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"I." John licks his bottom lip. "What."

"What?" Sherlock snaps. He crosses his arms over his chest. His face is thunderous. "Frankly, I'm having a very hard time seeing how it's anything to do with you."

John raises his palms. "It isn't, it isn't."

"Well, then."

"Yeah," John agrees, and settles back into his chair.

Sherlock pulls his laptop back onto his knees, then sighs, exasperated, and shoves it back onto the coffee table, flopping his legs out. Arms sprawled. His bare feet twitching.

"Still nothing," John observes.

"Well done, John," Sherlock mumbles, then sighs. Dark head lolling on his shoulder, turned to the side.

The rain is still rattling on the windows. Looks later than it is, when the weather gets like this. John shifts in his chair: he's not tired.

Sherlock is inhaling already when John asks, "All right, can I just—"

"The things you find to entertain yourself." Sherlock turns towards him, a bit, but doesn't lift his head.

"There isn't anything for us to use to entertain ourselves," John says. "Hence."

Sherlock scowls at him. John rolls his eyes and scowls back, and Sherlock barks out a laugh.

"So." John rubs his hands. "Can I, then?"

Sherlock waves a long hand. Doesn't sit up.

John nods, and asks, "How long?"

"Twenty years," Sherlock says. "Give or take a week or two."

John blinks. "Twenty years?"

"Yes," Sherlock says. "I told you, I've found that it makes quite a difference as to—"

"You mean since you last." John waves a hand. "With someone else, or—"

Sherlock frowns. "No. I told you, I choose not to, at all."

"At all," John echoes.

"Yes, at all," Sherlock repeats, "at all, including by myself, I find it distracting, it's not like wanking furiously on my own would somehow magically not take any time, and it's not like you appear to require external assistance, so this can't possibly be conceptually challenging, I don't—"

"It's not conceptually challenging, Christ." John laughs, rubs at his jaw. "It's just—Jesus, Sherlock, do you—er."

John stops. His face is burning, scalded scarlet, but he can't—

"What?" Sherlock says, and then, after a moment, pushes up to sitting. "What?"

"Do you... get, er." John laughs. "Christ, I can't believe I'm asking you this."

"Do I get hard," Sherlock says. Pale sharp eyes.

"Yeah," John says. Quieter: "Yeah."

Sherlock swallows. "Yes," he says, finally.

John nods. "But you don't..."

Sherlock's mouth twists, an odd angled printer's mark.

"You don't do anything about it," John says, finally.

"I don't masturbate to orgasm," Sherlock says, "no."

John shifts.

Sherlock is watching him. His forearms pale and lean, pressed to his knees; John is half-hard and sweating, sticky at his nape and the seams of his sleeves. He is absolutely certain that Sherlock can tell, that Sherlock may not have had an orgasm in twenty years but he unquestionably knows that for John it's been more like seventy-two hours, and John still feels like it's too long.

Sherlock isn't looking away.

After a moment, "You don't masturbate," John repeats, "to orgasm."

Sherlock leans back in his chair. "No," he says.

"I note," John says, with precision, "that you didn't say that you don't masturbate at all."

Sherlock steeples his hands.

"Sherlock," John says, voice twisting in his throat, feeling weirdly desperate—

"No," Sherlock murmurs. "I didn't say that."

John swallows. "How?" he asks.

"Carefully," Sherlock says, finally.

John laughs.

Chapter Text

Sherlock is up on his feet. On the carpet. On the coffee table. On the arm of his chair.

"Let's go out," he says. Arms up in the air, scrabbling at nothing with his sleeves shoved up to his elbows: the hem of his jumper sliding up, up.

"It's pouring down rain," John says, from where he is trying to straighten out his back with the floor.

"Then let's go out in the rain," Sherlock says.

John drops his book to the carpet, rolls creakily up onto his side. "And do what?"

"I don't know." Sherlock swings his arms, hopping up. The lamp on the side table rattles against his unsteady-scrambling feet. "Bank fraud. Steal a car."

"Murder someone," John suggests.

Sherlock points both hands down at him like guns. "Bang on."

John can feel his face crinkling up into something unbearably fond. He sits up so he'll groan instead, pulling out the knots in his neck, stretching his arms. "Perhaps a miss," he says, "to the crime spree, even if it'd be to alleviate boredom?"

"There's not anything else to do." Sherlock is still twisting his shoulders about, Harry's ninth attempt at a jumper rucked halfway up his right ribs: "Nothing, even, in the fan mail from the website."

"There's never anything in the fan mail from the website," John says; and Sherlock says, "No, there's never anything interesting in the fan mail from the website."

John raises an eyebrow at him, but Sherlock rolls his eyes.

"At this point I'd take even an uninteresting case."

John laughs. "Well, if you hadn't told me that you didn't—"

He stops.

Sherlock's still flapping his arms about, like some sort of great underfed stork, incongruously arrayed in bespoke suit trousers and hand-knitted green wool. John never wears his own jumper, but Harry'd improved quite a bit, by the time she was reduced to knitting for Sherlock.

Outside the window, the rain keeps prattling on. John scrubs his hands through his hair, looks up.

A thump. Sherlock is standing on the tipped-up edge of the sofa, wriggling his arms out of the jumper. Pulling it off over his electric-shock hair. He drops the jumper on the sofa cushions. Meets John's eyes. Raises an eyebrow.

"Sorry," John says, thick. There is a sticky, prickling itch working its way down the back of his spine: too warm, really, inside. "I don't mean to—"

"It'd take a lot worse than you taking the piss to get my back up about it, John," Sherlock says. His voice is oddly serious for a man using their furniture as his own personal jungle gym.

The rain continues, tediously.

"It's not uncomfortable for you, then," John says slowly, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, "when I make reference to the deep, oceanic shade of blue no doubt by this point attained—

"I've achieved equilibrium," Sherlock replies airily. "It's not as though I've not had time."

"—by your balls—what sort of equilibrium's that, then?" John asks. "The sort of permanent teetering clenched-arse grip on the last shreds of your sanity, or..."

"Better than needing six and a half minutes of alone time twice a day to maintain the ability to carry on an intelligent conversation." Sherlock turns and walks up the sofa, leaning until it tips back up onto its feet.

"That's a miss, on twice a day," John says, laughing, "if you really think—"

"It's very much not a miss," Sherlock says, digging his bare feet into the cushions, "if you're implying this is an intelligent conversation."

John stops.

Sherlock is still taking his turn up the sofa. Down. Up again, like that story about the bloke and the mantlepiece on QI that John'd heard twice at least before Sherlock had successfully shouted him into turning it off.

At the far end, Sherlock asks, "Did I hurt your feelings?"

Sounding curious.

He's still standing on the sofa. Looking down. Twisting and wriggling his hands, his tendon-lined wrists. His pale forearms, with the sleeves of his white shirt shoved carelessly up.

"Twice a day's a bit more than I can manage on the regular, Sherlock," John says, finally. "We're not all seventeen."

"None of us are seventeen," Sherlock says.

"You're no older than eleven," John agrees, and Sherlock bends to grab his discarded jumper, balls it up, and tosses it dead at John's face.

John catches it. It's fuzzy, and green. Softer than his.

"Six and a half minutes?" John asks. "Do you keep time?"

Chapter Text

Sherlock's toes flex. "You say that like perhaps I ought to," he murmurs, and takes one oversized, ungainly step off the edge of the sofa, then crosses his arms across his chest. "Why, don't you believe me?"

"I've got more stamina than that," John says, squinting up at him.

"Prove it," Sherlock says; and John laughs.

Sherlock stands straight and stares at him, rainwater eyes wide, until John stops laughing.

Sherlock uncrosses his arms, reaches into his pocket. Pulls out his mobile and thumbs at the screen, then turns it to face John, still sitting crosslegged on the floor.

"You can't be serious," John says.

"Why not?" Sherlock asks, from above the stopwatch screen. "You said it yourself, we've nothing better to do."

"I did not."

"Fine, you implied it," Sherlock says, and perches at the very edge of the sofa, his knees knocked together. Elbows on his thighs. "I say no more than six and a half minutes. You seemed interested in taking that bet."

John swallows. Squints up at him. "Stakes?"

Sherlock pauses.

"If we're betting, I mean," John says.

Sherlock is silent for a long, electric moment. Never wavering from John's face.

"I show you how it's done," Sherlock says, finally.

John's stomach feels high and tight. "Do you mean, if I win or lose?" he asks; and Sherlock's eyes drive into the soft flesh of his face when he says, low and rumbling, "You tell me."

John presses his palm against his belly. Drops it to his knee, and takes a deep, steadying breath. "Win, then," he says, as lightly as he can; and Sherlock squares his shoulders.

"And if you lose?" Sherlock asks.

"Only fair for you to pick, I think," John says; and Sherlock lifts his chin.

"Six and a half minutes of your time," Sherlock says. "Later. Whenever I say. For whatever I say."

It'd be an idiotic thing to agree to. John swallows, and jerks his head in a nod, and watches the bump of Sherlock's throat bob up and then down, twice.

"All right," Sherlock says, and makes great show of settling back on the sofa, and picking up his phone.

John swallows. His fingers curl, uncurl. "Have you started the timer already?"

"Should I?" Sherlock asks, with interest.

John rubs his four fingers up the seam at his knee and exhales: "Yeah."

Sherlock taps his thumb on his screen, then turns the phone around so that John can see the rushing-up flood of fractions of seconds as he digs his palm into the flies of his jeans. Sherlock is watching him, pink mouth pale eyes, his arms crossed over his pressed-together knees, and John closes his eyes, swallowing, swallowing, and tries to breathe in deep.

"I'm not sure this counts," Sherlock muses, and John's eyes fly open.

"What?"

"When I said six and a half minutes," Sherlock says, "I meant of you actually masturbating, not all this—please, don't misunderstand me, extremely tender and moving—romantic foreplay."

John laughs, already breathless. "If you think this doesn't count, you're doing it wrong," he says, but he pops the button on his jeans anyway. Sherlock's gaze flickers down, up: locks back onto his face. John licks his parched lips and drags down the zip: Christ. Gets his hand down his boxers. Hot and already hard: his hips jerk up. Six minutes, swallowing. Six and a half fucking minutes, and he's already—

"Get up on your knees," Sherlock says. "Push your pants down."

"What, is this an interactive session?" John asks, but it comes out ragged and breathless. He's already struggling up to his knees, jeans tight 'round his thighs and his prick nudging out of the fly of his boxers: John wriggles the elastic down his hips and licks flat across his palm, hot and sticky, and gets it back around his erection. Lifts his chin.

Sherlock's lips are parted, a shiny smear of saliva across the bottom. He's watching John with the same snow-stinging intensity he turns on tricky chemistry experiments and particularly interesting murderers and John feels dangerous, explosive: canting his hips forward with his fist angled down so that the head of his cock slides rosy-flushed and wet from under his sliding thumb out for Sherlock to see—

"You still do it like this all the time, do you," Sherlock says, eyes wide voice rough, "just yank at yourself as hard and fast as you can, like if you don't get off in three point four seconds your mum'll catch you when she comes in—" and Christ, John gasps, shuddering; and gasps, hot-slamming-shivers avalanching through him as he comes all over their dusty-carpeted floor.

He gulps down air. Swallows. Gulps again, still staring up at Sherlock's white face pink parted mouth, his wide-open seaglass eyes.

Sherlock ducks his head.

John swallows. Breathes through his nose, too hard; lets himself open his mouth. Unbuttons his shirt and peels it off, so he can use it to clean off his hands and his groin before putting himself back together, and then—folding the damp side away—use the other to mop, fairly fruitlessly, at the floor. His vest is clammy at the armholes and all down the back. Sherlock is sitting on the sofa. John is still on his knees.

"Well?" John asks, finally, looking up; and then laughs.

Sherlock says nothing, but he turns his iPhone screen out: stopped at three minutes and forty-two seconds. And eighty-three one hundredths, when John squints.

Chapter Text

All Monday at the surgery, John feels—stinging. Off-kilter. Rain streaks down the windows while he checks a teenager's white-spotted tonsils and glugs in the surgery's half-clogged drains while John listens to an old woman's rasping chest and John'd got on his knees yesterday and rubbed one out while his best friend watched, so it's—it's a bit of a strange start to the week, is all.

In the kitchen at home Sherlock has made bangers and mash, duck à l'orange, and fried rice; then buggered off God only knows where with two of the windows left open and just shoved all the pans in the fridge. The fried rice is about two-thirds jalapeños: John scrapes it into the bin. He eats half the duck, though, sitting in the wet cool breeze from the windows with Sherlock's chair pulled closer so he can put his feet up, because there's a half a staged murder with a lightly singed mannequin currently occupying the ottoman.

Sherlock comes back while John is doing the washing up.

"I was going to do that," Sherlock says, unwinding his scarf and standing too close.

"I ate all the duck," John admits, and Sherlock sticks his icy fingers down John's collar. "Augh! Jesus!"

"It's all right," Sherlock says, taking his hands back. "I don't like duck anyway."

He sounds pleased.

"What've you been out doing, anyway?" John can still feel his icicle fingers, pressed against his throat. "Molesting the undead?"

Sherlock comes back into the kitchen, coat off, rolling his sleeves up, bouncing a bit on his toes.

"If you have been," John says, very seriously, "please tell me you washed your hands," and passes him the saucepan to dry.

"Just a case," Sherlock says, grabbing a towel. "A very little case. A caselet."

John hums. "Got you out of the house, though."

"Yes," Sherlock says. "It was the head chef, several tins of bad kippers, all very tedious, but..."

He hunches one shoulder up, then the other.

"But it got you out of the house," John agrees, and puts the stockpot upside down on the draining board, and turns off the taps.

Sherlock is looking at him offside, glancing down under his long pale eyelashes while he burnishes the bottom of the saucepan to a high shine. Mouth twisted, a little: a small, locked-and-hidden sort of an expression.

John rests his hip against the damp edge of the sink: doesn't matter much, at this point; his shirt's already wet all down the front.

"Are we going to be..." John pauses. "All right, after that?"

Sherlock lifts his chin. "After you ate all my duck à l'orange?"

"Don't play stupid, it doesn't look good on you," John says, a little too fast, and then touches Sherlock's arm.

Sherlock reaches up, puts the saucepan away. Picks up the stock pot, rubs it dry, tucks it away. Shuts the cupboard again with a dull, final-sounding clunk.

"Sherlock," John says, and Sherlock turns to face him. Swallows twice: up-down, up-down.

John licks his bottom lip. "Are things getting weird," he asks, "between us?"

Sherlock balls up the dishtowel on the work surface.

He's moving slowly, John notes: terribly slowly. As though he's caught in some madman's invisible sights. Slowly, his hand comes up, and slowly his fingers uncurl forward; and slowly, he touches John's mouth.

Eyes half closed. Sherlock rubs over John's bottom lip. It feels wet, to John, still, but the pads of Sherlock's fingers still catch.

"I don't know," Sherlock says, low, "are they?"

Two fingers on John's half-open mouth, just resting; and Sherlock's cold-burning eyes up above.

John touches out his tongue.

Chapter Text

Sherlock's eyelashes sink. His fingertips are cold, still; and they move with his mouth when John asks, "So that's. All right, then?"

Sherlock swallows. "Yeah, it's fine," he says, and then brushes over John's mouth, jaw, chin. Drops his hand, leaning back.

John is acutely aware of the brief space of air between them. Of Sherlock's hips, half-canted forward; and his arms crossing tight over his chest.

John lifts his chin. "So, what all is... okay, then?"

Sherlock hunches down into his crossed arms, curving spine. "What do you mean?"

"I mean." John touches the hot foreign feeling of Sherlock's hand still imprinted onto his mouth. "I mean—I mean, I know you don't let yourself come but you also said you touch yourself, yeah?"

Watching Sherlock's throat move when he swallows pushes a thick, electric lash shivering up the length of John's spine. He wonders, a little hysterically, if this'll end, too, with him wanking on his knees on the living room floor.

"Yeah," Sherlock says, at last.

"So." John wouldn't mind. His sock squeaks on the lino: closer. "So you—you like it, then?"

Bob, bob. Up-down, up-down. "Like what?" Sherlock asks.

"Feeling." John exhales, laughs a little. Rubs at his belly through his wet shirt. "Turned on. Getting hot."

Sherlock is blinking, blinking. "Yeah. Yes." The fading light from the window behind John's shoulders, just catching in the frilling-soft pale fuzz around Sherlock's eyes. "It feels good."

John nods. "So... you touch yourself." Closer, like Sherlock's warm solid rangy body is, of itself, choosing to rearrange John's weight. "How?"

Sherlock huffs. "What do you mean, how?"

"I mean." John laughs, for some reason. Low down. "What do you like?"

"I," Sherlock says. "I—what does anyone like? I mean—"

John straightens. "Do you want me to back off?" he asks; but Sherlock shakes his head hard, no. A slow hot blush creeping up his fair throat. John's arms prickle; his back.

"So then tell me—you've already seen me," John says, rough and low, "on my knees, going out of my mind, so—"

"Your stomach," Sherlock says, tongue tripping too fast, "is sensitive."

John stops.

"You keep." Sherlock swallows. "Touching your—your abdomen, when—"

"Yeah," John says, then tilts his. "Is yours?"

"No," Sherlock blurts out, "my—my chest."

John is very close. Sherlock's voice is strained. Very low, and hushed. His head bowed forward, and John's neck aches already, from looking up.

"Do you touch your chest, then," John says, "when you're having a wank?"

"Yeah," Sherlock whispers. "Sometimes. A bit."

John nods. "And it—it feels good," he says, nothing like a question: his hand splayed low across the damp splotch on his own shirt, from the sink.

"Yeah," Sherlock says. "And—and my hands, I."

John is looking down without thinking. Sherlock's half-curled graceful fists.

"So you—what." John drags his gaze back up to Sherlock's flushed face. "Do you... touch one hand with the other? or—"

"Run my fingers along the insides of my fingers, the spaces in between." Sherlock settles his weight lower into his hips: it makes them more nearly a height. "Sometimes," he says, "I put them in my mouth."

Christ. "And suck?" John asks, lifting his chin. "Or just—do you just pet your tongue, and your—your teeth, and your lips?"

"It's." Sherlock swallows: up-down, up-down; John has a sudden brief, electric fantasy of putting his hands on that flushing throat. "Like kissing, almost."

John nods. Treacle-slow. "Do you like to kiss?"

Sherlock's gaze is locked on his, unmoving. He doesn't answer.

"So you." John feels a low long laugh bubbling insanely up through his blood but swallows it back, and asks, "so you like—you like to touch your chest and your hands and your mouth, you—you go into your room on your own, do you, and it feels good, does it, when you touch yourself like that?"

Sherlock's bottom lip curls in, slides under his slick red tongue, and then out. "Yeah. It—it feels good," he says, more sigh than speech. "It feels. Really good, even if I don't—"

Sherlock stops. Barks a sliver of a laugh.

John isn't laughing. He is nodding, he finds. They are standing very, very close.

"And." John swallows: sandpaper throat. "And so."

Sherlock is watching him, silent, with his sensitive hands and his sensitive mouth and his arms crossed over his sensitive chest—his, his nipples, probably, that he plays with alone in his bedroom when he doesn't let himself come; here in the kitchen with an inch and a half off his height, the way he's sunk his weight into his hips.

"So, then," John asks, "can I touch you like that?"

Sherlock's black hole eyes. No light.

"Do you want to?" he asks, rock-rough.

John says, "Yes."

Chapter Text

Sherlock takes a long, slow breath; John jumps, startled. Sherlock's (sensitive) hand 'round his left wrist, drawing it up: John flattens his palm on Sherlock's sternum. When Sherlock swallows (updown, updown) John can feel the tug of it against his fingers, only just resting at the first-fastened button beneath the base of Sherlock's throat.

John rubs his fingers over it. Meets Sherlock's eyes. "Can I?" he repeats; and "Yeah," Sherlock says, very quietly; and John slips the button free from its hole.

Sherlock's chest hair is pale and sparse, which John knew long before his fingertips find the first few wiry threads when he slips them under the still-buttoned stretch of Sherlock's shirt. Under his skin his muscles flinch faintly at the touch. Ribcage lifting and falling shallowly with his breath. He is watching John's face; John watches him back. His pink ribbon-bow mouth and dark hungry eyes and Christ: under pressed cotton John scrapes blunt nails over his skin and Sherlock inhales, sharp, as John curls his hand into a fist. Knuckles pressed to the flat satin stretch of skin over muscle, sliding down.

"How'm I doing?" John asks.

"Good," Sherlock says, thick, "it feels good," standing close enough to him that when John flattens his hand back out so that his pinkie skims over the edge of the pebbled-hard nub of a nipple and Sherlock gasps, John feels it hot and sharp on his face.

"Yeah?" John asks, rubbing his right hand over the next strained-tight button while Sherlock jerks his head into a nod. John pulls the button free and Sherlock stumbles towards him, so that John's nose bumps into the underside of his chin.

"Sorry," Sherlock mumbles, "sorry—oh," low: pulled thin and wavering, when John rubs the stubbled edge of his mouth down Sherlock's throat. On the back of his neck, Sherlock's long hand, pressed tight: at the junction of Sherlock's neck and shoulder, John closes his eyes. Breathes in deep with his hands trapped between them the somehow-familiar smell of Sherlock's body, dark-round and spicy near the end of the day; and then thumbs open another button on Sherlock's shirt. Palm sliding down to Sherlock's navel: another, another; and his whole front opened up. John turns his face, so that Sherlock's throat bobs against his mouth: swallowing, up-down, up-down.

"Good?" John asks. Feels it more than hears it, when Sherlock says, "Yeah."

John lifts his head. So close. The last of the light is fading outside their open windows, leaving just the white-blue of the light above the table, suddenly sickly, growing too bright. John's mouth a desert in drought, and his heart pounding in his fingertips, and John pushes white cotton off Sherlock's pinked-up shoulder, and presses his palm flat to Sherlock's heart. Sherlock's ribs rise-fall, rise-fall, bright flushed splotches on his cheeks and the reddening trail of John's jaw down his flushed fair throat, and John presses Sherlock back, hips square to the work surface, his elbows bumping into the draining board and the last of their largely-forgotten pans. John's mouth burning, bee stings, before he ever rubs his thumb in a slow deliberate circle across Sherlock's peaked-tight right nipple, then bends down to follow it with his mouth.

Sherlock whines. John rolls his tongue against it, a scrape of teeth: "John," Sherlock gasps, "John—"

Unsteadily John pushes himself back up: Sherlock's hands on his elbows, squeezing tight. "Not good?"

"No," Sherlock says, then squeezes harder, holds him fast. "No, I mean—yes, good, but I—if I ask you to—to—"

Blink-blinking in the edges of their white light. John cups his right hand over the flushed side of Sherlock's long throat, his thumb resting just at the hinge of Sherlock's jaw.

"To stop," Sherlock says, very quietly.

"Now?" John asks, "Or," with his left hand curled, untouching, just above all the shell-pink acreage of pectoral and bare skin.

Sherlock swallows. Reaches for John's wrist, and pulls: "Whenever I say," he says, unsteady. "Right away."

"Yeah," John whispers, brushing fingers-palm down fair hair leading down Sherlock's belly scraping the inside of his wrist, "yeah, I—" and then rubs, breath-quivering soft, at the little furred hollow dip of his navel.

Sherlock gasps.

"Too much?" John asks; and Sherlock shakes his head, head bowed: "No," rough, "No," and then yanks his hands between them to untangle his shirtcuffs. John swallows, pulls the tails of his shirt out of his trousers, helps Sherlock shrug it off—and then meets Sherlock bending down forehead-to-forehead panting, John pressing his aching empty hands flat to Sherlock's heaving bare ribs. Presses Sherlock's arse back to the lower cupboards, thumbs across his trouser button badly done up: John swallows back fluttering-throbbing panic and gets down onto his knees.

Doubling over above him, Sherlock gasps. Hands crumpling John's shirt at his shoulders, while John works over his flies. His trousers laid open, skin-skimming black trunks—John's mouth floods.

"Fuck." John gulping hot musky air off his skin shoves his face to Sherlock's zip with the teeth digging into his chin; Sherlock whines; John pulls back, drags Sherlock's trousers down his thighs with his pulse shaking his hands: rubs up the fair crackling hair on Sherlock's long pale legs, down again, hooking his fingers into the tops of Sherlock's socks. "Sherlock, can I—" but Sherlock's already bending down, hopping on one unsteady heel. John tugs at his shoelaces, his trousers; Sherlock nearly knees him in the nose trying to pry off the lot without untying a thing. The flies of his black trunks gape over his erection, and John slides his fingers up, down, up: Sherlock's narrow runner's thighs bone-white in the light over their kitchen table while John curls his fingers into the sweaty backs of both of his trembling knobby knees. The top cuff of his right sock has caught on his long toes: Sherlock scrapes his bony foot on the lino, nearly overbalancing, half falls over, trying to get it the rest of the way off; is caught, somehow, with one angular bare elbow on the draining board, and John's throbbing hands hard on his hips.

John breathes in. Breathes in. In the white kitchen lights Sherlock's reflection wavers in their open window: bared to his trunks, flushed and panting; with John at his feet.

John licks his lips. The plummy-pink head of Sherlock's cock is peeking out through the ill-fastened flies of his trunks. The picture he makes, half fallen over with his elbow in the draining board: black white and pink. All of London watching, hidden dark outside.

"All right?" John's voice is rough. Nothing to pretend.

"Getting." Sherlock swallows. "Close."

John nods. Helps Sherlock straighten up, a bit, and Sherlock's hand falls, brushes soft over his hair. "It's. Good." Sherlock's voice is wavering. "A bit—too good, perhaps, I—"

He stops. Clears his throat, then laughs.

"Should—leave these on, then, maybe," John says, tucking two fingers in to tug at the flat-hemmed leg of Sherlock's little tight trunks.

Sherlock laughs, breathless. Leg hair prickling up around John's knuckles. Says, "They're a bit. Superfluous, perhaps, in some ways, but—"

He stops, swallows, and then touches John's mouth; and with a salt-ocean throb of the vise of his ribs, John twists to kiss the inside of Sherlock's white wrist.

Sherlock is still awkwardly braced above him. Watching: lips parted, wide-eyed; and flayed and burning John bends back down to press an open-mouthed kiss to the long twitching stretch of Sherlock's thigh. Sherlock's whole body jerks, and John pushes: stretching strained fabric up towards his groin—kisses—and again, tasting salty sweat and, and soap and musk-bitter, and—

"Stop," Sherlock gasps; and John rocks back down onto his feet, folds his hands on his knees.

Sherlock has his eyes closed, tight. His beetroot face turned to the side. He is taking long, steady breaths in through his nose, out through his mouth, in through his nose, out through his mouth, with splotchy red blotches of flush following the path of John's mouth up his thigh.

John swallows. Pushes himself up to his feet, turns, and—and—

And the windows in the living room are still open, damp glistening on their sills. He goes over to shut them, one at a time.

When he turns back, Sherlock's wearing his trousers. Shirt untucked still half open, bare feet, as the flush on his collarbones fades millimeter by millimeter, and he fills the kettle in the sink.

"Tea?" he asks without looking, when John comes over.

John swallows. Taps Sherlock's elbow. His shoulder. His cheek. Waits until Sherlock is turned full to face him, red-faced, and can meet his eyes.

"You all right?" John asks, barely loud enough for the two of them.

Up-down, up-down: John watches, half-hypnotized.

"Yeah," Sherlock murmurs. "It felt good."

John nods, and then rocks up onto the balls of his feet.

"All right?" he asks.

Close up wide-eyed, Sherlock nods.

John tilts his face up, and for a fraction of an instant, presses his mouth to Sherlock's rough-edged mouth.

A breath. John's heels sink down to the floor. He steps back. Sherlock is still holding the kettle, listing full and heavy in his right hand.

"Yeah," John says. "Tea sounds great."

Chapter Text

They end up with John's laptop balanced between them—Sherlock's right knee and John's left—watching How To Be Bohemian on iPlayer because Sherlock has an entirely transparent crush on Victoria Coren Mitchell. It's not at all strange, which is in itself strange; but it shouldn't be strange, as though after all these years of finding themselves in more or less exactly the same position, the warm fragrant weight of Sherlock leaning against him, a little bit turned on and not doing anything about it, could possibly be strange just because John'd finally got on his knees and rubbed his face all over Sherlock's cloth-covered erection. He's done stranger things with Sherlock, after all.

Sherlock's been reduced to clicking about the internet at random, apparently, and John's moved back against the arm of the sofa, feet up and half-heartedly reading an utterly uninteresting novel about the financial crisis because Sherlock's still hogging his laptop, by the time Sherlock says, "I didn't mean that you had to stop, you know."

John looks up.

"Nothing to be embarrassed about," Sherlock says. "We're friends."

He's still hunched over John's computer. John watches as he rubs his thumb over his mouth, then brushes across the trackpad, clicking once—twice—again—

"You trying to get rid of me so you can read my email?" John asks, light. "Because at this point I just assume you do that anyway."

Sherlock glances over, back down. Murmurs, "Who said anything about getting rid of you?"

John exhales slowly, and closes the book.

Sherlock doesn't move at all. It's amusing, really, because Sherlock knows how to fake his attention in one place when it's really entirely in another, but resting his palms on the edge of John's keyboard with his long fingers still and his eyes cast down demurely is very far from doing the trick, and when John rubs at his flies behind his bent-up knees, Sherlock's fingers twitch visibly.

John curls his toes in his socks. He's not hard, not anymore, but he'd spent over an hour next to Sherlock smelling sweaty and good and John knows that if he slid over, knelt up, buried his face in the damp little wisps of hair at Sherlock's pink nape and breathed in—he slides his hips down into the seat. Wonders what Sherlock's been doing; the screen's not angled so he can see. Wonders if all the time he was slogging his way through that execrable novel, Sherlock was watching something kinky with the sound off. Sherlock is still holding statue-still, breathing softly; John flicks up the tab of his zip. Slides it down, tooth by tooth, and watches Sherlock's gaze flick, up down up—

"If you want me to move," John says steadily, "so that you can see—"

"Please," Sherlock says; they could be discussing another cup of tea. Pulse in his palms throbbing one-two one-two, John knees up and slides over, settles back down at Sherlock's side. The button at his waist feels far too tight, so he slips it open. Sighs. Looks over at the laptop screen, which is, both inexplicably and offensively, showing the Daily Mail.

"Christ." John tips his head back against the sofa cushions. "Please tell me you've got it in private browsing, I don't want that following me all ov—here, click over to XTube."

Sherlock curls his fingers in towards his palms; then inhales, and stretches to decisively type in the URL. John watches him click through the security page—I AM: Male; I LIKE: Male Female—and scroll down, down, and then slow on a row with a skinny barely-legal kid sprawled out on display, a cock in between big tits, a girl with fake hair fake-moaning, some awkward-sallow bad lighting on a blurry set of limbs, and a flushed-pink arse filling up the whole little square of the preview screen.

"Yeah," John sighs, "go on, then," and Sherlock swallows—up-down, up-down—and clicks on the arse. Not surprising. John slides his hand into his pants. The video loads up on one bloke kneeling with another bent over on his elbows and knees, round dark arse in the air while the other slips him a couple fingers, rubs his cock up and down the crack of his arse.

The bloke on his elbows and knees is better looking, mouth half-open, plush bottom lip wet and shiny; John takes a deep breath, stroking himself dry, and wonders if this is the sort of stuff Sherlock always goes for. Wonders if Sherlock spends all that time on his laptop in his chair with the screen facing so John can't see watching lean rough-looking blonds pressing round firm arsecheeks together so they've got a nice hot slick space to fuck into. John swallows, lifts his hips, gets his jeans down a bit. Sherlock has turned the sound off; John shivers. Eases his cock out through the slit of his boxers.

Next to him Sherlock is breathing hard. The bloke on the screen's got his legs scissored in between and over his partner's, pushing in, a little; in and out: just a bit. Sherlock is pressed all up against John's side, so that when John moves his wrist his upper arm flexes against Sherlock and his rolled-up white sleeves. John can't help the way he's breathing; doesn't want to, Sherlock's face half-turned breath hot. John reaches up, heart pounding; Sherlock's breath hot-cold on the sensitive spaces between his fingers, and then he gives John's palm two thick, thorough licks. John angles his face towards him, gets his hand back on his cock. Tugs his foreskin down with thumb and forefinger, shows Sherlock the flushed-pink head of him, shining for him. Wet. Sherlock swallows: up-down, up-down; John's empty right hand—on, on his balls through his boxers, on the shirt rucked up 'round his belly, on Sherlock's shirtfront. Out of the corner of his eye John can see the bloke kneeling up on the video press his partner's shoulders down towards the mattress for a better angle on their fuck.

Hot all over John knots his right hand in Sherlock's shirt. Sherlock licks his lips. John's skin flint-struck. Sherlock's barely-rough cheek scrapes at the tip of John's nose. Sherlock's hands—Christ—still folded up on edge of the laptop—John can't stand it, his open empty mouth—and Sherlock makes a soft hungry noise, leans into him, John pulling him to him, licking at the sour crease of the corner of his lips inhaling panting breath teeth on him Sherlock twisting to him kissing him red-faced and panting while shivering John fucks desperately into the wet of Sherlock's tongue all over the inside of his fist. Twists his hand—his hands—holding, dragging at Sherlock's shirt, which had been—was an hour and a half ago tossed aside dark with sweat on their sodding kitchen floor—

Slapped. Like being—John moans, shudders through it, coming hot-thick through his fingers with Sherlock's open mouth on his mouth, moving: Sherlock's sharp teeth, ragged little breaths.

"Christ," John is gasping, gasps; "Christ."

Sherlock is breathing hard. Silent, pressed close, still; all of a sudden embarrassed, John loosens his right hand from Sherlock's shirt. Smooths it down with his palm, fruitlessly enough.

Sherlock is watching him, very very close, eyes dark. John swallows, thumbs over his bitten-red mouth, and then sits back to look bleakly at the mess he's made of his lap.

"If we're going to keep doing this we'd better start keeping tissues in the living room," John says.

"Dishtowel," Sherlock decides, and pushes up to his feet.

Chapter Text

Sherlock wets the dishtowel before tossing it over—with warm water, even, which John honestly didn't expect. John mops at himself as best he can, then fastens everything back up: the jeans were already a lost cause, and John'd rather not wander about the stairwell with his limp dick hanging out. At least the laptop was out of the flood zone, so it's all right.

Sherlock has ducked back in to fuss and clatter with something in the kitchen, but he comes back just when John is tucking his shut-up laptop under his arm, and shoots John an unreadable look.

"What?" John asks.

"Nothing." Sherlock drops into his chair, rubbing the side of his index finger over his mouth, then reaches for his laptop on the side table. He's adjusted himself, but the line of his erection is still plainly visible through his trousers, and all at once John feels a hard, breathless pull at his breastbone, suddenly aching and overwhelmed. It's a common enough way to feel around Sherlock, but the idea of Sherlock going about for ages ready to pound nails just because he finds it distracting

John swallows, and sets his laptop back down on the coffee table. "Hey," he says, going over; and Sherlock looks back up.

John's buttoned back up, but he still feels weirdly exposed, with Sherlock watching him like that. All the parts of him feel poorly connected when he sits on the edge of his chair. He asks, "Is this all right, truly?"

Sherlock's eyelids lower. Regarding him. "As long as you stop when I say—

"No, I mean." John laughs, a little. He rests his elbows on his knees, leaning forward, and says, "You said that—that orgasms, that masturbation was distracting, right? Took up time, and I..."

John ends up leaving it long enough that he starts to get a little bit irritated that Sherlock doesn't say anything, but he supposes that's unfair.

"I just can't help but notice that you and I've found a bloody efficient way to dispose of our off hours," he finishes, "these past couple days."

Sherlock's mouth quirks, then widens, his face turning down in an utterly pointless attempt to hide that usual ridiculous grin.

"Fine, I mean—" John straightens— "if you're not bothered, I'm not, I just—"

"You're far from 'not bothered'," Sherlock says. "It gets you off."

John pauses. "What, you mean—porn and wanking? Because I've got news for you, Sherlock: that gets most people off."

"No, I mean." Sherlock waves a hand. "Me, I mean."

John feels a low, dangerous tug in his belly. Says, very quietly, "Then I've news for you about that too, I think."

"I meant," Sherlock says, a little too fast, "my little. Foible. Quirk."

John doesn't entirely know how to reply to that.

"You like it," Sherlock says. "It gets you hot."

"Yeah," John says, finally. "It does at that, I reckon."

Sherlock's chin jerks up. "Why?"

It comes out belligerently, and John wonders, really, if he didn't make such a habit of wandering 'round their flat and the various cabs and crime scenes of the greater London area paying attention to Sherlock Holmes, if he'd miss the little pink blush creeping up his throat; if he'd take the tone seriously and say—

"Makes me feel a bit... nostalgic, I suppose," John says, instead.

Sherlock's eyes widen fractionally. "Nostalgic," he echoes.

"Yeah, I mean." John swallows, leans forward in his seat. "Getting to—to touch you, I mean, and to have it be... blocked in at the edges like that."

Sherlock's bottom lip tucks in, a flicker of tongue.

"It's a bit like being a kid again," John says, "isn't it?"

Sherlock looks away, fast; and John swallows and pushes up to his feet: he really does need to go have a shower.

Over in his chair Sherlock's cheeks are busy awkwardly splotching pink. That's like being a kid again too, John thinks; but he supposes he oughtn't to say that.

Chapter Text

John sleeps like the dead and wakes up feeling half-hungover, groggy and disorientated, but it clears by the time he's halfway done with his second cup of tea at the surgery, enough that Rhoda says, "Someone's chipper today."

"Had a good night," John says, shrugging.

"Ah," Rhoda says, taking her next chart from Natalie. "Must happen every now and again, I suppose, even to bastards like us"; and John laughs.

John's still got a spring in his step when he gets back to the flat, late afternoon crisp and cool on the back of his neck as he unlocks the door. Upstairs, he can hear Sherlock lightly murdering the violin: it makes his mouth curve up, something buoyant and fizzing gathering under his ribs. Sherlock sets the violin down in its case by the sofa when John comes in, then rests his elbows on his knees.

"H'lo," John says; and Sherlock says, "Shut the door."

The hair on John's arms prickles up. He shuts the door.

Sherlock nods. Watches him, from the sofa. He's wearing grey jogging bottoms and a soft-looking white t-shirt and his blue dressing gown and his feet are bare, at half seven in the evening, and John might know that Sherlock flops about the flat in his pajamas something better than half the time, when they've nothing properly on, but it feels different now, somehow; a little dangerous.

"Hungry?" Sherlock asks.

John raises an eyebrow. "You're eating this week?"

Sherlock shrugs. "I had a sandwich, earlier." His eyes are sharp. "Just wondering if you needed anything," he says, "before I take what I'm owed."

Swallowing hard. John's fingers locked up: tight-tight-tight.

He forces them back open.

Eventually, John manages, "Six and a half minutes," light, "I think I can wait that long"; and then laughs.

It doesn't sound right.

It takes him a bit to look back up, but when he does, Sherlock is regarding him: birdlike, unreadable. Sherlock looks back down, snapping the violin case shut before pushing up to his feet and taking it over to tuck it underneath his chair.

"To be entirely truthful," Sherlock says—voice all of a sudden careless, as he scrubs a hand through his hair— "I'd rather you lent me a bit more than six and a half minutes," and then angles his body back to face him, backlit blue and white.

Floating open.

John nods. "Yeah," he says, and then laughs, a little. "Honestly," he says, "I'd probably give you anything you want."

Sherlock ducks his chin, half turning. Picks up a pen and then sets it down again, daylight limning the line of his jaw, and says, "Your chair, then, I think."

John goes over to sit down in his chair.

It occurs to John, as he looks up at Sherlock's albatross hovering, that Sherlock is nervous. Sherlock tugs at his hair—which is still a bit wet, John is noticing, with a sudden, electric sensation in his fingertips—and then nudges the ottoman, from which the charred mannequin has been sent packing, over to rest at John's feet. He's tidied up, John realizes, with a strange, fond sort of an ache. He's tidied up, and had a shower, and washed his hair, and has been fidgeting about the flat in his pajamas—for how long? John wonders, as Sherlock sits down at the edge of the ottoman and puts his hands on John's knees, rubbing his long thumbs against John's trouser seams.

"You'll tell me," Sherlock says, "if it's not—if you want me to stop."

John wants to kiss him. "Thought you were going to take your six minutes," he says, instead.

"Six and a half," Sherlock corrects.

"Oh, shut up," John says, mouth tugged up and wider.

Sherlock murmurs, "You can owe me, all right?" as he gets down onto his knees.

His palms are sliding—rubbing, really—petting up John's thighs, and his eyes are terribly wide and pale, blues and yellows and greens that turn muddy and washed-out in this sort of light, and a warm, tender sort of knowing is unlocking in John's chest, sliding his body down into a sprawl-legged slouch, holding the button for Sherlock as Sherlock tugs down his zip. It makes him feel stretched tight, quiet inside, the way it lifts up his hips when Sherlock rubs at his hips; he'd told Sherlock it'd made him feel like a kid, but nothing's made him feel like a kid quite like this. Sherlock leaves his trousers halfway to his knees and noses at him through his boxers, breathing in little careful huffs. John slides his fingers into Sherlock's soft hair, and Sherlock sighs into the crease of his hip.

"All right down there?" John asks, scraping Sherlock's hair off his forehead.

"That's." Sherlock turns his cheek against John's thigh, eyes closed. "Lovely, really."

John tugs at one damp curl, and Sherlock shivers: breathes out hot against cotton and skin. John swallows. Says, "You're not doing half bad yourself," breathless and hushed.

Sherlock gives him a little cotton-rough lick; then, bolder, another: John swallows, drops his head back against his chair, nearly laughing.

"Christ." Looks back down, thumb at the shell of Sherlock's ear. Sherlock puts his mouth over the half-slipped flies of John's boxers and breathes out hot and wet and damp, and John swallows hard. "I swear to you I'm not usually so quick off the mark," he says, breathless, "but you'd better—"

Sherlock pulls back, leaning against the ottoman, which—predictably—slides. John catches his wrists, holds him steady.

"That," Sherlock says, looking very cross, "was not at all graceful." He resettles his weight more steadily, his hands back on John's knees. "Sorry."

John licks his lips. "I'm not certain if you've noticed, Sherlock, but you could be toppling off a unicycle in a clown suit and I'd still want to fuck you blind."

Sherlock snorts, and then starts to laugh—giggling, really; and then kneels forward again, tugging—so John goes—to get John to the edge of the chair, easing his—arse up—boxers down and then giving him a long wet lick, and John sighs.

"Better, uh." John swallows. "Take it easy, yeah? Or you're going to..." Sherlock's lashes flick, looking up, and John brushes a thumb across them, soft and clean.

"Slow," Sherlock echoes, and then taps his knuckles to nudge John's thighs wider, and nuzzles down to his balls.

John tucks his elbow over his face, breathing deep.

In the dark Sherlock's mouth is careful and pliant, the sticky drag of his lips between licking at him soft and quick hot honey dripping down-down-down John's bones; and then Sherlock licks him firmer, longer, and John bites back a groan. Sherlock gets his hand around him and tongues up to his thumb and then back all the way down, John half levitating out of the chair as he moans. John drops his arm—shit. Looks back up at the ceiling, breathing deep deep deep: brain buzzing with black hair and static as Sherlock pulls up, rubs over his last sloppy kiss, just under John's balls.

"Do you like it?" Sherlock asks, petting—down—

"Yeah," John sighs, knees falling wide. "Yeah, I—yeah." Watching Sherlock's intent face as Sherlock nods and says, "Get your feet up, then," and John snorts.

"You planned this?" Heels up on the ottoman, just at Sherlock's back, while Sherlock gives him his patented Don't be an idiot, John look; different, somehow, with two fingers in his mouth. Prickling all over, John wants to laugh; "You dirty fuck," he murmurs, but the way his voice comes out just makes his face hot.

In reply Sherlock rubs his two slick fingers over John's arsehole, bends back down to lick hot and good just under his hand still hard on the root of John's cock. John's legs twitch. Breathing deep. Sherlock pets at him, stroking; dips only just in, as though John is not already opening up relentlessly for all of him all over while Sherlock kneels between his sprawled-out thighs and sucks on his aching balls. Sherlock's not doing anything that'll actually get him off, but John's still inferno-red with it, dripping all over his belly, and when Sherlock pulls back, leans up to look at him, John chews on his own bottom lip, desperate not to close his eyes. Sherlock bends back down, spits against him: thick, and John already red-faced shuddering, gasping as Sherlock works it in licks up the whole length of him lips slack and parted, Christ—John'd give his left attention-lavished nut to get his cock in that pink mouth. Instead Sherlock gives him a chaste little kiss that has John shovingforward hips and then Sherlock licks down and then fucking finally oh—h— "hh—sodding Ch—fuck!—" as Sherlock curls his fingers deep into him licking—little kittenish—tongue and then Jesus, mouth wetslick and warm and then—

"Why, why are you stopping," John gasps, helpless, as Sherlock pulls back off; but Sherlock, that bastard, just bends back down to return to licking happily at his balls while John grabs at Sherlock's hair and whines. Doesn't change a thing: Sherlock huffs: hot-wet and close; and Sherlock nuzzles against him, prickling and hot; and Sherlock's cheek rubs on his thigh—God—as Sherlock pets, melting inside him—rubs at John's aching cock and sucks on his aching balls—tongues down hot-hard to his two curling fingers— "Sh—hngh—" —quick jackknifing up—lips onlyjust sliding hotwettight

John squirms—pinned, still shuddering—but gentle, gentling: soft, sweet. John is breathing hard; swallows and swallows; for a long, long time, Sherlock keeps him in his mouth.

John pets at his hair, scratches at his scalp. Under the white t-shirt and the dressing gown Sherlock's shoulders hunch up.

"Hey," John says, shifting; Sherlock pulls back, a long shining strand of saliva gleaming between them, and then snapped. John tucks Sherlock's hair back, murmurs, "Come up here, yeah?"

Sherlock swallows, gets a foot under him as John sits up and drags at the ottoman with the top of his foot, leaning forward, nearly bumping Sherlock's chest. John's hands on his shoulders Sherlock sits, and John's palms slide up to his cheeks.

"Hey," John repeats; but Sherlock mercifully refrains from commenting on his deathless conversation, and lets John tug him into a kiss.

They kiss, John thinks, for quite some time.

"That was all right," Sherlock says at last, very close. John's thumb on his jaw, petting up-down, up-down.

John nods. "That was great," he murmurs. He's so soft. Must've just shaved.

Sherlock pulls back, stretches over to the side table, angles up his mobile. "Twenty-one minutes," he says, sliding the ottoman out and getting to his feet.

John scrubs at his face, grinning. "You're such a prick."

Chapter Text

John makes himself a stir-fry and offers Sherlock half. Sherlock declines, but makes two cups of tea and then hovers around and at the table and, trying, not very effectively, to explain the chain of muddled police reasoning that lead to a Chelsea mother of three to being implicated in some sort of insurance fraud up north, in which she had been in no way involved.

"And now Dodson won't leave off bothering me about straightening out her underlings, says she's got too much to do." Sherlock sighs. "I wouldn't mind so much if it weren't so hopelessly straightforward."

John chews and swallows. "Yeah," he says, reaching for his cup, "sounds it"; and Sherlock makes his constipated-owl exasperated face at him, across the tops of their tea.

He trails after to the kitchen when John goes to do the washing up, too, and John realizes—ought to've sooner, probably—that Sherlock isn't doing anything but shadowing John about their flat, in that awkward, slightly uncertain way that Sherlock learned (John doesn't want to know how) while he was away. Sherlock stands too close to John by the sink and does the drying up without prompting, so it's probably more traumatizing than usual; John just scrubs at the pan from the stir-fry and doesn't say anything about it. Either Sherlock will come around to mentioning whatever's boiling up inside his massive labyrinthine brain or he won't, and there's not much John can do about it in either case. John scrubs out the sink and dries his hands, then turns—

Sherlock takes one quick step and boxes him back up against the edge of the sink.

John doesn't move. Couldn't, probably, without putting in some eff—his heart is picking up. Pinned between Sherlock's braced arms, hands pressed to the sink just by John's hips, John lifts his head, squares his jaw: Sherlock just stares at him, standing far too close, all his chins rumpled up as he looks down at John from about ten centimeters away, close enough to be blurry if John tries to look at both sides of his face at once.

"You always want to kiss," Sherlock says.

His voice is low and weirdly tense.

He's not wrong: John does like kissing, he likes kissing him; he liked Sherlock's soft scratchy-edged lips on their sofa and the way that Sherlock's breathing went funny when John licked at the phantom hope of the taste of his come inside Sherlock's pink mouth. That single close-lipped kiss just here in their kitchen, the memory suddenly aching and regretful. John'd liked that one, too.

John asks, "Is that... not okay?"

Sherlock is standing almost painfully close. Warm and soft all over, in his sleeping clothes: John flushes all over hot. When Sherlock bends closer, John has to force his knees and wrists and elbows locked, hold himself stiff with his hands by his sides because all he wants to do is push Sherlock back and then back and then back against the table against the wall through the door into Sherlock's bedroom and out onto that vast white-sheeted bed to sprawl their bodies tangled together with his hands in all that hair and kiss and kiss and kiss. He doesn't. He holds himself stiff and straight with his hands in fists, and Sherlock breathes out hot against his temple. His cheek. Brushes his nose across John's right eyebrow, and John closes his eyes.

Sherlock nuzzles the side of John's nose. Beneath his eye. Across the tugging, sensitive scrape of his stubble, just missing — his — mouth, Christ— and then up and into his hair with a quick sticky brush of his damp lips, tantalizing; and then inhales against his ear.

John shivers, helpless, only just tilting his head—and Sherlock sighs, soft, and drops his head down, pressing the whole of his face to John's throat.

"No," Sherlock whispers, buzzing John's blood, "it's all right"; and John lifts his hands slowly, and then rests them on Sherlock’s back.

Chapter Text

The full significance of Sherlock's invocation of the mysterious case of the Chelsea mother of three doesn't become apparent until Thursday, when, having spent all of Wednesday evening alone in the flat, feeling itchy and peculiar for no reason he could pin down, then waking up to perfect quiet and his laptop exactly as he left it in the living room and Sherlock's bedroom door still cracked open a careful five degrees, John finally puts two and two together: Dodson's in Manchester, and Sherlock hates Manchester in that particular way that means that whenever he goes up he at least stays the night, just so he'll have something to properly complain about when he gets back.

How're the underlings? John texts, on his way to the surgery; and at just past four, Sherlock replies, Tomorrow, possibly late, in that way he has of cutting right down to the squirming blushing heart of what John didn't entirely realize he actually means.

After his shift John scrubs out the fridge and does two loads of laundry, remakes his bed with hospital corners and then has an only-very-slightly-cross conversation with Harry and then replies to all the comments on his blog, which leaves him fidgeting in his chair at half nine and realizing that he's spent the evening wishing that Sherlock were there so they could either go out and investigate some grisly sort of murder, or fool around on the sofa; and that he's not all that particular about which. He sinks down into his seat, kicks his feet up onto the ottoman, and pulls out his mobile: nothing.

It's thirty-four minutes past nine, John notes.

He scratches at the underside of his jaw.

The whole business of Sherlock's six and a half minutes. John shifts, uncomfortable: he knows Sherlock just said it to get a rise out of him, truly; his stamina is perfectly fine. It's a bit hard to prove it, though, when he's tossing off in the middle of their living room and Sherlock's fully dressed watching him from the sofa with those knife-edge eyes: anyone'd be a little bit quick off the mark like that, John thinks. Anyone at all. He drops his head back in the chair. Surely it must be longer than six and a half minutes—not on his own, maybe, not—not even usually, perhaps; but he's so often in a hurry, trying to do it quick and quiet in his morning shower or after another abbreviated date or before Sherlock realizes that John is lying awake but not getting up and bounds up the stairs to barge in and sit on his bed and stare at him until John figures out how to ease his hand out of his pants in a way that looks casual and joins in with whatever it is that Sherlock's on about on that particular day. But when there's a reason to hold off, John's perfectly capable of making it last, far longer than six and a half bloody minutes, Christ. He's not fifteen, is he?

He chews on his bottom lip, and then picks up his phone.

Fine. Sitting in his chair, then; that's fine. It's not like he's never done it there before. Sometimes Sherlock goes out for quite a while and besides, can't a grown man have a wank in his own bloody living room? It's like having Coco Pops for dinner or not wearing socks under your shoes: if you can't get away with it every now and again, what's the point of being an adult, anyway? The last time John'd found himself in this position Sherlock had been gone for a week and a half, sending him a string of increasingly arcane texts at approximately three-hour intervals that indicated that he was almost certainly somewhere in the jungle, probably being shot at, and possibly being forced to wrestle a geographically-improbable bear, at which point John had rung Mycroft even though it was two in the morning, put on some sort of insomniac rubbish on the telly, and then masturbated furiously in the (largely fruitless, as it turned out) hope that it would shut off his brain. Better, John thinks, to do it like this: sprawled out in his chair thinking about Sherlock on his knees with his head between his thighs. Nicer. Rubbing at the base of his belly, already hot through his jeans. If he'd planned for this, which he hadn't, he would've gone up to his room for the lube—and he could, he realizes. Why shouldn't he?

He pauses the stopwatch, and takes the steps two at a time up the stairs.

When he sits back down and picks up his mobile, his hands are damp, a little. He's already ramped up, a bit: probably oughtn't to restart it. Probably ought to've left it running. But—well. Scientific method and all that: John closes his eyes and breathes: in, out, in, out, deep. Deep. His hands are steady. He resets the stopwatch, starts it running again. Relaxes into his chair and thinks about nothing: just his own hand on his belly. On his flies. He rubs, a little. Not hard. Sherlock doesn't think it counts, but Christ: John's diaphragm already feels high up, wobbling a little, just from rubbing himself through his jeans. Maybe Sherlock doesn't do that. He treats all those expensive trousers like a uniform: maybe he thinks it'd ruin the lines. Or maybe he doesn't want to have to explain anything to the dry cleaners; not anything at all. It'd been hard to tell, really. How wet he'd got. John'd not got Sherlock's pants off, and his cock was nudging out but there was so much else of him, his pale belly and those lean white thighs, and John hadn't—he hadn't been paying attention, really; hadn't got his mouth on him, so he doesn't know if it'd been skin mostly or if there'd been anything else, much, thick and shining, to really properly taste

Sherlock had done.

Sherlock'd got his mouth on him. Sherlock'd gone right down between John's legs and—and John'd held the button, hadn't he? so he holds the button, and undoes the zip slowly, with his right hand. Christ, he's hard: fucking pounding for him already; had been lightheaded, nearly, with Sherlock's cheek resting high up on his thigh. John swallows and undoes the button, too. Blood pounding in the palms of his hands. He shoves everything down to the tops of his thighs, reaches for the lube. He wonders if Sherlock does it with lube: real lube, the good stuff, the sort you don't know much about when you're—what, he must've been seventeen? eighteen? Christ. Twenty years, aching: John'd been such a bastard, at eighteen. On the sofa Sherlock'd licked John's palm good and wet, hadn't he. Probably does it like that, still. Gives himself a couple good licks and then pets at himself a little, brings himself right to the edge, and then—what? Inventories his little mental rogues' gallery of murderers? Recites the periodic table? Calculates pi?

John can't picture it, but he wants to. Wants to see Sherlock, shirt open, kneeling up and shivering, petting at those pink lovely splotches on his throat and his ribs; wants to lick at his rosy nipples while Sherlock gasps and whines with his trousers barely open fucking a half-dry fist because no one's ever showed him how good it can be when you do it right, lube squelching through the sides of John's fingers as he gets them around Sherlock's fingers, dripping—down, getting all over his pushed-aside trunks and his barely-open trousers, probably—probably'd make John take them to the cleaners, and John wouldn't even care, not with—with Sherlock's fingers, his long sensitive fingers, tangled-tangling up with John's wet fingers, John's chest aching fit to break as he nuzzles over Sherlock's patchy stubble and tongue-kisses him panting and wet; pressing their foreheads together, biting Sherlock's bottom lip, as they touch him both together wet and hot and slick. John'd have to do it right-handed, or they'd bump wrists; so he does it right-handed: arches up shoving into his fist like Sherlock'd shove into their fists, restless and helpless, panting with it, probably—probably blushing all over, bright and red, hot as John mouths deliriously at his clavicles and the sweat-salty underside of his ears, clinging desperately to John's shoulders—no, Sherlock'd never do anything desperately, not like that, but he'd—he might—perhaps he might let himself claw at John's back while John fisted his left hand in his hair, dragged—dragged his head back, a bit—so he could bite—bite, and then lick, and then suck; possibly he could—could let John tug—or pet, really, stroke his soft hair; leave stinging-scraping soft-rubbed kisses up a path to his pink mouth. Would touch John, maybe, with those clever hands; leave John's fist firm and steady around him to pet long lube-slick prints up arms throat jaw thumb-pulling-prizing to slip three long fingers root-deep into John's mouth and John, John would—would just—just fucking suck—and suck—and suck

John groans as he comes: can't help it, harsh and loud. He bites down on his lip, breathing hard through his nose. Swallows, and breathes, and swallows.

His whole body feels limp. Poured out. All over his fist and his jeans—fuck. He would lie there sticky and shuddering but he has to—he grabs at his mobile and smacks at the screen.

The stopwatch says, 06:27:98.

"God damn it," says John.

Chapter Text

John's half asleep when Sherlock gets in on Friday—on the sofa, trying fruitlessly to finish his terrible novel.

Sherlock drops his bag on the floor. "Are you still reading that?"

"Harry recommended it," John reminds him.

"Oh, so she's got terrible taste as well as being—"

John says, "Hey, do I insult your brother? Oh wait"; and Sherlock snorts and comes over, plops down practically on top of John's shins, staring down at his face. John reaches over to drop his book on the coffee table and sits up facing him. "How was Manchester?"

"Oh, you know, beastly weather, annoying people," Sherlock says. "Manchester, essentially. Dodson's got this woman working for her, fancies herself a regular Vidocq." He pauses, then says, "But Mrs. Jameson's been released."

He is, John notes, still looking at John's mouth.

A half-dozen replies spring into John's mind, but most of them might as well be lifted directly from an inferior class of porno; and none of them are really quite what he wants to say, besides.

He tucks in his foot. "So you're glad to be home, then," he says, finally.

Sherlock nods, and John laughs. "What?" Sherlock asks, chins crumpling offendedly, but John shakes his head.

Sherlock is sitting forward on the sofa, his body turned, but when John kneels up and leans towards him he unbends. "All right?" John asks, brushing his fingertips over Sherlock's cheek; and up-down, up-down, Sherlock swallows and nods.

John kisses him. Sherlock's mouth is rough at the edges. He smells a bit like spearmint and cigarettes, doesn't taste like anything but his slick familiar tongue. The position's awkward, kneeling up on the wobbling-squashing unstable sofa cushions with Sherlock twisted towards him, face angled up; and his hand falls suddenly on John's back and it would be so easy to—John could—if sliding over to sit across his thighs—

John pulls back, neck aching, and laughs. "This'd be easier lying down," he admits.

He watches Sherlock's face shift around.

"Is that—" Just across from Sherlock his bag on the carpet and past that the kitchen and beyond that his angled-open bedroom door—John licks his swollen bottom lip. "If, could we—on the sofa, I mean, would that be all right?"

"Is there room?" Sherlock's voice is rough already: Christ.

"Yeah, it'll be—just—come on," as John pushes his coat off Sherlock's shoulders, tugs as he pulls his arms free. Sherlock gets up to toss it over the back of John's chair at the table, and when he comes back to stand by the sofa, eyes glittering, looking down, John realizes he's just where Sherlock left him; that an awful lot of the past week has involved him in front of Sherlock, on his knees. His skin burns and shrivels, but he doesn't move, does he. Sherlock toes off his shoes and sits back down on the sofa, body turning towards him in an angled, listing-open "V" as he leans back in with his eyes still mostly open and licks the corner of John's mouth. John slides his hand 'round the back of Sherlock's neck, scratching through his wisps of hair; and Sherlock wriggles his leg up onto the cushions, elbow down hand up, tugging John down over him as John holds onto the back of the sofa lowering himself down, and tries not to let anyone get kneed in the groin.

Christ, he's warm.

John exhales, tucking his face down against Sherlock's neck, breathing deep, and Sherlock inhales sharply, stretching underneath him. John turns to kiss him again, elbow braced by Sherlock's head and Sherlock's long arms wrapping hesitantly around his back. Sherlock is moaning before John even realizes he's grinding down: "Sorry, sorry," John gasps, but Sherlock shakes his head over and over, gasping, "No, no—" pressing up— "ungh—" and John's skin shivers to life all over as he shoves them together shoulders to ankle, legs interleaved.

"Christ," Sherlock gasps, and then digs his hand in between them, claws at the button at the base of John's breastbone, then just gives up and reaches down to grab hold of the hem of John's vest instead, yanking it up and the shirt with it while John struggles to get his cuffs unbuttoned and the collar undone enough so that Sherlock can drag his lot up over his head. John squirms back down against him, Sherlock licking at his jaw while John paws helplessly at his chest, gets his shirtfront open enough to press them together skin to skin, blood-hot and smooth and God, John wants him, every inch. He kneels up, puts his hands on Sherlock's flies: Sherlock whines, arching his hips up, lets John pull his trousers down his long wiry legs. John touches the softest bit of his belly, just above the waistband of his trunks, watching Sherlock's flushed face, and Sherlock nods. Helpless. Hot all over. John bends down, presses his face to Sherlock's abdomen, and then dips his fingers in, and eases Sherlock's pants down while Sherlock does the opposite of helping, trying to kick them off across his black socks, his long ungainly feet.

John's bare back is already prickling and clammy with sweat. He settles back down carefully, keeping his weight against Sherlock's side. Leans to kiss him—again—again—Sherlock's mouth is so hot inside. John touches his whorled ears, his throat; strokes at his hollow cup of clavicle and trapezius, and when Sherlock gasps, hot into John's mouth, John pulls back burning all over, bends to follow his fingertips with his tongue.

"Oh, hell," Sherlock mumbles, and then digs his head back into the cushions and moans.

This close to his armpit Sherlock is all John can smell: he nuzzles down and closer, nuzzles in: across the soft skin just at the junction of torso and arm; into his sparse wiry fur, salty and fragrant and, like his beard, lighter than it seems it ought to be: damp and reddish and brown. Sherlock squirms like a fish underneath him, gasping: "Ticklish?" John asks, muffled.

"What are you doing," Sherlock groans.

"You smell. Great." John breathes in-in-in. Belly deep. "Should I stop?"

"I," Sherlock gasps, then higher, "no," arching his hips up-up, his erection brushing John's jeans, and Christ, that must sting, mustn't it? John undoes them while he kisses across Sherlock's ribs. "Yes," Sherlock moans, and shoves his hands down John's pants: John laughs against his sternum, and then promptly falls half off the sofa trying to get his jeans off. Sherlock grabs at his hips, steadying him: and John has a vivid flash of shoving his cock up alongside Sherlock's, sweaty and slick—

"All right," John says, inhaling. Toes splayed on the carpet. "You're right, too small." John bends down to kiss him, throat jaw mouth, and then stumbles up onto unsteady feet and kneels down.

"On the floor?" Sherlock says, with an uncertain sort of interest, as John wriggles the rest of the way out of his pants.

"I just hoovered," John explains, and half-falling sideways with too many arms and knees, he tugs Sherlock down.

As soon as Sherlock stretches out against him it feels different. The carpet is rough but Sherlock isn't: hot blood smooth skin hard muscle and moving, eeling all that long stretch of his body up against John's with their knees sliding together as Sherlock presses his palms into long trails down John's back. Sherlock does get wet, John notes: not as wet as John, not by half, but the tip of Sherlock's cock is already leaving a sticky kiss against the hollow of John's hip, tucked flush. John swallows, kneeling up: already too hot. Bends down for Sherlock's throat, Sherlock's chest, the dark coral peaks of his nipples; Christ, squirming and arching for John's mouth more eagerly than most girls. John licks over the line of his bottom ribs, nuzzles back up under his arm: Sherlock jerks underneath him, digs his hand into John's hair. Shoving him down, John notes, with a hot, possessive flush, pulling John close: John pushes Sherlock's elbow up and then closes his teeth on Sherlock's armpit wiry hair and then tugs, and Sherlock gasps, "Ah, f-fuck—" arcing-livewire and shoving his prick up through nothing to rub against John's bare thigh.

What I want to do to you, John thinks; and says, "I want to kiss you all over"; and Sherlock moans.

John wriggles back; down; drags his mouth over the soft tender skin of Sherlock's side and abdomen, slips his tongue into the tart complicated hollow of his bellybutton. Sherlock is making low, soft noises, hips shifting up-down eager and restless: John pins them down. Opens his mouth over the jut of Sherlock's hipbone, tacky-bitter with precome and salty with sweat, while Sherlock's erection slaps against his chin. Sherlock cries out, pushes John's head down: John sucks, hard. Under him Sherlock moans and shivers and moans. All day tomorrow Sherlock probably—probably in meetings with illustrious clients or down at Scotland Yard haranguing the police, with his right hip dark-purple and tender with John's teeth. John pulls off, Sherlock's hand slipping over temple and cheek. Sherlock is looking down at him flushed red and splotchy with his left hand splayed on his chest and John swallows, thick.

"You touch yourself like that?" he asks, thick. "Left-handed?"

John watches Sherlock's throat work. His glittering eyes.

"So it feels like someone else?" John asks, and then bends down heart pounding to lick at the crease of Sherlock's thigh. "So it feels like me?" John rasps; and Sherlock says, "Yes."

John squeezes his eyes shut tight. Breathes deep.

Sherlock's fingers fall soft into his hair, and John rubs like a cat into his palm. John bends down, careful, and licks a single thick stripe up Sherlock's cock, then looks up.

"I can't take much of that," Sherlock admits, and John bends back down. Sherlock had got his mouth on him, had kissed; so John bends down and gives him a kiss. Pets at his thighs, another, another: the base of his penis, his scrotum, just under his balls; and Sherlock is drawing his leg up, hesitant, slow. John strokes up the back of Sherlock's leg, eases his thigh towards his chest, and then bends in to kiss at the tender back of his knee: soft, slow. Sherlock gasps, his other thigh twitching, so John nudges that one up, too.

"Hold onto that for me," John says, kneeling between Sherlock's spread pulled-up and curling stocking feet. Helpless. John bends and kisses the knot of his ankle, then peels down his black socks. His heart is pounding so hard his hands are shaking. He pets at the ball of Sherlock's twitching foot, rubs over his big toe: his nose prickles on the inside. He bends down to kiss the top of Sherlock's angular arches, with Sherlock lying bright-red and panting with his knees pulled up and his cock hard between them but somehow John wants—John wants—

Face burning he gets down on his elbows in between Sherlock's thighs and licks down over his scrotum and the velvety-furred skin behind, and Sherlock says, "ohmygod," words tripping all into each other so low it buzzes John's mouth as John thumbs at his soft soft skin, and then kisses him wet and open-mouthed, in between his cheeks.

"John," Sherlock gasps, lightning-shocked, and John eases back.

"Too much?" he asks, rough.

Sherlock's hands are white-knuckled under his knees. "I, I don't know."

John licks at his lips—tastes— "Can I do it again," he says, a little too fast, "and you can tell me?"; and swallowing audible, Sherlock says, "Yeah."

John bends back down, kisses the tender little crease between Sherlock's buttock and thigh—and Sherlock jerks and gasps, "Stop, stop," and John closes his eyes.

He gets back up on creaking knees, as Sherlock presses his long feet back down hard against their carpeted floor.

John watches Sherlock. Red, sweat shining. Eyes shut tight as he swallows and swallows with his erection dripping onto his belly. John shoves down every idiotic thing he is full of swimming inside, and then eases himself down onto the carpet by Sherlock's bent up right arm. Lies on his side. Almost close enough to be touching, but not quite.

After a moment, Sherlock says, "I missed you."

It comes out low, rough and honest; and John says, "So take me with you, next time."

Sherlock laughs, rubs at his forehead. "So you could be subjected to Manchester as well, then?"

"I'm just that good of a friend." John licks at his lips, tasting nothing. Aches. "Can I kiss you, or—"

Sherlock laughs and squints open one eye. "If you kiss me right now I'm going to end up fucking you through the floor," he says, sounding embarrassed.

John doesn't think it'd be a kindness to say what he's thinking, so he doesn't say anything at all.

Sherlock's mouth twists, soft and rueful. He reaches over and touches John's wrist on the carpet between them; John turns his palm up, and interlaces their hands.

Chapter Text

Instead of private clients or the police, they end up spending the weekend running errands for Mycroft: looking into a high-profile and (apparently) baffling data breach at a materials corporation in Greenford that drags them all over the city for twenty-eight hours straight, lands John waist-deep in the Thames, and then ends with them huddled out of the line of fire behind a minicab, John and Greg both holding Sherlock down by his hair and ridiculous coat while Greg shouts at John about of all the times for you to forget that bloody gun! Then Mycroft's latest icily gorgeous assistant turns up to tase three of the gunmen and supervise while Greg arrests the lot, and John goes home and has a bath.

He wakes up on Monday morning feeling wretched, but he's got a shift at the surgery, and 2012 was a brutal enough reproach for his history of implicitly considering that his hobby and this his job that he drags himself through a shower and a poorly brewed cup of coffee, no matter how he feels. Then he lumbers down to the surgery to drink four cups of tea; listen to Natalie exclaim about her weekend; try not to reflect upon the bizarrely electric cognitive dissonance of shoving Sherlock's head down while accompanied by a Scotland Yard detective and being shot at by criminals; and exchange an infected eyebrow piercing for Rhoda's third case of the clap in a week, this one in the throat of an extremely embarrassed sixteen-year-old called Julian: John doesn't much envy the pupils at Southbank Westminster, all undoubtedly due for uncomfortable chats with their parents this week. John sends the boy on his way with a prescription for antibiotics and a lecture on condom use about which John can be bothered to feel only marginally hypocritical, then buzzes for Natalie to send the next one in.

It's rote but all in all not really all that especially terrible, but as soon as he stumbles up to his lunch break, he still pushes all his charts to one side and puts his forehead down on his desk. He will say this for sex on the regular: Saturday night aside, he's been sleeping better. It makes the grotty terribleness of more than a day on his feet all that much worse, after it's come to an end.

John sighs. Straightens up, rubs at his face. He ought to catch up on his charting, have another cup of tea, eat the tired-looking prawn sandwich he'd grabbed at Sainsbury's on his way in. Sherlock's probably still passed out on his face bundled up in nothing but sheets on his rumpled white bed, lucky bastard. He'll probably not get up until John gets in, then lounge about their living room half-naked and unapologetic. Even if he's been awake for—

John shuts that line of thinking down right off. Laughs at himself. He's got forty-nine minutes until his next patient—a particularly curmudgeonly old bastard who always takes time out of his day to glare at Rhoda and will inevitably, at some point in his appointment with John, use the phrase "real men"—and John'll need well over half of his break for his charting, and probably the rest to will himself to eat his dreadful sandwich. The last thing he needs is to be thinking about Sherlock stretching out, slow and sleepy, and—John grinds his teeth. Yanks the cap off a biro, and reaches for Julian's chart. There. P-H-A-R-Y-N-G-E-A-L G-O-N-O-R-R-H-E-A, spelled out in careful block letters; and it's enough to let him work steadily through the four patients following before fetching his lunch and a bit of kitchen roll from the listing stack of minifridge, kettle, and microwave tucked behind Natalie's desk; then goes back to his own, without much enthusiasm. Nothing quite like a case of VD to put you off everything, he thinks, peeling listlessly at the sandwich's packaging; prawn sandwiches, as it turns out, and all. He goes back to his charting, tries to think about anything but his food while he eats.

His mobile buzzes. He stuffs a bite of sandwich in between his teeth and wipes his hands before digging it out: Couldn't've used a day off? Sherlock asks, and John rolls his eyes.

Wouldn't need one, John sends back, if you hadn't run me ragged over my weekend.

There's quite a pause after that, before Sherlock texts back: Do you consider that running you ragged?

John pauses, then finishes his lunch. Goes out. Washes his hands, makes another cup of tea. He brings it to Natalie, and leans his head close to hers behind her desk.

"Listen," he says. "Is Williamson here yet?"

"No, and everyone's been running late, today." She smiles, blindingly bright; and John forces down the urge to take a half-step back. "Why, bored already? Don't let Rhoda know, you'll never get another hour break."

"No, no," John says. "It's just, I've got a bit behind on paperwork. Do you think you could fend him off for a few minutes? Give me a bit of a chance to catch up?"

"Of course," Natalie beams. She's a student in some arts program or another, goes in for acting, and she makes it very hard to forget; John laughs, a little, awkwardly.

"Right." John gives her his best go at a smile, and slides off back towards his office. "Thanks."

He pushes the door almost to the jamb behind him—not closed; he doesn't dare, not without a patient to see and Rhoda about: she'd notice that right quick. I'm at *work*, John texts back, his back up against the door; and then scrubs at his hair, heads back to his desk, and grimly flips open the next chart.

There's a significant pause before his mobile buzzes again: As observed. But I, you know, am not.

John glances up at the crack of his office door: the voices in reception, yellowing light. You're an incredible bastard, you know that, right?

Busy, Sherlock texts back.

The reply's come so quickly that John squirms in his seat. He can't entirely picture it, but his brain's giving it a good try: Sherlock curled up in his bed, soft and sleepy, petting at himself, nowhere in particular to go—

John types out, Show me: shaking hands. Drops his mobile on his desk. Glances at the crack of his door, inhaling deep: scrubs his palm down his flies.

His mobile chimes.

John picks it up. Sherlock Holmes, it says, slide to reply, beside a thumbnail—John squints—skin, white sheets—

He unlocks his mobile, expands the image, full-screen: it's Sherlock's hand, unquestionably, but it still takes John a moment to realize what he's looking at: Sherlock's right hand is half-curled, the sheet bumping up tellingly against the curve of his index finger—but then again, tucked into the curve of his middle finger, just behind.

John's face catches fire.

He drops his mobile, shoves open his jeans. Gets his hand down them, fast, gets himself out and thumbs out, Thinking of me? and sends it before he can think better of it, biting down on his lip and wondering what Sherlock's getting up to, well and truly, home and all by himself: if he's just got his toy out because he likes its heft in his hand, or if he's been doing anything else. John wonders if Sherlock licks and sucks at it—God knows he's good with his mouth—or if he's been spending all those long pointed silences shut up in his room that John'd put down to him being in a strop just fucking himself with it slow and wet and careful, or just—if he can handle it better if he's only rubbing it against himself. Not really. Properly going in—John's hand blurs, mobile chimes; voices out in reception, Natalie's chirpy, "Mr. Williamson!"—Christ—and Sherlock's snapped his hand on his chest with his right nipple—fuck—pinched bright-red and peaked against the edge of his pinkie and said Yes, and he's probably—probably finished off getting as far as he can with his hand around both of them, has moved on to—to easing down to nudge the head at his arsecheeks, his balls—and probably, probably John could lie all over his back and just rub up against him, probably Sherlock'll be loose and—and friendly, always is, just after a case, and if John'd known all this time that it'd meant he could shove him down flat on his face and fuck his tender white thighs—

John comes. His knee bangs into the underside of his desk: he's bit his lip half-bloody. He wipes at himself heart pounding and horrified with the bit of kitchen roll he'd got from his receptionist's fake office kitchenette and Christ, Christ, what was John fucking thinking, in an office where none of the windows open more than a crack with Natalie already clicking up to his door and calling, "Let me just check!" while John shoves himself back into his pants and yanks his zip up and drops the wadded-up ball of kitchen roll in the bin.

Natalie sticks her head in.

John smiles. "Past my purgatorial limit, am I?"

She smiles back, apologetic. "Mr. Williamson's got a meeting with his solicitor at half two."

"All right, all right." John folds up his charts and elbows his mobile in to his top desk drawer, Sherlock Holmes, slide to reply— "Send him on in."

Her expression's gone a bit curious; confused, almost. "What were you eating?" she asks.

"Ah, dreadful, isn't it?" John gives her a carefully sheepish shrug. "Prawn sandwich. Sainsbury's. You know."

Chapter Text

John takes the stairs two at a time and slams the front door behind him, but the gesture's wasted: living room's empty. A bit of the fight goes out of him. The flat's headed towards a bit of a cheerful mess again already: a stack of books on the table; the violin in Sherlock's chair; a long row of John's checked shirts folded oddly with their right sleeves up, and then laid out in a row on the coffee table, the arms smeared with what looks like varying proportions of dirt and drying blood.

"Sherlock?" John calls, and then flushes, reaching out to pick up—

"Not yours, bought them," Sherlock says, just behind him, and John jumps, turning. "It wasn't an emergency," Sherlock explains. "And blood never properly comes out."

"Well, thanks," John says, a little off-balance.

"That is yours," Sherlock says, glancing down, and John's fingers tighten on his lube. "You left it on the side table. Terribly careless. What must I think of you."

John swallows. "Well, since you've been texting me wank pictures at work—"

"I think you've got the dreadful taste to masturbate with mediocre water-based lube," Sherlock interrupts, "entirely inexcusable—unless of course you were fucking yourself with something silicone in your armchair, in which case, Super Slik's rubbish but by all means tell me more," and John's back thumps against the back of the door.

"You've not got any room to talk," John says. He hadn't even noticed them moving. He's still holding his lube— "I ought to make that photo show up whenever you ring me, liven things up when we're at Scotland Yard."

"Hm." Sherlock is tucking his knee between John's thighs and pressing up—John sucks in a breath. "In this scenario," Sherlock asks, "why, precisely, would I be calling you, if we're at Scotland Yard?"

His breath is buzzing John's cheek. "To watch my face, most likely," John says, breathless. "When my mobile pops up with a picture of you wanking through a sheet."

"Liked that, did you," Sherlock murmurs, and bends down to nuzzle at John's ear.

"Yeah, I—" John swallows, laughs. "Having to get off in my desk chair before I was fit to see patients, I'd think that qualifies as 'liking it', y—" and Sherlock interrupts him, slick-tongued and thick.

John gets his arms around him, what the hell; then grabs his arse, squeezes while Sherlock grinds up against him, hot and hard. The door creaks in its jamb, low and hollow.

"You should tell me." Biting John's lip. "What on earth you were thinking." Pressing the palm of his hand against John between them: "while you were tossing off in your desk chair, looking at pictures of me."

John swallows. Christ. Sherlock's already sucking a kiss into John's throat: pain arcing at the edges, shivery-bright— "Thought about." You doing this, your— "What you'd want to do to me." mouth

"What I'd want to do to you," Sherlock repeats, muffled by John's skin, and then grinds up against him, rolling John's eyes back into his head.

"Yeah—Sher—" John gasping— "nngh—" as Sherlock gets his own trousers open, shoves Johns jeans down his hips, rubs up on John's hip as he gropes John's thickening cock; "You thought about me touching us together," says Sherlock; and John only just manages, "You meant me to"; and Sherlock snarls, "What else?" and John moans. "You think about me getting my fingers up you, while I got us off?" Sherlock asks, hot on his skin, and dizzy John moans, "Yes, yes"; and warmdamp right into his ear Sherlock bites out, "What. Else."

John shudders. "Thought, thought about you—whether you could do it," he gasps as Sherlock lets him go; "Do what?" sharp all over half-whispered; "whether—" John groans. Every thought flown from his mind as Sherlock digs bruises into his hips: "whether, I—can you, what can you do," gasped, whispered, "could I—Christ."

Sherlock presses the whole of his body against him, cock burning against John's skin in the gap of their yanked-open trousers and shoved-down pants. Sherlock's face pressed to John's temple, with John's hands on his arse—pulling

"You spend all that time busily coming up with little tricks to try?" Hot—close—John moans. "Coming up with all the things you could get away with." Sherlock licks a long stripe down his cheek. "Right up until," wet into his jaw, "you caught me off my guard," his mouth, "and made me come?"

Shit. "I," John gasps. Swallows. "Wouldn't, I—it's not as though—"

"I'd reckon you did," Sherlock whispers hot-close. "Reckon you thought about it in your chair, too." Bites at his earlobe, while John arches up onto his toes. "While I was off in Manchester, and you were fucking yourself for everyone in London to watch?"

"Not like." Drowning, dizzy. "That, I."

"So you didn't." Sherlock scrapes his face up John's ear. "Didn't think about what'd really make me lose the thread, did you?"

"I," can't—

"Didn't think about how good you are on your knees, then," rough and sosoclose, "like I haven't heard it all already, living with you," licking—John groans, as Sherlock whispers, "Didn't think about how much better you know you'd be if you just got me to hold onto you and then take it," and kisses up-up-up to John's startled-open flooded mouth— "because you wouldn't do something like that, would you?" breathless. "Think about all the ways," between kisses, "you'd be irresistible."

"I—" John shudders— "Y—no, I didn't—" gasps—

"You wouldn't." Unsteady, half swallowed. "Didn't think about me bending you over something, then. Desperate to fill you up."

"No," John gasps. Hands hard. "No."

"Why not?" Sherlock whispers. "You said you like it."

"I," John blink-blink-swallows, laughs— "I do, I love it, I—"

"So why wouldn't you be thinking about me doing it, then?"

John swallows. "I sh—I didn't—" Swallows and swallows.

"Tell me," Sherlock says, sharp, and grabs at John's jaw; and "Didn't—didn't think—" face tilted up hands spasming down the back of Sherlock's little black pants like key in a lock, John slots into place falls open and gasps, "I—I shouldn't."

"Shouldn't what?" Sherlock's whole solid weight. The creaking door.

John shivers. "Think about—about you," gasping, "like that."

Sherlock tugs his teeth at John's earlobe, then murmurs, "Turn around," and pulls back, and John nearly falls down.

Chapter Text

Sherlock's eyes are hot and sharp while John grabs at the doorknob to hold himself up: gulps for air. "Sherlock," John says; and Sherlock murmurs, "Do you not want to?" and then touches John's cheek: two fingers, then the whole of his long angled hand and his palm. "Or—should you not?"

"I knew what I was signing up for," John says, too fast and a little sharp; and Sherlock says, "That's not what I asked."

John laughs. Sounds a bit mad, really. Sherlock's tongue, Sherlock's bottom lip, Sherlock's hand sliding down John's throat and chest and bare hot groin to cup him, palm him up; chasing the beating blood out to every inch of John's burning skin. "Turn. Around," Sherlock repeats; and John swallows around nothing and then Sherlock squeezes, Christ, and then pulls back so that leaden feet and pasta arms John can struggle to turn himself around. Door cool on his face. Thighs to Sherlock and his hands: John gets his forearms up flat. His legs can barely hold him up. But then Sherlock again pressed up closetight behind him cock sticky-tipped and hard against John's arse, rubbing his nose down John's hairline, ear to nape, pressing himself tight to John's back; John squirms. Sherlock bites at the back of his neck, and John inhales. Coiled up. Spring tight.

"I think," Sherlock murmurs, "you ought to tell me." John shudders, pressing back. "All these things," tongue thickwetwarm-cool, goosebumping up, "that you shouldn't think."

John twists, rubs his forehead on the back of his hand. Sherlock's arm comes up 'round his ribs; face in his hair, breathing in. "I meant," John whispers, "you getting off on it."

Sherlock nods, nose rubbing against John's skull; John's fingers knot. "Shoved into your throat," Sherlock suggests, "balls slapping your chin."

"Oh, Jesus," John mumbles; and Sherlock rubs his cock against the swell of John's arse.

"Of course if I did it like that it'd be terribly tidy," Sherlock says, "you'd barely be able to taste it," and John can hear himself, can hear himself whine: "You certainly," hot in his ear, "oughtn't to think about that."

John gasps, presses the top of his head to the door. Sherlock's palm on his chest, sliding down—petting his belly in ever-lower circles with his other hand on his arse— "Better like this." Sherlock pries him apart—slides into his crack—rubs against him: John bites at the meat of his thumb— "Just consider: me rubbing against you until I can't stand it," Sherlock whispers, "let me soak your back"; and John moans. "Yeah?" Sherlock whispers, and John jerks out a nod: "You thought about that?" and a nod; "Shouldn't though, should you?" and John nods, nods; and then whimpers when Sherlock steps back. "Or me shoved to the root inside you," fingers hard on John's thighs, "shouldn't think about that, should you," shoving John's jeans the rest of the way to his knees: "but you do."

John swallows. "Yeah," he whispers.

Thumbs just under John's arse Sherlock pulls his thighs apart. Nudges his cock just against him and pulls back and John bangs his head into the clattering door.

"Tell me," Sherlock says, low, "just what you shouldn't do."

John swallows. "Shouldn't've—chair—office, fuck"; and Sherlock yanks his hips: John stumbles back, half falling: catching himself with his palm slapped-stinging flat to the wood. Gasping, startled; as Sherlock says, "Seems you've got up to quite the list, of things you shouldn't do."

"I—yeah." John wipes at his face, a slick of sweat. "Yeah."

"Knowing you shouldn't, and doing it anyway," Sherlock says, and John nods, and then Sherlock tugs him out, cants his bare arse up—cold and hot and cold, feet apart arms braced full on display—as Sherlock murmurs, "I've heard of a method or two, for handling boys like you"; and John's skin prickles up all over in a half-second of scalding realization just before Sherlock smacks him hard on the arse.

John gasps. Cheeks flooded hot did he really

"You know how you look?" Sherlock's voice is low and hot. "Right now, like this?"

Burning face hanging down between his flattened hands, arse out still stinging with Sherlock's palm-print, cock jutting hard between his legs and dripping all over their carpet: prickling and unsteady but not uncertain John nods.

Sherlock says, "Tell me what color your face is and I'll stop"; and John swallows. Skin prickled up. Sherlock's palm-print sinking downdowndown through blood muscle bone and "Or," John manages, gasped; and then squeezes his eyes shut tight, shuddering, and presses his forehead to the back of his palm as behind him Sherlock murmurs, "Or tell me all the reasons why I shouldn't stop"; and John groans. Nearly laughs. Doesn't. Manages, "Face down on your bed," instead; and Sherlock gives him a little slap, barely anything, so John blurts out, "Shouldn't be thinking about you bending me up against the door and buggering me 'til Mrs. Hudson comes up to ask us if we could please keep it down," and Sherlock hits him again, bright-blotched pulpy-hot, hard enough to drive his face hard into the door. "Jesus," John gasps, burning up. Sherlock's long cool fingers, John's magma skin—

"Tell me," Sherlock says. "Tell me that you know that you shouldn't." He squeezes—fuck; John's hands in fists and "Shouldn't," ground out, "I know I—"; and Sherlock hits him again. "You—I think," John gasps, "you—desperate, can barely—the top on the lube sticks, so—" and Sherlock's hand comes down on John's arse so hard it ripples down his thighs through his belly into his tight-heavy balls— "rubbing back against you," thick, "until you're so desperate—I. Sherlock."

Sherlock thumbs over the stinging crack of John's arse, pulls him apart— "Too keyed up," Sherlock murmurs, "to even properly work you open"; and "Yeah," John moans, "yeah, I—do it, Christ—" and Sherlock rubs the dry tip of his finger over him prickling awake and then smacks him hard flat-handed bone-deep twice and scrabbling at the door John moans, feet curling in his shoes. Sherlock drapes himself around him—fuck, so sodding close—and then slides two nimble fingers into John's open mouth and desperate with Sherlock's cock leaking against the stinging swell of his arse John shivers and sucks and sucks. "Could do it just like this," Sherlock murmurs, "does it hurt yet?"; and fingers thick on his tongue John moans. Sherlock pulls back. Pulls him open. Rubs over his hole, then dips his fingertips in: John shudders all over, elbows buckling, and Sherlock pulls back and spanks him so hard John can hope it'll bruise. "So desperate I just shove myself into you, half-dry?" Sherlock says, then slides his fingers in deep enough that it tugs and John gasps flinches back and then Sherlock takes his fingers back and John pants, "I shouldn't, I know I shouldn't—Sherlock," and Sherlock gives him two hard, jostling slaps, then grabs him 'round the middle when his knees buckle.

"John," Sherlock says, rough.

"I—I can't." John swallows. "I need to, can I—" Sucking in stinging ice air with Sherlock's arm round him, pressed hot up behind him, the wet smear of his prick cooling on John's stinging skin—

Sherlock's mouth comes down to John's shoulder. "You want to get down on your knees," he murmurs; and helpless, John nods. Lets his ankles loosen, his knees and hips, as Sherlock helps him down. John folds his heavy hands over each other on the floor. Drops his forehead on them, arse back: bared to the air hot-cold and throbbing. Sherlock crouching beside him. John's jeans 'round his knees, everything else still on.

"A few hard smacks and already you can't even hold yourself up," Sherlock murmurs.

John swallows. Says, "No, I know, I—shouldn't," breaking; and Sherlock huffs half a laugh and then slaps his hand down flat and hard. John's echoing face incandescent filament-bright as he scrabbles the toes of his shoes on the carpet—

"Ought to bend you over my lap next time," Sherlock says, low and hot, "better angle"; John moans, can't stop. "Yeah?" And John nods, gasps, "Shouldn't think about—" as Sherlock spanks him, again, again, then brushes his thumb over John's lit-up yawning skin while John cries out jerks all over rubs his wet face on the back of his hands; and then Sherlock pulls him apart, cold air, John squirms. "If we're going to really teach you a lesson," Sherlock murmurs, letting go, "ought to properly settle in"; as hollow John whines, empty presses back—quiet plastic crack and then Sherlock's long fingers, slick and certain and wet and thick. Merciless: like a balloon near-bursting Sherlock stretches-presses-pets, fingers sinking right into the coiled knot inside him so cold it hurts: kneaded and reformed John moans and shudders, shoves his hips back, ropes from Sherlock's fingers thick through John's throbbing veins to John's aching knotted fingers. "Like that?" Sherlock asks, very softly, rubbing; moaning-gasping-moans, "shouldn't—" and Sherlock pulls fingers out smacks him twice-battered sparking moan falling out wet-warm around the back of his clenched crabbed hand, Sherlock shoving slick fingers back into him to rub at him electric-blue aching, pressing his wet thumb hard against his shivering-up burned-open outsides—

John groans. Comes, nearly sobbing, as Sherlock rubs—and rubs—

—and rubs—rubs at him. Rubbing.

Sticky.

At his wet skin. Fingers sticking.

All over petting.

Sherlock, petting soft up his back. Down his sides.

Long still-sticky hands up under the shirt rucked up 'round his ribs—oh

He shivers. Sherlock's fingers curl against him, and John sighs.

Sherlock says, "John," soft. Scratches his fingertips through John's hair.

"Yeah," John says, thick.

"You with me?" Sherlock murmurs.

John swallows. "Yeah."

"Comfy?" Sherlock asks, a quirk in his voice; but Christ, his hands. John's arse is still sticking up in the air, come all over his shirttails and the carpet at his knees: fuck, what an idiot he must look—thighs tight—but Sherlock squeezes down hard on the nape of John's neck, holds him still.

(—and John ice-cracking all over, opening up—)

And Sherlock loosens. Thumbs at John's vertebrae, 3-4-5—. Strokes his long fingers on down into John's collar, curls his knuckles against his skin.

Murmurs, "This all right?"

And oh.

"It's." John swallows. "Lovely."

Sherlock's quiet for a moment, and John turns to look towards him, pillowed hand under his cheek. Still half-floating. Sherlock's rumpled and half-undressed legs folded up under to the side, hands on John's back. Can't read his face.

"Come over here, then," Sherlock says, at last, "get your things off," scooting back; and John swallows and creaks up off of his hands and unties his shoes, kicks off his jeans. "Shirt too," Sherlock says, "lie down," so John fumbles with the buttons, fingers clumsy, and lies down closer by, while beside him Sherlock pulls his pants up and his trousers up and rebuttons everything, tucks in his shirt, then kneels up over John's back. All of him vanishing into pressure and warmth. His arse on John's arse. His thighs on John's sides. His hands on John's back, rubbing up-down, up-down.

John buries his face in his arms on the carpet, closes his eyes. Still watching, somehow: Sherlock, knelt up above him, long hands digging deep into John's sweaty back and pulling him apart knot by knot, neat and tidy and hard as a rock through his flies.

John shivers. Sherlock above him burnt in: pinked up, his face. His working throat.

Chapter Text

Footsteps on the landing. John opens his eyes where they're pressed against the duvet, and then, upon reflection, turns his head.

Sherlock is hesitating in the doorway, which he never does.

"What's wrong?" John asks, propping himself—with great effort—up. Sherlock wasn't in the flat in the morning and didn't text him at work, so John's got no idea what he's been up to since more or less scraping John off the carpet the night previous and gently aiming him towards the stairs.

"Are you having a nap?" Sherlock's eyebrows are making a run for the ceiling. "You never nap."

"No, just." John sighs, works himself up to sitting. "Long day. Too many patients, too many charts, too much Natalie trying to set me up with some actress friend of hers—why are you standing there? Since when do you not just barge on in?"

Sherlock frowns, but he comes over, sits down on the edge of the bed, and says, "I don't barge," which is patently false, so John pulls at the front of Sherlock's shirt.

"Hello," John murmurs, later.

"Nhh." Sherlock's eyelids are drooping. A bit of a kiss and he's already pink and rumpled, eyeing the collar of John's dressing gown. John tugs Sherlock's shirtfront straight, smooths it down to his flies.

"You've had a shower," Sherlock observes.

"Yeah," John says. "Long day. And I slept through my alarm this morning, so—"

"And a wank," Sherlock interrupts, in a different tone; and John tilts his head.

"I'd say that there's no way you can possibly know that," John says, "but you clearly do, so. Yes. Yes, I did. Shower, you know—warm, very easy clean-up, satisfactory all around. Lovely, actually."

Sherlock touches the corner of John's collarbone, then drops his hand. "Why?"

"It's extremely relaxing," John says, and then laughs when Sherlock rolls his eyes. "Are you offering to do it for me in future?"

"I thought I'd made that fairly clear," Sherlock says, sounding irritated, and so John leans back down on his duvet, pulling on Sherlock's shirt. Sherlock lets him, wriggling down onto his belly in his black shirt and expensive trousers, hangs his feet off the edge of the bed.

John raises an eyebrow. Tugs.

"I'm wearing my shoes," Sherlock says, but then promptly pries them off with his toes, letting them thump onto the floor and probably scuffing them up, but instead of whinging on about it like usual he just slides over and buries his face down into the collar of John's dressing gown. Breathes in.

"Didn't mean to lie down after my shower," John murmurs, sliding his hand into Sherlock's thick hair. "Was going to get dressed and come downstairs. But."

"Long day." Muffled.

"Yeah. " John scratches at Sherlock's scalp. Down onto his jutting spine. Over the muscles of his back, moving under his black shirt.

Sherlock pulls his head up, blinking a little. "I didn't come up here angling for a shag," he says, sounding a bit uncertain.

John raises his eyebrows. "Does that mean you don't want one?"

Sherlock's mouth tugs into one of his lovely awkward half-smiles. "I didn't say that," he says, and John grins and unfastens the top button of Sherlock's shirt.

"I was going to ask if you wanted Thai," Sherlock says, helping John to tug his arms free, then twisting to drop the shirt on the floor. John pulls him back in by the warm wings of his back ribs and gives him a kiss, quick, before Sherlock pulls back just far enough to add, "I had to go down and do all sorts of very tedious follow-up with Lestrade," as John gets his trouser button open and sticks his hands into his pants, "so Ifeltthatweoughtto oh-h-hhh," melting off into breath as John gropes his arse, thoroughly and with not insignificant feeling, and Sherlock's cheeks bloom red blotches.

John grins up at him. "Do we deserve some sort of reward?"

"Well," Sherlock says, "I certainly do, I—"

"Yeah?" John murmurs.

"Yes, I—you." Sherlock swallows. "You can keep doing that." He's getting redder and redder while John lets his fingers brush in-in-in against him. Trousers sliding down, down, down Sherlock's thighs as he squirms.

"Can I go in at all?" John asks. "Or is that—"

"I—your lube." Sherlock laughs, a little breathlessly. "Last night. Still on the coffee table, or." He bends down to give John a sloppy, open-mouthed kiss. "Or the carpet, I wasn't really paying attention, unless you—"

"No, I was asleep, more or less," John admits. "Here, come over—" Gets up onto his side, pushing Sherlock's trousers off: Sherlock undoes the tie on John's dressing gown and sticks his hands in, wiggling his toes in his socks. John rolls him onto his back and Sherlock rubs at John's still-tender arse and John tucks his fingers in the back of Sherlock's knee and Sherlock squirms, his erection bobbing absurdly between them; John rubs a thumb against its base and Sherlock grunts, hips arching up.

"I think we need some sort of a scale," John admits, crossing his legs under him to sit up. He squeezes Sherlock's shin.

"Scale?" Sherlock looks up at him, sliding down into John's hands.

"Something like—one for utterly uninteresting, two for nice but not terribly electrifying, three for interesting enough that I ought to do it again—"

"One to five, or one to ten?" Sherlock asks, squirming as John tugs at his bare knees.

"Oh, I think you ought to decide," John says, pulling Sherlock flush against him, legs open draped over John's thighs. It's quite the picture. John rubs at the crease of Sherlock's hip. Down. Back. Behind—

"Seven," Sherlock says, breathless.

"A one to seven scale?" John asks, then does it again.

"No," Sherlock gasps, "that's a seven, a one to—" and John twists to laugh into his own shoulder while, disgruntled, Sherlock says, "you're a bastard, you know that, don't you."

"It's been said." John looks back down at him, smiling. "Once or twice."

Sherlock glares up at him. It loses some of its heat, with the apple-red flush all over his cheeks and his chest. John feels Sherlock like a fishhook in his organs, tugging out—he kneels up, bending down above him, kissing Sherlock's sternum. Throat. Mouth.

"I think I ought to do this scientifically, don't you?" John asks, when he can.

"Mm?" Sherlock's hands all over his back and shoulders, prickling; their legs interlacing.

"Start at the top," John suggests, settling against him. "Work my way down."

"I—oh," Sherlock says, startled, as John rubs a fingertip across his eyelashes, light.

"One?" John asks.

Sherlock licks at the corner of his mouth. "Three," he says. Roughed up. John presses up onto his elbow and brushes against Sherlock's lashes with his closed lips, and Sherlock inhales. "That's." Clears his throat. "Strange, it—" and with a strange unaccountable sensation inside him John opens his mouth.

Sherlock gasps. Hands, ribs: squeezing hard as John licks across to his temple, resettles his weight on his side: Sherlock tensed underneath him, breathing deep.

"One?" John asks.

"I." Sherlock swallows. "I think—it would be, except that before you'd—four. Four."

Hands opening and closing on John's sides.

John nudges his nose against him. Kisses his hairline. Waits.

"Three," Sherlock says, quiet, so John does it again. Down: "Three," Sherlock murmurs; down: "three"; down: "six," Sherlock says, breathless, as John drags the rough edge of his mouth down under Sherlock's ear.

"Thought so," John murmurs, and opens his mouth. Flicks his tongue out against Sherlock's earlobe and then while Sherlock's still gasping, "Six, six—" opens his mouth on Sherlock's throat and sucks. "Fuck," Sherlock gasps, squirming—harder, harder—teeth— "eight—John—"

John pulls back. That liverish splotch of his mouth, already showing up: that'll stay, John thinks, back prickling hot, while Sherlock breathes carefully, deep.

"So eight is where I need to stop?" John asks, and Sherlock laughs a little, ragged, and rubs at his face.

"Why'd you toss off in the shower, anyway?" he asks, squinting up.

John licks his lips. Laughs, a bit. "Survival technique." He brushes the edge of the mark on Sherlock's fair throat: hesitant, until Sherlock arches into it, inhaling.

"Really." Sherlock shifts up against him, sliding his cock in alongside John's hip, stroking his hand down John's side. "Survival technique?"

"You keep getting me so worked up I lose all higher cognitive function." Sherlock's so warm, blood-hot and tacky with sweat against John's hands, the sides of their interlaced thighs— "I wanted to touch you," John says, and Sherlock leans up to kiss him messily, easily, open-mouthed sharp teeth thick tongue; and John presses down against him, heart pounding; Sherlock underneath him, dark-eyed. John repeats, "Is eight where I need to stop?"

So close John can swallow it when Sherlock breathes—God. "It—it shifts, I think," Sherlock says, then lets out a frustrated sigh. "I just, I can't—"

He stops. His face tucked in near to John's face.

"Too long is too much?" John suggests. "It gets. Intense."

"Yeah," Sherlock says, then swallows. "Yeah."

John bends back down and kisses the mark up high on Sherlock's neck, where his collar won't cover it, and Sherlock breathes, "God."

John closes his eyes.

He needs to kneel up so he kneels up, crouching up over Sherlock's thigh stretched out on his duvet pinkandred with his cock curving up hard towards his belly and his mouth swollen, overkissed: the windows are closed under Mrs. Hudson's filmy white curtains and in the silence the light is greying yellow faded silver and Sherlock's skin nearly glows. John touches Sherlock's angular collarbones, thumbstrokes.

"Four," Sherlock says. John nods. Brushes two fingers over Sherlock's sternum, and Sherlock sighs. John pets back up. Down. Up, down. "Five," Sherlock says, finally. "Because—I know what comes next."

John nods. Brushes out over the pencil-sketched line framing Sherlock's pectoral, and Sherlock closes his eyes.

"Is it." Swallowing. "Strange," Sherlock asks, rough, while John strokes over his ribs, half-hypnotized, watching them rise with Sherlock's quickening breath.

"No," John murmurs.

"Girlish," Sherlock says, and then bites down on his bottom lip.

John's mouth twists. "I'd give good money for you to say that, in just that tone, in front of Donovan," he says, and Sherlock laughs, breathless. Squints up.

"Donovan's already got some sort of bounty out on my testicles, I—"

Gasping. Gasping.

"Six, then," John murmurs, rubbing feather-light at Sherlock's nipple, and Sherlock shakes his head, hard and fast. "Seven?"

"It'd be eight," Sherlock gasps, "if you'd just—harder—" so John gives him a pinch and Sherlock moans, hips jerking up.

John rubs down over his belly, soft, soft. "You do that to yourself, downstairs in the dark?"

Sherlock laughs, ragged. "Lights on," he manages. "Mirror."

"Egotist." John strokes back up over the edge of his chest. "This?"

"Six," Sherlock says, "don't stop," and then swallows. "Besides it's—it's better if I keep both my hands free."

John swallows. "So you can get your—your little friend," thick through white sheets. John pets back over Sherlock's nipple, then into the sparse pale hair trailing down to his navel. "Yeah?"

"Not that little," Sherlock breathes. "Five."

"Still." John looks down at him: Sherlock's sparkling eyes, red face. "Bit of a job to get him just where you want him, I'd reckon. Distracting."

"Yeah." Sherlock shifts, restless. "Yeah."

"So." John rubs at the base of Sherlock's lightly fuzzed abdomen, careful with his hands: Sherlock pushes his hips up, breathing deep, and John's knuckles bump the underside of his erection.

John shifts his hands flat. "How'd you defeat this particular engineering challenge?" he asks. Pinning him down.

"What?" Half-gasped.

"Keeping your hands free," John says, "while you," reaching up to pinch Sherlock's nipple: Sherlock moans. A shiny drop of fluid spills from the tip of his cock, landing on his belly between the fingers of John's splayed right hand, and John strokes the pad of his thumb across it, rubs it in. "Inquiring minds," John murmurs, "and all that. This? You've not said."

"Which?" Sherlock gasps, arching against his hands; "This," John murmurs, rubbing his belly; "Six," Sherlock says, thick, and then, "I—I have things, I—"

"Toys," John says.

"Yeah." Sherlock swallows heavily, head thrown back: John's thumbs, he finds, are moving in circles: areola, hip. He curls his left hand on the duvet instead, and Sherlock lets out his breath. John's whole body feels heavy, mouth wet: he bends it down to Sherlock's solar plexus.

"Here?" John murmurs; "Five," Sherlock says, rough, "or‚ or four, it'd be—but right now—"; "It's probably a seven on me," John murmurs, and Sherlock moans, "I know."

John closes his eyes. "Tell me, then," he whispers, and kisses down—right—down— "Seven—seven—eight, Christ, John—" and John whispers, "All five for you?" with his face tucked in against Sherlock's rising-falling belly, eye-level with his cock only just-dripping onto his flushed skin.

"Six." Sherlock is panting. "Or—or seven. I don't know. I don't know."

John lifts his chin. "Should I let up for a bit?"

"I." Sherlock swallows noisily. "Can you just, I want—"

"Yeah," John murmurs. "What do you want?"

"Come here." The words sound thick in his throat, and his face: Christ, when John clambers up next to him, stretches out on the duvet, but Sherlock rolls up onto his side, reaches out. Leans across the chaste handspan of space between them and presses his mouth to John's mouth: opened up all over, panting and wet; strangely sweet. John's hands have wound up in his hair.

They kiss for a long time. The sun red and gold through the windows, purpling like a bruise. Dreamy, John thinks, warm and airless in his little second-storey room. Close.

"Have you—are you done, then," Sherlock asks, under his breath.

John's hand, Sherlock's cheek. Slowly John shakes his head. "Unless," he says, "you want me to be."

"No," too fast, "no."

John nods.

Sherlock's eyes are closed and his face is red and John can feel the red-rubbed mark of Sherlock's mouth all over his own face and his chin and "Better, now?" John asks, as lightly as he can, as he trails his knuckles, bump-bump-bump, down the long line of Sherlock's shoulder and chest and abdomen, scraping his thumbnail along Sherlock's sparse fairish hair.

Sherlock stretches. Hums. Something rising inside him and John pushes it down, hard. "Three," Sherlock is admitting, then opening his eyes, blinking over at him. Somehow John nods. "Five," Sherlock adds, quietly, "when I think about how it lights you up."

John swallows. Fits his hand around him. Watches his face: "Okay?" John asks, closing his fingers: gentle, slow, as eyes dark half-closed, Sherlock, slowly, nods.

So warm. John swallows and swallows: saliva thick, coating his mouth.

"Tell me," he whispers. Sliding his loose hand around him, careful and light.

"You're thinking about—," Sherlock says, and then stops. Finally, he says, "Seven."

John nods. "And what I'm thinking about," he says, very quietly, and Sherlock licks his own bottom lip.

"You can try," he says, and John nods, sliding down.

Sherlock hasn't showered—not in the past few hours, certainly; possibly not since last night, and close down by his groin the sharp-rounded smell of his body fills John's mouth, prickles his eyes. John kisses the silky-smooth sheath of his foreskin, low down; waits for Sherlock to say, "Seven," quiet and steady, before moving up. Presses his closed mouth to the head of Sherlock's erection while stretched out above him Sherlock sucks down a sharp breath of air: "Eight," and John can taste him, nearly, already, on the back of his tongue. He licks out, just catches—

"Maybe not," Sherlock says, too fast, and John nods. Loosens his hand, touches Sherlock's hip, and Sherlock says, "Nine—John," ragged at the edges, "nine, I wanted—"

"Another time, maybe," John says. Tasting Sherlock on the sides of his tongue.

"Is that." Sherlock swallows. "All right."

"Yeah." John squeezes his thigh. "Yeah, it's fine, just—"

"Six," Sherlock says, quick; and John stills, then squeezes again; and Sherlock says, "Six."

"Yeah?" John murmurs, petting his thumbs in circles. Sherlock's thighs twitch, and John bends down and kisses the left.

"God," Sherlock sighs. "Keep—you can. Keep going."

John lifts his head. "Tell me," he says; then bends back down, licks—Sherlock panting, "Seven—harder—" and so John presses his mouth down open and sucks, and sucks, while above him Sherlock gasps, "Eight, eight—keep, keep going," writhing under his hands and mouth while John makes a twin to the hot-purpling mark on his throat thinking All bloody day—

"Move," Sherlock gasps, his back a bridge, "move dow—yeah," shaky, as John moves down to nuzzle at his knee. Sherlock crooks it up, John kisses the side: "Five," Sherlock says, then, "Thanks," and John rubs his cheek on his skin, stubble scrape. "Six," Sherlock says, and then, a little unsteadily, laughs.

John wraps his hand around Sherlock's ankle, shifts it out so he can kiss the tender underside of Sherlock's knee. Sherlock takes a slow, expansive breath. "Six," Sherlock says, "y—can you."

He stops.

John scrapes teeth against him. "What?"

"Um." Sherlock laughs again. "Harder," he says, finally; and John takes a pinch of skin between his teeth and gives it a little tug. "Seven," Sherlock says, voice dropping low low low: Chris; so John sucks. Bites him, tongues—and sucking works hot tender skin red and puffy with Sherlock— "John—" writhing above him; John presses his thumb into the upturned crescent of his foot, hard. "Fuck," Sherlock gasps, "don't stop nine—" and sodding hell: panting John slides back, down; kisses a haphazard path down Sherlock's calf to his ankle while above him Sherlock jerks and moans. John curls his tongue around his Achilles tendon, scrapes his teeth up his sole, and Sherlock moans, hips up, toes flexing; so John holds his bent calf hard to the duvet to suck his big toe into his mouth, squeezing the arch of his foot. "Nine," Sherlock moans, "nine, I—God—" and John reaches up to find Sherlock's white-knuckled fist on the duvet and interlace their fingers, tight, while Sherlock pants, "I—ngh—J—" and twitches while John sucks, licks him wet and drooling, open-mouthed, works his tongue up the underside with his lips drawn tight

"Stop," Sherlock gasps, so John pulls off: pop. Sherlock gasps and gasps, clenching at his hand nearly so hard it'd break; and knelt up above him John takes a breath, slow and steady, lets it out. Sherlock's prick is dripping onto his heaving belly, shiny, catching the last of the light. John swallows and crawls up above him to turn on the lamp.

Flat on his back, flushed all over. Panting. Dark-eyed.

"Can I kiss you?" John asks, rough.

"Yeah," Sherlock says, fast, and John bends down. Sherlock drags him down against him, pressing up up up

John pulls back, panting, while Sherlock rolls his hips into John's hips. "Fuck," John groans, and shoves himself down against him: Sherlock moans. "You're close, yeah?" John gasps, and Sherlock nods and nods. "Getting closer?" John asks, unsteady, and moaning Sherlock grabs at his arse tender-hot-sparking and grinds them hard together. "Jesus." John swallows. Fucking against him, moving in sweat-slick slow-liquid rolls: Sherlock moans and moves and moans and then allatonce shoves John's hips up, panting. Holding them apart.

The air feels shockingly cold. John's got precome smeared all over his grimly determined half-hard cock and his belly and his balls; Sherlock rock-hard and dripping between them, touching nothing, while Sherlock gulps for air, shivering, eyes closed.

"Ten," Sherlock gasps, and then groans, low in his throat. "Fuck. I want you to do it again."

He lets go of John's hips, presses the heels of his hands over his eyes, breathing deep. John still braced up on his knees and his palms above him: he rolls, carefully, onto his side.

Sherlock breathes. Breathes. His red face still hidden under his hands.

"Could always do it later," John says, finally; and Sherlock laughs, wet. Drops his hands and turns his head, looking at John. Honeyed by the lamplight.

John touches his cheek. God, he is thinking, aimless and unsettled; God

Rough, Sherlock says, "Not many people touch me."

It tugs. Weirdly desperate, John nods: "Me neither," he says, but it feels, somehow, strangely untrue. Sherlock turns, eyes closed, and rubs his face into John's wrist.

John shifts, restless. "Haven't got to your back half yet," he says, finally; and Sherlock looks back up at him. He hesitates, then rolls up onto his side.

"You don't have to," he says; and John squints over at him.

"It's not as though I get nothing out of it," John says.

Sherlock swallows, up-down, then shifts, rolling over onto his belly, his face still turned towards John's.

God. John touches Sherlock's shoulder. Smooths across the planes of his back: up, down. Sherlock's eyes slipping half-shut. John stills his hand: resting, only just, at the top of Sherlock's round arse.

"Anything I should avoid?" John asks.

Sherlock doesn't answer right away. "No," he says, finally, and John nods. Kneels back up, looking out the sweat-shining expanse of him, lying still; and then, upon reflection, John crawls back down toward Sherlock's upturned feet. Pets his thumb up one finely-wrinkled sole, and Sherlock stretches, ribs lifting as he inhales.

"Six?" John guesses, and after a moment, Sherlock nods. John pets down over the ball, pets the backs of his toes.

"Seven," Sherlock says, soft, and John laces his fingers between them. Squeezes: Sherlock bites down on a moan.

"Did you know your feet were this sensitive?" John asks.

"Not." Thick. "Quite."

John nods, even though turned as he is, Sherlock can't see. "Seems like the sort of thing it'd be difficult to do to yourself," John observes, and Sherlock hums. John pets back up his sole to his ankle, down, up again: lazy meandering trails, watching Sherlock's toes curl and flex.

"Nine. You'd better." Sherlock swallows. "Move on."

"Yeah," John says, quiet.

He strokes up Sherlock's calf: one hand, flat: "Four." His five light trailing fingers: "S-six, I think." The love bite in the back of his knee is still flushed and darkening: John wants, absurdly, for it to be tomorrow already so he can peel out him out of everything and see. He rubs at his face, bends down; his mouth at the edge of calf and thigh: "Six," Sherlock whispers, as John kisses up, "six—six—seven," when John is two-thirds of the way up the back of his thigh. John's heart is beating, strong and loud. If John got Sherlock to open his legs around him that'd be just where he'd rest his thumbs so he does it now, digs them in. Sherlock groans, pressing his hips to the duvet.

"Too much?" John asks, and Sherlock pants, "No, no, let me just—can I, pillow?" and John says, "Yeah," kneeling back so Sherlock has the room to thrash himself up for a pillow. He works it under his belly, pushing his arse up. It's a five-star view.

"God." John swallows, thick. "I—God, I want to—can I lick you?"

Sherlock exhales, unsteady. "Yeah," he says, finally, and John works himself back down onto his knees, bends down. "Seven," Sherlock says, a little breathless, as John nuzzles across Sherlock's round flushed arse. "Um—seven," again, when John takes him in hand. Pulls him, ever so gently, apart.

"Still?" John asks, quiet.

"Um." Sherlock inhales, steady. "Yes, but getting. Higher."

John's teeth, his own bottom lip: he strokes his thumb, light, across Sherlock's scant brown hair, and Sherlock moans, jerking his hips.

"You like it?" John asks. Rubbing, a little harder.

"Eight," Sherlock breathes, in reply.

John bends down. Licks him top to bottom, musky-hot: Sherlock groans.

"Eight?" John asks.

"Eight," Sherlock mumbles. "Stop talking," so John settles down on his belly and elbows, licks over him, around— "Can I go in?" John asks, muffled, too fast, heart beating too fast, still tasting— "Yeah," Sherlock says. "Yeah, you can—fuck. Nine, don't—don't stop," so John doesn't stop. Sherlock moans. John squirms, pulls him wider, works his tongue in, and Sherlock just moans and opens, lets John kiss him wet, drooling all up and down him good and wet, Sherlock grunting into the duvet with John in between his spread legs licking-licking-licking him, thumbs massaging his firm round arse while he squirms as starving John fucks him open with his tongue. Sherlock is shameless: voice broken up in his throat, shoving back onto John's mouth into John's hands, and it'd take a stronger man than John to resist the way Sherlock opens right up for John's tongue as deep as his teeth, shoving his prick into the mattress with his tongue up Sherlock's arse held open while Sherlock squirms squirming wanton and breathless and if Sherlock would just let him, if moaning underneath him humping at the air Sherlock could just bloody well hang on John could make it so good, get him dripping with it, fucking sodden, so wet that John could get three fingers up him—maybe four, get him wide-open soaked and begging for it by the time John shoved in so wet they wouldn't even need the lube downstairs on their living room floor.

John jerks himself back, panting. "I. I think I need to stop," he gasps, kneeling up; then laughs, looking down at himself.

"All right," Sherlock says, sounding half-gone; "Christ," John gasps, "you've no idea, how I want to fuck you, I just—"

"You could," Sherlock says, arching back. "If you wanted."

John inhales, slow.

"Or—or stop, but." Sherlock squirms on his pillow. "But you could, a bit. If you want."

"Lube's downstairs," John reminds him, but he pushes his thumb against him. Sherlock opens for it, easy: and fuck, fuck.

"Just the head," Sherlock is saying, rough. "Wouldn't be too much, if you just—just a little. If you can—um. Not go too far."

John swallows. "Brave fellow," he says, trying for light and missing by a mile; "I trust you," Sherlock says, quiet, and presses his arse back into John's hands.

God. John is shaking, pulse pounding all over as he gets up onto his knees: Sherlock's dripping wet, red-flushed and half-hidden, without John's hands to hold him apart. "This is a fucking terrible idea," John says, unsteady, but he's already spitting into his palm, isn't he, draping himself across Sherlock's back. "You know that, don't you?"

"I've done it before," Sherlock says. Breath wet warm close. "With my—not deep. But," and John laughs, ragged, because of course he has, the great bloody idiot. John rubs his face against Sherlock's nape, gets himself in hand. Nudges against him, careful; rubs; and beneath him Sherlock exhales, going loose. Whispers, "Eight," and then presses back.

Christ. John curls his right hand on the duvet by Sherlock's cheek. Bumping against him, while Sherlock writhes, until—only just—barely—catching

"All right?" Sherlock whispers.

John is panting into his hair. "I," swallowed. "God. Is it—okay, I'm not—"

"It's fine." Sherlock shifts. "Six—that's good, I. Need to come down a bit, I." He laughs, a little desperately; presses back—and then pulls— "I think that's as far—is it enough?"

"Yeah," John says, unsteady, and comes.

Sherlock reaches back for his head. John presses his face into his hair.

"God," John gasps, then laughs. "Well." Sherlock shivers, pushes back, but John can't, he just—just kisses Sherlock's shoulder, heart roiling in his chest, easing up. "Not quite the master plan, but," kneeling back. "Are you all right?" He rubs at the sweaty small of Sherlock's back, petting down, careful circles, light.

"Yeah. It was—good, you can," Sherlock says, thick, "please," and then lets out a long, slow sigh when John pulls him apart. He's soaked with it, more out than in, but he still breathes in deep and careful when John touches his arsehole. "That's. Um."

"Should I stop?"

"No," Sherlock says, quiet. "It's just. A lot."

"Yeah," John agrees, then dips his two fingertips in, only just: "Good?"

"Yeah," Sherlock whispers, pushing back against him. "Eight."

John can feel the workings of him: the arch of his back carried underneath his flushed skin. Christ. "Next time I've got you like this," John murmurs, and Sherlock gasps and presses back. John's two fingers into him up to the second knuckle, working—working—; before Sherlock breathes deep and pulls back.

"Okay," Sherlock says, "that's—almost too much, I—"

John takes his fingers back, bends and kisses the base of Sherlock's spine.

"Oh," Sherlock says, sounding shocked.

Salty. Wet. "Good?" John asks.

"Yeah," Sherlock says. "Seven."

John nods. Nuzzles at him, licks up the ridge of his back, pets at his lats: "Seven—six—six," Sherlock whispers, rolling up into John's hands. "God, that's lovely," half-sighed, as John pets at his triceps— "five—" his ropey forearms to wrists where they jut into his folded-up hands, pillowed beneath his red, flushed face. "Seven," Sherlock whispers, pushing his face half into the duvet, as helpless John blankets his body tight against him him, sliding his hands up to wrap around Sherlock's opening hands.

"Seven?" John asks, feeling him warm all over: stuck together, front to back. Fingers caught.

"At least," Sherlock whispers back, "stay—stay, like that," and John nods, blinking.

Beneath him in the curve of their arms Sherlock's golden half-shadowed face. His eyes are closed, his hands loose and moving: slow, slow, slow where above his turned head they stroke the tumblers of John's unlocked hands. Sherlock's breath is evening out, warm and steady, John's heart slowing against the backs of Sherlock's ribs.

John breathes. In, out, in.

It must be late. Full dark out. Sherlock is terribly warm.

"I didn't ever eat dinner last night, did I," John realizes.

"I know—Thai, tonight." Sherlock turns his face, sighs into the duvet. "I was going to get you Thai."

John nods. Nuzzles his hair. "Takeaway?"

Sherlock nods, stretching beneath him, held fast. "In a minute," he says.

Chapter Text

They're still downstairs polishing off their green curry and pad thai when Greg bounds up with a particularly grisly bit of work for the two of them, and John only has a half a moment to consider that it's rather lucky they'd got all the way dressed before ordering, since Greg never knocks. They don't get in again until nearly seven Wednesday morning, and John ends up dragging himself through the rest of his shifts for the week solely by virtue of Sherlock periodically texting him queries about the precise mechanics of exsanguination under a variety of environmental conditions, which come at intervals frequent enough to keep John more or less upright; and the extremely strong and miserably bitter coffee at the café where Natalie likes the girl who does the takeaway. The murderer turns up at the docks on Friday, and by the time John's got Sherlock out of the shipping crate and the paramedics have given him oxygen and checked him over and Lestrade's bawled him out to a more or less sufficient extent, John's far past even objecting to paying for their cab. Straight in the door to 221B: Sherlock to his shower, and John upstairs to sleep for fourteen hours.

After: "When you moved back," John says, "you made me a deal."

His voice is still scratchy with sleep and he's standing in the living room doorway in his pajamas at three in the afternoon, arms crossed over his chest: he knows how ridiculous he looks, but somehow can't help it. He feels sweaty all over. Sick.

Sherlock watches at him over the top of the laptop—John's—and then pushes it over onto the table, sits up.

Lightly, he says, "Am I being evicted, then?"

"No," John says. "Sherlock. Please."

"He'd gone to Dover, I did check," Sherlock replies. "He'd got on the train, I had pictures, he was—"

"Yeah, I know," John says. "But then he turned around, and came back. And."

Sherlock grimaces. Rubs at his face. "I am sorry," he says softly; and John says, "I won't insult you by saying you don't know how it felt," and then is quiet.

"No," Sherlock murmurs, after a moment. "Come here."

John goes.

John's been around for a fair few years, now. Nothing new under the sun, he knows it. Still. Still. Kneeling up across Sherlock's thighs on the sofa with his face abraded-red and hot like Sherlock's kisses are hot and good like his hands on John's arse and thighs and back as under his fingers the cold writhing knot inside John's chest loosens, a millimeter at a time.

"I'd've left work early, you know," John says, thick; and fast Sherlock replies, "Would you?"

His eyes are sharp, mouth tugged flat: John hasn't, since; they both know that.

"You don't ask," John says, quiet.

"And can I?" Sherlock asks; and John says, "Yeah."

Silence, stretching out.

"You won't even take a day off when you're dead on your feet," Sherlock says.

"Been through med school. The army. Worked through worse." John licks at his bottom lip. "Would take it to keep you from being slowly asphyxiated in a shipping crate, though."

Sherlock's expression is unreadable. Flat. His fingers curling against John's back.

"Rhoda's got three kids," John says, after a minute. "You—you do know that, right? She has to take time off when they're ill or in the play or—and I've said, I know that I've said, it's why we have two locum physicians on call"; and Sherlock drops his head back against the sofa cushions, exhaling. "And Natalie's dad's got MS," John adds, voice rising against his will, "she's had to take time off for his appointments for the better part of the past two years, always gets that boy from her old school to fill in and he misfiles half the charts—did you think it was coincidence," John asks, almost laughing, "that I went to work with them just after you came back, when the money was better with Jeremy and Cal?"

"You hate Cal," Sherlock says.

"I really don't," John says, "I slept with Cal"; and Sherlock jerks his head up, looking offended; disbelieving, John laughs.

"You could've said," Sherlock says; and John retorts, "What, 'I'm switching to a different practice so you can monopolize my time more easily,' yes, of course, why didn't I think of that?"

Airless. Pressed all out: John forces his lungs open: breathe in.

Sherlock is frowning at him. "Did you really sleep with Cal?"

John huffs. "No, I made it up to inflame your raging jealousy."

Sherlock rolls his eyes. His gaze drops down onto John's shoulder, though, his cheeks pink; he rubs John's collarbone through his t-shirt.

"You really didn't know," John says quietly, and Sherlock jerks his head to the side. "All right," John says, and sighs. "Next time you're going to investigate a murderer's lair, please text me so that I can get the afternoon off."

Sherlock nods. "Ten minutes notice all right?" he asks, voice falsely light, and drags his eyes up to meet John's face.

"Thirty," John says.

"Twenty," Sherlock counters, and John leans back just far enough to shake his hand.

Chapter Text

The afternoon turns out warm, the heat leaking in through their windows, thickening their air.

"At least we're not out in this," Sherlock mumbles, cheek pressed against the arm of the sofa; and John glances down at him. John'd got up to fetch their second round of tea about five, hasn't moved since then; he's been resting his feet up on Sherlock's hip for an hour, half-heartedly typing up their latest.

"Thought you were asleep," John said.

Sherlock hums, closes his eyes again, rubs at John's ankle. "Was," Sherlock agrees. "But."

It's really too warm to be pressed together on the sofa like this, but. Sherlock's long fingers tuck into his arch. "Done?" Sherlock asks, in the idle way of someone not feeling idle about it at all.

"Hm." John looks down at him. "Could be."

"Hm," Sherlock agrees, rubbing.

John shuts his laptop. "Hey," he says, sliding his laptop onto the coffee table. "You're not. Worked up, are you?"

Sherlock squints open one eye.

John considers it, as a statement. Can I suck your cock?: sounds a bit ridiculous, but— "Can I suck your cock?" John asks.

The other eye opens. "I," Sherlock says, and then stops.

John adds, "Just a little."

Sherlock's mouth is tugging up into a little pleased smile. "Just a little?" he echoes, but he's already wriggles up to sitting, knees coming apart.

John slides down onto the carpet, shoves the coffee table well out to the side for the room. "As much as I can."

"I'll need you to stop," Sherlock says, while they're getting his pajamas down to his knees, fingers tangling; "I know," John says, "I will," but Sherlock's already nodding, bending down to kiss him. Bare to the ankles. John breathes him in—Sherlock needs a wash: it's marvelous—while they ease Sherlock's knees apart, John shuffling up between them. Rubbing at Sherlock's hips. Sherlock's mouth breaks from his: inhaling, as John gets a hand around him, cradling-loose. He's so soft: plummy and delicate, velvety in John's fingers. Against his mouth Sherlock breathes. Breathes. His hands light on John's shoulders: John kisses his stubbled jaw, murmurs, "Yeah?"

Sherlock nods, and John pulls back. Settling down onto his folded feet, as Sherlock rubs at the back of his skull: on his way down John licks Sherlock's nipple, peaked through cotton, just for good measure.

"Bastard," Sherlock murmurs, and John grins, bending to swipe his tongue along the crease of Sherlock's thigh. Sherlock inhales, and John gives him a few loose strokes. Plumping him up. He bends down to lap at him and Sherlock shifts on the sofa, legs falling wide.

"How'm I doing so far?" John asks, looking up.

"Fishing for compliments?" Sherlock asks. Pink at his cheeks.

"Depends," John says. Rubs his face over him: hot. "Do you mean them?"

Sherlock slouches down. Into John's skin. "Yeah," he says, rough: sandpaper-scrape down John's spine.

John shivers. "Keep talking," he says, "I like to know how I'm doing"; and pulls Sherlock's cock into his mouth.

Tastes. His salt and musky skin: John closes his eyes. Sherlock's cock thick and tender on John's wet tongue as he suckles, light. Squeezes at Sherlock's knees and above him, Sherlock sighs, "Wanted you to, on Tuesday." John squeezes again, drags his mouth up him, blinking, and Sherlock inhales. Cock thick between John's lips. Sherlock murmurs, "That's. Good."; and John loosens and licks out. Sherlock shivers, bending above him. Cups John's face as his hips roll. John opens, lets him slide: and Sherlock breathes, "John." His eyes slipping half shut, red round blotches on his cheeks. John's chest feels tight. He gets his hand around the root of Sherlock's cock with his pulse pounding in his palm and works him wet and loose, keeping him just in his mouth so his face can stay—stay turned up, stay—his hollow throat, as Sherlock swallows updown updown and breathes harder, harder and brushes his thumb against the tip of his cock through John's cheek and makes a little soft noise, a close-together between-them noise, with his hands on John's face and his back bent away from the cushions. John rubs at the inside of his thigh and holds him fast and sucks at the head of him and Sherlock gasps, "Wait, wait—" and John pulls off.

Sherlock doesn't move. Just stays looking down at him, eyes hooded, breathing hard and his hands—John sits back on his heels. Prickling up all over, burning up under his skin. Sherlock's hands curl loose on his knees. He's flushed all down his face and his throat, down his arms sticking out of his t-shirt, his prick red and shining with saliva just under the hem.

John's heart works: thu-thump. Thu-thump.

"Can I have a go," Sherlock says, thick, and John rubs the back of his hand over his mouth.

"If you take the rest off," nodding up at him. As John forces an eyebrow up. Smiles.

Sherlock doesn't even hesitate. Just yanks the shirt up over his head, clambers down to the carpet, and John scoots back. Sherlock grabs at the knees of John's pajama bottoms and pulls, and so—Sherlock pulls until they drag off his lifting hips, so John ought to wriggle out of his t-shirt as well. It's hot enough without any of it, even before Sherlock flattens himself down between John's thighs hands on his hips and gulps him down.

Slick—John arches. "Wait," he manages, "wait," grabbing at Sherlock's hair, pulling him up. Sherlock glares up at him, lips wet. Christ.

John laughs, working his elbow underneath himself, leaning up. "What's the rush?" he asks. His voice sounds strange. He laughs.

"Wanting your cock down my throat," Sherlock says, sounding irritated; so John swallows and says, "Fair enough."

Sherlock bends. John drops back down, staring up at the ceiling breathing deep while tight all around him Sherlock huffs unevenly out-out-out through his nostrils and tongues at him hot and clever with his tongue squeezing hands pinning John underneath him wet slick squeezing wrapped up all over in—

"Wait," John gasps, "wait."

Sherlock pulls up, hair sticking up all over, face pink lips red, and John laughs. Folds his hand over his face so he won't see.

"What's wrong?" Sherlock asks, roughed up, and John takes a slow, deep, breath. Doesn't help much.

"Why don't you come up here?" John says, finally. Looks down. Sherlock's still holding his hips, elbows draped over John's thighs, looking some combination of confused and annoyed, but John says, "Just—come on, get—yeah," when Sherlock kneels up at last. "Come here," John says, and nudges his fingers into the backs of Sherlock's legs, dragging him up higher onto his chest.

Sherlock stares down at him. Far up. Still red all over and bare and John wants—he swallows.

"I need a break," John says. "How 'bout you?"

"I'm." Sherlock's eyebrows are inching together. "Fine."

"Yeah?" John rubs at the sweaty hollows behind Sherlock's knees. Heart pounding. God.

"Yeah," Sherlock says, hushed.

John nods. "Then—kneel up over me," he says, and Sherlock's eyes slip half shut, lips slick and parted, as John's hands slide up the backs of his legs; and Sherlock says, "John," very quietly, as he shifts his weight onto his knees.

"Yeah?" John asks, tugging Sherlock's arse up into the air, and Sherlock overbalances, catches himself on his palms, braced on either side above John's head. His eyes flick down to John's mouth, up again. John tilts his head, looking up across their dizzying-distorted living room floor. He reaches toward the tilted mass of his chair— "Hey," he asks, "can you get that pillow for me?" and Sherlock arches up over him—John's steadying hands on his hips—to grab the pillow so that John can tuck it under his neck.

"Oh," Sherlock says, thick.

"So you can," John says, "as much as—you can stop, if it gets to be too much, or—" as Sherlock licks his lips and lowers himself down onto elbows and knees.

John opens his mouth.

Sherlock shifts about, clumsy. Gets his weight onto his left side. He's hesitant about it, but only at first, and the angle's not perfect but plenty good enough: Sherlock nudging the slick-membrane head of his erection back across John's tongue until his fist bumps into John's lips, Sherlock's breath coming in quick, uneven pants. God. John squirms. Opens and opens, throat on down, while Sherlock fucks shallowly into his mouth. John rubs at Sherlock's hips, his round little arse; hot all over presses his tongue up against him as Sherlock makes a broken little noise and then drops his hand back to the carpet, arms shaking and unsteady as John squeezes his arse in both hands. Nudging deep. Deeper. Sherlock's leaking all over the insides of John's cheeks, prying him open—Sherlock groans, pushing in; and John goes dark. Lips prickling over his teeth. Sherlock sinking into him 'til his damp pubic hair scratches John's lips and Sherlock's arse flexing against his palms, Christ! Sherlock rocks back and John breathes in sounds—and Sherlock gasps, "Shh, shh—" pressing back thick deep filling him up hips rolling out (diaphragm space flooding filled without thinking)—in, sparking-airless—out—and out

Sherlock kneels up, breathing hard. Hollow. Somehow John gets his eyes open, a bit. Sherlock touches his cheek.

"Dangerous," Sherlock says, unsteady, "that."

John says, "Feels good"; and Sherlock's breath catches. His lower lip: his own teeth; as he rubs his fingers over John's lips—Christ—and then, when John opens, pushes them into his mouth, dark-eyed: and so John does his best to look up, keep, keep looking up at him working his tongue against him, sucking—curling—lips over teeth not rough as he takes him four fingers deep-deep-deep holding his lips open drooling out the sides while Sherlock watches him lips parted pushes his hand in up to the ridge of his knuckles and keep, keep staring up at his lovely flushed face John tries to as he swallows-swallows around him, caressing him with the back of his tongue and his throat.

"You feel so good," Sherlock says. Hushed. Rubbing at the corner of John's stretched mouth: John moans. "You like it?" Sherlock asks, turning his hand; pushing his fingers apart, prying John's jaw wider and wider until it aches: pinned as he is John tries to nod. Heart pounding in his throat and his ears: Sherlock asks, "Want me to do that to you?" and John whines 'round his fingertips.

Sherlock pulls his hand back. "Didn't understand," he says, quiet; folds himself in half sliding down to kiss the side of John's slicked-up mouth: John puts one hand in Sherlock's hair and tugs.

"If you can turn around, if you can get—" John swallows, throat scratchy, then finishes, "get your feet up here, so I can—I want you," John says, unsteady. All over. "In my mouth."

Sherlock is flushing. Redder when he pulls back, looking down at John. His eyes soft at the edges: old-paper yellow, sea green.

"Please." John's voice catches. Face burning, can't even care. "Just—as much as I can," heart, "I know that you'll need—"

"It's all right," Sherlock says quickly, and pushes up onto his knees. "It's all right," repeated as John palms him, helpless, then drops his hands; touches Sherlock's knee and ankle as Sherlock turns, pushes his feet clumsily up the carpet past John's shoulders, John scooting up awkwardly onto his elbow, rubbing up the long flushing side of Sherlock's thigh. John bends in to kiss his hip; and Sherlock pushes at him, twisting John's body open at the waist. The long arch of his body as he bends his head—and wethot John inhales, inhales; rubs at his sides; pets at the furry skin beneath the jut of his cock and then wraps one arm around Sherlock's legs and pulls him into his mouth. Sherlock moans: wet and open barely around him. Christ. John tries to hold his hips still but can't, cock shoving across Sherlock's tongue. Sherlock whines, pants, laps at him clumsily; and burning, burning John pulls him deeper. Swallows around him. Sherlock gasps, shoving in; squirms, getting his mouth half-closed dragging his tongue—

John pulls back. "Wait." Panting. Thumbs restless on Sherlock's hips as Sherlock lifts his head, mouth open, breathing fast and wet.

"Not good?" Sherlock asks, and John laughs.

"No, it's—" John swallows. "Great. Just give me. A minute."

Sherlock exhales. John rubs at his hip, licks at the head of his cock, looks down at him; and Sherlock jerks his head in a hard, restless nod so John draws him back in. Sherlock's knee twitches up, so John pushes him down, holds his canted hips still with two hard hands and, lips and tongue, works his leaking-salty prick wet and messy with Sherlock's body twisted up face turned down mouth empty as he moans.

"Can I?" Sherlock moves restlessly, twisting: rubs his cheek on John's thigh and John pulls off long enough to say, "Yeah," voice scratchy; and Sherlock leans back in. Back curved skin shining, squirming: his cock hits John in the cheek and John huffs as Sherlock gasps, "Fuck—sorry," but heart in his throat John just rubs at his hip, licks him all over Sherlock slick and bitter all over his throat with his lips feeling sand-scraped, overkissed, dripping all over his mouth like he could flood his dry throat and then Sherlock pulls up just long enough to gasp, "Stop," and John pulls back.

"All right?" John asks, and then gasps, hips: Sherlock, mouth full, moans. John swallows. Squeezes Sherlock's thigh. Bites down on his lip staring at Sherlock's hard wet cock a half-inch from his face, dark-flushed and dripping while Sherlock sucks him, hard; tongue and throat and lips wet and tight and relentless until shivering and shaking eyes stinging with salt John can't do anything but thud his head back against the carpet; gasp "Sherlock," somehow; and, hands throat body hollow, close his eyes.

Chapter Text

At half one on Sunday Mrs. Hudson is home and not busy and would be simply delighted to get out of the flat, so John escorts her down to the café one street over and eats his eggs benedict and drinks two and a half cups of tea before she asks, "Sherlock being difficult today?"

John laughs, a little. "He's running coagulation studies with pig's blood in the kitchen." He turns the handle, resettling his cup in his saucer. "I got hungry."

It's all perfectly true. Mrs. Hudson, however, gives him a skeptical sort of a look, but then goes back to discussing the personal safety workshop that Mrs. Goodridge keeps inviting her to, "as though I need to sit about while some idiot in jogging bottoms from a fitness school tells me I ought to check who's at the door before I open it or that I should go for eyes or knees or bollocks when I have to hit back."

John crosses his legs under the table. "Does seem a bit of a waste of time," he agrees.

Before they leave he buys two pastries to take back to the flat; Mrs. Hudson, pointedly, says nothing. She does, though, give him a kiss on the cheek and a shockingly bright, beaming smile once he's escorted her back to the door of her flat. "Enjoy the rest of your weekend, my dear," she says, patting his face; and John smiles, a bit awkwardly, and says, "You too."

The door to their living room is open. John can hear Sherlock thumping around in the kitchen, still, so he hangs up his jacket and sets the pastry bag on the coffee table, settling down with his laptop on the sofa. "Brought you back a snack," he calls, and Sherlock swirls out immediately, in dressing gown and safety goggles. John clears his throat, but—well, that ship has well and truly sailed, hasn't it. John just holds up the open bag, and Sherlock bends down to examine its contents. Remarkably enough, he looks fairly interested, so his experiments must be losing some of their luster.

"It's almost three," John says.

"Hm." Sherlock's eyebrows scrunch together. "Pain au chocolat?"

"And an apricot danish," John agrees. "You can have half of each."

"Hm." Sherlock reaches for the bag; but John snaps it shut.

"Go get your gloves off," John says, cradling it to his chest. "And wash your hands. That's revolting."

Sherlock rolls his eyes, but he does head back into the kitchen. His voice floats back out above the running water: "You know that porcine is the best substitute one can buy, in any significant quantity. I'd've used human if anyone would sell it to me."

"You're really not making it better," John calls back, but even he knows that he's smiling.

While Sherlock washes, John rolls down the top of the bag and tears each of the pastries carefully in two. He isn't at all hungry. Sherlock comes back with his safety goggles pushed up into his hair and his dressing gown off, in pajama bottoms and a t-shirt with his arms pale and goosebumping; and John holds up a bit of the pain au chocolat, eyebrows raised.

Sherlock examines it, then perches on the edge of the coffee table and takes it with his teeth. John's face floods hot, all at once, for no reason.

Sherlock chews, and watches him. John rubs at his cheeks.

"Ass," he says, finally; and, mouth full, Sherlock laughs.

Chapter Text

John doesn't think about it, mostly.

When Natalie asks him on Monday what he'd been up to at the weekend he says, "Oh, laundry, sleeping, deathly dull," and if his smile is at all forced it's because he's thinking about the kind of looks he'd get if he said something like watching my best friend measure the drying times of various fluids one might find at a murder scene or helping my flatmate clean blood off our kitchen walls; John hasn't been honest about his weekends in years. But his secondary sin of omission (if it even merits the name) starts to fidget him sometime after the afternoon Rhoda asks him if John'd be interested in meeting her second sister—who's due to be getting in at Heathrow when Rhoda's eldest daughter's halfway through some sort of event or another, John'd stopped listening—for lunch next Saturday. He doesn't, usually—not listen, that is: he likes Rhoda, and she hardly ever asks for a favor, and he's met three of her sisters, besides: enough to be pretty well convinced that they're all good-looking and clever and employed in interesting fields, but he isn't going to take her second sister for lunch on Saturday, is he. He knows that. Just spouts out some nonsense about already having plans and ducks back into his office, doesn't even think about it until later. He's busy. He's been busy. Nothing more.

By Thursday, John is thinking about it.

Sherlock's spent five days casually invading John's space to read his text messages and steal his laptop, but hasn't done a scrap more than breathe against the edges of John's face, his voice a low panther growl so close and hot that every single part of John's body that can become erect does, instantly; and John didn't—he wasn't—he hadn't been thinking about it, he was hardly taking notes on who started what where and when but it's like a poison, isn't it, the instant his brain flashes without asking, I was the one who asked to suck his cock on Saturday; because now suddenly, in John's head, they're taking turns—they must be taking turns—only they aren't; they wouldn't; they don't, do they? —but if they are, it was John who was the one to ask if he could suck Sherlock's cock on Saturday, and so. And so he finds himself tongue-tied and furious with himself when on Thursday Sherlock—not gone to bed yet, at half seven in the morning, still in suit trousers and a proper shirt for a late night consultation with Greg, but barefoot; and smelling warm and faintly, deliciously unclean—leans over the back of John's chair to murmur against his ear, "Always the tobacco—smoking kills, you know," as in the bone-white vacuum behind all his blood rushing south, John tries, very hard, not to pass out.

So now John is thinking about it.

Now John is lying on his back on his duvet with the door wide open at eight in the evening and the flat is silent, but that means very little: Sherlock could be in his bed downstairs, sleeping; he could be at Scotland Yard, annoying Donovan; he could be downstairs having tea with Mrs. Hudson or halfway around the planet for all John knows, and John is definitively thinking about it. He is thinking about the fact that his door is wide open, that it's Thursday evening; he is thinking about the fact that in the grand scheme of "sizable intervals during which John Watson has not had sex" five days doesn't even make the rankings, but it feels like a sodding eternity when Sherlock is lounging about in his pajamas and—and reading John's text messages and watching porn on his laptop, probably, and padding about the flat barefoot, with two buttons at his collar undone. John's thinking about the way Sherlock'd pressed himself up on his hands and knees and awkwardly, hesitantly, eased himself down as John's throat opened around him. John's thinking about how it'd made his breathing stop.

John rubs both hands over his face. "Fuck," he says aloud, pointlessly; then sits up, fast. Stands. Unbuttons his trousers; his shirt, halfway, then yanks it and his vest together up over his head, static crackling in his hair. He shoves down his trousers and his pants, sits to pull off his socks, and then lies back down flat on his back and glares at his erection. It appears to be unfazed by his irritation. John sighs, and rolls over to open the drawer in his bedside table. The cap on his lube sticks a bit, but he gets it open. Gets his hand wet and grits his teeth and gets to it, since that's apparently what he's going to do. He's perfectly capable of getting himself off—and why not, really, not as though he's not got plenty of material, between Sherlock's long pale hands and his long pale legs and his skin, flushing up, as, as he touches himself through his sheets—

John rolls back up onto his side. He has to dig around a bit, because he's always kept his dildo near the back of the drawer because apparently at one point he'd deluded himself into thinking that that'd somehow discourage Sherlock from finding it, or something—well, enough of that. He ought to just start keeping it out on the bedside table, quick to hand. For now he drops it on the duvet by his hip, knee up; tucks his hand under. Closes his eyes. Two fingers up to the second knuckle, easy: it makes the hot, coiled-up feeling in his groin open and spread. Weirdly aware of his own huffing breath, John pulls at himself—pets—Christ. Hot and impatient, doesn't want his fingers, does he. Grabs his dildo and slicks it up, hands trembling, and nudges it against himself. Breathes deep. Relax, John, just relax—but he can't.

John swallows. Stares up at the ceiling. His door is wide open: it'd be humiliating, wouldn't it, to be found like this: naked with his knees spread and a blue silicone cock in his fist that he can't get in. Like some raw first-timer with his lip between his teeth: he's not been that kid in bleeding decades; knows better; knows just how to rub at himself breathe out breathe in breath out with the head nudging just into him, knows how to take it deep. Knows how to work himself open with it, just the first few inches, nice and gentle, get it wetter, like he'd've done for that raw first-timer, on his back with his lip between his teeth, if he'd had the opportunity. Knee up to his shoulder: wider. Do it easy until he begs for it hard. Get himself good and wet and loose, fucking his own hole wide open and dripping so that when he pulls his cock out he'll whine, so that he'll be shaking for it, gagging all over, so that when he sticks the suction cup at the base to the headboard or the wall or, or—or the chair, the hard-backed rigid chair he keeps tucked into the corner for putting his shoes on, so that then, he'll be well and truly ready to go.

He's panting. Dripping all over. Pulls it out gasping, feeling hollow, emptied out; and stumbles to pull the chair away from the wall. Dead center of the room, facing—no. No. John turns the chair towards the door and shoves his wet silicone cock down onto the seat 'til it sticks and then gets down on his knees and gets his mouth around it. Wavering reflections in the lights in the window but John doesn't look, doesn't watch himself, doesn't want to, just wants to suck it down deep, deep, deep, thick and bitter-slick across his tongue fucking into his starving mouth deeper and deeper and deeper, until it makes his breathing stop. He pulls off eyes closed with his right hand around it and three fingers on the left up his arse and jerks it, panting; licks it like an ice lolly and pulls it back in, sucks it hard. Could suck—could suck so hard with three fingers up his arse could suck him until he tasted him, halfway to spilling across the back of his throat, could—could keep. Fucking. Going

Or. Or. John can't. Can't. He gets up onto his feet and grabs the lube off the edge of the bed, slicks it up. Get him dripping. Could, could do this, just do this, just keep doing this, would—would feel so good, hot and velvety in his palm with musk-bitter down his throat and could—could keep himself open while he did it, couldn't he? Isn't he? John's good with his hands, he could—could make it so good, kiss—kissing his pink mouth stubbled jaw and his flushing fair face while panting open-mouthed he arched and squirmed and gasped John, John while shuddering he spurted—no. No. Better to—to do something with it, will all that work done with long fingers pink mouth and the, the head of him, just the head, just a little bit; just tucking into him an inch at a time kissing him over and over until once he'd got him like this, sweat-soaked and panting, pathetic and dripping for it, he'd know—know it'd be best—best to, to drag John up to kneel across his thighs forcing his red-abraded hot face up to take in searing kisses while he'd fit—himself—right—fucking—in and John braces his hands on the back of his chair with his sweat-soaked bare back to the door and looks up at the image of himself in his second-storey window: bare and shining all over while he buggers himself, groaning, on a blue silicone cock stuck to a chair. Riding it. Listening to his chair squeaking wood floor and riding it like he'd ride him, like he'd push him down red-faced and gasping, starving for it like that raw first-timer with his hole already fucked open and his prick twitching and dripping while helpless, ecstatic, he grunted and whined rolled his hips up and down and up and slamming down, John is grinding his arse down on, on Sherlock's stiff dripping prick hard and relentless inside him while beneath him Sherlock'd moan and writhe and moan, shuddering—probably would—would fucking flush, the narrow white moon of his—his f-face doubled in the window glowing pink and red as he'd—he'd just roll John over onto his back and fuck into him, deep and dangerous, hands braced by John's head like his palm on the—like he'd done on the floor while he panted and ground his prick deep deep deep into John's arse as John groans, grinds, would fuck back around him behind him on his hands and knees until shuddering-collapsing wet-hot and spilling, John moans, moans helpless with his long hand around him cock up him wet leaking out of him, stinging hot all over running down his arse and his thighs as John comes all over the back of his chair.

Head dropped down. Eyes closed. Panting, hard: John tries to catch his breath. Tries, and tries. Blue silicone still thick inside him: aching, now. Christ. He raises himself up on shaky legs. Eases it out, teeth gritted, holding onto the back of the chair, and then meets the black holes of Sherlock's eyes in his reflection in the window.

Looks away. Bends back down, to grab his pants and his trousers.

He can't be arsed to do up the belt so he pulls it out of the loops and drops it back on the floor. Grabs the tangle of his shirt, while he's down there, and turns around.

In the doorway. "I brought curry," Sherlock says, voice low.

John nods and pulls his vest back on. "Be right down," he says.

Chapter Text

Lamb for Sherlock and chicken for John, like always: they switch halfway through, though. Like always. John's sweat is drying sticky and uncomfortable under his clothes: he chews and swallows and sets the lamb down and says, "Look—"

"You like it?" Sherlock asks.

John stops, and Sherlock digs his fork into his curry.

"A good hard rogering with that little toy of yours," Sherlock adds, and pops a bite of chicken into his mouth.

John feels a hot flush of something very much like anger roll across him. "Yeah, I do." Snappish. Harsh. Watching Sherlock busily polish off the last of John's chicken. "What business is it of yours?"

Sherlock drops his fork into the remains of the curry and takes up his water. Drinks half of it in three long swallows, then meets John's eyes.

Sherlock says, "Mine's thicker."

John curls his hands. "Mine's not let me down yet."

Sherlock's mouth turns up at the corner as he leans back in his chair. "I just find myself wondering," he murmurs, "as to whether or not you could take it"; and John pushes away from the table, a bit. Regards him.

"Are you angling for a demonstration?" John asks.

Sherlock's eyelids slip lower, lower. "It seems a bit unfair," he says. Solicitous: bastard. "After all, you've already been used once tonight. Aren't you sore?"

John smiles, all teeth. "Hardly," he says. "Would've kept on going if you'd not come up. Wanting me."

Sherlock folds his hands in front of his mouth, considering.

John's heart: thu-thump, thu-thump. He feels like all the straining-surging parts of himself are flying out of his body: wild, unreined. "I've not got your sorts of limits, you know," John says. "Nothing to stop me." Face heating up even before he says it: "I could've ridden him until he came"; and Sherlock's hands drop down to his lap.

"Bold words," he says, very softly, and then pushes back from the table and walks through the kitchen.

John looks at their takeaway containers scattered across the table. He gathers them up, bins them in the kitchen. Washes, carefully, first one fork, then the other, with Sherlock's bedroom door standing open behind him.

"Are you coming?" Sherlock asks, from the open door.

"In a minute," John says. He washes their water glasses, too, then comes over to Sherlock still standing in the doorway, barefoot.

"Well?" John says. He crosses his arms over his chest. "Are you going to show me this fabulous thick cock you're going to fuck me with, or—" and Sherlock steps to the side, motions him in, head inclined. His other hand, John notes, white-knuckled on the door, which he closes behind them.

"Get undressed," Sherlock says.

"What, just me?" John asks, raising his eyebrows, but he gets his shirt open. "You've already got your free show, haven't you? How long were you standing there? Watching me take what I wanted?"

Sherlock's nostrils flare, but he starts unbuttoning his shirt. "Long enough to know you moan for it like it's the best you've ever had," he sneers. "A little gently-blue toy prick with fake balls that probably came in a starter kit for exploring anal play on discount at Lovehoney, hm? Was your rubbish lube included, too?"

John laughs, kicks his trousers off. "I'd find all that scorn more convincing if you hadn't sounded like you'd spent the last half hour with it shoved down your throat, you know." He's half-hard already, gives himself a tug or two, just showing off. Sherlock is staring at him, hands stilled; the weight of his open trousers tugging his little black pants down his bony hips, his erection obvious at the "V" of the zip. A bright-mottled flush creeping up to his cheeks. John grabs himself at the base, angles his cock out. "You want this shoved down your throat?" he asks. Doesn't even have to try for it to sound cruel. "I thought I came in here to have you blow my mind."

Sherlock's eyes narrow. He nods. "Get up on the bed, then. Hands and knees."

John gets up onto the bed, hands and knees. Flexes his arse, a little; Sherlock's breathing hard enough that John can hear it when it catches. There's a mirror to his left: if John just barely turns his head, he can watch Sherlock stepping out of his trousers. Pushing down his pants. Christ, he's good-looking: John is struck, momentarily, by the supreme unfairness of everything before Sherlock sits down by his right hip and John twists to look over at the real thing. Dark hair. Pale smooth back: Sherlock tucks his knee up, turning, so he can get his hands on John's arse, heavy and firm, and pull him apart.

John drops his head back down, inhaling. Slow.

"You're not even wet anymore," Sherlock murmurs. "Just dirtied up." He pets two fingers down over John's crack and pushes at him, dry and raw. John gasps, flinching: "Rubbish lube," Sherlock repeats, and then bends down to lick a long stripe over his arsehole.

"Fuck," John gasps, feet curling; as behind him Sherlock says, "It tastes awful, too," and stands up.

John's hands knot into fists. "You," he breathes, as clattering Sherlock digs about in his chest-of-drawers, "are a first-rate bastard—" but Sherlock comes back over, drops something by his hip, and sits down, cross-legged, by John's arm braced on the duvet, holding out a knobby black chunk of silicone, curved from tip to base. The overall shape is somewhat suggestive, but it's anything but realistic; still, John's body hair prickles up, up, up. Still thick, isn't it. Bulbous at the head.

"I'm going to fuck you with this," Sherlock says, "so you'd better get acquainted. Lick it, please."

John swallows. Opens his mouth for Sherlock to put it in, and John closes his lips around it. Sucks, a bit. Smelling Sherlock's warm close body he swallows, swallows: Christ. He hollows his cheeks and sucks and hand 'round Sherlock's wrist he pulls until he kisses Sherlock's fist.

Sherlock. A small, quiet sound.

He didn't mean to do that: John's back prickles. John knows that he hadn't meant to do that, and when he drags his toy out of John's mouth John tongues at the head of it, looking up through his smudging eyelashes: feeling his own mouth wet and slack around silicone taste as he stares up at the blur of Sherlock's flat blank flushed face. Sherlock's just-parted lips. Some strange creature is uncoiling beneath John's ribs: he pulls his mouth off the cock and kneels up and kisses Sherlock's mouth and Sherlock, unmoving, lets him. Lets John part his lips. Lets John lick him open and fist two hands in his hair and then Sherlock's fingertips fall on the shivering small of John's back, and splay.

Writhing inside John pulls his mouth back: "Lube."

Sherlock's eyes close-open and focus, too close. John bites at his bottom lip, scrapes cheek across chin; says, "Since mine's such rubbish," as Sherlock's hand slides slow over his arse, pulling him apart, and then stills. Breathing hard his mouth against John's mouth; and John says, "I thought you wanted proof."

"Yeah," Sherlock mumbles. Inhales: sharper, "Yeah," and then twists his face away, to dig around in the tangle of things he'd dropped on the bed. Leather, dropped into John's mind like a bomb, and Sherlock hands him a bottle and says, "You'd better get started, I think," grabs his toy, and kneels back up and off the bed.

The bottle is a heavy matte black plastic and 250mL and still has a sticker on the bottom: £19.99. "What," John asks, "am I doing all the work?"

Sherlock smiles down at him, not nice. "Hardly," he says, "it's just that it's so much bigger than you're used to," as he reaches for the—Christ, it is a harness, John hadn't been— "just giving you the opportunity to get yourself ready," Sherlock says, stepping into it, "in case you need it, to prove me wrong."

"Considerate," John says. It doesn't come out quite right. "I think that you just want to see me shove my fingers up my arse," he says, sharper.

"I've already seen what you shove up your arse." Sherlock tightens the strap 'round his right thigh with a snick. The left. "I wasn't impressed." He turns, his back to John, and John stares at the lines of the leather straps under his round arse. At the planes of his shoulders and the groove of his spine and "I'd hurry up," Sherlock says, still turned away. "If I were you."

John is still holding Sherlock's idiotically overpriced lube. The third strap of the harness is still slack, sliding down Sherlock's hips, and Sherlock's back ribs are lifting with deep, almost-silent breaths and John is kneeling on his bed. If he were alone he'd lie on his back but he isn't, so he doesn't, just flicks open the lube and gets his hand wet. Braces his weight on his right arm and reaches back: it's harder like this. His mouth suddenly sour beneath his tongue. Saliva leaking up. He gets himself wet—wet enough, he—he's open enough, he doesn't need—Sherlock turns back towards him, black silicone jutting out, face turned down, looking down as he tugs at the end of the waist strap. John sits back on his heels and curls his sticky hands on his thighs.

"Sherlock," he says, quiet.

Sherlock's cheeks are still mottled red, but he meets John's eyes.

John swallows. Silent. It's not the sort of thing he's seen before, quite. He'd thought they were all designed to afford plenty of access between the thighs.

Finally, Sherlock exhales. Shuffles up against the edge of the bed and says, "Get me wet," barely breath.

The monstrous thing inside John's ribs twists and snarls, so John bends down, spine curved 'til it aches, and gets his hand tight around the base. Kisses the head and licks at it, feeling—feeling—

"Hungry?" Sherlock asks, and oh: John nods, nods. Sherlock touches his hair: John gasps. Shivers. Pulls him deep, deep; swallows silicone and breathes in sweaty skin and leather. John pulls up, breathes; breathes, twists his hand. "Good," Sherlock says, as John strokes loose around his drying spit, and Sherlock digs his fingers into John's scalp as heart pounding John takes him deep again. "So sweet for me," Sherlock says, very quietly, and John swallows. Pulls back to press his hot forehead to hip and strap and buckle and rubs his thumb along the too-smooth too-round head of Sherlock's cock, panting; and Sherlock asks, "Are you so sweet for everyone," and when his voice cracks it doesn't matter, doesn't matter: John is reaching for the lube. It's leaked out onto the duvet: fucking hell, who cares? John swipes up as much as he can with his fingers, opens the bottle. Good and wet: he gets his hand around Sherlock's black silicone cock and rubs him up and down; up, down; updown. Sherlock's ribs are moving up and down and John wants to press—he slides back. On his knees. Reaches out to tug at Sherlock's hard cold prick, and then drops his fingers down. Touches the edge of Sherlock's hot skin beside the masking curve of the leather and then rocks back onto his heels.

Sherlock is watching him. Breathing slowly, behind his faded flush. "Custom," he says, finally; and John snarls, "Did I ask?" and mouth pressed tight together Sherlock straightens, shoulders squared, so John kneels back and puts his hands flat on the duvet, like Sherlock'd said. Between his braced hands is a broad dark wet mark, the slick smear of the spilt lube.

Sherlock hasn't moved. "I thought," John says, staring down, "you'd something to show me."

Sherlock doesn't say anything. After a moment the bed dips, and John closes his eyes.

Slice all around a ripe peach and it comes free from the stone with a twist: Sherlock's hands on him crack him open, and John's elbows buckle. Inhaling. Inhaling, with Sherlock's long hands on his hips, nudging up behind him, pressed only just against him until John presses back and it presses in. "Fuck." John swallows. "Harder, I'm not some fucking—fuck," gasped out of air as Sherlock shoves into him, deep. Fingers so hard they might bruise, Christ: John twists his mouth to his arm to muffle himself, and Sherlock draws back—in—out—deeper, and John moans against his own skin. The thing up him is hard and unyielding, with Sherlock's hands moving him by the hips. Sherlock stops, shifting on his knees, and leans over him chest to back and John arches mouth open with the seams of his body unraveling, and Sherlock pulls back up, almost away. John laughs, raw: how he must look. Speared open on Sherlock's thick cock and shuddering, moaning for it while his sweat and precome drips all over Sherlock's bed, with—behind him, regarding him—Sherlock held fast in leather, the sort of thing he'd not be able to get into with an erection. John doesn't care. Pushes back, panting for it, and Sherlock grabs his hips and says, "Stop," so John stops.

John can hear him, exhaling. His hands on John's hips. Sliding up John's sides—and then nothing, nothing, as he pulls his cock out slow and relentless, and John presses his own shoulders tight to his ears.

He's cold all over. Shivering. And then Sherlock's hands against him. His fingers, warm and slick with lube; and prickling up all over John's knees slide wider and he gasps and gasps and gasps.

"You like it?" Sherlock says, very quietly; and wet and thick John laughs. "No," Sherlock says, a little sharp, but his fingers are gentle and clever and very, very warm, petting him earthquake-deep inside. "I'm asking: do you like this, John?"

John swallows. "Yeah," he says, helpless.

Sherlock's knees shush against the duvet. His thighs press to John's prickling-up goosebumping thighs. "This?" he asks, quiet, as he rubs the bulbous head of his dripping-slick cock against him, John's whole body still aching with what'd felt like inside.

"Yeah." John's voice comes out wrong. "Yeah."

Sherlock is petting at him, hips and spine and sides. "This," Sherlock says, thick, as he presses in. Thick. John shivers, and Sherlock folds himself down around his back.

"John," he says, muffled. Pressed into John's skin as he presses in between John's skin; and John gasps, "Yeah."

Sherlock nods. His face scraping up John's shoulder and nape, arm sliding 'round his chest to draw their ribs together, tight: John shudders all over, and against his ear Sherlock whispers, "Me, too."

"Fuck," John gasps, pushing back; and panting Sherlock pushes with him. Christ. He turns his face towards Sherlock's already twisted down to meet him, lips parted. Their teeth clack—can't reach, barely—but Sherlock squirms, wraps his other arm tight around John head and shoulders to hold him close and kiss him, open-mouthed and badly angled, as his hips move, small and shallow, but move and move and move.

"I can't," Sherlock is mumbling, ragged at the edges, "feel you, I can't tell, is it—" and so John gasps, "S'good," gasps and gasps, "it's good, I—keep. Keep going, I—" and so Sherlock keeps going. Rubbing his hot face against John's face as John's arms tremble knees ache as Sherlock's cock moves in him hard and body-warm and soso thick, their bodies sticky-hot and so, so close

John comes so hard his legs cramp. It hurts. Sherlock holds him up.

When he's almost caught his breath, John says, "Jesus Christ," then laughs.

Sherlock'd wrapped himself around him. Was holding him up. Still is. Embarrassing, the necessary scaffolding of Sherlock's body hot everywhere around him, one hand on his sternum, the other flat half-over John's on the bed. His breath hot but slowing, coming onto-into John's burning sweat-dripping face. Sherlock isn't moving at all. Still in him, John realizes, and swallows.

"Is it." John stops, because Sherlock is kissing him. With a lot of tongue. Open-mouthed. Makes him shiver all over.

"Uncomfortable," John finishes, mouth moving against Sherlock's warm mouth.

Sherlock curls his hand over John's ribs.

"Can I keep going?" Sherlock asks, very quietly, and rolls his hips, only just.

John grinds his teeth together. Not fast enough: humiliating, that little whining gasp.

"No, then," Sherlock says, quiet, and kisses the meat of his shoulder.

"I'm sorry," John says, and Sherlock shakes his head. Kisses him, cheek and throat. "I could suck you," John says, and Sherlock huffs out half a laugh.

"Not right now," he says, and then eases back up onto his knees. "Breathe," he says, rubbing at the small of John's back, and John nods and breathes as Sherlock pulls slowly, carefully out.

Without Sherlock to keep him up the position seems untenable. The surface of the bed tilts and dips as Sherlock gets up, and John lets himself drop down onto his face and belly. Doesn't let his eyes close. He rolls up onto his side, watching Sherlock pick up John's shirt and use it to wipe lube off his belly and the harness and his thighs.

"Would, you know," John says. Sherlock looks up. "Suck you, I mean." John licks his lips, waggles his outstretched hand. "Or."

Sherlock's mouth quirks. "It is, a bit," he says, and starts working on the buckles.

"What?"

"Uncomfortable," Sherlock says. He nods towards John. "You can push that back, you know."

"What? Oh." John frowns, but he wriggles himself up enough to push the decidedly-the-worse-for-wear-duvet aside while Sherlock's getting his waist strap loose, stretch out between clean sheets as face tilted up towards the ceiling Sherlock exhales, exhales, exhales. John says, "You didn't have to—"

Sherlock holds up a hand. Drops it. Pulls the dildo free, then turns back to set it on top of his chest-of-drawers. "I wanted to." Out of context, the toy looks completely ridiculous, so John looks back at Sherlock's arse: better view. "It's just... increasingly awkward, the longer I've got it on." Sherlock finishes getting his legs free and climbs back onto the bed, bends down over John rolling half-onto his back, reaching up: Sherlock's hair is very thick and very soft, and when John pets his hand through it Sherlock sighs into his mouth, melting their bodies together.

"Why offer another go, then?" John murmurs, as Sherlock nuzzles into his throat; and Sherlock exhales, slow and steady, just against his skin. Knee tucked between John's against the sheets.

"Wanted you to feel it," Sherlock says, finally.

John huffs. "Believe me," he says. "I did."

"Hm." Sherlock pushes himself up onto an elbow, looking down. He touches the corner of John's mouth.

"Still do," John admits, very quietly, and Sherlock's eyelids slip half-closed.

"Do you," he murmurs; and John nods, even though it doesn't sound much like a question. Sherlock rubs his fingers over John's bottom lip, and John opens for him, sucks him in. Licks at the pads of his fingertips and drags his lips over the sides.

Sherlock is breathing slow and even, cheeks pink as he pets at John's tongue. In, out. In. Hypnotic, that: John breathes. Breathes. Breathes.

"I want to try something," Sherlock says, very quietly.

John licks up between Sherlock's curling fingers, then nods.

"Roll over," Sherlock says, pulling back. A rush of cold air to all the hot-sticky places where they were pressed together but it gives John the space to roll over onto his belly, so John rolls over onto his belly. Sherlock is pulling the pillows down from the head of the bed, so John presses his hips up so that Sherlock can wedge them under him: not rocket science, is it. Sherlock bends down to kiss his shoulder. Nuzzle at his neck. John squirms, breath picking up, chest tight—

"All right?" Sherlock asks, close; and so. So John nods, even though Sherlock is getting up off the bed again, padding around.

John presses his face to the sheets, cool and dark. Hopes Sherlock's not taking video, or anything, of John with his heart still thumping out to his fingertips, knees spread, his bare arse jutting up towards the sky. His gravity shifts when Sherlock comes back up onto the mattress. Pets up the back of John's thighs as he settles between them, tucks his folded knees underneath. John swallows. Prickling—rubs his face into the sheets, breathing deep, as Sherlock eases his arse apart.

"Enjoying the view," John says. His voice wavers: he squeezes his eyes shut tight.

Sherlock hums. Squeezes his arse, and John bites down on his lips, trying not to laugh. Sherlock pets a thumb across him and John gasps. His whole body twitching. He squeezes his fists. Digs his knees down into the mattress and still, blinking in the bruise-edged dark. He could turn his face up from the sheet if he wanted, but he doesn't.

"Sensitive," Sherlock says, quiet. Still stroking, higher up.

John swallows. "Yeah," he admits.

Sherlock's fingers are very gentle. Soft circles: lower, lower. "Hurts?" he asks, and John breathes damp cotton. He can taste, very faintly, the days-old memory of Sherlock's skin. "John," Sherlock says. "Does it hurt?"

"No," John says, thick. "No."

Sherlock's hands leave him: John shivers. "You've been." Sherlock stops. Hands: wet, as John inhales— "You've been busy, tonight," Sherlock says, quiet, touching him, "haven't you."

"I—a bit." John's body is beginning to feel too small, drawn too tight around all his swelling organs, as Sherlock caresses the tender rim of him with warm wet hands.

Sherlock presses a fingertip against him, and then stills. John squirms. He can't—it's too close, he feels—Sherlock pushes his fingertip into him; John gasps, and Sherlock pulls out. Sherlock's low steady voice: "Did you get what you wanted?"

John swallows. Aching. Hollow and open, while Sherlock's hand tightens and loosens, tightens and loosens, on his arse. "Yeah," John whispers, and closes his eyes.

He can't possibly get hard again, can he? but still his hips are still shifting against the pillows still restless and hungry as the lid on the lube clicks as Sherlock presses his long fingers into him, very, very slow. Christ. John's raw-flayed body, can't help it, is pushing back around him barely thinking, breathing hard, pulled-apart and raw and somehow, somehow still bloody wanting; as Sherlock's long thick fingers curl into him, deep into him, and "What's that, then?" Sherlock is asking, low and dangerous. "Two cocks up you in one night?"

John whines. Pinned. Red-hot blood seeping out through his tissue-paper skin as he squirms—fuck—and Sherlock pets at the small of his back: slow, slow; gentle, gentle. With what feels like half his right hand up him, Christ

"Is that what you need?" Sherlock asks, very low.

"Sh-Sherlock." Voice grinding in his throat: Christ, John might as well get down and— "I—please, I—"

"I'd like it if you could tell me," Sherlock murmurs. Bends down. Kisses his spine—John gasps, burning face, shoving back— "John?"

John makes noise. Pleading. Helpless. With Sherlock sat up behind him, petting him like—he rubs at his face. Tries to get his hands under him, shoulders up—

"I'm not entirely sure that I can wholeheartedly endorse the experience," Sherlock murmurs, still—fucking—touching— "coming into the flat to find you upstairs getting fucked."

Dizzy, John laughs. Absurd. "Jealous?" he manages, absurd; as Sherlock rubs his mouth against John's sweaty back and says, "Yes."

Christ. "I." John can't finish. Can barely breathe. Sherlock fucking him slow and relentless with his long slick fingers while he presses hot, open-mouthed kisses over John's stretched-too-tight skin. "S'mine, I picked it," John gasps, and Sherlock pushes into him deep and hard and he moans and moans and moans.

"Did you?" Sherlock asks, and twists his fingers.

John moans.

Sherlock pets at his blood-pounding arching skin careful light and shallow while John writhes, panting; pushes back, panting; and mouth moving against his iliac crest Sherlock whispers, "Is that what you want?"

"I." John swallows, heart pounding so hard it vibrates his hands, curled up under him—pulses in his shoulders and cheeks— "I don't, I—"

"Not enough, is it," Sherlock asks, quiet. With his slick hand.

"No," John whispers. "No." Face burning. "I want—"

He stops. Can't. Sherlock won't stop, just keeps moving slow and gentle and utterly relentless as he murmurs, "This?"

John swallows.

"My hands, like this," Sherlock says, "or—what?"

"Your cock," John whispers, and shoves the meat of his palm under his mouth.

"You liked that?" Sherlock asks.

John nods. Nods. Turns his mouth up, air cold on the burning side of his face: "Weren't in, were you." Voice cracks.

Sherlock nuzzles at him. "Perfectly reasonable, then."

John nods.

His body is moving without his help. Broken open. Spilling everywhere, as Sherlock says, "If that's what you need," curling his clever fingers—fuck— "then I'll just have resign myself to seeing to you after."

"Oh Jesus," John mumbles. Nearly whines—or, or laughs, or—sparking all over, with his hips rolling back and back and back

"Consider it in the nature of a warm-up, then," Sherlock says, quiet, "for you coming down to see me"; John swallows, forces—nods, doesn't want—but wants, the whole of him starving pushing back tight-throbbing around Sherlock's long fingers "because it's not as good when it's not me, is it?" so flushing hotter and hotter John shakes his head, shakes his head; "so you'd just have to come down here after," as burning and shriveling John nods and squirms and nods, "so I could bugger you properly," Sherlock's voice dropping lower, a little breathless, "even if you were wrecked already, raw and used and wet," and cringing but John gasps and gasps, "and still needing for me to just—just give it to you properly, yeah?"

"Yes," John gasps, helpless, eyes prickling, "yes—"

"Bend you over something and give it to you good and hard," Sherlock says, low and dark, "until you're moaning for me—would you moan for me?"

"Sherlock," John moans, arching. Feeling soggy-wet with the better part of £20 of lube, so slick he could take—

"God." Unsteady, barely. Sherlock says, "I could fill you right up, couldn't I? And you'd just beg for it."

"Yeah," groaning, anything Sherlock'd give him, hand or prick or "Sherlock—please, please—"

"Fuck you so loose," around his wet squelching fingers, "you'd barely be able to hold onto me—"

"Oh, Christ—"

"Get you so soaked," breathed against him, "four hours later you'd still be ready."

Could just. Knees over his shoulders, and. "Yeah." Wavering. "Yeah."

"So I could just roll over and stick my prick back in you, if I wanted," Sherlock says, thick moving fingers so deep John can almost feel it in his empty throat, shoving himself back harder-harder while Sherlock shoves his fingers deep and says, "Keep you moaning my name until you can't even hold yourself up." In the dark.

"Sherlock." John is gasping, panting, can't even not want— "Sherlock—"

"Yeah." Sherlock kisses him. Back. Tailbone. "Yeah?"

Helpless, John just moans: and then tongue, Sherlock's long wet-hot lick down to his fingers crammed deep into him and John cries out, dissolved. "Yeah?" and John nods. Again and again and again while Sherlock's tongue flicks—John jerks— "I could lick it all back out of you, I think," Sherlock murmurs, "let you ride him until he comes but you'd still come down here for me to clean you up," while John claws at his own hair dizzy and hot and "Lick you," Sherlock whispers, "'til I'm all you can feel," while wet with him John fucks himself between Sherlock's too-knowing fingerstongue and slickening Egyptian cotton, gasping, "Do it, do it," face prickling and hot as Sherlock pulls him open wide and presses his face down tight and hot kisses him wet and electric into sucks at his wet aching hole as he presses his fingers back into him, cruelly deep, curling hard as he licks deep slipping deep as John writhes oversensitive skin sweat-sopping sheets while Sherlock eats the slick mess of two hard wet fucks out of John's overclocked ecstatic body and moaning, throat raw, John shudders and comes, sharp and painful, into the soft, body-wet mound of Sherlock's fluffy white pillows.

He is shivering.

Sherlock is tugging at him. Pulling him—off, down to the—wet sheets and John shivers and shivers, curling—while Sherlock pets at his hair and kisses his face and his mouth and weaves their bodies together with his cock hot half-hard against John's hip and John pulls back, sits up, shivering stumbles to his feet and bends to grab his—his pants, his trousers are—doesn't matter, he—

"John," Sherlock says, pushing himself back up to sitting.

John shakes his head, shakes his head, says, "It's late, I'd better—work, in the morning"; and Sherlock says, "John"; and John flinches.

He can't—look, he can't—he bends back down for his stained shirt. Bundles it to his chest and says, "I have to," as he stumbles for the door, weaving through the tilted too-real blur of kitchen—living room—stairwell until he can drag his clumsy feet over his landing and lock his door behind him and curl up on his side in the dark with his skin still prickling and sparking all over and the crack of his arse still sore, soaking wet.

A tight crumpled ball. In the dark where he lies and can't, he can't move. Can't. Underneath him his duvet is cold from the air all over him and John can't move. Keeps both hands pressed over his nose and his mouth shut tight keep silent, unmoving, as he sobs, and shivers, and sobs.

Chapter Text

Friday John gets up and showers and shaves and goes to work and comes back and makes himself pasta for dinner and brushes his teeth and goes to bed and Saturday he wakes up and Sherlock's in again. Sitting fully dressed at their table with toast and jam and a copy of the Guardian and a bright red puffy scrape on the left side of his jaw. He's made two cups of tea. John tightens the tie of his dressing gown and comes over: Sherlock's eyes dart up, pale.

John picks up the second cup. "Thanks," he says, and Sherlock's eyes flick back down again.

"Of course," he says, and clears his throat.

John sets the cup back down and goes to make himself toast. Eggs, too, enough to hold the pan over Sherlock's plate in offering, but not so much that he won't be able to finish them off when Sherlock waves them away.

"Case?" John asks, halfway through his second slice of toast.

Sherlock's head jerks up again.

John points at his jaw with his fork, then sticks it back in his eggs.

"No," Sherlock says, after a moment.

John chews. Swallows. Nods.

Sherlock turns back to the paper. His face is pink and blotchy. It's very unattractive.

"I've been thinking, while you were out," John says, after a moment. "I think you should tie me up."

Sherlock's throat moves. He doesn't look up. After a moment he folds his paper up along its creases and drops it next to his plate. He meets John's eyes and says, "I don't."

"Why not?" John sets his toast down, just at the edge of his plate. "It'll be fun." He smiles.

Sherlock takes a deep, slow breath. "John."

"You could smack me around a little," John suggests. "Whatever you want."

Sherlock's mouth is pulling down at the corners.

"Come on," John says. "It's not like it'd be the first time, for me, and you can always—"

"I don't want to," Sherlock says, but his face is flushing a deep, luxuriant red. John laughs.

"No?" He smiles. "All right. What, then?"

Sherlock rubs at his eyebrow, looking away.

"You could get away with all sorts of things, if I were tied up," John says. "Surely you must have some deep dark secret desires, somewhere under there—very deep under there, I think"; and Sherlock's spine snaps straight as he inhales. Looks back. Meets John's eyes.

Very steadily, Sherlock says, "I don't think I should tie you up."

John smiles.

"I'm not going to tie you up," Sherlock clarifies; and then he says, "You locked your door"; and John—

Sherlock doesn't say anything else.

"You followed me upstairs, did you," John says, finally. Forcing his chin back up.

Sherlock's expression pulls and flattens. "Yes, I did. I was concerned. Would've looked in on you, but—"

He stops.

"But," he repeats, as his fingers drum on the table, four-five-three.

John's heart is beating queerly hard. He leans back in his chair. "And now—what?" he asks. "Are you—what, punishing me?" He laughs: ridiculous. "Because I didn't realize—"

"No," Sherlock says. "John. You were—"

"What?" John says. "I was fine."

Sherlock's mouth twists. "I can say with absolute certainty that you weren't," he says, his voice low and tight, "and you trying to convince me that I don't know you better than—that I haven't known you for five bloody years—"

"Yeah, but you've only been fucking me for a couple weeks and I've been doing it for decades, so." John slouches, laughs. "It'd take a good deal more than your worst, to—"

"Shut up," Sherlock snarls, and pushes up to his feet.

He strides over to his music stand. Rifles through the sheet music he'd complained about when Mycroft'd given it to him at his birthday with his back to John and his shoulders taut, the violin still in its case on the floor. Shoulders up. Back hunched.

"Sherlock," John says, but Sherlock doesn't reply.

John sighs. "Fine." He scrubs his hands over his face. "That's just—fine." He stands up, suddenly unhungry, and takes his plate into the kitchen. Scrapes his eggs and the rest of his toast into the bin.

Predictably, after about ten seconds, Sherlock follows. "I'd forgotten, almost," he is saying, too loudly, from the doorway, "what a self-centered manipulative prick you can be, with people you're shagging."

John's back prickles up. "Manipulative?" He laughs, dish clattering into the sink. He turns. Leans back against the windowsill, arms crossed tight over his chest. "I'm manipulative? When you're the one who—"

"Yes, by all means, tell me how awful I've been to you," Sherlock snaps, pushing off from the wall, "when I—"

"Did I say 'awful'?" as John squeezes his own ribs, "When would I say 'awful' to you, when you—"

"—keep doing," shoulders hunched as he stalks "just what you want—"

"Yeah, because I can tell that you get nothing out of it," closer as John snarls, "me on my knees and—"

"—like some sort of sexual robot." Sherlock laughs, wild, closer and closer and then says, "But of course, you'd probably—"

"—begging for—yeah, a robot," John would step back but "when everything I'm doing—I thought you'd jump at the chance to, to get me with my feet and wrists—"

"—love that, wouldn't you?" Sherlock snaps, looming over him the window and the wall. "If I was programmed to do whatever you won't—"

"—pinned, but you'd want my mouth free, wouldn't you?" John's throat hurts. "So you could hear me—"

"—ask, because you haven't got the balls to admit—"

"—whining and pleading like some, some dumb horny kid—"

Sherlock's shoulders snap back. "That you want it," he finishes, crisp and flat, and backhands John so hard the window rattles his skull.

Knees buckling John grabs at the front of Sherlock's shirt. Panting. Blinking back sparks.

"This what you want?" Sherlock snarls, dragging at the tie of John's dressing gown, shoves his arm tight across his shoulders, pinning him back as he shoves his thigh between John's bare thighs. "Hm?"

"Jesus," John gasps, squirming—arching—; as Sherlock grinds out, "For me to hurt you," rubbing up everywhere against him, clothes rough— "treat you like some sort of worthless—little—" voice breaking; as "Fuck—" John gasps, "fuck—please—" and Sherlock shoves his arm up tight against his throat.

Chapter Text

Panting. "F-fu—"

Sherlock presses tighter into his half-bitten moan and John bangs his head back against the window so his throat can open enough that when very low, Sherlock says, "You tell me you like it," John can say, "Y-yes," as Sherlock repeats, "Tell me you like it," and John swallows, an ache pressed into Sherlock's hard arm and then grinds out, "I—I do, I like it, please," and Sherlock slaps him, hard. John's face falls forward, Sherlock's arm, electric green sparks. Sherlock grabs him by his hair and yanks him back up. John whines. "You remember what to say when you don't?" Sherlock asks, and John swallows—Sherlock's arm loosens— "Yes," John gasps, "yes—my face, please—" and Sherlock presses his arm up again, tight. Thigh tight to John's prick, leaking all over his trousers, his breath coming in hot wet bursts on John's burning face.

Sherlock says, "You'd let me fuck you like this, wouldn't you," low and ferocious, as he grinds his leg up against John's erection. "Let me just—just pull it out through my flies and cram it into you?"

John moans. Helpless.

"Tell me," Sherlock says, voice tight; and John shudders, gasps, "I'd let you, I want—you can—Sher—" with his face falling forward enough that Sherlock's arm catches the word hard in his throat.

Sherlock grabs him by the hair. "Ought to do it," he is saying, pulling John's head up. "Ought to give you just what you ask for," and then he hits him, open-palmed, twice: John moans, squirming on his thigh. "Or maybe I ought to just pull you off, hm?" Sherlock is breathing marathon-hard, hips shoved tight to him. "Ought to just hold you here and tug on your cock 'til you make a mess of the floor and then what, hm?" John whines, wriggling: Sherlock hard through his trousers against his hip. Sherlock bites his cheek and asks, "Make you get down and lick it up?"

Half-broken staccato breaths: Sherlock drags his hair back, chin up; and John moans, long and low. "Would you moan for that?" Sherlock is asking, puffed against his skin. John nods. "Moan harder if I fucked you while you did it?" Nodding John nods, nods and Sherlock says, "Fucked you so hard your face'd scrape against the lino, would you still moan?" and John nods so Sherlock pulls back and says, "Tell me," and John groans, "Yes, I'd—I'd moan for it, I'll always—" and Sherlock slaps him across the face and John shudders, head to toe. Writhing, pinned, hard to breathe and Sherlock drags his head back up. Gulping sobs.

"John," Sherlock says, very quietly, and his thumb pets across John's cheekbone and so eyes prickling John gasps, "Green," and Sherlock drops his fingers in a flash and then hits him: lightning.

"You're making a mess of my trousers," Sherlock tells him, and John croaks out a raw, agonized laugh. "Ought to make you clean them up, too. Hm?"

"Yeah," John gasps, and then chokes, "k-kiss me," and then burning up all over tilts his face down-down-down towards Sherlock's tight arm until he almost can't breathe.

Sherlock kisses his temple, his cheek. Pulls him up by the hair and then while John wriggles and squirms Sherlock presses his mouth to his mouth, over and over, soft and tender and wet.

John whines.

"You're so demanding," Sherlock murmurs, across the joist of his arm; "I know," John whispers, "'m sorry," and Sherlock pulls back and slaps him twice, once on each side, and while still-sparking singing Sherlock lets his hand fall. "You know you shouldn't and you still do it anyway," Sherlock says, low and close, and hot all over John nods. He can hear Sherlock swallow. Hand on John's burning heaving chest: "Lucky, then, that I can think of all kinds of things to put you in your place," Sherlock says, as he strokes his knuckles across John's trembling cavernous belly up-down, up-down; John shudders. Groans: stops. And stops. Sherlock is huffing small bracing breaths, hot on his cheek, and John is dissolving into black air and "Head up," Sherlock whispers, petting; "get your head up, John, now," and oh trying John tries glues his head to the window unsticking-slipping until Sherlock turns his arm cups his chin elbow fallen as John gasps—shudders—gasps while Sherlock's right hand cups John's balls tight to his body until John breathes—and Sherlock's shifting free arm as he breathes—again firm-level to the ground across John's shoulders, as head up John breathes, and breathes, and. Breathes.

"So," Sherlock murmurs. "What do you think I should do?"

John swallows. Breathes. Swallows.

"About you," Sherlock clarifies.

"M'demanding," John says, thick; and Sherlock's hand leaves his skin comes up as he pulls his body back just far enough for his palm to sting and then presses in tight again, hand cupping around him, body holding John close-cradled against window and wall.

"I think you know, don't you," Sherlock murmurs, "what I ought to do."

John swallows. Swallows. "M-make me clean up my messes," he says, unsteady, and his breath comes out of all of him in a shuddering waterfall rush.

Sherlock nods. Hand hot on John's heavy balls. Squeezing him: pinned by Sherlock's two arms John, helpless, writhes.

"Make you get down on your hands and knees," Sherlock murmurs, hand sliding—up— "on the floor?"

"Yeah," John whispers. Shivering. Pushing into— "Yeah."

"Ought to make you take care of this yourself, too," Sherlock says, very quietly, with his thumb brushing up over every hot good spot as John's lungs let out a shuddering sort of "Ungh—"

"Or would you rather I hadn't any hands free?" Sherlock asks; and John shakes his hot red face, hard, "No," gasping, "no, I can—I can do it," and then gets his hand around himself purple-edged—writhing with his—face pressed—down; and Sherlock says, "Head up, John," sharp, and so John shoves up his face. Breathes.

Breathes.

"Good," Sherlock whispers, and kisses him. John whines. Sherlock nods, nose brushing against him, and then pulls back, inch after inch, still pinning him to the wall with his arm and his thigh—

"Stay still, or I'll hit you," Sherlock tells him, and Christ: John squirms: Sherlock's flat hand blooms golden-black down through the meat of his cheek and he moans. Moans. "You're ruining my trousers," Sherlock murmurs, still half-pressed up tight, cock hard against him. "Which do you think'd be easier to tidy up, after, them or the floor?" When Sherlock inches back and John grabs onto his arse holds him tight; Sherlock huffs. Thumbs over John's burning swollen face and murmurs, "Can't wait to get your mouth on me, can you?"

"No," John gasps. Bites his lip. Jerks his wrist hand cramping: "No—"

"Demanding," Sherlock says, very softly, and John nods so Sherlock slaps him and he moans. "You would beg for it, wouldn't you?" Sherlock murmurs, and John flinches so Sherlock grabs him by the hair holds him up and bites his bottom lip and licks him open kisses him hard and wet and Sherlock says, "I like it," low and fierce, "I like it when you beg," and John moans— "You're so sweet for me," Sherlock is saying, low and hot, as he tightens his arm against his—broken-moaning—bare—throat and John comes, shuddering, in great bone-wracking throbs.

Sherlock puts his arms around him. Between his head and the window. Pulls him close. John's wet hand fisted on his chest and the other on his side and John shaking all over with his burning face wet in Sherlock's throat as he unclenches his fingers millimeter by millimeter, and then slides down onto his knees.

Above him, Sherlock inhales. Slow and deep.

His trousers are black. Were black. Smeared on the hip and the thigh. John puts his fingers on it and feels wet and then remembers and so then his mouth, he puts his mouth on it, and Sherlock touches his head.

"Going to get after it before it sets, are you?" Sherlock murmurs, stroking, and shivering John licks—and Sherlock digs his fingertips into his hair.

Pets. John swallows. Presses his face down to Sherlock's knee and then up again so he can lick. Lick and lick. With Sherlock's slow moving heavy hand on his hair.

"Good," Sherlock is saying, very quietly. Warm and stroking. "You're doing such a good job," blanket soft: "Very good, John," as John licks.

As—licks, and dry-wet as he. Licks.

And ache licks. Knees.

Licking until he (knees ache) doesn't taste—and,

it takes—some time, probably, but—but his knees ache, he realizes. Is realizing, mouth open on cotton (on lino). He glances up and then back down because he ought to as he licks—

"You've got it," Sherlock says, a little too fast. Catching John's chin. "You've done an excellent—," he says, holding him, and John closes his eyes. A sharp, red-brown feeling like being caught—

"John," Sherlock says, voice sharp, and John pulls back. Twisting, twisted up—he scrubs his hands over his face.

He squares his shoulders. Sits back. Looks up.

Sherlock's face is very flushed. His cock is hard through his trousers which are wet at the thigh and John's face feels tender and fragile and damp and his dressing gown is hanging wide open, and with hot red blood creeping out from his center John pushes himself up to his unsteady feet.

He leans back against the window as he does his dressing gown up, clumsy-fingered. His whole body is buzzing. Wide awake.

He laughs. "Well," he says.

"Please don't run again," Sherlock says, very flat, and John looks up.

Sherlock's shoulders are creeping inward. His arms folding across his chest.

"I didn't." John swallows. He feels—jumpy, strange, he—

"John," Sherlock says, sharp enough that John flinches and "I didn't run, I—" and Sherlock says, "John," and John slaps his hands together—over his—heart, and "I went upstairs," he says, and then laughs.

"Hardly running," John says. "Is it."

Sherlock keeps his eyes fixed steadily on John's face and says, "You ran"; and John bursts, "I just needed half a minute to not be treated like a fucking body"; and Sherlock actually, quite literally, steps back.

Silence. John's heart is beating strong and hard and he is full of blood.

And.

"I think it is abundantly clear," Sherlock says at last, very crisply, "that I don't treat you like a body," and his voice cracks.

John's mouth is dry so he swallows.

The kitchen is grey and blue. Morning light, still. Somehow. It feels vaguely unreal. John feels real. Sherlock is real. Sherlock's flushed face looks broken into pieces, and badly reassembled.

"Sorry," John says. "Shit. Christ, that wasn't fair—I don't." He breathes. Breathes. Tilts the crown of his head back against the cool window, and breathes in, deep, as he closes his eyes.

"I'm being an arsehole on purpose," he says, "I'm sorry," and looks back up, blinking.

Sherlock's mouth is turned down. The corner twitching.

John wants to shuffle over touch his crossed arm and his shoulder but "I'm sorry," John says. Swallows. "Truly, I didn't mean it, you always do—just what I want," and thick and jagged around his cracked open jumble of—of his ribs, "you—you're so," finally, "sweet to me"; as a pace and a half away Sherlock's throat moves, up-down, up-down, but he unfolds his arms.

John curls his fingers into his palms. Window cold at his back, he could—always so warm, but. In the dark.

"I was." Sherlock's voice is thick. He isn't looking at him. He is looking at the floor. "On Thursday."

"I'm sorry," John says, fast, because he knows "I didn't mean to run"; but Sherlock shakes his head.

"I was worried," Sherlock says, and looks him full in the face, his eyes wrinkled at the corners and strangely wide as he says, "I was worried about you"; and John can feel all the air coming out of his sparkling, suddenly-sharp lungs.

Sherlock says, "You looked like," and then stops.

He shakes his head.

John—John rubs at his forehead, moving—he moves. Turns—towards the fridge and then around towards the sink and—steps, because.

"I just." He turns on the taps. Hot: his hands are cold. His plate is in the sink, covered in eggs, on top of the pan, covered in eggs. He picks the plate up out of the sink and the dish brush and gives the plate a scrub.

"It was intense," John says steadily. A little too loud because of the water, and. A good scrub. "I needed to go to sleep."

He scrubs at the plate, because eggs stick, don't they, but they don't because they are gone.

"I don't know how I can be clearer," Sherlock says. John sets his scrubbed dish clattering on the draining board and picks up the pan. "I—I don't mind looking after you, I—"

"Are you even getting anything out of this?" John asks, too fast, and then laughs. Shakes his head. "Fuck. I just—" He bends his head lower over the sink. Scrubs at the eggy pan.

Sherlock is quiet for a long moment before he comes over. Touches John's back. "Out of fighting with you at half eight in the morning?" he says, very quietly. "John."

"Out of shagging me over every relatively smooth surface in the flat," John snaps, then inhales, squares his shoulders. "Or is it just me," he says, too loud over the rush of the water in the sink.

"John." Sherlock reaches over him and turns off the taps. Takes the dish brush out of his hand.

"What—"

"Stop," Sherlock says; and John snarls, "Sod off, I was using that"; and Sherlock says, "No," very quietly, "it's not just you," and flattens his hand at the top of John's back as John hunches, twisting— "Stop," Sherlock repeats, voice sharp, and John swallows, hard.

Knots up his hands up on the edge of the sink.

"You're shaking," Sherlock says, gently.

"I know," John snarls, and then laughs.

He scrubs a fist over his face, burning and wet, and then drops his head down until the edge of the sink digs into his forehead, a hard sharp line. It digs into his skin like his nails in his palms and his feet on the lino and an unclosed fist on his face until—until—the hard wet cold edge of the sink, pressing electric purple-green light into blackness.

Into quiet.

Sherlock stays standing just beside him. Above him, warm and close, with his palm big flat warm and his long fingers squeezing at the back of John's neck over and over and over, until John can breathe again.

Chapter Text

"Drink."

John puts both his hands around the cup. Drinks, then holds it out again. "I think that's yours," he says; but Sherlock shakes his head.

"No, that's yours." Sherlock folds himself down onto the sofa next to John. "Trust me." He slouches, kicks his feet up onto the coffee table. Sips his own tea.

John takes another sip. Sherlock is a heavy, hot weight against his right shoulder—his whole side, really; shamelessly pushing John over to fit into the leftmost third of the sofa. They both smell. Ought to shower, probably. John sips his tea, and Sherlock turns his face, rubs his cheek against John's shoulder.

"If it wasn't a case, then," John says. "Your jaw, I mean."

Sherlock looks up at him, mouth oddly quirked. "I got knocked over by a bicyclist."

"You what?" John laughs, amazed.

"It wasn't my finest moment," Sherlock admits. "I was chasing a suspect—"

"Case," John observes.

"—and by suspect I mean a boy that Marianne'd thought was coming 'round and tagging the back wall," Sherlock admits, "it really wasn't a case," and John laughs.

"Marianne Chisholm?" he asks. "From the school?"

"Yes," Sherlock says, a little huffily, "and I—we owed her a favor, so you could say 'thank you, Sherlock, for clearing our debts with neighborhood academia'—"

"She teaches primary school," John says. "I'm not entirely certain that counts as academia."

"Well, we still owed her a favor," Sherlock says. Wriggling closer. He's practically sitting on top of John, but John doesn't really mind.

"All right, Vidocq," John says. "You caught him, I presume."

Sherlock hesitates.

John hides his smile in his tea. His lightly tea-flavored milk-and-sugar concoction. He never takes it sweet, but it's warm, isn't it? Nice, perhaps. For a change.

"Stop smirking," Sherlock says. "I spotted the boy, lurking about, so I went to talk to him, but he—good set of legs on him, I'll ask Marianne about any running stars in the neighborhood—and he was about to run into traffic, so I wanted to stop him, but I was just about to him when I got knocked over by a bicyclist—"

"Do you think Mycroft can get me CCTV?" John asks, and Sherlock leans up and nips at his ear so John turns his face down, because it seems the most logical course of action.

"Doesn't that hurt your neck," John asks, quietly, as he half pulls away.

"Mm. Not sure," Sherlock murmurs, "try again," so John tries again.

Pulls back, eventually.

"I, ah. Meant more the way that you're sitting," John says, finally, and Sherlock twists up, kisses him again.

"Not particularly," he murmurs, against John's mouth, but then sighs and pulls away, settling back against John's shoulder. "Drink your tea. It'll help."

John snorts. Rot his teeth, more like; but he drinks, doesn't he.

"I gave his description to Marianne, at least," Sherlock says. "I could pick him out of an identity parade if I had to."

"If that were the sort of thing Marianne'd do, for the under-twelves," John murmurs.

"Yes, well." Sherlock sighs. "It wasn't, as I said, my finest moment."

John turns his face down. Breathes in.

A minute passes in silence, more or less. Warm. Fragrant.

"Marianne's got a bit of a thing for you," John murmurs, against Sherlock's temple.

Sherlock stays quiet. There is, unaccountably, a strange stretched sense of regret in John's chest.

"Should I not've said?" he asks.

"No, it's—I know," Sherlock says, and then sighs. "I know Marianne's got a bit of a thing for me, I don't care, I've not got any sort of a thing for her, so." He rubs his hand over his face. "Pointless, isn't it?"

"Yeah," John says.

"Marianne having a bit of a thing for me, I mean."

"Yeah," John agrees. He drinks the last of his too-sweet tea and sets the cup on the coffee table. Leans back until Sherlock's warm weight presses back up to his side.

"Better?" Sherlock asks, quietly; and John swallows.

"Yeah," he says, and then slides his arm around Sherlock's shoulders, loose and easy. Sherlock is still drinking his tea.

After a moment, "Before," Sherlock asks, then adds, too fast, "not Thursday, um—last week. I mean."

John can feel his face heating up. The door rattling under his palms. "Yeah," he says, a little thick.

"You were all right?" Sherlock asks, and John lifts his chin. His chest feels strange and knotted up. "Not—we don't have to do this right now," Sherlock says hastily, "if you don't want to, but—but I need to know, I."

"No, it's fine," John says. "I was fine."

"Because I can't always tell." Sherlock's voice is thick. Urgent. "You seemed better, last week, you seemed all right, but—"

"I was." John swallows. "I felt great." He sighs, then rubs his left palm over his face.

"But on Thursday," Sherlock says; and John gives his head a quick, short shake.

Sherlock doesn't ask, but John can still feel it hanging over them. "I don't know, I—Thursday, I—"

He stops.

"It was easier, last week," John says, finally.

Sherlock doesn't say anything. John laughs.

"Yeah," Sherlock says, reaching up. He switches his cup from his right hand to the left, then wraps his hand around John's, draped over his shoulder.

John's mouth is dry. "You want another cup of tea?" he asks.

"No, still not done with mine," Sherlock says. "You want it?"

"I'm still thirsty," John admits, and Sherlock passes it over. Squeezing John's fingers.

It's still too sweet. John drinks it anyway.

"All right?" Sherlock asks, and John nods. "Want to." Sherlock hesitates. "Stretch out?"

It comes out clumsy, hesitant, but— "Yeah—yeah, I do—get your feet up," John says, and sets the cup aside while Sherlock slides out to the right, John shuffling up next to him, his back to the cushions, Sherlock stretching out precariously close to the edge. "Come on," John says, "I'm not going to kick you off, I promise," so that Sherlock wriggles up close to him. "I'm working on being less of a bastard, the rest of the weekend," John says, and Sherlock snorts.

"And next week?" Underneath him, nearly.

John settles down. "Well, I'll probably be right back on it, realistically speaking, but I'll try."

Sherlock's mouth quirks. John kisses him, quick, then forces his head down onto Sherlock's shoulder, as Sherlock's arm settles loose 'round his back. He's very warm, even through all his clothes. John's skin is prickling, his cheeks hot. Doesn't fucking care, though, does he?

"Thanks," John says, quiet. "For." He sighs, rubs at his forehead, then. Then he tucks his arm around Sherlock's middle and loosens his body into Sherlock's body and presses his face into Sherlock's throat. "For the tea."

Sherlock turns his mouth against John's temple. "It's all right."

Chapter Text

John wakes up by himself in the dark, but with the duvet from Sherlock's bed draped haphazardly over him and the flat smelling strongly of lemon and basil. Everything is quiet. He can barely even hear the street. It's strange, really, with all the windows closed. Feels like there could be—nothing, outside.

After a moment, he levers himself up off the sofa, shuffling towards the light in the kitchen, where Sherlock is standing in front of the stove wearing pajamas and a weirdly intense expression, poking at the contents of a pan with a wooden spoon. His hair is wet and startled-looking, only just starting to curl up in places, so he's showered recently, if not only just. It'd be, John knows, still tacky on his fingers.

He scratches at his jaw. "Smells good," he says, and Sherlock glances over.

"I had an idea," he explains.

John nods, makes a mental note to text Scotland Yard about scrounging up a case. "How long?"

"Ten, fifteen minutes," Sherlock says, stabbing at the pan, "I just started the pasta."

"I'm just going to..." John waves a hand, and Sherlock waves the spoon, so John goes upstairs and showers.

He runs the water hot and comes out flushed, a bright pink blob through the fog on the mirror. He keeps touching his face, which seems oddly unfamiliar. Starting to get rough at the edges—puffy, maybe. Still tender. He dries the mirror with his towel and shaves, again, carefully; against the grain; then rinses his razor and brushes his teeth and braces his palms on the edge of the washbasin, heart beating strangely hard, as he breathes in steam and soap and the aftereffects of shaving foam as he stares at the empty bathroom and the reflected back of his electric shaver in its stand. Then he goes back into his bedroom and puts on pajama bottoms and a vest, and turns out all the lights.

In the kitchen Sherlock's inquisitorial curve of shoulder and back is bent over two empty plates with a pot, and there's lager on the bottom shelf of the fridge so John opens the cupboard and gets out a bottle of wine. He'd bought it six months ago: it'd been a waste, really; more expensive than what he usually drinks, for the sake of a third date that never happened with a buxom redhead who'd worked in IT, and here it was languishing in their kitchen cupboards, for what, really? He's never going to drink it unless he just drinks it. He uncorks it; Sherlock glances over; John holds the bottle up, eyebrow raised, as a matter of form; but then Sherlock says, "Yeah, thanks," and turns away.

So. So John is standing in the middle of the kitchen, holding an open bottle of wine.

So.

So John gets out a second glass. So he pours their wine and lays the table and drinks half his glass and by then Sherlock's finished fussing and says, "I'm not at all sure about the orange zest," so John figures he ought to top up his wine. The pasta, naturally, turns out to be delicious, especially the orange zest. John has double helpings and most of the wine, which turns out to be worth what he paid for it. Surprising. Also surprising: Sherlock actually drinks his—or, well, most of it; two-thirds of it; fidgeting with the stem in between sips and discoursing (his volume jerking up in in a series of odd hitches of misplaced emphasis) on the prevalence of agricultural fraud in the EU as he slowly grows flushed across the tops of his cheeks.

John chews and swallows. "I had no idea you cared this much about olive oil," he says; and Sherlock straightens up in his chair.

"Of course I care," Sherlock says. "Do you have any idea how much is spent, in a year, on adulterated olive oil?"

"No, but should I ever need to know, I'd imagine you'll be able to tell me," John says, and Sherlock wrinkles all his chins up while looking absurd and fond and pink and pleased, and so John can't help it, how he sounds when he says, "You're a little bit lubricated, aren't you."

Sherlock gets pinker, but he doesn't say anything, just slides his glass across the table, and so John laughs, but he empties it into his own. Eating some sort of made-up citrus-herb pasta. In his pajamas. At their kitchen table. Drinking wine, with Sherlock, who is tipsy on less than a glass, while John is finishing the bottle.

John sets his fork down and asks, "Do you want to fuck?"

"Yes," Sherlock says, indecently quick.

"Well, then," John is nearly through with saying, but Sherlock is already pushing up to his feet dragging John up by his vest to give him a hot, hungry kiss half bent back over their plates while John gropes his arse through his pajama bottoms and thinks about Sherlock shoving him down over the table, across his chair. Sherlock fucking him up against their black windows, nothing outside.

Sherlock pulls back, hand still tight in the fabric stretched over John's chest. "I want," he says, and then lets go. Says, "I have something to show you," very seriously, as he smoothes down John's vest.

John licks his lips. He says, "All right," and Sherlock grabs his wrist instead, and tows him through the kitchen.

Sherlock flicks on the lamp. Without the duvet, his bed looks strangely unfamiliar. The room, too. It oughtn't: John's been in Sherlock's room often enough, checking on him throughout the three-day crash following a five-week case; arguing about the efficacy (generally nonexistent) of his various disguises; helping him rearrange his furniture, and so forth. But still: disorientating, and then Sherlock cups his face in both hands and gives him a deep, hungry kiss, and so John closes his eyes. John wants—he wants to pull all Sherlock's clothes off so he pushes Sherlock's shirt up, shoves his hands into his pajama bottoms—and Sherlock pulls back for breath. Squirming. Breathing hard.

"You should." His eyes, slipping half-closed: he makes a hot noise low in his throat when John pulls his arsecheeks apart.

"I should?" The warm-tight bubble in John's throat feels almost like laughing so John laughs as he squeezes, two warm firm handfuls while Sherlock's face gets pinker, and pinker, and pinker.

"Um—" Sherlock bends down, gives John's temple a quick, hard kiss, and then pulls away, his erection tenting out his bottoms, riding low on his hips. Gracelessly, Sherlock pulls at the waistband, trying to hitch them back up as he waves his left hand: bed, John, bed, John. "You should sit down," Sherlock says. His voice is rough, which is gratifying, probably. "I mean," he adds, "er—please," in the ever-so-slightly uncertain way he has when he is being self-consciously kind, but only to John; and so John rubs at his tight throat and his tight face with his hands smelling like Sherlock's soap and Sherlock's body and then sits on the edge of Sherlock's big white bed.

Sherlock looks pleased.

"So," John says. Clears his throat. As Sherlock goes over to his chest of drawers, opens the top. "This thing you're going to show me."

Sherlock hums, and John scoots back, until his back bumps into the pillows. He'd end up lying down, probably, over that lot of them, if he didn't—so he twists to push them up, stack them high behind his shoulders, legs stretched out. Sherlock comes back with a dark blue lacquer box with a combination lock, not quite as deep as one of his drawers and perhaps half as wide, and sets it down on the mattress by John's hip, then folds himself up after it.

John folds his hands in his lap.

"You wanted to know," Sherlock says, fiddling with the lock, "how to do it."

"How to do it," John echoes, and Sherlock glances up at him, cheeks pink, eyes bright. He looks a bit like a puppy who's just discovered what happens when he brings the ball back.

"How to make it last," Sherlock says, and opens the box.

John swallows, as Sherlock turns it around. It's—it's indecent, really, probably. John touches fine metal chain, black leather; picks up a flared glass plug, liquid in the light, and then sets it down again. Clears his throat.

"Practical demonstration, is it?" he asks, and then laughs, and Sherlock pushes himself up onto hands and knees and crawls up to nuzzle at John's—collarbone, and—throat— John squirms, twisting to kiss him, feeling—already feeling—

"Can I?" Sherlock is murmuring, into his mouth, against his jaw: "I want to do it to you," as he pushes his arms around him and wriggles their bodies tight together, "Get you panting for it," with John's pounding heart in the massed-up heap of soft white pillows. "Want to see you—"

"Mm—" John's mouth is— "or—" wet, and—he tugs at the hem of Sherlock's t-shirt and Sherlock lifts up just enough to let him pull it off. Hand on John's side, light— "Or you could show me," John says, tongue thick, too fast, "you—I thought you were going to show me, I thought—" with his fingertips skating up over Sherlock's blood-hot belly and ribs and suddenly, suddenly he wants, "I want to see, I want to see you—"

—and Sherlock lifts his head, hair electrified and ridiculous, with his lovely red face growing redder as he says, "I, that is, er," and John puts his palm on his cheek, and Sherlock falls quiet.

John brushes his thumb over Sherlock's mouth.

"I've seen you, haven't I," Sherlock says, finally.

"Not a trade," John says. Too fast. Foolish. He rubs at the swell of Sherlock's bare shoulder over and over with his throat feeling too full until he can say, "I want," careful and steady, "to see how you do it," with Sherlock pulled back bare inches, disheveled and lovely, with his pajama bottoms riding low on his pink-splotching hips.

John touches his throat. Up-down, up-down.

"Won't be able to, ah." Sherlock laughs, a little. "Ought to keep entirely away from you, I think."

He sounds rueful. Apologetic, maybe.

"Tell me, then." John manages something of a smile, cracking and lopsided. "If you want me to help."

"Yes," Sherlock says, "please," with his fingers curling against John's side; and John kisses him, close-mouthed.

Again.

And again.

"That's good," Sherlock says, hushed.

John nods. Kisses him, again—and Sherlock pulls back, rubbing at his face.

"Can't do that on my own, though, can I."

He's smiling. "No," John agrees.

Sherlock nods, and John curls his fingers on Sherlock's warm bare side. Sherlock props himself on his elbow and reaches over John's body, so John twists, feeling an awkward pull in his neck as he cranes himself halfway around to watch Sherlock rummage about in his box.

"That's new, isn't it," John asks, as Sherlock fishes out a little piece of black leather, gives a disgruntled sort of a noise, then sits up properly.

"Not particularly," Sherlock says, frowning down at the box.

John pushes himself up, in amid the mess of pillows, and then twists to start stacking them back up. "The box, I mean." John laughs. "I have no opinion on the age of your sex toys."

"I knew what you meant." Sherlock pulls out another little piece of black leather, this one apparently more to his satisfaction. He drops it on the mattress next to the box. "But no, it's not new. I used to keep it under my bed."

"You did not," John says, vaguely stung. He'd always checked under the bed.

Sherlock hums. "Part of the floor comes up. What do you think of buttplugs?"

John pauses. "That," he says, "is definitely not a question I'm asked every day."

Sherlock glances up at him. "I should hope not," he says. "It's just, you picked up the, um—" He takes out the glass plug, and holds it up. "Not precisely for beginners," he says.

John blinks. "And you're a beginner, are you?"

"Well," Sherlock says.

"Because the giant box of sex toys would seem to imply otherwise."

"I meant," Sherlock says.

"Not to mention," John says, "that by the time you can drop something like, 'What do you think of buttplugs?' that casually into conversation—"

Sherlock is rolling his eyes. "I was thinking, rather, that if this is to be a tutorial session—"

John laughs.

"Well, my apologies," Sherlock says, shoulders scrunching together, and John repents immediately, reaching for Sherlock as Sherlock is saying, "for considering your perhaps delicate feelings," as John kneels up, shakes his head, "about some of the admittedly more intimidating—" and puts his hands on Sherlock's face and kisses him—quickly, in deference to verisimilitude; and then again, slowly, when Sherlock puts his hands up to squeeze at John's wrists.

"Sherlock," John murmurs.

Sherlock says, "Yes."

"I didn't mean it like that."

Sherlock doesn't say anything.

"We could close that box and I could spend the night putting my bare hands all over you, or you could whip out the fucking machine that I genuinely would not be surprised to find that you keep in your wardrobe and put on leather chaps and a hat and show me how you ride it," John says, very gently. "I'm not going to be intimidated."

Sherlock swallows. Throat moving against John's thumb.

"I don't have a fucking machine," Sherlock says, finally.

"Of course not," John murmurs, rubbing down over his collarbones, and Sherlock gives a little impatient noise and kneels up to push at his own pajama bottoms, which have got twisted rather awkwardly and were pointless to begin with. "What about the chaps?" John asks, and Sherlock says, "Please," sounding really quite offended, and then pushes John back into the pillows to stretch out against him, warm and bare and close.

John pets up and down his side. Sherlock wriggles close against him, rolling John over onto his back as he tucks his face in against John's neck and breathes in deep and John feels a sudden, lightheaded pain beneath his ribs. He swallows. Stares at the ceiling, and then touches the tacky groove of Sherlock's spine.

"Like this?" John asks. Stroking.

"Yes, that's—I just want to..." Sherlock sighs, hot on his skin. "You feel lovely."

Air, cool in his mouth. John says, "You too."

"I always want to..." Sherlock squirms around, heavy and solid, with John's skin springing up with sweat underneath his vest. Beneath Sherlock's weight. "Push you up against things," Sherlock says, "and so forth."

A hot burst in his chest: John swallows.

"Sherlock," he asks.

Sherlock hums, shifting around, half crushing John, almost; his bare legs rubbing John's pajama bottoms up John's calves.

John asks, "How drunk are you?"

Sherlock stills. Braces his elbows and lifts his head. "How drunk are you?"

"I'm not," John says, very quietly. "Sherlock."

Sherlock's mouth twists, a bit. "I'm not drunk either."

John nods. His fingers curl against Sherlock's bare spine, without quite asking.

"You're still wondering if I am, aren't you." Sherlock rests his cheek against his own hand, looking down at him.

John shakes his head, hair scraping between Sherlock's twelve thousand white pillows. "I trust you," he says.

Sherlock keeps watching him. "But I don't pin you down against my mattress and rub myself all over you every night," he supplies.

When John inhales his ribs press up into Sherlock's ribs.

"You're not usually quite so frank with me," John says, finally.

Sherlock doesn't say anything.

"And, yes, also, you don't pin me down to your mattress and rub yourself all over me every night," John says, forcing his voice light, "though we've had, I suppose, more than a few ventures in that general direction—"

"An oversight," Sherlock says, so John stops.

After a moment, John says, "I like buttplugs," and Sherlock starts laughing, pushing his face back down against John's neck.

"Stop the presses," he says, muffled by skin, and John says, "Oh, shut up," rolling his weight up, their legs interleaved: the hair on Sherlock's calves pulls against John's own, pajamas tangled just over his knees. "Smartarse," John says, wriggling; pinning Sherlock down as Sherlock drags him in by his ears and gives him great smacking kisses, "now see if I help you out with—you can just," all over John's face and chin and mouth, twitching so hard it aches at the corners as he says, "just plug your own arse," while Sherlock giggles underneath him. Licks at the hinge of his jaw, and the underside of his chin, and his—his lips—

"You don't," Sherlock says, between kisses, "really mean that."

John's hand is pinned between the wing of Sherlock's shoulder and the sheets. "No," he admits, and Sherlock rubs his foot against John's bared knee.

John shivers. Pets all of Sherlock's long bare body, chest pressed up against him as he kisses him and kisses him, Sherlock's hand on his side pressing John's hips up as John tries not to push down and wishes—wishes—and then pulls back, just enough to say, "That's how you do it, though," breathing hard. Sherlock too close and out of focus with his hair a mess and his mouth red. "With a plug up your arse." Knee crooked up by John's side, his cheeks lovely and flushed.

Sherlock inhales. "Yeah," he says, and then licks over his own bottom lip. "Sometimes I like to get it up me and then get dressed just to—to see."

John tugs down his own rucked-up vest. "See how long you can go," he guesses, shifting back onto his knees.

"Yeah," Sherlock says. Naked. Hard.

"Before you have to get a hand on your cock," John says, low, as he looks down at the long creamy-pinked expanse of Sherlock's body; and Sherlock shifts, foot sliding out on the sheets.

"Yeah," Sherlock says, "sometimes."

John brushes a thumb against him, just where his arse meets the mattress, and Sherlock inhales. John's back is prickling up.

"Give—give me the—" He's pointing down towards the box, and John touches the edge. "No," Sherlock says, "the ring," and John swallows, then picks up the piece of leather beside it instead, and passes it up for Sherlock to wrap it around his cock and balls.

John swallows. "That's." It's got a little metal studs on one side and a metal ring fitted in near the middle, and it'd seem entirely ridiculous, probably, if Sherlock weren't exhaling as he gets it seated, hips shifting a bit as he buckles it tight, with the little metal ring fitted down at the bottom, under his balls, so that if John were to put his thumb back against him, brush up—

"You can," Sherlock says, voice thick, and so with his thumb still tucked against him, John uncurls his index finger, and gives the ring a little, light tug. Sherlock makes a little noise, hips jerking; and John bends forward to press his face to Sherlock's warm bent-up knee.

"That what you do?" John asks. "Tug on that, instead of—instead of letting yourself," and then stops, and Sherlock laughs a little, sounding scraped up.

"Not half," he says. "You're. Impatient."

"I want to do it to you," John says. "What you like."

"Push that up, then," Sherlock says, and John pushes the box closer, so that Sherlock can reach to get out a bottle of lube—a different one, John can't help but noting, this one in an equally discreetly-labeled and painfully expensive-looking bottle, only clear. He hands it to John. "Come up here," Sherlock says, so John doesn't bother with looking for a price tag, just stretches out on his side at Sherlock's right. He's warm. John presses close. Kisses his shoulder, and Sherlock reaches across his chest, twisting, to kiss his mouth. John's goosebumps all over.

"I ought to've brought the duvet," he realizes.

"Cold?" Sherlock asks, and John swallows. Tucks the lube in between the pillows, where it won't go running, rubs a hand down Sherlock's chest.

"You lie here like this?" he asks.

"Yeah," Sherlock says. "Listening to you upstairs. Padding about."

Christ. John rubs a thumb across one peaked nipple and Sherlock's breath hitches, but he's still—he's still so calm. "What next?"

"If you get it, I'll wait," Sherlock says, very quietly. "I'm not in a hurry."

John laughs. "So what, you just—lie here barely touching yourself while I—I—"

Sherlock says, "While you get ready for bed."

John curls his fingers on Sherlock's sternum.

"Just like this," he says, and Sherlock shifts, hair scraping on the pillow.

"Well, usually I've got something up me," he says, as casually as if he's correcting John's description of the weather, "so I know I'll be ready."

John. Nods.

"Roll up, then," he says, finally. "On. On your side."

Sherlock rolls up onto his left, bending his head forward so that the curve of his spine stands out in a smooth, sharp relief, nape to arse. John wants to take off all his clothes and blanket himself around him, push inside him, lock his arms around him; but he doesn't.

"Do you want me to do it," John asks, "or do you want to show me?"

Sherlock swallows: loud, in the quiet. The flat's so still. Just the two of them, here, and.

And then air.

"It was better," Sherlock says, "when you did it," and curls his knee up towards the pillows, tucks his hand beneath it, showing himself half-open, half-angled, honeyed and tempting in the lamplight.

John nods, even though Sherlock's turned away. Touches his shoulder.

"You want me to lick you open?" His side. "Or. Or use my hands."

"I use my hands," Sherlock says, and then clears his throat. "So—for, for realism, you should."

He stops. John gets the lube out from under the pillow. Squeezes some into his palm, and closes his fingers, to warm it up.

"I want you to kiss me while you do it," Sherlock says, too loudly, and then lets out a short, hard-edged breath.

John swallows. Slicks up his fingers—the angle's awkward, his left shoulder trapped clumsily by the mattress and their bodies and his arm barely able to move, but he can do it if he gives it a go, shifting himself close and petting his wet fingertips along the crack of Sherlock's arse, already pulled half-apart, enough for John to rub at him, get his two fingertips just dipping in while he—stretches—

"Here, that's not going to work, I can't—" John laughs, embarrassed. "If you make a crack about my height right now, I swear—" but Sherlock just twists, putting his arm up around John to make better room his whole body curved while John—gets his weight on his elbow, gets his mouth to brush Sherlock's mouth, then gets—tries to get— "Sorry, I've got to use my right hand," he says, a little breathless, "or you've got to roll over," and Sherlock says, "Give me the lube," so John flops about with his pajamas twisting up around his hips trying to pass over the lube and then Sherlock takes his wrist, and John pushes his weight against his own braced elbow straining to kiss him feeling—odd, and awkward, with his still-slick left hand in a fist on the sheets between the pillows while Sherlock gives him lopsided toothy kisses and slicks up John's right fingers with his fingers between John's fingers, and John wants—he wants to push Sherlock's knee up so he pushes Sherlock's knee up and Sherlock just goes, breathing with it, his trapped left hand pulling his knee nearly to his nose, the bendy bastard, while John heart pounding rubs two slick fingers against him, or—or three, and Sherlock just sighs and wraps his right arm back around him, tight across John's shoulders, while John pants into his mouth with three fingers petting shallowly into him, John's skin scraping oversensitive against the underside of his clothes.

"You want—want more," John manages, "or"; and Sherlock whispers, "Kiss me," and so John kisses him, over and over, feeling strung out and strange and desperate, wanting—he pulls back.

"I need you to take over for a minute," John says, tongue thick, and Sherlock makes a little raw noise but he puts all his long fingers in John's mouth and John gasps and sucks at them, fucks his fingers into Sherlock's warm loose opening body in time with his mouth thick and slippery with bitter-viscous lube and then pulls off, bends down to give Sherlock a quick, hard kiss and drags back, Sherlock straining up after him—John puts his palm hard on Sherlock's shoulder, presses down.

"Show me," he says, unsteady; and Sherlock whines, his eyes barely open, face red. "Show me," John repeats, "show me how you do it—get your fingers up yourself, show me," and Sherlock moans and reaches back behind himself and shoves his four long spit-shining fingers into his arse, tucking his chin towards his chest. John stares, helpless: he can't get deep, but he tries, whining—twisting and desperate, flushing all down his arms and his chest and his thighs.

"Keep—keep doing that," John says, "for me," breathless; and Sherlock gasps, "Fuck," thick; as wiping his hands on his pajama bottoms John says, "I'll be right back," and kneels up off the bed. Nearly tripping over his feet, stumbling out into the living room, over the power cord to Sherlock's laptop, over—Christ, is that a toy train? doesn't matter—over to the sofa and Sherlock's discarded duvet, which he bundles up and hauls back into Sherlock's room, shakes it out hastily while Sherlock—still four fingers deep and an electric sort of a red—glares at him ineffectually until John and the duvet pull themselves back up onto the mattress, drape themselves over him: John pressing aimless eager kisses all over Sherlock's hot face and throat as he shoves the duvet back to the side and pets at Sherlock's sternum, his long thighs—

"That was un." Sherlock swallows. "Necessary."

"For later," John says, fumbling with the lube, "kiss me"; and Sherlock wraps his arm around him and moans into his mouth as John presses his fingers back into him, heart hammering against his chest. "You." Kissing. "Ready? Or—"

"Yes," Sherlock says, thick. "Please." His hand knotting around the back of the shoulder of John's vest. "John. You could—"

"No, shh," John whispers, weirdly desperate. "Not now, please. Please?"

Sherlock makes a low, abortive sort of noise; and John rubs at his too-hot shoulder. Kisses his open panting mouth.

"I want to watch you," John whispers. Sherlock inhales: cool— "This time I want—please," John says, unsteady. "For me."

Sherlock swallows. "Okay," he whispers.

"Yeah?" John presses his mouth to Sherlock's shining shoulder, breathes in. "I want—your favorite, which is your favorite?"

Sherlock's eyes flutter shut. His throat moves: up-down, up-down. "The glass," he says, thick, and John nods, nods. "You've good taste," Sherlock tells him, and then gives a broken little laugh as John curls his fingers inside him.

"Want to get that for me?" John asks, petting, petting, and Sherlock grunts, wriggles his left arm out from under his bent-up knee, fumbling—while desperate and starving John kneels up against him with his pajama bottoms sliding down, feeling like the universe might implode and he wouldn't notice, if he could just—just stay, with—on Sherlock's— "Can I," he says, thick, "cold, that must be freezing, can I," and then closes his eyes breathing hard-hard-hard as Sherlock fits it carefully into his mouth. Bowing down. His forehead pressed to Sherlock's jaw as he sucks, teeth loose, knelt up with his fingers tucked into Sherlock's blood-hot body as Sherlock curls his wet fingers on the nape of John's neck, his left hand vanished under that long bent-up right thigh.

I want, John wants to say; but his mouth is full, so he keeps quiet.

Sherlock touches John's cheek. His throat.

"Is it still cold?" Sherlock whispers, and face hot, John shakes his head.

"Can you." The weight of Sherlock's body is muffled: the sheets. John sucks.

"Would you do it?" Sherlock asks, then clears his throat. "I want—I want you to, I want you to do it," and pulse pounding all over John kneels up—away, aching—and runs his hot hands over Sherlock's hot body and then gets it out of his mouth so he can slick it up, get it—dripping, for him, and—and fit it into Sherlock's easing-open body—the way he breathes—as John bends down desperate to kiss his ribs, the sculptural jut of Sherlock's creamy right hip as John presses it in until it rests just against Sherlock's flushed tender skin.

John breathes. Breathes. The smell of their saliva and—and his sweat, and his. Skin.

"Come back," Sherlock says, unsteady; and like the ocean pulled John scrambles back to curl himself around his back, arm fitted around him face fitted against him like John's knees fit into the backs of his knees while warm and damp and fragrant against him Sherlock breathes, deep-deep-deep.

"You do it," John asks, "like this?"

He can hear Sherlock swallow.

"While you're listening to me upstairs," John says, and kisses his shoulder. "Getting ready for bed."

Sherlock shifts. Makes a little, hot noise—and then stretches, pulling away, so that John has to lift his head up, watch over the ridge of Sherlock's body as Sherlock reaches back into the box, and fishes out a little length of silver chain.

John kisses Sherlock's shoulder. Rests his chin.

"Do you know how to use these?" Sherlock asks, quiet.

"Yeah," John says. "Re—had a girlfriend," he corrects, "who liked them."

Sherlock gives a little, amused sort of huff. "Rebecca ever try them on you?" He opens one clip, lets it snap closed.

"No," John says, then, fast, "but—"

"Not tonight," Sherlock agrees, and then exhales, easing his weight back against John's body so that John—John wants to hold him close can't help but— "Can you put them on me?" Sherlock asks, and John swallows. Any other bloke in the world would be touching himself but Sherlock's right hand is curled at his stomach, the left just resting, knuckles up, under his bent-up right knee.

"Yeah," he says, quiet. "How do you want—"

Sherlock rubs his head back against him: John turns to press his nose against his cheek, pets at his sternum, his flat firm chest—

"As far back as you can get them," Sherlock says, quiet, and John nods, petting his thumb over Sherlock's nipple while he wriggles his left arm under Sherlock's head, and Sherlock takes an unsteady breath. He's so warm, skin peaking under John's hands and soft and sweaty and close, tucked into John's body while John rubs him up until Sherlock is panting, ragged; and then gets the clamp open-mouthed around his nipple and eases it shut.

"How's that?" John asks. "Enough, or—"

Sherlock is breathing hard. Noisy. "Try it—again," he says, unsteadily, "too far forward, it—"

"Pinches?" John asks, and Sherlock nods. John eases it open and Sherlock whines, squirming back, and John gives him a good hard tug and gets the clamp closed again, faster, and Sherlock moans. "Better?" John asks, quiet, and Sherlock nods and nods. Rubs his hand up John's forearm, reaches back for his skull—John kisses his ear, petting at the other nipple, already hard as a rock. "These are nice," John says, as close to conversationally as he can manage. He clamps it tight, and Sherlock bites down on a groan. "Sturdy," John says. "A good investment, I'd imagine."

"You're a bastard," Sherlock says, breathless, and then twists to kiss him, hungry and wet, while heart in his throat John pets at the edges of metal and rubber on Sherlock's blood-hot skin and Sherlock gasps, "Fuck," gasping for air.

"How do you do it?" John whispers, tucking all his stray corners in against Sherlock's heat. "You—do you pull on them, or—or just let it—"

"Get up on my knees," Sherlock says, thick.

"For the weight?" John asks, but it takes a minute for Sherlock to nod.

"Don't want to," he says. Breathing hard. "Always—always thinking about—" Sherlock sucks down air, winds his hand in John's hand and pushes it clumsily over his chest. "Want you to—"

"But I'm upstairs," John says, quiet, and Sherlock nods, flushing—impossibly—redder. "So I can't..." He curls a finger around the chain.

"Oh, Jesus," Sherlock mumbles, and as John gives it a tug, Sherlock moans.

John swallows. Swallows. Tucks his knee in between Sherlock's bare knees with his blood pumping hot everywhere all over: "You wanted it like this?"

"Want." Sherlock's voice grinds. "You, and—and think about—"

Breaking. John pulls on the chain strung between his nipples and Sherlock thrashes against him, groaning, shoving back.

"You n-naked," Sherlock gasps, and then laughs, raw and wet, "just—just coming in and—and—"

John swallows. "You want me to take off my clothes?"

"Yes," Sherlock gasps, "yes, I want—" and then moans, chin tucked down, balled up while John can barely stand it, the throb of his pulse in his lonely skin in vacuum for whole seconds while he shoves off his vest and pushes down his bottoms and presses his body back to Sherlock's body fits his arm back around Sherlock's body while he struggles to kick his fucking arsehole in-the-way pajama bottoms down to his ankles and then clumsily toes them off. Hand wrapped hard around the chain across Sherlock's chest, Sherlock's hand 'round his wrist as John draws it tight

"Then what?" John whispers, while Sherlock shudders and moans, shoving his left hand down to—the ring, John realizes, Christ: to pull at the little metal ring at the base of his balls, hand on John's wrist and the other on metal and leather: barely—barely touching himself while John plasters his whole body to Sherlock's body and his mouth to his neck with his erection rubbing against Sherlock's little round arse and hand fisted around the slack in the chain, whispering, "And then, and then what'd I do?" as Sherlock gasps, "Just—just slide in naked next to me and, and—and touch me, until—until—"

"Until," John echoes, sucking down a shuddering breath, pushing—

"Until—here, please," Sherlock gasps, fumbling with—with the lube, smearing his long hot thighs and pushing himself back until John groans, helpless, fitting himself between them as Sherlock tightens his knees, squeezing down as shuddering John slip-slides in the wetslick space Sherlock's body makes for John's body, feeling the smooth-electric scrape of the edge of that little metal ring and the hard immobile base of the plug and everywhere else the giving-hot-hard expanse of Sherlock's body working with his body as he gasps, "Until? Until?" and Sherlock moans, "Until—until—I c—until—I can't, not—more, John—please—" so that John stretches until the side of his neck cracks and his teeth bump copper-sharp into Sherlock's lush mouth with their bodies working inexorably together while John gasps, "I, I'm going to," and Sherlock groans, "Please, please—I want you to, I like it, you feel—I love it, on my—skin—" as John shivers and shudders, helpless, gasping against the edge of Sherlock's mouth as he comes.

Sherlock's hand tightens on his wrist. Shivering John stills.

"Fuck," he manages, broken.

"If you move right now," Sherlock says, unsteady; and so John says, "Won't."

Sherlock nods, fast. His whole body held quivering and tight, painfully still. John wants to kiss him, to pull him closer, to pull the blankets up around him and—

"I stay down here," Sherlock says, voice looping and diving, "in my room, on my knees so that—so the chain, you know, pulls on its own, so that I don't need to use my hands, so I have them free so I can get them wet and close my eyes and think—think about your—your hands, or mouth, or your arse, and—and now, now, how—how you—you respond to, to everything, the way—the way you, you looked like you were starving for it when you—you were just sucking on my bloody feet, and I. I'm not—I can't—I."

John swallows. Hot face pressed to Sherlock's skin.

Sherlock is quiet for a long, long time.

Finally, John asks, "Can I kiss you?"

"I love it when you kiss me," Sherlock says, raw, and then laughs.

"I love it too," John says, very quietly, and spreads his hand on Sherlock's chest. "I meant, do you need me to wait."

Sherlock shifts, hair scraping.

"No," he says, "no, it's. Fine."

John shifts, slow and careful, stretching up until he can brush his mouth over Sherlock's mouth.

Again.

And again: Sherlock sighs. John shifts and settles against him, and kisses him, open-mouthed.

Sherlock's long hand loosening, millimeter by millimeter, on his electric and aching right wrist.

"Bit of a mess," John says, after quite some time.

"I don't care," Sherlock says, too fast, and knots his hand up with John's hand.

John nods. "Oughtn't to stay in that forever, probably, though," he murmurs, petting their knuckles down to the base of Sherlock's belly, and Sherlock sighs.

"No." He sighs again. "Fuck."

"How about," John says, "I get a flannel and then come back, because—well, frankly, if we wait another five minutes I'm going to pass out and end up glued to you, and." He laughs, feeling awkward, heart beating hard and his blood tide-unsteady. He says, "Symbolic appeal of that aside."

Sherlock's hand tightens.

"A flannel," he echoes, after a moment.

"And then come back," John repeats. "And then. Before I fall asleep, I mean."

"You've already gone for the duvet," Sherlock says, quiet.

"Aren't I clever?" John asks, and Sherlock laughs, but he lets go of John's hand.

John kisses the side of his neck again, and then eases himself back. He already feels—clumsy, getting up to his feet; as though the bed dips and rolls like the sea.

His sweat is already cooling, tightening on his spine. Sherlock keeps his flannels (which are white) neatly rolled up in a little basket by his washbasin, as though he lives in some sort of upscale hotel—a detail of which John was already perfectly aware. Strips and remakes his bed with hospital corners every morning, too. It still tightens John's chest with an almost painful fondness, though, doesn't it? He wets two flannels, warm water. Wipes himself down with one—shivering, it's not... cold, but—and then then staggers back into the bedroom with them both, and one dry.

"Toys," John says, holding out the used flannel; and Sherlock sets the plug up in his hand.

"Careful with that one," he says.

"Why, is it glass?" John says, eyes wide; and Sherlock rolls over to flick the buckle end of the cock ring against his thigh. Not hard, but it still stings: John snaps the other wet flannel down into his chest.

"And people think you're the nice one," Sherlock says, but since he's wiping John's come off his thighs while he says it, it hasn't got much sting.

John rolls his eyes. Leaves the toys and the wet flannels in Sherlock's basin—he can sort them out, tomorrow—and pads back in. Sherlock's turned the light out, so John blinks and blinks in the darkness, but Sherlock reaches out from under the duvet. Pulls at his wrist. John climbs in: awkward, really, what with Sherlock's perpetual oversupply of knees and elbows, but he reckons they'll manage.

"You're utterly committed to being the big spoon, aren't you," Sherlock says, sounding resigned.

John hesitates. "No," he says, finally, trying to be as tactful as he can manage, "but I don't think either of us will get much sleep the other way, do you?"

Sherlock sighs, but he doesn't argue about it, just rolls back up onto his left and lets John curl back in around his back.

"Does it keep you up?" John asks, after a moment.

Sherlock is silent until John presses his face in against his shoulder, mouth twitching, and Sherlock says, "Oh, you're just hilarious," and John laughs.

"I am, aren't I?" Under the duvet he wraps his arm tight around Sherlock's middle, and Sherlock folds his hand over John's hand. "Truly," John asks, quiet. "Will you sleep?"

"Probably not for a while," Sherlock admits. "But that's all right."

John exhales, hot on hot skin. "Yeah?"

"Yeah."

John shifts, tucking his knees in tighter. Admits, "I'm probably going to—"

"It's all right," Sherlock says, pressing back. "I like it. Go to sleep."

John nods. Swallows. Closes his eyes.

After a moment, he murmurs, "This is nice." Inhaling in all the round familiar smells of Sherlock's skin.

"Yeah," Sherlock says, very quietly; and in the darkness John laces his hand up with Sherlock's hand.

So quiet, their flat. But for their breath.

"Fucking machine," Sherlock says, after a moment.

"Said you didn't," John says, "have one, I mean," rubbing his face in between Sherlock's shoulderblades.

Sherlock squeezes John's fingers on his belly. "Could probably build one, though."

John nods. Knots his fingers tight in Sherlock's warm low voice as "better than that chair," Sherlock says. His thumb. Palm.

Eyes. Closed, John nods.

Chapter Text

Warm.

He's warm, and—soft, surfacing up through marshmallow, with.

With Sherlock's hot heavy arm around his waist.

John pushes at the pillowing duvet, stretching, and Sherlock makes a small, disgruntled noise and pulls him back.

"Not awake," Sherlock mumbles. Wrapped tight around him, pressed against his arse with his chest on John's back tacky with sweat, and John rubs at Sherlock's forearm and nods. Eyes closed.

Drifts.

Sherlock's face. Rough. Rubbing against John's shoulder, breathing deep.

"Mm." John stretches. Pressed. Sherlock's knee. Sliding between the backs of John's knees. Wave: skin rising up underneath John turns, smells sleep. "Sleeping," echoes; and so Sherlock nods, his nose rubbing against the base of John's throat.

"R'a little awake," thick. Slots his fingers between Sherlock's fingers. "I'm awake."

"Mmm, no." Sherlock rubs his stubbly mouth up the side of John's throat. "Sleeping."

John inhales, and squints his eyes open: the room is grey and blue with newborn daylight, watery through the window. Sherlock's squeezing him tight and John's mouth tastes terrible and "I have to piss," he says, which induces Sherlock to let out a vast, put-upon sigh, but he does loosen his arm around John's waist.

His hand on John's back, as John sits up.

The room's cool. Not bright: early, then. Too early, most like. John rubs at his face. He goes to the toilet and splashes water on his face and uses some mouthwash and then fumbles with the glass Sherlock keeps his toothbrush in: fills it three times, drains it twice, then brings the third back into the bedroom for Sherlock, who sits up when John prods him through the duvet and then blinks at the glass like he's not sure what it's for before finally scrambling up to sitting and gulping the lot down in three greedy swallows, his hair sticking up all over, face creased from the pillow and eyes round with sleep, while John lumbers over him and back under the covers.

"Thanks," Sherlock says, rough.

John nods. Shoulders hunched up under the duvet, warming up; Sherlock says, "Just going to," and flaps his hand around, so John nods and closes his eyes.

In the dark. He could go back to sleep, probably. It's early. Sherlock's bed is soft and warm and it's early but the sheets smells like his sweat, like their sweat; and the bubble blooming under his ribs and his eyelids suspends John in seawater, waiting: utterly still. Behind the wall he hears the taps run, and then again, and then a long, taut sort of a silence, and somewhere beneath the tide of affection John feels a pang of amusement, not unsympathetic, for every time he's woken up with a raging erection, needing to piss, as he burrows deeper underneath Sherlock's fluffy white duvet and breathes them both in.

When Sherlock comes back at last he curls up facing John's front: sliding his palm over John's hip and then his leg between John's legs and nuzzling his face down into John's neck, inhaling, while John, still blurred at his edges, shifts down until the covers come up to their ears, petting at the soft, soft hair at Sherlock's nape.

"Back to sleep?" John asks.

"Hm." Sherlock wriggles closer, so John rolls: sinking back, Sherlock's body heavy and warm and pressing tight against him. "Are you?" Sherlock mumbles, and John wriggles his other arm under his shoulders. Strokes down over his back, his arse; Sherlock's cock half-hard against John's hip. Sherlock says, "Hmmmmm," muscles flexing against John's palm; and John smiles against his temple.

Sherlock lifts his head enough to kiss him. Soft. Minty.

"Mm." John does it again, checking. "You brushed your teeth."

"You drank my mouthwash," Sherlock counters, "out of the bottle—kiss me," so John kisses him, not very apologetically. He tightens his arms around him, rubs at his sweaty back and delectable arse and soft, sticking-up dark hair as Sherlock presses his flexing thigh between John's thighs, hips rolling against his, liquid and slow, Sherlock's lips and his tongue touching his tongue and his lips, and his jaw, and his throat while Sherlock's cock gets harder and hotter between them and John's fingers knot up tighter on his back, in his hair.

"Mm, I want—" Sherlock lifts up, pushes the duvet back: a flood of cold air that makes John suck down air and stretch, his leg falling open even before he registers Sherlock's hand, slow and coaxing up his hip before Sherlock pets over the base of John's belly, just before he slides down.

John lifts up his head. Would—protest, maybe, or—but Sherlock's already got his mouth on him, lipping at him lightly, mouth loose and gentle as he cradles John's balls in his palm. John inhales, then laughs, a little, blinking up at the ceiling, then reaches down to pet at Sherlock's soft hair. Tugs, a little.

Sherlock lifts his head, blinking up at him, and John touches his pink mouth. Shakes his head. Sherlock sighs, then drops back down to rest his cheek against John's belly. Warm and expanding John rubs at the back of Sherlock's neck.

"Did you want me to stop," Sherlock asks. "Or." His voice is still heavy with sleep. When John's fingers still in his hair, he butts his head up against John's palm.

John scratches him behind the ears. "It's. Nice."

"I'm not in a hurry," Sherlock murmurs.

"I know." John swallows. "But."

Sherlock's head turns under his hand, side to side, cheek rough on John's hip. "But," he echoes, and bows his chin down towards his chest, so that John's fingers slip over the back of his neck.

John licks his lips. "I think that's about all you're going to get."

Sherlock makes a noncommittal noise, looking up; and John sighs.

"Probably, I mean—without. More sleep, and—and breakfast, probably, and. More sleep. A lot more sleep." He rubs the back of his right hand over his face.

"Sleep more, then," Sherlock suggests. "Early, still."

"No, I." John swallows. A curl of Sherlock's dark hair, cupping his two fingertips. "I like this," he says, quietly, and his breath bursts in his mouth: a laugh, nearly. "Even if you did wear me out."

Sherlock hums. "You like this."

Cold air. Seeping allover-into his chest and shoulders with Sherlock resting warm and heavy against his leg; and his bathwater spine; and the sheets. "Yeah," John says. And Sherlock's hair, softer still.

Sherlock shifts. "This?" Brushing his mouth—and John inhales, looking up, and tongue, as John stares up at the shadow-edged ceiling with Sherlock breathing against him, mouth only just open, held carefully, precisely still.

"Yeah," John says, finally. "Yeah," and Sherlock bows his head, exhaling, his right hand slotting around the back of John's left leg.

"Then can I," Sherlock says, only just unsteady enough that John tugs at his fringe until he lifts his face, which is pink-splotched over his cheekbones and utterly lovely, his jaw scratchy against the backs of John's knuckles. The pad of his thumb.

"Yeah," John says. "If you want."

Sherlock nods. He bends down to press a kiss to the inside of John's thigh, then looks up.

John swallows. Nods, and so Sherlock's lashes smudge down against his cheeks, as he fits his soft mouth back around John's cock.

John breathes. His arms and shoulders are tightening, prickling all over in bare air, but between his thighs with the duvet draped over him Sherlock radiates heat: his warm hand cupping around John's left knee with his mouth wet and lips tender and the duvet slid down to his shoulders while, naked and helpless, John strokes at all he can reach of his shoulders and hair. Sherlock is impossibly gentle. Slick and suckling, over and over, Sherlock licks and nuzzles and laps. Behind John's knee he rubs his thumb in circles that wind all the threads of John's body up tight, tangling them up so close together that John can feel his own face flushing darker and darker as between his thighs Sherlock gets redder and redder, his mouth soft-shivery and lush with his big angular blood-warm body folded and taut, shifting under the duvet, not-quite-squirming into the mattress while his slow-careful warm mouth cradles John's half-hard cock. John is saturated with him, his body soaked soft with a foggy, ungraspable pleasure, felt most sharply in his wrists and his toes until at last Sherlock pulls off, and, panting, presses his burning face to John's thigh.

John breathes. Breathes. Strokes at Sherlock's hair with Sherlock's heat seeping in through his skin and then tugs, gently, until Sherlock looks up.

"Hey." John licks his lips. "Want to come up here for a bit?"; and Sherlock turns his face back down against John's leg. "No?"

"I want to fuck you through the mattress," Sherlock mumbles, and then sighs.

John swallows. He strokes Sherlock's hair up into alarmed hedgehog spikes, and then pets it flat again, more or less. "Yeah?" He touches the wings of Sherlock's shoulderblades, folded up, then pulls on his hair a bit, until Sherlock clambers back up, the bed dipping and rolling under his weight, to crouch over John with his erection jutting down into the air, ducking his head down so that they can kiss.

He tastes like John's skin. "Could, you know," John murmurs.

Sherlock shakes his head. Red.

"Not right now, if you don't want, I mean." John inhales, slings his arms around him, moving up onto his side as Sherlock settles carefully beside him and pulls the duvet up to their heads, palm sliding up John's goosebumped arm: hot. "I'm not in a hurry," John murmurs, as Sherlock brushes his mouth against John's mouth.

Sherlock's heavy warm arm. "I know." Around John's body: key and lock.

"So you could." John tastes. "Later, if you wanted." Saliva. Skin. "You could calm down a bit," half-breathed, "and then."

Too close to him Sherlock's eyes half-closed. Lips parted, until he leans in opened and so John folds into-around him, arms and knees and hands and mouth: easy, like swimming. The warm solid weight of him anchoring John in one place with his slick tongue and scratchy-soft mouth. They kiss. Sherlock's arms unspool to wind tight-tight around him and their bodies slip with sweat as the air under the duvet goes from warm to too hot. John doesn't want to move, ever. Just stay wrapped up and touching, dark into light into dark.

"D'you think?" Sherlock whispers.

John nods. His hand on Sherlock's sticky back and Sherlock's palm on his cheek and the whole of him monsoon-humid and hot. John pushes at the duvet: a rush of cool air with Sherlock's warm nose bumping against his, gentle.

"Yeah." When John says, "If you want," Sherlock's thumb moves with his mouth. Gentle. And then—pulled—

"Even though," Sherlock says, "you're not—," with the tip of his thumb pressing against the tender underside of John's bottom lip as his voice dips and rolls; and oh aching John feels—desperate, nearly; and strange; tangled up with a nonsensical feeling somewhere between loneliness and—and lust, really, almost: wanting—certainly wanting Sherlock's skin on his skin and his mouth on his mouth while stroking John's hands stroke and keep stroking, tender with the battering waves of Sherlock's warm body: in his chest his heart capsizing over and over, for the past eternity and a half as "Yeah," John says, thick. "I want you to."

Sherlock curls his hand. Slips two fingers in between John's empty teeth; whispers, "Yeah?" up too close and blurred when his tongue slides out over his own pink bottom lip—Christ—and pinned by his jaw and Sherlock's hand John licks at him, soft. "Tighter," Sherlock whispers, and John closes his lips, sucks, sucks; while Sherlock pets over his tongue, riptide pull, and then sighs, pulling back. Mouth empty John wants—wants him to stop, wants—more, wants—

"And when I have to stop," Sherlock says, into the space between them.

John swallows. "You stop." Spasming: John's hand, cupped over the side of Sherlock's throat and—and force, force it open—hold him, petting. Loose. John's marionette fingers, rubbing at Sherlock's patchy stubble, his pale throat. Sherlock rubs the backs of his knuckles across John's wet lips, and John can't— "Or," John says, helpless, "you—you could stop for a while, if you want," he is saying, air sharp in his chest, cutting up his throat, "and then—then start again," while Sherlock's lovely warm fingers pet at his cheeks, at the edges of his mouth. John doesn't want to stop. John wants to kiss him and not stop. Instead he forces—forces himself steady, makes his mouth move: says, "We're not in a hurry"; as Sherlock bends.

John arches into him. Helpless. Can't—he touches him, wanting—wanting his hands on Sherlock's side, on his back, dipped into the tender sweaty groove where his arse meets his thighs as they kiss. They kiss slow, sweet: delicate and liquid like the skin of a bubble: Sherlock sinking down ever-closer against him, hot against him, hard against him; John could burst.

Sherlock rubs his nose against John's cheek. "Feels a bit," he whispers.

John's hands knotted up twitch on Sherlock's sweaty back. "Dangerous?" he asks, and—God—Sherlock touches his shoulder, his biceps, tucks his long fingers under John's arms; and John lets his hands fall.

Stretching above him—against him—magnet-pulling John's floating arms up up up until their fingers fold together, pulled up above his head. Sherlock says, "You always feel dangerous," quiet. With his taut-expanding weight on John's taut-expanding chest.

John swallows. "You keep me in line," hushed. Sherlock's heart thumping above him-against him and his heart thumping back.

Sherlock's mouth brushes over his. Hands pressing against his. pulling him tighter and tighter as he pushes him deeper and deeper into the sinking downy masses of all those soft white pillows. Mouth on the edge of his mouth.

"And you like that," Sherlock murmurs, so close and so quiet that—that—

"Yeah," John says, unsteady.

His cheeks are hot. His all-over hot.

Above his head, Sherlock presses their four hands together. John's stomach dips and rolls, toes curling, as Sherlock fits his left fingers around John's two wrists, and squeezes tight.

John is breathing hard. Sweating. His skin prickles with attention, the steel weight of Sherlock's soft unyielding mouth on his cheek. Scraps of torn ragged-edged thoughts and if he'd anything left in him he'd be flying to pieces but he isn't, because he doesn't, and Sherlock pins him in one place. Brushing at his hair and his cheek, nuzzling at the edge of his open panting mouth.

"You're so lovely," Sherlock murmurs, hand tight on his wrist hand opening on his throat, and John gasps, squeezes his eyes shut tight—and Sherlock kisses his jaw, lips parted, sighing, and then brushes a thumb over John's slick mouth. John wants—he wants— "And you just want to be good to me, don't you," Sherlock whispers, tightening—pinning—and John stills, swallowing. Sherlock noses at the side of his nose, rubbing at his lip, and John nods. Nods and nods. Sherlock says, "Open up for me," soft.

Mad with him John opens, starving; and Sherlock slips in half his hand. God. His fingers thick and—and hot, and—curling

"You want to be hot and tight for me?" Sherlock whispers, and spark-stinging John shivers and nods, as Sherlock pushes his wrists into the mattress. "You want to be around me," voice unsteady, pushing his fingers all the way into their base as John opens, opens, doesn't—doesn't choke, leg winding up—closer, wanting— "you want to make me feel good," Sherlock says, lifting his head with his dark eyes and around him John's moan tries to—stopped; helpless—

—and Sherlock's hand—slips, twitches—tightens—and Sherlock says, "It feels like a promise," very low; and startled John's chest jerks— "Ngh—"; squeezing John's wrists tight, Sherlock says, unsteady, "Not one I can keep."

Holding John's hands to the bed. In him Sherlock twists his fingers, kisses John's throat: John whines.

"But you like this?" Sherlock whispers, and then kisses the edge of him, stretched out around Sherlock's three long fingers as John nods and moans and nods. "Shh, I know," whispered, as he is pressing in deep and John groans. Sherlock noses at him: jaw and cheek.

John can't help it. Jerks his hand free, coldhollow, to grab at Sherlock's working wrist—

"I know, shh," Sherlock whispers, "I'm not going to," and he presses his mouth close to his hand fucking—fucking John open, prying him open with John's fist tight on him—holding him—in— "I know," Sherlock is murmuring, hot and close, "I won't stop," while thick-full-up and starving John moans 'round his hand. "Shh," Sherlock breathes, "I know."

"Please," John says, as best he can, around Sherlock panting against him pressed deep into him, his wrist flexing in John's clenched hard hand— "please," John would beg, "please," and a half-dozen other things he can't get out around Sherlock's wet fingers—

"John," Sherlock says, unsteady, and stretched nearly to snapping between not saying and not having John tugs at Sherlock's wrist until Sherlock's slick fingers drag over his chin, come to rest, light, on his throat.

"I know you'll have stop," John says, rough. "Still want you to." His hollow mouth moving. "I want—as much—as much as you can, I want you to—"

Sherlock swallows noisily. John's fingers winding up with his wet hand. And his eyes—

"I know what's on offer," John says, aching, "I know, but—besides." He laughs, a little, and squeezes Sherlock's fingers tight between their chests with his right hand clenched tight on the back of Sherlock's neck. "It's hardly as though I'm pounding down doors on my own," John says, "and I—I'd still want—I mean, even if you were to—er, change my mind—" and Sherlock cups his face in both hands and kisses him deep and hungry and eager and John feels an electric-shock shiver run down the length of his spine. Sherlock shoving him back into the pillows, eeling himself up, his elbows braced beside John's head as John grabs at his arse, blood lurching through his skin, heart pounding—

"Stay," Sherlock whispers; John laughs, dizzy and lunatic. As though—

"If I change your mind," Sherlock says, hot against him, "you'll stay."

Hips tight against him. Into his mouth pressing— "Yeah," John gasps, helpless; "yeah, I—of course": nodding over and over as Sherlock breathes into him, "You'll stay here with me," low and jaguar-dangerous, hot on John's lips—cheek—jaw— "you'll let me get you off."

"Yeah," John croaks, again and again, and Sherlock kisses him deep, shoving him breathless and delirious down into the sheets. Hands fisted to hold him down tight-tight-tight as Sherlock tightens his arm beneath his head, hand sliding under his back—and down—

"Stay on this cock as long as I let you," Sherlock muffled, said into John's bones, "and then if you need more you'll stay here spread on your knees while you let me get my other one."

"Fuck," John gasps, shoving his leg up; and Sherlock makes a noise, hot and hungry, and pulls him apart.

"You'll come," Sherlock says, petting—Christ—and sharp, "just for me," as John gulps down shuddering breaths, nodding and nodding, as Sherlock rubs his barely-damp fingertips against him, little misdirected earthquakes rippling through John's hot skin. "In my hands", nearly snarled: sparks, "You'll stay here, for me to," and John tinder; clawing at Sherlock's hair and his sticky back and his flexing-firm arse as Sherlock rolls his prick through the sweat-slick groove of John's hip and his thigh, "to make—make you come all over me, yeah?" John nodding arms tight around him; while mouth moving John's mouth Sherlock shapes words, barely heard: "You'll stay," and John's whole body vibrating— "with me—" like his throat 'round a moan— "and come apart," Sherlock whispering, "while you kiss me"; and John gasps, "Yes."

"Yeah?" Sherlock says, and John touches his throat because Sherlock is lovely and hot and hard and his voice cracks when he says it, Sherlock pressing his shoulders up tight and his body up tight and his face tight to John's face with John wrapped around him under him nodding and nodding, wanting—everything, overflowing, wanting—Sherlock pressing him down and down and down until John drowns in his body and his vast white bed, his mouth on John's mouth, moving, whispering—

"I," Sherlock says, tongue half in his mouth, "put the lube away last night"; and snapped into place John's chest jerks: a startled, barked-out laugh. "Which is proving," Sherlock adds, still heavy-close moving his body against him, thigh between his thighs and hand on his arse pinning, pinned, "a tactical error of truly epic proportions," weight sliding slick and hot against him as he strokes—pulls—pets, "because now I have to get up to get it," Sherlock murmurs, startlingly soft, and then brushes a kiss over John's cheek.

"Yeah." John swallows. Skin. "You could make me get it," he suggests, weakly. It's absurd. He can't even lift his hands.

"Yeah?" Sherlock lifts his head. Too far.

John can feel his face moving about. He doesn't really know what it looks like, but Sherlock laughs, short and breathless, and then lies down back close tight touching and kisses John's cheek. "Wouldn't really address the fundamental problem, anyway," Sherlock murmurs, into the little hot sliver between their faces, with his mouth tipped into a blurred and lopsided smile; and John swallows and tightens his arms around his back.

"What," John asks, tongue thick, "do you want me to do?"

Sherlock laughs aloud. "Ohhh": a long rueful noise, between their mouths. John licks— "Mm." Sherlock sighs, rubbing his palm over John's arse, under his thigh, petting back up against him; John's throat cracks, an inadvertent sound, and Sherlock rubs their faces together. "Your hand," Sherlock says, quiet, and John touches his arm, his wrist. Twitching his knee up, petting his hand back over Sherlock's hand: their fingers slide together against his hole.

"You like it." Sherlock's fingers caressing the sides of John's fingers and his short scratchy damp hair and his tender hidden skin.

"Yeah," John manages: lying, utterly certain; their fingers dry against him prickling him all over, strange and foreign, so that—but John's pores are yawning open as—but Sherlock is petting against him breathing hard so that—and John is petting with him, John's knee bent up foot curling, against Sherlock's warm calf, but—and Sherlock's hitching uneven breath, and his skin—

"Keep doing that, then," Sherlock says, quiet, "for me," and then sighs, nosing down John's jaw, and pulls back: and all the air that rushes in to take his place is hollow and cold and raw.

Bared. John could pull the duvet up tight 'round his ears. An instant: he could sleep; he could curl up tight on his side, he thinks, and close his eyes and be unconscious in an instant to wake up in three hours to Sherlock touching his half-formed body to solidify in his hands; but he doesn't. Instead he touches himself because Sherlock asked him to, feeling fractured off his foundations; he lies with his leg up rubbing at his arsehole in the cool morning air with all the rest of his strings cut; caught, like the light, on the familiar dips and curves of the back of Sherlock's bare body. Sherlock comes back to bed, and John slides an arm under his dark head. The mattress moves as Sherlock wriggles in close on his side, tighter and tighter until John's heart is pummeling against Sherlock's hot skin. Sherlock kisses John's chin, the side of his nose, tugging John's thigh up to his ribs, tucking his forearm under John's knee while he rubs his slippery cold fingers against-in between John's dry fingers and the bottle of lube, dropped against the back of John's leg, moves with the mattress with their weight.

"That's." John laughs, a little rough. Knee up, up, up; over Sherlock's shoulder—stretching—

"Not good?" Sherlock stills.

"Cold," John corrects, and twists, trying to reach. Sherlock yanks his hand back up to John's hip, leaving slippery fingerprints. "No, not—I meant the bottle." John gets his fingers around it and wraps both his arms around Sherlock's head, bottle tucked tight against his palm. Mouth, to mouth, to mouth, with his leg stretched just to the edge of aching.

"So this," Sherlock murmurs, petting two fingers back down the end of John's spine. Petting. Barely—

"That's." John shifts. "Fine."

"Oh, fine." Sherlock's smile pressed close. "Three out of ten?" Pressing in: three. "Three point five?"

John shivers, rolling his hips— "I don't need this much warm-up, you know." Wanting. More. "I can take it."

"What makes you think it's for you?" Sherlock's voice buzzing into his skull. "Maybe I just like how you feel," Sherlock murmurs, and John slides his hand into Sherlock's hair, aching and open. Tightens. Tugs. Gives Sherlock all his tongue and his teeth with Sherlock fucking him slow and gentle with three long fingers—God, barely—barely enough to—to feel, barely—and rough Sherlock says, "Open the bottle," and John flicks the cap with his thumb, pulse throbbing in his lips and his ears when he shifts it hand to hand, squeezes— "No," Sherlock says, sharp, and John groans, jerking his wet hand back to his belly with a flush rolling over him hot from feet to face. "Impatient," Sherlock murmurs. Fingers curling.

"Fuck." John swallows. Slick, with Sherlock's— "Yeah, when for the past—" soft skin and— "hour, probably, you've been—" his dizzying-thick posh bloody lube and—

"Give me your hand," Sherlock says, very low, and lips pulled back heart squelching John reaches back to touch— "Think you can get your fingers in with mine?" Sherlock asks.

"Christ," John gasps. Presses—panting—hot-liquid feelings with nowhere to go but his, his burning mouth, his stretched-apart body and spread-open arsehole around Sherlock's—and his—

"Like that," Sherlock says, thick; John moans, twisting his spine, trying to push— "I want you like this," Sherlock whispers, into his throat, his fingers curling deep where John can't reach— "so wet," moving against his jaw, "and loose I could—could just—fuck." Gasped. Sherlock's breath is coming in little, too-fast bursts on John's hot throat, curling his fingers deeper into him, over and over and fast, shoving them into him in what'd seem a truly slapdash fashion if John weren't already so eager his toes are cramping up against his feet. "Could just," Sherlock gasps, "pull you in and—"

"C'mon," John manages, "please," and Sherlock makes a low, guttural noise and yanks his fingers out, fuck, finally: John getting his wet hand back around Sherlock's hot prick, pulling him—up against—while Sherlock holds him open, panting, pressing against John's hole slick and hot and thick as John breathes in, Christ! aching-filling-full as Sherlock pants his way through two shallow, rocking-dragging thrusts while belly tight John tries to force his lit-up stretched humming body to open around him and Sherlock grinds out, "Oh, f-fuck—" and John presses his jaw up beneath his bent up knee gasping while Sherlock shoves himself in with a groan.

Stretched drum-tight. Heart fluttering in his ribs. Sherlock's skin is burning, everywhere: arms tight around him head and thigh to chest and his body pressed almost-flush against John's body as John's hands slip in their sweat and Sherlock's hips roll out and then in—prising—and John says, unsteady, "On, on my back, you'll be able to—"

"Ngh—I, I want," Sherlock gasps, and then squirms, with sparks rolling up John's skin as Sherlock presses him onto his back arms braced John drags his other leg—up—both knees over Sherlock's shoulders with his palms braced on the headboard pushing down as thick inside him Sherlock gasps, "Oh—God—John," knelt halfway up with his hips snapping—shoving him deep sweat shining on his apple-red face between John's folded-tight tensioned aching knees as Sherlock fucks in hard balls slapping against John's skin burning stretched tight-tight-tight and buzzing the whole of him burning and aching—wanting—more

"God," Sherlock gasps, "fuck—" and then presses in tight and then stills. Shoved in right to the kneaded-unopen golden ache dripping down from John's navel to his spine and John pulls Sherlock's head down, barely—barely can touch his—

mouth

Sherlock whines. Bites—and John licks at his tender lip.

"How." Sherlock swallows. Pushes at John's legs, holding them down to his chest as he eases himself out, voice thick: "How many fingers?" as he pets back against him, slipping in; wet and easy and not—not enough

John swallows. Swallows. "Four," he says, "please," as Sherlock nodding, presses his fingers deep and nods—nodding as slow, slower—thicker and thickening, easing back into him; John's pulse fluttering in his knees and his elbows as Sherlock—slips—as John groans, with that same bright-aching fitting-open feeling dripping out through his body, squirming, fingers curling, while Sherlock asks, "What happened to the lube?"

"I—I don't—" John claws at his own hair, panting— "I don't know."

"Hm."

John groans, jerking; as Sherlock—bastard—pulls out his fingers, and— "Up," Sherlock murmurs, "roll up for me—good," as somehow John gets himself over onto his side. Sherlock reaches across him to dig the lube out of the pillows, and throat tight John twists his face into the pillow and pushes two fingers into himself, gasping: not nearly enough. Sherlock kisses his shoulder—his cheek—and nuzzling at the side of John's throat he pets wet fingerprints against the edges of John's burning body, his hand fitting—John's hand—

"Oh—" swallowing— "fuck—"

"Kiss me," Sherlock murmurs, so John twists: hollow empty mouth finding Sherlock's warm mouth as crouched over him their four fingers slip in and out of him, slick.

"Christ." Half-laughing, thick: John swallows. "I could," unsteady, "I want—"

Bridged over him Sherlock curls his head down and flicks his tongue at John's nipple: lightning; John jerks all over.

"Yeah?" Sherlock whispers.

Cups his hand over John's half-hard cock and John arches, groaning, "God, I don't—I don't know, I don't know, kiss me," and Sherlock's teeth clack into his, blood-sharp and burning while John thrashes, helpless. "I want." John swallows. "Can you, can you lie down with me," with his voice squirming in his throat but Sherlock is already easing himself down behind him, his body warm enough to feel through bare air even before he presses a kiss down to John's shoulder, touching the base of John's fingers at the base of John's spine—

"God." John laughs. Rubs his face on the sheets. He gets himself—up, knees under—propped up on his elbow and— "I—Christ." Forehead slipping on the back of his hand pressing taut prints into the pillow. "I, I need—"

"Pillow?" Sherlock asks.

His voice is casual. Curious. He could be offering John a mint, but he isn't. Instead John is nodding with his back all in knots and two fingers shoved up his own arse while Sherlock tucks a fluffy down pillow under his hips and then wriggles close up to his side while John's weight squashes it down—driving—wriggling into it feeling—stretched out, too thin, his half-awake body and his driving blood with Sherlock pressing little kittenish kisses to the edges of his face while his fingers next to John's fingers nudge John's arse wider open—knee up—slotting alongside and into him "Christ, more," tongue thick John says, "please, please," and twists spine cracking to make his mouth meet Sherlock's mouth while Sherlock presses him open stretched open open wide. John whines. His hips—

"We could keep doing this," Sherlock says, very quietly.

John gasps, "Yeah," unsteady.

Between kisses with his face toocloseblurred— "For a long time."

"Yeah," John manages. "Yeah."

"Could you come?" Sherlock asks.

"I, God." John laughs, ragged. Sherlock slides closer, kisses under his ear. "I don't know, I don't," John pants, pushing back. "It feels. Different, I—fuck." Breathing in. Sherlock's hot sweaty beloved body tucked close, knee sliding up to press heavily against the back of John's knee, breathing out.

"It's good?" Sherlock breathes.

"Yeah." John swallows, as Sherlock— "ngh—" fingers curling and— "God. Yeah. It feels great, I—" snuggling the whole warm aromatic stretch of his sweaty body up against John's body, his erection wet against the back of John's thigh. "Christ," John gasps, jerking—out, arm shoving—up, "You're so—close, I—" and laughs, face smashed into the pillow blinking back bright lights while Sherlock pets at the hot-aching edges of his insides and John drives both elbows into the mattress, pushing back—all his skin pulled up to peaks and heart pounding John scrapes—his hand slid down and—and the side of his thumb under himself over his own nipple purple-hot and throbbing as he groans, "Fuck," and Sherlock half-laughs half-purrs into the side of his neck and his mouth and his throat and whispers, "Mm," whispering, "Feels good, yeah?"

"Yeah." John swallows. "Jesus, is it always—bloody buggering Christ," gasped breathless shivering as Sherlock rolls his weight—up, up over-against him, arm trapped hand tucked—tucked under him, scraping blunt nails over John's electrified belly, with half his other hand tucked into John's arse and his knee sliding in between John's sweat-soaked thighs. Sherlock nuzzles the back of his ear. "God," John's broken throat sopping-wet whole body rippling with Sherlock's—weight—

"Can I," Sherlock asks, thick and close, "can I fuck you a little bit more?"

"Yeah—God—" John blinks sweat-stinging eyes pushing back hollow and desperate while Sherlock fits himself over him, draped blanket-tight against him, nudging the thick-plummy head of his slick prick into him— John's mouth soaked with spit.

"All right?" Drilled into John's skull, as cracked open to fit him John buzzing nods and nods. "Kiss me," Sherlock says, breathless, as though John could do anything else, twisting his mouth to press clumsily against the edges of Sherlock's open wet mouth, his hand shoving tight to John's hand wedged under John's cracked-open ribs hot helpless sweat-slick all over with Sherlock screwing himself slowly down-into the reckless tumbling avalanche of John's ecstatic pulse and his thumb and John's thumb their knotted up hand and their single bipartite thumb on an arrowhead burr their touch on John's chest while they fuck.

"You feel." Sherlock breathless; John licks out—at, at his moving far-away impossible mouth— "Really good, I—is it, do you like it," unsteady, and stretched seawater-slick John nods shivering and nods as Sherlock whispers, "Yeah?" and John gasps, "Yeah, I—I love it, I—fuck—" bracing his arm up by his limp weak head shoving down through drifts of pillows shoving back. Sherlock's cock thick-hot inside him wet—Sherlock's slippery knees John's knee scraping on the damp sheets as John moans, writhing—up at the edge of the mattress pushes his wrists, tensioned aching twisting—and Sherlock's long fingers searing-light on the backs of his hands as low-hot in his ear Sherlock asks, "You want me to—" and helpless John nods nods nods and Sherlock shoves John's hands down into the sheets.

John groans.

"Yeah?" Sherlock's hips shoving—

"Fuck," half-sobbed, "Sherlock—" with Sherlock panting hard on the back of his neck and his weight on John's wrists while he fucks him hard and ruthless and John squirms under him, belly throbbing as he scrapes up his electrified skin on the sheets and Sherlock pants in his ear: "want, want you, want you to," in a nonsensical breath-wet tide while John whines white-hot and pulls at his pinned wrists unmoving lit up thick shuddering all over as Sherlock's body drags out of away from his body and John cries out as above him Sherlock gasps, "Fuck, I—hold on," unsteady, "to the headboard," shoving his fingers back into him while John tries—no purchase—with Sherlock rubbing his stubble all over his shoulders while he screws his long fingers into John's arse and pants against John's back for his breath.

Hollow John swallows. "Can you—hard, something that—" swallowing and swallowing, gasps, "—that h-hurts—" and Sherlock pulls out hand flat ringing out stinging all over John's burning arse as John groans, fucking his half-hard prick into the pillow. Sherlock kisses his nape and his throat and John swallows, swallows; reaches—and bowed above him, warm sweatyclose lovely arc, left-handed Sherlock presses John's hands tight to the base of the headboard, and holds them there. Pinned. John whimpers and is still.

Sherlock bends. "All right?"

"Y-y." Half-swallowed. "Yeah."

Sherlock nuzzles at his shoulder. "Want a little more?" he murmurs.

John swallows. "Yeah," he croaks, and hard hot stinging Sherlock's right hand comes down just at the tops of John's spread red-hot smarting thighs.

Whining—John can't, can't—needs to and Sherlock—again and again, and John moans, pushing—and then almost—gasping laughs, red-faced and squirming, as tucking his fingers back into him Sherlock nuzzles tender little kisses against his cheek, breathing wet and hot.

"Yeah?" Murmured. A little stinging slap—

"Yeah." John swallows. "Fuck."

Low and dark Sherlock says, "Dirty."

Startled, John shivers. All over. Heating up: Sherlock slipping his long clever fingers deep into John's wet used hot arse and—and—and swallowing, John jerks his knee up. Up.

Bowed just over him, he can hear Sherlock breathing, hard. Feel his fingers in him, squelching soft; his hand on John's wrists, hard. Heart pounding John slides his knee in towards the center of his body, opening himself up.

Sherlock so close John hears him swallow.

"And not sorry about it," Sherlock says, very softly, "I don't think."

"For you?" John's face is hot. He pulls his knee up tighter, open wider; says it anyway. "No. M'not."

Sherlock lets out a low, hot sigh; and noses at the back of John's ear; John loosens, pulled.

"Ought to get something so I could just keep you here," Sherlock suggests. "Slap your arse apple-red," curling close, with his cock—fuck—still hard, brushing against John's burning skin. "Make you nice and warm like this," breathless: "for me," Sherlock's soft mouth, "every time."

Slotting his arms around John's body. Back to chest held tight. John licks at his parched lips heart fast and hard and reckless whispers, "All right."

"Yeah?" Sherlock is smiling. Pressed hot to John's hair— "Should I do it now?" Hand tucked between them, rubbing his palm over John's hot stinging skin. "Turn you over my knee?"

"Um." John laughs a little. "Fuck. That's." Laughing, again. Burning up.

Sherlock presses—sliding his fingers into him. "Hot?" Sherlock suggests, as John's mouth opens. Drips.

"Yeah," John admits, and shivers, swallowing, pressing his face down into the pillow. "God." Stretched-spreading open: he still feels soaking wet. "How much lube did you use?"

"Hmm." Sherlock nuzzles his face into his until John twists: they kiss. "Good, isn't it?"

"Mm." They kiss, off-center; and kiss. John licks— "You could": raw. "I mean. Tie—"

Sherlock hums. Electric tongue to tongue—and then Sherlock's soft rough-edged mouth on his jaw.

"If you like." John swallows. "I'd do whatever you want," he says, hushed.

"Yeah?" Sherlock's warm face, tucked near to John's face. His fingers— "Dangerous, that."

"I trust you." Breathed. "And you." Swallowing. "You know me." Slipping open-wet around him, chest yawning wide, John says, "You always know what I want."

Fingers still. "No, I don't," Sherlock says, very quietly; and John's lips knot and tangle, twisting down.

"This," he says, "I like this," pushing back; and Sherlock breathes across his half-open mouth.

"Me too," he says, soft.

"And yesterday," John manages, before his throat closes up—

Sherlock shifts, warm against him. "Yeah?"

John nods.

Fingers thick inside him—Sherlock thick inside him, pushing— "Which bit?"

John's breath—he gasps. Pushes back—can't m—but rocking and rocking until tongue loosened he moves, has to—moving his mouth but he—can't, no sound—

"You can like it when it hurts," Sherlock says, soft; and John twists, reaching back, knots his hand in Sherlock's thick hair, heart pounding and pulling as he gasps, "I—no, I like—" and then squeezes his eyes shut tight.

Sherlock kisses the hinge of his jaw. Slack open panting mouth on the edge of his—rubbing at him—

"I like it when you hurt me," John gasps, and then groans, working himself up onto his elbows and knees, Sherlock bent close around him breathing against him pressing deep inside him—John's heart pounding slick-sick inside him while he—

"Lovely," Sherlock murmurs, and John moans. Roiling under his flayed crackling skin as "Filthy," Sherlock breathes, hot on his jaw; "my dirty—" while "little—" John "boy—" chokes, while Sherlock fucks his long fingers in deep as John gasps "Oh, oh f—fuck—" while Sherlock tells him, "Could probably take my whole hand, couldn't you?" and John moans.

"Just let me get," Sherlock panting, "the whole bottle up you, and then—"

"Yeah," John pants, wanting—toes curling into his feet. "Yeah, I—if you want to, I—I—"

"Good boy," Sherlock says, and John gasps, "Christ—" and squirms—and "Good," Sherlock murmurs, while John half-barking l-lau—

"Yeah?" Sherlock bends up, forehead dragging over John's nape as braced up on his elbows John rocks back, dripping, aching-laughing, biting at his own lip and gasping, "Fuck, that shouldn't be—so fucking h-hot, I—"

"No?" Sherlock licks sweat off the back of his neck and John jerks, feeling—cupping his hand around himself, his aching balls and his still-barely-hard prick as "New to you?" Sherlock asks. "Haven't been dreaming of putting on your old school rugby kit and—"

"I—" John swallows, shivering head to toe— "haven't, you—"

"Mm, I have." Sherlock spreads his fingers. "Does it—" Christ— "still fit?"

"God—" John chokes. Jerking— "You—utter bastard, I—"

"More muscle—bit tight around the thighs, I'd imagine," Sherlock says sadly, "so I couldn't just reach up and—" with his fingers pressing deep and John—John can't—

"God." Nearly laughing, squirming and red— "Sod off, I don't even still—fuck—have it, I—"

"Shame," Sherlock murmurs. "After I drew up all those training drills, too," and John can't help it, elbows buckle: hunched over laughing, feeling—

"Fuck—" drawn in, breathless, "okay, stop, stop," dropping down to his side while Sherlock wipes his fingers on the sheets and fits both his arms around John's jerking ribs, nuzzling into John's hair while red-faced and warm all over cradled tight John laughs, and laughs, and laughs.

"God." He rubs at his face. "You are such a prick." Hand over Sherlock's hand.

Sherlock curls their fingers together. "I am, aren't I." Murmured into the side of John's neck.

John turns his head, nose to nose. "Don't even know why I like you," he says, and Sherlock's face crinkles up, eyes and chins and his awkward too-frank lopsided smile, which John twists to kiss.

Sherlock hums. Curls up tight around him, sticky and hot but the air pressing at them, still cool—John reaches down for the duvet, drags it up to their waists. Nothing to it. They're already going to have to wash every scrap of anything within a meter of the bed.

"Do you really not have it any longer?"

"You've seen what happens to me during a match," John says, "do you really think I've still got anything I played in twenty-five years ago?"

"So m'not going to get you in those little shorts, then," Sherlock murmurs. Squeezing him around the waist.

"Well." John wriggles his back into Sherlock's warm body, mouth tugged. "Not today, at any rate," and Sherlock hums.

"Then if I'm good." Sherlock noses at him until John twists back for a kiss. "For," open-mouthed, "my birthday," opening John's mouth.

"Your birthday's not 'til January," John reminds him.

"Christmas, then." Sherlock squeezes. "Halloween."

John licks his bottom lip. "You don't get presents on Halloween."

"I would," Sherlock says, very seriously, "if you were to dress up in your school rugby kit."

John can't stop smiling at him. "Because... you've been good?"

"No, I've been rotten, actually." Chin hooked over his shoulder wrapped around him close and tight, "Violently—" kissing— "impure—" and kissing— "thoughts."

John starts laughing again. Sherlock nuzzles down into his shoulder, squeezing him tight tight tight.

John pets at his wrist. His long hand warm. Sherlock turns his palm up, and so John pets at that too.

"This is." John swallows. "Lovely."

"Yeah," Sherlock says, very quietly.

John nods. "I've been thinking that I ought to ask Rhoda for a couple days off," he says. His heart is beating strangely hard. "So I can go up to Edinburgh, see Harry, and not."

He pauses. Sherlock is rubbing his rough cheek on the top of his shoulder, hypnotically slow.

"Not waste a weekend." John swallows. "You know?"

"Yeah," Sherlock says, quiet.

"Yeah," John says. "I mean, I've not seen her since Christmas, so."

"Mycroft'd murder me if I didn't see him for that long," Sherlock murmurs. Squeezing John's hand: something in John's chest unravels, all at once.

"Come now, he'd never stoop to doing it himself." John tugs Sherlock's hand up, kisses—kisses his knuckles, nuzzling, mouth feeling—wet, and—

"That's why he employs all those terrifyingly well-dressed young women," Sherlock agrees, hot on John's ear. Closer: God. John inhales, stretching against him. Hot. John licks his lips. Drawing his knee up—John reaches back, pulling Sherlock tight against his arse. Stretching: Sherlock sighs, touches his mouth.

Swallowing. Still feeling—John asks, "Want to go a little more?" and Sherlock breathes, "Yeah," quiet. John licks at his fingers, and Sherlock's breath catches. "Good," Sherlock murmurs, and John shivers all over while Sherlock trails his wet hand down to cup John's cock, pet his balls. John swallows, rubbing Sherlock's hip behind his body before reaching down to hold Sherlock's cock still—

"Let me just—" Sherlock twists, and John shakes his head, throat tight.

"I'm still." Swallowing. "Fine, so—just," as he guides Sherlock into place.

Breathing out. Sherlock nodding. Pressing him open millimeter by slick millimeter, heartbeat loud in John's ears. Holding him tight.

"Okay?" Sherlock asks.

"Yeah." John swallows, drops his chin down to his chest. "Fuck."

Sherlock presses his face to the side of John's neck, breathing deep. "You're still so open," muffled.

John nods and nods, dizzy. The slick-hot cradle of Sherlock's big wiry body, holding him—down—he swallows. "Got me so wet," he says, unsteady, "I'll probably be dripping all day."

Sherlock's breath puffs out on his throat. "Yeah?" scraping, pavement-hot.

John shudders. "Yeah," he says, thick, and bites down on a groan as Sherlock shoves into him, deep and hard.

"How convenient." Sherlock's hand loose around him, barely moving—John's blood mixed-up everywhere all over but still half of him half-hard in Sherlock's gentle stroking hand. "Good?"

John nods, hard. "Keep going," he says, rough, and shoves his toes against the sheets, pushing back.

Sherlock kisses over his shoulder: John twists. "If," Sherlock says, thick, "you're going to be nice and loose all day." Into John's mouth. Hand under his hand.

John's breath catches. "Yeah."

"Going to be ready for me to just come up behind you?" Sherlock asks, and John nods. Sherlock slides his fingers down behind John's balls, pressing—John groans, rocking back. "Going to let me bend you over the table?" Sherlock asks, petting at the aching-raw edge of John's body, stretched out around his hot cock while John squirms back against him, nodding, feeling—full, sloshing over with wanting— "Get you down on your elbows," Sherlock sighs, "on the ottoman, just push my way in?"

"Fuck." John swallows. Rocking. "Yeah."

"God." Sherlock swallows. Laughs, nearly, wrapping his free arm up under John's body to rub at his belly in time with his hand between John's thighs: John moans, squirming. Sherlock murmurs into his ear, "Never get anything done."

"You have plans?" John asks, panting.

"No." Sherlock swallows noisily. "Or."

"Or." John laughs, burning all over, pushing—back

"Or maybe," Sherlock says, breathless, and grabs at John's hip, fucking into him hard: "Fuck," John groans, and slams his hand out at the headboard, shoving himself down. "Maybe I'll just sit and wait for you," Sherlock says, thick, "in my chair," and John groans, "Jesus, fucking wait for what?" while Sherlock gasps into his neck, "God—John—" while John moans, pushing back, Sherlock squeezing his hip moving him with him with him rocking-liquid while Sherlock scratches blunt nails over his belly overflowing John sobs, wound up plucking-tight—

"God damn it," Sherlock gasps, and rolls forward, pinning John down—shoving in—and in—while John shivers all over glowing in every bursting-splitting cell, held fast under Sherlock pushing him down holding still-still-still, while John pants and drips and shivers in his sweat-soaked misshapen skin. Sherlock still thick inside him. Inside-out, John feels—flayed, as though—his blood soaked out everywhere like he's come four times but Sherlock is—still thick inside him, pulse pounding against him, John wants—he wants—

"In a minute I'll be able to pull out," Sherlock says unsteadily; and John gasps, "No—don't, I—" while Sherlock is saying, "I could—finger you, or get—" and John twists up under Sherlock's blanketing weight to press his mouth to Sherlock's feeling starved with loneliness already except for Sherlock's hot heavy weight against him breath against him held still against him while Sherlock moans and kisses him, hot and wet and starving gasping with John shaking-drowning with his hand—in Sherlock's thick hair—

"Okay," Sherlock breathes, "okay?"

John nods, somehow—kisses—

—and Sherlock moans, soft, into his open hollow mouth.

John's breath. In—his lungs, and— "Are you," John says, "okay, or do you need to—"

"I just need you not to move, just for a minute," Sherlock says unsteadily, "except, except for this," and then kisses him, kisses him over and over with his cock still hard inside him and John wants to move and not stop but everything but his mouth twisted back to meet Sherlock's mouth he holds himself still, still, still.

"God." Sherlock sighs, pulls John closer in. Cups his hand around John's prick and John feels—off-balance. Surprised.

"Want me to?" Sherlock strokes him, loose.

"Fuck, I don't—" John swallows. "I don't know, it feels—" Sherlock palms over the head of him and John flinches, jerking hard. "Shit—sorry," John gasps, while Sherlock is still inhaling; Sherlock saying, "No, no, it's—fine, I won't—" and then pulling his hand up to John's abdomen, touching him soft, in circles, soft.

John folds his hand over Sherlock's hand. Breathes. Sherlock breathes against his jaw, and John breathes.

Breathes.

Blanketed by Sherlock's warm weight with their palms over his hollow belly, John swallows. "I'm actually. Uh, starving, are you—"

"I—yeah." Sherlock sighs. "I am—damn it."

John twists enough to look at him. "There's a reasonably straightforward solution to that problem," he observes, and Sherlock gives a petulant sigh, but he does slide his hand down to John's hip. John bites his lip, swallowing around his wet-slick hollow throat as Sherlock drags himself out—

Sore. "Well," John says. "If you meant it, about your chair—" and Sherlock presses his mouth down against John's shoulder, wrapping himself around him, tight and close.

John interlaces their fingers.

"You're not," he says quietly, "making it easier to get out of bed."

"Pot, kettle," Sherlock says, but then he sighs, and pulls back.

John rolls up to sitting. He's suddenly acutely aware of the wreck of Sherlock's bedroom: he feels vaguely guilty, then angry about it, then embarrassed. He rubs at his face and staggers up to his feet, looking about the wreckage of sheets and pillows and duvet for his pajama bottoms, which he finds half-under the foot of the bed.

"I'm not at all impressed by the part in these proceedings where you find it necessary to get dressed," Sherlock observes.

John glances at him, sprawled out and naked and shining, still hard, then away. "Do you not?" He bends down to tug them on—Christ, he's repulsive, he needs to take a twelve-hour shower and then probably burn these bottoms, after. "I'll make the breakfast if you want, but it seems unwise to—"

"You barely know how to scramble eggs, and you overcook everything," Sherlock sighs, and then rolls out of bed and tugs on his blue dressing gown, which is—John is fairly certain—dry clean only. "The hob's got more settings than just 'high', you know." It's not a conversation with the cleaners that John would relish, personally, but Sherlock is already tying it shut.

"Well, you can show me, then," John says.

'Shut' is, he notes, a marked overstatement. Indecent, really.

"That," Sherlock says, coming over, "is also not encouraging me to let you leave the bedroom."

"What?" John asks, looking up.

"That thing you're doing." Sherlock kisses him, once, light. "Where you stare at me and lick your lips."

"Can't help it," John protests, stepping back and waving a hand.

"What?" Sherlock looks down.

"You might as well put on a picture frame," John says; and Sherlock smirks at him, then rolls his hips in a way that definitely is intended to be lewd but mostly is actually just absurd. "That just draws more attention to what's in it, not less—go," John says, exasperated, "put on some pants," and Sherlock does a complicated and ridiculous sort of hip-jiggle, but he does go over to the chest of drawers to fish out some pants.

"I didn't notice, did we have any milk left?" Sherlock asks, coming back up behind him while John digs around in the wreck of the bed for his vest. "I didn't use all the lemons, could make pancakes. Leave it, it'll turn up later, you're not having breakfast with the queen."

"Well, that's a relief." John leans back against him. He can't think of any reason not to nuzzle up under Sherlock's jaw while Sherlock nudges him along, but he also can't be bothered to try particularly hard. "I think we do, unless you used it up yesterday, and I don't—" John trips on a join in the floor, nearly— "surely we didn't drink that much tea," he says, a little breathless, bracing his palm against the jamb.

"Mm." Sherlock licks his neck while John fumbles with the fiddly way the doorknob's got to be pushed up and twisted at the same time. "Probably not," Sherlock says, batting John's hand away to do it himself, "but if we did, I could do... um—" while John twists back, warm all over and smiling, groping his— "eggs and, or—Christ, unless you want to—" arse while pressing clumsily against him and the wall with his fingers sliding under John's waistband Sherlock breathes in hard, "just go straight for the table," rubbing his erection against John's arse through his bottoms as John, half-laughing, twists up to kiss him open-mouthed over his shoulder as they stumble into the kitchen. John flails a hand out to steady himself against the fridge but behind him Sherlock freezes stock-still, and John lifts his head up to see through to the living room, where Mycroft is sitting and looking irritated, perched upright at the edge of Sherlock's chair.

Chapter Text

"Get out," Sherlock says, very low; and Mycroft says, "I beg your pardon, I thought you'd relish the opportunity for—" as Sherlock straightening up behind John's back snaps, "Get out," with his hand sliding up to John's waist—John feels himself flush tomato-red. Sliding loose around his hips—John tugs his bottoms up, turns toward Sherlock, while Mycroft is saying, too loudly, "—a case worth your time, was I believe the phrase you used—" and Sherlock snarls, lunging; so John pushes him back into the corridor.

John puts his hands on Sherlock's shoulders. "Sherlock."

"Why—he always thinks he can just do as he likes," Sherlock is saying, low and furious, "without any regard for—"

"Sherlock," John repeats; and Sherlock straighten, inhaling, and pulls his face up until he can look John in the eye.

What daylight trickles into the little shadowy space between Sherlock's bedroom and the kitchen is still blue and grey, as though it's still hours ago: an illusive sort of a wall. Sherlock's face is cracked open, crumpled and miserable, his body held tight, and he keeps darting little longing glances towards his bedroom, his hands in fists at his sides.

"Complete tosser," John says, very quietly. "Which we knew."

Sherlock nods.

"Acts like he owns the place. Any place." John licks his lips. "Greg never knows what to do with him. Drives Molly 'round the bend."

Swallowing, up-down. Sherlock nods.

"And you know she'd never say a word about it," John says, "but he was a bit scornful about Mrs. Hudson's sister's blackcurrent jam," and Sherlock's face solidifies into a glare, his mouth tightening, hair sticking up all over and his flush still dripping down his lovely throat and John wants to punch Mycroft repeatedly in the face because if he weren't in their bloody living room—

"So," John says, instead; and after a moment, Sherlock lets out a long, slow sigh, mouth slackening.

He nods.

John rubs up and down Sherlock's arms, crumpling up the sleeves of his dressing gown, and Sherlock shivers, but the tension is starting to leak out of his neck and his shoulders.

"We were going to have breakfast," Sherlock says, under his breath.

"So we'll have breakfast," John says, very quietly. "I'll get rid of Mycroft, you start the pancakes. And tea, we need tea."

Sherlock lifts his chin. "You know that I can tell when you're managing me."

"Yeah, I know," John says, "but."

Sherlock stares up at the ceiling as he lets out a long, slow breath through his nose. After a moment, he nods.

John squeezes his elbows. Drops his hands.

"Do you have a—a t-shirt, or." He sighs. "A jumper, anything," and up-down up-down Sherlock swallows, and then pulls away and pads back into his bedroom, comes back with his dressing gown wrapped twice as tightly around himself, holding a grey t-shirt that still smells faintly like his body and fits strangely across John's arms and chest.

"He's not got any right," Sherlock says, with a plaintive note, sounding oddly young; but then he bites his lip; bends down to give John a quick, hard kiss; and then straightens up, shoulders squared, face flushed.

"You make the tea," John says, quiet, and Sherlock nods, so John smooths the t-shirt down over his belly and steps out into the kitchen, shoulders back, jaw tight.

From the living room Mycroft gives him the sort of narrow-eyed sardonic look that Sherlock reserves for stupid witnesses and his least favorite members of the police; John vaguely considers just going over and throttling him, but decides instead to wrestle the kitchen partition halfway shut. They hardly ever close it, because it tends to stick, but it must be there for a reason, and screening best friends from the thinly-veiled scorn of their impossibly interfering elder brothers seems as good a reason as any.

"All right," John says, coming over. "Good morning, Mycroft. What can we do for you?" He sits.

Mycroft's lip curls. "My apologies," he drawls, with a complete absence of sincerity, "Sherlock's generally progressed to setting things on fire by noon on his tenth day after a case; I'd not expected—"

"Yeah," John says, shifting. "So. A case?"

Mycroft pauses, then leans back in his seat. "Over the past several weeks, the police have intercepted several shipments of firearms coming in at the ports—Swansea, Plymouth, Aberdeen, Hull, one rumored for Bristol that never materialized..."

John nods, digging around in the mess of the side table for a pen. "Not London."

"Not London, no," Mycroft agrees. "Bristol was a bit out on that front as well. But what's worrisome is that the level of chatter the police have been intercepting in advance of the shipments themselves doesn't match up with what they actually have found in the raids."

John taps his pen against his notepad. "You're expecting bigger shipments."

"There are bigger shipments," Mycroft corrects. "And all the evidence is pointing to them coming in at Plymouth and Swansea and Aberdeen, around the same time the police are collecting these smaller shipments, possibly on the same day."

"And you suspect... what, police involvement?"

"I don't suspect anything," Mycroft says, and then pauses. "Except incompetence, which I tend to find with distressing consistency."

John stiffens, but Mycroft sighs and waves him off.

"I wouldn't come if I didn't think I'd get better results from you two looking into it," he says, and holds out a file folder. "This is what we've got so far. Bianca will send over anything further she happens to pick up, but the next shipment's due in Portsmouth tomorrow, and I suspect what's really called for is an observer presence on the point of delivery."

John nods, tucking his notepad and pen into the folder. "Do you know a time at all?"

"They've mostly come in in the morning," Mycroft says. "In Swansea, the smaller shipment was intercepted at half six in the morning, and I'd sent down four of my people and had them watch for a full forty-eight hours on either side, but..." He gives a world-weary, what-can-you-do-about-the-help-these-days sort of a sigh, and then drops his hands back onto the arms of his chair, and fixes John with an expectant gaze.

"Well." John sets his pen down, clears his throat. "Portsmouth, then."

"Yes," Mycroft says. "I've already had Bianca let the police know to expect you."

John smiles tightly. "Very forward-thinking of you."

Mycroft notches his elbows, folding his hands together in front of his face. "I had some time," he says, "while I was waiting."

John laughs, not very convincingly. "You could've called, you know." he says. Pauses. "Rung the bell. Sent a text."

"I did text," Mycroft said. "Or, well, Bianca did, In deference to Sherlock's distaste for—"

"And then waited for a reply," John says, exasperated; and Mycroft narrows his eyes.

"I do apologize," he drawls, "for thinking that international arms deals were marginally more important than whatever variation on hide the sausage you've apparently taken to playing with my brother"; and John says, "Excuse me—" rather more loudly than he'd intended, as Mycroft says, "but given my position and the imminence of the event in question, it did seem rather urgent" while John says, "but I'd appreciate it—" and Mycroft says "and since not all of us have the leisure to have a nice long lie-in of a Sunday," as John says "—if you'd just bugger off and let us—" while Mycroft is saying, "you'll excuse me for not considering that you two might be otherwise engaged," just as Sherlock sweeps in past the half-closed partition with his hands full and says, "Tea!" and then bangs two mugs down on the table to John's left, liquid sloshing over their rims.

John looks up.

Sherlock’s bright red face.

It didn't seem nearly long enough: he can't have waited for the kettle, can he? John glances back over at Mycroft, who is watching Sherlock with a blank, lizard-like expression of impermeability.

John brushes his knuckles over Sherlock's wrist as he takes a mug, then leans over to pass it to Mycroft, while Sherlock bolts back into the kitchen without another word.

John picks up the other, breathing it in. It smells good. Feels hot enough. Maybe it had been long enough for the kettle. Mycroft sips his without comment, but his foot does move, very slightly: expensive cuff of expensive trouser pulling up over expensive shoe, sliding a centimeter across their acid-burned filthy carpet.

John drinks his tea. Mycroft drinks his tea. In the kitchen Sherlock might be drinking tea but mostly is just emitting a thick, spreading cloud of humiliation and silent misery; and John hopes, rather viciously, that the sight of the two of them snogging haunts Mycroft for months, gives him terrible nightmares. John's knee is twitching. He forces it still.

"We'll be down to Portsmouth as soon as we can," he says, finally. Willing Mycroft to drink faster.

"Yes," Mycroft says smoothly, "very soon, I hope," and John pushes up to his feet.

"Yeah, well, you know how it is," he says, "better go pack a bag, have a shower," and holds out a hand to indicate the exit; Mycroft hesitates briefly, but is—predictably—too invested in the two of them hopping to to really push the issue. Just before leaving he turns to hand John his half-full mug with a sharp, superior expression; and John resists slamming the door behind him, but only just.

"We're changing the locks," John says, dumping the last of Mycroft's tea down the sink.

"Do you think he heard us?" Sherlock asks, hunched over the hob, tilting the pan from side to side to spread the batter.

Privately John thinks Mycroft got a show and a half, but he wouldn't say it. "He can't have been in for long," John says instead, and tops up the kettle. "We're still changing the locks."

"That won't stop him," Sherlock says bitterly, hunching further. Even his hair looks depressed.

"Probably not," John says. "It'd still be a bit of a signal."

He touches the base of Sherlock's back. Rubs a bit, and Sherlock's shoulders slink down. Down. Down.

Sherlock flicks the pancake off, folding it onto the plate at his left. John presses his mouth to the shoulder of Sherlock's dressing gown. Sherlock sighs, loosening, and then reaches for the batter again.

"Want me to slice up the lemons?" John asks, quiet.

Sherlock says, "Yes, please."

Chapter Text

"I can't believe we're the best suited for this," John says.

"Surely there's some sort of government lackey who'd be perfectly thrilled to sit for hours watching nothing happen," John says.

He digs his skull into the headrest.

"Trapped in the most uncomfortable car in England," he adds.

His back aches.

"In between a brick wall," John says, "and a badly-parked fish van," and closes his eyes.

"Badly-parked fish delivery van," Sherlock corrects, and John jerks his head up.

"As opposed to, what," John asks, after a second, "a badly-parked van made out of haddock?"

"Don't be facetious." Sherlock pries the lid off his tea to examine the contents. "Your original statement lacked precision."

"Precision as ever my goal," John says, "of course."

For some time in silence. John stares out through the windscreen, into frothing apricot water, pink and silver light.

Later John says, "I'd suggest we play again, but," and then laughs.

After a pause, Sherlock says, "All right."

John turns. Examines him: dark hair, bent face. "Yeah?"

"If you like," Sherlock says agreeably.

John swallows.

"Come on," Sherlock says. "I've got one."

He's got his thumb tucked against the rim of his lid, which is shining. Damp. A bead of tea just at the edge—

He doesn't look up.

"I—no." John swallows. "I didn't mean it."

"You've had two picks," Sherlock says. "I've only had one."

"Do you want to play again?" John asks.

Sherlock tilts his head, shoulder lifting.

"We don't have to." John presses his forearm against the steering wheel, fidgeting. "It's just a stupid game, and you don't—." He clears his throat. "You're better at—almost everything, so—"

"Come now," Sherlock says, "I'm dreadful at cleaning."

"No you aren't, you just never do it." John closes his eyes. "Sorry. Fine, then. Are you going to give me a letter?"

"No," Sherlock says. "Handicap."

"All right," John says. "All right."

All right.

Trapped behind the wheel of the most uncomfortable car in England, and the ferry not yet come in, indirect questioning feels even more pointless than usual.

"What do you think," John asks, "will we be back tonight?"

John's already texted Rhoda. "I texted Rhoda already. But."

But.

At his left Sherlock's face angled down angles up for an instant, so that he can take a sip of his tea.

Some time passes.

"Are you famous," John says, finally, "for your fancy turning toward Indian treasure?"

Sherlock's head jerks up. "I—what?"

He sounds startled. John's heart turns over and starts at last.

"Or should I ask instead if you're famous for turning your Fancy toward Indian treasure," John says, with the corners of his mouth tugging—

"No, I'm not," Sherlock says, "I'm not—" and then stops.

"You're not who?" John asks, lifting his eyebrows. "Long Ben Avery?"

Sherlock glares at him: incendiary.

"Oh, so you are," John says. "You're also—"

"You can't possibly have got it that quickly," Sherlock says. "You cheated."

"—rubbish at this game," John says. "Oh, yes—how, exactly? My telepathy?"

"Just because I was Long Ben Avery on that stakeout in Chelsea," Sherlock argues hotly. "That was months ago."

"Sherlock, as far as I can tell you know four figures in history," John says. "You've already been Marie Curie tonight and you were Burke and Hare in Wimbledon and in Hackney—which I want to point out is technically cheating, but I let you get away with it because you are rubbish at this game."

Sherlock slouches into his seat, knees jammed up against the dash. "You're in a mood tonight, aren't you," and John's face flushes hot.

Sherlock is bending back over his tea, rubbing at the seam of the cup, looking at nothing. After a minute John twists to rest his aching temple against the window.

"Sorry," he says, quietly, and then, "I'm really not."

Sherlock doesn't answer.

"I'm just." John swallows. Sighs. "Just—aiming for being irritated enough for the both of us, I suppose," he says, finally, "with the absence of criminals and the fish van and the brick wall and—and so on," and beside him Sherlock straightens up in his seat, and takes another sip of his tea.

"Granted," Sherlock says, gruff, "not how quite how I'd anticipated spending the rest of my Sunday."

"No," John says, aching. "No."

Sherlock says, "But I live in hope that you'll get the opportunity to shoot someone, so—"

"Well, yes, that is something to look forward to," John agrees, and turns his head to watch Sherlock's face as it cracks into the stretched-out facsimile of a smile.

John reaches over. Touches the side of Sherlock's trousers, quick, just above the knee.

"If the criminals continue to be tardy," Sherlock says, loosening, "maybe we can ask the police if there are any other dens of vice we can root out before going home."

John nods. "Take down a drug lord or two."

"Rout all the terrorists in Portsmouth," Sherlock suggests, looking over at him, and John can't help it, how he's smiling. Chest fluttering he leans against the window; Sherlock ducks his head.

John swallows, and Sherlock sips his tea.

"It's not all bad," John says.

Sherlock shakes his head.

"Beautiful sunset," John says, "and so forth," and Sherlock lifts his head, squinting out through the windshield, eternally unimpressed.

John tries not to fidget, in their extremely uncomfortable hired car.

"You're all right, then," he says, finally.

"I'm fine," Sherlock says.

"I meant." John swallows. "Being here, I mean."

Sherlock straightens his neck, squaring his shoulders. "Yeah," he says. "We needed a case."

John looks back out the windscreen. "Even one that means taking orders from Mycroft."

"Oh, 'orders'." In the corner of John's vision Sherlock's hand makes a graceless, pidgeonish sort of a swoop. "Mycroft makes his decisions based on the ten thousand foot view. If his 'orders' were worth anything he wouldn't need someone on the ground with a brain, so that they could decide to do something different."

John has to laugh, a little, but it's probably true.

True enough. Almost certainly.

After a minute, John asks, "Half nine, was it?"

"Quarter past," Sherlock says, and John nods. Checks his mobile, then tucks it back into his pocket. The ferry doesn't come, because it's not due yet, and after a minute John says, "Who does that, honestly?"

Sherlock looks over. "Does what?"

"Just comes in like that, and then sits down." John is watching him again, helpless: Sherlock's jaw twitches, barely; sets.

"Mycroft," Sherlock says, finally.

"Yeah," John agrees. "I know."

"Mycroft does that, I mean," Sherlock says.

"Yeah," John says. "He shouldn't."

Sherlock doesn't say anything.

"He shouldn't come in if you've not invited him," John says. "It's not his flat."

He says it as matter-of-factly as he can, but the truth is that in the face of Sherlock's flat expression and his idle thumb pressing into the edge of the lid of his tea John feels volcanic, burnt up, boiling over: filled to the brim with some sort of strange, syrupy-hot anger that clings and sticks to him, eating in through his cracks, like the acid-yellow light in their kitchen this morning as it'd rested on the winged 'V' of Sherlock's hair: inked dark just against the back of his bent, white neck.

"No," Sherlock says, finally. "It's yours."

Static-shocked. Stopped.

It takes a minute, but at last John says, "Hasn't ever been mine, properly," in his forgotten rough in-between-years old-man's voice. He clears his throat. "We probably," he adds, "ought to've fixed up the paperwork ages ago."

Sherlock rubs his thumb against his mouth, then sets his tea back in the cupholder, and doesn't look up.

"Come on, Sherlock," John says, finally. Sherlock's not been this quiet about anything since just after he came back: it aches. "You were—this morning, you—"

He stops, then leans his head against the window. It ought to be—hot, he thinks; or cold; unpleasant, at any rate, but it isn't.

"It seemed like it bothered you," John says, and then is silent, oarless, at sea.

"Yes," Sherlock says, at last.

"Yes," John echoes. He turns. "Yes?"

"Yes, it bothered me," Sherlock says. "I was furious, I hated the thought of someone—of him—being there, and—"

His voice cracks strangely around the end of it.

"I know," John says. Nods.

"Me too," John says, and too fast Sherlock says, "No, you don't—he—"

And then stops.

"He acted like," Sherlock says, and then stops.

John nods. "He acted like it's." Swallowing. "Cheap, or—"

"But it isn't," Sherlock says, sounding so dismissive that the back of John's neck prickles strangely, "so that doesn't matter, does it," and then Sherlock sighs.

Twice.

He pulls his knees up against the dashboard, twisting awkwardly. Trying to get comfortable: an impossible task.

John tips his chin down until his neck cracks, then goes back to staring at nothing. Foaming scarlet water to their right. The egg of the sun, eaten up by the sea.

"He's got an uncanny ability for pushing my buttons," Sherlock says, finally.

"What's it to him?" John bursts out. "Why should he—he hasn't any right to—to pick your locks, or lurk about in your living room—for all he knows you could be shagging half the street and it still wouldn't have any bloody thing to do with him, would it, it's not as though—"

John stops, and rubs at his twisted up bottom lip.

Sherlock is watching him. Gathering evidence, John thinks unbidden, with a bitter-salt taste in his throat.

"It just makes me fucking furious," John says, inadequate, "that we were—having this lovely lie-in, and then—we were going to have breakfast, and enjoy our lovely summer morning," hollow, "and you were all—warm and relaxed and—and you seemed so happy," and he swallows, unsteady. "And that was lovely, and then—"

John stops, rubs at his face.

"Christ." He sighs. "Fuck, I don't know what I'm saying. I don't even know why I brought it up," and silence fills up the car behind the last of the light.

The ferry's late.

After a moment Sherlock says, "I am—angry, you know," in a clumsy, stumbling sort of a way.

John didn't. He nods.

"It just—it's just that after the first it felt—" Sherlock inhales. "Even more stupid than usual," he says, very quietly; and John lets out a hollowing breath.

"I'm sorry," John says. "We're changing the locks. Getting—five deadbolts, a security chain—I should've punched him in the balls. An alarm system. A watchdog."

"Mycroft's irritatingly good with dogs," Sherlock says, reluctant; and John says, "But surely you could rig up some way to electrify the doorknob, though, couldn't you?" and Sherlock laughs out loud.

Helpless, John reaches over the gear lever for his hand, which winds up with his.

Rests.

Sherlock's fingers are cold. The sun's down properly, now, and John's been out of tea for an hour.

After a moment, Sherlock says, "It's how he always is." Pauses. "Whenever I think something's mine."

John swallows. "You've just been so quiet today."

"Because it makes me sound like a child," Sherlock snaps, and then, "Fuck," bitten down at its edges, and then John curls his fingers tighter between his fingers, and Sherlock sighs.

"You being childish about Mycroft's not got rid of me yet, you know," John says, under his breath.

"No," Sherlock says. "But I felt like I oughtn't, under present circumstances, push my luck."

"Present circumstances." John nods, swallowing. "You mean—as in, incredible sex, shootouts, and adventure, or—"

"Sitting in the most uncomfortable car in England," Sherlock corrects, "between a fish van," smiling at him; "and a brick wall."

Chapter Text

pushing, blue and amber, wet all over his—cheek and jaw and his mouth with his hands knotted up in wool-cotton-wool as Sherlock gasps—pants—gasping into him and kissing-kissing-kissing John wants, John wants amber between blue with his hands slid into the gap at the bottom of Sherlock's shirt into his unbuttoned trousers and his mouth on his mouth John wants wants him unbuttoned, laid bare: fumbling the buttons free up from the bottom with Sherlock's coat shadowing (amber-blue) around him Sherlock's arms tight around him Sherlock's hand on his fucking cheek to get to get hotbaresoftsalt skin with the police still one street over—blue through amber, amber and blue—cuffing and searching a half-dozen ostensible sixth-form schoolboys in well-tailored uniforms with too-big duffle bags and too much scruff while just 'round the corner John pulls Sherlock's shirt open and shoves his hand down his pants. Sherlock whines: John swallows it, wanting—wanting—

—wanting John drops down onto his knees, and Sherlock's hands shake but he pushes, doesn't he: pushes at his trousers as John pulls at his pants, cock springing out hard and silky and John grabs him gets his mouth on him full up sucking him up swallowing salt-musk-sweat and the last slivers of soap, could've—swallowing could've just shoved him pulled his pajamas down and sucked him on his knees and Mycroft's bloody case could've just gone and got sodding stuffed while in the kitchen Sherlock's hands braced on—on nothing, on—on John's blueamberblue shoulders on John's skull full of wanting him above him Sherlock, Sherlock: amber-blue, his sliver of bare heaving shining sternum soft skin wanting—his hands‚ and—his little bitten not-half-silent little lovely grunts with his bowing back as John's knees dig into wet and grit and John holds the base of Sherlock's thick cock and tries to get him so deep he'd undo the knot in John's chest he'd pull him all the way open and shudder into him, inside, gorgeous blackpinkwhite cast in amber streetlights, flashing blue, shining the way at home he twists and arches under John's body his body wound up with John's body, his hair limp with sweat at the roots and his body writhing and twisting, spelling out sounds: like half an hour previous he'd spun on his foot palm out: Stop, shouted, "Stop!" coat ballooning out at the bottom with his body in an ink-slash 'X' as John slid into place beside him shoulders square hand up thumb down, click: as the boy-not-a-boy slid in too-trendy trainers on sea-damp cobbles before, at last, his hands flew up before the barrel of John's gun; and landed on the back of his bent head.

And John.

John lick-lick-licks overflowing held still by Sherlock above him as he had been held fast and ready with Sherlock next to him at his side beside him breathing hard lit up in amber, his hair limp with sweat at the roots.

So now John moves his neck eyes closed what a waste and so looking up-up-up with Sherlock blue and amber thick on his tongue nudging back round-fitted to the back of his throat as above him Sherlock croaks, "John," and then folds his big hand over his own flushed mouth, his eyes wide shoulders heaving and heart pounding head John unknots his right hand from the band of Sherlock's trousers to touch his hot belly beside his open shirt; to slide up under the fall of coat and cotton and up over the pip of his nipple pinched and pulled and Sherlock grunts, grabs John's reaching wrist, holds hard, amber and blue: John licks into the slit of him and Sherlock gives a cracked-open startled honeying moan and John shivers, swallowing—almost nothing, barely—barely even a taste and he would have him—wants him—wants—and so blood in riptides John rubs at Sherlock's rock-hard nipple and fucks Sherlock with his lips-tongue-throat with Sherlock squirming between him and the wall making little hot delicious noises, Christ! as the police lights fall in faint blue fingers between the amber streetlights with Sherlock wet and getting wetter in the salt-slicked hollowness of John's wet mouth—John's kneecaps pressed asphalt into patterns through the wet of his jeans with Sherlock's hand on his wrist and his cock down his throat while the zip on his trousers cuts into John's chin and tomorrow, John'll be fucked hoarse and raw with him, feel him on every word, wants to swallow him up drink him down, pin his wrists to the wall and hold him shivering and moaning while he—jerks, and—and

John jerks his head up. "Fuck," Sherlock gasps, hips jerking—two hands, John pins him down. Face burning up.

"You'll tell me," John says, scraped up.

"Yeah," Sherlock gasps, "yeah, I—" squirming under John's hands with his prick out and dripping: John's mouth a flood.

"You'll tell me when to stop," John repeats, hands hard on Sherlock's trousers just barely covering his creamy jutting hips as Sherlock gasps, "Yes—John—" and then moans, long and low, when John sucks him back down before he can completely lose his mind. Sherlock's bird hands land on John's face and John's neck and then the back of John's head, dragging him down, while John licks out panting hard-cold huffs through his stinging nostrils and John has to, has to—grabs at Sherlock's wrists, could—hold him moving with Sherlock pulling at him panting fucking him deep-wide-open for him wanting—and Sherlock gasps, stumbling—forward, pushing; so John shoves him back, spine to the wall— "Hold still," gasped out as he holds him, panting: forehead pressed to expensive trousers stretched over Sherlock's long, hot thigh. Panting. Pinning Sherlock's big bony wrists and gasping, I want, I want while John rubs his face all over the 'V' of tender-hot-hard-soft Sherlocky skin at the gaping-wide flies of his trousers mind stuttering-film frames of being caught like this, found out down on his knees hard as a rock trying to see how much of Sherlock he can get into his mouth. Hands pinned by John's hands folded up fingers knotted against brick while Sherlock's hips jerk as he gasps, "John—John—"

John pulls off, wet saliva snapped: "You're." Swallowing. "Close."

"Yeah," Sherlock gasps, "yeah," hips pressing forward, nudging—John lifts his face smeared spit-wet across him nose and cheekbone before he catches him again with his lips: Sherlock groans, and the police will find them like this, probably, and arrest them and write it down on paper kept to grow dusty in some fat unforgetting vault that John Watson likes it like this wants this gets on his knees for this, is all the time begging for Sherlock Holmes smearing wet and hot just against the outsides of his moving hollow mouth when John whispers, "Do you want me to stop," and Sherlock groans, "No," so John doesn't stop. John puts himself back lips-tongue and opened wide for Sherlock to fuck him opener with his knees aching coldwet with gravel and his body straining all his seams and brick-scraped his hands folded up held tight holding tight where they are squeezed-squeezing tight Sherlock's pinned hands. Sherlock's throat—cracked, moans—cracking open down to his navel sounds with his taste spread all over John's tongue slipping-thick and spreading through the molecules of John's cells soaking like if John just—held—and pinned him moving-moaning squirming in John hands and relentless starving throat Sherlock would—would soak—spreading, drench—all—over, all over John's tongue and lips and teeth and his bare burning—face

And John jerks heart pounding searing through his knuckles hot gravel wet fallen back. Space, everywhere. Mouth empty. Breathing hard.

"John," Sherlock gasps. He is reaching out; John jerks his hand to his chest.

Sherlock is panting. Eyes wide. Ridiculous, with his cock out, flushed and wet, below the long fair sliver of him bared from groin to throat.

The lights have gone, haven't they. The police, at least. Amber only, now. Steady.

Still.

"I need to stop," John says unsteadily; and Sherlock's chin lifts, breathing deep.

"I'm sorry," John says, and Sherlock jerks his head: no.

Sherlock's face bent down. Shadowed, as he holds out his hand. John feels little sparking knots all over, cluttering up his skin. He lets Sherlock grasp his wrist, and pull him up.

"Your hand," Sherlock says, quiet.

"It's nothing." John drops it, fingers curled, unmoving. "It's just a scrape."

Sherlock touches John's throat, once. It aches.

"It's all right," Sherlock says, quiet.

John nods. "Yeah," he says. It comes out lopsided, ill-formed: he clears his throat, and his helpless right palm rubs down the warmliving velvet of Sherlock's bared chest.

Sherlock makes a noise. A laugh, maybe. He takes a half-step back, bent head breathing deep, as he works to tuck his wet erection back into his pants.

John swallows, hard.

For lack of anything better to do, he works clumsily at Sherlock's shirt buttons, keeping the mess of his hand carefully curled away. Sherlock has to get most of them, in the end.

He takes John's wrist. Turns up his hand. The meat of John's palm is black with dirt, seeping wet. Stinging, hot. Sherlock presses his fingers out, gently, and John shivers down to his toes.

Sherlock murmurs, "Should wash that out, before we head back."

"Yeah." John nods. Fragrant. Close.

He could step back, look around; they've run halfway across the county, feels like; surely it must be nearing ten by now; and he may already've texted Rhoda but he still really ought to go in in the morning, oughtn't he, since he can? He hasn't the first idea where they've left their miserable hired car.

"I'm hungry," John says instead. Fingers gentle on his fingers, on the turned-up tender inside of his wrist. "Are you hungry?"

Sherlock's face crinkles up at the edges. "I could eat."

Chapter Text

"—if there's not any point to it, no."

Sherlock does a good job of it, John thinks, for a man whose mouth is full of noodles. "You just want to make your brother pay for the car another day," he says, and Sherlock gives him a totally ineffectual glare, his cheeks puffed out, chewing as industriously as a particularly swottish beaver. —inconvenient, John thinks: a wisp of a thought. Shading the sun, and then gone.

"Don't be silly." Chopsticks resting on the edge of his bowl, Sherlock is gulping down oversized swallows of water, eyeing John's ramen over the rim of his glass. He sets it on the table, empty, and says, "He'd have to pay for the car another day no matter what, they'll not take it back at two in the morning," and then, "Are you going to eat your bean sprouts?" but John is already nudging his bowl over.

"And the hotel?" John scoots forward on the bench, his ankles hooked together, and takes up another blob of noodles. The ends of their chopsticks bump.

"What about the hotel?"

Sherlock's voice is nearly sharp. Eyes sharp. The corners of his mouth pulling sharp. John shrugs. "Portsmouth to London... not a bad drive, this time of night." He tucks the knot of pasta into his mouth. He's never quite got the hang of it, with chopsticks.

"And we're finished here, are we."

"You seemed to think we were." John shrugs again, digging out a piece of chicken. "Nothing to me, I've already texted Rhoda. Want to stay?"

Sherlock folds his shoulders together, hunching up over the table. "It just seems a bit silly. Going back, I mean. At this hour."

John nods.

"There's never any parking near the flat, anyway."

John nods. Chews. Swallows. "Sleep wouldn't do us a world of harm, either."

"No." Sherlock's chopsticks hesitate, open, above the molten sun center of John's egg.

"Sherlock," John warns.

"I'll buy you another."

"Buy yourself another, I'm eating this one."

Sherlock used to telegraph for miles. He's got a bit better about that, enough so that even though John gets his arm around his bowl as fast as he can— "Leave it, you've got your own," voice rising, as Sherlock interjects, "You said—," and then darts his chopsticks out. "I said you could have my sprouts," John insists, "not just help yourself to—stop it—you bas—", as Sherlock is popping John's egg into his mouth.

John sits back on the bench. "You're such a prick."

Sherlock chews. Shoulders flat, back straight; triumphant; so John leans over and steals Sherlock's last piece of meat. Only fair, he thinks, and then remembers that Sherlock damn him had ordered the chili beef fucking Christ

"Bean sprout," Sherlock suggests, "very cooling"; and John nods, eyes watering, as he shovels up all the bits of sprouts that Sherlock had missed in the remains of his own, perfectly innocuous soup.

"All right?" Sherlock asks.

"Yeah," John croaks, and Sherlock nudges John's glass toward him, until it bumps into the back of John's right hand. John takes it, coughs. Drinks. Coughs.

Ridiculous. His face still feels hot. It oughtn't. It oughtn't. The waitress, a blandly pretty adolescent girl with dirt brown hair, has her back to them, elbows flat on the window into the kitchen, chatting up the boy doing the washing up. Her right foot is tucked up onto its toes, the heel of her pink trainers flexing away from her sole as she fails to pay any attention to them at all.

"I do," Sherlock says, after a moment, "take a certain satisfaction in making Mycroft pay for the hotel."

John swallows the last of his water. His whole mouth still stings.

"It does seem rather the least he could do," John says, and Sherlock's mouth tilts, rocking into its corners. Chest tight John presses his glass up to his mouth and swallows, swallows; but it's empty.

"Perhaps we oughtn't to be done, anyway." Sherlock shifts his weight back, and the bench squeaks.

John clears his throat. Resettles his glass on the table. "That's not the lot of it, you don't think?"

Sherlock drops his voice. "If they're running enough weapons in on the ferry to get this much attention," he says, "we're not dealing with six boys with duffle bags, no matter how often they go back and forth."

"You mean," John says, digging around for the last of his chicken, "our friends from the Winchester fencing squad—"

"They were not from the Winchester fencing squad."

John pauses. "...pretending to be from the Winchester fencing squad, then, if you like."

Across the table, Sherlock's throat is reddening, a mottled, unattractive flush creeping up his neck and onto his cheeks.

John clears his throat. "Not enough in volume, I suppose."

"I don't think Mycroft'd get involved for a half-dozen duffle bags with handguns stuffed in amongst their dirty washing, no," Sherlock says, under his breath, as John stabs up another tangled knot of ramen.

"It does seem a bit like a stealing a tank to take care of a mouse in the kitchen, doesn't it," John says, and Sherlock laughs, loud and startled.

He folds his long fingers over his mouth.

John's mouth. His cheeks. He knocks his knees into Sherlock's knees under the table and says, "There's no one else in here," thinking—

"The waitress," Sherlock says, and then bends back down and reapplies himself to his noodles.

A passing shadow. Gone.

Past the waitress behind Sherlock's back the boy doing the washing up is bent forward, listening, with his hair falling into his face. John looks back at Sherlock. Sherlock is eating steadily, hunched over the table.

John taps his chopsticks against the edge of his bowl. "Mycroft ought to be pleased."

Sherlock pauses. Finishes chewing. Swallows. "Yes," he says. It sounds like he doesn't know what it means.

Shifting his weight doesn't make the bench any more comfortable. John says, "Does seem a bit like someone's been reading too many comic books though, doesn't it?" and Sherlock straightens, shoulders squaring as he lifts his head.

"Mustn't be so judgmental, John," he says. "Perhaps they just enjoy... you know."

John nods slowly. "Going back and forth on the ferry, all dressed up in school kit."

Sherlock lifts his chin. "Certainly. And if that begins to pale..."

He trails off.

John nods. "Then there's always lugging bloody great bags full of small arms over from the continent," he finishes, and Sherlock's eyes crinkle up at the corners.

"Yes, well, there's no accounting for taste," he says, and John grins.

"No. Suppose not." He watches as Sherlock looks back down at his own bowl. John doesn't know why: all soup now, nearly. He's picked out the last of the beef.

"Really," John says. "Fencing, Sherlock?"

Sherlock is still for a moment, then shrugs. "Foil." His voice is light. "I wanted to do epée as well but—well."

"Well?"

"I was..." Sherlock pauses. "A bit graceless. At school."

"You were dreadful at sport," John translates.

Sherlock scowls, eyebrows scrunching together. "Yes, fine, you needn't rub it in."

Behind his back the waitress's head is tilted to one side, the end of her ponytail brushing over her shoulder. The strands are catching on the fabric over her shoulders, and pulling apart. That smell, John thinks, in a sharp, startling burst: here and now separated into all its threads the girl's hair looks red, nearly. The sort of thing one notices. Burying your face in it and breathing in. Closing your eyes.

John rubs his palms on his jeans under the table. Focuses his gaze on Sherlock's—shoulder, and—

"I'd expect it took you some time," he says, finally, and Sherlock lifts his head.

"Time?"

"To get used to it," John says. Clears his throat. "Your height, I mean."

Sherlock raises one delicate eyebrow: a world there, in that.

"Yes," John concedes, "fine, but I did know other boys, and plenty of them—"

Sherlock is smiling. "No."

"No what?"

"It didn't take me time to get used to my height," Sherlock says, "not at school." He shifts, cracking his neck. "I mean—I wasn't tall, not particularly. Mycroft, neither. He grew six inches at uni."

"Really." John finds the idea oddly charming. "Late bloomers, in the Holmes family?"

Sherlock ducks his head. Tilts one shoulder up, then the other. "Wouldn't really know," he says; and after a moment John sets his chopsticks down on the table.

"I've forgot," John says. "Have you met Gerald King?"

Sherlock squints at him. "King?"

"Yeah. Works at... Capo—no, Kapa, I think. Biotech firm. Friend of Stamford's."

"Tall fellow," Sherlock says, giving his chopsticks a meditative poke about his nearly-empty bowl. "Brays when he laughs."

"Yeah." John resettles his forearms on the table. "He was the same way, you know—he was at Barts with us, swore up and down his feet grew three sizes his first year."

Sherlock pauses. "That is a bit late."

"Seems it, doesn't it?" John nods. "But he was growing, certainly—he couldn't keep a lab coat that fit for three months together."

Sherlock's eyebrows are beginning to pull together. "Yeah?"

"Yeah, the first one he'd bought barely came down past his arse by the end of the year," John explains. "Sleeves up at his elbows and all."

"Really," Sherlock says, flat.

John nods. "Yeah, in the end he gave that one to me."

Across the table, Sherlock's eyes are narrowing. Ah, well, thinks John, and says, "Yeah, it made me a lovely dressing gown," and Sherlock starts laughing, loud and ungainly. "Kept me bundled up good and proper all the next winter," John says earnestly, "let me tell you," just as Sherlock flicks a broken inch of noodle at him, smacking into his cheek. Superb.

"Shut up," Sherlock is saying, but he's still laughing, isn't he. He smacks lightly at the back of John's left hand with the sides of his chopsticks, careful. John wipes the noodle off his cheek, picks up one of his. Pokes back. Their chopsticks click together. Click, click.

"All right, all right." John says. Straightens. "Foil, is it? Let's do this properly."

"By all means," Sherlock says. "As the former eighth-placer in wins on our eight man squad, I would be offended if we didn't."

"Well, I'd expect nothing less from you." John wipes his left palm on his jeans, squares his shoulders. "En garde?"

"En garde," Sherlock confirms. "Prêt. Allez!"

John taps his chopstick against the side of Sherlock's. Sherlock pokes him in the wrist, and John tries to slap him away.

"I've not put much thought into it," Sherlock says, easily parrying John's jab for his elbow. "Hardly traditional foil. Do I score a touch for that?"

"Oh, I think so," John says. "Best to be flexible with these things."

"In deference," Sherlock agrees, "to the nontraditional weapon." He gets John's forearm again, the rim of his bowl, and then they have to pause the match briefly to drop their crumpled serviettes atop the splashed-over soup.

"It's difficult to imagine you rubbish at it," John says, mopping at his cuffs. It's difficult to imagine Sherlock rubbish at much of anything, but he thinks perhaps he oughtn't to say that.

"I assure you, I was." Sherlock raises his chopstick again. "En garde?"

"En garde," John says, and their chopsticks clack together.

The waitress still isn't paying them any mind. Most likely for the best. Their chopsticks cross, and Sherlock murmurs, "I had a dreadful crush on the senior coach."

"Yeah?"

Sherlock is pink all over his throat, the edges of his ears. He jerks his head: a nod.

John clears his throat. "Well, I spent all of Year Eleven trying to convince my maths teacher I needed intensive one-on-one tutoring, so I'm hardly going to judge. Fit, was he?"

"Really more..." Sherlock pauses, fully engaged in the tricky work of trying to pin John's chopstick against the table. "Charming, I think. He was perfectly ordinary-looking, but..." His voice curves down. "Untouchable," he says. "Self-possessed."

John nods. "Can be well better than handsome, that," he says.

Sherlock nods. "To that disaster of a child," he murmurs, "certainly. Yes."

John's mouth. Feels—as John wriggles his chopstick out, jabs it forward, and it catches the white front of Sherlock's third favorite shirt, purely by accident; a long brown line. Sherlock's shoulders straighten, pull back.

After a moment. John hands over a serviette, less damp than the others. "Is that a win, then?" John laughs. Clears his throat. "Have I won?

"I suppose it's only fair," Sherlock agrees, wiping at the mark. "Since you've lent me that hit on your wrist." Doesn't seem much bothered about it, does he.

John nods. "So—now what, do you have to relinquish your sword, swear fealty to me and my armies, or—"

Sherlock looks up. "Je me rends," he says, half a smile.

"Right, yeah." John rubs his palm on his jeans. The waitress. John jerks his head, enough for Sherlock to turn, half. "I don't think she's ever going to come around again," John says. "Do you still want more? I—you can have the rest of my noodles."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Feeling apologetic, John adds, "I've eaten all the other bits out, though."

"Thanks."

Sherlock pulls the bowl over. Pulls a waterfall of ramen up with his chopsticks, and under the table John forces his foot flat. Leg still.

"I confess," Sherlock says, between bites. "I've a few things I wouldn't mind looking into tomorrow. If we're staying the night."

John nods. After a moment. "Minibreak at the shore, is it?" he asks, light.

"Well," Sherlock says, "if a higher than average content of international arms smugglers doesn't rule the concept out, then, certainly."

"Not at all." Could laugh, really. Sherlock's mouth, curling up at its edges, his elbows on the table. "To be quite frank," John says, "that's the only kind of minibreak at the shore I'm much interested in."

Sherlock's ears are getting pinker. "Well," he says, smiling, "I endeavor to give satisfaction."

John stuffs his hands into his jacket pockets. Hears himself saying, "Do you, now," just—just how he meant it, how he means it, with his heart beating steadily inside the cage of his ribs.

Sherlock, careful, rests his chopsticks against the edge of his bowl.

John doesn't blush like Sherlock does. He knows that. His chest feels hot, though. His face. He forces his foot still, flat on the floor beneath the table, then slides it until it it stops. Across from him, Sherlock straightens. Flexes the side of his shoe against John's.

"Maybe we ought to just stay," Sherlock says, rough. His throat's tissue-skin is coming up with his blood, flushing red. "Just—stay, and." John curls his fingers against his palms. "Make Mycroft pay for a week," Sherlock is saying, too fast, "really—really stay," a bundle of chopped-up low leonine sounds when he says, "stay properly, and—and look into all of it, until."

Salt. Hot. A wisp of thought and then gone; and on the table Sherlock's long white hands, folded in fists.

"Just stay." Sherlock's voice, rough and low. "Until we're. Satisfied."

He clears his throat. He isn't looking away, somehow. His knee against John's knee, held tremblingly tight.

A moment. John's pulse. He brushes his fingers over the back of Sherlock's right wrist, and fingertip by fingertip, Sherlock unlocks his hand. Turning up. John's palm still stings.

John says, "Nat's going to be out starting Wednesday," reluctant. "I can't leave Rhoda to contend with Marcus on her own."

He's done it as gently as he can, but "Oh," Sherlock is saying, as he squares his shoulders, pulls—head turning— "Never mind, then. It was just—"

"I would, though," John says, curling his fingers across Sherlock's hand, but Sherlock is already pulling it back to push at the table, twisting, trying to catch the waitress's eye. "Wait," John says. "Sherlock."

"Never mind." Sherlock waves it off, just as the waitress finally notices him—shocking! a diner, in her restaurant!—and starts weaving her way over. "It was a very silly idea, really, when you get right down to—"

John says, "Come with me to Edinburgh."

"it—waste of time, and." Sherlock's mouth stops moving, as coming up beside him the waitress digs a biro out of her apron pocket.

"Can I get you anything else?" she asks.

"Just the bill." John musters up a smile, and off she goes, probably to return again at the most inconvenient moment imaginable.

"I'm hardly," Sherlock says, and then stops.

"I mean." John swallows, shifting. "Properly, I mean, I—we ought to, to take—a normal holiday, like—like normal people, and—and all right, bit of a stretch, I know, and I—we'll also have to go and visit my somewhat abnormal sister and her deeply peculiar cat but just. We should just." The side of his calf feels, absurdly, cold. "I'll ask for a few days off, properly, a—a few weeks out," John says, under his breath, "so that we could have—more, take a Thursday and Friday and you can—you can just tell Mycroft that he can just, just bugger off, because we're." He breathes in, deep. "On holiday. In Edinburgh."

Tight with bravado Sherlock says, "Tell him we're fucking off to Scotland to shag for four days, you mean"; and John says, "Yeah."

Sherlock is half-turned, still. Looking after the waitress, who is standing back by the till with a pink phone, texting shamelessly. Yeah. It sounded angry, John thinks. Fierce. Feels it, too: his heart is beating queerly hard.

"Yeah," John repeats. "Let's do that."

He watches Sherlock's shoulders, moving with the rise and fall of his breath.

John shifts his weight. Clears his throat. "It'd be worth it, I imagine," he says, "for the look on his face." He pauses, but Sherlock doesn't look up. "Don't know why you haven't been lying to him about it all this time, really," John says, light, and Sherlock's throat bobs, swallowing.

Sherlock turns back towards the table. "Probably he'll try to dig up a—a convenient serial killer or two up north," he says.

John can't—can't say. Nods, instead.

"Worth a shot, though. I think," Sherlock says, casually as can be.

"Yeah," John says. "I—we'd not say no to a serial killer, either, would we."

He can barely hear himself, watching. Sherlock's whole face is bright red. John is dizzy, almost. Air rushing in and out, through his lungs, out and in, Sherlock's lovely flushed throat. Would we, echoing in John's ears, would we? From nowhere Sherlock says, "Was he. All right, to you?" and in an instant John's face floods: up to his forehead, through his sinuses, across his eyes, wet over hot over wet: Christ.

"John," Sherlock says, quiet.

"Yeah." He swallows, thirsty, but his water is—he picks up Sherlock's instead. "Fine," he says, and drains it.

Sherlock says, "I mean—"

"I know what you meant," John snaps, and then stops. Inhaling. Sherlock's sharp winter-sky eyes: "Sorry." John inhales, inhales. "Christ. Sorry." He rubs his palm across his eyes, his forehead: overtired.

Sherlock is quiet for a minute. "You and Mrs. H," he says.

"Your bill," the waitress says, and they both jump. Sitting straighter. Pulled back. John pushes Sherlock's empty glass away.

"Oh," the girl says, staring down at him. "Did you want more water?"

"No!" The girl startles, stepping back. John stops. Inhales; laughs. He forces the edges of his mouth up, at the sight of the girl's wide eyes: Christ, how he must look. "No thanks, we're just—no. Thank you." He smiles, somehow; and Sherlock hands her back the bill folder, with his card.

The girl nods and shuffles away, but not before giving John another nervous glance.

"Christ." John inhales, deep, rubbing at his forehead. "How much do I—"

"Nothing—it's Mycroft's," Sherlock says, "expenses"; and John nods, looking back down at the table. He mops at the soup they spilled, their little crumpled mound of serviettes, exhausted. His leg aches.

"I wanted—you and Mrs. Hudson," Sherlock says, quiet. "I asked him to... look in, I."

John jerks his head, up and down. Can't avoid this, can he? And he knows, he has done, he always has—

"I had to," Sherlock says. "I needed—he had to make sure that you would be okay." Pitched low. "I wanted," he says; and John swallows, painfully.

"I know," he says. "I know."

"I wanted you to be happy," Sherlock says, very quietly; and too fast John says, "That seems uncharacteristically short-sighted of you, doesn't it."

Inhales.

"John."

"It's fine." John shakes his head. Breathes deep. "History, isn't it. We've sorted it out."

"John."

John laughs, rubs at his cheek. Shakes his head.

Sherlock is quiet. Not quite watching him, not watching back: they both see her coming, this time; sitting straight on their benches in silence, waiting. She puts the tray by Sherlock, with a biro that doesn't work. John stuffs his scraped-up hand into his pocket, and digs out his own.

"We still haven't sorted out all that paperwork, have we," John says. It comes out all right.

Sherlock shakes his head.

"Next weekend," John says. "If you like."

An apology, almost. Sherlock nods, and something in the back of his throat snaps and John is shoving his elbows down onto the table, leaning forward, saying, "What'd you think I was even sticking around for, then?" Stinging all over, boiling hot: "If that would've been eno—what'd you even think—"

He stops, breathing hard. Throat aching, his chest and his arm and his—leg—

"If you thought that all you needed was to—if you thought that," John manages, aching, "that I would want—and then hearing about it from Mycroft—"

"I didn't know," Sherlock says, fast. Chin jerking up.

"—of all bloody—what?"

"I didn't know," Sherlock repeats. "I've never—I don't." John's pulse throbs, thick in his throat, and Sherlock meets his eyes and says, very quietly, "I don't know why you stick around."

John leans back, inhaling.

Sherlock doesn't say anything, after that. Doesn't look away.

"Do you mean," John says, "besides incredible sex, affection, adventure, and so on, or."

Sherlock's face. Sharp eyes. His mouth.

"You mean," John says, and then stops. Reeling. Thinking—the sounds feel sharp on his tongue. He wonders if he has made a mistake. "I—why," he asks, "what about—what about you?"

Light as air, when Sherlock says, "Why would I go?"

"I—" John stops. Inhales. Regroups. "Sherlock. Are you... not happy, with... with what we do, or—" and Sherlock says, "Are you?"

Into silence. "Are you happy?" Sherlock repeats.

John feels unsteady. "Yeah, I am." Belligerent, somehow.

Silence. Lightning-shocked, still. John hadn't thought, quite—Sherlock's unreadable smog-blue eyes—

"Are you?" Sherlock repeats, soft. Fishhook-sharp. Tucked into all of John's soft spaces, and then—pulled—

John curls his fingers against the top of the table.

"All right," John says, at last; and across from him Sherlock inhales. Head up. Shoulders back. "I mean—yes, you're right, I can't help—"

John stops. Silence. The waitress is all the way back on the other side of the restaurant, head tilted over her mobile, the ends of her ponytail just breaking across the seam of her sleeve. Could almost smell pressed close breathed deep. Filling up his lungs.

"I missed you," John says, very quietly.

Sherlock's throat moves. His chin, only just; and his knee presses against John's under the table.

"But yeah," John says, "I am." He wants to laugh. "Happy, I mean. Even if—"

He stops.

"Even if," Sherlock echoes, curved down.

"Yeah." John swallows, shakes his head. "I do want—more, you're." He laughs, a little. "You're not wrong, about that. But."

"But," Sherlock says. A skipping record: jerk, repeat.

"I like it when you're with me," John says, very quietly.

It aches. Inadequate. Hot: a wisp of thought; inadequate, and then gone. Sherlock's piercing snow-bright eyes.

John inhales, deep. "I want you to be with me," he says. Steady. Low. The waitress is miles away. "I like it, I like—this, I—I'm not unhappy. And if I—if sometimes I want—more, or—if."

If. If. Sherlock hasn't made a sound.

"It's just because I want to be with you," John explains, clumsy. His face feeling heavy and clayish and hot. He laughs, rubs at his cheek. "Which sounds absurd, doesn't it? When I put it like that?"

Sherlock doesn't seem to have an answer. His face is red.

His mouth.

John scrubs at the back of his neck, pushes up to his feet. "Come on," he says. Zips up his jacket, hands in his pockets. "It must be past closing, surely, this is a bit—" and then Sherlock stands and picks up his coat, so John is quiet.

Out on the street. John breathes in deep: cool air, sea salt. His face feels—better. Cooler. Calm. He flexes his hands in his cool empty pockets at his sides. His scraped up skin pulls over his palm, from—from earlier. Was that tonight?

"John."

Sherlock is just behind him, quiet; and so John turns, looking up.

The streetlights are amber, draining the color out of everything. Sherlock touches the edge of his hand to the edge of John's cheek. His palm, then; John inhales, and Sherlock bends down.

Stinging. John's hand is on the lapel of Sherlock's coat. He doesn't remember moving it. Wool scraping at the rubbed-raw undersides of his fingers, and that smell. His smell. A wisp of a thought, filling up the back of John's throat, his hair pressed to John's face in their sleep in his bed. Almost eleven in Portsmouth, as Sherlock brushes his mouth against John's mouth.

John's head is tipped back, like he is someone else. Like they are someone else. As though it could possibly be someone other than Sherlock who is kissing him, in Portsmouth, at nearly eleven, but it isn't. John knows that it isn't. From here he can see all of Sherlock's familiar ill-assorted features, brought too-close and blurring with nearness, like the fine furred edges of his unsettling, half-open eyes.

Chapter Text




warm-washing dark


                                 throb at        —fingers,    sides of palmsandears heart and soakedthick that kind of,            and.                     warmclose           and all around-drowning-thickdripping into
mouth
and
lungs
and.             is.      furledup      ,          coming(light)into through               cotton, warmheavysharp skin  

to

Sherlock. (Hand, and) "nnhhm—" mouth, as. John.

sinks his hand into Sherlock's thick, warm hair.

Breathes deep.

His breath all dragged down into Sherlock and moaning. John. Pulled up tight rolled into a pebble of himself inside Sherlock's wet, soft mouth. John swallows, legs falling—

"Christ," breathed, open, pushing back the blankets and Sherlock makes a little mammalian sort of a sound ground into John flesh and bone and pulls up—licking—

Rough. Still half-asleep John laughs, and tugs at Sherlock's hair.

"Not okay?" Sherlock asks. All his sounds rubbed worn soft and pilled, like his rough jaw when he rubs his face against John's impetuous warm overflowing face.

"Hi," whispered: John feels secret. "No, it's. Lovely." He swallows. "Just wanted to," kissing Sherlock's plumped-up pink mouth. Hands in his hair. "Good morning," John says, and lopsided-too-close Sherlock smiles.

"Good morning." Murmured—John sighs, mouth to mouth to mouth to mouth. "So," soft-moving, "then—if I could just get back to," says Sherlock, with his warm knee sliding heavy between John's knees made malleable; and John says, "Oh—no—please—by all—means, con—tinue," in between their scratching faces where Sherlock is snorting his awkward heron laugh; but they end up kissing for a bit longer, anyway.

John's hands. Sherlock's warm, damp back. Sherlock presses his mouth to the hinge of John's shoulder, two ribs, breathes, on his way back down.

John tucks his chin to his chest, watching. He still feels half-asleep, made up of ghost imprints of Sherlock's warm skin on his skin, all the way down to the long rangy furnace of Sherlock's body pressed against the insides of John's legs as he pulls John's cock back into his wet mouth. John runs his fingers over Sherlock's scalp over and over and over, while Sherlock's mouth pulls at the insides of him, spine and fingertips, his broad—wet tongue, and John breathes. Breathes. Cool air in his open mouth and Sherlock's springy-satiny hair on his hand and Sherlock's mouth on him around him and Sherlock's thumb petting circles into the top of his thigh. Hypnotic, everything. So sweet.

Sherlock pulls back. John's throat makes a noise without asking, and Sherlock smirks at him. Kisses just at the ridge of John's hip when John says, "Bastard," with his mouth pulled at the corners, and rubs his thumb up under John's balls: John inhales, drops his arms out, his knees.

Sherlock grins. Bends down to lick over him, quick: John inhales. "As it so happens," Sherlock is saying, "my parents were married before even Mycroft was born"; and John's foot clenches.

"Not the time, Sherlock," he says, exasperated; and Sherlock starts laughing. Presses his face to John's skin, arms braced around his thighs; nuzzling over John's hips, petting at his wet erection while John rubs at his hair, warm and pleased-frustrated overfull peeled open, so close to him: John dizzy, Sherlock laughing too hard to get air.

"If you're going to—" John tugs at Sherlock's hair, wanting— "you could always just—" and Sherlock's hand on his belly starfishes out, presses down; and John.

Inhales.

"Or I could." Sherlock's voice burred, scraping, low. "Keep going, I like—" John touches his cheek, temple: helpless. "I like it," Sherlock says, quiet. "Do you want me to?"

"Yeah." John swallows. "Yeah, if—" and Sherlock pulls him back into his mouth. Rubs the backs of his long fingers, knuckles bent, down John's abdomen from navel to groin and nghhh: John's throat, cracking open, while Sherlock's eyes flutter closed.

John dreamt of this, he thinks: or—something very like, the liquid-warm wrapped-up sensation of his body with Sherlock's body suffusing every cell of him in his sleep. Woke up with his center of gravity nuzzling warm-close between his thighs. Sherlock rubs low-hard against his belly and John shifts, helpless, strung tight; wanting—he wants—

Sherlock pulls off, wet and red, God

"What were you thinking about," Sherlock asks, rough, "when you did this to me last night?"

John's ribs jerk: Sherlock kisses his flank. Nose pressed to his skin.

"Tell me," Sherlock murmurs. "Please." Looking up.

John's throat is closing. Too tight.

"It felt so good," Sherlock says, hushed. "I want to—"

"The way you taste," John manages, and Sherlock pulls him back into his mouth. Warm and wet, John's reckless blood; "Smeared," he manages, "all over my tongue."

Sherlock closes his eyes. Hips shifting, far away: his breath, drawn in through his nose off the plains and valleys of John's skin and John wants—John wants—and sucking him in deep-tight-close-hot-hot Sherlock squeezes his thigh. Keep going. Again. Again.

And again.

"I wanted to stay there." It sounds rough. It feels rough, all the parts of John scraping "—wanted to get my hands all over you," until he cracks, his hand on Sherlock's lovely red flushing face while Sherlock sucks his cock as sweetly and desperately as he does everything to him, nearly: John inside him, against him, knee crooked up around him, undone. "I wanted—"

I wanted. Throat closing up.

Sherlock lifts his head. Rubs his lips—Christ. John breathing hard, chest heaving, while Sherlock kisses him at the tip and then—mouths—fuck— "Tell me," so soft, looking up, "please."

The light through the window's white curtains is watery and blue, unreal. John feels flayed. Split apart. Sherlock's eyes on him are open, undeceived.

John touches the edge of his cheek. Sherlock puts his mouth back around him, relentless and tender, still looking up, and "I wanted," John says, voice wavering, "not to stop."

Tight. So deep, Sherlock rubbing his knuckles into John's belly while John pants— squirms, knotted—and then pulled—and hand around him Sherlock lifts up his head.

"Keep going," he says, quiet; but John— "Can't," hot all over, prickling, "how can you, I shouldn't—"; and Sherlock twists, kisses the inside of his wrist—oh—and says, "I like it," low and hot, "I like—I like that you'd—"

"I wanted," John gasps, "to, to keep going, until—until—"

"Until I came," Sherlock says, steady, "I know," stroking at him—petting, how can he— "I like it. John," and John swallows, rubs his hand across his face. "John." Sherlock clambers up. Both hands, John's burning face. "Oh—John," whispered, and kissing him. Over and over. "John."

"How can you just," John bursts, with Sherlock's long hands—and his—

—mouth—

"You stopped," Sherlock says, but.

"I wanted to strip you naked, to pin you to the wall, to—to make you come all over my face." John's voice cracks.

"John," Sherlock says, very gently; and kisses John's mouth until he is quiet.

"It's all right," Sherlock says. "It's fine."

"I think about it all the time," John says, miserable, helpless; and Sherlock murmurs, "So do I," and John's breath catches.

Knuckles soft on his burning face. Sherlock slides his leg in between John's knees.

John breathes.

Breathes. In: tasting Sherlock's skin. His fingers curling up in the warm, tacky hollow at the base of Sherlock's back.

"I like it," Sherlock says, very quietly. "I thought you knew." Still ringing in John's ears. "I like how you want me," he murmurs. Pressed into John's skin.

John swallows. He feels like a coward. Sherlock's ribs pressed to his ribs: I like it, it's all right.

"I thought." Tasting bitter. "I was afraid that." Salt-sweat. John says, "That I wouldn't stop."

"But you did," Sherlock says, tucking his arm around John's shoulders. Squeezing tight. "You do."

Quiet, then. Arms around him. Pressed close. John turns his face against Sherlock's neck. Breathes out.

"I like it, John." Sherlock's voice, pitched low. Just for him. "I thought—I didn't know, that you..."

He stops. John rubs his mouth up under Sherlock's throat. "It's all right," barely whispered. John tasting nothing but relief as he says, "Sorry. I thought I was—Christ. Sorry."

"No, I—" Sherlock says; so John kisses him. Strokes at his hair, his cheeks, and whispers, "It's fine."

"Bit of a downward turn on the morning, though, isn't it," Sherlock says, under his breath; and John shakes his head.

"I don't know about you," John says, "but I woke up to oral sex, so—" and curving their bodies together like the sides of a shell on the white beach of their hotel sheets, Sherlock presses his face into John's shoulder, huffing out a laugh.

"Could probably've got by without the rest of it, though," he says, muffled, "couldn't you."

"I don't know." John kisses his temple, feeling desperate, weirdly grateful, overwarm. "Maybe not."

Sherlock gives a noncommittal sort of hum. His hair wants washing. John breathes it in deep. Fills up his lungs.

"You like it, huh," he says, very quietly.

Sherlock lies still against him. "Yeah," he says after a minute, and then pulls his face back. "I do."

John nods. "Because." He swallows. "I thought—I mean, if anything were going to deter me from thinking about it," he says, steady, "I'd imagine it would've been the, ah." Rubs at his face. "Weeks of feeling like a pervert and a rapist, so—"

"I love it," Sherlock says, too fast, and John touches his cheek: hot.

"Yeah?" John asks, crackling, throat tight; and Sherlock nods.

"I like—I like watching you think about." Sherlock stops. Hesitates. John rubs his thumb along the finely-built bridges of Sherlock's clavicles. Pets at the hollow of his throat. He feels it, when Sherlock says, "I like seeing you desperate, just from thinking about, about how good you would make me feel," too-fast words wobbling to an unsteady stop.

Breathing. John nods. Sherlock presses his forehead against John's forehead and John pulls him close-close-closer until there is no air anywhere in between them, very nearly close enough.

Sherlock says, "I think about," and then stops. Inhales. "I like hearing." His skin is tightening up. "What you'll—what you'd do," Sherlock says, tensing under John's hands, clumsy as he says, "if I were to—if I. Just."

He stops. Presses his lips together. His hot face to John's face. John's face is burning up. He rubs his mouth against the edges of Sherlock's mouth, and Sherlock squirms closer against him, pressing—and then Sherlock gives him a little, impetuous kind of a kiss, and John is—he feels—is saying, "Sherlock," with all his locks falling open; as "Yeah," against him Sherlock whispers, "Please"; and John—wants to, he wants nothing more than to— "I'd touch you all over," he says, is saying, feeling— "I wanted to," overflowing, "to do everything we could do standing up and about—about twelve thousand other things besides," overrunning his banks with Sherlock's hands on his face, his arse, pulling him— "I wanted to—Christ, I wanted to—to push you—" close, pulling him—down, and "—and have you naked in the street, I wanted you—pulling at my hair, and grinding—" close, his long heavy hot body tangled up with white sleep-soft sheets, rubbing up—up against him, into— "into me, in—into my throat, just—grabbing the back of my h-head" as Sherlock grabs at the back of his head, pressing fast, reckless kisses to his face and "fucking—" up against—already— "hard, until I couldn't—" breathing hard, John's mouth wet-moving moving like his body moving hard against him, so hard when John shoves him over onto his back, riding— "until you needed to," gasping, "fuck, I, I need to," while Sherlock nods and nods, long throat, head thrown back with John's thigh between his thighs shoving his prick against Sherlock's creamy-soft skin hard cock coarse curling hair John's mouth to his mouth and splayed John's skin melting-overclocked-overflowing into his long—fucking—hands

"Oh," wobbling, "fuck—Sherlock—"

—while Sherlock nods and writhes and nods and pulls at him, panting, John's shivering-shuddering hips and spine in his restless moving hands as John comes, and comes, and comes.

"Oh," Sherlock gasps, ragged, "John, I want to—" and John nods, nods, pulls when Sherlock pushes him back, shoving into the wet-slick-soft-hot space between their bellies, groaning into John's mouth, fucking—hard—

"Fuck," Sherlock gasps, and stilling-shudders—whines

John breathing hard hold still tightening his arms around him. Tight. Tight.

"God," Sherlock gasps. "Christ—"

His whole body is vibrating, nearly. Held painfully tight. His blood battering hummingbird-fast all over every place that John is touching him, his every place; and his hard cock brand-hot against John's oversensitive wet skin.

Please, John thinks. If I just said 'please'—

His pulse is still racing. Breath hot in his lungs. He curls his fingers around the nape of Sherlock's neck and squeezes, opens, squeezes and opens, his hand slowing with Sherlock's heart and too hard to seem like a tease, until Sherlock is melted all over against him, breathing in.

Breathing deep.

John unfolds his fingers. Pets at the soft wispy edges of Sherlock's hair. Trails it up, behind his right ear.

"All right?" he asks, quiet.

"Yeah." Sherlock inhales, deep. Lifting up. "I want first shower," he mumbles, red-faced, and then he peels himself back, sits up, not looking when John nods. Sherlock rubs at his own face, turned down. John watches him, helpless: Sherlock is hunched over; his erection is jutting out, flushed nearly purple, Christ; and then he twists back all at once to press a spongy-soft kiss to the crest of John's shoulder, quick, and pulls back.

John brushes his palm over Sherlock's hair, then drops his hand. Lets him stand, red-faced, and lumber off for the shower; and saves the rest of it for later.

Chapter Text

97 minutes.

John's mouth twists. End in sight? he replies, then tucks his mobile back into his desk, and rings for the next patient: Karen McAllister's second boy, who cries through the whole appointment, screams bloody murder when John tries to examine his ears, and gets snot and tears all over the wrist of John's jumper while Ms. McAllister tries to jiggle and coax him into letting John look down his throat. The older one's listlessly tapping at their mum's iPhone in the corner, face flushed and uncommonly silent: back inside a week, John thinks, then says, "Why don't you hop up here next, Sam?" and ends up sending them both home with prescriptions for amoxicillin.

No, said Sherlock, at 11:42, then Full marks for obstructiveness for this one; I think Lestrade's been giving lessons at 11:47, and two minutes later, *DI* Stedman's filing a complaint with Scotland Yard and making me wait on the paperwork. Ought I to tell her they aren't responsible for me, do you think?

Christ. Is this the "constable" you called an overambitious interfering harpy obsessed with procedural trivia? John asks, then adds, Not if it means she files a complaint with *me*; just as Sherlock replies, Please, I've called you worse.

John snorts and drops his mobile back into his desk. It's not much of a recommendation, that, but Sherlock was stroppy all of yesterday, snapping at the local police and rolling his eyes at his text messages, bullying Mycroft's assistant's liaison to the undersecretary of something tedious in a shoebox of an office across a huge, hulking metal-and-glass desk while the undersecretary in question—a narrow, prematurely-greying shadow of a man—got more tired- and washed-out looking by the second. John sees an elderly diabetic he'll never convince to stop eating his toast with double helpings of jam; then a woman who doesn't turn off her Bluetooth for the entirety of the appointment, probably giving her assistant a much more comprehensive set of information about her bowels than was really entirely necessary or merited; then has a brief conversation across the corridor with Natalie, conducted entirely in rather frantic hand gestures; and then takes a back pain, a stomach bug, a sprained wrist, and a stress-related migraine before Natalie brings him a cup of tea and a sandwich, passing them both through the crack in his mostly-closed door while she whispers, "I'm so sorry, apparently Denise and Brian are both out today and Mikey's been sending us all their overflow, I rang him up and gave him a bit of an earful, but—"

"It's all right," he whispers, "just get me fifteen minutes and two paracetamol, would you? I'm out."

She nods and John closes the door, rubs the back of his hand against his forehead. A bit of lettuce escapes from the paper around the sandwich, and plops onto the floor. Behind him, Natalie taps on the door, quiet-quiet, and John, not wanting to admit any patients or paperwork that might happen to be lurking in her wake, opens it just wide enough for her to press the pills into his palm. "Thanks," he says.

"Eat your sandwich," she says, and John nods and closes the door. It's one of those fancy ones with still-mooing roast beef and cheese from artisan goats, or some such; from Natalie's favorite café, with extra mustard. John drops his mobile onto the desk and unlocks the screen; 21 new text messages. He chews, swallows, grabs his tea, washes it down, takes another bite and chews, scattering lettuce all over his sleeve.

In fact, I'm fairly certain I called you worse yesterday.

And now that I really put some thought into it, yesterday you didn't really do anything to particularly deserve it.

Though you *were* quite spectacularly wrong about the transportation of agricultural goods from EU ports of origin.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/354767/plant_product_leaflet_aug_2014.pdf

The reception here is simply dreadful

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/355730/bringing_food_leaflet_aug_2014_v4.pdf

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/moving-live-animals-or-animal-products-as-part-of-eu-trade

Of course, livestock reeks, which is its own complicating factor

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/farm-animal-welfare-during-transportation

Not unlike this particular sergeant at the Fratton Police Station

No wifi anywhere in the building, I can't imagine how anyone gets a thing done

Can you think of any sedatives that don't produce lasting damage or show up on drugs screenings and are tasteless and odorless when mixed into tea?

If the number of weapons in a given shipment is limited by the carrying capacity of the typical hand luggage of your average mum, or businessman, or gran, but they have as many of their couriers travel on the same ferry as possible, it might be possible to move in very great numbers of weapons in extremely small clusters, all on the same boat, to maximize the number that got past any security we'd be inclined to throw their way

Have you really not had a break in all this time?

That would imply that the boys from the ferry last night most likely knew that the other members of their squad were smuggling guns, but were ignorant of whatever other weaponry came aboard

will you be dreadfully upset with me if you've got to come back to Portsmouth to post bail?

I've finally got wifi!

Never mind, they're not holding me

20 minutes of proper internet access and I've found at least four candidates for the next time I need to temporarily disable a

...sergeant, I meant to say. At least they didn't put me in holding this time, they always take away my mobile and then I can't get any work done.

If that girl can't get you a proper lunch break in between diseased supplicants I really ought to have a word with her.

John wipes his mouth on the back of his hand, takes another gulp of tea. Don't drug the police, it's bad for business, he replies. And leave Nat alone, she's my angel of mercy today, with a picture of the lettuce scattered all over his desk, the two paracetamol on the paper from his sandwich, just before he washes them down with the last of his tea, then tidies away the rest of the mess and rings for his next patient, goes to pull open his door. His mobile buzzes on the desk: A poor cure, Sherlock says, for leaving me for an hour and a half without your medical expertise; and then, hard on its heels, I *have* learnt that you aren't to be left by yourself but I'd've thought you could manage if circumstances required, and John inhales, hard, and thumbs clumsy just manages to get out, Well, "can" and "want to", before a woman in the doorway says, "Dr. Watson?" He turns, says, "Yes, please, come in," and shuts his desk drawer with a thump.

She breathes deep for him, normally, lets him listen on both sides and is honest about forgetting her inhaler when he brings it up: the light outside his windows is bright and yellow and you aren't to be left by yourself, light and flippant, like Sherlock'd lobbed it to him from across the room, your medical expertise, and his desk is silent screen dark after her, after a baby recovering perfectly normally from a perfectly normal cold, after a case of shingles and two more of strep throat, and much later still, when John goes to tuck his mobile into his pocket, drop his patient files into the box for refiling and slide his jacket on.

"—catch him?" Natalie asks, and John jumps. "Sorry." She smiles, Rhoda just past her with her handbag on Nat's desk, digging about for her keys.

"Sorry, long day." John stuffs his hands into his pockets, wraps his fingers around his phone. "What were you asking?"

"If you and Sherlock caught your bad guy," Natalie says.

"You missed Nina again at the weekend," Rhoda says, and waggles her eyebrows. "She asked after you."

John laughs, too loud too sudden—he bites his lip. Natalie's hand has stilled on the placket of her little pink jacket, and then moves, smooths it down. "Sorry," he repeats. "No." He clears his throat. "Not that sort of—he may've cracked the thing, but no arrests yet, as far as I know."

"So not on the blog," Natalie says, mouth quirking.

"Sorry." John smiles: it feels strange. "Not yet. How much do I owe you for the sandwich?"

"On the surgery, this time," Rhoda says, "for making us all work through lunch," and Natalie bounces up onto her toes: her hair bounces, too, and she claps her narrow hands.

John pulls his hands out of his pockets, empty. "Thanks to both of you, then," he says, and heads over to hold open the door.

They all wait while Natalie locks it and then stands.

"Well," she says, "I'm off, then. I'll see you Monday," and they both nod.

"Just call," Rhoda says quietly, and Natalie nods, pulling her hair back behind her shoulders, flashing her big white steady smile.

"We'll try to keep Marcus from burning the place down," John tells her, and she laughs.

He leans in and brushes a kiss to her cheek, but leaves it to Rhoda to pull her into a big, motherish hug.

Chapter Text

Sherlock doesn't get in until rather late on Tuesday, then stalks around the living room gesticulating wildly and complaining about a pair of teenagers on the train while John sits on the end of the sofa with his laptop pushed aside and his feet up propped up on the coffee table, like a man who hadn't had his hand down his pajama bottoms just before Sherlock'd come blustering in. John can't often trace the labyrinthine course of Sherlock's thought processes but it's perfectly obvious when Sherlock realizes: he stops, stops talking ("—as though she simply couldn't wait to—er.") and stops pacing (stumbles, a bit) and pauses mid-gesture only to push his shoulders back, his head up, turn back and start pacing again, away from John; tossing, "like she'd just found out there was some sort of time limit on infecting him with herpes, or—I'd better," back over his shoulder, and then striding off into his bedroom with the back of his neck reddening above the collar of his coat.

John slides down a bit, rests his head on the back of the sofa. He honestly wouldn't've stopped if the racket of Sherlock flinging himself into the flat hadn't been so startling: he finds he's rather keen to find out what Sherlock would do about finding him having a leisurely bit of a wank on the sofa. He reckons it's likely to be fun.

The shower in Sherlock's en suite comes on. After a moment, John slides his hand back into his bottoms. Closes his eyes.

A smallish sort of a dilemma: fantasizing about one's flatmate is generally not done, but once you've woken up with your cock in his mouth it seems like those sorts of rules of etiquette would be rather far out the window, wouldn't they? Sherlock takes long showers; John's known that for ages. He'd always thought it was because of Sherlock's tendency to forget about bathing entirely during certain weeks: surely an extra several days of accumulated filth just takes longer to scrub off. But yesterday morning Sherlock'd still spent thirty-seven minutes washing, and that after at least forty-five on Sunday afternoon, just before they'd left. It'd be tempting, perhaps, to just assume he's been running them cold to keep himself in check, but John'd showered just after him, yesterday, the mirror thick with steam and every crack in the tiles crowded with the warm, damp aroma of Sherlock's body and shaving cream and shampoo. John breathes in, deep, gives himself a tug or two, light. He knows Sherlock. He doesn't think Sherlock's one to slap himself out of it with something quick and unpleasant and harsh. He thinks that yesterday morning Sherlock probably trotted off to the bathroom with his cock heavy and hard and then soaped himself up quite carefully all over, rubbed the foam all over his feet and his ankles and his narrowly muscled calves, up his thighs and over his lovely round bottom and probably quite carefully all over in and out of the crack of his arse, over the planes of his stomach and his chest and in slow, shivering circles all around the little hard berries of his nipples; breathing carefully, through his open mouth. Probably right now Sherlock is doing something very like: massaging shampoo into his scalp with his eyes closed and his lips parted, thinking about—about what? About John's hands in his hair? John could put his hands in Sherlock's hair. John wonders if Sherlock thinks about him through the whole thing, all the places John's had his mouth, when he's washing his feet or his thighs or his arse; if he is rubbing soap into his navel thinking about John's tongue. Sherlock could run his hands over his stomach, his hips, thinking about—about John's hands on them, mouth on them, kneeling between his thighs with his mouth around him, Sherlock fucking into his throat, or light in his mouth, teasing, thick and salty, leaking all over the insides of his cheeks—

John jerks his hand off his cock, breathes in deep. Heart beating hard against the underside of his ribs. It'd be easy. Could just get on his knees and wait, and probably—probably just. Just open his mouth, when. John never knows what Sherlock is thinking but he doesn't think Sherlock'd pass that up.

The shower shuts off. John swallows. Rubs at his belly. Up to his ribs. The weight of his blood is drawing down between his thighs with all the rest of him quivering, alert; the phantom impressions of long hands all over his body, Sherlock tucking his hot face into John's opened-up throat.

John swallows. Waits.

Sherlock is moving about in his en suite. His room. John listens to his feet. His blow-dryer. He makes little noises, sometimes, frustrated or thoughtful or annoyed, low in his throat. His electric toothbrush, which John sometimes can hear from upstairs, nearly, only just loud enough to irritate him, like a fly caught in another corner of the room.

His door creaks open, and John slides his fingers back under the waistband of his bottoms. Touches: shivers, knees falling open; and Sherlock, barefoot, comes back into the room.

He pauses.

He's looking. John inhales through his nose, gets his fist around himself under his bottoms and pulls. Breathing in hard slow deep, lets it out, fucking into his loose hand under cotton while Sherlock watches, his long white hand just resting against the back of John's chair. John is suddenly split, pinned between awareness of Sherlock's bare feet and the still-damp ends of his hair and the warm-plush-yielding memory of his body wrapped tight around John's bursting body and the weight of Sherlock's dark creamy voice—bricks and stones—when he'd said, Prove it, inexorable, sitting not-quite where John is sitting on the sofa the very first time; and John had got on his knees.

"Still thinking that I can't keep it going," John says, rough, "for longer than six and a half minutes?"

Halfway across the room Sherlock's throat clicks, bobbing. After a moment, he says, "I'm always open, of course," voice steady, "to being proved wrong."

John shifts, shoulders scraping. Nods at his chair. "Have a seat, then."

Sherlock raises an eyebrow.

"Keep an eye on you." John swallows. "Don't want you coming over here and. Biasing the results."

Sherlock straightens, shoulders back. "Is that what I'd be doing," he murmurs; but he sets his mobile on the table; turns John's chair, only just. Perches at the edge. Knees knocked together.

"Of course," John says. "I've already been going since before you got in, so." Sherlock's gaze has slid down his face, settled somewhere around the base of his ribs. "Not half fair."

"I appreciate—" It comes out burred; Sherlock stops. Turns towards his phone, screen lighting up: the stopwatch, John thinks, with a helpless pang of fondness, as Sherlock clears his throat. "—your indulgence," he finishes. "To the, er. Scientific method, et cetera."

"I thought you might." John rubs his right hand over the rucked-up hem of his shirt, cold air on his hot stomach—touches. Breathes deep. Left hand slid down cupping his balls close-heavy to his body, hot all over, Christ. Sherlock is sliding back in John's chair, lifting his chin.

"Push your bottoms down," he says, low.

"That was never part of the original experimental design," John observes, and Sherlock's eyes flick up to his face. "But you did it last time, too."

Sherlock doesn't say anything. Licks his lips. His cheeks are flushing, little reddening spots on his absurd, lovely cheekbones: John angles his hand, the red head of his prick just nudging out into air; and Sherlock crosses leg over knee in John's chair.

"You ever do it like this?" John asks. It feels sunk deep down into him. Spun down wound up with his lungs and his liver and his bones. "Like you're. Starts out, you're not even really having a wank." He swallows. "Just. Passing the time."

"With your hand down your pajamas," Sherlock observes.

"Yeah. Why not?" John shifts, pushes at his waistband with his wrist, lets himself—just—push; and Sherlock inhales; and Christ, John'd better—his heart is beating hard at the base of his throat. "Why not just," John says, unsteady. "Just give yourself a bit of a rub, if you find yourself in the living room with no one else around."

Sherlock steeples his hands in front of his mouth. "Why not," he says, an octave too low, "indeed."

John needs to—rubbing his free hand over the base of his belly, "Figured, if you came back," thick, "you wouldn't much mind," while he lets go licks the meat of his palm his fingers, wrapped back—tight—hard around him with Sherlock watching him cup his heavy-hot balls to the hollow-tangled base of his body with his. Waistband. Cutting hard, into the tops of his thighs.

"No," Sherlock murmurs. Eyes slipped half shut. "No."

John forces his hand loose. "I thought," he says, unsteadily, fucking—watching Sherlock with his idle knees and barely-touching fingers and the line of his cock, half-hard, untouched, plain through the thin fabric of his pajamas. "In fact," John says, "I thought you might rather enjoy it."

Sherlock's chin lifts. "Watching you rub one out on the sofa?"

"Yeah, or." John squirms. Breathes deep. Squeezes: stop. Waits 'til he can feel his blood condensed back inside the fragile walls of his veins and breathes deep, breathes deep. Says, "Or finding me warmed up for you," at last. "If you wanted"; and Sherlock turns his head, lips parted: dragging his steepled thumb across tip of his tongue. John inhales. Squeezes.

"'Warmed up'," Sherlock echoes, quiet. "For what, precisely?"

John swallows. Squeezes: swallows. Feels himself folded back into his body and pushes his shirt up, baring—thinking of his mouth on Sherlock's pink nipples. Vaulted ribs. "Whatever you'd like," John says, thick. Digs the side of his nail into the edge of his areola, pulls himself down.

And down.

Breathing. Sherlock is silent. Watching. He can risk it again, he thinks; so John wraps his hand around his cock thick and heavy between his spread trapped thighs; strokes himself, light-light-light, watching Sherlock watch him, sitting upright and flushed in John's soft chair.

"Whatever I'd like," Sherlock echoes, and John nods.

"Whatever you want," John says.

Quiet. Between them, Sherlock watching—and John wants—wants to bare—to be bare, to—his pulse is too hard; it makes his hands shake. He pulls his pajama shirt off over his head with four buttons still buttoned and shoves at the bottoms, down to his knees—kicked off—desperate, somehow, feeling—mouth full-wet and he sucks at his fingers, kicks his left foot up onto the coffee table. Bared. All of him prickling up too-hot half-cold with his prick achingly hard held still in his fist while he rubs down under his balls, wanting—pressing hot-scraping against into wanting to—

"Stop," Sherlock says, and in his throat John's voice rubberband-snaps— "Good," but he's stopped, he's stopped; fingers still pressed against himself holding himself holding still-still-still while Sherlock standing murmurs, "Wait for me," and John couldn't, couldn't possibly, couldn't even think about doing anything else but waiting, stopped, suspended bare and shivering until Sherlock pads back in and holds out his clear bottle of lube.

John stares at it. Drags up. At his face.

Flushed. "Do it properly," Sherlock says, voice low rubbed-rough against all the prickling-writhing cells in John's oversensitive skin; and so John gets his hands off himself, somehow, and takes the bottle out of Sherlock's hands.

"What." He swallows. Cap open. "Do you want me to." Squeezes it into his palm.

"Your show, I think," says Sherlock above him. Crisp. Precise. Looking down at him while John turns his thigh open, presses his head back against the cushions, breathing hard. Branding, Sherlock's gaze: laying seared-open stripes all over John's skin. Pushing inside all over while John pushes two fingers inside and the sofa sticks to his shoulders and spine, sour hungry-slick under his tongue: Sherlock's lips are parted, damp. Pink. His face tipped down and his back barely-just bowing to bring his body down nearer John's body with his long hands open at his side and John wants, John wants, John wants, petting in and out of his arsehole while his cock bobs red and hard and ridiculous he knows should be but the way Sherlock looks and John grabs at the base of his cock, squeezing, blood nearly boiling over while he squeezes his eyes shut tight and pants, and pants, and pants.

Inhales. Bites down and holds, straining lungs. Sherlock is breathing hard. John hadn't heard. Exploding out of him and he gulps, holds: heart-tumult up and over and under and through while he forces his eyes open, looks up: Sherlock's face. Carved, John thinks dizzily: twirling feathers snatched from air, wanting—scored in lines—

Sherlock touches his cheek.

"What," John asks, "do you want, I—do you want me to," tongue thick in his mouth throat useless turning into Sherlock's hand and it falls and John would—John would—John would—

"I thought I'd bias the results." Rubbed rough near quiet: oh

"Please." John's voice cracks: can't care. Can—can touch, pull his knee, his right foot pressing against. The edge. Of Sherlock's foot, on the floor, pressing, barely—barely moving, unsteady, until Sherlock steps aside. Turns. Pulls the coffee table scraping (his sole, John's toes curl), and sits on the edge of the near side. Square in front of him. Staring at John's face.

"Go on," Sherlock says.

Air slapped out of him. Lungs and John rubs his wet hand up his aching cock. Groans—and Sherlock curls his long hand around John's left heel. Split open for him pressing his own two fingers not deep enough while he can't, can't bear, couldn't—could fuck forearm aching with his blurring wrist Sherlock's careful still-uneven breath above his brittle body strained and tensed and then snapped, shuddering moans; comes arched-up pressed down blinking yellow and purple while Sherlock digs his thumb in until John groans, again, punched out of him, spattering up his chest and his jaw while Sherlock breathes noisily in, and in, only-just-stroking the bruised-aching sole of John's foot.

John gasps.

Gasps.

Above him, the ceiling is sparking back into view. He tucks his chin down towards his chest. Can barely breathe, still. Sherlock is still perched on the coffee table, red-faced, shoulders hunched. His cock is tenting out his bottoms: John could get down on his knees and bury his face in him, his wiry long thighs and hard prick and soft balls, the animal smell of him coming up over soap while John rubbed his cheek against the softest warmest spaces of his skin, velvety and hypnotic; kiss him and lick him and suck at each fragrant millimeter of his skin, until Sherlock said—

John's breath catches.

(His pink mouth [parted].)

John swallows. "How," he asks. Swallows again: better. "How long was that?"

Sherlock's spine snaps straight.

He lets go of John's foot. Turns, looking for—his mobile, miles away, by John's chair.

"S'by my chair," John says; and Sherlock says, "Oh!" going redder; and John hooks his heel around the back of Sherlock's right hip.

Tugs. Not hard. Sherlock comes up. Bows in.

John brushes their mouths together. Sherlock inhales. Presses his palms into the cushions, half-kneeling half-standing still dressed, with his eyes half-open. Face flushed.

They kiss.

It stretches. Pulled out everywhere all around them to the horizon, blanketing. Like water, or. Or sleep.

(Or. Or curled on the sofa his side watching him just-back standing before the window streaked with rain, playing long low open G—)

"Do you want to," John says. "Or."

He touches his cheek. His curling-soft hair. Quiet.

Close up, Sherlock breathes.

"Is this all right?" John asks.

Sherlock swallows. Says, "Yes."

Chapter Text

By half eleven on Wednesday John's spine is loudly protesting every second he spent sprawled low on the sofa—because that's the price of living past forty, apparently: paying in back pain for shagging on unergonomic pieces of furniture—and Marcus is weeping in the loo—

"—which is not my fault," Rhoda snarls, banging the morning's worth of charts down into the basket to be badly refiled. "If he can't just once manage to take down all the information I needed to return one single fucking call—"

—and Greg has rung John twice, which can't mean anything good at all. Instead, in fact, it means that they're after Imogen Wain, again, and that means that John winds up going straight from the surgery—late, because Marcus somehow managed to make the patients John had booked up 'til six run nearly to eight, of course—to the Diogenes club, where Mycroft is conspicuously absent; to the Holborn office Mycroft was regularly using four months ago, which is now conspicuously abandoned; to the house in St. John's Wood where Mycroft does not appear to actually reside; to standing on a streetcorner outside a Tesco Express at nearly eleven and calling up at a CCTV camera, "Yes, I know you're cross with him, but I can guarantee that Lestrade and I won't forget this, the next time you need one of us to do you a favor," like the madman he has long since more or less resigned himself to becoming; whereupon a black sedan glides up behind him, and John stops, exhales sharply, and says, "Thank you." He never does manage to get an audience with Mycroft, but after stewing in traffic for a half an eternity the car takes him to an artfully lit restaurant in Islington, where Mycroft's assistant slides in beside him, patting at the underside of her twisted-up blonde hair. She's wearing slightly too much eye makeup and very high heels and carrying the sort of pocketbook women keep inside a larger handbag when they've got plans after the office that don't allow time for a trip back to their flat: John feels a brief, sharp pang of sympathy for her; but then she says, "Mr. Holmes asked me to convey his apologies," in a tone that more or less conveys though I don't know why he'd waste them on a toad like you, and it passes. "Where are they this time, then?" John asks; and Chloe says, "Canary Wharf," and they spend the rest of the trip staring out opposite-side windows in silence. Then John hangs back while she has a brief, terrifying exchange with a trio of men with discreet name badges and black suits; draws his gun when the leftmost and lumpiest one looks like he might raise some sort of objection; and then, after the building has finally disgorged Sherlock (looking somewhat the worse for wear) and Greg (looking furious), John spends a quarter of an hour standing up pressing that blasted green jumper to Sherlock's forehead while he slumps on the brick edging of a flowerbed and Greg calls for a cab to come 'round and fetch them, since he'd rather it didn't wind up in anything official and Chloe's fucked off with Mycroft's car. When they get back to the flat Mrs. Hudson shouts at all of them comprehensively, then makes them tea while John sews up the gash in Sherlock's gigantic idiot head in the kitchen. "We didn't even catch her," Greg confesses, downstairs; "You never catch her," John says, "go home," and then bolts the door behind him and sighs.

So.

That's Wednesday, then.

Thursday dawns hot and muggy, so John skips his run in the morning and then regrets it when he can't shake off the fog of the late night for the whole of his workday. At least Marcus is solicitous, today, in his usual nervous and wide-eyed way: John gets three cups of tea out of him, which is three cups more than he gets out of Natalie on the average workday, albeit because Natalie is usually engaged with doing her job. When he manages to get away at last he's surprised to find Sherlock lurking out front, texting: the blow from last night has developed some really spectacular purplish bruising that spreads all over the right half of his forehead, which, combined with the black line of stitches vanishing into his hair, really ought to make him look even more deranged than usual. It doesn't. He's left his coat, got his shirtsleeves rolled up; John clears his throat.

Sherlock looks away from his mobile. "Ah, good," he says, straightening. "I've just been down to see Lestrade."

John falls into step beside him. "Wain?"

"No sign," Sherlock says. "I do think I finally convinced him to put the KLPD onto that residential tower her son owns in Schothorst, though—I'd be rather surprised if they came up empty-handed."

John nods slowly. "She won't be there," he notes. "She's too clever for that."

"Most likely not," Sherlock agrees. "But I'll bet you a tenner they find the Renoir."

John knows better, but he holds out his hand to shake on it, anyway.

In the flat, John drops his bag into his chair and then goes to open a window: the air inside is syrupy, suffocating. Sherlock is fidgeting with the sheet music on his stand, but as soon as he twigs to what John's up to he gets the one near him as well. The window in the kitchen is awfully small, but John'll take any hint of a crossdraft he can get; he opens it one-handed, pulling his shirt untucked. His back is sticky. Ought to shower, he thinks, but when he turns around Sherlock is watching him from the mouth of the living room.

"Do you still spar with Mantle and Chambal?" Sherlock asks.

John blinks. "What brought that up?"

"Do you," Sherlock insists, and John shifts, squaring his weight.

"On occasion," he says. "I haven't been 'round in a few weeks, but—"

"Could you beat me in a fight."

It comes out strangely: downturned, like the corner of Sherlock's mouth, with no hint that it might be a question. His expression has taken on that pointed, fox-like set it gets when he's feeling particularly determined about something.

John replies, "I don't know," in perfect honesty.

"You don't know," Sherlock echoes, sounding skeptical.

"Sherlock."

"I note that you typically aren't particularly reluctant to make me fully aware of my shortcomings," Sherlock says, "so if you're trying to spare my feelings out of some sort of—"

"Sherlock," John repeats, and Sherlock subsides.

He's flushing, John notes. Not meeting John's eyes.

John takes a breath. "You've got more of a background in hand to hand than I do, and you're bigger than I am," he says, "but you can be. Inconsistent."

"So you could beat me," Sherlock says.

"I'm saying I don't know," John says. "I'm saying, you're not perfect, but you're good, and I'm not infinitely confident in my own abilities, without a weapon to back me up."

Sherlock lets out a breath, shoulders sinking.

After a moment, he asks, "Inconsistent?"

"Yeah," John says. "You've got—blind spots, yeah?" Sherlock's mouth thins, but he nods. "Honestly, I think it's just because you've done so much of your training on your own," John says. "Especially in close quarters. I've seen people get under your guard who I'd never have expected to have a chance of landing a hit on you."

Sherlock snorts. "Is that your opinion, or Mantle's?"

"He's not wrong," John says. "And Chambal hasn't shut up about your form since the Howlett case."

"Sodding Chambal," Sherlock grumbles, and turns, dropping his head back against the edge of the partition.

"What's brought all this up again?" John asks, and Sherlock sighs.

John folds his arms over his chest. "This is about last night, isn't it."

Sherlock nods, after a moment.

"You know as well as I do that to've beat those three, by yourself, with a head wound—"

"Yes, well, I didn't start out with a head wound, did I," Sherlock snaps, and then rubs his fingers over his eyebrow. Flinches.

John comes up to take his wrist. "Someone was taking the piss, I take it? Not Greg," he adds, touching the skin at the edges of the bruising. Warm. "Greg nearly has a coronary every time you get into it with a suspect, he'd never—"

"Who do you think," Sherlock says, flat. "Donovan has had some sort of tediously cattish wager with Jacobs ever since April, and me coming in looking like a rejected extra from a horror film put me square in her sights."

"Wager?" John asks. "Wait, what happened in April?"

"Jacobs got her second black belt," Sherlock says. "Judo, this time."

"Sherlock," John sighs, with a terrible premonition about where this all is heading.

"You're about her size," Sherlock says.

"Yes, thank you," John says, "but I have zero black belts, and also no vested interest in—what was it?"

Sherlock frowns. "What was what?"

"After Greg dragged you off Howlett."

Scowling, Sherlock says, "Do you mean when Jacobs started going on and on about—"

"Ah, yes, 'the prime opportunity to dirty up your pretty face,' now I remember," says John, stepping back.

"'Bloody up'," Sherlock corrects, sullenly.

"Well, if you insist on giving her the opportunity," John says, and then sighs, thinking. Never mind that John certainly wouldn't give DS Jacobs a shot at any part of his person on one black belt, let alone two: he knows Sherlock. And Sherlock won't give a bad idea up once he's got it, is the problem.

"All right," John says, finally. "Mantle's been a bit hit or miss since the baby was born, but Chambal's always down at that club in Lambeth of a Saturday, if you want to come along, I'm sure he'd—"

"I don't want to spar with Chambal," Sherlock replies, with rather more belligerence, John thinks, than is really entirely necessary, and John spreads his hands.

"Sherlock," he says.

Sherlock is still scowling at him, but he smooths it out. "I'd just thought," he says, straightening up, "if I'm going to get the stuffing kicked out of me by a hobbit—"

"Yes, yes, har har," John says, stepping back.

"—might as well get into practice—oh come on," Sherlock says, "after all the nostril-flaring and lecturing and aggressive facial stitchery last night I thought you'd relish the opportunity to take my feet out from under me—" so John ducks in, quick, and does so.

Flat on his back on the carpet with the wind knocked out of him and Sherlock, damn him, has the cheek to look positively delighted.

"There," Sherlock says, a little breathlessly. "I rather thought you could."

John rolls his eyes and pushes up off his knees, offering Sherlock a hand up. "You're not going to leave me alone until I show you everything Mantle or Chambal's ever brought up behind your back, are you."

"No," Sherlock admits, "but I'll buy you a curry after."

"Curry and a blowjob or nothing," John counters.

He means it as a joke, really; but all in an instant Sherlock goes startlingly, eloquently flushed. "I mean." John laughs. "Or—"

"All right," Sherlock says, fast.

John pauses.

Won't meet his eyes, will he? Looking down at the baseboards like an errant schoolboy and taking a breath air on John's back and his tongue and all at once a weighted, indescribable feeling, doors: opening, and he presses up onto his toes. An impulse. The hot tender edge of Sherlock's red cheek, rough with day-old whiskers; and caught in John's fingers, still, the bird-breast thrum of his lovely, angular wrist.

He rocks back down onto his feet.

Lets go of Sherlock's hand.

Sherlock meets John's eyes. It seems to cost him some effort. John feels strange: untethered, somehow—

"Close quarters, is it?" Sherlock asks, more steadily.

John inhales. Hands: shirt, pockets, smoothing his rumpled shirt— "Yeah, well." He clears his throat. "When you've got the reach of a pterodactyl, I can understand why it might be hard to fully address things less than six feet away," John says; and Sherlock's mouth jerks; turns up at one corner, twisted in the middle.

"Come on," John says, stepping back. "If you really want to work on this now, we'd better get these monstrosities to one side."

"There's nothing wrong with our chairs," Sherlock says, but he helps John move them out of the way all the same.

Chapter Text

Absurd, John thinks, when he's got a jammy piece of toast hanging out of the corner of his mouth, refilling the kettle; ridiculous, rolling over and about inside his head, as he walks to work. Above him the morning is a watery butter-yellow, heavy with haze. He'd spent two and a half hours throwing Sherlock into the carpet repeatedly before his knee finally gave up with a loud protesting crack, and then Sherlock had helped him back to sitting on the sofa and brought him a towel damp with ice and a digestive and two paracetamol and then hovered over him, crane-like and absurd, until John had dragged him down to sitting and put on Murdoch Mysteries on his laptop so Sherlock'd have something to complain about.

When John walks into the surgery, Marcus says, "Er, I brought, er, danish, and, er," so John takes one for later, thanks him, and pulls his first patient chart himself. That same bubble of a thought suspended, still, between the back of his tongue and his throat.

John isn't stupid, whatever Sherlock might think, and he's been there for all of it, hasn't he? from the first rainy afternoon in the living room to Sherlock sitting low on the sofa, muttering, —and besides, Dupin's fully half a century earlier, anyway, how they could possibly think—, warm all along John's left side. They'd called for a curry and batted Imogen Wain's latest artistic liberation back and forth, back and forth, and all the ice in the towel had melted and Sherlock hadn't asked about the blowjob—or, rather, Hadn't Asked: but had instead hung about conspicuously inside John's personal space for hours, shooting pin-and-needle looks at John from under his thick light lashes, Not Asking; until at last John'd said, D'you want to come upstairs, then?

John drops the chart on his desk. Danish wrapped up in a serviette and tucked into the top drawer, mobile just alongside and silenced. Mad, really, he thinks again; and then tucks that away, too. He opens the chart. Emma Lyon, 42. Severe asthma.

Outside the windows the day grows brighter, heavier: pressing in close in mustards and silver as the clouds get thicker and the heat settles in. John eats the danish at eleven and a sandwich at noon and cracks his window open at one; it doesn't help much. Sherlock's been quiet all morning, probably fussing with his stitches and annoying Greg; a theory born out when, at a quarter past two, John receives: KLPD via Lestrade: searched Schothorst, no Wain, recovered Renoir.

John licks across his bottom lip, thinking.

Graceless.

That's it, isn't it? That's the only word for it. Sherlock had been utterly graceless about it. Hasty. Impatient, and clumsy with it: his big angular body that isn't at all awkward—that never seems ungainly—but it had seemed, it had been; and with his thumb hovering over his mobile John can suddenly believe it, that Sherlock as a boy had been dreadful at sport: his long hands like someone else's hands, his clacking teeth, his irregular whooshing breath. It had been almost like going to bed with a stranger, but John has always known Sherlock better than anyone, nearly; until—

Until.

You ought to've gone for more than the tenner, John replies, finally; and then, after he's rung for his next patient but before she comes in, he adds, ;), acutely aware of the skin on his hands.

Sherlock doesn't reply.

It sticks, somehow; spends all afternoon lurking about in the back of John's mind along with Sherlock's knees and elbows in all the wrong places in John's too-small bed upstairs, making John feel warm and knotted up and strangely helpless: all these little ways that Sherlock held—no, holds himself back—and not very well, either; all the little abortive restrained motions of his body towards John's body when they aren't already touching, the way he'd looked at John all evening, the way upstairs he'd wrapped his hand around John's bent-up knee and then squeezed so hard he'd startled John into saying, Easy—easy, and then flushed, all the way down his face and his throat and blotching across the ridges of his collarbones, the planes of his bare chest. All the ways he could ask, but didn't—but doesn't. Hardly ever, at least.

John's fingers twitch. Memory.

When he gets back into the flat Sherlock is waiting for him at the table. Fully dressed. Sitting upright in a chair with his shoes on, even, next to a bottle of lube and two of his bizarre modern-art sex toys, his mouth smooth and unreadable and pale. John considers, briefly, whether or not to smile.

"H'lo," he says, instead. Nods at the table, slings his bag over into the seat of his armchair. "Slow day on casework, I take it."

"I had a bit of time," Sherlock says, "for thinking."

"Oh?" John's heart thumps—once, twice—as he slides off his jacket. He hangs it on its hook, before going over. Thump, thump. "I confess myself intrigued," John says, "by this particular line of inquiry."

He's washed ashore just in front of Sherlock's chair, his knees bumping against-in between Sherlock's just-parted knees, and Sherlock's eyes have followed him up, liquid and transparent, flecked with green. John wants to kiss him. He wants to, but—so he—shouldn't. —doesn't, either, does he. Reaches down to touch the edge of Sherlock's mouth, though, helplessly.

"How's your knee?" Sherlock asks, and John drops his hand.

"It's, uh." John flexes it a little. "Better, I think. Didn't give me any trouble on the walk, at any rate."

"Not too sore?" Sherlock asks, and John smiles.

"Too sore for what?" Teasing. Almost.

"For me to fuck you across the table," Sherlock says.

It appears to matter very little that John saw it coming: it's still a burning coal, from Sherlock's mouth. John shifts his weight. All his fingers spark, stinging: he curls them tight into his palm.

"I think I could manage that, yeah," he says, at last.

"Do you," Sherlock says, inflectionless. Bare.

John swallows. "If you like," he says; and Sherlock's face floods in an instant with scarlet.

In the silence John is acutely aware of his breathing. He hadn't meant—but he had. but he did. He meant and will mean and is meaning (mad, really—ridiculous—absurd, his cracked-open face—cracked-open chest (time, just but) give him time) but can't—wants, always—and. Wants. And wants. And wants, and wants, and wants.

John takes a breath. Unfolds his fingers. Touches the edge of Sherlock's hairline, just beside his stitches; and then. Strokes. Down. Curling his knuckles up against Sherlock's cheek; and Sherlock turns his face down.

"You could manage it," Sherlock says, very quietly.

"Yeah," John agrees, and Sherlock touches John's hip through his jeans. The buttoned-up placket of his shirt. John's belly jumps. In for a penny, John thinks; and says, "For you."

John is acutely aware of the stillness of Sherlock's body. Hard not to be, really, when—

"What if," Sherlock says, and then stops.

John forces himself still.

"Just what," Sherlock says, finally, "do you think you could manage?"

He's looking down, still. Away. "Most things," John says, finally. He doesn't know how else to answer.

Sherlock nods, a little. Doesn't look up. "D'you think you could manage me shoving you flat on your back," he asks quietly, "laying your—all your clothes open, or." His voice is terribly at odds with the words. It is a closed-in, close-together sort of a voice: "Or—cutting them off," he is saying, "perhaps that'd be better"; and he lifts his chin at last, wearing that same face from last night.

Flushed pink, still.

Take care, John thinks.

"Well," he says, finally, "I'm not overly fond of this shirt, so," and Sherlock's mouth goes through a series of rather spectacular contortions, only to wind up in an embarrassed little half-turned-up half-smile.

"The jeans, though," John murmurs; and Sherlock inhales.

"Well." He is worrying at one of John's low-down shirt buttons. "Maybe I ought to just—just shove them down and fold you over the edge, then," voice dropping half an octave as he says, "maybe just hold you right here, over the table," quiet; and the button comes free.

"Over the table?" John asks, Sherlock's fingers curling into his navel.

"Arse open," Sherlock says, hushed, "for all the street to get a good look."

"Curtains open, I take it," John murmurs.

It seems to take a moment for Sherlock to nod.

"Watching you..." John swallows. "Press yourself right up against me."

Sherlock rubs his fingers along the placket, down to John's pulled-untucked hem. Along the way he catches another button, and slips it open.

"Watching you hold me down and fuck me," John says, "just how I like"; and Sherlock looks up.

"Yeah," he says, at last.

John shifts. They are so close. John wants to be closer. He feels—spilling-over, badly constrained; his hand flutters, folds and unfolds on Sherlock's cheek, the edge of his throat, the top of his queerly scrunched-up shoulder; and the seat of the chair is digging into John's knee, but he can't—he's standing right up against it, in front of Sherlock—and he can't get any closer, not without—but not without what a pitiful excuse so he does it, blood rushing to his hands and his face, feeling reckless and wild as he gets his right leg over Sherlock's leg and settles his weight down, heart rabbiting all the way up to the top of his throat.

Sherlock's hand is lost and and then found again on John's hip. His back. His spine. Sherlock's eyes are wide. They aren't any color, part of John is fluttering-thinking-beating battered wings somewhere far away: not any color; they aren't any color all the time.

"Your pulse is racing," Sherlock says, quiet.

John says, "It makes me feel like a fucking girl," harsh-too loud-staccato, and then laughs, desperate and shaking, and says, "I want to, I want to do it anyway," and he inhales. Inhales. Inhales; as Sherlock says, "John."

John breathes.

Sherlock's arms have come up around him. One hand flat on the back of John's hip. So close: his hot face to John's face. Breath cool on his jaw. Their noses bump together.

"Sorry," John whispers. Breathes. "Fuck. Christ."

Sherlock doesn't answer. Kisses him, instead; John breathes.

"I'd give good money for you to've said that to Rhoda," Sherlock murmurs, face tucked against his; John laughs raggedly.

"It's Nat who'd've killed me," he says. His skin is still prickling, painful, all over. "Rhoda'd just've been terribly disappointed." He takes a long slow breath; it doesn't help. Sherlock is warm tight pressed everywhere against him and that doesn't help either, but Sherlock's hand is stroking the base of his back and that does.

After a moment, Sherlock says, "Your arse," and slides his hand down, gives it a little squeeze.

John laughs. "Yeah?" It comes out thick. He clears his throat.

"Yeah," Sherlock says, "it—loomed large, as it were, in my. Experimental planning," and grateful John kisses the corner of his mouth.

"You should." John inhales. "Tell me about it, or."

He stops. Closes his eyes. Presses his forehead to Sherlock's forehead, mute. He can't—think, or—

"I was thinking I could smack it a few times," Sherlock explains. Hand flat. Stroking up. "Get you nice and pink." Against him John nods, unsteady, and petting back down the hollow of his back Sherlock whispers, "Warmed up for me."

John exhales. "Yeah." With his arms hooked heavily around Sherlock's shoulders and his heels up and all his weight come off, Christ: unmoored by anything but Sherlock's arms 'round his waist: his heart is pounding. "Do you—should I, or," inhaling: at last John manages, "d'you like this," unsteadily, "or"; and Sherlock noses up against the edge of his ear.

"Yeah." Breathed out. "I like it." Warm and ticklish on his skin: John shivers, warm all over hot and ashamed and Sherlock rubs his parted lips so gentle against the seam of John's ear and "Oh," John gasps, "fuck—" and twists, kissing him: knotting his hands up in his hair and his mouth open-wet on Sherlock's wet opening mouth and their arms and John feels—skin crawling wanting—more, and pushing closeuptightinto dug in hard desperate wanting wanting wanting with all his bones recoiling and Sherlock's hand bound up in the back of his shirt and his—burning—face

"It's all right," Sherlock whispers, and John can hear, he can hear himself: gasping, a low and helpless whine. His face is pressed down to Sherlock's shoulder. Even John is too tall for this. It hurts his back they won't be able to even though hard in his trousers but John can't get them open in this position aching all over strung together badly seams digging in like his jeans all of him bound together too tight; and "John," Sherlock says, into the middle. It feels like a key.

After a second, John says, "Yeah."

Sherlock tips his face down, a very little. "Be still for me," he says, very softly, and John closes his eyes.

After a moment, he says, "You don't have to do this," quietly.

"Well," Sherlock says, "I do... I mean—that is."

He stops. Takes a deep, slow breath, lets it out as a sigh. John can feel it, brushing the edges of his face, and his fingers curl up against Sherlock's shoulderblades. He really ought to get up.

"I want to," Sherlock says finally. His voice is very low: it echoes, a bit, with something very far in the back of John's mind, when Sherlock says, "to—stay, like this, for—just for a minute," and John swallows.

He can hear Sherlock's heart beating, in his throat. Can feel it, too, in his arms wound low around John's back. The room is very still. Close.

Too warm, really, with all the windows closed, pressed together like this.

Silent.

"After." John swallows. "After you—smack my arse for the neighbors, and whatnot."

After a moment, Sherlock nods. "Yeah."

"What then?" John asks, quiet, and Sherlock tightens his arms around him.

"Well," Sherlock says, "I didn't bring my toys out because I thought they added a much-needed bit of elegance to the table," and John laughs, wet and thick, and pulls himself up straight in Sherlock's lap.

"Don't—" Sherlock blurts out, and then presses his mouth together into a thin pale line.

Christ, how I would, John thinks; and is silent.

"It's warm in here," Sherlock says, "isn't it."

"Yeah." John is curling his fingers against Sherlock's shoulder. Open and closed. Open and closed.

"You were going to," John says, and then pauses. The hollow of Sherlock's throat is creamy-white, framed by the collar of his shirt. The sight leaves John a little bit lightheaded.

He drags his gaze up to meet Sherlock's.

"You take care of me," John says, because he has to. Because he can't bear— "You—and I want you to, I want—I like it when you take care of me," an iceberg of a confession, lodging in his throat. "I mean—you were going to—to push me around, to hit me, or—or fuck me in front of—everyone, and—and h-hold on, keep me, you know, on your lap, or—or call—call me names, and," hollow. inadequate. John takes a breath to start over. Beneath him, Sherlock is holding very, very still.

"I mean," John says. He could pull himself up. Stand at attention, nearly. Would do it, too, if he thought—

"I like it when you take care of me," John says, "and so you take care of me."

Sherlock's no-color eyes are wide. Lips parted.

"Don't you," John murmurs, touching them, and Sherlock inhales, slow.

Sherlock says, "I'm trying," very quietly.

John nods. Sherlock is flushing again, pink creeping up his face and his throat like water darkening a sponge. "I just wanted to be sure that—that you know that I—," John says; and Sherlock says, "I know"; and helpless John brushes his knuckles against Sherlock's warm pink cheek.

Last night. After. Sherlock's hot face had been against his belly, heaving; the two of them sticking together in John's too-small bed upstairs too out of breath to speak, for a long while. Sherlock's hair had been soft and thick. It'd slipped, silky, against the sides of John's fingers, the ends curling up around them; it'd caught, here and there. In the places where it'd tangled it felt rougher: John had tugged his fingers through it, gentle, and where he'd touched them the strands had slipped apart. Sherlock's solid hot body had been heavy against him, slick with sweat: he'd come partway up to lie awkwardly on top of him and put his leg to sleep and breathe, hot and ragged, into his navel, skin sticking to John's skin. It'd been dreadfully uncomfortable. Somewhere in the middle, John's fingers slipping through Sherlock's hair had twitched to cup his skull; and John'd thought, from nowhere: I am holding him in my hands.

"I just mean," John says, "I want to take care of you however you like," very quietly, and then swallows, sliding his palms down to rest on Sherlock's shoulders, John's thumbs bracketing his collar bracketing the hollow of his red, warm throat.

"I know," Sherlock says; and then takes an unsteady breath, arms tightening around him. "John—," he says, stretched thin; and so John bends down to kiss him, to take his hot face in his hands.

(Then, Sherlock had said, "I need to stay downstairs tonight"; and John's breath had caught.

He'd felt—absurd. Ridiculous. It'd been mad, really, the lot of it; and then Sherlock had lifted his face. It'd been dizzying, somehow, that expression: cracked open and gaping, just like—; and oh, John'd thought, oh. With Sherlock's warm cheek brushing against his fingertips his thumb the backs of his curled-up useless knuckles: rough with stubble, still flushed.

"If you like," John'd replied, very quietly; and Sherlock had closed his eyes, grateful; and pressed a kiss into John's half-open hand.)

Chapter Text

Normalcy.

"And in the fridge we've got..." Sherlock yanks open the fridge, rather harder than necessary. "One egg, a half an onion, the last of the Thai from—was that last week?"

"Bin it," John says, not looking up from the bills.

"Right," Sherlock says, and does so; "And we still have a bit of—no, that's empty," and bins the milk, too.

"You know," John says, double-checking his sums, "you could always just... not put the bottle back in the fridge, if it's not got anything in it."

"And hot sauce. I don't do it on purpose, you know."

Sherlock sounds a little bit offended; John looks up to find his chins gearing up for full wrinkle.

John licks his bottom lip. "Well, not much point in arguing about it. Unless you've got some magic recipe for dried pasta, hot sauce, an egg, a half an onion, and, I don't know, that packet of banana-flavored corn snacks you brought back from Korea last year—"

"I ate those in April," Sherlock says, "they were dreadful."

"Well, then." John stretches out so he can dig Sherlock's mobile out of the crack in the side of the chair opposite, then passes it up over his head when Sherlock comes up behind him, hand warm on the back of John's neck.

"Pizza all right?" Sherlock asks, already dialing.

Normalcy, John thinks, somewhere in between eating the peppers Sherlock had picked off his half and Sherlock getting a text from an old friend of a friend of an acquaintance about something off at the Royal Opera, can't talk now, giant tree crisis, and could Sherlock pop by in the morning? But the idea really slips John's mind again until he finds himself eyes closed on his side petting his thumb up and down, up and down, up and down the smooth papery sole of Sherlock's bony right foot, tucked up near John's chest while Sherlock, who is propped up on his elbows and the mass of his disordered duvet with his laptop, is reading aloud selected highlights from some report or other Greg has sent him from the some sort of National Crime and Something Statistics or Whatnot Investigation Centre, intended—John gathers—as a special sort of a weekend treat.

"—and provides a safe forum in which to—the little pictures really make me take them terribly seriously, I must say," Sherlock says, and turns his laptop around so that John, squinting, gets a glimpse of, inexplicably, a skull with vampire fangs, and then Sherlock pushes his laptop away across the mattress and turns up onto his hip, rubbing at the back of John's calf. "Are you asleep?"

"Mm." John scrubs his palm over his face. "No. But. I."

"Are, a bit?" Sherlock kisses his knee.

John laughs. "Am, a bit." He stretches, spine popping; "Sorry. I'd better—"

"No, stay," Sherlock says, too fast, "if you stay we can again"; and John, blinking rapidly to force himself the rest of the way awake, brushes the side of Sherlock's foot again, hand open. Sherlock's feet are pale and gangly; long, with high, impractical arches. A half-dozen awkward flaws assembled into impossible elegance and sensitive, John knows, besides. He could pet down between Sherlock's white toes. He could watch them twitch with Sherlock's mobile tendons; but he wraps his hand firm around the middle and squeezes, instead.

"Do you want me to stay, truly?"

Down at the foot of the bed, John can hear Sherlock breathing, not answering. John rolls up a bit, looking down at him: still propped up awkwardly with his laptop and his elbows and the lump of his duvet, hair sticking up all over and splotches of beard burn all over his thighs. His face is still, carefully blank; but his throat bobs, twice; and John realizes, embarrassed, that he can tell what Sherlock is thinking. It feels invasive. Obscurely unfair.

"I do like sleeping with you," John says, very carefully. "But—I don't want you to feel... trapped, or." He sighs. "Obligated, just because we wound up here," as Sherlock tugs his foot out of John's hand and then turns around, clambering up over him, so that John has to roll onto his back, Sherlock's knees settling in between his knees, chest to his chest, and then Sherlock's pink dear face tucking down into John's throat.

John pets up Sherlock's back, warm and smooth. He smells like his sweat. The way they are touching feels unbearably good. I'm so sorry, John thinks, aching and irrelevant; and sinks his hand into Sherlock's thick hair.

"It's Saturday, tomorrow," Sherlock says, into his neck. "Weekend."

"Yeah." John rubs at the nape of his neck. Breathes in, for the weight of Sherlock's body on his ribs; and Sherlock lifts up his head.

"If it weren't, I'd say you ought to go back upstairs," Sherlock says, very quietly, and John nods. His thumb is rubbing—rough—against Sherlock's cheek, and Sherlock's eyes slip shut, exhaling. "Thank you," he says, very quietly; and John laughs.

"Christ, Sherlock." He sighs, presses up to kiss his cheek. "It's nothing to thank me for, not backing you into a corner that makes you climb the walls just so I can spend eight hours drooling on you in my sleep—"

"You don't drool," Sherlock says, "much," and then kisses him: slow, delicate, almost painfully sweet.

Sherlock is very heavy and very warm, and his skin is very soft, and Normalcy, John hears, flitting through his scattered thoughts as he rubs his face against Sherlock's face with Sherlock's hard cock nestled in between them while they kiss like teenagers in Sherlock's disheveled bed; but John barely knows what it means. It feels normal to lie on his back in the nude with his thighs bracketing Sherlock's thighs, but it isn't. Even for John, it is a new thing upon new things upon new things; Sherlock must feel as though he's been asked to reorganize the Atlantic. "Do you want," John asks, some time later, feeling red-faced and too tight in his skin; and Sherlock nods, panting, lifting John's hips up off the bed to push into him, John leaving lube-sticky fingerprints all over Sherlock's throat and shoulders while he kicks Sherlock's laptop shut—"oh—sorry—fuck—"—and Sherlock tries, not very successfully, to keep the headboard from banging into the wall.

"If Mycroft's barged in this time he deserves what he gets," Sherlock gasps, while John laughs ragged and breathless, squirming; skims his free hand over Sherlock's taut braced-up arm from wrist to shoulder, down to play with his chest; and Sherlock moans.

The linens are a wreck, after.

"Is your laptop all right?" John asks, shaking the second pillow into one of the cases from the spare set Sherlock keeps in a wide flat fabric bin beneath his bed.

Sherlock bobs up from kneeling on the other side of the bed, looking triumphant. "Landed on the duvet," he says, holding it up, and puts it safely atop his chest of drawers before wrestling the duvet back up and over his tidy hospital corners: smoothing it out, tugging it flat before turning the top corner back. He's naked, still half-hard and damp from the flannel they'd used to mop themselves up, and John has a brief, dizzying flash of Sherlock's body bowed again above him; his hooded half-open dark eyes and the red hills-and-valleys of his throat; arm braced on the headboard, the way the pressure of his body had stuck John's thighs to his sides. John's hands clench on the pillow: it must seem like hesitation, because Sherlock, perching at the open mouth of the bed, holds out a hand; and John goes.

"If you're planning on anything else tonight," John says, "I ought to let you know that I think odds are excellent I'll be asleep before you get the light out," kneeling up to clamber over Sherlock's body; Sherlock says, "Even I, I think, could probably sleep," then pets up John's side, breathing in. John pauses, still half on top of him.

After a moment. "Well," John says, "if you change your mind," as he then sinks his weight down into the center of his body, pressing his skin down into Sherlock's warm, pink skin.

Sherlock's eyes are very dark. Beneath John's body, his ribs expand.

"All right?" John asks, quiet.

He can't look away from Sherlock's face. Some part of him is noting that Sherlock is almost unbearably lovely like this, with his not-quite-black hair splashed against the white pillow and his mouth still reddened from their kissing and his eyes so open and so clear, his pupils swallowing up the sea; but the thought feels cold—distant—calculated: an objectivity that John can't at all feel with his body pressed tight against Sherlock's body, all that skin. He'd barely meant it, really, but he knows what it'd feel like, Sherlock manhandling him in his sleep: leaving handprints that'd sink down into John's body, meat and bone; curling up around him with his nose notched under John's ear and his knees tucked into the cove of John's knees, wet breath on his neck and his arm wrapped around John's middle, melted and unresisting, up and down up and down with shallow-slow sleep breathing up and down, as Sherlock nudged his wet prick back inside.

Sherlock's gaze is fixed on his face. "Do you—," he says, and then stops.

"You can," John says, "if you want to."

He watches Sherlock's face. Blood seeping up his fair neck, and his cock still pressed between them: Sherlock rubs down the base of John's back.

"I might, if..." Sherlock swallows. "I'd not guarantee I won't wake up rubbing against you, but I wouldn't—"

"You could," John says. "You could do anything—well, leave my mouth be, I'd be worried I'd be startled into biting down—"

"You're not sore?" Sherlock asks, very low.

John wants to laugh. After Sherlock'd got half a bottle of lube up him while sucking his cock and then fucked him through another eye-crossing orgasm while he leaked like a girl, "No," John says, "dodged that," while Sherlock pets his long fingers over John's arsehole: warm and tender but not aching, just endlessly, hopelessly aware. "God." John inhales, shivering; and draws his knee up the sheets at Sherlock's side. "Are you going to—"

"Clean sheets," Sherlock murmurs, and then kisses John's chin. "Budge up," he says, quiet, and John slides off him, onto his side; but Sherlock pushes the duvet down, saying, "Roll over, can I..." as "Yeah," John is saying, helpless; "Yeah."

He settles down on the left side of his stomach, blinking at the wall and the shadows and the box standing open beside the laptop atop Sherlock's chest of drawers: John's shoulders are prickling before Sherlock even really touches him, a kiss high up on his spine with his palm resting low on John's back. Sherlock's mirror is somewhere behind or to the left of them, watching. Sherlock is petting over his buttocks, gentle—slow—

John winds his hand up in the sheets.

"All right?" Sherlock asks. Long brushing fingers.

"Yeah." John's heart thuds in his ears. He swallows. "Can you," he says, "touch me," quiet, and Sherlock kisses the crest of his shoulder, then twists away: he'd left the toys on the nighttable, John knows, but Sherlock is just shifting for a better angle, pulling John's arse apart.

Sherlock says, "Hmmmmmmmm," and John inhales.

The air is very cold. He feels hot. Sherlock is probably—taking critical experimental notes, or whatever, but John is mostly aware of his own toes, curling into the sheets. His heavy breath. Sherlock touches him, then, thumb petting a soft arced stripe over his hottest swollen skin and John is gasping. Pushing back. Helpless.

"You're so red," Sherlock says, soft, and then bends down to kiss him.

"Fuck." John is gasping. Unsteady. "Can you." He swallows.

"More?" Sherlock murmurs, mouth pressed against him; and John knots up his hand in the front of his own too-short hair.

"Yeah," he says, voice shaking. "Please"; and Sherlock smacks him right across the join between his arse and his thigh, and then bends back down to lick over him, John shuddering, all his blood pooling up at the tip of Sherlock's tongue. "Harder," John gasps; and jerks when Sherlock scrapes his teeth against him; and moans. Sherlock slaps him open-handed and fast, four times, while hot all over John pants and squirms on his crisp clean sheets.

"I ought to've got something else for this," Sherlock murmurs, and then buries his stubble-rough face in John's arse.

John sobs, nearly. Crawling out of his skin. His body burnt at the edges and splitting for Sherlock's wet clever tongue, warm inside and hot and hot and hot and John shoves his hand down between himself and the mattress, squeezing his barely-swelling prick. He feels suspended bare millimeters from orgasm. He can't possibly come again. Sherlock fucks one long finger inside him, deeper—faster, still dripping wet fucked raw and then licks and John moans into the pillow, pushing back. "Again," he is gasping, barely hearing— "Again—" and Sherlock pulls back long enough to slap him up volcano hot and then lickbackdownredwetintohim and John spasms—shuddering electric-snow-pinprick dryhot painful all over—his toes cramping up into the soles of his clawed, alien feet.

"Christ," John gasps, hand flailing back; Sherlock presses back up curling tight around him, John pulling at his thick hair; Sherlock pressing fast desperate kisses all over the back of his neck and the ridge of his shoulder, breathing hard. His cock is smearing sticky and wet against the burning-tender crease of John's thigh; John flashes: Sherlock shoving it back inside of him and comes again, moaning long and low and taut, shivering all over, nothing left inside him that could possibly spill out. Pressed everywhere behind him Sherlock is panting, pushing his fingers into John's mouth; his big body pinning John's body down to the bed, and "Oh," John gasps, "fuck—" and pushes back against him and Sherlock gasps, "Stop—oh, fuck," wavering: his cock slid tight along the fucked-soft-wet-licked crease of John's arse. John breathes in and out hammering hard. Sherlock's never been so close. John can feel him too close: pressed tight to John's body, the battering, tsunami throb of the pulse at the base of Sherlock's leaking cock.

"Fuck," Sherlock gasps, hips twitching; and then he shifts, micrometers; and groans, low and heartfelt.

John swallows. Blinking hard. "Sherlock," he asks.

"I'm not going to, I'm not going to," Sherlock gasps. Damp on John's nape. "Just let me—" pulling: John shudders— "oh God, John. John."

John tightens his hand twisted back into Sherlock's thick hair. Sherlock is breathing in huge, ragged gulps.

"You feel." Sherlock swallows, twice, noisily. "So hot," whispering, "so hot for me," and John twists back to kiss the side of his nose, his eyebrow; and Sherlock makes a distressed, bitten-off noise; so hand tight in his thick hair John is still.

He feels wrung out. Aching. The strange not-quite-or-too-much over-squeezed feeling of coming dry, unprepared; Sherlock's desperate starved breathing behind him. Sherlock's wiry arm wrapped around his middle, tight-tight-tight. John wants to never move again.

Sherlock lets out a gust of breath. Shudders. Pulls John tighter against him, cock still nestled thickly into the crack of John's arse; God, John thinks, breathing hard; no, to his panicking half-interested body, as sternly as he can.

"It's." Sherlock swallows. "Good?"

"What?" Gasped.

"Feel good?" Sherlock asks, still panting.

John blinks. Swallowing. "Are you talking about your—"

"No!" Sherlock yelps; and John starts laughing.

After a moment, Sherlock presses his face down into John's shoulder. Smiling, John thinks, despite himself.

"Come on, it was a fair question," John asks. "Am I safe to move?"

"Well, now that you're laughing at me," Sherlock says, but it's utterly without rancor: he's blushing, but grinning; sheepish and charming when John twists around to kiss his rough-edged mouth, his flushed cheeks.

Sherlock lets their bent knees bump together. John nuzzles their faces close like cats, a careful hollowed-out space between their bellies while they kiss.

"So besides your cock pressed not quite into me," John says; and Sherlock thumps his closed fist on John's shoulder, not hard. He's still very pink. "You're so lovely," John hears himself saying; and then kisses Sherlock again, before either of them has time to be embarrassed.

"I meant—before that," Sherlock says, finally, some time later; and then brushes his hand over the still-hot bottom swell of John's arse.

John inhales, stretching against him. Most of the space has gone away. "Yeah," John says.

"Is it." Sherlock licks his bottom lip, his expression mostly too close to read. "Enough, or."

John doesn't follow. It must show on his face because Sherlock's expression settles into something improbably earnest, and he asks, "If you'd like, I could hit you with something else."

It's a very peculiar question. Or—not the question, because it isn't a question, but the odd serious tone in which the statement is delivered; the unfamiliar expression on Sherlock's very familiar face. Together they make John feel peculiar, like the suggestion makes him feel peculiar. Off-beat.

He clears his throat. "Do you have anything in particular in mind?"

"A paddle," Sherlock says, instantly, "or a crop, maybe"; and against him John shifts. "Or." Sherlock is looking straight at him, unblinking, but with his eyes hooded, half-shut. Sherlock says, "Or a switch, perhaps, I'd thought."

Thump, goes John's heart. He swallows. And swallows.

"Yeah," he says, finally, "a switch could work"; and Sherlock squeezes his arm tighter around John's middle, and tucks his face down against John's throat.

Normalcy, John thinks again, like a wavering candle; and then reaches over Sherlock's shoulder to turn out the light.

Chapter Text

Normalcy, John thinks again, out of silence; and then opens his eyes.

He's in Sherlock's bed, still, half drowned in the duvet. Sherlock has rolled away from him and is breathing shallowly, head bent down towards his chest, tucked up tidily onto his right side. John turns back to look up at the ceiling. Scrubs at his face. The window is bright. It feels late, but when he slips out of bed and pads into the kitchen to hunt down his mobile, it turns out to be not much past seven. Sherlock's mobile is still on the side table, too, the battery run all the way down; by that point John's well awake and then some. Nothing for it, he decides, then plugs Sherlock's phone in before texting him, Out for a run, back soon. At least this way it won't wake him up.

He runs for almost an hour and stops at Tesco's and comes back with milk and tea and eggs and bread for toast and some staples that'll keep, because if the opera thing turns out to be a case Sherlock won't be bored enough to bother with food for the duration but who knows how long that'll be, and rice and veg for stir fry, because John at least will still have to eat. In the street the handles of the bags cut into John's palms. In the flat, he loads everything into the fridge and the cupboards and tries not to pay attention to the sound of Sherlock's hair dryer, just the other side of the wall.

He's moved on to making tea and toast by the time Sherlock comes out dressed all the way down to his jacket and shoes and says, "What do you know about opera?"; to which John replies, "Old posh white people"; and then Sherlock slides on a pair of thick-framed tortoiseshell spectacles, which ought to make him look like he's trying too hard to be hip and of course instead make him look like he's soon to be starring in some sort of Oxbridge post-graduate fellowship porno, says, "Well, two out of three," while standing far too close, and then—John can't be sure, but—Sherlock bends to—apparently—smell the back of John's neck.

His lips just brush against John's skin. Prickling: John can feel himself springing up sweat all over. He's still sticky from his run, as yet unwashed; salt crusted at his hairline. Then Sherlock darts his hand past John's hand to steal John's breakfast right out of the toaster, says, "I'll be back in two hours," and then straightens himself up and trots out of the kitchen, out down the stairs.

John inhales, slowly; and then makes himself another piece of toast.

By the time John's had his breakfast and showered and hoovered and washed his own sheets and put them out in front of all their open windows and cleaned the kitchen and his bathroom and done five dozen sit-ups and pushups and lunges and squats because he couldn't get his head calmed down and then showered again because he'd sweated right through his shirt, it's been four hours, and Sherlock must've got back while the shower was running, because John didn't hear him come in, but now Sherlock is back down in the living room, sitting in his chair just this side of John's drying washing with his ankle crossed over his knee past the empty ottoman, idly testing the flex of a long, thin, rattan cane.

John has stopped, he notices. His hand. He is clutching the edge of the door frame, sweating under his dressing gown: he's overheated still from the shower, and. Besides. It's. A bit heavy for this weather, isn't it.

His bare feet burning against the floor.

Sherlock glances over at him, then back at the cane. "Saw it in a shop window, on my way home," he says, voice light. "It seemed the best I'd be likely to do, on short notice, in London." One end is wrapped in woven leather, to make a sturdy-looking handle: John doesn't believe him for a second. "Will it do," Sherlock asks, "do you think?"

John swallows. "You've had an eventful morning."

Sherlock inhales, sets his feet on the floor, and then sets the cane down against the side of his chair, half hidden; and John drags his eyes back up to Sherlock's face. His long hands, steepling in front of his mouth.

"Paige Bartle," Sherlock says, after a moment. "The Royal Opera."

Right. "Old posh white people." John nods. "I did follow"; and Sherlock's mouth quirks.

"I'm glad she called me in," he says. "They're putting on La bohème—it's a dreadful opera, really." He touches his mouth. "Though the sets looked rather... atmospheric, I suppose, which I suppose is about the best you can hope for, with La bohème."

"Right," John says. Nods. "And Paige is sets, is she?"

"Assistant to the set designer, yes," Sherlock says.

"So is it..." John licks his lips. "Criminal trespass onto—onto high turrets made of foam and tempera, or—"

"Some punter's been leaving notes for the young men in the chorus," Sherlock explains. "Nasty, some of them. And—generally no turrets for La bohème, I'm afraid."

"Ah." No turrets. John nods and nods. "Any suspects?"

Sherlock makes a noncommittal noise. "Not yet," he says. "But I dropped a word in a few ears—the assistant director is lending a hand, they're gathering up anything that's not already been binned. Paige said she'd come 'round after the performance tonight, drop it all off."

Yes. "So you've a bit of a break, then," John says reasonably, and some tiny shift slips in amongst the muscles around Sherlock's cold-water eyes. John sweating under his dressing gown, damp pooling in the small of his back. He shifts his weight. Bare feet.

"I did managed to tag along on a backstage tour," Sherlock says, after a moment. "Ask a number of truly imbecilic questions about Puccini, you know, the usual."

It's well done. If Sherlock's voice weren't a hair too slow, John'd barely notice. His eyes hungry on John's face.

"Put me in the right frame of mind to have a bit of a think," Sherlock says, and now, now the pitch of his voice is dropping, when he says, "on my way home."

"A bit of a think," John says, "you?" but it comes out all wrong, strained at the edges, lopsided, all its weight dragged over to the wrong side: not any kind of joke at all. He clears his throat. Very quietly he asks, "A bit of a think about what?"

Sherlock runs his index finger across the seam of his mouth. John's skin prickling the back of his throat. "Politics," he says, finally, and then: "history."

Ah. "So, what's it—." John clears his throat. He's damp under his arms: he scrubs his hand over the back of his hair: "Bring back the birch, and then—what, the post-chaise?" He laughs. "Bowler hats and corsets?" and the column of Sherlock's throat floods red.

On the doorjamb, John's fingers twitch.

Sherlock is quite perfectly unmoving, with blood pulling itself up over his jaw and his cheeks and his mouth held in that same expression of bored superiority he turns on murderers and thieves, but his eyes are all wrong, and his eyebrows and his temples: that half an expression that he can never seem to force undone, with his cheeks flushed scarlet above the whole of the rest of him held carefully suspended, elegant and still. John doesn't say a thing. Interesting, he is thinking, in someone else's voice.

"So after your tour," John says, quiet, and waits for Sherlock's blush to contract to two high spots of color that'll take half an hour, nearly, to fade all the way. "You had a bit of a think," John prompts, in lieu of waiting until they do.

"Yes," Sherlock answers. Quiet.

"And you took a bit of a walk," John says.

"Yes," Sherlock says.

"And then you stopped," John says, "to pick up a cane," biting down on the quaver sneaking into his voice, and across in his chair, Sherlock's head tilts a bare five degrees, birdlike and delicate. His cheeks are still pink. The tortoiseshell spectacles are still tucked into his shirt pocket, John notes. He can see one arm sticking out.

"If you don't want," Sherlock begins, but John squares his shoulders. Straightens up. Pries his own throat open: "Put those on," John says, low, flicks his gaze down at Sherlock's pocket; and when Sherlock pulls them out and slides them onto the bridge of his nose, resting a hair too low with his eyes scalpel-edged above them, cheeks pink, John comes the rest of the way into the living room, and then shuts and locks the door.

His pulse. His throat. He turns back. Sherlock is still watching him. The cane not quite out of sight. John clears his throat. Laughs. "Do you know how to use that?" he asks.

Sherlock's gaze on his face is intent. "I do," he says, quiet.

John rubs his palms on his dressing gown, laughs. "I'd've thought—bit unfashionable by your time, wasn't it?"

He stops. Clears his throat.

"Yes," Sherlock says, and then licks his bottom lip. "Not what you asked, though, is it."

John shakes his head.

Sherlock doesn't say anything else. Just watches. John feels off beat, unbalanced, strange; but Sherlock is still sitting and watching him with the peaks of his cheekbones still flushed—a hot-tender spot on the roof of John's mouth—and the cane still tucked away at his right side and someone else's spectacles not-at-all making him look like someone else's face.

"So," John says, "are you going to." He stops, watching as with the tip of his right middle finger, Sherlock pushes the spectacles up the bridge of his nose.

Low, Sherlock says, "Come here"; so John goes.

John was called on the carpet enough at school. He wasn't a bad kid—he'd had goals, he did the work, he stayed away from the rougher sorts—but he wasn't perfect, either. That was Harry. She hadn't ever got in trouble—she hadn't ever got caught—but John'd been kept after, a few times; got a stern talking-to or two; had been made to write lines, that sort of thing; and there was always a sick, hot-flushed feeling that went with it, a kind of bizarre amalgamation of terror and adrenaline-anticipation that John genuinely can't remember ever feeling anywhere else, not even in the army, not even under fire. At fifteen the worst thing that can happen to a boy is humiliation, and a lopsided echo of it is coming back to him now: a tense, expectant weight that lurks under his breastbone. He thinks: I want him to, and he knows it; but it doesn't do anything to make John forget who Sherlock is. Every teacher who'd ever summoned John in for a lecture was a tired, middle-aged, middling academic, usually with jowls and disorderly hair; Sherlock has the hair, at least, but his version takes a hair dryer, two different kinds of smoothing serum, and a brand of mousse that comes in a bottle that looks like it was designed for outer space. John goes to him with his throat tight and his palms prickling; but even in spectacles, Sherlock is very far from an authority figure. Even in spectacles, he's still just a git with an exaggerated opinion of himself, isn't he.

"What do you think," Sherlock asks, under his breath, "rugby coach, or—" and John laughs, helpless. It's absurd. It's so absurd. It's so absurd it shouldn't— "Fine," Sherlock is saying, clipped; "I had a bit of a chat with your coach, then, Watson," then, and a feeling breaks over John's back that he doesn't recognize and can't explain: hot and salty, in the back of his throat. He registers Sherlock's fingertips on his abdomen, a bare instant; his cold eyes: Sherlock says, "came straight from the showers, did you," and it sounds like it's meant as an insult; as John feels some remnant of fifteen settle around his shoulders: alien, strange.

He swallows. "You wanted to see me right away," he says. His throat is thick. It's the next line, isn't it; it's the line that comes next in the clichéd little melodrama for which he and Sherlock appear to be building the set; next comes: you wanted to see me right away, and then: John says, "didn't you, sir."

It sounds like he's reading it off a card: he cringes. At fifteen the worst thing that can happen to a boy is humiliation; but he isn't fifteen, is he, so he squares his jaw and stands his ground and Sherlock tilts his head, considering him, and for an instant, John can almost see it, not quite, nearly: not his coach, no, and not a worn-out academic, but—but the other sort, the sort that always turned up here and there; the sort of good-looking younger teacher who in retrospect probably did use a hair dryer and three different kinds of product, the sort of of teacher who—who watched the boys on the rugby squad, then, just enough for everyone to wonder if he wasn't watching a bit too closely. Nothing that would ever merit being proved. The sort of teacher who never did anything out of line that anyone truly knew of but still couldn't sidestep the rumors, the sort who was closer in age to his pupils than the rest of the teachers, the sort who— "Did you watch me," John asks, heart pounding: a little too loud; "did you watch me through your window, at practice?" and his blood surges up into his cheeks, scalding, searing; not fifteen but like fifteen, that: that, too. Sherlock is watching him, because in this little story, Sherlock No—Holmes, John realizes, brain swimming; Holmes is watching him, cold-eyed, was watching him through the window—Holmes, who is closer in age to his pupils than to the other teachers, isolated and alone—a desert-desperate kind of thought; as John's weight is shifting, a hip cocked head tilted: borrowed from another version of himself, almost three decades back. "Did you watch me," John asks, with something monstrous uncoiling-unlashing itself inside his chest, "wrestling with the other boys," claws and tail; as he watches Holmes sitting upright in his chair, lean and insouciant and dangerous, in someone else's spectacles; "did you watch us," John asks, "rolling around in the mud?"

"Not much interested in sport," Holmes says, low; and the sea surges up over John's skin.

Daring. "I think you are interested," John says, daring; and then dares to nudge his knee between Holmes's angular knees and Holmes does not respond, John might as well be—might as well be fifteen and angling after something too high and untouchable but a week ago in his bed Sherlock had been close and warm when he'd said, in those little shorts— and so now in their living room, "I think you're always watching us," John says to Holmes in his office after practice, "whenever we're out on the field," all bravado, isn't he, at fifteen; "anytime we're out there, really, in our little shorts"; and the skin around Sherlock's eyes shifts, tectonic.

There, triumphant: as all the doors in his chest unlock so that at last John can duck his head down and repeat, "You wanted to see me, sir," more quietly, looking up through his eyelashes at Sherlock's long hands, his borrowed spectacles, his pink cheeks. John's borrowed skin is settling into his body, feeling strange and off-balance and right; the sort of boy who was never really in trouble but maybe always secretly a little bit wanted to be: the sort of boy who wants to slide his knees up around Sherlock's knees; perch himself, daring, in his lap.

"I think you know why," Sherlock says. Mr. Holmes.

"I broke the rules," John says, because he must've broken the rules, mustn't he? but then Sherlock says, "I want you to tell me," and John can't help the look he shoots him. His face feels exasperated—he is exasperated, even though he oughtn't—and Sherlock's chins are setting out into full flight, so John ducks his face back down, fighting the pull of a different person's muscles: keeping his spine slumped, his arms dangling at his sides, his whole body badly balanced and slope-shouldered and uncertain. He gives, he thinks, a very believable shrug.

"Dunno," he says. He thinks that's just about spot-on, too.

"Try," Sherlock says, and then, "Mr. Watson," and John's mind goes a stunning, staticky white.

It takes him a moment, but he finally manages, "Smoking behind the bike sheds?"

Sherlock's eyebrows dip down. "Smoking," he says, disbelieving, "behind the bike sheds."

It snaps. "Oh, give me a break," John snaps, straightening up, "not all of us were blowing up the chemistry labs and, and getting tossed out for reorganizing the library by—"

Sherlock says, "I wasn't tossed out"; and then, "Have you ever even had a cigarette?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I have," John says, and then realizes how ridiculous he sounds, so he says, "I've smoked more than one," which is true, and then Sherlock starts giggling, which John'd intended, but John starts laughing too soon, even before Sherlock's said, "What does that mean, you've had, what, three? four?" and "Four," John says, then concedes, "well, three and a half," while he is sliding his knee up onto the chair as hands slid up under his dressing gown Sherlock tugs him up more solidly, kisses the corner of his mouth, the underside of his jaw, murmuring, "And you fancy yourself a medical man." When he turns his head down towards John's collarbone, his spectacles poke John in the neck; and then Sherlock turns his face up again.

John curls his fingers on Sherlock's shoulders, and they kiss. John does want to kiss him. He wants all sorts of things. He wants to dirty Sherlock up: get his hands in that hair and that suit jacket half inside-out; he wants to suck Sherlock off in his chair and roll around with him in his big white bed and he wants Sherlock to bend him over the ottoman, smack his arse, talk about John's little rugby shorts, make John call him "sir." It makes his heart race. "You wanted to see me," John says, and Sherlock hums, warm on his skin. John repeats, "You wanted to see me, sir"; that makes his heart race, too.

"I did," Sherlock agrees. Hands up John's dressing gown, which has come open: he makes no effort to remove them, just says, "I think you know why I asked you here," with his cheek tipped down and resting, his nose tucked against John's throat.

We're really dreadful at this, aren't we, John thinks, warm and buoyant. His fingers are tangled-untangling with the back of Sherlock's dark hair. It always looks different, after John's been at it; probably no one else can tell. "Six of the best, wasn't it?" John asks, and Sherlock lifts his head up, pushes his spectacles up the bridge of his nose.

"Yes," Sherlock agrees, and then, because he's a bastard, "for smoking," and John rolls his eyes.

"And—I've skipped history every day for two weeks," he says, and Sherlock straightens, eyeing him.

"Very wrong of you," he says. He's still got his hands up John's dressing gown. John thinks it rather undermines their sense of realism, so he pulls back. Stands up. Sherlock's hands hover momentarily, then perch on his trouser knees, restless.

"Yes," John says, "sir." Sherlock's mouth quirks.

"Well," he says, "I think you'd better fetch a chair, then, Watson," so John turns to fetch a chair. Not his chair, clearly. One of the chairs from the table. Sturdy. Better than the ottoman, probably; with the ottoman he'd probably just constantly slide off. He's half-hard from their kissing. His dressing gown is hanging open: he wonders if Sherlock will want him to take it off, or just pull it up. He ought to've got dressed. That'd've been better: having to open his belt, unfasten his flies; push his trousers down before he bent over. Having to hold up the tails of his shirt. He sets the chair down, and then refastens the tie of his dressing gown, tight.

Sherlock is watching. "Out of uniform, too," he notes; and a shivery, prickling line of sweat springs up on John's spine. "I think that's an extra two at least, don't you?"

John rubs his palms on his dressing gown. "Yeah," he says. It sounds scratchy and rough. He feels scratchy and rough: an extra two. Watching as Sherlock—as Holmes—pushes up to his feet and into John's space, standing too close and looking down at him through his smudged spectacles. He must notice John noticing, because he takes them off, says, "Get into position, please," and then steps back, polishing them, rather showily, with a serviette from the side table that John recognizes because they'd brought it back from a cake shop in Kensington, densely covered with Sherlock's loopy half-print handwriting and probably also a nonzero number of crumbs from John's cruller.

Sherlock turns back towards him. And Sherlock had said, Get into position, please, but John is still standing there like an idiot; it makes Sherlock's mouth twist down, brows shifting: as it turns out, it's a rather good impression of all those worn-out academics, as best as John can remember, looking disappointed that John isn't entirely living up to his potential.

"Mr. Watson," Sherlock says. Holmes. "I believe I asked you to—"

"Right, yeah," John says. "Do I just—um—"

"Facing the chair, bending over the seat," Sherlock says.

John faces the chair, and bends over the seat. He's not entirely sure what to do with his hands: should he put them on the arms? hold onto the seat? but moving around behind him, Sherlock is saying, "I'll let you brace your hands on the back, if you need to," which twists itself sideways into John's mind, and slides straight in.

John's pulse jumps in his throat. "Do you want me to—," he says, and then stops. Swallows. He sets his hands around the top of the backrest, as though he'd intended to do that all along.

Apropos of nothing, "You'll have to hold this up out of my way," Sherlock says; and the hard end of the cane scrapes the hem of John's dressing gown up the back of his thigh: "Fuck," John gasps, startled; and all his blood batters into his face.

"What was that?" Sherlock asks. (Holmes.) With the cane stilled just at the bottom of John's arse. The tip digging into his skin.

John swallows. "Nothing," he says. "I—I'm sorry."

"You'd best watch your language," Sherlock says. Stern. Mute and helpless, John nods.

Sherlock is quiet for a second. Then he says, "John," in that low quiet hemmed-in voice he'd used with John in his lap and his mouth on John's throat; and John closes his eyes.

"Green," he says, then scrubs at his hair—dry, nearly, already. "Keep going," he says, quietly, and then clumsily drags his dressing gown up to his waist, his right hand braced on the back of the chair. The cane drops, not touching. All that air, cool on John's bared skin.

Sherlock clears his throat. Takes a step or two. "Well," he says, after a moment, "I think you'd better remind me how many you're due," and then lays the cane flat across the meat of John's arse, a narrow cool line pressed into his skin, connecting his body to Sherlock's body up through Sherlock's long arm.

John's mouth is wet: he swallows. "Twelve," he says.

"Twelve." Holmes's voice, that: John nods. The cane is still resting against his arse, unmoving. Holmes says, "It's important that I hear you say it."

John says, "Twelve, sir."

"And do you know what they're for?"

John is staring down through the gap of the back of the chair at their carpet—at the carpet, he corrects, in Holmes's office. Where Holmes, John knows, brings all his wayward boys.

"Six for skipping history," John says, "two for being out of uniform," and then stops.

"Yes," Holmes says, "that's eight." He shifts his weight; the line of the cane presses into John's skin.

John nods. "Two for coarse language," he says, which seems—plausible, he supposes; and then—he can't entirely be certain why, but—but then he says, "two for smoking," in a tone of voice that surely Holmes won't like, "behind the bike sheds"; and then shivers all over as the cane leaves his skin.

"I do understand the urge to be cheeky," Holmes is saying, behind him and to the side, "but—perhaps at this particular moment, it's not the wisest course of action, don't you think?"; and the cane snaps down.

John's shoulders jerk. He doesn't know why. It wasn't hard. He doesn't even feel it—and then he does, a long slap-stinging stripe prickling down through the layers of his skin. He sucks in a breath, shaky; and Holmes says, "Count them off, Mr. Watson."

"One," John says, thick; and Holmes lifts the cane.

"One what?" he asks.

"One." John swallows. "Sir"; and Holmes brings the cane down again. "Two, sir," John says, unsteadily, as his skin throbs with two hot crossed lines; and Holmes says, "Very good"; and John bites down on his bottom lip. Hot all over. His cock is so hard it hurts: Holmes lifts the cane.

"Why have you been skipping history?" he asks. John gasps, blinking. He didn't expect it, he doesn't—the cane in the air and Sherlock wants him to— "An answer, Mr. Watson, if you please," Holmes says; and John swallows the whine coiling up in his throat and says, "S'all a bit useless, isn't it?" and the cane snaps down into his skin: not hard. He still groans.

"Mr. Watson," Holmes says, stern.

"Three, sir," John manages.

"Better," Holmes says. "Surely you can't think it's useless, Mr. Watson. After all," he says, "what is this but a lesson in history?" in a tone borrowed directly from some overeducated pedant John'd reckon Sherlock spent some time being lectured by, at some point in the past; "You skip history for two weeks and earn yourself a thrashing," Sherlock says, as all the hair on John's arms stands on end, "and it is my sincerest hope that the example guides your future conduct," and then slaps the cane, light, across the backs of John's thighs.

John swallows. On the back of the chair his knuckles are white. Sherlock might as well be saying he isn't cross, just disappointed, and John wants—John wants—

"Mr. Watson," Sherlock says.

"You call this a thrashing?" John asks. He can hear Sherlock shift, startled; shoes shuffling against the carpet: good, John thinks, buzzing; good. "Is this what they called a thrashing," he asks, "up at your public school?"

Behind him, Sherlock is silent.

"I bet that you—you've never done this before, have you," John says, "I'd reckon that when you were a, a prefect—" because of course Holmes would've been a prefect; Holmes would've—been Head Boy, probably, that sort; "probably you just made the younger lads fetch and carry, didn't you?" John's palms are sweating. "Probably wouldn't've—" and Holmes snaps the cane down, hard. John swallows a groan.

"Probably wouldn't've what?" Holmes asks, velvety.

"Soft-hearted," John says, and then laughs wildly. Holmes, not Sherlock. "Probably—pants at discipline, probably—probably couldn't even bring yourself to—" hit them humiliate them shove them down to their knees—but the cane is snapping down searing heat into his tenderest skin and his palm slips on the back of the chair. Sherlock wasn't Head Boy. Sherlock was a rotten little shit. John breathes. Breathes. His cock drips onto the chair seat.

"Impertinent, Mr. Watson," Holmes says, voice even. "That's another... oh, four, I think."

John swallows.

"Repeat offense, you understand," Holmes says; John nods. "And my activities at school are quite beside the point," Holmes adds, "don't you think?"

John can't speak, but he nods. They are irrelevant. Sherlock at school would've been impertinent. Sherlock at school would've been a terror: a rude, strange-looking boy with no social skills and a crushing, overactive mind. He really did reorganize the library alphabetically by the first letter of the text and then by height—or, at least, he told John he did, and John can believe it; can believe that Sherlock at fifteen spent half his time trying to blow up various school outbuildings and a fair percentage of it succeeding; can believe that Sherlock, at fifteen, was awkward and ungainly, sullen unless it suited him to be a smart-arse; out of uniform more or less constantly, because he's always loathed ties; undergrown, still; but still with his startling eyes.

"Do you find my discipline to be insufficient?" Holmes is asking. Sherlock. Holmes. There's a note of gentleness in his voice that scrapes against the insides of John's chest. John's eyes are prickling, his knuckles white.

"M'not much of a test," John manages. "Not in trouble much," he says, unsteady, "am I," but if he hadn't hadn't been—if he hadn't been such a fucking—

"John," Sherlock says—Holmes—Sherlock, sounding uncertain, like he is never uncertain, except—

John squares his shoulders, oddly braced: hand on the chair, the other bent up to hold his dressing gown up, arse bared, still smarting with a half-dozen hot-flushed stripes; it's not a position that lends itself to dignity. Charming, Sherlock'd said. It'd made John's chest hurt. Untouchable. Self-possessed.

"Coaching," John says. Sherlock says, "...What?" but John barely hears: "I think it'd be better," he is saying, crisp and precise, "to measure how well you keep the lads on the fencing squad in line"; and his heart thuds dully at the base of his throat.

Behind him, silence.

"It's the measure of a coach, isn't it?" John asks. "They might—" he inhales, fast— "might mind you well enough when you're watching them, but the second your back is turned—"

"Friends, are you," Holmes asks, "with the lads on the fencing squad?" and a hot viscous rush surges up thick in John's skin as he says, "One of them. Yeah."

Holmes shifts his weight. The cane. Settling across John's lower back. "Mr. Watson," Holmes says, in that low, shudderingly-silky voice, "have you been leading my boys astray?" and John laughs: wild, too loud. The cane lifts, then snaps back down, hard, against his thighs. It surges in his skin, hot. Pools up in him, drips out.

"You don't know the half of it," John says. Half breath. His arm, braced against the chair, is shaking. If he'd known him at school he wouldn't've been out of trouble for a second.

"I'm beginning to think you've lost count," Holmes murmurs, "should I start over?"

"Seven," John bites out, "sir."

"Mr. Watson." Holmes is moving behind him: under the carpet, the floor creaks. "I'm impressed," he says, and trails the tip of the cane up over John's right buttock; boiling, vaporized: John is gasping, blinking sweat out of his eyes. "I think," Holmes says, caressingly, "that you ought to tell me all about what you and your friend on the fencing squad have been up to."

"Smoking," John snarls, "behind the bike sheds." His face is tightened up in knots, baring his teeth, even though Holmes can't see.

"Oh, dear," Holmes says, sounding terribly disappointed; and he whips the cane up and then cracks it down flat hard scalding across the already-scored stripes on John's arse and John groans, helpless: it'd've been worth it, it'd've been—

"I, I helped him set the smoke bomb," he says, unsteady—the smoke bomb was Year Eleven, wasn't it? "in—in the staff room," Sherlock'd told him but John'd been drinking and the lights'd been low and he would've, if he hadn't been—he would've helped him set smoke bombs wherever he wanted, he would've— and Holmes slaps the cane down again, hard.

"Far be it for me to discourage a confession," Holmes says, while John is gasping—shivering—gasping—with his cock so red and heavy he could— "but I'd've thought a dozen would've been quite enough, for one day," and laughter tears its way out of John's chest, ripping him up.

"No," he grinds out.

"No?" Holmes asks, and then snaps the cane down across John's thighs: John jerks, head to toe. Red all over. Burning up. Wet—

"No," he gasps, and then squeezes his eyes shut tight. "Nine, sir."

"Nine," Holmes murmurs, and then—then puts—puts his hand—

"Fuck." John's ribs hurt, he's breathing so hard: Sherlock is touching him: easy, gentle; a sudden red-hot spear down through his mind: he would've, he would've let him roll him over face hot face down in the long grass at the top of the field with his arse still smarting while beside him with his tie in his pocket he would've bent up—careful, curious—and, and then he would've—would've tugged John's uniform trousers down and, and then touched

"I am concerned," Holmes says: John's skin empty—bare— "that—"

"He was—was working, in, in the chemistry labs," John gasps. "After class. And I couldn't—couldn't stand it, I had to—so I got down under the bench and got his trousers undone," and Sherlock's tie would've fallen out of his pocket, got dirt all over it forgotten on the ground while on his knees down by his oxfords, the left untied, John would've, he would've, "I got his flies open, you understand, because I had to—wanted him down my throat," which clicks behind him; and John needs, he needs him to, "I needed to taste him," he is saying, desperate, "so I—" and his throat closes up, empty and hollow, and after a moment of long-drawn-out humiliated silence Holmes says, very quietly, "You put your mouth on him"; and "Yes," John gasps, and then he has to let go of the chair to wipe at his face: he would've, he would've slid under the bench and put his hands on Sherlock's narrow runner's thighs and kissed him all over, clumsy; licked him like an ice lolly; sucked him awkwardly into his mouth. He wouldn't've had the first idea what he was doing but he would've—listened, would've—tried, would've given it his best bloody shot, if—

"Well," Holmes says, but it's slipping: he sounds—cautious, almost hesitant, when he says, "Fellatio in the chemistry labs is certainly frowned upon."

John nods. Rubs his his face on his sleeve. Sherlock steps over beside him, crouches down. "John," he says, very gently; and John whispers, "Green."

Sherlock doesn't say anything. He traces a fingertip over the edge of John's ear. John's whole body is shaking. He would've. He would've kissed him in every mostly-quiet half-dark corner and wriggled his body against him in silence in his ancient narrow single bed; would've—would've let him push him up against anything he wanted, would've—would've touched him everywhere and licked his ears and kissed all up and down his tender hairless throat, would've met him every weekend and touched himself delirious with him every night and—and snuck out bottles of his mum's cheap wine to share with him, if he wanted, he would've—would've carried him on his sodding handlebars, he would've lit his cigarettes, touched his hair, held his hand, if John hadn't—if he hadn't been such a—

"Green," John whispers, and wipes at his face. "I want you to." Hand on the back of the chair. Braced.

After a moment, Sherlock exhales. Straightens. "I trust that you've kept count," he says, Holmes top to bottom: untouchable, self-possessed; and the cane lies narrow and cool across the too-bent ache in his back and John whispers, "Nine, sir," and the cane whips up: crack, smarting across the backs of his knees: "Ten, sir"; and then it comes down across his calves: crack! "Eleven," he gasps, "sir"; and then Holmes cracks the twelfth down across his arse again and John sobs, helpless: "Twelve, sir," and Holmes is backing away like he's going to stop but John gasps, "Sixteen—sixteen, you said—you said sixteen," sounding wet and shaky as he is wet and shaky all over: Sherlock stilled beside him; "Sir," John manages, somehow, "you added four."

John can hear it, when Sherlock swallows.

"And do you deserve them," Sherlock asks, after a moment, "those four?" and John's throat closes up.

He nods, twice.

Sherlock doesn't say anything for a long, taut moment. Then he rests the cane against John's back, where he hasn't ever hit him—where he would never hit him, John (inescapably medical, over forty) knows; and then Sherlock says, very carefully, "Yellow"; and John opens his eyes. "I'm going to need you to count them off for me, John," Sherlock says, and raises the cane.

John gasps, "Stop."

He hears it, when Sherlock exhales. The tip of the cane makes a soft dull noise when Sherlock lets it touch the floor.

John's breathing seems loud. It rattles around inside his brain. Echoes in all the hollow cavities inside his skull.

"Stand up, please," Holmes says, a moment later. Wrong. John shifts his weight back. Stands up. Lets his dressing gown fall. When he turns Sherlock is looking at him, wide-eyed, with his arms wrapped over his ribs and his mouth twisted down; and John says, "Am I dismissed," and it doesn't come close to hitting the right tone but Sherlock just scrubs at his hair and nods, Holmes long gone.

John goes over to him. Tugs at his elbows, his wrists. He wants—more, more skin, more warmth; he is unfastening Sherlock's buttons, slipping himself in with his arms tucked under Sherlock's shirt, pressed all against his hot satiny skin. He has to press his face up against Sherlock's throat and shoulder, because even hunched-over folded-in, Sherlock is still damnably tall.

"I'm sorry," John whispers; and "No!" Sherlock nearly moans: an animal sound. "No," he says, more softly, "don't, I wouldn't've if I hadn't—," and then stops. There is a small noise sounding in his throat that John can only hear because his face is pressed up against it: over and over, wet and thick. John kisses the side of his Adam's apple. The underside of his jaw.

"Lie down?" John asks, and when Sherlock nods John takes his hand and leads him back into Sherlock's bedroom, over to his neatly made, hospital-cornered bed: Sherlock doesn't even untie his laces, just pries his shoes off with his toes and drops the spectacles on the floor and then lies down on top of the duvet with his eyes closed, looking pale and exhausted. His suit jacket's still on, even with his shirt unbuttoned. John climbs up next to him. Unfastens the tie on his dressing gown because Sherlock is worming his way under it, fastening his arm around John's middle, pressing his face to John's shoulder, nudging his knee just in between John's knees.

"I'm sorry," Sherlock says, very quietly. John shakes his head. Kisses his cheek.

John pets his palm across the backs of Sherlock's shoulders, over and over, until the tension leaches out of them, his arm warm and heavy around John's middle, pressed close. It takes some time. John feels warm and tender all over. He wants—he wishes he knew how to push it out of him, down through his hands and his body into Sherlock's body wound up close with his body, until Sherlock felt as warm and tender as him: all his sharp badly-fitted parts rubbed halfway smooth, more forgiving.

"Sherlock," John says, quiet.

"Yeah." Sherlock nuzzles against his collarbone. Resettles. Sighs.

It makes John's throat ache. "I kept." He clears it. Laughs, a little. "I kept thinking about all the things I would've done with you," he explains. "If we'd been at school together."

Sherlock nods. "Blowjobs," he says, muffled, "in the chem labs."

"Yeah, sure." John's hand stops, briefly; his thumb curled up around the soft black fuzz at the top of Sherlock's nape. "I thought," he says. "If we'd been at school together—and this wasn't terribly realistic, you must understand—" he can feel Sherlock smiling— "but I thought, if I'd been ever been caned back at school and Sherlock'd been around, I'd've gone to him, after," he explains.

"Yeah?" Sherlock lifts his head. His pink face.

"Yeah." John nods. "I kept thinking, I would've—would've wanted him to roll me over and have a look, you know." He shakes his head a little. "Pants down and all."

Sherlock licks his lips. "I could—"

"But I wouldn't've," John says, before he can finish. Because this is important, he doesn't know how else to—he puts his hand on Sherlock's face, brushes his thumb across his cheekbone— "I wasn't that sort of boy, you know?"

Sherlock doesn't answer. He doesn't look like he understands.

"I was—I would've pretended you were invisible," John says, and then laughs. It hurts. "I would've sat clear on the other side of the room and kept my head down when you got lippy with the teachers, I would've—I probably would've pretended to not even notice," he explains, and then slides his hand back into Sherlock's thick hair, tugs his head back a little, looking at his throat. "And probably the second we were off the grounds I would've been—I probably would've been awful to you," John admits. "I probably would've—knocked your books out of your arms, or—or jostled you around, or dropped your bag off the kerb. Because I was such a fucking coward that I—"

Quiet. Sherlock eeled up against him, kissing him wet and open-mouthed and hard.

John is quiet.

"You think you deserve a thrashing, then," Sherlock murmurs, "for all this hypothetical bullying you'd've got up to, if we weren't five years apart and we'd ever gone to the same school?"

"No, I—" John laughs. "It doesn't make any sense when you put it like that, that's not—." He stops, pulls back a bit, takes a breath. Sighs. "I just mean that it's easy to lie to myself," he says, rubbing at his forehead, "when it's just me in here."

A half-meter away, Sherlock's mouth twists, a very little. John reaches over. Touches the downward half of that rueful sideways "s", rubs his fingertips along its curve; Sherlock's tongue darts out: touch.

"Do you know what I mean," John says, not quite a question. He doesn't know what he'll do if Sherlock says no; but Sherlock nods, so John nods, too.

"I mean—I want it," John says, even though it makes his face hot. "I—Paul was hardly an athlete, you know, and Cal's about my size, and then—then it's been mostly women, and they mostly haven't—so I don't know if—but I like it, I—I like that you can push me around and it feels like you mean it," John admits, a little embarrassed. "So—um. I just, I know how much I like that." He swallows. Sherlock is so close. They're lying side by side on Sherlock's bed at midday on a Saturday and the air around them is warm; quiet; still. John's hand on the side of Sherlock's white throat, all of Sherlock's buttons undone: a cocoon. "You being rough with me makes me feel like I'm losing my mind," John confesses, quiet.

Sherlock leans close. Kisses John's cheek. His jaw; then rests, breathing against John's skin.

"But you don't like it," John says, very softly, "do you."

Sherlock is silent for a long, still moment. "I don't not like it," he says, finally.

"But." John swallows. "If I—if I didn't want it so badly, I think you'd just."

John can't say it, at first. Sherlock's face is tucked in against his, eyelashes shadows against his face. John pulls back, barely, just far enough to kiss him; again, to see his face.

"I'm not—I can't just." John takes a deep breath. "I don't just know, not the way you do, but it feels." He licks over his upper lip. Sherlock is watching him steadily. "It feels like you want to be gentle with me," John says finally. "It feels like you want to take care of me."

It should feel absurd, saying it like that. It doesn't. It feels deathly serious. He can look Sherlock straight in his yellow-blue eyes, can examine him: can measure all of the expression chased off Sherlock's lovely strange face. John's heart throbs in his temples. His throat.

"I don't really know what you want," John says quietly. "I just know that I want to give it to you"; and Sherlock blinks hard, twice, then looks away.

Chapter Text

John knows better than to push. He keeps quiet. He touches Sherlock's shoulders and neck, pets at the long strip of torso bared by Sherlock's open shirt, lets Sherlock lie next to him closed-off and quiet but still with his arm around John's waist, their knees still tucked together. After a while John must fall asleep, which isn't intentional but doesn't—when he comes slowly blinking awake some time later—particularly surprise him: the afternoon is warm, and the bed is comfortable. Sherlock's not next to him anymore; that doesn't particularly surprise John, either. He can hear the violin in the living room, not loud: something graceful and precise, nothing John recognizes. Sherlock keeps stopping and going back and replaying small sections several times: slowing them down, speeding them up, slowing them down. Other than that John can't tell the difference. John rubs the sleep out of his eyes and rolls up to sitting. Winces. He'd forgotten, almost.

The violin slides down, singing. A sequence of little pirouettes, on the way back up. Stops. Does it all over again, more quickly.

After a moment, John stands, comes out into the kitchen and fills the kettle, then heads upstairs to get dressed. It's past three: he's spent enough of his day in a dressing gown. It could just be his imagination, but he thinks it eases Sherlock's shoulders down a bit as well, when John comes back down in a shirt buttoned to the collar and his oldest pair of jeans: Sherlock sets down the violin and takes the tea John hands him and mostly doesn't meet John's eyes, but he does lean in to dart a kiss against the corner of John's mouth, then turn away again, his face pink. John knows better than to push it. He takes his tea over to the sofa. Sherlock sits down in his chair.

"What were you playing?" John asks, and Sherlock shrugs.

"Just an old exercise. An étude," he says, and then, flushing redder, "it clears my mind."

John nods. "It's pretty," he says.

"It's just an exercise," Sherlock says, and then busies himself with his tea.

John doesn't push it. He drinks his tea. Even halfway across the room he can tell that Sherlock is mostly just fiddling with his. When John goes into the kitchen to wash out his cup, and Sherlock goes right back to the violin.

He practices for the rest of the afternoon. That duration of concerted attention on much of anything not case-related is rare enough on its own; add that to that the fact that by the third or fourth different piece, even John can hear that they're exercises. Even after years living with Sherlock John really doesn't know all that much about the violin, but he can tell that none of these really fits with the others, and they're all apparently challenging enough to merit those little bursts of stop-and-repeat, stop-and repeat practicing. One of them Sherlock works at every tempo from largo to presto, over and over until, upstairs remaking his bed, John can't help grinding his teeth. He's trying incredibly hard not to push, but it'd be easier if Sherlock weren't doing such an excellent job of broadcasting his anxiety everywhere in four-four time. It makes it gratifying, then, that after dinner, when Sherlock actually eats some of the stir-fry John's made, Sherlock also both does the washing-up and then follows John and his laundry upstairs, hesitating in the doorway until John finishes putting away his shirts and folded pants and then shuts all the drawers, faces him.

"You said." Sherlock rubs at his forehead. "You'd've wanted me to look," which is about as close as he can come to asking, John thinks; so John says, "Yeah," and then lies down on his belly on the bed.

Sherlock doesn't say anything else. He's gentle, though. He eases John's jeans down and his pants and then peels off his socks, one at a time; and then he touches John's skin so lightly John barely knows if he'd feel it, if his skin weren't already so hot. Then in silence Sherlock lies down fully dressed in between John's red-striped thighs and nuzzles him, presses little light kisses to the crease at the bottom of his arse; "Wait," John gasps, face hot, after the seventh or eighth; and then peels his shirt and his vest up over his shoulders together and tucks them both under him, wadded up. "I just washed my sheets," he explains; but Sherlock is already touching the planes of his back, hypnotically slow; silently counting John's vertebrae off with his fingertips, all the way down to his tailbone. Then Sherlock bends back down to kiss him just below the press of his fingers: wet, open-mouthed; and John shudders all over, pushes back.

Sherlock licks into him for a long, long time. John keeps silent as long as he can and then moans until his voice gives out, but Sherlock keeps going, John shuddering on the edge of coming and never—quite—tipping over—; and then the bell rings downstairs. Sherlock groans, but he gets up; wipes his chin on the back of his hand and clambers off the bed. He's obviously hard through his trousers and his face is shiny and red but then he disappears down the stairs and a few seconds later John can hear him talking to Paige at the front door. John closes his eyes. With a case on offer, he won't be back for more. John waits until he hears the door shut again, counts footsteps up seventeen steps. Then he tucks his hand under his hips to give himself something to fuck into and thinks about the long grass and his uniform trousers and Sherlock rolling over onto his back after, chin wet breathing hard, while John unfastened his flies and then bent his head down so that Sherlock could come in his mouth and John could swallow and swallow and swallow. His orgasm feels a little bit like being punched in the head. He can barely drag himself under the covers, after.

Sherlock does come up, eventually. John knows because he wakes up around three in the morning desperate to piss and has to untangle himself from Sherlock's octopus arms and then climb over him to get out of bed. Sherlock's gone again by morning.

It takes until past his omelet—lopsided, and a little crunchy; he's never really got the knack—and halfway through his second cup of tea for John to really begin to wonder if he's made a mistake. The marks on his arse and his back have faded, leaving just a low ache under his skin that feels almost dreamlike. Surreal. Sherlock hasn't texted, which isn't particularly unusual, and he's left the coat, which might just be a concession to July heat; but he's also forgotten his suit jacket, draped over the back of his usual seat at the table: forgotten, definitively, or he would've put it back in his wardrobe before he left; Sherlock is untidy about more or less everything else, but he's usually fairly careful with his clothes. All the letters Paige'd brought over—more than John'd expected, from what Sherlock'd said yesterday—are set out neatly across the table in a precise, angular grid; it's nothing like how Sherlock usually works, and it makes John's skin feel a size too small. He doesn't know what else to do so he starts reading them, one after the other, starting at the top left and moving across, then down. The sun burns through the windows; Sherlock doesn't come back. John makes and drinks another cup of tea. They're supposed to be fixing up the lease with Mrs. Hudson at three. The letters make John's skin crawl.

"What do you think?" Sherlock asks, too close; John jumps, a little. He didn't hear him come in. He's on the seventeenth letter—note, really; they're by and large creative, but not long. Sherlock's hair is a mess: flat on the left but sticking straight up everywhere else, like he'd not done anything to it after he escaped from John's bed; and he's got a pair of cheap sunglasses stuck into it: lopsided and smudged, obviously completely forgotten. Only one of his sleeves is rolled up. He's cradling a sweating Starbucks cup, size ginormo, close against his chest, and he sets a more reasonably-sized one down for John: "Iced latte, no sugar," he says. "Decaf. I wasn't sure if—" and then he stops, his throat and jaw and cheeks reddening in turn, not meeting John's eyes.

"Perfect." John takes it. "Ta."

Sherlock swallows. Nods. He sets his cup down in the spot where the seventeenth letter goes and pulls out a chair; his suit jacket slides off the back. The condensation from his drink has left dark splotches on his shirt. When he sits down, John reaches over and untangles the sunglasses from his hair. Hands them over. Sherlock folds them up and puts them on the table, then in his shirt pocket, then jerks them out again and sets them on the table again; and then John says, "Piece of work, this one, isn't he," and gives the seventeenth letter a little wave.

"Yes," Sherlock says, with transparent gratitude, "yes, I thought so"; and then he grabs his cup again, takes three long gulps through the straw. Whatever it is it's got caramel syrup in it. Whipped cream. John can see a blob of each, caught just at the lip of the lid.

"So," John says. "What do we know so far?" and Sherlock straightens in his seat.

Not much that's useful, as it turns out; but as Sherlock walks him through the childhood broken wrist, the schooling abroad (probably Germany, though possibly somewhere in Scandinavia), Sherlock pushes the letters apart, then sorts them back together into little clusters; it loosens some of the knots in John's chest, makes it possible to reach across Sherlock's arm for the fourth note—a bizarre misspelling, John couldn't tell whether or not it was significant on his own—and then settle his hand on the back of Sherlock's shoulder; to rub down the length of his spine when Sherlock turns in towards him and exhales. When Sherlock pulls back some seconds later John pulls his hand back up to the table and keeps it there, forearm bumping Sherlock's forearm, while Sherlock pulls out the pieces of failed musical ambitions—instrumental, not vocal—the clusters of letters collapsing and re-coalescing around new points, like little heaps of snow in wind.

At a quarter 'til three John reminds him about Mrs. Hudson. Sherlock nods without looking up. "Yes," he says distractedly. "I have to change my shirt."

John takes their Starbucks cups and bins them. Sherlock takes the little heaps of letters up off the table and pins them here and there to his board, frowning; then notices his jacket on the floor and picks it up. Shakes it off. He takes it with him when he goes into his bedroom and then comes out ten minutes later in a neatly tucked-in white shirt with no damp on the front and the sleeves properly cuffed. He smells like toothpaste. His hair is still a mess. Mrs. Hudson notices, too; she opens the door for them and gives them each a hug, but she lingers over Sherlock, fussing over nothing, and then shoots John a worried look. John doesn't know what she reads on his face, but she seems to find it somehow reassuring.

"I confess, before you called me, John, I'd forgotten all about it," she says. She's got her proper china out, with the blue-and-grey leaf pattern that John happens to know Sherlock and her grandniece had spent a solid eighteen months conspiring to locate and buy back, piece by piece, after Mrs. Hudson had come home from Florida; every year, still, the niece sends him the most hideous Christmas card she can find, inevitably signed happy xmas u tosser xoxo penny in a messy scrawl of Sharpie. "I'd not thought about it at all, we were all so pleased to have you back," Mrs. Hudson says. She pats the back of Sherlock's left hand. The right is presently occupied in stirring a fourth spoonful of sugar into his tea.

"I never meant to leave it so long," John says; and then Sherlock says, too fast, "It doesn't matter—it didn't matter, I wouldn't—," and then is quiet, shifting about awkwardly in his seat. Mrs. Hudson shoots John another worried look. John passes her the Hobnobs, because he doesn't know what to say.

When Mycroft'd shown him Sherlock's financial arrangements, after the funeral, John mostly remembers feeling blank. He'd felt blank for ages, actually. There was a hole in the middle of 2012 into which all sorts of things had fallen, never to be seen or heard from again, and it wasn't until around December or January that it John really'd started to dig himself out, and once he'd really begun to do so most of what John felt was angry. Sherlock—no doubt with Mycroft's collaboration—had set up some sort of convoluted mechanism wherein the Holmes trust, because of course there was a trust, not only transferred Sherlock's interest to John for the duration of John's life but, separately, continued automatically paying full rent on both 221B and 221C to Mrs. Hudson so long as she kept John's name on the lease. In retrospect, it'd not only become clear that the involvement of 221C—where it turned out Mycroft had stored all Sherlock's things and, in fact, and infuriatingly, Sherlock himself had in fact stayed at various points before finally revealing himself to John and the rest of his disgruntled supporting cast—had been a clue that John'd been a fool of the absolute first order to ignore; it had also become nearly shamefully obvious the degree to which all of these arrangements had been structured so as to make it easy for Sherlock to ultimately return. But at the time, back when Sherlock was dead, what it'd meant was that some time in 2013 John'd found himself one morning making a solitary cup of tea in a kitchen where he didn't dare turn his head lest he catch sight of Sherlock's hollow empty bedroom behind Sherlock's quietly closed door; and then realized that it didn't matter about the money; that John simply couldn't live there anymore. Then he'd spent an agonizing eighteen months bouncing from dreary flat to dreary flat where he'd barely unpacked his bags and paid the rent with money that wasn't his before he'd finally let himself back into Baker Street with the key he'd never taken off his key ring, drunk about a pint of whiskey on an empty stomach, and then had an absolutely massive howling breakdown on the floor of Sherlock's abandoned bedroom. It hadn't been a particularly bright period in John's life. When Sherlock'd come back it hadn't felt like Dorothy stepping into Oz, the world suddenly and beautifully rolling out around her in color. It'd felt like they'd turned the oxygen back on.

John has two cups of tea; Sherlock has three and polishes off all the sugar in the bowl. It seems to liven him up a bit: while John is busy trying not to eat more than two-thirds of the Hobnobs, Mrs. Hudson tells them all about her Zumba class and her feud with Mrs. Davies across the way and gives them a rather reluctant update on her most recent gentleman caller, who Sherlock has been threatening to stop bodily from entering the premises unless she gives over his last name so Sherlock can run a background check on him that will satisfy Sherlock's exacting, and slightly creepy, standards. All in all, John reflects, a fairly typical Sunday afternoon cup of tea with Mrs. Hudson. Actually changing over the lease to have both their names on it again ought to be a matter of five minutes just at the end, but John signs first, and his biro runs out of ink while he's writing in the date, and then Mrs. Hudson can't find any of hers; so John goes back up to their flat to track down an appropriate writing implement while Mrs. Hudson is getting caught up on the pervert leaving notes for the men in the Royal Opera's chorus. Upstairs John locates three broken pencils in various implausible positions around the living room; a hot pink highlighter in the kitchen; a broken fountain pen on the side table; a Max Factor Liquid Eye Effect Eyeliner Pencil in Violet Voltage that'd fallen down between the cushions of the sofa; and finally a somewhat chewed-upon blue biro that, upon giving a scribble on the back of their power bill, does appear to work. He tucks it into his pocket and trots back downstairs, but stops just outside the door. He'd left it open, not really thinking. He can hear Mrs. Hudson talking.

"—as though I'd not notice, with you two giggling at each other just above my living room." She sounds rather amused: John scrubs his hand through his hair.

"I really am sorry," Sherlock says. He sounds mortified; but she just says, "Oh, hush. There's nothing to be sorry about. I'm happy for you."

In response, Sherlock is conspicuously silent.

"Really, Sherlock, I was here, you know. You can't possibly think I'd find anything between you shocking," Mrs. Hudson, very gently. "Not after all these years."

"No," Sherlock says quietly. "I didn't think you would."

"I just wish you'd said something," she says, and John swallows. Straightens.

"I—"

Sherlock stops. Hesitates, and John finds that his heart is suddenly heavy in his chest, loud in his ears. He wants Sherlock to finish that sentence, for some reason; he wants to hear; as though he doesn't know—

"It was just hard to know what to say, really," Sherlock says, finally. "Nothing's changed"; and the wallpaper swims for a moment, then is still.

"I've always known he'd be good for you, love," Mrs. Hudson says, in that same gentle voice, "if you'd let him."

John inhales and steps towards the door. "I know," Sherlock is saying, the other side. "Me, too."

Chapter Text

Upstairs again after tea and Sherlock is quiet. Stays quiet, really; John'd think he was working on the case if he didn't follow John into the kitchen at seven looking lost, out of place. It's strange, John is realizing, to see his dangling empty hands. John's got an onion out of the fridge, but he stops there and asks, "Do you want do it?" and Sherlock inhales. Scrubs his hands through his hair.

"Yeah," he says, after a minute, and comes over to the fridge.

"Should I chop this up?" John asks, holding up the onion, and Sherlock nods.

So John chops the onion. Sherlock makes them some sort of chicken thing that looks dreadful and tastes delicious and then only eats about a third of his bit, picking at it in that grim mechanical way he gets when he has to eat and he knows it but nothing's going to make him happy about it. When he finally pushes it away, looking disgusted,  John slides his chair back, packs Sherlock's leftovers into the fridge, does the washing up. At first Sherlock remains mutely seated at the table, but he comes back in halfway through; starts taking things off the draining board, drying them off, tucking them into the cupboards, silent.

John rinses the last pan. His hands. He dries his hands off on his shirt because Sherlock is still using the towel, drying the pan as thoroughly as that pan has ever been dried in the whole of its life, his face blank and his shoulders hunched up and John can't stand it, he can't, he can't bear it, he can't stand the thought of Sherlock spending another night like this, he can't imagine going to the surgery in the morning and leaving Sherlock alone. He puts his hand on Sherlock's arm and he waits until Sherlock stops drying the pan and looks at him. He looks exhausted. Wrung out.

John swallows. "Would you lie down with me," he asks, "for a little while?"

Sherlock's expression goes through a series of brief, unreadable little shifts and then he says, "You don't have to—," and then he stops, his lips pressed together, thin and pale.

"I want to," John says. "Just—just on the sofa, please. Just for a little while."

Sherlock nods. Silent. He lets John take the pan out of his hands and then the dishtowel and he lets John tug him over to the sofa and then lies down half-next to, half-on top of him, with their knees jumbled up and their feet half hanging off the end. John wraps his arms around him. It's not at all a comfortable position. It still feels profoundly necessary and right.

"I like this," John says quietly, "being. Close." He rubs at Sherlock's back, tense and hunched beneath his shirt. John swallows. He says, "Does it—"

He stops. His throat feels full. His chest.

"Does it help, at all," he asks, finally, somehow.

Sherlock is silent. After a long, taut moment, he nods.

John rubs at the small of his back. Sherlock tucks his face down tight against John's shoulder, and John pets his palm up. Up.

"Last month," Sherlock says, very quietly.

John inhales. "Yeah."

"I mean," Sherlock says, "when we first started."

"Yeah," John says. "I know."

He's still stroking Sherlock's back. Sherlock still awkward and heavy against him.

"You said," Sherlock says, and then hesitates; and John's heart picks up and he doesn't know why, but then Sherlock says, "You promised me six and a half minutes"; and John remembers.

"Yeah," he says, quiet. Willing his heart to quiet: slow. Quiet. Slow. "I did."

"For whatever I wanted," Sherlock says.

John nods. "And you never collected," he says, "did you."

"Did you mean it?" Sherlock asks, and lifts his head.

Up this close the strangeness of Sherlock's face is transformed. Everyone looks a bit odd from a breath and a half away; and the peculiar architecture of Sherlock's features feels different, when you can't look at all of them at once. An eyebrow, the side of his nose, a cut-glass cheekbone, his long fair lashes and a single chameleon eye: all the things that just meld and merge into being Sherlock at some distance from here are disjoint, impossible to ignore. John touches the fringe of his eyelashes.

"Yeah," John says quietly. "I did."

"I wouldn't hold you to it," Sherlock says. His mouth moving: pink; but of course he wouldn't, John is realizing, aching; Sherlock can barely let John offer him things he wants; he wouldn't hold John to anything; and John's heart dips and rolls in his throat: off-balance, sweet.

"I know," John says, as gently as he can. "I want to."

Sherlock is quiet for a long time. "But you have to tell me if you don't like it," he says, finally; and John nods.

"Yeah," he says, "I can do that"; and Sherlock bends to kiss his cheek.

John turns towards him. His nose brushes the side of Sherlock's nose. Sherlock's mouth touches his mouth, and then Sherlock pulls back. Kneels up.

"Can we," he says, and then stops.

"Yeah," John says.

"Upstairs, I mean," Sherlock says, quiet. He's perched half-sitting across John's left leg, awkward, badly balanced.

"Yeah," John says, and reaches up to touch his knee, stroke up the outside of his long right thigh. Sherlock nods and stands up, holds out a hand to pull John up. Then Sherlock drops John's hand and rubs his fingertips over his mouth and doesn't look at him, so John tugs his shirt straight and heads towards the stairs. Sherlock follows, a beat behind.

Upstairs John turns on the lamp by his bed even though it's still mostly light out and then draws Mrs. Hudson's filmy white curtains and then waits. Sherlock is hovering just inside the doorway, looking at the lamp, the bed, the wardrobe, the chair where John sits to put on his shoes; and John doesn't know what to do. He doesn't know if it's crueler to wait or just ask, doesn't know if he ought to take off his clothes, or Sherlock's, or neither; doesn't know how much space to leave for Sherlock to breathe, and how much leaves him helpless, alone, at sea. The door behind Sherlock is open: John wishes it weren't. The shadows in the stairwell are creeping up onto the landing, too close; and it doesn't matter, John knows that, it's stupid and pointless and distracting but finally John can't stand it any longer and goes over to pull it closed. It leaves him washed up close to Sherlock; not touching, but close: loosening the snarl of knots inside him, as it shuts the lamplight in.

Sherlock has left off his inventory of John's furnishings and is watching him with his eyebrows smushed together, pulled down at their middles into anxious, graceless angles. John touches his arm. Leans up—careful—slow—

—and then Sherlock pulls back, hands fluttering, and John rocks back onto his heels.

"Timer," Sherlock says, too fast; and pulls out his mobile. Swipes up.

John's chest hurts. "What would you like me to do?" he asks, as Sherlock taps at his screen; and Sherlock turns the screen towards him so that John can see: 06:30. It makes John ache all over, swallowing a thousand things he thinks Sherlock wouldn't welcome, if John were to say; John looks up at his face and nods instead, and Sherlock turns his mobile back towards himself. Presses start, his cheeks pink.

"What should I do?" John repeats. Quiet.

Sherlock puts his mobile into his pocket. Takes it out again. Puts it back, then takes it out again all in a rush and reaches over, crane-like, to set it on John's bedside table, his whole body listing into a strange, off-balance "X." "You should," Sherlock says, and then swallows, twice: up-down, up-down. "Take your clothes off," he says, at last; and when John starts unbuttoning his shirt, Sherlock straightens. Cheeks pink. Turns around. "Do you—could I borrow a hanger?"

"Yeah," John says, "on the right," and shrugs it off. So Sherlock hangs his shirt up in John's wardrobe, cuffs unrolled, tugged smooth; "Help yourself," John says, watching; and so, after giving it some thought, Sherlock turns back to hang his trousers up, too. He is standing with his back to John, his hair lying against his nape: a dark swooping arrow pointing down his neck towards the planes of his back, the shadowy snaking groove of his spine, the dimples just above his little black shorts; drawing John's eyes down all the way down his narrow lean-muscled legs and the tender backs of his knees and his left sock, slipping down around his ankle as John watches him pull it off with his toes. It hits John like a wave: dizzying, overwhelming; an idea too big for him to have. John is breathing hard. He barely knows why. But he knows—he shoves his boxers down, bends over to peel his socks off. He stands up with his skin prickling up even though it's not cold and tries to keep himself from crossing his arms over his chest and waits and watches and waits and after a moment Sherlock finishes smoothing his socks out where he's hung them over his trousers on the bar and closes John's wardrobe and squares his shoulders and turns around, and John watches the blood seep up into his skin and wants—wants to be... pliant, somehow; gentle—harmless, wants to be a, a simple thing, wants to be easy for him, wants to be—

"Can I." Out of air. John inhales, whispers, "Can I do anything?"; and Sherlock lifts his chin.

"Lie down," he says, "und—," and then stops and crosses his arms over his chest. He's still wearing his pants.

John nods. "Under the covers?"

He watches Sherlock swallow. Twice. "Yes," Sherlock says, very quietly, "please"; so John pushes back the duvet and then lies down on his back in his bed. He watches as Sherlock watches him, and then he watches as Sherlock hooks his thumbs in his own waistband and slides down his pants and then climbs gingerly up onto the bed with his long hands and gangly knees and all his pink splotches and creamy skin and John wants to touch him, wants to put himself all over him: his hands, his mouth; but Sherlock hasn't said and so John doesn't do it, just. Stays. Stays, and waits; and if his arm slides out across the sheets, helpless, he thinks he can't be entirely wrong for how Sherlock pulls himself across it, and then lowers himself down. His long body fitting close against John's body; his cheek pressing into John's shoulder, so that the most natural thing in the world is for John to lift his hand, brush his fingers through the renegade ends of Sherlock's curling hair.

Sherlock's eyes are very wide. Face flushed. Close alongside him ribs to ribs John can feel the throb of his heart. "Is this," John asks, "good, or do you—" and Sherlock presses his mouth to John's mouth.

John's blood surges up in a roar. All of him alert, awake, lighting up ready for launch all over, his cock hardening against the cut of Sherlock's hip. It makes his face heat up. It seems inappropriate. He wishes it wouldn't. Sherlock is lying close and warm against him and his mouth is touching John's mouth, light. Barely parted their lips brush together, then apart; John rubs his nose against Sherlock's nose and then kisses him again: soft. Soft. He wants to be so soft for him. A soft and comfortable place. Soft he lets his hand rest soft in Sherlock's hair. Sherlock's lips are parting, only just. His tongue touching out, light. Each time they kiss there is a soft pinprick sound: their mouths touching, and then pulling apart. John wants to wrap himself around him. Closer: he is already so close. John fingers the soft fuzz at the nape of Sherlock's neck and kisses him over and over and over, soft. Sherlock is sliding his leg against-between John's legs and John rubs his foot up against the side of Sherlock's muscular calf and Sherlock makes a soft, caught sound and opens his mouth, licking at John's upper lip and sliding his arm under John's shoulder and so John rolls up, arm tucked under Sherlock's head and the other wrapped around his middle, with Sherlock's arms around him and their erections trapped awkwardly between them and their legs scissored together while they kiss. John feels delirious. He wants to do this forever. He wants to lie in the cocoon of his bed with his body touching Sherlock's body and kiss, and kiss, and kiss. His lips catch on Sherlock's lips. Sherlock makes another of his little noises and John tightens his arms around him, wanting him—close, wanting—to kiss him over and over with his warm lovely body and big hands and his sweet rough-edged warm mouth and the timer goes off. John reaches out to swipe it off, his mouth open on Sherlock's mouth, sharing air. It lapses into silence and John kisses him again, desperate: kisses the corner of his mouth; the seam of his lips; and again; and again; until Sherlock stiff and silent against him turns his head, and brushes his opening mouth against John's mouth.

"Six," Sherlock whispers, but John is already shaking his head, even before Sherlock says, "and a half"; and then stops.

"As long as you want." It comes out fiercer than he means it—but—but no, perhaps not. "Whenever you want," John is saying, hot and pent-up, half angry, "whatever you want," while he rubs his mouth across the stubbling planes of Sherlock's cheeks and jaw and throat so that John feels it when Sherlock swallows: up-down. Up-down.

"I want to kiss you," Sherlock whispers, and so John kisses him, a warm wet honey-thick eons-long kiss with their bodies wound together in John's bed. Sherlock's throat cracks: a tiny choked-off gasping sound; John kisses him again, helpless; and again. Sherlock's arms tight around him while John presses a kiss just against his jaw and then returns to his mouth. Sherlock's breath pressing out between them, hot and ragged and fast. So they kiss. They kiss while their bodies get sweaty where they're touching, burrowed from the knees down beneath the mass of the folded-back duvet, the rest of them hot in bare air; Sherlock's feet hanging off the end of the bed. "Do you want—," Sherlock asks, after quite some time; but there are barely words for what John wants: Sherlock coming to him like a skittish wild thing, again and again; not fleeing just long enough for John to stroke him, to eat from John's trembling hand. "I like this," John whispers, "or, do you—"; but Sherlock shakes his head, so they kiss.

They kiss.

It has a strange, unspooling sort of an effect on the day. The sun has finished going down: John knows because the twilight through the windows has turned to streetlights; and ages must've passed, really, by the scraped-hot feeling of the skin around his mouth and the sweat-sticky nooks of his elbows and knees. They're barely moving: just the occasional microscopic shift of nose or mouth or chin in the togetherish  space at the borders of their faces. Sherlock's palm making glacier-slow circles around the small of John's back. John's fingers slipping between the strands of Sherlock's thick, soft hair.

"Is this." Shift; careful. "All right?" John asks.

Sherlock nods. His skin on John's skin: John shivers. Presses closer: there shouldn't still be room. "I like it," Sherlock whispers.

"I like it, too." John licks: Sherlock shivers all over against him. "I like it," John whispers, "a lot."

Some time passes. John feels the membrane of the evening everywhere around them: a bubble, grown large and shimmering; delicate, unpopped.

"I frightened you," Sherlock says, much later, "didn't I, when I asked"; and part of John wants to lie and say that it takes him some time, that he'd have to wind back the day, the week, the month, all the way back to that sick rush of something that wasn't quite adrenaline when Sherlock'd said, take what I'm owed; but it comes easily. Right away.

"Yeah," he says, quiet. Sherlock's fingers curl up on his spine.

It makes John feel strange. Protective, somehow, of Sherlock; of all his queer Sherlockian ways. "I didn't understand," John says, weirdly desperate. "I didn't know what you'd want." He half wishes he'd lied. "I didn't—I thought, all I knew was you'd be in control and I thought maybe you'd want to—to do something really—weird, or—"

"You thought I'd want to hurt you," Sherlock says, hushed; and John's eyes prickle up.

"God." He takes a breath. Another. "I didn't think about it like that," he says, unsteady. "I don't think I really quite thought about it at all."

"All right," Sherlock says, very softly; and John pulls him as near-close-tight as he can.

"If you'd said to me, 'I want to go upstairs and take all our clothes off and lie in your bed and kiss for hours,' I would've said yes," John says. "If you'd—"

"Would you?" Sherlock asks, lifting his head; and John stops.

Sherlock's gaze is sharp. His hair's a mess, because John's been mauling it, because they spent an age rolling around together with their hands all over each other while they kissed and kissed but his gaze is sharp; his eyes very nearly his best finely-honed weapon; and yet.

"Yes," John says, helpless. "I would've—."

His throat closes up. He touches Sherlock's cheek. His jaw.

"I wouldn't've got it," John says, unsteady, "not—not really, not at first, but—but that first afternoon, or—or six months ago, or the day you came back, or—fuck, in two thousand bloody twelve, if you'd said you wanted me to go upstairs and take all my clothes off and lie down with you in my bed and kiss for hours and hours, I would've done it, Sherlock."

Sherlock had to've already known that, John would have been thinking. He must've known that—but he didn't, John is realizing: he didn't know, and so John is watching Sherlock's face shifting by micrometers; softening, at all his angular edges.

"For six and a half minutes," Sherlock corrects, very quietly; and then settles himself back down close against his body, John's shoulder tucked under against his face.

"Yeah," John agrees. He slips his hand into Sherlock's hair. "I would've done it for six and a half minutes, too," he says; and Sherlock tilts his chin up for a slow, sweet kiss.

Chapter Text

John wakes up because Sherlock is shaking his shoulder, bent close. When John cracks open an eye, Sherlock says, "It's almost half seven," voice pitched low. "Your mobile's dead." He's dressed, but in his clothes from yesterday, perched on the edge of John's mattress. John's still lying on the far side of the bed.

"Thanks." John rubs his face, then curves his torso for an instant close around him, face tucked near the outside of Sherlock's thigh. Sherlock smells like expensive wool and the chemicals from the dry cleaners and, faintly, underneath, the unwashed-hair-and-cotton smell of sleep, a sharp hint of his sweat. John breathes in deep, then uncoils himself, stretches out under the duvet. The bed is still warm from their bodies. Sherlock's got up again, padding down the stairs in his socks: John wants to go back to sleep.

Instead he drags himself up and through a shower and shaves and dresses and plugs his mobile in at the surgery, where Natalie is already grumbling over the mess Marcus has made of her files. "How's your dad?" John asks, brewing two cups of tea.

She shrugs: right shoulder a hair ahead. "About the same," she says, and John nods and passes her her tea.

It's quieter, John thinks, than it's been the past few weeks. He's got work, of course, but with the hols and London hotter than it ought to be... not, John thinks, the most vigorous of days, much of anywhere. The morning slips by smooth and lazy. He a slightly smaller-than-usual set of... what was it? diseased supplicants, that Sherlock called them? and in between, most of another cup of tea; or a chat with Natalie and Rhoda, who—mostly Nat—are planning a bit of a dinner on Friday for Rhoda's birthday. It's... nice, really, to be able to breathe, here and there. At lunch he even has long enough to buy a cheese sandwich at the Tesco Express and eat it on a bench in the bit of park on Broadly Street, watching a couple in their twenties court, elaborately, to the audience provided by the girl's overweight bulldog, who is eyeing them dispassionately from a little pool of shade, most of his six-foot-lead away. John takes a picture and sends it to Sherlock without comment.

Herpes, Sherlock replies; John grins.

Who? he asks. The boy, the girl, or the dog?

John finishes with his last patient at five 'til six: unheard of. The charting takes him a bit longer, but he still finishes in time to linger walking out with Rhoda and Natalie, who are still talking about Rhoda's birthday—Nat wants final numbers, so she can book a table. "Priyanka said she'd pop by," Nat says: Priyanka is the more senior of their two locum physicians. "But Brian can't, he's got the kids this weekend and his boyfriend's out of town. Marianne is coming, isn't she?"

"Yes, with Tom, last I heard," Rhoda says. "John, are you bringing anyone?"

"No," John says.

"Ooh, if not," Natalie says, eyes widening, "there's a perfectly lovely woman who runs lighting at the Tabard, you'd really like her, she's got some stories she could tell you—she used to travel with a French circus. I could ring her up, they're in between shows at the moment."

John laughs, a little awkwardly. Nat's finally got the girl who does the takeaway at the café to ring her back and Rhoda has been seeing an accountant for going on the last six months: a kindly, soft-spoken sort with a receding hairline, from the little John has seen of him; who brings her flowers, she's said, who adores her children, snorts when he laughs. They're both... oh, romantics, he might've said, at some point; soppy, perhaps, if he'd been in a bad mood; or—or just content, it'd perhaps be more accurate to term it: happy, easy, in love. It maps so inaccurately, so inadequately onto the life that John is living that he's never known what to say to them, not when he was having it off with Cal, when they weren't cheesed off at each other; or shagging Rebecca, here and there; or going to bed with Janeka on her regular if infrequent London business trips (the very heart of transatlantic partnership, she'd used to say, and then laugh, her bare breasts jiggling gloriously, when John punched her on her bare shoulder, not hard, the both of them still gleaming with sweat and out of breath)—and certainly he doesn't know what to say to them now, not with Sherlock waking him up because his mobile's dead or hovering around him while he does the washing up; not with Sherlock sitting over tea with Mrs. Hudson and saying, Nothing's changed.

"I think Sherlock might go on a killing spree," John says, finally, "if I took a woman to Rhoda's birthday party."

John would never have given that as an answer before. He is thinking: that hasn't changed, either.

Rhoda shifts her bag from her left shoulder to the right. Natalie looks, surprisingly, surprised.

"Without cause?" she asks, chin lifting, head tilting slightly to the left.

John checks his pockets: mobile, wallet, keys; his laptop bag over his shoulder, his jacket collar trapped under the strap. "No," he says. "Not without cause."

"Ask him along, then," Rhoda says, and John laughs, very nearly stepping back. He wouldn't come, John knows; not even for the promise of an entire table of total strangers to examine, judge, and excoriate; he'd give John a flat, scornful look of total disbelief that John'd asked, even, and then naturally arrange to turn up in the middle with an interesting murder, and to say cutting things to the pretty girl sitting at John's right.

"Come, now," John says. "I'd not do that to you on your birthday."

Natalie's face is very serious. Rhoda touches John's sleeve. "Bring him along," she repeats, very gently; and John, appreciating the thought, gives her a quick, one-armed hug.

Chapter Text

Standing out in the late afternoon July sunshine, John texts, Off a bit earlier than usual; and Sherlock replies, Guildhall.

It takes John most of the walk to the Tube station to work out why Sherlock would be in Guildhall. He's a little bit ashamed it takes him so long, but the look on Sherlock's face—as John turns up just in time to watch him get tossed out of the office of the Head of Composition at the music school—means that Sherlock probably isn't. John just grins back. He might've previously thought that that expression represented cutting scorn, but the fact that Sherlock backs him up against the wall just the next corridor is certainly reinforcing John's decision to revisit that opinion.

"Where to next?" John asks, petting the soft fuzz of hair at Sherlock's bent nape. Sherlock nuzzles along John's hairline, then lets go of his two handfuls of John's arse and says, "Head of Opera, naturally," pulling back.

John follows.

Sherlock asks the Head of Opera a series of rather invasive questions about his students, his classes, five separate past graduates (two of his department, two from composition, and a cellist), then proceeds to interrogate his off hours, his hobbies, his personal life, and his sexual habits. After they've been tossed out of his office too, Sherlock is smirking, a very little: he sends a pair of texts before they've even left the building. "Sorted?" John confirms.

"Sorted," Sherlock agrees. "Who was it?"

"What?"

"Please," Sherlock says. "Who'm I sending Lestrade to arrest, keep up."

John hesitates. "Bromley." He pushes open the heavy ground floor doors.

"But..." Sherlock prompts.

"But I'm not certain why him and not Sewell," John admits. "Sewell certainly seems more the type."

"Sewell has had allergies and serious asthma since he was a student," Sherlock says. "Serious enough that even his department head knew about it."

"He was Composition, wasn't he?" Sherlock nods. "Well then," John says. "I missed that interview."

"I know you did," Sherlock says. "You also missed that our letter-writer owns at least two cats, but to be fair," he says, standing at the edge of the kerb hand up, "so did I, at first."

It's a lovely day. Sherlock has a case. He's also being a bit of a tit, but John is well shagged and off work on time and not quite so bad as he used to be, he thinks, at reading between Sherlock's lines. "All right," he says, agreeable.

"You're getting better," Sherlock tells him, as a cab appears out of nowhere and slides to a stop, "at least this time you knew that Sewell was a false lead"; and then he holds the cab door open for John.

It's the last he says for a while. In the cab, he goes quiet. Pensive. It's not entirely unexpected: John just catches up on his email and the comments on his blog and then fiddles with his phone while Sherlock retreats into that particular post-case still silent self beside him. When they get out at Baker Street Sherlock goes over to his board, unpinning the notes—overflowing the edges, again; they really ought to put up another, for the sake of Mrs. Hudson's wallpaper, still new(ish)—and stacking them carefully on the arm of the sofa. John just dumps his laptop bag in his chair and goes upstairs, where he takes off his shoes and his belt and untucks his shirt and washes his face then comes back down barefoot. Sherlock has opened all the living room windows, then vanished into his bedroom, door half open half closed. It's cooled off a bit, a hint of silver on the skyline, and John feels agreeable, loose and comfortable, ready for anything. Hungry, too. He heads into the kitchen, hunting for dinner; but before he's had a chance to decide on anything Sherlock comes up behind him at the fridge and says, very quietly, "Leave that, for a bit."

John closes the fridge.

When he does Sherlock tips his face down against the back of John's shoulder, his nose tucking inside the collar of John's shirt. John reaches back, slipping his hand into Sherlock's hair. Sherlock slides his arm around John's waist, pulling John's back tight against his front.

Standing there seeing nothing but the handle on the closed door of the fridge with Sherlock pressed up against him, Sherlock's hair soft around his fingers and Sherlock's breath humid against his neck makes something wind up tight and knotted inside John's chest, a clenched fist at the base of his throat. John turns his face towards him, and Sherlock exhales. Pulls him tighter. John's mouth brushes his hairline. He can't reach much of anything else. Sherlock tilts his face until his mouth finds skin and then all of a sudden opens and sucks and sucks, almost hard enough to hurt. John braces his free palm on the fridge and breathes in and in too hard too fast; knees nearly buckling, when Sherlock lets up. A surprise. It was surprising, John is thinking, thoughts racing: behind him bent down Sherlock kisses over the spot, which feels tender and hot and swollen, beneath the press of Sherlock's soft mouth.

John swallows. "Are you finished, then," he asks, "for the evening?"

Sherlock inhales. Tilts his face up, nuzzling forward until his nose brushes the side of John's nose, until John twists back to kiss him off-center. Again. Again.

"That won't last," Sherlock says, lips soft on John's lips, "will it."

"What?"

Sherlock brushes his mouth over the side of John's throat, back up.

John twists, a little surprised. "Does it even show?"

Sherlock nods. "A bit." He kisses John again, very sweetly.

John puts his hand over Sherlock's arm around his waist to hold him there and then, clumsy, maneuvers them around into the little corridor into Sherlock's bedroom, his en suite. John turns the light on with a high fluorescent whine and then tilts his head so he can see in the mirror the shadow of blood-darkened skin, Sherlock behind him, watching: his hand on John's hip. There is a mark, a faint reddish blotch, rough-edged, just at the top of John's collar, too high to cover. The kind of thing he wouldn't want to hide. He touches his fingers to it.

Beneath John's hand on John's belly Sherlock curls his hand, hooking their fingers together, offside. Their fists knot, tangled. Quiet, Sherlock says, "You hardly ever show marks."

"No," John admits. "I don't." He touches it again. It still feels hot. "Maybe," he says, doubtfully, and then drops that hand down too. "You could always do it again," he suggests, "if it doesn't stay."

Their fingers wind together, John's hand over Sherlock's hand over John's hand over John's shirt over John's skin: his stomach quivering, underneath.

"Hmm." Sherlock bends his face back down, nosing down into John's collar, just beside: it's sensitive. "That seems." John shivers. "Inefficient," Sherlock finishes.

John can see his own mouth tug up in the mirror before he even feels it. "You'd prefer a tattoo, I reckon," he says, and hot on his neck Sherlock exhales. John adds, "'Property of'," gently stroking his thumb along the jutting bone of Sherlock's lovely, angular wrist.

Behind him Sherlock is quiet for a long, long while. Breathing in. Breathing out. John doesn't say anything else.

"Then maybe I wouldn't keep misplacing you," Sherlock says at last, warm on John's skin.

John swallows. It's unsurprising, he finds; he twists towards him, face up. "Have you, though," he asks, very quietly.

Sherlock doesn't answer.

"I mean." John swallows. "Misplaced me, ever, I mean."

After a moment, Sherlock says, "No," voice low.

John squeezes their interlaced hands.

Sherlock says, "I just worry that I'm a bit more likely to, of late."

Aches. Watching the two of them in Sherlock's bathroom mirror. Feeling Sherlock everywhere along his back. It gives John that same rubbed, tender feeling, as though by repeated action he is being made permeable all over, for Sherlock to better seep in.

"You're not," John says, finally, with his hand under Sherlock's hand under John's hand and his body wrapped up in Sherlock's body and the mark of Sherlock's mouth on his throat. So close he can feel it, when Sherlock swallows. Up, down. Up-down. "You're not," John repeats, quiet; and Sherlock rubs his face against the side of John's neck. Up against his face. John stops watching them in the mirror so that he can twist to kiss him, then turns his body, so he can do it properly. Sherlock braces his arms against the edge of the basin behind John's back. John wraps his arms around him. Closes his eyes against the humming too-harsh light.

They kiss.

Sherlock is very gentle, when they kiss. John is gentle, too. He likes it, he is finding, with a warm prideful flush of pleasure and embarrassment: how absurd it feels, how private. Here is a newly unshadowed unseen thing: Sherlock with his big hands braced behind John's back so he can lean his long warm body into John's body, so he can trade with him small not-quite-silent kisses, so he can rest their foreheads together in between. John pets his long spine through his shirt. It has been a very long time, John is thinking, since he has kissed anyone quite like this. It makes him feel soft, and foolish, and glad.

Sherlock kisses his jaw. His cheek. "I want to take you to bed."

"Yeah." John tucks his hands just beneath the back hem of Sherlock's untucked shirt. Safekeeping.

"Yeah?" Sherlock asks. John nods, and Sherlock exhales. Kisses him again, and again, and again; and then Sherlock says, barely above a whisper, "I want to put my hand inside you."

John's skin prickles up.

"All right," he says.

Sweat is blooming in the small of John's back. The idea feels... sexual, in a way that the kissing hasn't, not entirely, not quite; and something else besides; and Sherlock is nosing along the edges of his hot face and whispering, "I want to touch every place inside your skin"; and a bit of John comes loose, and floats away.

They are kissing. Soft, John thinks. Soft, and—

—he wonders.

"Yeah," John agrees. Soft. "I want that, too."

He suspects that a week ago he might've kept silent. Just kissed him, maybe; perhaps just pressed his skin to Sherlock's skin. He isn't certain. He is beginning to worry that he might've been cruel. He wonders a bit how he could truly know, but not very hard. Probably not as long as he ought. Sherlock is breathing against his jaw, silent and close, and John's hands have come up to rest on the sides of Sherlock's face, and they kiss. John's weight is shifting onto his feet: a tectonic adjustment in their center of gravity. Sherlock's hands come up to his hips. John steers him back into his shadowed bedroom skirting Sherlock's wardrobe, his long mirror, over to his huge white bed. Sherlock sits down at the edge. With his knees bumped in between John's knees Sherlock looks up at him with a cracked-wide expression: painful to look at, his pond-and-sky eyes. John touches the edge of his mouth, which is flushed from John's mouth, his cheeks, the soft-padded lobes of his ears, and John—John wants—he wants—his fingers fall down to the divot of Sherlock's collarbones. Sherlock's heart beats back, his hands sliding feather-light up the backs of John's legs.

Pulled thin. "Will you get undressed with me," John asks.

Up-down, up-down; John slides his hands along Sherlock's clavicles beneath his shirt to his shoulders, up back onto the bare skin of the back of his neck; and Sherlock says, "Yes."

John nods. He doesn't move his hands. Bends down to kiss him instead. Hungry, he is thinking, and warm, and rough, because Sherlock hasn't shaved today, John doesn't think; but his thoughts feel crystalline, fragmented and strange. Sherlock is unbuttoning John's shirt, bottom up. John starts in on Sherlock's until Sherlock hits John's last button, pushing his open shirt back. John lets go. Drops the shirt on the floor while Sherlock is pushing John's vest up his ribs and then John has to stop pull that off, too. He keeps getting more and more frustrated: he's bare-chested but only got three of Sherlock's buttons undone, and Sherlock is already working on John's flies. John puts his hands on Sherlock's wrists and he stops. Looks up.

"Please," John says, quiet.

Sherlock blinks. Cloud over sky, and then—then, very slowly, his hands come open. They bloom across John's skin, belly and sides. Sherlock is staring up at John's mouth so John bends back down to kiss him and his fingers fall blind against Sherlock's, moving quick and sure on Sherlock's shirtfront. They pull apart, and John steps aside so that Sherlock can stand up and peel off his clothes, his shirt and his trousers and his socks and his little black shorts, exposing all the creamy, expansive skin underneath. John swallows and reaches for his own flies. Undressing beside Sherlock, John feels utilitarian. Blunt. Then naked Sherlock straightens and, eyes hooded, he touches the mark on John's throat. John doesn't know what he feels like, after that.

Sherlock bends: chin up John's mouth finds his. Out of the corner of his half-closed eyes John can half-see the smear of their bared bodies in the dulled mirror. Their skin pressing together to glow, nearly; already sticking with sweat.

"I should've—." Half into John's mouth: John lets him pull back. Sherlock's cheeks are a little flushed. "I ought to've," Sherlock says, and then scrubs a hand through his hair and says, "Could you push the duvet back?" and heads back into the en suite, John awash in bare air. John's stomach feels too high. Clenched. He breathes out steady and slow and forces it down, down, down; then takes the half-step back to the bed and rolls Sherlock's duvet open, drapes it open across the foot of the bed so it hangs down to the floor, baring the crisp white expanse of his clean hospital-cornered sheets. Sherlock comes back with two fresh fluffy white towels. John's stomach tips and rolls. He isn't nervous. He doesn't think he's nervous. It's just—it's awkward, really; almost hopelessly so: standing about in Sherlock's bedroom completely starkers, helping him arrange towels over his bed with the duvet tossed back and the bottom sheet bared because just a few days ago Sherlock'd put on fresh sheets. But it still amplifies the thud of John's heart, loud in his ears: the whole of the why; the looks Sherlock keeps shooting him across the bed, half lustful, half something vast and nameless besides. Once they've got the towels spread out John straightens up, not knowing what to do; ought he to lie down, or—or go back to the other side of the bed to Sherlock, or—he rubs his palms on his thighs. The sun is getting low. The light going grey. John wishes he hadn't taken off his pants, or that the room were—brighter, or darker, or—

Watching him Sherlock touches his own throat.

It's an absent gesture. Unthought. Almost before John notes it Sherlock's hand has dropped as he comes around to John's side of the bed, to open his drawer and get out his box, open it up on top of the chest of drawers. He'd touched his own throat, John is thinking, still: his long restless fingers, momentarily pausing at the side of his neck. So John stops watching him long enough to climb onto the bed. He stretches out on his side on top of the towels because the towels are on top of Sherlock's sheets which are clean, nearly, and watches while standing nude in front of his chest of drawers Sherlock gets out those same two toys he'd set on the table on Friday and puts them on the bedside table beside the base of the lamp with two bottles of lube one of which is nearly empty and the other unopen because he is going to put them inside him, he has been thinking about putting them inside him, he has been thinking about putting his hand inside him, like he has been thinking about the mark he's left on John's throat. John is thinking about what Sherlock is thinking. He is thinking about knowing what Sherlock is thinking. He is remembering lying in this bed on Friday next to Sherlock lying the wrong way around with beard burn all over his thighs and his hair sticking up in charming absurd little licks and his careful flat blank expression that doesn't work half so well as he wants it to as John was thinking: he doesn't want me to know, he doesn't want me to know him, he doesn't want for me to not know him, he doesn't want to want me to know him, he doesn't know how to want me to know him, embarrassed; the perpetual paradoxical litany of John knowing Sherlock in all the new small spaces that John has found to know Sherlock, like how he prefers his showers long and hot or the way he likes to kiss or that he forgets how to move all his parts quite in concert when he sits down on the edge of the bed next to John, an unlearning of his grace that John sees whenever Sherlock wants more things than his body can reasonably be expected to produce all at once. John pets his right palm up Sherlock's knee and thigh; strokes his side as Sherlock stretches out beside him, John's left arm tucking under Sherlock's skull as they lie down face to face. Sherlock is flushing, skin rosy even in the fading silvered light, and John has learnt that, too; just as he has learnt that little bobbing double-swallow: a barely audible click-click as John rubs the end of his nose against the edge of Sherlock's nose, slides his arm around the notch of Sherlock's warm waist. John pets at his warm muscular back and his arms and the warm top of his arse with their knees interleaved as bubbling over with wanting to be soft and near and easy, easy; but still John doesn't know how to be easy for him at all.

"How do you," John asks, quiet, and then stops. Kisses Sherlock's cheek, his mouth, the tensing edges of his throat: "or," John says. "Or."

Sherlock makes a small, uncertain noise. John tucks himself closer against him. Cock half-hard against him knees between his knees hands on his back. In his fingertips the syncopated-staccato concert of their hearts. John kisses him again. Again. Sherlock's hands are tracing a slow, meandering path down John's back, as though their final destination were anything other than patently obvious. Pulse loud John lets him. Gives him slow warm kisses and lets Sherlock roll himself tentatively onto his back so he can slowly uncertainly pull John on top of him, as though he'd said nothing. John presses his weight down against him and kisses him: a secret that John is willing to keep.

Sherlock rubs his palms across John's arse. The sweat-damp base of his back. "It's." Sherlock swallows, and John lifts his face, just enough that Sherlock comes into focus when he says, "okay, is it—," breaking off again, jerking his red face five degrees to the right.

"Yeah." John brushes his mouth down against Sherlock's cheek. "Please," he says. Quiet. Breathes, "I want you to."

Sherlock lets out a gust of air, and John pushes up onto his elbows, then kneels halfway up, reaching up for the lube. Between them Sherlock's hands flutter, then settle chastely on John's hips. It makes every inch of John's skin hurt. He bends back down to put his mouth on Sherlock's mouth his lips to his lips and his tongue and his teeth and he bites down on Sherlock's plush bottom lip with his hand clenched around a mostly-empty bottle of Sherlock's posh bastard lube and under him Sherlock makes a low, electric sound. "I want you to," John is saying, into his mouth. Mangled. Incomprehensible, he'd think, except that then Sherlock makes another incendiary little noise, running his fingertips lightly along the crack of John's arse like he hadn't had his tongue halfway to John's bloody tonsils just last night and then he takes his arse in both hands all at once and gives him a squeeze and suddenly in John's mind the image sparks, and shivers, and then balloons:

"Oh." John's voice wavers. "Christ."

Crouched over Sherlock John takes a deep, slow breath and Sherlock asks, very low, "Are you all right?" and John swallows, saying, "Yeah," unsteady, "yeah—can you, I want you to—I want you to—," and quietly Sherlock says, "Open the lube for me." So John opens the lube. He rocks his weight back to sit up and opens the lube while Sherlock is giving his arse squeeze after slow, rhythmic squeeze and knelt up above him John's cock pearls up at the tip, and drips down onto Sherlock's pale thigh. "I," John says, and then laughs. "I'm going to—," he says, and then stops. Swallows. Again, and again.

Sherlock is sliding his knee up behind him. Brings his right hand up. "You're going to...?" he prompts, quiet.

Wetting all of Sherlock's' long fingers with the last of the lube. "I'm going to try to rush you," John admits, unsteady; and then he scrubs the back of his right hand across his forehead, and drops the bottle on the floor.

Under him Sherlock shifts, just barely. His fingers fold up with John's, then pull apart. "I won't let you," he says, quiet. Touching. Soft.

John nods. Twice. "I trust you," he says, and his voice cracks.

"Yeah?" Sherlock's voice is soft. His hands are soft and his fingers are soft, just rubbing against him, wetter than John needs and a thousand times less than what he all-of-a-sudden blossoming wants but Sherlock's eyes are huge and pale and uncertain and John bends down and braces his elbows on the sheet and his fingers in his hair kisses the edge of Sherlock's soft pink mouth over and over and says, "Yeah," steady, "I do." He doesn't know how he does it. He isn't steady at all. Sherlock is under him wide-eyed and trading him soft bottomless kisses while he gives him tentative virginal touches like either of them wants him to be tentative or is anything like virginal at all but still somehow the only part of John that feels steady is that he is in Sherlock's hands, untethered and elated: "I trust you," John hears in his own voice, over and over, as holding him open Sherlock dips two fingertips into him and out, and John curls his sticky fingers up tight in Sherlock's soft hair.

His heart is pounding. Loud in his mouth and his ears. His mouth against Sherlock's feels like it is weaving them into one body, each kiss reshaping the bridge between them: building new nerve fibers, pulling old ones apart. "You can." John swallows. "Go deeper, or—more, or—"

"I'm not going to let you rush me, remember?" Sherlock says, quiet, but he squeezes John's right buttock and then sinks his fingers into him, curling: John groans. "Keep telling me," Sherlock whispers; "Good," John gasps, "it's—good, fuck." He swallows, hard; Sherlock kisses him, again and again, slipping wet against the waking-up skin inside John's body: John wants his cock his toys his fist, anything Sherlock can give. John presses his mouth to Sherlock's jaw, throat, collarbone, presses his forehead to his neck and looks down: Sherlock is hard as a rock, lying still on his back with his red prick jutting up towards John while invisible his thumb pets the skin behind John's balls and John's erection hangs absurdly between them: John doesn't dare let his weight sink down. He shifts a little though, helpless, just so he brushes the edge of Sherlock's belly: he shudders, all over, and his cock drips onto Sherlock's skin.

"Come back," Sherlock says, quiet; and John turns his face against Sherlock's throat, back up to his mouth, and Sherlock gives him miles-deep kiss after miles-deep kiss fucking him with two fingers until John's elbows are trembling and his breath is coming in rabbit-fast pants and then Sherlock whispers, "I want you to sit on my face."

"Jesus." John laughs, stretched tight. "I—fuck." He shifts his weight, kneeling up, thighs aching. His nipples hurt. His stomach is clenched so tight that when Sherlock's left hand strokes over him arse to hip and just brushes the edge of his belly John jerks, fucking helplessly back onto his fingers, a groan ripped out of his throat. "I." John swallows. "If you put your tongue up me m'going to come," he says, unsteady.

Sherlock curls his fingers: John gasps. "So come," Sherlock says, quiet, and pets his palm over John's taut abdomen until half-sobbing John traps it with his hands. He's panting like he's run a marathon in high August heat; Sherlock's fingers have stilled inside him: John's face feels like it is burning up. "John," Sherlock says.

"I don't want to," John says. Unsteady. "I don't—I don't want to, I don't want to come."

He locks his teeth tight shut.

Beneath him Sherlock's ribs are expanding. John is starting to shake. Sherlock's fingers slip out of him and he pulls John down, sticky-handed, until John is settled down close against him raw all over with Sherlock's arms wrapped around him, Sherlock tucking John's head close under his chin. Absurd, John is thinking in whispers, absurd, to be touched like this to lie like this to want—; but it hasn't, he is finding, much of any force. So he slides his arm around Sherlock's waist. Holds tight.

Sherlock is touching his shoulders. His back. Kissing him, his face, still: in a way that makes John ache deep inside his chest, as John's heart slows, and steadies, and slows.

"All right?" Sherlock asks. Gentle. Soft.

"Yeah." John swallows. "I didn't entirely mean that you had to stop."

"I promised you wouldn't rush me," Sherlock says, very quietly; and John huffs, a half of a laugh puffing against Sherlock's mouth.

They kiss for a while. It feels—indulgent, or—silly, or—

Sherlock says, "If we put a cock ring on you, that'd—that might help."

John inhales. "Yeah," he says. He is willing his thoughts into order, but they keep scattering away from him like water in a hot pan.

"Do you not want to come entirely?" Sherlock asks, and then, shifts, "I mean—do you want to come later, or not at all"; and something disquieting and unidentifiable rises momentarily in John's throat; and then is gone.

"Later," he says. He swallows: his loosening throat. "I want to come with your hand inside me," he says, steadied; and against him Sherlock shivers. Pulls him close.

John pets his back. His hip.

Sherlock rubs his mouth against him. "I really want you to sit on my face," he admits.

He sounds so disconsolate that John has to laugh, pulling back enough to kiss him over and over all over his red throat and mouth and jaw. Sherlock tries to scowl at him, but he looks too sheepish to quite pull it off; John just flattens his palms on his cheeks and holds him still for kiss after kiss after kiss.

Sherlock wraps his hands over John's forearms. Strokes them up, to settle around his wrists.

Against him John feels like he's sinking—like he has been sinking forever. Like Sherlock's bed is dissolving into cloud and drawing them inside it, only bath-warm and cozy. Just as enveloping, though; and gravitational, as though it forms the center of the universe. As though everything outside could have crumbled, and fallen into the sea.

"So," John says.

Against the skin under John's left ear Sherlock makes a small, inquisitive noise.

"Maybe you should show me how to put on your cock ring," John says, "and then I should sit on your face"; and Sherlock pulls back to look at him. Not far.

After a moment, he says, "Yeah," in his lowest velvetiest voice; John swallows hard and pulls back.

He asks, "Mind if I get it?" climbing off the bed, and Sherlock says, "Not at all."

John switches the lamp on and goes over to the box. Even having looked inside it before, it's an impressive collection, which John hasn't forgotten. All the more so for someone who doesn't actually get off. Tucked into a corner Sherlock's even got one of those little palm-sized oral sex simulators that'd just made Rebecca laugh and laugh and laugh, only hers was purple, and Sherlock's is all pink. He's got four cock rings, that John can see. John takes the same one Sherlock'd used: the one he'd wrapped around himself cock and balls and buckled shut, with the little ring for a lead at the base. John hasn't forgotten that, either.

Sherlock is watching him, when John turns back around. John's barely got one knee back up on the mattress when Sherlock is grabbing at him, sliding his hand up John's side and over his arse, pulling him closer. "Impatient," John says, struggling up to his knees, half laughing; but Sherlock just says, "Yeah," and keeps pawing at him. Tugging him over. John comes perilously close to kneeing him in the balls. He finally settles straddling Sherlock's abdomen, his weight sunk into his knees; Sherlock pulls John down, head and shoulders, curling up. Sherlock's hand feels huge on the back of John's neck. Fingers fisted around the open ring John braces his elbows on the mattress and kisses him, trying not to push back. Sherlock's erection keeps bumping into his thighs and his arse, and every time it does Sherlock gives these tortured little huffs that make John impatient too, hot all over.

"Mm." Sherlock breaks away, inhaling. "I was going to—"

"Yeah." John pushes up. Settles his weight back onto his heels and unclenches his fingers: the buckle has left sharp purpling indentations in his palm. Sherlock is staring up at him. "What?"

Sherlock shakes his head, hair scraping on the pillow. "You are." Rubbing his open palms up the tops of John's thighs, slow. Slow. He's flushing, blooming up his chest and throat in dark red palm-sized splotches: it's hypnotic. "I like looking at you," Sherlock says, very quietly.

John can feel his mouth tilt. "Glad I turned the light on?" he asks, and Sherlock looks up at his face.

"Yeah," he says. He wraps his hand around John's erection. Gives him a couple loose, easy strokes.

Dark eyes, hugely dilated. His long pale fingers on John's red skin; his flushed face. "Me too," John says, thick. He touches Sherlock's belly. The soft ticklish crest of his ribs, which jump. Sherlock shifts underneath him: drawing his knee up; his free hand nudging John's hip as John slowly settles back, lets Sherlock slide his cock against the crack of his arse, inhaling. John shifts: careful, careful. Slow. Slow.

"God." Sherlock's eyes flutter shut, just for an instant. Chest lifting. His hand sliding on John's cock in rhythm with John's weight: John rubs his thumbs across Sherlock's nipple, light, and Sherlock's hips jerk beneath him.

"Can I," Sherlock asks. Breathless. "Just—just a bit, I won't be able to—"

He stops. John watches his throat work, his bright eyes, the tomato flush on his cheeks and his throat and his chest; John nods. "Better do this first, though," John says, and hands him the cock ring, unbuckled flat.

Sherlock nods. Exhaling. Steadying. "Not quite the ideal situation for your first go," he admits, touching him.

"I have faith in your improvisational powers," John says; and Sherlock smiles, his whole face wrinkling up as he flips the strap around so he's got the buckle lying down on his belly; and then he cups John's bollocks in his hand.

John inhales.

Sherlock glances up at him, but he doesn't stop. He is wrapping the strap around him, very carefully, handling John's genitals in a way that no one other than John, quite frankly, handles John's genitals: it's—weird, not exactly erotic but good and strange and shockingly, almost painfully intimate: it makes John a little lightheaded. Sherlock is tenderly tightening the strap: "Tell me," Sherlock says, "it oughtn't be too tight"; and John says, "I—that's. Fine."

Sherlock gives him a little smile, then loosens it one little notch, and does up the buckle.

John licks his bottom lip. "It was fine, really."

"I'm not aiming for fine," Sherlock says: he's said it before, too, in just that tone, in response to a bit of weak tea praise from Mycroft's assistant one before Chloe; the sting goes out of it, though, when Sherlock traces his finger up the underside of John's cock.

John breathes.

"All right?" Sherlock asks.

John shifts, and Sherlock wraps his hand back around him loosely, watching his face.

"Yeah," John says. It is all right. It's—different. It pushes at him in new ways: all his parts feel queerly disconnected. His hands are still moving on Sherlock's ribs, rising and falling, rising and falling. Slow. John touches Sherlock's peaked pink nipple; Sherlock stretches beneath him, breathing deep, and John leans up for the unopened bottle of lube.

"I perhaps ought to mention that it won't—won't stop you, really," Sherlock says, under his breath, with his hands sliding up John's sides; and John says, "I'll take anything I can get"; and Sherlock's face cracks open: a broad, soft-eyed, too-frank smile. John bends down to kiss him. Sherlock nuzzles his face. His hands warm and slow, sliding the wrong way up the prickling skin of John's back. "So," John asks, half into Sherlock's mouth, "are you actually planning to fuck me, or—or just draw up the plans for the endeavor," and Sherlock starts giggling. "I mean," John adds, while Sherlock is kissing all along the underside of his jaw, still laughing, "not that I mind the plans, I like the plans, I especially—especially like it when you tell me about them, but—"

"Get that open, then," Sherlock says, sounding terribly fond, and John straightens up on his knees, struggling to get the plastic off. "Do you want me to—"

"No, I've got it, I've got it—fuck," John says, nearly laughing, because the absurdity of impossible-to-open fucking safety seals on bottles of expensive fucking lube will never not seem like a design flaw of cosmic fucking proportions— "Aha!" with Sherlock rubbing at his twitching belly, grinning up at him. John snaps the cap open—finally—and between their bodies Sherlock holds up his hands, trying to tug his expression into something more serious, and John gets all his long fingers wet.

"Speaking of making plans," Sherlock says.

"I like your plans."

"Oh, well then." Sherlock scrapes a fingernail down John's palm. "I thought that we could fuck for a bit, and then—oh, I don't know, pay bills, or read Mohr, or—"

"We're all caught up on the bills," John tells him, rocking forward on his knees and bracing his hands on the border of towel and sheet above Sherlock's shoulders: "and you've only got Mohr in German, so—"

"I'd better start in on teaching you German, then, won't I," Sherlock is saying, breathless, as he touches him with intent for the first time, really, since he's got the cock ring done up: his hands eager and wet as he rubs against the taut prickling skin behind John's balls, presses two fingers into him, not deep but all at once, a hair faster than almost too slow. John just—just opens for him, vaguely surprised. He is inhaling. It feels—difficult, almost; but it isn't. Very strange. Under him Sherlock is watching him open-mouthed rubbing his slick thumb against the little metal ring at the base of the strap: push-and-pull pressure, wet, pulled tight; an unfamiliar sensation that is bizarre in its unfamiliarity, like a stranger's voice on the phone that you thought, almost, you recognized. John's face is hot. Staring up at him Sherlock is breathing hard, pulling him open, tugging him back. John's hands on the sheets feel heavy, swollen; it isn't until Sherlock is nudging his cock up into him, eyes half-shut, gasping, that John realizes that he is intensely, almost painfully aroused.

"Fuck." He breathes in, deep: it's tighter, he is realizing. Sherlock is breathing hard, mouth open as John sinks his weight back onto him slow-slow-slow fulltightsmallstretched because it's got tighter, in that too-fast handful of seconds as Sherlock teased John about his German and opened him up for his cock. Sherlock's face is red-flushed and shiny at his hairline, his hands on John's hips, barely moving; filling up with him John prickles, face and shoulders, with sweat. "Can you." John swallows. "Can I just," he manages, and then rolls his hips and the thick too-shallow drag of the head of Sherlock's cock inside him and Sherlock arches between him and the sheets, swallowing sounds. Fuck.

"F-f—" Sherlock stops. Swallows, hard, twice: Christ, how he looks. "I want, can you just," Sherlock gasps, "not—not deep"; and John nods and nods pushing back and Sherlock groans. Head thrown back while John moves, fucking his arsehole shallow-slow-open on Sherlock's cock with pinprick-popping sparks inside him all over under his skin, buckled up a size too tight. "All right?" John gasps; Sherlock moans, squeezing John's arse in both hands so hard it'll probably leave marks. John feels like he's going to explode. He could grind himself down, get it in him. Sherlock's hands slide on his hips, clutching at him convulsively, eyes half-closed mouth open; John moves. Slow; moves. He could move. He could push himself all the way back and stuff himself full and ride Sherlock's cock to another blinding battering orgasm while Sherlock squirmed underneath him splotching up but—but then—then he wouldn't—Sherlock is so red. "I want." John swallows, touches Sherlock's throat. "I'd better—" and he stops and he says, "You'd better—stop, if, I want—I want you to touch me," because he doesn't know how to ask except he does and, "I want," John says, "your hand inside me": and oh how he wants; "your tongue," he says, breathless; and touches Sherlock's mouth and Sherlock licks between the sides of his lube-sticky fingers and curls his tongue around the tips and sucks at John's thumb still fucking up into him in little hot slow shallow-stuttering thrusts that pull him open—open—open, while John's three fingers slip hypnotically in and out of Sherlock's lovely pink mouth. Sherlock gives him one last little lick and then against his fingertips says, "Come up here," very low. His eyes are very dark.

Sherlock is already sliding his cock out of John's body leaving him hollow and swollen, sore with wanting; and so John knees up the mattress clumsily, Sherlock's steadying hands on his hips. When his knees have got up near Sherlock's shoulders Sherlock moves his arms down between John's splayed shaking thighs and then reaches up and coaxes him down with his fingers wrapped back around John's sides to pet at John's belly and so John eases down and then Sherlock leans up to lap at him—gasping—and then closes his teeth on the little metal ring and gives him a little tug and John slams his hand down on the headboard. Groans, doubled over, as that squeezing-too-tight feeling shivers out across the whole of his skin and Sherlock pulls him down hard and gives him a hot, wet kiss, licking into him so wet and open from the thick plummy head of Sherlock's cock getting wet getting him wetter so that he could eat it back out of him with his hands wrapped hard around his hips to hold him tight to his face as though John weren't braced against the headboard weren't grinding down on his face while moaning right into him Sherlock licks, and licks, and licks. Gives him a little tender teasing fuck with his tongue and John wants—he wants— "More," gasping; gasping, "Please—" while Sherlock takes his hands off him—no, no, so John pushes his arse hard onto Sherlock's tongue on his own while Sherlock flails out for the bedside table and finally grabs one of his toys, a bulbous pearlescent alien thing that John barely sees but kneels up for, wanton, his thighs spread and shaking with his hands on the headboard as under him face glistening Sherlock slicks it up and then pushes it up into John's arse in three smooth increasing bumps that make him at first furious—and then oh, finally—and then Ch-h-hrist and John gulps and gulps and gulps with his arse stretching open around cool hard silicone locked into him too thick unmoving while Sherlock pulls him back down. When John looks down he can barely see Sherlock past his own purple-flushed cock and his tight aching balls but he can feel him hands on his hips and hot breath on his burning slapped-up stinging skin beneath the choke-hold collar of the ring done up around him stretching him drum-tight where Sherlock is lapping carefully at him held open by the third too-thick lump just above the base of the toy. Sherlock licks all around him: it feels huge. John feels huge. He feels like his arsehole is going to be stretched so wide he'll go 'round for days hollow and hungry and so ready that all Sherlock will have to do is pull him over get his trousers down and then fit his hand into him, feel around. He is almost too full, and then Sherlock licks into him, tongue dipping in alongside the slick hard unyielding bulk of the toy, and John starts to shake. He is making noises: he knows it, he can't stop. An overinflated balloon. Into him Sherlock makes a hot, satisfied noise; and then fingers he twists it and thunderclap: John's lungs. Shocking lightning all through him up and down his insides while John gasps into his own shoulder arm braced taut on the headboard and then Sherlock twists the toy in micrometers that make its irregular weight scrape and hollow him out while Sherlock tenderly licks him all over, sodden with lube and saliva so wet John thinks Sherlock probably could just pull him back down and fuck him a little more and then fuck, twisting and licking and lighting him up until he can barely breathe and then Sherlock stops the miserable bloody bastard and nudges John up—just—not far, just enough for him to murmur, "How are you?" and then give the toy another thick, shocking twist and John shudders and groans. Sherlock kisses him, gentle, high up on the inside of his thigh.

Then Sherlock slides down underneath him leaving him braced and bare and lonely shivering all over until Sherlock kneels up behind him sliding his left arm beneath John's braced arms, wrapping it around his torso and holding him up as Sherlock coaxes John's knees together: John is gasping for breath; every nerve inside him shimmering with light. Sherlock kisses the nape of his neck, beneath his ear, his cheek: "Is it too much?" he asks, very gently; John shakes his head, hard, and Sherlock nuzzles into his hair. "Tell me," he murmurs, reaching down to push his arsecheeks apart, to pet at the soft swollen edges of John's body and then twist with his long fingers just so and John sobs. "Too much?" Sherlock repeats, and no John twisting back to kiss him desperate no while Sherlock sighs, soft, into the edge of his mouth; and then slides his palm down John's lit-up belly to lift up John's balls.

It eases.

A window opening on a hot day; John's cock drips onto the pillow as he gasps and gasps for the rushing-in air. So much for the towels, John can think; and he swallows. It's—inexplicable, how different it feels, except that then Sherlock is nudging John's thighs apart again and John feels that too, every millimeter: his muscles relaxing and contracting in countless little bursts while Sherlock shifts him around to make a barely-there gap between his thighs. "Can I," Sherlock murmurs, "a bit," and John swallows and swallows until he can say, "Yeah," and Sherlock lets out a hot gust of breath on his cheek and lets go of John's balls and then pulls back enough to get the bottle, to slick up John's skin. John slides his right hand under his own genitals. Lifts them up, as Sherlock'd done, so he won't lose his fucking mind; Sherlock is sliding his cock into the slick-wet space of his thighs and so John tightens up for him and it pulls at the muscles in his throat. It's completely bizarre. He doesn't know how any part of him will react. He's full up with a thick unrealistic sex toy that shudders and jolts in him heavy and good while Sherlock fucks his thighs and every inch of erectile tissue on his body is tight and full and aching. Sherlock screws himself in against him, making delicious little noises while he kisses the back ridge of John's shoulder and his ear and his throat and John rubs Sherlock's left hand over his own navel and up to his ribs and then jerks forward when Sherlock's fingertips brush over his nipple and moans and Sherlock gasps, "Oh—yes—" and pinches it rubs it rolls it in between his fingers while suddenly 200 kph desperate John shudders and screws himself back, Sherlock's cock squelching wet and thick between his thighs and John thinks—he wonders—

"Can you." He swallows: parched. "D'you think, can you get it inside me, can you—" and Sherlock makes a high, helpless noise with his arm drawing tight around John's ribs and is still.

John is trembling. He is becoming acutely aware that he is drenched with sweat. Sherlock's breath is coming in wet cooling puffs on his shoulder, panting, open-mouthed, pressed everywhere tight together so that their skin slips and Sherlock's pulse batters John's body. John strokes his own cock, just barely. Gasps.

"You want that?" Sherlock asks, finally; very low, not moving.

"Yeah," John breathes, and then does it again: a long shivery-bright touch that spools down through him, blood vessels and bones. He leans his head back on Sherlock's shoulder, and Sherlock's hand slides back over his hip, slips in between them, and tugs at the base of the toy. It lurches inside John's body: John groans.

Pulling back away from him Sherlock says, "Come here," with his hands all over him hips and belly and thighs easing John's unsteady knees back on the mattress while his hands slip, tractionless, on the headboard. "I need," John says unsteadily; "Yeah," Sherlock says, "come here, lie down," and eases John down onto his back onto the towels with his thighs bending up still wet and cool and Sherlock red-faced sitting himself up cross-legged between them, pulling John's hips only-just up onto his folded feet. Sherlock opens the lube. Pets at the rim of John's arse: John sucks in a long, slow breath, which does less than nothing to actually calm him down.

"D'you really want that?" Sherlock asks, quiet.

"What?" John barks out a laugh. "You stuffing me full of cock? Because that can't possibly be news, I mean—"

"You like having something inside you," Sherlock says, "I know"; and John swallows.

"Not," he says, raggedly, "exactly the same thing."

"No," Sherlock agrees, very quietly; and pets his long wet fingers up John's slick inner thighs, which shiver apart, utterly helpless.

"Yeah," John whispers, as Sherlock curls his fingertips around the backs of his knees—pulls them apart—drop down to John's arse to shift him up— "I do."

"You want me to keep twisting this in you," Sherlock murmurs, pressing at the toy, "until there's room."

"Yeah." John swallows. "Yeah."

"You want me to just ease this to the side," Sherlock says, rubbing his fingers along the base, "and pull you up onto my cock, too, hm?" His left hand has gone walkabout, petting at whatever bits of John apparently strike his fancy, hips and knees and wet thighs and trembling ankles, and every touch sinks into John's body like wet clay.

"Yeah." Delirious, nearly. John cups his hand around himself again, with some vague malformed notion that it is in some way protective. "I want you to," John whispers, and Sherlock kisses his bent-up knee.

"Hand me the bottle," Sherlock says, nodding up; the lube has rolled nearly to John's shoulder, so John twists—fuck—to try and get his hand around it while Sherlock rocks the toy inside him: incessant, relentless. John shudders, squirming, and then finally gets his fingers around the bottle, shoving it down towards Sherlock while slowly, gently, Sherlock eases John's ankles up onto his shoulders. John wipes at his face. He's dripping all over everything, he'd leaked precome all over the pillow and his thighs are prickling up as they dry but he's drenched in sweat and his arse still feels so wet he isn't certain that Sherlock really needs it, but Sherlock is still slicking up his hands. Pulling John's arsecheeks apart to stare at him, red-faced, licking his pink mouth wet again as he rubs his fingertips against him, coaxing: John opens, wants to open, wants to be so open for him—

"Shh, don't," Sherlock murmurs, "it's all right." He turns to kiss John's propped-up calf and John shudders: "Relax," Sherlock is whispering, "we've got ages": and something unravels and snaps in John's chest.

"I want," he gasps, and then folds his bent arm across his face.

Sherlock rubs his mouth across John's skin, over and over: John's toes curl. "I know," Sherlock says, very quietly.

"I do," John gasps, sucking down oxygen-hollow breaths, "I want—Sherlock—"

"You want me to put myself inside you?" Sherlock asks. Soft.

"Yeah," gasping. Eyes prickling up. "Yeah."

"You want me to work you open," Sherlock says. "As open as you can get."

"Yes," John whispers, and then—whines—

"For this—" Sherlock presses and John moans, moans, shuddering all over. "And my prick," Sherlock murmurs. "And my hand."

"I love your hands," John gasps, and Sherlock nuzzles his bent-up leg.

"Until I can fit my other cock into you, too," Sherlock says, very gently; and John laughs wetly, drops his arm.

"Yeah." Watching through his bent-up knees Sherlock looking down at him, eyes soft mouth soft cheeks pink as he rubs the edge of his lips against the top of John's hairy calf. "Yeah, Sherlock," John says, "I want—everything," hollow and inadequate, "as much as—," but Sherlock just watching him with that softclose expression just whispers, "Relax for me, John"; and John exhales, long and slow, as Sherlock slips his long finger just inside.

"God." John inhales. Long. Slow. Reaching his right hand down to Sherlock's left where it is caressing his leg. He tangles their fingers up together, holds on tight, while Sherlock pets at the ring of his arsehole stretched open and tight-tight-tight, rocking at the toy with his thumb.

"Then what?" Sherlock asks, soft. Kisses his shin.

John laughs, embarrassed.

"I like the way you talk to me," Sherlock says, hushed.

He's so lovely. Helpless John squeezes his hand. "Your other cock," John says, rough. "I mean—the weird one on the bedside table, I mean," and then laughs. Says, "All your cocks!" Overheated. A bit insane.

Sherlock just grins down at him. "I'm not certain I can be kind to someone," he says, but he is kind, he's—sweet, he's terribly sweet, he's sweetly rubbing John looser and looser with his long gentle wet sweet fingers fucking one into him just the tip and then oh-h-hh-hhh as he murmurs, "who thinks my cocks are weird," as John shivers raw-scraped laughs and shivers and his cock bobbing rock-hard between them drips onto his stomach. "All right?" Sherlock asks, gentle. Toy and two fingers inside him barely moving as breathless John swallows—so full but not—enough and he gasps—

"My—my mouth," finally. Eyes hot, half-laughing. He can feel tears leaking down his cheeks—absurd—he can't care, he wants, "My mouth, I want you to put it in my mouth," squeezing Sherlock's left hand painfully tight as Sherlock presses a little sweet starburst of kisses against his ankle and fucks him in millimeter movements full up with his heavy bulging silicone cock and the very tips of his two fingers—

"Mm." Sherlock shifts, jolts John's heel up, which jolts—everything as Sherlock kisses the arch of John's clenching foot—

—squirming "—fuck—" gasping "—fuck—"

"And then," Sherlock says.

John groans. He can't—

"And then." Sherlock kisses John's sole: John's cock drips thick and wet as John cries out. "Will that be enough?" Sherlock is asking pressing into him and John is shaking, shaking his head, thrashing around him against him until Sherlock pushes down on his wet belly holds him still.

John moans.

"You want me to keep you stuffed like that all night?" Sherlock asks, in that same soft voice.

"Yeah," John gasps, "yeah—"

"I'll do it," Sherlock tells him; John groans, and Sherlock pets as his belly. "I'll do it if you want me to."

"Please," John whispers, rubbing his elbow over his face. "Please."

"I'll just pull you up over my thighs," Sherlock says, and John looks at his lovely serious fey face reddening between John's slung-up feet, "and fill you up."

"Please." John swallows. "M'ready. I want—I want it, I want you to," barely breathing: "touch me, please—"

Sherlock gives a little jerky nod. Drags John up higher onto the rise of his bent legs then eases the toy out of him in an agonizing ecstatic drag—another—another, leaving him so hollow it hurts. Aching all over and empty John sparkling watches Sherlock slick up his fingers and breathes. Breathes. Breathes. "You want me to fuck you like that," Sherlock is asking, "both holes, until you come?"

With his wet—big slick clever—

"Yeah," John gasps. Moans, with Sherlock petting in gentle and inexorable against his rubbed-soft insides, all of him burning up—John—squeezing Sherlock's tangled-tethering left hand as he wants

"Then that." Sherlock murmurs, against his heel. "Is what I'll do."

"Please," John whispers. Helpless. "Please."

"I'll keep myself inside you all night." Sherlock's lips brand-hot on John's skin as he fits— "Until I can't stand it, either." —sighing, so tight— "Come buried inside you."

"I want you to," John admits. Swallowing. Sherlock is nodding, pressing soft half-kisses against John's leg as his fingers press deep into John's arsehole: his four long fingers, tucked inside. "I want it." John swallows: Sherlock's soft serious eyes. "I want you to," John confesses, "I want all of you inside me, your hand, your cock," laughing—and all of him— "I want you to come so hard I'll have to worry about getting fucking pregnant," so raw—sobs

"It's all right," Sherlock says, quiet. His left hand wound up tight with John's right as Sherlock's right— "I've got you," he is saying, "breathe," so John breathes looking up at him longing empty-hollow electric as red-faced Sherlock fucks his wet fingers back in and out of him and John breathes, and breathes, and—breathes—with Sherlock breathing hard against John's leg over his shoulder as the ridge at the top of his palm presses against John's stretched-wide body and John—can't—he needs—squeezes Sherlock's left hand with his right cupped around himself pulling his balls up out of the way so that all of Sherlock's knuckles can press against him as Sherlock whispers, "You're so—so open for me," with an unsteady half-voiced breath that wobbles and collapses at the end: "John," and John sighs all his air streaming out as he—wants—and clenches—and then all at once peels himself soft open easy for Sherlock as he wants to be soft-open-easy for Sherlock as he is in his brain and his heart and his bones softopeneasy for Sherlock and his moods and his ego and his uncertainty his sweetness his red face and lovely eyes and oh his long fingers as easy soft open his thick palm tucked thumb are pushing all the way into him in a long slick burning-hot slide, so that at last John can exhale close up and hold him, tight around his wrist.

"Oh," Sherlock is gasping, unsteady, "John. John."

John brea—tries to—he can't—and then Sherlock gasps and shifts and unraveling John groans, shuddering hard all over as Sherlock gasps, "John—John—" and lets go of John's hand to fumble with John's fingers and the buckle and John shivers and whines with inside him all of Sherlock's right hand inside him all the way inside him as the strap slips open and blood surges into John's face and he wants—needs—wants—Sherlock's little high desperate noises in the back of his throat as his hand shifts—turns, barely, and— "John, can I—can I—"

"I want," John manages, with his quarter-lungful of breath, "you to do—everything you want," spiral-twisted purple-edged laughter, "anything—Sherlock—s'lovely," looking dizzily up at his glowing red sweaty face as John explains, "everything you do to me," and Sherlock makes a little hot noise and his—his hand—swelling up huge-to-bursting inside John's neon green fireworks body as John grabs at the head of his own cock groaning as Sherlock gasps and wraps his free hand around John's hand on him and John whimpers. Sherlock touching him so tenderly inside while their fingers interlace around his red prick— "Lube," John asks, and so Sherlock hands him the lube and John flips the cap and pours it into Sherlock's left hand and all over his too so that Sherlock can wrap his wet fingers around John's cock and hold him, how sweetly he holds him while gasping for air John—just reaches—down, and—touches

"John," Sherlock gasps.

"God." John can barely breathe. "You're really." Pressing slick fingers against the already-soaked too-tender rim of himself, tucked against the jut of bone at the crest of Sherlock's lovely, angular wrist. Looking up at Sherlock's red-flushed face and wide eyes: "Touch me," John whispers, and Sherlock gasps, and then evaporating out disintegrating in Sherlock's lap-arms-bed warm-sheeted and groaning as touching the tendons that pull-shift in Sherlock's slick moving right forearm as Sherlock's clever fingers caress him all over him around him inside him and tight full held hot prickling-wet overflowing as John incandescent explodes.

Hearing—

      (—probably me—)

"—John,"

                        so soft and

holding him, slipping out of him         and                   holdinghim but                                     hollow

                                                                                                       but

Sherlock is holding him,

                                        even before he is kneeling up bending over him pressing down
         to fold around him his long, unsteady pink arms.

"Sherlock," John whispers, shaken, awed; and hot all over pressed tight against him still hard Sherlock makes a little incoherent noise and squeezes him tighter. Tight.

John puts his arms around him. He presses their bodies together as he pulses and throbs. He is still sounding high and clear, the pure contact-caught tone of a tuning fork or a bell: the shell of his body still chiming around his bones and his breath set ringing by and covered in Sherlock entirely. The tap of that gong-strike touch, still echoing; tucked away where no one can mar the fingerprints, safe inside.

Chapter Text

John scans a jar of gherkins, then a jar of gherkins, while the phone rings. Three ninety-five. Three ninety-five. Then the phone rings, and he scans a jar of gherkins. He wishes the woman with the handlebar moustache would answer the phone, which is ringing, but he supposes that since the rest of the staff have all been moved to the submarine, she must be rather busy. He's not even entirely certain she works for Tesco's. If she did she might pick up the phone.

"What?" Snarled—Sherlock. It doesn't ring again.

John shifts, face scraping cotton. Lower Sherlock is saying "yes I was asleep it's not even half six what do you want." Not, John thinks, a question. Hand out: skin. A thigh, found: John pats it, and Sherlock folds his hand over John's, warm, closing: still. Held still while he is whispering well that's not my bloody fault as John burrows soft-hairy-fragrant now is it. Sherlock's skin.

"Can't it wait?" Sherlock asks, very low.

John rubs his cheek against Sherlock's thigh. A shore. His body a cove for Sherlock's sea salt damp skin, around his warm-wave hip still bent up, space for John; speaking, as behind around him, beneath the duvet mountains, John half-washed back into sleep.

"Fine," clipped by teeth, "fine"; and then a thump.

Mobile, John thinks. Floor. He touches Sherlock's side: sweet. "Shh." Mumbling, lips thick. "Mrs. Hudson."

"Self-important, self-serving bastard," Sherlock grumbles. John scratches up his ribs, eyes closed, as under his fingers Sherlock shifts and stretches with John shifting-stretching, John's hand sliding up Sherlock's back as Sherlock slides back under the covers, lying on his side by John's side. Arm tucked under Sherlock's warm neck, which rubs: his stubble (rough) against John's jaw (rough); his shoulder; his throat.

John's mouth is dry. "Mycroft?" The only logical conclusion. Sticky, is Sherlock, at his nape. John's palm curves around his shoulder, home.

"I am summoned to the presence," Sherlock grumbles. Hands. His leg is slipping back between John's legs arms tucked around-wedged under John's torso, long warm feet stashed comfortably up against-underneath John's calves; and then, at last, Sherlock settles. Nose wedged against John's jawline; swallowing billows of breath.

John nods. Sparking under his fingertips the knobs of Sherlock's spine. He asks, "Are you smelling me," and Sherlock breathes out.

"Mm." A kiss, then: smallish, sweet. "You smell good."

John pulls his palm up to his own face. Scrubs off sleep. Squints open his eyes. A half-centimeter away, Sherlock is smudged and blurry, shades of blue and grey in the half-light. Underwater, John is thinking; he is thinking, a dream. John breathes in. "I smell like hours of savage fucking," he says, and Sherlock snorts. Starts laughing, little warm-uncurling puffs on John's temple. His cheek. Lips curling up Sherlock murmurs, "Well," secret, up close. Lovely, John thinks.

He scratches his fingers up. Through the back of Sherlock's hair. Rough-under-slick against his fingers, thick: needs a wash, really: regret. John rubs the flat of his hand over Sherlock's long sweaty back, all the way down to the curve of his arse before he is awake enough to think to ask: "Wait." Pulling his chin down, face back, to look at Sherlock, face down against his collarbone, back arching under his hand: "You don't turn your ringer off?"

A noise: a response in the negative, John thinks. "I do," Sherlock says, muffled. Buzzing all the way down through John's ribs. "I did."

"Demonstrably false," John counters, and Sherlock sighs. Lifts his head.

"He got fed up with me not answering," he explains, "and had Chloe turn the ringer on."

"She can do that?" A dark crescent of eyelash caught on Sherlock's cheek: not Sherlock's. Gentle John brushes it off.

Propped up over him, soft eyes and corona of hair, Sherlock is smiling. "Do you find that surprising?" he asks. Close enough it rumbles John's chest.

"Not really," he admits.

He is, he finds, already leaning up for a kiss. Sherlock's mouth parting, rough-edged, sleep-sour: awful, really. John wants another, so he does it again. Sherlock sighs into him: John's unfolding lungs. He wraps his arms around him tight his shoulders tight his bending-bough back and his thighs and their knees. "How long," John asks. All breath. Still caught, on Sherlock's tongue.

A touch. Another. And then Sherlock's lips half closed on his jaw: a kiss, and then he says, "Seven," quiet, "so—forty minutes"; and John sighs. "She's going to come and collect me," Sherlock adds, resentment-heavy; regret. Sorry, John nods, pulling his arms tight and close.

"I was going to make you breakfast," Sherlock mumbles, wedging himself in close and tight. It's unnecessary, thrilling; John is already quite efficiently pinned to the bed.

"Mm." John touches his tongue out: salty unwashed Sherlock skin. He is hungry. "We never did eat dinner, did we."

"Nope." To this John nods. Rubs his shoulder. The back of his neck. Sherlock shifting against him, asking, "Should I apologize?"

John shakes his head, smiling. "No," but caught. Sherlock's mouth against his, smiling too. "But."

He remains interrupted, John thinks, for quite some time.

"But," Sherlock murmurs, muffled.

Toffee forgotten under the windscreen of a car, moving they pull and stick. John is, Sherlock would be. The two of them together; open; all over; for.

"But, you said," Sherlock insists.

Could, anything, easy, John's absent thoughts. "But." John's fingers. Girls, like. Sherlock's back is not in fact perfectly smooth but downed with the same fine abundant fuzz that dusts his shoulders and his upper arms. "But?"

"You said," Sherlock says, "'but'." The hair on his back has been in the past translucently fair, but John can't see to confirm, just now. "Before," Sherlock adds. "I don't need to apologize. But."

"Oh!" John remembers. "Chloe."

Sherlock makes a vague noise of disapproval.

"Your mobile, I meant," John explains. "Does she do that a lot?"

"What, ring me annoyingly?" Sherlock pulls back enough to look down at him: his mad hair, lips rubbed pink.

"Hack your mobile when you don't pick up," John corrects, petting his fingertips across Sherlock's jawline, sandpaper-rough in patches with his splotchy stubble. Awful. He's not even good-looking, really. "Kiss me," John says, half-swallowed, too late.

"When," Sherlock says, "she finds it," in between. "Necessary," and against his mouth John laughs. "What?"

"Just imagining," John explains, "the—what, bloody... nine-screen monitoring setup—"

"Oh, no," Sherlock groans, dropping his face down to John's throat.

"—with his little army of overqualified secret service girls," John adds, as Sherlock starts to laugh, "with headphones, writing it all down," giggling, helpless, as Sherlock digs his fingers into John's ribs, merciless, "entire—stacks of A4 folders, piling up on his desk, today's transcripts, sir," and then reaches up for a pillow, smacks it down against John's face and shoulders, twice. John hooks his feet around Sherlock's knees, still laughing, snatching the pillow and tossing it away to wrestled-wrestling-wrestle the tangle of their bodies smacking elbows-forearm-face into the damp-wrinkled wreck of the sheets.

Heavy on his back Sherlock says, "You," digging his fingertips against the crease of John's armpit, "are a bad person."

"I know," John says, still giggling. "I know."

Sherlock hooks his chin over John's shoulder, nose to the sheets. "But not quite as bad," he says, hot on the back of John's ear: under his long rangy sticky-hot weight John shivers, stretches; "as my syphilitic," a jolt, hotsharp in his ribs and his mouth curling up, "motherfucking, pay-by-the-hour," as Sherlock turns his head aside, "overpriced ball-licking arsehole bastard cock," half-shouted, "of a brother," while underneath him John presses his face into the pillow and laughs, and laughs, and laughs.

"Mm." Sherlock turns his head back, nuzzling: pressing kisses up John's shoulder, nape. "I enjoyed that."

John twists; a kiss. "I wasn't even entirely certain you knew all those words." Smiling.

"Hm," Sherlock murmurs, and John grins into the pillow, "I think I learned quite a few of them from you," and John starts laughing again, helpless. Sherlock kisses up the side of his neck, across his cheek. Slides his hand beneath the two of them, hopeful; skin prickling up head to toe—as—John—inhales; and then sighs.

"That," John says, "is not going to make either of us smell less like hours of savage fucking"; and Sherlock says, "You interest me strangely," in that low hot voice that makes John push back against him barely thinking, his breath and Sherlock's breath caught together in and out and John could—just—

"All right," he says, and sighs, forcing himself still. "We really haven't the time."

"No?" Sherlock says, eeling—

"Ugh," hand back, "you wretched—stop," with his fingers tangling in Sherlock's hair and his heart and his skin and his throat, and Sherlock stops. Heavy. Sticky with sweat, hot on John's back, with his stilled hand—John inhales, slow, gathering himself; then rolls up onto his side, tumbling Sherlock off.

John sits up, twisting to look back down at him, which would probably be a mistake but for how Sherlock frowns up at him: comical, overwrought. John can feel it bubbling up under his sternum again, twitching at the edges of his mouth.

"You were an absolute hazard during school games, I'd reckon, weren't you." John forces himself up to his feet. "Football dives and all." He turns back. "Did you cry?"

Sprawled out in the bed Sherlock raises an eyebrow at him. "Only because of how much it hurt," Sherlock says, low and hot; then slides his hand up to slowly—twitch—the sheet—aside—

"Oh, please," John says, exasperated. "It isn't as though I won't get right back into bed with you later—come on, shower." He holds down a hand. "I'll scrub your back."

Sherlock regards the proffered hand, then takes it; and John hauls him up to his feet, drags him towards the en suite, bumping too close to his back, feet tangling up with his feet.

"Actually," Sherlock is saying, "I never was much for diving."

"Shocking." John props the rattling shower door open with his forearm, turns on the taps. "Skipped games entirely, I take it?" He runs his fingers into the water: cold, cold, cool; then lets the shower door shut as he twists back: a better use of their time.

"My preferred strategy," Sherlock explains, "was to have," in between, "an ill-timed bout of the 'flu."

"Mm." Nodding. "And you were a sickly child," mouth to mouth, "were you." Warm all over. The glass cold on his back.

"Strangely enough, yes," Sherlock says, all surprise; and John starts laughing again, pulls away. The door sticks, a bit, when he jostles it open to check the water: good enough. He steps in, tugging Sherlock in after, and Sherlock shuts them in with the water warm on John's right and the left prickling up in bare air. "It helped," Sherlock adds, "that I'm allergic to hops."

"Hops?" John can feel his eyebrows rising. "As in—what they put in beer?"

"Yeah." Sherlock has to duck to get his head under the spray, then grins down at him, fringe dripping, a little sheepish; and John has to stop looking at him so he turns to the jumble of bottles on the ledge instead, hunting down the shampoo.

There's a loofah on a string hanging off the corner.

"Christ, it's like a salon in here," John sighs, rifling through a half a rainbow of silky matte bottles with the price stickers all still on—Jesus. No wonder Sherlock gets antsy when he hasn't any work. "This?"

Sherlock pushes his wet hair back off his face. "That's clarifying shampoo," he says. "Not more than once a week, it's drying."

"Oh, of course," John says, as wide-eyed Sherlock mouths it back: of course, which John does not consider worthy of reply. "So," he says, "what were you doing, chugging lager behind the bike sheds?" as he turns back to pump the other twice into his palm, and then—upon reflection—again. "Doesn't seem your style."

"Not particularly," Sherlock agrees, bending down. "Wasn't necessary, anyway," he adds, as John soaps up his hair. "It's not hard to find wild hops, actually."

Even wet Sherlock's hair is something else, silky-thick and warm and soft, foaming up white in a palmful £52 shampoo that smells like nothing so much as the overpriced coconut gelato that John, in 1987, returning from a school trip to Pompeii, blew all his pocket money on for the sake of a tall blonde in the upper sixth called Cissy.

"They get out, you know," Sherlock murmurs, under his hands. "Grow in among the hedgerows"; and John shifts.

"Right," he says; and Sherlock hums.

The shower is streaming over Sherlock's back, warmth rising around them in a thick wet mist, John prickling up all over—not cold, he thinks, strangely anxious, throat tight; not cold.

"And you're allergic to them." John's voice comes out low. Encouraging, he'd meant; but forgot. The ends of Sherlock's hair are curling up around his fingertips, lush.

"Not very," Sherlock murmurs, turning his head under John's hands. "Bit of an upset stomach," he says, liquid and slow, "that's all"; as the cup of his palm finds John's hip.

Slow John is scrubbing the pads of his fingers against Sherlock's scalp, white with suds to his wrists. He's never before spent any time with a £52 bottle of shampoo. Done, he thinks; his fingertips dragging creamy bubbles down behind the delicate shell of one fair ear, done, done—forty minutes 'til seven, he knows: far too soon.

"Rinse, then," he says, at last; and Sherlock shuffles obediently to the side, ducking back under the spray. His face just flushed pink, pink mouth slack. Eyes closed.

"And how'd you find that out, then," John asks, rough. He swallows. Foot forward—closer—touching, to guide a stream over the crown of Sherlock's bent head, washing white down his shoulders and chest; hot all over, John laughs. "Trotting about Surrey in short pants," he asks, "nibbling on the verge?"

Smiling Sherlock's cheeks plump. "Oxfordshire," he corrects. "But otherwise: yeah, not far off, really."

Slow John nods, with his empty mouth, thinking. Chasing the last of the shampoo out in fast-running rivulets as Sherlock reaches up to John's forearm. Long hand curling, gentle; and John hasn't asked, has wanted to ask, wants to ask so: "Not the family home, then, is it," John asks. Light not light. A feather tied to a stone: his breath cool in his mouth, and Sherlock's fingers, a firm warm ring around his wrist.

Sherlock says, "No," quiet.

"Yeah." John drops his hands down along Sherlock's throat. Shoulder. The nape of his neck: touched, as Sherlock lifts his head, very close. His eyes still half-closed, lips wet.

John doesn't ask, doesn't ask. His thumb, pink lips; Sherlock swallows. John doesn't drop his hand.

"When our dad left, our mum sent us to Wolvercote," Sherlock says, "since my gran still lived there."

"Yeah," John says. Nodding. "Your mum's mum?"

"No," Sherlock says.

John nods. Squeezes the back of his neck; then leaves one hand at rest, and shuffles to the side just enough to reach the conditioner.

Awkward, one-handed, but. But. But under his fingers, bent forward, Sherlock is still and quiet, head bowed, and still holding onto John's wrist. When John goes back to work on his hair the pad of Sherlock's thumb presses against the flex of John's thumb in John's palm. The shower is spilling hot on their shoulders and sides: John's right, Sherlock's left; thickening the air, even if there's not enough to keep them both in the spray. Sherlock's eyes closed, his face still, his hair coming untangled in John's hands.

"All right," John says, quiet; and Sherlock lets him tilt his head under the water. Guide his face down, his one ear up; then the other, as Sherlock slides his palm down along John's forearm, back up the side, as slow as the tides.

His conditioner smells like coconut, too. In addition to being two and a half years older, Cissy had been head and shoulders taller than him and had had round arms and lush breasts and had let John kiss her once, but not twice: a generosity; an indulgence given—very kindly, John thinks now, past forty—to a little boy; and John is painfully, irrationally ashamed. The ends of Sherlock's hair tend to catch, he is noticing, when wet. This close he barely has to raise his voice to ask, "Do you like it?"

Sherlock says, "What, you petting me like a cat," but it comes out—wrong, somehow. Queerly unbalanced at the end.

"Yeah," John says, quiet. "That."

Sherlock is silent, head bent, not looking at him. Embarrassed John turns: he'd said he'd wash his back, didn't he, but—; the loofah, then, if—; so John grabs it, not knowing what else to do.

Behind him, Sherlock says, "Yes."

John nods. Exhales. Turning back as Sherlock straightens, pushing his wet hair back from his forehead, to look at him: cheeks red, wide-eyed. His eyelashes tremble: working on not looking, John knows, away.

"I do, too," John says. Best to be clear, he thinks, and adds, "A lot."

Sherlock wipes the water off his face with one big hand. Says nothing. They're naked, John is realizing, somehow; somehow it's almost as though he hadn't noticed, as though it is new to him, somehow, that they are standing naked nearly touching all over half in hot water and wreathed entirely in steam; and Sherlock is watching him with his wet hair shoved back and his lashes trembling and his cheeks flushed from the heat. So close that when—loofah in hand—John breathes in, their ribs touch. Sherlock's eyes aren't green, but they look it, nearly.

John asks, "Do you want me to keep going?"

A strange feeling: not knowing what the things mean that he says, entirely; John is hot and cold, his right arm in the water like the whole of him watching Sherlock has remembered for a half an instant to watch something else, and then Sherlock is shuffling to the side and so John is shuffling with him: a half turn, as Sherlock shifts the last half of himself out of the water so that it comes down in a blood-hot rush all over John's back, as before him Sherlock squares his shoulders: "Yes," he says, straightening his spine.

John nods. Sherlock's whole fair body—John pushes up onto his toes, reaching up over Sherlock's shoulder for the soap. A pure-white bar of something that smells faintly of lemons and feels silky on John's fingertips: probably hand-milled by French peasants, or something; probably worth a third of their rent. Not a taste, John thinks, that he picked up in Wolvercote—: and then, furious with himself, he snaps the thought shut all at once. There is soap in his hand, so John rubs it to lather between his palm and the loofah as Sherlock turns 'round, baring to John the long hill-and-valley dips curves of his pale back.

John starts at Sherlock's shoulders, level with his own nose. Not new, precisely, but—. But. At Sherlock's shoulders John starts in the center and scrubs out, and under his hands Sherlock shivers. Throws his right hand out to brace on the shower door, which rattles in its track and helpless John presses his toes to the ground and a kiss to his neck and Sherlock hunches up for an instant before his chin snaps up and his shoulders snap straight; and John pulls back, a breath of space between them nearly cold while the hot water batters down on his back. The hazard of knowing someone so well, better than they want you to; before him Sherlock is holding himself painfully still and perfectly straight; the way he does, John knows, when there are things he is not wanting, incompetently, for other people to see.

All right, John is thinking. All right. All right.

He doesn't notice, very carefully. Just slowly reaches up over Sherlock's shoulder so he can set the soap back beside the jumbled-up bottles and then gently touches his right hand against Sherlock's shoulder, and uses the the left to brush the loofah against Sherlock's spine. Gentle. Careful: both hands accounted for, no surprises, moving slow. Sherlock doesn't tense again, so John slides the loofah down, gentle and careful and slow. Under his hands Sherlock breathes. All right, John thinks. All right, all right. He said he'd scrub Sherlock's back, so he does. He scrubs the loofah down then up then down again, then in gentle swipes side to side across Sherlock's trapezius and latissimus dorsi, working his careful white-foaming fragrant way down in long slowly-sinking stripes all the way to the top of Sherlock's buttocks, and under his still right hand he can feel Sherlock's shoulders gently sinking, millimeter by millimeter, his steady slow too-heavy careful breath. All right, John is thinking. All right.

"I could keep going, if you like," John says. Drags his right hand down, his knuckles separating the suds. At the base of Sherlock's ribs John can feel him swallow, say nothing. Level with the loofah John stops and rests, the backs of his fingers pressed to the back of Sherlock's right hip.

"Yeah," Sherlock croaks. Clears his throat: "Yes."

John reaches back up over his braced arm, trades the loofah for the bar of soap: careful. He wants to be so careful, can't think how to be more careful, soaps up his fingers and keeps the bar of soap tucked in against the palm of his right hand, careful, resting against the base of Sherlock's pale back flushing a delicate shell pink from the heat. John pets his lathery fingers over the swell of Sherlock's buttocks, soaps under their curve and down the tops of Sherlock's thighs, rubs foam through Sherlock's wiry hair atop his crinkled-soft damp-satin hidden tender skin, and John doesn't linger; except, perhaps, at the little dimples at the tops of Sherlock's round cheeks. He can see Sherlock's ribs move, his heavy-breath. Steam-thick, John thinks, and—. And—.

"Your legs?" John asks, curving his fingers back down against the tops of the backs of Sherlock's thighs.

"Please," Sherlock whispers; so John braces his left hand on the tile so he can ease himself down onto his knees.

Sherlock's legs are wiry and strong: not news, really. The pale hair on their backs is really only visible where it makes the water run differently, foam from his back sliding down paths that John traces with his fingertips, rubbing the soap tucked into his palm up to the ticklish hollow behind Sherlock's right knee and then back down his firm dense right calf to the elaborate architecture of tendon and bone of his right ankle. John sinks his own weight back onto his folded-up feet, running the palm of his hand along the back of Sherlock's blunt pink heel. "Lift up?" John asks; but above him Sherlock makes a small, ragged noise, and "All right," John says, stroking back up the back of his calf, gentling. "All right."

"John," Sherlock gasps.

Agonized. John's chest tightens, painful. "It's all right." He rubs his palm around to Sherlock's shin, squeezes. "I won't. One left, anyway," he adds, and presses his hands and the soap together against the back of Sherlock's left thigh.

Above him Sherlock inhales, slow and noisy. John scrubs his way down, back up. When he kneels up with his weight off of his bent-up feet, it puts his face level with Sherlock's arse, which is starting to prickle up with goosebumps, the soap-streaks half dried. John pulls himself up with a palm on the tiled wall: "Come on," he says, knee—Christ—clicking as he straightens all the way up, "come on," transferring the bar of soap back to its ledge and his hand to Sherlock's back side pink hip and then shuffling them around together, a quarter turn, to put Sherlock's shoulders back under the water. John rubs his palms flat over Sherlock's spine and his flanks and the backs of his thighs, watching Sherlock holding himself rigid and silent as the soap washes off and his skin flushes rosy in the water. John pets his ribs where they connect to his spine, over the soft pink skin stretching down to the jutting ridge of his pelvis. Seven, John is thinking, forty minutes—and half of those at least gone now, surely. He guides the water in between Sherlock's buttocks, careful, rinsing. "Please," Sherlock whispers, and swallowing John slips his fingers down to follow, careful—gentle—slow; and Sherlock's right foot slides squeaking on the tiles, a millimeter. A centimeter.

Unlocking John can feel the breath flowing out of his lungs. Petting, careful. He lingers, a little, this time: he can feel Sherlock's muscles working under his skin. "Like this?" John asks, soft. Rough hair, soft soft skin. At the top of his chest Sherlock makes a wordless animal noise, all the muscles in his back going tight-tight-tight, and "Oh—," John gasps, face stinging, "I won't, shh, it's all right, I won't," his fingers slipping safe to the hot soft skin of Sherlock's inner thighs.

"No," Sherlock gasps, "I want—. John, I—. Please, I want—."

John presses his nose against Sherlock's shoulder, thoughts waterfalling, tumbling, rushing hot. "We don't have time," John whispers, apologetic. "You don't have to—later. I meant—later, if... for later."

"Later?" —Sherlock's voice wobbles, rights itself— "I, oh."

John rubs his cheek against his scapula. Brushes up, cautious; then presses only-just against the firm hot furred flesh just behind Sherlock's testicles, above the tender high-up skin of his long runner's thighs, and Sherlock lets out a long galloping breath and lets down his weight, sinking to press against the careful first two fingers of John's left hand.

"Later." Sherlock's voice is thick. He says, "Will you—," and then stops.

John rubs at him, gentle. Slow. If they had a day and a half, John thinks, overflowing, he's not sure he could touch Sherlock every way that he wants to, just now: he brushes his fingertips against the velvet-soft skin of his scrotum. But—seven, he thinks. Forty minutes. "Later," John agrees, then admits, "you've got to finish washing," heavy with regret.

He draws his hand back, caressing: Sherlock nearly stumbles, noise caught low in his throat; and John steadies him, hands on his hips. Sherlock's pulse is racing, all his skin pinked up. For an instant John's head swims with the breadth of his torso and the length of his legs and the citrusy coconut still-sweaty smell of him and then Sherlock takes a step back to press flush against him, John's arms sliding easy around him, his arms folding down along John's as the long hot pink weight of him is too-hot sticking to John's face and his thighs and his chest.

John swallows. Sherlock's very tall. All the way down in his hips his pulse is thundering into John's hands. "Want me to keep going?" John asks, very soft.

"Please," Sherlock whispers, "please." John's mouth is not quite level with his shoulder. This time when John presses them together top to bottom, Sherlock shivers, and presses back.

Nose. John rubs against his spine. Nods. Chin up: "Pass me the soap?" he asks; and Sherlock lets go of John's wrists at his belly just long enough to fumble with the bar amongst the bottles, shove it down into John's hand. John kisses his shoulder—his shoulder—his shoulder again. It's about the only thing he can reach. Blind he maps out Sherlock's front with his hands, breathing him in. The planes of his chest are solid, rising and falling with his breath, which catches when John brushes soap over a nipple, and breaks when John does it again. With its usual dreadful sense of timing John's cock is nudging against the tops of Sherlock's long thighs but when Sherlock tries to wriggle them apart to make room John stills him, his soapy left hand on his hip.

"Why not," Sherlock says. He sounds astoundingly petulant for a man having his nipples stroked up into little bubble-round rocks: John pinches one and Sherlock moans, pushing back, rubbing tantalizingly against him.

"We're not having a thirty second shag in the shower," John says. It comes out annoyingly uncertain. "I'm getting you clean."

"God," Sherlock groans, but his whole body goes limp, the solid fragrant weight of him warm in John's arms, pressed tight back to front while heart thumping high into his mouth from the top of his throat John soaps up Sherlock's armpits and his sternum and overclocked too-sensitive chest while Sherlock shivers and pants, and then John slides both his hands down over Sherlock's soft trembling belly, dipping one soapy fingertip in and out of his navel over and over while Sherlock gasps, "angh—angh—angh—" and then lets out a long low hot treacle-slow moan as John drops his hands to his groin, soaps up his balls and his shaft and the wiry thatch of his pubic hair that dizzily John can remember-feel-taste scratching and sweaty against his lips and his nose and his chin. "Later," John gasps, "Christ—," and then pulls a palm tight against Sherlock's belly while Sherlock squirms back against his body, sweat breaking out across John's shoulders, the spray falling on half of him rinsing it off down into the groove of his spine.

"John," Sherlock gasps, "John—"

"Stop, please," John gasps, desperate; and heavy and sticky and hot all over, Sherlock goes still. John twists his face against him. Blood in torrents with gratitude he kisses Sherlock's shoulder once. Twice.

He can still feel Sherlock's pulse, pounding up through their skin. Sherlock's arms pressed down holding tight across his folded arms.

"The whole first year I lived with you," John says, and then laughs: too high, manic; and presses his forehead to the knob at the top of Sherlock's spine; Sherlock says, "John," strung tight with desire and still so careful of him, Christ— "In between cases you'd just lounge about in your pajamas and moan and not eat," John explains, "and you never washed."

He can feel Sherlock's spine stiffening: John rubs at his belly, gentle, apologetic.

"I used to fantasize about bodily flinging you into the shower," he adds, unsteady, "and hosing you clean," and then rests his face against the back of Sherlock's long lovely neck, and breathes him in.

After a moment, Sherlock says, "That's funny."

John exhales, slow. "Yeah?"

"Yes," Sherlock agrees, voice light. "It took me at least nine or ten months to start fantasizing about you coming down into my room and fucking me mercilessly across the duvet."

John inhales, lifting his head, loosening his grip. "Hey, come here," he is saying, for some reason, as bunched up too-close to him Sherlock shuffles around to face him: "come here, come here," until Sherlock bends his face down to kiss him, John's palm resting on the side of his lovely scratchy pink face while they kiss and waste water, because John is—outrageously—not allowed to take him back to bed. "Whenever you like," John says, in between kisses, "I'd fuck you mercilessly across the duvet whenever—," and face bent close to his blurry without distance Sherlock flushes; is sheepish; is smiling, dark-eyed red-cheeked: worth something, that.

John wraps his arms around his middle not thinking not thinking not thinking; not thinking, forty minutes. Not thinking, seven. Bending Sherlock rests his cheek against John's temple.

"Do you want me to, really?" John asks, quiet.

Sherlock doesn't answer.

"I mean—" John pulls back, looking up. "Please don't misinterpret this as any sort of foot-dragging on my part, but—"

"Do you really want to fling me into the shower and hose me off?" Sherlock asks.

It comes out—merely curious, voice light; but his eyes are dark with his pupils, hugely wide, and he is holding his lips pressed a little too firmly together, a ghastly sort of parody expression that John is fond enough of him to pretend is a smile.

"We—ell," John says, very slowly, and holds up the soap: "now that I've got you here I find I'd prefer a more hands-on approach," and Sherlock's face cracks open, flushed pink and smiling awkwardly, too wide, true; so John steps back up against him and kisses the hinge of his jaw, and then goes back to lathering up his underarms, brisk and industrious. Working the foam down his long pink sides, not noticing anything at all.

It seems absurd to ignore his erection, so John doesn't. It's an erection; John has one too; the only difference being that since Sherlock's leaving at seven he'll probably fuel his into being a bastard to Chloe while John fully intends to have a furious wank and another shower after he goes, so. John washes Sherlock's erection. He's careful with the soap: best not to sting. He nudges Sherlock around to give his arse another quick scrub, too: John'd probably leaked all over him.

"I'd let you fuck me mercilessly across the duvet," Sherlock says, quiet; but John finds he's been half expecting it. His hands don't stop.

"Thank you," John says, "that's—quite the offer," and then lets Sherlock take a breath, then another, before he asks, "You know that's not what I asked, right?" Easy. As casually as he can.

"Yeah," Sherlock says, unsteady.

John nods, even though Sherlock's not facing him. "All right."

Sherlock is probably clean enough. Probably something near a half-hour of soap rinsed down all over his feet and he still has to shave—still. Still. "Can you turn towards me?" John asks, quiet; and Sherlock turns. "Do you want me to do your feet?" John asks, and then waits, watching Sherlock's face, for Sherlock to flush across his jaw and his cheekbones a hot and mottled red, before nodding at last, twice, quick; and so John eases himself back down, bracing his hand on the wall.

"You don't have to," Sherlock says, quick.

"I want to." John is watching his knees. The skin tightens, patella jumping, then relaxes, almost too fast to see. Again. Again. "You can hold onto me for balance," John says. Looks up. "If you want."

Still red, Sherlock shakes his head. "I'm fine." His hands balling closed open and closed in the air. Knees twitching.

"Whenever you want to," John repeats. Helpless he catches the left, kissing it as above him Sherlock gets redder and redder, brushed to John's mouth Sherlock's knuckles curled over John's knuckles, so red: it should feel absurd, really—does, a bit—but then the feeling slithers away, all the way away, slippery-misshapen writhing into—into something else; and breathless John guides Sherlock's long fingers bent over his fingers from his lips to the side of his neck. A half-instant of contact and Sherlock clamps onto the meat of his shoulder, clenching hard: violinist, John thinks, with a strange, dizzy jolt: right. Right.

He swallows. "Good?" he asks, and looking down at him flushed lips parted wide-eyed, Sherlock nods.

John's never been to bed with a woman as beautiful as him: the thought feels treacherous, paper-thin. John jerks his gaze down to Sherlock's big white feet, then reaches for the right, to ease it up onto his bent-up thigh. The water is loud on the side of his head and his shoulder and the skin of his ringing ear. Sherlock's feet are long and awkward and bony and pale, peculiarly delicate, soft underneath—just like the rest of him, essentially. It gives John a tight-hot-angry feeling in his chest and his throat, a little sharp knot that keeps almost threatening to unravel out into something not wholly unlike despair.

John soaps up Sherlock's arch, scrubs in between his hairy toes. "You know," John says. He keeps having to clear his throat. "I like looking after you," he says, as steadily as he can manage. "Like this. Or."

Can't quite seem to finish. He rinses the top of Sherlock's foot. He eases it back down to the ground while Sherlock keeps his death grip on his shoulder.

Above him, barely audible, Sherlock whispers, "I know"; and lets John ease his left foot up onto his knee.

"So," John says. Nods, chest tight, soaping the soft crinkling skin between ball and heel as he says, "So if you want me to—to make you tea or scrub your back or. Or fuck you mercilessly across your duvet." Helpless, John takes a breath, deep. Toes. Ankle. Arch. Easing the lot back down to the tile he blurts out, "You have really lovely feet," helpless; and then helpless bows forward, eyes closed, face burning, to rest his forehead above Sherlock's knees.

Sherlock's hand loosens on his shoulder. Slides up the nape of his neck, cradles the crown of his skull, and rests.

The warm water is still pouring over John's side. Arm and shoulder. Kneeling thigh. He takes a long deep breath, and after a moment he can push himself up, foot flat on the floor and Sherlock's hands sliding onto his ribs, catching under his elbow. Standing again, John lifts his chin; and Sherlock gives him a scratchy, off-side kiss. John inhales, and twists to turn off the water.

"You can use my shampoo," Sherlock says, low and warm, right in his ear: John shivers.

"Thanks." He rattles the door open: a rush of cold air to replace the fleeing steam; John shivers and grabs Sherlock's towel. "I'm just." Inhaling, steady.

Slow.

He clears his throat. "I'm just considering the likelihood of Chloe turning up before I have a chance to remove that hideous growth from your face," he says, light.

"Oh, well," Sherlock says, rueful, "thanks"; as John reaches up to towel off his hair. It sticks up all over while John dries his face, his shoulders, the back of his neck. His armpits. His chest. His back and arse and thighs, when he turns 'round: "Is it really dreadful," Sherlock is asking, a low buzz in his ribs under the towel under John's hands. His hair is already starting to curl, a bit, at the ends.

John leans up on his toes, presses his mouth just under Sherlock's ear. Breath. Skin. Light: "It's fairly dreadful," he confirms; and Sherlock—warm—starts to laugh.

Hands on his hips. Steady. John steers Sherlock over to the sink before he realizes his own back and legs are dripping all over the floor. He steals back the towel to scrub over his own shoulders, wrap around his own hips, while Sherlock unfolds one of his little fussy rolled-up flannels and wipes a clear spot in the mirror.

It makes John's back prickle, sudden and regretful. It takes him a moment to realize why. When Sherlock reaches for his shaving foam John touches his elbow, and Sherlock half-twists, face turned down towards him, so he can meet John's eyes.

"I could," John offers, and then swallows. "I meant it," he explains. "If you want, I could—," and Sherlock picks up an old-fashioned silver safety razor, and, handle-first, passes it to John.

Sherlock's face is flushed, John notes. Trying not to look up. John examines the razor. The handle is textured, heavy; good newish blade, shiny and sharp—then glances back up at Sherlock, away. "Nice," he says, as light as he can manage. Shaving foam, he thinks; flannels, hot water from the sink: this close John can feel it, when Sherlock shifts his weight.

"The balance will be different from yours, I expect," Sherlock says. It comes out a hair too fast. "You won't have to press as hard."

John nods, then sets it back at the edge of the sink so he has both hands to get the flannel wet—not the one Sherlock had wiped the mirror with, but another, new and clean. He is weirdly conscious of Sherlock watching him, anxiety rising off him with the steam—best, John thinks, if he can laugh. "I think you'd better sit on the toilet," John says, "so I can reach."

Sherlock doesn't laugh, but he does smile halfway; a bit; close enough.

His en suite's a different shape from the bathroom upstairs—long and narrow, no tub—so Sherlock barely has to take a half-step away from John to flip the lid down and then sit, his knees apart nearly touching the wall opposite with his long hands on top. John fills the sink, sets the shaving foam down by the razor, then sidles over in between Sherlock's long bare thighs, refastening the towel so it doesn't keep trying to slide off his hips.

Sherlock's eyes are still wide, liquid and dark, his mouth a little pink bud with his lips tucked together; and always, John is thinking, he has always been careful of his history between 1976 and 2010, more or less, but even before this morning he'd said enough for John to read between the lines of posh mum mad gran no dad, to trace back from two abortive years at Cambridge to a schoolboy crush on a fencing master to a childhood unsupervised nicking bits off the hedgerows in Wolvercote, and guess at the shape of what comes in between. All this time John's brain's been catching on an idle mention made four years ago of the summers after Mycroft left for school and mostly didn't come back, spent boxed up inside with an aging academic's abstruse at-home library and a much-resented inhaler, practicing, endlessly, the violin; but all of a sudden it occurs to John to wonder who ever took the time to teach Sherlock to shave.

A laceration, that thought: hot in his throat and his ribs, and John ought to be sectioned for the way it shoves his blood boiling all over through his too-small suddenly tightening body, but he feels as huge with it as he'd felt for Sherlock with the cane. He touches Sherlock's pointed chin, and his hands don't shake; and what does it matter, really, if everything inside him has been tossed to the floor, if he can still be gentle, when he wipes Sherlock's face.

He goes slowly as he gets him wet with the flannel. He's careful with the shaving foam (dark eyes); and Sherlock's patchy stubble vanishes bit by bit under white while Sherlock looks up at him, brows twisted out in two separate awkward ungainly expressions; and John would've held him up for it with his hands and his chest and his thighs; would've put his arms around him; would've wanted to turn his head if he'd let him, would've kissed one barely beyond peach-fuzzing cheek. Sherlock is holding quite still. Under John's fingers on his throat he swallows, and then John brushes his thumb up over the swell of Sherlock's bottom lip and Sherlock twitches, just a bit, just enough to gulp bare air look away; and so John pulls back, and twists to the water in the sink to rinse off his hands.

Careful, battering inside his cheeks and his temples. Gentle, he thinks, and slow.

He waits until he almost can't hear Sherlock's breathing again. "Unusual," John says. His dad had used a razor like this, thirty years ago. He picks it up, turns it end to end, getting a feel for the weight in his hand. "Who got you started with this?" he asks, as casually as he can.

Sherlock's eyebrows scrunch together: a particularly furry and endearing sort of car wreck. "With what?"

"This sort of razor," John asks. "Or do they just... issue them at all the nation's leading public schools, upon the day one turns fourteen."

"Oh," Sherlock says, sounding surprised, "I didn't shave until after university"; a revelation made as casually as whatever he'd had last for dinner, if he'd remembered, which Sherlock only appears to realize is in any way incriminating after he's finished saying it; whereupon he flushes bright pink under the shaving foam and casts his eyes down, turning away. It makes John dizzy with desire.

"Did you still look very young," John asks—lifting Sherlock's jaw, light— "when you left school?"

Sherlock's eyes flick back up to his. "A bit," he says—and then, "rather," quiet.

John nods. "You shave with the grain, don't you." He brushes rubs his thumb through the foam along Sherlock's right cheek, down to his jaw; and then presses his fingertip under Sherlock's chin again. Tilting it, very slightly, to the side.

"Yeah," Sherlock says, mouth barely moving; and then— "Sebastian spent our whole first term teasing that I looked like a girl," he confesses, a bit too fast, and then scrunches up his nose and says, "a particularly tall, spotty, and hostile sort of girl"; and John murmurs, "Well, I'd expect nothing less," and as Sherlock's face relaxes, nearly to a smile, John rests the razor against his right cheek, and draws it carefully down.

"Pressure all right?" John asks, lifting the razor back, and Sherlock nods. "Good." John turns, rinses the blade. "Did he show you, then?"

Sherlock doesn't answer.

"How, I mean."

"No one—showed me," Sherlock says, uncertain; and then, more quietly, "We weren't friends by then."

John nods. "Lots of nicks, at first, I'd reckon."

"A few," Sherlock whispers.

"Sounds painful," John says, as in his peripheral vision he can see Sherlock's long arms tensing as he balls his hands up on his knees.

John doesn't notice: it would be cruel, he thinks. He just goes slowly, instead. More slowly than he really needs to, he thinks; moving carefully across Sherlock's right cheek, but Sherlock is looking up at John's face with big pupil-black eyes that keep flicking away—back—away. John doesn't want to cut him, so he works slowly, so he's careful, so he doesn't. Sherlock shouldn't ever be in pain.

When John next stretches to rinse off the head of the razor, quietly Sherlock asks, "Spend a lot of time, do you, shaving other people?"

It's not the sort of question John would ordinarily particularly inclined to answer, but he knows better than to think he can get away with deflecting Sherlock. "Have done, a fair bit." He tilts Sherlock's face to the side. "In the past." He starts on the left.

"Not faces, though," Sherlock says, muffled by his half-closed mouth. "I'd expect."

"Not many," John agrees.

"I'd expect. Legs."

John nods. "More frequently, yeah."

"And pubic hair," Sherlock adds: inevitable, really.

"Sometimes," John agrees. He keeps his voice light. Tilts Sherlock's chin back up.

To this, Sherlock makes no immediate reply. John lets him: he can tell, by now, when something inside Sherlock is brewing: did he always know? When did it come, if not? In the past month? Since the autumn? In those long terrible years of being in between? John doesn't know but he can know to be quiet while he works his way along the underside of Sherlock's lovely model-sharp jaw; in little gentle strokes that cross over the bone, careful and slow.

When John next turns to rinse the razor, Sherlock asks, "Have you ever shaved your own?"

Ah. "No," John says. "Did my legs, once. I was curious. Mouth." Sherlock pulls his mouth in so that John can get his upper lip. "Hell growing back, I thought."

He reaches over to rinse the razor again (a breath; time).

"Itchy," Sherlock agrees.

"Yeah." John tops up the hot in the sink, then turns off the taps.

"The end of the first week," Sherlock says, "especially."

John nods. It's perfectly accurate, as best he remembers.

"You shave yours often?" John asks, turning back towards Sherlock's chin. (Casual.) (Light.)

He lifts the razor, and Sherlock says, "Not—often," a little uncertainly. Clearly not often—not recently, anyway.

John nods. "I would help you, if you wanted," he says. "If you like."

Sherlock can't talk properly while John is shaving him: a perfectly reasonable excuse, John thinks, for a bit of time. He remains quiet while John works his steady way around his mouth, contorting his face in response to the press here and there of John's fingers: it should be ridiculous, really, but it isn't.

When John next goes to rinse the blade, Sherlock says, "All right."

(His legs, John thinks. Long legs.) "All right," he agrees.

He rewets the flannel, warming it up. As he wipes Sherlock's face (gentle—slow—) Sherlock exhales, long and warm, his eyes fluttering shut. With his hands John touches the edges of Sherlock's cheeks, the hinge of his jaw. Checking for missed spots. No nicks. When he brushes down the the line of Sherlock's throat, Sherlock puts his palm on the side of John's thigh, only just beneath the falling edge of the towel. He curves his fingers around John's leg, resting. Light. John runs the pads of his fingertips along the edges of Sherlock's lips, which part. Pink.

"Aftershave?" John asks. Soft. Soft.

Breath warm, "Moisturizer," Sherlock corrects. "Blue bottle. Black lid."

John twists, stretching out across the sink to get it, forgotten at the far side. Sherlock puts a hand on the side of his belly to steady him—unnecessary, but.

But.

The lotion smells like nothing in particular, but John's spent enough time with his face buried in Sherlock's neck for it to make the skin on his back prickle up, his blood a single hot throb underneath; just as loud, acrid buzz starts up in Sherlock's bedroom; and Sherlock tenses, head to toe. The buzzing stops, then starts, then stops. Again.

Again.

"That's my mobile," Sherlock says, rough; then adds, unnecessarily, "Chloe."

"Shh." John bumps their knees together. "She can wait, can't she?" He is rubbing the lotion warm between his hands.

The buzzing stops. Sherlock doesn't answer. Just keeps looking up at him, tense all over, wide-eyed with his hand on John's thigh.

"What's the worst she can do," John asks, low, as he pats moisturizer into Sherlock's cheeks, under his jaw, into his throat. "Figure out we're fucking?"

Does the trick: Sherlock, snorting, laughs. It makes his whole face curve up in places John still doesn't entirely know how to recognize or expect: this other Sherlock, who clings in his sleep and dithers when John asks him what he wants and makes awkward donkey sounds when John's not really all that funny at all; or who slides his hands up under John's towel when John bends to kiss him, eager, a little clumsy, like they could both be other people: untouched by other lovers; spotty and/or particularly hostile; boys at school. Sherlock's mouth tastes bad. John pulls back from it with regret; and Sherlock's breath catches high in his throat. "Just—." John twists for Sherlock's toothbrush, wets it, then squeezes a fat line of toothpaste over the bristles and then realizes what he's doing, and—only for an instant—he stops.

Sherlock notices, of course. "I can—," he says, half-standing; but John is turning back. Hand on Sherlock's shoulder. Not pushing, not really—not more than a bit, because he can't not.

"Please," he says. If they were they wouldn't; he is thinking. If they were, John is thinking, he wouldn't know. Rough with gratitude, John asks, "Let me, please."

Looking up at him with his big dark pupil-filled eyes, Sherlock eases himself back all the way down to his seat.

John swallows. He touches Sherlock's mouth: a man's mouth, and yet. Yet. Pinker, now they've been kissing.

"Please let me," John whispers; and looking up at him red-faced cracked-apart wide-eyed, Sherlock opens his mouth, so that John can brush his teeth.

Chapter Text

John runs the taps and the water, hissing, runs over the bristles and then washes away. Soft: rush and fizz. He can still feel the vibration inside his palm: a bone-deep buzz. Sound carries more strongly through solids: never would've known, would he, if he hadn't held it himself: at a distance it fades, like a fly caught in the corner of another room. The door is half open. Sherlock has gone to be moving around in the bedroom; John can hear him. Getting dressed, John thinks. Careful and precise. John dries the edge of the washbasin; the handle of the toothbrush, before he puts it in the cup. Sherlock'd hung the towel crooked on the bar so John straightens it. The press of Sherlock's knees around his knees and all of him all over stripped naked and then scraped; Sherlock's dressing gown is on the back of the door which is half-open. John slides one hand into one sleeve and then another into another: slip through, waterfall. It's blue, too long. John does up the tie, not tight. It is silk.

"Did he say what he wants you for?" John asks, in Sherlock's bedroom.

"No." When John'd opened the door from the en suite the border between collapsed: one space, this space, Sherlock's space, with his long mirror and his huge white bed and a wardrobe with a suit jacket hanging from its handle beside which Sherlock is arguing with the buttons at the cuffs of a green shirt he never wears: it doesn't, John persists in thinking, obstinately, bring out his eyes; and is annoyed. Sherlock says, "I imagine he's waiting until he's got me somewhere I can't—," looking up at the mirror: a sliver, reflected, of his puddle-grey gaze; and John folds his arms over his chest while Sherlock is stopped, silent, surprised.

"Where you can't," John prompts. He knows he looks ridiculous; but.

"Get away," Sherlock finishes, and then turns back to face him properly.

It feels heavy, him looking. Heavier, somehow, than the whole of his body blanketing John's body naked face-down in the bed, hot; hot John's skin where he touches those eyes like the hands on him: sliding down John's heating-up stubbled face and damp throat and Sherlock takes a half-step towards John's absurd squared chest in slices bare and covered, again, toward Sherlock's tie at John's waist sliding loose, might as well've not even bothered to—and John wants it, wants it, is struck like a match to stop all the clocks and slide out of Sherlock's silk and have it; is burning, half sick with longing for it—

—and John says, "Edinburgh," desperate, because Sherlock's mobile has begun to buzz against the floorboards: rattling, discordant.

Sherlock, turning, takes two strides, bends to grab it. Straightens, but turns back: "Yeah," he agrees, and then puts his mobile to his ear. "Yeah," he says, "I'll be right down"; and he lifts his chin, and meets John's eyes.

John tastes salt: his own lips.

"Edinburgh," Sherlock says. He hasn't rung off.

"Yeah," John nods. "We—um. We haven't—Rhoda will want to know when—"

"The 30th," Sherlock suggests, stepping towards him. His low-hot pantherish voice: twisting John in two hands. Wrung out in the silence after forcing himself back smooth John could—listening for Chloe down in the car. She would—what would she—put upon. Put upon, she would sigh. She would, John thinks, roll her eyes.

"Right," he says. "The 30th." They are talking about Rhoda, Chloe on the line. His palms feel damp. He rubs them against the silk hanging over his thighs. The front has already come mostly open. No wonder Sherlock always just leaves the tie undone.

"Or the 6th," Sherlock offers, "if she'd prefer."

"Yeah." Two and a half weeks. Three. John keeps glancing at Sherlock's face then away. His eyes: there is a tremor under John's skin out of all proportion to a Tuesday. He wants him inside every part of him, and around. He wants—he wants—a thousand frames per second he wants to—to kiss him awake, to braid his hair, to push him back onto the wide solitary continent of that bed and lay atop him spread out like an enormous starfish sprawled from shore to shore: fingertip pressed to outstretched fingertip, toe tucked against toe.

"I'll text," John says, instead. Sherlock moves closer. "I'll talk to Rhoda, and."

"All right," Sherlock says, washed up so near; and then, "I said, I'll be down in a minute," tilting his mobile back to his mouth, because he still hasn't rung off listening switchboard row tilted heads Chloe keyhole listening velvet drapes but he does, then, finally. When John breathes their ribs touch, almost. Sherlock's eyes are very dark, and very soft, and very wide. He slides his mobile into his trouser pocket with one long, white hand.

"If you touch me I'm going to lose it," John blurts out. Half-rewritten rewriting unsteady: Sherlock's long hands, but John's hand square on Sherlock's shoulder for balance and it isn't—real, must not be real, can't be true because they are touching where he can feel Sherlock warm and solid through his crisp cotton shirt in an unflattering green and John hasn't fallen over or flown apart or exploded yet, but—

"John," Sherlock breathes.

"I'll. Text you, I'll see you." John swallows. "Later. Yeah?"

"Yeah," Sherlock says. "Yeah."

(Close enough that—.)

"I want to—," John says, and then inhales—sharp—and then stumbles back, fast.

Sherlock doesn't move. Fingers curled, loose. His shirt is puckered and wrinkled at the shoulder, where John was mauling it.

"Christ." John laughs, wild at the edges. Swallows. "You'd better go, your virtue's not safe from me."

Sherlock's chin lifts: a slivered smile, his narrowing cat's eyes. "Haven't much of that."

"Oh, you've got enough," John counters, unsteady; and then scrubs his palms over his face.

"Then," Sherlock says, "stay here," unsteady.

John drops his hands. Sherlock's lovely off-kilter face is shifting before him, unfurling: open and yearning. A closed-in walled-off just-them expression, not particularly different for suddenly being seen from six feet away.

"Stay here while you do it," Sherlock says, still looking at him, "stay here," voice dropping, "and keep it on."

A tone transferred ringing from glass to glass: John swallows, caught on his note. On, Sherlock'd said; on, but not fastened; because it isn't fastened; Sherlock has been watching it slowly come unfastened because it wasn't made to fit John, and blood rushing up to his face, John nods.

"Going to be thinking about me?" he asks. In your bed, he'd almost meant to say, in your clothes. A challenge, almost. He'd nearly meant to say, While you're in the car, with Chloe watching. He'd not quite meant it to be something not entirely unlike a joke.

"Yeah," Sherlock says, soft instead, because John doesn't, didn't; "I could watch myself in the mirror," John says, "like you do," which isn't a joke at all: Sherlock watching him exposed like a raw egg with its top cracked off and somehow it it isn't like it always is, not truly; it is almost, but not quite, as though it is something else all together.

"I will, then," John says, quiet; swallowing, for you, as turning away, Sherlock nods. The back of his bent neck feels smooth, John knows. Tastes of salt.

Sherlock turns back to the suit jacket on its hanger on the handle of the wardrobe and John's feet drag on the floor towards him, towards him; towards him to watch him go out into the kitchen, towards him glancing back to look at John where he stands with his hand on the doorjamb to hold him in place and the dressing gown hanging around him, open; as Sherlock walks sliding himself into the jacket: one hand into one sleeve and then another into another and facing away while John's right hand goes white on the wood. In the living room Sherlock pockets his wallet from the table between their chairs; a handful of coins, mostly John's; his key; and then Sherlock lifts his head and turns back to look at John full on: having to physically hold himself still in the doorway to Sherlock's bedroom, watching like Sherlock's going to war. Absurd: John has been to war; no one watched like that. Out of all proportion to a Tuesday.

From here, John can't see it when Sherlock swallows but he watches the shift in his features and the lift of his chin and he thinks: up-down, up-down. "You'll stay?" Sherlock says. "You'll stay down here, I mean."

"Yeah," John says. "I'll get back in your bed and I'll come all over your sheets and I'll even leave them for you to wash, after."

Not a joke, either. If it were it falls flat.

"You can use my shampoo," Sherlock says, nodding; and then goes: so that's what John does, then. Sits on the edge staring at himself in the mirror and then touches like triggering an avalanche; kneeling up thighs spread open-mouthed curling his toes on white cotton sweating tangled up in blue silk; and then gets to work eight minutes late with his hair still damp and feeling paranoid—prickly—jumpy, his skin all over under his clothes too-hot too-bare too-raw. All day at the surgery he keeps catching himself looking over his shoulder, inexplicably, for Sherlock; and then realizing it's just that faint lingering sweet-warm smell of £52 fake coconut, still lingering on his own long-dry too-short hair. He can't focus. He can barely do his job. Whenever he sits down to chart he keeps thinking about Sherlock's voice: stay here; stay still, or I'll hit you; stay—stay, like that; you'll stay? John's brain whispering over and over and over two people, two different people, two different— twisting and insidious, his heart too loud palms damp and his charting half-undone all over his desk, still, when Natalie knocks on his door, propped half open, and then leans in to say, "It's coming up on seven—I've still got to file those, you know"; and "Fuck," John grinds out, and then grinds his eyes against the palms of his hands.

"John?" Nat asks. She sounds worried.

"God, I'm sorry, Nat, I'm just—headache," he lies. Throat tight. All day. "You don't have to stay, I can file them."

"Please don't," Nat says. A lopsided smile.

He laughs, because she wants him too. "Ta. Your desk, then?"

"Probably safest." She uncrosses her ankles, pushes herself straight. "You'll lock up, then."

"Yeah. Wait—is Rhoda still here?"

"Just." She twists to glance over her shoulder. "Rhoda!"

"Thanks," he says, and half trips over his chair trying to get out into reception, where Rhoda has set her handbag on the front desk and is slipping into a rusty orange cardigan, warm and lush against her dark skin. She looks at him—laughing at him, looking over his shoulder to laugh with Natalie at him; Natalie is a pretty child but Rhoda is gorgeous and the thought is shocking, somehow, for no rational reason. It's not the first time he's thought it.

"The 30th," he says, and she says, "Yes?"

On the sofa at home John sits in an empty flat near bursting his skin. His mobile quiet in his pocket: asked Rhoda if, still echoing in his fingertips, when are you, the 30th. He is staring at the edge of the coffee table with his hands on his knees full of air. He feels—drugged, he wants to think, but—can't; enchanted: safer, substantially more ridiculous, not any less accurate. When he'd closed the door on the landing behind him it was as though London—ended. Ceased to be; but then Sherlock was not home and with him the world outside burst back into its selfsame grungy, traffic-clogged life. John is living through a series of thoughts that feel like someone else's: as though the space shrinks to just our skin, if anyone could truly make that happen it would be him, was there a spell for that in Harry Potter? Contrary to Clara and Harry's decade-plus of endless banging on and on about the zeitgeist and cultural literacy and John's lack of respectable reading habits, John has, in fact, read Harry Potter. He'd've read Mills and Boon romances if that'd been what was circulating around bases while he was deployed; would have, and in fact, on occasion, did; but if Sherlock were a wizard, John is thinking, with terrifying precision, he would not be much like Harry Potter. But John can see Sherlock all too easily as another sort, a more dangerous sort: primal, somehow, and chaotic; the antithesis of Harry Potter's orderly, academic, bureaucratic sort of magic; but instead something vast and crackling and terrible. A titan; a sorcerer: a shape-shifter, John is thinking, throat tight; bending truth and time and thought like rubber in his long, perilous hands. And John. John would follow him through fire. Has done; would, again.

It is an ordinary, dull-pebble sort of thought, dropped into water. Sherlock, John is certain, has never read Harry Potter.

John breathes in. The pebble, rippling out. He rubs at his jaw, rough with stubble, because in the morning he'd not had time to shave; and if the mundanity of the scrape of his cheek on his palm goes someway toward breaking him free it doesn't finish the job. Not quite. His eyes keep catching on the edge of the coffee table: purple eyeliner. He can't—stop. His thoughts—whirling, he thinks, forcibly. Behind that self-correction, bubbling up: his thoughts circle and caw. John shivers, electric. He is at home but feels not at home but feels—utterly at home, he feels as though he is a home waiting only for its other half to pull itself shut around them: the comfortable, unprepossessing kind of untidy of their living room, stacks of books wherever someone was last reading them, unopened post in a slithery puddle on the mantle, coins and receipts and half-dried-out biros scattered across the table between their chairs. For the first time in years it makes the back of John's neck prickle; crackle like lightning, not yet struck. The mess is not all Sherlock: an ordinary, everyday-use sort of thought. Steadier John can remember that upstairs he still can't leave a wet flannel hanging over the edge of the sink, a kind of mixed-blessing legacy of being in the military for over a decade; but when he'd come up on Saturday to find something to sign the papers with he'd just dug around wherever he'd thought to look and left his discards where they fell—pencils; pink highlighter; Sherlock's fountain pen, heavy and engraved along one silver side: M. N. Holmes—and all of that feels—sane. Sensible. Normal; and yet. And yet: a purple eyeliner. It'd been on the table, John had thought; but then tonight he'd come in to silence and hung up his jacket and the edge of his shoe had found it rolled onto the floor. John had picked it up. John had picked it up, and sat down on the sofa, and set it at the edge of the coffee table, and then let it rest: while inside him a new strange mercurial supersaturated creature blooms into being. Delirious. Crackling. Like, John thinks, waking up.

Alone he is too big for him. John feels shockingly in danger of flooding. And if he were, he thinks: if Sherlock were? Is it if, even? The idea of Sherlock rewriting the world with his fingertips, endlessly wrapping himself in other people's skins? A storm-surge: some kind of—a Coleridgean vision, one of Blake's apocalyptic dreams: something, John is thinking, that he might've been made to suffer through at school; but underneath—but underneath—. Stay, John is thinking, with his heart in his throat, stay; stay here; stay still, or I'll hit you; stay—stay, like that; you'll stay?; you'll stay? Tempera-bright still tacky everywhere inside him John is kneeling in the shower with Sherlock's left hand in his hand and his mouth—on the back of—his hand and the water warm rain on his hair. Crouched bent forward head bowed, kissing the back of Sherlock's hand. The thought feels contorted, misshapen: but where else would he be? who else could he be? with his throat tight and his shoulders prickling up with sweat in the still-warm stuffy air of the flat, all the windows shut; thinking of Sherlock lean tall always-disguised ever-shifting with John's blunt workaday hands on his ribs, his pale belly pink mouth huge chameleon eyes and John—John—John like holding water still burning all over. Like grabbing at stormclouds. Like trying to hold onto a flame. What else would John be but kneeling, before his magician king?

Except—except—

Except that brushing against John's mouth Sherlock's knuckles had felt knobby and ungainly and ungentle; and exhausted from a day he barely remembers John is sitting and staring at a purple eyeliner as he boils, quietly, over. Something not unlike dread is closing itself snake-slow around the root of his throat: John had said, like you do. Like you do. A half-dozen possible futures are crashing into each other at the backs of his eyes: a low slow roiling clamor while his spine prickles icepicks, impossible to pull apart; heart loud in his chest thu-thump, thu-thump; up-down, up-down. In the morning John had put his dressing gown on. He feels far away. In the morning John had had a sharp-hot vision of his hands in dark hair, and Sherlock has never said, never asked, never hinted except that—except when—; except, he could ask, John thinks; Sherlock would come in and John could ask, are you—, and draw silk-smooth arcs, or—or at the corners, curving out, or—; or John could ask, do you want— and take him upstairs and coax him into the bath knees legs draped over dark-eyed as John knelt on the tiles with a razor against Sherlock's ankle and then dragged it up—up—up; or, thunderous John thinks, he could ask, can I— with his hands on Sherlock's pale arched back vanishing millimeter by millimeter as John dressed him—buttoned him up—drew his hands tight—hot with out-of-key panic John is thinking everything all at once, uncertain and—and terrified, too fast to grab: like standing frozen at a cliff's edge while the dirt crumbles underneath you, staring dry-throated into the sea. John reaches out: Max Factor Liquid Eye Effect Eyeliner Pencil, it says on the side, Violet Voltage, and—but there is plastic, still sealed over the lid: gently cracking John down the middle of his cool, clearing mind.

Plastic. The edges catch on John's thumb. Of course. The kind of stiff plastic wrapping that they put around things still in the store to keep them sealed, hygienically: of course. John is alone in their living room with an unused purple eyeliner in his hands with the safety wrapping still on, because John isn't uncertain. John isn't afraid. John has never been so sure of anything in his life.

Ringing, still. Body to body: a note. John can feel him all over, pressed close to him: almost as though he were in the room, too. John feels hot. Luminous. Alight. In the stillness of their flat he can hear Sherlock's key in the lock downstairs. His feet on the steps. For seventeen steps John feels three of him, the man on the stairs and the man standing above him in the shower and the man sitting with a rattan cane for John's back in his chair and blushing: three men one man all Sherlock, all of him, all himself, all at once. In the shower John had knelt. He had knelt like a knight in a poem, but before Sherlock it had felt sound—true—right; and John had kissed his hand. The eyeliner is unopened, of course; because of course it is unopened; because what could he've done with it, really? what might Sherlock do? Put it on for a case? Sit on the sofa with a hand mirror and paint it on one-handed, while beside the door John would fidget, impatient, and wait? It's easy to forget, sometimes, that Sherlock's disguises are universally rubbish, that Sherlock has never been mistakable for anyone but Sherlock, occasionally in a slightly out-of-character hat. Upstairs in John's bed, the first time, John had touched Sherlock's chest, and Sherlock had liked it, and he had blushed. Girlish, he had said, John remembers: his throat aches. Is it girlish? Sherlock had asked. Is it strange? John would be anything, for him; would be in a heartbeat; has been; is. Sherlock might be one step this side of enchantment but John is something far more practical indeed: his gun, he thinks. A sword. The barrier between Sherlock and anything that would hurt him, isn't he.

Sherlock pushes open the door at the landing. He's carrying a bag of groceries, one-handed, coat off and over his arm. He has tired, wide-open all-color eyes.

"H'lo," says John. Clears his throat. "Long day?"

Sherlock swallows (up-down, up-down), and nods. John watches his neck as he turns towards the kitchen; then tucks the eyeliner into his pocket, and doesn't say a thing.

Chapter Text

The sun is still up, John is realizing. Windows still closed. John is realizing that he is too hot. He untucks his shirt, discards his shoes, opens all the windows; and when he trails after Sherlock into the kitchen, Sherlock has both arms halfway into the cupboard, retrieving a pan; his carrier bag half-collapsed on the narrowest bare patch of work surface, spilling out green fronds. John hesitates: Sherlock hasn't turned towards him, or away, but—Sherlock puts the pan on the unlit hob and moves the bottle of olive oil three centimeters closer and then tugs at the wispy hair at his nape, chin tucked down; and John's heart thumps, twice, in his chest. He turns towards the groceries, takes out the fennel, a bulb of garlic, a lemon; and Sherlock turns toward the bag and John beside it: his expression blank, empty-eyed, looking half a mile away. Queerly, John misses him: barely seeing, Sherlock looks down at John's hands. John passes him the lemon, mute; and Sherlock stares down at it like he doesn't know what it's for.

John is watching his face, far away. "I talked to Rhoda," John offers, finally, for lack of much of anything better to say; and Sherlock's blank eyes slide up to his. John swallows. "She'd rather we avoided the 30th," he says. It comes out weak, but he doesn't look away, so he is watching as, slowly, Sherlock at last focuses back in on his face.

"Oh," Sherlock says.

It comes out thick, oddly boggy. At sea, John thinks, a burst beneath his ribs of—tenderness. Warmth. "Yeah," John says. Gentle. He can see all the tiny muscles underneath Sherlock's skin shifting and resettling, coming home.

John nods. After a moment, he says, "The 6th is fine, though."

"Oh," Sherlock repeats, then swallows, quick, twice. Steps closer: warm. "Hullo," he says.

"Hi." John laughs. Just a little.

Bare on the lino his feet are flexing, pushing up; his hand slipping around the warm solid cut of Sherlock's ribs and his sides and his spine through his shirt, which is, still, an unflattering green. This close he fills John up: smelling of sweat and expensive fake coconut and too many cups of sweet coffee followed by too many cups of black tea: John can taste a faint salt-musk tang on the back of his tongue. This is a space of bodies he knows: his own tight half-eager stomach, the steady syrupy throb of his blood; under his hands Sherlock's round arse melting up into his angular waist, Sherlock's arms heavy around his shoulders with the hand still fisted around the lemon pressing into John's back. The heat of him. His scratchy-edged mouth on his mouth. The cuddle they didn't quite manage in the morning, John is thinking, rubbing his face against Sherlock's face, breathing him in: better than nothing, now that they can. The edges of John's nerves crackle, hiss: clearing static, tuning in. Sherlock noses along his cheek. Presses his mouth to John's jaw. John tracks him by touch, eyes closed. He is very warm.

A breath; another. Another and another and another: "I was going to make dinner," says Sherlock, a damp puff against John's skin; and enough. John nods. Rocks back flat on his heels to look up at Sherlock's lovely pink-flushed face: a sharp-focus photograph, taken in the sun. John feels all the way awake for the first time all day. When John drops his arms Sherlock steps back, scrubs his hand through his hair; then notices—apparently for the first time—the lemon. He rotates his body away from John's body and sets the lemon at the edge of the sink to wash his hands.

Lemon. Fennel. Dinner. "Want me to help?" John asks, and Sherlock, rinsing the lemon, shoots him an incredulous look. "Hey," John protests. "I didn't ruin your chicken, did I?" Sherlock doesn't put off the skeptical expression; John can feel his own mouth curling up, just at the corner: "I'm perfectly capable of chopping veg, you know."

"Just nothing involving fire," Sherlock says, turning off the taps.

"Well, I try whenever possible to leave things involving fire to you," John says, "you do enjoy them so"; and Sherlock's mouth quirks: pleased, John sidles closer. "Come on," John murmurs, sliding his hand up across Sherlock's hip to his spine, "let me help"; and his throat surges hot with triumph when Sherlock leans down across his own arm to kiss him, fingers still loose around the lemon, half-dangling into the sink.

"Surely you've noticed," Sherlock murmurs, between kisses, "that I'm a bit weird," (and another—, another—) "about giving up control"; true, John thinks, not a joke, but Sherlock is not-quite-smiling, lopsided against him: a half-unvoiced apology, pressed into the corners of John's mouth.

"Oh, just a bit?" John asks, and Sherlock snorts, laughs; and John kisses him again. Petting at the small of his back.

"I suppose," Sherlock murmurs, nuzzling, warm, "that I could let you mince the garlic"; and John breathes, "Marvelous"; and Sherlock starts giggling again. Dizzy, grateful, John presses a kiss just under his jaw.

When he pulls back his hand trails over Sherlock's back, his arse. He's only human. "How much?" he asks, turning back towards the spill of the bag.

"Oh." Sherlock shrugs and passes him the cutting board; a knife, handle first. "Two or three cloves."

John nods and starts breaking the head apart. Sherlock digs under the sink and tosses him a pair of nitrile gloves, then sidles around him to get back into the bag. John looks at the gloves, then at him. "Really?" he asks.

Sherlock looks over, frowning. "What?"

"Gloves, for chopping garlic," John says. "I mean, for pig dissection, they're clearly optional, but for garlic—"

"Unless you want your hands to smell of garlic for a week," Sherlock says, "yes."

John shrugs, but he puts on the gloves. "Clara always said that was one of the best things about cooking."

Sherlock snorts. "Clara drinks wine out of stemless glasses and refers to the step just inside her front door as a foyer. You know I dislike agreeing with your sister, but if her moving out of London spares us another dinner with that self-important cow, I will wholeheartedly endorse it."

"Right," John muses. "Because there's a saying I'm trying to remember..."

"Oh, shut up," Sherlock tells him, but the corner of his mouth is twitching, pulling—up—; "Oh, so you remember, then," John says, "Something about... let's see, pots, maybe?" as Sherlock bumps his body into him, "And—hey! Knife!"; half-laughing, "Careful!"; while Sherlock jabs his pointy elbow in against John's ribs, stilling John's knife with a hand on his wrist. Pressed up against him, feet tangled with his feet.

Watching his face. "You could let go," Sherlock notes; so John sets the knife on the cutting board; and Sherlock darts in for a quick, half-illicit kiss.

John curls his bare toes on the floor.

Sherlock pulls back. Sidles back around him. The taps run while John gets to work on the garlic: an odd experience, really, re-learning the touch through nitrile-deadened fingertips, but he supposes, if it puts Sherlock off—

"I got ferociously sick of my hands smelling of garlic," Sherlock says, "when I was living in Rouen."

Rouen. When—garlic, John thinks, watching his own hands, minced fine. Context, clearly: Sherlock does not have psychic powers, and John has never asked. "Rouen." John nods. "And that was—"

"The last year and a half," Sherlock says, quietly, "mostly."

Right. John nods: Rouen. He turns the cutting board and gives the garlic another chop-chop-chop, finer every time. "Just how minced do you want this?" John asks, and Sherlock peers over.

"Smaller," Sherlock says, "loads smaller. Almost a paste, but not quite"; and John nods. Gives the board another 90 degree turn. Another series of cuts, another turn.

"You cooked a lot, then," John says. "In Rouen."

John is—careful, he thinks. Careful enough. Casual enough. Correct.

Beside him Sherlock nods. "I worked as a sous chef," he says, "for a bit."

"And you—did you already know how to cook?"

Sherlock shrugs. "I knew enough. It's just chemistry and following directions, essentially, isn't it?"

Well, John thinks. "I suppose," he says. Sherlock has never been precisely sterling at following directions. John goes over the garlic again: another series of chops, another quarter turn.

"It had the great advantage of keeping me out of sight." Sherlock's voice is casual, too. "And it left me tired." A pause. Then, not wholly necessary: "It helped me sleep, sometimes."

John nods. He's nodding a lot—too much, he thinks; but—. "And it would've been—odd," he extrapolates, "in that line of work, if you'd worn gloves."

"Yeah." Sherlock finishes washing the pepper, turns the taps off. "And—as you'd expect, I'd think—not being odd was rather a full-time job, for me."

Pushing all his extremely well-minced garlic into a little heap, John nods, then sets the knife at the edge of the board and goes to peel off his gloves, wash his hands. He comes to a stop behind Sherlock, who is zesting the lemon. John puts his hand on Sherlock's spine, feeling his ribs rise-fall-rise as he breathes. Breathes. Breathes.

Enough, John thinks. Enough.

"Onion next," John asks, "or?"

"Yeah," Sherlock says. He is turned towards him, only just: his ribs a twisting staircase, climbing toward John's hand. "Onion, then the fennel." A half a smile, then. It looks battered, a bit, at the edges. Achy. The want inside of John feels like his shoulder an hour before it rains. He can't kiss him, not—not and stop; so he curls his hand instead, and pulls away.

Beside Sherlock John chops the onion. Then the fennel. Then the pepper. It is a simple, methodical task, but hip to hip with Sherlock in their overcrowded kitchen it feels new all the same. He is acutely aware of Sherlock's hands, coaxing the zest off the lemon and then frying it with the garlic John minced, turning the oil a limpid nut-brown. The smell fills the kitchen, clusters on the back of John's tongue. John is acutely aware of Sherlock's long spine and unflattering green shirt with its rolled-up sleeves and the way his shoulders curl in and down a bit, weight sinking into his hips, when, finished, John sets down the knife beside the chopped veg on the board and pushes up just enough to kiss the soft hair curling onto the back of Sherlock's long, pale neck. Sherlock could pull away, but he doesn't. Instead with a steadiness that feels deliberate he slides his left foot back and all his weight with it so that he is pressed to John back to front: if, inconveniently, John were a bit taller, he could hook his chin over Sherlock's shoulder, and watch him cook the fish; but he isn't. It isn't as though—John has done this before. He has done this once before. He remembers being back in medical school, leaning over the shoulder of a girl barely past his collarbones whose name he can't recall while she made spaghetti bolognese in her cupboard of a kitchen in the two-bedroom flat she'd shared with three other girls: it'd been good, he remembers. The spaghetti. It'd been hot and fresh and tasted bright-sharp-red: like blood, he'd imagined, with the most particularly ingenious part of himself, back then. He'd never had the fresh-made sort before. His mum'd died before either Harry or he was properly old enough to learn to cook, and his dad had never learned how to do anything but warm things that came out of a tin. Two decades ago John can remember that he'd never had proper spaghetti bolognese before and that they'd never officially shared a flat and that in that kitchen pressed to that girl front to back while she cooked, his innards had squelched in a hot, queasy roil as he wondered, then, if he would—Nicola. That was her name, of course. Nicola Price: studied history; five foot nothing; liked to paint; and John hadn't stayed. They'd neither of them stayed. Instead Nicola Price had gone to Cambridge for a post-graduate degree and then stayed on there to teach, and John had gone to war; and that was the last time John'd hung about the kitchen just to watch somebody cook. In 2015 Sherlock is an altogether different construction, and John isn't taller by an inch, so instead of any of what he remembers he slides his arm about Sherlock's waist, forehead pressed to shoulder; and closes his eyes.

The fish comes out—fine. Better than fine—good, really: perhaps not one of Sherlock's genuine triumphs, but unquestionably better than anything that John could make himself. John asks, "What'd Mycroft have you doing, anyway," between bites. "Proper case?" Sherlock's bony ankle presses against his ankle under the table, bare.

Sherlock snorts. "Giving a team of his agents in Dover a right bollocking for botching another guns shipment—not that it matters, anyway." He stabs at his fish. John keeps catching himself looking at Sherlock's knuckles, which are knobby, white. "He won't have any more luck on this side and he knows it," Sherlock says, "not without more information about the export operation."

John eats his last bite of fish and sets his fork down, leans back, chair creaking. Sherlock's foot against his foot is warm. Turned down to look at his plate Sherlock's eyelashes are very long and very pale: they feel soft, John knows, taste salt. Sherlock is hunched over his plate, shoveling in fish and fennel by the forkful: there would've been no one to coax him into eating in Dover, John knows. The assistant one before Chloe, Angela, hadn't got on with Sherlock: she'd been a forceful, statuesque redhead, perpetually unimpressed; but at least she'd not considered it beneath her dignity to bully Sherlock into drinking hourly cups of extremely milky tea, whenever John couldn't get away.

"Export operation," John says. Enough. "You mean—where the ferries are coming from?"

"Oh—that's no mystery. Calais, Le Havre, Dieppe." One shoulder, then the other, Sherlock shrugs. "That's not where it starts, though, is it." He takes another bite of fish, meeting John's eyes while he chews. Swallows. "Eight of the lads they've caught've insisted they only spoke French," he says. His eyes glass-clear pools. "With Flemish accents."

John crosses his arms over his chest. "Then he'll be wanting you to go to Amsterdam, won't he," he says; and Sherlock tilts his head, eyes sparkling, unblue.

"You say Amsterdam very certainly," Sherlock says. That tone of voice: scorn, delight. John shifts in his seat absurdly. Feeling himself heating up under the table, heavy between his thighs. "Surely Brussels would be a more rational choice," Sherlock is saying, eyes sharp, "I'd've thought."

"Well, no," John says. Shifting: Sherlock hadn't thought anything of the kind. John says, "nothing interesting comes from Belgium"; and Sherlock's mouth blooms into a broad smirk, transparently pleased. Bright-eyed, his pink mouth—full up John rubs his foot on Sherlock's foot: bubbling over—; enough.

"So," John says, "it is Amsterdam, then"; and slowly, slowly, the smile slips off Sherlock's face. At the end he nods. Hunches down over his plate.

"Tomorrow," Sherlock says. Tucking his chin down, rubbing at his right eyebrow. (Enough.) "Early."

John nods, even though Sherlock's not looking. He wonders if Sherlock's spent much time in Amsterdam, like Rouen. John is thinking—Priyanka. Brian. Thinking—the 30th, or the 6th. "Do you want me to come?" John asks.

Sherlock shifts. "No," he says. "Well—yes, I do, but no, you don't need to, it'll be boring, you won't get to shoot anyone."

"Oh, well, in that case," John says, and Sherlock's mouth does that lovely almost-S not-smiling thing it does when John's amused him properly: John's throat swelling hot into the heart of his chest. He could get down on the floor, he thinks. He could kiss his thighs through his trousers. Rest his cheek, he thinks, on his knee. Instead he reaches out: right hand over left on the table. Sherlock's mouth softening, pink.

"Really," John says. "If you wanted."

Sherlock opens his mouth, then closes it. Then he sighs and turns his attention back down to his plate, nudging all the last little bits of veg and sauce into a little pile. "It's not worth it for this." He sounds—tired, John thinks. Just tired. Mycroft woke him up. "He's just got me acting as errand boy, really, and." Sherlock scoops the pile up with the side of his fork. "And if you're already taking two days off in two weeks...," he says, and then sticks his fork in his mouth.

John nods, slow. "Not dangerous?" he asks, finally, even though he knows it will make Sherlock's shoulders tug together; John rubs his little finger against the webbing between finger and thumb, gentle: apology.

"He's sending Chloe with me," Sherlock says.

He sounds so peevish about it John feels guilty for being relieved: Chloe, whatever her faults, is at least, in John's experience, admirably well-armed.

"Well, then." John says. Clears his throat. "That does make me feel better," he admits; and Sherlock's mouth twists, complicated, before he turns up his hand to John's hand.

Quiet John says, "I know you'd rather we didn't fuss."

"You and Mrs. Hudson fuss," Sherlock says. "Mycroft interferes. I might best like neither but if faced with the choice I much prefer the fussing, thank you."

"Oh, well, ta, then," John says. Watches Sherlock hunching his shoulders, the shortening curve of his spine.

Sherlock scrapes at his plate. Mutters, "Sod him, anyway."

"Mycroft?" John asks. "Rather not, thanks."

Hardly original, really, but Sherlock snorts. Pushes his plate away, fork clattering; he's smiling, isn't he. Face turned half away. He hasn't taken back his hand. John rubs his thumb across the side of Sherlock's upturned index finger: sensitive, John knows, all over. He could do it again, John thinks. He could pull it towards him. Draw it across his tongue.

"So," John says, after a moment. "Query."

"Response," Sherlock says. Lifting one mobile eyebrow.

John could ask him, he thinks. He could ask him—a lot of things. About the eyeliner. His abstract-art sex toys. His feelings about the Dutch.

John says, "Given your reluctance to," and then stops. Hesitates, still uncomfortable: holding it in his mouth.

Sherlock raises one expressive eyebrow. "My reluctance to," he echoes; and, shifting in his chair, John says, "Give up control."

"Ah," Sherlock says: delicate, precise. "Right."

John nods, then says, "How'd you come by the cock ring with a lead ring on it, then?"

Even just with his hand on Sherlock's hand John can feel him tensing, a subtle tremor that ripples from shoulder to palm. Best to ignore it, John thinks. It's not the sort of thing Sherlock'd thank him for noticing. Instead John leaves his right hand still and uses the left to grab his water glass: "I mean," he says, "if you don't mind saying," as casually as he can; then takes a sip.

"No," Sherlock says, after a moment. "I don't mind."

He hesitates, though. His left hand turned up in John's hand.

"At one point," Sherlock says. Stops. "It made sense," he says. "To. To take on that role."

It isn't surprising, John finds, not—truly; but it still drops a faint prickling trail up the back of his neck: like a spray of cold water. Tiny icicles. He keeps it off his face best he can: enough, he is thinking. Enough.

"But—," John says, after a moment; and then, "—er."

"It's all right," Sherlock says.

His voice is dropped low—very low. He looks up, though. Meets John's eyes.

"You can ask whatever you want to ask," Sherlock says, very quietly. His voice not steady but warm. Heavy; his light eyes.

John swallows. "Thank you," he says, a moment later. Sherlock nods. "You know that you can, too, yeah?"

Sherlock looks back down at his empty plate, but. "Yeah," he says. Nods.

"Yeah." John nods. He wishes he could—he could take a sip of water, perhaps: his plate empty, Sherlock's hand in his hand. He doesn't do it, though. Instead he keeps as still just there as he can and says, "So you took on that role," casually, lightly, "in the past."

"Yeah," Sherlock says.

It sounds—steadier. Easier, and so. So it's enough.

"But you don't like it that way," John says. Sherlock doesn't answer, his hand light in John's hand. John says, "You don't really like being bossed around."

It ought to be a question, perhaps, but it isn't. It isn't really a question, and Sherlock doesn't really need to say, "No," so quietly; but he does; and John folds their fingers together, rubbing his thumb along the soft-satiny back of Sherlock's long hand.

After a long-stretched moment, John says, "All right." It is. It's—it's all right. Hopelessly inadequate, really, but what else can he— "But—I was right, before, wasn't I?" he asks. "You don't really like what you've been doing to me either, do you."

He's dreaded this, he realizes, is realizing: he's been dreading asking again and getting an answer, to a question as inevitable as the underground. It couldn't help but come up again, he knows that; but that doesn't make it much easier. He drags his gaze up from the pale-tanned mesh of Sherlock's hand in his hand. Sherlock's wide, light eyes. Not pinched at the corners: soft, John is thinking, soft, always. Sherlock's so soft around him, always.

Quiet, Sherlock says, "I like doing it with you."

"But—I just mean," John says, "you don't have to, you know," and it doesn't come out—plaintive, or unsteady, or— "it isn't something I need," John explains, needing Sherlock to— "not the way I—"

He stops, frustrated. Feeling—pulled out from the stomach, pulled apart, pulled—, while Sherlock is getting pinker and pinker and pinker, his long fingers warm in John's hand.

"I like it," John explains. "I—and you know that, obviously, you—you know that I love it, I love what you do to me." Sherlock is flushed, obviously uncomfortable, looking like he'd like nothing better than to be able to take off his skin, leave the room: John sighs. Squeezes: his long warm hand. "I'm sorry, I know this is—I just," John says, "want to do that for you," feeling echoing, redundant; that Erasure tape that'd got stuck in Harry's old Astra, a year and a half on repeat: "I want to be that for you, too," he is saying, helpless; as beside him Sherlock's blush surges from magenta to scarlet, clashing absurdly with his shirt.

John can't do anything but watch. Helpless. Enough, he is thinking, it's enough; it should be—enough; while time passes in some discrete nontrivial measure before Sherlock can manage to give him a brief, mute nod. It's—fascinating, really, in a horrible way; that even with his hand in John's hand his shoulders are curling in, arms tightening, chin tucked down—a break, John thinks. He clearly needs—just for a little while: John can give him that, at least. John squeezes Sherlock's hand and then lets go, stands; so he can grab his plate and Sherlock's plate and leave him to have a moment to collect himself, while John gets started on the washing up.

Sherlock's left the pan from the fish soaking in the sink: a kindness, John thinks, and goes for that first. The smell of garlic lingers, still: Rouen. John wonders. He dated a pastry chef just long enough to be able to extrapolate from culinary sorts: a year and a half of working 'round the clock and sleeping badly and chopping things for an impossible bully somewhere in Rouen, never not tired, working even if he fell ill, almost certainly where he'd started smoking again; when John was just—when he could've—when he might've gone there for a minibreak, even, back then. He scrapes the pan, freeing blackened bits of fish skin and garlic—no wonder Sherlock'll still never cook just for the purpose of having something to eat.

Sherlock pads back into the kitchen while John is rinsing the pan. He still looks flushed and misplaced and awkward, fitting badly into his body, his expensive trousers, his ugly shirt; but he rests one palm on John's shoulder while he reaches past him for the towel and then holds it out, both hands, so that John can pass him the pan. Silence. Waiting, John thinks, for—and worrying—. John waits, washes, rinses; Sherlock worries and dries and puts away; until John is down to their two water glasses and Sherlock's plate, where John is scrubbing at a stubborn bit of fennel fronds, gluey with sauce; and Sherlock says, "I like—holding in," very low, under his breath, still turning John's plate around and around in the towel in his long hands.

Yeah. John murmurs, "Yeah." Nods.

"I mean, I like how it feels, holding—I like—" Sherlock stops. Swallows, then low-close between them so (soft) warm Sherlock says, "I like—knowing I'm held in line."

"Yeah," John echoes, not loud.

Beside him, Sherlock nods. Turns John's plate in the towel in his hands; and John asks, "Did you like wearing it with me?"

That surge of borrowed fear, again and all at once. It leaves John cored; breathless; stomach tight like a stone; but he couldn't explain it, not any part. Bewildering, really, to know with brick-solid certainty that Sherlock is afraid without knowing how he knows that Sherlock is afraid, nor why Sherlock should be afraid, nor least of all why on earth John should feel it like it is his fear too; why the idea of his body alongside Sherlock's body, buckled tight, held in line, should launch whatever—whatever change in Sherlock's breathing, or shift in posture, or the way he holds his hands, that John couldn't describe but still has clearly learned to know; why John too should be infected by the, the angle of his chin, or the way he moves his hands, or whatever bleeding micro-expression John is looking up without noticing in some secret internal lexicon of Sherlock Holmes like a stage magician or a con man, someone who tears people apart with all the secret things that they know how to know. But it doesn't really matter, does it. John feels it all the same.

"Yes," Sherlock says, at last.

John nods. It's enough, he is thinking. It ought to be enough.

"Did you like putting it on me?" John asks; and Sherlock says, "Yes," low and hot, flooding John's cheeks like tissue paper, blotting red. His throat last night marked in the mirror faded in the morning: John doesn't blush. Ah, he thinks, for not quite no reason; and shuts off the taps.

He turns, just enough. Looks up at him: pink cheeks pale eyes long hands. John asks, "What if I put it on you?"

Sherlock doesn't look back. He swallows, though: once, twice. Drying John's dry plate, over and over again. John holds himself still on the edge of the sink. He wants to take it out of his hands.

"Yeah," Sherlock says, finally: in a low, half-unrecognizable voice, not meeting John's eyes.

John nods. He turns back to the sink. He rinses the last streak of soap off Sherlock's plate. Enough, he thinks. If he were just beginning to see what is—

"If you would want me to," John says, quiet, "I'd like that, I think."

Mute, Sherlock nods.

Beside him John sets Sherlock's plate on the draining board so he can wash the glasses even while Sherlock finishes the first plate. At last Sherlock must decide that it's dry, because he stops buffing it endlessly and slides it onto the stack in the cupboard. Doesn't close the door. Sherlock takes the second plate off the draining board, so that beside him John can replace it with the first glass, rinsed, and move onto the other.

"I didn't know," Sherlock explains, blurting: too fast all at once, "I didn't—it'd been—a while, and I didn't—I didn't know how much I'd like it," his voice dropping with every word, half-lost on the 'T.'

John swallows. Me too, he wants to say; I didn't know, wants to say, it'd been a while for me, too; but none of it is true.

"That's all right," John says, instead.

"With you, I mean," Sherlock says, "I didn't know how much I'd like it with you": with his voice sliding into John's chest and then turning: unfolding his ribs unrolling his organs hingeing his insides out: a key. Enough. "Any of it," Sherlock is adding, unsteady, "I didn't know how—how much I'd like being—being at the edge," and then takes a bone-deep breath: "with you."

John swallows. "No," he says: enough.

"Holding onto the edge, I mean," Sherlock says. "With."

"I didn't know, either," John says, very quietly. "How much you would make new."

Sherlock doesn't answer. Carefully, precisely, he dries the first of the glasses, while all around them the quiet is settling in, like the absorbent mass of the muffling air when it snows. In that downy silence John finishes washing up, turns off the taps; while Sherlock dries the glasses and their forks and then passes him the towel, so that John can dry his hands. John does so, then hangs the towel across the edge of the sink and forces his gaze up up up at Sherlock, at all of him: at the corners of his indecisively-colored eyes and soft mobile mouth, at the man who left who is the man who came back who is the man on the stairs and the man sitting in his chair and blushing, descended from a boy fencing badly three decades ago through some unknown span of years before he became a man being someone else for someone else and unhappy: John wondering, hands bound—? on a lead—? and all of them the man who can put on uncomfortable shoes and a constable's uniform and still look like a double-first Oxbridge git in fancy dress; the man who'd bent John over against the door to smack his arse and needed a wager to ask John to kiss him, the man standing above John in the shower while grateful and tender John knelt at his feet. This man, putting away the silverware and standing too close and not looking at him, high cheekbones pink. Sherlock is still half turned away: light lashes screening his universe-dark eyes, when John touches him at last: hip. Rib. Sternum and throat. With each touch Sherlock is turning back towards him, looking back up towards his face, folding his chin-chest-shoulders-hips subtly together like he always does, so that when they kiss John doesn't have to stand on his toes. Enough. John knows enough.

John leaves his arms around Sherlock's middle when Sherlock pulls back, straightens. John is looking up. Sherlock up close looks like no one else but himself all together. Flat John's restless hands resting, just at the base of Sherlock's back.

"I also," Sherlock says, "just really like that cock ring," quiet, with his lips curving up; and bursting-warm and fizzing, John laughs.

"I know," he says. Touching him John says, "Me, too."

Chapter Text

Sherlock leans. Bends. A kiss. And another.

Against the back of John's hip, the coldwet edge of the sink: seeping through his jeans. I like, Sherlock had said, how it feels. John likes how he feels: under John's hands the back of Sherlock's warmth-crumpled soft shirt over his blood-hot skin. John likes how he feels above him and below him and behind him and in front of him slouching into him while they kiss: that is not, John knows, what he'd meant. Touching him belly-zip-pocket long hands. Against his mouth Sherlock murmurs, "Want to—" so John wants to too and a sudden-hot surge of shame and then drained, swallowed, gone. Sherlock's foot is moving so John's foot is moving, too. The side of his sole, the bump of his toes: John breathes deep and moves as Sherlock moves when Sherlock moves John moves too. A kiss, a kiss, another: Sherlock's moving lips move John's lips John's tongue, as their bare feet tangle and slip on the lino, until the ridge of the doorframe, sudden, presses into John's spine. Kissing, pressed against him toes to tongue, his long fingertips just tucked the front left pocket of John's jeans. Mouth open on John's mouth Sherlock tugs: John swallows, "Mm," half-sighed, "your bed's," caught murmuring between their moving mouths, "a mess." Sherlock inhaling: cool on John's lips but the satin-soft skin on his sides in John's hands is hot, hot, hot. "Improve my sheets," Sherlock asks, "did you?" and mouth slipping against his mouth up-down up-down John nods. His breath streaming out into Sherlock inspiring-expanding-inspired while Sherlock—slides his fingertips into—thin cotton-skin between them: "Oh," Sherlock murmurs. "Good." Against him John shivers, breath caught: "Have to—burn them," he says, breathless, "or—"; while Sherlock exhales "Never": dragging his knuckles against him through the membrane of John's pocket. "Christ," John gasps, thunking his head back: sharp, Sherlock hissing-wincing half in sympathy half laughing at him while his left hand comes up to cradle the back of John's skull. John presses his mouth to Sherlock's mouth hard, hard, hard heart beating hard, hard, hard as though so hammered they would be—melded, fused together, lip to lip and tongue to tongue. I didn't know how much I'd like it, Sherlock had said, with you.

"Did you get it on my dressing gown?" Sherlock is asking. Smiling: John can feel it. Between the borders of their bodies, a pressed-flat joke. John laughs, too high: "Oh." He swallows, Sherlock's mouth brushing—down, over his jaw. "Probably," John admits, pressing his burning hips up so that Sherlock's curled fingers in his pocket curl against him hot-hard, Sherlock making a hot-purry sound against his throat. "Probably it'll still be—" John, swallowing— "sticky—" and against him Sherlock makes a soft-amorphous sound and then shoves himself up hard against him hard hand caught between them, hard: which is—leaves John dizzy-gasping with the jamb digging into his back even as—even with Sherlock's left hand cradling soft in his hair.

Soft, he thinks: a rush. Sherlock breathing out into—his mouth John hard all over and soft—running his fingertips—along—but upstairs stretched out six minutes wanting he'd been—I didn't know how much I'd like it, Sherlock had said, so soft. With you.

Sherlock's mouth soft on his mouth. His body bowing, soft. His cock like John's cock between them hard but all the rest of him— "We should," John suggests, "go upstairs." Upstairs. Stretched out where Sherlock had said lie down under the covers so John had lain down under the covers and they had kissed, and kissed, and kissed. Sherlock hums: draws his fingers along the ridge of John's erection: God. "Upstairs," John repeats. Pushing, stumbles—forward, stumbling into—the slip of Sherlock's tongue and the scrape of his teeth on John's jaw and "upstairs—," John repeats, heart battering the undersides of his ribs with Sherlock's nose brushing along the shell of his ear and warm-curling inside his pocket Sherlock's hand and John's heart thuds as he thinks, two beats forward: teeth; and then Sherlock's mouth on his earlobe is closing: lips. Tongue. Teeth. I didn't know how much I'd like it, Sherlock'd said—and that wasn't right, was it. I like doing it with you, Sherlock had said at the table but before, before: before beside the chairs he'd said Yellow and before on the sofa he'd said nothing (Not Asking) and before at the table he'd said I don't want to but John had wanted to and then Sherlock had slapped John 'cross the face. Now in the kitchen Sherlock slithers his tongue into John's ear. "Upstairs," John gasps, prickling all over. "Please—let's go—upstairs"; and Sherlock pulls back away from him, looking down.

"Upstairs," John repeats. He wasn't right. He'd misremembered. Lie down, Sherlock had said, upstairs; and then he had stopped; and then John had said, Under the covers?, and soft Sherlock had said, Yes, please.

"Come upstairs with me," John says. Hands brushing up over Sherlock's hips: "Upstairs," John says. "Please."

"Don't want a fuck against the fridge, then," Sherlock says. A joke, John thinks: but the smile alongside it is stillborn, slipping down over his teeth. John's fingers splay; slide. Sherlock's ugly green shirt coming untucked. John's bare hands bare on his bare hot sides.

"I don't think you want a fuck against the fridge," John, quiet, corrects; and Sherlock flushes all-at-once red.

John swallows. Hands sliding, Sherlock's warm skin under them, until they meet at the hollow of Sherlock's long back: John's weight, rocking forward: carrying him up onto his toes. The just-barely scratchy corner of Sherlock's soft mouth: it sparks regret burning deep inside John's belly, that he'd not had time to shave. "Can't we." John sighs. "Just go—lie down, just."

Sherlock is turning his hot face toward John's face: their noses bump and brush. John's fingers curling on the damp-soft skin of Sherlock's back. He presses them broad and flat, drawing Sherlock towards him, velvety and warm; but Sherlock pulls away. Rolled-up cuffs but nothing unbuttoned he pulls his shirt right off. It makes John want to be naked: Sherlock's dark eyes bare torso in his hands in their kitchen, hair static-frazzled and sticking up; but John is bad at being naked, with Sherlock. Instead: weight, toes; mouth, throat; with his arms wrapping tight around Sherlock's warm sides and middle as Sherlock takes a long, slow breath. John can feel it: tongue and lips, breath and pulse. He kisses the side of Sherlock's Adam's apple, the hollow between clavicle and throat: Sherlock's hands rest on him: the back of his shoulder, his hair.

"John," Sherlock says, unsteady; and John pulls back, looks up.

Sherlock doesn't say anything but straightens: Shoulders back head up: he exhales, nostrils flaring.

"Do you not want to go upstairs?" John asks, quiet.

"We were," Sherlock says, "just going to—"

He stops, abrupt. His blush is fading splotchily: it's unflattering. Graceless. John wants him in his mouth.

"We were just going to wind up fucking against the fridge," John says, as gently as he can; and Sherlock's chin jerks, looking away.

"You'd hardly mind," Sherlock mutters. Petulant, as he presses his hips against him: John better than half-hard in his jeans.

"No, not really," John agrees, quiet. "But I like—this," Sherlock's fair-round bare shoulder, "too." Sherlock shivers under his fingers. "Good?" John asks. "Or."

"It's." Sherlock swallows. "Fine, I."

"Two?" John asks. "Two point five?"

Sherlock laughs: there's that, at least. Shoulders hunching up.

"Three?" John asks, quiet. His hand on Sherlock's biceps: sliding down, down, down.

"It's good," Sherlock whispers. Brushing John's cheek.

"Yeah?" John breathes: a kiss. Slow Sherlock nods.

"It's." Sherlock swallows. "Harder, I don't—I can't, I don't know why, I ought to be able to—"

Tugged: fishhooks in John's abdomen, pulling down. "Hey." He leans up. "It's all right," he says, quiet. Mouth to mouth to mouth to mouth until into him Sherlock sighs. Goes slack, slouched down: his face bent down to John's shoulder, his spine rounded into a soft, blood-warm hill. "We can fuck against the fridge, if you'd rather," John says; and against the skin of his shoulder Sherlock lets out a hot, damp huff.

"Six," Sherlock says. Slightly muffled. Then: "Five point five."

John pets. Pets. "For..."

"Fucking against the fridge," Sherlock says. John can feel his own mouth tug, uneven: a rueful, lopsided smile.

Nodding. "Surely we can get that up past a seven, at least?" John asks; and Sherlock lifts his head. John says, "If we did something else, I mean." He touches Sherlock's collarbone. Sternum, three fingers petting all together: Sherlock's shoulders shivering up, eyes slipping closed. John's single soft-smeared palm print, stroked along the base of his ribs.

"My." Sherlock swallows. Chin tucked down, face not-quite turned. "Stomach," Sherlock says.

John breathes. My stomach, Sherlock'd said; so John touches his stomach: two brushstroke fingertips on his hollowing belly, skimming down the crisp-dusky line of hair trailing from his navel to his button, and below. Sherlock'd asked John to touch his stomach so John touches his stomach: what can it matter, if Sherlock'd changed course halfway through? Palm flat, just for an instant, press: Sherlock inhales a long slow-steady breath, when John turns his hand. Knuckles rubbing up-over, up-over, like Sherlock'd rubbed him with his knuckles, hard through the thin lining of the pocket of John's jeans.

"Seven," Sherlock says.

"Seven," John echoes, unsure.

Sherlock nods, hard. Repeats, "Seven," rough. John rubs thoughtful fingertips around the rim of his navel: Sherlock doesn't shiver, doesn't gasp, and John strokes down toward his button: the point, he thinks, of a question mark, written onto Sherlock's skin. If their positions were reversed—

"I mean," Sherlock says, low and rough: oh. Under his shirt the skin on John's back prickling up, prickling up. "I meant," Sherlock mumbles. "For." He swallows, twice.

Electric, somehow. "If you were," John murmurs, "me"; and under his fingers conductive and hot, Sherlock shivers. Nods.

"Seven," he repeats. Eyelids heavy: they keep slipping shut.

"Yeah." John tucks his fingertip beneath the waistband of Sherlock's trousers. Sherlock nods. John tugs, and Sherlock half-stumbles towards him. Presses close. John presses his knuckles into Sherlock's skin, harder. Sherlock trembles, warm.

"E-eight?" he asks, voice cracking.

"Eight," John agrees, "at least"; and Sherlock breathes out long-slow and bends to give him a kiss.

A kiss. They kiss. Eleven, John thinks, hand slipping, fourteen, bubbling up all-over irrational undecimal immetric inside him; but Sherlock wouldn't thank him for changing the rules, he thinks. (Warm side. The sweat-sticky small of his back.) "Ten," John says, instead; and mouth-nose near-close Sherlock exhales. Not disagreement, that: their noses brush together, and John tightens his arm 'round his waist. Sherlock fits the soft-hollow frame of his mouth against the soft-hollow frame of John's mouth, and then. Rests. John tracing him in slow embracing half circles: spine, to navel, to spine. A beat; a breath: rest. Knuckles against his insensitive belly. Rising goosebumps all over his sides. Held still to the point of the tremor of a pulse: a pulse. A pulse. (Eleven.) (Fourteen.) The edges of their lips held just-at the point of contact: barely moving they stick, unstick; shared rest. Breathe. "Ten," John breathes: tongue touched to the insides of his teeth. Sherlock's breath catches: between them, held: John's fingers splayed between them, held: and Sherlock nods: once, short, hot. God, John thinks. God. Christ. "And?" John asks, quiet. Eleven: mouth under Sherlock's hesitating half-open mouth he shivers. Fourteen.

Swallowing (closeloud), Sherlock says, "Six." Quiet: shocking, John pulls back as Sherlock whispers, "Five point five": Christ.

John shakes his head, shakes his head. God. "Nothing," he whispers, "like." Fingertips under his button: tug, but no room for them to be closer: John tugs. He can hear Sherlock swallow, so close. "Just because," Sherlock says, "I want—" but shaking his head shaking his head John wraps his arms tight around his middle drawing him bookcoverspagesclosetogether holding him in, and mouth fitting loose back against Sherlock's mouth loose, John's pulse throbs in his palms. Sherlock breathes. Breathes. Pull, stick: under John's arms, shivers drip down Sherlock's spine.

"Do I—not want, then?" John asks, thick; and Sherlock makes a soft, caught sound. Volcano-hot John breathes out, his mouth on Sherlock's mouth on his mouth and God. Christ. Slack John rubs his mouth on Sherlock's mouth, rough sticky-soft drag Sherlock's lips on his lips. Alight. John wants—John wants to shove him up against the refrigerator. John wants to kiss him until it is dark then light then dark then light. Sherlock whines: Christ. John wants to eat him alive. "Ten," John repeats. Sherlock shivering against him, kissing—licks. John licks. Licks. Sherlock makes another small electric sound and John rubs their noses together, pets Sherlock's warm skin. Back. Belly. Hip. His hand nestling back in between them— (He could open him up. Pull him out and over and apart.) John's fingertips burrowed and nesting their mouths scrape open-closed and John's hand is still. Soft. Still. Then soft, soft: soft brushing back together: and then rest. Still. Be still. Still. "Ten," John whispers. Thumb. Knuckles brushing over Sherlock's belly: John can't yield; not on this. Sherlock's shoulders scrunching up.

"If you were," Sherlock says, voice thick. "Me, I mean—" but tight and anxious hard John shakes his head.

He wants him—to be here, he wants him—here. Here. Here their mouths brush, stick together. Pull-slip, apart; and then rest. Here John breathes. Touch: rest. Here breathing out into Sherlock's mouth with four fingertips on his smooth pale belly and one arm around him and the whole of his body pressed to his dear warm body helpless, here, John is asking, "Tell me"; and, "Seven," Sherlock whispers which hurts; and "Try," John gasps, "again": and then desperate kisses Sherlock from the heart of him here held-holding Sherlock baresofthot against him in his arms and "N-nine," Sherlock is breathing, almost, here, at last, "and a half."

Startled, John snorts. And a half. Starts to laugh. Sherlock melting-smiling rueful pressing closer arms around him shoulders and back: "What do I reserve the half for, then?" John asks; "My tongue up you," Sherlock says; and warm-tender cave-heart John murmurs, "Oh, well, not wrong, I suppose." Sherlock kisses him properly, then, still smiling: warm and damp and near mouth moving open-mouthed against his mouth while John holds him tight, tight, tight. Knuckles pressing into his belly. Palm stroking up his bare back. Across his shoulder. Over the backs of his ribs.

"Ten," John says, quiet, against Sherlock's warm mouth.

Wanting. Sherlock breathes. Against-into him. Kissing, breathes. Soft. Breathes: "Ten," thick in John's throat, "Sh—ten"; and then "T-ten," Sherlock whispers, finally, at last; and John swallows, heart thumping. Presses his forehead to Sherlock's forehead. I wanted, John thinks. I am wanting, I want.

"Yeah," John says, unsteady. He'd wanted. Echoing: "Ten."

Suspended. A half an instant drawn between them near-together: Sherlock's soft mouth, long lashes, green-slivered eyes; with John filling up with the ballooning-bubble of their bodies together and. And Sherlock's downturned mouth. And Sherlock's dark solemn eyes. He is close enough to kiss, burnt into John breath and body in a single Polaroid snap, and then all-at-once closer Sherlock is kissing him like a girl in a film: drawn up, bent back; Sherlock's arm 'round his middle and his arm 'round Sherlock's shoulders and Sherlock's mouth on his hungry wide-open insistent with John's fingers clawed up between them dragging Sherlock—close, with his knuckles—digging into Sherlock's—

My stomach, Sherlock had said; and flash: John's vaporized blood and the whitehot press of his body drawn uphardtight and then held, flash: Sherlock's tongue in his panting-gasping open mouth, Sherlock's tight arms bald deluging kisses, the burning heat of his bare stomach and arms and flash: If you were me, I mean with Sherlock's body pressed close and then closer, closer, closer, pressed allover tight against him, and—pulling him, dragging him while they kiss, flash

—and John grabs, grabs at him: hand to his hair too short, drags Sherlock's hand down to his chest: arching his back pushing his pectorals up into Sherlock's long hands sprawling fingers while John shoves his hands down the back of Sherlock's trousers, grabs and squeezes: tongue in Sherlock's soft rubbed-hot mouth while Sherlock groans as John pulls his arsecheeks apart. Stumbling: "Do it," John gasps, then groans, jaw open, click, when Sherlock's hand starfishes over him, caressing through his shirt his, his nipple, his ribs, and "Please," gasping John is gasping, "please, please" as Sherlock makes a low hot blossoming sound as he—grabs, and—pulls, and—tugs, peeling vest-and-shirt John bare waist to prickling shoulders all at once because John wants—John wants, John wants—instead pushing Sherlock—back, his back, back up against the, the sodding edge of the partition because—far away wanting to, to be upstairs with him to push him down into his sheets kneel between his long white thighs cradle his face and kiss him not stagger photo-flash blind through their shambolic living room, tripping over ottomans, but spread him out long-slow stretched slow-dripping honey-sweet to touch his—belly and his—breasts and—kiss him (if you were me, I mean) pulled up closetight hot and hard against him and kiss him (flash) soft over and over and over and over and (flash) over like a girl, in a— (flash) film—not—not a—not in the, the sodding living room half-bent-back stumbling against the arm of the—grinding hard-desperate against—him hip and—hard and panting hard, cock hard in his trousers still zipped over his—little—black—shorts and they won't make it upstairs, won't be able to— "Sofa," John groans into Sherlock's open panting mouth and Sherlock groans drops down half-falling sitting onto the sofa with one hand still caught in John's (too-short) hair dragging him down to kiss, and kiss, and kiss. John clambers up onto his knees splayed across Sherlock's long thighs and Sherlock moans wide-open, gasping draws John up straight-tight against him—tongue, and teeth, and John's hands slam down on the back of the creaking-sticking back of the sofa all-over shivering while panting Sherlock licks his throat. Throat, John is thinking: wild, boiling hot: kissing, and hair, and throat: i f y o u w e r e m e I m e a n as Sherlock presses a hot disordered spray of kisses across him collarbone and ribs and starving John presses himself—up, and God. God. Blood surging up in his face when Sherlock makes a high, torn noise and closes his mouth around John's nipple and then—sucks, and—sucks, and sucks: chest, like kissing like hair and like throat, if you were me I mean magnesium-flash as desperate John buries his hands in Sherlock's dark hair. Sherlock's breath gusts out mouth open and John doesn't—doesn't—doesn't want to push, or pull, or, or do anything but—touch while soft Sherlock moans and then—tongue and helpless John (if you were) pet-pet-pets wanting—everything while soft (me, I mean) Sherlock whimpers and then laps—little—gentle—kitten—licks to John's nipple John not—not knowing—anything but still so much of—of wanting to—to touch

—and Sherlock breathes out against him, humid; slow; and John exhaling strokes his fingers through his soft thick hair while Sherlock closes his lips around him, soft. Nips, soft. Gentle mouths against him as John shivers all over pressing closer as Sherlock pets his long hands down the backs of John's short thighs up to wrap his arms around him arse and hips as wide-eyed gentle, soft, he sucks. It isn't arousing: even if even John's nipple peaks under such concerted attention, becomes flushed; even if it is plumping and swelling as over and over it is hidden-shown-hidden-shown in the cavern of Sherlock's red-working soft mouth. It isn't arousing, not on John. On John it is altogether something else.

"That feels." John swallows. "Good."

Sherlock licks across him: an echo, very faint, of that hot-heavy prickling jolt it'd been last night. "Tell me," Sherlock says, thick; and John swallows, hard.

"Eight?" he hazards; and Sherlock rubs his nose against John's sternum, clavicle: burrowing close as he nods. "Eight," John says, more certain; and Sherlock breathes out. Nuzzling, he nods.

John feels—hollowed out. A transparent shell. If the sun were behind him anyone could see right through. "I want you to kiss me," he says, unsteady. If you were me I mean. It has the inequitable advantage of being true. Sherlock leans up and John sinks down: thighs sprawled across his lap. Their bodies touch. Their mouths touch, soft. Sitting beneath him arms around him Sherlock shivers. Makes a high, caught sound and John squeezes his arms around him tightthenloosening again to kiss him, soft. Soft: I want you to kiss me, he'd not said; if he'd continued, in his not speaking, he would have not said: soft. John could be soft. Would be soft, wants to be soft: if somewhere flat and soft and quiet John could nuzzling and tender rolling about with him: arms wrapped around him while they, like children, kissed—

They kiss.

If you were me, I mean. If John could brush his mouth to Sherlock's throat and and to his clavicle and to his jaw until sighing Sherlock drew him back—: John moves with him, soft. Soft. While they kiss Sherlock's arms are warm and soft around him; John pets and pets at his soft hair. Soft. They were going to go upstairs, John knows. A kind of grief. Kneeling up in Sherlock's warm lap kissing him soft and soft and soft and soft and soft but the loss of the slow sweet way they touch each other upstairs under Mrs. Hudson's filmy white curtains: God, John wants to take him to bed.

"Will you." Sherlock swallows, noisy.

"Yeah," John says, quiet.

"I didn't ask," Sherlock says. Aching John touches his cheek.

"So ask," he says.

Sherlock nods. He says, "Will you—"; and John says, "Yes."

Sherlock looking up at him. His wide clear eyes. His eyebrows huddling together in the middle: John touches the wrinkle, forefinger and thumb. Thinking: smooth. Heart aching. Thinking: if you were me.

"Go ahead," John says. Quiet. "I'll say yes." Sherlock swallows, doesn't answer. "You," John explains, "you'll say yes too."

Sherlock swallows. "Would I?" he asks, unsteady. His hand on John's shoulder, the side of his throat; John draws it down. Can't speak. Pulls his palm flat against his thudding heart. Sherlock's expression, Christ: cracked-open eyes, flushed cheeks, red mouth.

"Yeah," John manages. "Yes."

Sherlock exhales. His splayed pink starfish hand: "Sometimes," he says, very quietly, "it's. Hard." Heavy John nods: Sherlock looking up wide-eyed unsteady saying, "To believe that"; and John swallows.

"You should be clearer," he says. "You'll be clearer, yeah?"

Sherlock's throat: up-down. Up-down. "I," he says, and then stops. Uncertainly he says, "Yeah," halfway to a question; and John huffs, quiet. Leaning in.

His mouth. Soft. Soft, so John makes himself soft. Mouth soft hands soft kissing soft as Sherlock has been soft is wanting—

"Soft," John says. Quiet. Swallows: Sherlock nuzzling up against-underneath him and "I want you to be gentle," John says, "with me."

Breathes. Warm on his throat Sherlock breathes: face tipping up, a kiss. A kiss.

"All right," Sherlock whispers. Hot-faced.

"Confusing?" John asks; and Sherlock shakes his head.

"Easier," Sherlock says, admission-thick. A kiss.

A kiss.

"Then—it's good," John asks; and Sherlock exhales. Nods. Kissing: jaw—cheek—mouth—

"I want," Sherlock says, "you to take me," quiet, "right up to the edge"; and locking-settling all the parts of him unlocking, John lets out a long, slow breath: oh. Christ. He didn't—hot and embarrassed and dizzy, dissected, adored, he kisses the corner of Sherlock's mouth.

His cheekbone.

His jaw.

"Because it's what you do for me," John whispers; and Sherlock closes his eyes.

John watches, helpless. If he'd—if he were—stretched in dimensions he can't see—if he were big enough to—if there were ways that he could—wrap if he could make for him a shelter—

"Yeah," Sherlock says unsteadily, "what I do for you"; and John doesn't hesitate. Nods.

"With my mouth?" John asks, quiet; "God," says Sherlock, low and shaky; and "Kiss me," John whispers. "Please." Sherlock already tightening his arms around him. John's hands cupping his flushed and lovely face. Their mouths meet: spark. Swallowing. Half-gasped. "I want." John swallows. Swallows. "I want you in my throat," he says, unsteady, "on my—on my tongue, I want to—to breathe you in until—"

Sherlock's hot cheeks. Long lashes: trembling, pale.

"I want to be full of you," John says, quiet. Rubbing his thumb along Sherlock's cheekbone, burning up. "Like you fill," John says unsteadily, "yourself with me."

Sherlock swallows. Kisses the palm of John's left hand. "All right," Sherlock says. Muffled. Hot.

When John nods and kneels up Sherlock helps him, hands on his hips. His side. John stands, ungainly, impatient with his body: his hands tangling clumsily with Sherlock's hands: making unnecessary labor of his button, his flies. Sherlock is breathing hard. Red-faced. Wide-eyed. Kneeling down John drags Sherlock's shorts down with his trousers, brushes his palm across the throb of Sherlock's pulse in the top of his foot. On the floor John crouches and Sherlock slides down toward him, sinking into a long wide-kneed sprawl. Pink all over, his long feet. John eases them out of the tangle of his clothes, one at a time. Sherlock's cock is lying flushed almost flat against his belly, satiny and hard: John leans into him, brief-brushing his mouth up along Sherlock's pink-flushed warm knee, the pale-soft inside of his thigh, then puts his flooding mouth open against him as shifting with him, hand over John's hand to guide him, Sherlock lets out a long, wet sigh.

Salt. Skin. Strange, this feeling: the better part of a decade since John got on his knees for a comrade in arms, but John can think of no feeling closer to this, wanting to—to suck certain and fierce and heartfelt, to—to take into him as Sherlock had taken into him, three days in: Sherlock's velvet-soft allover thick and soothing pushing John's jaw and soft palate apart, John tonguing at the salt-wet slithery taste of him at the tip (Sherlock had waited for him: John remembers. Sherlock had washed his hair). When John licks at him and sucks and swallows, Sherlock's sounds: low rough throat-caught vowels, and John pulls off to rub his fist upover around him just long enough to watch Sherlock scrub one big palm across his hot-flushed face. Throat fluttering-full John puts his mouth down back around him dragging animal-salt along the wet insides of his cheeks. Less hollow, John sucks, swallows— "Please," Sherlock breathes, low and rough: John sucks. "Can you—"

Cropped. Bitten off in the middle: John licks up over him looking up. Sliding his hand around his thickwet with his foreskin sliding-soft open and Sherlock shivers all the way down from his shoulders. Pulls one knee up. "Fingers," Sherlock says, unsteady, with his foot braced on the coffee table just behind John's left side while John works him slow wet-twisting his left hand fisted under Sherlock's right hand tight around Sherlock's red prick, wrist crossing wrist. "I want—" Throat, bob: "I always want," Sherlock says; and John can feel his face flood with blood, heavy and hot.

"Won't that be." John licks his lip: his taste, stinging his shoulders, prickling up. "Dangerous," he asks, low. Mouth hot.

"I, I'll tell you if." Sherlock shifts, restless. Pushing up into their cupped and overlapping hands. "Please": voice sounding from the deep-reverberant bowl at the base of his belly. Sliding down the sofa, thighs apart.

Nodding. John swallows. Pets his right hand up—Sherlock, "Unh," choked out as John rubs, Sherlock's hand falling over John's hand on his abdomen as John rubs. "That." Eyes closed: Sherlock's low rough breath. "Is dangerous. Usually. That."

John nods. If you were me. Sherlock's long fingers slipping alongside John's splayed fingers across his belly in low-tight circles as he nods looking up at him hollow and adoring, John nods, and nods, and nods. John nods and jerks him slow and steady as he rubs his belly the way he— "Now," Sherlock sighs. "Please." Drags his foot up to John's shoulder: God. John swallows. Slides his hand from beneath Sherlock's hand to switch and puts his first two fingers in his mouth. Drooling: Sherlock on his fingerprints, that taste. John wants it all over in his mouth again so he leans forward his mouth again, angling him in: Sherlock grunts. Welling up salt-wet all over the roof of John's mouth, the back of his throat, while John reaches down and pets him under his balls. Sherlock sighs, knees slackening, and hot-dark blood rush wanting God—blinking hard heart pounding John jerks back, asks, "Can I. Lick—" if you were me and up above him Sherlock pushes his back into the sofa, shoulders squeaking, as too-fast he nods. His dark silvery eyes slipped halfway shut. Magnetized John touches the soft-furled damp clutch of his arsehole, God— "Tell me," John says, thick, "please," rubbing-purring-petting over him; Sherlock says, "Hungh?"; and overwhelmed John kisses the fragile skin of his testicles. Helpless opens his mouth. Breathing out wanting wanting wanting: "Tell me, please—" to the slow tidal tremble rippling out across Sherlock's skin: Sherlock moans. Doesn't answer. "Please," John says, helpless, thick. "I can't—numbers," he says. "Numbers, at least"; and then helpless-greedy wet-mouthed he helpless licks and Sherlock says, "Ahhhunnngh," and between them the shiver squirms down his body and into John, slithering down his spine to his feet. John pulls back. Shaking. "Sherlock," he gasps. (If you weren't me.) Staring up at his long fair throat moving up-down. Up-down. Can't breathe.

"E-eight," Sherlock manages, rough, "don't stop"; and so unlocked and flooding John rubs up the back of Sherlock's lean thighs and Sherlock just—goes, knees to chest folding like fabric soft all over for John to bend down and give him a kiss.

"Fuck," gasps Sherlock. Breathless. Thick.

John wants—is wanting has wanted: licking along Sherlock's fair-coarse soft-dense hair and—and filling up, Sherlock's smell and his taste and his balls bumping into John's forehead while John is licking into him soft-soft-thick, pressing the tip of his tongue through the crumpled-silk knot of his arsehole, Sherlock's long thighs pulled up and tensed, trembling against John's hand in Sherlock's big hands tucked into the sweat-shiny hollows at the backs of his knees. John has to—pulls back. Rubbing over him helpless, hot thighs, flushed bottom, sweaty hips. "Sherlock," he gasps; Sherlock groans, "God, you bastard—e-i-i-ight," and so John can lean back in starving open, to suck Sherlock's testicles into his mouth. "Nnnngh": above him Sherlock squirming: "Seven," ground out as John pulls off, heart pounding everywhere at the edges of him and then drags Sherlock down closer by the sweat-slick sides of his hips, right to the edge of the sofa: "Oh," says Sherlock, wobbling, "Christ": as John buries his face in him, "Eight—"; rubs his stubbling mouth all over him, "Eigh—n-nine"; presses his fat blood-swollen tongue all the way in to his teeth inside of him and then curls, "N-nine—don't st-stop, n—" smeared-swallowing all over him tongue mouth face the earth-dark sweaty smell of him—God—pulling back as above him Sherlock groans all the way down to his hard-flushed smeared-shiny cock laying near-flat on his belly and John rub-rub-rubs against him, pets into him, starving-shivering gasping, "I want, I want"; and Sherlock groans, "For God's sake, do it, please"; so John puts his fingers in his mouth and rubs at him wet and trembling pushing slow-steady in—in—in—as above him Sherlock sags, boneless-melting into the seat. Sherlock is hot blood hot, opening butter-smooth. John drags Sherlock's hips down—closer—half-off, nearly, wanting the whole of his body closer to Sherlock's body wanting to—curl in

"Ah," Sherlock gasps—gasps—is gasping, "John—"

"I—too much, or," John asks, unsteady. His fingers hot-cradled slip-slick sliding—

"No," —in as Sherlock gasps, "don't stop, s-seven—"; and John feels a sudden-hot surge of fury and then shame but then Sherlock's foot comes down onto his shoulder arching-eeling as gravel-crunch "I want," Sherlock tells him, "your mouth on my cock."

John's tongue in floods. "Yeah," he asks. Careless: saliva spilling—John leans forward, wet chin, and Sherlock's hand falls on his skull, heavy caress, then landing down around his own red-hard prick to angle it—up and toward while squirming down around John's curling-stroking fingers as John whispers, "Should I keep—" then silent as Sherlock frantic nodding pushes up into him dragging across his palate leaking God allover bitter salt and inside John pets him pets him while thick "Keep going," Sherlock gasps, "don't—don't stop—ah—hngh—" with his big hand off the base of his prick to John's soaked chin to pull him down and—and open wider so—grunting John fucks his two fingers into him while Sherlock is—shoving in groaning against the back of John's full-closed up throat. "John," Sherlock gasps, "John, John—," if you were you and I were me I mean: John, sounds, then silence: swallows, swallows: Sherlock moans. John pulling off gulping air curling his fingers inside the soft blood-hot skin just inside him while Sherlock gasps, "J-John—please, please—" and "Tell me," John gasps; and Sherlock moans, "Eight—John," and John puts his mouth back on him slick-slurping wet all—all over his—his puffy-hot lips and—and the slickening back of his tongue and his—his chin as "Ten," Sherlock groans and John startles—shifts—but Sherlock gasps, "I want—closer, don't stop, n-ten I want to get—" and dizzily John pushes himself—down, swallowing—down, while Sherlock's voice drops—down, "Ten, keep—" and dissolves as he whimpers, writhing on John's petting-trembling fingers while John—swallows, and Sherlock gasps, "T—e—" and John—chokes, and then—pulls back breathing deep high hypoxic whine while tugging at his cropped hair in handfuls Sherlock desperate shoves up—up—down-rolling hips while John—swallows and Sherlock gasps, "Ah—" as he—rocks— "te—" and then jerks— "Fuck," Sherlock gasps, smearing salt-slick on "stop—" John's tongue—

John jerks back, mouth loose. Fingers stilled. Sherlock panting above him hand hard on his hair, like John's got enough to properly pull. His chest is heaving. Blush-splotched. Mouth wet, John swallows, illicit and dark. Thick in his throat, warm, just a taste: anyone other than Sherlock, John knows, wouldn't've been able to stop. If you were me, I mean.

"God," Sherlock gasps.

Eyes squeezed tight shut. Hand tight on John's skull. John on his knees between his thighs with his fingers up him watching Sherlock's chest slow, slowly, fade: and unflatteringly. John all over hot and tender, overwhelmed. Fingers in him. Full up with him. Cells from his body in John's body: Christ. John feels like he's about to cry.

Sherlock's eyes slip open, almost. Looking down at him, soft-faced, shining and dark.

"All right?" John asks. Sherlock's throat: up-down, up-down. "Good?"

Sherlock nods. Touches. Fingertips on John's temple, cheek. The bridge of his mouth. His warm and wet-all-over mouth.

John licks his bottom lip. Sherlock's thumb. John's thumb. John's fingers. "...Should I ask you to cough?" he asks, finally; and Sherlock snorts, then laughs, full-throated and lovely; and safe, John thinks, to ease out. He wipes his hand on his jeans. Can't be helped.

"Come back," Sherlock says, wrapped up 'round a smile, and John lets Sherlock pull him back up onto the sofa, kneeling up over his bare lap. Sherlock tugging him down.

"You're naked," John reminds him. Not quite unnecessary: "Jeans. It'll chafe." Sherlock just raises an eyebrow at him, reaching for his flies; and John takes a moment to briefly consider their wide-open windows, the late summer's day light; before he remembers he doesn't give a toss about the neighbors, he's just been sucking Sherlock off, and also that anyone still idiot enough to look in at 221B after five years of intermittently staged murders, gallons of pigs' blood, an assortment of human body parts, more than one explosion, and John stripping Sherlock to his shorts in the kitchen after dark with the lights on deserves whatever they get. John has to stand to get his jeans off, but when Sherlock pulls him back onto the sofa he goes. Back prickling, but. Close. Skin everywhere, warm.

Sherlock's hands on his arse, his back: tugging. John settles, almost.

"This was a bit weird for me, at first," John admits, sitting, very nearly, on Sherlock's bare thighs.

"Weird?" Sherlock asks. His arms winding 'round John's middle. His chin, hopeful, tilting up.

John gives him a kiss. Another. "Sitting in your lap," he explains; and Sherlock pulls back, eyes widening, but John shakes his head. Kisses Sherlock's mouth, his cheek, his temple: all over his lovely flushed face. Sherlock is looking up at him through his lashes, pink-cheeked, dark-eyed: "I like it," John explains, "with you."

"Mm." Sherlock brushes his mouth along John's stubbled jaw: a scrape; John shivers. "I like it, too," Sherlock says, very quietly. "It makes you."

He stops. "Taller," John supplies, rueful; and Sherlock presses his mouth into John's throat, smiling and warm.

"Yeah," Sherlock says, buzzing John's skin. John's shoulders are tensing-relaxing, tensing-relaxing; prickling up, drawing together. "Also," Sherlock says, and pulls back. Wraps a hand around him, loose. John exhales, slow slow slow. "Easy access," Sherlock explains, glancing down, then looking back up at John's face. His expression is soft, warm; John touches his mouth: soft, warm.

"Not all of us have your..." John breathes. Breathes. "Self-control," he says, finally; and Sherlock's mouth twitches wide, sly; "You've not got anyone's self-control," he says, and then grins full-on; and John smacks him on the shoulder, probably not as hard as he ought. Sherlock starts to laugh.

"Bastard," John tells him, but it's hard to mean it: Sherlock giggling and pressing absurd, smacking kisses all over John's still-wet chin and his hot cheeks and his throat before John tilts his face down to kiss him properly: their mouths slotting together, electric and soft. His hair: John strokes—a hardship—his hair. It's—nice. Cosy. Lovely, really: the starting scrape of the beginnings of Sherlock's stubble and his soft slip of tongue; Sherlock's hand loose around him, barely moving; Sherlock's nose bumping John's nose.

"Good?" Sherlock asks, quiet. One long arm around his back, resting; his long petting fingers. Melting, John nods. Sighs into his mouth: his fingertips just under the occipital bone rounding out the bottom of his odd lovely skull, John skritches. Like a cat. "Mm." Sherlock's mouth opens against his: caught. Sherlock's right hand tightening, drawing his foreskin down, thumbing over him, sweet: John shivers, presses helpless into his hand. "Lube," Sherlock murmurs; John's throat. John shivers. "I could," Sherlock says, and his left hand sinks slowly from the small of John's back and John wants wants wants: a torrent. Sudden. He forces his breath out in a slow steady stream, teeth unclenching.

"Yeah?" Sherlock murmurs. "Good?" Soft.

"No, rubbish, actually," John says, breathless.

"Really?" Sherlock asks, pulling back to look at his face.

"No," John explains, "I'm being a cock"; and Sherlock gives his left arsecheek a good hard squeeze and chest tight John pushes up onto his knees. "Can you," John says, unsteady; and chin tilted looking up Sherlock pets down-down-down along him, watching: and John doesn't know what he looks like, can't know, barely knows how he feels. John says, "Are you going to," and then swallows. Stopped.

Gentle. The barest touch. "Tender?" Sherlock asks, quiet. All day. All day John'd been—he hadn't thought, he'd just—all day he'd felt—hollow and Sherlock drops his hand. Skating his fingers along John's skin: "Lube," Sherlock says, more decisively; then counters everything he's been working on by putting both arms around John's waist and pulling him back down flush and tight against him: firm enough Sherlock's own breath catches and gentle enough that it'd seem cruel to not go. John goes. Wants to go. Wanted to go even before Sherlock touches his warm mouth to John's mouth, and then John parts his lips with Sherlock parting his lips and touching, light, the tip of his tongue to John's tongue. John shivers. It's not cold. The air through the window is still July-warm if fading, and against him Sherlock is sun-hot.

"We ought," John observes, between kisses, "to start keeping it in here."

Sherlock hums. John's throat feels tight. Sherlock is still rock-hard against him and John—John hasn't had—seven-eighths of a blowjob and couple of fingers up him and he still wants— "Silicone," Sherlock says, finally. Burring against John's mouth.

"Yeah," John says, thick. Thinking: slippery. Thinking: thick.

"Then I could touch you whenever I wanted to," Sherlock suggests: John nods, mouth empty, too hard. "Lay you out," Sherlock murmurs, "over my knees"; and John sucks in a hard shaky breath and kisses him, over and over and over: "Save the other," Sherlock adds (and a kiss, and a kiss), "for my toys."

"Christ," John groans, and staggers up to his feet. Sherlock looks, unfairly, somewhat surprised. "Which is that, then?" John asks; and Sherlock's hands, hovering, drop. His ungainly white knees.

"Clear bottle," Sherlock says; then licks his lips and adds, "not—last night—" so John squeezes his eyes shut tight in self-defense and scrambles back through to Sherlock's room. The bed's still torn up. Blue dressing gown in the middle and all the sheets half on the floor, and both bottles are still on the nighttable: easy, John thinks, back prickling; quick to hand. John grabs the clear bottle and trots back: Sherlock still slouching naked on the sofa, hand on his cock. Watching John come towards him he gives it a stroke, loose and casual, chin tilted up; and the sharp-hot reality of the scenario slaps John across the face: Sherlock, naked on their sofa, playing with his—

John asks, "Any chance of you being able to—" sharp: coffee table, shin; and that'll leave one hell of a bruise for the morning but Sherlock's eyes are darkening, lips parting, and John doesn't care.

"Come here," Sherlock says, low and hot, and John goes.

Sherlock takes the lube right out of John's hand pops it open, squeezing out slick-shining onto his long fingers while John is climbing back up onto him kneeling up while—God—Sherlock strokes himself—then touches, rubbing—and then—fuck—just nudging against him, right up against—thickhardinto aching while John gasping presses—back, but—

"Slow," Sherlock says, thick, licking pink bottom lip lean in John's lip bite hard-soft hard pushing up slow slow slow with long-sticky hands on John's face John's face John's face. John swallows—shallow-bottomed breathing in sweat Sherlock breathing hard rock up (slow) exhaling the familiar tart smell of his mouth. Unsteady, John says, "I can't—lube. Please," thick not-sob half-laughing, dragging himself up on noodley arms limp spine and his hands clenching white on the back of the sofa, prickling all over, bare. Sherlock's hands. Fall, touching. The fine prickling-up seeking hairs on John's back and his arse: Sherlock's wet fingertips.

"Yeah?" Sherlock says, soft. Soft-eyed. Mouth soft. The cap clicks, behind John's back.

"Yeah," John says. His voice wobbles. "Sherlock," he says, rubbed thin; "Yeah," Sherlock murmurs. His touch: cool, slick; John's burning ash-crumbling skin. John breathes. Breathes in. "All right?" Sherlock asks, circle-slow soft petting and John's breath gusts out and John says, "You can. Go in," so Sherlock is pressing slow-slow-slow-slow-in.

Every nerve in John's body pins-and-needles. Waking up: Sherlock's thickslickwet long fingers slipping into him, knuckles caressing, slow. Last night. Now listening John hears the echo of Sherlock's hand inside him like a bone-deep dragonish roar: more, he wants—more, he wants—everything, he wants—

"Sore?" Sherlock asks. Wet-slick thick his fingers slow: "Yeah," John manages. Unsteady. "Don't stop."

Sherlock looking up at him watching sinking-black eyes: his pink lips parted for John's touch. Unsteady thighs and hands and John bends his head to kiss him, braced on the back of the sofa, Sherlock rubbing him up. Their mouths touch. Part. Sherlock exhaling cool-damp on his lips rubbing slickwet body-warm thick up into him and John wants and John wants and John wants. Sherlock breathing in pressing up into him petting in-out-in curling up and "I want," John blurts and then stops. Tight. Teeth shut.

"More?" Sherlock asks. John's arms are shaking. Thighs. "Yeah," John says, unsteady; and Sherlock nods pressing his long wet fingers all the way deep into him rub-petting-rub: "Can, can you." John swallows. "Can you—put your cock—"; and "Christ," says Sherlock, thick and hungry, then "come here," as though John is not there, as though—kneeling up over him while Sherlock slicks himself thick squelching-wet to lift his hips as pushing-settling John eases himself slow-slidethick sinking to Sherlock guiding pant-panting pressed thick and burning-tight around him gasped hands on him dragging down—they are apart. John blinks, blinks, eyes sweat-stinging and Sherlock's hand his chin and swallowing knees pressed-hard into the sofa back aching John curls down to touch—his mouth to—his mouth—

"Mngh—" Sherlock's throat. His tongue, John shivers: licked. Blurring-close Sherlock's face red soft eyes: "Can I," he murmurs, rocking—in—moans, John helpless-shivering moans. "God," says Sherlock, thick: wrapping his thick hand around him sliding—tightwetand warm and "Oh—" John gasps— "fuck—" slappedthick, his stinging hand: palm pushed hard on the sofa back behind Sherlock's slouching shoulder while Sherlock twists his wrist. John blink-blinking down at—at his red-shiny head slipping—in tucked away while breathing hot-close against him Sherlock's big-knuckled hand slides—up and over up and John pinned squirming up rocks up Sherlock groaning up to meet him pulled downtighthardfullthickslick baring him up and Sherlock's mouth his chin his throat and gasping, "John, are you, are you going to," moan-bit half-swallowed split in two: his mouth. his mouth. His mouth. His mouth. Soft-pinkwet lips parting on John's lips parting his throat his chin and "Take me," John says, unsteady, "up—right up to the edge"; and Sherlock whines against his skin. "Please," John whispers: Sherlock's thick sweat-damp disordered hair. Under his hand haphazard Sherlock nods. Hungry, nods; and presses his mouth to John's mouth. "Hold still," Sherlock murmurs: so John is held, is still. Sherlock breathing out kissing-close warm against him. His hand around him: dragging long electric-buzzing—up—his skin—

Gasping. Sparked. Stings. Sherlock's dark-round all-pupil eyes his mouth his mouth his mouth: gulping air John tips his forehead to Sherlock's forehead, breathes. Breathes. Looking down at Sherlock's long white hand on his cock. Tugging him up: slow. Inside him hot-hard barely moving (he'd feel it, he must feel it, whenever) John shivers as Sherlock pulls him back down slick-shining and bared. Welling up: John gasps. Blinking hard. Sherlock inhaling long slow-slow sliding his hand back upover the head of John's lead-heavy aching cock. A tremor, starting somewhere down deepinside him. Resonant his bones. Sherlock rubs him down slow up and then pullsdown slick-sliding tight buried in his—wet hand his thumb and "God," gasps John. Swallowing. "How can you—how can—"

"Breathe," Sherlock murmurs, "breathe for me"; and John breathes. Breathes.

Breathes.

"Good?" Sherlock's mouth, pressed under his chin. Pulling back to watch John nod, toofast, trembling. John says, "All I want—is to, to fucking—move—"

Tight, Gasping. Gasping.

"But you're not," says Sherlock. Close. Low. Burst from John's too-tight chest too-high he laughs. "You're holding still," Sherlock murmurs, mouth brushing down, "for me."

Caught. Gasped. John gasps. Fair-blurred long lashes: Sherlock kisses his throat. Looks back up. "Sherlock," John says. Shaking.

Sherlock shakes his head. His mouth: John gasps—grabs—hair in handfuls starving kissing him back

"You're being," Sherlock whispers, "so good for me"; and "Ungh—" John swallowing breath-bloom gasped deep Sherlock's hand on his back-side-belly hand around him forehead touching pulled tight tight tight shivering-tight; as "I can feel you," Sherlock whispers, "all over": knuckles petting navel hair-scratching skin. Belly cavern-hollow stroked-reshaping John shudders, all over. Feet cramping: "Christ—" panting— "Sh-Sherlock—fuck," welling wet, gasping "God—" and Sherlock's hand squeezing tight holding him—

still through the thick-wet throb of—

—of Sherlock's hand—holding him—

back, held-trapped—

—and breathing deep lungs open with Sherlock's hand still stilled, ring-tight—

"Fuck." John swallows. "Sherlock, Christ—"

Sherlock's hand loosens. He slides his arms around him. Pets up his back. "Better?" Sherlock asks, low; even though—but John—but John—is, somehow. Surprised. Caught hot-hard just up against—but swallowing. "God," breathed out. Steadier. Clearer. Staring down at Sherlock's lovely-close warm face.

Wide. Breathing in, he is—so wide. Breathed out. So wide awake.

"All right?" Sherlock's lips. John's jaw. Prickling up all over and inside him: the precise scratching-soft brush of Sherlock's just-stubbling hot mouth.

"Yeah," John breathes. Sherlock pulls back bare inches. Skin so fair and flushed he glows: John's hands on his face and Christ, he's beautiful; cheekbones long lashes John's thumb. He's breathing hard, John notes. His shining eyes, red mouth. Still hard inside him: God. John couldn't do that. Wouldn't be able to. Would want—

"Do you want to," John asks, and drags himself up-slow pulling watching Sherlock's lovely opal eyes fluttering shut. Sharp all over: "Christ," John says; then laughs.

"Can you," Sherlock says, thick; then sighing head falling back hands on John's thighs pulling him up. The head of his cock still thick just-inside John's electric-shock body: John shivers. Is still. "I do," Sherlock admits, unsteady, "I really do, I really want to—to fuck you, just a little, can I—" and that punching-squeezed tremor wraps tight down allover John's body; then is gone.

"Yeah," John says. Swallows. "Yeah, you can—just." That precipice-edge inside him different, now. Smeared.

"Yeah?" Sherlock asks, breathless. "Just—shallow? Or—" Already just-barely rocking up: John swallows. Nods.

"Shallow," he breathes. "Even if I want."

"A good hard rogering," Sherlock murmurs, petting his back, arse, thighs: breathless John laughs.

"Yeah," John agrees. Round-full his throat, Sherlock's warm sweet face, his mouth. "That's definitely," John murmurs, kissing, "what I want from you."

Smiling. Sherlock's wet mouth. Soft nudging nose. "God," Sherlock breathes, "you'd better"; and John nods. Arms hard hands braced: holding himself still knelt up feeling everything face turned down to—kiss while panting Sherlock rolls shivering-up into him again.

"Is that." John swallows. "Good, or."

"Oh, don't know," Sherlock breathless says. Swallows. Head back rubbing-wrist soft hair as he says, "Could always—do my tax, or—"

"Pillock," John says, laughing: bending, licked kiss and feeling every—fucking—micrometer as Sherlock groans and presses up into him hands on him splaying wide: squeezing, pulling him apart. John swallows. Holding tight held up breathing out his mouth on Sherlock's mouth as Sherlock underneath him fucks up. "Like that," John asks. Gasps. Red-hot face against his face Sherlock nods and nods. Panting dragging John—justbarely down and pushing—up and John shudders, throat tight. Hot-scraped thick hard inside him held—still, and—his shaking arms.

"God." Sherlock swallows, near and noisy: "You feel—John," and shivering John squirms—down and "Oh," Sherlock gasps, "pl—"

"Please," John gasps, pushing—downfullthick hard full up teeth-clacking and his hands and—tongue while shaking all over John drags himself—up held still arms hard and—hollow and so he—could be is grinding—down—but then hard-fast hot-throb allover drawn up away the edge the edge right to the edge and shivering with Sherlock's scattering-hot panting breath warm hands rolling him—up held-still must hold can't let while rocking drowning-dark eyes pink-wet licking mouth Sherlock is pushing—up and John shivering knife-edged thighs aching holds still holds still holds still not letting, doesn't let, can't let himself—push down as panting-burning up Sherlock writhes fucking up and "Fuck," John gasps, prickling (could push down hard-full rocking, rocking slither against him pulling—) "stop—" and whining pulled halfway out eyes black mouth red Sherlock stops.

Panting underneath him. Staring up still halfway inside him, between John's trembling braced thighs. John wants— "I want," he gasps, "I want to—God, I can't—but I said—" thighs twitching and under him Sherlock's mouth eyes cheekbones soften his fair-close lovely hot face and John can't, can't hold, can't stand it; so Sherlock does it for him: mouth soft meeting his mouth as slow, slow, slow, Sherlock pulls himself out.

Hollow. Aching. Still hot all over clawing-hard at—walls—of blood and skin and bone but Sherlock. Arms around him, easing him down: the both of them hard-wet not touching between them as mouth to mouth nose to nose forehead to forehead, Sherlock interlocks his hands behind John's back.

John swallows. Prickling skin-shell throat tight all-over feeling—

"All right?" Sherlock asks, quiet: and aching and hollow and alone John realizes: a different cliff-sharp rush; unavoidable then over then crashing splattered bones and blood and gasping, "Fuck," John gasping wrapping his arms around Sherlock's warm near-bare body as Sherlock is pulling him close hard-tight against him close skin-close too close not close enough. Face to face pressing boundary to boundary and can't hard-hurting John's breath comes out on Sherlock's cheek wet-hot in a gush: his prickling hot mouth and eyes and face, helpless: a sob, can't, with Sherlock pressing quick puzzled-soft kisses so sweet whispering "John" but wet-hollow "John" pulled open and—and then left, unbearable, to oh-so-gently kiss, Sherlock asking, "John?" but he can't, he can't, he can't, too much cored and scored and split with wanting untouched-untouchable how can he how could he he can't can't stand can't stand it it hurts how can he because Sherlock must feel this every single sodding time.

"It's so lonely," John gasps; and Sherlock face up wide-eyed "Lonely?" echoed but helpless John wraps his arms around Sherlock's shoulders heart pounding desperate swallowing a thick anxious-immovable knot and—and kissing him, helpless, kissing mouth cheek mouth temple temple mouth chin jaw mouth and wanting—wanting Sherlock—wanting Sherlock to never feel— "Is it," can't, wet and stinging, gasping, "is it like that, is it like that all the time," unswallowed, with Sherlock's hot face in his hands and John wants, John can't, hot-overflowing: "You let me—" voice cracked, wet face: "all the time, why would you let me—"

"I'm not," Sherlock—mouth warm against him so soft and John wouldn't, could never, wants only to—is slowly saying, "I'm not... lonely," like a knife: because it comes out off-balance, unsure; tilting up at the end.

"God," John gasps, and heart pounding wraps his arms tight 'round Sherlock's warm-hunched bare shoulders pulls him closer—closer—tight—tight—tight

And slow, so slow, while John's heart slowly slows: Sherlock's arms slot up around his middle. Tighten across his back.

Swallow. John swallows. Is staring. Staring at the wall. Their wall. Sherlock warm underneath him. Arms warm around him, face warm in his throat: John wants—to take care of him: absurd. He wipes one shaking hand across his own wet face. Down to Sherlock's silent shoulder. Hanging on.

"Sherlock," John says, unsteady.

A breath: warm. Sherlock says, "Yeah"; and John swallows.

"If—for you if it isn't." He stops. Breathes in. "Lonely," he says. Throat closing up.

Sherlock is quiet for a long, long time. Breathing: out, in, out. Slow and warm. The seam, John thinks, aching, of their skin.

"A month ago," Sherlock says, low and honest, "I would've said it felt safe."

Dark fleur de lys. Their wall. A month. John's throat and mouth and nose and eyes are filling—up, are—threatening to—a month, a month ago. A month ago when Sherlock said, I choose not to, at all.

"John," Sherlock says, quiet.

John swallows. Throat clogged. "Yeah," he says, and swallows again.

"You don't ever choose to be safe," Sherlock says, low and heavy, and then lifts up his head.

God. John can't—words gone he puts his hands on Sherlock's lovely warm face and kisses him, left bare without answer, and Sherlock lets him once—twice—then pulls back to say, "I—I left, I—" and John shakes his head shakes his head kissing him "I left and" all over while "I hurt you," Sherlock says, "because you don't—," unbearable; "If I didn't want to be safe I would've given my notice as soon as you came back," says John, in a fast-sharp too-honest rush: helpless stroking Sherlock's dark curls back as Sherlock takes a deep startled breath looking up: wrong.

"But," John, painful, says: "I can't."

Sherlock's eyes. Wide. Surprised, John thinks, heavy with regret.

"I'm not any braver than you," John says, quiet. Thumbing across one hot, familiar cheek.

Sherlock swallows. Up-down, John thinks, aching, in concert with Sherlock's throat again moving: up-down.

Sherlock asks, "Do you want to?"

John drops his hand. He can't—

"Be able to," Sherlock says, "I mean."

Some time several geological ages ago back in January of 2013 Mike had rung up Ciaran who'd asked around at Royal Free where someone knew of a GP running a three-room surgery over in Stoke Newington alone with a young relation but wanting to retire, so Mike'd recruited Clara, Sarah, and Mrs. Hudson in some kind of unholy alliance of people who weren't supposed to care about him anymore to get John showered, shaved, dressed, and rolled up into a cab at a quarter past nine on a bald anonymous Thursday, dumping him out well in time to meet a stooped and white-haired man called Clarence, with the barest hint of an accent and walking with a cane: The proper doctor these days is my niece, he'd explained, with a wheezing, affectionate laugh, catching her bustling-past by the arm: my grand-niece, he'd said, Rhoda. It'd taken 'til June before John'd been properly sure that tomorrow he'd come in again, because by then he knew he couldn't do that to her; but John'd not been in the surgery ten minutes before Rhoda'd shoved a four-year-old with an earache at him and told him that there were more tongue depressors under the sink. After eighteen months their old surgery—which hadn't been so much three rooms as two rooms and one rather spacious walk-in, no window—had been condemned due to decades-old water damage; so then John'd helped Rhoda pack up shop and somehow found the wherewithal to go to work with Cal and Jeremy while she hunted down a new spot—and in the end it'd turned out that Sherlock—that Sherlock all that long while—while alone in London Sherlock was in Dover Amsterdam Rouen—but still. But still.

But still Sherlock had left, and Rhoda had saved him: made him a doctor again, reopened his life; and no part of John has forgotten any part of that.

"I don't know," John admits, thick. His thumb; Sherlock's mouth. Parting. John whispers, "Maybe."

"Because I want to," Sherlock says, too fast. "Be braver," Sherlock says, "I mean."

And God.

Crumpling up John's throat John's stomach while Sherlock tongue tripping blurts out, "I'd rather—be with you than—be like—but I—I k-keep trying and—" while John kisses his temple, his forehead, his cheek: throat fluttering, whispering, "Sherlock, God—"

"I'm so tired," Sherlock whispers, "of—of needing to—but I, I can't, I want to but I—" and hot all over John says, "Kiss me," tongue thick; and Sherlock groans and kisses him: bone-deep drowned-dragging sodden kisses over and over while John wraps his arm hard-tight around him curled-coiling petting his soft-squirming peaked chest as they wind their sweat-wet bodies tight-together as Sherlock moans andslides his hand between them wrapping tightslide thickaround John's hand holding onto the two of them together sliding slick-hot skin to skin: gasping into his mouth already—already John is already—could not get—closer without—wetter and wetter Sherlock's cock against John's cock in John's hand in Sherlock's hand with Sherlock's—hand—in his h-hair while John gasps in his mouth rocking up and Sherlock gasps sliding down and John gasps, "Is it, I, tell me, do we need to"; and Sherlock gasps, "Don't—ten, don't stop, I want—John—John—"

Shuddering. Gulping for air: "Christ," John gasps: pushing up held against him tight-wet rubbing his face on Sherlock's face, his shoulder, his throat: "I can't," wobbling, Sherlock underneathalloveragainst him letting out tiny—desperate—moans: "I can't hold back," John gasps, "I need to—"

"Ungh—" Sherlock writhing-hot against him sliding wet-thick against him, panting, "Do it," licked into his mouth, "please, do it for—" and—welledupa nd o

v

er John sli i   i i   i    i  d es cock pulsing-spilling heart his heart his heart m

o

a

n

ing drawn-out shiver-slapped

Sherlock plaster-stuck allover pinnedinto him thump-thumping shivering to still-sitting kissing cradle-held sweat-stuck inside the tight-encircling ring of Sherlock's hot, clinging arms.

John can breathe: he breathes. He can sink: he sinks. All this time. Sherlock still taut and trembling beneath him with John's come cooling all over the both of them while aching John kisses his sweat-slick forehead. Hot temple. His burning soft cheek. All this time. So long and lovely folded up beneath-against around him: coward, John is thinking. Not Sherlock. Eyes hot.

Soft: a barbed and bladed ache. Gentle his mouth on his mouth in late summer's-day silence: let me, soft; let me, over and over and echoing over again, helpless: let me be gentle with you.

"Sherlock," John whispers. Mouth scraping Sherlock's mouth: Sherlock nods; John swallows. He can't say it. Wouldn't. Too cruel. Helpless John touches his hair, which he'd combed. His not-so-smooth cheek.

"It's less lonely," Sherlock says, unsteady, "with you": and helpless John cradles his face in his hands and tries to fit everything Sherlock can't hear him say into a kiss.

Kiss.

They kiss.

Shadows, all over. No lights. The sun'd still been well up when they'd finished the washing up. The draining-blue dusk slipping in through their wide open windows, skin stuck to skin: Sherlock's mouth just resting, on John's scraping too-rough cheek.

"Come upstairs with me," John whispers, quiet. Listens, while Sherlock swallows.

"I have to shower," Sherlock says.

John nods. "So shower. And then."

Sherlock. Nods. "I have to." The warm press of. "To." His lips. On skin.

"Pack," John guesses, quiet; and Sherlock nods. "Because you're going away," John says; then snaps his teeth shut tight. Soft-sound sweet Sherlock kisses his shoulder. His throat. "To Amsterdam," John says, steadier. "To Amsterdam, I mean."

"Yeah." Sherlock exhales. "Chloe will be here early again, so I." Inhales. "I have to pack tonight."

"So pack tonight," John says, quiet, "then come upstairs to me."

Sherlock, face tilting up. Beneath John's fingers his throat. "The sofa," Sherlock murmurs; and bubbling over John barks. Laughing out. His knees dug into the cushions their sweat his come saliva—

"Christ," he says, helpless. His back aches. His knees. He's sitting in Sherlock's lap. "We'll have to replace it," John says, "if we ever move out."

"Worth it," Sherlock murmurs, leaning up, "I think—"

And kissing. His mouth. His tongue. God, John feels—liquid. Drugged. "Yeah." He swallows. If I were me. Braver, I mean. Sherlock's warm-smooth mobile shoulders, curving into his hands.

John says, "Friday."

Sherlock pets his shoulders. His back. "Friday?"

John nods. "Yesterday," he explains.

Sherlock hums. "I thought": a kiss. "You said Friday," teasing, voice low, a smirk; John laughs.

"Bastard." Voice warm. Sherlock curling against-into him, breathless, giggling: John kisses him: punishment. Ineffective: Sherlock shivers. Purrs.

He'd been saying— "Yesterday," John remembers.

"Mm." Tongue

John inhales. "Will you be back?" He pulls back, just enough. Looking down: Sherlock's warm soft eyes, Christ. "On Friday, I mean, not yesterday," John clarifies, "before you ask," and Sherlock starts giggling again. "Really," John says. Soft. Touching his cheek. "Friday night. Will you be back?"

Sherlock purses his mouth. "Probably?"

John nods. He says, "Rhoda said I ought to ask you to her birthday dinner," and Sherlock snorts.

For the barest instant John thinks he's got away with it, but then. Then running his hand across Sherlock's scapula feeling millimeter-by-millimeter as inevitable he realizes: back tensing, all over, as bright darting-eyed he realizes what must be the reason why.

Throat fluttering John slides his hand up into Sherlock's hair. Knots, hard. Tugs.

"You don't have to come," John says. Chest heavy. "I didn't think I ought to," he says. "Did I."

Under his hand Sherlock is still. His face—

"You don't have to come," John repeats. Thinking: here. Thinking: now. Hand stilled clenched tight in his hair.

Over some time of John not-tugging Sherlock's hair slowly, so slow: he settles. Slow: John is held still heart-beating, here, and beating, now, and watching Sherlock's face as, slowly, Sherlock's mouth parts. As, slowly, he softens, so John's hand softens, as Sherlock's eyes soften: arms looped 'round John's middle softening, for him to lean up to kiss him, long hand spread soft on his back.

They kiss. Easy, John thinks. Easier. Sherlock slackening against him. Easier, now. Here, and warm.

Sherlock noses along his cheek. Under his jaw. Melting all over John lets out breath: slackening, his sides.

Against his neck, "That was an invitation," Sherlock says. "Wasn't it."

John swallows.

"You don't have to come," he says. As gently as he can. "You might not even be back."

The pause draws out. Stretches. Snaps. "Rhoda hates me," Sherlock says; and John sighs.

"Rhoda's spent quite a while thinking of you as my profoundly tactless flatmate," John says; then scrubs his palm over his own turned-up face.

Sherlock is resting his cheek against John's shoulder. Face tucked into his throat. Always does, John thinks, aching; always is, whenever they're. Arranged. Like that. How hard it must be to be him, John is thinking, petting the backs of Sherlock's shoulders, his neck, his hair; and to be also so tall.

"I'd go," Sherlock says. "If you wanted. Backup."

John is quiet for a minute. Thinking—moving ungraspable moth-thoughts. He is thinking about Sherlock's looming body, soft eyes, fluttering-indecisive long hands; in 2011, John is thinking, he'd texted Sherlock "SOS" from under the table so Sherlock'd popped up three and a half minutes later reeking of gunpowder and spilled three-quarters of a bottle of wine on John's date. He is thinking about Sherlock's face, warm against his throat.

"I would enjoy it," John says, finally, "if you were there": it comes out strange, off-kilter, too formal by far; but he means it, but he can't—but he won't—"But you always get me out of the worst parties by showing up halfway through with a case," John says. Trying for light. "Don't you?"

He could laugh, probably. Should.

Doesn't.

"I haven't got a case," Sherlock says, quiet.

John nods. Swallowing. Pets his softthick sweat-damp hair. "You could always lie," he suggests.

Sherlock lifts his face. "I don't lie," he says.

"You don't—Sherlock, you lie all the time," and John does laugh, then. "You told Harry that you couldn't take another jumper because her needles were metal and you're allergic to aluminium."

Sherlock frowns. Fat bottom lip: absurd; honestly, sometimes John could just—as huffily Sherlock says, "But I don't lie about anything important"; and eyebrow raised John says, "Oh, well, no, of course not," even as Sherlock's mouth is twitching, pulling up like the laugh bubbling up in John's mouth and out and over into Sherlock's mouth as giggling between kisses John is trying to say, "No, you don't—lie, you just—manufacture—convenient—fabulisms—" and Sherlock starts laughing outright, shoulders shaking John's arms around his shoulders, snorting, absurd

Sherlock's hand. Splaying slow and warm and wide, low down on John's bare, prickling back.

John's fingers. Sherlock's mouth. His half-closed eyes, very dark.

"You don't have to come," John says, quiet, "really"; and Sherlock tongues the pad of his thumb.

Sherlock says, "But you'd like it if I were there"; and John nods.

"I always like it," he explains, "when you're there"; and sighing Sherlock rests his cheek on John's shoulder. Tucks his face into John's throat.

John's mouth. Twisting down. Taut. He pets Sherlock's neck. His sticking-up black hair.

The sun is gone. All the windows open: streetlight-lit. Sherlock's curls wind 'round his fingers. His breath humid on John's throat. A long moment passes in which Sherlock doesn't pack or shower and they neither of them get up; and then Sherlock says, "Someone," very quiet, "was matchmaking."

A strange feeling, John finds.

Awkward, to carry this kind of dread; when knowing what will be coming can't lead to knowing what one ought to say, whether he ought to—lie, or—dodge, or just—just swallow the hard-fearful lump in his throat of loss and shame and regret and say, "Yeah." And say, "Nat."

Sherlock doesn't say anything. Doesn't move.

"She wanted to know," John explains, "if I wanted to meet a friend of hers"; and Sherlock lifts his head.

He says, "And you said no."

John swallows. "I told her," he says, unsteady, "that you might take offense." Nose prickling. Mouth pulling down.

Sherlock looks—young. Hair sticking up face sleepy-soft bright-eyed: God. "I," Sherlock says, then stops. Licks his lip, then says, "I would."

Hesitant. Not quite, John knows, confused.

John nods. Swallows. Up-down. Up-down. Thinking: If I were you.

Heavy. "That isn't new," John says, "is it."

Sherlock breathes. Breathes.

Breathes.

"No," Sherlock whispers; and John blink-blink-blink nodding nods and touches—cheek, and—chin, and says, "Is it—unfair of me," as his voice swoops and dives, "that I've only just started giving that much of any weight?" and loud and manic Sherlock laughs, saying, "Unfair hasn't stopped me any time in the past five years"; and wrench-ribs clenching John shakes his head shakes his head pressing face to face squeezing all of him against him and saying, "Don't," heavy-fierce, "don't."

Sherlock laughs. Gasps. Laughs and gasps and gasps. Clutching at John back and shoulders press-pulling close can't be close can only be so close and John can't—can't undo—can't be what—can't care more then or care less now but this, but this

"I want to go upstairs with you," Sherlock says, voice thick.

John kisses his hair. His face. "So come upstairs with me."

"I want to go to bed with you," Sherlock whispers; and John—lets out—breath and heat and sweat all over, thinking—

"What time's the car coming?" he asks.

Sherlock sighs. "Half five."

John nods. "So that's," he says. "Enough time, yeah? To sleep?"

Sherlock's shoulders are bunching up. "I have to—"

"Shower," John agrees. Nods. "Pack a bag."

Sherlock is silent. Jerky, he nods.

"But after," John says. "You can come upstairs." Kissing Sherlock's hot face. Soft cheek. John says, "Just to sleep."

Sherlock swallows. "I'll wake you," he says, quiet; and John touches his cheek. His chin.

"I think I can bear it," John says, very quietly, "don't you?"; and Sherlock puts both his big hands flat on the sides of John's face and holds him still for a kiss: delicate, and long, and sweet.

Chapter Text

Shifting. Drawn-away cold— "Mm." Hand out soft hair warm face.

"Getting dressed," Sherlock whispers, "go back to sleep," and John nods.

"In a minute." Pillow scraping cheek: he blinks. Lights off: shadow on shadow. "C'mere," John whispers. Sherlock's warm-soft sleep-sour scratchy mouth pressed close. John rubs them skin to skin face to face; close against him soft, Sherlock sighs. His hand. John's neck.

John drifts. Next: mouth, soft and minty, and John wraps his arm 'round the back of his neck.

Tucked between them. Breathes. And breathes. "Car's here," Sherlock whispers. John nods. "I've got to go." John nods.

Sherlock nuzzles against him. Kisses him, once; then gently slides John's arm from around him; and John pats his smooth cheek. "Go back to sleep," Sherlock whispers.

John nods. Eyes closed. "Be good," he says, thick; and Sherlock huffs, half laughs, tugging John's duvet back up to his cheeks.

John doesn't sleep again, precisely. Doesn't not. Nestled in blankets warm good-smelling curled up 'round the space where Sherlock sleeps. Skin, remembering. His alarm goes off at seven and he gets up, showers, shaves. Eats his toast thinking about kissing. He keeps reflecting, half-absently, that it probably ought to feel strange.

The surgery's busy, but not swamped. Natalie is looking particularly well-dressed and well-coiffed; a circumstance explained when Rhoda, coming out to see John frowning at their empty reception desk and half-full waiting room at a quarter to eleven, says, "Audition. Marcus is running," as she grabs her next neatly-stacked chart, Nat's handwriting on a sticky note under it: Rhoda, "a bit late." John nods, takes his, and calls, "Mr. Hussain?"

By the time John is escorting Mr. Hussain back out, Marcus is sitting at Natalie's desk with his feet up, drinking something enormous from Starbucks through a straw; "All right, then?" John asks, somewhat uncertainly; "Oh, yes, fine," Marcus says, with a bovine sort of a smile, and then, wide-eyed, "Oh! A man called!"

After a long moment, "Yes," John says. "Thank you, Marcus. He, er. Didn't happen to say who he might be?"

He didn't. On a hunch John rings Mycroft as soon as he's stepped out to eat his lunch, who does a somewhat plausible job of presenting himself as calling about some sort of suspicious probable-poisoning that his agents've turned up in Liverpool, but fairly obviously is more interested in sliding in barbs about what it says about John that he and Sherlock are shagging. John lets him go on just long enough to be reasonably certain he hasn't got anything more important to say, then hangs up on him and finishes his paper cup of terrible takeaway tea.

The afternoon ought to be just as unremarkable. But.

Even much later, after he's done all his charting and tidied his office and left Natalie grinding her teeth, still trying to undo everything Marcus'd done wrong in the four hours he'd had his feet up on her desk, even after John's walked back home and then remembered he hasn't got anything to eat, even once he's back to wandering around Tesco's with an empty basket, he still is—distracted. Off-balance. He still has a peculiar, sandpapery feeling sliding around in the base of his chest. Daisy Bowcott: he keeps trying not to think about her, but can't stop. She'd looked like a Daisy, too. She'd had her kids with her. John'd given them all stickers from the post-jab stash in reception: unicorn, strawberry, Iron Man. John scrubs at his hair and stares at the shelves and tries to decide: toast and eggs? Beans on toast?

Bread, anyway. He leans out and bumps into a woman: "Oh, Christ, sorry, I didn't mean to—" even while she's apologizing, too as John registers her familiar brown hair and her familiar odd glasses with their geometric orange frames and her familiar oval face and then says, "Ah—Marianne, hullo," with the same strange half-sinking half-rising stretched feeling he gets whenever they run into her.

"Oh!" She blinks. "John!" She shifts her basket, left hand to right. "Sorry, I'm a a bit jet-lagged, not all together—"

"I was..." He waves a hand, then realizes that not even he's sure what it means. "Not paying attention. Haven't seen you around for a bit, are you... well?"

"Yes, fine," she's saying, smiling straight across at him. Just as tall.

He shifts. He has, as always, the feeling that she's laughing at him, a bit. "Jet-lagged?" he asks. It's not unfamiliar. After all, she's a teacher. He'd had that same feeling all through school, too.

"Yeah, Oslo," she says. "I just got in this morning." She pauses. "How's Sherlock?"

He laughs. "Oh, he's fine. Um—traveling. He's in Amsterdam."

"Oh," she says. "I see."

A silence falls between them. Not long, precisely; but it interacts strangely with John's insides: catalyzing some peculiar combination of his warm bed and odd afternoon and Mycroft's drawling superiority: I wouldn't expect you, over the phone, to turn down—and "Listen," John finds himself saying, "would you like to get a drink sometime?"

Her eyes widen. "I," she says, then, "Look, John, I'm very flattered, but—" and John feels all his blood rush up to his face.

"God, no!" he is saying: Christ. "Oh—fuck, that's not what I—" while her face is flushing and she's stepping back, saying something he barely registers while he is stammering out, "Sorry, sorry, sorry!"

Marianne is silent. John takes a breath.

"All right," he says. "That came out—very poorly."

"Yes," she says, and then meets his eyes, and they both start to laugh.

"So," she says, finally.

"So," he agrees. "I wasn't." Sidling to one side to let a harried-looking woman in a pantsuit reach past for a loaf of wholemeal bread, then looking back at Marianne. "I really wasn't hitting on you."

"No?" she asks. "I see." That familiar half-quirk at the corner of her mouth, coming back.

"No," he says, then, "I—off the market," some half-inarticulate subconscious imp; then realizes, immediately, that it was a mistake.

"Oh?" she says, "I see"; then adds, inevitably, "Who's the lucky girl?"

"Er." John, awkwardly, laughs. Had he known? Had he wanted her to ask? Doesn't know, can't say; could lie, but doesn't: "Sherlock, actually," he says, instead; takes a brief hot pleasure in the flicker of disappointment that crosses her face, then immediately feels terrible about it.

"Oh," she says. "I see."

"I." He waits for another shopper to reach past to grab his loaf of bread and bugger off and then says, more quietly, "I really did just want to buy you a drink"; and Marianne, mouth quirking up again, says, "Oh, I think you owe me a drink"; and just like that clouds breaking John's chest lightens, and he laughs, rueful, looking into her empty basket bumping his empty basket and then looking up: "Nothing perishable?" he asks; and she laughs.

"I can come back," she suggests; and he offers her his elbow, and she, smirking, takes it.

It's a lovely evening. Still warm. Clear for once, warm, but late enough to not be too sunny, and 'round the corner at the pub they split a bottle of wine at a table outside in the breeze. "So," John says. "Oslo?" and she nods.

"Visiting some friends," she explains. "Last year I went on this yoga retreat—" and John nods, and he leans back, and he listens to her talk about expensive stretching by the fjords and meeting an athletic couple in their sixties at the wharf in Bergen who may've just been friendly but alternately may've been attempting to run some sort of elaborate scam or possibly might've just wanted a third for their sex games, and he laughs. It's nice. John tries to remember the last time he went out for drinks with a friend, and can't; then he does, and is embarrassed: it was Mike, back in June, when John'd gone over to meet him at the Plough and Mike'd told him to bring Sherlock 'round sometime because he'd barely seen him since Sherlock'd started a very small fire in the UCL toxicology labs in April and then got into it with the strategic developments communications manager about their PR overhead and their insurance rates and security'd been issued standing orders to call the police directly, priority one, if Sherlock was spotted again anywhere on site. Mike and John'd talked about the asthma and COPD conference back in the spring, and Mike's kids, and Sherlock's last case, while they half-watched England in the Women's World Cup, but John'd left before the match'd really got going because it'd started to spit down a heavy, sullen kind of rain; and then it'd just kept on raining, leaving John and Sherlock trapped in the flat with no cases and nothing to work on, alone, all weekend; and for some reason John'd forgotten he was supposed to ring Mike back.

"And—how long d'you have left, then," John asks. Topping up her glass. "In your hols."

"My hols or their hols?" Marianne asks. Laughs, a little. Shrugs. "Five weeks, almost. Long enough to give my flat a good clean and and catch up on my reading, anyway."

Five weeks. "I'd kill for five weeks," John admits. He is, he finds, half surprised that he means it. The last time John didn't have to go into work for five weeks it was because he was unemployed.

She shrugs. "It's got its bright spots, I suppose. I'm not... not working, exactly." She reaches for the bottle; he nods.

"Ta." He rubs his thumb across his mouth. "Lesson plans?"

She nods. "And professional development, you know." Waves a hand.

He nods.

A smallish sort of silence falls: not too heavy; half, he finds, already broken in. John's never precisely disliked Marianne, but he's never precisely known how to navigate these sorts of awkward half-friendly acquaintanceships that tend to spring up whenever Sherlock's had a case this close to home. She'd been helpful: more than helpful, really, John doesn't know what would've happened back in February if she hadn't rung him up, said, Is this John Watson, and then, hesitating, at last said, Listen—; but twenty minutes of Bordeaux and idle chitchat has done more to make him feel like he knows her than half a year of occasionally bumping into her in Speedy's or down the pub or boarding the Tube; or even the fact that he and Sherlock'd gone in with the police, back when they'd searched Marianne's flat. She's watching him, he realizes. The corner of her mouth is curling up.

"What?" he asks.

"Too quiet, is it?" she asks. "Or are all your friends just out of town."

He squints. "Are we not friends?"

"You know what I mean." She rubs her thumb along the stem of her glass. Still watching. "So—too quiet, then."

"No, not—. I mean, he left this morning," John explains. "I've not had time for it to be too anything." He waves it off, and she shifts in her seat.

"All right," she says. "Why the invitation, then?"

"I bumped into you at Tesco's, we're neighbors." He shrugs. "Can't I invite a neighbor out for a drink?"

"Well," she says, "not without trying to get in her pants, John, usually, no."

"Oh, Christ." He rubs his face. Shaking his head, half laughing at himself. "All right. I—may have deserved that."

"I gather, in fact," she says, leaning in, "that you have a particular tendency toward using past cases as your own personal Tinder—"

"'You gather'?" He slouches. "You mean, Sherlock told you."

"That you chase witnesses? Yes." Marianne pauses. "In retrospect," she says, slowly, "I think it's possible that he thought he was warning me off."

All along the backs of John's shoulders, his skin slowly and relentlessly begins to prickle up.

"I think," he says, a little uncertainly, "that—we oughtn't to talk about that"; and then watches her tilt her fair oval face: regard him, unflinchingly, bright behind her glasses her sharp bird eyes.

"All right," she says. "Then—why did you invite me out," she says; and John sighs. Rubs his face.

"Oh, because I'm a bastard, probably." He sighs again. Staring out across the street: watching a girl in huge sunglasses dropping something in the postbox at the corner, the bare wedge of skin framed by the neck of her sundress and her collarbones half-covered by a photorealistic greyscale tattoo of a horse.

"Do you like your job?" he asks. Watching the girl walk away past buildings spilling out window boxes, overflowing green.

Marianne is silent for some time. Finally she says, "You want to talk to me about my job?"

John sighs. He doesn't know. He wants—he says, "I want to talk to someone who likes their job, I think."

The girl rounds the far corner. Marianne is frowning, brow furrowed. "Thinking of changing careers?" she asks.

He shakes his head. "No, I'm not—I don't know, I don't know what I'm doing." He reaches for his glass.

Marianne nods, very slowly. "I love my job," she says.

"Because—you like kids," he says. Half a question. "Or—helping people? Or—"

"Yes," she says. Leans back. "I like kids, and I like helping people, and I like helping kids. So I like my job."

John nods. Sips his wine.

"Look," Marianne says. "If you want to know if some days I fantasize about chucking it all in and going off and doing—chartered accountancy, or—"

"Doesn't it just feel pointless, sometimes?"

She doesn't answer. Instead, she snaps her mouth shut, frowning at him.

"Look." He tries to explain. "I had this mum in today. Couldn't've been much more than twenty." Still makes his chest feel tight: Daisy Bowcott's liquid brown eyes and young, round face, framed by muddy-blonde hair pulled back in a frizzy ponytail; her fair English-rose skin turned a painful-looking red all over her cheeks and chest and shoulders, welled up in big splotchy patches of inflamed, itching bumps. "Three kids," John explains. "Had to bring them with her. Barely getting by, no support, sick half just from stress and worry, and I—"

He stops, helpless. Gestures: meaningless. He can't explain. He hadn't thought about it. He'd looked her over and thought hives and thought summer and then he'd said, Probably an allergic reaction, and then asked her if she'd eaten anything new lately, if she'd changed her shampoo or her soap, if she'd done anything unusual at the weekend; and then Daisy had burst into huge, hiccuping sobs, startling, all at once; and then, crumpling forward, she'd shoved her hand tight over her mouth to hold everything back but for a high, panicky whine. Then, John still frozen with his mouth open, the oldest of the children—a girl, John thinks, most likely not quite five—had come over to tug on the hem of Daisy's blue cardigan, and said, Don't cry, Mummy, it's all right.

"So—what," Marianne asks. Voice flat. "You want to know if I, too, have families in trouble, or—"

"No, it's. Christ." John's shoulders feel heavy. Rounded down. He forces them up, to reach over and top up her glass. "It's not like it's the first time—but she'd waited half an hour to see me and I recommended something she could've picked up from Boots for ten pounds with no prescription and gave her four phone numbers on a sticky note, and without referring her to social services that's about all I've got, you know?"

Marianne sighs. Sinks back in her chair. "Yeah," she says. "I know."

John nods. Rubs a hand over his face. His ribs buzz under his jacket and he reaches in: one message, Sherlock, no text, just a thumbnail of a photo, too small to make out. He swipes and it turns into a sign for the Canal Bus with the C missing: not, John knows, the sort of thing that generally strikes Sherlock as funny. It tugs at him, somewhere deep down under his ribs: he can feel the corners of his mouth, trying to smile. He tucks his phone back into his pocket.

"She didn't need to be referred to social services, did she?" Marianne asks.

"Come on, Marianne." Under the table, John kicks his feet out. "You know what they'd do." Feeling—antsy. Confined.

When he looks back up at her Marianne is watching him, gaze steady, saying nothing.

"No," John says, finally. "They were fine."

She still isn't saying anything. Prickling up his back. "God," he says, thick, "I hope they were fine"; and across from him her expression melts and softens. She sighs.

"Yeah," she says. "I know."

"It's just," John says. "Half my patients, about all I can do is prescribe them something about as handy as a bucket in a hurricane and then—refer them on. At least when I was—"

He stops. Digs the heels of his hands into his eyes.

"At least when you were what?" she asks, and he sighs. Straightens up in his seat. Sips his wine.

"I was in the army," he says, finally. Looking up. She frowns. "Thirteen years," he says.

"That seems." She pauses. "Different," she says, finally.

He shakes his head. "No. Well—yes, but." His throat feels as though it is thickening. "You get bored," he explains, resting his forearms agains the edge of the table. "Things are either—horrible, or horribly boring, and you—you do terrible things, or fail to do other things and that's terrible too, or—or terrible things just happen, things you can't control, all the time. And sometimes you can—do something about it, but a lot of the time, you. Can't." He spreads his hands; and she shifts in her seat. Chin tilting up.

"And when you came back," she says, "you thought—what, I'll just... go into general practice, or—"; and John says, "When I came back I spent two years working with Sherlock, full time"; and "Ahh," she says, her shoulders rolling back, settling.

He shakes his head. "It's not like that." He rubs at his forehead. "It's just—it felt like it had some sort of.... a purpose," sighing, "I guess."

"Unlike being a doctor," she says. Smiling.

"Oh, fuck off," he tells her, and she laughs. Reaches up to push her hair back. His face is warm: wine, sun. Embarrassment. He can feel himself smiling, though.

"But you want to go back to it?" she asks; and he tucks his hands into his pockets. Closes his hand 'round his phone.

For his first few months back Sherlock'd had his hair cropped unflatteringly and bleached a straw-like, chemical-crispy blond, but he'd still just looked like himself with bad hair; and the tabloid press doesn't forget. So Sherlock'd wound up plastered all over the newsstands more or less immediately and for something close to two months straight: every red top breathlessly swapping on a near-daily basis from splashy squawking about corruption in the police and collusion in the government and Sherlock's supposed role in assorted long-standing unsolved crimes, to panegyrics about his bravery in apprehending Moran and the circumstances of his dramatic return and how striking he'd looked giving testimony: his odd handsome face and his excellent tailoring and what they'd persisted, erroneously, in referring to as his sapphire-blue eyes. John, for his part, had forgiven him, wept all over him, got furious with him, and then forgiven him again all in the space of about an hour and a half. Then he'd had a 48-hour interlude where he'd thought, shamefully, that he could yet go back to being Sherlock Holmes's orbiting moon—but he'd righted himself, pulled back, resettled into something less impossible: working something close to full days with Cal and Jeremy; letting Sherlock, newly possessed of a mysterious and previously wholly-absent familiarity with what kitchens were for, cook him overly complicated dinners; trailing along on a case or two at the weekends; moving his shirts back into the wardrobe upstairs. But every paper in the city was still screeching about Sherlock, and in all that noise John'd lumbered about London in a vague, overwhelmed fog: Sherlock'd got too much sun while he was away. He'd had freckles. No one was writing about that. And on some morning in that long stretch of surreal candy-glossed days back when John'd been making his half-hearted excuses to Cal and Jeremy for being late or leaving early and letting Greg quietly pretend that John was just getting back into the habit of carrying his gun, the boy in the café at the corner'd tilted his head and asked, You're that John Watson, aren't you?, with hot and obvious interest, while ringing John up for a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea. He'd not been recognized in something close to two years. When a week or two later Sherlock'd been called in to Lambert School after the murder of the deputy head, John'd already called in sick for the tail end of the flu: he'd probably really been well enough to go back, but he hadn't. He'd gone with Sherlock instead. It'd been early in the day on a Monday, and the pupils had been sent home, so that when he'd gone into the classroom next door to the staff room, commandeered in the absence of the children, all of the teachers had been huddled together murmuring, their faces anxious; but Marianne had looked over at Sherlock as soon as they'd stepped in and given him a long slow up-down look: open, appraising, without apology. The other teachers had, by and large, politely maintained the fiction that Sherlock was new to them, as though a full-page spread of him wearing the same suit, in court, and giving Olivia Dupont QC a proper verbal flaying, hadn't been splashed across the front page of the Daily Mail two mornings previous. They'd wrapped the case late Thursday night, and on Friday John'd returned to the surgery to face Jeremy's sullen silence and Cal's much louder and more pointed displeasure; and on his lunch break he'd rung Rhoda to ask how long it'd be before she could take him back.

Very quietly, John says, "I don't know what I want."

"That," Marianne says, "I can't help you with."

"I know," says John.

It's getting late. The sinking sun is turning everything apple-red and golden, a humid summery haze clinging to the ends of the day. He ought to—to go back to Tesco's for bread and eggs, to text Sherlock back, to go home and start his washing. Hoover. Wipe down, he thinks, warm-faced, the sofa.

"It isn't that I—that I don't want to work with Sherlock," John says, hesitant. "At least it was..." He sighs. "Better than buckets for hurricanes, I suppose." He refills his glass. Elbows hanging off the table, forearms digging in at the edge.

Marianne sips her wine. Slides it over, when he tilts the bottle. She says, "There are other options, you know."

"How do you mean?"

"I don't know, become a traffic warden. Drive for Uber." She shrugs. "Take up chartered accountancy."

He laughs. "Advise lunatic private detectives on how to keep their books, you mean."

"Yeah." She's smiling. "Exactly."

"Think I could make a practice out of it?"

"Well, you're in with every lunatic private detective I know."

He shakes his head, smiling. "I think we've discovered the flaw in this plan," he observes.

"Possibly," she concedes, and sips her wine.

He settles back in his seat, watching her. She's not pretty, exactly; but she has that quality, same as Rhoda and Clara and Jeremy, of being utterly, wholly herself: squared and solid down all the way to her bones. Mycroft, John is reluctant to admit, has it too; Sherlock doesn't. Marianne is younger than he'd thought, at first—her hands, her voice. He'd be surprised if she's much past thirty. She seems older.

"What would you do, really?" he asks. "If you didn't teach?"

She takes a breath, then lets it out in a long, slow stream. Somewhere down the street, a dog yaps twice, then is silenced, then starts up again. "Write, I think," says Marianne. Past the window boxes, a very beautiful boy emerges from a stairwell dangling a tangled lead, a French bulldog whining and wriggling in his arms. "Write thrillers," Marianne adds, with some gusto.

John laughs, then realizes she's serious. "What, really?" he asks. "Like—Peter James, or—"

"Oh, no," she says. "John le Carré at least. Or Patricia Highsmith."

"Dark," he observes.

"Well, it's not a real thriller if it doesn't leave you crushed with existential dread," she says; and he laughs, warm and pleased. It's—an obscurely delightful image, somehow: Marianne with her hipster glasses and teacherly chunky-knit cardigans, bashing out overwrought spy novels in her sun-flooded little flat, still using that lumpy brown-and-purple hand-made mug, the one with Thank You Miss Chisholm scrawled drippily on one side, for her tea.

"I think," he says, "that's probably why I don't read thrillers," and drinks the last of his wine.

When he looks up from carefully refilling it, down near the bottom of the bottle, Marianne is smiling at him: a half-closed half-open expression; mysterious, queer. "What?" John asks.

She shakes her head. Says, "You're secretly an optimist, aren't you."

He frowns. He can feel his eyebrows scrunching together. "How do you mean?"; and she shifts.

"You were surprised, weren't you. Back during..." She shifts. Says, "our case," with surprising delicacy; and John opens his mouth and then closes it again, because he knows what she means. She's right. He had been surprised. Sherlock had been—so newly back, so much the same and yet so different, in a thousand countless and immeasurable little ways: antagonizing the police; cooking John dinner; shouting at Mrs. Turner over talking to the Sun until John and Mycroft and Mrs. Hudson all hauled him off; standing in the hall downstairs apologizing to John with the switch off, the lamp in the living room leaking down just enough light for John to be caught, cracked and aching, by his freckles. On a cold Thursday night in February Marianne had rung him up and asked Is this John Watson and then said Listen— and then Sherlock'd bribed a cabbie to drive too fast while John rung up Greg, Donovan, Hopkins before getting an answer. Then when Sherlock'd finally, finally got the shed open there'd been a moment, just an instant, where he had flung his arms out between John and the doorway, as though he'd been trying to shield it from view.

"Look," Marianne says, leaning forward, elbows on the table, "some of my pupils—most of them, really—are basically happy, basically well-cared-for kids with brightish sorts of futures"; and he wants to laugh, but doesn't. She says, "But I see a lot of darkness, and failure, and tragedy, too. That's just... what happens, in jobs like ours."

He nods. Mute. He leans forward to refill her glass, empties the bottle.

She says, "I can't imagine you saved everyone you saw in the army, either."

"That was different," he says. "That was war."

"And this isn't war," she says, "so—what? Should it be all right?"

"It shouldn't bother me more," John says; and feels a hot surge of blood to his face, volcanic, ash-crumbling; hoping it can't be seen.

She shrugs. "I don't know. Maybe it should. Maybe it is worse"; and he looks away. "Or maybe," she says, "you're just not the same person"; and he rests his cheek in his hand.

"Look," she says, more gently. "You gave a young mum something to make her feel better today, and some places she can hopefully get help tomorrow, and that's not nothing."

"No," he agrees.

She nods. "Not the only thing you can do, though, either."

"No," he says quietly, "it isn't"; and she nods, and leans back, and polishes off her wine.

It's getting late. With the sun behind the buildings the leaves in the park are darkening, turning bluer. The breeze is cooling off. Prickling at John's bare forearms, the back of his neck.

"Thanks," he says. "I'm sorry."

"Oh, well." She waves a hand. Generous, he thinks; he thinks, lovely; and he wonders, almost, why he'd never wanted her to have any luck with Sherlock, all the while unwilling to give himself enough credit to think that he might know the answer.

He nods at her glass. "Another?" he asks.

"I'd better not. I'd best get back to my shopping." She rubs at her face. "I got in this morning and all I've got in the flat is a half a pack of stale Hobnobs and some extremely moldy cheese."

He laughs. "I think we have one egg and half an onion," he says.

"Well, only one cure for that," she says, standing up; and he nods, pushing to his feet and tucking his hands in his pockets, and waits for her to shoulder her handbag so they can walk back to Tesco's, side by side.

Chapter Text

John, ravenous, eats his toast and eggs leaning back against the edge of the work surface, legs outstretched. By the time he's finished, pan soaking in the sink, it's past ten: full dark and an hour later in Amsterdam. He opens up his texts again, glancing down at the picture, his belated response: that'd make for quite the sightseeing tour, sent from the checkout line at Tesco's while Marianne took her turn first. No reply. John pockets his mobile: he isn't tired. He does the washing up, scrubs the sink clean, empties the kitchen rubbish into the big bin outside; then starts a load of laundry and sets to on the sofa with a bit of rag wetted with a few drops of lube mixed with two tablespoons of olive oil: like to dissolve like; his chemistry teacher would be proud. Then he hoovers and hangs his laundry to dry and lounges about for a while in his chair with his laptop getting angry at the news before he gives up at half eleven, heads upstairs to brush his teeth.

In bed with the lights out he feels—not strange, precisely. The pillow still smells like Sherlock's hair. John doesn't even particularly like sharing a bed with another person, but it'd been nice, hadn't it, to have Sherlock there, just for sleeping. It'd been... novel, still, somehow, to be tucked up back to chest with Sherlock's tight-clinging arm 'round his middle; Sherlock warm and close and present, breathing damply just behind John's ear.

Desire is easy for John: he's known that for ages. The first time knee to knee near nose to nose still breathless from shouting it'd been easy to grab Cal by the back of the neck. In March Rebecca'd been the office manager of a minor courier company where three of the staff'd been run down while out on deliveries; John'd noted her soft, fleshy pale body and black eyes and the constellations of brown-peachy freckles scattered across her collarbones and the bridge of her nose, and thirty-six minutes after they'd wrapped the case he'd been fucking her from behind just inside her flat's front door with his zip cutting into him and one hand wormed up under her shirt and her bra to cup a heavy breast, stroke the swollen-tight grape of nipple; the other holding up her masses of black-brown curls so that she could moan into the woodwork while he panted against the back of her pale freckled neck. He hadn't thought about Sherlock. He could've thought about Sherlock. He wouldn't swear that, at some points, he didn't think about Sherlock; but he hadn't thought about Sherlock then. John'd still found it easy to want Sherlock, down on his knees on the carpet of a Sunday while it rained. He finds it easy to want Sherlock now. 350 kilometers away John wants Sherlock. If Sherlock were here, John would find it easy to want him here, too. John wants to roll around with him and rub up against him and sink down around him thighs shaking, wants to watch his lovely fair face flush up a hot hectic pink, wants to kiss his throat and stroke his hair and go down on him for hours, until his jaw aches, until his throat's raw, until kissing him after Sherlock makes those little hot-purry sounds that Sherlock makes when John's turned him on, licking his come from John's mouth. All of that is easy for John: easy enough to get him half-hard in his pajama bottoms just thinking about it, Sherlock over him with John's knees up, pressing into him toys-tongue-hand-cock, saturating John's body with his body. Unraveling, to weave himself in.

In the dark staring up at the ceiling John scrubs a hand over his face. His laptop is tucked down on the bottom shelf of his bedside table, recharging for tomorrow. His mobile on the top, easy to reach. Past midnight in Amsterdam, as though Sherlock'd sleep: John huffs, half laughing, then reaches for his phone. Half embarrassed, thumbs out, You up?

He's expecting—an answer, possibly direct. Innocence, he will suppose, in retrospect; but of course Sherlock knows more about sex than on the surface he shows: John might've doubted that Sherlock would take it for the standard it is, but John's mobile buzzes, indecently quick, for Sherlock to tell him, I'm not wearing any pants.

John laughs.

Tell me more, he texts back.

Out, Sherlock says. 8 min. Anything interesting going on?

John grins and reaches for his laptop, props it up on his pillow to click over to XTube. Messages him a link.

...3 min, Sherlock replies; and John kicks off the duvet, wriggling his pajama bottoms down.

On Thursday he wakes up before his alarm and goes for a run that leaves him more winded than it ought—slacking lately, he knows. The hazard of a warm bed companion and all the lube one could want: too many mornings cried off. He gets himself showered and shaved and over to the surgery early, he thinks, but Natalie is already frazzled-looking, wild-eyed; she hangs up the phone and looks up at John and says, "Rhoda's out, Brian's on his way but has to contend with traffic—can you take Ms. Pradhan early?" and then nods at their first patient, usually Rhoda's, resting a copy of Heat magazine atop her round belly, drinking water from one of their little paper cups.

"Of course," John says, smiling over at her, then, lower, asks Natalie, "Out?"

"Her youngest is projectile vomiting," she explains, under her breath.

"Oh, bugger—her birthday?"

"Don't know yet, will cancel tomorrow if we have to." Nat scowls, and adds, "I've never been this cross with a six-year-old before," then hands over Nila Pradhan's chart.

Even with a fifteen-minute head start on his appointments, by the time Brian shows up, John's already resigned himself to spending the entire day two patients behind. At their ostensible lunch break—a cup of tea apiece and the last eight stale biscuits split between the three of them in five minutes snatched at the minifridge-and-kettle fake kitchenette that lurks at the back of the reception desk—John, resigned, asks about Michael and the kids, and Brian asks about Sherlock, and Natalie tells them both to bugger off so she can do her filing, thankfully sparing John from the rest of that conversation, so John downs the last of his tea, and takes his next patient.

When John's finally finished his charting and gets back to his mobile, he has seven unread texts, six of them from Sherlock. Sherlock has met Brian, once: having turned up, late in the day, outside the surgery back when Rhoda was watching her eldest get a maths prize, to collect John for the purposes of disrupting a post-mortem in Basildon. Brian had been talking at John, relentless, as Natalie locked up for the evening, but he had still taken time out of being pompous to mark Sherlock; to say, Ah, and then smirk; to then add, unwisely, I believe this must be Mr. Holmes, come to see if John can come out to play. At which point Sherlock had narrowed his eyes, drawn himself up, and promptly launched into a detailed and possibly defamatory description of the antecedents, proceedings, and consequences of Brian's divorce; so, now, John can reply, Long day, and add Brian's on for Rhoda as an explanation in and of itself. Shouldering his bag, he sends another: compliment her handiwork, she'll find it alarming, to avoid reception for another fifteen seconds; and then shuffles out as slowly as he can, thumbing out the 7th or 8th, we'll buy you dinner, to Harry's latest reply.

"—New York until Wednesday," Brian is saying to Natalie, who is rifling around in the clutter on top of her desk. "He hates to miss my weeks, but there wasn't any cure for it, this time."

"That's a shame," Nat says, taking all her pens out of their cup and then clattering the lot back in, "we'll miss you both tomorrow. I mean—assuming we don't have to cancel," and then sighs. She opens her top drawer, and then closes it again; then the second; then the third. Then she tilts down the rim of the bin by her chair, poking around a few forlorn balls of discarded sticky notes and scratch paper—but there, a patch of pink on the floor. John bends.

"What's in New York?" he asks, straightening. He hands Natalie her mobile. "Oh—thank you," she says; as Brian clicks his tongue, gives a little impatient wave.

"Oh, Michael's's been negotiating a merger," Brian says, "as far as I can tell it's more fractious than most of the divorces he gets." Then he eyes John up and down—chin tilted up, of course, to lazily slant his eyes half-shut—and adds, "Just this side of too civilized for murder"; and loathing washes over John in a resigned, familiar wave. Watching him, Brian's lips curl, as always; perpetually amused, as always; looking down at John from his extra half-head of height, and always seeing someone else.

After a moment, John says, "You'd be amazed at how civilized some of our murderers are," as pleasantly as he can.

Having been the idiot responsible for tossing Brian's name out when they'd first been looking for locum doctors in their new location, John almost forgets, sometimes, that he's never liked him. They'd first met under inauspicious circumstances: John had been having an under-their-breath argument with Cal back in October outside some pretentious hipster hellhole at which Cal'd been intent on getting drinks when a voice'd said, Callum Kavanagh? and John'd jerked back, away and straightening, just in time for the stranger to say, Gosh, I haven't seen you in yeeeaaars, clearly delighted: all his heavy-round vowels drawn out in just the same way that Mycroft does when he wants to be sure that John remembers he'd gone to a comprehensive in Walthamstow, and Mycroft had gone to Eton. Their relationship hasn't, since, much improved.

"John was the one who caught Oliver Bullock," Natalie is telling Brian, hair falling in her face as she crams her mobile into her handbag, already too full to do up the zip. She has pitched her voice up, warm and bright. "There were three reporters camped out the front that Monday," she enthuses (she had not, as John recalls, enthused at the time); "Rhoda had to drive them off with her mum voice"; and John shifts.

Despite Nat's best efforts, underneath his shirt John's sternum aches: grateful, yes, but he'd—he'd just rather not. "He," John says, trying for light, "isn't civilized."

"Oh, that's right," Brian says, eyes widening. Mouth too. John has just enough time for a sequence of unflattering thoughts about the relative merits of that expression on a decent-looking bloke in any number of other contexts before Brian is saying, "I read about that in the Telegraph! Down by the docks, wasn't it? Didn't he try to off you?"

Natalie looks up.

"Not me," John says. Then laughs.

Something not wholly unlike sympathetic, Brian says, "Oh, rotten luck"; which is—unparseable. Absurd. Rotten luck for what?, John is thinking, quietly astounded; rotten luck that he didn't lock John in a shipping crate to suffocate? Rotten luck that he didn't succeed?

"Well," John says. He licks his lips. Slowly, John says, "Better luck next time, I suppose."

"I always have rather wondered," Brian sails on, blissfully untouched, "what, precisely, was the—er, attraction, if you'll... ah, pardon my phrasing."

"The attraction," John echoes. Brian is giving John a flat, too-knowing smirk: attraction, fuck him. John smiles. "Of solving crime?"

"Of chasing after a man who obviously takes so little interest in..." Brian pauses, then says, "Let's term it... the human touch, shall we?" and in the silence fallen after at his sides John's hands fold together into fists.

"Ah—John," Nat says, fast.

"Yeah," John says, flat.

"Your case last week," she says, "out in Portsmouth—" right, guns, Amsterdam— "is that still—"

"Yes," John says grateful. Hands loosening. "Still ongoing, I'm afraid, so I can't say much," he says: "Sherlock's—away, at the moment, working on—"

"Oh, 'Away', is he?" Brian smiles his wide cat smile and says, "I'm surprised it wasn't just me and Priyanka, then"; and something bursts in John's chest, wordless and inchoate.

When Brian had still just been the stranger calling Cal's name on the street across from Village, John'd met, fleetingly, his eyes. He had noted a well-groomed but unremarkable man in his early forties who'd been holding the hand of a well-groomed but unremarkable man in his early forties while Cal, a well-groomed if unremarkable man in his early forties, had flung himself out to pull this stranger into a quick, two-armed embrace; and then the stranger had looked away. John, meanwhile, had briefly exchanged glances with the hand-holding companion; they then, embarrassed, had mustered up a pair of frozen sorts of smiles; while Cal and Brian had been promptly getting on to talking at light speed: back-and-forth about your sisters, whose names John still hasn't learned; about Colin and Will and James, who John had recognized, very vaguely, from Cal's tales about his Balliol friends; and then, at the last, somewhat hesitantly, Cal had asked about Dave, which had prompted Brian to say, Oh, we divorced a couple of years back, voice round with a parody of actual, real, emotive sadness, but then immediately added, but we're still friends—the kids, you know—this is Michael, much more cheerfully. Dave thus discarded, John found that somewhere in there they'd all agreed to share a table and three bottles of Malbec, side by side across from Brian and Michael as though Cal and John, too, were dating; as though all the four of them, arranged in tidy pairs, were sedately, unremarkably, in love. All throughout that wretched meal Brian and Michael and Cal had chatted agreeably about real estate prices and and the disappointing trim on last year's Audi A4 and the general unreliability of babysitters hired to keep some sort of regular date night while John drank steadily in something near silence as, every few moments, Brian landed a look upon him that'd been scornful, cutting and too-knowing and, and, all that and also just wrong: as though he had seen, in the way John'd jerked away from Cal outside the restaurant, a great deal more than John's long-standing and instinctive dislike of having strangers think much of anything about him at all. Brian, clearly, had had no such compunctions: the table rapidly learned that—having recently moved from teaching nephrology full-time at the Royal London to two mornings a week at a local surgery supplemented by occasional locum work, so as to be better available for his elder child, who was starting to travel as part of some sort of dreadful high-pressure husbandry program for the extremely young and musically gifted—Brian had recently successfully lost, then regained, then lost again just under a stone; that his younger child—still at primary school—was already starting Latin and seemed well-suited for science or medicine, though they hadn't yet been able to firmly decide; that Michael'd recently been taken on as a partner at Farrer & Co with an attendant pay rise that was, clearly, luxurious, but which everyone was far too polite to discuss. John had also by this point deduced that Cal and Brian had last met five years ago at some kind of upscale self-congratulatory Oxford Medical piss-up and shag-along on a yacht, at a time when Cal'd recently been dumped by a twenty-eight-year-old Swedish massage therapist; Brian, meanwhile, had for this excursion apparently stranded the forgotten Dave home alone with their children—the younger very newly adopted and not yet out of nappies—for an anticipated four days which had extended somehow in fact to six, which in and of itself seemed to John—both then and now—sufficient grounds for divorce. Back at Jackson & Rye in October the conversation had—much like a ham—just gone on and on forever: they'd finished their entrees, finally, but then purgatorially ordered dessert; John had polished off the wine; the kids had turned out to be, now, six and nine: astonishing! They'd aged five years! And all throughout, every disclosure Brian dragged out of John had felt like surrendered ammunition: Watson? Brian had echoed, with just enough interest to make John have to wonder, insides squirming, which if any particular emulsions of John's boxed-up bladed past life were fermenting in the back of Brian's mind; and I knew a boy from Walthamstow, back at Oxford, Brian had said, and then added, digging in, he was rather lonely, you know, a bit out of place, when we came up; and then finally Oh, Brian had said, eyebrow raised, the army, of course. None of it, of course, had been anything John could counter or remark: not without opening himself up to recitations of a history he hadn't wanted anything to do with, back in October of last year; not without shocking Cal and his Eton vowels and his loftily inflexible trust-funded socialist ideals; not while Cal and Michael and Brian were all so obviously delighted by one another, with the candyfloss-uncritical pleasure taken in learning that a friend enjoys the company of other people exactly like you. By the time Brian and Michael'd finally paid precisely half the bill and left to go relieve their latest unreliable babysitter of her charges, John'd felt hot all over, overworked, strung up somewhere between violence and humiliation and rage; so he'd shoved Cal straight from their goodbyes at the door of Brian and Michael's minicab, and across to the other side of the street.

"Well, I'm expecting Sherlock back tomorrow, actually," John says, in the surgery, at half six, Thursday night. He is keeping his voice careful; precise; light. "Possibly even in time for Rhoda's birthday party. If she doesn't have to cancel." Then, remembering again that post-mortem in Basildon, John adds, "I'm sure he'll be disappointed to miss the opportunity of chatting with you," just to watch the smirk calcify on Brian's face.

The hot-angry satisfaction to be taken in Brian's expression buoys John along, out the door down the street 'round the corner while Nat, most likely, is still trapped listening to the bastard while she gets the doors locked up. Unfair: John can't care. The human fucking touch. Back outside Village John had stripped off his own shirt and tossed it balled-up into the skip out the back before dragging Cal up to the door in just his vest and best jeans, letting the bouncer run his eyes across over Cal's bespoke shirt with the sleeves casually rolled to his elbows and John's bared shoulders, the rough starburst edges of his scar; and then let them in. Cal'd been laughing, easily towed; clearly thinking it wasn't anything but impulse and wine and possibly a punchline about midlife crises, all the way until John had him out on the dance floor crammed together and sweating hard between bodies mouths whiskey-sharp and messy, with his hand down Cal's pants. Whatever particular bouncerish criteria had been satisfied by Cal's soft swooping £100 quiff beside John's hard arms and hard eyes and flat, hard mouth hadn't given them any bother either, out there: John had still been burning, scorched and curling at his edges, eyes lighting on every bad university decision any of them'd ever made in the form of a pink-flushed brown-haired boy with huge eyes, all pupils: pulled up easily mouth lush with John's two fingers in his pocket to press hot-close against both their sides. Wet-mouthed sharp-toothed while John was thumbing over Cal's cock hand curled tight around him open flies shoved-down elastic prick bared to show him off, the boy had plastered himself up against John's side with one slim flat hand rubbing John's belly and Cal had shoved his cock up into John's fist, the tight-writhing grind of their hips; the boy's panting mouth to Cal's mouth to the side of John's mouth half-deafened by the bass and near blind with bright lights while Michael and fucking Brian had returned to some exquisitely tasteful row house in Notting Hill with empty hooks for rucksacks and mudprints from the kids' wellies on the parquet in the entry and an Audi A4 parked outside where they would screw, politely, with the lights off, in their carefully coordinated Egyptian cotton sheets while John—blood hot-sluggish and thick in his fingers, his wrists—jerked Cal off for a twenty-year-old stranger on ecstasy as the boy worked himself off against John's arse through his jeans. And now. And now: the human touch, fuck him; so now out the door down the street 'round the corner John is the same burnt-curling honed edge not going anywhere in particular, not going anywhere at all, until he finds himself all the way down in Soho outside a fucking Brooks Brothers and then—and then why? why not? going nowhere the human touch but why isn't he? so he is: fat fingers stumbling on his mobile and his feet clumsy on the street, until he takes a heat-squeezed belly-deep breath and pushes open a door far too posh to tinkle; bares a handful of well-dressed shoppers no doubt driven by more innocuous impulses (boring, Sherlock's voice) and mounds of frills and satin and lace and a trio of shopgirls, all doing other things: a fox-faced brunette behind the register, ringing up the purchases of a plump middle-aged woman in a pantsuit; an alarmingly ringleted blonde refolding purple ruffles at a table to his right; and a petite Black girl using a hook to lift a dressing gown back to a rack high on the back wall—asymmetrical undercut—black braces—grey pinstripe necktie—and John watches her mute and pinned just inside the door until she feels him watching, and looks up.

He doesn't quite know what he is waiting for until he gets it. Her eyes meet his. He feels it like a physical impact, an audible click: heavy, familiar. Unsaid. She takes a step, then pauses, eyes darting to his left; and so John moves instead. The human touch, wasn't it? And so recognized he moved moves is moving when he meets her beside a rack of straps and laces, in black and charcoal and neon blue. His hands empty at his sides.

"Hello," she says. Her mouth a quirked half-secret handshake on her pretty, elfin face.

They get on with the sort of conversation of omission that always makes John feel like he's in a play: half of it spoken in silence eye to eye, the other performed—carefully, decorously—for all the heterosexuals present: encircling, a sea. Pointless, probably: they probably aren't paying attention. It never seems to matter, though, does it. The shopgirl's name turns out to be Yvonne. The human touch, wasn't it? John spends £120 he oughtn't to and then goes home. Drops his bags in his chair and makes himself eggs and toast and then eats quickly, mechanically, like he'd learnt in the army, hunched over at their empty table; air still and too-warm and quiet, prickling the back of his neck. He does the washing up because it needs doing and gathers up his dry washing to fold it and put it away; and then he takes his purchases upstairs to shower and shave (electric) (again) and then trim his nails, working the barely-used file from its place flush against the body of the clippers to smooth out all his rough edges: leave his fingers careful and innocuous, with nothing to catch. Precise. The bag is full of tissue paper in a noncommittal shade of greenish blue: in the shop, Yvonne'd wrapped all his things like the gift they both knew, without asking, they mostly weren't, giving whoever might wash up beside him on the street or the Tube nothing of interest to see. It makes John—angry, angrier: angry like he'd got angry over Brian's Walthamstow friend, out of place at Oxford, in 1988: John tears the paper under the sticking square of sellotape to bare lace, mesh, elastic like piano wire and buckles like knives: John would've bet money that Yvonne had been wearing stockings and suspenders, under that demure knee-length black skirt. Old lessons: John doesn't think about that because Harry would've murdered him, back in 1988, for thinking about that. On the towel rail he marshals his weapons, the edges of the mirror still hazy with steam. He thinks, very briefly, about shaving his legs, but then squares his shoulders and doesn't: the human fucking touch indeed.

The bra feels the silliest so he puts it on first. No point in it, is there, unless he can get somehow past—but he can't get it done up, can he, between the purplish drawing-tight ache deep in his shoulder and the twelve thousand bloody buggering hooks: easier, he thinks, infuriated, to get the fucking things off. Then he remembers Rebecca standing by his wardrobe in practical black cotton knickers and woolly blue socks, wrapping a plain grey-cotton thing around herself with the cups in the back, doing up all the hooks under her sternum, before she'd given the thing an unceremonious yank around her torso and jerked the straps up over her shoulders, bending forward for the cups to catch her soft pale dark-freckled heavy breasts. He slides the straps off his shoulders, and turns the bloody thing around. It is, at first, worse: he can watch his own incompetence like this, his utter failure at first to fasten the same row of hooks to the same row of eyes; and turning it back around he just about rips his arm out of the socket, twice; but at least he gets it on. Straightens up. He settles the straps into the dips of his shoulders, then unfolds, carefully, the caught folded-under lace at the top edge on the right.

He gives himself a long, critical look. It ought to make him look—attractive, he supposes; erotic, somehow; but mostly he just looks like a battered middle-aged soldier, naked, in a bra. The gunshot doesn't usually bother him much, these days; but against lace and elastic it seems wrong, twisted, thrown into uncomfortable relief: a particular branch of violence he thought he'd left behind him, strange in this yellow-white bathroom light. The cups, as soft as they are and what Yvonne'd politely described as "petite," still only-just stretch, on his body; and the wire pulls them in wrong directions across his ribs. But it's—a bra, unmistakably: it is still unquestionably his—Christ. Unquestionably his breasts. Still his breasts, such as they are, in a black lacy bra; still his bare belly, not quite flat; still his fuzzing nest of pubic hair and his soft prick; it is still the long black line of a bra strap stretched alongside his dark and knotted scar.

"Fuck it," he says, and sighs, and then reaches back to the towel rail for the knickers.

They don't fit. He didn't really expect them to: they'd put more thought into the bra, giving the the knickers up from the start, rather, as a bad job. Yvonne hadn't ever said, If you want something with room for your tackle you'd do better on the internet but her expression had been speaking, at least on the Homosexual Broadcasting System's universal frequency; and besides, John's not an idiot. Wriggling around trying to figure out how best to seat himself in someone else's knickers with the back riding up his arse and his balls trying to slither out the leg holes makes him feel like a first-class wanker, though; which is, he supposes, why he's doing this alone in his bathroom in the first place, and not as a more interactive activity for two. By the time he's got everything arranged so he can walk and everything'll stay more or less stationary, the tip of his prick is jutting out from the waistband, half-hard, mostly from his profound sense of irritation. Staring into the mirror he crosses his arms which makes the bra jab into his flesh so he uncrosses them. Now he looks like a middle-aged soldier in a bra and knickers. He's not entirely certain that's an improvement.

The human touch.

The thought comes out of nowhere, almost, a rush of rage and helplessness just behind. He can't wish it didn't: John isn't an idiot, truly; he knows why he finds Brian infuriating. He knows why he'd coaxed Cal into having it off with a boy half their age on the dance floor at Village and he knows why today he didn't walk out of the surgery tonight and just go straight home; he knows why he's wearing ladies' ill-fitting knickers instead of ordering something more intelligently tailored and why he's got Sherlock's unopened eyeliner tucked alongside the shaving cream resting at the back edge of his sink. John'd been tired of being treated like Sherlock's touchingly clueless closeted flatmate since well before they'd ever started shagging; coming from someone like fucking Brian, someone who requires A*-C marks on homosexuality from every queer that he meets and thinks Sherlock's the monster, it's ten times worse. If thinking about the prospect didn't make him incoherent with rage, John'd reckon that whoever'd dragged Sherlock around by that lead ring was of much the same stripe. Bonuses and babysitters and tidy boxes and rings: Brian'd probably taken to the streets in 1988, and reckoned everything sorted in 2014. John isn't that person. He won't ever be that person, wouldn't want to be that person: desire is easy for John, but what other people want actually matters to him; and he's never much found the need to apologize. In March he'd wanted to fuck Rebecca from behind, to feel her parting slick and hot around him while he played with her heavy soft spilling-over tits; but it'd mattered to him that just beforehand standing too close she'd pulled his hand up under her skirt and spread for him to touch the damp elastic of her knickers, that her plummy lipsticked mouth had been parted, her eyes dark. It had mattered to him that she'd pushed him down after and sat on his face, that she'd dragged on his hair while she ground down onto his tongue with her arsehole fluttering tight 'round his two fingertips and soaked him sobbing while he squirmed licking up-up-up underneath; that even after washing off after he knew he was still sticky in places, still wild-smelling all over his cheeks and jaw, that she'd managed to leave him wet, a bit, inside the shell of his ear. In October John had wanted to drag Cal onto the dance floor and fuck a twenty-year-old, but it'd mattered to him that Cal'd got off on it, obviously and shamelessly; that he'd kissed John and the boy and the boy and John before and during and after; that he'd then fucked John twice more that week besides, once in the surgery's minuscule toilets and then again at his flat, though admittedly not before they'd got into an argument about post-natal checkup booking procedure at the surgery's staff meeting Thursday morning, which opportunity Jeremy had used to give their latest hire, Genevieve Dalton, a first-hand crash course in breaking up fistfights. It matters to John, what Sherlock does and does not say; it matters to him that Sherlock is fierce and eager and hungry with him on the sofa, in the kitchen, entwining on his vast white-sheeted island of a bed; that Sherlock with him is like opening, over and over, a clasped hand, to show what lies cradled inside. That John had said to him in their living room, —and corsets; and the long white line of Sherlock's throat had turned red.

John touches the lacy top edge of the right cup. Traces his fingertips down to the little bow in the middle. The wire under the cup is pressing against his sternum: Sherlock's chest dips, a bit, in the middle. On Sherlock it would float. Yvonne had been speaking softly, when she'd shown John the stitching around the wire that showed just there, between the cups, on the inside; and how it was hidden, on other end, under the edge of the elastic at the top of the band: just a shopgirl to a customer, demonstrating their quality workmanship, when she rolled the elastic up bit to one side. John slides off the shoulder straps and works the band 'round to undo it, steady hands. He still keeps his mending kit in his medicine cabinet, for buttons and worn seams; it has a tiny, infuriating pair of miniature scissors that barely cut and always stick, but are enough, apparently, to tackle the soft-felted black fabric just holding the wires to see-through black lace. Once he's made a bit of a slit under the side elastic, he can jab the wire out easily, pull it free. The other side, too. Then he puts the stupid thing back on. Later, he'll sew the holes up; right now he is trying on his new bra.

Without the wires it looks different. Clings tighter. Curves closer 'round his skin: he touches his breast through the fabric and, back prickling, shivers. There is a curved seam rounding the small cup down its middle: on Rebecca, those sorts of seams had always hit just at her nipples, only half-hiding their peaks. It'd driven him crazy: every time he'd seen it he'd had to get her in his mouth. On him, that seam rounds over the middle of his pectoral, his nipples demurely hiding under the denser lace underneath. He spreads his hands wide. Covers his ribs. On the loosest set of hooks and eyes the band is still tight 'round his chest: he can feel it when he breathes.

I like, Sherlock had said. The underside of John's tongue. The insides of his nose. I like knowing I'm held in line.

And here is John, held in: in a lacy black bra on its loosest set of hooks, elastic still cutting into his skin. In the shop he had had to fumble through his moleskin like he didn't know just where he'd kept it: a worn-soft torn-out page from a notebook half a decade ago, bearing Sherlock's old number (scribbled down outside Baker Street in 2010 because John didn't yet trust the address book on his bizarre overcomplicated mobile phone), Sherlock's PIN (jotted down vengefully hoping for identity thieves after the fourth time Sherlock'd sent John out with his card to retrieve vinegar, four bottles of dish liquid, and a fresh half-pint of milk), and all the rest of the scraps and remnants of two thoughtless far-away years: SciChem, Rose Ltd; 6 Jan 76; Marlboro Reds, not in his writing and which he'd crossed out, decisively, twice; a set of measurements he'd resented taking and an address he'd resented bringing them to, over on D'Arblay Street; Vanity Fair (which John had added, half-amused, after a conversation with Mycroft), Persuasion (which John had added one evening on the strength of the physical evidence and which Sherlock had, furious, waited until John was in the shower to scratch out), Middlemarch (which Sherlock had added, an apology; and which later John would touch, over and over, until the blue ink faded and the paper blurred, going fuzzy and whitening; smudged); and all around the edges is written soft eggs, NO BANANAS, plain Hobnobs, overdone toast, buttered pasta, milky sweet tea: jotted here and there in the margins in three different inks, a list he'd barely been able to look at, after, and hadn't ever properly needed to make. In the shop John had folded the page in half so that Yvonne could see the measurements and not much else, held his thumb across ANANAS letting show the bottom half of Sherlock's birthday, everything else tucked away underneath. These're a few years old, but, he'd said, and then had to swallow. Still the same, then?, Yvonne had asked; and Yeah, John'd said, then had to add, A—a very little tiny broader, perhaps, like ripping like tearing like claws, in the chest. Still. Still. Still close enough; still John's hands remember, still his hands splayed across his own too-fast falling-rising ribs know that on Sherlock, they wouldn't be using the loosest set of fastenings, to get his bra done up. Still they know that if instead John could coax him over onto his belly so that they could pull the strap tight, so that they could do the hooks up one by one by one, they would use the tightest row: one, careful, and two. Still they know that under them Sherlock would shiver all over. That he would make little hot ravenous noises licking at their fingers when John touching his mouth put his own mouth over Sherlock's lacy cup at the bottom. When, as they thumbed into him, he licked and nuzzled his way up underneath.

John's eyes. His throat. He fumbles blind for the towel rail to get the suspender belt on back to front. He turns it around, then sits on the lid of the toilet to roll on his stockings. It takes him eight tries to work out how to use the clips. The tops of the stockings tug at his leg hair. When he stands up to look at himself in the mirror he can't even see all the way down to his knees. A middle-aged soldier kitted out in black lace: it's hard to imagine much in which John feels less at home, but for Sherlock he'd give an awful lot of things a try: the human, he is thinking, heart wild in his throat: touch. The last purchase of the day is still wrapped in tissue paper resting in the bag standing up at the edge of the sink: he could take it out, he thinks; could unwrap it; could wind it fast around himself—he wraps his hands around himself—and draw it tight—he draws them tight: try to fasten the hooks up one by one by one not breathing on a body just-enough bigger than Sherlock's soft tender white frame—; but he doesn't. Instead in stockings and suspenders he squeezes his hands 'round his sides and his belly hard and then hard and then harder until he gasps, realizes he's gasping: his wet-tipped red cock nudging hard out of his ill-fitting knickers and his improperly placed nipples jutting hard against the scraping-stretched lace of his bra.

God.

What he could do.

He could rub himself off through the knickers. Pull them up over the head of his prick so he'd come just inside them, lick them off, rinse them out; he could get out Sherlock's crime-scene camera and spread himself out on Sherlock's filthy white bed. He could work himself just up to the edge with Sherlock's glass plug up inside him and the scanty strap back of the knickers holding it in, then ring Sherlock up and ask for directions.

But what John really wants is Sherlock warm just beside him: blushing, but letting John kiss him low down on his spine. What John wants is Sherlock wide-eyed and soft for him, mouth open, body warm; while John keeps him looked after in every way he can think: talking down infuriated witnesses, misleading the police; manning his guns keeping their books easing him into anything that frightens him; making him toast, and pasta, and too-sweet milky tea. John could moisturize Sherlock's long pale legs and clip his suspenders to his stockings. John could buckle him into cock rings, and not let him come. John could bare himself like this feeling foolish after a decade-plus in the army, after the end of one life that'd begun another that'd broken in the middle and then—mended: unsought; impossible; relief. He could hold open for Sherlock a door; a window. Held open a trapdoor for him once, memorably, in Swansea. John could do things past counting for the chance to lie down just beside him in the bed where Sherlock asked John to kiss him and do up his hooks: one, by one, by one.

John picks up his mobile. Unlocks the screen.

He takes twenty-six photos, keeps two: one close up of the triangle between his collarbone and trapezius, just flanked by the bra strap, that came out all right; and another, more daring, of the architecture of suspenders and knickers and stocking framing his arsecheek and the top of his thigh. Everything else he keeps, very carefully, outside the frame.

I went shopping today, he types, then hesitates. Slow, he thinks, chest aching; go slow, take it slow: is it girlish? Sherlock had asked, is it strange? John keeps the photos for later, no attachments; hits send; and then sets his mobile beside the bag still half-full with tissue paper; and reaches, hands steady, towards the back of his sink.

Chapter Text

Rhoda is in again in the morning. Back behind Natalie's desk talking about something, bent close, voice too low to hear. John arranges his face and heads over: "Oh," Natalie says, looking up. A smile. "Evie's feeling better, isn't that marvelous?"

"Marvelous," he agrees. He rubs his palms on his trousers, then adds, "Happy birthday."

"Thank you," Rhoda says. Half-smiling. "I think."

"John, can you take Mr. Chalcroft at 9?" Natalie asks. "It leaves you double-booked but it should be routine, and Mrs. Akhtar rang up just a moment ago in a state—her daughter's asthma." Radhika Aktar doesn't do well with doctors but she's used to Rhoda, at least: it's the sensible solution, so John nods, and Natalie hands him two charts, which he takes into his office. He puts them down on his desk. His bag down on his chair. Spread: remembering, his face floods hot. The clock: four minutes. He checks his mobile, two unread texts.

I've got one more lead to chase down, says the first. Then: Do you have patients?.

John's thumb hovers, reluctant. Like, Sherlock had said, a five-star whore. Sherlock had said, Like a packet of meat. Not, John types. Clumsy and slow: two minutes. Throat sore. yet, John says.

He hits send, even as it buzzes in his hand: Please attempt to avoid acquiring any particularly exotic diseases this morning, Sherlock says; Christ. John rubs at his forehead, and again: If at all possible, Sherlock adds.

Knuckles on his door. "John," Nat says, sticking her head in.

"Yeah," John says. Typing, as quick as he can: I'll do my best. "Give me. A minute." Adding: I have to go--I think I saw someone out front with black buboes just showing under the straps of her sundress. Adding: is that bad?

She nods; he hits send. "Tea?"

"Please," he says. "Who's first?"

"Ms. MacAuley," she says; not looking up he nods as desperate he starts another: be careful, chest tight. To Natalie he says, "I'll be right out"; to Sherlock, I'll talk to you later, yeah?; as she pulls back, nodding.

John shuts his mobile up in the top drawer of his desk. Burnt into him, he doesn't need to reread it. Couldn't even if he wanted to; a quarter to midnight last night: you're lovely, he'd sent; and then made a promise out of an earlier lie and hit the back button, hit "Edit", hit "Delete". Spread: still burnt into his retinas. Shivering its way down his spine. Alone in his office he braces his palms on his desk top. They feel strange: I don't want, Sherlock had said. Sherlock had said, Thank you. Sherlock had said a lot of things. Hands flat John pushes himself to his feet; in his top drawer his mobile buzzes and he drops back down to fumble it out: just Harry, fuck. He puts on Do Not Disturb, then he drops it drawer and closes it, turns the key. Then he goes out for his patient and his tea.

Ava MacAuley. Emil Kvieczinski. Ruby Bridgewater. The silence of his drawer is weirdly distracting. His ten o'clock runs over and his ten forty-five turns up twenty-one minutes late. —a catastrophe, Sherlock had said, probably: God. Already in that moment John'd been wound aching-tight with adoration and longing, words tangling in a wet-blurred jumble somewhere between his brain and the screen. Ignore that, Sherlock'd said, John thinks. Or ignore that. Capitals deserting him to run off with Oxford commas; at one point he'd misspelled "delete". Sherlock'd said, ignore that, please. Or Ignore that please. Or ignore that please or perhaps even ignoer that please—no. Not that, not quite; John would remember that. you don't, Sherlock had told him, need to read that, every pixel drenched with obvious, humiliated anxiety: and even in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, John had done his best.

By late morning John's tea—the bag on its fourth go, he thinks—just takes like dirty water. He dumps the tea bag in the bin and gets a fresh one to brew another and takes another patient of Rhoda's right at noon, so that she can get onto her mobile to make sympathetic noises at what is presumably the diseased youngest child: evidently now well enough to be left with Rhoda's mum to mind her, but still, apparently, not in terribly good nick. Every time between patients all morning Sherlock still hasn't replied. Hasn't by lunchtime proper, either. Those silences'd dragged out last night, too, so it can't not make John fret. Expensive, Sherlock'd said, in the middle on the phone, little heavy unhappy silences bracketing it either side. Silences all over. The last long silence had been followed by those three precious lustrous texts, two of which John hasn't positively sworn to disremember; but at the start it'd been a silence, too, that John'd thought triggered that first terrible frenzied sequence: I suppose you wouldn't mind; everyone panting for you; show up every time you text. Today it makes him—it makes him angry, angry at—at the past and the impossible and mostly at himself: sitting in a perfectly lovely patch of park in July at lunchtime with anger clenching his hot useless hands, squeezing congealed filling out of the edges of a depressed Sainsbury's egg sandwich: like, Sherlock'd said, a five-star whore. Christ. By now John's had long enough, he thinks, to translate Sherlock's speaking silences; he isn't idiot enough to think any of that was so much as half about him. Sherlock hadn't ever said, used; he hadn't said, exposed; he hadn't said, cheap; but John still could hear it anyway, the Rorschach inkblot of five centimeters of bra strap: for four and a half minutes Sherlock'd gone silent; and then he'd got loud; swinging wildly, perhaps, but he'd still hit back. Spread, Sherlock'd said. He's said it before. John hopes to God he'll say it again—but not, John thinks, swallowing the knot of sandwich and anxiety clogging his throat, quite like that. All it'd taken was a pair of 12A snaps, discreetly framed; and inside all those absences Sherlock had seen John flayed open and watched, examined, trapped; John's throat throbbed had throbbed now throbs: where; did he, pulsing; in his hands, learn that.

Is it girlish? Sherlock'd asked. Had asked, Is it strange?

John should've seen it coming. Did, at some points, almost; but last night John'd asked Sherlock what he thought of the cut of his lacy black knickers; and then that'd been what Sherlock'd thrown back. A fantasy, John might've thought; something John might've on some other day even enjoyed, perhaps: but last night John'd sent Sherlock satin ribbons and soft goldening light; and somehow Sherlock'd seen him dirty, drenched with humiliation, displayed for the delectation and dissection of half a dozen conjured monsters, wearing unknown human skins. Spread, Sherlock had said, your thighs, hold your bollocks up—examine—use you as a footrest—. Document, Sherlock had said, your undercarriage: the precision is terrifying, in retrospect. John'd asked if he could call, over and over; for the first forty-five minutes Sherlock'd dodged him, again and again. What was it, really, John wonders? The camera? The knickers? John's teasing tone, the distance, the hour? At the last John'd typed out, I don't want it to be like that with you, and twenty-seven minutes later he'd been clean-toothed in bed still wide-eyed, all the lights out, heart heavy, everything washed out in the basin and hanging to dry, before no, all lower case, Sherlock'd finally texted back.

Forgetting. John does try.

Somewhere amongst two far too serious sunburns and an infected splinter, John's got his mobile out, scrolling up, reading back; and Mycroft's office minion rings: Miss Ingram and Mr. Sherlock Holmes are finished in Amsterdam and will be returning this afternoon. Would Mr. Watson like the information about their returning flight?

John scrubs at his forehead. "No," he says, finally. He'll ask Sherlock. Has to. Can't not. He says, "No, that's all right. Er—sending a car for them, is he?"

His mobile buzzes against his cheek, and into his ear Bianca confirms that Mr. Holmes is indeed sending a car; and John thanks her, rings off. Checks his texts.

Landing at 18:30, Sherlock has said. Gatwick.

John's thumb. His too-bare feeling screen. How many texts, he wonders, did he lose when he'd deleted the lot last night at eleven forty-five? How many days since he's last backed up his mobile? How many weeks? Everything raw and tender between them reads as banal, casual, trivial in reverse: If at all possible, Please attempt to avoid acquiring any particularly exotic diseases this morning, Do you have patients?, I've got one more lead to chase down. That long false silence beforehand, etched into John's skin. You're lovely, John had sent. After he had sent: don't have to be embarrassed, happens to everyone. All the while he had felt impossibly sympathetic and fond; trying, rather painfully, to remain steadfast, to not laugh: nothing but silence before this morning but at a quarter to midnight last night, there still hadn't been any record of that. John had been lying in bed with all the lights off wanting Sherlock with corners of him he'd thought long abandoned while I feel, Sherlock'd admitted, like a proper cock. Bone deep. A wanting woven up with every molecule of him. John'd promised Sherlock he'd forget it, told him he was lovely, cleared his message history, kept his silent mobile next to him until he'd fallen asleep; he'd meant it. Every word. Jumbled up inside him lost forever that'll be this time I'll be alone it but you're all over it'll going to be and I can and touching kissing me the this time the I and can (a catastrophe be only reason probably that'll be) like you do I'll be always going to we're be

John closes his eyes. Deep breath. Can I meet you at the airport? he asks; and then rubs at his forehead. All longing. Atomic. One thing.

I don't want it to be like that with you, either, Sherlock'd said, after he'd all of a sudden rung off, leaving John hard in his pajama bottoms and frustrated, half outraged. In the dark the bubbles of each message had seemed luminous. Pearlescent. John had—dressed up in ladies' knickers; and Sherlock had—fought with him, almost; and John had—yielded, best he could; and then somewhere in the middle into silence after anger after misstep after despair John'd typed out I don't want it to be like that with you and some not inconsiderable time later Sherlock'd replied, no, and John'd asked, can I ring you?; but Sherlock'd done it instead. Nothing to be lost there. Nothing gained. Holding the back out of the way, John had said, for you, while 350 kilometers away soft fast-squelching wet Sherlock'd made little lovely longing sounds fuzzed by distance: and when John'd deleted his texts, that'd been nothing to go away. No records. No tape. That single third incandescent text John has promised to forget best he can but before that in the dark Sherlock'd sent, first, I don't want it to be like that with you, either, and that, John can still remember. He can remember that after the third text Sherlock'd said in several configurations in some order ignore that, ignore that please, you don't need to read that, the iphone keyboard's rubbish, I didn't mean to send, thank you, I meant to hit delete. John doesn't think the order much matters, anyway. Which time, exactly, Sherlock had misspelled "delete". Even without his texts John can still remember arguing about the Samsung and Mr Flap and Sherlock telling him, I feel like a proper cock, and that John'd replied, You're lovely; John can remember that, just before the text John's been so assiduously forgetting, Sherlock had told him, when I come with you I'm not going to be in a different fucking country. John'll remember that one, too.

John's mobile buzzes in his hand. No. Later, Sherlock has said. A moment after: Rhoda's party?

John hesitates. It's not... expensive, is it, Sherlock had asked, on the phone, last night. Voice thick with something mingled of longing and fear.

I'd like that, John replies. Then adds, Everything sorted?

Sorted, Sherlock confirms, right away; and John inhales, pockets his mobile, and goes out for his next chart.

Chapter Text

"—and Vaughan, of course," Ben is saying, beard waggling, forearms on the table, "takes it as a personal affront, 12th century German politics being what he likes to do at the weekends—"

"He's a linguist," Priyanka scoffs, chair creaking as she turns; and Ben turns his beard toward her to say, "Yes, I know, love, but you know what he's like," and she makes another disgruntled sort of sound and slips one blunt hand around his elbow, while halfway down the table John is shaking his head, half-laughing, reaching for the bottle to top up Tom's wine.

"So the entire way to Leeds," Ben says, "Vaughan is reading every paper on this poor lad's CV, with two different colors of highlighter, sputtering every time he comes across something he considers to be reductive or inaccurate, and then on the Monday he's sat down in the back bloody row, just to make entirely certain that when it comes to the point of, everyone'll have to turn around to look at him; and sure enough, as soon as the boy calls for questions Vaughan's on his feet, full professorial projection and all, 'HAVE you considered the Empress Matilda's regency in Italy' and so on, grilling the boy for half an hour on this series of letters that as far as I know hasn't even been conclusively attributed—"

"Alcohol," Jeremy asserts; and Rhoda says, "Drink the pain away"; and Ben says, "All right, yeah," and pauses while both remaining bottles—already rather the worse for wear—are making their way around. "I more meant," Jeremy is saying, to Ben's right, "surely this is the sort of situation in which alcohol could vastly improve—"

"You can't hold every conference to the same standard as the BMA," Paige scoffs. "We're all shameless lushes—and I reckon," turning to Marianne and Tom, "your mum told you that medicine was a respectable profession."

"Well, she certainly didn't disabuse me of the notion," Marianne says; pink-cheeked and smiling; as from John's end of the table, Tariq is leaning in to assure Tom, "Not too respectable." He exchanges a glance with John, to which John only just raises an eyebrow, smiling.

"Hear, hear," Denise is saying. John salutes, and polishes off his wine, then reaches for the bottle. "Here, pass that over," says Denise; and between her and Priyanka they flag down the waiter and get the last of the two extant bottles emptied into Rhoda's glass—"ugh," Rhoda says, grimacing, "that's awful, you're awful, I don't even know why I let Nat invite you"—while Nat is leaning 'round the corner of the table to whisper something to Tariq that makes him bark with laughter, then put a hand over his mouth and shoot Tom a dark, liquid look that even just passing by him makes John shift, a little, in his seat.

"Well Reuben did get half a bottle of sherry down Vaughan at the drinks party after," Ben is telling Jeremy, "but I can't imagine you'll be surprised to learn that it didn't much improve him"; and the entire table, except Priyanka, bursts into laughter.

"Edward Vaughan is a second-rate arsehole," Priyanka is telling Ben. Hand still tucked into his elbow. Everyone else leaning, ever so slightly, back. Priyanka's not the sort any of them would cross; she's the sort who turns up to the surgery in cargo pants and Birkenstocks and more or less bullies their patients into getting better, a square stocky woman in late middle age with the sort of brusque, no-nonsense manner that John imagines necessarily comes from spending forty years living with a white bloke with an ill-kempt beard who teaches medieval history and named their son Faramir. "He's still put out he didn't win the Patterson Prize back in 497 B.C.E., and he likes to make sure everyone around him pays the price."

"Yes, love," says Ben, and leans in to kiss her greying hair, "and your mother-bear instincts are still very charming, but sadly, the Edward Vaughans of the world are simply a feature of modern academic life." Priyanka huffs, but doesn't look entirely displeased.

"I think we've all got one, actually," Marianne says, wry; and immediately John recollects: Alfred Prosser, amateur cyclist, Oxford, Trinity, Biochemistry, at which—as Sherlock had enjoyed observing, publicly—he had received only a second. "Our sciences deputy chair—"

"Just chair," corrects Tom, voice grim; and Marianne says, "Oh, bollocks, he's been promoted, hasn't he?" One of the bottles has made its way over to John again, so he leans across the chair to his right to pass it to Tariq, who passes it to Natalie, who hands it to Denise, who tops up Rhoda's wine.

"We could start some sort of fund," Rhoda is suggesting. She doesn't smile or slur or flush like Denise, strawberry-faced and blotchy at her side, but John can still tell from Rhoda's lovely face, the warmth blossoming in her cheeks, her forehead glossing at its edges, that she's well on her way to an appropriate birthday amount to drink. "Endow some sort of island," Rhoda says, "where we could send all the tossers who feel the universe owes them something. Give all of them a prize just by going, get them out of our way."

"I'd like to nominate Madeleine McKay," Natalie mutters, and Tariq leans over to nudge her, grinning.

"She used to be one of ours, you know," he says, "Mikey hated scheduling her—made no bones of what she thought of me, always insisted on seeing Brian or Denise"; and Natalie gives him a look.

"So you referred her to us?" she demands. "Because you thought we'd have an easier time scheduling a chinless racist who thinks John's lower class?"

"Not me, Mikey," Tariq says; as John says, "Oh, ta," half-laughing; and Natalie glares at him.

"And you can bugger right off," she says. "I heard you talking to her about socialism last week and it wasn't even convincing, you're a disgrace to the NHS."

"Well, next time," John says, "I'll leave it to you to convince her to go over to Jeremy and Cal."

"Hey," protests Jeremy, sounding wounded; as Natalie leans back in her chair.

"I never should've got my own flat," she decides. "It makes it loads harder to shave off Mikey's hair in his sleep"; just as a long, oppressively fretful presence is sidling up behind John, while everyone else laughs.

Turning. "Hullo, you." John's face feels warm, tilted up. Smiling. "I was starting to think you weren't going to make it."

"Gatwick," Sherlock says. "And then traffic." John watches, fascinated, as his throat works: swallowing, one-two, one-two. "Rhoda," he says, very formally, "happy birthday."

"Why thank you, Sherlock," she says, and John nudges the empty chair out for him. Rhoda says, "Um—I'm not sure if you know—well, you must know Tom and Marianne and Jeremy—do you know Paige?" Leaning past Marianne to look at him Paige gives him a smile, a little wave.

"I'm Jeremy's wife, I went to uni with Rhoda," she says, as Sherlock sits. "And John took over at the surgery for me when I had the sprog—I've heard a lot about you."

"Yes," says Sherlock, awkwardly.

"And that's Ben, Priyanka's partner," Rhoda explains; Ben gives him a beardy nod, as Sherlock folds his coat around himself, even though the restaurant is sticky with the summer and approximately four hundred degrees. "And—do you know Denise?"

"Ah—her surgery hosts the incomparable Brian," Sherlock says, "two mornings a week."

"Er," John says, into the silence that follows. "You know Natalie of course"—"Natalie," Sherlock says, measured; to which Natalie, smiling sunnily, returns: "Sherlock"—"and this is Tariq," John finishes, relieved to have made it around the table.

"Tariq works with Denise as well," Natalie says; and John nonsensically adds, "Full time, she means," as Tariq is holding out a hand, smiling; which Sherlock somewhat robotically shakes.

"No accountant?" Sherlock asks Rhoda; and she laughs.

"No, Gabe's looking after the kids for a night," she says, and then raises her glass. "Better than jewelry, that one."

Sherlock nods. Warm by his side, a handspan away; John found it rather touching, that one, really.

"I was going to bring Jasmine," Natalie says. "Mikey too, but he got a callback last minute and is off taking his clothes off for a producer in the West End."

"Good at that, though," says Paige. "I'm not certain how they thought they'd fit fourteen in back here."

"Ah," Sherlock says; and then snaps his mouth shut, looking torn. John smiles into his glass.

"We're rather finishing up, I'm afraid," Tariq is saying, "but there's wine."

"Wine!" cheers Rhoda; and Denise leans across her to snag the bottle near Marianne, and top up Rhoda's drink. Natalie and Tariq manage to bump into each other, giggling, as they reach over to fill up Sherlock's waiting glass, which he then clutches by the stem, never lifting, in a whiter-than-usual-knuckled grip. At the other end of the table Ben and Paige are taking advantage of their physical proximity to start in on the sort of political argument you can only really quite manage between people of varying stripes of the very far left, while everyone else wisely leaves them to it; Tariq is, mercifully, leaning onto the table to shout past John in continuation of his utterly transparent meal-long campaign to get into Tom's pants. Under the table John works his mobile out to text Natalie: whatever happened to adam?; her blonde curls bob, as she turns her face away from the animated discussion of some yet-to-be-released indie occurring between her and Denise and Rhoda, looking down at her lap just long enough to reply, moved to new york in may, where have *you* been, anyway, and then give John two big eyes and fine raised eyebrows, her mouth rounding out in an actorly shocked-wide "o". Smirking back, John slides his mobile back into his pocket, as Denise says, "I've already got the release date marked on my calendar"; and Natalie says, "We've all got the release date marked on our calendars"; and Denise says, "You're not old enough to have the release date marked on your calendar"; and Natalie gives her the finger. Sherlock's eyes are darting around the table with a stiff, somewhat shell-shocked look, one arm still holding his coat shut tight, the other still clutching his untouched wine. John feels dreadful, almost, for a moment; but he's had too much to drink for it to really properly stick.

Under the table, he touches Sherlock's thigh through his coat. His knobby knee. Then he turns his mouth close to Sherlock's ear and murmurs, "I'm glad you turned up."

Silent, Sherlock nods. Blinks twice. John rubs his knuckles against the hem of Sherlock's coat, then shifts, straightening up; and Sherlock's hand falls hard across his, on Sherlock's tensed knee.

For an instant John's vision blurs. Across the table. Priyanka and Denise and Rhoda are now all discussing, rather heatedly, Cate Blanchett; while Natalie is leaning over to ask Marianne about her trip to Oslo. Voices, faces, light and sounds: that strange sleight of mind where in a crowded room everything else fades and buzzes and smears together, when someone says your name. Last night when John'd got him finally on the phone Sherlock had said: John; whispered: John; moaned: John; had started so low and anxious when he'd asked, Have you—have you still got it on? but he'd still let John lie to him about his pajamas. Pick at that unhappy uncertain yearning. Unspool it, knit something new. Against Sherlock's thigh Sherlock has wound their hands together, interlaced their fingers; gripping John's right hand as tight with his left as the right is clutching his untouched wine: lovely, John is thinking, blood warm, and sweet. As relentless and impossible as the sea. All his lovely long fingers odd chins sea-sky eyes and all the long uneasy rest of him, sitting just beside John around other people, hand in his hand.

Chapter Text

When Rhoda at last says "Well, I'd best get back" and the party disintegrates into more hugs and back pats than John is really entirely comfortable with and an argument, which Rhoda loses, about whether or not Rhoda is permitted to contribute to the splitting of the bill, Sherlock lurks awkwardly to one side, acquiesces to—looking alarmed—a sideways embrace from Natalie, and then falls into step just beside John on the street still wrapped up like it's January, flushing splotchily across his throat and his cheeks. Warm all over (sun—honey—) John slides his hand back into Sherlock's inside Sherlock's coat pocket. Sherlock sidles a look down at him, but he doesn't let go, does he? John tilts his head back, looking up at the bruised purple-yellow ceiling of clouds and light pollution, grinning.

"Shut up," says Sherlock, disgruntled.

"I didn't say anything." John gives Sherlock's hand a squeeze, looking over at him.

Sherlock doesn't look back. Barely looking at anything, John thinks, through the warming haze of his skin. All his long fingers: sliding against John's at their sides. "You're quiet tonight."

"I thought you wouldn't appreciate me casting aspersions on your coworkers' characters."

"I don't know, sometimes your aspersions can be rather enjoyable." Sherlock's face seems queerly rearranged since Tuesday: reshadowed; the hollows around his eyes hollower. "You didn't sleep on the plane, did you," John says gently; and Sherlock sighs. Right hand spider-splaying across his face to rub at his eyeballs; John tucks his thumb against the palm of the left. Rubs circles. "Did you eat?" he asks, meaning 'dinner'; Sherlock says, "Chloe bought me a packet of crisps on Wednesday," which is not, in fact, reassuring. When they round the corner near their Thai place John slows, for a step and a half, but Sherlock's shoulders just creep higher, huddling together, so instead John offers, "Eggs? At home?" and when Sherlock nods John lets him tug them along faster. Eggs, he is thinking. Toast. Milky sweet tea.

In the flat he steers Sherlock around Sherlock's bag, dumped haphazardly on its end just inside the door and abandoned, and then over to the table. "Sit," John says, and Sherlock says, "John," and John looks up at him swallowing (one-two, one-two), as Sherlock tugs at his hand, not meeting his eyes. John touches his waist. His long spine. Sliding in close with his arms in the sickly-hot damp space under Sherlock's long coat, while Sherlock folds himself near in half to rest his face against the side of John's neck.

John tugs at the back of Sherlock's shirt until the bottom comes undone. Warm skin.

"It was a long few days," John says, soft.

"I missed you," Sherlock mumbles. "Stupid."

"Hey," John says. "I missed you too, are you calling me stupid?"

Sherlock doesn't answer. Just pulls back enough to draw John flush against him, resting his face on John's head. With his face tucked into the collar of Sherlock's coat John can smell all the familiar post-case stale-sweat unwashed smell of him: John wraps his arms tight around his crumpled black shirt and narrow ribs, and squeezes.

Against hair: a long damp sigh. Heavier, then heavier. All those long rangy muscles melting.

After a moment, John asks, "Tea, at least?"

"You're going to feed me chamomile, aren't you," Sherlock mumbles; and John huffs against his collarbone. Turning his mouth up, touch, up: "Yeah."

Sherlock makes a disgruntled sort of noise but his arms loosen. "Sit," John says, "Come on," and Sherlock puts his hand on the back of the chair.

John nods. Goes into the kitchen to start the kettle. Comes back out to toe off his shoes, empty his pockets on the crowded side table between their armchairs; Sherlock watches him, still standing by the table, half-held up by the back of one chair. "Could you manage toast?" John asks.

"God," Sherlock mumbles. Sighs.

Coins. Mobile. "Could start with just tea," John says, shrugging, "but—"

"No, I'd better—." Sherlock stops. Swallows. "I'll be sick, if I just—"

"Yeah," John says. Notebook. Pen. "Toast it is"; and Sherlock nods. John nods at him. Observes, "You could take off your coat, you know"; and then watches until Sherlock has started to fumble his way out of it before going back into the kitchen.

Kitchen. Cup, plate, spoon. John fills the kettle and starts it, then gets out the bread and puts it in to toast. Out of the corner of his eye he can see Sherlock shuffling about the living room: hovering by his music stand, between their chairs; John carefully doesn't look over. Instead he hesitates for a long not-watching moment beside the toaster and then goes to the fridge to get out an egg. Another. Scramble them and he might not notice that there're two; John sets a bowl, so they won't touch the toast, on top of the plate together on the back of the stove to warm up while he cooks the eggs, so that Sherlock'll have a bit of time to come around to them, before they get cold. Soft eggs. Overdone toast: John pushes the button down again and turns off the hob while he puts milk in Sherlock's tea. He won't drink chamomile, if it's sweet.

The edges of the plate are almost hot enough to hurt his fingers, but not quite. Sherlock is sat at the table with his sleeves rolled up, hunched over, reading John's phone: a hot liquid surge of satisfaction in John's chest. Ought to be unbearable, John thinks. Ought to be infuriating—but it isn't. John slides the plate down in front of him and Sherlock turns up his lovely off-kilter face with his bruise-edged eyes and mouth indecisive, like a softened, sideways "S".

"Catching up on my emails?" John asks, and hands him his tea.

"Texts," Sherlock says, "from me," and puts John's mobile down so he can slide his fingers behind John's knee: John pulls his chair over so he can sit. Legs touching. Sherlock says, "You deleted them," and then picks up a slice of toast. It crunches when he bites into it, showering blackened crumbs all over his lap and chin. Watching him lick at the corner of his mouth John floods with that same tide of desire and coal-hot possession. It leaves him dizzy, nearly.

"Told you I did, didn't I?" John replies. Feeling breathless, a bit.

"Hm." Sherlock takes another bite of toast. Crumbs everywhere. John wants to lie down with him and wrap them 'round and around and around with a blanket so that they are pressed together and immobile, cocooned together like the incongruous ingredients in a particularly unlikely sort of burrito: an absurd mental image that bursts into John fully formed, red-purple and hot and yearning for a long shivering instant before it is inevitably joined by a conjuring of Sherlock's probable accompanying expression: scrunched-together scowling eyebrows, turtled mouth, nineteen chins. Coat, too, probably, collar turned up to frame that accusatory face. But beside him at the table Sherlock is saying, "But you deleted them... later," sounding tired and off-balance and uncertain; and John is recalled to the reality of him: his hunched-up shoulders and stale body-smells: he couldn't summon that face just now if he wanted to, John doesn't think; and John suspects he wouldn't much want to, either.

John brushes his knuckles over Sherlock's knee. Scoots his chair closer. "I liked them," he admits, quiet. "So it took me a bit." Rests his hand, soft, low down on Sherlock's disheveled shirt, just above where earlier he'd pulled it untucked at the back.

"I'm sorry," Sherlock mumbles. Pink-cheeked.

John asks, "For worrying me? or—," but Sherlock just gets redder. John sighs. "Don't be, please." As gently as he can. "You know I'd do a lot more than delete a string of saucy texts to get rid of one that made you uncomfortable, yeah?"

Sherlock swallows. Nods.

John leans over and kisses the seam at his left shoulder. "You can send me some more saucy texts later," he suggests; and Sherlock laughs. Shoulders loosening. It's his proper laugh, really, not one of those awful tearing things; but it still sounds horribly tired.

Sherlock hasn't, John can't help noticing, got any further than that first slice of toast and a few sips of tea. Won't, probably, with John watching, so John picks up his phone and texts Harry, replies to two comments on his blog through the awful mobile interface, just to give Sherlock enough time to pick up his spoon; prod the eggs, a bit; then take a tentative bite, shoulders hunching. John doesn't say anything, or look up, or look over; but he leaves his right hand resting on Sherlock's back where they both pretend he's just forgotten it, while, with the left, he thumbs through news stories about the Greek debt crisis, about road accidents involving self-driving cars. That way Sherlock can have the space to make it through the bulk of his food without John making him uncomfortable with his attention and his concern and his bizarre pervert fantasies about constrictive bed linens and forced immobility.

When Sherlock leans back, John looks up, trying too late not to catalogue: most of the eggs, a slice and a half of toast, all the tea. "All right?" John asks, but Sherlock is already pushing up to his feet. John follows him into the kitchen. Gets started scrubbing out the pan from the eggs while Sherlock scrapes the rest of his dinner into the bin: when Sherlock brings his plate over he's frowning, like he can't entirely work out how John wound up doing the washing up again. "You can dry," John tells him, like it's a concession; so Sherlock dries.

"Tariq," Sherlock says.

"Yeah?" John rinses the pan, then frowns at a bit of stuck-on egg, and soaps up the brush again.

"At the party," Sherlock says. "Tariq was trying to get into Tom's trousers."

"Yeah." John puts his back into it: sodding eggs. "Word on the medical receptionist grapevine is that Tariq is recently single," he explains, "and, I gather, looking somewhat aggressively"; and beside him Sherlock makes an uninterpretable sound.

John rinses the pan, hands it over.

"Is this what you talk about at work?" Sherlock asks; and John huffs.

"Mikey and Natalie shared a house with a bunch of the other kids on their course, until Natalie got her own flat in May," he explains. "It's how we wound up with Natalie in the first place."

"I know," Sherlock says, sounding very slightly offended.

"Yeah, so." John shrugs. "I'm up on all the spicy gossip about what goes on in their surgery." He pauses. "And at City Academy."

Sherlock snorts, then lapses back into drying the pan in silence. After a moment, he says, "I didn't know Tariq was gay."

Ah. "I'm not sure he is, actually," John says, working on the gluey streaks of egg in Sherlock's bowl. "There was a girl before Adam, I think. Before I'd ever met him, though."

Sherlock nods slowly, unanswering.

He seems thoughtful, mostly; but still a little surprised. Curious. John wonders. An interesting question: what Sherlock does and does not notice, when it comes to sex. "Did you know that Tom was gay?" John asks.

"Yeah," Sherlock says, "but that was for a case."

Quiet, then, again. The scrape of the brush. The water spilling into the sink. Though how Tom's sexuality could be related to the murder-suicide of two administrators at a school where he'd only just started John can't possibly see, even with Marianne having taken him under her wing. John doesn't entirely know what he wants to say, or ask, or—

"How did you know that Tom was gay?" Sherlock asks.

John licks across his bottom lip. "I didn't," he says. "I mean—I don't, really. But." He clears his throat, shrugging awkwardly: his face feels hot. It feels like the one conversation—largely repressed—that he'd had in April with Greg about. Related things. "Sometimes you just get—a feeling, that—"

"Gaydar," Sherlock says aggressively, "is not a real thing."

"Come on, Sherlock," John says, exasperated. "Haven't you ever—"

He stops. His throat feels tight.

"Go on," Sherlock says. He sounds skeptical.

"With—I mean, with a friend," John asks. Swallowing. "With Vic, maybe."

Sherlock doesn't answer. John finishes the bowl, hands it over.

"Well," Sherlock says, "the other half of that particular social experiment was made up of Sebastian and Julia, so."

"But didn't you." John swallows. "Know?"

Sherlock sets the bowl in the cupboard. "That Vic was gay, you mean?"

"Yeah," John says. "I mean, back when—back at uni." Chest and stomach tight with anxiety.

Sherlock closes the cupboard and holds his hand out for the plate. John rinses it, passes it to him.

"No," Sherlock says. "I didn't know, at uni."

When John turns the taps off Sherlock hands him the towel. Watches, with more than usual intensity, while John wipes his hands, then looks back at John's face.

"Want to come upstairs with me?" John asks.

"I'm sorry," Sherlock says.

John doesn't think they're talking about gaydar any longer, but it's a little bit hard to be sure. "For," he says; and Sherlock says, "The—that text."

"Oh," John says, and then shifts. "I—I thought I was to have forgotten—"

"And I apologize," Sherlock says, very formally, "for what I said to you before that, too"; and John—

—hesitates.

He leans back against the edge of the sink. It's still wet, probably; probably'll seep through his jeans; doesn't matter. He wishes for an instant that he'd had—more training, or—more experience, or—but he can still remember sitting with Clara once when he was home on leave while Harry, leonine and cruel, had prowled around their living room while she sneered, You think I don't know what makes an alcoholic?, which'd been true, which'd always made it worse.

"I like it," John says, after a second. "I like it when you tell me I'm desperate for it, I like it when you say that I'd do anything for you, I like it that you can tell that I'm so fucking mad about you you could order me to do any idiot thing and it'd just get me hotter, I—I like that you. See me."

Flushing. All over. Creeping up from his collar and flooding his cheeks: even his long hands look pink. "But that's not," Sherlock says, very precisely, "what I said."

"No, it's not," John says. He feels—soaked, somehow: wet with tenderness and bemusement and sympathy. Heavy. That wasn't what Sherlock had said. Sherlock had called him a slut. Sherlock'd hit a half-dozen boxes in some abstract sexual humiliation checklist; it was just that none of them had been on John's sexual humiliation checklist; and they'd both known it. But the really horrible part had been that Sherlock'd been trying. Used, John is thinking; thinking exposed, and dirty, and cheap; but John's never minded that Sherlock has always—somewhat comically, really—thought that John was easy; and John's been treated to enough lectures from Harry on sexual double standards over the last few decades to be reasonably clear as to why. If he'd ever given it much thought—which he hadn't, really, until last night—John might've wondered why it was that Sherlock, who is not, in fact, uptight, nor really even particularly prim, did seem to mind: jealousy, yes; possessiveness, in spades; but then—then all that and also, and, besides. All that but again some certain kind of... misfiring, perhaps; misfiling, at least: a lack of comprehension of John getting off when John could get off and not thinking that much about it, that had hidden, for half a decade, behind all Sherlock's prickliness and dogmatism and condescending superiority about everything else on the planet; that had looked like something it wasn't, and hadn't looked like it hurt. When John'd come back from Rebecca's that first time Sherlock'd been sitting in his chair half-hidden behind the paper, which John had long been convinced he only read to view his own face in a larger size. He'd missed the clear line of sight to the door. Rebecca?, Sherlock had said, with the crisp, forced-lightness he's always retreated into when annoyed; and John'd said, Yeah?; and Sherlock'd said, I thought you stopped seeing Paul because you didn't have time for dating; to which John hadn't replied: because that had been why he'd stopped seeing Paul—its own minefield, really—and because he'd wanted a shower and because in the years before Sherlock'd left they'd essentially had exactly the same exchange a half-dozen times at least, and because it'd seemed mostly rhetorical, anyway. John had never stopped to think that it might've really been wrapped around a genuine question: how do you, why do you, how can you, when I can't? Texting last night it'd felt as though John'd showed Sherlock that he'd opened a door for the cross-draft, so Sherlock'd crashed full-speed through the plate glass window just beside: it hadn't been John that it'd hurt. It hadn't made much sense, in a lot of ways, but that in and of itself had been revealing.

"Truly," John asks, very gently, "do you think it's demeaning?"; and in an instant Sherlock goes to scarlet from pink. John can feel his own mouth twisting, pulling down: he reaches for Sherlock's long hand and tugs at him, pulling his long albatross hovering in so that John can fit himself in, close, underneath. Wrapping his arms 'round his middle. Tucking his nose against his throat, his knuckles brushing the peach-soft fuzz on his spine. Sherlock is grabbing on to the back of John's shirt, clinging on, hands tight. It's all right. If he rips it John has other ones. He's so warm.

"You don't think it's demeaning," Sherlock says, muffled, into his hair.

John sighs. "No," he says. He'd thought—well, he'd thought it was silly, really. It'd got hot, though—or really, the idea of it, on the phone, later on. He lifts his head, looks up at Sherlock; stretches the truth, fudges its edges a bit. He says, "I think it's fun."

Sherlock is looking down at him with wide purple-grey-hollowed muddy-blue eyes, mouth turned down. His throat: up-down, up-down. John watches, tender, hypnotized; as Sherlock's fingertips trail down the back of John's shirt to his belt.

Voice low Sherlock asks, "May I see?"

John shifts, surprised. Shouldn't be. Should've seen it coming. Last night after John'd finally got him on the phone, after a series of false starts and half admissions and apologies where no one said they were sorry, they had been silent. In the silence John had been wanting him close, wanting to gather him up and wrap his arms around him and kiss his hot red face because it seems sometimes like the only way he can speak and Sherlock can hear; and then Sherlock had asked, very hesitant, anxious and embarrassed: Have you—have you still got it on? John hadn't still got it on. John'd been lying under a sheet with the windows open in thin pajama bottoms and nothing else, because it was hot, but he'd said, Yeah, thought I'd keep the knickers on; and right into his ear Sherlock had made a little hot longing sound that'd lit John up like sparklers all over, zinging all over him, searing into his skin; and then Sherlock had said his name. So. So John'd pitched his voice low and warm in a shade of Sherlock's big-cat bedroom and back-of-cabs voice and told him that he'd still got the knickers on, that he'd been petting himself through them, that he'd been practicing holding the back out of the way, and Sherlock'd sounded half-disbelieving, half-embarrassed, when he'd asked, uncertain, For me? Last night John'd told him for you, just for you over and over while Sherlock'd panted into the phone, told him fingering myself open while Sherlock had gasped and getting myself so wet I'll be dripping for days while he'd listened to the wet-slick sounds of Sherlock's hand on his prick while hundreds of kilometers away Sherlock had moaned John, John, John; and then Sherlock'd hung up on him so he wouldn't come while John was in another country, and John'd got up in the morning and put on boxer shorts under his jeans.

"I'm not wearing them right now," he admits; and Sherlock's face falls comically. John doesn't laugh. It's not even that hard. Instead John touches Sherlock's pale throat, his lovely rough cheek, the soft-bruised shadow under his right eye and the pulled-down corner of his soft pink mouth, and asks, "Want to come upstairs and put them on me?"

Chapter Text

John touches Sherlock's pale throat, his lovely rough cheek, the soft-bruised shadow under his right eye and the pulled-down corner of his soft pink mouth, and asks, "Want to come upstairs and put them on me?"

Sherlock reddens, but he meets John's eyes. Nods.

John takes his hand. Touching his palm, his wrist. All his long fingers, tangling with John's fingers as John tugs. Draws him out of the kitchen. Through the living room. Stretched between them their arms like a bridge: John wants to walk across it.

The silence feels strange. "They are a bit... silly, in some ways," John warns Sherlock. Beside the door he bends down to grab Sherlock's slumped bag, pass it over. "You only got the best bits," John explains. "I was rather careful, framing my shots."

Sherlock doesn't reply. When John looks back at him, he nods again: pale, bruise-eyed, holding John's right hand in his left while John tugs him across the landing, already a half-step onto the second of the stairs. Below him on the landing Sherlock is clutching his bag, one-armed, against his chest.

The whole thing makes John hesitate. Twisted up inside, feeling—out of balance, off-kilter. Wrong. He steps back, turning his whole body so that they're facing as Sherlock steps towards him: John very slightly the taller, for once. Sherlock lowers his bag down by his thigh, when John leans to give him a kiss.

Sweet.

"Do you want to, really?" John, quiet, asks.

"Yes," says Sherlock. Long pale lashes: he looks up from John's mouth to meet his eyes.

John nods, slow. The idea seems, somehow, very far away, that tonight John could put on ladies' knickers and show them off for Sherlock; but. But Sherlock said yes, so John squeezes his hand, and turns back up the stairs. Behind him Sherlock's footfalls sound heavy and tired. John's heart. His left hand: he brushes the wallpaper, bamboo bending with the breeze. Stepping onto the upstairs landing he can see into his bathroom, all his lingerie hanging innocuously across the shower rail. Sherlock's long hand is warm in his hand. John turns to face him as Sherlock steps onto the landing, bag still dangling at his side.

"Do you." John hesitates, looking him over, then says, "I think you'd better brush your teeth, yeah? Get ready for bed?"

Sherlock's eyes widen. He turns, not very successfully surreptitiously, to breathe into his palm; and John reaches for his wrist.

"Not what I meant," he says, very gently. "I just—" He sighs. Touches Sherlock's hip through his clothes: "I've got this sneaking suspicion you're going to lie down and fall right asleep," John explains; then looking at Sherlock's distressed face he adds, very gently, "That would be okay." He keeps trying to remember how long it's been since Sherlock said anything. It feels like it's been a long time. John says, "You could put them on me tomorrow, you know," then remembers: that Yes, freighted with tiredness, on the stairs.

Sherlock sighs. Eyes slipping shut. Stepping towards him John slides his arm around under Sherlock's and around his narrow back, knee knocking into his dangling bag. Sherlock's shirt is still untucked at the back. "I was going to make it up to you," Sherlock says, voice rough; warm skin; and John's chest squeezes itself in, heavy and tight.

"You don't have to make anything up to me," John says, very quiet.

"John," Sherlock says, and John kisses him, feeling—stretched. Weirdly desperate. Drawn tight. He puts his hand on the back of Sherlock's neck and squeezes, open and closed, open and closed and open, until Sherlock's shoulders loosen and slump. John wants to tuck him into bed and defend him. Let him sleep.

"That's not how I think about you," John says, very quietly: Sherlock's eyes blinking open, blue and muddy and tired. John asks, "You know that, right?"; and after a moment, Sherlock nods.

John nods. "All right."

Swallowing, Sherlock touches the placket of John's shirt. "I was a tit," Sherlock says.

"You're always a tit," John says, very gen