The first time Sherlock says it, it feels weird, but John learned long ago not to read too much into anything his partner might tell him during sex. Even if what he and Sherlock do is different from what he knows from any previous relationship, it's still very much sex. So considering John is naked save for his y-fronts, his hands tied over his head and a very naked Sherlock is holding his thighs open as he tries to fuck John through his underpants, well, what's a little bizarre dirty talk between friends?
"I just want to save you," Sherlock whispers to his chest, his voice oddly quiet and solemn, a direct contradiction to the sharp pain of his fingers digging into John's thighs. His voice sounds almost gentle, careful in a way Sherlock never is, especially not when they're like this, and John is startled out of his haze of need and opens his eyes.
Sherlock is gorgeous, bent over him, pale shoulders and a dark mop of sweaty hair, moving slowly against John in the most obscene way possible, dragging his cock up John's perineum, under his balls and back down to John's hole, pushing, pushing. And it feels so good, so fucking dirty to have that soaked cotton barrier press into him while his own prick is straining against the same wet fabric from the other side.
"Sherlock," he groans, because he wants to touch, he wants something. He wants so much.
"I am going to save you, John," Sherlock repeats softly and bites John's nipple, and John closes his eyes again because it's either that or coming, and he's not ready yet. Sherlock keeps quiet after that, his sharp teeth and wet tongue occupied with marking up John's chest, John's throat, John's collarbone.
"Please," John feels himself moaning. "Please, please… Just let me. Please."
And Sherlock spreads him even wider, his hips working faster and faster. John feels like he's drowning in his own escalating arousal, he never wants to be anything but Sherlock's. He feels the other man thrust against him, his breath sliding against John's neck when he moans, before he bites into skin and the sharp pain is intoxicating.
"I'll stay like this for you," John moans with each word. "Be yours. Just you, always you… Jesus."
John really can't define what they have. They're friends, colleagues, he loves Sherlock in a way he's never loved anyone before, but he's not inclined to say the words aloud, not even to himself. He doesn't know what Sherlock thinks they are. They live together, share their life with each other, sleep in the same bed and kiss some mornings. They only do the whole sex thing every few weeks, and when they do it's always a little too intense. So, really, John finds its best not to question much who says what and why when they have sex.
The second time Sherlock says it John almost doesn't notice, because he's been running for the past two hours without actually knowing why and frankly he's ready to punch Sherlock's infuriating, obnoxious face himself by the time the stop to breath.
"Who exactly are we running from?" John asks, breathing heavily and leaning on the wall behind him for support.
Sherlock keeps pacing back and forth, eyes moving wildly from side to side.
"Sherlock!" John shouts.
Sherlock stops pacing abruptly, and turns to John with an expression of extreme annoyance. . "I am trying to save you here, John, please be quiet," he says. And that's it, John is going to turn back and go home now. Either that or press Sherlock against the wall and snog him senseless.
John can't decide what the preferable option should be so he does neither. Instead he stares: at Sherlock's gloves, Sherlock's shoes, the curve of his upper lip, until Sherlock smiles and says "Come on, John."
And then they're running again.
The third time is actually the one that John thought he understood. Looking back he knows he again - as the case with Sherlock induced situations often is - overlooked some of the facts and was totally wrong.
They'd been dealing with an oddly personal case for John - a woman who killed her lover's alcoholic, abusive husband - and it made him uneasy. Everything about this one echoed something in John's life, the painfully familiar image of Mrs. Grange's bruised hands, her black eye, even her accepting explanation of her husband's sorrows. But that part of him surprisingly didn't hurt anymore, he felt nothing but a dull ache as he fleetingly thought of Harry. His parents had been dead for fifteen years and Harry didn't want his help.
Mary Grange and Jenny Crocker met during their last year at uni and fell in love like only reckless young people allow themselves to - immediately and utterly. But Jenny was on an army cadetship and was due to be deployed overseas a week after they would graduate. They made the few months they had together count more than any other time in their life and then went their separate ways. Mary married an older friend of her father, hoping to fill the emptiness inside her with family life while Jenny gave all of herself - mind, body and soul to what she needed to do.
And John knew how that felt, used to know bone deep that the Afghani sun and the desert heat were good, perfect even, when there was nothing waiting for you back home.
No sense of purpose but what you learn to be right when your friends' bodies lay next to you, when sand and dirt and blood is what you breathe, what you believe in. The army's own brand of insanity that is your whole life until, if you're lucky enough, you find someone who can live in that place in your soul, someone else worth living for.
Someone worth killing for. He'd done that too. He'd done that for Sherlock after knowing him for a day.
The women sit on the sofa in the same living room where Mr. Grange was murdered, the same room where the two had made their plan to hide the murder. They sit holding hands while Sherlock explains the workings of his brilliant mind and John tries not to be sick on the very nice, expensive-looking carpet.
"You'll probably want to board that plane back to Kandahar tomorrow, Capt. Crocker, before I give my account to DI Lestrade,-" Sherlock finishes with glee, looking at John, his trusty audience, holding his gaze until John, confused, turns away.
"And do what? Abandon Mary to deal with it? She'll be sent to jail!" Jenny is obviously distressed, but her voice is steady and resigned. "No, I'll stay. I'll give myself in first thing in the morning." Mary gasps and Sherlock's eyes narrow. "But you have to keep Mary out of this."
Sherlock laughs, the bastard. "Very predictable, Capt. Crocker, but none-the-less admirable. Touching even, if you're prone to sentiment. But if a trial is what you wish for there is no need for you miss your plane. We should skip the predictable boring pieces of the trial. Let's see, you confess to shooting, the bullet will be confirmed as having been fired from your army weapon. Mrs. Grange gives her account on how her husband attacked you in his rage and you were forced to fire. There were ashes on his clothes and his hands were dirty. He was holding the poker, still hot, probably threatening Capt. Crocker with it. The conclusion is unavoidable, the shot was self-defense." He turns to John, swiftly. "Dr. Watson, do you find the defendant guilty or not guilty of murder?"
It feels like some sick game, like everything is wrong with the world. It's not their place to decide, he knows. There's a difference between pressing the trigger and signing off on it as a necessity. Seeing a drunk hitting your lover is not enough of an excuse to fire your army weapon, he knows, nothing but self-defense is good enough of an excuse to fire your weapon. He wants to look Jenny in the eyes and suggest they both go and confess to Lestrade. He wants to tell her she will never be the same after this. That going on living with this will someday make her feel wrong, like some part of her went missing somewhere along the way. It's not his place and he refuses to pretend it is. He simply can't be the one to tell her that she did what was right, what was needed.
John wishes they were alone, without Sherlock's towering expectations and Mary Grange's pale hand holding on to Jenny's. He wants to take her in his arms and gently explain that justice works differently on English soil.
"John?" Sherlock asks, voice soft, and their eyes meet again. John loves him and hates him, for changing him, for making him realize who he has become for Sherlock.
"Not guilty," John says, turning to Jenny and Mary. He hopes they'll forgive him his weakness, he wishes could make himself care either way.
"Good." Sherlock smiles at him, warm and approving and it shouldn't be worth it, but it is.
He tries not to think about what it means. It's easier to pretend nothing has changed when life keeps going on, and John just goes along with everything. He doesn't even know why this is so unsettling for him. He should be used to having power over people's lives, making hard decisions for others was a big part of how he had defined himself for the last dozen or so years. But this felt different.
The closest he comes to a freak out is lying one night on Sherlock's bed, their bed, just staring at ceiling. An hour later Sherlock comes in and sits next to him. John wishes he would lie down, let John hold on to him, but that's not how they work.. He half expects Sherlock to calmly ask him to go and make some tea or something.
"I want to save you," Sherlock says instead. He sounds confused, and John knows the look on his face, brow furrowed and lips slightly open, annoyed that something isn't right. And that's a sentiment John can get behind.
"Is this you trying to console me?" John asks.
"Do you want me to?" He sounds curious, intrigued.
"I don't think saving has anything to do with this." John answers and his voice sounds lost to his own ears. He can't help but remember the last time he felt like this. He wonders if Sherlock took away his gun. "Why would you think I can just…" He doesn't even know how to ask.
"Because you are the best man I know," Sherlock tells him, and John wishes he didn't love him as much as this. John shuts his eyes, he'd rather do that than give in to the ache inside him demanding he look at Sherlock.
"This is crossing a new line for me, Sherlock," he says.
"I know." They're both quiet for a while. "I'm sorry, perhaps I've pushed when it was not my place to do so."
And John laughs, broken and miserable. He wants to say so much, wants to touch, to fuck, to cry, to shoot something. He wants to belong, wants to feel like he can fit in somewhere. He's so tired of finding out new places inside himself that feel wrong, alien and empty.
He wants something like redemption, forgiveness, he thinks. He'd ask Sherlock to forgive him, but that's not possible because Sherlock doesn't think there's anything to forgive, and there's nobody else.
"I wish I could do this for you," Sherlock confesses, and it has to be enough.
John tugs Sherlock by his shirt, pulls their mouths together with a sigh and buries his hand in Sherlock's hair.
"Save me," John whispers over and over between kisses and bites, not because Sherlock can, but because he wants to, and he finds they fit together, like this, rough and desperate and broken.
The fourth time it happens is during sex again.
John is naked on the sofa, his eyes covered by Sherlock's tie. He feels raw, exhausted, and on edge, cold and empty now that Sherlock is no longer pressed against him, inside him. He moans, and it's humiliating how needy he sounds. But there's a weird kind of freedom in lying blindfolded, legs spread wide and feeling thoroughly fucked. Like there's no shame in being this creature that gasps and moans at Sherlock's touch, like there can be no shame in anything they do together.
"Hush," Sherlock says sternly, but he places a quick kiss on John's cheek. John turns his head to him, but Sherlock is not there, instead he feels a caress down his chest. It's not Sherlock's hand, but the same riding crop he used to mark John's chest while fucking him. Sherlock finds a knot of pain under John's left nipple, a bruise probably, he presses hard and John gasps.
"Touch yourself." John unclenches his fingers, not realizing until now he was gripping the edge of the sofa above his head and moves his hand down, but before he can touch his cock a fast sting lands on his hand. God, that riding crop, John wishes he could see. "Behind you, two fingers."
John takes a big breath and moves his hand back, two fingers easily sliding in and then out.
"Sherlock," he gasps.
"Tell me," Sherlock asks, softly, his hand coming to rest lightly against John's cheek.
"I'm… I can't. It's too much. Please."
John breathes heavily, his fingers moving in a merciless rhythm. He wants to be good, wants to please Sherlock, but he can't. It's too much.
Sherlock slaps him and John can feel the pain spreading on his cheek, Sherlock's hand absently petting the heated skin, patient in his own way.
"I can feel your semen inside me," John whispers. It's true, he's wet with lube and Sherlock's come, spread open and leaking, his fingers covered in it, spreading the fluid inside himself.
Sherlock slaps him again, much harder and John can feel the coppery taste of blood in his mouth. He moans loud and obscene and Sherlock kisses him, opens John's mouth with his tongue, tasting saliva and blood and the words John can't make himself say. John can feel the heat of Sherlock's body above him, surges into his mouth, into the fingers curling possessively around John's bicep.
When he releases John's mouth Sherlock's voice is deep, almost breathless. "Three fingers," he says and John immediately complies, adding another finger and it's almost enough. He feels the length of the crop against his lips. "Open," Sherlock tells him and John opens his mouth, ready for the pain, but Sherlock just presses the crop against his teeth. "Hold this."
John stays that way for long minutes, three fingers buried deep inside himself, slowing down and picking up the pace to Sherlock's instructions, the crop between his teeth muffling his sounds and forcing him to breathe through his nose.
He suddenly feels Sherlock's hand on his cock, moving up and down in short strokes and it's almost painful how much he needed that. Sherlock's other hand moves to press on his throat and John suddenly can't breathe.
"Faster," Sherlock says, and John tries, caught between the sensations of the brutal hand on his cock, the fingers deep inside him and the panic of losing oxygen.
"You're beautiful," Sherlock tells him, hand moving faster on John, and it sounds oddly like a command. He feels like he's going to die, like Sherlock is killing him. "You're amazing and no one sees this but me. I can have you forever. Let me save you, let me own you."
He can't see, can't breathe, can barely understand the words, pleasure and pain and Sherlock's hands on him, on his cock and his throat and John can't figure out where it burns more. It feels impossible, too much and out of his control. It builds and builds to an impossible place inside him and John comes with a jolt, the crop falling from his mouth, Sherlock's hand pressing even harder on his throat and the world goes quiet.
John comes to it with Sherlock's fingers inside his mouth. He blinks to discover the tie is off and he can see Sherlock, sitting of the floor next to the sofa, eyes intent on John's mouth as he cleans his own semen from Sherlock's hand.
"Thank you," Sherlock says, quietly.
John releases Sherlock's fingers and sits up, Sherlock leans into him, head falling to rest against John's thigh. And John feels that he belongs there, in 221B with Sherlock, with the books and the experiments, with making questionable choices. With having this deep rooted connection to a man he will never understand and who doesn't bother explaining himself.
He can't imagine a world without all of it, can't fathom living a life that isn't shared with Sherlock Holmes.
"I think you've already saved me," he says softly and Sherlock turns his head to meet his eyes.
"Not yet," he answers, smiling. They sit in the quiet room, barely touching, until John stands up and pulls Sherlock into the shower.