his fingers in a little squeeze back.

The grey eyes then turned away, and John could pretend for a while, allow himself to temporarily forget the predicament as he hummed noncommittally at Sherlock’s vicious corrections of the science in Star Wars, but, as the hour stretched later around them, Sherlock growing quiet and slack against him as he drifted off to sleep, John couldn’t run from it anymore, namely because Sherlock would wake up if John shifted his shoulder from beneath the tousled head.

He looked down at Sherlock’s hand beneath his, lifting his fingers just slightly to graze across the pale palm, and Sherlock hissed in a sleepy breath, burrowing in further to John’s side as he lifted his legs,  tucking them beneath him, his knees curled up to rest against John’s thigh. John closed his eyes, clenching his jaw as he swallowed, and then took a slow breath, trying to relax. Turning his chin, he looked down past the curls over Sherlock’s forehead, tracing the gentle curve of his brow, the sharp lines of his cheekbones, the soft wisps of dark lashes that twitched against his pale skin, and, without a thought, he shifted the arm draped over the back of the couch, carding a hand through the satin curls as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Halfway through the pass, he stopped, heart skipping a beat before picking up all the quicker, his mind racing in a panicked spiral around the one thing he knew to be true, the indisputable fact he’d kept firmly boxed and chained ever since Mary had looked him in the eye and told him to go back, to stop running, to stop using her as an escape he didn’t even really want.

He was in love with Sherlock Holmes, had been for a while, maybe even always.

And there was nothing he could do about it.

*****

Things were simultaneously more and less awkward by the time their next meeting with Dr. Wagner rolled around.

Sherlock seemed fine with the proceedings, happy they were making the necessary improvements to their ruse, whereas, for John, it felt like they were constantly on the verge of an explosion, every casual brush and touch terrifying in its thoughtlessness, and he worried every second that Sherlock would catch him, would look up at the wrong moment and realize John wasn’t really acting at all, but it never happened, and, sitting down on the sofa in Dr. Wagner’s office, arm slung behind Sherlock’s back as the detective’s pale fingers traced idle patterns on his knee, John finally dared to think he might just get through this with his dignity intact after all. That is, until the session started.

“So,” Dr. Wagner chirped, smiling broadly at them from his chair as he adjusted his glasses, “I made a lot of good progress with both of you last time, but I wanna start bringing those things together now. There are a lot of different places we could start, but there’s one thing I think we should get out in the open right away. How would you say your marital problems are affecting your sexual relationship?”

John choked, apparently solely on his own saliva, arm disentangling from Sherlock as he leaned forward, the detective’s hand slipping off his knee as he looked down in concern. “What!?” he spluttered, red-faced from more than just coughing as he gaped up at the doctor, who blinked at him, tilting his head curiously. “Why-Why would you need to-”

“It’s a routine question, John,” Sherlock soothed, placing a hand on his shoulder, and John rounded on him, eyes wide in disbelief. The brunette simply looked back at him, expression mild, if a little concerned, and John’s jaw twitched as he tried to psychically communicate just how creative the man’s death was going to be, Sherlock apparently thinking it hilarious to let John be blindsided by something he didn’t seem surprised at. Sherlock’s lips curled in a soft smile, unassuming to anyone farther away, but John saw the slight hint of smug sparkle in his eyes, and his tan fingers clenched in a fist as he forced himself to smile back.

“Right,” he snipped, turning back to the doctor as he straightened up, “of course, I just- I’m not particularly comfortable discussing…that.”

Dr. Wagner smiled sympathetically, bowing his head as he leaned back in his chair. “A lot of people are hesitant at first,” he said, nodding in assurance, “but what issues appear in the bedroom can be very telling.”

John swallowed, sure even his intestines were blushing. “I’m sure they can,” he offered, clipping a sharp nod, “but I don’t- We don’t have any issues.”

How Sherlock was keeping a straight face, John would never know, but his face must have been doing something, because Dr. Wagner looked between them with skeptical concern.

“Are you sure?” he asked, tilting his head. “There’s no shame in it. Lots of couples come to me specifically for that purpose; it’s hardly unheard of. And, considering you’ve never had a relationship with another man before, I would expect there to be some-”

“I’ve had relationships with men before,” John interjected, and Charles blinked, eyes widening.

“You-You have?” he asked, and John frowned, confusion growing. “But Sherlock said-” he started, and then stopped, stilling as his eyes shifted to the detective.

John turned to the man as well, and found stunned grey eyes staring at him above an open mouth, Sherlock’s skin alarmingly pale. “What?” John questioned, looking over the man’s face, but Sherlock only blinked, mouth shifting faintly. John’s brow furrowed further a moment, and then his lips dropped apart. “You didn’t know!?” he blurted, and, in an instant, Sherlock’s expression shifted from shocked to defensive.

“No,” he snapped, his posture stiff. “How would I? You never told me.”

“I never tell you anything!” John countered, twisting to face the man, their knees pressing together. “I never have to! You always already know!”

Sherlock’s mouth dropped open in affront, an offended crease forming between his brows. “You think I would know something like that and never mention it!?”

“I thought you were respecting my privacy!” John spouted, and Sherlock scoffed, turning his head away as he rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “Yeah, in retrospect, that should’ve been my first hint,” he snipped, Sherlock twisting his face back to glare at him, but Dr. Wagner interceded before it could get any further out of hand.

“Okay!” the man urged, batting his hands at them as he called for order, and they both bitterly ripped their gazes apart, scowling down at the floor on their respective sides of the sofa. “Okay, clearly, this is an issue we have to address. Now, Sherlock,” Charles invited, waving a hand toward the detective, “why does this revelation upset you so much?”

“Is it not supposed to?” Sherlock spat, and John turned to blink up at him, surprised at the authenticity. Sherlock flicked a glance to him briefly, narrow-eyed and burning, and John realized like a slap to the face that this part, at least, was no longer a game.

He was playing for keeps now.

“There is no way you are or are not supposed to feel,” Dr. Wagner assured, dipping his head at the brunette. “I’m merely asking you to explain what you’re feeling, not to invalidate it in any way.”

Sherlock’s brows twitched as he examined the man, hesitating a moment, and then relaxed just slightly, a swallow bobbing down his throat. “I-I don’t like not knowing,” he muttered, dropping his face to his lap, and John had to look away, the guilt growing too heavy.

“In general or about John?” Charles prompted, and John bit hard at his lip.

“Both, I suppose,” Sherlock replied, the sofa shifting as he shrugged.

“Good,” Dr. Wagner assured, nodding with a gentle smile. “And, the first time we met, why did you think John had only been in relationships with women?”

“Because we lived together for three years,” Sherlock snapped, and John winced, feeling the man’s eyes on the side of his face. “He’d only ever shown any interest in women.”

“And none in you?” Charles supplied, and John whipped his face up, eyes widening as his stomach plummeted through the floor.

He turned to Sherlock, catching the look on his face for only a second  before he shuttered it, but it was there, written plainly in the trembling drop of his lips, the creases of hurt around his grey eyes.

Without a word, Sherlock snapped his mouth shut, eyes flashing as he stood, coat swirling around him as he made for the door.

“Sherlock,” John breathed, twisting to look over the back of the couch, and the man hesitated in the doorway, pale hand lingering on the frame a moment before he barreled on, closing the door behind him with a click John felt in his bones. Dropping his eyes, John slowly turned, stomach roiling as his hands started to shake.

“Why didn’t you ever tell him?” Dr. Wagner softly asked, and John looked up at him, sure now more than ever that there was not an ounce of evil in this quiet old man.

“I never thought he would care,” he replied, and Dr. Wagner nodded soberly, sympathetic to a problem he couldn’t have known the half of.

*****

Sherlock wasn’t there when John got home.

He called him twice, text him eight times, and then settled into pacing across the living room rug, mobile in hand as he tried to plan out the most important thing he would every say. That kind of pressure never did serve his brain well, however, and he was still nowhere near discovering the golden words when the door rattled downstairs, closing with a soft thump before footsteps creaked up the stairs.

John had seen the rain start a little over an hour ago, and Sherlock was dusted with it, his curls damp and faintly glistening with captured mist as he stepped to the top of the stairs, hovering on the landing as he tugged loose his gloves.

“Dr. Wagner has an alibi for the most recent murder,” he said, eyes focused somewhere down the corridor to his left. “ATM security camera caught him picking up dinner.”

“Oh,” John replied, feeling as though he had to say something, Sherlock still lingering just outside the door.

The detective swallowed, his throat bobbing as he wrung his leather gloves in his hands. “I guess I was wrong,” he said softly, and John flinched, the conversation clearly not just about Charles now.

“Sherlock-” John started, stepping forward, but the detective shook his head, shuffling back toward his room.

“It’s alright,” he assured, nodding, though his eyes still didn’t get any higher than John’s knees. “I understand why you-why you wouldn’t feel comfortable telling me something like that.”

“No, you don’t,” John insisted, trying to move closer, but Sherlock only backed away again. John stopped, sighing, this apparently the best he was going to get. “I- It was a long time ago, Sherlock,” he began, and the brunette once again turned his face away, jaw tightening. “I was in uni, and-and then it was the army, and- None of it meant anything.”

“Then why lie about it?” Sherlock muttered, and John sighed, shaking his head down at the ground.

“I didn’t lie,” he said softly, and Sherlock looked at him a moment just to glare.

“You never told me,” he snapped bitterly.

“I tried!” John bleated, hands pleading in front of him as he took another step, and, this time, Sherlock held his ground. “I thought you knew, I swear I did! I mean, you-you turned me down!” he urged, moving closer still, but Sherlock only frowned, tilting his head slightly. “That first night. At Angelo’s,” John added, and Sherlock blinked, eyes popping wide.

“That was years ago!” he countered, and John shrugged, a self-deprecating twist of a smile twitching at his mouth.

“I’m easily discouraged,” he murmured, and Sherlock laughed, a weak puff of air as he dropped his face, shaking his head at his shoes.

The detective then frowned, brows pulling together in thought as he lifted his eyes, searching between John’s. “Are you-” he started, and then paused, lips pressing together in hesitance. “What are you saying?” he asked instead, voice shaking only a little, and John clenched his hands to stall their trembling.

“I’m saying,” he replied, moving slowly down the corridor, Sherlock apparently rooted to the spot, nothing moving but his eyes as John drew up in front of him, “that I don’t want to pretend anymore.”

Sherlock’s brows twitched, a hint of a frown, and then his expression smoothed out with shock as John lifted a hand, gently brushing a damp curl behind the detective’s chilled ear.

“I want you for real,” he added, and Sherlock gasped, eyes popping to an unprecedented size as John’s eyes flicked to his lips, a wordless warning before he leaned up, but Sherlock did not move away, and, after far too long, their lips met, chapped skin just barely brushing before John pulled away.

Sherlock blinked down at him, breaths quick as they puffed warm over John’s face, and John was just about to ask if he was alright when Sherlock lunged down at him, cold hand tilting up John’s chin as he crashed their mouths back together, taking John by surprise.

It wasn’t a bad kind of surprise, however, and he quickly responded, pushing a hand up into Sherlock’s curls as he tilted the brunette’s head, locking their mouths more firmly together while he pulled Sherlock against his chest, wrapping a hand around a protruding hip bone.

Only once he was kissing Sherlock Holmes did he realize how many times he’d imagined it, and, though it was unlike every hypothetical scenario he’d concocted, it was also exactly what it should have been. Sherlock tasted like coffee and peppermint, no doubt the gum John was making him use to quit smoking, and he was brutal, kissing with the same single-minded determination he used in every other area of his ridiculous life. Equally true to form, it was a little manic, teeth clicking together around frantic tongues, and John felt like he was drowning, like Sherlock was draining everything from him in case this was the only chance he ever got. There were going to be plenty more opportunities, however, a lifetime of possibilities spreading out over John’s eyelids, and he pulled away with a smile on his face, stroking a thumb up and down Sherlock’s jaw as the brunette panted against his lips.

When their breathing had levelled off a bit, he shuffled a step back, easing the spike of fear in Sherlock’s eyes by reaching down to slide his hand within the paler one, a now-familiar gesture that somehow felt brand-new. “Come on,” he beckoned, bobbing his head back toward the couch, and Sherlock looked between him and the piece of furniture, flushed lips pouting as he frowned. John chuckled, tugging lightly at his hand until the brunette shuffled a step to follow. “Downton Abbey is about to start,” he added, and Sherlock groaned, putting up token resistance against John’s hold.

“Don’t tell me you actually watch that?” he snapped, and John chuckled, spinning just in front of the sofa to catch Sherlock around the waist, pulling the detective flush against him.

“Who said anything about watching it?” he teased, giddy with a kind of foolish high he couldn’t remember feeling since secondary school, when Kaitlynn Leigh had let him put his arm around her during a scary movie. He waggled his brows, and Sherlock laughed, shaking his head at the idiocy, and then let out a yelp of surprise as John tackled him down to the sofa, the man’s brown curls bouncing against the armrest the last thing John saw before he closed his eyes again, lips finding Sherlock’s in the flickering light of the TV.

*****

“So, this is your last session, then?” Dr. Wagner asked, removing his glasses as he looked between them, folding the lenses and resting them in his lap.

John smiled, nodding back at the doctor as he settled further back into the cushions, his arm draped over the back of the sofa. “Yep,” he chirped, pushing his fingers lightly into the back of Sherlock’s neck, rubbing small circles over his hairline. “I know it hasn’t been very long,” he said, tipping his head, and Charles lifted his brows, nodding in agreement, “but we’ve been talking and- Well, I think we’re in a pretty good place now.” He turned, flashing Sherlock a small smile before going back to his rehearsed speech. “We’ve at least got somewhere to start. Not to say we won’t be back,” he added, lifting a hand as he smiled, “but I think we can take it from here for a while.”

Dr. Wagner looked between them, his skepticism slowly waning into a smile. “Well, I’ll admit, it is quicker than I expected,” he began, and they both bowed their heads, acquiescing to the point, “but you do really seem to have made some positive strides. Hardly seems like the same couple sitting across from me!” He chuckled, lifting his hands out toward them, and John laughed, squeezing Sherlock’s neck lightly at the shared joke.

“It feels pretty different for us too,” John replied, planting a hand on Sherlock’s knee as the man coughed, barely covering a snort before he nodded in agreement.

“Yes, things have certainly…changed,” the brunette added, mouth twitching as John tugged unseen at a curl on the back of his head.

“All for the better, I hope,” Dr. Wagner joked, and John stood quickly, ending the conversation before Sherlock could say whatever was going through his mind behind that grin.

“Thank you so much for all your help, Doctor,” John said, grasping the man’s hand as he stood and stretched it out.

“Charles, John, I’ve told you,” the doctor reminded, and John chuckled, nodding as he released the man’s hand. “And Sherlock,” he said, turning to take the detective’s hand as Sherlock moved up to John’s side. “It’s been a real pleasure meeting you both.”

“And you, Charles,” Sherlock replied, smiling as their hands dropped apart. “I hate to say it, but I do hope we won’t see you again,” he added, and Charles laughed, throwing his head back toward the ceiling.

“I daresay I hope so as well,” he answered, and John laughed, the group of them all smiles as they headed to the door, startling Justin at his assistant’s desk just outside, the mousy blond man glaring across at all of them before returning to typing at his keyboard. “I’ll keep an eye out for you in the papers,” Charles bade in farewell, lifting a hand with a grin.

John chuckled, smiling broadly back as he too lifted a hand. “We’ll try to make it worth your while,” he quipped, and Dr. Wagner laughed, Justin looking between the groups with a perplexed frown, which was comforting in a way, knowing that, if Charles had been tight-lipped about their identities, he’d probably been just as discreet with their problems, and John didn’t want any more people than necessary being privy to that area of their lives, especially since it was supposed to be ending soon. Not that they’d talked about that.

The case now officially over, however, they were going to have to talk about it, someone going to need to take that leap and awkwardly bring up divorce when they’d only just started dating, but nobody seemed willing to burst the bubble just yet, and they kept up a steady stream of small talk in the cab on the way home, both of them a little wary about what they said in front of cabbies nowadays.

“So, what now?” John asked as they stepped through the door of 221B, brushing snow out of his hair as he shrugged out of his jacket, tugging down the hem of his oatmeal jumper to smooth out the creases. “If it’s not Dr. Wagner, what other leads do we-” He broke off with a small cry, startled as hands pushed hard at his shoulders, sending his feet stumbling backward until his back slammed against the foyer wall. He opened his mouth, readying to demand an explanation when Sherlock’s lips crushed against his, pushing his skull back against the wallpaper. John’s alarm instantly dropped away, and he groaned, pushing his hand up into Sherlock’s curls as he wrapped a hand around the man’s waist, pulling him close, the muscles of Sherlock’s back shifting against his hand as he slipped up underneath the black suit jacket, the brunette’s trench coat already discarded.

It had only been a week, so it wasn’t entirely unsurprising that they hadn’t been able to keep their hands off one another, but this relationship was one John was determined not to screw up, the stakes much higher now than they’d ever been before, so he’d been taking it slow, the two of them so far still going back to their separate beds on the nights they didn’t fall asleep on the sofa.

Which was why John was surprised when Sherlock ground their hips together, the man’s long cock already hard as it pressed against the front of John’s jeans, and John gasped, his own length quickly rising at the attention. “Sherlock,” he panted, gripping at the man’s hips, preventing him from moving, but Sherlock wasn’t going to be dissuaded, ducking his mouth to suck at the hollow beneath John’s ear. John’s vision swam, and he blinked up at the ceiling, trying to steady himself enough for words. “Sherlock,” he tried again, pushing the man gently away, and Sherlock groaned exasperatedly, pulling back from his skin, “we-we can’t- Someone’ll hear.”

“Mrs. Hudson’s out for the day,” the man replied, the words rumbling against John’s chest where they were pressed together, but he shivered for an entirely different reason.

“Oh,” John breathed, swallowing as his voice creaked, and Sherlock smiled, a smug twist of his mouth that John narrowed his eyes at a moment before grabbing the man by the collar, yanking their lips together as he ground up against Sherlock’s hips.

The brunette groaned, head thrown back a moment before he fell forward against John’s forehead, eyelashes fluttering as his lips shifted around ragged gasps. John smiled, tipping his chin up to recapture Sherlock’s mouth, and the detective responded with his usual abandon, tongue twisting past John’s teeth as he pushed their chests together. Seemingly unconsciously, Sherlock thrust against him, and John gasped into his mouth, hand instinctively dropping to grip hard into the firm flesh of the brunette’s ass, and Sherlock broke the kiss to moan, shaking against John’s body. John took the opportunity to dip his chin, sucking hard at the juncture of Sherlock’s jaw, and the man’s pale fingers gripped into the wool of John’s jumper before one hand slid down, palm pressing over the planes of John’s abdomen before stalling at the buckle of his belt, and time seemed to stop, the soft clink of metal the only sound in the dim foyer.

John looked up, finding Sherlock’s dark eyes already fixed on him, a fragile question in the twitch of his brow, and John was just about to make it absolutely clear how totally okay he was with this when Sherlock’s mobile went off, both of them jumping as they leapt apart.

With a muffled curse, Sherlock wrestled the phone out of his pocket, John laughing at the absurd scene as Sherlock answered, flushed and tousled, a prominent erection pushing at the front of the expensive trousers John was going to rip off later. “What?” he snapped into the phone, glaring up at John, who bit hard at his lip, trying vainly to stop snickering. Sherlock then frowned, turning away slightly as he looked down across the foyer. “There’s a plumber coming we have to let in?” he murmured, looking up at John, who nodded, remembering Mrs. Hudson leaving him with that instruction. “Why are you calling me about that? I don’t care,” Sherlock spat into the mobile, and John laughed, leaning back against the wall. Sherlock turned, moving the receiver away from his mouth. “She said she tried you first, but it went to voicemail,” he imparted, and John frowned, looking down as he patted his pockets.

“Shit,” he hissed, crossing over the foyer to check his jacket pockets, but to no avail. “I must’ve left it at Dr. Wagner’s,” he said, and Sherlock rolled his eyes.

“Fine,” he sighed, moving toward his coat, “I’ll go back with you. What?” He stopped, listening to Mrs. Hudson’s voice across the line, and then rolled his eyes again. “Apparently,” he clipped, shifting the receiver back again, “the plumber could arrive any time now, so I have to stay here to allow a dirty stranger to rifle through Mrs. Hudson’s medicine cabinet.”

There was a sharp shout from the speaker, Sherlock holding the phone away as he winced, but John only laughed, shaking his head as he slipped on his jacket.

“Don’t worry about it,” he assured, adjusting the collar of the black outerwear. “I think I can manage a cab ride on my own.”

Sherlock smiled, and then blinked, turning his head as he listened to Mrs. Hudson’s muffled voice. “Yes, I’m staying,” he clipped, flicking a wave at John as he turned around to start climbing up the stairs. “What? No, I’m not checking your DVR! … I don’t care if it’s a new episode! … It’s Antiques Roadshow, what possible cliffhanger could they have!?”

John smiled to himself as he stepped out the door, tugging the collar of his jacket up around his neck as he moved to the curb, flagging down a cab.

As much as John was perfectly capable of taking a cab on his own, it didn’t hit him until he was halfway to the doctor’s office just how long it had been since he’d actually taken one alone, and he had a sudden urge to text Sherlock, just to say something, to give himself the illusion of company, but, of course, without his phone, he could only sit quietly, twiddling his thumbs in the backseat until the cab came to a stop outside Dr. Wagner’s building.

Handing the cabbie the appropriate amount, he bounded up the steps, pushing through the front door and heading toward the receptionist. Dr. Wagner’s appointments were done for the evening, but she hadn’t seen him leave, so John went up on his own, stopping to knock on the open door as he peered into the office.

“Charles?” he called, searching around the small waiting room, but the doctor wasn’t there, Justin’s desk also empty. Thinking his phone was most likely in the main office, he moved across the room, knocking on the door of the meeting area. “Charles?” he called again, jiggling the door handle to find it unlocked. He hesitated a moment, hairs rising on the back of his neck, but there was nothing much he could do now, his gun left in a drawer of the foyer table back at 221B.

Tentatively, he pushed open the door, heartbeat loud in his ears as he listened for any hint of sound, but nothing greeted him as he stepped into the office. Nothing moving, anyway.

“Charles!” John cried, rushing across the room to the man’s side.

The doctor was lying on his side on the carpet, a patch of his hair stained and matted with blood, but he was alive, his pulse steady beneath John’s fingers, the blow clearly only having knocked him out.

Frantic, John looked up, eyes settling on his phone where it was wedged between the couch cushions, and he quickly wrenched it free, dialing 999. He was just in the process of giving the young woman who answered as many details as he could when Dr. Wagner began to rouse, groaning as a shaky hand lifted toward his head.

“Careful,” John urged, grabbing the man’s arm in support, and Charles whirled around at him, eyes wide. “It’s alright, it’s just me,” John said, pulling his hands away as he exposed his palms, and the man slowly calmed, blinking a concerning amount as his breathing quickened.

“What-What happened?” he murmured, and John signed off with the dispatcher, getting her assurance they were only minutes away.

“I came back looking for my phone,” John explained, bobbing the mobile in the air, “and found you on the floor. Do you remember anything about the attack?”

“Attack?” the man echoed, sitting up in alarm, and then he swooned slightly, clutching a hand to his head. “I- No,” he stammered, John slowly easing him back down to the carpet, “I don’t remember anything after-” He stopped, freezing, his eyes slowly widening before he turned them up to John, pure terror in his gaze. “Justin,” he breathed, and John’s stomach plummeted. “I-I heard him come in. Said he needed me to look over some paperwork.”

John’s heart thundered in his ears as he dropped his eyes, searching aimlessly over the carpet as bits and pieces came floating up to the surface of his mind.

‘I did take pictures of his notes while his assistant was getting me a cup of coffee; he had the doctor’s old journals stored in his desk…’

‘…Justin would never allow that. He’s been with me for six years; he knows how things are run.’

Justin had been there for all the murders too, following Dr. Wagner along as his assistant, and the notebooks Sherlock had found had been in his desk, not the doctor’s. John would be willing to bet Dr. Wagner had never even seen them, Justin no doubt planning to cover his tracks by making it look like the doctor had written the forged journals.

Sherlock hadn’t been so far off the mark after all.

Oh god. Sherlock.

John jumped up, pressing the speed dial key on his mobile as he raced toward the door.

“Where are you going?” Charles called, but John did not stop, didn’t so much as slow his steps as he headed to the stairs.

“The police will be here soon!” he called over his shoulder as he started downstairs. “They’ll know where to find me!”

“John, wait!” Dr. Wagner beckoned, but John couldn’t, rushing out the door and diving into the first cab he saw.

It was the longest ride of his life, an eternity passing before he was pulling up in front of 221B, and he was fairly certain he threw far too much money at the cabbie, considering the speed at which the man raced off, but it was hardly important at the moment. The front door of the flat was open, and John swallowed, sending a text to Lestrade as he pushed down the hysteria that threatened to overwhelm him, because it couldn’t be too late, it couldn’t be. Everything was going to be fine.

Slowly, he pushed inside, scanning side-to-side over the foyer, but it was deserted, and, silently, he slid open the table drawer, pulling his gun and releasing the safety. As quiet as he could, he crept up the stairs, regulating his breathing as he focused, a practiced combat response, but there was only so much practice could prepare you for, and, as he reached the top of the stairs, passing into the living room with his gun held aloft, he couldn’t help the faint hiss of a gasp that rushed over his teeth.

Justin stood with his back to the window, left arm wrapped tight around Sherlock’s neck. In his right hand, he held a knife, the edge of the blade hovering just below Sherlock’s chin, a hint of scarlet on the detective’s pale neck from where the sharp silver had already nicked. “Dr. Watson,” the blond man chirped, eerily at ease, and John’s eyes narrowed as he stepped closer, gun held steady in his hands. “About time you showed up. I was beginning to think we were going to have to start without you.” He turned the knife just slightly, Sherlock flinching away from the contact, but John saw a fresh drop of blood roll down from the wound, and his vision swam the same color a moment.

“Let him go,” he said icily, eyes never leaving Justin’s, but his focus was on Sherlock, who, somewhat unsurprisingly, didn’t look all that concerned with the proceedings.

His body language was a bit stiff, no doubt trying to hold especially still so as not to press against the knife any more than unavoidable, but his eyes were sharp, the calculating grey silently reassuring that the situation was well in hand.

Still, John would prefer to not have knife-wielding psychopaths in their flat, so, as Justin laughed, momentarily closing his eyes as he threw his head back, John moved a quick step closer across the rug.

“No, I’m afraid I can’t do that,” he muttered, shaking his head almost sympathetically, a shiver running up John’s spine at the nonchalance. “I was going to, to be honest,” he said, moving a step to his right, Sherlock’s feet shuffling along with the movement as he winced again, and John decided right then and there he was gonna kill that blond bastard, one way or another. “But then, when I found out who you were,” he added, chuckling softly as he tightened his grip around Sherlock, “well, that changed things. Not like anyone’s gonna be shocked to find you two dead—really, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already—and I knew it was only a matter of time before you figured out it wasn’t Dr. Wagner. That is what you were doing there, wasn’t it?” he asked, quirking a brow. “Investigating my murders?”

Sherlock blinked, eyes widening only a fraction as they fixed on John, but he got the hint.

“We were,” he affirmed, and Justin smiled, teeth glittering white below his glazed brown eyes. “We didn’t find anything, though.”

“Well, of course you didn’t,” Justin chuckled, shaking his head, and John readjusted his grip on the gun, watching carefully as the knife shifted in the man’s hand. “No one did; I was careful. Nobody connected those crimes, nobody knew anything! Not even Dr. Wagner!”

“He must have suspected something,” John said evenly, forcing his face into a small curious frown. “You were murdering his clients.”

“He was surprised,” Justin dismissed, shrugging a shoulder, and Sherlock’s eyes fluttered shut again in a wince, “but he didn’t think I had anything to do with it. Who would? He just wondered why he hadn’t seen the signs.”

“But you did,” John supposed, and Justin nodded eagerly.

“I can tell,” he urged, dropping his voice, as if conveying a great secret. “I see it in them. Some of the couples who come in there, they can’t be helped.” He shook his head gravely, and John pushed his nausea down, trying not to let any indication of his disgust slip through. “It was only a matter of time before they hurt someone.”

“Hurt someone?” John asked, frown genuine now. “Like who?”

Justin’s eyes hardened, his arm wrapping further around Sherlock as he drew back another step, but John’s question didn’t go unanswered.

“Like their kids,” Sherlock said, barely flinching at all this time as the knife pushed into his blood-damp skin. “The first couple had a son,” he continued, casting a pointed look to John. “He’d been brought to the A&E the month before. The parents said he’d fallen down the stairs.”

“He didn’t fall down the stairs!” Justin snarled, a spray of spit hissing from his mouth, and John moved closer as he moved back, a faint choking sound spluttering from Sherlock’s throat as the arm pressed tighter to his trachea. “I saw them outside the office once. He hit him! And that bitch did nothing!”

“You were protecting him,” John derived, and Justin almost seemed to soften, a desperation clawing up into his eyes. “Like no one protected you,” he added gently, though he did not lower his weapon, and Justin swallowed, his eyes beginning to glisten. John shuffled a step closer, turning his gun slightly, a small gesture that looked like backing down without actually impairing his ability to shoot. “But those other couples didn’t have kids, Justin,” he reminded, and the man’s leg began to shake, his jaw clenching. “They didn’t do anything wrong.”

“They would have!” the blond man shouted, moving the knife away from Sherlock’s throat momentarily as he pointed it at him, and John froze, finger hovering over the trigger. “I saw it! They were monsters, all of them!”

“But are we monsters?” John asked, and the man faltered, a faint gasp filling his lungs. John relaxed his arms, bending at the elbows a bit, though the gun still remained aimed between Justin’s eyes. “You said you were going to let us go,” he reminded, and Justin swallowed, eyes shifting nervously as the hand holding the knife began to tremble. “You know we’re not going to hurt anyone, Justin; there’s no one to protect right now. Nobody else has to die.”

Justin’s breathing grew ragged, his eyes darting between John’s gun, his face, and the arm holding the knife, but then faint sirens began wailing closer from up the street, and the man turned around, glancing out the window before whipping his face back to John, and John saw the decision snap into place in his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said, voice unyielding even as it shook, and John watched the tension ripple up his arm as he tightened his grip on the blade.

John stiffened his arms, holding his breath as he aimed, and Sherlock, reading it all in the split-second they had, grabbed Justin’s arm and turned his head as far out of the line of fire as he could.

The shot was deafening in the small space, but John didn’t even blink, watching every second of the bullet passing through Justin’s forehead, the glass shattering behind him as blood sprayed over the falling shards, and then, as Sherlock pushed free of his grip, his body tumbled out the opening, falling from sight at the same time Sherlock hit the carpet on all fours, right hand snapping up to the wound on the left of his neck.

John sucked in a breath, lowering the gun in front of him, and then rushed to the detective’s side, sliding the safety on and tucking the gun into the back of his jeans. “Sherlock!?” he urged, placing a hand on his shoulder, and, as Sherlock lifted his head, his eyes bright and alert, the wound on his neck became visible, blood running in a weak trickle over his pale fingers as he held pressure to the slash. John’s stomach threatened to spill out his throat, but he reined it in, swallowing thickly as he heard the squeal of tires on the street below, the lights from the emergency vehicles flashing in colored sweeps across the ceiling. “Sherlock?” he pressed, scanning between the man’s eyes, and Sherlock smiled faintly, dropping his eyes to his hand as he pulled it away from his neck, examining the blood while John examined the wound, every muscle in his body uncoiling with relief at the shallow cut.

Sherlock then looked back up, moving his hand back to his neck as the front door crashed open, footsteps thundering up toward them. “We have to stop meeting like this,” he murmured with a smirk, and, after a moment and a blink, John laughed, Lestrade stopping dead as he barreled into the room.

“What the-” the inspector breathed, gaping down at their smiling faces amidst a scene of blood and broken glass, his brow steadily furrowing with growing exasperation, and he eventually closed his mouth, shaking his head in heavy disapproval. “You two are gonna be the death of me,” he snapped, and John chuckled, beaming up at him.

“Not if someone’s the death of us first,” he quipped, and Sherlock laughed, peals of mirth interrupted by winces of pain as he clutched harder at his neck, and John helped him up, leading him down the stairs to one of the ambulances, where he accused everyone of being incompetent until John had to bandage him up himself.

*****

Christmas morning was always quiet in 221B, neither of them ever bothering with much in the way of presents, but there was still something festive in the air, a smile on John’s face before he’d even opened his eyes.

“Morning,” a voice above him murmured, and he opened one eye, shifting on the pillow until he could make out the detective sitting cross-legged at the foot of the bed.

John sucked in a waking breath, closing his eyes as he rolled onto his back, and then blinked lazily down at the man, bending an arm behind his head. “Your bed’s better than mine,” he murmured, and Sherlock smiled, tipping his head of sleep-mussed curls, though the pillow creases John was so fond of were gone from his face, so he must have been up at least a short while.

“The bed’s are the same,” Sherlock replied, shifting his weight to rattle the mattress, “I just have better sheets.”

John hummed, nodding his head, and then quickly scowled, reaching up to swat at Sherlock’s arm. “Stop picking at that,” he snapped, and Sherlock glared, lowering his hand away from the bandage on his neck.

“It itches,” he whined childishly, and John smiled, shaking his head against the pillow.

“It’s healing,” he insisted, channeling the same patience he used on 10-year-olds with casts. “It’s only been a few days.”

Sherlock huffed, glowering down at the duvet, and it was then John noticed the package in his lap, a manila envelope torn open along one edge.

“What’s that?” he asked, moving his leg beneath the blankets to nudge at Sherlock’s knee, and the detective grew suddenly still, seeming to shrink smaller before his very eyes.

“It-It’s the papers,” he said softly, sliding the packet loose from the sleeve, his fingers shaking slightly as he needlessly adjusted the blue paperclip at the top. “Mycroft had them dropped off this morning.”

John frowned, pushing up onto his elbows as he looked down the bed at the brunette, who was brushing his thumb along the edge of the pages, avoiding his gaze. “Papers?” he echoed, tilting his head. “What pa-” He stopped, heart stumbling over a beat as his eyes widened down at the document within Sherlock’s hand, and the detective swallowed, tapping at the perfectly even edge of the packet.

“I-I already signed them all,” he muttered, spinning the papers around as he passed them to John, who shifted up to sitting, leaning forward as he drew the document into his lap. “There’s red ‘x’s where your signature has to go. Or I could just do it for you,” he added, shrugging as he watched his fingers pluck at the white duvet cover, but John was watching him, confidence building with every nervous twitch of Sherlock’s brow. “I forged your signature on the first ones; there’s no reason I couldn’t-”

John stretched out an arm, dropping the document over the side of the bed to land with a soft rustle on the hardwood floor, and Sherlock stopped his voice to follow the movement, mouth caught open as he frowned at John’s empty hand. John then reached out, batting the empty manila envelope off of Sherlock’s lap before grabbing the man’s wrist, tugging him in encouragement. “Come back to bed,” he beckoned, but Sherlock didn’t move, looking between John’s face and the papers on the floor like a child utterly lost.

“I- But-” he stammered, blinking at John in bemusement, and John smiled, leaning forward to lift his other hand to Sherlock’s cheek.

He pushed back one of the more unruly curls, tucking it behind the brunette’s ear, and then trailed his fingers down Sherlock’s jawline, coming to rest at his chin as he stroked his thumb over the man’s full bottom lip. “Come back to bed,” he repeated, softer this time, and understanding slowly clicked in Sherlock’s eyes, a blush rising up his cheeks even as John watched.

“Are-Are you-” he began, and John sighed, rolling his eyes before lunging forward, grabbing Sherlock’s other arm and pulling him down beside him on the mattress.

“You’re impossible,” he huffed, manhandling the blankets as he tried to force Sherlock beneath them, and the man eventually complied, chuckling as he slid beneath the sheets, curling up against John’s chest.

He traced slow patterns over John’s collarbones and pectorals, never venturing low enough to shift the mood, and John just watched him, grazing gentle fingers along the man’s jaw and hairline.

A corner of the bandage over Sherlock’s neck protruded into John’s vision, and John’s chest constricted, his fingers dropping down to run along the edge of the tape, the pulse he’d almost lost more times than he could count thrumming steadily beneath his touch.

“I love you,” he whispered, entirely accidentally, a spike of panic stabbing through his heart like ice, but then Sherlock looked up, eyes wide with wonder, and the fear drained out of him, a heaviness he hadn’t even known the weight of fluttering free from his chest.

Sherlock smiled, slowly at first, and then a bright grin bloomed on his face, his teeth scraping sheepishly over his lip as he ducked his head “You know,” he mused, peering up at John through his lashes, “I’m not sure I’m ready for that kind of commitment.”

John blinked at him, positive a bucket of ice water had just dropped from the ceiling, and then he spotted the twitch of a smirk on Sherlock’s mouth, and his face flattened into a scowl. “You’re such an ass,” he grumbled, shaking his head, but Sherlock just laughed, hand wrapping around the back of John’s neck as he leveraged himself up to his mouth, and John held out for approximately 1.3 seconds before realizing he’d never had a chance at all.