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Elsewhere Come Morning

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It takes John the better part of a week to catch Sherlock awake.
 
Sherlock, lucky prat that he is, spends those two days sleeping and watching crap telly in their hospital room.
 
“About time you woke up,” Sherlock remarks in his usual bored drawl. Sitting upright, the back of his bed cranked up to support him, he might as well be lounging on an overly large sofa. It’s a hospital gown rather than the robe and jimjams, but beyond that, this is Sherlock in a classic slump of boredom. Unwashed hair tousled in frustration, an untouched plate on a tray before him, the dismissive scowl; all par for the course. There’s a laptop open on the table between their beds and John is utterly unsurprised to see that it’s his, not Sherlock’s.
 
He is possibly the most reassuring sight John has ever seen.
 
Between operating in Chelmsford, serving in Afghanistan, and resting from events in his other London, John has had more than enough time to think of what to say to this man. There are demands, insults, questions, threats. What the hell had Sherlock thought he was doing? Calling Moriarty out, going alone, handing over the missile plans – how is this man meant to be a genius?
 
John knows exactly how he’s going to pick this fight, but when he opens his mouth, he has a sudden realization.
 
“Sherlock, I- That little bastard. Moriarty stole my jacket!”
 
Sherlock looks at him. “You- ‘Moriarty stole your jacket’,” he echoes.
 
“I liked that jacket,” John protests. “I had things in it.” Second jacket he’d lost that week. At least they hadn’t been the same one.
 
“Like what?” Sherlock asks, face perfectly twisted in incredulity.
 
John can’t keep down his smile. “Things,” he insists.
 
“He strapped a bomb on you and you’re annoyed at losing your pocket detritus.”
 
“The bombs were everywhere, I saw that coming. No one said anything about stealing my jacket.”
 
Although Sherlock isn’t actually gaping at him, it’s the closest he’s ever come to it.
 
John’s not sure who starts it, but once they start laughing, it’s wholly possible they’re not going to stop. Stress and painkillers. It’s all stress and painkillers, and it takes some time for it to subside.
 
“I thought I was dead,” John says when the laughing ends. “I just spent- I don’t even know how long. I thought I was dead.”
 
“I’m reasonably certain it doesn’t work that way, John,” Sherlock tells him.
 
“Of course it does,” John says. “You go to Essex when you die, don’t you know that?”
 
Sherlock’s face can’t seem to decide what it wants to do. His mouth is still smiling, still on the verge of a laugh, but his eyes scan John’s face in what might be alarm, or even concern. “What dosage did they give you?”
 
“It’s not that much. Just for the shoulder and the almost drowning.”
 
Sherlock’s smile is long gone at that, replaced by a degree of seriousness that suits him poorly. The expression doesn’t suit his face, doesn’t quite fit, as if the emotion has never had enough practice sitting upon his impossible features.
 
Something in John shifts and warms and unfurls. Sociopaths don’t know remorse, but Sherlock does.
 
“What?” John asks.
 
“In the pool,” Sherlock says, picking his words with uncharacteristic deliberation, “it took me a moment to realize the bomb hadn’t gone off. What with the flashbombs Mycroft’s men used, it was very loud and bright. The water was cold enough that I couldn’t- that I didn’t register the lack of a proper explosion.” Sherlock’s eyes wander a bit, here and there, darting towards John and away.
 
“Okay,” John says. “That makes sense. Why are you telling me this?”
 
“Well, I responded to the situation as if there had been an explosion,” Sherlock said, very much not looking at him.
 
John pieces it together.
 
Then he pieces it together again, just to be sure.
 
“Sherlock,” John says.
 
“Yes, John.”
 
“Did you hold me underwater? While I was unconscious.”
 
“...yes,” Sherlock admits. “A bit.”
 
“You almost drowned me.”
 
“If we could focus on the ‘almost’-”
 
“Christ, are you serious?” John asks, his grin so wide. “Everything I’ve done for you and you almost kill me twice in a minute.”
 
“John, I-”
 
“No,” John says. “It’s fine. I mean it, it’s all fine. You can never so much as think of doing it again, but it’s fine.” He feels so justified right now. All the panic, all the fear: fully justified. One of the few things worse than terror is feeling like an idiot for being terrified. John had rediscovered that very quickly with Mycroft. Hearing this, John feels.... John feels better.
 
Sherlock watches him with wary, guilty eyes and John can only smile.
 
“I was going to yell at you a bit more,” he says, “but I think you’ve got it on your own.”
 
“You’re still going to yell,” Sherlock tells him. “You’re sorting through relief right now, and then you’re going to be angry.”
 
“I’m sure I will be,” John agrees. That’s how he feels: agreeable.
 
“I’d like to be home before then.”
 
“Tomorrow.” If he’s kept track of this timeline as he ought, Sherlock should be permitted to walk on that leg in a day.
 
“Yes. Once we’re there, Mycroft wants to put us under lock and key.”
 
“Kind of him.”
 
Sherlock huffs.
 
John may never stop smiling.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
It’s another day in Chelmsford and John is furious.
 
He’s long since resigned himself to Marta thinking he’s crazy, but today doesn’t take the cake: it’s stolen the bakery.
 
Because that was worse than waiting for a hangover, infinitely worse. Sherlock fucking Holmes nearly killed them both. Doing it John’s way, John’s sane, careful way, was clearly the better option. What is wrong with contacting the police? Where is it cheating to call in for back-up?
 
Before John fell asleep in the hospital, he’d sent Sarah an email from his laptop. Which is a shit way of breaking up with someone, but it had seemed important at the time, except he clearly shouldn’t be permitted to make life choices right now.
 
I realize I’m turning out to be a very poor emotional investment, he’d written. The way things have been going recently – and are likely to in the near future – I think it would be best if we stayed friends.
 
Actually, no, that was a good life choice. That life choice should be applied across his entire life right now, all four of it.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
It’s another day in Afghanistan and John is functioning.
 
It’s not quite autopilot, not quite bad, not quite fine. Not numb. Tired.
 
Drained.
 
John is good like this in Afghanistan. John knows how to go and keep going. What he doesn’t particularly know is how to stop. Waiting is different, isn’t the same as stopping. He isn’t fast or slow; his life is. John himself is constant, content to be so.
 
Sherlock, on the other hand....
 
Sherlock is something else. John isn’t sure what it is, but he thinks of being without it and that’s not a thought worth having.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
He expects to wake in his flat but instead blinks awake in a hospital bed. It’s still a London, though.
 
Turning over onto his side, his right side, his relatively unbruised side, he looks through the dim morning light to Sherlock’s sleeping face. By all rights, John should hate him. He shouldn’t... this. But he doesn’t and he does, and he’ll simply have to live with that.
 
He plans to.
 
When Sherlock wakes, John’s already been on his laptop for half an hour or so, checking his emails and confirming that, yes, he is single once more. He has his own watch back on and everything feels a bit more normal, probably more than it should.
 
“John?” Sherlock asks softly.
 
John closes the laptop. “Let’s go home. I haven’t been home in weeks.”
 
“Four days,” Sherlock says.
 
“Hyperbole,” John answers. “Let’s go home.”
 
They do.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sherlock on crutches is a nightmare. He’s wobbling and hurt, frustrated beyond measure, and they haven’t even tried getting him up the stairs yet. If it were a full leg cast, it would be hopeless. As it is, the below-the-knee cast is barely manageable. If the tibia had been hit dead on rather than clipped – thank god for the sniper’s bad angle – John doesn’t think either of them would survive the recovery process.
 
Before Sherlock can do something else stupid, John urges the crutches out of Sherlock’s hands and tucks himself against the man’s left side. Sherlock’s arm around his shoulders is immediate and warm. John slides his arm around Sherlock’s waist in return, gripping hard at the hip. Sherlock’s hand goes to the railing.
 
Up they go, all seventeen steps.
 
“This is stupid,” Sherlock huffs, strain clear in his voice.
 
“At least your injury is real.”
 
“I’d rather it wasn’t.”
 
John’s answer is his continuing assistance, his shoulders beneath Sherlock’s arm, hand on his hip. At the top of the stairs, John is sure to move him away from any danger area, positioning him next to a wall before pulling back.
 
Sherlock catches him, keeps him close. “Where are you going?” Almost alarmed.
 
“Left your crutches downstairs,” John reminds him.
 
“They can be left against a wall. I can’t.”
 
“Sofa, then?” John asks.
 
“Bed,” Sherlock corrects.
 
He might have hesitated to say it.
 
He might not have.
 
John doesn’t hesitate in getting him there.
 
Sherlock’s room is uncharted territory, the sort that defies all attempts at cartography or navigation through sheer, overwhelming chaos. This is a room for the truly bloody-minded, in more senses of the term than one. If he can trust his nose, he’d say there’s nothing rotting in here, but this is Sherlock. John can’t imagine there isn’t some severed body part somewhere.
 
With very careful steps and some creative shuffling, he manoeuvres Sherlock to the side of the bed that doesn’t have a pile of books looming over it. He wonders, distantly, how many of those belonged to Lukas or Van Coon – he recognizes far too many of them for it to be coincidence – before trying to help Sherlock sit.
 
“Yes, doctor, I do know how to sit down.” He simply refuses to do so. Sherlock’s arm lifts from his shoulder as the man shakes off his long coat. Underneath, his shirt is white, stretched tight over his back, not quite properly tucked into his trousers. It catches John’s breath, the possibilities in that shirt. Pulling it up, tugging it out, and letting his hands venture where they would.
 
John touches, a fingertip of contact to the base of a long spine.
 
Unsteady, Sherlock turns, left hand on the footboard, right hand fisted in John’s remaining black jacket. John’s hand drags across tight silk, the slide less smooth when sweaty palms are involved.

 

Grey eyes pierce his face.
 
John lifts his chin, an offer and a show of defiance both.
 
He expects Sherlock to laugh at him or kiss him, but not the two at once, not a throaty rumble against his lips, into his mouth. The sound makes something in John stop, some ever-weary, ever-vigilant piece of him that’s forgotten how to lie down and curl up, some piece that’s never before learned.
 
Sherlock is warm, surprisingly so. He’s no warmer than most, but that’s the shock of it, the recurring shock of the man’s humanity made tangible through skin. He is no ghost or statue, no phantom or marble man. His arms go around John’s shoulders, leaning more heavily on John’s right. John lets him lean, relishes it, secure and steady in a position of support.
 
He tugs the shirt out from those trousers, has his hands half up it in some inapplicable breast-seeking instinct. He catches the mistake in time and splays his hands across too prominent ribs. Sherlock sucks on his tongue, pulls him closer, and John’s hands slide around to his back. He tells his fingertips they are absolutely not looking for a bra strap there.
 
They shuffle closer, fit together as best they’re able. When Sherlock starts shoving at John’s jacket, the unstable man nearly falls over, backwards onto the bed, and John thinks that’s a worthwhile idea. Sherlock is unfairly tall.
 
“You said you knew how to sit,” he prompts, nipping at that jaw.
 
Sherlock counters with a hand on the back of his head, holding him in place, groaning when John can’t resist his need to lick and suck. “Your timing is atrocious.”
 
“My timing is fantastic,” John counters.
 
“I’m going to be in this cast for months.”
 
John sucks on his neck as he speaks, the vibrations shaking out against his lips and tongue. The stubble’s a bit odd, but not off-putting. “Just the two. And that’s your bad timing, not mine.”
 
“Shut up and take my trousers off.”
 
“Christ, you’re going to be demanding, aren’t you?”
 
Another low rumble, this against John’s ear. “You have no idea,” Sherlock replies, and John can’t undress him fast enough. Sherlock leans on him as John fumbles with the fastenings, navigating the button and zip with more difficulty when there’s a bulge beneath. There’s a tongue at John’s ear, behind his ear, flicking, distracting. All hesitation vanishes.
 
Pants and trousers around his knees, Sherlock sits, gripping John and the footboard. John kneels, guiding the clothing down one leg, then the other, careful as he can when Sherlock’s cock is right fucking there, dark with blood and bobbing with the impatient movements of Sherlock’s hips.
 
“Hurry up,” Sherlock whinges.
 
“Hold on, hold on,” John urges, untying shoelaces, removing a sock, easing off trousers and pants. That done, he looks, simply looks, and feels himself lick his lips. Sherlock’s prick twitches, jerking upward with a sudden shock of racing blood, and John groans before Sherlock does.
 
He doesn’t realize what he’s moved to do until Sherlock slips his thumb into John’s open mouth. John sucks, touches himself through his own painfully tight trousers. Sherlock’s cock is still right there, precum leaking, begging for a good lick, and for a second, John doesn’t know if he’s going to come or gag, blissfully choking on the finger fucking his mouth.
 
“After,” Sherlock tells him, eyes blown dark. His other hand grips John’s hair. “If I don’t finish, yes, anything you want. Suck me dry, just fuck me first.”
 
John whines around his thumb, actually whines. He pulls off with a pop and a nip. “Your leg.”
 
“You’ll be careful.”
 
“I’ve-”
 
“The drawer, John. Bedside table, top drawer.”
 
“Sherlock-”
 
“How long are you going to make me wait?” Sherlock demands. There’s something in his face, in his voice, something so far beyond impatience that it hurts. John has no choice in it, in rising up, in kissing him hard and dirty, in the hands that pull at him, catch him.
 
“Top drawer?” he asks into Sherlock’s mouth.
 
“Top drawer.” Sherlock pulls back, pushes him. “Before this ends in frottage, go.”
 
John hurries about it, leaving Sherlock to remove his shirt, wiggling about on the duvet. John opens the drawer and oh god. “You have four dildos!”
 
“It’s called variety, John. There’s also lube. I assume you still have that condom in your wallet.”
 
“What? Yeah.” Fuck. Four.
 
Then he hands Sherlock the lube and can’t breathe for another reason entirely.
 
It’s not the nudity, although, yes, of course it’s the nudity. That’s the good piece, the half of this sight that makes his cock throb. The other piece, the half that makes his hands fist so tightly, it’s the mottled bruising up Sherlock’s right side, the distinctive marks of the Golem’s fingerprints around his neck.
 
John opens his mouth and words almost come out.
 
I killed the man who did that to you, one of him. The man who sent him, I got one of him killed too. Other you, he’s untouched. No bruised body, no grazed tibia, no surgery, no cast. It should be the other way around, I want it the other way round. I should use his life to protect yours, but I don’t think I can. I’m sorry, Christ, I am.
 
“Stop that,” Sherlock gasps, easing a long, pale finger inside of himself. John watches each knuckle disappear. “Less guilt and fewer clothes. And put a pillow under my hips while you’re at it.”
 
John shucks his jumper, unbuttons his own shirt. He pulls off his dog tags rather than let them dangle. Sherlock’s eyes are hungry across his chest, possessive over the bruising along John’s left side, their mirroring injuries, simultaneously sustained on impact. The destructive power of surface tension.
 
He fumbles with his shoes, yanks off his socks. Trousers down, pants off, and then he has to sort through the pockets to find his wallet, that condom, half frantic for it. He did this in the wrong order.
 
“Sherlock, are you-” No, only two fingers up his arse. That can’t possibly be enough. Except, no, Sherlock clearly knows what he’s doing. The lube makes wet, filthy sounds. Fuck, but that’s- God.
 
“Pillow,” Sherlock reminds him. “Under hips.”
 
“Right,” John says, grabbing it. “Right. Lift up.”
 
It takes some arranging, but not much, the pillow at the edge of the bed, Sherlock’s waiting arsehole above it, slick with lube, almost dripping. Sherlock spreads his own legs, hands beneath his knees as he stares into John, eyes too demanding to be called desperate. John has to stop, has to turn away and breathe before he rolls the condom on. Sherlock nearly ruins it all, shouting at him, low and rough and aggravated, as if John’s the one doing something terribly unfair.
 
John returns to him, mindful of the cast around calf and shin, and Sherlock wraps his good leg around John’s hip.
 
“Hurry up.”
 
“Maybe if you weren’t humping my stomach-” He breaks off into a groan as he gets it, as he finds the spot and pushes in and fuck fuck fuck that’s too tight, that can’t be, fuck that’s good, oh god, that’s barely the first inch. “Sherlock.
 
“More.” The response immediate. “More. Now.”
 
“You’re too tense, I’ll, I-”
 
Sherlock shifts, snapping his hips upward, pulling at John. “Doesn’t matter,” he pants. “Give me a minute. Doesn’t matter.”
 
John sinks farther into him, into tight, endless heat, but it’s Sherlock who melts, who turns soft and pliant with a wordless moan, jerking around John’s prick. John touches him, pumps him, the angle almost familiar. Sherlock swats at him, tugs John’s hand to his side, pressing his fingers against mottled skin.
 
He takes the hint as he finds his rhythm, digs fingertips into bruises and Sherlock makes such a noise. John’s hand travels upward. To the ring of marks around that pale throat. He looks and sees and the anger hits, absolute fury.
 
“You idiot, you fucking- You don’t do that, do you hear me? Never. Fucking. Again.” Hard, slapping thrusts. If John weren’t sodding him, he’d be spanking him.
 
John.
 
Bending him in half, forcing those legs up, cast against his shoulder. “You can die, Sherlock, you can be dead.”
 
He pushes Sherlock past coherency, past anything but lying here, head lolling, taking it up his arse and mewling for more, and it almost undoes him entirely. Pale skin flushed and sweating. Sherlock clenching around him, hands securing John’s grip on his hips. As if John is the one who might leave, could leave, could run off to his death without him.
 
“Don’t. You. Dare,” John pants. His balls slap against Sherlock’s bum with each hard word, each sharp thrust.
 
“Thought I- I could-”
 
“You can’t! Not alone!”
 
“Would have killed you,” Sherlock gasps between his groans.
 
“Don’t care.” Tugging his cock, a hard grip and pull, sweat and lube and skin. “Not the point.”
 
Sherlock grabs at him, grabs at John’s shoulder, left shoulder, reaching up between his own knees. Sherlock’s thumb digs into his scar and, “Yes, it is,” and John comes, John comes so hard he goes blind.
 
He doesn’t know where he is, just for a moment, if this is Afghanistan or Chelmsford, Grant Road or Baker Street. Vision returns, sensation consumes, and that low groan is Sherlock Holmes mid-orgasm.
 
John pumps him harder, faster, pushes him through it. Sherlock clenches around him, spasms, and it’s too much, not enough. John wants him again, as soon as his body can stand it. He wants to see Sherlock make that face again, see his head tilt back, mouth twisting open. The tremble and shake of his hips. He can’t believe he just- they really just did that.
 
There is another man’s semen cooling across his stomach and John is surprisingly all right with this.
 
He stands there, panting, trembling a bit himself, and yes. Very much all right, better than. Still angry, bit dizzy, but fine. When Sherlock takes his hand to lick his fingers, John shoots right up to mindbendingly fantastic. Excellent beyond comprehension. Absolutely brilliant.
 
“You realize you’re saying that out loud?” Sherlock asks him, very mildly for someone with a prick still up their arse.
 
John chokes only to see the gleam in Sherlock’s eyes. He pulls out more roughly than he should, the best sort of tit for tat. “Liar,” John says, easing Sherlock’s legs down. His thighs tremble under John’s hands. 
 
“You might as well be,” Sherlock counters, once he’s recovered. He props himself up on his elbows, scooting lengthwise across the bed, getting his legs up on it. Each wince is a shudder of delight. It’s a sight to behold, as compelling as it is bizarre. “You’ve a very expressive face.”
 
“Go on then,” John says. “Read my mind.”
 
“You’re wondering where the bin is, which is over there, under the window, next to the desk. You’re concerned about my leg, which is as fine as it’s going to be. You’re mildly disappointed you didn’t see the start of my orgasm, which is also fine, because you’re going to see a great deal more. You weren’t worried about this being a one-time thing, which is why you broke up with Sarah via email last night, less for her sake and more for mine. Appreciated but unnecessary – I don’t have much in the way of qualms.”
 
“I noticed that,” John remarks, crawling onto the bed with him after disposing of the condom. “Anything else?”
 
Sherlock shifts onto his side, his bruised right side. He swings his left leg over John’s hip, the cast weighing down the contact. “You’re experiencing an overwhelming desire to kiss me.”
 
“No, I’m not.” Not overwhelming.
 
“Yes you are, come here.”
 
It’s John’s turn to laugh into his flatmate’s mouth, but Sherlock doesn’t seem to mind.

 

Chapter Text

Halfway through that first evening, Sherlock gives up in despair. It’s very theatrical.
 
“If you don’t get off the floor, I’ll step on you,” John warns.
 
“We did die,” Sherlock groans, arm thrown oh so carelessly across his face. “This is hell. I can’t move, can’t go anywhere, and Mycroft’s done something horrible to the wifi. I don’t know what yet, but it’s even affecting my phone.”
 
John keeps on pressing F5.
 
“Stop that, it’s not working.” Sherlock props himself up on his elbows, looking at John over the coffee table. “Fat bastard wants me to take a break.”
 
“He’s not actually fat, your brother.”
 
“He used to be, it counts.”
 
John gives up on F5 and begins to compose a blog entry in a word document instead.
 
Sherlock flops back down. “I understand the need to recuperate,” he tells the ceiling. “If there are any leads to be found, Mycroft will find them. When I’m hurt is the only time he can ever be arsed to do anything.”
 
“What about the IT persona?” John asks. He still has that phone number, next London over. He’s fairly confident it would be the same one. “He spent a lot of time with Molly. He might have left some sort of trail, there.”
 
“No good,” Sherlock says. “Already thought of that. What did you think I was doing while you were unconscious?”
 
They’re very productive people, John reflects. Days of work packed into John’s naps, filling up on both sides.
 
“Tell me?” John suggests.
 
Sherlock does, gesturing here and there, sprawled on his back, unselfconscious in his robe. He’d told John, earlier, blunt as could be, that he saw no point in struggling to put his pants and trousers back on when they were only going to have sex again. So far, no more sex, but also no more trousers. It’s a fair sort of compromise. There’s a significant amount of leg on display. A bit hairier than he usually likes it, but he’s adjusting.
 
John listens, asks questions, and they talk it out, as far out as they can take it.
 
“What can you do with just a phone number?” John asks.
 
“Got it from Molly, tried that. Burner phone.”
 
John closes his laptop, sets it down on the coffee table. “So you can’t track him that way? He did say he wanted you to call.”
 
“Not anymore, it would seem. That, or the number he left me in Bart’s was different from the one Molly had. As I’m sure they’ve taken out the garbage in the past week, we’ll never know.”
 
“Okay, yeah,” John says. “What conditions would you need to be able to track a phone?”
 
“He’s not going to be that stupid, John.”
 
John fights down a wince. “I mean theoretically. How does all of that work?”
 
The more Sherlock explains, the happier John is to have dropped Joe Harrison’s mobile in the Thames. Phone companies have records, if only for a short while, even of texts. There are ways of determining where texts have been sent from. Sending those last few texts from a public, CCTV-viewed space was not the best of ideas, he realizes. Is Sherlock bloody-minded enough to search through that section of London over that brief span of time they’d been texting, searching for someone whose texts have the proper timing?
 
He wants to say no.
 
He would love to say no.
 
But this is Sherlock.
 
“You all right?” Sherlock asks.
 
“Fine,” John says. “Just thinking.”
 
Once the mobile is traced back to Harrison, then what? There are yet more CCTV cameras around that flat. John’s grown used to having Mycroft on his side, to having these little things smoothed over as he runs after Sherlock. He got out of an ASBO. He received an apology about the ASBO. The idea of that power turned against him isn’t a thought he relishes.
 
“That thing Mycroft does, with the CCTV cameras,” John says.
 
“What of it?”
 
“Well, Moriarty had to go somewhere from Bart’s after work, didn’t he?”
 
There’s a silence from the floor that means Sherlock is sulking about his brother.
 
“So the CCTV camera act is just a Mycroft thing.”
 
“I’m much more of a phone man,” Sherlock confirms, like that’s a normal assertion to make. Not at all reassuring.
 
John chews his lip.
 
Sherlock sits up again. “You’re on edge, what are you on edge about?”
 
“Semtex-toting lunatic running about loose,” John answers.
 
Sherlock studies him. “No. This is something else.” The man shifts his long limbs, folding himself around, manually moving his left leg. The dressing gown tries to pool open and John’s eyes try to flick down. “You don’t worry lightly, what is it?”
 
John shakes his head.
 
Sherlock frowns at him. “Me?”
 
“What? No,” he contradicts, more strongly than he should have.
 
“It is, it’s me.”
 
“Such an ego on you.”
 
“John.”
 
John sighs, fights down the urge to rub at his temples or stretch his shoulder. “It’s nothing you’ve done,” he says.
 
“It’s something you’re worried I’ll do,” Sherlock tells him. “Or.... Ah.” His head tilts back, his mouth opens wide. “Something you’re waiting for me to realize.”
 
“Can you not do that, please?”
 
Sherlock’s brow furrows. “If you want me to stop thinking about you, you’ve gone about this entirely the wrong way.”
 
John knows. Oh, John knows. “So the sex was a bad idea, then?”
 
The joke falls flat.
 
Something behind Sherlock’s eyes shifts.
 
“I’m the first man you’ve slept with,” he deduces.
 
John wants to look away, but doesn’t. He nods.
 
“How long have you been aware of your sexuality?”
 
John does the maths, multiplies the answer by four. “A little over a month.”
 
Sherlock digests this. Working out his own version of John’s timeline, getting it completely wrong. John asked out Sarah before that little revelation, not after, but he supposes it doesn’t matter now. If Sherlock wants to think dating her was one last attempt at heteronormativity, he’s welcome to.
 
“You don’t want to try anal,” Sherlock says. “You think it’s your turn and.... No, that’s not it either. You know I’d hardly insist so soon.”
 
John chooses to ignore the “so soon”, instead making the futile effort to determine what to do.
 
“Not sexual, then.”
 
“I could get up and leave you there, you realize,” John warns.
 
“You won’t,” Sherlock says. He puts his hand over one of his crutches all the same. “You want to tell me... but. There’s something, some reason you’re wary of my response.”
 
John stands, walks around him, and goes into the kitchen to make what little dinner can be coaxed out of their cupboards. For all Mycroft has installed an intimidating amount of security downstairs and had the flat repaired, he seems to believe that both residents of 221B have something against consuming food on a regular basis.
 
He’d eat beans on toast, but there’s no bread. He’d have Wheetabix, but there’s no milk. He doesn’t have Derek’s ability to reach into an empty fridge and produce a meal for two, or even three, but he’s still learned a bit.
 
When he’s done, he washes up. Hesitates.
 
Sherlock’s still on the floor in the sitting room, possibly in his non-praying prayer position. Thinking, always thinking.
 
If he runs, Sherlock will chase him. That’s how Sherlock works, how he is. Who he is.
 
John goes to him. Sits down on the floor cross-legged, his knee touching Sherlock’s hip.
 
Sherlock looks up at him.
 
“I have a puzzle for you,” John says.
 
Sherlock’s lips quirk. “Do you, now?”
 
“Yep. You get it in the morning. If you can figure it out, you’ll know what I’m worried about.”
 
“‘If’,” Sherlock repeats.
 
“It’s a sizable if,” John replies.
 
Smug and a bit dishevelled even now, Sherlock blatantly doubts it.
 
“If you can’t-”
 
Sherlock scoffs.
 
“If you can’t,” John repeats, “then I’ll tell you when you give up. I’ll explain everything. I won’t lie.”
 
As John speaks, Sherlock sits up, mouth drawing into a serious line. His eyes roam across John, across tense shoulders and consciously unfurled fists. “It’s that significant,” Sherlock says, only a trace of a question in his voice.
 
John nods.
 
“Have you told anyone else?”
 
John shakes his head.
 
Sherlock reaches for him, hand warm and long where it curls around his neck. The kiss is soft, then deep. It’s made for leaning into. It’s seductive, meant to be, and John has no intention of resisting. “I’ll keep your secrets,” Sherlock murmurs against his jaw. “However many you have. The one you hinted at, your first morning here, I haven’t forgotten. Is this the same one?”
 
John threads his fingers into thick, dark curls in answer. His left hand is perfectly steady.
 
“Let’s go to bed,” John whispers.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
He wakes to the sound of Derek singing in the shower. It’s “California Dreaming” again.
 
He lies there for a bit, just thinking, terrified and smiling.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Working at the surgery for the first time in much too long, everything feels normal. His body has no other aches than the usual, nothing but the ever-present dull groan of his shoulder. No bruising, nothing possibly the matter with his lungs. The only afterglow his body experiences has to be psychosomatic.
 
The thought of it, though. That hand around his prick, tongue teasing at the inside of his mouth. The debate as they’d wanked. Punishment sex versus make-up sex, knowing their first time to be one of the two. Sherlock voting for the former, John the latter.
 
Sherlock’s eyes as dark and wide as his parted, kiss-bruised lips when John said, “It’s not punishment sex if no one’s been spanked.”
 
“This is meant to discourage poor behaviour, how?” On top of him, after, the world shrinking down to stomachs and hips and their cocks sandwiched between.
 
John has to take a breath.
 
Then another.
 
No more thinking until his shift is over.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Walking home, he nearly misses it from all the thinking he’s doing.
 
For a split second, he thinks he’s being paranoid. He checks his watch, sees the digital time and utterly fails to be reassured. Half a block later, he’s certain.
 
The CCTV cameras are watching him. Not in a general way.
 
In a Mycroft way.
 
He waits for a phone to ring from a booth but none do. For a split second, he considers simply calling Mycroft and cutting to the chase, but that’s one battle John would rather have time to prepare for. This must be the warning. It’s not like Mycroft to be obvious.
 
How considerate of him. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Derek takes one look at him and gives a sigh of relief. “Back to normal, then?”
 
“Yeah,” John says. It’s not even a lie. “Sorry.”
 
“Don’t worry about it.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Afghanistan follows. The hostage scenario game is still well in play, new variations popping up every few days. Most of the new ones steal from films, mostly Bond.
 
It’s a calm day, more like having the surgery relocated to the Middle East than anything else. Sore throats, some headaches, an allergy or two. Stomach virus going around, though, he’ll have to keep an eye on that.
 
 
 
 
                                                                                                                                        
 
 
He finally stops scaring Marta. A very good thing to not be seen as mad, particularly when constantly surrounded by doctors.
 
He’s not on call for tonight, she’s still worried about him, and they wind up going out for a pint with a group of people Marta refers to as “the girls”. He’s fairly certain one of the women included in that description is in her mid-sixties. Brilliant storyteller, as it turns out. Reminds John of a plumper Mrs. Hudson, though he’s not sure why until they leave and he sees Marta hug and kiss Mrs. Reynolds goodbye.
 
“What happened to Mr. Reynolds?” John asks Marta as he drives them home.
 
“No one knows,” Marta says, voice lowered and dramatic.
 
Anyone else, and he probably wouldn’t play along. “What, really?”
 
“Nah, heart attack. He was twenty years older than her, something like that.”
 
“That explains the Mind the Age Gap jokes,” John reflects.
 
“Does, doesn’t it?”
 
He parks, they get out, and he walks her to her door out of sheer habit. “Sorry, I’ve been... that. Lately.”
 
She pressed her lips together. “You’ve been off for a while, actually.”
 
“Since October,” John agrees. A fine thing to admit late April.
 
“What happened?”
 
“I don’t know. I really don’t.”
 
“You have to have some idea,” she says.
 
“I guess....” He shakes his head.
 
“What?”
 
“I realized I’m not the person I wanted to be, here,” he says.
 
“Mid-life crisis came early?”
 
“Essentially.”
 
“Well,” she says. Shrugs a bit. “If you need someone to awkwardly complain to.”
 
“Yeah,” he says.
 
“And, well, if you’re still after a girlfriend, I think Tasha – the brunette in the green blouse tonight – she might-”
 
“Actually,” John says.
 
Marta smiles. “Actually?”
 
“I don’t want to jinx it.”
 
She smiles all the wider. “No to Tasha, then.”
 
“Not that she isn’t lovely. Just... I’m set.”
 
Marta is so happy for him that it hurts his face a bit to watch.
 
“Look, I’m not saying that I’ve got- that I’m with, well.” He’s going to have to come up with a plausible lie very quickly. Dating the alternate reality version of a dead man he’s technically never met doesn’t make much in the way of sense.
 
“Early days,” she says. “Okay, yeah, I get it.”
 
They say goodnight, part ways, and John spends the rest of his night googling.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
His search results fresh in his mind, he wakes up from Sherlock rolling over, the knock of a foot against his leg. Naked but for his watch and tags, he peers through the dark at the time. Something absurdly early. Four or something. Could be worse. He’s tired, he hurts, and his body has no doubts that sex is a prominent feature on his schedule.
 
It’s all a bit better than it has any right to be.
 
Sherlock is remarkably pliant when asleep. He shifts into John’s arms with minimal pulling, long limbs reaching and wrapping. Sherlock snuffles against his shoulder and John thinks his heart might burst. Christ, he’s got it bad.
 
Sleeping together in the literal sense is going to be an issue, he’s forced to realize, lying there and absently petting his madman. As much as John enjoys a bedmate, acclimatizing to one takes time. He’ll be waking up often and early, at odd moments, the way he did before he began sleeping through the three a.m. violin concertos. It would put so much time between them. He thinks his lives try to balance at least somewhat, but he has so little active control over it. Three out of four lives, there’s little harm in a nap, an extra wink of sleep in the morning to bring him somewhere else. When John wakes in Afghanistan, however, he spends the full day there.
 
If Sherlock proves to be a restless sleeper – likely in general, inevitable with a fractured bone paining him – it’s possible John might live a week in one night, weeks. Mentally, sexually, it’s an issue. A fortnight away, he’ll forget things. A fortnight away, he’ll wake desperate for a man who was sated just hours ago.
 
He’s doing the right thing, explaining. The important thing is to provide the evidence first.
 
When Sherlock wakes hours later, it’s to complain. “Early,” he groans, tucking his face against John’s neck. “Why are you awake? It’s not human.”
 
“Once I’m up, I don’t go back to sleep,” John explains, shifting a bit.
 
Sherlock groans for another reason entirely. They’re sore and it’s wonderful. He shifts a bit as well. “You’ve been lying awake in the dark for hours.”
 
“Yep.”
 
“You’re ridiculous.”
 
“Bit rich, coming from you,” John says. Sherlock’s spine is a long curve beneath his hand, lovely and warm. He can’t seem to leave it alone, just like the question he’s had since they wound up in hospital together. “So you sleep normally, then? When you do sleep.”
 
“Define ‘normally’,” Sherlock instructs his shoulder. His lips keep ghosting over John’s scar. There’s probably something absurdly symbolic in that, but John can’t be arsed to sort out what.
 
“You nap without consequence.”
 
Sherlock considers this, now inspecting the scar by hand. The damaged skin tingles. “I get headaches sometimes.”
 
Normal. Shot, but not changed the way John was.
 
John lies there a bit longer, savouring the last bits of calm before a storm of his own making. For all John’s waited days, neither of them is up for another round just yet. This early morning is light, exploratory, Sherlock tonguing at his skin to wash out the stale taste of sleep. It’s nice, very nice, languid and slow. Rolling on top of him, careful of that leg, John works in a snog. Sherlock locks his arms around John’s back, holds him fit to refuse any bid for freedom. John presses him down in return, knuckles brushing over bruises, and they pass a smile between their mouths.
 
Gradually, Sherlock slows, his grip loosening, firm lips turning slack.
 
“Don’t go back to sleep,” John urges. Nips at a spot behind his ear that’s working out quite well. Sherlock’s hair is across his forehead, his cheek, his nose.
 
Sherlock makes a grumbling noise. He’s a loose-limbed sprawl of consulting detective. Not very comfortable to lie on, it has to be said, with those jutting hips, that hard chest. Sexy as hell, though.
 
“Sherlock.” Touching sharp cheekbones, the impossible angles.
 
The answering groan is even softer than before.
 
“You don’t want your puzzle, then?”
 
Sherlock jerks awake in a way that’s truly terrifying. It’s a bit like lying on an exploding air mattress.
 
“Holy fuck,” John swears. “Christ, don’t do that.”
 
“Yes,” Sherlock says. For a moment, John thinks he might have said “blowjob” instead of “puzzle” by sheer Freudian slip, but no. This is Sherlock. He wants his puzzle.
 
“All right,” John says. “I’ll write it down for you, shall I?”
 
“There’s pen and paper on the desk, under the lampshade.”
 
“Which one?” There are three, all without lamps. John has learned to ask only for clarification, never explanation. If Sherlock wants to explain, he will.
 
“The striped one.”
 
“Okay.” He climbs out of bed, puts on his pants. Braves the minefield of Sherlock’s floor to get to the desk.
 
John writes down his search results.
 
He hands them over.
 
Sherlock scans the list. “Rugby scores.”
 
“Today’s,” John confirms.
 
The look on Sherlock’s face is one John knows well. It translates to “What on earth are you doing with your tiny brain?” with a side of “I hope for your sake you’ve misspoken, because that was pure idiocy.”
 
“Not yesterday’s,” John says. “Today’s.”
 
Sherlock scans the list once more. “You are aware that the current time is-” he checks on John’s watch “-nine twenty-six.”
 
“First match is on at four,” he supplies.
 
A longer look now, one that travels between John’s eyes. This one means “You appear astonishingly confident, but I still don’t see the point,” as well as “What are you trying to accomplish?” Not a bad start.
 
John smiles faintly. “Keep track of it, that’s all.”
 
“And when I check the scores tonight, I’ll discover you were right, is that it?”
 
“Just keep track of it,” John says.
 
Sherlock folds the paper, leans out of bed and tucks it into the pocket of his discarded dressing gown. “There.” For that instant, he’s an exposed length of skin. Then, back under the duvet he goes. Pity. With curtains drawn, it’s dim enough that the bruise-darkened skin doesn’t look quite so terrible.
 
John goes about picking the rest of his clothing up. “I’m going to see if I can get some of our security force downstairs to do the shopping,” he says. “Want anything?”
 
“Surprise me,” Sherlock says.
 
“Okay,” John says.
 
That won’t be a problem. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The day passes in what could almost be called a state of normalcy. John can’t make Mycroft’s men nip down to Tesco Express without him, but he can make one of them carry a bag on the way back. As plainclothes as the guards are, he doesn’t particularly like the feeling of being accompanied.
 
On the bright side, Mrs. Hudson greatly enjoys having them downstairs to talk to. By the sound of it, she keeps bringing them tea and biscuits. John finds the whole thing more than a bit hilarious. Their new neighbours in 221C: half a tactical division.
 
In the midst of this, there is breakfast for John, a shower for John, lunch for John which is breakfast for Sherlock, and a shower for them both. The joint shower is less about shagging each other silly and more about making sure Sherlock doesn’t fall and kill himself. John is still thoroughly groped in the process.
 
Once clean, Sherlock flounders between agitation and boredom, clearly about to tear either his mind or the flat apart. John goes downstairs to have a word with security. By asking very nicely, their wifi is magically restored to them. Around that point, Sherlock receives a text from Mycroft that sends him off into yet another fit, but at least he has the internet to distract him from the pain in his leg.
 
Shortly after four, Sherlock turns the telly on. If it were his first time ever watching rugby, John wouldn’t be surprised. Not that much watching actually transpires.
 
“You used to play,” Sherlock says, some point after finishing his oral investigation of John’s ear.
 
John still does. Through Derek, John’s in relatively sustained contact with the Blackheath rugby lads. He plays maybe once a calendar month, meaning three times a year, but he still plays. Instead of answering, he hums, thinking.
 
Once the scores fall into place, Sherlock is going to be dedicated to his puzzle. For what will likely be an extended period of time. In light of this, John reaches down between their bodies and palms him through the pyjama bottoms he’s finally put back on. Still no pants.
 
“You’re not going to distract me,” Sherlock warns.
 
“That’s fine,” John answers, disentangling with care. “I’ll distract myself instead.”
 
Sherlock promptly swats him, the light blow turning into a grip on his shirt. “Stop that.”
 
“You don’t want me to stop.” He settles in front of the sofa. He is very much on his knees.
 
Clever man that he is, Sherlock quickly agrees. He even sits, almost, the long, sloping slouch of him diagonal for once. Still a prat, he doesn’t untie the pull string of his bottoms, only smirks when John reaches.
 
John stops.
 
He’s known rising tides of embarrassment before, but this is a flash flood. It hits him, scours the landscape, splits the world into sand and mud.
 
He wants to put a cock in his mouth. A cock. In his mouth. And suck on it.
 
This is- no. This is no.
 
Fingers thread through his hair. A deep voice is speaking.
 
He can’t look up, can’t listen. He begins to say as much when a thumb slides into his mouth. He’s shot through again, struck dumb with lust and loathing.
 
“Suck,” Sherlock says, and John does without a thought. Sherlock’s palm cradles his jaw. Fingers stroke across his stubble. The touch flings him back to last night (four nights ago), desperate and wanting and he can’t deal with that right now. He wants to run and hide, not leak a damp spot into his pants. He wants to touch himself and disappear. His hands grip Sherlock’s thighs, squeezing hard.
 
“You have a minor oral fixation,” Sherlock tells him. “You often lick and bite your lips. It’s why they’re always chapped, even though you’re not a mouth breather. It comes across in your kissing habits as well.” Not a hitch, not a pause to his recitation, no matter how he manipulates John’s mouth, his tongue. His voice deepens all the same, lowering as his pyjama bottoms tent. John has no idea where to look. “I’d think this would be clear by now, but if you need me to say it: I approve.
 
“This will manifest differently than you’re used to,” Sherlock continues, as if he knows John will be gone the second he stops talking. “You’re accustomed to breasts and performing cunnilingus. I imagine you’re good at it: you have a presumption of sexual prowess and you’re skilled at accurate self-assessment.” Sherlock leans forward, thumb pushing deeper into his mouth. Leans forward, folds himself in half, and John closes his eyes rather than meet that gaze. He’s half-dizzy with sucking, with the slow, easing thrusts, breathing through his nose when he ought to be gasping.
 
Sherlock’s breath on his face, his forehead, his eyelids. “That makes it worse, doesn’t it? The idea that you’re starting over, late-thirties and rubbish. But you can still kiss and fuck, so that’s fine.” In and out, warm all the while. “You know that but you don’t believe it. You don’t know how you look, like this.” Still a recitation, still a list of facts, and all the filthier for it. He thinks, wildly, that Sherlock could probably narrate one of his own orgasms. The noise that rises in his throat, he refuses to call a whimper.
 
He grips Sherlock’s pyjama bottoms, hands fisted in cotton. “Pull them down, John, that’s it.” Sherlock’s other hand leaves John’s neck, his hair, and steals one of John’s fumbling hands to urge it higher. Licks his palm before lowering it to heat. John groans. Trapped between Sherlock’s legs and cock and the coffee table, John groans.
 
“There’s nothing here you don’t want. There’s no danger you won’t run toward. Yes, this changes who you are. You are now the man who shags me stupid. Me, John. Do us both a favour and stop pretending that’s something to be embarrassed about. Open your eyes.”
 
John does, John has to, and Sherlock’s looking at him, eyes dark, cheeks flushed, face so close. For all the steadiness of his voice, his chest has the rapid rise and fall of a bird’s, of a winded sprinter’s. Their hands tighten together around Sherlock’s cock.
 
“I won’t make you,” Sherlock tells him, all statement, no promise. His voice turns rough, scrapes at John’s edges. “You’d let me, but that’s not the issue.”
 
He pulls his thumb out, removes it without warning and John sucks and bites, unthinking, because no, because stay. Mouth open, protest rising, two fingers shove inside and he almost gags. The world goes white around the edges. Something’s roaring in John’s head, the blood through his ears or the crowds on the telly. He licks and sucks and he jerks them off, himself and his flatmate both.
 
Sherlock stops talking, starts making noises. It’s not enough, not close. The deep thrusts into John’s mouth hasten, slow, become erratic. Lips press against his hairline, pant warmth into his skin. “Lap,” Sherlock gasps.
 
They manage it, somehow. John’s arse across his thighs, Sherlock’s gasp of pain and hushed threats, they manage it. Trousers open, bottoms untied, they pull at each other, rough, hard. Sherlock’s fingers curl in his mouth against tongue and teeth.
 
“Don’t bounce, my leg, don’t bounce-”
 
John’s reply, stretched between grunt and hum.
 
Sherlock’s eyes never leave his face, not the once, and when he comes, he tears his fingers from John’s mouth, replaces them with his tongue. Thrusting deep for John to suck. The sound he makes, Christ, the sound.
 
It’s nothing like the one John makes, startled, inexplicably caught unaware in his narrowing world. It’s almost a sigh, not quite a sob, relief and release so tightly twined.
 
When the thrumming through his blood and bones stops – lessens – John’s forehead is on Sherlock’s shoulder. He can breathe, just. His mind feels blank, like a piece of it has left, been carefully removed while he wasn’t looking. Presumably, it has. He kisses the side of Sherlock’s neck.
 
“Better?” Sherlock asks. One of his hands pets the damp cloth of John’s shirt. The other rests on John’s hip.
 
John thinks:
 
How did you do that?
 
This is a relationship, not an express train.
 
I’m a bit terrified, and I think it’s a bad sign that I like it.
 
“Yes,” John says. He tingles, a bit. It’s nice. He’ll focus on that.
 
Sherlock goes on stroking his back, an absent sort of rub. John’s tired, sweaty, sticky. Affectionate, Sherlock’s skin so close to his lips. Oral fixation is right.
 
His body wants to sleep, to doze, and John has half a mind to let it. If he knew he’d wake up when Sherlock eased him off, he’d do it. He’d come back to this exact spot, this place in reality and this point in time. He’d come right back to it and snuggle up inside. Post-coital bliss.
 
Sherlock is fully active, of course, consulting the rugby list and flipping through channels, but that’s a non-issue. John’s knees don’t like all of this kneeling and straddling, but that is also a non-issue. The entire flat could catch on fire, and John’s fairly certain that would be a non-issue too.
 
It’s been two (five) days. Tomorrow will be three (nine).
 
No, no sleeping. He’s waited long enough.
 
He feels Sherlock shift, hears the change of programmes on the telly. An announcer is interrupted mid-sentence. Rugby scores.
 
“The first three are right,” Sherlock says, hand stationary on his back.
 
“Hm?” Oh, the puzzle. Coming clean. “What’s wrong with the rest?”
 
“They haven’t finished playing yet.”
 
“Mm.” Makes sense.
 
The announcer talks on. John doesn’t much listen. He’s watching this tomorrow with Derek and, already, the anticipation has vanished.
 
They stay like that for a long time, long enough for a few cycles of match to advert and back. Sherlock doesn’t even complain about his leg. John’s knees begin to understand that their position will be held for possibly the duration of the evening.
 
“We should clean up,” John realizes distantly. “I came all over you.”
 
“Not all over,” Sherlock corrects, mind clearly elsewhere. “We can rectify that later.”
 
John chuckles into his shoulder. “You kinky fuck.”
 
“Mm. We’ll have to put the plastic back around the cast first.”
 
John snorts. Madman, he thinks. My madman.
 
The evening drifts on, John finds them some tissues, and all the rugby scores are right.
 
“Can you do it again?” Sherlock asks. “In greater detail?”
 
The calm is over. John hopes it will come again.
 
He kisses his flatmate and asks, “How much?”

 

 

Chapter Text


He wakes in Afghanistan in a strange mood. Time moves faster here, or he moves toward here more quickly, but whatever the result is, it’s been six months since he was (not) shot.
 
Two years. October to April and May. A year of autumn and winter. A year of winter and spring.
 
A year of spring and summer sounds nice. Something to look forward to.
 
The year after that, summer into autumn, he’s less certain about.
 
He still has no idea what he’ll do when his tour has ended. The wait for redeployment will be endless.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
London has a bit of a drizzle going on, but that’s okay. John was ready for it. Walking to the surgery, he enjoys not having anyone follow him, not having anyone trailing him.
 
On second thought, there is someone watching. And certainly not for his own protection. What does Mycroft want from him? There must be something. When he decides to take it, it’s going to be a hell of a fight. After seeing his ASBO waved away with the flick of an umbrella, John had an inkling of what Mycroft could do. After the rescue team at the pool, John has enough of an idea to get a touch lightheaded.
 
Much easier to think about Sherlock. Sherlock who has given him a week head start before he chases John down out of curiosity. John’s not entirely sure when that week is up, here. Does he get a full seven days, then a warning on the eighth? Will Sherlock make a post for him on Science of Deduction? It seems the most obvious choice for seeking John’s reply.
 
When Sherlock finds him – it’s when, not if – there will be nothing else for him to find. There is no way John could have known anything he’d told Lestrade. No search trail across the internet on his laptop, no history of any kind to even vaguely connect him with Moriarty. The only thing Sherlock could find – all there is for him to find – is that John refreshed his website more often than anyone sane would. This is the grand sum of his internet search records in this London pertaining to Sherlock. He imagines Mycroft already knows this.
 
John’s not sure what the Holmes brothers here will do when they discover the contradiction that is John “Multiple Realities” Watson, but he imagines it will be a great deal like what his madman is doing in his flat back home. Curiosity followed by confusion, leading to determination.
 
When the time comes, John will have to get rid of his gun. It’s the only sane option. Wrap it and the ammunition in a number of plastic bags and dump them in the river. Do that, erase his internet search history for the hell of it – his flatmate has a kid, John has his excuse right there – and then all John has to worry about is the CCTV camera footage. If he can somehow bargain with Mycroft, he’ll get out of this intact.
 
All John has to do is give up his gun. It’s the difference between prison and freedom. He has it in Afghanistan, he has it back in Baker Street, and he feels naked without it in Chelmsford. The lack worse than that of his missing dog tags, but even without his gun here, he’ll still have two of it. He can give it up.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
There has to be some other way.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Back at the flat, John skims his own blog, parsing his words for anything suspicious, any sort of evidence that he’s anyone out of the ordinary. There are a few old entries from December where he sounds like Maggie in a sulk. Those, he switches to private viewing only. Keeping records is important. Otherwise, he’d delete it. No one wants to sound like a twelve-year-old girl, particularly when a twelve-year-old girl and her sulk are still out in the sitting room.
 
Beyond that, he changes nothing. He even adds an entry, typing slowly, focusing on the largely inane. The last book Derek recommended to him, that sort of thing. With his blogs, he feels like one-half mystery novelist, one-half book reviewer. It’s grounding. Maybe that therapist of his got something right, both of her.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
He’s on call that night in Chelmsford and it makes for a long night, just as drunks and ladders make for a poor combination. He arrives home late the next morning, fires off a text to check that Marta’s replacement ride worked out just fine, and spends the next few hours scouring the internet to find the right rugby match. He watches, takes notes, and memorizes to the best of his ability.
 
He falls asleep smiling, eager for the look on Sherlock’s face.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Waking up to the sound of a text on his mobile, he takes a moment to confirm which bed he’s in. Baker Street, his own, otherwise unoccupied.
 
While it’s still fresh in his mind, he jots down the match. It takes him the better part of twenty minutes.
 
Then, just to be a complete arse, he writes down tomorrow’s headlines in several obscure newspapers. Two from North America, two from Australia. Since Moriarty, the British media has begun to slip apart just enough that The Times or Sherlock’s copy of The Telegraph would be risky. Still no explosions to be seen from Chelmsford and he won’t pretend that doesn’t worry him. He’s always preferred a foe he can see. Otherwise, there’s too much risk of friendly fire.
 
Shaking off the thought for the time being, he checks his mobile. Three texts now, all from Sherlock, not at all a surprise. Thanks to his phone’s priorities, he reads them in reverse order, newest to oldest.
 
If I break my neck coming upstairs, you’ll be very cross. Spare yourself the pain. SH
 
I know you’re awake. SH
 
Come downstairs. Need your laptop. SH
 
John does come downstairs. With his lists and without his laptop, John walks downstairs, braced for anything. Sherlock is, conveniently enough, situated on the sofa, his body curled tight in frustration.
 
He huffs at John. “Regardless of how little sleep you’ve had, I hope you realize that isn’t, in fact, a laptop.”
 
“Yep,” says John, dropping the paper into a floating fall toward Sherlock’s chest. “I don’t write on my laptop in pen.”
 
Sherlock snatches it up instantly. He reads, several times, in complete silence. He might not be breathing.
 
John goes to brush his teeth, then fixes himself breakfast.
 
When he returns, Sherlock is in his thinking position, palms pressed in false prayer. The paper is on his chest, the rise and fall subtle and slow. “I want you on a media blackout,” Sherlock says, not opening his eyes. “No internet, television or newspaper.”
 
“You want my laptop for my search history,” John assumes. Better than the usual reasons, he has to admit.
 
“And your phone,” Sherlock confirms.
 
“All right,” John says. He has some reading he’d meant to get around to anyway. The rate Derek recommends him books is absurd, even for a librarian. Not that John knows any others. “Does this mean I have to be out of the room when you watch the match?”
 
“In my room, not yours.” Sherlock opens his eyes, adjusts his position on the couch without actually moving. “I know what’s in my room. I could check yours, but....” Biting the “t”, he trails off with a meaningful glance at his leg.
 
“It’s fine,” John says. He fetches his laptop, the cable as well, and Sherlock is engrossed within moments. John sets his mobile on the coffee table and walks away.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sherlock’s bedroom is excruciating. There’s nowhere to sit besides the bed or a small section of floor. Every other surface is covered in something which clearly should not be casually moved. After the first hour of reading from Sherlock’s book pile, the hardwood is too uncomfortable beneath the worn rug. He sits on the bed, which is a mistake.
 
It smells like Sherlock, John is lonely, and there is no possible way for John to have a wank in here without Sherlock knowing. While he doubts Sherlock would actually object to this, John’s none too comfortable with the idea.
 
Instead, John lies down. Claiming space, denting the pillow beneath his head, he lies there, staring at the ceiling and trying to reconsider his recent life decisions. His mind drifts away instead, too wrapped up in wondering.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Time passes. John thinks.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
If he strains for it, he can hear the match on the telly. Not enough to make out any of it, but he remembers the details well enough. Keeping an eye on his watch, he runs through what remains in his short term memory.
 
After, there is a mounting silence from the sitting room.
 
John waits.
 
He’s very good at it, waiting.
 
He can wait all day. He already has.
 
He returns to that place soon enough, that little detached space in his head where time turns irrelevant. It takes the sound of Sherlock’s crutches against the floor to bring him back. He sits up, looks to the open doorway, and he has never seen Sherlock look at him like this, as if John were a chiming pink mobile.
 
“Theories?” John asks.
 
Sherlock swings the crutches forward, swings himself after. He’s more an overgrown child at play than an injured man. The crutches go against the footboard and Sherlock flicks out his dressing gown before sitting. “You’ve been able to do this at least since returning from Afghanistan. You actively attempt to avoid notice, even where financial difficulties might tempt you to do otherwise.”
 
“Evidence?” John asks.
 
“You have a number of minor investments. You’ve researched none of them and yet you’ve never taken a loss. You haven’t had any truly substantial gain over the past three months. This is money for the shopping, not a plan to become wealthy. Supplement, not income. If money were the motivator here, you would have taken up betting long ago.” Sherlock shifts his legs around, not quite able to be still when he can’t fold his legs or perch or slump. “That being the case, I can’t rule out access to the information prior to your deployment.”
 
“‘Access to the information’,” John repeats.
 
Prompting is a fine art with Sherlock, but this time, he won’t be prompted. Right foot tucked under his left thigh, cast out in front, toes against John’s leg, Sherlock sets his elbows against his knees and touches his fingertips together.
 
John has no difficulty under that gaze. Though not open, he’s being honest. He makes no effort to hide.
 
Sherlock narrows his eyes, keeps peering, searching John’s face. When he’s extracted all there is to be found, he reaches into his dressing gown pocket and shows John the list. Several items are circled, several underlined, and Sherlock has added his own notes to the margins.
 
“These,” Sherlock says, indicating the underlined. They’re the truly random events, the views of the crowds, the two times a bird flew between field and camera. “You can’t have predicted these.”
 
“And I didn’t,” John confirms.
 
“You wrote it down this morning. Hours before the match, John, that’s called prediction. Unless someone else predicted it, but then, you haven’t contacted anyone since emailing your sister yesterday afternoon.”
 
“No one predicted it,” John says.
 
Sherlock doesn’t chew his lip, but the single, frustrated bite he takes is plenty. “You’re not this good of a liar.”
 
“I might be,” he answers, halfway to a smile, halfway to a grin.
 
“You’re not,” Sherlock tells him. “You’re telling the truth, which makes no sense. Which at least has the benefit of clarifying your method of communication – a typical explanation of this would have been useless. I wouldn’t have believed you.”
 
“You still don’t believe me,” John says.
 
“The birds, John. The little boy in the fourth row stealing his sister’s hat.”
 
“What about them?”
 
“They’re not....” he trails off, agonized. He rakes his fingers through his hair. “You knew the exact timing. That isn’t....”
 
“Possible?” John suggests.
 
“Except this is all clearly possible,” Sherlock contradicts even as he agrees. “You knew in advance. I just don’t see how.”
 
“Are you giving up?” John asks, already sure of the answer.
 
“Of course not.” A look of absolute derision as Sherlock shrugs off his dressing gown.
 
“Right then,” John says. “Carry on, have fun.”
 
Sherlock reaches for him, awkward over his leg, and John leans in, quick to accept that grin against his lips. “No one theory fits,” his madman tells him, torn between kissing and speech. “Half are absurd beyond all plausibility.”
 
John laughs tiny huffs into his mouth. “Only half?”
 
That gets him pushed down to the mattress. Sherlock remains sitting upright, hand hot on John’s stomach. “All, yes. And those headlines for tomorrow, you’re showing me that this is more than rugby. Sport, media, events that should be random. Move your leg.” Long fingers over his zip, brisk and teasing both, temptation on fast-forward. “You have tomorrow planned already, don’t you.” Not a question. His voice, like his hands, is certain.
 
“A few, ahh, ideas,” John allows. He props himself up on his elbows, needing to see.
 
“You’re going to escalate,” Sherlock says, doing as he says. Pale skin seems paler against a blood-darkened prick. “First was breadth. Now is depth.” Words and demonstration, Sherlock settling downwards, yes, down. “Tomorrow will be range.” Breath all along his length.
 
Oh god, John thinks. Thinks for many reasons. That’s right, that’s true. Second day of the puzzle, third day of shagging, but John’s worked on this a week, fucked him a fortnight ago. This isn’t going to work. It can’t.
 
Sherlock closes his mouth around him and thought flees.
 
There’s nothing left but to feel, to commit this to memory. Heat, all heat. Pink, stretched mouth. Ever-tousled hair, swaying with the bobbing of his head. The suck, the pull, the slow slide of saliva down the underside. Drooling on his prick. Sherlock is drooling on his prick.
 
He tries not to thrust, he does, struggles not to buck up. He fails. He hears himself distantly, half-winded, gasping, “Sorry, sorry,” as if he’s pushing through a crowd, struggling off a packed tube train.
 
Sherlock makes a noise, mocking through a mouthful of cock. His hands slip around, grip John by the arse. He rides each motion, fingertips digging into skin when John breaks his rhythm. He turns pliant and smooth, takes great heaving breaths through his nose. He chokes and pulls at John for more. There’s not much more left. It’s so much, too much and far too fast. Because Sherlock isn’t going to pull off, there is no way in hell Sherlock will pull off at the end, and John will see his own come spill out of his madman’s mouth.
 
He shouts a warning, snaps his hips, and comes out of sheer anticipation.
 
Barely, just barely, he keeps his eyes open through it. His shoulder shakes, his elbows planted on the bed, head desperately lifted. His body wants to fall, to collapse, but he needs this, has to see swollen lips and that, the swallowing and, yes, that, lick that.
 
Sherlock crawls up beside him, leg sliding over the duvet, and John rolls into him, almost on top of him until Sherlock rolls him back, cock hard against his hip, his palm. John closes his fingers and opens his mouth. He can’t help sucking the tongue that attempts to dominate his. The taste isn’t as bad as expected, but the angle of his grip is more awkward than he’d like.
 
When Sherlock comes, it’s over John’s shirt. He goes tense, mouth open against John’s, and sighs low non-words. A firmer kiss, after, and then a noise of, yes, that was derision. Only Sherlock.
 
“What?” John asks.
 
“‘Sorry, sorry’!” Sherlock mimics.
 
John shoves him, but it all ends in remarkably aggressive cuddling. Once caught in an affectionate stranglehold, Sherlock gives up the physical dispute but doesn’t back down from the verbal.
 
“Do you always apologize?” he asks. “Really, a thank you would be much more appropriate.”
 
“Not when potentially choking someone.” Gender neutral. A lesson of Harry’s he’d learned long ago.
 
“You’ve obviously been sleeping with the wrong people.”
 
John applies a warning pressure across his windpipe. Though he can’t see the resulting smile, he’s sure of it. “Christ, your ego,” he murmurs. “Look at that past tense.”
 
“Present perfect continuous,” Sherlock corrects.
 
“Oh, well, in that case,” John says and strangles him a bit more.
 
Sherlock jerks against him and John releases the pressure at once.
 
“Sorry.”
 
Sherlock snickers.
 
“You infuriating-”
 
John cuts himself off. Presses mouth and nose into dark hair. He won’t speak, can’t. He’d give himself away. No one feels like this after three days, three days after three months. After almost two weeks after almost a year, that, maybe, yes. Lying here, trousers undone, the mess on his shirt smearing into the back of his flatmate’s t-shirt, it’s just too ridiculous.
 
That’s not the right word, but it’s the one he’ll use. This is ridiculous. If it’s not ridiculous, John will take it far too seriously.
 
“Do you want your puzzle piece tomorrow or don’t you?”
 
“You wouldn’t dare.”
 
John laughs, because there, there it is. Ridiculous. “Yes I would.”
 
“Yes you would,” Sherlock agrees, grin so very audible. “But you won’t.”
 
“I’ll strangle you in your sleep instead.”
 
“Fine. You have to sleep here anyway – I can’t keep an eye on you, otherwise.”
 
John thinks of himself: a man in fatigues, his face tan, hair blond-grey with sunlight. His shoulder, whole and untouched. He has a watch on his right wrist, analogue, always has and always will.
 
You can’t keep an eye on me in either case, he doesn’t say. You’ve never seen me.
 
He kisses the back of Sherlock’s head. “Only if we clean up first.”
 
“Obviously.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
A haircut in Afghanistan is a quick, efficient shearing. After, he touches the cropped hairs for the familiarity of it, the sense of rightness.
 
“If you don’t like it, I can always shave the rest off,” the barber quips.
 
John smiles more than the joke deserves.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
“I need some recon,” Derek mentions over breakfast.
 
“Oh?”
 
His flatmate nods, swallows his Wheetabix. “Maggie’s birthday is coming up.”
 
John chews thoughtfully, the motion pure filler. It’s Monday again, which means she technically left the flat yesterday (four days ago) and he hadn’t been paying the girl much attention.
 
“It’s next Thursday, I had a gift, but.” Derek’s mouth pulls in for a tight-lipped grimace. It’s something about his ex-wife. “Did she mention anything over the weekend that might’ve...?”
 
John shakes his head.
 
Derek moves on to biting his lip. Fatherly concerns, not much to talk about.
 
Which is fortunate, as John has other issues. Tomorrow night at midnight marks a week since the pool incident. John’s week might be up then, or it might be up Wednesday morning, a bit before noon. He might have a week to prepare or only half of one.
 
While he washes up, he registers only vaguely that Derek is speaking. He recognizes the sound of a man talking to himself in front of an audience. He wonders vaguely how Derek would take to a skull and amuses himself with the image.
 
Before leaving for the surgery, John checks Sherlock’s forums once again. Still nothing to challenge John to show himself. The silence is making him paranoid.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The silence shatters inside a red phone box.
 
Of course it does.
 
He stands there on the pavement, telling himself he won’t, not again, but of course he will. He opens the door, gets inside, and fights down a sigh as he shuts himself away. “Hello,” he says into the receiver.
 
“There is a security camera on the building to your right,” answers a very familiar voice. “Do you see it?”
 
John doesn’t bother looking. “I’m sure it sees me, Mr. Holmes.”
 
There is, just barely, the slightest pause. “Not at present, Dr. Watson,” Mycroft replies, his voice as soft as falling ash, the burn of irritation hiding within. “Neither does the camera on the building to your left, or the camera across the street. I’m sure your situation is quite clear to you. Get into the car, Dr. Watson.”
 
“No,” John says as the car parks.
 
Over the past year, John has heard many Holmes laughs. Sherlock’s laughter arrives loud and sudden or rolls in with a low rumble. Sometimes it’s sharp, sometimes it fades and sometimes it goes on until the man is flushed and breathless. It’s triumphant and infectious and bloody gorgeous.
 
Mycroft’s laugh is nothing like that.
 
“Get into the car, Dr. Watson,” Mycroft enunciates. “If you don’t appreciate the lift, I’m sure I can arrange another.”
 
“I’m fine walking.”
 
“Not for you, Doctor,” Mycroft continues, a low chuckle threading through his words. “Your sister does have such a terrible time paying cab fare after a night out.”
 
With the CCTV cameras turned away, there’s no one to watch John’s reaction but the car’s driver. John’s eyes lock on the man, lock on the controlled, professional way the driver continues to hold open the door, and that’s it, that is it, that’s the line.
 
“We are not playing that game. I saved your brother’s life. You know I did. If you cared about anything else, you would have done something by now, not just a meet-and-greet attempted kidnapping.” By the end, he is not quite shouting, but his throat can’t tell the difference.
 
The driver looks away from John long moments before Mycroft speaks.
 
“Dr. Watson,” he begins, “in light of your illegal firearm, two counts of premeditated murder, three instances of breaking and entering, and another of burglary, I would advise you to control your temper.”
 
John sets his jaw instead.
 
“Now,” Mycroft says, slow and pleased: “Get in the car.”
 
John gets in the car.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The woman in the car isn’t named Anthea, nor does she claim to be. The parking garage is unfamiliar and Mycroft didn’t bring him a chair. It’s odd doing this in daylight. A year after the fact and John can still remember the first time all too well. The power of adrenaline in recollection.
 
John approaches the man and his umbrella without breaking stride. Somewhere along the way, John clearly swapped his sanity for confidence, but it’s working out fine so far. After the semtex vest, he doesn’t have it within him to be frightened. This isn’t as bad as Moriarty, not even close.
 
“You were saying?” John prompts.
 
Mycroft smiles thinly. He stands with his umbrella beside him, not quite leaning upon it. His grey eyes don’t rip through John or catalogue him. They don’t pierce or tear or pin. They observe, which is much worse.
 
“You’ve done this before,” Mycroft muses. “How terribly interesting.”
 
“Is that why we couldn’t do this over the phone?” John asks. He hears his own voice as something distant, something miles away. He’s trying to reconcile the man in front of him with the man who held Sherlock’s hand in the hospital and that’s a bad idea. That’s the wrong idea. This isn’t the man who handed John his brother’s watch. This is someone else, someone who has no cause to care about John’s well-being, not even by association.
 
This is, as Sherlock won’t hesitate to say, the most dangerous man John will ever meet.
 
It’s difficult to keep that in mind as Mycroft replies, “If one wishes to avoid the attention of Sherlock Holmes, one must learn to be discreet, hence this place. Or do you plan to accept his offer?”
 
“Offer?” John repeats.
 
“He’ll repeat it tomorrow, you realize.” Mycroft slips the handle of his umbrella onto his forearm, retrieving his little book from his jacket. “Much more bluntly than he does here, I would say.” He opens the book and reads aloud, one eyebrow raised: “‘Moriarty may be dead, but his network is vast. We’ve killed the spider. Help me destroy the web.’ He does love to be dramatic.”
 
“Thank god you’re above all that,” John answers. A good comeback is a terrible thing to waste.
 
Something shifts in Mycroft’s expression. What it is, John can’t be certain.
 
“He continues,” Mycroft states, both eyebrows now rising as he reads, his diction elongating each syllable, “‘I’ve never had a partner before. I think I would enjoy it, if it were someone as clever as you.’” He questions John with his eyes as he speaks those last few words. Practically interrogates and that is not a word John uses lightly. “Your response: ‘I look forward to meeting you again.’”
 
John holds his ground. He doesn’t shift or squirm.
 
“Tell me, Doctor Watson,” Mycroft instructs, closing the book with a snap. “What is your relationship with my brother?”
 
“It’s none of your business,” John answers evenly.
 
“I beg to differ.”
 
“Beg all you like.”
 
Mycroft pretends to laugh. “You’re very brave, Dr. Watson.”
 
“A kind word for stupidity, but thank you,” John replies.
 
The grey gaze Mycroft levels at him is nothing like his brother’s. Where Sherlock would give away nothing, Mycroft presents a surface layer for John to analyze, to fret over and be caught by. Consideration and ire and yet more beneath that John will never know.
 
“My brother has a very low tolerance for that sort of thing,” Mycroft informs him. His eyebrow flicks up, John’s unwitting twitch of a smile not passing unnoticed. Mycroft returns the small book to his jacket pocket. He looks at the back of his hand where it curls around the umbrella’s handle. It is possibly the most deliberate series of movements John has ever witnessed.
 
“I see,” Mycroft says at last.
 
John tilts his head, a slight and silent question.
 
“Beyond your meeting at the circus, you’ve never truly spoken with my brother. After all, shooting Zhi Zhu Yao in the Antiquities Museum hardly counts as social interaction. Neither does texting. As familiar as you are with his website, I’m sure you’ve noticed that he is not an individual with many friends.”
 
“Mid-thirties is old enough to choose your own friends,” John replies. “He could even choose without Big Brother watching.”
 
“Then you are prepared to accept his offer.”
 
“I asked for a week to consider. I’m considering.”
 
“I’m sure I’ve made it amply clear that I am aware of your activities,” Mycroft tells him.
 
“If you know I’m still considering, why bring me here to ask?” John demands, temper flaring.
 
“You misunderstand me.”
 
“Then say it.”
 
Mycroft is not quite smiling. John has no idea what it means.
 
“What do you want with my brother, Dr. Watson?”
 
“Nothing.”
 
“Ah,” Mycroft remarks. Mycroft Holmes is not monosyllabic in the way normal human beings are. That one syllable is theory, argument and conclusion, all condensed into a single exhale.
 
“What?”
 
Once again, Mycroft examines the back of his own hand, fingers splayed, palm pressing the wooden handle. “I know very well that you have no shared history with the man known as James Moriarty. Your actions of the past week have not been a vendetta or mission of revenge.”
 
“Then what am I doing?” John asks.
 
“You tell me.”
 
“Why, when you already know?”
 
“What I know is that you have been protecting and assisting my brother,” Mycroft replies. “What you will tell me is why.”
 
“Because it’s the right thing to do.”
 
Mycroft levels his gaze at John, looking so very far down. He removes his book from his jacket once more and reads. “The twenty-fourth of March: unauthorized entry into National Antiquities Museum and premeditated murder of Zhi Zhu Yao. The fourth of April-”
 
“I know what I’ve done,” John interrupts. “I’ve killed two international assassins.”
 
“You seem proud of yourself, Dr. Watson.”
 
“Wouldn’t you be? Moriarty’s dead – don’t tell me you don’t feel the same.”
 
Mycroft closes the book. “What an interesting sense of morality.”
 
“Is it.”
 
“Very.”
 
“Thank you.”
 
Mycroft stares him down.
 
John meets his gaze. He blinks when he needs to, not about to let himself be dominated into a contest of eye contact.
 
Mycroft waits for him to crack, which is fine. More time for John to think. More time for him to realize what Mycroft wants.
 
“I won’t hurt your brother.”
 
“No?”
 
“No.”
 
“Tell me why.”
 
“Because,” John says, thinking of a rumbling laugh against his lips, “I have an intermittent tremor in my left hand.” He holds it out, palm down, fingers splayed.
 
Mycroft observes. His eyes linger on stillness. They rise to John’s face, hard and inscrutable. “You miss the war that badly.”
 
“No,” John says, because it isn’t true. He was there only yesterday. “I miss being useful when the world goes to hell.”
 
“And now you evacuate buildings with fire alarms,” Mycroft muses. Which is jarring, which is startling, should be, except this is Mycroft and Mycroft knows everything anyway. Almost everything.
 
“Is that going on my list of offences too?” John asks. “Bit minor, compared to the rest.”
 
“I’m interested in your methods,” Mycroft continues as if John has said nothing at all. “Your powers of prediction are very impressive.”
 
“Thank you.”
 
“They are also entirely unfounded.”
 
“I’ve always been a lucky guesser.”
 
“Do tell.”
 
John hesitates.
 
Mycroft’s expression is technically a smile.
 
“I don’t need to,” John says. “You’d rather have Sherlock safe than know. When Sherlock asks me tomorrow, we’ll work something out between the two of us and that’ll be none of your business.”
 
“You’re very loyal, very quickly.”
 
“Yes, I am,” John answers. “I don’t see that as a problem.”
 
“Even when that loyalty is to Sherlock Holmes.”
 
“You’re very hard on your brother.”
 
“I’m very realistic,” Mycroft replies. “Sherlock is not an easy person to know.”
 
“And?”
 
“Why should I trust you with him?”
 
“Why do you think he’ll want to keep me?”
 
“I believe he might,” Mycroft replies, which is more of an answer than John thought he’d get. “Why should I trust you?”
 
“Because I’m a very loyal man. Pretty sure we already covered that.”
 
“And what on earth has my dear brother done to earn such dedication?”
 
His madman? So very much. The Sherlock here, however, he’s barely met.
 
Even so: “The night at the circus,” John answers. “He nearly died asking for Soo Lin Yao to be spared.”
 
“If you believe that Sherlock is truly so altruistic-”
 
“Maybe not, no,” John says. “But he makes me want to be. And he’s a bit of an idiot, so I might as well look after him.”
 
Which is true, which is insane, because John wasn’t going to do this. John was going to run and hide and do whatever he could to slip off Sherlock’s radar, but there’ll be no losing Mycroft’s attention.
 
He’s stuck now, his secrets kept concealed for only as long as the veil of impossibility remains over them. He’s stuck and he knows it. The only question is whether John did this to himself or if Mycroft’s ability to manipulate is- No, this is definitely Mycroft’s doing.
 
“If you insist,” Mycroft replies, arrogant and sure.
 
John says nothing.
 
“Now then,” Mycroft continues, reaching into his suit pocket and consulting an actual pocket watch, “as delightful as this chat has been, I shan’t keep you any longer. Sherlock does so hate sharing his toys.”
 
John gets into the car. Only then, after they pull onto the road, does his heart begin pounding.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
That went poorly.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The agitation lasts the rest of the day, something to which Derek is conveniently oblivious. One hyper-observant flatmate is more than enough.
 
For the sake of something to do, John watches the match yet again, occasionally calling the next goal. He mucks it up on purpose once Derek starts to be annoyed with his luck. It all gets chalked up as taking the piss, something they do with each other more often these days. Derek is the control in the experiment that is John’s life, whereas Sherlock is the most independent variable the world has ever known. To say nothing of his insane, vastly overprotective brother.
 
He falls asleep wondering how Sherlock will contact him and wakes to a rough, toe-curling rasp against the back of his neck. It soothes rather than startles and John is barely conscious of his own consciousness. His body is sore and languid, aching down his left side, wounded shoulder and fading bruises. Warmth along his back, over his hip, behind his knee. His spine buttressed by a sternum, the support of skin to skin.
 
He opens an eye only enough to confirm in the dark, to turn his hand and see his wrist. Unneeded and necessary. A noise of protest rumbles at his nape. Long fingers grip his. His hand is half numb already, so it doesn’t hurt much. The breaths against his neck are infinitely gentle in contrast.
 
Rough, he thinks, eye falling shut without permission, without needing it. Something was rough. Something good.
 
Sleep pulls at him and he relaxes into it, into the body draped about his own. Thigh over his hip, arm over his side, palm over his hand; Sherlock is another creature, asleep. He weighs more, or perhaps John’s limbs do, or both. Movement is not impossible, merely unwanted.
 
And then Sherlock shifts, nose nudging, and his stubble scrapes against unguarded skin. Feet flex. Skin tingles. John groans, a soft sound. His body reaches for arousal and touches fingertips to satisfaction. Physically sated and yet the rest of him aches. The hurt is a stretch, the strain of well used muscle. More is better when better means more. His mind isn’t making sense. It drifts like falling paper, like fingertips across his sternum.
 
John shivers into warmth. The hooked leg secures, the draped arm tightens, but no amount of holding could stop the slowing of his stumbling thoughts. He lies there feeling, feeling so much, and when he wakes to his alarm, harsh and jarring, there is no one lying beside him. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

That night, after operating, after driving himself and Marta back to their respective homes, John returns to his computer. He can’t focus any longer, has managed all day, but the one picture of Sherlock he has here is from the news articles, the obituary. He looks at it anyway, opens it in a new tab so he doesn’t have to see the text surrounding it.

The image reveals more than it ever has before. He’s still proud, still aloof. That hasn’t changed. But John sees the reason now, sees the buttoned shirt and the tie, an actual tie. His hair is shorter, cheekbones more impossibly prominent. He looks wrong, restrained. He’s been positioned, forced into this. Mycroft at fault, could only be. Responsible for the tie as well as the photograph. It’s a bit of a leap, but it feels right, if anything about this could be said to feel right.

John looks at it, and looks at it, and hopes tomorrow will be a Tuesday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is, impossibly, a Tuesday. It’s even the Tuesday he wants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When John wakes, he doesn’t move, not at first. There’s a gaze on his face tracing his lips, fingers on his chest toying with his ID circles. He can feel them both, distantly realizes he’s moved during the night. He lies on his back now, the thick line of Sherlock’s heat down his side rather than along his spine.

He opens his eyes, blinks slowly as he focuses on the face so close to his. This is a good distance for them. Far enough not to kiss, only just.

Shifting onto his side brings them closer still. Sherlock’s hand slides across his skin, slips around a bicep. Holds him, strong and steady. John presses their foreheads together, remaining lethargy tugging down his smile as well as his eyelids. He feels too gentle to fight it. Their morning breath mingles, mutually foul and nothing to be upset over.

“Don’t let me fall asleep,” John murmurs.

Sherlock’s nose brushes against his. “I don’t plan to.” His low amusement could melt on the tongue.

“I mean it.” He makes his arm move, deliberate in the lazy stretch over Sherlock’s side. His hand settles in a slide, palm pressed to a sharp scapula. He wants to savour this, just for a moment, for the tiny moment this will last. They aren’t meant for stasis, no matter how they may linger.

Sherlock kisses his eyelids. One, and the other. He hums with something that might be agreement or lethargy or next to anything.

John tries not to shake, externally. His insides, he can’t seem to do anything about, warm and smooth and terrified. Sherlock operates from a list of prearranged romantic actions; trusting behaviour to reflect emotion is an untenable risk.

Face tucked against Sherlock’s neck, John tries not to think. His languid morning has prickled away into vague tension.

Sherlock grunts, annoyed.

“You don’t want your puzzle, then?” John asks, voice breaking with sleep.

Sherlock goes stiff. Pulls back a slight amount. John knows he’s being looked at. Sherlock says, “Whatever you reveal today, you must have already known yesterday. You can’t have accessed anything new.”

“I didn’t and I can,” John answers. He opens his eyes, lifts them to Sherlock’s face. “That’s why it’s called a puzzle.”

“That’s not possible.”

“I’m not that good of a liar, remember?”

Confusion laces Sherlock’s face, cracks through his eyes. He lifts his hand as if to touch or gesture, only to do neither. “Show me,” he says.

John does. He extracts himself from the bed, pads across the rug and fetches the paper and pen. He returns and jots down today’s list, using a hardcover as a writing surface. First, the name of one of the newspapers he’d used for the second piece of his puzzle. Next, four headlines. Last, four dates, starting with Sherlock’s tomorrow.

“There you are,” John says, handing it over. Sherlock had read as he’d written, but his flatmate scans the list all the same.

“Headlines for the next four days,” Sherlock says.

“Yep,” John says. “You did ask for range.”

“The headlines you gave me yesterday, I haven’t checked those yet.”

“I know. Feel free, they’re right.”

“John, you can’t-” Sherlock cuts himself off, but his eyes say the rest.

“It’s simple when you know the trick to it,” John says. “It’s ridiculous, really. It’s not like what you do, there’s no skill involved.”

“This shouldn’t be possible,” Sherlock says.

“And you shouldn’t put heads in our fridge, but that’s never stopped you.”

“Only the one,” Sherlock counters. “You’re avoiding the subject.”

“Do you want me to tell you, then?”

“No.” Immediate, forceful. “I need more time, but I’ll sort it out. I’m not an idiot.”

“You’ll have to rethink what’s possible first,” John replies. He can’t hold back the hint.

John,” Sherlock snaps.

John shuts his mouth.

It occurs to the one, then to the other, that they are still partially naked and both upon Sherlock’s bed. The air is cold. For long moments, an endless progression of them, they are silent. They look at each other, avoid looking. They begin to speak only to remain silent after the first sound.

“Tell me one thing,” Sherlock says at last, almost calm and close to furious. “I don’t want the answer, I’ll find that myself, I only want to know one thing.”

“Yes, all right,” John says.

“How did I miss this?”

“There was nothing there to see,” John answers.

“Because you’re careful.”

“Because I’m very careful.”

Sherlock’s eyes stare over John’s shoulder, piercing the opposite wall. If by sheer force of will, Sherlock could open a window to the answers, that gaze would have done it in an instant.

“I swear I’m not trying to drive you around the bend.”

“I know.”

“Or humiliate you.”

“I know.”

“And I wasn’t holding back because I didn’t trust you.”

Sherlock very nearly looks at his ear.

John reaches for him and Sherlock holds still for it, tense and taut. He closes his eyes, practically vibrating beneath the touch, quaking. Mouths closed, lips dry, the pressure is gentle but Sherlock won’t be soothed. His hand seizes the back of John’s head and he forces their brows together. John can feel the focus in him, the hum of energy, as if Sherlock is trying to get at the answers through skin and bone, from brain to brain.

“If I don’t let you out of my sight today,” Sherlock asks, “will it accomplish anything?”

“No,” John answers, resigned, hand curled against the racing pulse high in his neck. Kisses the determined line of his mouth. “But you can do it anyway.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Yoohoo! Boys!” A double-knock against a doorframe.

They’ve relocated to the sitting room by then, but the image they make is still shy of innocent. They’re caught long after the act, a dark, dotted line down Sherlock’s neck.

John sticks his thumb between the pages of his book and prepares to meet whatever his fate will be.

As it turns out, his fate is lunch. A very nice lunch, lovingly prepared by their concerned landlady. “You’ve been holed up in here ever since that awful night,” she says, setting out a tray for Sherlock in the kitchen. “And that young man of yours, he never does remember to eat, does he?”

She’s nothing if not fond, but John’s stomach drops all the same. The old impulse to deny rises up and is quickly followed by an unsettling paradigm shift. John now has a... a whatever the hell Sherlock is. They haven’t talked about terms yet. They haven’t talked about anything yet. “It’s safer for the time being,” John says all the same, “staying inside. It’s bad enough with the security detail downstairs – and I am sorry about that, I really am.”

“Oh, they’re all dears,” Mrs. Hudson answers. It would mean more if she didn’t refer to Sherlock just the same way. John wonders, vaguely, who she wouldn’t say that about.

“And you’re a saint,” he replies, the only reply possible. It hits him, not for the first time, but for the first time that scares him, that she almost died. She could have been in that car with Moriarty, handcuffed to the seat before being wrapped in explosives.

Somewhere else, that’s happened. He knows theoretically – better than most, but theoretically all the same – that everything happens somewhere. Somewhere, outside of John’s life, Mrs. Hudson did die. Or maybe she didn’t, Sherlock already dead and Moriarty without need of a hostage. He doesn’t know, not really, but it’s all possible. It’s all so very possible.

He hugs her and she hugs him back, surprisingly strong for a woman of her age and build.

“I’m glad you’re all right,” she tells him, voice firm above his shoulder.

John swallows thickly.

She pulls back and smiles at him. John hasn’t seen a smile like that since his mother died. She pats his arm. “I would have been up sooner, but I thought you’d need the time to reassure yourselves. Everyone needs that, sometimes.”

“Oh, no, we could have-” And he realizes what she’s saying. “We could have come down before, except for, well, the leg problems and... such.”

“Oh, I understand,” she says, touching her hip. “This one’s been acting up, too. Those crutches of his will be an issue. I can hear him thumping about when he gets low.”

“Mm.” He wants and dreads to ask. Is that the entirety of the thumping about she’s heard? Has she also heard them reassuring themselves? God, and Mycroft’s security team. The thought of it mortifies him down to his core. Needing a distraction, he leans in and quietly confides, “I don’t think he’d ask, but he’d like it if you signed his cast.”

He eats lunch off his flatmate’s tray, watching Mrs. Hudson doodle across Sherlock’s shin, grinning as Sherlock glares.

 

 

 

 

 

 

John knows the internet can’t actually be torn apart, but he’s half waiting for Sherlock to manage it anyway. Sherlock is going to break the internet and he’s going to use John’s laptop to do it. He’s at the phase where he starts muttering and snaps if John asks him to repeat anything, but that’s hardly the worst of it. Sherlock won’t let John have his laptop back and has managed, crutches or no, to unplug the telly and hide the remote. It’s probably next to wherever Sherlock’s hidden his mobile. When John protests the continuing media blackout, Sherlock relents enough to read John’s emails to him. Without asking for John’s password. This is before Sherlock resumes whinging about how his injury is paining him. His real leg injury. Over that afternoon, Sherlock extracts more than his share of revenge for the happy squiggles currently adorning his cast.

Eventually, Sherlock decides that it’s time for a distraction. After this announcement, he adds, “Do you think you could manage it?”

John blinks a bit, mentally rewinds their lack of conversation and, no, Sherlock hasn’t actually specified anything. “Manage a distraction?”

“Frottage against the wall.” The response is delivered so bluntly that John can’t quite tell if that was an actual answer or deadpan sarcasm.

“Well, since you’re so eager.”

“You’re strong and I don’t weigh that much. We’d have to be careful about the start, but once you get me up against the wall, it should be possible.” Sherlock indicates the patch of wall.

“Let’s find out,” John decides.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s definitely not the worst idea Sherlock’s ever had, but that’s not saying much.

They laugh anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I’ve been trying to find the reason,” Sherlock muses afterward. The pyjama bottoms have once again vacated the premises, one of the many reasons their doors are locked. John has a renewed awareness of Mrs. Hudson and the security detail downstairs; the pre-emptive mortification has begun to set in despite the idle motions of fingers through his hair. Sherlock is warm atop him, a hard, knobby blanket of dressing gown and body.

“What are we talking about now?” John asks. It’s either him or Moriarty and if it’s Moriarty this soon after orgasm, someone is getting shoved off this sofa.

Sherlock taps him on the forehead.

Good.

“The reason for what?” John asks. “There’s a range, here.”

“You said there was a trick to it,” Sherlock says. “No skill involved, just a trick. Except a trick is often a skill.”

“Not in this case.”

“Your ability isn’t something you feel you’ve earned,” Sherlock continues, clearly not listening. “‘Trick’ has uglier connotations than other synonyms you could have used. ‘Knack’, for instance.”

“It’s not a knack.”

“There,” Sherlock says, pushing himself up unexpectedly. Hands beside John’s head, elbows locked, there’s an excitement in his eyes that’s close to vicious. No, fervid. No less intense, but slightly less harmful. “Right there. You complained.”

John blinks up at him. “What? No I didn’t.”

“You did,” Sherlock insists. “I heard you and I felt you tense. You’ve stumbled onto this by accident, haven’t you? You have. No skill, a trick, something you barely take advantage of, yes: this is an accident. It is, isn’t it? That’s why there’s no reason for you to be doing it.”

John stops breathing.

Sherlock’s eyes narrow.

Under that scrutiny, John’s throat stoppers itself. He fights through it, forces his lungs to expand while his world contracts. He’s pinned by legs, framed by arms, and Sherlock might actually manage this. If his Sherlock can manage, what of the other one? What about Mycroft?

Sherlock’s gaze sharpens as his voice dims. “You’re frightened.”

“No,” John denies.

“You are.”

“Not for the reason you think.”

Sherlock shifts, pulling back and pushing away. John grasps him by the dressing gown in clear refusal. Sherlock glares at him.

“It’s fine,” John says.

“It obviously isn’t.”

“Strange, when the rest of it isn’t obvious at all.”

That’s enough to stop Sherlock from resisting but not at all enough to draw him back.

“I’m worried about tomorrow,” John tells him.

“Tomorrow being...?” Sherlock prompts.

“Wednesday.”

Only when Sherlock glares at him once more does John realize how glib his response must sound. John’s worried about today and tomorrow, Tuesday and Wednesday in the next London over. A different day, a different tomorrow. A different Sherlock.

“Sorry,” John says. It’s not enough either. “That came out wrong.”

Sherlock sits up, left leg hanging off the couch, knee over John’s shin. He’s turned half toward John, or half away. “What’s tomorrow?”

If John answers incorrectly, Sherlock doesn’t need to say, it will be the end of the conversation. Possibly more.

“I don’t know yet,” he admits. He props himself up on his elbows. He feels exposed, all soft stomach and beating heart. “That’s why I’m worried.”

“Do you usually know?”

“Sometimes,” John says, ignoring how accusatory that sounded. “Not when it’s personally relevant, though. Not much of a help.” He pauses. “Well, there’s Harry. I typically know when it comes to Harry.”

“Only Harry?”

John nods. Everything and everyone else, he’s compartmentalized into one life or another. He feels bad about it with Bill, will make it up to him after returning from Afghanistan. He tells himself he will, knowing he likely won’t. The only reason Harry slips by is that she keeps calling, keeps in touch regardless of how he feels. She even mails him things in Afghanistan and it makes him feel like such a shit brother.

“Could you with someone else?” Sherlock asks. He moves back a little and John knows an invitation when he sees one.

John sits up, sets his hand on Sherlock’s leg over his, the bare knee resting across his trouser-clad thigh. “I could have with Bill. The nurse who took the bullet out of my shoulder? Him. Not as much as with Harry, but I could have.”

“You made a conscious decision to look away.”

“Feel bad about it, but there we are.” Briskly said, it’s almost easy to get out.

Sherlock leans back, too controlled to be sprawling. He drapes himself over pillow and cushion and air, is held up by them all without appearing to need the support. He’s too relaxed not to be tense. John can feel it in his legs. “What about me? You haven’t tried predicting me yet. Is that what tomorrow is?”

“You’re a blind spot,” John answers. “You’re all surprises, always will be. Moriarty’s a blind spot too, in case you were wondering.”

“It’s a permanent condition?”

“Yes,” John says, and because he doesn’t like to think about that, he adds, “I used to be able to do cars.”

A bit of a frown there. “Do what?”

“I could go anywhere in London, anytime, and know what cars would pass by,” he answers. “I don’t mean colours, I mean which exact cars.”

“That’s not possible,” Sherlock says.

“Not anymore,” John agrees. “I mean, I haven’t tried in ages, but even if I still can, it’s a pointless thing to know.”

Sherlock stares at him.

“I could try if you want, but it’ll be five days from now and it might not work.”

“Why five?”

“It’s a range issue.” He could try to move digital London ahead of analogue, but with the issues he has going on there, he doesn’t want to rush any of it. He’ll have to take the train in from Chelmsford again instead. If he does that next he wakes there, it will still be five days from now. The problem with that plan is the differences Moriarty’s explosions have made. That must’ve done something to the traffic.

Sherlock goes right on staring at him.

“I’m not making this up,” John says.

Sherlock says nothing.

“This is why I don’t talk about it,” John adds.

“Clearly.” A reply as distant as Sherlock’s eyes.

John looks down, finds his palm has slipped from knee to cast. So much less immediate than bare skin, contact through a hard barrier. “It’s not going to make sense. It’s internally consistent, but you have to take a running leap for it first.”

“A hobbling fall is more my area at the moment,” Sherlock answers. “I believe our attempt with the wall made that clear.”

He shakes his head, meets that grey gaze. “If anyone could manage it....”

“John, this is insane,” Sherlock tells him flatly.

“It doesn’t take that long to get used to.” All relative, of course. For all John knows, he might have years watching Sherlock adjust to the concept. Or one year, Sherlock walking away after three calendar months. John’s sure he’ll last at least that long. Then again, he was once certain this would last much longer and that was only last week (month). “Or, well, maybe it does, but it doesn’t have to interfere in daily life. It never has before.”

When Sherlock doesn’t respond, John asks, “Would you rather not have known?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sherlock scoffs. Although their legs remain entangled, Sherlock keeps their upper bodies apart. If he sat up, he’d be kissing close. Leaning back, leaning away, he’s distant enough that John would have to reach to touch his shoulder. John remains upright, not leaning one way or the other.

“Nope,” John says. “Can’t help it. Ridiculous is my default state. I hide it well, but you’ve found me out.”

Sherlock turns his face, eyes on the wall. Just as he had this morning, he makes a go at staring through wallpaper and plaster. It makes John think of the gun he has safely back in his drawer upstairs, courtesy of Mycroft. The smiley face still smiles through its wounds. Faintly at first, then louder, John can hear the ticking of his own watch. The sound of passing cars outside.

“What’s tomorrow?” Sherlock asks. “What you don’t know, it’s something specific. I said you gained your ability by accident and it frightened you. Why? Because of the nature of that accident or because I was right?”

“You made me realize something, that’s all,” John explains. Attempts to explain. “But it doesn’t affect you.”

“But it does involve me.”

“Not you, no.”

If I’m a blind spot, how do you know it doesn’t involve me?”

“The same way I know that a rockslide in New Zealand won’t hit you on the head. Let’s just say I would be extremely surprised.”

To all appearances, Sherlock is impassive, unimpressed. John’s well aware it’s a bad sign, an even worse one when Sherlock asks, “And when was the last time you were... ‘extremely surprised’?”

“The first explosion,” John answers, not needing to think. “Hell of a thing not to see coming.”

Sherlock’s eyebrows pull together, his eyes sharp beneath.

“What?” John asks.

“You didn’t know?”

“What? No, of course I didn’t know.”

Arms crossed over his narrow chest, Sherlock manages to lean back even farther. He lifts his chin, mouth proud, his marked neck on unintentional display. “You left the flat in quite a hurry.”

“Instead of getting you away from the windows and Mrs. Hudson off the stairs,” John responds, knowing better than to bring up how Sherlock had practically chased him out. “I didn’t know. That’s how I realized Moriarty was a blind spot.”

Sherlock’s eyes flick away.

“Would I let someone hurt you?” John asks bluntly. His fingers curl around the cast, thumb stroking blue fibreglass. “If I had any choice in the matter, any whatsoever?”

Sherlock’s answer is grudging, but it comes all the same. “No.” As if he’s about to go and have a sulk over it.

“You know I want to tell you.”

“I like to think I know you well enough to know that,” Sherlock retorts and that’s when John gets it. Voice angry, arms defensive, eyes uncertain – John can only be seeing the smallest piece of it.

“You know what counts,” John says. It’s not a lie.

He risks a touch. Leaning forward, his hand lifts from cast to elbow. Through the dressing gown, the sharp jut of bone isn’t at all softened.

“I’ll tell you tomorrow,” John decides. “All of it.”

“I can solve this on my own.” His glare is hard, but he doesn’t shake John off. “I need more time.”

“I’d give you more if I could,” he says, or he lies. He’s really not sure. He had never thought this would tear Sherlock into so many pieces. Maybe he should have, but it’s too late now. “Thing is, I need your help with something.”

“With what?”

“Something that doesn’t make sense out of context,” John promises.

Sherlock unfolds his arms, dislodging John’s hand in the process. “Is that why you’re telling me now? Not a word, not a peep, but now that you need something-”

“Now that we’re shagging,” John corrects.

“Told Sarah, did you?”

“Nope,” John says. Never shagged her either. Sherlock must know that. His flatmate is jealous, insecure, lashing out. John’s never seen it so clearly. “And I wasn’t planning on it. There wasn’t any point.”

Sherlock’s fingers flex, hands almost lifting from his lap. The restrained motion catches John’s eye. He looks down, his pulse pounds, and he remembers that Sherlock’s pants and pyjama bottoms are still halfway across the room. Dressing gown or no, Sherlock’s fighting naked. Small wonder he’s vulnerable.

“What is the point?” Sherlock asks.

“The point is,” John says, “that this isn’t it.” He can feel his pulse across his body, within his ears and through his skin. “I’ve shown you the symptoms, not the disease. All this-” he waves his hand toward the coffee table, the written puzzle pieces set across it “-is like being able to see through camouflage because of colour-blindness. It’s only selectively helpful and I have to be looking.”

“You’re saying it’s an impairment.”

“I’m saying it’s a medical condition. And no, it’s not contagious.” As far as he knows.

“What are the other symptoms?”

“Some short term memory difficulties, occasional emotional instability, and a profound annoyance at being woken up too early.”

“That isn’t the full list,” Sherlock says. “What are the rest?”

He smiles at that. He doesn’t mean to, but he smiles all the same. “I said I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

“Your accident, then. Not an accident in the traditional sense, but the onset of this, this condition. Chronic?”

“Very,” John says. “And undocumented. I’ve checked. I don’t think people like me come forward very often.” Not without being sectioned, at any rate.

Sherlock’s hands shift yet again. John takes indecision for invitation and brushes his knuckles across Sherlock’s side. His fingers slip between arm and ribs, palm light. He curls fingertips into fabric.

A slow movement, Sherlock pushes himself upright. Though sitting, he towers over John, lips at the level of his eyes. He’s a breath away. John’s arms twine around his back. Cheek to shoulder, such a hard pillow, and John sighs his eyes closed. He relaxes his body in an attempt to unwind Sherlock as well. A hopeless attempt, but he has to try something.

“You’ve told me almost everything, haven’t you?” Sherlock asks. “And I still don’t know.”

“I wasn’t asking you to figure it out,” John tells the soft skin of his neck. At the moment, it’s the only thing soft about him. “Not really.”

A puff of breath over John’s ear, disbelief and derision. “Then what?”

John doesn’t let go. He refuses to.

“I needed you to believe me,” he says. “I couldn’t think of any other way to convince you.”

Long fingers curl around John’s nape. A thumb strokes at his hairline. John trembles, all of him, skin and bone and breath.

“All right,” Sherlock says. “I’m convinced.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What time tomorrow?”

They’ve switched positions entirely by now, Sherlock on his back, John on top of him. Sharp hipbones dig against his stomach. His shoulder shakes from holding up his torso. The dressing gown has long since opened and John lies clothed atop a naked man, hips between pale thighs.

“Ten o’clock,” John says.

“At night?”

“In the morning.” They’ll need the rest of the day for explanations, much of the night for planning. If there is anything to be planned, that is, some remaining way for John to avoid Sherlock’s detection in his other London. Some way that Mycroft will let him.

“I’m not sleeping tonight,” Sherlock decides. His hands have long since ventured up the back of John’s untucked shirt. Ten fingertips ghost down his spine, up his ribs, such smooth, unending circles. “Not enough time.”

“All right.” He lowers himself to Sherlock’s chest, relaxing his shoulder, trapping his arms between Sherlock and the sofa cushion. His left hand has already fallen asleep.

Sherlock is hard and flat, muscle tensed into bone. His skin is suppler than it is soft, as well as slightly hairy. He’s cotton but no less comforting than a woman’s silk. He’s so pale, a long, unexposed stretch of torso and thigh.

“Let me kiss you?” John asks. “If it’s too much of a distraction, you don’t-”

Interruption comes at an awkward angle. John props himself up, Sherlock opens his mouth, and they lie there tasting each other, lips and tongue and uneven breath. Sherlock kisses with his eyes open, John discovers. At this moment or always, he has yet to learn.

His shirt bunches, rides up his back, his sides, his front. Sherlock’s hips nudge upward, a press of pelvis, such heat between the points of bone. Not quite soft against his stomach, becoming less so, rocking up, against. Kisses deepen. Warm hands steal down his spine, a ghosting touch that sets him shivering. He arches his back, presses his hips. They gasp together, not quite in sync.

Lower, around, under, those hands go, palming him through his zip. Every touch and twitch is a tease. No brief grope, it goes on without release. Pants and trousers between skin and heat. Much too quickly, Sherlock riles him. The prolonged grope turns torturous. Purposeful motions, each demanding acceleration. More, now, faster. Could be dangerous, come now, soon, try.

“God, this.” Whispered praise as he ruts against Sherlock’s too-light touch. “Need more of you.”

Sherlock nips at his lips when he groans, soon denies him his tongue, turns his face away.

“Sherlock,” John pants. His hips thrust and his mouth searches, but none of it is enough. He needs his trousers off but has his hands trapped beneath his madman’s back. “Sherlock.”

Breathy and low, a broken syllable: “Why?”

“What?” Christ, no. No mind games, not now. Can’t think. Needing skin. Needing to spill across it and lick it clean. Or inside. Anything.

That hand slips higher, off John’s prick, presses hard against his stomach. Long thighs squeeze John’s hips too hard for him to thrust, too high for him to touch. It’s a grip of leg that ought to mean orgasm, tight and claiming. “Why?” Sherlock insists.

“You’re not honestly-” God, he is.

“Why?”

“Need you,” he insists. “You know I- fuck, please.”

Knuckles play over his zip. “You need my hand.”

“All of you.” Desperate. “You said I could. All over you.” Coming and coming, he needs to come.

“My hand, my mouth, my arse,” Sherlock lists.

John can match his gaze but can’t catch his mouth. He fights to free his hands, either hand, both trapped below sharp shoulder blades. He frees the one, the left, the half-numb one. Reaches down between them and Sherlock seizes his wrist. Sherlock pulls John’s hand away from his zip, pulls him away from where he wasn’t reaching.

He touches Sherlock, smearing precum down the shaft. Sloppy, no finesse. Barely holds on as Sherlock jolts beneath him. “Idiot,” John gasps out. “You fucking idiot. Let me kiss you.”

Sherlock strains for him and John presses him down. Fingers at his zip now, finally, hand down his pants first, protecting from metal teeth, so very, very good. Trousers down, over the curve of his arse, Sherlock’s foot pushing fabric, legs spread wide. John ruts into him, pants into his mouth, and Sherlock’s hand wraps around his fingers, around both their pricks.

He opens his eyes and Sherlock stares into him. Always watching. Always, always, eyes wide open. How long? How long has he, has he this?

That hand releases, pulls at his. Fingers dig into his arse, tug him down and forward and against, and John’s on his forearms, on his knees. Closer, he needs closer, more, his shirt still bunched between their chests, thin chain and circles of metal caught up in cloth and sweat and skin.

A sudden press, below, his arse, the shock of it. His head snaps back. He shouts. Air vanishes. Grey. Sherlock’s eyes.

Hard shoulder. Chin on top. Cheek against pillow, wet heat under stomach. Quick breath in his ear, slowing, not slow. Motion beneath, aftershocks. Hands on his arse, fingertip over his hole. Circling. Twitch. Groan. Face to neck. Kiss.

In time, he relearns how to move.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Don’t laugh,” John tells him, sometime later.

Lazy strokes down his back, smooth, unfaltering. “Laugh at what?”

His stomach tightens. His heart pounds the blood out from his head.

I almost text you, even when you don’t know me, and I’m jealous of a flatmate you’ve never met. I can’t be in London when you’re dead. I should avoid you tomorrow, insane brother or not, but you’ve killed my self-preservation.

“I miss you when I sleep,” he says.

The stroking pauses. Resumes.

Sherlock doesn’t laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

John slips naked beneath Sherlock’s duvet.

Across the bedroom, Sherlock perches on his cleared-off chair, desk lamp illuminating the papers before him.

John closes his eyes and sleeps.

Chapter Text

 

By all rights, Afghanistan ought to be a hot, dry shock to his body. He spends three-fourths of his time in England, dressing for the chill and damp. Instead of change, it’s all just weather.

Occasionally, when he focuses, his mind registers the differences between his bodies. His missing muscle mass in Chelmsford. The dull ache of his shoulder in each London. The drain of too much heat and too much cold and too little humidity in Afghanistan. Although the differences are blatant, they’re too well-known by each of his bodies to come as a shock. It’s only when he falls asleep expecting to feel the same that he’s surprised. He seldom expects that anymore.

He focuses on these details today, little things in little moments between endless routine check-ups and small patches of emergency and large swaths of paperwork. He knows Sherlock will ask.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s London again, Tuesday again, and Derek is shouting on the phone.

John takes a walk.

His walk turns into his shift at the surgery, his shift turns into a lunch break, and then the afternoon blurs together. If the CCTV cameras are still blatantly following him, he’s stopped paying attention. He tells himself he has. He goes home and watches all the telly Sherlock’s made him miss.

Derek cooks dinner, one of his mad bursts of “No, I can make this from scratch” that always seems as if it will end in tears. So far, it’s never been less than good. John’s heaping plate is clearly an apology for this morning and he eats it accordingly.

“That was much more coriander than I thought it was,” Derek says, prodding with his fork.

“Better than army food,” John says.

“You always say that.”

He’s always a day or two away from army food. “We’re both consistent, then.”

John does the washing up, Derek puts the news on, and they pretend to watch telly from behind their laptops. Mostly, John presses F5. It’s an old routine by now. When the latest forum post appears, John taps the key twice more to be sure the single sentence is the full extent of Sherlock’s message.

Samaritan, I expect your reply by noon tomorrow.

Nothing but that. No threats, no insistence, no specifications. After that little chat with Mycroft, it’s a bit of a letdown.

Gently, John closes his laptop. “Night, Derek,” he says.

“Night.”

In his room, he closes the door and opens his laptop. He thinks. Living with the man means he knows the tactics for managing him, as much as Sherlock Holmes can be managed. Where Sherlock can’t be thwarted, he has to be satisfied. With neither possible, John has no idea what Sherlock will do. He can only hope it’s happened before, because if Sherlock – John’s Sherlock – doesn’t know that about himself, John has no chance. His gun remains locked in his desk drawer, a piece of himself he should have long since given up.

He sets his alarm for six in the morning and tosses and turns his way into sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He opens his eyes and Sherlock is right there.

When John recovers from that little heart attack, Sherlock is still right there, arms folded on the bed, but John’s had a moment to accept the idea. He’d expected Chelmsford this morning.

“Good morning.” An amused rumble from gently curled lips.

It makes John want to touch his mouth, so he does. His left hand is tingling a bit, not quite numb in two fingers, but that leaves him with more than enough to feel with. Sherlock’s closed-mouth smile widens beneath his fingertips.

“Morning,” John says. “How long have you been sitting there?”

Sherlock catches his hand and checks John’s watch. “Not long.”

“You know, it’s typically frowned upon to wake a soldier up like that.”

“Calculated risk.” His fingers toy at the inside of John’s wrist. “You don’t like taking this off, do you?”

“Hm?” The light touch is distracting.

“Your watch,” Sherlock says. “Except you’ve changed wrists recently. The tan line is more prominent on the right.”

Much too naked beneath the duvet, he shifts onto his stomach and hides both arms under a pillow. “Do you memorize everyone you sleep with?” John deflects.

“You’re sensitive on the subject.” Elbows on the bed, Sherlock steeples his fingers. A pause, then he points at him. “You switched because of your limp. A watch is typically worn on the non-dominant hand. That happened to be the same hand you needed for your cane. Difficult to check the time that way.” The logic is impeccable for all that it’s wrong.

“What else have you figured out?” John asks.

That shuts Sherlock up.

John props himself up on his elbows, ignoring the twinge in his shoulder, and checks the time before returning his hand under the pillow. “You’ve got a bit less than two hours left, but do you want another puzzle piece?”

“Is that rhetorical?”

“A bit.”

Sherlock reaches for something on the floor and comes up with paper and pen.

“Don’t have to write down this one,” John says. “I could, but it would take too long. Stop me whenever you’ve heard enough.”

“All right.” Sherlock folds his arms, sets his chin atop them.

It’s strange, at first. The only people John has discussed his last (current) tour of Afghanistan with are this therapist and Bill. Dr. Thompson had wanted to hear his feelings, not the events. That one (twice-attended) time John had met with Bill for drinks, it had been anecdotes and silent camaraderie. The shock of being in civvies, sitting in a Wetherspoon pub, surrounded by such a limited spectrum of accents, had been a bit much for both of them. John’s second time with reverse culture shock, Bill’s first, it had filled their talk with a sense of longing that John’s therapist would have found disturbing.

With Sherlock, it’s completely different. Which goes without saying, but it’s so much more than Sherlock’s hyper-focus as John monologues naked in his bed. John’s never said any of this to anyone, never honestly believed he was going to. Limited only by doctor-patient confidentiality, he tells Sherlock the deaths and surgeries of his unit, moving through the six months (two years) of service he’s had in the field since he was (wasn’t) shot.

He’s careful about it, but only barely. He speaks of the wounded without calling them his patients. When he digresses into anecdote, he never features himself in the telling.

That said, it doesn’t take Sherlock long to realize this is no simple report. Judging by the man’s uncanny stillness, the generator in Sherlock’s head has morphed into an entire power plant. His eyes and mouth move, nothing else. Again and again, Sherlock comes to the edge of interruption only to say nothing.

John talks until his mouth goes dry, until he surprises himself with a cough. It’s unquestionably the longest stretch of time Sherlock has ever listened to him. To anyone, possibly.

“How much more is there?” Sherlock asks.

“A bit,” John says. “Look, I know I can’t prove that what I’m saying is right-”

“How much more is a bit?”

“Up until early May.”

“And you’re fully cognizant that it’s currently mid-April.”

“Currently,” John confirms.

Sherlock reaches for John’s wrist and looks at his watch. “Nine twenty-six,” he says. A moment of indecision, followed by: “Get up, get dressed, get something for your throat. You have thirty-four minutes and then you’re telling me everything.”

John sits up, one hand absently keeping the duvet in place. “You’re not going to guess, then?”

“John, you just spent over an hour giving me an unmistakeably first-hand account of a place I can confirm you haven’t been, not during the span of time you’ve referred to. The limits on what you can discover are excessively arbitrary and the amount of information you can give me appears to be constrained only by your memory,” Sherlock summarizes.

“You’ve had no access to any electronic equipment in over two days. I haven’t let you out of my sight in over twenty-four hours. As your newspaper headlines have been coming true for days, there is a strong implication that you can see the future. You’ve referred to these abilities as symptoms of a larger condition but have also shown that this condition is undetectable as long as you’re careful not to show your foreknowledge.

“There are only two possibilities remaining here. Either this is an absurdly bizarre – and, as you say, undocumented – condition, or you’ve successfully pulled off the strangest ruse I have ever seen. In neither case can I guess anything that won’t sound unforgivably moronic, if not outright preposterous.

“Come ten o’clock you are explaining yourself until I’m satisfied. I suggest you get ready.”

“All right,” John says agreeably. So far, much better than expected. He looks over the edge of the bed. Not so much better than expected. “Where did my pants go?”

Sherlock’s expression takes a quick turn from deadly serious to absolutely gleeful. “I hid them,” he says, grinning through the words.

John tries to feel surprised and, frankly, can’t. “Of course you did. They’re somewhere I have to bend over for, aren’t they?”

“They are,” Sherlock confirms.

He considers it for a moment and chooses dignity over modesty. Climbing out of bed, he gives Sherlock the full-frontal before padding into the hall and then the loo. He doubts it will be the last time he wanders the flat wearing nothing but his watch and ID circles. Those come off for his shower, back on immediately after, and he goes upstairs in a towel, still planning what to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten o’clock finds John downstairs in the sitting room, seated across the table from his flatmate, madman and... whatever they are now. John is fully dressed once more, a shirt and thick jumper that don’t take the edge off this sense of exposure. Civilian clothing never does. Not for John, at any rate. Maybe for Sherlock.

For the first time since returning from the hospital, his flatmate is in something other than his dressing gown and jimjams combination. The suit is sharp, shirt crisp, and John had been momentarily struck by the sight of him before realizing the intent behind the gesture, the acknowledgement of the moment.

On the table between them is his tea, a great deal of paper, and a number of pens and highlighters. There are no other possible supplies he could use. John is as well prepared as he’s ever going to be and it’s not remotely enough.

John folds his hands, looks Sherlock in the eyes, and says, “I was shot October the fourteenth.”

He licks his lips. Looks down at the still blank paper. “I hit the ground and woke up that morning in Chelmsford, Essex. Not the next morning, that morning, still October the fourteenth.” He explains Broomfield Hospital, the call that morning. The sight of car keys on the counter and the fumble through the house to find the front door. The drive, soon familiar. The hospital and operating, like being back in time. His panic, rising and rising, kept in check for his patients. It’s still vivid, even now. He talks about it longer than he should.

“By the time I was finished, it was early on the fifteenth. Took a nap, had a blip, woke up in Afghanistan, morning of the fifteenth.”

“A blip?” Only enough inflection to make it a question. Sherlock’s face is as it has been: carefully blank.

“Quick moment of consciousness,” he clarifies. “I was on the ground and Bill was there.”

“Why on the ground?”

“I’d been shot a minute previous, there wasn’t much of a choice about it.”

Sherlock blinks very slowly.

“I passed back out,” John continues. “When I woke up, it was the fifteenth and I hadn’t been shot. I didn’t remember the rest of the day after I’d been- thought I’d been- hadn’t-” He pauses. “After the shooting. After that was a blank. Broomfield was still clear as anything, but I.... I don’t know what I thought. That I’d had a flashback to civilian life while operating. I think I believed that, up until I went to sleep that night. I blipped again and woke back up at the hospital.”

Fingers steepled, face impassive. “The blip was with Bill?”

“The blip was with Bill. He was working on my shoulder and I passed out again. Anyway, once I was back in Chelmsford, it was pretty obvious something was wrong.” He doesn’t touch on the disorienting horror of it, not yet, perhaps not ever, no mention of looking into a mirror to see a version of himself that was no one he had ever been. “I kept bouncing back and forth between England and Afghanistan like that for a while. The blips lasted longer, eventually. Less like blips, closer to full days. I had to refuse a lot of painkillers, for that.”

“And currently?”

“Currently what?” John’s not on painkillers anywhere or when.

“What are the blips now?” Sherlock asks.

“This,” John says. “Well, half. The other half are down in Wandsworth.” Grant Road, specifically.

“What’s down in Wandsworth?”

“Decent rent.”

There is a long moment of silence.

Sherlock nods slightly, less agreement, more prompting. “Continue.”

John does. He talks of discovering the differences between his hospital stays, a revelation from a vanishing paperback. How Afghanistan has always been far ahead of the rest of it because he never goes back to sleep there, not until he must. How he thinks his real life must have split away from that life in Chelmsford at least eight years before he was shot. He touches only vaguely on the early disorientation that was a Chelmsford staple, the inability to know who his friends were, who this woman handing him coffee and climbing into his car was. He doesn’t mention its lasting impact. He doesn’t go anywhere near his own sexuality.

He quickly moves on to the part he knows Sherlock would rather know: the rules.

“As far as I can tell, it’s instantaneous. Whenever I fall asleep, I switch. It doesn’t matter how long I’m asleep for, either.” He details his early experiments, intentionally nodding off on Marta’s sofa while she was in the loo. She’d wake him a minute later and he would have completed a full cycle.

“What seems to matter is how long I’m awake. Too long up and sometimes I skip that reality during the next cycle. That happened this morning. I’d expected Chelmsford, but last time there, I’d been on call all night. That must have bumped it over. I’ll probably have that day tomorrow. That’s typically how it works.

“The other way works too. If I roll over and go back to sleep enough times, wherever it is I keep sleeping becomes an every-other-day sort of thing until I stay awake there. There’s some sort of fight for equilibrium.

“Oh, and I don’t dream anymore. If I do, I don’t remember. That’s... yeah, that’s it for the basics.”

He picks up his mug and drinks lukewarm tea. It’s bitter and unpleasant, but his throat needs it. He sips small sips, watching Sherlock’s hands, the steepled fingers stationary before the man’s mouth.

When John sets the mug down, Sherlock reaches for paper and pen. Notes are jotted, scribbles scrawled. Patches of ink twitch across the paper in harsh strokes of shorthand. It looks like a Venn diagram with the circles implied rather than drawn. Though John can’t read Sherlock’s cipher, he can imagine the three categories of this debate.

John Watson: mad, liar, or impossible?

A minute of nothing more than tapping the pen against his lips and Sherlock asks, “You looked up the rugby scores online from Chelmsford or Wandsworth.”

“Chelmsford,” John confirms. “Told you, no skill involved.”

“You looked up the scores online in an alternate reality, then travelled back in time by going to sleep.”

“I don’t time travel, I reality swap. There’s a difference.”

Sherlock looks at him for a moment before crossing out one of his notes and rewriting it. Whether it’s “reality swap” replacing “time travel” or “definitely crazy” overwriting “a bit off”, John doesn’t know.

“You keep track,” Sherlock prompts.

“I have four small calendar planners and a daylist.”

“In Chelmsford.”

John nods. “Didn’t have the time or paper in Afghanistan, couldn’t have managed it while I was in hospital.”

“What’s a daylist?”

“It’s how I sort out my personal timeline.” He uncaps a highlighter and begins. “Each day is a block, each reality gets a different colour, and each block gets a colour and a date.” He draws out his example, a line of four alternating colours, and labels each block with a date. “Looks a bit like that. Sometimes the pattern settles in for a while, until I have a nap or an all-nighter.”

Sherlock takes the rough daylist. The gears go on turning and John does his best to ignore the sick feeling rising in his stomach.

“I also use my watch,” John says. “Not for note taking. More of a quick reference to keep from being confused. No one ever stares at you for checking the time. That’s why I switched wrists, not the cane.”

“Two wrists but four....” Sherlock can’t quite seem to say it.

“Next London over, I have a digital one,” he explains. “Afghanistan is analogue and Chelmsford is the other digital. Beyond that, it’s right for all right, left for London.”

“‘All right’?” Sherlock echoes, abruptly insulted. It’s the first bit of solid emotion John’s heard out of him in far too long, the first piece beyond a default of sardonic doubt. Seeing as Sherlock is undergoing an emotional reboot, John shouldn’t be surprised that affrontedness and indignation are the fastest to come back online.

“As in a lack of bullet wounds,” he clarifies. Or not having a double-load of physiotherapy.

Sherlock considers, then nods, appeased. And that’s it. That’s the moment.

Whether or not he wants to, Sherlock believes him.

Maybe only a little, maybe he only believes that John is absolutely convinced, but he believes something. He believes enough to be insulted over it. That’s not saying much, not for Sherlock, but. But. It is saying something.

John bites his lip. Bites it pretty hard.

Okay.

Okay, then.

Keep going.

“It was more habit than mnemonic, for the right,” he says. “A lot of it’s fairly arbitrary. The colour coding system was from whatever came to hand the fastest. Do anything long enough and it sticks, I guess.”

“Six months,” Sherlock says.

“Two years,” John corrects. “Six months lived four times is two years.” God, it feels longer. The first year does, the second not at all. The wonder of being able to walk.

A slight pause, then Sherlock’s focus returns to the daylist. A quick count. “Twelve blocks is three days.”

“Three calendar days, yeah. Still feels like twelve days because I’ve lived twelve days.” He waits for Sherlock to work it out.

When it occurs to Sherlock, he goes still. He doesn’t lift his gaze from the paper, not immediately. His face does something that John can’t quite call soft, but soft is the word he wants to use. It’s nothing so kind or vulnerable as tenderness, nothing so cloying as concern.

“I’ve known you for about a year,” John confirms. “We’ve been shagging a bit over two weeks, out of which I’ve seen you five days. Your tomorrow is six days to my three weeks.”

Sherlock folds his hands. Sets his mouth against his knuckles. He doesn’t make a sound, but he is nothing close to silent. The noise of Sherlock’s mind is the too-low rumble of infrasound for all its speed is supersonic. It pushes at the back of John’s ears, warning of an earthquake he can’t quite hear.

John folds his hands as well. He wants to be standing, hands clasped behind his back. This will have to do.

“You said....” Sherlock tilts his head. Not a significant tilt, just as it’s not a significant hesitation, but when it’s Sherlock, anything means everything. “The night the old woman died, you told me you wanted to stay awake. You said you didn’t want to go away anymore.”

John doesn’t mean to nod. He might have anyway. “It’d been a bad week.”

“That’s why you laughed when I told you Afghanistan was over.”

He nods on purpose this time.

“It’s also why you lost sight of how long the head was in the fridge.”

“Most people would’ve been that upset about it being there in the first place,” John points out.

An arching eyebrow. “You’re hardly ‘most people’.”

A small huff of laughter. “Not anymore, no.”

A wry twist to the lips now and Sherlock looks as if he’s about to disagree. Which makes no sense, with him the one to say it in the first place. In the end, Sherlock says nothing and his eyes leave John’s face for a point in the air. They stay there for some time.

“If you need time alone to think, I can go do the shopping,” John says. “We’re out of milk again.”

Aim unerring, Sherlock reaches across the table without looking and folds his hand over John’s laced fingers.

“Okay,” John says. He turns over in his mind, wraps waiting around his shoulders, the calm weight of slow expectations. He doesn’t mind.

Later, Sherlock removes his touch. Reminds him, “You said you needed my help.”

“That’ll take a while to explain too,” John says. “There’s no rush on it. I can stay up however long I need to.” It’s barely noon. “You can think it out. I only gave you the quick summary, anyway.”

“All four are real,” Sherlock half-asks.

“There’s enough overlap that it’s all or none.”

“All, then,” Sherlock concludes immediately, no philosophical debate whatsoever.

Another lengthy pause.

“You said your personal timeline in Chelmsford peeled away from your ‘real’ one approximately eight years before you were shot.”

“Were and weren’t, yeah.”

“Do you always think in double-terms?”

“More or less.”

“Fine. What happened eight – and ten – years ago?”

“Apparently, I joined Doctors Without Borders instead of RAMC. Don’t remember a minute of it.”

“A version of you without military training.” Somehow, this is the thought Sherlock finds too ridiculous. Something in John warms and stretches and this isn’t the time for it.

“I’m told the switch was dramatic,” John admits. “As far as the hospital staff is concerned, October fourteenth was the day I forgot everyone’s name and started standing at parade rest.” And that had been before the reverse culture shock had hit. The psychiatric evaluation isn’t something he cares to remember.

“Essentially, you’ve overwritten an alternate reality version of yourself.” It shouldn’t be possible for anyone to say something like that and sound reasonable, but there is very little that Sherlock’s voice and confidence in tandem can’t accomplish.

John answers, “I try not to think about that.”

Sherlock sighs. It’s his sigh that applies to tedious moral codes. “You clearly have no control over this. I don’t see how you can feel guilty.”

“Not guilt, actually.”

“No?”

“No,” John says. “I don’t fancy the thought of being overwritten myself.”

Sherlock’s eyes perceptibly widen. Beyond that, he doesn’t react, save for asking, “Is that likely to happen?”

“How am I supposed to know?” John demands. Then: “Sorry.”

“No, it’s... fine.”

“Pretty sure it would be painless for me and obvious for you, so at least there’s that,” John adds.

“Don’t,” Sherlock tells him.

“It’s just, there are going to be ramifications. I assume so. I was serious when I called this a medical condition. I’ll be in my nineties by my fifties – that can’t be good for-”

“John. Be quiet. Just- Just for a minute, be quiet.”

John is quiet. Sherlock is frightened, John is quiet, and this is only the beginning.

“I realize this isn’t what you signed up for-”

“I didn’t sign anything,” Sherlock interrupts. “If you can’t keep your mouth shut, go do your precious shopping.”

John gets up. Gets his jacket. He checks the fridge and cupboards to confirm what’s gone. Silence rages from the other room.

Crossing into the sitting room, John goes to the side of a man who flatly refuses to look at him. One hand settles on a thin shoulder. When Sherlock doesn’t shrug him off, John presses his lips to the crown of his head. He breathes in, deep and sentimental. Sherlock endures this as well.

Deciding to call it a win, John goes downstairs and lets the security detail follow him the block and a half to Tesco.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perched on the arm of his chair, Sherlock plays his violin with his eyes closed. If he takes any notice of John putting away the shopping, he doesn’t show it. John finishes and sits down in his own armchair.

Sherlock asks, instrument still beneath his chin, “Afghanistan, Chelmsford or Wandsworth?”

“What?”

“Where do you need my help?” Sherlock clarifies. He slides off the arm and into the armchair, then sets the violin and bow down on the floor.

“Wandsworth.”

“What is, was, or will be happening in Wandsworth?”

John laughs a little. “I’m going to have to backtrack a bit. Sounds mad out of context.”

“Does it now?” Sherlock asks mildly.

“Shut up,” John says through a smile. “It sounds particularly mad.”

“Fine. Give me the context.”

John licks his lips. Takes a moment to find the phrasing.

He says, “I don’t know what will happen when I die. I’ve thought about it and I might have died in Afghanistan. When you wake up regardless, dying is a lot like passing out. I assume. I could have been split into ten and six of me died off. I don’t know.”

“Then,” Sherlock says, “at the pool?”

“I thought I’d died,” John agrees. “Woke up in Chelmsford – I almost always do, after something traumatic – and I....” He swallows. Smiles tightly. “Well, I’m a very angry person when I’ve been killed.”

It shouldn’t be possible for such a pale face to blanch, but Sherlock’s managed it. “John, I-”

He holds up a forestalling hand. “Wait, I’ll draw it out for you.”

“Draw what?”

“What I did next.”

At the table, he colours in a quick daylist, eight blocks long. Blue, blue, orange, red, green, green, green, blue. Handing the paper to Sherlock, he points to the first two blues, standing by his shoulder. “There’s two in a row that were here because I didn’t sleep after we fought the Golem. Blue is here. Golem day, then the pool, then I woke up in Chelmsford. That’s orange. A day in Afghanistan after that, that’s red. Then Golem day in Wandsworth, the pool in Wandsworth, the aftermath in Wandsworth. That’s the three green, I didn’t sleep for any of it. Then-”

“Wait,” Sherlock interrupts, blinking up at him. “The Golem in both?”

John blinks. “Yeah?”

“Alternate reality.”

“Not very alternate.”

“Hence the overlapping newspaper headlines and rugby scores, yes, yes, I understand that,” Sherlock huffs. “How alternate is alternate? Extremely for Chelmsford, but what of the rest of it?”

“Afghanistan is life as usual,” John replies. “The Londons were virtually identical, at the start. As far as I can tell, the only changes are the ones I make. It’s why I tested with the cars. Old lottery numbers, too. Random chance isn’t quite so random the second time around.”

Sherlock thinks about that. “Continue.”

“Well, the quick summary is, I didn’t know if I would be permanently dead when I cycled back around here, so once I was in the other London, I decided not to sleep until I’d killed him.”

“The Golem?”

“Moriarty, too,” John clarifies, not sure why Sherlock looks so concerned. He’s never had a better catharsis. “Not personally, as it turned out, but I had a hand in it.”

Leaning forward, forearms against his knees, Sherlock only has one word: “How?”

John explains. Scouting the pool and bringing the scenario to bored soldiers. His rather unwise and ultimately fruitless trip to Bart’s to shoot Jim from IT between the eyes. Joe Harrison’s flat, the defence plans gone and a mobile on the counter. Shooting the Golem, saving the professor. Coffee at Speedy’s, waiting for his opening and signing text after text to Lestrade as SH.

“And he believed you?”

“I know how you text.”

The tip-off that John was an imposter came only when Lestrade contacted Mycroft, just as planned. Mrs. Hudson’s kidnapping. Lestrade’s refusal to share information come morning. The decision to text the other Sherlock before dumping the phone in the Thames. Five days summarized within ten minutes.

“And now you’re trying to avoid police detection,” Sherlock concludes for him.

“Well,” John says, not smiling, not smiling that much.

An immediate frown. “Well, what?”

“Well,” John says. “This is where it gets a bit funny.”

“John, it’s already the strangest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“No, I mean,” he corrects, “it’s actually funny. Ironic, mostly, but if it weren’t for the two counts of murder hanging over my head, it would- No, it’s funny anyway, but there are obvious complications if he finds me.”

“‘He’.”

“You.”

“Me?”

“Yes.”

There’s a bit of pause, then Sherlock says, “I don’t see the problem.”

John’s mind produces static. There’s a brief moment of retuning his brain to the frequency of Absolutely Mental and then, no, still inexplicable. “I think I might have oversimplified,” John decides. “You have to keep in mind, we don’t know each other, him and me. I live down near Clapham and he’s still up here in Westminister, we don’t exactly cross paths. He thinks I outsmarted him and Moriarty at the same time-”

“Which you did.”

“Out-resourceful’ed maybe, but that’s different. When he comes to look, he’s not going to see those resources. He’ll be looking for connections that aren’t there.”

Sherlock slouches back in his armchair, head tilted against the cushion. “From his perspective,” he begins slowly, “you are extremely well acquainted with Moriarty’s methods, as well as my behaviour. Your choice of burner phone will certainly catch my interest. It ties you to me by putting you at Joe Harrison’s flat.”

“Bit of an issue with those CCTV cameras and your brother,” John acknowledges.

Sherlock shakes his head, a quick, dismissive motion. “I won’t go to Mycroft. Partially because I never do, but particularly because this is personal. I don’t like him in my personal things.”

John frowns, still able to hear Mycroft calling him Sherlock’s toy. “It’s not that pers-”

“It’s extremely personal, John.” Sherlock straightens, gestures as he speaks, emphasising with alternating sweeps of his hands. “You see this as the only route you could have taken. He does not. Instead of any of the hundreds of possibilities a true genius could have taken, you focused on me. You took that mobile from a murderer I discovered. You used it to imitate me. You provided Lestrade with my brother’s phone number. His private line. You told him my entire plan, Moriarty’s plan, and how to counteract both with the combined tactical knowledge of a dozen bored soldiers. And then, the following morning, you texted me.” He leans forward, eyes sharp. “It doesn’t get more personal than that.”

“Oh,” says John. “That’s....”

Forearms braced against his knees, he tries to think. Can’t do much more than hunch. He breathes a bit, looking at the floor, and that helps. Abruptly, his treatment at Mycroft’s hands looks almost reasonable.

“What are you worried about?” Sherlock asks.

John stares at him instead of the floor and that doesn’t help at all. “Maybe the bit where he breaks into my flat and uses the fact that I have an illegal firearm to try to lever information out of me. I know how curious you can get.”

“I wouldn’t do that.”

The instant nature of that response is infuriating. “We’re not talking about you,” John reminds him. “We’re talking about him. Different relationship.”

“But the same man,” Sherlock counters. “I don’t blackmail.”

“That’s your line in the sand?” John asks. “You’re sure?”

“I refuse to be like my brother,” Sherlock tells him flatly.

“That’s... chilling.” He takes another breath. “Maybe I didn’t mention, but Mycroft’s already gone through his kidnapping routine with me over there.”

A dismissive wave of the hand. “I’d assumed.”

“And yet you don’t look worried. Why?”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “You acted in the better interest of my safety, partially at my expense, while alerting him. It’s safe to say he approves. You’re an unknown quantity he’ll keep an eye on.”

“And if I step out of line, I have the police at my door,” John reminds him.

“Well, there is that,” Sherlock acknowledges with a shrug.

“I don’t think I like this situation,” John says.

“If you hadn’t sent Lestrade to Mycroft, it would be worse,” Sherlock tells him. “Calling in my brother takes the edge off the impersonation.”

“Right,” John says. “Right. That’s, that’s good. But will you- he- the other one, will he be able to find me without using the CCTV?”

“It would take some doing. Phone companies keep records of texts, though not for very long. Given time, I would be able to determine the approximate areas you were texting from. Did you ever text from home?”

“With Lestrade,” John remembers. “Christ.”

“Where do you live?”

“Here,” John answers automatically. “No, sorry. Grant Road.”

“Apartment complex?”

John nods.

“That does raise the level of difficulty somewhat,” Sherlock muses. Palms pressed together, he taps his fingers against each other in front of his mouth. “Again, there’s nothing pointing to it being you.”

“Then am I in the clear?” John asks.

“That depends.” His eyes snap away from the middle distance and to John’s face. “How much information did you give away about yourself? Lestrade would have wanted a reason to trust your plans – what did you tell him?”

“That Moriarty had strapped a bomb to me, for a start. That he’d threatened people I care about. I’m pretty sure that was all.” John chews his lip. “That was all. Wait, no, shit, no. I messed up.”

“What? Where?”

“Texting you. Him,” John corrects. God, this is going to get confusing. Not that it isn’t already. “He said he’d give me a week to get back to him about hunting down the rest of Moriarty’s network, but that he’d find me either way I decided.”

“And?”

“And I’d been awake for two days, I thought there was a chance I would never wake up again, and I was sure I would never wake up here again. I didn’t think it would matter if I said something stupid.”

“Which was?” Sherlock prompts in an aggravated growl.

John closes his eyes. He sighs, a slumped man, and turns his face away, too many kinds of embarrassed. “I said: I look forward to meeting you again.”

Ducking forward, Sherlock kisses him hard, then harder still. The angle twists John’s neck terribly beneath the warmth of Sherlock’s hand. He absolutely adores it.

“With all this effort to the contrary, you were clearly lying,” Sherlock murmurs into the corner of his mouth.

“Still have you,” John says, eyes half-closed. “He can wait his turn.”

Their knees and legs tangle between their chairs for a short while longer.

“Then it’s fine,” Sherlock says, once he pulls back. Not very far, still close enough for his breath to touch John’s lips, but they can look at each other without going cross-eyed. “I haven’t seen you and I’ll be looking for someone I recognize.”

“Er,” says John.

The sight of Sherlock’s eyes narrowing from a hand’s width away is a little terrifying. Strike that, it’s a lot terrifying. “Oh?” Sherlock asks.

“You were going to be stabbed by a circus performer,” John reminds him. “It seemed important.”

John counts down from ten and gets to six before Sherlock unpauses, before he asks, “When exactly did you start dropping in on all occasions to rescue him from harm?”

“Just the three,” John says. “And some point between the first time I fell asleep on that sofa and the first time I woke up there.”

Hard kisses seem to be the order of the day. John’s not about to complain.

“Get a burner phone,” Sherlock tells him, face close. “I’ll walk you through it, but are you certain the effort is worth it? I’m interested, not interested in harming you.”

He considers explaining his rule of separate socialization. He should tell Sherlock how confusing it is already, living like this. He ought to mention that having four of Harry has taught him to never want more than one of anyone else, the sheer bloody impracticality of it. He has yet to bring up the topic of another flatmate down in Wandsworth and he likes a life where he can have both friend and madman, where he never has to choose.

What he says is, “So you’re fine with sharing, then?”

Grey eyes narrow. “You’re joking.”

“I don’t know,” John says. “He got pretty flirty by the end.”

“You are joking.”

“I’m really not. Something around the lines of, what was it.... ‘I’ve never had a partner before, but I’d want one if he were as clever as you.’ Some rather predatory undertones too. Hell, those were overtones. ‘I will find you.’ Literally ready to hunt me.”

“John.” A clear warning, so easily ignored.

“He calls me ‘Samaritan’,” John adds. “Not my endearment of choice, but I think we’ll be very happy together.”

“You’re not to go near this man.”

“It’s not me who’s the problem, now, is it? Hell of a complication, though. Either let him rummage through my life or have Mycroft call the police on me. No offence, but I might get resentful out of association.”

“Different relationship,” Sherlock reminds him.

“Same man,” John counters.

Sherlock glares at him for a solid three seconds. “Get out your phone,” he instructs. “We’re practising. I don’t care how long it takes, you’re going to get this right.”

“You’ll have to give it back to me first,” John reminds him. He hasn’t seen his mobile in days.

“What? Oh, right.” Sherlock flops his hand toward the mantel. “Behind the skull. And tell me everything you did. Leave nothing out.”

“Will this work?” John asks, rising to fetch his phone. “I mean, really, what are the odds?”

“Nothing will dissuade Mycroft from monitoring you. Satisfy my curiosity, mind your behaviour, and you might have, oh, three months before I find you? That ought to be long enough to find a reasonable explanation for you,” Sherlock reasons. He’s already texting under the table.

John nods, returning to the table. “That’s all I ask.” His mobile chimes in his hand. John looks down.

You’re easily pleased. SH

John’s response is slowly typed.

Not me who’s the problem.

They glance at each other across the table, neither grinning nor smiling. They do something else, something just as good around the eyes, and they get down to work.

Chapter Text

 

“Morning,” Marta says, sliding into the passenger seat and slamming the door shut behind her. The latch doesn’t catch and she has to try again. She hands him his coffee and buckles herself in.

“Thanks.” He turns the radio up. He swats her hand when she reaches for the dial. “Stop turning the bass up, it ruins the sound.”

“You mean it’ll shake your car apart,” she corrects as he pulls away from the kerb.

“That too.” He keeps meaning to do something about this car – he’s absolutely certain the John Watson he used to be here was sentimental about it – but motivation for mundane tasks is difficult in a life like his. Few things are ever urgent.

When they are, though. God, that rush.

“Going well, then?” Marta asks.

“Hm?”

“Your early days,” she reminds him. “Stupid grin, stupidly early – I know what that means.”

“Marta,” he says.

“I haven’t had anything going on since the Josh fiasco.” Whatever that was. Marta doesn’t clarify on it, never has, and John’s sure it was bad. Thanks to facebook, John thinks he might know who the Josh in question is, but he still wouldn’t risk being asked about any of it. “C’mon, spill,” Marta urges.

“I am not your vicarious love life,” he says instead.

Under the music, he can hear her silence, a good one, and when he risks a glance away from the road, she’s grinning at the wind-screen.

“What?” he asks.

“Nothing.”

“No, what?”

She shakes her head.

“Tell me and I’ll be, just a little bit, your vicarious love life.”

She laughs. “It’s been a while since you sounded like you, that’s all. No offence.”

“Offence taken, I’m telling you nothing.” He has to make up a plausible story first.

She laughs again. “Fine, be that way. I have more important things in my life, I don’t care about you at all.”

“That’s a relief.”

“Oi, shut it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is one of the rare days he realizes he might not be that far off from his Chelmsford self after all. For all he can’t relate to them, he likes his civilian friends. For all life in Chelmsford isn’t terribly exciting, the work is good.

This John Watson is still a surgeon, an excellent one, and that’s something he’ll never be in London again. His hand is steady because it’s meant to be and any ache in his shoulder is only temporary.

He wonders, just for a minute, if this John Watson had ever loved a man before he’d been overwritten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a waiting day in Afghanistan, in the life John has always thought of as most his. There are casual insults and unconscious commiseration, that easy back-and-forth between people who know it doesn’t matter if they like each other. They are together. He wouldn’t be the first to call this family and he knows he won’t be the last.

Here, he does what he needs to do, passes time that needs to be passed, and everything else is the bullshit of bored soldiers the world over. It’s not easy but it is simple, the same way staying calm has always been simple.

He goes to sleep with a sense of unease that has nothing to do with distant gunfire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He slaps his alarm off, dresses with alacrity and lingers over his locked desk drawer. Any sign of danger, and he gets rid of it. Tonight. Before he sleeps, it goes into the Thames. He promises himself, and promises himself, and he’s fairly certain he’s lying.

He closes his eyes. Breathes in. Breathes out.

All right.

If it has to go, the gun will go.

God, he hopes this works.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waking up at six for a noon deadline only sounds like a good idea until he tries to buy his burner phone before the shop opens. Getting a new SIM card would be simple enough, provided he never lost track of which card was in his phone, but texting two Sherlocks will be confusing enough without any of that. It’s an added expense, particularly paying only with cash, but the additional safety is worth it.

He gets the phone sorted uncomfortably close to when his shift beings at ten. Managing to arrive just on time, John spends the next hour and a half explaining that antibiotics don’t do a thing for viruses while running throat cultures for strep, just in case. The quick test gives a result in fifteen minutes, which is all the time he needs for now. All he hopes he needs.

Currently busy, sorry. Noon isnt good for me. Discuss details around 6?

It’s still before noon when he sends it, if only just. He’d forgotten how slow it is to text without a keyboard.

The answer comes before the test result is ready.

Where? SH

Somewhere with good reception, John replies. Capitalization takes effort and punctuation just won’t follow. Im turning my phone off now. Ill text you later.

He waits for the reply before turning off the power.

Six is fine. SH

Good.

That’s good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s nothing quite like having terrible consequences looming overhead while going through a perfectly ordinary day of work. In that aspect, Afghanistan was fantastic preparation. John even does the shopping before he comes home.

Derek takes one look at him over his book and asks, with complete confidence, “Good day?”

John doesn’t react normally to stress.

“Fine,” he says, putting the shopping down on the counter. He checks his watch, noting the time and the steadiness of his hand. “Uh, bit busy, though. Emails for work. You all right?”

“Yeah, I’m all right.” Derek shrugs a bit.

He pulls out his phone and turns it on. “Sorry, would you mind putting the rest of this away? I got your veg but there weren’t any peaches.”

“Yeah, sure. Thanks.”

“Cheers.”

He doesn’t go so far as to lock himself into his room, but he does close the door.

Hello again, he types and sends.

Sherlock’s response is immediate. What are your terms? SH

I remain anonymous, he replies. He sends it. If he closes his eyes, he’s back in Baker Street, a blue cast across his lap.

Already played this game. No. SH.

His answer is slow to type, key by key, multiple taps for a single letter. His madman wanted him to appeal to his sense of melodrama, but John knows him better than that. Sherlock may not think he has a heart, but John can go straight to it.

Tell your landlady someone else understands how much that vest weighs. Did he make her say gottle of gear too? My life is as little a game as hers is.

He waits for the reply, and waits. Ultimately, he opens his laptop and checks the Science of Deduction. Nothing there either.

If you havent yet, he gambles, you should hug her.

In an hour, if there’s no answer from Sherlock, he’ll pack up his gun and go out to the Thames. He’ll have to wait a bit longer than that for sunset, but if he doesn’t make the attempt soon, he won’t at all.

Forty-three minutes later, the next text arrives.

Had to sit through tea after the hug. SH

Thank you, John answers. The rush of relief is a physical thing.

I could keep you safe, Sherlock offers. Come forward. SH

“You really couldn’t,” John sighs to his mobile. It comes out sounding much more affectionate than he means it to.

You can have my help. My name, face and voice are off-limits. Why his phone has dashes but no apostrophes, he’s not sure.

Fine. How old are you? SH

He shakes his head, but he’s smiling. Old enough to know better.

What else do you know? SH

The earth goes round the sun.

What else do you know that’s IMPORTANT? SH

Heliocentrism can be important.

“John?” Derek calls through the wall. “What’re you laughing about?”

“Nothing!” John lies poorly.

What do you know that’s relevant? SH

The giggles fade as John thinks.

His plan was to kill her to make you chase him. Jealous little bastard, John types. He looks it over and deletes that.

His plan was to kill her to make you chase him. He was going to toy with you for all you were worth. He can still see the rage in his own words, but it’s an improvement. He wanted to make you destroy yourself.

You’ve seen this before. SH

You wouldnt believe what a man will tell you when he has you handcuffed to a chair. Youd think itd be the other way around. It takes a long time to type out. When he decides to censor himself, it feels like such a waste.

Yes, he replies.

Who was the target? SH

Sitting on his bed, John realizes he’s hunching over his phone. The curled posture is more protective than defensive. He straightens his back and answers, Someone extraordinary.

He expects a wide range of responses from Sherlock, anything from a brisk subject change to annoyance at John’s vague answer. He’s in unpractised territory now, has given away far more information than his Sherlock told him was safe. When his mobile chimes with the new text, John has to reread the two words more than once.

I’m sorry. SH

That’s.... That’s a safe assumption for Sherlock to have. However many victims he finds, he’ll never see John in connection. It’s safe. It’s also fundamentally dishonest in a way John could never dare to correct. If Mycroft is watching – and John knows Mycroft is watching – John may have to answer for this.

How did Moriarty die? he asks instead. Had Sherlock cherished the look of surprise on his face? John would have. He would have shot the man in the stomach and let him bleed.

Gunshot wounds. Head and chest, multiple to both. SH

Quick, then.

Yes. Pity. SH

I agree. God, does he ever. Find anything interesting on the body?

Are you offering to help, then? SH

You know I am.

Can your phone receive photos? SH

No.

Email address. SH

Ill get back to you on that one.

You’re very cautious. SH

Thank you.

A longer break there, closer to a five minute gap. After his previous, almost instantaneous replies, hundreds of seconds tick away slowly, digital watch or no. Sherlock makes him think in analogue now, the power of association. It’s a long time to wait for two words.

Why me? SH

John replies, ?

I understand why he fixated on me. Why have you? SH

This time, it’s John’s turn to take far too long in replying.

You were the way in.

How long have you been studying me? SH

The response is instant. He must have a list of questions ready to send. Not even Sherlock is that fast.

Im a quick study, John deflects.

I’m not an easy subject. SH

So?

There’s a pause here, and John is certain Sherlock is smiling. John’s smiling back. His heart tumbles over and over in his chest, bumps into his ribs. It’s a danger John hadn’t expected. He knows they’re the same, of course they’re the same, but he hadn’t realized this could be the same too. He hadn’t thought this could happen once, let alone twice.

His thumb strokes the mobile screen and he wants. This body doesn’t care if another one has a hangover, or if another is having sex. This body is starved for touch, for the intimacy of warm skin beneath his lips. Here, he doesn’t have the forming PSTD in Afghanistan to dampen his libido. Here, there hasn’t been so much as a drunken snog to take the edge off and neither will there be one. Physical loneliness is such a different thing than a psychosomatic limp, but he wants Sherlock to cure them both.

It’s a very bad idea.

I’m not easily impressed. SH, Sherlock replies. Terrible things happen to John’s insides, terrible and unfair, and he may need to have a wank. That will be his go-to fantasy now, he’s sure of it: learning his Sherlock inside and out before impressing this one into the mattress, eyes wide and dark.

He needs something serious, something sombre, and he needs it right now. When he finds it, it’s less like a cold shower and more like falling naked onto ice.

What happened with the fourth pip? Did you not know or did she give you the answer? Why had the orphanage exploded – and is it John’s fault?

Does it matter? SH

For an instant, John’s blood returns to boiling, if for another reason entirely. It does to me. I know from the news that Prof. Kannes came forward. Before or after the explosion?

After. SH

Oh, thank god.

And then: Who did you hire to take out the Golem? SH

Christ.

He sends back another simple question mark.

I’ll rephrase. Who did you hire to kill the Golem and General Shan’s Spider? The ballistics match. Same gun. SH

There’s a phone in John’s hand, but he can’t quite feel the plastic. He looks at the screen and he looks at his desk drawer and part of him is tearing away inside.

Id like to hear your full theory before I respond to it.

Come on, he begs. Show off for me.

It’s a very long wait. He forces himself to see that as a positive sign.

After the five minute mark, he gets up and goes to the loo.

“Did you eat yet?” Derek calls down the hall. “I’ve got leftovers. Chicken and asparagus.”

“Thanks,” John calls back. His stomach is empty and rumbling but now is not the time. “Maybe later. Any progress on the present search?”

“No, I’m a shit father.”

“Well, we already knew that.”

Derek laughs a bit and that makes John feel better.

When he returns to his bedroom, his mobile has almost vibrated off his desk. Multiple texts. Sherlock must have sent them together. He goes down through the inbox to the first and reads them in order.

Marksman used a handgun, 9mm, no silencer, easily concealed. Single shot accuracy under conditions of low visibility. Good eyesight, experienced. SH

Avoided hitting assassins’ targets twice. Also twice, waited to shoot until victim was in clear danger. Strong moral principle, gets off on thrill or both. SH

Hitmen not known for moral principles. Therefore: thrill, his; instruction, yours. Obedient marksman. Very professional or personally loyal. SH

Possessed foreknowledge of assassins’ locations. Again: your doing. Skill level of illegal entry similar to my own. Clearly scouts locations in advance. SH

Stealthy. Must have been in the same room with him/her at museum and didn’t notice. That doesn’t happen. Small, quiet, or skilled at concealment. SH

Assessment: generic, save for choice of weapon. Military background. No one I’ve heard of. Hence asking who. SH

He can see the logic, but he can’t say it’s what he expected. Not after Mycroft saw through him. Although, getting John’s identity through CCTV and then digging up his secrets, Mycroft did have the easier time of it. And now, the choice. Come clean or misdirect. He knows what his madman told him to do, but he knows that Mycroft is probably monitoring this conversation.

Time to walk the fine line.

Actually, he types, I wanted to know why you think I hired a hit. I take it Mycroft didnt explain things to you?

There is a lengthy, potentially furious pause. John chews his lip slowly, waiting to see if Sherlock will – unlikely – swallow his pride and call his brother for John’s life story. If Mycroft is watching, now would be the perfect time for him to chime in.

I don’t talk to Mycroft, Sherlock’s reply reads. Oh thank god. Why do you? SH

I dont, generally. I guess my skill set looked interesting.

The next text to his phone isn’t from Sherlock. Does leading on my brother entertain you?

John feels himself blanch even while he congratulates himself on his prediction.

He types out the Sherlock-approved answer to this: It certainly seems to entertain him. His mobile buzzes in his hands while he does so, nearly causing him to drop it. He sends the text and opens the next one from Sherlock.

What is your area of expertise? SH

One I hope complements yours, he answers. His stomach rumbles again.

So far, yes. But what is it? SH

John chews his lip before pocketing his mobile and going out to the kitchen. “So it’s fine if I finish this off?” he calls over to Derek, looking into the fridge.

“What? Yeah, sure.”

By the time he sits down at the table, plate warm in front of him, he knows what to say.

I see the world differently from most people. Last week was the best Ive ever been. I dont think Ill ever match it. Please dont expect me to.

He looks it over. Sends it. He eats dinner.

The response arrives while he’s doing the washing up. He dries his hands.

Perhaps you can’t, but we could. Come forward. My brother already has you under surveillance. SH

John doesn’t mean to, but he laughs.

Derek looks over at him, craning his neck from his spot on the sofa.

John waves his hand. “Don’t mind me.”

Noticed that, thanks. I also know hes leaving me be and hasnt revealed me to anyone, even you. We can work together like this.

Too limited. Come forward. It’d be safer for you. SH

No it wouldnt. Wouldnt want it anyway. He knows what life is like with a security detail downstairs. He’s not about to do that to himself again, let alone Derek. Or, Christ, Maggie. Derek’s ex would get involved and the entire flat would go down in flames. Happen to like my life at present, thanks.

He finishes the washing up while waiting for Sherlock’s reply.

“Somebody’s popular,” Derek comments as his mobile chimes yet again.

“Harassed,” John corrects, not quite meaning it. He looks down, reads: I want to meet. Neutral ground, your choice of time and location. A public restaurant is most acceptable. SH

“Work?” Derek asks.

“Yep,” he answers absently. It’s time for the trump card.

Im sorry, he types, walking slowly back to his room. He keeps an elbow on the wall, guiding himself toward the door without looking. I appreciate the interest but am already involved in a relationship. I would like to keep this professional. It’s the same tactic he used at the circus, so many months ago. He can only hope it scares Sherlock off as easily now as it did then.

The resulting pause isn’t as long as the forty-three minute tea break, but it feels remarkably close to it.

As would I. SH

Good, John answers. Texts it is, then.

For now. SH

Just for that, he could hit himself, having a flirt. As much as John’s body is sitting up and paying attention, this Sherlock has his whole mind engaged and nothing else.

Nothing I could say would change your mind. Not even a question.

No. SH

Stalling for time: Why?

The expected answer: I want to know. SH

I saved the life of a woman youre willing to have tea with and youre going to destroy my life out of curiosity?

Discover. SH

?, John sends.

Discover your life, not destroy. SH

Same thing.

Different. Would not hand you over to police. SH

It’s amazing, how dizzy John becomes at that. Hell of a blanket promise, there. You just accused me of hiring an assassin.

Would not hand you over to police. SH

Why?

You know. SH

It’s not because John saved his life. He knows that instantly. It’s not because John saved Mrs. Hudson either. These are useful actions that have already come to pass. Sherlock wants what he always wants: information. With the police involved, Sherlock would encounter a barrier of his own making. But if John came clean without police involvement, Sherlock would have no reason not to alert the authorities.

Youre hardly encouraging me to confide in you.

I don’t want your confidences. SH

He closes his eyes. Takes a breath. Different man. Almost but very much not the man who supplied John with his answer. No, you want to know how I knew you would face Moriarty at the pool at midnight rather than go to the police, even when a blind man could see it.

There is a significant pause, likely as Sherlock digests the insult and throws a tantrum. I know how I see. How do you? SH

And now, the gamble.

Moriarty wanted your attention. He wanted you to come to him. Therefore, your invitation to him. Your connection is Carl Powers, therefore the pool. Symbolic.

And the timing? SH

Explosion on Baker Street to catch your interest, followed by his five-day MO. Had to be that night. If evidence is found against Moriarty using his five pip trick before, this may well fall apart. John can only hope it holds. Not that Mycroft couldn’t tear John’s story apart within seconds as matters stand now.

The precise timing. Midnight. SH

Who has a confrontation with their nemesis at half ten?

And the phone numbers? Lestrade, I understand. Not Mycroft. If you were working with him a week ago, you would have contacted him directly. SH

The biggest gamble yet, one of John’s own making:

Surprised your brother hasnt told you.

John waits, and waits, and Sherlock responds, I don’t need my brother to tell me anything. SH

Looks like you do, John replies. Sibling rivalry. Now they really are getting somewhere. Mycroft will probably like reading that, too.

I’d prefer to hear it from you. SH

That is a gross understatement, practically a lie. For all the phrasing is a flirt, John can feel the rage beneath the pixels on his mobile’s tiny screen. He’s seen it in person, saw it the first time he worked through this conversation. He knows the look of betrayal across Sherlock’s face, if not the degree of it. He can still see the widened eyes, hear the shocked “John” and the unspoken “why would you ever say that?” behind the set of his lips. It wasn’t a tactic Sherlock had thought to use. He’d been bewildered by it, possibly hurt, even.

Before John can reply, Sherlock sends, He’s hiding you in exchange. You’d rather lie low but vengeance superseded. This arrangement is the result, initiated by him. SH

More of an understanding, at present.

Then I was right. SH

John waits, letting it look like hesitation.

Yes.

How did you get his phone number? SH

John’s breathing remains steady. He counters, How do you text all the reporters at DI Lestrades press releases?

Sherlock’s pause is deliberate. There’s frustration behind the silence. It’s ridiculous that John knows this, but he’s sure of it.

Who did Moriarty kill? Your someone extraordinary. SH

Subject change, meant to throw him off. Emotional topic leading to weakness. Like you dont already know, John answers, biting his lip.

Not the personal details, no, Sherlock replies, a lie in everything but technicality. I’d hoped you would enlighten me. SH

Id thank you not to salt open wounds. Recent, is the message John is sending. Open wounds, recent injury. Wounds, plural. Highly traumatic or multiple people involved. John mentioned his familiarity with the five pip system earlier, establishing that as the pattern to look for.

There. The force that is Sherlock Holmes has been redirected. A temporary measure, to be certain. All measures with Sherlock doubtlessly will be, but John has four times the room to mentally manoeuvre and another Sherlock to do it with. Something else will happen, something else must happen with Moriarty’s remaining web, and Sherlock will become distracted. John won’t be forgotten, but he’ll become a lower priority. The current movements in Moriarty’s web must take precedence over past actions. And if Sherlock loses interest, maybe, maybe Mycroft will as well. Somewhat.

What else would you thank me for? Beyond leaving you alone, of course. SH

What have you learned from Moriarty’s body? John asks and waits and hopes.

His mobile chimes and chimes as the texts come in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Several hours later, he plugs his phone into the charger and erases what he can stand to lose of his inbox.

More texts follow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorry, I dont understand.

160 characters insufficient allotment for explanation. SH

Voicemail?

Sherlock calls almost immediately. The phone’s on vibrate for calls, not loud enough to annoy Derek through the wall. Fortunate, what with it being two in the morning. When the message concludes, John listens to it just as quickly. It is, bizarrely, his first time hearing the voice of any Sherlock Holmes on the phone. He likes the way it sounds against his ear, almost but not quite the same. It’s fitting.

He listens, and listens again, and on the third time, he thinks he’s memorized enough of it to bring home to Baker Street.

Thats brilliant.

Do you think so? SH

Please reread previous text. Exactly what it says on the tin.

There’s a sizable pause. John yawns into it and keeps yawning. If he doesn’t sleep soon, it might throw his schedule off.

Going to bed now. Please dont destroy my inbox while Im asleep. Good night.

He readies for bed, brushes his teeth, and checks his mobile one last time.

Good night, it reads. I’d like your thoughts in the morning. SH

He means to resist, he honestly does, but: Really?

Reread previous text. SH

Clearly too tired to function. Turning off phone now.

He doesn’t, not immediately. Lying in bed, mobile in hand, he licks his lips in wait.

Fine. SH

Such a sullen word. Spoiled rotten, that one. John can see him rolling over in a huff, all floppy hair and long dressing gown. A silent demand for appeasement, or far from silent. John’s provided the answers to his own mystery, but Sherlock is still Sherlock and now he wants John’s attention. Which he has, which he knows. The texting will hopefully take the edge off.

Sherlock will search for him through Moriarty and find nothing. Asking Mycroft is akin to giving up. If Mycroft wants anything from Sherlock and decides to barter John’s identity to get it, John should have at least a short warning, either here or back in analogue.

He should be scared. He should be, possibly, very afraid. This life in Wandsworth will become a series of stolen snatches of time. He will be found, eventually. There’s no denying that. There’s no avoiding that. Sherlock will demand answers John can’t believably supply. And Mycroft might still take issue with John misleading his brother.

There’s only one way out, and that’s through. Deeper. Not an escape but perhaps a point of safety. He’s already convinced one Sherlock. He knows it’s possible. He could do it again, though without all the shagging in between. Maybe he will, and he’ll have Sherlock’s help to do it.

Nothing will ever be the same, but they’re alive, the three of them, and Mrs. Hudson besides. His gun remains in his drawer, no longer threatening the hand that wields it. Perhaps a mark of idiocy, perhaps a sign of insanity, but he trusts Sherlock won’t hand him over. He wants to trust him and he’s risked his life on worse odds. The rest will simply have to come as it may.

John closes his eyes to the low light of his mobile and falls asleep in the quiet dark.

Chapter Text

 

“Have you done it?”

John turns his face against the pillow. “Mmf.”

Sherlock shakes him by the good shoulder, not that John hates him any less for it. “John, have you done it? What happened?”

“S’fine.” Sleep is gone, but he makes one last bid for hazy lethargy, that warm mental cocoon. Not a chance. Sherlock literally yanks the pillow out from under his nose. For one excessively disconcerting moment, John feels like a primary school student, late to wake and harassed by his mum. “You are ticklish and I know no mercy,” he warns, cheek to bedsheet.

“I take it your gun isn’t at the bottom of the Thames.”

He hums happily.

“Good,” Sherlock says, and kisses him behind the ear, a kiss with a bite. “Now tell me everything else.”

John does, bit by bit and piece by piece. It’s a bit odd, lying on his stomach with Sherlock half across his back, but until there’s a prick nudging at his bum, it’s nothing worth getting upset over. They’re clothed this morning anyway. He likes the weight, the thrum of Sherlock’s voice against his skin as the man keeps interrupting.

“If you know what you said, why are you asking?”

“I know you’re paraphrasing poorly,” Sherlock answers. His palms cover the backs of John’s hands, pale fingers threaded through tan. “Stop being inaccurate and I’ll stop correcting.”

“Liar.”

“Mm, yes.”

After explaining the other Sherlock’s mistake with the nonexistent hired marksman, John moves on to the leads. Dental records and childhood broken bones, the search through younger classmates of Carl Powers. Irish surname, Dublin accent, but brought up in Swansea. The question of how a boy, approximately nine years of age, killed a twelve-year-old with an obscure poison. The other Sherlock’s developing theories on supplies and accomplices.

Sherlock’s bated breath presses through his narrow chest and against John’s back. “How much more does he seem willing to give you? Can you get pictures?”

“If I showed up in person, he’d probably introduce me to the corpse,” John answers. “That’s the problem with the brilliant ones, isn’t it? Can’t resist a good audience.”

A smug hum. “Just as a good audience can’t resist watching. You’re breathless at times, did you know that?”

“I’m a terrible influence on your ego,” John can only conclude. “I should go somewhere far away.”

Stubble scrapes against his nape, arching his back beneath warm weight. “You already do.” Lips brush over the chain to his tags. “I take it he wants to email?”

“Mmhm.”

“Only if he promises to leave you alone.”

John nearly tells him that this would go against the entire point of emailing. Nearly, only that. Because Sherlock’s voice is low behind John’s ear and his hands gently, firmly pin John’s own. A quick rhythm from Sherlock’s chest taps against John’s back like a tentative knock at a strange door. An image comes to him, the outside view of what they must look like, Sherlock’s possessive sprawl and John’s acceptance of his weight, both men loose-limbed and greedy.

“I wouldn’t worry,” John says, although of course he would. “I scared him off.”

Sherlock’s laugh is somewhere between disbelief and derision. “I don’t scare like normal people, John.”

John’s laugh is pure amusement. “I know. Which is why I said I was flattered by his interest but consider myself married to my work.”

“...You didn’t.”

John laughs, Sherlock rolls him over for a glare and John laughs all the harder. “No,” he admits through his giggles. “No, I didn’t. I told him I was already involved in one high maintenance relationship and two would do me in.”

He takes a pillow to the face for that, but it’s nothing if not completely worth it. “John.”

“It was implied,” he amends, muffled, grinning against fabric. “And it worked.”

He feels Sherlock shift around a bit, adjust his leg while sitting on John’s stomach. It’s a prime smothering position. John’s half winded by his weight, if in a good way. Sherlock lifts the pillow to better gaze disdainfully down at him.

“It worked,” John repeats, hands cradling Sherlock’s hips, all thin skin and sharp bone beneath loose cotton. His thumbs creep up beneath the t-shirt. “He backed right down.”

Long hands settle on his chest, the grace of a cat about to extend its claws. “Not intellectually.”

“No,” John admits. “Should think you’d be happy about that – you’ll be outsmarting yourself for the foreseeable future.”

Sherlock smirks. “I couldn’t imagine a greater pastime.”

John shifts his hands, a slow rub of palm, thumbs hooking into the waistband. “Oh?”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “Really, John.”

“Well, now that we’ve established you’re the only Sherlock Holmes who wants to have sex with me....” He works the waistband lower.

“Unless he changes his mind.” It’s at once flattering and offensive, how resigned Sherlock is to the notion.

John licks his lips, an eager flick of tongue. “When did you change yours?”

Sherlock leans forward, palms pressing John down as he tries to strain up. “What was your sexual epiphany? Was this a calendar month ago or a month on your daylist?”

John promptly closes his mouth.

“Oh?” His eyes gleam, bright and predatory. Whatever else Sherlock keeps on his hard drive, a targeting system is clearly present.

“You know, other you wants to email me pictures of Moriarty being very dead,” John mentions. “I think he might be the better choice.”

“Bird in the hand,” Sherlock reminds him.

“Or on the chest. Budge.”

“No.”

“Budge so I can kiss you.”

With a sigh of immense yet understated self-sacrifice, Sherlock complies. When John sits up, there’s something perfunctory about the long arms around his shoulders but the mouth against his is nothing less than eager. They each sit in the V of the other’s legs, Sherlock’s thighs over his.

Fingers tangle in John’s untrimmed hair, tug his head back, deliciously rough. He bares his throat, awaiting teeth and tongue and lips. When nothing follows, he blinks open his eyes.

Sherlock touches a fingertip to his questioning mouth, a silencing touch. His eyes search some invisible place found against John’s skin.

“It’s been a month for you,” Sherlock says. “That’s why you forgive me everything. It’s always days. You forget or stop caring.”

He frowns. “You mean the head in the fridge?”

Something wonderful and terrible happens to Sherlock’s face. The guilty little boy, guiltier still at avoiding rebuke.

“Oh god,” John says. “What did you do to my laptop?”

“What? No. Not your laptop,” Sherlock corrects. His expression makes a quick detour to aggravation. “I mean last week.” The pool, his eyes clarify. That combination of fear and insistence can’t mean anything else.

“Oh,” John says.

“You believed you were dead for five days,” Sherlock reminds him.

“I know,” John says. “I was there, you weren’t.” He wants to set their foreheads together but Sherlock is stupidly tall, even sitting. “I think I handled it well. I mean, I missed you, but-”

“Shut up,” Sherlock snaps, his bite of anger as rough and sudden as the hand behind John’s head. He forces John’s face against his shoulder, anchors him there, saying, “Shut up. Just- Shut up.” His chin is hard against the crown of John’s head.

Wrapped in the angriest hug he has ever known, John shuts up. He can hear Sherlock’s throat work, words trapped in the length.

“You were right,” Sherlock says. “I... did that poorly.”

John curls his fingers into the small of Sherlock’s back, the vulnerable curve of him.

“Stop that,” Sherlock orders.

“No.”

Sherlock huffs against his temple.

They breathe for a time before Sherlock adds, “When you almost died, it was my fault. Twice. Shut up, don’t say anything. Your rampage in Wandsworth-”

“Digital London.”

“You can’t actually call it that.”

The derision is comforting in its normalcy. “Yes I can.”

“Your rampage was.... It sounds extraordinary but failed to address your theoretical cause of death.”

“Good thing it was only theoretical,” John replies firmly.

“John, I have never apologized before. You might want to pretend to listen.”

“I would have held you underwater too. I appreciate that you prefer me not on fire.”

Sherlock cuffs him on the back of the head, then rubs the offended spot immediately after. “You were angry before.”

“Still am, a bit,” John admits to cotton and collarbone.

“You are.”

“Mmhm.”

“Oh. Good.”

John twists a bit in the loosening grip to brush his lips against the side of Sherlock’s neck. “Learn to listen to me or you’ll find out how much. It’s that simple.”

“No it isn’t.”

“Maybe not,” he acknowledges, “but it helps when it’s not entirely your fault. He wasn’t being ‘changeable,’ he was letting you take the vest off me for safer target practice. He wanted you to live so he could keep toying with you.”

Fingers play with the shaggy hair at John’s nape, repetitive, distracted.

“Your evidence?” Sherlock asks.

“You were all he would talk about for an hour and a half,” John says. The recollection of it, the way he’d spoken, the fever shine in paradoxically cold eyes, it’s something John tries not to remember. Not out of disgust or fear or helplessness, but out of rage. The protective, burning rage. For Sherlock. For the old woman, both of her, and all the residents of those flats. The suffering of the hostages, the deaths of so many children. “He was going to kill me to make you chase him,” he adds. That Sherlock can’t see his face is a small mercy, smaller still when there is already so much in John’s voice, in the aching tension of his shoulders.

“You’re sure?”

“He was going to do the same to Mrs. Hudson,” John confirms.

“If you didn’t comply, I know.” Sherlock’s hand restrains more than it reassures, cradling the back of his skull.

“No,” John says, easing back, able to now. “The Moriarty who died. Next London over. He was going to do the same to Mrs. Hudson.”

The rage in John’s chest has a place in Sherlock’s eyes. “Was he.”

John nods.

It’s such rage.

“I know we’re going to chase him down,” John says. “We’re going to kill that man, but you can’t give him what he wants, Sherlock. Promise me that. Don’t let him back into your head.”

“I can’t let him get away.”

“And I can’t let you go to your death, handing over missile defence plans!”

The rage transfers in an instant. “I wiped the data first. You can’t possibly think I-”

“You can be manipulated!” John yells into his face. “How do you not know that? How the hell are you that thick?”

A roll of the eyes, dismissive even now. “I knew what I was-”

“No you don’t! You have no idea!”

“And you do?” Sherlock asks, eyes narrowed. “Second time’s the charm, but the first time, you’re blind.”

John moves. When he stops, Sherlock is on his back, John’s hands fisted in his t-shirt. Even a small man can loom, this furious. “You haven’t wondered why?” John demands, voice low. “You’re the vainest man I’ve ever met, but you can’t think to ask why you’re a blind spot? You’re not special, you’re dead.”

Sherlock’s heart races under his knuckles, his pressing fist. Disbelief colours his sharp features, drowns out fear and trust both. “I’m not.”

“There’s a photo,” John tells him. “Your hair is short, over your ears. You’re in front of a stone fireplace with your hand on the mantle, next to a clock. It’s the most pretentious thing I’ve ever seen and you’re pretending to be bored, but you hate it. You’re even skinnier than normal. White shirt, grey tie, black jacket. You’re practically monochrome. You don’t even look like you.”

“How do you....” Eyes so wide.

“Because it was in the newspaper next to Jennifer Wilson. The pink lady and monochrome man, victims four and five, and the cabbie died of his own aneurysm.” John’s ranting. He knows he’s ranting. He doesn’t care. “‘In light of the fifth apparent suicide, DI Lestrade has declared the chain of deaths to be the work of a serial killer. The fifth victim, Sherlock Holmes, thirty-four, was last seen alive in his apartment less than two hours before his body was discovered at Roland-Kurr Further Education College by the janitorial staff.’” He’d had no idea he’d memorized that. “Do you know how you’re remembered? You’re ‘the one with the funny name.’ You’re not clever, you’re just dead, and it made my stomach drop out a year ago. You died before we even met.”

Sherlock’s speechless, actually speechless staring up at him, and John wants to hate him for it. He wants Sherlock to fight, to dismiss and belittle and complain and make it all right for John to beat him down this way. But Sherlock doesn’t, and it’s not, and when the rage drains out, all John can feel is the fear and disgust.

“That’s what happens,” John says thickly. “When you let him into your head, that’s what you let him do to you. He puts his words in your mouth and then you die.” He drops his head, unable to meet that gaze, unable to breathe. Gottle o’ gear. Gottle o’ gear.

A hand between his shoulder blades. A touch at his nape. Sherlock tugs him down and John can’t bury himself in that chest, can’t press close enough no matter how he tries. He holds on so tightly. Nestled between legs, wound up in arms, he comes unbound.

His sobs are quiet and mortifying. He can’t hide his face well enough, not from Sherlock. He wants to crawl away, but Sherlock won’t let go. It’s new shame on top of the old. He was barely hurt. He was ready to die but he didn’t. Beyond Moriarty’s continuing existence, there is nothing wrong.

“I get to kill this one,” Sherlock tells him, reading his mind. There’s no privacy, none, never will be again. “You’ve already had a turn.”

“Never, ah, never pulled the trigger,” John replies, forcing his voice into order. The worn t-shirt turns wet beneath his cheek and need to vanish only increases.

Sherlock holds him tighter, his grip as sentimental as an iron trap. “Fine. I’ll share.” Cheek pressed hard against the side of John’s head, his voice is harsh, a pain worth feeling. “But if he touches you again, I make no promises.”

“He didn’t.” He almost laughs, realizing it. “He never laid a finger on me.” It doesn’t make sense to hate him more for that, but John does. Like waking up in hospital to Mycroft’s disdain rather than dying in his sleep. It should be a relief, not a humiliation.

“I’d break them,” Sherlock promises. “One by one. I’ll do it anyway.”

“He stole my jacket.”

“You killed a man for me in that jacket.”

John lifts his face but not his gaze, wipes his eyes with one forearm while propped up on the other. His head hurts a bit. “Wish I’d killed you another.”

“You can wear a different jacket as long as you keep the jumper,” Sherlock informs him. “It’s a very disarming look.” His hand slips into John’s hair and begins a gentle, almost perfunctory massage. “On second thought, that won’t do. We’ll have to get you another jacket.”

John laughs under his breath, a shaking sound. At the words or the touch, he’s not certain. “Well, now that we’ve established the dress code.”

“Priorities, John,” Sherlock answers, pushing on him this way and that until John lies atop him, face pressed into the pillow over Sherlock’s bony shoulder. He can’t breathe very well, but he hardly cares. Sherlock soothes him by trial and error, each motion closer to experimentation than sentimentality. After enough of it, the sheer absurdity makes John giggle. Sherlock Holmes, human mattress and head-petting expert.

Sherlock’s breath ghosts across his cheek, soon followed by lips. The tip of a tongue traces the edge of his earlobe. Then teeth, Sherlock biting down so very deliberately. John’s breath catches. Holds for the duration of the bite. Releases into the pillow, warm and damp. His entire body, wound tight, loosens with that sigh.

A smug sound is Sherlock’s only reply. That, and a slow return to nuzzling.

John hums vaguely, turning his face into the contact. Sherlock continuous throughout, gradually rolling them onto their sides, a shifting slide of fabric over skin. John’s eyes still burn, but it matters less. The ache in his head is nearly gone. “About that dress code. You have to wear your gloves. And the coat.” The scarf is a given.

“Do I?”

They brush noses, murmur into the other’s mouth.

“Mm. Very important.”

“Fine,” Sherlock allows. “Only because I know you’ll properly appreciate them.”

“I’m an exceptional audience,” John assures him, going in for the kiss.

Sherlock gives it to him, but only for a moment. “Along with everyone directly downstairs, presumably. Mrs. Hudson tends to keep them in her kitchen this time of morning and we’re directly above it.”

“...Ah.”

“Mm. I realize you haven’t had sex in a week, but.” He tsks the “t.”

“Er, yeah. Relocate?”

“Shower. Not the traditional location of comfort sex, but it should mask some of the noise.”

“Shower,” John agrees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cast carefully wrapped, Sherlock carefully supported, their motions turn soft, almost delicate. The spray isn’t enough for two at once, leaves them hot and chilled in turns. It’s slippery and tenuous even with the mat down and Sherlock leans back against the wall, arm around John’s shoulders and pale hand down his front.

“Hold me up,” Sherlock instructs, his strokes not quite steady. He’s different when wet, his hair straight and forehead bare. “We’ll have to take turns.”

John keeps tilting his head, trying for an angle where the water won’t hit his eyes or enter his mouth when he asks, “My turn first, then?” It’s less suave, more sputtering.

“No,” Sherlock tells him, turning him into position just so. “Mine.” If not for the quirk to his lips, that line would turn this into a poorly blocked and worse acted porno. It’s more toying than sultry, self-aware in its cliché.

It’s too precarious to kiss the way John wants to kiss and keeping his eyes open sends water into them. His hands secure his madman and Sherlock gentles him higher, guides him closer in wet heat. His breaths hasten. His head falls forward, water trickling down his nose and chin, streaming down his arms.

“Look at me,” Sherlock urges.

John does. Wounded leg and hard prick. Flat stomach and prominent ribs. A man’s nipples and dark tufts of chest hair. Droplets drip and touch and trail. The only bruises left across his skin are from John’s mouth and fingers.

He hears a chuckle, deep and dark. He tilts his head against the water, lifts his gaze.

“My face, yes,” Sherlock corrects and John grins distractedly, unabashed, hips moving in time with Sherlock’s hand.

When Sherlock licks his lips, John does the same, unintentional mimicry.

“Good,” Sherlock murmurs. His voice is pleased, his gaze concerned, and John doesn’t understand, can’t understand past low, coiling heat. “Eyes open, on me. Look at me. John. John.” His fingers tug John closer, gentle pulls to the top. No cliff, no steep fall. Going over is like cresting a hill to step into sunlight and summer rain. He sighs into the warmth.

Sherlock shifts, almost slips, and John’s reflexes can still function well enough to keep them from disaster as his madman takes his mouth, steals his breath. Matching ardour with contentment, it clicks, the concern clicks, water and open eyes, and Sherlock’s getting off from the simple fact that John is alive and breathing.

John washes his come from their bodies, careful, so very careful not to fall. His hand grazes hard heat and Sherlock’s hips jerk toward him, for him. “Wait. Sherlock, wait.” He adds, before Sherlock can protest, “You’ll fall in here if I kneel.”

A pause, a moment of assessment. Will John, won’t he. Can he, can’t he.

The answer Sherlock finds is clear. “Towel. Dry off. Now.”

Getting themselves out takes more skill than getting in and by the time Sherlock is relatively dry and leaning against the counter, his limited patience is visibly frayed. All the same, he puts on his dressing gown, shaking it into place as John sets the folded towel at his feet. It’s something John hadn’t realized he would ask for. Most things about Sherlock are like that.

This time when John kneels for him, the motion is certain. The hot cock before his face attracts rather than intimidates, but John still works his way up to it. He’ll tempt himself into it this time. Teasing the both of them, John mouths up Sherlock’s thigh, at his hip, sucking bruises, blooming warmth beneath the skin.

“Hurry up,” Sherlock whinges. “John, you are the slowest- No, that’s your hand, you-”

His nose touches the base through damp curls of hair, a brush he hadn’t quite meant. It smells extraordinary. He tilts his head, opens his mouth, and ventures with his tongue.

John.”

Soap. Heat and soap, the skin a texture he’s never tasted. He tongues at the side, thumb circling over the slit. Clean wet and sex musk vie for attention, filling up his head. Up one side, down the other. Long, lapping licks, never opening his mouth too far, never straining his jaw. He’s paranoid about biting, knows a bit of teeth is inevitable, and does what he can with a firm press of tongue.

Sherlock hisses and twitches, hands clutching to the counter, and every curse sounds like praise. Sherlock’s leg begins to tremble, close to falling or coming or both, and John takes him inside, little more than the soft head, hand wrapped around the shaft. The noise Sherlock makes is incredible, his groan a compressed thunderclap.

John’s neck has no idea how to set a rhythm. His upper body attempts to compensate as he tries to keep his lips over his teeth, as he tries to use his tongue, and he hadn’t realized it was going to be quite this complicated. He tries, and tries, and gives up on all but basic suction before Sherlock tugs him off by the hair and comes, almost silently, on John’s chin and chest. His dark hair is damp and curling, his eyes shut, his mouth open wide as their hands bring him through. The mere sight of him is enough to make John kneel there and let him.

After, leaning back, Sherlock looks down at him, sly and smug and already insufferable. “You’ll have to wash again,” he comments. “Or stay like that, I don’t mind either way.”

“Prat.” John stands, moves in to spread the mess in the guise of kissing, but Sherlock catches him with a glance.

“It was difficult enough getting me out the first time.”

“Insufferable.”

“Mm,” Sherlock hums, eyes warm and on John’s mouth. “In you go. I can get to the sofa without you.”

“Someday,” John swears, “I will throw your crutches out the window.”

A grin tugs his mouth wider, twitch by twitch of amusement. “You won’t.”

“No, but I’ll think of it fondly.”

“Mm,” Sherlock hums again, clearly ready to remain against the counter until John climbs back into the shower and pulls the curtain. John does, giving him the side view rather than any true satisfaction. He has a feeling Sherlock is going to get that often enough, whether John wills it or no. Not a bad feeling, just a feeling.

Sherlock only leaves once the curtain is drawn, making a bit of noise in the process of reclaiming from his crutches from their lean against the wall and manoeuvring out the door. It closes securely despite the unreliable latch and John’s feeling moves up to being a good one when he hears a familiar knock and call. Far be it from Sherlock to actually tell John he was doing a decent thing, making sure John was hidden from view before risking a wandering Mrs. Hudson.

It’s only a quick rinse before he’s back out, picking up his jimjams from the floor and reaching for his watch on the counter. Except it’s not. It’s not his watch.

It’s his watch and another one.

When John takes off any of his watches, he leaves them on their sides, the bands curling into circles. His watch has been moved, the brown leather laid into a straight line, the square face ticking upwards.

Alongside it lies another. Thinner band, the leather black, the face round. John’s worn it once before, just the once. It had been Mycroft’s doing, and meaningless. Today, the parallel lines of the watch bands are the most deliberate sight John has ever known.

Dressing gown pocket, he realizes. Biding his time and seizing an opportunity. Since (four days ago) yesterday.

John puts back on his pyjamas, his tags, dressing slowly. Thoughtfully. One watch goes into his breast pocket, a rare use of that feature, and the other goes on his left wrist.

Out in the sitting room, Sherlock has shifted his usual sprawl, his legs now across the coffee table rather than the cushions. Two mugs steam beside his crossed ankles, the only remaining evidence of Mrs. Hudson’s midmorning appearance.

He sits down, their elbows touching, and Sherlock flops his hand at the tea. John leans forward, picks up both, and hands him one. They drink, quietly, until Sherlock flops his hand at the remote and John turns on the telly.

Sherlock’s head settles on his good shoulder and they pretend to watch the news. “Boring,” his madman complains, adjusting his slump into the cushions. His cheek shifts across John’s pyjama shirt, pulling at the fabric.

John looks down and Sherlock’s looking up.

“Tell me about yourself,” Sherlock asks.

“What parts?”

Slouched low, Sherlock’s shoulder nudges against his upper arm. A shrug of indifference or a prompt to be held and Sherlock will never say outright which one he means. John risks it anyway.

“I’ll tell you when I’m bored,” Sherlock tells him, the one thing John can always trust him to be honest about.

“All right,” John says. He’s slow to begin, awkward to continue, but he speaks. He speaks, and he speaks, and he speaks.

Eyes bright and steady, Sherlock never says a word.