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Staking a Claim

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Staking a Claim



It’s the second time he’s said it now, his voice lower than the first time and warmer, more seductive. Sherlock knows precisely what he’s trying to do and has to consciously keep from scowling as he peers into the microscope, the light bright against his pupils. The bacteria float around between the glass slides, looking vaguely as though they are trying to escape. He adjusts the focus and does not respond. The bacteria will only be viable for so long, and besides which, John is well aware of his personal policy when it comes to cases and other distractions. Just because John is currently in the mood for certain activities does not give him the right to pester, to distract him from his research.

John comes closer, his hands settling warmly onto Sherlock’s hips. His nose nudges into Sherlock’s neck, followed by the warmth of his lips. John always feels warm to him; even having him standing there behind him puts Sherlock in mind of the sun on his back. It’s not that it’s unpleasant or even unwelcome, per se, but now is decidedly not the time. John kisses his neck again and Sherlock is all the more annoyed specifically because he knows exactly what John is trying to do and he does find it distracting, tempting to him throw the case aside and say, Forget this, let’s do that instead. Take me to bed, the fact that it’s only mid-evening at the latest notwithstanding. John nuzzles into his neck again, his hands slipping around to Sherlock’s chest and caressing it through the thin material of his dress shirt.

“Stop it.” His voice is sharper than he meant, but Sherlock is genuinely annoyed. “I’m working, as you can clearly see.”

He feels John’s exhalation of disappointment on his neck, but he persists nevertheless. “Can’t you take a break?” he wheedles, following it with another persuasive kiss, just a light thing like a butterfly landing on his skin, and Sherlock is more tempted than ever to do precisely that, and the temptation is precisely what annoys him. John is using his own weaknesses against him, reminding him that he knows exactly what will work on him. Staking a claim, reminding him that every fibre of his body and mind both are wired to respond to John’s touch. It’s manipulative, and after all that John went through with Mary, he should and does know better than this by now.

Furthermore, the bacteria will only survive for another fifteen to twenty minutes, maximum. The evidence depends on this; it’s their only lead and John is well aware of the fact. “No,” Sherlock says, an edge to his tone. “And you know very well why not. I need to finish this while the bacteria are still viable. Which I’ve already explained.”

John sighs again and moves away now, going round to the opposite side of the table and leaning against the counter, his arms crossed over his chest. Sherlock doesn’t look at him. He can see John clearly in his mind’s eye: his perfectly compact, trim, muscular form, pleasingly masculine without being gauche about it, hair just a shade too long (perhaps when the case is over, he’ll let Sherlock cut it – he does sometimes, and admits that Sherlock isn’t half bad at it, too). His eyes will be more charcoal than cornflower at the moment; being frustrated dims the blue and allows the grey to take over. His proximity has left his scent lingering in Sherlock’s nostrils, the memory of the warmth of his touch still tangible on his skin. Sherlock feels colder already now that John has moved away from him. “I thought you would have finished by now,” John says, a bit sourly.

Sherlock changes the slides without looking up. He needs to compare the microbial forms found on the second victim’s jacket or the entire case against their suspect is off. “You needn’t act neglected,” he says stiffly, and decides not to remind John that he is hardly the only person in the room with needs or desires along these lines – as John should have ample proof to fall back on now, should he care to remember. They have been sleeping together for eight months, three weeks, and four days now, and Sherlock reflects with irritation that surely by now, John knows this, that he wants it as much as John does. Just not when there’s something time sensitive that requires his attention. “The case only just began the day before yesterday, and we just had, that morning. It’s not as though it’s been a month or something.” The microscopic shapes straggle this way and that, and Sherlock wonders if they are aware of being observed, thinking again of the fact that observation changes the subject. As living with and being observed by John has changed him.

Instead of admitting that this is indeed the case, John doesn’t back down. “That was two days ago,” he says, not quite petulant but getting there. “It’s not nice to deny your lover, you know.”

The tacked-on you know rankles, as though he still needs to be taught. He knows that his experience of relationships is limited to one and one only, that John has by far the greater knowledge in this area, but he hates having it rubbed in his face. “Nor is it ‘nice’ to distract your lover while he is working,” he returns, the edge in his voice sharper than before.

He sees John pinch the bridge of his nose in frustration in his peripheral vision. “I thought things had changed since we started, that’s all,” he says, sounding both tired and irritable.

Sherlock looks up from the eyepiece and meets John’s gaze evenly. “You’ve always known that I stint myself during cases. That has never changed. And you knew that going into – this.” This is becoming an argument and it bothers him more than he cares to admit, but his stubbornness is rising along with his own frustration that John is being so inflexible, so demanding about this. “I am working,” he repeats. “An alibi is on the line, and it’s time sensitive. I don’t know how much longer it will take, but until I’ve finished, this is what I need to do.” He holds John’s eyes a moment longer, then looks back into the field and adds, “I don’t know why you find this so difficult to understand.”

Perhaps that last gets under John’s skin, because he flares a little and says, “I don’t find it difficult to understand. It’s just that I thought that you were more willing to bend your precious rules a little now, for me. Of course I know that you ‘stint yourself’, but I happen to still function the way normal people do!”

Sherlock’s head snaps up, the bacteria momentarily forgotten. “Normal people?” he repeats. Inwardly he acknowledges that this hurts a great deal. He never thought to hear John level this at him – John, who has seen him at his most vulnerable, his most undone. John, who put his arms around him in infinite patience as he fumbled to put into words the extent and nature of his feelings for the first time, whose voice held him and reassured him the first time he thought he would fly into pieces and dissolve with John inside him, his climax absolutely shattering in its force, the emotional aftershocks even more devastating than their physical counterparts, John who kissed him through it all and told him again that he loved him, that nothing would ever change that, that Sherlock’s slight falling apart after the fact was something that he would treasure fiercely for the rest of his life. To have John, of all people, throw his oddity back at him, hurts more than anything else could have. Sherlock is aware of heat surging into his face. “Well, there is an entire world of normal people out there, if that’s what you prefer,” he says, feeling half numb and half feverish. “Some of whom you haven’t already had sex with yet!”

The nasty words leave his mouth unfiltered, without specific forethought, and Sherlock almost winces when he sees them hit John in the face. John blinks several times and swallows in the ensuing silence, his mouth working. When he speaks again, it’s much quieter, the wind gone out of his sails. “That was seriously not nice, Sherlock,” he says, his voice low.

“Nor was what you said,” Sherlock bites out, still stinging. He already regrets his choice of words, but John hasn’t apologised for what he said, either. He feels slightly nauseated and a large part of him wants to back down, but the truth is that he’s furious and terribly hurt. (John could make this better, he thinks numbly. I don’t know what to do. I don’t like this. John could fix it. He would know how.) If only John would come over and take it back, say that he never meant that, but it’s not happening – and by the set of John’s clenched jaw, it’s not about to. Sherlock doesn’t know what to do.

John wrenches himself away from the kitchen counter and makes for the door. Without saying a word, he steps into his shoes and wrestles his jacket on.

Sherlock’s anxiety rises abruptly. “John – wait – ” he tries, but it’s too late.

“Go to hell,” John snarls, and slams the door shut behind him.

His footsteps descend the seventeen steps in angry haste. Sherlock listens for the sound of the front door to slam and when it comes, he shudders. The silence left behind is heavy and oppressive, and he hates it. He takes several deep breaths, his heartbeat thudding in his chest. It doesn’t help. He tries instead to return his focus to the experiment to distract himself from the fight and bends to look into the microscope again. The bacteria are dead, the forms unmoving between the thin sheets of glass. Sherlock curses with force and slams a fist down on the table. He thinks of hurling the lot of it into the wall opposite, but even now thinks of John’s bare feet finding shards of microscopic glass and the thought restrains his hand. Instead he puts it all into the rubbish bin and takes himself into the sitting room. He sits down on the sofa and stares blankly across the room, unseeing.

The entire flat feels empty and cold with John gone, not even his anger there to warm it. Sherlock sits for a long time without moving, feeling oddly numb. John’s probably just gone for a walk, and when he comes back, he will explain that he’s still angry and what was wrong with what Sherlock said or did, and then Sherlock will apologise when the opportunity is given and all will be well again. This is how their past arguments have nearly always gone, at least since this started. He slouches into the cushions and waits, one knee bouncing as his legs twitch restlessly. It’s no good: he can’t sit still. He gets up and paces.

His eye falls upon a singular newspaper sitting on one of the side tables and suddenly he remembers that John wanted him to put all the papers into the recycling. He forgot, and now there’s only the one left: John did it, and missed this one. Sherlock goes to the paper and takes it to the recycling bin, a twinge of guilt adding itself to his general feeling of unease over what he said.

He shouldn’t have said that, about John having slept with lots of people. He hadn’t meant to; it just slipped out there. John is actually rather sensitive about his lengthy list of conquests, apparently particularly in light of having learned of Sherlock’s entire lack of experience in that area, at least until they started… this. They never call it by any particular name, never introduce each other by titles. Just their names. They introduce themselves, or one another. I’m Sherlock Holmes. This is Doctor Watson. John Watson. John. He doesn’t bother adding flatmate, friend, blogger, partner. All London knows that they live together and the rest is implied. John said it just now, though: he said lover, and Sherlock said it back to him without giving it a second thought. It’s true: they are lovers. John, as in so many other things in his life, was his first. And will be his last. He was always the only one, and the fact that it ever happened at all still strikes Sherlock somewhat regularly as nothing short of a miracle.

It came about suddenly, startlingly, when it first began. Sherlock had known very well how he felt, and more than that, he knew how imperative it was to keep his mouth shut about it. John’s marriage ended abruptly and rather badly early in January when some fight with Mary (that it had taken him six days to finally talk about later) led to a paternity test and John discovered the identity of the baby’s father. Not having been him had been bad enough, but the fact that Mary had revealed during said fight that she’d never planned on telling John that the child wasn’t his had been the final straw. He’d come back to Baker Street that night, tersely asking if he could stay and not wanting to talk about it, holing himself up in his room. Sherlock had spent quite a while wondering how long John was planning to stay and whether he should ask questions or not, but to his surprise it had only taken John about a week to come out of his shell and start volunteering information. Sherlock had never asked how long he was going to stay and John hadn’t said, either. The next three weeks had felt cautious, despite the fact that John had spent the entire summer and autumn there already. It shouldn’t have felt any different, yet it had.

And then it just happened one night in February, walking home from a late-night dinner, Sherlock’s cheeks flushed from a little too much shiraz. They’d been laughing about something and Sherlock tripped on a crack in the pavement. John had caught him, laughing with his arms around him and then, with neither warning nor transition, it happened: to this day Sherlock has no idea which of them moved first, but suddenly John’s mouth was on his and his own arms had wound themselves around John and then it was the feeling of cold stone against his back as John got him up against the side of some building and proceeded to kiss him senseless. Sherlock still doesn’t remember how or when he’d decided to open his mouth either, but John’s tongue was in it, pushing against his, and Sherlock had held on with all of his strength and kissed back as well as he knew how. It probably hadn’t been very good; he’d never even kissed anyone like that before. But John hadn’t complained.

When it finally stopped ten minutes later, they were both breathless, Sherlock almost too dazed to notice the flush on John’s face, the dark pools of his eyes, realising moments later that his own face was warm, and that the entire world had just shifted in unparalleled ways. They’d started talking then, all of the How long and When did you know and That’s why I came home, you idiot and Yes, always, since the beginning. They’d interrupted themselves, kissing and kissing and Sherlock had felt it washing over him in waves, but it was a glorious drowning, almost a death in and of itself. And after, they’d gone the rest of the way home, Sherlock almost afraid to take his eyes from John lest he disappear like a mirage, but he hadn’t. Inside, John had led him upstairs, into his own bedroom. He’d asked and Sherlock had nodded fervently, wordless, and John had slowly removed his clothing piece by piece, exposing Sherlock like a creature shedding its skin, his eyes hungry on Sherlock’s form, devouring him, but his small, strong hands were so gentle. He’d kissed Sherlock through it, through their entire first time together, patient and strong and caring and yet incredibly passionate, even more sensual than Sherlock had expected, and infinitely competent. He’d taken Sherlock apart and Sherlock had let him, clumsily doing his best to reciprocate and respond in the correct ways. He hadn’t known then what to do, how to make John feel as good in return, but John had been patient there, too, guiding him with his voice but letting Sherlock’s hands find their way, his voice growing louder, a steady stream of praise flowing over his lips until he couldn’t speak any more, except to gasp out to stop because it was too soon and he didn’t want it to end there. They’d spent all night learning one another, touching, asking, finally satisfying curiosities long denied. And hours later (though Sherlock’s sense of time had temporarily deserted him), when John pushed into him at last and brought Sherlock to an orgasm so intense that he’d literally sobbed through it, completely undone and in pieces, John had held him through it, made it all right. Told him that instead of being bothered by Sherlock falling apart, he’d been profoundly moved by it.

It had built from there, and Sherlock discovered that he wasn’t the only one who had things to learn, that it was a process for both of them. An experiment, to see which touches produced which reactions in both of them, and throughout it all, John had always managed to make him feel, despite his own serious doubts, that nothing that happened, no matter how insecure or exposed or emotional or vulnerable it was, would ever be not be all right. He’d made Sherlock feel that whatever he was would always be acceptable. That he didn’t need to be ‘normal’, like other people. That his inexperience both physically and emotionally was entirely fine – that John loved it, even. That John loved him.

Still loves him, Sherlock hopes. It doesn’t seem likely that John would change his mind completely because of one argument, but that look on his face when Sherlock had said what he’d said, about John having slept around a good deal before them – it makes the pit of his stomach gnaw at itself. He checks the time. Over an hour has gone by. He uncurls himself from the sofa where he’d deposited himself again some time ago and goes to the window to look outside. It’s late October and dry leaves are skittering down the pavement in a swirl of cold wind. Is John out there somewhere, walking, his fists stuffed into his pockets, the collar of his jacket turned up against the wind? He does that sometimes, goes for long walks when he’s annoyed with Sherlock. It’s been a long time, though, Sherlock thinks, frowning. His anxiety deepens in his gut. What if John took it literally, his sarcastic invitation to find someone else with whom to relieve his needs? The very thought makes him feel nauseated, his gut twisting in his belly like intertwined snakes. John wouldn’t. (Would he?) Sherlock is consumed with doubt. John wouldn’t, he doesn’t think, but he could easily decide, in his anger, to interpret Sherlock’s words as permission. Or decided to call his bluff and gone to do that very thing.

He imagines John letting someone else touch him, male or female. It doesn’t matter, though female is somehow worse than male. It would seem like a betrayal of John’s final admittance that he wasn’t actually straight after all. He’d told Sherlock that he’d known very well that he was probably bisexual even if he’d never let himself go there before. Not before them. Sherlock still remembers the triumph of this, glowing in his gut like a burning coal. It was as good as John having been a virgin, too, that he was still the one who’d got to experience all of that with him for the first time, that no one on any of those fabled continents had been inside John the way he has many times now, been within John’s mouth, his hands. Or all of those times when it had been the other way, John pounding into him from behind, both of them shouting and sweaty, Sherlock’s arms sweeping things at random off the table, the desk, the worktop, scrabbling frantically for purchase as John chased down his orgasm before letting himself go, surely rougher and more athletic than he ever would have been with a woman. No, a man would be every bit as bad. What John does with him is something that he does only with him. The thought of John doing any of that with anyone else – coming home smelling of someone else’s sweat, excretions, or worse – saliva – would be unbearable. And if John were to kiss someone else – Sherlock makes a sound aloud that he cannot restrain, and it sounds anguished to him. John wouldn’t. (Would he?)

He turns and begins pacing again. He hurt John. He can see that now. No, he revises mentally: he saw it even at the time, when he said what he said, but it started even before that. John was hurt by his preoccupation with the experiment. Sherlock knows from his own experience – now, at least – that knowing something rationally does not always alter what one feels. John is less skilled at dividing his mind from his feelings than some, which is frankly, Sherlock acknowledges to himself now, one of the things he likes best about John, illogical as it is. He likes John’s passion, the strength of his temper, the fire of his wrath, the set of his jaw when someone has insulted either or both of them, but particularly when Sherlock was the target of someone’s sneering jibes. He relishes John’s appetites, his hunger after a case, for food or for him, or both. Not necessarily at once, but certainly both in short order. He asks himself now whether he would have chosen John over the experiment if he could go back in time and rectify things, and knows before the question has finished asking itself that he would. The speed and certainty of his own inner response almost frightens him. The work was supposed to come first, but he knows that John has taken priority almost since the day they met, whether or not either of them realised it. I consider myself married to my work, he’d said stiffly, all the while looking out the corner of his eye at John’s interested, open face and secretly wondering how much the question had meant, or what else John might have asked had he not cut it off at the knees that way. You’re unattached, just like me. John had admitted, years later, that he’d been interested from the start. But you’re not – you don’t – Sherlock had tried, and John had sheepishly confessed all of it, then prised it gently out of him in return. He’d felt utterly opened, laid out like a corpse on an autopsy slab that night, trying to verbalise that which he’d strictly forbidden to come anywhere near his lips at last, hardly able to believe that it was all right, permitted, acceptable, welcome. And welcome it was. He still remembers John’s face, almost painfully contorted in the strain of waiting for him to say it, tell him at last how he felt, and the relief with which John said it back, again, relief that spoke itself in his arms and lips and face afterward.

No, Sherlock thinks now. I will never put an experiment ahead of him again. Not if it makes him feel this way. Perhaps that makes him the worst detective alive. Perhaps, as Mycroft would certainly say, this is a hallmark of his emotional weakness. Sherlock realises that he could not possibly care less. He loves John, and he hurt John, and now he doesn’t know where John is. This silence between them is wrong. The fact that he is the only one in their flat is wrong. John should be here. They should be together. If there is one central point that Sherlock’s entire life revolves around, it is this.

He goes to the window again. Should he text John? Try apologising? He knows that he would probably sound stiff and formal in writing. Is it worth a try, though? (He imagines John’s phone buzzing with his text, John ignoring it, preoccupied with someone else.) The thought cannot be borne. Sherlock takes out his phone and spontaneously decides to text anyway. He hesitates, then writes, Where you are? Start slowly. Wait for a response. Then ease into an apology. Yes. He presses send, then waits.

And waits. Finally, over ten minutes (which feel like an hour) later, John texts back. I’ll be home soon.

Relief. And yet not. John hasn’t answered the question. (Is he being cagey on purpose? Concealing information?) Sherlock chews at his lower lip, then writes back, I wish you hadn’t left. Where are you?

John responds more quickly this time. Not important. I’ll be there soon.

Sherlock’s sense of unease deepens. He goes back to the sofa and sits down on it, wrapping his arms around his bony knees. How soon is ‘soon’? Why won’t John tell him where he’s been? The worry that John may have taken him at his word grows and he cannot seem to contain it. This is agony, imagining John, stinging and hurt, being intimate with someone else out of spite, out of furious rejection. At least he answered, though. (Does that mean the tryst is over?) “Stop it,” Sherlock snarls to himself, aloud.

The flat seems to absorb the words after all the silence, weighing them, considering. Sherlock gets up and goes to sit instead in John’s chair, curling himself into its tall back, leaning his face into the course upholstery. It smells like John, and he inhales deeply and without shame. His entire chest aches. Suddenly he realises that he hasn’t apologised yet. He gets his phone out again and opens his messages, then freezes: the downstairs door has just opened. He listens, rigid with tension and no small amount of fear, as John starts up the stairs. (What if John was with someone else? Will he be able to tell? Sense it, somehow? Feel it?) John reaches the top of the stairs, comes into view and stops, his eyes finding Sherlock in his chair. Their eyes meet and Sherlock’s heart twangs painfully, his chest cavity flooding with relief and clenching in anxiety at the same time. He wants to say John’s name but can’t bring himself to speak.

John’s face isn’t as hard as it could be, but his lips are set. “Hi,” he says quietly, finally breaking the silence.

Somehow this unfreezes Sherlock’s voice. “John.” He sounds hoarse. He feels stupid, sitting there, caught sitting in John’s chair like some pathetic idiot. He shifts to the edge of the chair but doesn’t get up, feeling somehow trapped.

John’s face softens a little. He crosses the room slowly, stopping a few feet from the chair. “You… okay?” he asks carefully. His fists ball and release twice, his fingers stretching out like starfish. (Ill at ease, Sherlock thinks.)

He inhales sharply, then speaks in a rush. “I’m sorry.” He should have said it earlier, in his first text. (Why did he wait? Now it seems reluctant.) He says it again, compulsively. “I – John, I’m sorry – I – ” Even if John cheated, it’s still true. “I’m – I shouldn’t have said – what I said.” Sherlock stops, cringing inwardly. He sounds ridiculous, stuttering through his apology.

John looks down at the carpet between them. “No,” he says, his voice sounding a little too obviously controlled. “You shouldn’t have. But I shouldn’t have interrupted your experiment, either. Or pushed you for something you didn’t want to do. I’m sorry, too.”

His apology is unexpected and somehow undoes whatever strings have been holding Sherlock together for the past two hours. He gets to his feet, his legs slightly unsteady beneath him, and lurches toward John. “John – please – ”

It’s desperate and he knows it, but it cannot be helped. John catches him and pulls him into his chest, steadying him. “Hey,” he says, his voice gentle, his arms coming around Sherlock, and the reassurance of having John’s arms around him again when he’d worried that he’d lost it is so thick he can taste it on the back of his tongue. “It’s all right,” John tells him, as Sherlock clutches John to himself in desperate relief. John says it again, the taciturn tone fading into tenderness. “It’s all right now. I still love you.”

The fear speaks before he can help it. It’s easier to ask with his face hidden, anyway. “But you didn’t – you haven’t – ”

John waits. “I didn’t – what?” He draws away when Sherlock doesn’t answer, looking him in the face, his eyebrows drawn together in concern.

Sherlock’s lips tighten. “I mean, after what I said, you would have been at liberty to take me at my word – but I shouldn’t have said that. I didn’t mean it!”

John frowns at him. “Are you seriously asking me if I cheated on you just now?”

Sherlock opens his mouth, then realises he doesn’t know what to say to this. Obviously his question was clear enough, but John is evidently upset with him for having asked and he does not know how to avoid digging the hole deeper, compounding the insult. He writhes in indecision, his breath stuck in his lungs. “I – ” He cannot speak. John has every right to be insulted by this, he realises belatedly. It’s too late to take the unspoken accusation back. If he tries to deny it, John will be angry that he lied about it, too.

To his surprise, John’s eyes search his face and then soften again. “Oh, Sherlock,” he says, and sighs, but puts his arms fully around him again, turning his face into Sherlock’s neck. “Of course not. Of course not. What do you take me for?”

Relief and shame mingle in his twisting gut. “Why won’t you tell me where you went?” Sherlock asks, trying not to sound accusatory or petulant. It’s easier to ask when John can’t see his face.

John shakes his head. “Just for a walk. And I stopped in for a pint in that little pub over on Marylebone. And no, I wasn’t hoping to meet anyone.” He pulls away again, just far enough to look into Sherlock’s face. “I didn’t mean to scare you, all right? But you should know better than that. Know me better than that. When have I ever wanted anyone but you since this started, hmm?”

The tension begins to ease off at last. “But after what I said – ” Sherlock stops, searching John’s face. “I didn’t mean to say that. I shouldn’t have. And I didn’t mean to hurt you. Or make you feel – rejected.” It’s so difficult, this. Discussing emotional matters. But it’s so bloody important, if he wants to put things right. He simply must do this. Figure it out.

John’s brows rise at this. “I did feel a bit rejected, yeah,” he says, sounding surprised that Sherlock cottoned on to that. “But I was also being completely selfish and pushy. I’m sorry. I know that the work comes first. How’s the experiment going?”

Sherlock shakes his head. “The bacteria died before I could finish it.”

“Shit, I’m sorry,” John says, wincing. “It’s all my fault. Maybe we can go back tomorrow and find another sample somehow. I’ll make it up to you, I promise – ”

“No – wait,” Sherlock gets in, interrupting him. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t care. The work doesn’t come first. Not any more.”

John frowns at him. “Sherlock – of course it does. And that’s fine. I promise. I get that. I don’t know what got into me earlier. I know how it is when we’re in the middle of a case. I was being demanding and thoughtless and I’m sorry. You don’t have to say this to make things okay between us. I mean that.” When Sherlock hesitates, John winds his arms around his middle and hugs him tightly, and Sherlock does the same, his arms around John’s shoulders, his face buried in John’s hair.

“I’m not,” he says. It’s the truth. His voice is low. “You come first, now. You always will. I’ll never deny you again.”

John goes still in his arms. “Do you mean that? I’m not asking you to – you have the right to put your work ahead, Sher – I mean, it was always like that. I always knew that, like you said. We can go back right now, if you want. Look for another sample. You could start the experiment over. I’d help you, if there’s something I could do.”

“No.” Sherlock’s words are low and slightly muffled by John’s hair. “I don’t want to test bacteria right now. I don’t want to work on the case at all. All I want is you. I want to feel like I’m really yours again.”

For a moment John says nothing, not moving or reacting in any discernible way. Then he stirs, pulling back just enough to look Sherlock in the eye. “I scared you,” he says, his face sober, eyes wonderfully expressive. “I’m sorry, Sherlock. I should have come home sooner.”

For a moment, Sherlock is horribly afraid to allow himself to attempt speech. He swallows around the tension in his throat. “I shouldn’t have – ”

“You are mine,” John tells him, shaking his head against his attempt to apologise again, and his words are very simple and direct. “And I’m yours, and always will be.”

“John – ” Mercifully John interrupts whatever useless thing he was about to say, kissing him hard and swallowing his words. It’s a good kiss, strong and hungry on both sides, their mouths biting at each other’s, hot breath and saliva and the heady rush of John’s proximity again, the taste of him, unmarred by anyone else. Their union is secure, unbreached, and he might never admit it aloud, but at the moment this is the only thing on the planet that Sherlock cares about in the slightest. He can feel the hard curve of John’s biceps digging into his shoulders where they’re circling him, his own arms locked around John’s back, stroking it compulsively, unable to stop touching him. The slide and tensing of John’s muscles through the fabric of his jacket is addictive, and yet the material is also far too thick.

Sherlock breaks away for a moment, feeling John’s breath heavy on his lower lip. “I need you,” he says, the confession low and fervent and a bit ashamed, but John nods rapidly, his lips parted.

“Yes – me too, I need – ” John interrupts himself to kiss him again, and this time his hands rub down over Sherlock’s back and arse and sides over and over again, and Sherlock manages to get the jacket unzipped and pushed down John’s arms to the floor.

At last he is able to untuck John’s shirt and slide his hands up the warmth of his back. He doesn’t even care whether John thinks him desperate or needy; he simply is not capable of touching John any less than this right now. The need to reforge their connection has taken priority over all else; slowing down or easing into it isn’t even an option. Not this time. He pulls the jumper and t-shirt off together and drops them on the floor, his jeans unzipped and shoved down even as John strips the clothes rapidly from his frame, too. He barely notices, his mouth open on John’s chest, lips and tongue massaging the bare skin, finding a nipple. John inhales sharply, his fingers in Sherlock’s hair, tugging a little, the way he knows Sherlock likes. Sherlock hears himself exhale through his nose as he works his tongue against the hardening nub of nipple and reaches down for John’s erection. It fits his hand as though tailor-made and its progress toward full hardness is precisely where he knew it would be by this point. His fingers wrap around it and begin to touch lightly, and when John takes him in hand in turn, it’s simultaneously expected and yet still sends sparks of electricity up his spine as his body jolts at the pleasure of John’s touch. John’s other hand pulls his head back up by the chin and they kiss hard, the need rising between them and demanding to be satisfied.

“Bed,” John says, the word mashed against Sherlock’s mouth, and Sherlock doesn’t bother responding, other than to begin stumbling toward the bedroom, his hands and mouth still on John.

John slams the door shut behind them with a foot and Sherlock drops to his knees and has John in his mouth before John can protest. He tries, briefly.

“Sher – you don’t n – oh. Oh. Fuck, that’s – ahh. God, yes!” His fingers are in Sherlock’s hair, all ten of them, his very skin pulsing against Sherlock’s tongue, hips pumping rhythmically forward, just a little, not enough to choke him or take over. Sherlock is just getting into a rhythm when John stops him, pulling out of his mouth. “I want to do you,” John says in explanation, when Sherlock looks up from on his knees.

Sherlock doesn’t protest. “Are you going to fuck me?” he asks very directly, blinking into John’s midnight-grey eyes as John leads him to the bed.

“Are you asking because you want me to?” John asks, guiding him onto his back and arranging himself between Sherlock’s thighs.

Sherlock nods, teeth digging into his lower lip. It’s still difficult to say these things aloud sometimes. “I want – ”

John licks at his penis, a long, slow, firm press of the full flat of his tongue before closing his lips over the head of it in an obscene kiss. Sherlock’s head falls back, his mouth open, eyes closing, his breath suspending in his lungs. John sucks the head of it into his mouth, his tongue massaging for a moment, then finds Sherlock’s hand and weaves their fingers together before lifting off. “To feel like you’re mine,” he finishes for Sherlock, his eyes welling with tenderness and seriousness at the same time. “We can do that. We can absolutely do that.” He dips his mouth over Sherlock again and Sherlock moans, unable to help it.

His legs fall open, sprawled onto the coverlet. He props himself up on an elbow, his other hand still intertwined with John’s, and watches as he attempts not to drown in his own sensations too early. The feeling of John’s mouth on him produces pleasure so thick he can barely breathe through it, swirling silver and deep burgundy around his most sensitive flesh, and seeing John’s silver-blond head bob over him, just knowing that John wants to do this for him, as he has many, many times before now, is all part of it. But he doesn’t want it to be over too soon. Not after the little hiccough of tonight, their mutual stumble. The worry of having crossed an unforgivable line and lost what is, he can admit to himself at last is the most important thing in his life. It’s that simple, Sherlock thinks, hearing himself moan as though detached from himself, but he is nonetheless very much in his body at the moment and there is nowhere else he could possibly want to be. It feels exquisitely good and he wants it to last, wants to abandon anything and everything else in favour of being with John this way for as long as possible. “John – ” he starts, worried about peaking too quickly, but John is already two steps ahead of him.

He lets go of Sherlock’s hand and pushes a very familiar tube – ah, yes – into it, then releases his penis with another lick, as though reluctant to stop, and says, “Open it. Please.”

Sherlock brings it to his mouth and uses his teeth to remove the lid, then passes it back to John. “Here,” he says, aware that he is short of breath already.

John smiles at him and shifts upward, his smile turning into a kiss, and this time it’s long and slow and luxuriant. Their erections are touching, sliding and rubbing against each other’s as John moves against him as they kiss. John lifts his face to look down into his eyes as his fingers stroke over Sherlock’s saliva-wet penis and then slip behind it, probing. Their eyes are locked together as John breaches him with his middle finger, Sherlock’s lips parted. “You are the only person I’ve ever done this with,” John tells him, his eyes sober, his face almost unbearably tender. There are two fingers now, the stretch burning only very slightly. Having John look directly into his eyes while touching him this way is so intensely intimate that it could be overwhelming, but finally, after all this time, any less wouldn’t be enough. Sherlock drinks it in, his heart pounding in his chest as John’s fingers work into him, his erection pushing into Sherlock’s thigh in unapologetic, unabashed desire for him. John goes on, his other hand in Sherlock’s hair, slipping his fingers through it over and over again. “You’re the only person I ever will do this with. You’re the only one who’s ever been inside me,” he says. “Your cock is the only one I’ve ever tasted. And you’re the only person I love, or ever will love again.”

“John – ” It’s the only thing he can say, a word he uses to mean anything and everything, and this time it’s desperate. He needs John’s mouth and John lets him have it, relaxing his weight onto Sherlock as his fingers get Sherlock all the way open. And after a few minutes of this, Sherlock makes a sound which is part acquiescence and part need and John barely has to shift before the hardness of his penis is there, not waiting, but pushing into Sherlock in one long, steady motion.

John breaks the kiss again, panting against his lips. Sherlock can feel the strain of him holding back, every muscle trembling with need, with hunger for him. “You are mine,” John tells him, Sherlock’s knees squeezing around his rib cage, his penis hard within Sherlock’s body. “And I am yours. Always, Sherlock. You don’t ever have to doubt that.”

Sherlock takes a shuddering inhalation of air. “I won’t. I promise.” The words say themselves before he can filter them, but after they’re said he realises that he means it. He promised. To – what? Not to doubt? That is a commitment. “I love you,” he adds spontaneously. He doesn’t say it often, still finds it difficult to bring himself to verbalise, but John’s entire face takes on a look of joy so fierce he almost looks upset.

His penis throbs within the tightness of Sherlock’s body. “I love you, too,” he says, and lowers his mouth to Sherlock’s again as he begins to move. Their mouths meet and part, open, breath coming harder and harder, and when it becomes too difficult to kiss, John holds his gaze with his own, his hips twisting and finding Sherlock’s prostate.

Sherlock’s moan is closer to a shout this time, following by a frantic gasp of breath and another moan. He reaches for his penis but John gently restrains him, pinning his hands to the sheet under his own palms.

“Not yet,” he says, breathless, his fingers slipping into Sherlock’s, breaching him in that many more places.

Sherlock groans and grips harder with his knees, his feet hooked on John’s arse, pulling him into himself ever harder and harder. Even without direct contact to his erection, he can feel his orgasm gathering strength and coalescing within him, sparkles bursting behind his retinas. He moans again, fingers tightening in John’s. “Harder – please – ”

John’s moan gusts out through both his mouth and nose and his thrusting gathers speed. Every stroke is sending shocks of pleasure reverberating through Sherlock’s body and he desperately needs for one or both of them to be touching him. John’s abdomen is rubbing against his erection on every thrust but it’s not enough. He moans again and John goes even faster. “Not – yet,” he gets out, his knuckles white in their grasp. “Don’t come yet – just – hold on – ”

The pleasure is washing over him, leaking onto his stomach and he’s not going to be able to stop it from happening. “I can’t,” Sherlock pants, his back arching upward off the blankets. “I need – oh – ah – ” It’s all around him, thundering in his ears, exploding in his pit of his belly, and then John takes pity on him and snakes a hand down between them, grabbing and stroking hard, and for once it happens at precisely the same moment. The grip of his hand sends Sherlock sailing over the edge in several moments of pure, unadulterated ecstasy, so intense he cannot breathe, channelled through his body and out his genitals, erupting from him in wet splatters as his body clenches around John’s penis against his prostate, and John’s voice is shouting as he comes and comes into Sherlock at the same time, his hips jammed against Sherlock’s body as though trying to flood his entire being with his release.

When the orgasm finally eases off and relinquishes Sherlock from its grip, he is weak and spent, his limbs heavy and loose, and John is slumped onto him, his heartbeat hammering through both their chests in counterpoint with Sherlock’s own. When he can move, Sherlock puts both arms around John, panting into his hair, his legs sprawling open. John is breathing hard against his shoulder, his back heaving in Sherlock’s arms, and they lie together recovering for several long minutes, and Sherlock finds himself drinking it in, revelling in this as much as in his own pleasure. He wants to say something but doesn’t know which words would seal this moment, do it justice. Be enough. He decides to try repeating what he said earlier, so that John will know that he meant it. “I will never put the work ahead of you again,” he says, his voice low and a bit rough.

He feels John shake his head. “I’ll never ask you to make that choice,” he responds. He turns his face into Sherlock’s and presses his lips to his cheek before lifting his head to look at him. “I mean that, Sherlock. I feel badly that I wrecked your experiment and the evidence. It's my fault, what happened tonight. I shouldn’t have bugged you in the middle of your experiment, or been surprised that you got annoyed and said something you didn’t mean to say. And then I shouldn’t have got so upset and stomped off the way I did. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Sherlock searches his eyes. “I shouldn’t have worried,” he says, and John kisses his chin. “But I never meant to say what I said – I know how you feel about all that, and I just – you know I’m not that good at this yet. I – misstepped. I didn’t mean it, though. Truthfully, I was at least half as annoyed with myself as I was with you, precisely because I’m not able to tune you out, switch off and separate my mind from my body any more. Not with you. So I’m not going to try any more. With you, that is. Only with you.”

John smiles, but his eyes are still troubled. “But you said that the suspect’s alibi depends on the results of the bacteria sample,” he points out. “That’s important, Sherlock, and I don’t mean to devalue it in any way at all. I take our work seriously. Honestly. I just – I misstepped, too, and I’m sorry. I know I have no right to be pushy especially since I very much hope that we’re always going to have this, so there should never be a need to ask you to pay attention to me when there’s something more important at hand. I was being childish. Trying to stake my claim on you, like a dog jealous of someone reading a book or something.”

“Nothing is more important to me than you,” Sherlock tells him, and feels it intensely in every corner of his being as he says it. “So stake your claim on me when you want to. I’m yours.”

John’s face goes hopelessly soft, his eyebrows framing his eyes in enormous parentheses of love and warmth and Johnness. “As long as I get to be yours, too,” he says, conceding at last, and finally he does what Sherlock’s been waiting for and puts his mouth on Sherlock’s again, at last.

It’s fine now, Sherlock thinks, losing himself in the kiss, the urgency gone but all of the warmth remaining. They’ll go back in the morning and find another sample. They’ll solve the case, with or without it, and beyond day, they’ll have this. Sherlock feels ashamed at having let himself worry for one minute that John might have thrown it away in a fit of pique. They are stronger than that, even if he was insulting and John was being needy. None of that matters. As John likes to say, it is indeed all fine.